My name is Sam.

Summary: In which Sam is Sam, not Sammy, and Dean finds out there is more to life than hunting. Also? Dean joins the Air Force (maybe, sort of) and Sam is wicked smart (oh, yeah, and Dad's gone, maybe).

It's a journey about self-discovery, about Sam and Dean, about brothers and about making your way in life.

Contains: AU. Transsexual character (FtM). Profanity. Underage drinking. Underage driving. Underage weapons usage. Slight use of homophobic/anti-trans language and situations. Possible abuse of medical terms, military terms and American school terms.

Notes: This was my entry to this year's SPN-J2 BigBang challenge. Believe it or not, but this whole thing started with the one stray thought: huh, Dean'd look totally badass with a P-90 and a tac-vest. Then I put that thought on hold, because this whole idea with why Sam wanted people to call him Sam not Sammy sort of crowded out every single other piece of inspiration I had. And whaddya know? Turns out, it was the same fucking plot bunny (not that Dean is actually in a tac-vest at any point during this story, but that's what filling-in-the-blanks on your own is for). It was beta'd by the lovely runawadr3amer.

You will find more notes plus awesome art for this story on my livejournal/AO3 account (links on my profile).


-'-1990-'-

Sam stared at the skirt with badly disguised horror. It was ugly. Pink. He hated it; hated it even more than he hated the stupid, ugly purple top with the stupid sequins on it. He hated it. Dad never got him clothes like that; hadn't for as long as Sam could remember. Sam wore Dean's castoffs, and that was that. It'd always been like that because clothes were kinda expensive and money could be better spent on food, or so Dean was always telling Sam when he wanted new, cool stuff.

"C'mon, Sammy, it's not that bad," Dean wheedled. "Girls wear skirts all the time."

Sam stomped his foot and glowered. "You wear the stupid skirt! I don't want it!"

"Sammy—"

"No! It's ugly. I don't want it."

"Okay, fine," Dean sighed. "What do you wanna wear, then?"

Sam brightened and ran back into their room. He came out with a worn pair of jeans and an old Batman T-shirt. "Wanna wear this!" he declared.

"Sammy—"

"No, I want to!"

Dean ruffled Sam's hair as he grabbed the T-shirt and held it out. "It's dirty, see?"

"Can you clean it?"

"How about we see after school?"

Sam pouted until Dean suggested he wear the Spider-Man T-shirt instead. The pink skirt and the purple top vanished from Sam's little part of the closet and he never saw the clothes again. But he did wake up one night, a couple of days later, when Dad and Dean argued.

"You can't keep catering to her every wish, Dean!" Dad was saying, sounding angrier than Sam felt entirely comfortable with, and he pulled all the covers over himself and cuddled close to his pillow.

"She's a kid, Dad. What's it matter if she won't wear some stupid pink skirt?" It kinda made Sam feel all warm and happy inside, knowing that Dean thought the skirt had been stupid, too, even if the way Dad was talking made Sam a bit afraid.

"It's what girls her age wear," Dad snapped. "This? Her insistence on copying your every move? It's not normal, Dean. It's not what your mother would've wanted."

It hurt inside when they called Sam a girl (because he wasn't, not really, he was sure of it) or when Dad kept insisting it wasn't normal for Sam to refuse wearing girly stuff. He wasn't sure why, not just yet, but he thought maybe someone got it wrong – got him wrong – that maybe he would turn into a real boy soon enough if he just waited patiently. He didn't like girls (well, they did have all those cooties, sure) but they were all wrong, too, because even if Sam looked like them he was nothing like them.

Deep inside, he hoped Mom wouldn't have cared that Sam wasn't a real girl. He wished and hoped that she'd have just known, in that magical way he'd heard other kids explain about how moms were the best things ever, because they knew everything. In his mind, Mom never would've bought stupid, ugly skirts for him to wear, or kept insisting he have his hair really long when all he wanted was to cut it short like Dean's.

Sometimes he even wondered if Mom really would've wanted them to drive all over the country, but he hadn't been brave enough to ask Dad that yet.

-'-1993-'-

He was ten the first time he defied one of Dad's orders on purpose. Sam never understood why Dad insisted Sam keep his hair long. It was impractical – most of the time they didn't even own a hairbrush, and Sam'd be forced to grit his teeth as Dean struggled to sort it all out in a neat fashion.

So that day, twenty minutes in on another battle with the bird's nest that was Sam's hair, he asked Dean to take him to the hairdresser's and his brother readily agreed. Dean read a gossip mag and chewed gum while he waited for Sam, and didn't offer either advice or opinions. The stylist wouldn't cut his hair like Dean's no matter how much Sam wheedled or begged, but she did trim it. A lot. It was, she confided, all the rage somewhere her sister had been, and looked both cool and mature. Sam's hair was shaggy, short and rumpled. But it was awesome. He still had a fringe; his hair just barely covered his ears and only just brushed his neck. It wasn't even close to Dean's, but it was still so much better than it had been.

Sam didn't stop grinning until Dad snapped at him for getting his hair cut, but even then, after being sent to bed without supper, he still didn't regret a single thing (of course, Dean sneaked him food; he always did, so it wasn't like Sam fell asleep hungry).

-'-1995-'-

When he was twelve, he started snapping at Dad and Dean to call him Sam, not Sammy or, god forbid, Samantha. It was a bit like running up a mountain – a constant struggle. It was easier in school, because he was always the new kid and his classmates always used the name he gave them.

Sam, he'd say. My name is Sam.

-'-1997-'-

The school in Springfield, MA,had a Gay-Straight Alliance club. He was fourteen then, and was just at the point where he was starting to stand out more and more as the years went by. Dad said Sam was being ridiculous, that he should stop playing around and just be a normal girl the same way that Dean was a normal boy. Sam wasn't sure how many arguments got started that way, because they were growing in number every year now, but bottom line? Nothing the Winchesters did was normal, so why the hell did Sam have to be?

Still, whenever Dad or someone else nagged on him about being a fucking girl, Sam just clenched his jaw, narrowed his eyes and squared his shoulders as he stood even straighter. He refused to be a girl (because he wasn't; had never been and would never be), and that refusal never wavered, not once, but only grew stronger and stronger.

By then, by Springfield, MA, he was the only customer at Dean's hair salon, and they used a brutal bartering system in lieu of real money (he scored a bunch of points the time he came home from school with his pockets full of condoms that he'd snagged from the nurse's office). He dressed in Dean's castoffs, in layers upon layers, deepened his voice as much as he could, and started to actively hate the world for making him wrong.

In the GSA, he didn't really have to be anything other than himself, and he started coveting schools that had clubs like that. It wasn't something Sam'd spent a lot of time thinking about, exactly; it was kinda like how he knew that Dean was Dean and Sam was Sam, and they were the same, not different. It was just something he knew, something he'd known ever since he started toddling after Dean, determined to follow in his brother's footsteps and grow up to be exactly like him. Well, until puberty hit, at least.

Puberty sucked. Not just for him, because he'd never been happier in his life that he was one of those late bloomers everyone laughed at and pushed around like losers. No, he hated it because he was in the wrong body and everything was just so gross and wrong, and. And he'd seen, in the locker rooms, how the girls the schools made him change with all got breasts and curves and hips, and periods. It was just wrong.

Sam's skin crawled with how wrong it was.

-'-1998-'-

He got his first girlfriend when he was fifteen, and it was only the second secret he'd ever kept from Dean. She was shy and sweet and cute, and she'd sat with him in the library every day since Sam transferred to the school in Milwaukee, WI, two weeks ago.

He wasn't sure if maybe Dean knew anyway, because his brother kept giving him sort of amused, sort of knowing looks almost every day after school when Dean drove them home. Most of the time, Sam only ever went to where Dean was waiting in the Impala after saying goodbye to her as she found her own ride home (her mom, usually, sometimes her older sister). The thing was, though, that Dean never once said a word about it, so Sam never quite dared to bring it up, even though he wanted to. Oh, he wanted to tell Dean all about it so bad!

"How's your friend?" Dean would ask, and Sam would shrug and say, "Okay," and then they'd be silent as Dean navigated the streets toward the ratty trailer Dad had dumped them in for the duration of their stay in Milwaukee.

The first time she kissed him, it was a Friday, and Sam didn't stop smiling for the entire weekend.

"Oh, Sam," Dean said and laughed when Sam climbed into the car.

"I love this school," Sam murmured, his eyes stuck on the car his girlfriend – his girlfriend – had disappeared inside of.

"I bet," Dean said, voice dry. "How 'bout we splurge on some burgers and pie?"

"Uh-huh," Sam agreed, but he wasn't really paying attention, because his girlfriend was awesome and she had these amazing, soft lips and, like, the softest hair in the world and she smelled wonderful.

"Your friend okay?"

Sam grinned so hard his cheeks hurt. "She's awesome, Dean."

Dean laughed, long and loud, then he put the car in reverse and pulled out of the school's parking lot.

-'-1999(FEB)-'-

Tallahassee, FL, and everything changed. Chip away at a piece of flint stone long enough, and sooner or later you'll hit the wrong (right) spot and it'll explode in your hand.

The student counselor and some of the teachers started giving him a hard time when he switched home economics with advanced algebra, a class he'd taken at the previous two schools he'd been at that year. They were unhappy with him – to say the least – when he kicked up a fuss about running track: they wanted him to wear one of the skimpy uniforms they forced on girls, except he insisted on wearing the boys' version.

All in all? It led to awkward times in the locker rooms. Because the girls? The girls thought he was weird and started insisting he stay in the bathroom while the rest of them changed for PE, because they didn't want 'the dyke' to see them naked. The boys were easier, because they kinda thought he was the coolest girl for a while (at least until he started agreeing on certain girls being hot, and then they thought he was a weird-ass fag).

So what it led to in the end was that he was closing in on sixteen the first time he said, "Actually, I'm a guy," at a meeting in that one interchangeable high school in Tallahassee, FL, with yet another GSA club, when he was introduced as a new girl. He'd been at the school a couple of weeks by then, but up 'til that point he hadn't had time to check it out. So he just stood there, and he said, "My name's Sam. And. I'm a guy." It was the first time since he and Dean were kids that he'd said that out loud (the one time Dad caught them playing one of their games where Dean was Han Solo and Sam was Luke Skywalker hadn't ended in a way that had made Sam want to play that game – or any of the hundred other similar games they'd had back then – ever again. He'd felt ashamed, guilty, confused, but at least he'd waited until Dad went out to get dinner to let the tears fall. He'd sobbed for a long time, been asleep when Dad came back, and mumbled about wanting to be a real boy and wishing that he'd have been Dean's little brother for real).

"Really? You're a guy?" one of the other guys said, voice pitched in a way that made Sam's skin crawl.

"Yeah." He gritted his teeth. "You got a problem with that?"

Turned out, the guy did have a problem with that, and so did two of his friends.

When he got out of school, an hour late because of the detention he'd gotten when he punched the dick in the face and started a brawl in the GSA room, Dean was half-asleep in the driver's seat of the Impala. Sam had a split lip and a nasty bruise growing by the side of his eye.

The first words out of Dean's mouth when Sam slammed his way into the car were: "Whoa, girl, you all right?" It was all perfectly Dean: his special way of mixing scorn and worry and pride into a jumbled, mismatched package that no one but Dean (and Sam) ever made sense of.

Sam, predictably, exploded. "I'm not a fucking girl, you dick!"

"Sammy—" Dean started, eyes wide, but he was sitting upright now instead of half-slouched in his seat.

"Sam! I'm Sam!" Sam shouted, voice hoarse, choppy and hitched. "I hate this fucking school; I hate my crappy body; I hate fucking biology! I'm wrong, Dean! Wrong! I hate that I'm this way and I just wanna be normal; I don't wanna be stuck in this disgusting fucking body. I just wanna be normal. I wanna be me."

Dean gaped some, blinked some. He cleared his throat and looked Sam right in the eye and ignored his blotchy cheeks and red eyes. "Well, who are you, then?" he managed, sounding no less confused than he looked. "'Cause, I mean, you've always been you. Right? You're my little sister—"

"I don't want to be your sister, Dean!" Sam got out, almost choking on the words but, oh, they felt so good to say. "I, I hate being your sister."

Dean recoiled. He looked as if it would've been kinder to just carve his heart out with a dull spoon, throw it to the ground and stomp on it. "Oh," he said, all breathy and hurt. "I didn't know you hated what we do that much."

Sam just shook his head and wiped his eyes. "No, no." He shuffled closer, until their noses almost touched and they were all cross-eyed trying to keep eye contact. "I wanna be your brother, Dean," Sam whispered. "I'm Sam, not, not— I'm not a girl, Dean. I'm all wrong and I hate it. I hate that everyone thinks I'm a fucking girl, because I'm not. I'm not, Dean."

"Oh," Dean said again, sounding no closer to coherent. It didn't really matter if he got it or not, because he was still Sam's big brother and he still hugged Sam close when he broke down crying not ten seconds later.

-'-

"Well," Dean said, some time later in another time and place. "You've got that whole butch dyke thing going for you, you know? Hairy legs, my old toys, my old clothes, crushing on my dates—"

Sam shut him up by tackling him to the ground and restarting their ever on-going game of wrestling. It wasn't like there was ever a clear winner, or as if they kept count, but it blew off some steam and they got their differences sorted out.

After, Sam sat panting on the bed, legs stretched out and Dean slouched in front of him on the other bed in the room.

"I'm straight, Dean, 'cause I'm a guy," he said then, as if it was perfectly natural, even when he was sweaty and nervous and unsure about Dean.

"Right." Dean raised his eyebrows, then shrugged. "Whatever."

"No, not 'whatever'," Sam snapped.

"Why'd you get beat up?"

Sam looked mulish for all of a second. "When I stay after school? Not all the time, but sometimes?"

Dean rolled his eyes. "Let me guess: not soccer."

"No, not soccer," Sam agreed, without an ounce of guilt over his rather transparent lie. Dad never noticed because Dad was never around, but Dean kinda did. Because Sam? Didn't own a single piece of soccer related equipment. Running shoes for track, yes, but nothing for soccer. "GSA."

"The fag club?"

"The Gay-Straight Alliance, Dean."

"Yeah, that. S'what I said. So, what, they kick you out 'cause you're too much T in the whole LGBT-thingy they got going on? Their open-mindedness only go so far? They too close-minded to accept the full scale of it, or what?"

Sam pulled in a deep breath and forced himself to close his mouth. Sometimes he kinda forgot that Dean was wicked smart but chose to pretend he wasn't a lot of the time. Sometimes he even forgot how much Dean cared, when it came down to it. He cleared his throat. "This guy," he started slowly. "He. He laughed in my face. Then his buddies started, too, but they stopped when I. Well. I mighta called names, so they punched me, and I hit back."

"Except their daddies ain't marines," Dean quietly pointed out.

"You could say that," Sam agreed, tiny smile playing about his lips before he frowned at his brother. "Why do you even know what LGBT is, Dean? Hell, why d'you even know what it stands for?"

Dean ran a hand through his hair and shrugged. It took a while before he started talking, and his words took Sam by surprise, even though he knew they shouldn't, because it was Dean. "Well, for a while, I kinda figured I had a really butch, really dyke little sister. Turns out maybe I don't, not so much," he mumbled. "So I figured, y'know, I'd be prepared to be all supportive for when you started in on the confession and questions time. 'Cause you do; you always do. Hell, you ask all these questions and you demand I know everything about some weird-ass bug in fucking Mongolia!"

"Maybe because you practically raised me and kids kind of have this idea that their parents know absolutely everything?" Sam pointed out, voice dry, but his heart was hammering something awful beneath his breastbone. "So…"

"So, yeah. Bring it on, Sammy, 'cause I know a shit ton of stuff about dykes that I'll never have any use for now."

Sam snorted. "Please. Like you didn't just watch lesbian porn."

"Like you don't," Dean lazily countered just to have the pleasure of watching Sam go all red in the face. "Don't think I don't know what you get up to, you little pervert."

"Shut up," Sam muttered, but there was no real fire behind his words.

Dean laughed. Then he got up, dug through his duffel and came out with a brown paper bag that he threw at Sam. "I totally read books, too. Had it all prepared, figured out what to say and all." He nodded at the bag. "Fixed that for you, 'cause someone at one of those LGBT offices said it'd be, I dunno, helpful or something."

Sam looked skeptical and half terrified out of his mind. There was a book in the bag, one of those books with interviews/life stories from 'real people' in it, a bookmark, a round badge with all the colors of the rainbow on it and a bar of chocolate that didn't look like it'd been waiting in the bag forever to come out. There was also a T-shirt that was so like Dean that Sam couldn't help but laugh, even if it hurt a little inside. '(I'm) dyke, BITCH', it said, in black against the white, but at least the T-shirt wasn't one of those stupid women's cut versions and, hey, it wasn't like grammar had ever been Dean's strong suit (okay, yeah, that was a lie, because Dean had been the one to lay it all out for Sam back in the day, but that didn't mean that Dean wouldn't jump at an opportunity to get on Sam's nerves by putting a big, fat grammatical error on a T-shirt).

