Usual disclaimers apply. Well the final chapter is done and dusted and hands up to confess it turned into a bit of a monster! Thanks to all that have stuck with this story as it grew from a (supposedly) planned 8 chapters to the behemoth it became! Anyway as always feed back most welcome. Rozzy.

Escaping Gravity

Chapter 18: Twists and turns

It had taken Dean a few days longer than expected to get to Stanford as playing nursemaid to his sick dad with man-flu had proved to be a very trying experience. After that he had decided that his dad would need shooting next time he went down with the anything other than a supernatural illness, to put them all out of their misery.

When his dad was fit enough to be on his way Oakland it was a welcome relief to be on his own again able to focus his thoughts back on his little brother. Driving through Palo Alto he was more than a little scared of what words would be said when they met up.

As he turned into the heavily tree lined street of comfortable middleclass houses Dean stilled the engine and took in the tranquil scene. Suburbia stared him back full in the face with sparkling homes and neat front lawns and he gave an involuntary shudder. Was this really what his little brother craved he asked himself.

Casting another glance at the address on the piece of paper in his hand he hesitated knowing that he was only a few doors away from reconnecting with his little brother. After all these weeks apart he felt a flutter of nerves in his tummy and marshalling his courage he drew in a deep intake of air before he got out of the car.

The third house along looked much like the others but as he drew up to the front door a medley of voices drifting over from the backyard caught his attention. Walking up to the high wooden fence to the side of the house he looked over the top expectantly then his mouth ran dry uncertainty gripping him again.

A small gathering of people, were standing or sitting around an open barbecue in the far corner of the yard. Caleb was instantly recognisable with a beer in on hand engaged in what appeared to be a heated conversation with Jennings.

Dean felt a rumble growl in his throat at the sight of the older man. A hollow feeling hit his stomach as he eyed his brother's confidante and all he could think was that he was the reason why his brother had run off to college and why his family were so screwed up now.

Trying to put his game face back on he took in a series of steadying breath, fighting down the red haze of anger as he let his eyes snake back and forth around the small back yard on the look out for his brother.

Then his gaze locked onto another familiar face and he rocked back on the heels of his feet in surprise. Pastor Jim bereft of dog collar was with an older woman, greying hair swept up into a neat pleat at a round wooden table. Dean grinned at the sight of a welcome face but was still anxious to see his brother and swept the yard again in search of him but Sam was nowhere to be seen.

Sucking in a breath to steady his nerves he was about to push the gate open when a tall willowy figure came out of the shadows, long gait quickly eating up the distance to the table where Pastor Jim sat and Dean's heart thumped loud in his chest.

A ripple of pure joy ran through him at seeing his brother again after such a long separation and hungry eyes devoured in the sight. In loose fitting jeans and a pale blue shirt Sam stood in a soft lean against the back of the woman's chair and her hand came up to pat his own.

Dean's eyes widened in surprise as he could swear that the kid grown another inch or two. How the hell Sammy had managed that considering all the drama he put his body through was a wonder in itself.

A deep fruity laugh snatched his attention back to the woman and his eyes narrowed. "Etta,' he hissed under his breath in instant recognition of the Adam's woman whose hand rested so easily over his brother's so territorially.

His top lip curled knowing that she was the reason behind Sammy getting hurt. He didn't know what felt worse the anger that he held inside that she was the cause of his brother getting stabbed or the feelings of jealousy that afterwards it had been her, and her alone, that his brother had allowed to stick by his side.

Desperate to see his brother's face Dean willed him to turn around and was rewarded as his brother swung about to listen to something the Pastor was saying. The sunlight dappled his tanned face running colours of gold and auburn through his dark hair and Dean murmured his brother's name in a glad whisper.

As he studied him he couldn't mask his surprise as seeing how well he appeared. Hardly like being at death's door as Caleb had implied with a soft honeyed tan glowing on his skin. Sure he was thinner than before but with the added growth spurt he could appreciate why.

Ignoring the desire to do a snatch and run of his baby brother he watched instead as Sam responded warmly back at Pastor Jim, sporting that big goofy smile of his that always seemed to make things better in their crazy whacked out world.

Studying him even closer he noted with a shake of his head just how long Sam had allowed his hair to grow so that he was struggling to see his eyes under the veil of a dark waves. A slight gust of wind lifted the hair to one side and he could see how keen and bright they were, sparkling with life and happiness.

Dean frowned worrying at his bottom lip feeling slightly put out by the healthy glow his brother was projecting. His brother stood there screaming out to the visible eye his bright youthful status. Self-doubt took hold and Dean leant in closer to the gate straining to listen in to their conversation and again his tummy did flip-flops at hearing his brother's soft voice lilt over to him.

"Yes sir it is going to be hard to say goodbye." Sam's hand reached out again to squeeze Etta's own and Dean glowered as a frisson of jealousy washed over him at the affection he was giving the woman, "I'm gonna miss her company a lot."

Dean stilled, his lungs struggling to take in air at his brother's confession and more uncertainty screamed loud inside his head. 'Miss her a lot? What about me? Did you ever really miss me a fucking lot?'

