Maybe We're Not Only Human
Author: zephyrocity
Pairing(s)/Main Character(s): Sam/Dean, John, Caleb
Rating: PG-13
Word Count: ~7,200
Spoilers: Pre-series.
Disclaimer: Supernatural characters and storyline are property of Eric Kripke and associated publishers/licensers.

Summary: Sam has always had more than his fair share of problems, but this is the worst. This a problem that goes beyond Dean's devotion and above John's abuse, and it comes down to this; to the heat running through him as he stands alone with his brother in a secluded spot in the Ohio countryside; to the pure, molten wantneedlove always rushing through him, coursing through his veins every moment that he's near Dean: his best-kept secret since he was old enough to categorise the feelings.

maybe we're not only human

It's bright outside, ten past two in the afternoon, and Sam has always held in a faraway part of his mind that hunts like this should be left until late, until after the moon's come up and the innocents are sleeping in their beds, not out in the open like this, in the middle of the day. The monster on his heels obviously has no regard for this, and okay, maybe he should've stayed with Dean, should've listened to Dad when he said, "Stay with your brother," and not gotten angry when he told Dean, "Take care of Sam," but really, Sam's fifteen and not five, and he can take care of himself.

The ghost of the angry farmer can't have gotten the memo; the meat cleaver he's swinging has already snagged on Sam's arm, splitting skin straight through to the bone (he's sure, can't forget the sound it made), and as Sam ducks a low-hanging branch, he hears the noise it makes, cutting through the air, hears the angry raging of the spirit.

"I'll catch you, boy," it says, passing easily through roots that Sam tripped over. "I'll catch you and make you tender. You and your family will help me last through the winter."

Dean, Sam thinks, blindly, even though he knows that Dean could never be stupid like this, never allow himself to be found empty-handed. Fear crashes over him like a wave and he puts on an extra burst of speed, spotting where the forest splits into brush and then the endless patchwork of open fields only a few yards away. If he can get out, he's safe; the ghost couldn't possibly follow, and he's almost there, almost to safety—

He crashes through the final thicket, not even slowing a fraction as branches whip his face. He can feel blood dripping into his eye, down his cheek, and his arm is hanging useless at his side, but he's finally out, out of both the forest and the ghost's reach.

Sam is out in the middle of the field before he dares to stop his legs from moving, bending over and panting in the long grass. The sun is shining down on his back, brighter and warmer than anything he's ever felt, and Sam straightens up and sucks in a great breath, sick with adrenaline and bone-deep relief.

And then he hears it, the same noise he was so acutely aware of only moments ago: the whoosh of a blade through thin air. Stale breath drifts across his neck, and his heart seizes, spasming in his chest; Sam whirls around and can do nothing but stare into the spirit's blank eyes, only inches from his own. In the flicker of his peripheral vision, he sees the meat cleaver swinging down towards him; and after spending his life thinking "frozen in fear" was just an expression, Sam finds himself unable to move, unable to do anything but wait for the inevitable.

"Sam! Get down!" he hears, and it shatters the spell. He drops to his knees without needing to be told twice, hears the snick of the blade as it misses him by inches, and is at once deafened by a gunshot so close it might have gone off in his ear. He watches from behind knotted fingers as the spirit dissipates, but then can't bring himself to get up. The best he manages is to turn his head to see his dad and Dean behind him. Dean is using a tree branch as a crutch, face white as a sheet, and John stands there, rigid as a statue, gun in hand. He's bleeding from somewhere above his hairline, but his hard expression softens when he looks at Sam. He barks an order at Dean that sounds like gibberish to Sam's ears, and the last thing Sam sees before the black at the edge of his vision closes over him like a heavy blanket is Dean hobbling forward: his drawn, panicked face.

Sam wakes up on an uncomfortable couch, propped up by a sea of pillows and with three blankets shielding him from the sharp October air, but it's an uncomfortable couch that he recognises. Rubbing at gritty eyes and trying to shake the grogginess from his limbs without jarring his arm (which, he notices, is wrapped in a firm sling and propped up on a mountain of cushions all its own), Sam opens his mouth and says, "Caleb?" It comes out dry, scratchy, like he's been asleep for days. Sam wonders if he has.

Just then, Dean appears at the foot of the couch, supported by crutches. Sam can see the tip of a large white cast on his left leg peeking over the edge of the sofa's arm. "He and Dad went out to get supplies," he says. "You need anything?"

