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Title: For the End of my Broken Heart
Chapter: Six
Author: [livejournal.com profile] bloodkisses
Pairing: Dean/Sam
Rating: NC-17/Adult
Warnings: Angst. The usual drill. Slash
Spoilers: Devil's Trap (seriously, is there *anyone* who would be spoiled by this?)
Summary: Dad's disappeared and Sam's left to pick up the pieces of his broken brother.
Disclaimer: They're not mine, sadly, no matter how much I pleaded.
A/N: My first plot!fic. I have sweated blood and tears on this thing. I need to thank *everyone* who supported, cajoled, bullied, hand-held and babied me through this. I especially need to thank my betas, [livejournal.com profile] sosoru and [livejournal.com profile] wenchpixie. Special thanks and much love go to [livejournal.com profile] sosoru, because without her belief in me and her endless patience, this thing would never have got this far. Love you darling.


"Dean. Sam."

The sight of Dad is like ice water down his spine. He's just standing there, in the middle of the room, between the two single beds, like the last few weeks haven't happened, like everything is the same as it was before he left, the second time, before he walked away from his sons and left Sam to try and gather up the broken pieces of his brother.

Sam's lust is forgotten in the initial shock, then drowned in the anger that follows hard on the heels of his surprise. He's standing close enough to Dean feel the faint tremors that are shaking his brother's body. There's no way to tell which emotion is making Dean shiver so; anger, relief, fear, or all three of them. The knowledge that it's probably fear is about the only thing stopping Sam from telling Dad that he doesn't have the right to just waltz in and out of their lives as he sees fit, or send them off on hunts that almost get them killed. But Sam can't complain about that, because the hunt going wrong gave him Dean; brother, friend, lover, and he can't regret that.

The surge of protectiveness is just as strong as the anger, because Sam knows that Dean's worried, if not down right terrified, about what Dad will do if he finds out they're lovers. Dean's never said so, but Sam knows his brother. He knows too that if Dad finds out, he's going to blame Dean, and Dean's going to accept that blame. Sam's determined he's not going to let either of them do that this time. He's every bit as much to blame as Dean, maybe more so because Dean was shattered and utterly stricken when Sam pressed him down onto the back seat of the car; broken and vulnerable and so goddamned relieved to see Sam alive he'd have given him anything he wanted. All Sam had wanted was Dean and he still has no idea why he never realized that simple fact before the moment he sank into his brother's willing body. If there's blame here, it's Sam that should take it; if there's sin, it's surely more Sam's than Dean's. But what they've done doesn't feel like sin, though it should. It feels right and Sam's not giving him up. Not for anything, not even Dad. He made the mistake of walking away from Dean once, of letting his brother think he didn't care; he's not going to do it again.

He lets his hand brush against Dean's; a simple, innocently accidental touch, but Dean's trembling seems to subside a little. Sam doesn't want to leave his brother's side, but there's no point making Dad angry or suspicious, so he walks across the room, fighting the urge to look back at Dean; to try and reassure him that it's ok, that they're in this together. Dad opens his arms, and Sam steps into the hug. It's awkward, but despite his anger, Sam can't help the relief at knowing Dad's ok. They stand like that for a long moment, then Dad slaps him on the back, and pulls away. Sam steps away, a pace or two behind Dad's right shoulder. He watches Dean move into John's embrace, and when Dean's eyes find his over Dad's shoulder, Sam tries to put as much reassurance as he can into the gaze they share. Dean looks so nervous, so unsure, so damned scared that Sam aches to be the one holding him. It hurts to see something they've done leave Dean so uncomfortable around a man he idolizes, and for a moment Sam feels the first flash of guilt. But it's drowned in the memories of touching Dean, of being able to hold his brother, of the connection they've created. He can't be the one embracing Dean now, so instead he tries to smile to his brother, knowing he's only partially successful. When Dad lets Dean go, Sam moves to stand beside his brother again, not caring if Dad thinks it odd. The apparently accidental way Dean shifts as he does, his shoulder brushing Sam's arm has Sam holding in a sigh of relief.

Dad's grin turns to concern when he looks at Dean, and Sam remembers the ghoul, and the wounds that Dean wouldn't let him look at back in the graveyard. He curses to himself, wishing he'd insisted. The last thing they need is a lecture from Dad over hunting and tending to injuries.

"You ok, son? What happened?"

Dean half shrugs.

"Ghoul took a swing at me. Sammy got her before she could take a real chunk out of me though."

There are so many emotions in Dean's voice that Sam just can't separate them, and hope and love and worry and apprehension twist his stomach.

"Should have been more careful, ghouls can be dangerous things."

Sam has to bite his tongue. There's concern in Dad's voice, but also disappointment and reprimand. He knows what's coming next when Dad turns towards him.

"Why didn't you take care of your brother sooner Sammy?"

"It's Sam. He wouldn't let me. I thought it'd be better to save the inevitable battle until we were back here, when I could get a proper look." He knows he's talking too much, but he's been unexpectedly blindsided by the memory of kissing Dean in the graveyard, of thoughts of what he was going to do to Dean when they got back to this very room and he needs to do something to distract himself from that train of thought. If he thought Dad being around was going to dampen his desire for Dean, he was clearly wrong. This is going to be so much harder than he thought. He's glad that they got a room with two single beds, even if it was more from habit than anything else, because the last thing they need is Dad asking awkward questions right now.

"Well, you best do that then Sam." Sam grinds his teeth. That 'do as I tell you and do it now' tone of voice has always gotten under Sam's skin and to be told he should be taking care of Dean by the man who didn't even stick around to see his son wake from a coma is infuriating. But he swallows the harsh words down, for Dean's sake. He grabs the med kit from his bag and turns back to see Dean stripping off his t-shirt, stiff with blood and ghoul guts. Sam sucks in a breath when he sees the gouges running across Dean's chest and stomach. Fortunately they aren't deep and they don't look as though they'll need stitches, but they must sting like fuck and they're going to drive Dean mad as they start to heal.

