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The Unseen

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July, 1780

Samouel couldn’t lift his head to drink. Aidoneus held his neck, pouring small trickles of water into his mouth between his wheezing breaths. Aidoneus was careful in gradually lowering him back to the cushion, running his fingers through Samouel’s sweaty, graying hair.

Aidoneus could feel the approach of Death – Samouel was slipping away from him with every passing second. His fingers curled in the mortal’s shirt, gripping tightly, but he knew better than most that he couldn’t stop Death from coming. Even he had never been powerful enough for that.

But he did have enough juice to keep Samouel from going too far.

He lit the candles, positioned in a circle around them, and kneeled beside Samouel’s head to place both hands on his lover’s scalp.

“I love you,” he whispered, pressing a kiss to Samouel’s forehead. His eyes fluttered open to lock with the god’s, returning the sentiment without having to rasp it out. Aidoneus smiled, his eyes wet, and began the incantation.

He could feel the magic draining his power as he spoke. Samouel’s eyes closed again as Aidoneus leaned over him, pressing his palms to the sick man’s chest. He could feel Samouel’s soul, so close to the surface in preparation of leaving its host, and watched warm strands of its bright orange light weave around his fingers. He recited the spell louder, refusing to let his voice waver as he encouraged the bond between them. Finally, the bond snapped into place and he could feel the soul as strongly as if it were one of his own limbs.

Tears were streaming down his cheeks but he ignored them. He took a cloth and dipped it in a bowl of cool, clear water, wringing it out and dabbing it against Samouel’s fevered skin. There wasn’t anything to do but try to soothe him until he fell unconscious, and hold him until their time was up.

He sensed Death before he saw Him, familiar as He was. His face was as gaunt as ever and His expression utterly blank. Human death was nothing more than a job to Him – He was too old for individual lives to be significant. For a moment, Aidoneus envied Him. Death would never experience the grief he was feeling over a mortal.

“I must take him,” Death stated simply, and Aidoneus appreciated the courtesy. It was the closest thing to comfort he would be offered. He nodded, watching as Death’s touch sucked the last breath from Samouel’s lungs. Then He was gone.

A reaper followed soon after, approaching the spirit who was trying to orient himself, the way they always did after death. Samouel looked from his still body to Aidoneus, who offered him a weak smile.

The reaper reached out for him, pausing and blinking before she could lay her hand on his arm. She looked towards Aidoneus with narrowed eyes. “What have you done? You know you cannot cheat death.”

“He is dead,” Aidoneus pointed out, the corners of his lips quirking up with real amusement. The reaper was relatively new – not one that Aidoneus had worked with back when he’d been in power. “I am not trying to keep you from taking him.”

She finally made contact, feeling the spell. “Curse you, Hades. He should be Heaven’s.”

“He is mine,” Aidoneus corrected, his voice cool as he stared her down. “My bonded mate. You can take him now, but he will come back to me.”

She huffed, looking at Samouel again. “Come. You will rest until his magic brings you back to earth. You should not have agreed to this.”

Aidoneus could have beamed with pride when no trace of worry darkened Sameoul’s wrinkled face. “It was my choice as much as his.” He held out his hand towards Aidoneus, who did the same, their fingertips not quite touching.

“I’ll see you soon, my love,” Aidoneus murmured, and Samouel smiled. The reaper led him away, and Aidoneus knelt down to pick up the candles. He would mourn, and the grief would weigh heavily on him for many days to come. But his Samouel would return, and that was enough.

***


January, 2009

Dean knocked back the dregs of his beer, setting the empty bottle back down on the table. Alcohol couldn’t intoxicate him but he’d grown accustomed to the taste over the years, and sitting in a bar for a few hours gave him something to do. He liked people-watching, and – well, sulking.

There were always at least a few people in there to drown their sorrows, especially in the earlier hours of the afternoon, so he was in good company. He sometimes talked to them and heard their stories, but no one asked for his in return and he never offered. He couldn’t exactly tell anyone that he was thousands of years old, or that he was waiting for the mortal love of his life to be reincarnated. They’d just laugh and write him off as a crazy drunk if he tried.

He’d had Samouel in Greece and then Sawyl in Wales, following Sawyl’s family as they immigrated to America. Dean had been wandering the states ever since his lover’s second death. He hadn’t realized, doing the spell so many years before, how difficult it would be to watch him die again. How difficult it would be to have to wait again. And he’d never expected to lose him before he’d even found him.

He’d known the moment Samouel had been born into his third life. He’d felt it with Sawyl too, that spark telling him that his soul’s literal missing piece was out there somewhere. It had taken almost a year to track him down, and he’d watched over him from a distance until he was accidentally spotted. Sawyl had remembered everything within the week.

When he’d felt it a second time, he’d hadn’t wasted a minute before setting out to look. He’d had to judge his directions by feeling, but he knew he was getting close. And then, six months after his birth, the spark was extinguished.

Even with the modern knowledge and medicine, babies were still lost. Dean knew that unfortunate truth. But Sawyl had always been healthy, if a little too reckless. He didn’t know what it meant that the soul’s third incarnation had died so quickly. He didn’t want to think that his power was wearing out. He couldn’t think there might not be a fourth incarnation at all. Not when he’d waited for so long, and had nothing else to look forward to in the future.

So he sat and he drank and he watched, wondering what Samouel would look like the fourth time around. He wondered what his name would be. Just plain Sam, maybe, considering the running theme with his past titles. That wouldn’t make him easier to find, being so common, but at least it would be familiar, which Dean thought they both would appreciate.

He watched a man wrap his arm around a woman’s shoulder as they moved towards the door, both stumbling and not-so-subtly groping each other. He sighed. Sex was another thing he missed, but couldn’t imagine doing with anyone who wasn’t his bondmate. He didn’t know if that was the love he held for Samouel, deeper than any mortal’s could be, or if it was the spell linking him to the soul that turned him off from anyone else. He supposed it could be a mixture of both.

Either way, sometimes it just fucking sucked.

He toyed with his empty bottle, finally deciding to order another. He didn’t have anywhere better to be. He rarely ever did. His purpose had been taken from him a long time ago, and he only had Samouel left to really live for. Apart from that, he spent a lot of time drifting aimlessly in search of anything that would amuse him.

He pushed himself up from the booth that he’d been occupying on his own, heading towards the bar. There were three empty stools, but two were near a large crowd of men who had ordered at least three pitchers so far as they watched the television set. Football, he recognized. It must have been Sunday.

He took the third stool at the very end of the bar, next to a man who was quietly slouched over his drinks. He didn’t even bother looking up as Dean sat, so he just waited silently until he managed to catch the bartender’s attention with a wave of his hand. He wasn’t in any hurry.

“What can I get ya?” the bartender asked, pushing up his shirt sleeves.

“Another beer, please,” he requested, startling when the man at his side’s head shot up. Hazel eyes fixed on him, surprised as though he hadn’t noticed him sit down. Considering how many empty glasses he had on the counter in front of him, Dean expected that was the case.

He was surprised himself – the man was attractive in a way that Dean didn’t normally notice. He had dark hair that went down just past his ears and curled in the back. His eyes, though a bit clouded over with drink, were still piercing, and he stared at Dean for longer than was socially appropriate – not that he minded.

“You okay, man?” he asked, and the guy seemed to snap out of it.

“Uh… yeah. Yeah.” He rubbed his hand over his face, and Dean chuckled.

“Had enough, you think?” he asked, his tone light and teasing. He didn’t want to seem like he was judging.

“I- I’m just gonna have one more, I think,” the man said, his face scrunched up in a way that Dean could only think of as adorable. His reaction to this guy was baffling, and he couldn’t help but feel intrigued.

“Alright, one more. How about I buy it for you?” he offered, holding out his hand. “I’m Dean.”

“Sam,” he said, and Dean blinked. If he hadn’t been so sure his Sam had passed, he might have guessed he’d found him – but perhaps that was just wishful thinking. He’d met plenty of Sam’s without them being anything special to him. This one’s grip was weak, but he still managed to return the handshake with a smile. Dean figured he’d survive another drink.

“What are you drinking tonight, Sam?”

“Jack Daniels,” he said. The bartender grabbed the bottle to pour his drink after setting Dean’s beer on the bar for him. “My dad’s favorite.”

“Oh yeah? Why isn’t he here to drink it with you, then?”

“Dead,” Sam answered simply, and Dean tensed up, feeling like an idiot. He should have made the connection – a man drowning his sorrows in his father’s favorite drink. In hindsight, it seemed so obvious.

“I’m sorry.”

“A year ago today,” Sam continued, staring at his reflection in the mirror behind the bar and not even noticing when his drink was set in front of him. “And I didn’t want to drink alone. So- so I’m here.”

Dean nodded, reaching over to inch Sam’s glass towards the grieving man. Sam blinked and finally saw it. “Well, drink up then. To your father,” Dean said, holding up his own bottle to clink against Sam’s glass before taking a sip. “May he rest in peace.”

Sam had brought his glass to his lips, and at Dean’s words choked on his whiskey. The amber liquid spilled down onto his shirt as he let out the most heartbreaking and hysterical laugh Dean had ever heard. It took him a few seconds before he could stop, his sick smile quickly dropping as he tossed back the rest of his drink all at once.

Dean gaped, not sure what he’d done to cause that, or how to continue. He cleared his throat quietly, deciding on, “You spilled.”

Sam looked down at the bar, which was clean, and then at his T-shirt, which was not. A wet patch had darkened the fabric. “Whoops.” He pulled the wet cloth away from his body, and Dean was able to look down his shirt at his sculpted torso.

And at his tattoo.

Dean’s eyes went wide. A hunter. He knew about hunters, men and women who tracked down and took out anything that might want to maim, kill, or eat them. He wondered if that had been the cause of Dean’s abnormal reaction to him – some sense that Sam spent a lot of time around the supernatural. He wanted to talk to him more, ask questions, but he couldn’t do it in public.

“You should probably change. I’ll help you get home. Do you live around here?” Dean asked, though he figured the answer would be no. From what he’d learned, hunters spent a lot of time away from home, if they had a home at all.

“Motel across the street,” Sam told him. “I’m just visiting. Passin’ through,” he corrected, blinking. “I’m just passin’ through.”

Probably not on a hunt, then. Maybe on his way to one, or on heading back home. Either way, Dean didn’t think Sam would let his guard down and get sloppy if there was something in town going bump in the night. He hoped not, anyway. Sam was far too attractive to get killed over being an idiot.

“Well, let’s get you over there.”

Dean took two more swallows of beer before leaving it half-finished. He threw down some bills, waiting as Sam did the same for the rest of his drinks, and slid off his barstool. Sam followed suit, stumbling before Dean grabbed onto him.

“Easy, Tiger,” he murmured, wrapping an arm around Sam’s waist and pulling Sam’s arm across his shoulders. Standing next to him, he could see how big the guy was. Dean was a pretty good height so it wasn’t often he felt dwarfed like this, the feeling enhanced by having to duck to support Sam’s weight. “Anyone ever tell you you’re a sasquatch?”

Sam’s laughter was lighter, more amused than anguished, which Dean was happy to hear. “All the time,” he confirmed, letting Dean lead him across the street. He only tripped twice, and both times Dean was able to catch him. If Dean hadn’t been preternaturally strong, he wasn’t sure he would have been able to keep them upright.

Sam directed them to the right room, reaching for his key with the hand that wasn’t gripping Dean’s jacket. Dean took it from him after three failed attempts to get it in the slot, unlocking the door and leading Sam inside. Sam stumbled away from him, pulling his shirt up over his head, and Dean closed the door behind them.

“So, your dad,” Dean started, and Sam grunted as he fished around in a duffle bag for a clean shirt. “Was he a hunter too?”

Dean could see the muscles in Sam’s back tense up, and moments later he whipped around with a gun from the bag, pointing it at Dean’s chest. His aim wasn’t bad, considering his inebriation. “Who the fuck are you?”

“Woah.” Dean held up his hands, palms out in surrender. A bullet wouldn’t kill him, but it would cause some serious discomfort and alert Sam to the fact that he wasn’t exactly human. In that case, Sam might resort to something that would do more damage, and Dean really didn’t want that. He couldn’t be sure what was in that duffel. “Not here to hurt you, I swear.”

“I’ve got salt rounds in here. Even if you’re not a demon, they’ll hurt like hell. Now tell me who you are!” Sam demanded, managing to sound threatening even as he slurred a few of his words. Dean nodded.

“Yeah, just relax, man. I’m- I’m a hunter too.” It was the only thing he could think of to make Sam trust him, even if he felt shitty for lying. Sam lowered his gun a few inches, still looking weary. He backed up slowly and squatted down by his bag, nearly losing his balance but finally managing to pull out a flask, knife, and metal container. Dean stared as they were set on the cheap plastic desk and Sam backed away again.

“Prove it.”

Dean crossed the room to the desk, careful not to make any sudden movements while Sam still had the gun on him. He picked up the flask curiously, opening it and hoping there wasn’t anything inside that would poison him. He wasn’t a huge fan of poison.

He held it to his lips and took a swig, relieved when he recognized it as just holy water. Sam wanted to know he wasn’t a demon, and he held his arms out with a smile to show he was fine after swallowing. Holy water didn’t hurt him, though he could detect that hint of the blessing that distinguished it from plain water easily enough.

He picked up the container next. The label was dirty and peeling, but he found the word ‘Salt’ and unscrewed the cap. He poured some into his palm and, not knowing how else to prove it wouldn’t affect him, licked some off his skin. He grimaced as he swallowed it – as much as he liked salty food, salt on its own didn’t appeal to his taste buds. Still, it was more than a demon could do, and that was what mattered.

He took the knife last, pulling it from his sheath to reveal the silver blade. Sam was testing for all the common monsters: demons, werewolves, shapeshifters, wraiths, and skinwalkers. It made sense that those would be the most likely possibilities if Dean was lying about being a hunter – how could Sam guess he’d accidentally run into a pagan god in a bar?

Dean tugged his jacket off and held out his arm, slicing across the skin of his upper forearm. Blood rose to the surface and spilled out, but there was no other adverse reaction. He set the knife down, and Sam tossed him a towel to hold against the cut. The bleeding would stop almost instantly, Dean knew, but he was glad he could hide it with the towel.

“So you’re a hunter,” Sam said, dropping down on one of the twin beds. Dean smiled, but guilt washed over him again. Something about tricking Sam really wasn’t sitting right with him, but he tried his best to ignore it.

“Yeah. I saw your tattoo at the bar and assumed you were, too. I guess you having all this stuff confirms it.” He chuckled, just hoping Sam wouldn’t pull the gun on him again. “You got a hunt here?”

“Nah. Picked up on something weird and I was heading there, but I didn’t want to deal with it today. Just stopped the first place I found a bar.” His eyes were half-lidded, and Dean sat across from him on the other bed.