Etta beamed up at Sam her words driving another stake into Dean's heart, "I'll miss you more but at least you're only a hop away from the airport or a small drive away and Thanksgiving isn't so far away. You're family now don't you forget that."

Is this what you want Sammy, for these people to be your family instead of me and dad? worried Dean at seeing how his brother seemed to soak up her words.

Jim leant forward and offered up dramatically, "I've had the Winchesters over for Thanksgiving before Mrs Adams and it's never been a pretty sight to behold. I don't know who was worse Samuel or his brother. Both little scoundrels could strip a table bare in seconds."

"Hey no fair Pastor we were only kids." Sam laughed loudly at the way Jim rolled his eyes. "At least I have manners and know what to do with a knife and fork. Dean is more than likely to use his cutlery as target practice. Me namely being his target of choice if you recall.…"

Jim chuckled at the memory, "My yes, that brother of yours does have a unique way of marching to his own tune. I guess he can be a little forceful at times."

"You mean a jerk," Sam snorted with an easy laugh catching Aaron's attention. The tall professor walked over to Sam and put a familiar strong arm across his shoulder.

Dean bridling still at his brother's throw away remark about him he couldn't help but be shocked at the way Sam allowed himself to be held in such a fatherly embrace without trying to pull free. With the contact his deepening resentment grew exponentially.

Sam and his dad hadn't touched like that in years and it made Dean feel physically sick to his stomach at the way Jennings was usurping the role of their father so easily.

Unaware of the death stare coming his way Aaron cheerfully looked at Sam, "They still trying to beat down your defences? Don't worry I've got your corner from their endless nagging son."

Dean's fingers tore into the wooden fencing driving splinters under the skin as he wanted physically to scream out. 'His brother was not that bastard's son.'

Unable to watch the display any longer he spun around and as he took a step away he heard his brother laugh again like he hadn't care in the world and it hit worse than any physical blow. Acid rose up his throat and the thought that he been brought here on false pretences wouldn't go away.

Dean swung back his eyes boring daggers into the back of Caleb feeling a level of betrayal that wounded desperately. Just how easy had it been for his old friend to manipulate him into coming to Palo Alto like this? Sammy didn't look close half to death as Caleb had hinted at so perhaps he had been strung a whole line of lies to get him to come out and face his little brother.

His breathing ragged he struggled to keep his fury in check as his world literally up-ended itself. Everything felt wrong, utterly spoilt, as all he could absorb was the truth that Sammy really had excised any need for him out his life and the rejection cut too deep to deal with it here and now.

Taking one last long look at Sam he knew now that he hadn't stood a chance in getting him back. His little brother stood confidently in that exclusive group of people that all wanted him in their lives and he had nothing to better it. All he had was himself and that was clearly not enough any more for the kid.

With a unsteady stride he took a few steps away from the house desperate to get away before being spotted as he didn't trust the words that would come out of his mouth now or stop his fists from flying. Best just to walk away, just like Sam had done so easily all those long weeks ago in Michigan and be done with it all once and for all he told himself bitterly.

As he reached the Impala the emotional walls went up faster and more impenetrable than ever before. Faster than the wall coming down on him in Detroit. He wasn't needed here and the one person who really did need him, who had always needed him was his dad. Somewhere during the ride to California he had managed to forget that and he had let him go off to a job knowing full well that he wasn't capable of doing it single-handed.

Guilt tore at him and he pulled out his phone swallowing back his hurt but couldn't keep the wobble out of his voice as he asked, "Hey old man you reach Oakland yet?"

John's deep voice boomed back, still hinting at a sore throat in its husky tones, "I'm about a half day out. I had to make a few stops…"

"Yeah well about that think you can hold up for me to catch up. I'll be with you by tonight."

"Dean?" queried John at the strange tone in his son's voice dreading to hear the answer, "You okay son?"

"Never better dad, never freaking better," lied Dean through his teeth as he swung the Impala away from normal and back to his father. Back to the only life he knew or could be accepted in.

o0o0o0o0o0o

Pastor Jim eyed once again the withdrawn youngest Winchester. For the last hour he had sat in the chair eyes half closed in the late afternoon sun seemingly drinking in the rays but the slight frown on his face gave the game away. The day had been too long and now he was struggling to keep his exhaustion at bay.

As he noted his still too young features Jim could hazard a guess that Sam had tolerated all their attention today more for their sakes than his own need. In truth he had a feeling that Sam would rather have spent the day just sitting alone with his own thoughts while waiting for his brother to show up.

Jennings, Etta, himself and even Caleb no matter how hard they tried were a poor substitute to what the boy really needed he realised with a small sad smile. Taking in a long steadying breath Jim studied the boy's profile and knew that when he got home he was seriously going to have words with John and find out exactly what was going on that man's head.

John had always been so overprotective of his youngest that it appeared stifling at times and this just letting him go without any protection seemed more than a little odd to say the least. All he could sense was that John was hiding something from him and he refused to be kept in the dark any longer.

Fighting down his concerns he gently reached out and patted Sam's shoulder, "Hey Samuel you got time for this old man before I catch the flight home."

