annabethbigbang: (Sam: talkin' to Dean on the phone.)
[personal profile] annabethbigbang


Sam wakes up. This time he's in a room with Dean, the bed he's lying on small and kind of cramped for his large frame, and sun is stinging the inside of his eyelids the colour of pain.

He moves just slightly and his body is sore, his movement restricted, and after a moment he discovers it's due to the bandage wrapped taut around his midsection. He has no recollection of Dean bandaging him up, or of putting him to bed; for that matter, he doesn't know how Dean got him out of the Impala and back into the room without Sam carrying some of his own weight.

There is a beautiful clear moment where everything is sparkling like when you wake up after a particularly good day, refreshed and rejuvenated, and then his head throbs once like his skull is contracting inward, and then it sets up the drumbeat of neighbour kids with their cacophonous band next door.

"Mornin', Sammy," Dean says, and Sam blinks his eyes open. That hurts, so he closes them again, and takes a deep breath. That pulls on his bandage and his rib and hurts too.

"Fuckin' sweet hell," Sam says, wishing he had something for the headache the painkillers have left behind.

"No ghost hunting for you today," Dean says. "Or me either, since someone has to keep an eye on your sorry ass."

"I'll be fine," he says, and then winces, noticing how full his bladder is. Great. He's not even sure he can walk and there is no way in hell he's asking Dean to help him piss. That'd be awkward and Dean already acts awkward enough around him, like he knows Sam is a freak even though Sam hasn't said a word about those creepy visions that won't go away.

In fact, with his eyes already closed but the drugged characteristic of his previous sleep missing, he can see flashes of what would probably be a vision if he weren't so exhausted.

The sound of glass breaking brings his eyes wide open despite the pain, and he finds Dean on his feet, his pearl-handled gun pointed, but his eyes are just as wide and startled, because the water glass on the nightstand next to Sam has inexplicably shattered.

In this tiny motel, they don't even use paper cups, and now they'll have to pay for the broken glass. Sam meets Dean's eyes.

"Did I flail out in my sleep and hit that?" he asks, and Dean shakes his head minutely, looking lost.

"You didn't even move," Dean says. "I—I cannot explain that. I don't think—" he pauses. "I mean, I checked this room for EMF when we got in. I salted doors and windows. There's no supernatural explanation for that, but there's no logical, scientific explanation either."

"Maybe—" Sam starts. Then, "I got nothing."

"Yeah, maybe we should get another room," Dean mumbles, but Sam shakes his head, even though it makes his vision swim and his brain feel like it's knocking against the smooth walls of his skull.

"Can't," Sam says. "Can't even move."

"Shit," Dean swears, and lowers his gun. He slowly sinks back down into the chair he'd been sitting in when Sam woke up.

"I gotta—" Sam gulps and works the words around in his mouth, before finally finishing: "Piss. I gotta piss."

Dean looks at him, his face suddenly flushed and he's wearing an expression like he's been caught out doing something he shouldn't, the badge of guilt stamped right onto his features. Sam has no idea why Dean would be looking like that, but he whimpers a little involuntarily and shifts as the pressure gets worse.

Dean jumps to his feet and disappears from Sam's view, then returns with a bottle. It used to hold holy water, but it's currently empty and bigger than a standard water bottle. He hands it to Sam and gestures at the door.

"I'm gonna get, uh, breakfast or something," he stammers, and then he's gone like he's fleeing the plague.

Sam looks down at the bottle in his hand, then back towards the door. Somehow, it's even stranger that Dean would be so damn twitchy about it, when Sam's the one who'd be naked in front of Dean. Prime mocking material.

:::

Not even ten minutes after Dean leaves to get breakfast, the phone rings. Sam grabs it, where it's pressed against his non-injured side, and brings it to his ear, wondering if after all these years Dean has suddenly forgotten what Sam likes to eat for breakfast.

It's crackly when he answers, and Sam might be half-delirious with his throbbing headache and the agony of his ribs, but he can still recognise EVP, and that makes his heart triphammer and vault into triple time. He's not even sure what he's expecting: Dean to be in trouble, Isabella to suddenly know how to make phone calls, whatever. But whatever he might have been expecting, the voice on the other end isn't it.

"Sam?"

This time, Sam's heart stops. It's not possible. It isn't. He saw her—he buried her body. He even went back a few days later and burned her bones just to be sure. And that sucked, watching her beloved features, even twisted with death as they were, burn away to nothing. Which means this is just. Not possible.

"Jess," he squeezes through his tight throat, and it's weak and thready.

"I miss you," she says, and her voice is like a lance in an infected wound. "Why did you leave me, Sam. Why."

He has no answer for her. Between breaths he's back in California, watching her burn, watching the tiny corpses of his children burn, and his chest feels compressed again like when Isabella cracked his rib.

His awareness of his surroundings shimmers like scenery in the desert and he can't take a full breath. He doesn't speak—he presses the button to disconnect, because he can't bear to hear her voice, to hear her ask those questions, but even though the phone drops to the pillow beside him, he can still hear the tinny faraway voice as she says,

"Sam? Sam?"

"You're dead," he chokes out, and the words gouge his throat as he brings them up, fierce and painful like bile. "Why, Jess? Why did you kill them?" It makes no sense, to ask a ghost a question she'll never be able to answer, but he can't stop himself. The phone crackles again.

"Why did you leave me," she repeats. "Why did you leave us."

"I didn't," Sam says desperately. "I wouldn't! You know—I love you so much. I would never—"

"I miss you," she says, and Sam feels like razors are scoring his insides, leaving him bloody and raw. All the ambient noise around him has faded until all he can hear is her voice, pounding inside his head now in time with his headache, as if she's speaking directly into his brain.

"Please," he says. "Please leave me alone."

And the phone goes silent and dead. The silence rings in Sam's ears, and he's breathing so harshly that it's pulling against his ribs, and all he wants to do is be able to get up and smash his fist into the wall, to go running until he can outrun the sound of her voice still echoing in his head.

The ache in his ribs from his rough breathing only amplifies the pain searing through him. It swells and meshes with the agony of Jess's loss and Sam—Sam can't even get up. All he can do is lie there, still hearing Jess, the accusation in her tone, the crackle of the EVP, and he shuts his eyes so tightly it feels like an agony of pressure in his temples.

He's terrified that when Dean comes back, he's going to have to talk about this, that he's going to have to explain to Dean that they have to drive back to Palo Alto and somehow lay her to rest.

But even as he contemplates that, the prickle of other thoughts at the back of his head remind him that he didn't just burn her body, he burned their entire house. There can't be anything left to tie her to this plane.