“I don’t blame you. Sorry again, about your dad.”

“He was a hunter,” Sam blurted out. “He, uh. You asked, and yeah, he was a hunter.”

Dean nodded, and his heart went out to the poor kid. Hunters didn’t have a great life expectancy, he knew that much. “Go down swingin’, at least?”

Sam coughed out another terrible laugh, shaking his head. “A fuckin’- A demon deal. He made a fuckin’ demon deal, can you believe it?” He fell back onto the mattress as Dean’s eyebrows nearly hit his hairline.

“Thought you just said he was a hunter.”

“He was. Damn good one, too. Saved a lot of lives. And then there was that one night, and he couldn’t save mine.” He closed his eyes, and Dean thought on his words for a while.

“He made a deal to bring you back,” he deduced, and Sam nodded.

“They only gave him one year.”

“I thought it was ten,” Dean said, frowning. All of the crossroads deals he had heard of were for ten years.

“Yeah, it is. I guess they wanted him out of the game quick. And he was… he was desperate.”

“You’re his son,” Dean murmured. He’d never had any kids himself, but he understood well enough how hard it was to let go of loved ones. He hadn’t been able to do it.

“Yeah. And now I’m here, and he’s in hell.”

He yawned, seeming small and vulnerable and Dean just felt the sudden urge to wrap his arms around him. He resisted and said again, “I’m sorry.”

“I killed the fucker that he made the deal with,” Sam muttered. “Azazel.”

Dean stiffened. He’d met Azazel lifetimes earlier, but remembered him clearly. If the kid had killed him, Dean was impressed.

“Doesn’t bring ‘im back, though,” Sam continued, slurring more than he had been when they left the bar. Dean could see he was on his way to falling asleep. “And the Devil’s Gate still opened. We got it closed, but they still got out. The demons. Hundreds of them.”

Killing Azazel and opening the Devil’s Gate. If Dean hadn’t remembered feeling a sudden, momentary surge of power two years before and seen an unreasonable number of demons topside since, he would have been sure that Sam was just mumbling drunken nonsense. It was beyond crazy, but it fit.

Sam yawned again and Dean stood, dropping the blood-spotted towel and adjusting Sam so his head was on the pillow. He took Sam’s shoes off so he would be a little more comfortable, but left Sam’s jeans on. They wouldn’t be comfortable to sleep in, but Sam was still shirtless and Dean was appreciating that a little too much already. It was best to leave the remaining covering where it was.

“Get some sleep, man,” he murmured, and Sam hummed.

“You can stay here, if ya want,” Sam mumbled, his breathing already starting to even out. Dean smiled, sitting on the other bed again. He didn’t have another place to stay in town yet, and if he was honest with himself, he really wanted to spend more time around Sam. He wanted to figure the kid out, and if he left, it would be awkward to try and reinsert himself into Sam’s life the next day – or Sam would leave before he could even try. It was a lot easier to just stay, and see what he had to work with in the morning.

He kicked off his shoes.

***

Dean was woken up by a combination of loud snoring and light in his eyes, which wasn’t exactly the calm and gentle ease into consciousness he preferred. He grunted as lifted his arm to shield his face from the sun and quickly identified his surroundings.

It was late morning, judging by the brightness streaming through the half-open blinds. Sam was still in bed, and the pillow that his face was smashed into wasn’t doing much to muffle his snores. Dean figured as long as he could hear the kid, he knew he hadn’t smothered himself. He could only imagine the impressive drool spot Sam had to have been leaving on the pillow.

Dean stretched out, considering his options. He could get up, take a shower, and get some water to offer Sam when he woke up. He could go out to find coffee and maybe a couple of Advil and hope Sam wouldn’t be up and gone by the time he got back. Or he could just lay there until Sam woke up on his own and pretend he’d been asleep the whole time.

Each choice had its merits, but there were factors Dean couldn’t account for – how quickly Sam could get ready and be on the road while hungover, for instance – that he was still pondering when he sensed something was off. There was something in the room that wasn’t quite right, an odd tingling that he was just barely able to detect. He sat up quickly when he finally put his finger on it – demon.

He and Sam were alone in the room. Logically, he knew that. The feeling wasn’t as strong as it would have been if there were actual demons around. Something was setting off his alarms, though, and he was as quiet as he could be as he slipped out of bed.

He made very slow steps towards Sam’s side of the room, trying to time them so any creaking of the floor would be blocked out by Sam’s noisy breathing. He knew hunters had to be sharp to cover their asses, and thus tended to be light sleepers, so Dean was grateful Sam had drunk so heavily the night before and wasn’t totally on his game.

He reached Sam’s bag and was pleased to see it had been left unzipped. Pulling the canvas sides apart, he knew that whatever was giving off demonic vibes was definitely in there. He began carefully removing various weapons and supplies until he wrapped his fist around the hilt of a knife that sent a jolt of power up his arm. He pulled off the sheath and studied the runes carved into it, his eyebrows shooting up. It was demon-made, he could tell, but with the power to kill a demon. That was unusual. He wondered where Sam could have found such a thing.

Sam chose that moment to grunt and shift his arms. Dean froze, but slowly relaxed as the hunter went still again. He repacked the bag and tiptoed back to the bed, pulling the covers up and trying to look natural. He would be pretending to sleep after all, he decided, and did so until Sam pushed himself out of bed with a pained moan, stumbling to the bathroom and retching almost immediately. Dean got up and followed him, leaning against the door jam. At least he’d made it to the toilet.

“Go a little overboard last night?”

Sam jumped and looked up at Dean with wide eyes before groaning and holding his head between his hands. “Shit, you scared me. Fuck, my head hurts.” He gagged, head going back into the porcelain throne.

Dean picked up a plastic cup off the room’s flimsy desk, filling it with water from the sink. He offered it to Sam along with a towel so he could rinse his mouth out and clean himself up, and then refilled it for him so he could hydrate.

“Thanks,” Sam croaked, resting his cheek against the seat. Dean cringed a little – he was immune to any viral or bacterial infection, but he still would never want a motel toilet seat to touch his face. “I don’t remember your name. Sorry.”

“It’s Dean,” he said, filling the cup a third time when Sam held it up again.

“Dean,” Sam repeated, taking small sips. “And you’re a hunter?”

“Yeah. Don’t have any leads right now, though,” Dean said, sitting on the edge of the counter. He’d never given hunting enough thought to know anything about the actual process, and he didn’t think he could pull off a lie about tracking something without Sam seeing right through it. “You said you were on a hunt.”

“Yeah, it’s this old house. You know how kids are with haunted houses. Just can’t stay away. A lot of missing persons reports over the years.” He flushed, seeming to trust his stomach to cooperate for the moment. “Typical vengeful spirit, I’m thinking.”

“Yeah, sounds like it,” Dean agreed, though he really had no idea. He avoided ghosts, when he could; it annoyed him to see reapers not doing their jobs right. If it meant sticking with Sam, though, he could handle it. Going on a hunt would be a lot more thrilling than anything he’d had planned for the next few weeks – or months, or years. “You need some back up?”

Sam blinked. “You wanna come?”

“Yeah, man, why not? Unless you prefer to ‘lone wolf’ it.”

“Nah. I mean, yeah, you can come with. That’s fine with me. Just… let me get cleaned up.”

Dean smiled and nodded. “Sure thing.”

He let Sam shower and took one of his own, and then they were off. Dean had to bluff his way through an awkward explanation of why he didn’t have a car or any weapons, claiming he was ‘between cars’ and another hunter had taken off with all his gear, leaving him with just his pack of clothes. Sam was wary but had to have bought it, because soon Dean was in the passenger’s seat of Sam’s 1967 Chevrolet impala. She was a beautiful car and he was itching to drive her himself, but didn’t want to press his luck.

Everything about the house screamed ‘haunted’. “Kids really go in there?” Dean asked incredulously, and Sam laughed without much humor.

“Unfortunately. Guess you don’t take a lot of ghost jobs?”

“Not in creepy-ass condemned houses,” Dean said, and Sam laughed for real that time.

They each took a flashlight and a shotgun loaded with rock salt, and Sam had a handgun tucked in the back of his jeans. He led the way into the house, and Dean could sense the spirit immediately – definitely there, and definitely angry.

Dean was looking closer at what appeared to be some blood splattered on the walls when his flashlight started to flicker. He turned in time to see the ghost appear behind Sam, his EMF meter blaring as she threw him across the room. Sam’s gun went skittering off to the side and the translucent woman advanced on him quickly. Dean lifted his shotgun and the rock salt blasted through her, making her dissipate into wisps of smoke.

He held his hand out to Sam, helping him up and grabbing his gun. “Come on, I think we got a good enough look at her,” he said, pulling Sam back out to the car where he was safe. “She was gonna tear your ass apart.”

“Yeah. I’m really not on my game today; I’m not used to drinking that much. Thanks for the save.”

“Happy to back you up. What do we do now?”

***

Dean quickly found the research side of things was a lot less interesting. He watched over Sam’s shoulder, growing bored and almost nodding off before Sam found what he was looking for.

“Does that look like our girl?”

Dean leaned in close to study the black and white picture, finally nodding. “Yeah, I’d say that’s her.”

“Margaret Johnson,” Sam read, and a few minutes later had found the name of the cemetery in which she was buried. It made Dean wonder what hunters had done in the times before they had access to the internet – and what methods had been used by all of the hunters who had ever thought it was a good idea to come after him. Most of them hadn’t ended up getting very close.

The idea of sneaking about in a graveyard to dig up a skeleton seemed exciting, but Dean found the reality to be almost just as dull and time-consuming. Still, he had above-human strength and Sam was still recovering from a hangover, so he did most of the digging without complaint. Watching the bones burn and knowing the spirit would be put to rest was satisfying – it had been quite a while since he’d felt like he’d made a difference in someone’s afterlife.

“Good work, Sammy,” he said, carrying both shovels back to the impala. Sam glanced at him, frowning.

“It’s, uh, just Sam,” he corrected, and Dean nodded awkwardly.

“Right, sorry. Sam.” Dean helped pack everything away in the trunk and slipped his hands into his pockets, rocking a little on his feet. “So… that was pretty fun, huh?”

Sam’s lips tilted up in a half-smile and he nodded. “Yeah, actually. It’s been a while since I had some company on a hunt.”

“Yeah? You interested in a hunting buddy? Since I’m in between cars right now anyway, and we seem to work pretty well together…” He trailed off, watching Sam hopefully. If he said no, it was back to bars and practicing his patience. “You can think on it, if you want.”

“No, it’s fine. You already saved my ass once, right? Couldn’t hurt to have you around.” Sam swung the keys around his index finger with a grin. “Hop in.”

After three weeks, two more ghosts and a wendigo, Dean was getting the hang of the whole hunting gig. He was better with a gun, knew the signs to look for in the event of a haunting, and was even getting better at researching, though he still preferred to leave that to Sam when he could. He figured it out when one of their cases was really a domestic violence case without any supernatural involvement, and had been especially enthusiastic over hunting a werewolf – “They’re a classic, Sam!”

He and Sam really did work well together, it turned out. Dean had more fun just being around him than he’d had in a long time, even when they were between hunts. He didn’t even want to think about the fact that he might not have seen the tattoo, might have let Sam walk out of the bar alone still be wasting his days mourning and waiting.

Their next hunt brought about a whole string of firsts for Dean. The first time he dressed up to play a specific role (a gym teacher), his first experience with ghost possession on a hunt (and later having a ghost-possessed meat suit wailing on him and Sam), and the first time Sam opened up about his past.

Sam hadn’t spoken since he’d gone in to talk to his former English teacher, and Dean pulled over to an empty spot to park for a while. He grabbed the cooler out of the trunk and grabbed some beers for them, opening Sam’s door and handing him one.

“You’ve been pretty quiet. Everything okay?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I’m good.” Sam uncapped his bottle, staring off at some trees in the distance. “You ever think you’d end up in this life? Hunting?”

Dean sputtered out a laugh. “No. Definitely not.”

“I was raised like this. A hunter. My whole life, moving from place to place while my dad worked jobs. I wanted so badly to get out, and I almost did. But here I am.” He took a long pull from his beer and shook his head.

“You’re good at it,” Dean told him after a moment of silence. “You’re making a difference. Who knows how many hundreds of lives you’ve saved? Not everyone knows it, but people still breathing because of you, man. Not many people living ordinary lives can say that.”

“Yeah. Guess you’re right.” Sam gave him a small smile, letting Dean tap the necks of their bottles together.

“I wouldn’t be here with you if you were living some normal life, and who knows how long I’d last without you watching my back,” Dean joked, and Sam laughed. “Just keep your chin up, Sammy. You’ll be alright.”

“Thanks, Dean.” They drank in comfortable silence, and Sam didn’t say anything about the nickname.

***

They had to pick up a suit and make a fake FBI badge for Dean for the following hunt. Sam acted like it was pretty par for course, but Dean actually felt some anxiety. It seemed like it wouldn’t be that hard to realize they weren’t actually federal agents, but it successfully got them into a holding cell at the Bedford, Iowa, county jail so they could interview a man who had bashed his wife’s brains in with a meat tenderizer - all for an exotic dancer named Jasmine.

“If he’s going to leave his wife for a stripper, why not just leave?” Dean asked as they walked out to the car afterwards. “Why kill her? Especially if he loved her as much as he claimed to.”

“From the police records, it looks like it was the same for all three of the guys, with Jasmine, Aurora, and Ariel. They drop all of their money on these strippers and then kill their wives for them, and suddenly the girls are MIA. And they met all of the girls at the same club: The Honey Wagon.”

“Sounds classy. We going there next?”

“That’s the plan. Don’t get too excited.”

“Are you implying that I’m not a professional?” Dean asked, faking offense and grinning when it made Sam laugh. There was no point in mentioning that female strippers weren’t really his type.

They found The Honey Wagon, which looked typically seedy from the outside and dark with neon lighting on the inside. It took all of four minutes for Dean to spot her.

“Siren,” he breathed, and Sam turned back towards him.

“What?”

“She- Um, it just occurred to me. I hunted a siren once, and it was kind of like this. Men would hear her song and be so consumed in their love that they’d follow her to their death, even though they knew better. She got away,” he lied. “So maybe it’s the same one.”

“A siren? They’re from Greek myth, aren’t they?”

“Greek, yeah; Myth, not so much. They’re a bitch, but I know how to take ‘em down. Do you have a bronze dagger, by any chance?”

Sam frowned. “Not… with me. I’m sure we can find one somewhere, though. That’s all we need?”

“Not quite. Think they ran blood tests on our guys after it happened? We’ll need them.”

“Maybe. I could head to the lab and see, and you could find the dagger.”

Dean’s nose wrinkled, but he agreed. “Fine. Get those blood samples, though, if you can. If not it means we have to wait for the next murder.”

