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this november life

"You must be a remarkably holy child," she laughed. "To attempt to restrain others from sin, as well as yourself." (from Allen Ginsberg's December 31, 1944 journal entry)

The night that Sam Winchester begins to lose his brother is colder than it should be, but brighter, too. Sam has spent twenty years imagining this night, and now that it's here, everything feels warped and discolored, like a badly developed Polaroid. Dean is smiling, slamming the trunk closed, rolling his shoulders. Sam sees the way the moon hits his brother's teeth and he wants to break the grin with his fist. While Dean is making plans to call Bobby in the morning, Sam's mind churns hysterically. He thinks about Jo, and whether she hates him for the things that he let happen. He thinks about the bodies cooling in Cold Oak, about the way Ava had looked at him when she flicked forced tears away from her fingers. His mind trips wildly to Jake, and he wonders what it felt like to be on the right end of that knife. He wonders how a blade feels in your hand when it slips through the muscle and bone and nerves of a person whose name you know, a person you've met and spoken to. He blinks the thoughts away and finds himself staring at the dirt kicked up around the Impala's tires. Bobby's pickup rattles as it carries him and Ellen away down the road. "Sammy." Dean bats a hand against the side of Sam's jaw. "You just gonna stand there? Let's celebrate. Let's go drink 'til we can't stand up or something, man. Come on." Sam's brain feels like it belongs to someone else. He looks up at Dean and can't help wonderingwhat it's going to be like to turn twenty-five without a brother, to talk about Dean in the past tense, to one day get used to waking up in a room alone. "Celebrate," he says slowly. He feels his lips seize up around the word like he's going into shock. "Sam?"

But Sam is already down on his knees, vomiting pizza and beer and old, black blood into the grass as rain starts to fall. He's tipped forward onto his hands, pebbles digging into his palms, just hanging between today and the rest of his life and throwing up until there's nothing left but acid drooling from his lip. "Hey," Dean says, crouching down beside him. "Been a hell of a day. Hell of a year, Sam, so if you want to barf your guts up, don't let me stop you." He offers a hand to help Sam to his feet, but Sam feels anger and sheer devastation collide in his head and he doesn't think, just rears up and forward with all the strength the year has left him. He collides with Dean and tosses him against the side of the car. "Fuck," Dean barks, his spine hitting the metal, but Sam is seeing red, grabbing handfuls of Dean's jacket until his fists are tucked right up under Dean's chin, until their faces are so close together their noses are battling for space. "You want me to celebrate," Sam hisses like an accusation. "And I should be able to, right now. That son of a bitch killed Jessica, killed mom, and I should be celebrating. But yougod damn it, Dean!" Sam is ready for Dean to shove him away and tell him to quit bitching about things that are already done, but he's completely unprepared when Dean just sighs and touches the back of Sam's neck, letting Sam crowd up against him. "I know," he says simply. Quick as it rose, Sam feels the anger disappear like a bubble bursting. He exhales hard against the side of Dean's face. "Dean." Sam can feel the roughness of Dean's cheek against his own, Dean's hands in his hair and heart beating against Sam's chest, the way his own breath comes back at him damp from the folds of Dean's jacket. Dean holds onto him like it's familiar, like they clutch each other this close all the time. Sam thinks about how much road can measure a year and spills tears into the side of Dean's neck. Dean remembers when Sam was little, the way the night DJ on the radio could talk him to sleep in six minutes, maybe seven. Dad would make Dean suffer through the easy listening until they could hear Sam's soft snore from the backseat. After that, Dean could listen to whatever, so long as he kept

the volume low and didn't bother Dad with too many questions. Tonight, it takes well over twenty minutes, but Sam's breathing regulates eventually, and Dean pops Jefferson Airplane into the tape deck. He passes vacancy sign after vacancy sign, but he ignores them, following the lines of the highway. There are miles between them and the graveyard, now, but Dean wants to keep driving. He wants to cross state lines with his windows down, keep moving until he can't smell the sulfur anymore. He's not sure how the hell Sam can sleep right now, though reanimation might take a hell of a lot out of a guy. Dean, on the other hand, feels like he'll never sleep again. He's still vibrating with it: hot, reckless power that starts in the palm of his right hand and goes everywhere. The colt was hell-hot as soon as he picked it up, and the kick of it as he pulled the trigger, energy tripping down his arm and across his chest and through his spinethere's never been anything that felt that good. Two days ago, the same hand that held that gun was flat on Sam's back. He can still feel that, toohot blood spilling through rain-damp suede and beating a fading pulse against Dean's palm. His brother's life spilling out between his fingers... Dean reaches out just as the car crosses from Wyoming to Utah and slips his hand into the pocket of space behind Sam's neck and underneath his toolong hair. Sam shifts a little in his sleep, arching his neck the slightest bit against Dean's fingernails and then away. Dean's heart beats faster, scares him as its pulse spikes, but he doesn't move his hand until they're ten miles into Colorado and Sam's eyes are starting to stir. -

Once you've seen enough of them, all the motel rooms start to look the same. Still, when Sam wakes up sprawled on his stomach with his arm trapped beneath his body, he knows right away that he's been here before. The marigold-yellow wallpaper and the cracked mirror above the dresser are instantly familiar. Sam rolls over on the bed, gets his bearings. Dean has changed into clean clothes, and is standing in front of the mirror, staring at himself. "Hey!

Sleeping Beauty," he says when he sees Sam stir. "Welcome to the morning after." Sam has only a vague memory of Dean ushering him out of the car last night and the exhausted stumble across the parking lot. He blinks at Dean and looks over at the beaten up brochure on the nightstand. Grand Junction, Colorado. "Dean, why are we here?" "To kick ass and take names. And to spread our seed." Dean grins into the mirror. "Hey, Sammy, do I look different to you?" "Not why are we here in the universe, Dean. Why are we here in Grand Junction? You must've been driving for ages." "Gotta sleep somewhere. Seriously, I think I look different. You think I look different? Not bad different. More like awesome different.I just killed the motherfucking demon different." Sam can't quite muster up the energy to smile. Instead, he watches Dean smiling into the mirror, and feels the anger well up in his chest. He felt it last night, crouched in the mud, but it's more than that. A solid mass of fury in his chest, like a fist, like He forces it down, sitting up on the bed. "We should call Bobby," Dean says. "We need to get out to the Roadhouse, see who" "I need some time," Sam interrupts. He knows, logically, that they should get on the road as soon as possible. There are battles to fight, people to take care of, but Sam can only bring himself to care about one thing. "My back hurts," he lies. "It's killing me, and I'm exhausted. I need to rest up for a couple of days." Dean pauses in the middle of dabbing his expensive blue hair gel onto the crown of his head. Sam feels the guilt twist in his chest when that worry line appears between Dean's brows. "Sure, Sammy. We can take a couple of days." Sam nods, gets up and walks to the bathroom. He locks the door behind him. Grand Junction, Colorado. It's the last town they were in before Sam left for Stanford. They're in the exact same motel room where Sam finally told John

that he was going, where he watched Dean fall apart. Sam is suddenly furious. This is the same bathroom where he talked himself into leaving. Same sick hospital smell of cleaning solution. Same cigarette burns beside the sink. Same face staring back through the same dirty mirror. Same stupid fucking humming, flickering fluorescent light. The demon is dead. Everything else is the same. Nothing has changed. -

On the other side of the bathroom door, Dean is winking at his own reflection. He looks different; he feels awesomeand it's not the deal, but the weight off his shoulders. He's going to die knowing Sam is safe from the Yellow-Eyed Demon, and today, that's enough to put a hell of a bounce in his step. That's when he hears the explosion. There's a violent hiss, then the sound of glass breaking and Sam, shouting Dean's name from inside the bathroom. Dean jerks the door open so hard the cheap lock breaks. Sam is bent over the sink, his spine curled in and his arms above his head. Dean can see the tiny pieces of glass snowflaked over Sam's hair. Above them, the light is hanging from frayed wires, its glass encasing practically dissolved, a few failing sparks hiccupping away from the smoking bulb. "Dude," Dean says simply. He can see Sam's face in the mirror, eyes wide. "Watch out," Sam says. He waits for Dean to step back before dropping his arms slowly, shards falling around him. "You okay?" "Yeah. Sorry for yelling." Sam steps carefully over the glass and back into the bedroom. "I'm calling the front desk. No way we're paying for this fucking room, you could've gotten hurt! Stupid shoddy wiring, or whatever, some kind of

surge" "I'm fine. Leave it. I don't want to go to a different motel, Dean, I just want to rest." Dean nods, blankly, heart thundering away inside his ribcage. "I need a drink." He presses a fist against his chest, trying to slow his blood. Sam is safe, he convinces himself. Breathe. "There's a bar two blocks down," Sam says. "I'll hang here." Neither of them acknowledges the fact that Sam once dragged Dean out of that same bar and sat beside him on the side of the road while Dean puked up eleven shots of Southern Comfort and pretended not to cry. Dean slides into his jacket and is out the door. When he rounds the building, he peers into the window of the room. Sam is still standing by the bathroom door, his arms crossed, staring down at the shattered glass like it's some kind of answer. -

They're in a Laundromat in southern Jersey a little over two weeks later. Sixteen and a half days. It's exactly sixteen and a half days later, exactly nineteen and a half days since Dean made the single most infuriating decision of his entire life. Sam has nothing to show for it but a spot of frostbite on his nose from battling the ghost of a bronze-medal ice skater who was a seriously sore loser, and a long slice through his left bicep from a rabid werewolf in Maine. Dean won't let him research. Every time Sam tries to pull out a book on demonology, Dean spills something on it or tosses it out the window going 90 on the freeway or swears to throw it in with the next corpse they burn. It's not doing anything for the knot of useless rage that's curling in on itself in Sam's stomach. Now, Sam sits on an out-of-order dryer watching his jeans spin-cycle with Dean's grey flannel. A few minutes ago, Dean had been sitting with him, talking about their optionsa haunted plantation in Georgia, or a moving (and possibly

murderous) marble statue in Ohio. That was before the girl walked in, with the tank top and the tiny dark braids swishing around her long neck. "I'm just passing through," Dean says now. He's got her leaning up against the vending machines. "My brother and I, we used to be traders on Wall Street, but we just realized we had all this money and no real sense of what was out there. In the world. So we're traveling, now. Really living, you know?" She smiles at him and puts her hands in her pockets, tugging her denim shorts down enough to reveal a butterfly tattoo on her hip, the ink blueblack against her brown skin. "So you're in Jersey to... do some living?" "Yeah," Dean says, smooth as cream. "Jersey, then Miami, then... France." Sam rolls his eyes and slides off the dryer. "Sorry to interrupt," he says. "Dean, here are the rest of the quarters. I'm gonna take a walk." Dean looks like he wants to protest, for a minute, and then Rachel takes her hand out of her own pocket and tucks her fingers into his. He huffs out a laugh. "Don't go far, Sam," he says. "Yeah, well, don't put the heat up too high on the dryer. I don't want to listen to you complain about your balls sweating because your jeans are too tight." Three blocks down there's a bookstorethe kind Jessica used to love, with gigantic couches that cough up dust when you sit on them, a healthy mix of used books and new ones, and signs in the window about Tuesday night poetry readings. Sam finds two books in the religion section and a new Latin dictionary, since Dean flung the old one through the window somewhere in Kansas. He's heading up to the counter when he sees a table covered in leatherbound blank books. Every one is different, with a variety of clasps and covers and spines. His first thought is that Jess would've liked these, too, would've sat awake in bed with one of them, sketching him while he slept. He's thumbing through them, figuring that the more time he gives Dean alone with butterfly tattoo girl the better, when he sees one that was tucked beneath the others. The leather is such a deep brown it's almost red, with black cords that wrap

around it to hold it together. It's got room to expand, to fill the pages with newspaper clippings and napkin-scrap notes. Most importantly, it's got a symbol branded into the cover. The familiar solid lines and perfect curves stare up at Sam. A devil's trap. "Find everything you need?" The man at the front desk asks. His accent is thick, and he looks at Sam like he's really damn miffed to have been interrupted in the middle of his roast beef and cheddar sandwich. "Yeah. Thanks." "Cash or credit, kid? We don't take AmEx," he says, coughing. Sam pulls out his wallet, about to reach for Donald Burke's brand new Visa, when he changes his mind. "I've got cash," he says. When he gets back to the Laundromat, their clothes are sitting, soaked, in the timed out washing machine, and Dean is nowhere to be found. Sam sighs. -

The woman at the front desk of the library has white headphones in her ears. Her volume is up way too loud, and Dean recognizes the bridge of "Fool in the Rain" as he approaches the desk. She smiles at him, lips over-glossed, and tugs one ear bud out. "Can I help you with something?" she asks, and her voice has that one-too-manycigarettes-last-night quality that goes straight to his dick. It's official. Sam sucks. "Unfortunately, only help I need right now's finding my idiot brother," he says mournfully, eyeing the way she spills out of her top in ways no librarian ever should. "I think he came in herehe's about eighteen feet tall, kicked-puppy-in-a-thunderstorm look on his face?" "You're Sam's brother?" He exhales for the first time in twenty minutes. "Yeah. He still here?" She eyes him a little. "You don't look like him," she says. "Thank you. Seriously, though..."

"Yeah, he's here. He asked about the mythology section. It's on the second floor, once you go through fiction, and then religion." "Thank you very much, uh..." "Charlotte." "Charlotte. I'm Dean. And I really, really hope I see you around." Dean is pretty sure he's allergic to libraries. He hates the dusty, stale-coffee smell of them, hates the looks on people's faces while they're elbow deep in reading they don't want to be doing. Hates the fact that ninety percent of women in these places see right through his bullshit. Charlotte, though. Charlotte could teach him a thing or two. He nearly trips over some nerdy fourteen-year old in the fiction section. He's pretty sure that the racks of various Bibles are glaring at him in the religion section. Sam is slumped over a table in the Mythology section, shoulders bunched up tense around his ears, their giant white laundry sack at the floor by his feet. There are about eighty billion books around him, and he's already got a stack of photocopies that he's scribbling on. Dean is about to grab the papers and march them right to the nearest open window, but when he takes a step closer and gets a better look at Sam's face, he freezes. Sam's been crying. Tucked up here in the darkest, emptiest corner of the library, he's been crying, surrounded by books that Dean is pretty sure all say the same thing: yes, Sam Winchester, your brother is dead meat and no, you can't do anything about it. Dean clears his throat, gives Sam a second to wipe his nose before he steps out from behind the stacks. "Hey." "Dean. Hey." Sam swallows, shuts the book he's looking at. When he finally glances over to Dean, his eyes are still a little watery. He looks guilty. "Dust in these places really gets to your eyes, huh," Dean offers, rocking back on his heels a little. Sam nods, wipes his face on his sleeve.

"It's not healthy, spending so much time in places like this. Pretty sure it shrinks your testicles." Dean scratches the back of his neck. "I asked you not to go far, Sam." "I got back to the Laundromat and you were AWOL," Sam replies, standing up and gathering his papers. He holds them close to his chest, like he knows Dean's already plotting a way to spill hot coffee on them. "I was just around back." "For at least an hour while I ran the dryer. Have fun?" Sam's voice is sharp. "Some. Not as much fun as you should be having with the hot librarian right about now, though, Sammy. She was all about your lame ass. It's like I've taught you nothing." Sam sighs. "Her name is Charlotte, Dean. She just got her Master's. She's got a two-year-old daughter." "Yeah, well. She's got a great rack." "I don't want to sleep with anyone right now, Dean. I can't be like you, I can't just turn everything off and go have sex without thinking about you." Dean raises his eyebrows. "That came out wrong," Sam says wearily. "You want me to stop sleeping with people, Sammy?" Sam looks down and closes his book. "Doesn't matter to me, Dean," he says finally. "Why would it matter to me?" -

It takes them six days to clear up the situation in Georgia. There's a narrow escape involving a second story window and a not-so-graceful landing on a rose bush that isn't lacking in the thorn department. Sam saves a debutante from becoming breakfast for the bloodthirsty ghost in her attic, and she pats his hand, face full of sincere gratitude. Dean saves Rhett Butler (her cat) and for his trouble, gets laid in the Impala. Twice.

Sam might be a little pissed off about it, but he doesn't say anything. He pushes it down, adds it to the fire growing in his stomachone more reason it sucks to be Sam Winchester. There is a pretty impressive library, though, so while Dean is scrubbing splooge out of the back seat's upholstery, Sam adds more to his journal. There is, not surprisingly, much more evidence of demon pacts south of the Mason-Dixon line. Sam's already got a list of people in the front of the journal who came into extraordinary luck one day, and died exactly ten years later after a rapid descent into madness. Good people, who were maybe a little weak. It's harder to find the people who didn't ask for talent or luck from the crossroads demon. Sam knows they existbrave, stupid, reckless people like Dean, who traded their lives for someone else'sbut they're not as documented in the papers. It's not news, when someone ordinary passes away. When it's a world-famous athlete, or a musician with a top ten record, or an actress with a string of Oscars, it's on the front page, and the whole world takes pause. Sam is going to lose his brother and nobody's going to get it. Bobby is going to shake his head and mutter something about damn Winchesters, kill a bottle of Wild Turkey and mourn quietly. Ellen is going to press her fingers to her forehead and have some trouble sleeping. Jo is going to take the day off work to get drunk and think about what might have been. But Sam. Sam is going to forget how to breathe. Newspaper photocopies and gigantic books surround him when the anger in his core melts to fear, there in the huge public library somewhere in central Georgia. Sam is used to controlling anger; he's done it his entire life. Fear, though, is harder to grab hold of. He feels it burst in his chest like an atomic bomb as the ripples of its energy shoot from his skin. He's only a little bit surprised when suddenly, everyone else in his section of the library gasps. Tables shift without anyone touching them. Papers fly, books slip to the floor. An entire bookshelf topples over, barely missing a sixth-grader working on his first research project. "Oh my god, was that an earthquake?" "Do we have earthquakes here?" No one looks at Sam or notices the way he tries to get his breathing to slow

down. When he gets back to the motel, the whole room smells like heat and Dean's minty shave gel. Dean is in the bathroom, freshly showered and wearing his clean jeans. Sam sighs. "Hi." "Sam-may," Dean says, grinning. "Get dressed. Let's go out." "I am dressed," Sam says. "And no." Whatever it was that happened back there at the library sucked every bit of energy from Sam's veins. He'd sleep for a month if he wasn't trying to out-run the calendar. "Sam. Have you even noticed how gorgeous the women are in the south? C'mon, let's get you laid. It'll be fun. Like a science experiment." "Don't need to get laid," Sam says wearily. "Need sleep." Dean deflates like a three-day-old helium balloon. "Sam. Talk to me, man." Sam rolls over onto his side so that Dean can't see his face. "I'd rather not," he says. His voice is tight and short. It sounds like it belongs to someone else. "I might get used to it." "That's not fair, Sam." "You want to know what's not fair? How many days do you have left, Dean?" "I'm not counting days. Sammy. I told you, I don't regret" "You've got three hundred thirty-six days left, Dean. I wake up every morning with a number in my head. That's what's not fair. Do me a favor? Go out, get wasted, get your dick sucked. I just want to get some fucking sleep." The sound of the door shutting behind Dean when he leaves is like a gunshot. -

Dean dreams that he's fucking Ellen in the rubble where the Roadhouse used to be. Her tits have streaks of soot on them that he follows with his mouth,

but when he looks up at her she's looking back with a face full of pity, like she's doing him some great favor. He gets up and pulls away from her, but he almost trips over his car. He's suddenly a giant, and Sam is down by his feet, sitting on the hood of the Impala and looking up at Dean. When he slides off the car and stands up, he barely reaches Dean's hip. He's full grown, bags under his eyes and everything, but he looks up at Dean and says "Up!" Dean picks him up and looks closer, realizing that Sam can't be more than three. "Sammy," he says, feeling warmth in his chest when Sam's tiny, chubby arms squeeze him. Sam smiles, and then his eyes flash yellow. "How sure are you that what you brought back is one-hundred percent pure Sam?" he asks. Dean freezes, and hears a voice from behind him. "Take your brother outside, as fast as you can!" He wakes up somewhere in Arizona with his father's voice in his head. He's in the passenger seat with his knees up against the glove compartment. The windows are down and though Sam is doing at least eighty-five down the desert highway, it's about a million degrees in the car. "Bad dream?" Sam asks, not taking his eyes off the road. He's got the radio off, which means he's been thinking. "I was fucking Ellen," Dean replies, shuddering exaggeratedly. He tugs his sweaty t-shirt over his head and twists around to rummage for a dry one in the back seat. "It was awkward." "Ellen? Really?" Sam's tone is cold. Dean finds one of Sam's shirts and pulls it on. It's not clean; he can smell Sam's weird deodorant on it. Smells nice. "It was a dream, Sam. You of all people should know, you can't help what gets in your head when you're sleeping." Sam shrugs. "Sam?" Dean prompts, rolling his eyes. "I mean, pretty soon you'll have slept with every other woman in the country. Gonna get around to Ellen sooner or later."