"So, yeah," Dean cut in. "I had it all planned out how I was gonna be the coolest brother ever."

"I'm so sorry to burst your bubble, Dean," Sam managed to say, but he couldn't really keep the scorn out of his voice. "I'm so sorry I'm not fucking perfect, and. Shit."

"Sam, hey, no. Sam. Listen to me." Dean tapped him on the nose, shoved the gifts out of the way and sat down next to him. "Listen, I read up on all that for you, 'cause that's what I thought was, y'know, up. So, stupid me, I skipped reading the tons of books on trans issues. But this?" Dean indicated the gifts. "That was me being all supportive and cool about it."

"And now?" Sam asked.

Dean was quiet awhile. "Well, I'm still kinda relieved that you don't go for guys, because to be frank? I gotta tell you that's one conversation I don't ever wanna have with you. And I mean, come on, how the hell does any guy let bastards like me even get close to their sisters? Or, well, brothers who got mixed up with the wrong body. How does that work, anyway?"

"I. I don't know," Sam admitted. "I just know. I look at you, or the guys at school, and I just know that's what I'm supposed to be. You know, I haven't looked at myself in a mirror in years, because what I see is so wrong I want to throw up. I just. I just, I kept hoping, for so long, that there'd been some mistake or something; that maybe I'd turn into a boy if I just waited a bit longer, but it doesn't work like that."

"No," Dean agreed. "It doesn't. I wish it did," he added in a quiet but serious tone. "Because then everyone'd be happy, right?"

Sam just nodded, so Dean went on, "And, you know, it's not like I call you Sammy because you're a girl. I call you Sammy 'cause it's you."

"I hate it when you call me— when you call me Samantha." How Sam got the name out without stuttering was a miracle. "I don't like it. It makes me feel so wrong. Like I have to be something I'm not."

"Like a square peg in a round hole," Dean murmured. He took a deep breath, then said, "This girl I was seeing once. Marina? She. Well, she had a dick instead of, y'know, the usual bits. I guess maybe she was like you, only the other way around."

Sam wasn't sure if that was too much information or not. Because on the one hand? Ew, he did so not need to know about his brother's sex life. But on the other hand? Dean had fucking dated a chick with a dick, so that had to count for something, right?

"You, you didn't mind? You don't, I mean, I."

"Sam. You're my little—" Dean cleared his throat and Sam narrowed his eyes. "Well, I guess you're my little brother now, but to me? You're still the same person you've always been. Only…"

"Only?" Sam pressed, eyes narrowed and lips scrunched tightly together.

Dean shrugged. "Only, well, I guess— I mean, you're still you, right?"

"Yeah," Sam agreed. "I won't start acting all weird or change or anything. I just. I just told you who I am, that's all."

Dean nodded once. "Yeah, right. So. You gonna get all pissed at me when I get the pronouns wrong? 'Cause come on, Sammy, you gotta realize that'll take time, even if I know now. I've spent sixteen years thinking I had a little sister when it turns out that, hey, maybe I don't, not so much. Just a bitchy little brother."

"Shut up!" Sam growled, and this time the wrestling match didn't stop until Dean accidentally banged his head against the bedside table.

"Ow," he whined.

Sam laughed and pushed at Dean until he could check if he'd been injured for real or not. "Stop being such a baby," he admonished when he couldn't even find a bump. "You're fine."

Dean looked a lot like a disgruntled twelve year old right then. "I shoulda known you were too cool and way too fucking cruel to be a girl," he whined.

Sam rolled his eyes and pretended to be annoyed, but it was kinda hard when he was grinning from ear to ear, so, well, he wasn't too sure how convincing he was.

-'-

They ordered pizza that night. Or rather: Dean went out and brought pizza home, only one of which were of the meat monstrosity kinds that the Winchesters normally went for. The other was the kind of pizza Sam only ever got when he wasn't eating it with his family; there wasn't an ounce of meat on it and it had extra pineapple.

Sam gaped.

Dean grinned. "Don't say I never did anything for you, bitch."

"I just. How'd you know?"

"'Cause I? Am an awesome brother."

Sam just grinned. "Yeah, yeah, you kinda are."

"I expect points for this."

"I got another bag of condoms."

"Consider us even."

They didn't speak much after that. Dean rarely did when he was eating and for once even Sam was starving. His busted lip was kinda sore and stung whenever he got tomato sauce on it, but it wasn't even close to popping Sam's good mood. Still, he should've known something was up when Dean cleared the table and came back with two bottles of beer and a big bag of M&M's.

"Dad—" Dean started, then stopped speaking again almost as abruptly as he'd started.

Sam froze. He felt a bit like he'd throw up any moment now, 'cause he really hadn't needed to eat that last slice of pizza, except he wasn't sure if maybe it was just that he wanted to run as far away as possible. And come on, Dean only ever bribed him with beer when he wanted to talk about something that he knew Sam didn't want to.

"Dad," Dean started up again. "Well, I think he maybe started noticing the other day, when I said I was twenty now and maybe I could stay and look after you while he took off on longer hunting trips. I think maybe he realized that if I'm twenty, then you're closing in on sixteen, and, dude, you still don't have tits."

Sam scowled. "I hate my fucking tits," he spat.

Dean blinked. The beer bottles were placed on the dingy table next to the bag of candy, and Sam kinda wanted to punch Dean in the face for ruining his good mood. He poked at Sam and shifted around on the couch until they sat chest to chest, then tugged Sam's over shirt off. Tilting his head to the side, Dean raised an eyebrow. "Dude. I can't fucking see your tits."

Sam pursed his lips, then shrugged. Throwing his shirt at Dean, Sam peeled off the T-shirts he was wearing under it – one long-sleeved, one short sleeved, because layers fucking ruled. It left him sitting in one of his old, threadbare tops that had more holes that not. Sam bit his lip.

"Sam?" Dean asked, a bit wide-eyed, and Sam supposed he couldn't blame his brother. They hadn't been naked around each other since, well. Probably since Sam started school and Dad started insisting on them not taking baths and showers together anymore. When it came down to it, right here and right now, Sam had the body of a girl some months short of sixteen and Dean was a guy who'd only recently turned twenty. Hell, Sam hadn't walked around topless since… He couldn't even remember anymore, but his best bet was since around the time that Dad freaked about how girls didn't fucking wrap their towels around their hips, no matter the fact that Sam had looked just like a guy, waist up, at the time.

Even in normal families, Sam doubted younger siblings got undressed in front of their older ones. Especially when they didn't share the same sex outwardly.

With some slight hesitation on Sam's part, he pulled off the last article of clothing that kept Dean from seeing Sam's most guarded secret – or most shameful facet of himself; he wasn't sure.

Ever since the first hard, fucking painful buds had started poking out from his chest, Sam had been ruthless in his quest to hide them and push them away and make it all just disappear. So he'd nicked a couple of rolls of bandages from their med kit, and started making what little he had in breast growth go away.

"Sammy," Dean breathed, his eyes wide.

Sam sniffed. "I hate being like this, Dean."

"Okay, yeah," Dean said. "I guess I. That's gotta hurt, Sammy."

It was just so Dean to be concerned with Sam's wellbeing that Sam kinda wanted to laugh, just a little bit. "It's not so bad," Sam said. "At first even moving kinda made me want to scream and cry and punch something, but I got used to it. And it's better than, than."

"Having tits?"

"Yeah. That really sucks."

Dean frowned, though, looking sort of concerned still, in a way that made Sam shift.

"Dean?"

"You're almost sixteen, right?" Dean put a hand on Sam's shoulder and twisted him until Dean could look at him from the side. Sam nodded, so Dean went on, "I dunno how, well. I read up on puberty – the girly bits. You should… I think, maybe, you should've had a bit more cleavage than that by now. Even tied down. You, ah… You started with periods and stuff? 'Cause—"

"No," Sam admitted.

Dean made a curious little sound. "Huh," he said. "I think maybe you should've by now."

"What kind of books have you been reading, Dean?" Sam asked, and he wasn't even sure he wanted to know the answer to that one.

"You think Dad would've?" Dean returned, and Sam had to admit Dean had just made a brilliant point. "He told me to look after you, and that's what I'm doing. Still, Sam. I kinda think you're a bit, well, late?" Clearing his throat, Dean gestured at Sam's bound chest. "How long've you been doing that?"

"Since…" Sam bit his lip as he counted backward. "I think we were in Texas, 'cause I kept getting frustrated with how fucking hot wearing all the bandages was."

"So… May, June, '98?" Dean paused. "That's kinda late, isn't it?"

"I love being late. I think I was the only, well." Sam made a face of distaste. "Let's just say, the real girls? They had tits."

"And you know this, how?"

Sam grinned. "Locker rooms, Dean. They put me with the girls; I know all about when they grow tits."

Dean's mouth fell open. "That is so fucking unfair, man!"

Shrugging, Sam said, "Though to be fair, the girls at this school make me stay in the bathroom while they change, because they think I'm a weird dyke or something and don't want me sneaking looks at them. The guys think I'm cool so long as I don't act like a dyke, I suppose."

"Are you kidding me? If I was hanging out with someone like you when I was in high school? I'd want all the juicy details."

"'Cause you're a sexual freak, Dean."

Dean laughed, but he didn't deny it, either.

Sam was halfway through his beer and they had both made a sizeable dent in the bag of M&M's when Dean said, "I've been thinking about it since you told me, Sam, but I can't make heads or tails of if we should tell Dad. Hell, what we should tell him."

Sam took a deep breath and ignored the way it was suddenly hard to hold the bottle steady. "He's the one who's really insistent on me being a, a proper girl."

"Yeah," Dean agreed.

"He doesn't like me being all tomboyish. Isn't that what he calls it? It doesn't even matter that— Look, if I was… if I was a girl, for real? How'd me wearing heels and skirts and fucking fake nails and hair extensions be a fucking good idea on a hunt?"

"I dunno, man."

Sam leaned back against the couch and brought the bottle up to his lips. The leather stuck uncomfortably against his back, and maybe he should've put his clothes back on by now, but there was a certain freedom in having Dean know, in having Dean listen to him, believe him. In Dean not flipping out on him or calling him a liar, a freak; in Dean seeing him, finally, and not who his body claimed he was. Which, of course, was when Dean dropped a bombshell on him by saying:

"I think maybe you should see a doctor, just to make sure?"

"There's nothing wrong with me, Dean!" Sam snapped. "I'm not confused, or, or—"

"Hey, no. Easy, Sammy." Dean squeezed Sam's shoulder. "Not that kind. I mean 'cause you're late."

"Late?"

"With the boobs and stuff." Dean made a gesture over his chest – as if Sam could've possibly misunderstood what Dean was talking about. "I read about it, you know? I think the books and stuff said you should've started with that stuff by now. Maybe? Or maybe we could go see Missouri, or. I don't know, man."

"Oh."

"I don't know if it's normal or not, s'all I'm saying. But I'd kinda like to make sure that there's nothing really wrong, now, rather than waiting too long and then maybe there was something seriously wrong and we were too late."

"Okay, I guess," Sam agreed, even though his skin was crawling and just thinking about it made him feel nauseous. "But I'm not confused, Dean. I know who I am."

"Yeah, I know you do. Ain't never met anyone who was more hard-headed and stubborn than you. If you say you're sure? Then you're sure. I think I had that down by the time you were three."

"I don't want a doctor to tell me I'm wrong, either."

"Okay. So we go to an LGBT doctor."

For a moment, Sam was thrown by how much reading Dean really had done when he thought Sam might be a lesbian or something; how much reading he'd done on the female aspects of puberty in the first place; how determined Dean was to make sure Sam felt normal. So Sam hugged Dean, burrowed his nose into Dean's neck like he had when he was little and needed to feel less alone. Dean returned the hug, ruffled his hair, and rubbed his back and said, "You're gonna be all right, kid."

"Dean?"

"Yeah?"

"You know how you say 'dude' and 'man' to everyone?"

"Oh, Sam."

Sam smiled. "It made me really happy whenever you called me man, 'cause I could pretend a little more that maybe, maybe—"

"It'll be fine, Sammy. I promise."

Sam thought, maybe, that he could really trust Dean to make this okay, too, like he had with everything else since Sam was so little he could barely walk. Because Dean? Well, he was magic like that.

-'-

Sam went to school the next morning, ignored the people from the GSA who looked at him funny, and ignored the whispers that spread and spread until the whole school was staring and talking about him behind his back. Two days later, he was called into the nurse's office and told to talk to the counselor about his 'delicate state of mind'. Sam sat in sullen silence until Dean came stalking in to pick him up.

"All right, what's up?" he demanded of the counselor – Mr. Fugly Sweater, Sam mentally called him, because what he was wearing was absolutely scarring (it might be wool, it might be patterned, and it might be about five colors too many).

Fugly raised his eyebrows at Dean's typically cocky attitude, then set about polishing his glasses as if he had all the time in the world. "It appears Samantha is a bit confused." Sam flinched at the name, just like he always did, but this was probably the first time Dean really noticed it, because he placed a hand on Sam's shoulder and squeezed once before turning all his attention back to Mr. Fugly Sweater.

"Confused?" Dean asked, and he sounded as if he really didn't give a damn, except his eyes were all dangerous and he was tense; too tense.

"Yes. She's been telling her classmates that she is, well, a boy; you can understand that she is confused, of course. Several girls have complained to their teachers that they feel uncomfortable changing in the same room with her for PE. I must insist you make your sister see reason about this. It is simply not acceptable behavior."

"Huh," Dean said. "Well, maybe it'd help if you weren't a complete moron."

"Excuse me?" Fugly sputtered. Sam hid a grin.

"Well," Dean went on. "It's quite simple. See, my brother? He's transsexual. You should look it up; might explain a few new concepts to you. Well, except you're such a crappy guidance counselor I doubt you'd even understand a word of it. So: It's when people are born into the wrong body. It's a bit complicated, so I see how you might be confused."

"How dare—"

"I dare," Dean said, steel in his tone. "Because Sam is my brother and you are an ignorant bigot." He turned to Sam, snapped his fingers and said, "Come on, Sam. We're leaving."

Sam's face was flushed and he was grinning ear to ear, trailing after Dean as they made their way out of the school. "Dean," he breathed.

"Yeah, yeah. You owe me, bitch."

"You're fucking awesome!"

"And don't you forget it."

-'-

In a reversal of their usual roles, Sam cooked dinner that night while Dean was busy with something else. He wouldn't say what, of course, only let enough details slip that Sam's insatiable curiosity reared its ugly head. Sam wasn't the best cook; out of all of them, Dean was the only one with any real skill in a kitchen (which, yeah, annoyed Dad to no end, but Sam was frankly sick of finding something Dad wasn't annoyed at these days). Still, he was more angry at his school because he wouldn't be the least bit surprised if he got a mark in his record for this, which sucked big time because unlike Dean's record, Sam's had always been spotless and impeccable.

Sam had plans – okay, so maybe they were more along the lines of wishes and dreams at this point, but still. Some involved vague notions of maybe going to a university or college. Others, well. Others involved him turning into a real boy. He wasn't sure how exactly he was going to manage that feat, but he didn't doubt for a moment that he would either. It was just…

It was just, he didn't want to get his hopes crushed because it wasn't possible, or if it was illegal, or if there was something wrong with him so that everyone would refuse to help him. He knew he wasn't alone, he couldn't be – it had a name and Dean had known it. So he wasn't alone. He had just never dared to actually do any kind of research about it, but now that Dean knew, now that Dean was on his side…

Maybe it wasn't impossible.

"Okay. Freak."

Sam started and glared at his brother, who was glaring right back down at the vegetables Sam was frying in the pan. "Healthy food won't kill you, you know."

"Hmm," Dean said, and he didn't sound entirely convinced. "Hey, is there bacon in that?"

"Bacon, peppers, onions and mushrooms."

Dean nodded. "So you left the eggs in the fridge."

"Yep. Figured we could have those with the milk tomorrow for breakfast."

Dean groaned. "Fuck, I need to get another job, don't I?"

"I could—"

"No," Dean interrupted immediately. "I know how insane you are about school. You honestly telling me you could hold down a job on top of that?"

Sam shook his head. "So I can still go to school?"

Dean scowled, then he reached around Sam and snatched the pan off the stove. He turned it off, put the pan on the table and had the plates out in no time; Dean could be freakishly competent in the kitchen like nobody's business when he wanted to.

"Dean?"

"They felt it would be best if you were given some time to 'figure yourself out'."

Sam looked down at the plate Dean handed to him, loaded with food. "Oh," he said. "So they won't let me back until… until I take it back?"

"Yeah, that's what I got, too," Dean sighed.

"Dad's gonna be pissed."

"Dad's not gonna know," Dean snapped. "I pulled you out; we're moving."

"What?!" Sam exclaimed, fork clattering to the table as he dropped it in shock.

Dean shrugged. "Look, Dad set it up the second I turned eighteen. In case we run into trouble and he ain't around to pull us out of it, then, well, then I got this nice, legal paper saying I'm in charge of you, right? So I figure we pull you out of school and—"

"—and go where, Dean?"