"No," Sam says, because even though his mouth is bone dry, he knows it's not because he needs water (or at least, not completely). Dean doesn't seem to notice his weirdness, just nods and awkwardly settles himself down on the ottoman. He's wearing a ratty old shirt of Dad's, and Sam can see bruises lining his arms and tiny cuts covering his face. Sam's sure he must look pretty much the same.

"Actually, um," Sam says suddenly, looking down at his lap. He knows he should feel guilty for forcing Dean to stand up after he's taken the trouble of sitting down, and Sam does, sort of, but he feels more guilty for doing it because he wants to see the way Dean's muscles shift under his skin, pulling his shirt taut across his chest. "I'm really thirsty."

Dean shakes his head, but gets up. "Yeah, okay, princess," he says, but there's an upward twist to his mouth that Sam recognises as a sort-of smile. He hobbles to the kitchen and returns a moment later with a glass filled with water. When Sam takes it, his hand is shaking so bad he almost drops it, but Dean either doesn't notice or doesn't know what it means. He just plunks down on the ottoman again, scrubbing a hand across his unshaven face. Sam has a terrible moment where he can see, in perfect clarity, the burn that Dean's stubble would leave on his skin, like a mark that only they would know, a sign of belonging, possession.

He firmly wipes that from his mind when Dean looks up at him with one eyebrow cocked, his pretty mouth open like he's about to ask why Sam's looking at him with that weird expression. Sam averts his gaze before Dean has the chance and gestures blindly to Dean's leg. "What happened?"

"Oh, I, uh." Sam looks up in time to catch Dean's grimace. "Tripped on a root, fell flat on my face and busted my leg up something fierce. Dumb, I know. Dad won't shut up about it."

Sam feels a spike of anger, low in his gut, at Dean's words. "Yeah, well, the way I see it, you aren't the only one beat up."

Dean shrugs, discomfort plain in the stiff line of his shoulders. "But his injuries aren't 'cause he wasn't paying attention, Sam," Dean says firmly, and he doesn't need to add end of discussion for Sam to hear it. "Anyway. Look. You want some painkillers, or something? How's your arm?"

"It's fine," Sam bites out, annoyed as always by Dean's devotion. He swallows the rest of what he was going to say and picks at a loose thread in his shirt. His arm is aching like a son of a bitch, but Sam's pride isn't in the mood for admissions of that nature. "I'm tired," he says instead, kicking out at Dean's good leg. "I'm tired and my arm's feeling fine, and I want to be alone." It's said in a rush, as if saying it normally would allow Dean to pick at it, see straight through the blatant lies (even though Sam's sure he can see through them anyway, no matter how fast he talks).

Dean eyes him for a moment before heaving a sigh and stumbles to his feet. Sam can't stop himself from watching as Dean stretches on a yawn; his shirt rises up, exposing a line of smooth, tanned skin, and Sam can't fucking tear his eyes away. He knows Dean notices because he coughs pointedly and shoots Sam a weird look, one that he can't quite read, when their eyes finally meet.

"Uh," says Sam, stupidly. Then, in a stroke of genius: "Dude, you gonna stand there and stare all day or are you gonna let me sleep?"

Amazingly, Dean's lips quirk in a smile and he reaches down to ruffle Sam's hair before moving away and out of Sam's line of vision. "Yeah, yeah," Dean says from somewhere to Sam's left. "You need all the beauty sleep you can get, ugly."

Before Sam can think of a witty comeback, he hears a door down the hall swing shut, and knows Dean is gone. He relaxes against the pillows, releasing a breath he didn't know he was holding, and turns his face into the cushion to muffle a frustrated groan. This, this weird thing about Dean; it was bearable when he was young, too young to know any better, young enough to go everywhere on Dean's arm without anyone thinking twice about it. But now he's taller than Dean and almost sixteen (okay, so maybe not almost yet), and it's only gotten worse.

Sam intends to spend the afternoon mulling over how fucked-up he is, but he ends up curling up under the blankets and falling back asleep. The last thought before he slips into dreamland is to wonder if Dean put something in his water.

When Sam wakes up again, the sun's gone down and his arm is really hurting, less like a son of a bitch and more like a motherfucker. There's the faint hum of voices coming from somewhere, and squinting into the semidarkness reveals Caleb slumped in the armchair across the room, a cowboy hat tipped down over his eyes. He's snoring lightly, legs splayed wide, remote in hand. The TV's muted, but the football players running across the screen throw pillars of blue and yellow light across Caleb's sleeping face.

