Actions

Work Header

In the Deafening Silence

Chapter Text

Dean can hear them talking from all the way out in the living room where he sits nursing a beer. His shoulder is packaged up in a thick swathe of bandage and antibacterial cream, hiding the place the wendigo tore into him deeply enough for bone to gleam through, but he isn’t feeling any pain. Partly that’s because of the drugs Dad stuffed down his throat before starting the drive here, but mostly Dean thinks it’s just the same numbness that has been hollowing him out for the past week.

Grimacing, he takes another swig from the bottle and lets his head drop back against the couch. Bobby’s dog, allowed inside for the first time in Dean’s memory, continues to stare at him from its spot on the floor. Even though he can’t actually see the mutt from this angle, Dean knows it’s still watching; he can feel its eyes on him. It’s just a dumb dog, though, and easy enough for Dean to ignore as he listens to Bobby and his father talk—aw, hell, who is he kidding?—fight in the other room.

“—don’t even know how goddamned long this has been going on!” Bobby shouts now as Dean rests the bottom of the bottle on his thigh.

“I had other things on my mind.”

From the sound of Dad’s voice, he’s either really pissed off or feeling defensive and guilty about something. No way for Dean to tell which, of course, even if he were thinking clearly—he never bothered to learn the difference. Never needed to learn, not when both emotions require the same response.

It isn’t for Dean to understand the hows and whys of Dad’s moods, just to interpret the warning signs and modify his own behavior accordingly. Play sounding board when Dad wants to talk through a new theory, or errand boy when Dad needs someone to do a little legwork, or mouth off a little bit when Dad needs a target for some of that unfocused anger that’s always building up as the search for Mom’s killer continues uneventfully.

Used to be Dean also deflected Dad’s attention from Sam like that, when Sam was being particularly stubborn or infuriating. Used to be he’d make himself and Sam scarce when Dad needed a few hours of solitude to unwind. Not that either of those tactics are going to be required from him any longer.

But Dean isn’t thinking about that right now. He isn’t thinking about Sam at all, not thinking about the way Sam’s hands felt on him, or how easy it was for Sam to shut the door and walk away. No, right now Dean is thinking about what this particular mood of Dad’s calls for. He’ll have to walk soft until some of the bitter venom lacing his father’s voice eases.

Bobby has never learned to back off, though. It’s the same thing every time they come here: couple of junkyard dogs, the two of them, forever fighting over some worthless scrap or another.

“What the hell kind of an answer is that?” Bobby demands now. “He’s your son, John! I know you like to pretend he’s some kind of wind-up soldier you can bark orders at whenever you damn well please and toss back in the toy chest the rest of the time, but you can’t keep ignoring him like—”

“I have never ignored my boys.”

“Really? When was it you last heard Dean talk again? You were so prompt with an answer for me the first time I asked. Jesus Christ, John: would you ever have noticed if it didn’t interfere with a hunt?”

Dean scrapes his thumb against the bottle label and the paper, saturated with condensation, peels easily. His throat is too tight for some reason, or maybe too full. His insides are unsettled and restless, urging him to move somewhere else (somewhere he doesn’t have to listen to Bobby list all the ways he fucked up this time), but his body isn’t working so hot right now, and the best he can manage is turning his head to one side, angling his face away from the kitchen where Dad and Bobby are arguing.

As if it has standing orders from Bobby to torment him, Rumsfeld immediately heaves itself up and trots over to the couch so it can rest its head on Dean’s knee. Dean moves his leg, dislodging the animal, and Rumsfeld whines. Damned thing’s as bad as Sam.

Dean’s hand tightens on the bottle in a reflexive clutch—everything always comes back to Sam, like metal filings drawn by a magnet—and he shifts against the couch again. The burn has been gone for a few days now, but sometimes it still feels like Sam’s inside him. Sometimes it feels like Sam is still draped over him, taking everything Dean has to give.

Taking more.

The couch dips beside him and Dean glances over to find Rumsfeld flopping gracelessly down on the cushions. This time, when the dog puts its head on his thigh, Dean doesn’t bother shaking it off with a quick jog of his leg—mostly because he can tell it wouldn’t be anything but a wasted expenditure of the energy he doesn’t have right now. He doesn’t shove it away with his hands, either, because his right is pretty much useless until the muscles in his shoulder knit, and his left is busy hanging onto his beer.

Speaking of which …

After he takes another swig, Dean holds the alcohol in his mouth for a moment, savoring the bitterness, and then swallows. He considers the bottle briefly, then tosses back the rest of its contents before dropping the empty on the floor. Although he hasn’t really moved, his head spins alarmingly as he swallows, and he sluggishly wonders whether it’s a good idea to be mixing alcohol with the pills Dad forced down his throat earlier.

The question brings the memory forward, sharp and clear, and Dean’s too muddled to figure out how to push it away again.

His world is narrowed to fear and pain and guilt. Dad is tying his shoulder off with the torn pieces of his shirt, alternately yelling at him and slapping him as he tries to fade down into blackness.

“—thought you were doing—you pay attention when I’m talking to you!—what the fuck was that, huh, Dean?—you could have gotten us both killed, use your goddamned head for once in your life—hey! Wake up. You stay with me. Right here, eyes on me—Jesus Christ, Dean, next time you warn me, you don’t—Dean! goddamn it, son, talk to me—”

He wants to apologize—wants to say he tried to shout a warning and couldn’t work his voice any better than he’s been able to since Sam walked out of his room and his life—and can’t. He shuts his eyes and tries to fade out again and this time Dad’s slap actually rocks his head to one side, making his eyes fly open and his mouth gape soundlessly.

“—don’t you dare do this to me—not now, not—focus, Dean, come on, just a little longer, okay? I can’t carry you out of here. You’re gonna have to help me.”

He shakes his head. His right arm feels like it’s on fire and his entire body is feverish. More important than that, though, is the weariness. God, he’s so fucking tired …

Then Dad digs one finger into the meat of his shoulder, sending a wave of fire down his arm. He tries to curl over on himself protectively as he heaves in shallow, fast breaths. He wants to scream and can’t. Can’t get his voice unstuck enough to even manage a whimper.

“Get the fuck up, boy, or I’ll do it again.”

Fear of pain outweighs his exhaustion long enough for him to somehow make it to his feet with his father’s help. He doesn’t track the walk out of the woods very well, but the world comes back into blurry focus at the feel of Dad’s fingers digging into the corners of his jaw and pulling his mouth open. Pills are pushed onto his tongue; the bitter taste of dissolving medication mingles with something coppery and familiar.

Blood on the pills, blood in his mouth, blood on his father’s hands.

He’s beginning to think he might have gotten hit by something.

“Dean?”

It takes Dean a few seconds to hone in on the voice, and when he does he remembers that he’s at Bobby’s with his shoulder stitched and dressed. High on painkillers and buzzed half out of his mind. There’s a warm weight on his leg and when he looks down he sees that Rumsfeld is still there, rolled half on his side and tilting his head up into Dean’s absent scratches.

“Dean, you with me?”

Dean drops his head against the back of the couch, searching for Bobby with ponderous effort, and finds the man standing right in front of him with a worried, unhappy frown on his face.

“How’re you feeling?”

Dean shrugs with his good shoulder.

“You want to tell me what happened out there?” Bobby prods.

Dean lets his eyes drift away from the man’s face and runs his fingers over the softness of Rumsfeld’s ear.

“Yeah, okay,” Bobby sighs, and then, more briskly, adds, “You’re gonna stay here for a little while. I got the spare all cleared out for you.”

Nodding, Dean slowly pushes to his feet. Rumsfeld gives him a mournful look and then follows. It takes Dean a moment to adjust to the room’s tilt, but after that it’s easy enough to aim himself for the kitchen. He’s fucking wiped, all right, and the thought of the bed that’s waiting for him is really tempting, but first he has to make sure Dad’s set. Make sure he isn’t too pissed off about Dean’s most recent fuck up.

Bobby’s hand on his left arm stops him before he’s gone a few steps.

“He isn’t in there, son,” Bobby says softly. “He … Your dad had a few things to take care of.”

At first, Dean doesn’t understand what that means, but his disordered brain eventually works through the words to the meaning beneath. Understanding hurts, deep and throbbing, but he isn’t really surprised. After all, he fucked up the hunt: could have gotten Dad killed if he hadn’t been able to push between his father and the attacking wendigo in time. Dean can’t blame the man for cutting his losses.

So, this is what it’s like to receive dishonorable discharge.

As he redirects his steps toward the stairs, Dean wonders how much his father paid Bobby to take care of him until he’s well enough to strike out on his own. Wonders where he’s gonna go once his shoulder has healed up enough.

Bobby’s hand on his arm stops him again. “He’s coming back, Dean.”

Dean smiles hollowly at nothing in particular and starts moving again.

Dad’s coming back.

Sure he is.

They both are.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Having Dean around is more than a little unsettling. Bobby thinks, initially, that the vagueness in the boy’s eyes is from the drugs and the alcohol, but when Dean shuffles into the kitchen in the morning, he looks just as lost. Like something reached inside him and gave his mind and soul a good scramble.

Bobby has the list of suspects narrowed down to two, but for once he doesn’t really think John’s to blame. No matter how angry he is with the man for dumping Dean on him and running, he can’t quite bring himself to lay this particular disaster at John’s door.

And Bobby is angry. He’s fucking furious.

Sure, John’s hurting: raw with Sam’s departure and the guilt of not having noticed that his oldest boy's head isn’t screwed on right anymore. Sure, he’s afraid of owning up to that guilt: is terrified of failing Dean yet again. But none of that excuses his behavior. Man’s a goddamned coward, running the way he did. Not so much as a goodbye.

And now Bobby’s left watching Dean ease himself down into a chair at the kitchen table. The boy’s eyes are moving around the room like he isn’t sure where he is, or maybe like he’s looking for someone. His father, maybe, or Sam. Although he has to have noticed Bobby standing by the counter, he hasn’t given any sign of it.

“Dean,” Bobby calls, and after a moment those empty eyes swing toward him. “How’re you feeling?”

Dean blinks once and then looks down at the table. He isn’t exactly avoiding the question, but then again he isn’t acknowledging it either.

Frustration tightens Bobby’s throat, and he wonders if he’s gonna be able to fix this with a few small shows of affection and a damned dog. Healing power of animals his ass: Rumsfeld isn’t even doing his duty. Damned thing is probably off drooling on Bobby’s notes right now.

As though his thoughts have summoned the animal, the clack of nails on hardwood floors alerts Bobby to Rumsfeld’s approach. The dog pads into the kitchen, tail wagging lazily, and looks back and forth between the two humans for a moment. Dean is still staring at the tabletop: doesn’t startle when Rumsfeld makes his choice and drops his head insistently on the boy’s knee. When his hand belatedly moves down to scratch behind the dog’s ears, Bobby can tell Dean isn’t aware he’s doing it.

He doesn’t know if that’s a good sign or not. Doesn’t know if he’s qualified to piece Dean back together when he doesn’t know what happened to the kid in the first place. The damage can’t just have been caused by Sam’s departure—the boys were close, wrapped up in each other far more tightly than was healthy for either of them, but this reaction seems a tad extreme. No, sometime between that last, epic fight John told him about and Sam’s departure early the next morning, something happened.

Well, whatever it was, Bobby isn’t gonna figure it out just staring at the boy.

“You hungry?” he asks. He doesn’t really expect an answer, but there isn’t any harm in trying for one. Besides, after Sam, food always has been the best way to get Dean’s attention.

The boy doesn’t look up, but his uninjured shoulder lifts in a shrug. It’s as much of a reaction as Bobby expected, but he can’t help feeling disappointed.

“I’m gonna whip up some eggs and then, once you’ve eaten, we’ll take a look and see how that shoulder’s doing, okay?”

This time, there’s no response at all. Bobby might as well be having this conversation with the kitchen cabinets. He stifles the sigh he wants to make and turns his attention to the stove, where he’s doing his best not to burn breakfast onto the bottom of the frying pan.

Dean still hasn’t moved when he brings the eggs and bacon over five minutes later. Rumsfeld perks right up at the scent, panting with his tongue hanging out one side of his mouth and begging shamelessly. Dean’s response is pitiful in comparison, and it hurts to watch the boy clumsily shovel a couple of forkfuls into his mouth before abandoning the attempt to prod listlessly at the rest of his breakfast.

“C’mon, it can’t be that bad,” Bobby says.

The joke falls flat between them as Dean continues to toy with his eggs.

Regarding the boy with a more critical gaze, Bobby notes the hint of gauntness in Dean’s face, the way John’s shirt hangs loose on his frame. It takes a hell of a lot longer than a week to lose that much weight, which means that Dean was sinking even before Sam left. And John didn’t notice.

Bobby wonders whether Sam did. Whether Sam said anything or tried to snap his brother out of it.

“You have to eat,” Bobby says more firmly. “You don’t want eggs, fine. But you’re not leaving this kitchen until you’ve gotten something down.”

Dean brings his eyes up again and this time Bobby can see a flicker of something behind those glassy green irises. Anger, maybe. Hopefully.

After a moment, Dean starts shoveling food into his mouth again. He eats with mechanical movements, but he’s at least eating. Baby steps, Bobby tells himself, and then leaves Dean to it and goes to pour the boy a glass of orange juice. When he puts it in front of Dean, the boy lifts the glass and downs the juice as methodically and disinterestedly as he cleared his plate.

Bobby swallows the urge to praise him for the effort—that’d come across as patronizing, no matter how honestly it’s meant—and puts a hand on Dean’s uninjured shoulder.

“Okay, let’s go into the living room and I’ll take a look at that shoulder.”

Dean gets up with no protest. Walks into the living room and stands there, looking nonplussed, like he’s forgotten what they’re doing. Bobby doesn’t like what that says about how clearly the boy’s thinking.

“You need help getting your shirt off?” he prods gently.

Dean looks down at himself—at the same loose sweats and oversized shirt he was wearing when John brought him in—and then ponderously starts trying to get the t-shirt off. Bobby watches him struggle with it for a few minutes—boy needs to do this for himself if he can manage it—and then moves in to help. Between the two of them, they manage to get the shirt off without too many noiseless winces of pain on Dean’s part.

Tossing the shirt on the couch, Bobby turns his attention back to Dean, who’s standing like a stringless puppet in the middle of the room.

John’ll be lucky Bobby doesn’t pepper his ass with buckshot when he comes back. He deserves worse for the mess he made of his oldest boy.

“Okay, son, you can sit on the—” Couch, Bobby’s going to say, but all the spit in his mouth has dried up on him and he can’t do it. He’s too busy staring.

The sweats are too big for Dean—John’s probably, same as the discarded shirt—and they hang lower than they should on his hips. Low enough to reveal the fading, yellow-green bruises on the boy’s skin.

“What the fuck is that?” Bobby growls. Grabbing Dean by his good arm, he yanks the boy around to get a closer look, and those bruises are exactly what they looked like at first glance. Handprints. Someone grabbed the boy from behind and held him still and …

Jesus Christ.

“Who was it?” Bobby bites out. His mind is rifling through possibilities and casting them aside one by one, circling ever closer to a conclusion he doesn’t want to reach. “Who touched you? Answer me, damn it!”

He shakes Dean unthinkingly, but although Dean’s eyes are waking up, he remains as mute as ever. And the emotion in the boy’s gaze isn’t anything Bobby wants to see: not that cringing fear.

Goddamn it, he thinks, eyes watering with unshed tears. Releasing Dean’s arm, Bobby grasps the boy’s face, trying to keep his hands as gentle and reassuring as possible.

“I’m not gonna hurt you, Dean. I’m not angry with you. I just need you to—you gotta tell me who did this.”

Dean meets his eyes—wrecked and hurting, but there for the first time since John dragged him through the door—and Bobby makes himself say it.

“Dean, did your daddy do this?”

The violent way Dean shakes him off—and the flash of outraged anger on his face—reassures Bobby on that count, anyway. His chest loosens. He didn’t want to think John capable of something like that, but the man obviously dressed Dean in these clothes, which means he must have seen.

Better a crappy, unobservant father than the other.

“Who?” Bobby presses. The sick anger in his gut is getting stronger by the minute. Fuck the law. He’s gonna kill whoever did this. “Who was it, Dean?”

Dean’s eyes flicker up, wet and devastated, and Bobby knows.

The realization hits him low in his stomach and shocks a grunt out of him. He watches the tears in Dean’s eyes spill out and wants to throw up. Wants to punch right through the fucking wall.

He thought he was appalled at the idea of John touching Dean like that, but that’s nothing compared to the nauseous shudders running through him now. And the thing is, he doesn’t know why his mind didn’t come here first because he saw this coming: hell, he would’ve had to be blind to miss the way that the boy was always following Dean with his eyes. He even talked with John about it once and got a fist in his face for his troubles.

“Sam?” he gets out finally in a strangled voice.

Dean’s face goes white at the sound of his brother’s name and, still crying, he drops to the floor and pukes. The eggs and bacon and orange juice come up in a revolting mess and Dean flops over onto his side. His left hand comes up to cradle his injured shoulder as he curls in on himself.

Bobby crouches next to him and doesn’t know what to say, doesn’t have the first fucking clue how to fix something so screwed up. The bruise on Dean’s right hip—the one that would match Sam’s hand if he were here—is mocking him.

Gonna get you through this, he thinks, trying to get his arms around Dean without jarring his shoulder any more. Fucked if I know how, but I will.

And then he’s gonna load his shotgun in the car and take a little trip to California.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Dean’s skin is feverish and his muscles are weak and his shoulder is on fire and the inside of his mouth tastes like eggs and bacon and orange juice and bile. Worst of all, though, is how he feels inside: bruised and exposed and sick.

Bobby knows.

Bobby took one look at the fading marks of Sam’s hands on Dean’s hips—marks that Dad must have seen fifty times over the last week if he saw them once, but never remarked on—and he went shocked and appalled. Disgusted by what Dean let happen. Dean doesn’t want to know what Bobby will say when he finds out Dean liked it, that it was his fault in the first place, but he figures he’s gonna find out anyway.

Right now he’s sitting on the couch with an ice pack on his throbbing shoulder and Rumsfeld’s head in his lap. Bobby has cleaned up the puke and is currently banging around in the kitchen, but it’s only a matter of time before the man reemerges, and when he does he’s going to want answers.

Sure enough, a moment later Bobby appears with a glass of water. Detouring briefly to snag a chair with his free hand, he drags it over and sits down in front of Dean. Then he hands over the water, which Dean takes gratefully and uses to wash the disgusting taste from his mouth.

Bobby gives him a few more moments of peace and then fishes a small pad of paper and a pen out of one pocket and tosses them into his lap. When Dean touches the notepad hesitantly, Bobby says, “I know you aren’t talking right now, but I think you also know that I’ve got questions that need answering. So you’re gonna nod for yes and shake your head for no, and if there’s anything we need to clarify, you’re gonna use those. Are we clear?”

Dean can’t help but shrink a little from the coldness in Bobby’s voice. His stomach moves alarmingly, as though he’s going to hurl again, and then settles. Dropping his eyes, he nods.

“Sam touched you.”

It isn’t a question, but Dean nods anyway: he can tell from the tone of Bobby’s voice that the man wants a response. Besides, there’s no point in lying when he’s already given himself away.

“Did he—” Bobby pauses to clear his throat and then continues, “Did he rape you?”

Dean is startled enough by that that he looks up as he shakes his head no.

Bobby’s expression wavers somewhere between skepticism and hesitant relief. “So there wasn’t any ... intercourse.” He flushes a little and stumbles over the word, which Dean would have found amusing in different circumstances. Right now, though, there’s just the continued, dull ache of exposure.

Dean shakes his head.

Bobby’s face scrunches in confusion. “No there wasn’t, or no I’m wrong.”

Dean’s head hurts just trying to follow the man’s logic. This is too confusing: the negatives and the statements that aren’t quite questions. He fumbles the pad open, takes the pen clumsily in his left hand, and scrawls, Fucked me.

Bobby reads the note and Dean can’t figure out what the expression on his face is. A little sad, maybe, and angry, and something else. Resigned?

“Dean, that’s—I know this is tough for you to wrap your head around because it’s Sam, but it’s still rape.”

Dean shakes his head hard enough that his neck pops and then flips to a new page to write, Liked it.

His hands shake as he passes the note to Bobby. This is it. Now Bobby’s gonna tell him what a sick fuck he is, he’s gonna kick Dean out on the street and Dean doesn’t know what the hell he’ll do then with only one good arm. Whore, maybe. Sam seemed to think he’d be good at it, and a guy has to eat.

“Dean, look at me.”

Dean has never wanted to do something less in his life. But there really isn’t any point in avoiding it. Dean lost that chance when Bobby got an eyeful of his hips. When he looks up, Bobby’s face is very, very still and expressionless.

“Are you trying to tell me that you wanted Sam to touch you like that?”

Dean’s throat burns and he flushes with shame. He can’t do this. Can’t look at Bobby anymore. Cutting his eyes to one side, he swallows thickly. Although he didn’t actually nod, Bobby swears like he has.

Dean can’t tell whether the man’s voice is disgusted or angry, but it doesn’t matter which it is. He can’t stay here anymore. His skin is crawling: his breath coming too shallow and fast to really do any good. One of his knees is bouncing up and down like a broken piston and now he pushes himself to his feet as it comes down and starts for the door.

Bobby’s up and after him in a flash, gripping Dean’s arm and halting him. This time, when the man speaks, there’s no mistaking the anger in his voice for anything else. “Where the hell do you think you’re going?”

Out, Dean wants to say, but he still can’t remember how to work his voice, and how fucked up is that? How pathetic is he when a little sex has left him this broken? Pretty goddamned pathetic, that’s what. His throat goes even tighter, painful enough now that tears are threatening, and he pulls against Bobby’s hand. He should be able to get free easily, but for some reason his muscles aren’t working right: body trembling too much for him to get any strength behind his struggles.

“Dean, stop, son. Sit down before you hurt yourself,” Bobby says, his voice deceptively soft.

Dean shakes his head because he knows that means ‘no’ even if he can’t get the word out.

“Sit down before I put you down.” And there’s that hard, lashing tone Dean knew was coming all along. He responds to it without thinking, letting Bobby pull him back to the couch. He doesn’t so much sit as allow his legs to give out on him, collapsing onto the cushions with a suddenness that jars his shoulder and makes him wince.

Bobby stands over him, close enough to block any attempt Dean might make to get up again. Dean can feel the man’s eyes on him and has to resist the urge to shift uncomfortably. Bobby already knew how worthless Dean is from the way Dad dropped him here like a piece of unwanted baggage: now he knows the rest of that sorry story. Now he knows how fucked in the head Dean really is.

God, but Dean hates the crawling, exposed feeling in his chest. He hates the way his cheeks are flushing with shame. Hates the way that, despite his best efforts, he’s starting to fidget beneath Bobby’s gaze.

Look at me,” Bobby says.

Dean’s heart speeds. He can’t. He won’t be able to stand the scorn and disgust he’ll find there.

“Look at me, Dean,” Bobby repeats.

The words crack out: a command that Dean doesn’t have it in him to refuse. He raises his eyes and wishes he could be relieved at the absence of disgust he finds on Bobby’s face. The man’s expression is too tightly warded for that, though—he could be thinking anything behind those blank eyes. Could be calculating how long it will take the cops to get here so he can throw Dean at them and get him off his hands.

Dean wonders how much time they give you for fucking your little brother.

“Now you listen up real good, son,” Bobby says in a voice bound tight with iron. “I’m not angry with you. Hell, I ain’t even upset with you. I could just about strangle your daddy right about now, but none of that’s on you, you hear me?”

Dean nods slowly. It doesn’t make any sense—no reason for Bobby to be angry with Dad because Dean’s wired wrong—but Bobby hasn’t asked if he understands. Hasn’t really even asking if Dean buys into the crap he’s being handfed.

“Good,” Bobby sighs, sitting back down and holding the pad back out in Dean’s direction. “Now, where did you think you were off to?”

Dean takes the pad—mostly because he’s worried Bobby’ll chuck it at him if he doesn’t—and then hesitates. He can’t answer the question because he doesn’t know. The half-formed thoughts of escape that were ricocheting around in his head weren’t clear enough to offer him more than a vague sense of Away and Alone. Finally, because he can sense Bobby’s going to wait until he gets an answer, Dean offers a one-shouldered shrug.

Bobby sighs again and pushes his cap up a little so that he can rub his temples. “Well, this is a fine mess,” he grumbles.

It doesn’t seem to require an answer, so Dean sits there silently and runs his thumb across the top of the pad, thinking about what it would feel like to be Away and Alone. Can’t be much worse than being here.

Bobby gets his attention again by shifting in his chair. When Dean chances a quick look, the man is pursing his lips with an awkward, reluctant expression. Dean’s insides sting tighter, aching, and he looks down again as Bobby finally blurts, “About Sam, are you—are you sure? Because sometimes, something can feel good without you actually wanting it.”

Dean heard Bobby ask about rape before, but the word didn’t really sink in the first time, when Dean was still trapped in the numbing nausea of shock. It does now, though, and he feels a flicker of anger that Bobby could think Sam capable of something like that, followed by a stronger surge of indignation that Bobby thinks Dean’s stupid enough not to be able to separate rape and sex out in his mind. It’s the most Dean’s felt like himself since Sam shut the door on his room, on his offer to call, on Dean himself, and he clings to the familiar emotions.

This time, he writes for almost a minute before tearing off two sheets and passing them to Bobby. The words are heavy and jagged, the paper torn in places where Dean’s shaking hand pressed the pen down too hard.

Fuck you for thinking Sam would ever do that. I wanted him. This’s been coming for a long time and the only thing he did that I didn’t want is leave. So fuck you Bobby.

Bobby reads the note and then, incredibly, his lips twitch in a weary smile. “So you are in there somewhere,” he says, lifting his eyes to Dean’s.

Dean shoves the persistent ache in his heart and his nausea to one side and gives the man the finger, but the gesture only seems to please Bobby more. Angry and confused and disgusted with himself for being such a pathetic asshole, Dean clenches his jaw and looks away before the nervous energy coursing through him can send him to his feet and right out the front door. Leaving is looking better and better all the time, but if he moves now he’ll punch that smile clean off Bobby’s face on his way out.

