Main Fanfic Site

Taking The Fifth

by astolat

Cathy knocked on the door to Sam's office with a folder and a perky smile. "So, I hear the Richardson case got settled this morning?"

Sam knew what that meant, and no way was he getting sucked into a pro bono case right now; he was already doing twelve hour days just to keep his billable numbers looking good. He opened his mouth to say no, no, and also no, except for some reason he hesitated a little too long, and she pounced. "Just take a look at the case," she said. "Indigent client, you get him a plea bargain—"

"Whoa, whoa," Sam said, looking at the folder, "this could be a capital charge, Cathy!"

"No violent priors," she said, "and no weapon found on the scene. The DA will be happy to settle for murder two, maybe even manslaughter. Come on, Sam, have a heart."

"Yeah, to help out a murderer?" Sam said. He had a whole pile of great excuses: too many hours, not enough time, no real experience in criminal law. And then he was saying, "Okay, fine."

Cathy blinked. "Really?" she said.

Sam was wondering the same thing, and also when his brain and his mouth had parted ways. He glared at her. "What is this, some kind of scam? You figured I'd beg off from this one and you'd use it to make me take the next one?"

"No, no!" she said, hurriedly, and started backing up. "It's great, you're doing something terrific for the firm. Good luck!" and she zipped out the door.

"Great," Sam said under his breath. He'd been played for a sucker, and now he was saddled with a case probably even the public defender's office had wanted to ditch. He drummed his fingers on the desk and thought about going after Cathy, telling her he'd changed his mind, to send it back; there were twenty emails in his inbox that needed to be dealt with, probably at least a couple of them would be billable work.

Instead his hand drifted across his desk, over to the folder, and then he was closing it up and stuffing it into his briefcase, putting on his coat, and leaving his blinking voicemail and computer behind.

The police had his new client in an interrogation room, handcuffed to a chair. The guy looked up as Sam came in: white, late twenties, clear-eyed, which made Sam's eyebrows go up; not the typical murder suspect the Baltimore police usually pulled in. "Dean Winchester?" Sam said. "I'm Sam Moore. I'm your lawyer."

"Dude, you're a lawyer? You don't look old enough to be out of college," Winchester said.

Sam sighed. "I've got the degree on my wall and everything."

"Hey, great, I'm saved," Winchester said, waving a hand at the empty chair. "Have a seat, Matlock."

Sam pulled the chair around and shuffled papers, keeping his head down with his hair hanging low over his forehead, trying not to be too obvious about staring. Winchester was good-looking, probably what you'd call pretty when he wasn't scruffed up with stubble and bruises and what looked like a year's worth of exhaustion, and Sam had never seen him before in his life, ever. Ever. He was sure of it.

"Can I get a pen and some paper off you?" Winchester said, holding a hand out across the table. Sam looked up. Winchester raised his eyebrows. "You know, a pen?" he prompted. "Come on, I'm not going to go Hannibal Lecter on you."

"Never saw that movie, actually," Sam said, and gave him a legal pad and a ballpoint out of his briefcase. Their hands brushed when he passed them over, and Winchester paused, looking at him, puzzled.

Sam almost dropped his eyes back down to the case file, but he couldn't help it. "Listen, we've never—" he started.

"Yeah, no," Winchester said. He quirked his mouth for a second. "I don't hang out with lawyers all that much."

Sam looked down at the folder full of priors: credit card fraud, identity theft, grave desecration—grave desecration?—shoplifting, grand theft auto, and about three dozen missed court dates. "Really, you're kidding."

Winchester snorted and bent over the note pad.

"So you want to tell me what happened?" Sam said, watching him printing in blocky letters.

"Yeah, sure," he said absently, and rattled off a story that matched the one in the police file, all about how his dad had been pals with Tony Giles, in the service together, and he'd come to town to see the widow; breaking into the office to get her some photos, then back to the house, hearing her scream, finding the dead body on the floor.

"Okay," Sam said. "Mr. Winchester, can I make a suggestion?"

"Fire away, Matlock," Winchester said.

"First of all, quit calling me Matlock."

"Sure thing." Winchester looked up and turned on a grin like the most obnoxious spotlight ever. "Atticus."

Sam rolled his eyes, trying not to find the guy cute. "Second, Dean," he folded his hands together on the table and leaned forward, "why don't you tell me the truth?"

Winchester sat back with a wounded expression. "You saying you don't believe me?"

"I'm not a cop, okay? I'm your lawyer," Sam said. "Lying to me is about half a step up from lying to yourself, and that doesn't usually work out that well. Did you actually kill Karen Giles?"

"That's a no," Winchester said.

"Good," Sam said. He wasn't going to wonder why he believed it; it was his job to believe it. "Then your best shot of getting out of this place is to tell me everything and let me help."

Winchester tilted his head, like he was thinking about it, and then he spun the legal pad around and pushed it back across the table. "How about you start by telling me if you recognize any of these words?"

Dean sat back after the lawyer left, tapping the pen against the blank pad. He didn't really know what the hell good it was going to do. Even if the guy tried to dig something up, and Dean wasn't betting a lot on the possibility, it wasn't like there was anything he could do about it stuck in here. He looked up at the one-way glass, the reflection of his own face. He hadn't used his one phone call yet, but there was no one to call except maybe Bobby, and Dean didn't see much use in laying this kind of trouble on him.

"There's no way they're getting you for more than manslaughter, so don't let them scare you with the capital charge," the lawyer had said. "Not that this doesn't suck," he'd added, which had pulled Dean's head up; were lawyers allowed to talk that way?—"but right now, you're not looking at worse than three to five years with parole."

Three to five years in a cage, for trying to save people. Dean snorted. Maybe the ghost would kill somebody else while he was still locked up and clear him. It was a sour thought, bitter, and he didn't like having it. It stuck in his head anyway. Or maybe jail wouldn't be so bad. Three meals a day, bed every night, nothing to do except work out and sleep. Practically a vacation, with all that empty time to think, and meanwhile that yellow-eyed bastard who'd eaten up his family one bite at a time would still be out there running free in the world.

Dean's shoulders hunched forward, involuntarily. He wished the cops would come back so he could screw with them some more, get his head out of this loop.

Like they knew what he was wishing, they left him sitting there for a couple of hours, until he finally put his head down on his folded arms and managed to doze off. That was when Ponch kicked the door open, hard enough it banged against the wall like a gunshot and brought Dean jerking up awake, his heart racing. "Son of a bitch," Dean muttered, rubbing his face.

"Had some time to think about your situation yet, Dean?" Ponch said, sitting down opposite him, smiling nasty while he popped the lid on his coffee cup so Dean could smell it while he drank. "Feel like sharing anything more with us yet?"