Sam's known Caleb longer than he cares to think about, and even though seeing Caleb usually means the Winchesters are in some sort of deep shit, injured or separated or worse, Sam still likes him more than Dad's other hunter friends (except maybe Bobby, and that's only 'cause Bobby let him have that one beer the last time they were at his place). Seeing him now brings a smile to Sam's face, but it fades as soon as he realises that what he thought was the sound of his father and Dean talking a few rooms over is actually the sound of John snarling in a deliberately low voice, the one designed so Sam doesn't hear.

"—could've been killed!"

Sam has to strain to hear Dean respond in the smallest voice he's ever heard come out of his brother's mouth, and he still misses most of it. The tone says it all, though: it's an apology, as always.

"I give you this one job," John says, "and you still manage to fuck it up. I tell you to take care of him, you take care of him, do you understand me?"

Sam's inside run cold. Him. They're fighting about him. Of course, he thinks angrily, already pushing himself out of the nest of pillows and into a position where he can throw the blanket off and get up. He's in the middle of planning exactly what he's going to say when he storms in—it starts with I ran away and ends with it's not Dean's fault—when a strong hand lands on his shoulder, sudden enough to make him jump. Sam looks up to see Caleb looming over him, a strained smile on his face.

"Let it go, Sam," Caleb says. "Ain't gonna fix nothing by rushing in there. Only gonna piss your dad off, and that won't help Dean."

Sam's so angry he can hardly breathe, and he wants to punch Caleb, probably because Sam knows he's right. But Caleb's a friend; he's always been there, as a hunter and as a pal, and Sam doesn't have it in him to even raise his fist. So he just slumps against the sofa and shrugs off Caleb's hand. "Whatever," he says, the moody teenager through and through. He hears Caleb draw away, and realises that John and Dean have stopped arguing, or at least have stopped arguing within earshot. When John comes into the room a minute later, Sam doesn't look at him. He stares resolutely at his toes, arms crossed, until Dean shambles over and flops down on the couch.

"You sleep like the dead," he tells Sam, voice muffled by a pillow shaped like a dog. His crutches lie forgotten on the floor.

"Lucky for me," Sam says dryly, trying to convey what he heard with his eyes.

When Dean, oblivious as ever, doesn't react, a niggling part of Sam's brain thinks that Dean knows full well what Sam wants to say, but doesn't want to. He only feels worse as Dean smirks and says, "Yeah, lucky until a werewolf breaks into your room and you don't notice until it's chewing on you."

"He won't have to worry about that as long as you're there to protect him, Dean," John calls from the kitchen, and Sam hates him a little more. He looks desperately at Dean for help, searching for any sort of anger in his expression—a hard glint to his eyes, the subtlest downward curve of his mouth—so that he can bury himself in Dean's anger; so that he can know for sure that Dean doesn't take the abuse with a smile. But there's nothing. Dean looks sleepy and utterly all right, and something in Sam cracks wide open when he says mildly, "What're you looking at, Sammy?"

Sam scowls and turns away. He sits with his arms crossed, staring at the muted football game, until John and Caleb come in with dinner. It's some sort of meat, charred to ashes by John's distracted hands. Sam doesn't touch it, snaps at anyone who tries to talk to him, and when John tells him to go to bed without supper as if he was a petulant child, Sam goes.

Sam's still awake when Dean stumbles into the room a few hours later, mumbling to himself and staggering into things like John had given in and offered him a beer or two. Or five, judging by Dean's slurred oath when he trips over Sam's shoes and nearly tumbles headfirst into Sam's bed. "Sorry, Sammy," he mumbles, patting Sam gently on the arm and turning away. Sam carefully doesn't listen to him undress and just clenches his eyes shut until he, finally, blessedly, falls asleep as the sun's coming up.

Dean wakes him an hour later, groaning for a cup of water and milking his broken leg for all it's worth. After yesterday, Sam can't refuse.

Before the week is out, Dean is complaining loudly to anyone who'll listen about the state of his leg. "I want to get back on the road," he urges John early on Saturday. Sam glowers at them from behind a sports magazine. "C'mon, Caleb told me about some fishy disappearances in Dayton, and that's just down the road—"

"You're no use to me with your leg like this," John says tersely. "And your brother's arm is in no shape for shooting. Now sit down and stop charging around like a damn fool."

