It's six weeks after Sam's seventeenth birthday, for which Dean decides Sam should drink an entire six-pack of beer because, "You're a man now, Sammy. In the world of hunters, you're old enough to start taking on your own hunts."
They're holed up in a safe-house somewhere in Montana, recovering from injuries sustained on another wild, reckless hunt. Those seem to be the norm these days, rather than the exception. School's out and John's dumped them in this shitty little town, and Sam's still horny as hell for his brother.
Business as usual.
"What? No!" Sam protests irritably. "Who says that? Where did you hear that?" Then it hits him, and he stares at Dean, shocked. "Did Dad make you hunt alone when you were seventeen? Is that what this is about?"
Dean makes his cocky "I'm awesome" face and shrugs. "Did the job from start to finish," he nods smugly, pulling alcohol and canned foods from the plastic grocery bags on the table. "Found the lead, did the research, tracked the thing to its lair, took it down. Single-handed."
"Chupacabra?" Sam asks, all snide and bitchy because it pisses him off to think of Dean taking on monsters by himself. Sam's shoulder's shot to shit again, but he's damned if he'll let Dean know, so he's favoring it as he helps put the food away.
"Wendigo." Dean puffs out his chest, cocks an eyebrow, grins open and easy, taking Sam's breath away. He pops a beer and hands it to his brother.
"No way," Sam protests feebly, accepting the beer. "When did you do that? I don't remember that."
"Dad left you at Bobby Singer's place, remember? That summer Bobby was teaching you Latin." Dean slides easily into a chair, legs splayed. He cracks open another beer and takes a long swallow, Adam's apple bobbing enticingly.
Sam thinks back, memory dawning. "You mean that time Dad came to get me and you were all banged up and passed out in the back seat?"
Dean nods. "Dad gave me whiskey to dull the pain," he says. "Thing broke my arm. Had to take it down left-handed."
"Dean, I am not hunting alone," Sam shakes his head, leans his hip on the counter as he faces his brother. "And neither are you, ever again, okay? That's just stupid."
Dean lifts an eyebrow, glances away as he worries the seam of his jeans with a thumbnail. "Yeah, well, I don't want to. But, see, if you go away to college..."
"Who said anything about going away to college?" Sam is shocked. "Wait, have you been reading my journal? Have you?" The idea sends a deep thrill of indignation and humiliation through Sam's body, makes him tremble with pent-up rage, fists clenching into tight balls.
"Nah," Dean huffs out a laugh, obviously going for nonchalance when every signal his body language gives off screams, "You're leaving me! I knew it!" He takes another swallow of his beer, obviously showing Sam his throat now, Sam's sure of it. "Saw the stuff you brought home from school. Guidance counselor stuff. Somebody at that high school in Missoula thinks you're a pretty smart kid. Thinks you got potential."
Sam relaxes a little, shaking his head as he takes another sip of his beer. "She gives that stuff to everybody who gets straight As," he says dismissively. "Doesn't mean anything." Getting As at that high school was one of the easier things he's done in the past year. Maybe the easiest, as a matter of fact, not that he's telling Dean that.
"Ah, come on, Sammy," Dean coaxes, and something about this line of teasing makes Sam profoundly uneasy. "You're gonna be a senior next year. Big man on campus. Seems to me you got a shot at getting in somewhere good. And with a college education, you can do pretty much whatever you want. Become a lawyer, or a doctor. Have a nice life."
Away from hunting. Away from me. Dean doesn't have to say it, because Sam can hear it anyway, can see it in the pleading, vulnerable looks Dean's giving him from under his long, thick eyelashes.
I don't want a nice life, Sam thinks. I want you. I want whatever life I can get as long as it has you in it.
"That's not what I want," Sam says out loud as he shakes his head.
"Sure, it is." Dean's face crinkles into his signature cocky grin and it's beautiful and sad at the same time. He so obviously thinks Sam would be better off without him, and that just makes Sam ache.
"If you think that, you don't know me very well," Sam shakes his head again, takes a long pull on his beer. He's getting a nice buzz on, and it makes his heart hurt, makes Dean seem more beautiful than ever.
"Oh, I think I know you pretty well," Dean's grin turns predatory, teasing. "How about a game o' strip poker? Come on. We'll play for pennies."
Sam's not sure he's heard Dean right, because it sounded like he said strip poker, so why the pennies? But he's feeling pretty tipsy after the beer (on an empty stomach, maybe, since he can't remember the last time he ate) and he's competitive so he can't resist a challenge.
Besides, he's pretty sure Dean said strip poker.
An hour later they're both down to their underwear and the room is definitely starting to spin. Sam's pretty sure he finished the six-pack, although he can't remember drinking the last two beers. Dean's found an old Sony boombox in the basement and a box of cassettes, mostly disco and Motown, but he seems delighted when he finds Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On."
"This is the ultimate make-out record, Sam," he says as he slips the cassette into the player and hits the play button. "No girl anywhere can resist it. Mark my words, you find yourself alone with a girl, you put this on, it's smooth sailing all the way home."
They're both sitting on the ratty carpet, side by side with their backs against the couch, card game forgotten on the coffee table beside them. Dean reaches across Sam for his beer, pressing his bare shoulder against Sam's. Sam closes his eyes, tips his head back against the couch, letting the sensuality of the music and Dean's touch combine with the vague arousal underlying his state-of-mind since the evening began.
It seems forever later that he feels a gentle touch, feather-soft, on his cheek, and he cracks one eye open to see Dean's face, hovering so close Sam can almost feel his breath. Dean's brushing one of Sam's cheekbones with the backs of his fingers, gazing at him intently, like he's memorizing Sam's features, like he's never seen them before.
"Gonna be a real looker one of these days," Dean breathes softly, and Sam closes his eyes again as he feels Dean breath on his cheek. "Gonna make some poor girl fall hard."
