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Hating the Weather

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Prologue

The creatures were man-sized, taller than Sam even, pale as candlewax in the moonlight. Their long white arms could stretch for yards, something Sam discovered to his dismay when he stopped at what he thought was a sufficient distance to aim and fire. Instead, his gun was ripped from his hands by a limb with black, rubbery, wriggly appendages at the tip. He would have shuddered if he hadn't been too busy stumbling back and reaching for his emergency knife.

The limbs folded around him like the grip of a sea anemone, or a Venus flytrap. He stabbed forward, deep into the thing's chest. There was a flash of green-white light, blinding, and abruptly he was alone in the woods, the creepy man-things vanished as fast as if some god had changed the channel.

"Dee?" he called out. "You all right?"

"Fuck!" an unfamiliar male voice said, coming from the direction Dee had gone. Sam grabbed his fallen shotgun, loaded another shell—not salt this time—and headed that way.

"Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!" The man wasn't trying to hide his presence, but Dee still hadn't made herself known, which meant trouble of some kind.

Sam paused a few yards from the noise, mostly hidden behind some bushes and younger trees. He looked into the small clearing where the man was turning around and around, tugging at his clothes and swearing.

At first Sam dismissed his eyes' initial report as a trick of the moonlight. The man—maybe six feet, model-pretty face, longish sandy hair queued back neatly, well-built—was wearing Dee's clothes, except that they didn't fit, which might have had some relation to the swearing. As Sam watched in disbelief, he wrestled off Dee's T-shirt and sports bra, sighed in relief, then attacked her boots, which looked to be a harder job. The sock tore off with the right boot, leaving him barefoot on the dirt; he continued pulling at the left, hopping on his right and continuing the stream of not-very-imaginative invective.

Finally the man stood, clothed only in a necklace and a pair of black bikini panties, looking down at himself in disbelief. After a short pause, he pulled the front of the panties out to examine what lay underneath. His head reared back, but he was still scrutinizing himself with interest.

Sam stepped forward.

"Dee?" he asked.

The man's head snapped up. "Sammy? What the hell—? I was about to shoot, then the fuckers swarmed me, and now—" he patted his chest—"I'm missing some mighty important parts!"

Sam blinked. "The creatures did that?" He shuddered, then had worse thoughts involving possession and shapeshifters and other impostors. If he left here without Dee on the say-so of some guy, she'd never let him hear the end of it, and he'd never deserve to. "How do I know you're really Dee?"

The man pursed his lips—yes, they were still lush and feminine, like his lashes. In the bad moonlight, it was impossible to tell what color his eyes were, but Sam couldn't deny that he looked more like Dee's brother than Sam ever had.

"You want me to tell you about the time you were fifteen and I caught you jerking off in front of that book, what was it, some fantasy thing. Had a horse on the cover?"

Sam had to admit, that was both true and vague enough to be infuriating, which was more than anything what made him believe it was really Dee.

And Dee was still too impatient to let him finish thinking. "Anyway, if I'm not Dee, why am I wearing her clothes?"

"You're not, mostly," Sam pointed out.

Dee looked down at herself and made a harrumphing noise. Then he—she—raised her right hand and cursed.

It was her silver ring, now clamped so tight around her newly enlarged ring finger that it was cutting off the circulation. Sam didn't know how long it took to lose a finger, but the digit already looked sick, swelling and white, the rest of the hand reddening.

They ran to the Impala, Dee swearing blue murder as the socks she'd hurriedly put back on failed to protect her from sticks and stones on the forest floor.

Sam got the bolt cutter out of the trunk.

"I liked that ring," Dee complained as Sam sweated to position the cutter properly, terrified that he'd end up taking off the very finger he was trying to save.

"Shut up," he snapped, readjusted his grip again, and then pushed down hard, not letting himself second-guess.

With a snick the metal parted, jagged enough that Dee's finger bled when he ripped the remains away from her skin. But she was still bitching, and the terrifying pallor was quickly replaced with swollen pink, as if a sausage had been sewn onto her hand, so he knew the flesh hadn't died.

She shook her hand in the air, Sam guessed to restore the circulation, and began to rummage around one-handed in the trunk. Sam's clean clothes began flying out as she searched. Sam considered yelling, then considered her doubtless fragile mental state, then settled on yelling when she dumped perfectly good clean shirts onto the ground. "Stop that!" he ordered, but she was already pulling on a red T-shirt and stepping into a pair of still-too-long gray sweatpants, ignoring him.

He scooped up the stray clothes, which brought him within touching distance, this time without the distraction of emergency metalworking. Bending down to stuff the shirts back into his bag, he was eye to eye with her.

Her eyes were the same.

He stopped, frozen. Dee watched him carefully for a moment, then edged back, looking away.

She cleared her throat. "Hey, you didn't get changed into a girl. Those things have something against girls, or what?"

"I don't know," he said grimly. "But we're going to find out."

Of course then they had a fight about who was going to drive. Dee insisted on getting in the driver's seat, then spent five minutes fighting the mirror and the seat and everything else that was now adjusted wrong for her. Even then it took Sam forcibly pointing out that she wasn't wearing any shoes and no, he wasn't going to give her his even if they would fit which they wouldn't, before she gave up and switched seats, sulking all the way.

Divider

Part I

Two hours later, they were settled in a generic motel off the highway, distinctive only because of the faint smell of mothballs emanating from the bedspreads. For once, there'd been no need to explain that they wanted a room with two beds.

Sam did all the talking. Dee wasn't communicating much. Even though Sam knew he wasn't helping, he couldn't help staring at her, because his eyes and his brain refused to agree on what he was seeing. Sam's clothes were big on her, but not ridiculously so; in fact, the T-shirt was tight enough that he could still see the body's muscles. Dee's vigorous workouts apparently translated into "rugby player" when testosterone and other things were added.

Sam was starting to panic. Bobby hadn't recognized the creatures from Sam's description. Dee had refused to come to the phone; she still brought her hand up to her mouth every time she spoke, surprised all over again at the deeper sound, so she was no help, not that that was any kind of change. Nothing Sam could find on the internet or from his other hunting contacts even came close to what they'd seen.

Space aliens, he thought, maybe. There'd been no mystical vibe at all, and if vampires were real it would be awfully stupid to rule out the possibility of space aliens. But, true or not, that guess was completely unhelpful.

"I'm gonna go try out the equipment," Dee said, and made an obscene gesture.

"Aaah!" Sam yelped, covering his eyes with his hands.

"Come on, like it's not the first thing you'd do."

"The first thing I'd do is figure out how to switch back!"

Dee shrugged, which highlighted the new muscles in her shoulders. "That's what you're for, Brainiac."

She went into the bathroom and turned the shower on, and Sam put on headphones cranked to eleven and pretended he was alone.

Forty-five minutes later, she came out. "Damn," she said by way of announcing herself. "Guys' crap really does smell worse than girls'."

Sam looked at her disbelievingly. She was wearing a towel around her head—it looked ridiculous—and a pair of Sam's boxers, barely staying on her hips. Her new body wasn't particularly hairy, but Sam could see dark fuzz peeking over the waistband, and quickly looked away and fumbled for the line of the conversation. "You didn't know that?" True, Dee wasn't exactly the type who stayed the night.

Dee smiled at him. She looked like an inexperienced politician, the grin just a shade too friendly. "I thought that was just you."

Sam remembered the dorms at Stanford—just memories now, useful for information, without producing any jolt of pain—and shook his head. "I hate to break it to you, but I am not a unique snowflake."

She crossed the room in two quick steps and ruffled his hair as he tried to twist away. "Naw, just a flake."

Sam resolved to ignore her from now on.

"I'm ready to change back now," she announced to the world at large, and waited as if somehow that would be enough to trigger the reversal, then shrugged. "If I'm gonna be like this for a while, I need a haircut," Dee said grumpily as she reached up to unwind the towel. "I look like I sing in a hair band."

"You like hair bands," Sam pointed out, and she threw the towel at his head. He dodged, and it landed with a wet splat on the desk next to his computer.

"Anyway," she said, moving to rummage through his clothes, "aren't you going to ask how my alone time went?"

Sam gave her his best pissed-off look. "Okay, let me think about that—no."

He turned back to the computer and put the headphones back on, but he still heard her: "Ease of use—awesome. Downtime—a major, major problem. Like having to gas up at every exit on the highway. I don't know how you put up with it."

There was really no good answer to that, so he turned the music up even louder.

****

Dad had trained Dee as aggressively as he'd trained Sam. He'd never spared her just because she was a girl; if anything, he'd pushed her harder, then used her successes to prod Sam—your sister can do it, Sam, why can't you? Sam had hated it, hated her off and on.

Mostly, though, he'd managed to blame his father for the pressure. Dee had always been the negotiator between them, her most feminine role. He could remember a hundred times hearing her voice murmuring in the latest kitchen, explaining to Dad that Sam hadn't meant any disrespect. He could remember two hundred times she came to him, conciliatory, cajoling Sam into going along with Dad's latest orders.

Sam shuddered to think what it would have been like if Dee had been a boy; they'd have ended up in a real Mexican standoff, and needed no demon at all to tear each other apart.

****

After two days wasted tramping through the forest, Dee complaining every five minutes about how badly Sam's boots fit her, they still hadn't found a single trace of the creatures or even gotten a ping on the EMF reader. Sam decided that they weren't going to find the cause, much less the cure, in among the trees. Worse, they needed to move soon. The motel wasn't the kind of place where people checked in for a week's worth of business meetings.

He wasn't thinking as well as he could, not with Dee gone-but-not-gone, her bulk making him jump every time he caught sight of her out of the corner of his eye, her shape under the covers in the next bed unfamiliar at night. Their room smelled of someone else. He had the constant feeling that Dee had just stepped out for a second, and in her place was someone he ought to remember but had been spelled to forget.

The one benefit of their two frustrating days hacking through underbrush was that she was more confident in the body, rarely stumbling now. The second afternoon, when they'd stopped for lunch, she'd spent nearly an hour firing at stumps, recalibrating her aim.

Other than telling him she needed some shooting time to adjust her stance, Dee had been pretty uncommunicative about the non-masturbation-related aspects of the change. Still, he knew there was plenty going on under the surface—so to speak. She hadn't even brought her makeup bag into the room; he saw it in the trunk when he went to grab a chalice for some scrying. He'd been too busy to talk to her about the experience, and not willing to fight past the ten layers of nonchalance and bad jokes to get to whatever emotional truth she'd eventually be willing to give him. Better to do that when it was all in the rear-view mirror.

But it was looking like that was going to take some time.

The laundry was done. This load still had some of Dee's unmentionables in it. He stuffed the clothes back into their bags, which probably undid most of the work done by suds and water, and hauled them back to the room.

When he came in, he caught Dee standing in front of the mirror, bending towards it so that she could better scrutinize her face. Her lustful look would have shamed Narcissus.

"Do I need to leave the two of you alone again?" he asked, throwing the bags on the bed.

"You're just jealous that I'm hotter than you," Dee said absently, running her left hand over her right shoulder possessively. "Seriously, I'm surprised the sprinklers haven't gone off."

Sam looked up. "I don't think they work," he said, because it was nice to see Dee a little happier, even if it was for a strange and disturbing reason.

"You hungry?" Dee asked, ignoring the laundry. "I could eat a horse."

"You'd better be careful," Sam said. "Just because you've got more muscle now doesn't mean you can eat your way through the lower forty-eight. It might stick when you turn back. You practically have to be sewn into your jeans already—I mean, when you're normal—not that you're ever normal—Anyway, it's your turn to sort." He gestured at the bags.

She rolled her eyes and strolled over to the bed, dumping the clean clothes into a heap at the side closest to the other bed. "So, you want to get out of here," she said, folding a shirt and putting it back into Sam's duffel. "Where are you thinking we should head next?"

"Louisiana," he said. "We're talking serious body modification here, so it might help to get some voudoun expertise."

She turned to him and grinned. "Here I thought you were gonna say California." Then her face turned comically dismayed as her brain caught up with her mouth. That pop-eyed chagrin looked—well, it was almost adorable, in fact, on that strange-familiar face, those full lips parted and the face flushed with whatever Dee felt instead of shame.

Sam gave her a tolerant grimace. He wasn't going to put California jokes off-limits because of his personal tragedies, but it was sweet of her to try for his sake. "I'm thinking we ought to stick to more mystical lines of inquiry."

****

After Stanford, when they'd been hunting without Dad, Dee had been very different than what Sam had remembered from before he'd left. She'd always been more flirtatious when Dad was out of the picture, but the past few years she'd been almost boy-crazy, as if years of being treated like a soldier had left her with a desire to be acknowledged as a woman by every man she encountered. She'd wanted to be admired, and had dressed the part, but she'd still kick a guy's ass for touching without invitation—which on the one hand Sam had understood, but on the other ... the places they went, she'd had to have known what to expect.

He'd only suggested that she could cut down on the aggravation by dressing a little more modestly once. Her look of contempt could have made Arnold Schwarzenegger feel small. He'd had an echo-memory of Jess, frowning scornfully at some inappropriate joke he'd made.

Dee wasn't Jess. In Sam's opinion, she'd enjoyed kicking the asses of the gropers as much as she'd enjoyed the appreciative looks. Funny how Dad had tried to raise Sam as his primary warrior, but Dee had been the one who ended up with a taste for blood.

****

"Shit!" Dee yelped, clearly audible through the thin bathroom door.

"You okay?" Sam asked, mostly by rote. He was staring at his laptop, willing the words to reassemble themselves into a simple, sensible ritual. Fatigue blurred the letters; his head felt like it was filled with wet cement, weighing him down.

"'m fine," Dee mumbled. "Don't know why this is harder than legs. More legs than face, right?"

"What are you doing?" Sam got up, stretched, and walked over to the bathroom. He could feel the steamy air leaking around the edges of the door. He pulled it open, and fortunately Dee had a towel wrapped high around her waist, almost like a compromise between the body she had and the one she should have. He could see the muscled chest and the flat brown nipples, but not the belly button or the lines of the hipbones.

She was swiping at a runnel of blood highlighting her left cheek. She wasn't even using shaving cream. "Dee, you can't just use the razor like it's a, a lawnmower. The skin is thin."

"Think I figured that out, Sammy," she said grimly. It was true that she needed a shave; she'd gone past the stubble and into Mountain Man territory. Sam had the bad feeling that she was going to need to shave twice a day if she didn't want to go around looking like Don Johnson. Then again Dee probably thought Don Johnson had been hot in his Miami Vice days.

"Here," he said, and grabbed his Barbasol. Pushing Dee out of the way, he hurriedly rinsed his hand and squirted a thick pile of cream into his palm. Dee regarded him warily, perhaps remembering that one fight years ago when they'd both ended up with swollen-red eyes, a lingering pine scent, a sprained ankle for Sam and an enormous bruise on Dee's right thigh. Dad had berated Dee for not knowing better and Sam for not doing better. But she let Sam nudge her into place, sitting on the toilet as Sam braced himself against the bathtub.

With a shaving-cream beard, she looked even less familiar. He put the razor high on her cheek and stroked down carefully, then again, his other hand on her chin to tug her this way and that. Their faces were no closer than if they'd been discussing a hunt, but the air was heavy and wet, the cheap mirror cottoned over with condensation, and Sam could feel the thin sodden towel Dee was wearing grate against his knee every time he leaned forward.

His thumb brushed just below and behind her ear, at the soft patch of skin beyond the beard line.

His eyes flicked up to hers, dark as a pine forest. She didn't blink or move, but there was a change nonetheless, and he looked back down to where the blade had cut her. "Sorry," he said breathlessly, pulling the razor back. She shook her head soundlessly, then leaned forward, trusting that he wouldn't get distracted again.

But if he didn't look at her eyes, he was in a steamy bathroom with a mostly-naked man under his hands. Gritting his teeth, Sam focused on making clean sweeps, pulling the white foam away to reveal the skin beneath, moving around the smile lines and the slight indentation on the chin, tracing the strong lines of the jaw.

Dee had coached him through shaving the first time, as confident as if she'd been doing it herself for years. Dad had been away hunting, of course, and Sam had already been mad enough at him that he wouldn't have asked for advice—though he probably would have taken it. He'd hungered for the old man's approval, even if at the time he'd believed himself too mature for all that. But what he'd wanted had been as irrelevant as what he'd thought he'd wanted. What he'd had was Dee, a cheap twin-blade she'd broken out of her stash fresh for him, and a can of her aloe vera shave gel.

Their lives were really very strange, he thought now as he wiped a line of foam, thin as a cat's whisker, off her cheek. The skin was peach-soft where he touched it.

He pulled the groove above Dee's upper lip taut with his thumb and used short, careful strokes. And then it was done.

She had sideburns now, growing in about halfway down her ears. The hair looked touchable, even though he knew it would be spiky and stiff with gel.

Quickly, Sam scrabbled behind him for a hand towel. The one his searching hand found was still white, though so heavily pilled with use it had no softness to it at all. He threw it at Dee and fled, grateful that she didn't seem to expect him to talk.

****

"What's a dyke?" he'd asked Dee one day after school when he was eight—Dad being unavailable, and none too fond of Sam's incessant questioning even when he had been around.

"Where'd you hear that?" she'd asked, instead of making up some improbable and gross definition, which had confirmed his intuition that it wasn't a good word.

"Just around," he'd said, not looking at her.

He'd heard her sigh. She'd probably run her hand through her hair, short as any boy's. "It's a bad word. Don't use it." And she'd clomped off.

Come to think of it, that had been not too long before she'd started to grow her hair out, despite Dad's criticism. It had been her one notable act of defiance before he left home, and Dad hadn't pushed it enough to bring out the barber scissors the way he always had when Sam's hair got too ragged.

****

In New Orleans, Dee ditched him for nearly an entire day while he consulted with the houngan Missouri had suggested to him, a creative type who was willing to speculate even though he'd never encountered anything like what Sam described. Dee lasted through the first hour, and the houngan's physical examination, with poor grace, but once they started debating herbs she made flimsy excuses and left.

Eventually, they exhausted their collective imagination, and Sam left with a handshake and a list of possible rituals to try. He spent a few more hours collecting ingredients, both for the work to come and more generally to restock, since they rarely got much time in cities with stores well-stocked with hunting supplies. He still made it to the hotel room before Dee did.

When she came back, she had a haircut. Without her ponytail, she looked less like a Eurotrash soccer player and more like an escapee from a Ralph Lauren ad, all short ruffled hair and square jaw and soft, soft lips. Also, she was accompanied by so many logo-covered shopping bags that he was tempted to look around for Paris Hilton.

Sam looked at her haul with surprise, and a little unease. Dee had never been sentimental about clothes, but she did like them, and so it wasn't crazily out of character for her to burn up a few credit cards. But it still suggested the kind of long-term planning for her new body that he'd been strongly hoping to avoid. And God only knew how butch she'd look when she changed back, with that hair.

"What did you expect me to do while you were playing supernatural Trivial Pursuit?" she asked in response to his staring.

"How much did you buy?" he asked, depositing three bags onto the floor so that he could sit down on the bed further from the door. "Looks like you cleaned out the men's department."

"Dude," Dee chided, "this is one prime hunk of beefsteak I've got. And it is not friggin' easy to find clothes to show it off."

Sam gave her a look intended to comment on the wisdom of showing "it" off, but Dee just gave him the finger.

"It's gonna be a waste of space as soon as we switch you back," Sam pointed out.

"And believe me I am looking forward to having my rack where it should be," Dee said. Sam looked at her chest, which was impressive in its own right, and blushed, grateful that she wasn't looking back. "But it's not like it's going on my credit card and it's been weeks already, so I might as well have a good time seein' how the other half lives."

Sam felt a hot rush of guilt unrelated to the way he'd been ogling her borrowed body. "Dee, I'm trying as hard as I—"

"I thought you wore all that baggy shit on purpose," she interrupted, muffled by the shirt she was taking off. "But it's like hunting gremlins to find a real fit—it's like they don't expect you to care." The shirt, now wrinkled and musky with Dee's sweat, flew over and would have caught him in the face if he hadn't been ready for it. He stared at it—his, but not fully his any more—and then resolutely tossed it in the dirty clothes bag.

****

In Cedar Rapids, a few months before the showdown with the yellow-eyed demon, they'd salted and burned the bones of a poltergeist who'd been terrifying a family of five. The youngest child, a four-year-old girl, had almost been dragged to her death in the cellar. After the rescue, she'd refused to let go of Dee for nearly an hour, clinging to her as Dee stroked her hair and called her "princess."

When they'd finally gotten her unleeched from Dee and tucked into her bed, Sam had noticed the pink crown on her door as he closed it. "You noticed she wants to be a princess?" he'd asked, teasingly. "I didn't know you paid attention to that kind of thing."

Dee had shrugged, jogging down the stairs past the rows of family pictures, some clearly going back generations. "Little girls," she'd said, as if that were explanation enough.

"Not you, though."

"Dad used to call me 'princess,'" she'd said, and he hadn't been able to see her face. "At least, I think he did. Whatever, I don't remember."

If it had been true, Sam had thought, it had to have been from the time before Dad had sent Dee out into the night carrying her baby brother. What he'd remembered was a tomboy, wearing beat-up boys' clothes until quite suddenly Dee—who'd never asked for anything—had asked for new jeans and had then switched to a wardrobe that, if not feminine, had at least been recognizably female. Sam had thought, though he hadn't been quite certain, that Dee had learned about menstruation from reading Carrie.

Certainly he hadn't remembered any princesses in their childhood. Their fairytales had tended to be a bit darker, the real pre-Grimm stuff. And Dad had always called her "Dee," or maybe "Deanna!" when something had gone badly wrong. Pet names were for other families, like new sneakers or lunchboxes or minivans.

****

Two weeks and ten-and-a-half rituals later (the exploding chicken having put the kibosh on the last-but-one attempt), Sam reluctantly agreed that they had to return to hunting, pending further information.

Even though he chose a standard salt-and-burn, he should have known that Dee would find a way to complicate matters.

She'd been stepping on his nerves like a kid banging on a grand piano all through the prep and all the way to the graveyard, needling him without letup. She'd even pulled out the whole "who's the girl here?" schtick, which he'd kind of known was coming despite his hopes. When he managed to ignore her, she did shut up with the faux misogyny, though he suspected it wouldn't last.

It was very different, he was discovering, to have his ear flicked and ice stuffed down the back of his shirt by a guy only a few inches shorter than he was. Coming from his sister, it would have been tolerable, but this felt like a contest for dominance. And he didn't think it was one-sided. Dee wouldn't normally have tried so hard to irritate him. Maybe testosterone really was a poison, the way the radical feminists on campus had said.

