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[personal profile] glovered
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Another shitty Christmas comes and goes. Sam's present to himself is imagining Dean spending the entire holiday season in the midst of an orgy, sipping champagne and eating junk food while hot model-types laugh at his stupid jokes. The way things should have been for him, had they not been dealt a bad hand in life.

There's a box in the back of Sam's closet that's been closed for years. As another present to himself, he cracks the lid on New Year's Eve, and retrieves a satchel of herbs and a can of spray paint.

It's a bad idea to bring a supernatural being into one's apartment, so he finds an abandoned warehouse to do the summoning. He shakes the spray paint canister and sprays the geometric trap, stands back, and says a summoning in latin.

Billie is unimpressed at the sight of him. She assesses him where he stands a careful distance away.

He is out of her reach, but he can feel the delicious longing he always feels in the presence of a reaper, like she would take him from all his earthly strife if only he would follow. "You must know why I summoned you," he says.

She inclines her head. Her only response is, "Make it quick."

"You told me he was dead. I know your kind doesn't tend to lie, so what's the truth?"

She nods. "His soul hasn't been reaped if that's what you mean. I told you he sacrificed himself, not that he'd physically ceased to exist."

There are a hundred ways word can be twisted. Sam shakes his head. "Why can't he— What's wrong with him?"

"Think about it, Sam. We've been here before. What do you do with a man who brushed too close to something humanity should not know." She taps her forehead.

Sam reels. "A wall? Something put a wall in Dean's head?"

"Now that wasn't so hard."

"But, why?" It's been years and Sam still wakes up sweating from nightmares of his own wall. He doesn't want to think about why Dean would need one.

"A gift from God, of course, for his service. Dean needed time to heal after all those souls were shoved in there. A human vessel is compactly made for just one, and Dean was overloaded."

Sam forces himself to stay calm. "So is he? Healed, I mean?"

She gazes at him. "Does it matter? You've made your choice, and I think it's a noble one. Leave your brother in peace."

"It matters."

"I've given you what you wanted. Now let me out."

Sam nods mutely, and scratches a line in the paint to break the trap. She leaves him with a whispered warning, "If you summon me again, you'd better have a very good reason."












To say Sam has an easy time of it would be untrue. Living with the knowledge that his brother is alive and well and living in Los Angeles is trying at best. But Sam manages. He's managed this long, and he will continue to do so.

It's a quiet time in his life, an acceptance that's almost worse than acceptance of Dean's death. An acceptance that Dean is alive and has proven himself capable of living without Sam.

But Sam tries not to think about that. Months pass, and soon it's the end of April, and with it comes an unseasonal heatwave. There's a new wave of summer blockbusters that means every billboard and magazine is advertising Dean's face.

"We were thinking of seeing that one next week, opening night," Lily says as a bus drives by outside the shop window, plastered with Dean in fireman attire. "It's supposed to be super intellectual."

"God save us all," Jack says. They're crowded in the small, empty shop on their lunch breaks, lounging against bookshelves while Sam goes over the monthly earnings. Sam smiles down at the ledger, shaking his head. Sam knows he'll duck out of the movie. He already tortures himself enough, thank you very much.

Seeing the smile, Ray leans in over the counter. "Hey, if us manly men have to go, so do you."

"Am I not counted among you 'manly men'?"

"You all secretly love his movies," Tara tells them. "Real men don't lie to themselves about their feelings."

"Speaking of," says Lily. "You-know-who is becoming a middle-aged man soon."

"Who's you-know-who?" Sam says.

All eyes turn to him.

"What?" Sam says. "Oh come on, mid-thirties isn't that big a deal."

"We'll keep it low key," Ray promises. "And I can't believe I had to find out your birth date from your license."

Sam shrugs. He's never been big on celebrating.

"Like a fine wine, Winchester." Jack unwraps a mint from the counter and pops it into his mouth.

Carl emerges from the back with a stack of Dungeons & Dragons guides. "Watch it, I'm turning fifty in June."

"Sorry, Carl," they chorus. He flips them off before disappearing into the back.

"Well, lunch break's over anyway," says Tara. "See ya."

Each day melts into the next, and Sam tries his best not to think. He spends most of his off-work hours on the terrace roof of his building, lying in the rickety lounge chairs left by previous tenants and subsisting on iced tea and ninety-nine cent microwave pizza.

"Two more of supermarket's finest," he tells Greg one afternoon, clambering onto the roof while holding a paper plate steady in each hand.

Today he worked the morning shift at the Crypt, so now he's treating himself to a well-deserved afternoon of relaxation. He puts the plates down on the nearest table, just as Greg's answering a call.

"'Lo?" Greg says, grabbing a pizza slice and folding it into his mouth. "What? I don't think he wants one."

Sam picks up the day's paper and reads the headline. "What the hell?" he mutters to himself.

This is getting weird now. The headline is splashed across the front page: another gruesome murder. Possible serial killer. "Huh, eyes gouged out…" he reads.

"Yeah, ok fine," Greg says into the phone, and hangs up. He hands Sam the cell and then relaxes back into his own chair, taking another bite of pizza.

Sam looks at the phone. "Hey, that was mine? Who called?"

Greg shrugs. "Some weirdo."

Sam waits another beat while Greg desperately tries to fan his mouth around hot cheese. Finally prompting, "And?"

Greg looks surprised the conversation is still happening. "What?"

"Dude. Who was on my phone?"

"Oh. Wrong number."

"Really."

Greg shrugs. "Some guy going on about how he wants to give you a shirt. Probably a marketing scheme. He gave me some superhero name. I get batshit calls all the time, best just to hang up."

"Oh. Ok." Sam lies back with his pizza.

"Said something about a coffee stain."

Sam flips his sunglasses up again. "Wait, coffee stain?"

Greg says, "Yeah. On a shirt. You definitely don't want what he's selling, sounds like you could get a better shirt in a store."

"Greg."

"Or maybe that wasn't it, maybe he wanted to give you back a shirt? No, that doesn't make sense." He picks crumbs off his chest. "I dunno."

Sam checks the call log, and of course the last call was from a blocked number.

