A Prerequisite For Becoming

by Gillian

"One room?" The balding guy gave the credit card a glance then flicked another longer look at Dean. Then he focused on Sam standing by the door flicking through some local brochures and grinned. It was no a pretty sight. "Double?" he cackled.

Dean rolled his eyes. "Twin, please," he said politely.

Another longer look at Sam and the guy's smile went from leering to lewd in three seconds flat. "You sure?" he said, winking suggestively.

"My brother and I are sure," Dean said firmly, barely suppressing his grimace of disgust. If they could have afforded anything better he would have walked out of this flea pit and found another hotel.

"Why does that keep happening?" he appealed to Sam as the door to the motel reception swung closed behind them with a rusty squeak. Behind him the bald guy was still cackling.

"No idea," Sam said, then politely covered his mouth and coughed into his hand. "Leatherjacket."

Dean looked down at the worn old jacket in question. "Dude there is nothing wrong with this jacket."

"I didn't say there was anything wrong with it." Sam said, radiating injured innocence.

"I'll have you know chicks totally dig this jacket." He reached the car and leaned on the hood in his best Jimmy Dean pose.

"Do you even know what decade it is?" Sam said with amused exasperation. "Nobody says 'chicks' any more."

Dean smirked. "Well I do, and I'm clearly not nobody."

"No, you're clearly my boyfriend." Sam tossed back with a pale imitation of the motel guy's leer.

Dean threw his hands up in surrender. "Fine. Whatever. So long as I get to be on top."

"Please," Sam snickered coarsely. "You are so a bottom." He swung into the car leaving Dean sputtering on the pavement behind him. "We going or what?"

Dean's mouth was working and he was still clearly lost for words, then he set his jaw and stalked around to the driver's side. "You are so gonna pay for that," he muttered.

Sam's grin said he knew he'd won that round.

666

"Okay, I got angelica and valerian root and the blessed thistle," Sam said, rifling through the contents of his pouch. "Oh, and the silver chalice." He produced the blackened old vessel with a grin.

Dean checked the ammunition in his gun with a quick flick of his wrist and then flicked it closed deftly. He glanced over at his brother's face illuminated by the light of the dash. "You got the exorcism rite?"

Sam patted his denim jacket pocket and studied his brother with concern. "You sure about this?"

"C'mon, Sam, don't be such a worry wart. You heard what Tamaki said. The thing didn't touch him. Not one of the victims had a mark on them. It's just a talker."

"Some talker," Sam reminded him. "Dean, the first three victims were locked in that room for just a few hours and they hung themselves."

"Exactly," Dean said, checking his pistol automatically. "They hung themselves."

"And you heard Tamaki. If that workman hadn't heard him screaming he said he might have been pushed that far himself."

"Yeah, well, Sammy. You don't want to know what I think about that."

Sam cocked a curious glance across the expanse of the car.

"Seriously, dude." Dean quirked a brow. "Talked to death? What kind of wuss can't take a few hours of taunting?"

"You're not taking this seriously enough," Sam said in exasperation. "This thing is gonna lock you in that room and do its best to drive you nuts. You need to be mentally prepared for that."

Dean blew out a breath that ruffled his absurdly long eyelashes. "You're such a girl sometimes, I swear. This rite is gonna take, what? Five minutes? Give me some credit, Sam. I can take five minutes with this thing. Okay?"

Sam looked unconvinced but popped the car door open anyway. "Okay."

666

The building was old but in the process of being refurbished. In the five years it had been sitting empty three homeless people had killed themselves in the basement, two men by hanging and one old woman by smashing her gin bottle and slicing open her wrists. No one had paid too much attention because, well, they were homeless people. But now a surveyor, Joe Tamaki, had gone on record saying that someone had locked him in the basement and yelled obscenities at him for hours.

He'd said a lot more when the Winchester brothers showed up and applied their unique perspective to the events. In fact he'd opened up and spilled his guts like he was dying to. Like he was desperate to tell someone what really happened down in that basement.

"It was like being sliced open," he'd said, eyes still glazed with horror. "The deepest darkest parts of me exposed, ridiculed, shamed. I…"

Dean remembered the way the victim had trailed off, face pale, hands shaking, and he tightened his hold on his gun. Maybe this Whispering Spirit didn't have a corporeal body but it did have power. It managed to seal the room pretty effectively when trapping its victims. And despite his bravado in front of his brother, Dean was no fool. He was prepared, mentally and physically. And mentally was just as much about the gun in his hand as it was about the certainty in his mind.

It was amazing how much better a .45 loaded with cold forged steel could make a man feel.

"Right, this is it." Sam stopped in front of a scarred old door, the words KEEP OUT picked out in worn old letters. "The rite itself is gonna take a few minutes and then I have to burn the herbs in the chalice. Five minutes tops, okay?"

Dean grinned. "Let me at him."

"Dean. Be careful."

The door had barely closed on Sam's worried face when the lights started flickering and the temperature dropping.

"Oh, you don't waste any time, do ya?" Dean muttered, tightening his grip on his weapon. He didn't need the EMF reader down here, he could feel the trickle of cold mist down his spine, scent the sharp tang of ozone in the air as he trod the dirty concrete stairs carefully.