Dee thought her joking aggressiveness was funny, but really what it did was keep Sam on edge, reacting to the strangeness of her body, the hypocrisy inherent in her pose that hunting was no more than some big game.

****

Sam got taller than Dee when he was sixteen, shooting up like one of those time-lapse sunflowers, growing pains every night. Dad had recommended heat, and Dee had dutifully boiled water and wrapped canteens in towels. That hardly helped at all, though, and when Sam couldn't hold in his whimpers any more, Dee would come into his room and sit on the edge of his bed, rubbing his calves and talking about nothing in particular. Sam never mentioned that to Dad, because Dad would just have chewed Dee out for encouraging Sam's neediness.

Just for that, Sam asked her a couple of times when he wasn't really hurting that bad. He was never quite sure whether Dee had him figured out. But she didn't say no, just sat with him, methodically switching hands when one got too tired, telling him what she was going to get at the next gun show they went to (Dee got all the best discounts, especially now that she unbuttoned her overshirt when Dad was out of sight) or what she wanted to hunt next.

He missed his mother's hands, yeah. But he'd never needed to miss them very much.

****

After the hunt, in the hotel room, she wouldn't let him see her hand, laughing it off like she always did. "I can't believe—" he began again as soon as the door closed on them.

She turned away dismissively, and he grabbed her broad shoulders and shoved her against the wall. Her body thunked hard against the cheap wallpaper, her head inches away from the thermostat. "What the fuck, Sam?" she said, and brought her hands up to shove back.

He was still just a bit stronger, and she wasn't actually fighting, but he stepped back anyway, giving her a little room. "How stupid are you? 'Stronger' doesn't mean you can outfight a damn ghost!"

"Aw, Sammy, I didn't know you c—"

The punch snapped her head to the side, and she rocked back on her heels, the thud of her head against the wall a dull echo of the initial smack of his fist.

Sam took another step backwards, his hands balled at his sides, as Dee raised her uninjured hand to her mouth, touching the fresh blood there. The face, Sam thought, looked even more beautiful like that, with just a little vulnerability softening the lines of the jaw.

"Well," she said slowly. "That's new."

Reality came flooding in with a nauseating jolt. "Oh God," he said, pushed past her into the bathroom, and was sick.

When he dared to look up, Dee was watching him from the sink area, her arms folded across her chest. A bandage was wrapped around her hand. Her upper lip had some extra puffiness around one side, but her skin was tan enough that any bruising wasn't likely to be visible, certainly not in the tired fluourescent light of a rented room.

"I'm so sorry," he said, knowing that it would probably just make things worse. "I never—I wouldn't hurt you."

She shrugged, and it was so easy to see Dee now, despite the new configuration. "You think that hurt, Sammy, we need to be sparring more."

"I know you're in there," he said, still needing to explain himself, if only to get it out there. "It's just—you're not acting the same, and I—"

She scowled at him, then uncoiled from where she was leaning against the counter and gestured at the sink, where his toothbrush awaited. "Rinse your damn mouth," she said, turning away.

"And Sam," she added, not looking at him. "I'm not 'in here.' I'm here."

That's what's killing me, he thought. He stuck a glob of toothpaste in his mouth and spat it out. In the mirror, Dee's reflection was watching his reflection sidelong, and he wondered about whether there really were looking-glass worlds, and whether the Sam on the other side of the glass was doing any better.

He grabbed one of the little plastic-wrapped plastic cups—environmental nightmare, but what could you do?—tore it free of its shroud and ran some water to chase the lingering toothpaste-and-sick from his mouth.

"I need a name, though," she continued, as if there'd been a natural segue rather than insane Dee logic. "Dee could be a guy's initial, but it's—easy to remember."

"Yeah, Dee, that's what's memorable about you."

Dee relaxed enough to flip him off, which went some way towards making his point. "I was thinking 'Dean.' Like James Dean." In calmer times, he would have rolled his eyes at her, but he just didn't feel like it at the moment. "Close enough that if you forget, especially if you're yelling, people'll just hear what they expect."

He turned around, tired of examining her in the mirror, and checked to make sure that her injuries were no more visible than they'd been a few minutes ago. "That sounds ... rational."

"Now get out of my way," she said, pushing past him into the bathroom. "Go surf some porn or something, I need a shower and a shave. Then a drink."

****

The classic thing would have been for Dee to try to take Sam's place in Dad's opinion, the overlooked true heir only noticed when the boy child refused his intended position. He'd even hoped for it, by the time of that last fight—wanted Dee to step in and say "We don't need him, you and me, Dad, we can hunt together." But she hadn't.

At the time, Sam had decided that Dee was just devoted to the idea of them as a complete family. Later, when the shapeshifter had revealed that Dee had wanted to supplant Sam, Sam had known it was telling the truth. "I never said anything," it had spat at him, "because I knew it wouldn't make any difference. Dad's never going to love me best and you're never going to care what I want."

Sam had immediately known, and never doubted, that the shapeshifter hadn't been telling the whole story. The part of Dee that wouldn't have let her say those hurtful things was just as real, and stronger, than the part of her that felt them. It was natural enough for her to have chafed at Dad's unending rules and expectations, with only occasional backhanded praise. She would have had to have been as indifferently perfect as Sam had imagined her, back when he was a kid, not to have resented her position in the family.

Dad shouldn't have been so blind to Dee's loyalty and competence. If only he'd been from a different generation, Sam thought, he'd have been prepared to see in his daughter all the things he found wanting from his son.

****

With Dee so close all the time, he got a very good look at her new clothes. At the moment, Dee was shoving beer into the tiny refrigerator, a few feet away from where Sam was sitting. She was wearing a tight waffle-weave shirt that hugged every solid curve of muscle, with a dark green plaid cotton shirt over it, and dark blue jeans with paler blue lines of fake wear down the front legs. When she turned to grab the plastic shopping bags off the tiny kitchenette table, he saw that her necklace, hanging over the sharp white of the shirt, stood out against her chest like a badge.

Sam wondered if he ought to suggest to her that she put it away. But considering its sentimental value, she wasn't likely to take well to the idea that she couldn't wear it just because men wearing jewelry stood out.

And—he realized—she didn't have to worry about standing out so much right now.

"I wonder if we could check your fingerprints," he mused, leaning back in the too-small wooden seat. "They must be different. God, your DNA must be different, how weird is that? Are you even related to me?"

He wasn't looking at her face at first, so he only caught the last of the stricken look, the idle grin she'd been displaying nowhere in sight, replaced instead by hollow cheeks and shadowed eyes.

"No—Dee—that's not—" He stuttered to a halt, sighing in frustration as he looked up at her—at this man who contained his sister's mind, as if that were even possible. And from that angle, looming over him, Dee's new body seemed both bizarre and inviting, the expression on the face so full of need and loyalty that he responded even though the features were only as familiar as a half-remembered dream. He wanted to hold him—hold her—he felt magnetized at both ends, drawn and repelled at once.

He reached up and put his hand on Dee's chest, right below the pendant. She was warm and alive under his touch, however sea-changed, and that was what mattered. "I know who you are," he said, reassuringly. His heart was beating too fast.

Dee's hand came up and, for one second, pressed his fingers closer to her heart. Then she flushed, strange and alluring; if she'd been what she looked like he would have taken it as invitation. But she only cleared her throat. "Sure you do, Sammy," she said gruffly, releasing him. "I'm the pretty one."

"Come on," he said, trying to speak in her weird emotional code. "I'll buy you a drink."

She must have been in a better mood, because she didn't even remind him whose money it really was.

****

Dee had never said much about their mom. When she'd talked about Mom promising her that angels were watching over her, it was the first new piece of information Sam had heard in years. Sometimes Sam had wondered whether she actually remembered anything at all, but judging by the way she'd treated Kansas like it was radioactive Sam had decided that yes, there had to be some powerful memories there.

Unfortunately for the both of them, the taint in their house hadn't been kind enough to let them stay away, and once Dee had seen the mom and her kids Sam had known that Dee wouldn't let them suffer just because they'd had the bad luck to move into the home the Winchesters had lost.

Dee's fanatic devotion to saving people had probably been the only thing that had made her willing to follow Sam to meet a psychic. Dee had never trusted anything she couldn't split open and see for herself.

Missouri hadn't done anything to improve matters. She'd treated Sam like a little kid, which Dee naturally bristled at because only Dee got to do that. Dee, she'd treated like an unwelcome guest, tolerated because of her family connections. Dee'd reacted in kind, distant and unwilling to meet Missouri's eyes.

"So what do you want me to do about it?" he'd heard her say, coming back from getting the supplies Missouri had asked for to make her charms. Missouri had only snorted, not answering, and Dee had never been forthcoming when Sam asked about their conversation. "'Psychic shit, bad things coming, you mind your manners, girl,'" she'd mocked in a voice that was nothing like Missouri's. Sam had let it slide because he hadn't gotten the sense that Missouri was all that powerful. Though how he should have known that would've been a whole different, and much more unpleasant, conversation with Dee.

Missouri had told them too much and not enough. And when Sam had seen the spirit of their mother, immolating itself to protect them, most of what he'd been able to think was that she didn't look all that much like Dee. She'd loved him, and she'd been sorry—but that wasn't enough to build a mother around. In Sam's imagination, her hair stayed darker, her eyes greener.

****

When they arrived at Singer Salvage, Bobby brought them into the kitchen and poured them shots of whiskey (after the usual holy water apertif). Then he sat them down at the old wood-block table as Sam recounted the attempts he'd made so far to fix the problem.

Bobby kept staring at Dee, the same way Sam had done at first. After about five minutes, Sam gave up trying to get useful discussion out of him and resigned himself to waiting until Bobby had adjusted. Dee actually put up with the scrutiny better than Sam would have expected. Then again, she'd always been respectful with Bobby, who'd taken them in long after he'd fallen out with their father.

"You were one of the things we fought about," Bobby said suddenly. Dee's head snapped up. It didn't take much to figure out who the other person in that "we" was. "John was a hell of a hunter, but he had no idea how to raise a girl."

Dee looked at him for long seconds, then her face twisted in a grim parody of a smile. "Want to ask the boy if he thinks Dad did much better with him?"

Bobby jerked back just a little, surprised by the anger in her tone. Dee used to get angry, of course, but she rarely showed it to other people like she was doing now. More flies with honey than with vinegar, Dad always said. "That was just stubbornness," Bobby insisted, looking at her with sympathy. "John and Sam both, butting heads. What I meant was—"

Dee stood up. "I know what you meant," she said. "I'm gonna get our stuff out of the car." She walked out. Sam and Bobby watched her go. In her jeans, leather jacket, and spiky-styled hair, she was a rough young god. James Dean didn't seem such a far-off comparison, and it made Sam's heart race with terror—for her, for him.

****

Dad had beaten it into Dee's head—and Sam's, when he was younger—that being smaller and physically weaker didn't mean being helpless. "Forget the Nineteenth Amendment," Dad had said once (kind of funny in that Sam couldn't imagine Dee ever remembering the Nineteenth Amendment), "you want women's lib, you thank Smith & Wesson." And: "You never let them get close, Dee. Somebody gets close to you, it's them or you, and those are the wrong odds."

Dee had grown up reckless in many, many ways, but she'd never forgotten those lessons. "I'm like Indiana Jones, shooting that guy with the whip," was how she'd said it once, after the first possessed man she'd killed on a hunt, back when she was seventeen. It had been bravado, of course, Dee talking herself through the guilt and recriminations. She hadn't dared say anything to Dad, so the month after that first death had been filled with Dee constantly rehearsing her explanations to Sam, who hadn't witnessed the event but soon felt like he had. She'd driven him to school, one of her terrible cassettes blaring, and taken him to whatever dump they were living in after his activities were finished, and every time she managed to work it into their conversation somehow.

That, Sam thought, had been when hunting really began to sour for him.

After the showdown with Azazel, Sam had found a list on a scrap of paper, tucked in just above the spare tire in the trunk: Gus Winthrop, Charles Sonnenfeld, Jessica Braithwaite, Craig Little (the man in Jefferson City, Google told him), Jake Talley, and three others whose names had been unknown to him before he'd seen them in Dee's spiky handwriting. And at the end, 'Unknown (Yellow-Eyed victim).' He'd looked up the three names he didn't recognize, but there'd been no useful information. He'd known the key fact. No police report would have told him the truth.

Back when he'd been a kid, he'd told Dee over and over that it wasn't her fault, that she'd done what was necessary. It had only been after Stanford that he'd found himself believing it. Once he conceded that the collateral damage of her way was better than the alternative of letting the bad things run free, it was hard to fault her for continuing as she'd begun, even if that was lethal to a certain percentage of innocents.

****

The scars were gone. Not that Sam knew Dee's scars all that well. She'd stopped letting him even come into the bathroom while she was showering when she was fourteen, and he hadn't taken it well at all, something that made him wince in retrospect. He hadn't understood for another few years how awkward the two of them could be, packed into single hotel rooms by a father willfully blind to the adolescent hormones coursing through them. By the time he was thirteen, nothing could make him more deeply ashamed than the pounding of Dee's fist on the bathroom door—and that was true even when he wasn't doing anything more than contemplating his own changing body.

Anyway, despite Dee's relative modesty, he'd seen her arms and legs, even her back, enough times to know that there should have been dozens of scars on them. Burns, cuts, a set of claw marks—all disappeared, carried away with her real body. Instead she had an underwear model's unmarred form, which she would examine in front of him, standing before a cheap motel mirror, flexing and posing, turning her head to look over her shoulder at her reflection. It was—disturbing. It made him feel voyeuristic, and ugly. He didn't have as many scars as Dee—as many as Dee used to have—but even at Stanford there had been enough that he knew Jess had wondered.

Jess had borne a scar under her chin, from when she'd slipped on some ice in a parking lot when she was five. Sam had a scar under his chin from when he fell down getting out of the way of a charging ghost. And Dee—well, Dee now had the smooth skin of a Michelangelo sculpture.

Maybe that was what made Sam think of anti-possession tattoos. Dee's body looked like it had never been touched by evil, even though it was in its entirety the product of something not good. And they knew too well how vulnerable they were to possession. Even Bobby's charms weren't enough.

Dee grumbled when Sam insisted, threatening to tell the artist to put Sam's on his ass—"Or hey, Sammy, what about a tramp stamp?"—but she went along.

"You're a cute couple," the artist—her name was Anne—said when they showed her the design. "I did Celtic wedding knots once. This anything like that?"

Sam put his hand on Dee's arm before she could say something to piss off the woman with the needles. "It's more of a protection thing," he said, because lying about magic was never a good idea if it could be avoided. Dee chortled but didn't contradict him, and Anne looked briefly confused before turning businesslike.

Sam watched Anne work, her slim well-muscled arms full-sleeved like a breathing billboard for roses and pinup girls and tigers, such a contrast to Dee's pale smooth skin. The black ink and the blood from the needle were like something from a fairy tale, except that Dee was locked up in a body instead of a tower and Sam had no idea how to rescue her.

Sam didn't get off on pain—really bad idea in their business—but the tattoo itself wasn't as painful as he'd feared. "You must work out a lot," Anne said, managing to sound professional and not leering. Sam couldn't shrug, so he just grinned sheepishly, thinking about how there were probably people out there who'd pay for the Graveyard Workout, especially if it was expensive and involved a lot of jargon.

"Damn straight," Dee said from across the room.

Anne stopped moving, just for a fraction of a second, maybe instinctively picking up on Dee's tone, which was just flat enough to carry a hint of danger. Sam wasn't sure he liked how easy it was for Dee to sound threatening these days. No, he realized as Anne resumed and he fought to stay relaxed, he wasn't sure he liked how he reacted to Dee in growly alpha mode.

And what the fuck, anyway? It almost sounded like Dee was playing the jealous boyfriend.

After flicking a look at Dee, Anne started making conversation, evidently having concluded that Sam was the friendly one. Dee wasn't even watching, flipping through the art books in the shop.

"Hey," Dee said after a couple of minutes, more lightly. "If this works out, think I should get a picture of my baby?" she asked, holding up a picture of a VW Beetle in rainbow colors.

"Where would you put a tattoo of the Impala?" Sam asked skeptically, trying to imagine it, stretched along the curve of Dee's calf or across her shoulders. Except that the only flesh he could bring to mind was what she was wearing now, thick with muscle, broader than his sister's body.

Dee chuckled and flexed her bicep, like a weightlifter. Sam bit his lip, hard. "Not much longer," Anne offered, not looking up from her work.

It was a silly idea, anyway, and Dee knew it. They couldn't exactly afford unnecessary identifying marks.

****

Sam remembered telling Dee that he liked girls and guys. After he'd figured it out for himself, and after he'd decided he needed to say it out loud, it had taken him three more weeks to work up the stones to tell her. He'd had a prepared speech and everything, though his words had stuttered to a stop after the first few sentences, and it was only because she knew him so well that she'd been able to decode his vague mutterings about "people" and "feelings."

After all the workup, Dee hadn't thought anything of it. She'd warned him that men could be dangerous: "You watch yourself. You don't drink anything unless you open the bottle yourself." Then she'd suggested that they could go trawling for guys together, which had made Sam turn bright red and run off, probably the intended effect.

It was so much better than Dad would have done, anyway; and Sam was used to grading on a curve for Winchesters.

Dee herself had always liked men. And it was men, not boys, no surprise since she spent barely any time outside of school—when she attended—with people her own age. Compared to the hunters who sheltered them, helped them, taught them to fight and shoot and pick locks, teenage boys must have looked callow indeed.

He could still remember the last time Dad had let the two of them come into a bar with him, looking for information. Dee had been fourteen, not as fully developed as she'd get, but already looking more like a woman than a girl.

A man had bought her a beer. Dee—years before her big-sister warning phase—had drunk a quarter of it, trying fairly obviously not to wince, before Dad had noticed. There had been a scene. The bar owner had been furious at Dad for bringing an underage kid in. "What the fuck'd you expect?" he'd yelled, bringing his baseball bat up to his shoulder.

Dad had kept his gun holstered, but that bar hadn't given him the lead he'd needed, and he'd been two more weeks on the case. Dee had been shamed and silent through most of the wait.

****

Physical training had previously been difficult because Dee had to use pretty specialized moves against a guy his size, which had worked fine for her but had left him less practiced dealing with larger opponents. Now, they could really cut loose. Sam still had reach and weight on his side, along with Dee's unfamiliarity with her own abilities, but she got up to speed fast. And she fought incredibly dirty, which was a leftover from her real body.

When they'd end up rolling in the dirt or on the floor, panting, arms and legs tangled, that gorgeous face inches from his own and flushed red, Sam had trouble remembering that this was still Dee. It made him confused and slowed him down enough that she could often beat him, and the only consolation was that she made fun of him for losing without inquiring further into the reasons.

Dee liked the close-in fighting a lot. Maybe too much. The first time she stuck a knife hilt-deep in a revenant's chest, she swaggered around after for days. Sam nagged and nagged about using the guns first, but she just smiled, which made him even more nervous.

****

Sam had called her from Stanford, three weeks into his freshman year, and begged her to come. "The San Francisco area is full of colleges," he'd said, wishing he could see her, knowing he could have convinced her if he'd been in the same room. "You've got your GED. We could be together."

"Dad—" she'd said and stopped, obviously unable to continue. "Don't make me choose, Sammy."

"Oh, but he gets to make you choose, right?" He'd been full of self-righteous anger—tired, too, still not sleeping well at night—and he'd believed utterly that getting Dee away from Dad's tyranny would let her become even more amazing. She could learn to see what he could: that there was a whole world waiting for them, full of friends and opportunities that they deserved to have.

She'd sighed. "I've been trying, Sammy, but he won't listen. And if you won't either, then I'm pretty much stuck."

Looking back on it with the distance of years and lost futures, he'd been able to understand her better. The way he'd spoken of Stanford as if it was some combination of Valhalla and Disneyland had made it imperative for her to pick Dad, who had nothing light or beautiful in his life (other than Dee, for all that he ignored her). He'd made Stanford sound safe, and so she couldn't have joined him, not when Dad needed her assistance.

****

The little things continued to surprise him. They were in a standard roadside diner, served by the standard waitress in dingy white sneakers, Bic pen stuck behind her ear. Sam sometimes wondered if they were grown in vats and distributed around the country in the same trucks that brought in the frozen potatoes.

When Dee ordered dessert, Sam took the opportunity to answer the call of nature. He came back from the bathroom to find her staring down at her hot fudge sundae, only about a quarter eaten.

"It's not right," she said mournfully as he scooted back into his bench seat.

Sam examined the sundae. Condensation had drawn a wet ring around the glass bowl on the rough white paper placemat; a few drips of brown sauce decorated the outside of the bowl; a cherry bulged under its coating of fake whipped cream and chocolate streaks.

"What's the problem?" he asked. Dee had never met a scoop of ice cream she didn't like. In the right mood, she was capable of turning a roomful of men into slack-jawed onlookers just by the way she licked a cone.

She pushed the sundae away. "It tastes ... different. It's not bad, but—"

Sam looked at her face, her brows scrunched in concentration as she focused on the sundae. "So this is from the change," he said in dawning understanding. "Wow, food tastes different? That's amazing. You know, there's a famous philosophy article about what it's like to be a bat—"

Dee scowled at him. "I'm not a friggin' bat. And it's not all food—mostly everything tastes the same."

"There are studies about the effect of chocolate on neurotransmitters. I think it works better in women. So what else causes different reactions?" It was pure curiosity. Dee had an opportunity no one else had—not since Tiresias, anyway.

She looked at him, startled somehow, and then dipped her eyes so that all he could see was the lashes, like veils. "I don't know," she said, shrugging.

"Come on," he coaxed. "Five senses: touch, taste, sound, smell, sight. Are they all different? It can't be just taste."

"Corpses are easier," she said at last. "They don't smell as bad. Actually that explains a lot about guys." She took another bite of ice cream, really contemplating it now, her eyes closed as she thought. It was startlingly erotic, her face shuttered against the outside world, like a marble statue's. Seeing a man's face like that, so concentrated on sensation, was so intimate that it felt strange to have other people in the diner see it; and they were staring.

Dee was oblivious, opening her eyes and looking at him guilelessly. "So it's a tradeoff. Less stink, less magical healing power of chocolate."

He swallowed and retraced the line of the conversation. "Does anything smell better?" he asked. "Not less bad, but more appealing?"

Her eyes popped open and her face flushed; she gave a near-hiccup of laughter. "Uh. No." She pushed the sundae away and gestured over at the waitress for the check. She jiggled one leg, suddenly full of energy.

He wondered what could possibly embarrass Dee. It had to be something like a sudden craving to hug puppies.

Late that night, five beers and three shots in, she leaned up against him in the smoke-damp bar. "You smell different," she confessed, then clammed up, so red he could see it on her cheeks even in the near-darkness. At least she shook her head when he demanded to know if it was a bad smell or if he needed to switch his deodorant or something.

