This is set during Season One's search for John. Not sure how many chapters there will be yet! Also posted to a href=" /works/686334"Archive of Our Own/a. This story contains WINCEST, so if you no likey, you no readey :)

(Now)

When Dean comes for him - bitter, swearing to God he'll do anything but beg for his little brother back - Sam is wary as a feral cat, all mistrustful orb-huge eyes and electrified hackles, instinct backing him into a corner for safety. His body language declares that he didn't ask for this; that he is supposed to be done with this, so what the hell are you doing here, Dean.

The lie? Dean doesn't know. How easily could he do this himself? How many times has he ventured on a hunt without John and lived to brag about it? He doesn't need his brother to help him chase their reckless father around America, doesn't need Sam to hold his hand or be that reassuring voice when he doesn't know where next to look.

The conversation:

"I can't do this alone."

Sam says, all scoffing disbelief, "Yes, you can." Calling bullshit like he always does.

Dean screws up his mouth, fixes his eyes on some harmless point to the left of Sam's derisive eyes. "Yeah. But I don't want to."

The truth? It's not that he needs Sam to help him track John. It's simply that he needs Sam. What really burrows under his skin and forces his eyes open at night is that he doesn't know why.

(Then)

They are nine and thirteen and Sam is smart, too smart, always alert, always asking thousands of questions. This is good when John is teaching him about what they're currently tracking. This is bad when he gazes into his older brother's mortified eyes and asks mildly why Dean's bed always squeaks so much right before he makes that noise at night. After this incident, Dean, constantly furious that he still has to bunk down with his curious little brother during this most awkward stage of life, tries to constrain himself to jacking off in the shower. For a while that is a beautiful solution, until one day Sam comes sailing into the bathroom right as Dean is slammed up against the shower wall, halfway through a glorious orgasm and helpless from stopping that bitten-off moan from pouring out of his throat.

Leave it, leave it, he prays, but of course Sam, who has always possessed a total, baffling, rather concerning lack of shame, has to peel back the shower curtain and look into Dean's clouded eyes and say, "So THIS is where you do it now."

"Fuck, Sammy," Dean says weakly, thinking, are you serious but too strung-out and spent to be truly enraged, "There's this awesome thing called privacy. It's in the dictionary. Look it up."

Sam's bronzed, freckly cheeks glow dusky sunset red when he mutters, "Sorry," and practically sprints from the room, leaving Dean to wonder first where that startling absence of embarrassment has gone, then, all in a rush, how the hell he feels bad about what just happened.

(Then)

Sometimes, when they are caged up in the ass crack of nowhere with explicit instructions from John to stay here until I get back, Dean is the only person Sam sees for days. Too frequently they are surrounded by untamed, unpopulated country, giant expanses of it, the deficiency of life enough to give Sam itchy headaches. He develops the unfortunate habit of gnawing on his lower lip until it's swollen and ripe-raw, and before they go to bed each night Dean holds Sam's head still and glosses an oily scoop of Vaseline over the small wounds that open on his brother's mouth. The taste of Dean's finger prevails over the strange flavor of the salve and Sam lives for it, the attention Dean shows him in that instant, concern fluttering in his softened eyes as he concentrates on covering every inch of Sam's lip.

"You got to stop doing this, Sammy," he chides as he does this, rough voice sweetened by the worry threaded through his words.

And Sam responds, "I know," every night, like a congregation chanting a prayer back to its pastor. The things they say are a script and long ago he memorized his lines.