"Five minutes tops, okay?"

It was Sam's voice but it wasn't coming from the other side of the sealed door. In fact it didn't seem to be coming from anywhere, arriving at Dean's brain without the benefit of passing through his ears.

"Smart ass, huh?" Dean challenged at the bottom of the stairs, eyes tracking every corner of the filthy old basement. The lights were flickering and he pulled his flashlight out and held it in his free hand, just in case. He really didn't want to be locked down here in total darkness. "Think you're gonna read my mind?"

"It's just a talker."

His own voice, like a memory in his head.

"That's right," he agreed aloud. "Just a talker. No big deal."

"You're not taking this seriously enough."

"No, no," he said sarcastically. "You got me wetting my pants here, buddy, really. This is some scary stuff."

"Where's Sammy?"

His dad's voice now, worried, frightened. Dean glanced again at the closed door, hoping that whatever this thing knew it couldn't reach his brother outside. And then his dad's voice was coming at him quick and fast, each sentence overlapping the other, making Dean's head spin.

"Take care of your brother, Dean."

"Look after Sammy."

"Sammy's too little to do it, Dean, help him."

Dean shook his head to clear it. "What is this?" he muttered irritably. "The Greatest Hits of Dean's brain? Volumes one to ten available now for this low low price?"

"How can I ever trust you again?"

This one rang around the basement and Dean felt a shock of surprise jolt through him. His father's voice had never been so clear. Nor the anger and pain in it.

"How can I ever trust you again? You're his brother, Dean, his big brother. It's disgusting."

"Oh you shut up," Dean gritted out, spinning around and staring into the dark corners of the closed in space. "And get the hell out of my head!"

"How can I ever trust you again?"

"He's twelve years old, Dean."

"I saw what I saw, Dean, do you think I'm a fool?"

"You damn well better not have touched him, if I thought for one minute that you had

…"

Heavy breathing, his dad's breathing and suddenly it was all there like yesterday for Dean, the alley by that motel, the fetid smell of trash cans gone years unwashed, the feel of his dad's big fist bunching up the collar of his shirt.

"Because if I thought for one minute that you had, that he'd seen even a glimpse of this filth in your head you would wake up tomorrow and we would be gone, boy. And I'd make damn sure you never saw either of us again."

"Please, Dad," Dean muttered, shaking his head. "Please, I didn't. I wouldn't, Dad." Trash crunched under his trainers as he backed up against the wall of the alley, tears blinding him.

"It's disgusting."

"He's your brother!"

"Dad, please!" The tang of salt in his mouth from tears, the sting of horrified humiliation on his cheeks, flecks of his father's spittle on his his burning skin as John Winchester leaned over and hissed in his face.

"It's disgusting."

Suddenly a wind was tearing through the room, lifting decades of dust and trash. There was a bright light and a whine like high voltage electricity sparking out.

And that last whisper in his head, lingering like an echo.

"Disgusting."

"Dean!" Sam was clattering down the stairs and folding long legs as he dropped to his knees in front of him. Only then did Dean realize he was on his knees on the bare concrete floor, the chill of the basement sending shivers up his thighs and into his chest. Again Dean didn't need his EMF reader to tell him the spirit was gone. Only the normal chill of a dank old basement remained.

"Dean, you okay?" Sam's voice was anxious and his hands were gripping Dean's shoulders as he swayed.

"Yeah," Dean found his voice, embarrassed when it came out rough. He cleared his throat, characteristic pride kicking in then. "Yeah, I'm fine," he said more firmly, shrugging away supporting hands and heaving himself to his feet. "Is it done?" he asked, although he knew the answer.

"It's done," Sam confirmed, studying his face anxiously.

Dean nodded, trying to regain his equilibrium, to bring himself back to the present. Only moments ago he'd been reliving a nightmare ten years past and now here he was, a grown man, and the nightmare was behind him. He glanced around the dank old room.

"No way was that thing just a Whispering Spirit," he said angrily, feeling the dull ache still throbbing at his temples. "Man, I was somewhere else for a minute there!"

"Starting to have a little bit more sympathy for Tamaki? Sam asked, his voice flat. "Imagine that torture for hours," he continued, hands still hovering around his brother's swaying form.

"Yeah," Dean said gruffly, frowning through the headache at the curiously even tone in his brother's voice. There was a hesitation in Sam's face as well, something in the way he wasn't meeting his brother's eyes that had Dean's spidey sense tingling.

"You, uh." He swallowed, hoping against hope that he was wrong. "You didn't hear any of that. Did you?"

Sam didn't even have to answer in words, his always expressive face turned first apologetic and then embarrassed. He still wasn't quite meeting Dean's eyes and the older man felt his heart sink.

"I think it wanted me to hear, Dean," Sam said hesitantly. "I, um, think it was trying to distract me from the exorcism."

"Great," Dean muttered, rubbing at the ache that had moved behind his eyes. "Nobody told me I was getting an audience for those deepest darkest parts." He shivered again at the damp chill in the room. "Come on, let's get the hell out of this stinkin' hole."

"Yeah," Sam said fervently. "Good idea."

Dean was never so glad to leave a place in his whole life.

Sam followed.

