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The Road

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He pulled at the door handle, in perfect time with Sam on the other side, and—

Fire behind, Dad beside, Sammy in Dean’s arms, the car’s flank reflecting as their home burned down. A hole the size of the world in his life. The rumble of the road instead of the words that curled up and floated off before they could leave his mouth, all the pleas for his mom to return disappeared into ashes. Guns and salt and motel parking lots made of gravel, rough under the tires. Knives and names. The way the gears had ground the first time he’d driven the Impala, Dad bleeding beside him and Sammy back waiting for them; had to be strong, not scared at all, Sammy scared for the both of them.

Windows blank with fog, with breath, curled up around each other on the nights there’s no money, nights Dad drinks the money or the car does. Mile markers flash in the headlights, regular as the tick of a clock. Girls in the backseat and always, always the road. Rattle of plastic in the vents. The tapes hiss and reverse; the music starts again. Sam gone, Sam back. Shock of the hit, bodies crumpled inside like tissues. Rebuilt, rebuilt, rebuilt. Resurrected. What’s dead should stay dead. Wheels on the road, going nowhere, going anywhere.

Dean gone, Dean back. Sam gone, Sam back. He’s choking Dean but he’s loving Dean more; he lets Dean go and Dean goes to his knees. Darkness and silence, like there’s no air at all, like a year without a breath. The road: the only thing that stays the same, even when they’re not moving. Back but not back. Crash and jolt and back again. Crash and stop and panting in the backseat, Sam gasping like he’s gutshot, like he’s only waiting for the lights to go out.

The road goes on and the road goes on. He’s different, doesn’t change the oil even though the engine thirsts, grinds wrappers and cold fries into the floorboards. It’s just a car. Gentle hands, the road, he’s careful, so much to make up for, the road.

Blackness surged through him and he fell into it gratefully.

****

Sam was, at this point in his life, a connoisseur of fear. There was the sour-penny taste of physical trauma when a monster was about to hurt him; the miasma of dread when a demon was threatening some horrible new revelation; the generalized heaviness of knowing he was a freak; the waxy feeling in every blink when his mind kept betraying him. But of all the terrors, the heart-clench of fear for Dean’s safety was the hardest, because he could never get inured to it.

There was absolutely no reason that Dean should’ve collapsed. Even when he’d had the Mark, it had hopped him up, not knocked him out. They’d finished the case in good order—a routine haunting, complicated only by a coven of witches who’d also been investigating, with a ludicrous plan to “release the tormented spirit from its chains of being.” On their way into the house, Sam and Dean had just evaded the witches, who’d been dancing naked in a circle under the trees on one side of the house, chanting and generally being useless but nonlethal.

Dean had gotten to burn down the entire house, which Sam generally didn’t like to encourage, but the fire department had responded quickly (he almost hoped they’d gotten an eyeful of the witches) and the silhouette portraits scattered throughout the house that had been sustaining the ghost had all crisped. Sam was ready to call it a win, and then Dean had stiffened, made an awkward noise that Sam had already opened his mouth to mock, and gone down like he’d been cold-cocked.

He’d continued to seize as Sam had maneuvered him into the back seat. He’d bitten his tongue and Sam knew he wasn’t supposed to stuff anything in Dean’s mouth, but it was terrifying to watch Dean jerk, blood drooling from his lips like a vampire fed on dead man’s blood. He’d debated a hospital—seizures weren’t on the list of common hunting injuries they’d learned to handle on their own. But then, five minutes in, Dean had gone still. Breathing, but unconscious. And Sam’s quick googling said that a hospital wouldn’t be much help now that it was over.

Dean would be going to a doctor, at gunpoint if necessary, but they could do that closer to home.

****

He blinked awake. He was in his bed and the bedside lamp was on, just enough that he could see the familiar walls. He felt like the wrong side of a five-day bender, his head a mass of damp cotton shot through with iron spikes. Last he remembered, he’d been looking forward to a drive—

First things first. He put his hands down to push himself upright, and a shudder like orgasm went through him.

He was made of fire, and it was great. No nagging conscience (except for Sammy, have to do something about that). He didn’t care about all the shit he’d failed at. A demon who doesn’t save people is just doing his job. No Alastair on his back, all screams and razors and blood when it could be beer and darts, and if the dart ended up in the shoulder of some asshole who objected to a far more handsome man making time with his date, well, sometimes you have to make an exception for the blood.

But here he was in the fucking Bunker again. He didn’t remember what had got him here, but last time he’d made Sam a promise. And not that he was a demon of his word, but some things needed doing, and Sammy was definitely one of them.

His weapons were back on the walls—sloppy, Sam, what would Dad say?—and it was a matter of a moment to arm himself with a nice new cleaver. He remembered picking it out, testing the weight of it, enjoying the feeling of having a new weapon, one that was all his. He’d been looking forward to trying it out even before whatever’d kicked him back to his carefree, lighthearted self had happened. And Sam did make a large and enticing canvas.

Whistling, he pushed open the door.

Sometimes you just had to go with the classics. “Honey!” he called out. “I’m home!”

Sam burst out of his room, his fearful expression weirdly focused.

“Dean!”

He cracked his neck. “Yo.”

Sam stopped, his eyes going to the cleaver. “What the hell, Dean?”

There wasn’t even a snappy comeback to that. He let his disappointment show on his face. “That’s all you got? Not, I’m sorry, I failed you, all that jazz?”

Sam held his hands up. “Dean, I don’t know what this is, but we’re going to fix it.”

“Tried that, Sammy. Doesn’t seem to have stuck.” Before the last syllable was out, he was rushing Sam, who broke just in time, dashing down the hallway with the speed of a long-time runner.

He was slower by a hair. Probably should’ve done more training. Oh well. A good chase would get his adrenaline up, at least.

“Come on,” he called out. “I’ll make it good for you, I promise.” Sam liked it rough, and he doubted Lucifer had cured that. His mouth watered, thinking of how he’d stretch Sam out. Cut his clothes off first, run the thin edge of the blade down those Baywatch pecs and abs.

Castiel wasn’t going to interrupt them this time, not leaking grace like he’d been last time they’d seen him.

He stalked down the hall towards the reading room, loose and ready.

There was a clang, and solid metal bars incised with Enochian dropped down before and behind him.

Hunh. Apparently Sam had made additional plans in case of his reappearance.

Sam came around the corner, keeping a good six feet back from the bars.

He held his hands out (cleaver included). “Well, you got me. What now? Another round of the cure? ‘Cause I’m thinking you’re gonna have to change the name, seeing as it didn’t work.”

“You’re not a demon,” Sam said.

He snorted. He’d been just an asshole and he’d been a demon, and he knew the difference. “You sure?” he asked, and blinked black—

Tried to blink.

“You crossed five devil’s traps chasing me,” Sam said, and he remembered that, internal demon-proofing as an improvement the Men of Letters had never been cautious enough to do. They’d taken nearly a whole day to do it, doors and ceilings and odd angles just in case something tunneled through. Sam had known just when to hold out the pencil or the masking tape for Dean to take, and Dean had handed them back without moving his eyes from the lines he was drawing. It had been a good day; he tried to keep from thinking about days like that, but now that Sam had reminded him, the details came back. The devil’s traps should’ve at least stung when he trampled through, and they hadn’t.

He raised his left forearm and sliced shallowly across it. He stared until the first drop of blood hit the floor, and the healing hadn’t started.

The cleaver drifted down. He didn’t have any more desire to use it, except maybe on his own stupid face.

