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Sometimes Love Don't Feel Like It Should

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"Sam, what's that door for?"

"I don't know, Dean. Why don't you open it?"

"Is that a dare? Are you daring me to open this door?"

"I don't know, Dean. Am I?"

"Because I will, you know. I will totally open that door."

"Be my guest."

It was the last door in the last hallway, and the only one they hadn't opened. It didn't have a number on it, and for some reason a bookcase had been standing in front of it. Dean had only noticed the door because he thought he could feel a draft coming from under the bookcase, and when he looked closer he could see that the bookcase wasn't completely flush with the wall.

When the Winchesters moved the bookcase aside, the door they found was an old, oak thing, worn and grooved with weather and time, with old-fashioned hinges and an iron latch instead of a doorknob. It looked like none of the other doors in the bunker. It looked ancient.

Dean took a deep breath. If the little furry creatures he'd found in the kitchen that morning were getting in through here he didn't really want to know, did he? Was it absolutely one-hundred-percent necessary to find out that mice could get into the bunker through this door? Dean could be excused for feeling slightly creeped out, couldn’t he?

"Okay," Dean reached for the latch and then Sam's hand was there, too. Long warm fingers curled around his.

"Or maybe we should go back to the library," Sam said. "See what we can learn about this thing before we open it."

Which was when a small, furry creature scuttled under the door, flattening itself almost all the way to the floor so it could squeeze through the narrow gap. It made a muted squeaking sound as it dashed up the corridor behind them, heading toward the kitchen.

"Okay, that's it," Dean growled, grasping the latch while Sam stood back, delicate lips twisted in disgust.

Despite the airflow beneath the door, when Dean turned the latch he had to push hard, heaving his body shoulder first to force the door to open. When it gave under his weight there was an audible sucking noise, as if the air inside was pressurized.

The small room on the other side of the door was a storage closet, old and musty, full of brooms and mops and metal shelving. Storage boxes and tin cans sat on the shelves, all appearing to be the same vintage as the rest of the bunker.

Nothing magical, mysterious, or strange, nothing that needed to be guarded by an ancient magic door and hidden behind a solid oak bookcase.

"Well, that's a bust," Sam commented as he inspected the dusty contents of the little room.

"A shit-load of nothing," Dean agreed. "So, what's with the Mor-door? Heh."

Sam rolled his eyes. "Maybe it was a donation and they didn't know where else to stash it," suggested.

"So they hid it?"

Sam shrugged. "Maybe somebody didn't like the way it looked. Doesn't exactly go with the Nazi-era decor of the rest of the bunker."

"Huh."

Sam shone his flashlight into a corner of the room, behind some of the metal shelving. "Well, there's your mousehole," he said, indicating a corner near the floor where some of the concrete wall had broken loose. "Little bastards are squeezing in from right there."

"Huh," Dean nodded. "Okay, I'll get some concrete paste and patch it, leave a few mousetraps in here for whatever made it in. That should take care of it."

Sam shrugged, already bored with the whole business. Now that the mystery was solved and it turned out to be a simple matter of housekeeping instead of a supernatural threat, Sam was out.

Typical.

Actually, Dean didn't mind being the bunker's caretaker. He preferred thinking of himself that way over housewife or housekeeper, although that was probably more his role than Sam's. They shared some of the basic chores around the bunker, and Sam was great with the heavy-lifting. Sam had cleared more bodies out of this place and mopped up more bloody messes than Dean, so Dean figured the least he could do was attend to the day-to-day maintenance of the place.

Once he'd set the traps and patched the hole, Dean went back to the kitchen to rustle up some supper for them while Sam returned to the library to read. He couldn't get the door out of his mind, though, and the more he thought about it, the more convinced he became that something wasn't right.

"Since when has anything strange ever turned out to be something completely normal?" he asked Sam over supper.

Sam lifted his eyes from his laptop and frowned, putting his fork down as he considered Dean's question. "Not often," he conceded. "What are we talking about?"

"That door, Sam. Something's not right. I mean, you felt it when we opened it, right? Like something sucked the air out of the hallway."

"Maybe," Sam agreed with a thoughtful frown.

"And it was almost like it wanted us to open it, you know? Like it sent those mice out as bait, to get us to come to it."

Sam hesitated. "Are you saying you think the door is a cursed object?"

"Or maybe it's guarding something, you know? I mean, did you see all the spell-work on the doorframe? Maybe it's there to prevent the door from opening."

"Except, you opened it," Sam reminded him. "Not very well protected, if you ask me. Besides, what's it supposed to be protecting? It's a broom closet."

"Looks like a broom closet," Dean corrected him.

Dean could see Sam considering Dean's words, his trust in Dean's instincts overcoming his initial skepticism.

"Okay, we'll look into it," Sam agreed. "I'll dig into the archive, see what I can come up with. In the meantime, stay away from it, okay? If there is something supernatural about that door, we need to know what we're dealing with before we open it again."

Dean chewed on his lower lip and tried not to think about Bilbo Baggins and the magic moonlit door into the Lonely Mountain.

"Dean?" Sam waved a hand in front of Dean's eyes and Dean started, glanced up and met Sam's concerned gaze. "You heard me, right?"

"Yeah. Yeah, Sam, I heard you. Don't open the door again until you do your research. Got it."

**//**//**

Of course, the next morning Dean remembered the mousetraps he'd set the day before.

Sam had gotten up early and gone for his morning run as usual. Dean decided he'd have time to check the traps and make breakfast before Sam returned, so he got dressed and pulled his boots on. At the last minute, he decided it might be a good idea to slip his loaded gun into the waistband of his jeans, just in case.

This time, the door pulled open easily.

But instead of a broom closet, there was a wall, smooth and solid and immovable like the rest of the walls in the corridor. It was as if the door had just been mounted on the wall for decoration and had always led nowhere.

Dean inspected every corner, running his hand under the bottom of the door and along each surface. The doorframe seemed to be attached to the wall by some kind of invisible adhesive, with only enough of the frame to allow the door to shut evenly. The rest of the frame - the part that Dean could swear he'd seen yesterday - was sliced off, as if it had never been there, as if the frame had always been a picture-frame. Not to mention that the wall behind the door had not been there yesterday, although it had the feel and appearance of having been built at the same time as the rest of the corridor.

Or as if the other half of the frame had been sealed into the wall somehow.

But no matter how Dean tapped and pulled and yanked on the frame, it had absolutely zero give. Whatever was holding it in place was clearly stronger than any super-glue Dean had ever encountered.

More out of frustration than curiosity, Dean shut the door and examined the frame from the outside. He hesitated before sticking his fingers underneath the closed door, but only because he could feel airflow there, as there had been yesterday.

"Oh, come on. Really?"

He drew his gun before opening the door a second time, then did a double take. The broom-closet from yesterday was back. Putting his gun away, Dean ran his hand over the inside of the doorframe, over the edge which the wall had obliterated, since it now seemed obvious that half of the frame had been somehow stuck inside the wall itself.

Then he noticed that the mousetraps he set yesterday were missing. In fact, now that he looked closer, Dean could see that the closet was different. The shelves were more crowded, mostly with cleaning agents and various tools, and they weren't as dusty as he remembered. There was a bucket in the corner with a mop in it, and the bucket was half-full of water. This was a closet that was used regularly, not one that had been sealed in by a magic door and hidden by a heavy bookcase for fifty-some years.

"Huh."

Dean started to step over the threshold of the door, to inspect the corner where the mouse-hole had been yesterday, then hesitated. Something's not right here, his brain warned. He stepped back and shut the door again, which is when he realized why the door itself seemed different today.

Yesterday, the door had opened inward, into the broom-closet. Today, when Dean clasped the ancient wrought-iron latch, the door swung toward him, out into the hallway.

He gave a cursory inspection of the frame, then grasped the latch and pulled.

The wall was back. Only this time, it was a solid sheet of sleek, black steel, reinforced at the edges with iron bolts. When Dean banged the flat of his hand on it, there was a decided hollow thud, as if the plating had been put in place to seal out whatever was behind it. After inspecting the steel wall for cracks and finding none, he shut the door again, unable to resist the temptation of opening it again a moment later.

Solid dirt this time, like the door had been placed into the side of the hill. It was packed so hard it was almost rock; it would take a pick-ax to loosen even a little of it.

Dean slammed the door and opened it again immediately, this time to an outdoor scene. A cold, barren wasteland of swirling snow stretched as far as the eye could see, lit by a small, wan light that could only be a dying sun. Dean didn't even have to guess that nothing lived in this landscape; he had a sense nothing had lived here for a very, very long time, if ever. The door seemed to be built into the side of a hill that had been blasted away, or maybe hadn't ever existed in the first place.

He shut the door, his heart pounding, and leaned against it to catch his breath. The scene he'd just witnessed was impossible, he knew that, but he'd had the distinct impression it was real, too. That place was cold and lifeless, the air probably not even breathable. It was like the end of the world, his brain provided unhelpfully. Or like another planet entirely.

"Oh, this is crazy," he muttered, partly to steady himself. He knew he should leave the door alone, go to Sam with what he'd seen and let his big-brained brother help figure out what was going on here. There must be some lore on magic doors that opened into other worlds, right? Like that freak-ass episode of the original Star Trek.

Sam wouldn't be back for at least another thirty minutes.

The next time Dean opened the door, the broom-closet was back, looking almost exactly as it had yesterday. But Dean didn't take the bait, didn't go in to see if his traps were still there. He wasn't an idiot, for God’s sake. He just needed a little more information. For research. Sam would thank him.

Next time, the wall was back. It looked almost the same as the first wall, but there were fine cracks in the plaster and he could swear the wall seemed to bulge outward just a little, as if something was pushing on it from the other side.

Dean closed the door and opened it immediately, and the broom-closet was back. He tried again, and another wall was there, this one made of solid stone and completely immoveable. Dean closed and re-opened the door another half-dozen times, and each time he was met with either the wall or the broom-closet.

Then the door opened to another lifeless scene, this time a desert under a cold sun, lifeless and barren again but without snow or wind. Just a cold, dead place without much in the way of visible atmosphere. Dean slammed the door, taking deep breaths of the air in the bunker's corridor. It occurred to him that the difference in air-pressure should have caused all the air in the bunker to rush out into the vacuous emptiness of that world, but it didn't. He probably would've been sucked into that airless place, if the laws of physics were working properly here but, apparently, they weren't. There seemed to be some kind of invisible forcefield, maybe made by the spell-work in the doorframe.

Dean knew the world beyond the door's threshold was real because he'd been in the broom-closet yesterday. He'd breathed the air and touched the objects there. But with the half-dozen variations on that closet that he'd already seen this morning, Dean wondered if he'd ever find his mousetraps again.

Then it occurred to him that maybe he wasn't even the same person he'd been before he stepped into that closet yesterday. What if it had somehow changed him?

"Fuck," Dean muttered, closing the door on another wall, the fourth one in a row. He really should wait and talk this over with Sam.

Telling himself this was the last time, he opened the door.

This time, another corridor just like the one he was standing in stretched out in front of him, doors identically matched number for number, curving out of sight around a corner in an exact mirror-image of where Dean was standing. The only difference was that the mirror-corridor was dark and silent, and Dean just knew instinctively that it hadn't been touched in at least fifty years. No one lived in that mirror-bunker, Dean was certain. It gave Dean the creeps.

He closed the door quickly, heart pounding again as he wondered what it might mean for a bunker to exist where no one lived, the Winchesters' home, but also not.

Dean opened the door again, just to get the sight of that empty place out of his mind. The mirror-bunker appeared again, only this time the corridor was lighted. This time, the mirror bunker seemed alive, identical in every way to the one he stood in.

Dean stuck his hand out tentatively, just to see if there was a glass wall or an actual mirror, but of course there wasn't. He was overcome with the urge to step over the threshold and look back, just to see if the view from the other side was a perfect reflection, as it seemed to be from this side. He slid his hand along the edges of the doorframe, his fingers brushing over the runes etched into the wood on the other side of the frame.

That's when he noticed the door. Or rather, another door, identical to the one Dean had opened, which stood open in an exact reflection of Dean's door. He reached out to run his hand over the latches and noticed the heavy bookcase shoved against the opposite wall, identical to its double in Dean's hallway.

"Okay, this can't be good," Dean muttered. It was definitely time to close this door.

Then he heard Sam's voice, unmistakable, moaning in pain, coming from somewhere down the mirror corridor.

"Sam? Sammy?" Dean called out without hesitation, momentarily forgetting that Sam was out running and couldn't possibly be inside this other hallway.

Another moan of pain was the only response.

Out of an instinct that was utterly beyond his control, Dean stepped across the threshold and ran toward the voice. He had the presence of mind to draw his gun, to be ready to face whatever was making Sam suffer like that. He checked back over his shoulder just before he turned the corner, making sure the door to the other corridor was still wide open. These were two details he later congratulated himself on because they helped to orient him as things took a weird lurch into bizarro-land.

Around the corner, the door to the room on Dean's right was open, and Dean had a moment to recognize it as his bedroom, or at least a perfect replica of the room he usually slept in. Sam was sprawled barefoot on the floor, his long arms and upper body flung wide across the foot of the bed, like he had slid off and was trying to pull himself back onto a sinking raft. His arms were streaked with blood and his clothes and hair were filthy; the black T-shirt and jeans he wore were ripped across the back and knees, and there was a bloody gash down the side of one thigh that looked particularly nasty, possibly infected.

"Sammy?" The word whispered past Dean's lips as he took in the messy state of the room. Weapons and books lay scattered everywhere, the blankets and sheets all but torn off the bed. The ancient rotary phone and typewriter lay smashed and broken on the floor, along with the mirror over Dean's chest of drawers. Dean glimpsed his personal journal with his treasured family photographs, carelessly discarded on the floor in the corner. "What the hell happened here?"

Sam started like he'd been hit, lifting his tear-stained face from the bed at the sound of Dean's voice. Dean almost gasped. Sam's face was as dirty and bloody as the rest of him, his eyes wild and red-rimmed from crying, his cheeks hollowed out so that he appeared almost skeletal. There was a fine sheen of sweat over his prominent brow, and Dean could see from the high color in his cheeks and the glittering of his eyes that Sam was feverish.

"Dean," Sam gasped, his voice hoarse and ragged from crying. "You came back. Oh my God, you came back!"

Now that Sam had turned toward Dean, it was obvious he was sick, or injured. Probably both. He had difficulty moving, favored the leg with the gash and his right arm, which he tucked close to his body as he tried to push himself up.

Then Sam's injured leg gave out beneath him and he crumpled to the floor with a loud moan of pain, and Dean was there, tucking his gun away as he reached for his not-brother.

"Hey, buddy, what happened here? What the hell, Sam? What did you do to yourself, huh?"

Dean soothed the injured man as he ran his hands over him, thirty years of checking for injuries and taking Sam's pulse so ingrained in him it was like Sam's body was simply an extension of his own. He managed to ease the man onto his back on the bed, where Sam's fever was clearly making him delirious.

"I'm sorry," he gasped, sweating and shivering as Dean found a towel, wet it in the sink, applied it to Sam's hot skin to cool it. Sam reached for Dean's face, his eyes glittering with tears, and Dean wasn't sure he could see very well. Sam seemed to be half-hallucinating. "I'm sorry, Dean. I tried to do what you said. I tried to forget you. I know you think I'm better off without you, Dean. I know I should just let you go, but I can't. You're gonna have to kill me, you hear me? I can't stop. I can't!"

"Okay, okay, let's just check you out here," Dean soothed as he pulled Sam's hand off his cheek, placed it on the bed as gently as he could. "Nobody's gonna die. You're gonna be just fine."

Dean ran his hands over Sam's body, finding bruises under his T-shirt and a neat ring of bruises that looked like fingerprints around his neck in addition to the more visible injuries. Dean gently washed the kid's face and discovered fresh scars, one along his left cheekbone, another across his chin. Old knife wounds.

Sam calmed visibly as Dean ran the pads of his fingers along the scars. He closed his eyes and sighed, going completely lax on the bed, breathing out Dean's name like a prayer. Dean ran his hands down over Sam's torso and down his arms, finding fresh wounds along with old scars on each one.

