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Dean remembered the funeral. Dad, blurred at the edges, moving like he’d been burned too. Sammy, passed from murmuring woman to murmuring woman, quiet only for a few seconds before he began to cry again, until one of them paid attention to Dean’s outstretched arms and let him hold Sammy. Then, silence.

Silence for a long time. Dean didn’t feel much like talking, and nobody pressed him on it for a while. Even Dad just yelled at him that one time, until Sammy was screaming and Dad left the motel room to stomp around outside. After that Dad spent more time away and when he was back he just talked to Dean like Dean would talk back if he had something to say, giving orders when he expected Dean to follow them. That was easy. Dean could follow orders without talking.

Sammy was good at sitting up. Dean would prop him up against a pillow and let him watch TV. Sam would stare at the cartoons, mostly serious and attentive, only smiling sometimes. He liked it more when Dean would imitate the crazy cat or rabbit or whatever, so Dean spent a lot of time dancing or trying to somersault (he wasn’t very good at it—he could get his hands and his feet on the floor at the same time, but the rolling forward part tended to end in a crash).

When Sammy was nine months old, Dad found a babysitter for them so that he could spend more time looking for the thing that had killed Mom. Mrs. Edwards was no worse than anyone else who wasn’t Mom. She didn’t try to get Dean to talk, and she had a real crib for Sammy’s naps. The crib had a mobile with a bunch of mice in tutus—ballerina mice, Dean knew that was silly, but Sammy seemed to love them.

One afternoon, he heard Sammy burbling in the crib, not yet whining to get out the way he usually did, and he roused himself from where he’d been dozing just inside the door (Mrs. Edwards didn’t like for him to be in Sammy’s crib, and he figured he could watch Sammy okay from the floor) and came over to peer inside.

Sammy was staring up at the mobile, which was spinning. When Mrs. Edwards remembered to wind it up, it would just turn, but this time each mouse was also twirling, its little arms and legs rising and falling, dancing to some unheard music. Sammy cooed and reached out his fat little hands, and Dean stared too.

Then Sammy yawned and turned his head. The mobile fell silent, rocking a little with momentum.

“Sammy,” Dean whispered. It came out rough, strange after so long without any words at all. Sammy stared at him, eyes wide. “Do it again, Sammy. Do it again.”

And Sammy did.

They both got bored before Mrs. Edwards found them, and Dean got Sammy out of his crib so that he could practice crawling.

That was the first time.


Dad found out because Dean kept trying to do it himself. But no matter how much he stared, or pointed, or wanted, stuff stayed motionless. He had to climb up to get the stuffed bear off the shelf himself, or push the toy car with his hand (which was okay because he got to make the whoosh-whoosh noises), or walk over to the TV and press the button.

But Dad noticed what Dean tried first, and then he asked. Dean answered, hoping that Dad would tell him that he wouldn’t have to wait much longer to be able to do all those things.

“You can’t make things move just by looking at them,” Dad told him instead, all serious.

Dean nodded, because Dad knew what Dean could and couldn’t do, and if Dad said so, then it wasn’t going to happen. “But Dad,” he asked, because he wanted to know and he didn’t think that it was going to be one of the questions that made Dad stiff and growly. “How come Sammy can?”


After that, Dad never let any of his friends meet Sammy. It meant leaving Dean in charge more, and Dad explained how Dean needed to be responsible.

Responsibility was hard sometimes, but Dad needed him and so did Sammy. Sammy didn’t understand about hiding. When they were in stores, Dean had to pick out the food and answer all Sammy’s questions and make sure that Sammy didn’t get interested in something up too high for him to reach with his hands. Once, when Sammy was four, a box of Pop Tarts came darting down to Dean’s basket and a lady followed him through the entire rest of the store, Dean getting more and more worried as she got closer.

It was only when Dean was imagining having to pull out the knife in his pocket and use it to keep the lady from following them back to the motel, getting himself ready for when he needed to do it for real, that Sammy seemed to understand. “I’ll be careful,” he promised, crying. “I’ll be careful, Dean.”

And he was, mostly.


“There are other children like Sam,” Dad said, trying to explain why they were driving through the night. “The demon, it did something to them. And people – people are getting hurt.”

Years later, when Sam was away and wasn’t going to pick the stories out of his mind, Dean would look up the records, relying on his memories of where they’d been and on research into kids who’d lost mothers to fire at the age of six months.

As it’d turned out, telekinesis was not the worst power a baby could’ve gotten. About half the kids had managed to off themselves, one way or another, before age seven. Another quarter or so had gotten themselves killed, almost all by their remaining parent or foster parents. Dean interviewed one of the dads, pretending to be a journalist doing a thing on posttraumatic stress. He swore, to anyone who’d listen, that his child had been replaced by a monster, a bad seed. “She could make you hurt yourself,” the guy had said, the words creaky and rehearsed-sounding by now. “If she didn’t like how you fixed the bottle, if her diaper was dirty. She could make you slam your foot into a wall, or put your hand in boiling water. She’d do it and she’d grin, like it was the funniest thing in the world.”

Dean could see how a baby might think that, not understanding anything about the world. Sammy’d been lucky to have Dean and Dad—whatever he thought about them now, they’d protected him. Learned to ignore his tantrums until they mostly stopped happening; taught him to take deep breaths or even suck his thumb if he needed to when he was frustrated and all the furniture in the room started to wobble.

Sammy’d been lucky, too, that the whammy was a lot later-developing in his case. Dean wasn’t all that imaginative, but even he could think of things a good-natured little kid might’ve demanded that would’ve ended badly. Sam hadn’t even wanted to bathe on a regular basis until he was eight, and he’d had a big thing for fire engines—normal kid stuff like that, only a problem if the little kid could make everybody around comply with him.

Dean had never been entirely sure when the whammy showed up. Sam had always been a stubborn little shit, and the fact that he got his way around Dean more often than not didn’t necessarily have anything to do with special powers. There was that one creepazoid who tried to touch Sam in the laundromat when Sam was nine, and given how the guy had run off, Sam’d either shocked him or ordered him to vamoose. That might’ve been the first time.


There’d been a different creepazoid when Dean was fifteen and Dad had left him in charge. Unfortunately, this particular creepazoid had been the landlord. The only bit of luck they had was that Dean hadn’t yet known that the “find another way to pay” thing was a total cliche, so Dean hadn’t burst out laughing. Instead, Dean had looked him up and down and thought about it. He’d felt nothing but a vague sort of disgust. Touch that? He’d rather turn over a decaying corpse, maggots and all. Given that he dug up dead bodies on a regular basis, though, he wasn’t taking the option off the menu entirely.

