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His life was a long series of Befores and Afters, but the most recent one was the biggest. Before, there was darkness like fog, like algae-choked water: something that he only recognized as the absence of pain once it was over, when Sam said his name.

And as soon as he'd said it, Dean knew he was Dean, that this was Sam, that his brother had brought him back. He knew that all after, not before. The things he knew from before were better left on the other side of the line. They'd been raised to leave extra baggage behind, and there was no better application of that rule than to Dean's resurrection.

Funny thing: Sam looked different, but not in any way Dean could explain to himself. Sam wasn't bigger or smaller, thinner or fatter. He didn't even have new lines on his face carved by Dean's absence (and eventually Dean was going to find that unfair, though as long as the sun was still a warm golden shock on his face each morning he was willing to put off complaining). Sam was just--closer was as good a word as Dean could find. Dean always could have drawn a map of every mole on Sam's body, but now when he touched his own skin it was like feeling his fingers brush against Sam's.

He thought that he had wanted this, a couple of befores ago: wanted Sam to turn his face away from the rest of the world. After his deal, he'd realized that what he'd wanted wasn't right, that one person shouldn't blot out the rest of the world for another. Funny that he'd learned that lesson just in time to watch Sam collapse in on himself, on them, like a house imploding.

Now he knew something different, which was that when he looked down at his shadow, he could see it merge with Sam's into a single body. Four feet, moving in easy rhythm; a shifting number of arms as needed. No matter what, when they were within a few feet of one another--and they always were, now--their shadows overlapped.

It was easy to imagine that the shadows knew something he didn't. He could even believe that the blood in their veins moved from one heart to the other, Siamese twins who'd figured out how to fool the rest of the world into seeing them as separate. It was wrong, but it was true, and he knew it as well as Sam did. Dean was selfish enough to accept the new order without fighting.

So, like war veterans with prosthetic limbs, they were slowly learning how to get around again, mostly getting by, doing the hunts Dean wanted and having the conversations Sam demanded.

Then they got caught again.

****

"I've got a theory about you."

The interrogator spoke so softly that Dean found himself leaning towards her just to hear. That was stupid, since it made the cuffs chafe on his wrists, and he really didn't care what she was saying. But she was cute enough--wide lips, straight bold nose, shiny shoulder-length black hair--so he guessed it wasn't shameful or anything to be drawn in. Anyway Sammy was listening intently, which meant that Dean needed to keep an ear out just in case she convinced him to try explaining. Never worked, but Sam would keep trying, especially for the sincere ones, and Agent Rao did seem sincere.

"Agent Henricksen's idea was that Dean was the ringleader," she told Sam. "But I see it differently."

Dean snorted, but didn't look over at his brother. She was supposed to be some kind of profiler, and he wasn't dumb enough to think that he had any kind of poker face when it came to Sam.

"Your father," she said, and Dean felt Sam stiffening up in tandem beside him, "raised a soldier and a general. Not exactly a soldier, really. One lawman--even if you wrote the laws yourself--and one general. You know, the idea that a general wouldn't be on the front lines with the troops is a recent innovation, historically speaking. That's why they call it 'leading.'"

"Do you have any idea what the point of this is?" Dean asked Sam, still not looking at him. "Because I sure don't."

"Dean, you've been the protector since you were four years old," she told him, as if he hadn't spoken. "Protecting Sam from a lot of things." She straightened a stack of folders on the desk. Dean looked again, but still didn't see any paper clips. There was a binder clip that he could maybe work with, given a chance, but she was still talking--"Your hospital records were six inches thick by the time you were eighteen. Sam, virtually nothing."

She was implying that Dad had hurt them, Dean knew. He wasn't going to try to explain.

"So I'm left to wonder, Sam, how much you knew about what Dean did for you. How much you approved of it."

Oh, this was going nowhere good. Even if the FBI lady didn't know what she was talking about, Sam was going to be hearing deal deal deal like a fucking heartbeat.

She pulled a brown file folder from the stack, pushed it across the table. "Assembling your records wasn't easy, what with all the names and places. This one just came up recently. It shouldn't have been kept--Dean was a minor, after all--but he used a fake ID. You remember the summer of 1995, Sam?"