"What did you do, Sam? Huh?" Dean murmured as he washed away the blood so he could see which wounds were still open. "You run face-first into a meat-grinder?"

"Spells," Sam gasped against the pain as Dean pulled Sam's jeans off his slim hips, the better to get a good look at the gaping gash on his thigh, finding more knife wounds and old scars down both legs. "Been doing spells to get you back."

"Okay, okay," Dean murmured, checking the medicine cabinet for antibiotics and pain-killers. Luckily Sam hadn't destroyed it in his rampage and the drugs were still there, along with a roll of gauze and some bandages. "Okay, gonna get you fixed up. Gonna patch up this leg first, then we'll figure it out, okay? We'll figure it out."

Dean worked quickly and confidently, not letting himself think too deeply about what he was doing beyond the urgent need to make Sam better. By the time he'd bandaged and bound most of Sam's wounds he'd managed to stave off the worst of the panic attack that had been triggered when he first heard Sam's cries of pain. He found a mostly clean pair of sweatpants that must have been Dean's, but in Sam's emaciated condition they were only a little too short on him, making him look young and vulnerable with his feet and ankles exposed. Dean pulled the blanket up to cover him, hoping to alleviate some of Sam's shivering.

Sam babbled incomprehensibly as Dean fixed him up, moaning with fever and pain, keeping his eyes closed most of the time. When they opened, he couldn't seem to focus, although Dean's presence seemed to calm him some. And when Dean tucked himself up behind Sam's right shoulder and guided painkillers and antibiotics between his cracked lips, Sam at least seemed to understand the drill. He swallowed the pills and the water from the cup Dean found on the floor, only choking a little as he relaxed against Dean's body, pushing his face into Dean's neck and chest and taking deep, shuddering breaths.

"Jesus, Sammy, what happened to you?" Dean whispered when it was obvious Sam had finally fallen into a fitful doze.

Then he heard it. Out in the hall, at a distance although the kid was right here in his arms, Sam was calling his name.

Mirror universe, Dean’s addled brain provided. Sam's just getting back from his run.

"Dean?"

Sam's voice was closer now, tinged with a note of urgency that Dean could not resist.

"In here!" he called, gently shifting injured-Sam's dead weight so he could slip out from behind him. He made sure the kid was lying comfortably before he turned away to face all six-foot-four of chest-heaving, terrified brother looming in the doorway with a knife in his hand.

"What the– What the hell, Dean?"

Dean shrugged. It really seemed obvious, didn't it?

"You were injured," Dean gestured at the sleeping man on the bed. "You needed my help."

"That's not me," Sam choked out, incredulous. "How could you think that was me? Dean, we have to get out of here. Now!"

"What?" It was Dean's turn to be incredulous. "We can't just leave him here!"

"Come on, Dean," Sam urged. "We can't stay here. We don't belong here!"

"No, Sam," Dean shook his head. "I can't just leave him. I know he's not you, but he's another you, so he's still you, and I can't leave you here to die. You know I can't!"

"Fuck." Sam ran a hand through his sweat-drenched hair, bit his bottom lip. "Okay, fuck it. We'll bring him with us. We'll take him home with us."

"What?" Dean stared. "He's sick. He probably needs a hospital. I don't think we should move him right now..."

Sam drew in a breath, chest heaving. "Okay, look, Dean. You went through that door, and now we're in some alternate reality. We don't know what we're dealing with here, but things are obviously different, and the you that's supposed to be here isn't. So, I'm gonna take a wild guess and say this is a really shitty reality, and I want to go home. Now, if you won't come with me and leave him behind, then let's bring him with us. Either way, we need to get the hell out of here."

Dean knew Sam was right. Sam knew Dean better than Dean knew himself, and he understood that Dean couldn't leave this other Sam any more than Sam could leave Dean if the situation was reversed.

Just thinking about this was making Dean's head hurt.

"Okay, come on," he leaned down over the prostrate form on the bed, yanking the blanket off. "You get his feet."

"Wha– What's happening? Dean?" Sick-Sam's eyes fluttered open, glittering with fever, as Dean murmured quietly to him and tried to slip under him to lift him off the bed.

"Yeah, it's me, buddy," Dean soothed. "Time to move."

Sick-Sam's head lolled back on Dean's shoulder as Dean got under him, waiting for Sam to grab the injured man's legs before Dean lifted his upper body off the bed.

"What? No!" Sick-Sam kicked his legs out of Sam's grasp, blinking down at Sam without recognition. "Who the fuck are you? Leave me alone! Get off me!"

Sam backed off immediately, putting his hands up palms out in surrender.

"Okay," Dean murmured into sick-Sam's ear, stroking a hand down his arm. "It's okay, Sammy. He's just trying to help. We need to move you somewhere safe."

"No," sick-Sam protested as Dean managed to wrestle him off the bed, nodding to Sam as he pushed himself under sick-Sam's right shoulder.

Sick-Sam's body went rigid with pain as Dean grasped his injured arm, and Dean realized that the kid's shoulder had probably healed wrong after some long-ago injury, which explained why his right arm hung uselessly by his side.

"Damn," Dean muttered as sick-Sam settled against him, sweating and panting with pain. Sam slotted in under the kid's other shoulder, and this time sick-Sam was clearly too out of it to protest.

"Come on, move your feet," Dean coaxed as they half-dragged sick-Sam into the hallway. "You're too big to carry."

Dean tried not to think about how thin the kid seemed; he could feel sick-Sam's rib-cage under his T-shirt, the jut of his hipbone pressing sharply into Dean's side.

"Come on, come on," Sam muttered anxiously as sick-Sam's head lolled to one side and his injured leg dragged behind them.

For a split second before they rounded the corner to the magic door Dean panicked, his entire system flooding with trepidation. In the same moment that he registered his relief that the door was open, he heard a deep voice echoing from somewhere behind them, in the direction of the stairs to the dungeon.

"Oh, Sammy!" the familiar voice called, its taunting tone unmistakable. "I'm home!"

Ice water rushed through Dean's veins, and sick-Sam roused a little, lifting his head and blinking blearily.

"Dean?" he croaked. He tried to turn around toward the sound, but Sam and Dean urged him forward, toward the door.

"Faster!" Sam hissed, all but dragging the injured man between them as Dean picked up the pace.

"No, no," sick-Sam croaked, twisting around, struggling feebly to pull away. "I summoned him. He's coming!"

"Sammy?"

Dean's own voice boomed from behind them as they reached the magic doorway, sounding strange but familiar at the same time. Recognizable. Dean could see their own corridor stretching out in front of them through the opening, welcoming them home. He was about to drag sick-Sam over the threshold when the familiar voice sounded again.

"Sam!"

The commanding bark made them all hesitate, both Sams obviously programmed to respond to that voice.

But there was something deeply wrong. Even as they all paused in the doorway, both Sams turning toward the man stalking down the hall toward them, Dean knew. Even before his doppelgänger's eyes flashed black, he knew.

"Go! Now!" Dean commanded as his instinct for self-preservation took over. He crowded through the door, into the other corridor, pulling sick-Sam with him. As the larger man protested weakly, the demon came at them with superhuman speed, and Dean glimpsed the horror in Sam's eyes as they tumbled through. Dean let sick-Sam slump away from him so he could make a lunge for the door, slamming it in the face of the snarling demon who took a flying leap at the door from the other side as it clicked shut.

**//**//**

Dean braced himself against the closed door, breathing hard, expecting a pounding from the other side, expecting to have to hold the door shut long enough for the two Sams to get away...

The silence in the corridor was almost deafening, broken only by the soft whimpers of the injured man on the floor and Dean's own panting. No banging, no pressure of a body pushing against the door from the other side, no booming voice demanding to open up. For another moment Dean stayed braced against the door, waiting for the monster on the other side to make his move, but of course he wasn't there anymore. Dean had closed the door. That other place, whatever it was, had ceased to exist.

Dean turned slowly, wide-eyed and shaking now that the immediate danger was passed. Sam was kneeling next to his injured doppelgänger, staring up at Dean in shock.

"Well, that went well," Dean said gamely.

"You– You think that went well?" Sam gasped incredulously.

"Well, we got away, didn't we? We saved this guy from the demon." Dean shrugged. "I call that a win."

"Dean, that was his brother," Sam reminded him. "This guy says he summoned him. You brought this Sam here, and now I don't know how we're going to get him back—“

"He's injured," Dean growled. "He was dying back there. You think that demon was gonna help him? Huh?"

It hurt just remembering that dark time when Dean had been demonic, when he’d cared so little about Sam that he could've hurt him. Badly. He had hurt him, at least emotionally, and for that Dean would always feel guilty.

"We should have left him there," Sam shook his head.

"And let that thing – that demon – kill him?"

"That demon was you, Dean," Sam said. "Or a version of you. You think he's gonna stop ‘til he gets his brother back?"

"He's a demon, Sam," Dean snapped. "He doesn't care about anybody."

"I don't believe that," Sam shook his head. "I didn't believe it then, and I don't believe it now."

Dean remembered too well how it had felt to be a demon, how free from guilt or responsibility he’d felt, how angry he’d been with Sam or Crowley or anyone who had tried to take away that freedom. There had been moments he’d been consumed with a rage he couldn't control, and he’d known he needed to kill something just to keep the rage in check.

And beneath it all had burned the twisted, seething resentment that had fueled his deepest self-hatred, a hatred he’d turned on the person he loved most. All those hurtful things he'd said to Sam after Sam had captured him, about Sam being a burden and that he was to blame for their mother's death, Dean had said those things out of a place of terrible self-loathing, out of a desire to make himself utterly unlovable so that Sam would let him go.

Because the fact is, he could've killed Sam. Dean was terrified of his capacity to kill Sam, and although he couldn't admit it even now, he had feared that killing rage more than he feared anything. Being capable of destroying the one source of goodness in his life would always haunt him.

"That demon was there for only one thing, and it wasn't good," Dean growled. "This kid figured out a way to summon him, and the demon was pissed. Trust me, demon-me was an evil monster, and he would've killed his brother to regain his freedom."

"I don't believe that," Sam insisted, gazing down at the injured man as he took his pulse. Sick-Sam had fallen into blessed unconsciousness. "He doesn't believe that."

Dean sighed. Sam's faith in him had always felt like a kind of miracle, something he didn't deserve. But it was also the one thing he counted on, when the chips were down, and they both knew it.

"Look, what's done is done," Dean took a deep breath. "Let's get him into bed and make him some chicken soup or something."

Sam made a face, but in the end he helped Dean carry the injured man into Dean's room.

"Just temporarily," Dean growled when Sam protested. "I'll get one of the other beds made up and we can move him again later."

"What the hell happened back there?" Sam asked, after Dean tucked sick-Sam into bed and turned out the light.

Dean explained about the door, how he went back to get his mousetraps but found the mirror universe instead.

"You just opened the door and that other universe was there?" Sam looked skeptical.

Dean considered lying for all of five seconds before he admitted to opening the door several times before that.

"I've got a really bad feeling about this," Sam muttered as they stood in the doorway to Dean's room, staring down at the sleeping man.

"That's my line." Dean huffed. "And it's fine. You go take a shower. Eat your breakfast. Let me worry about Skelator here."

Sam scrubbed a hand over his jaw and shook his head a little. "You know, I remember what it was like, when you were gone," he said. "After a while, I was barely human. This guy has gone years without you, or at least without the real you, by the look of him."

"I can handle it, Sam," Dean assured him. "He's not exactly a threat, not in his condition."

Sam took a deep breath. "You're not his brother," he growled. You're mine. The last words were unspoken, but Sam's meaning was clear.

"Don't you think I know that?" Dean said. "I know he's not you, okay? You can dial back the possessive she-bear thing. I'm not gonna forget who my brother is."

But the fact was, after Sam left the room with another dark look and a dubious shake of his shaggy head, it was all Dean could do not to power up into protective-big-brother mode. The kid on the bed looked, acted, even smelled like his brother, and every instinct in Dean's body compelled him to do everything in his power to fix him.

Nevertheless, after checking sick-Sam’s pulse and inspecting the gash on his thigh to make sure it hadn't reopened in the scramble to escape that other place, Dean decided it was probably best to let the man sleep for a while. He needed rest to heal, and with the pain-killers in him he seemed to be sleeping more-or-less comfortably. Chicken soup could wait until later.

**//**//**

In the kitchen, Dean scrambled eggs and fried bacon, brewed more coffee and popped bread into the toaster. By the time Sam entered, all scrubbed and shaved and dressed in that deep-red-checked flannel that made him look particularly strong and healthy and brought out the green in his eyes, Dean had already eaten and was searching the archive with his laptop.

Not that Dean really paid that much attention to what Sam wore. It was just part of his programming to notice when Sam looked sick, and right now the contrast between this handsome, robust specimen of American manhood and the sick puppy lying in Dean's bedroom was pretty dramatic.

"Find anything?" Sam asked as he helped himself to the eggs and toast, ignoring the bacon with that persnickety upturn of his perfectly pointed nose that Dean knew well.

Persnickety? More like picky. Sam and his picky nose, Dean chuckled.

"What?" Sam frowned, and Dean shook his head sharply. He must be losing it, day-dreaming about Sam picking his nose.

"Nothin'," he admitted gruffly, focusing on the screen in front of him. "Can't find a damn thing about a freaky medieval door that opens into other worlds."

"Or maybe the same world, just on a different timeline," Sam suggested as he opened his own laptop. "I was thinking about it in the shower."

"Of course you were," Dean muttered, deliberately not thinking about Sam in the shower.

Sam frowned, but otherwise ignored him. "There's a theory in physics about alternate realities. It says that anything that can happen, does happen. Every choice we make, every moment in time when things could've gone another way, they did. The timeline we live in isn't really linear; it's more like a huge tree with millions of branches heading off into millions of different directions, all existing simultaneously."

"So there's a universe where the Earth is just a frozen rock with no life on it?" Dean lifted an eyebrow, shuddering as he remembered that dead, empty world. "Some place where creation didn't happen?"

Sam shook his head. "I think it's more personal than that. I think the door shows you other possibilities from your own life."

Dean blinked. "Wait, how is that place – those two lifeless places – how can that have anything to do with me personally?"

The answer came to Dean almost before the words were out of his mouth, and he instantly regretted them. Of course the world had ended because of something he had done, or had failed to do, in another timeline. Twice. Maybe more.

"Never mind. I get it," he said quickly, before Sam could spell it out for him. "So the door reacts to the person opening it. If you open it, you see other possibilities from your life."

"That's the theory, yeah," Sam agreed, an annoying look of sympathy plastered to his handsome mug.

"Okay, but the door was open on the other side too," Dean said, pacing the floor as much to stave off the agitation he was feeling as to work the problem. "So the Sam from that universe – the one lying in my bed right now – he did that."

"I guess so, yeah," Sam agreed.

"So does that mean that this world – our world – is some alternative timeline for him?”

Sam took a deep breath and let it out slow.

"He's me, Dean," he said softly. "If you were a demon and I couldn't fix you, and I'd been living alone in this bunker for the past two years, trying to get you back – I'd probably be pretty desperate. Pretty insane, actually. I might have torn the place apart, looking for some way I hadn't thought of before. Finding that door– Maybe there's ways to manipulate its magic. Maybe I would've figured out a way to get another you to come through it."

Dean stopped pacing, stared at Sam blankly. "You think that sick kid in there lured me through that door on purpose?"

"It's a theory," Sam sighed. "He's obviously been casting spells, using his own blood to summon his demon brother."

"That's crazy, Sam!" Dean was horrified.

"Insane," Sam nodded. "Totally looney-tunes." And exactly what I would do, if all else failed, Sam didn't say, but Dean heard the words in his head anyway.

"But it worked," Dean protested. "The demon came. His summoning spell worked."

"Looks like it worked too well," Sam said. "He got two of you. At the same time."

Dean scrubbed a hand over his jaw as he put the other hand on his hip.

"Okay, so all we have to do is leave the door closed. Make sure nothing ever comes out. We can board it up. Build a wall. Block it off so nothing can come through it ever again."

Sam took another deep breath, made a face. "From your description, that's already been done. Walls, bookcases stacked in front of it, protection warding... Nothing seems to prevent somebody from opening that door, eventually. Here it is," he announced as he found the reference in the Men of Letters Archive to a "Porta Mundi," or "Door of the World." "'It appears and disappears at will,'" Sam read aloud.