He’d been in the middle of convincing the guy to wait another couple of days—and hell yeah, he’d been working the looks—when Sam had popped up, practically vibrating with fury.

Dean had never seen anyone get sick so fast. The landlord had been vomiting before he’d cleared the doorway—Dean had glared at Sam all through the cleanup, because that shit stank, and Sam had only shrugged—and he’d been out of commission nearly until Dad had returned, by which time Dean had come close enough to paying that the topic of the value of his other services hadn’t come up again.


Before the telepathy and telekinesis settled down, the visions arrived. That was the second worst night of Dean’s life.

Dad was out watching the werewolf’s lair, Dean with strict orders not to get anywhere near that side of town so as to keep the thing from picking up any hint of his scent; Dad had stolen a car special for the occasion for the same reason. Dean had been practicing reassembling a Glock, timing himself (he was going to be the best hunter ever, faster than anybody had ever been, even Dad, and Caleb was going to call up Pastor Jim and talk about how that Winchester boy might really rid the world of demons once and for all) when he heard Sam’s scream from the next room.

Dean ripped the blindfold off, distantly aware of gun parts clattering and skittering as he dove for the hallway.

His first-aid training was heavy on stitches and really appallingly light on seizures. He put a pillow under Sam’s head so he wouldn’t bash his own brains in. Tears were streaming down Sam’s face—”Hurts, Dean,” he kept saying. “Please,” and Dean’s own vision was blurred as he carried Sam out to the car, slipping on the packed-down snow on the walk and thinking how terrifyingly insubstantial Sam seemed over his shoulder, his whole world lighter than the main weapons bag.

He left the Impala parked in the emergency loading zone, and it wasn’t until the nurses started asking him about his parents that he realized he needed a story. If he didn’t think fast, they were going to end up in state custody, probably split up. And even if Sam wasn’t found out and sent to some secret government torture camp, Dean already knew what happened to boys like Sam, smart and friendly and innocent, when they didn’t have family looking out for them. There’d been a trio of ghosts out to South Bend—Dad had apologized, after, for what Dean had seen and heard.

There was honestly no reason that they should’ve believed his bullshit about Dad needing to go get Mom, and he was only putting off the inevitable by a couple of hours, but he nearly fell over with relief when they stopped asking questions.

“I’m gonna call my aunt,” he said, intending to go out and move the car.

“Sweetie,” the oldest one said, catching his arm. “Let me take a look at your feet first.”

He had no idea what she meant, and then he looked down. His socks were filthy from the slush, and yeah, his feet kind of felt like bricks at the end of his legs.

It wasn’t frostbite, but they made him sit fifteen minutes poking and prodding, and then a footbath of all the humiliating things, before they let him go, and by then there was a cop out by the car. Dean had to invent another variant of the Dad story to get the cop to drive the Impala to a real parking space, hoping the guy wouldn’t notice the too-large gym socks and borrowed flip-flops he was wearing. Teach him to walk around, even inside, without his boots on.

By the time he got back, Sam was conscious, and wary, but he lit up as soon as Dean came through the door. “What’s going on?” Dean asked, aimed more at Sam than at the adults.

Sam shrugged in that way that meant it was a family secret, at which point Dean realized that this must be something to do with another power (okay, nobody ever called him the sharpest arrow in the quiver, plus he’d been kind of busy), and that was enough to relax a big part of him. Though now there was the medical bullshit to deal with, along with Child Services unless they dodged fast, so there was still plenty of suck to go around. Dean shrugged back at Sam and pulled a chair up next to him to wait.

The machines were all bleeping and flashing regularly and nobody seemed particularly worried. The IV on Sam’s arm was taped but would come out quickly enough if they needed to run. The room was white enough to make Dean rub at his eyes and smelled faintly like old blood (familiar), other people’s vomit (familiar but still disgusting), and disinfectant (stronger than the stuff motels used). Dean wondered what the people who worked here every day thought about the smell, or whether they didn’t even notice after a while.

Eventually, the doctor looked up from his charts and said that they needed to talk with Dean’s parents, but Dean could stay with Sammy while they waited. Dean just nodded until the room was clear.

“I saw,” Sam said, then went white and stiff as if he was suffering the seizure all over again, but his eyes were clear. “It hurt, Dean.”

Dean leaned over and put his hand on Sam’s arm. “It’s gonna be okay,” he lied.

Sam shook his head. “I saw something. Get me paper and a pen. We gotta—Dad’s gotta go help these people.”

So that was the visions.


That was the same year Dad gave Dean the lecture about girls, and condoms, after he’d found Dean with that motel owner’s daughter, her guiding his hand down her pants and him desperately trying to figure out what to do next, because she seemed to expect him to know. Dad had emphasized the part about diseases that could make your dick fall off. Also there was stuff about pregnancy and taking no for an answer, but he kind of had Dean at the dick falling off (even though Dean wasn’t a hundred percent sure what his dick should be doing instead). Later, Dean figured out that Dad had been exaggerating about that. But not before he’d repeated every word to Sam, who’d just rolled his eyes, because to him that stuff was already gross and would stay that way until he was fifteen, in Lincoln, when they stayed four months to hunt down a particularly clever sorceror and Sam fell in love with a girl named Blanche.

Sam would come to Dean with all his questions then, and Dean would coach him through it, faking the confidence he didn’t feel, same as he did when he was talking to actual girls. Dean’s advice seemed to work, if you looked at all the hot chicks Sam had pulled thereafter. Okay, maybe being a sweet-faced genius who’d grown into a body like Mr. Universe (minus the oil) helped, but Dean had to believe he’d put Sam on the right path. It was one of the eternal mysteries: how someone like Dean had managed to raise someone like Sam, competent at all the things that escaped Dean.


The firestarting, Dean wasn’t even going to think about.


Sam didn’t get the mind stuff under control until after he went through puberty.

Sometimes it was really easy to figure out he was using the whammy, like when he made Dad stop and buy them ice cream. Dean learned pretty quick to speak up as soon as he noticed—”You’re doin’ it again, Sammy!”—because if he didn’t (and a couple of times, he let Sam get away with it because, hey, he liked ice cream too) then the consequences could be … scary. Dean didn’t really think that Dad would leave Sam behind somewhere, not even with Pastor Jim. Or—Dean never thought beyond that kind of punishment, he didn’t, because if he did then Sam would’ve picked it up from him, because there wasn’t a beat loud enough to hide that. But the look in Dad’s eyes sometimes was too much like the look he got hunting.

