After Alistair, Dean stayed in the hospital for almost a week and a half before he let Sam pile him into the Impala's backseat and take him away.
They drove southeast after Dean checked out in the evening, pushing through all night and most of the next day. Sam drummed his fingers against the wheel and spent his time watching Dean in the rearview mirror. He fell asleep almost immediately, curled toward the trunk, but rolled to his back as the mile markers kept flying by. Dean still looked pale, with fading bruises on his cheekbones and the pink line of a healing gash on the bridge of his nose, but he slept more solidly on the road than he had in the hospital. Between the road-lull and the pain meds he only thought Sam didn't know he was hoarding, he barely woke at all.
Sam hadn't seen Dean sleep better since he came back. He gritted his teeth and put the thought aside, letting the anger fester until he could do something about it.
Exhaustion finally caught up with Sam in the tangle of towns surrounding Dallas. He fought his way through traffic for an hour before he stopped trying to get out of the metroplex and pulled off at the next exit. Dean woke up when Sam took them down increasingly small, but still busy, roads. By the time they drove around a residential neighborhood, turning at random and searching for houses on sale, Dean was sitting up, resting his arms on the back of Sam's seat. He kept a careful inch between their skin, but his breath came steady and unlabored.
"There," he said, his first word in states, and pointed out the passenger window at a one-story house with a Century 21 For Sale sign in the yard. The garage extended past the rest of the house, facing the street, and the front door was tucked down a walkway, next to the garage's wall. Sam steered to the curb and pulled on the parking brake before taking a flyer from the plastic tube attached to the sign. He skimmed it – three bed, two bath, attached garage, mumbley mumbley ISD – and then pretended to read while he checked out the house.
The grass looked as grey and uneven as the other wintery lawns surrounding it, but when he checked the windows, he only saw blank, impersonal furniture. The living room had a couch and a coffee table, but the entertainment center held three hardbacks and a bowl of fruit instead of a TV. Sam grinned and headed back to Dean.
"It's all staged," he said, sliding behind the wheel. "No one's living there."
"Someone is now," Dean said.
They bought Mexican food at a mom-n-pop tucked into a strip center and ate in the car. Sam's burrito came with diced potato chunks mixed into the bean filling, and the green salsa tasted spicier than the red. Dean grumbled about what would happen if Sam got a mess on his baby, but he tucked in enthusiastically. Sam leaned against the door and stretched his feet out across the seat, and they packed the empty containers away when they finished.
Dean straightened as they drove back to the house. The other homes in the neighborhood weren't dark yet, but none of them had their porch lights on. Sam picked the lock while Dean waited in the driveway. The house was dark and silent, and Sam went quickly through the empty rooms to get to the garage. He raised an eyebrow at Dean after he opened the garage door, but Dean shrugged. Sam forced a grin, got back behind the wheel, and pulled inside.
Dean walked as slowly getting out of the car as he had checking out of the hospital. He batted Sam's hands away when Sam tried to help him, and Sam frowned. He turned and headed inside ahead of Dean, to turn on the lights and check out the bedroom situation. He could hear Dean's slow, careful steps behind him, and didn't want to think about the clench to Dean's jaw, or the hand pressed to his side as he moved, or the other hand trailing over the wall to stabilize himself.
One of the bedrooms held a toddler bed, too tiny for them both to sit on. The second was done up as an office, with a desk and a loveseat, but the master bedroom had a king-sized bed, complete with a down comforter and excessive pillows.
"Just one bed," he told Dean, who settled gingerly onto the edge of the couch. "So you can take it, and I'll sleep out here."
Dean nodded and stayed quiet.
"There's not a TV," Sam said. He leaned back against the wall. "We can set up the laptop or something."
"Whatever." Dean shrugged. "I'm pretty beat," he said, and then snorted and rolled his eyes.
Sam paused, then shook his head. "I'm gonna go unpack."
Dean leaned against the back of the couch when Sam came back inside, loaded down with duffel bags. He dumped them in front of the front door and found his computer, then took it over to the couch.
Sam fished out the for-sale flyer and Googled the address listed. Dean stretched a little further while Sam clicked around to find the yellowpages.com listing for the house, but he didn't let their limbs brush. Only one owner, the flyer bragged, and Sam wrote down the names he found online: Andrew and Christy Tomlinson.
"Alright," Sam said, and closed the tabs. "You wanna watch something?"
"This Is Spinal Tap," Dean said after a moment.
Sam pulled a chair from the dining room and set the laptop on it, in front of the couch. He brought in the leftover chips and salsa from the Impala and tossed them at Dean, then salted the house while the Megavideo file loaded a little. Once he came back, he started the movie, and he and Dean crunched through the first few minutes, with the chips between them.
On the other side of the couch, Dean's eyes were wide and bright. He eased into the cushions and didn't move much, but his fingers tapped over his arms. Eventually, he found a stray bit of chip and flicked it at Sam.
Sam picked it up from his lap and ate it before glancing over again. "What?"
"You bring the guns inside?" Dean asked.
"Some, yeah," Sam said.
"Bring em over."
Sam brought Dean the pistols and shotguns from the weapons duffel and listened to the clinks as Dean stripped down the guns. After driving, and ten days beforehand hunched into a hospital chair made for people much smaller than him, the couch felt amazingly soft and motionless. Sam went from drowsy to unconscious without noticing the transition.
He woke once in the dark, alone. His laptop sat on the chair, closed, and the throw blanket from the back of the couch was spread over his legs. Sam stood unsteadily and toed off his shoes.
Dean's clothes made a trail from the couch to the bedroom, and Sam followed it down the hallway. He peaked in, saw Dean sprawled on top of the covers, and continued to the bathroom. He pissed with the toilet seat down and his eyes barely open, then filled the decorative tumbler by the sink with water, and drank.
A little more awake now, Sam checked on Dean again. His hair looked flat and greasy, and he lay on his back with his face turned to the side. One hand rested at his waist, over the gap of skin between his shirt and boxers. Sam stared at him for a long time in the moonlight; at the bruising still visible underneath his curved fingers; at the thread of spit connecting his mouth to the pillow beneath him; at the pale, vulnerable curve of his shins, above his socks.
Dean's weight pressed down the comforter, but it billowed up all around him. He'd pulled one pillow away from the stack and the rest still piled invitingly high against the headboard. Sam passed his fingers over a pillowcase and sighed at the soft, clean fabric.
They'd shared beds off and on for as long as Sam could remember. Their dad got rooms with a king at first, and Sam slept between Dean and John until he was big enough not to roll out of strange beds. Even after Dad changed the arrangements, Sam and Dean stayed together. They'd shared bunk beds, twin beds, sleeping bags zipped together, the back seat, bedrooms, hotel suites, and, one memorable summer, a huge cloth hammock. Until Sam left, he'd rarely slept further away from Dean than a hallway. They might both grumble for the clerk's benefit if a motel only had kings, but they could bunk up as easily as adults as when they were kids.
Now, though, Sam hesitated. There was room for him on the other side of the bed, even with Dean's legs stretched out, but Sam thought of Dean's passive silence at the hospital, and in the car. Sam frowned, but he left the room and headed back to the couch.
He couldn't stretch out completely, and the blanket wouldn't cover all of him, but he didn't want to dig one of theirs out of the trunk. Sam spread the throw over his chest, kicked his feet up on the couch's arm, and stared at the back of his eyelids until he fell asleep.
Sunlight pushed its way through the neutral, gauzy curtains the next time Sam opened his eyes. He smelled coffee and strawberry Pop-Tarts, from the economy-sized box in the Impala's trunk. Even though Sam couldn't hear Dean, breakfast meant he was around somewhere, and feeling well enough to move.
Sam wanted to close his eyes and slip back off, but he checked his watch and groaned when he saw it was just past eight. He sat up and found the flyer on the floor by his feet, then called the realtor's listed number and stretched while it rang.
"Century 21, this is Sheila," a woman answered. "How can I help you?"
"Hi, Sheila." Sam wrote down her name. "This is Andrew Tomlinson – I've got a place listed with you on Wood Hollow?"
She typed something and then said, "Of course, I've got your information right here. What can I do for you?"
"I'd like you to cancel showings on the house for the rest of the week," Sam said. "We're having second thoughts about selling.
"Hmm," she said, and the keys clacked again. "Are you sure? We've got a few people coming in, and –"
"See if they can reschedule," Sam said. "To be honest, we probably will end up selling, but Christy wants more time to think about it, so if we could just push things back, this'll go smoother in the long run."
Sheila clicked her tongue, or possibly tapped a pen against her teeth. "Well, if that's what you want," she finally said, "then I'll let the agents know."
"Thanks a lot, Sheila," Sam said, and closed his phone before she could respond.
He considered showering, but eventually headed after breakfast. Their single saucepan simmered on the stove, about half-full of coffee. The jar of instant coffee sat on the counter. A few packets of Pop-Tarts were stacked near the microwave, and Sam heated some up while he rummaged for a mug.
He ate the first two Pop-Tarts standing over the stove and then zapped two more. He couldn't find any actual mugs, so he poured almost two cups of coffee in the plastic measuring cup from a cabinet over the sink and then wandered through the house.
The master bedroom and both the bathrooms were empty. Sam popped the final corner of pastry in his mouth as he opened the back door, but the yard didn't hold anything except some pedestrian landscaping. Dean's jeans had disappeared from the floor but his boots and duffle were still in the house. Sam doubted he'd actually run off, but he wasn't easy to find.
The door to the garage would have been the more obvious place to look next, but something suggested the front door to Sam instead, and he knew better than to ignore his instincts. The house creaked like a building centuries old when Sam opened the door and went outside. He walked silently down the entryway, along the brick wall, and paused when he heard Dean's voice, angry, coming from the garage.
"I've got no problem exorcising your skank ass, so you can fuck off to wherever it is you spend your time and leave us the hell alone," Dean said.
"Pun intended?" Ruby said.
Sam's mouth watered at the sound of her voice, and he shook his head a little as he swallowed.
"Look," she continued, "I don't much care what you think about me, or what puny little threats you throw. I'm here to see Sam, so –"
There came a scuffle and a few thumping noises before she spoke again. Sam frowned, because they could both stand to hash things out, but he didn't know if he could trust each not to hurt the other.
"If that's outta your system –"
"You are the last thing Sam needs to see right now," Dean said, in the low voice Sam usually only heard when they were cornered and disarmed.
"I've helped Sam more in the past few months than you have in the past few years –"
Sam's upper lip curled, and he knew he should, but he didn't feel remorse when he heard the wet, familiar smack of a fist against a face. Ruby gasped on the other side of the wall, then spat and continued.
"And so I've saved your ungrateful ass by extension," she finished. "So you can hit me again if it'll help you get your rocks off, but then you'll let me go so the grown-ups can talk."
There was more silence for a few moments. Sam stepped closer to the end of the wall and the open garage door, around the corner of the building, and shifted his weight from foot to foot as he listened.
"You're talking out your ass," Dean said, in that same, rattled voice. "My life has gone no place but downhill since you invited yourself in."
Ruby snorted a laugh, then actually snorted, and spat one more time. "Then tell me, if I haven't done shit, how exactly did you get away from Alistair?"
"Cas," Dean said immediately.
Sam ignored the resent dredged up by his response.
Ruby laughed again. "You saw Castiel go up against Alistair, over the angel chick. You really think he came out on top this time?"
"Then what?" Dean snarled.
"Who else do you know willing to face down a demon like Alistair, for you?" she asked, voice slipping low and intimate.
Sam held his breath. Ruby knew better than this, she knew not to tell Dean, she knew --
"No," Dean said.
"And right in one," Ruby said. Sam closed his eyes.
"I don't believe you."
"Demons lie," Dean said.
"But that doesn't mean we can't tell the truth, too."
Sam could almost see her smile, growing from a smirk to cover her entire face.
"Little Sammy's been practicing," she said. "The only reason you made it away from Alistair with your life is because Sam's strong enough to kill someone like him now."
Sam squeezed his eyes tighter and felt the bottom drop out of his stomach. Shit, he knew how Dean felt about all this, and he made damn sure Ruby knew it, too, after Dean came back. He couldn't believe she'd actually told Dean, if she expected Sam to keep working with her – but then that was the rub. Sam opened his eyes and glared at the brick wall. He'd need to find some sort of backup if he stopped working with Ruby.
"Get the fuck out," Dean said. He just sounded tired now.
"No. I need –"
"No," Dean interrupted. "You need to leave. Sam may be fucking around on his own time, but I won't help you. Get. The fuck out."
There was a long pause before Ruby answered.
"You know, I'm not even gonna try with you anymore – if there was anyone I'd've expected to stand by Sam, it would've been you, so if you can't be bothered, there's clearly shit I can do about it."
Sam watched as Ruby stalked out of the garage door, down the drive, and kept going along the sidewalk. The Pop-Tarts sat uneasily in his stomach and he breathed deeply, worried he might be sick. Dean stayed quiet on the other side of the wall and Sam didn't know whether it would be better or worse to deal with this now. Dean was liable to blow up, with it fresh on his mind, but if he waited, things could just simmer, and make the tension between them worse.
In the end, Sam didn't have to decide. Dean came around the corner in yesterday's clothes, holding his own measuring cup of coffee. He had a third of a cup left, and his hair was drying fluffy, without any gel in it. He stopped directly in front of Sam unsurprised, like he'd known Sam was listening, and squared his shoulders.
"Is it true?" he asked.
Sam sighed but didn't look away. The thought of lying again flashed through his head, but he finally discarded it. He wanted Dean with him more than anyone else – more than Ruby, definitely, she wasn't the only demon in the sea – and he knew he couldn't keep telling the same lies forever.
"Yeah," he said.
"You killed Alistair." Dean's voice was flat, and Sam couldn't tell if it was a question or not.
"Yeah," Sam repeated anyway.
Dean shook his head and walked slowly past Sam, into the house. He gave Sam a wide berth and was careful not to let their shoulders brush.
Sam sat on the edge of the front porch and stared at the street until he finished his coffee. He could occasionally hear Dean inside the house. His brother still moved slowly and Sam itched to go help him, but he thought Dean would be even more resistant than usual, right now.
Sam never wanted Dean to know he was using his powers. Ideally, he would have pulled Dean free from Hell, taken out Lilith, and then figured out some way to stop using the blood, but he'd run through a few ways the conversation could go when Dean finally asked him to his face. He put Dean off for as long as he could, but Sam knew what he would've said when it finally came out. He knew what he was doing, he was doing important work, everything was under control.
He had contingency plans for if other hunters came calling (deny, then shoot) or if random demons made accusations (kill, then deny), but he never prepared for Ruby outing him.
It should never have happened like this.
Dean came outside with a fragrant cup of coffee, but he didn't offer any to Sam. Sam listened to him breathe hard, maybe lowering himself to the porch bench, but he didn't turn. Dean slurped his coffee before putting it down with a clunk.
"It's true," he said.
Sam nodded. He started tapping his fingers over the rim of his cup.
"You've been lying to me," Dean said.
"I've been keeping it from you," Sam tried.
"Bullshit," Dean said. "I asked you as soon as I got back if you'd been using it, and you lied to me then."
Sam exhaled through his teeth and dropped his head. "Yeah."
Dean clicked his tongue a few times. "So, how bad is it."
"It's not bad," Sam said. He'd been trying to get this point across for months. "I can do good stuff with it."
"It's playing with fire, Sam, and you know it." He must have picked up his coffee again, because he stopped speaking for a moment, and then swallowed. "Tell me."
"I can exorcise them." Sam started with what Dean already knew. "I can kill them, if I'm strong enough or if they're weak enough."
He paused and Dean jumped right in. "What else – can you move shit with your mind?"
"Sometimes." Sam shrugged. "Not very easily."
Dean snorted humorlessly. "But taking down demons is easy."
"I've got practice with that," Sam said. He shifted to face Dean, but Dean wouldn't meet his gaze.
"What else," Dean said, almost to himself. "Andy had the whole mind control thing – can you do that?"
Sam pulled a face. "Yeah. Sometimes."
Dean looked at him sharply. "You doing that with me?"
"You think I'd be pissing you off this much on purpose?"
"I think that's just what you're doing." He looked at Sam again, and his flushed cheeks stood out against the rest of his pale face. "Stop dragging your fucking feet and tell me, Sam."
"Fine," Sam spat, finally starting to get mad. "I can kill demons and move shit around and sometimes read minds, and sometimes control people, and I haven't tried yet but I bet I could control demons if I wanted, is that what you want to hear?"
Dean's face paled further and then colored as Sam spoke. "You fucking know it's not," he said when Sam paused, but Sam shook his head and kept going.
"You think this is what I want, Dean?" he asked, spreading his arms. "You think this is how I want my life to be? I wish I'd never had a single drop of demon blood in me, but I do, and I can't change that now!" He let his hands fall back to his sides and glared.
Dean watched him silently, with his head cocked and his lips parted. He frowned, forehead wrinkling up, and his gaze flickered across Sam's face, darting back and forth between his eyes.
"I'm tired of having to explain this to you over and over again," Sam said. He turned back around, rested his elbows on his knees, and plunged his hands into his hair. "I can't make it go away. All I can do is try to make it good."
Dean sighed. "I don't know that anyone can do that, Sammy."
Sam closed his eyes for a moment. "Then I wanna go down swinging, at least."
Dean sipped his coffee, slurping like he always did when he got to the bottom of a mug, but they both stayed quiet otherwise. Sam listened to the occasional car drive past. A lawn mower roared in the distance and a few dogs yapped back and forth, but he didn't hear anyone else's voice. He lifted his head eventually and waited for Dean.
"You're not gonna stop, are you?" Dean asked, after a long pause. "We've been through this enough that you know everything I have to say, and it's never enough to get you to stop."
"I don't –" know if I can, Sam thought, then shook his head. "I don't want to," he said instead. "If this is the apocalypse, then why not go all out."
"I don't think all out is a good idea for your crazy demon powers," Dean said.
"Yeah, and you've made that pretty clear, thanks."
Dean grumbled behind him, almost a growl.
"I'm not gonna stop," Sam said, slower. "There are things I need to do."
Dean went silent, and when Sam glanced over his shoulder, he saw Dean's head cradled in his hands. He watched until Dean scrubbed his hands over his cheeks and lifted his face; his cheeks looked dry but his eyes shone wetly.
"So show me," he said.
They lined trash from the car up in the back yard: fast food bags, empty Styrofoam cups with straws still poking from lids, beer bottles, Coke cans.
Sam felt awkward trying this in the light of day, in a tidy, suburban neighborhood. He was used to Ruby's steady encouragement and the unspoken but constant offer of her body, however he needed it. Instead, Dean's shoulders stayed tense and he crossed his arms. He wouldn't look at Sam but stared down the targets as intently as if he could take them out himself.
His uncompromising expectation felt the same as the hundred million other times they'd lined up for practice, though. Sam moved to stand shoulder to shoulder with Dean. By keeping Dean in his periphery, Sam couldn't really see the wary disgust carved into the lines around his mouth. When he focused on the first bit of trash, a grease-stained Whataburger bag, Dean and everything else became part of the background. Like this, he could pretend Dean was just waiting his turn to shoot.
Sam stretched out his arm. He wanted to squirm, self-conscious now Dean was watching him without the threat of an attack legitimizing everything, but he stopped worrying when he extended his fingers, and his mind.
He focused on the bag – white with orange branding; wrinkled at the top where the burger guy folded it, yesterday; grease bleeding translucent from the bottom corners. The yard faded further until Sam almost narrowed into tunnel vision. He closed his fingers and let his mind grip the bag. Breathing carefully, in through his nose and out through his mouth, Sam lifted the sack a few inches from the ground, crumpled it, and placed it back on the grass.
Next to him, Dean's throat clicked as he swallowed.
Sam worked his way down the line. His shoulder started to cramp up and tension built in his neck, in time with the headache growing behind his eyes, but he'd pushed past the pain his whole life. He moved faster with each item, and his dick started to twitch and fill as he went. Sam shifted his feet, adjusting himself as subtly as he could, and spared a thought to hope Dean didn't notice.
Finally, he spun the final can in circles before putting it down, then let the power go. Sam bent at the waist to brace his hands on his knees and took huge, gasping breaths. Now that he wasn't consciously telling his mind what to do with itself, his headache reasserted itself, as did the rest of his surroundings. The sun overhead shone painfully bright and Sam closed his eyes. He realized now why Ruby wanted him to work at night.
It was only a moment before Dean stepped over. He didn't crouch down to bring them face to face, but put one steadying hand on Sam's shoulder and smoothed the other over the back of his neck. Sam made sure to keep one elbow firmly between Dean and himself. The very last thing he wanted was for Dean to know how reliably working with his powers turned him on.
"Still gives you headaches?" Dean asked.
"Yeah," Sam managed. He gritted his teeth as a wave of nausea swept over him, effectively killing his hard-on, but he straightened once it passed. His eyes watered and he couldn't read Dean's blurry expression.
"C'mon inside," Dean said. He kept his hands on Sam as they went slowly inside and steered him towards the couch.
"I didn't know it still gave you headaches," Dean repeated, once Sam was settled. He closed his eyes again. Dean stood somewhere in the middle of the room – not in arm's reach, Sam didn't think, but not far, either.
"Doesn't, not really," Sam said. He could imagine Dean's raised eyebrows. "This is just because I'm not used to the telekinesis. They go away once I get better at it."
"Great, that's encouraging," Dean grumbled. "Is this gonna last hours, like they used to?"
Sam shook his head. The motion didn't make him pass out or want to vomit; the headache was already on its way out. "Nah," he said. "They're shorter."
Dean stayed quiet for a while. Sam focused on his own breathing and tried to ignore the remaining pain.
"You want a Pop-Tart or something?" Dean asked eventually.
Sam laughed. "Yeah, okay."
Dean rustled it open in the kitchen and carried the pastries back to Sam. He clamped one hand on Sam's shoulder and lowered himself to the couch, then offered over the breakfast. They felt dry and stale in Sam's mouth, and the filling tasted artificial, but after a few bites, his stomach calmed and the headache weakened further.
"Still have visions?" Dean asked.
"No," Sam said. He swallowed his mouthful and opened his eyes. Dean studied him with a frown. "Not since you killed the demon."
"Good," Dean said.
Sam shrugged. "Woulda been nice to know about some of this beforehand," he said, and put the last bite into his mouth. "I don't want another Pop-Tart ever."
Dean snorted. "Yeah, well, suck it up. We've got half the box left."
Sam laced his fingers together over his navel and leaned back. "That's the first time I've practiced that," he said.
"Mmm hmm." Sam shut his eyes. "I didn't think of it til we were dealing with the Reapers, with that kid."
"Cole," Dean said.
"Yeah." Sam looked at the floor between his feet. "That's what started me thinking about it, but I hadn't had a chance to work on it, not really."
Dean paused. "Not, uh, whatshisface a few years back, first time it happened? Max?"
That wasn't on purpose, Sam thought, but he said, "Yeah, Max." He frowned then and looked over at Dean. "But no, I hadn't thought about that."
"Alright." Dean sighed. "So what else is there? You said mind control."
Sam looked away and shrugged. "I've never really practiced it," he said. "It's creepy."
Dean laughed humorlessly. "Creepier than the rest of this?"
"It's – it's not like how Andy did it," Sam said. "It isn't right."
"Dude, none of this is right." Dean rolled his shoulders. "Whatever. You don't care. Hit me with it."
"What?" Sam frowned. "Are you serious?"
Dean shrugged. "Why not? Well actually, there are a million fucking reasons why not, but c'mon." His voice sounded artificially cheery. "If we're doing it, then do it."
Sam frowned, then closed his eyes. "I warned you," he said, and thrust his mind at Dean.
Dean's consciousness crackled against Sam's where they brushed. Sam tried to take control of Dean's mouth without affecting anything else. Dean bristled at the intrusion, even though this was his idea, and Sam could feel Dean's revulsion in the pit of his own stomach, as strongly as if it was his own reaction. Dean was resistant, and Sam surged over Dean's mind to completely take control.
"These aren't the droids we're looking for," Dean said haltingly under Sam's direction. The inflections sounded flat and all wrong, like a computer reading a sentence.
With his point made, Sam jerked away. Dean gasped as soon as he was in charge of himself again and Sam didn't meet his gaze immediately after opening his eyes.
"Told you so," he said.
"Well, that was unpleasant," Dean said. He cleared his throat and then swallowed.
"Not exactly like Andy," Sam said.
Dean snorted. "With Andy, it was like his ideas were the best ever," he said, "and I wanted to do them. But you, just now?" He shook his head. "Was like you stuck your hand in my head and just fucking made me."
"It's not exactly inconspicuous," Sam said.
"I guess I don't need to ask if you've done that before," Dean said. Sam winced but didn't answer. "I'd've noticed that shit."
"I've only done it a few times ever," Sam said. "There's no good way to practice it."
"When?" Dean asked, with an edge to his voice. Sam felt a hint of suspicion, the same way he'd noticed Dean struggling against his mind, and glanced at his brother. Dean eyed him with his brow crinkled.
"Kept one guy from knocking over a gas station, another from following some girl at night," Sam said. "It – I dunno, it doesn't work well on demons, I think that's something different, and I don't want to use it on random people, just to test it out."
"Small mercies." Dean pinched the bridge of his nose, with his thumb and forefinger over the healing gash there, and closed his eyes. "What else?"
"The demon stuff," Sam said. "Killing them, sending them back to Hell." He shrugged. "But you knew about that. And there's not exactly a good way to demonstrate right now."
Dean rolled his eyes. "And you're – shit, I dunno. Good at it?"
"Yeah," Sam said. "Just keeps getting easier."
Dean levered himself up on the couch's arm and walked to the window. He kept his back to Sam and brought one hand to his face, maybe covering his mouth. Sam watched his shoulders hitch a few times and leaned forward, forearms on his knees, to wait.
"I don't know if I can help you here, Sammy," Dean said finally.
"I know you're not an expert on this stuff," Sam started, but Dean cut him off.
"No. Not like that – I don't know that I can sit by and, and condone this." He gripped the windowsill with both hands and leaned forward, dropping his forehead to the glass. "I wish you'd never told me this."
Anger flashed through Sam. "That's pretty rich," he said, "seeing as how you've been all over me for months for not telling you." He spread his hands, even though Dean couldn't see the movement. "I can't win here with you, Dean."
"You shouldn't be doing this in the first place," Dean said, against the window. "I thought I taught you that, at least."
"I tried it your way already," Sam said. "I tried ignoring it but it never went away, and it's just been ruining our lives for as long as I can remember – Mom's parents, you said, right? Back before either of us were even born. I can't get away from it."
Dean turned and leaned back against the glass, watching Sam.
"I do not like it, Dean," he continued, and ignored the fact that, okay, sometimes he did like it – the rush, the strength, the control over something. "I don't like it, but I can't get rid of it, and I can't fight it anymore."
"I think you're protesting too much, man," Dean said, but he looked tired again, with shadows under his eyes and deep lines around his mouth, not ready to fight. "Let's get some fucking lunch."
They practiced for longer than Sam realized, and it was mid-afternoon by the time he showered and set off to find food. Dean lay lengthwise on the couch with the laptop on his chest, and he shrugged off questions about what he wanted. Sam slipped on his jacket and took the Impala down the same streets they'd driven the night before.
He found a Chinese place tucked between a tanning salon and a discount cigarette store. There were no tables inside, but only a counter immediately inside the door. The kitchen was visible behind the counter, with huge industrial equipment and a rear wall covered in stainless refrigerators. The air inside smelled of spices and vegetables, and a TV mounted on the wall, above a large map of the area covered in pins and Post-It notes, played a football game.
Sam waited to the side of the line and read a menu printed on pink paper. Nothing really stood out, and he sighed and ran one hand through his hair.
"First time here?" asked a woman who'd already ordered. She leaned against the window, next to the door, and held her phone in one hand.
"Yeah," Sam said, and found a sheepish smile to flash at her. "What's good?"
She pointed behind him, to a chalkboard that read Takeout Specials on the wall. "Chicken fried rice here is hard to beat – they give you this huge carton," she said, and spread her hands to outline a square about a foot on each side, "all full. Can't do much better than that for three bucks."
"Three bucks?" Sam shrugged. "Okay, yeah, that does sound good."
"And the other stuff's pretty good, too." She smiled and glanced appraisingly over Sam. "The orange chicken's my favorite."
"Mine, too," Sam said, building an order in his head. He looked through the side items on the menu and took his place in line.
"That's a lot of food," the woman said after Sam paid, and stood with the other people waiting for their dinner.
"Hmm?" He glanced at the receipt: two orders of the rice, orange chicken, mu shu pork, hot and sour soup, and extra egg rolls. "Yeah, I guess so. We'll have leftovers."
She hesitated, mouth open, then went on. "Not all for you?"
"No." Sam laughed. "I can put away a lot, but this is for two."
"Figures," she muttered, then her eyes widened a little. "I mean, that's a lot of food for one person, you know?"
"Yeah," Sam said, and turned his attention to the guys cooking. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched her untuck her hair from behind her ear and let it fall to hide her face.
She smiled tightly at Sam after her food was ready but didn't speak to him on her way out.
As Sam loaded his own paper bags of food into the passenger seat, he found he didn't much care if she thought he was going home to his girlfriend. Jess's memory still ached if he poked at it, as did Madison's, but mostly Sam tried not to think about them. He had Dean back, and he wanted him for the rest of his life. That was the most urgent concern, these days: making sure they both had the rest of their lives, making sure Lilith wouldn't be coming after them ever again.
Dean had the laptop back on its chair when Sam returned. He was watching The Simpsons Movie with one hand tucked into the waistband of his pants, and the throw blanket smushed against his side like a pillow. They ate on the couch with the containers in their laps, stealing food from the other's carton. Dean's pork came with a tiny plastic tub of plum sauce, and he insisted on dipping everything into the sauce, whether it belonged there or not.
By the time the movie ended, most of the food was gone. Dean scraped the leftovers into one carton and opened up Sam's video folder to find something else to watch. Sam slouched further into the couch and let his eyes unfocus as Dean brought up the extended edition of The Return of the King.
He woke a few hours later in the dark, with a crick in his neck. His laptop sat open but the movie was paused on the end credits. Sam glanced around and saw Dean walking, slow but steady, out of the kitchen.
"I put the food in the fridge," he said.
Sam nodded and started toeing out of his shoes. Dean snagged the throw blanket from the far corner of the couch and tossed it to Sam. He watched Sam stretch out, as much as he could. The laptop screen went dark as it put itself to sleep, and Sam couldn't read Dean's expression anymore.
He stood silhouetted against the streetlight coming through the window behind him. Sam watched him for a moment, but when Dean didn't speak or move, Sam mentally shrugged and spread the blanket. It still felt warm, full of Dean's body heat.
Dean leaned over carefully and smoothed the blanket across Sam's legs. He didn't touch Sam directly, but only put his hands on him through the fabric. It almost felt like Sam was a little kid again, being tucked safely into bed before Dean and Dad could finish working, but as a kid, Sam never felt the protective worry that swooped through him when he saw just how slowly Dean moved when he straightened.
"What Ruby said," Dean said. Sam still couldn't see his face, but his voice was low and thick. "That's true?"
Sam frowned for a moment, because they'd hashed this out over and over today, but then he thought through everything he overheard.
"Yeah," Sam said, and swallowed hard. "Yeah, it's true."
Dean swallowed as well. He didn't walk away immediately but stayed at the foot of the couch. Sam watched as his shoulders straightened and he stood taller.
"Thanks," he said quietly. He clapped Sam on the leg just above his ankle, twice, and then headed to the bedroom.
"I wish I could have done it sooner," Sam said.
Dean didn't pause. He kept the bedroom door open, though, and Sam watched the rectangle of light in the hallway as Dean got ready for bed. It was still shining when Sam fell asleep.
They stayed in the house for three more nights before Dean strode out of the bedroom fully dressed, and told Sam to pack his shit.
Dean picked the realtor's lock box, hanging on the front door handle, to fish out the house key and lock the door behind them. Sam leaned against the hood while he faked another call to the realtor, watching his brother. He tossed the Impala's keys to Dean as he came down the driveway, and Dean caught them easily before sliding into the driver's seat.
He cracked his knuckles after starting the car. "Where to?"
Sam shrugged. "We've got a few leads we can check out," he said. "Bobby's got something, either a poltergeist or a seriously powerful spirit, outside Seattle, uh, Ellen thinks she has some vampires in Maine, and there're some deaths in Florida no one really knows anything about."
"Florida would be nice," Dean said, backing out of the driveway and heading back to the bigger streets. He sighed and pulled a face. "Anybody handling the others?"
"Nope." Sam looked out the window at the low, gray clouds. Texas didn't do winter the way New England did, but this wasn't one of the state's freakish warm snaps, with lows in the upper 70s while the locals wore jackets. It was still cold and sunless, threatening to drizzle. Sam could already feel the welcome warmth of a job in Florida. "But we could hit Florida on the way to Maine," he suggested.
"And then again on the way to Seattle," Dean said. "Alright, works for me. Let's do it."
Sam turned down the music and put his phone on speaker as he made the usual calls, when taking a job on someone else's intel: Ellen, because she'd thrown the vamps their way, and then Bobby, because as much as he grumbled that he wasn't running no daycare center, Sam knew he liked to find things out directly, instead of through the grapevine.
He kept his phone next to him, on the seat, with the ringer on. It chirped once, when Jo texted: $20 sez ethanol > unleaded 4 ceremonial fires. Sam read it aloud to Dean, who rolled his eyes and didn't otherwise respond.
He didn't hear from Ruby at all. He didn't bother counting how many days had passed since he saw her alone, because he knew.
Dean tapped along with the music while he drove, with his shoulders relaxed and a subtle smile teasing about his mouth. Sam settled into the seat and stretched his legs as far as he could in the foot well. They got food from drive-throughs, stretched the gas stops as far apart as they could, and pissed on the side of the road. The states passed slowly on the other side of the windows, but they made it through Missouri by the time the sun began sinking behind them, in the rear view mirror.
Dean started sitting up a little straighter and glancing out the side windows more often around sunset. Sam looked for a motel or a promising diner as well, and he frowned when Dean drove all the way through town before pulling off near an empty field.
Dean's jaw was set tightly and he stared straight ahead, not glancing at Sam, as he slowed the car and turned off of the frontage road. He took them down a few narrow country roads, turning whenever he had the chance, before parking. Dean turned off the Impala in quick, jerky movements and then opened the door.
"Practice." He climbed stiffly out. "C'mon."
The door slammed behind him.
Sam climbed out and waited by the headlights while Dean rummaged in the back seat, coming up with trash from the trip. He frowned and cocked his head when Dean set off into the field without anything from the trunk. Dean's steps grew longer and more confident as he went.
"Dean?" he asked, following a few yards behind. "We gonna get anything to shoot with?"
Dean glanced over his shoulder and arched an eyebrow. "I'm not," he said. "Here's good."
Sam stopped walking and watched as Dean set their trash up in a line about thirty feet away from him, on the ground. The unmowed grass obscured some of the targets. When Dean finished, he came back to stand next to Sam. He didn't square off against the line of trash, like Sam expected, but instead faced Sam with his arms crossed. Sam's stomach sank as he guessed where this was headed.
"Tell me you're joking," he said.
Dean raised his eyebrows. "You said yourself you hadn't been practicing this stuff. That's no way to be about –" He broke off. Sam could tell he was trying, not very effectively, to keep from scowling. "About a skill," he said eventually.
Sam glanced at the makeshift range, then back at Dean. "You don't know anything about this." Dean didn't have veins full of demon blood for Sam to slurp down, either; that would probably prove to be a bigger problem than ignorance in the long run.
"And?" Dean shrugged. "I know all about kicking your ass til you do something right. I figure that's the important thing here."
Sam rolled his eyes to hide his grin.
"Quit stalling," Dean said. "Run through it like you did in Texas."
Moving each piece of litter was simultaneously harder and easier than it had been in Texas. His control improved with each target; he didn't have to think through every process but instead just acted, like this was an old skill. On the other hand, he hadn't really seen Ruby in weeks, and without fresh blood pushing strength and power into his veins, the work was tough.
Dean made him go up and down the row three times, until he trembled as he worked and the sky was darkening overhead. Sam expected to keep going, and kept his arm raised until Dean tapped his shoulder and headed back to the Impala. It was the first time he'd touched Sam in hours.
Sam left the trash in its line and followed Dean back. He still felt shaky when he got inside the car and he leaned his head back against the seat while his legs jittered. He could hear Dean taking loud, measured breaths next to him, but wasn't curious enough to glance over.
Sam's head ached, and he kept his eyes closed as Dean started the Impala. The vibrating car was something new after using his powers. He'd never driven immediately after using them, before this. Whenever he pulled them out on a hunt, it always took a while to wrap up before driving off, and Ruby only pushed him this far in practice when they stayed in one place for a few hours.
Sam was used to fucking after he went this hard. His body wanted to throw all of its jumpy excitement into someone else, and Sam's dick didn't much care if Dean was the only available company. Sex had been Pavloved into him at this point, and while Sam ignored the urge with relative ease after showing off at the house, the couch never went all Magic Fingers on him like the Impala, idling on the side of the road. He braced his shaking hands on his thighs and took deep breaths.
"You okay?" Dean asked.
Sam nodded without opening his eyes, and Dean snorted.
"Yeah, you look like shit," he said. "You're trembling like a little girl."
"Am not," Sam said, almost automatically.
Dean snorted again and suddenly his hand covered Sam's. Dean's upper arm trailed over Sam's leg, and Sam's breath caught.
"Trembling," Dean said. He pressed down a little, pushing Sam's fingers tightly against his jeans, and Sam opened his eyes, stared down at their hands. Their fingers almost laced together, Dean's lying in between Sam's, and now that Sam saw just how close they were to his dick, he couldn't help gasping.