"Shit."

"Did you know him or something?"

"Greg. Seriously, think. Did he mention anything else."

"Something about his hotel. I don't know, man."

"In town? As in, he's here now?"

Greg lays back on the lounge chair and stretches. "Dude, answer your own phone in the future. I'm not your secretary."

"Jesus, now I have to climb all the way down the building again to get my laptop," Sam complains. They're...not exactly supposed to be up here.

"Please, you'll be fine. You're like a ninja."

When Sam gets back to the roof, barely saving his laptop from a two storey drop, he pulls up a list of all of the hotels in the downtown area. Because if Dean called him, Sam rationalizes, then he must have remembered something. He must need Sam. And Sam is willing to leave Dean alone for as long as there's a reason, but he's too selfish not to come when Dean calls.

"Please be downtown," he mutters, because the list is already long. He points his pen at Greg, "This is your fault," he says, and starts at the top.

He calls over twenty hotels asking for Dean Smith before someone pauses in a suspicious manner.

Sam seizes upon it. "So he is staying there. Look, I desperately need to get in contact with him. It's an emergency."

"Sir, I did not say that," says the concierge. "We have a great number of guests staying at our fine establishment, but no one currently going under the name 'Dean Smith.'"

"Oh." Sam picks up the list, sighing.

The man repeats, slowly, "There's no one by that name here."

Sam grins at the confirmation that Dean actually is there. "Ok, Batman. Obviously."

"Not that hero, no."

His face falls. "Uh, Robin?"

"No."

"Oh. Well then…Superman?" Sam asks, feeling a little embarrassed.

"No."

"Cat Woman? Green Lantern? Arrow?"

There was a time Dean would have chosen a respectable superhero, but the concierge only gives in once Sam says the name "Martian Manhunter," a minor hero Sam finds by scrolling through Wikipedia while he talks.

"Why yes. Mr. Manhunter is staying in our honeymoon suite. He left a message for you to meet him at three o'clock this afternoon."

Sam rolls his eyes. "Thanks. You've been a big help."








The elevator is gold paneled, and Sam's feet sink into the plush carpet when he steps out into the hallway of the top storey. Making his way to Dean's room, Sam passes twenty doors, maybe, and a fancy vending machine loaded with quality items rather than shitty ones. He's reminded of life as he used to know it, living in a thousand near-identical rooms, often subsisting only on chips and twinkies and the conviction that it was all worth it.

"Keep your head in the game," he says to himself again, shaking his head clear of the reverie.

He has a clear goal here. He'll talk to Dean, assess the situation, and then decide the best action to take. Maybe he'll be forced to tell Dean everything. And then they'll take it from there.

The honeymoon suite is situated at the end of the quiet hall. Sam loiters outside for a moment, then gives a soft knock. He waits for a moment, before putting his hand on the knob to test if it's locked.

The knob turns, someone opening the door at the same time but from the inside. Dean must have just come to the door. To take every precaution, Sam steps to one side, flattening his back against the wall to wait.

Sure enough, it's not his brother.

"Ahem."

A man in shirtsleeves is peering out the door at him. Sam steps away from the wall and smooths his shirt front.

"You," the man asks, with emphasis. "Are here for the interview?"

"Ah, um." Sam rocks on his heels, intelligently. He checks the room number and it matches the one he was given. "...I'm here to see Dean?"

"Name?"

"Uh...Sam?"

The guy shakes his head and consults a clipboard he has in his hand. He adjusts an ear piece and looks Sam up and down. "Sure, Sam. Well? Are you coming in or not? Mr. Smith doesn't have all day, and there is a line, you know."

"Line?" Sam asks, peering in through the door. He sees that there's a row of chairs against one wall where four guys in suits are sitting waiting.

The man coughs expectantly.

"Ah," Sam says. "I'm just— you know, just star struck, I guess."

"Magazine?"

"Huh?"

"That you work for," the guys says, followed by a muttered, "They need to start background checking."

"Oh, right, right, magazine." Sam casts about for something, anything, and his eyes land the vending machine again. "Uh...Twinkie? Twinkies?"

"Pardon?"

"Yes. Twinkies," Sam repeats, standing straighter and getting behind his story. "That's where I work. It's a serious publication."

The man shakes his head and scribbles something on his clipboard. "Word to the amateur?" he says, gesturing Sam in. "When you actually meet Mr. Smith, take a few deep breaths and for godssake, keep it in your pants. I've pencilled you in for 4 o'clock. You have ten minutes to get it together."

Inside, he can hear Dean's voice droning in the background. This is comforting. The way things are going, it seemed possible Dean wasn't here at all.

Dean's tone is affable, the voice he used to use when interviewing the scared witnesses to horrific crimes. Sam's chest constricts at the Dean's laughter, a sudden sound.

He drops a chair, in line with the other people who he assumes are reporters, and tries to decide how he's going to play this.

"You new?"

An attractive man in a suit next to him holds out his hand. Sam shakes, noting the crispness of his tie. Sam is way underdressed for this in his worn jeans and flannel.

"Yeah," he says. "You're not the first guy who's asked me that. What gave it away?"

"Well, you're bouncing your leg for one, and sweating like a pig."

Sam stops jiggling his knee, and crosses his legs at the ankle.

"Very observant. You must be a reporter," Sam says, which gets him a laugh. "Who do you work for?"

"I'm from Time."

Sam chokes on air. "Well," he wheezes after a short coughing fit. "Dean Smith is a, uh, great actor. I guess."

"That's what my boss said when she assigned me this project," the guy agrees. He leans in and says, "Me? I'm just angling for an autograph. My boyfriend loves this douchebag, and our three month anniversary's coming up."

"Right, good idea."

"So, you into his work?"

"Yes," Sam says, nodding seriously. "But I also came to see if he can get me a part in his latest project. What was it called again—?" he fishes.

A woman with a clipboard sticks her head in the room, calling, "Wilson?"

The guy stands and smooths his tie so it lies even flatter against his pristine shirt. He winks down at Sam before leaving, telling him, "Well, hope you get your big break."