666

"Dean," Sam began as he started the car. He hadn't asked, just pulled his own keys out and opened the driver's door. Dean didn't argue, he just wanted to burn rubber and leave this place behind him.

"Sammy, can you do me a favor?" Dean said, dropping his head back onto the headrest. "Can we just not do this?"

There was silence for a long minute as Sam pulled out onto the highway and pointed the Impala back towards their motel.

"Not here," Sam finally agreed.

Dean straightened and shot his brother a serious look. "Not anywhere?" he appealed quietly, but Sam was shaking his head.

"Sorry," he said briskly.

"Yeah, right," Dean sighed, dropping his head back again. "Figures, the way my luck's been running. I should have pressed Tamaki for more details. When the guy talked about being ripped open I thought he was just being a drama queen, you know?"

"It didn't hurt you?" Sam asked anxiously, taking his eyes off the wet road for a moment and scanning his brother's drooping form.

"Not a finger, just like Tamaki said," Dean reassured him. "No, this was a whole lot worse. At this point I'd almost prefer the physical ripping open."

"Don't even joke about it," Sam frowned and Dean felt a twist of shame. Jessica, right. He could still close his eyes and see her on that ceiling, slashed from one side of her belly to the other. He could only imagine what that memory must have been like for Sam, who'd loved her.

"Sorry, man," he muttered. The lights flashed onto the door of their motel room as Sam pulled the Impala into the spot by their door. Ground floor motels were always first choice, in case of a quick getaway. They lived out of their car, after all. The motels were just places to shower and sleep.

Had it only been a few hours since they checked in? It seemed much longer.

"I need a shower," Dean said as he unlocked the motel door and groped for the light switch.

"Not yet," Sam said, stepping in behind him and closing the door with a click. Dean was reminded of the spirit sealing him into that damn basement and he felt his heart growing leaden in his chest. When was this crappy night ever going to end?

"Look, Sam," he said, trying for firmness. "We're not doing this, okay?"

"Why, because you say so?" Sam demanded, one brow raised.

Dean widened his eyes in an 'duh' expression. "Well, yes."

"Well that's not good enough, Dean. I think I have the right to some answers here."

"Jeez, Sam," Dean sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. "Why does everything have to be a freakin' drama with you, huh? It was nothing!"

"Nothing?" Sam repeated dubiously.

"Nothing," Dean repeated, plastering his best innocent expression on his face.

"So, nothing had you on your knees back there?"

Dean rolled his eyes. "Oh, man."

"And nothing had you shaking like a leaf and saying you felt like you'd been ripped open?" Sam continued relentlessly.

Dean set his jaw. "You're not a lawyer yet, Sammy," he drawled sarcastically. "You don't get to cross examine me here." With a rough push he was past his brother and grabbing a handful of clean clothes off the dresser. "And for the record nobody told me everything I said was gonna be taken down and used as evidence against me."

"Dean!" Sam returned angrily but Dean was already slamming the bathroom door in his brother's face and twisting the cheap old lock with a vicious flick of his wrist.

"You can't stay in there forever," Sam called relentlessly through the door.

"Ah, go suck an egg," Dean muttered, cranking the shower up to full to drown out his annoying brother's voice. With a grimace he stripped off his clothes, wondering if he was still suffering the lingering effects of whatever the hell that Whispering Spirit had done to him. That stinking garbage smell from that long ago alley seemed to be lingering on his skin, in his clothes. Absently he rubbed at his throat and then glanced in the fly specked old mirror over the sink. Was there even an imprint there, that red mark from his dad's knuckles digging into his neck as he twisted Dean's t-shirt tighter and tighter?

Slowly Dean looked up and met his own eyes in the mirror, his irritation with his annoying brother fading under the onslaught of the bitter old memories the spirit had stirred up. Man, that had been some night, not the least because he couldn't ever remembering his father laying a hand on him in anger before.

His dad had always been able to say so much more with a frown or a disappointed look than a slap ever could have. And that night he had been the angriest and most disappointed that Dean had seen him since that memorable night when he'd come face to face with the consequences of his disobedience and seen that they were consequences that could have taken Sammy to the grave.

Dean swallowed hard, shutting his eyes against his own reflection. It was over, it was past. He was not going to let that whispering sonuva bitch win this battle. He was not going to let the past overwhelm him now.

This resolve lasted until he stepped out of the steaming bathroom into the hotel room and found Sam standing right where he'd left him, arms still firmly crossed.

"Aw, come on," Dean appealed. "You heard me coming and just jumped back up to stand there, right?"

"You ready to talk?" Sam said, face stony.

"Well, let me check," Dean returned with a smirk. "Has hell frozen over yet?"

Sam dropped his stance and sank to the edge of the bed with a weary sigh, leading Dean to revise his opinion that the defiant attitude had all been for his benefit. The stubborn little shit probably had been standing there all the time.

"You know it wouldn't kill you to open up to me, just once," Sam sighed.

Dean dropped down to the opposite bed. "It might," he returned seriously.

Sam looked at him with those sympathetic eyes that did the trick in their work and sadly had always been able to twist his big brother around his finger as well. Although he'd have died under torture rather than admit it.

