Title: I See the Moon

Author: Shan/LJ:Kaylennz

Rating: PG-13 for language mostly

Genre: AU. Pre-slash: there's more than just brotherly love explored in this fic. If the idea of a more romantic interest between the boys is offensive to you in any way - I really don't want to hear about it. Just don't read, okay? Simple as that. Everyone else, enjoy!

Summary: Dean gets his chance at normal.

A/N: This story is finished and will be posted daily until complete. Thank you to kasman for her excellent beta skills. She made this story better. And thank you to Kadysn for doing an initial read through and additional beta work and cheerleading. Check out the icon on my bio page for a sample of Kady's art work.

I'm very excited about this story. I hope you enjoy!

-wWw-

"Come on, Sam. It's still early."

Sam Winchester closed the rear door of the Camry and turned to face the slightly inebriated blonde who hung out of the window.

"We've only just begun to celebrate," Jess slurred, tripping adorably over her words.

Sam smiled at her affectionately and kissed her cheek. "You never could handle your liquor." Chuckling at her pout of indignation he added, "Lush."

Jessica swatted at him playfully, missing him entirely. Sam looked to Dave, designated driver by virtue of a coin toss earlier in the evening, a very unfair and rigged coin toss the young man had bemoaned throughout the evening. Repeatedly. How do you rig a coin toss anyway? And why, oh why, did that thought bring forth, unbidden, an image of his older brother. Yeah, I wonder he thought with affection.

His low-grade buzz and the emotional high of the day were making him nostalgic. Dipping his chin to Dave, the closest person to a best friend in his years at Stanford, he said, "Take care of her."

Dave opened his mouth to respond when Jess gave a loud hiccup from the backseat. He tossed her an indulgent look over his shoulder and met Sam's gaze. His voice was soft, serious. "You know I will."

There was nothing more to say to that so Sam turned to leave. Jess grabbed his hand. Her expression was serious, her beautiful face glowing with the after-effects of one too many Singapore Slings. "Keep in touch, Sam.

When he nodded but didn't quite meet her gaze, she turned it into a command. "I mean it, Samuel Winchester."

"Whoa, she's pulling out the big guns now, man. First and last name proper, you're in trouble now, Winchester," Dave chuckled from the front seat.

Feeling a little indulgent himself, Sam looked her in the eye. Jess repeated herself and gave his hand a tug to reiterate her point. "I mean it."

"I know." It was an acknowledgment, not a promise, but it seemed to please her and she released his hand. He held it out to Dave waiting for the other man to shake it. "It's been real, man."

"That it has, dude." Dave held his gaze, searching. Close as they'd become over the years, there was a part of himself that Sam never shared. With anyone. Dave regarded him fondly, his look questioning whether or not he'd ever truly gotten to know the real Sam Winchester. It warmed Sam to realize that the man had given him his friendship regardless. "That it has."

Never one for long drawn out goodbyes, Sam took a step back from the curb as a signal for Dave to depart. Taking the hint, Dave released the emergency break and shifted to first gear before speaking again.

"Hey man…be sure to…you know…" Sam arched a brow at Dave's pause, wondering what variation of Jess's words he would choose. Apparently unable to find anything appropriate, the man grinned and gave a backward nod to Jess. "What she said."

"You got it."

Sam watched them drive away, Jessica's long blonde tresses in wild disarray as she kept her place at the window – giving him a final wave as they rounded the corner and disappeared from sight.

For a long moment, he just stood there. Lost. Then glancing at his watch, he sighed. At 1:00 am his options were few, but sleep was the last thing on his mind. He graduated today. From Stanford University. The thought brought an immediate smile to his face. All of his hard work and dedication had finally paid off. He was now free to begin the normal life that he had for so long craved.

As fun and challenging as his college experience had been, Sam had always known that it was temporary. For five years, his life had been in academic limbo while he gained the knowledge and accreditation that he would need to make his mark in the real world. It would be an entirely different mark than he had originally set out to make, but one that he very much looked forward to exploring.

Sam Winchester had gone to Stanford with the intention of getting a law degree. Instead he'd found his true calling in teaching and managed in five years to walk away with a master's degree in Education. At this very moment he was qualified to teach the grade level of his choice in any school or university of his choice.