Even with all the suck of the situation, Dean couldn't help the warm feeling. He remembered that first hunt, the satisfaction of it, the sound the chimera made as the arrow went through it. The surprisingly slight weight of it as he and Dad carried it into the forest. The smell wasn't a great part of the memory, but on the whole, it had been a good year.

None of that could be in the folder. He frowned at it, wondering.

"Your father was in a hospital in Toledo for two months, and Dean took care of you."

Dean remembered that--Dad's leg had been broken in three places, and he'd fucked up the physical therapy by trying to walk too soon, had to go back into the recovery ward. He'd been testier than a wasp-stung bear until he'd been able to hobble around on his own. Summer'd been the worst time for Dad to be out of commission, too, with no more subsidized school lunches, and Sammy growing what seemed like an inch every time Dean turned his back on him for half a minute, wearing through shoes like they were toilet paper.

Oh, fuck.

"It's not true, Sam," he said, just as she flipped open the folder to show the arrest report. The picture clipped to the top of the papers was of nobody he ever wanted to see again--a baby, soft-jawed and big-eyed, stupid long hair, cheeks still round. Even the eyebrows were thin and girlish, fitting the rest of the face. He hadn't yet figured out that he needed to keep a day's worth of stubble to compensate; hadn't much understood what there was to compensate for, because that face was still getting him extra dessert in diners and extra chances into high school girls' panties.

In the picture, those plump lips were pinched up, trying to look like this wasn't his first rodeo--he'd been wondering if he could keep Dad from finding out, worrying about who was going to pick up Sammy at the library, hoping he could blink and smile his way out of this for the price of a lecture just like it was school.

Sam frowned and leaned over the file, skimming quickly. Dean felt his jaw tighten up. It wasn't right of her to show his brother that report.

"You mean you didn't offer to perform oral sex on the arresting officer for twenty dollars?" Agent Rao asked, managing to sound genuinely interested instead of mocking, so Dean guessed her psychology degree was worth the cost of the paper and ink.

Dean sneered at her. "You think you're the first person who looked at a poor kid with a pretty mouth and thought they knew everything about me? Guy was an asshole who needed to make his quota and it was my unlucky day." He stopped, because Sammy was listening intently, and it was always better to say less instead of more or Sam would nibble the story to death.

"Hey," she said deliberately, not quite smiling, "a blow job is better than no job."

Dean raised himself half an inch off his chair before remembering that she was a woman, he was chained, and anyway she was just trying to get this exact reaction out of him. He swallowed. "You believed that, we wouldn't be having this conversation."

"The question is: what does your brother believe? How far will he let you go to protect him, this time?"

Dean brought his cuffed hands up in an aborted attempt to swipe at his mouth--fucking useless tell; the only reason it didn't lose him more poker games was because he usually didn't care enough about the money.

Beside him, Sam shifted in his chair. Dean heard him settling back, spreading his legs. "You can't be that stupid," Sam said evenly. Dean blinked in relief. Sam would want to have a conversation about that file, no doubt, but he wasn't letting it distract him from the present situation. "So either you're just doing this to screw with us, or you're going to bring in a prosecutor with an offer. If it's the former, you know what you can do with yourself. If it's the latter, don't waste my time."

When Sam was done talking, it felt like the temperature in the room had dropped fifteen degrees. The metal cuffs were freezing against Dean's wrists, and he saw goosebumps on Agent Rao's exposed forearms. "Sam," he said, warning. She'd probably write it off as some trick of the AC and a stone killer's eyefuck, but with everything else he had to worry about he did not need some fed turning Sam over to a secret government lab. He knew they had to exist.

Sam swore that he hadn't gone darkside to get Dean back, and Dean managed to believe that ninety-nine percent of the time. But there was dark and then there was twilight, where all the most dangerous things moved.

Agent Rao pulled the file back towards her with a jerk. "You could spend your time in the same facility," she said, her lips thinning. "Or we could send you across the country from one another--there are enough charges to choose from to make it easy. So you think about that, Sam."

"What, I don't get any consideration?" Dean asked with his best lech face. Drawing her fire wasn't going to make Sam any happier with him, but it was hard to stop the habits of a lifetime. Anyway, all she did was curl her lip at him a little--God, she would have been fun to fuck over the table, her skirt all hiked up and her nice firm tits in his hands like two ripe apples--and leave. Dean watched her go and thanked fashion for giving him short jackets and curvy skirts this year.