"Dean, man, if I thought it would do any good I'd let this go, I really would. But I can't unhear what I heard. This isn't gonna go away. And, dude?" he said, with one of his annoyingly cute sideways smiles. "Whatever you tell me can't be any worse than what I'm imagining right now."

"You think so?" Dean muttered, sensing manipulation but hating the fact that he could see his dumb brother's point here.

"Look, Dean, you know I've had my secrets too," Sam reminded him softly.

"Yeah, and you said you needed to keep them," Dean returned indignantly, that revelation still stinging a little even after all this time.

"Yes, I did," Sam agreed. "But when the time was right I told you, didn't I? When I needed your help?"

"The difference being, I don't need your help," Dean said swiftly.

Sam set his jaw and stared him down.

"What?" Dean said irritably.

"This Whispering Spirit. It killed people, Dean. It got into their heads and it dragged out this deep dark crap and it killed them."

Dean puffed out a breath. "Look, Sam, I'll admit, I was... shaken back there. But, dude. I'm not suicidal!"

Sam was still staring him down and Dean met the fierce glance head on. Yeah, they had been some seriously shitty memories stirred up, and equally, yeah, he was glad he hadn't had hours of it like those previous victims.

"It was five minutes, Sammy," he said quietly. "I'm not gonna off myself over five minutes, no matter how bad it was."

"So it was bad," Sam said, and it wasn't a question. "And it was true."

Dean shrugged. "It was also over and done with ten years ago," he said firmly.

A frown flickered over Sam's brow. "Ten years?" he said slowly.

"Yeah, I thought you heard that."

"I must have missed that part." Sam's voice and eyes grew distant and Dean frowned, finding himself in the position of trying to read his brother's face.

"I was twelve," Sam murmured and Dean's heart sank. Why couldn't he have kept his big mouth shut? What the hell was going through Sam's mind now?

Suddenly Sam's attention was focused back on him like a laser. "Dean, please. I really need to know what this is about."

"Why?"

Sam swallowed hard. "Because I have my own secret that's ten years old," he said urgently. "And, god, now everything that spirit poured into my brain is making sense. Dean." He leaned forward urgently. "Dean, please."

"Oh, so now this is about you?" Dean said in exasperation. "Why doesn't that surprise me? I'll make a deal with you, Sammy. You keep your secret and I'll keep mine. Okay?"

Sam shook his head. "No," he said with deadly seriousness. "Not any more. Some secrets need to be kept, some secrets we take to the grave."

"Trust me, this is one of those," Dean asserted.

"But some secrets are like wounds, Dean," Sam said huskily. "They fester."

Dean studied his brother's serious face, rubbing his hand over his mouth and feeling the rasp of stubble against his palm. He needed a shave.

"You're not gonna let this go, are you?"

"I've let a lot of things go, Dean. I've let a lot of moments slide by when we should have been talking instead of joking. Cos, you know what? I'm not really as fond of the emotional blood-letting as you seem to think."

Dean shrugged a tiny acknowledgement of the fact that maybe he'd exaggerated his brother's girly tendencies slightly.

"And because I know you so well," Sam continued, voice a little dryer now. "And I know that you'd rather be ripped apart by wild horses than talk about your feelings."

"Go with that instinct, Sammy," Dean hinted.

"But this I can't let go. I need to talk about this, Dean."

"Oh. well, as long as you need it," Dean drawled sarcastically, but his heart wasn't in it.

Sam just stared at him again and Dean had to acknowledge one thing, his brother did know him. Better than anyone on earth. He knew when to push and he knew when to back off and he knew when Dean was teetering on the edge and really really had to make that move himself because he would not be pushed.

"I suppose you do need to hear some of it," Dean finally acknowledged, as if the afore mentioned wild horses really were being employed to drag it out of him. "I mean, god knows what flights of fancy your Literature 101 brain is gonna make over whatever it is that you heard."

"Yeah," Sam agreed. Well, at least he had the good sense not to look smug.

"And I suppose we can't take the risk of misunderstandings, not when I need you focused and watching my back."

And the wry twist of Sam's lips said he knew that Dean was bringing it all back to work, like he always did and for a moment Dean looked at Sam and knew what he was thinking and Sam raised a brow back at him and said with a glance that he knew Dean knew.

It was a complicated, brotherly moment that might have gone either way but ended with rueful grins when Sam huffed a small laugh and Dean made a face and then smiled back at him.

"Asshole," he muttered.

"Jerk," Sam shot back.

Dean looked around the cramped little room. "God, I need beer."

666

"First of all I'm guessing it was real, right?" Sam asked hesitantly. "I mean, that was really stuff Dad said to you?"

Dean closed his eyes. "Sammy, you have no idea how much I wish I could lie to you right now. It wasn't exactly my finest moment."

"I never heard Dad talk to you that way," Sam ventured and Dean opened his eyes and met his brother's concerned gaze. "He was pretty harsh." Sam said sympathetically.

"He figured I deserved it," Dean muttered. "Hell, I figured I deserved it at the time." He took a deep breath. "Look, Sam. It is what it is. I'm just gonna lay it all out for you. Then I'd appreciate it if we never talk about it again. Okay?"

Sam looked back at him steadily and raised one eyebrow.

