“Sam, move your ass or you’re taking the bus,” Dean yells up the stairs.
One of the last things the two of them needed to be doing together was clothes shopping but Dean had told Sam it was happening before his birthday and it wasn’t like they didn’t actually need the new threads. Small comfort as tension keeps his shoulders stiff, waiting for Sam to come down.
“Sam!” he roars, hearing the sound of nothing from upstairs. Was he even moving?
Sighing, he marches up the stairs and pounds on Sam’s door with one fist. No response. Turning the knob, he opens the door to find the room empty. “Figures,” he mutters.
It’s the first time he’s really stood and examined Sam’s room. Kept his distance as part of the futile attempt to give Sam space. Lot of good it did. Sam still spent most of his t.v. and game time downstairs and Dean—well Dean was fucking this up left and right.
The room, it was Sam. Neat, organized, a place for everything. The only off-note was the barest piece of cloth sticking out from under the bed. Dean bends down to pick up and notices that it’s a pair of crumpled boxers too big to be Sam’s. In fact, he squints, it’s a pair of his.
He swallows hard. Thinks he should be more horrified than he is when he can’t straighten it out because parts are sticking together with dried jizz as the adhesive. And that’s it. For all Dean tried, Sam has found this in him too. No one should be so many things to one person. They’re bound to fail at least one of them and Dean couldn’t even fail at the right one. Wrong one. He doesn’t fucking know.
He sticks them back under the bed and just stands, frozen and far away. The door creaks open and Sam steps in, sliding headphones out of his ears. “Get out of my room.”
Dean tells him to move and they’re leaving. Where would he even start to say more.
At the mall, neither of them talk much. Sam wanders off for twenty minutes and comes back with a pretzel, forcing Dean to be the task-oriented one and make him pick something out. He was growing fast and needed this more than Dean did. Dean stays on top of him, thoughts scattered and anxious as he follows Sam around the department store. Why can’t you be normal and what’s wrong with you and I’m sorry, it’s my fault.
Sam spends five minutes mulling over a sweater before making a face and walking off. “This stuff is so overpriced. We should’ve just gone to Wal-Mart or Target.”
Dean is tired but tries, “Just pick a few things out so you can go to school and tell Womack to kiss your ass.”
“I don’t need to pick new clothes out for that.”
“True,” Dean concedes, staring intently at his back and treading lightly with what comes next. “Sam, do you like girls?”
Sam is taken aback. “Why?”
“Just asking. It’s okay if you don’t, but—“
“I like girls,” Sam corrects. “There’s not anything wrong with liking guys but I don’t think I do.”
“But—“ there’s no way to get a more conclusive answer without dredging up the rest of it and Dean is not ready. Sure as fuck not in the middle of the mall. “Why don’t you spend any time with them?” he asks instead.
“I don’t spend much time with anybody,” he points out but goes on, “There is this girl at school I’ve kind of liked for a while. We have Bio together.”
“So why not go for it?” he asks, genuinely curious. “You’ve got money to take her somewhere more interesting than Dairy Queen now. Privacy. What’s stopping you?”
Sam pauses like the question caught him off guard and he’d never thought it through himself. “I guess—“ he struggles, “I guess I’m interested, but just not enough. There are other things I think about.”
He wonders what Sam would say if Dean pressed. What he would say when the time came when it couldn’t be put off any longer. For now, he just says okay.
When they get home, Katherine’s car is in the driveway. They hadn’t seen her for three days, needed to renew the gas and grocery budgets. One big, happy family of transactions. Leaving Dean squarely alone to figure this thing out with Sam.
And that was going so well.
Heading upstairs, he knocks politely on Katherine’s door, beat and ready to shut himself into the basement, but not willing to go into her room uninvited. There’s no answer at the door, but her car keys are resting on the counter when he goes back downstairs and he figures it’s a safe bet she won’t mind him looking in the car for a few bucks.
Outside, in the shade of the setting sun, he finds the driver door of her compact unlocked, rendering the keys unnecessary. There’s nothing to be found in the middle console, not even loose change, so he rounds the car and slides into the passenger seat, popping the glove compartment.
An old-fashioned cup rolls out and onto his lap. Silver, designs carved into the sides. Some kind of medieval goblet deal. Knitting his brow together, he turns it over in inspection, liquid dripping out and onto his pants leg.