"Your loss, sweetheart," he called out after her, ignoring Sam's look of unsurprised but somehow still disappointed disgust.

She left the files, he guessed as a way to hammer home the message that Dean had taken enough for the team. Sam quickly sorted through the stack, discarding most of it--stuff he already knew more of the details than were recorded, Dean figured--and poring through the rest.

He shoved one of the hospital forms over to Dean, eyebrows raised in a silent demand. Dean checked the date: mid-2004. "I told you about that," he said--not at all a whine, no matter what Sam might say. "It was the one with that girl, Kate, and the shovel that just snapped in half." He would have said more, but he figured they were still being recorded, and he didn't need to be labeled a delusional psycho.

Before his return, Dean had always joked about Sam's need to talk things out, but he'd had no fucking idea what that really meant. After, Sam had become obsessed with the first time they were apart, the time above ground. Always telling Dean about classes and friends and shit jobs years gone by. Talking, as he never had before, about Jess along with the rest of his life back then. And demanding the same from Dean, every bone he burned and every girl he boned, slotting them into some mental calendar even when Dean told the stories out of order, so that he could link towns with dates that Dean had long forgotten. It was like he thought that if he knew enough about Dean's life in the past, he could be happy with the way they were now.

When Dean refused to talk, or made some shit up (Sam could always tell, no matter how well Dean thought he'd covered his tracks), Sam would get so mad he'd turn white, mouth drawn into a sneer that he usually only got while killing demons. Once, not too long after he'd gotten back, Dean had invented a really good story about a girl down in Florida while they were driving. A tire had blown at seventy-five miles an hour, and it was a fucking miracle that they hadn't needed to replace the axle.

Being joined at the hip wasn't that much fun when there were two different opinions on which way that hip should turn. Like those crazy-ass preachers were always saying on the radio, if you were one body in Christ, there could only be one head.

So Dean played along, who what when where why and how, because it was easier and because Sam didn't ever ask him how he felt about it, even when he had to talk about Dad. Sam only ever wanted more facts, like he had to write some damn paper about all of Dean's hunts and humps.

Sure enough: "You didn't mention you'd been hospitalized," Sam complained.

Dean rolled his eyes and stretched his arms out over the table, rotating his shoulders and doing the best he could to relax even with the cuffs on. "Dude, I wasn't even admitted. It was five stitches--maybe six."

And okay, yeah, he'd enjoyed the attention. Ever since Dean had--gotten back--the world had seemed rubbery at the edges, like it was a balloon that could shrink or expand at any moment. Or explode.

Dean himself felt like he was over thin ice, not quite strong enough to support his full weight, so he had to stretch out, and if he stopped moving he'd melt through and drown, but he didn't know how to find the water's edge, so he was just inching randomly along and trying not to hear the cracks and groans beneath him.

Okay, maybe he'd spent too much time thinking about that. But he couldn't be hunting or drinking or fucking every waking minute--he'd proved that much over the last few months. Even refusing to let Sam drive or do weapons maintenance, Dean spent too much time with his mind in neutral, shaking apart with readiness to run but nowhere to go.

Point was, it had been pretty fucking distracting--the good, useful kind of distracting--to have Sam watching him like he was a gas gauge trembling above empty and they had thirty miles to the next offramp. Sam was the only thing in the world that didn't feel like it was always about to start running away from him. And most of the time, that was--he was afraid to put words to how he felt, hot and overflowing with enough energy to take out anything that got in their way.

Even if that reversal of fortune wasn't worth everything that had happened, it was worth an awful lot. Better, Sam had been throwing hunts at him like treats to keep a dog's attention (and so what if that made him a dog, he'd be an awesome dog, the kind all the girls bent over to pet). It was just bad luck that one of those hunts had brought the Feebs down on them again.

****

After they got out, they went to ground--standard operating procedure, hide out in a business hotel, more upscale than usual, burning money to get a little more cover. Sam had managed to wipe their files on the Winchesters on the way out. That was what he'd said, and Dean didn't really know whether he hoped that Sam had done a little bit more than that: could you wipe a person's memory like a hard drive, or would it be more like a mix tape, little imperfections creeping through, eventually fraying the thing until it snapped?

Dean couldn't ask Sam, any more than he could ask how Sam had gotten him back. Sure, he'd had a version from Bobby, but Bobby's story didn't add up using any math Dean knew.