So, Dean made an effort to keep Sam from fucking up. Plus there was always extra PT when Sam had made a slip like that—clearly, Dad always said, he’s not tired enough. Extra PT for Sam was extra PT for Dean. Not that Dean hated the running and jumping jacks and the rest of it so much; he was a soldier, after all. When Sam had been trying to pull a fast one, Dean kind of enjoyed watching him pout and pant his way through the routine. But Dean hated the way Sam cringed when he’d just plain forgotten and slipped up. It wasn’t natural for a little kid not to demand things. God knew Dean’d asked Dad to give Mom back way too many times, before he’d learned better.

Dean wasn’t sure what Sam did at school. He loved studying so much he’d never ask for less work, the way Dean might’ve, or tell the teacher he got a better grade than his score really was. But asking for a different book when he’d already read the one they were doing that day, yeah, Dean bet he did some of that. Maybe not on purpose, not most of the time. He’d gotten into Stanford on his own—Dean didn’t think Sam could have worked at a distance to fix the test scores or convince some admissions committee to give him a full ride. But Sam liked getting his way too much for Dean to think that he never used his mojo to make that easier.

Also, there was Dad and the drinking. Sam was maybe fourteen when he figured out that sometimes Dad’s trips and late nights had more to do with Jack, Jim and Jose than with Pastor Jim and Caleb. Sam spent the next couple of months smoldering with outrage and backtalk, which went down just as well as anyone would’ve expected, and then a couple more on lectures and even pamphlets from the school nurse, which only avoided an ass-whupping because Dean confirmed, twice, that Sam hadn’t let anyone see him taking them.

But then there was the morning when Sam had just sighed, looked down at his mostly-untouched plate of eggs and toast, and said, real quiet, “I wish you wouldn’t drink so much.” Dean had tensed up, over at the stove where he was frying the bacon, and turned so he could see Dad out of the corner of his eye.

Dad had rubbed at his eyes and then, slow, like it hurt, he’d reached out to put his hand on Sam’s shoulder. Sam had looked up at him through already-too-long bangs, eyes wide and pleading. “I know, son,” Dad had said, and then he’d gone for a glass of water.

After that, Dad would crack a beer or two after a successful hunt, but the empty bottles stopped showing up in the trash, and Dean got to sleep a lot earlier on the nights when Dad went out, not waiting for hours with his eyes wide open in the dark until Dad came back.

It had taken Dean until Sam left for Stanford to wonder just how Sam had managed to convince Dad. He didn’t know what Dad thought, either, because bringing it up would’ve meant talking about Sam and about what the liquor had been doing to Dad, two nasty tastes that would’ve tasted nastier together. Also because, much as he hated to admit it, Dad was better not drinking, and Dean wasn’t sure whether you could shake off a whammy like that by knowing about it and fighting not to comply.

Lacking mind control powers himself, Dean had to make do with smiles and easy lies. He regularly wished he could do more, help out better—it’d make it a hell of a lot easier if they didn’t have to pay for their lodging or gas or, think big, their ammo. But Dad never let Sam do that kind of thing—people could figure out later that they’d done something remarkably weird, even if they didn’t understand why, and that drew a lot of attention. Anyway, Dad said it was important to know how to get what you wanted even if you didn’t have powers, and Dean saw his point.


“Power like that, could be mighty valuable,” Hiram Johnson said.

Dad’s face didn’t move, not even a flicker in his eyes. Dean watched from his place in the corner and knew that he wouldn’t have done nearly as well, which meant he wouldn’t have protected Sammy nearly as well.

“You might be right,” Dad said. “But I hear tell they’re pretty dangerous.”

Hiram shrugged, which for a man his size was a major endeavor; Dean half expected to feel the floor shake. “There’s ways of convincing them, if you’ve got the right wards. And if you don’t mind hurting something looks human.”

Dean felt the sting of blood where his nails had scraped his palms. He didn’t move, didn’t breathe. Right then, if he’d been the one with the powers, he’d've—

After Dad’s business with Hiram was done, they walked back to the motel room. Dad stopped outside the door.

“Sam awake?” he asked.

Dean concentrated and shook his head. He wasn’t a hundred percent on Sam’s moods, but he could generally feel Sam thinking. Once in a while they found themselves in the same dream, which could get pretty embarrassing. (Dean was never going to let Sam live down the one with the carousel frogs, and Sam was never going to stop bringing up the naked salt-and-burn, though at least the funny dreams they never talked about, the ones where Dean and Sam both woke up panting and Dean had to change his shorts, were years past now.) Currently, Sam was a warm dark presence, like the car at the end of a long day’s drive ticking itself cool.

Dad sighed and scratched at his chin, where the stubble was thickest. “This is why you have to look out for Sam. It’s not just the demon. The whole world would be after him if they knew. We’re the only ones who can be trusted.”

Dean nodded. Sometimes Dad liked to explain the staring-in-your-face obvious, like Dean was just some ignorant kid. No matter how powerful Sam was, he didn’t have Dean’s horse sense. Naturally anybody trying to get to Sam would have to go through Dean first.


Sam figured out how to turn off his pipeline into Dean’s head by the time Dean was sixteen. Dean was grateful. There was plenty of nasty shit in there, more now that Dad was taking him hunting on a regular basis.

Later, when Sam was fourteen, Dad spent a couple of months trying to get Sam to project, so he could talk back to Dean instead of just always knowing where he was. (There was something weird about how Sam could follow Dean and showed no inclination to do the same with Dad. Dad was the one in the most danger. But the one time Dean tried to explain that, Sam just shut his mouth, tight, and turned away, arms crossed over his chest, and Dean could tell that Sam was a hairtrigger away from ordering him to shut up about Dad, and that command would’ve been found out by Dad and triggered a shitstorm epic even compared to Sam and Dad’s usual battles, so Dean didn’t push it.) That didn’t work, and Dean was all kinds of relieved. Dad had forgotten that they were the ones supposed to take care of Sam. Not the reverse.


Amanda Heckerling wasn’t the first girl to want him to meet her parents. She was the first to be really nasty about it when he declined, though. Nothing went wrong in the immediate aftermath. She seemed to be into the whole trailer trash thing, and at first he thought he’d made the right call, the one that would keep her interest. But then she got him into the janitor’s closet and they’d been kissing for maybe ten minutes before she tried to open his belt and he went to move her hand away. Amanda was faster, or more motivated, and she got a good feel in before he managed to push her back.

“I thought you respected me!” she complained, eyes wide and betrayed. He just stared at her in confusion, because she was a civilian; what was there to respect?

“I thought, look at the way he is with his little brother, there’s something more there than a leather jacket and a bad attitude. I thought, he must think I’m special. But it’s all a show, isn’t it?” She laughed. “And here we are in a closet. Well, you can forget about using me for your reputation.”

“What?” Dean asked, edging towards pissed. Just because they were leaving soon didn’t mean he wanted to be harassed by jocks, especially since he’d already been through that when he’d started eating lunch with Amanda.