He should have been happy. He was happy. Or he would have been if it didn't feel as if something were missing. Or someone. Sam reminded himself that it had been his decision to cut off contact with his family. He'd needed a fresh start. He needed to be able to focus on his education without being pulled back into the world of hunting and all it entailed.

And most of all, he'd needed to come to an understanding with his feelings for Dean.

He hadn't told Dean straight out not to call or not to visit. Not in so many words. His silence and refusal to answer his cell phone the one and only time Dean had called apparently spoke volumes to his brother. He'd been at Stanford for less than a month when Dean called. Denying himself that contact - that chance to reconnect, refusing the likely reassurance his brother would no doubt give - had been one of the hardest things he'd ever done. Hard, but necessary. At least, that's what he told himself. Besides, in the back of his mind he knew that Dean would always be there. Waiting. Sam just needed some space. Dean would call again. And maybe the next time, Sam would be ready to reopen that door. But as the one month blurred into another and semesters came and went, Sam began to question his decision.

Two years rolled by with no cards, no letters, and no calls. Sam couldn't help himself - he'd started to worry. It was all too easy to imagine any number of things that could have befallen his brother. Surely something had happened to prevent Dean from at least checking in on his little brother.

Surprisingly, it was thoughts of John that calmed Sam and kept him from reaching out to Dean. Despite his last explosive confrontation with his father and the hurtful ultimatum that had been thrown down, Sam instinctively knew that John would never truly abandon him. In time, he had come to realize that his father had spoken more out of fear than anger. Fear that he would not be able to protect his boy unless he remained at his side. Fear of the unknown. Fear of losing control. Just fear.

An enlightening revelation to say the least. One that had effectively cooled the last burning ember of resentment he'd held toward the man. Though it had been years since John had come right out and said the words, once Sam really thought about it, it was evident in a thousand little details over the course of his life that John Winchester loved his boys.

Sam knew that if anything had happened to Dean, his dad would have notified him. No. Dean was simply honoring Sam's wishes. The precedent that Sam himself had set when he'd refused to take Dean's first call, his only call. The reassurance of that conclusion both soothed and saddened him.

Buzz fading and mood melancholy, Sam strolled slowly up the walk towards his apartment. The disappointment hadn't really set in until now. While he'd not let himself go there in the days leading up to graduation, he could fully admit it to himself now; Sam had expected both John and Dean to show for the ceremony. With the exception of his first few weeks of adjustment to campus life, never had he so keenly longed for the familiarity of their presence.

Five long years he had held Dean at arms length, without contact, so he could sort out his feelings. Meeting Jess had only confused and delayed the inevitable. For a time, Sam truly believed he was in love with Jessica - and he did, on so many levels, love her - but she was not the person he dreamt about. She was not the person Sam saw when he imagined his future. Jessica Moore was smart and beautiful and sexy as hell…but when it came right down to it only one thing mattered; she was not Dean.

Sam had finally come to the realization that his brother was the only person that he could ever imagine giving himself to completely. And after five years of silence, Sam Winchester never, for one minute, doubted that Dean would be there, waiting for him to get his shit together, greeting him with a devilish, cocky smile and an understated, "It's about time, bro."

He was about to discover how very wrong he was.

It took a few minutes of standing alone in the dark just inside his door, to realize something was not quite right. Years of disuse and a night of ingesting various alcoholic beverages delayed instincts that he had honed since childhood. Frozen, his eyes scanned the dimly-lit living space, landing on the shadowed silhouette gazing out the window.

"Who's there?" Sam's voice was even and deep - a command to respond.

At ease in the darkness, the shadow turned. "Thought you were going to stand out there all night."

Eyes widening at the familiar baritone, Sam reached for the switch on the wall, a soft yellow glow permeating the room as he spoke. "Dad?"

John's smile was genuine and full of quiet pride. "Son."

In his surprise, Sam hesitated before answering. A smile curved his lips and he strode forward to be engulfed in his dad's tight embrace. He gripped the back of John's coat, smelling sea breeze and peppermint. Unprepared for the flood of warm pleasure he felt at the man's sudden reappearance, Sam held on for far longer he would have considered appropriate at any other time. He felt justified when John seemed just as reluctant to part.