Slowly Sam opened his eyes and nodded his agreement. Jim drew up a chair and felt an invisible barrier go up between them and wondered yet again what the boy had gone through to leave such scars so visible behind too young eyes.

"Sam I wish that I could stay longer but I have my commitments as you know. My flight leaves at eight and I have to check in shortly. Your wonderful Mrs Adams has offered to drive me to the airport."

Sam smiled tiredly, "You know Pastor you coming like this is more than I ever expected, especially how it is with dad and me. You know he's gonna be as pissed as hell that you did."

"Don't you worry about your father and I, we've weathered worst storms," admitted Jim with a wry shrug. "I wish that I could do more before I go."

Sam paused afraid that he might offend the man he respected if he spoke his mind but still took the chance, "It seems like half the world has been offering help these last few days and no offence meant but its not as if I can't look after things my end from now on."

Jim studied him for a moment and wished that John could see his son with less judgemental eyes. "I understand my boy, I really do but you know that there will always be a place for you in my house. Always."

As he eyed the teenager whom he had watched grow from baby to the young man he was rewarded with a weak smile and a familiar flash of dimples. "I appreciate that Pastor Jim."

"Well then now that we've come to an understanding I best be going." Answered Jim awkwardly pushing an envelope over at Sam adding, "Take this. Keep it for emergencies."

Sam's brow puckered looking suspiciously down at the envelope guessing what was inside, "No sir I really can't accept this. Aaron's hooked me up a job a few nights a week at the local rag. I've got all I need."

Sam purposely put the envelope back in his hand and Jim sighed resignedly knowing he had been pushing his luck in trying to get the boy to accept this additional help. That freaky independent streak the boy had always carried with him had truly asserted itself but he knew it was something he was going to need from now on away from the protection of his family.

Softer eyes with a genuine smile behind them looked back at him and Jim's heart broke a fresh for the Winchester family as Sam whispered back, "I promise you I will be okay and I'll keep in touch sir."

Etta had come up behind them her eyes bright with a mixture of reluctance to leave the boy she had grown so fond off but also a measure of hope that things were finally going right for him. Too her eyes he looked far healthier in the last four days in Palo Alto than he had done in weeks.

It all changed with the news that his brother was coming. It was like an invisible half tonne weight had been lifted off Sam's shoulders and she was left marvelling at the effect it had on him.

Not wanting to upset his brother at his appearance he had started to eat crazy, determined to add a few pounds before his turned up and in another race against time had taken to sitting in the sun from sunrise to sunset to get some much needed colour. It had been a marathon of boxes of donuts, double cheese pizzas and Californian sunshine to work the small miracle he needed to make himself look healthy again but he did it.

In the process of this transformation she really started to realise that when the boy decided to do something he put all his energies into it. One hundred percent and nothing less and she loved him even more for his tenacity.

Now as she watched the Pastor get to his feet and Sam follow she knew it was the saying goodbye that was going to be the hardest part for them all. Still at least now she could feel confident that Sam was going to be okay.

As she looped her arms between them they walked in a simple silence out of the yard and down to where she had parked up the Winnebago. Standing by his car was Caleb having a last minute conversation with Aaron before readying to make his own departure.

Cupping Sam's face with her hands Etta shook her head looking longingly up at the tall boy her heart full of reluctance to leave him after all they had been through. "You promise me to take care of yourself. Promise me."

Sam nodded and she kissed him on both cheeks before pulling away. Sam dipped his head and smiled softly, "You drive carefully Etta and stay clear of any dodgy diners and idiot rednecks."

Etta grinned back up at him throwing him a small wink, "I promise. Anyway Sam I expect to see you and that handsome professor of yours for Thanksgiving. No excuses."

Sam laughed at seeing the heat rise on Aaron's cheeks. The two had struck up an instant friendship and it had felt good to see them both enjoying each other's company so easily.

Etta felt herself swung round as Aaron lifted her briefly of the ground in a tight hug of appreciation. As she felt her feet touch the ground again she leant out of his embrace to a wag a finger up at him in warning, "No excuses for you also Professor Jennings - you better take care of my boy."

Aaron nodded his understanding that she was officially handing his care over to him now he took her hand and graciously kissed it, "I look forward to seeing you again Mrs Adams. Thanksgiving it is."

Jim stepped in front of Sam and in a firm grasp took his hand eyes bright at having to leave so soon. "Just like Mrs Adams said you best take care of yourself. I've left some stuff with Aaron to make sure you stay safe. Use them lad. Don't you dare get careless now as that would be most unacceptable."

Sam raised an eyebrow knowing at what his words hinted at but not wanting to alarm Etta he simply grinned back. "Sure thing Pastor Jim. Thanks again for coming and a safe flight home."

Watching them disappear as the Winnebago turned the corner at the end of the road Sam let out a long sigh and suddenly aware of another two sets of eyes on him he swung back to throw a half-hearted grin at Caleb. "So you off too old man?"

"I can stay another day or two kiddo if you want," murmured Caleb wondering if he was doing right leaving before Dean turned up.