Dean scoffs. "Yeah. Ellen, then maybe Missouri. Maybe that cop back in Baltimore, with the jowls?" "Hey," Sam says, squinting against the setting sun. "Whatever makes you feel alive, Dean." -

A pack of six overzealous chupacabras in New Mexico develops a taste for humans after draining the blood of every goat in the county. Sam and Dean kill the first five off without too much trouble; chupacabras are nasty but they're also stupid. Dean's a fair bit of stupid himself, though, and when the youngest and strongest of the beasts snarls and froths at the mouth, Dean dives between it and Sam at the same time Sam pulls the trigger on his sawed-off. Sam's heart half stops when he hears Dean shout. He almost forgets about the chupacabra in his rush to get to Dean's side. "Shoot it, dumbass," Dean grunts, curling in on himself in the dirt. Sam fills it with the blessed iron. "Where'd I hit you?" "It's just a scratch, Sam, under my arm. Help me up, I'm fine." "I could've hit a major artery, Dean. Don't move." "You could've, but you didn't. Seriously." Dean lifts his arm, his face screwing up in pain. "See?" There's plenty of blood soaking into Dean's t-shirt. Sam pulls the shirt away from Dean's skin to check the wound. It's not as bad as it looks - pretty superficial. Still, Sam can't lose Dean early; he can't keep letting Dean be reckless. They're standing too close together as Sam carefully lowers Dean's arm. He can feel Dean breathing on him, feel the steady beat of his heart. "Sammy?" Dean says, voice low, unfamiliar. "Yeah," Sam exhales, and moves his gaze from Dean's arm to his eyes.

Dean is just staring at him, too close, and Sam can't breathe. He wants to... he doesn't know what he wants, but he almost just killedDean, and He feels himself drawing his fist back before he can think to stop it. Dean moves, though, blocking Sam's punch easily. He gapes at him. "What the hell was that, Sammy?" "I... you shouldn't have jumped in front of me." "So you're going to punch me because you accidentally shot me? Nice. Besides, if you weren't taking forever to load your gun, I wouldn't have had to block you." Sam shakes his head and gets to his feet clumsily. The bodies of the chupacabras have already started to turn to dust around them, the stench of rotting climbing up into the heat. "So this is my fault?" "I said 'accidentally,' Sam. I know you didn't mean to shoot me. Though, the way you've been acting lately, I wouldn't be surprised." Dean groans, struggling to stand. Sam doesn't offer him a hand. Instead, he yells. The words come out like a roar. "The way I've been acting? You're trying to drink and fuck yourself to deathliterallyand this is about the way I've been acting." "If you'd get some goddamn sleep, maybe you wouldn't be so off your mark, Sam. You're all pissed at me for putting myself in danger. Maybe if the guy who is supposed to protect my ass would do his damn job instead of trying to cheat fate, we wouldn't be in this situation!" Sam jams a hand down into the pocket of Dean's jeans, ignoring Dean's sharp intake of breath as he pulls the car keys out. He turns around and clomps through the dust and brush to where they've got the car parked, without bothering to turn around and check if Dean is following. When he gets to the car, he sits with his hands on the wheel, grinding his teeth down. When Dean finally gets into the passenger seat, scowling, Sam hesitates. "Don't you talk to me about trying to cheat fate," he says, his voice low and quiet beneath the desert winds. He sticks the key into the ignition and thinks about how it would've felt if

he'd actually hurt Dean tonight. He thinks about how terrifying it would've been to roll Dean over and see his face white, dead. The engine stirs and the car revs up. Dean is too busy sulking to notice that Sam hasn't turned the key. -

Dean goes to the bar that night because he thinks that if he looks at Sam for one more minute he's going to haul off and deck him into next week. He's wrong. As soon as he orders his first beer, he doesn't want it. His arm only aches a little bit, but he's got a hell of a headache and a bad feeling growing in his stomach. What he wants, he realizes, is to go back to the room and fall asleep listening to Sam breathe. He wants to wake up and argue over something easy, like which blue toothbrush is his and which is Sam's, and why does Sam use up all the damn shaving cream when he only has four stupid hairs growing on his gigantic face. Then he wants to go out for breakfast and bitch because Sam acts all holier-than-thou about ordering healthy egg white omelets but always always steals Dean's sausage before he gets to eat it himself. He pays for his beer and leaves a generous tip for the bartender, because he may not be in the mood tonight but he knows a great ass when he sees it. Enduring Sam's long silences is hard on Dean. He hadn't planned for this. A year in exchange for hearing Sam's voice again was worth itit would always be worth itbut Dean had never expected a year of stony quiet and Sam growing pale and the whole world going up in flames while they fell behind trying to put them out. Sam is asleep when Dean gets back, so Dean doesn't turn the light on. He heads to the bathroom to find his toothbrush, but something crunches under his boot. He squints down at the ground. "The hell..." He flicks the light on. The mirror above the desk is shattered, and the desk is a good two feet over from where it was when Dean was tending to his wounds in here earlier. Sam's bed is pushed up against one wall, and Dean's

against the others, when previously they'd been a couple feet apart in the center of the room. The giant windowthe only good thing about this motelis cracked all over the place, spider-web slices tenuously holding the glass together in the frame. Dean sinks down onto his bed and reaches into his duffel bag, pulling out the bottle of Seagram's Seven he's had stashed in there for three weeks. Screw his plans for toothbrush arguments and breakfast at the diner. Dean is pretty sure nothing is going to feel like that again. -

Sam wakes up just before sunrise. The room is lit a cool blue. Dean is sitting up against the pillows on the other bed, holding the emergency whiskey. He hasn't opened the bottle. Sam scrubs a hand over his face. "Dean?" "Let me see your hands," Dean says coolly, swiveling to plant his feet on the ground. He leans forward, in toward Sam. Sam takes a second to get his arms untangled from the sheets, but he slowly raises his palms. Dean grabs his wrists and flips his hands over, peers at his knuckles. "Dean... what..." Dean sits back. He's got a deep crease between his eyebrows from worrying away the better part of the night. When he reaches out to flick the light on, Sam realizes. The window is brokenthe mirror, too. The furniture is all out of place. He waits for Dean to ask him. To say Jesus Sammy, what the hell did you do. The words don't come. Sam glances down at his own hands, realizing Dean expected to find his knuckles split by glass. Dean just stares at him for a moment before dropping his head. "We're gonna go to South Dakota," he says. "Spend a few days at Bobby's. Maybe a week." "What? Why?" Sam stands up, though, rummages for his boots before he

gets an answer. He's been hoping to see Bobby, waiting for the right time to call. "We're off," Dean says simply. "Last nightour rhythm is off, Sammy, way off. We need some training time; we need some rest. We need to fix... to fix..." Sam looks up. "Fix what, Dean?" Dean's eyes are bloodshot, the skin around them so dark it looks bruised. "Transmission," he lies. "Something's up with the transmission." They don't call to warn Bobby that they're about to descend on him, but he doesn't look surprised to see them pull up to the porch. He just says, "Boys," and shields his eyes with his hand to squint at them. "Funny, how I don't recall issuing an invitation." Dean only takes two steps onto the porch when Bobby's dogswhich usually greet them with tails waggingbegin to growl at him. Their ears press back, the hair behind their necks arches up toward him. "The hell?" Dean yelps, jumping back. "It's the hellhounds," Sam says. He keeps his face blank when Dean's head swivels toward him, wills the familiar panic to stay buried. "They can smell them on you already." -

Dean spends seven hours on the car. There was nothing wrong with the transmission in the first place, but he can't bring himself to go inside to the tiny room he and Sam are sharing. So he changes the oil, too, and then cleans the interior, collecting the Butterfinger wrappers and newspaper clippings that tend to gather in the passenger side foot well. He's busy fiddling with the windshield wipers' mechanism Bobby comes outside, tapping a pack of cigarettes against the palm of his hand. "You look like shit, kid," Bobby says, leaning against the side of the car next to Dean. He offers Dean a cigarettethough Dean is sure Bobby hasn't seen him smoke in almost ten yearsand Dean takes it, mostly for something to do with his hands. "It's been a shitty few months," Dean admits quietly, using the toe of his

boot to drill down into the gravel. Bobby just nods, crosses his arms over his belly and blows smoke through his nostrils. Dean swallows. "Sam's pissed at me. Things are... tense." "Well, you didn't think he was gonna thank you." "I didn't think he'd ever need to know. Figured I'd get one good year and then just." He waves a hand, ash dropping from the cigarette. "Let him think I'd finally had one too many concussions or somethin'." "We talking about the same kid? Sam Winchester, the one who's been seeing through your bullshit since before he could read?" Bobby shakes his head, wearing his weary what would you idiots do without me face. "Dean, you think you're gonna ever have secrets from Sam, you're wrong." "Maybe," Dean says. The smoke is sickly sweet in his mouth, clawing at his throat as it goes down. "He's gotta forgive me sometime, right? I mean, maybe not this year, but maybe after I'm gone" "You forgive your dad?" Bobby interrupts. His eyes hold a challenge. Dean looks down at the cigarette burning between his fingers. It's getting colder, winter creeping in through autumn's cracks before he's ready for it, as usual. He tosses his cigarette to the ground and stomps it out. "Good talk, Bobby," he says, rough, walking away without turning back. -

They sleep in the same room they shared as kids, spending weeks here in the summer while their dad drove in other directions. It's small, with two low twin beds and a window that's been held together with packing tape for the better part of a decade. There is no reason for Bobby to have this roomhe's got another guest bedroom, and he could probably use this space for his books and his files. Still, he keeps it the same as it's always been. Now, it makes Sam smile. Bobby's got a lot of rough edges, but he's always got a place for Dean and Sam to sleep. Dean is snoring in the other bed, still smelling like motor oil and autumn.

Sam can't get comfortable. His feet hang off the bed, the crickets are too loud, it's too hot for the thick quilt and too cold to go without it. He gets up quietly, careful to go easy on the weary springs so he doesn't wake Dean. He stops for a beat when he passes Dean's bedsees the easy way Dean fits himself into the too-small space, curling up like he's still eleven years old. Sam is surprised to find the light on in the study when he gets downstairs. Bobby has books open all over the table and a map spread beneath them. The sharpie in his hand is a little worse for wearits lines squeak and stutter across the map as Bobby makes circles. "You should be sleeping," he says without even glancing at Sam. Sam fills a glass of water in the sink and sits down next to Bobby. "Easier said than done. What're you doing?" Bobby taps the map. It's a page torn from a South Dakota road atlas. Sam recognizes the empty space surrounding Cold Oak. "There are crossroads all over the country, but you can only summon a demon at one if there have been yarrow flowers growing there for at least three-hundred-sixty-five days," he says. "And based on the timeframe and where we put your body," he glances at Sam to acknowledge the absurdity of the statementwhere they put him, like he was some kind of inanimate object"I figure Dean hit one of these three crossroads." He taps the small black circles. "You sure?" "I'm always sure, kid." Bobby folds up the map and hands it to Sam. "Here, stick that in that diary you been carrying around." Sam flushes, but he takes the map gratefully. "Bobby, I gotta ask you something." Bobby looks at him. "And..." "And you can't tell Dean." "Go figure." Sam scratches at his neck, weighs the consequences of putting this idea in Bobby's head. "And don't freak out or anything, because it sounds a little crazy."

"You're a Winchester," Bobby says. Sam takes a long sip of his water. "What do you know about demon blood?" "Demon blood?" "Like, when a demon is possessing a human. That human's blood... does it change?" Bobby narrows his eyes. "This is some dark territory, Sam." Sam doesn't flinch, and Bobby sighs. "Yeah, it changes. That's the way the demon possesses a personthrough their life source. Right into their blood. The chemicals change; there's a lot of sulfur. There's a lot we still don't know, kid, it's not like we have a ton of samples to study. Not exactly a plentiful resource, if you know what I mean." "What if the blood of a demon somehow... got into the system of a human who wasn't being possessed?" "Sam." Sam soldiers forward. "Like, if a human was exposed to the demon blood. If they drank it. Hypothetically." Bobby looks pale, now, in the light from the one bare bulb. "They'd be poisoned," he answers eventually. "For the rest of their lives, they'd feel the effects of that blood." "So if it happened to a child," Sam says slowly, "he... or she... might not even know. They could have demon blood in them their entire lives, and just... never know what it's like to be without it." She interrupted us, the demon had hissed, there in the room that Sam couldn't remember, with a mother whose face Sam had only known in photographs. Bobby clears his throat. "Do you know something, Sam?" Sam breaks from his reverie. "What? Ohno. No, you know, I'm just... trying to make sure all my bases are covered. All Dean's bases. Thanks for the map, Bobby. I'll see you in the morning."

When Dean wakes up, too early in the morning, Sam is humming. He's standing in the tiny bathroom, washing his face over the cracked porcelain sink, and humming a Night Ranger song. Dean closes his eyes and sinks back into the too-small bed for a few seconds. It's only when Sam actually starts to sing under his breathyou're motoring, what's your price for flightthat Dean sits up and swings his legs off the bed, groaning loudly. He realizes with a weird jolt that he could listen to this all day. But he's got to maintain some form of dignity. "You're kidding me, right?" he grunts, flicking sleep out of his eyes. "Hey!" Sam says. It's his tone of voice that makes Dean freeze, look up from his hunched-over position. Sam sounds bright, happy, well-rested, and most importantly, glad to see Dean. Dean raises an eyebrow. "Hey?" Sam comes in and sits heavily on his bed, the old mattress and springs groaning under his weight. His face is flushed, right down his neck to his chest. "Do you, um. Do you maybe want to come for a run?" he asks, digging through his bag for a t-shirt. He pauses to look up at Dean, hesitation on his face. Things have been tense between them, latelywords few and far between, to say the least. Dean recognizes an olive branch when he sees one. "Yeah," he says. "Yeah." They take the ruddy path through the woods that fan out behind the auto yard. Dean has to keep his eyes low to avoid the roots and rocks and deep holes that pepper the dirt they're running on. He can hear Sam in front of him though, just an arm's reach away, breathing and moving and sweating. Dean stares at his brother's neck, watches sweat slip down from beneath his hair and ignores his sudden urge to put his mouth on his brother's skin. Still, it's good. It's a good morning.

this november life - sam/dean - adult - 2/5

They're at Bobby's for six days. They don't talk a whole hell of a lot, but they run in the mornings, spend the afternoons doing target practice out in the woods, sparring in the dirt behind the house. There's a bruise on Sam's chest, just over his heart, from Dean's shinbone; a roundhouse kick he barely tried to block. At night, Sam waits for Dean to fall asleepthey're both exhausted, but Sam stares at shadows on the wallsand sometimes at Dean's profile, edged in blue light - until he can creep back downstairs. He and Bobby sit side-byside over books and pages and Sam's journal until their eyelids droop and the sky starts to fade to blue. Dean wakes him up on the seventh morning and says, "Get up, bitch, there's demonic activity outside Columbus." Sam is so weary that he doesn't bother with the pretense of navigating, just nods goodbye to Bobby and half-collapses into the backseat. He falls asleep with the rumble of the road beneath him and his journal tucked inside his jacket. He blinks awake some three hours later. He's aware first of the cold sweat on the back of his neck, the way his fists are tight. He can't remember what he dreamt of, but his fingernails have carved little half-moons into the heels of his hands, and his chest throbs where the journal has been pressing against his bruised ribs. The windows are down, blowing crisp air into the backseat. They're somewhere in the Great Plains; when Sam cranes his neck up (enough to see out the window but not enough to let Dean know he's awake) all he can see is acres of some dying crop. The radio is off, but there's still music. Dean has an elbow out the window, and he's singing something Sam recognizes only enough to know it's a song that reminds him of a time of which he doesn't want to be reminded. "I can tell my brother by the flowers in his eyes on the road to Shambala. How does your light shine, in the halls of Shambala?" Dean sings the way he always sings; clear and wide open, from his chest, just loud enough to interrupt Sam's thoughts and creep under his skin. Sam sinks back down, turns his cheek so that it's pressed against the sunwarm leather of the seat. His heart is pounding too fast, like it's trying to

catch up with Dean's fingers drumming on the steering wheel. He puts his hand over the journal, tucked inside his jacket. He thinks about Bobby's facethis is some dark territory, Samand then he thinks about that night in Cold Oak and the iron in his hand when he heard Dean calling his name from far away, the relief that fell over him like a blanket against the cold. They're somewhere outside Ohio. The sun is high. Sam's knee hurts. The backseat smells like cleanser and dry leaves. If Dean knows Sam's awake, it doesn't stop him from singing. Sam closes his eyes, grits his teeth, and makes a decision. When he falls back asleep, his dreams are pleasant and mild. -

A few weeks later they finish a salt and burn outside West Hollywood. She was the ghost of a nurse from the seventies, in a bloody uniform, walking around giving adulterous men heart attacks just by looking at them. "What's with you?" Sam asks, leaning against the car as they're gassing up on their way out of town. Dean stares at the numbers on the meter, feeling old and remembering what gas used to cost, back when. "What makes you think something is with me?" Sam smirks. His hair is getting too long, there are shadows under his eyes and hollows under his cheeks. "Some hot blonde soon-to-be divorcee just threw herself at you and you barely blinked. Come on, man, we got rid of the evil ghost. No victory dance?" Dean crosses his arms over his chest. He's too warm, sweating on the inside of his elbows and the backs of his knees. Sam, as usual, is wearing ninetyseven layers and he's not even fucking shiny. Dean looks away. There are a group of sorority girls in a convertible at the other pump. "Twenty-three men had heart attacks," he says, not looking at Sam. "Would've been more, if it weren't for you." "Us," Dean snaps quickly. "You always say you like it's just me. I hate that."