She flung open the door, and he saw people turning to stare. “Look, be gay, whatever. Just don’t expect me to pretend you’re not a loser!”

She stalked off, leaving Dean standing in the hallway, wondering why he couldn’t meet anybody who made any sense.


The visions had stopped when Sam was fifteen, just poof and gone, nothing like the others. (Which, Dean sometimes thought, just meant that there were probably more surprises at the bottom of the box, but no point borrowing trouble.) Dad seemed to think that if the visions could clear up, so could the other powers, but Sam said that the visions were different, and even if he couldn’t explain how or why Dean trusted Sam’s intuitions the way he trusted his own arm to aim.

Dean knew it was selfish, but he was glad when the visions disappeared. No more headlong rushes halfway across the country, Dad exhausted and usually bleeding and Dean not much better off. There was always somebody dying, somewhere, and he did want to do the right thing, honestly he did, but Sam’s visions tended to have teeth and the Winchesters were just so fucking tasty.

Without the visions to prod them all the time, they had to find the hunts on their own, and that meant a lot more downtime. Also a lot more continuity in the schools, which was probably where Sam got the idea that college might work out for him.


Sam didn’t discover how to go two-way with the telepathy until he was sixteen, and even then he could only shove images into Dean’s head, no explanations unless he scrawled out a note and stared down at it. Dean always ended up with a pounding head and, once, a nosebleed.

Once, because after Sam saw the blood on Dean’s T-shirt collar and demanded to know where it came from, he flat-out refused to do it again, even though that meant that Dean couldn’t get out of line-of-sight from him when they were hunting. Dean wasn’t about to let Sam go without backup. Sam whined about how they didn’t trust him, but he had to know that wasn’t it. Dean thought he just didn’t like to see how terrified the thought of him getting hurt made Dean.


Dad told Sam to train without his powers—what if you can’t read the next thing we hunt?—and Sam hated it. You don’t train with your left hand all the time, Sam pointed out, which was true enough, but the order didn’t come from Dean. Dean once tried to suggest that maybe the powers might go away, but Sam looked so betrayed that Dean gave up on that line of defense.

So when they sparred, which was getting more challenging now that Sam was closing in on Dean’s height, Sam supposedly didn’t use anything but Dean’s own body language to anticipate his moves. Dean had incentive to suspect cheating, but there was a good chance Sam was actually complying; he grumbled a lot, but he knew who the boss was.

Sam liked to get him on the ground, counteracting the remaining height differential. Sam fought dirty, too, which led to a lot of cursing on Dean’s part but also made him proud. When they were collapsed on top of each other, panting and grinning, Sam’s chest moving almost in rhythm with Dean’s, Dean knew they were moving towards the future together.

But one day Sam pushed himself off, holding himself above Dean with those gorilla arms, and his face was twisted with terrible emotion, nothing so much as the way Dad looked when he talked about Mom.

“Sam?” Dean asked. Sam was at a forty-five degree angle—he always went for the side holds instead of the more reliable straddle, no matter how Dean tried to train him otherwise—and Dean tried to make himself believe that he was misreading Sam’s expression.

Sam didn’t say anything, just watched Dean. His knee nudged Dean’s hip, then edged away.

“Dude, you’re freaking me out here.” Dean swallowed. “I know you didn’t want to leave Paducah—”

“It’s never going to change, is it?” Sam interrupted. “You’re never going to—”

When Sam stopped like he’d run out of gas, Dean pushed himself up until he was sitting, and Sam didn’t resist, still on his knees and staring at Dean like that guy from Titanic as he slipped into the water. “What is it? Sammy?” He reached out and grabbed Sam’s wrists, sweat-slippery and pulse still pounding.

Sam closed his eyes and his face went still. After a minute, he looked at Dean again and pulled his hands free. “You’re never going to say no to Dad,” he said, and rose to his feet, stalking off and ignoring Dean’s bewildered “Sam?”

Dean might’ve wanted mind powers of his own that day, to figure out what was going on in the kid’s head, but then he found out soon enough when he saw the college applications in the mail.


For all his fights with Dad, Sam almost never took it out on Dean, even when Dean talked sense—or as Sam would say, when he took Dad’s side. Dean would’ve thought that Sam being able to see just how often Dean was scared or tired or hungry, or just weak, would make Sam respect him less, but Sam never used any of that against him.

Even when he’d left, Dean had believed him when he’d said that it wasn’t about Dean. “You’ve always taken care of me,” he’d said, “and now I need to learn how to do it myself.”

Then what am I supposed to do, Dean had wondered, but he’d kept up a steady beat of Metallica in his head to cover it up, and Sam hadn’t pushed any further when Dean had nodded. Dean didn’t approve and he didn’t consent to Sam leaving, not in any way, but what Dean approved of and what happened weren’t often in the same state, so no surprise there.

“Anyway,” Sam continued, smiling all wobbly, “this way you can actually go out on some of those dates you’re always turning down on account of having to take care of your little brother.”

He’d taken Dean’s hand, not shaking but clasping, folding his fingers around Dean’s so Dean had no choice but to see how big he’d gotten. Dean had stared down dumbly, remembering Sammy’s little hand swallowed in his as Dean led them across a street, Sam struggling to wrap his fingers around a trigger, Sam’s touch-typing as he did his homework late into the night and Dean dozed.

“You better call,” Dean had managed, just before Sam got on the bus. “Every Wednesday, or I’m comin’ to kick your ass.”

“Yeah,” Sam had agreed hoarsely. Then he’d squeezed Dean’s hand one last time, and he was gone.


And if Sam’s promised calls started turning, more often than not, into texts, that was only natural. Dean didn’t expect more. Plus Sam was paying attention, in his own way—WHAT DID YOU DO I CAN FEEL YOUR LEG, he sent the time after the rawhead in Idaho. Dean had to scramble to answer back before Sam left school in the middle of finals to come get him, morphine-numbed fingers making him a worse speller than usual. FINE SAMY FIN, he sent back, hanging on to the classic rock soundscape that kept Sam from prying into his head, allowing only the image of himself walking into the hospital on his own two feet to get through (and cutting it off before the part where he fell over).

Sam bought it enough to stay put, even though the next time he got on the phone live and insisted that Dean give details: twenty stitches, neatly done, not close to the worst Dean had suffered, proved with another image since the swelling was already going down. Sam had groaned protest at the grossness, but Dean could tell he was relieved.

They didn’t talk about where Dad had been while Dean had been getting carved up, or about where the demon might be.


