July 1st, 2010

What's a personal bubble? - BOYS

The Heavens Aligned Against Us (Sounds Like A Fair Fight) Prologue/4

"Unlike my brothers, I'm not gonna leave you a gibbering mess when I'm through with you."

There's a disconnect going through Dean's brain right now. That part of it that seems to love the permanent bull's eye on him—that mocks crazy rednecks until they forget about Sam—wants to smart off and say something about how magnanimous Michael is, even if he's not sure that's the right word. But what comes out instead is, "What about my dad?"

"Better than new," Michael tells him. "In fact, I'm gonna do them a favor."

"What?" Dean's pretty sure his heart actually stops for a second. He knows how nice the angels play, and he can't even begin to fathom what Michael might consider a favor.

"I'm gonna scrub their minds," he says. "They won't remember me or you."

Dean got into a car accident once—more than once, really, but this one time in particular. He was driving this clunker piece of crap to a garage for some kid in school and got t-boned by some lady whose kid started seizing in the front seat or something. No harm or ill-intent or demons—or angels—trying to gut a Winchester while he's down, just a lady who got rightfully distracted.

Even so, Dean landed himself in surgery that was bad enough for them to have to pry him open. The feeling he has right now is just about damn near identical to the one he had after the surgery: a stabbing, pulsing pain in his stomach, like there's a knife trying to push its way from the inside out. Every single thing that thing they told his mom, everything about the angels and the yellow-eyed demon and even about them, she won't remember any of it. "You can't do that," Dean begs.

"I'm just giving your mother what she wants," Michael says, and it's wrong, grotesque to hear those words coming out of his father's mouth, to know just what they mean and exactly what's going to happen as a result of them. "She can go back to her husband, her family."

"She's gonna walk right into that nursery." Dean can't keep the shakiness out of his voice; he tries, but he can't. He only just succeeds in not crying.

"Obviously," Michael says. "And you always knew that was gonna play out one way or another. You can't fight city hall." He smiles Dean's Daddy's smile—that one Dean remembers from when Mom was alive, that died in the fire with her—and makes his way over to Sam.

"Wait," Dean calls out. Dean has no idea what the hell he's doing; there's that disconnect again, and his mouth is moving a few billion miles ahead of his brain. He's always been good at improvising, though, so he just goes with it.

"Dean, this is starting to get sad," Michael says serenely.

"Just... just let them keep their memories," Dean tries. His brain's working triple speed now, trying to catch up to his mouth. He is aware that most people tend to think up plans in advance, but so far, the Winchesters have done pretty good with flying by the seat of their pants. If Michael lets them remember, then it will all change; Dean knows it will. It has to.

"And why would I want to do that?" Michael asks him.

"Because you're just such a nice guy?" Dean tries. Michael turns around again, and Dean panics. "What are you, chicken?"

"Really, Dean?" Michael asks. "Name calling? This is what you're resorting to?" As hard as Dean tries to resist it, he can't help but flinch a little bit at the disappointment in the thing using his dad's voice.

"It's more like taunting, really." Dean tries for his cockiest smile, but he can't seem to manage more than a half-assed attempt at best. "And what's the big deal? If you're so damn sure she's gonna die no matter what, then why do you gotta neuralize them? What's so bad about her having one memory about a day with her grown sons, huh?"

"Dean, you aren't still clinging to the hope that your mother will live, are you?"

It hurts, and he's still got John's face in that sick, patronizing smile, and Dean wants to punch that smile right off his face. "Hey, if there's no free will, and she's gonna die anyway, then just do it, okay? Quit flapping your damn trap, fix Sam, send us back, and let Mom have some kind of memory of Sam past diapers, okay?"

Michael stares at Dean. Not the way Castiel used to do, and not the way he does now, but kind of like Anna did at first, back before she was a crazy bitch and right after she got her angelic groove back. "Fine," he says.

Dean waits for more, but nothing comes. "'Fine'? That's it? Just... 'fine'? Nothing else?"

"I don't have to understand your sentimental reasoning; but I hope that you will remember this in the future when you're trying to convince yourself you have any hope of saying no. Everything is pre-determined, Dean; the game is fixed, and you just keep betting on the guy taking the fall."

"Well. That's just. Awesome. Really, it's sweet of you."

"Your sarcasm has no effect on me, Dean. Is there anything else you want to ask of me before I so graciously bring back your precious Sammy?" What a jackass. Even Dean knows better than to insult someone you want something from.

"Yeah, if you could do me a favor and bite me, that'd just be super." Okay, so maybe not. Dean should probably let his brain back online now before his mouth talks him right out of his plan.

Michael just sighs at Dean, and, seriously, that smile needs to fucking leave already. It's starting to get really creepy.

Michael makes his way over to Sam and touches his forehead. Sam glows this weird bluish shade before he just vanishes. No fade out, no dissolving; he's just there, and then he's not anymore. "Sam's safe and home now," Michael says before making his way over to Dean.

Dean's eyes are stinging with his tears, and he isn't even bothering to try and hold them in anymore. "Can I just—I. If my dad can hear this, if he can remember, I just. I want him to know I love him and... and all things considered, he could've been worse."

Michael nods just slightly, and it reminds Dean of Cas a little, enough that he spares a thought for him. Michael reaches for him, and the last thoughts Dean Winchester ever has are, I love you, Sammy, and, I hope this works.

What's a personal bubble? - BOYS

The Heavens Aligned Against Us (Sounds Like A Fair Fight) 1/4

Mary wakes up very suddenly. She shows no signs of grogginess or gradual awakening; one second she's on the ground, immobile, and the next, she's awake and getting to her feet, surveying the damage that was inflicted while she was unconscious.

John takes longer, Michael still has some cleaning to do, and for that he must keep John at bay for a few more moments. When John finally gains control again it's like waking up after a nightmare. Everything is there and happening and he can see it all but he doesn't have control over any of it. Then Michael leaves, and John jerks back into place so quickly and violently that he physically stumbles, brain still fuzzy and trying to fit things into the right order through that haze and lightheaded feeling that still hasn't left yet.

Mary's there. She's got his face cupped in her hands, and she's saying something, but he can't understand it yet. He can hear it, but doesn't know if it's in English or some other language he doesn't know. He opens his mouth and tries to respond, but there's some kind of wall inside of his brain. He can't keep a hold of his thoughts long enough to tell his brain what to do with them. He can't even think about that long enough to panic.

They're in the car when everything comes back into focus. It's another sudden jolt: a vicious, painful snap of clarity, like getting shot with a .bb gun or having a rubber band snapped right into the middle of his palm. It makes sense, not that John had thought about them in more than an abstract way before tonight, that absolutely nothing about angels would be subtle.

The first thing John does when he gets back on speaking terms with the outside world is grab Mary. That would be perfectly acceptable—understandable, even—if not for the fact that, at this particular moment in time, Mary's behind the wheel of a very large car and driving much faster than is strictly legal or safe down a dark, unlit, barely paved road. John grabs her arm, and the car jerks to the right, then swerves hard left to make up for it. The car ends up stopped dead, cutting across two lanes and vaguely facing the direction they just came from.

Mary's breathing heavily, a harsh panting noise that breaks the silence in the car. "John, I love you, and I'm happy you're back from wherever it is you went, but I would really like it if you would please try not to kill us in a car accident."

John can't answer, can't joke about that, because those were his sons back there. He remembers that. Dean. Dean called him dad, and Sam, he talked with Sam about his dad, and he knows, he knows he was that horrible, fucked-up, selfish man who ruined his children's lives so badly that he's pretty sure they just killed themselves to fix it. And Mary—

Mary. Sam said that his mom died, and his dad practically went nuts from grief. John doesn't even have to stretch to see that. He knows that he handles death badly; two expulsions after his mom died and enlistment after his big brother are proof enough of that. He can't even imagine life without Mary, what that was like for that other version of him.

He's across the bench seat as fast as he can make his sluggish body move, pulling her to him and hugging her tight. "I'm not letting you die."

"I'm not going to die, John." She laughs, somewhat bitterly. "Not for a long time."

"No, Mary, you are. Sam, he said, he said you died, when he was just a baby." John leans back a little, not releasing her, but easing back just enough that she can see that he's serious. "Mary, those boys, they were—are our sons."

"You know?" Mary asks him. There's no shock on her face, no confusion, just worry.

"You know?" John asks. He's starting to get really fucking tired of being treated like some useless civilian.

"Dean told me, right before the fight."

"And when exactly were you going to tell me this little unimportant piece of information?" She's heard the fights he's had with what's left of his family, the few times they've spoken, so she knows just how damn much he hates being lied to. And then she went ahead and did it anyway.

"Oh, I'm sorry, John," she says, her voice dripping with sarcasm. "When should I have done it? When I was fighting off the redhead? How about when you got tossed out the window? There were just so many opportunities to tell you; I didn't know which one would be the best."

"You had no intention of telling me about them or about you," John challenges. "Just like you had no intention of telling me about the ghosts or hunting."

"That's not true," Mary protests.

"Bullshit. We're married, and you didn't think I might want to know about shit that can kill you."

"That's not my life anymore," Mary insists. "It doesn't matter."

"Really?" John asks. "Because the last six hours and the sigils all over that house tell me a completely fucking different story."

"I didn't think it was part of my life anymore. I don't want it to be," she admits.

"And people in Hell want ice water; it doesn't mean they're going to get any." John sighs and leans back. He knows he can't hide the grimace on his face, so he doesn't even bother to try. He hates being treated like an idiot or some naive grunt, fresh off the bus. He's never been that bad, not even on his first day of basic training, and he resents the hell out of being treated like he is. "I can't protect you from something I don't know I'm supposed to be protecting you from."

"Protect me? You don't have to protect me from anything, John."

"Don't give me that 'I am woman, hear me roar,' crap. You know that's not what this is about. You're my wife; I'm supposed to protect you. I'm your husband; you're supposed to protect me." Mary's watching him, not saying anything, and John just keeps going. "That's how this works. I don't give a fuck if you weigh eighty pounds and don't know how to make a fist or if you weigh three hundred and outshoot me; we're supposed to take care of each other and watch out for each other because we're family, and that's what families do. Period."

"I thought I was watching out for you, John," Mary says quietly. "I wouldn't wish that life on anybody, and I can't stand to think that our children were raised like I was."

"They don't have to be, Mary. No, no." She's shaking her head, and he can see the tears in her eyes. He can't stand it when she cries, he can't, so he takes her face in his hands and shushes her, kissing away her protests and brushing the hair off her face. "They don't. Mary, we can stop it, we can. That's why Dean wanted us to remember; he knows that we can change it."

"What?" Mary wipes the tears away from her face. "What do you mean he wanted us to remember?"

"Michael—the one who was in me, the angel, he wanted to wipe our memories. He was going to; I could feel it. But Dean, he talked him out of it. He managed to... I don't even know how he did it. Some sort of weird... game of chicken? I don't, I think. I think he played chicken with him and won? That doesn't make any sense, but I think he did it."

"Well, at least we know he's really your son."

"I'm not that stupid," John protests.

"Yes, you are," Mary insists. "And I love you for it. You are exactly the kind of man that would help produce a son who would apparently play chicken with... wait. Michael, like the archangel?"

"I don't know, maybe? I don't really know that God stuff," John answers.

"Well, you should probably learn some of it." She's laughing a little, shaking her head that way she does whenever John's done something irrevocably stupid. John can't help it; he has to laugh, too. Somehow, in the last seven or so hours, his life has gotten so absurd that he keeps waiting to wake up to Mary yelling at him about eating pizza before bed.

"I don't need no learnin'," John scoffs, waving her off with a smile.

"Except for maybe a little bit of Sunday school," Mary says. "Because angels exist, and they don't seem to be our biggest fans."

"That's an understatement," John agrees. He waits a moment and then says, "You know, I think that whole chicken thing is your fault."

"It is not," Mary protests.

"Oh, yes, it is. It is all your fault. Those were your genes right there; mine wouldn't play chicken with something that could kill me."

"That is such a gigantic load of bullshit that I don't think you even believe it yourself."

"I do too believe it," John insists. "And I believe it because it's true."

"It is not true, and you know it," she says.

"It's completely true," John argues back. "I remember how we met; you can't tell me the crazy doesn't come from your side."

"I'm not the one who almost got everyone killed," she points out.

John sees a smile pulling at the corners of her mouth and hides a grin himself. "I only almost got me and you killed; everyone else would have been fine."

"That does not help your case for the being sane one."

"You only say that because you're biased," John says. "You hated me on sight."

"I didn't hate you," she says. John knows it's a lie, though. She practically wanted him dead; he knows that look well. "I just thought you were an ignorant jackass."

"Oh, is that all?" John asks.

"Can you blame me?" Mary asks him. And, really, he can't. He wasn't always the perfect, shining specimen of man he is now.

"That's the problem when you marry someone who knew you in high school," John says. "There's no such thing as hiding. They already know all your dirty little secrets and were probably there for most of them."

"You know, a good way to avoid that problem is to, oh, I don't know, not be such a complete idiot?"

"All boys are complete idiots when we're teenagers; it's coded into our DNA. All we can do is hope to suppress it around beautiful women and find ways to make it up to the ones who have to see it."

Mary's smile is wide and bright, and John wants to take a picture of it so he never has to be without it.

"You, John Winchester, are a charmer."

"Only for you, Mary."

"Okay, what do we know?" Mary asks. She's got her journals spread across the kitchen table; her fathers' are there, too, but most of them are still in the chest next to the table that she brought up from the basement. John looked worried when she dragged the large lock-box up on her own but, wisely, didn't offer to help or do it for her. Mary gets the idea of chivalry, but she didn't train her entire life to have to have boys help her with heavy things.

"Do we really need all this?" John asks her.

Mary takes a look around their kitchen, and... okay, so maybe it looks a little bit like some school teacher set up shop in there, but this is how she knows how to do things. Mom's chalkboard, sectioned off into three sections—Sam, Dean, and Michael—her and Dad's journals; and a large roll of butcher's paper on the floor, waiting to be used for the extra room Mary knows they're going to need. They need to figure out exactly what they know so they can figure out how to do this, how to—how to keep her alive.

She's not gonna die. She won't let it happen, and she knows John won't. Mary doesn't want to die, but more than that, she doesn't want her boys to suffer whatever fate they did that brought them back here, begging her not to let them be born.

"We need this," Mary assures John. "Trust me, we do. Or, at least, we will. Now, come on, what do we know?"

"Okay," he agrees. "We know... Sam said that their dad—that I—raised them hunting. He said you died in his nursery and that I went nuts, basically."

"Okay, that's good, so we know it happens in his nursery." Mary takes the blue chalk she's designated in her head for things John was told and writes nursery in the board in Sam's column in big letters. "What else? Did he say when?"

"I don't know. He said... he said he was a baby?" John says. "But then when they first came in, Dean said you looked like their mom, so does that mean they remember what you look like?"

"Just Dean, I think," she says. "He's older, so I think he remembers. And... and he was here before, back before this, so he knew."

"Wait, what do you mean he was here before?"

"When my dad died. He was here. I don't know why. I didn't really want anything to do with him; it was some kind of hunt, he was—" She stops. It didn't connect before, but now— "He said he was hunting a demon. That killed his mom. So it's a demon that gets me in Sam's nursery." She writes demon in Dean's part of the board in the green chalk she's decided is hers. "Do you think we should have two Dean sections? One for now and one for then?"

"How can you be so... so calm about this?" John asks her, setting down her journal. It's a pink one, so it's probably from years ago, when she was a dumb teenager herself and didn't know better than to be terrified and angry all the time. "A demon is going to kill you in our son's nursery, and you're treating this like it's some—some science project."

"I'm not calm about this, John." Mary sets down the chalk and whirls around. "I'm not, I just—I have to, I have to distance myself from it. I have to pretend this is just some other case about some other person who we need to save. If I do that, then we can figure this out and fix it. We don't have time for me to panic, John, I'll do that after we save our family, all right?"

John gets up from his chair and comes around the other side of the table, wrapping his arms around Mary's waist and pulling her in close. Mary lets him because she knows this isn't John trying to be the big, strong man like he still sometimes does; she knows that this is just John, her husband who loves her very much and is afraid for her life, trying to remind himself that she's still there.

At least, that's what Mary is telling herself. She has no tolerance for weak women or overbearing men, and she needs John's arms around her now just as much as she bets he needs her in his arms.

"We're going to figure this out, Mary. I promise we are. I can't do this without you."

"Yes, you can," she tells him. Sam and Dean are proof of that.

"Yeah, well, I don't want to."

It takes them a couple of hours to sort things out, and once they do, they know that Mary dies in Sam's nursery on November second, nineteen-eighty-three; that she's killed by a demon; that Sam is younger than Dean; that Michael is, indeed, that Michael, the archangel; and that Sam and Dean are a part of something so bad that they would rather never be born than let things happen the way they did.

Mary still hasn't told John all of her secrets. Not the part about her dad and the deal; she's already told him that, or pieces of it, at least. John knows she made the deal for him, but he doesn't know it was to bring him back to life. He doesn't need to know that, not yet, at least. He doesn't know about Dean yet either, that she's pregnant with him now. She knows that's important, but she doesn't... Mary doesn't want her pregnancy and Dean to be connected to this, to be some kind of thing. Pregnancies are supposed to be good things—first-born sons and families and ten billion other things that aren't connected to death and demons and...

And she's scared. She wants her sons, both of them, and she can't bring herself to take the chance to tell John and have him possibly—she couldn't stand to bear it if he suggested something drastic. She's all for a woman's choice, but her choice is to keep her sons. She doesn't care what they turn out to do or be; she wants them. Mary knows that she's real to John. He knows her, he loves her, and Sam and Dean are still abstracts in his head. He doesn't know how much older than Sam Dean is.

Dean is already real to her. She's taken the tests and gone to the doctor, daydreamed about her future son or daughter—at least now, she doesn't have to worry about buying the wrong clothes—and thought about names, which is another thing she doesn't have to think about anymore. Maybe she can still pick their middle names.

This is real to her. She can't go back from that; she just can't.

Mary knows she has to tell John, and soon, before she starts showing. She just doesn't know how to do it.

John hasn't exactly told Mary he doesn't have a job. It seems a little trivial in comparison to everything, and he's sure he can get it back. It's a morbid thought, but it's actually kind of a good thing for him that his boss is dead now—that's one less paycheck to hand out, which gives John a higher chance of actually being able to get his back.

He won't go crawling back to his dad; he can't make himself. He spent his whole life with that asshole telling him how worthless he was and that he'd never be able to do anything, and he's not gonna prove that fucker right. He'll figure something out.

If he's lucky, he won't have to tell Mary. He'll have his job back before it even gets bad enough that they need to worry about things.

"I imagined that going differently in my head," Mary tells John as she holds the ice pack to his head.

"I think you gave me a concussion," John complains, rubbing his bruised forehead.

"You snuck up on me!" Mary retorts.

"I did not," John says. "I walked in the door, very loudly, and I said hello, and then I gave you a hug."

"You don't just sneak up on a woman like that when she's got a pan in her hand!" Mary insists.

"Yeah, I got that now," John grumbles. "Any reason I had to hear it from the ER doc that you're pregnant?"

"Because the good Doctor Melville has a big mouth?" Mary suggests, giving John the cutest, most clueless look she can manage right now.

"You didn't think that maybe mentioning that Dean's already on his way was something important to know?" John asks her harshly.

"Our son—our first child—is not some piece of a damn puzzle, John," Mary spits out. "He's our son, and he is not going to be lumped in with demons and ghouls and shit like that. He is something to be happy about, damn it, and I'm not letting you spoil that. Not for me, or you, or him, or anything, do you understand me?"

She's so angry that she can feel the sting of tears at her eyes, threatening to spill over and give her away. She won't let them, though; she can't, because John can't stand it when she cries. She's been known to use that to her advantage, but this is serious. This isn't a ding in the car or placating a worried husband that nothing happened to her in the extra hour it took her to get home from the store.

"He's my son, too, damn it!" John yells.

"Lower your voice right now," Mary says. "This already looks bad enough as it is; if you bring the nurses running with the deputies, it's going to be a long time before we have this conversation again."

John takes a deep breath, then another. Then another. All he does for a few minutes is breathe deeply: in and out, in and out, in and out.

Mary is keeping a close eye on the surroundings; John's injury isn't exactly a cut thumb while chopping onions, so the nurses are already suspicious to begin with.

"Are you afraid of me?" John finally asks.

"You don't scare me," she says.