“I’ll get them,” Sam said, determined. “Do we need to stick around here any longer?”

“No. If it’s a siren, she’ll be changing forms. We won’t be able to find her.” Dean got up, making sure to keep Sam between him and the siren in case she looked over. He didn’t like leaving her there to find another victim, but there wasn’t much he could do without the right supplies. “A bronze dagger, covered in the blood of a sailor under the spell of the song,” he remembered.

“So all of the strippers have been the same girl?”

“There aren’t many of these things out there, so I’m guessing so.” He had met Pesinoe once before and knew her attitude well enough – if she was picking off morons in Iowa, her sisters probably weren’t with her.

Dean and Sam parted ways, meeting up back at the Honey Wagon later in the evening. Sam reached into his jacket as he climbed out of the impala, proudly revealing a vial of blood.

“Told her we needed to run our own tests and she handed it over. Along with her number,” he said, chuckling. Dean raised an eyebrow and smirked.

“Setting up dates while you’re on the job? You dog.”

“No date,” Sam promised, grinning as he pocketed the blood again. “Did you get the dagger?”

“Yeah.” Dean patted his own pocket, not wanting to whip the knife out while there were civilians around. “Do you know how hard it is to find a bronze dagger in this town? And when you ask, people look at you like you’re planning a ritual sacrifice.”

“Didn’t you explain to them that you need it to kill a siren?” Sam asked, straight-faced. Dean rolled his eyes and elbowed him, and Sam laughed.

“Ha ha. Now, are we-”

He paused as the door to the club opened and Pesinoe walked out, leading a man behind her.

“That’s her. That’s the siren.”

Sam looked over and frowned. “How do you know?”

“Just- instinct, man. Look at the way that guy’s looking at her, it’s gotta be her,” he lied, not even having seen the man’s face. “Come on,” Dean urged. The hunters followed the couple until they reached a secluded alleyway, the noise of the club left behind.

“Hey!”

The siren whipped around, her prey following suit. “Get out of here,” Sam told him. “We need to have a little talk with your girlfriend. Why don’t you just get home to your wife?”

“I live with my mom,” he said, and Sam and Dean exchanged looks.

“That’s messed up,” Sam muttered.

The siren clutched the man’s arm. “Don’t leave me!” she begged, and he stepped in front of her. Dean and Sam drew their guns, but the man continued to advance.

“I won’t let you hurt Belle!”

Dean sighed as the guy got closer. “Sam.” Sam swung the butt of his gun to knock him out. The siren glared at him.

“What’s with the Disney names?” he asked, but the siren was already opening her mouth, shooting her oxytocin-laced venom into Sam’s mouth before he could protect himself. He coughed, and Dean stepped back.

“Sammy?”

Sam walked towards Pesinoe, who smirked. “Looks like he’s mine now.” She stroked Sam’s cheek and he smiled, besotted under the influence of the love hormone. She took the vial of blood from his grip and fixed him with her false doe eyes, blinking innocently. The scene was a lot more grotesque when Dean could see her true face. “He’s trying to hurt me, Sam. You have to kill him!”

Sam turned and stalked towards Dean. Dean ducked as he swung at him, throwing a punch in return and adding a little paranormal power to make sure he went down. He turned back to the siren, whose arms were crossed over her chest. She threw the vial down so it shattered on the asphalt, droplets of blood spraying in all directions.

“Still won’t help you. It’s your turn now.” She stepped forward to spray him with the clear liquid and he grimaced, wiping his face and spitting onto the pavement.

“Nice try. Also, gross. And you really don’t recognize me? A face like mine, you’d think I’d be easy to remember. Is it because I’m not scowly enough? I did used to be pretty scowly.” He scrunched up his face as though he were angry, trying to distract her as he slowly circled towards Sam.

Her eyes narrowed as she took a closer look. “Hades?”

“Pesinoe. Nice to see you.”

She looked him over and laughed. “You’re a hunter now? My, how the mighty have fallen,” she taunted, but Dean had finally reached Sam’s side. He reached down to slash the dagger across Sam’s forearm, pulling his arm back and throwing it with enough force that it pierced her chest and sunk in to the hilt. She shrieked, fury in her eyes until they went blank and she fell.

“How the mighty are… dead,” Dean said, frowning and going to check that Sam was alright. He’d have to work on his comebacks.

***

There wasn’t much to do in Bedford, Iowa, especially when everybody thought they were FBI agents, so they didn’t stick around once Dean confirmed that Sam wasn’t seriously injured. They drove through most of the night before stopping to crash at a motel just outside of Chicago, and neither of them was up before noon the next day. They didn’t have another case lined up, so they left to spend a day exploring the city.

They were an hour into window shopping and people-watching when Dean realized something wasn’t quite right. There was a niggling sensation in the back of his mind that told him there was at least one demon nearby, and Sam was checking his phone every ten minutes.

“You sure there’s no case here?” he asked, and Sam looked startled.

“No. I mean, yeah, I’m sure. Not that I know of anyway. Why?”

Dean quirked an eyebrow but shrugged it off. “Just a weird feeling, I guess.”

Sam just smiled and glanced down at his phone again.

When they found a place for lunch, Dean could feel the demon getting closer. It seemed to follow them for the rest of the day, always just around a corner where Dean couldn’t see. He was on his guard, ready to attack, and Sam was too distracted to notice. That didn’t seem like a good sign.

They climbed back into the impala in the late afternoon and Dean drove them to their motel. Sam went inside immediately, mumbling about needing a shower, and Dean slowly followed. He almost had the door closed behind him when he paused, the demonic presence getting close again.

Even knowing how unlikely it was, he’d held out hope during the day that having a demon in close proximity was just a coincidence. Chicago was a major city, after all – it could have had any kind of business there. That hope was officially extinguished as he heard a car pull into the parking lot, the demon not forty feet away from their room. He was grateful that he only sensed one. He’d have no trouble taking it out, especially without Sam around to keep him from using his real power.

As he stepped outside, the footsteps clacking along the pavement paused and he saw the demon. She gave him a quick once-over as he did the same to her – wearing pale skin with dark hair, dark eyes, and dark clothes. She continued towards him, putting on a smile. Dean could see her true face. Demons were always so ugly underneath their borrowed skin, even more so than the sirens.

“Out to get some ice?” she asked, her tone light and friendly like she thought she could fool him into thinking she was staying at the motel. It told him she couldn’t be too old, since she didn’t recognize him. Not that the old ones were too much of a challenge. Being top-side left them too far away from Lucifer’s cage to benefit from the power that seeped out, and he could easily overpower them.

It also told him that he wasn’t the one she was after.

“What do you want with Sam?” he asked, and her face instantly fell. She caught herself a second later, trying for a shy smile and tucking her hair behind her ear.

“Sam and I have a history. I saw you guys when you were in the city today and followed you back here. I know it can’t really work – it’s not like he could ever just settle down in one place – but I had to talk to him. You must be another hunter.” One of Dean’s eyebrows quirked up and she held out her hand. “My name’s Ruby.”

Dean crossed his arms over his chest, staring her down. She blinked and slowly pulled it back. “Ruby, I’m going to ask you again, and I suggest you be honest with me. I can make the last moments of your life very painful for you. What the hell do you want with Sam?”

Her eyes narrowed, lips curving down. “I’m a friend, alright? If he told you about me, you know I’ve only ever tried to help him. He trusts me. I haven’t been able to get in touch the last few weeks, and he’ll want to see me. So if you’ll just-”

She didn’t bother finishing the sentence, trying to brush past him to the door. Dean held out his arm to stop her.

“He hasn’t mentioned you. He is aware that you’re a demon, isn’t he? I’d imagine he’d be smart enough to check for that if you two really are ‘friends’. So why would he trust you?”

Her glare turned fiery. “I saved his life.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m on his side. I don’t want Lucifer freed from Hell.”

Both of Dean’s eyebrows shot up at that, and he wondered how Sam had failed to mention that he was trying to prevent the apocalypse. It seemed like kind of a big deal. At that moment, however, Ruby was his concern.

“He didn’t tell you,” she said, looking smug. The human body she possessed stayed strong and confident, but he could see the demon quivering. They were so transparent sometimes.

“You’re lying,” he said, worry burrowing into his mind. If Sam trusted her to help him stop the rise of Lucifer and she had just been using him, maybe to achieve the opposite conclusion, then who knew what kind of damage she’d already done. It was a lot to take in at once.

“I told you, he-”

“Trusts you, yes, because he’s naive. The underworld was mine before you scum took it from me, and I know better.”

He could see it on her face when she worked out who he was. “Hades,” she breathed, stumbling back a few feet but Dean was quick to follow, closing the distance between them. She tilted her head back, mouth wide open to allow the demon to leave the body, but not soon enough. Dean already had his palms on her forehead and her chest and he pushed his power out, feeling it like a jolt of electricity as the demon was destroyed under his hands.

The body crumpled and he caught her, glancing around the parking lot and feeling grateful that they were alone. Killing her out in the open had been reckless, and he swore under his breath when he realized there was no soul left in the body. He lifted the corpse in his arms, cradling it as though she’d fallen asleep and he was just carrying her to prevent drawing more attention to himself than he had to.

He carried her to the impala and carefully laid her across the bench in the back. The keys were still in his pocket and he jumped in the driver’s seat, taking off out of the parking lot. Sam must have been out of the shower by then and would be able to see that his companion wasn’t there, but Dean couldn’t let him see the body of the demon he’d no doubt been waiting to hear from all day, checking his phone so often. It would raise too many questions.

He parked on the side of an otherwise empty road and carried her into the trees until he found a dry dirt patch big enough to lay her down on. They wouldn’t find any of his DNA considering he didn’t actually have any, but the body still deserved a hunter’s funeral after being used for so long. With a box of matches and a little magical encouragement, the body was quickly up in flames, and extinguished just as fast when the deed was done.

He stopped off for a case of beer on the way back to the motel to give him an excuse as to why he’d gone out. Sam, busy fiddling with his phone, had hardly noticed.

***

“Turn around!”

Dean swerved, almost taking them off the road. A car passing them in the opposite direction honked, and Dean turned to glare at Sam when he had the impala safely within one lane. “What the fuck, Sam?”

“There’s no service here!” Sam shouted, eyes on his phone. The damn thing had been glued to his hand since their big city outing. “We went out of the service area. You gotta turn around and go back, Dean.”

“Are you serious? No, man. Just wait a little while and you’ll get service again when we’re not in the middle of fucking nowhere.”

“Turn the car around, Dean!” Sam was practically screaming in Dean’s ear, and it was all Dean could do to keep his eyes on the road instead of fixing him with his most incredulous stare. When he didn’t react, Sam lunged against his seatbelt to reach for the wheel and try to force the car around himself.

“Fuck!” Dean cried, knocking Sam’s arms away and pressing a hand to his chest to keep him back. If Sam hadn’t been so crazed, Dean would have worried about displaying his abnormal strength and giving himself away. As it was, Sam was too focused on trying to grab hold of the wheel again.

Dean pulled the car over to the shoulder, throwing it into park and finally getting to turn towards Sam, who was panting and flushed. It wasn’t much of a change from how he’d been all day. Dean had made them spend an extra two days in Chicago when Sam started to look sick, thinking he could sleep it off, but he’d only gotten worse. Dean had wanted them to stay until he started improving, but Sam – restless, shaky, and feverish – had insisted they get moving.

“What the hell is so goddamn important that you’re trying to get us both killed?”

“Fuck, she could be calling right now. We have to-”

Who could be calling, Sam?” Dean asked, though he was fairly certain he meant Ruby. He just didn’t understand why it was making him so crazy. “What’s so major that you can’t wait an hour?”

“Dean, just go back!” he insisted, reaching for the keys. Dean snatched them out of the ignition, holding them back when Sam lunged at him. Sam finally snapped out of it enough to realize his mission was impaired by his seatbelt and twisted against the strap as he fumbled for the button. Dean unbuckled his own seatbelt and opened his door to put more room between himself and Sam, not wanting to risk Sam being behind the wheel while he was having his little episode.

“Fucking- Give me-” Sam freed himself and scrambled across the seat, spilling out on his hands and knees on the street. Dean quickly slipped the keys into his back pocket, pulling out the anti-demon charm Sam had given him and throwing it far out into the tall grass near the road. He didn’t actually need it, unable to be possessed, but it made him glad he’d been carrying it. Sam got up and tackled Dean just seconds after the charm disappeared in the grass.

“Get off me,” Dean demanded, pushing at him. Sam gripped his shirt and looked out towards the grass.

“Now look what you’ve fucking done!” His eyes darted around as he looked at the grass, as if trying to remember where it had landed. They had been driving for hours – had nearly made it all the way across Iowa, just heading west with no true destination in mind – and they were losing daylight fast. It might take hours to find a set of keys in the dark, had Dean actually thrown them.

Sam let out an anguished cry, dropping down onto his knees. He retched, nothing but clear stomach acid spilling onto the road since Dean hadn’t been able to get him to eat anything. Sam panted heavily, and Dean’s eyes grew wide when he didn’t calm down. He took in ragged, heaving breaths, quickly reduced to just gulping for air, and Dean forgot that Sam had just violently attacked him. The sight of Sam unable to breathe was sending him into a panic.

“Sam? Sammy, come on, man. You’re gonna pass out if you don’t chill out. Just breathe,” he urged, wrapping his arms around Sam to hold him up. Sam continued to gasp until his chest was too tight to take anything in, and he collapsed against Dean.

Dean felt for a pulse, holding Sam’s mouth near his ear. Relief washed over him when he heard soft and steady breathing of Sam’s unconscious state, his heart rate weak but returning to normal. Dean held him there, rubbing his back and telling him it would be okay while he waited for him to wake up.

When he was still out five minutes later, Dean was worried. He gently shook his shoulders and tried smacking his cheek, shouting his name, even reached out with his power to try and zap him awake, but Sam didn’t stir. Dean lifted him and carried him to the car, sitting him in the passenger’s side.

When he had Sam propped up there, his head hanging down so his chin touched his chest, Dean searched for the leather journal Sam always kept with him. He flipped through it until he found a list of contacts that went on for four pages. He grunted, eyes quickly scanning the names, particularly the ones that also had addresses. He needed some place to take Sam until he could figure out what had made him freak out.

One listing caught his eye: Bobby Singer of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. He took the map out of the glove compartment, glancing at Sam to see that he was still breathing but also still unconscious, and found the little dot marking Sioux Falls- about sixty miles from where they were stopped. Bobby Singer’s it was, then.

Dean got the keys out of his back pocket and started the car, tearing off down the road. His stress levels rose gradually throughout the hour as Sam occasionally whimpered or twitched but didn’t wake up. Dean hoped that he was just catching up the sleep he’d missed the past few days, but deep down he knew that wasn’t it. His instincts told him something was very wrong.