And then he remembers his children screaming and has the terrible thought: what if they're trapped as well? What if he bungled the salt and burn somehow, locked them here with him? It makes him gag, and he gulps it down because he's on his back, incapacitated, and he knows if he hurls that he'll drown in it and die.

Then again, that possibility suddenly seems less like an untenable alternative and instead, more attractive than it should be.

"Why did you do it?" he screams to the rafters, and he feels the way expanding his lungs that much makes his midsection ache. And as if to mock him even worse, the door opens at that moment and Dean comes back in, carrying take-out bags and looking at Sam like he's lost his mind.

Dean drops the bags on the cracked table and stands awkwardly, his hands in his pockets, looking lost until he finally says,

"You can't think she did it on purpose." He chews on his lips for a minute. "Sammy, you can't. You can't torment yourself that way."

"She never drank hard liquor, and she was pregnant, Dean," Sam retorts, hearing the vicious anger in his voice. He sees, as if from a million miles away, Dean's flinch. As if he struck Dean.

"Still, Sammy. Why on earth would she—"

"I don't wanna talk about it," Sam says. He clamps his lips together. He's not going to go searching for her. To reopen a case he knows is closed. He must've been dreaming, that's all. Had to have drifted off from boredom while waiting for Dean to return, and dreamt about Jess, which is not unusual. Not any more.

Dean shrugs, clearly unsettled, but he doesn't press the issue. Instead he reaches for the food.

Dean has to heft Sam up against a mound of pillows for him to be able to eat, and as soon as Dean gets him situated, he lets go of Sam like he's been burned.

Sam eats mechanically, but he barely manages to force down more than a few bites before he can't bear it any more. He looks at Dean and wonders: does he think it's my fault?

:::

Because Sam is useless, splayed in bed unable to move more than a few inches while his rib heals up at least a little, it falls to Dean to do all of their running around. Even though, logically, Sam realises Dean is probably used to hunting alone by now, Sam still feels like he should be doing something.

It's late and Dean's out, allegedly hustling pool, but for all Sam knows his brother is actually shacking up with some girl. He's been so tense lately, and Sam hasn't seen him go out at night since they reunited a few days ago, so he wouldn't be the least bit surprised if Dean is trying to blow off some steam through sex. It's something Dean's often done, and Sam can't really blame him for it.

But still, though, he's actually a little bit jealous. Not that he wants to go out and have anonymous sex, or even that he wants to get drunk. No, he's actually jealous that someone else gets a bit of Dean's company, particularly now when Sam is basically tied to the bed and bored out of his mind. The only thing he really has to do is think, and so he's been driving himself crazy, brain twisting round and round in circles as he tries to solve their case so that they can get the hell out of Michigan.

He knows, too, that the room's only paid for a couple of nights, and without money, they'll be sleeping in the Impala on the side of some random highway, a fact that displeases Dean simply because Sam's rib won't heal all that well if he's crushed into the backseat.

They haven't talked about Jess since yesterday morning, and they're just as good at ignoring the fact that more than once Dean has had to help Sam to the bathroom. Sam can't shower, either, because he can still barely stand up without wobbling, so he smells pretty rank and he's not about to ask Dean to give him a sponge bath—no matter what they did when they were younger, no matter the number of times Sam or Dean had been wounded and the other had taken care of them, this is different. They're different people now: older, if not wiser. And what worked for them as children—as teenagers—is not going to work for them now. Besides which, every single time there's the slightest suggestion of Sam being naked—for any reason, like when Dean leaves him in the bathroom with the door open a sliver in case he cracks his head open—Dean gets anxious and fidgety. It's fucking weird.

Sam heaves a sigh that pulls against his taped ribs. Stuck here, especially alone, his thoughts keep whirling from the case to Jess to Dean and back again, and frankly, it's exhausting; unfortunately, Sam can't sleep, because when he's not thinking nonstop, he's sleeping, which is a lot.

He turns his head in the direction of the window, eyes narrowed, exhaustion still thrumming through his body even though he's long since left sleep at the last turn-off, and the night beyond the curtains is purple: a stretch of ink-dark sky lit by bad fluorescents as viewed through moth-eaten, dingy curtains.

He's really just staring, not even thinking about much of anything for once, when he sees something move just outside of his vision. He sucks in a breath and tells himself not to panic; what could possibly be in the room with him? After all, he's watched Dean salt and re-salt the doors and windows, seen Dean check and re-check them every time he comes in or goes out of the room. Nevertheless, he wishes he could reach his gun, even though it's barely a breath away from him on the nightstand.

He flicks his eyes back and forth, staring hard into the dimness of the motel room. The lights are off because Sam is supposed to be resting—at least, Dean swears that's what Sam should be doing.

It's too dark to really make anything out, and Sam knows enough about the supernatural to know that even the most silent, invisible ghosts leave a bit of their presence behind through shadow or movement. But it's impossible: there's no way that a spirit could have gotten within the room, not without crossing the salt lines, and it's definitely not human, because Sam would have noticed someone sneaking in. It's not his imagination unless he's going crazy to match up with his injuries—which he doubts—and it's impossible like the breaking water glass once. Inexplicable. But then, all of a sudden, light flares up in front of the windows and Sam squints, almost blinded, and realises that the curtains have suddenly billowed up and out and a passing semi has just strafed the room with its headlights.

In the wake of the light, even with the spots in his eyes, Sam can see that part of the room pretty clearly, and there's nothing there. He's still wary, though, and again he wishes he had his gun, and just like that, something else moves in the very periphery of his perception and he turns his head just in time to see his weapon fly towards him like it's on a wire, landing perfectly pointed in his palm.

Sam stares at it in shock.

That can't be. It's not possible—telekinesis is a myth, at least for humans. The only time he's ever seen it used successfully were with poltergeists and particularly vengeful spirits. And, with his brain going around in another fruitless circle, there are no spirits in the room with him.

He looks back towards the windows, and the curtains are still settling back into place, but scanning the dimness, he finds Dean's shirt on the floor, quite a few inches from where Dean had left it on the back of the chair.

He had been thinking about Dean, right? And then he'd thought about his gun.

Great, Sam thinks miserably. Not only blindingly painful headaches that coincide with visions of some sort of monster, but he thinks about something now and it moves. He has no idea what's fucking going on, but he does know that Dean will look at him like he's a freak. That Dean will think he is a freak—Dean has always levied that term at him whenever Sam demonstrated his high level of intelligence or when Sam remembered some obscure fact, but this time it would be more than a taunt: it would be true.