John's looking at the ground, head dipped low. The ice pack is blocking most of his face from her view, but she can see the clench of his jaw, can hear how he's sucking on his teeth like he does when he's angry.

"That isn't what I asked you," he says, voice low. He voice has none of that anger in it, not directed at her. He sounds more... worried? Defeated? She can't quite pin it down. "I asked if you were afraid of me. If you thought—if you thought I would do something to our son."

"No—John, never." The lie is effortless and easy, rolling right off her tongue like she hasn't spent the last three days worrying that John might think the best course of option to keep Mary alive is to never let their sons be born.

"Bullshit," he says. "I don't—I. I know you watch the news," he says haltingly. "You're a smart girl, a hell of a lot smarter than me, and I know you saw what those fucking jag-off reporters said we did over there, but that was different. That was—they. No one ever mentioned the live grenades they would bring us. I did a lot of things I'm not proud of—things I never want you to know about, things I never want anyone to know about, but. You had to do bad shit to survive there, and sometimes you had to do bad shit, and you still didn't survive, but I would never, ever, lay a hand on our child. Ever."

"No, John, I don't think—I don't," she tells him again, this time honestly. Mary climbs out of the chair and goes over to John, cradling his face in her hands the way that he does to her when she's upset. "John, baby, I never thought that, not for a second. I know you, John. I know you're a good man, and it never crossed my mind even for a second—it didn't, I swear. I trust you with every fiber of my being, and that isn't going to change."

"You don't know what I'm capable of, Mary."

"Yes, I do, John. You might be stubborn as a bull, sometimes, and one of the biggest jackasses I've ever met when you're in a mood, but you aren't a bully. Even back in high school when I hated you—you were lazy, and irresponsible, and disrespectful—"

"Don't hold back, Mary," he interrupts. "Tell me how you really feel."

"And I could hardly stand to be in the same room as you without wanting to punch you right in your smug, smug face," Mary continues, brushing his hair back a little. "But you never picked on anyone. You didn't shove the other kids in the hallway, and you didn't let your friends do it around you, either. You are honest to an almost disgusting fault sometimes, and even when you think you've got some kind of secret, you don't because you believe that people are as good as you are. It doesn't even cross your mind that Mr. Woodson's wife could possibly blab all over the supermarket about how her husband had to let 'that poor newlywed orphan boy' go."

"I knew that lady had a big mouth," John grumbles, trying to make light of the whole situation. "She can't even remember my name or that I'm not a damn orphan, but that, she remembers."

"Woman doesn't know how to keep her nose to herself," Mary says. "I'm not going to ask why you decided I didn't need to know that you lost your job because, as I just said, I know you. And I know how your sometimes tiny brain works, and I'm very sure there was all kinds of chivalry in there."

"It wasn't chivalry," John insists. "I thought I could get it taken care of before I had to tell you."

"I love you, John, but you are a stupid, stupid man sometimes." She smiles to take the edge off. "You act like this is going to kill us."


"Bad choice of words. You act like this is going to send us to the poor house. We own our house. We have no mortgage on it, so we don't have to worry about that. I have a job—"

"Part time," John interrupts yet again.

"Do we need to go back to kindergarten so you can learn about waiting your turn?" she asks him, raising an eyebrow. John shakes his head, then squeezes his eyes shut because it really isn't a good idea to do that after a head wound. "We're going to be fine. I still have some money from my parents, and you aren't going to be out of a job forever. There's a difference between losing your job because your boss can't afford to pay you anymore and losing your job because you don't do it well or you goof off instead of working."

"You shouldn't have to take care of us," John says.

"Why? Because it's your job to do that?" she asks. Mary will break him of that crap—mark her words, she will.

"Because you work twenty hours a week and then still manage to take care of me when you get home," he says.

"Well," she says, "I guess that just means you're going to have to take care of me when I get home from work now. Just—no cooking. I like our house best when it isn't on fire."

"It was one tiny little fire, and it didn't even set off any alarms," John says. "And I put it out before you even got downstairs."

"And yet, you can stick to cold foods and sandwiches. Nothing that gets cooked or fried or baked," Mary says, laughing.

"What about a stew?" John asks, mock serious.

She thinks about it for a moment and concedes, stepping closer and wrapping her arms around his neck. "Only in a crock pot. I don't trust you with my stove."

"I can't describe how your trust in me makes me feel," he tells her. "When the hell is the doctor going to get here?"

"I think you scared him away," Mary says. "With the cursing."

"You started it."

"Pretty sure I didn't," Mary smiles.

John quiets down—not that he was being loud before, but his entire presence seems to slow down. He wraps his arms around her hips, pulling her closer until he hardly has to lean forward at all to rest his head against her stomach.

"We're having a baby," he says.

Mary brushes a hand through John's hair, marveling down at the man in front of her. "We're having a baby."

John pauses. "I can't believe we have to name my son after your mother."

"You just had to cheapen it, didn't you?"

John's lack of a job is actually kind of a blessing in disguise, in a way. Sure, money is tight as hell, and Lawrence seems to think it's still a small enough town that everyone and their cousin can talk about him and Mary like it's any of their business what either of them do, but he's got about eight libraries' worth of books to read through, and Mary gives him pop quizzes on the most random shit at the weirdest times.

Like halfway through dinner one night, when she's already got him doing flashcards on kill methods in between bites of food. He's got most of a meatloaf polished off and is working his way through the mashed potatoes when she changes tracks and asks, "Name of God in Latin."

"Deus?" John asks after a few seconds.

"Technically, yes. I meant Christ's name, though."

"Christus, right?" John asks as he helps himself to a second helping of meatloaf.

"You have to actually read the journals, John."

"I am reading them," he insists. He is; he doesn't want to leave any of this to chance.

"Well, you're using the wrong kind of Latin, and it's post-Roman, which—just trust me. It's explained in the journals in detail. Say Christo, and you'll be fine. If you try Christus, the demon will smile at you and snap your neck when you turn your back."

"So what I'm hearing you say is that I shouldn't say Christus."

"How did you get through high school without your teachers killing you?"

"You know I didn't even finish high school, right?" John asks, looking up from his green beans.

"Which is why we're only doing Latin," she says, holding up a flashcard.

"Death by fire. What do you mean 'only' Latin?"

"We could be doing Sanskrit, too," she says, setting the rugaru card into the pile with the other correct answers. "Or Aramaic."

"Aren't those dead languages?" John asks, looking up at the new flashcard with Sidhe written on it in big, swoopy letters. "Can't be killed, but you can trap them with cold iron and bribe them with milk."

"That's good, but you have to remember that there are different types of sidhe; some of them don't need to be stopped. And Latin is a dead language, too, John. Demons are old, and so are most monsters."

John wishes he could say that his first ghost hunt was exciting, thrilling, or anything but nine kinds of boring, but it isn't. They spend three weeks combing through records at the library—okay, so it's only about nine days, but it feels like it's three weeks—and find a map to the unmarked plot.

The ghost is tied to a particular spot that is nowhere near his grave, so there isn't even any worry about that.

He and Mary take turns with the shovel. John does most of it because, despite Mary's arguments that she knows what she's doing, he's not about to give his pregnant wife a hernia, and they dig only about four feet before they hit old, rotted wood that splinters instantly under the metal of their shovels. Some salt, a little gas, and a book of matches later, the world is down one ghost. John's hands are throbbing in time with his heartbeat and bloody with ripped skin; he can see that Mary's are, too, though not nearly as bad.

"You'll get calluses soon," she tells him, spilling water from a bottle into his cupped hands and then rubbing them gently once he's gotten most of the blood off. "It'll start hurting less and less, and then soon, you'll be able to dig a standard-sized grave in a few hours without losing a drop of blood from your hands."

"Are the hunts usually this..."



"No," she says. "But you're new, and I've already been thrown into a car and beaten up. And as tough as we know Dean's gonna be, it would be nice to make sure we meet him."

A week later, John gets his ass handed to him by a chupacabra while they're in New Mexico, and Mary laughs at him for a full fifteen minutes.

"You can feel free to knock that off any time, you know," John says, hunching over morosely as Mary cleans at the scratches on his back.

"I'm sorry, sweetie. I just don't think I've ever seen someone actually get attacked by a chupacabra—I mean, they eat goats, and are pretty much dead to the world when they eat."

"So, what?" John asks, looking over his shoulder. "I look like a goat now?"

"No, uh-uh," she starts, pushing John's head forward again less than gently. "I'm the pregnant one here; I'm the one who is supposed to be taking random comments as insults about my looks."

"Maybe I'm sensitive."

"Just shut up and keep pouting."

Mary breaks her hand dispelling a poltergeist in Chattanooga, and John nearly loses his mind.

It's an all-out war, two solid days of screaming and yelling followed by another day and a half of silent treatment from both of them.

"It's a fucking broken hand," Mary snaps, breaking halfway through a terse pot roast dinner. "It's not like I almost got decapitated or killed. I broke a hand."

"You broke you hand so you didn't fall on your stomach," he spits back.

"For the last time," she yells, "I wasn't shoved! I tripped; it happens. It could've happened anywhere."

"I'm pretty sure you're not going to trip over a pile of bones in our house," he tells her.

"No, but I do trip over your boots at least twice a day," she says.

"My boots aren't actively trying to kill you."

"I think I can argue against that."

"You're pregnant, Mary," he says. "It's not just you I'm worried about."

"Yeah, and Dean and I won't matter to you one bit when you go off and die on a hunt because you aren't prepared and I'm not there to tell you what to do."

"Oh, that didn't sound ominous at all," John says.

What's a personal bubble? - BOYS

The Heavens Aligned Against Us (Sounds Like A Fair Fight) 2/4

She corners them in the Dillon's off Main. It's a Thursday, and they're buying steaks to celebrate John's first concussion in the name of hunting. Mary's arguing in favor of a porterhouse, but John, who can't seem to help but be money conscious, even when it's not his money, is trying to get her to just grab the sirloin that's on sale for half the price.

"Do you know how hard it is to find a porterhouse in a grocery store, John? Do you?" she asks. "It's like you're asking me to walk by a cute puppy without petting it."

"You shouldn't pet random dogs, either," he argues. "What if they have rabies, huh?"

"Are you trying to starve our unborn child?" Mary asks him with her most serious face on. She rubs the swell of her stomach. It's still not large, but it's sticking out enough to throw a small waddle into her walk. "Don't you want our baby to have good food, John?"

"He's not going to starve to death on a sirloin."

"What if the sirloin came from a cow with rabies?"

"Why don't we just get ham?" John asks.

"Why don't you two just come over to my place so I can stop chasing you all over hell and back?" asks a new voice from behind them. The owner of the voice is a short, heavy-set woman with dark skin and a glare that reminds John of his drill sergeant at basic.

"You've been chasing us?" Mary asks. That's not possible; she hasn't noticed anyone following her and John, and she isn't nearly as flighty and distracted as she looks.

"Christo," John blurts out. It's true that there's not really a smooth way to slip that into a conversation.

The woman glares at them, but doesn't flinch. He eyes don't blink black, there's no hissing, nothing. "Boy, do I look like I have time for your paranoia? My name is Missouri Mosley, I'm a psychic, and the two of you are five days late for your destiny, let's go."

Neither Mary nor John know exactly what to do. The woman clearly isn't a demon, but they don't have proof she's a psychic, or on their side at all. And they haven't found an angelic equivalent of Christo—short of bleeding themselves in the meat and dairy section.

John tilts his head. Mary raises an eyebrow. John purses his lips and shrugs his shoulder almost imperceptibly. Mary rolls her eyes.

"I swear," the woman—Missouri—starts again, exasperation showing on every inch of her body. "The skulls on you two are so thick they make the Great Wall of China look like a chain-link fence. If you two don't want Sam and Dean to end up right back here again begging to be unborn you will follow me." She turns around and walks right out of the store, not looking back to see if they're following.

"And I heard that," she announces.

They agree to go back to Missouri's house because she's not a demon and Mary's pretty sure if she were an angel she wouldn't've bothered to try and convince them to come with her before trying to kill them. They take their car though, and they both have their guns as well as knives—they memorized the sigil to banish angels pretty much the night of the big attack.

Missouri's house looks normal. Not just normal, but grandma normal, with the thick smell of potpourri and incense filling the house; huge, old-fashioned couches; and vases of flowers decorating tables. It's not exactly what they were expecting, and John is immediately on edge. His grandmother was a mean old lady who raised three mean sons, and John's already on the defensive before Missouri even comes back with tea.

She doesn't say anything to him when she sets his cup down, but the look she shoots him doesn't leave very much to the imagination. He doesn't drink the tea.

John also doesn't sleep for two and a half days after that.

He knows he can't actually feel the notches that trickster carved into his and Mary's bones, but he swears his insides itch.

"That might have more to do with the fact that we have angelic bounty hunters after us now," Mary says.

"You're. Not. Helping," he grinds out.

"I can hit you until you lose consciousness," she suggests.

John rolls over and burrows into Mary's embrace. She runs her hand through his hair, whispering to him. It calms him down until he finally falls asleep.

Nebraska is flat. Flat, flat, flat. John thought Kansas was bad, but he's pretty sure he can actually see his house from here. The thunderstorm they just came through was so bad that John pulled over, and they spent the night on the shoulder because he was half sure they were going to see a guy float by in an ark.

John's opinion of this trip is not improved when they finally hit Lincoln. Caleb turns out to be two people; Caleb, Sr., the one who procures the firearms and is never actually around because of said procuring, and Caleb, Jr., who sells them.

Caleb, Jr. looks like he could possibly pass for legal if he went a month or five without shaving.

"We're buying guns from a kid?" John asks Mary.

"They've got guns and knives and everything you might need to kill anything," she tells him, "and they will know what you use to kill a demon and will, likely, have it,"

"He looks like he just got his license yesterday," John points out.

"Trust me, John. By his age, I'd been driving for years."

"And yet, you still can't tell the carburetor from the transmission."

"Don't need to know how it works, just need to know that it does."

When they finally make it inside and downstairs to the armory, John's cooled off a little. He's still somewhat bothered by Caleb, Jr.—"Just call me Caleb; no one's called me 'junior' in years," —and how young he is, but he's starting to get that it doesn't necessarily mean the kid's inexperienced.

John observes quietly, aware that he's still out of his element and that, for all the training and pop quizzes and hunts he's been on lately, he's still the FNG here. The sheer amount of weapons in the bunker is fairly amazing, and the variety of them awes John a little. There's everything from handguns to rifles and shotguns, actual scythes and sickles, grenades, axes, and John is almost positive that that's an actual tank under the giant tarp in back.

John doesn't really want to think about how they might have gotten a tank down here. He's pretty sure the answer isn't "one piece at a time."

John tunes back into the conversation right after Mary asks what he has that can kill a demon.

"Well, we've got a bunch of exorcisms, but those don't really kill them. They just send them back downstairs to stew for a while." Caleb turns around and starts looking through some papers on the desk next to the elevator. The double peepholes in the door, combined with the elevator and meticulous cleanliness, tell John just why Caleb, Sr. is off buying guns instead of shooting them.

He wants to ask what happened—if it was on a hunt, if he was too slow, not strong enough, and a hundred other things. But he doesn't know this kid from Adam, and, more importantly, John isn't sure he wants to know the answer.

Caleb's still sifting through the papers, moving his discarded ones over the collection of knives to the right of the desk. "I heard there's some guy in California who's working on a holy shotgun—ah," he says, pulling out a large blue piece of paper. "Here it is."

There are two drawings on it: one that looks like a giant, ornate cross with an oversized revolver chamber on it, Top View labeled above it, and another that looks like a standard shotgun with a sight and a few extra bells and whistles on it.

"What the hell is that?" John can't help but ask.

"I know, it's gaudy as hell, and it doesn't exactly hide easy, but it looks like it would actually be pretty useful," Caleb says. "In theory, it should shoot holy water vials, blessed silver bullets etched with little devil's traps, and junk like that—but that's just supposed to speed up the exorcisms, not kill them for good."

"Is there any way to kill one for good?" Mary asks him. "Make sure it doesn't come back?"

"The only surefire, tested way to make sure a demon doesn't come back is to get one more powerful than it to take it out."

"Wait." John says. "You mean that to kill a demon, you should go find another one and ask it to kill your demon for you?"

"No, that would be stupid." Caleb sneers at him. "You summon the demon, bind it, and point it where you want it to kill."

After a minute or so of silence, John tells Mary, "I can't tell if he's being serious or not."

"It makes sense," Mary says, having clearly lost her mind.


"Demons aren't just mindlessly bloodthirsty," Mary explains. "They'd be easier to hunt if they were—so, theoretically, if you can make sure they can't possess you, you can point one towards its competition and let them go."

"Well, there's that, too," Caleb says. "But it doesn't happen as much nowadays—there are only about a dozen or so possessions worldwide every year. But back in the dark ages, we were crawling with them, so sometimes you had to chance getting a dozen people killed to save the whole village. That's why witchcraft used to be so popular—demons and plagues."

"So, to clarify," John starts, "the only way to get rid of a demon and make sure it doesn't come back is to summon one and hope that one doesn't kill you and is strong enough to beat the demon you want gone."

"That's not what I said," Caleb disagrees. "I said we don't have things that kill it. Pop heard about a guy in Colorado, though; word is, he's got a gun that can kill anything."

"The Colt?" Mary asks, and John can hear the capital letters in it. "But that's not real."

"It sure as hell is," Caleb argues.

"No, it's not," she tells him. "My Dad used to tell me all about the Colt as a bedtime story—gun made by Sam Colt under a comet, can kill absolutely anything, yeah, I know that story. And it's fake; no one's ever seen it. It's like the tooth fairy or Santa Claus."

"Hey." Caleb shrugs, clearly annoyed. "If you don't want to trust the weapons dealer about the existence of a weapon, fine by me. Not my funeral."

They head to Colorado.

Manning seems to be just as in the middle of nowhere as it can possibly be, and John can't help but worry about the cost of the gas it takes to drive all over the country—eighty-five cents a gallon in some places—and eating in diners and stopping in motels every night. John gets that Mary can sleep in a car, but just because she can doesn't mean she should, especially with a kid big enough to headbutt her in the lungs when he's mad.

The trip is a gigantic, colossal waste of time and money, and John almost feels like sending his receipts to Caleb for this damn goose chase.

"What do you mean you don't have it? How do you lose something like that?" Mary asks Daniel Elkins incredulously.

"Some punk stole it about a year or two back. He said he was going to leave it at some hunters' place down in Kansas, but when I got there, the place was covered with police. I can't do my job on death row."

And then it's road trip time.


John's starting to get a little sick of these road trips.

They go from Manning, Colorado straight to Albion, Oklahoma, and then to Oxford, Indiana, back to Colorado and some town John's pretty sure isn't big enough for a name, then up to Bellingham, Washington, and then all the way across the damn country to Hollywood, Florida before finally—thankfully, blissfully— being sent over to Blue Earth, Minnesota and someone who is actually some kind of help to them.

John loves Mary, but every day, he hopes the damn recession ends so he can find another job and have an excuse not to chase his tail to opposite sides of the country and back. He keeps finding himself thinking about driving into oncoming traffic just to break the sheer boredom of all that time staring and unchanging pavement.

The preacher in Blue Earth—pastor? father? rabbi? his flock is a giant town of hunters, and he seems to answer to just about anything—is apparently one of a handful of people on the Earth who may have spoken to an actual, real angel before. Either that, or he's some crazy guy like the lady in Tallahassee they wasted their time on last month.

"Yes," the high priest admits. "I spoke with an angel once. He was an archangel, actually: Raphael. He's apparently outgrown his fondness for humans."

"Yeah, that sounds like a real angel," Mary says.

"As opposed to all the fake angels running around out there lately?" the guy asks. John's not really used to men of the cloth having senses of humor—he was raised Catholic, and priests aren't well known for their knock-knock jokes.

"You would be amazed at the things we've seen the last few months," John tells him.

"We saw a guy in Iowa with detachable wings," Mary says.

"And a halo made of pipe cleaners," John adds.

"He smelled like cookies. I liked that one."

"I still think he was an incubus," John says.

"I don't care," Mary says. "He smelled like really good cookies."

"Well, I assure you, neither of the angels I spoke with smelled like cookies," Father Preacher assures them.

"Neither of the angels?" John asks. "I thought you only met one."

"No, I spoke with one once. I have spoken with another a number of times. I'm not sure that he counts entirely, though, as his lone purpose seems to be to act as the voice of God."

There's a silence that follows that, and John doesn't actually have any idea exactly how to respond.