Bright, striking, blood. With more of it dried on the inside of the cup.
Dean drops it abruptly, pulling the stained fabric of his pants away from the skin, clambering out of the car and slamming the door shut behind him.
“Holy shit,” he says out loud, looking down. He starts back toward the front door, needs to get Sam, when pain blooms sharp and hard throughout his entire body, something colliding with him and nearly caving in his chest. He falls to his knees, breath knocked out of his lungs, air biting with every labored inhale.
A pair of high-heeled feet step into his lowered vision. “Find anything interesting?” Katherine questions, eyes narrowed as Dean is able to slowly lift his head.
He crawls a few pitiful feet before she leans down, taking his hair in a painful grip and whispering, “Pull yourself together and come talk to me like a man.”
As quickly as she’d appeared, he was alone, on all fours in the drive way. He had to get to Sam.
Unsteadily getting to his feet, he shuffles into the house, arm crossed across his aching chest. “Sam!” he’s already yelling as he struggles up the stairs. “Sam!”
Sam sticks his head out of his door. “What are you yelling about?”
“Go to—go to the arcade,” he says through clenched teeth. “Wait for me there. Now, Sam.”
His condition doesn’t escape Sam’s attention. “What happened?”
“There’s no time. Just go, take some stuff with you in a bag and go. Like clothes. Money.”
“Is it about the fire, isn’t it?” he asks as he starts yanking clothes off the hangers in his closet and into an old army green duffel.
Dean glances into the hallway, finding it empty. For now. “You gotta go,” he answers in response.
The bag closes with a zip but Sam is hesitating. “You promise you’ll be there?”
“Hey, wherever you are, I’m going to be two steps behind and don’t you forget it,” he says with more conviction than he really has. “Now go on.”
With a last look, Sam hikes the bag onto his shoulder and hurries down the stairs. Dean’s painful breaths come a little easier when he hears the door slam.
Katherine is waiting when he follows, hands folded in her lap. She’s still smiling.
“Who the hell are you?” Dean demands.
“I’m Aunt Katherine, of course” she tilts her head, assessing. “And you made quite the scene outside.”
“Eloquent, Dean. Too bad your mother wasn’t around to teach you to respect your elders.”
He starts at her and she is nothing but amused. “Have to admire the spirit. You’re in no shape for a second round and I’d hate to start in on that face.”
“You’re a real, psychotic piece of work. That was someone’s real blood, wasn’t it? Did you burn down that office to get us here too?”
“Those are questions with answers you don’t need to know.”
Dean shakes his head. “I knew something was wrong with this from the jump. I’m taking Sam and we’re leaving.”
She stands, calmly, and backhands Dean so swiftly the force of it strains the muscles in his neck. He slumps in a daze across the arm of the living room couch. “Interesting offer, but allow me to counter,” she starts. “The two of you are going to stay, pretend this never happened, and keep living your poor, little orphan lives only with a lot more money. You were happy,” she puts her hands on her hips, admonishing, “So why is it that you can’t stop looking for trouble?”
“If you lay a hand on Sam—“ he coughs.
“You’ll do what? Because I can give you a fairly detailed preview of what will happen if you and your half-breed brother try to run,” she’s practically purrs, watching him suffer. “I’ll find you, Dean, so easily it won’t be even mildly entertaining. And I’ll rip and tear and slash,” with an index finger she tips his chin up to face her, “Until Sam won’t recognize any part of you. Until a coroner wouldn’t recognize any part of you,” she shrugs her sun-dress exposed shoulders. “Then I’ll be all Sam has.”
“Why are you fucking doing this?” Dean roars, climbing to his feet.
She clucks at him. “That’s your problem, Dean. Tunnel-vision, lack of perspective. Like your mother.”
“You don’t talk about her. About either of them.”
Chuffing, she tosses him the keys to the Sedan, walks off into the kitchen as if they’d just had a casual, friendly chat and puts on a fresh pot of coffee before she speaks again. “Be a good dog and play your part. Sam’s waiting.”
Dean closes trembling fingers around the keys. “If you hurt him,” he repeats, “I’ll kill you. I’ll be right there, watching you die. I swear to God.”
She leans forward over the counter, eyes gleaming. “You and God can take your best shot.”