"Colorado Springs."

Sam blinked. "Okay. Why?"

"Because."

"Because what, Dean?"

Dean grinned and winked. "That's a secret. I'll pull up a school at the library tomorrow. You take the rest of the week off and pack, yeah? See if we can't be there by Saturday or Sunday."

"Wait, you're seriously my guardian?" Sam exclaimed.

Dean just nodded, not perturbed even the slightest bit. "Yeah. S'partly in case anything happens to Dad and partly in case something happens when he ain't around. This is the first time I've had to use it."

-'-

Two days later, their crappy little apartment was… well, empty wasn't the right word, because the furniture had been there when they moved in, but all their stuff was gone, packed into bags in the car. Sam had even taken the time to get hold of two cardboard boxes that he'd stuffed their kitchen paraphernalia in, along with the books and some of the other stuff – like the extra towels and the bed sheets – that usually got left behind. This time was different from the other times they'd moved, because it turned out Sam and Dean were better planners together than their Dad was alone. Also? And this was partly the real reason: Dad was the one who always insisted on leaving everything behind. Without him around, grabbing the extra stuff made no difference to Sam, and there was room for it in the car.

"Okay," Dean declared. "I drive during the day when the cops are out, and you drive at night."

"Cool."

Dean dumped a wad of newspapers in Sam's lap the second he climbed inside the car. "Find us a case."

"What?" Sam scowled. "Why? I thought—"

"Hey! You wanna tell Dad you got kicked out of school 'cause your plumbing is all wrong?"

"No," Sam mumbled, sheepish and sullen.

"Right. So find us a case."

"Did you tell Dad?"

Dean shook his head. "I left him a message saying we'd moved, but I didn't leave any details. Figured it could wait 'til he finds the time to call back."

"Right," Sam agreed. Then, "He hasn't called back?"

Dean shook his head, lips tight, and Sam didn't ask about Dad again.

-'-

They drove for two days, and by the time they reached Colorado Springs, CO, Sam felt only slightly more alive than a dead fish. His eyes were gritty, his mouth felt disgusting and Dean'd been snoring for an hour straight. Sam woke him by tickling a feather in his ear, which made him feel a little better, but not a lot.

"Christ, Sammy," Dean growled, rubbing his ear to get the tickly feeling to stop.

"We're here."

"Right." Dean yawned and sat up straight. "So."

"So."

"Motel for the night, find a place in the morning?"

"Sounds good," Sam agreed with a yawn. He pulled over at the first motel he found that fell into the Winchester category. It was cheap, downtrodden and unremarkable. Most likely, the manager'd forget they'd ever been here by the time they checked out, which suited them just fine; always had. While Dean went to get them a room, Sam pulled out their bags and locked the car.

"What's the plan, then?" Sam asked once they were inside the room that was theirs for the night. It had two beds, a tiny little bathroom and had probably needed a complete makeover about ten years ago. All in all, it looked exactly like any other motel room Sam'd ever spent the night in.

Dean shrugged. "I get a job, you go to school. That's it."

Sam was just tired enough that he didn't bother finding out what else there was to Dean's ever so simplistic plan. He just yawned, said it was fine by him, and fell into bed face first, with his shoes still on. He was asleep by the time Dean tugged them off, and when he woke in the morning Dean had somehow gotten Sam out of his jeans as well as his oversized hoodie and got him in under the covers.

-'-

Dean had coffee ready on the table after Sam came out from his shower, just wearing a towel wrapped around his waist and one of the tight sports bras he owned. He still preferred to bind his breasts, but this? Just wearing a sports bra when Dean knew? It felt kind of nice, too.

"What is it you're trying to hide, exactly?" Dean asked, looking him over. "You don't have anything there to hide."

"Yes, I do," Sam snapped. "I know they're there. They stick out."

Dean rolled his eyes. "If you say so. Anyway, breakfast is served."

They ate in silence, Sam smothering more syrup than was entirely warranted over his pancakes while Dean skimmed through the papers he'd picked up and ate several pieces of toast and slices of bacon.

"Did you find anything?"

Sam shook his head. "There might be something in Fountain Creek, though."

"Yeah?"

"Couple of locals disappear every year, but it's not like it's unheard of for people to drown, right?"

"Right," Dean agreed. "Still, it's more than I have."

"Yeah?"

"Someone claims their cat is really Jesus. How 'bout that?"

Sam blinked. "I don't even… How do you start thinking that your cat is Jesus?"

"Maybe it died and came back? Or hey, raised a tiny little army of, like, hamsters or something."

"Zombie-cat Jesus?"

"Huh. That's kinda cool. I want a zombie-cat."

-'-

They spent most of that day just driving around in Colorado Springs. Whatever Dean was looking for, he wouldn't say, and Sam did his best to be extra annoying and asked far more questions than was probably justified to fill up his quota as pesky little brother. By the end of the day Sam had a couple of new notebooks for school and a new place to live.

The bungalow had seen better days, no doubt about that, and it only had the one bedroom, but Sam and Dean had been sharing for as long as Sam could remember and, frankly, it'd probably feel way weirder not sharing, so. Sharing it was. There was just the one bed, though, and it had been years since they'd shared one of those. In all honesty, Sam wasn't sure if he'd be comfortable sleeping in the same bed as Dean. Not when he didn't feel at home in his own skin, and, well. It was complicated.

For the first time in his life, there were actual boxes to unpack in the living room/kitchen (it turned out it wasn't as fun as all those crappy shows on TV made it look). So Dean cooked, and Sam ran around carrying stuff, trying to look like he knew what he was doing.

-'-

"It's Monday tomorrow."

"Brilliant observation, Sammy."

"It's Sam, and shut up." Sam scrubbed at his plate, trying to get the last of the stubborn, sticky food off it. "Where am I going to school?"

"Right. I called around to some of Dad's contacts, and one of them hooked you up with this fancy school, so you better not flunk, you hear what I'm saying?"

Sam twisted around to stare at Dean. Dean smirked, leaning back against the sill of the one window in the kitchen. "What?"

For the first time since Dean had gone off claiming to 'research schools', he looked a bit unsure. "It's the third best school in the state, Sammy. You're a geek, so I'm betting you'll just wet yourself at the thought of going to a 'real school'," Dean said, complete with air quotes and all. "I've no idea if it's, y'know, open minded? I'm guessing not, since, well, it's the Air Academy high school. But. Sam, it's a really good school."

Sam wasn't sure what to say, because, yeah, on the one hand he was fucking ecstatic to go to a real, normal school instead of all the cheap, falling-apart, barely-hanging-in-there schools he'd been to in the past, it was just… "Is it a military school? Dean, they hate people like me in the military! Are you fucking insane? I can't go to a military school! Dean—"

"It's not a military school!" Dean snapped. "It's just… related to the Air Force, I guess. I don't know. But it's the best fucking school in Colorado Springs, man, and I gotta tell you: you fucking deserve to go to a good fucking school, all right? I've seen your reports and it shouldn't be possible to score grades like that the way we've been living, Sam. You're. You're a genius, all right? You should go to a good school."

"So why pick Colorado Springs, then? Dean, there are hundreds of schools out there, and I'm sure at least some of them have a fucking GSA chapter!"

"Yeah, maybe they do, but. I found you a fucking doctor, okay? And she's here, not upstate or in San Francisco, all right? She's here."

Sam raised an eyebrow. "What? Now, suddenly, the only doctor in the US who can take a look at me 'cause I'm late is in Colorado Springs?!" he exclaimed, disbelief practically dripping from his tone. He sneered. "I sincerely doubt that."

Dean just huffed and rolled his eyes, though. "No, you idiot. Not that kind of doctor. The other kind."

Sam flushed, feeling his heart pound a thousand times faster, and suddenly he was so angry and wretched and betrayed that he didn't know what to do or how react or even how to speak. His hands were trembling so bad he dropped the plate he was cleaning down into the sink with a crash. "You said—" he choked out. "You promised!"

"Aw, shit, no, Sammy." Dean pulled him away from the sink and into a hug Sam really wanted no part of. He put his elbow in Dean's side, which made him grunt, but not really loosen the hold he had on Sam. "They have a center, Sam, for kids like you. I figure we go see her, talk to her, and she'll help you out."

"Help me how, Dean? Make me a normal fucking girl?!"

Dean laughed. "You'll never be normal, kid. You're too much fucking Winchester for that. No, it's kind of an LGBT center. You wanna be T? They'll help you out."

Sam's breathing was shaky and irregular. "What're you talking about?" he mumbled, not really following a thing Dean was saying. "Whaddya mean, T?"

Dean didn't say anything right away. "Sam, you ever done any research on yourself?"

Sam shook his head and closed his eyes. He sort of really liked that nook, right there, by Dean's shoulder and just under his ear so that his hair tickled Sam's face. Right there? The rest of the world didn't even fucking exist and it was awesome. "Was afraid to," he whispered. "Didn't wanna know if I was a freak or if, if there wasn't anything— anything that'd fix me."

"So I can still be awesome? I mean, I'm not as prepared for this as I was on the whole butch-dyke thing, but I think I covered the basics. Sam? Sammy? Aw, come on, kid, you don't have to cry; it'll be fine, I promise."

-'-1999(MAR)-'-

Sam's first day of school rocked. He'd sat through a meeting with the principal and Dean for over an hour, so by the time the bell rang and signaled the start of classes, Sam was way more prepared than he'd been for any other school he'd ever been to. He was in every AP class he could feasibly be in, and Dean somehow talked the principal into letting Sam skip out on PE for the rest of the year because he already had all the units he needed, technically (but Sam wasn't really sure how that worked, exactly), and if Dr. Kinley, the principal, needed it, Dean could fish out a medical note excusing him.

By the time Dean picked him up that afternoon, Sam was vibrating with nervous energy, anxiety and anticipation, all wrapped up in a jumbled, mismatched package. Dean greeted him with a grin and a cup of cheap takeout coffee, but no matter how cheap and awful it was, it did the trick of relaxing Sam. Well, somewhat relaxing him. He was far too jittery.

"Ready to rock?" Dean asked.

Sam's stomach was doing cartwheels and he clutched his coffee tight. "I think I'm gonna be sick."

Dean shot him a panicked look. "For real?"

"I dunno. I'm kinda…" Sam waved his hands in the air. "I feel like I'm all over the place."

"If you don't wanna do this, just say the word and I'll take us right out of here."

Sam shook his head so fast his vision went kinda blurry. "No, no!" he blurted. "I'm sure. It's not a phase. I won't grow out of it—"

"Hey, Sammy. Easy, kid. I never said you would."

Sam nodded, then drank several mouthfuls of the coffee that was just warm enough not to scald his mouth and throat as it went down. "Right. Sorry."

"Talk to me, bitch," Dean suggested, eyes on the road.

So Sam did. He just opened his mouth, and the words vomited out.

Some of it was related to the classes he'd had that day in his new school, and "it's awesome, Dean," but most was just random chitter-chatter about everything and nothing. Like, "I've just had one girlfriend, and she was totally amazing. She kissed me, like, three times and then took me to the movies," or, "I swear, Dean, the robot had laser eyes," or, "We should totally go to Europe, man," so, yeah, coherence wasn't very high on Sam's list of priorities right then. It was probably why it took Sam a long while to realize that they'd stopped driving and that the car was parked in front of a nondescript building with two rainbow flags hanging from the wall by the entrance.

Dean was looking at him, body turned toward Sam's in the car, all indulgence and soft smiles in his eyes. "Oh," Sam said.

"Wanna go inside, check things out?"

Sam nodded numbly. He was still clutching the coffee cup in his hand when Dean came around the car to get him out, and he refused to let go of it until Dean tickled him. Dean kept his hand on Sam's shoulder, grip just tight enough that it propelled him forward instead of him just stopping and standing stock-still like an idiot. The cup was tossed in the trash, and then they were inside and the secretary sitting behind the desk looked expectantly at them.

"Hey, I made an appointment with a Dr. Becket for my brother, Sam? I'm Dean Winchester."

The secretary looked between them, but Sam was too busy looking at all the posters on the walls to really pay any attention to the guy. "Of course. Dr. Becket will be with you in a couple of minutes. Why don't you sit down and wait?"

"Sounds good," Dean agreed, and so Sam was dragged along to one of the couches in the room. "You with me, Sammy?"

"If you have a pizza with radius z and thickness a, its volume is pizza," Sam blurted out.

Dean blinked. "Like, pi times z times z times a?" Sam nodded. Dean smiled. "Yeah, that's kinda cool if you're a geek, I guess."

Sam was just about to protest, because how fair was it of Dean to call him a geek when Dean knew exactly what Sam was talking about, really, when the secretary cleared his throat and announced that, "Dr. Becket will see you now; her door is open if you'll just go down the corridor to your left."

So Sam froze up a little, Dean chuckled, and next thing Sam knew, he was standing in front of a woman who was way shorter than he was, wearing glasses, graying hair and a brisk smile.

"Sam Winchester?" Sam nodded. "I'm Dr. Becket. Your brother contacted me last week." Sam nodded again, but he didn't say anything because he couldn't really remember how to speak, much less how to move so he could shake her hand.

"Hi, I'm Dean," Dean said, all smooth and easy charm, and reached out to shake her hand in Sam's stead. "To be honest, I think my brother's a little, well. Overwhelmed."

"Yes, I can see that."

"Partly my fault," Dean went on. "I kinda dropped the bomb on him yesterday, so to speak. Maybe I shoulda told him right after I spoke with you. S'just, I didn't know he didn't know there was, y'know, treatments and stuff."

"I'm not sick!" Sam burst out.

Dean started. "No, I know," he said, looking kind of worried. "You with us now, Sammy?"

Sam blinked.

Dr. Becket indicated that they should sit down, so Sam allowed himself to be led again, then just— just didn't know what to do.

"How long have you been referring to Sam as you brother, Dean?"

"Since last week. He kinda… exploded on me? Rough day at school. I guess it got to be a bit much to hold in. To be honest, I'm kinda floundering here."

"Dean's the best," Sam heard himself say. "He's just awesome."

Dr. Becket raised her eyebrows, but she was almost smiling now as she looked from Dean to Sam, so Sam took that to heart. "Did hearing about this place make you nervous, Sam?"

Sam nodded. "Oh, yeah. Big time. I didn't know. I didn't know fixing me was possible. You can fix me, right? I'm all wrong, and I. I don't want to be wrong anymore."

"How are you wrong?"

"Wrong body," Sam declared, and even though it wasn't the first time he was saying it – far from it, what with how easily Dean had taken to it – it still sent such a rush of relief and pleasure through him that Sam went all tingly inside. "I'm a guy, not a girl."

"Simple as that, is it?" she asked, and Sam nodded with a big grin.

"Totally as easy as that."

"Has it always been?"

Sam shrugged. "Yeah. Ever since I was a kid, I always hated that Dad called me a girl, or that I had to have long hair when Dean didn't. I hated that the teachers in school always made me sit with the girls when I'd rather be outside with the boys, and that I wasn't allowed to do all the sports I wanted 'cause they didn't get that I wasn't a girl. I remember wishing when I was really little that maybe someone had just made a mistake and that I'd be fixed."

"Would you say you look up to your brother?"

It was such a huge understatement that Sam didn't really have words for it. "Yeah, I think you could say that. I've probably been running after him since I was, like, four or something, trying to be exactly like him."

"Look, we didn't have a lot of money growing up, so most of the time I'd save my old clothes so that he could wear them," Dean cut in. "I think Dad brought home skirts and dresses once or twice, but Sam, well. Sam sort of refused to wear them."

"I was jealous a lot," Sam whispered then.

"Jealous of your brother?"

Sam nodded, aware that Dean looked sharply at him. "Yeah," he agreed. "I just. I thought it was so unfair that he got all the cool stuff, and I got stuck with all the lame girly stuff. I hated that no one understood that we were the same, that I wasn't a real girl. I mean, I don't think it was until I started school that I really got why boys and girls were so different, so it wasn't too bad until then, but." Sam shrugged. "Dad never bought him any stupid skirts. I hated that he tried to make me wear them because I hated that it made me different and wrong."

"Did you ever feel pressured into thinking that you were a boy even though you have a female body?"

"No, absolutely not!" Sam protested. "The opposite, if anything. Dad's always the one who's on me about being too, too boyish. Dean's never really cared."

"'Cause I'm an awesome brother," Dean added.

"You accept this facet of your brother?"

Dean smirked. "Only thing that changed were the pronouns," he declared. "He's been like this since I can remember."

At some point during their appointment, it occurred to Sam that Dr. Becket might have been a psychologist, not a real doctor, and to be honest he wasn't too sure what to make of that. Then again, he theorized, she hadn't accused him of being either a liar or confused, like that stuck up counselor Mr. Fugly Sweater had.

"How do you feel about your body, Sam?"

"Don't like it," Sam said at once.

"Why?"

"It's… wrong. Uncomfortable. I…" He shook his head and trailed off.

"Look," Dean started. "Might not be my place, but he binds his, you know." Dean made the universal sign for boobs. "And when he came out to me he said something about hating mirrors."

"Because mirrors only show reflections of our outsides?"