Something warm and soft presses against Sam's cheek and he holds his breath as he realizes it's Dean's lips. Dean's kissing his cheek.
"Gonna break some girl's heart bad, Sam," Dean whispers into his ear.
He knows Dean's drunk, knows Dean thinks Sam's too drunk to realize what's going on, or at least to remember it later, and he knows they're never going to refer to this after. So he stays as still as he can, letting it happen.
"Some poor girl's gonna cry herself to sleep over you someday, Sammy."
Sam feels the warmth of Dean's body pressed along his side as he leans close, draping a leg over Sam's, leaning his forehead against Sam's temple. Sam keeps his eyes closed as Dean's fingers stroke his other cheek, playing idly with his hair as Dean's lips press warm against his ear, his cheekbone, as Dean sucks in a deep breath through his nose, pulling Sam's scent into his lungs.
"My beautiful baby brother," Dean murmurs, and Sam lets out a long, deep sigh. He feels Dean kiss down his cheek, along his jaw; he feels Dean's fingers brush feather-light over his lips.
"Gonna be a great kisser with that sweet little mouth of yours," Dean breathes against Sam's cheek as Sam's tongue flicks out automatically, catching the salty tip of a finger as Dean drags his hand down over Sam's chin, down his long neck, leaving a wet trail to his collarbone.
"Been working out," Dean observes approvingly. "Got some muscle starting on all that scrawn."
Dean's hand brushes down over Sam's chest, lightly cups one of his pecs, like it's a breast, and if Sam was just a little less drunk and a little more alert he might protest, might push Dean off irritably and tell him to stop treating him like a girl.
Then Dean's thumb slides over Sam's nipple and Sam sucks in a breath.
"Like that?" Dean whispers into his ear, doing it again. Sam squirms, thrusts his hips up against Dean's leg, feels Dean's lips turn up against his skin as he kisses Sam's cheek again.
"So sensitive," Dean murmurs, pinching Sam's nipple, rolling it between his thumb and forefinger as Sam gasps, turns his face instinctively toward Dean, blindly chasing those kissable lips with his own, wanting to taste them so bad he can almost believe he already has.
But Dean pulls away, muttering, "Okay, okay." He rolls back so they're sitting side-by-side again, still pressed together shoulder to knee. Sam's head lolls over onto Dean's shoulder, and Dean allows it, tips his cheek down onto the top Sam's head. Sam's so sleepy he's not even fully aware when Dean takes his hand, laces their fingers lightly together, holds it there on top of his bare thigh.
"Some girl's gonna be so lucky, Sam," he sighs, and Sam can feel the words rumbling in his chest as he drops into a deep, dreamless sleep.
That summer, between hunts, Dean brings home girls. He seems to be on a mission to get Sam laid. Of course Dean thinks Sam's a virgin, and Sam gives up trying to convince him otherwise because it's too embarrassing, and Dean's right anyway. Dean doesn't know about Amy Pond, so he assumes Sam's never been kissed either, which is even crazier. Of course Sam's been kissed.
The first time it happens, it's obvious the girls have been promised one more of Dean, that he's told them, "I got a brother. Wanna meet him?" and they eagerly agree because who wouldn't want more of that? Then they're in the room and Sam's a wrinkled, smelly mess in stocking feet who's been spending the evening reading while Dean was out at the bar or the pool hall, and Sam can see the disappointment in their faces, their alarm when they realize Dean's brother is "just a kid!"
But Dean's nothing if not charming and convincing, buttering them both up with music and booze, making Sam blush furiously when he insists Sam join them. He sits between Sam and one of the girls on the couch with a warm, heavy arm across both their shoulders, coaxing the other girl to dance for them. He encourages and flatters her until she's flushed and laughing, putting on a drunken display that's really just for Dean. When he gets up to join her, leaving Sam and Girl Two alone and uncomfortable on the couch together, he casts meaningful looks at Sam over Girl One's shoulder as he pulls her in, moves with her to the music, making Sam hot and tingly all over.
"Come on, sweetheart," Dean coaxes as he starts making out with Girl One, closing his eyes and kissing her, feeling her up as he grinds their hips together in time to the music.
Sam is flooded with lust so intense it's almost blinding; it's definitely paralyzing. He sits still as a stone on the couch, painfully hard, not daring to move when Dean looks up, looks straight at him, then flicks his gaze down at Sam's lap.
When he raises his eyes again and gives Sam a slow, lazy grin with kiss-swollen lips, Sam's suddenly sure he's gonna come untouched in his jeans.
Dean whispers something in his girl's ear and she glances back over her shoulder at Sam's face, then down at his lap. She hesitates, and Dean whispers again into her ear, kisses her neck. She closes her eyes, leaning into his kisses, swaying to the music with him another minute.
Sam can see the moment she agrees, pulling away with a saucy sway of her hips. She saunters slowly over to Sam, leans over so he can see her cleavage, wiggling her ass for Dean, and takes Sam's hand.
"Wanna dance with me, Sam?" she purrs, and Sam can see Dean smirking at him over her shoulder, giving him a grin and a wink. Sam can imagine what Dean said to her, how Dean insisted his brother was hot for her and it would give him the thrill of his young life if she would just dance with him.
Sam scowls at Dean over the girl's shoulder, which only makes Dean grin wider, of course. Nevertheless, he allows Girl One pull him to his feet, lets her tug his arms around her waist as she slips her arms around his neck, pulling him close as she gets him to sway to the music.
It feels nice, of course it does, to have a warm body pressed against his, and Sam goes with it, at least physically. But he keeps his eyes on Dean, who sinks down onto the couch next to Girl Two, in the place Sam's just vacated except closer, and Sam can't help thinking that Dean's feeling Sam's warmth there, getting a lingering whiff of Sam's body as he turns his attention to Girl Two, who is all over Dean faster than Sam can blink. She was probably feeling just as turned on as Sam was, watching Dean with Girl One, who thinks Sam is attracted to her because Dean told her so.