Sam's mouth tightens into a hard line, and he slams the magazine down on the coffee table with a little more force than necessary. The movement rattles through him like an electric shock, and leaves his injured arm aching. He ignores it, pushes himself to his feet, and lets the irritation radiate off him as he stomps over to the couch, where John is currently sitting with his feet propped up on the coffee table and a sawed-off shotgun idle in his hands; Dean is bent over the back, mouth by John's ear, but Sam catches him by the arm and wrenches him away. Dean rocks back, startled enough to allow Sam to pull him outside and into the clean, bright sunshine. His free hand is still clenched around one crutch.

"Sammy, what—"

Sam steers him around the back of the house and out of John's earshot. "Can I talk to you?" he asks, a little breathlessly, stopping in a shady spot near Caleb's pile of firewood.

Dean raises an eyebrow at him. "Usually you ask that before you go dragging someone out of the house." Wincing, he shifts his weight off his bad leg and leans against the wall. Sam immediately feels a pang of guilt for being so impatient with him and opens his mouth to apologise, but Dean holds up a hand to shut him up. "Yeah, I know you're sorry," he says, and the pleased tilt to his mouth makes Sam's stomach flip-flop. "Now what is it?"

Sam runs a hand through his hair. "Uh," he says, because suddenly all his pent-up anger at both John and Dean's unending devotion to him seem feeble, stupid, in the face of Dean's smile. "It's, um." He can't really say nothing, let's go back inside, because it'll make Dean suspicious and the last thing Sam needs is Dean's constant attention. "I just. I thought. I, uh."

Dean's smile sort of fades, until he just looks confused and faintly annoyed. "C'mon, Sammy, out with it. You've been acting weird all week. If you've got a problem with me, say so."

"No!" Sam says, a tad too quickly and way too loud. Embarrassed, he toes his shoe into the dirt and refuses to meet Dean's eyes. "No, I don't have a problem. That's not it." He chances a look up and regrets it: Dean's arms are crossed tight across his chest, his shirt straining at the shoulders. His hair is light from the summer sun, and if he took a few steps forwards, Sam would be able to count the freckles on Dean's tanned face.

Sam shakes the thought of tracing the freckles with his tongue from his mind and scrubs at his face with one hand, trying to cover his cheeks long enough for the flush to crawl back down his neck. Except I do, he thinks guiltily. I do have a problem. It goes beyond Dean's devotion and above John's abuse and it all comes down to this; to the heat running through him as he stands alone with his brother in a secluded spot in the Ohio countryside; to the pure, molten wantneedlove always rushing through him, coursing through his veins every moment that he's near Dean: his best-kept secret since he was old enough to categorise these feelings.

Through the tangle of his fingers, Sam sees Dean cock his head curiously, eyes narrowing. He quickly drops his hand and says, "Sorry, forget it. Um. I'm feeling kind of dizzy."

Any protest that Dean was going to make vanishes, and suddenly he is at Sam's side with a steadying hand splayed over the small of Sam's back. "You all right?" Dean says, low and concerned. "Here, c'mon, don't want you getting heatstroke now. Then we'll never leave."

What was a lie said for his own benefit becomes startlingly true in moments; Dean's proximity makes Sam's world swim, and Sam, caught up in the heady smell of Dean (clean sweat, woodsmoke, and some sort of cologne that vaguely makes Sam think of his father), is turning his head to brush his lips against the stubble on Dean's jaw. Dean freezes at the contact; his step stutters, the crutch slipping from his grasp. Before Sam can blink, though, Dean is moving again, bending to pick up his crutch, the moment gone.

Sam knows that he could just let Dean steer him to the house and everything would be normal, the almost-kiss passed off as some sort of twitch: an accident. But that, above all else, is not what Sam wants.

So he catches the delicate jut of bone at Dean's wrist and holds it still, so tight that Sam can feel the flutter of Dean's pulse beneath his fingertips. It's racing to rival the frantic beat of Sam's own heart. He lifts Dean's hand to his mouth and presses his lips against the knuckles, just a brief, dry press, and when Dean doesn't do anything but stare at him wide-eyed, Sam reaches out with one big hand and cups Dean's chin, tilting his face up to meet Sam's as he leans down.

And then Dean tears his hand out of Sam's grasp, and the knuckles that Sam just kissed are smashing him across the mouth, knocking him back a few steps and flat onto his ass. When the dust clears, Sam tentatively lifts his fingers to his bleeding lip and looks around. Dean is gone, but his crutch is still lying in the dirt, and Sam is stupidly struggling not to cry.

