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The sands of the hatching ground are hot enough that even from the ridge where the riders will watch over the proceedings, Sam’s begun to sweat. The white-robed candidates are all in position around the small circle of twitching eggs. The clutch is relatively small – two likely Bronzes, another two that could be either Browns or Blues, a possible Green, and of course the one shining Queen egg. But what it lacks in quantity is made up for by the apparent health of the eggs.

With an absent glance down to ensure he’s not scribbling over his own writing, Sam jots down a few cursory notes. Benden Weyr born and bred, he’s attended enough hatchings to know the special kind of chaos that is bound to break out at any moment, as soon as the first egg starts to crack. It shouldn’t be long now and Sam would like to get in a bit of ancillary data before the proceedings begin. He takes a moment to check again that the wax-coated tablet he’s scrawling on isn’t melting from the heat. True, he’s been to plenty of these, but never in an official capacity and every bit of information could be useful.

Sam only realizes that he’s crouched down to lean over the kip of the stands and get a better look at the set of hairline fractures appearing on the surface of one of the shells – most likely a Brown – when he feels thick fingers hook in the collar of his tunic. Annoyed, he shoots a glare at Dean. His brother blithely maintains his hold, as if Sam is still a wayward weyrling, getting himself into trouble at every turn. He isn’t though, thanks so much. He’s a full grown man, a fully decorated Healer with the green garb to prove it. A dragon Healer, what’s more, as yet the one and only of his kind, and he’d more than appreciate it if his big brother would at least try to remember that.

Dean rolls his eyes but he lets go of Sam after a long moment, if only just. Above him bronze wings catch the russet light of the hatching ground as Impalath huffs his agitation as well. As if it wasn’t bad enough to have an over protective brother hovering over him every moment he’s at Benden, his brother’s dragon has to get in on the act as well.

From a few paces down, Lucifer gives them both a look, somehow loathing and smug at the same time. Lucifer’s Bronze, Deth, has found a perch beside, but a respectable distance from Joth. Deth looks unfazed by the goings on, largely apathetic in the face of his first, and obviously last, clutch by the great breeding Queen of Benden.

Joth’s scales have gone rosy with age, but she otherwise looks to be in good health, many Turns left yet ahead of her without the bother of Bronzes competing constantly for her attentions. Sam’s happy for her and Ellen in that respect, they’re certainly given enough of their lives to the constant grind of being the leaders of Benden, and in many ways, all of Pern. They’ve earned their reprieve. He just hopes they’ll be able to knock some reason into the head of whichever Queen and rider ascends in their wake. Benden needs someone with enough sense to keep Lucifer away from the Weyrleader position. One Turn of that will be more than enough as it is.

That thought still galls Sam in ways he can’t account for considering that he, many Turns ago, threw his lot in with the Healers instead of the riders. Still, Dean is a Wingleader and rider of one of the most impressive Bronzes in recent memory, not to mention the youngest candidate since the long Interval to have Impressed. Dean deserves to be Weyrleader, is certainly more equipped for it than Lucifer, and if not for some incidents of timing around Joth’s last mating flight which have Sam and many others more than a little suspicious, most likely he would be.

It doesn’t help that Lucifer is one of the hidebound sort of Weyr-raised who believes that anything outside of tradition is abhorrent, Sam and Dean included. Being the sons of one of the greatest Weyrleaders in Pern’s history is enough for most to have forgiven the fact that their father chose to forego the customary fostering and instead raised the two of them himself after their mother died. Or to be more precise, Sam thinks, their father chose to allow Dean to raise him and any number of kitchen drudges and kindly-minded riders to ensure that they were fed and clothed. That Dean would buck tradition by Impressing so young and Sam, in turn, by not becoming a candidate at all, did little to endear them to bigots of Lucifer’s ilk. And that was all before Sam single-handedly created an entirely new – no little bit controversial - branch of dragon-focused expertise the Healer Hall.

Sam is drawn out of his reverie by the sharp snap of an eggshell breaking, all but drowned beneath the swell of gasps among the gathered crowd. Instantly Sam focuses back on the proceedings, scribbling furiously as a shiny blue head begins to emerge from the first fractured egg.