Sometime later, or maybe it's another time because Sam was just too shy that first time, Sam's deep inside Girl Two as she rides him on the bed, and Dean's thrusting into Girl One on the other bed, and Sam can't help exchanging looks with Dean, more than once, maybe the whole time. Dean gives him another wink, seems pleased with himself overall for getting his little brother laid, but for Sam it's all about Dean. It's Dean's body he watches, Dean's touches and kisses he imagines, and it's Dean's name he gasps when he comes.
And Dean knows it. When Sam opens his eyes Dean's looking at him, serious and intent, pupils blown and cheeks flushed, lips slick and parted, and he's the only other person in the room for Sam, every single goddamn time.
Even when Dean tries to leave him alone with a girl, sets it up so that Sam and Girl Two have the room all to themselves while Dean takes Girl One out to the car or something, it's still all about Dean. Sam tries to act interested, tries to be kind, even tries to convince himself that casual hook-ups are just not his thing, that if he got to know this girl maybe he could get interested eventually, over time.
But he knows in his heart that just isn't true. His heart already belongs to someone, he's already a goner, already in deep, and apparently there's not much he or Dean can do about it, no matter how many girls Dean throws at him.
He's pretty sure Dean knows it, but it definitely doesn't stop him from trying, although Dean balks when one of the girls offers to take both of them, seems to think a Winchester sandwich seems like a pretty hot deal. Dean shakes his head, leaves Sam and the girl to themselves and goes out, leaving Sam with his head spinning and his heart pounding because the idea of being on the same bed with Dean, sharing the same girl so that the possibility of touching, maybe even getting his mouth on Dean's naked body is almost more than Sam can bear.
But apparently that's where Dean draws the line in this whole sex-school thing. Getting Sam laid, making sure he likes it, teaching Sam to do it right with a few watch-and-learn lessons from his thoughtful big brother, all of that seems to be entirely appropriate from Dean's point of view, however twisted it might seem to an outsider.
Sam's pretty sure there's something a little weird about it, but that's not Dean's fault, of course. That would be all Sam's problem, because he's so perversely invested in his brother, and Dean's just trying to help him get over that.
And of course being naked on the same bed with only one girl between them is so much more intimate than being naked on separate beds with separate girls. Of course it is. Dean's limits are entirely appropriate, Sam decides. Just like his rule about them never watching porn together. Because that's definitely something guys don't do together, especially brothers.
Sam's grateful to have a big brother who's so sensible and insists on such clear boundaries. Really, he is.
Chapter Six: 2001
It's a little over a month after Sam's eighteenth birthday. Dad's found something he needs their help with, so he's yanking Sam out of school again, but at least his classes are mostly done so it shouldn't affect his perfect grade-point-average. Nevertheless, he'll miss his high school graduation. His senior prom. Not that Sam cares, really. Those things are just the trappings of a life Sam can never have, the final rites of passage out of a childhood he never had.
The hunt goes bad and Sam ends up at the bottom of a ravine, shaken and bruised and bleeding pretty badly from a scalp wound that he can barely feel. His ankle's twisted, and when he tries to pull himself up his arm gives out – not broken again, he thinks, because he remembers what that felt like, when he was five and Dean had to ride him to the hospital on the handlebars of his old, broken bike, the one they found in the dumpster and Dean fixed up with Dad's tools –
Sam hears Dean calling him from high above, and through the fog of pain and blood-loss he thinks maybe Dean's figured out how to fly. It wouldn't surprise him. Dean can do anything.
Sam recognizes the urgency in Dean's tone, focuses enough to try to answer, but his throat is a fiery wreck of bruised muscle and nearly-crushed windpipe, the result of being almost choked to death during his struggle with the half-human, half-bearlike monster he was fighting with before they both went crashing off the edge of the cliff and –
Sam turns his head slightly, blinks the blood out of his eyes so he can see the monster that landed not six feet away from him. It's impaled on part of an old, dead tree that met its fate years ago, sliding into this ravine and wedging itself between some giant boulders, just waiting for the day that it would serve its final purpose as an instrument of ultimate destruction. Or of salvation, in Sam's case. The monster is definitely dead, which is a good thing, since Sam can barely move.
"Down here!" he croaks as Dean yells his name again, and a moment later he sees Dean's familiar face peering down at him from the edge of the cliff above. Dean's face is always the most beautiful thing Sam's ever seen, but right now the sight fills him with only the purest feelings of relief and reassurance. Dean's okay. He looks fine. He's not hurt.
After he figures out a way to get down to where Sam's lying, after he decides the monster can just stay there and rot for now, Dean slings Sam's good arm over his shoulders and manages to pull Sam to his feet. Sam leans heavily on his brother as Dean half-drags, half-carries him back up the hill to the car, where Dean announces they're heading straight to the hospital.
"What? No!" Sam protests weakly, but Dean ignores him.
"Could be your arm's broken. Again," he says as he settles Sam into the backseat, gives him a clean towel to press against his bleeding scalp. "You've lost enough blood to fill a small swimming pool, and your ankle's sprained, if not broken. I can't tell if there's blood coming out of your mouth, which means you may have internal bleeding, which wouldn't surprise me after that fall. So, hospital. You want some whiskey for the pain?"
"Nah," Sam slurs, already so woozy from blood loss he can't focus, feels himself starting to lose consciousness. He panics a little because there's something he knows he needs to say, something he's suddenly terrified he'll never have another chance to tell Dean. He grabs for Dean's collar as his brother starts to back away, fumbling awkwardly because his hand is slick with blood and he's managed to drop the towel. "Dean. I've got to tell you something – I have to say something."
"Shhh, not now, Sammy," Dean soothes, pressing the towel to Sam's head again, loosening Sam's fingers on his jacket so he can get Sam to hold the towel himself. "You can tell me later, okay? After you're all patched up."