"No, no, no way Cal. You've done more than enough." Sam paused chewing on the insides of his cheeks before looking up through his heavy bangs his heart sinking at the loss of another friend tonight, "Sorry if I was a real brat before. I just…."

Caleb stepped forwards and took him in a fierce hug, "Hey dude you'll always be a pesky little brat to me. So no changes there or you won't be the evil son of a gun who skunked my car way back when."

For his part Sam giggled guiltily at being finally flushed out as the culprit and Caleb felt happy to take a step back sure that their friendship was back on an even keel. "Don't you let all those geeky eggheads around you change who you are and keep that scrawny ass of yours safe. From everything."

"Yeah I know the routine, salt and more salt. Love to see what my new roommate's take is gonna be on that little quirk of mine!"

"If he gives you any grief I'll bash his brains out for you kiddo. Free of charge!" answered Caleb with a knowing smirk on his face. "So give me a ring and let me know how it went with that brother of yours."

o0o0o0o0o0o

Ronnie screamed down the phone so loudly that Sam had to pull it away from his ear or risk going deaf. "Sam" she screamed again her voice breathless with excitement. "Mommy its Sam! Where have you been Sam? I've been waiting for you to call me. Waited and waited and waited."

Feeling more than a little guilty at the length between phone calls Sam quickly apologised, "Sorry Ronnie. I got really busy but I've been thinking about you, especially about you and that pink tutu."

"I got it Sam. Mom bought it last week and new slippers too. I look wonderful just like a fairy princess."

Sam chuckled at trying to envision the short stocky girl in stretched pink Lycra but the flurry of footsteps and muffled voices caught his attention and then Connie's warm voice came down the line. "Sam is that you? Are you okay honey? I was worried when you didn't ring."

"Sorry Mrs Huffman, but really I'm fine, just fine. I'm in Palo Alto as we speak." Sam skirted successfully around his health. What she didn't know couldn't upset her he reasoned and now that he was well on the road to recovery that's how he intended to keep it.

"That's wonderful Sam. Is Stanford all that you expected?" Connie blinked back a hot tear of relief as Ronnie pulled at her skirt anxious to speak to Sam again. She put up a shushing finger and the little girl scowled unhappily up at her but held her tongue.

"Yeah. It's a really great campus. A.J. is here too and my brother's coming to see me. It's really all good…."

Connie could here the happiness in his voice and her relief intensified for him. "Your brother? I'm so happy for you Sam. I knew it would work itself out given time."

"Yeah I hope so. Dean and me, well you know it's been hard me taking off like I did, I just hope he really has forgiven me."

"Forgive you Sam? For going to college?" Connie always thought it strange that something so normal could cause so much grief for the boy.

Needing to explain Sam hurried out, "No not for that. For leaving him like I did. For not being the brother he needed…"

"Oh Sam I think you've always been that for him. I'm sure that's why he's coming to see you."

"I really hope so. I don't think I could bear him hating me anymore," confessed Sam.

Connie found herself praying that things really did go well for the boy. "I'm sure he doesn't honey."

Ronnie could take it any longer and whined loudly tugging harder on her mother's skirt. "I want to speak to Sam. Come on mom I wanna speak to him. Its not fair, he's my friend mommy…"

Sam laughed at the petulance in her voice and Connie gave in and Ronnie screamed down the phone again. "Guess what I got Sammy?"

"What?" laughed Sam happy to be able to reconnect with the little girl without any of the burdens of before.

"I got my own pig!" blurted out Ronnie in delight down the line.

Sam's face split into a wide grin wondering at just how much nagging the little girl must have done to wear down her parents to get her pig. "Way to go Ronnie that's just awesome. What did you call it?"

"Precious. He's so cute Sam all small and pink and his tail is all curly. Mom won't let him sleep in my bed though. She's just likes being mean…"

Sam laughed again and could hear Connie smothering a snort of disbelief her end. "I think that's a great name for a pig. But your mom's right Precious really shouldn't sleep in your bed. You might wake up with piglet poop all over you."

"Yuck Sammy," Ronnie giggled in return before she turned to her mom and with a stern face replayed the information back. "Sam said I mustn't let Precious sleep with me because he might crap in my bed."

Connie nodded, masking her need to laugh at the serious look on her little girl's face with a mock coughing fit. "Sam is a very wise boy Ronnie."

"That's why he's my special friend," agreed Ronnie with a fervent nod of her head glad that her mother could understand what Sam really meant to her.

Sam shook his head in wonder at her capacity to trust him so implicitly. The little girl and her family had truly been a port in a storm and he would be forever grateful to them. Sitting down in a large comfy chair he drew his knees up slowly and knew that he was in for a long, long chat.

In fact it was going to be long evening of catch up phone calls that he needed to make. From Melanie to Kelly and his other friends he had left behind now was the time to try and make things right again before Dean showed up. He didn't know how long his brother might stay and didn't want anything or anybody to take time away from that. Not anyone.

o0o0o0o0o0o0o

Aaron had called the day after he left Palo Alto voicing his concern that the oldest Winchester boy had failed to turn up. Now for the third time that day Caleb caught Dean's voicemail and knew that he was being deliberately ignored. In the end he had rang John directly to be told gruffly they were busy finishing up a job in Oakland and it was up to Dean whether or not he found time to come to Stanford.