"You have a direct line to God?" Mary finally asks.

"It's more like he has a direct line to me," he corrects her. "My calls seem to ring through as all circuits busy."

"You have a direct line to God," Mary repeats.

"Yes, I do. But only in a fashion," he amends. "He and his angel—the Metatron one, not Raphael—were much more pleasant than I had anticipated from previous experience."

"So theoretically, you might know how to kill an angel, then, right?" John asks.

There's another moment of silence, this time coming from the man. John has to remember to pay more attention during introductions. "Kill an angel?"

"Hypothetically," John says.

"You don't kill an angel," the man shouts at them. "What is wrong with you people?"

"They started it," Mary says. "They tried to kill us first. We're just trying to protect ourselves."

"People die," he says. It's shocking new information, and John thinks he sprains something in his brain trying not to roll his eyes like a petulant child. "They die, and if they are lucky enough, they get ushered to Heaven—"

"Not to break your bubble here," John cuts him off. "But she didn't mean we had a car accident and some guy in a black robe and a scythe came to us."

"An angel traveled back in time and physically tried to murder us," Mary tells him. "I was thrown into a car."

"It must not have been an angel," he insists.

"Pretty sure it was," John says.

"No," he dismisses John. "No, that was clearly an incorrect assessment of the events. It was something masquerading as an angel, I'm sure."

"Listen, guy," John starts.

"Jim," the guy interrupts.

"Okay," John says. "Listen, Jim, I had one of those things inside my head. It was an angel."

"This doesn't sound right. That's not what angels do."

"Yeah, well, that's what these angels did," Mary tells him.

"I must... I must confer," Jim tells them. He then turns around and walks back to his pulpit, turns, and walks away.

John and Mary just stand there for a moment, waiting for something.

"I have no idea what to do now," Mary admits after a moment.

An hour later, Mary and John are eating in a diner down the road. The diner looks normal from the outside, but the inside is a different story. All the drinks come in glasses with matching rosaries dangling out of them and have delicate little hand-detailing that matches the plates. There are incantations painted on the walls like beautiful, flowing designs in more languages than even Mary can understand, and she would bet her last dollar that every piece of silverware is actual silver.

The glass in the windows is double-paned with wards set between the panes, and the entire ceiling seems to be a devil's trap, stretching back to the kitchen, if the portion visible outside of it is anything to go by. Mary's not sure how she feels about all that safety in there; complacency is never safe, and demons aren't the only things that can kill.

Father Murphy is at their table suddenly, and he slides into the booth next to John. He looks shellshocked, and Mary nudges John's foot under the table, trying to get him to do or say something. John shoots her back a look, and Mary holds in a sigh because men are completely useless sometimes.

"How was—" She pauses because she has no idea what the hell he did for so long. "How did your conference go?"

He doesn't answer for a moment, just continues to sit there, staring vacantly at the table.

It gets awkward after about ten minutes, but the only thing more awkward would be attempting to break the silence. Thankfully, the father finally talks.

"It seems that God has placed angels in a time out," he says slowly.

"I'm sorry, what?" John asks.

They stay another two days; it seems like the right thing to do after completely destroying the worldview of a man of the cloth. It's not a particularly useful two days, though, because, really. God stopped talking to the angels. Where do you go from that?
Jim's not sure about angel sightings, either. He says God forbid the angels from coming down, but they've apparently realized that God can't punish them if He isn't talking to them.

"The sightings I have heard about," he tells them, "don't sound very much like what I've experienced. But, then again, yours doesn't sound like mine, either; so there's no real way of knowing. There have been a few more possessions lately, though—mostly here and over in England, but there have been four in Egypt in the last year alone, and none for nearly a hundred years before that."

"Any idea what that means?" Mary asks.

"I don't know." Jim shakes his head. "They don't seem to be any particular set of demons or have anything in common. Just run of the mill possessions: a schoolteacher in Montana, a waiter in Virginia, and a couple of housewives in South Dakota and Florida."

The possessions are interesting in a general way, but it doesn't sound like they relate to their demon, so they leave Jim their number and finally make their way back home.

When they finally make it back to Lawrence, John almost kisses the door, he's missed it so much.

He burns them grilled cheese with raw insides on his stove because he can, then takes a bath with Mary for no other reason than that he doesn't think they'll catch something from the tub. They don't fit as well as they did, and it takes John a few minutes to realize it's because they've been gone long enough for Mary to go from barely showing to not being able to get out of a chair without help.

He makes love to his wife in their bed in their house, and in the morning, he gets chocolate chip pancakes from the diner down the street and brings them to her in bed.

"We are never, ever, ever doing that again," he tells her between kisses. "From now on? At least one night home for every drive across the country."

Mary shoots twice, right bicep to drop his weapon and left thigh to drop him.

The guy—who is not a ghost, a witch, a demon, or anything else but an inhuman human being—falls like a sack of potatoes. He's screaming, like most people with bullet wounds do, and Mary gives him a nice kick to the head for good measure; not hard enough to break anything, but enough to knock him out.

There are still two girls missing, and only this guy knows where they are.

She knows she wasn't in any kind of real danger; just because she's a woman and is big enough that she needs John's help to get shoes on in the morning, it doesn't mean she's helpless. She just proved that; she just shot her would-be kidnapper and managed to get neither kidnapped nor hurt.

The adrenaline is rushing through her veins fast enough to make her jittery and a little nauseous. The nausea might be Dean, though—no one ever tells you that morning sickness isn't confined to morning or that it sometimes doesn't go away. Mary's sort of stuck now, though, because she has a bleeding and unconscious man in front of her, John isn't here, and she does not really need to be lifting that much dead weight around.

She waits at the sidewalk next to the alley she let herself be herded into and waits for John.

Half an hour later, it all goes to hell. The guy is in their backseat, and Mary and John have just found his truck—at least, they assume it's his. It's the only thing around that's big enough to hold a body, and, besides, his keys fit the lock.

"Son of a bitch," John says.

"What?" Mary asks, looking through the guy's stash of fake IDs.

"He's got a fucking devil's trap under the mat, Mary."

Mary leans over, or tries to. Her stomach gets in the way, and she ends up having to walk around. Sure enough, there's a devil's trap, carved in and painted over.

"Shit," she says.

"You shot a hunter."

"Good thing I didn't go for the head, huh?"

Thirteen of the twenty-eight IDs say the man's name is William, so they decide to go with that.

It takes William about an hour to wake up—she still thought he was a serial killer when she hit him with the sedative—and actually be coherent.

The first thing Mary does upon noticing him wake up is say, "I'm sorry I shot you, but you really shouldn't try to kidnap pregnant women. We're hunters, too, so I hope you'll understand the cut and ropes."

"You shot me," he says.

"You're pumped full of drugs," John points out. "You can't actually feel it."

"Bullets. Inside of me," William-the-still-unverified moans.

"Actually, bullets in our garbage can," Mary says. "You're lucky my aim is off; I only hit the meat instead of the joints."

"I can't believe you shot me," he moans again. "I just wanted you not to die. I was rescuing you."

"From my husband," she points out. "Who, might I add, is not a serial killer. He just needs a shave."

"I thought you liked a little bit of stubble," John says.

"It was stubble on Tuesday," Mary says. "Today, it's a beard. Really, I can't blame him for thinking you kill random women; you don't look like you could get a date if you paid for it."

"Hello," William calls out. "Bleeding person tied to a chair over here? Hi, how are you? Remember me?"

William is actually named Bill—which is apparently not short for William.

Hunters tend to have very odd senses of humor.

Bill, for instance, thought it would be funny not to tell John and Mary that his wife greets everyone at the door of their roadhouse—which seems to just be named The Roadhouse—with a shotgun if it's after closing.

Mary pulls her gun in return. Bill's wife, to her credit, doesn't waver, even when presented with Mary's very pregnant belly. Mary immediately respects her, even moreso when she refuses to let up until Bill's inside and safely behind her, giving her what must be some established code for okay.

Ellen drops the shotgun to her side and smiles, her entire demeanor shifting now that she's got her husband back safe. "Come on in; pregnant ladies drink free."

"In that case, she'll have a bottle of whiskey, and I'll have a Coke," John smiles his most charming smile.

Ellen levels him with a look. "I see why Bill thought you were a serial killer. You look like Charles Manson with that damn beard."

Dean Jonathan Winchester comes screaming into the world two and a half weeks before he's due.

They're about forty miles from anything resembling a town, leading a caravan of hunters away from a riot of ghosts that were haunting their old Civil War battlefield—yet another reason why grave robbing is bad—when Mary's water breaks in the front seat.

She doesn't panic; she's read the books and talked to doctors and other mothers, and she knows that it can take hours or sometimes even an entire day from the water breaking until the actual birth.

However, Dean seems to have a hot date he doesn't want to miss. Within three miles, she goes from feeling wet and cold and kind of gross to having stabbing pains from the inside out that barely stop at all.

One hour and twenty-two minutes of screaming later—most of which is done by John because, apparently, no hunter in their little freak parade has actually seen a woman give birth before, and they all keep trying to come over and get sneak peeks—their son is a pink, slimy, roly-poly thing wrapped up in John's favorite flannel and held close against his chest between John's undershirt and his thick leather jacket.

Mary wants to hold her baby, but it's snowing, and she's cold and tired, and her entire body hurts. She's pretty sure she broke something in her left hand from pounding it against the dashboard so hard. Ellen, who had been acting as a makeshift wall for Mary to push against while trying to get her first-born the hell out of her body, takes charge. Within minutes, everyone is back in their vehicles and speeding towards civilization.

Mary is curled around John up front, petting Dean as they huddle around the heater, and Ellen is driving at a relatively sedate pace with Life's Been Good turned low on the radio.

The biggest issue they end up having with telling Dean about Sam is explaining that Mary did not eat the new baby.

She's also not entirely sure that Dean understands the difference between a new baby brother and a new puppy, but she's going to wait until Sam is actually born to start worrying about making sure Dean doesn't try to teach him how to fetch.

Dean is pretty much the most adorable thing ever right now, though. He's taking his job as a big brother very seriously and is incredibly displeased that he has to wait so long for the new baby. Dean still doesn't really have any concept of time—yesterday was Christmas, and Dean's birthday was yesterday, and tomorrow it's the Fourth of July, and the baby is coming in April, and April is tomorrow—so John has a calendar down low on the wall. Every night before bed, Dean gets to cross off another day closer to the big red circle that is Sammy's due date.

It's part of a whole ritual that they have before bed. Mary and Dean have their own little thing that they do, but ever since Sammy decided to start laying in just the right spot to make her legs go numb, John has taken over the job of keeping Dean busy when he's home, which is fantastic. Mary loves Dean with every last fiber of her being, but if she has to chase a screaming, naked four-year-old down the street one more time, she's going to murder John for pissing in her family's pristine gene pool.

He's not a complete and utter terror, though. Part of his and John's ritual is goodnight kisses: one for Mary, and a big kiss to Mary's stomach that is sweet enough to counteract the big kick Sam always gives in return.

It's a very odd thing to know your children ahead of time. There are still mysteries, things like their favorite colors and movies, but there are things other parents sit and wonder about that they just know. They know Dean is going to grow up big and strong, a pretty boy who will break enough hearts that they've already started making sure he knows exactly how to treat a girl.

Mary knows that Sam is going to tower over them all. He's going to have her nose and his daddy's chin, and, if he's lucky, he's gonna get those big, gorgeous dimples of John's to go along with it.

They know that neither one of their boys smiled in the few short hours they saw them, and that both of them preferred the idea of never having been born over staying alive in the horrible situation they were in.

Sam's birth foretells his future as a stubborn little shit who will make everyone worry.

Mary is eleven days past her due date and fairly certain she's going to murder somebody very soon. Dean seems to be of a very like mind and is incredibly angry with her that she hasn't given him the baby brother he was promised. It would probably be adorable if not for the part where Sam has apparently been trained to kick wildly at the sound of Dean's very loud voice.

The hormones don't help, either.

She screamed at Dean last night, which is the equivalent of, well, screaming at Dean. There isn't really a comparison because it's worse than kicking a puppy. Dean watches everyone spar, so spankings don't actually do anything but make him giggle—which the teachers at the preschool don't appreciate—but if you raise your voice, he cowers like a dog who just pissed on the floor. Last night, she screamed for no reason, and she made him sob for trying to sing to her.

Today, Mary's apologizing by letting him play in the big metal kiddy pool John dragged in from the shed. She was playing with him in it earlier but gave up because of Sam; there's only so much kicking she can take before she runs the risk of internal bleeding, so she gave John his babysitting orders and decided to lie out for a while.

She wakes up to contractions and a full body burn because she already owned a bikini and didn't care who saw her big, pregnant belly. As soon as they get back from the hospital, she's going to murder John for not waking her up or putting a towel over her or anything.

They spend three and a half days in the hospital because Sam changes his mind about making his grand entrance to the damn world. Mary fights tooth and nail against a c-section—she doesn't know why, exactly, but something in her gut tells her not to let them cut her open, so she fights.

When Sam finally makes his appearance, there's no screaming. She's half-delirious with drugs and no sleep, but there's no screaming, and she remembers Dean screeching his tiny little lungs out.

Sam is so tiny and sick looking, and they don't even get to hold him for two days because he spends all of his time covered in tubes in the neo-natal ICU. Every possible moment of those two days is spent with the three of them as close to the little fake womb as possible.

Mary and John try not to be worried, try to tell themselves that they saw Sam from the future, and he was big and strong and healthy, but they're changing the future, and she doesn't know how much they're changing it.

Dean is mostly annoyed with Sam for being so tired all the time. They're both too chicken to say it out loud, that Sam is sick and not breathing right, so they just tell Dean that the baby is really, really tired and in a super special crib for special babies.

On the third day, they get to hold him. After Dean throws a tantrum louder and longer than any of the three he's ever had before, they—mostly Mary because she is just too damn stressed out to deal with a screaming toddler right now—decide that Dean can hold the baby, too, but only if there's an adult holding Dean, just in case the baby squirms.

Sam's second picture ever in the real world is him in his big brother's arms while they sit in Mary's lap. She can't keep the smile off of her face, even though she's so exhausted that she's barely upright. Dean is beaming down at his new baby brother like he's better than every Lego and crayon he owns, and Sam's got one little socked foot kicked loose of his blanket in response to Dean's loud whispering of all the things he's going to show him.

It's not until Sam's one week birthday that she realizes he was born on May second. It was technically still April when she went into labor, and then there was so much to worry about after that her brain didn't even consciously register it, but the second she does, her blood runs cold.

She will never forget that day, not ever, even for a second, and as soon as she realizes the date, everything falls into place. It all makes sense now—she knows there's no possible way that Sam just happened to be born ten years to the day after she made that deal.

They already knew it was a demon who was coming, and they knew the date, but now they know it's coming on Sam's six month birthday—there is no way that's just a random arbitrary date, either—and they know that the demon has yellow eyes and makes deals. They're still short a name for the demon, and Mary can't help but feel like she's in some really bastardized version of Rumplestiltskin.

Mary is calm, rational, and perfectly fine. She knows exactly how this all happened now, and that means they're one step closer to fixing it—to changing it. She's completely fine, and she tells John this as he kisses her and brushes something that is definitely not tears off of her face. She doesn't remember Dean coming in, but she knows he overreacted, and there was no reason to make John come home early from work because everything's okay; she only damned her children's lives without even a first thought, much less a second.

That's all. She's fine.

She just doesn't know what to do.

Missouri is back in town a few days later, having missed Sam's day of birth due to a last minute emergency that John still isn't entirely sure wasn't actually about Sam's birth.

She sweeps into the living room in that way she has: utterly natural and completely practiced, guaranteed to grab your attention just how she wants it. John looks up, as completely unimpressed by her grand entrances and sweeping gestures as he always is.

Dean doesn't seem to have noticed there's anyone else in the room. He's even more completely fascinated and focused on the baby than either Mary or John had anticipated. She really thought all the shine and sparkle would fade once the baby actually arrived, but, if anything, it's intensified.

Sammy's asleep in his car seat, content and noiseless. Dean's sitting next to him, staring and occasionally getting his hand lightly smacked away by John every time he leans in to poke at some part of Sam.

"Now that is something you don't see every day," Missouri says, stopped dead center in the middle of the room. "All that power in such a tiny little baby." She makes a tutting noise and shakes her head slightly. "And that brother of his? Even death won't keep them apart."

"What do you mean?" John asks; his voice low and dangerous.

"Boy, don't you take that tone with me," she tells him. "I raised three younger brothers and two cousins; I will not hesitate to put you over my knee."

"No, you don't get to talk about that," John starts, vague because Dean is a smart boy and doesn't need to know everything there is just yet. "About my boys, and expect me to just sit there."

"There are only two sure things in life, John, and you won't be able to stop them from learning about taxes, either. You two keep an eye on the little one; you'll know when to call me."

When November second finally rolls around, John and Mary are as prepared as they can be. It unnerves John a little to have his kids so close to danger, but they don't know what exactly the demon is after, and, in case the demon follows, they can't take the chance of sending Dean over to Mike and Katie's or Sam to Bill and Ellen's.

They all go to sleep early that night because John wants as clear of a head as he can get going into this thing, and he doesn't need to be muzzy from trying to stay up. They know a little more about the demon, but not enough; they still don't know its name or exactly what it wants, and that means they're already five steps behind the program, but that doesn't mean they're about to give up.

They're all stuffed together in one bed. Dean's laying on John's chest, arms and legs akimbo with his pink teddy bear, the one that used to be white until Dean decided the bear wanted to swim and tossed him into the washer, playing double-duty as both a pillow and drool absorber. Mary's curled around John's side, their hands clasped together over Sam's tiny little baby belly, feeling it rise and fall lightly with his breaths.

It isn't even eight by the time they're all asleep.

John wakes up to Mary's ear-piercing shriek of terror. There's a man-shaped thing standing over their bed. It's the demon, he knows it is, and it's bent down low enough that he can see the disgustingly yellow eyes and the sharp, evil smile spreading its face wide. "Hi, there, Johnny-boy," it says. "It's been a while."

Dean and Sammy are awake and screaming now, too, and John knows his part. So does Dean: he scrambles around and climbs on John's back, one hand clamped tight to his other wrist around John's neck, the teddy bear still tucked into the crook of his elbow. John scoops Sammy up into his arms and drops to the ground as Mary pulls out the gun.

There's the loud bang of the gun and then sulfur smell so thick that John gags on it, choking over the taste of matches in his mouth. Then heat, thick and scorching, and there's a crackling sound and Mary cursing. John's already got Dean off his back and pressed into the clean air of the floor before the fire fully registers with his brain.

He calls out Mary's name—he doesn't scream it because he doesn't need to, and she comes clamoring over the bed, tearing at the long line of her nightgown because she doesn't need something limiting her stride. Even in the middle of all this, there's a part of John's mind that's proud he knows that. Mary grabs Dean because it's easier to transfer over a toddler who's scared still than a baby who's scared and screaming.

Dean wraps around her like a baby monkey, arms and legs locked tight, face buried in her hair. John takes just enough time to make sure that they're okay and stable before he takes off for the stairs with Sammy swaddled tight in his blanket and gurgling happily now. All Sam knows is that he's moving and that's good.

John's three steps down the stairs when he hears a thump and Dean's wail. He's back up to the second floor landing before any kind of conscious thought kicks in. Dean's face is red from exertion, he's already got a pretty nice case of rug burn running down his forehead and across his left cheek, and Mary is nowhere in sight. John doesn't remember a giant wall of fire closing off the hallway before, though, so it's not a hard guess where she is.

He makes a split-second decision. He knows his boys will be okay—he knows it deep in his gut the same way he knew Mary was the one for him—but if they lose Mary, they're gonna be doomed to the life Dean tried so hard to prevent.

John pulls Dean to his feet and hands Sammy over to him. Dean doesn't need help holding the baby anymore; he already knows just where his arms go so Sammy's neck doesn't hurt

"Take your brother outside as fast as you can," John tells him urgently. "Don't look back!" Dean's still not moving, rooted to his spot with fear, and John can't have that, can't risk his boys like he's risking himself. "Now, Dean, go!"

Dean goes, and John only stays in place long enough to make sure that he isn't gonna see what John's about to do. He turns and runs through the wall of flames, hoping he's not too late, and stops short on the other side. It's completely black with smoke in a way the other side wasn't. He can't see anything, can barely breathe, and he drops to his knees for cleaner air that doesn't exist, crawling forward and calling to his wife.