"Not really," Dean said, giving him a bright smile. "You had any luck finding that weapon yet? Oh yeah, that's right, you haven't."

Ponch's eyes narrowed. "What'd you do with it, Dean? Dumped it outside somewhere?"

"So now you're working on the theory I went out, dumped the knife, and went back in the house?" Dean said. "To do what, make sure she hadn't started breathing again with her head half off?"

"Maybe just to admire your handiwork," Ponch said, and slurped noisily.

He didn't say anything more, just sat there hanging out, slurping again every so often. After a while someone brought him in a fresh cup of coffee and a sandwich and a cup of chicken soup. Dean's stomach growled. He tried to put his head back down, once; the cop waited until his eyes were closing and then kicked the table leg. After that Dean just settled himself with his hands resting on his lap and tried to imagine he was in the car fighting to make it another hundred miles before sleeping, her engine purring away steady and the road blurring past him.

The door shoved open again after a couple of hours and the lawyer came back in. Dean looked up at the guy, trying to fight down the stupid irrational shiver of hope. Moore glanced at him, then he looked at Ponch. "Detective Sheridan?"

Ponch tilted his head back with a smirk. "You must be from the public defender's."

"Actually, I'm with Venable," Moore said, smiling back, cool and hard, and slid a business card across the table. "Just getting in some pro bono, you know how it is." Ponch's smile faded some, and disappeared the rest of the way when Moore leaned in and added, "And you're going to personally bring my client something to eat and a cup of coffee in the next fifteen minutes, or I'll file formal charges of harassment. Oh, and after I'm finished talking to him, he gets to go lie down in a private cell for eight hours."

Ponch slammed the door behind him, leaving. "My hero," Dean said as Moore slid into the chair. It came out a lot more sincere than he meant it to. There was something just weirdly comforting about the guy. Maybe just that he didn't seem like the typical lawyer. He had the suit and the tie, yeah, but he was young, built tall and lean, with that mop of hair that made him look like he'd escaped from someone's grunge band. At least he wasn't some middle-aged suburbanite, and Dean got the feeling there wasn't a wife and 2.5 kids back at his place.

Not that he was thinking in any way about what was back at the guy's place; seriously, what the hell. He cleared his throat. "You have any luck?"

"Too much, actually," Moore said. He opened up a folder and fanned out eight photographs of women. "Ashland Street isn't in what you'd call a good neighborhood. Violent deaths include two murders, a suicide, three drug overdoses, and two missing persons."

Dean reached for the photos, but Moore pinned them down to the table, his hands closing over Dean's. Moore's hands were soft except for a couple of knobs on the fingers where a pen had rested, but they were ridiculously big, the hands of a guy who'd probably never worried about being hurt, at least not by another person, not for years. His fingertips were resting all the way up on Dean's wrists. Dean locked his knees under the table and wondered if he was imagining that Moore was turning a little red.

Moore cleared his throat. "We had a deal. I got you the photos, now connect the dots for me."

"Yeah, well, that's going to be tough until I know more about these chicks," Dean said, not trying to pull his hands free. This was a hell of a lot more help than he'd expected from the guy already, but he knew damn well it would also be the last of it if he started talking about vengeful spirits. "It's complicated—" They both sat up quick and pulled their hands back as the door swung open, Ponch coming back in with a plate of sandwiches and a cup of coffee.

He slapped them down on the table in front of Dean, coffee sloshing. "Sorry," he said insincerely. "That good enough for your client?" His eyes narrowed, looking down at the table, as Moore pulled the photos out of danger.

"Just fine," Moore said. "That'll be all for now, thanks." He kept the smile on his face until Ponch glanced between them and left the room again. "Asshole."

Dean was already halfway through the coffee and nearly snorted the rest of the cup up his nose. "Seriously, are you allowed to say things like that?"

"What, are you planning to turn me in to the bar association?" Moore said. "Now come on, give me something to work with here."

"Look, can you get me out on bail?" Dean said abruptly.

"Not unless the judge is completely high at the time," Moore said. Dean looked up. "That's a no."

"Great," Dean muttered. He blew out a sigh and dived into the sandwich. Tuna salad on soggy white bread, but his standards were pretty low at the best of times anyway. He kept his eyes on the paper plate and concentrated on chewing.

Moore said pointedly, "You know, normally I bill three hundred dollars an hour, so maybe you shouldn't waste it."

"Dude, are you kidding me?" Dean said, staring. "For three hundred an hour, do you throw in—" He managed to stop his mouth in time, but the word blowjobs was sitting right there on his tongue and Moore seemed to hear it fine, because he ducked his head to hide behind his hair, his mouth curling up like he was trying not to laugh.

"Maybe I'm just that good a lawyer," Moore said after a second, his voice still quivering a little. "Why don't you try me?"

Dean didn't know why he was dragging his ass. It wasn't like he had a whole lot to lose by telling the guy, he just—didn't want to get written off. Which was pretty fucking stupid, since he was the guy's charity case to start with. He dumped the crust of his sandwich back on the plate, and licked the mayo off his thumb. "Fine," he said, putting on a smirk. "You want the truth, I'll give it to you."

"You know," Sam said, trying to keep his voice level, "this isn't what I meant when I offered to help." It didn't really work; the words shook coming out. He could still see the woman's bloody face, staring back at him from the bathroom mirror; he'd just gone in to splash cold water on his face after Dean had thrown him the curveball from hell.

Dean didn't look up; he was turning Sam's hands back and forth, examining the bruised rings around his wrists.

"This really happens to you," Sam said, watching him. "You—you've seen these things before. Ghosts."

"Yeah," Dean said, absently. "There's a lot of different kinds of things like them. Supernatural things. This one looks like a restless spirit, and a pretty nasty one. They're usually created by violent death."

Sam swallowed. "They're not all violent, though, right?" he said. "Spirits, I mean. Sometimes they're just—there?"

Dean paused and looked up at him, one eyebrow rising. "Dude, what are you saying?"

Sam stared at him and blurted it, fast. "I've seen things before."

Dean's grip tightened; he hadn't let go of Sam's hands. "Come again?" The bruises didn't hurt, it just felt—felt a little strange. Actually it was comforting: Dean's hands were hard and strong and warm against his chilled skin.

"I've seen things. Just not—not like this." The old woman rocking in the house in Savannah, knitting, while the rest of the ghost tour wandered noisily through the house ignoring her; the girl he'd seen a handful of times at Stanford, sitting under a tree on the green crying over a telegram, in an outfit out of old World War II movies. The man standing outside the train window, his face vague and confused, while people walked through him. They'd felt more like memories than presence, not like that woman in the mirror with her bloody eyes and her bloody mouth, opening to speak to him without saying a word.