“I’m not going to tell your daddy about this.”

Dean jerks, startled. The thought that Bobby might tell Dad about him and Sam hadn’t crossed his mind before, but it’s thundering through it now. Dad will come back then, all right. He’ll come back to yell: probably to go a few rounds, and fuck whether or not Dean’s in any condition to defend himself. And then, once Dean’s bloody and beaten on the floor, he’ll say the words that Dean can’t hear, no matter how true they are. Hell, Dad’ll shout them loud enough that Sam will be able to hear all the way over in California.

It’s your fault he left, you fucking pervert! Fucked your own brother and weren’t even a good enough lay to keep him around for a repeat performance. I shoulda cut you loose years ago.

“Dean!”

The sound of Bobby barking his name cuts through the imagined accusation and Dad’s voice fades from Dean’s mind. When he looks up, he gets the feeling from the way Bobby’s watching him that the man has been trying to get his attention for a while.

“I said I ain’t gonna tell him,” Bobby says again.

This time the message gets through uncorrupted and the fist around Dean’s heart eases its grip a little.

Bobby nods, leaning back in his chair, and continues, “But this thing with you and Sam, it isn’t healthy, son. And I’m not talking about you two being brothers: I’m talking about what it’s done to you.”

Dean gestures for the notepad and, when Bobby hands it over, he writes, Doesn’t matter. He left. Not gonna happen again.

Bobby grunts when he reads the words. “Maybe he’s gone for good and maybe he isn’t. But he’s not my concern right now: you are.”

At the insinuation—that he’s weak, that he’s nothing more than a goddamned civilian—Dean’s stomach does its best to curl in on itself. Suck it up, he tells himself sternly. Then, pressing his lips together, he writes, Can take care of myself. Underlines it three times for good measure.

Bobby laughs when he sees the note and then pinches the bridge of his nose with two fingers. “Goddamn Winchesters,” he mutters into his hand. His voice is thick with disgust, like Dean is failing him (of course he fucking is, story of his life) and Dean bites the inside of his cheek to distract himself from the burn behind his eyes.

Fingers aching from the unaccustomed activity, he scrawls a new message beneath the last and then holds the pad out. He has to whack Bobby in the elbow four times to get his attention, and the man sighs as he accepts the note. As he squints down at the words, Bobby’s expression darkens.

“Like hell you will,” he growls.

Scowling, Dean pushes to his feet. He isn’t going to argue about this. Bobby claims to be okay with the whole Sam thing, but Dean can tell that it bothers him. Dean being here at all bothers him, which isn’t all that surprising considering his own family couldn’t stand him, and that leaves him with only one clear option.

“Park your ass, boy,” Bobby barks, but this time Dean resists the urge to obey, moving for the door. He has no shirt, no shoes, no cash, no voice, and one busted shoulder, but he can’t stay here. Pathetic as he is, he isn’t going to be anyone’s charity case. Not anymore.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The boy’s trying to leave again.

Bobby crumples the note—Don’t worry I’ll get out of your hair—in one fist and goes after him. He’s a little rougher than he means to be when he grabs Dean’s arm and yanks him back—partly from fear, partly from plain old frustration—and Dean goes white, hunching and grasping his injured shoulder protectively.

And the damned kid wants to go out on his own.

“What the hell do you think you’re gonna do out there, huh?” Bobby demands as he gives Dean a little shake. “You gonna hunt with your shoulder like that? Huh? You gonna hustle?”

He means pool, but he knows instantly that isn’t how Dean takes it. The boy’s eyes snap up, burning and overly wet. His mouth is twisted into a bitter, self-mocking sneer.

“I didn’t mean,” Bobby says, floundering. “Damn it, boy, I was talking about pool! You can barely hold a pen, let alone a goddamned cue.”

Dean jerks free and, although the violent movement drains him of even more color, he manages to make a lewd gesture with one hand. Bobby wants to believe that the boy’s just goading him, but he knows better. He knows better and can’t reckon which Winchester he wants to punch most: John for being too pig-headedly blind not to notice what his vendetta was doing to his children, Sam for taking everything his brother had to offer and then grabbing just that little bit extra, or Dean for valuing himself so little that he’s willing to sell his body to the highest bidder.

He doesn’t even hesitate before making the one threat he knows will get through to the boy.

“You even think about doing that and I’ll tell your dad everything, I swear to God.”

Dean stares at Bobby for a long moment, his chest heaving like a cornered animal’s, and then turns and shoves a lamp onto the floor with his good hand. It breaks with a crash, spraying glass and ceramic everywhere, but Bobby is too relieved to see a normal (normal for a Winchester, anyway) reaction to care about the damage.

“You break as much as you want to, Dean, but I’m not letting you set one foot out that door, and I sure as hell ain’t gonna let you do something as stupid as that.”

Dean’s crying for real when he turns around again: tears streaming down from both eyes in an uncharacteristic display. He fumbles on the floor for the pad and the dropped pen, tears off the top page, and then scribbles another note, left hand clutching the pen in an awkward fist.

Why not? Bobby reads when the boy throws the pad at him. Just what people already think I’m doing. Doesn’t fucking matter.

“What people?” he asks, sickened by the extent of the damage he’s dealing with. “Sam?” He never would have thought that Sam would say anything so cruel to his brother, but then again he never really thought that Sam would give in to his urges either.

Dean’s jaw jumps and he turns his face away to glare at the door, which is all the answer that Bobby really needs.

“You know he didn’t mean that, don’t you?” he offers gently. Dean hitches his good shoulder in a shrug and wipes at his eyes furiously with the back of his hand.

Although Dean’s body is finally starting to fill out, muscles bulking up in a build similar to his father’s, the boy looks strangely frail standing there. His scarred, pale skin and bruised, tapered hips (got to get some more chow in him, that’s step one) make him seem ill. Bobby’s throat goes tight and pained as he watches Dean rub his face clean.

“We’ll figure this out, okay?” he offers after a moment, and steps close enough to lay a reassuring hand on the back of Dean’s neck. “You’re gonna be fine.”

Dean’s muscles move against his palm, and for a second Bobby’s actually grateful that the boy’s playing mute because he’s pretty sure that Dean’s laughing at him like the old fool he is.

Old fool or not, though, Bobby’s all the kid has right now, and he damn sure isn’t going to let him down.

“Sit down, kiddo,” he says, taking his hand back and turning away so that he won’t have to see the jaded expression on Dean’s face. “We’ll get the dressing on that shoulder changed.”

Chapter Text

Bobby keeps a close eye on him for a few days after that disastrous conversation. Seems like every time Dean turns around the man is there, pretending not to pay attention with enough focus that Dean’s certain he was being stared at a moment before. When he isn’t pretending to ignore Dean, Bobby’s checking on his shoulder, or rambling on at him about carburetors and gas gauges, or trying to force food down his throat. All the attention makes Dean feel more awkward and burdensome than usual, and he’s pretty sure Rumsfeld is going to pop like an overfed tick from all the food Dean’s slipping him when Bobby’s back is turned.

It’s just ... he isn’t hungry, usually. Hasn’t really been hungry since Sam got his acceptance letter in the mail about four months ago. At first it was difficult to care about food when he had to worry about keeping Dad and Sam from each other’s throats (and look how well that turned out), and then later, it just never seemed important. He got into the habit of choking down a few bites during their tense, silent family meals and otherwise subsisting on the occasional splurge of a bag of chips or Big Mac on his way to the next salt and burn.

No reason to change that habit now just because Bobby has some sort of newfound food fetish.

Mostly, though, it’s their ‘conversations’ that are getting underneath Dean’s skin. The shoptalk is pointlessly annoying, and Bobby keeps dropping badly concealed platitudes and encouragements into his monologues. Stuff about how things always look worse from the inside than they are, and how Dean’ll feel better once he gets a little distance. And he keeps telling stories from Dean’s childhood—Dean and Dad and Sammy, back when Dean was dumber than he is now and everything looked like it might turn out okay.

Dean can’t tell whether the man’s doing it as some obscure form of punishment or if he actually thinks Dean wants to be reminded of how badly he fucked up.

He tries walking away from those talks, hoping Bobby will get the message, but the man is even worse than Sam when it comes to prodding at things better left alone. Eventually, Dean figures out that the path of least resistance involves sitting passively while tuning out Bobby’s voice and trying to plan out in his head where he’s gonna go next.

Enforced strolls down memory lane notwithstanding, Bobby’s a nice guy—too nice for his own good, taking in someone like Dean. He’s playing Good Samaritan right now, letting Dean stay here, but that isn’t gonna last. Even if Dean wanted to stick around and play charity case, he wouldn’t be able to. Sooner or later, Bobby’s going to get sick of him and toss him out on his ear. Dean accepts that, and he doesn’t blame the man for it.

It isn’t like he can expect Bobby to want him around when his own family dumped him.

Dean guesses that he could make an effort to be useful. He could try to help out in the salvage yard, could organize Bobby’s books or do a little weapons cleaning. He could try and make himself an asset; carve out some sort of place for himself that wouldn’t make him feel like such a fucking mooch.

He just doesn’t see the point in trying when he already knows he’d just be setting himself up to fail.

After all, he gave Sam everything he had, and that wasn’t enough. Gave Dad the best obedience and dedication he could muster—was the best solider he could manage to be—and that didn’t cut it either. Dean’s sick and tired of trying and trying and always coming up short.

Best just to keep his head down and focus on what he does best.

See what you can do, Dad used to tell him when they pulled up to a new motel, or when they needed a good deal on some new tires for the Impala.

You give it away to anyone who even glances at you, Sam said, and, you fucking seduced me.

Hell, even Bobby knows what Dean is, even if he doesn’t really approve.

Dean figures he can probably bring in enough to get by once he knows what he’s doing. Might be able to run some credit card scams on the side if he can figure out how to fill out the applications without Dad looking over his shoulder to keep him from fucking up. Maybe he’ll even do a little hunting until he gets himself killed. It’ll be a pleasant change of pace not to have to worry about getting someone else hurt when he screws up.

But first Dean needs to figure out what the hell he’s doing. It’s nice to imagine that he’ll be able to make enough just sticking to women, but he isn’t stupid and he knows that men are more likely to buy that kind of thing—especially closeted, middle-aged types with wives and kids and appearances to maintain. His looks will probably help reel in some marks, but after that he’s going to have to deliver on his promises if he wants to get paid, and that means that he’s going to have to learn his way around a man’s body.

Judging by how eager Sam was to leave afterwards, his technique is going to need a lot of work.

Dean waits until Bobby relaxes his guard—and until his shoulder doesn’t feel quite so much like a butchered hunk of meat—and then slips out after the man goes to bed for the night. There are only two bars nearby that he knows of: Keller’s, where he and Bobby and Dad used to go for a beer after successful hunts, and The Blue Stallion, which Bobby likes to claim ought to have been burned off the face of the earth years ago. Neither one of them is really going to work for Dean’s purposes, but it’s amazing what you can find on Google. There are fifty-seven bars within an hour’s drive of the salvage yard: a hundred and eighty-five if you widen the search radius another seventy miles.

Dean was a little worried that being mute would make it more difficult to score, but then again he’s never been great with words in the first place. Less than half an hour after he strolls into his first bar, he’s on his knees out in the darkened parking lot with a stranger’s cock in his mouth. He keeps choking on it, unaccustomed to the girth and repeated thrusting down his throat, but he seems to be doing okay because the man’s clutching his hair and ears and saying things like ‘pretty’ and ‘take it’ and ‘so good’.

Dean almost pukes when the man finally finishes—the taste of come mingled with his own shame and disgust has to be the most nauseating thing he’s ever experienced—but he manages to hang on to enough of his dignity to avoid that much, anyway. He does turn his head to the side and spit, leaving a puddle of saliva and semen on the pavement, but the man’s too busy putting himself away to notice.

Second night, different bar, different guy, same story.

The third guy wants more than a blowjob, and Dean ends up half in and half out of the car he borrows from Bobby’s: knees planted on the running board and weight supported by his uninjured arm. It hurts, but not quite as much as that first time with Sam, and the guy’s considerate enough to do a reach around, so Dean ends up shooting all over the seat.

After that, it’s smooth sailing.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Bobby isn’t sure how long Dean has been sneaking out at night, and he has no idea what the boy can possibly be doing when he’s gone, but he knows for damn sure that it’s going to stop. He doesn’t like the way that Dean’s nightly excursions are making him act: so still and empty. Not that Dean’s been all that active since John dropped him off, but he seems to be getting worse instead of better. Spends all his time sitting on the front porch and staring at nothing in particular, like he’s waiting for it to get dark. Like he’s waiting for his chance to slip away again and damage himself further.

Whatever else this whole mess with Sam has done to Dean, it clearly hasn’t slowed down his mind any. The boy’s covering his tracks well: takes a different car every night, tops off the gas, ticks back the odometers. He even leaves mounded up clothing in his bed so that if Bobby happens to peer in at night he’ll think everything’s fine.

Hell, if Rumsfeld didn’t decide to play tug of war with Dean’s sheets and end up ripping the whole mess off the bed and half out the door, Bobby would probably still be in the dark. That was four nights ago—four nights of lying awake and listening to the boy leave, four nights of wondering whether it would be better to let this run its course or whether he needs to get off his ass and do something. Four nights of knowing, beneath it all, that he has to do something and dreading the inevitable confrontation.

This isn’t his job, damn it. Dean isn’t his responsibility. He’s John’s responsibility, and so is Sam, and if the man were any kind of a father then Bobby wouldn’t be in this mess in the first place.

But he agreed to look after Dean while his shoulder heals up, and that makes it his job anyway. Makes Dean his responsibility.

Which is how Bobby ends up driving about a half mile behind a beaten down Civic with his own headlights off. How he ends up pulling into the parking lot of a bar seventy-five miles away and sitting in his car waiting for Dean to come back out. Until he gets tired of waiting (or maybe just can’t ignore the bad, crawling feeling in his gut anymore) and gets out of the car and strolls around the side of the building to find John Winchester’s eldest tucked in between a dumpster and the outside generator.

Dean has his good arm braced above his head while his right hangs uselessly at his side. Bobby would be concerned over that—boy’s shoulder should be more healed than it seems to be by now—but he’s too busy pulling out his gun and bringing the butt down on the back of the head of the man who’s grunting and sweating against Dean. The man drops like a stone and Dean jerks, making the first noise that Bobby’s heard from him since John dragged him drunk and drugged through the front door.

A low, pained grunt.

Dean starts to glance over his shoulder—no attempt to cover up or defend himself, Christ—and then gives up on the idea of finding out what’s happening and just stands there facing the wall. Uncaring. Waiting for whatever is going to happen next.

Bobby’s tempted to try beating some sense into the kid, but he’s pretty sure that sort of thing would do more harm than good at this point. His eyes keep slipping without his permission from the back of Dean’s head to his ass—slick with some sort of lube and still gaping open a little with what he’d been doing before Bobby put a stop to it. Makes him ill to look at the boy like that, but he does it anyway. He does it, maybe, because he needs the reminder of just how much he dropped the ball on this one seared into his brain.

He stands there long enough that Dean makes another grunt and rolls his hips. It’s a challenge, and Bobby can tell that he doesn’t care whether whoever interrupted him wants to fuck him up or just fuck him. Dean isn’t going to put up a fight either way.

“Pull your goddamned pants up,” he manages.

Dean jerks at the sound of his voice, and the rapidity with which he obeys that order gives Bobby some hope that he isn’t completely broken, at least. He dresses but doesn’t turn, although Bobby thinks from the tension in the boy’s back that that’s more from embarrassment than rebellion. Good. He should be embarrassed. Whatever state Sam left him in, this is a damn fool way to be acting.

“I’m taking you home,” Bobby announces. “Get moving.”

Dean hesitates a moment longer and then, finally, turns around. He won’t look at Bobby, eyes cast down on the ground, but there’s no trace of shame on his face as he steps over the downed body of the man and moves toward the parking lot. Bobby takes a moment to make sure that the man is still breathing and then follows. Anyone willing to take advantage of a boy as obviously damaged as Dean doesn’t deserve any more than that.

Dean’s heading for the Civic when Bobby catches up with him, and Bobby grips his arm, bringing him up short.

“My car,” he says. “I’m not in the mood to be haring after you when you decide to do something stupid like try and lose me.”

Scowling, Dean yanks away. There’s no twinge of pain on his face at the movement, so something’s healing up right at least. Although he doesn’t actually try anything, his eyes cut toward the Civic again, and Bobby can tell the boy’s calculating his chances.

“Boy, you get in the car now or I will put you there.”

Dean hesitates a moment longer, working his jaw, and then strides toward Bobby’s car with his head lowered and heavy, raging steps, like a wounded bull. As Bobby follows, he wonders—and not for the first time, either—whether he’s doing any good at all here. If anything is going to do any good.

Damn you, John, he thinks, climbing into the driver’s seat next to Dean. Damn you to hell for dumping this mess in my lap.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The ride home is quiet, which isn’t doing anything for Dean’s nerves. He wishes that he dared reach out and turn the radio on, but he isn’t sure what type of response that will provoke from Bobby, and he doesn’t want to chance it.

Oh God. Bobby.

When Mr. Mullet and Wedding Band was yanked off and out of him, when he heard the unmistakable noise of metal hitting flesh, Dean was certain that he was dead. The only question was whether he was getting fucked first or not.

In that moment, filled with the knowledge that he was minutes from death, the only thought that went through his head was, Thank god.

Tilting a little further toward the window, Dean clenches his jaw on the sudden tightness in his throat. He doesn’t know when the fuck everything got this screwed up. When he got this screwed up.

Fuck, but he wishes Bobby had shot him and put him out of his fucking misery. Now he has to deal with the man, and his goddamned questions, and that infuriated, disgusted look on his face. Be real fucking ironic if Bobby’s bringing him back to the salvage yard just so he can throw Dean out properly.

By the time Bobby pulls up in front of his house and turns off the car, Dean’s stomach is crawling with nerves. He doesn’t know what would be worse: being kicked out or having to stay. He does know that he doesn’t want to have this conversation, though. Not now, not ever.

But when Bobby follows him inside, the only thing the man says is, “Go clean up and get some shut eye. I’m putting you to work in the morning.”

Dean stands next to the couch for a moment, uncertain. He sort of wants to ask whether Bobby is serious or if this is some kind of practical joke. It’s the first time he’s wanted to say anything since Sam left, and he senses in that moment that he can. He can just open his mouth and the words will come out, maybe a little rough around the edges but perfectly audible.

If he speaks, though, he’ll lose that comforting communication barrier and there will be questions that he can’t answer and words he can’t take back. Everything is just a little safer with the delay provided by paper. Besides, it isn’t as though he has anything valuable to contribute to the conversation.

“We ain’t gonna talk about this again,” Bobby says as Dean hesitates. “Hell, I don’t really want to talk about it now. But you don’t step foot off of my property again until I give you the okay. You do and John’s gonna be the first call I make, you hear me?”

Any desire Dean had to speak vanishes as quickly as it came. Flushed with mingled anger and fear, and nauseous with embarrassment, he turns his back on Bobby and heads upstairs to shower.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Bobby wasn’t kidding about putting him to work, Dean realizes later the next afternoon. He’s up to his elbows in grease all day, trying to repair the clunker of an engine Bobby put in front of him. Damned thing has to be fifty years old if it’s a day, and looks like it was sitting out in some farmer’s field at least half that long. There’s a wren’s nest in the oil filter, for crying out loud.

By the time Bobby calls him in for dinner, Dean’s exhausted and soaked in sweat. His right shoulder is pulsing and sore, and the rest of his arm is weak. Bobby takes one look at him and puts two aspirin down next to his plate.

Ignoring the pills, Dean reaches for his fork and promptly fumbles it onto the floor. After the seemingly endless succession of socket wrenches and pliers, the fingers of his right hand obviously aren’t up to grasping anything else today. Rumsfeld trots over to nose at the fallen utensil and then, abandoning the investigation as boring, rests its head in its usual spot on Dean’s knee and starts begging. Normally, Dean would be shoving the dog away right about now—he’ll feed it all the scraps it wants, but he doesn’t like how the warm weight of its head makes his chest feel—but tonight he’s too tired to bother. Damned mutt’ll just wait until he isn’t paying attention and then sneak back into position anyway.

Flexing his fingers, Dean looks down at the fork and considers reaching for it. It’s a long way from the table to the floor, and stretching his arm out will only increase the throb in his shoulder, but it’s pretty crappy manners to ignore it. And anyway, he doesn’t want Bobby to know just how much his arm still hurts.

Clenching his jaw, he grips the edge of the table and starts to bend sideways, fingers outstretched. Before he can get any further along in Operation Retrieve Fork, Bobby steps over to the table, bending down on his way past and picking up the fork with enviable ease.

Dean does his best to look casual as he sits back up.

As Bobby puts the plate of burgers he was carrying in his left hand down in the middle of the table, he says, “Take the damn pills, boy.”

That an order? Dean thinks, but he isn’t annoyed enough by Bobby’s continual coddling to refuse. Besides, his shoulder is really starting to sing now that he isn’t using it. This is what he gets for not doing the rehabilitation exercises Bobby gave him.

He pops the pills dry and then reaches for a burger before Bobby can drop two on his plate. It took a while, but he’s finally figured out that he’s allowed to eat less if he acts before Bobby decides to mother hen him about it. He’s pretty sure Bobby knows where his newfound compliance is coming from, but he seems happy enough letting Dean get away with it.

“Have some potato salad,” Bobby urges, pushing the bowl across the table at him.

Dean gives the salad a quick, distrustful glance—he’s gotten sick on the stuff more often than he cares to remember—and then obediently scoops a spoonful onto his plate. He’s careful to use his left hand, same as he did when reaching for the burger, and as he waits for Bobby to comment on it, he thinks to himself that his hand isn’t quite as clumsy as it was when he had his right to rely on.

Looks like you can teach a dog some new tricks after all, useless as they might be.

“So, how’s the engine coming?” Bobby asks as he sits down on the other side of the table. He has a new fork in his hand, and he pushes that across as well, then sits back and regards Dean with a frankness that makes Dean want to lash out at something.

He doesn’t understand how the man can so casually ignore the elephant in the room—how he can expect Dean to act normal around him after what happened last night. After what Bobby saw.

And, if Dean’s going to be completely honest with himself, he’s more than a little pissed at Bobby about that. Where the fuck does the man get off denying him the one shot he’s got at surviving after he gets tossed out on his ass? Where does he get off throwing Dean at some worthless, stupid task, like he’s a five-year-old kid who has to be kept out of trouble?

But Bobby’s threat to call Dad is still hanging over his head, so Dean chokes down the anger and lowers his eyes to the table. It isn’t completely avoidance—getting the burger into the bun that was already on his plate when he sat down is proving more difficult than it should be—but he’s pretty sure Bobby gets the message. Anyway, it isn’t like he can contribute to the conversation.

“You figure out what’s wrong with it?” Bobby pushes as Dean wages a one-handed war on his dinner.

Yeah, Dean thinks resentfully, it’s a piece of crap.

As he finally gets his burger to cooperate, he gives himself a pat on the back. Pretty fucking pathetic when something so simple feels like a victory, but he has to settle for what he can get these days. After eyeing the ketchup and relish in the middle of the table for a few seconds, he decides to quit while he’s ahead and starts eating.

“After dinner I want to take a look at your shoulder,” Bobby announces into the silence.

That’s novel enough of a request that Dean lifts his eyes without thinking about it. For the first time since he was caught with some stranger’s dick up his ass, he meets Bobby’s eyes squarely. His gut twists with the pity he sees in the man’s face, but he ignores the sensation and continues to stare back, trying to make his expression as foreboding as possible.

They’re done with this whole doctor routine. They were done weeks ago.

“You aren’t healed up as much as I’d like,” Bobby says, looking back at him. “I want to get a look at the muscles, see if they’re knit together right.”

Dean doesn’t know what it matters—not like he needs his shoulder to get fucked, he’s proved that repeatedly over the past few weeks—and he lets it show with a scowl and a curt shake of his head. Something about the motion or Dean’s expression gives away more than he means it to and Bobby’s eyes flicker with dawning understanding. Dean looks away hastily, but of course the damage is already done.

“You damned idjit. You haven’t been doing the exercises, have you?”

Oh, for fuck’s sake. Tossing the mostly-uneaten burger down onto his plate, Dean pushes up from his chair. His insides are crawling with guilty anger and something low and pathetic that he can’t put a name to. He isn’t sure where he intends to go—anywhere but here—but before he can move Bobby barks out, “Ass back in the chair!”

Bobby’s using the same, ‘I’m not taking your shit’ tone that Dad always favored during training, and Dean obeys automatically. He hates himself for it immediately afterwards, but if he tries getting up again right now he’ll look like even more of an asshole than he already does. Better to just stonewall the man and wait it out.

“I swear to God, Dean, I could just—” Bobby stops, making a strained, frustrated noise, and then continues, “You’re going to sit there and finish your dinner, and then we’re gonna do as many of those exercises as you can, and then—if you manage not to piss me off any more between now and then—I’ve got some ointment that should keep you from stiffening up overnight.”

Dean isn’t sure whether he’s more humiliated or pissed off. Bobby has no fucking right talking to him like that. Dean didn’t ask for his fucking help. He doesn’t need his fucking help.

He can’t refuse his fucking help when Dad is only a phone call away.

“I want some acknowledgement, boy,” Bobby adds, warning clear in his tone.

Dean sort of wants to throw his plate across the table into the man’s face, see how he likes that for an acknowledgment. His chest burns as he limits himself to giving a single, curt nod and sullenly picks up his burger.

Rumsfeld crept off in all the commotion, and this time when the mutt comes back over to resume its begging, Dean doesn’t hesitate to shake it off. The dog makes a sad little whimpering noise before slinking over to lie down by the sink, and Dean’s anger fizzles into the same bleakness he’s been feeling since Sam left. Rounding his back, he hunches lower.

Great, now even the dog hates him.

“That burger ain’t gonna eat itself,” Bobby points out.

Dean hunkers down and does as he’s told.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Bobby hopes that the apple pie he bought at the store will tempt Dean into agreeing to dessert, and it might have if they hadn’t had their little altercation at the beginning of dinner. As it is, the boy gives the slice a disinterested look, prods it once with his fork, and then gets up and goes into the living room. Rumsfeld is up in an instant, approaching the table and wagging his tail in a slow, hopeful manner.

