When he wakes up, he’s cold and his back itches. Sam’s gone again, and Dean panics for a minute until he sees Sam moving out of the shadows of the longhouse, small book clutched in his hand.
“It’s Mary’s spell book,” he explains as he squats down next to Dean. “She left it. I think she meant for me to find it.”
“What makes you say that?” Dean fights down his jealousy by sitting up, pulling the blanket around him.
“She always takes it with her,” Sam says. “Besides her journal, it’s the most important thing she owns.”
Dean reaches a hand out, and Sam lifts an eyebrow, clutches the book more tightly for a brief moment before handing it over.
“It’s in Gaelic,” he says as Dean opens the book, flips through the pages. “And Latin, of course. And transliterated Navajo, Lakota, Nez Perce, about a dozen other Native languages. Nothing in English.”
“Huh.” Dean hands the book back to Sam. “I guess I won’t be reading it, then.” He rolls his shoulders and gazes longingly at the nearest tree to rub his itching back on. “So the healing spell you did for my back...”
“It’s in here, yeah,” Sam nods. “It’s in ancient Wampanoag, passed down through generations, tweaked to perfection on thousands of patients. You should be fine in a couple of days.”
“I think I might be fine now,” Dean says, reaching over his shoulder, barely resisting the urge to scratch. “It itches like crazy.”
Sam takes his arm, guides him to sit on the log while Sam removes the blanket and unwinds the bandages to examine Dean’s back. He touches the leather cord with the little brass protection amulet that he gave Dean ten years ago, and Dean knows he’s remembering the day he gave it to him. He’s guessing that Dean has worn it every day since, under his shirt, and he’d be right.
Dean sighs as Sam’s gentle hands brush over his newly-healed skin, wiggles into the touch in an attempt to get Sam to apply more pressure.
“Harder, Sammy,” he pleads. “I need a good scratch.”
Sam huffs out a breath. “Well, I can see why it feels that way. You heal fast. Must be Mary’s blood in your veins.”
It’s in yours, too, Dean wants to say. But he doesn’t. Mary had her reasons for keeping that information from Sam, and until Dean finds out what that is, he feels compelled to honor that.
“Hey, did Mom ever say anything about the family curse? I mean, does she know what it is?”
Sam slathers something cool and wet onto Dean’s back, but says nothing, so Dean twists around to look at him, making him stop.
Sam’s slanted hazel eyes look troubled. He shakes his head and pushes Dean’s shoulders to get him to turn around again, stubbornly fixated on the job of applying the salve to Dean’s back.
“No, she didn’t,” he says as he works. “And I didn’t ask. It’s not my business.”
It sure as hell is, Dean thinks. “Well, I guess we’ll just have to find her and ask,” he says out loud.
Sam sits back on his haunches and says nothing again, so Dean twists around to look at him.
Sam huffs out a breath and shakes his head. “You’re not going to find her, Dean.”
“What do you mean? Of course I am.”
“Not if she doesn’t want to be found. You see the kind of magic she uses.” Sam sweeps an arm around, taking in the camp that wasn’t visible when they first arrived. “She’s spent a lifetime hiding out, being unseen. Hell, she could be here right now and we’d never know it.”
Dean looks around wildly. “Where? Here? She’s here right now?”
“No, no, I don’t think so. I mean, she could be. She’s that good. But no, I think she’s moved on. She left her spell book for me to find. She wants me to move on, too. My training is done.”
“What do you mean, she’s moved on?” Panic rises in his chest, and for a moment Dean can’t breathe. “You mean she’s disappeared again? For how long?”
“I don’t know,” Sam admits. “I just know this is what she does. I’ve seen her let kids go before, when they hit their eighteenth birthdays. She sends them on a quest, then she packs up the rest of us and leaves. We never go back. There are camps like this one all over the West.”
“But she left food, supplies...”
“For us, I guess,” Sam shrugs. “Or other mages who stumble on the camp and need a place to stay for a few nights. Anyone with the right sensitivity to recognize there’s a camp here can use this place.”
“Oh, ‘the right sensitivity’,” Dean mocks. “So is that something you had to acquire? Or were you just born with it?”
“A little of both, actually,” Sam shrugs. “You’ve got it, too, or you wouldn’t have been able to work all those spells back on the farm.”
Dean thinks back on those days when he used the notebook his mother left him to ward the family farm and to weave growing spells into the soil. It had been a good few years, before his dad died and everything went to Hell.
“Never really thought about it,” Dean shrugs. “It’s just something I could do.”
“Well, not everybody can,” Sam says. “You got it from your mom, obviously. God knows where I got it.”
Dean winces. It’s literally on the tip of his tongue to tell Sam the truth about his parentage, but he looks away instead. He can feel Sam’s eyes on him, studying him, but when he looks up, Sam looks away. He’s blushing, Dean realizes. It’s a good look on him.
It occurs to Dean that he’ll do anything to keep Sam looking at him like that.
Which means, Sam can never know they’re brothers.
Which means, Dean’s a sick son-of-a-bitch.
“So, what now, Magic Man?” Dean asks. “Obviously, you can handle a gun. I taught you that. Do you have other hunter skills? Or are you all about the witchcraft now?”
“I know a few things,” Sam admits, and Dean lets his eyes roam over Sam’s long, lean body. There’s muscle already forming on his upper body. Dean could feel the strength in his arms and chest when they slept together last night. Sam’s got serious endurance and seems to be able to do hard physical labor with minimal nourishment, if the work it took to build the funeral pyre for the werewolves is any indication. Dean’s impressed.
“So we hunt,” Dean says. “We look for Mom. We let Bobby know I found you...”
“I can’t go back to Lawrence,” Sam says, shaking his head. “I’m still a wanted man. Bobby’s the sheriff there now. He’ll have to arrest me.”
“So we show them how much more valuable you are alive than dead,” Dean says with confidence. “We show them what Sam Winchester can do.”
“Maybe,” Sam says. He ducks his head bashfully, grinning ear to ear, and Dean decides he’ll do anything to make Sam smile like that, as often as possible. “But it’s Campbell now. Mary thought it would be safer if I took her maiden name.”
They share a breakfast of dried meat and fruit and wash it down with the last of the water in Dean’s canteen. Dean pulls a shirt out of his pack and puts it on, forgoing the bandages now that the wounds have closed, then shrugs on his shredded jacket and hat. He helps Sam mend the roof on the storage shed, then stuffs his pack with as much food as he can carry.