He had the feeling that Sam didn't remember what he'd done, the same way Dean didn't really remember his time downstairs. Anyway, they couldn't change the past, so Dean didn't see the point of asking. As far as Dean could tell, memory was a ball of razors, not to be picked up without good reason.

Sam, though, was drawn to those blades like flies to hamburgers.

Sure enough, while they were moving the bags in from the car (stashed in the underground garage for greater invisibility), Sam quizzed him about an arson that had been in his FBI file--a mistake, since he hadn't even been near Charleston at the time--and a grave robbery in Tuscon.

Unfortunately, he had to admit that he wasn't 100% sure if that one had been him, or Dad.

"How can you not remember whether you did a job in Tuscon that year?" Sam asked as he hit the elevator button. The edge of contempt in his voice was too much like his seventeen-year-old questioning, always asking why Dean didn't want anything different from life.

"Some of us don't have room to store every last freakin' detail," he said, looking at the strip of numbers above the doors. "We can check Dad's journal if it's that important."

The dull metal doors blurrily reflected Sam's head, turning towards him with disbelief. Dean sighed and moved his shoulders up and down, feeling the bags pull him towards the ground. "Sam. If there's lore, whoever did the job woulda recorded it. But not everything that happens is worth writing down, okay? Sometimes the details are just a distraction."

The elevator pinged, louder than Sam's put-upon sigh.

Dean knew the discussion wasn't over.

****

After ten hours sitting around, even a business suite was too small. They were so tangled up in each other that he could barely remember how it used to be--two big guys in anonymous rooms, smelling each other's farts and seeing each other's foam-flecked spit in the bathroom sinks. That had been annoying, sure, and sometimes he'd wanted nothing more than to stuff Sam's head in the toilet and then take a week's vacation.

Now it was different: like having his skin taken off, raw nerves pressed against Sam's. (And did he know that for a fact? No, that thought was not helping.) They were like two pistons trying to fit into the same cylinder--a smooth and well-designed machine that had somehow gotten fucked up on the assembly line.

Sam was sitting at his computer, even though the rattle of keys had stopped ten minutes ago. Dean was on the bed farthest from the little desk Sam had claimed for himself, but he was still failing miserably at pretending Sam wasn't there.

He could feel Sam crack seconds before the words came out of his mouth.

"What that agent said--"

Dean sat up on his bed, half-turned towards Sam, and let himself smile just a little. "Yeah, she was hot, wasn't she? Not even on a fed-adjusted scale." Sam's scowl didn't budge, so he added, "I'd tap that."

Sam rolled his eyes in automatic reaction, and Dean started to breathe out. "You'd do anyone who held still long enough."

"Now, Sammy, you know I like them to wriggle," he said happily.

That was a step too far; Sam's anger, which had started to cool, pegged the dial again.

"It was true, wasn't it?" he demanded, not even working up to it, which meant that Mr. Sensitive had left the building and it was the turn of Mr. Self-Righteous. As they stared at each other, Sam pushed his hair back, even though it wasn't really long enough to cover his eyes, and scowled at Dean.

Dean took a careful breath. "No," he said.

"Bullshit! You would've--"

"Yeah," he admitted, which shut Sam up right quick. "If you--if we'd needed the money, of course I would've. But it never got there." It was a soap-bubble of a story, oily and rainbow-hued like washwater running to the gutters. Well, he wasn't asking Sam to drink it.

Sam looked at him, nostrils flaring as if he were trying to sniff out a lie. Dean stared straight back. He didn't have anything to be ashamed of.

"It never got there," Sam repeated, testing out the words, tasting them. Sam was still breathing a little fast, shoulders drawn back like he was expecting Dean to come over and start swinging at him.

Maybe he just needed more encouragement. Fortunately, Dean had some easy truths to share. "Dad and me, we could both work. Or run a two-man con if we needed."

Sam nodded, his eyes lightening with understanding. "So, that arrest, it was just some asshole cop dragging you in."

Dean allowed himself a smirk. "Yeah. 'Course, he was probably hoping I'd put out for him, but I didn't get it and so neither did he."

Sam gave his reflexive little grimace of disgust at his older brother's crassness.