Sam feels tears fill the corners of his eyes and slams his hand against the bed, forgetting the gun clutched in his sweaty palm. He hears, clear as day, the click of the hammer being cocked and Sam freezes. Very carefully he uncocks the gun and flicks the safety back on, aware that he almost discharged it into the wall and probably would've gotten them kicked out of the motel.

He can't believe, even after everything, that he's so selfish as to cry over this and not the deaths of his family. And that, well, it careens him over the wall he's bricked up in his mind, into the back behind it, the dusty cob-webbed corner that is filled with the memories of Jess he's managed to suppress, and just before he can really think he—

—is standing in a marsh this time. In front of him is Jess, beautiful and perfect and just the way he remembers her from the day she died, before he left for work, only she's still wearing her white satiny nightgown that fell to mid-thigh, her belly round under it. She's smiling and sun seems to be striking off the highlights in her blonde hair, even though where he's standing is murky and dark as if it's dusk.

In fact, light seems to surround her like a halo, and then, slowly, he realises that the light coming from behind her is more of an orange glow, and her skin starts to melt off her bones, and then the image winks and blinks out like a star in the sky at morning.

Jess is replaced by the yellow-eyed man, who is staring out into the distance. And coming closer is a bouncing light, like from a lantern. Faster and faster until there's a young woman standing at the edge of the marsh, her shoes coated in muck, and she's got a flashlight in one hand and a shovel in the other. Sam watches, unable to move or speak, morbidly fascinated, as she turns to look back; behind her there's a dark floating shape that resolves into a man, his eyes closed and blood streaked all over him. She squints a little and the body—it has to be, the guy can't still be alive with that much blood soaking him and dripping from him—lands within the marsh with a splash. The girl grins and it looks manic, and then she starts shovelling dirt from the side over on top of him, burying him under the weight of the soil until the body sinks and disappears.

"There," she says, sounding more than a little crazy. "I did it. I did it! What now? What do you want me to do now?"

The yellow-eyed man doesn't speak to her, and she whips her head around, back and forth, like she can't see him. "Where are you, you bastard? You

promised!"

The muck starts to suck at her shoes and she flails for balance. The marsh is taking more than what she's given it, almost like an alchemical reaction gone wrong: the equivalent exchange for hiding the body is apparently taking with it the murderer.

Sam realises, sharp and painful like a bee sting, that he just watched that girl employ telekinesis to help dispose of someone she apparently slaughtered. That he has the same power, even though he doesn't understand how that's possible.

He retches and wonders if this will be him someday, manic and obviously out of his mind, trying to hide the evidence of some horrific crime. He wonders if that will be Dean, bloodied and lifeless, and he's ready to leave this horror behind, to wake up in anguish on his bed so that he can pack his things and run before he does this sort of damage to Dean.

The yellow-eyed man turns to Sam. "I warned you," he says. "I can give you back what was taken away," he adds, silky and persuasive. "I can give you anything you truly desire; all you have to do is what you're told."

Sam whirls, thinking the man is speaking to someone behind him—after all Sam is rarely

part of the scene—but there's no-one there.

"I don't know what you want—and I don't really care," Sam spits, "but I won't do it. Get the fuck out of my head."

Sam hears a door slam and—



—he sits straight up in bed in spite of the pain that bursts inside his chest, head whipping towards the door where Dean is standing, his hand in his pocket and the keys to the room in the other. His leather jacket is thrown over his arm and his shirt is untucked and Sam thinks, out fucking, I see, and then his stomach lurches in a way that is very, very bad, and he manages to gasp through clenched teeth,

"Sick," which spurs Dean into motion faster than Sam would have thought his alcohol-addled brother could manage, but there's a little metal wastebasket under his mouth in literally less than a minute, which is just in time for Sam to toss his dinner. And probably his lunch, too.

He gags and keeps retching, and Dean holds both the metal can and somehow keeps his hair away from his mouth all at the same time until Sam succeeds in catching his breath and falling back against the pillows.

Dean sets the wastebasket aside and feels Sam's forehead, which is clammy with sweat from throwing up, but Sam's not feverish. It's a combination of the vision—the horror of it—and the piercing pain that accompanied it.

"Are you all right?" Dean asks, and drops his hand. "You didn't do any more damage to your rib, do you think, Sammy?" Dean efficiently flips the blanket down and uncovers Sam's bare torso, covered only by the tape designed to bind his cracked rib. Dean runs his fingers along the edges of the tape, presses gently against his skin, then sighs and bites his lower lip.

"I'm gonna have to unwrap it and check you out," Dean says. He sounds like it's the last thing he wants to do.

"I'm not sick," Sam croaks through a throat roughened by stomach acid. "I've just got a migraine."

It doesn't stop Dean from going into all-out big brother mode, mixed with his first-aid mode, and carefully probing Sam's ribcage for signs of any further damage.

Sam feels vaguely odd throughout the whole process, almost as if he's picking up on Dean's emotions like his brother's broadcasting them like a radio. And Dean's not just worried—he's feeling something else, too, something Sam can't quantify. It's like Dean is totally uncomfortable, and that's unusual. Dean's never shown any type of unease when it comes to dealing with injury or illness before, and this shouldn't be any different.

Not only that, but his skin tingles where Dean's fingers move across it, and when he looks straight into Dean's face, his brother's eyes are swallowed up by the pupils and his freckles are standing out amid a flush high on his cheeks. A flush that mimics the one left behind on Sam's skin every place that Dean has touched.

"Jesus," he says. "Are you high or something?"

Dean winces as if he's the one in pain and yanks his hands back, Sam's ribs bound again, and pulls the bedspread back up over Sam's body.

"No," he says shortly. "I've just—it's nothing."

Sam wants to poke at the issue like one might open a wound to drain it, but the closed look on Dean's face suggests he would be much better off if he left it alone, so he does, reluctantly.

"You wanna tell me what happened?" Dean asks, sounding angry. Angry like he thinks Sam puked on purpose and made more work for Dean.

Sam squashes the residual feeling of defensiveness—something he always used to feel when they were kids—and shakes his head.

"I don't know," he says. "Just got a headache all of a sudden."

"And this?" Dean asks. He holds up Sam's gun from where it had fallen on the bed when he lost his battle to keep the contents of his stomach where they belonged. "You shooting at something?"

"No, I just thought I saw something," Sam says. "Look, Dean, I'm tired. I think I'm just gonna pass out for awhile."

Dean gets up from the bed and puts more distance between them than is probably necessary. Sam lowers his eyes and he can hear the word freak echoing through his brain as loud and clear as if Dean had said it. There's no doubt, really: Dean's angry and disappointed in Sam, and Sam has no idea why.