Sam rolls his eyes. “There’s another camp about a day’s walk from here,” he says. “There’ll be food there. No need to weigh ourselves down. Plus, I’ve got my traps and my knife if we want to eat something fresh.”
Dean shakes his head. “Never walk into the wilderness unprepared,” he says, quoting his father. “You never know when you might lose your way.”
“I never get lost,” Sam says.
“Never?” Dean’s skeptical. He raises an eyebrow, and Sam blushes and ducks his head.
Dean could get used to this.
“Not anymore,” Sam admits. “I’ve learned how to read the signs.”
“Yeah, you know. The stars at night, the angle of the sun during the day, which side of the trees have moss growing on them. Natural signs.”
“Uh-huh,” Dean scoffs. “And what if it’s a cloudy night or a cloudy day? What if you’re in the middle of Kansas and there are no trees?”
“There are always trees, Dean.” Sam says. “Even in Kansas. They grow wherever there’s water. And water always flows toward the ocean.”
“You sure about that?” They’re on the move, Sam in the lead, moving swift and sure-footed as he did two nights ago. Sam warded the camp, made it invisible again before they left, and Dean’s jealous. He needs to learn to do that. “I know of a river in Wisconsin that flows upstream, heard of one in Montana, too, although I’ve never been there so I can’t say for sure.”
“Exceptions, Dean. Those are exceptions. For the most part, rivers on this side of the Rockies flow South, or East when you get past the Mississippi.”
“I’ll bet you know which mushrooms are poisonous, too,” Dean suggests, watching Sam’s big shoulders rise and fall as he leads the way down a steep ravine.
“I do, actually. I know which ones can be smoked or eaten for medicinal purposes, too.”
“I’ll bet you do,” Dean huffs, struggling to keep up. The salve Sam put on his back has helped with the itching, but now his head hurts again. He’s grateful when they reach the stream at the bottom of the ravine and stop to drink. As Dean refills his canteen, Sam washes the dirt and dried blood off his hands and face. He slicks his hair back.
“What happened to Romulus?” Dean asks. Sam’s horse was the twin of Dean’s. They’d raised them together, two fillies as wild and free as the boys had been, all those years ago. The four of them had made quite a team, as Bobby had noted on more than one occasion.
“I let her go on the plains before we headed into these mountains, same as you,” Sam says. Dean understands. The mountains are crawling with werewolves who couldn’t care less whether the creatures they kill are human or animal. It’s no place for a horse.
“Think they’ll find each other?” Dean asks.
Sam cups his hands in the water, brings his cupped hands to his mouth and drinks before he answers.
“Maybe. I hope so.”
“Those horses are twice as faithful as we are,” Dean says.
“I’m faithful, Dean.” Sam frowns. “I left to come find you as soon as I could. I didn’t let a day go by.”
“No, just six years,” Dean snorts. “Six years, Sammy. I spent every minute of every one of those years looking for you. Every minute.”
Sam looks down at his hands, wipes his palms on his trousers. “I know that now, Dean. I’m sorry.”
“I mean, didn’t it ever occur to you, in all that time, that I had promised to look for you? The last time you saw me, I promised. Didn’t that mean anything to you?”
“Of course it did,” Sam insists. “I just — when she said she talked to you and you wanted me to stay away, I thought you’d changed your mind. And it made sense to me.”
“How? Huh? How in the hell could it ever make sense for me to stay away from you? Huh?”
Sam takes a deep breath, lets out a long sigh. “After what I did to Adam, I figured you’d decided you never wanted to see me again.” Sam looks up, and his gaze is fierce. “But I’d do it again in a heartbeat, Dean. I’d do it again, to save you.”
Dean says nothing for a moment. Remembering his half-brother is always painful. Dean has mixed feelings about his death even now, six years later. On the one hand, he’s sorry he and Adam never got a chance to know each other as adults. Although they’d probably never be friends, they might at least have made peace with each other, at some point. They were both John’s sons, after all. Dean looked up to his big brother once, so long ago now he can barely remember, but he knows he did.
On the other hand, Dean’s relieved Adam’s dead. It makes him feel guilty as hell to admit it, but that’s how it is.
“I know you would, Sammy,” Dean nods. “I always knew I could trust you to have my back. We’re each other’s best friends. That’s always been true.”
Sam nods. “So I let myself think that, for a while, and then when you didn’t come, I thought you must’ve decided it was for my own good.”
Dean’s stomach swoops, his perverted mind going instantly to that moment six years ago in the barn, the night of the fire. The night Dean realized he was in love with this boy.
“You figured I was safer with your mom,” Sam goes on, and it takes Dean a minute to catch up, to get his mind out of the gutter long enough to hear what Sam’s saying. “Mary knowing how to stay hidden and unfindable is a real asset when you’re a twelve-year-old kid who’s wanted by the law. I figured you stayed away to keep me safe. It’s what you always did.”
“She kept you too well hidden, Sammy,” Dean says, shaking his head. “I thought you were dead.”
“I see that now, Dean, and I’m sorry.”
“Well, we gotta find her.” Dean’s never been so sure of anything. “I need to talk to her.”
Sam bites his lip and runs a hand through his hair, and Dean tries not to stare. Really, he does.
“Not sure how easy that’ll be,” Sam says finally.
“I don’t care how easy it is,” Dean growls, angrier than he expected to be. “It’s what I need to do. It’s what we need to do. I need her to explain what’s going on.”
“Dean, I’m not sure that’ll be possible,” Sam says, shaking his head. “She’s really good at staying lost when she wants to be.”
“Then it’s a good thing I’ve got you,” Dean says. “Her wonder-kid. Her specially-trained hound dog.”
“Well, it’s true, isn’t it? She taught you all she knows, right? You know her tricks better than anyone.”
“It’s not like that,” Sam says. “When she wants to stay lost from someone in particular, she’s twice as good. And it’s my guess she doesn’t want to be found by anybody, but especially by you.”
Dean’s sharpening his knife, doesn’t even realize he’s doing it until Sam says that last part. He lays the knife down, careful and deliberate.
“She’s my mother, Sam.”
It’s a dirty play. Mary’s Sam’s mother, too, but Dean’s not saying that. He’s holding his superiority over the younger man. He’s reminding Sam that he’s not family, even though Dean knows damn well he is.