Everything is listing to the left. John can tell it, even if he can't see anything but black and dark grey with bits of orange in the corners. The makeshift mask his t-shirt makes is almost completely useless right now, but even that tiny bit of help is necessary. He runs into a wall, the hallway wall, and he knows that's not a good sign. He's over-correcting and trying to move against the spin of the room that isn't actually spinning.

It means he's not getting enough clean air, and that's bad, but he can't give up, can't go back until he's got Mary and she's safe. John's using the wall to pull himself up unsteadily when he hears three rapid fire shots—pop, pop, pop.

It gives John his second wind, and he goes stumbling forward. The smoke is thinner there, in the nursery, and he can see Mary clutching that piece of shit gun. She's shaky and wobbling, and there's a dark red stain on her nightgown, dripping down from her stomach to her ragged, ripped hem.

It's the last thing he sees before everything goes black.

What's a personal bubble? - BOYS

The Heavens Aligned Against Us (Sounds Like A Fair Fight) 3/4

When Mary wakes up, the first thing she notices is the ache in her throat when she tries to talk. It hurts in that scratchy way she's come to associate with having a breathing tube shoved down her throat. She tries to sit herself up, and the reason for the surgery she knows she's just had becomes apparent as pain stabs through her abdomen and stomach like she's being ripped apart from the inside out.

John's there in an instant, one of his big hands pushing her traitorously weak body back to the bed. She doesn't ask what happened. She remembers the demon, the useless gun that she thought would at least buy them some more time, and not being able to move until suddenly she could.

When she tries to talk, her muzzy brain betrays her; it's obviously in league with her body. She knows what she wants to ask, but doesn't have the ability to keep her thoughts in line, to turn them into words. Luckily for her, John knows her inside and out, and knows exactly what she wants to ask.

She makes it as far as John saying, "Sammy and Dean are okay," before she lets out a painful sigh of relief, letting her eyelids droop and her husband's calming voice carry her back to sleep.

The next time Mary wakes up, John's there, and he's got the boys with him. Dean's sitting in the comfortable chair, the one that's all padded with no gaps of space between the arms and the seat, which is good, because Dean's got Sammy in that same fierce, protective grip he's had since the fire. Ellen arrived the night of, before John even got released from the hospital, and Bill got there a day later, coming off a long drive from a quick hunt up north.

In theory, they are supposed to be there for their friends and to help take care of the boys, but Dean refuses to let anyone else hold Sammy and now is officially better at changing his diapers than John is. Given, John currently has one arm strapped to his chest and a doorknob branded into his other palm, so trying to grip anything is an exercise in futility.

Dean still isn't talking yet, but it's only been three days, and John hasn't really felt much of a need for words himself. He can't imagine what it's like for Dean, to be big enough to know something is going on but still small enough not to know what it is. Ellen seems to be helping, doling out apple juice and hot dogs and capturing Dean—and by default, Sam—in big hugs just when his face starts to get all pinched and he starts to shake with the effort not to cry.

"My throat hurts," Mary rasps from the bed, grabbing John's attention immediately. In seconds, he's by her side with ice shavings—Dean's still not big enough for cups without lids, so he's using the straw meant for Mary.

"Are they okay?" she asks. "Where are they?"

"Right here, Mary. They're fine, they're okay. Not even a scratch on them." He brushes away a tear from her eye.

"I want," she starts. She doesn't have to finish; John knows exactly what she needs. Dean's still curled around Sam in the chair, Sammy pulled close to him like Dean's own secret treasure. It takes some maneuvering with just one arm—a bad one at that—but John manages to get Sam into Mary's arms and Dean onto her bed.

"Hi, baby," she says, rubbing Dean's back. Dean burrows in close, hiding his face in his mother's side. "I bet you've been taking care of Daddy and Sammy for me, haven't you?" To John's surprise, Dean answers back.

"Yes, Mommy." He sniffs, squeezing her tight enough that John can see her wince. "I change Sammy's diapers, and I watched how Auntie Ellen makes Sammy his bottles, and I sleep in his crib, too, so he won't get hurt. I can help you, Mommy, I promise. You can come home now."

Mary shushes Dean, then rocks him until they both fall asleep.

Mary knew she had two boys. There was Dean, and then there was Sam, and that was it, she knew it. She was okay with that, and she never really thought about having more kids because she knew she had two.

If she's honest with herself, though, she kind of thought that if she lived, she might have had more. Maybe.

But she knew she was having Dean and Sam, and she had prepared herself for two boys, so she's perfectly fine with not having an option anymore. Clearly, there were only meant to be two Winchester children. And that's okay.

Really, it was a deep, deep wound, and she's lucky that that's all she lost. And she doesn't have to make John wander through the tampon aisle of the grocery store anymore, so that's another plus.

They never actually sit either of the boys down and say, "So, you keep having to learn new addresses because demons want us dead and angels want Mommy to burn."

That would be traumatizing, and no one should take advice from Tricksters—even if they're on your side.

John and Mary never actually sit down and decide on a course of action. They just didn't lie. They told Dean the fire was from a bad thing that wanted to hurt them, but that it was okay because Mommy and Daddy kept them safe and wouldn't let anything hurt him ever.

By first grade, Dean knows there was a him that came back in time, even if he isn't entirely sure what that means. John insists that in a couple of years, he'll show Dean Back to the Future again, and he'll understand it better.

Of course, this doesn't always work because when Dean's seven and Sam's four, Dean convinces Sam that the mall Santa is a demon. So when Mary gets them to the very front of the line, Sam climbs on his lap, shoves his fingers in the poor man's eye, and starts screaming, "Jesus Chris, Jesus Christ," over and over again.

No matter what John says, nothing about that was funny. Sam didn't even use the right language, which is just bad and has the added bonus of guaranteeing that no one in the Winchester household—or the Winchester car because now they have to leave town again for about six reasons—will be speaking anything but very, very old Latin for the next month.

Because if Sammy's going to try to exorcise a demon from the Macy's Santa, he better fucking do it right.

When Sammy is five, they're in New York, and Sam attempts to exorcise a Santa again. He was the only one who hadn't forgotten about Dean's little they're demons who want to eat children thing.

It's a Salvation Army Santa this time. But you better fucking believe his Latin is impeccable, if oddly accented.

Sammy gets his first girlfriend at eight, when they're in Illinois.

He and Ava "date" for three days, which means they sit next to each other at lunch and share their food.

On the fourth day, Sammy gives her half of his peanut butter and marshmallow sandwich—Daddy's on lunch duty this week, so Sammy gets to pick his own sandwiches after Daddy ruins them—and she shares her Pop Rocks with him.

She dares him to eat them while drinking her Coke, and he says no because he knows that's how the one kid on TV's stomach exploded, so he dares her to do it. But then she cheats and triple dog dares him, and you can't say no to a triple dog dare, so he dumps the entire packet of Pop Rocks into his mouth and takes a big gulp of Mountain Dew because he doesn't like Coke.

He can feel them popping and fizzing in his mouth, and he starts to panic because he doesn't want to die, but he can't breathe. But then he has to, and the fizz goes up his nose and in his lungs, and he starts choking, and he's crying, and he doesn't want to die, and he hates dumb, stupid, ugly, Ava.

And then it goes black.

Mommy says he's not allowed to be Ava's boyfriend anymore because she's a bad influence.

Daddy laughs at her and says that Dean snorted a Pixie Stick last week.

"What color was it?" Sammy asks.

"Blue," Dean says excitedly. "But it burned really bad, and Dad says I can't do it again."

Sam doesn't get to say goodbye to Ava because later that night, he wakes up to Mommy carrying him out to the car, and next week he's in school in Mississippi.

On Sam's third first day of freshman year, this time in Chicago, he has some kind of seizure and gets taken to the hospital. Gym has just finished for Dean when word hits his half of the school about the new kid stroking out in the middle of Herschmer's class.

Dean only just remembers shorts on his way out, and he rides with Sam in the back of the ambulance without his shirt or shoes, but with a half-soggy towel. Sam keeps insisting that he's completely fine; he's fine and okay, his head just hurts, is all. That's it. The paramedics don't seem to care what Sam thinks and keep him in the neck collar while they do whatever the hell it is paramedics do.

Dean's worried, and he doesn't think Sam's okay—people don't fall over and start seizing up if they're okay—but he knows Sammy needs him, so he runs a hand through his hair, brushing his choppy bangs off his face. "It's okay, Sammy. I'm here, I'm not gonna leave you. It's okay."

Mom's already at the hospital when they pull up—she's a candy striper or whatever they call it now for this place's cover, and Dean won't ever stop thinking that's hilarious. She can't stand sick people, and whining pisses her off.

Dad's over in South Dakota and hasn't been answering the car phone, so he has no idea what's going on. The nearest person they know is Pastor Jim in Blue Earth, and that is way more than two hours away, so Dean's been stuck in the waiting room by himself with nothing to keep his mind off of Sam and no news about anything. It's the longest two hours of Dean's entire life before he sees his mom again.

The first words out of her mouth are, "Sam's okay," because his mom is a smart woman. Dean lets out a sigh of relief because Sam isn't dying, he's not in a coma, he didn't choke to death on his own vomit or anything.

"The doctors did an MRI—you remember what that is, right? It's where you lie real still and they take pictures of inside your head." Dean wants to snap at her for talking to him like he's five, but he doesn't because she's Mom and she knows him, and she knows he needs small words when Sammy's hurt. "They don't see any tumors or bruises, and they can't find any bleeding. They asked if Sam got into any fights recently, and I told them no. I wasn't lying, was I? Were you and Sam screwing around last night?"

"No, I swear," he says. "We watched TV, and he bitched—complained about school, and, I mean, I kicked him a little, but he kicked first, and it was only the leg, I swear. I didn't hit him in the head or anything."

"It's okay. Dean, it's okay, I believe you. I know you wouldn't lie about this."

"He's been having a lot of headaches lately. Late at night," Dean remembers suddenly.

"He has?" she prompts him.

"Yeah. They're really bad nightmares, and when he wakes up, his head hurts sometimes."

"Why didn't he say anything?"

"He's thirteen." Dean rolls his eyes. "He doesn't want his mom to know he still pisses the bed sometimes."

She just stares at him for a moment, and Dean squirms. He doesn't have anything to hide, but no one can stay still under that stare. It's the one that says I know where your dirty magazines are, and what you keep in your wallet, and why you want fourth period gym. It's a scary stare.

"Dean, why don't you come and talk to the doctors with me?" she finally says. "I think they'll want to know about this, and you seem to know more about it than me."

"Why can't I see Sammy?" Dean asks.

"Sammy's sleeping right now, honey, but as soon as you're done talking to the doctors, you can see him, okay?"

Dean agrees. As much as he hates doctors, he wants to help Sammy, and Sam doesn't tell Mom and Dad half the stuff Dean knows.

It takes about a week for the doctors to diagnose Sam. They think it's some kind of epilepsy right from the start, but there are apparently over thirty kinds of epilepsy, which is news to John because he always thought there was just the one.

They test Dean, too, put electrodes on him and check to see if anything happens when he sleeps. It doesn't, and John can't describe how relieved he is, but it takes four days to find out because apparently Dean is a delicate little girl and can't relax enough to sleep because he knows the electrodes are "gumming up his hair."

John gets to learn about anticonvulsants, like Phenobarbital and Clonazepam, and there's a new sleeping ritual when he and Mary are home. As much as he's sure Sam must hate having to sleep with a fucking baby monitor, Mary is just not okay with not knowing Sam's been having seizures while she was just a couple of dozen feet away.

Sam tries to explain to her that Dean hears him and wakes up, but it doesn't exactly help his cause. In fact, it's the opening shot that triggers the war. It's Franz Ferdinand.

John and Mary have a loud, long discussion over the weekend that involve words like "coddling" and "smothering" and phrases such as "he's a teenage boy, Mary," and "Dean is not Sam's mother."

That last one leads to one of the best and worst week and a halves of John's life to this point, even beating out his first week at basic. When Dean and Mary fight, it's always the highlight of John's year, but there is something a little uncomfortable about his sixteen-year-old son fighting over how to get his thirteen-year-old son back to sleep the fastest.

Sam, for his part, seems to barely notice the fights and arguments surrounding him. The doctors say it'll take a little while for him to adjust to the medicine and to just bear with it until then. John really wishes they had mentioned how very off Sam would act until then. He hates the phrase with a passion, but Sam really is acting like a ghost of himself. His eyes seem to be stuck at half-lidded, giving off the impression that Sam is just one warm blanket away from sleep, no matter what time it is.

Mary and Dean are having a discussion behind Sam—loudly, John might add—and the only thing that shows Sam even has a clue of what's going on is the slight tightness around his mouth. Of course, that might not have anything to do with the fighting. Sam's new hatred and frustration with everything is apparently yet another side effect of the new pills.

The discussion has turned to yelling, with Mary telling Dean that Sam doesn't need two mothers, and Dean yelling back that Sam needs at least one person looking out for him. Dean deserves the smack that Mary gives him, as well as the bright red handprint that will likely decorate his face for the next hour or so.

"I'm going to let that one go," Mary tells him, straightening her back and standing tall. "Because I know that you're worried about your brother and because I know that you aren't stupid enough to think that we pick up and move every three months because I want a pretty new garden."

"I don't," Dean starts. He wisely snaps his mouth shut when Mary holds up her hand in a stopping motion.

"Did I give you the impression that I was done talking? I know that you don't like what the medicine does to him; we don't, either. But I would rather him be exhausted and confused for a couple of weeks than have a cluster of seizures and not wake up."

"I'll wake up," Dean interrupts her again.

Mary stays strong and doesn't waver or back down or let even the slightest bit of what John knows she's feeling show on her face.

"But Sam might not," she says.

Dean struggles, but keeps his back just as strong, jaw clenched tight even though his eyes are clearly watering. "If you keep him on these pills, he's going to hurt himself because he can't tell if he's awake or not."

"What do you mean?" John asks. Sam's sitting next to him at the table and, aside from the way he keeps tiredly poking at his oatmeal, he doesn't seem to look too different from normal.

"I mean he doesn't know," Dean says. "He's been having the same nightmare when he's awake, and now he keeps asking if Max's dad is dead yet."

"He died last night," Sam says. His voice is all monotone and flat, no inflection at all. "Max's uncle is gonna die tonight."

He meets Mary's eyes and doesn't have to say anything. "Sam, who's Max?"

Sam shrugs. "I don't know. He did it, though. They think his dad did it, but he didn't; it was Max."

"Did what, baby?" Mary asks him, taking the seat across from John. "What do they think Max's dad did?"

"Kill himself. Max killed him in the dream. His uncle, too. Thump, drip, drip, drip. His mom's gonna die tomorrow. A knife through her eye into her brain. I'm tired."

The eleven o'clock news leads with the "tragic story" of Roger Miller, who was killed in a freak accident at his home just a day after his brother Jim took his own life in his family's garage. Roger will be dearly missed by his sister-in-law and nephew.

Mary takes just one look at John and says, "No."

"What?" he asks.

"You are not wearing that."

"We need a foot in the door."

"I am not wearing a habit."

"Why not?"

"The last time I impersonated a member of the Catholic Church, things ended badly. We are not going down that road again."

"Come on," he cajoles, sidling up closer.

"If you kiss me with that collar on, I'm demanding a divorce."

"I think you'd look hot all dressed up like a nun."

"I am not, I repeat, not wearing a habit, John. This is why our boys are never going to Catholic school; there is something deeply wrong inside your head."

"You used to be more adventurous when we were kids."

"I'm not making out in any confessionals, either," she says.


Mary has no idea how she lets John talk her into these things. It is a damn good thing she can't have any more kids. Mary's certain that if she could, they would need a bus to get around, which is not actually the best line of thought to be having while dressed like a freaking nun. She wouldn't be surprised if an angel leapt out to attack her right now.

The door is closed but unlocked when they get there. They give it a good half a minute of knocking before they make their way in. The only good thing about John's insanely stupid idea is that if anyone sees them, they won't believe that a nun and a priest were breaking into a house.

Sometimes, Mary wonders exactly how she got to this point in her life.

They've got their guns at the ready, John taking point with Mary watching his six. The living room is empty, but there's music coming from the kitchen, something new and bouncy, turned up loud, and they follow it.

John stops short in the kitchen with a low, "Damn."

Mary leans around John to see what's stopped him and flinches back with a shout of, "Oh my God," that she can't hold in. It's the eyes; she's always had a weak spot for anything happening to the eyes, and that woman, Alice, has a knife sticking out of her head, jammed through her right eye and pinning her upright to the wall.

"What the hell did that?" John asks, even though they both know. She's dead just the way Sam said she'd be. Max is nowhere in sight, and a check of the house shows no hint of him. Mary can't help but be a little bit relieved. She has no idea how or what to do if they found him.

The butcher knife is jammed so far into Alice's skull that it's supporting her bodyweight. Mary doesn't know how Max did that, but she's pretty sure her and John and their guns wouldn't exactly be a match for him.

They hurry home. Missouri is no doubt already expecting their call.

Sam likes it in Oklahoma.

It's a K-12 school, so Sam actually gets to see kids who are his own age without dropping back grades, having to be weird and pathetic and go stalk strip malls like some weirdo, or relying on Dean. If Sam could go the rest of his life without Dean bringing home thirteen-year-olds for Sam to make friends with, it would be a good life. Dean just doesn't really get how weird and creepy he is sometimes or that Sam is not a preschooler in need of a play date.

Given, even at the K-12 schools, most of the kids his age don't really want to talk to him, but there's the chance that someone might. He doesn't have recess, but he shares a lunch with some of the seventh graders, and it's kind of neat because every once in a while, he can sit at a table with other kids who aren't a foot and a half taller than him and halfway through puberty. And, if he's really lucky, he can pretend he's in a different class, and some of them will even talk to him.

That happens less often after the first couple of days, but it's still pretty cool. Guthrie isn't nearly as much of a colossal shit hole as he thought it was going to be.

There's this one kid that doesn't seem to care that Sam is basically a semi-professional nerd, which is pretty cool because Sam has never actually had a friend his age by choice—theirs, of course. Andy's cool, though, and he actually wants to come over when Sam invites him. He doesn't even care that Dean is Dean and doesn't really know how to act like a normal person.

Also, Andy is pretty much the coolest person Sam has ever met—besides Dean—and doesn't get made fun of for being the captain of the debate team, even though it's the debate team. Come to think of it, it's kind of weird how he's the captain because he doesn't really seem to do a lot of work. Sam figures maybe he just has dyslexia or something and doesn't have to write papers.

And Andy even invites Sam home sometimes.

Sam has never actually been over to one of his friends' houses before. It's new, and strange, and weird. Andy doesn't have to ask to bring someone home, which makes sense, Sam figures, because Andy probably doesn't have to make sure his parents don't have their guns disassembled on the table or giant mattress needles and antiseptic ointment everywhere. But, still. Weird.

Andy's dad has dark skin, and his mom is a picture on the mantle, blonde hair and green eyes smiling back from a puffy white dress that even Sam knows is a fashion mistake.

"I know," Andy says, grinning wide. "It's freaky, right? I look just like them. You'd never even know I was adopted."

Sam's eyes automatically dart to Andy's almost sickly pale skin and dark curls. He smiles back a little, not as big because he doesn't think anyone can smile as big and wide as Andy can, except for maybe Dean. "Practically identical," he says.

"You wanna play Super Mario?" Andy asks, his brain jumping topics like it's playing a particularly odd game of leap frog with itself. "My dad just got me the 64; the graphics on it are amazing, man."

"The 64?" Sam asks. There's a niggling at the back of his mind, but he can't quite place it.

"Yeah, the N-64? Nintendo?" Andy's got this look on his face that tells Sam this is probably something most kids his age know. "It came out like a month ago?"

Sam can feel his smile twist into this embarrassed half-grimace look Dean makes fun of him for and he can't help. "We don't really play video games in my family," Sam admits.

"Man, you don't know what you're missing. Come on," Andy insists, tugging Sam's arm and dragging him. "I'm gonna teach you about Mario."

"If it's so new, how did you get it?" Sam asks. Andy's family isn't exactly rolling in money, and even Sam knows that video game systems are expensive.

"Dude, I have no idea." He laughs. "I begged and begged and begged, and he just gave in. I'm pretty sure I'm not getting another present until I turn twenty-three."

Andy's friends don't like Sam. He knows it, and he's okay with it. Most kids Sam's age don't like him; it's just a fact. He's used to it by now. It doesn't bother him.