Sam glances over at Dad and is shocked by the expression on his face. He follows Dad's eye line, and realizes that Dad's not seen the scars the demon that briefly inhabited his body had left on Dean. Sam's never seen his father look so emotionally open. It's all plain to see on Dad's face; sorrow, anger, grief, pain. Sam's own anger drains away, leaving him tired. He doesn't want to fight with his father anymore. Dad's just as fucked up as they are, and arguing is going to get them nowhere. All they'll do is hurt Dean, again. Sam’s exhausted, and he just wants to be alone with Dean, to patch his brother up and then fall asleep in his arms.

Dean drops to sit on one of the beds like his legs can barely hold him up. He slumps down, shoulders hunched, chin almost touching his chest, hands hanging loosely between his legs. It's a physical ache to see Dean like this. They've come so far and despite everything, Sam's suddenly terrified that Dad being back is going to pull them apart again. Dean's a hell of a lot better than he was when they left the hospital and he's always played the stoic role far too well for Sam's liking, but Sam's all too well aware that the cracks are still there, that Dean is still fragile and vulnerable. The need to get Dad out of the room, so he can talk to Dean is overwhelming, but he clamps down on it, determined not to start an argument. He just needs to get Dean cleaned up and get Dad out of the room, as quickly as possible, before Dean retreats again behind the walls Sam's been patiently knocking down.

Sam grabs the med kit and crouches in front of Dean. He rests a hand on Dean's leg, thumb gently stroking the inside of his brother's knee. It's the only touch he dare allow himself, beyond those needed to deal with Dean's injuries. He can feel how tense Dean is, and how miserable. Sam's almost sorry that he insisted on the tattoos, the deep and permanent bond that even now he can feel between them. Almost sorry. He hates that right now Dean's hurting and scared, but the selfish part of him doesn't care. They're bound together now, stronger and deeper than any marriage, any partnership, and nothing and no-one can change that. Just that knowledge calms Sam, and he takes a breath before giving Dean's knee a gentle squeeze and reaching for the gauze and antiseptic.

****

Contrary to what Sam obviously thinks, John cares. And he knows his sons. The relationship between his boys has been many things over the years. There have been times when John has looked at the two of them, Sam and Dean, and felt like a stranger. It's been Sam and Dean, and John for more years than John can remember. The first word Sam said wasn't Mommy, as it should have been, it wasn't Daddy either, it was Dean. He knows he can blame no-one but himself for that, but that hurt. He shouldn't have been jealous of the way his boys clung to each other, of the way Dean cared for Sam, though he was barely old enough to look after himself, of the way Sam worshipped his older brother, but he was.

As Sam grew up and hit his teens, the relationship between the brothers grew more and more strained until John was certain it would snap. But it never did, and it appears that not even Sam's leaving for college, John's harsh and instantly regretted words undoubtedly ringing in his ears, could sever that link. When John went underground, abandoning Dean without a word, he never expected his eldest to go straight to Sam. He should have. He should have realized that whatever the bond between them was, not even time or distance was ever going to break it.

He's come to accept that his place in their lives is on the sidelines, that when they have each other, they don't actually need him. He doesn't like it, but he's come to terms with it. It is, after all, a situation of his own making.

But watching Sam tend to Dean's wounds, he can tell something is off. There's something different about them. Individually, they seem the same, but together? It's as if something's happened, something fundamental, between them. Normally he'd chalk it up to another argument, because God knows, they've had enough over the years, but this is subtly different, and while there's definitely tension between them, it isn't the frustrated resentment he's used to sensing. He can't put a name to it yet, although he has no doubt that he'll figure it out in time. As long as it doesn't interfere when they're hunting, he'll let them work it out for themselves.

John watches as Sam carefully cleans the jagged tears across Dean's chest. There's a tenderness in the way Sam touches his brother that John doesn't remember seeing before, and as much as it makes his heart clench for all that he's lost, he's pleased to see it between his sons.

Sam moves, and John catches sight of the older scars, the ones obviously left by the demon that are still pale against the tan skin around them, and John’s smothered again by the weight of his shame and regret. He should have been stronger, should have fought the demon harder. The sound of Dean's voice, begging John to fight, to not let him die haunts John's nightmares. Some nights he can't sleep because his thoughts are filled with memory of bright red blood on his son's lips, and Sam's voice, agonized and terrified, calling for his brother. There are times when John honestly wishes Sam had pulled the trigger, so he wouldn't have to live with the guilt of knowing he was weak, that he didn't fight the demon enough, that it was wearing his form when it inflicted those wounds on Dean.

Leaving the hospital before Dean woke is not something he's proud of, but he couldn't bear to stay and risk seeing disappointment, or worse, fear, in his son's eyes. John understands Sam's anger, hell, he's angry with himself, but he needed to get away, to get his head straight. He knew Sam would take care of his brother, and Dean's strong, a fighter.

He's not sure he'd be back now, if it weren't for his telephone conversation with Dean. He's never heard his son sound so despairing, so vulnerable. Dean hasn't shown that kind of weakness for years, not in front of John. Not since he learnt to be exactly what his father wanted; the obedient soldier, who never displayed any frailty. Sometimes he hated what he had done to his sons, especially to Dean. It hurt to watch his son change from a happy, out-going child without a care in the world to a young man who gave every appearance of being gregarious, if shallow. John knew it was a lie. The open, affectionate child was slowly locked away from the world behind fortifications his own father forced him to build.

He knows that Sam thinks it was all about his obsession with hunting the demon, with taking out his grief and anger at every evil thing he could find, and in truth, that was a large part of it. But that wasn't the whole of it. When the grief and the anger finally dimmed to a dull ache that's when the fear took hold. Fear for his sons. Sam's wrong. His obsession wasn't hunting, his obsession was making sure his children could defend themselves, making sure they knew what hid in the shadows. The thought of losing them too was more than he could bear to consider and he knows it made him tougher, stricter, less of a father and more of a taskmaster, and he regrets it, but he was driven by a terror that John can admit to himself he didn't know how to deal with.

The sharp bite of remorse has him blinking back stinging tears. He focuses on his sons again, realizing that while he's been lost in thought Sam's cleaned Dean's wounds and wrapped his chest in clean bandages. Sam's standing over Dean, almost curled over his brother as he secures the gauze. He says something to Dean, voice too soft for John to make out the words, but he catches the tone; soft and affectionate. The tears are back, and he can taste the salt in the back of his throat. In trying to keep them safe, he's denied them so much, but at least they've always had each other. He knows it's going to seem like he's running once more, but he needs some time. Seeing the boys again has unsettled him more than he expected. He's hit by a wave of exhaustion.