Sam is quiet. Dean can hear him kicking lightly at the tire. "Sorry." "Besides," Dean says, whirling around, "how fucked is it that that many assholes are cheating on their wives? It's really fucked, Sammy." Sam's jaw drops and he huffs out an incredulous laugh. "You've fucked your way through all fifty states in the last four months and now you're preaching about fidelity? You're joking." "I'm not married!" Dean feels himself practically pouting, but he can't help it. This whole week has just been annoying, and Sam's self-righteous act isn't helping. "If I was marrieddude. When I was with Cassie, I didn't even think... whatever." Sam's face falls, and now it's his turn to stare at the price of the gasoline. They're both quiet for a while, listening to the synthesized pop pouring out of the Chi Omega Mobile without talking. When Sam finally talks, his voice is gravelly and tired. "You ever think about how weird it is that you've had sex with, like, more people than I've even met, and you've only ever bothered to be faithful to one?" Dean rolls his eyes. "You my shrink, now?" Sam twists his face up into a grimace and pushes away from the car as the gas pump clicks to a stop. "You want coffee or something?" Dean nods and reaches into his back pocket for his wallet. "Iced coffee," he corrects. "And those pretzels with the honey mustard, and like... donuts. But without icing." He thumbs a few twenty-dollar bills over to Sam with a grimace at the price of the gasoline. Sam looks confused. "Cash?" Dean nods. "Haven't been to the P.O. Box to pick up a new card," he says. "We've been too busy, and we've maxed out too many." "Dean." "Hey," Dean interrupts. "Don't stress about it, we'll pick up new cards tomorrow, or something." "Yeah, but" "Dude. Seriously. I want iced coffee and donuts and honey mustard

pretzels." Sam doesn't go anywhere. Dean's stomach twists up. It's definitely because he's hungry. "Sammy," he says slowly, "you'll have plenty of time to worry about this stuff... later. It's my job right now." It always has been. Dean applies for the credit cards, he hustles the pool tables, and he wins the poker games. Dean's older. It's not Sam's problem. Sam doesn't look happy about it, but he takes the cash and heads into the Quik-E-Mart without another word. Dean closes up the gas cap and goes around to the trunk to find a new tshirt, since his is sticking to his lower back in uncomfortable ways. He keeps one eye on Sam. Since Sam disappeared at that diner five months ago, Dean's had a little trouble letting him out of his sight. Not that he'd ever let Sam know that. It takes everything he's got to leave Sam alone in motel rooms and libraries, but he does it, because he's got to get used to the idea of Sam fending for himself. Still, he pulls his shirt off quickly, and checks that Sam is still there before yanking the other one over his head. Sam has an armful of snacks and he's talking to the clerka tall, skinny guy with dyed black hair and a sweatband around his wrist. Dean notices the way Sam smiles, the way he leans against the counter, the way the clerk tips his head close like he can't quite hear what Sam's saying. Dean doesn't actually get into the car until he sees Sam turn to come back out. Sam hands Dean his coffee through the window and dumps a box of powdered donuts and a couple sticks of beef jerky into his lap. He won't meet Dean's eyes when he walks around to get in on the passenger side. He sits and, staring straight ahead, pulls the money out of his pocket. "Here."

Dean snatches it back and looks at the bills for a second. "Uh, Sammy? It's all here. Does the little angel on your shoulder have the weekend off, or

something?" Sam just looks out the window, watching some California blonde try to figure out the complicated mechanisms of her gas cap. "I didn't steal it. The guy gave me the stuff for free." "The stuff?" Dean elbows Sam enough for Sam to turn and look at him. "The coffee and the snacks and the... the gas, too?" Sam shrugs. "It's not a big deal. Can we go?" Dean swivels around. The clerk is still looking out at them, looking at Sam with this... weird lovesick-puppy look on his face. Dean kind of wants to punch him. For no particular reason. Dean crumples the bills in his fists and drops them over the center console. As he starts the car, Sam wipes his palms on his jeans and pushes his hair over his forehead. He's sweating. Okay, Dean thinks. Well, then, okay. -

They're exorcising a demon in Brownsville, Texas, right out in the open, in the middle of a dirt road. Even though they're in a remote area, Sam is so nervous that someone is going to drive by and think that they're trying to hurt an innocent woman that he keeps fumbling the Latin and having to backtrack. He can tell Dean is getting antsy. He's stalking around the devil's trap they've drawn like a cat waiting for its prey, shoulders hunched, neck arched. The girl the demon is possessing is beautiful; they always are. Her skin is dark beneath her white dress. She's standing, her back arched at a painful angle as she howls. It's so dark Sam can barely see her eyes, but he knows what they look like by now; the desperate black of them. She screams again, so violent Sam's blood runs cold. "Shut up," Dean barks, spinning to face her. "Hurry up, Sammy." "Nam superbi insurrexunt contra me," Sam continues. Hot winds pick up around them, so he has to shield his eyes against the airborne dirt.

"I know who you are," the demon purrs. The girl's rolling Mexican accent apparently carries through to the demon. "Winchesters. Sam Winchester. It's an honor to meet you, really." Sam loses his place on the page and looks up at Dean desperately. "Shut up, bitch," Dean says. "Sam Winchester," she repeats, but she's staring at Dean. "You think you saved him, don't you, Dean? You think you saved your brother." "Nam ex omine tribulatione eripuit me, et inimicos meos confuses vidit oculous meus." She ignores Sam, though he can see her muscles start to twitch and twist. She's in pain, but she's focused only on Dean. "You don't understand, though, that you can't save him, now. It's in too deep. He's not Sam anymore, Dean. But you know that. Don't you, Dean? You know" Sam glances up, sees Dean's face, and knows what he's going to do before he does it. "DEAN, NO!" Dean loses his head, forgets where he is, and steps over the line, into the circle. She's on him instantly, ink spilling into the whites of her eyes. "You bitch," he says, but she's got her hands around his neck. "You've already lost your baby brother," she's saying to him. "You lost him a long time ago, didn't you, Dean? Or maybe he was never yours to have." Sam drops the book, but suddenly, he remembers the Latin perfectly. He recites it flawlessly, quickly, the words rapid-firing from his lips. Her arms stretch up above her head, superhuman strength lifting Dean right off his feet. His face goes red immediately, and the skin on his neck, under her hands, begins to bruise faster than Sam knew was possible. But Sam knows the words, now, and it's less than a minute before she screams, spills inky smoke toward the sky. The girl and Dean collapse at the same time, just heaped together in the dry

red dirt. She starts to cough, to shove at Dean's limp limbs and try to crawl away from him. Sam ignores her, hooks his hands under Dean's arms and drags him up. Dean is slick with sweat, caked with dirt. Her handprints are curved around his neck. The girl is crying, begging him for answers, but Sam gets his hands on Dean's face and shakes. "DEAN!" It feels like hours before Dean breathes, but it's just seconds, just before Sam is about to start with the CPR. "Sammy," he rasps, when he sees Sam's face above his. Sam blinks. He's got tears on his face, and he didn't even realize. "Dean." "Dude, were you about to give me mouth to mouth?" Sam scrambles to his feet, thrusting a hand out to help Dean up, slowly. "You weren't breathing." "I was just... pausing. From the breathing thing. Dude." Sam's fist closes and he clocks Dean right across the face before he even knows what he's doing. Dean whirls backwards and falls, gets a good mouthful of dirt. "Jesus!" "You're an idiot, Dean. You fuckingyou stepped into the circle. You just asked her toyou know what she could've done?" Dean gets up with a hand tucked against his cheek. "You got that out of your system, now, Sam?" "Do you know what she could've done?" Sam repeats. "I think I've got a pretty good idea, Sam, yeah! I'm fine, okay, but that girl she was possessing just took off in another direction." "Don't care. Dean, you could've died." "Theme of the year," Dean says. He looks around on the ground until he finds their book of exorcism rituals, picking it up. "Did we lose her?"

"Who?" "The girl the goddamn thing was possessing, Sam, pay attention. Where is she?" Sam blinks at him. He's right. She's gone. "She, uh. I... she must've taken off down the road." "I just said that. Damn it, Sam" "You weren't breathing." "Doesn't mean" "Yes, it does, Dean." Sam is so mad he can feel it in his blood, in his chest, behind his eyes, in his wrists. "It does mean that." Dean rubs at his neck a little, wincing. Sam wants to touch him, but he just stands there as Dean turns back to the car and starts to walk away. "Dean!" "We're not talking about this." Sam jogs to catch up with him and gets an arm around Dean's elbow. "This isn't your year," he says before he can stop himself. He spins Dean around and draws himself up close, crowds in. "What?" Sam leans forward, ducks his head so that his hair is falling against Dean's forehead. "This year," Sam repeats, "is not yours. Okay? It's mine; it's my year. And I'm sick of you fucking trying to throw it away." Dean lifts his hands up like he's going to shove Sam away, hardbut he doesn't. He just pauses, sighs. He touches Sam's neck. "Get in the car, Sammy." Sam does, tossing their bag into the backseat and sitting in the driver's side. "I should be driving," he says. "You were passed out three minutes ago." Dean starts the engine up. "You should be doing a lot of things, Sammy," he says.

They get the hell out of town; drive northeast for close to an hour before there's enough distance between them and the rest of the day. The motel they stop at is more run-down than usual, but neither of them seems to care as they hand over their recently acquired credit card. Dean walks down the hall in front of Sam. Sam just stares at the marks on Dean's neckperfect shadows of long, feminine fingers curving over Dean's jugular and around. Dean is filthy. He smells like sweat when Sam steps up behind him at their room's door; he's caked with red dirt from his head to his toes. There's a thin trickle of blood congealing over his cheekbone from where Sam coldcocked him. Dean pauses at the door. "I'm sorry," he says. "For stepping over the line. It was. Whatever." Sam nods. "Yeah." He takes the keycard from Dean and unlocks the door himself. "It was whatever." Dean follows him in. "I got pissed." "Reckless," Sam corrects. He dumps his stuff on his bed and shoves his hands in his pockets, keeping his back turned to Dean. "And stupid. I have seven months, Dean, before I... look, I have seven months. Don't make me watch you die before that." Dean is quiet. He sits down on the edge of his bed, careful not to get it too dirty. Sam turns to look at the grime on him. The smell of Dean's sweat takes up the entire room. Sam thinks for a minute, calls up something inside of himthe same thing he called up back at that West Hollywood gas station. "Let me have first shower," he says. Dean looks up at him. Sam is clean, dry. He can still smell the shaving cream he used that morning. "Yeah," Dean replies. "Of course."

Sam feels an unfamiliar rush of power as he steps under the shower's spray, and wonders if this is what it always felt like for Andy. -

There is nowhere in the entire country that Dean hates more than Lawrence, Kansas. Seriously. Maybe he hates California a little more. And Cold Oak can suck it, too. Seriously, though, he really fucking hates Lawrence. But Sam's been bitching for a week that they need to go theresomething about visiting Mom's grave and checking on their old house and talking to a professor at KU about a devil's gate theory and investigating some shady stuff going on in the underground nuclear fallout shelters and... whatever, there are eight billion excuses and Dean is sick of it, so he drives. Doesn't mean he doesn't have to complain the entire time, though. When they ring Missouri's doorbell, she's already got a pie in the oven. "It's your favorite," she tells Dean. "Blackberry." "That's not my favorite," Dean grumbles. "It's definitely his favorite," Sam says, because Sam is a traitorous son of a bitch. Missouri pulls the pie out of the oven. It smells delicious, but Dean is a little preoccupied by the way she's peering at Sam. "I don't understand it," she says, her tiny lullaby voice cutting straight to Dean's spine, making him shiver. Sam's smile starts to fade. "What?" "Sam Winchester," she says, "what are you doing to yourself?" "Damn it, Sam," Dean says immediately. "What the hell are youMissouri, what's he doing?" Sam stares at them both blankly. "I don't know," she says. Her eyes are worried, but soft. "I can't... I can't feel you, Sam."

Sam looks uncomfortable. "Not at all?" She shakes her head. Dean blinks at them. "Butlast time we were here, you said he was like... all powerful. You said he was strong, you could feel it. But now" "Nothing," she says. "There's nothing." "I haven't been having visions," Sam offers. "I can't see the future at all anymore. Maybe that's...?" "Maybe," she says. She doesn't look convinced. Dean looks at the slice of pie she offers him and suddenly feels his stomach turn. He doesn't want to look at Sam. He doesn't want to think about what it means when Missouriwho could feel their mother's ghost without trouble can't feel Sam, when Sam is living and breathing right in front of her. "This has been a fantastic reunion," Dean says, sliding his plate in front of Sam. He doesn't give a shit that he's been here for all of three minutes. "But I think I'm going to go grab a drink. Let you two catch up, talk about your freaky psychic freakiness, or whatever." He grabs his jacket from its hook. Missouri stops him. "Dean." He turns around. He wants to get away from her so badly his feet itch. "He's okay." Dean's gaze flicks over to Sam before he knows what he's doing. "Sam?" Missouri shakes her head. "You know that's not who I'm referring to, child." "What..." Dean swallows hard. "You mean our dad. He's okay?" "John's soul is quiet, now," Missouri says. "He's resting." Sam clears his throat. "As opposed to before, last year..." "I tried not to think about him, last year," Missouri says. "But now, he's resting. He loved you boys something fierce, let me tell you."

Dean adjusts the collar of his throat. "Thank you," he says. Lawrence might not be as bad as he remembers. He's halfway out the door, thinking about some bar he remembers from last year, a couple shots of jagermeister and about twelve of whatever they've got on tap, when Missouri stops him again. "Dean." He sighs, pokes his head back inside. "Avoid the tequila," she says. "And use protection, for god's sake, you don't know where she's been. But I do, and it's not pretty." Dean can hear Sam laughing all the way down the driveway. -

In the seventh month, they deal with the actual ghost of the actual Timothy McVeigh. It's miserable, young girls dying in the worst ways, and it takes them the better part of three weeks. When it's over, Sam stares out the window at Dean, who is sitting on the hood of the car chain-smoking his way through an entire pack of Reds. "I'm going to assume it's a little late for the cigarettes-are-bad-for-you lecture," Sam says, when he comes out of the motel room to find Dean. "Little," Dean grunts, but he tosses his half-finished cigarette down to the concrete. Sam stubs it out with his sneaker. "Thank you," he says. Dean covers his face with both his hands. "This hunt sucked, Sammy." Sam is a little surprised when Dean slides over on the hood, making room for him, but he climbs up beside him. "Understatement," he says. "You know, that night in Wyoming. I was so hung up on Yellow Eyes, and on Dad, and on... and on you, that I didn't even realize the kind of things that got out of there. The kind of people."

"It wasn't your fault," Sam says. "Wasn't yours, either." "I just think..." Sam thinks about sliding off the hood of the car and walking away. He and Dean haven't been sharing and caring for months now, and there's no reason for him to say this now, except that he wants to. "Sometimes, I think about that night in Cold Oak. I had this iron pipe in my hand, Dean, and I could've just killed Jake right there. Then the demon would've come for me, would've given me the Colt, and I would've known better than to open up that door." "Sammy" "I would have. If I'd killed Jake, hell would've stayed closed, and you wouldn't have made the deal. We'd be okay, right now, you and me, and maybe" "We're okay, Sam. C'mon." "No," Sam insists. "I'm not. And I know you aren't, either." Dean tips sideways suddenly, his shoulder up against Sam's. He angles his head, even, and Sam can feel the tips of Dean's hair against his cheek. "I just think, sometimes, about the things that were let out," he says. His voice is a rough whisper, breath thick with the sickly sweet cigarette smell that reminds Sam of late nights with Jessica. "This isn't the kind of world I want to leave you alone in, Sam." Sam turns his head sharply, knocks his nose into Dean's forehead. Dean doesn't pull away, just hangs there with his face right up against Sam's. Sam's breath hitches a little, and it's loud enough that Dean's eyelashes flutter and he slides off the car. Dean looks up at him, cigarette hanging from his lip. "Nobody wants to die, Sam. Doesn't mean I regret what I did." "Dean." "Come on, Sam. We just finished off a hell of a hunt. Let's go get drunk, get laid, huh? You could use a little" Sam interrupts him with the same answer he's been giving all year. "I'm

good," he says. "Just tired. Gonna do some research." Dean stares at him. "You have fun, though," Sam adds. "Seriously." He has work to do. -

On their way out of Oklahoma, Sam says, "Dean? Could you take this exit?" and his voice is startlingly small. Dean doesn't understand the allure of graveyards. In a dream, once, he spoke to his father's gravestone. It didn't make him feel better, didn't lighten his load, and certainly didn't speak back to him. So Dean stays in the car watching through the smudged windshield as Sam walks the rows of headstones at the Guthrie Summit View Cemetery. Sam is wearing jeans that haven't been washed in weeks and the button-up he's wearing is too small in the shoulders. His hair is in his face and his eyes are so puffy from lack of sleep that it looks like he was punched. He stops, when he finds Andy's grave. Dean squints, trying to see if Sam is speaking. He's not. He's just standing there scratching at the back of his head. When he gets back in the car, he doesn't meet Dean's eyes, but he says "I want ribs for dinner," and that's that. The hotel they stay at in Tulsa has a disco theme. Sam rolls his eyes at the sparkling disco ball on the ceiling and the psychedelic wallpaper. "That's going to give me a seizure," he complains. "Sometimes the lack of humor in your life worries me, Sammy," Dean says. "You want to go get a beer? I need to unwind." "Tired," Sam says, predictably. "I'll just stay here and read." Sam is always tired and always needs to do some research. Dean fishes for their salt canister while Sam unplugs the naked lady lamp and plugs the laptop in instead. "I'll see you, then," Dean says, grabbing the car keys from the dresser.

He's halfway out the door when Sam says, "Wait." "There's cash in the inside pocket of my backpack," Dean says. "If you want to order" "Would you stay?" Sam asks. There's something off about his face, worry in his eyes. His mouth is twitching and he's curling his fingers in against his wrists. Dean just looks at him. Sam clears his throat. "Stay in for the night, Dean," he repeats. He's staring somewhere around Dean's knees, refusing eye contact as usual. "Let's just hang out. I want ribs." "Okay," Dean says. Three hours later, they're well into a twelve-rack of Sam Adams and they've slaughtered a few Styrofoam boxes of smoky ribs and greasy fries. There's a muted horror movie on the television screen, Michelle Pfeiffer howling silently. They're not paying attention. "Wait, wait," Dean says, pacing the room, beer bottle warming in his fist, "what about the one from your sophomore year? The chubby one, with the." He puffs his cheeks out like a chipmunk. "You know." Sam laughs, rolling back on his bed. "Her name was Caroline! And she was NICE. And a really good singer, remember? " "She looked like a blowfish!" Sam snorts and turns his face against the pillow. "She gave good head." "You were fifteen! Any head was good head!" Dean laughs. "Yeah, and now I'm twenty-four," Sam says, "and any head is still" Dean cracks up, finishing the beer and propping it on the table before making a running leap at Sam's bed. He lands half on top of Sam, who huffs and howls and shoves until Dean rolls over to the empty side of the bed. "I give up," he says, feeling the laughter down to the tips of his toes. "The waitress in Tampa was definitely the worst."

"Victory!" Sam throws his arms in the air. "What are we watching?" Dean asks. Sam arches up off the bed to retrieve the remote control from under the small of his back. Dean watches his hips tilt. "What Lies Beneath," he says, turning the volume up just in time for Michelle Pfeiffer to tell Harrison Ford, You had an affair with a girl who threatened to kill herself, and now there is a presence in our house. Dean watches quietly for a few minutes, then clears his throat. "You know how when people work at Baskin Robbins, the last thing they want to do when they come home is dig into a pint of Rocky Road?" "There's a 90210 marathon on channel twenty-seven," Sam replies immediately, changing the channel. They watch two episodes without incidentunless you count Sam's ridiculous babbling about how Dean secretly idolized Dylan McKay in 1993. Which, for the record, is total crap, because Dean can't help it if his hair looked awesome all gelled forward. But Sam is all lit up. He looks happy. He's pulled on an old hoodie with fraying at the wrists and a broken drawstring in the hood, and he just looks warm, and soft. Dean wants to touch him. He's not sure where the feeling comes fromit's a quiet feeling, sneaking up on him. Dean wants to put his hand on Sam's chest and fall asleep. He feels a little ridiculous, thinking it, so he gets up off the bed. He brushes his teeth, changes into his pajamas. As Dean climbs into his bed, Sam turns off the light. He's still lit up blue from the TV screen, though, and Dean sees him roll to his side and look at Dean from across the room. "Good day, Sammy," Dean says, because he can't not. He feels warm and full and satisfied. He's going to sleep feeling better than he has in months. Sam is quiet, just breathing across the room, but something in the way he rubs his hand over his face tells Dean something's wrong. "I mean, other than the graveyard stop, obviously," he corrects. "That was I'm sorry about that, Sam. All of it. But the rest of today was good. Was... wasn't it?"