Dean's not in the house, and John hasn't seen him. He gives Sam a weird look, and Sam guesses that it's the ragged tone of his breathing, the swelling bruise on his cheek, and the fact that he's holding tight to one of Dean's crutches that has given him away. "Son," John says, giving Sam a quick once-over. His brow draws together and he opens his mouth to say more; at the last minute, he seems to think better of it, and Sam is gone before he can change his mind. As he tears out the front door, Sam hears John calling. He doesn't turn back.

Caleb lives on a street in the middle of nowhere, and the only thing to Sam's right and left is a single strip of asphalt. The ground is flat as far as the eye can see, and Sam can spot exactly where the road vanishes at the horizon. Aside from that, there's nothing beside the occasional tree or a few telephone poles bound together by loops of wire. The grass underneath his feet is wilting in the heat, and the sky looks more grey than blue; Sam can smell an oncoming storm in the wind.

Dean has fucking vanished. "Your leg is broken in three places!" Sam shouts, kicking at the side of the house angrily. Dean doesn't answer, so Sam continues, "You can't have gotten that far on one crutch!" and holds up his prize, waving it in the air. He half expects and all the way hopes that Dean will suddenly appear at his side, a stony expression on his face and a hand extended for the crutch.

He does no such thing, doesn't even give a hint as to where he's hiding. Sam throws the crutch down in disgust and stomps inside. He ignores John's questions and slams the door to his room extra loud, keeping himself too caught up in his anger for the heartbreak to set in.

Dean will definitely be back for dinner, Sam thinks as he throws himself down, face-first, on his bed. Because Dean is Dean, and is always hungry. He's probably hungry right now, probably wishing he was brave enough to leave his stupid hiding place and come inside for some food. Sam presses his face into the pillow and ignores the wetness there. But Dean is a coward, and will have to endure an empty stomach if he wants to avoid Sam. Serves him right.

Sam turns his pillow over. The other side is suddenly too fucking wet.

Dean isn't back for dinner, and Sam knows that's a very bad sign. Dean's stormed out of the house before, if only once or twice to Sam's recollection, but he's always back in time to eat, bursting through the door asking about pie and the worst sort of disgusting, greasy food.

But this time, there's no sign of him. Caleb and John look awkward, worried, as they sit around the dinner table and stare at where Dean should be sitting. His place is set in front of an empty chair.

"Boys will be boys," says Caleb finally, just as John turns to Sam and asks, "What happened between you and your brother today?"

Sam's heart jumps into his throat and he sucks in a deep breath, a second when it does nothing to slow his suddenly racing heartbeat. Unable to get enough air into his lungs, Sam flounders for a second, looking from John to Caleb to the empty placemat and back again before finally settling once more on Dean's unoccupied seat, as though it could help. "Nothing," Sam lies, instead of I tried to kiss him.

John glowers at him. "Sam. You meaning to tell me that the bruise on your cheek showed up by magic?"

Sam stares fixedly at Dean's unused knife and fork. "Yes, sir."

John drops his utensils on a plate with a clatter and massages his temples for a moment before turning to Caleb. Sam can't help but think, as he watches his father from under his fringe, that John looks impossibly old, weary, so unlike the unstoppable force Dean believes he is. "Caleb," John says softly, "do you mind giving me a moment alone with my son?"

Caleb stands at once, taking his plate of half-finished food with him. "No problem," he says, and backs through the door.

As soon as they're alone, John steeples his fingers and stares at Sam for a moment, then says, "I know you boys fight." His tone is awkward, like he knows he's going about this all wrong, and he opens his mouth to say more before drawing back into himself, digging the heel of his hands into his eyes. "Did Dean hit you?"

"No, sir."

John looks pained. "Son, tell me the truth. You've been acting—strange all week, and today you drag your brother out of the house and come back in with a fat lip, and Dean is god-knows-where." He finds solace in running his fingers over the smooth, cold neck of the beer bottle in front of him, then takes a long pull while Sam glares. "Please, Sammy. I don't think it's much to ask."

Sam can't remember the last time he heard his father say please, and as he watches John nurse the beer, Sam privately thinks that he is everything but an unstoppable force. It makes him feel weirdly guilty, and he swallows hard and says, haltingly, "It's not. I just. That is, Dean didn't—" Sam hesitates. "We were wrestling, that's all. It was an accident."