Divider

Part II

 

Sam had often speculated about how their life would have been if they'd been able to stay in one place for a couple of years while Dee was a teenager. After Sam hit fifteen, anyway, he'd been big and strong enough to make a team, even midseason, so he was new and exciting. Dee was new and gorgeous and poor, and that was a combination that even Sam, three years behind in school, could see was toxic. The girls were as nasty as they could imagine—and demons could take lessons—and/because the boys were slobbering, and in their own special ways just as awful.

"Dee doesn't date high school boys," he got used to saying. That led to different nastiness, but at least there was less of it in the hallways.

****

A line of hopeful club-goers stretched halfway down the block. Sam took one look at them—tight shirts, tight jeans, some already glazed with drink, others just innocently excited at the possibility of getting laid—and stopped cold.

Dee grabbed his arm. "Don't you wimp out on me," she ordered.

"I don't think you need a wingman at a gay bar," he protested, but his feet were already moving, obedient to her demands.

They cruised past the line of hopefuls up to the bouncer. Sam tried very, very hard not to hear what Dee said, so he was a little surprised when Dee pulled off her shirt and tossed it to a blond guy six people back.

There was applause.

She gestured for him to follow her lead. Flushing at the attention and wondering, as always, why he went along with these schemes, he quickly stripped off his long-sleeved tee and, since the crowd seemed to expect it, threw the bundled fabric at an attractive man who looked to be in his early thirties. "You owe me years of picking the music," he said, though Dee gave no sign of having heard him.

The bouncer waved them in.

The music was already loud enough to vibrate in his bones. As they entered, Dee gave a jaunty wave back. He yelled in her ear, "Aren't you worried those guys'll get pissed we jumped ahead of them?"

"You kidding me?" she yelled back. "They're just hoping we're not taken by the time we get in."

Of course, Dee was immediately surrounded by men smiling, dancing, touching. He thought she was a little off-balance at first—most guys, even the ones looking for a hookup, wouldn't put their hands on a girl's chest a minute after meeting her—but she adapted well. Sam couldn't tell why she'd thought she needed him to come along.

The music was loud and the air thick with smoke and the smell of spilled beer. He had to turn down a lot of offers, from the crude to the kind. He didn't blame any of them; being shirtless was a pretty strong signal. After four songs' worth of that, he put himself against a back wall, so at least no one could grope him from behind, and watched Dee weave through the crowd, throwing out her smile like light from a disco ball and collecting dazzled admirers as she went.

Before Sam finished his first beer, Dee found him, trailing three men behind her, each better-muscled than the last, though they were all kind of short. "I'm gonna go in the back room!" she told him.

"With which one of them?" he yelled back.

"I couldn't choose so I got them all!"

Sam gaped at her. She winked and turned, leading them all like an entourage.

The only reason for him to be present was to watch out for Dee. Three-on-one would have been decent odds even with Dee in her real body, but on the other hand Dee might find herself in a compromised position. She really had no idea what she was doing.

Sam followed, telling himself that he'd just stay nearby. He wouldn't watch.

*****

He watched.

*****

The first time Sam had consciously wanted to jump to Dee's defense hadn't involved anything out of the ordinary. Another roomful of guys swapping stories, another asshole who felt entitled to put himself in her way so that she had to swerve sharply to avoid running into him as she moved around the pool table. Sam had still been a scrawny fourteen, but he'd wanted to put his training to use just as much as he'd ever wanted with any school bullies.

He'd known even then that Dee would've kicked his ass, then turned around to kick the guy's ass just to prove she could. But the desire bubbled inside him, thick and sickening. He hated watching her have to struggle, and eventually he decided that if he couldn't stop it, at least he didn't have to see it.

****

Outside Paducah, they encountered their first demon since Azazel. It didn't go well.

Oh, they'd memorized their exorcisms, they had their tattoos, and they'd even learned how to draw a Devil's Trap in under a minute. But they were still shit at ignoring the vitriol that spewed from the demon's mouth, still unable to remember there was a person trapped inside.

"Sam Winchester," the demon said, drooling blood from the side of its mouth. Sam had hit the host pretty hard getting it into the trap. "My, you are grown up pretty. And who's the hottie? Finally ditched your trailer trash sister for someone who can actually fight, I see."

"What the fuck do you know about Sam?" Dee demanded, raising her flask of holy water in clear threat. Sam hesitated, words of exorcism caught in his throat, because they'd stopped Azazel from unleashing Hell on earth ... and still.

It tossed its head back, blonde hair tangled and messy around its shoulders. "More than you, sugar. You think Sammy here is a demon magnet just because he's tall, dark and deadly?" It paused to wriggle its tongue out, sucking its blood back into its mouth. "The taint didn't die with Daddy."

Sam flinched but didn't move back. He hadn't had a single vision, no instances of telekinesis or anything else that marked off Azazel's special children, since they'd used the Colt that one last time. If he was tainted, then that was just like being six foot four: nothing he could do but work with it.

Before he could say anything, Dee began the Latin rites, voice high (for a man) and fast. Sam joined her before she'd gotten two lines in.

"Lilith is gonna enjoy making you her dog," the demon snapped, wincing as the words hit it. "And she's gonna make her leash out of your pretty friend's skin!" That was the last it said before howling and evacuating the host. The body slumped in the chair, dead probably for days already.

Later, back in the motel room, Sam watched Dee strip off her bloodstained overshirt and her muddied jeans, pacing like a caged panther across the floor. The muscles of her shoulders were tight under her white T-shirt as she scrubbed a hand over the back of her neck, the spikes of her hair. He watched the curve of her bicep, the way the vein popped out along her forearm, and thought: tainted.

"Just fucking with us," Dee said, as if she could hear the thought, which of course was an impossibility given the other things she would have heard, enough to send her screaming out into the night.

"Yeah," Sam agreed, believing it just about as much as Dee undoubtedly did.

"I'll call Bobby, ask him about this Lilith crap."

Sam nodded. It was the first name they'd had since Azazel, and while Sam knew the basic apocryphal Jewish myth, he was willing to bet there was more to it than that.

"Anyway," she said gruffly, putting her fists in the small of her back, just above where the waistband of her boxers had slid down, and stretching, turned so that Sam could see the line of her throat, the stubble on her cheek, the shocking protrusion of her Adam's apple. "Doesn't matter, 'cause whatever the demons want, no way are you goin' along."

Sam's mouth was dry, his skin tight. He nodded. "I'm gonna shower," he announced, stupidly, and then fled into the bathroom. With the hot water steaming up the mirror and the door between him and Dee, he felt a little less like a monster.

They needed to get her changed back.

*****

At a gas station near Tulsa, Dee got chased out of a women's bathroom by a little old lady brandishing a purse. Sam nearly hurt himself laughing, and then felt bad when he saw Dee's smile, which was rather obviously put on to conceal hurt. "I just forgot," she said. Which Sam initially thought was a surprising thing to say—how could anyone forget they'd been bodyswapped and now had a dick?—but Sam guessed that, like anything else (being pursued by a demon who planned to use you to unleash hell on earth, perhaps), it could slip your mind from time to time.

"You used to take me in the men's bathroom all the time," Sam remembered. Until she was about thirteen, and then there'd been several months of fighting about whether Sam was old enough to go into the men's room on his own as long as Dee waited by the door. (Sam and Dee were, for once, united in 'yes' and Dad had the veto, which he exercised until Sam nearly had an accident in the car trying to avoid the humiliation of Dee's company. After that Sam had been permitted privacy, as long as he showed Dad or Dee that he was carrying his knife.)

"Yeah, well, Dad thought it was safer if I looked like a boy, as long as I could get away with it."

Sam chuckled. Plenty of assholes had come up to him and to Dee regardless. Sam had never needed to brandish that knife, but he remembered at least twice that Dee had suggested, pointedly so to speak, that a creepazoid move on to the next rest stop. "So this is like old times," he said before he'd thought it through.

Dee shrugged. "Not really," she said, and let the matter drop.

****

Special Agent Victor Henricksen had thought that Dee was the crazy bitch who'd ruined her brother's life with her uncontrollable criminal urges.

"He called you Bonnie to my Clyde," Dee had said.

"Wait, I was Bonnie?" Sam knew he was pouting.

"I'm pretty sure he was insulting both of us," she'd said, and tossed her hair as if she didn't care. "Asked me if I was like those Aryan twin sisters out in California who sing Nazi pop—asked me if I dyed my hair blonde."

Sam had shaken his head disbelievingly. "You're not even a blonde!"

"Yeah, that was the mean part, Sam."

****

The first time Dee got in a fight as a man, Sam was shocked.

He didn't see what started it (though he had his ideas). There was the noise of a body hitting the floor, audible to him through all the other bar sounds, and as he turned he saw a space had cleared around Dee and two other men, looming threateningly.

She punched the first one almost too fast to see, a beautiful hit to the left side of his jaw, sending him spinning backwards and out of contention. The second one started his punch while Dee was still pulling her own fist back, and she bent backwards to avoid the blow, his fist hissing inches from her face. As Dee straightened, she swung her left fist into the guy's shoulder, just a distractor, but enough to put him in position for a solid hit in the breadbasket. She kneed him hard in the thigh, then got him in the stomach as he curled down, and then kicked his side just for good measure as he landed on the floor.

Then she looked up and saw the first guy's friends advancing on her. She smiled and licked her lips. Sam had to jump over a table, sliding on his ass halfway, to get to her in time to help, which in this case meant delivering a couple of serious beatdowns of his own.

"Did you see how hard that guy went down?" she exulted as they drove away, tires squealing. "Bam!" She took one hand off the wheel to reenact the swing.

"Everyone saw how hard that guy went down, Dee," Sam said, not happily. "You beat the hell out of him. And the next two."

"I guess I just don't know my own strength," she said, her glee making up for his grimness.

Sam's left eye was stinging, and he knew his right arm and his back were going to have spectacular bruises. "Well, get to know it," he said. "We don't need the attention."

Dee looked over, slewing the Impala into a turn, heading out of town. "Aw, Sammy, you mad at me?"

He sighed and rubbed his face with his hand, avoiding the flesh around his eye. "You just—you never think about these things. What if there'd been cops there?"

She shrugged. "C'mon, you know we'd have made any cops, off-duty or not. And I like to leave the worrying to you—you're so good at it. Anyway, if you're so mad at me, why'd you jump in?"

There was no hint in her voice that it was a rhetorical question. He looked at her profile (and had the usual mental double-take, but it was getting faster every day), a proud smirk on her face, a streak of blood running across her right temple, her hair standing up in spikes from sweat. "You're—Dee, there's no move you could make I wouldn't back. You know that, right?"

Her smile disappeared and her shoulders twitched, as if she wanted to make herself smaller. Then the smile was back, a little softer now, but she was staring straight ahead—standard Dee. "Don't make me hug you," she said warningly, and he chose to smile out the window himself.

The second time she—Dean—got into a bar fight, though, Sam was just pissed, and the third time he almost abandoned her to the fray before he carefully put his beer down—even though he knew he wouldn't be coming back for it—and waded in to even the odds. Fighting back to back was familiar enough, even with a bigger back, and Dee was a lot better at close work than she'd been before.

"You've got to stop doing that," he said when they were running for the car. Dee was grinning, and Sam was a little adrenalin-high himself; they'd laid out at least five men, and there were others who'd be stiff and sore tomorrow.

"Dude, I didn't—"

"Don't even," he snapped, because being able to win a fight didn't mean he wanted to have to in every bar they went to. "You're not that cute any more. The stuff you say, it sounds like an insult."

"It was an insult before, too!" Dee pointed out, her air of injured innocence somewhat inconsistent with the actual content of her statement.

"Yeah, but none of the guys in there would have hit a woman for saying that." Sam slammed the door to punctuate his point as he sat.

Dee opened her mouth as if to disagree, then closed it and hurried around the car and slid in. "They should learn to take a fucking joke," she said and started the engine.

There was another kind of fight that she got into now, and this was harder to blame on Dee. Sam was willing to get mad at her for running her mouth when she knew what would happen, but when she got called a faggot, just because she smiled a lot and didn't have much concept of personal space, that was unfair. And he didn't want her to change—he liked how casually she'd throw an arm around him.

****

Dee was off fixing up a truck for Isaac and Tamara, the hunters who'd helped with the Seven Deadly Sins, when a bottle-blonde girl in a leather jacket knocked on the motel room door.

Sam hadn't ordered any food and she wasn't housekeeping. With one hand on the gun tucked in the back of his waistband, he opened the door. "Hello?" He sounded pissed in his own ears, and winced even before she could react. Sometimes it was hard to remember how to be pleasant and unthreatening to anyone who wasn't a victim or a witness.

"No need to stand on ceremony with me, Sam," the girl said, amused.

Sam straightened, pulling the gun and putting it between them so that anyone observing from outside wouldn't be able to see. "Who are you?"

Her eyes flashed that terrible liquid black. "I'm gonna start with honesty, because that plus mutual advantage is the best foundation for a relationship, don't you think? My name is Ruby, and I'm here 'cause there's a major demon named Lilith who wants to end the world. I don't agree."

Sam gaped at her, not that he'd admit it later on.

"Oh come on," she said lightly. "We don't all want to spread apocalypse and hellfire. I mean, who do you think invented politics? As for why I'm picking you, well, you did somehow manage to take Azazel out—thanks for that, by the way—and Lilith has a major stiffie for you. Enemy of my enemy, blah blah blah, so I thought I'd introduce myself. Also, do you know if there's a place that serves good fries around here?"

Sam, stupidly, shot an arm out to grab her at that point, and found himself pulled forward, past the salt line, and slammed up against the outside wall, cheap siding digging painfully into his back. "What ... the ... hell?" he panted, Ruby's hand nearly cutting off his air as his heels kicked weakly. He was trying to aim his gun, but it wasn't the Colt so it might just kill the host without solving his problem.

With her human disguise on, Ruby's eyes were green-blue, and narrowed with annoyance. "Listen, Boy King, this is a courtesy call. I don't know what Lilith's up to, but I figured I'd take a look. If I figure out how you can help me keep this big blue marble spinning, I'll let you know. Right now, though? Not impressed."

She let him go and Sam just braced himself against the wall, gasping, while she sauntered away, raising one hand up in a mocking good-bye. He could've begun an exorcism, but he couldn't see what good that would do.

The whole encounter was cryptic and disturbing. Since he hadn't learned anything (other than that even demons who weren't trying to kill him liked to choke the fuck out of him), he decided not to mention the encounter to Dee just yet. She was already enough on edge dealing with hunters who'd known her from when she was in the right body. At a minimum, she'd freak and make them switch motels, maybe leave the state entirely, and Sam was pretty sure that wouldn't help.

****

"You ever thought about giving up hunting, working at a garage or something like that?" he'd asked Dee once as she worked under the Impala, just her legs below the knees and her boots visible. She'd ignored him, so he'd repeated the question, louder.

With a grunt of annoyance, she'd pulled out and looked up at him skeptically. "No." She'd swiped at a strand of hair plastered to her cheek, adding another smudge of grease, then had made as if to go back under.

"Why not?"

She'd shrugged. "Too hard to get hired."

"But you know everything there is to—" he'd started, then stopped, understanding. "Not everyone is like that."

She'd closed her eyes, then looked at him, shading her eyes against the sun behind his back. "Enough. Say there's two garages in each town we hang out in—maybe one in ten's hiring. One in ten of those is ready to ignore my lack of a dick and a valid Social Security number, long as I ignore the minimum wage. Then I have to worry about some guy getting pissed at me—and you know I have a mouth on me, Sam—or needing a favor from his parole officer or, hell, just helping out his good friend the cop, which he can do because he noticed my picture at the police station or the post office. And then keeping the job is the least of my worries."

Sam had stared down at her. After a moment, she'd shrugged again. "Not everyone's like that, but it's like Vegas. The house always wins. Anyway, it is what it is—not worth thinking about. I'm a hunter."

She'd slid back under the car before he could say more, which might have been a blessing, because the only thing he could think of to say was: Obviously you have thought about it. Which would have been a mistake, not least because she wasn't wrong.

****

The basilisk nearly killed each of them twice during the fight, but the only one marked by its claws was Dee, right near the end. Each of them had been wearing crystal goggles—a specialized but useful basilisk-hunting device a friend of Bobby's had put together—and the only problem was that vision got pretty blurry through the damn things, so Dee literally stumbled over it before they realized what they'd found.

The resulting battle had been short but vicious. They were pretty fortunate that all it cost them was claw marks, though Sam dearly wished that he'd been the one slashed.

Sam was sewing up the deepest cut, the one in the meat of her shoulder, when he realized and had to stop.

"What's wrong?" Dee asked immediately.

"Nothing," he defended and went back to work.

"Sammy ..." she said warningly, and twitched as if she would pull away.

He clamped his hand down on her upper arm. "Hold still." She didn't fight him, but turned her head to look at him as best she could. He could feel her breath near his ear.

"Just—this will be your first scar. Your first scar like this."

The only noise was the sound of them breathing, and then the snip of the scissors as Sam finished the stitches. She didn't speak until he'd put away the medical kit.

"It's not true, you know."

"What?" He looked up, and she was staring straight at him.

"I have one scar already." She held up her right hand, crooked her finger a little. "You gave it to me, that first night."

He couldn't see the mark in the bad motel light, but oh, he believed it.

****

Sam didn't even think Dee noticed, but she hung back at doors, waiting for men to open them for her, and when it didn't happen a brief, unconscious confusion would show on her face. The delay decreased and decreased, until finally she shoved past him with regularity.

She didn't complain, which would have been understandable if she'd only been silent about the big things. But she didn't even bitch about having to pay for her own alcohol on a regular basis.

"I'm not giving up on fixing this," Sam told her when a month had passed since they'd found the last rare, but totally useless, spellbook.

Dee's expression turned serious, her eyes dark and sincere. "I know you're trying, Sam. But this isn't the worst thing that ever happened to me, and Bobby's real wound up about all these signs he keeps calling about. Maybe we oughta focus on that, at least until—"

Sam wasn't surprised that she didn't finish. Until the solution dropped into their laps? "All Bobby has is rumors." He wasn't going to mention Ruby, because she'd been equally uninformative. "Have I stopped you from looking for other hunts?" he demanded, then shook his head in answer to his own question. "I just—I don't want you giving up."

Dee sighed and rubbed the back of her neck. "Fine," she said.

That night, she went out on her own. Sam didn't sleep until she got back.

****

From the moment Sam and Dee had walked into the Roadhouse, Dee and Jo had gotten along like a house on fire. Not a metaphor: the first gig they'd worked together, they'd actually set a house on fire. Sam had been pissed, because then they'd had to run from the cops, and Dee and Jo had just cackled at each other while he'd pressed the gas pedal so hard that his ankle had ached for an hour after they'd checked into the night's motel. And then Dee'd gone to Jo's room—"for a sleepover?" Sam had asked snidely, leading Dee to give him the finger—so Sam had been alone, which hadn't ever gotten any more relaxing.

In the morning, they'd been so hungover that Sam had to position Jo over the toilet and brace Dee at the sink, both of them still in their filthy jeans and tees. And still they'd kept bursting into giggles, one of them triggering the other into another fit, until Sam had stomped off to get breakfast on his own.

He'd brought them Egg McMuffins, eventually, by which point they had re-evolved speech and were both shower-damp and bleary-eyed. If Sam had been as crude as Dee, he might have made a Girls Gone Wild joke.

After that, they'd hunted with Jo every couple of months.

Sam had kept his preference for working on their own to himself because, in theory, Sam had supported the idea of Dee having friends. But Jo had looked up to Dee, which had only encouraged Dee to be even more outrageous. "Buffy has superpowers!" he'd yelled at them once, when they'd charged into a haunted house before Sam had satisfied himself that the ghosts were quiescent. Jo had turned her head to stick her tongue out at him, and nearly fallen through a rotted step.

There was no good side to being possessed, but Sam hadn't much minded the way that Jo had decided, after Meg had been exorcised, to spend more time with her mom. Dee had still talked to her once or twice a week. Dee would usually leave the room unless the weather was unbearable, but he'd grown used to the sound of Dee's voice saying Jo's name, laughing.

Sam didn't know what Dee told Jo about her new body, but she couldn't just have dropped all contact. Jo would have swallowed her pride (her fear) and called Sam if Dee had vanished.

****

They got Dee an ID as Dean Campbell, for their mom's maiden name. Sam didn't know how he felt about Dee leaving the Winchester name behind. Not like they ever used real names anyway, and when he mouthed 'Dean Winchester' to himself it was too freaky to try again, but it was another step away from his sister, and there were all sorts of reasons to dislike that.

Like the first time (and even in the middle of it he knew it was the first time) a girl shouldered between them at the bar and propositioned them for a threesome.

Dee's shocked face was almost but not quite worth the embarrassment Sam himself felt. "Uh," Sam stammered, and then Dee was turning, sliding against Sam's side in a way that forced the girl to take a step back.

"Sorry," Dee said. "You don't really have the right equipment for me." She leaned up and nuzzled Sam's neck, just a joke Sam was sure. But Sam couldn't help angling himself closer, pushing his thigh against hers, even as he bit his lip so hard he tasted blood and felt Dee freeze, breathing fast, her pride keeping her from pulling back while the girl was watching. Her hips pushed into him once, almost like it was involuntary instead of Dee's bravado outweighing her minimal common sense, raising the stakes even though she ought to have known better. Her hand was clamped so hard around his forearm that he thought he might have bruises.

After the girl slunk off, Dee pulled her body away, but she was still hanging on to him. "Dude," she said a little breathlessly. Sam angled his upper body back so he could try to see what the fuck was going on with her, but she wouldn't meet his eyes, and then she dropped his arm like it had turned molten-hot. Their legs were still brushing against each other, too close.

"You should've seen if she'd have done you alone," Dee said, twisting so that she could grab her shotglass again. Her shoulder was almost in his face; he could have bent over and licked her neck like she'd done to him.

"Uh, I think you were the one who shut that down," Sam pointed out, too busy fighting off the arousal to really think about how weird Dee was being.

"Sorry," Dee mumbled, already signaling for her next drink.

That night, when she took the lucky guy into the back room, she had him blow her right under one of the glowlights. She didn't look Sam's way the entire time.

****

"I miss my hair," Dee said once, looking at her face in the rearview mirror the way she did so regularly these days.

By the time Sam realized that she was talking about the change, the moment had passed.