It was the 'whether or not' that flagged a warning in the pit of Caleb's stomach. Dean was purposely ignoring Sam and everyone associated with him, but why? When last he had spoken with him he seemed hell bent in getting to his little brother side. What had changed since then?

Angry now he wished he had kept his mouth shut and not mentioned to Sam that his brother was on his way to see him. Now he could only imagine what the waiting was doing to the kid.

He could beat the crap out of Dean for doing this to his brother. It was downright cruel.

As he listened to the message on Dean's phone he waited for the familiar beep and then let rip. "Listen you fucking asshole I don't know what mind-games your playing here but you best ring me or next time we meet up you'll be flat on your back seeing stars. Ring me or so help me I'm turning this car round and I'm gonna hunt your stupid ass down and really let you know how I feel you dumb ass idiot."

It felt good to vent but it didn't solve his problem on what to tell Sam about the reasons behind Dean's deliberate absence. Fingering his car keys Caleb got to his feet the anger settling hard inside. "Screw this."

o0o0o0o0o0o

Book held tight under his nose Sam sat by the window letting the late afternoon sunshine wash over him, pretending that the words in front of him held meaning and absorbing absolutely nothing.

All he could think of was why had Dean decided to cut him dead again? Deep down he knew he shouldn't be too surprised by this turn around. After all it had never been a Winchester trait to forgive or forget so why had he dared to believe otherwise. Still it didn't stop the hurt from eating away at him day after day.

A familiar voice bought out of his dark reverie as his newly acquired roommate popped his head round the door and grinned wildly. "Winchester you still playing the geek?"

Pete pointedly ignored the moody look shot by Sam as he came into room. He was enough thick skinned after growing up with three brothers and two sisters to not be deterred by the odd scowl flung his way. "Hey get you skinny lanky ass up. Time to head out of campus as I've heard of the most awesome burger place."

Sam shook his head the need for food being on lowest rung of the ladder of his priorities. In a couple of hours he had to go to work and all he wanted now was a few quite moments trying to catch up on his reading of which he was failing miserably.

Pete though was anything but deterred and persisted. "Come on dude. I know your homesick and everything but you need to adjust and drop the big dark brooding act."

He wasn't expecting the chuckle escape from Sam, a chuckle that soon turned into a tight unnatural laugh. "Homesick? What makes you think that?"

"Well the way you've been mooning around all miserable as sin might have been a clue! You should be making the most of your freedom Winchester, I know I am."

Sam sighed any forced humour dying on his lips. "I've got no home to go back to. Sort of nixes that notion of homesickness in its tracks doesn't it?"

"Sorry, I just assumed." Pete sat down slowly on the opposite chair. "You really got no family then Winchester?"

"Thought I had a brother for a while…" answered Sam cryptically putting down his book and stood up in a slow deliberate stretch. He eyed Pete and saw the enquiry in his eyes and decided to offset any further questions, "So best burgers in town you say?"

Pete wanted to ask more and knew he was being very expertly redirected. Still seeing that this had been the longest conversation he had with his roommate since his introduction he wasn't going to risk pushing any harder.

And he really did want to try get to that burger bar as he had lined up a couple of hot looking girls to meet there and had promised the tall redhead that he'd be dragging 'Mr Sex-on-legs' as she had defined his room-mate, along.

o0o0o0o0o0o

Dean listened again to the anger vibrate out of the phone as Caleb's last message played out once more and with a sneer of disgust he turned the phone off again. Nodding over to the bartender he growled out, "Another beer and a whiskey."

With the job in Oakland now finished tomorrow he knew they'd be on their way again, away from California and away from his little brother and he could hardly wait.

Now all he wanted to do was drown out the voices and images in his head, of his brother's mocking laughter, of Caleb's threats and his dad silent questioning stares. He knocked back another shot of whiskey with a sour grimace then nodded for a refill. Tonight he intended to get totally wasted.

When the unexpected hard grip on his shoulder jostled his grip on his glass he cursed out loud, the liquor spilling over his fingers. Thinking it was his dad trying to rein him in he growled out. "Leave it out old man I don't need you telling me what to do right now."

"Someone has to Winchester."

Jerking out of his grip Dean spun round clearly astonished that the man had made good his threat and tracked him down and dammit to hell Caleb looked well and truly pissed, his eyes dark with anger and mouth a tight slash as if words furious and hot were readying to spill out.

"You readying to knock me on my ass old man cos I sure as hell would like you see you try," spat out Dean getting to his feet to match Caleb's anger shoving him back a step with the flat of his hand against his shoulder.

The bartender feeling the tension radiating off the two men picked up his baseball club from underneath the bar brandishing it in clear warning as he snarled, "Take this outside fellas… now."

Nostrils flaring Dean muttered a curse under his breath, threw down some dollar bills to cover his tab before snatching up his jacket and stormed out with Caleb close on his heals.