It's only after John levels him a vaguely disappointed stare that Sam realises his mistake. "Sam," John says, dry as dust. "Dean's leg is busted up and your arm is just as bad. You two— bruised to hell, and you're telling me you were wrestling? Okay. You want to try that again?"

"No, sir." Sam fiddles with his napkin. "Excuse me," he adds, and stands. When he goes to leave the room, John doesn't stop him, though Sam feels his gaze like a physical thing and flees the house without a look back. He bursts outside, into the moonlight, short of breath and shocked by the coolness of the night air. A breeze cuts through him and Sam shivers, staring around into the dark like Dean is going to magically be there, smiling like everything's okay and hefting his single crutch like a trophy. The one Sam threw down in the dust earlier is still there, so Dean hasn't been back, and Sam is stupidly, stupidly scared.

He plops down in the dirt beside the lone crutch and hides his face in his hands. The wind whips around him, chilling him to the bone, and he sits there in silence until he hears the front door open, and actually feels the warm, yellow light from inside washing over him as if it were sunshine and not a few bare light bulbs and one flickering oil lamp.

"Come inside, Sammy," he hears John say, tiredly, and without a face to connect to the voice, Sam can hardly believe that hoarse, exhausted voice belongs to his father, his own fucking father, hunter extraordinaire, better and stronger than the rest. The thought leaves him stranded, free-floating, and he doesn't move; John waits a beat, then repeats quietly, "Son, come in now. Your brother is asleep in his bed."

Sam's head jerks up at that, his whole body going taut. He stumbles up without a word, thoughtlessly brushes the dust from the seat of his pants, and takes the steps up to the porch two at a time. He pushes past his father, taking only the briefest of moments to flick his eyes over John's slumped posture, flushed face, and too-bright eyes before mumbling a hasty and half-assed thank you to his shoes and making for the bedroom.

John's hand lands hard on his shoulder before he's halfway there. "Don't you go waking him now," John says. "Looks like he's had a rough day. Don't even know when he got back. Just went in there to get something, saw him huddled there. But. Go to sleep, Sammy." He holds up both hands: a peace offering. "You two can talk in the morning."

For the long moment before he answers, Sam purposefully stares anywhere but at his father and ends up focussing on Caleb, conked out in his usual armchair in front of another football game. "Fine," he says tightly, and sees John visibly relax. Sam shrugs off his hand and sets his mouth in a grim half-smile, muttering a quick goodnight as he shuts the door to the bedroom behind him.

Sam undresses and climbs into bed as quietly as he can; as he lies there waiting to fall asleep, he listens to Dean breathe in the other bed.

It only takes a few seconds to realise that Dean isn't sleeping at all.

After a sleepless night of listening until Dean's breath finally did even out, Sam pretends to be dead to the world when Dean gets up at the crack of dawn. He knows Dean isn't fooled, but just stays curled up under the covers until he hears the door shut. It's silent for a few moments and then Sam hears something smash to the floor. Dean yells, "Motherfucker!" and Sam is out of bed like a shot, fuck his own carefully-planned defensive measures. His mind is swamped with images of Dean—set upon by ghouls or ghosts or even rabid dogs, splayed out injured on the floor, his leg useless—

He's at the kitchen in record time, but there's no ghosts, no ghouls, not a dog in sight. There's just Dean, standing by the dining table with the remains of Caleb's finest china at his feet, a small slip of paper in hand. Dean whirls on him the instant Sam crosses the threshold, face bright with anger. He waggles the paper in the air. "They went to Dayton," he spits. "I don't believe this shit."

Sam's heartbeat gradually begins to slow down. "What?"

Dean tosses the paper at him, but the wind catches it and sends it to the floor at Dean's feet instead. He grounds it into the floorboards and stalks to the fridge. "Dean," he recites, shoving food into his mouth, "gone to Dayton with Caleb to look at a possible case. Will be back in a few days. Food is in the fridge. Take care of Sam."

Sam collapses in a chair as Dean tears viciously into a loaf of bread. "You scared the shit out of me," he says, breathing deep.

Dean ignores him. "I told him about the damn disappearances," he bitches. "I'm nine-fucking-teen! I'll be twenty in a few months! How could he not take me with him?"