Maybe because he froze on the hunt like a green, untried soldier? Could Dean be that petty, to hold it against Sam that he hasn't hunted in so long?

"I'm just gonna," Dean waves a hand at the wastebasket, "empty that. Thanks for that, Sam," he adds, and he sounds less strained and more like the Dean Sam remembers, willing to banter about anything.

Sam wilts against the pillows in his exhaustion. He watches Dean go into the bathroom, tracking him with tired eyes, and listens to the sound of the water running.

But he can't sleep. The vision just keeps coming back up like bad sushi, unable to be forgotten or ignored.

What does the yellow-eyed man want from him? And why him?

:::

When Sam was a child, he had often been curious about what had happened to his mother. Now that Sam is an adult, those questions—and all of the non-answers they generated—have been buried under mounds and mounds of deliberate obfuscation, some on the part of his father's, some Dean's, some his own. But ultimately, Sam understands that whatever happened to his mother, it had something to do with him.

Now that Sam is having visions of some unidentifiable creature, those questions are rising to the surface like a body that, once weighted down, has been set free to float up to the top of the water. And, like that body, it's not a discovery Sam wants to make. He tried his best, his hardest, to forget those things. To consign those unanswerable questions to a place where they couldn't hurt him.

The yellow-eyed man wants him for something. Sam has been trying to pretend that he can outrun that—well, destiny, for lack of a better term. He's been acting like it's not happening. That he can force whatever it is not to happen simply by brushing it under the rug.

But he's been lying, mouldering really, in this motel room for a week, and while he can get up and move around on his own now—and has been able to for the past few days—Dean refuses to let him go anywhere, while Dean himself just keeps on disappearing without a by-your-leave.

Sam's so certain that Dean has turned a one-night-stand into a three- or four-night stand that he finally gets up, wincing as his rib aches, and stumbles over to the window by the door, where he pushes aside the curtain and looks out. The Impala's gone.

He's not supposed to get his bandaging wet, so he struggles to give himself a sponge bath in the tiny, cramped shower stall, continually banging his elbows, knees, and even his skull on the showerhead as he tries to freshen himself up at least somewhat so that when he goes out snooping, he won't stink to high heaven at least.

By the time he's finished, it's probably been at least an hour of washing up as carefully as he could, dressing slowly, and then fighting to get his shoes on without assistance, before he's ready to go track down Dean.

The thing is, after all that, he doesn't have to go far at all.

By the time he gets to the door, hand on the knob, he hears the creak of footsteps on the old wooden walkway that leads to each of the rooms. He peeks out of the window and the Impala is back in her regular spot just under a copse of trees near their room, and even from this distance Sam can hear the engine ticking as it cools—the walls are thin and the night is clear, cold, and quiet. Almost utterly silent, in fact. Sam inhales and keeps his breath still in his lungs for long moments, expecting Dean to come to the door and insert the key. To catch Sam up and dressed and definitely doing something he shouldn't, as far as Dean is concerned.

Instead, he hears voices right outside the room, closer to the window, where he identifies Dean and someone else—someone male.

"You sure?" he hears, and then the very faint rustle and squeak of leather as Dean nods. "All right. Still dunno what the big deal is."

"My brother's in there," Dean says in a hush. "I don't want him to know."

"You don' want him to know, he don' know," says the other man. "But you know how it goes, right, El? Gotta keep this thing quiet anyhow. Not the nicest thing round these parts. People don' like it."

"I know," Dean replies, still very soft in tone. "Got a weird look when my brother showed up."

They move away from the door, directly in front of the window, and for just a second Sam catches the silhouette of what appears to be a very tall man. Then he sinks into shadow and only Dean's visible before he, too, vanishes from in front of the shabby curtains.

Sam can barely hear them now, but after a moment, he realises why: they're no longer speaking. In fact, what he hears are the unmistakable sounds of kissing.

Sam recoils, stunned and out-of-breath, his heart thumping against his ribs, his mouth swollen open from shock. He never really imagined that Dean would like guys in addition to girls.

He undresses in a hurry, snagging his jeans on his shoe as he kicks it off, and then he nearly rips the tape from his midsection in his haste to get the t-shirt off before he throws himself back into the bed, even though he's pretty sure he was too rough with his wounded self.

Panting, stomach turning over in somersaults, Sam considers the possibilities of what he's just learned. Apparently, Dean has been hooking up with a man instead of the hot chick Sam was expecting. This—well, Sam's not homophobic, and he's not precisely upset by the revelation. But he feels kind of like he's just been unexpectedly pistol-whipped by an uncomfortable truth that he's not even supposed to be aware of.

He's terrified that when Dean walks back through that door, the guilt will be scrawled across his face like graffiti on a previously pristine wall. He modulates his breathing with difficulty and distracts himself from his discovery by thinking of Jess, and her questions about whether he'd ever slept with a guy. He pushes his mind back farther, to that guy in high school that he'd liked, and who had liked him.

To that kiss that had been a revelation in and of itself. The kiss that had convinced Sam he wasn't as far on the straight end of the Kinsey scale as he might have liked.

Indeed, while he'd never pursued another guy since then, and while he'd restricted himself to girls after that, he considers himself bisexual in point of fact. Which means he really doesn't have a problem with Dean being with another man.

He just has a problem with knowing about it when he so clearly isn't meant to.

Even odder is the tiny curl of jealousy in his belly. So, evidently Dean had always gotten the girl, and now it turns out he's always getting the guy, too. That figures.

Sam quashes the jealousy and shuts his eyes and feigns sleep so that when the door finally opens, he's not looking straight at Dean with guilt shining in his eyes.

:::

The soft light of dawn is flushed across Dean's features, his eyes incredibly green, his lashes like latticework against his faintly-freckled cheeks. His lips, though, are blush rose, struck with the pale dawn glow, turned into something like artwork against a perfect canvas.

Sam's eyes track down—away from a face so beautiful Sam doesn't know how anyone can stand to look at him and not be utterly dazzled—and spreads his hands into the shape of butterfly's wings across Dean's chest. He can feel Dean's heart pounding, the heat of his skin soaking into Sam's palms.

It's crazy. He doesn't know what he's doing, staring at this lovely creature who just happens to be his brother. But he sees the appeal that all those girls—and guys—go crazy for. The sensual lips. The sexy glint in his eyes. The nipples that are just brushing against his hands, tipped with pink and swollen, begging for Sam's mouth.