"Sam, you done?"

Sam turns to face him, his hand resting on Dean's shoulder.

"Yeah."

John looks at Dean, and the defeated posture of his eldest child causes a physical ache. This isn't the Dean he knows. This Dean is hurting and while John can deal with any physical injury, he has no idea how to handle this emotional distress; he just doesn't know how to help him.

"Dean."

"Yessir." Dear God, should that hurt so? That Dean automatically calls him sir, not Dad. John knows that he's reaping the results of his own actions and that's a bitter, bitter pill to swallow.

"You rest now, ok? I want both of you to get some rest. I've got a room down the hall and I think we could all do with sleep." He half expects Sam to protest, because that seems to be the way of it. John gives them instructions and Sam rebels. But this time Sam just nods, once, hand still resting on his brother's shoulder.

He looks at Dean, willing his son to look up, but utterly terrified of what he'll see if he does. It's both a relief and a disappointment when Dean nods without raising his head.

John leaves the small room, walking slowly down the hall to the room he took earlier that day. He shuts the door behind him, stepping over the salt line just inside the door. He feels older than his years; old and very, very alone. He kicks his boots off, then drops to the bed, suddenly too exhausted to even bother undressing, welcoming sleep, haunted though it is.

****

Dean can taste the sharp tang of fear and guilt, bitter like the bile at the back of his throat. There's no remorse; he can't regret what they've done, but he still can't shake the nagging feeling that somehow he's betrayed some bone deep trust, despite the fact that Sam is old enough to make his own choices, and Dad's never really trusted either of them, though God knows, he's asked for it in return often enough.

The bitterness that that thought provokes is a shock, though he knows it's always been there, hidden beneath his desperate need to keep the three of them together, to keep them safe.

Christ, now he's starting to sound like Sammy and his psych 101 bullshit.

Sam's hand is warm on his shoulder, fingertips stroking the scarred skin so gently that Dean suspects his brother isn't even aware he's doing it. Dean wants to lean into the touch, wants to pull Sam down onto the bed so he can cling to him and pretend that they're back in a world where only the two of them exist. But the thought of Dad, just a few doors away is enough to stop him reaching for Sam.

He never thought that he'd resent Dad coming back, even if he resented him going away in the first place, but that's a large part of what he's feeling now. Resentment at the way Dad's said nothing about why he left, nothing about why he's back, nothing at all, in fact. As if they aren't deserving of an explanation. But then, they never have been, as far as Dad's concerned. Part of him is horrified at his own thoughts, at the disloyalty. Another part feels as though he's just been set free from jail, as though he's seeing sunlight for the first time in years. It's scary and liberating and he doesn't know if the sudden tightness in his chest is relief or terror.

It's like a punch to the gut to realize how his whole world has been turned upside down since he woke up. But then his whole world consisted of Sam, Dad and hunting, and in one night, one single act, everything in that world has changed, though he no longer knows which night that was; the night Mom died, the night he went looking for Sam at Stanford, the night the demon possessed Dad, or the night he thought he'd lost Sam, only to end up pinned to the backseat of the car beneath his brother, terrified, grief-stricken, relieved and unaccountably aroused.

"Dean?"

Sam's hand slides from Dean's shoulder to curl carefully around his jaw, but Dean resists his brother's attempt to get him to look up. He can't escape when Sam crouches in front of him, one hand still resting on Dean's neck, the other on Dean's knee, tilting Dean's head back until he has no choice but to meet Sam's eyes.

For a moment, Dean's sure that Sam's going to say something and he's equally certain that whatever it is, he doesn't want to hear it, not right now. Then Sam sighs, softly and his fingers stroke the back of Dean's neck and his thumb rubs the inside of Dean's knee. He straightens up, and before Dean can pull away, Sam's leaning in, kissing him carefully, as if he were something fragile.

Sam pulls back and rests his forehead against Dean's and Dean can't help but rest a hand on Sam's shoulder and let the warmth and the affection he can feel in his brother's touch soothe him. He doesn't know if it's something that's grown out of the new side to their relationship, or the bond, or something else, but there's a comfort in having Sam close that he's never felt before and nothing and no-one is going to get in the way of that. Not even Dad. Because if Dean has to choose, he's going to choose Sam.

XXXX


There were so many things Sam had wanted to say to Dean last night. I'm sorry, I'm not sorry, I'm not giving you up, I don't regret this. But he didn't say any of them. Instead he gently undressed them both and pulled Dean down into bed. Dean didn't say anything either, not that Sam really expected him to, but he went willingly into bed and Sam's arms.

Neither of them slept well and what rest they did get was fitful and broken. Sometime not long after dawn Sam wakes. He knows immediately that Dean's awake too. When they're close and quiet like this, in a way they never can be during the day, he can feel Dean most strongly through their bond. It's nothing specific, just vague impressions of Dean's emotions and a general sense of Dean. Usually it's comforting and soothing and a side of Dean he never normally gets to see; the man behind all the bravado and the barely concealed pain and the walls and defenses.

This morning he can barely feel anything from Dean and the little that is filtering through is tense and uneasy. He's not really surprised, but it doesn't stop the flicker of hurt and the fear that Dean's already retreating, pulling away from him. He doesn't know whether it's fear of Dad finding out what they've been doing, or fear that somehow Dad being back is going to tear them apart, but he knows Dean well enough now to know that his brother is afraid of something.

When the answer hits him, a second or so later, Sam wonders how he didn't see it straight away. All Dean has ever had is his family, Sam and Dad, and his very real fear is that somehow what they've done is going to destroy that and lead to the thing Dean fears more than anything else; being alone. Sam knows that before he finally got to see his brother, stripped of all his walls and Sam's own childish perceptions, it would have been a valid fear. Towards the end, before he left for college, and after, when he came so reluctantly back, he and Dad could barely manage to spend more than five minutes in the same room without arguing. Dean thinks this is going to be the same and that he's going to be forced to chose and when he can't, or if he makes the wrong choice, he's going to lose everything.