"Your leg," Sam supplies, even though he knows it'll just piss Dean off. The stare that Dean levels him with is exactly the one that Sam expected: his face so white with anger that his freckles stand out like constellations against the night sky, lips a tight, frustrated line, eyes slitted so they're just needle-thin slivers of green beneath dark, sooty lashes.

Then Dean's face changes: smoothes into surprise, bewilderment, then annoyance again. "What the fuck are you cataloguing my fucking faces for?"

Sam nearly swallows his own tongue and wonders numbly just how much of that he said aloud. "I'm not," he says weakly. He feels like he's about to throw up, because after yesterday, this'll only rest Dean's case: his brother is a fucking freak of nature, fucking tried to kiss him, did you hear, what a fucking nutjob. His mind sticks on that, on the swell of his bruised lip and the blank shock on Dean's face the afternoon before. And Sam opens his mouth and says, "Are we going to talk about it?"

He wants to take it back the instant it's out of his mouth, because all the walls in Dean's face slam into place, all doors close, and Dean sits back in his seat and says, "Talk about what?"

It's a way out. Sam can't bring himself to take it.

"Yesterday," he says.

Dean's face darkens. "I don't—" he starts, but then seems to give. He slumps forward in his seat and maps the stubble on his jaw with one hand, sighing into the web of his fingers. "Do you really want to talk about this, Sam? Because." He stops, swallows, starts again: "I know you weren't feeling too great yesterday. All that heat, you know, and you're still all fucked up from the hunt."

Take it, Dean's saying. Please lie. Please give me an excuse to not face up to the fact that my brother's a pervert.

"I wanted to kiss you," Sam says baldly, instead of the much more sensible options. "I want to now."

He could've broken it gentle, could've done it a million different, better ways, but Sam feels a strange thrill when Dean's eyes go saucer-wide and he sits frozen with his hand hovering over the half-eaten bread. There is nothing strange or unfamiliar, however, in the shiver that runs through him when Dean self-consciously licks his lips.

"You're fifteen, Sam," Dean says. "You don't know what you want."

Sam tries not to show his relief; that response is a lot better than calling him a sicko and a monster, throwing him out of the house, calling John right up and packing Sam away to a white-walled psych ward. He'd rather hear this tired excuse any day.

"When I jerk off," Sam says suddenly, and drowns out Dean's startled whoa, "which I do, by the way, all the time. More than normal. Like. A lot. I think about you—"

Dean, who shut right up, starts talking again, lifting his hands in a desperate bid to get Sam to be quiet. "It's perfectly normal for a kid your age," he said at the beginning, but as Sam goes on he flinches and stalls, because that's not normal; thinking about your brother as you beat off is not even on the same plane as normal. "Sam, for fuck's sake, shut up!"

Sam's still talking. "Your lips, Dean, god—"

Dean stands up so quick he knocks the chair right over. Pain crosses his face and he clutches his leg, hissing a curse through clenched teeth, but waves off Sam's help and staggers away. Sam follows him, still babbling, trying to make Dean understand in a language that Sam thought Dean would really get. Since he hit puberty, he's been hearing about Dean's escapades in the form of Jesus, Sammy, her tits or just wait till you get your dick sucked, Sammy. Sam's had those images for fantasy fodder from the start.

But Dean isn't getting this at all. Dean, who is hobbling towards the door surprisingly fast for someone with a busted leg, one hand clamped over an ear, the other holding his single crutch. The other was still outside in the dirt, somewhere.

Sam gets to the door before him and plasters himself against it, blocking Dean's way. Dean balks at the sight of him and stares at the ground. "Sam, get out of the way," he says. It sounds like a plea.

"I know I'm wrong," Sam says. "But please, don't do this."

Dean looks up then, finally, and Sam stops thinking of the ways to fix this. He stops thinking about anything but the look in Dean's eyes. The green is mostly gone, only a thin ring around the edge, the rest swallowed up by black. Sam's seen that look before, directed at the girls Dean brings home and waitresses and bright-eyed clerks in short skirts. He only dreamed about it being directed at him.

Dean cuts his gaze away, maybe seeing something in Sam's face. There is a flush high on his cheeks when he waves a hand in the air and says, brokenly, "Oh, fuck, Sam, just get out of my way—"

Sam plans to do no such thing. Instead, he steps forward, crowds into Dean's space. For a split second Dean meets his eyes again; when he looks away, Sam takes his chin in hand, forces his face up. "You," Sam says, wonderment slipping into his tone. "You're just as fucked up as I am."

"More," Dean tells him. "Now let me go."