****

When Sam had been trapped in Cold Oak, listening to Azazel pontificate about his plans for his so-called children (Sam refused to acknowledge any kinship), his greatest fear had been that the yellow-eyed demon would use Dee as a hostage. He'd remembered too well Dee pinned and bleeding against the wall of that cabin, the demon possessing his father taunting Sam as he put his hands all over her while Dee begged Dad to hear her somehow. Sam still didn't understand everything that had gone on then, but he'd never regret shooting Dad's body to save Dee, and he'd never be sorry that Dad had then traded himself to save Dee.

Problem was, Dad had sacrificed himself without getting them any further in the struggle against Azazel. So Sam hadn't been able to stop it from happening all over again in the center of Sam Colt's great Devil's Trap.

For once, Sam had taken Dee's perspective on killing the human host to get to the demon inside. It had been brutal but necessary; at least they'd shut the door before Hell emptied out.

Sam had known how much Dee wanted Dad to see their victory, and that she still blamed herself for his death. Useless to tell her that Dad had, at long last, done his job: stood up for Dee, put her needs ahead of his. If Sam had the chance, he'd congratulate the man. But Dee hadn't ever been able to see it that way, and Sam knew enough not to expect Dee to understand, only to get better with time. Azazel's death had helped some with that. The Winchesters had won the knockout round, and last time paid for all.

****

Digging up graves was about ten times easier now, able to trade off and rest up, then jump back in refreshed, instead of working straight through until they were done. It was so much easier that it finally occurred to Sam to ask Dee about when she'd hunted on her own. "How'd you get it done in just one night?"

"Stole backhoes, mostly," she said, hoisting another shovelful over the side. "A couple of times I forged an exhumation order, got the cemetery to do the work for me. Risky, though. And backhoes are noisy. This way's better."

"I don't know if my back agrees with you," Sam said, but all Dee did was grunt.

And he had to admit, it was a good workout. He was looking forward to a hot shower later, easing every tired muscle.

Dee looked spectacular with a smear of dirt across one cheekbone, T-shirt clinging to her sweaty torso, biceps pumped from the digging, eyes alight even before the accelerant came out.

Possibly Sam was watching too carefully.

When he pulled off his own shirt to wipe at his sweaty face, he threw it at the back of her head. It hit her smooth-shaven nape with a wet thwack, and Dee spun and howled outrage as he grinned. "This is war," she warned, jaw set in a way that made Sam's stomach clench like it was in free fall.

"Bring it on," he told her, watching the outline of her shoulders against the moon-bright sky. "But after you do your pyro thing, all right?"

Dee grunted, then turned back to her digging. "Didn't have to prove you're still more of a pin-up 'n me," she grumbled. "Showoff."

****

It had always been objective truth that Dee was gorgeous—literally traffic-stopping at times—a natural fact, like the rotation of the earth around the sun. It had mostly meant inconvenience to Sam, first with people getting in their way, trying to pick her up or just spend more time with her, and then later it was actively dangerous, never knowing whether "I've seen you somewhere" was a line or a prelude to an arrest. Dee had started preening and saying she'd done a commercial for Dove's Real Beauty campaign, and that had helped some, but it had still been a regular concern.

Anyway, Dee's looks had never been directly relevant to him. She was his sister, and that was that.

But now it wasn't.

The way she moved now was different yet hauntingly familiar, her natural grace turned catlike and intimidating. She waved her hands while talking, and he couldn't take his eyes off them, the strong forearms with their muscles and veins covered in smooth freckled skin, the big hands that could break down an engine or a Glock with equal confidence. He had always relied on the connection between them, a bond he believed in even when he'd been across the continent, but now it seemed magnetic, pulling them closer together. And not just metaphorically. Every time they'd sit in some diner booth, interviewing witnesses, his every nerve would fire when their shoulders jostled or their legs brushed together.

The body even smelled different—well, of course it did; what did he think all those hormones and pheromones were for? Dee's body could get a lot ranker now after a hard day, but there was always an elusive note there now, not salt or musk or anything he could name. Sometimes, when he was sure he wouldn't be caught, he'd sniff at a pillow or a discarded shirt.

It was wrong, and worse, it was pathetic. Dee had laughed at all those guys—even the ones she took for a spin, even the ones who grabbed her ass or her arm—and though she didn't laugh at the women who blushed or grinned or leaned over now, he was pretty sure that her opinion of men who mooned over her hadn't changed. The fact that he was her brother was almost incidental, seeing as how his body no longer recognized hers.

****

There had been a period of about two years, starting in the middle of Dee's fourteenth year, when Sam had felt an almost continuous weirdness between Dee and Dad. Dad had started getting them two rooms, one for Dad and one for Dee and Sam. Even at the time Sam had known there was something off, and he'd suggested once that he should share with Dad. Dad had snapped out a no, and that had been the end of it, at least as far as discussion went.

That was the same time Dad had started taking Sam on hunts when he took Dee. Way too early for a kid, even a kid who'd trained to it, and the other hunters had shunned Dad when they found out.

Later, at Stanford, Sam had done a paper for his family psychology seminar. Father-daughter incest was often a situational thing—absent mother, limited social contacts, daughter taking on many of the mother's caring roles like cooking, budgeting, and taking care of younger children. Dee could have been one of the girls in the books, if you'd added in weapons maintenance and laying down the salt lines at night. It had made Sam reassess his Dad's behavior. Dad, he now thought, had sensed the risks, the dark road they were on, and had done everything he could think of to prevent it. Mostly what he could think of was putting Sam in the way, stoking Sam's inability to sleep without Dee in the room, bringing him on those dangerous and adrenaline-filled hunts, and so on.

It didn't make him like Dad any better, knowing that there was one way in which the man hadn't fucked up. It didn't make it any easier to learn to sleep alone, and it didn't take away the recurrent ache in his knee from the poltergeist when he'd been twelve.

Back at Stanford, he'd thought maybe things would have been different if Dee had been a boy, if Dad hadn't pushed him into hunting so young as a defense against his own half-acknowledged desires.

Divider

Part III

Dee's awkward charm worked differently in a man's body. It freaked some people out, made others suspicious. They learned quickly that "reporters" was now more difficult to pull off, whereas "cops" was much easier, at least when Dee remembered to butch it up and shut up. Dee couldn't flirt her way into crime scenes as easily any more, though they were getting better rooms two times out of three. It was a tradeoff.

The one time he remarked to Dee that she must miss being able to bat her eyes and get what she wanted, she gave him a look so flat and dangerous—a look that never would have fit on her real face—that he shut up, embarrassed to have reminded her of what was gone.

When she grinned, her face still lit up like there was a spotlight on her; strangers could never tell when it was fake. He'd never noticed just how much she smiled, even when she was feeling less than sunny. He did notice when the smiles slowed down, which hadn't happened even in the darkest days before they'd killed the yellow-eyed demon. If he'd told her to smile, she would have just punched him, and probably "forgotten" to control her strength, so he didn't say anything.

In Tulsa, she kicked the crap out of a guy who'd been viciously twisting his girlfriend's arm next to them at the bar. The things she said about the guy's manhood were nastier than her punches.

Dee was too busy driving and watching out for cops in the rear-view mirror to engage in any conversation. But back in the room, Sam managed to ask if she was okay.

"Even when I was a girl, did I like to talk about my feelings?" she snapped, which was not the result he'd wanted.

"Well, yeah," he said—not smart, but it had the benefit of being true. "You can use code if you want, I'm a good interpreter. And you're still a girl."

Dee started unbuttoning her jeans. "You got really confused in college," she said as she stuck her hand into her boxers. Sam turned away, but he knew she was showing him the goods. He felt himself flushing, thinking of what little he'd seen in the gay club and through half-open doors. She was uncut, obviously, but there was so much more he could see if he looked now. He had to force himself to stay still, because there was a difference between Dee being pissed at him for prying and Dee being so freaked out she'd demand separate rooms.

"That is all kinds of wrong," he said weakly, his hand over his eyes.

"Don't I know it," she said, which he guessed was the answer to his real question.

****

The female serial killer angle was sexy, no doubt about it. Sam had long known that one of these days Dee was going to make America's Most Wanted, and that would be it for them. Every day Dee was Dean was a day that gave the cops fewer reasons to hunt Dee down, and Sam was grateful for the breather, even as he felt guilty about it. He loved Dee, his sister; he'd do anything for her.

****

Dee made them stop in the middle of nowhere so that she could work on the car. The air was crisp enough that Sam had to walk around to avoid a chill, but the back of Dee's shirt was damp with sweat from whatever she was doing under the front. Sam had to admit that the view was better than if she'd sweet-talked their way into a garage: rolling hills checkerboarded with green, early wheat maybe (he never paid that much attention; if civilization ever collapsed and they were forced to be real survivalists, they'd best hope that canned food stayed good for decades). Anyway, whatever was on the hills was pretty, and possibly edible, and the air smelled like fresh-mown grass once he got far enough away from the car. The sky was the sharp blue of early fall, and the sun was a bright coin.

Sam brought out a paperback he'd had stuffed under the front seat for several months, a science fiction romp about cloning that was amusing but not exactly mind-blowing given Sam's own life. Dee mumbled to herself occasionally, the deeper voice almost unremarkable now, and her grunts alternated with the clank and groan of metal.

The sound of the hood slamming brought Sam's attention up from his book. Dee was stretching, unselfconscious as a tiger. She'd rolled back her sleeves. The muscles of her arms stood out, gilt-edged from the sun catching the downy hair that now grew there.

"Hey," she said, noticing his attention.

Inexplicably, he was paralyzed: uncertain whether he should say 'hey' back, or something else. He felt the tips of his ears heat up, followed inexorably by the rest of his face.

Dee stared at him as if he'd turned bright blue. "You okay, Sammy?"

He nodded rapidly.

"Fine, then you go get lunch outta the cooler. I am a miracle worker and I deserve a soda!"

Sam shook his head and went to grab the food from the back seat. He wondered whether the repairs had gone more quickly given that Dee could now apply more brute force. But he suspected that Dee would take any such line of questioning as an assault on her integrity, and he'd rather spend his time teasing her about the moron she'd picked up two nights back.

Seriously, the man had told him, with total confidence, that the moon landing had been a hoax. Not that Dee had cared, shambling back from the bathroom with catlike ease and the poor idiot trailing behind her like a dazed lottery winner.

Sam shook off the memory and put himself back in the present, sharing a picnic lunch with his sister, a near-full tank of gas and no pressing need to get anywhere.

Dee popped her soda and tilted her head back, gulping it down with her eyes closed in ecstasy. "Ah," she said, shaking her head as she dropped the empty can—Sam winced and hurried to pick it up—"thank God that still tastes right. I don't think I coulda lived without my Diet Coke."

Sam had the thought, not for the first time, that Dee would confound anyone's gaydar. He kept thinking that she should act girlier, because the Diet Coke and the tight jeans and the boy-fucking created an expectation that she'd be more Queer Eye and less Dukes of Hazzard. But she still ate like a linebacker and cursed like a long-haul trucker. And even so some days she was a completely different person.

****

Gordon Walker had hit it off with Dee from the beginning. Dee had always been pretty good with letting hunters teach her stuff.

"You like Gordon, hunh?" he'd asked as they were doing the night's weapons check, right after they'd met him.

"Yeah," she'd said, scrutinizing the rune-inscribed ammo with a skeptical eye.

"You going to do anything about it?"

She'd paused and looked up at him quizzically. Then she'd understood and looked at him disbelievingly. "That's unhygienic, man."

He'd been shocked at her casual racism. And it didn't even make sense. Dee was an equal-opportunity one-night stand. He'd seen her leave bars with Latinos, Asians, once a Nigerian who—she'd later said—had told her a bunch of legends she hadn't known. Plus there was that whole thing with Dee's apparently serious relationship with that newspaper reporter, where somehow she'd made a deep connection in, like, a week and a half—but Sam didn't like to think about Walter, for a whole lot of reasons, and just classified him as a freak occurrence. "What?" he'd said at last, weakly.

"You don't shit where you eat, you don't fuck where you fight," she'd said, as if the phrases were Bible proverbs.

And, okay, he'd been jealous that Gordon got along with Dee better than he could, most days. He'd been angry that Dee had obviously opened up to Gordon about Dad when she wouldn't tell him jack. He'd had reasons enough to want to dislike the man, especially after he'd called Dee out on using Gordon as a replacement father and Dee had said something vicious about Sam not being able to stand her knowing any guy who wasn't a father or a fuck and stormed off. It had been one of their more ridiculous arguments, even with a wide variety to choose from.

Even when the kill only evil things/kill all supernatural things debate had been tentatively resolved in Sam's favor, there had still been that tension between them. Sam had known that Dee would pick him over Gordon—but he'd still wondered if she'd really wanted to.

Later, Sam hadn't been surprised that Gordon had been willing to use Dee as bait. A man who could kill his own sister, even a sister who'd been turned into a monster, could always put the mission ahead of family. Maybe he'd wanted to, unconsciously angry at Dee for having survived when his real sister hadn't.

Sam had wanted to be more sympathetic than he actually was. Being hunted could do that to a person.

Later, after the cops had taken Gordon away and they'd gotten back to the car, Sam had asked Dee about what Gordon had said to her, while they were waiting for Sam's rescue. She'd ignored him. "Did you ask him what he'd do to someone who used his sister against him?" he'd asked.

Dee had been silent for a while, looking out the windshield into the ever-disappearing road beneath the wheels. "Of course I talked about his sister," she'd said. "I'm not proud of it."

"Well," he'd said, "this damsel in distress stuff gets old. Better try harder next time."

That had made her scowl, as he'd known it would. "Way I see it, we're about even on rescues, Sammy." And then, after a few miles: "Next time, I'm just gonna shoot him."

****

When they finally made it to the new Roadhouse, Dee spent over three hours talking to Jo while Sam cooled his heels at the bar with Ellen. Mostly he sat and—yes, he could admit it—sulked while Ellen did other things. Eventually, though, the bar was clean and the other customers were gone, and Ellen came over to him and leaned over the counter.

"How're you doing, Sam?" she asked. He looked at her through his bangs; that made him feel immature, so he looked at her full-on. She seemed caught between amused neutrality and actual concern.

"Nothing happened to me," he said, knowing that was not quite true.

She didn't call him on it, just nodded. "Hard year all around, though. This can't make it any easier."

He shrugged, warmed by her concern, and tried to smile at her.

Dee and Jo came back into the bar, both of them grinning ear-to-ear. Sam shifted on his seat, impatient.

"I'm gonna stay here tonight," Dee said.

Sam shook his head in shock. "What?"

"I'm gonna stay here tonight," Dee repeated, with a little more emphasis.

"What are you going to do?" he asked before his brain caught up with his mouth.

Dee and Jo gave him pitying looks; he was grateful he couldn't see Ellen. Dean made an unclassifiable noise. "Paint each other's toenails, have a pillow fight—you know, girl stuff. You go on down the road, I'll catch you in the morning."

Sam had no idea how he'd wrangle an invitation to stay as well, and he couldn't see himself sleeping on the pool table, so there was nothing to be done except go back to their cheap motel and stew, all alone in their room. He only got a few hours' sleep; it was like going off to college all over again.

Dee rolled in well after sunup, lazy and self-satisfied. Sam sat up in bed and stared at her, how she swaggered across the worn carpet like a prince of the realm. "Oh my God," he said, swiping his hair out of his eyes, "you slept with her!"

Dee turned to him, smiling like the skankiest guy on The Bachelorette. "A gentleman doesn't kiss and tell, Sammy."

"You're not a gentleman!" He tried to control his voice, which had risen to alarming levels.

Dee shrugged. "Matter of opinion."

That shut him up for a while with his own whirling thoughts. This was—it was bad. Dee had never slept with girls. She'd always been fairly emphatic about that, and about her opinion of girls who made out with other girls for the amusement of guys, who were by her lights supposed to be working for her approval. Maybe the male hormones were doing something—her soul was the same, but her brain was probably physically different, and who the hell knew what that meant? "So," he said at last, "are you—is that what you want now?"

Dee sat down on the edge of his bed. Sam was acutely aware that she was dressed, albeit in last night's clothes, and that he was not. The sheets were tangled in his legs, but all he had other than that was his boxers.

"Sammy," she said, leaning in close. He closed his eyes. "I am not a lesbian trapped in a man's body." Her breath was hot and not foul. She must have used Jo's toothbrush, which was somehow even worse than the rest of it.

She pulled back. "It was an experiment," she said, almost briskly. "And, you know, it was actually pretty awesome."

Sam looked at her. "As a matter of fact," he said, regaining some humor, "I do know."

"And there's no doubt I could pull hot chicks," she continued, ignoring him, putting her arms behind her and leaning back into the bed. Whether she meant it to or not, the move highlighted the muscles in her chest, the smooth curves and hollows of her neck. "Jo, man, she was—"

"You know what, please don't tell me," he said. "Anyway, what the hell happened to 'don't shit where you eat'?"

"Not the same thing. Jo's a friend."

And they say men and women can't be friends, he almost said, but on reflection it wasn't that funny.

"And that's not—weird?" he asked instead.

Dee looked at him, assessing. "She knows who I am."

Sam really didn't get what was going on inside Dee's head (and maybe he should have been grateful for that) because if that was what Dee wanted, then he didn't understand all her other hookups, before and after the bodyswitch. "I know who you are," he offered.

Dee sighed and ran a hand through her hair. "I know you do." The silence stretched between them like an open road at night. Abruptly Dee said, "I'm gonna change; you'd better hop in the shower if we're going to make Springfield by tonight."

Sam gave the expected response: "What's in Springfield?"

Dee cocked her head. "Poltergeist, killing people at a gas station."

It wasn't until Sam was in the shower that he realized he'd been too distracted to even ask which Springfield.

****

Now that Dee could no longer use Lucy Westenra as her alias the way she liked to, they were experimenting more. Today they were working as Robert LeRoy Parker and Harry Longabaugh.

"One thing about dudes," Dee had commented when they were making ten new sets of ID for her, "there's a lot more of them to choose from."

Sam hadn't really known what to say to that, so he'd just taken the opportunity to switch his own IDs. Sam had never been happy with being Jonathan Harker anyway. It seemed to him that if he got to ditch the Winchester name then he shouldn't have to walk around answering to his father's name.

Agents Parker and Longabaugh went to question the witnesses who didn't understand that they'd seen a monster, not a psychopath. They'd thought it was a possession at first, maybe a chance to see if all demons were still harping on Azazel and Lilith when the Winchesters were around, which was why they'd driven twenty hours straight to the sleepy little Nevada town, but in the end it was only a fouke.

So, six bullets, one twisted ankle, and one ruined pair of jeans later, they declared victory.

Sam was happy enough to stick with anything but demons. Every time one of their leads turned into something they'd never seen before, local legend or imported monster, he relaxed a little bit. Random flashes of evil like the things that had changed Dee—well, obviously that was bad enough. But it wasn't a grand evil plan; he still had that much control over his life.

****

"Nice tat," a man's voice said clearly through the flimsy motel door, and Sam stopped in his tracks, the six-pack dangling from his fingers.

He frowned. He'd thought they'd kick back a few beers, talk about the next day's business. But apparently the chance for an easy pickup had been too tempting. Where the fuck did she even find them? On statistics alone, she'd experienced a ninefold decrease in the options. Except that you had to factor in being closeted, being taken, and also the fact that in any form Dee would move a lot of people a couple of notches towards her on the Kinsey scale, so who knew.

Sam snapped out of his reverie when he heard Dee's low chuckle and the sounds of skin on skin.

He backed away and went to stow the beer in the trunk, pulling out a spellbook to review while he was waiting for Dee to finish.

Sitting in the front seat, he put the book down on his lap for a moment and idly rubbed his fingers over his shirt, right where the tattoo was. He wondered if it would feel any different when someone touched it.

When Dee changed back, would the tattoo disappear the way Dee's scars had? Maybe the scars would reappear, he thought. It depended on how they managed to restore her—and whether there was still some real body lurking underneath/inside/alongside the one she was in now. Sam didn't like to think about this, but he had to if he was going to understand what had happened enough to unwind it.

If her actual body was still out there in the ether, then she should definitely get the scars back and lose the tattoo. If it had been destroyed, well—then there was a chance that even putting her back in a woman's body wouldn't be quite the same. Would she notice? Would she mind? It would be one thing for the scars to be fixed—a blessing, really. But what if she came back, say, a virgin in body? At a minimum, her reaction was likely to traumatize Sam for life—but more seriously, he wasn't sure she'd ever trust a body like that, one that decisively signaled its lack of connection to her past. Still, it would be a woman's body, and so it would have to be better.

Muscles, Sam remembered, and felt an uncomfortable warm pulse in his stomach at the thought. Dee had transformed into a body that you didn't get without hard workouts, which meant that something of the specifics of her real form had been preserved. The scars were damage, he guessed, so they hadn't transferred. So the only question would be whether the shapeshifting magic perceived the protective tattoo as damage or as something else.

Put that way, the tattoo would probably have to be replaced. Shit, he realized, what if it interfered with restoring her?

Sam scrambled for his phone, half-hard dick forgotten, and hit the speed dial.

Bobby, grumbling at the hour and at Sam's frantic questioning, was just as clueless. He insisted that a protective symbol wouldn't interfere with any magic that was good and right. Sam hoped that Bobby was just trying to be reassuring, because if Bobby thought that Sam was limiting himself to white magic when Dee's life was at stake, he was a lot more delusional than Sam liked in an ally.

When Sam finally saw Dee's pickup ambling out of their room, loose-limbed and grinning like his brains had been sucked out of him, Sam didn't let half a minute go by before he was back in the room. Dee was showering, and when she came out, towel slung low around her hips, Sam could see that the skin around the tattoo was reddened and swollen, like her lips.

Maybe he needed a bodily transformation too, to burn the sickness out of him.

"I wish you wouldn't do that," Sam said, miserably, comforted only by the knowledge that she was going to misunderstand.

Sure enough, Dee just gave him her smarmiest grin. "Didja bring the beer?" she asked, and Sam rolled his eyes and pretended not to watch her get dressed.

****

Letting himself get caught and sent to prison, all alone, had been the hardest thing Sam had done since leaving Jess in the fire. And when Henricksen had shown up, smug like he knew all there was to know about the Winchesters, Sam had been so nervous he'd almost thrown up.

"She must have been like a mother to you," Henricksen had said, leaning forward over the scuffed table. Sam had stared at the place where some gang-banger had taken the time to etch out his initials—with what tool, Sam was kind of curious to know—now black with rubbed-in dirt. "You and your Dad, out on the road. Maybe too much like your mother. That kind of thing can really screw a person up, Sam. We know that. We can help her."

This was where Sam's self-control had given him an advantage. A more impulsive person—a more Dee person—might have said "Don't you talk about my sister that way," or "Nobody needs your kind of help." But Sam had been able to shut himself up and wait for his lawyer.