"Yeah, exactly," Sam agreed. "And I don't like what I see. It's not me."

"You never consult mirrors?"

Sam shrugged. "If it's just my face, then it's okay. But I can't really… No, I kinda stay away from them."

Dr. Becket cleared her throat and glanced at Dean once before turning to Sam. "Do you touch yourself when you shower?"

"Just to get clean," Sam mumbled.

"Do you ever pleasure yourself?"

Sam went beet red in under a second flat. He pointedly ignored that Dean was even in the room, much less sitting squirming in the chair next to his. "Um. Maybe if I don't think about it? Like, if I can pretend it's someone else's body?"

-'-

"I'm going to recommend further therapy for Sam, or both of you if you find that you have a hard time adjusting," Dr. Becket said to them both after one of the longest hours in Sam's life. "I would see that you do it separately, though. It's not always topics you find you want to share with your family."

"You don't say?" Dean drawled.

Dr. Becket smiled. "Oh, but I do."

"Why do I need therapy?" Sam asked.

"Why not?" Dr. Becket returned. "Transitioning is a difficult time. You'll be confused, feel unbalanced, maybe even uncertain. It's vital that we assess your state of mind before it's too late. Not to make you change your mind or make you think you're merely confused, but to make sure you're comfortable all the way through. Living with the wrong sex is difficult. You know this, Sam; you've been doing it all your life. Dean tells me you were afraid to find out why in case there was something wrong with you. Now that you know you are perfectly normal…" She shrugged. "It can be hard, knowing your dreams might be fulfilled one day. You need someone to talk to during all of this who is unbiased, and for all that your brother is… awesome, was it?" Sam smiled. "He is hardly impartial. There is also the matter of how much you want to change."

Sam frowned. "What do you mean?"

Dr. Becket pulled out a folder from one of the drawers behind the desk. "Hormone treatments are fairly non-invasive, as a rule. You are the only one who can decide how absolute you want your transition to be. Do you want chest reconstructive surgery? Do you want to remove your uterus and your ovaries? Do you want genital reconstruction surgery?"

While Sam sort of understood what it all meant in a literal sense, he couldn't really make sense of it. Yeah, he knew he wanted to be a guy, it was just. Just, well.

"Geez, I'd no idea there was that much to it. All I could pull up at the library was testosterone shots," Dean filled in, sounding only slightly less astonished than Sam felt.

"As I said: there is a lot to consider, which is why these sessions are necessary. Now. I understand you have a meeting with Dr. Cavanaugh in five minutes regarding personal issues?"

It was Dean who nodded, because Sam hadn't known they were meeting more than one doctor (or, well, that he was meeting more than one doctor).

"A suggestion?"

"You want me to wait outside," Dean drawled.

Dr. Becket smiled. "Yes." She handed the folder to Sam. "You'll find some basic information in there on what the complete transition entails. I recommend you read it and start thinking about what kind of changes you want to make. But Sam?"

"Yeah?"

"Take your time. There is no rush."

-'-

They didn't spend more than just a couple of minutes in the waiting room with the nice couches. Sam handed the folder over to Dean and tried to come up with a reason for Dean to follow him into the next doctor's office as well.

"You can stop thinking about it. I'm not joining you this time."

Sam glared. "Don't read my mind, jerk. I don't want to go in there alone."

"Sam, she's probably gonna examine you. Cavanaugh is the 'your puberty's all whacked' doctor. You seriously want me to watch you naked while she checks if your bits are in order?"

Sam went white in the face. "Oh my god," he gasped. "She's gonna make me sit in one of those GYN chairs, isn't she? Dean! I don't wanna—"

"Dr. Cavanaugh is ready to see you now," the secretary announced.

"Be right there," Dean called, then turned to Sam. "Listen, Sammy. I'll be out here the entire time. She's not gonna make you do anything you're uncomfortable with, and she'll ask before she does anything, then she'll tell you exactly what she's doing, the entire time. I promise, all right? Now get going before I drag your ass there."

That didn't really make Sam feel any better. He still felt nervous as hell as he walked into Dr. Cavanaugh's room. It looked identical to Dr. Becket's, except more clinical and medical, and there was a second room farther in that Sam could only see part of through the open door. Cavanaugh was slightly younger, a bit rounder and infinitely more smiley than the other doctor, though, which kinda helped make Sam feel at ease.

"Sam Winchester?" she asked.

"Yeah. Uh. Hi." This time, he didn't need any prompting to shake the doctor's hand.

"It was your brother who booked the appointment. I understand he was a bit concerned over your development into puberty?"

"Right," Sam agreed awkwardly.

The next hour Sam spent being poked and stung with needles and prodded at in various states of undress, being asked uncomfortable questions and offering awkward answers, with Dr. Cavanaugh writing down notes and humming through it all. And just like Dean had said, she never once did anything without first asking him, and then she talked him through the entire process. When he was shown into the next room and asked to undress, Sam had a quiet, private moment of freaking out.

"I really don't want to do this," he said.

Dr. Cavanaugh looked at him kindly. "What is it that makes you most uncomfortable, Sam?"

"Everything!" Sam pointed at the bed with the stirrups. "That! I hate being— I don't—!"

"We can reschedule and have you sedated, if that would make you feel better," she offered, and Sam shuddered; that sounded even worse.

"Why do I need to…?" Sam gestured at the bed, not quite willing to actually say the words.

"You can answer questions to no end, Sam, but only your body holds the answers. We will take as many breaks as you need."

So in the end, Sam lay down in just a flimsy hospital gown, feet in the stirrups and tried not to feel exposed and violated. He squeezed his eyes shut for good measure and mostly ignored what the doctor was doing down there. Then, when she was done, she wanted to examine his breasts and made him remove the wrap that kept them suppressed. He felt more than a little frazzled by the time they made it back out to the doctor's office, where they waited for less than a minute for Dean to arrive so they could go through the results of the check-up.

"Sam is exceptionally healthy and well-trained," Dr. Cavanaugh said. "A bit undernourished, but not alarmingly so, and it's not something that is at all unusual in teenagers."

Dean nodded. "And the rest?"

"If this were a normal scenario, I would recommend kick-starting Sam's body so that puberty is back on track. We will have to wait for the lab results to come back to know for sure, but going by the preliminary and the physical examination it does not look like Sam's body is going to start menstruating any time soon. Even breast development appears halted and immature. It's not unusual; it happens, but natural progression at this point is extremely unlikely. It's all easily solved in most cases, except I understand Sam does not wish to be a woman."

"Yeah, no, he doesn't."

"Yeah, so can't you just do nothing?" Sam put in, a vaguely hopeful expression on his face. Because not having breasts larger than what he had? Never getting periods? That sounded just about perfect to him.

Dr. Cavanaugh shook her head. "We go through puberty for a reason; skipping it entirely will just lead to more complications down the road. Now, while we wait for the results to come back to me, it's my understanding that Sam will be seeing Dr. Becket for regular therapy?" Sam and Dean nodded, Sam a bit less readily than Dean. "By the end of that, hopefully Dr. Becket will have enough to judge whether or not you would benefit from testosterone treatments. That will start puberty, just not in the way your body was designed to originally."

"Different how?" Dean asked. "Like, he'll grow a beard?"

"Eventually," Dr. Cavanaugh agreed, smiling a little. "It'll halt whatever progress his body has made in terms of female development and start developing more male characteristics. Deepening of the voice, facial hair, coarser body hair. Depending on whether or not the growth plates in his long bones have fused, he may grow a little taller."

"I think he's still growing," Dean put in, glancing at Sam, who slouched a little at that.

"Sam's medical records indicate as much as well." Dr. Cavanaugh looked between them before focusing on Sam. "If you choose to undergo testosterone therapy, there are a multitude of medical and physical issues you need to be made aware of and consider. And you must remember that you are the only one who can make this choice."

-'-

Sam was quiet for most of the ride home. He had two thick folders stuffed full with information in his lap that he'd need to go through, read and consider, and he just knew Dean would do exactly the same because that was what Dean did, apparently, and it wasn't really something that should've surprised Sam the way it did initially. Dean cared, Sam knew that better than anyone, but it hadn't ever occurred to him that Dean actively went out and looked up information that could help Sam, not like that (not stuff like puberty, identity and sexuality; not gender issues or testosterone treatments). But Dean didn't push or prod or demand answers from him; he just let Sam be, which was exactly what he needed right then.

The second they got home, Sam commandeered the kitchen table and started in on his homework. The folders from the doctors' office lay neatly on the couch, out of sight but not mind. Dean went out and returned with Chinese food, and plunked one of the containers down within easy reach in front of Sam, then disappeared. The TV was turned on, but Sam tuned it out in favor of his algebra homework. While Sam worked his way through history, literature, physics and Latin, he was sort of peripherally aware of Dean working his way through crappy horror movies that involved a lot of screaming, half-naked women in wet, see-through T-shirts (okay, so he noticed some bits).

"Time for bed, Sammy," Dean announced, and Sam looked up from his books with gritty eyes.

"Huh?"

"Bedtime," Dean repeated. "C'mon. It's, like, five minutes 'til midnight and you get grumpy if you don't sleep enough."

"I'm so behind in, like, every subject, Dean," Sam complained. "I need to—"

"You always have the first week off, dude. They don't expect you to be up to date until next week, and you know it."

Sam kinda hated when Dean was logical like that, but he allowed himself to be pushed into the bathroom. Brushing his teeth and washing his face, scrubbing it clean, felt awesome and, yeah, maybe he was a lot more tired than he'd thought. By the time Sam was done, Dean was waiting for his turn. The house was quiet and dark, doors and windows locked and salted. There was a bedside lamp on in the bedroom, and Sam picked the other side so Dean could turn it off when he was done preening himself in the bathroom (because no one took longer showers than Dean).

-'-

They settled into a routine in no time at all: Sam went to school, Dean went to work. Occasionally, Sam went down to the Community Council for Adolescent Development; sometimes Dean went with him and sometimes he didn't. They didn't talk about Dad much. Sometimes Sam would walk in on Dean talking to Bobby on the phone, or Pastor Jim, or Missouri, or Caleb, or some other hunter whom Dad may or may not have been in contact with. It wasn't that Dad was missing as such, it was just that they couldn't seem to find him. The only reason they didn't freak out entirely were the occasional postcards that found their way to them, all with Dad's handwriting, most of them just saying 'safe' or 'lay low' or something similar that was just as frustrating. They took to marking down Dad's progress through the country on a map they had on the wall, based on where the postcards had been sent from. It didn't really tell them much, other than that Dad was moving from one side of the US to the other, and that he was moving a lot faster than he ever had when they were with him.

"We might as well stay," Dean said one day, sprawled out on the couch next to Sam. The TV was on, showing a documentary on meerkats that was disturbingly captivating, and they hadn't looked away for over an hour. "I mean, no way I can drag the two of us around the country when you ain't even legal, Sammy."

"I wanna finish school."

"Yeah, and that."

"Remember the case that maybe wasn't a case?"

"No."

"Well, someone drowned a couple of days ago. Third time in three weeks, now."

"Huh. Isn't that river a bit too cold for swimming?"

"I was looking into sea creatures."

"Is it Nessie?"

"Could be a selkie, maybe, or a mermaid or a water demon or an undine or something."

"You think an army of them could take over Africa?"

"Dean, are you listening to me?"

"Sure. Monsters in the river. Fascinating. Have you seen these guys? They're, like, perfect little soldiers."

-'-1999(AUG)-'-

Sam started his T therapy in April and didn't feel that much different. Except, maybe, how his voice got a little deeper after a while and how he started getting hungry, like, all the time. Then one day Dean dragged him into the bathroom, shoved a razor in his hand and told him to start shaving, dammit. They were at Bobby's at the time and Dean had taken some time off work so they could drive up to meet the man. Usually they'd stop by once a year or so, but with Dad gone since about two weeks after Dean's birthday, they hadn't had the yearly check in, so Sam had suggested that maybe they should take some time and go visit the hunter themselves.

It'd be the first time since Sam began taking T that they met up with anyone who'd known him 'before'. So yeah, Sam was distracted and jumpy and Dean was poking fun and being annoying. It took them about eleven hours to get there, as now that Sam had his license they could easily drive through the day without worrying about cops or Dean falling asleep at the wheel.

"What the hell've you kids gotten into now?" Bobby asked when they got out of the car.

"Whaddya mean?" Dean asked, grinning. "We haven't gotten in trouble in ages now."

"You don't say," Bobby drawled, but he was looking at Sam, and Sam found he couldn't stop fidgeting or even raise his head enough that he could look Bobby in the eye. Maybe, he thought, they should've told Bobby beforehand, like, on the phone or something, but it was too late to do anything about that now, because, well. They were already here.

"Yeah," Dean was saying, and then he rounded the car and slapped Sam on the back, squeezing his shoulder once before letting his hand fall away. "So, Sam is my brother."

"Just like that?"

"Just like that," Dean agreed, and his voice was about three kinds of steely and immovable. "You got a problem with that, we'll just drive straight back home again."

"Your Daddy know about this?" Bobby gestured at Sam. The scrutiny made him feel uncomfortable for the first time ever since he started with the T, and it wasn't because he was gangly and awkward and finally more guy than a girl, except for maybe how it was exactly that, because he was finally going through puberty and, right parts or not, it was awkward. Pimples weren't fun, his voice squeaking wasn't fun, aching bones weren't fun, but he absolutely loved that his puberty didn't involve tits, periods or widening hips, and that it did include something he'd always been jealous at Dean for: muscle mass (well, he'd been jealous about a lot of things when it came to Dean, but that wasn't really the point). The point was that he was a guy, not a girl, and that Bobby probably just needed to do some research on the topic; he was a hunter, after all.

"Dad ain't been around since January," Dean was saying, drawing Sam out of his thoughts. "We were kinda hoping you'd heard something about that."

Bobby pulled his hat off and ran a hand through his hair. "I don't pretend to get this," he said, gesturing at Sam, but he didn't look outright disgusted, either, which made it all the harder to read him.

Sam shrugged. "I'm the same as always, only now I'm starting to look it."

"Yeah." Dean grinned and knuckled Sam's cheek. "Kinda liked him when he was shorter, though."

"Shut up, jerk," Sam spat and elbowed Dean in the side. Dean grunted, then went for all of Sam's ticklish spots. Sam, of course, retaliated.

"All right, you two!" Bobby growled. "Stop tussling. Come on, inside with you then and lay it out for me. Get going with you; ain't got all day."

So yeah, they were at Bobby's when Dean handed Sam a razor and showed him how to shave. Sam pretended to be annoyed through the entire process, but he couldn't deny that he felt kind of giddy about it all, too, 'cause there was no mistaking the hint of pride in Dean's eyes or the way he bragged about it to Bobby later on.

Bobby, of course, just rolled his eyes and told them to stop acting like idiots. Sam didn't fool himself into thinking that Bobby was all right with Sam being a guy, but he made an effort, at least, and Sam tried not to take it personally when he slipped up every now and then.

-'-

"So you two holed up in Colorado Springs, huh?"

"Yeah. I go to school, and Dean brings in the money. It's not ideal, exactly, but it works."

Bobby scratched his jaw. "Only time I hear from John Winchester these days is when he's got himself in a bind. Don't matter if it's with the law or some kind of supernatural freakshow."

"We get postcards," Sam said. "Dean thought about going looking for him, but…"

"But Sammy needs to finish school, and he can't do that if he needs to hold down a job as well, and I don't like the idea of splitting up and leaving him alone," Dean finished. He didn't even sound bitter about it, and Sam wasn't sure why, because even though Sam didn't particularly like hunting as such – or dislike it for that matter – Dean loved it. So yeah, Sam had never really dared ask why Dean chose to stick around with him instead of taking off to look for Dad, but he sure as hell wasn't complaining.

"You boys done hunting, then?" Bobby asked, and Sam couldn't help but smile, even if Bobby kinda looked a bit surprised at hearing himself refer to the two of them as boys.

"If it's in the area, we'll take care of it over a weekend. Like, hauntings and stuff. We don't got the, the juice to go on the kind of long, cross-country hunts Dad took us on. But we keep our eyes peeled, and Sam never stops with the research, so, yeah. We're set."

"There's something in the river, I think, we just can't figure out what it is or narrow it down. It's too random."

"Could just be drownings."

"Except they're almost all women and bits of their livers were missing."

"Which, yeah, can happen if the fish start eating at you, or the wild life. Dude, you saw the forensics on the vics; they weren't pretty. There's no telling how long they'd been in the river, and there was a lot of stuff missing from them, like their eyes?"

-'-

They stayed with Bobby the rest of the week before they had to drive back home.

"Think he'll be all right with you?" Dean asked, once they'd pulled out of Sioux Falls.

Sam smiled and nodded. "Maybe, yeah. He slipped up, but he really tried, you know? I don't think he understands, but I'm guessing he'll do all kinds of research until the next time we meet."

"Yeah." Dean snorted and shook his head. "'Cause if there's someone who's an obsessive research freak, it's a goddamned hunter," he muttered.