"Goddammit, you're some kind of psychic," Dean said, casually, like that was a sentence that made any sense in the real world. "Fuck. I shouldn't have gotten you into this. Ghosts go nuts for that ESP crap, no wonder she's after you."

Sam looked down at his hands, Dean's fingers tanned dark against his wrists, thumbs resting light on the pulse points. He wasn't going to think about the nightmares, what this meant about the nightmares, if he wasn't just occasionally crazy or too imaginative; he wasn't going to think about it now.

Dean let go of him and reached for the stack of photos. "Okay, I need you to look through these, tell me if you recognize any of them," which was almost as crazy as the rest of the day had been so far, until Dean lay down the third of them, the sullen-eyed woman staring challengingly out of the mugshot, blue eyes and straight blond hair unmatted with blood but still familiar.

"That's her," Sam said, his voice cracking, and it wasn't something he'd imagined. It wasn't at all. "That's her."

Three hours later he was in an abandoned hardware store on Ashland Street, staring into her face again, his heart pounding in time with the blood spilling out of the corners of her mouth, dribbling from the edges of the slash in her throat. He wasn't scared. He didn't know why; maybe he was just too shocked, or maybe it was just better than the real fear, the one he'd lived with for years, that he was just a thin line away from padded rooms and drugs and psychiatrists. She was so small when he looked at her head-on, small and broken and cut-up, and he didn't flinch when she raised her arm and pointed.

He turned to look and saw it on the wall: the letters printed mirror-image by sunlight through the glass.

"I don't think she's trying to hurt me," he said, soon as the guards had left Dean with him again. "I think she's trying to tell me something."

"Whoa, whoa, hang on." Dean raised his hands, or tried to, and glared down at the handcuff that yanked his hand back. "Dude, seriously, this sucks. You have a paper clip?"

Sam dug one out of his briefcase and held it just out of reach. "You're not going to try breaking out of here."

"Course not," Dean said.

"Uh huh," Sam said. "Seriously, I want your word. I'm not helping you get yourself shot."

Dean scowled, and finally he said, "Fine, whatever, give it to me," and he was out of the cuffs in thirty seconds flat.

"That's comforting," Sam said, picking up the empty ring of the cuff. "Glad these are so tough to get out of."

Dean grinned and put the pieces of the paper clip in his pocket. "I'll put it back on after you leave. So did you have any luck finding the body?"

"Yeah," Sam said, "because she led me to it. I'm telling you, she isn't trying to hurt me." He stood next to Dean and flipped open his PDA to show him the photos he'd taken of the corpse. "Listen, I should tell the police about this. Not the spirit part," he added, "but the body. If they can find the connection between her and the Giles murders—"

"Okay," Dean said, "and when they ask you how you knew where the body was, what're you going to tell them? They'll figure I told you, and then I'll just be even more screwed."

Sam stopped and ran his hands into his hair. "Fuck." He turned away. It was weird—now that he'd seen her body, the way her wrists had been tied up, the way his own wrists ached, it was all he could think about. Someone had done that to her, tied her up and slit her throat and stuffed her body into a wall like she was a piece of trash. "What if she's not doing it?" he said slowly. "What if she's not the one killing people?"

"How do you figure?" Dean said.

"Her throat was slit," Sam said. "The same way as Tony and Karen Giles, deep enough you could see her spine." He turned back to Dean. "Whoever killed her—I'm betting whoever killed her is the same person who killed Tony and Karen Giles."

Dean leaned back against the wall, frowning. "It makes sense. Then she's not a vengeful spirit, she's—" He stopped, and his head came up, staring at Sam.

"What?" Sam said.

"She's a death omen." Dean ran a hand over his mouth. "And you've seen her."

Dean stumbled as Ponch shoved him through the doorway into the new interrogation room, and caught himself on the table. The cop slapped the other end of the handcuff around the leg of the table and shoved Dean into a chair. "Get comfortable, Winchester. I'll be back to chat in a little while," he said, smirky, and walked out.

Dean looked at the nice big unbarred window, looked at the handcuff, looked at the unbolted table. "Dude, you've got to be kidding me," he said out loud. He tipped the table up with his free hand, and the cuff rattled down and off like a ring toss at a county fair.

He got up and stuck his head out the window: the fire escape was right there, and it dropped straight down into a narrow street, a bunch of police cars parked head-on towards the dumpsters. He pulled his head back in and looked up at the clock over the door. Moore had gone for Claire Becker's file fifteen minutes ago. It couldn't take that long to pull up the records, but Dean figured the cops had shifted him mostly to play fuck-the-lawyer, so it would still probably be a while before someone told Moore where his client had been moved to.

Dean rubbed his thumb over his wrist, under the edge of the cuff. Come on, it didn't count as breaking his word if he didn't even have to use the paperclip to get loose, and he might not get another chance at this. Once he was out, maybe he'd be able to track down the file himself, and more importantly he'd be able to do something with the information after he had it. Moore's life might even depend on it, seeing how he'd been visited by the friendly neighborhood death omen.

He had to decide, goddammit. Any second now, Ponch was going to come back and figure out his stupid mistake. It was like the guy had practically invited Dean to take off—

— so if another murder happened—

"Jesus fucking Christ," Dean said, figuring it out, and he fumbled out the paperclip and worked the handcuff open as fast as he could, his heart pounding. He didn't have a gun, he didn't have anything. For lack of anything better, he grabbed up the cuffs and shoved them into his pockets, tucking the loose length of chain down the back of his pants. Then he jammed the chair under the doorknob and went out the window, slithering down the wall.

He dropped down behind the dumpsters and crouched, trying to think. The sonofabitch wouldn't have risked hurting Moore until Dean was out on the street to play fall guy. He wouldn't have. Dean pressed the heels of his hands to his forehead. Sheridan would wait until he heard an APB, and then—but he wasn't going to shoot Moore inside the fucking police station. Sheridan would've stashed him somewhere nearby, somewhere he could take care of him on the quiet, soon as he knew Dean was on the loose.

Dean crept forward past the edge of the dumpsters and looked around. It was a narrow alleyway running at the back of the building, full of empty police cars parked on the diagonal. Two busy streets at either end; Sheridan hadn't marched a six-foot-five guy around there in broad daylight, even with a gun at his back. But there was a row of tenements on the other side of the alleyway, and one of them was boarded up, the ground floor windows milky and covered over.