Dean feels sick, but he doesn’t take it back. There’s too much at stake.
“I know.” Sam’s voice is small, sad. Dean’s just reminded him that he’s the outsider, the one who doesn’t belong. Mary may have trained him, given him knowledge Dean doesn’t have, but Dean has the ultimate claim on Mary’s affection.
And for whatever reason, Mary chose to keep it that way.
Dean’s being a dick and he knows it. But he needs Mary to explain to him why he just spent six years of his life searching for his little brother, most of it thinking Sam was dead. He deserves that. She owes him that.
“She’s all the family I’ve got left,” Dean says. Because my dad’s dead and you killed my brother, he might as well have added, for the way Sam’s shoulders shrink, the way he curls into himself a little more.
Sam huffs out a breath, ducks his head. “I know.” His voice is so soft it’s almost a whisper.
Dean waits, guilt prickling at the back of his neck like nettles. “She must be real proud of you,” he says finally, the words slipping out without thinking. “To teach you so much, to take you under her wing like that. She must really think highly of you.”
It’s a peace offering. Dean hates making Sam feel small, a misfit, less important in his adopted family. It shouldn’t be that way. It isn’t, no matter why Mary decided to keep Sam’s birthright a secret. He’d do anything to make Sam feel like he really belonged, short of betraying his mother.
Sam takes a deep breath. “Yeah, I don’t know,” he says. “She seems sad. I think I remind her of you. She misses you.”
“She’s got a funny way of showing it,” Dean grouses.
“She gave up raising you to keep you safe, Dean,” Sam says. “If there’s one thing I know, it’s that. What she did when she left you and your dad, that was because she had to. I don’t know why she told me you wanted me to stay with her, but I have to believe that was to keep you safe, too. You’re the most important thing in her life, Dean. The only family she has.”
Well, not quite, Dean thinks. “Well, at least we have something in common,” he says instead. We have a lot more in common that you know, he adds silently.
This is getting weirdly difficult, maintaining two separate truths. Because Sam really is his brother, but he’s also the person Dean loves most in the world. And maybe those two truths shouldn’t be mutually exclusive, but in Dean’s experience they are. Dean’s brother Adam was a bastard (and he doesn’t mean illegitimate son), about the most unlovable person Dean’s ever known. In Dean’s experience, brothers aren’t the close kin they’re supposed to be.
“My mother didn’t give me up,” Sam says quietly. “She died. That’s different.”
“Not really,” Dean shrugs. “The effect’s the same. You and me, we both grew up without a mom. Now, that doesn’t make us special. I know plenty of hunters who can say the same. But it’s the thing that brought us together. It’s part of the bond we had as kids.”
At least that much is true. Long before Dean knew that Sam was his brother, Dean loved him. A deep part of him believed he would always love Sam, maybe more than he should, but that’s how it was. Finding out he and Sam shared the same blood only made that love more intense. And forbidden, of course, which would be a problem only if Dean let the cat out of the bag.
He’s got no intention of letting that happen.
Sam smiles. He’s still staring down at the water, crouched on his haunches in his soft leather boots and calf-skin trousers, his long hair curling around his ears and neck. His high cheekbones cut shadows in his cheeks, and his smile makes his dimples show. He looks like a Native, with his brown skin and dark hair. If Dean didn’t know him, he would think Sam belonged here, out in the wilderness. He would think Sam had been born and raised here.
“I remember,” Sam says, and Dean blinks, clearing his vision. “It was a great way to grow up. All that physical labor. All the learning and studying. Remember the Knights of the Round Table?”
“Of course I do.” Dean smiles at the memory. “I used to read that to you and Jo. You loved that one.”
“I did,” Sam agrees. “Treasure Island, too.”
“That was later,” Dean recalls. “Just you and me. Jo was in school.”
Sam nods. “How’s she doing?”
“She and her mom run a roadhouse about a mile out of town,” Dean says. “Every hunter who passes through drops in there. It’s how the town gets its news. Ellen and Jo provide a real service. I don’t think the town could’ve survived this long without them.”
Sam sucks in a breath, and Dean looks at him curiously.
Sam shakes his head. “Nothing. I just thought...” he glances sideways at Dean, and Dean catches the flush in his cheeks, the way his smile broadens bashfully. “I just thought you and she might... You know. Maybe you would’ve married her by now.”
Dean’s so shocked it takes a minute for him to recover. “Me and Jo? Are you kidding me? She’s like a little sister. I’d never!”
Sam shrugs and looks down at the water again, but Dean could have sworn he saw a brief look of relief in his eyes. It makes his back itch.
“So you never... You’re not... “ Sam gestures, like he can’t say the words, but Dean understands.
“What, married? Me?” He frowns. “Nah. Too much moving around. Spent the last six years looking for you, remember?” He blushes as soon as he says it. It’s true, but it makes him sound like a lovesick puppy. Which he is, if he’s honest with himself, but of course he doesn’t want Sam to get the wrong idea.
Sam lets out a breath, grinning ear-to-ear like he can’t help himself, and Dean sneaks a glance at those dimples again, decides he’ll do whatever it takes to keep them there.
“What about you? You got a girl?”
Sam’s grin fades. He shakes his head, his blush deepening so that even the tip of his nose turns red.
“No,” he says softly. “No girl.”
The way he says it makes Dean do a double-take. “Or a guy maybe?” He’s heard of such things. He knows a couple of male hunters who are a couple. Ceasar and Jesse.
“No!” Sam huffs. He shakes his head again, irritated, and Dean can’t help himself.
“Wait, you’re not a virgin, are you? I mean, I know it’s not easy finding a little action out here in the woods, but there’s gotta be somebody...?”
“Can we not talk about this?” Sam stands. “We’ve still got another hour before sundown. We should go.”
He turns and heads into the woods before Dean can answer, so all Dean can do is grab his pack and hurry after him.
“Geez, Sammy. Don’t be so sensitive! I didn’t mean nothin’ by it. It’s fine if you’re a virgin. I’m not trying to give you a hard time. Just surprised, is all.”
Sam stops so abruptly Dean almost runs into him. He turns and glares at Dean, and Dean’s momentarily intimidated. The kid is big. Really big.
“Why? What’s surprising about it? You think just because I’m not good-looking like you I can’t get sex if I want it?”
Dean shakes his head vehemently. “No! Not at all. You’re just about the most handsome man I ever saw. The girls must be lining up to get a little attention from you.”