When Sam finally did pull away, he ducked his head, aware that his slightly watery eyes clearly displayed his emotions. He took a moment to rein his emotions in before meeting John's gaze. He needn't have bothered; his father wore a similar emotive expression. Uncomfortable in such emotionally unfamiliar waters, they averted eye contact and separated. The silence stretched, not uncomfortably, until John spoke, his voice rough.

"Last time we spoke, you and I exchanged some pretty harsh words."

"Yes, sir." An echo of that long ago hurt remained. John saw it.

Placing a hand on Sam's shoulder, John searched the familiar features of his son's face in obvious wonder at the maturity that five years apart had brought. He smiled again and slid a warm hand to the back of Sam's neck, squeezing gently.

"I'm proud of you, Sammy."

It was an apology of sorts. Or as much of one as he'd ever heard from his father. He'd take it.

"Thanks." Sam beamed shyly at his father's unexpected words, and then tried to shake it off. "And it's Sam."

The corner of John's mouth quirked, but he refused to comment on the dreaded nickname. Instead, Sam saw a glimmer of mischievousness in John's eye that was so reminiscent of Dean that it almost hurt.

"Whatever you say," John released him, "Professor." He laughed outright at Sam's expression.

Shaking his head, Sam realized he really wasn't surprised. Of course John would keep tabs on him. In fact, his dad probably knew a lot more about his years at Stanford than Sam wanted him to. They moved to the sofa and Sam grabbed a couple of beers out of the refrigerator. John seemed legitimately interested in Sam's change of major so he took the time to discuss how it had all come about. In the back of his mind, Sam wondered if John was as relieved as he that they would never meet in opposite sides of the law. Unlikely as that was, it would just be awkward. John and Dean were just too damn good at what they did to get caught, but Sam earning himself a Law Degree would have drawn a clearly defined line between them that may have separated the family forever. Sam was perfectly aware of this when considering both his future with and his feelings for his brother. In the end, he'd done the only thing he really could; he had followed his heart.

It felt strangely liberating to talk to John about his time at Stanford. There was an odd sense of closure that he hadn't expected, but that was more than welcome. It did not, however, go unnoticed that the conversation was deliberately one-sided. John revealed nothing of what the past five years had held for him. Or for Dean. It was starting to get to Sam. He appreciated the consideration in regard to the hunt, but he wanted information on his brother. Badly.

Ten more minutes of shootin' the shit and Sam could stand it no longer. Legitimately happy to see his father, he'd let the man tip-toe around the issue, but enough was enough. John sensed the shift in his son and met Sam's gaze steadily.

"Where is he, Dad? Where's Dean?"

John just looked at him long and hard. Gauging. Assessing. Resigned. "Took you longer to ask that than I thought it would." If Sam had any doubts that John was unaware of the non-brotherly feelings that his sons shared for one another, his father's tone of voice and knowing gaze dispelled that notion. Oh, he knew. It was clear that John was both confused and conflicted by this aspect of his sons' relationship, perhaps even hoping that time and distance had all but resolved any inappropriate feelings. He had no way of knowing that for Sam, it had only served to solidify his love for Dean.

Sam smiled, but it held no humor. "I was being polite." His tone indicated that he was nearly done being so. He wanted an answer. Now.

In the intervening silence, Sam truly began to worry. "Dad?"

John sighed and stood, walking to the window, his back to his son. Sam waited. He waited for so long that he feared John would not answer. That fear was the only thing that kept his impatience at bay. Another sigh before John spoke, the disapproval of moments before stripped from his voice.

"I haven't spoken to your brother in nearly five years."

Sam blinked. Surely he hadn't heard correctly. Whatever he'd been expecting, that wasn't it. He stared at John, willing him to turn around to explain, unable to find his voice and command him to do so. After a moment, John turned, perhaps sensing the weight of Sam's stare. There was steady resolve in both that gaze and the voice that finally spoke.

"Dean has a life of his own now, Sam. One that doesn't involve hunting – and one that doesn't include me." A pointed pause. "Or you."

What?

