Pairing: Sam/Dean, Sam/Jess, other future pairings
Rating: PG-13/R this part, future parts NC-17
Word Count: 9k approx for this chapter.
Summary: Season 1 AU. Ross Christopher Winchester knows three things to be true: that his father, John, is a hero, that he's going to be the best hunter in the goddamn world, and that his two older brothers are in love with each other and have always been in love with each other. A re-telling of Season 1 where The Winchester Boys mean Dean and Sam and Ross, where John is still missing, where Mary and Jess are still crispy-fried, and where Dean and Sam are still obsessed with one another...
Author's Note So, I started writing this a long, long time ago, during Season 3 ( a long time before Jump The Shark). I always wanted to write my own extra Winchester sibling fic, though instead of a winsister, I was more interested in the idea of a younger brother who would be close in age to Sam. I wanted to explore how this extra brother would change the dynamic between Sam/Dean/John, what would be the same and what wouldn't, of course, I always intended it to be Dean/Sam wincest ;-) and, so, it became extra interesting to write how extra!brother!Winchester would react to the knowledge that his two older brothers were screwing each other. Anyway, so, months and months later, I've decided to have an amnesty with this fic, I have over 80k written and really no excuse to not post it, except fear. So, here comes chapter 1.
World’s Forgotten Boys
Everything changes when he sees the car, spots it on his way home from work, fingers smelling of bleach and deep fat fryers, skin grease-soaked and eyes tired. It’s the worst fucking timing in the world, but then when did his family ever care about timing?
He pauses by the car, hand hovering over the roof, as if he’s scared to touch, to truly feel it under his fingers. His heart starts to speed up, and he can feel his breath getting shorter, lungs, heart, nervous system switching into adrenalin mode. There’s a part of him that was always half expecting this, always half-expecting to round the corner of the street and see this car, sitting there, as black and sleek as an apocalyptic omen.
He shakes his head, inwardly chastising himself for being so ridiculously dramatic. He blinks a couple of times, but the car doesn’t disappear, doesn’t vanish like it does when he wakes in the middle of the night with Dean’s voice still echoing around his head, the sensation of lying across the backseat, of tussling with Ross for space, still tingling against his skin. He fists his fingers tighter around the handle of his bag, pushes his greasy, wiry hair of his forehead and turns to enter the apartment building. If they’re around, if they’re all really and truly here and he’s not just hallucinating the car, then they’re gonna be up there. With Jess.
He hears their voices as he unlocks the door, and his chest aches, he’s not ready for this, really, so not ready for this. He’s thought about it, but this – having them just show up in the middle of the day, making nice with Jess while he’s working his shift at the diner – that’s not the way he’s imagined it. This is too prosaic, too normal, too un-Dean to be real. Dean would break into his house; appear in the middle of the night with a bleeding gash up his entire left side, Ross hanging off his arm with a broken ankle, but this…
He can hear the familiar, low, gruff tones of Dean’s voice, Ross’s slightly higher voice, that annoying, ingratiating laugh of his mixing in with Jess’s own giggle. He pauses with his hand on the latch, trying to think this through, thoughts swishing through his mind, trying to rationalize it, get himself in gear – at least, if they’re laughing then neither of them is hurt – but then, that just begs the question: why the fuck are they here? It’s been two years. Why are they here now?
He exhales heavily and opens the door. The voices immediately die down, and he feels like an intruder as he pads into the crowded kitchen. They’re sitting at the kitchen table, Dean and Ross taking up way too much space in the small kitchen. The kitchen table is pulled out from against the wall in a way Sam can’t remember it being since that end of mid-terms party they held a few months back; only then, it was being used as a sloppy receptacle for Jess’s homemade punch and the saucepans full of chips and saucers of dip. Now, it’s covered in crumbs of what he suspects were formally Jess’s home-baked cookies, all devoured of course, because they never would’ve stood a chance against Dean and Ross’s cavernous stomachs.
“Hey, Sammy,” says Dean, swinging his chair around to look at him. Dean’s voice is completely casual, as if Sam just went out for a coffee, nothing in his tone to make anyone suspect that they’ve been estranged for two years and change.
Beside Dean, Ross twists around in his chair and regards him coolly. “Hey, Sammy, did you miss us?”
“Ross, Dean?” he manages finally.
“In the flesh,” says Dean with a smirk.
He should’ve been prepared for this; after all, this was what he was expecting when he saw the car. But, they’re both… God, they’re both so exactly the same. Admittedly, they look older – Ross, particularly, but then Ross was only seventeen when he left, and Dean -
“Hey, honey,” says Jess with a smile, forcing him to tear his eyes away from Dean and Ross. “I baked you brownies but…” she spreads her hand, laughs, “someone ate them.”
“Yeah, sorry about that, man,” Dean shrugs, gifting Sam with one of those enormous, completely fake grins of his, “s’all my fault. But, in my defense, they were some pretty awesome cookies. Couldn’t resist.” He cocks a wink Jess’s way, she smiles indulgently and shakes her head at him. And it’s so much like every fucking bar and every fucking Dean pick-up Sam can remember that he's already rolling his eyes, a prickly irritation itching up his spine that’s not at all dented by the smug look on Ross’s face.
He grits his teeth, says, “So, uh, what the hell’re you two doin’ here?”
“Thought we’d take you out for a beer,” says Dean, still with the loose fake smile. “Just passin’ through, and all that.”
Bullshit, Sam thinks immediately, bullshit.
He glances at Ross, sees Ross’s mouth crook, a private joke. He feels another tidal rise of bitterness and snaps, “Really? So, uh, he drinkin’ now?” A nod towards Ross.
Ross narrows his eyes, “Hey, fuck you, dude, I’ve been drinkin’ since I was twelve years old. And you fuckin’ know it.”