-'-1999(SEP)-'-

Bobby called about a month later and told them to pull their heads out of their asses and look up a goddamned kappa already, then hung up.

Dad sent two postcards. The first one said 'safe', same as always. The second one held the title of a book and arrived two days later. A week after that, a letter came with a bank account number in it and the name it was filed under (Sam assumed he'd been in contact with Bobby, who'd given him his opinion on ditching his kids without a dime, but he wasn't sure).

"Well?" Sam asked when Dean came back from the bank.

"So. We've got five grand in my name," he declared, looking kind of numb. "Where the hell did Dad make that kind of money, anyway? Hustling pool?"

"I. Shit," Sam said, and Dean grinned and said, "Yeah, that about sums it up."

By then, Sam and Dean'd had their own joint account for a while, mostly consisting of whatever leftovers there were from Dean's salary, which was never much, if there was anything leftover in the first place (so maybe they technically had two joint accounts after they got Dad's letter, but since they left Dad's money where it was, they sometimes forgot about it entirely). Dean was the one who'd opened their account after Sam'd nagged him about it for a while (and they kept the account long after they probably should've stopped sharing and started up separate ones). Still, they'd been doing well enough with Dean's pay that they didn't technically need the money Dad'd sent them, and they continued to make the odd deposit or two 'just in case' into their own account. They weren't sure what that 'just in case' was, but they'd been raised to be wary, so they saved and stockpiled rather than spent and wasted.

-'-1999(OCT)-'-

Dean's boss at the garage where he worked was a former Air Force major who'd taken a liking to Dean. They didn't mind so much, because they knew when to accept some extra help, but they didn't always appreciate the extra attention that help sometimes brought with it. This guy, though, in his later forties, was really kind of impressed with Dean, especially after they ran into him while on their morning run one day.

It was something Dad had started them in on when Sam was a kid: go running, every day if possible, and stay sharp and fit. So some mornings Major Banks, as people called him, accompanied them on their typical five mile-ish run.

Some days, Dean came home grinning and bruised after work and talked about how Major Banks insisted on teaching him hand-to-hand combat, kind of like Dad used to before he went missing, and sometimes Dean dragged Sam with him when he knew Sam wasn't too busy with school. Eventually it led to Sam and Dean spending their Sunday mornings at a local shooting range, which did wonders for the (in)famous competitive Winchester streak, because when it came to the long range weapons, Sam always won. It evened out, though, because Dean took him every time they did hand-to-hand combat training these days.

Taking T meant, apparently, that Sam wasn't done growing yet, even though both his doctors and most of the reading he'd done, both on his own and with Dean, had said that he probably wouldn't grow significantly taller, because testosterone wasn't a growth hormone (Dr. Cavanaugh reckoned it was because his long bones hadn't started to fuse yet when he started taking T). So Sam was gangly and awkward and thin, and Dean was sturdy, muscled and kind of like a tank. Sam enrolled in martial arts in school in an attempt to get one over Dean, but Dean retaliated by fighting dirty.

Halfway through October, the principal called Sam and Dean in for a conference. The school's counselor was present as well as the school nurse. Dean frowned at Sam, who frowned back and shrugged; he didn't know what this was about anymore than Dean did.

They spent twenty minutes going over Sam's grades (outstanding, all As and A+s), his performance rate (zero absences) and placement tests (highest score in his age group). By the end of that, Sam felt kind of uncomfortable, but Dean was preening and looked proud as a peacock. Still, though, it didn't explain why they were talking about this with the principal, or why the nurse and the counselor were there as well. It didn't exactly make either Sam or Dean relax.

"As you can clearly see, Sam is a very well-adjusted individual."

"Yeah," Dean agreed. "He's wicked smart."

"Certainly." The principal pursed her lips, then said, "Some matters were recently brought to my attention. Regarding… Sam. I would quite like an explanation."

Sam and Dean exchanged a look, then Dean faced the principal and raised an eyebrow. "You gonna kick him out if I don't tell you what you want to know rather than the truth?"

"This is a serious matter, Dean. What would happen if everyone were to simply pretend to be the opposite sex?"

"I imagine the world'd be a happier place, for one. And two? Sam's not pretending."

"Sam's medical records—"

"Are out of date. Sammy?"

Sam shrugged. He sat on his hands to hide how much they were shaking. "I started taking testosterone shots in April," he said. "I go to that Community Council for Adolescent Development center downtown? Dean made me appointments, and I've been seeing one of their therapists since then and I have regular check-ups. I go to support groups. I've always been a guy; this is just my body catching up on that. I've been told I make people uncomfortable because I don't fit into their neatly, prearranged little boy/girl gender perceptions."

The school nurse nodded, then cleared his throat. "I was confused when I went through the records; mandatory check-ups is coming. Your file says you're supposed to be a girl."

"No," Sam disagreed. "It says I've got the body of a girl. It says nothing about who I am. This is who I am. I'm Sam Winchester, I'm sixteen years old, and I'm a guy."

"If this were to get out to your classmates—"

"How would it do that?" Sam asked. "You guys are the only ones who know."

"If you were to form a relationship with a boy," the counselor started.

Sam shook his head. "No, listen, I'm a guy, right?" The three of them looked a bit hesitant, but the principal was the first of them to nod in agreement, even if she didn't actually look convinced of the fact. "Right," Sam said anyway. "So. I'm a guy, and I'm straight. What's that mean?"

"Too much information, I think," the principal said drily.

"The center downtown's all about us being as honest as possible." Sam shrugged.

"Will you have surgery?" the nurse asked.

Sam shook his head. "Can't 'til I'm eighteen, at least. I need to finish school; I want to go to college."

"You are one of our best students," the principal allowed. "Have you started thinking about where you want to apply? Scholarships?"

"Not yet, no," Sam said, and he only darted the quickest of glances at Dean. It wasn't exactly something they'd discussed – Sam going to college. Still, Sam didn't see how Dean could be particularly surprised at the revelation either, so. "I mean, there's so much to study; so many subjects and majors. I don't even know where to start."

"Yes, quite," the principal agreed. "For the sake of my peace of mind, I would request you see the school counselor once a month. If possible, I would have you forward your medical records from the center to the school nurse."

"No," Dean said, voicing his disagreement for the first time since the meeting started. "Last school that pulled us in to have this discussion? Their counselor was not a nice guy. I won't stand for it if all you'll do is try to make Sam feel ashamed of himself, or talk him into admitting that he's just 'confused' or that it's a 'phase he'll grow out of'. If that's what you want? The answer is no. But what I can and will agree to? Have the therapist he's already seeing write out some of those notes that explain how there's nothing wrong with my brother."

The principal looked at them both. "It's a start," she finally agreed, and she only sounded a little grudging about it. "There is also the matter of Sam's gym grades."

Sam offered Dean a fake smile, then turned to the principal and said, "I want to take gym, but Dean won't let me. I already do martial arts and I'm on the track team—"

"And you can go straight home after that without detouring into the locker rooms," Dean snapped back. "Also, you take Latin when the rest of your class runs around the gym. Your schedule is full!"

The principal pulled out a paper from one of the many littering her desk. Her eyebrows went up. "The only times you don't have class is when you have lunch, Sam. In light of your situation, I'm not sure if it is a viable idea to enroll you in gym class. On the other hand, if you were prepared to do a lot of the work in your spare time, maybe we could arrange something with one of the coaches. That you are involved with both track and martial arts would indicate that you are already in good physical shape."

-'-

Dean put his arm around Sam's shoulders the second they were out of the principal's office.

"I couldn't get a reading on them," Sam said tiredly, slumping a little as he led the way to his locker.

"Yeah. Total stonefaces, the bunch of them. No one's giving you a hard time, right?"

Sam shook his head. "Just some of the teachers who think I'm holding back."

Dean raised his eyebrows. "Are you holding back? Jesus, Sammy, you can't get better grades!"

"I know!" Sam exclaimed. Then, quieter, he murmured, "I kinda am. A little, maybe. I don't wanna stand out, Dean; I hate people looking at me like I'm a freak."

"'Course you're a freak, Sam," Dean said, tone light and teasing. "Wouldn't be my brother if you weren't. And seriously, you can stop growing any day now. You're like a goddamned weed."

-'-1999(DEC)-'-

They had a proper Christmas that year for the first time that Sam could remember, ever. Dean stole a tree – Sam didn't believe for a second that he'd bought it, no matter what Dean was saying – and Sam stocked up on ornaments at the local second hand stores. Winter in Colorado Springs, was cold and snowy, and they were totally caught off guard in terms of proper winter gear. Dean bitched about it, because the Impala didn't do so well in cold climates (and neither did he, for that matter), but other than that?

Other than that, it was kind of awesome.

They exchanged more or less proper gifts (porn wasn't an appropriate gift, no matter that Dean insisted it was), tried to cook something more fancy and they even tried to bake a pie. The end results weren't completely inedible, and all in all Christmas that year was one of Sam's happiest memories.

-'-2000(JAN)-'-

They caught the kappa two days after Dean's birthday. Dean charmed it into bowing down and knocking its bowl of water off its head, freezing it into position. They hadn't counted on it turning into stone, or how the bowl was sort of all slimy and disgustingly fishlike. The reports of people drowning in strange accidents tapered off, and they sent the bowl via mail to Bobby (who called them back the day he got it and cursed at them for being goddamned idiots) because they didn't know what to do with it.

A week after that, Dean went out early one Saturday morning and didn't come back until well after dark, looking kind of pale and shell-shocked at the same time. Sam spent the day pacing, worrying and cursing Dean to hell and back. In between, he called Bobby and ranted, called Missouri and ranted, and ranted at himself when he didn't know what to do anymore.

When the front door finally opened and Dean walked in, Sam flew up from the couch, heart in his throat. "Dean! Where the hell've you been?!" he demanded, scared and worried and so fucking relieved all at once. "I wake up and you're gone? You don't answer your phone, there's no note, and your car's fucking missing!"

Dean blinked. Then he stumbled over to sit on the couch. "My boss has been bugging me about this stupid test since, hell, since fucking August or something. I figured if I just ignored him he'd stop, but… Only, the bastard signs me up, tells me yesterday, then fucking guilts me into taking it, right?"

"What test?" Sam asked, eyes a little wide. Because he knew all about tests, and they usually meant that, well, if you passed? Then you were going away to, like, college or something. On the one hand? Yeah, he was fucking thrilled that Dean'd finally decided to do something with his life, other than being a hunter and a mechanic. On the other hand? He really didn't want to move. Not again, and certainly not yet. "Dean! What test?"

Dean blinked, and when he looked at Sam his eyes were too wide and too innocent. "I… You know the Air Force? They have this preparatory school, right? That test. Physical's tomorrow. I don't even know what the fuck I'm doing, man."

Sam dropped down onto the couch as the air went right out of him. "Air Force?" he breathed.

"Yeah." Dean's laugh was dry and brittle. "I dunno what the fuck I'm doing anymore, Sammy."

"What do you mean?"

Dean shrugged and leaned his head back on the couch, exposing his throat and closing his eyes. "My whole life, Sammy, all I've been doing is looking out for you, right? Dad made that my only priority. Then, suddenly, you ain't a kid anymore, so I start in on making sure you escape from puberty intact. Only, you're not a girl and you wanna be a boy, so I fix all that, get you on track. I didn't finish high school; you made me get a GED 'cause you kept pushing me to be more than just some wannabe hunter.

"I don't have any dreams – I only went to school 'cause you looked up to me. When Dad was around, all I wanted was to be someone he'd be proud of, y'know? But now? These days? I don't do anything. I go to work, I come home – that's it. But I'm not an academic, Sammy. I'm not smart like you. I like to build things, fix cars. I like guns and I like fighting. I like hunting, Sam, I do, but I'm twenty-one; who'd take me seriously? It worked when we were with Dad, 'cause he had authority. But now? The two of us? I look like a college dropout, and you're in high school, man."

"Do you know why Dad left, Dean?" Sam asked then, subdued and hesitant.

Dean shook his head. "No, not really. I know he was hung up on you not looking like a real girl, but that's not why he left. My guess? He got a lead, then another lead, then another lead until it was all messed up and it was just easier to keep going rather than coming back to pick up two kids who were doing all right without him."

Sam shuffled up close to Dean. "Look, Dean," he said. "I just want you to be happy, all right? If doing this makes you happy, then I'm fine with that. Even if they're a bunch of dicks."

"It's just one year."

Sam huffed. "Yeah, and if you decide you like it, what then?"

"Another four. It's like college. I'll get a bachelor's in, like, science or something out of it. If I even get in. Oh, god, man, I don't know what the fuck I'm doing anymore." Dean leaned forward, arms on his knees, and buried his face in his hands. "When did shit get this complicated?"

"You like guns. They have guns in the military. They have cars, right, and tanks and bombs and, oh!"

"Planes," Dean groaned. "They have fucking planes in the Air Force. Like, helicopters and fighters and shit."

"You don't like planes?" Sam asked.

"Don't sound so fucking surprised; why d'you think I drive everywhere? Planes fucking crash, man."

"And cars don't?"

Dean huffed. "Not when I'm driving."

"So do the same when you fly, idiot. Can't be that different, right? Just think how fast you can go."

"Bitch," Dean eventually muttered, and Sam grinned.

"Jerk," he said, just because, then gave Dean a real good noogie, for good measure.

It cued a wrestling match that only ended when they crashed into a wall and nearly split a lamp into pieces.

"Look, Sam," Dean panted, sprawled on the floor. "If I get in? Then I gotta live there. And I mean, yeah, it's at least in Colorado Springs, but I'd only get away on the weekends."

"Oh," Sam said. Then: "Don't take this the wrong way, okay? But I'm not really a kid and you don't gotta look after me the same way anymore."

"Sammy," Dean protested. "It'd be easier to cut all my limbs off than stop looking after you. I just can't."

"Dean…"

Dean shook his head. "Look, don't you think I know how messed up we are? I raised you, Sam. I dressed you, fed you, took you to school, to your after school projects, picked you up from your friends and whenever you hung out at some library, right? Hell, I taught you how to tie your fucking shoelaces, man! I did everything for you; taught you everything. I can't just stop, Sammy. I can't. And, man, what's most fucked up about all that? I'm four goddamned years older than you." Dean rubbed a hand over his face, and he looked so tired that it hurt Sam inside, just a little. "Dad never shoulda dropped that on me. I don't regret it; wouldn't do a thing different. But… you don't do that to your kids, you just don't. I was cooking you dinner and putting you to bed when I shoulda been out, playing football or just being a hooligan, right?"

"Right," Sam agreed, subdued, and he couldn't help but feel that maybe Dean's ever so rare private sessions with Dr. Becket ran in a wholly different direction to his own. "I appreciate it, y'know? How you always stood up for me and took all the crap from Dad 'cause I wouldn't— wouldn't conform to girl standards or whatever. But, Dean… Dad raised us like hunters, soldiers. I think I'd be all right, just one year, if you join the army."

"It's not the army," Dean protested, but he was only half-hearted about it. "It's just. You wanna go to college, don't you? Full out geekhood, amma right?"

Sam nodded. "I've already started looking at applications."

"Yeah, like I'm surprised," Dean muttered. "But if you do?"

"Yeah?"

"This year? Next year? That's all we have, then you're in a dorm somewhere and I'm alone and, fuckit, Sammy, I can't do this alone. Without you? If I don't have anything to do? I'll turn into Dad and obsess over hunting 'til you never see me again, never hear from me again. Hell, I'd probably start resenting the shit out of you for getting out while you still had the chance." Dean's laugh was self-deprecating and dry. "I'm pretty messed up, to tell the truth."

"Dean," Sam said, feeling conflicted and hurt and worried, and so, so confused, that he didn't know what the proper words were to make this right for Dean – for either one of them.

"You know your only hope of going to college is by scholarship, right? Even if I work my ass off 'til you go I won't make nearly enough money to pay that off."

"I'd never ask you to do that," Sam protested, eyes wide. "Look, Dean, to me? You being happy is the most important thing. Whatever you think you owe me or, or think you feel obligated to do for me? I feel the same way about you. I'd hate myself forever if I held you back from being the best fucking Air Force officer there ever was. 'Cause you're my brother, Dean, and you're awesome."

"And you're a goddamned freaky sap," Dean snapped back.

"Jerk." Sam grinned, only half-hiding behind his fringe that was growing too long again.

Dean slapped the back of his head. "Bitch."

-'-

The next day, Dean went out with the sun and came back long after it'd set. He was way more exhausted than he'd been the day before, and he stumbled into the bathroom, then fell over into bed. Sam didn't disturb him until half an hour before they had to leave for school and work respectively on Monday, and then only once he had a cup of coffee in his hand to lure Dean out of bed and into the kitchen with.

"Sammy?" Dean groaned.

Sam rolled his eyes and placed a piece of toast into Dean's blindly searching hand. "The big, bad Air Force wear you out, Dean?" Sam asked, and there was only a mild hint of mocking in his tone.

"Bitch. I fucking owned them," he mumbled. "I was awesome."

"Of course you were."