When it's Sam's turn, the woman ushers him into the inner room, which is lined by security detail. Photographers lurk in corners, and Dean is seated on a stiff-looking sofa. The woman directs Sam to take a seat, and makes the introductions.

"Mr. Smith, may I introduce Sam Winchester, from a local publication," she says. "Twinkies. Mr. Winchester, you have five minutes."

Sam slowly settles on the opposite sofa. "Ok," he says, trying to catch Dean's eye meaningfully to find out what the hell is going on. "Sure. Um."

He'd hoped they'd be alone at least, but no luck.

Dean is looking at him politely like they've never met before. For a moment Sam wonders if maybe Dean doesn't have recurring bouts of amnesia and he's forgotten him again. Meaning he doesn't remember beating up Sam in the street, or the kiss.

Speaking of, Sam wishes he could remember anything about the currently-filming side of Dean's IMDB page.

Almost a fifth of his time has passed, he realizes, spent just gaping at Dean. He clears his throat. "Good morning, Mr. Smith."

Dean nods. "Good morning."

Sam clasps his hands in his lap, wishing he still kept a notepad on him at all times for moments like these. "You sure have a large fanbase," he starts. "What can you tell the readers of our exclusive magazine about your latest project?"

"It's going well," says Dean. His eyes flick briefly up to Sam's, then away. "Filming is part of the way through, and it's looking good."

Sam waits for more, but that seems to be all Dean's going to give him.

"Right. What do you most think will interest our readers?"

"The adventure, probably."

"Great," Sam nods. "I know our readership will be glad to hear that. So."

He can't tell, but he thinks Dean is starting to look embarrassed, which is a relief.

"So," says Sam. "As you know our magazine caters both to the queer community and lovers of the afamed snack food. What we would like to know iw, will there be any vending machine snacks in the film?"

Dean smiles and says, "No."

"Mr. Winchester, your time is nearly up," says the clipboard-wielding woman.

"Great. Of course." Sam casts about for another question and comes up with, but Dean beats him to it.

"You said your last name was Winchester?"

Sam leans forward. "Yes. It is."

Dean nods. "Isn't that a gun or something?"

"Yes, it is."

"Cool."

Sam collapses back, weariness settling over him. "Right, yeah. Do you have any final words for the readers of Twinkies?"

"I do actually," says Dean.

"Oh thank god," Sam says. "I mean, this will be very interesting to them."

"I'd like to make a restaurant recommendation."

Sam frowns. "Ok, shoot."

"Last time I was in the city," Dean says, finally engaging him in serious eye contact. "I happened upon a nice little place, pretty close to here actually. It's called Alexander's on 3rd, and it's a great place to grab a drink and talk."

"Oh. Ok."

"I always go at seven p.m. sharp," Dean continues.

Sam nods and tries to convey his understanding non-verbally. He may be out of the game, but he knows a lead when he's handed one. "All right," he says, and stands. "Well, that's all I have for you today. Thank you for your time."








Sam is at the restaurant by six-thirty. It's a fancy place, and he idles with a newspaper ("New eye-gouging victim found in river at local park") a ways down the sidewalk until he sees Dean approach at seven on the dot.

"Thank god I'm out of there," Dean says by way of greeting. He gives an exaggerated shiver.

Sam falls into step next to him. "Don't like reporters?"

"No, don't like that much attention, period."

"Right." Sam holds the door of the restaurant open for him, and it's not a weird thing to do, he's always sort of done it, but Dean gives him a weird look over his shoulder. They're seated by a man in a waistcoat and Sam tries to look around without being too obvious. It's candlelit, there are tasteful portraits of a moustachiod man on the walls.

"Are those all of Alexander?" he asks Dean.

Dean snorts. "Probably. Seems the type."

"Yeah, named a restaurant after himself."

Their eyes catch for a moment, and Sam is the first to look away.

"So," he says. He awkwardly shoves his swan-shaped napkin into his lap. "This place is...crazy nice."

Dean nods. "It's all right. I found it last time I was in Detroit. You never eaten here?"

Sam shakes his head.

"They have burgers to die for. I mean, seriously." Dean unfolds and settles his napkin over one knee with ease. "Hey, sorry about earlier. I completely forgot that I had interviews."

"It's fine."

"You handled it well."

Sam snorts. "Sure."

Dean laughs and Sam just shakes his head, hiding his smile.

When the waiter asks if the monsieur would like wine, Dean says, "No, no, just a beer. Whatever's on tap."

There are vestiges of the real Dean everywhere. If this weren't a horrible tragic situation, Sam thinks he would be very interested to see how this amnesia thing worked.

They settle into a quiet sort of moment. Sam squints at Dean, trying to see anything else on his face.

When their drinks come, Dean raises his glass in a suggestion of a toast before taking a sip. "So, you're probably wondering why I called."

"Yeah. I mean, yes, I really would like to know." He's at the edge of his seat.

"You seem surprised to hear from me. Can't a guy call his friend when he's in town?"

Sam raises an eyebrow. "I wouldn't say we're exactly friends."

"Alright. Yeah." Dean rubs a hand over the back of his neck and sighs. He studies the perfectly white tablecloth for a long moment, and Sam realizes this really might not be good news. "I've been having these...uh...these dreams," Dean starts.

Sam leans in. "Dreams?"

"Dude, calm down. Not those kind of dreams." Dean smirks. "I mean, one of them I admit, but that was like...let's not talk about that."

Sam laughs nervously.

"Just weird...weird dreams."

"Care to elaborate on that?"

"Bad," Dean clarifies. "Like, children's greatest fears sort of bad."

"Oh yeah?" Sam can imagine.

Dean downs half his beer and clears his throat. He seems anxious just thinking about it, Sam can only imagine what a normal person like him would think when faced with thoughts of their-level violence.

"Nothing a grown-ass adult should be having," says Dean. "But, they won't stop. And you're in them, fighting them. Sort of the star of the show, in every one. Lord knows why you specifically. I mean, you fit the part."

He looks Sam over again, and Sam shifts but doesn't deny it.

"So my therapist told me—"

Sam coughs around a sip of his own beer.