Even when John is away on a trip, they share a room. Dean knows how ridiculous this is, especially because he can always find new ways to bitch about sharing when he has no choice, but the sole occasion he tries taking his father's room in his absence it doesn't end well. At two o'clock in the morning Sam's high sharp howl rips Dean from his sleep and he ends up wound around his brother all night, frantically stroking Sam's hair and saying anydamnthing to make that nightmare-induced terror seep from Sam's glass eyes. Even at nine the younger boy is thin as a whip and lanky and it takes all of Dean to wrap him up completely, their limbs joining in seamless lines as Sam digs fingers into Dean's spine. His face is mashed into his brother's chest and Dean can feel the fiery lines of Sam's tears as they spill through his ancient black AC/DC shirt. It is probably this moment, or maybe a thousand others joined together, that makes him wholly realize that Sam is the most important thing in the universe.

Sam is like air, he is embedded in Dean's heartbeat, he is Dean's pulse and his breath. Essential. Since Sam was born Dean has been the closest thing to a constant in his life and he means to keep it that way. If Sam can't have a normal life at least he can have one thing, one person, he can always rely on. Dean wants that for his little brother so badly because he doesn't know what it's like. John is truant enough not to be considered dependable, and to exacerbate things Dean has unfairly been expected to be an adult since the day his mother was killed. It's fucked him to hell in the head and he isn't gonna let that happen to Sam, who is not only clever enough to be whatever he wants but somehow astonishingly naive-sweet and kind despite his unorthodox upbringing. He is a lovely contrast to the sober, bitter child that Dean became in the aftermath of their mother's death.

Dean would do anything to make sure he stays that way.

(Now)

Sam's face has changed.

When he abandoned his family for normalcy, for a future, the only thing that allowed Dean to function was the thought that his brother might, in time, heal. But a few hours in Sam's company make him think otherwise. The youngest Winchester carries a kind of sour heaviness in his expression; a persistent downward pull at the edges of his bitten mouth, a tenseness to his jaw. Sam's eyes, always so soft as a child, have waxed angry, caustic; contempt slashed all through them. They challenge everything even when he does not speak a word, and Dean hates it - partly because he blames himself for his brother's loss of innocence, mostly because he doesn't have this new Sam learned from the inside out.

There are countless miles before them and countless miles behind them and the road is neverending, but what does eventually end is the way Sam can't seem to smile anymore. With each day he pushes behind him, each successful hunt he survives, he regains a fraction of himself, until the harsh lines of his face begin to ease back to normal. The first time Dean sees that incandescent grin crack Sam's stoic mouth wide open he almost keels over. It aches to know that he rarely appreciates joy like he does when he sees it emanating from Sam's face.

Sometimes Dean discovers Sam watching him with an expression in his eyes that can't be described, and that look does lethal things to Dean's heartbeat.

(Now)

They are in Copperas Cove, Texas, dealing with a particularly nasty spirit while trying to stave off incapacitation by extreme heat. Dean makes the executive decision that excessive time spent under the blistering sun is out of the question, so much of their business is done post-dusk, when the temperature drops from unbearable to merely uncomfortable. Sam says this is ideal because after all they're called things that go bump in the night, and Dean loves him for making them both feel less lazy.

The affected house - maybe a more suitable word is castle, Sam decides during a preliminary scope of the place - is unlike anything the Winchesters have previously dealt with. It is tucked neatly into the very back of a gorgeous, stunningly gargantuan estate, but where its incredible size matches the layout of the acreage around it, the architecture cruelly contrasts the surrounding beauty. Much of the building is carpeted with wild foliage, green fingers of vine ribboning in unintentional decoration over five stories of charcoal stone. The front door is huge, iron, and finished with a brass knocker; the windows like towering, rectangular eyes. From the left side of the building juts a lone turret that surpasses the height of the tallest floor by the tiniest of margins. On three of the house's sides stand unchecked woods, and the unfortunate proximity of the trees obscures direct sunlight from the windows at most hours of the day. It is a structure that could be akin to a fairytale castle if satisfactorily cared for, but the word that comes to Sam's mind as he surveys it now is terrifying.

"Well, this is fuckin' creepy," says Dean in a conversational tone of voice, as he and Sam stand gawking at the house from a safe spot on the front lawn.