"Whose will?" Dean leaned over Sam's shoulder, peering into the laptop screen with one hand braced on the table. He'd never tell Sam, but he loved it when Sam's research gave Dean an excuse to be so close to him, to feel Sam's comforting warmth so steady and strong against Dean's chest. Dean feigned near-sightedness just so that he could get his face down alongside Sam's, almost but not quite touching.

Luckily, Sam never seemed to notice when Dean did this. He never called him out on his personal space issues, never seemed to mind that Dean was practically plastered up against his back, breathing right next to his ear. Sam seemed totally okay with it, in fact, like he was whenever they moved in sync or stood or sat pressed together during a job. Sam seemed to take their physical closeness for granted, like Dean did most of the time, when it wasn't making his heart race or his palms dampen with sweat. Dean was just grateful his dick didn't get hard anymore, like it did when they were younger. That had been awkward.

"The door reveals itself to whoever seeks it," Sam explained, yanking Dean out of his half-horny daze.

"Well, we weren't looking for it," Dean frowned. "We were just trying to figure out how the mice got in."

"Right," Sam nodded. "So I guess it's the other Sam's fault the door appeared. He must have activated its magic with his summoning spell somehow."

Sam read further down the page and made a surprised start that pushed him back in his chair, flush against Dean's chest. "Huh."

"What?" Dean leaned closer. He could smell the clean citrus scent of Sam's fancy shampoo and tried not to take a deep breath.

"Well, it says the door appears when the seeker needs it. It responds to the seeker's regret over a past mistake, or a choice that ended badly. It shows the seeker other possibilities, other ways those choices might have gone."

"Definitely not my regrets," Dean said. "I'm not sorry the world didn't end. Not sorry you fixed me when I turned into a demon, either."

"You sure about that?" Sam winced. "You told me you were happy that way. You said you 'liked the disease.'"

"That wasn't me, Sammy, and you know it," Dean reminded him.

"Why did you open that door, Dean?" Sam asked, tilting his head to look up at Dean. "After we put the mousetraps in there, I mean. Why go back on your own this morning?"

"To get my traps," Dean leaned back so Sam could face him without going cross-eyed.

"Yeah, no," Sam shook his head. "Afterwards, I mean. Once you found the alternate broom-closet, the one without the traps. You kept opening the door."

"Curiosity," Dean shrugged. "It was like a fun-house novelty thing, you know? A new surprise every time. Mostly it opened up on a broom-closet or a wall."

"Until it didn't," Sam said. "Until you opened up on the End of the World."

"Yeah," Dean breathed, eyes widening at the memory.

"Did it occur to you to stop opening the door at that point?"

"Well, then it went back to being a wall or a broom-closet again," Dean said. "Totally harmless."

Sam sighed, shaking his head. "You're like the rat in that experiment, the one where it pushes the same button over and over again because one time it got food. Never mind the electric shocks it gets most of the time."

"It's called investigation, Sam, and in case you hadn't noticed, it's what we do." Dean gathered the empty plates and carried them to the sink, running water over them to let them soak for a while. "I'm going to go check on our patient."

Dean was relieved when Sam didn't protest. They were temporarily between cases, since Sam had come clean about working with the British Men of Letters. Dean had understood Sam's logic, even if he didn't agree with Sam's decision, and he definitely didn't trust those limey bastards. He had a hard time believing their story that the bitch who shot, kidnapped, and tortured Sam had gone rogue. After meeting Arthur Ketch, it seemed pretty obvious that psychopaths were the norm in their organization, not the exception.

Nevertheless, if Sam was willing to forgive them for what one of their agents had done to him, who was Dean to argue? For now, Dean was along for the ride, but he didn't have to like it. He'd talked Sam into taking a little break from all the souped-up mass-monster-killing– a self-imposed stay-cation here at the bunker– just to get their bearings before going all-in again.

Of course, in Dean's experience, nothing ever went exactly as planned, and the current situation was proving to be no exception.

Chapter Text

Sick-Sam was still mostly unconscious, although he moaned and shifted on the bed when Dean laid a hand on his forehead to check his temperature.

"Dean..." Sick-Sam croaked brokenly, leaning into Dean's touch.

"Yeah, buddy, I'm here," Dean murmured. "You're okay. You're safe. Fever's gone down some. Here, why don't you take a little water."

Dean slid his arm under sick-Sam's shoulders, shushing him as he moaned in pain. Sick-Sam's head lolled against Dean's chest as Dean elevated him enough to drink without choking. The kid's lips were cracked and dry, but he made an effort to sip from the cup Dean pressed against his bottom lip, swallowing painfully. It was almost time to give him more painkillers, so Dean forced a couple of pills down sick-Sam's throat with more water while he sputtered and choked.

"There you go," Dean soothed as he helped the big man lie back down and get comfortable again. "Now you can sleep some more. You'll be right as rain in no time, Sammy."

Dean checked the kid's wounded leg to reassure himself the infection was no worse, then slipped quietly out of the room, almost running into his brother, who had apparently been standing there watching for several minutes.

Dean wasn't sure he understood the expression on Sam's face; in a way, it looked like Sam was pissed, or maybe jealous. His brow was knit and his lips were pursed in that disapproving look Dean knew too well.

On the other hand, Sam seemed pensive, his gaze soft as he took in the sight of Dean nursing his doppelgänger.

"This must be weird for you," Dean suggested as they stood shoulder-to-shoulder, watching the sick man on the bed.

"You could say that," Sam agreed, then glanced down at the phone in his hand. "I just got a text from Mom. She's caught a case. Pack of werewolves in Montana. Says she needs back-up."

"Caught a case," Dean repeated skeptically. "You mean the Brits are sending her to Montana to clean up another mess for them."

Sam wrinkled his nose. "Well, yeah, I guess," he admitted. "I'd kind of like to go, if it's all right with you."

"Now?" Dean raised an eyebrow, glancing between his brother and the figure on the bed. "Sam, we can't just leave him here."

"No, I know," Sam nodded. "I figured you'd probably want to stay with him. I'll go, meet up with Mom, be back in a couple of days. Piece o' cake."

Dean's hackles went up immediately. Sam hunting without him was never a welcome thought. On the other hand, Sam had just done it recently, taking out an entire nest of invading vampires, including the alpha vamp, with only Mary Winchester as his back-up. It wasn't like Sam couldn't handle himself without Dean. Quite the opposite, in fact. Now that Mary was back and seemed to hold so much of Sam's attention, Dean couldn't help feeling a little left out. Sam had always been the better hunter of the two brothers, and Mary Winchester was pretty formidable herself. Sam and Mary made an impressive team, and if Dean was honest with himself, it made him feel a little awkward.

Okay, a lot awkward.

If it came right down to it, it was probably the reason he'd been so understanding when Sam revealed that he'd started working with the British Men of Letters. When Dean walked into that compound and found Sam with Mary he'd been surprised, but not as shocked as he'd expected to feel. Sam had connected with their mother, the strange, stoic hunter who seemed to have ice-water running through her veins. The fact was, Sam seemed to understand Mary in a way Dean was pretty sure he never would.

He'd told Sam to pick a side, and that was exactly what Sam had done. Dean wasn't so sure he was happy about it, but Sam was his brother, the word that meant so much more than sibling, or partner, or best friend. He couldn't blame Sam for doing what Dean had told him to do.

The problem was, it felt to Dean like the side Sam had chosen wasn't Dean's, and that bothered him more than he was ready to admit. Sam had always had Dean wrapped around his little finger. There was no Dean without Sam. Dean had bent over backwards to cover for Sam when he'd rebelled against their dad, their way of life, even their mutual attraction for each other. Dean had accommodated every transgression, every perversion, because it was Sam. On his eighteenth birthday, when Sam had drunkenly broken down and confessed his long-repressed desire for Dean, Dean had been calm and reassuring, had allowed the distraught teenager to kiss him, to make love to him. Their union had been desperate, drunken, and tearful, as though Sam had already decided it was the last time, not just the first. For his part, Dean had acquiesced to all of Sam's demands with a kind of self-flagellating fatalism. The next morning, when Sam confessed to Dean that he'd been accepted into Stanford, all expenses paid, Dean had swallowed his pain and devastation because Sam deserved that shot at a normal life, especially after what they'd just done.

Of course, they'd never discussed that night again. It had been buried, alongside all the accumulated debris of their long, miserable lives. Just one more regret, one more reminder of what freaks they were, one more example of how cursed their lives were. Dean could see how Sam beat himself up about it, tortured himself over his youthful transgression until Dean wished he could take it back, wished he could convince Sam it had all been his idea in the first place. Sam wasn't the sick one in the brother-loving department, Dean was.

But that was years ago now. So much water had passed under the bridge since that night Dean rarely even thought about it anymore. He was pretty sure Sam had completely forgotten it, especially given all the knocks his impressive brain had endured since. Sam rarely looked at Dean with longing in his almond-shaped eyes anymore. Sam rarely touched him in that lingering way that made Dean's heart race and his hopes soar. Somehow, Sam had withstood the siren-song of his desire for Dean, and the least Dean could do was to keep a handle on his own raging libido.

After all, controlling his perpetual horniness was something Dean was pretty good at. His dad had drilled into him the need to harness his natural urges into useful energy, to let his lust fuel his passion for the hunt. Sex and violence were two sides of the same coin, as Dad had said, and Dean had long ago learned to channel his desire for one into his practice of the other. Hunting alongside Sam had always been stimulating, in more ways than one, and Dean had learned to use that constant low-level arousal to help him get the job done.

Nevertheless, Dean couldn’t help chipping away at Sam’s puritanical stoicism. Dean took for granted Sam’s decision not to let their relationship “go there” again, but that didn’t stop him from teasing the hell out of his sexually-repressed little brother whenever he got the chance. He knew he was being a jerk, but he didn’t let that stop him. Although he’d never admit it, Dean needed Sam’s reassurance that he’d never leave, no matter how many buttons Dean pushed.

Because, when he was being honest with himself, that was exactly what Dean feared most.

"Okay," he said now, unable to look Sam in the eyes. "You go and do what you gotta do. This sick puppy and me will be just fine here without you."

"Just for a couple of days, Dean," Sam repeated, like he was already regretting it. "I promise."

Dean cleared his throat, rolled his shoulders as he reached into his jeans pocket to pull out his car keys. "I said it's okay, Sam," he growled, still unable to look Sam in the face. "Here. You can take the car."

"That's okay," Sam shook his head. "Mom's picking me up."

"Of course she is." Dean rolled his eyes.

The brothers stood awkwardly for another moment, turned toward each other, almost breathing each other's air.

Here's where we kiss and I beg him to stay, Dean's brain provided unhelpfully.

"Dean..." Sick-Sam moaned, and the moment was gone. Dean turned automatically toward the sound, and Sam turned away, scrubbing a hand over his face as if he could almost feel the not-kiss. When Dean glanced back over his shoulder, Sam was walking away, hunched in that way of his that almost looked like rejection.

I'm in a love triangle with my own brother, Dean's brain smirked as he ran water on the washcloth, wringing it out before crossing to the bed. Sick-Sam's skin was flushed and his eyes were closed. As Dean lay the cool, damp cloth against his forehead, the sick man let out a sigh and he seemed to relax a little.

"There you go, Sammy," Dean crooned softly. "There you go."

He pulled up the desk chair next to the bed, then reached out and replaced the washcloth on sick-Sam's forehead with his hand. Still warm, but not dangerously so. He leaned closer so he could study the bruises on sick-Sam's neck, which was when he noticed it. A circle of small scars at the base of sick-Sam's throat where it met his left shoulder, unmistakably dentin in shape.

"Somebody take a bite out of you, Sammy? Huh?" Dean murmured with a frown.

The bite had to have broken the skin to leave scars like that. Unbidden, Dean experienced a flashback to the moment when his demon self had told Sam he was fighting the urge to rip Sam's throat out. With his teeth. Dean ran his fingers along the silvery scars, raised slightly from the surrounding skin. He could imagine the force of the bite, Sam writhing in pain as Dean held him down with his demonic strength. Dean could almost taste the warm, coppery blood flooding his mouth.

Maybe it was a residual sense memory from his time as a vampire, but Dean was just sure that Sam's blood would be better than anything he'd ever tasted.

Okay. Time to take a break. Where the hell had that thought come from anyway? Yech.

Dean jumped as the door to the bunker slammed shut. Sam leaving, his brain reminded him. Didn't even say goodbye.

Sick-Sam seemed to hear the sound in his sleep. He shifted and moaned on the bed, and Dean could see his eyelids fluttering, as if he was dreaming.

"Dean..." The word slipped out between sick-Sam's cracked and swollen lips, and Dean was right there with the little cup of water.

"Yeah, buddy," he murmured as slipped his arm under sick-Sam's shoulders again, propping him up so he could take a sip. "I'm right here. Not going anywhere. Here, have a little of this. It'll make you feel better, I promise."

Sick-Sam swallowed reflexively, eyes fluttering open as his good hand groped weakly for Dean's wrist, holding his hand still while sick-Sam sucked in another ounce of water. He lifted fever-bright eyes to Dean's face when he finished, and Dean could feel his fingers trembling where they clutched Dean's wrist.

"Dean," the sick man croaked, blinking up at Dean blearily, as if he couldn't believe his own eyes.

"Yeah, that's right, Sammy," Dean murmured reassuringly. "It's me. You're all right now. You're safe."

This time, when he tried to slide off the bed, sick-Sam held onto him.

"Stay," sick-Sam said, his voice a cracked whisper. "Please."

It wasn't the first time Sam had been sick and needed Dean to ground him. Dean was more familiar with Sam's hallucinations than he cared to admit; Sam's struggles with reality and visions had been a recurring theme throughout their long, dangerous lives. Even when he was a kid, Sam used to beg Dean to lie down with him when he was feverish, as if Dean's physical closeness was the only thing that kept him from flailing off the edge of his own over-active imagination into nightmares far worse than anything most kids could conjure.

Dean didn't hesitate. He'd seen Sam this desperate before, and it wasn't good to refuse him when every cell of his body screamed,Fix Sam! Help him! Make him better! Don't let him die!

"Okay, okay, just ‘til you fall asleep," Dean murmured as he sat with his back against the headboard. Sam tucked into his side, broken arm folded between them, big shaggy head resting on Dean's shoulder. It was awkward, couldn't be comfortable, but Sam relaxed against Dean with a sigh of pure contentment, his entire body almost immediately going limp with sleep. It was like flipping a switch.

Dean let himself inhale the overripe smell of baby brother with a guilty thrill that spiked low in his gut. He turned his face into sick-Sam's dirty hair and breathed sweat and blood and something putrid, aware that the kid had probably puked and rolled around in his own vomit and Dean didn't care. Plenty of time to clean up and take a shower later. For now, sick-Sam needed to sleep and heal, and if Dean's physical presence helped with that, then Dean would stay right here as long as he was needed, no questions asked.

**//**//**

Dean woke with a start. He was in his room, the lingering scent of sweat-soaked brother confusing him for a moment because he was alone, the bed-covers rumpled and loose next to him.

Then he remembered.

"Sam?"

Dean sat up, expecting to find sick-Sam on the floor on the other side of the bed. The kid had been in no condition to so much as get up to use the bathroom, so if he'd tried to do that...

The room was empty.

"Sam?"

Dean was off the bed and into the hall before he could form a coherent thought.

Sick-Sam wasn't in the bathroom. Dean checked the library, the kitchen, even Sam's room, before it occurred to him.

Sick-Sam was on his knees in front of the magic door, his back to Dean. He was drawing sigils in his own blood onto the ancient wood, chanting under his breath as he did it. There were fresh knife-wounds on his arms, and his good hand was shaking violently as he drew the symbols with the tip of one crimson-tinged finger.

"Jesus, Sammy," Dean breathed, shocked into complete paralysis as he surveyed the scene. "What the hell are you doing?"

Sick-Sam acted like he didn't even hear Dean as he went on chanting hoarsely and drawing with the blood he'd somehow managed to drip into a little silver bowl on the floor beside him. Horror and revulsion choked Dean's chest and bile rose in his throat at the obvious evidence of sick-Sam's self-mutilation. If Dean had had any doubts before about whether those old scars were self-inflicted, sick-Sam was making it obvious right now.