The tenement door was just an old metal sheet with a padlock, and thankyougod, the lock was freshly busted open, shiny scratches and flaked rust still on the ground. Dean kicked it open and went in low and fast, his hands stinging from where he'd caught himself on the ground, dropping from the fire escape too high up. He was pretty sure he'd beaten Ponch back here, unless the guy had already—it could be a setup, he could walk in and find himself standing in Moore's blood like he'd been caught standing in Karen Giles's, even more of the perfect fall guy, but he wasn't going to deal with that possibility until it turned out to be true, and if that happened he was going to get himself out of this place and get a gun and blow that fucker away if it was the last thing he did.

But Moore was there, alive, gagged, arms yanked back and handcuffed around a support column. Dean slid to his knees in front of him and pulled the gag out of his mouth. "It's Sheridan," Moore said, gasping, as Dean ducked behind him to get the cuffs open.

"Yeah, I know," Dean said, teeth clenched.

"He was the arresting officer on her heroin bust—" Moore went tense; the front door had just clanged. "You've got to get out of here," he hissed, jerking his head around. "Dean—"

"Shut up," Dean hissed back, working fast as he could in the dark with his hands raw and nothing but a fucking paper clip. Then the cuff popped, finally, and he was dragging Moore back with him into the guts of the building, keeping between him and the front door.

Moore grabbed his arm and tugged him close, put his mouth by Dean's ear to whisper "The basement—loading door?"

Dean nodded, and they crept towards the stairs down, then froze: a flashlight beam cut into the room. They flattened themselves out behind an old shelving unit as footsteps approached, and the flashlight panned up and down the column, the empty cuffs and the discarded gag.

"Well, I've got to hand it to you," Sheridan's voice floated out, "it was a nice try. Now why don't you both come on out and let me make it quick?"

The overhead lights suddenly flickered, through the busted glass shades. Moore's hand tightened on Dean's arm. The beam whipped around and back.

"You know, I'm surprised at you coming back, Winchester," Sheridan said, his voice getting closer. Dean caught sight of him: he had the gun held level with his flashlight, sweeping the room in short arcs, advancing cautiously. "Too bad. If you'd just taken off, you might have made it for a while longer."

In a minute he'd have them cut off from the stairs, and the next sweep would probably show him their hiding spot. Dean looked back at the door: a big square of bright light, perfect for showing them up as targets if they tried for it. If he tackled Sheridan, let Moore make a run—

"If we come at him from both sides," Moore whispered, so close his breath shivered the hair on Dean's neck.

Sheridan made a half turn, stepped closer. "You can't keep hiding forever."

Dean looked up at the shelf: eight feet tall, solid steel. He couldn't have moved it on his own, but—he looked at Moore, and they put their hands on the base and heaved. It went over with a crash, Sheridan jumping backwards hurriedly to get clear, and Dean scrambled over it and tackled him to the floor. "Son of a bitch," Dean panted, and slugged him twice, his knuckles bursting with pain, and then Sheridan cracked him across the jaw with his pistol gripped in his hand.

Dean sprawled away, shaking his head clear, yelling at himself to get up, get the fuck up, Dean. Moore had grabbed Sheridan's gun arm and was struggling to keep hold, keep the gun away; he was a big guy, with half a foot on the cop, but he didn't know how to fight worth a damn. Sheridan punched him right in the kidney with his other hand and folded him.

Panting, Sheridan stood up, pistol dead center on Moore's bent head, and then his face turned white, and Dean threw himself across the floor and got him by the knees, gunshot like a crack of thunder right overhead, and a sick wet ripe-melon sound as Sheridan's head slammed into the top edge of the concrete stairs.

Dean staggered up to his feet, gasping, and whirled around. Moore was straightened up, staring, and when Dean looked he saw her, the bled-white spirit with her throat gaping. Sheridan was lying still on the floor, wet trickling stain spreading towards the edge of the steps, spilling over. The spirit smiled at them with her blood-filled mouth and disappeared.

The desk officer slid over Dean's wallet and his car keys and the cell phone. "Sign here," she said, bored, and he scribbled down Steve McQueen and shoved everything into his pockets.

"Everything there?" Moore said. He was standing by the door.

"They took all my credit cards," Dean complained, thumbing through his wallet. He had forty bucks in cash and nothing else until he got to the extra stash in the Impala.

Moore rolled his eyes. "You're lucky not to be doing community service for the next ten years."

"I thought you told them they were lucky I wasn't suing for wrongful arrest after Ponch there tried to ventilate me," Dean said, pushing out through the front doors. He stopped at the top of the steps and stretched his arms back, pulling in deep breaths, and then he turned around and realized this was it: Moore was there next to him, his smoothed-back hair gone flyaway and his tie loose and his lip bruised up, briefcase slung under one arm. They were going to shake hands, and then Moore was going to go back to his high-powered life and his late-model car and his law office up in one of those shiny skyscrapers in the background, and Dean was going to find some all-night diner to sit in until the impound lot opened up and he could break his baby out and get back on the road.

Moore was staring back at him with his mouth sort of turned down and unhappy, and neither of them were saying anything.

It went on long enough it was past weird and closing in on freakish. Dean shoved his hands in his pockets and broke the silence. "So, uh, I can't get my car out of the impound until nine, is that right?"

"Yeah, sorry, I—" Moore said, jumping on the opening. "They shouldn't give you any trouble, if they try to make you pay a fee, just call me—do you have my cell?"

"Let me put it in—" Dean said, and they were fumbling their phones out and punching in the numbers, and then they were right back where they'd fucking started. There was nothing to do about it, except postpone the inevitable a little while longer, but apparently that was good enough for now, because Dean found himself saying, "Can I buy you a drink?"

Moore got a little pink again, and he said, "Yeah. Yeah, that would—yeah, okay."

They got a booth in the back of the nearest Irish bar, people up front yelling at the game on TV so the two of them had to lean close to hear each other speak, and the waitress brought them shots of whiskey and bottles of beer. Dean's knees kept knocking against Moore's under the table by accident; the guy's legs took up a mile of room.

"I'm only twenty-five. It shows, huh?" Moore said, his mouth quirking a little, when Dean asked. He bent his head down, poking at the fries. "My parents—my sister's only one year younger than me, and money for college was kind of tight, so—" He shrugged. "I skipped a couple of years in middle school and another one in high school, did as many AP classes as I could, finished Stanford in three years instead of four."

It was like a foreign language. Dean had quit going at sixteen. "My dad got hit on the job," he said, drawing lines with the condensation rings from their glasses, not even knowing why the hell he was talking, why he was opening his guts up and laying them out on the table like this. "We were hunting this pack of foukes—kind of like bigfoot, except they're smaller, and they like to eat people instead of avoiding them—and one of them laid him out, so I had to finish the hunt alone. After that, I figured I'd earned the right to decide for myself, and he gave in."