Dean took a breath--not too deep, didn't want to suggest to Sam that there was anything to be relieved about--and reached for the remote on the table between the beds.

But:

"While I was gone, when you weren't with Dad--you must've needed money then too." Sam's tone was speculative.

"Yeah, and I got it the same way," Dean said, the 'shut up' heavy in his voice.

"Why?" Sam asked, sounding just like the annoying twelve-year-old Dean remembered--totally serious about wanting an answer, but also totally happy to mess with Dean. "Wouldn't it have been easier just to, you know--hustle?"

Rather than respond, Dean let his lips form the word 'hustle,' then grabbed the remote and turned on the television. A menu popped up and he glared at the screen--fucking business hotels, make you punch six buttons just to find an actual show.

"Come on," Sam continued, and Dean could hear him shift in his seat, turning fully towards Dean, really getting into it. Dean understood: fucking with Dean on the topic of sex was familiar, old-days familiar. When it wasn't about whether Dean would sell his ass for Sam, Sam would obviously find the idea hilarious. "So, you're in town for a couple of days, you need some fast cash, why bother to spend an evening setting up the last game of the night? Fifteen minutes of work--"

"Fifteen," Dean repeated incredulously, even though he hadn't meant to react.

"What, too short, or too long?"

Dean leered at Sam and grabbed at his crotch. "Oh, believe me, baby, it's long."

He wasn't prepared for Sam's shocked intake of breath, the sudden wild color on Sam's cheeks. The television shut off with a click that sounded final.

When Sam continued, his voice was lower, and his gaze was fixed somewhere around Dean's shoulder. "You come into town, find some college bar. Pick out a guy playing pool." Sam's shoulders were pulled in, but his knees were still spread, like his body was as confused as Dean's. A trick of the shadows hid his eyes from Dean's scrutiny.

"Sam--" His voice was shakier than he meant it to be. This was too much like Sam's "tell me everything that ever happened to you" game, and not enough like it.

But Sam was caught up in his storytelling now. "You think you'll just take it off him in a game, but he doesn't want to bet. And now it's getting late, you've put it off too long--or maybe you wanted it to be like this, once you saw him standing there." His voice was distant, like he was reporting one of his visions, except Dean knew Sam had never had a vision like this.

Dean shook his head, kept shaking it. Sam looked up and snorted at him. "Don't tell me you never looked at those college boys, the ones with money and parents who never wanted anything different for them, and didn't think they deserved to get rolled."

"Don't get me confused with you," Dean said, but there was no truth in it and Sam knew it.

Sam stood up and crossed half the distance between them. "He looks like me, right? Like I probably look, all those miles away at Stanford. Jeans, one of those athletic sweatshirts with the school name on it, backpack over against the wall. A future master of the universe, and he's been looking down on you all night, toying with you."

Dean slowed his breathing--when had it sped up?--and got off the bed, which made punching more likely but still felt safer. He wanted to move, shake off some of the angry energy Sam's story was putting into him, but there wasn't enough space. And yeah, he knew those college guys--looked for them whenever he went out without Dad, even though he swore he wouldn't. He wiped the back of his hand across his mouth, keeping cool.

"So he gets ready to go--maybe he settles your tab, too, it's not like the money matters to him--and he asks if you're staying." Sam's voice was as cold and slick as wet ice; Dean could feel himself spinning out.

He clenched his jaw and tried to think of a good reason to leave, now. Get out of this fucking room and this fucked conversation. But his brain was a blank TV screen, nothing but static. Sam blinked at him expectantly. "Uh--no," Dean tried, because that could mean anything, really.

"You got a place for the night?" Sam prompted, and it was like the room was greying out around them, replaced by the sting of smoke and the sour-banana smell of spilled beer, the noise of bottles clinking and feet shuffling as the bar closed down for the night. Nothing in his pocket, nothing in the gas tank, and nothing from Dad. And the fourth missing thing, the one he'd been sure was gone forever. Standing there, having that clawed-out empty feeling all over again, he wanted to fill that hole, or at least cover it up, any way he could.

He could almost see the bar, the old green felt on the pool table, the grooved vertical planks that covered the walls. He could feel the temperature rising, getting to where you could tell that the place had been full of bodies until recently.

That had to be coming from inside his own fucked-up head. Which meant that he needed to go with it, play along with Sam's little scenario; start ignoring his instincts and he'd be dead all the sooner.