"Sam! Stop!"

Dean took a step forward and sick-Sam's head snapped around, throwing a look of such feral rage over his shoulder that it made Dean shiver. He hesitated, and sick-Sam turned back to his chanting, ignoring Dean again as he made another long, shallow cut in his forearm.

"Fuck!" Dean lunged forward without conscious thought, grabbing onto sick-Sam's wrist with the intention of wrestling the knife away.

But sick-Sam was like a wild animal. He twisted and wrenched free, then turned toward Dean with a savage growl that was like nothing Dean had ever heard because it sounded like Sam but also utterly alien at the same time. Monstrous.

Dean had a split second to realize that sick-Sam's blade was pressed against Dean's gut, and that in all likelihood Dean was about to be fatally stabbed. Then the blade fell away as sick-Sam's teeth sank into the flesh at the base of Dean's throat.

Dean gasped in pain and shock, his senses consumed with brother-sweat and brother-blood and the feel of Sam all around him as sick-Sam's teeth broke skin. He was aware of struggling, trying to free himself, but sick-Sam held him fast, pressing him to the floor with the strength of a madman, his body still heavier than Dean's, even in its emaciated state. As he held Dean down, Sick-Sam took long pulls of Dean's blood, sucking and swallowing, and Dean began to lose consciousness. When sick-Sam's finally let go, he lapped at the wound and the pain subsided, replaced by a sense of floating. Dean felt as if he was outside his body while also inside Sam, both inside and surrounded by him at the same time.

Dean's last conscious thought before he passed out was, why? What had happened to Sam to turn him into this wild, barely-human creature? How had things gone so wrong?

**//**//**

When Dean woke up he was lying on his bed in his room, and for a moment he thought he was alone. His neck throbbed, and as he reached up to touch the wound he saw sick-Sam sitting on the chair by the bed, watching him. The kid looked better. The slash marks on his arms had healed over, his eyes weren't glittering with fever anymore, and the color of his skin had gone from pallid and unnatural to its normal faded-tan complexion. He'd washed his face, slicked his hair back, and it almost looked like he'd put on weight, his body filled out and healthier-looking.

"Hey."

Sick-Sam's lips turned up in a tentative smile, and Dean was struck, for only about the thirty-millionth time, by Sam's exotic beauty, along with the odd sense that there was something otherworldly about that beauty, something not quite human.

"What the fuck, Sam?"

Dean knew he should be terrified, mortified, shocked. The kid had bitten him, for God's sake! The hunter in Dean was screaming that he should've known better, he should have tested sick-Sam for every possible monster before this happened. He shouldn't have been so trusting because there was obviously something seriously wrong with this alternate version of his brother.

But somehow all he felt was an unnatural calm, and it occurred to him that sick-Sam might have infected him with something, that there might have been some kind of soothing agent in his saliva that was preventing Dean from freaking out. Which was just all kinds of crazy, and should have given him yet another reason to freak out.

Dean fingered the wound on his neck, only to find there was no wound, just a bruise that was slightly sensitive to touch.

"What, are you some kind of vampire or something?"

Sick-Sam shook his head, looking contrite as he hunched over on the chair, his big body somehow managing to seem small in his torn T-shirt and Dean's too-small sweatpants.

"Not a vampire," sick-Sam said hoarsely, then cleared his throat. "Just an addict."

Dean stared at him, uncomprehending. Addiction? It had been so long, Dean knew his Sam didn't have that problem anymore. He figured Sam had been healed of all his old afflictions when his body came back from Hell, same as Dean. Not that he'd ever asked. He'd never wanted to open those old wounds as long as he lived.

But apparently this alternate-universe version of Sam had done just that.

"Addiction," Dean nodded with what he hoped was a look of severe disapproval. "You fell off the wagon."

Sick-Sam looked away, flushing, and Dean knew he was right.

"You've been using again," Dean clarified. "Who's your source this time, Sam, huh? You find another Ruby?"

"No!" Sick-Sam looked horrified, then apologetic again. "No. It's not a demon. I mean, it was, at first. But then I figured out a way to alter the formula, and now it only takes a drop or two to keep me going. Just enough to do what I have to do."

"What do you have to do, Sam?" Dean struggled to control the sinking feeling in his gut, reminding himself that this wasn't his Sam, this poor sick kid. His Sam had kicked the habit long ago and had never looked back.

Or had he? Did Dean's Sam struggle against the pull of his old habit? Did he still have cravings?

Sick-Sam was shaking his head. "It doesn't matter," he said softly. "I'm stuck here, now. Nothing matters."

"Wait..." Dean suddenly remembered what sick-Sam had been doing when he found him in the hall. "You didn't open that door, did you?"

He got up too quickly and practically passed out as his head filled with fog and his vision went dark.

"Whoa, hey, hold on there." Sick-Sam was there immediately, supporting Dean as he stumbled sideways. "You've lost a lot of blood. Take a minute."

"You– You drank my blood," Dean gasped, clinging to sick-Sam just to stay upright as he tried to clear his head by sheer force of will. "Why did you do that?"

"It makes me better," sick-Sam muttered unhappily. "I need it."

"But you– You said your addiction was back," Dean said, confusion making his head pound.

Sick-Sam nodded. "It's you, Dean," he said softly, almost sadly. "I'm addicted to you. Well, obviously not exactly you. My version of you. But in a pinch, your blood works, too. I just need more of it."

Dean blinked furiously, trying to make sense of what sick-Sam was saying.

"So you're telling me that demon-me is your source," he suggested, trying to glare at sick-Sam but succeeding only in making a face that probably looked more drunken than angry, since he still couldn't get his eyes to focus. "Your only source. And he lets you feed off him."

"When I can," sick-Sam nodded. "Sometimes he takes off for weeks at a time, and he's not easy to summon. Even harder to trap. He's not fully demonic anymore, so there's spells using my blood that I have to use, and lately the spells have been harder to cast. They need more and more of my blood, and I get weaker and weaker while I'm working them. Sometimes they don't work at all. That's bad. Or sometimes they work, but there's a delay. I think that's what was happening when you found me."

As sick-Sam babbled, he gently helped Dean sit on the bad, then he knelt on the floor at Dean's feet, speaking slowly and sympathetically, as he would to a child.

"It's not a great way to live, but sometimes Dean gets better, and I find reason to hope again," he said. "Sometimes, he's almost human. We hunt, I help him find kills that appease the Mark. We do what we've always done, and it's good, you know? Almost normal."

"So let me get this straight..."

Dean wished his head would clear the fuck up so he could think straight, but he was damned if he was going to let sick-Sam see how dizzy and out of it he felt, especially since it was sick-Sam's fault and the kid drank his blood! for God's sake.

"So your brother stayed a demon," Dean said. "You did the sanctified blood ritual, but it didn't work?"

It made Dean wince to remember how painful that blood ritual had been, but it hurt more to remember the rage he had felt. Against Sam. How Dean had had murderous intent in his heart towards the one person he loved most. He could still feel that hammer in his hand, remembered swinging it with every intention of bashing Sam's head in. If Cas hadn't stepped up and grabbed him...

"Not that first time, no," sick-Sam shook his head. "But it didn't completely fail, either. He was partly-cured, enough to make him stop before he beat me to death with that hammer."

"Cas stopped me," Dean winced. "I would've killed you, Sammy."

"No, you didn't," sick-Sam shook his head again. "Cas is dead, Dean. That reaper he slept with killed him, when he was human. He's gone."

Dean stared, ice-water flooding his veins as he absorbed the idea of his friend's death, of how much more alone and friendless that loss had left sick-Sam in his world.

"Not here, Sam," Dean said, a sudden tightness in his throat making his voice come out choked-sounding. "Here he's still kicking. He helped you stop me, when I was a demon."

"I know," sick-Sam nodded, looking away uncomfortably. He stood up and retreated to the chair, sitting down across from Dean but no longer touching him.

"You know?" Dean frowned. "What do you mean, you know? How can you know how things are in this world? How do you know what's different?"

Sick-Sam took a deep breath, steepled his hands together as he leaned his elbows on his knees. Dean recognized the signs, knew he was about to hear something he wasn't going to like.

"I found the door a little over a year ago," sick-Sam explained. "I figured out what it did, how I could use it to find other worlds, other versions of you. That's how I get by when Dean's not around. The other Deans, they told me how things were in their worlds, what the differences are."

"Fuck," Dean sucked in a breath, pressing the heel of his hand against his forehead. He slid off the bed, too agitated to sit for another minute, grateful that the throbbing in his head had subsided so he could pace the room. "That is so fucked up. You do realize how fucked up that is, right? I mean, you're not so far gone on me-juice that you can't see that, are you, Sam?"

"No, I get it," sick-Sam sighed. "And I'm sorry. I am. But it's who I am now. I'm not your Sam. I haven't been that guy in a while."

"Well, that's an understatement," Dean glared. "You're nothing like him. My Sam would never do this. Damn it, Sammy, what the hell, man? I mean, drinking blood? My blood? Luring me and God knows how many other poor bastards into your universe so you can suck their blood? Doing whatever else you're doing to keep your supply-line open? Are you high? Don't answer that."

Sick-Sam lowered his head again and Dean watched the way his hair curtained half his face, sweeping along his chiseled jaw in a way that set off his soft mouth. Sick-Sam pulled his plump bottom lip into his mouth and Dean got a glimpse of the teeth that had sunk into his flesh so recently. He watched as sick-Sam's pink tongue licked over the lip he had just bitten.

"After the demon beat me to within an inch of my life, he came back," sick-Sam said quietly. "He didn't leave me for dead. That was the first time."

"The first time?" Dean echoed, sickened but unable to stop, unable not to hear more.

"The first time you gave me your blood, Dean," sick-Sam raised his eyes for a moment, and Dean saw a flash of anger bordering on something darker. "You force-fed me your blood, even though you knew how much I would hate it. Demon-you didn't care. You said you were trying to fix me. You were human enough at that point to want to save me, to keep me with you, even if it meant getting me hooked on demon-blood again."

"I would never..." Dean started to say, then remembered Gadreel. He felt his face flush hot and looked away into a corner of the room, unable to meet those accusing hazel eyes. "Never mind. Shit, this is so fucked up."

"It wasn't you," sick-Sam said sharply, shaking his head. "Demon-you isn't you. You two are fundamentally different."

Dean lifted his eyes to sick-Sam's again, realization dawning. "Because of the Mark," he said. "Your Dean still has the Mark of Cain."

Sick-Sam winced. "We're working on that," he said. "I've found a series of spells that may allow me to share the Mark with Dean. We already share a blood-bond, and since the spells require a soul-bond as well, I think we've got a pretty good shot at making them work."

Dean stared. "You really are crazy, you know that? The Mark doesn't like it when you try to control it. It's evil, Sam. The most ancient, sick kind of evil. It corrupts whoever bears it, and it'll corrupt you, too, even if you do figure out a way to transfer it from your demon brother. Whatever you're doing, it's gonna come right back and bite you in the ass."

Sick-Sam shook his head. "Not this time," he said with that clenched-jaw stubbornness Dean knew too well. "I've found a way, Dean. It will work. Once my brother and I share the Mark, its power will balance out and it won't be able to control either of us. It was never meant to be borne by just one soul. Cain and Abel were meant to share it."

"What?" Dean scrubbed a hand over his face, leaning his weight on one hip. "You do realize that the Mark originated with Lucifer. God gave it to Lucifer to keep the Darkness locked up, but he couldn't handle it. If fuckin' Lucifer couldn't handle the Mark, how do you think the two of us have any chance in hell of controlling that thing?"

"Lucifer doesn't have a soul," sick-Sam said, and Dean could hear his breath quickening a little at the mere thought of his former torturer. "Human souls are very powerful. When they're bonded, like ours are, and when that soul-bond is as old as ours is, we're pretty formidable, Dean. I know we can do this."

Dean shook his head. "I still think you're insane," he said. "We figured out a way to destroy the Mark, here. You know that, right?"

Sick-Sam nodded. "You unleashed the Darkness and the world ended. Universe number four-twenty-seven. Got it."

"Okay, well then, hotshot, you know we got rid of the Darkness in this universe," Dean snapped. "The world didn't end here because we saved it. Again."

Sick-Sam shook his head, huffing out a breath. "I'd forgotten how annoying you could be," he said. "Always the hero, always saving the world. My Dean doesn't have a hero complex; he doesn't try to be the Righteous Man anymore. He's free."

"Well, goody for him," Dean snapped. "I'll bet he likes killing puppies, too."

Sick-Sam huffed out another breath. "He only kills when he needs to," he scoffed. "And then it's only things that need killing, same as always."

"Huh." Dean nodded skeptically. "I'll bet Crowley's got a few choice words of wisdom to share on that topic."

"Crowley's dead," sick-Sam said. "Dean killed him. Pushed a little too hard over the whole Consort of Hell business. As if." He spat the final two words out with such disgust it almost made Dean smile, once he got over the shock of Crowley's demise. He'd stopped imagining that happening too long ago.

"Wow," Dean breathed. "Things really are different in your world. No Cas, no Crowley. I don't even want to ask about our human friends."

"Charlie's fine, Jody's fine, Garth turned into a werewolf but he's fine, too..." Sick-Sam rattled off a few more hunters' names, all still among the living in his universe, and Dean nodded at each name, more relieved than he let on. "Of course, Dean and I stay out of the way most of the time, not being exactly human ourselves anymore."

"Ah," Dean nodded.

"The blood-bond has changed us," sick-Sam explained. "It heals me, like it did when I took your blood just now. Not perfectly healed, in my case at least, but back to the point just before Dean and I first shared blood. I can heal you, like I did with that bite on your neck. I haven't tested it, but I think that, with the power of the Mark, we're both a little invincible now. Immortal, maybe."

Sick-Sam seemed adorably unsure and apologetic about this last suggestion, as if he knew Dean would be appalled.

And Dean was appalled, but maybe a little less than he should be. After everything they'd been through, all the times they'd died and resurrected, it didn't seem so reprehensible for them to attain some small degree of deathlessness. It almost seemed like a kind of justice. It was creepy and unnatural as all hell, maybe, but this wasn't about Dean and his brother. These two other Winchesters had figured out another way to survive, and Dean wasn't sure he should judge that.

Dean scrubbed his hand over his face again and stopped in front of sick-Sam's chair, close enough to touch him.

"So now what? You need my blood to help you get back to your demon brother?"

Sick-Sam blinked, and damn it if there wasn't a film of tears over the kid's lovely multi-colored eyes. He sat there looking up at Dean like Dean was his whole world, and how the hell was Dean supposed to resist that? How had he ever been able to resist that?

"Really?" sick-Sam said hopefully. "You'd really help me? Even after everything I just told you?"

"For God's sake, Sam. Stop making this into some kind of Godfather III moment," Dean griped. "Just one more question."

Sick-Sam nodded, still gazing up at Dean with that trusting, hopeful expression that made Dean want to ruffle his hair or kiss his forehead or something. "Shoot."

Dean reached out and touched the fading scar on sick-Sam's shoulder, the one that looked like a full set of teeth and was all but hidden by sick-Sam's T-shirt. He felt sick-Sam shiver subtly, felt a corresponding tingle in his fingertips.

"I'm probably going to be sorry I asked, but when did you get this?"

"Right after I first summoned you," sick-Sam said. "You hated that I could do that, just make you come to me like some punk-ass crossroads demon."

"So I bit you?"

Sick-Sam lowered his eyes. "You threatened to tear my throat out. With your teeth."

"Yeah, I remember that," Dean muttered, cringing. "So demon-me's got a little Sam-juice in his veins."

Sick-Sam nodded. "I did the purification ritual right before I summoned you, just in case."

Dean was impressed. "So your blood was pure," he noted. "Like when you were curing Crowley."

He'd never been able to admit how jealous it made him that Crowley had some of Sam in him. At the time, it had fucked him up a little, that Crowley had something of Sam that Dean didn't have. It made him a little crazy.