At a complete loss, Sam floundered. Trying to work his way beyond the shock of John's news, Sam stumbled over words as he tried to voice his questions. He snapped his mouth shut and did his damnedest to pull it together as John returned to his seat. He had no idea how long it took or how long they sat there in silence while he processed that unexpected bit of news, but he was grateful that John allowed him the time to do so.

Sam had just gotten himself together enough to continue when he caught a glimpse of silver at John's throat, tucked under his t-shirt. He hadn't noticed it before but suddenly found it very odd. Other than his wedding band and a watch, Sam had never known the man to ever wear another piece of jewelry in his life. He was reaching for it before the conscious decision to do so caught up with him. He pulled the simple but sturdy chain free of the fabric and stared in shock. The solid weight of the silver ring was warm against his skin. He recognized it immediately. Oh, God. When he was finally able to meet John's gaze and speak, Sam barely recognized his own voice.

"Where's Dean, Dad?"

-wWw-

It was just shy of 5:00 am when Sam slowed to a stop across the street from the address that John had given him. He'd driven almost straight through from Palo Alto - stopping only when he was in danger of falling asleep at the wheel. From what he could see in the pre-dawn light, it was a nice neighborhood, complete with manicured lawns and white picket fences. The house he eyed for any sign of movement looked just like any other on the street - with the exception of the achingly familiar 1967 Chevy Impala parked in the driveway - looking entirely too much for Sam's comfort like it belonged there.

It was a beautiful home. Sam had seen a picture once a long time ago of their house back in Lawrence. With the exception of the breezeway, this house was eerily similar. He couldn't help but wonder at that. It was nearly impossible for him to imagine Dean being happy let alone comfortable in the suburban existence that his father had mapped out. He had to see it for himself. John had finally understood that. Though his father had made him swear upon all he considered holy and good in the world that he would not, under any circumstances, interfere with any facet of Dean's life. He was sworn to surveillance mode only. As if sensing Sam's willingness to agree to anything to get his old man to give up Dean's whereabouts, John had played to his honor and made him promise. And for his brother's sake, he had agreed to all of John's terms.

For now.

One thing that had not changed about John Winchester in the last five years was his penchant for hoarding secrets and the doling out of information on a need-to-know basis. It was as infuriating now as it had been when Sam was a teenager. The only thing that had stayed his tongue about it now – was the fact that he didn't doubt for one second that his father would clam up completely and share nothing of Dean with him if he pushed it. It wasn't until John felt satisfied that Sam was fully aware of the seriousness of his concerns that he told Sam where Dean was. And why. Scratch that, he told Sam as much as he thought he could handle at that moment. John agreed to explain things more fully when Sam could see for himself why it was no longer an option for him to be a part of his brother's life. It also hadn't escaped Sam's notice that his dad was in full blown, if subtle, protection mode. His father was protecting Dean. From him.

The hell?

He must have fallen asleep pondering the absurdity of why such a scenario would ever be necessary. Sam woke with a start as a car passed him on the quiet street. Running a hand roughly over his face, he tried to blink the remnants of sleep from his eyes and glanced at his watch. It was nearly 7:30. Sitting up straight in his seat, he peered at the house, alert for any sign of movement. A shadow at the window and slight ruffle of the ivory curtain indicated that someone was up and moving. He looked at his watch again dubiously. His Dean was never much of a morning person, unless a hunt required him to be so. Which, in most cases, it did not.

Sam finished off the cold and thoroughly disgusting remains of the coffee he had purchased at the all-night convenience store a few hours ago. He'd kill for a fresh cup, not to mention a shower, but knew that until he actually saw Dean with his own eyes he wouldn't fully believe that his brother was truly all right. At exactly 7:41, Sam's wait came to an end.

Intent on watching the front door, Sam almost missed the familiar figure that exited from the breezeway connecting the house to the garage. Clad in his signature jeans and a dark blue t-shirt, Dean Winchester paused in the early morning sun and lifted his face to the sky. Dean had always been attractive but until that very moment, Sam had forgotten how truly beautiful his brother was. He smiled, eyes prickling, as Dean took a deep breath of fresh air before making his way to the Impala. God, he looked good. Sam felt the ache of each and every year of separation coil in his stomach. Oh how he longed to launch himself from the vehicle and call Dean's name. His fingers wrapped around the steering wheel, holding tightly, to keep from doing just that. His eyes drank in every nuance of movement - catalogued every detail of appearance from sun-kissed skin to that casual, rolling walk that was somewhere between stalk and swagger. And then he heard the unmistakable timbre of Dean's voice.