He can't imagine what it means. He pulls his hands away, sickened and disgusted. Dean's eyes are still too-bright, glassy—the glint coming from sickness, not invitation; his skin is fever-flushed. Sam has been touching Dean and Dean isn't even aware of it. And Sam doesn't know where these thoughts are coming from. The temptation to skim his palms all over the scarred landscape laid out before him.

To scrape his nails down along Dean's ribs and inward until his hands meet at the vee of Dean's lower belly.

His breath twists in his lungs and he can't help it; he looks down.

Dean is far more naked than he should be for just a simple fever. It's like he's taunting Sam—Sam, who is supposed to be bathing him with the lukewarm cloth and instead, is staring at Dean's incredibly gorgeous dick. It gives every other flawless, beautiful feature on Dean's body a run for its money. Hard, uncut; it's a sight to behold and Sam realises his own dick is stiff and wanting.

He flicks his eyes back up to Dean's lips. He wants a kiss. Just a thrilling taste of something illicit, the fruit of the forbidden tree—his

family tree.

He lowers his head, turns his face just slightly, and drinks in Dean's hot breath on every exhale. Sultry heat that spins out across Sam's cheek like a pinwheel.

It's wrong, he knows that. Buried within himself, he can feel the rottenness that is slowly spreading outward and claiming more and more of himself. The darkness of diseased blood eating away at whatever good there used to be. And every time Dean's breath feathers across Sam's lips, he wants a taste as badly as if his very life depends on him touching his lips to his brother's mouth.

He pulls away. There's no time—there's only the feel of that sickness devouring him. That knowledge that he is inherently

wrong somehow, tainted in ways he can't imagine. He doesn't know what happened, or how.

He only knows that he

wants.

Sam wakes up. He's gasping as though, while asleep, something constricted his lungs until he couldn't breathe. He scrabbles at his chest, trying to relieve the horrible pressure still bound tight against him, making it impossible to draw a breath, and winces and moans a little when he feels the pain start to throb and flare like a sunburst in his side.

He doesn't remember the dream, but he knows it was awful. It's left him with the flavour of ash in his mouth and an inexplicable reluctance to look at his brother where he's still sleeping on the cot near the door.

Sam closes his eyes and counts upward until his ragged breathing evens out again and the pace of his heart slows. He's used to nightmares, but they are usually vivid reenactments of Jess's death, the murder of his children; it's new to have a black cloud of fear descend on his dreams that he can't recall, that he only knows made him want to claw at his skin until he stripped it off. It's like there's blood running down his arms, dripping from his fingers; as though there's cruelty and illness clinging to him.

He tries to shake off the sensation, but it lingers; he tries to remember the dream but it eludes him. There's only a tiny fragment that flutters around his brain like a moth trapped against a lighted window. Every time Sam reaches for it, it darts out of reach.

Sam forces himself to glance over at Dean, and when he does, he feels something squeeze his chest like a vise again. The pre-dawn light is a rosy flush spread out across Dean's features, creating faint lacy shadows where his lashes rest against his cheeks, and putting a sheen like lip gloss across his lips.

Sam cannot understand. It's like he's woken from a nightmare into yet another one. Not because that beauty is somehow dark, but it is frightening. It makes Sam's heart thump hard once, twice, three times, like the sound of a spirit knocking against bone.

He averts his eyes and struggles to breathe, to again grasp at the peace he once knew but hasn't felt since Jess died.

And yet he has the oddest thought that if he were to go over and touch Dean, even the briefest caress across his sculpted cheekbone, he might recapture that little oasis of peace he'd found in her arms. Which doesn't make a lick of sense, of course.

Sam feels like he's swimming against the current, trying to outpace something disturbing and terrifying behind him. Like he can't look at Dean, because it makes feelings well up that he just doesn't understand.

Why this sudden fascination, he wonders again. Why does he notice that colour of Dean's lips or the way a tendril of his hair, as he sleeps, manages to fall across his eyebrow.

The dream is still pounding behind his eyes, in his temples, the beginnings of a bad headache. Like one of his visions, only he always remembers those, even if he doesn't comprehend them.

He presses his fingertips to his closed eyes and lies carefully back down. It's too early to get up, but he's not sure he wants to sleep any longer.

The tape around his ribcage is what he felt when he woke up, he knows that. But it still felt almost like a creature crouching on his chest, crushing the air from his lungs.

And as he slowly floats in a half-asleep fog, he thinks maybe that creature crushing him had been lust, an untenable feeling, and what the fuck kind of sense does that make?

:::

"All right, Sammy, so I know you still need to rest but I also know that this fucking spirit is probably gonna grab another victim any day now, so we gotta end her, you know? I've been out behind the ruins of her house, and I found a few graves, but none of 'em were hers, and definitely none of them were the baby's. At least, not unless she's buried under some other name." Dean is sitting cross-legged on his cot, clipping his fingernails and piling the leavings on the mattress next to him. Sam knows, even after all this time, that Dean will do his toes next, and then inevitably lose one or two of the clippings and complain about it later.

It makes Sam want to laugh, which is an unwelcome feeling with all this darkness sucking at the air around him. Between the dream he can't recollect and the memories of Jess he can't forget, laughter seems like the most inappropriate thing he could do.

"So, what? We're gonna go find her and dig her up, I gather?" Sam stretches, arms high above his head, and yawns hugely. Even with the tape restricting his movement, he's feeling pretty good. The pain has lessened and he's needed less aspirin over the last two or three days.

"You, my brother, are going to help me track down the graves. Then I am going to dig the bitch up, and you are going to watch and not at all strain yourself or your rib. You really don't need to risk breaking it, puncturing your lung, and bleeding to death."

"Christ, Dean, I'm not an idiot." Laughter gives way to annoyance, and Dean salutes him with the toenail clippers and a raised eyebrow.

"I know you. Once I've got her uncovered, you can help if you like by pouring salt and accelerant over the bones. I'll light 'er up, but that's just because last thing we need is you doing something like lighting yourself on fire."

"Dean!" Sam says, only faintly ashamed of the way the tail-end of Dean's name twists up into a whine. "I once covered myself in lighter fluid—accidentally, the damn ghost pushed me onto the remains—and I still didn't set myself on fire! Jesus Christ."

"Now that's a story you're gonna have to tell me sometime," Dean remarks as he begins on his toes. Sam knows that after he cuts them all, he'll file them smooth. It's another thing he remembers. Just like he remembers how John always told them to keep their nails short so they didn't get ripped off during a hunt.