Just as predicted, from there everything moves quickly. The Browns and Bronzes all begin to peck their way free at once, while the Queen egg wobbles auspiciously in place, semi-circles of nervous candidates edging closer, as if pulled against their will. A boy that Sam actually recognizes – Colin, son of an Ista Greenrider named Jody and, rumor has it, Bobby – ends up paired with a Bronze of reasonable size. The Browns are almost identical to it except for in coloring, which says a great deal for them, if slightly less for the Bronze; Bronzes, the second joins the fray a few minutes later with some floundering along the dusty hatching ground before it Impresses a boy closer to Sam’s twenty Turns than any of the other candidates.

Then it’s only the Queen egg, and the entire hatching ground goes still in honor.

There are already long cracks webbing over the faintly gleaming surface, some of them wide enough that Sam could easily wedge a finger into. His hand is beginning to cramp from trying to get the data down so quickly, but he can clean up the details later when he transcribes the report for the Master Healer. For now all of his focus is devoted to the motion from within the egg as thin membranes from inside the shell stretch and fight to hold something bright and glittering underneath.

The first shard falls away, thunking heavy as a dinner plate on the earthen floor. It takes another moment for a gold claw to tear its way free to begin chipping away at the remaining egg. The female candidates close ranks, most of the girls shaking where they stand, some of them outright crying. Sam can’t begin to imagine what it would really be like to stand there on the hatching ground and wait, though he’s had it described to him by dozens of riders over the years as if they might somehow coax Sam out of his decision not to become a rider. The hope and the fear are almost palpable as these girls stand and offer themselves up to a force of nature.

The Queen dragonet’s head appears suddenly, still slick and dripping from the innards of the egg, opening up her fine-toothed mouth to loose a scream like the grate of steel on flint. Her body is gangly and unsteady as she begins to climb her way out of the only home she has ever known. The candidates keep their distance, though Sam isn’t sure how when he, with no stake in the matter at all, can hardly resist the urge to jump down and help free her.

She’s nearly clear of the shell – even without seeing her in the entirety, it is obvious how large she is bound to become, the strength she’ll wield – when her left wing snags on a dagger-sharp jut of eggshell and another one of those terrible screeches explodes out of her.

It’s as if the world has been dunked in numbweed, each moment moving too slow for how fast Sam knows it must be happening. He can feel the collective intake of breath, fear tensing the bodies of the riders around him, anxiety reverberating off of Impalath down to him in waves. If the wing incurs serious damage, the little Queen will never be able to fly, never be able to mate, and Benden, all of Pern, will have lost the breeding stock of what looks to be one of the most powerful Queen dragons ever hatched.

All of which is a good enough reason and no reason at all to account for what Sam does next.

The shock when his feet hit the hatching ground floor aches through Sam’s shins and into his thighs, bones protesting the rough treatment before the heat of the sands even has a chance to soak through his boots. He pays it no mind.

The little Queen, luckily, is smart enough to have backed off of her first attempt at wriggling free but it is obvious she is panicking, ready to force her way out at any moment, blind to the harm she could do to herself. The only solution is to eliminate the danger.

The candidates look shock-stupid, limp-armed and frozen when action is imperative. Sam spares a fraction of a thought for what a sorry state Benden would be in if it had to rely on one of them to lead during Threadfall, but he’s already shoving them aside to launch himself at the egg.

One swift, firm pull at the offending protrusion and the piece of shell comes free in Sam’s hand, the force of his effort toppling him onto his back. He looks up again, only does it to check that the portion that broke loose really has left a straight, safe break in its stead, and the instant that he does, his life will never be the same again.

***



“There cannot be a male Queenrider!”

The shout carries through the heavy door out to the sparsely furnished weyr where Sam is sitting, fingers idly stroking over the river-stone-smooth scales of Winth’s distended belly.

Winth, his dragon, his Queen. It should feel stranger than it does to think that, but there’s nothing in him at the moment beyond sedate pleasure. Possibly those are Winth’s emotions resonating through their bond, but Sam doesn’t particularly mind. The alternative is getting tangled in the almighty uproar going on throughout the Weyr, and Sam could go the rest of his life without having to face that. He’s had enough scandals linked to his name for four lifetimes.