Sam's lips twitch out of their solemn line. "Yeah. But we've seen worse."

"No. Dude." Dean is shaking his head, all set grim mouth and round marble eyes. "This place screams haunted. It smells haunted. Who the hell buys a house like this?"

"Old rich guy?" suggests Sam, eyeing the brass knocker on the door. "My guess is it was inherited. No one sane would spend money on this."

"I swear to God I've seen a house like this in Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark or some shit," grumbles Dean ominously, and Sam grins.

"You read that?"

Dean senses him looking, meets his mirthful eyes, frowns. "Yeah, so?"

Sam's eyebrows crook up. "Really? You?"

"Yes," says Dean slowly, like one plus one is two. His eyebrows are bunched together in a way that is meant to convey snarling anger but to Sam is just precious. "You did too, punk, I got it from you."

"I know," replies Sam patiently. "I'm just surprised. I didn't know you read anything but car magazines."

Dean makes a noise that declares that his involvement in this discussion is finished, screws up his face, rams Sam hard across the shoulder as he skulks past him towards the mansion. "Shut up. C'mon."

It takes them a couple of days to fully enmesh themselves into the situation. Eventually they determine that, for once, the family being pestered has no connection to the spirit; they're just unfortunate enough to be the inhabitants of a house that's been haunted for decades. Sam and Dean don't trouble themselves trying to bullseye the exact cause of the triggered activity; they know what they have to do, and they take care of business with brutal efficiency. Hunts like these are more or less routine: not a breeze, but neither are they difficult. Somehow Sam's absence from the game hasn't diminished his proficiency and though they both come away from the banishment with a bruise or three Dean is impressed with his brother's ability to improvise at the speed of a sprinting cheetah.

Afterward they are in the Impala rolling the hell out of Dodge by way of a grimy dirt road, arms swaying out open windows, and Sam says, "So. Are we staying here tonight, or bailing?"

Dean checks the time on the dashboard. Nine seventeen. "I don't know, but I'm freakin' starved."

"Me too." Sam flicks irritatedly at an itch on his nose. "I mean, the hotel's all right."

"They all look the same, Sammy," says Dean, glancing sideways at him. "That hasn't hit you yet?"

"Guess I'm still out of practice." Sam's words are distorted by a yawn that pulls his mouth impossibly wide, and Dean is accosted by a random memory (look, Dean, I can fit my fist in my mouth, bet you can't, when Sam is seven years old, and why God why does that make Dean wonder flickeringly if Sam can still boast about that talent?) before he is fighting a yawn himself.

"Admit it, you're just tired," he accuses, gentle, wishing he could turn his brain inside out to smack the image of Sam's voluminous mouth from the inside of his eyelids.

"That, and we've got nowhere we have to be," reminds Sam. "Copperas Cove is as good a town as any."

In the faintly lit parking lot of a local Dairy Queen they slouch on the hood of the Impala, scarfing second-rate burgers and milkshakes. For maybe the third time since their reunion Sam is too hungry to talk while he eats, and Dean is mildly stunned to find that he misses the sound of his brother's aimless chatter.

"Quiet, Sammy," he observes, as he pauses to pour a fresh packet of ketchup over his fries.

Fleetingly Sam glances into Dean's eyes, smiles. "Talking slows me down." He unfolds a clean napkin in front of him and Dean grins when he realizes how seriously Sam takes his warnings: you get shit on my car, I kill you.

"Yeah." Dean looks out in the general direction of the Dairy Queen, not seeing it. "What are you thinking we look for next?"

Sam gulps down a huge bite of burger. "I dunno, something challenging, man. I'm getting bored."

"Tough guy."

"Comes with the territory." Sam shrugs. "You good with that?"

"You know I am," answers Dean, feeling that sweet onslaught of pride flooding his veins. "We were trained for badder sons of bitches than this last gig."

"Understatement." Sam snorts, licks ketchup from his fingers. Dean tries not to watch too closely.