As soon as they exited the bar Caleb grabbed at Dean and shoved him hard against the stone wall pressing his forearm over his throat using his extra weight to keep him momentarily pinned. "You asshole I should break every bone in your worthless hide for making me come all the way back like this."

Pushing the heavier man off him with a hard shove of his own Dean stood up taller and grinned darkly as he shrugged on his jacket flexing his finger, knuckles cracking, "You could try but you're not going to look pretty by the end of it."

Caleb could see he was spoiling for a fight and resisted his own desire to punch some sense into him. He hadn't chased all the way back to California to beat Dean senseless before finding out about the reasons for his change of heart. That he reasoned could come later when he got his answers. "You are one stupid jerk lying to me like that. What happened you get a big streak of yellow up your back and were too scared to face your little brother?"

"Me lie to you?" gasped out Dean in disbelief, "What about all those damn lies that you spun to get me to come to California? I saw you know. I saw it all."

"Saw what? What the hell did you see?" demanded Caleb blew out an exasperated breath as Dean was really making no sense at all.

Stabbing an accusatory finger at him Dean snarled up close to his face, "You lot all cosying up with that bastard Jennings letting him play daddy to that turncoat brother of mine. Get some fun out of that did you twisting the knife in my guts like that?"

"What the hell are you talking about? Twist the knife? You crazy drunk or what?" demanded Caleb.

Dean staggered a little and laughed again as the world tilted slightly the effects off the alcohol and cold night air hitting him suddenly. "Not drunk enough believe me. You said Sammy had been at deaths door but he seemed healthy enough to me. Another lie and another guilt trip to put me on. Right?"

Grinding his teeth Caleb asked in a low voice, "Just when did you get to see all this?"

"Oh you know that little soiree in the back yard." spat out Dean contemptuously, "Sammy standing around like the cat that got the canary. Didn't look like to me that he was going to be doing lonely anytime with the professor and that Etta bitch so wrapped up in him."

Stunned Caleb's mouth dropped open as understanding took hold, "You're really telling me you got as far as the backyard and then turned tail all because Sam looked good, looked happy?"

"Yeah well if I had stayed I might have killed something. You fucking played me…"

Caleb's eyes went dark with anger and he was close to throwing his first punch. "You saying that I lied to you? You better watch your mouth Winchester because you're crossing a line here man."

Dean frowned as his clouded thoughts trying to disseminate the truth from all the lies he had been fed over the months and his voice betrayed his confusion and hurt, "Why the hell did you make me come when he didn't need me Caleb? I could see it with my own eyes. He has Jennings and that woman playing happy families and Sammy seemed more than happy with the new arrangements."

"Jesus man you couldn't be further from the truth. Etta returned to San Diego that same day and the professor is at Berkley. Your brother is really doing it all on his own now."

"What golden boy has to wipe his own ass all by his lonesome now?" sniggered Dean humourlessly trying to straighten up and gain some control before sniping back, "Might do him some good and maybe he'll grow a freaking backbone."

"Your brother grew that when he stood up to your dad time and time again." Caleb spat out before taking a step back from Dean hardly believing his ears, "Jesus I wish I'd never told the kid that you were coming. If any one was told a lie it was Sam. I promised him goddam it…'"

"So what. The kid doesn't need me, never needed me not all the time I was worried about him," growled Dean still struggling not to drown in the surge of feelings Caleb was dragging out of him.

Caleb twisted back to look at him and shook his head in despair, "Oh god I never realised just how fucking fragile your ego is. Man you have some issues going on in your stupid head that you need to work through."

Dean leant in and barked back harshly, "Issues that you put there by playing me like that. Was the stabbing another fat lie to make me feel like the worse big brother ever? Make feel sorry for helpless little Sammy all over again?"

It was too much for Caleb and his fist swung hard and true knocking Dean as promised flat on his back. Not waiting for him to get up he stormed over to the trunk of his car, pulled out a package and threw it by Dean's head on the ground. "You ever call me a liar again Winchester you'll not be getting back up again. Ever."

Moving his jaw from side to side Dean pulled himself onto his elbows and spat out a mouthful of blood. Warily he eyed the package on the ground and turned back up to Caleb with a dirty smirk on his face, "What's this you trying to buy me off with a gift to ease your conscience."

"That you little dumbass is what I took from the Sheriff's evidence locker in New Mexico. It was once a lovely shade of pale pink, part of a matching towel set in Etta's Winnebago."

Frowning his distrust Dean snaked out a hand to retrieve the plastic evidence bag and with a suspicious eye looked it over. The illuminated bar sign threw off enough light for him to clearly read the name on the tag of Sam Huffman and his face went ash white.

The towel inside the bag had set hard as the blood that had saturated it a dark maroon dried and he looked desperately back up at Caleb as the truth hit hard and fast, "Sammy…"

"Some lie eh sport?" hurled back Caleb. "So tell me again exactly what you saw when you came to Palo Alto that left you so fucking blind?"