Night had fallen by the time they reached Sioux Falls, and Dean got lost a few times before finally stopping at a gas station and asking the teenager working the counter if he knew where Bobby Singer lived. He was relieved when the kid actually knew who he was talking about, and a few minutes later he was navigating his way down the dirt road of the Singer Auto Self Service Salvage Yard.

He parked the impala as soon as the front door came into view, watching Sam’s chest rise and fall steadily before getting out. If he’d made it this far, he probably wouldn’t just up and die while Dean was talking to Singer. He had almost reached the porch when the door opened and he froze, a shotgun pointed at his chest.

“Why don’t you stop right there before I blast you full o’ salt?”

Dean lifted his hands in surrender and sighed. “I’m not a demon. Why do you people always think I’m a fucking demon?” he muttered, but Singer didn’t lower his weapon. “I’m a hunter.”

He’d initially said it to Sam just so he wouldn’t get shot. It was hard to keep a straight face as he realized it had since become true.

“A hunter. And I suppose Sam Winchester just let you borrow his car,” Singer said, his facial expression conveying his sarcasm even more than his tone.

Dean looked back at the car. It was shrouded in darkness, but not hard to make out the outline, and the impala had a pretty distinct look. “You do know Sam, then?” he asked, and Singer narrowed his eyes.

“‘Course I know Sam. Since he was in diapers.” He cocked the shotgun and Dean leaned back, lifting his hands up even higher. “What the hell’ve you done with him?”

“Nothing! He’s in there right now,” he said, tilting his head in the direction of the impala, “and he’s fine.”

Dean seriously hoped he was still fine - it was a relative term in this case, anyway. He didn’t think he could handle being shot on top of how crushing it would be to lose Sam.

“I’ve been hunting with him,” Dean continued. “The last few days he’s been sick, and then he had this mental breakdown and passed out just after we’d driven through Le Mars. He never woke up so I went through his journal and you were close by. I just needed somewhere safe to bring him. I don’t know how to help him.”

Singer stared at him, eyes hard, and then closed the door. Dean groaned and ran up the porch steps, pounding his fist against the wood. “You said you’ve known him for years!” he shouted. “You can’t just leave him like this!”

He backed away and was considering kicking the door in when it opened again. Singer pointed a revolver at him, his shotgun strapped against one hip with another handgun on the other. “I’m not leaving him like anything, but I ain’t trusting you either.” Singer flipped a switch within the house and the salvage yard lit up. He kept the gun on Dean, who rolled his eyes but led the way to the impala.

He opened the door to pull Sam out, checking his pulse again. “His breathing and heart rate seem normal,” he explained, pulling one of Sam’s arms over his shoulders to get a better hold on him. “He just won’t wake up. Can I bring him inside?”

Singer eyed him wearily. “How do I know you aren’t just a couple of shifters? What’s your name, anyway?”

Dean groaned, wishing that the journal had mentioned how paranoid the guy was underneath his address or something. “Dean Smith.”

“I’ve never heard of any hunter named Dean Smith.”

“Well, I’m new. And I was keeping a low profile until I met Sam here, but we get along well. And if you don’t mind, I’d really like to get him somewhere safe and figure out what the hell happened to him.” Bobby stared at him as though sizing him up, and Dean rolled his eyes. “If we’re shifters, I’m betting one of those guns has silver bullets. You can keep your distance and take us out if we make any sudden moves. That work for you?”

Singer pulled the other gun out of its holster and nodded. Dean just shook his head, making a show of struggling to carry Sam to the house. He assumed Singer would have a close eye on him, and supporting Sam’s weight with no trouble would look more than a little suspicious. It probably wouldn’t take much more than that to get a bullet in his head, and surviving that would require some serious explaining.

Dean got him inside, passing through the kitchen and into some kind of study. There was a couch under the window and Dean was as careful as possible laying Sam down. It wouldn’t do well to crack his skull before they could figure out what was already wrong with him.

He took a few steps back and saw Singer set down his revolver, his eyes fixed on Dean. Dean glanced around before his gaze lifted slowly upwards. He was standing beneath a devil’s trap that had been painted on the ceiling. He looked back at Singer, eyebrows raised, and stepped backwards out of the trap, waving his arms with a flourish.

“Satisfied?”

“That you’re not a demon, maybe.”

Dean reached in his pockets for the silver knife he carried, rolling up his shirt sleeve and cutting into his skin as he had for Sam. He held it out for Bobby to see, wiping the blade on his pants and tucking it back into the handle.

“Still could be an angel,” Singer pointed out. The man was stubborn, but Dean was concentrating more on schooling his face so his jaw wouldn’t drop. Sam had lying demon friends, was trying to stop the apocalypse, and apparently knew about the angels. The man Dean had thought he’d come to know fairly well was practically a stranger.

“Do I seem anything like a fucking angel?” Dean asked, playing it off like Sam had filled him in. Singer shrugged, though Dean could tell he’d won that argument.

“A trickster?”

That hit a little too close to home. If they were familiar with other pagan gods, he had reason to worry. Still, he’d been able to fool Sam thus far. Hunters didn’t have great resources for god-detection.

“How would I even prove myself on that one? Gonna stake me just to see what happens?” Dean challenged, knowing he’d pulled off the bluff when Singer finally lowered the second gun, though he slipped it in his holster rather than leaving it in the kitchen with the other.

Singer walked over to Sam, checking his pulse and breathing again. Since he didn’t even trust Dean not to kill him, Dean didn’t take it too personally that he didn’t trust his analysis of Sam’s health. Singer moved to the desk and grabbed a flashlight, coming back to pull Sam’s eyelids up and shine the light in his eyes.

“No concussion and he’s not having any trouble breathing, ‘far as I can see. You check him over for any injuries? Infections?”

Dean shook his head and Bobby gave him a clear ‘you’re an idiot’ look. “What the hell was I supposed to do? Strip him down while he was sleeping? He’s been off for a couple days but kept saying he was fine. Then we were driving and he nearly ran us off the road trying to turn the car around. Said we needed to get back in the service area in case some chick might call. I pulled the car over and he attacked me, puked, and then passed out.”

“Did he say a name? The girl’s name, the one he was waiting to hear from?” Bobby asked, and the look on his face told Dean that he knew well enough it was Ruby. Dean shook his head.

“You think you know who it was?”

“Yeah.” Bobby sighed, straightening up again. “We could check him, but this doesn’t seem like a normal illness.”

Dean nodded, freezing when he heard Sam groan and gasp. “Sam? Sammy, you awake?” he asked, moving towards him with the intention of shaking him to help him wake up. He jumped back when Sam’s body suddenly flew up into a vertical position on the couch, his back arched so he was stretched out like a plank. His arms shot out to the sides, fists clenched, and he gasped again.

“No. No! God, no!” he shouted, his eyes still squeezed shut. Dean wasn’t sure if he was more concerned by the terror and despair in Sam’s voice, or the fact that his body had just been flung around as though pulled by a string. He settled on the string thing. “Please, please. Stop! God! Stop!”

“Definitely not normal,” Dean breathed, looking to Singer for what to do next. The man was an infant compared to him, but Dean had never seen anything like this. The fear that surged up in him at the sight of Sam crying out made him feel like a lost child waiting for the adult to make it better.

Singer looked just as shocked, though. “We need to get him locked down if he’s gonna be flying around like that,” he decided. “I got a panic room in the basement. We can strap him to the bed, if we can get him down there.”

Dean grabbed one arm and Singer took the other. Sam’s body resisted, but it wasn’t a match against Dean’s full force. He risked it, not seeing any other choice, and they managed to get Sam’s writhing body down the stairs.

Singer released him to open the heavy iron door and then together they carried Sam inside. Dean laid him on the bed, holding his arms and legs so Bobby could keep them down with leather straps and iron shackles.

“Please, please,” Sam whimpered, and Dean pushed his hair back out of his face.

“Sammy, it’s alright. Just wake up, alright? You’re just having a nightmare.” He lightly slapped Sam’s cheek, but he only groaned and arched against the restraints.

“Some nightmare,” Singer said, shaking his head. “I’m gonna hit the books, see if I can find… anything useful.”

“Yeah. I’ll stay with him,” Dean offered, pulling a chair up to the side of the bed and watching Sam’s face, wishing he would just wake up.

***

Dean stayed at Sam’s side for two days before he and Bobby discovered the source of the problem. He carefully forced water and protein shakes down Sam’s throat, sip by sip, between Sam’s episodes of talking – and sometimes shouting – at nothing. There were times where Sam addressed whoever he was seeing by name, such as his mother and father, but other times Dean had no clue who Sam thought was in front of him. It was making Dean crazy to watch Sam hallucinate and sometimes levitate off the bed, arching against his restraints as he was held up by some supernatural force, without knowing what was causing it.

Bobby had come to trust Dean, and they’d bonded over their concern for Sam. None of his texts had been helpful but he still hadn’t given up. He was bringing down water and another shake for Sam when Sam’s eyes snapped open, blinking around the room. As always, Dean held out hope that it would be the time when he finally snapped out of them, but his gaze passed over them as though they weren’t even there.

“Ruby!” Sam cried, and Dean glanced at Bobby for a moment before looking back at Sam, who was staring in the direction of the opposite wall with relief. “I left so many messages and you never called. I’m out of blood, Ruby. I need more. Please, you gotta give me more.” He laughed hysterically after a moment, opening his mouth and leaning up as though he was being given something to drink from.

“Holy shit,” Dean whispered, holding his fist to his lips and shaking his head in disbelief. “He was drinking demon blood.”

He’d heard rumors of demons feeding their blood to humans, but that had been hundreds of years ago. He hadn’t thought about it much since, and had never heard about it having this kind of effect. The way Sam’s tongue rolled around outside his mouth would have seemed almost comical, if Dean wasn’t feeling so sick.

“Why would he do that?” Bobby asked, his face twisted in disgust. Dean leaned back in his chair, rubbing a hand over his face.

“It’s supposed to make them stronger – in a supernatural power kind of way, not just physically. Demons give little bit of their blood to… say, witches, so they can do more damage. But I’ve never, uh, read about it doing anything like this. I don’t know how much she’s been giving him, or for how long.”

“Couldn’t have been more than a year,” Bobby murmured, lost in thought. “No way he could’ve gotten away with something like that under John’s nose. He did all he could to keep Sam away from that girl.”

“It must have been after he died. Sammy would’ve been vulnerable, and Ruby might’ve used that against him.” Dean kicked at a leg of the bed. “Fuck, that bitch. I knew she was lying to him.”

Bobby looked at Dean curiously. “He told you about Ruby, then?”

“No. No, he hasn’t told me shit about any of this. I met her last week. She’d been following us around all day and showed up at the motel when Sam was in the shower. I exercised her,” he lied, not exactly able to explain how he’d really killed her. “I didn’t know this was going on, I swear. She told me she was on our side but I didn’t trust her.”

“You were right not to, it looks like. And at least we know what’s wrong with ‘im, but that won’t do us any good if we can’t fix it. “

“Might just have to wait it out. He’s going through some severe withdrawal symptoms, so we keep taking care of him until it’s out of his system,” Dean reasoned, not seeing many other options. He wasn’t about to go out and find some demon blood so he could pump more of that poison into Sam’s system, and it wasn’t like there was any kind of demon blood methadone to make it easier on him.

“And what if he doesn’t make it?” Bobby asked after a minute, and Dean leaned over Sam, who had calmed again.

He didn’t have a response to that.

***

Dean was dozing in the chair when Sam first acknowledged him two days later. He heard the soft, “Dean?” and sat up quickly, gaping when he saw Sam’s eyes pointed right at him.

“Sammy? You can see me?”

Sam blinked and nodded. His face and hair were wet from sweating out his fever, and Dean couldn’t help but hope that the awareness of his actual surroundings was a sign of him getting better.

“‘Course I can see you.”

Dean laughed. “Yeah, you say that,” he murmured, reaching for a rag and using it to dry Sam’s skin. “You smell like ass, man.”

Sam tried to move his arms, looking at his wrists when he realized he couldn’t. “What- what the hell happened?”

“What’s the last thing you remember?”

Sam’s face scrunched up as he thought. “We were driving, in Iowa. I… My phone stopped working.”

Dean hummed, nodding and dropping the rag back on the floor. “And you threw a shit-fit and passed out. Been out for four days.”

“Four days?” Sam laughed, clearly shocked. “I don’t remember it.” He shifted and hissed. “Fuck, my arms hurt. Can you let me out of this?”

Dean stood and released Sam’s wrists from the bindings. Sam groaned as he stretched them out, wincing with every movement he made.

“God, I hurt everywhere,” he complained, and Dean nodded.

“I’ve heard withdrawal will do that to you.”

“Withdrawal?” Sam’s forehead crinkled up again. Dean would have found it kind of adorable, but with his relief had come a surge of anger at Sam for doing something so stupid. “What are you talking about? I just got sick.”

“Yeah, you did. Sick because you ran out of demon blood.” Sam’s eyes went wide and Dean smirked without any actual humor. “You had a lot of hallucinations these past few days. Very talkative.”

“I- Dean-”

“Don’t bullshit me, Sammy. Don’t even try.” He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, but it wasn’t enough. His concern had kept it down, but fury was bubbling to the surface now. He was angry at Sam for being so gullible and secretive, angry at himself for not noticing that Sam had been strung out – and the demonic sense he’d had right from the beginning, too strong to be that knife, but blood, he never even guessed – and most of all, he was angry at Ruby for taking advantage of Sam when he was weak. “I’m gonna go get Bobby. He’ll want to keep you down here for at least a few more hours, make sure you don’t lose it again before we let you go. I need to take a walk.”

He turned to head out, ignoring Sam calling his name. The iron door clanged shut behind him, echoing through the basement.

***

Dean couldn’t stay mad for long. As Sam recovered, he gradually became more attractive than he’d ever been before. Combined with his ever-present kicked puppy look, Dean didn’t stand a chance. It was only a few days before Dean was cracking jokes just for the pleasure of seeing Sam smile, though he still kept a close eye on the boy. He didn’t know enough about demon blood addiction to trust that Sam really was as fine as the mortal claimed.

As it was, he could hardly get Sam to talk about the withdrawal. Dean wasn’t totally sure how to act around him, and he didn’t want to stress Sam out, but there were things he needed to know. Dean joined Sam at the table one morning two weeks after Sam had regained full consciousness, and took a deep breath before getting straight to it.

“Are you still craving demon blood?”

Sam’s head snapped up. “What?”

“Are you still drinking demon blood? Have you found some other blood pusher?”

“What? Dean, no!” The puppy eyes were back, and Dean rubbed a hand over his face.