"No," Sam whispers, his voice leaving him, betraying him just when he needs it most. "No. I need you to hear this, Dean. I need you to know. If something happens to me, you need to know."
"Nothing's gonna happen to you, Sam," Dean protests, but Sam hears the little waver in his voice, knows he's worried. "You're gonna be fine."
"No – listen!" Sam grabs for Dean's collar again, yanks hard, and Dean lifts his eyes with a little startled look.
"What? Okay, what, Sam?" Dean frowns impatiently as he gazes at Sam, but he's listening, finally waiting for Sam to just say whatever it is with that long-suffering look he gives whenever he's surrendering to Sam's demands against his better judgment.
"Listen," Sam slurs, fighting the urge to sleep, vaguely aware that he's about to pass out. "The way we are – you and me – it's not you, Dean, okay? It's not your fault."
It's such a relief to get the words out, to take the fall, to claim the debt, to own the perversion as solely his, Sam's. It's what he's been meaning to say since forever, since that night after Flagstaff, when Dean – when what happened made Sam realize that he's infected Dean with this thing, made him have feelings for Sam that were obviously killing him because Dean's a good man and he knows how wrong it is to want his brother that way.
All Sam wants now is for Dean to see himself the way Sam sees him, as the good brother, the good son, the hero who saves people and makes the world a better place. Sam wants Dean to stop beating himself up inside, at least over this one thing, this thing that Sam's done. This sickness in Sam has been there forever. He was probably born with it. He knows that now, and he needs Dean to see that he knows it, that Dean didn't do anything wrong. All the wrongness is in Sam.
"It's not your fault, Dean," Sam gasps again as darkness fizzles around the edges of his vision, pulling him down into the cold, black hole where Sam's soul dwells, where the corruption is complete and total and without mercy, where Sam is alone. Always alone.
A month later they're on their way to another safe house so Sam can recover. Turns out the fall broke two ribs, punctured his lung, and caused a pretty massive concussion, so Sam spent over a week in the hospital, plugged into machines and pumped full of oxygen and antibiotics to prevent infection.
The good news is, his arm's not broken after all, and neither is his ankle, although it's pretty badly sprained. Dad was AWOL the whole time, never even responded to Dean's texts or voicemails, so Dean found the safe house on his own, broke Sam out of the hospital as soon as he seemed well enough to travel, and headed to Oregon.
When Dean gets Sam situated in the designated cabin at the Wild Ridge Ranch just outside Sisters, he heads out to find food while Sam gives himself a make-shift sponge-bath and limps back to bed, sweating profusely with the effort. The cabin's barely-working air-conditioner doesn't really help matters, since it's over ninety degrees outside even an hour after sunset.
Sam's been having some pretty intense dreams lately, mostly due to fever and concussion, but he knows they also have a lot to do with the letter of acceptance to Stanford University that lies unopened on the bottom of his duffel. It arrived in the rented post-office box in Missoula a week before they left to go on this hunt, the one that's rendered Sam temporarily useless. Sam knows it's an acceptance because it's thick and bulky, and he knows he's probably already missed all sorts of deadlines, doesn't even know if they'll still let him in.
He's tried not to think about it too much, truth be told. It paralyzes him, the notion of leaving Dean. He knows in his gut it's the right thing to do – not the leaving part, but the going to college part – and leaving the life, leaving all the crazy and the fear and the danger, leaving the uncertainty of his dad's sudden, erratic demands, the orders that come half-delivered and cryptic, sending Sam and Dean off on some wild quest, sending them straight into peril with nary a follow-up word to check on them – leaving all of that seems right, too.
But he can't leave Dean. Not just because it would hurt like hell, but because he's pretty sure it would kill Dean. It's taken him a while, but Sam thinks he's finally worked out in his head what's going on with Dean, why all the mixed signals over the years have so often made Sam think Dean was as in love as he was, when the rational side of him just knew that couldn't be true. Sam is pretty sure Dean loves him in a really intense way, in a way that isn't at all the way normal brothers love each other. And in recent years, as their dad has left them more and more on their own, with only each other to rely on, Dean's love has grown into this passionate, all-encompassing force that seems to transcend every other type of relationship.
Sometimes Sam feels like he's even started to replace his father in Dean's affections, like their dad's repeated unexplained absences have amounted to abandonment in Dean's mind, maybe. Especially in the last couple of years, it feels like Dean's transferred a lot of the trust he had in their father onto Sam, who in the past six months has suddenly grown up over Dean's head, despite the fact that he's a complete beanpole and likely to remain that way for at least a couple more years until the rest of his body catches up with his height. Sometimes Sam catches Dean looking at him in a way that might frighten him if he didn't love Dean so much. It's like Dean's sure Sam's going to leave him too, like it's only a matter of time till his whole family abandons him.
The haunted, defeated look in Dean's eyes at those moments is almost more than Sam can bear. It's like Dean expects the other shoe to drop any day now, thinks he deserves to be deserted and left for dead, and Sam can't stand it. He wants to grab Dean and shake him, make him understand how beautiful and heroic and good he is, how he's Sam's whole world and Sam will never, ever leave him. He couldn't.
Except he knows how much it means to Dean when Sam does well in school, how proud it makes him. Dean pushed him to apply to Stanford in the first place, insisted he could do anything he set his mind to, encouraged Sam when he was feeling most down about himself. And Sam wants to show off, wants Dean to see he made it, just like Dean knew he would. Sam wants Dean to share in his success, wants to see Dean's lovely sea-green eyes light up with pleasure when Sam shows him the letter, shows Dean the evidence that confirms his faith in his little brother.