“See?” Sam said, and to his credit he wasn’t gloating. Probably because he was worried that Dean had finally gone certifiable, even by hunter standards. After an uncomfortable silence, he asked quietly, “Dean, why did you think you were a demon?”

‘Because I felt good’ wasn’t an answer that was going to make Sam happy. “I don’t know,” Dean told him. “I woke up, and it was like—I felt like I did when Crowley was yammering in my ear, before he got too annoying. It wasn’t a memory. I was there.”

“Do you remember what happened back in Lewisburg, when you passed out?” Sam was at the bars now, his hands curled loosely around them. Dean thought he should stay there, on the other side, protected from Dean and all the things Dean had thought to do to him even while in possession of a soul.

Dean blinked a few times, not to show his inner demon but trying to reorient himself in the now. “I don’t know, Sam, it was like I was hit with our whole lives, you know? Like someone dumped a truckload of history on me.”

“And you just remembered being a demon so well that you thought you were one,” Sam said slowly.

“A memory curse?” Dean said, sounding stupid even to himself.

Sam frowned. “I don’t know.”

“I didn’t touch anything,” Dean defended himself. “I didn’t even insult the witches. Unless they could hear me in the motel, which would mean they were spying.”

“We need to research,” Sam said, those four little words Dean hated so much. Maybe Sam would forget to lift the barrier, and then Dean would have a good excuse for sitting this one out.

****

Sam wasn’t even surprised at this level of denial from Dean. Comparatively, Dean was arguably more forthcoming than he’d been about his crossroads deal, or the Mark of Cain. If that had translated into an easier job figuring out what the fuck was wrong with him, Sam would’ve been a lot happier.

Dean did his usual routine of grumbling, foraging for snacks, and drinking two or three beers before even considering settling down to research.

At long last, Dean came over to where Sam had stacked ten books of possible relevance and four expandable files with promising titles.

“All right,” Dean groaned, hooking a chair with his boot and plopping his ass into it in a motion that shouldn’t have looked as suave as it did. “Just gimme something I don’t have to translate.”

Sam briefly considered one of the folders, then realized that Dean would destroy the order of the records inside and probably leave random pages scattered around. Instead, he pushed over a basic encyclopedia of curses; it had been left out on a reading stand when they’d arrived, as if it was consulted so regularly it didn’t even need a place on the shelves.

Dean put his hand on the cover—

****

Larry said something and Max laughed, that awful honking sound that got more grating each time. Someday, he was going to snap and cast one of the silencing curses on Max. The other Men would probably give him a medal.

David and Ted were debating how to categorize the outcome of the Milton investigation. Ted maintained it was only a Type 3, but David had an itch at the back of his neck, and according to him his itches were never wrong. Ted pointed out that somehow the itches only revealed themselves after relevant events, and David scoffed and said that no good would come of letting a woman think she was an initiate.

Down the hall, someone screamed. He jumped to his feet, hand already reaching for his pistol. A white face, streaked with red, emerged from the darkness of the hallway.

“Josie?” he said, and her mad smile was wide as a carnival barker’s.

She looked at him—

Dean came to himself slumped against the wall. Sam was pawing at his jaw, jabbering at him, and for a moment Dean didn’t recognize his own brother. Fear spiked cold in him as he sat up straight and tried to push Sam away.

“I saw the Men of Letters,” he said, because the fastest way to get Sam to back off was to give him a lead to follow. “Right before Abbadon killed them. I think I was one of them.”

Sam tilted his head, then half-turned to look at the book of curses, abandoned on the table. “Touch,” he said. “You touch something and you get—memories.”

“Fan-fucking-tastic,” Dean said. He shoved himself to his feet. “I need a memory of a beer.”

“Think you have enough of those already!” Sam called after him, but turned back to the books.

****

Nine hours later, Sam stood up, feeling his bones creak like they’d really lived hundreds of years in Hell with his soul. His back ached and his neck ached and the sides of his knees ached, and he was no closer to figuring out what could have happened to Dean. Obviously, the ghost-hunting witches were a candidate, but he couldn’t find a single mention of a spell that would produce this kind of effect. They hadn’t sounded like they were throwing curses. They hadn’t even known Dean and Sam were in the house.

Wait a second. They’d been trying to release the spirit. Sam grabbed for a volume he’d discarded earlier—he hoped it was bound in lambskin—and flipped to a page that he’d passed by because it had nothing to do with memories.

They’d been told so many times that the Winchester and Campbell lines had been brought together for a reason; Sam and Dean had been bred to be the cardboard sleeves around the liquid fire of angels. The demon’s blood had unlocked some potential in Sam. What if the witches had released something similar in Dean?

The ghosts hadn’t been banished by the spell because ghosts weren’t bound to earth by barriers, but by their own choices and delusions. Something the witches might’ve known if they’d bothered to learn more about ghosts, but set that aside. Especially if the spell didn’t have anything else to grab on to, it could possibly have opened pathways in Dean that had been shut.

But if that was what happened, then the chances of fixing it went down a lot. Curses could be lifted. Inherent powers released from behind whatever was walling them off, probably not so much. They could go confront the witches, of course, but the witches didn’t know what they’d done. Maybe, if Sam could study the spell himself—but Sam could already hear Dean asking: when had consorting with witches ever worked out well for them? Imaginary Dean had a good point, good enough that Sam didn’t need real Dean to make it.

****

Dean spent some time in the kitchen testing Sam’s new theory, putting his hands on every random piece of crap he found. One fork gave him nothing, the next was a memory of learning that his best friend had died. Benny, he thought, but it wasn’t Benny; the others around him were all dressed like thirties gangsters, bowing their heads in respect for the dead guy.

Food was mostly safe, thank fuck. And food included beer, which was even better. After six or seven bottles, the memories still kept coming, but with the same insulated feeling as he had for his own memories, which on average were a lot worse. Drink enough, and he could almost live with himself.

When Sam finally joined him, his mouth went tight at the sight of the pile Dean had made (Dean was using a fucking recycling bin, after months of Sam’s nagging; the kid ought to be grateful) but he didn’t say a word. He was clearly saving his conversational ammo for other business.

“I think I figured it out,” he said.

Dean just nodded, because Sam didn’t have the bounce in his step that said ‘know how to fix it.’

“Psychometry,” Sam said. “Also known as psychoscopy—no Dexter jokes, please—or token-object reading. It means being able to see the history of an object by contact with that object.”

Dean didn’t get why having a name for this was so important. They’d already known he was fucked. “Just an object. Not people?”

Sam shook his head. “Lore is, psychoscopy works on things that used to be alive, but not people or animals, even bones.”

Dean reached out and grabbed Sam’s wrist. He didn’t know what he expected—maybe a blast of what it was like to have Sam’s giant brain, like everything around them would grow a label and a list of fun facts attached. But there was nothing, just Sam’s pulse hot and reassuring against his fingers.

Okay then. “How do we get rid of it?”

Sam’s silence was answer enough. When Dean pushed back from the table, planning to find himself a bottle of the hard stuff, Sam coughed. “It’s not a curse,” he said at Dean’s look. “I mean, everything I’ve found says it’s just an ability. Like a regular psychic’s.”

“Those two words don’t go together,” Dean pointed out, even though he knew it was jabbing at one of Sam’s weak spots. Even years later, Sam still thought he was some sort of freak.