"—my therapist," Dean says louder of Sam's incredulous noises. "Says that I should confront you about it. Then maybe I can move on."

Sam wipes his eyes. "Sorry, it's just I've always said you should go to therapy."

"Gee, thanks stranger."

"No, I mean— I mean, good for you."

Dean waves him off. "So anyway. Long story short, I have dreams about you. Please get out of my head."

They lapse into silence, this one more life-endingly depressing on Sam's part.

"How are you?" Sam finally asks. He really wants to know.

"You mean beside the nightmares?"

"Yeah."

"Fine. Just fine. You? How's the bookstore? You seeing anyone?"

"Fine. And fine. And, um, no."

Dean looks surprised, which is gratifying. "Why not?" He considers him. "I guess you do seem like a dude who might have deal-breaker type fetishes."

"Thanks," Sam says flatly. Messed up forever by a host of monsters and other big bads is more like it. Sam could give him a laundry list. "Heartbroken, actually," is what he says. "In a way."

"Oh yeah? You left them or they left you?"

"He left me," Sam says.

He's not angry at Dean, obviously. But it feels good to blame him for a second to his face.

"Bastard," Dean says.

"Totally," Sam agrees and is thankful when their food comes.

His salad is amazing. He's assuming Dean is going to pay, because the salad alone is $25 dollars and Sam is a week away from his next paycheck. He watches as Dean takes a messy bite of his burger, how Dean's eyes flutter closed for a second as he savors it. "Wasn't his fault," Sam tells him. "I don't blame him."

A conversation behind them becomes apparent as they're finishing up, loud enough to hear from two tables away. Sam's attention is caught by something that sounds like Dean's name.

It's a couple guys laughing it up over drinks. One of them says, "No way. Give me Dean Smith any day."

Sam and Dean look at each other. Dean quirks an eyebrow and makes a show of leaning back to listen with his hands behind his head.

"Yeah," one laughs. "He's the one actor my wife made me promise she could bone if the opportunity presented itself."

Dean grimaces, and Sam holds back a smile.

"My wife likes that other one — blonde, kind of scrawny but chicks dig him."

Dean mouths, "Brad Pitt."

The guy at the table says, "—Brad Pitt."

Sam kicks Dean under the table and Dean winks at him. "Brad Pitts not scrawny," he whispers and Dean shrugs.

Another guy cuts in. "God I hate those movies. Trashy romance."

"Smith's the guy with freckles, right? Vacant eyes?"

"Yeah, drug-induced, definitely. I heard he's in rehab right now."

Sam points at Dean and mouths, "Now?"

Dean shakes his head, smiling as he finishes his beer.

"Poor rich boy. Too much blow?"

"Or blowjobs. Have you seen that mouth?"

The smile on Dean's face fades, and Sam's sense of humor with it.

"I mean, I'm not gay or anything," one of the says. "But I can see the appeal. Maybe if you close your eyes…?"

"Ok, that's it." Sam stands, his chair scraping back.

"It's fine," Dean says, but Sam is already moving toward the table.

The men are at a table covered in empty cocktail glasses and appetizer plates, wearing smug suits to match the smug smiles that Sam can't wait to wipe off their faces.

"Hi. Sorry to bother you guys," Sam starts. "But—"

One sneers up at him, looking at Sam's muddy boots and plaid. "Well, you're definitely not the waiter. How'd you get in here?"

"Yeah, here's the thing," Sam says over him. "I try not to spend time on douchebags like you—"

"Hey!"

"But the guy you're talking about is a real person. So keep your voices down, no one wants to hear what you have to say."

One of the men half-stands. "Yeah, well no one wants to see your face, but you obviously haven't gotten that memo."

Sam opens his mouth to respond but a hand on his elbow drags him away.

"Dude, let's go," Dean says. "They're not worth it."

Sam grinds his teeth. "I'm sorry. I just can't handle dicks like that."

Dean hands his credit card to a waiter who has hastened to their side. He flashes Sam a chagrined smile. "It's ok, man. It's nice that you tried. I mean, it would be cool if I could have a civil conversation with every person who has a wrong opinion, but—"

"But?"

Dean pauses, like a thought has just occurred to him. "You know what?"

He does an about face, walking straight back to the table.

"Hi," he says, interrupting the men's loud laughter.

The first guy drops his fork with a clatter when he sees who's addressing them. "Holy shit…"

Dean jerks his thumb to where Sam is looming over his shoulder. "I'm sorry about gigantor here. He's very sensitive."

"You heard—"

Dean waves off whatever stuttering explanation he's about to hear. "Look I know how it is to meet after work, blow off some steam bullshitting with your friends. Just hanging with the guys, right?"

"Right," says one of them, face pale. "That's all it was."

"I also know that your wives think about me while they're deigning to have sex with you. Which is fine for me." He smiles. "Well, good talk. Have a good night."

Done, Dean leaves. Sam trails him out of the restaurant, grinning.

"Dude."

"I shouldn't have done that," Dean says. "I really shouldn't have done that." But there's very little remorse in his voice. He looks at Sam, pulling his jacket around him tighter against the breeze. "You know, I thought you were going to punch him in the face for a second there."

Sam clenches his jaw. "Ha. Well, it was definitely an option."

Dean smiles at that for some reason, and shakes his head. "You know, I don't get it."

"What?"

"You don't treat me like I'm famous. And you make me feel like I'm allowed to act like a normal guy. Which is crazy, by the way. Because if there's one way I'm not allowed to act, it's that." They wait on a corner until the light turns green. Dean looks thoughtful. "What am I doing with you?"

Sam's been asking himself the same about Dean all night.

The way Dean is looking at him, honest, with the light casting one side of his face in shadows — Sam knows with a sudden, complete certainty that this is it. Tonight is the end. He can't go on torturing himself like this, and Dean himself has said himself he wants Sam gone so he can live with complete peace of mind. Sam will have to cut off all contact with Dean, for good this time.

"Hey," Dean says, noticing the shift in mood. The light's turned. "Where'd you go?"

"Nowhere," Sam says, pulling up his jacket collar against a breeze. "I'm right here."