****

In Wildersville, Tennessee, a mother swept her toddler out of their way as they walked down the street, smiling and shouldering each other as they fought about where to eat lunch. Dee looked after the woman scurrying away, first befuddled, then sad. She spent the rest of the day keeping six inches of air between them at all times. Sam didn't quite have the heart to tell her that she was still cutting it too close.

****

Sam couldn't get the images out of his head: Dee and Jo, Jo's body soft and curving and small against Dee's. Dee was strong enough now to shove her up against a wall and fuck into her, Jo's legs wrapped around Dee's hips, calves pressed to Dee's ass, the muscles in Dee's back flexing thrust for thrust.

Then the fantasy changed, the three of them on a bed (have to be the size of a sailboat, but that was what fantasy was for, right?), Jo between them. Sam had never noticed her that way before, aside from the standard evaluation any guy would perform, but now he imagined tasting the skin at the back of her neck, salt-sweet, pressing against her. She was small enough that, standing, he'd look right over her head, easy enough to lean over and—

No, they'd be on their sides, Jo maybe with her leg thrown over Dee's hip, Sam sliding his hands around to cup her breasts, hands pinned between Dee and Jo as he rutted against her ass, feeling her body shake with the force of Dee moving inside her. Their body heat turning the sheets into a hot, sweaty mess, burning him up, Dee's hand curving over Jo's hip and down the sleek muscle of her thigh, Dee's fingertips just brushing against Sam's skin.

He pictured Dee with Jo riding him—

Sam snapped upright and the pounding water of the shower stung his shock-opened eyes. His cock lurched, disappointed, but even more pressing was the realization that he'd thought of Dee as a man. Once he'd given in to the fantasy, it was impossible to sustain his insistence that Dee was still entirely a woman, entirely his sister. The body he'd watched for all these months wasn't his sister's body.

He had to stop this, before he took his confusion too far.

****

Fifteen psychics around the world died at the same time, Bobby told them, bleeding in their brains, eyes burnt out. Sam and Dee bent over the phone together, foreheads touching, while he told them about what he'd heard. Bobby'd talked to four more psychics who'd survived and who swore that something horrible was coming. Hell, they said. Torture and screaming. Some of them saw man picking up a knife. "One of 'em said it was like—hearing all the bones in someone's body break. Like the world just got whacked off its axis and now we're headin' for the sun."

"'As if millions of voices cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced,'" Dee intoned.

"Boy," Bobby started peevishly, and then choked on the word. After a cough that didn't do a bit to cover the awkwardness, he continued, "I ain't tellin' you this for my health. All those signs and omens with Azazel, they're looking more and more like a rehearsal instead of the main event. I hear more and more about this Lilith demon, Lucifer's top lieutenant maybe, planning to blow Hell wide open. No more of this gates shit, they're goin' for open borders. What I don't know is how. You keep your eyes open and your backs to each other."

Sam didn't see why that part needed any telling, and from Dee's expression neither did she. But she managed to make nice with Bobby, promising to update him if and when they found more demons.

****

When Dee had figured out that Dad had traded himself to save her life, she'd been furious—mostly at herself, because she'd only allowed herself a hint of anger at Dad. Devastated and guilty, confessing to Sam at one point that she'd never thought Dad loved her enough to do that for her.

Sam hadn't known what to say to her. "Of course he did" only produced more self-loathing, like her inability to understand that just proved her worthlessness rather than evidencing Dad's stunted communication skills. And then Dee had admitted to Dad's final message: that the demon had plans for Sam, and that she had to save him.

She'd been so freaked out by every 'special' child they'd met that Sam had known she was terrified.

And then, when Sam had been the last of the children standing, Azazel had returned to deal his final blows. He'd told Sam that Sam was the winner by cheating—Dee had saved him with her willingness to shoot first and ask questions never when Sam should have been stabbed in the back—but then, Azazel had added, grinning widely, he approved of a good cheater. Plus, a love that powerful between the two of them gave him all kinds of opportunities.

Sam remembered watching the thing draw a knife down the hollow of Dee's neck, slitting her shirt open as he went, the thin red line only a hint of the other things he could do to her. "Put the Colt in the lock," the demon had said. "Either you lie back and think of England, or Dee does. I promise it'll feel good once you get used to it."

Sam never wanted to hear Dee begging to be allowed to die again. He'd caved,
accepting the Colt back as Dee writhed in pain, Azazel's hands all over her in ways that made the rage pulse through Sam like his blood had been replaced with pure poison.

"Let her go," Sam had demanded.

Azazel had smirked at him. "You know I can crush her throat while she's standing behind you, right?"

Sam had set his jaw. "Let her go or I've got no reason to believe you," because the demon had already made him an orphan and a widower in all but name. Azazel had shrugged, easily, like it was costing him nothing to agree, and Dee had come hurtling across the clearing, heels dragging on the ground because the bastard hadn't even let her control her own feet.

But he hadn't been paying attention to the right Winchester, because while Sam was capitulating, slotting the Colt in where it never should have gone, Dee was getting the last bullet ready for when she had her chance to grab the gun.

If Azazel hadn't been distracted by his triumph, his victory would have been complete, but instead Dee had taken him out, getting her vengeance and Sam's.

Only now they were responsible for the release of hundreds of demons onto the earth. They owed a debt they could never repay, and Sam—who had powers, who should have been able to fight off Azazel and save Dee without opening the damned door to Hell—was the major debtor. Like his father, he was going to leave hunting by way of a funeral pyre.

Divider

Part IV

In Amarillo, they found themselves at a séance held by a psychic who claimed to be able to return spirits to the land of the living. As a case, it didn't seem like anything special at first.

Edgar Callin was a decent-looking man with a receding hairline and kind eyes. He'd also been in contact with at least ten credulous people a week or less before they died, usually in what the authorities were calling accidents or suicides. Two of the dead left notes explaining that they knew they'd meet their lost ones in Heaven and couldn't wait any longer.

"You think he's the real deal?" Dee asked Sam as they checked out the approach to Callin's little office, nestled above a bodega. The big neon crystal ball in the window made his profession pretty clear, but the handwritten sign with prices promised 'Miss Polly's' psychic insights. Sam's research suggested that Callin had been in place for nearly five months, plenty of time for even the laziest businessman to put his own name in the window. So Callin either didn't care about his surroundings or had some other reason for laying low.

Sam shrugged. "It'd explain the deaths. Maybe the spirits didn't like being disturbed, maybe they told the victims to hurry up. Either way he's dangerous."

"If it's suicide, though," Dee said and stopped. Sam didn't like the sound of that at all. Sure enough: "If he's not harassing them, if the ghosts aren't loose, then these folks are checking out because they want to. Because what they heard from the people they loved made them want to die."

Sam remembered how, after Dad's death, Sam had routinely been more terrified for Dee on their hunts than he ever had been when he'd been a kid, when it was just the bad guys he had to be afraid of. Killing Azazel had saved her life in more ways than one, but Dad was a barely healed wound at best, scar tissue pink and ready to part at the slightest pressure.

After a lot of debate, they ended up telling Callin that they wanted to get in touch with their father. Sam didn't like parting with that much of the truth, but he couldn't trust Dee not to go ahead without him, and they needed to see Callin's act up close.

Callin had them sit at a little table, the cloth draped over it so long that it could have concealed any of the usual medium's tricks.

They made a small triangle around the table, hands linked. Dee's hand was big, warm and callused against Sam's fingers. She kept her face expressionless, but Sam knew she was sneering inside, nothing but contempt for the candles and crystals and all the other paraphernalia associated with idiots who thought that life after death had anything sweet or safe about it.

The flames flickered, breeze out of nowhere (or out of a hidden fan Callin turned on by tapping his toe). The temperature dropped five degrees in an instant. Sam smelled—Jesus, he smelled Dad, that mixture of sweat and road dust and just a hint of cheap alcohol, sharp in his nostrils and completely unmistakable.

And like that, he was there.

Sam hadn't believed it, still didn't, but his reaction to seeing his father's face was more than Pavlovian. He could have lost his memory and still tensed up when John Winchester was in the room.

All the emotions they'd buried—burned—after Azazel resurrected themselves instantly. Dee's hand clamped into a claw, her ragged nails digging into Sam's hand. Sam was hanging on pretty hard himself, ignoring how Callin whimpered.

Dad swept his gaze over the three of them, then stared at Sam. "You're not safe," he said. "You can't be safe on your own."

Sam meant to ask what Dad—the apparition—was talking about, but his mouth wouldn't obey.

"Where's your sister?" Dad asked then. "Sam, where's your sister?"

It was a gut-punch—Sam had known that his father must have traded himself for Dee's life, but he hadn't thought what it would mean to Dad to see Dee's changed form.

"She got out," Dee said, before Sam could react. If her voice was a little rough, there was no way that Dad would catch it. "Just like you wanted."

Dad smiled then, pure and golden, and the light spread around his edges until he disappeared into it and was gone.

Five minutes later, they stumbled outside, shellshocked and blinking against the streetlights. Callin was still upstairs, fleeing or counting his money or something else; Sam didn't care.

"It was fake," Sam said, not for the first time.

"Seemed fucking real to me," Dee snapped. She was stiff and her shoulders were pushed up around her ears. People on the street glanced at them and then looked away, not wanting to get involved.

"No way would Dad have been satisfied with that. No way," Sam insisted.

"I know you like to think that," Dee said. She sounded like she'd been torn up inside all over again courtesy of Azazel, like the words were coming out over a bed of gravel. "He always thought I could just leave."

As if Dee could change who she was just because she was a girl: turned out it was easier to change the being a girl part than being Dee, and Sam kind of wanted to call Dad back and shove that in his face. Except that Sam didn't believe that they'd seen Dad, not for a second.

"He would've known it was you," Sam insisted. That's what ghosts were, essence, it should have seen Dee's essence. It had ignored the truth and looked only at the surface, and Sam wasn't going to let it get away with that, Dee thinking that Dad had left her behind.

Dee just snorted and turned towards the car.

"Why would Dad want you to kill yourself? Because that's what it'd mean, if it was him. These things show up and they somehow push the clients to suicide. You think Dad's got some reason to do that?"

Dee spun and grabbed Sam's jacket, shoving him up against the security gate that protected the bodega, iron grating pressing painfully into his back. "What makes you think it's me he wants dead?" Her face was contorted into a snarl, anger and—Jesus, Dee was afraid.

"Dee?" Sam asked, his voice small and shrinking.

She released him and put her back to him again. Covered her face with her hands, then dropped them to the sides, fisted so tight Sam's own hands ached. "Dad," she said. Sam leaned closer, straining to hear. "Before he died. He told me—if I couldn't save you, I'd have to kill you."

"What?" Sam stammered, but his mind was racing. Compared to Dee's sanitized report the first time around, it made too much sense. The powers, Azazel's competition, Dad's terrible and overwhelming fear for his safety, always different than his fears for Dee. Dad had thought that Sam would give in. Or might give in; either way, Dad hadn't trusted him.

"He was wrong!" Dee yelled, like she could read his mind. "I'm not, I'd never—"

Sam couldn't stand it any more. He grabbed her, swung her around and hung on to her like they were still kids, back when they hugged and it didn't mean anything but comfort and safety. Her body was unfamiliar, almost terrifying with all the fear brought back by her revelation, but the buzzing electricity of touching her was infinitely better than standing alone. He'd never dared so much, but he needed her so badly right now.

After a long moment, her arms came up, first patting him on the back hesitantly and then pressing him closer, gripping so tight that his lungs complained. Sam sobbed, silently and without tears, into her shoulder. Across the street, someone catcalled in Spanish. Dee's muscles tensed, but she didn't move, didn't even lift her head to curse back.

They stood there like that, rocking each other in the damp night air, for a long time.

****

When Sam was recovered enough to think again, Dee had managed to get them back to their motel room; Sam didn't remember a moment of the journey. Sam headed to the shower, needing space to think.

He scrubbed his hair and bent under the limp stream from the aging pipes, low-pressure but at least warm, trying to make sense of it. Azazel was dead, his plan defeated. There was no reason for Dad to reiterate his warning, which—

Dripping, he slammed out of the bathroom, towel barely held on at his hips.

Dee was slumped on the bed. Her double-take as she looked him up and down would've been funny under other circumstances. "Jesus, what do you do while I'm out, use diamond cutters on those things?" She gestured at his abs, but Sam wasn't in the mood to be distracted.

"He didn't say anything about my powers, or the demon. That's because it wasn't him. I know it must've been bad to carry this around for so long, but he's not telling you to finish the job."

Which was when Dad's imago flickered into existence between them. "Sam," the thing—imposter—abomination said. "Sam, it's not safe. You have to go. You have to do it before the demons find you. Before you start to hurt people."

"No," Sam snapped, shaking his head. "That's over. What are you?"

Gone again, of course.

"It must be able to pick things up from people," Sam mused, heading to his laptop. "Surface thoughts maybe, maybe just from the target, because it still missed that you were you—"

Dee was still frozen on the bed, her face terrible with longing. "Is it really over, Sam?"

He closed his eyes and fought for calm. Water trickled down his back, over his calves, chilling him. "I haven't had a vision since you killed Azazel, you know that." And if there was sometimes still that little pulse at the back of his head, the one suggesting that maybe there were other ways to move a heavy door than by kicking it in or picking the lock, well, he was good at ignoring parts of himself he couldn't afford to let out.

Dee made a hitching sound, not very much like a laugh. "Say you're right. Say it's like your own personal siren, except instead of eating you it just wants you to kill yourself. What does that?"

"I don't know," Sam admitted. "Back with Callin, it didn't even try. It just asked what Dad would've asked. Maybe Callin sicced it on us or maybe he doesn't know what he's doing, but either way we need to start thinking about illusions. Glamors, death visions, anything like that."

"Psychopomps," Dee said, sitting up straighter.

"Hunh?" Sam shivered a little.

"Get some clothes on," Dee ordered, then pinked high on her cheeks, lowering her lashes. It was adorable, and it made Sam realize that he really needed to get dressed, so he headed for his bag.

Dee, meanwhile, headed to the laptop and started hunting and pecking. "Psychopomps," she said after a minute. "They escort the newly dead to the underworld. They can appear as familiar figures. Think Beatrice in Dante."

"You've read Dante?" Every time he thought he'd gotten Dee figured out—

"'s called Inferno, seemed like there'd be plenty of blood and guts," Dee said absently. "Anyway, remember that woman who harnessed the Reapers to do her bidding? So what if you're a psychic instead of a preacher, and you want to do some convincing communication with the dead? Suppose Callin binds a psychopomp 'stead of a Reaper, only it goes wrong somehow. The thing shows, but it doesn't go until its job is done."

"And that means that the person who saw the psychopomp has to be dead, or it's stuck."

Dee grinned up at him.

Sam nodded, buttoning his shirt. "Which explains why, when it shows up, it just behaves like a friendly ghost. Because that's what Callin got it to do. But once that's over—"

"Gaslight time," Dee finished.

"Okay, how do we destroy a psychopomp?"

Dee spun the computer around. "That's why you're the research guy."

Sam groaned, but inside he felt fifty pounds lighter. Dee's revelation had sucked, but as long as it didn't mean anything for them right now, he could deal with that.

If Dad was in Heaven, he was going to be awfully pissed at Dee for what she'd said to the psychopomp, Sam realized. Of course, that wasn't much of a problem for Dee, not being a believer.

Anyway, he had a mission, a good job. If they couldn't figure out how to destroy the psychopomp, they'd have to do something to Callin—in fact, they'd have to visit him anyway, to make clear that his ambition wasn't worth killing for—but for now, everything was pretty clear.

****

Callin was not pleased when they told him what they'd worked out. "What business is it of yours?" he asked.

"It's our business since you're killing people," Dee snapped. "And now you sicced your little faker on my brother. So get rid of it or we'll see if getting rid of you works."

Sam, meanwhile, was smashing every object he could find in Callin's studio that looked vaguely like it could be a focus. Callin probably would've been squawking louder about that if he'd been able to take his eyes off Dee's gun. The pearl-handled Colt looked a little funny in Dee's hand, like it had shrunk, but Sam was probably the only one in the world who thought that.

As Sam picked up a pretty nice scrying crystal, Jess appeared before him, still in her white nightgown.

"Sam," she said, and he froze, no matter how well he knew it was a lie. She was exactly as he remembered, blonde and glowing, wide smile all for him. Her eyes were kind, not wary like they'd been, looking between him and Dee like she couldn't believe Dee was really his sister. She raised her hand, reaching out to him. "Come join me."

"Sam!" Dee's voice, changed but newly familiar, clawed through the haze of regret Jess's image had instantly created.

"I can't," he said, as if he'd really been talking to her. He'd never get a chance to say he was sorry, and even if he had—he'd gotten her killed. This creature wearing her face was a lesser violation.

"Sam," she said, fond and sweet. "Do you really think you're making the world a better place? Do you even know what's to come?"

"What does that mean?" he asked.

"We know things," the apparition said, flickering a little, from Jess to Mom and back. "It's not our fight, but we aren't stupid. We've got a lot of work to look forward to. And you, Sam, you're the one who's going to give it to us. Unless you decide to do something for the world instead of yourself. It's selfish, you know, hanging on. You can't have a normal life. But you can have a normal death, if that's what you choose."

"Fuck that noise," Dee said, and Callin cried out in pain.

"The altar," Callin whimpered. He must have gestured or nodded or something, because there was more noise, Dee stomping around and breaking things. Sam couldn't take his eyes off the psychopomp.

"What am I going to do?" he demanded. He couldn't afford to assume it was a lie, the way he'd brushed off his visions. "What am I going to do?"

The psychopomp shook its head—Jess's head. "Doesn't work like that." Then there was a crash and a bang. It disappeared, then reappeared two feet to the left. "That stung."

Sam realized that, even if they'd destroyed the psychic's connection to the thing, it was still fixated on him. And even if he was as stubborn as Dee always claimed, he wasn't sure he could survive constant hounding like this for very long. "Some help here, Dee!"

"All the inscriptions are Greek," Dee called out. He heard a meaty thud—he guessed that Callin had been trying to sneak away.

Sam tried to think. Greek rituals—

There was a Greek incantation for the protection of the living. Pay the dead in blood and ask them to depart. It might work on messengers of the dead, too. Sam grabbed his knife and, before he could think too hard about it, pushed his sleeve back so that he could slice his skin near the bend of the elbow, where it would bleed freely but not slow him down.

Jess—the psychopomp—blinked greedily at him. He collected the blood in his palm, beginning to chant the unfamiliar syllables. It had been a long time.

"Sending me away won't change the facts," she said, but she was already bending her head, bringing her ghostly hands up as if she could hold him in place. When the phantom lips touched his bloody skin, he felt a shock of cold, like he'd been slammed into a meat locker. Her hair fell over her face, for which Sam was profoundly grateful.

When she raised her head, her mouth was as bloody as if she'd been beaten.

"Ironic tribute," she said. "But well enough. I'll see you later, Sam Winchester."

She disappeared, and for a while there was only the sound of Callin's hitching, whimpering breaths.

"Well, that wasn't at all disturbing," Dee said at last.

"You heard all that," Sam said, needing confirmation.

"Fucking with your mind," Dee said immediately.

"It wasn't a demon," Sam pointed out.

Dee snorted. "Demons lie, people lie, you think there's a creature that can talk and doesn't lie? Dude, she straight-up admitted her job was to get you to off yourself, and ten dead bodies says she was a fuckin' wizard at it."

Dee wasn't wrong. But Sam couldn't help but feel that this was all far from over.

****

Bobby sent them to Rufus Turner to find out more about a woman who's selling supernatural artifacts to people who had no business having them. Dee took the lead in the discussion with the paranoid and ill-tempered hunter, and Sam should've been used to that, but it was weird. He couldn't figure out what was different, until he realized that Rufus was hardly paying him any attention, content to answer Dee's questions and swap stories about favorite weapons.

Sam didn't like to admit it, but he was much more used to other hunters automatically turning to him when the gory details came up. Back when he'd been a sullen, too-tall kid dragged along on one of Dee's Dad-assigned missions, he'd generally just sneered and told them that Dee was the one who cared. After Stanford, he'd usually glanced over at Dee, smiling as friendly as he would at any stranger, and suggested that she was the one who took care of the weapons and planning end of the hunts. He'd gotten a kick out of the disbelief. He'd thought it was funny.

Dee had never said anything, just grinned her aw-don't-mind-little-ol'-me grin, so he'd assumed that she'd thought it was funny too.

But watching her banter with Rufus, knowing him fifteen minutes and already trading barbs about his drinking habits, Sam thought about how she'd responded so well to Gordon, who'd blown off Sam from the get-go, and wondered if he'd been right about that after all.

****

Sam didn't get any more sanguine about the larger demonic situation when the guy who claimed to be an angel showed up in their motel room. After removing Sam's knife from his shoulder and putting up a hand and somehow containing Dee's shotgun blast in a weird bubble that winked out of existence after they'd had long enough to gape at it, he said that their father had begun the breaking of the seals. "It might have been you, had you been in your present state," he told Dee, when he explained about the righteous man, which of course led Dee to conclude (not for the first time) that God was an enormous asshole. Sam was closer and closer to that opinion every day himself.

"You got nothing but words to back that up," Dee pointed out when the thing had finished its improbable story.

"I have been attempting to reach you for days," Castiel (as the thing called himself, but any monster with half a brain could make up a name that ended in "el") said, impatient as Dad trying to get Sam to do his target practice. "But without a vessel, my voice only caused you pain."

Sam was about to ask about the 'vessel' business, but the look on Dee's face stopped him. "What?" he asked her, and watched her shoulders hunch and her eyes drop.

"You did that?" she asked. "Blew out all the windows at that haunted house and then back at the motel?"

Which was the first Sam had heard about any of that. He'd been pretty annoyed when he'd returned from the library only to find that Dee had packed up all his stuff—badly—and moved it to a new room on the other side of the motel. She'd said it was because of a funny smell, but he should've known better; Dee was too indifferent to ordinary niceties to have switched for that reason. Plus there had been silvery grit on top of his bags, which he'd blamed on her sloppiness but could've been glass. And then she'd been jumpier at the cemetery than the ghost's record would have indicated, which made more sense if she'd been lying about what had happened at the haunted house.

She wouldn't meet his glare. A muscle in her jaw twitched.

The being cleared his throat. "I believed that, as one of God's chosen, you would be able to hear me in my true form. Perhaps your ... present circumstances have interfered with your inherent capacity. I took a vessel and returned," Castiel said.

Okay, so this thing was possessing a human body, which put it further in the dubious category. Also it knew about Dee's transformation and thought that the body mattered. Sam felt his mind spinning like a compass on a magnet. The only thing that was obvious was that they were in danger, especially since he could see Dee leaning towards the thing like she wanted to touch it.