Dean froze, and Sam closed his eyes again for a moment. It was too much to hope Dean didn't notice. When Sam made himself look up again, ignoring the unhappy sinking in his stomach, Dean's eyebrows were raised and he stared at Sam's crotch, at the tenting that seemed unavoidable now Sam noticed it.
He didn't pull his hand away, though. He kept his fingers steady, and after staring for a beat, Dean looked up. When Sam met his gaze, Dean's his lips threatened a smirk.
"It's just, it happens sometimes," Sam said, flushing. "With the, you know, Ruby and the powers and all." He didn't know why Dean hadn't pulled away yet, or why he hadn't started in on the inevitable taunts, or why this wasn't adequately humiliating to send Sam soft again, and he looked away.
Dean held his breath for a few beats, long enough Sam noticed, and when he glanced back, Sam found Dean's head cocked to the side. His hand stayed dry and steady over Sam's, and he frowned but didn't pull back.
It wasn't disgust in Dean's eyes. Sam saw worry there, more than anything else, and his own heart rate kicked up impossibly fast. The car rumbled on underneath them as Sam watched his brother. Despite the concern in Dean's face, and the pulse in his thumb pounding against the back of Sam's hand, his face was smooth and unreadable.
"This always something you need?" Dean asked. Sam closed his eyes and shook his head, even though he knew that wasn't the true answer.
Sam thought about nudging his mind towards Dean's, to see how he felt, but before he could decide one way or the other, Dean moved. He tightened his fingers, anchoring their hands in place, and licked his lips. His tongue swiped out, barely grazing his lips, but Sam zeroed in on the movement.
He wanted to push Dean's clothes out of the way and come all over that still-bruised skin, and the power thrumming through his blood told him he could do it. He could do whatever he wanted, and he could make Dean play along.
Underneath, though, Sam thought this could break them.
Dean still watched, not touching Sam anywhere new but not moving away, either. Sam didn't have any idea how to ask with words if this was okay, so he flashed his mind once at Dean, prodding gently and hoping Dean wouldn't notice the intrusion.
Instead of trying for Dean's mind, like in Texas, Sam pushed just far enough he felt a new set of emotions, entirely different than his own. Dean's worry sat heavy in his stomach, an extension of what Sam already felt, but beyond, Sam found something light and jumpy. He could still feel Dean's fast pulse, could hear his breath speeding, and Sam frowned a little before everything clicked into place.
Dean was as freaked out as Sam, but beneath the layer of worry, of what-would-Dad-say, he felt excited, too.
Sam let go of Dean's mind and grabbed his body. Dean's skin was hot under his shirt, where Sam shoved his hands immediately. Dean gasped, then wrapped his own hands around Sam's hips and pulled them together as closely as they could manage on the front seat. They hadn't really done anything, just made the accidental contact something purposeful, but Sam felt ready to come at any moment. He tried to get them flat on the seat, but when Dean smacked into the steering wheel and winced, Sam gave up and hauled him into his lap instead.
Dean was oddly pliant, even though Sam could feel his dick filling with blood through his jeans, and he pushed his brother back a little. Dean frowned and surged forward again.
Sam double-checked, pushing with his power, and Dean seemed fully on-board. He didn't need to read Dean's thoughts to know his uneasiness kept shrinking beneath his enthusiasm. Sam didn't turn off the power as completely as he had earlier, but left Dean's feelings in the back of his head and reached between them to unbutton Dean's jeans.
Dean swallowed hard and his jolt of pleased excitement only made Sam harder. He didn't hesitate as he wrapped his hand around Dean's dick and pulled him out of his boxers. Dean tightened his hands around Sam's biceps and bit his lip as he watched Sam: apprehension now, beneath the pleasure of being touched. Sam thrust his dick against the underside of Dean's thigh at the same speed he used on Dean, and Dean started shuddering. His eyes seemed wider and greener than ever as he stared at Sam. Sam leaned up to kiss him without really thinking about it.
Sam was a kisser, is all, and he knew Dean was, too. Dean told him, back when they were both in some high school, that kissing was key. Chicks put out for good kissers when nothing else sealed the deal, Dean said, and Sam learned in California that guys often felt the same.
But Dean was pretty much a sure thing, with his precome smeared over Sam's hand, and Sam realized, just before their lips met, that kissing would take this up another notch. He could explain this away on endorphins and demon blood and classical conditioning, but Dean's tongue in his mouth was a huge step beyond Dean's dick in his hand.
He felt Dean's flash of irritation as he hesitated and ducked his head to the side instead. He latched on to Dean's neck and worked his dick harder, and the pleasure eventually forced all Dean's other feelings out of the way. Sam knew he made the right choice.
Sam came first, humping untouched against Dean, hair-triggery. When Dean's orgasm washed over him a few strokes later, Sam twitched almost in sympathy; his body tensed and then released when Dean came, as clearly as if he'd gotten off again. Dean kept his hands on Sam's arms and they stayed slumped against the seat while they caught their breath. Sam scraped his teeth gently back and forth over Dean's neck, grazing the skin, and didn't think about what they'd done.
The windows had steamed up. Dean laughed as he backed up and climbed onto his side of the seat. Sam suddenly felt unsure of himself, even with the orgasm still buzzing through his body, and he busied himself in digging through the glove-box for a rag. He wiped his hands carefully clean. He didn't thinking about what he was doing, or about Dean tucking his dick away. Once they were both dressed again, he looked over and found Dean's hands wrapped at ten and two; Dean stared out the windshield and flushed when Sam didn't immediately glance away.
"We cool?" Sam asked.
Dean scoffed and put the car into drive. Sam frowned at himself as his emotions flickered all over the place, from disbelief and fear to, somehow, hope. He bit down a smile as he watched his brother.
"It was just a, a thing." Sam shrugged. "An adrenaline thing." He looked down as Dean headed back to the highway. He still wanted to grin, regardless of how badly he knew this could go.
"Yeah, what's a little incest between brothers?" Dean sounded defensive. "We've been hopped up on adrenaline probably half our lives, and nothing like –" He paused, and Sam felt awkward again as he waited for him to continue. "This has never happened before."
"Not between us, maybe," Sam said. He shrugged at Dean confused expression. "Yeah, this has never happened, but don't tell me you haven't noticed we're both more likely to have sex after a hunt."
Dean stayed silent.
Sam straightened and looked at Dean across the seat again. "It doesn't have to be a big deal."
When Dean nodded, Sam felt inexplicably sad, but he didn't examine it. He nodded back and stretched his arm out along the door, leaning it against the window, and tried to make sense of his thoughts. Despite all the times people mistook he and Dean for lovers, or invited them to threesomes, or whatever, Sam had never actually considered fucking his brother. Now, with traces of Dean's jizz drying on the palm of his hand, Sam wasn't sure how that could possibly have been true.
Nudity between Sam and Dean had never been a big deal, since Dean had usually been the one to dress and bathe and patch up Sam. They never grew into compulsively covering up with each other. Sam knew Dean's body from a lifetime of caring for each other's wounds, and sleeping back to back, and stealing each other's clothes, but this was the first time he'd wanted to put his hands on his brother.
It must have been a hold-over from practicing with Ruby. Sam carefully didn't think about the sense of hope he couldn't shake, even now that the sex was long over and they were pulling back onto the freeway. Sam glanced around and saw Dean was turning back, to the last town they'd driven through.
"We pass any good places to eat?" he asked.
"Yeah, one or two," Dean said, after a moment. Sam let himself zone out to Dean's voice and the rumbling engine.
"Mmmm." The woman behind the counter frowned at her computer. "Actually, we're all out of doubles. We've got two separate wedding parties here this weekend, for whatever reason, and we've been booked up for a while."
"It says vacancy outside," Sam said. He glanced over his shoulder at Dean, idling the car just outside the office doors and munching on beef jerky.
"Well, we're not completely full." She tapped one finger on the mouse as she waited for something. "We have a few kings available, if you'd like one of them."
"That's." Sam frowned and fought the urge to look at Dean again. "I'm gonna go check with my brother, see if that's okay."
She glanced at the Impala and frowned for a moment before her face smoothed into a smile. "Sure thing."
Sam tried to figure out his own thoughts on the way to the car. Despite their lifetime of close quarters, sleeping together on purpose was an entirely different beast, now.
Dean rolled down his window when Sam walked up, and Sam squatted down, resting his arms on the door. "They only have kings."
Dean paused for just a moment, jerky on the way to his mouth, then continued and popped it in. "And?"
"And…" Sam shrugged. "You know. Didn't know if you'd want one."
"Only motel in town," Dean said. "I'm not springing for the fancy place down the way, and I'm not sleeping in the car tonight." He shrugged, but Sam's stomach tightened and he bit his bottom lip. "Go pay the lady."
Sam stayed put, then shrugged as well and headed back inside. He fiddled with his hoodie's zipper while she checked them in, and palmed the keycards without meeting her eyes. Dean toyed with the radio as Sam came back to the car, searching through the stations, and he didn't look up when Sam told him their room number.
When they pulled up in front of the room, Dean parked the Impala but didn't cut off the engine. From outside, the door looked the same as any other motel they'd stayed in, metal covered in chipping paint, but Sam and Dean both stared at it for a long, quiet moment.
"You wanna get something to eat?" Dean asked eventually, and then cleared his throat. "I'm starving over here."
Sam shrugged. "I was gonna –" shower, he thought, but didn't say it. "Sure," he finished instead, and rubbed his right hand on his leg, trying to hide the motion between his body and the door.
"Awesome," Dean said, and shifted into reverse. The radio cut into a commercial break and Sam took over the dial as Dean drove them back down the streets. He flicked through two pop stations, one playing delicate classical music, and three more blaring commercials before Dean sighed and shook his head. "Just turn it off," he said. "We're here, anyway."
He turned into a diner's parking lot without flipping his blinker first. The lot was about half full and Dean parked close to the street and away from the other cars. He headed inside without waiting for Sam, and Sam locked the doors as he followed.
The diner was nothing out of the ordinary, with kitschy décor old enough it must have been in style when new. A few people sat at a counter along the far wall, near the wait station and the kitchen, but Dean had chosen a corner booth against the window. A bell over the door jingled as Sam pushed his way inside and Dean, facing the entrance, didn't look up from the menu. Sam sat down opposite him, careful to keep his legs on his own side of the booth, and picked up a menu from a stack underneath the napkin dispenser. He rolled his shoulders a few times to try to loosen the tension there, but he couldn't do anything about the pit of worry in his stomach.
"Evening, y'all," their waiter said when he came over. Dean nodded at him but still didn't glance up, and Sam smiled at the guy while he put a sweating glass of ice water in front of each of them. "My name's Louis, and I'll be taking care of you tonight." He glanced from Sam to Dean and then back. "You need some time?"
"Yeah," Dean said, finally looking up. Sam had gone back to skimming his menu, but he felt abruptly curious and glanced up. Dean was grinning at Louis, little more than a smirk. "Yeah, we're still looking."
Sam tried not to roll his eyes, but he couldn't ignore his simultaneous interest in the situation.
"Alright," Louis said, tucking his order pad back into his apron. "The meatloaf's our special tonight, if you're interested." His voice lowered a little and Dean leaned forward onto his elbows, smile widening, but when Sam glanced at Louis, he found the server's expression hadn't changed since he arrived at the table. Sam frowned in annoyance, and then in confusion.
"Let me know when you're ready," Louis said and headed to another table. Sam watched Dean watch him go with his eyebrows raised, and met Dean's smoothly innocent expression before going back to his menu.
"What?" Dean asked.
"Nothing," Sam said, and shrugged. He flipped the laminated menu to the other side and checked out the appetizers and desserts. He could see Dean still studying him, in his peripheral vision, but didn't look up. Eventually he felt a flash of disappointment, and when Sam checked, Dean was bent over his menu again.
"Sandwich tonight, maybe," Sam said.
Dean's eyes shifted over his menu, and Sam smiled as he read through the selections again.
"Did you check out the burger with bacon and jalapeños?" Dean asked. He leaned across the table to point it out. "I'm gonna have them put extra cheese on it, s'gonna be amazing." He slid his menu towards the stack at the end of the table and stretched out on his side of the booth, slinging one arm over the back of the bench.
"Mmm, yeah," Sam said. He tapped his finger on the bottom of the page, over the section labeled Sides and Substitutions. "You saw they've got chili cheese tator tots?"
"Seriously?" Dean leaned forward and Sam turned his menu upside down, then slid it across the table and pointed. Dean laughed when he found it and then sat back again. "I know what I'm getting."
"A heart attack before morning?" Sam grinned as he took back his menu.
"I'll take a diner-induced heart attack over the other ways to go any day."
Sam looked up but Dean still grinned easily, looking around the diner at the other patrons. Sam frowned out of habit, but the worry and guilt that usually came up when Dean talked about the two of them dying never arrived. Sam shrugged and put his menu on top of Dean's, then pushed them both back under the napkins.
"What'll it be?" Louis asked when he came back by.
Dean gave him another slow smile. "Bacon blitz burger, with an extra slice of cheese," he said, "and I want the chili cheese tots instead of fries."
Louis smiled and shook his head as he wrote that down. "And to drink?"
"Sweet tea any good here?"
Louis raised an eyebrow and chuckled. "Course it is."
Louis nodded and turned to Sam. "And for you?"
Sam hesitated with his own order – grilled chicken sandwich, extra tomatoes, baked potato with sour cream and chives – on the tip of his tongue. Dean raised both eyebrows at him and drummed the fingers of one hand on the table, and Sam rolled his eyes and turned back to Louis. "I'll have the same," he said, and smiled widely as Dean laughed, crowing.
"Heart attack before morning?" Dean asked, after Louis took their orders back to the kitchen.
Sam shrugged. "It may as well get both of us."
Dean frowned and Sam copied him a moment later, not sure his comment came out the way he meant it, but then Dean's face smoothed. Sam still felt hesitant, but Dean dropped his arm to the table and started slivering his napkin, and Sam shrugged and tried to forget it.
They stayed quiet while they waited for the food. Dean's gaze darted back and forth over the tables behind Sam, and Sam felt the hair on the back of his neck start to rise as Dean's eyes worked a steady circuit: the other booths along the window, to the door, to the parking lot, to the counter, to the kitchen. Dean's shoulders were relaxed and his hands stayed busy with his growing pile of shredded paper product, but Sam had to glance over his shoulder before he was satisfied nothing was wrong.
"Anything up?" Sam asked eventually. He started tapping his thumbnail against the Formica tabletop and Dean glared almost immediately at his hand.
"Nope," Dean said. Sam moved his hand to rub the pad of his thumb in rapid curves over the table instead of tapping it, and Dean went back to casing the joint.
Sam didn't relax until Louis brought the food, but when he did, the shift felt huge and immediate. He couldn't help but smile at the two steaming plates Louis carried out. The top bun came on the side of the plates so the burgers looked open-faced, and shining, greasy cheese covered everything. Sam's mouth watered, and he and Dean both sat up straighter.
"Looks amazing." Dean sounded sincere. Louis stood at the end of the table for a moment after he handed them their food, but Dean reached for the bottle of ketchup by the window without looking up. Feeling distracted and impatient, Sam smiled at the server. When Louis asked if they needed anything else, Sam shook it off like a horse with a fly.
"Gimme that," Sam said, watching Dean shake a pool of ketchup on the empty bit of plate cleared up by putting the bun on his burger. "You're gonna take it all."
Dean smirked at him. He kept hitting one palm against the bottom of the bottle, squirting a little more ketchup out each time, and didn't give it up until Sam rolled his eyes and reached across the table to grab it. Sam's breath caught as their fingers brushed but Dean handed it over without a fight. He pulled a tator tot free from the web of cheese and popped it into his mouth while Sam shook the bottle. The ketchup stayed in a red glob towards the base of the glass no matter how hard Sam smacked the container, but instead of getting annoyed, he smiled as nothing worked.
When he gave up, he put the lid back on the bottle and pushed it back towards the condiments collected at the window. Dean grinned at him from the other side of the booth, wide and shit-eating, and although his eyes widened dramatically when Sam dipped his first tot into Dean's ketchup, he didn't do anything to protect his plate.
The last traces of Sam's headache disappeared as he ate. By the time Louis came for their empty plates, he was stretched out on his side of the booth, with one arm stretched over the back of the seat. His feet sprawled under the table, with one shoe up against the wall and the other nudged out into the aisle. He couldn't feel Dean's legs anywhere, but across the way, Dean slumped as well, with both arms resting on the table.
"Y'all want some dessert?" Louis asked, eyebrows raised.
Sam shrugged when Dean glanced at him, but Dean shrugged back and then nodded. "You got any pie?"
"Lemon chess, apple, cherry, and ice box," said Louis. "Ice box's my favorite."
"Get cherry," Sam said. He shrugged again when Dean looked over. "Sounds good."
"Cherry then," Dean said.
Sam grinned as Louis wrote their pie down and carried away their plates. Dean kicked one foot to the side, smacking against Sam's shoe, and Sam kicked back, chasing his leg towards the middle of the table. Dean huffed a laugh and went after Sam, hitting him in the shin and then trying to trap Sam's legs between both his feet. Sam shook his head and squirmed until he could pull his foot onto the seat with him and tuck it safely under his ass.
"Fail," Dean said, and shook his head. He kicked Sam's other foot, up against the wall, and then stopped, planting his feet on the floor with two quiet slaps.
Sam shrugged. "I'm stealing some of your pie for this," he said.
"Oh, you think so?" Dean raised his eyebrows. "Cuz I don't think you're getting anywhere close to my pie."
Sam shook his head. "We'll see."
When Louis brought dessert, Dean made a production of guarding his plate with the diner's cheap table knife in his left hand as he ate. Sam let him get a few bites in peace before twisting Dean's arm with his right hand, just enough for Dean to laugh and spread his fingers. The knife clattered to the table between them and Sam forked a bite with his left hand, clumsily. He popped it into his mouth and smirked as he chewed. Sam didn't realize, until Dean's eyes dropped to his lips and he felt a stab of desire in his gut, that he was essentially holding his brother's hand while they shared dessert. He let go abruptly.
Dean scowled and pulled the plate closer to him. He finished the pie in three huge, quick forkfuls, and didn't meet Sam's eyes as he chewed. Sam ate his stolen bite slowly, letting it spread across his tongue.
"You ready to go?" Dean asked around his last bite, spraying tiny flakes of pastry.
Sam frowned and leaned back. "Yeah," he said.
Dean was out of the booth immediately, waving Louis to the counter at the front. Sam stood next to the table and fished some small bills out of his wallet for a tip, not letting himself look for his brother, then snagged the bit of crust Dean left on the plate and headed to the front as well. He eyed the server as he walked, noticing the glint in his eyes as he spoke to Dean and how he tugged at his bottom lip with his teeth in between sentences, and frowned at the complicated swell of emotions the sight brought up: the same slight annoyance he always felt watching Dean hit on people instead of getting back on the road, but also a hint of jealousy, low in his gut, and even harder to distinguish, a slight sense of hesitation.
Sam settled in close to Dean at the counter, leaning their hips together, and made sure Louis looked up at him before popping the pie crust into his mouth. Louis's eyes hardened, though his smile didn't falter, and Dean relaxed a little, loosening his shoulders and letting his arm brush up against Sam's.
"You wanna turn in, after this?" Sam asked.
"Guess so." Dean shrugged, and his arm jostled Sam. Neither of them moved, and Sam felt the jealousy and uncertainty melt away. He didn't know what the hell was going on here, but he felt more sure about it now.
"Here's your change," Louis said, offering Dean a stack of coins on top of a few bills. Dean nodded absently and tucked the money into his wallet. He was still working the billfold back into his pocket when the cash register printed up their receipt, and Sam took the thin slip of paper from Louis's hand instead of waiting for Dean to take it. He glanced down at it, mostly double-checking Louis hadn't tried anything as obvious as scribbling his number, and smiled almost genuinely at the guy when he found he hadn't.
"Thanks," Sam said, and hooked one hand in Dean's elbow to tug him towards the door. Dean went along easily, yanking his arm back and then elbowing Sam in the side as they both tried to squeeze their way through the door at once.
"You really wanna head back to the motel?" Dean asked as he unlocked the car.
Sam glanced over his shoulder and saw Louis through the window, wiping down their table and pretending not to watch them. "Doesn't look like there's anything worth doing in this town," he said.
"They've got cable there, right?" Dean drummed his fingers over the wheel as Sam climbed into the Impala and buckled up.
"Alright, then." Dean didn't glance behind them as they left the diner, and Sam smiled to himself, happy without examining why.
The motel parking lot stood empty when they pulled up; a few cars waited in front of the other doors, but Sam didn't see any people moving around. He swallowed hard as Dean parked by their room. Over dinner, Sam could put the events by the field out of his mind, but with the door to their room staring him down, Sam was forcefully reminded that they fucked around earlier, that he ate finger food without first scrubbing his brother's come off his hands.
He unbuckled and climbed out of the Impala while Dean still sat behind the wheel with one hand frozen over the ignition. The engine ticked as Sam walked to the back of the car and tapped the trunk twice. Dean didn't move for a moment, but then Sam saw him shake his head and reach to release the trunk. Sam shouldered his duffel and a bag of weapons, and dropped Dean's stuff on the asphalt while he closed the trunk.
Dean had gone to the door and stood in front of their room, digging the keycard from his pocket. Sam tossed his duffel towards him. It landed at his feet, smacking into his ankles, and Dean flipped Sam the bird while he unlocked the door and then kicked his bag inside. Sam followed him and dropped the weapons on the round table near the door before dumping his own stuff at the foot of the bed. He didn't look at it, big and square and taking up most of the space in the room, but he felt nervous all of a sudden, and very aware of Dean's presence behind him.
The motel was nicer than most of the places they stayed, which translated to boring. Sam continued to the sink, tucked into the far corner of the room, and set about washing his hands. He unwrapped the tiny rectangle of soap and worked it into a lather as best he could, scrubbing the thin foam between his fingers and up around his wrists. He kept his eyes on his hands, but he heard Dean rummaging through the bags, and then the whisper-soft fall of salt upon the carpet. Sam swallowed as he turned off the faucet, then cleared his throat. Behind him, the salt stream paused for just a moment and then started up again.
Sam gave himself a long, freaked out glance in the mirror. He didn't look different, same moles and messy hair and too-big teeth as ever, but he didn't know how to act now.
He let his gaze wander and found Dean chalking sigils above the door. Dean's shirt road up as he drew with one arm above his head, steadying himself with his free hand against the doorframe, and Sam watched the revealed slip of skin for a moment before shaking his head. He swiped his damp hands across his face, stubble scraping over the calluses on his palms, then turned and crossed the room.
"Gimme," he said, hip-checking Dean. Dean's gaze flitted between Sam's mouth and his throat when he glanced to the side, instead of making eye contact, but when Sam nodded towards the piece of chalk in Dean's other hand, he handed it over. Sam stayed in Dean's space just a beat too long, heart-rate kicking up, then took two steps to the side and started drawing protections beside the window, on the muted wallpaper. He could hear Dean's purposeful breathing, the smooth steady rhythm they both fell into when they needed to calm themselves down and think, and Sam moved to do the other side of the window without glancing away from the work.
They settled in against the headboard eventually, Sam with the computer in his lap and Dean with his arms crossed on the other side, still in his jeans and boots as if they were in the middle of a job. He'd found Cartoon Network and the TV blared Adult Swim.
"Can't believe you're actually watching this," Sam said without looking up from his Sudoku game. His voice came steadily enough but his mouth felt dry.
"You serious?" Dean didn't glance away from the TV. "This is hilarious."
"They're, what, talking food?"
"It's better if you don't try to make it make sense."
Sam shook his head. "If you say so."
The laptop felt hot through his jeans by the time Sam gave up on his third game. He closed the computer, then slid it onto his bedside table and squirmed until he lay under the covers. Dean still held himself stiffly on the other side, as far away from Sam as he could manage without one of them bunking on the floor, but as the next show started up, he relaxed a little. He uncrossed his ankles and then his arms, and when Sam sank further into the overstuffed pillow, Dean kicked off his boots.
Sam rolled onto his side just before he slipped all the way into sleep. The TV painted Dean's face in flickering colors. Sam studied him between blinks, and after he finally let his eyes stay shut, the mattress dipped – Dean getting up. Sam forced one eye open again and swallowed hard when he saw Dean beside the bed, stepping out of his jeans. Sam counted his breaths to keep them steady as Dean tugged off his overshirt as well, and then carefully lifted the bedspread to climb back in.
Dean kept himself on the edge of the bed and moved to his side, turning his back to Sam, before sliding one hand under the pillow. His breathing evened out but his body never sank fully into the bed. Sam measured his own breaths to keep up the pretense, count of four to inhale and count of four to exhale, and thought they both lay awake for a long time.
They headed out the next morning before the sun really came up. Sam drove through most of the morning while Dean dozed. He held his cup of coffee between his legs once he drank enough to stop worrying about scalding himself if any splashed over the flimsy lid. He hung his earbuds around his neck instead of tucking them into his ears, so he could hear his iPod with the volume turned low but still pay attention to traffic, and pointed the car to the sunrise with his own music playing.
Sam had listened to all of the new King of Spain stuff and was scrolling through his music with one eye on the road, the sun fat and low in front of him, when his phone vibrated once in his pocket. When it fell silent and still again, Sam glanced over at Dean before digging out the phone. He pushed the answer button without checking to see who it was but turned up the Impala's stereo to give himself some background noise, in case Dean was wakeful.
"Hey," he said, when he was ready.
"Sam," Ruby drawled back, sounding amused. "How's things?"
"You know how things are."
"Been practicing?" She hummed, then clicked her tongue and continued. "I'm not sure how you could, actually, tied up so tight with your brother's apron strings."
Sam rolled his eyes and didn't take the bait. "I'm getting by," he said. "Do you have any leads?"
"Nothing new," she said. "Where're you headed?"
Sam's eyes flicked to the sides of the road. He didn't know how Ruby always seemed to know when he was on the move, but it unsettled him.
"Florida," he said after a pause. "There've been some deaths."
She snorted. "Yes, that's just as important as going after Lilith. Great use of your time, Sam."
"You just said you didn't have any leads," Sam reminded her. "You know I want Lilith, but should I sit around with my thumb up my ass until you find some intel?"
"I want you practicing," she said. Sam could imagine her free hand on her hip and her eyebrows creeping closer to her hairline.
"Yeah, well, I have been."
Ruby snorted again. "Yeah, well, you should be practicing with someone, Sam, not by yourself."
Sam glanced sidelong at Dean, who still breathed steadily with his eyes shut.
"And don't try to tell me you've been practicing with Dean," she continued. "You need someone who knows what they're doing."
Sam bristled and, right then, knew he wouldn't be telling her about working with Dean. "Then maybe you shouldn't go for weeks at a time without calling," he said, also not telling her he'd overheard the garage conversation.
"I've been busy," she said.
There was a pause. Sam tucked the phone between his face and his shoulder to pass a minivan. Ruby didn't say anything else in the time it took to pull ahead of the family and get back into the lane, and he rolled his eyes as he put his hand back on the phone.
"Was there something else you need?" he asked.
"Something you need, I think," she said.
Sam sighed and didn't answer.
"You know it's okay," she said then, in that low, comforting voice he loved the best. "Sam, I keep telling you it's okay."
Sam clenched his jaw and tried to ignore his watering mouth. When he thought through how hard practicing last night had been, even compared to working with Dean in Texas, and when he thought about what he'd be able to do once he was stronger, he knew he couldn't turn down her offer.
"I'll text you when we get there," he said finally.
She ended the call without saying anything more, and Sam was left with nothing but Dean's favorite Metallica mix playing in the background.
"There." Dean had stared out his window for the past few hours, and he pointed at a billboard: New Great Wall Express II! Exit Now! "I want Chinese tonight."
Sam shrugged and moved into the right lane. "Sounds good."
The restaurant sat just off the highway, in a strip-mall with more empty storefronts than businesses. A few high school kids leaned against a dusty window, smoking in shirts splashed with their high school's mascot, and watched the Impala pass. Sam glanced at them; Dean did not.
Most of the cars in the lot sat in front of the restaurant, but it wasn't even half full inside. Dean was happy to fork over enough for the buffet and they piled their plates high with greasy food. People filled almost all the booths and Sam and Dean wound up at a table in the center of the room, facing each other. Dean didn't give his full attention to his plate but kept an eye on the people eating behind Sam, and Sam watched the other half of the restaurant, tracking the servers passing in and out of the kitchen and the people going to and from the bathrooms.
Dean wouldn't meet Sam's eyes. Sam went back for another plate after he chased down the last of his mystery noodles, and when he came back, Dean just nodded at him, still watching the windows. Sam frowned as he sat down. The restaurant around them was noisy, with Sam and Dean's silence covered by the top 40 playing softly overhead and other people actually making conversation at their tables, but Sam felt isolated from his brother. The longer Dean focused on his dinner, and looked through and behind Sam, the more Sam began to worry. He tapped the tips of his chopsticks together without picking anything up and tried to see how quickly he could move them.
He checked his watch and realized it was almost exactly 24 hours since they stopped by the field. In another hour, they would have been having sex a day ago. Sam swallowed, and the building, worrying tension in his gut started to make more sense. He knew how to treat other people the day after, but this was new.
"I think I found a few more deaths," Sam tried. Dean glanced at him with his spoon in his mouth, glanced away, then looked back again and raised his eyebrows. "I checked some of the local obits online at lunch, and I found some guy –" He broke off and clanked his chopsticks against his plate, three times. "Can't think of his name, but it's written down in the car. Anyway, it was ruled a suicide –"
"That was in his obituary?"
Sam shook his head. "No, that was in a different article. The police who came to the scene didn't think it looked like a normal suicide – like, one of the cops they interviewed said she thought it looked like there had been a struggle, and that they couldn't tell how he would have actually gotten high enough to hang himself." Sam took a sip of water. "No chair, apparently."
Dean nodded sideways, tipping his head towards his shoulder. "Sounds like it's up our alley." He pushed his chair back from the table. "That makes, what, seven over three months?"
"Yeah, as far as I can tell. I've only gone back two years, but I haven't found anything else that fits the pattern."
"The pattern being that there is no pattern."
Sam laughed, once, unamused. "Pretty much."
"Well then." Dean tossed his napkin next to his clean-scraped plate and left a few bucks on top of it, then hooked his head towards the cash register. "Let's go."
They gassed up and recaffeinated before getting back on the freeway. Dean turned the music up immediately, even before shifting into gear, and Sam kept his plastic cup propped on his left thigh. He flexed his leg in time with the music and listened to the ice jostle until it melted down into silence.
Dean drummed his fingers over the steering wheel as they followed smeary red taillights from evening into night. They passed through a few more towns without speaking and Sam didn't start searching for a likely place to bunk down until the 24-hour mark lay far behind them in the darkness.
"How much farther till we get there?" Dean asked, close to midnight.
"We're almost into Florida by now, right?" Sam hadn't kept track of the signs they passed and as Dean sighed, Sam felt annoyed at himself.
"Yes, Sam, we are in fact almost into Florida." He thunked his right thumb over his thigh. "We're gonna go straight to Tallahassee, I think, and get a room there. It's just a few more hours drive, not bad."
"Why did you even ask, if you knew where we are and how much further to go?" Sam angled himself towards the window, forcing his knees as close to the door as they'd go.
Dean huffed and Sam gritted his teeth, annoyed. "'Scuse me for trying to make conversation."
Sam huffed in response and crossed his arms. When Dean leaned over him a few minutes later to get his music box, Sam closed his eyes and tensed his legs. Dean finally grabbed it with a rattle of plastic and straightened, having managed to neither touch Sam nor run them off the road. He settled the box in his lap and flipped through the tapes without choosing anything for a while. The tape in the deck stopped playing, ending with a thrumming power chord over a final, smashing drum break, and when Dean let the silence stretch out without immediately putting in new music, Sam gave up on the road and glanced over. He kept twitching his leg, random now that he didn't have a tempo to match.
He caught Dean just as they passed under a streetlight, so yellow light washed over his brother's face for a moment. Dean was frowning with his tongue between his lips. One hand still moved among the tapes as if he could tell them apart by touch, but he hadn't picked anything new.
"A Night at the Opera?" Sam suggested.
Dean pursed his lips and shrugged, then rifled more purposefully through the box. Sam ejected the current tape and tossed it into Dean's lap while Dean found the new cassette, and when Dean handed him the box, he tucked it away in the foot well.
He pulled into the first motel they passed. It was in the suburbs, not even Tallahassee proper, but Sam wanted to be out of the car already and he didn't complain about how far they'd have to drive through town the next day.
"I'll get this," Dean offered, and left Sam idling in the Impala while he ducked into the front office. Sam waited for him to lean on the doorbell, for the night clerk to let him in, and for the two of them to take up their places at the desk before he slid his phone out of his pocket.
tallahassee, green oak mtl, he typed, keeping his left hand over the screen of his phone so its blue light wouldn't wash up over his face. He deleted the message from his sent folder after it went through and had his cell safely away by the time Dean came back out and tossed him a key.
Sam walked behind Dean as they went into the room, road-sleepy, and he helped salt and chalk it on autopilot.
"First shower," Dean said, and Sam just nodded. He sat down to pull off his shoes while Dean disappeared into the bathroom and then lay back to wait for his turn. He'd've hopped in the shower with Jess if they both wanted one this late at night, but he snorted at the idea of trying that with Dean. They were a decade past the days when they bathed together for anything less serious than fresh, incapacitating wounds.
Sam closed his eyes, just to wait, but woke up sometime later to a dark room and his brother having just kicked him in the foot.
"Get in the bed," Dean said. Sam groaned and rubbed one hand over his face, and Dean kicked him again. "C'mon, you can shower in the morning." He snapped his fingers. Sam groaned again but stuck one hand up. Dean grabbed it and Sam pushed off the bed as Dean levered him to his feet.
He had his jeans halfway down his legs and was kicking them off his ankles before second thoughts washed over him, strong and worrying. Sam glanced around to find Dean turning down the bed closest to the window with his shoulders straight and tense. He swallowed and eyed his bed, neatly made except for the rumpled stretch where he'd dozed, and then looked back at his brother. Dean lay under the covers on the far side, even though the only bedside table sat between the beds. Dean's phone rested on the mattress next to his pillow and Sam watched him test the blade of his knife with his thumb before slipping it away. He rolled onto his side, showing his back to Sam, and then grunted.
"Kill the lights," he said.
Sam blinked, then clicked off the reading lights one at a time, so the room fell into shadows and then darkness. He bit his bottom lip as he kept standing between the beds. He didn't know where he wanted to sleep, really; part of him had liked waking up warm with his brother that morning, but that fact freaked out another part of him.
"Shit or get off the pot, Sammy," Dean said eventually. He didn't roll or glance over, but when Sam slid under the covers with him, he heard Dean sigh into his pillow, under the sound of rustling fabric. "You even think about spooning me and I will stab you in the thigh."
Sam snorted and rolled onto his own side, away from his brother. The sheets tented off of the mattress between their shoulders, letting cool air in, and he sighed before moving onto his stomach instead. Dean's breathing sounded artificially measured and calm. Sam pressed his face into the thin pillow, and it lulled him to sleep anyway.
"What paper did you boys say you were with again?" the officer at the front desk asked, eying their suits.
"We're free-lancers, actually." Sam smiled at the guy. "Hopefully the St. Petersburg Times will pick this piece up, but we won't know until they do."
The officer frowned for a moment, glancing from Sam, to Dean at his shoulder, then shrugged. "Alright, gimme a minute and I'll get you copies of these files."
"Great," Dean said, and hooked a hand in Sam's elbow to haul him towards a row of molded plastic chairs against the wall. Sam pulled his notepad from the inner pocket of his suit jacket and flipped it open to his notes on the case.
~10/19/08, Fri, Agatha Johnston dies @ home, slit throat – f 82y
11/05/08, Wed, Claudia Rodriguez dies @ home, strangled w/hands – f 31y
11/10/08, Mon, Avery Bran @ home, hung, possible suicide – m 47y
11/28/08, Fri, Jesse Gabino @ home, disemboweled – m 26y
12/14/08, Sun, Isotta Gerda @ home, slit throat – f 61y
(12/17/08, Wed, Agatha Johnston found)
12/30/08, Tue, Robin Miller @ home, hung – m 19y
1/08/09, Thur, Lorenzo Roberts @ home, strangled w/wire – m 11y
1/13/09, Sat, Angela Lyndon @ home, strangled w/rope – f 50y
Dean leaned over and glanced through as well, then shook his head and sank against the back of his chair.
"Anything jump out at you?" Sam frowned at the list. He counted through the days and then shook his head; the deaths were scattered throughout the week, instead of concentrated on any particular day.
Dean shook his head. "Let's see what the reports say, and we'll go from there."
Sam frowned but slid the pad away, not very concerned. He wouldn't get much done without fresh info, anyway.
The station rang noisily in the early morning, as third shift milled around on their way out, some dressed in their civvies again with bags slung across their chest, and as first shift settled in, caffeinated and freshly pressed.
Dean elbowed Sam when the officer came back to the front desk, holding a stack of paper about an inch thick. He made eye contact with Sam and raised his eyebrows, waving the files at them, and Sam and Dean both rose. Dean settled in at Sam's side when they reached the desk, resting one hand on its edge and glancing around the room, towards the door. Sam checked behind Dean – public restrooms, a balding guy in another bank of chairs and a woman in a power suit a few places down from him, a spread of windows that were probably bullet- and shatter-resistant, a bulletin board covered in neon notices, a ball-point pen on the floor – and then turned to the officer.
"Is that it?" he asked.
He shrugged and handed the copies over. The paper at the bottom of the stack still felt warm against Sam's fingers, fresh from the machine. "Like I said, we don't have a bunch of leads."