Okay, so he wasn't going to get any promises. Fine.

"I was sixteen," Dean began painfully. "Sixteen, man. A walking hormone. But unlike other sixteen year old boys I didn't get to date, or go steady or even talk to a girl, unless she was crying about her father being possessed or something."

Sam's lopsided smile was sympathetic and Dean felt a rush of gratitude. Who understood this better than Sammy after all?

"Hell, I don't have to dress it up – you were right there with me. No matter what life we were living we were just normal kids, with all the normal needs and urges. But there we were, living on the road most of the time, one crappy motel room after another…" His eyes tracked around the current crappy motel room and he snorted a small chuckle.

Sam tilted his head and smiled his agreement back.

"And I had no privacy, man!" Dean recalled. "No time to myself, hell, most of the time I didn't even have a bed to myself. And I am so dancing around this cos I just don't know how to put it into words," he finished with a groan, putting his head into his hands.

"Then let me make it easier for you," Sam said sympathetically. "I'm pretty sure I heard enough to guess the basics. You felt some kind of… attraction to me""

Dean squirmed. "I don't know that attraction is the right way to put it," he admitted. "Lust might be more accurate."

Sam held out a long fingered hand. "This is so not a reproach, man. But I was twelve."

"I know!" Dean exploded, springing up and pacing the length of the room. "D'you think I don't know how that sounds? How it must have looked to Dad?"

"Let's get back to Dad later," Sam dismissed, rising to step in front of Dean as he paced the small room again. "And like I said, I'm not reproaching you, Dean. I'm trying to understand. Cos I remember myself at twelve, man, and I was all arms and legs and awkward."

"And silky hair and smooth skin and these long legs," Dean said with a groan, sinking back into the chair by the door. "And don't think I don't know how that sounds as well but I swear to god I've never looked at another kid. I swear it. It was just you, Sammy. Hell, back then just about everything was just you."

Sam took the chair on the other side of the table and tilted his head as if listening hard.

"You were my little brother, right? My responsibility," Dean murmured huskily. "You were all that kept me going after Mom..."

"You've always taken care of me," Sam agreed softly.

"We were each other's world." Dean traced a scar on the old wooden table with one idle finger. "Brother, friend, classmate, teacher. With the benefit of hindsight it's not hard to see how the onrush of teenage hormones turned that to lover as well." A flush mantled Dean's face. "At least in my fantasies."

"Must have been a bit harder to rationalize when you were sixteen though."

"Dude you have no idea," Dean breathed fervently. "I thought I was going nuts. Thought I was turning into some kind of monster."

He looked up, fixing his eyes on Sam's, willing him to understand. "But I need you to know, Sam, I need you believe me when I tell you. No matter what I wanted, or fantasized, or what Dad thought he saw, I would never have done anything about it. Sammy you've got to believe that!"

"I do believe it," Sam returned instantly.

Dean searched his brother's eyes, a little surprised at the swift assurance. "You do?"

"Of course I do," Sam said with absolute certainty. "I mean, we fought and argued like all brothers do, Dean, but you never, ever hurt me. Or frightened me. I know you wouldn't have done anything I didn't want back then."

"I'd have cut off my own hand before laying one finger on you, Sammy," Dean whispered thickly.

"I know." There was a pained frown on his brow but Sam gave him one of his lopsided smiles and Dean returned it hesitantly.

"I wish Dad had had your faith,' he said hollowly, feeling that old sting of bitterness and shame.

"That must have really hurt," Sam said quietly "What happened anyway, Dean? What did Dad see that night?"

"I don't know!" Dean admitted wildly. "I swear, it was just like any night. We were playing cards and you were losing, badly as usual."

"You always cheated,' Sam interjected mildly.

Dean flashed him a grin. "All part of the game, little brother. Anyway, we finished playing cards and you said you wanted a shower before bed and no sooner had you disappeared into the bathroom then Dad was grabbing me and dragging me outside next to the car."

"And you hadn't done anything? How did he know?"

"He said he could see it, smell it on me. When I looked at you…" Dean dropped his gaze, humiliated and shamed by the memory. "I tried to tell him that I hadn't done anything, that I wouldn't ever have done anything, but you know what I'm like with him when he goes all GI Joe on me. I just froze up. I couldn't make him understand!" he said, all the old frustration rising up.

"He should have had some faith in you."

Dean shook his head bitterly. "I thought I'd earned a little trust by then, you know? Thought he would have known me better."

"He was scared, Dean. And I'm betting he was feeling pretty damn guilty as well. I mean, he's the one that pulled us into that unnatural life. All that must have been going through his head while he was blaming you."

"I thought it was odd you were defending Dad," Dean said wryly. "Should have known it would all turn out to be his fault. But it was me, okay? I really was feeling those things. Dad did what he thought was best by calling me on it."

"And I should have known you'd be defending him as soon as you got your breath back," Sam said sarcastically. "The man is human, Dean. He makes mistakes. Can't you just admit that he handled things badly that night with you?"

"He did the best he could," Dean said stubbornly.

"Yeah, well so did we. At least he got to choose back then."

There was silence for a few minutes and Sam got up and grabbed another couple of beers from the tiny bar fridge.