“How bad is it?” Sam asked. “Now that you’re expecting it—”

His eyes were so wide and hopeful that Dean wanted to tell him that he’d figure out how to handle this new complication, no problem, get back to being the badass he always was. “Second touch doesn’t work,” Dean said after a pause, because that was important. “So if I just don’t touch anything new, I’m cool.” Pretty soon Sam was going to figure out that a bunker filled with mystical objects with terrible histories was maybe not the best place to try out Dean’s new infirmity, but he was willing to leave that discussion for later.

Of course, Sammy couldn’t leave anything alone, so instead of a nice quiet drunk, Dean ended up playing test monkey in the kitchen while Sam entered results into a friggin’ spreadsheet. It turned out that mass-produced objects fresh from the store were usually safe. The visions weren’t really about the objects; they were about the people linked to the objects. Often factory-packaged things had only been touched for a few seconds by humans, and usually those people hadn’t given enough thought to what they were doing to leave more than the vaguest of impressions. If Dean concentrated hard enough he could sometimes get a rumble of hunger, or an ache between his shoulders, but no more of their stories than that.

By the time he’d confirmed that to Sam’s satisfaction, Sam was rubbing at his eyes like he’d done when he was a little kid. Dean managed to get him up from his seat at the kitchen island, hand on the back of Sam’s neck and not drifting down to his cotton flannel. The coolness of Dean’s skin made Sam jump, and Dean used that to push him towards his bedroom. “C’mon, Sam,” he said, low enough not to startle. “I’ll still be fucked in the morning.”

Sam made a noise of protest, but didn’t fight. And Dean had already taken the memories from his own bed, so after a quick fight with his toothbrush (stocked by a girl who was worried she was pregnant) he crashed into the—hah—memory foam and stared up at the blank ceiling until, at long last, darkness took him back for a while.

****

Sam heard Dean leave the bunker earlier than he would’ve expected Dean to get out of bed. The reason was revealed when Dean came back toting three pairs of leather gloves and a couple of boxes of latex disposable ones. Dean grumbled about cows whose only memories were of farting; Sam wasn’t sure whether that reflected a real memory or just Dean being an asshole.

“So,” Dean said, his lip curling a bit as he examined the crusts of Sam’s no doubt inferior attempt at making toast for breakfast, “found us a new case?”

“Uh, what?” Sam said, with what he thought was fairly restrained incredulity. “Dean, you—”

“You don’t know how to fix it, you aren’t in the library pulling books which means you don’t think there might be something in here to fix it, and there’s still monsters out there that need ganking. So we’ve got to work.” Dean had his what-me-worry face on.

True, Sam didn’t have much of a plan for next steps in treating Dean. Castiel, who might’ve been some help under other circumstances, was off doing a kind of soul-healing retreat in some alternate plane, as best as he’d been able to explain. And true, none of the books or records in the bunker had offered solutions. But that didn’t mean it made sense to go out into the world with a brother who was liable to fall over seizing if something touched him wrong.

Sam said as much, and Dean held up his now-gloved hands, flexing his fingers (and looking more like he was pretending to be a cat than anything else). “And what if you get hit in the head? We can’t do the job with you in a full-body latex suit.”

Dean’s eyes fuzzed as he clearly ran through some sexual fantasy that Sam was probably going to imagine himself, much against his better judgment, later that night. Then he shrugged. “So let’s test whether the mojo works it’s not my hand doing the touching,” he said.

Sam’s mouth dropped open, shocked that Dean hadn’t already figured that out (not that he’d asked), and then reared back when Dean mimed reaching for his fly. “Dude!” he squeaked. “You are not testing whether your dick has psychometric powers.”

“Aw, Sammy,” Dean complained, not seriously. Good thing too, because Sam absolutely would leave him on the floor if he dropped down with a vision with his dick hanging out. “Fine,” he sighed, sounding more aggravated than any teenager Sam had ever seen eyerolling at a parent in ten years of involuntary exposure to other peoples’ families in diners across the country. Dean unbuttoned his overshirt and pulled down the collar of his tee. “Hit me.”

“Sit down,” Sam ordered, casting around for an object they hadn’t yet tried on him. “If you pass out again I don’t want to be worried about concussion. You don’t have any brain cells to spare.” Over on top of one of the bookshelves he spied a copy of Look Homeward, Angel he’d picked up a few weeks ago in a used bookstore and hadn’t had time to read.

Dean managed to keep up the aggrieved act while Sam approached, turning the spine so that it would touch Dean’s bared skin, pale and freckled over his collarbone. Sam swallowed as he first touched the book to Dean’s skin, then pressed further when there was no immediate reaction. Dean frowned, his crows’ feet deepening as he concentrated. Sam moved the book in a small circle, trying very hard not to think about how he was stroking Dean’s skin by proxy.

“There’s … something,” Dean said. “This guy sold the book ‘cause of a bad breakup. I can’t—it’s not like when I use my hands.”

Sam withdrew the book and looked at it, as if it would offer further insights. Then a real thought struck him. “You know, the fingertips have some of the greatest concentration of nerve endings in the body, so they’re capable of telling a lot more detail than other areas of the skin. Maybe it’s the same with psychometry.”

“So what you’re saying is,” Dean said, not quite able to stop the shit-eating grin, “if I had tried it with my dick, I’d have seen just as much as if I use my hands.”

Sam blushed, unwillingly imagining Dean with his hand around his cock, half-hard like he was in the mornings on his way to the shower, rubbing the head slow and steady across—he cut the thought off. That was too much, even for him. With practiced disregard, he brought himself back to the problem at hand.

“Anyway, I guess we don’t have to worry that getting tossed into a gravestone will be any worse for me than it ever was, long as I wear gloves. This could even be useful,” Dean said, sounding more excited now. “How many times have we spent hours in the library trying to figure out some symbol?”

“‘We,’” Sam said, putting a nerdy younger brother’s lifetime of scorn into the word.

“Hey, I’m looking out for your interests, Sammy.” The thing was, Dean wasn’t wrong. This talent had the promise of being a hell of a lot more useful than Sam’s random demon-blood powers; it was consistent—too consistent by half—and it was strong.

“We’ll find something easy,” Sam decided. “Salt and burn.”

Dean leaned back, balancing his chair on its two back legs. “That’s what I’m talking about. None of this demons and angels shit. Light ‘em and leave ‘em.”

“Sure,” Sam said. At the very least, Dean with a short-term objective would be less likely to go off and do something stupid on his own while Sam was trying to figure this out.

****

Dean didn’t mean to find them a werewolf. Current problems aside, werewolves always made him think of long-ago Madison, and Sam’s epic failures in the ‘find a nice girl who won’t die or go evil or both’ department. But he couldn’t ignore werewolves ripping hearts out, either, and it would’ve been uncool to send Garth after his less housetrained cousins.

Sam pouted, but he knew the deal as well as Dean did, and they geared up for a trip to Indiana.

Fortunately, the driving gloves he’d chosen were comfortable enough. Come summertime, his hands were going to be swimming, but for now he thought he could pull it off.

“Gloves are gonna make shaking hands awkward,” he mused as they hit the interstate. “I could pretend to be highway police.

“Tell the witnesses you have eczema,” Sam suggested.

“What the hell is eczema?” Dean bitched.

“It’s not an STD, so don’t sweat it. It’ll make you seem a little fussy, but so does your hair.”

“What’s wrong with my hair!?”

Sam coughed, and if it sounded something like “fifty dollar hair gel,” Dean was just going to ignore that.