“No pie for you,” Bobby tells the dog sourly. “Some help you are. You’re supposed to be cheering him up, not making him feel worse.”

Rumsfeld ducks his head a little, looking repentant, and Bobby grumbles to himself as he moves Dean’s untouched plate onto the floor. The pie is gone in about two seconds and then Rumsfeld trots happily after their charge, wagging his tail energetically as he goes. Bobby consoles himself with the knowledge that when the mutt’s old and fat, he won’t have anyone to blame for it but himself.

He takes his time cleaning up—this isn’t going to be pleasant for either of them, and he doesn’t mind being called a coward if it means he can put it off as long as possible. Dean’s not going to like having his shoulder poked at. He won’t enjoy the exercises either, especially after letting it go for so long. Mostly, though, Bobby’s not looking forward to the Talk they have to have.

I’ll be lucky if he doesn’t try to take my head off, he thinks humorlessly as he finishes with the last plate and reluctantly steps into the living room.

Dean is waiting for him, sitting in a wooden chair with his shirt already off. Rumsfeld is on the couch, the lazy mutt, but at least he’s watching Dean with liquid, worshipful eyes. That look on the dog’s face gets to Dean, Bobby can tell from the way he keeps fidgeting. He’d like to think it means there’s hope for the boy yet, but can’t be quite sure it does.

Can’t be sure of anything when it comes to the Winchesters.

Silently, he picks up the floor lamp and brings it over next to Dean’s chair. Dean stares straight ahead for the examination, with only the occasional twitch of his jaw to reveal how much all of Bobby’s pokings and proddings hurt. Bobby can’t help but think that the stoicism is a good sign, and he’s further cheered by the fact that the muscles mostly feel like they should beneath the scar tissue. Which means Dean’s continued problems are likely just a question of strengthening everything up again and doing some stretches to increase his range of mobility.

“Okay, boy,” Bobby says when he’s finished. “Arm straight out to the side and hold it there for a count of ten.”

Dean gives him a quick, mulish glance and then complies. Bobby counts along in his own head, watching as the boy’s arm starts to shake around four before falling back against his side at six. Now Dean looks pissed—at himself more than at Bobby, Bobby thinks—and Bobby keeps his voice carefully non-judgmental as he says, “Again. Cut it back to a five count.”

The rest of the workout proceeds similarly, and by the time they’re done, Dean is a sweaty, seething mess. He looks like he wants to hit something—like he’s thinking about hitting Bobby—and Bobby wants to feel vindicated by the evidence of how much Dean needs this. He can’t quite manage it, though. Not when he’s pretty sure those are tears Dean’s blinking furiously out of his eyes.

“That’s enough,” Bobby concedes finally, unable to watch Dean struggle to bring his arm around in another wide circle.

Dean drops it immediately, reaching over to grab his shoulder with his left hand and turning to stalk away. Bobby catches the boy by his good shoulder as he tries to walk by.

“I didn’t say we were done,” he points out, and then nods at the chair where Dean started out. “Sit a spell and I’ll get that salve.”

The ease with which Dean obeys is a painfully good indication of just how much his shoulder is hurting, but Bobby knows better than to offer any sympathy or kindness right now. Dean wouldn’t recognize either for what it is, and Bobby’s already messed around with the kid’s head enough for one night.

Not that he’s quite done in that respect.

He waits until he’s massaging the salve into Dean’s sore muscles—until Dean is slightly more relaxed—before announcing, “I’m taking you down to the clinic tomorrow.”

Predictably enough, Dean stiffens and starts to rise, but Bobby just tightens his hold and all the fight goes out of him.

“I want to get a proper medical opinion on your shoulder, just to make sure we doing all right, but more importantly you’re gonna get tested.”

Dean’s sharp inhalation of breath is clearly audible, and Bobby doesn’t need to hear the words to know what the boy’s thinking.

“I know you were safe, Dean,” he says gently. “I saw—” He shuts himself up quickly on that one; doesn’t want to be thinking about what he saw anymore than Dean wants to be hearing it. “But condoms aren’t foolproof, and you know it. I’d feel better knowing you were healthy.”

He knows Dean’s going to interpret that any number of fucked-up ways—hell, it isn’t beyond the realm of possibility for the kid to think Bobby means to take advantage the way Sam did—but as long as Dean’s interpretation gets him agreeing to it, Bobby’s willing to let the ‘why’ slide for the present. He’s almost sure that Dean’s sense of duty and urge to please would get him the assent he wants anyway, but that doesn’t stop him from letting out a relieved sigh when the boy gives him a curt nod.

Bobby gives Dean’s shoulder a second, gentler, squeeze and then lets go. He watches as Dean takes himself and his discarded shirt off to the spare room and wishes that the boy didn’t move so much like he was sporting a couple of broken ribs. It’s just emotional bruising, of course—nothing physical—but that almost makes it worse.

Broken ribs, Bobby knows how to deal with.

The broken bits inside of this boy he watched grow from child to teenager to young man ... he just doesn’t have a clue.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Unsurprisingly enough, Dean’s shoulder is stiff as hell when he gets up the next morning. He winces his way through breakfast, absent-mindedly rubbing at it between bites, and takes the painkillers Bobby hands him with his juice without any hesitation. After that, it’s off to the clinic to get poked and prodded some more.

Bobby stands in the room the whole time like a dour storm cloud, as if Dean’s going to make a break for it if he’s out of Bobby’s sight for one minute—or maybe it’s the doctor’s virtue he’s worried about. Dean assumes Bobby’ll kick him out if something comes back positive (of course he will; won’t want Dean bringing diseases into his house) and is surprisingly nervous about what the results will say.

It isn’t that he needs Bobby (he doesn’t; he doesn’t need anybody), it’s just that it’d be nice to have somewhere to sleep until he can be more certain of his ability to support himself. Although how he’s going to get that sorted out with Bobby playing puritanical watchdog is another question entirely.

After the clinic—they’ll call in a week or so with results—Bobby drives them straight home. Dean expects to be able to go up to his room when they get back, maybe try to sleep a little so that he won’t have to think about anything, but Bobby stops him on his way to the house with a hand in the middle of his chest.

“Plenty of daylight left to work on that engine,” he says meaningfully. The stubborn set of his jaw tells Dean how much good any attempts at refusal will do him.

Fine. The man wants Dean to drive himself into exhaustion over a piece of shit engine that isn’t ever going to run again, then Dean is happy to oblige. It’s distracting, anyway: keeps the bitter, self-loathing thoughts in his head from ripping him to shreds for a little while.

And if he breaks a couple of windows on his way there, this place is already enough of a junkyard that no one’s going to notice.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Over the next week or so, Bobby pushes him into a routine. Dean gets up in the morning, showers, chokes his way through breakfast, heads out to work on the engine, stumbles back in for dinner, drags himself through his exercises while Bobby stands over him like the world’s meanest, most out-of-shape drill sergeant, sits quietly while Bobby slathers up his shoulder (salve smells like pine and makes his skin tingle and is basically really fucking annoying), and then finally crawls upstairs to his room, where he thinks about showering before passing out fully clothed on the bed instead.

Bobby always brings him lunch—twice, and for no discernable reason, there’s a beer with the meal instead of water. Bobby also always makes Dean take Rumsfeld with him, and the damned dog spends the day chasing rats or bugging Dean to scratch it behind the ears or to play fetch or to rub its belly. Paying attention to the animal takes time away from Dean’s work on the engine, but since that’s a lost cause Dean doesn’t think it matters. Anyway, he’s almost—well, not happy, but a little less sore inside whenever Rumsfeld clowns around him with that ridiculous looking grin on its face.

Summer is just getting into its stride now, and by the end of the week Dean has given up on wearing a shirt while he works. He doesn’t much like catching sight of the red, sore-looking scars on his shoulder, but if being cooked alive in his own skin is the alternative, then he’s willing to put up with it. The first day he goes out dressed in just his jeans and boots, Bobby tosses him a bottle of suntan lotion (Dean catches it neatly with his left hand, with a tiny flare of pride at the motion) and tells him to reapply every other hour or so.

One week and two days after he’s started on the engine, the clinic calls with his results. Bobby insists on celebrating with pie and ice cream—ignores Dean’s attempts to decline and somehow gets two slices down his throat. Dean’d feel better about the clean bill of health if they didn’t also ask him to come back in six months for a second, cautionary screening.

Two days after that, and to his own surprise, he actually finishes with his futile project. The engine isn’t going to win any races, and it sure as hell isn’t pretty, but it’ll run once they put it in one of the rust-buckets lying around the yard. Dean stands in front of it for a moment, feeling oddly empty and useless, and then goes to find Bobby.

When Dean steps into the slightly cooler shade inside the garage, where Bobby’s hard at work on a car of his own, the man looks up sharply. Dean’s prepared to write out a note explaining why he’s there, but Bobby just gives him a nod and says, “Finished it already, did you?”

Dean’s not sure what to make of the man’s casual confidence that he was going to be able to do anything with that hunk of junk, so he stands where he is and doesn’t do anything. Then Bobby leans over, picking up the socket wrench to his right, and comes around the car to put it in Dean’s hand.

“Heater hose on that Camero needs replacing,” he says, and then turns around and goes back to what he was doing.

For a moment, Dean considers hurling the wrench through the car’s windshield. Then he starts to move around the garage, collecting the other tools he’ll need for the job.

It isn’t like he has anything better to do.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

That night, for the first time since Bobby put him to work, Dean doesn’t feel the need to go to sleep as soon as Bobby is finished torturing him. Instead, while Bobby reads in his study, Dean roams through the house, restless, and looks out the windows at the dark, still night. His skin feels itchy and too tight. His chest flutters strangely.

Now that he has the time and energy for it, he can’t stop thinking about Sam. Sam’s hands on him, Sam’s mouth, Sam’s cock. Sam shoving into him, too fast and too rough and just plain too much.

Sam leaving.

Christ, he has to get out of here.

Dean is eyeing the front door when Rumsfeld, who’s been trailing him since he finished his exercises, finally gives a sharp bark. Dean jerks back with a startled, guilty flinch, and a moment later Bobby comes into the room, expression worried and a book held carelessly in one hand. When he spots Dean, his eyes narrow.

Dean glances down at the dog, which is sitting back on its haunches and wagging its tail while it grins up at him. Thanks a lot, he thinks sourly as Bobby approaches.

“Thought you were going to bed. Not tired tonight?”

Dean looks studiously at the far wall and shrugs.

“I’ve got something you could help me out with, if you’re up for it,” Bobby announces after a moment.

Great, now Dean’s probably going to end up playing research bitch to Bobby’s hunter. As if losing that life didn’t hurt enough without having his nose rubbed in just how unfit he is for active service.

But Bobby isn’t heading for his study. Instead he digs something out from beneath a pile of books and tosses it in Dean’s direction. Dean moves automatically to catch it and then stands there, turning the object over in his hands. He recognizes it, of course: the EMF reader was the first piece of equipment Dad ever let him handle on a hunt.

The is actually worse than being forced to research. This simple-looking black box is an insidious reminder of how Dean landed himself here, of what he tried to do and failed.

Of what he tried to be and failed.

“It just stopped working,” Bobby says, seemingly oblivious to the way Dean’s palms have started to sweat. “I was gonna buy a new one, but maybe you could fix this one up instead.”

Dean’s hands open without conscious decision, dropping the EMF reader to the floor. He takes a step back, feeling cowardly and worthless, and then gets hold of himself and shakes his head while pointing at the stairs and feigning a yawn.

It’s too late for the lie to be believable, of course, and the look Bobby gives him—a little exasperated, a little sad, a lot humiliating—only intensifies the ache in Dean’s chest.

“Maybe tomorrow night,” Bobby says, bending down to pick up the broken machine. He puts it on the coffee table in front of the couch and then, keeping his eyes on Dean, backs away again. “I’ll just leave it here in case you want to take a look.”

Chapter Text

Dean’s been working next to Bobby for almost two weeks when the sound of an approaching motor filters into the garage. It’s late August and the air is burning. The sun glints off of the tow truck’s windshield as it pulls into the yard. The car at the other end of the hitch isn’t anything like the others that have been towed here before.

It’s as old as some of the cars on the lot, but this one is no clunker. It’s a sleek, red Mustang that makes Dean think longingly of the Impala.

“Well, I’ll be damned,” Bobby mutters, stepping up next to Dean and adjusting his cap with oil-stained fingers. Rumsfeld gives a solitary bark and crawls out from the wreck he was sleeping beneath to run in happy, panting circles around the man who has stepped down out of the passenger side of the tow truck.

He’s taller than Dean, which is surprising, and has a spill of thick, blond hair that’s currently tied back in a leather thong. A few wisps have escaped the thong and are waving around the man’s face in the hot summer breeze. Despite the heat, the guy’s wearing slacks and a white button down shirt. Add what look like tennis shoes to the outfit, and Dean can spot a preppie a mile away.

Doesn’t take much imagination to picture this dude lounging around on Mommy and Daddy’s yacht, cocktail at his side and a couple of beach bunnies topless tanning on the deck in front of him. Dean knows without having to ask that he went to private school—somewhere old in New England, where the teachers are all called professor and everyone wears the same neatly-pressed uniform. His name’s probably ‘Troy’ or ‘Preston’ or something equally annoying, and he’s gonna throw his weight around until he gets what he wants, nevermind that Bobby isn’t actually running the sort of repair shop he clearly needs.

As Money Man comes closer, Dean sees that his irises are the blue of autumn skies. It’s a cold color, at odds with the laugh-lines around his eyes and the smile-lines etched deeply into the skin around his lips.

Dean’s still set to hate asshole on principle, of course. Mostly because he’s seen his kind before, and he knows how their girls like to go slumming for a night or two. God forbid anyone get word of what the bitch is doing, though, because then it’s all tears and ‘he made me’ and the ‘gutter sludge’ ends up getting jumped by a pack of the fuckers when he’s already worn out by running an extra three miles on PT as punishment for ‘making waves’.

Fucking rich kids. Vicious, hateful pricks with their smiling faces and their charities and their blood money when the bitch fesses up to lying and they don’t want to be charged with assault. And fuck the smug superiority in their faces when they drop the check off with a pat on the back and a ‘no hard feelings, right?’.

But when Money Man’s eyes light on Dean, there’s no disgust or scorn. Not that Dean is unfamiliar with this expression either; he saw it a lot the summer between sophomore and junior year of high school, when he spent two weeks working on a dock just a few piers over from yacht central. Saw it on older women, mostly, with their smiles and their ‘be a dear and carry my bags, would you?’ and their wandering hands. Once or twice, though, it was a guy, and then Dean knew to stay well out of the way and in the constant company of his co-workers until the pervert’s yacht put out to sea.

Money Man is looking at Dean like that right now, running his eyes up and down Dean’s body in a way that makes him want to slink further back into the shadows of the garage. He won’t be surprised if the asshole takes out his wallet and asks how much for a ride.

But when Money Man opens his mouth, all he says is, “You taking in strays, Bobby?”

“Now, I know you ain’t dissing my dog, Riley,” Bobby answers, but he’s grinning as well, and as Dean looks on in disbelief, Bobby actually reaches out to shake the rich kid’s hand.

“I was just going to compliment you on your taste,” Riley (of course that’s his name; prissy, stuck-up asshole) answers, glancing at Dean again.

Dean’s cheeks heat at the invitation in that look and he drops his eyes. He would’ve thought that, after what he’d done, a simple glance wouldn’t leave him feeling so off-center, but for some reason it does. For some reason, he feels cheap and naked.

Why the hell didn’t he at least bring a shirt out here with him?

Shifting over slightly, Dean does his best to hide his scarred shoulder behind Bobby’s bulk and ends up catching the man's attention instead. Bobby's eyes are a little too sharp for comfort, and Dean looks away, feigning disinterest.

After a brief but noticeable hesitation, Bobby turns back to Riley. “This here’s Dean,” he announces. “And he’s practically family, so watch yourself.”

“Not Dean Winchester,” Riley says, sounding surprised and pleased. When he looks at Dean again, there’s less heat in his eyes and more … well, Dean isn’t sure what that is. He’s pretty sure he likes it about as much as he likes the fact that this asshole knows his name, though.

“Riley’s a hunter,” Bobby announces, glancing over his shoulder and actually catching Dean’s eyes this time.

Dean’s surprise must show on his face because Riley laughs. “Yeah, I know, I don’t look the part. Bobby’s been trying to shape me up for years, but none of it seems to take.”

Years, Dean thinks. How long has this prick been running around anyway? And why hasn’t he gotten himself killed yet?

“Don’t tell me you blew the transmission again,” Bobby grunts, looking past Riley at the Mustang, which the tow driver is busy unhooking from his truck.

Riley shrugs carelessly. “Not sure. It started coughing and then there was a little smoke and then it just stopped. I was in the neighborhood, and naturally I thought that Bobby Singer was the one to ask for a hand.”

“In the neighborhood, right,” Bobby drawls. “Where were you really?”

“Uh,” Riley says, rubbing the back of his neck with a caught-out little grin. “Connecticut?”

The answer makes Dean blink. What kind of idiot has his car towed all the way from Connecticut to South Dakota?

A rich one, he answers himself immediately.

“Anyway, I’m Riley Stanton,” Riley says, stepping around Bobby so that he can extend his hand to Dean.

Dean looks at the proffered hand distrustfully. He has no intention of taking it, is actually thinking of backing up further, and then Bobby reaches out and smacks the back of his head sharply. Dean grimaces, shooting a ‘what the fuck?’ look in the man’s direction.

“Mind yer manners,” Bobby tells him—which, seriously? Dean’s about two seconds from just storming off and fuck what Bobby’s gonna tell Dad. After all, Dad’ll have to find Dean to kill him.

“S’okay, Bobby,” Riley says, tucking his hand back into his jeans and offering Dean a wide smile instead. “I wouldn’t really want to shake my hand either. After all, I’m a yuppie asshole.”

And then he fucking winks at Dean.

No way in hell is Dean letting this son of a bitch smarm at him like that, like he’s the one being the bigger man.

Gritting his teeth, he starts to hold out his own hand, then hesitates when he catches sight of the grease slicking his fingers. It’s reflexive to wipe his hand clean on his shirt, but of course he isn’t wearing one and only succeeds in smearing his stomach. Wrinkling his nose—great, like he needed to look like more of a greaseball—he corrects and wipes his hand on the side of his jeans before offering it again.

Riley’s still staring at his stomach.

The guy’s eyes belatedly flick up to Dean’s face as he accepts Dean’s hand—he has a strong grip, but it doesn’t feel like a challenge or a come-on the way Dean expects it to—and shakes it once. “Pleasure,” he says, and then his smile widens as he asks, “So, you staying in town tonight? I’d love to compare notes. Maybe over dinner?”

He’s still holding Dean’s hand—is fucking hitting on him, Dean realizes with a start. Despite those few weeks he spent moving from bar to bar learning to whore himself out, he finds himself surprisingly off balance. It’s the difference in approach, he thinks: all those middle-aged closet cases were a lot less subtle about their ultimate goal. This, though, feels ... well, it feels ...

Okay, Dean doesn’t actually know how it feels.

“Dean ain’t much for talking these days,” Bobby puts in as the silence stretches out uncomfortably. Dean feels a shamed flush of gratitude for the rescue. “We’re working on fixing that, though.”

“Oh. Anything I can do to help? I’m not great with research, but I could make a few calls—”

“We’ve got it covered,” Bobby says, finally stepping between them and pretty much forcing Riley to release Dean’s hand. The way he puts an arm around the guy’s back doesn’t give Riley any leeway to resist as he’s led away toward the tow truck. “You can leave the car with me: we’ll have her fixed in no time. You need a loaner to take you back to town or were you gonna hitch with the tow?”

Relieved at the reprieve, Dean slinks further back inside the garage. He’s strangely shaken by the entire encounter. He may be accustomed to being leered at, but Riley’s attention didn’t feel familiar at all. It felt intrusive and confusing and unsettling.

But the guy is leaving now, and it’ll be easy enough for Dean to make himself scarce when he comes back for his car. Worse comes to worse, he’ll play sick and lock himself in his room for the day.

It makes him feel like a pussy to be thinking in terms of hiding, but he doesn’t guess he has the right to a whole lot of pride anyway.

“You okay?” Bobby asks as he comes back into the garage.

Dean bends down lower over the engine he’s working on and doesn’t answer.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

When Bobby heads out to the store later that afternoon, he wishes he could say that he’s surprised to find Riley strolling up the driveway, but there’s only a resigned twinge in his chest. He pulls over, not being too careful about how much dust he kicks up stopping (kid couldn’t have picked a worse time to pull this crap). Riley doesn’t seem to care about the cloud, though; he’s still smiling that damned smile of his as he steps up to the car and leans down into the open passenger window.

“Hey, Bobby,” he says.

“Don’t even try to say you were gonna check up on your car, kid,” Bobby warns.

Riley’s grin widens unrepentantly. “Okay,” he agrees, and then leans there, waiting.

Bobby cusses under his breath—knew it was too much to hope Riley would drop it just because Bobby told him to—and then reaches across the passenger seat and pushes the door open, driving Riley back a step. “Get in here.”

Riley climbs in easily enough, and Bobby doesn’t give him time to get himself situated, stepping on the gas before he even has the door closed. Riley rectifies the situation quickly enough, and then puts on his seatbelt before hanging his elbow out the window, acting for all the world like it was his idea to come along.

“Thought I told you to stay away,” Bobby grunts. No point in beating around the bush with Riley, after all. Kid would just beat around right back and enjoy the hell out of the word games in the meantime.

“You did. I kind of have this problem following orders, though. My therapist tells me it’s because I lacked a strong parental figure when I was growing up.”

“You ever think it’s just because you’re a thickheaded son of a bitch?” Bobby offers. “And since when do you have a therapist?”

Riley shrugs, leaning his head back against the headrest. “Thought it might be entertaining.”

“Yeah, not buying it. You want to try again?”

After a moment of silence, Riley answers, “I cleared a ghost out of her new office building a couple months ago. Sick bastard was messing around with her patients, made it seem like she was just making them worse. She seemed a little demoralized by the whole thing, so I—”

“You can’t save everyone, kid.”

“If it makes her feel better to think she’s helping Shane Johnson overcome his deep-seated issues, then what’s the harm?”

Bobby doesn’t actually want to touch that one, so he drops the subject to reiterate, “Dean’s off limits.”

“Why?”

It’s the question Bobby refused to answer back at the salvage yard the first time Riley asked it, and this time he sighs with the understanding that he isn’t going to be able to sidestep this one. Riley’s too damned determined when he wants something.

“He’s still getting over an injury, for one.”

“Yeah, I saw his shoulder,” Riley says, his voice suspiciously casual. “Werewolf?”

“Wendigo,” Bobby corrects, and then adds, “Plus there’s the fact that he’s not gay.”

“No offense, Bobby, but I think I’ll wait for Dean to tell me that one himself.” Riley rolls his head to the side, and Bobby catches a glimpse of that smile out of the corner of his eyes. “Personally, I think we had a moment.”

“What, when I had to smack him into shaking your hand?” Bobby replies dryly.

“That shy thing really is a turn on, isn’t it?” Riley shoots back. A moment later, though, the glint of his smile dims as he sobers and asks, “So what is it really?”

“That’s Dean’s business and not yours,” Bobby answers. “Should be enough that I’m telling you to leave it alone.”

“What can I say? I’m a sucker for a damsel in distress.”

Bobby can’t help but laugh at that one. “Oh, I’d love to see you say that to his face, kid.”

“I’ll pass. I kind of like my balls where they are.” Riley is silent for a moment, and then he adds, “So am I going to have to sneak past you to see him? Cause it’ll be nice to know whether I have to break out my infrared goggles and grappling hooks.”

It belatedly occurs to Bobby that trying to make Dean inaccessible has probably just increased Riley’s interest. Which makes this whole disaster in the making his own fault.

“You know me, Bobby,” Riley adds more seriously. “You really think I’m going to hurt him?”

After a long pause where Bobby struggles with the answer to that question, he finally and grudgingly admits, “No.”

“Look, I don’t know what it is about him, but I just—I want to get to know him.”

Bobby grunts sourly. He knows exactly what’s drawing Riley in like a bee to honey. That special, Dean Winchester brand of charm and allure, which he exudes without trying. Boy’s always been cursed with a kind of magnetic, polarizing draw. Indefinable, but irresistible.

Bobby felt it himself, first time he saw the boy trundling along behind his daddy with Sammy cradled in his arms. He felt it and knew it was going to get Dean in trouble some day—that bright, generous spirit was too soft not to get battered about and bruised by the real world.

He just never thought it’d be Sam who’d do the battering.

“I find out you touched him, I’ll put a bullet in you,” Bobby says finally. “I’m not fooling around on this one, Riley. That boy’s head is screwed to hell right now, and I’m not having you mess him up more just because you think he’s pretty.”

He regrets the words as soon as they’re out—they’re unfair, and he knows it. Riley isn’t the type to take advantage, and it’s clear that he isn’t blind to the wounded animal signals Dean was sending out at the garage. That might actually be half the attraction, now that Bobby’s thinking about it. Riley wasn’t lying about having a soft spot for damsels in distress.

“Duly noted,” Riley agrees. “So, does this mean I can come by to see him tomorrow?”

Bobby heaves out a sigh—kid’s like a dog with a goddamned bone—and then replies, “Do a me a favor, kid. Go back to wherever you’re hanging your hat and give a good, long thought to what you’re itching to get messed up in. Then take a couple of days to see the sights downtown, hitch a ride into the big city—hell, pick up a date if you’re that het up for some action. Car’ll be ready when you get back.”

“I’ll think about it.”

Bobby glances over sharply, looking for some hint of casual levity to the response, but Riley’s expression is almost somber for once. The anxious tightness that’s been plaguing Bobby’s chest ever since he noticed how fascinating Riley found Dean loosens.

For all that he’s a little too much of a wise ass for Bobby’s tastes, Riley’s a good kid at heart. If he takes the time to think things through the way he says he will, he’ll figure out that chasing after Dean isn’t the best use of his time. For either of them.