Sam huffs. "I made you stay," he says. "What?" "I made you stay here. You were going to go to a bar, have a beer, remember? And I told you to stay" "What are you talking about, Sam? You asked me to stay so I" "I didn't ask you, Dean. I mean, at first I did, but then I... told you." He inhales deeply. "Like Andy, and Weber." Dean freezes. "What?" Sam lets out a frustrated grunt and sits up on his elbows. "I said Stay in for the night, Dean, and you just did. I made you stay." Things shift together in Dean's head. "This why you wanted to go to the graveyard today?" "No. No, that was just to pay my respects." Of course, to pay his respects. Dean nods and rolls to the other side of the bed, the side closest to Sam. He turns on the light. Sam is looking up at him like he's scared. "Sorry," he says. "I'm sorry." "Sammy," Dean mutters, getting up and moving to sit on Sam's bed, beside Sam's hip. He touches Sam's forehead because he can'tnot. "You didn't make me do anything, man. I've beenSam, I've been thinking you hated me for months. I would've... Jesus, you know how much I've wanted you to even want to hang out with me?" It's more than Dean usually admits, but Sam looks up at him all concerned and he just can't stop talking. "I would've stayed," he clarifies. "It doesn't count as you making me if I would've done it anyway." And then he needs to get away from Sam, so he turns the light off and goes to the bathroom even though he doesn't really need to piss.

"So how long has this been going on," he says when he comes back out. He hopes his fear doesn't come through in his voice. Sam looks at him through the darkness with a face that says he's trying to decide whether or not to lie. "Hollywood," he says finally. "The first time it worked was in Hollywood, at that gas station where we got all our stuff for free." Dean freezes as he's getting back under his sheets. "Wait. Really?" Sam nods, and Dean bursts out laughing, turning his face in to the pillow. "Dean, I'm being serious!" "I thought you were flirting with him!" Dean gasps. "I thought you were putting moves on the clerk! He was looking at you like... like..." "Like I'd just messed around in his brain?" There's a smile in Sam's voice. "Seriously, man. You get a free pass today, but if you ever Obi-Wan whammy me again..." "I know." They're quiet for a while. Dean's waiting for Sam to fall asleep, but his breathing doesn't change. "Can you do that picture thing, like Andy could?" Dean says eventually. "Like with the bell in Cold Oak." Sam shrugs. "I don't think so. Maybe; it's hard to tell." Dean suddenly has a worrisome thought. "You doing this on purpose? Nurturing the power?" Sam rolls over so that his back is to Dean, and Dean's mind is instantly flooded with a detailed image of the waitress in Tampa, her gold tooth flashing at him as she smiles and pours him another cup of stale coffee. "Sam!" -

Sam can feel Dean's worry in waves, from Tulsa to Wichita, Omaha and through Cedar Rapids. Dean is always looking him right in the eye, holding the eye contact like he's

daring Sam to look away. Sam had done well avoiding the question that night in Tulsabut when Dean asked him again the next morning, "Are you learning how to use your powers on purpose, Sam?" Sam had just ducked away and refused to answer. In Joliet, they go to the first church they've been to in weeks. Dean watches Sam cross the threshold and Sam can hear him take a deep breath when the whole place doesn't crash down around Sam. "I'm not freakin' Lucifer, Dean," Sam hisses behind the choir director's back as they are led into the rehearsal room, where the twin girls apparently vanished right before the minister's eyes. "Don't be ridiculous," Dean whispers back. The stained glass windows in the hallways cut Dean's face with blocks of red and pale yellow. Afterward, Dean puts on his cleanest shirt and brushes his hair down. It's his respectable look. "I'm going to talk to the family," he says. "While you go do that whole library thing that you do." "I'll drop you off," Sam says. "It's my car." "The Gellar house is on the way to the library," Sam says, holding out his hand for the keys. Dean starts to hand them over and then hesitates. "Are you making me do this? Sam?" Sam shakes his head. "You just love me," he says, snatching the keys. He drops Dean off, but he doesn't go to the library. He turns the car around and drives back to the church. There's a sermon going on, and no one really notices when Sam slips around the side of the building. The baptistery is in the center of the church's large grounds. Sam glances around a few times before he picks the lock and sneaks in. The font is beautiful, carved and ornate. Sam peers down into the dark pool of holy water and takes a deep breath. He bends close, dips a hand in and takes a generous drink.

When he straightens up... nothing happens. He has a blurry snapshot of a memory from when Meg possessed him, of what it felt like when Dean splashed him with holy water. But now, there's no burning, none of that feeling like his insides are boiling. He finishes up at the library just in time to interrupt Dean's flirtation with the mother of the missing girls. Dean's ability to lure in a woman regardless of her current emotional devastation never fails to baffle Sam. They're up all night breaking into the tomb that the girls are locked in. It doesn't help that it hasn't been opened in over a hundred years and that it's half-buried in overgrown forest at the most remote corner of the church grounds. They fall into bed as the sun is coming up. Dean passes out, exhausted, right away, but Sam tosses and turns before eventually falling into a restless sleep. Just after six in the morning, Sam wakes up sweating. He's drenched, and every muscle in his body aches. His stomach hurts like something is trying to claw its way out of it. He barely makes it to the bathroom before his knees give out, cracking him down against the yellowed tile. When he vomits, the only thing that comes up is water. Burning, sizzling water. Water so hot his tongue swells and the insides of his cheeks blister. part three...

this november life - sam/dean - adult - 3/5

Dean had thought that maybe, after Tulsa, things between himself and Sam would lighten up a bit. Not happening. The tension twists between them like rope. Ever since Joliet, Sam has had this wrecked look about him, like he's sick, or something. Dean has always

known that Sam was going to try to save him. He couldn't stop Sam from that. He also knows, just as sure, that nothing is going to work. This isn't about weaseling out of an IOU with the guy from last night's poker game. This is a deal with the devil, and Dean is going to have to pay up. They're tracking a shapeshifter in Hoboken, questioning Krista Lewis, whose boyfriend is in jail for murdering eight women in a night while, according to her, he was sleeping next to her. "In the days leading up to the arrest, did you notice anything strange going on?" Dean asks, giving her his best trust-me-I'm-cuddly face. "With Ryan?" she shakes her head, brushing tears away. "Nothing, I told the other officers..." "What about around your apartment?" Dean asks. "Were any of his clothes missing? Were there any suspicious people hanging around?" "No," she says quickly. "Look, I have a meeting with my lawyer" "You saw something," Sam interrupts her. He's been standing just over Dean's shoulder, quiet all day. "Iwhat?" "Dean," Sam says, "we're done here. Thank you for your time, Krista." Krista gives Sam a wary look as she shows them out of her apartment. "Care to explain?" Dean asks in the elevator. "She saw the shapeshifter," Sam blurts out. Now that they're alone, he's got two fingers pressed to his forehead between his eyes, which are squinted shut in pain. "She stopped him in the lobby on her way in from work, and he told her he was on his way out to the convenience store for milk. When she got upstairs, he was asleep on the couch watching Entourage. She thought she was going crazy."

The elevator dings and Sam starts to walk out. Dean is still caught on the whole how the fuck did you know that shit issue. "Sam!" Sam keeps his head forward, walks straight out to the Impala parked at the curb. Oh, hell no. Dean drives a good fifty miles per hour over the speed limit all the way back to their motel. New Jersey flies by the window, and Sam's knuckles are white on the dashboard, but Dean doesn't care. The car squeals as Dean spins into a parking space. Sam, apparently, isn't so dense that he doesn't know what's coming, because he doesn't make a move to get out of the Impala. "Am I gonna get an explanation?" Dean wanted the question to come out angry and firm, but he just sounds exhausted and defeated. Sam loosens his tie and starts futzing with the lock on the door. "I just figured that if I could put an image into someone's mindlike Andythen maybe I could take an image out, too." "Sam." "This... ability. It feels like an extra limb, or something. Like I can just reach out and grab something out of their heads." Dean wants to think about the good thingshow much easier this ability could make their job, how Sam will never lose another poker game in his life. Instead, he's stuck on one thing. "You been reading my mind?" Sam whirls in his seat to glare at Dean. "What? No!" "Sam, seriously, I want you to stay out of my brain." "Dean." Sam sits back and stares out the window at the flickering vacancy sign. He's practically pouting. "You should trust me more than that."

Dean swallows, watching the way Sam keeps swallowing, his Adam's apple bobbing. "I do," he says finally. "I trust you."
-

In the ninth month they deal with a kelpie off the coast of Rhode Island. There aren't a whole lot of motels in Newportmostly big colonial mansions converted into tourist-trap bed and breakfasts. Those types of places usually don't tend to hand out rooms to guys who are covered head-to-toe in oily scales and horsehair, so it takes them two hours to find a decent Motel 6. Sam is exhausted. He's pretty sure the water has crept all the way through his skin to his bones, and he's going to slowly freeze to death. "Two queens," he tells the guy at the front desk, while Dean thumbs through his wallet with frozen fingers, trying to find a credit card that still works. The guy makes a noise with his tongue against his teeth. "Only got kings," he says gruffly. Dean sighs and rolls his eyes, slamming Harley Nolte's credit card down on the desk. "We're not gay," he snaps. "We're brothers." Sam huffs and looks at the ground. "I don't care if you're goats," the guy says, slowly, as if Dean is having trouble understanding. "We don't have any double rooms available." Dean blinks. "Oh." "Two rooms, then," Sam says. He's cold, he's wet, and all he wants to do is sleep for a week. "Sam," Dean says, but Sam ignores him. Dean is going to go on a rant about how it's not safe, or they can't afford itbut Sam can take care of himself and Harley Nolte is feeling flush right now. When Dean realizes Sam isn't going to give in, he grumbles, "They need to be next to each other."

They're headed down the hall, separate room keys in hand, when Dean pipes up, "You know, we should probably get moving tonight. Maybe just take quick showers and then hit the road? I'll drive, you can sleep, and" "No," Sam says. He stops in front of his door. "Look, Dean, I promise not to get myself stabbed or sell my soul to the devil in the next eight hours if you just leave me the fuck alone." It comes out harsher than he meant it, but lately holding back his angersaving it for when he needs it - has been exhausting. Dean immediately starts fiddling with his own door key, jamming it into the lock. Sam blinks. "Dean, I didn't meanyou don't have to do that. I didn'tdid I justbecause if I did, I didn't mean to" "You're not making me do anything, Sam," Dean says coldly. "You want me to leave you the fuck alone, fine. You're not exactly Mary Sunshine yourself lately." When Dean slams his door, Sam stands in the hallway alone and thinks, this is what it'll feel like.

Dean goes out that night, after a shower and twenty minutes spent agonizing over whether or not to leave Sam a note. He eventually decides against it. If Sam comes looking for him he can just fucking worry, for all Dean cares. Dean doesn't care. Also, he knows Sam isn't coming looking for him. He comes back to the motel with two women, just because he can. They're younger than his usual dates, but not too young, because Dean has boundaries. Besides, they look at him like they've been around plenty. Like they want to eat him alive, and while they're twisting together on his bed like a yin-yang and he's jerking off above them he says, "Talk." The blonde onehe doesn't know their names, doesn't know anything about them gasps around the other's nipple. "What?" she asks him. "Tell me what her fingers feel like," Dean says, raising his voice higher than it

needs to be. Encouraging the noise as he fits himself between them, he hooks someone's leg over his hip and nudges someone else's mouth to his neck. Their volume notches higher with every grope and taste and thrust. By the end of it, Dean's voice is hoarse from shouting every time someone touched him, and the cigarette smoke burns the back of his throat. The prettier one declines his offer of a cigarette, but she pulls a joint from her purse and shares it with her friend. They're still running their hands over each other, slow and lazy, like they've done this before. "You married?" one of them asks as she finishes shotgunning the other. She coughs around the words; it's loud. Dean wonders how thin the walls are. "Course not," Dean says. If it sounds gruff, it's because of the smoke. He thinks of the adulterous jerk-offs in California, and then he thinks about that gas station market clerk. "Why would you ask me that?" "Seem distracted," she says. "You keep checking the clock, looking up like maybe your phone is ringing." The other girl is so close Dean can see the chapped places on her mouth, the skin bright and too pink. "This is a town people pass on their way to somewhere else," she says, shrugging, like a footnote to her friend's comment. When they leave, Dean just lies there, watching the light from the window stretch and shrink over the ceiling. He gets up, after a while, and walks to the door. He changes his mind before he turns the knob and bolts it shut instead. Then he walks to the corner, touches his forehead to the wall. The plaster is cool; his skin is hot. That's all it is.

When Sam wakes up, it's nearly noon. And it's raining, in that forty-days-and-fortynights kind of way that only happens on the eastern seaboard. He pours himself a cup of hot, dark coffee in the lobby and then just stands there, staring out the glass doors at the way the rain blankets Dean's car, falling off of it

like yards of silk. Dean shows up after a while, looking like hell. He's wearing sneakers and a longsleeved t-shirt that probably belongs to Sam. "You sleep?" he asks as he glares into the coffee pot. Sam wants to say, like a baby, but there's something in the way Dean's holding his elbows that stops him. "A little bit," he offers. "Not much." Dean nods, still standing with his back to Sam. "So, I've got some bad news." Sam sighs. Of course. "You didn't fix the windshield wipers." "I got distracted. Besides, the weather's been beautiful." Dean makes a face when he takes the first sip of his coffee, but he keeps drinking. "That's the thing about the weather, Dean. It changes." "Sam, I'm not thrilled about hanging around in Bumfuck, Rhode Island, either, okay? But do we have anywhere to be today?" There's a striking downturn to Dean's mouth, a curve to his right eyebrow that Sam doesn't recognize. "No," he says. "It's okay, we can stay. There's a library a couple blocks away. We've got an umbrella in the car, right?" "It sucks, but yeah. You want me to come with you?" "No." Dean nods and turns back toward his room. "Guns need cleaning," he says. "I'm gonna do ammo inventory" "There's a burger joint around the corner," Sam says. "Want to... uh. I'll see you there around six?" Dean pauses, and scratches at the back of his neck. "Sure, Sammy." "Sign in the window says they've got a famous cherry pie." The library offers nothing new. Sam spends a lot of time theretoo long, actually and when he leaves he hasn't made a single new note in his journal. His shoulders ache from hunching over and from lugging stacks of gigantic volumes around; his

eyes burn from small print and bad lighting. He's frustrated, angry, so sad he can feel it in filling up his lungs, and he doesn't make it to the greasy spoon until a quarter to seven. Dean isn't waiting. Back at the motel, his hands feel inexplicably sweaty when he knocks on Dean's door. There's a muffled grunt from inside, so Sam lets himself in. Dean has about everything they own spread out on the floor. The guns are shining, the knives are sharp. Even clothes are folded and books are stacked and Sam can see their considerable collection of fake identification spread out on top of the dresser. "Sorry," Sam says. He only barely steps into the room, leaning against the doorframe. "Time... you know." "You need new boots," Dean says. "The heels of the ones you've got are practically coming off." "Dean" "And I think you could probably use rain gear, too, Sam. There's no way that old stuff does any good. You're gonna get sick." Sam's stomach drops. "Are you... is this your version of settling your affairs, Dean?" Dean scoffs. "Just saying. You'd use this old crap forever. I was thinking maybe, in a few months, we should go in and trade my .45 in. Your bigass hands" "Would you stop?" Sam asks. To his dismay, his voice comes out scraped raw. Dean nods and picks up a knife. He starts sharpening it, sitting on the bed with his elbows on his knees. Sam can see from here that the blade has already been sharpened. "So I'll see you in the morning, I guess," Sam says. "Yeah. Weather is supposed to have cleared up. First thing we'll do is stop at a shop and get that wiper fixed." Dean's sentences are clipped. Back in his own room, Sam takes a long shower. He uses up all the shampoo and he jerks off with all the conditioner. When the tension tears out of him it feels more like a car wreck than like relief.

He sends Bobby an e-mail and then gets a tiny, private thrill when he checks the records of Stanford athletics. He lies on the bed for a whole hour just listening to The Killers' new album blasting out of his laptop at top volume, and then watches two hours of crappy MTV primetime. It's after eleven when he turns the lights out and curls up in the bed. He stares at the window and listens to the rain. He gets up twice to check something in his journal against something on the internet, but he's wrong both times. The research feels like driving in a circle, now. Sam's whole life, he's been driven back and forth over the same lines of highway, but regardless of the scenery repetition he's always felt like he was getting somewhere. Now, he just feels like he's gotten as far as he can go. It's half-past one, and he's been staring at the walls and the clock and the pillow, same as last night. The knock at the door is loud, but Sam doesn't jump. He feels it before he hears it, anyway. Dean is standing there in the hallway. His hair is all over the place, and he's not wearing anything but his grey boxer-briefs and the long-sleeved shirt he wore all day. "Hey," he says, scratching at a spot of beard on his chin. He looks at Sam's face, but not at his eyes. Sam just steps aside to let Dean in. They don't say anything. Sam bolts the door behind them while Dean climbs into the side of the bed that's still tucked in. "Night, Dean," Sam says, stretching out on his stomach on his side of the bed. Dean reaches over and brushes his knuckles against the back of Sam's head, where his hair is still fuzzy from tossing and turning, and then rolls to his side. They sleep.

Time starts moving quicker. There's Albany and Nashville and New Orleans and Corpus Christi and Santa Barbara and Crested Butte and Omaha. Dean starts actively avoiding calendars, keeping the radio off and hoping that the days will just mesh together. He's scared. But the truth is, he's spent his whole life scared. Scared, he can deal with. It's the other feeling that's keeping him up at night. The feeling that wraps around the fear; the feeling he doesn't have a name for. They stop in Monterey for no reason. They've spent the entire year moving faster than they ever have beforehunting down the demons and the tortured souls and the murderous creatures that got loose that night in Wyoming. Things have quieted down some, now. None of the hunters are sure whether it's because the war is finally coming to an end or because the demons are adapting, learning the hunters' tricks, learning to crouch under the radar the way the hunters do. Dean doesn't care, either way. One minute they're on the 101, heading for something in Napa that may or may not be their kind of gig, and the next minute Dean wants a burrito and he's pulling off the exit ramp, ignoring Sam's screeched protests. The burritos are delicious. Dean buys about five of them, and they're so good that he's even generous enough to sacrifice one to Sam. They park the car near the beach and climb up onto the hood to eat. It's a little bit windy and the air tastes like salt. Dean bites his tongue about the damage sand can do to the engine. Sam has picante sauce in the dip between his lower lip and his chin, but Dean doesn't say anything about that, either. He just says, "Want to hear my dying wish?" Sam gulps audibly. "No." "Sucks, because you're gonna anyway. Sam," Dean says seriously, gravely. "Cut your fucking hair." Sam's bark of laughter is a surprise. He pulls his bangs out of his eyes with his fingers, tucking them behind his ears without mind for the burrito mess on his fingers. "Funny."