Sam’s got his hand up, ready to point his finger at Dean in an angry gesture, but he backs down at Dean’s words.
“You think I’m handsome?”
It’s Dean’s turn to blush. He’s been caught red-handed giving his feelings away when all he meant to do was boost Sam’s confidence. In a big-brother way.
“Sure, Sammy,” he stammers. “I mean, look at you. If you haven’t seen a mirror for a while, you could look into a lake or something. It’s pretty obvious. I mean, you could use a little more weight, maybe. You’re skinny as a beanpole. But I can’t imagine anybody turning you away if you asked them nicely.” He lets his gaze sweep over Sam’s tall, slender frame, forcing himself to assess his brother as objectively as possible. “Or maybe not so nicely.”
“As a matter of fact, I’ve got somebody in mind,” Sam says, puffing out his chest. “I’m just not sure it’s the right time.”
“Oh.” A hot flash of jealousy stabs through Dean’s head, making his vision turn red. “Sure. That’s fine. Real fine. She’s a lucky girl. Or guy. Whichever.”
It shocks him to feel suddenly so insecure. Sam belongs to Dean, always has, and the mere thought of Sam forming relationships with anyone else makes Dean a little crazy. It shouldn’t, he knows. The kid’s free to love anyone. Hell, he’s been living with Dean’s mom for the past six years, forming ties with a group of young hunters Dean’s never even met. Maybe one of them has caught Sam’s attention. Maybe one of them has earned his affection.
Dean wants to hit something. He wants to punch the lights out of anybody who’s managed to make Sam fall in love with them.
He hates himself for feeling this way. It’s wrong. Sam’s free to love anyone he wants, and Dean should be happy for him. Dean should encourage that.
It’s just that sick, perverted part of himself that can’t. He’s a monster for wishing Sam would never fall in love, for hoping that Sam would never want anyone else, just because Dean can’t stand the idea of sharing his brother with any other human being. Not even a wife, or a lover.
Especially not a lover.
Sam’s face falls. “Doesn’t matter anyway,” he mutters. “It’s never gonna happen.” He turns and starts off into the woods again, and Dean follows, feeling like the world’s biggest asshole.
“Sure it is, Sammy,” he says, drumming up encouragement that he doesn’t feel. “When the time’s right, like you said. It’ll happen, you’ll see. You just gotta give it time.”
Sam doesn’t answer, but his back straightens a little. His shoulders don’t sag as much. Dean can’t see his face, but he imagines Sam looks a little less glum than he did a moment before.
Just after sunset Sam brings them to another hidden camp, this one considerably smaller than the first. There’s only a lean-to shelter built into the side of the hill with a supply depot dug into the soil and covered with rocks. The shelter’s barely big enough for two people, but once Sam lays down blankets and pulls out a tarp from the supply hole to cover the opening, it’s cozy enough. Dean cleans his gun while Sam lays spells around the campsite. He mutters under his breath as he lights a fire.
“Isn’t that a little risky?” Dean asks.
Sam shakes his head. “It’s gonna be cold tonight, and we need a cooking fire for the rabbit I caught.”
Dean lifts an eyebrow. “Rabbit?”
Sam gives him a lopsided grin under hooded brows and Dean’s instantly hard. Sam looks like he’s about to reveal a secret and it’s a good one. It’s the sexiest thing Dean’s ever seen.
“Watch the fire,” he says as he gets up and heads into the darkness of the surrounding forest. “I’ll be right back.”
Dean only has a couple of minutes to panic before Sam returns. He’s carrying a dead rabbit, its feet caught in a leather snare. Dean watches in amazement as Sam lays the carcass down, skins and guts it in two minutes flat, then ties it to a makeshift spit and hangs it over the fire to cook.
“Wow, that’s some fancy trapping,” Dean remarks, pride and amazement in his voice.
Sam smiles, pleased with himself. “I laid the trap last week on a scouting trip,” he says. “I had a feeling there’d be something in it tonight.”
“You had a feeling, huh?” Dean shakes his head. “More of that sensitivity thing you were talking about?”
Sam shrugs. “Sometimes, I catch little glimpses of the future. Nothing big. Not like your mother’s visions.”
“Huh.” Dean watches as Sam scrounges through the supplies stash for cooking utensils. “She still has those?”
“Yeah.” Sam finds a fork, holds it as he stares into the fire. “Not a lot, but yeah.”
“Huh.” Dean stares into the fire, too, watches as the grease drips, making the flames spit and hiss. “She ever tell you about them?”
Sam shifts, scrunches up his face, and doesn’t look at Dean. “Not really. I mean, she mentioned them, when they happened. Sometimes she...”
“What?” Dean presses. “She what?”
“She woke up screaming a couple of times,” Sam admits. “I always figured it was bad dreams, normal stuff. But one time she told me she could skin walk.”
“Skin walk?” Dean’s heard stories about skinwalkers, but he’s never known one. He thought they weren’t human.
“Yeah,” Sam shrugs. “When she sleeps, sometimes she’s inside an animal. An eagle, or a wolf. She sees humans — Natives and Settlers together — held in camps, watched over by some kind of creature she doesn’t know. There are hundreds of them, maybe thousands. They look human, but they feed on the humans. They control the werewolves and other monsters. They don’t see her when she’s in her animal form, but sometimes one of them senses her, looks right at her, and — “
Sam hesitates, frowning as he concentrates. Dean wants to wipe the frown away, wants to smooth the furrows from Sam’s brow. He wants to touch Sam so bad his fingers itch.
“And what, Sam?” he coaxes.
“And their eyes are white,” Sam says. “Not like they have no pupils or irises. Just that there’s this white light shining out of them. But only when they look at her. It’s like they’re using some extra-sensory perception. It makes her crash. She literally falls if she’s flying or perched somewhere, so she wakes up screaming.”
“Does she think it’s real?” Dean asks. “I mean, does she think she’s seeing something that’s happening right now? Or is it some kind of vision?”
Sam shakes his head. “She’s not sure. These things don’t feature in her waking visions. Those are all about people close to her, she says.”
“Well, does she recognize anyone in the sleeping visions?” Dean asks. “Any of the humans?”
Sam shakes his head again. “She’s not sure if it’s because she’s an animal in those dreams, and the animal doesn’t distinguish one human face from another, but when she tries to recall details after she wakes up, she can’t.”
“Landscapes? Seasons? Topography?”