"Eight people are dead and this's all you've got?" Sam flipped through the papers, letting the hand-written officer's statements and the formulaic typed paperwork flick past. He stopped at a black and white crime scene photo, books scattered on the floor in front of a couch, and raised his eyes as he showed it to Dean. A hard-cover lay open, with blood splattered on its open pages, but the spines of the other books faced the camera: three novels by Howard Lemitt. Dean shrugged at Sam, eyebrows raised, then tipped his head slightly towards the door.
"We're working on it." The officer sat down again. "What are you gonna write about, to tie this all together? These cases aren't exactly connected."
"Seasonal affective disorder," Dean said, taking the papers and tucking them under his arm. "And how it affects crime and depression, suicide, that kinda thing."
"You think –"
"Anyway, thanks for your help," Sam cut him off. Dean turned and headed for the door and Sam pulled a business card from a pocket. He made sure it matched their press credentials and then put it on the officer's desk. "We'll be in touch if the article goes to press."
Dean cleared his throat and Sam smiled one last time at the officer, who slid his card to the side of his desk without studying it. Dean waited just inside the door, holding it open for a group of kids following a young woman, all in green polos with JS Smith Elementary embroidered over their hearts. Sam paused in the middle of the entryway for them to file past, as rambunctious as the departing night shift had been earlier, and joined Dean once the kids stood around the front desk.
Dean tugged his tie loose on their way to the Impala, under a tree in the back of the lot. Sam took off his jacket and folded it over his arm, and when Dean put the paper on the hood so he could unlock the car, Sam scrambled to pick the stack up before any of the information fluttered away in the bare morning breeze.
They drove to breakfast first, finding a diner and parking themselves at the counter, and Sam told the waitress to bring him whatever Dean ordered without looking up from the files.
"That picture I showed you," he said, after he gave each page at least a superficial glance, "with the books?"
"Yeah?" Dean stopped straightening sugar packets and edged into Sam's space, studying the picture over Sam's shoulder. His arm pressed against Sam's, and Sam leaned into the hint of warmth bleeding through their clothes.
"Three by this Howard Lemitt." Sam pointed: The Amateur's Club, Intermediate-level Immersion, and Advanced Criminology. "And then look." He searched back through the stack, looking for another picture, and Dean shifted away a little, giving him room to move his arms. Sam frowned and, when he came up with the shot he needed, put it in front of Dean, on top of his silverware.
"Is that the same book?" Dean asked, leaning forward and squinting at a book in the corner of the picture. The shot cut off half the cover, but the author's name was still visible.
"Same author, anyway."
Dean snapped his fingers at Sam without glancing up and Sam split the stack of paperwork in half, then passed some of it over. He and Dean pulled the crime scene photos from the statements without discussing it, elbows brushing occasionally, until they built a stack of pictures between them. Sam bounced one leg while he worked.
"Here, this one's got a book, too," Dean said. He nudged Sam in the ribs and Sam checked. A copy of Business or Pleasure lay underneath the scattered contents of Isotta Gerda's purse. Dean further separated that picture from the others and then kept working through his shots.
"Here's another," Sam said. "Looks like, uh." He double-checked his list of the dead. "Robert Miller had a copy, too. Uncertainty and Expectations."
"I'm thinking this is our connection." Dean shuffled the pages around when the waitress brought their food, trying to clear a space, and Sam moved the statements to his other side.
"Thanks," he said, as she put down two plates of eggs and toast and ham.
"Sure," she said. Her nametag read Sophia and she'd stuck a smiley face sticker to the right of her name. "You need anything else?"
"Maybe some coffee?" Sam took the pictures out of Dean's hands and tried to stack them in some meaningful sort of order, already looking away from her.
"Uh," she said. Sam didn't glance up but Dean cleared his throat and then reached in front of Sam to clank his fork against something next to Sam's plate. Sam raised his eyebrows at Dean and found him grinning widely, still stretched across the counter.
"Try to keep up," he said, and nodded to his hand. Sam followed his arm and found Dean's fork up against a white ceramic mug, full of coffee. The top of the liquid shone with iridescent scum and it must have stopped steaming a long time ago. Sam glanced immediately up at Sophia and saw her grinning at him as well.
"Nevermind then!" Sam flushed and wrapped his hand around the cup, somehow amused under his embarrassment.
"I can get you a fresh mug," she said, smile wide in her voice, and Sam pressed his lips together as he passed the cup over.
"Didn't know this diner was so safe you could let your guard down like that," Dean said. He plucked the salt and pepper shakers from beside a metallic napkin dispenser and tipped seasoning all over his plate.
"Yeah, sorry I'm so involved in the case," Sam said, annoyed. "I'll try to care less next time."
Dean huffed and cut a huge slice of ham. "Yeah, because you'll be a lot of help on the case if something happens here."
"Dean," Sam said slowly, "what is gonna happen in a diner?"
Dean cocked an eyebrow at him, still chewing. Sam rolled his eyes after a moment and shook salt over his plate, slopping crystals on the counter and in his lap, then let his elbow fall off the bar with an artificial jolt so that more salt spilled around them, onto the tile floor.
"Oops," he said, and clinked the shaker back on the counter, next to the pepper. Dean shook his head and Sam turned back to the pictures as he forked eggs into his mouth. By the time he sopped up the last runny streaks of yolk with his dry toast, he'd separated the books from the rest of the crime scenes. Dean picked up the smaller stack and flicked through it while Sam downed the last of his coffee, and he kept working his way through them as Sam paid their bill.
"You hearda this guy before?" Dean asked.
Sam shook his head. "Believe it or not, I was never really into crime novels." He slid away his wallet and bumped Dean's shoulder. They headed back to the car and Dean passed Sam the keys instead of the pictures.
"I figure we check out the author first, see what his deal is, go from there," Dean said. He dug Sam's notebook out of his suit jacket and paged through it as Sam backed the Impala out of its spot and took them to the motel.
"Were they all library books?" Sam asked.
Dean hummed and checked. "Think so. Can't tell on one or two of them, but the others have that sticker on the spine."
"Hmm." Sam tapped one finger on the wheel at a red light and watched the cars going through the intersection. "So maybe it's not the author in general, but just his books at the library."
"Could be." Dean shrugged. "You're gonna want to hit up the library first, aren't you?"
"If they're library books, then yes, Dean, we should go to the library."
Dean huffed but squared the pictures and put the entire stack in a manila folder without saying anything further. They drove the rest of the way quietly, and Sam relaxed against the upholstery.
"Here," Sam said, stretched on the bed in his usual clothes, with his computer in his lap. He turned the laptop to the side and Dean left the spread of papers on the room's table to join Sam. They both leaned against the headboard, arms almost touching. Dean had a ballpoint pen tucked behind his ear and ink smudged on the side of his right hand.
Sam traced his finger just above the screen, pointing out the dates on Lemitt's Wikipedia page. "He died October second," he read, unnecessarily.
"Just before the deaths started," Dean said.
Sam nodded and straightened the computer so he could type easier, bringing up Lemitt's own site. Dean shifted closer to him and they scanned the front page, then sighed at almost the same time when Sam scrolled down to read about the release of Lemitt's ashes at his favorite beach.
"Guess the library's next after all," Dean said.
Sam nodded again and closed the laptop. "You find anything else in the pictures?"
"Maybe," Dean said, and climbed off the bed. He brought back a few sheets and spread them over the comforter, then grabbed up Sam's notepad and showed the victim list to Sam as he sank down against the pillows again. Sam crossed his feet at the ankles, angling them towards Dean's legs, and leaned closer.
"Avery Bran here is the only person the cops think could have killed himself." Dean glanced over the pictures and plucked up one, then handed it to Sam. "Check out what he was reading."
Sam tilted the paper to the side and raised his eyebrows. "Suicide Watch and Other Stories."
"Mmm hmm." Dean picked up a few more shots and dropped them in Sam's lap. "And all the strangled victims were reading the same books. Claudia Rodriguez had all three of them, Lawrence Roberts had Advanced Criminology, and Angela Lyndon had Intermediate-level Immersion."
"You think the books themselves have something to do with how these people are being killed," Sam said, leaning forward to check out the pictures still spread across the bed.
Dean shrugged. "Worth checking out."
"No, it is," Sam said, almost defensive of Dean's idea. He opened up his computer again and drummed his fingers over the keys while he waited for it to rejoin the network. "Do any of the other deaths match up?"
"Uh, there's Agatha Johnston and, mmm." Dean ran a finger down the list. "Isotta Gerda. They both had their throats slit, but I can't tell if their books are the same." He gestured to their crime scenes. "Agatha was reading Business or Pleasure, but Isotta's book isn't all the way in the shot. All you can make out is the author."
Sam leaned and picked up the copies. "Could be," he said, comparing the covers. What he could make out of Isotta's picture matched Agatha's book, but when he checked a different book from a different victim, the covers looked so similar he couldn't really tell. "Be nice if these were in color."
"Tell me about it."
"Okay, so." Sam Googled one of Claudia's three books and grinned when the results flashed up. "These three are a trilogy, about a cop who specializes in catching stranglers."
"Cops specialize in things like that?"
"I'm pretty sure they don't," Sam said. He checked back at Wikipedia and snorted. "I don't think Lemitt was a good writer, exactly. Looks like he wrote a lot but no best-sellers, and none of it really got good reviews."
"Okay, so, crappy author, duly noted. What else?"
Sam brought up Suicide Watch and Other Stories. "Uh, I think you're right about Bran, too." He grinned, pleased. "Suicide Watch is about a killer who hangs people but makes it look like they did it themselves. There's some other stuff in the same book, but that fits Bran exactly."
Dean nodded and reached up for his pen, then started checking names off on the list.
"Isotta must have been reading Business or Pleasure, too, because that one's killer slit throats. Says here it was Lemitt's only bad guy to do that."
"Okay, so, that leaves us Jesse Gabino and Robin Miller."
"What were they reading?"
"Traditions for a New Era and Uncertainty and Expectations."
Sam typed each title in its own tab and Dean leaned over to watch the results load, brushing up against his arm. Sam swallowed nervously but grinned at the same time, and fought to only let his smile spread on the side of his face away from Dean; he didn't want his brother to know, for some reason.
"Looks like Uncertainty's about a straight up hanger –"
"Hanger?" Dean snorted. "Really, Sammy?"
"– and Traditions disembowels people," Sam continued, speaking over him. "That check out?"
"All the way," Dean said, and flipped the notepad shut. "So, if this guy was cremated, what else is going on here?"
"Maybe…" Sam moved his fingers idly over the keys, not pressing hard enough to type or make noise. "Maybe he didn't write them alone. Maybe he had an uncredited partner or something."
"Who just happened to start killing people after Lemitt died?" Dean raised an eyebrow and Sam shrugged.
"It's gotta be something about these specific copies of the books." Sam frowned and brought up the town's website, then clicked through to the library. "We'd've noticed if all his books all across the country started killing people somehow."
Sam skimmed the library's page, looking for their hours, but Dean reached over and pointed at an item posted under the News section. "Check that out," he said. Sam clicked, and regretted rolling his eyes at his brother when the next page came up.
Howard Lemitt Memorial Collection Now Available
After local author Howard Lemitt's death last year, your Leon County Public Libraries are honored to have been entrusted with his personal collection of novels and other works. We are fortunate to have some of his handwritten notes and early drafts on display in the Local History Annex. These will only be available to the public for a limited time before we move them to our archives or return them to the Lemitt family, so stop by to see them soon! We also have a wide selection of Lemitt's popular crime novels available to check out, including some signed by the author.
Sam glanced at Dean, who pursed his lips and frowned exaggeratedly.
"Heard of weirder things," he said, but he didn't sound convinced. Sam frowned as well. "Still, it's a start." Dean pulled the photos together again and swung his legs to the side, to rest his feet on the floor. "C'mon, what time's the library open up?"
Sam rolled his eyes and pushed backspace to check the previous page. "Open now," he said.
"Daylight's burning then," Dean said. He swung his keys around his finger, letting them clang as loudly as possible when they smacked against his palm, and watched Sam lace up his sneakers. Sam grinned softly as he tied and he grabbed their suit jackets up on a whim when he passed them, draped over the back of a chair.
Dean raised his eyebrows when Sam tossed him his jacket. "Dude, what's this?"
"Put it on." Sam led by example and shifted his shoulders a few times to let the fabric fall as well as it could over his arms and back. "Business casual up, Deano."
Dean scowled but slid his gray jacket over his black tee; he moved smoothly, without hesitation. He set out of the room without waiting for Sam, who followed him, curious, and saw Dean check himself out in another room's window as he passed. Added to his worn boots and broken-down jeans, the jacket made Dean look styled. The cheap cut couldn't mold to his shoulders nearly as well as his broken-in leather, but when Dean stopped looking at himself and headed across the parking lot, the fabric settled, pulling only slightly over his shoulders and falling down to his waist. Sam tugged at his own coat, uncomfortable, and followed.
The library had been open for a few hours when they got there. One librarian sat with a circle of toddlers and parents, reading a story in the children's section just inside the front doors, and another sat behind the front desk, entering information from a stack of books into her computer. Sam glanced around and found a sign pointing to the history annex just beyond the desk and he nudged Dean, then headed over. The woman behind the desk smiled at them as they passed by; Sam nodded to her but Dean didn't glance over.
The annex wasn't its own room so much as a glorified display case, but Sam and Dean stood in front of it and studied the papers – a few yellow legal pads covered in a tight scrawl, a stack of printed sheets marked up in red, a framed picture of a man with sharp green eyes and a bad comb-over, a worn leather messenger bag. A short paragraph under the portrait said Lemitt died unexpectedly, from a stroke, and that he lived alone for much of his adult life. Dean took down a few notes but Sam frowned and headed back to the front of the building.
A row of computers stood opposite the front desk. Sam brought up the electronic catalog and looked up Lemitt. He frowned when all thirty-seven novels were marked as checked out. A few dates were scattered over the next few weeks, but most of them weren't due back until almost two months later.
Dean followed Sam over and peered over his shoulder. "All of them?"
Sam shrugged. "Yeah, looks that way."
Dean hummed, then shrugged and headed towards the counter. Sam took out his notepad and started making notes of the books in the collection, especially the ones which hadn't yet been connected to a death, but he kept his ear open for Dean. Aside from story time, which only seemed to get noisier as it wrapped up, the library was quiet in the morning. Dean's conversation with the librarian at the desk carried across the room, and Sam set his jaw as he kept writing.
"So, all of the Lemitt books are checked out?" Dean was saying.
"Mmm, let me just check." The librarian typed into her keyboard, waited a moment, and then Sam saw her nod out of the corner of his eye. "Yeah, all of them, sorry! If there are some in particular you wanted, I can put you on a waiting list for them."
"Actually..." Dean leaned forward, edging closer to her personal space, and Sam turned to watch, pen still ready in his hand. "Is there any way you can tell me who's checked all this out?"
She moved back herself, out of Dean's range, and raised her eyebrows. "We don't give out that sort of information," she said. "I'm sure you understand."
Dean nodded and slid one hand into his coat, reaching for his pocket. "Oh, of course. I know you can't give that out to just anyone, but --"
Sam frowned and pushed away from the catalog, striding quickly over to the desk.
Dean pulled a badge out, turning it so the fake ID would face the librarian when he let it fall open, and Sam reached his side just as Dean started to say, "We're with the --"
"With The Florida Times-Union," Sam said, plucking the closed badge from Dean's fingers and slipping it into his own pocket without flashing it at all. "We're working up an article on Lemitt's death, including his popularity in his home town, and we'd love to interview some of the people who're still reading his work."
Dean scowled next to him, but Sam stomped on his foot, certain the movement would be hidden behind the desk unless Dean made an issue of it, and smiled at the librarian. Dean turned to the side and grimaced, then straightened and pulled a smile up as well.
She glanced between the two of them, then back to her computer monitor, and then reached over to click her mouse, once. Sam couldn't see the screen but he guessed it didn't show anything worth reading anymore.
"We've got a few reading clubs posted on the bulletin boards near the front," she said. "You could check with the mystery group to see if any of them would talk to you, but I can't give you any of that kind of information."
Dean drew breath again but Sam hooked one hand in the crook of Dean's elbow, frustrated, and tugged them both a step back from the desk. "We'll do that, thanks."
He felt the children's librarian watching them as he took Dean back to the catalog and finished copying titles.
"The hell," Dean muttered. "You just, I don't even know, information blocked me there. What was that?"
"Dean, librarians are not going to tell you who's been checking out what just because you flash a badge at them." Sam wrote with his eyes on the screen, trying to go quickly. "We're going to have to find some other way."
Dean sighed and Sam gritted his teeth. "What other way?"
"Dunno." Sam skimmed back through the list once he copied everything, making sure his handwriting was mostly legible, then folded the paper and tucked it away. "May as well start with the book clubs, like she said."
Dean huffed but headed toward the door with a smile for the librarian, still working at the front desk. Sam saw her smile back, but it didn't reach her eyes, and he passed her without trying to call attention to himself. Dean slid out of his jacket before he was halfway across the parking lot and he tossed it into the backseat when he reached the Impala, then settled behind the wheel. Sam kept an eye on him as he searched through the bulletin board. He pulled the mystery club's flyer from the cork board instead of copying down the information and folded it without watching his hands, knowing but not caring that the corners wouldn't line up and the crease down the middle of the page wouldn't be perfectly perpendicular.
"Black Mountain Side" came softly through the speakers as Sam ducked into the passenger seat. He worked his way out of his jacket as well and dropped it over the back of the seat, on top of his brother's, and then stretched out as much as he could, cracking his knuckles.
"Maybe it's not all his novels," Sam said. He dug out the list. "This is almost five times as many books as we've got connected to deaths, and I don't think the library even has copies of everything he wrote."
Dean held out one hand and Sam passed over the notes. "So maybe it is something to do with these specific copies."
"Have you ever heard of a book being cursed like this?" Sam frowned, and Dean matched the expression when he glanced up.
"No, but I don't see why not. Enough other shit gets cursed, so it's not like books should be some exception."
"Yeah, but. Spell books and ancient texts are one thing, but modern-day crime stuff like thi—" Sam cut himself off, suddenly alert, and saw Dean tracking something behind them, in the rear-view mirror. Sam looked and saw the children's librarian crossing the parking lot, with her arms wrapped around her torso. She walked up next to Dean's side of the Impala, and he rolled the window down for her by the time she reached the door.
She glanced toward the building once before ducking down a little, bracing her hands on the edge of the roof, and leaning in. Her gaze flicked from Dean to Sam and then back again, and Sam leaned in, closer to them.
"You're not really reporters, are you?" she asked.
Dean glanced at Sam, who raised his eyebrows and shrugged. "We're more private investigators," Dean said, turning back to her. "Is there something you want to talk about?"
She looked back to the library again. "Tell me why you want to know about the Lemitt novels."
"This is gonna sound out there," Dean said, "but we think they're connected to a series of murders."
Sam almost expected her to head back inside without another word, but she just closed her eyes and sighed, sounding relieved.
"Thank god." She opened her eyes again and smiled at them. "I thought I was going crazy. No one else believed me."
"You've noticed it?" Sam asked.
She laughed. "When we kept getting the same books back from the police, sometimes with bloodstains? Yeah, I noticed."
Dean propped his right arm on the steering wheel, moving between Sam and the librarian. Sam frowned and scooted forward to lean against the back of the seat, so he could see her around Dean. She glanced between the two of them again and her grin widened for a moment.
"When can you talk to us about it? Right now?" Dean asked. Sam fought the urge to roll his eyes.
"I need to get back to work for now. I'm off at six, though," she said, and handed Dean a business card from the back pocket of her slacks. "Give me your number and I'll call you then."
She straightened and turned after Dean scribbled a number on a receipt for her, but he shook his head. "Agnes, right?" He handed the card to Sam, who read the printed name: Agnes Elliot. She leaned down again with her eyebrows raised. "Can you at least tell us who's got the books checked out? We need to get to them and make sure nothing happens."
Agnes shook her head, though. "I've got them all, almost. I started checking them out myself when I first noticed – they're all in the library, in my desk."
Dean hummed and Sam leaned forward, over his brother. "Just leave them there, then, and don't touch them." He held up her card and smiled at her. "We'll see you tonight."
She flashed them a quick grin and left, crossing the lot quickly. Dean turned and raised his eyebrows at Sam, who shrugged and tucked her card with the rest of the job's paperwork.
"Since when do librarians have business cards?" Dean asked.
"Dean, we have business cards." Sam grinned and buckled up, stretching as much as he could. "Stands to reason that people with real jobs have them, too."
Dean rolled his eyes but turned the key the rest of the way in the ignition, nudging the engine to life. "Where to, then?"
"Back to the room." Sam watched the streets pass, lined with small buildings and shops. "We can check up on cursed books, maybe see if Lemitt was involved with anything he shouldn't have been before he died, get some lunch, you know."
Dean nodded. "Oh, I know all about lunch."
Sam grinned and rolled his window down so wind blew in from both sides of the car.
They stopped by a taco shack on the way back to the motel and ate in the room, hunched over the table to keep from spilling lettuce and juicy meat on themselves. Dean spread the pictures out over the bed again and scribbled on Sam's notes every few minutes, and Sam stretched across the other bed, just watching for a few minutes. Dean kept working without glancing up. Sam studied his creased forehead and his fingers tapping the paper as he thought, his legs crossed easily underneath his body, and then forced himself to look away, swallowing hard.
He tore one of the leftover napkins into small strips, which he balled up and scattered over his bed. They looked like a spread of white BBs over the polyester. Sam grinned, then set his jaw and put his hands in his lap before prodding at one of the scraps with his mind. It shifted a few inches to the left, like Sam meant it to do, but so did the five balls closest to it. He frowned and leaned forward, settling his forearms on his knees, and tried again.
Sam focused on the specific bit of napkin, being as precise as possible. Before he tried to move it, he studied it in relation to the other scraps, to try to see the path he'd need to take to shift it without touching anything else. He could take it about an inch further to the left before running into another ball, and then, he could go up for another inch before needing to take it to the right instead…
The napkin went easier this time, and although the other pieces twitched as Sam worked his way around them, only his selected scrap moved. He let out a huge, relieved breath when he pushed the crumpled bit of paper away from the rest of the mess, and then kept moving it until it sat near the edge of the bed, alone.
Sam went through three more, concentrating hard, before he rolled his shoulders and realized Dean was watching him. He flushed as he looked to the other bed. Dean had shifted so he leaned against the headboard with his legs straight in front of him and his ankles crossed, and he watched Sam with his eyebrows raised.
"Well?" he said. "What's the holdup?"
Sam shrugged. "Just taking a break."
Dean rolled his eyes. "Here, lemme try something." He snagged a few pictures and squatted between the beds to arrange them in a grid in front of Sam. Dean glanced up, checked that Sam was paying attention, and then traced his finger between the pictures as if he were outlining a trip on a map.
Sam grinned at him and haltingly moved a napkin ball along the path Dean laid out. The continuous straight lines took him longer than the short swerves he'd made earlier, but he turned the corners easily. When the scrap reached the edge of Dean's maze, Sam looked up and smiled.
"All right, smartass," Dean said, but he grinned back just as big. "Let's see you do this one." He outlined a new trail, this time circling entirely around one of the pictures, and Sam started following his finger before Dean finished showing him where to go. He smirked when he finished and Dean tilted his head to the side before starting again.
By the time Sam moved all the scraps to a tidy line along the edge of the bed, Dean had added pens and the motel's tiny toiletries to his obstacle course. Sam let himself smile at the bits of napkin. This seemed like such a little skill, using so little power, but he knew why Ruby wanted him to practice so often. Any improvement Sam made put him that much closer to taking out Lilith. When he glanced at Dean's eyes, smile crinkled, he was suddenly, viciously glad for the work.
Sam cracked his knuckles when he finished, even though he hadn't used his hands the entire time, and Dean grinned at him. Sam studied his brother's smile for a moment and he became fully aware of his body again when his dick twitched. Sam frowned and turned away to gather the pictures together. The sheets shook in his hands. A droplet of sweat fell from his forehead to one of the copies and Sam frowned further as he reached up and swiped at his face. The back of his hand came away damp and he laughed, looking down himself and finally noticing the pit stains bleeding through his shirt.
"I think I need a shower," he said.
"I'm sure you need a shower, dude." Dean stood and finished putting the pictures back in place on the other bed. Sam watched the curve of his spine for a moment before forcing himself into the bathroom. He left the door propped open and leaned back on the wall while the shower heated up. He bit his lip, uncertain and horny, and let his eyes fall almost shut as he undressed.
He wasn't under the water yet when Dean slipped into the bathroom after him. They didn't make eye contact, just pressed themselves close and rubbed against each other until they came, fast and messy on Sam's bare stomach. Dean left silently as he entered, leaving Sam gasping against the peeling wallpaper. By the time he straightened and stepped into the shower, his hands stopped shaking and his mind was clear.
Sam dozed after his shower for most of the afternoon and sank completely into sleep with Dean still working on the other side of the room. He woke when Dean's phone rang, scrubbing the heel of one hand over his face while his brother answered and spoke in a low voice. Dean smiled over at him when Sam stretched and sat up, and Sam smiled back, warm and happy.
"Wherever works for you," Dean said. He held a pen in his hand and tapped its point against his notes.
"Off Andrews and Seventy-first, sure." He nodded and wrote something down. "I dunno how long it'll take us to get there, I think we're on the other side of town, but we can meet you there." He met Sam's eyes again and tipped his head backwards, nodding to the door. Sam nodded back and started gathering his clothes together, putting on a clean shirt with the rest of the outfit he wore to the library. Dean swung his feet off the side of the bed and laced up his boots with the phone squished between his head and shoulder.
"No, just leave them where they are. We can deal with them later." He stacked the pictures back into their file and rolled his eyes at Sam, circling one finger in the air as Agnes, presumably, went on and on and on. Sam snorted and shook his head, gathering their jackets together and leaning against the door to the room.
"Alright!" Dean said finally, with more cheer than Sam thought necessary. "Some of this is better to talk about in person, so we'll pick up when we get there. Yeah, mmm, so we'll see you in a few."
He snapped his phone closed and cleared his throat as he headed out the door. His shoulder brushed against Sam's as they passed, and Sam swallowed as he followed his brother.
Agnes had taken off the sweater she wore to work and sat alone at a round table at the café, wearing a tank top and slacks. A piece of paper covered in handwritten notes sat next to her, and her mug of black coffee was full but not steaming. Sam glanced around the place on their way across the café, feeling Dean doing the same next to him, and they both smiled at her as they sank into seats across the table.
"Been waiting long?" Sam asked.
She shook her head. "No, not really. One of my friends works here, so I talked to her for a while."
Dean nodded. "So, can you tell us what you think is going on here?"
"These books," she said, and slid her notes across the table, "keep coming back to us after whoever checked them out has died – usually after they've been killed. And I don't know what it could mean, but it's happened often enough that I noticed, and pulled them from the shelf."
Sam glanced through the page. In addition to the titles they figured out, Agnes listed Medical Ethics and Other Stories, which hadn't been connected to any of the victims they found.
He pointed it out. "We hadn't come across that one. Are you sure about it?"
"Definitely. It's come back after three separate deaths, two heart attacks and a stroke."
"What makes you think those weren't natural causes?" Dean asked.
"Because all the victims were under thirty, and in good health, and had no family history of how they died."
Dean raised his eyebrows and nodded. "Is there anything unusual about these copies in particular? Were they Lemitt's own copies, or were they involved in how he died?"
"No. The only thing about them is that they're all signed." Agnes forced a laugh and glanced between the two of them. "That can't be it, though, can it?"
Sam shrugged and then looked at Dean. "I know it sounds weird, but it's a starting point."
She shook her head and frowned into her coffee.
"We'd like to get a look at these copies," Dean said, and leaned forward. "Can we go see them now?"
She checked the time on her phone. "I can get us in after closing, but that's not for about thirty more minutes."
"This early?" Sam checked his own phone and frowned. "That'll be what, around 7:30?"
"Budget cuts." Agnes shrugged.
"In the meantime, is there anything else strange you've noticed recently?" Dean pressed. "Something in his papers, or something in the building?"
She cocked her head. "Like what in the building?"
"Electrical problems, maybe," Sam said. "Noises, stuff you can't explain, stuff that makes you feel uncomfortable even if you don't know why. That sort of thing."
She frowned and toyed with a strand of her hair, wrapping it around her finger. "There's – this might not even be what you mean, but, his papers…" She trailed off and started to shake her head but Sam interrupted.
"It's okay," he said. "It might not seem like anything to you, but it could be important."
"He was just so angry." She met Sam's gaze. "We had a whole slew of emails and letters and stuff that we couldn't display because he was just furious, stuff he was writing to his editor and his agent."
"What was he mad about?"
"He wanted to be way more successful than he was," Agnes said. Dean snorted next to Sam but she ignored him. Sam tried to push away his own sense of amusement at a case finally falling easily in line, and kept his attentive face firmly in place. "He kept talking about how much he hated when people didn't buy his books – like, if they borrowed them from a friend or got them used or something."
"Something like checking them out of the library?" Dean asked.
"Yeah!" She nodded. "Nobody thought putting antilibrary rants on display in a library was a good idea, so we kept everything like that in the back."
"Is it all still there?" Sam asked.
"As far as I know. It goes back to the family in a few months, so it's still boxed up."
"Makes sense." Dean checked the time as well. "When did you say the library closes?"
She glanced at her phone. "We can head over now, if you want."
"Did you drive?" Dean asked, pushing his chair back and standing.
"Yeah." Agnes frowned at her still-full cup and peeked over her shoulder, at the counter behind her. "I'm gonna get this to go, but you can follow me there."
"We'll be in our car," Dean said. He'd produced the keys without Sam noticing and clinked them against his hand. Sam waited until Agnes turned to talk to the barista before closing his hand over the keys.
"Dude, stop," he said. He didn't realize until he glanced at Dean that he'd grabbed his brother's fingers as well. Dean held his gaze with his eyebrows slightly raised and Sam's mouth dried out, leaving his tongue feeling awkward and ready to tangle up his words.
Dean smirked, barely enough for Sam to notice, and slid his fingers away. He jingled the keys all the way to the parking lot and Sam shadowed him with his jaw clenched so he wouldn't smile as well.
Agnes carried her coffee to a black Corvette, one of the models from the early 1980s that Sam secretly thought looked like the Batmobile. Dean raised his eyebrows and nodded once, and Sam's own estimation of Agnes increased an inexplicable notch. She checked out the Impala in return after she backed out and waved to them, and Dean followed her to the library's empty parking lot.
They pulled into spaces by the door, as close as they could get without edging into the handicapped spots, and Agnes kept glancing around as they headed inside. Sam cleared his throat to get Dean's attention, then nodded towards her. Dean nodded back and Sam frowned a little as she unlocked the door.
"The offices are all back this way," she said as they followed her through a locked door behind the front desk. They went through a darkened room with a refrigerator and large table, which Sam took to be a break room or something similar, and then along a hallway lined with doors. "And this is me." She stopped before a door covered with a Shel Silverstein poster and unlocked it. The office inside wasn't big, but she had a large window on the far wall and a full bookshelf along another, as well as a love seat facing her desk instead of chairs. She waved Sam and Dean towards it and Sam tried to sneak a glance at Dean while simultaneously avoiding his gaze as they sat, legs and shoulders pressed tightly together.
Agnes tossed her key ring onto the desk and pulled a smaller key, threaded on a necklace, from under her shirt. She gathered her hair together with one hand as she pulled the chain over her head with the other, then sat behind her desk and leaned to unlock her bottom drawer. She put the necklace back on and tucked it away between her breasts before lifting stacks of books from the drawer.
"These are the ones connected to the deaths," she said, pushing one stack towards Sam and Dean. "And I haven't noticed anything with these others yet, but I checked them out anyway, just in case."
Sam nodded and checked the first stack. "This is only six of the books," he said, and glanced up. "Are the other two checked out?"
"Yes." She sighed but didn't look down. "They're not due for a few more weeks, but I couldn't get my hands on them before someone else got them."
"Hey," Dean said, leaning forward. "You did a good job here, pulling them all out. This is –" He shook his head. "This was really smart thinking."
She nodded but didn't smile. Sam sucked his bottom lip into his mouth and picked up the top book on the stack, Intermediate-level Immersion. The book hadn't been inscribed to anyone in particular. A round yellow sticker reading Thanks for checking me out! sat stuck directly underneath Lemitt's signature, almost obscuring the bottom, looping swirl of the L in his name. Sam hummed and reached for the next novel, Business or Pleasure. It also had a sticker, this time a blue one that said Be Kind, Please Renew! Sam worked quickly through the rest of the stack, finding each signature featured its own sticker.
"What's with the stickers?" he asked, breaking the silence. Dean glanced up from checking the other stack of books and frowned, but Agnes laughed and shook her head.
"Okay, this is like the weirdest story I have, from working here." She leaned forward and took a book from Sam, opened it to the autograph, and turned it back so Sam and Dean could both see. "Lemitt signed a bunch of stuff, but he was a complete freak-show about it, sometimes. Like these, he pricked his thumb or something and put a drop of blood on the page."
Sam and Dean glanced at each other, each fighting a smile.
"But we can't just have bodily fluids floating around like that, not to mention it's creepy as hell, so we covered it up before we put it into circulation." Agnes looked from Sam to Dean and back again. "What? Does this help?"
"Yeah, actually." Sam reached for the copy she held and she gave it to him after a moment's hesitation. "This is just what we were looking for."
"Have you read these books yourself?" Dean asked.
Agnes laughed. "I thought they were killing people somehow. Of course I didn't read them."
"Smart girl," Dean said; Sam laughed at the eye-roll Agnes didn't completely suppress. "This is going to sound weird, but all the people who've died because of these books have died in the same way that the book's victims died."
She frowned. "What?"
"The three deaths you found that we didn't," Sam said. "You said they were heart attacks and strokes, right?"
"And the book was what, Ethical Medicine and Other Stories, right?"
"Medical Ethics," she corrected, still frowning.
"I'd be willing to bet that the people in those stories died from medical conditions, or were killed in ways that made it look like something natural. All the other deaths have matched up that way. If it's a strangler in the book, the real people reading it are strangled, if it's hanging, then they're hung. It goes on like that."
She shook her head. "So, then who's doing this? Are you saying there's a serial killer or something that's tracking people's library books?"
They both hesitated. "Along those lines," Dean said, after the pause, "but not a serial killer in the way you're probably used to hearing about. Howard Lemitt is the one killing these people."
Agnes's mouth fell open, and her gaze flicked from Dean, sitting closest to the door, to the hallway behind him. After a moment, she slipped her hands out of sight and started quietly opening a drawer, making it squeak as it slid open. Dean held his hands up, showing her his palms, and Sam saw him smile. The grin looked almost natural but it didn't reach his eyes.
"I know how it sounds. Ghosts and everything, we must be crazy, right?" Dean kept his voice calm and Sam held still beside him, keeping his hands in plain sight. "And we'll leave if you want us to, but just think about it for a second – what else could be killing these people?"
She stopped working her way through the drawer and moved both hands to her lap, sitting up straight and watching them closely. "I don't know," she said.
"He was angry when he died," Sam said, and Agnes glanced his way. "Angry about his books, angry about people borrowing them instead of buying them. And anger is one reason people stay around after their deaths, as spirits."
Agnes shook her head but her shoulders relaxed somewhat, and Sam kept going.
"And since he was cremated, usually that would keep him from having something to hold him here, but with the blood drops?" Sam shook his head. "That's enough to do it. That's how he's able to get into people's homes and kill them for not wanting to keep his novels."
"But," she said. "This is just superstition, this stuff isn't real." She grinned, sort of, showing teeth.
"You seem too smart to still believe that," Dean said, and her eyes pinballed away from Sam and back to him. "You got all this figured out before we did – hell, you found people we didn't, and we look for this stuff for a living – and maybe it's freaking you out, but I think you're too smart to let that keep you from accepting the truth."
Sam risked a glance towards Dean and saw him leaning forward, eyes wide and earnest and not moving away from Agnes. She kept frowning for a long moment, but eventually her face cleared and she sighed, then shook her head. Dean grinned a little and Sam leaned heavily into him, impressed. Dean's smile spread before he caught it and he let himself fall closer to Sam as well.
"So if it's a ghost," she said, eyebrows high, "how do we get rid of it?"
"Fire," Dean said, and Sam wanted to cover his face as Agnes visibly shut down again, scoffing. "We've gotta burn them."
"Uh, no," she said. "We're not burning these books. Are you serious?"
Dean tossed up his hands and Sam moved away from him, leaning towards the arm of the couch again. "I get that you don't like it," Dean said, "but they're killing people, and this is the only way to stop Lemitt."
She shook her head, and Sam did, too, after a moment. "It might not be," he said. Agnes and Dean both looked at him, respectively hopeful and annoyed. "The blood's what's keeping Lemitt here, right? And if that's only on one page, what if we tear out the autographs and just burn those pages?" Agnes and Dean both frowned at him now, but he shrugged. "Do you have another idea? That way there's nothing holding the spirit here anymore but the books are still intact, mostly. Win-win-win."
"I still don't like it," Agnes said, but Dean nodded next to Sam.
"It might work," he said. "Worth a shot."
He and Sam watched Agnes as she frowned at the stack of books in Sam's lap, then glanced down at the list of dead patrons open on her desk. She gnawed on her bottom lip for a moment, then nodded. "I hope you realize that this could cost me my job if you're wrong," she said. "I don't know how I'll explain it as it is."
"We can make it look like a break-in, if you want," Sam offered. "A really weird break-in, yeah, but it'd take the focus off of you."
"Yeah, maybe," she said, then shook her head. "Okay, so where do we do this?"
"You got a metal trashcan?" Dean asked, and she nodded.
Agnes put the box-cutter and letter opener from her lap back away and emptied her trashcan into a plastic bag, then they carried the books to the parking lot. She tore the pages out herself, bottom lip between her teeth as she ripped close to the spine, and then handed them to Sam. He pried off one sticker and saw a small brown smudge underneath the adhesive.