"I'm very serious, Sam. If I die before I ever see your forehead again, I hope you never forgive yourself." Sam lies back on the hood, bending his knees and pulling his feet up. "Hate you," he says, stretching his spine so that Dean can hear the pop-pop of his back. When Dean glances over his shoulder, Sam has his arms over his head on the windshield and his eyes closed. His shirt is pulling up around his waist, belly button exposed, and the line of his underwear. Dean doesn't realize he's stopped breathing until Sam nudges him with his knee and says, "Hey." "You don't hate me," Dean says, stepping right back into the conversation. He squints out at the water and wishes he had sunglasses. "You think I'm awesome." He expects Sam to come back with something, but Sam just says, "Yeah," real low, and leaves his knee turned against Dean's thigh. When Dean glances up at Sam's face, Sam is looking at his mouth. Dean wonders, out of the blue, how many days he has left. He considers asking SamSam will knowbut instead he just says, "You like California." "I like North Carolina, too, Dean," Sam says shortly. Dean doesn't turn to look at him, but he feels him shift up a bit on his elbows. "And West Texas. What's your point?" Dean curls forward a little. He's not an idiot; he knows that what he's about to say is going to cause a fight. He has to say it anyway. "I want you to stop hunting." "Stop hunting," Sam repeats slowly, working his brain around the implications. "Like after you're dead." "'S what I said." Sam slides forward, sits up right next to Dean. They're so close Dean can actually feel Sam vibrating with quiet rage next to him. Dean is expecting a blowup, but Sam's words come out calculated, hissed, like he's holding his anger down. Like he's saving it for later. "That isn't how this thing works, Dean."

"Thing?" "The hunting. Think about what you're asking me, Dean." Sam looks like he's trying to make his body shrink in on himself. He's holding his limbs closed, keeping his jaw tight. "Sam" "We hunt. And yeah, it feels real good to save lives, but that's not why we do it. That's not why we've done this our whole goddamn lives, Dean." Sam stands up. "We do this because we're angry." You're angry, Dean thinks. I'm fine. "This whole thing started because we were pissed off, Dean! About Mom, and then again about Jessica" "We killed him, Sam. We killed the demon." "I'm angry that these things even exist, Dean. I'm angry that we spent our childhoods like soldiers. I'm angry that these things keeptaking everyone I love. And when you do die, I'm going to stay angry, and I'm going to keep hunting. By myself." "It's not" "Safe? Well it's all I know how to do. Not like I can just head back to Palo Alto and say hey, I'm Sam Winchester, six credits shy of graduating with a four-oh, known fucking felon on the run from the goddamn FBI." Dean shakes his head. "I don't like your tone, Sam," he says sharply. Sam rolls his eyes. "I'm serious!" Dean makes a fist. "You gotta... you gotta let some of this stuff go. I've told you before and I'll say it again, all this pent up" "I don't need to get laid, Dean." "That's not what I was talking about! Though, for the record, I think the lady doth... does... whatever, Sam, you're protesting too much."

"Whatever." "Sam. You need to lighten up. Don't be so... don't carry all this rage around like" "I need it," Sam interrupts him. Dean pauses. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?" "Nothing. Means nothing." Dean scratches his forehead, rubs his hand along the back of his neck. Finally, he slides off the car to stand in front of Sam. "I have to tell you something you're not going to like." "Surprise, surprise." "Shut up. When you... when I made the deal. At the graveyard, that night, Yellow Eyes told me that you might not have come back exactly as you left." "What's that supposed to mean?" "Means that when you woke up, you might have been a little different than you were when you. Uh." "Died. Just say it, Dean. I died." Dean takes a few deep breaths before continuing. "And I gotta tell you, watching you pump Jake full of iron that night..." Sam crosses his arms. "He killed me first." "What I'm saying, Sam, is that you have to be careful with where you're putting all your anger, because I don't want" "You know what, Dean?" Dean can see Sam explode as he says the words, his shoulders thrusting back and arms spreading out like he's asking for it. "That's on you. If I came back different, that is on you, because I never asked to come back at all. I didn't want tocome back at all."

They barely speak for a week. It's a lot of "I call first shower," and "Pass the ketchup," and "I hate this song, change it," but nothing remotely more substantial. Sam is furious. But it's good; he needs it. He wants it, even, the unfamiliar thrum in his veins. He knows, by now, everything he can dovisions and persuasion and electric shock and telekinesis. They all require fuel, and there are two things that fuel them: fear, and fury. The temper is much easier to control than the fright. He can grab hold of the anger, use it, but the fear just slips through his fingers, floods his veins like water running suddenly cold. Dean starts breathing weird in his sleep. He's not wheezing or pantingSam can't name the difference, but it's enough to keep him up at night. They're in North Dakota, halfway through tracking a pack of vampires who seem to think children are a delicacy, and Sam can't sleep, listening to the breathing that's just a hiss too far away from the way Dean has been breathing for Sam's whole life. He gets up and grabs his journal from its place at the bottom of his bag, then sits in the uncomfortable chair beside the window, using the dull white of the parking lot lights as a reading lamp. The journal is thick, now. Newspaper clippings at first, then pages torn from atlases, drawings of symbols and hieroglyphics, spells, photographs, stories. Sam's handwriting is cramped but neat. Careful lines march across the page between symbols. Sometimes, sitting and staring at his own obsession, Sam reminds himself of someone horribleJohn Wayne Gacy, maybe, or the Zodiac killer. Mostly, though, he reminds himself of his father, curled so far inside his anger he can't see the way he's burning his own family down. The journal has one blank page left in it. Sam stares at the pale cream emptiness of it and tries to picture himself alone on the highway, doing ninety with The Fray on the radio and the Impala obedient

under his hands. Then Dean breathes from the other side of the room, and Sam thinks: No. He picks up his red pen and writes one name across the center of the final page. Lily.

They're closing in on the eleventh month when something in the car's transmission starts clanking around a bit. Dean sure as hell isn't leaving this car in anything less than fucking perfect condition, so as soon as they've got a break between jobs he says, "Bobby's?" Sam shrugs and says, "Sure, why not." When Dean shifts gears, there's a click-clunk from the undercarriage, and he thinks, it's the right thing to do to say goodbye. He doesn't think about other goodbyes he's going to have to say. He'll take them one at a timesame way he takes his breaths and his tequila shots. When they pull up, Bobby's dogs go berserk, glaring at Dean and growling and practically foaming at the mouth. He doesn't flinch, this time. In the last few months, he's gotten used to every animal and infant wailing the instant he gets within a fifteen-yard radius. Theyknow. Bobby comes out from behind the house, wiping motor oil off his hands with a dark rag. "Hell no," he says gruffly, when he sees them. "Can't deal with you princesses right now. Turn your asses around" "Something's up with the transmission," Dean interrupts. "Like I was saying," Bobby drawls, stepping between Dean and the mutts. "Turn your asses around and go to the damn grocery store, before you barge in here and eat me out of house and home." They don't go to the market often, which is pretty apparent because when they get

there, Sam starts doing freaking ridiculous things. Like he checks the packages to find out what the fat content in the ground beef is, and he buys three avocados and a red onion and says he's going to make guacamole, when there's perfectly good fluorescent green guac sitting in a Tupperware in the dairy aisle. Dean gets a package of powdered donuts and opens it right there in the store. He's licking the sugar off his thumb when he looks up and Sam is gone. It takes every ounce of control in his body not to shout, and he's aware of how pathetic that is. He finds Sam standing in front of the cereal, staring at the boxes like they're going to hop off the shelves and start introducing themselves. "Sammy?" Dean says, stuffing another donut into his mouth. Sam jumps. "Huh?" He stares at Dean like he's horribly surprised. "Oh," he says, "um," then reaches out and chooses a canister of Quaker Oatmeal and drops it into the cart. "Come on," he says. "I want cheese." He walks away, leaving Dean standing alone in the cereal aisle.

Dean tosses a Maxim and an FHM onto the conveyor belt at checkout. Sam stares at the girl on the cover of the top issue, at the space between her breasts and the tongue barely visible between her open lips, and he's angry. He doesn't know where it comes from, but it's there, and he thinks, okay, okay, and puts it aside. It's cold in the parking lot, and Dean gets right into the front seat, leaving Sam to unload the groceries into the backseat. The half-empty box of powdered donuts opens and they all spill out into the plastic, but Sam ignores them, tossing bags into the car without regard. He grimaces when he sees the oatmeal looking up to him. He thinks oatmeal has the same texture as dead-people guts, but he looked at the cholesterol information

on the front and immediately thought about every cheeseburger Dean has eaten in the last year, so he bought it. Dean can complain all he wants, but whenever he does diebe it a month from now or thirty yearsit's not going to be because Sam didn't think about his arteries. He freezes, a little, when he sees the final bag. He didn't put that there. Dean must have grabbed it after Sam left in search of good Vermont cheddar. He drops the last bag into the car and slams the door, but instead of slipping into the passenger's side, he stalks around the car and yanks the door open. He gets two generous fistfuls of Dean's jacket and hauls him out into the cold air. He pulls him too close, so close Dean's eyes fly wide and Sam can see the confectioner's sugar clinging to the corners of Dean's mouth. He wants to taste it, wants to bite Dean's lip and say things that they shouldn't say. Dean just stares up at him, terrified and breathing on Sam's face. "Dean," he hisses. He can feel everything in his body; he can feel the blood in his veins, but this isn't anger, this is something else, this is... "You got me Lucky Charms." Dean blinks. "They're your favorite," he says slowly. "And... I know you didn't actually want that oatmeal." Sam stands there with Dean crammed between him and the car, breathing hard and so... God, he's going to miss Dean until he can't remember his own name. "Jesus," he chokes. Dean doesn't say anything about the tears that come up around Sam's eyes, just keeps gaping at him until Sam lets him go and they get back in the car.

When they growl, it sounds like the scream a woman makes when she's dying and

she feels it from the inside out. "Dean?" Their teeth look like razors and their paws are the size of dinner plates. And Jesus, their eyes... "Dean!" Their eyes look like Sam's. Blue and green and brown like they were caught middecision. And they wind around Dean in a circle, barking up at him, baring their teeth and swiping at him, talons barely grazing his body but still coming away with strips of browned, unmarked flesh that doesn't match Dean's pale freckled skin. "Dean, c'mon, wake up!" Sam shouts. Dean does, blinking out of his nightmare and trying desperately to catch his breath in the darkness. He takes inventory of his surroundings. They're still at Bobby's; they've been here all week. It's raining outside. The bathroom light is still on. Sam has his hands on Dean's shoulders. Sam. "Sam." "Yeah," Sam says, pulling Dean up until he's half-sitting. He has tears in his eyes, his pupils tight and tiny with fear. "You scared me." He doesn't stop touching Dean, just draws his hands up and over toward Dean's neck and then back around to his biceps. "'M sorry," Dean grunts. It's only now that Dean realizes he's got both his hands wrapped up in the front of Sam's t-shirt. His muscles are tense, holding Sam close like Dean is afraid he's going to try to get away. Something in Sam's expression tells Dean he's not going anywhere. "You were having a nightmare," he says . "Yeah." Dean swallows. "A nightmare." Sam sniffs. "Dean, was it." He swallows. "I mean... it was the hellhounds, right?"

Dean wants to lie. He wants to say, "No, Sammy, it was that waitress from Tampa," or "No, Sam, I was dreaming about that time I walked in on you jerking off to that Barbara Walters special," but instead he just nods and tries to bring himself to look anywhere but at Sam's face. He doesn't. He just stares at the mole next to Sam's nose and tries to even out his breathing. Sam swallows. Dean might be imagining it, but he thinks Sam leans in. Dean wriggles enough on the bed until he can lie back down. He tightens his hands on Sam's shirt as he does it, though, drawing Sam angainst him. Sam doesn't protest at all, just goes, leaning forward and pulling his legs up until they're sharing the tiny span of Dean's twin bed. "You have a month," Sam says into the hollow of Dean's shoulder. Dean puts a hand on the back of Sam's head and leaves it there. "I'm not counting." "Well, I am. And as of eighteen minutes ago you have one month. This isn't fair. They don't get to come for you this early. You have amonth." Dean can smell the homemade guacamole's red onions on Sam's breath, this close together, just clinging to each other like Siamese twins, like they share vital organs and don't have any other choice. "I don't think you can just tell 'em to sit and stay for the next thirty days," Dean says. "I don't think it works like that." "Dean." "Hey, Sam, Sammy. Sleep." The nightmares don't come back that night.

When Sam wakes up, neither of them has moved. Dean is still flat on his back with one arm wrapped around the back of Sam's head, Sam is still curved against Dean's side with his top leg just nudging over one of Dean's.

Last night, with the covers of darkness and terror and a ticking clock, this seemed normal. In the light of morning, it's different. Dean is awake, just watching Sam with his head tipped down so that his chin spreads a bit against his neck. The point is, though, that he's not pushing Sam, not trying to get away from him. Sam thinks about Cold Oak. About Lily and her pale cheeks; he thinks about the nearly dead look in her eyes and the way she curled her hands up inside of her sleeves like someone might throw themselves against her fatal palms accidentally. Suddenly, he shifts, unfolding his arms from where they're tucked like folded wings against his t-shirt. He spreads his fingers wide and thinks if this is the last time, and then he touches Dean. Just flattens his hand against Dean's bare chest and stomach. Dean sucks in a tiny breath, just enough for his sternum to jump under Sam's touch, not enough to make Sam pull away. "Dean," he says. Dean just keeps looking at him for a long moment, and then nods. Sam doesn't think, just holds Dean down with the splay of his palm and stretches his neck up and kisses him. Their lips are dry against each other's, barely moving. Dean's eyes drop shut. Sam keeps his open, watches Dean's eyelashes fall against freckles. He opens his mouth a little wider, catches Dean's top lip between his The knock at the door is louder than it should be, and Sam feels his limbs react like he was electrocuted. He twists himself off of Dean, wrenching around in just a fraction of a second until he's just sitting on the edge of the bed, heart racing and not enough air in the room. Bobby opens the door without bothering to wait for either of them to say, "Come in." Sam feels the mattress move as Dean sits up. He can hear Dean's breathing, hard and fast and panicked. Bobby looks like he's about to say something, and then pauses. He glances from Sam, where he's hunched on the side of the bed with his back to Dean, whoif Sam knows anythingis probably sitting there with too-wide eyes and a shellshocked expression on his face. "Uh. Hi," Bobby says.

Sam clears his throat. "Hey, Bobby, g'morning. What's, um. What's up?" Thank God, his voice sounds normal, even cheerful. "Need to talk to you boys," Bobby says. His face is grave as he walks across the room to sit down on Sam's bed. If he notices that the sheets are cold, it isn't apparent on his face. It's only then that Sam notices the book on Bobby's lap. It's not something Sam has seen before, and it looks brand new, with a flimsy green cover like the kind you get from self-publishing companies on the internet. "Bobby," he says, worried. The get on with it is apparent in his tone. Bobby sighs loudly, and Dean begins to move around until he's sitting on the side of the bed next to Sam, his pale feet next to Sam's on the floor. "What's wrong, Bobby? Is the army?" "This isn't about the war," Bobby says, shaking his head. He holds up the book, showing Sam where the cover is stamped with the words God and the Devil. "This is about Dean." Sam can't help himself, he leans his shoulder into Dean's for a moment before he sits straight again. "You boys remember Pastor Jim Murphy." "Yes sir," they say, together. They glance at each other in a habitual acknowledgement of the unison, but they look away too fast. Sam hopes Bobby doesn't notice. "Seems that his sister has spent some time organizing his papers," Bobby says. "She put this book together, with the research he'd done. Sent a few copies to the hunters that she found in his contacts." If it's possible, Sam's heart speeds up even more. If there's new information, it can't be bad, seeing as most of what they know now is pointing to the need for a brand new headstone in Lawrence. "What's it say, Bobby?" "Honestly? Not a whole lot," Bobby says, but he continues before Sam's heart has time to sink. "It's disorganized; it's unfinished. But there's a damn disquisition in here on rules." "Rules," Dean repeats. "We already know that demons have patterns," Sam says. "They've got routines." "Patterns and routines aren't the same as rules, kid," Bobby says. "When Dean made a deal, the demon made a deal, too. Now, Dean has to follow his set of rulesnamely that he can't try to get out of it, and he's got to hand himself over

after a year to spend an eternity in hell. But the demonshe has rules to follow, too." "Far as I can tell, she followed them," Dean says. "Sam's breathing. I mean, his breath stinks like dog ass, but he's breathing." "That's not the only rule she had to follow. She also has to give you a year," Sam says. "Also, your breath smells like a month of curdled milk, so bite me." There's the anger again, uncoiling like a snake. Bobby is looking at the ground, his face serious. "She has to give you a year, Dean," he says. "And then she gets to take you to Hell until the end of the world." "Yeah, I got that part, thanks." Bobby's head snaps up. He stares Sam straight in the eyes when he speaks. He knows this has always been Sam's fight. "She has to follow the rules," he repeats, "to the very last detail. If he dies before the year is up, she doesn't get him." Sam feels his blood run cold. "But he's still dead." Bobby verbalizes the thought that's flooding Sam's brain: "But maybe not in hell." The silence collapses over the room, but Sam barely notices over the turbulence in his brain. Everything is suddenly too much, the light from the bathroom, the hum of the radiator, the scratch-scratch sound of Bobby running fingers through his beard. "You think I should kill him," Sam says finally, so quiet he can barely even hear himself. "To save him." Dean goes rigid beside him, and Sam knows that they're both hearing the same words in their heads. He just said that I had to save you, that nothing else mattered; and that if I couldn't, I'd... that I'd have to kill you. Dean drops his head forward. "Full-fucking-circle," he says. Bobby clears his throat. "Boys?" "Butif I die," Dean says, and he's freaking out, the volume of his voice too loud, "if I die, I'm going to go to hell anyway. I mean, I don't know if you two have been paying any attention the last twenty years, but I've got a list of sins on me that rivals Hefner, and. I just. I mean, if there's a hell, and we know there's a hell, I'm going." "I don't believe that." Sam's quiet voice is a startling contrast to Dean's. "You've never hurt anybody. Envy and lust and pride and gluttonyyours don't hurt

anybody. You save lives, Dean." Dean doesn't look at him, but Sam knows that if he believes it, Dean will at least want to believe it too. "So then where the fuck do I go?" Bobby looks uncomfortable. He clears his throat. "I'm not a religious man," he says, "not more than I have to be, in any case. But I'd like to think that wherever your dad is right now... well." Sam lifts his hand and touches his own face. He's cryinghe cries all the damn time latelyand he can't even feel it, except for the water on his knuckles. He thinks but what if I can do this, what if I can do this and we're just giving up. Then he thinks, I want to go, too, and the thought startles him. "No," Dean says. "No, we're not doing it like that." "It might be your only chance," Bobby says. "Been trying to figure this crap out all year and it's the only thing I've found that makes a lick of sense." "I don't care," Dean says. "We don't know it'll work. And in case it doesn't, I want my whole three-sixty-five. I don't" He chokes, and looks up to meet Bobby's gaze head on. He runs his tongue over his teeth like he's deciding whether or not to finish his next sentence. Finally, he turns his head to the window and says, "I don't want to leave Sam alone a minute before they make me." Bobby looks at Sam expectantly. "No disrespect, Bobby, but can we get a minute?" Sam asks. Bobby looks surprised, like he expected an argument, but he shrugs and leaves. As soon as Bobby is out the door, the room feels bigger and the space between Sam and Dean on the bed feels smaller. "I'm not doing it, Sam," Dean says. "And I know you're not going to do it yourself, so I don't think we need to have this conversation." "I'm going to get you out of this," Sam replies. "I don't want you to." "You didn't give me a choice in this whole thing, Dean. I'm not giving you one, either." part four...

this november life -sam/dean - adult - 4/5

Dean had pretty much gotten used to thinking about Sam's mouth, but thoughts and memories are two very different animals. It's three days later, and they haven't mentioned the... thing. Which is fine with Dean, because he sure as hell doesn't want to talk about it, but he doesn't understand why Sam doesn't want to talk about it. Sam wants to talk about everything. Or at least, he used to. Now he just wants Dean to keep driving. There are some mysterious deaths in Montana. It's the kind of case Dean hates the most, but it's the kind that seems to crop up every once in a while to remind him why it is he does this job in the first place. They're all suicides. Six of them, actually - people hanging themselves in rooms locked from the inside. The catch is that all six people are children. Fourth graders who are all in Mrs. Anderson's advanced reading class. Fourth graders who, even if they were seriously disturbed, could never reach high enough to tie their bed sheets to the ceiling fans in the first place. It only takes Sam and Dean three hours in Red Lodge to figure out that they're not suicidesthey're good old fashioned zombie murders. The nineyear-old Garret twins, who died in a car accident, were reanimated by their grieving father. Of course, he wasn't expecting his beautiful daughters to come back on a mission to kill every classmate that ever gave them a hard time about their secondhand shoes and goodwill clothing. It's an easy hunt. The girls aren't smart, just violent, and it doesn't take much coaxing by their terrified father to lure them back to their gravesites. The difficult part comes when Sam and Dean have to bring themselves to drive massive stakes through the bodies of two nine-year-olds while their father stands ten yards away, crying. Later, they're back at the car, standing side by side behind the raised cover of the trunk, arranging the salt and lighter fluid. Dean steps away as Sam makes sure that the caps are tight. Sam's got dirt on his neck, smudged from his ear around to his collarbone.