When they arrived, the case was the usual bluff-the-locals thing, FBI badges flapped open, blah blah blah down to the morgue. It was small enough that they only had to wait until the attendant went to get a coffee, and then they could investigate in peace.

Sam slid the body on its metal ledge out of the fridge compartment and Dean pulled back the sheet, even though it was obvious from the outline that there was a lot less in the center than there should’ve been. “Man, sometimes I miss the days when this kind of thing grossed me out,” he told Sam, bending over to make sure that the injuries were what you’d expect from a werewolf.

“Yeah,” Sam said, too heavily; Dean had set off another of his mental landmines and Sam was thinking about how they were glorified serial killers, unfit for human company.

Dean sighed to himself. He needed to change the subject, pronto. “Okay, so I’m gonna try my Carnac the Magnificent thing.” The girl’s shirt was still stuck to what was left of her shoulders. He peeled off a glove, stuffing it in his jacket pocket so as not to lose it, and reached out to one of the spots not saturated with blood.

Pain, unbelievably great, like being blinded, and then even more crashed down on her. She felt lighter—that was her arm, it was lying on the ground, it wasn’t a part of her. Oh God it hurt, it hurt, like iron bars shoved through her.

It’s inside me—

Then he was intact, his heart racing and whole in his chest, and for a minute he was sure that he was back in Hell. The feeling of immediate difference, total physical resurrection, was exactly the same.

But he never would’ve heard Sam’s voice—even terrified—calling his name in Hell; that was too much of a comfort. He opened his eyes and looked up. Sam’s face was tight with restrained panic, knowing that he couldn’t make too much of a fuss in a morgue without blowing their cover.

Carefully, he readied himself to stand up from his slump, then right before he put his hand on the wall for balance he realized that he definitely did not want to touch the wall of a morgue and fished out his glove. It felt too tight, hot and scratchy, but it didn’t make him see anything at all.

“’m okay,” he said, and let Sam pull him to his feet.

Then he had to admit his failure. “I got nothing. I saw the wolf—” (nightmare, not real, this isn’t happening—all the things civilians thought, only from the inside this time, things Dean had never had the luxury of believing)—“but it was a wolf, which we knew.”

Sam frowned. He pulled the autopsy report from where it was clipped to the slab and flipped through, reading with the speed that always made Dean feel equal parts proud and inadequate. He stopped and reread a sentence. His eyes darted halfway to Dean, and then he resolutely turned the page.

“What?” Dean asked sharply. He might have phantom pains in his chest (not hooks, didn’t happen to him, only echoes) but he wasn’t weak.

“There were some foreign fibers in her wounds,” Sam said reluctantly. “No match to any of her clothes. It’s possible—”

Dean was already stripping off the glove. It didn’t feel that good anyway.

****

Sam was not okay with this. Dean pretended that having another person’s memory of having her heart ripped out of her chest was no big deal, but Dean didn’t have to watch his own eyes roll back and his head jerk like he was being punched by ghosts. Dean didn’t have to watch his brother’s back stiffen and his legs collapse as his face twisted with agony.

But he could hardly argue with Dean about trying again now that Dean had already been through that; it’d be for nothing if they stopped now, and it wasn’t like they cared anything for evidence protocol.

This time, Dean got an image of the guy who wore the sweater the fibers came from. That still wasn’t immediately helpful, since it turned out that—shockingly—the man wasn’t wearing a nametag, and Dean indicated that he got the werewolf’s-eye view anyhow, so all that he saw was “dude with hairy forearms, like, he might’ve had some wolf in him even before he got bit, and a watch on his right wrist.” But Dean did recall that he got bit while he was visiting a national park over the last long weekend, staying someplace called the Lake Lodge.

Sam managed to trace the man by calling the Lodge and pretending to be a cop. The werewolf’s name was Brian Legg III, and he knew Dean was still shaken when no filthy jokes about third legs were forthcoming.

They staked out Legg’s house, and put him down before he could kill again. A win, and more efficient than some of their hunts, but it wasn’t the magic bullet (so to speak) Dean had plainly been hoping for. Sam was grateful to get back in the car, where Dean would be more willing to talk about it.

Sure enough, an hour outside the bunker, Dean glanced over to where Sam was sitting and said, as if continuing a conversation, “Y’know, I get why more people don’t have their emotionally significant moments staring at themselves in a mirror—outside of romance novels, anyway—‘cause not everybody can be as good-looking as a Winchester. But that was still annoying. Guy couldn’t have spent some time thinking, ‘I, Brian Legg the Third, am about to be eaten by a wolf’?”

Outside, the world was black and white, flashes of highway barriers and nothing else but them, chewing up the miles. Not safe, but the closest thing they had to safety. “Maybe it’s not worth it,” Sam said. “You’re right, there’s no reason the talent would provide useful information.”

“Didn’t hurt,” Dean said, with only the faintest squint of his eyes as he stared resolutely forward; he might’ve as well written ‘I’m lying’ on the car window. “Sped things up, didn’t it?”

“You didn’t look good in the morgue,” Sam told him.

“Bite your tongue. I always look good,” Dean said automatically.

“Seriously,” Sam insisted.

“Seriously, I always look good. It’s nothing, Sam. I just gotta learn how this works. It’s not like I was a dead shot the first time I picked up a gun. I’ll practice.”

Sam couldn’t make Dean’s decisions for him. He still wanted to make sure that whatever had been unlocked in Dean wasn’t costing him more than it was worth.

“When I didn’t have a soul,” he said, ignoring Dean’s grimace, “I did nothing but sacrifice people for the greater good. Or, I don’t even know, for my need to be hunting. My need to win. It’s the thing I hate most about myself. And I don’t want to make you a part of that.”

“Sam,” Dean said, like it hurt him, “that’s not you. It never was. And I know what I’m doing. Okay,” he said before Sam could interrupt, “I don’t have a fucking clue. I mean, I knew what would happen when I touched that shirt. I’m a hunter. I’m—I’m grateful to be a hunter. It’s better than anything else I could be,” and the horrible thing was the absolute fucking acceptance in Dean’s voice, like he was talking about gravity or two plus two equalling four.

There was no chance of reaching Dean when he was like this. “Okay,” Sam said, because Dean only saw reason in stages. “But I’m just saying okay for now. We don’t really know how this power works. If it gets stronger, or worse—”

Dean didn’t say anything. But it wasn’t a no, and Sam had to be content with that.

****

Civilians accumulated so much fucking stuff, it was appalling. Lisa and Ben, even—that still hurt to think of, but it was almost a sweet hurt—they’d been able to fill an entire house with their random crap, all of it drenched in their memories. Dean wondered, if he visited them now, if he touched the kitchen table, would it remember him, or did the angel mindwipe cover that too?

Point was, regular people had probably thousands of things, at least a dozen important enough to them that Dean could get a pretty good picture of them just from handling the object, even setting aside the ones that had taken an imprint of some horrible supernatural happening. Dean could get a pretty good read on any random stranger, if he were allowed to follow them home.

But Sam hadn’t accumulated much over his lifetime; even his weapons were largely shared in common. And Sam was the only one Dean really wanted to know. At least sometimes—other times he thought that finding out how Sam felt about him, deep inside, would most likely be enough to get him to put a gun to his head for real. Plus, Sam would definitely consider it an invasion of his privacy, which there wasn’t much of in the first place.