After a while they stretch out on their backs to finish their shakes. They are angled so none of the lights in the small lot are directly obstructing the canvas of indigo above them and the absent thought railroading through Sam's mind is that if this is not contentment, then nothing is.

(Then)

Sam is six years old, a champion tree-climber, but on one particular day his footing abandons him and he sails down from a branch that is dangerously high. Dean gets to him first, his eyes big and afraid, and clamps Sam's hand as he shrieks down at the furious, ragged scarlet gash on his thigh. John carries his youngest son inside and tapes him up with some gauze, but the fix is temporary and soon they are making the grim five-mile trek to the ER for some stitches. When the nurse pierces his wound with an anesthetic Sam screams and it makes Dean's heart shatter.

"You're gonna be okay, Sammy," he chants as the numbness begins to colonize the pain in Sam's leg. "Gonna be just fine." And Sam believes him because Dean is always right.

That night at dinner, when John isn't looking, Dean slips Sam half of his slice of cherry pie, and he lets him watch cartoons until bedtime without a single complaint. When Sam wakes up in the middle of the night, trying hard not to snuffle but helpless against the loss of anesthesia, Dean gets him a glass of freezing water to help him swallow down his pain medicine and talks to him about angels until Sam is dreaming again, dried tears trailing down his round cheeks.

Dean is not really sure where along the fucked-up path of his life that innocence abandoned him.

(Then)

It's hot, so fucking hot, and Sam is almost glad that Bobby and John have left them behind today despite the fact that he has to put up with Dean's ceaseless bitching (I'm old enough, dammit. This is fucking unbelievable). Being stuck at the house they're staying at means he can spread himself over the cold kitchen floor with ice cubes stacked on his feverish skin and not move half an inch all day if he doesn't want to.

He is fourteen. Dean is days away from eighteen. Their boundaries are hazy, fluctuating, and Sam isn't really sure why they exist if they never talk about them.

Dean runs every day. Sam is too lazy to give a damn about staying in shape yet and he just laughs at his brother's ruby cheeks when he comes crawling inside from ninety degree heat. Except today it's different. Today Dean has neglected to throw his shirt back on, and Sam's mouth has inexplicably decided to imitate a desert.

Panting, Dean falls against the kitchen counter, toweling cascades of sweat from his forehead with his discarded t-shirt. It's been a long time since Sam has actually looked at his brother half-naked and now that thing that's wrong with his brain, that thing that allows him to find Dean attractive, is acting up again. He slices his eyes away determinedly.

After a minute, when Dean has his breathing back under control, he says, "Don't you ever move?"

Sam looks at him with that reflex teenage insolence dripping through his eyes. "Nope."

"Fuckin' lazyass, you." Dean's face is half snarl, half smile as he tosses his shirt in the general direction of the living room. When he crosses over to the refrigerator Sam tries not to drink in the way the muscles of his brother's back undulate gracefully, discernibly against his freckled amber-olive skin.

"It's too hot to do anything," says Sam.

"I just did something, didn't I?" banters Dean mildly, digging in the freezer for an ice cube. "It is hot though, I'm dying."

"That's cause you run at the absolute worst time of the day, moron," says Sam acerbically, rolling his eyes even though Dean can't see.

"But now, Sammy," replies Dean, turning around and shaking his ice cube at Sam to punctuate his point, "now is when I have the most energy." He flashes that charismatic grin of his, slaps the little square of ice against his chest, and the moan he makes upon contact makes Sam's belly roil with heat. The younger boy knots his fingers into a fist, lets his fingernails punch half-moon holes in his slick palms.

"You know it's strange," he says, watching the lazy content way Dean rubs the ice over his neck, down his arms. "Now is when I have the least energy." Without consciously understanding what he's doing he gets up and lopes over to the freezer to grab some fresh cubes for himself.