"Isabella." His voice raised, but not yelling. "Come on, darlin'. We're running late."

Seeing or hearing no response from the house, Sam looked back to where Dean patiently waited. The sound of the door closing brought Sam's focus back to the breezeway. He couldn't see anything at first, due to a strategically placed shrub. Then a small child in a floral jumper and a tumbling array of dirty blonde curls that bounced when she walked made her way reluctantly to the Impala and Dean. Sam's eyebrows rose nearly to his hairline.

No way. It couldn't be.

"But what if he misses me?" the little girl asked, looking up at Dean. She looked about three years old. "He'll be lonely."

"Spooky will be just fine for a few hours, darlin'. I'm betting he'll sleep all day and be ready to party when you get home."

Isabella didn't look overly convinced. "Can't I take him with me?"

"No can do. We talked about this, remember?" Dean's voice was patient as he placed a pink backpack Sam hadn't even noticed he was carrying until now through the window of the Impala and opened the door. "Miss Chloe is allergic to cats. Besides, Spook needs to learn the lay of the land. Namely, his way to the litter box."

"Spooky doesn't like the litter box." Isabella pointed out, unnecessarily by Dean's response.

"I've noticed." When the little girl sighed and looked back towards the house, Sam watched as Dean went down on one knee.

"How about if I come back and check on him at lunchtime. Will that make you feel better?" Isabella looked at him earnestly.

"Will you play with him and give him a kiss for me?" She asked.

"I think I can manage that." Sam could hear the smile in Dean's voice. Apparently agreeable to the compromise, Isabella climbed into the back seat of the car and allowed Dean to strap her into her safety seat.

Seconds later, the Impala roared to life and backed out of the driveway. Sam quickly ducked, making as if to retrieve something from the passenger side floor. He watched as Dean disappeared down the street and around the corner before starting his rental car and following. The Impala was very easy to track, so he kept a good distance. After heading east about four miles, Dean slowed and pulled up next to Miss Chloe's Pre-School and Daycare. Pink backpack in one hand and Isabella's little hand clasped securely in the other, the duo disappeared inside. Sam slowly shook his head at the implications of what he'd witnessed. He felt numb. Somewhere in the back of his mind he made a mental note to thank his father for in no way preparing him for this little…development. John always did prefer the shock factor to outright disclosure. The bastard.

Doing his best to remain positive, Sam tried to convince himself that the child was not Dean's. So his brother had shacked up with someone who had a kid. Dean had always been good with kids. In fact, Sam found it pretty likely that if mommy dearest was relatively hot and proportionately well endowed that a child would be no deterrent at all to Dean. That assessment was more than a little unfair and Sam knew it. He couldn't help it. Fear that he may have lost his chance with Dean, and that his brother had actually found happiness in the arms of someone other than him, was just now beginning to permeate. It made him feel cold. And not the simple turn the heat on in the car cold, no, more like a soul deep I'll never be warm again cold.

Jesus, Sammy, melodramatic much? Sam would have laughed at Dean's voice in his head if the words weren't so damn close to the truth.

He fought the nearly uncontrollable urge to call John and demand all of the details he knew the man was withholding. If it weren't for past experience, he may have done just that. John Winchester didn't explain himself to anyone. Least of all his sons. Sam knew it would get him nowhere. There was something John wanted him to see, some understanding he wanted Sam to come to. Only then would he fill in the blanks and answer his questions. Sam had no choice but to wait. And observe.

Dean exited the preschool still carrying on a conversation with someone inside who was out of Sam's line of sight. He backed out of the building with a final nod and pulled the door shut before walking briskly back to the Impala. Sam marveled at the subtle but obvious bounce in his step. Dean was in a good mood. Once upon a time, that would have been a sure sign of trouble. Sam wasn't sure what it meant now, but he knew that he had to find out.