Dean raised his head and smiled, easy and just a little smug. "Nah," he said, shrugging. "Back seat of my ride's good enough." He looked away and lowered his eyes, almost raising an imaginary bottle to his lips. Had to settle for rubbing his thumb over his mouth instead.

"I've got a place," the guy/Sam said. Dean reflexively did a threat assessment: tall, strong, overconfident. Never had control of Dean's drinks.

Dean smiled a little wider. "That's an awful nice offer," he said.

Sam stepped closer. "I could sweeten it."

The room swayed and buckled again; now Dean could nearly see the cheap chaos of a college apartment, books and beer bottles scattered with equal enthusiasm anywhere they wouldn't fall over, and a few places they already had. Scratchy hand-me-down couch that had most likely started its existence green, movie posters on the walls, and, for some reason, a strange black statue on the mantel in the shape of an unidentifiable, Egyptian-ish animal. He wanted to take a closer look, wondering what memory he'd dragged it from, but Sam had closed the remaining distance between them and he had to focus.

Sam was looking him up and down. Dean hooked his thumbs in his belt loops, raised his chin, and let himself be looked at.

"I want you to suck my cock," Sam said, his voice as even as if he were asking a gas station attendant for a fill-up and a cup of coffee.

"Fifty dollars," Dean said, and it was almost a relief.

Sam nodded, mechanical, and backed up to the couch--the bed, the bed nearest the window. He reached for the waist of his jeans, then stopped, his hands hovering around his waist.

Dean took his cue, four quick steps across the floor, keeping his focus on his own hands and Sam's belt. Sam's erection was already pushing against the front of his jeans. Dean slipped the belt out of its loops and tossed it aside, then thumbed open the top button with one hand while pulling down the zipper with the other. The jeans were loose enough that they went down without much effort; the boxers required a bit more tugging to deal with the obstacle of Sam's--Jesus, he was packing a freaking baseball bat--but then they went down as well, and there was nothing left but to push Sam down until he was sitting. Sam's breath scraped against his ears, loud as a shovel in hard-packed dirt.

After a moment, Dean dropped to his knees, pushing Sam's thighs apart. He reached for his back pocket and dug out a condom, then raised his head and brought the packet up to his mouth to tear it open, making sure his lips peeled back so that Sam would see the white gleam of his teeth.

Sam's mouth dropped open. Lust mixed with incomprehension on his face. "What--?" he began.

"Standard policy," Dean said through the mouthful of plastic, a little bit shocked that he sounded so normal.

Sam stayed frozen, still gaping. Dean supposed that both Sam's big cock and his big brain required more blood than usual, so he'd have to be even worse at thinking with a hard-on than most guys.

Sam closed his eyes and breathed out, then swallowed, clenching his fingers in the bedcovers. When he looked at Dean again, his cheeks were red and there was a fever gleam in his eyes. "Everything in my wallet," he said.

Dean thought about that for a second. Then he shrugged and tossed the condom wrapper, with the condom still in it, aside. The flare of satisfaction in Sam's eyes was the tell of a mark who thought he was getting something Dean didn't really want to give.

Now Dean had a real problem. Well, two or three of them, but he always focused on the immediate ones. This, he thought as he leaned in past Sam's knobby knees, was going to be the worst blowjob in the long and depraved history of blowjobs. He had to push up Sam's eighteen layers of shirts to get to his objective, the red cockhead already sticky with precome, trembling a little as he closed the last inches.

The taste was salty-sour, just like that college kid's would have been. He swiped his tongue around the head, then went a little deeper, already losing precision in the struggle to get the damn thing in his mouth. Messy, he needed messy; he let the spit drip out, catching it to slick up his hand, which he wrapped around the length he couldn't take even as he did his best to unhinge his jaw.

It was slow and awkward and frustrating, fighting for every quarter of an inch. Even when he couldn't help the scrape of his teeth against tender skin, Sam didn't complain. Dean was pitched forward now, barely staying on his knees, his left hand slipping against Sam's sweaty thigh as his right jacked Sam's cock, his curled fingers bumping up against his lips.