Still, Dean spent a bunch of time thinking about how he could go about getting a look inside Sam’s giant brain, if he wanted to. The choices weren’t good. Probably the most significant object that they still possessed was Ruby’s knife. And given how that must’ve been made, how Ruby’s Hell-stench and smug betrayal would’ve clung to it, Dean wasn’t going to touch that knife even if a demon put it to his throat.

So they did more cases. It didn’t get more pleasant to experience a victim’s death. Kind of a mindfuck, to experience being torn violently apart and then to have his body intact again. A real blast from the past. But he didn’t get to save anyone in Hell, and that made a big difference. Even if Sam was watching every drink he pounded down with quiet concern. The man was thirty years old; the puppy eyes should’ve disappeared by now.

****

This time, their victim was a junkie, found drained on the floor of an abandoned house. Tossed there like the used condoms and broken vials. And the cops didn’t see him as a person any more than the vamp who killed him. Some days Sam wondered why they spent so much time hunting inhuman monsters, when people were so good at hurting each other without any help from outside.

The case itself went down quickly. Dean had become practiced at extracting the maximum information from his glimpses into people’s lives. He’d even found an app that he could use to create police artist-style pictures of anyone he saw in his visions, though he complained that it was no good on monsters that didn’t look human. So they ID’d the vamp, went in and took its head off along with two others for good measure, and kicked back for the night.

Except that Dean’s beers didn’t calm him. He was alternately flushed and pale, and drops of sweat stood out along his hairline. He tried to hide it, but running water wasn’t enough to disguise the sound of him throwing up the bites of burger he’d managed to choke down at dinner.

When he came out of the bathroom, Sam was sitting on the edge of his bed, arms folded, waiting. “What’s wrong?”

Dean twitched, then swiped at his forehead. “Nothing.”

Sam didn’t dignify that with a response, though he could feel his face getting tighter.

Dean went over to his bag and pulled his sweat-soaked tee off. As he rummaged around for a clean one, Sam noted distantly that his shoulders and back were as broad and muscular as ever. Dean’s animal vitality would never stop drawing him in, like it drew everyone else; Sam had accepted that a long time ago. As long as he stayed just close enough to orbit Dean and not close enough to crash into him, they’d be okay.

Dean shrugged his shoulders irritably under the weight of Sam’s gaze. “If I tell you,” he said, almost too soft to hear, “you’re gonna be mad.”

Sam took a careful breath in through his nose. “Oh, I’m already there. You can’t do this, Dean. You can’t shut me out.”

As Dean busied himself pulling on his new shirt, he began to talk. “Paul was riding the white horse for the past five years. Right about now, he’d really need to be getting well, if he was still alive. How about you grab me an OJ and we can wait it out watching some reality show idiots yell at each other.”

Sam took the order as a peace offering, as intended. “Sure,” he said, soft now that Dean had told him what he needed to know. And later, when he brought Dean a damp washcloth for his fevered forehead as Dean tossed restlessly, neither asleep nor awake, he smiled down at his brother and promised himself that he wasn’t ever going to let Dean go through this alone.

****

Sam got a notice about Dad’s old storage unit—they had to pay up or it’d be auctioned off—and they ended up driving out to New York to load up the contents. The bunker had plenty of lockboxes strong enough to contain the dangerous objects, and it didn’t make sense to keep paying to store a bunch of other crap.

The drive was good, except for the misery of the kid who put together Dean’s hamburger at McDonald’s. Dean didn’t get a name, but maybe Sammy could work some of his computer magic, and Dean’d drop a dime on the parents. He doubted that would help in the long run, but he didn’t know how to save people from other people.

They packed up mostly in silence, putting boxes into the U-Haul they’d rented (no way was Dean going to risk his baby’s suspension on a trailer). There was almost nothing not related to hunting, which was par for the course with Dad. They’d already found most of the mementoes from their childhood the first time they’d visited. There was still a spray of dried blood on the concrete floor from Zachariah’s torture.

Right before they left, Dean gave into impulse and peeled off a glove so that he could touch that very first sawed-off.

He was drowning, pulled under by the wave of emotion, so much bigger than anything else. Like being hit with a wall of sound, if the sound was a need to protect so profound that it wrapped him in a layer of insulation, making his vision waver and his legs too weak to hold him up.

“What is it?” Sam demanded, his hands warm and concerned as he grabbed on to Dean’s shoulders and helped keep him from falling to the ground like a pile of dirty laundry.

Dean was gasping, straining to breathe even though it was like getting thrown off the world, spinning in a completely new direction.

“Dean!”

“He loved me,” he said, not even meaning to.

Sam looked from Dean to the shotgun and back. His face softened in terrible compassion, and that was even worse. Dean ducked his head, but Sam wouldn’t let him go, hugged him close. “Of course he did,” Sam said, voice filled with saddened wonder. “You have to know that.”

Dean shook his head involuntarily, still dampening Sam’s shirt. Yes, Dad had sold his soul—but it wasn’t the same, knowing that and feeling this. An emotion so big he hadn’t known it could be shared with more than one person.

Sam didn’t make him talk about it, just delayed their departure for an hour while Dean showed him exactly what he’d done to cut the shotgun down, using tools from the garage where Dad had been working at the time. Sam knew this stuff already, Dean understood, but he appreciated the effort.

****

They worked more cases.

Sam grew increasingly concerned for Dean. There was one incident where Dean had to go through six charred corpses before he found a clue that actually helped identify the doer, which turned out to be an ifrit. The others hadn’t seen anything but their own deaths.

Dean said that he was fine; if Dean had been smarter, he would have complained loudly and Sam would’ve known that the pain was bearable. Instead Dean drank whiskey like he was hoping for a prize at the bottom of the bottle, and he didn’t sleep until they’d returned to the bunker. Every hunt strung him out a little more, made him more eager to get on to the next one. He was burning himself down, and Sam didn’t know what to do about it.

Dean balked at certain motel rooms, or sometimes just at a towel or a mattress. He always made a face and named some sex act that he insisted had been performed between two (once, three) extremely unattractive individuals, but Sam had been in enough motel rooms to know that most of the stories were likely far uglier than that. Still, unless the whole room was so contaminated that Dean got too antsy to stay, they wouldn’t switch rooms; they didn’t need to draw that much attention. It was hard for Sam to sleep on a mattress he knew had seen the kind of human darkness that didn’t need demons. He’d been doing it for years, sure, but it was different to be confronted by it, even only indirectly in the form of Dean’s flinch.

****

Dean was sitting in the car in a motel parking lot, waiting out another of Sam’s snits over how Dean was drinking too many meals and watching porn through too many nights. So what else was new, right? But Sam didn’t see it that way. Dean had eventually given up and gone to wait for Sam in the car. Sam’d be out eventually, when he’d calmed himself down enough to convince himself that a reasonable lecture would work better.

He pulled off a glove, struck by an impulse, and put out a finger to brush over the amulet those fangirls had given him. A wave of exhausted satisfaction rolled through him—late nights at the school, working to make something with other people who wanted the same, magic for people who didn’t know that real magic existed. She hadn’t known much about Supernatural when she started, but she wasn’t just a props mistress; she was the props mistress, and she did her homework—the whole series’ worth. And maybe read some fan fiction too, because let’s face it, beautiful boys hunting things and saving people were a relief from the endless pressure of AP homework and volleyball and civic responsibility that might help her get into an Ivy. When she cast the amulet in the school’s art room, she wanted it to be perfect—and visible from the back seats. Maybe it had come out more Dobby the house elf than all-knowing Buddha figure, but she’d made it with her own hands, for a cause she loved, and she’d planned to keep it as her souvenir of the production.