After a short distance, Dean stopped again and disappeared into a convenience store. He reappeared with coffee and newspaper moments later, pausing to take a large gulp before returning to the car. Sam shook his head with a small affectionate smile. Dean was the only person he knew who could drink scalding coffee like he was tossing back a shot. It was a wonder the man had any working taste buds left in his mouth.

Sam followed the Impala another two miles out of town before he saw Dean turn off. The long stretch of road offered no place for Sam to pull over without drawing attention so he slowed as much as he dared. He watched Dean park the Impala towards the back of the lot, catching sight of the business sign as he passed. Walker's Auto Repair and Custom Body Work. The 'Custom Body Work' looked newer than the rest of the sign, as if it had been added more recently. Sam drove on until he could find an appropriate place to turn around and made another pass. Dean had already disappeared inside so Sam pulled over to get a better look at the business.

The building was large and well maintained and set back from the road. The office area was two stories with large picture windows on both upper and lower levels. The garage was attached with four large bay doors, currently closed. The large lot was paved and filled with a mixture of domestic vehicles in various states of disrepair, and in stark contrast, there were about half a dozen classic or antique cars lined along one edge of the lot. Just by looking at the condition of the building and the work in the lot, it would appear that Walker's business was quite prosperous.

Around 8:30 one of the large bay doors opened. Sam reached for the gear shift, but paused when an older man he didn't recognize exited and walked across the lot to a midnight blue Mustang. The car started easily enough, but even to Sam's untrained ear it sounded...off. He forgot about the car completely when Dean strolled from the building and stood just outside the large door, coffee still in hand. Sam could tell from years of experience as Dean tipped his head that his brother was listening to the Mustang's engine, mind obviously focusing on the potential problem and how to fix it. He was so engrossed in watching Dean that he paid no mind to the few cars that passed by him on the road, until a forest green SUV slowed and turned into the lot.

Dean smiled and lifted his chin in greeting as the vehicle passed him and parked in front of the office. He exchanged a few words with the older gentleman and made his way to the SUV. A petite blonde in her mid to late fifties, Sam surmised, had already stepped from the vehicle and met Dean in front of the office door. Sam watched as Dean lowered his head and allowed the woman to press a quick kiss to his cheek. Dean's body language had always been a telltale sign to Sam of his brother's disposition. It was clear to him now that Dean was not only familiar and comfortable with the public display of affection, but that he held the woman before him in similar regard.

She held a small covered basket out to Dean, who took it with a quick peek inside. Sam could just barely hear the low tones of their voices, but could make out no words. Dean shook his head a little, and Sam heard the woman's voice grow a bit more strident. She looked extremely pleased when he snatched a muffin from the basket and swallowed it in two bites. Dean was nodding and smiling around a mouthful while reaching for another as she gave him a quick pat to the chest. They talked for a few minutes, and again Sam was taken by the comfortable familiarity between the two. He chuckled a little to himself as Dean threw his head back and laughed at something that she said. It was an uninhibited full-bodied laugh that was pure Dean. His memory of it in no way compared to the reality. Such laughter had been rare in the years before Sam left. He smiled around the lump in his throat.

Dean ate another two muffins before handing over the basket to the older guy who joined them. After a few more minutes of smiles and in-jokes that Sam couldn't hear, the trio split with the woman disappearing into the office.

When it became apparent that Dean was going to be staying put for a bit, Sam reluctantly turned back to town to find a hotel and take that long-overdue shower. If he remembered correctly, there was a motel only a couple of miles from Dean's home. And man, didn't that sound weird. Home. That in itself was a foreign concept to Sam who, until his time at Stanford, had never lived anywhere for more than a few months at a time. His home had always been Dean. And he hoped that it would be again.

-wWw-

He made it back to the body shop long before lunch and parked up the road a stretch, watching closely for any sign of the Impala. Even at his relative distance from the shop, Sam could hear the distinct rumble of the familiar engine when it started. Dean pulled out of Walker's just past noon and took a right back to town. Sam followed.