Dean salted the pages before squirting them with lighter fluid and dropping a match into the can. They stood between their cars, under the rising moon, to watch the paper burn. Dean left the trunk cracked when he got the supplies; Sam stayed by the back of the car with his hands in the trunk, on the weapons, but Lemitt only showed up for a moment. He flickered in and out of sight, and Agnes stumbled backwards when she saw him, but Lemitt only screamed and waved his arms above his head for a few moments before disappearing again. Sam kept his hands firmly on the shotguns but Lemitt didn't come back, maybe because they weren't returning his books and maybe because he still had other drops, safe.
After he left, Agnes wrapped her bare arms around herself and didn't pull her gaze from the flames, from the crackling and twisting paper. Once it burned down, Dean poured an Aquafina bottle full of holy water onto the smoking ashes and Agnes tossed the mess into the dumpster.
"Is that all?" she asked.
"You said there were two other books checked out," Sam reminded her. "I know this isn't something you normally can do, but we're gonna need to know who has them, so we can deal with the books before anything happens."
She bit her lip but nodded. "I can look it up for you."
Sam and Dean leaned against the front counter while she logged onto the computer and called up the information. Agnes glanced at them every few seconds. Sam didn't know if she was keeping tabs on them or checking them out; her gaze landed on each of them evenly, and he leaned towards curiosity instead of interest.
Dean stood closer to Sam than he might usually do. Even though he kept his eyes moving around the darkened shelves instead of looking at his brother, Sam was almost overwhelmingly aware of Dean next to him, awkward in his suit jacket and smelling of salt and smoke.
"Here you go," Agnes said after a few minutes of typing and waiting. "Sherri Williams and Maria Arbock." She wrote their information on a slip of paper and handed it to Sam. "I don't know if this makes it easier or not, but they live together."
"One stop shopping," Dean said. He leaned into Sam's shoulder to read the paper. "When're they due again?"
"Mmm, Sherri's is due in ten days and Maria's in two weeks." Agnes tapped more keys. "Need anything else?"
"Don't think so," Sam said. He tucked the paper away, and Agnes nodded and shut down the computer. "Can we call you if we do need more?"
"You keep our number, too, if you need anything," Dean said. He moved away from Sam to face her head-on. "Anything weird comes up like this again, give us a call."
"What should I do with the other books?" she asked. "The other ones I checked out?"
"You said there hadn't been any problem with them, right?" Sam asked. She nodded, and so did he. "Then, so long as none of them were signed, they should be safe to put back into circulation."
Agnes frowned. "But what if they're not safe? What if someone else gets hurt because I put them back in?"
"Then you call us and we'll come fix it for you," Sam said. "You've done a great job of keeping people safe here, and if someone else does get hurt, now you know what to look for."
She signed and turned away. "I'm gonna get my stuff from my office," she called over her shoulder, heading through the staff door. Sam could hear her mutter to herself as she went. "And then go home, and have a bottle of wine, and the leftover cheesecake, and I'm calling in tomorrow, and…"
Dean moved to the side, maybe to keep her in his line of sight, and Sam turned to watch the lobby. They stood around while she locked up, hands in their pockets, and Sam hauled Dean into the Impala to keep him from trying to talk up her car in the parking lot. Agnes gave them a tight smile when they started their cars and she pulled away quickly, hurrying home.
Sam's stomach growled as Dean turned towards their motel. Dean shot him a sidelong glance and grinned. "That taco place had fajitas, too," he said, and laughed at Sam's hungry moan.
"You think these two live together live together, or are they just roommates or something?" Dean asked back at the room, They leaned against the headboard of one bed with the cartons spread between their legs, and piled vegetables and steak onto warm tortillas.
Sam rolled his eyes. "That's probably not information the library cares about."
"It should be," Dean said. "I know I'd spend more time at libraries if they catalogued lesbians."
"For all your whining, you spend plenty of time at libraries as it is."
"Okay, well, I wouldn't bitch about it if there were lesbians involved." He knocked his shoulder against Sam's and grinned. "You know what I mean?"
"I have absolutely no idea what you mean," Sam said. He bumped Dean back and reached for the salsa. "When are we going after the other books?"
"We'll check their place out tomorrow morning. Maybe they both work nine to five and we can get in while they're out."
Sam nodded. "Yeah, maybe."
They finished dinner in silence, polishing off the meat first so that they were both stuck with vegetarian fajitas for their final tortillas. Dean turned on the TV and flicked idly through channels as Sam stretched next to him, full and sleepy. He listened to a few minutes of the Sham-Wow infomercial, eyes falling closed, before giving up. He tossed his duffel onto the same bed as Dean, letting the bag cover the warm sheets where he'd just stretched out, and dug through the side pockets for his toothbrush.
Sam blushed in the bathroom as he brushed his teeth. He couldn't keep from watching the stretch of wall Dean pressed him against earlier that day, and when he forced his gaze back to the mirror to splash water on his face, he rolled his eyes at his bright cheeks. He stared himself down, trying to wait out the flush, but gave up after a few minutes. He swallowed hard to try to force away his sudden nervousness at getting into bed and walked back into the room like it was nothing.
Dean still sprawled across the bed, next to the empty takeout boxes and Sam's bag. Sam climbed into the other bed, careful to stay only on one side, and rolled his eyes at himself even as he wiped his palms on the fitted sheet, under the covers. Dean clicked over to someone selling knives and showed no intention of moving anytime soon, and Sam let his eyes fall shut. He smiled at having this lazy time with his brother again, at winding down together without cataloguing it as a last memory, or a first.
He woke up, but didn't look around, when he felt the mattress dip as Dean slid in next to him. "Other bed's all messy," Dean murmured. Sam hummed and didn't move as Dean settled in. Neither one reached across the empty space in the middle of the bed, but Sam fell quickly back to sleep with Dean's breathing close to him, steady even though it had yet to slow.
"This job starting to feel too easy to you?" Dean asked as they sat in the car across from the women's apartment and watched the second leave just before noon, in scrubs. The other had gone at a quarter to eight, wearing business casual and swinging a briefcase.
Sam raised his eyebrows over his coffee dregs. "Are you serious?"
"We walk into town, there's someone else who's already done more work than we have and who gives us what we need, and now the last people we need to get by are just leaving their home for us to get in." He shook his head. "Too easy."
"How about let's take it where we can get it," Sam said. Dean shot him a sharp glance, head cocked, but Sam drained his coffee and shrugged. "C'mon, she's gone."
He picked the lock while Dean blocked him from view, standing close so the back of Dean's knees brushed Sam's back. The tumblers fell over easily and they ducked inside the apartment. The curtains were pulled and not much light pushed its way inside, but Sam and Dean fanned out, working their way around the room's walls.
"Not here," Sam said, after he checked the entertainment center and underneath couch cushions.
"Or here." Dean headed down a hallway leading from the corner of the living room further into the apartment and Sam followed him. He saw Dean continue all the way into a kitchen and Sam checked out two doors, one of which led to a tidy bathroom and the other into an office. He didn't find the Lemitt books in either room and, when he caught up with Dean, found him opening the freezer and peering around.
"Dean," he said, exasperated, but Dean looked over at him with an expectant face.
"Find anything?" he asked.
"We got breakfast on the way. Get out of there," Sam said. He frowned and ran his finger over the spines of cookbooks stacked by the stove.
Dean snorted loudly and kept looking, occasionally reaching inside the freezer and moving things around, but finally stopped. He stuck a cold finger into Sam's ear as he passed him on his way back to the rest of the apartment. Sam jumped and hurried to catch up and smack him on the back of the head. Dean smirked over his shoulder at Sam and led the way to the other side of the living room.
The master bedroom held an enormous bed, with a crowded table on each side, and Dean nodded, leering. "I knew they were together," he said, crowing, and checked out the table closest to the door.
Sam crossed to the other side of the bed and found the Lemitt novel on top of a stack of magazines, under a lamp and next to an alarm clock with a snooze button worn smooth. A scrap of paper marked a place towards the end of the story and Sam ripped the first page out.
"The other one over there?" he asked.
"Not anyplace obvious." Dean ducked down, leafed through a pile of books on the floor against the wall, and then clicked his tongue against his teeth. "Well, I take that back," he said, and waved the book at Sam before tearing out its autograph and replacing it in the stack.
Sam glanced back through the apartment on their way out but he couldn't tell if anything seemed visibly different. Nothing was missing, at least, and he doubted the women would notice the pages when they'd probably already read past the beginning of the books.
"Where should we do this?" he asked, on their way back to the car.
"Back in the room, I figure." Dean looked over his shoulder as he backed out. "I don't wanna stick around another day to do it at night, and that's as private as we're gonna find."
Sam nodded. "Hey, were these the only signed books the library had?"
"That –" Dean frowned. "Actually, that's a good question." He pulled out his phone and Sam zoned out Dean's half of the conversation with Agnes.
"I think she's still a little drunk," he said, once he snapped his phone away. "But she said we got all the books the library had."
"Dean." Sam swallowed and turned as much as he could in his seat, to face his brother. "These can't be the only copies he signed. What about the ones other people have?"
Dean blinked at the road a few times, then paled and cursed. "Well, we should have fucking thought of that in the first place. How many are we looking at?"
"No idea," Sam said. He closed his eyes and let his head fall back against the seat. "Sometimes authors'll do signed editions of a few thousand books, and he could have done something like that for any of his different novels. There's no way to know."
"Okay, okay, but." Dean gnawed at his lip for a moment. "We're not talking some bestseller, though. Is a crappy author gonna be signing that much?"
Sam nodded, thinking.
"And if he is signing thousands of books at a time, does he want to do the drop-of-blood thing that many times in a row?"
"Probably not," Sam admitted. He pulled the papers from his pocket and opened them up. They looked almost identical, spread across his lap, with ink looping across the lower half of the page and a cheery sticker below the L. Sam tapped his thumbnail against his front teeth and frowned.
"These aren't made out to anyone," he said, and folded them again. "Do you remember if any of the ones from last night were?"
Dean raised his eyebrows at Sam, safe at a red light. "I wasn't paying that much attention to what they said, no."
Sam fought the urge to roll his eyes only for a moment. "I don't think they were. They weren't signing editions, though, that's for sure. Those have a page that says what they are."
"This could just be some weird personal collection, or he signed them for someone specific he knew." Sam let his eyes unfocus and he stared blankly past Dean, out the driver's window. He felt like the answer waited just out of reach, and he worked for it, impatient. "This was from the family's collection, right?"
"Shouldn't someone from the family be dead, too, for loaning these out?"
Sam blinked. "Unless that's not actually why he's killing people."
Dean thunked his head against the steering wheel as he stopped the Impala, in front of their room.
"I'll call Agnes back," Sam said.
"Inside," Dean said. He cut off the ignition. "It's gonna get too hot to just sit here."
Going back into the room, Sam couldn't help from noticing the story their beds told. One lay neatly made, underneath a slew of paper and a good portion of their belongings, and the other had obviously been shared. It felt like walking into Sherri and Maria's bedroom again, seeing both pillows dented from the weight of their heads, and the tangled sheets Sam kicked off that morning to get away from their body heat. Dean followed him into the room without comment, but Sam heard him swallow as he threw himself into one of the chairs.
Sam fidgeted, unsure of where to sit. Was it worse to plop down on the bed they'd shared, or the bed they hadn't? Was it better to sit across the table from Dean, to keep him easily in his sight and in his mind, or to pace around the other end of the space, and try to outrun the elephant in the room?
He wound up standing between the foot of each bed, and calling from there. Sam felt Dean's eyes on him as Agnes's phone rang, two three four times, and when Sam sighed in relief as she picked up on the fifth buzz, Dean sank a little further down in his chair.
"Lo?" she said.
"Agnes, this is Sam, from last night," he said, and hurried on when she sighed. "Just one question, alright? Where did the signed books come from?"
"From the family," she said. "Already told you that."
"Yeah, and it's really helpful, but do you know who in the family? Which exact person?"
She hummed. "Brother, I think. Brought em all by himself, few months ago."
"Great, that's – do you remember the brother's name?" Sam turned to Dean, eyebrows high and palm held out, and Dean chucked him a pen without needing to be told.
"Had this whole box," Agnes said. "Big white one, all nice and labeled."
"Mmm hmm," Sam said. "And his name?"
"For the library," she continued. "He'd labeled them, to go the library, before he ever died. Shoulda noticed then how freaking weird that was – I mean, who does that? Who wipes blood all over stuff specifically to give it away after you die?"
Sam frowned. "So, the signed books were always meant for the library."
"Yep." Agnes stretched the single syllable out far longer than it needed. "Had this letter, too, about how we were getting something that no one else in the entire world ever would get, like we were all special for it or something?" She snorted. "Wish we'd just locked em up then."
"Did he mean the blood?" Sam clicked the pen a few times with his free hand.
"What else would he mean? He signed stuff often enough, trying to make something off of it, so it couldn't have been anything but the blood." Sam grinned and tossed the pen back to Dean. Dean raised his eyebrows but Sam smiled wider and shook his head. He held up one finger. Dean rolled his eyes, but Sam felt good about the case again.
"They weren't even first editions," Agnes was continuing. "Did you know that? I checked last night, when I was locking up, and they weren't anything special. Just random books."
"That's actually great news, Agnes." Sam sat down after all, one leg on either side of the corner of the mattress they used. "Look, you've been nothing but helpful, and I know this must be hard to deal with, but hopefully this is the last time you hear from us."
"Hopefully, yeah," she said. "No offense, but I never want to see you guys again."
"I know what you mean. Call us if you need, but otherwise, have a good life."
She just snorted and hung up; Sam's phone chirped as the connection cut off, and he looked at Dean. "Hung up on me," he said.
"Who wouldn't?" Dean tapped one heel on the base of the table. "What'd she say?"
"These are the only books with the blood. Said he left them specifically for the library. His brother dropped them off, but that's probably why nothing happened to him. He was just following Lemitt's wishes."
Dean frowned for a moment, then leaned forward and snapped his fingers at Sam. "Let's finish this, then."
The room's trashcans were all plastic, so Dean set the papers up in the sink. He squirted them down while Sam dug through the weapons duffel and got them each a shot gun, loaded full and fresh with salt. They each held a gun while Dean lit and dropped a match. The smoke gathered quickly in the enclosed space and Sam wished he'd thought to open a window, but Lemitt's spirit didn't even show up this time. Dean watered down the ashes, once the fire burned out, and scooped the sludge into the toilet. He and Sam stared at each other for a moment, eyebrows high, and then Dean threw his head back and laughed.
"Man, every job should be that smooth. I'm still waiting for the other foot, you know?" He held out one hand and Sam slapped his sawed-off into his brother's palm. They brushed up against each other as they crossed paths, Dean to tuck the weapons away and Sam to finish wiping down the sink, and Sam shivered. His reflection was pink-cheeked, and his eyes dilated more than the dim room required. He listened to Dean for a moment, then ran water through a threadbare hand-towel and scrubbed the black streaks from the sink's scalloped sides.
"Dammit." Dean kicked something, maybe one of the bed frames, and Sam frowned as he checked over his shoulder. "Check-out was thirty minutes ago."
Sam sighed but then shrugged. "So we stay another day. Nicer here than in Maine, anyway."
"Yeah, we'll just call ahead and leave the vamps a message, make sure they don't get after anyone else." Dean kicked the bed again and Sam saw a paper flutter to the floor, landing face-up so one of the corpses stared blankly up at their ceiling.
"Okay, so we'll get rested and stocked up today, and then we can haul ass tomorrow, make sure we get there faster." Sam filled the sink again and let the charcoaled towel soak, then crossed the room. He kicked at Dean's boots as he went and grinned as his brother scowled. "Hey, we can switch off driving and go all night if you want. It's not that big of a deal."
Dean eyed Sam as he sat down at the table and started clearing it off. "People could die, Sam. That's a big deal."
Sam clenched his jaw. "Yeah, and maybe some of them died while we took this job. We can't get to everyone in the world, you know."
"We can try a little harder than this." Dean swept the evidence off the bed. Sam watched him, feeling antsy and full of cabin fever all of a sudden. When Dean gathered the copies into his arms and crammed them into the beige trashcan under the sink, Sam crossed to the bedside table and searched through the drawer inside. He found a few laminated take-out menus, a sheet listing the pay-per-view rates, and a years-old Yellowpages. He picked up the phone book, smiled at its heft in his hand, and sat back down at the table.
Dean frowned, but Sam waved the book at him and nodded towards the table. "You mind practicing with me?"
Dean's frown deepened for a moment and Sam suddenly regretted asking. His dick twitched, before they'd even done anything, and he flushed and looked away as Dean just stood in the middle of the room, watching him.
"Or, you know what, never mind. We did yesterday, and –"
"No," Dean interrupted. He sat carefully across from Sam, whose breath caught when he saw Dean adjust himself while trying not to call attention to his hand in his lap. "What do you want to work on?"
Sam bit his bottom lip, thinking, and thirty minutes later found them still facing each other across the table. Dean held onto the book with both hands, pressing it into the table, while Sam gripped the book in his mind and tried to pull it to himself. Dean didn't hold on very hard, but Sam couldn't budge it.
He knew how it would feel to yank the book out of Dean's hands, but he couldn't do it. He could only manage gentle tugs. Dean needed to exert a little pressure to keep it from moving, but Sam wasn't going to win unless he used his hands instead of his mind.
He finally let go with a gasp and slumped back in his chair. Dean fell back a little as well, without the resistance.
"What's going on here?" he asked, frowning. "You did way better than this yesterday."
Sam shrugged and tried to force his breathing under control. "I guess I'm not used to it yet," he hedged.
Dean narrowed his eyes. "You didn't get worse like this when we started," he said. "All those times, with the target practice? You kept getting better with that."
"Sometimes it comes and goes," Sam said, and that was technically true. He scrubbed his hands over his face and stood, then crossed to the sink and filled a glass of water. He watched Dean watch him in the mirror while he drank.
"Well, then we practice more," Dean said. "Work up your endurance."
Sam shook his head. "It doesn't work that way," he said. "It's not like with muscles. Pushing through it's just gonna make it worse."
"I thought it was being out of practice that made things hard," Dean said, voice neutral. Sam glanced over his shoulder and saw Dean leaning back with his legs kicked wide under the table and his hands laced behind his neck.
"That's what you said earlier, back in that church, first time with Alistair. And you said the headaches went away with practice, too," Dean said. He raised his eyebrows slightly and let his hands fall to his thighs with a slap. "Or was that a lie, too?"
Sam frowned. He knew Ruby had meant "low on blood" when she said "out of practice," but there was no way of telling that to Dean.
"It's not like this came with an instruction manual," he said instead, and pulled his shirt off on his way into the bathroom. He pulled the door closed behind him and stripped down. Sam stalled for as long as he could before owning up to himself that he was waiting for Dean. He listened at the door for a moment, ashamed, but he couldn't make anything out over the shower. If Dean moved around, he kept quiet about it. Sam frowned, more upset than he wanted to admit, and stepped into the tub.
He jerked off as quickly as he could, with the water beating down on his shoulders and his fist slick with conditioner. When he wrapped a towel around himself and went to dig clothes from his duffel, Sam found Dean still lounged in the same chair. He'd crossed his hands over his belly and his flask sat on the table, next to the phone book. The lid was still screwed on, but Sam knew that didn't mean anything.
Dean watched Sam dress, and Sam had no idea what he thought.
Sam kept checking his email that afternoon, after Dean hopped in the car and set off to find a Wal-Mart. He scanned his RSS feeds for anything notable, set up a new Google alert ("rotten eggs -chicken -fowl"), and skimmed through CNN.com before finally being satisfied Dean wouldn't show up again, having forgotten something. He scrawled a final note about the search results on the motel pad, in case Dean came back to the room before Sam, and frowned at how his handwriting jumped across the paper.
Sam checked the salt lines on his way out and called Ruby as he headed down the stairs.
"You left yet?" she asked, after picking up.
"Going across the parking lot," he said. "Where are you?"
"Turn around," she said. "I'm in the same motel as you. Room 211."
"How'd you know where I am?" He frowned as he turned.
"Sammy," she said, and laughed. "I always know where you are."
She'd already taken off her jacket and pulled her hair into a messy ponytail, bun, something, by the time she opened the door. She smiled the way she always did when he came to her like this: genuine and comforting around the mouth, but calculating and hard around her eyes. Sam avoided her gaze as he shrugged out of his shirt. When he joined Ruby on the bed, he was down to his undershirt and pants.
"You could lose the shoes," she said, and glanced meaningfully down her own legs. Sam checked and saw her stocking feet – neon blue socks with thin black and white stripes.
He shrugged and looked away.
Ruby sighed and picked up the knife from the bedside table. Sam didn't watch her slice into her favorite stretch of arm, just below the crease of her elbow, but he smelled her blood the instant she cut. The room was hot and metallic all of a sudden, copper layered under sulfur, and as much as Sam hated the reaction, his mouth watered.
"Come on, Sam," she said, low and soft, and put the knife, still wet and bloody, on the table. She rubbed her uninjured hand up and down his thigh and offered him the cut.
Sam trembled for a moment, torn between wanting the blood and hating that he was powerless to turn this away, then gripped her hard, one hand on her elbow and the other wrapped around her wrist, and drank.
He stayed vaguely aware of pulling Ruby closer to him, that she turned so her arm wouldn't be wrenched in too uncomfortable an angle, that her free hand petted over his face and neck and hair, but he didn't care about any of it. Ruby's blood gushed body-warm into his mouth, and she shuddered every time he ran his tongue over the gash in her skin.
By the time she wound her hand in his hair and pushed him away, to sprawl back on the bed, Sam's head spun. He stared at the ceiling while he set his body to healing itself. The tension in his shoulders, the dull headache he'd been ignoring, the cut on his neck where he slipped up shaving, the exhaustion that built up since the last time he was alone with Ruby – all of it slipped away, leaving him fresh and whole.
The power built up in his body until he almost tingled with it. He cast his mind out around the room and wrapped his power easily around the furniture. He didn't move any of it but he knew he could.
Ruby moved around the room for a while before she washed off her arm in the sink. Sam propped himself up on an elbow and saw her frown down at the wound while she made the body fix itself. He hadn't even noticed himself getting hard, it was such a part of the routine at this point. Ruby raised an eyebrow at him, when she looked up from her arm, and he smiled as he let himself fall back against the bed.
She joined him almost immediately. Her eyes slipped into black as she fought her way out of her jeans, and she sank down on his cock as soon as he unzipped his pants. Ruby never bothered with underwear. She was already dripping wet, and Sam wrapped his hands around her hips to move her in the rhythm he wanted, slamming her down in time with his thrusts.
He came fast; he didn't last long when he fucked like this. The lights flickered as he closed his eyes and thrust up again and again, and he heard glass shatter in the bathroom above him. Ruby laughed, surprised.
"You're getting better," she said, and climbed off him to lie on the other side of the bed. "Need to work on your control, maybe, but spontaneous stuff like that, that's good."
"Mmm," Sam said. Once he caught his breath a little, he stood and started pulling his clothes together again. Ruby stayed sprawled in the bed, with her legs wide and her fingers working over her clit, but Sam ignored her. The afterglow came as close to settling him as anything could, after he just recharged, and he wouldn't mess with his calm.
He couldn't check his reflection with the mirror in shards on the floor, but he scrubbed his face anyway. The motel's scratchy washrag came away tinged pink. Sam tried not to think about it.
Ruby came twice in rapid, noisy succession before he dried his hands, but she sat cross-legged in the center of the bed by the time he got back into his button-down.
"I meant it, Sam," she said. "That means you're getting stronger."
"How long until I'm strong enough?" he asked. He rolled his sleeves up to his elbows, then turned to face her. She was still naked from the waist down, with her blue socks bright against her pale skin, but Sam didn't stare. Fresh off an orgasm and comfortingly full of blood, he didn't feel like humoring Ruby right now.
"Lilith is strong." She shrugged. "She was the first demon that used to be human, and she's had a long time to learn. Just because you could take out Alistair doesn't mean you'd even be able to leave a mark on her."
"Wait, so, are you saying the Lilith myth is real?" Sam frowned.
"Yeah?" Ruby raised her eyebrows and laughed, then leaned over to grab her jeans and pull them back on. "Did you think the names were a coincidence?"
"I thought Lilith – the story, not the demon – was just another creation myth variation." Sam leaned against the door. "Are you saying we're up against Adam's pissed-off first wife?"
"She was never anyone's wife," Ruby said, and then shrugged again. "It's not precisely the same as the myth. Lilith was just a woman, but she was the first person to make a deal with Lucifer. Apparently he liked her so much that he brought her into the company, and." She smiled and spread her hands. "You know the rest."
"Yeah," Sam said. He glanced over his shoulder, towards the curtained windows, then pushed off the door and turned to open it.
"Hey," Ruby said. "You can't leave yet. We still have work to do."
He looked back at her and raised his eyebrows. "You have a lead?"
"No, but you need to practice, Sam." She frowned and got off the bed to stand before him. "We both just saw what you did." She waved her hand over her shoulder, towards the broken glass in the bathroom. "And that's good, but you have to learn how to control it."
Sam laughed. He looked around the room and settled his mind on the round table between the bed and the window. He raised his eyebrows meaningfully at the table, and once Ruby looked over, he picked it up and spun it in midair. He'd never moved anything this big before, but it lifted easily and stayed under his control, without smashing into the ceiling or wobbling to the side. After a few rotations, Sam sat it down gently. Ruby turned back to stare at him with wide eyes.
"I've got it under control," he said. "I'm getting better."
"You've been working without me?" she asked.
"Yep," Sam said. "So we're done here."
Ruby laughed once. "Sam, you can't just jump at this stuff by yourself. You have to have someone help you, in case someth—" She broke off and cocked her head. "Unless – don't tell me that you and Dean?" She laughed again, this time with real amusement behind the sound. "No way. He wouldn't."
Sam shrugged. "I'll give you a call, next time I need to talk to you," he said, and headed out the door.
He heard Ruby cursing behind him, and got halfway down the staircase before she tore out of the room after him, jeans still unbuttoned. "Sam, you need my help," she said, leaning over the second floor railing and watching him go down the stairs. He paused on the landing and looked up. She hadn't pulled anything on over her tank, and stood there in bare arms and stocking feet, with dark eyes. "You cannot do this on your own."
Sam grinned tightly, dismissively, at her, and kept going down the stairs. He didn't really know where he was going, but away seemed nice. The importance of keeping Ruby around faded under Sam's sense of power. There were other demons, and right now, Sam could kill this one without breaking a sweat. He guessed Ruby knew it, too, based on how she held the railing instead of following him to try to force the issue.
"If you walk away now – Sam!" she yelled. "You can't pick and choose! Once Lilith can use Lucifer, she'll be too strong to stop! This is all or nothing!"
He stopped in the middle of the parking lot and turned back to her. She leaned far over the rail, with her hair blowing in her face and around her shoulders. The motel's other guests probably thought he was dumping her.
"Then it's nothing," Sam said, and turned. "I can get her on my own," he said to himself. "I can get her with Dean."
Sam set off at random, but the more he thought about what Ruby said, the less it made sense. He'd always heard of Lucifer referred to in the same manner as any other demon – as his own entity. Lucifer would walk when the seals broke, promised whatever obscure holy book complicated their lives that week. Sam never doubted Lucifer was anyone, or anything, other than the rebel angel he'd seen in both canon and pop culture.
He paused outside a coffee shop and pretended to read the menu posted in the window while he thought. Ruby said Lilith would use Lucifer, as if he were an assassin or a tool. This was the first he'd heard of a demon saying anything like that – Alistair hadn't said anything along those lines even as he died – but Sam knew that didn't necessarily mean anything.
Demons lie. Sam just didn't know what to do when they all started telling different lies.
He realized a barista was eying him suspiciously as she wiped down the tables near the window. Sam smiled at her, went inside, and ordered a huge coffee and two scones. He left a tip in the mug by the cash register, which made the guy behind the counter smile, but the woman kept her distance from Sam.
He sat down and took the lid off his cup. The coffee steamed while he thought. He didn't know why he focused so intently on one sentence Ruby threw away about Lucifer, but it seemed important. He pulled a pen from his back pocket and scribbled down notes on a napkin, munching through a scone with his other hand.
- Ruby says: Lilith will use Lucifer – how? is he subordinate to her?
- Castiel says: Lucifer hates humanity, wouldn't bow to us, bringing apoc, etc etc
Sam tapped his pen against the table a few more times and came up with nothing else worth writing. He wished he had his laptop with him.
By the time he finished his first scone, he'd pulled out his phone and scrolled down to Dean. He frowned at the phone while he ate the rest of his food. This was precisely the kind of thing he would have kept from Dean a few weeks ago, and even now, Sam didn't want to tell him. Habit told him to store up this knowledge and save it, to use against Lilith when the time came; habit told him to use this info to make the time come.
Something to do with both Lilith and Lucifer sounded like something Dean would want to know, though. Sam grimaced, took a long drink of his cooling coffee, and called.
"Hey," Dean answered. "I'm almost back, you forget something?"
"No, actually," Sam said. "I, uh, ran into Ruby."
Dean exhaled, sounding irritable. "Just happened to meet up?"
"She knew where we were staying," Sam said. "Look, you're done? She said something I wanna talk to you about."
Dean paused, long enough Sam checked to see if the call had been dropped. "Yeah," he said eventually. "Okay, whatever. You back at the room?"
"Nah," Sam said. "There's this coffee place by the motel. I'll give you directions."
Dean stopped by the 24-hour donut shop next door, first. He let Sam rifle through the bag of sausage rolls and sprinkled donuts after he pulled out a few for himself. Sam had bought him a cup of coffee and it sat in the center of the table, with Sam again sharpied onto it by the coffee guy.
"So, what's the deal?" Dean asked, after his first sip.
Sam ran him through a very edited version of events, telling him Ruby was pissed he was practicing with someone else, which made Dean smirk and sit up straighter. When Sam repeated what she said about Lucifer, though, Dean just raised his eyebrows.
"And the punch line is?" he asked. "Lilith wants Lucifer free, not exactly breaking news."
"It was how she said it." Sam shut his eyes and thought back. "'Once Lilith can use Lucifer, she'll be too strong,'" he repeated, and looked at Dean again. "That's not how I've heard anyone talk about him before."
Dean shrugged. "It's Lucifer. What are you looking for, here?"
Sam frowned and stared into his coffee. "Has Castiel ever said anything about him?"
"Just what we already knew." Dean slurped. "Look, this sounds like Ruby was just running her mouth off, to me."
"No." Sam shook his head. "She was worried about it. I think there's something here."
"Whatever." Dean drained his coffee and pushed the empty cup away. "You ready to get outta here?"
"Yeah. Actually, I was thinking, maybe we could go practice again." Sam met his brother's eyes and waited for Dean to let him know they were on the same page.
"I thought you were too wiped out," Dean said.
"Feel better now." He waved his empty paper cups at Dean, hesitated, and then kept going. "Maybe I just needed something to drink."
Dean eyed him for a moment, then pushed his chair back from the table and stood. "Where to?"
"Back to the room." Sam gathered their trash together. "I wanna try something big."
Dean leaned against the door with his arms crossed, and Sam stood in front of him, just inside the room. They'd pulled the curtains and made sure the Do Not Disturb sign hung on the knob. The room stayed dim and isolated as Sam worked.
One by one, Sam lifted the pieces of furniture, spun them in midair like he did for Ruby, and then put them noiselessly back in place. He didn't watch Dean, but he was strong enough now he didn't need to throw all his power behind a single task. He concentrated on moving the furniture, on wrapping the bed or the dresser in his mind and making it go where he wanted, but a portion of his consciousness focused entirely on Dean.
Dean stayed silent and motionless as Sam worked, but based on the unpleasant tightness in his stomach, Sam guessed Dean grew increasingly uneasy. Dean hadn't seen Sam do anything this powerful, with this much control behind it, since Samhain, and this wasn't as excusable as an exorcism. Maybe Dean wrote off Samhain as the end justifying the means, but this was power for power's sake. This was premeditated.
Sam started out by guessing, trying to translate what he picked up from Dean into words, but by the time he twirled the bed slowly at eye level, he felt as sure of Dean's reactions as of the mattress.
Sam barely felt tired when he went through all the furniture. He let his hand fall back to his side after he put the TV down on the chest of drawers and turned to Dean. Dean frowned at him, still uncertain, and chewed his own lip for a moment before grinning.
"Alright," he said, and nodded back to the bed. "Let's see if you can do them both at once."
Sam felt Dean's surge of amusement bubble through his own belly before he heard him chuckle. He couldn't help but grin along as Dean laughed.
"And that's what she said," Dean muttered. Sam smiled as Dean's pleasure at his own joke tempered his misgivings.
"I think that's what he said, actually," Sam said, then stretched his mind out again. He couldn't decide if he should pick up both beds at once, or get one stable in the air before trying the other.
"What the director said." Dean still wasn't sure about letting Sam practice like this, Sam could tell, but the joking cracked that hesitation. Underneath, Dean felt curious, excited.
This was like showing off any other new skill – pumping a row of targets full of bull's eyes, convincing a random college library network to let his fake login into JSTOR, keeping smiles around a pool table while hustling his opponents out of all their cash and most of their watches. Sam lowered his chin a little, picked up both beds, and tried to keep breathing while he swapped their places. He moved their bed closer to the ceiling and it barely cleared the other headboard, passing underneath, but Sam managed to settle them back on the floor.
Behind him, Dean's stomach leapt and then sank quickly as he flicked through several emotions in rapid succession: he was surprised, impressed, freaked out, and then pissed before settling into regret after a moment. Sam started sending pillows flying through the air as a distraction. He heard Dean's huffed breath behind him and felt a wash of exasperation, and guessed he'd just rolled his eyes.
Dean set him to precision work with one bed after a while, making him move it to exact locations on the carpet. Sam grumbled but he could see how this kind of fine-motor control, as it were, could be useful. He thought about taking on Lilith now he knew what he was doing and set his jaw as he kept working. By the time Dean let him push the bed against the wall and stop, Sam had long since stripped out of his button-down. His white undershirt had been through a lot of abuse today, and he'd sweated through it.
"Enough," Dean said, and pushed off the door. He cracked his knuckles while Sam ran his hands over his face. He completely released his hold on the furniture and let his mind relax as much as it could. His power stayed there, waiting just within reach, but it wasn't an urgent concern now he decided to stop using it.
His bodily sensations thrust themselves back upon him. His clothes were gross, sweaty and sticky, his shoulders felt stiff from keeping his arm extended to control the power, and his legs and lower back protested holding one position for so long.
And he was hard, of course. Of course.
"I'mma shower again," he said, and pulled his shirt off without looking back at Dean.
"Whatever," Dean said. He moved around in the room while Sam kicked off his shoes and stepped on the toes of his socks to pull them off without bending to use his hands. He didn't take off his jeans yet, and he tried to keep from brushing against his dick, throbbing in his boxers. Sam took longer than he really needed, glancing at Dean whenever his brother looked the other way, but he didn't say anything. Dean still felt uneasy, antsy, and Sam finally sighed and headed to the bathroom.
He pressed the heel of one hand against his dick as he fiddled with the shower's tap. The water pressure was a lost cause, but it heated up quickly, and he straightened to finish undressing. His power tingled quietly in the back of his mind, endorphins buzzed throughout his body, and Sam was just used to getting off under these circumstances. He turned to shut the door and smacked directly into Dean. He hadn't noticed Dean come into the bathroom, but his nipples tightened as they brushed Dean's shirt. Sam swallowed hard but didn't think about jumping back.
"Dude," Dean said, and shouldered his way past. He sounded annoyed, and Sam realized Dean had been able to sneak up on him because he'd gotten so used to reading his emotional reactions. Even a few minutes of that bond was enough to push Dean's physical presence to the background. It slipped away easily with the rest of Sam's powers, but he found himself missing the connection in a way he didn't crave the other abilities.
Dean was exasperated right now, all but sighing dramatically, but he still felt nervous underneath. Sam watched the back of his neck as Dean filled himself a glass of water. Dean bit his bottom lip as the water ran, uncertain, and when he finally looked up to meet Sam's gaze in the mirror, lust shot through both of them, visceral. Yes, Sam thought, I want.
"Dean." His voice came hoarse, and hard to hear under all the running water. "Dean, please."
Dean's relief spread warmly, and he dropped the plastic cup in the sink as he turned to Sam. Sam wrapped his hands around Dean's hips and walked them out of the bathroom, letting the water pound on. He barely avoided smacking Dean into the doorjamb, but Dean shook his head, blaring happiness. He tugged his shirt over his own head and dropped it on the floor, and Sam fastened his lips and his teeth onto the base of Dean's neck, just where the muscle broadened and became shoulder.
Dean hissed but pulled their hips tighter together, to grind their dicks against each other. Sam groaned and pushed Dean faster, to the closest bed. When he bore them down on top of it, they both wriggled around to situate themselves, but Dean opened his legs easily, letting Sam fall in between his thighs. Sam thrust down and Dean arched underneath him, hips rolling smoothly along, and pressed his face into Dean's neck as the urgency built.
"Dean," he said again. His brother moaned and threaded one hand in Sam's hair, then shoved the other down the back of Sam's jeans. Dean clutched his ass, hand trapped between the denim and Sam's boxers, and pulled Sam down against him, making every thrust harder.
"Dean," Sam said, "Dean, I, Dean, I want –"
Dean snorted, amusement flashing through his belly, and Sam nipped him again.
"I want to fuck you," Sam finally worked out. He doubted anything else would calm him, since he was so fresh on new blood and good practice. Dean's hips surged up hard, which alone told Sam know how he felt, but Dean's anticipation overflowed into Sam as well, until he could barely think around it.
"Yeah," Dean said, not hesitant at all. "Yeah, okay."