The door creaked open, startling Dean out of his reverie. Sam slid in beside him as Dean replaced his glove, moving slow like he wasn’t embarrassed to have been caught mooning over that ridiculous fan story.

“I guess there are some good parts to the power, too,” Sam said, because Sam didn’t need to be able to read minds to know what Dean was thinking.

Dean shrugged. “I can handle it. I can save people. How many people are alive because we’ve been able to find the bad guys faster?”

“We saved lives before,” Sam insisted, half-turned on the seat so that he could look at Dean, giving him the full big-eyed begging treatment. “We can do it again.”

Dean shook his head. “This isn’t like the Mark. It isn’t making me into a monster.”

“No, it’s hurting you,” Sam said, like Dean didn’t know that.

“I been through worse.” It meant a lot that Sam cared, though. Probably enough to keep Dean going, really.

“Not a good enough reason,” Sam said, like shutting the bunker door on the rest of the world. “Look, I—I want you to read me, okay? An object important to me.”

Dean had never expected Sam to say it outright. He wasn’t that good at predicting Sam, honestly, once you got past the aliases and moves in a fight. He closed his eyes. “Sam, I know, all right?”

“Dean,” Sam sighed. “What do you think you know?”

He wanted to hate Sam for making him do this, but it was less than he deserved. Sam had already said every brutal truth to him one time or another. He didn’t have to look Sam in the eye, at least. “I know how pathetic I am,” he rasped. “I fucked up any peace you ever got. You stick with me because I fucked you up enough you think you can’t leave. You think you have to take care of me. And the worst part is, I’ll take it.” Sam ought to have someone who could give him hope, but what he had was Dean.

He could hear Sam shaking his head. Sam maybe even believed his own denials. “That’s not what this is, Dean. But if you think it is—you owe me. If you're going to do this you need to understand what it costs. You're not less important than anyone else.”

Dean couldn’t keep his face straight at that one. Importance wasn’t the problem. Not with all the shit Dean had done, to Sam and so many others.

“Dean. Please. I need you to do this.” When Dean dared a look, Sam’s eyes were like a Southern preacher’s, rock-solid certain of an order to the world that existed only in his head.

He’d let his brother go to Hell at a similar request. Hard to imagine how this could be worse, even if it was fresher. “Fine,” he said, putting his hands on the wheel for strength. “Let’s hit the road.”

****

For all the time Sam had spent thinking about this, he still wasn’t sure whether it would actually work. The cases they’d done had taught them that Dean’s powers latched on to emotionally powerful events in the vicinity of the objects he touched, and given the plural apocalypses they’d been through, there was no guarantee any memory Dean got from any of Sam’s stuff would be from Sam’s viewpoint.

But there was nothing to do other than try.

His choice was an old hoodie. He had no clue how it had survived so long. It was stained and the cuff of one sleeve had unraveled, but it was recognizably Sam’s, maybe almost since Sam came back on the road with Dean after Jessica died. It had spent years stuffed into a back corner of the Impala’s trunk. Sam could only hope that it had picked up more from him than from the car; if there were an inanimate object that could have a viewpoint of its own for Dean to see, it would undeniably be that car.

Dean didn’t mention his promise all the way back to the bunker. But he turned on the music and hummed tunelessly along, which he hadn’t done in a while. Sam chose to treat that as a good sign.

****

Sam came to Dean’s room that night, holding a bundle of gray fabric that looked washcloth-sized in his huge paws.

“You sure about this?” Dean asked. “This is me gettin’ in your head.”

If Sam had said ‘it’s worth it,’ Dean would’ve thrown him out right then. He wasn’t going to let Sam make another sacrifice on his account. Instead, Sam nodded. “I want you to know,” he said.

“Okay,” Dean said, and sat down on his bed, just in case he pitched a fit. He tugged off a glove and held his hand out.

The cotton was soft against his skin—

A thousand thoughts, all at once, calculating and hating how the calculations kept him at a distance. Staring at Dean, wanting nothing more than for them to be okay, just okay, just for once. Wanting Dean to see him, not a little brother but a man. Dean like a pillar of fire, like the sun he needed to live and so always let burn him. Dean whose suffering made him feel flayed, so helpless, small again. He’d rather have his fingernails torn out than watch Dean crisp away to nothing like he was doing, leaving Sam behind again. Dean got cut, but Sam bled. Sam wanted so much only to stop the bleeding.

Dean came back to himself gasping for air, Sam poised above him like he was about to start in with CPR. Sam’s face was unfamiliar, the flawed and twisted creature Sam saw when he looked in the mirror so different from the unbendingly strong man Dean knew.

“Sam,” he said, because it was the only word he knew, and reached up to put his hand on Sam’s cheek, grinning helplessly through the crystal haze of tears that couldn’t even embarrass him right now. “Sammy.”

Slowly, as if afraid Dean might jump up at him, Sam raised his own hand to cover Dean’s, big and warm and comforting. Sam opened his mouth, but nothing came out.

Dean’s home didn’t burn down when he was four. His home was right here, and it had no plans to go anywhere. Also, his home had jerked off to fantasies of him for about ten years, and had recently, half-resentfully, returned to doing so now that he’d lost any regular sexual outlet.

Dean could process the sex thing easier than the rest, so before he could think any more he said, “That really how you feel?”

Sam nodded.

“All of it?”

“Yeah,” Sam said, and Dean could tell that his near-smile was from Dean’s thickheadedness. Dean was being deliberate, that was all, you’d think Sam would appreciate it given all the times he’d yelled at Dean for running first and thinking never.

“Sammy,” he said, “you are the bravest, dumbest guy I’ve ever met.”

Sam’s expression lightened further, and Dean’s heart was pounding fit to run an engine. “Dumb?” Sam asked, dimpling. Dean felt the movement under his hand, Sam’s smile changing them both, making Dean’s blood run hot and his bones heavy.

Dean gestured at himself with his free hand. “Me?” Whole world out there, and Sam knew it, thought about it, and chose

“You,” Sam confirmed, and then he was bending down, his huge hands tight on Dean’s shoulders, and then—

****

Sam had honestly never thought they’d go here. It was enough, without that. He didn’t have Dean’s needs, even if he enjoyed sex as much as the next guy, which he knew because he’d been the next guy, back when he’d been without a soul.

But he’d wanted it, in a theoretical and distant way. The concrete, sweaty reality was overwhelming, and he had to struggle not to shut down the way he’d learned to when the bad overwhelming things happened. He didn’t have anything to compare this to. It was just Dean, giving himself all the way.

Dean, wide-eyed underneath him, holding himself so still as Sam sank down. Dean’s dick had none of Dean’s uncertainties, hot and spearing into him, making him into someone new. He was stretched impossibly wide, like all the impossible things he’d done for Dean. Dean’s body had a fevered stillness, as if he moved his dream would fracture.

“Come on,” Sam urged. Dean put his hands on Sam’s hips, still hesitant, not sure he was allowed. Dean’s fingers were shockingly cool against Sam’s skin, making the thick throb inside him even more powerful. Sam rose up just enough to feel the drag inside him, then subsided. Dean’s mouth opened and his eyelids slipped down until only a gleam was visible. Sam reached out and pressed his thumb down on Dean’s lower lip, which yielded immediately, enveloping him in wet heat and teasing him with the scrape of teeth. Sam’s cock jumped, and he almost wanted to pull off so that Dean could suck him off. But having Dean, allowing him in, felt too good.