"I will show you," Castiel continued, and before Sam could do anything he stepped forward and put two fingers on Dee's forehead. Sam pulled his gun, for all the good it would do, while Dee's eyes fluttered and her expression blanked. She—her body—the face was so beautiful, like a saint in ecstasy, lips falling open and head tilting upwards, seeking some invisible light.

When Castiel dropped his hand, Dee stood for a few seconds, shuddering. She opened her eyes and found Sam's instantly. "Dad's in Hell because of me," she said, words Sam could happily have banished to oblivion the first time he heard them, no more fun two years later.

"That is not why I showed you—" Castiel began.

"Get him out or you get nothing from us," Dee said.

Sam twitched, but kept his mouth shut. They needed a united front against this being—angel—and if he was telling the truth about the apocalypse being nigh, then they could talk more about Dad's role later.

Castiel frowned, like Dee was being deliberately obtuse. "He is a torturer now."

Dee got in Castiel's face and grabbed his tie, shoving him backwards as she snarled. "I don't care. Take me there and I'll drag him out myself."

"I don't believe it," Sam said, forcing them both to turn their heads, Dee's hand still fisted at Castiel's collar. "Dad's too stubborn. He'd never give in."

"Time moves differently in Hell," Castiel said, with the first trace of gentleness he'd shown. "His capitulation was recent. Before he broke, his subjective experience lasted hundreds of years."

Dee shook. Sam couldn't even begin to process how this was going to fuck her up. Sam set his shoulders. "Dee's right. If what you're saying is true, the first thing on the list is getting him out."

Castiel tilted his head. "The seals are breaking as Lilith aids Lucifer's rise. One man—"

"If you can't do this you're not worth helping," Sam snapped. Dee shook herself and released Castiel, backing away.

Castiel gave no sign that he'd even noticed. After a moment, he straightened—still shorter than Dee, Sam noted automatically. "Very well. But you must take my direction. You must keep the seals intact. You must reject your demonic heritage," to Sam, like having a demon bleed in his mouth when he was a baby was the same as being born and raised to a tradition.

Then the room had only Winchesters in it. "What did he show you?" Sam asked, gently.

Dee shook her head and didn't open her mouth. Sam thought he might be grateful for that.

They'd just managed to get Bobby on the phone when Castiel returned and the call dropped. His tie was askew and lines of blood were trickling down his face. He stayed only long enough to snap, "It is done. Prepare yourself." He disappeared almost before he'd stopped speaking, somehow not like a ghost did; Sam imagined the snap of wings.

They still had no clue whether Castiel was telling the truth. Bobby allowed as how there were a bunch of prophecies about the end times and that a sign or two had shown up recently, but Sam figured that evil things could read prophecies and claim them to advantage as well as anyone else could. Castiel could have set the whole thing up without going anywhere near Dad or Hell; all it would have cost him to pretend to be some great rescuer was getting his face messed up.

Though she wouldn't provide any details, Dee said that what Castiel had showed her had felt real. But then so had the djinn's magic, and the Trickster's, and the psychopomp's. If Dee believed Castiel, Sam thought it was only because he was better-looking.

****

A week after they met Castiel, Dee broke down and talked, though not in the way Sam had expected. "It isn't so bad," Dee said, looking down at the stake she was whittling.

Sam knew this was Dee's way of having an emotional conversation without admitting she cared, but he still needed some clarification. "What's not so bad?"

"Dean Winchester isn't wanted for murder in three states, and Henricksen doesn't give a soft fart about you. It's not like I have some guy waiting for me at home, anyway. And I'm stronger, faster. My aim's even back where it was."

Sam blinked at her from his place at the little table. He closed his computer, because she needed to know he was taking her seriously. "But you still want to change back, right?" You said you missed your hair, he thought, but figured that would trigger mockery even in her serious mood.

Dee's hands stilled. "I don't know. I've had some time, and—there's a bunch of upsides, that's all."

"You're saying it's better to be a man?"

Dee scowled. "Hunting's hard enough. We got an apocalypse heading at us on a one-lane highway, and I don't need to be the freakin' Gloria Steinem of the supernatural, all right?"

"You're just as good, no matter what your genitals look like!" he protested.

Dee looked at him like he had a hole in his head, except that if he really did she would have been taking care of him, not frowning like she was two seconds away from punching him. "You never had a cop arrest you for solicitation and then tell you it'd all be okay if you just leaned over and made him happy. And looking like this I never have to, either."

Sam gaped at her. "You were—were you really—?"

"Not the point of the story, Sammy!" She ran a hand through her hair and looked away. "Or I guess it is. Even you, with your liberal college ideas—it matters to you. If you looked at me—at the way I was—and thought, 'that girl sucked cock for money,' you'd think worse of me. But the guys we work with—the guys we have to work with—didn't go to Stanford. You think they look at me and see anything they want in a fight? Dee Winchester got to hang out with the boys because she was John Winchester's girl. And that lasts about ten seconds with the younger guys, until they make a pass and decide I'm a bitch. Dean Winchester—he could do stuff."

Sam opened and closed his mouth. He'd never thought—never spent much time thinking about Dee being a woman and a hunter. Rarely had to; it was just who she was. And he'd never thought hard about how she got the cash to fund them. Because yeah, in theory he supported any choice a woman made, but the thought of Dee—

"Yeah," Dee said and smiled. The expression was bitter and amused and it fit on her new face. Sam was beginning to think it would have fit on her real one, too, only he'd never seen it. "Not that it's any of your business, but the cop busted me because he could, not because I was doing anything." Which wasn't really an answer to the bigger question, but she was right—he wasn't entitled to that.

"What happened?" he asked. "Not because I—" He stopped, tried again. "It matters to me if you got—hurt."

She nodded slightly, accepting the intended apology. "Headbutted him, left town. You think I collected your sorry ass just for shits and giggles? Hunting alone's a bad idea. But I'm stronger like this." She swallowed, blinked a little too fast. "We beat back this whole seals business and you could go back to school," she continued, her voice low.

He goggled at her. How had they gotten so confused about each other's expectations? Or maybe this was about the thing she wasn't saying. Maybe she really did hate it so much, despite how eager she was, that she'd split them apart to avoid it.

"I'm not going back to school," he said, just to have that out of the way.

Dee snorted and picked up her stake again.

****

After Castiel, Ruby's story seemed a lot more convincing. She was wearing a dark-haired, pale-skinned little thing now, with a flirtatious smile she abandoned when Sam socked her across the jaw.

Unfortunately, she agreed with the angel about the seals. "Lilith wants the two of you, bad," she said from within the Devil's Trap she'd let Sam draw around her, as a show of trust. "She thinks if she kills you she'll be able to break all the seals."

"Why should I believe you?" He was glad that Dee was out on her increasingly obsessive angel-hunt, looking for information in old libraries with an enthusiasm she usually reserved for new weaponry. He didn't want Dee to see him if he had to get ugly with the demon.

Ruby shrugged. "Sam, it's not like I have to be here. I don't want the world to end, 'kay? I like walking around up here. It's nicer than Hell. Fry potatoes, not people, that's my motto. Plus, it's all up to you. You're the one with the power. I can make you stronger, teach you to use what's inside you. But in the end you're the only one who can keep Lilith from succeeding."

He circled her. The host body was young, beautiful. Tight and fresh like Meg. Was she really a woman? Did demons even have a sex? Even tied down and with a trickle of blood running from one nostril where he'd hit her, she looked cool and confident.

"If you know so much, what's Lilith's plan?" he demanded.

"She's not that stupid," Ruby informed him, as if suspecting that someone in the room was that stupid. "She doesn't go around explaining herself to lesser demons. I can tell you one thing I found out, though: it's got something to do with the way your sister's wearing the wrong meatsuit."

Sam nearly lunged through the Devil's Trap at that, wanting to grab her and shake her until she explained. "Lilith did that?" he asked. It was the first time anyone or anything had even suggested a possible motive for the creatures.

Ruby shrugged, letting the ropes cut into her arms. "I don't know about God, that asshole's been missing for millenia, but I'll tell you this—angels have a hard-on for brothers who end up beating the shit out of each other. Cain and Abel. Isaac and Ishmael. Jacob and Esau. Michael and Lucifer. Sisters don't really enter into it. I think those winged bastards set you up to make it easier for you to turn on each other. Even without the testosterone, she's fucked up, and you know it."

It made a certain sick sense. Sam had been off balance, maybe more than Dee had, since the transformation. If he was supposed to play some sort of starring role in Lilith's plan, then Dee would always try to hold him back. But it was hard for him to hear her in her new voice. "Dee's fine," he said, and hated the uncertainty he heard.

"Sam," and she was so sympathetic that he wanted to punch her, "she's way past fine. I mean, think about what suddenly having the wrong body does to a person. The only thing that she was in charge of—the only thing she could trust not to leave or be taken away—gone. Half of what gets us so furious at you meatsacks is having to live in the wrong one."

That made too much sense. He'd fought so hard for control of his own life, and to lose himself, literally lose himself—it would be worse than disorienting; he could see how it would further demons' corruption. Demons stole bodies and treated them badly, like Sam and Dee treated motel rooms: just borrowing. Dee wasn't being careless with her male body, not like that, but then she couldn't afford to be; she still was in no way at home.

He paced around the trap, unable to look away and unable to reject what she'd said. Demonic plots aside—Dee needed him. If he could help her in any way—

"You can fix her," Ruby said. "You just need to practice."

"Practice?" Sam asked. Demons lied—but he could use that too, use it to figure out what her game was.

"She's been transformed from her natural shape, right? Something foreign to her nature changed her inside. What do you think possession is, Sam? It's an unnatural transformation. You learn how to remove demons without exorcism, you'll be able to put her back."

So Sam listened. Ruby even thought that the protective tattoo wouldn't stop him from fixing Dee, because it was protection against the demonic, not against setting things right. "But what you're telling me to do, that's—"

"I'm not telling you to possess her!" she snapped. "Think about it. That ink won't stop you from being picked up and thrown around by a demon, which I'm prepared to demonstrate if you don't stop whining. It won't get in your way once you have the power, either."

Sam wavered.

"Look," she said, holding up her arm and rolling down her sleeve, "start with me. I'm putting myself in your hands, Sam. I trust you."

And maybe it was just so much like what Dee would've said, the kind of thing he wasn't hearing from her any more in that disturbing new body. Sam wanted to believe her. He needed to believe that he could fix this.

If you thought about it, Sam's own body was warped from their close encounters with the demonic, had been since he was a baby. It didn't make him evil—it didn't have to, as long as he was using the powers to help people. His telekinesis had saved Dee from Max, long ago. This wasn't that much different.

Sam had been polluted nearly from the start, but Dee hadn't been part of Azazel's plan. If Sam could fix her, then that meant that there was hope for someone, even if he wasn't ever going to get what he wanted.

Sam stepped forward.

Divider

Part V

They took out a nest of vampires in Oklahoma, just a hunt they'd found and been unable to ignore, even though it was unrelated to what Dee insisted on referring to as Saving the Baby Seals for Jesus.

They had to take the family they saved from the vampires' cage to the hospital, four grown-ups and a kid wedged together in the back of the Impala. The two who weren't too shocked to talk spent practically the whole time thanking Dee while Dee alternately smirked and tightened her hands on the steering wheel, and Sam couldn't help but feel a little underappreciated. Maybe the demon blood was making him give off bad vibes.

Sam tried to remember what the people they'd saved had said in the past. He was pretty sure they'd paid more attention to Sam, enough that Dee had developed a line about how she'd taught her little brother the family business. He guessed she didn't need to use that one any more.

Dee helped the mom out of the backseat and shook the dad's hand before they took off. If it made her feel better, Sam supposed, it wasn't too great a diversion from the task at hand.

****

"If you want to fuck me, just say so," Dee snapped, and Sam brought his head up from his book, his stomach lurching.

His heart slowed a bit when he saw that Dee was glaring at Castiel. "What's going on?" he asked, because Castiel was staring back as if Dee hadn't said anything at all.

"He just keeps watching me," Dee complained. "Seriously, Cas, this is not the way to get in my pants."

Yeah, asking is, Sam thought, but kept his mouth shut and turned back to his book, which was supposed to have some information relevant to the seals. Ruby kept saying they wouldn't find anything, and so far she'd been right, but it was important not to rely on a single source.

"I apologize," Castiel said, with the air of a man scrabbling for the appropriate response to his pissed-off girlfriend. "Your aspect and your being are ... distinct. It is ... most disconcerting."

That brought Sam's head right up again. "You mean, you can see her? How she really is?"

Dee made a disgusted sound but didn't elaborate.

Castiel didn't stop watching her. "Yes."

"Is it—" Sam stopped and swallowed. He didn't want to ask in front of Dee, but the angel didn't exactly show up in Dee's absence (which added something to Dee's just-proposition-me-already stance, but he couldn't afford to worry about that now). "Is it anything like demonic possession?"

But Castiel shook his head. "The soul is not demonic or invading, only configured for another body."

"What does that even mean?" Dee complained. Sam wasn't so sure himself. Just because Dee's soul hadn't kicked another one out—just because it wasn't a demon soul—that still sounded bad, like Ruby had said.

"You are not who you were," Castiel said, like he thought he was answering Dee's question.

"Yeah, well, who is," Dee muttered and went to grab herself another beer. Sam bit his lip and didn't watch. The last thing he needed was another hissy fit from Dee over his monitoring of her incipient alcoholism.

"Your corruption is of course visible as well," Castiel said to Sam, almost as if he was trying to make Dee feel better by stepping on Sam. "It increases every time you have intercourse with the demon."

Dee spewed beer all over herself and the floor as Sam rose to his feet. "I'm not sleeping with her!" he protested. And yes, Sam wanted to fuck Ruby, because he wasn't getting any elsewhere; plus he was spending so much time up close and personal with her, even more intimate than sex, but he couldn't quite allow himself to make a move knowing that he'd be going back to Dee right after. He was afraid—or maybe he hoped—that Dee would know if he got laid, and then there'd be fireworks. The whole situation made his stomach churn with inchoate desire. Anyway, Castiel couldn't give a shit about where Sam was or wasn't getting off. This was about Dee, Sam just knew it, and fuck if the angel hadn't picked the best possible tactic for it.

"How would you describe your interactions, then?" Castiel asked, all vicious righteousness.

"What are you doin' with a demon, Sam?" Dee demanded a second later.

Sam squared his shoulders and turned so that he was only facing Dee. "She's helping me learn to control the powers. So we can fight Lilith better."

Dee wiped her face with her forearm, eyes lowered so that he couldn't see what she was thinking. "I oughta beat the crap out of you," she muttered. "When were you gonna tell me about your girlfriend?"

"She's not my girlfriend—When I was strong enough to make it mean something," Sam said. He meant it, really.

"Cas," Dee said, "can you take off? I gotta talk to my brother."

Sam wished he could see the satisfaction on the angel's face, something to point to as proof that Castiel was just making trouble for his own purposes. But instead Castiel only nodded, damage done, and popped out of existence.

And despite what she'd said to Castiel, Dee didn't say anything more, not then, letting her disgust speak for her. A couple of times Sam started to explain—he needed to be strong enough to protect her; they couldn't afford to ignore any possible advantage. By the way Dee turned her back and set her shoulders, she didn't find any of that persuasive.

Finally she broke—patience was never her strong suit even before her transformation—and headed towards the door, still not looking at Sam. "The only thing I wanna hear about this bitch," she said as she snapped the locks open, "is that you're done with her."

Sam waited half the night for her to return, slow-footed in the dark of the room. She stood by his bed for a minute, and he could smell the alcohol and almost hear her stumbling, unhappy thoughts. "Sammy," she said, helpless and pleading, and then she broke for the bathroom to retch.

Sam, miserable at her intransigence, her unwillingness to listen just like Dad's, didn't get up to help.

****

Sam went to put the shotguns back in the trunk and Dee's duffel was missing, the one she'd had since she was fifteen, the bottom so stiff with motel carpet dirt that it was as inflexible as plywood.

He searched the car for fifteen minutes, looking in the same places three and four times, checking spaces it would never have fit. He was freaking out when Dee came out of the motel room and tossed the duffel in the back in its usual spot.

"Your bag—" he said.

Dee's eyes flickered to him, then to the open trunk.

"Where's your stuff?" he asked. Their clothes didn't last, but there were a couple of T-shirts she'd had since before Sam left for Stanford, a red leather jacket, a pair of biker boots, and some other items—hair dryer with weird attachments, a lighted makeup mirror. But Dee must have put her men's clothes in the duffel.

Dee shuffled so that she was standing next to him and leaned into his shoulder, just a touch. "Figured it was time to make some space," she said. After a minute, she pulled away. He watched her move around to the front of the car, because he always watched her move now.

****

As soon as he let her in, Ruby strolled over to Sam's bed and eased down, propping herself up on her elbows as she raised an eyebrow impatiently. Her shirt pulled free of her pants, letting him see her (her host's) stomach. The skin there was even paler than her arms, and he had a flash of himself feeding there, suckling against her softness.

This was way out of control.

"You found out anything more about what happened to Dee?" he demanded, mostly as a distraction. He wanted the blood—no, he wanted the power it brought—but he wasn't a fucking junkie.

She shook her head. "Come on," she urged. "I've got some leads I want to follow up on. As soon as I put a tiger in your tank I've got to run."

Sam bit his lip. Of course she'd say exactly that if she didn't want him to think too hard. But if she were telling the truth—

"I still need to know how it happened," he insisted. "The things that did this, they didn't look anything like angels."

"The true form of an angel would burn your eyes out of their sockets," Ruby snapped, sitting all the way up. "Anyway, you think they want you to know what's going on? Nobody leaves a signed calling card in this game, Sam."

What about you, Sam wondered.

Still, Dee was in trouble. He had to take the risk.

He dug his switchblade out of his back pocket and walked over to the bed.

****

Sam was sitting against the headboard, waiting for the rush to diminish enough to let him walk straight, when the door popped open with a loud bang, the broken lock hanging ragged from the edge. Dee stood panting and furious in the doorway.

"Get that bitch out of here," Dee said.

Ruby sniggered and uncoiled herself from the edge of the bed, where she'd been lying in an irritatingly post-coital pose. "Bitch? Really? 'Cause I'm thinking you lost your pass there, Dean-O."

"Don't call her that," Sam said, sharply, before Dee could open her mouth. Except Dee turned her angry glare on him, which was infuriating.

"You like skank better?" Dee asked, tone almost pleasant. "I got a list and I'm pretty sure you'd fit any word on it."

"I know you are, but what am I?" Ruby asked sweetly in return. "Sam," turning towards him like she'd just switched channels, "this is not productive. This is grown-up business and we don't have time for temper tantrums."

"Ruby," Sam said, controlling himself with an effort, "could you please leave?"

She sneered at them both but complied, shoving past Dee with what had to be demonically enhanced strength so that Dee collided hard with the wall. Dee scowled at her, then went back to scowling at Sam.

"Training your powers needs a no-tell motel now, Sam?"

"It's not like that," he said, placating. "What we do, it can't be public."

"Yeah, what's that?" Dee was unbending, radiating anger like she was facing down something that had been killing children.

"Learning to kill demons."

Dee scoffed.

"No, kill them. Not just send them back to Hell to try again, like Meg did. Hell didn't exactly contain Lilith either. That's what I can do."

"Really," Dee said, drawing it out. "'Cause you've been to Hell and looked all through every corner and seen that the demons you've ganked on your own—and believe me we are gonna have a conversation about that part too—aren't there any more?"

Sam swallowed. "I can feel it," he said. "It's different, when I do it." Visible too, the way they pooled and dissipated, rather than shooting off into the sky. Sam wondered if Dee would ever listen.

Dee sighed and slowly approached the bed. Sam wanted to stand up, but he was honestly unsure if his legs were ready to hold him. She sat down on the edge, right where Ruby had been, turning herself so that she could examine him. "Cas says that what you're doing is wrong. When did you start listening to demons over angels?"

Sam wanted to ask when she started listening to angels, though he knew the answer was 'when the hot guy showed up,' and it wasn't that he didn't get it—an angel telling Dee that God approved of her had to be pretty persuasive. "I don't trust her," he explained. "But I think we can use her."

Dee rubbed her hand over her mouth. "And I think you're heading the wrong way down a one-way road, Sammy. Please," she said, and Sam leaned forward, hands clenching and unclenching, barely restraining himself from reaching to touch her face. "You've been hiding from me, means you know it's wrong. Please stop."

Sam swallowed, thinking about how he'd kept the admission letter secret from Dee up until the night he left, and then how he'd refused to talk about his prophetic dreams for months. He hadn't been able to keep from hurting her, but at least she'd been protected for as long as possible.

"Okay," he said.

****

Castiel continued to send them on missions, mostly futile, to save different seals. He continued to lecture Dee on obedience and Sam on—well, Sam wasn't really clear on that part. 'Do what you're told' was only useful when you were specifically told what to do. Castiel didn't have instructions so much as he had random words. If the angel (and yeah, okay, he believed now—hard to deny what had happened with Pamela, and Anna, and then that dick Uriel) would've given him a fucking explanation he would have at least considered giving up Ruby on the side.

But without knowing what the angels' plans were, or why the Winchesters were so important, or why Castiel refused to consider angelic intervention to fix Dee, Sam was hardly of a mind to surrender the only weapon he had that actually worked against demons. The last two exorcisms he'd done hadn't even given him headaches.

****

"Your father sucked my cock in Hell," Alastair crooned in Dee's ear. "He was so sweet. But I think you'll be sweeter."

Sam stepped forward just as Alastair's hand disappeared between his stolenbody and Dee's. He ignored how weakly Dee was struggling where she was bound, set it aside because she was breathing and everything else was negotiable. He flicked his hand and Alastair zoomed back against the far wall like a cartoon character who'd just had gravity reversed on him.

The demon opened his mouth, doubtless to say something even more vile, but Sam raised his palm and concentrated. Alastair was stronger than any demon Sam had faced before, like going from weeding dandelions to hacking away at thousand-year oaks. But Dee was pinned up, maybe even crucified for real, and Sam pulled hard at him, at the unnatural connection between spirit and body. The demon was threaded through the host like mold, black tendrils in every cell, corrupting everything it touched. Sam clenched his fist and heard himself snarl, felt the pain waiting and forced it back as he ripped bleeding chunks out of the demon.

The satisfaction of ganking a thing that had enjoyed hurting Dee was worth Castiel's disapproving non-expression. Sam had saved Dee when the angel couldn't, bleeding and beaten from his own attempt, which was proof enough that Sam's way was better.

"Stop what you're doing, Sam," Castiel said that night, appearing behind Sam as he was brushing his teeth.