And then when Sam tried to cure Dean of being a demon – well, he succeeded at that in this universe, at least – Sam had used some stranger's blood, and even the demon had been a little offended. He could remember thinking, What? Your blood's good enough for Crowley but not good enough for me? What the fuck, Sam?

Sick-Sam nodded. "I didn't know about the blood-bonding then," he said. "I still thought I could cure you. For a while, it helped, but it didn't fully cure you, and in the end I just didn't have the stomach for it. I couldn't – I couldn't stand to hurt you so badly, to do something to you that you didn't want. I've had too many things done to me that I didn't want, and even though I know that demon-you isn't the real you, he's still you, you know? Once you were partially human again, you made it clear you wanted to stay demonic, and I just couldn't take that away from you."

Sick-Sam's jaw clenched and unclenched as he spoke, keeping his eyes lowered, and Dean listened. He was fascinated and horrified by how differently things had gone in that other world, mesmerized by sick-Sam's brutal honesty, by the way he confessed to Dean as if Dean was his priest or a goddamn therapist. It made Dean's head spin, trying to imagine the abusive relationship sick-Sam endured on a daily basis, the cycle of self-harm and substance-abuse and addiction.

Dean reached out almost unconsciously and touched the bruises that formed a ring around sick-Sam's neck.

"He's a monster, Sam," Dean murmured, shaking his head. "He can't care about you."

"You're wrong, Dean," sick-Sam's head snapped up, beautiful slanted eyes filled with tears again. "He loves me despite himself. Despite what he is. He doesn't let it define who he is."

"He's a demon," Dean shook his head. "He's a fuckin' Knight of Hell."

"Not anymore," sick-Sam insisted fiercely. "He's given that up. He doesn't want to rule Hell. He doesn't take orders from anyone. He's never been like that."

Well, that part was true, anyway. Dean had never met anyone he trusted well enough to take orders from. Not willingly. Not since their dad.

"Hey, you know what? I can understand you wanting to get back to your brother," Dean said, going for familiar territory. Empathy, like Sam would do. "No matter how weird things are for you two, that's your business. We'll help get you back there, Sam and me, since that's what you want."

"It is, Dean," sick-Sam nodded. "I can't stay here."

"Yeah, I get that." Dean swallowed past the lump in his throat and cleared it before speaking again, trying to put some authority into his voice. "So here's what we'll do. You go get showered and changed. There's duds in Sam's room that'll fit you, so you just take whatever you need. Then you come on down to the kitchen and we'll rustle up some grub, put a little meat on your bones before we get to work. Sound good?"

"Sounds good, Dean," sick-Sam nodded gratefully, making Dean's heart practically break in two. "Thank you."

"Well, don't thank me until we figure this thing out," Dean said gruffly. "Now get out of my room."

Dean tried not to watch as sick-Sam limped out of the room, his bum leg apparently still giving him trouble despite the fresh injection of Dean-juice sluicing through his veins.

Dean tried not to think about that too much. It really ought to make him sick, thinking about the whole blood-drinking thing. It raised memories of his time as a vampire, and none of those memories were good. Maybe killing the head vamp was a good memory, but not the burning in his throat, the thirst that no amount of water could quench. He'd lusted for Sam in a totally different way then, or maybe just in an extra-special way. Dean imagined how Sam's blood would taste, the feel of it in his mouth, running down his throat, and the thought was so intense it was turning him on even now, in the present.

Fuck. This whole thing was so, so sick.

In the kitchen, Dean sliced cheese and buttered bread, dumped a can of condensed tomato soup into a saucepan and added water. By the time sick-Sam shuffled into the room, Dean had four perfectly-toasted sandwiches filled with melted cheese and a hot bowl of soup waiting for him.

"And I made you a salad," Dean announced smugly, gesturing toward the table as he flipped the last of the sandwiches in the pan on the stove.

Sick-Sam moved up behind him, chest pressed against Dean's back as he looked over his shoulder, big hands splayed on Dean's hips. Dean barely had a moment to register what was happening before sick-Sam's lips pressed against his cheek and sick-Sam murmured, "Thank you."

The kid's hot breath made him shiver, and for a split-second Dean leaned back against the warm body pressed against his, savoring the physical closeness out of some deep-seated need he didn't fully understand because it wasn't just sexual.

Although it was plenty sexy.

"Whoa, hey, step back there, big guy." Dean jerked his shoulder up, dislodging sick-Sam's chin from its unexpected resting place. The kid had been hugging him, for God's sake, draped against his back like a walking bear-rug.

"Sorry," sick-Sam moved away at once, hands up apologetically. "I forget you're not him sometimes."

"Yeah, well, don't forget again," Dean grumbled, then frowned as he took in sick-Sam's words. "He lets you do that?"

Besides the low-level rage and need to kill, Dean's memories of his time as a demon consisted of a few brief sexual encounters, but not much in the way of physical affection. Palling around with Crowley in the beginning of that period did not count.

Sick-Sam's cheeks flushed a lovely shade of red before he ducked away to slide into his seat at the table.

"We're still lovers, Dean," he said softly. "No matter what else we are to each other, we've always had that."

Dean nearly dropped the pan, barely managing to keep it from crashing to the floor as his brain short-circuited.

"What?" He squeaked. "What the fuck are you talking about?" He turned and practically slammed the plate of sandwiches onto the table.

Sick-Sam jumped and looked up at him, wide-eyed. "What?"

"We're not– We're brothers, Sam," Dean growled, forcing his voice to lower into its normal command mode. "That's not what we do."

Sick-Sam blinked, frowned, then looked skeptical as Dean's words sunk in. "You're kidding, right?"

"Seriously?" Dean was shocked. Okay, it wasn't like he didn't think about it, sometimes constantly, but acting on those unbrotherly feelings? For years? That was so far out of Dean's toolshed of possibilities he'd stopped imagining it altogether.

No, that wasn't quite right. He imagined it all the time. But it was fantasy, not something he ever considered might happen for real. Just a sick, abnormal fantasy Dean used to jerk off from time to time. Just a low-level arousal that thrummed under every moment in his brother's presence, every thought of Sam when he wasn't around.

"What is it with you and demons, Sam?" Dean sniped because his insides were churning with self-loathing. "You just can't keep it in your pants when it comes to evil? Huh?"

It was a low blow and Dean knew it, but the mere thought that in another universe his alt-self couldn't keep fantasy and reality separated, hadn't been able to control the urge that Dean had struggled with for twenty years, was almost incomprehensible to Dean. What kind of monster couldn't stop himself from fucking his own brother?

"It started way before you turned into a demon, Dean," sick-Sam growled back, apparently not offended enough to shut his mouth. "Before Stanford. I left because I couldn't stand doing that to you. I knew you hated it. But after Jessica died, and you confessed that you'd always felt the same way, even when I was too young..."

"Shut up!" Dean yelled, clenching his fists threateningly. "Just shut up, Sam! That is not the way it happened. Not here." The temptation to slam his fist into something, preferably sick-Sam's perfect jaw, was almost overwhelming.

"I can see that," sick-Sam said, his voice low and tight. "My bad. I'm sorry I didn't figure it out earlier."

For another tense moment they stared at each other, sick-Sam deliberately keeping his hands where Dean could see them, deliberately sitting back in his chair, letting Dean see that he wasn't going to fight. He wouldn't try to resist if Dean punched him, and he wouldn't retaliate. He probably felt he deserved it, the masochistic fuck.

Sick, sick, sick, Dean chanted in his head.

In the end, it was that thought that caused Dean to back down. Getting hit by Dean was probably something sick-Sam was far too accustomed to these days. Dealing with Dean's demon-self and his constantly-simmering rage was a fact of life for sick-Sam, or so Dean imagined, given those bruises on sick-Sam's neck, the scars of old gashes on his perfect cheekbones. This kid lived with domestic violence on a daily basis. Dean couldn't stand the thought of adding another bruise to that chiseled jaw.

"Eat your food," he commanded finally, deflating in the face of sick-Sam's stoic acceptance of his messed-up life, complete with brother-fucking. Because really. Who was he to judge how sick-Sam chose to live his life? His choices were his own, and he'd clearly made his decision about his sex life of his own free will. He hadn't been raped by a demon or coerced into incest as a child. Sick-Sam had made a lifestyle choice that included loving his brother in every possible way, and who was Dean to say it was wrong?

"You, too," sick-Sam said gently, his voice cutting through Dean's thoughts like the sharpest blade. "You lost a lot of blood. You need to eat."

Dean complied because he was still a little woozy, and he wasn't sure his thoughts were as clear as they should be. He sat down and ate silently, throwing sidelong glances at sick-Sam every few bites and taking long swigs of his beer. He followed it with a second and then a third beer, ignoring sick-Sam's disapproving looks, secretly reveling as sick-Sam pursed his soft lips, making his dimples show.

Dean had been doing that all his life, he thought to himself as he swallowed. Finding ways to make Sam give him that look had become an art-form, something he took more pride in than he knew he should. He was aware that sick-Sam watched his throat when he swallowed, and it occurred to him that his Sam always did that, too. Sam and Dean had always watched each other, maybe had always gotten a little too much enjoyment from pushing each other's buttons.

For the first time, Dean considered the idea that Sam might have had feelings for him, all these years, just as sick-Sam had for his brother.

No, that was just impossible. Sam would have told him. He would've let Dean know. He couldn't have kept such a major secret, not from Dean.

Could he?

Sick-Sam helped Dean wash the dishes, still silent, making an obvious effort not to let his hand brush Dean's when he handed Dean the dishes to dry, not to brush his shoulder against Dean's as they worked side-by-side. Dean couldn't help glancing sideways at sick-Sam's profile, startled again and again by the thought that sick-Sam welcomed his brother's touches, probably dimpled gloriously when Demon!Dean teased him, unable to contain his pleasure. Sick-Sam probably leaned into Demon!Dean when they stood together like this, probably let Demon!Dean's arm circle his narrow waist. Sick-Sam let Demon!Dean slide around in front of him and yank their hips together, then he tipped his face up so that sick-Sam could cup it in his large hands. Sick-Sam tilted Demon!Dean's face just right, so that he could lean down and slot their mouths together, so that Demon!Dean could feel those soft lips pressing against his, then that warm, wet tongue flicking against his mouth, encouraging him to open up, to let sick-Sam kiss him to within an inch of his life...

"Dean!"

Sick-Sam was waving his hand in front of Dean's face, obviously disinclined to shake him, which is what Sam would have done in his place because Dean had seriously zoned out.

"You've had too much to drink without enough blood in your body," sick-Sam announced, scolding and concerned at the same time. "You should probably sit down, man."

"Yeah, sure, right," Dean muttered, startled out of his daydream by sick-Sam's officious manner. The kid was deliberately not looking at him, deliberately not touching him.

Dean's Sam would have grabbed him, shaken him, maybe even slapped his cheek. Dean's brother would have been touching and clinging and gazing into his eyes, maybe even running his big warm hand along Dean's cheek, turning his face to Sam to get his attention.

All of that innocent, normal touching and gazing was over, now that Dean knew the truth.

Wait. What was it, again?

"Come on, man," sick-Sam was saying. "Maybe you should lie down."

"I'm fine," Dean snapped, but it came out sounding more like, "Ahm mahm." The cheese sandwich and beer were churning in his stomach, and the room was starting to spin. He took two steps away from sick-Sam and immediately stumbled back to the sink, up-chucking hard and long as sick-Sam rubbed his back and murmured soothingly.

"Doan tush meh!"

Dean jerked away from the kid, who looked sad for a split second, then as resigned as someone who was used to dealing with a difficult domestic partner could possibly look.

Fuck. How could sick-Sam be so patient? Dean was such a dick. He could only imagine how much worse Demon!Dean behaved at his worst.

No, he really didn't want to.

"I need to lie down," Dean muttered, and this time he allowed sick-Sam to help him, partly to show him that he wasn't always a dick, partly because he really needed the help and maybe it was about time he stopped acting like he never did.

Chapter Text

When he woke up, Dean was alone in his room. Sick-Sam had left the door ajar, and the light from the hall cast familiar shadows on the walls. Dean lay awake for a moment or two, staring at the ceiling, deep in that hazy place between sleep and full wakefulness, his mind wandering sleepily.

It had taken years before Dean felt truly comfortable sleeping alone, although he never told Sam that. Sam had always left his own door ajar when he slept, as though he needed at least the illusion of sleeping in the same room, even if Dean was sleeping down the hall and around the corner. Dean had always left his door ajar as well, to hear Sam if he woke screaming in the night, which had happened fairly often the first months after they’d moved here.

When it did, Dean padded down the hall to Sam's room, shushing the kid and providing as much reassurance as he could to help Sam settle again. On those nights, he usually slipped quietly into Sam's bed after waking him up just enough to be sure Sam knew he was there. Then he pulled the covers up over both of them and rolled over onto his side with his back to his brother. Most times, they slept soundly that way the rest of the night.

Dean always closed the door to Sam's room before climbing into bed with his brother. In this way they would be safely cocooned in their own little world, as they had always been before they moved into the bunker, barring those few painful separations that neither of them ever spoke about.

Once in a while, it was Sam who came to Dean in the night, probably because it was Dean who woke up screaming. Dean never remembered those times, except for his gratitude at finding his brother's warm, solid body in the bed next to him, filling his nostrils with the smell of home, sometimes giving him a woody, which he ignored without even thinking about it. Sam always woke up first, so Dean never had to face that awkward moment of waking up in bed with a boner for his brother.

Now he wondered if Sam knew anyway.

Maybe Sam didn't care. Fact was, besides those moments when Dean was fairly certain Sam was flirting with him, or deliberately provoking him in that gorgeous, smirking way of his, Sam had never shown any overt signs of wanting anything more from their relationship. Whenever Dean caught him staring, Sam lowered his eyes. Whenever Sam found Dean staring, Dean winked and licked his lips, making a joke of the moment so that Sam would blush and purse his lips.

It was an on-going joke between them that Dean was always horny, always ready to fuck, and getting turned on by his tall, beautiful hunk of a brother didn't mean anything.

At least, it was a joke to Dean. Sam always acted like Dean's promiscuity annoyed the hell out of him.

Although in the past few years Dean hadn't been exactly promiscuous. In fact, he could practically count the number of one-night stands he'd managed during that time on the fingers of one hand, demon period included.

Still, it was fun to pretend he was out getting laid. It never failed to get a rise out of Sam. Once or twice Dean was pretty sure he'd managed to make Sam jealous, which was good for some serious me-time in the shower. Shortly after that, Sam managed to get himself laid for real, right in the backseat of the car. In case Dean should have any doubts it was really happening.

Because there really wasn't any way for Sam to be more obvious about it, was there?

Dean told himself he didn't care. Sam was a big boy, he knew how to protect himself. If he needed to let off a little steam with some random waitress once in a while, who was Dean to tell him he couldn't? It was good for Sam, loosened him up a little, made him less cranky in the car on those long drives.

Dean ignored the way it had made his blood boil, the way it had made him drink a little harder, the way it had consumed him for a few weeks afterwards, the thought of Sam and that girl together. On the surface, he was proud of Sam's willingness to accept that this was just the way it had to be. Neither of them could ever have normal lives after everything that had happened. Long-term romantic relationships were just not happening for them. Ever.

And when Sam expressed his wistful dream of having someone special, maybe a hunter, someone who understood the life and could share it in every way, Dean reminded him that they were lucky to have what they had, and he meant it. The Winchesters had each other, in every way that counted.

After what he just learned from sick-Sam, Dean couldn't help wondering if Sam had been testing him. What would Sam have said in that moment if Dean had just come right out and admitted, "You have me." What if Sam still harbored feelings for Dean that were more than just brotherly, even after all these years? What if sick-Sam was right and Sam had always felt that way about Dean, had just buried those feelings deep when he thought Dean didn't really want him?

Well, it didn't matter now, did it? It was years too late for them. That ship had sailed and sunk years ago. Even if sick-Sam was right and Sam really did still have feelings for Dean, those feelings must be buried so deep by now there'd be no way in hell Sam would ever admit to them. If there was, they'd have come out by now. Sam would've confessed them in his sleep, or when he was soulless. Dean would've known.

Dean really wished sick-Sam had never come into their lives. That kid was nothing but a pain in Dean's ass, bringing up all these issues and choices that had been settled long ago for Dean and his Sam. It was just asking for trouble to dredge up those old feelings, from that long ago time when Sam had made his choice and left, never to return again, at least not in that way.