Sam snorts, “Right.”
Ross pulls a face, and for a moment, Sam feels like he’s eleven again, the urge to stick his tongue out at Ross or pull him into a painful headlock so overwhelming. He’s regressing with every minute they’re here.
He can see Jess’s face out of the corner of his eye, her expression confused and surprised as she looks between the three of them, but then Jess hasn’t seen this side of him, this side that only Dean and Ross, God, especially Ross, can bring out.
Dean coughs, still half-grinning, as if he’s been enjoying his and Ross’s mini-spat, and he probably has. “Hey, I need to speak to you about something. Private family business.”
Sam looks at him, holds his eye for a moment, before he blinks, glances across at Jess whose still regarding them curiously, that crease between her eyebrows.
“Anything you wanna say to me, you can say in front of Jessica,” he says. He crosses to stand by her, drapes one arm around her shoulders, telegraphing their solidarity, showing them this is his life, their life: he and Jess, whatever memory lane shit he's about to confront, he's not doing it without her.
Dean's mouth twitches; he shrugs, “Okay. Dad hasn’t been home in a few days.”
His eyes are all for Sam now, boring into him, crawling under his skin. This has always been Dean’s way, getting into him, invading him, underneath and on top and in between and through and through, and for a second, there’s nothing else, Ross and Jess rubbed out, only him and Dean and this suddenly unfamiliar apartment.
He blinks and the feeling vanishes; a look flickers across Dean’s face, and he feels like he’s failed something.
“So, he’s probably working overtime on a Miller time shift,” he says at last.
Dean raises his eyes again, mouth set, voice deeper, more serious. “No, Dad’s on a huntin’ trip and he hasn’t been home in few days.”
There’s a silent plea there this time, Sam feels himself shrink away from Jess, his arm suddenly heavy around her shoulders, ostentatious and fake. He glances at Ross, but Ross’s eyes are fixated on Dean too, his eyebrows knotted together and brow furrowed and that – that look - that’s Dad. Ross was always the one who looked most like Dad. Sam looks away, nods, “Okay, well, uh. Jess, do you mind if we...? We'll go outside.”
They go out to the Impala, not speaking as they take the quick route down the fire escape. Outside, Dean leans up against the car, resting one arm on the roof as he regards Sam, eyes running up and down his body, drinking him in in a way that makes Sam feel uncomfortable, like his skin’s too tight.
“How you been?” asks Dean after a long, loaded moment.
Sam nods, doesn’t meet Dean’s eye, keeps nodding, says, “Uh, good, yeah, real good. Jess is – she’s great.”
“Yeah,” Dean agrees, “she’s something alright.”
“Watch it, that’s my girlfriend you’re pervin’ over.”
“Sammy, Sammy, Sammy,” sighs Dean, “I’m just surprised is all, never thought you’d be able to land yourself such a hot piece of ass! I’m impressed. Seriously, dude, impressed. And those cookies – man, fuckin’ amazing.” He smirks, that half-assed leer of his that immediately breaks the tension, has Sam reaching out to punch him on the arm while Dean chuckles dirtily.
Sam laughs, he can’t help it, and for a second, he feels lighter, happier, he’d forgotten this part – this part of being with Dean – the easy familiarity, Dean’s teasing grossness, he feels a sudden flash of affection for him. “Jesus, Dean,” he groans, “it’s a wonder you ever get laid.”
“Hey, I do alright,” retorts Dean, smirk still in place. They stare at each other for what seems like a long time, before Dean speaks again, smirk falling away, and that serious, big-brother look of his inching across his face. “And you care about her, right?” This is the other part of Dean he remembers, the fierce protectiveness, that cold-eyed, unrepentent side of his that had him breaking three of Joey Barton's ribs when he called Sam a faggot in ninth grade. But Dean doesn't need to worry now, if there’s one thing Sam is certain about, then it's Jess.
“Yeah, I do,” he says.
A small muscle at Dean’s jaw twitches and he ducks his head, hiding his expression from Sam. “Good,” he says, and his voice sounds strange, choked, “that’s, uh, that’s good, man. Long as things are goin’ good for you.”
Neither of them say anything for a moment, Dean crosses his arms on the roof of his Impala, resting his chin on them, staring at something across the street. Sam looks away from him, towards the other end of the road, watches the 43 bus pull in at his usual bus-stop, students and office workers tumbling out onto the sidewalk.
“What about you?" he asks finally, breaking the silence. "You and Ross? How have you been?”
Dean finally raises his head, turns to look at him. He catches Sam’s eye and grins suddenly, huge and wide and dazzling, Sam swallows, wanting to take a step back, feeling as if he’s just been smacked in the chest.
“Yeah, you know, dude, usual shit. You know Littlest Bro.”
“Yeah,” Sam answers darkly, “unfortunately.”
Dean laughs and Sam feels the uncomfortable tightness begin to unravel inside him, awkwardness vanishing. He turns, places one hand on the car, inches form Dean's crossed arms, feeling the warmth where the sun has been slowing baking the metal.. He glances sideways, at Dean, and sees that his brother's eyes are on him again, a curious, contemplative twist to his mouth.
He blinks, says, “So, uh, what’s this really about? What’s really going on here?”
“Like I said, Sammy, Dad’s missin’. We haven’t heard from him in more than two weeks.”
“Dean, c’mon, man, you don’t need me to help find Dad,” Sam tells him. “You and Ross can find him okay on your own.”
“Yeah. Maybe,” sighs Dean. He pulls away from the car, ducks his head, not meeting Sam’s eyes. He sounds unsure, he sounds older than Sam remembers, hell, he is older. There are fine lines grooved into the edges of Dean’s eyes, Dean’s 26 and he looks older, the bright California sun not doing him any favors. He remembers his Dad, drunk one night: This life, Sammy, it wears you down, wears you down before you’re ready.