-'-2000(MAY)-'-

Sam's birthday brought two things: The first one was Dean's admittance letter to the preparatory Air Force Academy. The second one was a set of keys of his own to the Impala (Dean denied that it had been a birthday gift whenever questioned on the topic, and maintained that the gift-wrapped strap-on Sam had shoved down the back of Dean's trousers the second he opened the package had been the 'real gift').

Sam had enough going on with school, after school activities and group sessions at the center downtown as well as regular private therapy, all of which kept him plenty busy. Dean's skin started to crawl sometime midway through April, the kind of itch that said he'd been stationary for far too long, and he started to stay out far later than usual on the weekends when he went bar trawling.

Then there were the hunts.

It'd been well over a year since they'd last seen their dad. Yeah, Sam missed the man, of course he did, but so far his year had been way more tumultuous than Dean's, no matter that he'd had to get used to having a brother instead of a sister. It was Sam's body that the T was reshaping, it was Sam who went to school, and it was Sam who had to deal with it all. Sam who got bigger feet and wider hands and broader shoulders and a square jaw; it was Sam who changed in all the physical ways. But it was Dean who started looking for hunts in a way they hadn't for more than a year now, all grabby hands and snappy words, because change was coming and Dean'd never done well with changes that affected the routine he had going for himself. Hunting was familiar; it was routine, and monsters followed patterns when nothing else did.

Sam figured it was Dean's way of dealing as July loomed closer and closer, and with it his departure for the Air Force prep school.

For two months straight they went on a hunt every single weekend. If Sam didn't have time to do all the research, then Dean did it, and they did all right. By the time Dean came out of his funk there probably wasn't a single ghost left in the region around Colorado Springs, CO.

-'-2000(JUL)-'-

That year, on the second of July, at age seventeen, Sam became a legal adult in the eyes of the law. Dean was put in all the places where emergency contacts, next of kin, closest living relative, family member and so on and so forth were needed, asked for or required. Dean had quit his job when Sam's school let out for the year, and they spent most of the time between the end of Sam's school and the start of Dean's on the road, just the two of them, kind of like they used to do before, only Dad wasn't around.

They slept in dodgy motel rooms they paid for using credit cards they'd scammed for. They ate lousy diner food and drove out to see the Californian ocean. They walked around in San Francisco, CA, banished a poltergeist in Haven, MA, checked in with Bobby for a couple of days, then drove out to meet Missouri for the first time in years (and no one was really surprised that she'd already known all about Sam), then decided to go visit Pastor Jim while they were at it (Pastor Jim didn't really take it better or worse than Bobby had, initially, he was just more… religious and reserved about it, which didn't really make either Sam or Dean able to figure out if he was okay with Sam or not).

Dean made sure they both had functioning cell phones, forwarded their new numbers to the few people they trusted to have them, plus Sam's school and his doctors, then disconnected the landline to the little bungalow that had become home sometime during the period of little over a year that they'd lived there. Dean tried to talk Sam into talking Dean out of going to school at least once a day, and Sam refused to let Dean talk him into talking Dean out of going to school at least just as often.

On the twentieth, Dean left for the Air Force, and Sam was alone for the first time in his life. Sam followed him around the base the day he went in, taking in the place Dean would be spending his next ten months at, sort of, for the first time. He knew a lot of tourists came by to the Air Force Academy every year, but Sam and Dean never had. Together, they sat on a bench and stared at the registrations office for over an hour.

"I don't have to go," Dean said.

"Yeah, Dean, you kinda do," Sam argued, voice soft. "Five years down the line? Ten? You'd never forgive me if you were still working lousy jobs in a garage somewhere, or off hunting alone, and you know it."

"Still, I don't have to fucking like it, ditching you like this."

"You're not ditching me, Dean. Dad raised us to be hunters; I can take care of myself. You'll be the best cadet the prep school ever saw, and you'll come home every weekend. We'll call. I'll write letters and be geeky and needy. I'll sit in the car for hours and wish I wasn't the one driving it—"

"Christ, Sammy," Dean cursed and hugged him. Sam clutched at his brother and didn't ever want to let go. But he had to, of course, because then the bell rang and other new cadets started turning up, and then, well. Then there was really no point in putting it off any longer.

Sam watched Dean walk away until he couldn't stand to see Dean's back and the back of his head anymore as he left Sam's world to become part of a new one that Sam wasn't privy to, not yet, and maybe never would be.

Afterward, he sat in the Impala and stared at the Air Force building in front of him. The car was quiet and still. Dean's annoying music wasn't blaring, no one was yammering on about hot waitresses or shady characters from any number of the weird shows Dean followed on TV. There wasn't anyone (Dean) to tease him or ruffle his hair or just be such a fucking nuisance that Sam wanted to hit someone (Dean).

He might have cried that night, as he tried to sleep in a room that was too empty and too quiet, but if he did then he'd never admit that to anyone, ever, not even under pain of death (and especially not to Dean, even though he was under no illusion that Dean didn't already know, somehow [possibly because he'd maybe cried, too, but Sam never asked and Dean never said]).

-'-2000(SEP)-'-

The first time Sam saw Dean after the prep school started was during Labor Day weekend, and Sam drove out to see Dean every day for a couple of hours. It'd been over a month since he'd last seen his brother, but Sam'd never been away from Dean for that long before, and he most decidedly did not enjoy it (Sam didn't really think Dean much liked it, either), but then Dean would look around, or start talking about the basic cadet training he'd just been put through, or the classes he'd been in, and there'd be this spark in his brother's eyes that he'd never seen before, not like this, and just like that Sam knew why Dean had to do this. Because if he didn't? Then maybe, probably, Dean would disappear one day, just like Dad, and Sam'd never see his brother again. Never know if he was alive or if he'd been killed by a monster or a ghost or a demon – or who knew what else? Never hear from him again and spend the rest of his life ignorant about the fate of his own brother. So yeah, Sam would deal with Dean being in the Air Force and he'd maybe learn to accept it, because it was what Dean needed to do, but he wasn't sure if he could ever like Dean being part of an institution that didn't recognize people like Sam, didn't accept them or offer them the same rights that everyone else was afforded.

It was probably the closest thing to an education in hunting you could find, though, and the fact that the government paid you for it just made it all the better. And Dean liked it, Sam reminded himself, looking at his brother smiling and talking about the absolute hell basic combat training had been, and how he'd totally aced it, and that was really all that mattered.

-'-

Sam started hanging out more and more at the Community Council for Adolescent Development downtown, using the rooms and facilities open down there to study, instead of doing it at home or at the library. It was never quiet at the center, which was good, because the quiet wasn't the same anymore when there wasn't anyone to snap at for being too loud. He kept busy a lot of the time, working out with the AFJROTC (the words "Air Force Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps" was the sort of mouthful Sam rather omitted than voluntarily spelled out, but that's what it was and the training was vigorous to the point where it left him limp as a noodle, and he still went back for more, because he kinda loved it, too) program he'd talked Dean into letting him join so he could finally earn the credits he needed for PE, as well as being even more active in the martial arts club and the track team. The principal had pulled him from the official teams (he didn't think she'd ever get how someone could want to switch sexes, but he tried not to care) but still let him join the practices, so that was something, at least. His track coach was pissed at him because of it, and it only took about a month before Sam snapped, and then the coach didn't press him about it again.

At the CCAD center downtown they had a movie night one Friday, and Sam saw 'Boys Don't Cry' for the first (and only) time in his life and hoped to god that Dean never saw it.

Every weekend, Dean called Sam, or Sam called Dean, and they spent roughly an hour on the phone, pretending they weren't worlds apart. It wasn't really any surprise that Dean excelled in the physical training, or that he had a lot to make up for in the theoretical subjects, but he was doing the best he could. Sam just hoped that Dean's grades would be good enough that he'd be allowed to come home on the weekends, but he never pressured his bother about it.

Sam still went running as often as he could, and Dean's former boss, Major Banks, still joined him whenever they ran into each other. Sometimes they practiced hand-to-hand combat, and Sam still went to the local shooting range every Sunday when he managed to stumble out of bed in time.

The one good thing that came out of Sam living on his own was that he finally started to get the hang of grocery shopping and the planning thereof, as well as how to cook (which he did approximately once a week, on Sundays, and then only as big a batch as he could get away with so he could eat leftovers the rest of the week).

He still kept an eye out, still looked for hunts in the area, but without Dean around he had little to no chance of taking care of them, so he started relaying information to Bobby. At first he just called, but then he set up an email and started writing as well, detailing everything he could find on case after case, attached every single file he had on the subject and forwarded it all to Bobby. Sometimes Missouri called, and even though Sam was always glad to hear from people he knew but didn't see all that often, he never really felt like he completely understood every facet of his conversations with her.

-'-

"Winchester," Colonel Redford said one day after Sam had finished the one and a half mile run first. It wasn't the first time; in fact, he won most times except on the days when he wasn't feeling well. Out of all the officers involved with the AFJROTC training, Colonel Redford was the most insistent that Sam join the program all the way. The other instructors didn't prod him as much and mostly deferred to Colonel Redford instead, which left Sam with the less than desirable task of deflecting the man.

"Sir," Sam said, because talking to military officers was a bit like talking to Dad had been – before he ditched them – and it was so easy to fall back into the habit.

"I understand Principal Kinley is the one who won't let you commit fully to this program."

Sam paused. He was still red in the face, sweaty and short of breath after his run and really, this wasn't a conversation he wanted to have with an Air Force officer, like, ever.

"She dismisses my appeals to have you fully enrolled in the program. You're a good student, Winchester. Diligent. You work hard. I think you'd make a good officer."

"My brother's in the prep school," Sam evaded by saying.

"You could go straight to the Air Force Academy," Colonel Redford talked over him.

"I think I want to go to Stanford, actually."

"You've got the brains," Colonel Redford continued. "Be frank with me, son. Why won't Kinley let you join my program? She's citing medical reasons, but you're better trained than all the other cadets here."

Sam rubbed his face and shrugged.

"You a homosexual, then?"

Sam froze. "What? No!" he protested. "Why'd you… No, sir, I am not. Dr. Kinley wouldn't care if I was gay, you know."

Colonel Redford looked at him with contemplating eyes. "Coach Trent doesn't like you."

Sam shrugged. "Coach Trent has issues," he said shortly. "I want to run; he lets me run."

"He used to talk about how he wanted you on the official track team but Kinley wouldn't let you," Colonel Redford said. "Now the man won't even say your name. You got something I should know, you need to tell me now before I find out on my own."

"Yes, sir," Sam agreed, but he didn't say anything. He talked to Dean about it the next time his brother called, and Dean let him rant and freak out for about five minutes, then took over for another ten. All in all, Sam felt a lot better about it the next time he saw Colonel Redford.

-'-2000(OCT)-'-

Sam slowly got the hang of living by himself; it wasn't easy or hard, it was just different and new. It didn't mean he liked it, or that he didn't miss his brother, because he did; it was just that he didn't feel like he was floundering in the dark anymore. Or, well, so much, anyway.

Then one day toward the end of October, Dean rang. It was a Friday, around five in the afternoon, and Sam was being lazy, just hanging out at home and watching some weird documentary on killer whales that was on. Sam frowned, because Dean only ever called him on the weekends. They sent texts on weekdays and called on weekends; those were the rules.

"Dean?" Sam answered on the second ring. "Everything all right?"

"Fucking awesome," Dean drawled. "Now come pick me up, bitch. I have a craving the size of Texas for a good fucking cheeseburger."

Sam was in the car before he was aware that he'd even moved and, next thing he knew, he was at the parking lot of the Air Force Academy.

Dean was there, wearing his leather jacket, worn jeans, scuffed boots and olive green Henley, and Sam was out of the car before it'd even slowed down fully; he just pulled the handbrake and jumped out and crushed Dean in a giant bear hug.

"Dean!"

Dean laughed, patted Sam on the back and slithered out of the hug. "Whoa, Sammy, when'd you turn into a fucking Sasquatch?"

"Shut up, Dean!" Sam laughed, grinning so wide his cheeks hurt and his dimples just about eclipsed his face. "I fucking missed you, man."

Dean's expression sobered, but his eyes shone. "Yeah, me too. I have until 'round five on Sunday, so what say we make the most of it, huh?"

-'-2000(NOV)-'-

The drove up to Bobby's over Thanksgiving, mostly because they didn't really have anything else to do, and people seemed to find it offensive that they tended to skip holidays because they didn't know what to make of them. They celebrated birthdays, sort of, in that they acknowledged them, and last year they'd given Christmas a shot for almost the first time since Sam was a kid. Halloween meant hunts galore, Easter meant moving states and switching schools (which every single holiday Sam'd ever had from school had meant, in a way) and summer meant long, long days spent on the road.

"Holy cow, Sam Winchester, what the hell've you been eating, kid?" Bobby sputtered when he opened the door at five in the morning to let them inside the house. They'd driven in shifts through the night, and Sam was exhausted. Still, he couldn't help but grin.

"I feel great, Bobby."

"You look like a beanstalk," Bobby snapped back. "Now to bed with you; the both of you. I'll talk to you when the sun's shining."

-'-

Sam and Bobby spent the weekend trading research, Dean and Bobby spent the weekend looking over some of the cars outside, Sam and Dean ran and laughed and went over their weapons collection. They ate too much, slept a lot and probably annoyed Bobby to no end, what with all the grumbling the man was doing, but he didn't try to get rid of them even once, which was what really mattered, when it came down to it.

"Your daddy was here not a week ago," Bobby said the day they were heading back home. It was five in the morning, and the sun wasn't even up yet.

Sam froze and Dean tensed. "What?" Dean demanded.

Bobby lifted his shoulders, looking only a little uncomfortable. "He was here. Stayed two days, then took off as if someone lit a fire under him. Wouldn't say what he was doing, only that he had a lead."

"He always has a fucking lead, Bobby!" Dean exclaimed, and it was the first time that Sam could remember that Dean sounded angry with Dad – angry and annoyed and disappointed. "We're his kids, and we haven't seen him in almost two years now; that's not normal! You don't treat your kids like this. We're family," he added, a bit more quietly but no less angry or hurt. "You don't walk out on family, Bobby; you don't ditch your kids."

"You're doing all right," Bobby said, eyes a little narrowed and his jaw tense. Sam couldn't decide if it was because he hated that it was true, or if it was because he agreed and disagreed.

"That's not the point and you know it," Dean snapped. "He goes off, just like always, and next thing I know, he's sending postcards, won't pick up his fucking phone and he's just gone?!"

-'-

"Truth is," Dean said later, when it was just them in the car and the road stretched out in front of them, long and dark and vast into the horizon. Dean's voice was raw and subdued. "If Dad came back? Now? I'd fucking punch him in the face."

"I'd go hide in our room," Sam murmured.

"For real? Since when're you too chicken to stand up for yourself, huh?"

Sam shook his head. "It's not that. I just. I don't want him to take one look at me and decide he hates what he sees. Who I am. I don't think I could take that. Or. Dean, what if he won't even recognize me?"

Dean frowned. "What d'you mean? You're still you, Sammy."

"I've been on T for almost two years now. I don't— I don't look like a girl at all anymore. All those things that're soft and squishy on girls? They're gone, Dean. I'm taller than you and my feet are size thirteen."

Dean glanced at him briefly, more focused on the road than he strictly had to be. "Yeah, okay," he said after a while. "I guess I can see that. But truth is, Sammy, no matter how much you change? You're still my little brother. I'd recognize you anywhere. It's the hair, I swear. Stands out like a beacon, honestly."

Sam's grin was reflexive and the fist he slammed into Dean's thigh amid a lot of cursing and yelling and laughter was mandatory.

-'-2000(DEC)-'-

In December, the heating broke and Sam made use of the money Dad had sent for the first time to repair it. Dean's flimsy pay as an Air Force cadet went untouched – mostly because there wasn't enough of it, even piled up, to cover the cost. It worked in terms of paying rent and buying food, but that was it, really.

Dean had two weeks off over Christmas, so Sam did all the Christmas preparations that year. He even baked a pie, which was no small feat, and then waited for Dean to get home so they could get a tree and decorate it.

-'-

"You got a girlfriend yet, Sammy?" Dean asked the second day after he'd come home. They were down at the center and they were playing one of those crappy board games that the common room was cluttered with. Sam had an appointment in about an hour, so Dean had suggested they go down early so he could see for himself what his little brother got up to in that place. Growing up, they hadn't really played games in that sense, because anything bigger than a deck of cards was impractical to take with them in the car. It wasn't the first time he'd played Monopoly, no, but it was the first time he'd played against someone who sucked just as much as he did at it.

Sam shook his head. "No. Don't you think I'd have told you if I was seeing someone? I'm crap at keeping secrets from you, man."

"Hey, I remember that girl you were seeing a couple of years back. Never told me about her."

Sam went red. "'Cause I was nervous, maybe? I mean. I didn't know what to say, or how you'd react. Or. I was just. I guess I wasn't ready to say it out loud, I dunno."

"You honestly thought I'd have minded?"

Sam shook his head. "No, not really. But you would've said I was a lesbian, I would've said I wasn't, and, well. I don't think I was ready to have that argument back then."