No, sick-Sam really needed to go. Dean and Sam needed to find a way to get him back to his sicko life with his demon brother as soon as possible, taking with him all his disturbing revelations and temptations.

Dean found a full glass of water and a couple of ibuprofen next to the bed where sick-Sam had obviously left them for him. Taking care of a sick brother was something sick-Sam had clearly become far too accustomed to, which was not the natural order of things. Not the way it should be at all. Big brothers were supposed to take care of their little brothers, not the other way around. Everybody knew that.

When Dean stumbled out to the library, stomach grumbling now that he was feeling stronger again, he found sick-Sam deep in the books, shaggy head bent as he hunched over the table. For a moment Dean watched him silently; he almost looked like Dean's Sam, except for the way he held his right arm tucked into his side, using his left for moving the books and turning the pages. Dean imagined the kid had probably taught himself to write with his left hand by now, to take the strain off his permanently-shattered shoulder.

Apparently, there were things that even magical demon!Dean-juice couldn't heal.

Sick-Sam must have heard him, or sensed that he was there, because he lifted his head and took a deep breath, putting the book down as he turned slightly towards Dean.

"There's some soup on the stove," he said as Dean's stomach growled loudly. "You should eat."

"Oh, I intend to," Dean said.

"But no beer," sick-Sam admonished. "And stay out of the whiskey."

"There's whiskey?"

"Dean."

"I heard you." Dean waved his hand as he turned away and headed down the corridor to the kitchen.

There's been a situation. he texted Sam as he ignored the soup in favor of last night's left-over pizza sitting in the icebox where Sam had left it.

What's up? Sam texted back almost immediately.

They must be in the car, Dean decided. Good. Maybe they're on their way back.

Sick-Sammy isn't so sick after all, and he wants to go home, Dean texted. He hesitated for a moment before texting, I need your help.

It was a long moment before Sam replied, and Dean wondered if Mary was there, taking Sam's attention away from his brother. Dean knew he shouldn't feel jealous, and he didn't, but he did feel something akin to it.

On my way, Sam answered finally. Dean let out the breath he didn't realize he’d been holding, partly because Sam seemed to understand Dean's urgency, and partly because Sam hadn't said, "we're on our way."

Dean was fairly sure he didn't want their mother involved in this strange turn of events. He didn't need sick-Sam to know she existed in this reality. It would only complicate matters, and they were already complicated enough.

"How's it going?" Dean asked as he strode into the library again, cup of fresh coffee in his hand.

Sick-Sam glanced up. "Not great," he conceded. "I was hoping there might be some spells I hadn't tried before, here in this reality. So far everything here is just same old, same old."

"You need a spell-book you haven't seen before," Dean said as a sudden thought occurred to him. "I think we might have just the thing."

Sam had hidden the grimoire that Rowena had stolen from the Loughlins, but Dean knew where to find it. When he put it down on the table next to sick-Sam the kid seemed genuinely impressed, and Dean couldn't help the smirk of satisfaction that spread over his face.

"Where did you get this?" Sick-Sam stared as he turned the brittle pages, lovely eyes growing wide with amazement.

"I don't remember," Dean joked, then realized sick-Sam wouldn't get the reference. "Never mind. We collected it from some very old, very dangerous witches."

"I thought you hated witches," sick-Sam frowned, clearly confused.

"Yeah, well, sometimes we work with one," Dean admitted with a shrug. "Little redhead named Rowena. Yea high, Scottish brogue, Crowley's mother."

"His mother?" Sick-Sam looked up. "Crowley had a mother?"

"Maybe not in your timeline, cowboy," Dean smirked. "In your world, that demon brother of yours probably killed her."

"Maybe," sick-Sam agreed with a sigh. "It would be useful to find a powerful witch right now."

"What, you can't decipher those spells yourself?" Dean scoffed. "I would have thought, after all this time just sitting around the bunker with nothing else to do, you must be practically Gandalf by now."

Sick-Sam pursed his lips. "Dean has to hunt," he said. "He has to kill to keep the Mark under control. We don't just sit around all day."

"Yeah, well, usually, neither do we," Dean said, sitting down in the chair opposite sick-Sam, careful to avoid touching him. "Except right now my brother's off hunting with our mo– with another hunter, and I'm stuck here babysitting."

"Being a dick, you mean," sick-Sam mumbled.

"What was that?" Dean snapped, twirling his index finger in the air around his ear. "I can't hear you through all the static from Bitch-Moan Radio. It sounded like you were thanking me for saving your ass again, but I could be wrong."

Sick-Sam leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose as he let out a long sigh. His legs spread wide under the table, and when his shin slid up against Dean's, Dean didn't move away. He was fairly sure sick-Sam wasn't even conscious of needing the physical contact, but Dean could read Sam like a book when he was stressed. Withdrawing whatever small comfort Dean could offer just wasn't in him.

"I can't do this," sick-Sam muttered.

"Yes, you can," Dean responded automatically. "You're going to find that spell, and then you're going to get back to your evil brother, and all will be right with the world again."

"I need more blood." Sick-Sam rubbed the bridge of his nose. His leg pressed harder against Dean's as he hunched lower in his chair.

"Okay." Dean felt his heart sink. "Okay, I can do that."

Sick-Sam lifted his head then, blinking his beautiful eyes as he raised his perfect eyebrows in a look of surprise.

"No! Oh my God, Dean, that's not what I meant," he said as he shook his head. "I don't need you to do that. Hopefully not ever again." He lowered his eyes to the book, spreading his hands over the page. "I mean my blood. Any spell to get me back to my world requires my blood. And I don't have enough."

Dean frowned. "There's a hospital in Smith Center," he said. "They probably have a blood bank. I could get some for you."

"No, no, it has to be my blood." Sick-Sam repeated. "At least six pints."

"You'd never survive that kind of blood loss," Dean said. "Not all at once. Maybe you could bank it over the course of a few days..."

Sick-Sam shook his head. "The spell requires fresh blood. It wouldn't work if the blood was a few days old, or even a few hours old. It has to be fresh."

"Sam, I am not going to let you bleed out just so you can go home," Dean snapped. "You'll have to live out your life here, if that's the way it is."

"Maybe I'm resilient enough now." Sick-Sam was agitated, his eyes glinting with that wild look he'd had earlier, when Dean first found him. "Maybe I have enough of the Mark in me to keep me alive, or maybe it’ll bring me back if I die the way it did with Dean. Maybe the Mark won't let me die."

"And if it does?" Dean growled. "Sounds like a lot of maybes to me. If you do this and the Mark doesn't bring you back? Nuh-uh, Sam. Not happening. Not on my watch."

"But we're almost there, Dean," sick-Sam protested. "I can feel it. My Dean and I are fully blood-bonded. Once we share the Mark, its power disperses between us. I can save him. I know I can."

Sick-Sam was leaning forward in his chair now, hair disheveled around his angular face, arms open on the table, framing the ancient spell-book. There was something of the fanatic about him, the lonely mystic who had gained the knowledge of the world but lost his soul. He was beautiful and terrifying at the same time, and Dean loved him so much it hurt. Sam on a mission, on a mythic quest, was breathtaking. That it took Dean being a demon to bring out this side of his brother was almost too much to bear.

Dean had seen this Sam before, he realized. When Sam was completing the trials to close the Gates of Hell, he’d been like this. It occurred to Dean that Sam had probably been like this while Dean was in Hell, or while he was in Purgatory. If Death had sent Dean off to live on a distant planet somewhere, where the Mark couldn't make him hurt anyone, Sam would have been like this. Dean had been so certain of that he'd almost let Death talk him into killing Sam. He had a sudden memory of Sam on his knees, looking up at him with that trusting, faith-filled gaze of his, the one that broke Dean's heart every time. The one that had gotten through to him when he'd needed it most.

Dean scrubbed his hand over his stubbled cheek and slid his chair back, getting up before he thought himself into a hole.

"We'll figure it out," he assured his not-brother. "We'll get you home somehow. Sam's on his way. He'll know what to do."

Sick-Sam frowned. "Seriously? Dude, your Sam hasn't spent the past two years studying spells on travel between alternate universes. He's like a total newbie compared to me."

"Well, maybe," Dean shrugged, picking up his empty coffee mug. "But I wouldn't underestimate him if I were you. My Sam's met God. Yep, that God," he nodded at sick-Sam's look of surprise and confusion. "That necklace you carry around in your pocket? The one you gave me when we were kids? The one I threw away because it didn't work?" Dean nodded grimly. "It works."

He turned his back on sick-Sam's shocked expression, sauntering off toward the kitchen for another cup of coffee before heading out to buy groceries and maybe hit a bar somewhere. He would leave sick-Sam to his research, now that it was obvious the kid didn't need babysitting.

Sick-Sam's revelation was making his skin itch. He couldn't stop thinking about it, wondering about it, and he really needed to get laid, or at least make out with somebody who wasn't Sam. He needed to shake loose the sight of Sam's bent head, long hair falling soft across his cheek, bright slanted eyes turning up expectantly as Dean entered the room.

Dean desperately needed to stop thinking about fucking his brother.

Damn it all to hell. Of all the choices and pivotal moments Sam and Dean had faced throughout their long, complicated lives. why did they have to revisit this particular choice? Why was this the thing that came back to haunt Dean in the form of this gorgeous, desperate kid who was so in love with his demon brother he was willing to live with him that way for the rest of eternity?

Take what you can get, his warped brain provided unhelpfully. If Sam was a demon, would you love him anyway?

Dean didn’t even have to answer that. If Sam was a demon, he would let the world burn to keep him safe, and it didn't matter how many monsters or people had to die.

Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck. Dean needed to forget everything.

Fast.

**//**//**

 

The college girls at the bar weren’t interested, but when Dean lowered his standards and started chatting up the bartender, she pointed him towards a woman who sat alone in a booth at the other end of the bar.

"Ex-cop," the bartender explained. "Her partner died in the line of duty, and now she's in here practically every night, just sitting there, nursing her whiskey and soda. She thinks it should have been her that night. If she could trade places with him, she would. But we don't get to choose, do we? Who lives, who dies. It's not up to us."

"No," Dean agreed, taking a sip of his whiskey. "It's not."

"She's a good person, you know?" the bartender went on. "She's done her penance. She deserves to live again."

Dean raised his eyebrows, took a deep breath, and marched over to the woman's table, offering to buy her a drink, even though he already knew she would refuse.

It surprised him when she joined him at the bar a few minutes later, offering to buy him a drink instead.

"So, you're just passing through, I take it," she suggested, maybe a little too hopefully, like she was wasn't looking for anything permanent and wanted Dean to know that up front.

She told him her name was Gabrielle, but everyone called her Gabby. Dean gave her his real name and swallowed down three whiskeys while she continued to nurse the one she'd had at the table. When she suggested they go back to her place, only a few blocks away, he was more than ready.

Afterwards, she watched him from the bed as he got dressed. "She's a lucky girl, your wife," she said as Dean shrugged on his jacket.

He glanced at her over his shoulder, shaking his head. "Not married," he said, almost perfunctorily.

Gabby smiled and turned onto her back, staring at the ceiling. She obviously didn't believe him. "Take it from a woman, Dean. She loves you. She may not always show it, because she knows you, and you like to act like you're tough and you don't go in for public displays of affection. But she loves you."

Dean flushed, shaking his head as he sat down on the end of the bed to pull his boots on. "I'm kind of married to my job," he said. "Most women can't compete with that."

"She can," Gabby said, turning onto her side again. She pulled the sheet tight over her ample breasts, and her long dark hair fell across her shoulders in a wave. "She loves you for who you are, not just what you do. And she understands why you need to cheat on her once in a while, so don't think she doesn't."

"I'm not married," Dean said again. "And even if I was, I'm not cheating! I don't cheat. That's not what this is."

"It's not?" Gabby raised her eyebrows. "Because I'd hate to think you're the only one being used here."

"I just need to clear my head sometimes," Dean said as he finished lacing his boots. He glanced over his shoulder at her. "How am I the one being used here, exactly? Are you married?"

"No," Gabby laughed, and it was a sad, bitter sound. "I lost my best chance at that, and now it's too late for me. What's done is done. Some mistakes, you can't go back and fix. No, sometimes I just need to be sure I can still feel something, you know? Sometimes I just need to be sure I still have a heart."

"You have a heart," Dean assured her. He reached back and laid his hand on her leg, squeezing gently through the blanket. "You're also a little crazy, letting some strange drifter into your home. I'd have thought an ex-cop would know better than that."

Gabby smiled wide and dipped her head, making her dimples show. "We're two lonely souls, Dean. I recognized that as soon as I saw you in the bar. Anyway, a little danger is just what I needed tonight."

Dean nodded, stood up and crossed to the door, where he paused for a moment, then turned back.

"He's my partner," he admitted, although he couldn't explain why he felt so compelled to correct her. "My better half, if you want to know the truth, although I'd never tell him that."

Gabby raised her eyebrows and nodded, as if this was something she'd already suspected, or as if her long years as an investigator had taught her how easily theories could be adjusted to fit new evidence.

"You will," she said with conviction. "And when you do, you'll find out he was waiting for you, all this time. Just don't wait too long."

**//**//**

Back at the bunker, Dean found sick-Sam collapsed over his books on the table, a half-empty bottle of Jack Daniels near his elbow, and for a moment the sight was so familiar it made his chest ache with relief. He wanted to slide into the chair next to his brother, let his legs fall open so that one of them rested against Sam's under the table, warm and comfortable and with that constant buzz of arousal that being near Sam always caused. He wanted to tease Sam in that mocking manner that bordered on flirtation, to get that rise out of him that made Dean's heart speed up a little, to feel that crackle of electricity in the air that always surrounded them when they were together.

Most of all, Dean wanted the clarity and confidence that being with Sam always gave him, the absolute certainty that with Sam, Dean was his best self. He was who he most wanted to be.

But this man wasn't Sam. Sick-Sam wasn't Dean's brother, and suddenly Dean missed his Sam with a vengeance.

"Hey! What the hell!" Sick-Sam jerked awake when Dean slammed the bunker door. He scrubbed his face and ran his hands through his hair as Dean staggered into the room, still a little tipsy and bone-tired, still slightly horny.

"Oh my God, Dean, you smell like a bar." Sick-Sam wrinkled up his nose and rubbed his eyes, and Dean realized sick-Sam was half-dreaming. He believed he was speaking to his demon brother.

Dean knew sick-Sam could smell the perfume and sex on him; he understood now why he needed to do this every once in a while, or at least partly. But sick-Sam acted like this was a normal thing for his brother, and hadn't he said they were lovers? What kind of a jerk deliberately cheated on his partner and then came home to him covered in the evidence? How fucked up must that relationship be?

"You should be in bed," Dean countered, affection welling up before he could stop it, the impulse to soothe this broken boy way more powerful than it should be. He lay a hand on sick-Sam's shoulder and almost ruffled his hair before he stopped himself. Sick-Sam leaned in, of course, probably still thinking Dean was his brother. "Come on. I'll tuck you in."

Sick-Sam let himself be gathered up, draping his big body across Dean's shoulders so Dean could slip his arm around the kid's slim waist and lead him down the corridor toward Sam's room. Dean figured that was where sick-Sam was used to sleeping, on nights like this in his world. Sam would forgive him for putting sick-Sam to sleep in his bed. Sam had not been happy with sick-Sam sleeping in Dean's bed, that much he remembered clearly.

Dean managed to get the kid into bed, managed to tug his boots off, but when he pulled the blankets up to sick-Sam's chin and started to back away, the kid grabbed onto his jacket, pulling him in.

"It'll be okay, Dean, I promise," sick-Sam said, stubborn and fierce even in his drunken, sleepy state. "We'll figure it out."

Their faces were inches apart, and for one heart-pounding moment, Dean wondered if sick-Sam was about to kiss him. If sick-Sam thought Dean was his brother, it could happen, couldn't it? And Dean could let it happen because sick-Sam was half-asleep and probably wouldn't even remember in the morning. Not to mention, sick-Sam wasn’t really Dean’s brother, so it wasn’t even that dirty-bad-wrong, right? And Dean would finally, finally feel those soft lips against his again, might even get away with running his hands through that long, silky hair.