“I gotta know, man. The whole time, I had no idea,” he said, noticing the way Sam flushed and dropped his gaze. “I want to believe you wouldn’t do it again, or that you wouldn’t lie to me about it but… I don’t know if I can. It was an addiction for you, and that fucks up people’s judgment. I have to ask. I’m trying to trust your word here, at least.”

Sam stared at him, a little swirl forming in his forehead as he frowned, and finally nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, I get it.”

“So do you have some secret stash?”

“Dean, you’re with me all the time. You’d know if I was still… doing it.” Dean just raised his eyebrows and Sam sighed. “And no, I don’t have a ‘secret stash’. I’m clean.”

“Cravings?” Dean pressed, and Sam shifted uncomfortably.

“Sometimes,” he admitted, stirring his spoon around his Cheerios, which had started to go soggy. “I felt… powerful, before. Now I just feel weak. And with all of this,” he said, looking around and gesturing at the roof above them. “You guys have me on lockdown, basically. I feel like some little kid who fucked up and got grounded. And I know I fucked up,” he added before Dean could say anything. “I’m not trying to say I didn’t. Dad died and Ruby was there and then it was so easy to kill demons and save people and it felt good, and everything just got out of control.”

“That happens,” Dean said quietly, and the air was thick with tension as their eyes met. “You do things you shouldn’t have, and you regret it later. It isn’t the end of the world.”

“Unless it is,” Sam mumbled, pushing his hair back out of his face. It was a perfect opening for Dean to ask him about what Ruby had said concerning the prevention of an apocalypse, and he’d just opened his mouth to do so when Bobby stepped into the kitchen.

He looked between them and his eyebrows rose. “Am I interruptin’ somethin’?”

“Nah. Just chatting,” Sam lied, and Dean offered a tight smile. Bobby nodded, clearly not believing them but letting it slide.

“I found something that looks like a spirit in Montana. Thought you boys might want to look into it, get you out of the house for a while. If you’re up for it,” he said with a glance at Sam, who averted his eyes when he noticed.

“Sounds good to me,” Dean said. He gave Sam’s shoulder a gentle squeeze, trying to convey his support without embarrassing them both in front of Bobby. The smile he got in return was just a twitch of Sam’s lips, but his eyes were bright enough that his appreciation shone through.

Dean went off to find the keys and by the afternoon, they were standing in front of a comic book store in Montana, dressed in suits with fake IDs in their pockets.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been to a store like this,” Dean said, and Sam chuckled.

“Seriously? Not even as a kid? What kind of childhood did you have?”

Dean snorted and shook his head. “Not a normal one. I’ll let you take the lead here, Superman.”

Sam smile, elbowing Dean in the side on his way to the door. They approached the man at the counter whose name tag read ‘Steve’ and Sam flashed his FBI badge, Dean following suit. “I’m Agent DeYoung; this is Agent Shaw.”

Steve’s eyebrows furrowed as he looked between Dean and Sam. “Can I help you, gentlemen?”

“We have a couple of questions,” Sam explained. “About the building. Have you noticed anything strange recently?”

“Strange?”

“Odd sounds,” Dean suggested, “or flickering lights.”

Steve took a good look at each of them. “The FBI is investigating an electrical problem?”

“We just have to cover all the bases,” Sam told him. “What about cold spots? Sudden drops in temperature; you feel anything like that here?”

Steve’s lips slowly lifted into a grin. “You guys are LARPing!” he said. “I knew you weren’t really feds.”

Dean glanced at Sam, alarmed. No one had ever called them out before. “Excuse me?”

“LARPing?” Sam asked, and Steve chuckled.

“Live-Action-Role-Play. Oh, I get it. You’re trying to stay in character.” He nodded, smirking as though they were all in on a joke together. Dean wasn’t seeing the punch line.

Dean blinked, trying to think of a good answer to that before giving up. “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” he finally admitted, and Steve’s smile faded.

“You guys… are LARPing, aren’t you? You’re asking questions like there’s a ghost in the building and using rockstar names, like in those Supernatural books.” He shrunk back, eyes growing wide. “Shit, are you guys really feds? I’m sorry; I just thought you were trying to be Sam and John.”

Sam froze, blinking a few times before he was able to speak. “Sam and John?”

“Yeah, like the books.” He moved out from behind the counter and went to one of the discount bins, shuffling things around until he pulled out a paperback novel. “Here’s the first one.”

Dean took it, glancing at the cover. “Supernatural by Carver Edlund.” He turned the book over to read the summary aloud. “‘Along a lonely California highway, a mysterious woman in white lures men to their deaths… A terrifying phenomenon that may bring Sam and John together again.’”

Sam choked, lifting his fist to cough into it. “Sounds interesting,” he said, his voice strained. “How many do you have?”

Steve spent more time fishing in the bin, turning up with eight more books.

“How many of these are there?” Sam asked, gaping.

“Twenty or thirty, I think. I heard the publisher went bankrupt; they didn’t sell all that well.”

“We’ll take them.” Sam fumbled for his wallet, nodding towards the books Steve held. Dean smiled awkwardly.

“Good to have something to read – lots of time to kill while we’re traveling,” he lied. “We’ll just take those and get out of your way.”

“You guys really are feds, then? What was it you were looking for?”

“Just something in the area we’ve been looking into.” Dean watched Sam pull out enough cash to cover the books, and as soon as he had them in hand he was heading towards the door. “But it’s probably nothing for you to be concerned about. Thanks for your help.”

He followed Sam out, seeing he’d already let himself into the impala and was reading the back covers of the books.

“The names aren’t just a coincidence, then,” he muttered as he slid into the driver’s seat. Sam shook his head, flipping through the inside pages of the book in his hands.

“They’re all cases we worked, since Dad picked me up from Stanford.”

Dean blinked, head tilting to the side. “I didn’t know you went to Stanford.”

“Was gonna be a lawyer. Then Dad came and got me when he needed help on a case, and my boyfriend was killed by a demon the night he dropped me off again, so I got back into hunting.”

“You’re gay?” Dean asked, leaning back in surprise. He hadn’t known that either, and had to smother the flare of attraction that roared to life at hearing it. Sam finally looked up from the book, flushing as he realized what he’d said.

“I- Yeah, I am.” He looked away, and Dean held up his hands.

“No, it’s cool, man. Doesn’t bother me or anything. I am, too,” he said, though he wasn’t sure if that was the best way to describe it. ‘Gay’ might not have accurately described having the one person who owned his heart for the rest of eternity be male. Still, it was close enough when it came to reassuring Sam that he wasn’t judging him.

“Oh,” Sam replied, looking baffled. He coughed, attention returning to the book. “It’s not only the same names and cases. Everything in here is exactly how it happened. My nightmares about Jesse, the ways we researched and fought, the guns we used – even what we said, it’s word for word from what I remember.”

“So… what, this Carver Edlund guy’s been spying on you this whole time?”

“I don’t know, man. Even if he was… He knows what I was thinking and dreaming about. How could he know that? And how would we find him? It doesn’t give any information. Doesn’t even sound like a real name.”

“Maybe it was some intense form of sleepwalking,” Dean joked. “You were writing all these things down and contacting publishers without knowing it.”

“The publisher!” Sam exclaimed, ignoring the rest of Dean’s statement. “They would have to have some sort of contact information, right? We have to find this guy, Dean.”

“But the job-”

“I’ll call Bobby,” Sam said, already reaching for his phone. “Have him put someone else on it, and then we’ll track down Carver Edlund.”

Dean sighed, twisting the keys in the ignition and heading off to find a motel.

***

Carver Edlund was officially determined to be a penname, and Dean went to work on tracking down the publisher. Sam wasn’t much help, his nose buried in the books, fascinated and disturbed all at once. Once they had the publisher’s name they made the drive to her home office under the cover of journalists writing a piece about the book. After answering a few questions about John’s birthday and Sam’s LSAT score, Sam’s tattoo managed to convince her that they were fans. A generous dash of puppy-dog eyes finished her off and they walked away with Carver Edlund’s – real name Chuck Shirley- home address in Toledo, Ohio.

“This is the place,” Dean announced as he parked the impala against the curb. Sam had spent the trip with his nose buried in one of the books, and he finally closed it and set it down. “Bugs?”

“Native American curse,” he explained simply, looking through the window at the house. He checked that his gun was tucked into his jacket and climbed out of the car, not waiting for Dean to catch up as he headed towards the door.

“Shit,” Dean mumbled, hurrying after him. “You can’t shoot him on sight,” he reminded, reaching the porch just as Sam was ringing the bell. “We don’t know how he’s doing this, but it isn’t necessarily evil.”

“It sure isn’t good,” Sam snapped, his eyes fixed on the door. It opened after a moment and he continued to glower down at the man in front of them. Dean offered a half smile, trying to make up for it.

“Can I help you, gentlemen? If this is about the dog barking, that’s the house behind me. It’s not mine.”

“Are you Chuck Shirley?” Sam demanded, and Dean eyed him warily.

“Uh, maybe. Yes,” Chuck confirmed when Sam turned his glare up a notch. “Why?”

“You wrote the ‘Supernatural’ books?” Dean asked, tempted to place a hand on Sam’s chest in case he needed to physically hold him back.

Chuck’s brow furrowed. “Yeah, I did. You guys are… fans?”

“Not exactly,” Dean said.

“How did you know all of that?” Sam spat out, and Dean could see he was clearly using his height to intimidate Chuck. It was working – the author cowered under his stare.

“I- Know all of what?”

“About the ghosts and the demons and the vampires. About me.”

Chuck opened and closed his mouth as he tried to come up with an answer to that, looking between them curiously. “Sorry, who are you?”

“I’m Sam Winchester. My father was John Winchester. The Sam and John Winchester in your books.”

Chuck blinked and turned to Dean, his eyes darting nervously back to Sam every few moments. “Is he alright?”

“He’s a little pissed off,” Dean replied, chuckling half-heartedly. “Come on, Sammy, he doesn’t look evil. Let’s just talk about it.”

“Ah, so you’re both- Ah.” Chuck smiled, beginning to close the door. “It’s great to meet fans, but you two might want to get some help.”

Sam hand shot out, smacking against the wood as he held the door open, and Chuck jumped back. “Are you a hunter? A psychic? A demon? What?”

“Listen, buddy, none of that is real. Sam and John are just characters in a book. There are no such things as monsters or hunters or anything like that.”

“Oh yeah?” Sam took the car keys from Dean’s hand and stalked off towards the impala, and Dean sighed.

“You might want to go with him. He’ll probably just come back if you don’t.”

Chuck followed them to the car, where Sam had propped open the trunk. “Wait, are those real guns?”

“Real guns, real holy water, real rock salt, real fake IDs,” Sam said, opening the little box that contained their laminated badges.

“You guys sure are fans,” Chuck said. He let out another nervous laugh and took slow steps backwards towards the house. “I’ve got some extra copies of the books I could sign for you, or some posters, or-”

“Tell me how you’re doing it,” Sam demanded, advancing on him. Chuck held up his palms in surrender.

“Come on, don’t hurt me. I’m just a writer, it’s not real.”

Dean glanced around the street and laid a hand on Sam’s back. “How ‘bout we take this inside before we end up with an audience, huh?”

“Oh, god. You’re gonna kill me, aren’t you?” Chuck breathed, his eyes wide.

“No, we’re not going to kill you. Calm down,” Dean said, his hand moving to grip Sam’s shoulder and keep him in place.

“Calm down? Two guys show up at my house with guns thinking they’re Sam and John and you want me to calm down.”

“I’m not John,” Dean replied, frowning. “John was killed over a year ago.”

“Right, so you think you’re… I don’t know, Bobby or something?”

Dean sighed. “I don’t think I’m anyone in your books, man. I’m a friend of Sam’s, Dean Smith.”

Chuck froze. “I never told anybody about Dean. Nobody’s had access to those pages.”

“You’re still writing?” Sam asked, and Chuck nodded slowly, his eyes still fixed on Dean.

“But nobody could have known about... You can’t be Dean.”

Dean eyes shifted nervously to Sam and he shot Chuck a warning look. “Could we please just do this inside?”

Chuck led them in, dazed. He kept looking at Dean, which made it obvious enough that he knew who Dean really was – if he was beginning to believe them, at least. Dean held onto the hope that he also knew that Sam didn’t know, and that he should keep his mouth shut.

“I’ve got to be dreaming, or- or hallucinating,” he mumbled, tugging his fingers through his short hair. “You can’t be… How could either of you be…” His eyes landed on a stack of paper sitting on his desk. “Holy shit.”

“What?” Sam asked. He wasn’t radiating anger anymore, but his eyes were still narrowed as he watched Chuck.

“The latest book I’ve been working on… I wrote myself into it. Me, meeting Sam and Dean.” He picked up the top sheet of paper with trembling hands. “Exactly how it just happened.”

“You wrote it before it happened?” Sam frowned, his bravado fading fast. “So you’re a psychic.”

“I’m not psychic. If I were psychic, why would I be writing? I’d be buying up lotto tickets. Writing is hard, and I’m not even getting paid anymore.”

“I don’t know what else it could be. You’re channeling my life specifically, somehow. I can’t figure out why, but the things you’ve written... There’s no way you should know all of that.” Sam eyed Chuck curiously. “How much do you know?”

“What, like the apocalypse stuff?” Chuck asked, and Sam looked at Dean with wide eyes. “He knows. Ruby told him.”

Sam gaped at Dean. “When did you meet Ruby?”

“That day we were in Chicago,” Dean admitted, already fearing Sam’s reaction. “She came to find you when we got back to the motel. I knew she was a demon, so I killed her. I didn’t know you were going through withdrawals.” Though if he had, Dean knew he’d still have done it. He just would have taken his time torturing Ruby first for getting him hooked on that poison.

“So you know about Lilith, and the seals? The angels?”

“Ah – she didn’t mention any of that,” Chuck spoke up, and Sam paled.

“Bobby did mention the angels,” Dean pointed out, to be fair. “But seals?”

“The demons are breaking these seals. They get to sixty-six before the angels can stop them, and Lucifer walks free. Lilith is sort of like head demon in the whole thing,” Sam explained, and Chuck collapsed onto his couch.

“You can’t know all of that. I made it all up, you can’t possibly be…”

Dean ignored Chuck’s whimpering, focused on one word: Lilith. The name alone made Dean nauseous. He was well aware of Lilith – the first demon Lucifer had made before he’d been locked away in his cage. The darkest being Dean had ever seen after Lucifer was done with her, who had turned her diseased soul on others until there were finally too many demons for Dean to keep them in check and he’d been run out of his kingdom after watching his Asphodel flowers rot and his Elysian Fields burn. Just thinking about her made his blood boil.

“Dean knows who Lilith is,” Chuck said quietly, and Dean shot him a glare.

“Shut it, Chuck.”

“He’ll find out at some point,” Chuck told him, and Dean advanced on him quickly, hand reaching up to cover his mouth.