Dean's words register then, and he realises he never told Dean about that hunt at Stanford his freshman year. He's not really sure he wants to talk about it now. Knowing Dean, his brother will never let him live down the fact that he willingly hunted something even after he'd sworn off of it.

"Maybe later," he says evasively. "Look, if she doesn't have a headstone, we'll be there all nighr digging up the whole yard. And the cops will probably arrest us."

"Well," says Dean, "I did find wormwood growing wild out behind the last string of graves. And you know what that means."

"Then you already found her."

"Maybe. But I saw a lot of it. And I wanted your opinion on where you thought I should start digging first."

That's a lie, Sam realises at once. Dean knows where to dig, he just wants Sam to feel useful, since it's Sam's fault they haven't finished this hunt and moved on already. He appreciates the sentiment, but at the same time he loathes the way it makes him feel, that Dean is lying to him, patronising him, just because he was a fucking idiot.

"Look," he says. "I know I was a goddamn idiot back there and let myself get hurt. But you don't need to act like you don't know that. And if we find the baby's grave, I can dig that one. It'll be smaller and—"

The sound of the nailclippers fades away and Sam glances up, finds Dean staring at him. Green eyes wide, and far too pretty with the way his eyelashes fan out away from them. Sam examines the thought curiously, as though it's a clue, then lets it go. It's not important right now.

"You didn't let yourself get hurt, Sammy. She whammied you. For fuck's sake, could you be a little harder on yourself?"

All at once Sam knows Dean is talking about Jess. That Dean thinks Sam blames himself. And the horrible truth is, Sam does.

"Whatever. I'll do whatever you want."

Dean throws the toenail clippers at the wall, where they strike sharp edge first and leave a nick in the paint and the drywall underneath.

"I didn't ask you to just take orders from me," Dean says, angry. "I just don't want you to hurt yourself any more."

Sam turns his head away from Dean. "Let me dig the baby's grave."

"No," Dean says succinctly.

"Then you are giving me orders." Sam remembers this, too; the constant directives from both his father and Dean until he got old enough and big enough to fight them, to loom over them both and glower until John stopped shouting and Dean stopped trying to placate. Sam got his way back then. But this is like going through adolescence all over again: Dean giving orders, Sam expected to blindly follow them the same way that Dean always did whenever John was the one in charge.

"Sam," Dean says, dangerously quiet, "either you don't strain yourself, or you stay here, in that bed, and don't move 'til I get back."

"Fine." Sam can feel the pout stretching his lips, the petulant posture that Dean is well-used to, and he knows that someday they have to learn how to be adults with each other, and not simply the baby brother reliant on his older brother to know what's best and to protect him. Dean can't protect him any more.

Sam couldn't even protect Jess, and he didn't even know he had to. Maybe she'd been depressed and Sam, too wrapped up in everything, just hadn't noticed. Maybe if he had only noticed, he could have done something.

"I want you with me because I don't trust that spirit," Dean says softly. "I don't know how she'd manage it, but I worry every time that I leave that I'll come back to find you bloody in that bed. Or worse, just gone and I'll never see you again."

Sam whips his head around to look at Dean. He's conscious and not drugged-up, and Dean sounds kind of far away, as if he's really talking about something else. As though Dean never expected to see Sam again.

Sam flashes back to harsh words over a cell phone and the way he'd severed all ties with his family and wonders: did Dean think he'd never see Sam again? Or, worse, had Sam actually intended just that, to never spend another moment with his brother?

And if Jess hadn't died, would he have succeeded? Would he have ever learned to regret it, the way he regrets it now, being back in Dean's presence day in and day out like when they were growing up?

"Just make sure you keep your head and your gun cocked and aimed," Dean says. He sweeps the pile of clippings into his hands and unfolds from the bed, goes into the bathroom and Sam knows he's dumping them in the toilet. The flush that follows confirms Sam's suspicion.

When Dean comes back out, he's wiping his hands on his jeans. He grabs the nail file off the end table.

"We'll go tonight," Dean says, and starts to buff his nails, especially the places where they're still ragged from who knows what. Hunting, probably.

Sam wonders why he keeps noticing things like that, things he never noticed before. Would those nails catch on Sam's skin if Dean were to touch him? Would they pinch, or would it feel good?

Sam grabs for his head as if he can squeeze those thoughts out altogether.

"All right," he whispers, and Dean isn't even aware of Sam's discomfort.

:::

No matter how much Sam had argued, he's leaning against a tree, watching Dean dig where he hopes Isabella Cartwright's bones are buried. The wormwood is there, all right, but it's crawling over the ground and sprawled out in careless loops, and Sam isn't at all convinced that Isabella is necessarily right there, but Dean refuses to give him a shovel and let him help, which means once again he's useless, worth nothing.

Watching Dean, the powerful muscles in his shoulders bunching under his sweat-stained t-shirt, Sam is unable to resist the memories of unburying Jess, and his two young sons, and setting their flesh alight as if, somehow, burning their bodies and making sure they didn't become restless spirits could break their hold on his soul. After all that, though, he's still unable to let them go, to say good-bye; he wakes up in the darkest part of the night and he swears he can see Jess at the foot of the bed, in her nightgown, with her rounded belly and her eyes burning like beacons through the darkness.

He knows that's not possible, and he knows just as well that his own eyes play tricks that are cruel and unfair. He shifts from foot to foot and tries to push the thoughts of Jess aside, but he just can't do it. She haunts him, day and night, as surely as if she were a restless spirit following him.

It's worse with his children, though; they don't haunt his dreams or his memories. Instead, it's like he can't forget them, but he can't quite remember them either. Tyler's eye colour is a mystery to Sam now, and James's chin—did it really have the same cleft that Dean's has? Did he have golden hair like his mother? Did Tyler truly have the same dark waves that Sam has—or just the shape of Sam's eyes?

This hunt, in some ways, hurts worse than still being stuck in his house in California because it's about a mother and child, and Sam tries to cut off the avenue of thought that follows, but instead he just finds himself wallowing in images of Jess, the prediction of her in the hospital bed, with their third baby on its way.

"Sam!" Dean says all out of the blue, gouging the earth with the shovel and leaning on the handle, looking at Sam like he's the ghost they're hunting. Sam shakes away the melancholy and focuses on Dean, still sweat-stained and looking exhausted, and entirely too real. Sam has the impulsive urge to throw his arms around his brother, to press his face into the crook of his shoulder and inhale the scent of the sweat, the very evidence of the life pumping through his veins.

"What?" Sam says, suddenly aware that he's drifting, not paying attention even when Dean is clearly trying to rouse him back to the present.