Sam spat in the sink, not a message, just clearing his mouth, and turned. This close he practically had to bend over to get in Castiel's face. "Or what?" He didn't expect an answer, not a useful one anyway. But he had to go through the motions, if only so that he could humor Dee's inexplicable fondness for the guy.

"You grow arrogant," the angel said, a real mote/beam situation if Sam had ever seen one. "Stop or I'll tell your—sister about what you've been doing with the demon."

Sam should have been worried about the threat, but he got hung up on the slight hesitation in Castiel's voice. Like he wasn't sure what to call Dee. Angels and their fucking categories, as if angels were so great; as if demons couldn't want to avert the apocalypse.

"What I'm doing, I'm doing to be strong enough to protect Dee. Take Lilith out."

"Are you so sure those are the same?" Castiel asked, and was gone before Sam could think of an answer.

Alone, Dee still a night away from being able to leave the hospital against medical advice, Sam wondered whether Castiel would make good on his promise. Dee might even, under the circumstances, throw a punch or two.

But Sam would explain—something the angels steadfastly refused to do. He'd remind Dee of how they'd stood up to Dad together at last, and how they'd eventually been able to take down Azazel by trusting each other, even when things looked worst. Dee had been unconscious for what he'd done to Alastair, but Sam would tell the story, and she'd see how helpful his ability would be.

Meanwhile, the angels had traitors in their midst, and even though Castiel wasn't one he'd followed orders and handed Dee over to Alastair like a Christmas present. Holy destiny could go get fucked if that kind of maneuver was plausible enough to fool Castiel.

Not to mention, what in Hell's name did Lilith want from Dee? Hostage for Sam's compliance was obvious (though that just pushed the question back where Sam didn't want it: what were their plans for him?), but Alastair hadn't seemed particularly invested in preserving Dee's life.

There'd been a time when the only worrisome puzzles in his life had involved the LSAT. Sure, he'd been deluding himself, and he wished he'd known so that he could have stayed away from Jess and anybody else who might've gotten hurt. But he missed that innocence nonetheless.

****

Sam snuck away for three hours in Plano and practiced on frogs. Frogs were his idea; Ruby had wanted him to start with something mammalian, but frogs could sometimes change sex all on their own, prodded by environmental factors, so Sam figured it would be easier to start with them.

It wasn't, in part because the little fuckers hopped all over the motel room; Sam ended up squashing two without even trying to use his mojo. Plus Ruby's editorial commentary didn't help, especially when she started trying to figure out what exactly exploded frogs smelled like.

By the end, he had ten dead frogs, one live one that apparently had resisted his every attempt, and two that maybe, possibly, he'd managed to swap. Sam's cunning plan had also overlooked that he was not particularly adept at sexing frogs. Who knew that frogs lacked external genitalia? Somehow in their travels around America during his adolescence, involving eleven separate biology classes, he'd never dissected a single one. He really thought there had been noticeable changes in two of the survivors, though.

Sam desperately wished he had someone to talk to about what he was doing (not Ruby; she was practically wearing a sign that said DON'T TRUST ME on her forehead). But he wasn't going to get Dee's hopes up until he was ready, not to mention that she would violently disapprove of his methods. For the same reasons, Bobby was out of the question.

He felt as isolated as he had during his brief prison stay—cut off from friendly faces, deliberately hunting on his own for the first time ever. Now there was a time that Dee's sex had been incredibly inconvenient. Even if she'd let herself get arrested, she wouldn't have been taken to the right place.

It had been useful (and reassuring) to have her outside, even as he'd been terrified that Henricksen would catch her—Henricksen knew as well as anyone that Dee Winchester would never leave Sam behind. The only saving grace was that he hadn't known about Deacon. If Deacon hadn't been willing to smuggle a cellphone in to give Sam a few brief moments a day to talk to her, she probably would have broken in to get him.

And now he was thinking about Dee in the past tense. Maybe she was gone—drowned inside this new person, altered as surely as she'd been transformed that night so many years ago in Lawrence.

Of course she wasn't gone, exactly, only sea-changed—but there was a world of difference between bone and coral, eyes and pearls. The change had been unnatural, twisted, unwelcome.

Any more unnatural and unwelcome than what had happened when they were kids?

He couldn't make sense of it, how to distinguish between the ordinary and horrific reconfigurations that turned a kid into a woman and the bizarre switch that had taken place here. He knew that what had happened was wrong, and so it felt wrong to endorse it by accepting it.

But if they went ahead with Sam's plan, she'd be reborn out of the destruction of the man who'd taken her place. How could he sacrifice one for the other?

How could he not?

****

Two seals lost in one day. Castiel lectured and left (Sam practically expected him to assign extra wind sprints before leaving; practically expected Dee to yessir and act like Sam was the unreasonable one). Ruby called and told him that he was an idiot, that Lilith was getting closer and that he was going to have to make some decisions, like whether he wanted to spend the rest of his short life cuddled up to Dee or whether he wanted to protect her instead. She wouldn't come meet him, though; said he needed a reminder of just how little he could do without her help.

So Sam was far from opposed to Dee's crap plan of getting shitfaced and ignoring the rest of the world for one night.

One bonus of Dee's transformation was that the women at the bars they went to were, on average, a lot less pushy then the men when neither of them gave any welcoming glances back. Back when Dee had been herself, half the time they went out Sam'd had to stand up to his full height to dissuade her suitors, and half the time he did that Dee'd decided she'd changed her mind and wanted a hookup after all, probably just to spite him.

They did get drinks sent to them these days (instead of the old version where it was just Dee who was so blessed), usually by a group that was already halfway lit, and then Sam felt honor-bound to be as nice as he could be about declining further interaction. But overall the situation was much lower-key. Tonight they went virtually unmolested; Sam didn't have to fake a smile as he shook his head even once, which allowed him to concentrate more fully on absorbing the alcohol. And then in the bathroom he finished up the flask Ruby had given him; she'd be pissed because his supply had been supposed to last another week, but she could handle a little more bloodshed. He'd looked it up, and even a regular human body would restore plasma volume in a couple of days.

He'd planned well enough that they were able to walk back to the motel, Impala safe outside their room. Dee leaned on the wall next to the door and laughed at him as he searched his pockets until he found the key, and then they stumbled in together, not quite fitting through the door at the same time.

Dee was so much larger now.

"I'm so drunk," Dee rumbled, leaning hard into Sam, throwing him off balance.

"Yeah, me too," Sam said. The exchange woke a vague memory in him. College, ill-advised liquor combinations, ending in some drunken fumbling in the dark. And then the next day it was like nothing happened.

Making the connection was like instant detox. Every nerve in his body jumped. This was it. This was where they'd been heading for—well, since the change.

Sam swallowed. The motion hurt his throat. "Dee," he said. Or maybe he said it a little different. His heart thumped in his chest like the monster from Alien.

"Sam," Dee said, teasing him back, not yet picking up on the change in the air.

"I, uh." He turned his head. Their faces were inches apart. Dee was drunk enough that she waited for him to continue. "I want to."

"What?" she asked, except that her eyes were too dark for Sam to believe that she was still oblivious.

He reached out and put his hand on her jaw, stubble needle-sharp against his fingertips, tilting her to the right angle. She was, just barely, the tallest person he'd ever kissed.

Her mouth was as perfect as he'd imagined.

She opened to him easy as sliding a knife across flesh. She tasted like whiskey and salt, nothing like Ruby's blood. His hand slipped down to her neck, thumb smoothing across the Adam's apple, and she moaned, grabbing on to his shoulders as if she'd fall over without him.

And God, the wrongness of it crawled in his stomach, but the rest of him just didn't care. He'd done much worse—he'd done much worse yesterday, with Ruby. Dean, he told himself, the name she'd adopted for the body she'd been stuffed into. This was Dean, beautiful green-eyed Dean, and they both wanted it so it was okay.

They headed towards the bed without detaching from one another, kicking their boots off along the way. Sam stumbled over his left boot and would've fallen, except that Dean stabilized him with both hands, as perfect as if they were on a hunt together. Sam pushed Dean down on the bed, landing heavily on him without a moment to spare. He ran his hands over the muscles he'd spent so long trying not to stare at. Shoulders, biceps, down to the forearms, then back to Dean's chest, just the lightest fuzz of hair over his pecs, nipples begging for Sam's thumbs. Dean groaned and arched up, and Sam took the opportunity to bite down on his neck, which just made him strain further, arms outflung as if he didn't trust himself to put his hands on Sam.

Then Sam got tangled up in Dean's shirt, bunched up in a way that was surely a demonic inversion of ordinary clothing geometry, and he stopped kissing Dean long enough to rip his own shirt off, still cursing. He might've used some of his newfound strength to wrestle with Dean's, buttons flying off in a way that ordinarily would've had Dee—Dean—screaming outrage, belt buckle practically creaking at the welds as he tore it open. Dean made a sound of pain when Sam dragged his jeans down his hips, but Sam checked his expression and he was biting his lip, cheeks red and eyes closed tight, lashes thick as if they'd been drawn in with charcoal; if he was in pain, then as per usual he didn't much mind.

His cock was already thick and heavy when Sam got it in hand. It rubbed against his palm, damp and seeking, head peeking out as Sam tugged experimentally and pulled the foreskin back. So strange, soft ruffled skin nothing like his own, but the same familiar shape underneath. He couldn't help slowing down, playing with it a little, watching wetness seep from the slit and make the head shine even redder in contrast, getting larger and then smaller as Sam jacked him.

"Sammy," Dean ground out, like it was peeling strips off of him to say. But when Sam let go, spat in his hand, and started again, he didn't repeat himself, just watched. His eyes were wide, pupils so large Sam might've been able to scry in them, thin ring of bottle-green around, and always those lashes, fucking ridiculous, just staring up at him like Sam was a ghost and Dean had never seen one before.

Sam straddled his thigh, rubbing against all that smooth muscle, dick tight and uncomfortable in his jeans. His other hand was braced on the too-soft mattress so he couldn't strip the rest of the way. Dean's lips were fever-pink, parted just enough that Sam could imagine them closing around his cock, and his hips stuttered and pushed down hard enough to make Dean's eyes flutter closed.

"I wanna suck you," Sam said, hardly hearing himself over the rush of blood in his ears. "Wanna fuck you, on your knees, on your back, put my dick in you every way there is, fill you up—" and Dean groaned and came, like an electric current through Sam's fingers, slicking wet over his stomach.

Dean brought his arm up to cover his eyes, as if that would do any fucking good whatsoever, and Sam went to kiss him again, using his wet hand to grab Dean's wrist and shove it out of the way. Dean didn't fight, kissed back even, sloppy and pleasure-slowed. Sam kind of wanted to stop and lick his fingers clean, tongue across Dean's skin everywhere he could catch a taste, but keeping up with the kissing was easier and he wasn't sure he could make himself move if he'd tried.

Dean's hands settled on his hips, sweat-slick. His thumbs rubbed against the jut of Sam's hipbones, just under the waistband of Sam's jeans. Sam lifted up, and Dean moved to pop open the fly, steady and sure like he was taking care of their guns. Dean pushed and Sam kicked, grateful that there was no way Dean could see how ridiculous he looked squirming like that, until they were both naked and Sam could press down entirely, chests and thighs matched up and lower legs entwined. Sam's cock was thick and heavy between them, so thrilled just by the touch of Dean's skin that it was almost enough.

Then Dean flipped them over, sudden move enough to counter Sam's advantage in height and weight, and began to kiss his way down Sam's throat, over his chest, mumbling words too low for Sam to hear. His hand was ahead of his mouth, capturing Sam's cock and stroking it root to tip, slow enough to tease. Sam pushed his hips up into the air and Dean slung his leg over Sam's thigh, anchoring him. Sam groaned low in his throat and Dean moved faster, barely skimming his tongue over Sam's abs, finally finally angling Sam's dick so that he could brush over the head with those lips.

"D—God!" Sam's fists clenched and he did his best to push himself into Dean's mouth, but Dean used his free hand on Sam's chest and his leg across Sam's to keep his movement limited, and pulled his head back besides, just teasing with the tip of his tongue.

"Please!" Sam begged. Dean looked up, eyes gleaming with drunken wickedness, and rearranged himself so that Sam could watch his face while he opened his mouth and bore down on Sam's cock. The angle was terrible—no way was he getting more than a few inches like that—but the visual more than made up for it, Sam's dick stretching Dean's lips and Dean's whole focus on him, lashes fluttering as he concentrated on sucking and licking all around the head. Spit was leaking from his mouth, too steady to be anything but deliberate, and he picked it up with his fingers to stroke up and down Sam's shaft.

Sam hardly knew what words were spilling out of his mouth, some combination of hot and sexy and fuck, grunts more than words as Dean sucked harder and used his other hand to cup Sam's balls and slide teasing fingers behind, circling his hole.

He shouted and jerked hard enough to make the whole bed shudder around them when he came.

Dean pulled back, smirking mouth shining and plumped.

But the smirk faded as Dean stared up at him, and Sam tugged hard until they were face to face, kissing again. As long as Sam could suck the taste of himself off Dean's tongue, as long as they were actually fucking, they could delay the afterwards.

****

It was like a click in his head, Dean turning back into Dee, like one of those pictures that were either a duck or a rabbit. You could only see one at a time.

He tried not to, but he felt himself tense up, and Dee reacted like her nerves were wired into his, rolling over and putting her back to him.

"Dee," he said, meaning to reach out to her but not quite making it.

She got off the bed, grabbing up her clothes. He watched as she put shorts, jeans, shirt, and overshirt back on. When she went for her belt, Sam sat up, because if she got her boots back on she was making a run for it and that was not something either of them could afford.

"Stop it," he said. Her head was canted away so that she didn't have to look at anything but the floor. When she stayed frozen, neck bent in a way that must have been painful, he sighed and pushed the sheets away so that he could get some clean clothes out of his duffel.

Yeah, Sam knew this was a whole different level of wrong. But as far as he'd seen you could never not have fucked someone, at least not without bringing a Trickster into it, so they were going to have to deal. And if anybody knew how to handle new and exciting varieties of disaster, it had to be Winchesters.

She didn't turn back towards him until he was wearing boxers and a T-shirt, and even then her eyes rested somewhere around his elbow. "This was both of us, okay?" he said, trying to keep his tone from being too much like what he used on witnesses, since Dee had a hell of a right cross now.

"So what's my excuse?" she asked, confirming that yes, she was blaming herself.

"Same as mine," Sam pointed out. "You said—your senses are different. Your body's different. Our bodies know things we don't."

Dee snorted, lashes hiding her eyes from him, even as the quiver of her mouth showed just how badly she was handling this, which was unfair but no surprise at all. "Nobody ever did want me for my mind. Guess nothing's changed there."

Sam closed his eyes, because he didn't want to see Dee react to what he was going to say next, to what it implied about what he'd been thinking and for how long. "It's called genetic sexual attraction. It's well-documented. People who are closely related but raised apart often find themselves powerfully attracted, willing to defy any taboo to be together. Being raised together works as some kind of insulation, so that you're not sexually attracted to people you'd otherwise be incredibly compatible with."

"You're saying this is natural?" Dee asked, scornful as if he'd suggested that ghosts weren't real.

Sam opened his eyes reluctantly. "Nothing about this is natural. I'm saying that—our bodies are doing the only thing they know how to do."

"Pretty sure we had some choice here, Sam."

"And we made it." Dee was usually such a pragmatist, except for when she was immovably, religiously irrational. Figured she'd ignore the facts this time.

Dee scrubbed her hand through her hair. "I can't—I can't want this, Sam." She went for her boots, fumbling with the laces while Sam thought about what he needed to do and how he really needed a freakout of his own, because it was one thing to have evil demon powers forced on him and another to fuck a man who was supposed to be his sister.

"Don't drive," he said at last. "You're still drunk." He didn't know if it was true—even before the change Dee could handle her liquor like a barroom floor—but she just nodded before shoving her way out of the door, leaving him to collapse back on the bed and put his head in his hands.

Divider

Part VI

"You've really lost her now, Sam," Ruby said. She was leaning up against the door she'd just closed behind her, arms crossed, smug and tense all at once. The late afternoon light bleeding in around the edges of the motel's thick curtains was enough to let him see the way her lipstick had been mostly chewed off her bottom lip, like she'd been thinking too hard.

He was still finding Dee's lipsticks in the footwell of the Impala.

He looked away. That was Ruby's cue to peel herself off of the door and come to him, sliding up like smoke. His hands tensed to shove her away, but she tilted her head and blinked at him like he was some tempting but flawed property she was thinking of buying.

"You even remember she's a she?" Ruby's voice was sharper than usual.

"Shut up," Sam ordered, but she pressed herself against him, small tight body, soft breasts separated from his skin only by two layers of cotton. He could feel her cheek against his chest as she wrapped her arms around him, nestled close, grim parody of a hug that he'd never get from Dee unless one of them had been thought dead.

Ruby shouldn't have known so easily what had happened (though the smell of the room had to have been some sort of clue). She shouldn't be giving him almost exactly what he needed.

"What would Dee want you to do?" she whispered.

Since Dee had been absent for over twelve hours, he had some pretty clear ideas on that topic. If he manned up and learned how to change her back, she'd be willing to repress and deny. Otherwise there was a good chance she'd get as reckless as she'd been after Dad's death, guilt impelling her towards any sacrifice that looked painful.

"How much longer?" he asked.

Ruby pulled away and started to strip off her jacket. "Soon," she promised. "You gank Lilith and you'll know you're powerful enough to do it without hurting her."

****

Sam got his business with Ruby conducted as quickly as possible.

Dee didn't come back until night had fallen. Sam spent the time in between reading some of the more obscure texts Bobby had scanned for him, learning about as much relevant to averting the apocalypse as he had in Linear Algebra.

Dee didn't knock. She was carrying a bag of burgers, grease-stained and smelling strong enough to make Sam's mouth water. "Bet you were so busy researching you forgot to eat, freak," she said, like she'd just been out pounding the sidewalk on a case.

No surprise and kind of a relief. Sam could absolutely deal with not talking about how terrible his desires were and how he was dragging Dee down with him.

****

In Tempe, Ruby brought three stray dogs to her room.

Sam turned the first one inside out. He shot it (he'd brought his silencer just in case) before it could suffer more than a minute. But he'd felt what he'd done wrong, and he managed to wrench the second one into a different, functional shape. It looked like a female, at least, and its whimpers trailed into silence when he cradled it in his arms.

He did even better with the third dog, improving its ragged appearance along with changing its sex. What he really needed were some hormone tests to make sure that the change was more than cosmetic, so he sent Ruby off to double-check. He couldn't risk an attempt on Dee that might only make matters worse.

****

They were in the middle of a fight at a warehouse with a dozen demons when Castiel popped in, just in time to keep Dee from being eviscerated. He used his finger-mojo to dispatch the nearest demon, then announced over the yowls of the others, "We must talk."

"Kinda busy," Dee grunted as she kicked the body of a teenage girl in the stomach, sending the demon in possession staggering backwards. Sam slashed out with his knife, cutting a line across the forearm of an olive-skinned young man to get him far away enough that Sam could raise his right hand and begin the process of extracting. Before he could even get started, the demon opened its host's mouth and fled, leaving the man to collapse. Sam jumped over him and headed towards the next one.

Dee began to chant an exorcism. The words hit like bricks, forcing Sam to stop. The pain was so great he couldn't see, the way the visions had been in the beginning. He still held the knife out, trying to protect himself, but he was too vulnerable. "Dee," he ground out, pressing his hand to his head. His brain felt like it was bulging out of his skull, about to spray out of his ears if he didn't get some relief.

He felt more than saw Castiel step in front of him, taking out another demon. His blood was buzzing in his ears and it felt like his veins were on fire, stabbing through his body like wires.

More screams and grunts, then silence. Sam blinked as the pain faded. The hosts' bodies lay collapsed on the floor in various states of disrepair; he couldn't remember the last time they'd actually saved a life from possession. His nose was bleeding. He wiped it away and saw both Dee and Castiel staring at the red smears on his fingers.

"What the fuck," Dee said, but there was a note of despair in her voice that meant she didn't need an explanation except for the details.

Castiel frowned. "Your corruption is far advanced," he said. "This increases the urgency of my message."

"Increases?" Sam asked. His head still hurt, and the beams of sunlight stabbing through the decrepit roof blazed in his peripheral vision as he tried to find a way to watch Dee without fainting.

"Six seals remain between Lucifer and his freedom." That meant four down they hadn't heard about until now. "I have ... discovered that Michael plans to intervene."

"Michael, like the archangel," Dee clarified. Castiel didn't answer. "Okay, so, archangel coming down to get in the game, that's gotta be good, right?"

"Archangels are what their names portend, greater than the others. Michael must take a vessel to battle Lucifer on Earth. Otherwise his Grace would destroy the planet."

Dee made a little sound of disgust. "Figures. So who's the schmuck and why do we need to know so bad?"

Castiel was silent. Slowly, Sam raised his head. The air seemed to drain from the warehouse, until Sam had to brace himself against the nearest object, which turned out to be a crate that filled his hand with splinters. He didn't feel it.

"Dean," Castiel said, and the name was like a confession.

"No." Sam barely recognized his own voice, filled with the power he used to pull demons.

Dee had her head cocked like she was imitating Castiel's bird-stance. "Why me?"

"I don't know," Castiel said. But his shoulders were slumped and Sam bet that the angel could give a good guess. So much for his claim that the forces of Heaven weren't involved in what had happened to Dee. "Your essence—to survive such a transformation—there are aspects of humanity we can neither imitate nor change, only borrow."

"So, what, this meatsuit is recyclable now? Michael's gonna fill me up with his archangelness?" Dee didn't sound nearly as horrified as Sam was, more resigned.

"You'd have to say yes. She'd have to say yes, right?" Sam beseeched.

Castiel nodded, his lips pale and tight. "There are, however, many modes of persuasion that might be employed."

Of course, since why would angels shy away from torture if they had no problem with possession? Sam knew enough to believe that Dee would trade herself for him if Michael got convincing enough. But Castiel had been a good little soldier, a model of order-taking, since they'd met him. "Why are you telling us all this?" Sam demanded.

Castiel kept staring at Dee. "I admit that I have been experiencing ... doubts. The measures proposed—it is not for me to question—but I find I cannot refrain. This is why the last seals must not fall. If they remain, then Michael will have no need of a human host."

Once again, useless exhortation delivered as if it was gospel, and Dee nodding along because she was just annoying like that. Sam clenched his fists, even though that sent another spike of pain through his skull. "You have any advice for us on how to pull that one off?"

Castiel glared at him. "Do not have recourse to demons," he said. Then he disappeared, before Sam could ask him what they were supposed to do instead.