“But I don’t want to,” adds Dean.
Sam packs his duffle quickly, as Jess looks on, that crease still between her eyebrows. She looks confused, and he knows he’s being a bad boyfriend, not explaining, not telling her the truth, the real reason Dean and Ross are here, the real reason – hell, all of it, the truth about his family, about what they do.
“So, your Dad – does he do this a lot?” she asks.
“What? Go off on his own without tellin’ us when he’s gonna be back? Yeah, he does.”
She frowns. “And that’s why you’re not – why you don’t talk any longer?”
“One of the many reasons,” he answers. “But, Jess, baby, it’s complicated…”
She twists around in her position on the bed, running one hand over the shirts he’s discarded. “Sam, you can tell me. Now that I’ve met your brothers…”
He snorts, breaking into her speech, and she cocks her head at him, that soft fond smile playing over the corner of her mouth. “What?” she protests. “Why’re you lookin’ at me like that?”
“Nothing, nothing,” he says hastily, leaning down to kiss her on the cheek. “Just – I’m sorry you had to deal with them on your own. I know how they can be.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she says primly, “they were both perfect gentlemen.”
He snorts again and she shakes her head, grinning widely at him. He bends down, scoops his duffle onto his shoulder, glancing around the room for anything he’s forgotten. He stands by the bedroom door as she blows him a kiss. As he leaves the apartment, he hears her call after him.
“I’m letting you get away with this for now, but when you’re back, we’re gonna talk, Sam Winchester!”
He goes out to the car, leaning against it and watching the sun start to set. Dean’s around the front, head under the hood, filling the radiator while Ross is… hell, he’s not even sure. The sound of the back door slamming shut above him makes him turn around and look up, and he sees Ross come clomping down the fire escape, boots thump-thumping on the metal stairs, holding a huge bag of snacks in one hand and Jess’s flower-patterned thermos flask in the other.
“Your girlfriend likes me,” he tells Sam with a smirk, “she gave me coffee. And snacks.”
“Give that here,” orders Dean, dropping the hood. He comes round the side of the car, grabs the flask from Ross’s outstretched hand, he takes a long swig, pulls a face.
“Where’s the goddamned sugar?”
Ross grins, pries the thermos back out of Dean’s hand. “You gotta learn to take your coffee like a man, big bro.”
“Fuck off,” snorts Dean.
Ross laughs, slings the bag of snacks through the open passenger side window. He spins around and gives Sam a considering look.
“Shotgun,” he says, the word coming off cool and deliberate on his lips.
He gets in the car, cranks down the window, leans out to smirk Sam. “That means you’re in the back, Sammy.”
Sam scowls at him. “It’s Sam.” He raises his eyes to Dean, but he’s smirking too, laughing at their pain in the ass little brother.
“Dude, you know the rule.”
It’s pointless fighting about it; he knows how useless that would be. He presses his lips together and sighs inwardly, wherever the hell they’re going, it’s gonna be a long drive.
Dean looks at him again, jerks his head towards the trunk. “C’mere, I got something to show you. Something for your big brain to chew on.”
He watches Dean pop the trunk; prop up the false bottom with the damaged sawed-off that always lived in there for that purpose. He’s seen Dean do this hundreds of times before, and it makes him feel warm, a flood of familiarity and affection as he watches Dean bend over the trunk, rooting about amongst the weapons, rock salt, duffels, old clothes and screwed up paper. Dean emerges with a triumphant look, a snap of a grin Sam’s way as he hands over some crumpled sheets of paper.
“What Dad was workin’ on before he disappeared. I figure, if we head down to, uh,” he glances down at the notes, “Jericho, we can get on his trail.”
“Okay, sure. But one thing I don’t get – why weren’t you two with him when he disappeared?”
Dean shrugs. “We were workin’ our own gig. Down in New Orleans. Voodoo thing. I’ll have to tell you about it some time. Man, that shit was fucked up.”
“What? So, you and Ross – you hunt without Dad?”
“Yeah, that’s right. He usually calls every coupla days to check in with us. Compare notes. You know what he’s like. But this time…” he breaks off and Sam can see it now: the anxiety bunching into the tight corners of his face, the self-deprecating curl to his mouth as he meets Sam’s gaze. “Like I told you, man, something’s wrong, it’s never been this long.” His voice sounds flat, matter-of-factness hiding obvious concern.
“Dean, hey, hey, Dean.” He grabs onto Dean’s arm before he knows it, fingers curling around worn leather. “It’ll be alright, we’ll find him.”
Dean presses his lips together and nods awkwardly, his gaze sliding down to linger over Sam’s hand, on the spot where it’s holding onto him. He raises his eyes, licks his lips. “Sam…” he says, low and unsure.
“Jesus. Are you two fuckin’ done yet?”
Ross’s voice snaps them awake, snaps the moment away, their youngest brother’s head half-way out the passenger side window. Dean pulls away abruptly, stalks to the driver’s side door, carefully not looking at Sam, a tight shape to his shoulders as he yanks the door open. Sam clenches his teeth; he slams the trunk closed, car rocking under the impact. Ross is still looking at him, an accusatory set to his jaw.
“What?” he demands.
Ross smirks, and there it is again: that oh-so-familiar urge to smack him upside the head. “Nothin’. Just waitin’ for you, Sammy.”
It’s kinda freaking Ross out that, even after two years without Sam, things go back to normal almost, like, immediately. Despite the time apart, there is something so irritatingly familiar about him. He’s just as stupidly big and tall as Ross remembers and he’s even got the same lame-ass haircut for fuck’s sake. He used to think that Sam kept his hair like that to piss off Dad, but Sam hasn’t seen Dad in over two years, so he must just like it. Freaking weirdo.