Dean swallows, glances back to where Mr. Garret's car was parked before he drove away, then steps closer to the car. "Sam," he says, voice cracking despite him. His head feels a little fuzzy, body a little slow. Sam turns around jerkily with his eyebrows raised, grunts an acknowledgement. Dean bites his lip, takes one step closer, and lifts one hand to touch Sam's hip. Sam lurches away before Dean can even brush his fingers against him, the movement so visceral that Sam slams his knee up against the car. He trips backward, falling on his ass on the ground. Dean wants to throw up. Instead, he just offers his hand. Sam doesn't reach up, just stares unblinking, then rips his gaze away to look down at the gravel now digging into the bloody heel of his hand. "Jesus, Sammy," Dean says, leaning down to help Sam get up. "Don't touch me!" Sam shouts suddenly, scrambling away from Dean like a crab across sand. "Don'tDean, please don't touch me." Afterward, driving back to their motel, Dean tries to think of where everything went wrong. For some reason the only thing he can come up with is the day almost seven years ago when he and Sam stood in a marigold-yellow motel room in Grand Junction, Colorado. Sam had this red duffel bag, something he'd held onto since he played soccer in middle school. Slung over his shoulder, and Sam clinging whiteknuckled to its strap, the room still ringing with the shouts and reeking of the booze on John's breath. And Dean had leaned against the dresser and just stared at him, at Sam standing there with a face like a solider going off to war. So, um. Can you. I mean, would you drive me to the train station? Sam had said. His voice was shaking, and his hands, and his chin.

Dean had crossed his arms and thought about the defeat on his father's face when Sam said, I'm going, I'm going, and John said go, then, go, and don't come back, and Sam replied, come back, Dad? come back to where? to what? That's when Dean had looked Sam square in the face and said, it's not far. I think you can walk. -

They stop driving in the middle of the night in Box Butte, Nebraska. Dean doesn't crack a single dirty joke when they pass the town welcome sign. Sam says, "I don't feel like taking this job, Dean. I want a break before." He says it like it's an entire sentence, and it feels like one. The things they don't talk about are just as present, lately, as the things they do. He expects Dean to argue, to tell Sam that he's not just going to sit in a room and wait around for death, but Dean just says, "Yeah, okay. Keep your eyes peeled for a vacancy sign." Dean screams in his sleep that night, and Sam wakes with a gasp, sitting up. He rolls off his bed and takes two long steps toward Dean's, then stops himself. "Oh, God," he whispers into the dark, realizing what he'd almost done. Dean's back arches until his feet and his shoulders and the top of his head are the only parts of him touching the mattress, and he shouts in pain. He's sweating, the circle of his t-shirt neck soaked. Sam's hands shake as he grabs his sweatshirt and slams out the door, trying desperately to ignore Dean's wails. Sixteen days. He has sixteen days. Behind the motel there's a park with an old playgroundrust and sharp edges on the jungle gym, should've been torn down ages ago. Sam just walks in circles, wandering, trying to slow his blood and keep from crying. It's freezing. His feet are bare. Finally, he crouches down at the roots of a tree that looks like its seen better days. He leans his head back against it, feeling the bark's jagged lines

digging into his skull. He tries to think about anything other than the thing that's plaguing him. It's not easy. There's a leaf at his feet. It's folded in half and it's been nibbled at the edges. Sam blinks tears out of his eyes and picks it up. When he flips it over, there's a tiny inchworm creeping along the center vein. It's blue in the moonlight. Sam watches it crawl, kinking itself at the center and then stretching forward. He can't help it; his mind wanders back to Dean. He thinks about the rare occasion when Dean is hung over enough to let Sam driveDean drives when he's injured and bleeding and exhausted, but he'll surrender the keys when he's hung over. He thinks about Dean in the passenger seat, his head tipped backward and his sunglasses slipping over his forehead, mouth open, huffing out the stink of his stupid extra onions into the stuffy air. As always happens, lately, the next thought that bubbles up is the thought of never feeling that again. Sam is so angry at Dean sometimes, for leaving him alone without that feeling, that he can't even think straight. Carefully, hands trembling a bit, Sam reaches his index finger toward the inchworm on the leaf and touches it. It stiffens instantly, tumbles backward from the leaf and down, falling dead into the folds of Sam's hoodie or the grass below. "Jesus," Sam breathes out loud. "Jesus fucking Christ." -

Dean wakes up a couple of days later alone in the room, but the first thing he sees is a note stuck to the wall he's facing, so he doesn't have time to freak out. He finds Sam right where he said he'd be, at the roadside diner not far away. When Sam sees him come in, he closes his journal and slips it off the table to the bench. Dean thinks maybe he tries to smile, but it doesn't quite work,

comes out more like a grimace. "Hey," Dean says, grabbing a menu. "You order?" "Just coffee," Sam replies. "How long have you been here?" Sam shrugs. "I didn't sleep so well," he says, eyeing Dean. When Dean caught a glimpse of himself in the rear view mirror this morning (he hadn't bothered with shaving or brushing his teeth, just needed to fulfill his immediate urge to get to where Sam is) he barely recognized himself. He's pale, and the roots of his hair are dark with sweat. He looks like shit, and he knows it. Sam looks worse. The waitress walks over, then. She's prettythey usually arewith her red hair all twisted up behind her head and her blue eyes warm on them. "Hi there," she says sweetly. "He kept sayin' his brother would be in here to meet him eventually, but I was beginning to think he was lyin'. So what can I get you boys?" Dean smiles. "Sausage," he says. "And bacon. And scrambled eggs, too, if you've got Tabasco. And lots of hash browns." She nods, not writing it down. "Got it. What about you?" she asks Sam. Sam hesitates. Dean realizes he's obviously been here for hours and hasn't even glanced at the menu. "Uh. Pancakes," he says. "Please." Dean raises his eyebrows. "No egg-white omelet? There may just be hope for you yet." "Salt hasn't been agreeing with me lately," Sam says, staring at the linoleum countertop like it contains the meaning of life. The waitress nods and turns back to Dean. "You want some coffee while you wait?" "Sure do," Dean says. When she bends down to pour it into the mug, she gives him a pretty generous view down her shirt. He takes full advantage who knows how many views like that he's got left in his life?

She catches him looking, and just winks. "What about you?" she asks Sam, when she stands. "Refills are on the house." "Thanks," Sam says. She holds out her hand. "Mind passin' me your mug, broody?" Sam's face goes even more pale than it was before. He glances at his mug, all the way across the table from the waitress, like it's about to turn into a toad and hop away, and then looks back at the waitress's hand. Dean furrows his brow. What the hell is wrong with him? Finally, Sam extends one long finger and tucks it against the base of the mug. It seems like it takes forever for him to slowly, carefully, slide it across the table toward the waitress, maneuvering it around the napkin holder and the ketchup bottle with his one finger. The waitress gives Dean a that was weird look as she fills Sam's mug quickly. "Be back in a sec with your breakfast." When she's gone, Dean lets his jaw drop. "What the hell was that?" "Nothing," Sam spits. "Nothing." "Sam. What are you doing?" "Nothing," Sam repeats. "Are you going to sleep with her?" His voice is low and raspy. Dean sucks in a quick breath. "What?" "The waitress," Sam says. He wraps both his hands around his coffee and stares into it like it's the fountain of truth. "Are you gonna fuck her." "Why would you ask me that, Sammy?" Sam looks back up at him. "I don't want you to," he says finally, his eyes bright with exhaustion. Dean's throat closes up and he can see Sam's hands shaking. There are

things he could say here, things like I'm glad, or maybe I didn't want to, anyway, or can't think about anybody else right now. Instead, he says, "I need to know what's going on with you, Sam. I need to know what you're doing." -

Sam has been lying all year, but for some reason here in this Box Butte greasy spoon, he wants to stop. "You're not going to like this," he says. "Sam." There's something good about it, saying it here in this public place, where Dean can't freak out or scream because the last thing they need to do is call attention to themselves. So Sam talks. "I can read minds, Dean. I can make glass break when I'm really pissed off. I can tell someone to do something and they have to do it." Dean blinks. "I got that. I mean, I been trying to ignore it, but." "I haven't. I... Dean. I'm learning how to do these things. It's likeit feels like having extra limbs, sometimes. Sometimes like opening a window in my head. I can't explain it." Sam sees it on Dean's face when things start to click into place. "I thought these things were just happening to you, Sam." Sam plucks a sugar packet from the canister on the table and starts tearing it open, watching crystals spill across the surface, just for something to do with his hands, something to look at that isn't the way Dean's mouth twitches. "Yeah, well. They're not." "So, what? You're doing this because you somehow think you're going to save me? This is dangerous, Sam, and if I'd have known you were doing it on purposeI mean, I shouldn't have to tell you about what this kind of power can do to people." "I know what it can do to people," Sam says. He builds a mountain from the sugar and then crushes it with his fork. When he finally looks up, Dean is almost done wiping the tears from his eyes. -

They get word of a Wendigo in the Flatiron mountains over Boulder, and Dean manages to convince Sam that if they take this one job, they can take a break until Dean's year is up. Dean needs this one last hunt. The Montana hunt hadn't felt quite like the end, yet. Dean needs it to feel like the end. Of course, while they're tracking the motherfucker through the dry, windblown woods on the side of the mountain, Sam disappears in another direction and Dean looks up and he's gone. He's been gone for twenty minutes now, and nothing. "I am going to kill you if you're not dead, motherfucker," Dean barks into Sam's voicemail before snapping his phone shut and shoving it into his pocket. He bellows, "SAAAAAM," the force of it bending his body backward nearly double. The slope is too sharp to run on, but Dean gives it a solid try, tumbling through the brush and feeling the prickle bushes tear lines into his skin. When he finally catches sight of the tree Sam has tied a bit of string to, he's almost drunk with relief. "You fucking half-baked genius, Sammy," he says into the emptiness. It takes too long to follow the cord, though, and after a few minutes Dean is calling for Sam again as he crashes around in the wilderness. When he finds the spool of string not far from Sam's cracked phone and dropped gun, his stomach drops, until he hears a rustle a little way down the scarp. He pulls his gun out of his belt as he slides down. Finally, he sees Sam, bent down in the bushes. "Sam! Why didn't you answer, I've been yelling your name foroh, fuck." He's so reassured that he almost doesn't notice the wendigo's grotesquely stretched body sprawled on the ground in front of Sam. "Sam?" Sam barely glances at him as he empties a cigarette lighter onto the monster's torso and then drops a match. The thing lights up from the inside like a jack-o-lantern, the blaze silhouetting its twisted ribcage.

It takes Dean a moment to process everything. He looks back at Sam. Aside from a scratch or two on his cheek, there's no blood; barely sign of a struggle. Dean looks worse than he does and he hasn't been doing battle with anything nastier than a few thorny branches. "Fuck, Sammy," Dean says, moving forward to help Sam stand up. Sam reacts faster, though, shouting "No!" and pulling away so hard he almost rolls into the wendigo's torched body. "Don't come near me," he says. "Please." Dean just freezes. "Sam?" "I killed it with my hands," Sam says. "I justit came at me, and my first instinct was to shove it away, and I touched it, and it justI felt its heart slow down under my hands, Dean." There's something in Dean's throat the size of his fist, he can feel it. He tries desperately to swallow it down. "That's not possible, Sam. A Wendigo without fire, a Wendigo is fucking immortal, it's" He cuts himself off, and reaches out a hand again to help Sam up. Sam just looks at the hand until Dean realizes and draws it back against his stomach. "That's why you won't touch me," he says, staring at Sam like an idiot. Sam sniffles, rolling onto his hands and knees and crawling away from Dean. He's headed for a row of thick bushes. "I'm sorry," he says, voice muffled. Dean can only see his back. "I'm sorry I made you think it was because I... well, I'm sorry." He buckles over and vomits into the brush. Dean has to clench his hands into fists to keep himself from reaching out to touch Sam. -

The shower at the Boulder Innwhich is really just a motel with a lobby dressed up in over-treaded oriental rugs and dusty chandeliersis weak and runs too cold. Sam stays in there for a long time, scrubbing the day off his skin. An inchworm is one thing.

A wendigoa fucking immortal creature, like Dean said - is another. When Sam tugs his sweatpants on and comes out of the bathroom, Dean is sitting on the bed in the exact position he was in when Sam called first shower and slammed the door. Head in his hands, he's still got leaves in his hair and he's still wearing his jacket, despite the fact that the radiator is spilling unnecessary heat into the room. "Your turn," Sam says. Dean looks up at him. "Sam," he says. His voice catches and he makes a strangled sound. Sam's heart thuds against his chest as he watches Dean's hands tremble in his lap. "Don't," Sam says. "I can't, Dean, so let's... don't." "Your hands... if you could touch... someone," Dean says. He cuts himself off again and Sam thinks oh... oh. Finally Dean sighs, "Man, last few weeks you won't even look at me." "Looking at you now," Sam says, hands tightening on the damp towel he's got bunched up against his chest. "I know you're mad at me," Dean continues, like Sam didn't even say anything. "I know I was selfish, but I couldn't be the last one standing, Sammy, not after everything. I couldn't." Sam wants to touch him so badly that he can almost feel the leather under his fingertips from here. Instead, he reaches for the sweatshirt on the desk and yanks it over his head. He pulls his hands up tight inside the sleeves. There are about a million things he wants to say right now, but Sam can't get hold of a single one of them through the need to get his hands on his brother. "I'm exhausted," is what he comes up with finally. Dean stands up, whirling around. "That's it?" he says, raising his voice the way he does when he's panicked. "I've got eleven days left and you won't talk to me." Sam stiffens. Every muscle in his body turns to ice. "Thought you weren't counting," he snaps. "Thought you had no regrets." Dean rubs a hand over his face. "I... Jesus. I'm not counting the days until I die. I'm counting the days untilgoddamn it, Sam," he chokes, "we've got eleven days left together. You get that?"

Sam feels like his body belongs to somebody else as he pulls the comforter back on his bed and climbs under. "Get it better than anybody, Dean. I'm the one getting left all alone." "Look," Dean says. Sam thinks, from Dean's voice, that Dean might start to cry. "I just want you to know I'm real proud of you. I know you've been trying to figure this thing out all year, okay, I know that you've been working real hard. And I'm not mad at you or anything because it didn't. That's kind of the point of bargaining with a demon, Samyou don't get to bail out because you changed your mind. And, um. For the record, you know, I haven't changed my mind. Still rather you be here than me." Sam squeezes his eyes shut. -

Dean wakes up in the middle of the night from another nightmare. They're growing closer together, more terrifying. Most nights, now, he wakes up shaking down to his bones, still feeling the hellhounds' foul breath beating at his skin, still hearing them growl in the radiator's hum and the noise from next door. Out of habitnot because he thinks something is wrong - Dean rolls over to check on Sam. He's not there. Sam is gone. Dean wills his panic down, turning on the light. "'S okay," he says to himself. His throat hurts from yelling in his sleep. "It's okay." I probably woke him, he thinks. The clock says that it's just past four. Sam might be sitting on one of the big couches in the room they saw off the library, fucking with his computer, which isn't in its normal place on the nightstand. Or maybe he's in the Impala, reading by the dashboard light in some kind of last-minute desperation. Dean gets up and shoves his feet into his boots. He doesn't bother with lacing them, just clomps out into the hallway and down to the lobby in his boxer-briefs and his t-shirt. Sam isn't on the couch, so Dean heads out into the parking lot. When he rounds the corner to where his car is parked, he freezes and jumps into the

shadow. There's a cop car, lights flashing. The officer is speaking to a guy about Dean's age. Behind the man stand a womanshe's wearing a bathrobe over her nightgown, and a wedding ring and two boys, leaning against her, rubbing their eyes sleepily. "Can you tell me the last time you saw the car parked here, sir," the officer is saying. "We got here at about nine," the man says. "Swear to God, our youngest has a cold; I just came out here to get the cough syrup out of the glove compartment, and it was gone. Iman, I can't believe someone stole my car. And I've got the keys right here!" Dean's heart plummets. -

Sam's phone won't stop ringing while he drives, but he expected that. He considers turning it off, but Dean's name backlit on the display is an odd comfort here, alone in this car. Missouri calls, too. And Ellen. Even Jo tries him three times in a row. It's not until the display says Bobby's name that Sam picks up. "I'm not telling you where I am," he says. "I'm not telling you where I'm going, and I'm not telling you what I'm gonna do once I get there, so" "That's real nice for you, Sam," Bobby interrupts. "But I sure as hell didn't call so you could tell me jack shit. I called to tell you that you are a damn fool, your daddy would lose his ever-lovin' mind if he knew what idiots he raised, and I hope you know you're likely to cause Dean to drop dead ten days early, the way he's ranting and raving." Sam swallows. "Bobby?" "What." "If this doesn't workif something happens and I drop dead, like the demon said I wouldwill you just tell him... tell him..." "No, I won't," Bobby says. "You got a phone and I know he's callin' it. Tell him your damn fool self."

The next time Dean calls, Sam pulls over onto the shoulder and grabs his phone. He breathes hard for a while, staring at Dean's name and listening to the ridiculous ringtone that Dean downloaded for him. Finally, he turns off his phone and shifts back into drive. -

Dean isn't like Sam. He doesn't think things through, doesn't weigh logic against instinct. He has an idea and then he just does it, without regard for reason. He drives over Samuel Colt's railroad tracks without slowing down and barely winces when he hears the undercarriage scrape across the iron. He doesn't care. Sam is doing something stupid, and he's going to die, and Dean knows it, and he's so close, it isn't fair for Sam to leave him alone here now, not when he's getting used to the whole hell thing. Sam isn't at the graveyard at all. It's in such a remote area that the two skeletons are still there in the exact positions they were left inthe demon spread-eagle in the grass between the gravestones, Jake slumped in front of the gate. Dean practically slips on Jake's finger bones as he's stumbling toward the gate. Not thinking; just desperate. He reaches the door and drops to his knees, opens his palm and slams it, hard as he can, against the broken sigil of the lock. "COME GET ME," he screams. He pounds a fist against the door, and he can't breathe, he can't think"You can have me early," he begs, like someone down there is going to hear him. "Come get me now, just leave him alonejust leave him alone." He's back to rotten meat in no time, she said. Dean would vomit, but he did so much of that on the side of the highway that there's nothing left to puke.