“Good,” Bobby says, and then settles back to enjoy the drive.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Dean thinks Bobby will want to take care of Riley’s car himself, but the next morning Dean finds himself on Rich Prick detail. Unease about the car’s owner aside, Dean has to admit that he doesn’t mind. The Mustang’s a sweet ride, even if it can’t match up to the Impala, and it’s a nice change to be working on a prize-winner like this instead of the usual rust buckets Bobby’s got.

Since the garage is full of Bobby’s charity projects, Dean leaves the Mustang where the tow truck dropped it yesterday and starts by popping the hood to see what he’s working with. From nothing more than a single glance inside, it’s obvious that, nice as the outside looks, the car hasn’t had a tune up in years. And since Riley actually seems to care about his ride, Dean’s going to have to assume that the guy knows fuck all about cars.

Which is yet another mark against the smug asshole.

“Hey there.”

Dean jumps, startled, and raps his head on the hood. Glowering and rubbing what’s probably going to turn into a good-sized lump, he glances over his shoulder at Riley. Fucker snuck up on him from out of nowhere.

“Sorry,” the guy says with an apologetic smile. “Did I startle you?”

No, of course not. Dean usually jumps out of his skin when people say hello.

Despite the sarcastic tenor of his thoughts, Dean isn’t tempted to so much as roll his eyes. His heart is beating too quickly—now that Riley’s presence is sinking in, it’s being pushed to a faster tempo rather than calming the way it should be. Pretty much the only thing keeping him from punching out or running is the fact that he’s a little more prepared for the encounter today—wore a shirt out for the first time in days, like something in his gut knew he hadn’t seen the last of this asshole.

Dean turns his back more firmly on Riley, determined not to let the guy’s bullshit get to him, but all he can see in his head is the unsettling way Riley was looking at him yesterday. All he can feel is the warm, firm grasp of the guy’s hand on his own.

Riley, of course, seems oblivious to Dean’s mood. Instead of backing off, he comes closer. He actually rests one hand beside Dean’s where it’s hooked over the edge of the grille, close enough that their pinkies are brushing, and then says, “Bobby told me you were good with cars.”

Coming from Bobby, that’s a good deal of praise that Dean is pretty sure he doesn’t merit. Dad and Bobby are the mechanical geniuses. Dean just tinkers enough to keep himself out of trouble and off Dad’s shit list. That’s it.

Also, no fucking way does this prick get to touch him.

Jerking his hand off the grille, Dean sidles around to the side of the car and peers studiously down at the engine’s intake manifold from the new angle. When Riley doesn’t follow, Dean doesn’t exactly relax—dude’s still staring at him—but he does permit himself a tiny, mental sigh of relief.

Then Riley prods, “Do you know sign language?”

Dean looks up at the guy incredulously. He isn’t sure if he’s more amazed at Riley’s tenacity or the fly ball he just sent zipping over left field. Does Dean know sign language. What the fuck kind of a question is that?

Dean knows his expression is hostile and unwelcoming, but Riley seems oblivious as he smiles and continues, “You know, until you get the curse or whatever off. It’d be quicker than having to write everything down.”

Dean can’t help feeling bitterly amused by the guy’s assumption that he can be cured by some kind of spell—this is Dean’s life, and there isn’t any fairy godmother who’s gonna swoop in at the last second and fix him with the wave of her wand—and he snorts as he shakes his head and reaches into the engine to feel around and check that all the hoses and lines are still attached and intact.

Riley edges nearer, not quite rounding the car but moving close enough that Dean can’t really ignore him when he offers, “My sister was deaf, so I know some. I could teach you if you wanted.”

It’s a transparent enough pick-up line that this time Dean does roll his eyes. He’s on the verge of giving Riley the finger and showing him how little sign language he needs to get by when he realizes that he’s being a moron.

Bobby and his puritanical principles have grounded Dean, restricting him to the salvage yard and preventing him from learning the skills he’s going to need to survive when Bobby eventually kicks him out.

But Riley can come and go as he pleases. And Riley’s interested. Riley’s very obviously interested.

Now that Dean’s brain has had time to catch up to this gift-wrapped solution to his problem, he realizes that the side of the Mustang won’t be the worst place he’s been fucked—not by a long shot.

Straightening, he starts to reach for Riley’s shirt—drag him in for a quick tongue-fuck to seal the deal—and then jerks his hand back as he catches sight of Bobby coming toward them. His cheeks flame and his hand clenches into a fist as he lets it fall to his side. His insides are a jumble of confused emotion—anger at being interrupted, shame at being caught, and a tiny, stupid tingle of relief for the reprieve.

Riley sways closer—Dean can’t see the guy with his head lowered and his eyes fixed on the engine the way they are, but he can feel the cooling movement of the air across his sweat-slicked throat—and murmurs, “How about I come back tomorrow with lunch and we take a walk somewhere less crowded?”

Dean’s stomach twists at the suggestion—at the snapshot stutter of images that flash through his head of what will happen on their ‘walk’—but he chokes down the gorge that tries to rise and offers a curt nod. Then Bobby’s there, crunching gravel under his boots loudly enough that Dean is forced to look up. He doesn’t know what type of expression is on his face, but Bobby’s busy glaring at Riley, so it doesn’t really matter.

“Didn’t expect to see you sniffing around after our talk yesterday,” Bobby announces, all blunt words and curt voice.

Dean’s cheeks burn as he clenches his jaw. He can’t decide if it feels more like Bobby’s trying to be his dad or his pimp. He knows damned well that Bobby isn’t either, though. Man has no goddamned right to decide who Dean sees. Or who he fucks.

“I thought it was time I learned how to take care of my baby,” Riley responds in a cheerful, open voice as he leans against the car, forearms on the rim of the grille and hands loosely clasped above the engine. “Dean’s gonna give me a few pointers in exchange for some sign language lessons.”

It takes a few seconds for that to sink in, and then Dean shoots a quick, surprised glance at Riley. Probably doesn’t do anything to sell the story to Bobby, but he can’t help himself. He really didn’t expect Riley to trot out that bullshit pick-up line in front of Bobby.

More to the point, no one ever said anything about Dean teaching squat.

“Really,” Bobby drawls.

Dean’s familiar with that tone. It’s the same one Bobby used when he and Sam found Bobby’s beer stash, downed the whole thing, and then claimed to know nothing about it while weaving drunkenly around the living room. The hangovers that hit them both late that night and left them trading off around the toilet until morning were worth it, though, for those stolen, hazy hours when they were drinking alone. When they were both loose and uninhibited enough to let their hands linger, and to sit a little too close on the couch.

Dean spent the next two months jerking off to one particularly clear memory of Sam’s warmth pressed up against his left side, Sam’s face squished up against the line of his throat, Sam’s slurred laugh as Dean said something stupid and forgettable.

The memory comes again now, but the burst of heat that closely follows it is quickly doused by another, more recent memory.

Sam’s weight on his back, Sam pushing home, Sam fucking him with the rough, angry thrusts that were meant as a punishment. That hadn’t sunk in until later, of course—not until after Sam was gone, until after he told Dean not to bother calling. It hadn’t really sunk in until Dean was showering and trying to get the wet remnants of his brother out of his ass and then it hit him, yes it did. The truth slammed into him then, it drove him to his knees under the spray and carved out an open, aching space for itself beneath Dean’s ribs.

Give it away to anyone who even glances at you.

Do I have to pay you first?

You owe me.

You seduced me.

And then the word Sam never actually said. The word that was nevertheless in bed with them, draped over Dean’s body and clinging to his skin like oil.

Whore.

Dean’s gotten used to the constant, steady ache in his chest—hardly even notices it these days—but the ripping bolt of pain that hits him now is unexpected and strong. It’s like a knife just got shoved between his ribs, deep and lethal. He tries to be subtle as he sucks in a breath, but the simple act of breathing makes it hurt more, like the knife is rooting around inside of him now, and his next breath is harsher.

Before Dean can turn his face away, he gets a quick glimpse of Bobby’s eyes on him, Bobby’s expression going tight and worried. He tries to make his body a warning as he struggles to get the pain under control, stiffening his spine and setting his shoulders in a forbidding pose.

Don’t, he thinks in Bobby’s direction. Just leave it the fuck alone.

“Sure,” Riley is saying obliviously. “Of course, I hadn’t actually gotten around to asking about the mechanics lesson yet.”

By digging the fingers of his hidden left hand into his thigh, Dean’s able to bring himself under enough control to look back over. He finds Riley looking at him with a pleading, hopeful expression that’s at odds with the confident, warm smile playing over his lips. And as much as Dean might need the experience, no way in hell is he chaining himself to this asshole’s side as long as it would take to make this ‘mechanics lesson’ cover story stick.

Christ, he can barely tolerate Bobby, whom he knows and actually cares about.

Besides, Dean isn’t a teacher. Even if he felt up to this kind of forced interaction, he wouldn’t know the first place to start. He’ll get everything muddled, and tell Riley to do something that’s going to make the engine cut out at the worst moment and get the guy killed. As much of an asshole as Riley is, Dean doesn’t want shit like that on his conscience.

Trying to play it casual, he rubs at the back of his neck with his right hand (ignores the twinge of protest from his shoulder) and shakes his head.

Bobby’s eyes are still worried, but there’s a considering set to his mouth that Dean doesn’t much care for. And when Bobby looks back and forth between Dean and Riley, his expression goes thoughtful and calculating. He’s starting to look like he actually thinks this is a good idea.

With a sour, panicked taste in his mouth, Dean points to his throat and shakes his head again.

“S’okay,” Riley says brightly, and giving Dean’s arm a friendly pat. “You don’t need to be able to talk to show me what to do. It’s not like I need to know what anything’s called, right? I’ll just follow along as you go.”

Dean looks past Riley and desperately tries to communicate some of the panic he’s feeling to Bobby. Bobby meets his eyes long enough for Dean to understand that Bobby hears him loud and clear and then shifts his gaze over to Riley and nods. Dean sags, feeling trapped and cornered and more than a little betrayed.

“I think that’s a good idea, actually,” Bobby says. “Bout time you learned the difference between your wiper fluid and your dipstick.”

If Riley catches the warning in Bobby’s voice, Dean can’t tell from the guy’s blinding grin and the enthusiastic pound Riley gives his good shoulder. Like they’re just two dudes who are gonna be hanging out over a car engine and a couple of beers. Like they’re friends.

Dean hangs onto the edge of the car and does his best to smile back.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

It takes about ten minutes for Dean to decide that Riley either got dropped on his head as a baby or is really a dog in human form. The guy gets way too excited over the simplest thing Dean does in the engine. He can’t seem to keep still and has no sense of personal space—keeps edging too close to Dean and then bouncing away again before Dean can back up. He touches Dean too—pats on his arm and back, and too-casual collisions of their hands, and brushes for the gnats that keep landing on Dean’s neck and temples, attracted by the salt.

It isn’t anything Dean can call him on, though—nothing even Bobby can call him on, and Bobby’s keeping a close enough eye on them that Dean feels like he’s under surveillance or suicide watch or something. And the way that Riley smiles, wide and unshadowed, like he hasn’t ever seen any of the crap Dean has: like he doesn’t know what’s out in the night. Or worse, like he’s excited by it. Like he thinks ghouls and ghosts and werewolves are fun.

It reminds Dean too much of when he felt like that—hasn’t been so long since he wised up, either; not more than a handful of months. The smile is too much of a taunt, reminding Dean of the happiness he’s not allowed to have.

Then Riley starts asking questions.

They aren’t dumb questions—are pretty good, in fact—but of course they’re none of them answerable with a simple nod or a shake of Dean’s head. It’s like Riley is deliberately making fun of his inability to talk, is rubbing Dean’s face in just how isolated he is without a voice. Finally, Dean gets pissed enough to chuck the rag he’s been mopping his brow with at the guy’s chest and stomps off into the house to get a pad and a pen so that he can at least have some rudimentary way to respond.

When he comes out again, Bobby’s over by the Mustang, head bent close to Riley’s. They don’t precisely spring apart when Dean reemerges, but it’s clear from the swiftness with which the conversation wraps up that they were talking about him anyway.

It isn’t like Dean needs to feel any more self-conscious than he already does, and he clings tightly to the small shreds of dignity he has left and pretends not to have noticed. When he passes Bobby on his way back to the car, he makes sure he’s busy scribbling an answer to Riley’s latest question on the pad so that he doesn’t have to meet the man’s eyes.

“Thought maybe my complete and utter ignorance of all things mechanical finally scared you off,” Riley greets Dean as Dean draws near.

This time, Dean gives in to the impulse when it takes him and gives Riley the finger, then throws the pad at his face when Riley’s smile only widens. Riley catches it easily—he’s got a hunter’s reflexes, anyway—and then gives a delighted laugh when he reads the note.

“I think you spelled carburetor wrong,” he says, holding the pad out.

Dean snatches it back with a glower and a tiny twist of shame in his chest, then stuffs the pad into his back pocket. As he returns to work, he senses Riley moving in close again.

“I’m not trying to insult you, Dean,” he says, voice soft and apologetic. “I mean, between the two of us? Which do you think is more useful: being able to spell carburetor, or being able to fix one?”

Dean glances over at that, startled by the sincere admiration he hears in Riley’s voice—and the honest, genuine expression in the guy’s eyes. He can’t maintain the connection for more than a few seconds before looking away again, chest too full and confused to get a read on.

This time, Riley doesn’t move away immediately. Instead, he stays where he is and rests a gentle hand on Dean’s bicep, stilling his hands where they were busy tugging off a bolt.

“Thanks for getting the notepad,” Riley says.

Dean doesn’t know how to respond to that, so he stays still and waits for Riley to let go. Eventually, the guy does, stepping back to give Dean some much-needed space, and Dean breathes in a deep breath and gets back to work.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The hunting stories start up less than fifteen minutes later.

Dean can’t tell if they’re true or not—can’t figure out how Riley could still be alive if they are. Although most of them are lending credence to Dean’s ‘dropped on his head as a baby’ theory. Finally, when Riley’s talking about the time he was treed—naked—by a couple of zombies, fell asleep, and got woken up by the trio of nuns out for a walk the next day, Dean can’t take it anymore. His lips twitch upward in an unfamiliar, slightly painful expression, and Riley immediately breaks off from his retelling and slaps his hand on the side of the car.

“Ha!” he crows. “I knew it. I knew I could get you to smile.”

Flushing, Dean tilts his face away with a shrug and tries to concentrate on the engine. It’s difficult with Riley edging closer and making his pulse run unpleasantly faster. He wants to run, he wants to lash out. He wants to not be thinking about Sam.

“Don’t kick my ass for saying this,” Riley murmurs, his voice intimate and low, “But you’re cute when you smile.”

Then, before Dean knows what’s happening, he kisses Dean’s cheek—light and fleeting pressure of soft lips—and moves away again.

Dean clears his throat and shifts his grip nervously on the wrench he’s holding.

“Gonna have to make you do that more often,” Riley adds in a lighter, more easy-going tone.

Dean wishes it didn’t feel so much like a threat.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

By the end of the day, Dean’s seriously considering bailing on the whole arrangement. Riley’s royally fucking things up by actually being likable and making him laugh a couple of times. Those stolen moments of levity feel pretty good when they’re happening, but they leave a bitter, unpleasant taste in Dean’s mouth because he knows where this is going.

He wishes that he dared scribble a note on the pad—to tell Riley that he doesn’t have to try so hard, that Dean is a sure thing—but Bobby’s always watching. Although the man has kept his distance since giving Riley tacit permission to spend his time annoying Dean, Dean knows that the moment he broaches the topic of sex Bobby’ll be right over. The man’s instincts are uncanny. Even if Bobby didn’t amble over to read it immediately, there’s always the danger of him finding the note later, so Dean’s forced to keep his proverbial mouth shut.

He’s forced to put up with the awkward impression of being courted like a goddamned girl as well, like Riley actually cares what Dean thinks of him—or that Dean thinks at all. It doesn’t make any sense, doesn’t jive with what Dean knows the guy wants from him, and by the time Riley takes his leave—with a hug where he doesn’t even try to cop a feel—Dean’s twitchy and on edge.

Nothing’s worth this. There have got to be easier ways to learn the tools of the trade than letting this rich asshole screw with his head.

Then, as he moves back, Riley says, “I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.” His smile is subtly different; his eyes, which have been guileless and cheerful all day, carry a flicker of heat.

Ignoring the diffuse, unexplainable disappointment in his stomach, Dean lets instinct guide his response. From the increased interest in Riley’s eyes, the smile that has gotten Dean into countless chick’s panties works just as well on rich pricks. He relaxes into the familiar routine, mind flicking to the lube and condoms he has stashed at the back of what has become his sock drawer.

He’ll have to remember to stick them in his back pocket when he gets dressed tomorrow, just in case Riley doesn’t bring his own.

“So, I’ll see you tomorrow, then,” Riley says, and at Dean’s nod turns and heads away with a farewell wave in Bobby’s direction.

Dean doesn’t stick around to watch him leave.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

“Riley’s a good kid,” Bobby says over dinner. It’s a deliberate dig for information, and he’s already watching for Dean’s reaction.

The boy doesn’t so much still as slow, the mashed potato laden fork hesitating briefly on its way toward his mouth before finishing the journey. Dean’s eyes don’t so much as flick up in Bobby’s direction.

It’s not much of a response, but then again Bobby isn't expecting War and Peace here. After a day of Riley prodding at his walls with the same unflagging enthusiasm the kid brings to everything he touches, Dean’s defenses are likely still running full speed ahead.

But he smiled today. He damn well laughed.

If Riley screws this up now, Bobby isn’t going to settle for running him off. He’s gonna castrate the son of a bitch.

“Can’t fault the guy for coming from money,” he adds, unable to resist trying to soothe over what he’s sure Dean is going to view as one of Riley’s faults. “And he puts it to good use.”

Dean gives him an incredulous look at that—more because of what Bobby’s saying than the fact that he’s talking Riley up, Bobby thinks. It doesn’t take more than a few seconds to trace Dean’s skepticism in Riley’s financial savvy to the fact that the kid just spent a small fortune to tow his car from Connecticut to South Dakota and Bobby spares himself a wry grin.

“Usually,” he corrects. “Kid’s a little stupid when it comes to his car.”

Dean’s snort tells Bobby that Riley didn’t exactly come across as the most mechanically inclined guy during their time together today.

“He ain’t a bad hunter, either,” Bobby presses.

This time, the look Dean gives him is bored bordering on annoyed. He isn’t feeling anything of the sort, of course—Bobby can tell that much from the way the boy is drumming his thumb against the tabletop, and from the white tension around his mouth. It’s enough to shut Bobby up, though. He doesn’t know what he thought he was doing anyway, because Riley and Dean is just as bad of an idea as it was yesterday, no matter how many times the kid makes Dean laugh.

Bobby spends the rest of the night carefully studying Dean and trying to figure out just how much pressure Riley’s presence is putting him under, and he doesn’t know that he likes what he sees. Doesn’t know as he understands it, either, though—Dean’s acting angry and relieved and disinterested in turns.

The disinterested moments are easy enough to puzzle out: that’s just Dean realizing he’s being more transparent than he’d like and trying to hide himself a little better. What the boy has to be angry or relieved about, though, those are more troubling questions.

They’re troubling enough that, as Bobby rubs the warming salve into Dean’s shoulder, he finds himself offering, “If Riley’s bothering you that much, I’ll run him off tomorrow.”

He doesn’t know how he’ll make it stick, of course, but he’ll find a way if Dean needs him to.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Yesplease, Dean thinks at the unexpected question.

Of course, if Bobby runs Riley off then there’s no way Dean’s going to get fucked, and the ease with which he completed his exercises tonight (sore shoulder or no) tells him that he’s dangerously close to being healed up. Which means that Bobby’s bound to send him packing soon, and Dean doesn’t know nearly enough to keep himself fed yet.

From the vibes Riley was sending off today, he’s experienced enough and interested enough to teach Dean some moves. If Dean can get the guy alone.

And if he can get Riley to drop the fucking act.

Feeling trapped, Dean shakes his head and then gets up, pushing Bobby’s hand away. He doesn’t want to be touched right now—kind of ironic, since he’s gonna be touched a hell of a lot more intimately tomorrow, but there it is. The conflicting emotions that he’s been struggling with all night are wrestling in his chest and making him jittery.

If he were at liberty, he’d be out the door already and on his way to a bar. Somewhere he could pick a fight and kick the shit out of some poor, drunken son of a bitch the way he wants to kick the shit out of Riley for toying with him like he did today. He’s not at liberty, though, and so unless he wants to go on a rampage through Bobby’s house (which is going to get Riley banned whether Dean tells Bobby he wants the guy gone or not), then he needs to find a way to distract himself.

He glances around the room, looking for something to focus on, and finds himself staring at the EMF reader. It still hurts to look at it—leaves Dean feeling like someone spent a couple hours poking at the bruise deep inside his chest—but he’s pretty much out of other options.

As Bobby’s hand lands back on his shoulder, Dean moves forward and steps over to the coffee table. He can feel Bobby watching him as he runs his fingertips over the black plastic. Doesn’t want to turn around because he’s too afraid of seeing pity on the man’s face.

It takes a couple of moments, but he finally makes himself move around the table so he can sit on the couch with the EMF reader held gingerly in his lap. From the edges of his vision, he sees Bobby moving around the room, and then the man comes over and drops a roll of tools on the coffee table.

“You know where the spare parts are,” Bobby says, and leaves him to it.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Dean doesn’t feel any better the next day when Riley shows up. The guy’s holding an actual picnic basket—wicker, the kind Dean’s seen in the movies—and wearing butter-soft jeans, a plain t-shirt. His hair is loose today; wavy with a hint of curling around his ears and neck, where a black leather necklace hangs.

Dean would be willing to bet the entire outfit, right down to the black work boots, is brand new.

Dean was tinkering around with the Mustang while he waited, but he puts down the wrench now to watch Riley approach. There’s a part of him that longs for a repeat of yesterday—harmless flirting and conversation and the illusion of care. That part is making Dean’s stomach squirm and his shoulders stiffen involuntarily. But he isn’t going to get that sort of treatment, so he’s going to have to suck it up and deal.

Literally, probably.

“Hey there, gorgeous,” Riley greets him, grinning and carefree. He puts the picket basket on the Mustang’s roof without slowing on his way past and then he’s hugging Dean.

The urge to fight him off is strong—a bitter pulse of venom that sends Dean an image of punching that smile right off Riley’s face and following up with a knee to the groin. But Dean struggles the impulse down and manages to hug back, offering what he hopes is an eager smile of his own as Riley pulls away to retrieve the basket.

“So, you ready?” he asks.

Now that the moment is before him, Dean knows he isn’t, but he nods anyway as he grabs a spare rag and wipes his hands on it as best as he can. Not that Riley minds the grease. Hell, from the way he looked at Dean the day they first met, Dean probably should have been rolling around in the stuff in preparation of today’s little transaction.

“Do you have anywhere specific in mind?” Riley prods, giving a wave as Bobby steps out of the garage to watch them.

Dean does, actually. He jerks his head in answer and turns, starting away through the cars. He half expects Bobby to stop him—maybe wants Bobby to stop him—but the only noise that follows him is Riley’s cheerful whistling as the guy trails Dean deeper into the shade of the stacked, rusting cars. The hopeful knot in Dean’s chest that was praying he wouldn’t actually have to do this comes loose with a shocking, painful speed and Dean grimaces briefly before manning up.

He’s dealt with this before, after all. He’s just nervous because he’s out of practice. Just needs to get himself accustomed to it again.

It doesn’t take long to get where they’re going, and a few minutes later, Dean rounds a stack of cars and comes to a stop.

The hideaway is pretty much just as he remembers leaving it. The tarp he and Sam hung between the Cadillac and the Dodge is still stretched taut, the accumulated leaves and other debris resting on top not heavy enough to have dragged it down. From here, the inside of the hideaway is shadowed, but not too shadowed for Dean to see the chest where it’s sitting shoved back under the tarp and out of the rain and the snow and the sun.

He and Sam used to come here when it was too nice to stay inside and they had nothing better to do. Last time was about a year ago now—a day much like today, and the heat made Dean lazy. He fell asleep in the hot shade and woke up with Sam spooned close behind him, Sam’s warm breath in his ear and Sam’s hand dangerously low on Dean’s bare stomach. It was too warm to be lying that close—too hot to use body heat as a pretext—and Dean’s back was a slick, sweaty mess as he blinked back to awareness.

Sam was wide awake—probably never fell asleep, the heat always left him wide-awake and short-tempered—and Dean knew that his brother hadn’t missed the wakeful hitch of his own breath. For a long moment, Sam was silent and still—waiting for Dean to tell him to get the fuck off, maybe—but when Dean stupidly didn’t, he finally did move. He pressed forward, sliding his chest against Dean’s back, and the hand resting on Dean’s stomach eased lower.

Dean would have (probablypossiblyoknotreally) moved away before Sam did what he clearly intended, but Dad’s voice rang out through the salvage yard before he needed to and Sam jerked away on his own.

Dean hates how hard that memory hits him now; hates how much it makes his chest ache. He probably should have picked a different spot, but there’s a vocal, bitter part of him that wants it to be here. There’s a part of Dean that wants to soil and ruin all of those old memories so that he’ll finally get with the program and face up to what life is going to be like from now on.

Better to kill the longing and the hope quick instead of feeling sick to his stomach for years.

“This it?” Riley asks from behind him.

Taking a shaky—and hopefully unnoticeable—breath, Dean nods. He moves forward again, crouching down to get underneath the tarp and pulling the trunk out. When he pops the latch and flips the lid open, he finds that the blankets inside are in surprisingly good condition. They’re a little ratty and dirt-smeared in places, but Riley can’t be expecting much from Dean anyway.

Pushing the trunk out of the way to one side, Dean spreads the blanket beneath the tarp and then crawls inside. The heat is worse in here—stifling and suffocating—and it’ll be even hotter when Riley is sweating and groaning on top of him.

Oh well, Dean’s been through worse.

“Cool,” Riley says, following him in. “Did you make this place?”

Riley’s tone is genuine enough, but Dean’s not stupid enough to believe that someone like Riley thinks the hideaway is anything but a piece of shit. The fact that he also thinks Dean is dumb enough to believe the compliment is both insulting and condescending, and Dean’s chest pulses resentfully. Not that he knows why he was expecting better from Riley in the first place.