"I gotta say," Dean observed, accepting the long neck and twisting the cap off. "You're taking this better than I thought you would. I expected yelling and screaming and possibly busted furniture. But you've been really calm about it all."

"I'm still processing," Sam revealed.

"So I can expect busted furniture later?" He pointed to the TV. "Start with that piece of shit, it's got no reception."

"No busting furniture," Sam said. "I'm not angry."

"You're not?"

"Should I be? It's not like I was hurt in any way shape or form by this. In fact, you probably did us a favor, you and Dad between you anyway."

"How you figure?" Dean took a sip of the beer. It was good and cold.

"Well, that was the year we went to Colorado and stayed for months right? I got a whole semester of school in one place?"

"Yeah, Dad did a few side trips."

"We stayed in places a lot longer for the next couple of years. Dad used to leave and let us stay alone, and when you left school I'd stay by myself if it was a short gig."

"So, what, you figure Dad was doing that because of me?"

"Because of us, Dean," Sam corrected. "Because he must have finally woken up and smelt the coffee. We weren't little kids to be dragged from pillar to post any more. We were men, or nearly men in my case."

"So that's why you're not mad?" Dean questioned, genuinely surprised. "Don't get me wrong, it's just that I've been carrying a load of guilt around about this for years, and then, poof, you're okay with it? No problemo? It's a little anti-climactic, is all."

Sam drew in a nervous breath and gave his brother a sideways glance. "Yeah," he said tentatively. "Well... I guess that's me hoping that when you hear what I have to say you'll return the favor and not end up throwing furniture around the room before sun up."

Dean surveyed him thoughtfully for a second. "Ah, right, I forgot. Little brother has his own secret to confess." He frowned. "Still think it has to do with mine?"

Sam nodded jerkily. His face was pale, his eyes on the scarred table top between them.

Dean whistled under his breath. "That bad?"

"Yeah," Sam said simply. "And ever since we started traveling together again it's been weighing on my mind. And now this, tonight…"

Dean nodded thoughtfully. "It's okay with me, Sammy, if you feel the need to share. But whatever it is don't worry. I mean, you've been really cool about this whole thing. Least I can do is offer you a free pass."

"Uh, you might want to hold off on that," Sam nervously. "Until you hear what I have to say."

"Seriously, Sammy. I just admitted to fantasizing about my little brother. How much worse could it be?"

"This is not a competition, Dean." Sam tilted his head and chuckled hollowly. "Though if it was, I'd win."

"Okay, so now I'm really curious." Dean settled back in his seat, gripping his beer bottle casually. He gestured expansively. "Spill."

Now the time had come Sam seemed reluctant to talk. He rubbed his hands up and down his long jean-clad thighs and finally stood nervously and crossed the room. "That night," he began quietly. "The night Dad had his little talk with you? Well… It might not have been just about you, Dean."

Dean was watching the nervous pacing curiously. "What do you mean?"

"I'm saying that he might not have just seen that… attraction from you. That it cut both ways."

Dean squinted. "You serious?"

"Yes," Sam nodded and then hurried into speech. "And see, that would explain why he was so hard on you that night. Bad enough to see that on his oldest son's face, but to see it reflected in his youngest? No wonder he freaked. And it's typical of Dad that he'd hold you responsible for it. It took him a long time to accept I wasn't a little kid any more."

Dean held up his hands for a time out. "Hold on, hold on. Back up, let me get this straight. You had a thing for your big brother?"

Sam lifted one shoulder in an apologetic shrug.

"And big brother had a thing for little brother?" Dean mused. "Dude, we really were fucked up."

"No, really fucked up would have been us doing something about it."

"Don't even joke," Dean said ruefully.

"I'm not joking," Sam confessed. He bit his lip then nervously met his brother's eyes. "I fucked up, Dean."

Dean studied him narrow eyed. "You fucked up," he repeated slowly. "How?"

Sam sat back down on the edge of the bed and buried his face in his hands. "God," he muttered.

Dean frowned and studied his brother's dejected expression with concern. Sam had been worrying the hell out of him lately, with his dreams and his visions and his black moods. But through it all Dean had never seen him quite as he was now, shoulders hunched, his body curled in on itself. He was in real pain and it clutched Dean right in his heart. If he had one Achilles Heel it was his little brother hurting.

"Sammy," he said quietly, crossing back to the beds and taking his seat opposite his brother. Their positions were reversed from minutes earlier when Dean had acknowledged that he would be making his own confession.

"Sammy, settle down, okay? It's me. You already have that Get Out Of Jail Free card. What did you do that was so bad?"

"I assaulted you," Sam muttered through his fingers.

Dean considered this. "I think I might have remembered being assaulted, Sam."

Sam dropped his hands and met his brother's eyes, his own hazel orbs red rimmed and wet. "Not if you were drunk enough," he whispered.

"Oh." Dean absorbed this with a considering nod, the implications sinking in. "Ohhh."

Tears trickled slowly out of Sam's eyes. "I'm so sorry," he murmured.

"Assault, huh?" Dean pondered the word while his mind raced. "So, what are we talking about here?"

Sam swallowed hard and looked down at his hands. Dean took pity on his brother's unease and ventured a guess, with his characteristic humor.