Dean knew there was nothing he could’ve done to keep Sam from leaving. Even without the powers, nothing in the world could move Sam once he’d made up his mind. You’d do better to wait for a mountain to erode into sand. It was a miracle Sam had listened to Dad for as long as he had. When Sam had revealed the letter from Stanford, Dad had yelled and thrown stuff—Sam had yelled and windows had shattered—and Dean had just wondered whether Sam could’ve made them forget about him.

Some days he almost wished Sam had tried.

He didn’t spend all his time feeling like some sea creature’s outgrown shell. Mostly, he killed evil things. He was good enough at it now that Dad sent him out on his own two times out of three. And that was lonely, sure, but it had its upsides, like the Impala, and the way that Dean didn’t have to pretend to flirt with the girls in diners and bars, didn’t have to check over his shoulder to make sure Dad was nodding permission and approval as he worked his way through his (only) beer.

Without anybody to back up, Dean did the job as quick and careful as he knew how. He owed it to Sam to stay in the game until he and Dad found the demon. He wasn’t about to let himself get wasted on some kindergarten haunting.


Best as Dean could tell, there were only a couple of other kids like Sam left, lucky enough to survive their powers. For an appropriately fucked-up definition of lucky. They’d both dropped off the radar, Ava Wilson after the gory death of her fiance and Jake Talley after some unspecified incident in the military. Given how the Feebs had pulled up to the library where Dean had been working not more than a minute after Dean had walked out, Dean had the suspicion that the yellow-eyed demon wasn’t the only entity with an unhealthy interest in Jake, and at least Sam had been spared that so far.

Dad insisted on tracking the demon. Dean thought he didn’t want to find Wilson and Talley. As if what he’d turn up might affect how he looked at Sam.

Dean kept his mind off that kind of stuff, though. Made it easier to follow orders, and anyway Sam had Dean to look after him, not like those other kids.


In the end, when Dad had dropped off the radar so decisively, Dean had known there was no choice but to go to Sam. Once he’d seen Sam, so happy and secure, beautiful girl by his side, demons only a word his friends would use to talk about each other’s screwed-up-ness, he’d known that Sam didn’t have any reason to come back. He’d even wanted for Sam to get out, get the normal life he’d always desired (even if his girl would never understand why the lightbulbs burned out every time Sam got super-pissed).

Dean sometimes wondered about that life Sam would’ve had with Jessica. How Sam’s hand had curled around her, possessive but also comfortable, like he knew what he had. Like he’d had a bunch of opportunities and picked just the right one for him. She’d been the same, so casual sharing a life, a bed, with Sam. Dismissing Dean’s own leer like she knew it couldn’t really touch her. Sam and Jessica had seen a future together and even if it had been fake, it had seemed worth wanting.


When Sam came back, the subjects of Dad’s location and the yellow-eyed demon’s plans came up constantly, except Dean didn’t have any more information than Sam did. They saved people (as it turned out, shapeshifters were not so good with mental impersonation; Sam blew the thing’s head off before it could do more than grin in his direction) and hunted things (orchard gods, who knew?). Sam met Cassie and got all twitchy over how Dean might’ve told her some things. Cassie kissed Dean and asked if anything had changed. Dean shook his head and thought about asking her to let him undress her, let him put his head between her legs and make her happy. But it wouldn’t have made her happy, so he didn’t ask.

He remembered their first fight, both of them so riled up, and then she’d kissed him and he’d gotten her off twice with his hand, shoved up against the wall of her apartment, kissing her through it and wanting so desperately to be good enough, satisfied for once just to be the one who was giving her—Cassie, this beautiful specific person he liked–that pleasure. She’d been loose-limbed and giggly afterwards, tapping him on the nose as she pushed him out the door while telling him that she wasn’t going to apologize for not letting him have his turn.

Dean had known, even then, that it wasn’t going to work, but he’d had to try.

“I like her,” Sam said as they left town, carefully not watching Dean. His hands were tight on the wheel. “Ever wonder if it’s worth it? Putting everything else on hold, doing what we do?”

Dean popped the glove box and grabbed his sunglasses, smiling a little. He didn’t have anything else to put on hold, but he did have Sam, right there not two feet away. Sam needed him, making sure Sam didn’t fall into whatever abyss had swallowed the other demon-touched kids, making sure that investigative journalists like Cassie didn’t decide that Sam needed careful exploration. So, no, Dean didn’t spend much time wondering about the alternatives. All things considered, Dean was doing pretty well. “Wake me when it’s my turn to drive.”


It wasn’t until after Madison that Sam found out.

Sam could be kind of a—no, that was unfair. Sam was so smart that, when he figured something out, it generally stayed figured out. And growing up with Dean, it was only natural that he kept coasting on everything he’d always known, or believed.

“How do you do it?” he asked, picking at his lunch.

“Do what?” Dean answered, expecting some question about not caring too much about the civilians. He wasn’t sure he could explain how it could hurt every time, even if you didn’t whine about it, without sounding like a screwed-up mess.

Sam tilted his head at their waitress, Suzanne, who was watching them and who blushed when Dean smiled at her. “All the women. Every road we go down, you find a new one. How can you just sleep with them and have it mean nothing?”

Dean knew that Sam didn’t read his mind—couldn’t do it on purpose even when he tried, not if Dean was fighting. Other than the GPS, the best Sam could do unless Dean cooperated was to pick up emotions, sometimes images. Usually he allowed Dean his privacy, unless Dean was really agitated. Dean had tried not to think about this at all when Sam was around, and he’d never thought Sam would bring it up. Went to show just how good his luck was.

Dean reached for his wallet and pulled out enough to cover the meal plus a decent tip. He got up, nodding again at Suzanne, ignoring Sam’s protest.

She stopped him before he got to the door. “Was everything okay?” she asked, some honest concern there. Her hair was dyed a shade of red more familiar to shotgun shells than to nature; it looked good on her.

Dean twitched his lips at her and shrugged. “It was fine, just got places to be.”

Suzanne cast a skeptical look back at Sam, who was still sitting on his ass, hands clenching uselessly as he gaped at Dean. Dean sighed to himself. He’d really been hoping to get some food in Sam, who got even bitchier when he wasn’t eating and who refused to notice that fact.

Suzanne didn’t delay him further, and Dean took the minutes before Sam shook off his confusion and joined him to brace himself for the conversation. He could’ve lied, except that Sam came with his own polygraph. This was just one of those days when Sam’s abilities were going to make his life suck more than usual.

So, Dean took up a position leaning against the car, one knee up and his bootheel against the door so that he looked comfortable, arms crossed low over his stomach. The metal was sun-warmed and solid against his back, a better home than most people had if you thought about it.

“I don’t sleep with ‘em,” he said as soon as Sam approached, all dark concerned eyes and carefully nonconfrontational posture.