Sam turns onto his side, so he's facing Dean.

"I'm not going to leave."

"I know." Dean's admission leaves Sam stunned. Dean sighs "I know you're not thinking of leaving Sam, but it isn't that simple."

"What? I mean..." Sam has always hated the way Dean can turn his world upside down and inside out so casually. "I know you're not thinking of leaving...". As if the thought had never entered his head until Sam mentioned it. He doesn't know whether to shout for joy that he's finally got the message through Dean's thick skull, kiss his brother, or slap him for taking the 'annoying big brother' routine too far.

"Sam, I'm not completely stupid. I might not be the psychic side-show in this family, but even I can figure things out."

"Oh. So the problem is what, exactly?"

"Dad's back, and that changes everything."

"It doesn't have to." He knows he sounds like a petulant child, but he can't help it.

"Yes, it does. How can it not, Sam? You think we can hide this?"

"We can try."

"From Dad? You honestly think he's not going to notice anything's wrong?"

"It's not wrong, Dean."

"I doubt Dad'll see it that way. And I can't see him being too happy when he figures out that his sons are fucking each other."

"I don't care."

He knows the minute the words leave his mouth that he's said the wrong thing. He can feel the tension in his brother's body increase and he can sense the uncertainty, the anger.

"Obviously. It's not you that Dad's going to blame is it? What the hell do you think Dad's going to do when he finds out Sam?" Sam knows exactly what Dad'll do. He'll blame Dean. Not because it's Dean's fault, necessarily, but simply because Dean's older and he's supposed to the responsible one. "Hell, I'll be lucky if he doesn't shoot me on the spot."

"Dean..."

"Even if he doesn't, what then? I can't see him sticking around to play happy families, knowing that we're knocking boots."

Sam has no answer for that. He can't go back to just being brothers, even if he wanted to, and Dean's right, Dad's going to realize and then there's going to be hell to pay, and no matter what Sam does, he can't see a way out of this that isn't going to hurt all of them, but Dean most of all. The euphoria of a few minutes ago drains away.

"I don't... We can't go back."

Dean sighs, resigned and weary. "No, we can't."

"Would you want to?" He knows it's a stupid question, but Dean isn't the only one who needs reassurance now and again.

"No, I wouldn't. God help us both when Dad finds out, but I don't want go back to the way things were."

"What are we going to do then?"

"I have no idea Sammy. We're just going to have to be careful and hope like hell we all survive."

"We will." He can tell Dean isn't convinced, but he doesn't argue.

"Come on, we should be getting up, Dad'll probably be here soon."

Sam doesn't want to get up. He'd much rather stay here in bed and wrap himself around his brother, but the last thing they want is for Dad to find them like this, so he doesn't say anything when Dean gets up and heads for the bathroom. He stares at the cracked ceiling, and tries not to think about what'll happen when Dad finds out.

****

When dawn rolls around, John's already awake. He's managed to grab about two hours sleep, and the rest of the time he's spent staring blankly at the stained and cracked ceiling, trying very hard not to think. It's pure habit that has him rising from the lumpy bed and showering, shaving and dressing. He learnt a long time ago that the only way to last the long haul is to think as little as possible.

He walks down the dingy corridor, and knocks, using the code he taught his sons before they were old enough to read.

Dean answers, shirtless and barefoot, and it's on the tip of John's tongue to reprimand him for opening the door unarmed, even with the right code. Dean turns, and John catches sight of the gun at his side, and he bites back the harsh words, feeling the faintest hint of pride instead. Dean's still subdued, and he merely nods before turning away and walking towards the bed, tucking the gun in the waistband of his jeans. The motion draws John eyes to the low slung jeans that his fingers itch with a parental need to pull up. The sight of the dark lines of the tattoo make him forget all about what his son's wearing. He knows Dean didn't have it before he dragged Sam from Stanford, and he's fairly sure he didn't have it the last time John saw him, pale and terrifying frail against starched white sheets in the hospital. He sees enough before the gun hides it from view to know that the tattoo is runic, and that it's protection of some sort. There's a flash of anger at Dean's recklessness, messing with old, powerful magic like that. But he can't deny that with the lives they lead, they need all the protection they can get. He lets it go for now, but mentally he makes a note to let Dean know he's not happy.

As Dean dresses, John slumps into the hard plastic chair by the pitted and stained formica table. He's beyond tired and he can feel every single one of his years, and then some. Watching as his son moves around the room, hunting for socks, and pulling on his boots is so familiar, so soothing that for a moment, he feels almost calm. He leans his head back against the wall, and he can't stop his eyes from closing. He can still hear Dean, and it takes a few seconds before he realizes that it's unusually quiet. He's used to Dean humming under his breath, clicking his fingers, or tapping his feet to some beat only he can hear. This morning though, Dean's silent. It's a small thing, but John's starting to get the sense that it's a symptom of something more serious. Ever since last night, he's had the impression that something is out of kilter between his sons and whatever it is, it doesn't look as though they've resolved it.

Before he gets a chance to say anything, Sam emerges from the bathroom, running late as always because Dean always gets to the bathroom first and whatever he does in there takes forever. John feels that sense of being an outsider again, because everything seems so commonplace, and yet it's wrong. Sam doesn't see John at first, and when he does, he falters slightly, almost imperceptibly. John would have missed it if he hadn't been watching. What the hell is going on here?

When Sam turns to grab his bag and dress, John is left speechless. Seems Dean isn't the only one to be sporting a new tattoo. Runes again, between Sam's shoulder blades. John gets a good look this time and he can tell that the runes are indeed all related to protection, healing and positive energy. There are other runes that he's not so familiar with, but he's sure that they relate to bonds and kinship.

Both his sons are wearing what appear to be identical, indelible marks and John has absolutely no idea what it means.