“It varies,” Sam says. “Sometimes it’s summer, sometimes winter. The landscape is mountainous, but not like any mountains around here. She thinks it might be someplace up north, in Canada maybe.”
“Well, I gotta say, that’s not much to go on,” Dean says. He tosses a twig into the fire, watches as the flames catch it. It burns brightly for a moment, then turns black as it crumbles into ash.
Sam doesn’t answer, but he purses his lips and looks worried, which isn’t okay at all.
“Hey, I’ve got some hooch,” Dean announces cheerfully. “Wanna celebrate?” He reaches into his pack and pulls out a flask, pulls the cork out and offers it to Sam.
Sam looks skeptical. “What are we celebrating?”
“Your birthday,” Dean says. “Our reunion. Whatever you want.” Whatever takes that troubled look off Sam’s beautiful face.
Sam takes the flask, dangles it delicately between his long thumb and forefinger, and hesitates.
“What’s the matter? Never had a drink before?” Dean teases, but the look Sam gives him tells him he’s hit the nail on the head. “Wow. A virgin in every way.”
“I am not!” Sam protests. “I’ve had booze before.”
He lifts the flask to his lips, sips too fast and too much at once, and chokes.
Dean chuckles as he pounds Sam on the back, grabbing the flask before Sam drops it. He takes a stiff swallow for himself while Sam coughs, eyes watering.
“That’s awful!” Sam sputters, and Dean laughs.
“Yeah, it’s pretty raw,” he admits. “Want some more?”
“No! I’m good.” Sam wheezes as he struggles to breathe. Dean hands Sam his canteen so Sam can take a sip of water to chase the burn, rubbing Sam’s back as he swallows. Sam’s back is broad and strong, warm through his homespun shirt. They’re sitting on a log, pressed together from knee to thigh, and Dean leaves his hand on Sam’s back long after the younger man stops coughing.
“I missed you,” Sam says when he’s got his breath back. He wipes his watering eyes with the back of his hand, blinks rapidly as he watches the fire. “Dreamed about you, too. A lot.”
“Yeah, I know,” Dean says, stroking his hand up Sam’s back to his neck, into his hair. He had dreamed about Sam, too, especially after he’d decided the kid couldn’t possibly be alive. Those dreams had been gut-wrenching. He’d woken up crying after every one.
“Yeah,” Dean admits. “I dreamed about you, too.”
In his mind’s eye he sees a dream image of a brown-skinned boy on a horse, galloping bareback across a sun-drenched prairie, long dark hair streaming out behind him. He sees the boy hunting, a silver knife clutched in his fist. He recalls another image, this one of the boy when he’s older, standing thigh-deep in a stream, catching live fish in a homemade net. He sees the boy grown tall and lean, reading by candlelight, his face set in concentration. He sees him sleeping in a homemade hammock, long limbs curled in so that his knees are sticking out over the edges.
That last one was just last month, shortly before he decided to end it all.
“I saw you in a saloon in Texas,” Sam says. “About three years ago. You were with a red-headed woman named Sunny.”
It was the night Dean lost his virginity, not something he’d be likely to forget. Sunny had been almost twice his age and a mother of two young children. She took him in because she could see how lonely he was, just after Bobby gave up the search for Sam and headed back to Lawrence.
“So you’re saying some of your dreams are visions,” Dean suggests. “Like Mom’s.”
Sam lifts his eyes and turns his head. They’re sitting very close, and Sam’s hair brushes Dean’s hand.
“I didn’t know,” he admits. “I couldn’t confirm anything, and I knew they might just be regular dreams.”
“Well, that one wasn’t,” Dean says. “That one happened.” He doesn’t elaborate, but he can’t stop the blush that creeps up his neck and spreads north to the tips of his ears. Sam’s gaze shifts to Dean’s ears and he smiles.
“But you didn’t stay with her,” he says softly.
Dean ducks his head and smiles bashfully. “She was kind to me,” he says. “I was sad and lonely and she took me in. Let me stay at her place for a week. She had a couple of kids and a husband who’d gone missing, so we had something in common.”
He sneaks a peak at Sam’s face, reads the fond amusement there and shakes his head.
“Nah, I couldn’t stay,” he says. “Had to find you.”
Sam’s gaze drops to Dean’s mouth and Dean licks his lips. The air seems charged. Dean tightens his hold on the back of Sam’s neck, almost tugging on him, half hoping he’ll lean closer on his own. The liquor warms his insides, rolling around in his belly, making him hungry and horny at the same time.
The grease hisses and pops, and Dean startles and pulls away, jumping to his feet like he just got bit.
“Gotta take a leak,” he mutters, not looking at Sam as he scurries to the edge of the trees, out of the light of the campfire.
Can’t get drunk, he tells himself as he relieves himself. Can’t let my guard down.
He takes another minute to stare up at the stars, grounding himself with a couple of deep breaths before he returns to Sam.
Sam’s managed to turn the rabbit on the spit. Dean sits back down on the log, keeping his distance this time, and Sam doesn’t even glance at him. Dean watches as Sam cuts up a couple of potatoes and carrots from the supply stash and puts them in a pan on the fire, near enough to catch some of the grease. He’s almost relaxed, letting the companionable silence lull him into complacency, when Sam speaks.
“Did you mean it when you said I was handsome?”
The question throws Dean for a minute, but the answer’s easy.
“Of course I did,” he says. “You are. You got nothing to worry about in the looks department, Sammy.”
“But you like girls,” Sam says quietly.
Dean shifts uncomfortably. “You saw me and Sunny,” he shrugs.
“Do you do that a lot? Go with girls, I mean.”
Dean shrugs again. “Not like I get a lot of chances to meet up with anybody. Not in my line of work. Hunting’s not exactly a social activity.”
Sam nods. “But if you had a choice, you definitely prefer girls.”
“Never really thought about it,” Dean admits. “But if you’re worried that I might think less of you because you like boys, hey. That’s not the way it is between us, Sammy. I’m happy for you to like whoever you want to like.”
Sam screws his face up, and Dean can’t tell whether he’s annoyed or just frustrated. “You didn’t answer the question, Dean.”
“There was a question?”
“I asked you if you liked girls more than boys,” Sam snaps.
“And I said I never really thought about it.” Dean frowns. “I like girls a lot, I know that.” Sam makes a little hurt noise, and Dean says quickly, “But I like you, Sam. You’re my favorite. Remember when we were kids and we made our blood pledge?”