“Well, yeah, you always come back to the room after,” Sam said, and Dean wanted to ask him if he was deliberately misunderstanding.

Dean shook his head, remembering the pattern of their lives in these past months, together almost twenty-four seven. Sometimes they needed downtime apart, that was all—or had been all until Dean had left Sam with Madison. Dean could give Sam his space, especially if it kept Sam from leaving all the way again. And if Sam had thought that Dean was dipping his wick every time, well, that had been okay with Dean. “When I go out, I just have a few beers, play a few games, whatever, and then I come back.”

Sam just stood there, hunching into his hoodie, as confused as he’d been that one time Dean had tried to explain how a manifold worked.

“You really gonna make me say it?” Obviously, yes. Sam still looked like Dean had started speaking modern Greek. Dean’s face felt stiff with humiliation, but he forced the words out. “I don’t. I don’t do that kind of stuff.”

Yeah, he was a freak. His freak happened to be that he was about as sexed-up as a Ken doll, not that he could start fires and open doors with his mind, but hey, some guys have all the luck. He remembered how hard he’d tried with Cassie. She’d been like—like driving towards the sunrise, the world lit up golden and the road rolling endless in front of him, making him feel like he could do anything if it was for her. But his stumbling attempts to explain himself hadn’t been enough for her, and why should they have been? Cassie wasn’t the only girl who found it difficult to believe Dean when he said he liked her, given that he couldn’t get it up.

“You don’t like girls,” Sam said at last, all careful and nonjudgmental. He was watching Dean sidelong, tight shoulders revealing just how uncomfortable he was.

Dean sneered, because, seriously? “I ‘like’ girls just fine. Sex. The nasty. Humping. Screwing. Bumping uglies. Fucking, okay? I don’t do that, guys or girls. Like how you’re missing the part of your brain that makes you cool, that’s me and sex.”

Sam looked like he was reassessing Dean’s sanity along with his sexuality. He ducked his chin, breaking eye contact. “But you, uh. You at least masturbate, right?”

Dean’s fingers physically itched to be curled into fists. In half a second he could be pounding Sam’s concerned face into pulp. Like he didn’t feel shitty enough about it all on his own, whole world around him that everybody else seemed to understand, half of ‘em willing to share it with him if he’d only been able to get his body to react. He was just some animated mannequin and the rest of them were real, and some days he really goddamn hated that. “Don’t really see the point,” he gritted out.

He was going to go find a bar, a bar that didn’t have Sam in it, and he was going to get so drunk that when the punches started to fly he wouldn’t even feel the first couple of hits.

“But …” Sam didn’t seem to know where that sentence was going. But you’re always flirting? But you’re so macho? What-the-fuck-ever. Dean’d learned to make the sale without closing the deal the same way he’d learned how to part fools and their folding money over a pool table or a card game. People told you what they wanted from you all the time, with their eyes and how their hands moved and how they leaned forward, or back, and Dean gave it to them. Just, that was the only thing he gave.

“Not even,” Sam paused, swallowed, “nothing?”

Dean shook his head, pushing the anger back down where it belonged. Even Sam couldn’t continue this nightmare of a conversation too much longer, right? He wanted to give the Impala a good going-over, but if he opened up his toolbox right now he was likely to smash Sam’s stupid nose in, so that was going to have to wait until he was a little more calm.

“But you used to—” Sam said. “Were you—did something, um. Happen?”

And that was it, that was fucking it. He spun and grabbed Sam, shoving him hard against the car window, ignoring Sam’s pained grunt. “Shut it, or I’ll sublimate some violence right on your ass.” At Sam’s shocked, wide eyes, Dean growled and shook him some more. “Yeah, it reads, fuck you very much.”

He let Sam go and stomped off, turning it into a run as he went. He didn’t have his sneakers on, but he knew how to run in boots, and he needed to bleed off the resentment.

First the chicks had been like Amanda at the beginning, pleased and preening at how Dean was taking his time with them. Then, after a few years, Amanda set the pattern: surprise and then insults. He’d tried the gay thing too, because it was worth a shot, but that was good for nothing but easy cash.

Once he’d known what was expected of him, Dean had figured out how to get most girls off with his hands and his mouth (none of which Dad’s lecture had covered beyond ‘she’s got to enjoy herself too’). But honestly it was kind of boring and more than a little embarrassing, watching someone else close-up go crazy over something that meant about as much to Dean as yesterday’s oatmeal.

After a while Dean had gotten mad that it was so easy for the girls, which was not how it was supposed to be. Guys were uncomplicated, everyone said so. Anger and sex (or, you know, not-sex) were a terrible combination, so he tried to stay away from it, making Cassie the exception that showed just how smart the rule was. Eventually, when he’d had a lot of time on his hands, he’d tried to figure out what was so wrong with him. Without Sam, he’d already learned to flail his way around libraries and even the Internet, so this was just another research project. Viagra didn’t do the trick, and Dean knew he’d gotten the real stuff, lifted it right out of a pharmacy when he was grabbing some antibiotics that time Dad’s shoulder got infected, plus he saw blue flashes and got a headache after, which meant it should’ve worked. The lust spell from the witch in Tulsa had been a dud too, though that one did leave him puking for three days straight.

He didn’t feel like the people he’d read about, the ones who didn’t understand what all the fuss was about and who’d eventually figured out that sex just wasn’t their thing. He thought it was cool when people managed to ignore everyone else’s expectations and know what was right and wrong for them. But that wasn’t him. Dean liked the idea of sex, a lot. He liked the look of girls, even after the feel of their bodies got so strongly associated with total failure in his head. He looked and he thought, but the desire in his head never made it out to the rest of him.

He wanted to feel his heart pounding and his skin tight, the way it was on a hunt. He wanted to moan like those girls had when he licked them, like those guys had when he took every inch. Some days he was so fucking jealous that he wanted to scream. Forget love; forget even that moment of connection when you found somebody who wanted to make you feel good in a world that was mostly made of pain. Dean just wanted to be able to rub one out and fall asleep when he was out on a hunt on his own, hadn’t heard from Dad in a week. Instead, he was a car without an alternator; supposedly built for it (everyone said so, with their hands and their eyes even before their mouths) but useless as a pile of bricks.

When he thought about his problem, he felt like he was looking at the world through a glass wall, hands pressed hard against it. There was an engine racing in him, but the pipes were all tangled so the power didn’t go anywhere he wanted it to be.

So yeah, he tried not to think about it. He sublimated the fuck (heh) out of his energy. Saving people, hunting things—better than killing real people, anyway.

He ran until his legs were shaking and his jeans and his shirts were sweated through so thoroughly that he might’ve been out in a rainstorm. When he stopped, he had no idea where he was, and no hope of making it back to the motel under his own power. He collapsed on a curb, panting, and propped his elbows on his knees.