"Dean?" Sick-Sam blinked up at him, frowning a little as he registered Dean's hesitation, something jarring in his manner that seemed slightly off to him.

"Yeah, buddy, it's okay," Dean gave a sad little smile, wistful now that the moment had passed. He grasped sick-Sam's wrists and gently pulled free, pushing sick-Sam down on the bed again. "You just sleep now."

"Okay," sick-Sam agreed, his soft tone making him seem young and vulnerable. He closed his eyes and settled, immediately falling asleep in that trusting way that made Dean's heart break because it reminded Dean of all the times Sam had counted on him to tell him what to do.

Dean retreated to the desk chair by the bed and scrubbed a hand over his face. He was shaking, heart still thudding a little too fast in his chest. He'd almost kissed sick-Sam, had definitely wanted to, had actually hoped sick-Sam would just do it so that Dean wouldn't have to.

He'd never felt like such a cheating asshole in his life.

But if it was cheating to kiss sick-Sam, who was the wronged party? Sam? Demon!Dean? Both?

Definitely both. Plus himself, because the truth was he didn't want sick-Sam. He wanted his Sam. This sick kid would just be a lame substitute for the person Dean really wanted to kiss, to fuck, to love in every damn way he never could again because he'd blown it all those years ago and now it was too late.

Fuck my life, Dean moaned silently.

He watched sick-Sam sleep for another moment as he gathered his thoughts and got his emotions under control. Not for the first time, he reminded himself to be grateful for how it was, that he and Sam were alive and together and fighting the good fight, day after day. They had defeated the Darkness, stopped two apocalypses, and God himself had left them in charge of the Earth. No matter how misplaced that trust might be, the big man himself had decreed it, and Dean would be a damn fool to shirk that kind of responsibility.

Fuck.

The truth was, it wasn't exactly terrible, their life. Dean couldn't really complain, as he had years ago when the entire universe seemed hell-bent against them. Things were better now. And if Sam and Dean weren't sleeping together, couldn't be together in every sense of the word, well that was a small price to pay for the way things had worked out.

He should stop his whining and learn to appreciate things the way they were.

Dean took a deep breath and hauled himself to his feet. He stood gazing down at the sleeping form of his not-brother for another minute, letting himself imagine curling up against the kid's overheated body, burying his face in his sleep-soaked skin, imagining how sick-Sam would allow it because he would assume Dean was his brother.

Then he tore his eyes away, pulling himself together so he could leave the room, gathering his regrets around him like a cloak.

He took a long, hot shower, scrubbing all traces of his evening's transgressions away, renewing his commitment to stowing his crap. He would push down all the thoughts and feelings that sick-Sam's revelation had raised, and he would keep them all locked away in that place deep down inside him where he'd almost forgotten them. Sam would never need to know any of this. It would be as though it had never happened, as though Dean had never considered the possibility of things being different between them.

He would make sure sick-Sam didn't tell Dean's Sam how things were different in his world. Sam didn't need that crap. He didn't need to know that Dean had piled another layer of bad-weird-dirty-wrong on their lives.

**//**//**

Unfortunately, by the time Dean woke up the next morning, Sam was already home.

Sam and sick-Sam sat next to each other at the kitchen table, sharing a pot of coffee and pouring over spell-books, bent heads so close it was hard to tell where one left off and the other started. Their broad backs took up so much of the room, even seated, that Dean had the impression of a Wall of Sam as he entered the room behind them. It was weird, seeing double like this. They even moved the same way, both heads coming up and tilting in that uniquely Sam way when they heard Dean come in.

"Morning, fellas." Dean tried for jovial, but his voice was hoarse so it came out a little cracked and vulnerable.

"It's afternoon, Dean," Sam said, throwing him an annoyed look before turning back to the book. "I got you a burger, but it's probably cold by now."

"Gee, thanks." Dean cleared his throat, pouring himself a cup of coffee. "When did you get home?"

"About an hour ago," Sam answered. "Sam here has been filling me in."

"He has, huh?" Dean stood across the table, one hand in the pocket of his dead-guy robe as he sipped his coffee with the other. "What about?"

"How to get him home, of course," Sam frowned. "What did you expect?"

"Oh, nothing," Dean backtracked fast, struggling to tamp down his nervousness, which of course Sam had picked up on immediately. Sam knew him too well. He turned away to get the overwhelming sight of Doublemint Sams out of his brain and grabbed the take-out from the counter, pretending to check out its cold, unappetizing contents. "So, what did you come up with?"

"Sam has offered to lend his blood to the spell we need," sick-Sam announced. "Between the two of us, there should be enough."

That got Dean's attention. "Wait, what? No! Oh hell, no. No way I'm gonna let my brother bleed himself dry so you can go home to that demon bastard."

"Dean..." Both Sams spoke at once, in that same placating tone that Dean always hated so much.

"No way! I am not letting you put my brother in danger, and that's the end of it! Figure something else out. And get out of my kitchen! You two can go be nerdy in the library together. I need to eat."

One Sam was overwhelming enough, but two was downright distracting. His dick didn't know whether to stand at attention or cower in fear.

Then sick-Sam had to go there.

"Come on, you love it," he teased with that sly, dimpled grin that Dean hadn't seen on his Sam's face in way too long. "You love twins. Double the fun, right?"

Dean's mouth dropped open and he flushed to the tips of his ears.

"I can't believe you just said that, you sick son-of-a-bitch," he sputtered, going for gruff but sounding a little shaky instead.

Damn.

Sick-Sam retreated immediately, lowering his eyes as he started to gather the books, as if he was a little too used to pissing Dean off.

"Come on," he muttered to Sam. "Let's take this to the library so Dean can have a little me-time with his cold cheeseburger."

Sam was giving Dean a confused frown that could mean anything, and Dean was suddenly terrified of the conversation these two were about to have out of his hearing.

"No, you two stay," he insisted. "I think I'll head down to the firing range. Get in a little target practice."

"Good idea," Sam said. "You seem like you could use a little aggression-therapy."

"Fuck you very much," Dean muttered as he stomped out of the kitchen.

Shit. This was bad. It was definitely time to send sick-Sam home. But draining Dean's little brother was not an option. Fuck these two and their gorgeous, infuriating presences. It was doing things to Dean's equilibrium.

After a half-hour of target practice, Dean hit the gym to shoot a few hoops, finally giving up because his thoughts would not leave him alone no matter how many shots he made. He worried about what the two Sams were talking about out of his hearing. He worried about the spell they were brewing up that would involve copious amounts of blood. He worried about sick-Sam going back to his abusive boyfriend. Every instinct in his body screamed at him to prevent that, to keep sick-Sam here where he was safe.

But he knew better than to try to make Sam do anything he didn't want to. He'd learned the hard way to trust Sam to make his own choices. If he ordered sick-Sam to stay, he was no better than that demon, the darkest part of himself that would never really let Sam be free. Dean had tried to learn from his mistakes. Lately, he'd been making a real effort to let Sam make the calls, to listen to Sam when his little brother had an idea or a plan, even if it sounded insanely dangerous at first.

Like this plan to bleed out for a spell that might not even work.

Eventually, Dean's stomach drove him back to the kitchen. The Sams were gone, so Dean took a few minutes to scarf down his cold cheeseburger and half a carton of milk.

Breakfast of champions, he would have said to Sam if he'd been there.

He was making a fresh pot of coffee when Sam bounded in, looking ridiculously pleased with himself.

"Okay, I think we've got it," he announced, far too cheerfully in Dean's opinion.

"Got what?"

"The spell," Sam said, reaching for the coffee-pot to pour himself a cup. His arm brushed against Dean's and Dean flushed hot, responding to Sam so intensely he almost fell over. "Dude, are you all right?"

"I'm fine," Dean growled, stepping away so Sam wasn't rubbing all over him like a dog in heat. Did Sam usually do that? Was Sam always in his personal space like that? Right up next to him so they could practically feel each other's hair grow? "So, what's the plan?"

"Yeah, so, um, we're gonna collect my blood first, then his," Sam said. "He's done this way too many times already, so he's the expert. It takes a little under an hour to collect that much blood without killing the donor, and the blood has to be fresh, so we need you to draw the sigils and perform the spell itself."

"Me? Why me?"

"Well, Sam and I will be pretty woozy from blood loss, if not completely unconscious," Sam said. "If we wait until Sam recovers, the blood will get cold and we’ll lose our window to perform the spell."

"Sam, you know I hate spells, witches, all that crap," Dean said. "Not to mention all the blood. I don't have to tell you how much I hate this plan, do I?"

Sam shook his head. "I get it, Dean. I do," he said. "But if it was you stuck in some other reality, waiting for me to figure out a way to get back to you, I wouldn't stop, Dean. You know I wouldn't. And I couldn't stay there. I would find a way to get back to you. We have to help this guy get home. If our positions were reversed, he would do the same for me."

Plus, we have to get him the fuck out of here, along with all his tempting reminders of all the things that can't ever happen here, Dean added silently.

The thought of Sam stuck in some parallel universe, depending on the locals to help him get home, shook Dean to the core. He wasn't sure what he would do to get Sam back in that scenario, but it wasn't pretty. Demon!Dean had probably burned down half the world by now.

"I don't care about that other world," Dean said brokenly. "All I care about is you. And I don't trust that sick-puppy version of you in there, because all he cares about is his even sicker demon brother. And believe me, what they have, the choices they've made, those are two very sick mother-fuckers."

"I think you mean brother-fuckers," Sam noted dryly.

Dean gaped, stunned and speechless for all of two seconds. "He told you?"

"He didn't have to, Dean." Sam frowned. "You gave it away when you were so weird in here earlier. When I asked him about it, he explained how things were with him and his brother. How things are different."

"Sicker, you mean," Dean huffed, incredulous. "Those bastards are fucking each other. Do you realize how messed up that is?"

"Oh, like all the killing and torturing we do isn't messed up at all," Sam snapped, his eyes flashing with anger and something else Dean couldn't quite put his finger on.

"One, we don't torture," Dean insisted, raising his index finger for emphasis. "And two, we kill because we're saving people when we do it. We don't do it just so we can get our rocks off! We don't kill and then fuck each other's brains out in some mangy motel room, all covered in blood and ash and grave-dirt!"

"Wow." Sam took a step back, raising his eyebrows. "You've really thought about this."

Dean flushed to the roots of his hair. "It's in the fanfiction, damn it!"

"You've read Supernatural fanfiction?"

Dean shrugged. "I might have read one or two things, yeah. It's all online, man. It comes up when you google our names. Kinda hard to miss."

"Huh," Sam nodded, still looking adorably perplexed. "Since when?"

"Since when what, Sam? Why are you changing the subject? We were talking about the creepy Flowers-in-the-Attic Winchester brothers from the other universe, remember? They're not us. That's – none of that stuff – is us."

"No, no, you're right," Sam nodded. "We're morally superior. No question."

Damn Sam's ability to twist everything Dean said into something that made Dean feel like he was being a jerk. Just damn him anyway.

"That's not what I said," Dean insisted, clenching his jaw. "The point is, I don't trust that freaky brother-fucking son-of-a-bitch in there, so if you're willing to go ahead with his plan to get home to his brother, I'll go along with it because I trust you, not him. Are we clear?"

"Crystal," Sam nodded, his gaze softening, as if something Dean said was making Sam feel all fond and gooey inside, as if Dean had just used the L word or something.

As if.

**//**//**

They set up a make-shift blood-donor center in the hallway outside the magic door. Sick-Sam obviously knew what he was doing, and while Sam's blood dripped into the wooden spell-bowl, sick-Sam explained the spell to Dean. Then he hooked himself up, and Dean monitored them both, checking for signs of hypovolemic shock as the bowl slowly filled to the required level.

About forty minutes in, Sam lost consciousness.

"If he dies, I will end you and your brother," Dean growled to sick-Sam as he pressed his fingers to Sam's throat to check his pulse. The kid's skin was cool and clammy, his heart-beat fast, his breathing shallow.

"You can disconnect him now," sick-Sam said softly, as if he hadn't heard Dean's threat. "He'll recover, I promise."

"He'd fuckin' better," Dean growled, fighting down the urge to gather Sam in his arms and run for the nearest hospital. He removed the needle from Sam's arm, then cleaned and bandaged the site before folding Sam's arm over his chest. The kid was so pale and still it made Dean's heart clench painfully in his chest, remembering too well those other times when Sam lay silent and unmoving, when time had stood still while Dean's whole world crashed and burned around him.

"It's done," sick-Sam panted, pulling his own needle from his arm. He was pale, his eyelids fluttering as he struggled to stay conscious. "You can do the spell now."

"Jesus, I hate this," Dean muttered, dipping the paintbrush into the blood with a shake of his head. Sick-Sam had already drawn the required sigils on the doorframe, the largest one on the center of the door itself, so all Dean had to do was trace them with the blood and say the spell. He placed the bowl in front of the door when he was done, then sat back on his haunches and pulled the paper from his pocket.

"If this works, I'm gonna come face to face with myself, aren't I?" Dean said as he unfolded the paper.

Sick-Sam nodded. In his weakened state his bones protruded and the dark circles around his eyes made him look ghoulish. He sat propped against the wall beside the door, as close to it as he could get without touching it. It was as if he was planning to crawl through the door as soon as it opened into his world, straight into his brother's waiting arms.

"He's waiting for me," sick-Sam gasped, sucking air into his lungs with effort. "I can feel him. This close, I can almost hear his thoughts."

"Damn, that's not creepy at all," Dean muttered.

"Dean." Sick-Sam reached out and grabbed Dean's arm and Dean felt the contact like an electric shock, felt a shiver run up his spine and into his head. He heard whispering. "You and your Sam have it, too. You're bonded, just like us. You're just in denial about it, that's all."

Sick-Sam closed his eyes and took a deep breath.. He was still holding onto Dean's arm, and now Dean heard a voice, inside his head. Sam's voice.

Dean yanked his arm away and sick-Sam opened his eyes, blinking as he tried to clear his vision.

"I don't need you telling me how to feel about my brother," Dean snapped. "Me and him, what we have? It's ours, you get me? Nobody else's. It works for us. We don't need all your mumbo-jumbo mind-reading, blood-drinking bonding crap. We're just fine the way we are."

"He never stopped feeling that way about you," sick-Sam said, his voice dreamy and breathless, like he was struggling to stay conscious and was already half-asleep. "He's just waiting for you. He'll always wait for you."

"Yeah, okay, let's do this, Yoda-man," Dean rolled his eyes, shaking his head clear of sick-Sam's weird mumbling so he could concentrate on the strange words on the page.

As he said the spell, it occurred to Dean that this whole thing was probably a trap. Demon!Dean was waiting on the other side of the door, and he didn't care if Dean lived or died. In fact, it was always easier when somebody died, Dean remembered from his time as a demon. Killing somebody or something (and it really didn't matter, that was the whole point) sated the beast inside him for a while, made it easier to function almost normally, to "pass" for human.

When he completed the spell, Dean put the paper down and carefully reached for the demon-blade that was tucked into his belt. He rose to his feet and held the blade in front of him as he waited for the spell to work, glancing apprehensively between the door and the two Sams.

At first, nothing happened. As the seconds ticked by, Dean frowned and started to reach for the spell paper. Maybe he'd said something wrong, no matter how many times he'd rehearsed it with sick-Sam. Maybe he'd have to recite the spell again.

Then the sigils on the door started to glow, faintly at first, then brighter until the doorframe and the door itself seemed to sizzle with an inner fire.

"He's here," sick-Sam gasped. "Open the door!"

"Yeah, 'cause that's such a great idea," Dean grumbled, clutching the knife defensively.

"Dean!" Sick-Sam pulled himself up, reaching for the wrought-iron latch on the door, and Dean had the distinct impression the kid wasn't talking to him. He was calling for his brother.

"Okay, on the count of three," Dean cautioned. "I open, you go through, got it? Then I'm slamming this door behind you." For good, his brain added silently.

Sick-Sam nodded, managing to pull himself to his feet, and Dean was reminded that the kid wasn't quite human anymore. He was stronger. Probably immortal. Kind-of a sort-of type of monster, actually. Like his brother.