Dean’s fingers clenched and Sam jerked, which changed the angle and sent an electric shock through him. Like that, they were fucking frantically, Dean’s hips pulsing up as Sam surged on him. Dean spared a hand to wrap around Sam’s cock, the dry friction almost too intense. He jacked Sam with a perfect rhythm he must’ve picked up over decades living in the same rooms, the muscles of his arm flexing and reminding Sam of his strength. Sam had always expected Dean would have a filthy mouth, but he was silent except for grunts every time he punched his hips up. Sam’s panting breath was louder by far.

Sam leaned back, bracing his hands behind him on Dean’s solid quads, slipping a little on the sweat between them. Dean’s thumb swiped over his shining cockhead, and that was enough.

Sam seized up around Dean’s dick. He came in thick white lines across Dean’s stomach up to the place where his amulet used to rest. Every pulse blanked his vision and his brain. Dean stroked him through it with the same steadiness he’d use to clean a weapon. Sam shuddered, body buzzing down to his fingertips with pleasure.

Dean’s stunned expression turned savage. He grabbed at the meat of Sam’s ass and fucked up into him, sending them both off the bed and back down. Dean’s teeth bit deep into his own lip—Sam made plans to do the same as soon as Dean gave him the chance. He watched in fascination as Dean threw his head back, exposing his neck. Dean’s cock pounded at him where he was so sensitive that he couldn’t tell pleasure from pain.

The smell in the air was thick and dark, different than their usual mix of sweat, soap, and blood—a subtle alchemy had taken place, making something rich and strange.

“Sam,” Dean groaned, long and low, then twisted his hips once more, pressing into Sam as he came. His chest was flushed, his nipples peaked, and Sam could see the freckles sprinkled across his shoulders—it seemed fundamentally Dean, that his skin was the same whether it was hidden from the world or not. Sam reached behind himself, where they were still joined, feeling the twitch of Dean’s cock as it shivered with aftershocks. He moved just enough that Dean whimpered and Sam felt the first slippery traces of Dean’s come slipping out of him. Then, reluctantly, he eased off and laid down next to Dean, chin propped up so that he could see Dean’s face and arm splayed across Dean’s chest just in case Dean decided to freak out.

The room was still. They were here, safe, and they were together. Happiness filled him like helium; Dean was the string that kept him tied to the world.

Also, Sam was going to be sore into next week. Especially since he planned on making Dean repeat his performance regularly. Sam grinned into Dean’s pillow and hoped his memory foam would remember this.

****

He never would’ve pegged Sam for a roll-over-and-fall-asleep guy, Dean thought, Sam’s arm strapped across him like a seatbelt. Then again, he was probably pretty clear that Dean had enjoyed himself. Speaking of which, Sam had pinned him down so long that he was going to be disgusting until he managed half an hour in a hot shower. So there was really no point in trying to get up now.

He could freak out, he supposed. Pretend that this was a total shock, that this was the one line he’d never meant to cross. Or he could enjoy the idea of getting lucky on a regular basis, in his very own home, with the one person he needed more than anything else. Even for him, that wasn’t a particularly hard choice.

Dean drifted in and out of sleep, letting Sam’s warmth tug him back down every time he thought about getting up, until at last he woke to Sam not-so-subtly humping his leg. He wasn’t going to turn down an invitation like that, even if it meant scrambling awkwardly for a new bottle of lube since they’d used up the last one in their haste last night. Sam watched him fumble in his bedside drawer, smiling indulgently, which meant that he was paying enough attention to see Dean’s flinch.

“What?” he demanded.

“Nothing,” Dean said, and really meant it given the alternative to talking, which was getting laid, but then he had to relent under Sam’s pissed-off glare (which clearly meant that the alternative to talking was not getting laid). “Just got a flash of somebody who unpacked this thing from its box, that’s all.”

He could see from Sam’s calculating expression that Sam was already considering alternatives. Maybe olive oil or something else that counted as food even if you used it as lube. Dean wouldn’t mind experimenting, as long as they could return to the fucking right now.

But there was no point in wasting good lube, after the memory had already been triggered, and Dean coaxed Sam over onto his stomach so that he could work Sam open nice and slow, with bonus nibbles on Sam’s ass when the temptation got too great. Sam’s back was, objectively speaking, gorgeous: broad and muscled, golden skin dotted with moles that Dean planned to connect with his tongue, except that right now Sam was groaning and telling him to get a fucking move on, Dean, you’re not that big.

Dean just snorted—Sam was a wiseass even when it came to getting ass, no surprise there—and slicked himself up, closing his eyes and grabbing at the base of his dick until he was calm enough to continue.

Sam felt even hotter and tighter in the morning, all the space Dean had made for himself needing to be reclaimed. Dean worked his hand under Sam’s belly and pulled him up as he spread his knees, forcing Sam’s legs wider. Sam would tell him if he got too rough, but he had an inkling that Sam wouldn’t. Sure enough, Sam shook underneath him and tossed his head back. His eyes were closed and his face blank with bliss.

Dean gave it to him good and regular, jerking him off in rhythm with the back-and-forth of his hips. Sam’s dick was so fat he could barely get his hand around it. “I wish I could suck and fuck you at the same time,” he said, dreamily imagining it—all those doubles he’d encountered could’ve been useful for something, after all—and Sam bucked underneath him, enough that Dean had to wrap his free arm around Sam’s chest and redouble his efforts to fuck Sam senseless.

Sam came with a grunt that was Dean’s most satisfying accomplishment in a long time. He’d reduced his brother to this sweating, shaking animal, Sam’s genius brain and Sasquatch strength all given over to him. He didn’t deserve it but he’d take it, take everything he was given. That thought pushed him over the edge as well, lighting up every nerve with electric fire.

Afterwards, Sam didn’t push him away, so Dean kept his hold on Sam even as they slumped over, not quite spooning (Sam was never going to qualify as anyone’s little spoon).

“We should get up,” Sam said eventually, with the questioning tone of someone who wanted to hear the arguments to the contrary.

“Or,” Dean said, “we could stay here a while longer and I could make pancakes later.”

Sam made a sleepy, affirmative-sounding noise. “Don’t know why we waited so long,” he said into the pillow. “Should’ve stuffed you into that hoodie soon as we figured it out.”

Dean closed his eyes, struck once again by how he was always running to catch up with Sam. “Sam,” he said, and swallowed, pressing his forehead into the sweaty skin at the back of Sam’s neck. “I wish—I wish I could do that for you. Let you see how I—” It was no good. He couldn’t even get the words out; from him, the idea was just a cop-out, another acknowledgement of all the ways he failed Sam.

But when Dean raised his head enough to see, Sam half-turned to look at him. There was no judgment in Sam’s eyes. “I know. Maybe more than you do.”

****

Even though Dean maintained that his life was four thousand percent better now, Sam was no happier with Dean’s unwanted psychic talent than before. He’d seen the horrors of this world and the next grind Dean down before, and he wasn’t going to let a chance for real contentment slip out of his hands just for some occasionally useful information.

Fortunately, Dean turned out to be much more agreeable when approached while Sam was giving him a handjob.

They agreed that the best place to start was where he got cursed. They’d ID’d the head of the coven initially. Dean suggested that they could go in while she was at work and he could use his power to figure out where her spellbook was. Worst case scenario, they could try to reverse-engineer the unlocking spell into a locking spell.