They continue in the direction of Dean's hotel at a slow amble. If Dean's elbow brushes Sam's too often to be accidental, Sam pretends not to notice. Dean is smiling to himself and Sam feels like his life is ending all over again, walking too fast toward the end of his life.

When they reach the hotel, Dean idles with his hands in his pockets, looking up at Sam from up close.

"Well, this is me." He says. Sam looks past him at the massive hotel, ferrari owners handing their keys to chauffeurs and a bellboy discreetly smoking a cigarette by the gilded doors. "Do you want to come up?"

It's casual, but Sam can feel the meaning behind it. It's killing him. "I really, really can't," he says. He looks at every one of Dean's features, trying to memorize him all over again in the flash of headlights.

Dean reaches out and pokes Sam in the chest, very deliberately, then leaves his finger there. "You know, Sam. Correct me if if I'm wrong, but…"

He trails off until Sam looks him in the eyes.

"I know that you're interested," Dean says. And when Sam doesn't answer, he asks, "Was it the kiss? It's not your fault, you know. I heard someone say recently, I have an irresistible mouth. I mean, they were talking about blowjobs, but..."

Sam rolls his eyes when Dean snickers at his own joke.

Dean is still standing too close, and Sam should be anywhere but here. He shakes his head. "Sorry man, wouldn't want you to have any more of those dreams."

"I have a bottle of scotch," Dean says. "Real old, goes down smooth."

"Of course you do." At Dean's questioning look, Sam caves. "Never mind. I guess I could have a drink." He can let himself have this one last drink. Fuck it, he deserves a final toast to a long ride.

Dean's hand leaves warmth when he moves away. "Great, give me five minutes, then come up. You know which room."

Sam watches him go. He follows inside at a slow pace, and proceeds to lurk around the ostentatious flower arrangements in the lobby, blending in passably aside from the few concerned glances he gets from the front desk.

Four minutes later, he rides the elevator up to the top floor and steps softly along the quiet hotel corridor.

It can't end like this, but it has to. Just because it's not life or death right now, Sam knows the choice he has to make, knows that sometimes there are choices you make in life, and you have to really dedicate yourself to them. He'll allow himself this one moment of weakness, and then it's over.

Dean swings the door open when Sam knocks, cheeks flushed. "Hi."

"Hi." Dean looks beautiful, familiar, and he's been waiting for Sam. This is the last time Sam is going to see his brother.

Dean is no longer on the same page. "You have to go," he whispers.

Sam blinks. "Huh?"

"Go. Now." Dean enunciates the words clearly, quietly.

"But I thought—"

"My boyfriend," says Dean. "Who I thought was in New York. Is in the bathroom."

"Your," Sam starts, but can't finish the thought out loud, let alone in his head.

"Boyfriend." Dean's eyes are comically wide, as he nods for Sam to leave down the hallway. "Go."

A noise from the bathroom confirms the existence of a boyfriend, and a voice. "Hey babe? Who's at the door?"

Dean tries to shove Sam out but Sam is dead where he stands.

"What the hell, Dean?"

"Uh... room service," Dean calls, then leans into Sam's space to whisper, "Dude, leave."

Then Alec Baldwin steps into view, and Sam is very alarmed.

"No freaking way," Sam says in lieu of laughing like an insane person.

Alec Baldwin towels his hair dry, unfazed by Sam's outburst. He must get that reaction all the time.

"Room service, great," he says. "You know, I thought you guys had some kind of uniform you had to wear."

If Sam had known this morning that today would necessitate multiple disguises, he would have worn the fed suit that's been folded and forgotten in a corner of his closet. "Well, uh, yeah normally, but—" he flounders, adjusting his jacket. He looks to Dean, who is no help. "I just changed to go home, but I thought I'd just deal with this final, uh, room service order?"

"Oh great." Alec Baldwin starts unbuttoning his shirt. "I'm dying for some sushi."

"Sushi?"

"Yeah, you know, the rice and the seaweed and all that. You do have sushi here, right? I thought this was a five star establishment."

Sam finds himself vaguely outraged on behalf of his adopted hotel. "Yes, I know what sushi is. I'll see what I can do."

"And get us some new pillows while you're at it. Make sure they're firm, none of those soft ones."

"Absolutely," Sam nods. "Firm pillows."

"And maybe empty the trash on your way out."

"Right," he says with more hesitation. No real choice here, he stoops to pick up the trash can, putting it under one arm.

Dean puts up his hands to stop him, horrified. "Really—" he half turns. "He doesn't have to do that. I don't think that's his job."

Sam is amazed again at the difference he's seen in Dean, whose cheeks are burning red in embarrassment. It's like Sam is looking at a completely different person.

"Sorry," Alec Baldwin tells Sam. "Dean, there's a stained pair of your pants in there. Looks like blood on them or something, I don't want that in the room."

"Ketchup," says Dean quickly, in a way that strikes Sam as odd. But so does everything he says lately.

"You're so clumsy," Alec Baldwin chides. "Can't leave you alone for a second."

"Ok, I'll be going now," says Sam.

Alec Baldwin smiles and comes across the room. "What's your name?"

Sam flounders. "Ah...Bernie."

Alec Baldwin, the actor who he and Dean have repeatedly mocked every time he's graced the screen of their motel televisions, shakes Sam's hand. Sam looks down to find he has slipped a ten dollar bill into his palm.

"Thank you, Bernie." He turns his attention back to Dean. Dean, his boyfriend. "Hey, I thought we could throw around some cash on the town, but I can also show you a good time here. What do you think?"

"Yeah, let's stay in," Dean says faintly.

Alec Baldwin kisses him, for an extended and unnecessary amount of time, then he winks at Sam. "He hates surprises, didn't know I'd be here. Dean, order fast ok? Let's let Bernie get home."

He wanders off into the bathroom again.

Sam is still holding the trash can. He is starting to relate to it on a deep level. "I should go," he says.

Dean just nods.

Before the door closes behind him, Sam turns. "Ok," he says. "This is not something I expected."

It makes him feel the slightest bit better that Dean looks one hundred percent mortified when he says. "I don't know what to say."