"One." Dean started the count-down, grasping the latch with his left hand as he clutched the knife in his right. Not letting some punk-ass demon into his home, no sir, especially one he knew too well.

"Two." Dean laid his fist holding the blade against sick-Sam's shoulder, ready to push him through the doorway and keep him between himself and the demon.

"Three."

Things happened fast as Dean opened the door. The demon was right there, as Dean has expected. The moment the door was unlatched the demon pushed through it violently, causing Dean to stumble backwards and lose his hold on the door. Sick-Sam slumped forward of his own weight, and the demon caught him, taking a moment to check him over before turning his attention to Dean.

"You hurt him," Demon!Dean barked furiously. "You kidnapped him, and then you hurt him!"

Dean stood his ground defiantly, gripping the demon-blade. "No, that would be you," he spat contemptuously. "All those scars, his bruises, all you, you sick son-of-a-bitch."

"You took my brother from me," the demon growled, eyes going black as he glared at Dean. "Now I’m gonna end you."

"Dean, no," sick-Sam grabbed onto his brother, trying to get his attention. "They saved me."

The demon glanced down when his brother spoke, noticing Sam collapsed on the floor.

"Is he dead?"

"Why do you care?" Dean countered.

Demon!Dean smiled, and it was a bitter, twisted expression that made a shiver go up Dean's spine.

"I don't," he answered. "It's just one less Doublemint douchebag that I gotta kill, that's all."

The demon moved so swiftly then that Dean didn't have much of a chance. Before he could so much as swing the blade, Dean found it kicked out of his hand. Then he was up against the wall with the demon's hand around his throat, struggling to breathe as the demon began squeezing the life out of him.

"Dean! Stop!" Dean could hear sick-Sam shout as he began losing consciousness. The demon was snarling into his face, holding him up off the ground with a strength Dean could barely remember.

How had he not seen this coming? How had he forgotten how powerful this bastard really was? Had he blinded himself to the threat from this demon because he didn't want to believe he'd once been so strong himself?

Well, it was too late now. Now it looked like he was about to have his windpipe crushed, and that would be that.

Sorry, Sammy, his dying brain cried out. I fucked up again.

He was almost unconscious when he heard the gunshot.

**//**//**

Dean's first terrified thought was for Sam.

He's dead! The demon killed him!

But then he became aware that he was breathing again. Whatever was restricting his airflow was gone. He was on the floor, collapsed like a rag-doll where the demon had dropped him. His back hurt where the demon had slammed him against the wall.

Dean sucked in a deep breath, rubbing his neck to ease the pain as he blinked through blurred vision. He focused past the ringing in his ears so that he could make sense of the scene in front of him.

Sick-Sam leaned drunkenly on the doorframe, Sam's gun in his hand, and the demon was turned toward him, clutching his shoulder in surprise, and Dean understood.

Sick-Sam had shot his own brother.

"Really, Sam?" Demon!Dean shook his head, incredulous. "You shot me? You know that won't stop me, right?"

"Got your attention, though, didn't it?" Sick-Sam countered. "Now listen to me, Dean. You need to leave these people alone. They helped me, and I owe them both my life. I'm not going to let you kill them."

Sick-Sam was obviously recovering, his skin-tone improving; he was growing stronger before Dean's eyes, and it must have been obvious to Demon!Dean, if the appraising look he was giving his brother was any indication.

He glanced at Dean, who was still gasping for breath on the floor, and smiled grimly.

"Today's your lucky day, Loser-me," he said. "I killed the last five or six of you, just for being a pain in my ass."

"I'll bet you did," Dean spat hoarsely.

"Come on, Dean," Sick-Sam coaxed from the doorway. "Let's go home."

Dean could see the anxiety and trepidation in sick-Sam's eyes, the determined clench of his jaw that Dean recognized from his own Sam when he was steeling himself for a struggle, when he was expecting Dean to protest.

But as Demon!Dean moved toward his brother, sick-Sam's expression softened. There was so much love and desperation there it was frightening. Demon!Dean didn't stop when he reached sick-Sam, he just walked right into his personal space, right up against his body like it was the most normal thing in the world, like it was where he belonged. Dean might as well have been a piece of furniture, for all these two cared-– they only had eyes for each other. He felt like the worst kind of voyeur, watching with horrified fascination as Demon!Dean nuzzled sick-Sam's neck and slid his arm around sick-Sam's waist to yank their bodies together.

"You shot me," Demon!Dean whined petulantly.

"You'll be fine, you big baby," sick-Sam slumped a little to accommodate his brother's smaller frame, pressing his lips against the side of his head. "Nothing can kill you now, remember?"

"Hmmm," Demon!Dean purred, grinding and rubbing his body against sick-Sam's in a way that was obviously familiar to both of them. "Love it when you take charge, Sammy. You know I do."

Dean caught sick-Sam's eye over his brother's shoulder. His expression was a strange mixture of anxiety, determination, and fondness, and Dean was struck again by the notion that this was a life sick-Sam had chosen. Managing his demon brother's disease was a responsibility sick-Sam did not take lightly, but it was also an act of love. Sick-Sam was deeply devoted to his brother, no matter what he did or what he was. Sick-Sam's faith in Demon!Dean was absolute, if misguided, at least from Dean's point-of-view.

"Thanks," sick-Sam said, holding out the gun to Dean, handle first. He held his brother close with his good arm.

Dean pulled himself to his feet and crossed the floor to take the gun, nodding as he stepped back again. He didn't want to be too close to these two; the air around them seemed to thrum with power, and it gave Dean the creeps.

"You close that door and burn it," Dean said, and sick-Sam nodded.

"You, too," he said. "Take care of your brother. Thank him for me."

Sick-Sam seemed almost fully recovered now, and as he stepped back with his brother still in his arms so he could close the door, Dean mirrored the movement on his side.

Dean's last glimpse of sick-Sam was of the demon burying his hands in the kid's hair so he could pull his face down for what was obviously going to be some long, deep lip-locking.

"Dean?"

Sam was coming around, blinking and rubbing his eyes.

"Yeah, Sammy, I'm here." Dean turned from the closed door and knelt next to his brother. "You're gonna be fine. Just fine."

"Is he gone? Did it work?" Sam blinked up at him.

"Yeah. Yeah, it worked," Dean smiled at him as he checked Sam's pulse. "Of course it worked. Two geeks like you putting your heads together like that, how could it not work?"

"What happened to you?" Sam frowned, staring at Dean's neck, at the bruises that were probably starting to turn purple.

"Had a little run-in with a demon," Dean shrugged. "Nothing I couldn't handle."

"Jesus, Dean. He attacked you?" Sam started to sit up, but he was obviously too dizzy. He collapsed back onto the floor, and Dean cradled his head gently to keep it from banging against the cement.

"Naw, it's okay, Sammy, I promise," Dean soothed as he smoothed Sam's hair away from his face. "Everything's okay now. Those two freaks are right back where they belong. He said to thank you, by the way."

Sam nodded, closing his eyes. "I would've done the same for him. Couldn't leave you all alone in another universe. No telling what you'd do."

Dean smiled, still petting Sam's hair. He knew the gesture was as much for his sake as for Sam's, but somehow it didn't matter. Somehow it was enough right now that they were together, right here where they belonged, with no weird double around to confuse things.

It was a relief to have that other version of Dean's brother safely back where he belonged, no doubt about it. Maybe now things could go back to normal, back to the way things were before Dean found out about how things could have gone, how things were different someplace else.

"Dean," Sam murmured, his voice still weak from blood-loss. "I want you to know, now that he's gone, that I never stopped."

"Never stopped what, Sam?" Dean frowned.

"How things were, when we were kids," Sam said, blinking up at Dean again with such open vulnerability it made Dean's chest ache. "I never stopped feeling that way about you. I'm– I'm sorry I never told you. I thought it would stop. I thought I could make it go away just by sheer will-power, but I couldn't. I can't. I'm sorry, Dean. It probably doesn't even matter anymore, but I wanted you to know so you could stop blaming yourself. It's not your fault, what happened back then, whatever's happening now. It's not."

"I don't know what you're talking about," Dean said, too shocked to think clearly. Sam couldn't mean what he was saying. He was feeling dizzy and delirious from blood-loss, that's all.

Either that, or sick-Sam had rubbed off on him, and not in a sexy-good way. Except...

Disappointment flooded Sam's beautiful slanted eyes, and Dean was instantly overcome with shame.

"It's okay, Dean," Sam sighed, sounding sad and resigned. "It's okay. I shouldn't have brought it up. Just forget it, all right? I'm sorry I said anything."

Sam closed his eyes, and Dean's heart clenched painfully in his chest, worry and concern for the kid instantly out-stripping everything else. He wished he could take it back, immediately wished he had just listened to Sam, had taken a moment to process what Sam said before Dean opened his big mouth and stuck his foot in it.

Because it sure sounded like Sam just said what Dean had waited half a lifetime to hear.

And all Dean could do was react with that old habitual knee-jerk denial he was so good at.

At that moment, another universe was born. One where Dean doubled-down on his denial, where he gruffly patted Sam on the cheek and wouldn't look at him again.

In that universe, Dean said, "Okay, you know what? I think you need some rest. You're gonna be right as rain in the morning."

In that universe, Dean ignored what Sam had just said, or at least tried to, although it ate away at him for weeks and months afterwards. He buried it in habit and the day-to-day functions of their lives, focusing as they always had on the work at hand to keep their minds off the emotional turmoil that bubbled just beneath the surface. Dean was an expert at dealing and coping, mostly with alcohol, without thinking about things too deeply if he could help it. This was just one of those things that he never dealt with because it interfered with the job, or so Dean told himself. Sam had been sick and he hadn’t known what he was talking about, and that was all there was to it.

In that world, Sam moped around for a few days, recovering from the blood loss and his own confession until he figured out a way to live with it again, to push it down deep and never let it surface, maybe ever again.

Or maybe it finally came up again, years later, when they were retired and too old and tired to do more than smile at their own youthful stupidity, their own missed opportunities. Maybe eventually, when it really didn't matter anymore, they could finally talk about it.

Or not.

But in this world, in this universe, something else happened.

"Hey." Dean ran his hand over Sam's forehead, down his cheek, felt for the pulse in his neck, then just left his hand there until Sam's eyes fluttered open. There was a film of tears over them, and Dean rubbed his thumb along Sam's cheekbone, then cupped the back of his neck. "I never stopped either, Sammy."

Sam's eyebrows went up as his eyes widened, and a tear escaped from one corner, running down the top of his chiseled cheek into his ear, where Dean wiped it away with his thumb.

"Yeah?" Sam said, his voice a ragged whisper.

"Yeah," Dean smiled as his heart unclenched and his chest flooded with warmth. "Thought you knew that."

Sam shook his head. "I thought— When it happened, I thought you were just doing it because I wanted it," he said. "I was drunk and needy and messed up, and you were just being a good big brother."

"I'm an awesome big brother," Dean grinned. He shook his head, sliding his fingers through Sam's soft hair thoughtfully as the memories crowded to the fore. "I wanted you to be normal, Sam. Wanted you to have a normal life. Back then, I really thought you could have one. And normal don't include banging your brother."

"So, you were just never going to tell me?" Sam said. "That was your plan?"

Dean took a deep breath, not too surprised to find that he was shaking. "I guess," he admitted. "I figured you were drunk, and you didn't really mean it. And afterwards, I figured you'd moved on. You had a steady girlfriend at Stanford. You wanted normal, not me. And I was fine with that, Sam, you gotta believe me. If we went the rest of our lives as just brothers, that's fine, man. Better than I expected back then, for sure. When you left Stanford to come with me, I was out of my mind with relief, man. Getting you back, that was everything. Nothing else really mattered. That's still true, Sam. You and me, come whatever, that wins out over all the sex and – whatever – in the universe."

"But if you could have that, too?" Sam peered up at Dean earnestly, so hopeful and full of longing it took Dean's breath away. "Would you? With me?"

Dean felt himself flush to the tips of his ears. He couldn't stop the stupid grin that was making his face hurt. He had to look away from all the love and beauty on offer because part of him just didn't believe it. Part of him couldn't imagine being so lucky. He didn't feel he deserved this.

"You asking me to give up my rambling, Sammy? All my girlfriends and hook-ups? Huh? You askin’ me to settle down?"

Sam flushed, looked away for a minute, then back up at Dean, suddenly shy. "Would you?"

"Does it make you jealous?" Dean couldn't help teasing. Sam was his brother, after all. "I knew it. I knew I wasn't imaging things. You're always such a little bitch when I hook up with somebody, and I always kinda hoped it was because you still had the hots for me."

"You're a jerk, you know that?" Sam rolled his eyes and squirmed adorably, and it occurred to Dean that it was okay to think that. It was okay to admire Sam's face, his features, his body, his tells and little gestures. It was all permissible now.

"Yeah, but I guess I'm your jerk, so it's okay," Dean said, and he couldn't keep the wonder out of his voice, the amazement that he could just say these things to Sam and it wouldn't be weird.

It was still weird, just in a good way now. Something had shifted, and it was good. It was definitely good.

"Yeah," Sam gazed up at him, and there was wonder in his eyes, too. "I guess you are."

They stared at each other for another moment, until it began to get awkward and Dean started blushing again.

"I guess I'm supposed to kiss you now," he said as his eyes slid away to focus on the floor next to Sam's shoulder.

"You can if you want," Sam agreed with a shrug. "You don't have to, Dean. It's not like there's rules for this."

"Well, that's a good thing," Dean smirked. "'Cause you know how I feel about rules."

"Yeah," Sam grinned, and damn it if those dimples weren't the most amazing things Dean had ever seen. Again.

Dean didn't let himself think too much as he leaned down, amazed that Sam didn't push him away until the last possible moment, until his lips were pressed to Sam's and Sam was kissing him back. It was the softest of kisses, a first kiss, really, just a test. When Dean pulled back to see what he'd done, Sam was blushing adorably, his eyes shining as he gazed up at Dean with that look Dean never thought he'd see again.

"Maybe we should get you to bed, let you get some rest," Dean suggested. His heart was racing so fast he was afraid he might pass out. This was so new, so unexpected, and it was rocking his world so hard, he was afraid it was a dream. Maybe some crazy fuck-up fever-fantasy that would disappear as soon as he woke up, sweating and trembling with loss.

Sam must've seen something in Dean's face that gave him away, or maybe it was the fact he was shaking like a leaf, damn it.

"You know we can take this as slow as you want, Dean," Sam said. "We've got the rest of our lives to figure this out. It's not like it all has to change in one day."

Leave it to Sam to be the sensible one here. Dean didn't know what he'd done to deserve such a sensitive, reasonable little brother.

"No, you're right," Dean cleared his throat, backing up so he could climb to his feet.

Then he helped Sam up, and tried to get Sam to lean on him as they walked down the hall, away from the magic door. Towards Sam's room and the rest of their lives.

"One step at a time, Sammy. One step at a time."

**//**//**

It turned out they didn't have to burn the magic door, because one day, when they turned down the corridor where it was supposed to be, it was gone. Maybe it had never existed in the first place. Maybe it had been destroyed before they moved into the bunker by the Men of Letters, who understood its power too well.

Maybe it still existed in that other world, the one where things turned out differently and Dean and Sam continued to hide their deepest feelings for each other. Maybe it waited for them there, reminding them that there were other choices, offering them other chances to figure out just how much they meant to each other.

As the years went by, Dean wondered about sick-Sam and his demon brother. Had they succeeded in neutralizing the Mark of Cain? Were they truly immortal, as sick-Sam had suggested? Dean liked to think so. He was just selfish enough to enjoy the fantasy of some version of the Winchesters going on after he and Sam were dead.

Sometimes he imagined them, prowling the countryside for ghosts and evil spirits, putting down anything and everything that got in their way. They were invincible, unstoppable, and over time they managed to rid the country of most of its supernatural population, until it was just them, until it was just the legend of the Winchesters that haunted the nightmares of anything evil that hovered on the periphery of every human child's imagination.

Don't worry about monsters, parents would tell their children a hundred years from now. If anything comes for you, the Winchesters will get 'em. The Winchesters will keep you safe.

Yeah, Dean didn't mind that fantasy one bit.