Whatever impression he got from the guy yesterday—whoever Riley is pretending to be—Dean has to remember that he isn’t anything more than another rich asshole taking something he thinks he’s entitled to. And now that they’re as out of the way as they can be, and alone, Dean’s putting an end to the sick charade.

Without waiting for Riley to finish sitting down, he reaches over and grabs the guy by the back of the neck, pulling him in for a kiss.

Kissing, at least, Dean knows he’s good at. He knows how to make his mouth slutty and eager and wet: how to hint and insinuate. Just like Dean wants, Riley gets with the program immediately, letting go of the basket so he can get both hands on Dean’s face. Dean makes what he hopes is an encouraging noise and leans back, drawing Riley on top of him.

Best to get this over with as soon as possible: before Bobby comes looking.

Once they’re down, Riley moves one of his hands from Dean’s face to his side, running his hand up underneath the hem of Dean’s t-shirt to find overheated, sweaty skin. Dean can’t help flinching at the contact, but luckily Riley just laughs into the kiss before pulling back long enough to breath, “Ticklish?”

Dean starts to nod, grateful for the assumption, and then Riley’s mouth is blanketing his again. When Riley ghosts his hand up along Dean’s side this time, Dean’s squirm is deliberate and he gets another good-humored laugh in response.

Figures Riley would be a sadistic tease.

Dean’s willing to forgive the guy for it when he nips at Dean’s lower lip, though, because it actually feels pretty good. Then Riley slides a knee between Dean’s thighs, putting pressure up against the bulge of his cock, and that feels really fucking good. He can feel a moan trying to make it’s way out of his throat and swallows it down again anxiously.

“You’re perfect, you know that?” Riley murmurs against his lips.

It’s too much of a mindfuck for Dean to handle. Riley isn’t supposed to still be playing this nice-guy, romancing-the-whore game of his. Dean isn’t supposed to be enjoying being touched by him.

He starts to shake his head—starts to get a hand up to push Riley off—but then Riley’s rocking his thigh against Dean’s growing erection and Dean forgets what he’s doing. He opens his mouth wider for Riley’s tongue, breathing through his nose in harsh pants and writhing (like a whore, just like a) while Riley’s hands ruck up his t-shirt. Their stomachs brush, skin on skin, and then Riley’s weight lifts and the press of his body is gone and Dean is panting up at the tarp.

What the fuck?

Pushing up onto his elbows, he finds Riley sprawled out next to him. The guy’s blond hair is mussed and sweat-damp. He looks winded, but he’s still grinning. Dean’s starting to think the guy would laugh his way through a gunfight.

“Wow,” Riley says after a few seconds, and then rolls over and starts fishing around in the picnic basket.

He better be looking for lube and a condom.

But instead Riley comes out holding what looks like a paper-wrapped sandwich. When he rolls back over and offers the sandwich to Dean, Dean stares at the guy uncomprehendingly. He actually considers trying his voice for a few moments before giving that up as a lost cause and gesturing at his own body—at the obvious bulge of his cock pushing up against the inseam of his jeans.

Riley’s smile dims momentarily enough that Dean isn’t even sure he saw it happen.

“Sorry, Dean,” he says then, meeting Dean’s eyes steadily. “I’ve got this rule against fucking guys who can’t say no.”

As Dean continues to stare, Riley leans forward and drops another kiss on his parted, stunned lips.

“Don’t worry,” Riley adds as he pushes himself up into a sitting position and wraps Dean’s hands around the sandwich. “You’re a smart guy. Shouldn’t take you long to pick this up.”

His grin widens, confident and carefree as he shakes out his hands.

“Now, this is how you say ‘werewolf’.”

Chapter Text

Over the next few days, while Dean waits for a couple of special-order parts for the Mustang to arrive, he learns the signs for ‘ghost’, ‘chupacabra’, ‘decapitate’, ‘rocksalt’, and ‘knife’, among other things. He also learns how to sign ‘fuck’, which he puts together with the word for ‘me’ what feels like every other minute. But while Riley will make out with him for what feels like hours, and will rub up against him like a horny teenager, he keeps on refusing to do any more. And he won’t teach Dean the sign for ‘no’.

Dean doesn’t know why he’s still putting up with it.

He doesn’t know why he’s still working on the EMF meter, either. The damned thing is definitely busted—due to a short circuit that actually melted some of its inner workings into a lump. Dean gets that it’s a little masochistic of him to keep fiddling with it, since the fact that he can’t fix the machine is pretty solid confirmation of his worthlessness as a hunter and makes his chest feel like so much raw meat, but it’s better than sitting and thinking about what Sam and Dad are doing right now. It’s better than turning Bobby’s words and glances over in his head, searching for the first hint that the man’s getting fed up with Dean playing freeloader.

Not thinking about Riley is easy, since the guy means nothing to Dean. He’s a means to an end—or he will be, once Dean can figure out how to get the guy to man up—and that’s all. Even if, sometimes, Dean can almost see how they could have been friends in another life.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

“You game?” Riley asks, flipping one of the throwing knives he brought along today in a gleaming arc. He catches it again without bothering to look, relaxed and confidant and still with that harmless, engaging smile of his.

Dean sort of wants to ask if he grins like that when he hunts—better not, the glint of moonlight off his teeth would give his position away every time—but he doesn’t have the vocabulary for that, so he settles on signing, Showoff.

Riley’s smile gets even wider—sometimes Dean thinks the guy’s got some kind of weird sign language fetish—and he replies, “Just trying to impress you.” Then he flips the knife again, tossing it back and forth from one hand to the other while staring steadily at Dean. “Is it working?”

Rolling his eyes, Dean leans forward and catches the knife before Riley miscalculates and loses a finger or something. The knife gets in the way of his signing a little, but he’s pretty sure the Moron he sends in Riley’s direction gets through okay.

“Aw, admit it: you were just worried about me.”

Dean can’t really deny that, which is both troublesome and annoying and makes him toss the knife with a curt flick of his wrist. When the blade sinks into the ground a scant inch from Riley’s foot, Dean lifts one eyebrow to indicate that his aim was deliberate. Riley laughs, open and honest, and then crouches to tug the knife free.

“C’mon, Dean. Winner buys the loser dinner.”

It’s the dumbest stakes Dean’s ever heard—what sort of incentive to win is having to pay for chow?—and it takes him a couple of seconds to understand the subtle insult in the words. As if it’s already a foregone conclusion that Riley’s going to win and thereby get Dean to come out to dinner with him like he’s been trying to get him to agree to for the past three days.

Fuck you.

Riley clucks his tongue against the roof of his mouth. “Language, language,” he says, mock-disapprovingly. “I’m starting to think I never should have taught you that one.”

Dean ignores him, stalking forward and grabbing two more knives from the guy’s collection. When he gestures impatiently in the direction of the field Bobby’s got set up as a shooting range (what’s good enough for bullets is good enough for blades), Riley practically bounces.

“Yes!” he crows, grabbing Dean’s shoulders and giving him a quick, happy kiss. “I’m taking you somewhere nice. You like steak? I like steak.”

If Dean knew the signs for it, he’d warn Riley about counting his chickens, but he guesses he’ll just have to settle for showing him.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Turns out, Riley’s even better with knives than Dean assumed he was from his confidence. He’s good enough that he gets apologetic, turning those big blue eyes of his on Dean with a pleading expression and making all sorts of excuses for Dean’s pathetic showing. Oh, Dean does fine at short distances, but anything over five feet and it’s down to dumb luck whether the handle or the tip hits the target. And even when the knife flips in his favor, Dean just can’t get enough force behind the throw to make it sink into the wood.

Goddamned shoulder.

Dean considers just turning around and walking away—he already knows he’s a liability when it comes to hunting, one more mark in that column isn’t going to hurt—but something in Riley’s obvious anxiety stops him. This is the first time Dean’s seen the guy anything less than exuberant, and it makes Dean feel like shit to think that he’s responsible for dimming the whole Walking On Sunshine thing Riley had going. Stupid, since he doesn’t care about the guy, but there it is.

So Dean grits his teeth and digs his heels in and gives the next toss every ounce of focus and strength he can work up. The thunk of the knife sinking in for once makes the bolt of pain that shoots through his shoulder worth it. He can’t stop from hunching over and grabbing his arm, though, and Riley is there instantly, all hands and concern.

“Shit! Dean, you okay? Is it your shoulder? Let me see.”

Dean gets his left hand in the center of Riley’s chest and tries to push him away, but Riley’s too determined to leave and finally Dean stops fighting. Glowering as obviously as he can, he stands there and lets Riley feel at his shoulder through his t-shirt.

“Stop sulking,” Riley murmurs as he digs his thumb into the sorest point of Dean’s muscle.

Dean isn’t sulking, thanks very much. Right now, actually, he’s hissing and trying to get his shoulder out of the rich sadist’s hands.

Riley smacks him lightly on the back of the head. “Don’t be such a baby. I’m trying to help here.”

Dean’s less inclined to let Riley touch him than ever, but now that his manly honor has been impugned, he doesn’t really have an option except to take it. Silently seething, he stands still and stares at the handle of the knife he finally landed—nowhere near the center of the target, of course. As the muscles of his shoulder finally stop cramping (nothing to do with the way Riley’s massaging them, of course), Dean finds his frustration building.

He’s so goddamned sick of being a fuck up. Sick of getting nothing right and getting pushed aside and cut loose.

“Why didn’t you tell me your shoulder was still bothering you?” Riley asks from his right. Now that Dean’s letting him work, his voice is gentle and apologetic.

And Dean’s not above using that to get what he wants.

Turning his head, he catches Riley’s eyes with his own and then eases himself out from under the guy’s hands. Once he has the range of movement he needs, he mimes throwing a knife with his left hand and raises one eyebrow.

Riley gains a shitload of points when he doesn’t try to talk him out of it. “Okay,” he says instead, bending to retrieve one of the knives piled at their feet.

As he puts his hands on Dean’s body, adjusting his stance and guiding him through the motions in a completely professional manner, Dean has to wonder whether the guy’s ever going to cash them in.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

When they get back from the field, both of Dean’s arms feel like shit but his chest is warm for once, and he can’t help smiling to himself slightly. First time he’s ever been better at something with his left hand than his right.

It’s probably the smile that dooms him—Bobby gets a look at Dean’s face, and then his gaze shifts over to Riley and he’s inviting the guy in without so much as skipping a beat.

And hanging out with the guy during the day in an effort to get him to take what Dean’s offering is one thing. Having Bobby invite him to stay for dinner like Riley actually belongs there is something else altogether. Dean glares, trying to get the message across, but Bobby ignores him.

Riley is playing oblivious as well, ignoring Dean’s obvious displeasure by strolling right on into the house. Dean goes after him, trying to remember whether Riley taught him any signs he can use to say ‘get the fuck out’, only to catch a brief glimpse of the guy’s back as he heads into the living room. Scowling to himself, Dean hurries his own gait and clomps after him.

“So where’s your room?” Riley asks over his shoulder as he heads purposely toward the stairs. “You staying in the spare?”

Dean’s anxiety and annoyance shift in tenor as he thinks about the things he can convince Riley to do when they have privacy and a bed at their disposal. The knot in his stomach is a little worse at how quickly and unexpectedly the opportunity arose, but it’s going to have to suck it up and deal, just like the rest of him.

Fixing what he hopes is an eager look on his face, Dean nods and follows.

“Riley.”

That’s Bobby’s voice, coming from behind them, and Dean looks over his shoulder to find the man standing in the kitchen doorway. Bobby’s voice is full of warning; his expression is nothing more than a thinly veiled threat. Riley stops on the bottom step, leaning over the railing and grinning at Bobby like that’s all he ever intended to do. Dean doesn’t buy it for one second, and he’s pretty sure Bobby doesn’t either.

“I invited you in for dinner,” Bobby says dryly. “Not to spend the night.”

“Just wanted a quick shower,” Riley responds. The happiness on his face is as innocent as a child’s, but there’s a little too much self-awareness to his smile for the expression to be completely believable.

“You can use the downstairs bath, then,” Bobby replies. “While Dean washes upstairs.”

Dean shoots Bobby a sour look—he isn’t a fifteen year old girl the way Bobby seems to think he is, and anyway Bobby isn’t Dad—but Bobby’s return stare shows he isn’t impressed. Since the man saw Dean with his jeans around his ankles and a cock in his ass just a few weeks ago, Dean guesses he understands how that might be the case. He flushes a little at the memory, and the shame that follows is strong enough that he’s happy to slink upstairs and get away from everyone for a while.

When Dean comes back down half an hour later, he finds Riley sitting on the couch. Riley’s hair is still wet, dark with water, and when he hears Dean’s footfalls on the stairs and glances up with a smile, he almost looks like Sam. It stops Dean midstep until the illusion passes and Dean remembers that Sam’s nose is narrower than Riley’s. His eyes are more almond-shaped, while Riley’s are rounder. Riley’s mouth is more generous, and he has laugh lines that Sam is missing. His eyes are blue, not hazel. And even wet, his hair isn’t anywhere near dark enough to mimic Sam’s.

Stupid illusion to get caught up in, all in all.

“Hey, Dean,” Riley says, still twisted around and watching him descend. His smile widens as he lets his eyes roam up and down Dean’s body. “Just-out-of-the-shower’s a good look on you.”

Dean remembers a time he would have come back with something empty and cocky, but he’s still shaken by his momentary delusion. Drained and aching, he settles for, Thanks. You too.

Riley’s smile actually deepens at that, warm and pleased. When Dean comes around the couch, he pats the cushion to his left and Dean, after a brief hesitation, sits down.

The press of Riley’s mouth against his isn’t a huge surprise, and Dean easily falls into the familiar push and pull of lips and tongue. It isn’t until he has his hand on Riley’s face, guiding the kiss deeper, that he realizes with a shock that he isn’t doing this to coax Riley into fucking him. He’s kissing Riley because it feels good: because something about the considerate, careful way Riley is clasping the nape of Dean’s neck eases some of the hurt in Dean’s chest.

Dean jerks away immediately, heart beating too quickly and breath coming light and fast. He feels dizzy, hot and cold flushes running through his body as he tries to get a handle on himself. Riley lets him move away a little on the couch, concern in his eyes, but doesn’t lift his hand from Dean’s neck.

“You okay?” he asks softly as he runs his thumb through the fringe of Dean’s hair.

No, Dean really isn’t. He doesn’t ... he doesn’t know what he’s doing anymore.

It’s more fear than anger that has him pushing Riley’s hand away and standing up. Nervous energy courses through him, sending him pacing across the living room, and he rubs his hand against the back of his neck. The friction doesn’t do anything to rid him of the memory of Riley’s gentle touch, and the worst part is that Dean isn’t sure he wants it to.

Riley’s quiet for a few minutes, letting Dean have his silent freak out, but finally he breaks the moment by saying, “So Bobby said I had to ask you about this.”

Dean turns around to see that Riley is picking through the dismantled bits of the EMF reader where it’s spread out on the coffee table. He doesn’t have a sign for ‘mind your own business’ yet, so after a brief hesitation he flicks his hands in two of the new patterns he learned before Riley decided he wanted to spend the rest of the day playing with knives. He’s sure Riley didn’t intend him to piece these two signs together, but hey, whatever works in a pinch.

“That’s ‘go kiss a yeti’,” Riley corrects blandly, showing Dean the correct movements as he speaks. His smile is tentative—questioning whether they’re okay—and Dean finds himself giving a tiny nod in answer. He kicks himself for it almost immediately, but of course by then it’s too late to take it back.

Riley’s smile widens into something more genuine and he picks up a wire, peering at it for a moment before looking back up at Dean. “Are you building a computer?”

Dean sighs. Riley has the mechanical equivalent of a black thumb—it took Dean less than three hours to figure that much out—but the guy is endlessly fascinated by this stuff anyway. Luckily, one of the pen and paper combos Bobby’s taken to leaving around the house is sitting on the table next to the tools. Dean picks both up and then uses them to write, Used to be an EMF meter.

“Cool,” Riley says, dropping the wire in exchange for a piece of the EMF’s circuit board. Lifting it up to his face, he holds the circuit board between thumb and forefinger and squints at it. “You studying it so you can build one?”

Dean blinks, rocked back on his heels for a second time. It didn’t even occur to him that building a reader from scratch was an option. He’s been toying with this one mainly to keep himself sane at night, when the memories return and choke his chest and throat and head, but Bobby is still out an EMF meter and Dean owes the man. And it’s simple, really. This one is fried, but after fussing with the old one for so long, Dean’ll be able to make another easy. Might even be a way to make the new one a little more sensitive than this one was.

He blinks again as Riley surges to his feet, grabbing Dean’s arm and dragging him toward the kitchen. “Come on, Einstein, you can build a better mousetrap later. Right now I’m starving.”

Riley’s still hanging onto Dean when they stumble into the other room, and before Dean can do anything about it Bobby has turned around and taken in the sight. Dean’s pulse races—Bobby’s clearly had suspicions about what Dean has been up to with Riley, and this isn’t going to do anything to lay those to rest. Then Riley actually hooks his arm through Dean’s, tugging him closer, and oh shit, no way in hell is the man going to misinterpret that.

But Bobby just lifts one eyebrow and waits for one of them to say something.

The way Riley glances at Dean indicates that he’s supposed to break the ice somehow, but Dean would be speechless right now even if he remembered how to work his voice, and finally Riley announces, “Dean’s making an EMF reader.”

“Is he now,” Bobby says, leaning back against the counter and crossing his arms. His voice is as neutral as Dean has ever heard it, his eyes nonjudgmental when they shift toward Dean for confirmation, but Dean’s chest squirms anyway. He hitches his shoulders in a noncommittal shrug and cuts his own eyes away, wondering if he can extract his arm from Riley’s without offending the guy too much.

“I’m dating a genius.”

Dean stiffens at Riley’s proclamation (that’s not—he never agreed—he doesn’t want) but Riley’s already rambling on about their day, telling Bobby how adaptable Dean is, how quickly he learns. The discomfort caused by all of the unwarranted praise is distracting enough for Dean to forget the whole dating comment and he fidgets, aware of Bobby’s eyes on him and feeling too exposed for safety.

Grabbing Riley’s face and dragging the guy into a kiss is more a defense mechanism than anything else. His stomach twists tight enough that he isn’t sure if it’s pain or nausea he’s feeling—Bobby’s watching, Bobby’s gonna be fucking disgusted, gonna toss Dean out on his slutty, whoring ass—but it’s still better than the alternative. Better to spend tonight sleeping on a park bench somewhere than listen to Riley go on and on with his pitying, empty lies.

Except the heavy hands he expects to clap onto his shoulders and drag him off of Riley don’t come. Bobby doesn’t yell or make any disgusted choking noises. Riley’s making noises, of course—surprised, happy little sounds as he gets with the program and kisses back.

Dean manages to hang on through the kiss for a little longer, and Bobby is the first place his eyes dart when he finally pulls back. He keeps his eyes moving, flitting them here and there on Bobby’s face—Bobby can’t trap him into meeting his gaze if he can’t catch Dean’s eyes—and although it’s difficult to get a read on the man from that series of stutter images, Dean doesn’t think Bobby looks upset.

Bands of panic close around his ribs and contract, making it difficult to breathe. What the fuck is going on here, anyway? What’s Bobby playing at, acting all offended and controlling when it comes to Dean's nocturnal activities and then just standing there like nothing’s wrong when Dean initiates a liplock in the middle of his kitchen?

It doesn’t make any goddamned sense.

“Sit down, boys,” Bobby says into the silence. “Dinner’s almost ready.”

Confused and defensive and flushing, Dean reluctantly obeys. He tries not to draw any more attention to himself during dinner, but Riley—as usual—won’t leave him alone, and by the end of the meal Dean has actually managed a couple of mostly-genuine smiles. The panic loosens its hold, relaxing into simple confusion and a low-grade, thrumming anxiety that the ax is going to drop at any moment because it has to, it always does, Dean’s come to grips with that.

But it doesn’t.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Bobby wakes up to the smell of fresh coffee.

He swims out of sleep into groggy, confused wakefulness—it’s still dark out, for christsakes, and Dean isn’t exactly an early riser. But the smell doesn’t go away, and now he can hear someone moving around in the kitchen—stealthily, but not keeping so quiet as to leave Bobby’s sleep undisturbed. A quick squint at the alarm next to his bed tells him the time and Bobby falls back into his pillows with a groan.

“I don’t deserve this shit,” he mutters to himself.

He’s not going to take this shit, either. He’s just going to lie here until the problem in the kitchen goes away.

Except the problem in the kitchen is fully capable of coming in here and bouncing up and down on the bed until Bobby’s forced to deal with him.

Grumbling to himself, Bobby begins the laborious climb out of his bed. Even in midsummer, the floorboards are chilly enough to wake him up a little more—as is the simple act of moving around—and by the time he has his robe on and is shuffling down the hall, he’s mostly functional.

Foul-tempered as hell, but at least his brain isn’t going to have any trouble keeping up with things.

When he comes around the corner and into the brightness of the kitchen, Riley looks up with a grin. “I made coffee,” he says in greeting.

“Do you even know what time it is?” Bobby demands. At four in the morning, he’s not going to bother beating around the bush.

“Uh,” Riley says, glancing at the pricy watch on his wrist. “Four oh five a.m.” He’s still smiling when he looks up again. “That’s why I made coffee.”

And a quick glance in the direction of the coffee maker—or rather, at the brown bag next to the coffee maker—tells Bobby that Riley didn’t just make coffee. He made expensive, gourmet coffee.

“This is a bribe,” Bobby points out, but he comes forward and sits down at the table anyway.

Way too cheerfully for this hour of night, Riley pushes one of the mugs across to him. “Bribe is such an ugly word,” he answers. “I like to think of this as a thank-you gift in advance. You can keep the rest of the grounds, by the way.”

Like Bobby said. Bribe.

Still, the coffee smells heavenly, and Bobby’s brain is already going foggy again, so he grudgingly takes a sip. It tastes even better than it smells, of course.

“You’re lucky Dean sleeps like a log,” he says when he lowers the mug again. “Otherwise he’d’ve been down here in a flash.”

The old Dean would have, anyway. This new version doesn’t seem as interested in food, although with a little extra cooking and whole lot of extra effort, Bobby’s been putting some of the weight the boy lost back on his bones.

“Guess I am lucky, then, since it’s Dean I wanted to talk about.”

Yeah, Bobby figured as much. He probably should have expected this visit, actually, after what he saw earlier at dinner.

“I already said all I’m gonna on that subject.”

“I’m not fishing for information. I wouldn’t do that to him.” That irrepressible smile is still lingering around Riley’s lips, but it looks different suddenly. Looks a little sad.

Bobby had more than enough hints at dinner to put the pieces together, but it isn’t until now that they snap into place. “Aw, hell,” he mutters, leaning back in his chair and fixing Riley with a horrified look.

Riley drops his eyes with a self-conscious twist of his lips and shrugs.

“You didn’t,” Bobby insists as he leans forward again, reaching across the table to grasp Riley’s wrist. “You damned idjit. Tell me you didn’t.”

Riley lifts his eyes again, and although the periwinkle blue of his irises is familiar, the emotion behind them isn’t. Bobby’s never seen the kid with such a bitter, jaded expression before. He’s never seen that particular version of Riley’s normally open smile. It isn’t a smile at all, really—more of a self-mocking smirk.

“You did,” Bobby breathes, releasing the kid’s wrist and slumping against the back of his chair. “You went and fell in love with him.”

Riley shrugs, running his thumb in nonsense patterns on the tabletop. “You know, in my defense—”

“Oh, shut up. I don’t wanna hear it. I warned you, kid. I damn well ordered you to stay away.” Bobby wipes a hand over his mouth, grimacing. “What a damned mess.”

“I’m good for him,” Riley protests. “Don’t try to deny it, Bobby. I mean, heck, I got a dinner invitation.”

“Yeah, well, consider yourself uninvited,” Bobby mutters.

He’s reconsidering his preliminary assessment of the situation. This isn’t so much a mess as it is a nuclear disaster.

The whole Riley and Dean thing was fine when it was just a stupid infatuation—Bobby’s seen Riley’s fixations before, after all. Kid can’t meet someone needs fixing and leave it alone. He has to get involved, has to worm his way into their affections and lives and play miracle worker. Leaves a piece of himself behind every time he does it, too, the chucklehead, and all those nicks and bruises are bad enough, but this—with Dean ...

“Is this the part where you run me off with a shotgun?” Riley asks, looking harmless and too damn young for Bobby’s conscience.

“Should’ve done that in the first place,” Bobby answers, and then sighs. “Look, kid. Dean, he’s ... he ain’t really in the state to be—”

“I know he’s not ready for anything right now,” Riley hastens to say. “I’m not blind. But I also think there’s something there. There could be, y’know?”

Bobby thinks about the last time the Winchesters were here—all three of them. Thinks of the way the boys always were together—too close, intertwined like they’d gotten one soul between them instead of two. And now, this thing that happened between them before Sam ran off to college ...

Bobby’s been doing his best to piece Dean back into something approximating a functional person, and he’s appreciated Riley’s help on that front, but he doesn’t have any delusions of being able to give Dean back his own heart. Even if he could manage the trick, Dean wouldn’t know what to do with the damned thing except hand it right back over to Sam. Boy might be able to fake a reasonable facsimile of a relationship someday, maybe even settle down and start a family, but it’s never going to be real.

Dean deserves better than that.

So does Riley.

“Kid,” Bobby exhales reluctantly.

“Don’t,” Riley interrupts. “Don’t tell me no, okay?”

Bobby’s withstood better pleading expressions that the one Riley’s sporting right now, but he doesn’t think he’s seen one more genuine. Despite the knowledge that this is going to end badly for everyone, he swallows the lump in his throat and rasps, “Okay.”

There’s something soft and wounded in Riley’s eyes as he smiles—something that tells Bobby that whether or not Riley is admitting it to himself, he already knows how this is going to go—but none of that comes through as Riley says, “So really, I came here to ask for permission to take him out Friday night.”

Bobby’s pretty sure Riley came here hoping he’d get some encouragement from Bobby, but he’s willing to play along if it’ll make it easier on the kid. He doesn’t particularly want to get Riley in any deeper than he already is, but Riley’s an adult and can make his own bad decisions.