Sam groaned, at last, and put his enormous paw on the back of Dean's head, forcing him impossibly forward until he gagged, which made Sam snort a laugh and lessen the pressure a little. Dean shrugged irritably and concentrated on staying where he was. Sam patted his head, which was hardly better; the pats turned to strokes, fingers moving slow and careful through his hair, which--and Dean knew this was hilarious, but he wasn't planning to talk about it--felt more intimate than any of the rest of it.

Sam was making little grunting noises he probably didn't even know about, and for some reason that was what tipped it into sex, real sex. Dean felt his muscles tighten as if he were the one getting blown. His cock jumped, lengthening and hardening in his jeans as he breathed out through his nostrils and tuned himself to the small shivers running along Sam's thighs.

Dean slipped his left hand up until he was stroking Sam's balls as he tried to improve the suction. He felt the soft skin of Sam's dick sliding over the hard flesh beneath and forced himself to keep the rhythm he'd got going. This was what he was good for: using the right tricks for the job. Reminding himself of that made it easier to relax, find the necessary angle, and open his throat just a little bit more.

Sam gasped, his fingers tightening in Dean's hair, and his free hand dropped to Dean's shoulder, squeezing hard enough to be a distraction. Dean worked through it, his eyes screwed closed so tight that they almost stung, and managed to get farther down, so that his lips touched the ring made by his thumb and index finger right at the base of Sam's cock.

Sam's thighs were shaking now, and he'd started talking--"suck me, yeah, suck my cock," so dirty and low that Dean's dick twitched harder, rubbing painfully against his jeans. "Knew you would--suck me, your fucking mouth--"

Carefully, Dean curled a knuckle and rubbed just behind Sam's balls, right where the skin was most sensitive. Sam lurched forward, forcing Dean back and cutting off his air, and started coming, a hot and tickling rush down Dean's throat. He pulled back as best he could, letting his hand cover the spit-slick length abandoned by his mouth, and concentrated on swallowing instead of coughing.

And then, because he could tell by the soft sound Sam made that it was starting to get uncomfortable, he had to pull off, letting his hands fall to his knees as he crouched back on his heels. Sam's shirts fell back into place and covered his spent cock and the tops of his thighs, but there was still a long stretch of thigh and shin before his legs disappeared back into the puddle of his jeans.

If Dean asked "now what?" the best he could hope for would be a punch, but he really had no clue. He was in deep sand here, and spinning his wheels wouldn't help anyone.

Sam cleared his throat. "I'm sorry," he said, low and almost gentle. That brought Dean's head up with a snap, because--because--

"I should have believed you," Sam finished.

Dean just stared at him.

Apparently the look on his face was confused enough that Sam, at least, found it amusing. "I could pretty much tell you weren't used to that," he said, smiling, and Sam was fucking criticizing his technique now? Dean could feel his numb and swelling lips curling back in a snarl. "Not that that wasn't great, especially at the end," Sam hurried to add, which ordinarily wouldn't have been near enough, but under the circumstances Dean thought it might be a good idea to just shove the whole thing under the bed, see if they couldn't leave it behind when they checked out.

Warily, Dean started to stand, hands braced against his upper thighs. His tongue felt heavy in his mouth.

Sam was toeing his sneakers off and kicking his jeans all the way free. "C'mere," he said, pushing himself back onto the bed as he stripped off his shirts in one big bundle. "Come on," he said more insistently when Dean hesitated. "I need to know you're okay."

Will you be able to tell better when I'm naked? Dean wondered, but he stripped down to his shorts anyway and sat down on the edge of the bed, almost where Sam had been. Sam put a hand on his waist, pulling him down on his side but at least letting him face away. When he was horizontal, Sam hooked his chin over Dean's shoulder, pressing them together like shells in a bandolier. His left hand, the one on top, drifted down Dean's chest, smoothing over his abs, then--tentative as a sophomore girl her first time in a back seat--over the cotton covering his still-hard cock.

Dean hissed. Sam sighed into his ear, then licked a stripe down the skin right behind it, just as he stuck his hand down Dean's waistband and settled his grip around Dean's dick, using his other arm to wrap around Dean's chest, holding him still despite his reflexive jerk.

"Show me what to do," he said, and then started to maul Dean's ear in earnest, even as Dean closed his fingers over Sam's, guiding him. As always, Sam was quick to pick up what Dean was demonstrating. Dean let himself sink into it, nothing in the world but his cock and their hands, their fingers overlapping, Sam's tongue wet and thorough up at Dean's neck, mapping his hairline and the tendons in his neck.