It was Dean’s idea to go after Sam, to include him in this hunt for Dad. They got to Palo Alto around mid-morning, pulling up on what Dean said was Sam’s street just when it was supposed to be quiet, everyone gone to work, except that totally didn’t figure cause Sam lived in a student area and the entire fucking street was still lined with cars. In the end, Dean bitched and moaned and double-parked until some asshole in a Prius fucked off to work or college or hell, his freaking computer lab, and they finally managed to park the Impala just behind an enormous hybrid SUV. Ross didn’t even know they made hybrid SUV’s, fucking California.
He freaking hates this fake, shitty town with its snooty-ass incorporation bullshit, the massive, designed-to-make-you-feel-like-a-moron campus, and, oh yeah, all those goddamn rich-kid students crawling all over the fucking place. It wasn’t the first time they’d been there, hell, it wasn’t even the second. He’d kinda started to lose count after detour nos. four and five, but Dean would insist, mumble something about making sure Sammy was okay whenever a hunt just happened to take them anywhere near the California state line, and then there they were, fucking Palo Alto. Again.
They’d waited only about twenty minutes before they spotted Sam: coming back from a run with some hot blond chick wearing some seriously short-shorts, (the chick, not Sammy, cause... eww). He watched in rising disbelief as they came to a stop out the front of the apartment building, Sam leaning over to lay one on her, the two of them making out on the front steps like the cue-credits moment at the end of a shitty rom-com.
“No fuckin’ way,” he groaned out loud. “Like, no way is Sammy with her.”
On their previous visits, they’d always stalked Sam from afar, seeing him with friends (male and female), but never any sign of a girlfriend, and that – well, that tied into the version of Sam he was used to. Sam hadn’t dated in high school, was way too into homework and school clubs and fighting with Dad to ever show any interest in the opposite sex. Sure, he’d hung out with girls – as friends, though – never as horizontal buddies, so the idea that he was now tapping someone as hot as this girl appeared to be… man, that was, like, seriously screwed up. Sam and the girl broke apart and laughed, Sam reaching down to pat her on the ass, still laughing while she leaned into him and kissed his cheek – and it was all like he and Dean had just walked into fucking bizzaro-land.
Dean’s mouth twitched as he watched and gave a half-shrug, “Her name’s Jessica. They live together. Guess it’s serious.”
Ross’s eyes widened even further and he glared at Dean, “You knew about it? And you didn’t tell me?”
“Why the fuck would I tell you?” snapped Dean. He reached down and slid the hip flask out of that hiding place he had under the bench seat on the driver’s side.
Ross shook his head at him and watched Sam and his way-outta-his-league girlfriend fucking skip up the steps to the apartment building, hand in hand. God, it was way too early in the morning for this much freaking saccharine.
“I always thought Sammy only went for dudes,” he said thoughtfully, watching Dean carefully for any reaction as he took another sip. “I only remember him hooking up with dudes.”
Dean grunted, not rising to it, and shook a couple of cigarettes out of the pack he was hogging, tossing one into Ross’s lap which he seized gratefully. He’d run out about 200 miles ago and he was fucking dying for a smoke. They sat smoking, listening to the radio and passing the hipflask between them for about an hour before Sam finally left the apartment building, carrying a huge bag and a couple of textbooks under his arm, walking all hunched over with his hair falling over his face, just like he always used to.
“What a dork,” Dean commented quietly; though his voice was soft, a sort of fond edge to it, and it made Ross frown, glance at him sideways.
Dean caught him looking of course and raised his eyebrows defensively, “What?”
Ross shrugged, unsure of what he wanted to say. Finally, Dean sighed and switched the radio off.
“Alright, you ready to rock ‘n’ roll?”
“Right,” Dean snorted. “Well, let’s go meet Sammy’s girl.”
Ross blinks his eyes open, gazes at his watch by the light of the dash. They’ve been going about three hours. He glances across at Dean, Dean’s eyes are locked on the blacktop, fingers tapping against the wheel in time to the music, but he looks happier, like he’s almost smiling. Ross watches him from the corner of his eye for a couple of minutes – it’s a trick he’s learned to perfect over the years – Dean never notices after a while. Dean’s driving as normal, but every few seconds he looks up, eyes drawn to the rearview mirror, drawn to Sam, who with his ginormous head and shoulders, must be practically blocking the entire rear window.
He fidgets in his seat, forcing Dean to look away from his endless contemplation of Sam and glance at him. “You alright?”
“Yeah,” he grunts.
Dean nods, tosses him a half-eaten Krispy Kreme from its congealed wrapper, “You wanna finish this?”
He eats it gratefully; Jess’s awesome cookies seem a long time ago now.
“Where did you say those people disappeared?” Sam asks suddenly from the backseat.
Dean looks up, glances in the mirror, says, “Jericho, there’s a bridge into town.”
There’s a rustling sound and something papery and sharp hits Ross in the back of his head. He turns around to see that Sam’s got some local roadmap stretched out across the entire backseat, taking up every inch of space.
“Dude,” Ross protests as Sam turns the map again, hitting him in the corner of the eye with the crinkled pages in the process. He bats it away, crumpling the paper, and Sam glares at him. “Can’t you, not, like, do that – later?”
“You wanna find Dad, or not?” retorts Sam, finally looking up and taking notice of him. He’s got that pissy, self-righteous look on his face that Ross remembers so freaking well, the one that could push him over the edge, every single fucking time.
“No, I’m hoping he’ll stay missing forever. What the fuck do you think, assmunch?”