And Bobby can’t deny Riley’s had an encouraging effect on Dean.

“You couldn’t ask me this in the morning?”

“Yeah, I really didn’t think Dean would like hearing me ask for permission,” Riley responds wryly. “I don’t think he knows I figured out he’s on lockdown. Why is that, by the way?”

“Thought you weren’t gonna pry behind his back.”

“I’m not, I’m not. Sorry. Force of habit.” Riley plasters his widest, friendliest grin on his face and folds his hands on top of the table. “So. Do I get my date?”

“Does Dean know it’s a date?” Bobby can’t help asking.

“He will when I give him the flowers.”

Bobby’d think Riley’s joking, except for how Riley isn’t really the type to joke. And he’s exactly the hardcore, old school gentleman-type who’d think flowers are appropriate.

Bobby can’t wait to see Dean’s face.

“Have him back by midnight.”

“Or?”

“Or he’ll turn into a pumpkin,” Bobby replies sarcastically.

“We can’t have that, can we?” Riley says as he gets to his feet and heads for the door. “I think dating root vegetables might be illegal in this state.”

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Riley doesn’t come around the next day.

Dean doesn’t care, of course—the guy’s more of an annoyance than anything else, and it isn’t like Bobby’s actually going to let them screw around on his property. Not that Dean’s close to getting any action, with Riley being such a pussy about sealing the deal.

Dean most assuredly doesn’t miss Riley’s stupid questions when Bobby throws another waste of time job in front of him. He doesn’t miss the guy’s boundless exuberance, or his open laugh, or his dumb stories. He sure as hell doesn’t miss the way Riley makes him feel inside sometimes—chest warm and trembling, stomach weightless. He doesn’t miss the way Riley confuses him, with motives Dean can’t guess at and words of praise he can’t possibly mean.

If he misses the asshole at all, it’s just because with Riley gone, there’s no one to distract the damned dog, and Rumsfeld spends the whole day following him around and begging for attention.

But isn’t like Riley has anything tying him here, except his car. He doesn’t owe Dean anything. Riley would maybe make a halfway decent friend (if Dean can put up with him that long), but he isn’t family—isn’t, oh say, a brother or a father—and if Dean’s own blood can’t stand to be around him, he shouldn’t be surprised that a stranger’s having a difficult time of it.

Still, as the morning heats to afternoon and then cools again toward evening, Dean has to admit that the abandonment still stings a little. The pain is almost unnoticeable when measured against the hollow ache clinging to his chest, but it’s enough of an added strain that he makes a mental note of it. He’ll need to shore up whatever vulnerability Riley exploited to make him feel like this. Shouldn’t be any harder than caulking a boat, so long as Dean can figure out where all the weak points are.

When Bobby calls him in for dinner, Dean’s too distracted by his efforts to armor himself to put on any sort of performance for the man. He eats what’s set in front of him—more because he knows Bobby’ll start poking at him if he doesn’t than from any actual hunger—and keeps his eyes lowered on the table. The comments Bobby makes pass by without his customary, noncommittal shrugs. His questions go unanswered by any nods or shakes of Dean’s head.

Finally, he gets up, fetches the pen and paper sitting on the counter by the coffee pot, and throws them down next to Dean’s right hand.

“What in the hell is wrong with you, boy?” he demands.

The paper and the pen sort of require an answer, so Dean reaches across with his left hand to write, Nothing. I’m fine.

“Bullcrap you’re fine,” Bobby says once he’s read Dean’s reply.

Dean clenches his jaw and pushes the pen and paper away.

“We’re talking about this,” Bobby growls as he drops into the chair to Dean’s right and shoves the writing implements right back at him. “I want to know what’s got into you. This isn’t about Riley, is it?”

Dean’s hand jerks in an involuntary motion, knocking into the pad and sending it skidding off the side of the table.

In the heavy silence that follows, his cheeks heat. He knows Bobby’s getting the wrong idea—it’s not about Riley, not really. It’s the reminder that’s bothering him. The openhanded slap to the face telling him that he’s stupid to look for anything outside of himself, that he’s not the type of guy people stay with, that he’s not goodsmartuseful enough for that.

He doesn’t even have his looks to cling to right now, actually, because he couldn’t seal the deal with Riley. Maybe that was less because of the guy’s fondness for mindgames and more because something about him turned Riley off any time he thought about getting further than second base.

Over in the living room, one of Bobby’s bank of phones starts to ring.

Bobby swears under his breath as he heaves himself to his feet. He pauses long enough to stick a finger in Dean’s line of sight and growl, “Don’t move. We’re not done here,” before stomping into the other room to answer.

Dean can’t make out Bobby’s words past the roaring in his ears, but he catches the tone well enough. Polite and business-like on the initial response, which means it’s one of the ‘official’ lines instead of the house phone. But what he says next is hostile and pissed off, and Dean silently curses whoever’s on the other end of the call. Bobby was in a bad enough mood to begin with. Dean doesn’t need anyone else adding to the shitstorm he already has to endure.

There’s a long, tense silence, and then Bobby’s voice again—sounding slightly mollified, which is good—and a moment later the man appears in the kitchen doorway. Attention caught by the movement, Dean glances over and then quickly looks away again.

“It’s Riley. He wants to talk to you.”

Dean’s pretty sure he’s fallen into some bizarro alternate dimension, because nothing in this one explains why Riley would bother with him. Besides, the concept of talking with anyone on the phone with his voice MIA is kind of ludicrous. But after an extended pause, he gets up and heads into the living room, keeping his eyes and face turned as far away from Bobby as he can manage when he squeezes past him through the doorway.

It’s the F.B.I. phone off the hook, which makes sense—Riley’d be able to pull off that government douche bag cover easy as breathing. Dean doesn’t let himself think about what he’s doing; just reaches out and picks up the receiver.

He scrapes the headset a little picking it up, and that must be what cues Riley to say, “Dean? That you? If it’s you, tap the phone on the wall three times.”

Hearing Riley’s voice feels surprisingly like being hit with a taser. Dean’s heart kicks up a notch and his skin prickles as he obeys.

“Oh good,” Riley says when Dean gets the phone back up against his ear. “I’ve been calling all day—some F.B.I. office Bobby’s got running there. He might want to think about having some phones installed in the garage. Anyway, I wanted to let you know I had to go to Chicago for a couple of days. I’ll be back in time for Friday, though—we’re still on, right? You, me, a couple of steaks ... If the answer’s yes, just keep quiet.”

Dean can’t help rolling his eyes at that, but he can’t deny that Riley’s laugh loosens things deep in his chest.

“So I won’t keep you. Just wanted to let you know where I was and tell you I’ll pick you up around five o’clock. No dress code, but if you want to make it to the restaurant without getting mauled you should probably wash up before I get there. Any questions? Tap once for yes, twice for no.”

Dean hesitates—he sort of wants to get Bobby over here to deal with Riley for him, scare him off for good the way he should. Because his response to Riley’s failure to show today has woken him up to the unpleasant truth that he’s not quite as unattached as he’d like to be. Riley might not have bailed on him this time, but he’s going to soon—the parts for the Mustang are going to come in early next week, and then Riley’s going to be back on the road and Dean’s going to be stuck here alone again—and he needs to be protecting himself from that sooner rather than later.

But he’s just pathetic and desperate enough to tap the phone twice against the wall anyway.

“Excellent,” Riley says. Dean can tell from the warmth in his voice that he’s smiling. “I’ll see you then.”

Chapter Text

As five o’clock on Friday night approaches, Dean finds himself increasingly nervous. He’s showered and clean—has been since four—and dressed in his nicest pair of jeans and a cobalt blue button-down t-shirt. The shirt is new and fitted—something he asked Bobby to pick up on one of the man’s grocery runs.

The look is a little more upscale than Dean is comfortable with, but he thinks it works for him, and anyway, this might be what it takes to push Riley over the edge. And Dean needs to push Riley over the edge—for his own sanity, if nothing else. He’s been thinking ever since that one-sided phone call, and the confused flurry of his thoughts has been enough to tell him he has to backtrack and refocus on the goal at hand.

He isn’t going to get a better chance than tonight to convince Riley to fuck him. Backseat, bent over the trunk of whatever rental Riley’s driving, on his knees by the side of the road—Dean’s not picky. Just as long as he starts learning the tricks of the trade that he’s going to need to survive.

And that part of Dean that’s nauseous and distressed at the thought of ending this whole ‘romancing the whore’ thing that Riley’s got going on—well, that part has to be salted and burned as quickly as possible if Dean’s going to hang onto his sanity.

Dean’s watching out one of the front windows when Bobby comes up behind him and says, “He cares about you, you know.”

Dean’s fingers twitch where they’re holding the musty curtains out of the way, but otherwise he doesn’t respond.

“I know he ain’t Sam,” Bobby continues, and that drives Dean’s breath from his lungs and turns him around.

He can’t quite believe Bobby’s bringing that up again, after all this time. He can’t believe the man has that much presumption, talking to Dean about things that he knows fuck-all about. Dean’s expression has to be telling Bobby how unwelcome this conversation is, but Bobby just looks back at him and goes right on talking.

“That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though.” Giving his hat a tug, he tilts his head and adds, “You and your brother’ve been chained together your whole lives. Maybe it’s time to start looking in new directions. Have something for yourself.”

Dean gives his head a sharp shake, starting to turn back to the window, and Bobby catches his arm.

“I’m not saying Riley has to mean more to you than Sam,” he says urgently. “But you’ve got to find room in your heart for someone aside from your brother. Sam’s gone, Dean. He might come back, he might not, but right now he’s gone. You can’t let your life come to a stop just because he ain’t around to see it, cause you can damn well bet he’s not doing the same.”

Jittery with furious, hurt energy, Dean shoves Bobby away. It isn’t that Bobby’s saying anything untrue about Sam, but Dean never thought the man would be cruel enough to throw it in Dean’s face. Who the fuck is Bobby anyway, to lecture Dean about how he’s supposed to be living his life?

The answer—that he’s the man who’s giving Dean a place to sleep; who’s feeding him; who isn’t informing Dad that he’s got a sick, whorish fuck for a son—rankles even worse, but Dean somehow manages to get hold of himself and stands where he is, hands clenched into fists at his sides.

“Give Riley a chance,” Bobby says in a softer, but no less emphatic voice. “Don’t slam the door in his face because he ain’t ever gonna be the love of your life. We all get more than one shot at happiness.”

That’s such a moronic, stupidly optimistic statement that it’s funny—hell, it’s fucking hysterical. It isn’t that Dean wouldn’t like to sign up to drink the kool-aid Bobby’s offering—he’d cut off his right hand for a sip. It’s just that he knows better.

Happiness, like mothers and homes and honest jobs, is for other people. Dean gets a memory and motel rooms and twenty bucks for ten minutes spent on his knees out in back of a seedy bar. He’s mostly made his peace with that, and if everything works out tonight, he’ll lay those last, lingering threads of hope to rest before sunup.

When he hears Riley’s cheerful knock on the front door, Dean turns away from Bobby without hesitation and walks with a steady, easy gait to meet his future.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Two hours later, he’s ready to throw in the towel on the entire evening.

The night started off well enough—with Riley’s eyes raking up and down Dean’s body when he opened the door, and then with Riley pulling him into a heated, hungry kiss. The roses were a little embarrassing, and Dean could tell Bobby was having trouble keeping his laughter in, but it was easy enough to fob the damn things off on the man and get out the door. And Riley’s rental car, once Dean clapped eyes on it, looked promising—low trunk and a big backseat; plenty of opportunities to get the show on the road.

Only Riley’s rambling on the way to the restaurant was just as PG-rated and pointless as ever. He kept his eyes on the road when he drove, seemingly oblivious to Dean’s open-legged slouch in the passenger seat. And then at the restaurant, he pulled out Dean’s chair for him—which was mortifying enough without their waitress’ knowing grin as Dean sat down with reddened ear tips.

The steak house is nicer than Dean is used to, but not so nice he feels out of place, and Riley’s been pretty consistently signing when he speaks to Dean, which means Dean has added ‘porterhouse’, ‘refill’ and ‘Merlot’ to his repertoire. On top of the quality of the food—which is excellent, stirring Dean’s appetite for the first time in months—Riley’s being his usual charming self, and grinning so broadly Dean’s sure the guy’s dimples have dimples, although that may be his fourth glass of wine talking.

It isn’t until Riley orders one of everything off the dessert menu and scoots his chair closer to Dean’s so they can taste them together that Dean puts his finger on what’s bothering him so much.

This feels like a date.

And it’s not like he didn’t get that’s what Riley was planning, but he just ... he didn’t expect it to feel like one, is all. He thought he had better defenses than this—had a better handle on himself and what he can consider as realistic expectations.

As he chews on the piece of berry-topped cheesecake and tries to think of a way to shove the night back on track (or, failing that, to shelve the whole thing), Riley makes a thoughtful noise in the back of his throat and reaches toward Dean’s face.

“You have—” he starts, and then pauses, smile tilting into something a little mischievous. “On second thought,” he murmurs, putting his hand on Dean’s cheek and pulling him closer.

It isn’t quite a kiss.

Instead, Riley draws Dean’s lower lip into his mouth, and then starts running his tongue over the dribble of berry sauce he finds there. It isn’t until all of the sauce is gone that Riley changes the angle of his head, aligning both of their mouths and kissing Dean with lazy thoroughness.

Riley's tongue tastes a little like the berry sauce he just sucked from Dean's lip, but that tart flavor is mostly overpowered by traces of the black forest cake the guy was eating before Dean’s inability to get all of his food into his mouth distracted him. It’s a good combination, and Dean tells himself that it’s the taste that motivates him to push forward eagerly, tilting his head and opening his mouth wider to give Riley more room.

And the hopeful flicker of warmth in his chest as the kiss deepens and continues isn’t because he’s enjoying how much this feels like a display of affection rather than a come on. It’s because Dean can tell from the barely controlled urgency of Riley’s mouth that he wants more than he’s been taking.

If Dean can just get a few more glasses of wine into the guy, he might be able to shift their arrangement to a different level.

So when Riley finally eases back with an apologetic little grin, Dean just smiles and holds a spoonful of Crème Brule out toward the guy. It feels a little weird to be doing this with a dude, but from the way Riley’s eyes light up, it’s working. He accepts the mouthful with a playful smile, and then tosses back the wine Dean offers to wash the custard down.

By the time they’ve paid the check and are ready to leave, Riley is a little unsteady on his feet. He leans on Dean on their way out, then tilts his head and regards the rental car skeptically when Dean pauses by the front hood.

“Maybe you better drive,” he says, speaking with the careful diction of someone who is three sheets to the wind but doesn’t want to show it. “I can give directions.”

Dean leans Riley against the side of the car and then, after making sure he has the guy’s attention, signs, Where?

Riley’s smile widens. “It’s a surprise. But I know you’ll love it.”

After the way the rest of the night has gone, Dean has his doubts about that (or, rather, he’s worried he’ll like it too much), and while he gets Riley situated in the passenger seat, he debates ignoring whatever directions the guy offers. He can park them out in some deserted field instead—he knows a few places that would work—and see if he can’t get Riley to move the evening to the backseat.

But for some reason he can’t quite fathom, he finds himself following Riley’s “left here” and “at the next stoplight, turn right”s and, eventually, driving into the parking lot of a drive-in that looks like it’s been closed for over a decade. There are weeds growing up through the cracked pavement, and all of the metal boxes that used to hook up to the edge of cars are missing. The building serving as both projection booth and snack shop is a boarded up, dilapidated lump in the darkness. Dean can’t make out the screen—it’s too dark for that—but he’s sure it’s ripped and covered with dirt and graffiti.

Putting his foot on the brake, he stops the car and glances over at Riley, who is watching him with lazy, smug contentment. Dean’s about to do his best to find out what’s going on—using his limited vocabulary and a couple ‘what the fuck’ facial expressions that he hopes Riley isn’t too drunk to comprehend, when someone knocks on the driver’s side window and just about gives him a heart attack.

Dean jumps, jerking closer to Riley and wishing he had a gun handy. Then he gets a look at the old lady peering in through the window and relaxes. This still has the potential to be really creepy, but he’s fairly certain that he can take grandma if he needs to.

Grandma knocks again, and then makes a hand cranking motion that Dean takes to mean she wants him to roll down the window. As soon as he hits the button, she starts talking, giving a whistle before looking past Dean to Riley.

“My, he is a looker, isn’t he?”

“Paws off, May,” Riley answers, but there’s a pleased note in his voice. His hand settles on Dean’s knee and squeezes. “He’s spoken for.”

May scoffs. “When you get tired of this bag of wind,” she tells Dean. “You come see me. I have a nephew who’s a doctor.”

“Yeah, thanks for the vote of confidence,” Riley says, sitting up from his slouch.

“Any time, dear,” May answers sweetly. “Now, are you boys ready? I’ve got everything cued up on my end.”

“What channel?” Taking his hand off Dean’s knee, Riley reaches up to fiddle with the radio tuner.

“75.8.”

“Thanks, May. You’re a peach.”

May nods. “Just mind you enjoy.”

“We will.”

Dean waits until the woman has disappeared in the direction of the projection booth and then rounds on Riley to demand, What’s going on? At least some of his agitation must come through because Riley’s smile slips a few degrees.

“I thought you’d like this. It’s, uh. Double feature. Them and Creature From the Black Lagoon.”

Which only freaks Dean out more, because those are possibly two of his all time favorites, and there’s no way Riley could know that. No way he should know that. Hell, he shouldn’t be doing this at all. The rest of the night was bad enough—with the flowers and the fancy food and all the considerate attention—but this whole drive-in thing had to have taken a good deal of time to set up. Must have cost a boatload of money, too.

Dean’s not worth spending that much effort on, he knows he isn’t, and it makes him feel cornered and exposed and anxious to realize the sort of trouble Riley went through to do this. If getting into Dean’s ass isn’t his motive—and it can’t be, because Dean’s been offering that for free since day one—then Dean doesn’t know what the guy wants. Whatever it is, Dean can’t possibly have what Riley wants, and sooner or later Riley is going to realize that and he’s going to drop Dean with the same, efficient disgust Sam and Dad did.

“Hey,” Riley says. He’s clearly making an attempt to think through the wine, leaning across the space between them to rest a hand on Dean’s arm. “What’s wrong? Do you need—hang on, I think I put a pen and some paper in here.”

And then he pops the glove compartment, and he does—there’s actually a box of pens and a couple pads of paper, more evidence of serious planning, and oh fuck, Dean can’t breathe in here. He thumbs the seatbelt release and then opens the door and is out of the car before Riley can stop him.

He turns in a short, indecisive circle before starting to walk back the way they came—it’ll take him a while to get back to Bobby’s, but that’s okay, it’ll give him time to calm down and clear his head. Behind him, he hears the other car door open. A moment later, there’s the heavy sound of someone jogging over the loose rocks and chunks of asphalt and Riley’s voice calling out to him.

“Dean! Hey, Dean. Hang on, okay? Just—we can talk this out, we can—”

A hand lands on Dean’s arm and he turns around swinging.

Panic makes him clumsy, though, and Riley, tipsy as he is, catches Dean’s fist in one hand and then sweeps his legs out from under him, taking Dean down to the ground in a carefully controlled fall. Dean’s impulse is to continue the fight—he can win this, bum shoulder or not; Riley’s drunk and anyway he doesn’t have Dean’s motivation—but the desperation and hurt in Riley’s eyes stops him. He lies on the ground instead, with his blood pounding in his ears and Riley’s hand pressing down on his chest.

For a long moment, Riley just looks down at him, clearly trying to work things through in his head, and then, finally, his brow furrows with comprehension.

“I’m freaking you out,” he says. “This—it’s too much, isn’t it? For a first date.”

That’s sort of an understatement, and anyway, it’s humiliating. Dean’s gone up against all manner of nasty, supernatural sons of bitches, and now he can’t handle a drive-in movie. It’s goddamned pathetic, is what it is, and Dean’s got just enough pride left not to want to fess up to it. Pushing Riley away, he sits up and shoots the guy the finger.

“I’m sorry,” Riley says, staying close but not helping as Dean climbs back to his feet and dusts himself off. “I tend to—it wasn’t a big deal for me, you know. I just wanted to do something fun, and I. I guess you get that I don’t have a funds problem.”

That’s one way of putting it, Dean guesses, but Riley’s words also make him pause. Maybe ... maybe this isn’t a big deal for Riley. Maybe this night is Riley’s equivalent of the burger and a rental routine Dean used when he was still going to high school and picking up classmates.

After all, this is the guy who paid to tow his car from Connecticut to South Dakota. Arranging to have an old drive-in reopened for a night probably took all of a moment’s thought and consideration.

“We can leave,” Riley offers. “If it’s too much, we can—hey, you want to go shoot some pool, maybe?”

Over Riley’s shoulder, Dean sees the movie screen light up—not ripped or ruined the way Dean thought it would be; looks almost new, looks like Riley had it replaced for tonight. He fights down the surge of panic that thought brings and shakes his head. He’s not going to pussy out.

It’s fine, he signs, and then, even more grudgingly, Sorry.

“Are you sure?” Riley presses as he peers intently at Dean. “I don’t want you to be uncomfortable.”

In answer, Dean gets back into the car and waits, both hands on the steering wheel. Eventually, Riley joins him, and Dean drives them into a better position to see the screen. Things are still tense and awkward between them right up until the point when the giant ants first pop into view. Then Riley makes a high-pitched, choked noise and slaps one hand over his eyes.

It takes Dean about one second to figure out what’s going on and then he can’t help laughing. It’s a bit breathy without the full force of his voice behind it, but loud enough for Riley to hear. He scissors his fingers apart far enough to peer over at Dean and then frowns.

“It’s not funny. No one said there were ants in this thing.”

The petulance in his voice only makes Dean laugh harder, and all the awkwardness and discomfort he was feeling falls away as he reaches over and fetches a pen and some paper from the glove compartment. He scribbles on the paper quickly, writing with his left hand the way he’s gotten used to, and then crumples the paper up in a ball and pegs Riley in the chest with it.

Uncrumpling the paper, Riley reads aloud, “What kind of a pussy is scared of ants?” Snorting, he throws the paper back at Dean. “I stepped on a fire ant nest when I was a kid, okay?”

Dean winces, cause he’s been bitten by a fire ant before, and that shit hurts. Also, he’s not sure he wouldn’t be a little freaked out by insects if he wandered into a nest full of them. He scribbles another note, quickly, and passes it over.

I’ll protect you.

One corner of Riley’s expressive mouth twitches up as he reads. “I dunno,” he says, giving Dean a coy glance. “Ants are pretty scary. I’m not sure how I’ll make it through the movie all the way over here.”

From Dean’s dim memories of the drive-in Pastor Jim used to take him and Sam to, it’s easy to figure out what Riley’s getting at. Dean couldn’t think of a better way to turn this particular activity around into something useful. Grinning, he rolls down the windows and cranks the volume on the radio up as loud as it will go.

Riley’s already out of the car and on his way around the back to pop the trunk. When Dean joins him, he has an oversized blanket draped over one arm and a paper grocery bag in his hand. Dean holds out his left hand, casting a quick glance at the screen so he can catch more of the movie, and then looks back as Riley passes him the bag.

“I didn’t know what you liked,” Riley says, carrying the blanket around to the front of the car and laying it down on the hood and windshield.

The bag, Dean finds as he slowly joins Riley, is full of candy. Snowcaps, Twizzlers, Skittles, M&Ms, Starburst. His gut shifts with a tendril of unease at the thought of Riley wandering around the candy aisle and tossing box after box into his cart, but he shoves the anxiety away. Riley’s got money. Blowing thirty, forty bucks on sugar isn’t something he’d so much as blink at.

And anyway, he considers as he watches Riley climb up onto the hood, the night is starting to go the way he wants it to.

Riley’s watching Dean with a faint, contented smile playing around his lips, and now he tucks one hand beneath his head and holds the other out in clear invitation. “Well? You going protect me anytime soon?”

Dean grabs a box out of the bag—doesn’t bother looking to see what he grabbed; when it comes to candy, he’s never been all that picky—and joins Riley on the hood. Tucking himself close against Riley’s side makes his chest prickle in a way he doesn’t much care for—not because it’s a bad feeling. It isn’t.

That’s the problem.

“Mmm,” Riley murmurs, nuzzling at the side of Dean’s face. “This is nice.”

It’s more fear of how comfortable he feels right now than any real plan that drives Dean to roll over and catch Riley’s mouth in a kiss. Riley smiles into it, still more drunk than sober and lazy with contentment. It takes a couple minutes of sloppy, open-mouthed kissing for him to catch on and force his tongue into Dean’s mouth with intent.

Yeah, Dean thinks. If the victorious flare in his chest feels a little double-edged and bitter, he’s focusing too closely on working Riley up to care.

Pulling his hand out from beneath his head, Riley catches Dean’s face, stroking over his cheek and then up into his hairline. Riley’s always playing with Dean’s hair, short as it is, but this is the first time Dean puts two and two together and figures out Riley’s got a thing for the soft, short slide of Dean’s hair against his fingers. He grabs Riley’s wrist and drags the guy’s hand around to the back of his head.

Riley takes that for the permission it is, rolling onto his back and pulling Dean half on top of him. Freed from where it was trapped beneath Dean’s body, his left hand joins his right in Dean’s hair and Riley moans into the kiss.

Dean’s been here plenty of times before—not with a guy, no, but he knows when a date is gagging for it, and Riley’s putting out all the right signs. When Dean skims a hand down Riley’s side to push up the guy’s shirt and touch the feverish skin beneath, Riley wriggles appreciatively. Dean splays his hand, putting a little pressure into the contact, and Riley’s hands clench where they’re playing with Dean’s hair.

Normally, this is where Dean would get the girl’s shirt off. Then there’d be a little bit of tit work, get her mewling and tugging his hair and begging for him to move lower.

Dean’s not sure what to do with a dude’s chest, though, so after a brief hesitation, he sidesteps the entire issue, working his hand beneath Riley’s jeans in search of his cock. His fingertips are just brushing soft, flushed skin when Riley pushes up, flipping Dean onto his back. His hand stays wrapped around the back of Dean’s skull long enough to cushion his head, and then grabs Dean’s wrist instead.

“No,” he insists, pulling Dean’s hand out of his pants.