Scales oiled to glinting catch the light of the glow baskets as Winth shifts her head in his lap with a contented gurgle. She’d eaten almost half as much again as any of the other hatchlings, Bronzes included, a good sign for her health. The Healer part of Sam’s brain is busy filing away dozens of observations like that, things he’ll have to make more detailed notes on later, once the turmoil has died down.

“Clearly, there can be,” Ellen’s voice argues. Lucifer had been obviously none too pleased about the entire situation – and he was hardly alone on that count, the usual gaiety following a Hatching had been usurped by Sam and Winth’s unprecedented bonding – but he has at least proven himself smart enough not to openly challenge his current Weyrmate. Ellen may well be two heads smaller than the Weyrleader, but Sam doesn’t have a doubt that she could turn Lucifer over her knee and tan his hide if it came down to it.

Instead it is Rafael and Michael, both Wingmen in Lucifer’s Bronze Wing, who are doing most of the arguing.

“It’s an abomination, it cannot stand!”

“Impression has been made,” Dean shouts over him. Sam doesn’t need to be in the room to know the expression of loathing on his brother’s face, any more than he has to see it to know that it’s likely only Sam’s own contingent of defenders that are keeping Dean from settling the matter with fists or beltknives. Dean is a smart man and an excellent leader when he puts his mind to it, but he’s never been able to be objective when it comes to Sam. “There is nothing to be done about it now.”

He cannot be a Weyrwoman! We can’t allow it.”

And there, of course, is the real crux of the issue.

For all that humans have depended on dragons for their survival for as far back as Pernese history remembers, there is still so much of the lives of dragons that remain a mystery. Knowing that Joth was soon to retire from her breeding years, the natural expectation had been that Ruby’s Queen, Lilith, would become Weyr Queen. And yet even in just the few hours it’s been, the dragons all seem to be acknowledging Winth as Joth’s rightful successor. It’s unusual - even if Winth does grow up to be more powerful than Lilith, she won’t be able to mate until she’s at least a Turn old, and oh Great Faranth, Sam doesn’t even want to think about mating.

Nonetheless, being the rider of the acknowledged ascending Queen means that Sam will, someday in the not so distant future, become the Benden Weyrwoman. Weyrman. Weyrlord? It’s such a departure from tradition that there’s not even a term for it! And while Lucifer has never made it a secret that he wouldn’t mind Sam in his bed, having Sam – pushy, headstrong Sam, who’s disdain for tradition is no secret – as a Weyrmate would certainly make it difficult for him to run the Weyr with the sort of impunity he’d no doubt been anticipating with Ruby.

“Dragons choose for themselves.” Bobby cuts in pragmatically, “If they can allow it, I don’t see as we have any say.”

Bobby’s one of the oldest riders in Benden. Mostly he confines himself to training the Weyrlings and the new riders, but his Brown, Hath, still flies on the occasions they have Threadfall over more than one Hold. The Brown, Blue and Green riders look to him as something of a representative, a voice respected in Weyrs and Crafthalls alike.

“He’s a man! With a Queen dragon!”

“Greens will accept riders of either sex. There’s no reason to think that Queens wouldn’t be able to Impress a male, it’s just that they never have before.”

That’s Castiel, Dean’s Wing-second. Born in the High Reaches, Castiel spent most of his youth locked away because of that ‘malingering illness’ better known as being the unwanted bastard of a secretive Lord Holder. He’d eventually been picked up on Search and Impressed Bronze, the only obvious long-term effects of his isolated childhood being a near compulsive inability to socialize. How he and Dean came to be fast friends Sam doubts he will ever fully understand. Still he appreciates that Dean’s had someone to help watch his back when Sam wasn’t around.

“You stay out of this, you s-”

The dull smack of flesh meeting flesh cuts off whatever, no doubt stunning, insult Michael was about to spit.