Sam wants it all, and that's how he knows he's being selfish, how he knows he can't have it. He wants Dean's approval, Dean's love, however he can get it, and he wants out of the life. For both of them. And Dean's never gonna let that happen. He says so, whenever Sam brings it up, and lately he's been bringing it up off and on, testing the waters to see if he can convince Dean to come with him, and so far he's getting a lot of push-back. Dean reminds Sam that they can't put the genie back in the bottle, that they've got a responsibility to rid the world of the nasty evil they know is out there, then he reminds Sam that there's nothing to be afraid of as long as they're prepared, as long as they do their job.
"Nothing bad's gonna happen to you as long as I'm around," Dean assures Sam whenever he starts talking this way, just like he's been doing since Sam was little.
But it's got nothing to do with fear. At least not for himself. Dad's longer absences, his growing desperation as he gets older and the trail to finding the thing that killed his wife gets colder, his increasing recklessness when he does find something, resulting in longer and longer disappearances – all of that is what really bothers Sam. He can't go off to college and leave Dean with their unpredictable, mostly-gone father. It's just not an option.
So he's back to square one.
By the time Dean gets back with the food, Sam's made his decision. He's pulled out the letter and left it on the table, where Dean sees it when he puts the bags of food down. It's a little smashed and bent, and one corner has an old bloodstain on it, but Sam can tell Dean knows what it is right away.
"What's this?" he asks anyway, picking up the bulky envelope, reading the return-address label.
"Open it," Sam shrugs, watching Dean's face as he turns the envelope over, glances up at Sam with a fleeting look of such naked terror it makes Sam flinch. "Go on."
Dean swallows, closes his mouth, tears open the envelope and pulls out the pages. He glances up at Sam before he starts reading, and Sam can see his hands trembling. Sam can imagine the first sentence: "We are pleased to offer you admission to Stanford University's Class of 2005." Dean's lips move silently as he reads, and when he looks up at Sam again his eyes are glistening.
"You got in," Dean chokes out, his voice sounding hoarse. He clears his throat. "And it's – they're offering you their top scholarship. Congratulations, Sammy. That's – that's awesome."
Sam breathes out a deep sigh, closes his eyes and leans back against the headboard, half-wishing the whole thing would just go away. He knows he should be feeling jubilant, elated, over-the-moon with excitement. Hell, he's just grateful Dean hasn't clocked him.
But all he feels is tired, bone-weary and old.
"I can't go," Sam says, opening his eyes but not able to look at Dean.
"What? What are you talking about? Of course you can go," Dean croaks the first word, then clears his throat again and growls the rest. "You earned this. We talked about it."
"I missed the deadline," Sam sighs, clenching his jaw. "They're an elite school. Their offer was only good till May First and I missed the deadline. It's over." It feels good to say it, clean, like cutting a rope that had been tied around his neck since he first pulled the letter out of the post box. He feels like he's floating in a cold, dark river that smells like serenity and tastes like despair. He feels free.
"No." Dean shakes his head, all determination and frenetic energy. "No way. I'll call them. What time is it in California? I'll talk to somebody. Explain you've been out of commission for a couple of months. I'll make them understand."
"They're not gonna understand, Dean," Sam huffs irritably. "They don't have to. They've got their pick of the cream of the crop. I've just given them an excuse to cross me off their list and hand over the offer to the next guy. They won't waste another minute holding that place for me."
"Oh no, that's where you're wrong, Sammy," Dean shakes his head, paces back and forth at the foot of the bed, holding the letter. "Have you read this thing? Of course you haven't. Let me read it to you."
And he does, and it's flattering as all hell, and Dean infects Sam with his obvious pride and excitement, and suddenly Sam needs to puke. He gets up and staggers to the bathroom, limping absurdly on his crutch, and collapses on the floor in front of the toilet. He heaves into the bowl, coughing up mostly pain medicine and water because he hasn't eaten since he can't remember when, and the smell of the food in those bags Dean brought in is making him nauseous.
Dean waits patiently by the door of the bathroom, silent and watchful when Sam finally stops heaving, pulls himself up to the sink and grabs a toothbrush, then rinses and wipes his mouth. When he's done he leans on the counter and blinks at Dean in the mirror.
"I'm not going to college, Dean," Sam says again, his voice low and hollow-sounding. "It's not gonna happen."
Dean's gaze clouds with confusion. "Why not, Sam?" he asks. "What's the problem? It's what you've worked for, man. It's what we planned on for that big, stupid brain of yours."
Sam shakes his head, can't look at Dean now, can't face the disappointment in those beautiful green eyes, can't bear to let Dean down. "I just can't," he chokes out again, fighting back the sob at the back of his throat. "Please don't make me explain it." He almost whispers the last part, staring down at the porcelain bowl between his hands as he leans heavily on the counter.
"Come on, Sammy," Dean's tone turns coaxing, and Sam can feel him move closer. He shoves his shoulder under Sam's armpit, slips his arm around Sam's waist, encouraging Sam to lean on him, tugging on him to get him to leave the bathroom. "Let's get you some food. You'll feel better after you've had something to eat. Then we'll talk."
But Sam's not so easily placated. He starts to push away, causing Dean to stumble back, pulling Sam with him. They crash hard into the doorframe, chest to chest, Dean's back hitting with enough force to shake the wall. Sam twists to avoid putting weight on his ankle, and Dean's arms go around Sam to steady him, and Sam just can't resist melting into Dean's embrace, collapsing on top of his brother and pushing his face into his neck and breathing deep. For a moment too long they stay still like that, holding each other, breathing hard. Sam's aware of the intimacy, so he's sure Dean is too.
But Dean allows it, just lets Sam to breathe into his neck, isn't trying to push him away or complain about it. He isn't trying to pretend it's not manly, isn't calling Sam an annoying little bitch. And all Sam has to do is turn his head just a little so his nose is right up against Dean's ear. And if he slips his hand behind Dean's head and holds him still long enough Sam can press his lips to that patch of tender skin just behind and a little under Dean's earlobe, so he does it. He feels Dean shiver, feels him let out a shaky breath, hears him breathe Sam's name, so he does it again. This time Sam slips his tongue out to taste Dean's skin, and he feels a ripple of need shoot through him, straight to his dick.