Okay, so maybe he's protesting a little bit too much. But he's having a bad night, and it kind of sucks to be in a room full of people and know that only one person actually wants you there.
Tracy's there, though. That kinda sucks.

Tracy doesn't seem to like Sam very much, and the feeling is mutual. It might be because she keeps asking him things like if Andy talks about her and if Sam thinks he likes her, and Sam can only just barely care less about whether Andy likes her.

The night could be worse, though. There's only general awkwardness, for the most part, plus the guy with the mohawk and the kid with the weird bug eyes glaring at him and snickering to each other all night.

He likes Andy, but Sam is nothing less than ecstatic when Dean finally comes to pick him up and take him home.

A month later, it all goes to hell. That nightmare that didn't feel like a nightmare comes true.

It starts with a baseball bat to the back of his head.

By the end of the night, Sam has a skull fracture, six cracked ribs, his jaw wired shut, and a shattered cheekbone.

Dean has a dislocated shoulder, a black eye, and a bullet lodged into his jaw.

Mom and Dad don't share details with Sam, but he knows that Andy's bug-eyed friend—who is apparently his twin brother, what the fuck—tried to kill him. Dad's bootprint across Dean's face is the only reason Sam still has a big brother, but it's also one of the reasons they're sneaking out of the hospital and the state.

Sam stops trying to make friends after that.

Sam has been pretty depressed lately; Dean can tell. Mom and Dad might not be able to see it, but Dean can. He's been off lately, not smiling for real, just that stupid fake one he puts on when Child Services come out to check on his latest black eye—and that last one was all Sam's fault because he slugged Dean first.

Besides, Dean got punished for it; ten fucking miles before the sun rises is more than enough punishment in Dean's opinion.

But that's not the point. The point is that there's something wrong with Sam, and he won't tell Dean. He just goes to school and comes home and goes to sleep. Dean would think it was mono or something, but, well. That's how the last black eye started, so he's pretty sure it's not that.

He's going to figure out what it is, though, because he can't stand it when Sam's all messed up. It makes him feel like he's fucking up.

Dean knows it's not a succubus, at least. They've shared rooms in the last couple of houses, and there haven't been any creepy noises at night except for the occasional bout of awkward sniffling coming from Sam's side of the room. Dean doesn't think it's growing pains, either, because Sam doesn't seem to be in pain. Except for his eye, of course.

Dean's gotten so damn desperate that he actually tried to talk to Sam, asked him what got his panties in a knot and everything. Not that he got an answer, but still. Dean will be fucking damned if he lets Sam go on like this another second longer.

"Rise and shine, fuck-face," Dean calls, throwing himself down on Sam's bed and, by default, on Sam. "It's four in the afternoon, dude. I know teenagers are supposed to be lazy little asses, but you're gonna start growing roots here in a minute."

"Get off of me, you asshole!" Sam yells, shoving Dean off the bed.

"Hey, watch it, Sammy! You break it, you bought it," Dean complains.

"That doesn't even make any sense, Dean." Sam sneers at him. "Leave me alone. I'm sleeping."

"No, you aren't. You're moping over something," Dean argues. "What is it?"

"I'm not moping." Sammy burrows further down under the covers, curling himself into a tight little ball like a potato bug.

"Are, too. Come on, Sammy. Sam. Sam. Sam. Sammy. Sammy. Saaaaaaaammmy," Dean whines, poking at Sam's back.

"Leave me alone," Sam roars, kicking out at Dean and catching him right in the chest. Dean uses it to his advantage, grabbing Sammy's ankle and yanking it towards him. Sam tries to kick his foot loose again, grasping at the edge of the mattress to secure his position on the bed. Mom always said Dean got his thick skull from their dad, though, and he's not about to give up that easily.

"Sammy, I swear—man, you fucker—let go," Dean yanks hard one more time with his feet planted against the frame of the bed for leverage. The mattress slips and dislodges Sam, and Dean takes advantage of it and Sam's complete and utter lack of anything to hold on to in order to grab him around the waist, pulling him off the bed—and the mattress off the box spring—and tackling him to the floor.

"Okay, listen up," Dean tells him. Sam's pinned underneath Dean, but he's still got an arm and both legs free, and he's using that to his advantage, digging a thumb right into the hinge on Dean's jaw—motherfucking pressure points, fuck—and trying to get a leg free enough to kick him or knee him somewhere. Probably somewhere soft that will hurt a lot, knowing Sam, the fucking cheater. "Stop!" Dean yells. "Sam, quit it!"

And Sam does. Dean has no fucking clue what Sam sees, but Dean's taking it as a really good sign that he's not trying to escape or fucking use any of his lame-ass pressure points on him again. "Sammy, come on," Dean pleads. "You gotta tell me what's up with you, man. And don't say it's nothing because you've fucking always hated sleeping, and now it's all you do."

"I don't hate sleeping," Sam denies.

"You were the only eleven-year-old in the world who was afraid he wouldn't wake up if he went to sleep." Dean brushes Sam's bangs back off his face. They're getting too long again; Mom's gonna have to trim them soon before Dad gets out the buzzers while Sam's sleeping. "You gotta tell me what's wrong with you, Sammy. I can't fix it if I don't know what to fix, okay?"

Dean can feel Sam's chest rising and falling below his, his breath coming harsh and fast. "Sam?" he tries again.

Sam's face scrunches up, and before Dean knows what's happening, Sam's crying, big, broken, messy sobs with tears and snot. Then he's hyperventilating, his breath hitching in and in and in and nothing going out. Dean's off him in an instant, shoving at the mattress and pulling Sam up till he's halfway between lying and sitting. He wraps his arms around Sam, pulling him close like he used to when Mom and Dad had to go on a hunt and Sam would get scared.

Sam wraps his arms around Dean's stomach, pressing his face close to Dean's neck, tears and spit wetting the shoulder of Dean's shirt—not that he cares—and sobbing against Dean.

Dean doesn't know what to say. He still doesn't know what's wrong, but he feels this small, kind of disgusting bit of pride that he was right, that he knew something was wrong with Sammy when Mom and Dad didn't notice. He runs a hand through Sam's hair, trying to be as soothing as he can, like Mom used to do when he was little. The other hand is smoothing down Sam's back, shoulder to hips, over and over in a repetitive motion that helps calm Dean as much as it helps Sam. Dean can only be patient, just sit and wait for Sam.

"Sam, come on," Dean begs quietly. "You're scaring me, kiddo." Sam can't seem to pull himself together, though; it's like Dean flipped the release lever on the dam, or whatever it is that controls the water in there, and now that Sam's started, he doesn't seem to be able to stop. "Sammy, come on, breathe for me."

"I-I-I am," Sam stutters. Dean can't help but laugh at that a little. Sam still being a stubborn ass means that whatever's going on isn't completely hopeless.

"Okay, well, then breathe deep breaths for me, smartass," Dean says. "If you pass out like a girl, I will never let you hear the end of this ever. I fucking promise, got me?"

Dean can feel Sam nod against his chest and try to breathe—three quick inhalations and a hold, followed by a quick, shuddering exhale. It's slower after that, like Sam's making a conscious effort to do what Dean says.

"Better?" Dean asks him. Sam nods again, hums an 'mmhm' against his chest and nothing else. "Sam, you gotta tell me, okay? You have to. I'm not gonna rat you out to Mom or Dad or anything."

"Pinkie swear?" Sam asks, holding up his hand, pinkie extended. Dean's pretty sure Sam isn't still five, but if it matters that much to him it's not like it will kill Dean.

"I pinkie swear," Dean says, wrapping his pinkie around Sam's and shaking on it. "But," Dean adds, "if I think you're gonna do something stupid like hurt yourself, you better believe I will snitch you out so fast your fucking head is gonna spin, you get me?"

"Dean—" Sam starts.

"No," Dean cuts him off. "Sam, I am not kidding. I want you to know this: I would rather you hate me for your long, long life than trust me until you shoot yourself in the head, okay?"

"I'm not gonna hurt myself, Dean," Sam tells him.

"Yeah, well, I'm sure that you can understand why I'm not jumping to believe that, can't you?" Dean asks. Sam doesn't say anything, doesn't do anything. He just sits there, leaning against Dean's chest, the fingers of his right hand idly playing with the hem of Dean's flannel. "Sammy, come on. You know you can trust me; I'm too fucking stubborn to go rat you out to Mom and Dad without trying to fix it myself, you know that. You can't deny it; you're the one who keeps telling me I'm so stubborn."

"I think..." Sam trails off. Dean tries hard not to say anything. He knows he's got to play a waiting game with Sam here. "I-I don't think. I don't think I like girls," Sam whispers. The words are so rushed and mumbled together that it takes Dean a minute to make sense of it.

"What do you mean you think?" Dean asks before he can stop himself. Sam starts crying again—not nearly as much as before, but enough that Dean aches—and he pushes away from Dean. Dean has to stop him, pulls him close again because that's not it, he doesn't mean it like that. "No, Sammy—Sammy, stop it. I didn't—not that. Not that, okay, Sammy? I just—how don't you know?"

"I don't know, okay?" Sam says, exasperated. He's trying to push Dean away again, but Dean's not about to let that happen.

"Knock it off, bitch, I'm not letting go!" Dean tells him, pinching at his neck. He can do this, he can. Sam needs him, and Dean's gonna be there for him because fuck knows, no one else is going to. "Quit trying to escape."

Sam's crying still, or maybe again. He might have stopped while they were shoving at each other—Dean's not really sure. It's not sobbing, though; it's quiet tears, and Dean can only tell he's crying because Sam keeps reaching an arm between them to swipe at his face. "I'm not escaping."

"Damn right you aren't," Dean agrees. "Because I'm not going to let you." They sit there for a moment, neither one of them talking. Dean's not exactly sure what to say. He's really bad at the sharing and caring shit that Sam seems to love so fucking much, but he knows he's got to suck it up for Sam because Sam needs him now, and he doesn't seem to have anyone else to talk to about this. "So," Dean starts awkwardly. "You think you're gay?"

"I'm not a fag," Sam says, and Dean socks him right in the arm, hard. "Ow, Dean—"

"I know you don't talk like that about other people, so you sure as fuck aren't allowed to talk about yourself like that," Dean says. "Do it again, and I swear I'm gonna give you another black eye. And this one is gonna hurt twice as much."

"I'm not," Sam insists.

"I don't care if you want to fuck fucking... flashlights or something weird like that. It doesn't matter," Dean tells him sincerely. "You're still my little brother, you're still my Sammy, and nothing you can ever do is gonna change that."

"God, you're such a girl," Sam sniffs, laughing weakly.

"Yeah, well, what can I say? I'm one hell of a wicked hot lesbian," Dean jokes, laying on the thickest Boston accent he can.

"Boston was three schools ago, Dean," Sam tells him, rolling his eyes and smiling a little bit.

"That doesn't mean I'm not still wicked hot," Dean argues.

"I think you mean wicked lame," Sam says.

"Oh, yeah, because that was such a killer insult, wasn't it?" Dean teases him.

They bicker back and forth for a few minutes before calming down and trailing off, neither one of them mentioning the elephant in the room, the soaked shoulder of Dean's shirt, or the way Dean's hand hasn't left Sam's back yet.

"I—there's this guy in one of my classes," Sam starts. Dean can hear the shame in his voice—he's really damn familiar with that particular emotion—and gives Sammy's shoulder a squeeze, making sure he lets Sam know he's still there. "He's got blond hair and these... his eyes..." Sam trails off. He clears his throat and starts again. "He's got really nice eyes."

"Yeah?" Dean asks him.

Sam sniffs, chokes a little and starts coughing, and sniffs again. "Yeah. They're blue, but like, this... really. Uh, really pretty kind of blue," Sam's fumbling over his words, and Dean can tell he's embarrassed; it doesn't exactly take a fucking rocket scientist to figure it out.

"Hey, if chicks can have pretty eyes, so can dudes," Dean tells him. "Gotta admit, I'm a little ashamed that you're checking out his eyes, if you know what I mean, but I guess gay dudes got it tougher. There ain't exactly a dude equivalent of a Wonder Bra, if you get my drift."

"You're so fucking gross, Dean," Sam says, but he's laughing anyway.

"Whatever, bitch, you love me for it." Dean rolls his eyes. "Come on, tell me more about this dude. What's his name?"

"It's... his name's Jeremy," Sam says, still leaning into Dean. "But everyone calls him Captain America because of, like... I don't know, he looks like him or something. I don't get it. He's really nice, and he's on the basketball team, and he just... I don't know. I-I think about him sometimes. And I know I shouldn't, but I do. I can't help it, I don't—"

"Hey. Hey, Sammy." Dean cups Sam's face in his hand and pulls him closer. "Quit it. As long as you aren't jerking it in class—"

"God, Dean," Sam groans. "You're disgusting."

"Hey, I'm just saying," Dean continues. "There's nothing wrong with a little bit of five finger shuffle. Don't matter who you're thinking about when you do it, just so long as it isn't anything creepy like dead animals or something."

"I hate you so much," Sam groans.

"Yeah, you do, 'cause you know I'm right," Dean says. "You're just being a big ol' girl about nothing, and you know it. No one cares whether you like tits or not."

Sam scoffs, and that easiness between them is gone again in an instant. "Somehow, I think Dad isn't gonna react exactly like you did."

"Dad won't care, Sammy," Dean says. "As long as you're not fucking some siren or something, he's not gonna care."

"Yeah, okay," Sam says. Dean knows Sam doesn't believe him, and not just because that was about the most sarcastic thing he's heard from Sam since puberty hit and he finally got mouthy. "I'm sure he's gonna be thrilled that his failure of a soldier doesn't wanna make out under the bleachers with cheerleaders. That he'd rather be under there with the fucking captain of the football team."

"I'm telling you, Sammy, you're having this big, huge freakout over fucking nothing. Dad isn't gonna give half a shit about it, and Mom's just gonna be fucking relieved that she won't have to worry about you knocking up any chicks. Hell, they might already know."

"That's not funny, Dean," Sam tells him.

"What makes you think I'm joking? Between Miss Mosley and Pastor Jim and their psychic angels, I wouldn't put it past them to already know."

As it turns out, that was pretty much the wrong fucking thing to say.

It takes another twenty minutes or so before Dean can actually calm Sam down again. Dean should probably just learn to keep his fucking mouth shut. He really thought that might be kind of comforting and not anything that might induce a fucking panic attack of epic fucking proportions. He's pretty sure that Sam faked it, though, just so Dean would do that fucking begging thing he does where he promises Sam anything, just so long as Sam fucking stops. Crying. Now.

Which is exactly how Dean finds himself telling their parents about Sam. Sam is a whiny, crying, sneaky, underhanded little bitch, and Dean wouldn't put it past him for a fucking second to have planned that stupid little funk of his specifically so Dean could do this. The fucker.

This is not a conversation Dean wants to be having with his parents. It doesn't even involve him, but maybe if he tells Mom, he can get her to tell Dad for him. Well, for Sam. Something.

Sometimes, Dean fucking hates his life. But he has a plan.

"What's for dinner?" he asks, lifting up the lid of the pot on the stove. Ooh, spaghetti, yum.

A hand smacks the back of his head; at the same time, a spoon raps across his knuckles. "Don't you dare think about it, Dean. You'll eat the whole thing, and then I'll have to cut you up and use you as dinner. And you're too stringy to get anything good."

"Wow, Mom." Dean rolls his eyes. "Thanks so much for that. Glad to see how much I'm worth to you. Did it ever cross your mind that maybe I'm so stringy because you starve me?"

"Raising two growing boys is expensive; that's why we decided you had to fend for yourself. Don't know how you keep finding your way back here, though." His mom smiles at him.

Dean gives her his best baleful look, as sad and pathetic as he can get.

"Oh, please," she scoffs, laughing and shaking her head. "You are nowhere near as good at that as your brother is, and I'm immune to his, too. If you are really, absolutely, one hundred and ten percent, about to gnaw off your arm starving, you can eat an apple."

"But I don't like apples," Dean complains. All they have are the gross green ones, and they don't taste as good as the red ones.

"Well, then I guess you aren't that hungry then, are you?" she points out.

"You're a mean mom," Dean tells her, still trying his best pout.

"The meanest," she agrees. She grabs his face in her hand and squeezing, turning his pout into an over-exaggerated fish face.

Dean yanks his head back, a little embarrassed even though there's no one else around. "Mom," he groans. "I'm not a little kid anymore."

"And yet, you keep acting like you're that little five-year-old who kept insisting that the cookies tasted much, much better if he ate them before they were cooked." She smiles.

"They do," Dean insists.

"Until you eat so many you throw up," she reminds him.

"I was five," Dean points out. "And you shouldn't have let me eat that many."

"How else was my little cookie monster ever gonna learn, huh?" She coos at him, petting his face.

"You do know that I could legally get drafted now, right?" Dean asks.

"I went through nineteen hours of labor and then changed your diaper for two and a half years; I'm allowed to call you anything I want."

"Isn't it bad enough that I'm named after Grandma?" Dean asks.

"Just think, if the you from the future had thought that through, it might've been Sam that was named after my mom."

"Oh." Dean rolls his eyes. "So I get punished because the other me is an idiot?"

"I could've named you Deanna," Mom points out in that helpful way she has.

"Thanks," he says flatly. "That's a great big help. And I've heard the story before. You did not go through nineteen hours of labor with me."

"We condensed it," she says. "So you wouldn't know that all those chores we made you do were reparations."

"Cute," he says. "When is dinner going to be done?"

"About ten minutes before I put it on the table," she tells him.

"You aren't nearly as funny as you think you are," Dean says.

"I'm even funnier," she insists. "And dinner should be done in a couple of hours, so eat an apple, go bother your brother, and don't you dare even think about touching the garlic bread."

"Fine, I'll go find something else to eat." Dean pouts again. "Oh, almost forgot, Sam's gay, tag," he says, smacking her arm lightly as he hurries out the door. "You get to tell Dad."

John will not care even half of an iota that Sam is gay, Mary knows this. He loves his boys with every last fiber of his being to the point of near-smothering.

He will, however, have an issue with being told last. And by his wife.

John has a thing about secrets. He considers them lies, and he believes that lies have no place in the family, not when they have to lie so consistently to everyone else in the world. He's very black and white when it comes to this, and he won't understand how Sam hiding it is any different than, say, Dean hiding the bruised spleen he had last year or the ribs he swore weren't cracked last week.

And because Mary knows her husband better than he wishes most of the time, she also knows that he's going to be hurt that Sam didn't want to tell him himself. She understands only because Dean explained it to her, and she will admit that even with knowing why, it still stings. She aches for her baby boy, that someone out there made Sam hate himself so much that he's sure everyone else will, too.

Just as soon as she can—as soon as Dean gives her the all-clear that Sam isn't going to try an pull his stubborn "Mom, I'm not a baby" crap—Mary is going to sit Sam down, hug him close, and make sure he remembers that there is not a single thing at all in the entire world that can make any of them stop loving him, even if he doesn't love himself.

Well, except maybe if he started rooting for the Missouri Tigers.

What's a personal bubble? - BOYS

The Heavens Aligned Against Us (Sounds Like A Fair Fight) 4a/4

Sam does not have a good record with firsts.

His first girlfriend tried to make his stomach explode for fun, his first kiss ended up with him splitting his lip open on the other boy's braces, and his first boyfriend gave him a black eye. It was only the one time, though—Sam socked him back twice as hard and then let Dad and Dean go say hello to him as long as they left their guns at home.

Sam's fairly sure that when he loses his virginity, it's going to end up with him in the hospital. Somebody might even die.

So, by that reasoning, it's totally a good thing that Sam is surrounded by guys who are two years older than him and generally consider him to be a baby. And are straight.

A really, really good thing. Really.

Dean's taking out the trash when he catches them. He's the only one home; Mom and Dad are out doing research, and Sam's supposed to be at the fucking library, which was the entire reason Dean let him borrow the fucking car.

At first, that's all he sees, just the car parked out back where there aren't any lights. He has every intention of scaring the crap out of Sammy, and just, he doesn't even think about it, about why the lights aren't on or why Sam is sitting in the dark.

When he gets to the window, though, he sees. Sam's not alone, and he seems pretty preoccupied at the moment. Dean's got this instant, quick flash of anger because Sam should fucking notice him.

He doesn't, though. Sam seems completely absorbed in whoever he's got pressed against the seat, and, okay, it's not like Dean was expecting it to be a girl in back with Sammy, not really, but it's one thing to know Sam's gay and another to see some pretty irrefutable proof of it.