“Unhand him,” a rough voice demanded, and Dean turned sharply, letting his hand drop.

“Cas?” Sam said as Dean spotted the angel across the room. He could see the angel’s true form under the meat suit, and his eyes went wide. He backed away from Chuck, his hands up in surrender. There wasn’t much on earth that frightened him, but he wouldn’t necessarily win a tussle with an angel, so he preferred to keep his distance from them. “Dean, it’s okay. This is Castiel, he’s a friend.”

“You’ve got angel friends, too? Any werewolves or skinwalkers on speed dial that I should know about?”

“A funny question for you to ask, Aidoneus,” the angel said, and Dean looked down at the floor. There was no way he was getting through this one without Sam finding out.

“It’s Dean now.”

“Wait, you two know each other?” Sam asked. Dean opened his mouth, but Castiel answered before he could.

“We’ve never officially met, but I recognize him. You would most likely know him as Hades.”

Sam’s eyes shot up towards his hairline and he snorted. “Hades? Like, brother of Zeus, ruler of the underworld, Hades? You’ve got to be shitting me.”

“I am not… joking with you,” Castiel said, frowning. Sam looked between him, Chuck, and Dean, all of whom were wearing serious expressions.

“No,” Sam said, his gaze staying on Dean, who had to fight to meet his eyes. Guilt was threatening to suffocate him. “You’re… Hades.”

“The one who brought the souls to the underworld before my father’s word could be spread and they could be brought to heaven,” Castiel confirmed. Dean rolled his eyes.

“They were perfectly happy without your heaven.”

“And how are they now?”

Images of flames and screams and the smell of burning flesh filled Dean’s mind, and he said nothing.

“I’m still waiting for someone to tell me this is a joke,” Sam said weakly. Castiel had the nerve to look sympathetic. Dean would have punched him if he thought it would actually hurt him.

“I wish I could, Sam. The man you are traveling with is an imposter – the very thing you were raised to hunt.”

“Watch it, bird-boy.”

“It’s merely the truth.”

“I’m not a monster. I might not have been kind, but I was fair. Much like your father, wouldn’t you say?” Dean shot at Castiel, who chose not to say anything. “I didn’t even take human sacrifices. And that thing with Persephone was bullshit, she made the entire thing up for attention.” He looked at Sam, pleading, “I’m still me, man. I may not really be a hunter, but I’m not evil.”

“You were lying this whole time? Why?”

“Well I couldn’t exactly tell you who I was; you would have staked me while I was sleeping. But I wanted to spend time with you.” He looked down, scratching the back of his neck. “There was something about you, and I just wanted to be around you.”

“‘Something about me’?” Sam laughed, incredulous and outraged. “So, what, you lied and said you weren’t a Pagan god so you could get into my pants?”

“No, Sammy, that’s not what I meant.”

“He’s telling the truth,” Chuck assured. “He has a soulmate.”

Dean huffed. “It’s more of a bondmate, but yeah, I’ve got a guy. And while I’ve been waiting to get him back I’ve been so bored, and… you were interesting. And you’re really my friend, none of that was a lie.”

Sam rubbed at his temples with his index and middle fingers. “Any other secrets anyone would like to share?”

“Chuck is a prophet,” Castiel said, and all three looked at him in shock. “His writings will be kept as the Winchester gospel.”

“Winchester gospel?” Sam repeated, at the same time Chuck said, “A prophet?”

“I admire your work,” Castiel added bashfully.

“I’m a prophet,” Chuck said, a hysterical giggle escaping his lips. “I’m a prophet, and I have a god, an angel, and a former psychic in my living room.” He moved towards a bottle of whiskey, and Dean looked over at Sam.

“Psychic?”

“It was a few years ago,” Sam muttered. “Azazel fed a bunch of kids his blood when we were six months old and we developed powers. His ‘psychic kids’. Devil’s Gate thing.”

“What is it with you and demon blood?”

“What is it with you and not mentioning fucking Zeus is your big bro?”

“He’s my little brother! I’m older! And it’s not like we have family reunions,” Dean grumbled. “Why does everybody always focus on that asshole?”

“Not really the point, Dean!”

“No, the point is that I lied, and I’m honestly sorry for that, Sam. I really am, but I felt it was necessary at the time. I’m still in this with you, though. I’m on your side.”

The look Sam gave Dean was clear enough – he didn’t trust him. “You killed Ruby. She was helping me get strong enough to kill Lilith. This whole time, you could’ve been trying to stop that from happening.”

“She was lying to you,” Dean insisted. “I could see it before I killed her. She wanted Lucifer freed, so whatever she was helping you do, it wasn’t to kill Lilith.”

“How do I know you’re the one telling the truth, then?”

Dean took a deep breath, exhaling loudly. “Lucifer and Lilith and all those fucking demons took everything from me. I may not have liked getting stuck with the underworld, but it was my job, and it was important to me. And then Lucifer made Lilith, and she started churning out other demons until there were too many for me to control. They destroyed my realms,” he choked out. “Billions of souls who should have been happy for all of eternity, twisted into those ugly creatures. I can tell you honestly, Sammy: there is no one in existence who I want dead more than Lilith or Lucifer.”

The room was silent for a minute until Chuck spoke up. “Um. Speaking of Lilith. I remembered something else I wrote. I don’t think you’re gonna like it.”

“What is it, Chuck?” Sam asked, his expression unsure as he kept his eyes on Dean.

“She’s going to be in town tonight.”

***

Dean frowned as Sam gripped the knife in his hands. “I still don’t like your chances, going after Lilith with that.”

“If something goes wrong, you’ll be out here,” Sam reminded him. “You said you could kill her while she’s topside, didn’t you?”

“I should be able to, yeah. Other demons are a snap, but she’s got a little more juice than they do. I could exercise her, at the very least, to keep her from slaughtering you.”

“That’s comforting, thanks,” Sam muttered. He’d hardly made eye contact with Dean since they’d left Chuck’s house to find the motel where Lilith would supposedly be coming for Sam. Sam had refused to let the opportunity slip by; he wanted to take Lilith out, once and for all. Dean had gone along with him, though the tension between them was palpable.

“I told you I’m on your side, and I meant it,” Dean reminded him, and Sam stared at him for a moment before nodding.

“I believe you. I shouldn’t, since you’ve done nothing but lie to me for months. But I believe you.”

“I only lied about one thing. And you weren’t exactly forthcoming with all of this apocalypse shit,” Dean pointed out. Sam shrugged.

“Guess not.” He licked his lips, glancing at the door. “Alright, I’m going in. I doubt she’ll just stroll up to the door when she could pop inside, so you wait out here. If you hear me call for you, or if it sounds like I’m choking on my own blood or something, come in.”

“Will do. Good luck.”

Sam nodded and let himself into the room. Dean leaned against the building between the door and the window, closing his eyes and just listening.

He sensed her as soon as she arrived, his gut clenching at the feel of having her so close, just on the other side of the wall. He grit his teeth, hoping his presence wasn’t as clear to her as hers was to him, and waited – finally hearing a shriek that prompted him to burst through the door.

Lilith didn’t spare him a glance, even as he kicked the door shut behind him. She and Sam were a few feet apart and he had the knife pointed at her, but she didn’t seem to notice. Her eyes were wild with fury.

“You’re clean, I can feel it,” she hissed. “Azazel’s blood is all that’s left in you.”

“I can still kill you,” Sam said, waving the knife, though he looked more confused than confident. Dean looked between them, not understanding any more than Sam seemed to be.

“That thing can’t kill me.” With a quick jerk of her hand, the knife was ripped from his hand and flung to the side. “You need the blood; you have to free my father!” she screamed, red in the face. Even in a grown woman’s body, Lilith was the same as she’d always been – a grotesque, diseased child, who was currently in the midst of a temper tantrum.

“Where’s Ruby?” she demanded. “I’m going to kill that lying little whore; she said she would train you, get you strong enough to kill any demon, even me. You’re the only one who can, but what use are you like this? Weak, worthless!” she screeched, and Dean winced at the sound.

“So Ruby was working with you?” Sam asked, glancing at Dean.

“Do you think that stupid bitch could have thought all that up herself?” Lilith laughed bitterly, and in an instant she was fuming again.

She glared at Sam for a moment and then paused, her expression changing just as quickly as it had before, which Dean found downright creepy. Her head tilted to the side and a sweet grin spread across her face, the knife flying up into her hand.

“It’s not too late, Sam,” she said, and her skin crackled as she drew the knife across her forearm. Blood seeped from the cut, droplets rolling down the body’s pale skin and onto the floor. “Drink. You can still get strong enough. Don’t you want to be strong again, Sam? Don’t you want to kill me, get revenge on me taking your daddy down to hell?”

Her smile widened as she continued, “How long was he there before your little angel friends saved him and took him back to heaven? A full year? That’s one hundred and twenty years in hell. They carved him up every day for one hundred of those, and finally broke him. ‘The first seal shall be broken when a righteous man sheds blood in hell.’ We turned Daddy into a monster. And you should have seen him with a knife, Sammy. The way he tore up those souls – it was artistic, really. I was moved.”

“Shut up,” Sam demanded, his voice low and pained.

“Does that bother you? I know it does, Sam. And you want revenge, just like you wanted revenge for your mommy. For Jesse. I’ll send you demons, Sam, give you all the blood you can drink, and when the time is right, you can have your revenge. And Lucifer will be so grateful for you setting him free. The power you felt with the blood? It’s nothing compared to what he’ll give you. I know you want that, Sam. Such a weakling all your life, Daddy bossing you around. You finally felt strong, and you’ve never loved anything more.”

“Killing you is the last seal?”

She nodded and held out her arm, stepping closer to him. “It’ll be so easy, once you have enough. Just like the others. Drink, Sam.” He grabbed her wrist and she laughed, tossing her hair back gleefully.

“Dean!” he shouted, and Dean rushed forward, pressing one hand against the side of her head and one on her back. He concentrated on pushing the demon from the body rather than even trying to kill her, and her head fell back as the smoke poured out. He caught the woman’s body as it collapsed, and checked the pulse. Miraculously still alive; just unconscious.

Sam was sucking in heaving breaths, staring at the blood that was dripping down and seeping into the carpet. Dean carefully laid the woman on the bed, getting up to grab a towel out of the bathroom so he could wrap up her arm. When he came back out, Sam was sitting on the edge of the opposite bed, his head in his hands.

“I think she’s going to be okay,” Dean said after a moment, listening to her breathing. Sam didn’t move. “Did you know the angels had saved your father?”

“No. Cas never mentioned it.” Sam laughed, but there was nothing happy about it. “Who knows, even he might be using me to start the apocalypse. Apparently I’m not too good at recognizing it when I’m being lied to.”

“You lost your dad, Sam. You were vulnerable, and Ruby took advantage of that. It isn’t your fault.”

Sam ignored him. “I would have done it. I wanted to kill her so badly. And she was right, I do want revenge. I would’ve killed her, and started the whole fucking apocalypse, because I was stupid enough to trust a demon.”

“Good thing you’ve got your pagan god of a best friend to clean all that up for you then, huh?” Dean joked, and Sam finally looked at him, startled. He laughed, nodding and running his fingers through his hair.

“All I ever wanted growing up was to be normal, and look at me. I couldn’t be more of a freak if I tried.”

“Bet you could. You can do anything you set your mind to, Sammy.” Dean leaned over to lay a hand on his knee, giving it a gentle squeeze to offer silent support. Sam smiled, looking over at the woman’s body.

“We should probably drop her off at the hospital. And I think we’ve lost our deposit, at this point.”

Dean waved his hand over the blood stains, smiling as they disappeared. “Nothing a little bit of magic can’t fix.”

“Well, look at you. Lord of carpet cleaning,” Sam teased, though his expression was still grim. He helped Dean get the woman up off the floor, and together they carried her out to the car.

***

When they woke up the next morning, Castiel was standing at the foot of Sam’s bed.

“Christ!” Sam shouted, rousing Dean from his groggy state of partial consciousness in time to see Sam nearly roll off his bed.

“No, Sam, it’s me,” the angel said, his face pinched with worry. Sam panted, rubbing a hand over his face.

“Yeah, Cas, I know. You just scared me. Fuck,” he muttered, and Dean pushed himself into a sitting position.

“Where’d you get off to yesterday?”

“I was called up to heaven,” Castiel told him, seeming a little less disgruntled at having to directly address Dean than he had the day before.

“Yeah? And how are all your feathery friends doing?”

Castiel shifted uncomfortably. “Not well. There were some who wanted Lucifer freed because they agreed with his philosophies on destroying the humans. They were… taken care of, but I recently discovered that many of the angels want him freed so that he and Michael can have their final battle. They want the apocalypse to occur.”

Dean frowned, suddenly serious. “Don’t they know what kind of destruction that would bring? The showdown alone would take out millions, maybe billions of people. And then if Lucifer wins, he’ll probably torch anybody that’s left. If your host of heaven wins, the whole planet turns Stepford.”

“They expect Michael to win,” Castiel confirmed. “They want to create heaven on earth so they won’t have to witness any more sin.”

“Or any more free will. They can’t just do that! That’s what your father says he wants?” Dean asked. Castiel was quiet for a moment.

“Our Father left heaven a very long time ago,” he said. “But I, along with some of my brothers and sisters, don’t believe this is what He would want. He created the humans as they are, and told us to bow down to them. I don’t agree with those who want the humans to be any different than He intended.”

“So we’re all on the same page then, right?” Sam asked. “None of us want Lucifer to end up topside.” He frowned, biting at his lip. “But Lilith isn’t going to just give up. She’ll keep coming after me, trying to get me to kill her. As long as I’m around, it could still happen.”

“Don’t talk like that, Sammy,” Dean warned, and Castiel nodded.

“It would be unproductive to entertain thoughts of your death. The angels who want to start the apocalypse could easily send you back to earth.”

“Well what else can we do, then? We can’t kill her, obviously, and even if we somehow find a way to keep her from getting to me, she might just figure out some other way to die and break the final seal. We’re totally screwed.”

“Not totally,” Castiel objected. “My brothers and sisters and I found a ritual that we think will work. It would create another cage in hell, much like Lucifer’s. If we can trap Lilith, then she won’t be able to break the final seal.”

Dean frowned. It was good in theory, but wouldn’t be in practice. “Angels don’t have the juice to do something like that,” he said.

“Angels wouldn’t be able to perform the ritual, it’s true. But we believe you could, Aidoneus. Dean,” Castiel amended, and Dean’s eyebrows rose as he thought about it.

“I would have been able to at one point, but I don’t know if I could now. I don’t have control of Hades anymore – I don’t even have believers anymore, apart from a very rare and usually pretty odd few. Most of the power I had, I used for my bondmate.”