Moore huffed a soft laugh. "It's funny, you know, how you just talk about it. Talk about these things." He put his head down. "The one time when I was a kid that I let on I saw—stuff like this," he said softly, "my mom freaked out so bad. She took me to a shrink, they almost put me on medication, except I pretended I didn't see it anymore. I was scared for months that they were going to send me back or something."

"Send you back?" Dean said.

"Yeah, I'm, I'm adopted," Moore said. He looked up and smiled, but it was kind of a funny smile, there and gone. "Two months after they brought me home, my mom found out she was pregnant with Jess. They'd been trying for a long time before that. It happens a lot, apparently," he added. "They never—they were careful not to treat us differently. But—"

"Blood matters," Dean said. Moore looked at him surprised. "It does," Dean said flatly. "It's bullshit to say otherwise. You never looked up your birth family?"

"They're dead," Moore said. "There was a fire. I don't—the firemen got me out, but everyone else died, everything went." He took out his wallet and slid out a photo: a smiling happy blond family, with a little girl and a baby; the edges were yellowed and darkened. "Their name was Robinson. Not exactly what you'd call unusual. I've never really tried to track down any other relatives. Seemed kind of pointless—if there were any, I guess they didn't want me."

He bent his head down again, peeling the top layer of shiny paper off his coaster in ragged strips, spitballs of paper and glue scattering from his fingers.

Dean took another shot and put the glass down empty and said, "Social services took my brother away when I was four."

Moore's head came up. Dean didn't look at his face, just kept going. "After my mom died, my dad got a little out of control. He—" He twitched his hand, pushing it aside. "He was out on a bender for a couple of days when they came. They were going to take both of us. I was old enough I could hide, but my brother was crying—Anyway. My dad had to grab me and run after that, and meanwhile they gave him away to someone, sealed the records. We couldn't find him." He hunched up. "His name was Sam too. Sammy."

That was all Dean really remembered of the first five years or so, six years, after Mom's death: finding Sammy. It had been the one thing Dad thought about, all the time, while one lead after another dried up, even the stolen records useless and wrong. Dean had known all the time it was his fault. He should've gotten Sammy out of the crib, hidden with him in the closet or outside in the woods, should've found some way to keep him quiet. He'd known, but he'd been too scared to admit it, to say anything, and then finally on his tenth birthday, alone in a motel while Dad chased down another lead, he'd gotten sick of being a coward. He'd lost Sammy in the first place, and now he was keeping Sammy lost by being in the way, and he'd written Dad a goodbye note and he'd taken one of the guns and gone out.

He'd spent a week sleeping on the street and eating leftovers out of the trash, dodging cops and gangs, keeping warm in cardboard boxes over gratings, until Dad found him. He hadn't understood at first what was going on, that Dad was crying, holding him in his lap in the alley behind the cheap Chinese restaurant on Bloom Street. After that, Dad had stopped looking as much and started training Dean instead, teaching him how to hunt. It's not your fault. Wherever Sammy is, he's safe. Safer than he would be with us. We'll find him together someday, and this way you'll be ready to protect him. Lies that Dean had never believed, but he'd shoved them down and kept hunting, because there was nothing else to do, and every monster they killed was one monster that couldn't hurt Sammy, safe and unknowing somewhere out there.

And now Dad was dead, and Sammy was twenty years lost, and there was nothing left but hunting, until one day something got Dean instead of the other way around. He swallowed. "I couldn't—I didn't save him."

"Well," Moore said, softly, bumping his knuckles against Dean's across the table, both their hands wrapped around their glasses, "you saved me, anyway."

Dean looked up at him: not his Sam, but somebody's; somebody had lost him, too, and his hand uncurled from his glass without even really meaning it, and Sam's fingers opened slow to meet his, sliding gently over the scrapes and the busted knuckles, entwining. Dean stared down at their hands. His breath was coming fast, and he had no more excuses left for the way he was feeling. He'd never—he'd never even thought about wanting—

"I don't—" Sam said, hoarsely. "This isn't something I—"

"Yeah," Dean said, his voice low, but they didn't let go of each other, and then Sam said, "My place isn't far."

They fell through the front door banging it open hard, already wrestling with their clothes. Sam had always felt too big, too clumsy, since he'd gotten the first real growth spurt at thirteen; dad was five-nine, mom five-four, and he'd felt like even more of a cuckoo in the nest, sneaking downstairs in the middle of the night to raid the fridge because he'd stopped eating at dinner at the same time as everyone else, even though he was still hungry. He'd been careful with lovers, feeling like his hands were too big and he didn't know where to put them.

Dean wasn't as tall as he was, but he was built like a rock, so strong that he put his hands on Sam's hips and manhandled him right through the door, easy, and kicked the door shut behind them without ever taking his mouth off Sam's, without even having to look. His mouth, his skin, tasted good; Sam grabbed his head and buried his face against Dean's neck and just inhaled, sweat and salt on his tongue, and he'd never been this hot for anyone in his life.

"Jesus God," Dean groaned, and pushed him off, stepping back long enough to strip his shirt off over his head. Sam gripped the edge of the counter of the kitchen island and panted, watching him. Dean's muscles rippled under his skin, the kind carved by hard labor instead of gym visits, so gorgeous Sam's mouth went dry. Dean unbuckled his belt and shoved down his jeans, getting naked easily, casually; hauling his boots off one after another and dumping them onto the floor, heavy thumps.

Then he stopped and stared back at Sam, one boot still in his hand. "Dude, if I'm all alone at this party, I'm about to get seriously embarrassed."

"No, I just—" Sam said, fighting to get his voice up somewhere past a whisper, "I just want to look at you."

Dean's skin flushed dark up his neck, and he licked his lips. "Yeah, okay," he said, stepping out of his jeans. He was built like Renaissance art, nothing on but a pendant around his neck, tan lines in faint concentric circles at wrist and neck, upper arm, waist. His cock was full, thick, and Sam looked at it and thought about putting his mouth on it, licking it, and he wanted to so bad he couldn't wait, two steps across the room and going down to his knees. Dean groaned deep and grabbed onto his shoulders, tight enough to bruise. Sam held him up, Dean's ass cupped in his hands, and bent to taste him, swiping his tongue over the head.

"Oh fuck," Dean said, arching, and Sam pulled him in closer and sucked in the head, soft and tender skin, and he had to stop and just press his face against Dean's belly and breathe for a little while. His own cock was pressing hard against the zipper of his pants, and he grabbed for his belt even while he caught Dean's cock in his mouth again, suckling just at the crown, running his tongue around the ridge of skin.