Thwarted and furious, Dean knocks his head back against the windshield.

Riley grabs his face again, fingers curled around the back of his skull protectively, and repeats, “No. I told you, Dean. I don’t sleep with guys who can’t say no.”

Dean’s stomach is wound tighter than a coiled spring, leaving him twitchy with tension. He snarls, trying to roll to the side and off the car, but Riley hangs on, keeping him close.

“Shh,” Riley says, and then he kisses Dean.

Feeling more like a trapped animal than a man, Dean lashes out the only way he can and bites Riley’s lip. It hurts—Dean knows from the way the guy’s body jerks—but Riley doesn’t pull away. He just keeps kissing Dean, gentle and calm, and Dean’s chest feels like it’s going to tear into two pieces from the conflicting desires coursing through him.

Part of him wants nothing more than to beat Riley into a bloody pulp—maybe get Riley to beat him into a bloody pulp, Dean’s not sure. The rest of him is calming under Riley’s touch—settling and softening more with every light stroke of Riley’s hand down the side of his face.

Dean struggles to kill that part of himself. He clings to the fury desperately—to the steel refusal to submit—but Riley keeps on touching him, and making soft, soothing sounds into the kiss, and Dean feels his grip slipping.

“It’s okay,” Riley whispers against his lips, like Dean can’t taste the guy’s blood in his mouth. “It’s okay, you’re okay.”

But it isn’t, Dean isn’t, and Riley is the dumbest fuck in the universe to be doing this, to be wasting these touches on someone like him, and Dean makes one last ditch attempt to get away, thrashing on the hood and fighting to push Riley off.

It gets Riley to stop kissing him, anyway, even if the guy is still stubbornly hanging on.

“If you really need me to, I’ll let you go,” Riley says, voice soft and urgent. “You can go walk it off or do whatever you have to do. But I’m still going to be here when you get back, Dean. Because believe it or not, I care about you, and you’re not getting rid of me this easily.”

He kisses Dean once more, on the cheek this time, and then, suddenly, Dean’s free.

His heart is thundering in his chest; his mouth dry with panic. He fists the blanket in both hands, ready to launch himself off the hood and get running.

He doesn’t move.

After almost a full minute, Riley tentatively moves close again. Dean watches him with wide eyes, not sure why he’s still here and terrified of what it might mean. When Riley reaches out, it’s with the slow caution of someone dealing with a panicked horse. Dean would laugh if he weren’t proving the caution necessary by flinching violently when Riley’s fingertips brush his face.

Riley hesitates only a few seconds before trying again, and this time doesn’t lift his hand when Dean gives a second, weaker twitch.

“I’m here,” he says. “It’s okay, I’m here.”

Something snaps in Dean’s chest and floods him with a shivery, loose feeling. He’s crying, he realizes with a jolt of shamed relief, and reaches up to try and hide his face.

“Hey, don’t,” Riley protests, pushing Dean’s hand away and sliding close. “It’s okay. I don’t mind.”

At the first, gentle brush of Riley’s fingers wiping the tears from his cheeks, Dean gives in, turning onto his side and fisting his hand in Riley’s shirt. When he shoves his face against the guy’s chest, Riley lets him, switching over to stroking Dean’s back with casual ease.

Sam, Dean thinks nonsensically as he cries. Sammy.

His brother’s name reverberates through his chest, leaving bruises and aches where it goes and making him cry harder. Riley takes it in stride, rocking him slightly and talking in a steady, low stream. It’s nonsense—another of Riley’s stupid hunting stories—but Dean can’t deny that the distraction helps. He focuses on the words, on Riley’s fruitless attempts to corner a cross-dressing ghost with a fetish for pink lingerie, and after a while his body stops shaking.

Closing his eyes, he breathes in Riley’s scent (not familiar, not Sammy, but pleasant and somehow comforting) and drifts off to the sound of Riley’s voice and the more distant crackle of a nest of giant ants being set on fire.

Dean’s always wanted a flamethro—

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Riley wakes him during the second feature’s opening credit roll.

Dean’s disoriented for a moment, head aching and eyes scratchy, and then everything comes back to him. He thinks about shifting away, out of the comforting weight of Riley’s arms, but it seems like too much effort. He’s already made enough of a fool of himself; isn’t going to lose any more face staying where he is.

“Hey,” Riley says, smiling down like Dean didn’t just completely flip out on him.

Dean can’t sign from this position, but he mouths his own hello back. Riley’s smile doesn’t so much widen as it deepens.

“Black Lagoon’s starting,” he announces. “Bobby said it’s your favorite, so I thought you might want to be awake for it.”

Well, that explains the movie choice anyway.

“Or if you want, we can just head back. It’s your call.”

Dean considers for a moment—part of him would like nothing better than to slink back to Bobby’s and curl up under the covers of his bed—but finally he shakes his head and twists around in Riley’s arms so that he can see the screen.

After a bit of maneuvering, he ends up with one leg hooked between Riley’s. Dean’s left arm is slung loosely across Riley’s waist and his right shoulder is tucked forward to keep his weight from pressing down onto the slowly healing muscle. His head ends up resting against Riley’s left shoulder, turned just far enough out that he can watch the movie without straining his eyes.

If Riley tells Bobby about this, Dean’s going to deny it. And then he’s gonna kick the guy’s ass for blabbing.

The movie is just as entertaining as Dean remembers it being, and when Julie Adams shows up in that famous one-piece bathing suit of hers, Dean pops wood just like he did the first time he watched her dive into the water. Riley can’t possibly have missed it, either—not with Dean’s dick shoved up against his leg the way it is. Dean holds his breath, waiting for Riley to pull away, but Riley just chuckles and kisses the top of Dean’s head.

“She is kind of a babe, isn’t she?” he comments.

Yeah, she is, and Dean’s problem isn’t getting any better as he watches her swim through the water with smooth, steady strokes. It’s ridiculous, getting so hot and bothered over something that’s tame by today’s standards, but Dean guesses you can’t argue with childhood infatuations. He shifts a little, trying to be unobtrusive. A second, amused chuckle from Riley tells him he’s not being as stealthy as he wants.

Before the discomfort in Dean’s stomach can morph into defensive anger, Riley says, “C’mere,” and puts one hand under Dean’s chin, tilting his face up.

This time, when their lips meet, Dean isn’t thinking of his private agenda. He’s thinking about Julie swimming in her lagoon, all long legs and curving body, and how it would feel to peel the wet bathing suit from her skin. Then Riley does something with his mouth, and Dean’s thinking about the hard, masculine body he’s pressed up against and rocking against it with a little more determination.

He’s a little afraid Riley’s going to stop him again, but Riley only shifts his leg into a better position and keeps on kissing Dean like there’s nothing else he’d rather do. His hands stay on Dean’s upper back and chin, well away from any sensitive areas, but he’s letting this happen, thank God. Squeezing his eyes more tightly shut, Dean thrusts faster—harder—and tightens his grip on Riley’s side.

When Dean finally comes a few minutes later, Riley’s still kissing him. It’s Dean who breaks away, twisting his face to one side and then dropping his forehead against Riley’s shoulder as the aftershocks take him. He pants there, trying to slow his breathing and come down from his high.

When he cracks his eyes open again, his vision isn’t all that steady. Probably something to do with the fact that most of his blood flow is still headed south to his cock. His gaze slides down Riley’s body as he blinks rapidly, trying to focus his eyes. He gets as far as the guy's crotch before stopping with a faint pulse of surprise.

Riley’s hard.

Dean contemplates the visible bulge in the guy’s jeans for a moment, not thinking too hard though the rush of endorphins flooding his body. But even without serious thought it seems like Dean should be doing something right now. It seems like he should maybe be reciprocating, and anyway he ... he sort of wants to know what Riley sounds like when he comes.

On impulse, Dean reaches down.

Riley catches his wrist.

“I’m fine,” he says when Dean glances a question at him. He looks flushed and sounds a little breathless, but his smile is as cheerful as ever as he rests both of their hands on his chest. “Let’s just finish up the movie and then I’ll take you home.”

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

By the time the bullet-riddled creature sinks beneath the surface of the lagoon’s waters for the last time, Dean’s cock is uncomfortably cold (and likely stuck to his briefs). He’s surprised to realize he doesn’t mind. He really doesn’t mind the way Riley kisses him for a bit before sliding off the hood and packing up to head back either.

But it can’t last. Dean knows it can’t. Early next week, the parts will come in, and then Dean will finish working on the Mustang and Riley will drive away. He’ll leave, just like everyone else. Dean should be trying to separate himself from the guy now, when it won’t hurt quite as much.

Except he’s pretty sure it’s too late for that. If he wants to be honest with himself, it was too late when Riley first made him laugh.

Fucking figures.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Bobby’s waiting up for Dean when he gets home.

“You have a nice time?” he asks, tone carefully neutral.

Dean ignores him. He’s too annoyed with the answer to respond.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Dean finishes with the Mustang mid Tuesday morning and then spends the rest of the day in his room playing sick. He doesn’t want to be around for the awkward goodbyes. The Dear John letter Riley will probably leave him is going to be bad enough.

It’s after ten a.m. on Wednesday when he finally drags himself downstairs again. He heads into the kitchen, following the scent of coffee, and then freezes.

Riley’s sitting at the table polishing his throwing knives.

When he looks up and spots Dean, he breaks into a smile. “Hey,” he says. “Feeling better?”

No, Dean really isn’t. His body is rushing hot and cold. His palms feel clammy. He takes a single, confused step backwards and then stops when he bumps into the doorframe. The feel of wood against his bare back reminds him that he isn’t wearing a shirt and he belatedly shifts his hand up to cover the thick lines of scar tissue marring his shoulder.

Something flickers through Riley’s normally jovial eyes, but his expression doesn’t shift as he puts the knife and the polishing rag down on the table and stands up. Dean watches him come closer with a restless, nervous pit in his stomach.

“Do I get a hello kiss?” Riley asks, reaching out and running both hands through Dean’s hair.

It’s habit to meet Riley’s mouth as he leans down, and if Dean’s trembling a little through this hello, at least he knows Riley isn’t going to comment on it. Then Riley’s left hand drops from Dean’s hair and lands on his right shoulder, pushing Dean’s hand out of the way. Dean stiffens.

“Does it still hurt?” Riley breaks the kiss to ask. His touch lightens but doesn’t lift, thumb rubbing back and forth across the raised claw marks and making Dean’s skin pebble.

The answer is yes—Dean’s shoulder always aches like hell when he finishes his exercises—but Dean doesn’t think that’s what Riley is asking. It isn’t pain making his stomach flip and squirm; it’s shame. Normally, Dean could give a shit about his scars—hell, most chicks actually find them sexy—but this is different. This is the permanent reminder that he isn’t good enough, that he fucked up. That he’s enough of a loser that even his own family couldn’t stand to be around him.

He doesn’t want anyone looking at it. He sure as fuck doesn’t want Riley touching it.

But for some reason, he finds himself shaking his head. There’s an odd twist to Riley’s returning smile that tells Dean the guy understands more than Dean’s saying—which is a bit of a mindfuck in and of itself, but not nearly as terrifying as what happens next.

Holding Dean’s eyes as long as possible, Riley leans down and brushes his lips over the scar. Dean’s eyes slip shut at the sudden flip of his stomach. His hand shoots out and grabs Riley’s arm, fingers digging into the flesh of the guy’s muscle hard enough to leave bruises. Riley’s lips linger for a few more seconds and then he lifts his head again.

Dean shivers when Riley’s hand covers the place his mouth was a moment before, resting lightly on top of the claw marks.

“We’ll work on it,” Riley promises.

Somehow, when he kisses Dean again, the weight of his hand on Dean’s shoulder isn’t quite as distressing.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Riley stays.

Dean doesn’t understand why, but he isn’t going to argue. He’s starting to feel decent again, starting to feel like maybe he’s found somewhere he fits. With someone who maybe, just maybe, likes him enough not to leave.

They spend their days outside—Dean working on cars while Riley watches, or Riley teaching Dean a handful of new signs, or both of them sparring and learning new ways for Dean to compensate for his weakened shoulder. Dean still can’t manage the buck of a gun, but he’s sure he’ll get that back as well, eventually.

Or rather, Riley is sure enough of that for the both of them.

At night, they head inside, and Bobby accepts Riley’s presence with casual indifference. He puts the guy to work cooking—which Riley is thankfully better at than Dean expects he’ll be—and treats both of them like a couple of rowdy teenagers. Riley seems to delight in pushing the man’s buttons, grabbing Dean and kissing him and then grinning at Bobby as though daring him to say something. And when Bobby shakes his head and mutters something about ‘damned kids’ under his breath, Riley celebrates by kissing Dean again.

After dinner, they move into the living room where Dean works on specs for a new EMF reader and Riley pesters him with pointless questions. Dean usually gets in about half an hour of solid thinking before Riley gets bored and starts to distract him by playing with his hair and kissing the back of his neck. Dean’s attention span never lasts much beyond that.

They go out again. To dinner a couple of times; to the local pool hall. Riley’s good at hustling—almost as good as Dean. Almost. He’s actually better than him at poker, though—a fact that doesn’t surprise Dean all that much. Riley’s cheerful mask makes for an excellent poker bluff.

And the more time Dean spends with the guy, the more he gets the feeling that it is a mask. Oh, the pleasure and the zest for life are real enough, but somewhere beneath all of the calm smiles and the optimistic beam of Riley’s expression, there’s something damaged. Dean catches sight of it every once in a while in the form of a diffuse sadness around the corners of the guy's eyes, but the sorrow is always gone almost as soon as he notices it.

Dean guesses he shouldn’t be surprised—Riley’s a hunter, after all, and hunting is the kind of gig that usually comes with a bloody, tear-soaked entrance exam. Bobby's close-mouthed on the subject, though (mostly, Dean suspects, because the man doesn’t know the solution to that puzzle himself), and Dean can’t quite work up the courage to ask Riley about it.

After all, Riley hasn’t asked Dean any painful questions of his own.

Despite those distressing flickers, Dean’s startled to discover that he likes Riley. The guy’s fun to hang around with, and good with languages (he’s fluent in six, dabbles in three more), and he can remember just about any fact he learns—so long as it isn’t about anything technical. He can kiss like no one’s business, is funny and kind and yeah, okay, hot. Dean’s never looked at another guy like that—no one but Sam—and it’s weird to realize that he’s starting to think in terms of personal gratification when he considers getting Riley into bed.

If things were different, Dean suspects he might actually fall for the guy. But things are what they are, and no matter how hard he tries, Dean can’t stop thinking about his brother. It isn’t Riley who fills his head at odd moments of the day; it’s Sam. It’s Sammy with his hazel eyes and his lopsided smiles. It’s Sam’s body Dean is blanketed by when he dreams, Sam’s cock stretching him open, Sam’s angry voice ringing in his ears.

Figures his little brother would come up with a way to keep fucking Dean over even when he isn’t around.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

“Hey, you want to get some ice cream?” Riley asks.

The question doesn’t quite sound as spur-of-the-moment as Dean thinks Riley intends it to: after a month of close-quarters, it’s getting easier to read the guy. But Dean’s also sure that, whatever Riley’s planning, it can’t possibly be worse than pounding away at the piece of crap Ford Bobby plunked him in front of today.

He nods, wiping sweat from his brow with his forearm and packing up the tools he was using. It’s more humid than usual, and from the odd color of the sky to the East, they’re due for a couple of thunderstorms early this evening. Bobby's tools may be banged up and ancient, but they don’t deserve to get left out in that kind of weather.

Dad taught Dean better than that.

The thought of Dad sobers him a little, and he’s mostly uncommunicative on the drive out to Splits. Riley must sense Dean’s mood—or maybe this place is a little crowded for whatever he’s planning—because he picks them up two hot fudge sundaes with all the trimmings and then peels out of the parking lot. They eat while they drive—have to, if they don’t want to be drinking melted ice cream when they get wherever Riley’s going—and Dean is just finishing the last of his sundae when he realizes Riley is pulling into the same out-of-business drive-in.

The place looks even more depressing in the eerie, pre-storm light, and Dean shoots Riley a skeptical look as he parks the Mustang. Although he has to be aware of Dean’s silent inquiry, Riley ignores it in favor of finishing his own sundae.

By the time he’s licking the last of the fudge from his spoon, there’s rain pelting the windows of the car and creating a soothing patter of impact on the roof. Off in the distance, Dean can see flashes of lightning, but it’s safe and dry enough here, and he leans his head back against the seat and shuts his eyes.

“You’re beautiful, you know that?” Riley says softly from beside him.

Dean opens his eyes again and shifts in his seat. The praise shouldn’t make him feel so uncomfortable—after all, he’s heard it a million times before. But the compliment sounds different in Riley’s mouth—there’s less of that sleezy come-on Dean’s familiar with and more reverent admiration, which Dean’s pretty sure he doesn’t deserve.

Cock-sucking lips, he signs, watching the rain out the window.

“No.” Riley reaches out and catches Dean’s hands, stilling them. “No, you’re—not just how you look, although God, even that’s enough to give a guy a heart attack. Just you. You’re beautiful.”

Dean gets what Riley is saying, and it makes him feel even worse. If Riley actually believes that, then Dean’s a better con artist than he thought. Although of course Riley doesn’t know everything.

He doesn’t know Dean’s nothing but a fuck-up, can’t even be trusted to watch his dad’s back on a routine hunt.

He doesn’t know Dean’s been dropped on Bobby’s doorstep like an unwanted piece of luggage.

He doesn’t know about all those nights Dean spent in parking lots with his mouth open and his legs spread.

Most importantly, though, he doesn’t know about Sam.

Dean shakes his head, jerking his hands free, and Riley lets him. For a long time they sit there, while the noise of the rain increases and the lightning gets closer. The violence of the growing thunderstorm outside only makes the still interior of the car feel more claustrophobic.

Dean is starting to consider getting out and braving the elements when Riley says, “So anyway, it’s our one month anniversary, and I wanted to get you something.”

Dean’s startled enough by the words that he glances over, which is a mistake. Riley is too close, and he’s watching Dean too earnestly, smiling in a hopeful way that Dean can’t help responding to.

Better not be a stuffed animal, Dean signs. I’m not that kind of girl.

“You’ll have to wait until we find a fair for that one,” Riley says as he leans into the back seat. “I’ve always wanted to win one of those huge stuffed bears in the game booths.”

The sad thing is, Dean’s pretty sure Riley’s not joking.

He’s relieved when Riley turns back holding nothing more threatening than a brown box. It isn’t even wrapped, although Dean’s pretty sure Riley had to struggle with himself to keep from doing the whole gold paper and bow thing. He offers the guy a thankful grin as he takes the box from him and pulls off the top.

Whatever Dean was expecting, it wasn’t this.

Even in the dim light of the storm, Dean can see the shine of the gun’s metal. There are stylized etchings down the barrel—looks to Dean like vines and leaves. The grips are mother of pearl, the perfect contrast to the darker grey of the rest of the gun.

Dad has a gun like this, Dean remembers, although Dad’s is older and the design etched into the barrel isn’t quite so ornate. The pearl grips aren’t such high quality, either: Dad’s have gone slightly yellow with the passage of time.

Chest too full with thoughts of his father, Dean carefully lifts the weapon from the box. It fits funny in his right hand, everything lining up just a little off, and he has to shift it to his left.

“It’s a Colt 1911,” Riley says. “I, uh, had it refitted with a left-handed grip. I thought it might help with the recoil.”

Dean glances up at him, not sure if he’s more surprised that Riley cared enough to do this or that the guy noticed Dean is still having a problem. He’s been doing his damnedest not to show that the kick has been causing him any pain.

“If you won’t accept it as an anniversary gift, then you can think of it as payment for the work you did on my baby,” Riley adds, tapping the dashboard.

Dean snorts at that. He isn’t sure how much Riley paid for this piece, but as far as payment for the work on the Mustang goes, Dean wouldn’t so much be overcharging as he would be gouging. No mechanic worth his salt would ask so much for a simple tune-up, even one as badly needed as Riley’s.

But now that he’s holding the weapon in his hand, Dean’s itching to try it on the firing range. He has a feeling that it isn’t just a pretty face. Riley knows him well enough to understand that, while Dean appreciates the aesthetics, what he really values in a pistol is accuracy and the size of the holes it leaves behind.

As thunder rumbles overhead, Dean rests the gun on one thigh and signs, Asshole. You couldn’t have given it to me on a day I could actually use it?

Riley laughs, delighted, and leans over to kiss him. “You’re welcome,” he says as he starts to pull back, and Dean gets hold of Riley’s shirt so he can tug the guy back against his lips. After a few minutes, he lets Riley go and does his best not to smirk at how dazed the guy looks.

“Well,” Riley says, blinking and running a hand through his disheveled hair. “I’m going to have to give you shiny new toys more often.” When he starts the car up again, peering out the windshield at the rain, there’s a decided flush in his cheeks.

As they inch back toward the entrance, Dean smacks Riley’s chest to get his attention. When he’s sure Riley is looking at him, he rests his left hand on the Colt and uses his right to sign, Thank you.

Riley’s responding grin is almost bright enough to drown out the storm.

Chapter Text

This time, when Bobby wakes up to the smell of fresh coffee in the middle of the night, he swears under his breath but doesn’t even bothering trying to play dead. Instead, he hauls himself out of bed, grabs his robe, and shuffles into the kitchen.

“Damn it, kid, I thought I told you—” Bobby stops as he takes in Riley’s appearance.

The kid’s leaning against the counter with black circles underneath his eyes. The rest of his face is washed out: pale and drained. His mouth is a flat, sober line, and this has got to be the first time Bobby’s seen the kid without so much as a hint of some sort of smile.

“What’s wrong?” he demands.

Riley runs a hand through his hair, eyes shifting around the kitchen in an unfocused way that Bobby doesn’t care for. Reminds him of Dean those first few, horrible days.

At the thought of Dean his heart beats faster—an instinctive pulse of alarm that fades belatedly as he remembers that Dean is upstairs asleep. The two of them were fine when Riley left last night, and unless they’ve been sneaking around behind his back (damn well better not have been), Dean’s got nothing to do with whatever’s twisting Riley up. Not this time, anyway.

“Talk to me,” Bobby insists, stepping forward, and Riley eels away down the counter, keeping distance between them.

“I have to,” he says, staring at the kitchen tiles, and then stops. After a moment, his jaw firms and he nods. “I have to go away for a few days.”

The tactful response to that is ‘okay, call when you’ve got a chance.’ An acceptable response is ‘do you need back up?’

What Bobby actually says, of course, is, “Why?”

Riley’s hand is back in his hair, restless, as he answers, “I got a call. There’s a—a job, I. I have to go, you can’t say no to something like that, even if you. I got a call.”

“Easy, kid,” Bobby says, keeping his voice level. He’s feeling less and less inclined to let Riley out of his sight. Kid sounds like he’s half outta his mind. “Who called you?”

Riley looks at him for almost two seconds before sliding his eyes away again. “Caleb.”

“And he called about a job?” Bobby checks. He knows that Caleb and Riley are close—Caleb’s likely the one who filled the kid’s head with stories of the Winchesters before Riley ever ran into Dean—but Caleb doesn’t exactly play well with others. He’s damned territorial about the job, actually.

“Asked for me,” Riley confirms. “And you know, I have to.” He stops, distracted, and then says plaintively, “She’s only seven. Was. Was only seven. So I have to find her. If I don’t, if I don’t find her she’s just going to be there forever, all cold and alone, and what it she’s—Bobby, what if she’s getting wet? And she doesn’t. She doesn’t like the dark, so I have to.” He stops again, blinking studiously and swaying a little. “I’m sorry. That was. Sorry.”

“Riley,” Bobby says, taking a step closer with his empty hands held out. “Kid. I don’t know what you’re talking about. You’re not making a lick of sense right now.”

“I’m drunk. A little,” Riley admits, although Bobby’s close enough now to tell that ‘a little’ is an understatement. “I have to go, but I can’t—I don’t think I can deal with this sober.”

“If you think I’m letting you drive like this, you’re out of your goddamned mind. Now sit down and let’s get some coffee in you.”

Riley gives his head a shake. “Caleb won’t wait. Doing me a favor holding off this long.”

If this is a favor, Bobby really doesn’t want to see what it’s like being on Caleb’s bad side.

“You can’t drive like this, kid,” he insists, and Riley’s head comes up. His bleary eyes fix on Bobby’s face.

“You drive me. Can you? Drop me off, bring me to—motel. After. S’I can sober up. I don’t want Dean to—to see me like—”

“You think I do?” Bobby replies, shooting a quick look back into the living room. Riley isn’t exactly keeping his voice down. “Christ, kid, you’ve got the sense of a dog, acting like this.”

Despite the censure, there’s no shame in Riley’s face when he meets Bobby’s eyes. “You don’t know,” he says quietly. “You don’t understand.”

There’s something there, beneath the drunkenness. Something dark and broken and grating that makes Bobby wince and look away. He thinks of the boy sleeping upstairs, thinks of how Dean’ll react if he wakes up before Bobby can get back, and then swears under his breath and stomps over to the back door, turning off the coffee pot on his way by.

Good thing he left a pair of boots over here for emergencies.

“Caleb better be close,” he growls as he pulls them on.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Caleb turns out to be in a dilapidated house on the outskirts of Sioux City.

He’s waiting out on the front porch smoking a cigarette, and when Bobby pulls up he comes right up to the side of the car and leans in the driver’s side window. His mouth quirks humorlessly when he takes in the bathrobe Bobby’s wearing.

“Nice dress, Singer.”

“You mind getting that thing out of my face, Caleb?” Bobby grunts in return, waving his hand through the smoke.

Caleb carelessly tosses the butt behind him, eyes on Riley, and says, “It’s inside. I’d appreciate it if you’d finish things up when you’re done. I’ve had about as much of its mouth as I can take.”

Riley sobered up some on the drive, but Bobby can tell he’s still a little tipsy as he nods and asks, “Should I call the hospital?”

“No point. Crazy bastard jumped out a tenth story window when I was closing in on him a couple days ago. There won’t be anything left.”

And Bobby knows, with a stark, cold certainty, what Caleb was hunting. “You’ve got a demon in there?” he demands.

Caleb gives him a cool look. “Not for much longer. But hey, Singer, if you want in on the party, be my guest.”