Sam is standing by the Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 machine when Dean shows up, eyes darting anxiously around the room. The flashing lights and clamor from the games are making him dizzy, force him to throw a bracing hand onto the wall. He hurts, in his chest, his jaw, the pit of his stomach.
It doesn’t take long for Sam to lock eyes with him and push his way over. Less to take in the reddening blotch on the side of his face, his pale, sweaty forehead and unmistakable slump. “What the hell happened?”
He helps Dean maneuver to an open pinball machine he can lean on, and Dean grits his teeth at the pangs the movement produces, having to let Sam see this. His wide eyes are fixed on every labored step Dean takes.
“Katherine,” he explains tightly in answer to the unasked question. “We can’t go back there.”
“How did she—“ he lightly touches the tender side of Dean’s face. “She did all of it, didn’t she? The dentist’s office,” his head shakes almost imperceptibly, disbelieving, “Mom and Dad.”
Dean’s gut clenches wholly unrelated to his injuries. There hadn’t been time to consider what all of it meant, not until now. But it had to be true. Too much convenience, too much Katherine was obviously capable of. And she’d been watching them—grinning through their parents’ blood the whole time.
There’s nothing to say. Only questions and a futile rage seething beneath the surface because none of it makes any sense. Not one fucking bit.
“We gotta call the cops,” Sam says with finality.
“And say what?” Dean presses tiredly. “I found some bloody occult crap in her car and she beat the shit out of me? That cup or whatever it was is probably long gone and the rest is her word against mine.”
Frustrated, Sam offers, “Maybe we can tie her to the fire?”
“I don’t think so. They never even figured out how that fire started. Besides if we call the cops, they’ll put you back in the home where I can’t be anymore. And while they’re investigating—“
“There won’t be anything to stop her from paying a visit in the middle of the night,” Sam finishes, eyes searching like the answer is just waiting for him to stumble across it. After a moment, he gives Dean a hard look. “Then, let’s bail. You and me. Grab what we can from the house the next time she leaves and just go.”
Dean is already gearing up to shut it down, isn’t going to risk her making good on her promise to punish them for running, but a wave of intense nausea rolls over him suddenly. He takes a step instinctively and almost buckles to the floor before Sam props him back up.
He’s hearing his name but it’s indistinct, getting farther away every time. Then it’s “hospital,” but Dean doesn’t want to go, and there’s no time for that. He doesn’t get a chance to tell Sam to stop worrying about him.
Dean blinks rapidly against the excess of white light making it painful to open his bleary eyes all the way.
He’s floating, he thinks. This disconnectedness from his body that’s reminiscent of a comfortable beer buzz and he doesn’t want it to end. Doesn’t want to emerge from the pleasant haze dulling his senses, numbing him to the light and the vague, prickling sensation of pain in his throat.
But then he remembers.
“Sam,” he manages a croak, but doesn’t need to move his floating body because Sam appears overhead, looking down on him and exhaling. He notices that his neck seems sensitive in contrast to the rest of his body when Sam buries his face into it, breath and the barest press of lips lighting up Dean’s nerves along the curve of it.
“You made it.”
“Guess I was banged up worse than I thought,” he rasps, feeling the irritation in his throat more acutely now.
“In the ambulance you were—“ Sam pauses, reliving it, “Puking blood. But they found the source of the bleeding. They had to stick a tube in but they stopped it, they said you’ll be okay. I—“ his expression darkens, “Had to give them her insurance.”
Dean nods jerkily, taking it in. “Thanks.”
“You were almost dead.”
He tries to distance, to wipe the haunted look from Sam’s face. “Not the first beating I’ve taken for you. Doubt it’ll be the last.”
“Moron,” Sam shakes his head, incredulous, but the lines on his face go slack, the gratitude shining in his eyes no less strong. “Don’t die without me,” he says abruptly.
“Don’t say shit like that,” Dean replies forcefully. “Nobody’s dying.”
“Yeah, but just in case. Don’t.” He doesn’t back down from the statement, cast his gaze downward and take it back. Dean wishes he would. “I’m going to get it on tape.”
A warm flood courses through Dean’s veins and he realizes it must be another round of painkillers coming to supplement the lingering cloud hanging over him. It takes him a minute to react.
“Tape. What are you talking about?”