They're making out. Sam's got one hand cupping the guy's jaw, tilting his head back and, damn. Dean will admit he's kind of proud because if the moaning is anything to go, by his scrawny geek of a brother has got some pretty good technique.

The kid slams his head back with a loud, "Fuck," that Dean can hear clearly from where he's completely not crouching in the bushes. Dean hadn't really been looking before, hadn't even thought of it, but he can see Sam's arm and elbow moving up and down, up and down. He knows what that means, but his brain can't really comprehend his little brother jerking some kid off in their backseat. Sammy's got his head tilted down, staring between them, and that's too much for Dean. He's about to go, give them their privacy, but—

But the kid, the other boy, he shoves Sam. Before Dean has even completed a fucking thought, he's nearly at the door and is milliseconds from getting it open and hauling the guy out—no one gets to shove Sammy around like that but Dean—when his brain thankfully, finally, catches up with his eyes.

Sam's flat on the seat now, and the guy's got his cock out, jerking it fast and staring down at Sam. It's just a healthy curiosity that has him looking, just pure curiosity, and that's it. Curiosity about the guy, not about Sam, or how Sam's head is tilted back or how he's panting and squirming, digging his fingers into the guy's thighs as—holy shit—the guy comes all over Sam's face.

That's just not something Dean wants to see—really, it isn't—and he tears his eyes away and catches the other kid staring straight at him. Or, at least, he would be, but he's got his head angled just enough that his brow catches the light to throw a shadow over his eyes. It's a weird shadow; there's some glint of something, and Dean can't tell if the guy is squinting or just has one of those stupid eyebrow rings, but then the kid lifts his head and stares Dean down, straight on. He's got this smirk on his face, and a cold shiver goes down Dean's back, the hair on the back of his neck standing on end.

Dean turns tail and runs, like he should have done in the first place.

When Sammy comes back in about half an hour later, Dean very carefully doesn't bat an eye. His mind might be screaming a million different things at him, but he's still cold from his shower, and Sam's a sensitive little flower who will start crying if he thinks Dean doesn't like him anymore. Or something else stupid like that.

Dean greets Sam with a nod on his way to the shower.

Dean does not sleep well that night. He takes three more showers and an extra long one in the morning and still manages to leave enough hot water for Sam and his wannabe Rapunzel locks.

Dean packs Sam up around noon and drives them to the Planned Parenthood three towns over—the nearest one, motherfucking Bible Belt—and tells them to test Sam for everything. He even gets himself tested, too, just in case. Sam protests, stomps and glowers and says he hasn't done anything to get tested for.

It takes most of Dean's willpower not to smack Sam across the face; that doesn't even deserve the fucking dignity of a punch. He's not sure if it's more for lying to Dean's face like that or for being stupid enough to actually think he's telling the truth. Dean just glares at him instead with the most pissed off glare he can manage. Sam's angry and looks scared, and all Dean can feel is satisfaction, because that bastard should be scared.

The nurse or doctor or whatever she is tells him the results will take from days to weeks depending, and he tells them to ask for him when they call. In all honesty, Mom will probably be relieved that Dean is at least pretending to be responsible.

They stop at a Wal-Mart on the way home, and Dean buys Sam two boxes of condoms and three different things of lube. He has no idea what Sam prefers and would rather gouge out his eyes with wooden spoons than ask, so he figures variety is good for the soul or whatever.

"If your dick goes near someone else, you wear a fucking condom. If someone else's dick comes anywhere near you, they wear a fucking condom. I don't care if it's a fucking handjob," Dean tells him. "If anyone's dick goes near anyone's skin, you wrap that shit the fuck up, okay?"

"I'm not stupid," Sam informs him, rolling his eyes and slouching low, trying to hide in the middle of the aisle. Dean only just barely refrains from calling Sam on his shit. Sam is exactly that stupid, and that's why Dean let some mean old lady swab his dick and stab him with a needle.

"You're fifteen; you're exactly that stupid. Do you know the kind of shit that can happen to you? HIV, herpes, syphilis, gonorrhea, the clap—"

"Gonorrhea and the clap are the same thing, Dean." Sam scowls.

"So you do have a brain! I was beginning to wonder if you just copied off a lot of smart kids."

Sam doesn't say anything until they're back in the car. When he does, it's quiet and proceeded by a small sniffle. "I thought that out of all people, that you wouldn't think that just 'cause I, you know, that I'm gonna go... go slutting around with random people."

"Hey, fuck you," Dean says. "There is nothing wrong with slutting around; it happens to be one of my favorite pastimes, even—especially if there are random people involved. But I'm smart enough to wrap my shit up. But you, you—" Dean cuts himself off.

Dean can't even form coherent thoughts right now. He's pissed that Sam has the fucking audacity to act like Dean's being a bad guy, and he's pissed that he has to be a bad guy. "You know what, Sammy? The next time you 'go to the library,' do me a favor and try not to jizz all over my car, okay? Because if I never have to clean your junk off the back seat again, it will be twenty years too soon."

The mortified silence in the car in nearly deafening, which is a phrase that Dean never got before but completely understands now. The rest of the drive back is in silence. Really, the only way that could have been more awkward is if Dean had actually come out and said he watched some guy jerk off on Sam's face last night.

Though, of course, thinking about that doesn't really help.

It's a long ride back.

It starts with the nightmares. They're bad and constant, and Sam wakes up scared—terrified, really, and shaking and crying.

Sam knows that Dean doesn't care how old they get; he's never, ever, ever going to be able to ignore Sam when he's crying, no matter what. There's just something in him that makes him need to make it better. Sometimes, that's annoying, but after the nightmares, sometimes all that will make it better is Dean, climbing out of his bed and into Sam's, shoving him close to the wall and curling around him so that Sam knows he's there, that Dean will keep him safe and protect him, just like he promised he would. Just like he always has and always will.

Sometimes, Sam will follow the rules; he'll lay there quietly and let Dean curl against him, let Dean comfort him, let him do that thing where he brushes a hand down Sam's back, over and over, a nice, repetitive motion to lull him to sleep.

But... but sometimes, Sam needs more. Sometimes, it isn't enough to just sit there quietly and calm down. Sometimes he needs to talk, has to tell Dean what he sees: the small, scrawny boy with all the bruises and the man petting him that makes Sam's skin crawl. The other boy, a tall one with a name Sam can never remember, strapped to a white bed in a white room with a bite-guard in his mouth and little electrodes stuck to his head that burn and hurt and spark in ways Sam knows they shouldn't.

Sometimes, Sam has to talk it out, has to open his mouth and let the stories tumble out gracelessly, get them out of his brain and into the world. He has to share them with someone else because they scare him so badly that sometimes, Sam wakes Dean up first, and Dean has to go get new sheets from the hallway. Sam's too ashamed to get them himself, but he has no shame with Dean.

Sometimes, the talking isn't enough. Sometimes, Sam burrows closer to Dean, fists a hand in Dean's shirt or the waist of his jockeys, and fits himself as close as he can to Dean. So close that the sharp slope of Sam's nose wars with Dean's and smushes and slides into Dean's cheek, the chapped skin of their lips pressing together, firm but not tight. Sometimes, Dean tilts his head and breathes into the kiss, slow and soft. Sometimes, Sam's tongue teases its way out, brushing against Dean's lightly while Sam's body shakes with leftover adrenaline and something else he doesn't know well enough to name.

They don't talk about it. Dean doesn't talk about the way Sam's fingers dig into his hip or how Sam touches himself sometimes during. Sam doesn't talk about how he can feel Dean, low against his stomach, pressing in, or how he likes the wet, sticky feeling there after Dean rocks against him.

He and Dean have already been kissing for a while by now, mostly late at night, in the dark and quiet where they can pretend nothing's really happening, that they aren't rubbing against each other and touching themselves. There've been lots of long, long nights spent panting into each other's mouths, tongues flicking over lips as they pump into their own fists, whimpering and moaning for each other.

This night starts out differently at first: no nightmare, no shaking, nothing like that. Just Sam, itchy and restless, his dick stiff as his hips rock against the bed, fantasies of Dean running through his mind—Dean pressed up behind him, Dean covering him, Dean kissing him, Dean touching him.

And then Dean's there, and Sam mostly thinks he's still in his head until Dean crouches low, one hand on the small of Sam's back and another pushing Sam's hair out of his face, and asks if he's okay. Sam's fantasies don't often tend to involve Dean thinking he's having a nightmare; that's just embarrassing. He takes advantage, though, and pulls Dean down on the bed with him.

Their door is still wide open, but it doesn't really matter because it's just them at home anyway, all alone for at least another few hours. Sam's back is plastered against the wall, and Dean's ass is half hanging off the bed because Sam's fucking knobby knees keep jumping up, smashing into Dean's and making him flinch back.

They're still mostly clothed. Sam's only got the button on his pants undone, and Dean's jeans are unzipped and shoved down, his underwear tangling with them right at the bend in his knees, where Dean left them after he ran out of patience.

There's no clinging this time; it's not the middle of the night, there are no tears, and Sam doesn't need comforting from horrible images in his head that might be real. They're brackets right now, knees tangled together, foreheads pressed close, and everything in between as far apart as they—Dean—can manage.

But that's not enough for Sam anymore, and everyone always tells him that he thinks too much before he does things anyway. Sam can feel the sweat on his forehead where it's pressed against Dean's, and he thinks, he does, before he leans forward, mouth tilting just right—up and to the left—to catch Dean's mouth.

And then Sam is kissing Dean when other people are still awake in the world and, even better, while Dean is touching Sam. It's just a small touch—a hand under Sam's shirt, on his hip—but Sam's never got that before midnight. Dean's hard and Sam can feel it against his stomach, can feel it because Dean is pulling him closer, rocking against Sam slowly while they kiss.

Sam really likes kissing. He likes it in general and he especially likes it with Dean. It's not awkward; no teeth clacking or gross, wet lips, and Dean doesn't just stick his tongue out and hold it there like Quintin did.

Sam knows, intellectually, that he is important to Dean and that he's probably one of the first things Dean thinks about when he wakes up—but when Dean kisses him he feels like it. Dean's mouth on his makes him feel like he's the only thing in the world that matters; like kissing him is all Dean needs to survive.

Dean kisses him with slow, deep swipes of tongue before pulling back just the slightest bit, pressing wet kisses to his jaw while he slides his hand off Sam's hip. Sam makes a noise of displeasure; he can't help it, but he stops himself when he feels Dean's knuckles brushing against his stomach.

Just as Dean's getting close—Sam can tell because Dean's eyes are squeezed tight, and his breathing is getting all jittery and shaky—Sam reaches down and pushes his hand away.

"Can't say no, Dean," Sam gasps, begging desperately, his lips brushing against Dean's. "You can't say no if I don't ask." Sam doesn't even know what he's saying anymore or if it makes any sense; he just knows that he can't let Dean chicken out on him.

He pushes and pulls at Dean's arm, rolling him over onto his back and then more towards the middle of the bed before shuffling himself around, climbing up and over to settle himself down on Dean's thighs. Sam's nervous and more than a little scared; he hasn't really done anything like this before, hasn't taken charge like this before.

Sam doesn't want Dean to see him shaking. He knows Dean will think something's wrong and stop this whole thing, and Sam doesn't want that to happen—he can't let it happen. Sam grabs at Dean's cock again, marveling at the feel of it in his hands, how much it feels like his own. He doesn't know why, but he always just assumed it would be different somehow. It's not like Dean's a different species or anything, and there's no reason it would be, but he just didn't expect it to be like everyone else's. It's not, though, except for the angle, and that's actually good. It calms Sam's nerves and makes him a little more confident, makes him think—know—that he can do this.

He squeezes a little tighter as he pulls at Dean's cock, looser at the bottom and tighter near the tip, then brushes his thumb over the slit at the tip, just like in that movie Dean keeps under his bed that he doesn't think Sam knows about. He figures if it works when a girl does it, it'll work just the same with him, and judging by the way Dean's reacting, Sam figures he's right.

Dean's cursing, his hips thrusting up and bouncing Sam in place just enough that Sam can't hide the small whimper that escapes him. It makes him think about the other part of the movie and all the noises the girl made when the guy put his dick inside of her, and Sam wants to know what that feels like so much.

Sam's jerking Dean faster now, rocking against Dean's thrusts because he just can't help it. "Come on, Dean, come on, please," Sam begs. "Do it, come on." He's half begging Dean to come and half begging Dean to touch him, to quit fisting his hands in the sheets or grabbing at the pillow, to just touch Sam, but then Dean throws his head back, and that's it.

When Dean finally comes, after what feels like forever to Sam, it's messy and loud, with Dean panting and grabbing at the sheets as he shoots all over, getting his come on Sam's hand and Sam's jeans and even a little on the bottom of Sam's shirt.

The image sears itself in Sam's brain, and Sam keeps it there. He always wants to remember this, always wants to remember what Dean looks like, coming because of him and losing control like that.

Afterwards, Dean has trouble catching his breath again. He's taking these huge, heaving gulps of air like he just ran a marathon or something, and Sam can tell that his brain is still fuzzy; he knows Dean, and it's those slow blinks, they ways his hands are still stretching out, fingers curling and uncurling slowly.

Sam's still hard—harder now, actually, and he knows he should get off—climb off of Dean or something before he takes care of himself, but he can't. He just can't manage to make it happen because he has Dean's come on his hand, and it's hot, it's so fucking hot that Sam can't help himself, doesn't care if it's gross or anything. He can't wait any longer, and he rubs his hand on the crotch of his jeans, humping his dick up against it.

He knows he's basically rubbing the come in, but instead of it being sick, instead of thinking about how weird Dean must think it is, all Sam can think about is how little is separating his hand from his cock, how little is separating his cock from Dean's come, and it just makes him press against the bulge in his pants even harder.

"It's okay, Dean," he pants out, half sarcastic because he just can't fucking seem to help it. "You don't have to, don't have to—ah, fuck." It's too much; his skin tingles, and his toes are curling. He honestly has no fucking idea in the world how he hasn't already come, but he knows he will soon, and if he comes in his jeans like some thirteen-year-old, he will never forgive himself. "I'm fine, I'm fine. I just wanted to—I-I needed to—fuck—"

The zipper is torturous and almost painful in a really bad way, but then it's down, and there's just a little bit of wiggling before Sam's cock is in his hands. He barely has any time to think, only just manages to get free, and then he's coming. He's shaking and twitching and making a mess of himself and of Dean, too, and he just cannot find it in himself to care even a tiny little bit at all.

Sam has these two roommates during his first year at Stanford, and he can tell that it's probably going to be one of the longest years of his life.

One of his roommates, James, is pretty much without a doubt the most irritating, frustrating person Sam has ever met in his entire life. Sam is a Winchester whose mother is a Campbell; he knows irritating.

Everything about James clashes with Sam. James is loud and annoying, and every single time that he opens his mouth, it takes everything Sam has in him not to haul back and punch him in the face. The guy is completely grating in every way possible, and he does things like standing far too close behind Sam and staring at the computer screen while Sam is on it, which is bad on two levels. There are very few people Sam will turn his back on, and Sam doesn't even like it when Dean watches him on the computer like that.

The guy is a complete idiot, too, because he seems to think Sam is joking when he tells him to go the fuck away and leave him alone or to just shut up and stop fucking talking to him already. Sam's not a difficult guy to get along with most of the time, but there's something about James that Sam just reacts badly to.

James isn't even a bad guy, per se; he doesn't call Sam names, and he isn't mean to him or anything. He's just a raging tool who parties constantly and then complains about his crappy grades, takes no responsibility at all for his actions, and brings girls back to the room and tries to bang them while Sam is very clearly awake and in the room.

Okay, so Dean did that a few times, too, but in Dean's defense, Sam usually had his own room he was supposed to be in, so it's not like it was a foregone conclusion that Sam would be there. When he was sober, he almost always stopped when—or if—he caught Sam.

James is pretty much a tool, but Sam's sure that's only because Jackson, his other roommate, is smart, and nice, and funny, and stupidly gorgeous, as well as being possibly interested in Sam. So, the way Sam sees it, it's just the universe feeling like it needs to balance things out.

Sam's back hurts. That's the first thing he notices: a sharp, stabbing pain near his shoulder blade. It expands out from there, and then everything starts to come into bright, cold focus.

When he opens his eyes, all he sees are clouds. Light and dark grey, not heavy enough for rain yet, but getting close.

It was dark just a few minutes ago, Sam swears, and warm enough that Sam was sweating through his shirts, sticky California heat making him miserable as usual. It's cold now, though, chilly enough that he shivers a little, and it's been that way long enough that the sweaty line of shirt no longer clings to the small of his back.

Sam pushes himself up and takes a look around. Everything's dilapidated; there's rust and splinters and dirt as far as he can see and some husked-out buildings with holes in them, giant patches eaten through like a particularly bad case of termites.

There's a banging noise coming from one of the shacks, a small barn-looking thing, kind of like an oversized shed. Grey paint falls off the sides in big patches, lead chips collecting dust on the brown-orange metal bar holding the building shut. Sam pushes at the bar from the bottom up, one, two, three times before it finally gives way with a groan, leaving behind rusty smears of old metal on the palms of Sam's hands.

A girl comes stumbling out, straight brown hair flying out behind her as she nearly tumbles to the ground. Sam catches her and staggers for a moment because while she's small, she's got some momentum going behind her, like she was charging at the door. She's talking, jabbering some stream of words, but she's going so fast that Sam can't make out a word she's saying.

"Slow down, slow down," he tells her, helping her upright and taking a step back out of her personal space. "Are you okay? What's your name?"

She doesn't answer, though. She doesn't have to because he hears someone yell, "Ava," behind him, and she takes off, running into the open arms of a tall, skinny black kid. They clearly know each other, and judging by their matching clothes—her fancy dress and his button-down, too-crisp shirt—they were probably together when whatever it was happened.

They're talking to each other, low murmurs that Sam can't quite make out. He knows he should probably turn away and give them a little privacy, take a look around, and after a moment, he does. He's not sure what happened; probably, they got kidnapped because that is the kind of life Sam has. All he can hope is that maybe it's at least not a family of Leatherfaces again. One escape from possibly cannibalistic human-hunters is more than Sam's ever needed; he doesn't particularly want to have to run from that again.

Sam ventures out on the muddy path, making sure to keep the couple in sight, just in case. About fifteen yards out, the path opens up and meets with a circular path, just as muddy and unkempt as the one he was walking on a moment ago. His boots squelch as he walks, the mud sucking at them.

The pathway isn't some kind of side path like he thought. He can see that now; it's a full-fledged road that meets up with another one. Not big enough for a car, but maybe just the right size for some horses, he thinks, if the architecture is anything to go by. It looks like an old west ghost town—a real one, not one of the fake ones with the too-bright grey paint and artful aging.

There's a large, rickety windmill at five o'clock and the steeple of a church peeking up over the buildings at seven o'clock; Sam makes note, just in case, to make sure he doesn't lose track of where he is. There's a building to his right that looks kind of like a saloon or brothel like in the movies, but when he gets close and looks in the windows, he can see dusty shelves of nothing but more dust and cobwebs. Then there's a creak coming from Sam's left, and he stops.

Sam peeks around the corner on his right and sees the couple still standing close together, but they're looking around now. Sam picks up a rock and tosses it at them, just close enough to get their attention. After three more rocks, the guy looks up, and Sam makes a shushing motion and beckons them closer. He doesn't want them out of his sight; he doesn't trust things he can't see, and he doesn't trust people he doesn't know.

Once they're closer, he makes the shushing motion again. They comply easily, and in his head, Sam thanks shock and the amazing pliability it gives people sometimes. He takes the lead and can't help but notice how the guy makes sure the girl, Ava, is between the two of them. That's good; that means he might not be an idiot because he knows not to let a small girl trail behind at the end. Either that, or he's a coward who wants the girl to get stabbed first if they're attacked head on, but Sam wants to be an optimist today, so he's gonna go with the guy being smart.

There's another creak, this time from them, and Sam winces because there's no element of surprise now. Not that they have any real advantage, anyway; Sam doesn't have his gun on him, and there isn't much besides splintered wood in arm's reach. He grabs a plank anyway. It's old and eaten through, and he can feel it start to crumble underneath his fingertips, soft and disgustingly wet.

Sam takes a deep breath and steps around the corner, rotten wood held up above his shoulder, and—

—thankfully doesn't bludgeon the small, ginger-haired girl cowering on the other side of the corner. She's got her hands thrown up over her head, and she's making these rumbling, almost growling noises, like she's clearing her throat over and over. She's wearing a long t-shirt with the Batman symbol on it and no pants or shoes.