Sam sucked hard on Dean's neck before rolling off him, onto his back. He unzipped his jeans and kicked them off while Dean panted at the ceiling next to him. Sam was naked and headed across the room to his duffel bag when he felt Dean's burst of emotions – surprise-lust-shame-lust-regret. Sam glanced over his shoulder and saw Dean paused with his jeans halfway down his legs, so his waistband tangled around his knees. Sam smiled, trying to put his own jumble of reactions out in the open, and held Dean's gaze until some of the uncertainty slipped away. Sam bent at the waist to dig for his lube, and Dean's vaguely amused desire made Sam not care how ridiculous he probably looked.
He tossed Dean's pants and boxers off the bed when he climbed back on. Dean spread his thighs and bent his legs at the knee, feeling uncertain as he stroked his own dick and let Sam look. Sam swallowed hard at having this much of his brother offered up to him and wrapped one hand around Dean's ankle. If this had been anyone else, Sam would have leaned down to kiss them, but as it was, he rubbed his thumb over the spur of Dean's bone, vulnerable and obvious just under the skin.
"You done this before?" he asked.
Dean swallowed, nodded. "You?"
"Yeah." This part of things, anyway; Dean didn't really need to know Sam hadn't taken it before, since he wasn't taking it now.
Sam opened the tube and let go of Dean's ankle to smooth lube over his fingers. Dean's hesitation spiked again, sharp in Sam's chest, and Sam leaned in to suck at his inner thigh, at the soft, pale skin where the hair felt downy instead of coarse.
From here, Dean's cock seemed enormous, taking up almost all Sam's field of vision as he looked up his brother's body. He'd swiped precome over his head and down his shaft, and he shone in the light from the bedside table. Sam licked over his brother's leg like he would have lapped at any other man's cock, and slid a finger up Dean's ass to distract them both.
Dean felt hot against Sam's finger, tight and clenching down. Sam sat up and worked him slow and easy, until Dean's discomfort and embarrassment faded away. Sam's own dick twitched against his belly as he slicked up a second finger and pushed it into his brother, but he ignored it and concentrated on Dean. Dean arched on the bedspread, tugging on his cock with his eyes barely open. When he started pushing back into Sam's hand, Sam added a third finger. Dean just moaned and continued to stroke himself. He kept thrusting back when Sam teased the tip of his pinky against Dean's rim, stretched and pink, and Sam bit hard on his own lip as he pulled his hands free.
He could hear Dean trying to steady his breath, as Sam fumbled his way into a condom and a fresh coat of lube. He tensed again when Sam tugged Dean's legs over his hips, though, and Sam wrapped his fingers around the hand on Dean's dick.
"Don't stop," he said, and pulled both their hands over Dean's cock again. "Don't stop, I wanna watch –"
Dean's stomach leapt. Sam didn't try to make sense of his brother's emotions as he braced himself on his other arm and pushed, slow as he could manage, into Dean. Dean shuddered underneath him and Sam felt his discomfort as a vague burn in his own ass, but Dean didn't tell him to stop, and so Sam kept going until they were flush together.
Dean's neck was arched, his head thrown back on the pillow, and Sam fastened his mouth on the taut tendon there as they both panted. He let Dean relax for a few moments underneath him before he pulled back and started to thrust, hard and steady, without asking permission.
Dean kept their hands moving over his dick and Sam pushed him harder, faster. He could feel himself loosing coordination, trying to rub his belly and pat his head at the same time, and got his knees under himself to go faster, deeper. Dean gasped, starting to tighten around Sam's cock, and Sam felt the tension in his brother's body leap to his own.
He hitched Dean higher into his lap, hoped his thrusts were wailing on his prostate, and dropped his forehead to Dean's chest. The tattoo was huge and blurry this close, out of focus just underneath Sam's nose, and when Sam licked over the top point of the pentagram, they came like dominoes, Dean going first and dragging Sam along after him.
Sam lay in bed that night, only inches away from Dean but not touching him anywhere, and felt his brother's uncertainly slip away while his breathing evened out. Dean steadied as he fell asleep, shifting to a base sense of warmth and security, and Sam's chest swelled when he thought about what that meant for Dean, these days. If Dean felt safe at all, anywhere or from anything, Sam wanted to make that happen for him. Giving Dean some peace of mind was almost as important as paying back Hell for taking it away in the first place.
Looking back, he'd gotten used to judging Dean's emotional state based on Dean's actual emotions, instead of the physical cues. Now he realized what was happening, he could remember all the times Dean's mood amplified Sam's own, and all the times Sam's reactions didn't make sense except as a reflection of his brother. Sam sucked on the inside of his cheek as he considered whether or not he should tell Dean. The most obvious answer seemed to be yes, and never mind the ethical issues: Sam had a good idea of how Dean would react if he found out, later on, that Sam kept something from him again.
On the other hand – and there was always another hand – this could be really fucking useful. To know how Dean felt at any given time meant Sam would have a better idea of how best to handle him. Coming back from Hell changed Dean, not that Sam could blame him, and a few months of learning his way around Dean's new reactions wasn't enough to let Sam help Dean as much as he needed.
Plus, if Dean knew Sam could read his feelings, he'd start censoring himself, and Sam knew that couldn't be healthy. Dean deserved the privacy of his own thoughts, Sam decided as he rolled over and squashed his pillow, even if that privacy was an illusion.
Maybe the connection had something to do with their physical closeness, Sam thought. It was always strongest when they were close together, and especially noticeable when they fucked around; possibly, it would weaken when they were apart. Sam tried to make a mental note to test it out when he had a chance. It was just another new skill, Dean would have told him, and once Sam got more practice in, he'd be able to control it better.
Dean took the wheel the next day after they stopped for lunch, on their way north. He took them fast and easy up the road while Sam went through the info Ellen'd emailed, but traffic built up as they kept climbing up the country.
"We're sure it's vampires?" Dean asked.
"It fits," Sam said. "Victims have been bled dry, and they all have puncture wounds on the neck or chest." He flipped through the pages until he found one specific article, already highlighted and scribbled upon. "This guy interviewed a neighbor of one of the victims, and apparently he'd been having nightmares before he died – sleep walking, too." Sam shrugged. "Sounds like vampires to me."
"Sweet." Dean nodded. "Where do you wanna start?"
"Let's get with the families first," Sam said. He pulled a sheet of notes from the bottom of the stack, uncapped a pen, and started on a list of victims.
"Turn it down a little," he said a few hours later. Sam saw Dean roll his eyes, but his mood didn't change as he reached for the radio knob and lowered the volume.
Interesting, Sam thought, and scrolled until he reached Bobby in his contacts list.
"Christ, what have you boys gotten yourself into this time?" Bobby asked when he picked up.
"Bad time, Bobby?" Sam asked, laughing.
Dean didn't look away from the road, but he flicked quickly from panic to self-derision to curiosity. Sam rolled his eyes, almost certain it would seem like a reaction to Bobby if Dean was watching him.
"Delightful as ever," Bobby said. "I'm gonna go on a limb and guess this ain't a social call?"
Sam could hear a voice in the background. It could have been TV, but he didn't know.
"What do you know about Lucifer?" he asked.
Dean glanced over quickly, attentive and confused, and Sam met his gaze while Bobby fell silent on the other end of the line.
"Sam," he said, low, and the background noise cut off. "Why the hell do you want to know?"
"Seals," he said. Dean relaxed incrementally. "I just – does all the lore say the same thing about him? Rebel angel, morning star, that kinda thing?"
"I don't know what you're talking about, all the lore." Bobby laughed. "There's an awful lot about Lucifer, son, and even more about entities with different names but stories that go the same way."
"Yeah, I know that." Sam tapped his fingers on his leg. "I know the Judeo-Christian sources, but I want to know if something else has a different story."
"Sounds like you've already got a story in mind."
Sam sighed. "Something where he was just a means to an end, maybe, or where someone else used him, instead of him being the leader."
Dean rolled his eyes, this time actually exasperated, and turned fully back to the road.
"I don't know where to start looking, though," Sam continued. "Can you at least point me somewhere?"
Bobby sighed again. "I got a few ideas. Lemme get back to you," and he hung up.
Sam laughed and raised his eyebrows at the phone.
"So does he have anything?" Dean asked.
"Maybe." Sam stared at the papers spread across his lap for a moment, then shook his head and pushed them into a messy stack.
They drove into the night. Traffic became atrocious, almost as bad as Sam had ever seen, and they made poor time. Dean pulled over after all, once they forced their way across Virginia's southern border, and they drove far from the highway to find a motel with vacancies.
Sam and Dean both moved slowly as they checked into the motel, stretching off the day on the road, but Sam watched Dean at the desk and thought his brother looked back to normal. The limp was gone, he didn't hold himself as carefully stiff as during those first few days in Texas, and the by-the-book salt and burn seemed to have forced his head back into the game. Sam regretted even bringing up bigger jobs until Dean felt 100% again, but he told himself it worked out fine in the end.
Dean passed Sam's keycard over when he came back to the Impala, and Sam slid it into his wallet as Dean drove to the room.
"First shower," Dean said, parking. "You wanna go out later?"
"Mmm." Sam frowned. "I'm actually pretty wiped. I was just gonna pass out after we ate."
Dean raised an eyebrow. "I drove half of the day," he said. "How are you more tired than me?"
Sam sighed and got out of the car. He thumped the trunk and Dean popped it open, then stepped out.
"It's the," Sam started, and wriggled the fingers of one hand near his temple instead of actually saying it. "The practice. It wears me out after a while."
They shouldered their bags and headed to the room. It looked pretty utilitarian inside, with blankets but no bedspreads, and a single shelf mounted on the wall between the beds instead of bedside tables.
Dean frowned as he dumped his stuff and started salting the door and the windowsill. "Has it always?"
"You remember the headaches I used to get," Sam said, "and the nosebleeds."
"That's not what I asked." Dean put the salt canister away and sat on the bed to unlace his boots.
"When you were –" Sam shook his head and broke off. "I wasn't hunting like this with Ruby," he said instead. "So it wasn't so bad."
Sam went to rummage in his own duffel and ignored Dean's gaze, heavy on his back.
"Did you see that sandwich place down the street?" Sam asked. He pulled a long-sleeved shirt from his bag and tugged it over his other layers. He knew he looked like a poser with his button-down collar popping from underneath, but he already missed warmer climates and didn't care.
"Yeah," Dean said. "You gonna pick something up?"
"Yeah." Sam put his coat back on and snagged the keys. "You want me to call you once I get a look at the menu?"
"Nah." Dean headed into the bathroom in his stocking feet and turned on the water. "You know what I like," he called.
Sam ordered foot-long subs for both of them, piled high, with sides of chili as well.
He brought the emergency blankets inside with the food, thinking of the linens the beds didn't have. The door was closed when Sam walked up, and as he juggled food and fabric to get to his wallet, he heard voices inside.
Sam let the blankets fall quietly to the ground and left his wallet in his pocket as he leaned closer to the door and listened hard. He could make out the tones used easier than the words. Dean, speaking now, sounded frustrated and annoyed, but his voice lacked the business-like edge it took on in dangerous situations. Sam's own curiosity was strong, but he didn't pick up on any fear or abnormal alertness from Dean, either.
Sam relaxed fractionally, but his hackles went back up when the other guy spoke in a calm, monotonous voice: Castiel. Sam wanted, really wanted to believe the angels had a good plan, but after Dean's role in their last idea, Sam had his doubts about their methods.
He ducked his head, conscious of how he must look to anyone else in the parking lot, and tried to make out their conversation. Nothing came clearly until he let his mind push out, through the door, to wrap itself around Dean and Castiel the same way it did a demon. Sam worried for a moment that one of them would notice, but as far as he could tell, they continued speaking.
"So why even let righteous people go to Hell in the first place, if this is what could happen?" Dean asked. "Seems like a big easy way to avoid things to me."
"I do not know," Castiel said. "But Hell is a – a rather effective threat. It is not something to be tampered with at this point."
Dean snorted. Sam could almost see his disgusted expression, and he guessed that, if he pushed a little further, he could actually look into the room as well. He felt a wet dribble from his nose, as distant as physical sensations always were when he used his powers, and decided not to try that until he had Ruby back on his side again.
"Pretty crappy set up for upstairs, though," Dean said. "You've got something actively creating your enemies, but you hold it up because you're using the process of making demons as a good punishment?" He snorted again. "It's stuff like this that kept me from believing in the first place."
"None of God's creatures know all of His plans." As always when Castiel spoke about God, Sam could almost hear the capital letters.
Dean stayed quiet for a while. Sam imagined him, maybe on the edge of the bed with his head in his hands, maybe pacing up and down the cheap carpet.
"Righteous man," Dean said eventually, drawing the words out, long and slow. "I don't know how I'm supposed to –" He broke off and Sam frowned. "Doesn't speak very highly of me when I'm the first righteous man to break. I don't see how that gives me any sort of edge in finishing the job."
"Dean Winchester." Authority tinged Castiel's words. "Seals require intent to break. The act, whatever it may be, must be performed specifically to bring about the apocalypse."
Dean sighed. "Which means?"
"You were not the first," Castiel said. "You were merely the one they used."
There was another pause. Sam wished for some context.
"Doesn't exactly make me feel better," Dean said, but Sam heard a new lightness to his voice.
"Don't suppose it's written anywhere how I'm supposed to go about this," Dean said, after Castiel didn't respond.
"There are a few different schools of thought on the matter," Castiel said, "but no, nothing definitive."
Dean laughed, humorlessly. "You guys need to get your act together, Cas. All those books in the Bible about who begat who, but you can't manage a verse on how I'm the only one who can end the fucking apocalypse?"
Sam's eyes flew open and he lost his grip on their conversation. He fell against the door and gasped as he came back to his mind, thinking instead of using his powers. He distantly noticed the room had fallen silent and he swiped his hand under his nose. His fingers came back wet and tacky, and Sam scrubbed the side of his hand over his mouth.
When Dean swung the door open, he kept it covering most of his body. Sam guessed the door hid a weapon. Dean's gaze flicked to the bags in Sam's hand and then to the blankets on the ground, next to him.
"This is becoming a habit," Dean said.
"I heard voices," Sam answered.
They stared at each other for a long moment before Dean stepped back. He glanced to the side and, as Sam came in after him, he followed Dean's gaze to see Castiel in one of the chairs around the table. He stood when Sam put the food down. Sam saw Dean had picked up the blankets and was taking great care in folding them, and in avoiding everyone's eyes. He was flushed, and Sam looked back to Castiel.
Castiel met Sam's gaze calmly. Sam knew how he must look, with traces of blood on his face and the shadows effort put under his eyes, but he didn't glance away. In his peripheral vision, he saw Dean between the beds, and Sam squared his shoulders at Castiel, moving between his brother and the angel.
Castiel cocked his head at Sam, then glanced sidelong towards Dean. Sam felt himself sneering and moved more fully into the angel's line of sight. Castiel's lips twitched up into a smile.
"You are the only one who can end it, Dean," he said. "It must be you. But," and now Castiel looked back at Sam, and raised his eyebrows unsubtly. "It is not written anywhere you must act alone."
Sam turned his head to Dean. His brother met his gaze, mouth parted and eyes wide. He was panicked; obviously, this was something he hadn't wanted Sam to know.
"End what?" Sam asked.
Dean closed his eyes and shook his head. Sam glanced to Castiel, hoping for an explanation from that corner, but found the angel had left the room.
"You wanna fill me in here?" Sam asked again.
Dean closed his eyes and scowled when he saw Castiel was gone. "I hate it when he does that," Dean muttered, and crossed the room to dig through the take-out bags. "They have meatball subs?"
They did; one was wrapped up in the bag for Dean, with extra cheese. Sam didn't tell him that, though. "What are you supposed to be ending, Dean?" He ran through possibilities and his stomach dropped when he remember what Dad had told Dean.
"Is it me?" Sam asked. He sat down on the bed and the pieces started clicking into place. He knew the angels didn't like his powers, he knew the demons – some of them – did, and if Dean had been chosen to stop something, well, it wouldn't be the first time he'd been asked to end Sam.
"Hey," Dean said sharply, frowning with one hand in the sandwich bag and his eyes on Sam. "No. It's not you. Anyone asking me to take you out is barking up the wrong tree."
Sam thought of the Siren, and of Dad, and of the years-old promise he'd forced out of Dean.
"Anyone," Dean repeated. He sat down in the chair Castiel had used and nodded at the food. "You coming, or is this all for me?"
Sam frowned but joined him on the other side of the table. "So what is it, Dean?" He took the lid off one of the bowls and stirred a plastic spoon through the chili inside but didn't take a bite.
Dean, on the other hand, crammed as much of the sub into his mouth as he could and chewed noisily. "Eat first," he managed.
"No," Sam said, and shook his head. "You can't just keep this from me."
"Really." Dean raised his eyebrows. "This coming from the guy who's been lying to me for months."
"Not over –" important stuff, Sam thought, then he made a face and realized he couldn't even couldn't buy that.
"Uh huh," Dean said, and licked sauce off his lip. "That's what I thought."
He took his time. Sam picked through his chili while Dean demolished his sub and then his own chili, and then moved on to the packets of crackers. Sam had eaten maybe a third of his bowl when Dean crumbled his trash and put it back into the bag. He wouldn't meet Sam's gaze.
"You sure you won't head out with me tonight?" he asked, and pushed up out of his chair. "Pretty sure the sign said ladies night at the place down the road."
"Dean." Sam laid his grease-stained spoon on the table. "Just tell me. What are you ending?"
Dean sighed and sat down on the far side of his bed, facing away from Sam. He ran one hand over his face and shuddered.
Sam thought back to the guilt and stress he carried for months over not telling Dean about using his powers. Even though he still wasn't being completely honest, he felt lighter now Dean knew some of the truth.
"You'll feel better if you just tell me," he tried.
Dean snorted, then rubbed one hand over his mouth. "More people knowing this is not gonna help."
Sam sat on the foot of Dean's bed, so they were close but catty-cornered, and not looking at each other. Dean's breath came shakily.
"So the seals," he said eventually. "For most of them, it doesn't matter which one's broken, or in what order, but the first?" He exhaled and it sounded like he was shuddering. "First one was specific. A righteous man had to spill blood in Hell first, to kick things off."
Sam stayed silent while Dean paused. He tried to remember exactly what Castiel said earlier: something about righteousness, something about Hell.
"It was me," Dean said. Sam could barely hear him. He chanced a glance over and saw Dean's head between his hands, his face pointed to the floor. "I started it."
"The…" Sam trailed off, unable to say it.
Dean, though, sat up straighter and dipped his head to the side, a strange half-nod. "The motherfucking apocalypse, Sammy, yeah." He laughed. "That's why I got so much face time with the big names, downstairs. They wanted to make sure I broke."
"Demons lie," Sam said automatically. It felt like Dean had been telling him that for years, since a demon shared Sam's jerk-off fantasies with the class during one of the first exorcisms he and Dean did. "They lie, Dean, and –"
"Cas said the same thing," Dean said quietly, and pinched the bridge of his nose. The scab leftover from Alistair had fallen off, leaving only a pink line under Dean's fingers. "One-upped them, really, because get this: whoever starts it is the only one who can end it."
Sam almost didn't know how to think about that, how to wrap his mind around the fact. It was one thing for the angels to tell Dean he had to help prevent the apocalypse, but to dump the fate of fucking everything on his shoulders? Sam's upper lip curled; right now, he'd be pretty happy to take out Castiel after he finished Lilith.
"Castiel told you?" he asked.
"In the hospital," Dean said. The tight pit of anger in Sam's stomach bloomed through the rest of his body.
"He couldn't have picked a better time?"
"I asked him," Dean said, and stood. He hovered by the side of the bed, then crossed to the sink, pushed up his sleeves, and washed his hands.
"Yeah, but that was hardly the first time we've seen him." Sam pushed off the bed and followed Dean. He stood next to him at the counter and stared at Dean's reflection. Dean cleaned under his fingernails and wouldn't look at Sam.
"Dean," Sam said. When he didn't look up, Sam sighed. "Did he say how?" If they were having this conversation now, then Dean didn't need to know he eavesdropped earlier.
Dean shook his head.
Sam reached over, turned off the water, and pulled a hand towel from the rack, on the wall. Dean didn't reach for it, just kept staring at his wet hands, so Sam laid it between them on the counter.
"Castiel said – what was the last thing he said, before he left?"
"He said you didn't have to do it alone," Sam said, "and he looked right at me when he said it."
Dean finally glanced up and met Sam's gaze. His eyes were wide, glittering green under dampness Sam knew better than to acknowledge, but he didn't look away.
"You don't have to do this alone," Sam said.
Dean snorted and pushed away from the sink. He dug through his duffel until he found his flask, then unscrewed it and drank. His Adam's apple bobbed three, four times as he drained it, but he tucked it away again without grimacing.
Sam watched in the mirror as he sat to pull back on his boots. Dean hadn't dried his hands, and he left a damp mark on the leather.
"Drinks, little brother," he said. He didn't meet Sam's gaze but shrugged into his coat and tossed Sam's to him. It landed on the floor a little past halfway across the room, and Sam watched Dean a moment longer before turning to pick it up.
"I was gonna stay in," he reminded Dean, but he wasn't sure he wanted to any more.
"Nope. Wasn't asking, I was telling." Dean stuck Sam's sandwich, still wrapped, back in the bag and handed it to him. "You can eat in the car." Dean finally looked up and met Sam's gaze, showing him a tight smile and manic, shining eyes. "It's not an empty stomach kinda night."
The bar Dean thought he saw on the way to the motel turned out to be a furniture store, selling equipment to bars but no alcohol to the public. Sam ate one-handed and drove them around while Dean bitched about sandwich goop on his upholstery, and then, as they went up and down street after street without finding a bar, de facto dry counties. By the time Sam found a liquor store, Dean sat quiet and stony-faced on the far side of the seat, and their stomachs were both tight with anger and fear. Dean didn't protest when Sam pulled into the parking lot, instead of continuing on to find a bar, and he waited in the Impala while Sam went inside.
He'd been thinking bourbon, but once Sam got inside, the tequila display and the 20% off – tonite only! sign distracted him. He picked up a handle, and a handful of overpriced limes.
"No salt?" asked the guy behind the checkout counter.
Sam grinned unevenly, maybe showing more teeth than was necessary. "I've got plenty." Rock salt was no good for body shots, but Sam didn't want to see Dean's reaction, in a mood like this, to Sam walking out with a blue Morton's canister. He smiled on his way back to the car.
"I'm not doing body shots with you, dude," Dean griped instead, after he looked through the bag.
"It was on sale," Sam said, still grinning even though his mood sank the longer he sat in the car.
"Guess you can't do em with Ruby either, though," Dean said, after a pause.
Sam looked over quickly. Dean faced the window, so Sam couldn't judge his expression. He felt tight with the same jumble of emotions he'd been nursing since Sam walked in on his conversation. Sam didn't know what to make of it.
"That's gotta suck," Dean went on, in that same unreadable tone.
"Dean, you know I'm not." Sam pulled a face and waved one hand, between them. "Dating Ruby or anything."
He snorted. "You sure call her often enough."
"Do not," Sam said. He felt all of seven years old when Dean glanced over, eyebrows high.
"When was the last time you saw her, then?"
"Same as when I told you," said Sam.
Dean frowned at him.
"Look, can we stop this?" Sam gestured between the two of them. "I stopped lying about working with Ruby, you told me about the seal…" He shrugged and kept his eyes on the road. "So unless there's more you haven't told me, let's just drop the cloak and daggers routine."
He watched the road for a few moments longer; he could feel Dean studying him.
"Is there more you haven't told me?" Dean asked, after a pause.
Sam glanced over and met his eyes. "I'm using the powers," he said. "I'm going after Lilith, and I'm working with Ruby, but I'd rather be working with you."
Dean raised his eyebrows and Sam looked back out the windshield, frowning a little.
"S'the truth, man," Sam said, and everything he'd said was true, after all.
If he hadn't told the whole truth, well, Dean hadn't asked the right questions. That was hardly Sam's fault. He pushed his conscience's objections to the back of his mind and soaked up Dean's gradual calmness instead.
Dean headed directly for the plastic-wrapped disposable cups next to the sink when they got back to the room. "Limes, Sammy!" he called. Sam rolled his eyes but picked up one of their serrated knives from its spot by the TV and followed Dean. He passed over the paper bags and they both rummaged noisily for a moment, then Dean sat to pouring and Sam to slicing.
Dean made them knock back their first shots shoulder to shoulder in front of the mirror. He bit into his lime without meeting Sam's eyes, but clapped him too hard on the shoulder and then ghosted his fingers down Sam's flannel on his way back into the room. The bottle rested easy in Dean's other hand, and Sam scooped up the slices and followed.
Dean flopped onto one bed, next to the shelf, and kept all his limbs on one side. Sam joined him, filling up all the rest of the space on the mattress, and spread the limes directly on the blanket. He tried to put them all peel-down, but a few fell over regardless, picking up tiny tufts of lint Sam didn't bother brushing off. Dean topped off their glasses and then reached for the remote.
"At least this place has some decent cable." He flipped through the stations. Nothing caught Sam's attention until he passed the fifth or sixth news station in a row. They all showed footage of some huge crowd – a march or a speech or maybe a protest, Sam couldn't tell at first – but when Dean kept going, through a plastic surgery reality show and then something about clothes, Sam frowned.
"Go back," he said. "I wanna see what that was."
"What what was?" Dean changed directions, though. He skipped over a few male commentators before stopping on the Rachel Maddow Show.
"The President is expected to spend about twenty minutes celebrating with those folks before moving on to the other eight remaining inaugural balls," Rachel told them. Sam raised his eyebrows as she kept going, zoning her out and focusing on the emphatic tag at the bottom of the screen: President Barack Obama.
"Shit," he said. "Dean, what day is today?"
"Tuesday." Dean frowned at the TV as well, then set his tequila on the shelf and dug for his phone. "Tuesday the twentieth."
Sam tossed his head back and laughed at the ceiling. "No wonder the traffic sucked. The inauguration was today."
"No kidding." Dean's voice was unreadable, but when Sam glanced over, he was smirking at the TV. The coverage shifted to another woman, someone wearing a red dress in front of a crowd and a huge presidential seal. "You know what this means?"
Dean divvied up the limes by tossing a handful at Sam's lap. "Drinking game, is what it means."
Sam groaned but didn't pretend to fight it. Their moods mood improved in the time it took to sit up and let Dean refill his glass, and when they turned their attention back to MSNBC, Dean's smirk had grown into a smile.
"Sips not shots," Sam demanded. "We have time to make up tomorrow."
"Sure thing." Dean shrugged. "First thing to drink for: if you'd bang the news girl."
"I'm pretty sure you're not supposed to call them that," Sam said, but he and Dean both raised their glasses when the camera focused in on Natalie Morales again, as she talked about clothes.
"Drink for random shots without people in them," Sam said, when the TV shifted to a curtain-draped stairway.
"That's not an empty shot. The honor guard dude is standing right there."
Sam rolled his eyes at the Marine in the far left side of the screen, and drank anyway. "You really think he's the focus of the shot?"
"No, but do you really think it's empty with him right th—" Dean cut himself off when the screen split to show Rachel again, and drank. Sam huffed a laugh into his cup; his breath blew back in his face, reflected hot and alcoholic off the plastic. He drank as well, for the hell of it. Why not, why not.
Sam half-expected Dean to drink when Michelle came on-screen, one hand clasped with the President and the other waving widely, but Dean's glass stayed on the blanket, leaning against his thigh. Sam felt an unexpected wave of gratitude sweep through him and looked over in time to see Dean swallow hard, eyes glued to the screen.
"Hey." Sam frowned. "What is it?"
Dean shook his head, glanced down at his liquor, then took the rest of it in two huge gulps. "S'nothing." He leaned unsteadily forward to snag the bottle, which had been resting against Sam's shin. His fingers grazed Sam's jeans, but Sam couldn't tell if it was accidental. "I just, I'd see all the election stuff on the news, but I wasn't expecting to be around for this, you know?"
He poured a new glass and then smiled at the TV, smile lines and crow's feet getting into the action. Sam recognized this expression from watching Dean with a lap full of Halloween candy; from when Sam handed over new music a tape at a time, Black Ice and Death Magnetic and Chinese Democracy and Motörizer, everything pirated and then burned to a CD and then transferred to a cassette with a stereo at Bobby's; from when the McRib came back for the millionth time. This was the face Dean made when he got a chance at something he'd heard about, before he died, but never thought he'd get to experience.
Sam drained his own cup and they gave up on the game, just drinking and watching the swirling crowds instead. Dean wouldn't look away from the screen and Sam pretended to slump lower against the pillows after every drink. When he finished his next cup, he climbed off the bed and forced three glasses of water down his throat, then kicked off his shoes and settled in, closer to Dean. The new line of blanket underneath him felt cold in contrast to the body heat still held on his other side, but he let his legs fall open a little, pushing against Dean and offering.
Dean poured himself another glass instead, but clinked the bottle on the shelf and swirled the lid onto the neck. He drank with one hand and let the other fall onto Sam's neck. Sam's chest tightened with nerves but he made a show of sighing when Dean's fingers settled into place along the collar of his shirt. He closed his eyes against his thundering heart, as if closing off the room would keep his problems away, and thought how strange it was they kept sleeping together without fucking, at night.
They got a late start the next morning, barely before checkout at ten. Sam drove while Dean lay in the back seat and moaned; it was dramatics more than anything else, but Sam kept him supplied with water as they worked their way north. Given the choice between carting around Dean with a hangover and Dean freshly beaten, Sam would provide the alcohol himself.
Dean actually was asleep by the time Sam got hungry. He bought food from a drive-through and ate in the parking lot, so the idling car would help Dean stay asleep.
He woke late in the afternoon, when Sam stopped for gas. Dean shuffled around the convenience store, looking for the greasiest food to kill off the last of his hangover, and joined Sam back in the Impala before he was really awake. He held a massive cup of coffee in one hand and slurped while Sam got them back on the freeway.
"We almost there?" he asked.
Sam snorted. "Not even close. I think half the country is trying to drive around here."
"Mmm. Then I wanna drive, too." Dean drank faster, grinning, and they pulled over to switch places a few miles later.
Dean pushed them hard once he got behind the wheel, but they didn't get close to Maine. Sam frowned at the motels they passed, with unseasonably high prices listed on the signs but few showing any vacancies.
They wound up stopping at an Italian place for dinner, a few hours but not many miles north of DC. Sam ordered them a large pizza, an order of lasagna, and a dozen garlic knots, and Dean staked out the crowded dining room for a table. While Sam waited for their total, back to Dean, his phone buzzed.
2 new messages, it said, and Sam frowned. He pushed okay, and the next screen showed two texts, both from a contact in his phone as 555-867-5309. His frown deepened as he deleted them both unread, then scrolled through his contacts and erased Ruby's number as well. He was doing fine, and wouldn't let her call his bluff just yet.
Bunking in the car didn't sound good in the New England cold, so they drove in shifts, one resting in the back seat under a pile of blankets while the other sat up. They reached Augusta around noon, and got a room to clean off the road grime.
Dean was sharpening knives in the center of one bed when Sam stepped out of the bathroom. They both wore dress pants and undershirts, but neither put on the rest of their suits yet. Dean gave off a strong moment of nervous excitement, butterflies rumbling through his stomach as well as Sam's, but otherwise, Sam didn't have a clear sense of his feelings. He nudged at his power for a moment and found Dean's excitement colored with guilt, and lust, and then fought the connection as much as he could.
He searched his bag for his extra pair of dress socks without making a big production of not looking at Dean. He sat on the bed next to Dean once he found the pair, to pull them on, and was vaguely aware of Dean relaxing next to him.
"I figure we should hit up the most recent victim's family first," Sam said. At least his voice didn't shake as he spoke. He felt pretty certain of himself, but Dean's nerves amped up his own misgivings.
"Then another family after that?" Dean asked, after a pause.
Sam nodded. "We can do them tomorrow if we need, but I bet we can get them both done today. Then we can try for the other guy's neighbor tomorrow."
Dean nodded. He still felt unsure, but he calmed with every passing moment, and settled down more as they finished dressing and set off. The Minnerings didn't live far, but since they both went, they drove. Sam glanced across the seat as Dean parked and found his face as smooth as it got, these days.
He let Dean get a head start on the walkway to the house, and was glad to feel the connection weaken as they physically separated. Sam felt still Dean's impatience before he turned to raise an eyebrow, though, and he left the Impala behind to join Dean on the porch.
A middle-aged woman answered the door and peered between Sam and Dean. "Yes?" she said, after a moment.
"Mrs. Minnering?" Dean asked. He and Sam flashed badges at her. "We're Agents Hand and Solo, with the FBI. We have some questions about your daughter's death, if you don't mind."
She frowned at them. "Of course I mind. You think this is the sort of thing I ever want questions about?"
"Of course not, ma'am," Sam said. He ducked his head. "But the investigation's just getting off the ground, and the more we do now, the less we'll have to unnecessarily involve you later."
She made no move to open the door further and Dean hunched into his coat, tucking his hands deep in his pockets and shivering once. He brushed up against Sam and Sam tried not to roll his eyes.
"If this is a bad time," Sam started; she snorted and shook her head. "We can come back in the next few days, if that would work better."
A teenaged girl joined Mrs. Minnering at the door, wrapping her arms around her waist and leaning her temple on her shoulder. "Everything alright, Mom?"
"Yeah, the agents were just leaving," her mother said. She started to close the door but the girl reached out and stopped her.
"Agents? With where?"
"FBI." They did the badge routine again. Sam even passed his over to let her flip it open and closed a few times.
"We already talked to the police," the girl said. She fingered the edge of the leather and then passed it back, holding only a single corner. Sam took it without coming close to her fingers.
"Yes, ma'am," Dean said. The Minnerings glanced at him together. Sam saw resemblance around their eyes, and in the tilt of their head as they studied Dean. "We've been called in to consult, though."
Mrs. Minnering started to shake her head but the teenager paused, then turned to look at her mother. "We should talk to them, Mom."
"They can see the statements we gave the police."
"But it'd be better for them to hear it from us." She nudged her mom. "That's the way it works on TV."
Sam glanced at Dean, who tilted his head and hitched one shoulder.
Mrs. Minnering glared at Sam and Dean again, then her face relaxed, falling into a different set of lines, and she stepped back. "Fine, then. Come on."
She turned and walked further into the house, pulling away from her daughter. The girl gave them a forced smile and stepped out of the doorway. She closed it after Sam and Dean stepped inside and stood back while they fought their way out of their overcoats.
"Pegs are there," she said, pointing at a row of outerwear and purses hanging on the wall behind them. They added their trenches and then all three of them shuffled around so she could lead them into the rest of the house.
"Do you want us in the den, Mom?" she called out.
There was a pause, then Mrs. Minnering answered, "Fine." The girl glanced back at Sam and Dean, then nodded down the hall and set off. She took them down a hallway covered in framed pictures, then cut through a dining room full of foil-wrapped dishes and wilting floral arrangements, and into a small room, with overstuffed, mismatched furniture.
Mrs. Minnering already sat in the center of a couch with a mug between her hands. She didn't glance up when the other three joined her, Sam and Dean sinking into another love seat that smushed them unprofessionally close and the girl curling up to her mother's left. She pulled her feet under herself and leaned on the arm, and looked comfortable for a few moments. She started to frown as her mother stayed silent, though, and finally she sat up and looked at Sam and Dean.
"Uh, do you guys want something to drink? I could get you some coffee or something, if you wanted." She glanced eagerly between the two of them, starting to flush, and Sam nodded.
"Coffee would be great, if you have any."
"Yeah, we have some." She hopped off the couch and stood, swaying in place by the couch, for a moment. "Do you want any, Mom?"
Her mom shook her head, then blinked and smiled up at her daughter. "No, Reggie. But thanks, honey."
Reggie smiled, wide and watery, then hurried out of the room. Sam noticed she was likely still in her pajamas, wearing sweatpants and a long-sleeved UMA shirt with the sleeves pulled down over her hands.
"We're sorry for your loss, Mrs. Minnering, and we'll try to make this quick as possible," Sam said. He smiled at her and pulled his notepad from his pocket. The movement jostled Dean and Sam's stomach jumped, making him want to smile. "Can you walk us through finding Alexis?" he asked instead.
She closed her eyes. "I – can't you get this from the local cops? I already did this."
"I can't imagine how hard this must be for you," Dean said; Sam swallowed and pressed his leg tighter against his brother's, because he knew Dean had a pretty good idea of what she was going through. Dean didn't acknowledge Sam, but Sam felt calmer at the contact and kept their thighs together. "But it'll be best for us to hear it again from you. Sometimes we can find important things in how people say things, or their body language, even though it might not seen like those things can tell us anything important."
Mrs. Minnering smiled, eyes still closed, and shook her head. "Oh, I know. The girls are –" She opened her eyes and a tear trickled down her cheek. "They used to watch all those crime dramas, CSI and Law and Order and the true crime documentaries about serial killers. I've heard the profiling spiel over and over."
Sam smiled at her. "This must seem pretty surreal, then."
"You could say that." She ground her teeth together, then shook her head and shrugged. "It was Sunday morning, and I was going to make sure the girls were up. We were going to go meet some friends for brunch, after they got out of church, and Alex had been out pretty late the night before, so I was going to make sure she was awake…"
She trailed off and let her eyes unfocus. Sam started counting to twenty in his head, wanting to give her time, but not so much she'd shut down completely, and Reggie came back before he finished the count. She carried a tray with four mugs, all steaming, and she walked slowly between the furniture. The smell of coffee was almost overwhelming. She bit her lip as she put the tray down, but smiled when she managed without spilling any.
"I didn't know if you wanted anything in it," she said, picking up one mug and retreating to her corner of the couch, feet against her mother's leg. "But I can get you some, if you want."
Dean shook his head. "Black's fine, thank you." He and Sam took up their mugs and Sam almost coughed his first mouthful back out – it was hotter than he expected, and so strong he wouldn't be surprised to find a layer of grounds at the bottom of the cup.