He turns around and looks down at the hollow sockets where Jake's eyes used to be. "Motherfucker," he shouts, kicking violently at the sun-bleached ribcage. -

Sam sits quietly in his motel room, backwards on the chair, hunched with his chin on the back. He's got one yarrow flower in his hands, twirling its broken stem between his fingers. He's in South Dakota, and there's a framed painting of a beach above the bed. The plaque below it reads Malibu. Sam snorts at it. He narrows his eyes at the bed. With a tiny jerk of his head, the bed screeches across the floor like it's on ice, slamming up against the far wall. The painting crashes to the ground. Sam's mouth twitcheshe would smile, if he wasn't terrified. Slowly, Sam stands up and picks his journal up from the desk. He's got a box of thumbtacks that he bought at the general store a few exits back. Starting from the first page, he begins to stick the contents of the journal up on the wall where the painting used to be. Bobby's map, with its three tiny circles. A scrawled list of items in Missouri's handwriting, starting with graveyard dirt and ending with a photograph. Sam's own meticulous drawings of various sigils and runes. Printed photographs of Theodor Reuss, Aleister Crowley, and Karl Germer, famous members of Ordo Templi Orientis. Four painstakingly drawn versions of the Great Pentacle, countless newspaper articles, print-outs of Robert Johnson's lyrics with Sam's notes in red all over them. The Rituale Romanum, pages torn right out of The Key of Solomon, even the blank page with Lily's name on iteverything goes on the wall. The final thing that Sam picks up is a crumpled piece of paper that he's had shoved down in the bottom of his backpack for almost a year now. He flattens it as best he can against his stomach and then holds it against the wall, driving a push-pin into all four corners of it.

He'd spent a month staring at that sketch. Ava Wilson, missing. Now, her penciled face looks back at him. Daring him. See, that Ava girl was right, Jake had purred. Once you give in to it, there's all sorts of new Jedi mind tricks you can learn. Sam turns around and finds himself facing the mirror above the dresser. He walks over to it and leans in close. He has his father's eyes, a muddy mix of blue and green and brown that look different in every photograph. Over his shoulder, he sees the reflection of the now collaged wall. He hasn't seen something quite like it since his dad died, and now he recognizes the obsession that kept John moving all those years burning in his own stomach. He'd thought he'd understood it, when he lost Jess. He had thought that was the worst he'd ever feel, the most recklessness and anguish he would ever know. He was wrong. Sam looks back at the mirror and calls up on the anger that he's been coaxing inside him all year. In the mirror, his lower lip trembles. He closes his eyes slowly, carefully. When he opens them again, they stare back at him, pupils suddenly spreading out like ink until they're just pools of endless black. -

The Impala stutters to a stop on an empty stretch of highway just outside Rapid Springs, South Dakota. Dean, in his haste to find Sam, forgot the fundamental rule of being a Winchester. Don't run out of gas. -

It's dark, when Sam gets to the crossroads.

Sam uses an old cigar box. There's a bottle of dirt from the oldest grave he could find, blessed medallions (he ignores the way his fingers burn when he touches them), a black cat's leg bone, a lock of hair from a true psychic (Missouri braided it, for him, before she handed it over, shaking her head.) He opens his wallet to pull out his fake ID for the photograph, but his fingers stutter over it. Instead, he reaches into the tiny pocket behind the billfold and pulls out a photo he hasn't looked at since he was at Stanford. Him and Dean, 1988, sitting on the hood of the car, Dean's got his eyes crossed and the remains of a blue popsicle around his lips, Sam has his tongue out and his hair in his eyes. Sam tosses it into the box and starts digging. She doesn't mess around. He's barely patted the last bit of gravel and dirt back over the box when he feels the tap at his shoulder. The instant she touches him, his blood runs cold. "Sam," she says, trailing a finger across his shoulder blades as he stands stiffly. "I've been waiting for you all year. Was beginning to think you didn't care about Dean half as much as we all thought you did." Sam backs away from her. Every instinct he's got tells him to get away, to run. He stays put. "Love my brother more than you know," he bites. She giggles. She's prettylong blonde curls, freckles. She makes Sam want to vomit. "Oh, I think I know pretty well just how much you love your brother. But this isn't about love, tonight, is it, Sam? This is about sacrifice." Sam nods. "I'm the one you want," he says. His voice is steady. She eyes him from head to toe, gaze lingering in places Sam would rather not think about. "You think so, huh?" "You've all been waiting for me down in hell since I was six months old," he says. "So take me. I'm not asking you for a year, I'm not asking you for a day. I'm right here." A smile plays like light across her lips, and she's about to speak, when a shout in the distance catches her attention.

Sam inhales sharply, turning his head to where she's looking over his shoulder. Dean is a hundred yards away, but even in the distance and the darkness, Sam can recognize his brother, running toward him like he's being chased by a tornado. "Sam!" he screams again. Sam waits until Dean is within rangeonly fifty feet away - and then screams at him, "Don't move," calling up every power of persuasion he's got. -

Dean feels his body skid to a stop against his will. He tries, with everything he's got, to persevere, but Sam's stronger, even, than Andy ever was. Dean can't move. He can just stand here, frozen, and watch his brother die. The demon looks a little bit like Jessica, and a little bit like another familiar face that Dean can't place. Her eyes flash red when she looks at Dean and wags her fingers at him in a wave. She turns back to Sam. "You've been studying," she says. "I'm impressed." Sam straightens his shoulders. "So. Are you going to take the deal, or what?" Dean's chest burns so badly that he thinks he's about to get split down the middle. "Sammy," he begs. "Sammy, no, no, no, you can'tyou can't do this." He's crying, pleading, and Sam doesn't even glance at him. He's too busy staring at the demon. "Come on," he says. "I'm worth more to you than he is." There's something about Sam that's off. The way he's stalking a circle around the demonthe way she did to Dean, a year agothe way he's smiling. "That so?" she sings. "He's just a hunter," Sam says. "Me, I'm the last of the yellow-eyed demon's soldiers." The motherfucker is smirking. She grins. "The yellow-eyed demon? That's what you're calling him? Cute, Sammy."

Dean really hates this chick. "Look, bitch," he screams at her. "I'll come with you tonight. Ten days early, okay, I'm right here!" Neither she nor Sam reacts. "Take me instead," Sam says, voice so low Dean can barely hear it. "Leave Dean, and take me instead." That's when Dean gets what feels so strange about it all. Sam is seducing her, the way she has tried to seduce however many souls she's bargained for over the centuries. The tone of his voice, the way he's all lit up insidethere's something there that's about sex, about sin and desire. She smiles. "You'll come with me right now, if he gets to live?" "Right now." "I don't mean ten minutes from now, Sam. You don't get to run to him and tell him you love him, you don't get a nice brotherly kiss goodbye. I whistle for my dogs and you die, right now, right here, while he watches. Frozen." Sam swallows; Dean sees it. Still, he says, "that's the deal." Sam looks down at the ground, and then up at her. Dean sucks in a terrified breath and squints through the darkness. He's seeing wrong; he's got to be seeing wrong. No. He's not. Sam's eyes are deep, unrelenting black pools. Dean can't even garner the strength to form actual words when he screams; it's just an agonized howl of incomprehensible pain as he watches Sam lean in to kiss the demon. -

It's been a year of more anger than Sam ever knew existed. Starting from that first night at the graveyard, the rage that taunted him until he hurled Dean against the side of the car, and the next day in Grand Junction, when the sheer power of it blew up the bathroom light and shorted out the television. He calls it up now, as he feels the demon's fire-hot tongue slither into his mouth like a serpent. The girl at the Laundromat, the Georgia debutante,

the threesome he had to listen to from the other room in Rhode Island. Every time Dean did something stupiddiving between Sam and the chupacabras as the gun fired, stepping over the circle and out of safety during their exorcism in Texas. The way he felt in Guthrie, staring at Andy's headstone, knowing that Yellow Eyes was finally dead and nothing was better. He clutches at every bone-chilling scream from every nightmare Dean has had in the last three weeks, and every time he's wanted to touch Dean and had to stop himself, tugging his sleeves down over his hands. He channels every bit of fear and fury he's got, more anger than he knew existed in the world, and it's all in his hands tonight at this crossroads in South Dakota, as a demon sucks hungrily on his tongue, his brother statuestill ten feet away. -

Dean's heart pounds as he watches Sam's hands come up to touch her cheeks. This isn't normal; this isn't how it's always gone. The kiss is going on longer than it needs to, and Samor the demon that's possessing Sam, maybe - looks like he wants it, like... Sam grabs her face and wrenches her backward so hard that her feet come up off the ground. Dean winces. If the demon weren't protecting the body she's inhabiting, Sam probably would've just broken her neck. Dean sees her face freeze, her eyes filling with red again. "What are you doing," she says. There's low, hopeless terror in her voice. "Sam." Sam just holds her there, touching her. "You need the blood," he says. "Without keeping the blood pumping, you can't stay in this body." She blinks at him, presses a hand to her breast. "What are you doing." Suddenly, she drops to her knees like a ton of bricks, her neck snapping back and her mouth stretching. She wails as black smoke spills from the girl's mouth. In every exorcism Dean's ever done, the smoke has come spewing out and headed skyward, blowing away like a thundercloud.

This time, though, it stays, hovers around Sam and the fallen body in a chaotic mass. Sam blinks at it black-eyed, starting to back away, when suddenly it surges toward him and wraps itself around him like a blanket. "Sammy," Dean shouts, watching his little brother twist up unnaturally, bending backward until he's completely doubled over in the wrong direction. "Sammy, if you're in there, you gotta let me go, you gotta tell me I can move." Sam just howls and writhes on the ground, shaking with pain that Dean can practically feel himself. That's when Sam starts chanting, voice trembling and too quiet, but still there. Dean recognizes it as Latin, but it's nothing that he's ever heard before; it's older than any ritual or song he's ever learned from Bobby or Pastor Jim or Dad. Sam's got this expression on his face that Dean would know anywhere pain, sure, but underneath it, absolute pure wrath, the kind that nobody can summon up quite like Sam Winchester. Without any warning, Sam's chants turn back into a screama deep, desperate bellow from so far inside Dean's ears ring. Dean gags as he watches smoke start pouring out of Sam's mouth, too, just like the smoke that's enveloping him but red, fire-red and glowing in the night. It streams from between Sam's lips, shooting down to wrap around the black demon that's trying to squeeze the life out of him. It's like a string was attached to Dean's back, and it's suddenly cut. He can move again, and his legs pick up right where they left off, hurtling him toward Sam as the red and black smoke begin to rise, twisting up into the sky as if they're battling each other. Dean skids to his knees beside his brother, grabbing his shoulders, just in time to watch the red smoke figure wrap around the black, and surge back down into Sam's throat.

Sam's eyes fall black again instantly, just he goes completely limp and falls back on the road. -

Sam has never felt pain like this. He's been shot and clawed and nearly burned alive a million times, but it's nothing like this. He can feel every vein in his body like he's pumping acid instead of blood, he can feel that most of his ribs are broken and his tongue is blistered from the unrelenting heat of the worst kiss of his life. Dean grabs him by the front of his shirt, two handfuls of fabric. It takes Sam a moment to focus his senses, to close in on the tears on Dean's face and his bloodshot eyes and the way he's murmuring Sammysammysammy like Sam's name itself has the power to heal. Sam doesn't have the energy to try to get away from Dean's hands right now. In fact, it takes everything he's got to raise his voicethroat burning from screamingenough to whisper, "Don't touch my skin." Dean freezes, hands still on Sam's chest, just a couple thin layers of cotton away from cardiac arrest. "What?" "You can't touch my skin," Sam says. Dean has to lean close to hear him. "You'll die if you touch me." Dean just keeps staring at him, then hauls him up to a sitting position without much regard for the fact that Sam's pretty sure that vital parts of his ribcage are currently swimming around near his kidneys. "What did you do, Sam?" "Killed her," Sam says. He's warm all over, and suddenly sobbing. "Took all year but I... I killed her, Dean." Nothing hurts as much as not being able to touch Dean, right now. Sam knows, though, that he can never touch his brother again. He's spent an entire year turning into an honest-to-God demon, cultivating the few drops of poison blood that he swallowed as a baby into something he could use. Ava had been right; everything he'd learned was like flicking a switch or opening a window. And he did use it. Dean is here, now, and he's not going to die. Sam is going to be able to ride shotgun and smell his stupid onion breath for the rest of

their lives. He'll never be able to touch him againwon't ever be able to touch anyone again - but it's worth it. It's worth it. -

Sam sleeps for two days straight, waking up to suck water through a straw and mumble thanks to Dean and Bobby before passing out again. He had tried to explain the whole thing to Dean in the car, talking about the Yellow-Eyed Demon's blood and the creepy heart-stopper from Cold Oak and Ava's demon control learning curve. At the time, though, all Dean could manage to wrap his head around was Sam's outright refusal to go to the hospital because the doctors would want to touch him, and he'd kill them all. Three days that Sam sleeps. Dean crashes, too, on and offbut mostly he sits on his bed, staring at Sam, thinking about black eyes looking at him from his brother's face. "He's an idiot," Bobby says, when they're sitting at the foot of Sam's bed drinking beer and eating chicken. Dean won't go far enough from this room to eat at the kitchen table. "He's a smart idiot, but he's an idiot all the same." Dean takes a swallow of his Newcastle and barely tastes it. "What you're saying is that he turned himself into a demon for me." Bobby frowns. "He may have been a demon all along, Dean." "He's my brother." "All I'm saying is if what the demon told him is trueif Sam has had demon blood in his body for his entire life, and he's managed to fight his demonic instincts for twenty-four years without even realizing it?" "Then he's a hell of a lot stronger than any of us gave him credit for," Dean finishes. Bobby nods. "That's all I'm saying." "So. What do we do?"

Bobby scratches his beard. "I'm workin' on it," he says. On the third day, Dean wakes up and Sam is looking at him from the other bed. "Hi," Sam says, voice soft. "What day is it?" "Wednesday." Sam smirks. "Jesus. Did you sedate me?" Dean shakes his head against his pillow. "Would've, but we didn't need to. You passed out in the car on the way here and have barely come up for air since." "Would explain why I'm starving." Dean sits up. "Other than that, are you feeling okay?" Sam shrugs. "My back hurts. And my ribs are still sore as hell, but I don't think they're poking into any vital organs, so there's that." "There's that," Dean agrees. He picks absently at a loose thread on the quilt. "I don't know what to say to you right now, Sammy." Sam smiles. "I'll take 'Thanks for saving my ass as usual,'" he says. "And maybe, 'I'll go right downstairs and raid Bobby's fridge for you', too." Dean tosses his blankets aside and rolls off the bed, crouching down on the floor near where Sam's arm is hanging off his bed. He sees Sam's smile falter and watches Sam grab the wrist of his hoodie and pull the sleeve down over his hand. Dean licks his lips. "I can touch you where you're... I mean, I can touch your clothes, right?" Sam's eyes widen. "Dean." It's not a no, though, so Dean grabs the edge of the mattress and tips forward, falling toward Sam like gravity. He presses his face against Sam's shouldercareful to avoid the bare stretch of his neck, because after all of that, he's sure as hell not gonna up and die on Sam, now. Sam, his hand still stuffed inside his sleeve, touches the back of Dean's

head. "Hey," he says. "It's okay." "Love you," Dean mumbles, because he's got his face so tight against Sam's shoulder that he's pretty sure the words are lost in the fabric. Sam's light stroke at the back of his head doesn't falter. Finally, Dean pulls back, reaching up to wipe tears out of his eyes with the back of his hand. "Okay," he sniffles, standing up. "Okay. What do you need?" Sam looks at him softly for another second, and then snaps out of it and grins. "Painkillers," he says. "Good ones. And food." Dean nods. "Got it." "Lots of food. A burger. And a salad. And Lucky Charms. And cake." Of course, now the kid wants to eat. Dean laughs as he heads out of the room. "You're a real bitch, you know that, Sam?" "Bake me a cake, jerk! I saved your life!"

part five

Sam won't be in any shape for hunting for a few weeks, but once he's up and around they get back on the road anyway. It's what they know; it's what they've always done. More importantly, it's everything Sam wants right now: the road rolling out behind them, Dean's music turned too loud, summer crawling closer with every mile. Dean is quiet for a long time, on the road. "You okay?" Sam asks, when Zeppelin I gets to the end of Side A and Dean doesn't notice for a whole five minutes.

Dean's eyes flick over to him before returning to the road. "I'm justI mean, yeah. I'm okay, Sam; I'm good. I just don't know what to do with this." "With what?" Dean opens his mouth to speak, then closes it, like he's considering his words. "Time," he says. Sam grins. "And you," Dean adds, voice low, mouth turning down at the corners. "Don't know what to do with you, either." Dean drives south until he can't drive anymore, and they check in to a motel in San Angelo. Sam has a particular affection for West Texas. He doesn't know where it came from, but he remembers a long summer there when he was ten or eleven, and he thinks maybe it was a good one. Dean was on a baseball team that summer. There's a pool behind the motel; they can see it from their window. "You think if you got into a swimming pool with someone," Dean says as they stand there staring out at it, "and you weren't touching them..." Sam doesn't know. Lily didn't live long enough for him to learn her last name, much less pry into her life with questions about the way she killed her girlfriend. "I think so," he saysjust guessing. "Water conducts electricity." "So you think it conducts freaky demon-powers, too," Dean finishes. He looks up at Sam. "Sorry. I didn't mean it like that." "I don't like demons any more than you do," Sam says. "I just want," Dean says. He leaves it hanging. They're standing close together, both looking out the small window, watching heat come off the concrete below in waves. The air conditioning hasn't quite kicked up yet, and when Dean breathes, Sam can feel the heat of it hanging in the air. He shoves his hands into his pockets as far as they'll go and digs his fingers against his thighs.

Dean still has a strange, pained expression on his face when Sam looks at him. Sam licks his lips and thinks what the hell. "If it helps," he whispers, "I wish I could touch you, too." Dean's neck flushes immediately and he looks back out the window. "Jesus, Sammy."

Sam heals quickly. Dean knows because he watches him (usually from the corner of his eye, occasionally from a flat-out stare) as Sam tugs his shirts off on his way to the shower, sees the bruises around his torso fade each day. "There a particular reason you're smiling?" Dean asks when they're drinking weak coffee in a 7-11 on their way to San Diego. If Sam is getting better, then their vacation is ending, and Dean wants it to end somewhere with sand and stupid girly drinks. Things are feeling oddly normal, lately, if he doesn't count the way he's never wanted to get his hands on his brother so badly as he does now that he can't do so much as smack him upside the head. "No," Sam says, but Dean sees dimples. "Lying," he says. Sam shakes his head, shrugging. "Just realized you were supposed to be dead ten days ago," he says. Four minutes later, they're at the register. The clerk goes to return Dean's credit card, but when he grabs it, she doesn't let go. He looks up at her. "You guys just passing through?" she asks, batting her eyelashes, licking gloss off her lips. "Or you planning on sticking around for a while, maybe." Dean yanks his Visa free. "We're leaving," he says. "Immediately."

Their motel is right on the beach. There's sand in the carpet and the shower drain when they get there. "Just once, I want to stay at a freaking Ritz Carlton," Dean says, peeling back his comforter and checking the sheets for sand. Once he's satisfied, he peels off his shirtit's hot as hell in here. Sam looks away, wills the flush from his face. "We've got time," Sam says. It feels good to be able to say it. Sam can tell that Dean feels it to because he smiles. "Yeah." He tips over onto the bed and kicks his feet up, without taking his boots off. He closes his eyes and rests a hand low on his own stomach. Sam's mouth goes dry, looking. "What's it feel like?" Dean asks, not opening his eyes. "Uh. Whatwhat's what like?" Sam sits down on his own bed and starts unlacing his sneakers. "When you, you know. Move things or blow up light bulbs or kill people with your brain." "Remember when I moved the armoire at Max Miller's house?" "You said it felt like a punch." "Yeah. It's like that, like... angry, and scared." "So you can control it?" "Kind of. It's easier to control anger than it is to control fear. But if I focus, then I can control it. Except for the killing people part." Dean sighs. "Well ain't that the rub." Sam watches Dean's fingers scratch at his belly. "Does it scare you?" "Yes," Dean replies immediately. He rolls to his side. "But you're still my brother." "Still your... Yeah." Sam pulls his eyes away from Dean's stomach to look him in the eye.