Sam doesn’t say anything but fixes him with one of those trademark Sammy death-glares that again are such another fond memory from his childhood. For a moment, he’s kinda almost expecting Sam to squeal out: “Dee-een!” as he used to do when they were kids, but instead, it’s still with the freaky, annoying staring shit.
“What?” he demands. “What you lookin’ at?”
Sam smiles smugly and goes back to staring at the map. Ross grits his teeth and reaches to turn on the radio.
Dean slaps his hand away, “Nuh-uh, no radio.”
“Oh Jesus, Dean, we’ve listened to all the tapes, like, ten thousand freakin’ times.”
“No radio, kiddo. You know the rules.”
There’s a snort of laughter from the back, and Ross represses the urge to turn around and punch his middle brother in the face.
“You find anything?” Dean asks after five minutes of tense silence, staring into the driver's mirror with pursed lips.
“Maybe,” says Sam. “But I’m beat. Can we stop somewhere soon?”
“We’ll be in Jericho in two hours – can you wait that long?”
Dean nods and puts his foot down.
Sam waits outside while he and Dean go into the clerk’s office to get the room. Ross can see him in the parking lot, leaning against the side of the Impala, still studying those fucking sheets Dean gave him. He turns around as the motel clerk limps from outta the back room, he’s an old guy with one of those old-guy, musty smells about him. Gross.
“Got any, uh, triples?” Dean asks as he slaps the credit card down on the counter.
The old dude gives him a look, “Triples? For three people?”
“Yeah,” Dean answers, like, duh.
“Well I don’t know about that, son. But I guess one of you could take the couch.”
“Fine. Whatever, that’ll do. Got any rooms like that?”
“Yeah. I got a twin with a couch.”
Dean goes silent for a moment before he gives the old dude one of his smart-assed smiles. “Well, could we have it?”
He slides the credit card over further and old guy takes it as he rings it up. Dean rolls his eyes, exchanging a look with Ross before he glances out the window at the parking lot again – at Sam.
“Aframium, you kids plannin’ on a reunion?” The old dude says to Ross, holding up the card.
“What was that?” Dean’s head snaps back towards them, eyes narrowing.
“There was another guy, came by here a week ago, booked the room out for the month. Asked to be left alone. Aframium was his name too. You boys any relation?”
Dean turns to look at Ross, his eyebrows are raised and there’s a hopeful look on his face which makes Ross want to smile – something he hasn’t felt much like doing for the past two weeks.
“Dad,” he mouths. Dean nods and snatches the room key from the guy.
Dean lets Sam handle the lock to what must be Dad’s room, a proud look on his face which kinda makes Ross wanna barf. Sam was always good at this sort of shit, picking locks, hacking into computers, learning long chunks of Latin. Ross was always better at the cool stuff like nailing a moving target first time round, one bullet only, or knowing the quickest way to get a dude or a thing on the ground with the least damage to himself. And Dean… well, Dean took care of the money: credit card scams, pool hustling, poker, odd jobs… that was always Dean’s thing. Even now, Ross isn’t entirely sure exactly how their credit card scams work and he’s never bothered learning how to run a good hustle, Dean was always good enough for all of them.
He can tell straight away that Dad’s been here. There’s crap all over the walls: newspaper cuttings with markings in pen, maps with drawing pins stuck in them, a real serial killer look. One time when he was about thirteen, he invited a friend back after school, Matt or something he was called, maybe Michael or Merv, fuck, he didn’t remember, he had so many goddamn friends over the years. Anyway, Dad had covered the living room in all his usual shit, and when Martin or Matt or Michael followed him inside, he looked around at it with this freaked-out expression, turning to look at Ross with a scared look in his little kid eyes.
It didn't occur to Ross until then that it was something unusual. Course, on the very few occasions he got to hang out at other kids’ houses, he never saw anything like it, but Dad’s cronies like Caleb and Bobby did the same sort of shit, so it seemed normal to him. Except, the expression on Michael/Merv’s face was telling him it wasn’t normal. He said something to the other kids at school about it afterwards and Ross had to put up with their taunts for a day until he got fed up and beat one of them up during afternoon recess. He was suspended for that, but it didn’t matter, they moved on three weeks later.
Sam goes straight over to one of the newspaper articles, Dean following to stand just beside him, muttering something under his breath to Sam as Sam reads out loud. Ross watches them for a second, then turns to take a look around, noticing a photo shoved into the mirror over the desk. He walks over and picks it up, mouth falling open in surprise when he recognizes it. Pastor Jim took it of the four of them about twelve years ago: Dad leaning on the hood of the Impala, flanked by Dean and Sam, Ross in the middle, standing in the V of his father’s legs, Dad’s hands on his shoulders.
So, was Dad was carrying this photo with him when he disappeared? Dad must’ve been carrying this with him for years. Wow. It’s kinda hard to think of family-photo-carrying-Dad and crazy-obsessed-hunter-Dad as being the same person, but then, whatever Sam used to say; Ross has never doubted how much Dad cares about them, which is why now – him being out of contact for so long - it’s so goddamn wrong.
He stares down at his own much younger face, he looks happy, grinning like a dumb kid at the camera, scrawny and skinny with dark, mop-top hair, looking more like Sammy’s twin than his brother. People always used to bang on about how much he and Sam looked alike, back before Sammy grew so freakishly fast.
“Hey, whatcha got there?” Sam says, taking the picture from him. “Oh,” he says, sounding surprised, he glances up, catches Ross’s eye, he seems about to say something when Dean interrupts them.
“Look what I found.”
They both jump when Dean slams Dad’s journal down onto the dresser between them.
Dean insists on going to eat after they discover Dad’s journal. Ross isn’t hungry but he agrees with Dean, especially after Sam opens his mouth to protest.