"Is it okay?" Reggie asked. She sipped her own drink and licked her lips. "I've never made coffee before, cuz I usually only drink cocoa when it's cold, but it was easier than I thought it would be."
"It's – great," Sam said. "I love a good strong cup." Dean pushed against his knee and Sam pushed back, completely unwilling to meet his brother's eyes. Feeling his amusement was bad enough. Sam forced down another sip and then put the cup back on the tray.
"You were telling us about Sunday morning," he prompted.
Mrs. Minnering shuddered. "I check with Reggie first, because I thought she'd be easier to get up. She was already awake, just reading in bed, and I asked if she'd heard her sister come in last night. She hadn't, but she always sleeps so soundly I didn't think anything of it –"
"Of course not," Sam said. "You couldn't have known something was wrong." He swept his eyes to the side, trying not to be obvious about studying Reggie, and thought the dark circles under her eyes showed she wasn't sleeping well any more. He frowned and jotted another note.
"Sometimes I did hear her, though," Reggie said, to her hot chocolate. "If I still had my light on, sometimes she'd come get in bed with me and talk for a while, and I usually could hear her in the bathroom or something if she didn't."
"But you didn't hear her Saturday night," Dean said. Both women shook their heads.
"I thought she was just sleeping at first, when I came in the room," Mrs. Minnering said. "She had the covers all pulled up to her chin, and I couldn't really see her face because the comforter was up so high –" She looked up sharply at them. "But that was the first thing I thought was wrong, she never slept on her back like that. She was always on her side or her stomach, unless she was sick." She took a drink of her first cup and shuddered as she swallowed. Reggie frowned at her and glanced at the mug she brought, which still steamed on the tray.
"And then, when I got closer to her, she was so pale that I knew –" She broke off again. "She'd lost all her color. I knew she was gone right then."
"Was anything in the room out of place?" Dean asked. "Anything that wasn't the way Alex usually kept it?"
"The curtains," she said eventually. "They were already open, and Alex almost always kept them drawn once it got dark. I figured she'd just forgotten, but – it was just so bright in there already. I wouldn't have noticed otherwise.
Sam made a note. "Are you entirely sure she went out the night before?"
Mrs. Minnering shrugged but Reggie nodded. "I watched her getting ready. I wanted her –" She glanced at her mother, bit her bottom lip, and then continued. "I wanted her to let me come with her, but she wouldn't. She said she would eventually, but I wasn't old enough yet and I'd have to wait."
Mrs. Minnering closed her eyes and her shoulders shook. Reggie balanced her mug on the arm of the couch and wrapped her own arms around herself.
"Did she tell you where she went?"
Reggie shook her head. "I think she thought I would sneak out after her or something. Usually she would, but she didn't, this time."
"Well, where did she normally go?" Sam asked.
"With her friends," Reggie said. "There's this place near campus, the Bean Bake, I think? I think they usually started out there and then went to someone's house or something."
"Did she drive herself?" Dean asked.
"No," Mrs. Minnering said. "We didn't want her in her car if she was going to be drinking. She'd go with a friend if they were going out."
Sam felt Dean reflect his own suspicion of that plan – who was to say the friend wasn't drinking and driving? – but they both nodded. "Do you remember who drove that night?"
"No." Both Minnerings shook their heads. "Her father and I stopped checking to see who drove when she started at the college." She closed her eyes. "We had to start trusting her sometime, you know?"
Sam glanced around the room. "Where is her father now?"
Mrs. Minnering huffed an unpleasant laugh. "Upstairs," she said. "In bed, all Xanaxed up. He hasn't come down since the funeral."
Reggie picked up her mug again and drank deeply.
"Alright." Sam checked his notes and then shut the pad. "You've both been very helpful." He stood, with Dean and then the Minnerings following suit. "Is there any way we could see Alex's room, before we go?"
Mrs. Minnering started to shake her head but Reggie touched her arm. "I can take them, if you want."
"I don't much want," she said, but then sat back down. The other three watched as she pulled a blanket from the empty end of the couch and wrapped her arms around it. "But go ahead."
Reggie stayed quiet as she took them upstairs. She skirted far around one closed door and led them down the hallway. Two doors faced each other just before the end of the corridor, where a mirror hung. Sam watched their reflection as they approached. He and Dean stood head and shoulders over Reggie but she didn't hesitate as she led them.
One door was open but Reggie put her hand on the other doorknob. She bit her lip before opening it, pushing it so the door swung open without her needing to step into the room.
"This is her room," she said, then winced. "Was, whatever." She stepped across the hall, backing through the other door. "I'm gonna be in here if you need something."
"Thank you," Dean said, and then went in.
Alex's still lay unmade, with the sheets pushed down to the end of the mattress so most of the fabric puddled on the floor. Her cell and an iPod sat on her bedside table, near a gooseneck lamp and an unopened bottle of water. A bookshelf and a desk took up most of the space on one wall. Her laptop was still open, but when Sam tapped the trackpad, the screen didn't light up. He checked the sides and saw it wasn't plugged in. A highlighted schedule of classes that had started on the 20th sat on a stack of textbooks; she'd registered for five upper-level business classes, and drawn exclamation marks next to the listing for a senior capstone course.
"Look at this," Dean called from window, opposite the door. Sam joined him and Dean pointed out the unlocked latch. Sam frowned but shrugged.
"It is the second story, and there's not a tree nearby."
Dean hummed, then lifted the window. It opened smoothly and Dean raised an eyebrow. He leaned out and turned to check the sides of the house. "No tree, but there is some lattice right here." He tapped the side of the house, then ducked back into the room.
Sam checked next and frowned. The wooden lattice crisscrossed its way up the building. Holly trailed up most of it, but the plant was ripped in a few spots, always so the bottom corner of a lattice cross showed through.
"Something's climbed up this," Sam said. He closed the window behind them and frowned around the room. "It wouldn't have been Alex, if her parents were okay with her going out."
"Boyfriend?" Dean asked.
Sam shrugged. "Let's find out."
They found Reggie on her bed, holding a pillow in her lap and watching TV on mute. Sam tapped his knuckles on her doorframe and she glanced over at them slowly.
Sam leaned against her door, not coming in. "Do you know if your sister was dating anyone?"
Reggie shook her head. "She wasn't."
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah. She had a bad crush on this guy, one of her friends, but he was dating someone else and she didn't want to try to get him to cheat or anything."
Sam nodded. "Do you remember his name?"
"Reggie," she said, and somehow smiled and frowned at the same time. "Same as me. She tried to start calling me Regina when she first met him, so she wouldn't mix us up, but I told her I'd – I'd been here first and I had dibs, and he could be Reginald if she, if she couldn't –" She shook her head and swiped at her eyes. "I don't know his last name though," she said after a moment.
"That's fine," Sam said. Behind him, Dean cleared his throat, uncomfortable and jumpy, and Sam nodded without turning around. He was ready to leave, too. "You've been really helpful, Reggie. I'm going to leave you some cards here –" He took three from his pocket and leaned inside her room to put them on her dresser. "And if you or your parents think of anything else, no matter how little it seems, I'd appreciate it if you gave us a call."
"We'll see ourselves out," Dean said, moving into the other side of the doorway and into her line of sight. Reggie just nodded again and Dean steered Sam towards the stairs with a hand in the small of his back. He fisted his hand in Sam's jacket and Sam let him, staying close and not trying to tug free. He heard his brother take a deep breath, and the tension in Sam's chest eased barely.
They followed the same path Reggie had taken them to get back to the front door but didn't see her parents anywhere. The house stayed quiet as they shrugged back into their coats and Sam shut the door carefully behind them.
"Let's stop by that bar first," Dean said, letting them back into the car.
"You don't want to check the next family?" Sam asked.
"We'll get to them," he said. "But we may as well drive by and see the place."
"Whatever." Sam shrugged and watched the snowy houses pass as Dean took them out of the Minnering's neighborhood. They didn't live far from campus. Foot traffic picked up as Sam and Dean got closer to the school, which seemed pretty isolated. Open fields surrounded the campus on several sides. With the semester less than a week old, the sidewalks and parking lots were full of students, bundled up and breathing steam into the air as they talked to their friends in clumps and on corners. Sam looked beyond them, checking out the buildings instead of the people, but he could feel Dean's eyes on him and Dean's concern.
"There it is," Sam said, pointing. Dean pulled over and idled by the curb outside the Baked Bean for a few moments. It was a restaurant and not a bar, but looked full of people. "Open til eleven," Sam read from a sign on the door, "midnight Thursday through Saturday."
Dean frowned at it. "It seem off to you?"
"Not really." Sam shrugged. "Not that that means anything. We should come back tonight."
"Yeah." Dean checked over his shoulder before pulling back into traffic. "Okay, where's the next stop?"
"Umm, the Clarks." Sam fished through his papers to find their address. "Keep going north on this street."
Interviewing the Clarks yielded some parallels: Tony Clark, a month dead, had also been a student at U of Maine. He hadn't been studying the same things as Alex, nor had his parents recognized her name, but they did know the Baked Bean. He'd been found lying neatly on his back, not spread all over the mattress like his dad said was usual, and when Sam and Dean checked out the room, they found the window unlocked and the screen cut away, leaving only a prickly fringe at the edges of the glass.
Sam ran a finger over what remained of the screen and clucked his tongue. "So they're picking them up at school, maybe at the restaurant, and then coming in through the windows?"
Dean frowned. "But why aren't the families hearing anything during the attacks?"
"And why are they going after people where there are witnesses? There have to be plenty of loners they could find, but Alex and Tony were both killed at their family's home."
Dean shook his head. "No clue, yet."
Business had slowed by the time Sam and Dean made it to the restaurant, but they still waited a few minutes before being seated. Dean moved gingerly around the long knife up his sleeve and Sam took care with the blade strapped to his shin, but they didn't see anything out of the ordinary as their server took their order, nor as the food came out.
"If people were disappearing directly from here, would it still be as busy as this?" Dean asked.
Sam frowned as he finished chewing a fry. "News travels about something like this." His gaze lingered on the busy wait staff, the noisy kitchen, the line in the entryway. "If it's not here –"
"Maybe it just doesn't seem like it's here." Dean shook his head. "This is two victims whose family placed them here the night of their death. That can't just be a coincidence."
Sam shrugged. "What, so Tony and Alex both started out here, and then went to some other place, where they were attacked?"
"Could be." Dean swiped up his last bit of ketchup and then poured himself another dollop.
"We'll have to get back with their families and ask who their friends were."
Dean shook his head and Sam's stomach twisted unpleasantly, almost like loss. "Let's check on some of the other victims first. I don't want to go back to those families again unless we have to."
Sam glanced back to him but Dean's face was impassive as he worked his way through the new ketchup. Sam kicked their feet together under the table so their shoes alternated, with the side of Dean's boots pressed up against Sam's loafers. Dean didn't look up but his shoulders lowered slightly and Sam felt calmer.
"I need to hit the bathroom," Sam said, once the check came. Dean made eye contact and nodded slowly, and Sam headed to the back of the restaurant. He walked by the neon Restrooms! sign and continued down a hallway. He opened the first door he found, which turned out to be a supply closet, and then the next, which held stacks of extra chairs. Everything was well lit, and when he found an alternate entry to the kitchen, he ducked to the side of the window to peer inside.
The cooks worked in stations, with two devoted to grilling meat, two working together to chop and fry potatoes, another building salads, and one more making desserts. Sam watched as the wait staff flew in and out of the main door, trading order slips for trays of food, and sighed. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, and none of the employees had their guard up. He'd lurked in the hallway for a few minutes without being confronted, and that more than anything told him what he needed.
"I don't think it's here," he said, when he rejoined Dean at the table. Dean's wave of disappointment and annoyance swept through Sam as well and he frowned to match his brother's.
"Well, we'll find out tomorrow." Dean didn't make any move to get out of the booth and Sam, standing at the end of the table, raised his eyebrows. "I got us an order of fries to go. Sit back down."
Sam laughed but sat. His empty glass of Coke had disappeared but a bottle of beer stood in its place. He raised it to Dean and drank deeply, huge cool pulls.
The fries came in a white paper bag and Dean snapped the fingers of his right hand a few times at Sam after he turned on the car. Sam fished fries out of the bag and passed them over without questioning what Dean wanted.
He felt surprisingly wiped out by the steady stream of Dean's emotions in his head, and they hadn't done anything more stressful than question civilians – maybe not fun, but far from the worst part of the job. Sam closed his eyes at the though of scoping out a nest of vampires while dealing with Dean's reactions to everything on top of his own.
"Weaver's neighbor first, I'm thinking," Dean said as he parked the car, mirroring Sam's thoughts.
Sam collected himself enough to gather together their bag and follow Dean inside. "Yeah, s'probably the best place to start."
Dean was jumpy over going back into their room with Sam, and felt stupid on top of that. If Sam wasn't so overwhelmed as well, he would have figured out a way to mock him for it. As things were, he just followed Dean inside.
Dean stripped out of his suit almost immediately, still antsy, but even though Sam wasn't subtle about keeping an eye on Dean while he settled in at the table and unloaded the fries, Dean focused on hanging his clothes back up, instead of putting on a show. He hesitated at his bag before pulling on a pair of jeans and a waffle-knit Henley over his boxers and undershirt, and he pulled a face when he saw Sam tucking in, still fully dressed.
"You'll get grease stains," he said, and sat opposite Sam, swiping a fry.
Sam's feet were spread under the table, and even though he wasn't taking up more room than usual, he couldn't keep himself from wondering what would happen if he brushed against Dean's legs. Moreover, with Dean's nerves jittering on in his head, Sam couldn't tell if he actually wanted to touch his brother or not.
He couldn't tell what Dean wanted, either.
"So I'll get another suit," Sam said "I doubt any of the people who see us in these are gonna care about a stain, anyway."
"No point in stupid mistakes," Dean said. He glanced up and grinned as he popped a fry into his mouth.
Sam rolled his eyes. "Whatever," he said, but couldn't help smiling. Dean sent out a huge wave of fondness, and Sam went back to his fries feeling good, at least for the moment.
Dean found an I Love the 80s marathon after flipping through all the channels twice, blasting impatience across the room, and leaned against a headboard to watch. Sam spread his interview notes across the table, but between the TV, Dean's amusement, his own exhaustion, and the realization that he didn't know who'd sleep where, Sam couldn't concentrate.
He would have noticed the tension in the air without a direct link to Dean as he hung his suit over the back of the chair. Dean kept his eyes on the TV, but he focused intently on something, and Sam didn't think the ads held Dean's attention so completely.
Sam couldn't really tell what he wanted to do, with Dean taking up all the room in his head. He tried to think through his earlier line of thought, about not wanting to take advantage and fuck up his brother any more than had already been done, but he couldn't focus. Underneath Dean's near-constant worry and guilt was a clear sense of excitement and hope. Sam stood behind the chair for a moment, then stopped trying so hard.
He piled the last few fries, now cold, back into the bag and carried them to the bed. He climbed on and mimicked Dean's posture like it was nothing, like they didn't usually do this on separate beds. He could barely offer over the fries under the assault of emotions.
Vindication, excitement, hope, worry, love.
Dean took a fry without glancing away from the TV, but Sam saw a smile around the corner of his lips and smiled as well.
"What year are they on?" he asked, sinking against the pillow and resting his hands on his belly.
"Eighty seven," Dean said, and launched into a summary of what they already covered. Sam didn't really try to stay awake, and he nodded off with Dean's voice in his ear and Dean's fondness washing through his mind.
They were getting ready when Bobby called the next morning. Sam had been blessing gallons of water in the bathroom and he hustled to reach his phone, on the bedside table, before it stopped ringing. Dean was stretched on the spare bed, sharpening the machetes, and he laughed as Sam vaulted over his legs.
Sam gave him the finger as he picked up. "Hey, Bobby," he said. "What's up?"
"I got to thinking about your question last night," Bobby said, "and I may have something for you."
"Really?" Sam raised his eyebrows. "That was fast."
"Yeah, well, I know what I'm doing, unlike some people I could mention."
"Mmm hmm," Sam said. "So, what'd you find?"
Dean's curiosity picked up, across the room.
"Some new age group, back in the 70s," Bobby said. "They claimed they found some ancient text on pilgrimage to the Middle East, but then conveniently lost it on the way home."
"Lemme get there," Bobby said. "The leaders had a hard time getting followers without any proof, but not as bad as you might think. Lots of crazy folks out there."
Sam made another noise of assent.
"Anyway, one of them memorized the thing before she lost it, and then passed it down the group until someone got online and made themselves a website. I sent you the link. You can check it out."
"Yeah, I'll do that." Sam opened his laptop and waited for it to power up. "You know what the scrolls were supposed to say?"
"All sortsa stuff, but the part you'll want goes…" Bobby paused, then made a satisfied noise and continued. "'And Lucifer was God's strongest weapon, yet God did not guard it properly, and after seducing one of the angels of the Lord, the daughters of Earth stole Lucifer, and used it in their rebellion."
Dean's attention had started to wane, and Bobby was chuckling on the other end of the line, but the bottom fell out of Sam's stomach.
"What else does it say?" His voice must have betrayed his interest because Dean glanced up again.
"You'd hate to check and see for yourself, huh," Bobby said. Sam heard keys clacking. "God pulled it out in the end, sent all the rebels to Hell. The women are supposed to have turned into –" He laughed again. "God, I hadn't gotten this far last night, it's great. Supposedly these women of the Earth were the root of all your feminine evil things. Succubi, sirens, lilim, lamia, the Furies."
"Uh huh," Sam said. "Does it say how to beat Lucifer?"
Bobby stopped laughing. "Don't tell me you're taking this seriously."
"How'd God do it?" Sam pressed. He drummed his fingers on the laptop as it continued to search for wifi.
"Sam, this is nothing more than a bunch of, of hippies rewriting myths so women don't completely get the short end of the stick, here. And hell, its not even a good feminist reworking," he added. Sam blinked.
"What do you mean?"
"Well, God's still a man, the women don't win, they all turn into evil bitches…" Sam could imagine Bobby shaking his head. "Not worth taking seriously."
"But." Sam frowned. It had been a lifetime since he took a literature course. "But if it was just made up, then wouldn't things have gone better? Why make up some, uh, some feminist separatist myth if the women still lose in the end?"
Dean was listening again, torn between amusement and confusion.
Bobby sighed. "I have no idea, Sam, and I don't much care."
The laptop finally joined a network and Sam brought up the site, which blared purple Comic Sans on a lavender background. Sam realized why Bobby seemed so skeptical.
"Have you thought of anywhere else I should look?" Sam asked, trying to find the text he needed underneath new age garbage and sparkle-filled animations.
"The actual canon's pretty set," Bobby said. "It's not the same story everywhere, but it's all stuff we already know."
Sam nodded. "Alright," he said. "Hey, and thanks, Bobby. Where'd you run across this, anyway?"
"I've got people," Bobby said. "You boys take a little care, please. I'm sick of hauling you outta trouble."
"Yeah, bye, Bobby," Sam said, and they hung up.
"What was that about?" Dean asked. He looked focused on the blade, but Sam could feel his interest.
"Bobby found some stuff for me," Sam said, scrolling through the page.
Dean flashed annoyance. "What kinda stuff?"
Just research, Sam wanted to say, but he knew Dean had listened to his first conversation with Bobby, and knew about what Ruby said.
"He found a text that talks about Lucifer the same way Ruby was," Sam said.
Dean just got more annoyed. "You're still going on about that?"
Sam shrugged. "Could be helpful."
"Could be a waste of time," Dean tossed back. "C'mon, we need to head out in a second."
"Yeah, I –" Sam's eyes widened and he turned away from the laptop to stare at Dean. "I can't believe I hadn't thought of this already – did Castiel ever say where it was written, about you?"
Dean froze, and Sam wished neither of them had to feel the barely-contained panic sent through Dean's body by that thought.
"And he didn't say how either, did he?"
Dean shook his head.
"Okay, so." Sam tapped the screen. "What if this is how?"
"What if what is how?"
"This, the new lore!" Sam leaned forward. He could feel his eyes widening. "What if we get to Lucifer first, and use it against Lilith?"
Dean ran through annoyance and surprise before he put down the whetstone and raised his eyebrows at Sam. "Tell me you're not serious."
"I know how it sounds, but –"
"You know how it sounds?" Dean laughed. "I'd hope so, because it sounds like you're saying we should break the seals ourselves and let Lucifer walk. Like we should finish all Lilith's work for her and make sure the fucking apocalypse actually does happen, Sam, is what it sounds like." He was getting actually angry now, heart-rate kicking up and breath coming quicker, and Sam leaned back in the chair a little as his own body tensed and sped up.
"It fits with what Ruby said, okay? Just come check it out, man."
Dean shook his head. "There's apocrypha and there's apocrypha, Sam. And demons lie, and." He stood up and started gathering weapons together, frustrated. "I shouldn't even have to explain how this is a bad idea. Let's go get shit done."
Sam bit down on his own frustration; he'd talk to Dean after the hunt, when they both calmed down some. He bookmarked the site, filing it in the folder labeled simply L, then tugged on his jacket, and followed his brother to the car, turning the new verses over in his mind.
"No, Greg wasn't a full professor," Mindy, his neighbor, told them over huge mugs of tea. She hadn't been able to meet with them until the afternoon and insisted on serving snacks. "He was always very clear on that. He was a lecturer or something." She took a sip and smiled. "I never got the difference, but he didn't want to seem like he was overstepping."
Sam nodded and made a note. "So his work was very important to him."
"Oh, yes, very. He was always working, always had a book or something with him."
"Did he ever discuss his research with you?"
She blinked. "What research? He taught English, I thought you knew. How would you do research in English?"
Sam bit back his response and made himself nod. He felt amused all of a sudden and knocked his knee against Dean's under the table, hard. Dean apparently thought that was funnier and nudged their legs together again. Sam angled himself differently in the chair to keep from devolving into a stomping match.
"What can you tell us about how he spent his time outside of work?" Dean asked.
"That's going in the article?"
"We like to give a well-rounded representation, ma'am." Dean grinned at her and she smiled back readily.
"Well, I don't think – we weren't exactly close, he and I. He spent most of his time with people from work. They'd be up over here late at night, or they'd go out places." She waved a hand. "You know."
Sam glanced sidelong at his brother, then nodded. "I understand you're the one who found Greg's body."
Mindy frowned and leaned back from the table. "Yes, that. I was."
"How did you get in?" Dean asked.
"I had a key."
"But how did you have a key, if you two weren't close?"
Sam frowned, but didn't stop his brother's line of questions.
Mindy smiled at him again, but it didn't reach her eyes this time. "Son, I own the building. I have a key to everyone's place."
"Oh," Dean said. He nodded, but Sam felt like a dumbass and knew Dean did, too. Sam swung his legs back over and knocked against Dean again. Dean frowned at him.
"Do you know if there's a place they spent most of their time?" Sam tried to move the conversation back on track after a moment. "Someplace they went more often than not?"
She shook her head. "I didn't go with them, usually. He invited me when he first moved in, but he said they were meeting up at the college, at the library, and I was not interested."
Sam jotted that down as well. "You didn't go usually? So did you go occasionally?"
"Last year, I went to a Fourth of July party with them." She shrugged. "My own plans had fallen through, and I didn't want to go with him at first, because he was just going up to the school again, but then he told me they were going to drink up on the roof until the sun went down and then watch the fireworks, and that sounded like fun, so I went."
"You had a good time?" Dean asked.
"Oh yeah," Mindy said. "They couldn't make conversation for shit, kept talking about books and all, but Greg made these huge pitchers of Sangria and someone'd brought up a grill, and it was a pretty good time. Great view of the fireworks, especially."
"Did you notice anything strange that evening?" Dean asked.
She raised her eyebrows. "Strange how?"
"Any people that seemed weird somehow, anyone that would have just felt off." Sam took over and Mindy met his eyes. "Anyone that maybe the other people there avoided, or left out of conversation." She frowned, glancing down, and he kept going. "They might not have even noticed they were doing it – not like something gossipy, but like something was wrong."
She drummed her fingers over the table for a moment but then shook her head. "The only thing I noticed was the way he went to the library."
"What do you mean?"
"There wasn't any school that day, so there was parking all over the place, and I think Greg got good parking anyway, because of being a teacher, but he didn't park close to the library. He parked way off in the corner and we had to tramp across this huge field to get there."
"Yep." She shrugged. "I asked if he always went this way, and he said he liked it. Something about having a chance to be with nature or something, I don't remember exactly."
"Did he say if he went that way in winter?" Dean asked. "Wouldn't it get frozen and dangerous?"
She grinned. "You're from outta state?"
"Is it that obvious?" Sam asked, grinning.
"Eh, I didn't really think anything of it until now." She finished her tea and turned backwards to put her mug on the counter, near her sink. "There was this path through the grass. He said that's the way the kids went a lot of the time, going from the restaurant to catch the bus." She clicked her tongue. "Now that is a good reason to go across the field. It's a straight path from the Baked Bean to the bus stop, not like from the back parking lot to the field to the library."
Sam and Dean both straightened and leaned closer to her. "I didn't realize Augusta had a bus system," Sam said.
Mindy shook her head. "No, this is just the school's. Just goes in a little loop around campus, I think, to parking lots and buildings and stuff. There's always something on the news in the winter about how it reduces illness rates by not keeping them out in the cold for so long."
Sam nodded. He glanced at Dean, eyebrow raised, and Dean nodded back. "Alright, then." He closed the pad and smiled at Mindy. "I think we're done here. Thank you so much for your time."
She raised her eyebrows as they all stood. "That's all?"
"We'll be going around to some of Greg's colleagues at the school next," Dean said. "You've given us a good view of him here, though."
She shrugged and showed them out, leading them back through her tidy living room and to the town home's front door. "You got my name spelled right?"
Sam nodded. "We'll be in touch before the article goes to print," he said. "Thanks again."
Mindy stood in her front door and watched them head back to the car. Sam waited until they were inside, and she'd gone back in as well, before grinning and punching the air.
"What?" Dean asked. He raised an eyebrow. "You seriously thought that was helpful?"
"It's the third time the restaurant's come up, in three victims. That can't be a coincidence."
"Last night you said nothing was going on." Dean frowned across the seat at Sam, who shrugged.
"Okay, but she just said kids walked across that field to get to the bus station. Pretty easy to get snatched out of a dark field in the middle of the night."
Dean frowned further and his hesitation wormed its way through Sam, making him frown as well. "Alex was going out with her friends," Dean said. "Her sister said she'd gotten dressed up to go out. Do you think she'd wear her fuck-me boots through a snowy field in the middle of the night?"
"You don't know she was in fuck-me boots."
"If she was out with a guy she's got a thing for, I think it's safe to say she had on fuck-me boots."
"Reggie said she wouldn't –"
Dean snorted. "You telling me you've never been jealous? Maybe Alex wasn't crawling into the guy's lap with his girlfriend in the room, but I will cut off my right arm if you can prove to me she didn't make sure she looked damn good every time he saw her."
Sam sighed and looked out the window, at the gray snow piled high on the sides of the road. "Maybe fuck-me boots are more weather-appropriate this far north."
"Even if she was going through the field, wouldn't her friends have noticed if she just disappeared halfway through?" Dean's smugness sat warm and huge in Sam's chest, and when he looked back, he saw Dean smirking hard enough it had to hurt his cheek.
Sam sighed again. "She could have been going through it alone," he tried. "Maybe she left something at the restaurant and had to go back for it."
"Look," Dean said. "We can check out the whole field thing tonight if you think it's that big a deal, but you have to admit we have no way of knowing if Alex or Tony went through there."
"Yeah, I know." Sam closed his eyes. "I just want to find something, you know?"
"Yeah, Sammy." Dean sighed but Sam felt his pride swelling through both of them. "I know."
They meant to check with some of the other families, but the sun set before they got back to the room. Dean ordered a few pizzas and Sam ate with his left hand, hunt and pecking through the school's website with his right. Dean found infomercials and made up pornographic dialogue for the salesman after he ate. Sam knew he was bored – he could feel Dean's antsiness and jiggled one of his own knees in sympathy – but he tried to ignore it.
They'd gone back for seconds, leaving a few slices to eat the next morning, before Sam tossed down his pen and cracked his knuckles. "I don't even know what to look for until we get with some of the other families," he said.
Dean shrugged. "Grab me the weapons, then."
He spread the whetstones and the machetes across the bedspread. They sat side by side, with Dean still facing the TV and Sam's foot bumping against the bottom of the headboard, and worked the blades together, almost in unison. Dean tested the edge of his blade with his thumb after a few minutes, then angled it towards Sam so the metal caught the light.
"This is awesome," he finally said, then buckled the weapon into its sheath. "Y'know what, get the rest of the bag out. I want to sharpen the others while we're at it."
Dean divided the other knifes between them. Happiness spread between them as they worked, the simple contentment of years of knowledge and a job well done. The guns came next, stripped down and oiled before being slid back into place, and then Dean wanted to check out their bullets, and then their more supernatural weapons – were the rosaries and dream catchers all intact? How much loose silver did they have on hand? Did the holy water Super Soakers have any leaks?
It wasn't until Dean suggested they take turns emptying the trunk that Sam frowned. "Dean, it's freezing outside. No way am I going out there if I don't need to."
"But we –"
Sam shook his head. "We've already got everything we're probably going to need tomorrow. The stuff in the trunk is fine."
Dean grumbled but helped Sam pack things away willingly enough. Sam carried the bag back to the other bed. The room felt colder by the window and he retreated quickly back to the warmer area near the far wall. Despite the darkness and cold outside, the day of research left Sam wanting to go outside after all, to let off some steam. Dean still stretched on the bed, though, stripped of his outer layers and wearing only a t-shirt over his jeans.
Sam sat next to him, and even though Dean kept his face towards the screen, Sam saw him swallow. Sam's own stomach tightened and he frowned.
He didn't know how to broach the subject – how was he supposed to ask his brother if he wanted to mess around? – but Dean took it out of his hands.
"Been a while since you got any –" He reached out to the side and wriggled his fingers in the general direction of Sam's forehead – "practice in."
Sam tried to shrug as if he hadn't noticed, as if he didn't remember clearly what had happened the last time they practiced. "We've been busy," he said.
"We're not now." Dean wouldn't look away from the screen and his cheeks flushed pink. Sam almost wanted to blame it on the cold outside, or on the heater blaring through the room, but he could feel Dean's hesitant excitement and knew it wasn't the temperature.
"You really want to?" Sam asked. Dean swallowed again but he finally met Sam's gaze. "I didn't think you were cool with this."
Dean glanced rapidly between both of Sam's eyes. His gaze dipped down to Sam's mouth for a long moment before he shrugged and then nodded. "S'happening anyway, isn't it?" His voice sounded low, rough, and it made Sam shiver.
"Yeah," he said. "Yeah."
They stared at each other, letting the tension build until Sam thought they'd fuck without a pretense just so they could breathe again, before Dean shook himself and looked away. "We should see how you are with weapons," he said. "See if you can move them without cutting your hand off or something."
"Okay," Sam said. He moved to the spare bed while Dean took a few favorites from the weapons duffel: Sam's Glock, one of the sawed-offs, a sheathed knife, and a machete with leather buckled securely around its blade. Sam's dick jumped and filled as he watched Dean's hands working steadily over the weapons, making sure the guns were unloaded and the knives couldn't get out of their coverings. He met Sam's gaze when he straightened and Sam had to look away quickly. He felt Dean's determination and watched peripherally as Dean stood on the far wall, leaning near the door to the bathroom.
"Glock first," Dean directed. He glanced pointedly at the other bed, where the weapons rested in a neat line. "Just get it to you, nothing fancy."
Sam nodded and focused on the gun, thinking about its familiar grip and dark, oily scent. He wrapped his mind around it with more care than he used when they practiced with garbage or paper, making sure to move neither the safety nor the trigger, then lifted the gun. It moved smoothly into the air, straight up, and Sam held out his hand to catch. The Glock wobbled in midair when he tried to turn it and direct it properly into his grip. He stopped trying and just brought it to him, like Dean said. Sam's fingers closed around the barrel when he caught it. He frowned as he released it with his mind, and after he turned it properly in his hand, he checked with his brother.
Dean nodded slowly, fighting a smile. Sam felt surprised until he focused back in on Dean, and then closed his eyes against the rush of Dean's impressed approval.
"Try again," he said though.
Sam nodded and put the Glock on the pillow, then went for the shotgun. He was able to turn it around completely, and though it didn't come smoothly or quickly, he caught it one-handed with a finger near, but not on, the trigger. Dean nodded at him again and he did the knife, then the machete. He grabbed them both out of the air by their handles, with the blade pointed in the direction he wanted, and grinned at Dean when all the weapons rested on the bed. Dean rolled his eyes and jerked his head to the other mattress.
"Again," he said. Sam scrambled over, noticing through the distraction of the power that Dean's eyes focused on his crotch as he moved.
He went back and forth with all four weapons two more times, changing beds in between, before Dean stopped him and told him to focus on the machete.
"It's what we're using tomorrow," he said. "I want you most comfortable with it."
Sam nodded and tried to calm his breathing as Dean tucked the guns and the knife away. He'd used all three of their machetes before but Dean had pulled his favorite from the bag. The handle was wrapped with tape just the way Sam wanted, and he knew the perfect heft of it in his hand, the exact whistle it made when swung through the air. He grinned as Dean settled back against the wall and focused on bringing it to him faster, safer.
Instead of swapping beds, Dean had him work on moving the machete away from him as well. He brought a single square of toilet paper out and laid it on the comforter as a target, and Sam only missed twice before he was able to situate the handle exactly on the tissue, angled diagonally across the sheet.
Sam had sweated through his shirt when Dean cleared his throat and caught his attention. "You wanna try without the cover?"
Sam frowned. Dean's worry and hesitation over the idea pounded through his body in time with his heart rate, but when he met Dean's eyes, he guessed they both knew this would be a huge tactical advantage. Sam nodded without speaking, and his stomach jumped along with Dean's nod back.
"Alright, show me one more good time covered," Dean said. Sam floated the machete from his bed back to the scrap of toilet paper, and stretched out his hand to catch when Dean interrupted. "Eyes closed."
Sam grinned at him, sharp and excited, and shut his eyes. He thought about exactly where he left the machete on the bed. He touched the ridges of tape with his mind, thought about how they matched his grip, and then stretched out his arm. He tugged the machete and heard Dean's quiet gasp as the handle thunked straight into his hand. He opened his eyes with pleasure from both of them light in his belly and waggled his eyebrows at his brother.
Dean rolled his eyes. "Yeah, yeah. Toss me the cover already. Let's do this."
Sam unbuckled the leather with his hands but sent it to Dean with his mind on a whim. Dean laughed and reached out to snatch it earlier than Sam expected, taking it from eye level instead of waiting for it to fall into his hands. Dean raised his eyebrows at Sam and grinned.
"We should do something with that," Sam said. His voice was thick, having gone unused as he worked, and he cleared his throat.
"Next time," Dean said. "Machete now."
Sam started off slowly; although he'd worked perfectly with the covered weapon, he didn't want to take out his own hand.
It flew as well naked as sheathed, though, and it didn't take long before Sam could call it quickly to his grip. The work was repetitive but Sam felt more accomplishment from moving the machete than he had since he started working with Dean. This wasn't busy work, just to keep his foot in the game and practice for a distant goal; he could use this to hunt, which was a welcome change from working towards revenge. This would save his brother's life instead of avenge it, and Sam smiled as the handle fell into his hand over and over again.
Sam kept grinning when Dean called enough. He flopped back on the bed and listened to the leather case creak as Dean replaced it around the blade, then to a metallic jingle when he put the weapon away. Sam nudged his power towards Dean, devoting more energy to making sense of his brother's emotions than usual, and bit his lips at what he found. Dean was almost thrumming with excitement. They'd both figured out the pattern by this time, and when Dean glanced over his shoulder, Sam pushed up onto his elbows and raised his eyebrows.
Dean's hesitation twisted in Sam's gut, but he was visibly hard in his jeans, and after a moment, he crossed the room and crashed down, onto his brother. Dean pressed his face into Sam's neck, already breathing fast, and arched his back to let Sam tug at the gap between his pants and shirt, sending one hand up his shirt and the other down his boxers. Dean's skin felt warm under his fingers, Dean's mouth burned over Sam's pulse, and they ground into each other, as if they'd been doing this forever.
As much as Sam wanted to slow down, he couldn't seem to keep himself from sliding one hand immediately between Dean's cheeks to rub, dry and catching, over his hole. Dean shuddered in Sam's arms and spread his legs, working his cock against Sam's hip.
"Sammy," he said, quiet and hoarse, and Sam couldn't keep from thrusting up at that.
"What," he answered. "What, Dean, tell me, what?"
Dean shook his head. "Dunno, I just –" He panted against Sam's skin, shaky, and Sam pushed him back a little. Dean winced and it shot through Sam as well, so Sam made sure to keep his one hand firmly on his brother as he pulled the other hand from Dean's ass and used it to work his jeans open.
"I've got you," Sam muttered. He felt the hitch in Dean's breathing as he tugged Dean's cock free and wrapped it up, warm against his fingers. Dean closed his eyes above Sam and tried to get his own hand between them, but Sam shook his head. "Just – just, here, lean forward." He nudged Dean's arm with his shoulder, fucking up his rhythm for a moment, until Dean caught on and planted his hands on either side of Sam's face.
"Sammy," he said again, staring down at Sam with pupils blown wide. Sam flashed a grin and tightened his hand. Dean's eyes kept threatening to fall closed when he worked his thumb over Dean's head, but they fluttered open again on each downstroke. Dean swung his hips easily to meet Sam's hand. His breath huffed hot over Sam's face, and Sam ran his free hand up Dean's flank, teased it over his ass and cupped his balls.