He pulled off and Dean hauled him up and yanked at his tie, at his shirt and jacket, teeth clenched and practically ripping buttons open as he shoved them back towards the bedroom. Sam stumbled over his own pants, tangled up around his ankles. Dean tripped over his legs, so they nearly took a header across the threshold, except Dean caught him and heaved, got them onto the bed partway, and then they were rolling onto it together, naked, and Sam couldn't get enough of Dean's skin against his.

"Sam, Jesus, Sam," Dean was saying, panting, climbing all over him just as frantic, his thigh pressing between Sam's legs. Sam threw his head back and groaned, grabbing at Dean's back, fingers sliding through sweat, the sheets getting twisted around them, coming up from the corners. "Yeah," Sam said, answering, surging up to meet him. They were kneeling, legs tangled up, and rocking together, hips pushing, thrusting, rolling back and forth, Dean's cock dragging slick and wet across his belly. Sam didn't want to slow down or wait, he wanted, he wanted—

"Yeah, yeah," Dean said, and then he was jerking, coming hot and fast across Sam's thighs, on his cock, and Sam fell backwards and came, shuddering.

They collapsed off each other, flat on their backs, side by side. "Huh," Dean said, sort of dazedly.

"Yeah," Sam said, staring at the ceiling.

They just lay there breathing hard for a while, and then Dean said, "Hey. Hey, you want to get a pizza?"

"And beer," Sam agreed.

"I like the way you think," Dean said.

Dean and the maid freaked each other out the next morning: his knife wasn't under the pillow when his hand groped at the first sound, so he rolled off and grabbed the fireplace poker on automatic and burst out into the living room. She shrieked and then shrieked again, at which point Dean realized he was completely naked and ducked back into the bedroom, where he found the note from Sam warning him that the maid would show, ending with an I'll see you when I get home from work—call me if you need anything.

He calmed the maid down, and then he went and got the Impala out of the impound lot. Sam had a driveway big enough for her to share with the pathetically boring Toyota he drove, and Dean had her up on blocks in a couple of hours. There were good lights mounted on the walls over the driveway, so he could keep working even after it got dark. Back in Bobby's lot, he'd just gotten her running and gotten himself back on the road as fast as he could, and there was still a lot of damage left. He hadn't cared that much. Now he had some work to do and fast if he wasn't going to get hit with rust.

He didn't even think about what he was doing until it was eight o'clock and Sam was pulling into the driveway. Dean slid out from under the Impala and stood up to meet him, and then he realized he'd pretty much just moved himself into Sam's place—the duffle in the back seat didn't mean anywhere near as much as his car in Sam's driveway. He didn't have enough time to feel awkward, though, or even ask if it was okay, because the look on Sam's face was relief, and then he was getting kissed on the hood of his car, Sam's broad hips pressing between his legs, and it was all settled, just as easy as that.

What had been settled, exactly, that took him a few weeks to figure out. He slept late in Sam's apartment and drank milk out of Sam's fridge and worked out with Sam's weights, and at night he fucked Sam in Sam's bed, both of them still figuring out what the hell they were doing and having an awesome time doing it. Dean had no clue where the sudden attack of gay had come from, but he wasn't going to complain. He wasn't accountable to anyone in the whole goddamn world anymore, far as he could see. He didn't think about what Dad would've said, except for once, and then he stood up in the driveway and said out loud, "If you wanted a fucking opinion, you should've stuck around."

But then the day came; he'd put a last coat of wax on the car, and then he'd gone to the corner newsstand and picked up a dozen papers, just out of habit, and a trail jumped out at him: a mysterious death near Mt. Orab in Ohio, a young, healthy woman, dead of no apparent cause alone in her home, her face frozen in terror. Dean dropped the paper on the kitchen table, feeling like the ground had dropped out from under him, because he didn't want to go.

Except he did want to; he'd been sitting on his ass for weeks, and he was starting to get antsy. It was just that the idea of saying goodbye to Sam and walking out the door for good made him feel hangover-sick, like he wanted to curl up in a ball and press his face to something cool and pretend the rest of the world didn't exist.

Sam came home early—for him, anyway; that meant around seven. He saw the article lying open and read it silently, and then he looked up and said, "How long will you be gone?"

Dean was across the room in thirty seconds, and they fucked on the carpet like they'd agreed they weren't going to anymore, because rug burn sucked out loud, except this time Dean wanted the sting, to hold him.

"Take me a week, maybe two," he said, eventually, sprawled out breathing in gulps.

"Okay," Sam said, and pushed himself up to reach for his clothes. He dug around in them and took out his wallet. He scribbled down his PIN number on a scrap of paper and shoved it and his ATM card at Dean.

Dean stared at it. "Dude, I can't take—"

"Shut up," Sam said. "I've almost got the credit card fraud off your record, you're not screwing up all my work now. And just so we're clear, you're going to call me twice a day, or I'll sic the cops on you."

"Yeah, okay," Dean said, swallowing down hard. "Sam. Sam, I—"

Sam sat up and took his face in both hands and kissed him, sweet and deep, his thumbs smoothing over Dean's cheekbones. Dean shuddered. He couldn't take it all that often, when Sam did this; it made him feel flayed open, like Sam could see everything, and the scariest part was he was starting not to mind.

He kept the gas pedal to the floor and worked a tighter case than he'd ever done in his life, and a week and a day after he'd left he was pulling back into the driveway at one in the morning, with nothing worse to show for it than a handful of bruises. He opened the front door with the keys Sam had given him and shucked his gunsmoke-and-graveyard clothes on the floor and crawled into bed.

"You okay?" Sam said sleepily, his hands big and warm, sliding up over Dean's back and shoulders, pulling him in, waiting for him. Dean pushed his face into Sam's chest and held on to him, tight; his face was wet and Sam was saying urgently, "Dean, I've got you, I've got you—" and it wasn't—Dad was dead, and nothing could make that okay, but when Dean was done, gasping and wrung out like a dishrag, Sam's hands were cool on his skin, and Sam's mouth was brushing soft over his, easing him back into the pillows, into sleep, and it felt like something he didn't even know he'd remembered. It felt like home.

The second week in June, the key in the lock brought Dean up and out of the bedroom, wondering how the hell Sam had gotten off work before 2pm. Instead a hot blond girl was standing in the living room, staring kind of puzzledly at their pile of mail, which now included all of Dean's weapons catalogs and the Weekly World News, and Dean almost skidded, stopping. "Um, hi?" she said, transferring the stare to him, edging back towards the door a little, unconsciously.