Sam is pressed so tight against Dean's body that he knows Dean can feel his erection; he knows Dean can feel Sam trying to grind against him. It's not easy since he's only got one working leg to stand on, but Dean's supporting his weight. Dean holds him tight, allowing Sam to suckle his neck and thrust shallowly against him for another full minute before he starts to pull away, gently but firmly extricates himself.
"I can't leave you," Sam blurts out as Dean pushes him back, angles his shoulder under Sam's armpit again so he can ease him out of the doorway, back into the bedroom. "I can't ever leave you, Dean. I can't."
"Shh, Sam, okay," Dean soothes as he slides his arm around Sam's waist, pulls Sam's arm over his shoulders so he can ease them toward the bed. "It's just the painkillers talking. You're okay."
"No," Sam protests as Dean deposits him onto the bed, releases him and stands back, just out of Sam's reach. "No, it's not okay. It's not. I'm in love with you. It's not some childhood crush anymore, Dean. I'm fuckin' wrecked and I can't stop. I can't leave, you hear me?"
Dean shakes his head, turns away to start rummaging in his duffle for painkillers like he's not even listening, but Sam barrels ahead anyway, twisting the sheets, running his hands through his hair. "I know I've infected you, made you sick like me. I know you don't really feel the same way about me, and it's okay. It really is. I'm okay with that. But I just can't go. I can't ever live without you. I won't. I'm not. And it's been years like this, you know that, and I'm not growing out of it, if that's what you think. If anything, it's more intense now than it ever was."
Sam pauses, takes a deep breath, then goes on before he can talk himself out of it. "But I can control it. You know I can. It's just never going away. Please don't send me away, Dean. Please don't make me go. Don't make me try to live some normal life somewhere without you, okay? Cuz this is not your fault. This is just me, and I'm hard-wired this way, I guess. I was born this way."
"It's not just you," Dean says it so low that Sam barely hears him, just tumbles headlong with his out-of-control confession, roller-coasting down the mountain and straight into the abyss.
"I've always felt this way, Dean," Sam goes on. "I've always been like this, and I know it's sick, I know there's something wrong with me – "
"It's not just you, Sam," Dean growls again, almost barks it out, a little louder now.
This time Sam stops, blinking through his tears – when did he start to cry? He can't even remember when that happened – and chokes back a sob.
"What?" he demands brokenly, not understanding. Not believing, even if he does understand.
"You heard me," Dean clears his throat, eyes flickering around the room, skittering over Sam's face without making eye contact. "And it's not some stupid infection. You're not sick. Or if you are, then we both are, I guess."
Sam stares, blinking back tears, shocked into silence. He's sitting on the edge of the bed, shaking with passion, running his hands through his hair until it's a mess. He was wishing he could get up and pace as he spoke, but somehow he has a feeling Dean wouldn't have stayed if he had, would have run from the room by now. Somehow, Sam being weakened and unable to walk has made this easier for Dean, has given him the courage to make his own confession.
But Sam can't believe what he just heard; it doesn't fit with his inner narrative of their relationship, so he shakes his head, licks his lips, goes for the first thing that comes to mind. "You're just saying that," he protests. "You can't mean that."
"Huh," Dean squares his jaw, grim smile not quite reaching his eyes. "That's what you think, huh? You think I'd make up a thing like that? Why would I do that?"
"I don't know," Sam huffs out a breath, stares up from under his bangs, knowing his face is streaked with tears, knowing what a mess he must look right now. "Maybe you're trying to make me feel better."
"Oh, sure, Sammy, that's it," Dean snarks. "I'm confessing to having the hots for my brother just to make him feel better."
"Well, yeah," Sam agrees. "I think you are."
Dean lifts his eyebrows, opens his mouth and closes it again, frowns. "Okay, so what if I am? Doesn't mean it's not true."
Now it's Sam's turn to stare speechlessly, it's Sam's turn to open his mouth without a sound coming out because what Dean's saying just doesn't make sense. Can't be right. And it would be funny if it wasn't so tragic, if it wasn't impossible.
Because there's no way Dean really feels about him like that. It's always been one-sided, in Sam's head. It's always been just Sam's irrational desires, Sam's perverse need. And any time he sensed Dean responding to him, it was always Sam's fault, Sam being too pushy and demanding, wanting more than his big brother could give him.
Or maybe he was just asking for more than Dean was willing to give.
"How long?" Sam breathes, his voice ragged and gasping, his heart racing a million miles an hour, pounding fit to burst out of his chest.
"Long as I can remember," Dean shifts his feet, shoves his hands into the pockets of his jeans, and Sam knows if he looks up now, he'll see the panic in Dean's eyes, feel the fear there. "Since you were a baby, maybe. Scared the crap outta me when I hit puberty, cuz you were still so little. Tried to get you to sleep in your own bed, remember?"
Sam nods because he remembers how sad it made him, when Dean stopped sleeping with him, when Dean slept on the couch or the floor when there wasn't another bed in the room. How Sam often got up in the middle of the night just to snuggle down next to his big brother, where he belonged.
"Course, when you hit puberty it got even harder," Dean continues, rolls his eyes at his own pun and tries again. "I mean, it got more difficult. The way you kept wiggling your ass at me all the time, like you knew what you were doing."
"I did," Sam says, still feeling breathless, heart still pounding like he's just run a mile. "I mean, maybe not at first, but I figured it out pretty fast. I thought you liked it. Liked me. Then when you started pushing me away...I decided that there must be something wrong with me."
Dean shakes his head. "Thought I corrupted you," he says, voice low and gravelly, chin down on his chest to hide the flush in his cheeks. "Thought I'd poisoned my innocent baby brother."