He felt something like a pebble glancing off a windshield, a single emotional ping. Sam, checking to make sure he wasn’t dead or in lockup. Dean didn’t even blame Sam for prying. Since they’d been back together, it’d only been the smart thing to do to keep a thread open between them. As long as Sam was only aware of the surface stuff, the emotions and not the reasons for them, it was no more than reading his body language.

Not in trouble, he sent back, staring at the street signs so that Sam would be able to confirm that no, he hadn’t gone and started a riot or anything like that. And then, because there was no way he was standing, and his clothes were nasty-rank and starting to get chilly, Come get me?

Warmth, or the illusion of warmth, washed over him. He could almost taste Sam’s relief.

When the car pulled up, Dean got into the passenger seat without a word, and Sam didn’t try further conversation.

“Gonna take a shower,” he told Sam when they made it back to their room. Sam was smart enough to know that Dean wasn’t going to talk while he was sweat-soaked and stinking like a dog, so Dean fully expected Sam’s compliant nod and didn’t mistake it for the end of the interrogation.

The hot water felt good. He took his time soaping himself off and washing clean. His body was not that bad, aside from the useless parts. He was strong and good-looking and that meant a lot more than getting girls. It meant witnesses opening up to him and random strangers willing to believe his bullshit. He had awesome aim and a back kick that had to be seen to be believed. He was fit for the mission, and that was what counted. His body knew better than his brain, anyhow: he didn’t get to have the stuff that civilians did. Other than pie, anyhow. Maybe he could convince Sam to get him pie, if Sam felt like making amends.

When he came out, wrapped in both towels because if Sam was going to make him suffer then Dean was damn well going to return the favor, Sam was sitting at the kitchenette table and—this was a shock—there was an open bottle of Jack in front of him, probably the emergency stash from the trunk. Judging by the level, Sam had already tossed back enough of it that Dean doubted he’d be able to walk in half an hour.

There was a glass waiting for Dean, too.

Warily, Dean dressed, down to his boots. Maybe Sam’s seizure days were over, but it wouldn’t hurt to be ready to run.

When he sat down across from Sam, Sam still didn’t look up from his glass, staring into the amber liquid like maybe he was getting a satellite signal on it.

Dean took a strengthening gulp. The alcohol hit his empty stomach like a firecracker, but Dean just kept swallowing, and when he slammed the glass down, Sam reached out to give him a refill.

The silence stretched like graveyard ropes, tense and fraying. “Spill it,” Dean ordered when he couldn’t stand it any more.

“This is my fault,” Sam said, then snuffled and choked down the rest of his glass.

Dean blinked.

“You were thirteen,” Sam continued, the words stumbling over each other as if he had to get them all out in one breath or he’d lose his courage. “You had all those, uh, wet dreams. And you’d watch girls and ignore me. I complained to Dad about it. I thought it was gross but he said your body was changing, you were changing, and I didn’t want that either. I didn’t. Dean, I didn’t understand, I was just a kid, and I wanted it to go away. Just stop. And it did.”

Dean felt like he’d been kicked in the stomach by a donkey, like he’d been working on the Impala and the jack had crumpled.

“I didn’t know,” Sam said miserably. “I swear, I just didn’t think about it. And then later I guess I—I assumed I was shutting that part out.”

“Oh,” Dean said, because he had no fucking clue what to say.

Sam laughed, miserably, and slopped more liquor into his glass. “And the best part, the best part is that I thought I was protecting you when I—” His mouth slammed shut, and he scowled down at the bottle like it’d put a whammy on him instead.

“When you what?” Dean asked, barely recognizing his own voice.

Sam shook his head, bangs swinging wildly. “I’m so sorry,” he said, scratchy and almost inaudible. “You have to believe me, it wasn’t on purpose—”

Maybe, someday, Dean would care about that part of it, accept his unintentional eunuch-ness as just another charming accident of their screwed-up lives, like fires and Mom dead and stitching Dad up from yet another hunt, but right now he didn’t have the energy. He already knew that if he tried he’d be able to see it from Sammy’s side, nine years old and so freaking disgusted by the thought of sex that he’d sooner have eaten a live spider than watched people get it on. Dean’d lived through that stage the same as Sam, except with extra trauma from surprising Dad at a delicate moment that one time. But Dean wasn’t ready to empathize right now.

“Can you take it back?” he asked instead.

Sam twitched and the glasses exploded, followed by the bottle, both of them cringing as they were peppered with glass and liquor.

Dean swore—this was why Sam shouldn’t drink—and grabbed at Sam across the table until he could see that Sam’s face was intact, and there were only a few scratches on his arms. Dean was the same, cuts stinging from the alcohol, and then they were busy shoving the shards into a pile and wiping themselves mostly clean. Sam wobbled on his feet as he went to get a towel to protect his hands as he shoved the glass into the trash, and Dean watched to make sure he didn’t accidentally slit his wrists.

When they were as clean as they were going to get, Sam sat heavily down into his seat. “I’ve never. I never tried to reverse anything. I didn’t even—I’ll fix this, I swear.”

Sam was maybe two seconds away from crying, but if he started then Dean was going to follow and that might not be survivable, so Dean slammed his hands down on the table, wincing as an unnoticed sliver cut into the heel of his hand. “Then soldier up and do something, don’t just emo at me!”

Sam sniffed and wiped his hand across his face. “Okay.” Dean shut up and let Sam think. He was glad for the alcohol now, a thin layer of cotton over the things he would otherwise have been feeling. If it had been the whammy all along—Dean didn’t even know how to think about that. If he wasn’t the freak he’d thought, then what was he?

“Give me your hand,” Sam said, startling Dean out of his half-drunken contemplation. He looked up and their eyes caught. Sam’s were glazed, and maybe it was dumb to be doing this with Sam halfway to loaded, but Dean would have pulled out his gun if anyone had told him to wait. He felt like his blood had been replaced with lead, but he managed to put his palm up on the table, staring at the glint of his ring until Sam’s bigger hand covered his.

Sam closed his eyes, frowning, jaw clenched. A shiver went through Dean as he felt the pressure of Sam’s attention.

“You gotta let me,” Sam murmured, voice distant with concentration. “Dean.” Just that, his name, and Dean slid into neutral, letting himself go like he was getting ready for a hunt, loosening his body and his senses so that he’d react without thinking to whatever happened next. He shut down the automatic buzz of cock-rock lyrics he used to distract Sam and listened to the sound of his own body, breathing in and out, feeling his heart beat.

Sam’s hand was warm, and the sensation spread out from where they were touching, over Dean’s skin, until it was like he was breathing Sam in, the part of him that was always already Sam’s reaching towards the rest of itself.