He watches them as they move around the room and each other, Dean checking and readying weapons, and Sam dressing. The seemingly constant chatter of their childhood, and the usual banter of their teenage years is absent although at least the strained tension of their early adult years has vanished. Now there's just this odd rapport that he can't get a handle on. He can't be sure if that's down to his presence, or whatever the hell has gone on between them. They've always worked well together, but now, watching them, it's as if something has finally clicked into place. It's almost as if they don't need words anymore. As he observes them, he notices that while Dean barely looks at his brother, Sam can't seem to take his eyes off Dean. It's not obvious, it's not as though he stares, but his eyes are constantly darting towards Dean, following his brother around the room, as if he daren't let him out of his sight.

John knows that Sam's been worried about Dean and if it wasn't for the tattoos, he'd probably just assume it was nothing more than that. But he keeps coming back to the tattoos, to the fact that both his sons are well aware of the seriousness of wearing marks like that. Which leaves John with the realization that something has happened, something that's changed their relationship in a fundamental way. It doesn't seem to have a detrimental effect, and he guesses he should be happy to leave it at that, but he can't help feeling that he's missing something important, something he should be seeing but isn't.

He's not been the best of fathers, he knows that, but they're his sons, and though he might not always have shown it, he loves them. Whatever has happened to them, whatever has lead them to where they are now, he wants to understand it, wants to reassure himself that they are ok. And if he's honest, he wants to understand them, to find some way of being a part of their lives again. He's used to being alone, but being lonely, that he finds harder to handle. It's part of the reason he came back the first time, and selfish as it is, part of the reason he came back this time. For now though he has a job for them.

****

A short while later, over breakfast, he lays out the details of the job. A relatively run-of-the-mill haunted house, save for the half dozen or so mysterious disappearances over the last 20 years. It should be a simple hunt, something to ease them back into the habit of working together. Dean is unusually quiet still, asking only a couple of questions. Sam doesn't look happy, his face getting that pinched look John became all too familiar with in the months before Sam left for college. But he doesn't say anything for once and John's glad. The last thing he wants is another row, another reason for Sam to push him away. When he's done, he waits for a response. Sam looks at Dean. There's a long few seconds where they just stare at each other and watching them the hair on the back of John's neck stands up.

There's an intensity in that look, layers of meaning that he can't sift through before they're looking away from each other and Sam nods, looking unhappy but resigned. Dean leans back, stretching his arm across the back of the bench seat that he and Sam are sitting on. Sam sighs and as the waitress arrives to clear away their dirty plates, he leans back too, slouching down in the seat and letting his head drop back onto Dean's arm. John hides a grin, waiting for Dean to smack his brother and tell him to move. But the reaction doesn't come and he's struck again by that sense that something is different between the boys. It's like the answer is there, right in front of him, but he just can't quite grasp it. He orders another cup of coffee and heads for the men’s room, just to buy some more time to figure it out.

He watches from across the room as the waitress leans over to fill up their coffee cups, making sure Dean gets a flash of her fairly impressive cleavage. Sam scowls and refuses coffee, while Dean grins at her, although John can tell there's no real interest behind the look and God knows he's seen Dean in action often enough to be able to tell. The waitress hovers for a second, then leaves, casting more than one backward glance in Dean's direction. John watches her leave, then turns back to the boys in time to catch Sam turning his head to say something to Dean. It's nothing specific, but there's something about the way Dean leans in to hear what Sam's saying; the way Sam turns his whole body to face his brother; the way Dean's hand shifts slightly to rest on Sam's shoulder, then slides up, fingers curling around Sam's neck, gently and absentmindedly stroking; the way Sam's face loses the frown and seems to light up when Dean laughs softly and shakes his head

That's when it finally hits John like a fucking freight train. The strange atmosphere, the tension between his sons, the way Dean could hardly bear to meet his eyes, the tattoos. Every damned thing. Dear Lord, it's not possible, they can't have, they wouldn't have done that, surely? But it's impossible to stand here, watching them, seeing how close they are, how they act now that they think they can't be seen and not think that his sons have broken that ultimate taboo. Their body language just screams intimacy. The kind of intimacy that only exists between lovers. He wants to laugh, wants to dismiss this as a stupid idea, but he's spent too many years relying on his intuition to just ignore this, however much he wants to.

It's a complete shock, and John has no idea what the hell to do about it. He can't bring himself to even think about the things his sons might be doing to, with, each other. How could he not have seen this coming? Could he have missed the signs? Was there something he could have done to stop this? When the hell did this start? Endless questions that he doesn't have any answers for. It's not the fact that they're both men because he couldn't care less about their sexual preferences, although he can't deny it's a surprise, but they're brothers, for the love of God. This is so wrong, so far outside of John's understanding that he has no idea how to handle it.

He slips into the men’s room and stares at his own reflection. His shock and horror is plain on his face. He feels queasy and he would give anything to be able to tell himself that he's wrong, that there's another explanation for everything he's seen. But if there is another way to explain this, he's damned if he can see it. He splashes his face with cold water, trying to wrestle back some control over himself, over his emotions. This is too serious, too important to rush into. He needs to be absolutely sure that he's right. He needs time to think about how to deal with this. He raises his head and though his shock still shows in his eyes, his expression is more normal now. He takes a deep breath, and squares his shoulders. They still have a job to do and right now, focusing on a hunt will help him take his mind off of...this, at least until he's figured out what the hell he's going to do about it.

Walking back out and facing his sons is not the hardest thing John's ever done, but it's definitely on the short list. It takes every skill he's ever learnt to slide back into his seat and not let his turmoil show. Sam and Dean aren't touching now, there's a careful distance between them, as if nothing's wrong. Now it's his turn to avoid catching their eyes and he can see the faint frown on Dean's face. He forgets sometimes that as well as he knows his sons, Dean knows him almost as well. It's all too easy to slip back into the old routine and he knows that his confusion makes him unnecessarily gruff when he tells them that they're leaving and heading straight for the hunt.

When they're all packed and ready, he takes his truck, leaving Dean and Sam to follow in the new Impala. They could have taken one car, but John needs space. He can't handle being around them right now, not without doing something he's certain he'll regret later. He tries to focus on the hunt, but his mind won't stop replaying the scene in the diner. It's wrong, but even he can't deny the tenderness and affection between the boys and it's that he keeps turning over and over in his head, trying to reconcile the fact that he knows what they're doing is wrong, and the obvious love he can see between them. He needs to resolve it though, before it eats him alive, before it tears them all apart.