"Huh," Dean said, and rolled the dice. "Oh, hey. Your street, Sammy."

"I don't think you're supposed to tell me when you owe me money, Dean."

"Hmm. Right. Not your street, then." Dean pushed his car one step forward and ended up on a train station.

"That's. Dean, don't cheat."

"You're the one cheating, Sammy. No way you got all the orange ones fair and square."

"Yes, I did! You're just a sore loser."

"You're a sore loser," Dean muttered.

"Because you cheat," Sam spelled out, pushing Dean's piece back one step, then snagged some of Dean's money. "You can't build houses unless you own all the streets in the same set."

"Bitch, bitch, bitch," Dean drawled and plunked a hotel down on a train station.

"Dean."

"What? Lots of train stations have hotels!"

Sam narrowed his eyes. "Fine," he bit out.

The game got a little bit out of hand, after that.

Like:

"Hey! Where'd you get all that money?"

"Credit card scams."

Or:

"My, my, d'you end up at the triple Hilton?"

"Uh, no. I'm bulldozing the place 'cause you're crap at paying taxes."

-'-

"So," Dean said after Sam was done with his check-up.

"I'm fine."

"Yeah, I know, or they'd have told me. No, I just meant a lot of people back there were giving me the stink eye."

Sam blinked. "Oh."

"What?"

"I dunno. I guess they think you're a homophobic ass 'cause I told them all you're in the Air Force or something."

Dean laughed and made a point of taking Sam to every check-up he feasibly could after that.

-'-

"I sent out applications," Sam said one evening. They were slouching on the couch, watching one of Dean's awful, bad taste horror flicks. "To colleges and stuff."

"Yeah?" Dean took a sip of his beer and didn't look away from the oh-so-riveting television. "What schools?"

Sam snorted. "All of them? Dude, my hand was cramping for a month."

"If your hand cramps, then you're not doing it right." Dean leered and flashed Sam a wink.

"Jerk," Sam muttered, ears a bit red, and snagged the candy away from Dean in protest. "No, but seriously, I think I applied to every school I could apply to. To be honest, I think the school counselor was a bit pissed at me toward the end."

"Geek on, Sammy."

Sam tossed a lollipop at Dean and hit him square in the forehead. "You have no grounds to complain about me being a geek anymore," Sam declared, only slightly smug. "I've seen your grades, man. You're such a nerd for a lot of weird-ass stuff. I mean, seriously? Math? That's what gets you hot?"

Dean scowled, but it didn't really hide how much he reddened or hid behind his frigging layers; Sam knew him well enough to know his ears had never been that particular shade of pink unless he was embarrassed. "I told you: I like building things," Dean complained, but he didn't really sound upset or annoyed. A bit embarrassed, maybe, but mostly sort of proud, because he was complicated like that.

"So, engineering?" Sam hazarded a guess.

Dean shrugged. "I dunno. But math? It's logical. There are patterns and rules. I, I guess I like that. It's like monsters: predictable. You know what's really weird, though?"

Sam scrunched up his face as he went through the list of Dean's grades that had arrived in the mail a few days ago. Most of the subjects were the same old standard ones Sam had seen on most 'come join the military' pamphlets that made their way into his hands, which all checked out with Dean's – with one notable exception. "I guess… I dunno, Latin doesn't really make sense; not in the Air Force."

"Exactly," Dean agreed. "I am awesome at Latin. It's all rules and grammar and endings, right?"

"Dean, you know exorcisms and banishment rituals in Latin."

"So? It's still Latin."

"Yeah, but." Sam sighed. "You know what? Never mind. You want hot chocolate? I got some of that chili stuff."

"We got whiskey?"

Sam nodded. "Think so, yeah. I know we have whipped cream."

-'-2001(MAR)-'-

Sam got wind of a hunt in early March that year. He waited for over a week before he told Dean about it, and then he laid down the facts his research had unearthed. There were four victims so far, all coinciding with the full moons of February and January. The vics all had the gear and clothing of hunters – wildlife, not supernatural – and not all of them had been found immediately.

"Dude. The monster's eating their hearts?"

Sam shrugged. "Looks that way. It's the only thing that links the victims. I, uh, I called Bobby, and he agrees with me."

Dean grinned. "It's a werewolf, right? They eat hearts, come out during full moons. It's in an isolated area in a forest. You don't get better hunting grounds than that."

"That's what he said," Sam agreed. "And what the research showed."

"So?"

"So?" Sam repeated, only he didn't sound nearly as excited as his brother. "Dean, we don't exactly carry silver bullets anymore. Dad took all of them, remember? Full moon's in two weeks, which gives us way too little time to prepare. I have to check in with Bobby next weekend and stock up on supplies." Sam was ranting and he knew it, but he couldn't help it. Werewolves were dangerous; way more than a ghost or a kappa. If Dad'd been around, he'd never have let either of them go out, alone, into a dark forest to take care of it. Dad would've probably called in some other hunter for backup, would've scouted the area for weeks in advance. Sam and Dean had two weeks – well, no, they didn't even have that, because school took up an insane amount of time, which meant they didn't have the luxury of checking out the forest beforehand.

"Is Bobby joining us?"

Sam ran a hand through his hair. "God, Dean, I fucking hope so. We can't corner something when there's just the two of us. Not in a forest that big. Shit, I mean, how fucking lucky are we that school's on break? Seriously? What if—"

"We're cool," Dean interrupted, then he put his hands on Sam's shoulders and forced his brother to meet his eyes. "When's the last time you slept the night through, Sammy?"

Sam shrugged out of Dean's hold, then collapsed on the couch. "I. I don't know," he mumbled.

"Nightmares?"

Sam's laugh was hysterical and brittle. "Dude, I have nightmares of my college applications vanishing in the mail. What the fuck is that about? I mean, usually? My nightmares at least included monsters or something, right? But now? It's all about some mistake making sure I never go to college."

Dean chuckled and sat down next to Sam. He rubbed a hand over his face, then leaned back against the couch until he was in a good and proper slouch. "You get in, then?"

"God!" Sam exclaimed, voice shrill. "I got in fucking everywhere. It's insane! I don't even know where I should go or which college to turn down. And shit, Redford is still on me about the Air Force, my friends at the center are concerned you're bulling me 'cause you're Air Force, my friends at school all think it's really weird I don't shower in the locker rooms, and the girls want me to take them out and think I'm weird when I don't. And the prom! God, the prom. I just. Dean. I just don't know what to do anymore, and then this hunt. I just."

"How about this," Dean started, looping an arm around Sam's widening shoulders and pulling him close. "How about this, Sammy: relax. Don't think about it, just go with the flow. If a girl catches your eye? Ask her out. You don't have to sleep with her if you don't want to; say you want to take it slow, or that you're religious or something. If you really like her? Tell her the truth and let her take it from there, okay? Ignore Redford; he's a dick and he's got nothing on you. You just be yourself, you hear me? And for god's sake, just ignore the dicks wanting to see you naked in the locker rooms."

Sam nodded and closed his eyes, resting his forehead on Dean's shoulder.

"Good. Now. Bring out your bunch of letters from all the colleges begging you to pick them and we'll go over it together. The hunt can wait until tomorrow."

It probably couldn't, but Sam didn't feel like arguing, and besides: he'd rather look at his college acceptances with Dean anyway.

-'-

The pile on the coffee table was quite high. Sam ran a hand through his hair, then said, "I don't even know where to start."

"How 'bout you sort out the ones where you didn't get a scholarship offer," Dean suggested. "You know we can't afford to send you to college and no way anyone'd grant us a loan."

Sam sighed. "That's a no to Harvard, then?"

Dean paused. "Dude. You got accepted at Harvard?"

Sam shrugged, his shoulders slumped. "Yeah. Yale, Berkeley, New York. I think the only place that didn't want me was MIT, and that's only 'cause I really didn't want to go there."

"Why the hell did you apply if you don't wanna go?"

"Why not?" Sam muttered. He pulled the stack of envelopes closer, then started laying them all out, one by one; ten envelopes all in all, and nine of them were thick and bulging.

"You got accepted to all of them?"

"Except—"

"Except MIT, yeah, got it."

"The principal and the guidance counselor are over the moon," Sam murmured. "Apparently I'm the best student they've had in years, even if they don't quite know what to make of me. You know, 'cause I'm not a boy but I'm not a girl?" Sam griped, bitter and tired.

"Dude, you're a bitch," Dean muttered, but he was a bit distracted with the acceptance letter from Harvard to really pay his brother any mind. "I just. Sammy, you're awesome. How many can honestly say they got accepted to Harvard after living the kind of life we have? I just. Honestly. This is amazing."

"They'll give me a scholarship if I run track for them, but I can't really do that, 'cause, well. It's the same with, uh, Columbia University, really."

"Fucking sucks," Dean muttered, then shoved the envelope away and grabbed a new one. "Their loss if they're too fucking bigoted. Seriously, if they can't see how amazing you are then they don't deserve you. Next is. Uh. University of New York. The Big Apple, huh? Oh. Is that a lot of money?"

Sam shook his head. "Covers about a third of the tuition. Same with Yale and Berkeley, Cornell and Duke. Got a full ride to UT at Austin."

"Texas?" Dean echoed, sounding skeptical and, well.

Sam's smile was thin and tired. "Yeah, I know. But I got in, right? I don't have to run around naked in front of a bunch of rednecks, but yeah."

"Sam," Dean said, and his tone was the one where you could argue 'til you were blue in the face and it wouldn't make any difference. "You're not going to Texas."

"But—"

"No buts," Dean snapped, then plucked the UT envelope off the table and dropped it on the floor. "Well?"

"University of Toronto," Sam murmured and pushed the envelope over to Dean.

Dean read it through, then stayed quiet.

"Dean?"

"Shit, Sammy," Dean muttered and closed his eyes. "Full ride to fucking Canada?"

Sam shrugged, but he was smiling a little too, because it was kinda awesome that he'd been awarded a scholarship in Canada.

"I'm not letting you go to Canada," Dean muttered, this time sullen instead of standoffish and overbearingly protective.

Sam grinned, his hair hanging into his eyes. Maybe it was time for a haircut, but he hadn't made up his mind yet. It was kinda weird, because before he started taking T? He'd have hunted down Dean and his scissors long before it got to the point where his hair threatened to grow long. But now? In a body that was finally more male than female? He literally couldn't care less about the state of his hair.

"What you smiling about?" Dean demanded, his tone suspicious. "You didn't accept it, right?"

Sam shook his head. "Haven't decided yet. Haven't declined or accepted anything. S'just…"

"What?" Dean barked. "I get that, yeah, it's kinda awesome that you got in at fucking Toronto, but, man, it's way too far away, and it's in Canada," he complained. "I…" Dean trailed off and shook his head. "Never mind," he muttered.

Sam's grin grew a little, and he nudged Dean's shoulder with his own. "What? You have plans on another four years at the AF Academy? I know you love it, so don't pretend that you don't. You get paid to play with guns, man."

Dean shrugged. "If you wanna go to Canada, then we'll go to Canada. I could—"

"No," Sam said, just a bit of bite to his tone.

"No what?"

Sam rolled his eyes. "You're not giving up what you want just to stalk me to Canada."

Dean glared. "Look, I ain't letting you go off to some other country alone. No way in hell, Sammy."

"Dean—"

"No, Sammy."

"It's Sam, dammit," Sam snapped. "Look, would you let me run off to California? Or is that too far away as well?"

Dean narrowed his eyes. The table was empty; all the envelopes had been sorted through. "What's in California, Sam?"

Sam flushed a little. "Stanford?" he chanced, throwing a glance at Dean and rubbing at his thighs.

"Stanford," Dean echoed, voice hard.

"Uh, yeah. Full ride."

"Bring it on, bitch," Dean ordered, and Sam fished out the envelope from behind the couch. It was just as thick as the one from Toronto, and Dean sure took his sweet time reading through every single page in it. Sam was sure it was some kind of revenge for him making Dean think he was running off to Canada, so he kept his mouth shut and only fidgeted a little (okay, he fidgeted a lot).

"This what you want, Sammy?"

Dean's voice startled Sam enough that he flinched by reflex. He wet his lips before speaking up. "Yeah. Yeah, I think so. I mean, don't get me wrong; Toronto is amazing, but Stanford? I just. Yeah, I want to go."

"Why didn't you just start the conversation by saying: 'So, hey, Dean, guess what? I wanna go to Stanford'."

Sam shrugged. "Dunno," he muttered. "Maybe because I wanted you to— I dunno."

"Approve?" Dean drawled, fingers tapping a lazy rhythm on the letter. "Give my unbiased opinion on Toronto and UT?"

Sam nodded. "Yeah," he admitted. "I just. What if I choose wrong?"

"You won't."

"But what if—"

"No ifs or buts about it, Sam. What do you want to study?"

"I'm not sure," Sam hedged. "But either way, Toronto or Stanford is good for it. Better than UT, at any rate. I'm not stupid, Dean: I'm transsexual. Me going to Texas, sharing a room with a guy, and public bathrooms and stuff? I just don't see how that'd go over well. And Toronto doesn't care where you live. But Stanford? They have all sorts of different housings and stuff, and yeah, it's mandatory for the first year, but I figure all I have to do is find a place that suits me."

Dean looked at him for a long time, then he nodded and declared, "We'll figure something out, Sam. Promise."

-'-

Bobby came down two days before the full moon, his rust bucket of a car loaded to the brim with silver bullets and knives and fucking machetes. The dog was a surprise, though; Bobby hadn't had it the last time they drove up to visit. Sam took one look at it, then didn't really let the overgrown puppy out of sight unless he absolutely had to.

"Heard from Dad?" Dean wondered as he put together something for dinner the first night.

"Nope," Bobby drawled, examining Sam's growing collection of books (of course, Dean used them too, but it was Sam who'd hunted every single book down and brought it home). They didn't really have a bookshelf, but it wasn't like they used all the cabinets in the kitchen, either, and it worked (most of Sam's friends from school and the CCAD center thought it was a bit odd). "Called him, though. Left a message."

"Yeah, me too." Dean's sigh of frustration was almost audible.

Sam looked up from where he was busy giving Rumsfeld, the dog, a thorough belly rub on the floor. "He hasn't sent a postcard in a while," he said, voice subdued. "Last one was around Dean's birthday and that was months ago," he pointed out because, yeah, he was just as worried about Dad when the postcards took too long a time arriving as Dean was.

"Caleb says he ran into him last week, somewhere down 'round New Orleans," Bobby offered, but didn't add any details. "Must say, you boys've got an impressive collection of books going on here."

Sam's grin was toothy and wide. "Well, I gotta do something when Dean's busy shooting guns."

"Yeah, how's that going for you?"

Dean shrugged. "It's all right."

"He's going back next year," Sam put in. "His CO is really happy with him."

"That so?" Bobby drawled. "Good job, Dean. And you, too, Sam, on getting into Stanford; that takes something extra, all right. You boys sure know how to make a man proud."

And just like that, the tense line of Dean's shoulders was gone and Sam felt about a million times lighter. A part of him couldn't help but wonder about Dad, though. For as long as Sam could remember, it had been all about the hunt with him, right up 'til the point where he vanished to hunt for something he wouldn't let either Sam or Dean know about – or help with, for that matter. So these days they only hunted when they had time, which was almost never, and ended up delegating most of the hunts Sam stumbled upon over to Bobby so he could pass them along.

It wasn't what Dad had raised them to do, and sometimes Sam couldn't help but wonder what Dad would think about that if he knew.

-'-

The forest was damp and cold, the ground covered in a thin layer of frost that crunched underneath Sam's boots. Dean had strapped a knife around Sam's ankle, a machete across his shoulders, a gun into his waistband and shoved a hunting rifle into his hands that Sam was quick to hang over his shoulder by one of the leather straps Bobby had brought. Sam had the sneaking suspicion that Dean was taking out his overprotective instincts when it came to Sam by arming him to the teeth like some kind of Terminator or something.

They had walkie-talkies that Bobby'd brought, and right now they were all spread out in the forest. Within shouting distance, hopefully, or at least running distance.

Sam hadn't been on a hunt like this since he was fifteen and Dad'd been trying to take down a shapeshifter in Maine. Sam'd cracked a couple of ribs that time, and Dean hadn't let him out of his sight for months afterward.

Sam's radio crackled. "I've got a gutted deer," came Dean's static voice. "Animal attack, maybe."

"Our guy?" Bobby asked.

"Maybe. Shit. Thing's such a goddamned mess I can't make out what the fuck's missing and what's not."

"Stay sharp and keep looking. Sam, you with us?"

"Yeah," he confirmed, eyes and ears alert and tuned into his surroundings. "It's quiet here." Even as he said it, he realized that, yeah, it was the complete and utter truth. A cold, heavy feeling settled like lead in his stomach. "Actually, it's too quiet. No birds."

"Sammy."

Sam kept walking, but he lifted his arm and took a good look at the compass that Dean had insisted they all wear, then started heading in his brother's direction. "Two klicks east of me, right?"

"Heading your way," Dean confirmed.

"Ditto," Bobby barked. "I got birds here."