"I think the word you're looking for is 'goodbye,'" Sam says. "So, goodbye."

He leaves the room, just him and his trash can. And Dean doesn't follow.

Sam makes it out of the hotel without collapsing to the floor in despair. It's something he'll feel proud of in the future. But for now he feels numb where his heart used to be, which he supposes is normal in these sort of circumstances.

Stepping out of the lobby and into the cold, he shakes his head again and thinks maybe this was for the best.

"Enough," he tells himself. "That's enough now."

His old life is gone, and there's no way to get it back.

There's a dumpster around the side of the hotel where he drops the small trash can on his way out. In doing so, the light-colored slacks Alec Baldwin mentioned fall to the ground at Sam's feet.

They are indeed stained with blood.

Sam crouches down. There's no tear in the material at all, Sam checks, so it wasn't from a scraped knee or something equally as benign. And it's a lot of blood.

A large amount, in fact. It's more than you'd expect from a cut, for instance, more what you'd expect from a stab wound. All in all, his initial and only somewhat-informed blood splatter analysis leads him to conclude that the wearer of these pants stabbed someone from a standing position.

This is a curveball to an already confusing situation. Things have changed, the story more strange.

"Just when you think you know a guy," Sam says, and goes to get his car.

It looks like he will be sticking around after all.









Sam parks his car across the street from the hotel, where he pulls up the collar of his jacket, gets comfortable, and waits.

It's been a long time since Sam's been on a good stakeout, and even longer since he's had to endure one alone without intermittent witticism and bad takeout. Without Dean keeping him awake, Sam's eyes grow noticeably heavier as it nears the two hour mark, and he has to do car stretches to keep himself alert.

On his phone, he works off a terrible hunch, and compares the location of the eye-gouging murders with known filming dates of Dean's many projects. It seems impossible, but it also feels wrong to leave a stone this big unturned.

The results are less than promising, pointing to a reality Sam doesn't even want to consider. The last murder happened here two nights ago. The photo of the crime scene shows a body covered in a plastic sheet, a lighthouse in the background. Mariner's Park at sunrise, it reads.

The park is not far from where Dean is currently engaging in whatever thing he and Alec Baldwin usually engage in.

If this were just any case, Sam would rate his certainty at ninety percent.

He turns off his phone, unable to keep thinking down this track. He stretches his legs out and leans back in his seat as he stares at the front of the hotel. The only thing he can do now is either follow Dean on a suspicious midnight walk, or wait for a murder and hope that Dean has an alibi.

But nothing happens. And by the time Sam starts his car and heads for home, he feels foolish. There are signs this could be Dean, but it's also highly unlikely that his brother would go on some sort of killing spree as a result of memory loss.

Sam gets back to his apartment by three and sleeps fitfully anyways, finally waking at five-thirty, suddenly and like he's been jerked from a dream, to a room that's grey with the hint of morning.

"Shit," he says to the discolored ceiling. He rolls to press his face more firmly into the pillow then checks his phone. It's always the days he doesn't have to work early that he wakes before dawn.

The hilarity of the idea that he could ever manage a normal job for any substantial period of time is enough to make him laugh aloud. It's possible he's been pretending this whole time, and that things were always going to go sideways.

Sam falls to the floor and does fifty pushups, a stab at keeping in shape, then he goes to the kitchen. He puts on water for coffee, and then puts bread in the toaster. He goes to collapse on the couch while he waits, but in walking across the still-dark living room, he's grabbed from behind.

He spins out of his attacker's grasp on socked feet, and just manages to land a kick before it's turned around on him. He finds himself flipped onto his back on his apartment floor.

"Dean?" Sam gasps.

Dean is grinning above Sam, a joker smile. His hand is just shy of closing around Sam's throat. Sam understands for a terrible second that Dean must know Sam suspects him, and has possibly come to kill him.

"Easy," Dean shushes. Sam thinks for a dramatic second that this is how he'd like to die.

"Dude, what are you doing here?" Sam whispers. He wonders then if Dean might kiss him again. The moment feels very intimate, just the two of them, Dean's body hovering over his own.

The lights flip on, sudden and blinding, and a voice says, "Keep it in the bedroom, Winchester."

Sam rolls out from under Dean and jumps to his feet to find his roommate heading to the kitchen. Greg is wearing yellowed tighty-whities and not much else.

"Oh," Greg says. "Dean Smith."

"Yes," Sam says.

"Hello," says Dean.

Greg pulls out the ice cream and eats a spoonful. Then, remembering himself, holds out the tub. "Want some?" he asks, like Dean isn't still lying on the floor and Sam isn't wide-eyed and panicking by the TV.

"No thanks," Sam says.

Dean waves a hand from his position on the floor. "I'm fine, too."

Greg shrugs. "Your loss. See you gays later." He disappears into his room again.

"Sorry about him," says Sam, even though Greg maybe almost stopped Dean from killing him.

"It's fine," Dean says slowly. He gets to his feet. "You're not going to attack me again, are you?"

Sam is filled with incredulity. "You attacked me!" he says, but then deflates when he notices the bags under Dean's eyes. He looks like he hasn't slept at all. "And no, you're safe."

Dean looks longingly at the couch. "May I?"

"Of course." Sam waves for him to sit. He remains standing, and crosses his arms. "So why did you break in? Haven't you seen enough of me in the last twenty-four hours?"

"I didn't know where else to go," says Dean. "Although I'm rethinking that choice." Dean squints at Sam, who feels unfairly judged for his floral boxers with happy faces.

"You have your hotel room," Sam points out.

"I was woken up by a phone call from my agent an hour ago," Dean says. "I had to sneak out of the building, which was already being surrounded by paparazzi."

Sam feels a thrill run through him. "So why were they following you? You didn't...do anything that would be considered illegal, did you?" Like murder. He almost says it.

Dean's mouth tightens in a thin line. "It's just, there's been an issue. A leak. To the press."

"What kind of leak."

"A...video."

Sam frowns. "Video?"

"Yeah. The kind you might not want to get out to the world." He looks meaningfully at Sam.