"Hi, I'm Dean," he said, glad he was at least wearing boxers. "You must be Jess." She got even more confused-looking, and then her eyes got really big. Dean pasted on a smile. "Hey, you know what, I'm going to go get some pants."

She'd been brought up right, seeing as how she didn't ask even though it had to be pretty obvious he was living in her brother's apartment. He made her coffee and then they just sat trying to make small talk, which was pretty much Dean's idea of hell, and on top of that Sam talked about her plenty, so Dean already knew all the boring crap that normal people talked about. She was in her second year at Yale Law, and if it didn't piss Sam off that there'd been money for that, when he'd had to pull a full ride to Stanford and keep it all the way, it pissed Dean off for him. Sam clearly thought she was a rock star, but Dean had mostly been assuming that he'd gotten brainwashed to think as much because she was the precious angel of his mom and dad, and he'd been getting ready to hate her guts.

She wasn't a lot like he'd been expecting, though, and after about fifteen minutes it was pretty obvious that she thought Sam was a rock star, which made Dean warm up to her, and also she was smoking hot, which was a bad thought to be having and would probably get his ass deservedly kicked if Sam noticed him having it.

"Have—have you met my parents?" she said finally, nervously.

"Uh, no," Dean said. He wasn't in any hurry. Sam had made a couple of feeble comments about them going home to Nebraska for a weekend, which Dean had dodged; he figured it would be awkward at best, meeting the churchgoing upright-citizen parents of the guy you were giving it to on a regular basis, and at worst they'd say something to piss him off on Sam's behalf more than he already was, and he'd sock dad in the nose or something and then Sam would be pissed off, something Dean tried to avoid when possible, since it meant no sex for him.

"Oh," she said, and just sat there staring at him helplessly.

Sam finally got home and stopped two steps inside the door. Jess jumped up and hugged him, and then Sam said, "You've—you've met Dean?"

"Yeah, your friend Dean," Jess said, pointedly. "It was such a surprise to meet him. Here, in your apartment."

"Uh, yeah," Sam said, looking at Dean, who just raised his hands and sat back; he wasn't fielding this one.

"So you and Dean are—" Jess prompted, dragging it out, arrrrrrrre, with extra eyebrow action.

"Okay, shut up," Sam said, grinning at her suddenly. "I can still stand you on your head if I have to. Jess, this is my boyfriend Dean," and Dean said, "Dude, boyfriend?" wincing. "You shut up too," Sam said, swatting him, and then the three of them went out to dinner together, and it turned out Jess had been a media studies major and could help Dean make fun of Sam for all the movies and tv he'd been too busy studying his whole life to watch.

Sam left for work the next morning really reluctantly, eyeing both of them nervously, and the second Dean had shoved him out the door, he and Jess sat down at the kitchen table and started grilling each other. Except Jess didn't have nearly as much practice peeling information out of people, so pretty soon Dean was working a reasonably good interrogation.

"I won't lie to you, our parents are totally going to flip," she said. "My mom's been lying in wait for Sam to start delivering the grandchildren any second now." She rolled her eyes. "The tall, gorgeous, genius grandchildren. You should've seen some of the girls she's tried to set him up with." She paused. "Um, that is."

Dean could actually get right behind the idea of Sam with a tall gorgeous girl, as long as he got to watch or maybe jump on in. But the one time he'd suggested a three-way, Sam's eyes had gotten narrow really fast and then he'd dragged Dean right back home and pounded him into the mattress, twice, just in case Dean hadn't gotten the message. Dean coughed; it was a good memory. "Yeah, well."

Jess blushed up and dropped her eyes. "I'm sorry, I know I keep staring, I just can't—" Then she stopped and laughed suddenly. "Okay, you know what, I'm keeping my mouth shut until my tact batteries recharge."

"Sam's not my usual type either," Dean said, grinning, and what the hell, he liked her after all.

He started revising his attitude about Sam's family, after that; Jess was definitely cool, and the day after she left to go home for the rest of the summer, Sam stood over the phone with his hand braced on the table and called his parents. His voice wobbled a little when he told them he wanted to bring his boyfriend home for a visit, and his head was bent low, but after a minute his mouth curved, and he swallowed, and after he hung up, his eyes were wet, but he was smiling.

Boyfriend still made Dean want to roll his eyes; it was walking a hot cheerleader home after school, not this thing that could stretch a thousand miles and pull him straight back from working a case in Georgia or California or Maine. It wasn't the right word for this thing where his muscles turned to water when Sam's hands were on him, and his throat opened up and let his heart climb out. This thing that made him put Sam in his passenger seat and a duffel bag in the back and drive two days to a house in Nebraska that put his back all the way up as far as it would go, a cheery little cookie-cutter suburban two-story house with lace curtains in the windows, painted white and yellow, two sedans in the driveway, nothing to tell it apart from its neighbors but the number on the house.

He pulled up to the curb and put her in park and stared out at the house. "Do we have to?" he muttered. Sam bumped shoulders with him and got out. Dean slung the bag over his shoulder and followed him up the walk. Jess opened the door, smiling, which made it a little better. Sam's mom Alison looked like a mini version of Jess, blond and small and pretty, if in a more edge-of-Stepford kind of way; she was wearing makeup and a twinset. His dad's name was Peter, a short guy with a hairline well on its way to the back of his head. They looked like what they were, a teacher and an insurance salesman, doing their best to keep up with the Joneses, and Sam standing with the three of them would've done just fine for a round of one of these things is not like the others.

Alison was smiling in a kind of forced way, but Dean figured at least she was trying, so he cut her some slack. Peter shook Dean's hand and offered coffee, and Dean told himself to relax, just like going into somebody's house to scope out the lay of the land, checking up on a case, and he put on his best smile and sat down and reminded himself not to lie when they asked him personal questions, except for all the ones he and Sam had agreed to lie lie lie about together.

He thought it was going okay. "Lawrence, down in Kansas," he said, "but we moved around a lot, me and my dad, after my mom died," making sure his face didn't show what he felt like, talking about this stuff like it was just nothing, everyday, and Sam shifted his leg outward just a little on the couch, so it pressed up warm against Dean's thigh.

"Oh, I'm sorry to hear," Alison said, the way you did, and Dean had to say back, "No, that's all right, it was a long while ago. Twenty-three years now."

For a moment everything was still, then Peter said, slowly, "Your name's Winchester?"

The slim little handle on Alison's fancy teacup cracked off in her hand and the cup tipped, coffee streaming over the edge of her saucer onto the cream and roses of the carpet and the couch. Peter got up and walked out of the room without another word. Sam was straightening up, looking completely baffled, Jess staring at her parents with the same confused expression. Dean had a sick hard knot tightening in his stomach, an impulse telling him to grab Sam and run, to get him the hell out of here, now, right now, and Alison dropped the cup and saucer and covered her face with her hands.