“You mentioned that yesterday, with Chuck,” Sam said, curious. “Your ‘bondmate’. What does that mean?”

“It’s not an official term or anything,” Dean told him, thinking of how best to explain. “There was a man I fell in love with in the eighteenth century, and I didn’t want to live without him. I couldn’t just make him immortal, but with the right ritual and enough power, I could… tie his soul to mine, you could say. He still gets old and eventually dies,” he explained, trying to push back the memories of Samouel’s body going limp, or Sawyl’s eyes losing their light. “But he’s reincarnated, eventually. When we meet again, he starts getting his memories of our lives together back. That’s what happened last time, anyway.”

Dean shifted his gaze to Castiel. “If I had him with me, our power together might be enough for the ritual to work. I don’t know if I can swing it on my own, and I don’t know when he’ll be born again.”

“Would the magic be at all tied to the last body he’d been in?” Castiel asked. “If you went to his grave, could you get enough of the power back to use it?”

“I don’t know,” Dean said, honestly. “I’ve never tried. If I did try, I don’t know if it would break the bond. He might…” He swallowed hard. He couldn’t say the words out loud – that using that power might mean Samouel never came back. He’d feared that enough as it was, losing him when he’d been so young. “I’m not even sure where his gravesite is.”

“You weren’t with him when he died?” Sam asked.

“I can feel it as soon as he’s born, but it takes me a while to pinpoint the exact location. The last time he was reincarnated was in 1983, and he died before I could find him. Only six months old. Exactly six months, actually.”

Sam blinked. “Exactly six months? You’re sure?”

“Of course I’m sure.” He’d been all Dean could think about for twenty-five years.

“The psychic kids,” Sam breathed, and Dean quirked an eyebrow.

“The demon blood thing?” Dean asked. It was a bit of an odd segue. “Could they help us get enough power for the ritual?”

“No, I mean he might have been one of the psychic kids. Or was supposed to be, anyway. Azazel came to all of us when we were exactly six months old so he could do his blood thing. If the parents came into the room, he burned them up. Your, you know, ‘bondmate’ might have died in the fire.”

“So you’re saying the love of my life was burned alive by a demon,” Dean deadpanned. “That’s great, Sam. Thank you for that.”

“I- No, I didn’t mean…” Sam flushed, looking away. “I just meant, we tracked down all the kids who had house fires on their six-month-birthdays. We could find them again, and maybe find where the essence of power or whatever is.”

“There’s not enough time for that,” Castiel interrupted. He was looking between the two of them curiously, and Dean waited for some sort of explanation. He didn’t get one. “How close did you get to finding him last time?”

“Not sure. I know he was somewhere in the Midwest.”

Castiel nodded. “If you got close enough, could you still sense him enough to track him down? Find the last place you felt him?”

“They couldn’t have buried him too far from where he died,” Sam agreed. Dean wished they’d stop talking about it. His stomach was in knots at the thought of them asking him to do this.

He didn’t have much choice, though. They had to do whatever they could to get Lilith off the board. Samouel couldn’t come back to the world if there was no world to come back to.

“I might be able to.”

***

After Castiel left to start gathering the ingredients for the ritual, Sam and Dean showered and dressed before hitting the road. Dean didn’t trust that he could track down Samouel’s latest incarnation by having an angel bounce them around the midwest – and part of him just wanted to put off finding the grave, if there was anything to find. As selfish as it was, he hoped their search wouldn’t turn up anything usable.

They stopped again that night in Missouri, and Dean felt mostly sure that he would at least find where Samouel had died. The sense had been getting stronger as they moved through the states, and he started off the next morning with a heavy heart.

Sam had fallen asleep by the time they reached Lawrence, Kansas, in the afternoon. Dean could feel the magic that tied him and Samouel together almost as strongly as he remembered feeling it when his bondmate had been alive. He didn’t have to focus, but let instinct guide him until he was pulling up in front of an empty house with a ‘For Sale’ sign in the front yard.

He climbed out of the impala, slowly walking towards the house. It was definitely the right place – where Samouel had taken his final breaths in his third incarnation. Where, if Castiel’s plan worked, he might have spent his very last moments on the earth. Dean drew in a shaky breath and rubbed his hands over his face, going back to the car to knock on the passenger’s side window. Sam jolted up and blinked sleepily at Dean, who couldn’t help but smile, even as his chest ached.

He pulled the door open so Sam could get out. “This is the place,” he announced. Sam looked at it, blinked, rubbed his eyes, and then looked at it again.

“This is where he died.”

“This is it.”

“In 1983.”

“Yep.”

“He died here, in this house, in 1983.”

Dean’s brows furrowed. “You want me to draw you a picture or something?”

“What day in 1983?”

“November. The second, I think. Middle of the night,” Dean recalled.

“That was the night my mother died,” Sam said, his eyes locked on the house.

“Really?”

“Yes. She interrupted Azazel while he was giving me his blood, and he killed her. On the night of my sixth-month-birthday. In that room.” He pointed to the room to a second floor window of the house, and Dean stared at him, taking a moment to process the words.

“It is as I suspected.” They both turned to Castiel, who had appeared beside them. “Dean, could the demon Azazel’s blood have cut off the connection you felt to Sam? Not broken it, but masked him to you?”

“I… Maybe?” Dean said, unable to look away from Sam for long. “I did start feeling a stronger pull towards him, after he detoxed from Ruby’s blood.”

“I started having dreams,” Sam admitted, glancing at him. “After the time in the panic room. Dreams about you and me, but we weren’t here. We were speaking some other language, but I still understood it.”

“Greek.” Dean swallowed hard.

Castiel walked towards the house, and they both followed without having to be asked. None of them spoke as they climbed the stairs, and ended up facing each other in an empty room.

“This is it,” Dean confirmed, looking around. “This is where I was able to feel him last.”

“Your nursery, Sam,” Cas said, and Sam nodded. “You are Dean’s bondmate, reincarnated. This is very good news.”

“It is,” Dean agreed, a smile taking over his face as he watched Sam. He’d found him, after all the time spent in fear that he might never see him again. The Sam he’d been trying to hold back an attraction to and the Samouel he’d longed for were one in the same. He blinked, glancing at Castiel, who wouldn’t be interested in the same thing. “It is?”

“Yes, of course. Your power lies in you and Sam – you can work together to perform the ritual. I have to finish the plans.”

“Wait, now?” Dean asked. “But we just-”

“You’ll have time to copulate later,” Castiel assured, exasperated. “For now, we must stop the demons from freeing Lucifer and starting the apocalypse.”

“Right. Right, we can talk about it later. What do we need to do?”

Sam just stood there, looking dazed.

***

“If the dreams are memories, why do you still call me Sam in them?”

Dean glanced over at Sam, who had been silently occupying the passenger’s seat of the impala for the better part of three hours as they headed back up to Bobby’s. “Samouel,” Dean corrected. “It was his- your name.”

“It’s the same name? And that didn’t clue you in at all?”

The road they were on was straight and void of other cars for the moment, so Dean was able to shoot Sam an indignant look. “Do you know how many Sam’s I’ve met? I can’t just assume every one of them is the one I’m looking for. Besides, I was pretty sure he- you were dead. I didn’t exactly have to deal with demon blood blocking the connection with Sawyl.”

“Sawyl?”

“The second incarnation. It’s kind of like a Welsh version of Sam. The name just fits you, I guess.” Dean shrugged. “The fates are funny ones. Scary as fuck, but funny.”

“I haven’t had any dreams about Sawyl,” Sam said.

“Maybe they’ll come after you get your memories of Samouel back. Or maybe they won’t come at all – magic isn’t perfect. Throw demon blood into the mix and who knows what’ll happen. The fact that you’re remembering even some parts of Samouel is a good sign, I think.”

Sam nodded, sitting up a little straighter in his seat. “I’ve been having at least three of them a night. The dreams, I mean. Sometimes up to seven or eight, ever since I- the panic room.” He still wouldn’t say the words.

“It was Ruby’s blood, I think. Even though we’d finally met, you couldn’t get the memories until you were clean. Sawyl started getting them as soon as he laid eyes on me. A lot earlier than I meant for him to – I’d been watching over him, but when I took the same boat to America so I wouldn’t lose him, he ended up seeing me. Tough for a twelve year old to end up with memories of being an old man, but he took it pretty well. You’ve got a tough spirit, Sam.”

“Twelve?” Sam grimaced, and Dean rolled his eyes.

“We didn’t pick up where we left off or anything. I waited until you’d grown up, so wipe that look off your face.”

Sam chuckled, shaking his head. “This is just… this is crazy, man. I’m the reincarnated soulmate-”

“Bondmate.”

“- of Hades.”

“Do you have to say that like it’s such a bad thing? Seriously, I’m not some monster.”

“You’re definitely hotter than the Hercules version.”

Dean snorted, thankful that they were still a good distance from any other cars as he swerved, laughing too hard to keep a good grip on the wheel. “Thank you, Sammy. That’s good to hear.” He wiped at his eyes, still chuckling as he thought about Hercules. “That kid really was a pain in the ass, though.”

They stopped at a gas station in Nebraska two hours later, and Dean met Sam inside after he’d filled the tank. Sam had already begun picking out snacks since they hadn’t stopped for lunch, and Dean went about finding a few things for himself.

“Holy shit,” Sam said, causing Dean to look up. He followed Sam’s gaze, seeing two other cars filling their tanks but nothing exciting apart from that.

“What?”

“I think I just saw Brady.” He glanced at Dean. “He was my best friend for a while in college; I haven’t seen him in years. Take my stuff, will you? I have to go say hey, just for a minute.”

Dean nodded, letting Sam stuff his arms with pretzels and power bars before hurrying out of the mini-mart. Dean watched him head over towards a black SUV but wasn’t able to see its owner. He shrugged, deciding on some chips and a few candy bars.

He paid for their food, the plastic bag swinging on two fingers as he left the little shop. He looked around the parking lot and then at the impala, freezing in his tracks.

The SUV was gone, and so was Sam.

“Sam?” he called out, walking to look around the sides of the building, check the backseat of the impala, and pound on the bathroom doors. “Sammy!”

He pulled out his cell to call Sam’s number, swearing when it rang through four times. “Fuck. Cas!” he shouted, trying again when the angel didn’t show. “Castiel! Could use some help here!”

Nothing.

“Fuck!” he repeated, trying Sam’s number a fifth time before giving up. He slid into the impala and called Bobby. “Bobby, listen,” he said as soon as he heard the click of the phone being picked up. “We’ve got a problem. Sam’s gone.”

***

Dean paced in front of Bobby’s desk, practically growling. He’d driven in both directions leading off from the gas station but didn’t see the SUV or pick up any hint of Sam, so he’d floored it to South Dakota to try and figure out what to do next.

“Dean-”

“I just got him back, Bobby.” The hunter hadn’t been anywhere near convinced of Dean’s quick summing up of all that had come out in the open the past few days, but Dean had bigger problems. “That’s what it feels like, at least. And now we have no fucking idea where he is, or who took him.”

“You said he saw someone named Brady from Stanford. I’m looking through their records right now to find him, so quit your pacing ‘cause it’s a hell of a distraction.”

Dean huffed, dropping down onto the couch. He tapped his foot, not able to focus on any one thing in the room for more than a moment. Bobby sighed, but didn’t speak up about it.

“Found him. Brady Thompson, class of oh-five. Dropped out his junior year, it looks like. Halfway through his sophomore year his grades just tanked.”

“Maybe ‘cause he had a fuckin’ demon in him. He was behind the car, if I’d just been able to see him… But Lilith figured me out. If he’s working with her, he’d know to stay out of sight. Fuck!”

“Calm down, son,” Bobby said, his eyes still on his computer screen. “Swearing up a storm won’t help us find him.”

“Find whom?” Dean turned to see Castiel standing in the kitchen behind him. Cas looked around, frowning. “Where is Sam?”

“Where the hell were you?” Dean demanded, shaking with rage as he stared down the angel. “I was calling for you, you dick!”

Castiel’s eyes narrowed, defensive. “I was preparing for the ritual. It calls for some very rare items, which I have been working very hard to obtain. The seals are being broken at an alarming rate – we don’t have much time left.”

“Well, in the meantime, Sam’s gone missing. Probably kidnapped by demons. He’s kind of important for your fucking ritual, don’t you think?”

“Sam’s missing?”

“Dean, I found Brady,” Bobby spoke up, and Dean ignored Cas to rush to Bobby’s side so he could see the monitor. “He’s one of the top dogs at this company: Niveus Pharmaceuticals. It only started up recently…” He sighed. “A little while after the Devil’s Gate opened.”

Dean blinked. “A demon drug company? What’s that about?”

“I’m gonna go out on a limb and say I don’t wanna know.” Bobby clicked around the company’s website until he found what he was looking for. “Closest location to where you said he picked Sam up is in Colorado.”

Castiel looked over Bobby’s shoulder at the address and then reached out to take Dean’s arm. Dean felt the tug of the angel’s power, and found himself standing across the street of a tall building with a sign that read ‘NIVEUS PHARMACEUTICALS’.

“A little warning next time might be nice,” he griped.

“I assumed you would want to get Sam back as quickly as possible.” Castiel looked almost smug, and Dean rolled his eyes.

“Don’t get snarky.” He looked through the windows of the building. “Humans on the first two floors, demons up top. And…” He squinted his eyes to focus, groaning when he was finally able to detect the runes. “Covered in Enochian warding magic.”

“Yes, you’ll have to go in on your own,” Castiel confirmed. “I can still see through the windows, however.”

He vanished without saying another word and Dean looked up through the windows, trying to count how many demons were in there. At least he knew Lilith wasn’t in there – he would have been able to sense her from that range.

“He’s in there,” Castiel said, appearing at Dean’s side again. “He’s being held on the twelfth floor, northeast corner room.”

“Awesome. Just have to get past the humans and then hope I don’t run into any demons that’ll tip them off to me being there before I can get to him. And then I’ll have to past them again to get him out.”

“He’s also being fed demon blood.”

Dean blinked, shaking his head slowly. “This day just keeps getting better, doesn’t it?”

“Oh, good. I was afraid you’d think it was a bad thing.”

“Of course it’s a bad thing!” Dean hissed, glaring at Castiel. “I was being sarcastic! Why the hell would it be a good thing?”

“Though it weakens the connection between your souls, it does make him more powerful. We’ll need as much power as we can get for the ritual to work.”

“Is that fucking ritual all you think about?”

“Somebody has to,” Castiel snapped back, actually looking angry. It was the most emotion Dean had seen him show so far. “I realize that having found your bondmate is important to you, but if Lilith’s plan succeeds, you won’t be able to enjoy it. The consequences of this are bigger than you, Aidoneus. Keep that in mind.” He exhaled slowly. “I’ll warn Bobby Singer, and then make the final arrangements. Call to me when you’ve retrieved Sam – I’ll be listening.”