Dean lurched to his feet desperate to stop his stomach from exploding up his throat and he staggered away from Caleb's accusing stare to sit stunned on the hood of the impala his head spinning from the effects of the alcohol, the punch and the bag in his hands.

Brokenly he hugged the bag to his chest, as if he could absorb the blood back in to him and take the hurt away that his little brother had gone through. A soft moan squeezed his throat and the tears fell, "I thought…. He looked so damn good Caleb…..I thought it couldn't have been true. I didn't want to believe it."

Bending down to his level Caleb looked him square in the eye, somewhat relieved by the breakdown of his hard-man act. "Your brother worked damn hard to put on a few pounds and get some color back before you turned up. You wanna know why?"

"How the hell should I know…so he could be pretty for all the geeky girls on campus," whispered Dean as he wiped the tears roughly off his cheeks.

"No dude the stupid kid was frightened if you saw him looking so freaking fragile that you'd think him weak. A failure. Damn stupid Winchester pride working against him again didn't it?"

"Frightened of me?" Dean shook his head in disbelief and curled his head back on to his chest crushing the evidence bag once again to him dribbling blood from his split lip over the top of the plastic.

"Come on dude this is still fixable," offered up Caleb daring to drag Dean back to his feet. Sensing just how broken he was he pulled him into a tight hug and felt the warmth of tears soak onto his shoulder. In all his years with the older Winchesters he knew that the only thing that could bring them to their knees was Sammy and now he had to give back Dean some way to stand tall again.

Dean after a few seconds of being held pulled free confessed, "It was supposed to be my job to protect him Cal but how was I supposed to do that when I didn't even know where he was? He could have been killed and he didn't tell me. Didn't want me to know."

"He's a Winchester through and through Dean. He's got his share of stupid pride too."

"So what's the point of being a big brother if I can't stop him from doing stupid things when I'm not there to watch his back?

"To be there when he does need you Dean. Don't see how you could believe otherwise," answered Caleb softly and he could have sworn he heard a strangled sob escape from his old friend as he let go of more of his pain.

o0o0o0o0o0o

As the twilight turned into the dark of night the air was cooler now and it allowed him to sit without disturbance. He fingered the book in his hand, the limited edition of The Illiad, the last gift his brother had given him, and sighed ruefully. The weight of the small book in his hand was heavy, crushing, a reminder that as much as his dad hated him so did his brother and he could find no joy in reading it anymore.

Rubbing a hand wearily over his face he knew he had to shake of the dark funk that kept him rooted to the bench and get back to the dorm. It was getting too late to be sitting outside in the dark. As he thought about getting up his sensed tickled in alert when a shadow caught the corner of his eye, his hand snuck down into rucksack automatically and fingers met cold steel.

"Thought I raised you better little brother than to be sitting here waiting to be chow time for all the big dark and nasty things out there that crawl out at night."

Sam froze hardly daring to believe his ears, as his brother slid down to sit on the bench beside him. His chest tightened as a vice like pain squeezed all air out of lungs. Loose fingers let go of the knife in the rucksack and he turned this head to look at his brother, eyes wide in disbelief. "Dean?"

Sam's eyes widened further in alarm at seeing the split lip and black eye he sported and had to stop himself in a desperate rush to ask what had happened knowing that he had given up that right the moment he had left him back in Michigan.

Dean grinned weakly back at him, noting with flicker of concern that in the time since he'd seen him last the kid had somehow lost weight. "You trying for the Skeletor look or perhaps a He-man role with all that dorky hair?"

Dean frowned as Sam's head ducked low and the silence hung heavy between them. Nudging him with his shoulder Dean asked, "So you doing okay little brother? Is this place geeky enough for you?"

Mutely Sam nodded still not lifting up his head high enough to meet his stare, his gift of language deserting him as he felt overwhelmed by his brother's presence. All his senses were being stretched with the familiar smells that made up his brother, the musty leather, the hair gel and aftershave. All screaming Dean at him.

As it taunted him filtering through the cool night air he swallowed back the lump rising in his throat threatening to bring tears with it. Winchesters didn't do crying he told himself in a soft mantra as he drank in the familiar scent. After New Mexico he had promised himself that he wouldn't allow such weakness to take hold of him again and he dug his fingers into the palms of his hands to keep them at bay.

Surprised by his brother's verbal shutdown Dean strove to get a response wondering if his brother was still angry with him and he mockingly commented, "So you really never did listen to me about watching your back did you kiddo?"

Sam jerked his head up at the reminder his face bearing a haunted look before it disappeared and all emotions stilled, "Think I've learnt my lesson now…"

"I hope so Sammy," sighed Dean not sure of what to say next. "You gotta watch your own back from now on. You know that, right?"

Sam shrugged and Dean flinched. This was not the imagined response he had expected from his normally demonstrative brother. The kid really had shutdown just like Caleb had warned. Chewing his bottom lip he knew that he should have confronted his fears that first day in Palo Alto and then the divide between them wouldn't seem so big now.

Dean finally gave it another shot to reach his brother, "Look I hope this whole college thing works out for you, really I do. I may not like the way you went about all of this but it's your choice in the end to make. Why you couldn't tell me though really fucking hurt."