XXXX

They spend the morning checking out the house, and it's a relief to be able to throw himself into the job, to focus solely on the hunt. For a few hours he can push the unwanted knowledge to the back of his mind.

Once they've got the lie of the land and they've gone over and over the plan until he's satisfied that they all know what they're doing, he tells them that they need to be back here before dusk. The boys share another look and John has to repress a shiver. He can tell that they want time alone and he forces his mind not to think about why. But he has no reason to insist that they spend the day together and in truth, as awful as the thought of his boys together in that way is, leaving them alone is sill going to be easier than trying to pretend that everything is fine. All John wants is to go back to his room and drink until he can't think of anything any more, but he knows he can't. When this is over though, he fully intends to get up close and personal with a bottle of whatever he can get his hands on.

Instead he watches the boys climb into the new car and drive away. And tries to pretend that it doesn't feel as though his world is falling apart for the second time.

****

Sam's relieved when they leave Dad. He knows he ought to feel bad, but it's been such a strain, trying to act naturally, trying to pretend that nothing has changed. It's a relief to get back to the motel, to the privacy of their room.

He ends up sitting at the table, laptop open but ignored, watching Dean clean and prep the guns. It's so familiar and yet now it's also somehow perversely erotic. Dean's fingers are slick and shiny with gun oil and Sam can smell it from where he's sitting. He can't help but remember the first time they made love, in the back of the car. He's certain that he's never going to be able to smell gun oil again without remembering.

A shiver of desire down his spine has him shifting on the hard plastic chair. Dean looks up and Sam can tell the exact moment that Dean realizes the direction of Sam's thoughts. The way his brother's pupils dilate so suddenly has Sam's stomach knotting with lust. Whether it's from the still forbidden nature of that lust, or because Dean can clearly read him well enough to pick up on Sam's arousal, he doesn't know and he doesn't care.

He crosses the room, until he's kneeling on the end of the bed. Dean puts down the gun he was cleaning and just watches Sam. Sam reaches out and takes one of Dean's hands in his own, letting his fingers curl around Dean’s, sliding over slick skin. He watches Dean swallow, Adam's apple bobbing. He tugs on Dean's hand, until his brother is leaning forward enough for Sam to curl his other hand in Dean's hair and tip his head back far enough that Sam can lick a long slow stripe from the base of Dean's throat all the way up to his chin. He feels the shiver that runs through Dean and it gives him the courage to press his lips against Dean's ear.

"You know, I don't think I'll ever be able to smell gun oil again without getting hard. Do you have any idea how hot it is to watch you cleaning the guns?"

Dean shudders this time, harder than before and he exhales a quiet sigh. Sam pulls back in time to watch his brother lick his lips and Sam just has to kiss him, practically climbing into Dean's lap, biting and licking at Dean's lips as his brother slides oil slick hands under Sam's t-shirt, the contrast between the sleek feel of the oil and the gentle scrape of calluses making Sam arch and hiss. No matter how many times they've done this, it's still so damned good.

Sam uses his weight and position to press Dean down, until he's lying across the bed, one leg wrapping around Sam's hip, giving Dean the leverage to arch up, one hand sliding down to cup Sam's ass and pull him even closer. He thinks he could spend the rest of his life like this, and all the pretending, all the strain of having Dad back is worth it for this, to have this connection with his brother.

He manages to drag himself away long enough for them both to strip, then Dean's pressing against him, crowding him until Sam's sitting with his back to the headboard and Dean’s in his lap, spilling gun oil over the bed as well as Sam's fingers. The way Dean's body ripples as Sam slides his slick fingers carefully into his brother is breathtaking. Dean arches, head tipped back, and Sam can't resist licking his throat again, letting his teeth scrape over the tender skin. When they're together like this, right and wrong don't seem to matter anymore.

"Enough." Dean's voice is breathless, rough with lust and need and Sam doesn't need telling twice.

Watching Dean position himself, seeing every expression that flits across his face, the way he bites his lip as he sinks slowly down is quite probably the hottest thing Sam's ever seen. The urge to just drag his brother down and fuck him as hard as he can is almost unbearable. He lets Dean set the pace at first, but the sight of Dean riding his cock, the breathy moans that spill from his brother’s mouth, despite the way Dean’s biting his lower lip is too much. He wraps his hands around Dean’s hips and drives up, as deep as he can, over and over until they’re both sweating and panting and Sam can’t think of anything beyond the fact that there is nothing in the world that could make him give this up now.

Dean finally breaks, wrapping his hand around his own cock and descending into low, desperate moans. It’s far too much, far too hot for Sam and he drives up, hands pulling Dean down, pressing as far inside his brother’s body as he can go, certain he must be hurting Dean, and utterly unable to stop. Aftershocks are still rippling through him when Dean freezes above him and orgasms with a groan, sending a wave of pleasure through the bond that has Sam gasping and shivering all over again.

Sam’s vaguely aware of Dean shifting carefully off of him and collapsing beside him onto the bed. He can’t even contemplate moving yet, let alone thinking. Sooner or later they're going to have to leave the sanctuary of their room and face not only Dad but another hunt, but for now, Sam's content where he is.

Eventually, the need to eat drives Sam to shower and dress. He leaves Dean showering, the temptation to join him is almost enough to make him forgo the late lunch, but he knows they need to eat. When he gets back, Dean is sitting on the bed, wearing nothing but a towel and damn, but Sam wishes Dad wasn't here, that they didn't have a hunt tonight. From the smirk on Dean's face, he's well aware of the reaction he provokes in Sam. It would be really infuriating, if it weren't so arousing.

They spend the rest of the day channel surfing and swapping lazy kisses. But as the afternoon edges towards evening, Sam can sense the tension growing in both of them. It leaves an almost physical ache in his chest to see the way Dean retreats back behind those walls of his. He knows it's necessary to keep Dad from finding out, but he hates it, nevertheless.

The drive back to the haunted house is silent and the atmosphere in the car is fraught with nerves and apprehension. Dad's already there, and Sam can see the tension in their father's posture even before they get out of the car. For a second he feels like a kid again, caught with his hand in the cookie jar. He tries to convince himself that it's only his imagination, but he can't help the spike of fear that Dad somehow knows. He doesn't need to look at Dean to know that his brother thinks the same thing.