The moment stretches long, Sam's eyes and Dean's and nothing in the world but the two of them. Sam presses his hips into the mattress without even realizing at first. And then Dean makes this weird, choked noise and curls his knees up a little closer to his bodyjust staring at Samand out of nowhere, Sam is in Dean's head, seeing what Dean's thinking. He just knows, right then, that Dean is thinking about Sam, about what it'd be like to get to touch each other right now, and Dean has an image in his mind of the two of them stripped and pressed skin on skin. Sam didn't mean to push into Dean's head, he was just suddenly there, but he's too far gone at this point to worry about the implications of that loss of control, the possible consequences of it spreading. He's about to speakthough he doesn't know what the hell he's going to say, because he's so turned on all of a sudden he can'tthinkwhen suddenly Dean gasps and jerks back so hard he almost falls off the bed. Sam sits up. "Dean! What's wrong?" Dean gapes at him. "Your eyes. They just. I'm sorry, I justI forgot they did that, and..." When he turns his head to the mirror, Sam's eyes blink back at him, black. They don't return to normal until his heart rate slows.

The ramifications of the whole thing start to weigh on Dean pretty quickly. Sam can't shake anyone's hand. He can't flirt. He can't hold his hand out for change at the cash register. He can't ever get looked at by a doctor, which means Dean is going to have to flat-out keep Sam in the motel room every time anything even remotely dangerous needs doing. All the smaller joys of Dean's life are missing. It's no fun stealing Sam's crispy fries if Sam can't smack his hand away and knock the ketchup over in the process. When Sam falls asleep in the car, Dean can't wake him up with a wet willy.

Not to mention there's this dark cloud over Sam, this anger that lingers in his face. Dean can't explain it. Plus, plenty of boundaries have been crossed lately, but not quite enough for him to feel okay about sitting Sam down and saying "There's something strange behind your eyes; want to talk about your feelings?" It's not until they leave San Diego that Dean decides something has to be done. They're driving north, to Lake Tahoe, where there have been sightings of what may be a Black Dog. Sam is asleep in the back of the car, and he starts to twitch. Dean hears him sniffing, breathing hard. He feels Sam's knee jab into the back of his seat. Sam mutters something in his sleep. His voice is breathy, panicked. "Sammy?" They're in the fast lane, doing a hundred miles an hour in the middle of the night, and out of nowhere, Dean's car explodes. The windshield shatters, the windows blow out. Sparks fly from the radio. "MOTHERFUCKER," Dean shouts, trying to shield his eyes from the glass as he steers to the shoulder. As soon as he throws the car into park, he whirls around to look at Sam, who is sitting up, staring at Dean, panic all over his face. His eyes are black. "Sam! Are you alright? Did you get hurt?" "That was me," Sam pants. Usually by now, his eyes would have flipped back to normal, but they haven't. "Are you alright," Dean repeats. Sam nods. "I'm fine, Dean. But that was me, I did that. In my sleep." Dean twists around and reaches for Sam. "It's okay. You're okay, I'm okay. The car can be fixed. It's okay." Sam pulls away from Dean's hands, eyes still shining dark. "Don't touch me," he says miserably.

That night, while Sam is outside the motel room taping plastic over the side windows, Dean calls Bobby. "You got anything?" Dean asks. He can hear the stripped-down desperation in his own voice. "Bobby, I think we're running out of time here. Sam is gonna lose it, I can feel it, and I'm gonna lose him. Bobby."

"I need more time, Dean," Bobby says. "I've been doin' some reading, calling up a few contacts. This isn't exactly something I can stick in the Demon Hunter Daily, Dean. Gordon Walker isn't the only batshit asshole in this game." "Do you have anything yet?" Dean begs. "One thing," Bobby says. "But it might not work. And it's old magic, dangerous. This isn't your average exorcism, Dean, when Sam isthe demon that's all wrapped up in him. It's gonna hurt like hell. Sam might not come out of it okay." Dean stares out the window. Squinting his own reflection, he sees Sam crouched beside the car with a long piece of tape between his teeth, brow furrowed as he does his best to fashion makeshift windows without risking the paint job that Dean hasn't thought about in months. "Keep looking," Dean says. "There has to be something, Bobby. If there's one thing I've learned this yearthere's always something.

It comes on fast. The windows that Sam opened in his brain, to let the abilities inhe can't shut them, and now there's all sorts of stuff howling through his head. There are small changes. He craves red meat, wants it rarer and rarer. He always feels freezing but he's burning upto the point where sometimes, when he steps under the shower nozzle, the water evaporates as it hits his skin. He gets blindingly angry with the drop of a hat and it takes everything he's got to swallow it back. His eyes are black, now, when he wakes up in the morning. He has to force the anger outstaring at his own eyeballs in the mirror, daring themand

he has to concentrate all day to keep them looking normal. It's exhausting, and eventually he gives up, starts letting them shutter over to black whenever it's just him and Dean. The eyes are the least of his worries. Sometimes, he gets these urges. He was alone in the motel room while Dean went for a run, and housekeeping knocked. Sam suddenly saw himself flinging the door open and touching the maid, saw what she would look like on the hallway floor, convulsing as the cardiac arrest shut her down. He didn't do it, but for a split second, he wanted to. And there's the mind reading. He can't help it, now, sometimes his brain belongs to him, and sometimes it doesn't. It gets strongerhe can pick people up from a hundred yards away, now, but mostly it's the people that are closest. Mostly it's Dean. And what Sam sees there is the worst thing. His brother loves him. He knows that, it's right there on the surface, surrounding every thought he has. Some more than othersand Sam had thought that was hard, always getting these occasional blips of things that Dean would rather be doing. Things Sam would never get to do again, with anyone. But those images are growing few and far between. Mostly, Dean is terrified. Of Sam. He sees Sam's eyes and the way Sam can break every glass in the room with an accidental twitch and he watches Sam shove his hands into his pockets whenever he can and Dean is scared. He has every right to be, Sam knows. He knows that.

Sam sleep talks now - in this deep, guttural voice that doesn't quite belong to him. Dean hears him muttering, words like children andarmy and bones and burn. It isn't a nightmare, Sam looks

like he's sleeping peacefully, except for the way his mouth is moving. It's the most terrifying thing Dean has ever heard. In Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Dean goes for coffee before Sam wakes uphe can't listen to it anymore. When he gets back to the motel room, though, balancing a gigantic black coffee for himself and something pale and milky with whipped cream for Samno nightmare is as bad as what he finds. It's just Sam, standing there in his torn jeans and his t-shirt, shoving his things into a bag. Dean watches him pack his knife, some clean underwear, and the Key of Solomon before Sam finally freezes. "Dean." "Seriously," Dean says, "you're going to leave." The dull ice in his voice unnerves even him. He sets the coffee down on the dresser, barely notices when his tips over and spreads across the surface. "Well I can't stay," Sam says. He turns around to face Dean and his face is a mess, eyes black and tears spilling, snot smudged across his upper lip like he's still five years old, fell off his bike and his hands are all scraped up. Dean shakes his head. Sam looks awful, desperate and young and terrified, but Dean is just... he's angry. "After everything," he growls, "you really think I'm going to be okay without you, Sam? You can honestly tell me that? With you in one place and me in another, that's how you think this ends." Sam sniffles. His chest is heaving, like he's still trying to hold back the tears, even though they're all over his face. "You can't tell me you're not scared of me," Sam says. "I can feel it." Oh, for Christ's sake. "I'm fucking terrified, Sam! But not of you." "Right," Sam scoffs. He straightens his shoulders, and now he's gone from devastated to pissed off, Dean knows it by the way he's standing. "Right, you're scared of the monster under your bed, not the demon sleeping in the next one"

"Shut up." Dean steps closer, almost forgets about Sam's fatal touch until Sam takes a matching step backward. "I'm not scared of you, Sam; I'm scared for you. I don't want to lose you. I don't want you to turn into something you aren't. I don't want to be the reason you did this to yourself. And I can not lose you." He can't help himself, then, so he keeps walking forward, keeping Sam backing up toward the corner of the room. Sam could stop him with a few words, but Dean has a feeling that Sam is feeling as lost and reckless as he is right now. Maybe Sam can't think straight enough to remember that he can stop Dean. God knows Dean can't think straight enough right now to do anything but keep moving toward Sam. Sam's eyes are wide, his hands still jammed into his pockets. Dean doesn't plan on stopping, as he gets closer, though, so if Sam wants him to stay away he's going to have to say it. "Dean, damn it, don't do something stupid," Sam hisses. There's a flash of now-familiar rage in his eyes. But Dean keeps walking. "Bobby has an idea," Dean says. "He thinks it'll work, to get you... to get you back to you. It's dangerous, Sammy, and I wish to God we didn't have to do this, but I can't see you like this anymore. I don't think we can wait. I don't want to wait anymore, for Bobby to come up with something else." He's so close to Sam now that he can feel his breath. He presses a palm to the wall next to Sam's head, stares up at him. His heart is beating so fast he can hear it in his ears. "You can't exorcise me," Sam says. He doesn't sound like he wants to believe it, though. "I've already thought of that, Dean. It's not just me in here. I've got the Crossroads demon inside me, too. She's dormant, but that's how I beat herI think I just absorbed her. I think that's why everything is happening so fast." "Bobby has something figured out," Dean says. That's not what he's thinking about now, though, with Sam backed up into the corner, flushed, anger and adrenaline and want rushing through him so hard he can feel his own heart beating in his fingertips. Sam doesn't look much better off; his cheeks are flushed and his chest is rising and falling too fast.

Dean is about to make a stupid kamikaze move, and he doesn't know if he can stop himself. "Tell me not to touch you, Sam." Sam looks at him. For a moment, his eyes shutter back to their usual dark hazel, and Dean's chest aches so much when they blacken that he gasps. Finally, Sam says, low, using Andy's ability, "Don't touch my skin, Dean." It takes Dean a split second to realize what, exactly, Sam said. Sam reaches for him, then, grabs Dean by the shirt and tugs him in so close that Dean feels Sam get short of breath there, stuck in the corner, blocked by Dean's body. Their skin still isn't touching, but they're pressed together from chest to knee, bodies breathing in synchronicity. Sam's body is too hot, like a furnace spilling heat through his shirt and toward Dean's chest. They stand there, breathing, with Dean's palms against the wall and Sam's hands holding Dean's shirt, without moving. Sam's mouth is so close to Dean's he can taste Sam's breath. They're just looking at each other, pupils wide and chins quaking withwant, practically panting. The damp warmth of Sam's exhale quivers on Dean's lip, and Dean licks out at it. "Even if I don't have the abilities anymore," Sam says, watching Dean's tongue, words catching in the air between their faces, "you're still my brother. This is still... you're still my brother." Dean nods, just a twitch of his head. He's carefully avoiding the meaning behind Sam's words. It's been a hell of a year, and they need this, they deserve this. "Yeah. Always - always going to be your brother." Sam's breath hitches, his eyelids sink lower. "Have you always wanted this?" Dean presses in even closer, crushing Sam against the wall. Sam's hard already; Dean can feel it, but he'd know it even if it weren't a sure thing pressing against his thigh. "I don't know," he says. "Maybe." He presses forward with his hips, and Sam drops a hand from Dean's waist to the back of his thigh, just beneath his ass. Sam tugs Dean forward and gasps at the touch. "Because I've always wanted it," Sam says. "Maybe before Stanford, and definitely after and"

"Sammy," Dean murmurs. He feels as though he's been waiting forever for this. "You're sure?" Sam breathes. He grinds up into Dean, and Dean's breath stutters, his heart clenches so tight that for one terrifying moment he wonders if he's accidentally touched Sam. His body pulses, though, heartbeat soaring up in Dean's chest like a drumroll. "Oh God, Sam." "C'mon, Dean." They're so close that everything but their skin is touching. Dean's eyelashes are touching Sam's face, even, and he's never felt anything like this in his life. "Sam, you gotta know" Sam makes a breathy noise and his body twists as he comes. He tries to pull away from Deanfor safety's sake, Dean is sure - at the same time he tries to move closer. His eyes go startlingly Sam, as he rides out his orgasm at Dean's hip, and Dean just watches his face. "That's good," he says, barely recognizing his own voice. "Yeah, Sammy." When Sam's donesagging against the wall and the parts of Dean he's allowed to touch, he looks up at Dean. "C'mere, let mec'mere," he says, reaching for Dean's hips. "Nah," Dean says, angling himself away. He wants it, wants the heel of Sam's hand pressing him into his zipper until he blacks out, but he can wait. "Later."

Sam has trouble paying attention, while Bobby tries to explain the process. It's an Ancient Chinese ritual about the Yin and the Yang, and it's going to feel like Sam is getting ripped right in the half. Sam can feel Dean's eyes on him as he listens half-heartedly to Bobby. The problem is, Sam doesn't know what it feels like to exist without this thing inside him. He didn't understand it before, but he does nowthat he's been

fighting this thing since before he could talkand he can't figure out why he's scared, why losing this part of himself makes him nervous. "Bobby," Dean interrupts, "can I talk to Sam, for a second?" Bobby rolls his eyes. "I'm trying to do this thing," he grumbles as he leaves, "and you idiots are fidgeting around like a bunch of..." They don't hear the end of his rant because he's too far down the hallway. Sam is already sitting in the chair beneath the repaired Devil's Trap on the ceiling. He's not tied up yet, but he will be. He doesn't remember the last time his body was in this spot, but somehow it feels like he's been headed here all his life. Dean paces around for a minute before he stops in front of Sam's chair and crouches down, sitting on his haunches. "You're scared," he says, looking up at Sam's face. There's a deep line between his brows. Sam just nods, scrubs a hand over his face. "I'm not gonna let you die," Dean says. He doesn't sound convinced. "Dying isn't what I'm scared of," Sam says. He doesn't feel like explaining. Dean wouldn't understand. "Sam." Dean's tone is low and serious, like this isn't something he wants to say but something he has to say. "I just. Um... look. I need you to know, okay... I love every stupid inch of you. Okay? Every drop of blood in your body, and whether it's Winchester blood or demon blood or fucking fairy princess unicorn bloodI don't care." Sam knew that, he did. It's still damn good to hear it. "Okay," Sam says. He twists a little so that he can get his hand against Dean's chest, feel Dean's pulse solid beneath it. "Sammy?" "Yeah, Dean, okay. Let's do this."

It takes eight hours. Bobby and Dean do most of it, but Ellen is there too, bringing water and food that they don't eat. Sam mostly just screamsvisceral, animal howls - and bleeds. That is, when he's not talking in that horrible nightmare voice, ranting about the new generation and the revolution and hell walking on earth. The blood that spills from him reeks of sulfur, and logically, Dean knows that it's not Sam that's bleeding out, but the demonor demonsin him. Still, every part of him reacts violently to the fact that Sam is hurt. Sam is yelling and bloody and Dean wants to stop it, but he just has to keep going. It's the worst thing Dean has ever had to do in his life. Finally, the smoke that spews from Sam's mouth toward the ceiling just keeps coming and coming until the entire room is filled with black and red. Dean's eyes burn, but he keeps going, listening to Sam scream while he follows Bobby's instructions. When the smoke clears and the chants finish, Sam sags forward against his bindings, barely able to hold his head up. The room feels strange. Dean wants to whoop, or something, because this is finally over, but the floor is sticky with blood under his boots. Bobby raises his eyebrows toward Dean and gestures at Sam. "You can," he says. Dean shakes his head. "You do it," he says. Bobby tosses out his I-will-never-understand-you-Winchesters look, but he kneels in the mess and starts to untie Sam's wrists. Slowly, Sam raises his head and looks at Dean over Bobby's shoulder. Dean looks back. Sam's eyes are green and blue and brown and they're Sam's eyes. "You okay?" he saysquiet, gruff, because Bobby is right there and Dean has to be careful. Sam smiles, nods, and passes out cold.

Sam expects to feel like hell warmed over when he wakes up, but for once in his life, he doesn't feel anything like hell at all. He has only slept for a few hours when he wakes on Bobby's couch. It's morning, and sun is streaming in through the window, catching dust particles on its way to fade the covers of Bobby's stacked books. The house is warm, and Sam can hear Bobby and Ellen talking in the Devil's Trap room, arguing good-naturedly about how the hell am I supposed to get fifty million gallons of blood off my damn floors and goddamn Winchesters, I swear. Dean is in the armchair a few feet away from Sam's head. He's got his feet planted on the floor and his arms crossed, like he sat down determined to keep watch and dozed off anyway. "Dean," Sam murmurs. His brother's eyes snap open immediately. "Sammy," he says, voice still smooth, so he wasn't sleeping long. He gets out of his chair, slides to his knees beside Sam. "You okay? Does it hurt?" Sam shakes his head. "We can get you to the hospital now," Dean says. "They're going to ask questions, but you can go in with Bobby and I'll wait in the car, so you're less likely to get recognized, and" "Hey," Sam interrupts, reaching out to grab Dean's wrist. "I'm fine." He sits up. Nothing hurts, nothing aches. He's a little lightheaded, but he doesn't feel like he lost nearly as much blood as he felt spill out of his mouth and eyes and nose last night. He feels good. "Sam," Dean chokes out, and that's when Sam realizes he's still holding onto Dean's wrist, skin touching skin for the first time in months while they're sitting here in Bobby's den, Dean's knees on the dusty floor and Sam sinking

into the ancient sofa. It's a lot to process, all at once. There's nothing between them, now. No deals or demons, just them and what's left of their family, their car parked outside and bad blood spilled on Bobby's floor. "Really," Sam says. "I feel good." Dean exhales, finally, the tension easing out of his face. His eyes close and his head tips forward. "We need a vacation," he says quietly. "For like, ten years." Sam smiles. "Yeah." It's anti-climactic, almost, huddling together with the year dissolving behind them. Sam stares at Dean's eyelashes, then at his mouth, and thinks that maybe all of this turbulence between them has never been about them at all, but just what they've been going through. Maybe, now that it's all over, now that Dean doesn't have to be so scared of the separation, Dean doesn't feel the same way. "Hey," Sam says, "Dean. If you don't want to... I mean, if things have changed, it's okay, I'm not" Dean inhales the rest of Sam's sentence, surging up and crushing his mouth against Sam's with a force that propels Sam against the back of the sofa, hard. The world doesn't shift beneath his feet and his head doesn't spin. This doesn't feel like something scary or shocking; just his brother's mouth, like the next turn in the road when they're driving late and there's Bad Company in the tape deck. Sam parts his lips for Dean's tongue and reaches around to card his hands through Dean's hair and run down Dean's spine and press right up tight against the small of his back. When Dean pulls backnot far, just enough to breathe, lips still grazing over

Sam'sSam says, "Let's not do this... thing anymore." Dean closes his eyes. "I'm thinking I want to do this thing for a while," he says. "What the hell thing are you talking about?" Sam ducks his head, laughs against Dean's neck. "This whole always saving each other thing. Can we just, you know... now that we're here, can we just drive for a while?" Dean grins and puts a hand on Sam's chest, curling into the bloodstained collar of Sam's shirt, touching Sam's skin with his fingertips. Somewhere in the house, Ellen laughs, and Bobby grumbles. "Yeah," Dean says. He shakes his head, nose swiping across Sam's cheekbone as he does it. "Yeah, we can do that, Sammy."