He’s changing the subject, forcing Sam to remember those innocent times to take his attention away from his dangerous line of thinking.
“I remember,” Sam smiles. “We cut our thumbs on the edge of your dad’s knife and rubbed the cuts together.”
Dean nods. “I told you, ‘we’re blood-bonded now, Sammy. Nobody can ever separate us.’”
“Yeah.” Sam sighs. “I was eight. You promised we’d always be together. You said you’d never leave me.”
“That’s right,” Dean says. “And I never will. Now that I’ve found you again, I ain’t goin’ nowhere, ever again. You hear me, Sam?”
“Yeah.” Sam turns the rabbit on the spit one more time, blessedly silent again. Dean figures he’s remembering their childhood, and that’s safe. That’s about as scary as molasses on cornbread.
“So where are we headed tomorrow?” he asks. “You got any ideas where we can get a lead on Mom?”
“I’ve got an idea, yeah.” Sam nods. He stirs the vegetables in the pan, frying them evenly in the rabbit grease.
“You wanna share with the class, Professor?”
Sam shrugs. “There’s a guy I’ve heard of,” he says. “He lives about two days’ walk from here. They say he sees things.”
“So he’s another psychic? Like Mom?”
“Not exactly,” Sam says. He stabs at the rabbit, checking its doneness, decides to let it cook another minute as he stokes the fire and adds more fuel.
Dean watches him, waiting. Sam likes to take long pauses, apparently. Dean likes to watch him, so they’re even.
“He’s something else,” Sam says finally. “Something not quite human, from what I hear. He’s lived for a very long time.”
“Some kind of witch? Or a Native god of some kind?”
“I don’t think so,” Sam shrugs. “He helps people, so I don’t think he’s evil. I don’t know what he is, to be honest. His name is Castiel.”
“That’s different,” Dean comments. “Sounds Italian.”
“You know Latin?” Dean’s impressed.
“A lot of the old spells are in Latin.” Sam nods. “Mary had an old Latin grammar book and she taught me some things.”
Dean fights another hot rush of jealousy, decides jealousy’s a safer emotion than some other things when it comes to Sam, and tosses a stick toward the fire, letting it hit Sam instead.
“Ow!” Sam rubs his shoulder, glares at Dean, and Dean shrugs, smirking.
Sam maintains his offended expression as he pokes the rabbit again and pronounces it done.
They don’t talk much as they occupy themselves with eating and drinking over the next hour. Dean’s never been so hungry. He devours his portion with his bare hands, wiping grease off his chin and sucking on his fingers one by one to lick the grease off. Even the vegetables are delicious.
There’s nothing like eating when you’re hungry, he hears Ellen’s voice in his mind, and he’s suddenly overcome with homesickness.
He gnaws on the bones when the meat’s gone, sucking up the last of the flavor with relish, then swiping his sleeve across his face in lieu of a napkin. He smacks his lips with pleasure and sighs, leaning back against the log and stretching his legs out toward the fire.
When he looks up and catches Sam staring at him, it occurs to him that he was probably enjoying his food a little too much.
“That was good,” he says by way of excuse. He wipes his mouth with the back of his hand, smearing grease across his lips, and smiles broadly at Sam. “That’s some fine cooking, right there. You’ll make somebody a real good wife someday.”
“Shut up.” Sam blushes, ducks his head, and dimples beautifully. He can’t help it, Dean’s sure.
They’re both feeling well-fed and happy, relieved to be together again. They’re obviously attracted to each other, but not pressured to act on it because they’re happy to lounge around and just be together. It almost feels normal. Dean’s pretty sure he could get used to being with Sam like this. He might even be able to live with not having Sam in all the ways he wants.
Living with Sam without acting on his desire could become their new normal.
They clean up, feed the fire, and sit back to share another sip from Dean’s flask. Sam checks Dean’s back, and Dean enjoys the feeling of Sam’s hands sweeping over his skin a little too much. He hides his erection under his blanket, watching as Sam lays salt lines and fresh warding around the camp before coming to bed.
They snuggle together under the blanket, huddling inside the small shelter in case it rains during the night. Dean lets Sam spoon him because Sam’s bigger and it’s less awkward and they need each other’s body heat if they hope to get any sleep. It’s practical.
Sam breathes into the back of Dean’s head, tucking his knees up behind Dean’s. He clamps one of his tree-trunk arms across Dean’s chest, pinning him in place. Dean’s erection rages but he concentrates on steadying his breathing, not thinking about Sam’s crotch pressed against his ass.
Eventually, Sam’s breath evens out and his arm becomes a dead weight. Dean curls his arm around Sam’s and laces their fingers together, holding Sam’s arm against him like the stuffed bear he used to hold as a child, after his mother left but before Sam came to live with them.
After Sam arrived, Dean never needed the stuffed toy again.
He squeezes Sam’s hand and holds it tight as he falls into a deep, dreamless slumber.
In the morning, following a breakfast of boiled carrots and rabbit, Dean helps Sam clean up and ward the camp. Dean‘s surprised how many of the protection spells are familiar to him, and with Sam’s encouragement he lays the final warding all by himself.
“It’s just like riding a horse,” Dean comments as Sam nods. “Once you know how, you never forget.”
Dean watches as Sam weaves the invisibility spell, silently memorizing the words and inflections with newfound confidence.
“See? You’re a natural,” Sam comments as they make their way out of the camp, heading north along the trailhead.
Dean shakes his head. “I just assumed it was all gone,” he admits. “I never had any use for those spells after we lost the farm, and Mom’s journal with the spells in it burned up in the fire, so I figured it was all gone.”
“It’s in your bones, Dean,” Sam says. “You were twelve when you started making magic, same as me. Mary says that age is key. If you start your training at twelve, you’ll never lose it. Your body wants to remember, so even if you let it go for a few years, you’ll always be able to go back to it.”
“Her journal said she had her first visions when she was eight.”
“She was special,” Sam says. “Her gifts manifested early.”
Dean watches Sam’s shoulders rise and fall as he turns and twists around boulders on the way up the incline and does his best to follow.
“You think her parents knew?” He asks, watching as Sam’s shoulders shrug.
“She never talked about her parents,” he said. “They died when she was young. I don’t think she remembers much about them.”
“Did she ever talk much about her childhood? Growing up with Pastor Jim? Meeting Dad?”