"Huh," says Dean, mock-considering. "I thought you just forgot how to move." The ice is turning to lukewarm water over his skin, rivulets racing down into the band of his shorts, and Sam is killing himself keeping his eyes away from the angles of Dean's narrow hips. He scowls heavily up at his brother, dark tumultuous emotion crashing through his eyes.

"I'm up now, aren't I?"

"Only cause you have to be, punk," returns Dean, cheerily oblivious of his little brother's discomfort. "You ran out of ice." He reaches back into the tray for a fresh handful, but Sam thieves it from his grip, smiling a little now.

"And you're taking it all." His hands are itching and with something akin to terror he realizes he's dying to touch the lines of water arrowing down Dean's stomach. It's the heat. It's got to be the heat.

"Because I'm in pain, Sammy, don't you realize how brutal it is out there?" whines Dean, but his eyes are glinting with laughter.

"You have got to quit calling me that," growls Sam, and it registers in Dean's startled mind that his voice has grown very deep of late. He is still focused on this unnerving development and thus mindlessly does as Sam bids when he says, "Turn around."

Dean's skin is hot, too hot, and Sam can almost feel the agitated blood broiling beneath his fingers as he presses gentle palmfuls of ice into his brother's back. Hissing, Dean arches, tense everywhere with the sudden temperature change over massive areas of his body, but Sam keeps his hands still so Dean can easily acclimatize and soon he feels the tightness under his fingers going slack. Already the ice is starting to dissolve; Sam's hands are wetter than they should be as he begins to blanket Dean's back with cold.

Dean feels his brother rubbing patterns over his skin and turns his head a little, heartbeat whirring. "Sam-"

"Are you wearing sunscreen?" demands Sam, the intensity in his voice surprising Dean into cursory muteness. "Because this looks like a fucking sunburn to me."

"I." Dean clears his throat, clears his head. "Does it look like there's sunscreen anywhere in this house?"

"I don't know, you tell me," says Sam flippantly, amazed that he can keep his voice so even when his fingers are trailing the rungs of Dean's spine. The smell of Dean, musk and heavy sweat and that new oceany deodorant he's been wearing, is thick in the air around him and Sam has to fight so hard to restrain himself from sinking his face between Dean's shoulder blades and just breathing him. "You should buy some, you're gonna look fifty when you're twenty-five."

"Okay, Mom," rasps Dean, but he's smiling. He might be Sam's protector but the kid is always, always taking care of him in return.

"Someone's got to do it," says Sam, and there is such sadness in his voice that Dean is cowed. That feeling of melancholy lingers for all of five seconds before his mind is again fixated on Sam's huge hands working over every inch of his shoulders, the backs of his hips, the slight indent at the end of his spine. It feels so good it almost hurts and without realizing it Dean is purring intermittently, deep in his throat, faint.

Sam hears him and he is done. The ice has long since melted into Dean's skin and he is out of excuses. He lets his hands come to rest on Dean's shoulders, presses his face briefly into Dean's neck, breathes and feels his brother stiffen against him. For a precarious, shattering, unreal second neither of them moves, then Sam backs up before he tastes the consequences of his actions. Before Dean can burst away from him and make things trickier than they already are.

Dean half turns, his eyes hunting Sam's, and their gazes fuse for a long, long moment. Sam has the presence of mind to understand that there is a hot hunger licking through Dean's eyes before the older boy blinks it away, and then he's announcing that "I'm, yeah. I'm gonna take a shower," and walking away at a speed close to a jog.

One thing that Dean never admits to anyone: what he thinks about in that shower as he's trembling through an orgasm so powerful it has him folded to his knees, gasping and swearing and hating himself for the image burned like a brand behind his eyes.

(Now)

Every now and again Sam wakes up to see the sun rise. Normally he'll sit on the hood of the Impala, impossibly long legs crooked up against his chest, one hand thatched back through his hair as he watches the sky blend pink and gold and hesitant orange. Not once since he's been back with Dean has his brother stirred to watch with him; he isn't even sure if Dean knows that he does this. Today, however, as he's slinking back inside the motel room all sun-blind and faintly euphoric, Dean's voice assaults him from the corner of the room.