The sense of foreboding isn't helped when Dad doesn't quite look at them and merely jerks his head towards the house in lieu of any greeting. When he looks at Dean, his brother doesn't meet his gaze either. A cold chill settles in Sam's stomach and he has to struggle to focus on the hunt. Now is not the time to be distracted.

When they enter the house, they spread out, just the way Dad planned and Sam finds himself slipping back into the old routines as if Dad had never left. They sweep through the ground floor without finding anything except dust and cobwebs. Sam rejoins his father and brother in the main hallway.

"Dean, check the basement. Sam, we'll check the first floor."

Sam looks at Dean, tempted to refuse, unhappy with the idea of Dean checking the basement on his own, but Dean shakes his head. Dad gives him a sharp look and it's all Sam can do to hold his tongue at the way Dean's head drops and his shoulders hunch in an all too familiar defensive posture.

"Meet us upstairs when you're done." Dean nods and heads down to the basement without a word. Sam watches him go, then follows his father upstairs.

He manages to make it through the first couple of rooms before the need to say something gets the better of him.

"You shouldn't have sent Dean off on his own."

Dad glares at him. "He'll be fine on his own."

"And you know that for sure?"

"Your brother is quite capable of taking care of himself." There's just a hint of something in Dad's voice that makes Sam very uneasy.

"Yeah, I know. That's not the point."

Dad stops in the middle of one of the rooms and turns to face Sam.

"No, the point is what the hell is going on with you and Dean?"

Cold chills run down his spine and there's an awful queasy feeling in the pit of his stomach.

"What are you talking about?"

"You know damned well what I'm talking about. I saw you in the diner. Did you really think I wouldn't notice? What the fuck were you thinking Sam? Letting your brother..." Dad looks caught somewhere between pained and sickened.

"Don't. Don't you dare blame Dean for this."

"Sam..."

"No. We're not kids anymore Dad, hell, we never were. You can't blame Dean for this. If you have to blame someone, blame me."

"How the hell can you just stand there and say that? Damnit this isn't right Sam. It's not..."

Sam watches his father bite back the words. Not that it matters, because he knows exactly what Dad was going to say.

"Not what, Dad? Not normal?"

"Sam, it's not right. Other people..."

"We're not other people though, are we? We're certainly not 'normal'. God knows, you've told us that often enough."

"That isn't what I meant Sam, and you know it. This is just...wrong."

Anger and the faintest hint of betrayal bubble just under his skin, prickling and burning. He'd not really expected any other reaction, but he can't deny that he'd hoped that if anyone might understand that normal and right have never had much of a place in their lives it would be Dad.

"I don't care if it's not normal, and I don't care about other people. It doesn't feel wrong, Dad."

"Sammy, I can't, I won't condone this."

"I'm not asking you to. Honestly, I don't need your approval. I couldn't care less how you feel about it. You can ignore it, pretend it doesn't exist, whatever the hell you like, but don't you dare take off again like you did last time."

"Watch your mouth, boy." Dad's voice has dropped to a growl, but that tactic hasn't worked since Sam was thirteen years old, and now it just irritates him.

"No. You don't get to hurt Dean like that again. Not this time. You damn well put him first for once and you stick around. Because I'm telling you now, if you walk out again, you don't get to come back."

"Don't take that attitude with me, Sam, I'm not..."

"Not what? Not in the wrong? No, you never are. Even though you walked out of the hospital while your oldest son was still in a coma. But you're not the one with the attitude problem."

"Damnit Sam. I had no choice, you know that..."

"Don't, ok? Just don't. I don't want to hear that you had no choice, that you were doing it to keep us safe. You had a choice. You could have stayed."

The shine of tears in Dad's eyes is completely unexpected and it throws Sam off balance.

"And you think I don't regret that choice? But damnit Sam, after the cabin, after what the demon did to Dean, I just... I wanted you boys safe, and I wasn't sure me being there was such a good idea."

He's never seen Dad so open, so vulnerable, and his anger drains in the face of his father's obvious distress. He's never doubted that Dad loved them, in his own way, but he's never seen such a blatant display of it before.

"Dad, I get it, but all we've ever done is leave Dean. Mom, me, you. Don't do it again, not without a word, please."

"What can I say to him? What can I say to either of you? I can't just ignore this, not this, Sam."

"And you're not going to try, right? Damn everyone else. Same as always. Same selfishness." The anger rushes right back, making his head spin, and raising his voice.

"Is this a private argument, or can anyone join in?” Sam turns to see his brother standing in the doorway, and the hurt in his voice and his eyes is all too obvious “On second thoughts, I won’t bother, I think I know how this one ends."

"Dean..." In any other situation, the fact that he and Dad both say Dean's name at the same time would be amusing. Right now, with Dean radiating anger and resentment, it's anything but.

"Forget it, ok? I'm sick of the fact that you two can't spend five minutes in the same room without it turning into a pissing contest, even on a hunt. It's getting really, really old. Oh yeah, and did I mention that we're on a hunt?"

"Dean, I'm sorry." He takes a step towards his brother, wanting, needing to soothe the anger and the pain he can feel like it was his own. The sense of futility that seeps through is weary and resigned and he realizes again just how little he really understood his brother.

"Don't." It's unbearably ironic that Dean is echoing Sam's earlier words. His brother's voice is all brittle edges and jagged misery. "I don't want to know. Just save it for later, then I'll happily leave you to kick seven kinds of shit out of each other. Just don't expect me to stick around to referee this time."

Dean sounds so tired, so despondent that Sam moves forward without thinking. His hand falls onto Dean's shoulder. It's an entirely innocent gesture and all Sam wants to do is reassure his brother, apologize, anything to erase the bleak look on Dean's face, but there's a choked noise from behind him. Dean's eyes shift, looking over Sam's shoulder towards Dad. For a moment Dean's expression is confused, then, as Sam watches, he sees the realization dawn on his brother.