"Oh." Sam stares at him. Then the meaning of the words settle in. "Oh. What, really? You?"

Dean remains silent.

Sam shakes his head. "I mean, I know you've always been a fan of— but I mean, no, I haven't seen it."

"Good," Dean says, a look of relief crossing his face. "Good. It's only been out for a few hours. Released in Europe. It'll be all over the tabloids today. I wouldn't recommend it, it's not my finest film."

Sam tries not to imagine but fails. He looks away. "So why didn't you stay with, you know, your much older boyfriend."

Dean snorts. "Broke up."

"Really?"

"Yeah. Said he didn't want his reputation tarnished by said video. It had been coming for a long time though. Which...by the way. Sorry about that, earlier. In the hotel."

"No, I mean. It's fine."

It's stupid how much relief he feels about this.

"You know, I really can find a hotel."

Sam steps in front of him. "No, stay here." He puts a hand up, just short of Dean's shoulder, then thinks better of it. He tries to inject as much meaning as he can in his tone. "Of course stay here. You're always welcome."

Dean takes a minute, searching Sam's face before he looks away. "Thanks."

"You hungry?" Sam calls as he heads to the fridge. He swings the door open. "I have — half a lemon and two pieces of bread. Well, that was underwhelming."

"No, I'm good," Dean says. "I don't eat carbs much, gives you a gut."

Sam snorts. "What about that burger last night?"

"That was my carbs for the week."

"I'll get you some water then. Clear your pores, or whatever."

He thinks he hears Dean mutter, "bastard" and smirks down at the glasses. But then he remembers the suspicion he'd felt just half an hour ago. The thought is sobering.

Keeping his voice deliberately casual, Sam calls, "Hey, speaking of good places to go in this city, I have a recommendation for you this time."

"Yeah? Where's that?"

"There's this lighthouse," he says, and although he feels bad baiting Dean, he's spent his life playing detective. The thought will nag him forever if he doesn't kill this suspicion once and for all. "Down by the water. Nice place to take a midnight stroll, clear your head. You haven't been down there ever, have you?"

He lets out a breath when Dean barely reacts to the question, pausing his couch pillow fluffing to answer, "Nope, haven't explored much at all." He takes the glass Sam offers him.

"Well good night," Sam tells him, and his eyes catch and linger as Dean smiles up at him like he doesn't have a care in the world.

"Goodnight, Sam."

Sam pauses to watch him get comfortable on the couch, and then shakes his head. He's been stupid, he realizes, jumping to conclusions after a lifetime of jumping at shadows. All is well. Dean is safe in his apartment, the killer is somewhere out there and not either of their problems. Sam's mind is finally at ease.









Sam sleeps well into the afternoon, and wakes with a strange feeling of wellbeing. He goes to the living room to find Dean is drinking coffee, still on the couch like he's also just woken up.

They the day in a strange sort of understanding, but of what Sam doesn't know. After ordering breakfast burritos for delivery — "You've never ordered breakfast? Then you haven't lived. — they retire to the couch where they watch a Greatest Westerns marathon on one of Sam's four channels.

For years Sam has been trying to come to terms with never watching TV with Dean again, but now here they are, only a foot of space between them. Occasionally their knees brush and a spark goes through Sam every time it happens. He has Dean where he needs him, just within sight even when he's not looking. Even without much of what defines him, Dean still fills up the room in a way only he can, and puts Sam at ease.

They continue the marathon until Sam can hear his neighbors return from work. At six thirty, there comes a knock at the door.

Dean starts, and when Sam looks at him Dean's face is pale under the freckles and stubble. "Expecting company?"

"No."

"Not to tell you what to do in your own apartment, but I would be careful if I were you."

"What do you mean?"

"There are plenty of people who'd like to find me," Dean says, grimacing.

Sam goes to the door, with some trepidation. When he peers through the hole, he sighs and pulls the door open.

Jack bursts in carrying a handle of Jack Daniels and a pie. "Where's the birthday boy?" he hollers and then makes way for three other present-toting, balloon-wrangling friends.

Sam groans. "Shit guys, you didn't have to—"

Ray claps him on the shoulder. "Of course we did. Celebrating your old-ass is one of my greatest joys."

"You are seriously two months younger than me," Sam reminds him and lets himself be dragged in for a warm hug.

Abruptly, a silence falls over the room, and Sam sees that they've looked past him. Dean has stood up fromt he couch.

He's in another of Sam's rumpled t-shirts, artistically ripped jeans, and socked feet. He rubs a hand over his neck, and smiles at them all. "I didn't realize it was your birthday, man. I can go."

Sam shakes his head. "Naw, join us."

"Holy—" says Tara, distractedly shoving a six pack of beer into Sam's arms. "Is that really—"

"Shut up," Lily whispers.

"Yep, it's me," Dean says.

Sam ushers everyone in. "Guys, stop being weird."

The six of them crowd around Sam's coffee table, cross-legged. The balloons have been let loose to drift awkwardly around the room.

The silence is horrible at first. Tara and Lily are obviously mortified, and Ray won't even look Sam's way. Jack makes some small talk that Sam takes part in wholeheartedly, but the conversation falls flat.

But then Dean opens one of the pizza boxes and puts two giant pieces onto Sam's paper plate, saying, "Happy birthday, princess."

The smattering of laughter breaks the mood. Jack turns on low music, and everyone starts eating.

"So…" Ray motions between the two of them. "How did this—?"

"I was avoiding reporters," Dean says. "So I ducked into Sam's bookstore."

"And then you took him home," Tara finishes, giving Sam a strangely accusatory look.

"Sort of," Dean says. "First I beat up a few teenagers. But yeah, the rest is pretty much history."

"Long story," Sam tells them.

The second Dean goes to the bathroom his friends are on him.

"What the ever loving fuck?" Lily hisses.

"Are you the reason for the most talked about breakup on the internet? Are you the secret paramor the tabloids have been talking about?"

"No," Sam says. "It was completely unrelated. Also I didn't know he had a boyfriend until last night. And also," he finishes, making the most important point. "We're not together."