Sam shifted besides him and let out a confessional sigh, "I wanted to tell you so badly but I didn't think you'd want to know. Dad got you so wrapped up in hunting since you left school that I just couldn't speak to you anymore."

"Don't Sam. This is about you and me. I didn't come here to talk about him, so don't your dare bring dad into this."

Sam lifted his head and met his gaze and Dean flinched at the rawness there, "You don't really believe that Dean. I gave up pretending it was ever going to get better between me and dad and so did he a long time ago. You just didn't want to see it and I'm truly sorry you got caught in the middle of it all in the end"

"Sorry for me? Little rich don't you think when you knew that what you were doing was going to be a kick to the guts," growled out Dean and instantly regretting the angry tone as Sam flinched away slightly from him. "Look all I'm saying is that all those secrets you kept from me was hard to find out after you left. It was like seeing you through different eyes and the brother that I thought I knew no longer existed."

Sam frowned and kept his gaze locked on some distant spot, swallowing back a retort and the silence dragged on again before he finally answered his voice surprisingly level, "May be your right, I think he finally disappeared somewhere between Michigan and New Mexico…"

Dean studied him for a long second before turning away and wiped a hand tiredly over his face feeling the week long stubble rub against the palm of his hand in a tickle. "Sam, I know things changed the moment you walked out that door but you should have called me when things got out of hand. I'm still your big brother dude."

Sam eyes were unnaturally bright at the reminder of his status and small smile tugged on his lips, "Big brother wanting to come to the rescue of his screw up little brother like old times…"

Dean sucked in a tired breath and could hear his father's words behind Sam's voice. This was too hard to be doing he realised as he was ill prepared to deal with the way his brother was so restrained. His little brother was purposely keeping the barricades up and he just wasn't equipped to reach out and take some of the damage away like Caleb had done with him.

It was a relief when his phone rung and throwing his brother a quick look noticed how he pointedly refused to turn to the sound. He took the call and when it finished he stood up slowly, wiping his hands down his jeans to get the slick of sweat off them. "I gotta be going. A job's come up…"

Sam nodded his understanding not daring to ask more and jumped up to his feet. His book that had been in his lap thudded to the floor and instinctively Dean reached down and picked it up. His eyes sparkled dangerously as he handed it back without a word to Sam though his heart beat a faster pattern in recognition.

Face to face the two brothers studied each other and slowly Dean asked, "Anything you want me to say to dad?"

When Sam shrugged his shoulders indifferently he had his answer and he run a hand through his hair, knowing that he was about to run away with too little sorted out. Nodding at his brother he took a step back wishing that he could grab him in a hug and let him know just what he meant to him, "I'll see you around then kiddo."

"Sure big brother, see you around," whispered Sam accepting the lie for what it was struggling now to keep the emotional dams sealed. His brother was making it official, that they were letting go off each other. Dean was going back to the world of hunting with their dad and he was staying here. Finally he knew that for both of them there was no going back.

o0o0o0o0o0o

Sam had watched his brother walk off and listened hard until he heard the distant thrum of an engine start up and his brother sped away. Slowly he walked back to the dorm struggling to keep the façade up to mask the pain. When he reached his room he was thankful it was empty and he slumped down on the foot of his bed, already regretting the way he had let his brother just walk off like that.

A ringing noise made him jump in surprise and with a frown he wondered if Pete had left his phone behind. As he cocked an ear he realised the sound was coming from beneath his bed and tentatively he reached under till his hand connected with a cardboard box. Surprised he pulled it out and his mouth fell open to see his childish seven year old scrawl of his name on the lid. Hurriedly he opened the box and saw a phone lit up ringing loudly begging him to answer. Eyes glistening he took the phone in a shaky hand and pressed the receive button. "Hey Dean is that you?"

"Took you long enough to answer Bitch," growled Dean down the line disguising his relief that his brother had answered fearing for awhile that Sam would cut him off.

"You jerk," snapped back Sam with a happy laugh at the back of his throat wiping hurriedly away the tears that streamed down his face.

Dean chuckled in relief at Sam's natural response, "So just thought I'd ring to remind you that you had better check those damn salt lines again. They looked real sloppy to me."

"Thanks Dean," whispered Sam eyes brimming as he glanced down at his little box of treasures he had collected since his earliest memories. Thanks for being my awesome big brother.

"Yeah well, you best take care of this phone better than the last one and stay away from water sprites and the likes. And while I'm at it don't let any skanky girls get their claws into you, stay away from the nut-jobs and for godsake remember under all the geektude you've wrapped yourself in that you're still a Winchester."

"Yeah I will. Thanks for everything big brother," choked out Sam fingering his Indian arrowhead with delight.

"Don't thank me little brother. Thank MasterCard and a certain Mr Bernard Gibbons."

"Thanks Bernie…" sighed Sam softly in appreciation down the line letting the tears roll down unashamedly now.

"You go check those salt lines," demanded Dean choking back his own tears before he hung up. It was a start he hoped, a start to keep Sammy in some part in his life.

The End