Sam reaches out, touches the back of Dean's hand, grasps his wrist gently to pull him closer. Dean hesitates, lifts frightened eyes to Sam's, keeps them locked as he lets Sam pull him closer, so he's standing between Sam's legs.
"Why didn't you tell me before?" Sam asks.
Dean huffs out a breath, shifts his feet, pulls his hand away and rubs the back of his neck, shakes his head. "You're my kid brother, Sam," he says gruffly. "I may be a worthless, thieving drop-out, but I'm no pedophile."
"You're not worthless, either," Sam murmurs, reaching for Dean's hand again, needing to touch his bare skin to make sure this is real, to be sure he isn't dreaming. But Dean steps back, just out of reach, picks up the painkillers and bottle of water he found in the duffle, places them carefully on the bedside table.
"You need to eat before you take these," he says matter-of-factly, then turns to Sam and gestures for him to get up, to let Dean help him walk again. "Let's get you over to the table."
He seems more relaxed now that he's back in the caregiving role, but once Dean's slipped his arm around Sam's waist to pull him to his feet, Sam turns his body into Dean's, cups Dean's face with his other hand and leans in. The kiss is a little awkward, a little unbalanced, and Sam is way too eager, gets the angle wrong and practically gives Dean a bloody lip. But it's wild and natural, with a hint of violence, like them, so it's perfect in its way, as far as first kisses go.
And once he gets over the initial shock of mouth-to-mouth contact, Dean melts into his brother, gives him the warm, deep kiss Sam's been dreaming about for six long years, full of promise and the fierce, protective passion of a caregiver-turned-lover.
Dean pulls back before either of them really wants to stop, makes Sam eat something and take painkillers before coming back to bed, undressing Sam carefully, like he's done a million times before but with a new layer of intent in every touch, in every look. It's intensely erotic, and once Sam lies naked on the bed and Dean's protective, possessive gaze has touched every inch of bare skin, Sam reaches up and pulls Dean down on top of him, fully-clothed. He wraps himself around Dean and ruts shamelessly as Dean kisses him, then buries his face in Sam's neck and sucks, hands grabbing fistfuls of Sam's hair, caressing circles over his bare back.
"Thought I lost you," Dean murmurs into his ear. "Thought you were gonna die, Sam."
Sam wraps his legs around Dean's hips, pushes his hands up under Dean's shirts and throws his head back, exposing his neck for Dean's lips and teeth.
"Never leaving you, Dean," Sam gasps as he thrusts up, rubbing his aching erection against the rough denim covering Dean's crotch. "You'll never lose me."
Dean's thrusts grow desperate, frantic, and Sam feels his orgasm build too soon, can't stop it from crashing over him as Dean sinks his teeth into Sam's ear, pulls the fleshy lobe into his mouth and sucks as Sam comes, hot and hard all over his stomach and Dean's shirts.
"Fuck!" Dean tenses, holds his breath as he comes in his jeans, shuddering violently as he releases and comes down. He collapses on top of Sam with his face buried in Sam's neck, panting, "Fuck," as his body relaxes.
"Yeah," Sam agrees, stroking Dean's bare skin under his shirts, fingers tracing the faint indents of his back dimples.
Now that they've taken the edge off their initial craving for each other, Sam wants Dean naked, wants to explore every inch of his freckled skin with his mouth. His tongue. Wants to make up for six years of waiting and wanting with six weeks of constant lovemaking, wants to fuck and fuck until they're both so bruised and sore they'll never move again.
Of course, Sam's already bruised and sore, and his injuries still need some time to heal, so Dean's the one who does most of the licking and the fucking, as it turns out, while Sam lays on his back and lets Dean do the driving, as usual.
And to his credit, Dean doesn't once tease him about being the girl.
Chapter Seven: Summer 2002
When the boys show up on Caleb's doorstep a year later, they're in pretty bad shape. Their clothes are torn and dirty, Dean's got a gash across his forehead and his bottom lip is split, and Sam's limping a little, arm slung across his brother's broad shoulders. Sam's got a pretty nasty bruise forming on one side of his face, the swelling causing his right eye to close up, and it looks like Dean's got a matching shiner on the left side.
"You boys look like you been in one helluva catfight," Caleb comments as he steps aside to let them in.
"Kinda more like a dogfight," Dean mutters. "Werewolves."
Caleb shakes his head, gestures to the couch so Dean can put his brother down. He does it carefully, Caleb notes, favoring one side of Sam's body like he knows his brother's weak spots, like he knows all his old injuries better than his own.
"Thought I told you to call if you needed backup," Caleb scolds as he hands an open beer to Dean, offers one to Sam. Sam shakes his head, leans back on the couch and closes his eyes as Dean puts Sam's battered leg up on the box Caleb uses as a coffee-table.
"We had backup," Dean notes, nodding at his brother, and Caleb has the sudden impression of possessiveness in the gesture. Dean covets his brother, and something tells Caleb he'd be a fool to come between that kind of bond.
"Where's your dad?" he asks to change the subject. Watching the way these two touch and move around each other, the way they look at each other, makes Caleb uneasy in ways he can't define, and sure as hell doesn't want to think about too deeply.
"North Dakota," Dean shrugs, looking away. "Last I heard."
Caleb nods, returns to the table where he was cleaning guns just before the Winchesters arrived.
"I heard you've been going to college out in California, Sam," he changes the subject again. John Winchester's lone-wolf hunting preferences are well-known in the hunting community, as is his tough-love raising of his sons. No wonder they're so dependent on each other.
"Yeah," Sam huffs, eyes still closed. He winces a little and Dean's right there, adjusting his leg, hand on his shoulder.
"You got any whiskey?" Dean asks Caleb. "I gotta re-set his shoulder."
"I can do better than that," Caleb scowls, reaching into a desk drawer to pull out a bottle of pills. "Tylenol with codeine. Not to be taken on an empty stomach."