Sam slowly takes a step back and lowers his makeshift weapon to the ground. He's knows this isn't a particularly smart idea—there's no telling if she's hostile or not—but it's not exactly like the soggy wood was going to do very much damage anyway, even to a girl that size.

"Are you okay?" Sam asks her. She doesn't answer and doesn't show any sign that she's even heard him. Her eyes are darting around like a skittish animal, and she's still making that growl-like snarling noise. She reminds Sam of a stray animal, some skittish thing in the throes of panic. Sam knows better, but he can't seem to stop making bad decisions, so he slowly moves a hand towards her, touching the outside of her shoulder to try to get her attention.

He gets her attention, all right; she jumps and stumbles back, and Sam reaches for her again because instead of trying to break her fall, both of her hands fly to her mouth, cupped and pressed over it like when Sam was little and wanted to show he could keep a secret.

Sam pulls his hands back slowly once he's sure she's not about to go tumbling backwards and snap her neck. "I'm Sam," he tells her. One of her hands unclamps from her mouth and fingerspells out Dinah one letter at a time.

"Are you—" Sam starts before catching himself. He signs his question, asking if she's deaf. Dinah nods at him, signing yes and then a few other things Sam doesn't understand. "Sorry, I—" Sam stops himself again, then signs carefully that he knows fingerspell and only a few other signs.

She signs that it's better than nothing, and Sam can't help but smile. He always likes an optimist.

"Uh, excuse me," Sam hears from behind him. It's Ava, the girl who—who looks really familiar now. He can't figure out if it's from a vision or because he's actually met her, though. Visions don't usually mean good things, so Sam tries to make himself remember to keep that in mind. "Not to interrupt your little tea party here, but what the hell is going on?"

"I don't know," Sam says honestly. "I woke up right before I found you. I'm not sure where we are, either."

"We were on a date," Ava's boyfriend says. "I was walking her to the door, and then I'm waking up on this dirty-ass porch, and it's the middle of the day. What happened?"

"I don't know," Sam repeats himself. "I—"

Sam is cut off by yelling, coming from four o'clock. No, not yelling, screaming. Someone is screaming bloody murder, and Sam doesn't even think twice; he takes off running in that direction. He knows Ava and Ava's boyfriend are following behind because he can hear their footsteps and the way they're panting as they trail behind him. He doesn't know about Dinah, but can't make himself slow down to find out.

There's what looks like a giant, old hotel up ahead, with paint that still looks nearly white in some places. The shutters are in surprisingly good condition and look nearly new, which is even creepier than the rest of the decay surrounding them.

The girl who's still screaming is on the ground by the steps. She's curled over on herself with her hands shoved in her hair, pressing in so tight that Sam can see the tension in her arms, even beneath the bathrobe covering them. Her hair is straight and a murky brown color, greasy where it knots around her fingers, and she's bent so far over that she looks like she's about to fall over.

She keeps screaming and screaming, and when she stops, Sam knows it's only because she's run out of air. He knows that gasping silence; it's the same one Jo used to make in the middle of her tantrums. There's a sharp intake of air, and before the shrieking can start again, another girl, taller with dark skin and a white muscle shirt darts forward quickly, wrapping her arm around the girl's neck in a sleeper hold.

She's out cold before Sam can make it to them, but he's finally in reach just in time to hear someone ask, "Why isn't she screaming? Did someone just kill her? Please tell me someone didn't just kill her."

Sam turns and—stops.

"Jesus Christ, Andy?" Andy barely looks any different now than he did three years ago. His hair is shorter, and he's gained three or four inches, but he still looks pretty much the same as he did when he was thirteen.

"Sam?" Andy's eyes are wild, and he's freaking out, his hands clutching at the sleeves on Sam's shirts. "What the fuck, man? I swear to God, when I come down, I'm gonna kill Red."

"What?" Sam asks. There isn't anything about that that makes sense.

"This is, like, the fucking worst trip ever. I haven't seen you since—since—since—holy fuck, man," Andy's hyperventilating, too many quick breathes in too little time, and he's wobbling on his feet. Sam thinks that this is what happens when your family skips town after killing your friend's crazy long-lost twin brother who tries to kill you. There's a part of Sam that cries a little inside at the fact that that is not an entirely memorable event in his life.

Sam reaches out and grips tight to the front of Andy's jacket. "Andy! You need to calm down before you pass out, okay? You aren't tripping or having a nightmare or a dream or anything. This is real. This is happening. What's the last thing you remember?"

"It's not?" Andy asks. He doesn't seem very relieved, shockingly.

"No, it's not," Sam confirms.

Andy goes limp in his grip, out cold.

No one's watches are working. Cell phones are useless, too. It's muggy and cloudy out, so they have no idea how long it takes, but Sam would bet it's no more than half an hour before they all find each other.

There are exactly twelve of them, including Sam. They all have powers. Ava sees things, visions, like him. Jake is strong in a way that other people's bodies can't handle. Andy apparently did talk his dad into buying him that game system way back when.

Lily has blonde hair and killed the first girl she kissed, when she was twelve. The screaming girl has stopped screaming, but she isn't all there, and she rocks in a corner and only flinches a little when people go near her. The girl who put her in the sleeper hold is named May, and she can see possibilities. Sam doesn't know what that means because she said it wasn't visions, but it sounds like them, on a more immediate scale.

Dinah's voice does something, but she doesn't know what because she can't hear it. She knows it hurts people, though, and she tells them this through a combination of painstaking fingerspelling and then scratching the words into the wet mud when she gets frustrated.

Scott's wearing pajamas and slippers, and he keeps forgetting who everyone is, but he says he can electrocute things. He doesn't know if it works on people, but he wants to be absolutely sure that they all know he hasn't tried it on a person before.

Cory had his eyes stitched shut because he apparently has actual, real laser eyes. Max moves things with his brain.

The kid pinned to the town hall, held there with rusty nails pinning his arms halfway up the side of the building, was named Peter. Lily says she thinks he could fly. Clearly, something there doesn't want them to leave.

Sam doesn't feel so bad about his migraines now.

It gets worse.

The screaming girl is dead soon after that. Sam told everyone to stick together, but nobody ever listens to the sane guy in horror movies.

Her throat is ripped open, and her head is almost completely separated from her body, gore and bone and sinew making a mess of her white t-shirt and the half-rotted floorboards.

Sam knows a demon did it and says so—he's not sure what kind, but he'd know that rotten egg stench anywhere.

Andy looks vaguely betrayed by Sam's apparent insanity. Jake decides he's going to go form his own camp—Sam thinks of it as Camp Oh God, Oh God, We're All Gonna Die in his head—with one, two, three, crap, everyone but Cory following him. Sam's pretty sure the only reason Cory is with Sam is because he can't see his way out to follow them.

"Grab my arm," Sam tells Cory.

"What? Why?" Cory asks. His hair is Billy Idol blond, stained brown with mud on the left side of his head. Sam notes that Cory woke up on his stomach and takes a moment to wonder how Cory found his glasses before finding the others.

"We're not gonna let them die just because they're idiots."

"You can't expect them to believe that demon crap," Cory says.

"We all got kidnapped at night and then woke up in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the day," Sam points out. "How are demons that hard to believe?"

"Because it's demons," he says.

"You shoot laser beams out of your eyes."

"So did Cyclops. He was a mutant. Maybe we're all superheroes, and we just don't know it."

"Cyclops doesn't shoot lasers. They're concussion blasts. He punches holes through things; he doesn't light them on fire." Sam has no idea why he's focusing on this, but it's important right now to keep Cory distracted.

"Weird. I don't think I've ever met a comic book nerd with muscles," Cory says.

Sam's about to educate him on the difference between nerds and geeks—both of which describe Sam, so it doesn't entirely matter—when he hears a girl shrieking. Sam doesn't even think about it; he just pulls Cory close to his side and pretty much drags him while he runs towards the screaming.

Cory's babbling something Sam can't be bothered to pay attention to, and when he gets to the stairs, he doesn't bother warning Cory about them, just hauls him up with a grunt—he's not as heavy as Dad, but he's still big—and leaves him at the top with directions not to move.

Jake's inside with Ava shoved behind him and four long scratches down his chest. Sam likes to say I told you so, but he usually likes the person to be alive to hear it, so he saves his breath—Jake's not gonna be able to hold that thing back for long.

Sam spots a fireplace poker on the ground and grabs it, bringing it up with him in an arc and sweeping right through the little girl ghost. His chest is heaving a little when he's upright again, the adrenaline tapering off as he attempts to catch his breath.

"Holy shit, that was a demon!"

"No," Sam corrects. "That was a ghost. An acheri, I think. They usually go after little kids. Anyone still think I'm nuts?"

Sam doesn't set them up in the church. He thinks about it and almost does, but it's definitely the oldest building there, and safe from demons means nothing if someone leans against a wall and brings the whole thing down on their heads.

The town hall is nice and big—comparatively speaking, because they still all have to cram together—and basically one empty room, with no corners for things to pop out from.

There are enough of them that Sam feels safe splitting them into groups to forage. Sam stays behind with Dinah, Cory, and Scott while Andy, Lily, and May find giant bags of salt left behind in the general store and nothing else that looks like it's come from this century. Jake, Ava, and Max find another poker and a few iron bars Jake ripped off something in the barn, along with an old, gross salt lick that Sam breaks up and uses to line the doors and windows.

Most of them make it through the night.

The sun is almost up when everyone wakes up screaming in pain. Sam swears his ears are bleeding, he can feel it, and he knows his eardrums are about to burst—he can feel the pressure, like being underwater for too long and not knowing if he can make it to air in time—and then it stops.

The room is swaying, and Sam thinks for a second that one of his eardrums really did burst until he realizes he's off kilter because Scott, who fell asleep on his right, is still folded almost completely over and pushing his head into Sam's ribcage. Sam drops a hand to the back of his neck without thinking, rubbing a thumb slowly over the nape like he does when Jackson's had a bad day. The spot to his left where Dinah was sleeping is empty, and the spot where Max was, between himself and Jake, is empty as well.

The ring of salt they used to secure their little corner isn't disturbed, and the iron bars Jake secured together for extra protection—which Sam told them they didn't need on account of the salt, but eventually gave in to because he couldn't explain that not having a weapon made him feel naked—are still exactly where they were when Sam finally passed out a few hours ago. That's good because it means nothing got in, but bad because it means Max and Dinah decided to be stupid enough to leave on their own.

Sam catches Jake's eye and jerks his head towards the door. Jake nods and wipes blood from Ava's nose before giving her a kiss and getting up.

They don't have to go far. Max is crumpled over on the ground, out cold. The bottom half of his face is a mess of blood, and he's still got his fingers knuckled in his ears despite being unconscious but thankfully alive. Dinah isn't so lucky. She's dangling from the windmill by some kind of cord or rope. Sam thinks for a moment it might be a horse lead because they're right next to a stable and also, Sam's really good at compartmentalizing.

When Max wakes up, he's twitchy and nervous. He's shell-shocked, and he flinches even more than he was before as he tells them how he tried to do something, he did, but he couldn't, and then she screamed, and he doesn't remember anything else.

Sam and Jake agree that bathroom breaks will now be a group effort, and there is—to no one's surprise—no argument from the rest of them.

It quickly becomes apparent that this won't be a case of them waiting to be rescued. They're on a scouting mission—keeping them all together behind the salt lines is great, but keeping everyone together in one place with no sense of their surroundings is asking to be the cheerleader in a horror movie—when Sam realizes where they are.

It's the bell that does it. It's huge and cracked, dirty, with a scratchy tree carved into it.

"Fuck," Sam curses. All of a sudden, keeping everyone in one nice, little, salted space sounds like a good idea.

"What?" Cory asks, hand gripped right in the back of May's shirt.

"I know where we are," he tells them. "We're heading back."

"Wait," Lily protests. "I thought you said we had to know our surroundings."

"I know them now," Sam says. He doesn't want to worry everyone if he doesn't have to, but he needs them to listen. "We need to get back to the town hall, and we need to do it now. Once we're there, I'll explain, but I need you guys to trust me on this. I haven't steered you wrong yet, have I?"

Sam stops counting at four hundred and fifty-three when they cross over the salt, and it's probably the longest seven and a half minutes of Sam's life, even if there wasn't even so much as a heavy breeze on the way back.

"No, but—that can't be right," Jake argues. "That's just some scary story. My grandma used to tell me about it when I was little."

"Yeah, well, it's true," Sam tells them. "It doesn't really go like in the stories, though. Everyone didn't exactly pick up and move; it's more like everyone who didn't get brutally murdered overnight ran from the town so fast that breakfasts were left on the tables, half-eaten."

"But there's no Cold Oak on the maps," Jake says. "Not in South Dakota. I remember, me and my sister tried to find it once."

"If the map is old enough, it'll have it," Sam says. "Anything made after it was abandoned isn't gonna show it. No one wants idiots being led to their death because they want to stay the night in a huge haunted house."

No one responds after that. There isn't anything to say. Lily's got her jacket pulled up over her nose and her eyes clenched shut tight, and Cory's sitting near her, rocking just the smallest bit.

His low sniffling is the only sound in the room.

What's a personal bubble? - BOYS

The Heavens Aligned Against Us (Sounds Like A Fair Fight) 4b/4

"What are we supposed to do now?" Ava asks.


"No one's gonna be able to find us," she says. "There aren't any maps here; no one even knows this town exists. Are we just supposed to sit here until we die or something? I don't want to die—I'm only sixteen!" She's getting hysterical, voice climbing higher and higher, more and more shrill.

"We can't panic," Sam says. "We need to keep calm if we're gonna figure out what to do."

"But she's right," May says, speaking up. "We're just sitting ducks here, and what are we doing to save ourselves?"

"We're safe as long as we stay behind the salt lines, okay?" Sam tells them. "We'll figure something out."

"Like what?"

"I don't know," Sam yells. He hasn't thought that far ahead; his main problem has been trying to keep everyone alive until they somehow get saved, but he doesn't think Mom and Dad will know to look here. He's pretty sure Miss Missouri never mentioned Cold Oak, and he knows neither the other him or Dean did.

"Everyone need to just calm down, okay," Andy says. "We're not gonna die. I mean, come on, as long as we stay together and no one has sex, the official scary movie rulebook says we'll all live."

Andy might be a little on the crazy side, but he has a point, in a way. He's also reminding Sam of Dean right now, and not only is it helping him to calm down, but it's making him less worried because Dean always finds Sam, always.

"Andy's right," Sam says. "Not about the rulebook, because there isn't one. But we're gonna be fine." He's not entirely sure that he believes it himself, but the best thing to do when you aren't sure about something is to lie though your fucking teeth and act like you know something. "Scott, you said you can do things with electricity, right?"

"I don't hurt people," he responds. It's more than a little creepy, but Sam's already figured there's something a little bit off about him. He's got this small tic that Sam remembers from one of the meds he used to take.

"That's good," Sam says. There isn't a whole lot else to say to that. "Can you do me a favor and try to zap my phone?"

"You have a phone?" Scott asks.

"Why didn't you tell us you had a phone?" Cory asks.

"Because it's dead," Sam tells them all. "It hasn't worked since we got here. I'm hoping that maybe Scott can give it some juice."

"That doesn't explain why you didn't tell us before," Cory complains again.

"What could we have done earlier?" Sam asks. "Call someone and say, 'hi, I don't know where we are, but please, come find us?' Yeah, that would've been helpful."

"Hey, hey, no need for sarcasm, guys," Andy says, pressing Sam back. Sam hadn't actually realized he had stalked over to Cory, but it's not like looming over a blind kid is gonna do anything anyway. "Come on," he says. "We're in this together. All for one and one for all, right?"

Sam doesn't answer; he just turns around and goes back to Scott, crouching down to get on a level with him where he's sitting on the floor. "Do you think you can try it, Scott?"

"I blow things up," Scott admits quietly. "I don't try to, but I touch things, and they get too much, and they explode, and sometimes there's fire."

Oh, goody. Fire. That's not a bad thing in a giant town made of kindling. Sam resists the urge to scrub his hands across his face, because telegraphing his frustration right now is the last thing they need. "How often is there fire?"

"A lot. They keep moving me because of them. I don't mean to do it, though. I don't want to listen to him, but I can't help it."

There's that creepy feeling again. "Okay. That's okay, Scott, you don't have to try. We'll figure out something else. Does anyone have any ideas?"

"Uh," Andy stutters. "I—I only did it once, and it took about a week, but I made this guy watch gay porn, like, twenty-four seven once."

"Oh, great," Ava says. "So we're trapped in a ghost town, being hunted and killed, and now we got a gay rapist with us. That's just great. Can I wake up yet?"

"No," Andy yells. "No! I'm not—in his head! I made him watch it in his head! I didn't actually—I'm not a rapist!"

Sam pinches the bridge of his nose. "How does this help?"

"It was in his head," Andy says again. "I thought real hard, and instead of making him do something, I made it so he got stuck watching gay porn every time he closed his eyes. The guy was an ass! He deserved it!"

Sam connects the dots and thinks maybe he's pieced it together. "You sent him a vision?" he asks. "Did it hurt?"

"I thought my head was gonna explode," Andy admits.

"No, not you," Sam clarifies. "Him. Did it hurt the guy you sent it to?"

"Oh. I don't know. I don't think it did. It took forever, though."

"Well, you're just gonna have to try really damn hard then, aren't you?

"Uh, okay," Andy says. "Who am I sending it to?"

"My brother," Sam says. There's no question on that one; it wouldn't be anyone else but Dean. "If we let Dean know, everything will be fine."

"What the hell is your brother going to do?" Lily asks.

"My family, we hunt these things. If he knows we're in Cold Oak, him and my parents will be here within a day—two days, tops."

"Your family hunts demons?" Max asks from his spot in the corner.

"Since before I was even born. I promise you guys, if we let my brother know, we'll get out of this alive." Sam knows he shouldn't be making promises he might not be able to keep, but he needs them to believe him on this.

"I need to know where I'm sending it. Do you have anything Dean touched?" Andy asks him.

Sam has to think for a moment because the first five things he thinks of are not really things he wants Andy touching, rapist or no rapist. He finally fishes out his wallet and hands over the condom Dean makes sure he always has with him.

"Dude," Andy says.

"What?" Sam asks. It's not that weird. It's not.

"I do not remember your brother being this cool when I knew him."

"We were twelve."

"Still," Andy says.

Dean drops.

He's pacing around the table, bouncing ideas back and forth with Mom and Dad and Pastor Jim, and then all of a sudden, he gets this sharp, stabbing feeling right behind his eye and has just enough time to throw his weight to the left so he doesn't kiss the table.

It's a jumble of sounds—noises—some of them voices, sometimes screaming, sometimes talking. There are pictures, too—still shots, moving, stills that start to move and warble and shiver, twisting and turning, distorted.

Sam's voice, screaming something. A girl with blonde hair, a bell, a ghost, a short kid with sunken eyes, trees, forests and forests of trees, a ripped-up body that used to be a person, more words, distorted and slurred—a giant rush of things; swimming and swirling and rushing together, and then—

And then he's gasping, flat-out on the kitchen floor, his shirt wet with what he's sure is holy water and Mom holding his head still, like when Sam would come out of the seizures he didn't have. His head is pounding, and he has to close his eyes because the fucking light is so damned bright. Dean's pretty sure he might have pissed himself.

"Cold Oak," he croaks out, his voice scratchy as it makes its way out of his throat. "Sam's in Cold Oak. South Dakota. We need to go now."

There's nothing to do but wait now. They don't even know if the message got through, but Andy swooned like Dean always teases Sam about. His eye rolled back, and his whole body listed to the side like in really, really old movies.

They decide to wait a while before trying that again.

It gets kind of boring. Sam, for one, is glad for the boredom and will take that over running for his fucking life any day. But not everyone has had Sam's life, and he's pretty sure no one else here had parents who would make them do suicides or dig up the backyard if they claimed boredom.

"Hey, Sam, truth or dare?" Andy asks.


"What do you mean, no?" Andy asks. "That's not an option."

"I'm not a ten-year-old at a slumber party," Sam says. "I'm not playing truth or dare."

"Oh, come on, we're in high school. We're supposed to play stupid little kid games and ruin them forever," Andy says.

"I'm not in high school, and I don't want to," Sam says.

"You're not?"

"No, I skipped grades."

"See? It's almost like you're playing now!" Andy tells him.