"Mom," Sam said, "Mom, what—what—"

She jerked her head up and stared at Dean, and he jerked back, because a lot of things had looked at him like that, full of hate and fury and despair, but not a person, and she said, "What kind of—what kind of monster are you—you did this on purpose—"

"Mom!" Sam said, standing up, voice rolling low and angry as thunder five miles back in the rear view mirror. But Dean was staring at her, and he already knew, even before she said, "He's your brother."

Sam couldn't stop his hands shaking as he opened his wallet. He pulled out the photo of the Robinsons, with the singed edges, the one he'd been carrying on him ever since he got old enough to trust himself with it. He threw it down on the table in front of Mom; who gave a fuck that it was near the puddle of coffee. "Who are these people? Is that even me?"

"No," Dean said next to him, barely loud enough to hear. He took out the book, the one that barely ever left his coat pocket, the fat overstuffed leather journal, and he slid out a photograph. Four people: a dark-haired man, big, with a big smile to match, with a small boy in the crook of his arm and a slim blonde woman with a gentle face holding a baby next to him. Sam looked at them, his eyes stinging, and the photo blurred.

"I'm sorry," Mom said, crying, wiping tears away from her face with the side of her hand. "Sam, I'm so sorry, I never thought—we only wanted to protect you—"

Dean stood up. Sam could feel him even half-blinded, the solid strength of him, right there at his shoulder. "Protect him?" he said. "You stole him, you lied to him, you told him he was crazy—" His voice was ragged and hacked apart, and Sam put out his hand and grabbed his arm, and Dean jerked and looked back at him, his eyes wild and desperate.

"Dean," Sam said. "Dean—"

"Sam," Dean said. "Sammy." He broke away and was gone.

"Sam," Mom said, reaching out to him, and Sam stumbled back from her a step, another, and then he turned and followed Dean out the door.

Dean was in the front seat of the car, his hands gripping the wheel. His mouth was open, and he was staring at the dashboard without seeing anything, shaking. Sam got in next to him. "I should've," Dean said, "Sam, I should've known, I—"

"Shut up," Sam said. "Dean, shut up, or I swear to God—" He stopped and folded his arms against the dashboard and hid his face. "Drive," he said, muffled. "Just—just get us out of here. Please."

Dean found a motel in fifteen minutes somehow, though Sam had lived there all his life and wouldn't have known the first place to start looking for one. He went inside and got a room, and Sam followed him inside and locked the door, put the whole world outside, and then they sat down on the two beds, facing each other, and didn't say a word.

"Say something," Sam said finally, almost whispering. "Dean, say something, I need—"

"I'm sorry," Dean said, and his hands came up to cover his face. "Jesus, Sam, I'm so fucking sorry—"

And that was it, that was what he needed to hear, because it was so wrong it unlocked the bands around his chest, and Sam could fucking breathe again. "I'm not," he said, gasping for air. "I'm not sorry, and neither are you." He pulled Dean's hands away from his face and slid down to his knees in front of him, made Dean look down at him, Dean's eyes wet and stunned, and Sam grabbed Dean's face in his hands. "Dean, you found me. You found me. I'm not sorry," and Dean's hands came up slowly and touched Sam's face too.

They went back to Baltimore and stopped having sex. Dean spent three nights not-sleeping on the couch and Sam spent three nights not-sleeping in the bedroom before Sam finally came out groggily and dragged Dean into the bedroom. Back to back, in shorts and t-shirts, they slept, finally. Sam deleted a whole bunch of messages off the answering machine without listening to them, and trashed all his personal email.

Sam started going running with Dean in the mornings, and in the evenings they went to the cheap grubby gym Dean had found uptown. Sam put on muscle fast, lifting, and Dean started him out with kickboxing, to take advantage of his reach and his long legs. They worked themselves ferociously, until they were panting, dripping sweat, almost staggering with pain and fatigue, and then they showered at opposite ends of the locker room. They ate in the local neighborhood at all-you-can-eat buffets, plates heaped with cheap protein and carbs, no dessert, and then they went back home to crawl into bed and collapse.

Sam had dropped off partner track and he knew it, but he didn't care even a little. He wasn't going to be here a lot longer. He did enough work not to make life difficult for anyone else around him, and sent resumes out for telecommuting and freelance jobs, all around the country, and got them licenses as private investigators.

Dean looked at the license with a weird expression.

"It's not just an excuse," Sam said. "There's usually a real crime, too. You don't have to tell the police that the way you solve them is by putting the ghosts to rest."

"Yeah, I get it," Dean said. "Just I'm gonna have to remember to use my real name."

Sam grinned at him across the table and then made a face over his protein shake.

He worked out a budget, too. Dean's idea of budgeting was how many times he could use a credit card before the company cut him off. Sam's salary was going to take a big hit, and the car and health insurance was going to take a big jump, but he thought they could stay afloat, especially if they actually got some real PI jobs, after a while. He called a broker and put the condo on the market, the first week in September.

"You don't have to," Dean said quietly in bed that night, behind him. "We could come back here, between—"

"It doesn't make sense," Sam said, over his shoulder. "It's not central and the property taxes are high."

Dean didn't say anything.

"It's going to be okay," Sam said. "I can do this. We're going to be good."

"I know," Dean said.

"Then what's the problem?" Sam said.

Dean didn't answer for a long time, and Sam thought maybe he'd fallen asleep, and then he said softly, really softly, "I'm fucking up your whole life."

"My whole life was one lie after another," Sam said. "My life was a stack of lies, and this demon that's out there, the one that killed our parents—"

"That doesn't have to be your fight," Dean said. "I made it your fight. I showed up and—"

They were back to back. They always slept back to back now; they got in on opposite sides of the bed, and they didn't look at each other after the lights went out. Sam rolled over and lay his hand flat on Dean's back, on the hard line of tension stretching between his shoulders. Dean flinched.

"I want this fight," Sam said. "I want you. I'm not letting you lose me again."

Dean turned over to face him. It wasn't that dark in the room; the pink haze of light pollution and a slice of yellow from a streetlamp shone in through the windows, and Sam could see Dean clearly, his mouth drawn and tight.

"Sammy—" Dean said, low and raw.

Sam reached out and cupped his hand around Dean's face: warm skin, rough burn of a day's beard under his fingers, and he pressed his thumb over the corner of Dean's mouth to shut in whatever Dean had been going to say.

"My name's Sam," he said, and he followed their shared breath in and kissed Dean, once, again, for the first time.

= End =

With many many thanks to rivkat for beta!

All feedback much appreciated!

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