"I have—" Sam swallowed and tried to pick up his pace without being obvious about it. His back was tense, neck bunched up and stiff. There were footsteps in the forest behind him, light and fast, that kept his exact pace. "I think I'm being stalked," he whispered.

"Keep walking, Sammy. Don't run."

"I'm not stupid," Sam hissed. Somewhere behind him, a twig snapped. Everything in Sam screamed at him to run, to just get the hell out of there as fast as he could and get somewhere safe, dammit, right the fuck now. But he couldn't, because there was no faster way of getting a predator to hunt you down than to let on that you knew they were there, so he kept walking, trying to keep to somewhat level terrain even as he tried to remember what direction he should head in, where his brother and Bobby were, where he was. Behind him, the treads came closer and faster. Sam refused to give into the urge that whispered and tempted him to just turn around and look.

"I can see a lake," he said and walked toward the shore closest to him on the left.

Somewhere, too close to be comforting but not distinguishable enough to pinpoint the exact location, something began to growl behind him. His brother was shouting at him in his pocket, but Sam wasn't listening. As soon as he cleared the tree line, he started running. Behind him, the werewolf growled and crashed through the trees and the undergrowth. Not too far ahead, there was an old, wooden pier with a shabby dinghy tied to it, and Sam headed for it as fast his legs could possibly carry him. His lungs burned, his vision was a bit spotty, but he didn't dare to slow down because there was a fucking monster growling and snarling and panting at his heels.

The wooden planks rattled underneath his feet. It submerged enough under his weight that cold, icy lake water started lapping at the ankles of his boots as soon as he set foot on it. Sam came to a skidding stop and whirled around.

The beach was empty.

The moon was fat and full in the sky, and it lit up Sam's mad rush across the pebbled and sandy shore well enough that he could track his journey across it just fine. There were his footsteps and there was a second set right behind them that veered off at the last second and disappeared back into the forest.

"Dean!"

"Sammy, goddammit! Don't fucking ignore me!"

Sam panted, fingers clammy and frantic on the speak button of the walkie-talkie, hunting rifle hanging heavy down his back. "It's in the forest. It came after me, out to the lake, then went back into the forest when I ran out onto the pier. I can't— I can't see it anymore. Dean, it, it's gone."

"No, it ain't," Bobby interrupted. "Listen, this thing's a damned near perfect hunter. The second you clear that pier and step back down on ground? It's gonna come hurtling out from the forest. Be careful, Sam. We're almost there; no need for idiotic acts of heroism, you got me?"

"Won't it come after you?"

"I'm already at the lake. Got the water at my back. It comes rushing out at me, I blow its brains out."

"Dean?"

"I'm good. Keep an eye out."

The radio clicked as it went silent and Sam shoved it back down in his pocket. He took a deep breath, then broadened his stance, put the butt of the rifle tight against his shoulder and took careful aim. Just because he couldn't see it, didn't mean it wasn't there.

The first time Bobby put a hunting rifle in his hands he'd barely been strong enough to hold it up and aim for more than a couple of seconds at a time. These days, he was stronger and taller, body pumped with adrenaline and fear, but his arms still started shaking long before either Dean or Bobby made it to him.

All right, Sam, he told himself, lower the rifle, five seconds, then back up. Can't keep a steady aim if you can't even hold the rifle still. Sam took a deep breath, counted to three, then lowered his weapon.

Sam never looked away from the tree line, but he still didn't see when the werewolf rushed out from the shadows of the forest and came at him again, because it was just there, between one blink and the next, snarling and stalking toward him as if it'd never left. Mostly, Sam later realized, because he hadn't been looking at the right section of the forest. Also, he admitted to himself, possibly because he'd been watching out for a werewolf.

"Dean," he said, voice shaky, as he raised the radio to his mouth.

"Sammy?"

"There are two of them."

Sam took a deep breath, trying to keep both calm and steady. He wet his lips as he carefully, slowly, raised his rife and pressed it hard against his shoulder.

"Shit," Dean cursed, and then Sam stopped listening to his brother.

Every step Sam backed up, he cursed himself for being so fucking stupid as to run out on a stupid fucking pier for safety, because he'd run out of space to back up in a lot sooner than the werewolves advancing on him would, and they knew it. In his pocket, the radio was crackling and Sam could only just make out Dean's voice, but he couldn't afford to pull it out and respond because he needed both of his hands right now. Maybe he should've pulled his gun instead, because you didn't need to reload guns between every shot to get rid of the empty shell casing the way you did with hunting rifles (and, he admitted to himself, because the other reason was purely selfish: he only needed one hand to hold a gun, so if he'd pulled that instead, then he could've kept talking to Dean), but it was too late to do anything about that now, because the werewolves were close and Sam was rapidly running out of planks to back out on.

His boots hit the wooden post at the edge of the pier way too soon. The werewolves stood side by side, hissing and snarling, just where the wooden planks started and the sand of the shore ended. Sam glanced down, caught sight of a frayed rope coiled loosely around the pole, but then he snapped his eyes back up again, because the pier started creaking under the combined weight of the two werewolves slowly stalking toward him.

Sam crouched, took hold of the rope, aimed carefully, then squeezed the trigger, calm and slow, just like Dean'd taught him to.

The werewolf he hit went down with a high pitched whine, then went quiet. The other one? It howled with rage and fury and leaped at him just as Sam threw himself backward. The wind went out of him at the impact and his back felt like he'd broken it. With his foot, he kicked against the pier and sent the dilapidated dinghy he'd landed in careering out into the lake. With shaking hands he lifted the rifle, pulled the bolt backward, snapping the spent shell casing out of the chamber, then forward again to load the next bullet in the mag, before taking aim all over again.

He shot at the werewolf before it could get any ideas about joining him in the boat and watched as it went down in a growling, whimpering heap, then he just— just slumped down, stretched out uncomfortably across the wet, cold bottom of the dinghy. On the pier, the werewolf was whining, and in his pocket, Dean was shouting at him.

Sam fumbled out the walkie-talkie and held it against his lips. "Dean?" he murmured.

"Sammy! Fucking answer when I talk to you!" Dean growled out.

"Dean. Where are you?"

"At the lake. God, just fucking tell me you didn't fall in, you goddamned idiot. What kind of stupid fucking stunt was that, anyway? You can't just go throwing yourself off into a freezing lake, Sam!"

Sam's teeth chattered, and he was suddenly so, so cold. Maybe it was because the pier had sunk down into the water until he was soaking wet, mid-shin down. Maybe, maybe it was because the bottom of the dinghy was covered with a thin layer of water. He wasn't sure, but he was just so cold and tired, and, to be frank, kinda scared and terrified witless.

"I… there was a boat?"

There was a shot, sudden and shockingly loud, slicing through the silence of the night, and then the whimpering from the werewolf went silent.

"Sam," Bobby said. "Toss me the rope now, boy."

Sam blinked and looked at the radio, but it was quiet for now, so he raised his head and there was Bobby on the pier. He made an interesting picture as a knight in shining armor, with his trucker's cap, scruffy clothes and the rifle hanging across his back.

"You're taking in water," Bobby continued, crouched at the end of the pier. "Just toss me the rope and I'll pull you in. You'll be fine, just try not to move too much, all right?"

Sam nodded. He stuffed the radio away, grabbed the rope that he was still holding on to, then threw it toward Bobby and hoped that it was long enough to reach all the way, because this dinghy? Did not come equipped with oars.

"You got in a mighty fine shot, Sam," Bobby was saying as the dinghy started to move ever so slowly. "Saw you take the first one out before you went down. Damned foolish move, but brave. Just kinda wish the clouds hadn't come in to cover the moon up. Couldn't see where you went. Of course, there wasn't no splash, so at least I knew you weren't drowning. You missed the heart by an inch on the second one."

"Bobby?" Sam could barely raise his voice; he was suddenly just so tired.

"Yeah, kid?"

"I'm tired," he mumbled. "And wet and cold and— Is. Can you see Dean?"

"Not yet. You just keep your eyes open. How much water is there in the boat?"

Sam glanced around. "Oh. A lot," he declared, kind of surprised because he would've bet Dean a month of laundry duty there hadn't been this much water in the boat just a second ago. "If I get urinary tract infection, I'm gonna kill someone."

"You already took out the werewolves. Isn't that enough?"

"No," he whined. "That shit hurts!"

Sam could've sworn Bobby was laughing at him, but the next thing he said was, "All right, hand me that rifle, son." Sam handed it over, then didn't move while Bobby carefully spun the boat around. "I'm gonna grab you under your shoulders, slowly pull you out, okay? You hurt anywhere?"

"My back," Sam mumbled. "Hit it pretty hard."

"I think you're just lucky you didn't sink the boat with that stupid stunt, you idiot. That thing looks like a well-aimed sneeze could rip it to shreds."

Then Bobby was grabbing him, pulling him up and out until Sam was sort of standing, sort of leaning against Bobby on the sagging pier.

"Didn't want the monsters to get me."

"And they didn't."

Bobby pulled him off the pier, and then Dean was there, patting him down and hugging him close. "You're fine," Dean breathed into his hair, and just like that Sam finally relaxed.

-'-

Later that evening, Dean stripped Sam until he was sitting on his bed in just his underwear, then methodically went over every bruise and scrape on the back of his thighs and his back. He fingered Sam's skull through his hair for bumps, cursed at him for keeping it too long, then put him to bed and stood guard until Sam fell asleep.

-'-

"I thought you were still binding," Dean said the next morning and gestured around his chest.

Sam just shook his head. "No. Doc says it's a combination of the T redistributing my body fat and because I work out a lot."

Dean raised his eyebrows. "I thought T couldn't remove tits. Make them smaller, yeah, but not just—" Dean gestured over his chest again, eyebrows raised.

Sam shrugged. "I guess? I don't know, Dean; it happened, and I'm not complaining. Dude, I hated my tits."

Dean blinked, then grinned and shook his head. "Let me guess: you didn't fucking have any tits to get rid of."

"I so did!" Sam protested. "They were, like, there! Poking out!"

Dean snorted and shook his head, big fat smirk on his face. "Yeah, right. Maybe in, like, another dimension or something. You were flatter than a brick, Sam."

Sam narrowed his eyes, offended for all the wrong reasons (or maybe for all the right ones; he wasn't sure). "I was not!" he argued.

"Oh, yes, you were."

"I had. Bumps," he got out, and was just about ready to attack Dean, wipe that ugly smirk right off his face, when Bobby knocked sharply on the door.

"You girls done trading beauty tips in there? I wanna get to breakfast sometime today, if you ain't too busy painting each other's toenails." Bobby's voice was just loud enough to penetrate the closed door. He sounded lazily amused and just a little bit tired. Sam went bright red and scowled, but Dean just threw his head back and laughed.

-'-2001(APR)-'-

The third week in April, a package arrived, delivered straight to their doorstep. It was stuffed full of books and it didn't carry a note or the name of whoever'd sent it. Sam took a good look at the contents, then unpacked the books, one by one, only stopping long enough to thumb through some of the more interesting looking ones.

They were all pretty heavy, pretty dark, and pretty much exclusively into demons and the majority of them weren't even in English. He stashed them with the book Dad'd sent him the title of, all those months ago, and tried not to think too hard about why Dad was sending stuff here. When he mentioned it to Dean, his brother went quiet and stared at the additions in Sam's hunting library for a good hour under the pretense of cooking dinner. They spent the whole night between Friday and Saturday going through the books, but they didn't offer any clues about where Dad was. Just—

Just that he was hunting demons and that whatever he'd stumbled across was close, dangerous and pretty fucking dark.

-'-2001(MAY)-'-

Sam was eighteen when he handed in his petition for a legal name change with the court in Colorado Springs. It was a long process and, had he told Dean about it, he was sure his brother would've snapped at the judge present at his hearing. As it was, Sam felt more than a little intimidated when he stood in front of the rounded, graying judge with the cool, clear eyes. The questions were numerous, some of which Sam didn't feel comfortable answering at all. But he had his papers from the center, all of which were in order, he had the report card of his grades and he was a Winchester – and stubborn to boot.

Because, when it came down to it: "Do I really look like a Samantha to you, sir?" he asked, and stumbled only a little over the name. "It's not like I'm completely changing my name. Everyone already calls me Sam. My driver's license and my birth certificate say Samantha, but I'm not. I'm not Samantha, sir. I'm Sam."

"I see," the judge drawled. Sam wasn't sure if he did, because he was too focused on reading through the various reports in front of him, from Sam's school and his doctors.

The two hours he spent in the court room were two of the longest in his life. It was all worth it, though, because the court order meant he could request a new birth certificate that said Sam Winchester, nothing more, nothing less. After that came the driver's license, which he proudly brandished to Dean.

Dean grinned, ruffled his hair and said, "Way to go, Sammy."

-'-

Dean graduated in May and was granted a whopping forty-five days of leave without pay. It didn't matter much, though, because Sam was frugal with money, and besides, it wasn't like he had much of anything to spend it on. But yeah, other than the fact that Dean basically got paid to go to school and play with guns and shit – which was kind of awesome, really – there was the fact that they had medical insurance – legal medical insurance – for the first time in Sam's life.

Having Dean back also meant Sam didn't have to cook anymore, or drive anywhere, because Dean was doing his very best to make up for lost time with his 'baby'.

So no, Sam wasn't quite prepared for the stony silence that greeted him in the car when Dean picked him up after school one day – and how weird was it that Sam no longer drove around everywhere on his own, anyway? – because so far Dean'd been pretty mellow and relaxed.

"Dean?"

"Got another fucking crate," Dean muttered.

Sam blinked. "Oh," he murmured.

"Yeah. Books, scrolls, pictures. Hell, box was full of herbs and shit, too, and it was literally covered with sigils and holy water."

"Why is he sending all this?"

"Hell if I know."

"You talk to Bobby?"

"He ain't got a clue," Dean drawled, eyes on the road. Even though it only took about five minutes to drive from the school to their home, Dean still reached over and turned on the music, volume turned to max and blaring from the loudspeakers.

-'-

School let out the last week of May. Sam and Dean locked up the house, then drove up to see Bobby, making a short detour on the way there to stop by at Missouri's. Missouri looked troubled, but wouldn't say why, and Bobby was the same as always. His dog was a slightly bigger puppy, but still miles away from being full grown. One day, Sam thought, scratching the dog behind the ears, and promised himself that he'd get a dog as a reward if he survived college intact.

-'-2001(JUN)-'-

They took care of a haunting in Peetz, CO, on the way back home, and then Dean's phone rang.

They drove in stony silence after that, Dean tapping out angry rhythms on the wheel and Sam staring blindly out the window as the scenery rushed by.

"You hungry?" Dean grunted, somewhere between halfway home and there.

"No," Sam said, and didn't move.

"Bullshit," Dean declared and pulled off at the next intersection.

Despite the fact that they lived pretty close to Denver these days, they'd almost never taken the time to actually go there all that much (well, Sam had, on occasion, it was just that Dean'd never gone with him), but Dean still managed to find a somewhat acceptable café where they could eat in a relatively short amount time.

There was a rainbow flag in the window, just a small one, but the sight of it somehow lifted Sam's spirits enough that he could acknowledge and sate his hunger. Still.

"Dude, why do you know where a gay café is, anyway?"

Dean shrugged. He was stirring milk and sugar into his coffee – which, yeah, was pretty far from the norm when it came to Dean – and wouldn't look up when he spoke. "There's this girl at the Academy. She goes here with her sister all the time; won't stop jabbering on about it. Thought it was worth checking out, that's all."

Sam's eyebrows shot up. "You've got a girlfriend now, Dean?"

"No," Dean snapped. "I've got a friend who's a girl, dickhead."

"Oh." Sam looked back down at his plate where the last of his fries were slowly going cold. "Sorry."

Dean shook his head. "No, man, it's all right. I just…"

"Yeah," Sam agreed, then ate the last of his fries, movements systematic rather than laidback and relaxed.

He wasn't really hungry anymore.

-'-

There was a large, black pickup truck parked in their driveway when Sam and Dean made it back to their house. Sam looked at the car, then the house, and turned to Dean. "We'll have to cancel the lease," he said.

Dean blinked and frowned. "What?"

"I mean, when I go to Stanford, right? No sense in keeping this place." Sam's tone was mostly even, except for how it shook a little. "It'll be empty except for when you get out on weekends, and. Well. No point in keeping it, right? Save more money if we don't, s'all I'm saying."

Dean turned off the car and pulled the keys out of the ignition. "Focus, Sammy. One matter at a time, all right?"

Sam's nod was maybe slightly too manic. He took a deep breath, closed his eyes, then took another and a third before he opened his eyes, squared his shoulders and stepped out of the car. By the time he reached the door, Dean's shoulder was brushing his and he took some comfort in that, no matter what happened after this point, Dean would always be by his side.

And that, he decided, was at the heart of it all anyway: Dean was the most important person in his life – always had been, always would be – no doubt about it. Regardless of what Dad said or how he reacted, Sam would always have Dean, and that was what made Sam's world right.

If he could have Dean, then everything was all right and nothing else mattered.

Not even Dad.