With that, he disappeared.

Dean stared at the building again, formulating a plan in his mind. With a little magic, he could get past the humans undetected and make it to the elevator. He could take it, with his fingers crossed that it wouldn’t be stopped on any other levels, to the twelfth floor, and take out every demon that stood between him and Sam. It wouldn’t give them enough time to get him out of there, and once he had him, he could tear into the demons without worrying about drawing attention to himself.

Once he was actually in the elevator, passing the tenth floor, he was starting to feel good about everything going according to plan. Until it stopped on the eleventh.

His hands flew out, palms pressing to each of the demons chests and destroying the dark souls. There was another demon a few feet behind them who turned to run, and Dean had to sprint down the hall to catch her. Her eyes and mouth sparked orange and he let the body drop, turning back to watch the elevator doors close. The light above the doors showed it was moving down to the third floor.

“Shit,” he muttered, looking around until he saw arrows pointing towards the stairs. He met two more demons on the way, his heart pounding when one of them nearly escaped. So far, he hadn’t heard any signs of alarm, so the hitch in his plan hadn’t ruined things completely.

He was quiet on the stairs, which opened into an empty hallway on the twelfth floor. He looked around at the various doors leading off from it.

“Northeast corner room,” he whispered to himself, his footsteps sounding too loud on the carpet. He was nearing the north edge of the building when a demon came around the corner, bumping right into him. Dean covered his mouth with one hand and pressed his other to the demon’s forehead, muffling his shout as he killed him. He held him there for a moment, listening carefully before easing the body to the floor when the noise didn’t draw any attention.

Finally, he reached the corner room. His hand hovered over the doorknob, trying to sense through the wood how many demons were on the other side. At least three, he figured. He’d still have the element of surprise on his side – he could take out two before the others got to Sam. He hoped so, at least. It was his only shot. If they took Sam out of the building, they’d hide him somewhere Dean couldn’t find him.

He took a deep breath, starting a countdown in his head. Three… Two…

The doorknob twisted before he could take hold of it. The demon who’d been leaving the room paused when he saw Dean, his eyes going wide as Dean reached out to his chest. Dean shoved past the demon as it fell, feeling relieved when the remaining two demons tried to rush him instead of protecting Sam. He dropped them too, hurrying over to Sam when the room was clear. Sam was sitting, his hands tied behind his back and his ankles tied to the legs of the chair. Dean released his hands first, then went for the knots around his ankles. He tried not to look at the blood smeared around his mouth as Sam blinked down at him.

“Dean. It was Brady, he’s possessed. He’s been possessed… fuck, even since college. He introduced me to Jesse, that fucker.”

“We gotta get out of here, Sammy. Castiel’s waiting.” He turned when he heard footsteps nearing the room, and two demons appeared in the doorway. Sam’s hand shot out and the demon’s froze, black smoke pouring out of their mouths and scorching the carpet as the souls fell, destroyed.

“Neat trick,” Dean muttered, getting Sam’s second leg free. He pulled Sam up, leading him out to the elevator and hitting the down arrow. He saw the lights that indicated the lift was rising in his peripheral vision, keeping an eye out for any more demons that might come after them. Four demons appeared from another hallway, a blond with a menacing smile at the front of them.

“Leaving without even saying goodbye? That’s rude, Sam.” His eyes landed on Dean. “Ah, Hades. It is you. I almost didn’t believe it.” He reached into his jacket, pulling out a sharpened stake. Dean recognized the wood immediately. “Freshly made from an olive tree, all the way from Greece. You like?”

He chuckled, shifting the stake in his grip to arm himself with it. Sam held up his hand again and Brady’s face twisted in anger as the demons behind him began to cough up smoke. One by one they fell, but Brady was still resisting, puffs of black rolling from his lips. Dean advanced on him, his hand landing on Brady’s forehead to finish the job as Brady brought the stake down.

“Dean!” Sam yelled, and Dean turned as Brady’s body slumped to the ground. He had his hand on the stake, keeping it just an inch away from piercing his chest. With a bit of magic it disintegrated, and he smiled.

“Worried about me?”

“Shut up.” Sam rolled his eyes, whipping around to face the elevator when it chimed and the doors opened. The one demon inside seemed surprised to see them, and Dean took him out easily. He tossed the body over with the others and stepping into the elevator with Sam, who was wiping his face clean with his shirt sleeve.

“Going down.” He hit the button for the ground floor, watching the lights anxiously and letting out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding when they reached it without any stops. “When the doors open, just run,” Dean murmured. “It should just be humans down here, but the demons might’ve noticed us by now. We just have to get out and call Cas.”

“Why isn’t Cas-” Sam started, but the doors opened before he could finish the sentence.

“Run,” Dean urged, and they both booked it to the exit, startling the humans they passed. Dean didn’t stop until they’d reached the other side of the street, sucking in a breath so he could call out, “Castiel!”

They angel appeared before them, and a moment later they were whisked away to a church.

“Where are we?” Sam wondered, looking around at the pews and the paintings that decorated the walls.

“Australia.”

Dean arched an eyebrow. “Why Australia?”

“Seemed as good a place as any,” Castiel said, shrugging. “Your power would probably be stronger closer to Greece, but the demons will know that, too. They’ll start looking there. It took them millennia to locate the opening of Lucifer’s cage – we want them to take just as long finding Lilith’s, and longer still to discover how to open it. Hopefully by then, we will have convinced our brothers and sisters that we do not want the apocalypse.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Dean said. “So what do we do?”

“The ritual is prepared. We can begin it now, and Sam will summon Lilith here when we need her. I will help however I can. Having Sam with you will make you stronger, but most of this is still on you, Aidoneus.”

Dean exhaled heavily. “Well, I’ll try not to let you down, then. It’s only the end of the world, right?”

Castiel nodded, handing Dean a parchment so old that it felt like it might disintegrate at any moment. He gripped Dean’s shoulders and turned him to face a devil’s trap on the floor and handed him a dagger with Enochian runes scratched into the handle. He used it to trace a pentagram in front of him, reading from the paper.

“Noncf Khys, Adohy, Lonsa, Busdyr, Yayad, Yaydon. Ge-yad, Enay, Monasky; Ge-yad, Enay, Monasky.” He made the necessary motions with the dagger as he spoke, feeling Sam and Castiel’s eyes on him. He could feel the power building up, focusing it forward.

“Sam, now,” Castiel instructed, waving a hand and lighting the candles around the devil’s trap.

“Ad construgendum ad ligandum eos pariter Et solvendum. Et ad congregantum eos coram me,” Sam recited, and Castiel dropped a match into the bowl in the center. It flared up bright and then extinguished, and a young girl appeared in the center.

“Sam,” she said, the voice high from the small body. “You’ve changed your mind?”

"Lukal Y Ykzhhkal, Babage Y Edlprnaa," Dean continued, and she turned, eyes wide.

“Hades, no,” she hissed, and Sam quickly began chanting an exorcism. The smoke began pouring out from her lips, and Castiel grabbed the girl just as Dean finished the ritual. He reached out for Sam’s hand, gripping it tightly and shaking the church walls as his magic reached the underworld, light pouring up from the devil’s trap as he finished creating the cage and trapped the demon inside it.

The room calmed, and Sam looked to Dean and then Castiel. “Did it work?” he asked, and Dean nodded.

“Yeah. Yeah, she’s trapped down there.” He laughed, relief making him giddy. “We did it.”

Sam laughed with him, taking Dean’s face in his hands and pulling him into a kiss. Dean gasped against his lips, one hand fisting in Sam’s shirt and the other gripping his hair as he kept him there, moving his lips against Sam’s with a little too much enthusiasm to be smooth. When they finally broke apart, panting, Castiel was smiling at them.

“I’ll take you back to Bobby’s. Thank you, Dean.”

“My pleasure.” Dean grinned as Sam’s arm slung around his shoulder. He glanced at Sam’s hand, his smile fading when he saw the blood on his shirt sleeve. He looked up at Castiel, reading the sympathy in his eyes.

The angel laid a hand on each of their shoulders, and Dean found himself facing the salted iron walls of the panic room. The door was already locked.

“What- Dean,” Sam said, his eyes wide and scared. Dean cupped his cheek, pressing another light kiss to his lips.

“It’ll be okay, Sammy. I’ll be right here.”

***

It took a day and a half for the withdrawal symptoms to hit their peak, and two more days before Sam could be untied from the cot. Dean stayed at his side, getting food and water down his throat, and watching him thrash and hallucinate with a heavy heart. It had been bad enough to watch when Sam was facing the consequences of his own actions. Knowing he was suffering because he was too trustworthy – and for a hunter, he did have a bad habit of trusting people he shouldn’t – had Dean suffering along with him.

He was still feverish when they moved him to Bobby’s guest bedroom, but he was heading towards recovery. Dean wanted to do whatever he could to make Sam comfortable, so he got his bondmate propped up on soft pillows and brought him whatever foods he wanted, as long as he could hold them down.

He set aside the remains of a sandwich that Sam had been unable to finish when night fell. He curled up at Sam’s side and rubbed the man’s stomach lightly to try and soothe it.

“I had more memories,” Sam told him suddenly. “At least, I think they were memories. Everything was so choppy. But I was chasing you through all these trees, and then we had sex in a lake, I think.”

“Our first time together,” Dean confirmed, grinning and pushing Sam’s sweaty hair out of his face.

“I saw you for the first time as Sawyl,” Sam continued. “And then we lived together in New York. People just called us confirmed bachelors.”

Dean laughed. “Well, we couldn’t exactly get married. Kept your mouth shut and your head down back then. After living in this country so long, watching people head towards equal rights has been pretty amazing. We actually could get married now, in a few states.”

“We could,” Sam agreed. “It’s really strange. I always thought you were hot, and you were my best friend. The best friend I’ve had since… well, since Brady. But now I think I’m in love with you, and it feels like it’s not me that’s in love with you, it’s those other guys. But then I am those guys, there’s no doubt about it, and I know all the reasons that I love you, and I think I’m starting to feel it as strongly as they did, you know? And it’s like I’ve always loved you, even before I met you- I just didn’t know it yet.”

“That sounds about right.” Dean felt his forehead, which was still radiating heat. “Why don’t you close your eyes and rest for a while, Sammy? Sleep off your fever.”

“Yeah. Yeah, that sounds good. You’ll still be here, right?”

“Promised you I’d stick with you, didn’t I? There’s nowhere I’d rather be.”

“Good.” Sam let his head loll to the side until his forehead touched Dean’s and he closed his eyes. He was out in less than a minute, and Dean stayed up all night watching him. His fever broke around four in the morning, and Dean dried his sweaty forehead with a washcloth, relieved.

“Dean?” Sam mumbled, his eyes fluttering open and seeking Dean out in the dark. Dean smiled, brushing his knuckles against Sam’s cheeks.

“Right here, Sammy. Looks like your fever broke. You feel any better?”

“Feel like I fell in a pool with my clothes on,” Sam said, wrinkling his nose. Dean laughed and nodded.

“Yeah, you’re kind of disgusting,” he teased, and Sam chuckled hoarsely. “You wanna get up and shower? You’ve been needing one of those anyway.”

“You sure know how to charm a guy.” Sam let Dean help him up, and Dean walked with him to the bathroom to make sure he wouldn’t collapse on the way.

He went back to the room to wait, noticing the damp spot Sam had left on the sheets. It took some searching – being careful not to trigger anything Bobby had set up that might get him blasted full of rock salt – but he eventually found fresh linens, and had just finished remaking the bed when Sam came in.

He was wearing only towel.

Dean’s eyes raked over the defined chest and arms, watching the water droplets roll down his skin. The towel hung low, Sam’s hip bones peeking out, and Dean licked his lips.

He stepped forward before he really processed what he was doing, his hands coming up to feel Sam’s pecs. One slid down to his abs while the other moved to grip his bicep, and he looked up when he heard Sam’s slow exhale.

Sam’s eyes were wide, but not scared. Dean could see the want in them, and tilted his head up as Sam leaned down, their lips meeting in a tentative kiss that quickly turned hungry. Sam walked him backwards towards the bed and Dean fell onto it, Sam climbing over him to bring their mouths together again. Their lips and tongues moved together in an eager dance and Dean let Sam pin his wrists to the bed as their hips rocked together.

“Take the towel off,” Dean begged, wanting to see more. Sam reached down and tugged at the towel until he was freed and his hands went to Dean’s clothes next, not stopping until he was just as bare.

Sam’s body was glorious from head to toe, strong from hunting, and Dean reveled in the ability to just stare at him. He took it all in as Sam’s hands roamed over Dean’s own body, forever preserved in youth.

Dean’s hand slowly slid down until he was taking Sam’s dick in his fist, stroking slowly and savoring the groans and kisses against his shoulder. Sam clung to him, a solid weight against Dean’s chest, and reached down to take hold of Dean’s cock in return.

The room was full of panted breaths and stifled moans, and Dean’s head fell back as his orgasm hit and he spilled out onto his stomach. He jerked Sam quickly, watching his face twist in pleasure as he contributed to the mess between them.

Sam collapsed half on top of Dean, breathing heavily and pressing lazy kisses to his neck. He reached for the bed sheet, balling it in his hand and using it to wipe them off.

“I just changed those,” Dean complained, and Sam just laughed.

***

After a week, Sam was up and moving almost as well as he had been before. The bags under his eyes were a little heavier, but he was only waking up once or twice a night (an improvement from the first few days) and he was falling back to sleep easier. Sam had a strong soul – in every life he lived – and he’d proven already that he could make it through worse.

“I sent Garth on that case in Montana,” Bobby told them over breakfast. “He cleared it up alright. Someone tipped me off to some weird disappearances in this little town in Maine – you two interested, or should I pass it on to him?”

Dean looked to Sam, who considered it. “I think I’m up for it,” he said, and Dean grinned.

“Looks like we’re in.”

Bobby gave them the articles he’d collected and they checked the trunk to make sure they were stocked up on holy water, rock salt, silver bullets, and whatever else they might need.

“We’re like one of those hunting couples,” Sam observed a few minutes into the trip.

“Yeah, I guess we are.” Dean thought about it and chuckled. “We can get motel rooms with just one bed and fuck off the adrenaline after a hunt. Seems like a pretty good deal to me. And somebody’s gotta have your giant back, right?”

“Shut up,” Sam said, laughing. “I’ve been a hunter way longer than you have.”

“Can’t argue with that.” Dean looked over at him for a moment. “What happens when you’re tired of hunting? I mean, you always wanted to be normal, right? We could have that. Get married, have a house and a dog; the whole nine, just me and you. A nice little apple pie life.”

Sam snorted, but his eyes were still fond. “With Hades.”

“So not quite normal,” Dean allowed. “But considering your life so far, I’d say it’s close enough.”