"What, exactly, is the point of truth or dare here?" Cory asks. He's been quiet lately and doesn't seem to be dealing as well as the others. "I mean, no one's fucking leaving this room now except to piss, so what kind of dares can you do?"

He's got a point. Sam's not sure if that means Cory is more well-adjusted to the real world or not, but he can't help but find it a little funny in a weird way that the kid who willfully mutilated his own face is the most normal one in the room.

"Well, we could always play spin the bottle," Andy suggests. "But I don't actually have a bottle, so that might be kind of difficult."

"Even if I weren't a lesbian," Lily says, "which I am, I think it might be a bad idea to play spin the bottle with someone who kills people when she touches them. Call me crazy or something, but I kind of thought the point was that we all wanted to actually make it through this shit-fest alive."

"It might not work on us," Andy says suddenly.

"What? God, are you really that horny that you're willing to die just to get some kind of action?"

"No!" Andy yells. "I'm not—why does everyone think I'm desperate? I've had sex before, you know."

"We could tell by how amazed you were at Sam's condom," Jake says dryly.

"I was amazed that he didn't have to hide it," Andy protests. "And I'm not kidding; it might not work! Ansem's didn't—" Andy stops himself, eyes wide and cutting to Sam.

"He's right," Sam says, saving him. "Our powers don't work on each other, so you might not kill us."

"Who's Ansem?" Ava asks.

"He's—uh. My brother?"

"You have a brother with powers, too, and he's not here?" Max asks. "Isn't that something that's kind of relevant?"

"Not really," Andy says. "He kind of, uh. Kind of." Andy stops.

"He went nuts and tried to kill me and all of Andy's other friends," Sam says.

"Yeah, I was gonna go with 'he died,'" Andy says. "But that works, too. I guess."

There's a long, powerful silence as everyone else processes that.

May finally breaks the silence. "As scary as that sounds, I don't exactly see how this is relevant to the topic at hand."

"Ansem couldn't make me kill myself," Sam clarifies. "He had to physically attack me because he couldn't talk me into doing it myself."

"Well, that's just great for you, but people's hearts stop beating when I touch them. I'm not going to possibly kill somebody on the off chance that—no, don't!" she yells, flailing away and shoving at Scott's chest, trying to stop him.

She freezes mid-shove when he lays his hand on her face. He doesn't cup her jaw, touch her gently, or anything a normal person might do while attempting to commit suicide-by-psychic. Scott just presses his hand to her face like it's a foggy window pane for him to balance against while looking out.

There's a beat. One second, two, three. Nothing happens.

"What is wrong with you?" Lily finally asks. Sam can't help but notice that she hasn't pulled away or leaned back.

"I'm a paranoid schizophrenic with delusions of grandeur and impulse control issues," Scott says. "That last one might be right."

They're halfway out of a gas station on the outskirts of Cheyenne that seems to be literally nameless when the third vision hits. Dean takes a step, and John's done this with Sam enough times to know what's coming before it happens.

John gets one of Dean's arms hauled up over his shoulders and his arm around Dean's waist, so it doesn't matter when Dean's foot hits the ground sideways and his entire body gives way. John just hitches him up a little higher and half drags, half carries Dean out to the truck.

Dean's almost back by the time John gets him buckled in—if another one hits, he doesn't want him falling out—so John makes sure to wait until Dean's fully conscious again before moving.

"'s'th' same," Dean slurs drunkenly. John doesn't know if this is worse for Dean than for Sam because Dean's not used to it or because they're hitting with such a close frequency.

"It's okay, Dean," John says, wiping at some of the sweat on Dean's forehead. "Don't worry about it. Relax, I just need to fill up the tank, okay?"

Dean nods and then nods off, head drooping.

John heads back into the store for water—the five Mountain Dews that Dean grabbed are not going to be good for the pounding headache Dean's going to have in about half an hour. After that, he finishes filling the tank and gets back on the road. Mary should be halfway to Manning by now, and with any luck, they'll be timed just right to hit Cold Oak at the same time.

John really hopes luck is on their side for once.

Even Sam is starting to get antsy.

Cory isn't back yet, and they've been standing there for almost five minutes, trapped in their "economically small" salt circle. Sam gets trying to save supplies, but they have six giant sacks of rock salt. If they run out before Mom and Dad get there, there probably won't be anyone alive to worry about it, and there hasn't been so much as a snapped twig.

"It's getting dark," Max starts. "What if he can't find his way back?"

"He didn't just go blind last night," Lily snaps. "I'm sure he's mastered all the tricky things like walking in a straight line and remembering when he turns."

"Come on, guys," Andy starts. "Can't we all just get along?"

"Oh, my God," Ava says. "If you quote another movie, I will kill you myself."

"Baby," Jake coaxes, "I think maybe you might wanna calm down a little."

"I'm sorry, I've been kidnapped. I'm having a bad week."

"I got kidnapped, too," May says. "But you don't see me being a raging bitch to everyone."

"Excuse me?" Ava asks shrilly.

"I'm gonna go find Cory," Sam cuts in, hefting up his poker and darting out of the circle.

"Don't leave me here!" Andy calls out. "Let me come with!"

"Can't chance it!" Sam hollers back. "Make sure no one punches anyone out of the circle." It's cheap, and it's cowardly, but so are the rest of the guys, apparently. Besides, he only knows how to break up fights by hitting people, and if he knocks out someone a foot and a half shorter than him, male or female, his mother will beat him stupid when she rescues them.

It doesn't take long to find Cory—a straight line, about forty yards out, and there he is. His neck is snapped, bent at an unnatural angle, and his sunglasses are knocked off, showing the thick, black stitching holding his eyelids shut. It looks like he tripped, like he just didn't notice the downed tree limb.

Sam doesn't buy it. Cory popped in without a stick to guide with and never once so much as stepped on someone's heels. He hasn't tripped or bumped into anything, and it just doesn't feel right.

Sam heads back to the circle. No one is dead, bleeding, or bruised, and the salt is undisturbed, so at least one thing is going right today. "Come on," he tells them. "It's almost dark; we want to be back inside before our level of visibility decreases."

"Wait," Ava asks. "Where's Cory?"

Sam ignores her. "We need to get back inside now. If it gets so dark we can't see, we're all dead. Let's go."

"I don't trust you," Ava tells him.

"I feel wounded deep down in my soul," Sam says back.

"Oh, you're hilarious," she says. "I don't think it's some demon killing everyone—"

"That's because it's ghosts," Sam interrupts.

"I think you're doing it," she says.

"Oh, don't beat around the bush, Ava. Tell me how you really feel."

"You wanna know how I really feel?" she asks him, laughing humorlessly. "I really feel like I don't know you from Adam except for, like, two weeks when we were eight. I mean, who knows how long you were here before you unlocked me from the shed, huh? Who knows what happened before that?"

"I can tell you exactly what happened before that," he says. "I was getting food with my brother, then I was waking up here, and then I walked around and found you."

"And we're just supposed to take your word for it?" she asks. "How do we know you didn't kill that guy on the barn?"

"The church," Sam corrects her. He doesn't mean to; he just can't help it.

"Wow, way to completely focus on the wrong part. I think that you killed everyone."

"Well, I think that you're not very smart," Sam says. "We're all entitled to our own opinions."

"This is serious," she insists.

"No, it isn't," he argues. "I didn't kill anybody, so there's no reason to take this seriously."

"Then why do you keep finding everyone, huh? You found the screaming girl, and Dinah, and now Cory? I am just super suspicious that you 'just happen' to know about 'demons' and 'ghosts' and just happen to have someone else out there who knows about it, too," Ava says. "I think it's you doing this, and I think you have someone on the outside who drugged us all and brought us here."

"So, what?" Sam asks. "That ghost that almost gutted you and your boyfriend was just Old Man Henry in a rubber mask?"

"This could just be some sick game," Ava spits out. "We put up the salt lines, and people keep dying."

"They're dying outside of the salt lines!" Sam yells.

"I'm not staying here with you," she tells him. "I want to live to see seventeen, okay? If you stay, I'm gone."

Sam pinches the bridge of his nose and sighs loudly. It's just not worth the fucking trouble to him. He really doesn't care if they think he's a bad guy or not; he just wants to keep them alive a little while longer. Then they can all never see each other again, and Sam's life will be awesome.

"Fine," Sam sighs. "Fine. You know what? You stay here, I'll leave. I'm taking a bag of salt and an iron bar. Just humor me and do me one favor, please? Don't fucking go outside of the salt lines, okay? Don't die just because you're all being paranoid."

"Paranoid? We're being paranoid? We keep dying."

"Fucking listen for once and stay inside the lines, and you won't die."

Sam sleeps in front of the door on the porch. He refuses to let them all die out of pettiness.

Mary's face feels like it's on fire. She can feel the red-hot sting from the cut near her eye and the throbbing of her jaw, where she caught an elbow and several punches.

His ribs hurt, her back is sore, and she thinks she broke a knuckle when she missed and hit the safe, but she got what she went for, and she's only twenty minutes behind her boys. It'd be shorter if the fucking Impala didn't guzzle gas like a frat boy during pledge week.

She stomps on the gas, eyes on the clock. She loves her husband and her son, but patience has never been something either of them has ever been fond of, and if they walk in there without her, they won't make it out alive.

She's only twenty minutes behind. She can do this.

Sam wakes to screaming. It's coming from the other side of the door, where everyone else is. Sam scrambles up, careful not to kick through his own salt circle, and then—

Fuck. Ava's dead. Inside the salt lines. And not just dead, but dead with an iron bar shoved in her mouth, through the top of her head—brain matter pushed out, bits of grey and red gore clinging to the metal.

There's panic. Screaming and yelling coming from all ends of the room, and Jake, bent over her and sobbing with wet, painful sounds. Sam's heart breaks a little bit for him.

Sam's being shoved suddenly—and surprisingly hard—by Max. Max is screaming at Sam, yelling that this is all Sam's fault and that he did this. His face is pale with red blotches, and he's shaking hard. He looks terrified and angry, but his eyes—his eyes are steady and clear, meeting Sam's dead-on. They aren't even red.

"He killed her!" Max is screaming. "He did it! She was right, and he killed her because of it!"

"I didn't!" Sam yells back. "I slept in front of the door! The salt's still out there—you can look!"

"You're a liar!" Max screams, faking rage better than Sam's seen in a long, long time.

"Why would I kill her now, huh?" he asks. "Why kill her after she accuses me of being a killer? How could that possibly benefit me in any way? And, besides, no one heard the door open, did they? That's right, you didn't."

"We don't know you really have visions, do we? Maybe you can, can, can cancel out noise or something! Or teleport! Maybe that's how you killed her without us hearing anything!"

"No, no, if he could do that, why would he let that girl scream and wake us all up?" Lily asks.

"You guys aren't listening!" Andy screams. There's a hysterical edge to his voice, and his eyes are wide, full of genuine panic. "Someone killed her, and Sam just said that no one came into the room!"

Max turns instantly on Scott. He whirls, pointing a finger at him, and every single alarm in Sam's head is going off. Nothing about any of Max's reactions are reading right. It's all drama and theatrics, like someone acting or mimicking a scene from a movie.

He's saying something about how Scott has been glued to Sam's side, and Sam just knows, he fucking knows deep in his gut, that it's Max, and he has to get Max out now before he kills the others.

Max has his back to Sam, and Sam takes the open; he charges Max and makes him stumble, then puts him in a headlock before he can right himself again. Sam's dragging him out the door, ignoring the punches and yelling as best as he can, and he knows he has to do this fast because the others are no doubt going to take this as proof that Ava and Max were right, and—

Sam stumbles, pain ringing through his head, doubling his vision. "You killed them!" he roars at Max. "You did it, you fucking murdered them!"

"It was you!" Max screams back.

Sam doubles over, the wind knocked out of him. He can't figure out why at first because Max is a good four feet away from him, but the poker Sam clung to in his sleep last night comes swinging at his face like a baseball bat with no one holding it, and he ducks, his arms going up to protect his head. There's more pain, and Sam can't hear anything past the wet thumps and cracks his body makes against the iron.

His mouth tastes like blood, and he can't see straight. He tries to grab the poker and misses, tries again and gets what he's sure is a broken hand for good measure. "You strung her up," he croaks out. "You did it, you killed her, and you killed the others!" he screams.

"Why are you still talking?" Max roars. "You're being beaten to death—the least you could do is fucking shut up!"

Sam's on his knees, trying with the last, smallest bit of his power to keep himself from going flat, because he knows once that happens there is no chance of recovery.

Max is staring down at him, sneering. Sam doesn't know when it happened, but the poker is in Max's hands now, clutched tight at the bottom like a kid who never got taught how to swing a bat. Sam pulls back. There's someone else there—a guy about Dean's age, standing right over Max's shoulder. He has dark, dark hair and eyes so blue that they almost look fake.

The man reaches a hand around in front of Max and snaps his neck with a sudden jerk, and Max falls limp to the ground.

Then he helps Sam up to his feet, keeps his hands on Sam's shoulders as Sam sways in place. Sam tries to talk and spits out a mouthful of blood first, not as much as the last one.

The guy cocks his head, and a wide grin breaks out on his face. "Long time, no see, Sammy. You sure have grown big and strong since the last time I saw you. How is that mother of yours?

Sam tries to talk, but he slurs, his tongue and mouth not listening to what his brain wants them to do. "Who th' hell 're you?"

The man's eyes flash yellow, and holy shit, it's him, it's him, it's him. "You don't remember me? How disappointing."

"Wh't—" Sam spits out more blood and wipes his mouth on his sleeve. Everything's still spinning, but he focuses all of his effort on talking. "What do you want?"

"You, Sammy. I thought that was clear. Aren't you supposed to be the smart one?"

"Sorry if I'm a little fuzzy," Sam rasps out. "Brain hemorrhages will do that to you."

The man—the demon—rolls his piss-yellow eyes and makes a face. "Don't be such a drama queen; it's just a skull fracture. Come on, do you really think I'd save you from Maxi the wonder dog just to let you die like that?"

"Yes," Sam answers honestly.

"Aw, come on, kiddo." He drops his hands—or the hands of the poor fuck he's possessing— and circles Sam. "You're my favorite. I could never let you die in such an undignified way."

"I'm not doing it," Sam says. "Whatever you want me to do, I'm not doing it."

The demon ignores him, nudging at Max's body with a pristine black dress shoe. "You know, he was really supposed to knock out all these other clowns before he got to you. It's a pity he doesn't have that cool head for strategy you do, Sammy. Maybe you can take care of that detail?"

"I told you, I'm not doing it."

The demon steps closer, invading Sam's personal space and leaning close enough that Sam can smell the mouthwash his meatsuit used. "But you're such a natural born leader, Sammy. What does it really matter who you're leading?"

"It matters to me," Sam grits out.

"Yeah, well, I've got a secret for you, junior." He leans in even closer, stubble brushing against Sam's cheek as he whispers, "You don't have a choice."

The next thing Sam hears is a deep voice he knows well saying, "Back away from my son."

The first thing John sees out of the clearing is Sam. He's standing—alive and whole—and there's a man standing too close to him. He knows what it is. He can't explain how; he just does.

"Back away from my son," he repeats.

It does, arms out and smarmy smile on his face. "Johnny-boy," it cheers. "My, look how you've grown. Why don't you come give us a little hug?"

He raises his gun and points it at the thing. "I'd rather cut out my own tongue."

"That can be arranged." It shakes its head. "John, John, John. Haven't you learned anything? You couldn't get rid of me that easily the first time, and you can't get rid of me that easily now. I don't see why you Winchesters have to fight everything every little step of the way. It's just annoying."

"Yeah, well, what can I say? I'm partial to my wife."

"And speaking of your scintillating wife, where is she?"

"I'm right here, you son of a bitch." Mary's standing behind it, gun cocked and aimed, and she pulls the Colt's trigger.

Lightning sparks through the demon's body when the bullet hits, and it jolts, once, twice, and falls in a heap, lifeless blue eyes staring up at the stars.

"Is it over?" Dean asks. "Did we get him?"

"Yeah," John says. "Yeah, Deano. I think it's over now."

"I wanna go home now," Sam says.

After an hour of walking, they finally make it back to the car.

The tall, skinny kid is pretty much catatonic. The two girls are clinging together like they'll die if they separate. The last two guys seem to be doing a little better, if not by much. The one in the dirty-ass bathrobe seems to have a hand superglued to Sam's shirt—at least, that's the best Dean can guess because he hasn't let go since they started on this trek.

Sam only manages to detangle him to get everyone into the Impala. It's a tight fit, but the five of them just manage to cram into the back seat.

Mom and Dad are checking out Sam's wounds; there are penlights and holy water and those icy-gel packs Sam hates so much.

"So what do we do now?" Dean asks. This has been his whole life, and honestly, he doesn't think he really wants to stop. Yeah, he's fucking happy as hell not to have to worry about the yellow-eyed bastard anymore, but he kinda likes getting to be the hero all the time.

Mom and Dad are doing that disgusting thing they do where they smile at each other all sappy and gooey and practically talk to each other in their heads.

"The same thing we do every night, Dean," Mom says. "Try to save the world."

Writing - Sammeh

Author's Notes

Holy shit, guys, I did it.

I'm not even going to get into the clusterfuck that trying to post this thing has been but, needless to say, real life has no business creeping up on people when they're trying to post fic.

When I signed up for Big Bang this year I knew exactly what I was going to do, and I had a head start because I already had a ton of notes for it and all kinds of research done. And then I spent two weeks editing the literally 800 page doc of my notes for it and by the time I was done I had no interests in writing it. None at all. So then I had to think of something else to do for my Big Bang.

This fic was not it.

In fact, this year's Big Bang has been four other fics. First, it was Prince Jared, which is The Prince & Me, but better because there's more buttsex.

Then after I got sick of the notes I wandered around for a bit before deciding that I was gonna write the season 6 that me and sophie_448 spent hours talking about once, where Sam and Dean save the world, settle down, get normal lives, and hate every fucking second of it. Then I realized there was actually no plot to that, and 20k with no plot is annoying.

After that it became P.S. Our Lives Are Weird/Blurring Salt Lines Into Mud, which is the story of how fandom saved the world—no, not our fandom, the SPN book fandom in the show. This one will still be written, and will actually be better now because now I know how S5 ends and I don't have to go nuts trying not to Joss myself with it.

Once I realized I had no more ideas I sat down at work between calls and wrote out a list of ten ideas. The very first idea ended up with me rambling for about five paragraphs about Dean getting Michael not to wipe Mary and John's memories and how they would escape November 2nd, 1983 alive.

Funnily enough, the first scene I had in mind for this is nowhere in the fic and involved Mary dropping Sam and Dean off at school and making it look like a "John died, Mary lived" fic but then having her come home to John.

In completely unrelated news, I cannot actually count how many times waterofthemoon left me comment on the fic that were just, "inceeeeeeeeeeest <3" and, at one point, she shipped a fetus and a toddler.

But you guys just totally read 35k of fic from me and don't really want to hear more. So without further adieu, the people who helped me make this fic:

waterofthemoon not only betad but practically deserves a co-author credit.
gigglingkat helps break fics with logic and makes sure yours don't crumble when asked a simple question.
celtic_cookie listens to me ramble when she clearly wants to watch Who and sleep.
sophie_448 has no fucking idea what is going on in my fic because RL has eaten her, and yet valiantly attempted to help me figure out my ending several times.
scorpiod1 makes me war even when I am procrastinating like a mofo.
brynspikess has no idea what my fic is about, and came up with the summary anyway!
brynspikess's sleepy bb kitteh, who I cannot argue with and, thus, makes me feel better about my fic.
piratemerry helps waterofthemoon beta my fic sometimes!

Trufax, this is how my beta described my fic while I was bullying asking a friend to help with my summary:

(1:09:16 AM): Which fic is this that you need a summary for, Clex?
(1:09:23 AM): Big Bang.
(1:09:52 AM): Which is which one? I haven't been around much in the last few months, I've been out of the loop.
(1:10:24 AM): so, BASICALLY, Michael doesn't wipe John and Mary's minds
(1:10:37 AM): so they know the ~destiny and stuff
(1:10:51 AM): so they change it! and Mary doesn't die!
(1:11:17 AM): and Sam and Dean are still raised as hunters, but totally more well-adjusted, but there's still incest
(1:11:32 AM): and YED still wants Sam
(1:11:46 AM): so AHBL still happens, but earlier
(1:11:58 AM): oh, and there are angels and Pastor Jim and people