Sorry, Dean felt, and before he could even worry there was a surge of what had to be lust, desire rushing up his throat until he couldn’t breathe with it, spilling out of his eyesockets but blocked—

And then a crash like he’d fallen three stories straight down, his limbs spasming as whatever had been standing between his brain and his body shattered.

He was lying on the floor, no idea how he’d gotten there, Sam with one hand wrapped around the back of Dean’s head and the other on Dean’s chest, crying and asking questions at the same time. Dean felt—he felt—there was a bulge in his jeans, painful pressure, the only thing in the world.

The button strained and gave way as he tore at his zipper, needing to see—God, it hurt but he wanted the feeling, like every nerve in his body had coiled up in anticipation. His thighs clenched as he arched up into the pressure of Sam’s hand and finally, finally got his hand around his cock. It felt terrifyingly strange, swollen and stretched like he’d been badly beaten, nothing like his vague memories from being a kid. He gasped and closed his eyes, feeling his thumb skid over the leaking wet head—oh fuck he was—

Electrocution without the pain, freefall without the drop, blank white light taking him over and exploding him out until he was gone.

Eventually he noticed that his stomach was wet, the physical evidence rapidly cooling and sliding over his skin.

“Jesus fucking Christ,” Dean croaked. No wonder people were so goddamned stupid. Point of fact, Dean was surprised anybody did anything else but whack off.

Sam was still right there, bent over him like he was about to pull Dean out of a newly-dug grave. When their eyes met, Dean felt a renewed pulse of want run through his veins. His dick jumped and started to thicken again, and he gasped. Sam must’ve felt him through their connection, unable to shut down the link fast enough, and now Sam was feeding it back to Dean.

Without thinking, he reached out and put his hand high up on Sam’s thigh. Sam’s mouth dropped open, but they didn’t need words for this. Dean felt Sam, honey-sweet, the pressure not as great as Dean had felt but building steadily, like water filling a sinking ship.

Dean whimpered, he wanted it so bad. Sam was biting his lip, looking as tortured as Dean felt. “Please, Sam,” he managed, pride shriveled to nothing in the wash of heat.

Sam fell on him like a black dog taking down a victim, the denim of his jeans painful against Dean’s cock. They squirmed uselessly against each other for agonizing seconds, and then Dean managed to get Sam’s jeans down past his hips and they rutted together, as ungainly and awkward as sex always was but Dean got it now, so swept up in it that he had to toss his head back and huff a laugh that turned into a groan when Sam bit down on his throat.

The orgasm seemed to start at the base of his spine and work its way through the both of them, caught and rolled with the inexorable pressure of a thousand tons.

Sam collapsed on top of him, snuffling wetly into his shoulder, while Dean’s heart went from a techno beat down to Rush drum solo levels.

“Holy shit,” he said and Sam stopped in the middle of what was working up to a full-on snuggle. “Is it always like that?”

Sam rolled off, putting his back to Dean, and now Dean could feel the aches rising from doing this on the thin motel carpet. Crap. Had to run his stupid mouth.

He could see the muscles move under Sam’s T-shirt as Sam brought his hands up to cover his unseen face.

Sam hadn’t exactly been in control. He’d been driven by Dean’s newly released lust. Before Sam’d learned to shield, he’d often been dragged along into Dean’s mood. That had been a good thing most of the time, since Dean was on average far more relaxed about life, but there had been some definite exceptions. And this time, he’d made Sam participate.

His stomach flipped over, and Sam spun back around, grabbing Dean’s shoulders and shaking him. “Stop it!” Okay, so the connection wasn’t fully shut down. Dean tried to concentrate, like cranking up the window in the car. “You didn’t—you didn’t do anything I didn’t want.”

Which was totally beside the point when Sam had to want what Dean did, and Sam knew it. But from the way he was staring down at Dean, defiant and pleading, he meant more than that.

Dean pushed himself off the floor, and Sam let him go. He hobbled over to his bed, wished he could take the time to clean himself up, and settled for closing his jeans and using his overshirt to wipe off most of the mess on his stomach. Sam settled across from him, mirroring his position.

If Sam had wanted that from him, then Dean had to wonder, how long? “What did you mean before, when you said you thought you were protecting me?” Dean asked. “If you didn’t do it on purpose—”

Sam was shaking his head, but his expression wasn’t reassuring. “I didn’t,” he said, then stopped and swallowed. “I meant that I—I thought I was protecting you when I left for college.”

Dean sneered. “From what? Flying glass?”

This!” Sam yelled, waving his hand at Dean’s body, then his own. “If I stayed, I was afraid I was going to make you.”

“Make me,” Dean repeated, lips numb. “You wanted–?”

Sam nodded miserably. “And I knew you didn’t feel the same way.” Then he looked appalled at himself all over again, because—

Dean didn’t know why he was laughing. Maybe it was just better than the alternative. After a while, his stomach started to hurt, and Sam looked terrified, like Dean was going to stop laughing and start punching through windows, so he made himself calm down.

What if, before Sam had turned the shutoff valve, he’d—imprinted, or something, on Dean? Little kid, feeling stuff he was way too young to feel, like it was his own and not Dean’s. Accident piled on accident, all on account of the thing that brought the demon to their family.

Dean stiffened his shoulders. “So,” he said. “You still want that?” He wasn’t quite able to turn the question into ‘want me?’

Sam’s eyes widened further. Dean was reminded of how he’d looked, confessing that he’d had dreams of Jess’s death before it had happened. Sam wasn’t good with keeping secrets, his or anybody else’s.

“Yeah,” Sam admitted, brushing his bangs off his forehead. Dean tracked the movement, noting the size of Sam’s hands, big enough to span a hubcap. He flashed on how they’d felt, holding him down, and saw Sam’s eyes flutter as the sense memory hit him too. Dean clenched his jaw and turned the dial up on the internal radio.

There was no part of this that wasn’t wrong. But Dean was, if not how he should’ve been—and anyway how could you measure that, not like he would’ve been fine if Sam had never developed powers but the demon had still killed Mom and sent Dad out into the world looking for revenge—Dean was better than he’d been, fully functional you might say. He couldn’t regret that.

“Okay then,” he said, and Sam’s gaze shot up, his face brightening with hope. Dean nodded, and Sam didn’t make him say any more before joining him on the bed, pushing him down. They were kissing, not really building to anything more, not yet, but it was completely different because he knew there’d be more, eventually. Sam’s mouth, Sam’s hands cupping his face, bringing everything he’d wanted to feel.

Did you, when you fixed me, did you fix this too? But he kept the question locked down, below where Sam would feel it.

After all, neither of them really wanted an answer.

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