“Sometimes,” Sam says. “I think she has a love-hate relationship with her visions.”
“Well, sometimes they gave her good news, like telling her she would marry your father,” Sam says. “Like she knew she would have you from the time she was a little girl.”
“Yeah?” Dean’s not sure he likes the sound of that. It sounds too much like destiny, which he’s learning to distrust on principle.
“On the other hand, after you were born she knew she had to leave you and your Dad. She knew terrible things would happen if she didn’t.”
“The Man,” Dean says, shivering involuntarily.
“Huh?” Sam’s head twists around. He pauses on the trail, grabbing onto a tree-limb for balance.
Dean stops in his tracks, panting a little with the effort to keep up with Sam’s long strides.
“Yeah,” he nods. “Her journal referred to The Man. If she didn’t leave us, The Man would come on November 2, 1883 and everything would repeat.”
Sam blinks. “My six-month birthday,” he notes, confused. “Why did she put that date in her journal?”
Dean shrugs. “That’s what her vision said,” he says. “She saw the date on the calendar in her vision.”
It confuses Dean, too. He can’t imagine why Sam’s birthday, sixth-month or otherwise, should have anything to do with something evil.
“What did she mean, ‘everything would repeat?’”
Dean shifts, rolls his shoulders uncomfortably. “I always assumed it meant the thing that killed her family would come for us,” he admits. “Like you said, she left to keep us safe. And obviously the thing didn’t come, that night or any night. We all survived.”
Dean shrugs. “Definitely.”
Sam frowns, thinking for a minute. The incline has gotten steeper, and Dean realizes he’s giving them a breather before they start upwards again.
“Did her journal say anything else about The Man?”
Dean shakes his head. “I practically memorized that thing,” he admits. “I would remember if she mentioned him anywhere else. I was hoping she said something to you.”
“No. Nothing.” Sam turns away, starting up the trail again, and all Dean can do is follow.
They’re climbing so steeply now that there’s no more talking. By the end of an hour, Dean’s legs are shaking with effort, and the woods have become so thick they’re blocking out the sun. Not for the first time, Dean wonders how Sam can find his way through the trees. There doesn’t seem to be a trail at all anymore, and it’s dark, cold, and wet so far from the sun’s light. The ground underfoot is slippery, and Dean loses his footing more than once as he struggles to keep up.
He’s just about to call to Sam to slow down, give them a break, when Sam disappears over the top of the ridge.
“Hey!” Dean calls, panic swooping down over him on a blanket of cold, wet air. “Sammy, wait up!”
Dean scrambles up the ridge, slipping only once before reaching the top. As he pulls himself over to the other side, he doesn’t see Sam at first. The view is spectacular. A sprawling, sloping meadow stretches out in front of him to a distant line of trees, but the mountain range off to the left captures Dean’s attention so completely he momentarily forgets to look for Sam.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?”
Sam’s behind him, sitting on a log, his long legs stretched out in front of him.
“Yeah.” Dean sits down beside him, messaging one leg at a time in an effort to work the cramps out. “Yeah, it is.”
“I couldn’t wait to show you,” Sam confesses, smiling shyly. “It’s still early spring, so you don’t get the full effect of this clearing full of summer flowers, but there’s still snow on the peaks so there’s that.”
Dean nods, taking a deep breath as he admires the view. “It’s really nice,” he agrees. “But you didn’t just make me climb all this way for the view, did you?”
“What? No!” Sam shakes his head. “It’s on the way. Castiel’s place is on the other side of that peak over there. This is as close as I’ve ever come. We can camp here tonight, head on over in the morning.”
Camping out in the open is risky, and they both know it. As the sun slips low in the sky, they lay extra salt lines and Sam weaves extra warding spells around the area before they built a campfire. They eat left-over rabbit and vegetables, and Dean shares his canteen and sips from his flask with Sam. Dean still can’t quite believe their fire can be hidden, but Sam insists it is, and when Dean leaves the circle to take a piss he watches the fire’s flame fade to darkness with amazement.
He takes a moment to admire the sky, bursting with stars, and feels rather than hears Sam move up behind him.
“It’s gorgeous,” he breathes.
Sam sucks in a breath. Dean can feel Sam’s heat against his back.
“Yeah,” Sam says, voice soft and reverent. “It is.”
A shiver runs up Dean’s spine. It’s effortless to turn just enough so that his shoulder presses into Sam’s chest, and when Sam’s hand slides up his arm to his cheek, Dean doesn’t pull away. Something about being out so far in the wilderness, where no other humans live or wander, makes Dean’s sense of propriety less vivid. There was always a wildness about the way Sam and Dean were raised, something less than civilized about their relationship. Sam’s brown skin and long hair makes him seem part of the landscape, less like Dean’s brother than ever. It’s easy to let Sam lean down, easy to let him tip Dean’s face up so that Dean’s staring into his eyes, watching the stars reflected there. Dean’s lips tremble and part in anticipation as Sam leans closer, and he closes his eyes just before Sam kisses him.
It’s so easy to give in to the moment and go with it. It’s so hard to end the kiss before it’s really begun. It’s much harder to push Sam gently away, harder still to step back, out of Sam’s warm arms. It’s all too hard, but he does it anyway.
“No. No, Sam.” He shakes his head, puts his hands out to keep Sam at bay, to stop him from gathering Dean into his arms again. He’s breathing hard and his lips are tingling. He knows he’s blushing because his cheeks are hot.
“Why not?” Sam’s confused. Hurt. Dean can hear it in his voice.
He looks up at Sam because Sam deserves it. He deserves an answer.
“You want it, too,” Sam insists. “It’s not just me.”
Dean shakes his head. “It doesn’t matter,” he says, willing his voice not to shake. “We can’t do that. We just can’t.”
“Why not?” Sam asks again. “Is it because I’m a man?”
Dean huffs out a laugh. If only. “You’re like a little brother to me,” he says. “You know that.”
“I’m not a kid anymore, Dean,” Sam protests. “I’m old enough to know what I want, and I’ve wanted you for as long as I can remember.”
“Sam.” Dean squeezes his eyes shut to block out the sight of Sam’s beautiful face, his sad, troubled eyes gazing at Dean with longing and accusation. “I made a promise, okay? I promised to look after you.”
“Yeah, when we were kids.” Sam huffs out a frustrated breath. “We’re not kids anymore, in case you hadn’t noticed. You’re not obligated to look after me anymore.”