With a sigh, Sam thinks Dean? in Impalath’s general direction. All he gets in response is a jewel-toned sense of pride and a deep rumble in the back of his skull. He’s never been at all sure whether it’s Dean that’s a bad influence on his dragon or if it’s the other way around.

Reluctantly Sam shifts to lift Winth’s head so that he can go help Bobby and Ellen break up the escalating scuffle. Except Winth grumps and opens her eyes enough to cast a scathing glare at the door the others have shut themselves behind and then Sam's head is ringing with dozens, perhaps hundreds, of dragon voices layered together in his mind.

We have chosen.

The silence that falls in its wake is just as deafening, broken only by the soft shuff of Winth's tail sweeping across the floor to wrap around Sam's chair and twine up his ankle. There. Better? she says, amusement washing out the sleepy irritation.

The door to the other chamber squeaks open, revealing Dean in front of the other assorted riders, all of them staring.

"Did you..." Dean squints his eyes at Sam, then Winth, when all Sam can do is shrug and gesture at the napping Queen. He develops that far-away look in his eyes that means he must be consulting with Impalath, and then he's grinning.

Arms crossed over his chest, Dean half turns and leans himself against the doorjamb, smirking at Michael, Rafael and Lucifer as he says, "Any other questions?"

***



Winth tucks her wings, a spark of gold catching the sun as she flips over in midair, letting gravity drag her down until the last possible moment when she flares them open again, thin vanes arching as she swoops back into the sky. She’s only reached the proper proportions for flight in the last few weeks and seems determined to make up for all the time she missed being grounded since hatching. She fancies herself quite the acrobat and Sam can’t help but agree with a slightly muddled mixture of academic appreciation and visceral pride.

Most of the wherries from the penned flock in the bowl of the Weyr have scattered away from her antics, but she’s managed to cordon off two of them from the group, twirling as she pretends to debate which one to eat when Sam knows that she’s just showing off. He probably ought to make her stop, but the bleed of her self-satisfaction into his own mind holds him back.

Eat your food, don’t play with it, little lizard. The deep voice in Sam’s head is colored by amusement, a soft undertone to the lightning-flash of Winth’s indignation.

Lizard! I’ll show you a lizard, you overgro- the thought breaks off sharply as Impalath dives down, smoothly insinuating himself and snatching up one of the pair of wherries Winth had been toying with. Hey, that was mine!

Catchers keepers.

Winth whines, Saaaaammmmm, in the middle of a barrel roll that easily intercepts the remaining bird, a quick flex of her claws ending the matter as painlessly as possible.

“You two play nice,” he sighs, knowing full well that they can’t pick out his voice from this distance, but that they’ll have heard him nonetheless.

He feels the presence of his brother before the creak of riding leathers gives him away as Dean settles on the grass next to him.

“How is it that our dragons turned out to be eight-Turn-old versions of ourselves?” he muses, flicking a glance over at Dean’s casual sprawl.

“And yours is a girl. Fitting,” his brother nods thoughtfully, doesn’t quite duck out of the way of the punch Sam aims at his shoulder.

You two play nice. Impalath’s tone is teasing, rich with affection. He’s landed on the grass a short distance away, far enough to keep the humans from getting squeamish. No matter that Sam’s spent most of his life around dragons and the rest of it with Healers, watching a wherry wrenched apart from up close is never going to be a favorite pastime.

Winth touches down next to the Bronze, tail flicking haughtily as she crunches into her prey. Despite the rapid growth – at this rate she could well turn out the largest Queen on Pern – she’s still tiny in comparison to Impalath. Even with her neck stretched out fully, her head would only just come to the great Bronze’s wing joint, though she can now nuzzle at the top of Sam’s head even when she’s laying down. The juxtaposition is striking and Sam can’t resist reaching into his pack to retrieve the sheaf of wood-pulp parchment he’s made a habit of keeping notes in.