Dean's gaze flicks back to Sam, and even without the bond, Sam would have been able to read every emotion churning in his brother's eyes. With the bond it's like being hit in the face with a brick, and he feels sick at the guilt, shame, betrayal and fear Dean feels. Underneath all that though, he catches the faintest hint of relief and the tiniest sense of hope. Then everything settles, and all he can feel is determination. He meets Dean's gaze and despite his concern for his brother, he can't help the entirely selfish surge of possessiveness that if Dad forces him to choose, Dean's going to choose him this time.

There aren't words for how he feels when that realization hits. He's known the truth for a while, but to actually see it is nothing short of breathtaking. He doesn't think he's ever loved his brother more than he does at this moment.

When Dean raises his hand and cups Sam's cheek, thumb brushing lightly over his bottom lip, it's like time stands still. He knows how Dean loves, respects and admires Dad; hell, he practically worships the man, and he's still going to choose Sam. With nothing more than a look and a touch so lightly it's barely there, he's declaring how he feels, knowing that Dad is watching. He knows in this moment that there is nothing he won't give or do for his brother. He finally understands the depths of Dean's devotion, of Dean's love and it's humbling.

Dean doesn't take his eyes off Sam, but when he speaks, Sam knows he's talking to Dad. His brother doesn't move his hand, and Sam can feel the bond, strong and alive, between them.

"That's what this argument is about? This?" He strokes his thumb over Sam’s lower lip again and Sam fights back a shiver at the gentle touch.

Dad makes a harsh noise, then clears his throat.

"Yes. Goddamnit Dean..."

"Save it." Dean's voice is strangely calm and he doesn't raise his voice, but Sam would swear that he hears Dad's mouth close with an audible snap. "You can accept it and deal with it, or you can reject it and leave." Sam can feel the surge of hurt at the thought, but Dean barely pauses. "But you can't stop this and I'm not going to let you even try."

"For God's sake Dean, you're brothers. This is wrong. It's sick."

Dean's hand drops, fingertips brushing feather-light over Sam's neck. He looks as though he's been suckered punched and Sam can feel his despair.

"Worse than the monsters we hunt?" Dean's voice is a whisper and suddenly Sam's terrified, paralyzed by fear as Dean takes a step back. The hand that had been resting on Dean's shoulders clutches at nothing but air. The growing sense of horror and dread rises and he feels sick.

"No. Dean, no." But Dean's out of reach, and Sam can practically feel his brother throwing up walls as he watches.

That's when the vision hits him.

He's walking down a corridor, at the end of which he can see a heavy oak door. It's a scene straight out of one of the old Hammer Horror films Dean used to like so much. He can smell the iron tang of blood, and the sickening scent of decay, thick and cloying. The smell gets stronger, the closer to the door he gets, and he's truly terrified at what he'll find beyond it, but he can't give up. Dean's here somewhere, and Sam needs to find him more than he needs to breath. The heavy door isn't locked and it opens with a soft creak when he pushes it. The stench becomes almost tangible, rising from the bloated corpse lying in the middle of the room, making him gag until he tastes bile.

It's only once he's got himself under control and takes a second look at the body that the horror truly sets in. Though the body is bloated beyond recognition and the face is nothing but a roiling mass of fat, white maggots, the ripped jeans, the silver ring and the leather jacket are unmistakeable. Even without those things, Sam would know. That's when he drops to his knees and throws up, over and over until there's nothing left and his body aches with the strain, though it's nothing compared to the hollow ache in his soul.

When the vision stops, he's not at all surprised to find himself on his knees. The sensory after image is so strong that he can still taste bile and the smell of death and fear has him reaching blindly out, knowing that Dean is close by, but needing to touch, to reassure himself that his brother is alive, not a rotting corpse. His stomach heaves at the though, but he fights back the urge to throw up. All he wants is to get Dean out of this house and as far away as possible. He knows that the vision was centred on this house and Dean isn't safe all the time they stay within these walls. He's damned if he's going to take the slightest chance of that vision coming true.

"Sam. Sammy. You ok? Talk to me Sam. What did you see?"

He wants to grab Dean and never let him go. He wants to kiss his brother until they can't breath. He wants them out of here, but his body won't co-operate and all he can do it tighten his grip on Dean until he's sure he must be leaving bruises. Dean doesn't say anything, doesn't pull away, just wraps his arms around Sam, pulling him close until Sam's practically sitting in Dean's lap. He can feel Dean's concern and it almost drags what Sam's sure would be a hysterical laugh out of him. Dean's concerned for him. He buries his head between Dean's neck and shoulder and wills his body to work with him.

"Sam...?" It's a shock to realize that Dad's still here, and more so to hear the concern and uncertainty in his voice.

He raises his head from Dean's shoulder. "We need to leave. Now." He can hear the frantic, cracked tone in his own voice but he really doesn't care, so long as they go.

Dean looks at him and for a second Sam thinks he's going to start asking questions that Sam isn't sure he's ever going to be able to answer. He focuses on his brother's familiar features, trying to erase the memory of rot and decay. He can hear Dad behind him, asking questions with increasing irritation, but he pays no attention. All he can do is cling to Dean and trust his brother to understand.

When Dean nods, stands and gently pulls Sam with him, an all too familiar look of determination on his face, he worries that Dean's going to try and dump him in the car and carry on the hunt without him. Instead, Dean wraps an arm around Sam's waist, and drapes Sam's arm over his shoulders. The relief when Dean turns his head towards Dad and interrupts whatever it is Dad's saying is so strong that his legs almost buckle.

"Dad. We need to go. C'mon, help me get Sammy out of here."

"We can't abandon the hunt, we haven't found the bones yet."

"Screw the hunt. We can come back tomorrow and burn the whole damned place to the ground, but right now, we are leaving."

He's heard that tone of Dean's before. But he has never, ever heard Dean use it when he's talking to Dad. For a second he waits for Dad to flip, but he hears him take a deep breath and then suddenly Dad's at his side.

"I'll take Sam. You make sure there's nothing between us and the door."

Dean's surprise mirrors Sam's, but Dean just nods at Dad and lets him take Sam's weight. Dean squeezes Sam's hip quickly before sliding the arm around his waist away. It's all he can do not to reach out and grab Dean. The loss of physical contact leaves him shaking and exhausted, leaning heavily on Dad as Dean draws his gun and prepares to lead them out.

Chapter Seven
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