True to his word to Isabella earlier that morning, Dean returned home. He disappeared into the house for less than ten minutes, reappearing with a sandwich in one hand and a duffle in the other. Back in town, Dean spent about forty-five minutes at the local gym. Sam saw several people nod or wave to Dean and his brother even paused to talk to a few different people on his way in and out of the gym. He didn't think he'd ever seen Dean be so sincerely cordial or social. It was really beginning to freak him out. It was one thing to be on a hunt and have Dean role-play the part in an attempt to get information, but it was quite another to witness it in this sense. There were no mischievous glances in Sam's direction, no secret smiles to indicate that it was all a show. Sam kept expecting some outrageous break in Dean's behavior that never came. The warm sense of security he had felt in just seeing Dean after so many years was beginning to fade. In its place was a cold, creeping dread that, while Dean was very much safe and alive, he was lost to Sam all the same. It was beginning to undermine the hope that had all but kept him going since John's news. His father had been adamant that there was no place for him in Dean's life.

Clenching his jaw, Sam firmed his resolve and cursed his moment of doubt. There would always be a place in Dean's life for him. John was wrong. Dean was foremost and forever his brother. That would never change. If that was the only relationship they ever shared – it would be enough. Sam wanted more, there was no denying that, but if brotherly love was all he could have – he would deal with that. He just wanted to be a part of Dean's life.

The rest of the day was more of the same as Dean returned to Walker's and Sam kept his distance. The urge to simply barge into Dean's life had passed and Sam was slowly beginning to understand why John had insisted that he not interfere. Things would have to be handled a little more delicately than he had originally thought. He wouldn't know for sure how much so until he had all the details. And it irked him that John still held those cards. Sam was pulled from his reverie by the distinct rumble of the Impala and was startled to find that it was just shy of 5:00. He grabbed a Granola bar from the almost empty box on the seat next to him and set out to tail his brother once again.

The trip was the exact same as the morning drive, but in reverse. It took about twelve minutes to pick up Isabella and another ten back to the house. Sam drove by the house as Isabella hopped from the car and for a quick moment, he could hear her sweet little voice as she chattered on about something. He watched her reach to take Dean's hand before he lost them from his line of sight.

He drove for a couple of blocks before turning around and returning to find a good place to park that wouldn't draw too much attention. In such a nice neighborhood he wouldn't be able to stay too long without garnering some suspicion. He would have to see about switching rental cars within the next couple of days. It was a chance he was willing to take for now. The only other option he had was to return to his empty room at the motel. He could barely stomach the thought. Despite the fact that he couldn't talk to Dean, or even see him at the moment, Sam felt close to him here.

For nearly an hour there was no activity that Sam could see from his spot on the street. As twilight approached, lights began to glow and he caught a glimpse of Dean at a small window. From his body movement and the focus of his attention Sam would guess that his brother was washing dishes. Dean hated to do dishes. Of all the chores they'd shared as children, it was the only one Dean hated with a passion. He would do anything to get out of it. It had been the reason that Dean was always the first to volunteer for cooking duties. John and Sam both knew this, but since Dean actually turned out to be the better cook, they were more than willing to take up dish duty.

Sam's gaze was drawn from the window to the front door when a sliver of light appeared. A small black cat darted from the opening and down the steps. Isabella's face in a halo of curls appeared next. She opened the door fully but hesitated at the threshold. The kitten pounced playfully in the grass. Isabella seemed content to stay put and watch until the feline crossed to a distance that she was no longer comfortable with. Sam couldn't hear what she said but by the pointing and tone of voice he gathered the animal was being scolded. It didn't seem to be doing any good. When the child took a step out of the house, Sam's eyes went back to the window. Dean remained busy at the sink, unaware.

Sensing his shot at open freedom in jeopardy when Isabella made a grab at him, the kitten made a break for it. The little black cat zigzagged uncertainly before heading straight for the road, Isabella hot on his trail. Sam was out of the car before he even thought about what he was doing. As he was crossing the road he heard Dean's panicked, "Isabella!" from inside the house.

Sam caught the kitten as it hopped from the curb, scooping it up in one large hand as Dean all but skidded to a halt next to him. His focus was entirely on the child in front of him as he went to his knees. He grasped her shoulders and turned her to him, the surge of adrenaline making him less gentle than he would normally be. Dean's jaw tightened as he clamped down on whatever it was that wanted to escape his mouth first. As he noticeably tried to calm himself, Isabella seemed to realize the seriousness of the situation. She wilted in Dean's grasp, looking up at him with big eyes.