"Did you take a quick peek?" he asked lightly.

A patch of red bloomed on each of Sam's cheeks but he didn't look up. He nodded once.

"A bit of a grope?"

Brighter red now and another sharp nod.

Suppressing the bizarre images flooding through his mind and trying to keep the conversation firmly on track Dean studied his brother's bent head. Sam was the very picture of guilt.

"Was your mouth involved at some point?"

"Oh god," Sam's groan was muffled by his hands. "I'm so sorry."

"Damn," Dean said, surprised despite himself. "But not your… He trailed off until Sam lifted his head and peered at him through swollen eyes. Dean pointed down to his brother's crotch.

"No! Well." Sam grimaced. "Not exactly."

"Not exactly," Dean repeated. "Um, more information please."

"Well, I… came," Sam confessed. "And you came."

"Glad I got something out of it."

"But I didn't rape you or anything."

"Yeah, cos I think I would have remembered that." Dean considered it. "Or at least noticed I was walking funny the next day. So I came, huh? We talking hand job? Blow job?"

Sam's voice was a ghost of itself. "Uh… both."

"Both? Wow, I really scored. Shame I wasn't awake to enjoy… Uh, no, scratch that. Thank god I wasn't awake to enjoy it. What were you thinking?"

"Same as you," Sam said wildly. "Like you said before. You were everything to me, Dean. I loved you! I wanted to be just like you. And, well, to be honest…" His voice faltered a little. "I was a disgustingly horny teenager who found himself with the keys to the candy shop. And there you were."

"And so conveniently unconscious," Dean finished dryly. "When the hell did this happen, anyway?"

Sam sniffed and rubbed at his damp face miserably. "When we were near the Canadian border," he said thickly. "Dad told you to be back at six and then he got a call from Jefferson. Remember? He left me at the motel to wait for you but…"

"But I didn't know he'd split and I stayed out at that dive," Dean recalled.

"You rolled in at midnight and passed out on the bed."

"Dad gave me hell for it when he got home the next day," Dean mused. "Said I should have learned by now not to leave you vulnerable all damn night. Little did he know, hey?"

Sam's chin quivered and then he was burying his face in his hands again and this time the tears were fast and furious. "I'm so sorry," he moaned.

"Jeez, Sam," Dean said helplessly. "Quit the waterworks, man, come on. I was just joking. I reserve the right to get some fun out of this."

"I'm just so sorry," Sam repeated desperately. "I let you down. I betrayed your trust."

"Well, yeah, you did," Dean conceded. "But you were twelve, dude. Cut yourself some slack."

"All those things you said. About how you would have cut off your hand rather than hurt me…" Sam gripped his knees with fingers like claws and gazed down at the worn carpet between them. "And I knew that. I trusted you with my life, Dean."

Dean was getting really worried now. Sam seemed lost in a world of his own, cheeks burning red with color but pale underneath.

"Look, Sammy, just calm down, okay? No harm done. It's not like I was scarred for life or anything. I don't even remember."

Sam looked up at him desperately. "That just makes it worse," he said hoarsely. "Because after I screwed up so bad, the one person I really needed, the one person I could always tell anything to, was the one I'd wronged so badly."

"Let's not get all movie of the week here," Dean counseled, rising and sitting on the bed next to his brother. He raised a hand and laid it on Sam's shoulder, squeezing as hard as he dared to convey his concern.

Sam sought his gaze again, swollen eyes locking to his own.

"And I couldn't talk to you about it, Dean. I could never tell you. I was so afraid you'd hate me."

"Not gonna happen, Sammy. That could never happen," Dean reassured him confidently, but Sam wasn't listening or maybe just not hearing.

"But I hated myself enough for both of us," he went on lowly. "I stood by that bed afterwards and looked at you, fast asleep and trusting. I felt like the worst of the things Dad taught us how to hunt. I was the monster that scared little kids under the bed. I was evil."

"Sam?" Dean pleaded, gripping his brother's shoulder harder, trying to break this mood. He didn't know what to do, this had all gotten out of hand so quickly.

"I couldn't bear it," Sam continued remorselessly. "I just knew I couldn't face you again. I can still feel how it felt," he whispered to his brother. "How cold it was. I can still taste the gun oil on my tongue."

Dean's world froze in an instant, his heart turning to ice in his chest.

"You what?"

"I went and got my .45 and locked myself in the bathroom," Sam said tonelessly, eyes still locked on Dean's but glazed over as he looked at the terrible memory. "I looked in the mirror and put the gun in my mouth…"

"What the hell are you saying?" Dean exploded. He caught both Sam's shoulders now and shook him, hard. "Sam, what are you saying?"

His hair flopped into his eyes as Sam was physically shaken out of his stupor.

"Dean?" he stuttered.

"Are you fucking kidding me?" Dean yelled into his brother's frightened face. "Are you telling me you were gonna kill yourself over this?"

"I-I-I was scared," Sam stuttered. "I was ashamed."

"I don't care!" Dean over rode him loudly. "I don't care what you were feeling! Nothing is worth that, Sam!" He shook his brother again, wide shoulders seeming frail under his angry hands. "God!" he roared as tears spilled from Sam's eyes again.