Coming was like being hit with a sandbag the size of his body, strong enough to knock him down but still somehow soft. Hot jolts dripped down his belly and over their knuckles. Sam let him go and then rubbed just the pads of his fingers against Dean's overheated skin, drawing little wet circles on his stomach until Dean moved to push his hand away.

Dean lay quietly then, his head as empty as the eye of a tornado. Sam still had his arm draped over Dean's waist, as heavy as if he were asleep, but the pattern of his breathing wasn't sleepy.

"I'm sorry," Sam said again after a while, sliding his hand over Dean's hip. "It's just, the thought of you, out there, alone. It makes me crazy."

See, this was why Dean didn't like to talk about emotions and shit. Somehow the completely obvious managed to be incredibly painful. That sticks-and-stones rhyme was the worst lie anybody ever told kids, past how awesome a visit to the dentist was and how Santa came down the chimney and even maybe how God was watching over everyone.

"Dean?" Sam sounded worried, even though Dean hadn't tried to wriggle out of his embrace, their bodies held back-to-front from chest to feet--well, Dean's feet anyway, since there was extra Sam.

Dean put his hand over Sam's, squeezing a little. "I would've done it for you," he said.

Sam drew a sharp breath, and Dean felt his cock twitch a little against Dean's ass. "But you won't," he said, like that was the important thing. His thumb rubbed over the edge of Dean's hip. "You're all I've got. I need all of you."

Dean closed his eyes, even though he knew Sam couldn't see it, and nodded. This night had slammed the door against the rest of the world and started the engine, and they were headed down a one-way road. But they'd been on that road a while, he guessed, and he did like to drive.

After a long time, Sam relaxed into sleep. And whatever he was feeling, he was still a big guy who needed serious mattress real estate; he rolled away, splaying himself out face-first across the previously untouched side of the bed.

Dean turned over carefully and looked at Sam's body, long and lean beneath the thin white sheet, the tan of his skin muted by the darkness. Sam snuffled and reached up, sticking his hand under his pillow, then relaxed back into sleep.

Sam was a brilliant guy, Dean thought, but a lot of times when they were younger he'd been so busy thinking that he hadn't paid an awful lot of attention to the world they'd lived in. Yeah, Dean had learned to work college bars, especially once Dad had let him off on his own. But that wasn't his ordinary routine. He couldn't keep up the role of a guy like them long enough and still get them playing pool or poker. There was too much chance of a beating from a bunch of frat boys at the end of the night.

No, the places he knew how to make his money best were places Dad had always fit in, workboots on the floor and beaten-up trucks in the gravel parking lot. And most of those places weren't exactly gay-friendly, or queer-positive or whatever the hell Sam would call it. Places like that, men would go through a lot to pretend that they liked pussy. Dean's pretty mouth had always attracted notice, and Dean had learned the hard way how to tell what kind. But there were only a few things a man couldn't do with a woman with his eyes closed, and having his dick sucked wasn't one of them.

Guys desperate--or clueless--enough to try to rent Dean in those places were usually thinking that the cocksucking lips were a signal, an ad for something else. When the papers were full of that jerk down in Florida, some state representative who'd offered to pay an undercover cop to sit there and get his pipes cleaned, Dean had known the type without even needing to see his picture.

Kind of amazing, actually, that there were guys like that. In Dean's overall experience, there were a lot more hard dicks than willing holes to stick them in. Sam hadn't been wrong about that. He'd just missed the part where the guy who was in charge--the one with the cash, or whatever it was you needed--got to choose.

Anyway, getting paid to get off didn't even count--no way that was some kind of sacrifice.

Dean smiled at Sam, freed to show it by the dimness of the room and Sam's slumber. There wasn't much he could protect Sam from, not these days. But he still imagined being like the Impala, absorbing the biggest blows, cushioning the shock some, curled around his brother like a steel shield. Yeah, he'd fucked that up some, but he'd been reframed and rebuilt since then, and now he knew his own specs.

For his brother, he'd do anything; without his brother, it didn't matter what he did.

So it didn't exist, what he'd done, what he hadn't done, while he was away from Sam. Those times had been salted and burned, turned to ash on the wind.

The truth was, Dean would be whatever Sam chose for him to be.