“Get her to admit something. Provoke her into attacking me,” his eyes have gone from earnest to blazing, dangerous. “We have to have her put away. For good.”
Dean blinks against the lure of the drugs. “Dude, no, that’s insane. Look, I was pissed off and scared earlier. Not thinking straight. Maybe if we explain to the cops, they can protect us—“
“No, no, you were right, Dean. We have to take care of this. She’s gotta pay for this. For all of it. Somehow.”
It’s the tone of someone possessed and Dean fights kicking and screaming to talk, to stop it, before the drugs win out and drag him back down into the dark.
Sam is gone when Dean crawls back to consciousness again.
This time, awareness hits like a freight train and he’s pulling at the I.V. in his arm and smashing the help button before his coordination has fully returned. He doesn’t know what’s going through Sam’s head besides hatred and vengeance, things that could take him any number of wrong roads, things that could get him killed.
He checks himself out against the Doctor’s orders, doesn’t bother listening to the warnings they give, just signs all the release paperwork and grabs his keys. Uses the hospital as an epicenter and works his way out, driving street by street and slowing down to check any figure in the darkness.
Risking a pass by Katherine’s house, he doesn’t find any lights on or her car in the driveway. Hopes that Sam wouldn’t have made this his first stop, would’ve stayed away and done what he always did, ran through the options obsessively in his head until he knew exactly what course of action he would take. Dean moves away from the street, vowing to come back and bust the door down if Sam doesn’t turn up on his next series of streets.
Fifteen minutes and three miles away, Dean comes to a stop. The recognizable mop of hair, the brown jacket he just bought. Sam is sitting in the front yard of an occupied house, just looking.
Parking by the curb, Dean glances around, relief and anger warring in his chest. “When I’m back to normal, I’m going to kick your ass,” he hisses in a loud whisper. “Christ, I thought you were—“
Sam blinks blankly. “Sorry, I meant to be back before you woke up again. You shouldn’t have left.”
Dean throws his hands up. “Well, I’m here now. Where the hell is here?”
Guiltily, Sam shrugs. “I looked in our files once, before we left, remembered the address. This is it. Where we lived, with Mom and Dad.”
Dean cranes his neck up, anger ebbing away. It had been rebuilt and painted, of course, but Dean has a momentary flash of other colors on the wood, of flames crackling in the upstairs windows. He can still see it, like a snapshot. Wishes he could’ve held onto an image of it in the sunlight, no fire, Mom and Dad playing with him out in the yard.
But there’s only that night. The way it always is for the two of them—fire and blood.
“Sometimes,” Sam is still fixated on the house, “When I try to think about them, it’s like they weren’t ever real. Just a story. Like it’s never been anything but you.”
Dean lowers himself carefully onto the ground beside him. “They existed. And they loved you. Loved us. We should’ve had them and they should’ve lived and the world shouldn’t be this fucked up.” He turns to Sam. “But that’s why we’re going to figure this out. Be smart. She won’t get away with it but I need you to be safe. You—“ he hesitates but goes on, “You’re mine. Mine to protect. And I’m always going to look out for you.”
“Someone has to look after you too,” Sam counters, intensity of his scrutiny no less for only being lit by the streetlights. It’s not surprising to hear, but there’s something about the way Dean’s vision goes tunnel when Sam needs protecting that makes it hard to hear anything else. But that, it got through, reminds him that he’ll never really be alone.
Then Sam leans over, puts a grass damp hand on Dean’s knee and kisses him.
His eyes are closed, Dean’s open. His lips close over Dean’s bottom one and linger for a few seconds, leaving the barest hint of wetness there. Sam breaks the connection, wasn’t expecting Dean to kiss back, and rises without a word, walking toward the car.
Without thinking, Dean runs his tongue along the skin and although he’s sure it’s all in his head, swears it tastes different. Like Sam. He stays in his spot on the ground for a long moment, not moving, brain halted.
He takes a last view of the house, considers the promises unfulfilled, the lives cut down, the lives altered forever. Their parents would’ve sat Sam down and been able to explain in firm but loving terms why he shouldn’t have done that, why it’s wrong and how he’ll grow out of it, look back one day and wondered why he ever thought he needed something so bizarre.
But Dean isn’t a parent. He’s so much more and is so less equipped to deal with any of it. He’ll talk to Sam. He will. But not now. Not tonight.