Instead of doing that, Sam leans down and kisses Dean. He counts it as his first kiss, because Suzie Marshall sticking her tongue down his throat last year can't count when he did the best he could to get her off him. This—this is a kiss. Dean is making soft noises against him, protests, but he isn't pulling away. Sam has all the control, but the problem with that is that he doesn't know what he's doing. They just stand there, lip to lip, for a long time, and as far as Sam's concerned, it's the best thing that's ever happened to him.

He pulls away the instant Dean plants a hand on his chest, grappling for a hand on Dean's arm, stopping him from running away. "Dean—" he says, a pre-emptive strike, but Dean isn't moving. Instead, he's blinking up at Sam, shaking his head. His eyes look a little wet.

"It's just," Dean starts, looking ashamed and like he might be sick. His face is pale under the tan, but his cheeks are flushed from the kiss, his lips swollen and red. Sam wants to dive back down, kiss him again, but Dean is shaking in his grip and babbling. "It's—you've been growing so much, shit, you haven't fucking stopped, you giant—"

Sam drops his head onto Dean's shoulder and laughs, but Dean's not done.

"Sam, this is so messed up," he's saying, quietly. "Don't ask me to do this. Ask me anything, but not this. Please. We're fucked up enough already without this—this—"

"Incest," Sam supplies. Dean flinches away from him and Sam tightens his hold. His heart is aching from the rawness of Dean's plea, but he can't lose this now, not when he's so close. "We're not," he whispers in Dean's ear, lips just brushing the lobe, enough to make Dean shiver, "hurting anyone."

"We're hurting us," Dean insists. He's talking fast, like he doesn't want to give himself a chance to think about it. "Me. You. Jesus, Sam, you're just a kid—"

"Four years," says Sam. He picks his head up and grins. He's so close that Dean's eyes cross trying to look at him. "There's four years between us, not—ten or something. I've wanted this since, Christ, I don't even know. You"—his voice shakes with the knowledge, Dean's scent heavy in his mouth—"want this. I need this, Dean, please."

In that instant, he sees Dean's resolve crack, splinter apart. The walls behind Dean's eyes shatter and he stifles a ragged breath into Sam's neck before nodding mutely. He'd do anything for me, Sam thinks, and hugs him closer. "You fuck-up," he says into Dean's hair. "You beautiful— don't tell me you don't want this, Dean, don't lie to me."

"Of course I want this," Dean says. He's shaking violently. "Of course I fucking want this. What's not to— have you seen yourself, Sam? Jesus." He rips out of Sam's grip with a sigh, raking his hand through his hair and stumbling on his bad leg. He flinches when Sam reaches out to catch him, but doesn't pull away. "I can't," he says, over and over again, like a mantra. "I can't, Sammy, because you're a kid and you don't—you'll grow up and you'll realise just how fucked up this is. And you're going to leave, Sammy, and I won't—"

Before he can say another word, Sam manhandles him (as best he can, with his broken arm and Dean's leg) to the couch and lowers them both down on top of it. Dean blinks up at him from the bed of cushions, redness crawling up his neck. "I'll never leave," Sam says firmly, cupping Dean's jaw in one hand. It's strange how his big brother is so small beneath him. "I'll never leave you, never."

Dean shivers and Sam feels it all the way down his body. He sucks a line of kisses from Dean's collarbone to his jaw, pressing closer when Dean's hand comes to rest on his hip. He glances up to see that Dean has thrown his free arm across his face. "Never," Dean repeats hollowly, and lets out a broken little laugh. "Man, I hate you."

Sam stops abruptly. Cold has seized his heart like a vice. "You don't," he says. "Dean, you don't."

Dean lowers his arm. "I don't," he says, whisper-soft, and meets Sam's eyes dead-on. "Jesus Christ, Sammy."

Sam angles Dean's face up for another kiss before Dean can get another word out. It's like his chest has been suffused with warmth, and he's so in love he's sick with it. His happiness and relief bubbles up his throat and he pulls back to just look at Dean, stare like he hasn't been allowed to before. Dean shifts, obviously a little uncomfortable under the scrutiny, so Sam presses his thumb against the plush line of Dean's bottom lip, shivers in surprise and delight when Dean's tongue snakes out and licks it clean.

"Don't give me time to think about this," Dean says then, so Sam leans down and does his best to make Dean forget. The way Dean kisses him back makes Sam think that they'll be okay.