He straightens, turning away, and then stops when Riley calls, “Caleb. You gonna be around after?”

“Got a fifth of whiskey in my room if you want,” Caleb answers, voice as soft as Bobby’s ever heard it. Approaching gentle. “Motel 6 over on Madison. Just ask for Carl Burton at the front desk.”

“Thanks,” Riley exhales, getting out of the car. When Bobby starts to follow, he leans back in the passenger door and says, “I’m going in alone.”

“Like hell you are, kid. That’s a demon in there, you don’t know what they’re capable of.”

The look on Riley’s face stills Bobby’s hand on his seatbelt and turns his stomach. Bobby’s met seasoned hunters more than twice Riley’s age who haven’t looked so haunted.

Then Riley blinks, and Bobby watches as the corners of the kid’s mouth lift. The laugh lines at the corner of his eyes crinkle. But his eyes ... his eyes stay as cold and distant as the winter sky.

“Sure I do,” Riley says, smiling, and then straightens and walks toward the house.

Bobby, God help him, sits where he is and lets the kid go.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

It isn’t long before Riley comes back out. He immediately staggers over to the side of the porch and leans down—puking, Bobby’s sure, but he doesn’t know whether it’s from the drink or because of what went on behind those decaying walls. Finally, Riley straightens, wipes his hand across his lips, and comes back to the car.

Bobby doesn’t look over when he gets in, but he doesn’t start the engine either.

For a long time, Riley is silent. Then he says, “It didn’t really know where she was. But they like to lie sometimes.”

Bobby doesn’t know what to say to that, so he holds his peace and says nothing.

After another delay, Riley adds, in a conversational tone, “Do you know how hard it is to get blood out of your hair?”

The suspicion that’s been turning in Bobby’s gut ever since the kid went into the house becomes stabbing certainty. Even without knowing any of the details, it explains so much about Riley. About what he’s been doing with his life; his inability to let anyone in pain be without trying to fix them.

“I’m not talking, like, a few drops—that’s easy. But it gets—”

Bobby shakes his head. “Don’t, kid.”

“Why not?” Toneless. Empty.

With shaking, unsure fingers, Bobby grips the key and turns it in the ignition. “Because I’m not the one you should be talking to.”

Riley sits quietly while Bobby pulls away from the house. He doesn’t protest when Bobby pulls back onto the Interstate without swinging by the Motel 6 on Madison.

It isn’t until they’re passing the state line back into South Dakota that he stirs himself to confess, “I don’t want to lose him.”

The sudden lump that forms in Bobby’s throat makes it difficult to talk, but somehow he manages to choke out, “I know.”

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Dean starts when he realizes he isn’t alone in the room, making a reflexive grab for the knife he used to tuck under his pillow every night before he came here and got lazy. Then it sinks in—it’s just Riley, he’s safe—and Dean drops back down into the pillow with a soft groan. When Riley doesn’t get the message and leave, Dean flops onto his back and signs, Bobby will kill you if he catches you here.

“We have to talk,” Riley says. His voice sounds off—too distant and controlled—and it makes Dean sit up and look over more closely.

He doesn’t like what he sees.

What’s wrong?

“Nothing,” Riley says. “I just need to tell you something.” His mouth lifts in a pale imitation of his usual grin as he starts to rise. “Get dressed. I’ll meet you downstairs.”

Dean leans out of the bed and catches Riley’s hand, heedless of the fact that he’s pretty much naked under the sheets. He can’t sign holding on like this, but the look he’s fixing Riley with says everything he needs it to.

Or it will if Riley will only look at him.

“Downstairs,” Riley repeats instead, and when he gently disengages his wrist, Dean’s worried enough by the way he’s acting to let him go.

He waits for Riley to shut the door to his room behind him and then gets moving, heart racing in his chest and mind flipping through one disastrous scenario after another.

Riley’s about to get arrested. Riley’s sick. Riley’s married. But the one he keeps coming back to—the simplest and the most plausible—is also the most unsettling.

Riley’s leaving him.

It takes ever last ounce of Dean’s willpower to get himself down the stairs, and then he finds Riley waiting for him on the couch with a laptop open in front of him. Dean’s too far away to read the text on the screen, but from here the layout looks like a news site.

When Riley hears him coming, he gets up and moves away from the couch without looking back.

“There’s something on the computer you need to read. If you—if you want to talk to me afterward, I’ll be on the porch. Or if. If you don’t I’ll clear out. It’s up to you.”

What Dean actually wants to do right now is kick the crap out of the guy for freaking him out so much, but the lure of the open laptop is too strong and, as Riley lets himself out the front door, Dean goes over and sits down in front of it.

 

Heir to Multi-Million Dollar Fortune Charged In Multiple Family Murders

 

There’s a color photo just below the headline. It was clearly taken at some kind of family gathering—wedding, maybe, judging from how dressed up everyone is. There’s an older man and a woman, a little girl who looks about eight and another, taller girl who might be as old as fourteen.

Both of the girls are clinging to the legs of the fifth person in the picture, and even though he’s years younger with short hair and a pair of sunglasses hiding his eyes, Dean knows it’s Riley.

Numbly, he lifts the laptop onto his lap and continues reading.

 

The district attorney’s office announced today that they are charging Riley Sheldon with the 1996 killings of Cara and Richard Sheldon, aged 49 and 51, and Sophia and Georgia Sheldon, aged 7 and 13. Riley Sheldon, who was 17 years old at the time of the killings, was sought as a person of interest immediately following the discovery of the bodies of Cara, Richard and Georgia Sheldon on March 14, 1996. He was taken into police custody only four days ago, more than eight months after the murders, and is being charged today with four counts of first-degree murder.

“Although Sophia’s body hasn’t been recovered, we believe we have enough evidence of her death to add her murder to the charges,” said spokesman for the district attorney Eric Donavan. Donavan listed blood and hair samples as among the forensic evidence that puts Sophia at the scene of the massacre.

“It’s difficult to determine how much of the blood came from Sophia, but there was certainly enough at the scene to account for four bodies,” said one of the responding officers.

Witnesses place Sheldon at the house on the day of the murders, and Henrietta Stone, a maid hired by the Sheldons will testify to seeing him flee the house in bloodied clothes one hour before the 911 call that alerted police to the murders.

Police say there is no evidence of a sixth person at the scene.

The preliminary hearing date has been set for

 

Dean scans the rest of the article quickly—there’s nothing of interest—and then clicks on the Related Stories link at the bottom.

He doesn’t bother reading any of the other articles; just lets the headlines wash over him.

 

Multi-Millionaire Family Found Murdered In Bloodbath

Only Son and Heir to Sheldon Fortune Missing

Son Wanted For Questioning in Sheldon Killings

Search for Sophia Sheldon Called Off

7 Year Old Sheldon Girl Added to Death Toll

Sheldon Heir Apprehended In Routine Drunk and Disorderly

Police Say Sheldon Was ‘Verbally and Physically Abusive’ During Arrest

DA To Seek Death Penalty In Sheldon Massacre Case

Sheldon Pleads Insanity; State Psychiatrist To Examine

Sheldon Claims Voices Told Him To Do It

‘I Don’t Remember Where I Put Her’, Says Sheldon

Jury Finds Sheldon Not Guilty By Reason Of Insanity

Sheldon Heir Remanded To Alderson Mental Hospital

 

Carefully, Dean shuts the lid of the laptop and sets it back on the table. He stares straight ahead for a long moment, trying to reconcile what he just read with the guy who’s been goofing around with him over the past seven weeks.

He can’t do it.

Insane or not, no way Riley killed anyone. Especially not his own family. No fucking way.

This is just ... there’s some kind of rational explanation for this.

After a few tries, Dean manages to get to his feet and walks out to the porch. Riley is sitting on the front steps, hands dangling between his knees and head bent. He lifts it when Dean comes over to stand by his left shoulder, but doesn’t turn around. Instead, he squints out across Bobby’s front yard with wet, dull eyes.

Dean isn’t sure what to do. Even if he had his voice, he wouldn’t know what to say. If it were Dad, he’d offer the man a bottle. If it were Sammy, he’d drop down next to his brother and haul him into a hug. Sam always used to like that kind of crap.

Finally, he settles for sitting down next to Riley, close enough that their hips are brushing.

They sit there for a while in silence before Riley says, “I wanted to tell you before, but I. It never felt like a good time.”

What happened? Dean signs.

Riley doesn’t say anything—probably didn’t catch the question from the corner of his eye—so Dean grabs his face and makes him look over. Riley still won’t look Dean in the eye, but he’s at least looking at his hands, which is a start.

What happened? Dean asks again.

“You read what happened,” Riley answers, starting to look away again, and this time when Dean grabs the guy’s face he isn’t too picky with how gentle he’s being.

“I killed them,” Riley says in a tired, resigned voice. “Is that what you want to hear?”

Releasing Riley’s face again, Dean signs, Bullshit. What happened? The gestures are a little bigger and sharper than they need to be—what Riley told him amounts to shouting—but Dean guesses this is a situation that deserves a little yelling. It gets Riley’s attention, anyway: lifts his eyes to meet Dean’s.

He smiles then, tired and patronizing. “You don’t believe I did it, do you?”

Riley still hasn’t taught Dean the sign for ‘no’, and he’s tired of shaking his head, but Dean puts all of his conviction in his eyes for Riley to see and finally, after what feels like forever, Riley’s smile looks a little more genuine.

“You’re incredible, you know that?” he says, leaning his temple against the slats in the stair railing. His eyes slip shut, face loose and expressionless enough that he looks like he’s sleeping. Dean’s about to shake him to get his attention again when he finally starts to talk.

“I was at a party. I was—well, not to put too fine a spin on it, I was shit faced. And I went outside to get some fresh air, and that’s when I saw the smoke.”

He laughs, softly, without opening his eyes.

“I thought it was a fire. See, monsters and ghosts were just stories, and demons, well. Demons were just some abstract notion of evil that the priest talked about on Sunday.

"But I was wrong. About everything. The smoke knocked me down before I could get inside to call the fire department. It crawled in my mouth and down my throat and then everything went dark for a while.”

His smile is almost serene, but the normally cheerful tone of his voice is brittle and bitter when he says, “I got to wake up when it brought me home. I got to watch myself kill them. We did Georgia first so that we could hear Mom and Dad scream. Gutted her with a carving knife, quick and easy. Mom and Dad took longer, after that. We cut away a piece from Mom, and then moved over to Dad, and then went back to Mom. By the time we were done, the living room carpet was red. And it—it made this sound, when I moved. It squished. All that liquid, you know.”

Dean wants Riley to stop talking now—he’s heard enough, heard more than enough—but he senses that Riley needs this. Riley needs to say this.

And if that means Dean has to listen, then Dean’s gonna suck it up and do just that.

“I don’t remember what we did with Soph. I remember hurting her, bits and pieces of it, but I don’t. Not the end. I don’t remember that.”

His breath hitches and although he’s still smiling, Dean can see unshed tears tangled in his lashes.

“She had the best laugh, you know? She wouldn’t talk much, because she knew she didn’t sound right, but man, I loved it when she laughed.”

Riley’s deaf sister, Dean realizes. The one he learned sign language for.

He thinks of how it would feel to be in Riley’s shoes and have done those things—to have hurt Dad and Sam like that—and his stomach turns. He reaches out and grips Riley’s knee. Holds on and hopes that the reminder that Riley isn’t alone right now helps.

“It had me for almost six months,” Riley continues after a moment. “I was out for most of it, once we were done with my family, but sometimes when it was bored, it would. It’d wake me up and we’d do things together.”

He stops for a few moments—remembering, Dean thinks—and then, in a causal tone, continues, "Anyway, eventually Caleb found me. He performed the exorcism, and I was pathetic enough afterward that he didn’t want to leave me alone. One thing led to another, and I ended up following him around. He was just starting to teach me to hunt when I got myself arrested, and, well, you read about that part, I guess.

"They sent me to this hospital upstate, and the docs, y'know, did their thing for about six months. I finally got a clean bill of health, and a proscription for some little blue pills, and they sent me packing out the door. Caleb came and picked me up. He, uh, he had one of those name change forms in the glove compartment. Said Riley Sheldon had paid whatever dues he owed and I needed to be someone else now. I guess Stanton isn't all that different, but anything more felt wrong. Like I was ashamed of them."

He pauses and then adds, "I'm not. They were ... wonderful. I loved them."

It's said with the quiet simplicity of truth, but Dean is still unprepared for the depth of emotion filling Riley's eyes when Riley opens them and looks over. His lips twitch into the small, sad smile that Dean has sensed the potential for, and he tilts his head to one side.

“If you don’t want me anymore, I’ll understand.”

It’s probably the stupidest thing Dean’s ever heard. He gets up decisively, ignoring the quickly concealed flash of pain in Riley’s eyes as he rises, and moves to sit behind Riley instead of next to him. Then he leans forward, wrapping his arms around Riley’s chest and resting his chin on Riley’s shoulder.

It takes Riley a few minutes to relax back against Dean, but when he finally does, Dean turns his face to the side and kisses Riley’s cheek. He lifts one hand and brushes it through Riley’s hair, doing his best not to compare it to the way Sam’s felt.

“Thank you,” Riley whispers.

They sit like that, quietly, until Bobby comes out and tells them to get their asses inside for breakfast.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The next couple of days are awkward. Riley’s tentative with Dean, like he isn’t exactly sure of his welcome, and Dean isn’t feeling all that comfortable himself. He doesn’t know how to act around a guy who’s pretty much been to hell and back. Feeling anxious makes him cranky, of course, and by the end of the second day, his bad mood has rubbed off on Riley, who’s short and snippy with both Dean and Bobby and even goes so far as to yell at Rumsfeld, whom he normally adores.

As Dean watches the dog slink away to hide beneath the porch, his hands move without thinking.

Jesus, are you possessed again or is it just that time of the month?

He freezes immediately afterward, filled with a rush of guilty shame, and waits for Riley’s face to crumple.

Instead, to Dean’s amazement, the guy starts to laugh.

And just like that, everything’s okay.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Less than a week later, Dean is sprawled on Bobby’s couch, propped up on one arm with the coffee table pulled close so he can put the finishing touches on his new EMF meter. It looks kind of fugly, but that’s only to be expected when he pieced it together from an old walkman and any spare bits he could scrounge from Bobby. Riley offered to buy him everything he needed, of course, but Dean’s not all that keen on playing kept boy. Anyway, this was more fun.

And it would have been done by now if Riley weren’t taking up the other half of the couch, tangling their legs together and distracting Dean with a dirty sign language lesson. They’ve already been through ‘dildo’, ‘blowjob’ and ‘bareback’, but Riley’s insistence that Dean learn how to sign ‘cockring’ is, Dean thinks, taking the game a little too far.

Putting down the EMF meter, he signs, I know what you can do with your cock.

Riley tosses his head back and laughs. His eyes are sparkling with humor when he looks back over at Dean, and a moment later Dean stiffens (in more ways than one) when Riley slides his foot along the inside of Dean’s thigh to press against his crotch.

Tease, Riley accuses with a playful wink.

I keep trying to put out, Dean responds. You’re the one who keeps teaching me dirty words without doing anything about it.

I love you.

Dean stares at Riley’s hands, heart beating too quickly in his chest.

Dean, I love you, Riley signs again, expression sobering, and of course that’s when Bobby walks into the room holding his cell phone. Luckily he’s frowning down at the phone and doesn’t notice Dean shoving Riley’s foot out of his crotch and sitting up. Man has excellent timing.

Then Bobby lifts his head and Dean’s relief at being interrupted is dampened by the gloomy expression on the man’s face. His hands flick in an automatic, what is it?, before he remembers that Bobby hasn’t learned to sign.

Luckily, Riley translates for him.

Bobby hesitates a moment longer, letting out a hard, unhappy breath, before announcing, “Your daddy’s on his way.”

Dean’s vision blurs and the room spins around him. When everything settles, he hasn’t moved but Riley is closer than he was, resting his left hand against the nape of Dean’s neck while he rubs Dean's arm with his right. He’s watching Dean with concerned, sharp eyes—with almost exactly the same expression Bobby’s wearing, actually.

Dean forces his mind to start working again and shakes his head. He must have heard wrong. Or possibly had a mini psychotic break.

Because Dad is gone. Dad is gone like Sam, and neither of them are ever coming back.

“He wants you ready to go when he gets here,” Bobby continues carefully. “Which should be in about three hours.”

Dean stares at him. It’s like Bobby is speaking in another language: one Dean never learned. Oh, all the individual sounds are getting through okay, but when he tries putting them together it makes about as much sense as baby babble.

“Dean,” Riley says softly, letting go of Dean’s arm so that he can cup Dean’s chin and turn his head. When he’s sure he has Dean’s attention, Riley signs, Do you want to talk alone?

Dean’s hands fumble on the yes, but from the flicker of comprehension in Riley’s eyes, he understands.

“Hey, Bobby, can you give us a few minutes?”

Bobby glances at Dean, hesitant, and Dean manages a confirming nod. “You boys need me, I’ll be in the study,” he says finally, and then makes his reluctant way out of the room, leaving them alone.

Your dad? Riley signs.

I thought he left, Dean signs back. I—

His hands still, frozen by shame now that the moment of truth has come. But Riley is still watching him with those earnest, blue eyes, and Riley was strong enough to tell Dean about the nightmare of his own life, which is far worse than Dean’s own petty shortcomings, and after a brief delay he gets his hands going again.

I messed up on a hunt. He dumped me here and left.

Riley’s expression darkens. His reply is swift and decisive. He’s a bastard.

Dean wants to be angry on his father’s behalf—Riley doesn’t know Dad, doesn’t understand the circumstances—but he’s still too blanketed by shock to manage it.

“Dean,” Riley says aloud as Dean stares at him. “I didn’t want to push you on this, but—you heard what I said before, right?”

It takes Dean a few moments to figure out what Riley means and then he really, really wishes he hadn’t. His stomach goes back to the awkward twisting it was doing just before Bobby interrupted them.

“I meant it,” Riley presses. “You don’t have to go with your dad if you don’t want to. You could come with me.” He grins, hopeful and soft and a little shy. “Help keep my baby running?”

Oh God, Dean’s gonna be sick. He runs a shaking hand through his hair, cutting his eyes to the side and looking for a way out of this conversation.

“I know you don’t love me back yet, I just. I need to know if I’ve got a shot. I—I don’t know who hurt you—”

Dean starts, jerking his head back over to meet Riley’s earnest eyes.

“—which is probably good because I’d rip the bastard’s balls out his mouth, but I promise—Dean, I would never do anything to hurt you. And I think we’d make a great team, but I need you to tell me whether you think this is ever going to be anything.”

Dean looks at Riley and thinks of his father. He thinks of John Winchester’s silences, and his dark moods, and the way that nothing is ever good enough, no matter how hard Dean tries. He thinks about riding around in the Impala with Sam’s ghost sitting between them, turning the air cold and stealing the breath from Dean’s lungs. He thinks of how it would feel to be constantly reminded of his brother, of what happened, of how Dean fucked up so very thoroughly.

And then he thinks of packing his shit and throwing it in the Mustang. He thinks of waking up next to Riley every morning, of never having to hustle pool for anything other than fun, of living with someone who’s seen enough to understand that you have to squeeze every last bit of joy that you can out of life. He looks at Riley’s hopeful smile, and he thinks of how easy Riley is to be with.

But it isn’t Riley’s name branded on the inside of Dean’s heart. Dean’s never going to feel about Riley the way Riley apparently feels about him and he knows it. He knew it the instant Riley signed the words. He cares about Riley—maybe even loves him, a little, but it isn’t the same as being in love.

It’s not what Riley is asking for.

Dean doesn’t shake his head. His hands don’t move.

But as he watches the light go out of Riley’s eyes, he knows that he didn’t have to.

“Okay,” Riley says softly, drawing away and standing up.

Dean’s thoughts snap back to what’s waiting for him in the Impala—to that cold, icy space between him and his father—and his heart pounds faster, panicked. He pushes to his own feet and grabs after Riley before he can move away. When he catches hold of Riley’s arm, he yanks him back and spins him around and shoves their mouths together.

Riley resists for all of a couple seconds before melting, lips opening and hands coming up to grasp Dean’s hair. Dean hasn’t tried for more than Riley has offered since that night at the drive-in, but desperate times call for desperate measures and he reaches down. He finds Riley half-hard and getting stiffer by the second, but when he tries to open Riley’s pants and free his cock, Riley’s hand is there to stop him.

Twisting his face away, Riley pants, “I can’t do this, Dean. I love you, I do, it scares me how much, but I—that’s why I can’t. I can’t. I can’t have you right there and never—”

Please, Dean thinks, straining forward and getting his mouth over Riley’s again.

This time, Riley pushes him away. The shove is forceful enough that Dean stumbles back a few steps before he can catch his balance. He’s about to move forward again when the sight of Riley’s face freezes him.

Riley, who doesn’t seem to know how to frown. Riley, who even managed to smile while telling Dean he watched a demon use his body to murder his family. Riley, whose expression has gone broken and whose cheeks are wet with tears.

“I’m sorry,” Riley whispers. “I’m so sorry.”

Please, Dean signs. Desperation tastes like metal in his mouth. I can learn.

Riley chokes on a wet laugh, and lifts his hand to pinch the bridge of his nose. “Dean, you don’t. I wish I had time to get through to you, but you can’t—love isn’t something you can learn. And you—I know you aren’t going to believe me right now, but you’re worth more than settling for me.”

We can still hunt together, Dean tries, chasing after another lifeline. I can fix your car, you know I can handle myself in a fight—

“I can’t do that to myself, Dean,” Riley says over the flick of Dean’s hands. “I know I deserve a lot of shit for what I’ve done, but I’m not strong enough for that particular brand of punishment. And I don’t want to end up hating you for something you can’t help.”

Please, Dean tries again, and this time Riley’s fingers flick back in a sign Dean has never seen before but recognizes instantly.

No.

Riley takes a deep, shaky breath while Dean’s throat closes up on him. After a moment, he says with forced evenness, “I can stick around, if you want. Until your dad shows. Maybe we can convince him to let you stay with Bobby.”

So that’s Riley’s solution. He won’t take Dean with him, and he doesn’t want him to go with Dad either. He wants Dean to stay here. Living off Bobby’s charity. He wants Dean to fight for the chance to stay by himself.

Well fuck that shit. Dean’d rather be dead.

Blinking back a sudden rush of tears—Riley doesn’t get to see him cry over this, the bastard—Dean signs, Fuck you. Get out.

“Dean,” Riley says, starting forward, but Dean moves his fingers fast and curt and Riley stops.

No, Dean signs again, more slowly. Leave. Please.

Riley turns and walks out without another word to Dean, although a moment later Dean can hear him speaking to Bobby in the other room. Dean grabs the EMF meter and retreats upstairs to his room to pack.

It doesn’t take long.

Dean’s meager possessions include the duffel of clothes John left behind along with him, the EMF meter, and the left-handed gun Riley gave him. He almost leaves the gun on the bed, but he recognizes the mean, petty impulse for what it is.

Besides, it isn’t like Riley’s going to be poking around up here to see it.

Bobby’s standing in the living room when Dean comes back downstairs, duffel slung over his left shoulder. Dean doesn’t have to ask to know that Riley’s gone.

“You can be a real son of a bitch, you know that?” Bobby says without turning around.

Yeah. Dean guesses he can.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

He sits on the couch with Rumsfeld lying next to him where Riley was less than three hours ago. The dog’s head is a warm weight on Dean’s knee that he scratches in a halfhearted attempt to soothe the renewed ache in his chest. On the other side of the room, Bobby is sitting in his armchair watching Dean while Dean continues to watch the windows for a telltale splash of headlights.

When it finally comes, Dean pushes Rumsfeld off and stands up.

Bobby gets to his feet as well, stepping closer to say, “Dean, look, I’m. What I said before, I’m sorry. Riley knew what he was getting into from the start. Damn fool didn’t listen.”

No, Dean guesses he wouldn’t have.

“You can stay,” Bobby continues haltingly. “If you want, that is. I could always use another hand around here.”

No, Dean signs, even though he knows Bobby can’t understand. Then as an afterthought he adds, although without the smile Riley told him goes along with the motion, Thank you.

Outside, a horn beeps. Dean takes a deep breath and does his best to shut all of the hurt, wounded places inside of him away. To lock them down deep where they belong. Some of the hurts are fresher than others, and they’re all still raw, but the deepest ones are scabbed over enough to manage now.

Anyway, he’s used to the pain.

Steeling himself, Dean starts forward.

“Dean,” Bobby calls.

Dean means to keep going, but stops despite himself. He expects Bobby to say something about Sam, or maybe Riley, but instead the man just sighs.

“You know where I am.”

Dean nods without glancing over his shoulder and lets himself out into the night.

The sight of the Impala idling in the driveway is a blow to the gut, but Dean shoulders the pain and continues moving forward. The lump in his throat aches, making it difficult to swallow as he opens the back door and tosses his bag in before sliding into the passenger seat. The smell of Dad and Family hits him immediately—a second, deeper blow, and his hand stays clenched on the door when he shuts it.

“Hey, son,” Dad says stiffly from beside him. “You look good.”

Privately, Dean thinks that’s a load of crap, but he doesn’t say anything as he looks out through the windshield. Bobby’s watching them. Dean can see the man’s outline silhouetted against the curtain.

There’s a long, awkward moment of silence and then Dad says in a rush, “Dean, buddy, I’m sorry I left. I—I don’t know what I was thinking. You were hurting, and I didn’t know what to do, and I panicked. I know it doesn’t excuse anything, but I—I’m sorry,” he repeats lamely. When Dean doesn’t respond, Dad adds, “If you want to stay here, or if you want me to drop you anywhere, I’d understand.”

The offer is so ludicrous Dean wants to laugh. Where the hell does Dad think he’s going to go?

After a moment, he shakes his head.

“All right, then.” There’s the creak of worn leather as Dad shifts in the driver’s seat and then the man clears his throat and offers, “So there’s this hunt down in Florida.”

Florida. Sunshine. Pretty women who look nothing like Sam or Riley. Dean closes his eyes, forces a smile on his face, and then opens his mouth. His voice, when it comes, is rasping with disuse, but still perfectly audible.

“Sounds good, sir.”