“Go back and sleep if you’re tired, man,” Dean tells him. “But I’m gonna get a burger. I’m fuckin’ starving.”
Sam looks pissed but, for once, doesn’t say anything, and tags along. He heads straight to the bathroom when they get inside the diner. Ross watches him cross the room, Sam still slouches when he walks, though not as much as he used to do, when he was younger, he used to slouch so much it was like he had a freaking hump, Dad was always riding his ass about it. But Sam had shot up so quickly and he seemed constantly embarrassed by it. Ross never got that; in Sam’s place, he would’ve loved being freakishly tall, being able to, like, literally look down on people, getting picked first in basketball, (until they’d figured out that Sam totally sucked at basketball), being able to see everything first over other people’s heads. How was all that not awesome? But Sam, like the fucking killjoy he was, just seemed to treat it like it was some massive freaking burden.
Opposite him, Dean’s silent, running his fingers over the laminate menus, looking tired and worried, eyes fixed on some point over Ross’s shoulder. He can make out the heavy bulk of Dad’s journal in Dean’s inner jacket pocket, bulging out the lining and making his jacket hang lopsidedly. He doesn’t want to think about why Dad would’ve left his journal behind. Dad never goes anywhere without his journal.
“Did you order yet?” For once, he’s relieved at Sam’s interruption.
“No. We were waiting for you,” Ross answers, glancing at Dean. Dean is silent, still with that brooding look on his face. Ross hates that look, it makes him want to talk too fast, filling the silence that should be comfortable with meaningless bullshit just to make that look go from Dean's face.
Sam continues standing there, looking uncomfortable and looming over the table like an enormous, awkward, looming thing. Ross cranes his head back to look up at him.
“You gonna sit down, or what?”
“Oh yeah, right,” Sam mutters. He hesitates and eventually prods at Ross with one of his massive man-paws, “Move over.”
Ross does, too surprised to do anything else. What the hell is Sam doing sitting next to him? Given a choice, hell, given any fucking choice, Sam always picked Dean over him; just as Ross always picked Dean over Sam. He and Sam spent their entire childhood fighting for Dean and Dad’s attention, until Sammy got all pissed and angry with Dad and blamed him for totally everything that was wrong in his life forever, amen. With Dean though…. that was totally different – they never got over that, the two of them still fought for Dean’s attention right up until the moment Sam told them all he was leaving.
Sam crowds in next to him, and Ross clamps down on the urge to kick him in the shin as Sam takes up every inch of space with his ginormous arms and legs.
“Dude, would you just –“
“Stop fuckin’ crowding me.”
“Get over yourself!” Sam snaps, signaling for the waitress.
Dean raises his head and stares at them murderously, turning the look into a big fake smile as the middle-aged waitress with a shiny nametag – Donna – approaches.
It’s still strange to be sitting next to Sam. His elbows stick out (though Ross is half sure he’s doing it on purpose) and he has fuck all room to maneuver as he tries to eat his burger. He’s obviously never appreciated before the massive favor Dean must’ve been doing for him all this time by taking up the slack and always sitting next to Sam, because this… man… this sucks.
When Dad was with them, he always made sure Ross and Sammy – the younger Winchesters – took the inside seats, while Dad and Dean took the outside seats, the protector seats, always on the watch, always on the look out for any lurking potential evil. On the few occasions he and Dean have been with Dad over the past couple of years, they fell into the same patterns: Ross on the inside, Dad on the outside, and Dean opposite them with this big-ass, Sam-shaped space beside him. If Ross ever thinks about it deeply, it’s like some sort of metaphor for their family post Sam’s big, epic leaving thing, not that he ever does think about it deeply, that’s so not his way; he’ll save that introspective, chick flick crap for Sam.
"Dad wouldn't just leave his journal behind," Sam says, his brow is furrowed in that Sammy way, his fingers playing with the collar of his shirt. Dean can tell he's really starting to worry now, finally taking things seriously.
"Yeah, we know," says Ross. "We're the ones who've been with him the last two years."
"Cause he kicked me out," Sam retorts. "He was the one who told me to get out. To stay gone. That was him." Sam's voice is getting louder, and Ross has got his mouth open about to kick in, kid never knew when to shut the hell up.
"Jesus, will you two girls cut it out?" snaps Dean. "Don't you think we've got more important shit to think about?" Ross shuts up immediately of course, Ross always does, but Sam's still furious, his eyes shining angrily, his mouth all pursed. "Sam?" he prompts.
"Fine. God, okay. Fine," Sam relents. He sits back in the booth and pushes his coffee away. "Lets just - figure this shit out and find Dad, so I can go back home."
It's like a stab to the gut. The irritation and anger in Sam's voice, the finality in the way he says "home", and for a moment, it just hurts. Dean turns to look out the window. There's a family car pulling into the parking lot next door, one of those huge-ass station-wagons you don't see around so much these days, all been replaced by SUV's or hybrids (especially here, fucking California). A father gets out, followed by two little girls, they're dressed in matching red coats, brown hair bouncing as they jump out the car. The father locks up and holds out his hands to them which they take, bounding excitedly up and down in their shiny, little girl shoes. Dean blinks tiredly and watches them disappear into the fake, Italian ice cream parlor on the other side of the street. For a second, he feels like giving up, turning around and driving Sam back to Palo Alto, dropping him back in his perfect life with his perfect girl and leaving him the hell alone…
Hell, Sammy was right before, they don’t need him to help find Dad, he and Ross could handle it just fine without him. But when Bobby suggested it (…Don’t you think you should include your brother in this, boys? He should know that his daddy’s missing…) he didn't hesitate, though Ross argued the entire time, whining under his breath and out loud, "What do we need him for? We don't need his help, Deano; we've managed fine without him. He won't want to come anyway." Well, score one to Littlest Brother on that one.