"I can hear the gears grinding from here, Sammy," Dean says. "You need to stop thinking about it."

Looking at Dean, Sam is struck by the way his hair is plastered sweaty to his skull, by the way the flashlight Sam is holding wavers, by the concern in eyes darkened by night. Sam blinks, because the moonlight is a white sheen across Dean's hair, but Dean's face is in shadow, and Sam shouldn't be able to see his eyes. He raises his shotgun, unsure of what he's planning to do, and then light crests over Dean's head, milky blue and rushing Sam fast.

"Dean—" Sam says, a quick burst of sound, and Dean whirls, catches sight of the apparition behind him, and collapses to his knees. Sam doesn't even know how he knew she'd show, just that he felt something wrong—he fires the shotgun, and the salt disperses Isabella in a wild sparkling mist, and Sam knows she'll be back. His ribs ache as if in warning, as though the wound, this close to her gravesite, is worsening.

Dean grabs the shovel and starts digging faster, and Sam, with a bright idea born of desperation, grabs the salt canister and makes an uneven ring around Dean and then steps inside it. Panting, hanging onto his ribcage, he watches outside of the circle into the darkness, and then Dean stops.

"Uh oh." Dean looks up at Sam, his face creased with shadow, and points to the earth at his feet.

Sam turns his eyes to where Dean's been digging, to the tiny bones he's uncovered. "Oh, shit," he whispers—they've found the baby, which will either put his mother to rest because she doesn't have to keep searching—unlikely—or make her furiously angry. Angry enough to try to kill them. Mother and child and all that.

"We gotta find her bones, Sammy," Dean hisses. "She's not gonna be too happy about us burnin' these ones, and so I'd rather get her first. You didn't use up all the salt, did you?"

Sam wonders if that's concern or accusation, but now isn't really the time for an argument. He shakes his head.

"No, there's another canister in the duffle. And there's still some left in this one—enough to burn the baby's bones."

Dean straightens up, stretches and twists until his back pops, then picks up the shovel again.

"Stay here," he says. "Inside the salt circle. And cover me with the shotgun while I try to find her."

"I don't know, Dean," Sam murmurs doubtfully. "I think the closer we are to her baby, the more angry she's going to be."

"Yeah, but I wanna make sure you're safe," Dean says in a tone that brooks no argument, as much as Sam would like to do so. He's twenty-eight, not eight—but Dean's got a point. Last time she went after him, and moments earlier it seemed like she was bent on breaking the rest of his ribs.

Dean sweeps the ground with his gaze, looking for the origin of the rest of the wormwood, Sam extrapolates. But it's dark and frigid and Sam raises his eyes to the sky and a dark shape passes over the moon. Standing here, in the ruins of someone's backyard, with the long-stripped bones of a baby at his feet, he feels a shiver crawl up his spine.

He'd really thought this part of his life was over, yet along with the trill of fear is a flush of exhilaration. And then his head starts to pound, a slow build up to an unbearable crescendo of pain, until he can almost hear himself screaming over the crashing of cymbals in his skull.

He opens his eyes and he's flat on his back, the salt circle scattered, his hair full of dirt, and the knowledge of where Isabella is buried without even the assistance of the wormwood or anything. He shouldn't know—his visions have always been of that monster. That monster that he's going to find someday, if only so he can blow it all to hell and tell it to fuck itself and its plan.

But for some reason—there's a sharp report above his head, but Sam knows it's not the shotgun. He struggles to sit up, wiping dirt from the streaks of sweat on his face, and Dean is staring at him, concerned. Actually, more like totally freaked. Which—well, okay, Sam might expect that from the fact that he was just screaming his fool head off, but he knows Dean has seen worse things than this.

Dean's expression doesn't make sense, but before Sam can tell him he's all right, Dean's crouching in front of him.

"What happened, Sam," he presses urgently. "Don't lie. I know something happened and I also know it wasn't because of Isabella."

"It's—"

"Fine," Dean says, "we'll talk about this later. After I burn this ghost. But, Sammy, don't think I'm going to forget."

He pats Sam's shoulder, and something flits through his eyes. And then he helps Sam back to his feet.

"Over there," Sam says. "The wormwood is growing from there."

Dean gives him a funny look, but he starts digging where Sam pointed.

It's tedious work, and Sam is bored with nothing to do but watch Dean work. Although, strangely, watching Dean makes him feel strange, like his skin is too tight and itchy. He can't put his finger on it, and he doesn't think it's the influence of the spirits in the air—and he knows she's watching them. Yet he feels peace steal over him, as if her anger is fading.

The salt is still nothing more than trampled grains around him, but she doesn't come after him again.

In fact, his attention is dragged away from Dean by the faint light that resolves into the outline of a young woman, still spattered with blood, as she kneels in front of the baby's bones. He can hear, on the wind, the long, fretful and wavering sound of a baby's cry, followed by the echo of weeping.

And then light flares up behind Dean, sending his figure into painted relief, and the woman in front of Sam vanishes in a shower of ash.

The weeping cuts away like the needle being yanked off the record, and then the baby's cry grows louder, more anxious, until Sam spreads salt and lighter fluid over the bones and strikes the match.

He feels guilty about burning the baby, because it hadn't been hurting anyone, but he reminds himself that he's putting it to rest. That he's doing it a kindness.

And that's when he realises he's crying, silent tears tracking down his face.

:::

Dean doesn't mention the tears when they get back to the room, but Sam isn't sure if that's because he's trying to be considerate, or simply because he didn't notice.

In any event, Sam calls dibs on the first shower and locks himself in the bathroom so that he can scrub the tear stains from his face and try to bring down the swelling in his nose. It's only then, using the scratched and scummy mirror to comb dirt from his hair with his fingers, that he realises Dean has to know something's up—because Sam is an idiot who said he was going to take a shower when he's still not supposed to get himself all wet. And of course Dean knows that.

Sam unlocks the door a little bit sheepishly and by the time he plops down on his bed, Dean's giving him that look. Sam buries his face in his hands and tries not to feel too much like a moron, but it's difficult.

Hell, it was stupid to lock the door; Sam doesn't even know why he did that. It's not really the Winchester way—that is, the three of them have never put much stock in shut doors or locks or privacy because haste was usually an issue in their lives.

But he finds that he can't bring himself to meet Dean's eyes, or to acknowledge that he just did something that was suspicious on a number of different levels. At least the tears are gone from his face, although his nose is probably still a little bit red; he can probably blame that on the wintry Michigan air, though. He hopes.

"So you wanna tell me how you knew where she was buried?" Dean opens with, no preamble, nothing to give Sam the chance to prepare an answer that—

Goddammit.