"Thanks, man," Dean mutters, obviously distracted by his brother's suffering, not really paying attention to much else.
"Just make yourselves at home here, boys," Caleb says as Dean doses Sam with the pills, makes him swallow from a water bottle. "There's food in the fridge, beer in the shed. Stay as long as you like. You boys are always welcome here."
"Thanks, Caleb," Sam opens his good eye a crack, manages a weak smile. "We sure appreciate it."
"You know, your dad is damn proud of you two," Caleb nods as he slides a clean cloth down the cool barrel of his .357. "Talks about you all the time whenever he stops in here. I know what a hard-headed fool he can be, so he probably never tells you how proud he is, but you should know; he is."
He can tell his words are falling on deaf ears by the way Dean leans in to his brother, murmuring in a low, steady voice as he gets Sam to scoot forward so Dean can position himself behind him, one hand on the opposite shoulder as he braces himself against the back of the couch. He starts to count, but pops Sam's shoulder on two, eliciting a single choked sob as Sam throws his head back, gasping in pain. Dean rubs Sam's neck, murmurs something low and soothing as Sam curls in on himself, panting and sweating profusely, eyes closed. Caleb winces and looks away sympathetically. These kids are too young to be in these kinds of battles, he tells himself, although he knows they've both been hunting for years now, knows they're both over eighteen.
"We'll take you up on that food offer now, if you don't mind," Dean gets to his feet after settling Sam carefully on the couch. "Need to get something into his stomach before he falls asleep."
"Sure," Caleb nods. "There's soup in the cupboard, sandwich fixings in the fridge. Help yourself." He gets up to put the gun away as Dean heads into the kitchen. "I gotta go into town to see a guy about a gun. I'll be back around sunset."
Dean nods, makes his way into the kitchen. Caleb can hear him slamming cupboards and saucepans as he heads out the back door to his truck. It occurs to Caleb that Dean's being deliberately noisy. Trying to keep his brother awake, probably.
When Caleb gets back it's almost sundown. The house is empty, eerily quiet, and Caleb almost pulls his gun until he glances out the kitchen window and sees them. They're lounging on the grass under the big ol' maple tree, resting in the shade. They've got their shoes off and their jeans rolled up, and Caleb thinks they were probably wading in the cool water at the edge of the pond earlier. With his jeans rolled up, the nasty gash on Sam's leg, the one he's been favoring, is obvious. Dean's taken his shirt off, and the claw marks down his chest are just as nasty. In fact, Caleb's surprised Dean's moving around so well at all. Between his chest wound, the damage to his face, and what looks like some serious bruising on his legs, Dean must be hurting almost as bad as his brother.
He's sitting up, though, supporting his brother's weight as Sam leans against him, one knee bent toward Sam, providing a kind of cradle with his body for Sam to relax into. Sam's eyes are almost closed, and Dean's fingers are tracing circles on Sam's arm, like he's soothing his brother to sleep. Caleb watches as Dean smooths Sam's sweaty hair back from his broad forehead, keeps his fingers tangled in Sam's hair as he lowers his face to the top of Sam's head and plants a kiss there, nuzzling like a mama bear with her cub. He leaves his face there just a moment too long, just long enough for Caleb to feel like an intruder, an interloper on a scene that's too intimate, too emotionally charged, not intended for outsiders to witness.
Caleb drops a pan in the sink, turns the overhead light on, and Dean looks up, meets Caleb's eyes in the window, gives a little nod but otherwise stays where he is. Sam's asleep now, at least his eyes are closed, his chest rising and falling evenly under the black muscle shirt. Caleb turns away, gives the boys their privacy.
He remembers when they used to visit here as kids, how they rolled around in that cool grass together like puppies, always moving, always restless. Not today, though. Today they're at peace, taking the time they need to heal and recuperate, and Caleb's just glad to be able to provide a place for them to do that. He wishes there was more that he could offer; he has a feeling their lives won't give them much in the way of rest, even when they do find the thing that killed their mother. Even after they've killed it.
Maybe John knew what he was doing when he raised his boys this way. Maybe he understood how much they would need each other as adults, so he fostered their co-dependency as children by deliberately isolating them, moving them around and leaving them alone together for extended periods, forcing them to have only each other to trust and keep safe.
Helluva way to raise kids, in Caleb's humble opinion. Probably actionable, although Caleb lives so far off the grid himself he's really not in a position to judge.
And anyway, Caleb considers as he throws steaks on the grill and pops a beer, the way these kids were raised will prepare them better than most for what's coming. Caleb never doubts there's something bad coming. He's been feeling it in his bones for years, ever since he and Bill Harvelle found a demon hiding in Harvelle's mother's basement.
The thing babbled about its father's plans for the boys before knocking them both out and killing Bill's mother, which had the effect of creating a life-long bond between Caleb and Bill, as well as convincing Caleb that the end of the world was probably coming in his lifetime. He's been preparing ever since, and that's how he knows John Winchester was right to raise his boys to be prepared too. It's only common sense.
Because something bad is coming for them all, and those Winchester boys will be on the front lines when it does. Caleb's got a hunch about that, and Caleb's hunches are rarely wrong.
The steaks sizzle and crackle on the grill, the sun sets, and Sam and Dean grow shadowy in the encroaching gloom of twilight until they seem to become one figure, one dark silhouette against the black trunk of the tree behind them. They seem to blend into the natural landscape around them, until they disappear altogether and Caleb stops glancing out the window, pours another salt line along the frame without even thinking about it.
It doesn't occur to him that the danger he wards against this night is as much a part of the Winchesters as it is a part of the darkness itself. It never occurs to Caleb that the thing he has most to fear has already been invited in, that when he sits down to break bread this night, it's with the agents of his own demise.
Because Caleb's hunches are usually pretty true, but where Sam and Dean are concerned, it turns out they're also pretty useless.
And the crazy thing is, he wouldn't have it any other way.