Sam wasn’t so sure that breaking in was the smartest move. “We could just ask,” he pointed out.

“Yeah, ‘cause witches have really proven they can be trusted,” Dean tossed back, happily sharpening his knives.

“Screw up a break-in and we’re not going to get a chance to convince her to help.” Sam checked the enchanted cord he’d found in a box in a corner of one of the storage rooms. Supposedly, it could be used to bind a witch and keep her from her powers—the idea was to keep her secured while you burned her alive, but Sam was hoping it also worked for less final methods of immobilization.

“Go up and ask, and if she says no she’s gonna be expecting us.”

They spent a while debating, before Sam finally conceded to Dean’s argument that the effect on him had obviously been an accident. Whatever he’d inhaled from the burning house had triggered it. “I’m not gonna be polite to a bunch of incompetent witches,” he said, and Sam knew that was a fact; Dean could barely be civil to witches when he knew they could break him in half. The gentle approach required someone who could in fact be gentle, and Dean wasn’t going to let Sam go ask on his own.

So they went into the witch’s house covertly, midday, dressed as exterminators. Then Dean dicked around touching random shit, because he was Dean, until finally he found a little cat figurine that gave him an image of the coven’s circle, where they did all their spells—

Out in the middle of the forest, of course. Which meant another day of hiking, and Dean bitching, and Sam not getting fucked because it was a bad idea while they were on a hunt. (Dean possibly had a little bit of a point when he said that, for a guy who lived like a monk for years at a time, Sam got kind of grumpy when there was the actual prospect of sex but he was denied it.)

Fortunately, the spellbook was open on the altar when they finally arrived at the witches’ cabin, which in Dean’s loudly expressed viewpoint had a sad lack of being made out of candy. Sam flipped through, translating on the fly and taking photos of anything that looked remotely relevant, including what he recognized as the initial unlocking spell. They’d probably mistranslated a Hebrew word for its Latin cognate, he thought on quick inspection.

Before he got too absorbed in geekdom, as Dean called it, Dean tugged his arm and they got out, uncaught.

****

Sam said that he’d fixed the spell, and that now that he’d seen how it had gone wrong he could probably reverse it. Dean believed him, if only because he doubted Sam would put Dean’s life at risk with as great an ease as he’d gamble his own.

“You realize this makes you a man-witch, right?” Dean asked him. Sam rolled his eyes.

There was a “make me a sandwich” joke in there somewhere, Dean thought. Hmm, he could go for some food right now. “You want anything?” he called over his shoulder, already putting thought into action.

“Nah,” Sam said, but from the distracted tone in his voice that was only his ‘all my energy goes into thinking and I am a creature of pure thought’ reflexive answer. He’d eat if Dean put a plate in front of him, and he should, so now there was something that Dean could be useful about.

Later that night, when Dean was stretched out temptingly on the bed, already wearing only his boxers, Sam hesitated instead of joining him.

“Before we get rid of it,” Sam said, blushing hotly. “There’s something.”

“What?” Dean asked, fascinated. Sam was a hundred percent filthy in bed, all ‘put your fingers in my ass, Dean’ and ‘suck my balls, Dean,’ and Dean was almost nervous thinking about what Sam might consider edgy.

Sam fumbled under the bed and brought out a box. After turning a few shades deeper red, he opened it. Inside was a substantial purple dildo—not bigger than Dean himself, but clearly not for an amateur.

“Sam?” Dean asked, because he needed a little help here. “You want me to use it on you? Or on me?” Either way could work, he thought.

Sam shook his head, eyes lowered. His voice was much lower than usual, a rumble that barely reached to Dean. “I already used it. I want you to touch it while we’re fucking. So you feel what it’s like, for me.”

Dean went from vaguely interested, the way he pretty much always was when it came to sex, to painfully hard in less than a breath. He wasn’t going to be able to speak for a minute, so instead he nodded vigorously and started to wriggle out of his boxers.

He was probably overly hasty prepping Sam. Then again, Sam didn’t mind if it hurt some, and the thought of having Sam in so many ways at once was nearly enough to make him blow his load before he even got the action going.

Sam gripped him so hot and tight Dean thought he might have a heart attack. He barely managed to get going in the rhythm he knew Sam liked, forcing his hips to move on autopilot and biting his own lip until it tore and bled, before he was begging Sam to hand it over, please please please.

Sam braced his weight and Dean’s on one amazingly muscled arm and used the other to bring the dildo up. Dean touched it—

Sam’s head was almost never quiet. Even sex, most of the time, didn’t quite mute all the niggling worries, all the little self-reminders of his fuckups. But right now he was filled up, stuffed too full for anything but pleasure, thinking about Dean and about how Dean would be feeling the exact same thing, they’d be feeling it together. Every fiber of Sam was Dean’s, and every cell of Dean’s was Sam. Dean’s cock stiff and wet in his fist, Dean’s ass clenching around the intrusion: Sam was doing this for him, giving this to him. Giving him everything. He said Dean’s name as the lightning crawled up his spine—

Dean came back to himself in a tangle of legs and arms with Sam, still inside Sam and Sam making no moves to throw him off. “Um,” he managed, not quite anxious yet, too blissed with pleasure to be really worried. “You need a hand?”

Sam snorted, which shifted Dean’s half-hard cock in interesting ways. “Nah,” he said, and the thick satisfaction in his voice said it was true.

****

They prepared in the main research room, because that had enough room to move if something went wrong, as well as all the containment devices Sam knew how to set up. “This is a kind of blinding,” Sam said before he started the spell, honesty compelling him to give Dean one last chance.

“Some things aren’t worth seeing,” Dean said. He hesitated. “But if you –”

“We did okay without this,” Sam said firmly, though that was sometimes debatable. What wasn’t in question was that Dean needed to stop seeing people die from the inside, the way he did now. He wasn’t going to quit hunting, so this talent—even if it had always been a potential part of him—had to go.

Since Sam was a lot better at Hebrew than the errant coven, the spell wasn’t that difficult, in the end. There was a flash of bright light that half-blinded both of them for several minutes, and then Dean had a headache that, he said, felt like somebody’d driven a railroad spike straight through his eye and out the back of his head. But after he threw up a few times and napped for a couple of hours, he said he was ready to test their success.

Sam handed him the least dangerous thing he’d been able to find in the archives, a rock that had been taken from Frances Griffith’s garden as part of an old investigation into whether the Cottingley Fairies that fooled Arthur Conan Doyle were real or fake.

Dean held it for a moment in the palm of his hand, then looked up. “I got a rock,” he said.

“It’s gone?”

Dean reached for one of the spellbooks Sam had consulted, pressing down hard on the spine. “It’s gone,” he said, and looked up. “My hero.”

Sam couldn’t stop smiling, hard enough to hurt. “Do I get a hero’s reward?”

“Depends,” Dean said, unsuccessfully fighting his own grin. “How does the hero feel about gettin’ eaten out and fucked?”

“Only one way to find out,” Sam told him, and Dean shoved all the spell materials to the side, clearing a space on the table. (Sam winced and ignored the mess.)

“Did we do the right thing?” Dean asked some time later, his head pillowed on Sam’s chest. Sam’s back was going to hurt something awful, and they might need to refinish the table, but that didn’t mean he planned on moving any time soon.

“Yeah,” Sam told him. “We’ll keep saving people. Neither of us need psychic powers. And us? We know all we need to know about each other.”

“I might need some reminding,” Dean admitted.

“That’s okay,” Sam told him. “I might need to remind you.”