It doesn't even matter; Sam remembers vividly every significant lie he ever told Jess, whether to protect her—and sometimes, selfishly, to protect himself—and he knows he can't lie to Dean. Not effectively, anyway; Dean will see through a lie like he's looking through a window.

When Sam doesn't answer immediately, Dean blows out a breath. He's clearly frustrated, but he's not throwing punches, which Sam considers to be a plus, at least.

"Fine, I'll start," Dean says, annoyed. "You fucking pass out in the middle of a salt and burn, when you could've gotten yourself killed, I might add, and then when you wake the fuck up you suddenly know where the ghost is buried. Jesus Christ, Sam, don't you even want to know what's going on?"

That gets Sam's attention. "Do you know? You know what's causing it?"

"I don't," Dean says, shaking his head. Across the room, the TV goes from a news broadcast to static. Outside, Sam hears some kind of animal scrabbling at the wooden planks of the walkway. It's all so normal, the celery coloured carpet, the lumpy pillow, even the injury he sustained, that it makes this thing even worse. The pink elephant that is sitting on his chest, invisible but suffocating nonetheless.

And for just a heart-stopping moment Sam thought he was going to find out just what is going on; he can't even express his disappointment, or his frustration. This thing is like a cancer eating away at his brain, constantly nibbling and Sam can't escape it and he doesn't know what it is.

And then Dean says something horrible. Something that makes Sam's world tilt and it feels like the celery-coloured carpet is forty miles away and dropping fast.

"It has something to do with Jess," Dean says softly. "I don't know what, or how, exactly. Just that... well, Sam, I can't explain what happened either. But I know—" he stops. "I know you felt that there was something off about the whole thing, something you couldn't put your finger on. And, well, I don't really have any answers for you, Sammy, but I know that this thing—whatever the fuck it is—has something to do with it."

"And how do you know that?" Sam asks, still stricken by Dean's words. They weren't careless or angled to wound, but despite that Sam is still reeling inside, the sound of the wind outside suddenly right inside his ears.

"Because Dad told me, in his one phone call, that I should call and tell you to watch out." Dean scrubs a hand through his hair and his face takes on a distressed cast. "And he said that you were special in ways we couldn't imagine and that you would pay for that uniqueness. But he wouldn't say anything else. Y'know, same old Dad."

"So he knows what's going on with me?" Sam leaps to his feet and starts pacing, hopes cruelly that he wears a track in the disgusting carpet. "Of course he does," Sam says, yanking his fingers through his hair, feeling strands catch on his callouses and get ripped out of his skull. "Of course he wouldn't fucking tell me. That would be too easy. How the hell am I supposed to be careful if he doesn't even tell me what to look for?"

"I don't know, Sammy," Dean says, and he sounds genuinely sorry. "I know this has gotta be killing you, and I am so sorry that Dad didn't bother to be more specific, but... we could go visit him," Dean offers at last.

"No," Sam snaps. "No, I don't want to see him. Dude, Dean, he basically told me to fuck off for life. And he's not gonna tell us anything, you know that."

"So help me understand. When you passed out, what happened?"

Sam kicks the baseboard of the wall. "I don't really know. My head hurt really bad and then I came to and I just... I knew where she was buried. I can't explain it any better than that." He looks up from the floor, catches Dean's gaze. And the world falls from beneath his feet for the second time, a sudden blast of vertigo that makes his stomach clench up and his eyes water and he's—

Staring at Dean, at his face, most specifically his lips. He's even moving closer, touching them tentatively with the pad of his finger, and Dean's lower lip is a contradiction, somehow impossibly soft and yet slightly rough at the same time, like it's chapped and peeling.

Dean is breathing carefully, like he's trying extra hard to keep his breathing even and slow. Sam doesn't really understand what's going on, just that he's kneeling in front of Dean on the cot, breathing the same air, searching green eyes for answers he knows will never be there, at least not now.

So when he kisses Dean, it surprises both of them. It's like being doused with scorching hot water, running down his face, the back of his neck. He can feel his skin blister. He can feel his lips swell and crack from the pressure.

Yet somehow it's the best thing that's ever happened to him, and at the very same instant, the worst. Sam lets his eyes close and tries to enjoy the feel of Dean's mouth, but he's swamped by feelings of remorse and disgust. When Dean opens his mouth Sam takes advantage, but he doesn't enjoy it.

And when Dean's hands slide up underneath the back of Sam's shirt, Sam feels himself shudder, feels the revulsion ripple through him, and he just doesn't fucking understand why he's kissing his

brother, or why he's still doing it even when it makes him feel this awful about himself.

And that doesn't even begin to cover what he feels when it comes to Jess—the horrific betrayal to kiss Dean when she's dead. To kiss Dean like he's in love with

him instead.

He breaks the kiss and opens his eyes and—



He's sitting on the floor, his back against the wall. Behind it he can hear some couple going at it, the headboard thumping into the wall just beside his head, and he wonders whether they're married or just lovers sneaking around, cheating on their significant others.

And he can't look at Dean. He just can't. To look at Dean is to acknowledge the kiss. To become complicit in it, to convey some type of approval, and that he just can't do.

When the fuck did this happen? he asks himself, and he pushes to his feet, thankful that his shoes are still on even if his jacket's across the room. Without looking at Dean, he mutters,

"I'll be back."

"Where are you going?" Dean says, and the hurt and plaintive note in his voice draws Sam's eyes to him anyway. He sounds anxious, like Sam's going to walk through that door and not come back—and frankly, Sam had considered it, if only for a moment; but then he wouldn't have anyone. And he doesn't really have any other place to go.

"I just—" Sam has no idea where he's going. "I need some fresh air. A walk." He's staring straight at Dean now, and his eyes gravitate to Dean's lips.

"You were just outside for hours in the freezing cold," Dean protests. And Sam hangs on each word if only so that he can watch Dean's mouth shape each one.

Which is when he realises that Dean's lips are pale. Not blistered red by a forbidden kiss. Fuck, it happened again, Sam realises, and stops with his hand on the doorknob.

"Did I—?" Sam says, unable to say it out loud. Dean nods, just once.

"Come lie down, Sam," Dean says, and Sam applies context to those words that isn't there, and he feels a sickening sense of shame come over him. What is wrong with him?

"I... I probably should," Sam says slowly. "I'm just gonna... yeah, maybe sleep will help."

Dean gives him a quirked smile, and Sam finds it reassuring in spite of himself.

Still, though: what the fuck is going on with him?


Book Two, Part Three >>
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