Dean splattered all over Sam's chest when he came. He gave in and squeezed his eyes closed while Sam kept wringing it out of him. He didn't collapse onto Sam afterwards but he didn't roll away, either: he dropped himself onto one elbow and rested their foreheads together as Sam swiping his fingers through the come on his chest and slipping his zipper down. He wanted to close his eyes, but he couldn't stop looking at Dean, close and blurry and breathing hot into his mouth.
Sam slid his own hands around his dick, cupping his balls in one and lacing the fingers of the other around his shaft, and he stroked four times before shooting between them. His hand was sticky when Sam pulled free, and he had no way to tell which jizz was whose. Dean wrinkled his nose when Sam wiped his hand on the comforter.
"Hey!" Dean tried to scowl. Sam grinned at him and the frown broke; Sam's breath caught at the happiness in Dean's face, in his own chest.
"S'not like we don't have another bed," Sam said.
Dean rolled his eyes and climbed gingerly off. His jeans still hung open and his breathing hadn't really slowed yet. Sam stood and kicked out of his socks and jeans while Dean ran the sink, and he'd pulled his shirts over his head by the time Dean came back with a wet washrag. He climbed into the other bed and watched from under the covers while Sam wiped down, and joined him.
The sheets felt cool against all Sam's bare skin and he shivered for a moment, hesitant. This was new territory again, lying post-coital together, and Sam worked himself up to meeting Dean's gaze. He couldn't read his brother's expression and so Sam closed his eyes, falling back on the powers.
Dean felt tired, mostly, boneless against the sheets, but when Sam pressed further, he found nervousness and hesitation over desire so far buried Sam almost hadn't noticed it. He opened his eyes again and caught a short glimpse of Dean's unguarded face; he'd stared intently at Sam before he shut down and smoothed his forehead.
Sam sighed and scooted closer to the center of the bed. One of his legs inched over the invisible dividing line and Sam kept moving until he toed up against Dean's shin. His stomach jumped and he kept his foot firmly in place.
"S'cold," Sam said. He shut his eyes again and waited. Dean didn't move for a while, almost holding his breath, and then cooler air slipped under the covers as Dean shifted. The lights in the room flicked off and Sam was left with the blood-lit darkness behind his eyelids as Dean settled back into bed, closer to him this time.
They both stretched on their backs with the covers hanging heavy over them; their legs stayed bumped up together and Dean kept moving until their arms brushed as well.
"Night, Sammy," he said, and Sam shivered pleasantly before letting himself go to sleep.
Sam woke up first, before the sun had fully risen. They'd moved apart in the night but Dean frowned and rolled towards the empty side of the bed when Sam slipped out. Even with the heater, the room felt cold. Sam hurried into last night's jeans and, after eying his brother, pulled the comforter from the other bed and piled it over Dean. He didn't wait to see if Dean would settle, but he did try to be quiet as he splashed water over his face in the bathroom and yanked layers at random from his duffel.
Sam ducked out of the room as quickly as he could. The morning light shone pale, with the sun low over the horizon, and the cold air burned down his throat, and deep within his chest. Sam hurried across the parking lot to the Impala, and after he found a breakfast place with a drive-through, he kept the bag of food on his lap.
He found Dean in the same position as he'd left him, and this time, Sam didn't take care with the noise level. He let the room door slam shut and then started along with Dean when the bang woke him. Sam rolled his eyes as Dean rolled over and glared at the ceiling.
"That better be coffee I smell." Dean didn't clear his throat before speaking and his voice came morning-rough.
"What else would smell like this?" Sam spread their food over the table and sat down. "I will eat it all if you don't get to your breakfast first, though."
Dean grumbled as he sat up. Sam saw him frown at the thick layer of bed linens, then glance at the other bed and smile, this soft, slow expression he rarely showed other people. Sam's chest swelled and he looked away as Dean crawled from between the sheets.
He joined Sam at the table in his boxers, with one of the comforters wrapped around him. He took his time sitting down, draping the bedspread carefully on the chair before gracing it with his ass, and Sam rolled his eyes.
"Lazy," he said.
"Warm." Dean shrugged and pawed through the pastries before taking a bear-claw.
"If you get sugar all over that, then you can sleep on it."
Dean cocked an eyebrow at Sam and grinned. "Mmm hmm," he said.
Sam flushed and looked away.
They stopped by the other three victim's homes, but the Karms wouldn't talk to either the newspapers or the Feds, the Nguyens weren't home, and the Land-Boxers had moved without leaving a forwarding address. Three o'clock found Sam and Dean back in the motel room in stocking feet with the heater blaring. They stretched out across the bed with the laptop between them and Dean kept his arms crossed over his chest while Sam made a new Facebook account and joined the local networks.
Only Sonia Karm and Britney Nguyen were on Facebook, and even then, Sam could only see Sonia's full profile. She and Britney were both members of the University of Maine in Augusta network, though, and Googling for Travis Land-Boxer showed he'd been published several times by the school's newspaper.
"Maybe we should be looking at the school instead of the restaurant," Dean said. "This is six for six, here."
Sam frowned but he couldn't deny Dean's point. "So where do we look for a nest on campus?"
"Don't look at me." Dean snorted but Sam felt his hesitance at discussing anything related to Sam and higher ed. "This is all on you."
"Yeah, whatever." Sam rolled his eyes but brought up the school's website. "It gets dark early up here, especially with it being winter, so they won't have to spend too much time there."
He and Dean looked over the campus map. "Are you thinking it's someplace small, then?"
"Could be." Sam shrugged. "But if we're only looking at a few vamps, then they wouldn't need someplace huge regardless."
Dean sighed, too, and Sam felt a wash of frustration. He leaned closer to the screen and shook his head. "See if they're doing construction, or have a building they're gonna demolish, something like that."
Sam clicked around until he found a page of recent news and skimmed, but nothing jumped out at him. "Here," he said, "lemme try this." He opened a new tab and Googled for urban legends about the school, then for tunnels, then for bomb shelters. Dean approved, but Google didn't bring up anything useful.
"What the hell sorta place doesn't have urban legends?" Dean asked, frowning, as Sam tapped the tab closed.
"No idea." Sam moved his fingers over the keys, then shrugged. "I'm gonna see if I can figure out what buildings the victims would have been in most often." He opened Google again and tried to find out who'd majored in what.
"How you gonna do that?"
He shrugged. "Well, we already know Weaver hung out in the library, and where he parked, so if I can find out where his office was, and what he taught last semester, we should be able to figure out where he walked every day, stuff like that. Probably won't be able to get as much detail for the other people, but if they were all taking classes in the same building, that's a start."
Dean shrugged as well and reached for the remote. "Knock yourself out."
"This is as close as we're gonna get," he said later, interrupting Dean's Law and Order marathon. Dean leaned over to check the screen after he muted the TV, resting his shoulders near Sam's. Sam moved closer to his brother than he really needed, in order to point things out, and his stomach jumped as they brushed against each other.
"Here's the campus," he said unnecessarily, showing Dean the map he'd copied into Paint and marked up, with a different color for each victim. "And here's where we know Weaver went." Weaver got yellow, and had dots in a few different buildings, as well as a bright line leading through the field and to the parking lot. "I'm most sure of Land-Boxer after him, because all his journalism classes would be in the same two buildings." He pointed to the red dots, and then explained who matched up with the other colors.
"So they were all in these three buildings for certain?" Dean pointed to the buildings in question. He was careful not to touch the screen for the first two, but he slipped over the library and the screen warped colorfully under his fingertip for a moment.
"Um." Sam frowned. "I'm actually assuming on that one. I don't know that they all went to the library, but I'm pretty sure they were all upper-level students, and I think it's a safe guess."
Dean shrugged, deferential. He traced a path over the map again, going from one building to the next, and Sam followed him with the mouse, drawing a triangle between the buildings in neon green.
"What's that they'd walk around?" Dean flicked his fingernail over the curved, irregular area marked off in the center of the triangle. Only acronyms and abbreviations marked the map, and Sam needed to open the school's page again to translate.
"Nothing," Sam said. "Just a little field."
"No, that." Dean touched the screen again. Sam frowned at the fingerprint he left but double-checked the small rectangular building Dean emphasized. He smiled when he saw what it was.
"Maintenance building," he said.
Dean grinned back and nodded. "Then that's where we're starting."
Sam smiled and snapped the laptop shut. "We still haven't explained how the victims wound up at home."
"If they're nabbing them on campus, the victims probably all had ID." Dean shrugged. "Maybe the vamps are killing them at school, and then taking them home to avoid suspicion."
"What, like if they aren't found at the scene, no one'll figure it out?" Sam scoffed and crossed to his duffel.
"I never said it was a good plan." Dean grinned, already starting to gear up for the hunt, and turned the sound back on. Sam traded out his jeans for sweats and joined him on the bed, settling down easily and letting the show drag him in.
They wore their maintenance-guy costumes under their coats, and over long underwear. The campus was almost empty on a Sunday morning, and Dean frowned at the sun while Sam double-checked the campus map. They both shoved their hands deep into their coat pockets once they left the car.
Dean carried their weapons in a duffel slung over one shoulder and they avoided the eyes of the few students they passed. The kids didn't seem to be in any hurry to meet their gaze, either, and they worked their way easily to the small, grassy area in the center of campus. The maintenance shed looked smaller than it seemed on the map, which must have been out of scale. This building looked to be ten feet square at the biggest. Sam and Dean shrugged at each other before circling the entire area from the sidewalks.
They stood under a snow-covered tree and eyed the building – cinderblock, windowless with only one door, and steep-roofed.
"We sure this is it?" Dean asked. "Looks too small."
Sam shrugged. "Maybe there's just one of them. One could live there easy."
Dean frowned, then shrugged too. "Whatever. Let's check it out
An overhang covered the door to the shed and Sam's anticipation of getting out of the elements faded when he saw the padlock and thick chain keeping the door closed. They tugged on the handle but the chains were still new and shiny, and didn't budge.
"Got the kit?" Dean asked.
"Of course." Sam pulled his lock picks from a pocket on his jumpsuit and squatted down. Dean steadied him with one hand on his shoulder when he swayed, and Sam worked without letting his knees touch the cold ground. The chill made his fingers clumsy and Sam felt Dean's impatience build along with his own when he couldn't make all the tumblers fall into place.
"Dude," Dean said eventually. Sam stood, stepping in place to stretch out his knees, and thrust the kit at Dean.
"You try it then," he said.
Dean let the duffel fall from his shoulder to his elbow and he shoved it at Sam as he took the picks and ducked to the lock. Sam slung the strap across his chest and checked the campus behind them. A few people milled around but most went quickly, with their heads tucked down against the wind and their scarves pulled over their faces. None of them even glanced at the small shed.
Sam stepped close behind his brother and tucked his knees against Dean's back. Dean didn't look away from the lock but he nodded and leaned back, letting Sam take some of his weight as he worked. They stayed that way for a few more minutes and Sam hunched his shoulders as the wind picked up again, but eventually Dean laughed and shoved out of his crouch.
"Done and done," he said.
Sam toed the door open and held it open while Dean stepped through first. After a moment, he nodded back and Sam followed.
The shed wasn't insulated and their breath still puffed white into the air once they stepped inside, but the protection from the wind was better than nothing. Sam let the door close and he and Dean moved to each side of it. Nothing came at them while their eyes adjusted to the darkness, and once he could see well, Sam lowered his blade, frowning.
He could see a stack of wheelbarrows, bags of dirt and fertilizer, gardening tools, heavy sacks of road salt, a pin-up calendar showing December 2008, and two plastic lawn chairs, angled towards each other, but no vampires. No blood, no grey and frozen co-eds, nothing to suggest anything lived here. Sam frowned across the closed door at Dean, who shrugged and stepped further into the room.
Sam followed his lead and worked around the walls. He found more landscaping equipment and an empty pack of cigarettes, but made his way back to the door without finding anything.
"The hell," he said.
"Mmm," Dean answered. "Look at this." He kept his machete at the ready as he nudged an irregular square of carpet, spread over the cement in the center of the room. Sam frowned and joined him. Dean kicked it all the way to the side to reveal a coarse wooden trap door. He smiled widely at Sam for a moment before bending and cocking his head towards the floor.
They pried it open and climbed quickly down a ladder to a large, windowless basement below. They waited a few minutes for their eyes to adjust to the darkness, but nothing came at them in the meantime. When Sam could see again, he nudged Dean and gestured towards the center of the room. The vamps slept in a pile, ten stretched across two king-sized mattresses pushed together in the center of the area, and none of them stirred as Sam and Dean crept closer, staying in the faint light from the trap door.
It went down like clockwork, textbook perfect.
They beheaded as many as they could without waking the entire pack, going first for those providing a clean shot by sleeping with their heads away from everyone else.
Five were left when one woke up and found the sheets soaked in blood, and the vampire next to her newly headless. Dean whacked her as quickly as he could, but not before she screamed and woke the others. Sam took out another as they scrambled off the bed, and the last three all darted in separate ways. Dean took off after one, and Sam started after one of the others before stopping and glancing at the mattresses.
He dropped his machete with a clatter, stretched out his mind, and flicked his wrist. The mattresses rose off the floor, dripping blood, and Sam sent them, one at a time, after the last two vampires. He felt Dean's flare of excitement as he beheaded the third vamp on the far side of the basement, then a burst of more emotions, but Sam didn't try to make sense of these reactions yet. He focused on the hunt.
Corpses fell to the ground as the first mattress smashed its target to the ground. Sam kept it there and struggled to concentrate on two things at once as he sent the other mattress off.
He was dimly aware of Dean's footsteps echoing across the empty space as he ran to dispatch the trapped vampire. Sam hit the other vamp in the back and pinned him to the floor, bloody side of the mattress down. He took his time crossing to the mattress, only vaguely noticing Dean's flashing vindication at taking out the other, and by the time Sam flicked his hand to flip the mattress away, the vampire stopped struggling. His shirt and his short blond hair were soaked with blood. Sam swung the machete high over his head and brought it down smoothly, adding to the gore.
Sam dropped the power and his surroundings came back, no longer muted. The thick smell of blood was almost overwhelming now that Sam wasn't ignoring it. With little ventilation, the vampire's blood smelled dark, earthier than the traces of human blood Sam noticed when they first climbed down, and Sam gritted his teeth to try to push away his nausea. Without the hint of sulfur Sam now associated with sex and power, this much gore meant nothing good.
Dean's own exhilaration, mixed with pride, and fear, and the first hints of exhaustion, pounded in Sam's head even though they stood on opposite sides of the room. Dean's feelings grew more insistent as they came back together. When they met in the center of the basement, near the messy tangle of bed linens left behind, Sam couldn't tell the difference between Dean's reactions and his own.
They were both proud of what they did here; they were both jumpy with the last rushes of adrenaline, and the easy excitement of a hunt gone well.
Dean was blood-splattered, sweaty, and breathing quickly after sprinting, with his lips parted. Sam stared at him for a moment, knowing he looked the same, and at someone's first spark of hopeful desire, Sam fisted his hands in Dean's coat and pulled him in.
Dean went to Sam willingly, shoving his hands under Sam's shirt and pushing a leg between Sam's. Sam didn't try to put specific names with how Dean felt right now, but thrust against his brother and reveled in the physical satisfaction. Dean was happy to be doing this again; this was as purely happy as Dean had been since Sam started reading his brother like this.
Sam went to his knees in the bloody pile of sheets and tugged Dean with him, bearing him down on his back. Dean looked almost shell-shocked, staring wide-eyed at Sam, but Sam didn't stop to worry about which of them gave off the hint of uncertainty he felt. He just unbuttoned his jeans, then his brother's, and lowered himself until he could thrust their dicks together.
Their boxers still hung in the way, but the fabric grew damper with every thrust. Sam smashed his face against Dean's neck and let his brother's happiness wash over him, wave after wave of excitement, and fondness, and love. He felt worry there, too, as well as guilt and somehow longing, but Dean's legs were spread wide, letting Sam in, and his hands had wormed their way down the back of Sam's boxers, urging him on.
Dean came first, gasping into Sam's hair, and Sam thrust a few times more before following.
Sam felt even more useless after this orgasm than he usually did after sex, and he slumped on Dean as long as he could. Dean drifted happily for a while, but eventually he started feeling awkward and sore, and almost frozen. Sam inhaled one last time, smelling Dean's sweat and the metallic tang of blood on the skin of his throat, then pushed up, back onto his knees.
Sam's belly itched as the drying come pulled over his skin, and he'd bet Dean's would do the same once he moved, but Sam had no way of wiping up now. He ducked his head to avoid Dean's eyes as he tucked both of their dicks away, but he couldn't ignore Dean's swooping burst of affection.
He struggled to his feet and held out a hand to Dean. Dean took it and after Sam heaved him up, they stood swaying in the center of the room, holding hands, and far into each other's personal space. Dean almost froze with anticipation, and Sam stared at his lips for a long moment, considering, before dropping Dean's hands and making himself go back for his weapon. His sense of Dean faded, but after the sex and the hunt and the rush of using his powers, Sam couldn't completely tune his brother out.
"How do you wanna clean this up?" he called over his shoulder, as he wiped the blade clean on a dry bit of mattress.
Dean went from disappointment to resignation to businesslike efficiency quickly enough that Sam wasn't certain he picked up on everything. "Same way we do every night, Pinky: burn the sons of bitches."
Sam snorted. "Yeah, except no way are you Brain. Burning stuff underground is a bad idea, Dean."
"I'll get the lighter fluid," Dean said anyway, pleased. Sam had no idea if he smiled over the fire, or because Sam ran with the joke. "You pile em up."
"Hey!" Sam protested, and only got back another wave of amusement. Sam eyed the pile of corpses in the center of the room and the scattered few they'd chased down, and then pulled a face at the thought of touching them. He wanted the gross part of the day to be done.
When Dean came back inside, with a squirt bottle of lighter fluid in one hand, he stopped stock-still and laughed. Sam stood with one arm outstretched as he directed a corpse through the air to land with a splat on the pile of its old nestmates, and he smirked at Dean.
"Lazy," Dean called, but he felt interested and happy.
"Jealous," Sam shot back. The vamp landed on the others, and Sam turned his attention to the last body.
Sam had been looking forward to a shower and a huge meal, and maybe another fuck, but when they parked the car and headed back to the motel, Sam felt Dean's emotions flash rapidly from happiness to anger, fear, distrust. Sam frowned and followed Dean's gaze, then saw Ruby in the doorway of their room.
Sam put a hand on Dean's arm and stopped a few feet from her, keeping himself half a step in front of his brother. Ruby had her arms crossed and her hair slicked back tightly, so none of it fell around her face. She raised an eyebrow at Sam and glanced from him to Dean, then rolled her eyes.
"Really?" she asked. "Sam, tell me you didn't."
Dean almost exploded in panic next to Sam, and Sam tightened his grip on Dean's arm to keep him in place. He thought he knew what Ruby meant, but that wasn't something he wanted to discuss, either.
"We're not doing this outside." He let go of Dean, then elbowed Ruby out of the way and unlocked the door. Dean followed Sam inside, giving off huge waves of unease. Ruby stood outside with her eyebrows raised, and glanced down once at the salt line over the threshold. Dean snorted a laugh, and Sam thought about not letting her in, since she almost certainly brought bad news, but eventually came back to scrape one boot through the salt.
Dean crossed to the bathroom mirror, and Sam stayed by the door, so Ruby stood between them, in the center of the room. She glanced at the beds -- one very used, the other neatly made -- then rolled her eyes.
Sam didn't have to concentrate on Dean's feelings right now to know how tense he felt. He thought he'd've been able to tell without the bond, but he was also pretty sure Dean's stress focused on two possibilities: either Ruby brought some bad demonic news, which is where Sam put his money, or she came here to laugh at them for fucking.
She stared at Dean for a few moments, ratcheting up his distress, and then turned to Sam with a smile. "Only one seal left now," she said, and shook her head. "But at least those vampires are taken care of, am I right?"
Sam gritted his teeth. He'd been working since he saw her last but hadn't used most of his power, since he hadn't exorcised anyone; he thought about how easily he could take Ruby out and she became incrementally less annoying.
"Which seal's it gonna be?" he asked.
Dean glanced at Sam, but Ruby snorted. "I thought you knew better than that," she said. "It doesn't matter what seal Lilith does. She can break whichever one she wants, and it'll still get the job done."
"Yeah, but she's got to have something specific in mind." Sam spread his hands. "I mean, last seal, last step to the apocalypse? That needs something theatric."
Ruby shrugged. "You're forgetting that there are quite a few shiny seals she can do --"
Sam rolled his eyes and gestured towards Ruby with a finger, not even raising his hand. He didn't want to actually hurt her, so he only cut off her breathing for a while instead of slamming her to the wall or pulling her out of the meatsuit through its mouth. Across the room, Dean shifted uneasily, but Sam ignored him.
"C'mon, Ruby," Sam said after about thirty seconds, and let her go. She drew breath with a wet gasp and rubbed her throat with her hands. "I thought you had better connections than that."
She glared. "You gonna choke me some more? I knew you liked some weird stuff --" She didn't look away from Sam, but her smirk filled Dean with shame and anger anyway. "But I didn't know you were into choking bitches."
"The term's gotta come from somewhere." Sam traced his power over her throat again, almost a caress. "We both know what I can do to you, Ruby." He smiled; Dean's disgust told him how he looked right now, but Sam didn't care. "Hell, you taught me how to do it."
Her hands fisted by her sides as she visibly tried to keep herself from reaching up to claw at the air around her throat, and her eyes started to widen.
"I don't really want to hurt you," Sam said, lowering his voice. "You have helped me a lot." He shook his head and flashed his teeth. "But don't think I won't do it if you don't tell me."
She met his gaze, while Dean worried, and then closed her eyes and nodded as much as he let her. Sam loosened his hold even further but kept his power wrapped around her throat, keeping her in his control.
"There's a gathering somewhere in New England," she said. "A coven. They're gathering witches from pretty much this half of the continent, some from Canada and a few came up from Central America, and they're gonna off themselves at the new moon."
Sam looked to the window, but Dean said, "That's tonight. Rises just before four." He felt sure enough that Sam didn't question him.
"And then what, that's it?" Sam asked. "Group suicide and then Lucifer's free?"
"It could be something else," Ruby said, "but I doubt it. This is showy -- it'll get everyone's attention. Lilith doesn't just want Heaven and Hell to notice what she's up to. Humans might ignore a lot of stuff, but cults and mass suicide grab attention. Lilith wants everyone to figure out she's doing something."
Sam sighed and let Ruby go. She tilted her head from one side to the other, and then sat down on the made bed, tucking one boot under her other leg.
"You're going after her, right?"
Sam huffed another sigh and glanced at Dean. Dean felt worried and unsure, hesitant, but although he scowled, he nodded at Sam. Sam nodded back, then glanced at Ruby.
"Yeah," he said. "I'm not giving up on a chance like this."
"Alright," Ruby said, and unzipped her jacket. Sam didn't understand what she meant until he noticed her arms were bare under the leather. He shook his head and glanced at Dean, who felt equally curious and annoyed.
"Hey," Sam said sharply. "Ruby, what are you --"
She pulled her knife from its holder at her hip and looked at him, eyes wide and artificially innocent. "What?" she said. "You'll need to be as strong as possible if you want an actual chance at this, so come on." She slashed at her arm before Sam thought about keeping her from doing it, and the tang of her blood filled the air. She smelled different than the vampires, distinctly sulfuric, and Sam closed his eyes.
"Dude," Dean said, disgusted and a little freaked out. Sam could feel denial pulsing off of him, and guessed Dean figured out what was going on, even neither of them wanted to acknowledge it. "What the fuck is going on?"
"It's nothing," Sam said, "I don't know." He finally wrapped his mind around Ruby, keeping her frozen in place. She was still poised with the knife in one hand and a smirk on her face. Drops of blood welled up and dripped down her arm to be absorbed by the bedspread underneath her. Sam glanced helplessly at her, feeling his mouth water and his dick swell, and he couldn't help licking his lips before turning back to Dean.
"Sam," Dean said, sharper, full of regret and anger, betrayal. "Tell me this innit what I think it is."
"Dean, look, I can explain it --"
"Are you kidding me?" Dean snapped, stepping away from his place before the mirror and stalking into Sam's personal space. Sam could still smell the sweat and blood and come ground into his skin, and his clothes. "Are you drinking demon blood on fucking purpose?"
Sam closed his eyes for a long moment, then opened them and raised his chin. He squared his shoulders, ready for the punch he knew Dean wanted to throw, and grinned. "You've seen what I can do now, with it."
Dean's reactions fell away, leaving him blank for a moment, before rushing back in -- disgust, regret, guilt, but mostly anger. Sam could barely thing around them all. "Our entire fucking lives, Sammy -- you said it earlier, this has ruined everything for us. All of our family, Mom, Dad, our grandparents, and hell, might as well count Jess -- and me, too," he added, almost as an after thought, and Sam couldn't help snarling at Dean's last-minute acknowledgement of his own pain. "This demon blood shit is the worst thing that has ever happened to us, and you're doing it to yourself? You're helping?" Dean shook his head, blaring incredulity. "You know what, fuck you. I was wrong to ever think I could help you with this."
He pushed bodily past Sam, jostling their shoulders , and started throwing stuff in his duffel. Sam glanced at Ruby, still held in place, and then walked over to stand in front of Dean. Being so close to his brother made the bond between them unavoidable, especially with Dean's emotions running so hot and close to the surface, and Sam had to close his eyes and breathe through his nose to get past the rage filling his head.
At least Ruby hadn't spilled the beans on that.
"Dean," he said, "look, you're mad, I get it --"
Dean spun and did punch him in the jaw, then went back to his packing. He didn't have much stuff in the room, but his hands kept shaking, and Sam thought he took longer than necessary. Sam sucked his teeth as he rubbed his hand over the sore spot and shook his head, then turned back to Dean. His body jittered as well, his leftover adrenaline combining with Dean's turmoil and making him light-headed.
"Dean," he tried again, "if there's only one seal left -- don't you think we should deal with that first, and then you can be pissed at me over this?"
"Nuh uh," Dean said. "I think I have no way of trusting you at all now. And if you're drinking demon blood, then I'm not facing down the last seal with you at my back. Not if I don't know which way you'll end up swinging."
"Your way, Dean," he said. "I'll always end up swinging your way – this was always for you. Killing Lilith?" Sam held out his palms. "How don't you see, that it's because of what she did to you?"
Dean gave off a tiny flash of amusement, but Sam could barely feel it under the regret and steady anger.
"I never asked you to do that. Try not to end the world without me," he said, and swung his bag onto his shoulder. The car keys jingled as he dug them out of his pocket. Almost punch-drunk, Sam frowned as Dean headed for the door, and he flung his powers at Dean. He froze Dean in place, just as with Ruby, and thrust his mind into Dean's like he never even wanted to do with her.
Sam still didn't know how to control people well, and he only held Dean still for a moment instead of trying to make him do something.
If you're the only one who can end it, Sam thought at his brother, then you have to come with me.
Dean snarled mentally, full of shocked, cursing fury. I'm not doing a fucking thing for you like this, he shot back, and threw all of his willpower behind breaking free.
Sam groaned and closed his eyes, but although he could have kept Dean there, he let him loose after a moment. Dean gasped and stumbled towards the door. He fumbled for the knob without looking back, and Sam couldn't help but notice his fear, fresh and heavy.
"Dean –" he tried, shocked himself, but then Dean was gone, slamming the door behind him. A few grains of salt skittered across the carpet before the room fell silent.
Sam stared at the door for a long moment, feeling Dean's emotions fade as he headed down the hall, and then down the stairs. The Impala's engine roared to life a little later, and after Sam heard it rumble out of the parking lot, Sam realized he couldn't feel his brother at all. He stood almost frozen, torn between the different things he wanted to do, but the scent of blood in the air finally got the best of him.
Sam kept Ruby immobilized as he stalked back to the bed. Her arm had started to scab already, and he scratched the wound open with his thumbnail and rubbed until the blood began flowing again. He lowered his mouth and drank, and drank, long past the point at which Ruby usually pushed him away.
When he finally fell back onto the bed, next to her still form, the room spun around him. Sam turned the sink on with a thought, wet a washrag, and sent it through the air to land on the bed as he pulled out his dick and started stroking. He worked himself until it hurt, and forced two more orgasms from his body before he felt steady enough to get moving.
Dean took only his own things, and Sam packed quickly. He scrubbed himself down without looking in the mirror, and changed his clothes when he remembered how bloody they'd be. He didn't touch the dried come on his belly but left it there as he pulled on a clean pair of pants, and several of his warmest shirts.
He salted the entire room before he left, leaving white piles over the drains in the sink and the bathtub as well as in front of the air vents, and around the perimeter of the walls. Ruby would be able to get out -- if nothing else, she could tell the front office she was locked in, and someone would be by to open the door -- but he wanted to slow her down. Sam kept her from moving as he headed out the door, and didn't let her up until he'd stolen a car and driven away.
He didn't know if he was chasing Dean or Lilith, or both.
Sam drove for the rest of the day, not really thinking about where he went or what he would do once he got there. He pushed out with his powers to see where to go, and made turns almost at random until he found himself in front of a community center, still under construction. He parked in the shadows across from the site and watched for a few moments. He couldn't see anyone moving around but this place felt right. He started the car again after he opened his laptop and Googled exactly what time the moon would be rising.
It wouldn't be overhead for a few more hours. Sam drove until he found a fast food place, and ate in the car, in the parking lot. He'd done that a million times before, when either he or Dean was too tired or sore or hung over to deal with people, and Sam felt distinctly alone now, washing down greasy fries with a Coke with too much carbonation and not enough syrup.
A few other cars sat parked in the lot when Sam returned to the center. He didn't turn in but drove a few more blocks and stashed the car in a residential neighborhood, then walked back in the dark. He didn't know what weapons he'd need -- probably the main one would be his own mind -- but he tried to stock up with what Dean left him. He wound up taking two pistols tucked into his waistband, a knife strapped to his ankle, and a flask of holy water.
He entered the construction site far from the parking lot and moved quietly, staying next to the walls and checking around corners, pistol drawn and mind ready. He didn't see anyone the rooms he passed, among the plywood and exposed beams, and reached the center of the complex before he found the coven.
They stood in an empty swimming pool, in the center of an open area between the buildings, and their heads sloped down with the depth of the pool. The women in the shallow end were about chest-level with the ground, and they faced down, like stadium seating, towards the deeper end. A few women at the very lowest point faced in the other direction. Moving closer, Sam saw one of them was actually a blonde teenager wearing a soccer uniform, with entirely white eyes. His lip curled and he refirmed his grip on his gun.
The construction gave him good cover to this point, but the grass between the buildings and the pool stood almost completely exposed. The night was clear and cloudless, and even without the moonlight, the stars gave off enough light Sam needed to be careful. Sam held his ground and tried to listen for a moment, but he had to nudge his powers towards the crowd before he could hear anything.
"Is it time yet?" one of the women asked.
"I will tell you," answered Lilith -- Sam couldn't be certain it was her, but the other women all seemed too old to fit the young voice he heard. "But it's close."
Sam shook his head and drew his mind back so he could concentrate entirely on his body. All the women seemed to be paying attention to Lilith, but he didn't want to risk drawing their focus -- if there was a commotion, Lilith would notice, too. Sam spared a moment to wish he'd practiced using mind control before this, but then tried to push the thought away. It wasn't a skill he felt good about, and he'd gone with his instincts.
He stayed in place until the girl's head nodded several times. She pushed up the long sleeves of her jersey and held out one hand. One of the women standing with her handed over a knife, and Sam winced as she cut deep into her arm. The women held a bowl underneath her, and caught her blood until she waved them off. Sam started creeping ahead on his belly, keeping low to the ground, and hoped they all stayed distracted. He didn't know what Lilith had in mind, but she seemed ready to start; she was busy, and not expecting his attack, and Sam didn't think he'd get another chance like this.
He thought of listening to Dean's fitful sleeping, before his deal came due; of the months alone in the Impala, when indie was never loud enough to fill the silence; of the flask Dean now kept next to the knife under his pillow. He smiled as he worked his way towards Lilith, towards his months-old goal.
Sam almost reached the waist-high metal fence surrounding the pool when Lilith spoke; this time, he heard her directly, with his physical ears.
"Now," she said, and in a series of jerky, awkward movements, the gathered women went to their knees in the pool. Some of them swayed as they tried to kneel on a surface already sloping down, but none fell. The women helping Lilith must have mixed her blood with some other liquid and then poured the entire concoction into cups -- Sam hadn't seen them do it, but now they passed around tiny plastic cups filled with something pink. The women moved them through the crowd until everyone held a cup, but no one drank just yet.
"Now," Lilith said again, and then laughed. "You are about to enter the chain of history. Drink, and we'll break the seal."
The women ducked their heads and stayed quiet for a long beat, but then Sam watched as one of the women in the front row, deepest in the pool, leaned over to kiss her neighbor on the cheek and then tossed back her cup. The woman she kissed laughed and drank as well, and then they all raised the cups, smiling at each other.
Nothing happened immediately, but Sam's skin prickled as the air became charged, almost electric. One of the women, with grey hair spilling over her shoulders, pointed up at the sky. When Sam glanced up as well, he saw clouds roiling overhead.
Lilith made her stolen body laugh another time, a high tinkling sound, and then she body started to raise into the air, levitating. None of the witches had died yet, but if Lilith grew so much visibly stronger, then surely something was about to happen.
Sam didn't know what he would do, but he couldn't hide in the grass and wait any longer. He rose to his feet as well, behind Lilith's back. The women in the pool watched her so intently that they didn't look his way. Letting his pistol drop onto the grass, he raised his hand and held it out, pointing the flat of his palm.
I'm sorry, he thought to the girl and her family, and then blasted all his strength at Lilith.
Air rushed around Sam, seeming to swirl from his hand to blow around the pool, but although the women in the pool started screaming and falling around, Lilith's hair barely moved out of place. She laughed again, sounding real and innocent, and then swooped through the air to land in front of Sam. Her body barely came halfway up his chest, and she seemed completely unhurt. Her sleeve was still pushed up to her elbow but the skin she'd cut open looked smooth and pale under the goosebumps, just the way Ruby looked after she healed herself.
"Samuel Winchester," she said, and flicked a finger. A blast of power knocked Sam onto his back, flat on the ground, and although he could struggle against her, it only made Lilith push harder against him. He couldn't get free.
Sam tried all his limbs and found them pinned to the ground, but he could lift his head a little. He sneered and met Lilith's gaze, and she smiled again.
"I'm glad you made it," she said, and walked to stand next to his chest, easily within his field of view.
He could hear the women in the pool talking among themselves; Lilith was either killing them painlessly, or was taking her sweet time getting there.
"You can't," he said, and tried again to push up off the ground. She held him down flat, and he couldn't call up any of his powers, either. He tried picking up a pile of two by fours by the buildings, tried picking up the body she'd stolen, tried just killing her, the way he had with Alistair, but nothing worked. Lilith simply stood there and smirked at him.
"Are you done yet?" she asked, once he lay gasping on the ground, and moved closer. He could smell grass and dirt clinging to the cleats she still wore; her shin-guards, covered by thick socks, were stained green.
He thought about spitting at her, but figured it would just fall back on his own face. Even the jolt of power from Ruby that afternoon hadn't proved to be any use, and he didn't see how he'd be able to stop Lilith from breaking this seal.
More than almost anything, he wished he hadn't fought with Dean.
"Regna terrae," he started, but she laughed and shook her head.
"You don't have the time for that," she said. "It's starting now, and you're going to watch before I kill you."
She turned back to the pool and raised her arms over her head. Sam couldn't see what went on, but he heard scraping noises again, the same as when they shuffled unsteadily to their knees, and imagined the coven standing.
"Now," Lilith said, and clapped her hands twice over her head.
Sam couldn't see, couldn't even push out with his power to listen more carefully, but he couldn't mistake the heavy thumps coming from the pool. Nobody cried out, but that was sort of the issue -- they all fell silent. He couldn't hear them anymore, no one panting or whispering or laughing nervously.
He couldn't see Lilith's face, either, but her hold on him started to slip. She began moving her hands in a circular pattern over her head, weaving them through the air, and with every swoop of her arms, the force restraining Sam weakened.
He felt around with his mind and finally picked up one of the pieces of lumber he tried for earlier. Moving carefully, so it wouldn't scrape against anything and make noise, he sent it sailing through the air, straight at Lilith. He watched as the wood hit the body in the head, knocking the white from her eyes before she fell over onto the grass. It wasn't near enough to force the demon out of the body, but with so much attention focused on the coven, Lilith had been distracted to begin with. Now, Sam could scramble away, scooting backwards on the grass before working his way to his feet.
Lilith had everything in her advantage -- she was older and stronger than Sam, and had been doing this for millennia, plus her body was younger, and she didn't need to worry about permanently injuring it. She hopped back to her feet and smiled again at Sam, but not as wide.
"I can wait," she said. "Nothing you can throw at me is going to change my mind. Let's get this out of your system, shall we?"
Sam sneered and held both hands out, palms extended, towards her. He threw all of his rage, all of his fear, behind his powers, digging in his mental heels, and this time, when air rushed out from his hands, Lilith few back as well.
She landed on her back in the pool, on top of the pile of women there. Sam advanced and noted, almost absently, that they weren't dead. He could see several on the top taking huge, deep breaths, and one cried silently, but their eyes were all closed. None of them made noise.
Lilith got to her feet again, but not as easily as she had earlier. Sam felt a surge of triumph and blasted her again. It wasn't as powerful but it smacked her back into the wall of the pool, and again, her white eyes wavered, showing green human pupils for a moment, before she came back.
"You've gotten stronger," she said, after she caught her breath. She didn't move away from the side of the pool but stayed unevenly slumped against the cement. "Maybe we can come to an arrangement."
"No," Sam said, and smiled as her forced grin wavered. "My family is through dealing with you."
He raised his hand again and she shook her head.
"This body can't take another hit." Her smile widened again. "Are you really going to kill this little girl, just for your own end?"