Noticeably torn between relief and exasperation, Dean apparently decided that any dressing down to be given would be done in private. He gave the child a look that promised serious discussion once his heart rate returned to normal. Sam watched as Dean ducked his head and took a deep breath. Mindful of Sam's presence, Dean hoisted Isabella into the air and settled her on his hip before addressing him. Softly muted jade eyes turned their intense focus to him. Sam's breath caught. Even with John's warning, the complete lack of recognition was like a punch to the gut.

"Hey." Breathless with relief, Dean held his hand out to Sam. "Thanks, man."

Shifting the kitten to his right, Sam grasped the proffered hand, swallowing hard when he caught sight of the gold wedding band on Dean's ring finger. "No problem. Glad I could help."

If his voice was rough with emotion, Dean didn't seem to notice. Sam appreciated the acknowledgment even as he realized that he and Dean were both aware that he had come to the rescue in time and that there was absolutely no traffic in either direction. Still, the slightest play of chance could have changed that. Dean was grateful for Sam's intervention, and it showed.

"Who are you?" Isabella asked, bold and to the point like someone else he knew. He met her gaze as he released Dean's hand. Any hope that the child was not Dean's biological child vanished with his first true glimpse of her tiny face.

"I'm Sam." He couldn't help but smile when she thrust her hand out for a shake as well. God, her features screamed Dean. She had the same gold flecked emerald eyes, tiny cleft chin and high cheekbones. Sam wondered if there was an ounce of the girl's mother in that face.

"Sam." Dean nodded and then introduced himself. "Dean. Dean Matthews. And this here," He turned more fully to face Sam and hiked Isabella higher on his hip, "is my best girl, Izzy B."

"Nice to meet you, Izzy." Sam said, barely recognizing his own voice. The moment was entirely too surreal.

"Isabella," The child corrected him. He was a stranger and hadn't earned any privileges in the use of nicknames.

"Isabella," he said solemnly, understanding. "Sorry."

"And this little escape artist," Dean said, extracting the black cat from Sam's grasp and handing it back to a very pleased Isabella, "is Spooky."

"Spooky?" Sam half smiled. "Interesting name."

"Daddy named him." Isabella said proudly. Dean looked only marginally mortified at that bit of intel, but tried not to show it.

"It suits him," Sam said softly and Isabella nodded her agreement.

"I…ah...haven't seen you around here before," Dean said casually. "New to the area?"

Sam hadn't worked up any type of cover story as he'd not actually planned on needing one quite so soon. He'd never been as quick on his feet as Dean when it came to improvising, but neither was he a slouch.

"Yeah, just checking out the University." Millidge was a college town about 50 miles west. "I've applied for a teaching position there. Had some family that used to live in the area and decided to check it out. I'm staying at a hotel not far from here." Sam never liked lying, but it had been a necessary evil growing up. He'd learned long ago that he was quite good at it. With the exception of John and Dean, he could fool anyone.

"Teacher, huh?" Dean looked suitably impressed and looked at him more closely as if calculating his age. "What do you...?" His question was interrupted as Isabella attempted to slither out of his grasp. Dean's free hand settled on her leg, fingers curling under her knee to secure her.

"Daddy, I gotta go." Dean looked at her a moment, eyes going wide as comprehension set in. Oh. Oh! She continued to wiggle and her voice grew more urgent. "I gotta go, Daddy!"

Dean set her down quickly and Sam caught a glimpse of the protection amulet he'd given his brother when they were children tucked inside his shirt. Isabella took off like a shot back to the house. Sam noticed the door was still wide open. Dean saw it as well. "Close the door," he called out as she passed the threshold. He was shaking his head affectionately, and already backing away from Sam. "When you gotta go, you gotta go."

Unable to respond, Sam just smiled.

"It was nice to meet you, Sam. Thanks again for your help." Dean held out his hand once more and Sam accepted the fleeting touch. "Maybe we'll run into each other again sometime."

Count on it. "Maybe we will."

TBC