****

They didn't talk on the way back to the skeevy motel Dee had found for them. Sam was jittery in the passenger seat, tapping his fingers along the bottom of the window, shifting his knees and squirming until Dee threatened to kick him out at sixty miles an hour. After that he managed to draw in on himself, but that just made him more anxious to get back to fighting.

Dee stalked into the room like she was planning to set it on fire. With Sam inside. She stood with her back to him, shoulders shaking. "When were you gonna tell me you were back to hanging out with the demon chick, Sammy?"

Sam bit his lip. "We can't afford to give up any advantage, you know that."

Dee spun around and for a second Sam was sure she was going to hit him. "How is fucking around with a demon an advantage?"

"She's teaching me how to use my powers," Sam said evenly. "They're in me, they've been in me since I was a baby, and they're not going away, so we might as well do something with them."

"Sam," Dee said, voice rough and pleading, "it's changing you. Maybe you don't see that, but I do. Even this thing with us—"

It was the first time she'd even hinted about their half-drunken coupling, and a wave of lust surged through Sam, making it even more imperative that they change the subject.

"That's not because of Ruby," he snapped. In a flash he was pressed up against her—against Dean—pushing him back against the wall, hands fisted in Dean's shirt. The heat of Dean's body bled into him. "You feel it too."

He could feel Dean's shocked inhale. Their lips were inches apart, an invitation to sin. Sam shifted his weight forward and their legs entangled, grinding Dean against him. They both groaned, Dean turning his head and exposing his throat, a concession in more ways than one. Sam licked up the line of his jaw, across stubble that felt sharp enough to make him bleed. He bit lightly at Dean's earlobe, thrilling at the way that Dean trembled in his arms, like their hearts were pounding to the same beat.

"Let me," he murmured, then nosed against the soft skin just behind where Dean's sideburn ended. Nothing in his life felt good except killing demons and touching Dean. Dean's biceps were firm under his hands, perfect even through the rough cotton of his shirt.

Dean's "Sam ..." was no more than an exhale. When Sam backed away, though, Dean's hands went to his belt, stripping down still braced against the wall.

"Tell me you want me," Sam demanded. He couldn't have Dean pretending, not when the air between them already smelled like sex, not when they were already causing each other so much damage.

Dean didn't pause in shoving his jeans down as he toed off his boots. "You know I do," he said, low and overwhelmed.

"I want to shave you again," Sam said, figuring he ought as well to go for broke.

Dean's hands fumbled and stopped. He flushed, eyes sparkling like he had a fever, and his mouth compressed. But then he pulled off his shirts in a tangle together and moved decisively towards the bathroom, wearing only his tented-out black boxer-briefs.

Sam followed like he was attached by a chain, shedding his own clothes as he went.

This time Sam went slow, holding a hot wet towel to Dean's face to soften the skin first, then stroking the shaving cream on carefully, one finger at a time. Dean closed his eyes and tilted his head up like a penitent saint.

Sam didn't cut him once, even though he was resting his weight on Dean's thighs, both of them balanced precariously on the toilet seat, hips hitching involuntarily every half a minute so that their hard-ons brushed together through their shorts.

After the shave, Sam used the towel again, removing every trace of soap from Dean's skin. He smoothed over Dean's cheeks with his thumbs, feeling the slick new smoothness of the skin, pink with heat and lust. Dean's eyes were dilated, his hair standing up in sweaty spikes, his breath fast and loud in the tiny bathroom. Sam gave in and leaned forward so that he could lick over the lines of Dean's jaw, Dean clean and pure under his tongue.

Dean pushed up and Sam rose with him, turning and walking backwards, trusting Dean not to steer him wrong as they crossed from the cool tile to the tacky old carpet. When he sensed the bed behind him, he let himself fall, bouncing a little as he stared up at Dean.

"Get naked," Dean said, turning away like he was in pain, and Sam fumbled gracelessly to get out of his boxers. Just as he managed to lie back, Dean returned, straddling him with a tube in his hand. Sam whimpered as Dean settled onto his groin, feeling his cock brush against Dean's asscheeks. Dean leaned forward and his erection teased Sam's stomach. Then Dean's hand was behind himself, slicking Sam's cock fast and awkward, nothing close to enough.

Dean grimaced and rose up further, squeezing Sam's hips with his knees as if in reassurance. After a couple of fumbles that had Sam near to screaming, he seated Sam's cockhead just at his entrance, and paused. His face was in shadow, his lashes hiding his eyes, but there was no mistaking the uncertainty there.

"Please," Sam said, and that was enough. Dean sank down, the powerful muscles of his quads letting him control the motion, and Sam was finally inside him. Each inch was slow but inexorable, Dean pressing down with the same steadiness he would've used to stitch a wound. His mouth hung open as he panted. Sam wanted to curl up and kiss him, but was too busy having every synapse in his brain explode with pleasure.

Finally Dean was seated, his full weight driving Sam into the mattress so that it took every ounce of Sam's strength to thrust up. He put his hands on Dean's hips, digging his fingers into the swell of Dean's ass, and started setting a rhythm.

"I want more hands," he said, almost to himself, because Dean's ass was perfect but Dean's cock was being neglected right in front of him, red and hardening again after the first shock of penetration passed. Dean chortled, surprised, then grunted when Sam rolled his hips. He bent over and put one hand almost in the center of Sam's chest, fingertips just brushing the tattoo, and used his other to curl around his dick, jacking himself in time to Sam's movements.

It was too good. "Dean—"

Dean took the warning for what it was. "Don't you come," he ordered, moving his hand faster, soft slapping sound a counterpoint to the noise of their skin sticking and unsticking as Sam pounded into him.

He could feel it, rushing at him like a comet. He was trying so hard to keep it together, fighting not to close his eyes and lose the sight of Dean, the muscles of Dean's arm flexing as his cockhead disappeared into his fist and returned, the sweat on Dean's face making him glow like a golden idol.

He felt the first hot spurts of Dean's jizz at the same time as his own body surrendered, pulsing through him like they were coming together. He pumped up into Dean until he was too sensitive to keep going, and then Dean collapsed onto his chest, Dean's hands tight on his shoulders and their bellies sliding together with the mess Dean had made. Sam's dick slipped free with a jolt that made him gasp and Dean was heavy enough that Sam would've had trouble breathing even if he hadn't just had an orgasm that made him feel like shattered glass.

Lassitude swept over him, even though he knew better than to give into it. Dean squirmed a little, nuzzling his head into the space between Sam's chin and his collarbone, spreading the mess between them still further but moving to the side just enough to let Sam get some much-needed oxygen. Most of his weight was still on Sam, tethering him.

"Don't flip out again, okay?" Sam asked softly, rubbing his fingers over the nape of Dean's neck, up into his hair.

Dean arched into the touch, but: "Not a promise I can make," Dee said, a little sadly, and Sam pulled his hand back. "You're still Sam, you get that, right?"

"Yeah," Sam admitted. He was having trouble enough whiplashing between Dee and Dean, and he could see why it would be worse for her.

"I don't know if I can do this," Dee said.

"You don't have to," Sam offered, mostly meaning it.

She shook her head, pulling her arms away from him, shifting her weight so Sam was left sticky and cold, even though she was still next to him. "I don't know if I can stop. I don't know anymore if it would stop if I went back."

"I think it would," Sam said, because that was the truth. Dee would go back to her one-night stands and Sam would go back to nothing, except when he gave in and imitated her. It would have to be enough. He could live with it. He swallowed. "I hate that you hate it so much."

"I don't hate it," Dee said, like it hurt her to say. She sat up and began to scramble around for her clothes. Sam watched, because he wasn't going to be able to watch forever. Dee had more scars now, most of them from what Alastair had done while she was trapped with him. But she was still perfect, freckles scattered across her pale skin like instructions on where to kiss, muscles standing out with every motion. She kept glancing at him sidelong, which only highlighted how her eyelashes curled and her lower lip (Dean's lower lip, because those were Sam's kisses that had swollen it) had the perfect shape of a valentine's heart.

He needed to protect her, even from himself if necessary. Whatever he wanted didn't matter; it was nothing compared to the sacrifices she'd made. The rush of love he felt for her was overwhelming, greater even than the terror and uncertainty, greater even than the lust.

Watching her move around the hotel room, checking all their gear, it struck him that Ruby's goal for his readiness was oddly specific. All he should really need to do was take out a major demon, and he'd done that twice over, first Samhain and then Alastair. If he wanted to help Dee before their relationship was irreparably damaged, he needed to act now.

"I'm gonna go for a walk," he said, and Dee grunted acknowledgment. Sam slipped his flask into his pocket and headed out.

He chugged the rest of Ruby's blood, nearly the entire flask, standing out by the ice machine and then called her.

****

"Don't tell me we're doing this again," Ruby sighed. She pushed her hair back, a little gesture that reminded him of Dee, back when Dee could do that. "You'd have to be a monster to want to keep her trapped like that," Ruby said.

"I know."

She'd spent too much time with him—her face tightened with apprehension as he approached, as if she knew his plan. "Wait!" she said, holding her hands up in supplication. "You can't waste all your power on her while Lilith is still walking around. You shoot your wad switching her back and Lilith will just kill her. A corpse doesn't care whether it was a boy or a girl."

That was all too plausible. If Dee was especially suited for Michael, then killing her would clear the way for Lucifer.

But how would Ruby know about that, and why hadn't she said anything before? Her new argument was extremely convenient. Sam had seen convenience and demons before, with Azazel and his plans for the Colt.

"I'll kill anyone who tries to hurt Dee," Sam pointed out.

Ruby frowned. She widened her eyes, every atom projecting sincerity. "Lilith's not an ordinary demon, Sam. She's way too powerful for ordinary weapons. It's got to be you, and it's got to be before you weaken yourself for Dee."

And maybe if he hadn't just seen Dee, angry and desperate, he would have taken Ruby more seriously. But Dee was there and needed him now, and this thing between them was its own little gate to Hell. If he didn't fix it, then he couldn't fix anything else.

"I'm sorry," Sam said, and raised his hand. Ruby's mouth wrenched closed, and he ignored her muffled protests until she was too weak to make even those.

****

Stuffed full of Ruby's blood, more than he'd ever taken before, Sam felt he could float out into the parking lot. That would probably attract more attention than he wanted, though.

Off in the middle distance, he could feel something, a kind of sulfurous energy. Demons. Almost as if they were waiting for him. Maybe Ruby had brought them along as extra batteries. Maybe she would've warned him about them if he'd let her. Either way, they were next on the agenda. He hotwired a car and drove in the direction his blood told him to.

They were, of all things, hanging out in a diner, a demon in every patron. The only pure humans in the place were the cook and one waitress. They'd been kept busy with the demons' demands, if the scattered dirty plates full of half-eaten fries were any indication; they'd been kept from running, Sam figured, by the crucified body of the busboy pinned to the door between the kitchen and the counterspace. He raised his hand as he walked in, taking advantage of everyone's gaping surprise to yell "Get out!" while he did his thing.

The waitress dragged the cook out, neither of them touching him, both of them crying as they fled. Sam figured he needed to work fast just in case they got it together to call the cops.

The same sense that let him extract a demon also let him hold them in place, keeping their essence in the blood of the hosts despite their attempts to escape. That was good, not just because it let him feed, but because it also showed flexibility in the power, the kind of flexibility he'd need to pull Dee's essence out of the form in which it was trapped.

He had to expend some of the power of Ruby's blood to pin them to the wall in the back, lining them up, and that gave him another nosebleed, but the payoff was worth it. There was some violation of the law of conservation of energy there, maybe, but demon powers didn't follow the rules of physics anyway, and Sam was feeling too good to worry much about it.

There were enough of them that he didn't drain any one dry before banishing them.

****

Sam was all but bouncing with impatience, sitting on his bed, when Dee opened the door, two sacks of In-n-Out burgers clutched in the hand that wasn't busy with the motel key. "I can switch you back," he said before she was all the way inside. Dee wouldn't have to know about the blood. She wasn't the type to insist on double-checking his research, and she'd be too focused on the results to spend a long time thinking about the methods. And he'd quit after. Or after Lilith was out of the picture, anyway.

Dee stopped in the doorway, letting warm and muggy air into the room. After a long moment, she bumped the door closed with her shoulder, put the burgers on the table underneath the window, and tossed the keys onto one of the dressers. Her back was to him.

"There's probably gonna be a recovery period, so I figured we'll head out, be at Bobby's by Thursday—"

"No," Dee said, not turning around.

Sam squinted. Dee's shoulders were tense. Of course her body was different now, but the posture was sort of similar to how she'd looked every time Sam complained about some order of Dad's she passed on. Like she was pissed at him for fighting the inevitable.

"What?"

"No. Not goin' back."

"Not going back to Bobby's?" he asked, carefully misunderstanding.

Dee turned around now, her eyes already rolling. "Not going back to Dee. Not if it comes from you drinking demon blood."

"Castiel," Sam said grimly. Stood to reason that angelic busybody would be trying to get Dee to himself. But saying that would muddy the issue and anyway he was on admittedly shaky ground when it came to the whole sanguinary aspect of the procedure.

"It doesn't matter where the power comes from," Sam pushed back, breathing hard. "If I can save you, I can make it all mean something."

Dee's face twisted. "You think pumping a fuckton of demon power into my body would save me? I'd rather—"

Sam cut her off, because he couldn't hear her say what she'd rather. "At least we'll be the same then."

"Sam," she said, mouth twisting and eyes shining, and he decided he couldn't hear any of it. "I don't want this."

"You don't know how to want things for yourself." Yeah, Sam had mistaken that characteristic for a lot of things over the years, from perfection to martyrdom, but he'd eventually figured it out.

"Bullshit," Dee snapped and took two quick steps towards him, raising her hands as if she was considering hitting him. "I want you to be safe. That's not the same thing."

Sam's anger pulsed in his stomach, and he restrained himself from fisting his own hands. It was just typical for her to pull this sort of thing on him when he was finally ready to get the job done. "I need to protect you from Michael," Sam said, trying for reason, when he'd reasserted control over himself. She was at risk of turning into some kind of angel puppet, not to mention so miserable he'd gone out and gotten so pumped up he felt like a deer tick, full to bursting, and now she changed her mind?

Dee shook her head. "No reason to think Michael would give up if I got switched back, since they already think I'm something special. Changing back just proves I'll stretch to fit, I bet. I'll just have to say no when he shows up." She looked away and, probably unconsciously, brushed her hand over her gun.

Sam was usually pretty tolerant of Dee's bullshit, but—he'd been working on this for months, obsessed with doing one thing for Dee that might make up for some of the crap in her life. He'd been taking his shitty demonic destiny and revising it into something that could actually help.

"I'm sorry," he said, the same words he'd said to Ruby, and something in his tone alerted her, because her head jerked up and her mouth worked and then she was pushed back against the closed door, held there while he concentrated on finding her soul, seeing how it was threaded through her body. With the demons it was about pulling them out while leaving the body intact. This was just the opposite, and he could see exactly how it would work.

Sam could feel all the ways he could manipulate her body, inside and out. He had a thought, just for a moment, that he could take this one last chance to be with her, hold her close, breathe in Dean's scent, no one to blame this time but him. She was so beautiful, even with her lashes clumped with tears, her eyes so wide he could see white all around the irises.

He shook his head to clear it. He didn't know how long he could sustain this amount of power. He had to keep his eyes on the prize.

Dee was pinned, squirming like a grave worm, not able to move enough to interfere. He let his power curl through her, inside every cell, preparing for the change. It was strange: there was no sign of anything unnatural, nothing like the scent of sulfur that demons shed or the sticky, wrong taste of a possessed host's blood. Whatever Castiel had sensed in her was invisible to Sam. Dean's body gave the complete illusion of reality. Sam felt his own blood pounding, eager to work his will. He stepped closer, his hand up not just to channel the power but to reach out to her. He could have gutted her with a thought, but instead he was going to show her just how strong he was.

And now he did smell sulfur, curling thick in his nostrils, like it had been baking on a radiator. Dee's face was wet, weak, almost pathetic. He could fix lots of things about her, he thought. Andy's interventions had only been temporary, but Sam was so much stronger now than any of the other children had ever had opportunity to become.

"Please, Sammy," she gasped, tears streaming down her face. Like she'd said please to Dad, when he'd been possessed. Strange, because he hadn't seen her as weak then, only desperate. He remembered her telling him about how it had felt to use the Colt on a possessed human that first time. She'd been scared of herself, but never of Sam.

Clarity came like ice: everything he'd been thinking flipped, like looking in a mirror and seeing a black-eyed monster looking back.

He released her and collapsed to his knees, covering his face with his hands. He wanted to throw up, but the taste of the blood coming back up might be enough to drive him over the edge again, worthless junkie unable to see past the next hit. In a second, Dee was kneeling next to him, hugging him close, and he didn't know how she could bear to do it. He was shivering, the air in the room suddenly freezer-cold, unless the demon blood was burning him up from the inside the way it should if there was any justice in the world.

"You should kill me," he gasped out. "Like Dad said, you should—"

Dee grabbed his face in her hands and turned him towards her. "Sammy," she said, wrecked. "No, no. That isn't—okay, drinking demon blood, you screwed up this time. But you can stop. You are so much better than that."

Sam nearly snorted through his tears. What exactly was her evidence for that? "The angels say," but he choked and was unable to finish.

Dee grunted. "Like those whack-jobs have anything to talk about. Sam," she said, soft and careful. "I know I'm hard on you, but. I, uh, I measure the rest of the world by how well it stacks up to you." She tugged him forward until his face was mashed against her chest, hard and muscular but still somehow yielding to him.

When she spoke again, he felt the words vibrating through him, like they were coming from both of their bodies at the same time. "I guess I need to—look, I don't think what happened to me's part of somebody's big plan, even if it they tell you it is. Even if it was on purpose, it doesn't have to mean what anybody else says it does. Maybe it's not the body I'd choose if I got to go to the body Wal-Mart or whatever. But it's mine, okay. It's not—"

It's not yours. Sam heard it even if she didn't finish. "Okay," he said, meaning: I choose you. The tattoo, the new scars, the bulk of her body: she was choosing between losses.

Slowly, waiting for her to flinch, he slid his arms around her. She shifted and twisted to get them settled better, but she didn't move away. He sighed, and even with his congestion-numbed senses he reacted to how good she smelled, sharp with the day's sweat.

"There's one part we haven't talked about," he said softly.

He felt her nod. She wasn't so committed to denial that she didn't know this needed to be settled. If it could be. If she said no, Sam wasn't sure how long it would be before they'd be drunk again, giving in, both of them hating Sam a little more every time. Never enough to get Dee to leave, if he was very lucky, but enough to make them both constantly miserable, and maybe enough to make angelic sacrifice look good.

She was probably even more grateful than he was that, pressed up together like this, they couldn't see each other's faces. "So I'm Dean when we're fucking. But who am I the rest of the time?"

Sam knew he only had one chance. He opened his mouth before he could second-guess himself. "It doesn't matter as long as you're mine. I can't—I don't want to do this without you. So whatever you tell me, that's who you are."

"Stand up," Dee ordered. She didn't sound angry, not exactly. "Come on," when he didn't react fast enough for her.

Sam stood with her, separating hardly at all, just enough that they weren't going to knock each other over. "One way or another," she said, and her stubbled cheeks were flushed, "I'm always yours. I've always been yours. How can you not know that? So tell me, Sam—who am I?"

Dean tilted his head up—not as far as he used to, but there was still that gap—as Sam tightened his hand on Dean's shoulder. Now that Sam had let himself see Dean, stopped fighting the pronouns and the instinctive reaction, it was easy, so easy. He moved his hand over the strong curve of muscle, curled his fingers around Dean's neck. "Dean," he said, helpless with it. He could just barely handle being a monster, stuffed on demon blood and twisted desire, but not if Dean rejected him.

Dean nodded like he understood. If he did, Sam wished he'd explain. "Sammy, I know I'm selfish. But I don't want to stay just so we'll have this."

"I know that," Sam reassured him. What they had was wrong, and tangled, and maybe inevitable if Sam's powers were off-limits. But he never wanted to see that horror on Dean's face directed at him, never again.

"Do you?" Dean asked, waiting to speak again until Sam met his eyes. "'Cause I like it. I like how looking good makes people take me seriously. I like how nobody fucking volunteers to help me with the car or tries to jack up the prices just because he can. I like how every guy I meet is ten notches down on the threat level compared to how it was. How I was."

Sam had to close his eyes for a moment. That was hard to hear, not least because he'd always thought that none of that bothered Dee. She'd never have admitted to seeing guys as threats.

Or maybe Sam had never known to ask. "None of that was ever right," he said.

Dean shrugged. "World isn't gonna change. But I did. Least I can do is enjoy it."

The least I can do, Sam thought. He'd thought he was doing more than that, working with Ruby. Now he thought, remembering the arrogance that surged through him alongside the power, that he'd been doing the worst.

"We okay?" Dean asked at last. It was like the entire world let out a breath. His hands fell away from Sam and he took a half step back, but the space between them didn't feel like rejection, more like a pause so that they could remember how to stand on their own.

"Up to you," Sam said, meaning it. The ball's in your court, he thought, and almost sniggered.

Dean looked at him straight-on and clear-eyed, for the first time in too long. "So what are we gonna do about your little demon buddy? She ain't gonna be pleased you got off the powers train."

"Exorcise her?" Sam suggested. "Or I could—I mean, there are still the seals, and Lilith. We need something to fight her with."

Dean shook his head. "Nuh-unh. No fucking way. Demons lie, okay, and just because she's in a catfight with some other demon does not mean she's a friend."

Sam thought about his flask, and he had to admit that he was still drawn towards the power Ruby offered. But here was Dean, whole and finally with him all the way, only asking him to commit. Sam could do that. "So what do you want me to do?" he asked.

Dean shrugged. "Kill demons. Don't do shit demons want you to do."

"And what about angels? You gonna keep following Castiel around like he's—"

"A messenger from God?" Dean suggested.

"Like he pees whiskey and craps cheeseburgers, I was gonna say."

Dean's face contorted, half impressed and half disgusted. "Tell you what, I'll say no if you do."

Sam didn't have to think very hard about that one. "Everybody else can fuck off."

Dean grinned, broad and beautiful. "Sammy, I love it when you get all master planner on me."

Actually Sam was pretty confident that they were going to end up on the bad sides of Heaven and Hell both. And he still had no clue whether he was doing the right thing (fuck the wrong reason; he wasn't expecting to be asked to show his work). But he'd stared at his options, watched them pinned up against a wall, and he knew one thing for sure: he'd rather lose Dee to Dean than to the side of the angels.

END.

Endpiece: guns and roses

Dean shedding Dee's skin