Sam shook his head slowly. "She'd die anyway, if you got your way. Crappy survival statistics outta the apocalypse."
"She's fifteen," Lilith said, and started to speak quickly. "Her name's Angie, she just played her first game with her new club tonight, her mom's getting her a car for her birthday." Lilith smiled with one side of her mouth, showing teeth. "You're ready to do it?"
"I'm not debating morality with you. If you don't want her hurt, then let her go," Sam said, and with another apology to the girl and her family, he twisted his hand, wrapping his power around the slimy demon within the body. Lilith clawed and fought him, digging in with everything she had, but soon her eyes and mouth lit up white as Sam ripped the demon free. Sam squared his feet and wrapped his left hand around his right wrist, trying to steady himself. The power was hard to control like this -- he'd never killed anyone this strong before -- and Sam could feel it trying to overpower him to take out the entire area.
Before he finished, though, before she died, Lilith came rushing out of the girl's mouth. She hovered above the pool for a moment, and then flew into the body of one of the other women. Sam frowned, confused, but moved his hand and tried to refocus his power on this new body.
Nothing happened. He couldn't touch Lilith any more.
She'd picked one of the leaders, a woman who had collected her blood and then distributed it around the coven. Lilith took her time moving the new meatsuit to the edge of the pile and hopping the body up to sit on the edge of the pool, next to where the girl lay. Sam spared a moment to stare at her, but saw she lay still, twitching and moaning. Lilith pulled the girl up to the ground and gently laid her out, smoothing back her hair.
Sam glanced around behind him. He tried, but failed again, to move any of his physical surroundings. Lilith kept him blocked.
"Thank you," she said, now with the voice of a grown woman. "I wasn't sure you'd cooperate, but you came through perfectly."
"What are you talking about?"
Lilith looked up to the sky, and smiled after a moment, beaming at whatever she saw. Sam risked looking as well and saw the clouds had turned red above them.
"Ruby told you the last seal would break tonight, didn't she?" Lilith asked, and turned back to face Sam. The smile faded from her face and she narrowed her eyes at him. "Of course I know what Ruby told you," she said, before he could ask. "Ruby has always been my creature. I know everything she does."
Sam swallowed and tried to shake his head, but found he couldn't manage that any longer. Demons lie, he told himself, but this sounded too similar to what Dean had been telling him for months.
"'And the man shall not care to spare the girl's life, but shall continue on his path, knowing it will kill her. He will speak his intentions, and when he acts, the seal shall break,'" Lilith said, quoting, and then beamed. "So it is written. Welcome to the apocalypse, Sam. Hope you like it."
"No," he said, and struggled as much as he could, throwing his mind and his limbs against their invisible restraints. "No, no way was that a seal. Seals take intent, and --"
She shrugged. "They take someone's intent. Doesn't have to be whoever's actually performing the act."
Something underground started to rumble. Sam felt it in his feet and legs more than he actually heard it, and it vibrated up and down his lower back as it grew stronger.
"You think your brother meant to break a seal?" she asked, and shook her head. "I meant him to break it, and that was enough. Just like I meant you to break this one."
"No," Sam said. "This isn't how it's supposed to happen," he said, and thrashed more, uselessly. "I came to stop you."
"Yeah, irony's a bitch," Lilith said. She stood again and walked back over the Sam. "Really, you and your brother have made this all so easy. One of you starts it, the other finishes it, and I get all the rewards." She stood at his side and traced one finger over his face, down his cheekbone and across his lips.
Sam could still move his mouth and he snapped at her, trying to bite. She just smiled and moved back out of range. The ground continued to rumble, shaking even more, and her finger jumped and skittered over his skin.
"Almost done, now," she said. "Any last words?"
Lilith laughed without giving him a chance to answer and pulled a knife from underneath the body's clothes. Sam made himself roll his eyes, to try not to look afraid.
"I may not be able to kill you with this," she said, and struck him with a blast of power that blinded him for a moment but didn't otherwise hurt, "but this'll do the trick."
She retraced her path over his face with the tip of the knife, trailing off down his neck, then shifted her grip so the blade pointed out, away from her pinky. She brought her arm back, eying his chest, and Sam's heart kicked up.
This was it; this was his last chance. He felt his nose start to gush blood as he threw all his force behind fighting back, but he still couldn't move from Lilith's grip. She met his eyes when her hand pulled even with her shoulder, and then she started to snap it down.
Everything slowed as Sam watched the knife come towards him. He knew about knife wounds, having killed with them and died from one, and he knew enough anatomy to know how dangerous this would be. Even if she missed his heart or his major blood vessels, Lilith could easily puncture a lung and leave him to wheeze to death -- and he didn't think she'd be missing.
The red clouds overhead reflected off the blade, making it already seem bloody, and the ground shook underneath, and Sam couldn't tear his eyes from the blade that would kill him until he saw Lilith go flying backwards, leaving him untouched.
Sam fell back to the ground, winded and aching, and looked around. He rolled his head backwards and his heart leapt as he saw Dean striding across the grass, upside down from this angle and as furious as Sam had ever seen. Castiel stood behind him, trench fluttering around his knees, with his arm extended. His face and eyes glowed. When his hand started to shake, Sam saw Anna step to Castiel's side and match his pose. She lit up as well, closing her eyes, and Sam looked back for Dean.
He held Ruby's knife in one hand, and he didn't spare a glance for Sam as he passed, advancing on Lilith.
Sam struggled to prop himself up on his elbows and fought the need to vomit at the movement, but saw Dean drop to his knees by the body, grip the immobilized meatsuit by her hair, and hold the point of knife at the hollow of her throat.
"Sam," he said, "you've gotta be ready."
The earth beneath them jumped and shook as Dean stabbed, sending the blade under her chin. The body's eyes flashed white and her limbs twitched once or twice, but Lilith couldn't fight back. She fell silent and then the body stopped moving. Dean spat in her face before pulling the blade clear, wiping gore on the grass; Sam let himself fall back to the ground. He'd worked towards this moment for more than a year, and even though his plans imploded, even though he hadn't struck the fatal blow, he couldn't regret much with Lilith dead and Dean alive.
Clouds still filled the sky above him, red and circling slowly, and Sam could feel the ground vibrating through his entire body.
"Sam!" Dean called again, and appeared at Sam's side. His hands were bloody as he moved them over Sam's body, patting down his chest and legs for major injuries the way they'd been taught. "Sammy, c'mon, you gotta get ready, are you ready, we're not done yet."
"Done with what?" Sam pushed himself up again, almost impossibly exhausted. "You killed her."
"Lucifer's still coming," Dean said, "and someone's gotta use it, c'mon." He forced his shoulder under Sam's arm and hauled until they both stood. They swayed as the ground kept moving. Sam glanced behind him and saw Castiel and Anna slumped against each other, their heads together on the grass and their eyes closed. They both breathed quickly but didn't otherwise move; Sam thought it might be Jimmy and Anna there, now.
"It?" Sam shivered, suddenly cold, then cocked his head at Dean. "I was right?"
Dean ignored him. "I don't know anyone else who'll know what to do with this sorta power," he said, "but you have to do what I tell you." He clapped his hands on Sam's cheek and turned his face so they stared at each other. "Sam, swear to me. Exactly what I say, no matter what."
Sam stared down into his eyes. He pushed his mind at Dean just a little, almost gasping at the effort it took, and he only found grim determination. "Dean, what are you gonna do?"
"Promise me," he repeated, dodging the question. Sam probed further, closing his eyes against the exhaustion, and found love underneath, hope. He looked again and saw Dean staring at him, jaw set and eyes wide, desperate, and then nodded. "I promise," Sam said.
Dean sighed and his shoulders relaxed; he gave off waves of relief. His fingers still gripped Sam's face, wet but strong, and Sam swallowed. The ground underneath them kicked up its motion, and started to crack, but Sam tipped his head forward, leaning their foreheads together.
"You gonna tell me the plan?" he asked.
Dean laughed once, a forceful exhalation with no humor anywhere behind it. "Dude, I barely have one."
Sam laughed back and fisted his hands in Dean's shirt, worming his way under his brother's coat. He leaned down a little, angling around Dean's nose, and brushed their lips together once. It was a dry kiss, and his bitten lips snagged against Dean's chapped skin, but the contact sent shivers up and down Sam's spine. He felt Dean's gasp under his hands at the same time as he felt brother's surprise and happiness. Dean slid one hand back into Sam's hair, and just as he started to kiss back, just as he took Sam's bottom lip between both of his, the ground split open at their feet.
They stumbled apart, hands falling from each other, as a rift formed and grew in the bright green sod between them. Sam felt Dean's anger and fear at the same time as he realized they'd wound up on opposite sides of the tear, but it grew too quickly for either one to be able to jump to the other. Sam stared at Dean as they stepped back, keeping away from the edge, and felt Dean's emotions weaken as the distance increased.
"Remember what you promised!" Dean shouted.
Sam nodded. "Whatever you say!" he answered. He held Dean's gaze, reading Dean's fear and protectiveness in his face as well as in his reactions, and didn't look away until the crevasse started to glow with pure white light.
He shielded his eyes as the light grew brighter but stepped closer, anyway. It wasn't only light, he could tell. Something powerfully strong came glowing out of the ground, and Sam was curious. He paused, but when he looked up, he couldn't see Dean through the light. Dean's feelings were only an afterthought now, in the face of Sam's curiosity, and he barely noticed Dean shouting as he came closer.
Sam reached the edge of the tear just in time to see a billowing white ball of energy burst up, into the air. Sam fell back onto his ass and stared up, following the ball with his eyes. It hovered in midair but didn't go anywhere immediately. It sparked as if electric, and Sam held out one hand, curious. He sucked up power just from the static, and felt himself growing stronger almost immediately. His exhaustion fell away, his fear became much less pressing, and he felt Dean again in the back of his head, anxious and worried but still optimistic.
Sam held out his other hand, offering both palms to the energy, and as he started actively drawing power, the light stopped its unfocused movements through the air. It hung in place for a moment and Sam felt it pressing towards him, almost testing. Sam sucked the power in as the light came closer to him, and then, swooping, it enveloped him. Sam felt Dean's moment of panic as his own, but the light dissipated as the power entered him, and Sam found himself laughing and crying helplessly, all at once.
He felt dizzy, reeling. This made his strength after drinking Ruby's blood seem insignificant. He closed his eyes for a moment to try to adjust, but he could barely focus on anything other than the rush pushing through his blood, through his body. He opened his eyes and saw the construction as clearly as if they stood there in the middle of the day. Every blade of grass under foot, every drop of blood still working its way down the corpse Lilith left behind, every grain of dirt displaced by the rift in the earth, seemed as distinct and obvious as the buildings surrounding them.
Sam glanced up, almost absently, and saw the sky still glowed red. He rolled his eyes, a little amused but mostly annoyed at the cliché, and the clouds disappeared without any more effort on his part. Beyond, the stars twinkled, and Sam recognized constellations as easily as if the dots had been connected with some giant laser pointer.
He looked down at the ground, almost slowly, and fixed the tear in the earth next. The soil moved easily, shifting back into place at merely a thought, and Sam watched with a smile as the sod knitted itself back together. When he finished, it didn't look like anything had ever gone wrong there.
Sam noticed something moving in his peripheral vision and glanced up, saw Dean waving his arms as his mouth moved silently. Sam hadn't realized, until now, that he wasn't paying attention to the noises around him, but when he decided to hear again, the amount of detail he could make out almost overwhelmed him. He narrowed his eyes and focused on Dean, but although Dean's voice grew louder in his ears, Sam couldn't distinguish his words from the rest of the din.
He walked over to Dean, aware of every blade of grass and bug under his feet, and Dean stopped moving almost immediately. He stood still, watching Sam approach, and Sam smiled, blown over by the depth of his affection, all aimed at his brother. He reached out and wrapped one hand around Dean's neck, and felt Dean gasp and shudder as he poured the depth of his love into Dean. He closed his eyes, thinking through a lifetime of relying on Dean – of knowing Dean stood between him and the rest of the world, of being more certain of Dean than of anything else – and Dean shook, and took it.
Sam nudged his mouth against Dean's again, kissing him gently, just smooth wet swipes of their lips together, and, almost as an afterthought, opened up his mind to Dean.
All Dean's own love came crashing through, and Sam clutched at Dean with his free hand. He felt all Dean's protective instincts, his need for family, his devotion and willingness to sacrifice. The noises of the rest of the world faded into the background. Sam could finally focus on nothing but Dean, and he wrapped his mind around both of them.
Dean nudged slowly through Sam's thoughts and Sam let him, past caring about what Dean found. Memories flickered by almost at random, of Sam eating sack lunches every day in elementary school, and dozing in the back seat while Dean took Sam's shift at the wheel, and studying for the LSATs with Apocalyptica blaring in the background. Dean grew puzzled as he kept searching, sliding oil-slick through Sam's life, but when he reached the past few weeks, the pleasure Sam remembered from his brother's body was overshadowed by something else.
Sam opened his eyes but couldn't escape Dean's prodding: he remembered pushing his mind at Dean across the front seat, and testing him out in a diner, and tracing his fingers down Dean's spine while reading his reactions.
Sam tightened his fingers tight in their dad's coat when Dean jerked back, but he couldn't keep Dean in place. He lowered his forehead instead and brought the connection back. Sam tried to show Dean how worried he'd been since Dean came back, how he tried not to abuse the connection, how he wanted Dean to be happy. Dean shuddered and shook his head but didn't pull them completely apart. The ground kept rumbling. Sam felt his brother put the thought aside, but Dean didn't relax into Sam.
Underneath the passion and confusion, Dean still had an undercurrent of urgency related to something else. Sam teased it out, feeling Dean gasp, and when Dean finally pulled away, Sam remembered.
You promised, Dean thought, not bothering to speak anymore.
Sam shook his head. Feel this, he answered, don't you feel this, Dean?
He thought about the two of them wrapped up together forever, together and untouchable, safe, regardless of what else happened.
Dean closed his eyes and shook his head, then answered. He forced images into Sam's mind: the Impala tearing down the highway at sunset; a blonde woman cradling a dark-haired man in the middle of a road, lit up by headlights; a baby held in the arms of a child while fire blared on in the background.
You promised, Sammy, Dean thought, and then took a step back. Sam's hands fell from his brother, and he closed his eyes as they lost the immediate mental connection. He could still feel Dean's worry, but Dean's thoughts were hidden again.
Sam looked over one shoulder, not really paying attention to the complex behind him but thinking about what he could do: he could do anything now, and he didn't have to give up this rush of power just because Dean said so.
Dean started sending off powerful bursts of regret, of loss, of fear, and Sam turned back to him. His brother was crying, not that Dean noticed, and the first tear to fall traced a path through the drying blood on his cheek, turning pink before being absorbed. Sam watched it disappear into the grime, then licked his lips.
"How?" he asked, and wanted to weep himself at the depth of Dean's relief.
"You have to use up the power," he called, and although the noise of everything else pushed at Sam, Dean was still the loudest. "The souls -- Lilith doesn't hold any contracts anymore, if she's dead." Dean's face contorted, almost into a sneer, and Sam felt his surge of vindication. "Put them all at fucking rest."
Sam cocked his head, already testing out to see if he could work his way into Hell the same way the power came out of it, through the healed path of the crack beneath his feet.
"Every single fucking one," Dean shouted. "Everyone down there now, every demon that used to be human, put them all at rest."
"Will it be enough?" Sam asked, even as he sent his mind down, following Lucifer's path easily back to Hell. Sam absorbed a residual trail of power as he went, and he closed his eyes. Even now, he didn't understand how Hell was an actual place in the center of the Earth, but as he got nearer to it, he felt the same evil presence that surrounded every demon he'd ever encountered.
"I can't see," he muttered. His brow furrowed further as he tried to look around, deep within the earth. He'd never tried this before, and he swayed with disorientation as he saw dirt and layers of rocks flash in front of him.
"Don't," Dean said, and gripped his arm hard. He shook until Sam opened his eyes and pulled his vision back to his body. Dean was out of focus in front of Sam, blurry and doubled, and Sam felt his relief when Sam blinked to try to meet his gaze.
"Don't look around," Dean said. "Just do it."
"What she said," Sam muttered, and closed his eyes again. Dean laughed before Sam put all his attention back to Hell.
In all the times Sam had imagined ripping Hell apart to bring Dean home, he never pictured it being like this. He couldn't make out anything except for a sense of panic, and pain, and hatred. Without being able to see what he did, Sam sent the power back into Hell the same way it had come, pushing more and more through until he felt that most of the energy reached the pit.
He wasn't sure what to do, but even with most of his power sent away from him, Sam felt invincible. He felt around with his mind until he found his first demon, and then, this he knew. He wrapped himself around the demon and pulled, squeezing until the demon stopped struggling and disappeared.
The soul it had been torturing was right there, just within reach, and Sam covered it in his power, too. He didn't know what to do, so he tried the same thing he'd done with the demon, pulling it away from Hell. The soul went easily where the demon fought, and let go almost immediately. When the pair were gone, Sam smiled, barely noticing the movement, and spread himself through Hell.
Every demon and every tortured soul, and everything straddling the border between the states, wore his power down slightly, but Sam kept working. He pulled them all free, sending them all out of Hell to some other destination. He could have followed them, to see what happened next, but he didn't want to waste time.
With his eyes closed, he lost track of time. At one point, he felt Dean's arms around his shoulders, lowering him to lay on the grass, but he didn't stop working. Even after he dispatched all the tortured souls, he came up against demon after demon. Each one ate at his power, and when he finally couldn't find any more in Hell, he started pulling the remaining energy back towards his body.
There still demons on Earth; now Sam tuned in to them, he could feel them, covering the planet. Sam sent out his power in concentric circles, starting with a few of Lilith's minions riding bodies in the swimming pool and working his way out. He pulled a demon out of a guy grocery shopping with his kids, an Army sergeant at a base three states over, a woman flying a plane, and then started moving so quickly he lost track of the people they wore.
He did Ruby last, as she traveled down a back road in his direction. Sam didn't try to make out her thoughts or her intentions, but just gave her the same wrap and yank he'd done so many other times before.
"Thank you," he murmured, and then let his find fall back into his body.
"You're welcome, man," he heard Dean say faintly, as if from a distance. Sam tried to open his eyes and found himself so weak he could hardly manage. Dean's arms felt strong around him, one under his head and one over his chest, and Dean's legs were tangled with Sam's. They both lay on the ground. Sam caught a faint impression of Dean smiling at him, tear tracks through the mess on his face, and then closed his eyes again. He could smell blood and fresh grass, and then there was nothing at all.
Sam woke slowly, later, unable to tell how much time had passed. His entire body ached, his head pounded, and his mouth felt dry. When he opened his eyes, he winced for a moment at the sunlight streaming through a window, then looked around and saw he lay in a bedroom, not a motel. A contemporary painting, gentle swirls of cool color, hung on the wall opposite the bed, above a dresser. A bedside table sat on each side of the bed, but Sam frowned as he realized that only one had a lamp, and neither held an alarm clock.
He pushed himself slowly to his elbows and looked over the side of the bed, which pulled at sore muscles throughout his body. A pile of pillows and bed linens lay on the floor at the foot of the bed; Sam noticed the sheets felt sweaty underneath him, and wondered if he'd kicked the comforter off.
He didn't see Dean anywhere, but there were two pillows on the bed, and the one next to Sam had been slept on. It still showed an indention, and when Sam ran his fingers over the case, it felt warm to the touch. He let himself fall back to the bed and drifted, eyes just cracked open, until his brother came back.
Sam had lost track of time when he heard a door open and close. No one spoke, but whoever it was made no effort to be quiet, stomping through the rooms and moving things around. Sam frowned and rolled to his side, opening his eyes to watch the door. He tried to push his mind out and see if he could feel Dean there, but that left him gasping and nauseated, so he let it go. Maybe, since he used his last burst of demon blood to destroy his chances of ever getting another drink, it was a skill to let die.
Sam slid one hand under the other pillow instead. He found a knife there, just as he expected, and wrapped his hand around it.
The other person's footsteps came closer to the room, and Sam had a moment to hope he wouldn't tangle himself in the sheet if it came down to a fight, before Dean opened the door and entered. Sam relaxed and let go of the knife, then rolled onto his back and grinned.
"Hey," he said, and frowned at his scratchy voice. He cleared his throat a few times and Dean sat down next to him, easing himself carefully next to Sam to lean against the headboard.
"Hey," Dean said. Sam turned his head to the side and looked up at Dean, who smiled down at him with his arms crossed over his chest. He couldn't tell with any certainty how Dean felt, but the fond crinkles around his eyes gave Sam a good enough idea.
"Where are we?" Sam asked.
"Model house," he answered, "in some development in New York."
Sam nodded. "How long?"
"This is day three," he said. "First you've really been awake."
He closed his eyes, and after a moment, felt one of Dean's hands come down to brush over his forehead.
"Is it – is it actually over?" he asked. "Did that seriously work?"
Dean laughed. "Yeah, it did." His fingers smoothed easily back and forth over Sam's skin. "You did it."
Sam laughed next. "We did it," he said. "I just painted myself into a corner." He sighed and rolled closer to Dean, feeling tired and sore enough to press his face against the outside of Dean's thigh without worrying about how it would look. Dean's jeans smelled like gun solvent and dirt, just like always, and Sam relaxed further as he inhaled.
Dean moved his hand and started to stroke through Sam's hair. Sam moaned and arched a little into the touch, and he felt Dean's chuckle through his body.
It was strange, not knowing how Dean felt, but Sam felt more honest, now. He didn't worried about taking advantage anymore.
"You were right about Lucifer," Dean said, after Sam began to drift off again.
"Mmm?" Sam forced himself to answer.
"He – it was just a big weapon thing, like you said. Like that text said." He shifted, but before he could have started to move away, Sam hooked one arm over Dean's knee and held him in place.
"Why'd you come back?" Sam asked.
Dean sighed above him and stayed quiet for a long moment. Sam almost went back to sleep while he waited, but opened his eyes and stared down at Dean's booted feet, crossed at the ankles. He'd tracked dirt onto the sheets, and Sam snorted softly.
"What Ruby said," Dean answered eventually. "The suicide thing, that wasn't a real seal at all. I checked through some of the stuff we'd already found, and then with Bobby, and then with Castiel, and no one could find an actual text that had it as a seal. So I figured it had to be some sorta trap, so I." He shifted his arm again, and Sam realized he must have been shrugging. "I came to find you."
Sam shuddered. "Came just in time, man." Dean snorted and Sam rolled his eyes. "We're having a moment here," he said, and smacked Dean on the leg. "No what-she-said jokes."
"You gotta stop setting them up so perfectly, then," Dean said. He patted Sam's shoulder and flexed his leg a few times underneath Sam. "C'mon, you want some food?"
Sam considered. "What do we have?"
"Japanese," Dean said. "Miso soup, some tempura, lots of rice." He rolled out from under Sam and stood. "You haven't eaten in days, dude. I'm not exactly asking here."
Sam struggled to prop himself up against the headboard, mirroring Dean's previous position, while Dean disappeared into the rest of the house. Sam leaned his head back against the wall when Dean came back, holding a pair of paper bags in his hands, and with bottles of water tucked under his arms. He brought out Styrofoam containers of soup and handed one to Sam, who cradled it between his palms while he waited for Dean to situate himself.
After they ate, Dean bullied Sam into drinking an entire bottle of water, and then helped him into the bathroom. He hovered while Sam washed his hands and face in the sink; after looking in the mirror, Sam wanted a shower, but didn't trust himself to stand up that long, and he was too tired for a bath. He and Dean stared at each other awkwardly in front of the toilet before Sam shrugged and tugged Dean close against his back.
"Just, I don't wanna fall over," he said, pulling down his sweatpants and leaning against Dean as he pissed. Dean pressed his forehead to the back of Sam's neck and held onto his hips, supporting his weight and intruding as little as possible.
By the time they got Sam back to bed, his eyes were slipping closed again. Between the food in his belly and Dean's constant presence, he felt comfortable and tired. Dean helped him back between the sheets and touched Sam's hair, smoothing it away from his forehead.
Sam closed his eyes and wrapped his hand around Dean's wrist. "Stay," he said, and didn't have to tug very hard to get to Dean to agree.
"Yeah," he said, "just lemme –" He pulled away and clunked out of his shoes, then Sam heard him unzip his jeans and kick them off. Dean walked around the far side of the bed and the mattress dipped as he climbed on, next to Sam. Sam rolled towards his brother and, when Dean tried to keep a few inches between them, scooted closer as well. He slid his leg between Dean's and pulled them close together; he couldn't get anything started, this sleepy, but he wanted the contact.
He was almost asleep again when he felt Dean's lips press against his forehead. "Thank you," Dean murmured.
Sam pulled back a little, opened his eyes, and shook his head. "Thank you," he said, and pressed their lips once together.
The light looked wrong when Sam woke again. It shone brightly thought the windows when it should have dimmed with evening, and Sam was alone in bed again. He frowned at the curtains, then pushed himself up. He made it to the bathroom and back on his own. The sheets were everywhere, crumpled and wrinkled, and Sam frowned at the bed before heading out of the room.
The door opened up at the end of a hallway. Sam followed the empty, neutral walls until he came into a living room, full of bland furniture and his brother. Dean stretched across the couch in jeans and a t-shirt, no socks, holding some magazine with a muscle car on the front. He glanced up when Sam entered the room and sat up smoothly, putting the magazine down without marking his place.
"Hey," Sam said after they stared at each other for a few moments. He felt crusty under his clothes and knew he probably reeked of days-old bodily fluids.
"Hey," Dean said back. He rubbed his bottom lip and then stood, walking out of the room. "We've got leftovers," he called over his shoulder, and Sam followed him into a kitchen.
Dean nodded to a table in the center of the room and Sam sat while he pulled boxes out of the fridge. He dropped a clear plastic container, full of wilted salad, onto the table first. A plastic fork was still taped to the lid and Sam ate while Dean ran other things through the microwave: a few slices of pizza, a half-empty carton of rice, a bowl of soup. More Caesar dressing than Sam would have used himself covered the lettuce, but he ate it all anyway, and saved the soggy mess left in the corners of the box so he could sop his pizza crusts in something.
Sam raised his eyebrows when he moved from the rice to the soup and realized Dean still nursed his first bit of pizza. "You already eat?"
"Yeah." Dean nodded. "You slept all through the night again."
Sam laughed and ducked his head. "What time's it?"
"Little before noon."
"How long're we going to stay here?"
"Long as we need." Dean shrugged when Sam glanced up. "They're not doing showings right now."
Sam paused, then nodded. Dean watched him for a moment before going back to his pizza, which he was eating cold. Sam's rice stuck to itself in unevenly heated clumps and he prodded at it with yesterday's stained disposable chopsticks.
"So, about the," he started. Dean glanced up, eyebrows high, and Sam couldn't hold his gaze for more than a few moments. He dropped his eyes to the Styrofoam and frowned. "About, you know. Using the powers on you."
Dean sighed heavily and swiped his crust through the last dregs of Sam's salad dressing. "Not a big deal," he said, but he sounded strained. Sam frowned at him. "Just don't even pull something like that again, and we'll be good."
"We'll be good," Sam repeated. He raised his eyebrows while Dean chewed. "You're kidding."
Dean shrugged. "It's not my favorite thing you've ever done, but –"
"Dean, I knew you wouldn't want me to do it, and I did it anyway." Sam realized he still held his chopsticks and dropped them into the rice carton; almost empty, it fell sideways onto the table, but Sam let it. "I, I invaded your privacy on a regular basis, and you're telling me you're okay with that?"
Dean raised his eyebrows back. "You want me to be mad at you or something?"
"No, I want us to get this out in the open, and you're not even letting me apologize!"
"Did you ever think that I've already had some time to deal with this?" Dean pushed his chair back from the table and crossed his arms. "You were out of it for a long time. I've already run through your arguments in my head, and they all blow, by the way, but I get it. I know what you're gonna say, and none of it makes me happy but considering where it got us, it's nothing I can't handle."
Sam leaned his head back and stared at the ceiling for a moment, then looked to Dean. "You don't know what I was going to say."
"You didn't notice it at first." Dean held up one hand and ticked his – Sam's – points off on his fingers. "You didn't do it on purpose. It made you uncomfortable. You wanted to help me. You didn't know how to make it stop. You felt bad about it, blah blah whatever." He tossed up his hands and raised his eyebrows at Sam, who frowned.
"That's actually pretty –" Sam shook his head and cut himself off. "You left off I was gonna tell you eventually."
"No, I didn't." Dean held Sam's gaze until he gave, and looked away.
"No, you didn't." Sam closed his eyes and sighed. "How did you even do that?"
"Kid, what don't I know about you?" Dean's voice was soft and Sam still couldn't look at him. They stayed quiet for a moment, alone in that fake home in an empty neighborhood. The heater kicking on broke the silence before either of them spoke, but then Dean snorted. "You let me rifle through your head, Sammy. I'm good, but you gave me all that on a silver plate."
Sam laughed. Dean was out of his chair by the time he looked up, collecting their empties, and he swept some of Sam's rice together and into his mouth before cramming it all into a plastic grocery bag.
"You're actually okay with this?" Sam asked, willing to double and triple-check until Dean gave an answer he actually believed. Dean dropped his shoulders and his head dipped towards his chest for a moment. Sam wished he still had a reliable handle on Dean's feelings.
"I'll be throwing it in your face whenever we argue for the rest of your life, but yeah, I'll manage in the meantime."
"But nothing." Dean turned around, leaned against the counter, and leveled a stare at Sam. "We both came out of this alive, Lilith's dead, Hell's taken care of." He shrugged. "You fucked up big, but right now, I'm not too picky about how we got here."
Sam kept frowning, but when he drew breath to speak, Dean shook his head and overrode him.
"Stop, Sam." He pushed away from the counter and came back to the table. Sam watched his hands, bruised and callused, as one brushed crumbs into the other's palm. He glanced up and studied Dean's face as he wrapped one hand around his brother's wrist. Dean's gaze shifted smoothly, as if he'd been expecting the touch, but his pulse fluttered under Sam's fingers.
Sam chewed his bottom lip while he tried to think of what to say, and watched Dean watch his mouth. "The other stuff, Dean?"
Dean flushed but didn't turn away. "Not a big deal," he said. "Adrenaline thing. I get that, too."
"And?" Sam raised an eyebrow.
"I could feel it." Sam carefully moved his hand lower, to brush his thumb over the bend of Dean's wrist and the back of his hand. "It made you happy, Dean."
Dean pulled away and threw the crumbs into the sink, facing away from Sam. Sam watched his back for a moment.
"So you're okay with the demon blood, but not with this."
"I didn't say I was okay with any of it," Dean said, and Sam closed his eyes against the urge to see if his powers would still work, to nudge his mind out and see if Dean meant that or not. "It happened, and I can understand why, but that doesn't mean it should keep happening."
Sam slowly pushed out of his chair. He steadied himself with one hand on the table and swayed. "I know what you felt, Dean." He turned and headed out of the kitchen, but didn't make it off the tile and onto the living room's carpet before Dean grabbed his collar and swung him around.
"You don't know what I thought, jackass," Dean said. He fisted his hand in the back of Sam's shirt, which pressed his forearm into the side of Sam's neck, and yanked down, pressing their lips together.
It was barely a kiss at first, and Dean tried to pull away before Sam had a good idea what was happening. He settled his hands on Dean's hips and kept him in place, chasing after his mouth and shuddering when Dean came back easily.
"So tell me," he said, against Dean's mouth. Their lips caught and drug as he spoke and Dean slid his tongue into Sam instead of answering.
Sam took careful steps backwards, keeping Dean flush against him, until they wound up against the fridge. They knocked the single snapshot, a picture of a lake held to the stainless with a round magnet, to the floor, and Sam let Dean kiss him roughly until his brother calmed. Once Dean sunk closer to his chest, and wedged his free hand behind Sam's head, Sam repeated himself. "Tell me, Dean."
Dean shook his head, eyes closed.
"It made me happy, too," Sam said instead. He pressed his palms flat against Dean, one in the small of his back and the other beside his spine, behind his heart. "It freaked me out at first, but it was good. It felt good, Dean."
Dean sighed shakily, pizza-breath straight into Sam's face, and tried to shake his head again.
"I know what you want to say to that," Sam told him, unable to fight a grin. Dean huffed but hid a smile as well. "And they're probably pretty good reasons, for other people, but I'm just gonna ignore them, because I want something good for once."
Dean opened his eyes and Sam struggled to focus on them. "You've got plenty of good as it is."
And Sam, legally dead, making out with his brother in a house where nobody belonged, and facing down withdrawal from blood instead of drugs, kissed Dean again instead of arguing.
Dean pulled them gradually through the house, stopping to lean Sam against the back of the couch and the living room wall and the door to the bedroom. Climbing back into bed, warm and full, made Sam want to dive back into sleep, but he turned onto his side instead and pulled Dean close and cozy against him.
Sam shivered as Dean worked his sweatpants down his thighs and wrapped his hand for the first time around Sam's dick. Dean pulled back slightly and watched Sam's face as he stroked slow and hard, spreading Sam's precome down his dick one swipe of his hand at a time.
Sam felt Dean's own dick crammed eagerly against his thigh, still hidden in his jeans, but he couldn't manage doing anything about it. He stared back at his brother, at Dean's wide eyes and wet lips, and rolled his hips into Dean's fist. Dean's mouth didn't move much when he started to grin, but his eyes crinkled and he nodded into the pillow they shared.
"C'mon, Sammy," he said, and flicked his thumb so slowly over Sam's slit. Sam shuddered and shoved forwards, messing up both of their easy rhythms. Dean's smile grew and his eyes danced over Sam's face. He picked up the pace and squirmed until he freed his free arm. When he started rubbing those fingers over the head of Sam's dick, not stopping his stroked with the other hand, Sam crumpled closer to him and came, hot and messy on their clothes and the borrowed sheets.
Dean kept working Sam through it until Sam shuddered, panting against his face, and pushed him away. He laughed as Sam fumbled ineffectively at his fly and batted Sam's hands out of the way to unzip himself. Dean closed his eyes when he pulled his dick free, and tightened them when Sam touched him, just wrapping one palm securely around Dean to feel him jump and leak under his fingers.
He'd fully intended to get down to business, but with Dean hot in his hand and no guilt-filled denial to make them hurry, Sam surprised himself. "Why?" he asked. Dean opened his eyes quickly; his face and neck flushed further, and Sam wished they weren't so dressed.
"Why what?" Dean nudged his hips forward and Sam took the hint, rearranging his grip and pulling on Dean's dick.
"You know," Sam said. He tipped their foreheads together and closed his eyes, concentrating on the taste of Dean's mouth still heavy on his tongue, and the silky weight of his cock in Sam's hand. "Why'd you let me?"
Dean shook his head, smearing their noses back and forth past each other, and tried to speed his pace. Sam went with it, stroking faster and smoother, but he kicked at Dean's feet when he didn't answer.
"Dean," he said.
Dean sighed and then fisted his hands in Sam's shirt. "You know why," he answered. When Sam started to protest, Dean smushed their mouths sloppily together and then pulled away again, gasping. Sam opened his eyes and studied Dean's face, lined with life and age and pleasure. He ducked to suck at Dean's neck and smiled into his brother's pulse when Dean's entire body stiffened as he came, sudden and fast.
Dean kept a hold of Sam as Sam fumbled the extra pillow out of its case and wiped them both clean. He kept his eyes closed as Sam pulled his sweats back into place and only let go when Sam leaned down the bed and piled the comforter over them.
"Tell me why, Dean," he repeated as he sank back onto the pillow. The shifting jostled Dean's head gently and he finally opened his eyes.
"Sammy, I didn't let you," he said, almost slurring his words, then closed his eyes and pushed further into the pillow. "I'm always gonna do what you need. Now shut up and let me sleep."
Sam swallowed against the tightness in his chest. He closed his eyes as well and wrapped his arm around Dean's waist. Dean grumbled but if anything, he pressed closer to Sam, twining their legs and feet together under the covers.
It was still bright when he woke. Dean lay dressed on top of the sheets next to him, clicking around on the computer, and when Sam moved closer, he found his brother playing Spider Solitaire. The clock showed Sam hadn't slept for much more than an hour, but he felt rested, and bored with resting.
"Hey." Sam rolled onto his side and waited until Dean met his eyes. "What happened with Castiel and Anna?"
Dean snorted. "Your pillow talk sucks, man."
"It's a legitimate question." Sam grinned and stretched out again. Dean rolled his eyes and tossed one leg over both of Sam's, pressing down to keep him from squirming.
"They woke up again, before you finished." He shifted, maybe shrugging. "Hung around til it was all taken care of, then they dealt with all the witches."
Sam raised his eyebrows. "What did that involve, exactly?"
"Sternly worded letter or something, how do I know?" Dean let go of Sam's leg to kick him, but lightly. "I was dealing with you."
"Oh," Sam said. He closed his eyes so he wouldn't have to watch Dean while he smiled dopily.
"So, where to next?" he asked.
Dean eyed him. "We've only been here a few days."
"We can't stay forever, though." Sam struggled up and stuffed his pillow against the headboard so he could lean next to Dean. "Someone'll come by the house eventually."
"Hadn't thought about it much." Dean shrugged. "We're not taking jobs for months."
Sam rolled his eyes. "Weeks, you mean." When Dean scoffed, Sam shook his head. "You're not staying out of it for months just because. I know you better than that."
Dean closed the laptop, game left unsolved. "I figured you'd want some time off."
"Yeah, but." Sam shrugged. "I wanna see what's coming, too. What's next for us."
Dean pulled a face, sticking out his tongue, but he smiled when Sam elbowed him. "What are you doing lying around, then?" He climbed easily off the bed and gave Sam a hand up, after him. He crossed the room to the duffel in one corner and ducked down to dig inside. "Let's get going."
Sam grinned and followed.