"The fuck you doing?" he asks, peeking woozily up from under his comforter. His voice is the furthest thing from angry, just fuzzy and sleepy and curious in that gruff way of his.

"Sunrise, man," answers Sam, crawling a little with embarrassment because he figures Dean will think him a complete pansy for enjoying such a girlish thing. "It's beautiful today."

Dean sits up, scrubs a hand over his eyes, groans a little as he raises his arms over his tousled head.

"Time is it?"

Sam's eyes dart to the clock on the bedstand, squarish neon numbers imprinted on his corneas. "Six oh three."

"Fuck." Dean laughs a little, but it's a bitter thing, drained of humor. "Why am I awake?" He pushes the covers from his legs and Sam's pulse glitches like it always does when he sees his brother in those stupid black boxer briefs.

Dragging, Dean reaches down for last night's discarded jeans, belts them around his sharply tapered hips. Doesn't bother with a shirt. Sam's mouth is dry; his tongue doesn't work, but somehow he knows what Dean wants when he says, "Let's go see what all this fuss is about."

"You missed the best part," argues Sam weakly, but Dean just curves his mouth up, smirking as he maneuvers past Sam out the door.

"Maybe tomorrow, then," he shoots over his shoulder, and Sam's eyes are pasted to the tiny canyons and lines and ridges of his back, all power. When they were younger Dean was lithe, skinny-strong like a soccer player; now he's more solid across the shoulders, brawnier through his arms. Not someone it would be wise to start a fight with, though Sam gets at him all the time for stress relief and maybe just to feel the way Dean's body matches up with his own, all those coils of limbs, elbows and knees skewered everywhere. It makes Sam ludicrously happy to wrestle like that because Dean is never so real to him as when they're throwing each other around, sparring for the joy of it. It's the only time Dean really lets Sam touch him. The only chance he'll ever have to get that close.

They slouch up against the car, scrutinizing the dawn sky for a few minutes. Dean's plum of a mouth is bunched up and his eyes are mirroring the spectrum of color before them, and Sam swears to God that he's gonna pay attention to the sunrise again, if only Dean would stop being so distracting. He realizes his jaw is clenched up like a cramp and exhales, willing himself to (calm down with that shit) relax.

"Not bad," muses Dean after a while, and Sam recognizes awe in his voice. "You get up for this every day?"

Sam laughs. "No. Fuck no. Just every once in a while when I'm not on a sleep deficit."

"Good, cause I was gonna call you a frigging psycho if you did." That trademark smarmy grin bolts across Dean's face as his eyes hook to Sam's. "Seriously though. Not bad."

"It was better earlier," says Sam, thinking, except you weren't here.

"Well, next time wake me up, chowderhead." Dean yawns and Sam has really got to go to therapy to quash his obsession with Dean's forever-bruised mouth. "Can we go back to sleep now?"

"You can. I'm up." But even before he says it Sam is questioning himself; maybe sleep is the answer to all of his puzzles.

"Uh huh. I don't believe that for a second. Come on, bro." Dean jerks his head, eyes coaxing at Sam for a moment before he leads the way back into the room. The second the door clicks shut behind them Sam is stripping back down to his sleep clothes; right now the enveloping darkness is even more gorgeous than the dawn.

"Let's not set an alarm," he throws out, clambering back into bed, all cracking knees and swallowed yawns.

"Thought you were up," says Dean mildly, and in his voice there is almost a tease. Sam is clobbered.

"Well, I'm down again," he replies, grinning, his eyes drifting closed so easily. "See you in a bit."

There is a pause, within which Sam has already begun to flow back into dreams, then Dean says, fond, "Night, Sammy."

But maybe he dreamed that, too.