“It’s not an obligation.” Dean shakes his head. “Watching out for you isn’t some kind of burden, Sam. It’s never been that way.”
Sam frowns. “What is it, then? Is there somebody else?”
“No! God, no.” Dean takes a deep breath. “I can’t explain it to you. You’re just gonna have to trust me.”
“Trust you? What does that even mean? Trust you to keep repressing your feelings because of some promise you made to look after me? What does that mean? How can not kissing me help you keep that promise? Shouldn’t it be the other way around? You and me are meant to be together, Dean, and you know it. We’re supposed to be together. It’s always been that way.”
Sam gestures wildly as he stalks closer, and for a split second Dean thinks he’s going to get violent. Dean half expects to be grabbed, or hit. Maybe both. Sam’s frustration is palpable.
“Not like that, Sammy,” Dean says. “Not like that.”
“Why not?” Sam demands. “You want it, too, I can tell. You don’t think it’s a sin, you’re not involved with someone else, we’re both consenting adults, so what’s the matter?”
“I can’t tell you.” Dean shakes his head. “Please let that be enough.”
“I’m in love with you, Dean. I know you feel the same way. And you’re asking us to just repress that?”
Dean nods, closing his eyes again. He’s still half-hoping Sam will hit him. He deserves it.
“Yes, Sam. Yes. That’s what I’m asking.”
“You are going to have to do better than that,” Sam hisses. His voice has dropped, and when Dean glances up at him, his eyes flash. His fists are clenched. “You are definitely going to need to explain.”
“I can’t,” Dean repeats, shaking his head.
Sam tilts his chin, narrowing his eyes, considering. Then he sucks in a breath. “This is about my parentage, isn’t it?”
Dean’s eyes widen in surprise, and Sam nods sharply.
“I thought so. Mary told you something about where I came from, didn’t she? She made you keep it secret because it’s bad. It’s something bad. My mother was an evil witch, wasn’t she? Or a demon?”
“What makes you say that?” Dean’s shocked.
“I’ve always known,” Sam says. “There’s something wrong with me, deep down. Something evil. I can feel it.”
Dean’s heart sinks so fast it makes him dizzy. This isn’t something he could’ve anticipated.
“That’s it, isn’t it?” Sam goes on, ignoring Dean’s protest. “You don’t want to be contaminated by me. It’s the real reason you stayed away all these years...”
“Sam! Stop! That’s so wrong, you can’t imagine.” Dean steps closer, pressing a hand to Sam’s chest. “There’s nothing wrong with you, trust me! You’re perfect!”
“No, Dean,” Sam shakes his head. “I can see it in your face. You’re horrified by me.”
“No, I’m not! Sammy, if anything, I’m the one who’s the monster here. I’m the sick one. I’m the one who lusts for someone I can’t have.”
Sam blinks, his tortured expression smoothing as he gazes down at Dean. He covers Dean’s hand with his and steps closer, and Dean can’t look away, can’t move. He’s mesmerized by the stars reflecting in Sam’s eyes again, and when Sam bends closer Dean’s eyes close of their own accord.
The kiss is gentle, careful, like Sam thinks Dean might bolt at any moment.
As if he could. As if Dean could pull away again now that he’s letting this happen for a second time. As if he ever would.
When Sam draws back it’s too soon. Dean leans up, chasing Sam’s lips, and Sam smiles against his mouth as Dean kisses him.
“You can have me,” Sam murmurs.
“No,” Dean moans. “No, we need to stop. I have to tell you something...”
“It can wait,” Sam murmurs as he kisses Dean deeply, making his head spin, making him forget his own name.
He knows he should make Sam stop, make him listen, but he can’t remember for the life of him what’s so important that Sam should stop doing this. Dean’s waited his whole life for this, and now that it’s happening he can’t stop. He won’t. It’s too good, too right. Everywhere Sam touches him feels alive, on fire. His lips are beyond tingling to complete numbness and still he goes on kissing, needing to devour Sam’s mouth as if it gave him the air and fuel his body needed to live.
In fact, he’s pretty sure it does.
Dean moans as Sam’s big hands slide down his back to cup his ass. His back doesn’t even itch anymore. He pushes his hands into Sam’s hair, holds his head as he lifts up on tiptoe to deepen the kiss. Sam squeezes his ass and Dean spreads his legs, inviting Sam’s long, probing fingers, half-hoping Sam might pick him up so Dean can wrap his legs around Sam’s waist.
When he does it, Dean gasps. His mouth slides along Sam’s scratchy cheek to his ear. He babbles incoherently, holding on for dear life as Sam carries him to the fire and lays him down on the blanket, then backs up on his knees as he starts to work removing Dean’s clothes as well as his own.
Dean watches the firelight play over Sam’s bronze skin, watches the way his hair shadows his face, watches as each tantalizing inch of skin becomes visible for his eyes to feast on. Sam’s long and lean everywhere, muscles tight and defined, a visual display of the strength in his arms and legs that Dean only just experienced when Sam carried him. He has the body of an older man, not the boy Dean expected or remembers.
Dean feels a stab of grief for that boy, gone and replaced by a full-grown adult without Dean being there to see it happen.
He lifts his hips as Sam pulls his trousers off, staring down at the long, fully erect cock swinging heavy from between Sam’s legs. When Sam’s big hand wraps around both dicks Dean gasps and arches up, his eyes closing with the intensity of the sensations exploding through him. Sam leans down and captures his mouth again, kissing and licking his lips as he strokes their cocks together.
Dean slides his hands down over Sam’s sweat-soaked back, encouraging, and it doesn’t take long. Dean whites out with the force of his orgasm, Sam’s long, low moan echoing in his ears as his belly and chest are striped by warm fluid.
Dean comes to with Sam’s heavy arm lying across his chest, Sam’s long leg tucked between his, Sam’s head tucked under his chin. He turns his head, burying his face in Sam’s soft hair, and kisses the top of his head as he adjusts the blanket to cover them both as well as he can.
Sam shifts, pressing his lips to Dean’s shoulder, and turns his face up.
“What were you going to tell me?” he asks, his flushed face and sparkling eyes driving Dean to distraction so that the moment’s gone before Dean can think straight.
Then it’s too late. He’s mortified by what he’s done, but he can’t think how to tell Sam now. It’s too late.
He pulls Sam’s face into his shoulder, kissing the top of his head again.