“C’mon, shake your asses. We got a lot to do.” He gets to his feet with a jerk, reaching for his wallet, ready to pay.
He’s too tired and on edge to respond to the cashier’s flirtatious smile, too busy listening to the to and fro sniping and bitching coming from his brothers as they make their way outside. He's forgotten what it's like: Sam and Ross together, the bitching, fighting, worn-over resentments and petty jealousies.
Sam doesn't give Ross chance to call shotgun this time, just slides into the passenger seat with a surly look on his face as Dean comes out. Dean ignores him and puts his loudest, most obnoxious Motorhead tape into the player.
When they get back to the motel he watches Sam and Ross go inside their room while he locks up the car. He sees the lights go on inside and thinks about joining them, lying down on the couch and getting some much-needed rest. Instead, he heads in the opposite direction, round the side of the building and towards the pool area.
The water’s pretty low, there are leaves floating on the surface and a shape darting across the other side that looks like a fox, though he’s already reaching for his gun, just in case. The surrounding area is dark damp concrete, littered with rusted loungers that he can’t imagine anyone ever wanting to sit on, even when it’s actually hot enough to do so. There are a couple of rotted looking benches and he takes a seat on one of them. The moon is half-full, reflected in the dark, rippling water lending the place a strange sort of mesmerizing atmosphere. He shivers, a long, flickering sensation along his spine; something feels off, and he reaches inside his coat to curl his fingers around his gun again.
The last time he and Ross saw Dad was over three weeks ago now. The three of them had just finished up a hunt up in Oregon, some weird tree spirit things which Dad was carefully recording in the journal, writing it up at the kitchen table in the crap-ass motel room they’d rented for the week. Dean brought him a beer and told him to get some rest, but Dad just smiled his tired-old-guy smile, patted his arm and told him to get to bed. “I need to get this down while I remember it. I need to be away by dawn.”
“Something we can help with?” he asked, but Dad didn’t hear the hopeful note in his voice, or if he did, he ignored it. He just shook his head and told him to look after Ross. “Look after your brother, Dean. I’ll call you boys; Caleb mentioned something to me about a hunt down in New Orleans for you. Now, get some sleep.” It was an order and Dean was too well-conditioned not to obey an order, so he left his father and went to bed. That was the last time he saw him.
He sighs, shakes a cigarette out of his packet. Shit, he’s only got two left, and he only bought this packet… well, fuck, he’s gotten through twenty in the past twenty four hours; it’s been a while since he’s smoked that much.
He starts to his feet when he hears the footsteps; sitting back down in relief when he recognizes Sam’s tall shadow. Sam wrinkles his nose as he sits down beside him, waving the smoke away with a prissy look.
“I thought you gave up.”
“So, when did you start again?”
Dean shrugs, takes another long drag, holds the smoke in; he exhales slowly, savoring it. "Dunno. After you left I guess."
A muscle twitches in the corner of Sam's mouth, a flicker across his face that looks like guilt, and Dean can’t help feeling a stab of vindictive pleasure.
"Hey, give me one."
They both jump as Ross appears from nowhere, materializing in front of them with his hand held out, making a grabby gesture with his fingers. Dean tosses him the packet – his one remaining cigarette. Fucking typical.
"That's my last one. You smoke it; you're buying me my next pack, bitch."
"Whatever," shrugs Ross. He's already lighting up, smirking at Sam's disapproving face.
"You two are pathetic. It doesn't make you look cool, you know," says Sam.
“Really?” says Ross, widening his eyes. “Fuck, why did no one ever tell me that before?”
Sam doesn't respond to that, but Dean can feel him fuming beside him. His nostrils are flared and his eyes have narrowed so far, they’re practically slits. Dean finishes off his cigarette, drops the smoldering butt to the floor, grinds it out with the heel of his boot. He puts out one hand, dropping it to Sam’s knee and squeezing. It’s meant to be a reassuring gesture, a cheer-the-fuck-up-and-get-over-yourself-d
He jumps to his feet; his fingers feel strange, tingling as if the warmth from Sam’s body has seeped into them. He glances down at Sam; he’s gone back to staring at the floor, face hidden, but Dean can see the way his fingers are clenched around his knees, the tight set to his shoulders. He feels the breath catch in his throat and he coughs; Sam's head jerks up, eyes focusing in on him. He hits his chest with the edge of his fist, sends Sam a fake, shit-eating smile.
“Must be that smoker’s cough I’ve heard so much about.”
Sam rolls his eyes. “I’m surprised Dad lets you get away with it. Thought two good little soldiers like you two would know how detrimental smoking can be to your fitness.”
“Ain’t nothin’ wrong with my fuckin’ fitness,” snaps Ross, flicking his own butt towards the pool. “I’ll fuckin’ prove it if you want. You and me sparrin’. See if your pansy college ass remembers anything useful.”
“Whoa, chill out, Rambo,” says Dean. Sam sniggers, Ross’s eyes narrow into an expression that’s scarily similar to the one on Sam’s face only two minutes earlier. “No one’s gonna be fightin’ with anyone. Less I say so of course.”
“Whatever,” says Sam.
“Hey, hey, dude. Sammy. We're gonna, fix this. You know that, right? We'll find Dad and you can go back to your girl. Just, chill."
Ross scoffs but Sam says nothing, just releases a long put upon sigh before he gets to his feet and heads back towards the room.
“I told you we shouldn’t’ve gotten him involved,” says Ross conversationally, that smug I-know-better look on his face as he meets Dean’s eyes.
“Shut up. You owe me cigarettes.”