"God!" he shouted again and dragged Sam into his arms roughly. He held him tightly as if he was trying to hold onto both the confused young man in his arms and the frightened youth in his memories. Sam quivered and shook against him and then finally collapsed, his long lean body curving into his brother's embrace, sharp chin dropping to his brother's shoulder.

"Dammit, Sam," Dean said, voice breaking like a wave from rage to grief. "Dammit. When I think of you like that, so scared, and me sleeping just a few feet away…"

He pulled back and slipped his hands to Sam's face, holding him firmly and gazing into the familiar eyes. "Look at me, Sammy. And I want you to listen to me."

Sam's attention fixed upon him completely. His eyes were wide open and swimming with tears.

"Nothing you could ever do would stop me loving you. Do you hear that?"

Sam nodded jerkily under his hands.

"Nothing you could ever do is worth killing yourself over. You hear that?"

Sam nodded again, chin quivering. "I know that," he murmured. "I knew it then. I didn't do it, did I?"

"You're damn lucky you didn't," Dean said fiercely. "I would have hauled your sorry ass back from hell and kicked the crap out of it."

"I was just ashamed," Sam said brokenly and Dean cursed under his breath and pressed Sam back into the curve of his shoulder. "It was the worst thing I ever did, Dean. And I did it to you, the one person I should never have hurt."

"I think you hurt yourself a lot more than you did me," Dean muttered, feeling the lean body still trembling against him. "Damn, Sammy. You been carrying this load around for the last ten years?"

Sam nodded, face pressed into his brother's neck.

"Damn," Dean said again.

"Do you forgive me?" Sam asked thickly.

"Course I do," Dean shot back. "Course I forgive you, idiot. I'm just sorry you spent years kicking your own ass over this." He grinned and rubbed his brother's hair roughly. "That's my job."

Sam huffed a small laugh although his chest still shook with the aftermath of his sobs.

"You know, Sammy," Dean said, letting the rough stroke turn into a quick caress. "You are not an easy gig, no sir."

Sam pulled back and blinked sleepily into Dean's eyes.

"See this?" Dean selected a hair on his own head at random and tugged just enough to expose it but not pull it out. "It's a gray hair, courtesy of you."

Sam huffed another little laugh and laid his cheek back on his brother's shoulder.

"Sorry, Dean," he said dutifully.

Now Dean chuckled. "You sounded about twelve then," he observed. "After you broke one of my things or touched my weapons it'd always be the same. 'Sorry, Dean,' you'd say, then blink those innocent eyes at me."

"I think I was about twelve just then," Sam mused. "And that was a ten year old apology that I owed you."

"Apology accepted," Dean said softly.

They sat for a few moments, watching the moon's light creeping over the worn old carpet.

"Hey," Dean murmured. "You okay?"

Sam sniffed and raised his head, straightening his lanky young body. "Yeah," he said quietly. "You?"

Dean shrugged, oddly missing the warm weight down one side of him. "Yeah," he agreed. "Are we okay?"

Sam studied him for long moments and Dean wondered what his younger brother was seeing in his face. He just hoped it wasn't as ravaged as he felt right now.

"Yeah," Sam said, and a small lopsided smile twinkled his dimple in and out.

"Then take your turn in the shower. Then we sleep and eat and find more beer. In that order."

"Okay," Sam agreed, standing with a stretch.

"And Sammy?" Dean stood too, reached out and drew his brother in for another tight embrace. When he let him go Sam had the small frown on his smooth forehead and that tilt to his head that meant he was trying to figure something out.

"That's the apology-accepted hug that I owed you. From ten years ago. And a warning. If you ever make me talk about my feelings again I won't be responsible for my actions."

Sam twinkled another dimple. "You told me you loved me," he teased then danced out of the way of a punitive noogey.

"I'm warning you!" Dean shook his fist in a mock threat as his brother nimbly dodged and disappeared into the bathroom.

The door closed and the sound of the shower filtered through as Dean flopped backwards onto the bed and drew one hand over his eyes.

"We are so screwed."

666

They didn't say much before they slept or as they shaved and dressed hours later. But that wasn't so unusual, neither of them were exactly morning people. Especially after a night like the one before. In fact Dean didn't even feel like his eyes were all the way open until he'd gulped down that first shot of coffee. He took another grateful sip and turned his attention on Sam who was perusing the diner's menu.

"You sleep okay?"

Sam tilted his head in consideration. "Yeah," he said, sounding surprised.

"See," Dean teased slyly. "Confession is good for the soul."

Sam gave his lopsided smile. "Huh. What d'you know."

"Hey, remember once you said we were fairly well adjusted, all things considered? Still think that?"

"Well," Sam said thoughtfully. "Remember, I knew my secret when I said that, so yes. I do. You?"

"Well I knew my secret too," Dean shot back.

Sam's face was contemplative. "I thought we agreed that my secret was totally better than your secret," he said mildly.

Dean felt a jolt of surprise at the deadpan delivery and then a shot of happiness as Sam's dimple made another sneaky appearance.

"Competitive bitch," Dean smirked.

"All part of the game, big brother."

As Dean picked up his menu he couldn't help grinning.

Maybe they weren't so screwed after all.

END