"Oh please," Tara says. Then, "And how have you lived through this era of Dean Smith's rise to stardom without knowing he was dating Alec frikken Baldwin?"

"Did everyone know?"

Lily gives him a look, and puts a beer in front of him. "They've been the scandal of the last five years."

Sam frowns.

"'Alec Baldwin finally parades out of the closet,'" Jack quotes.

"There's been a headline once a week at least about Dean Smith being shtupped by a man twice his age," Lily offers.

"Ugh," Sam says.

Ray puts a hand on his knee. "I'm sorry."

"It's not like that," Sam says. "I mean, I barely know the guy." He stumbles over the words. "And it's...like I said, it's not like that. I didn't even know Dean was an actor...I mean, didn't even know about Dean Smith until a few months ago."

Sam can't even begin to explain the reasons, obviously. Letting his frankly very awesome friends know that their man-crush Dean Smith is Sam's amnesiatic brother is not something Sam feels up to right now.

Ray puts an arm around him, not unkindly. "This is all on you, you know. You really should keep up with celebrity gossip rags."

Sam agrees with him. "I always wondered if I was missing out on something important."

"Now you don't have to wonder."

There's a beer waiting for Dean when he takes his seat again. "So, Dean," Jack says. "You're going to have to bear with us while we continue our longstanding holiday tradition."

"Oh yeah? What's that?"

"Well, at every major event — birthdays, holidays, et cetera — we give thanks for the good things we have in our life. We do so by keeping ourselves grounded—"

"—so we talk about how much our lives suck," Tara says. "Who's going first tonight?"

"I'll start," Lily says.

Jack nods. "Right, give it your best shot."

She waves to Dean. "Hello, I'm Lily. And my life sucks. I'm thirty-two, single as can be, haven't had a good hook up in six months. And I still work at a bar after five years, which I told myself I would never do in the first place. But it's the only thing I can find that will pay the bills. So. Yeah. That's where I'm at. Beat that."

"Sam's thirty-five," Dean points out. "Way to make him feel bad about his age."

"Speaking of me," Sam says over him. "Nice try, Lily. I work at a bookstore, but unlike you, I make absolutely no tips whatsover." He pauses. "Although the bookstore part is actually pretty great. It's been my backup career choice for years, so scratch that. It's not that abd. Uh," he tries to think of something to continue with that's not about his real life, but his fake normal life is actually pretty great.

"Wow, you suck at this," Jack cuts him off. "My turn. Well, I'm ugly, for one." He points to his mullet. "Got this horrible haircut that doesn't help. And...I got fired today." He waves away the responses and sympathy from around the table. "Oh, it's all right. I wasn't good at my job anyway. I'm looking forward to trying the unemployed thing for a while, take up harmonica."

"You're very musical," Lily says.

Sam points. "Ray?"

Ray clears his throat. "Well, my car wouldn't start yesterday, so I had to shell out for a taxi to get my groceries home. A client yelled at me on the phone today for an hour, and then I had a super uncomfortable interaction on the bus. The bus which I had to take in the first place due to aforementioned car troubles. Also I hang out with total losers. Woe is me."

His eyes crinkle up at the corners at the protest that follows.

"No, you guys are great." He puts his hand on Sam's knee. "Especially this guy right here. It's hard associating with smart, supermodel types. Really makes you feel your inadequacies."

"I apologize from the bottom of my heart," Sam tells him.

"Happy birthday."

After Tara goes, Jack waves his hand. "Ok, I'm calling it. I think I won this one."

Dean stops with the bottle to his lips. "Hey, what about me?"

They all laughs, then seeing that Dean seems serious, Tara says, "Really...you."

"No way," Ray says. "You don't get a turn."

Dean looks pretty sure of himself when he says, "No, I think I can top all of yours."

Ray shakes his head. "Classic superstar, think the world revolves around you."

"Fine, fine," says Sam. "Give it a try."

"See, this is exactly the problem," Dean tells all of them. "So I'm rich, right?"

There are groans of annoyance, but Dean holds up a hand.

"Right. So that part's not so bad. I'm rich and I've made it." He does air quotes, then continues on despite the sighs of disgust. "I love my job, love acting, but I hate everything that comes with it. I've been threatened. I've been stalked more times than I can count, photographed at every attempt I make to go out in public. And by now you guys probably have heard about the porno."

Jack chokes on beer and Lily nods, a little too enthusiastically for Sam's liking.

Dean shakes his head. "I just want a cup of damn coffee without people pointing and screaming. Is that too much to ask? I'm surrounded by people who love me for my money, my fame, and I never know if my friends just hang around because of my fame or because of my money. It's definitely not my shining personality. Oh yeah, because I have amnesia."

Silence falls. Sam guesses this wasn't common knowledge.

"I can't even remember my life before two years ago," Dean says. "I just know it was something...strange. Bad maybe. There's this feeling of...foreboding. I'm worried I'm going to find out soon and it's not going to be good." When he stops for breath he seems at a loss how to continue. "And...yeah. That's it I guess. That's me."

Silence has descended. They all look to Sam as if wondering what they should say, but Sam has no clue.

"Nah," Ray says after a beat. "Jack still wins."

Tara slaps him on the back. "Good job, you suck more than all of us combined."

"Thank you for this dubious honor," Jack tells them all, holding his beer up as a toast. "To me!"

Sam knocks against Dean's shoulder. "Nice try, man."

Dean smiles. "Yeah, yeah." Sam thinks Dean seems more relaxed as he grabs another slice of cheese and mushroom.

The toasts turn into birthday speeches and too much pie, and the night goes on.

His friends leave at midnight, with a few whispered encouragements that Sam ignores, and a somewhat bittersweet hug from Ray that makes Sam feel like the biggest asshole this side of the US.

"Well, that was fun," Dean says as the door closes, leaving them alone.

"I'm glad you thought so. They're good people."

He crumples wrapping paper into the trash, and beer cans into the recycling. He asks, casually as he can, "Are you staying?"

"Do you mind? I can't really face people right now."

The admission is emotionally honest, too much for Sam right now. "I'll grab you a blanket," he says in response.



Part 3
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