Ross kicks the edge of Dean’s boot, “Hey, Deano, I’m good for it. You fuckin’ know it.” He smiles, mouth opening wide to reveal a white strip of teeth and the Winchester dimples.
Dean sighs in exasperation, he can’t resist that face, never could, and Ross fucking knows it.
“Well, you’d better be.”
He wakes up to the sound of the door creaking shut. He freezes for a moment, remembers the salt lines Ross laid down last night. Nothing could’ve gotten in. Which means… one of them must have gone out. He blinks his eyes open and looks towards the twin beds. The one nearest to him – Ross’s – is still occupied, the other – Sam’s – isn’t. He’d’ve put money on that.
He grits his teeth, slides out from under the tatty blanket, reaching for his jeans. He pulls them on, jams his feet into his boots, shrugs his jacket on over the old t-shirt he was sleeping in, and pads outside.
Sam’s standing in the middle of the parking lot, highlighted by the half-moon, his shadow slanting long over the grey concrete. He’s got his phone to his ear and Dean can make out the soft rumble of his voice, though not what he’s actually saying. He’s pacing, the gravel crunching under his sneakers, he pauses by a beaten-up truck, leans against it, head bowed, eyes fixed on his shoes.
Dean holds in a breath and just looks at him. The ache in his chest is like a physical wound, like the way his knee twists when he’s running a certain way, a tight, breathless stab of pain, overpowering and something he can’t do anything about. He hasn’t allowed himself to feel like this. There have been too many other things, other people who really need him, other brothers and family members who don’t leave. He can make out Sam’s words now, can sense by the tone of his voice that he’s ending the call, his voice going higher, getting looser: "Love you too, see you tomorrow."
Love you too.
Shit. He raises his head to meet Sam’s gaze. He’s staring at him, a confused look on his face.
“Dean. What’re you doing?”
“Checking up on you. What does it look like?”
Sam’s mouth quirks. “Of course you are. You know, you haven’t changed.”
Sam looks thoughtful, pushes himself off the truck with both hands, comes slowly towards him. “Maybe.”
For one crazy moment, he imagines himself crossing the parking lot, grabbing hold of Sam by his stupid Stanford t-shirt and pushing him back against the truck, holding him in place with one knee between his legs and one hand on the back of his neck, crowding into him with every ounce of strength he possesses and kissing him, brutal and possessive as it always was and how it never is with anyone else… He’s shocked by the amount of willpower it takes to not move, to not do it.
“I – you know – it was never your fault. Me leaving.”
Sam shakes his head and he looks so fucking sincere that Dean feels sick. “Honestly, without you, I would’ve gone before then. I definitely wouldn’t’ve stayed that extra year after high school, and God, before then, when I was younger; I would probably have ended up running away. Gotten myself taken into care or something.”
“Don’t say that!” A flare of anger hits him at Sam’s words. Anger against Sam for being… for not realizing that it wasn’t just about him or even about the two of them; there was Dad and there was Ross and they were a family. They had always been a family. The four of them.
“Why the hell not? It’s the goddamn truth after all! What did Dad ever do for me, ‘cept ruin my life? Fuck up everything I had at school, and keep me from ever having a real future? He never saw me as a son; I was a soldier for him. When I was nine years old he gave me a fuckin’ Colt! What kind of father gives a gun to a nine year old?”
“He knew what was out there. He knew you had to be prepared. He just wanted to protect us.”
“Whatever! It wasn’t just him, Dean. It was – all of you: Dad and Ross… and – and, even you! I never. I was always the odd one out. Me and Ross – God, you know how it was…”
“He’s your brother.”
“Yeah,” Sam shrugs, tight and angry, “but not like you are.”
“He’s our brother, my brother,” says Dean, and he feels a surge of protectiveness, of anger. “That must mean something to you.”
Sam presses his lips together, looks away from Dean, ducking his head, hair falling to hide his face.
He watches Sam’s bent head with a raw sensation at the back of his throat. The thing was, he always knew that Sam would leave. It was as inevitable as the way he felt about him. And hell, Sammy never bothered hiding anything from him: his anger and misery, how futile he thought his entire life was, his horrible, never-ending, teenaged angst all the fucking time.
“If I go, would you come with me?” he asked Dean once. His voice was wistful, hiding his expression under those too long bangs, as if he knew what he was asking of Dean… what it meant... “If it could be just me and you…”
“I’m not going anywhere, Sammy, you know that.”
“But imagine it, Dean, you and me. We could do whatever we wanted. And people… people wouldn’t know.”
Dean didn’t imagine it; he didn’t let himself, because that was too much, too fucking tempting. He always knew that, in the end, he would have to make the choice. On one side, Sam and him, the crazy things they did to each other, the crazy way Sam made him feel, the overpowering love he sometimes felt had to be obscene, so much did it obscure everything else, wrong love, he used to tell himself when he would look at Sam and forget how to breathe. But on the other side, there was Dad and Ross and the job and duty and Mom’s memory and family, and Dean was unable to see past that. Nothing was more important than family. Even Sammy.
Dean sighs, pushes the memories away, locks them down into that cold, unreachable part of his mind. This is just wasting time, it’s old news, done with. What matters now is finding Dad, protecting Ross, as Dad told him to, and doing the job. Whether Sam’s here or not, that’s what’s important and he can’t let himself wallow in any of this nostalgia bullshit.
“Come on, man, we should get some more sleep, got a lot to do tomorrow.”
“Nah, I’m alright here. You go. If you want, I can do some of the driving tomorrow. Give you a break.”
Dean snorts. “In your dreams.”
“Yeah, kinda thought you’d say that.” Sam shakes his head and grins softly. “Night, dude.”
Dean nods and turns around, he doesn’t look back as he closes the door.