Impalath has always had unusual coloring; rich, gleaming bronze so deep that as it fades toward the edges of his scales it becomes the exact shade of a moonless midnight. When he was first hatched, it was thought that something might be wrong with him, some deformation from lack of oxygen or inferior breeding. The fact that he’d Impressed on Dean, the youngest candidate on the hatching grounds by a full three Turns, did nothing to calm the speculation. Yet, as Turns wore on, it became evident that he was not only as strong and healthy as any of his clutchmates, he was also one of the most magnificent specimens of the species in living memory. Privately, Sam’s toyed with the idea that he might be the first example of a new classification – Ebonies, perhaps? Onyxes? – but his mating flights have only ever produced one hatchling with similar coloration and Sam’s done quite enough to rock traditional dragon-knowledge to its core without suggesting anything more. Yet.

Next to those deep-toned scales, Winth’s bright gold looks even more impressive, a glowing ember among the coals; both of them shining-sleek and powerful, if slightly less perfectly proportioned on Winth’s part. Her feet are still overlarge for her body, as is the finely-boned wedge of her head. Her tail and neck seem to be growing at equal rates, though, which bodes well for maintaining her aerodynamic figure. And her wingspan is positively enormous compared to the other Queens. It’s quite likely that she’ll grow into those a bit, but it’s impressive nonetheless.

“Sam.” Dean’s voice drags him away from some hastily scribbled observations of Winth’s relative size and density compared to Impalath’s. It takes him a moment to understand what his brother is getting at, but then he follows the line of Dean’s nod and finds his preening Queen rolling around like mad in the dust.

“Winth!” Instant stillness follows the sharp reprimand, dagger-like talons and a soft, ladder-scaled belly turned up toward the sky.

I need a bath she chirps innocently, twisting her neck to look at him rightside up.

“I wonder why,” Sam huffs back. This will make the second scrubdown he’s given her today and it’s not even midday yet.

But it itches! She mewls pitifully, turning back over onto her feet and bombarding him with the phantom sensation of the flaky patch of scales at the base of her neck.

“That’s because you’re growing too fast, glutton. You’re going to come right out of your hide soon.” Even Sam can hear the fondness in his voice underneath the sniping.

Obviously Dean can too, because he’s laughing, “You might have been off on eight, Sammy. She sounds more like you at fourteen.”

It’s true, of course, Sam remembers all too well the Turn or so he spent constantly starving and growing out of his clothes faster than he could break them in. More than anything he’s struck again by the curious fact the Winth has picked up Impalath’s habit of bespeaking both he and Dean. As far as anyone knows, all dragons are capable of communicating with humans besides their riders, but very few of them ever bother to, let alone on such a regular basis. Sam had always assumed Impalath included him because he and Dean had been so close and Dean had Impressed so young, but trying to get a straight answer out of a dragon is like trying to teach a watch-wher to fly. Sam’s gotten too accustomed to because I wanted to to bother arguing about it anymore.

Helpfully, Impalath leans down to rub his cheek against the offending spot on Winth’s hide, soothing the itch and setting Winth crooning. Her tail twines around his foreleg in a gilded swirl.

“Funny, I was thinking she reminded me more of you,” he fires back with a sidelong look. If there’s anyone in the whole of Benden Weyr who doesn’t know the reputation his brother made for himself in his adolescence as a shameless pleasure seeker, Sam hasn’t met them yet.

This time it’s Sam’s shoulder getting punched, but he supposes he probably earned it.

It still startles him at odd moments, the easy intimacy they’ve fallen back into. Dean tried hard, in the Turns that Sam spent at the Healer Hall, to keep things normal between them, but there was a limit to what he could do when they only saw one another a handful of times every Turn, and his resentment of Sam’s choice always wound up bleeding through. Sam hadn’t expected that tension to just disappear, and it still rears its head from time to time, but for the most part they’re back to how they used to be when Sam was a teenager. He’s not always certain how he feels about that fact, but he’s caught himself grinning with his brother for no reason more often than he ever would have thought he could when Winth’s Impression turned his life upside down.

Eyelids slipping closed, Winth slinks down onto her belly, wrapping herself more firmly around Impalath’s leg. Impalath rumbles with humor, but keeps nuzzling at her.

“Ok, maybe a little,” Dean concedes with a wry twist to his mouth as he watches.

“You don’t suppose I got a Green on accident, do you?”

Winth huffs hard enough that a small cloud of dust curls in front of her. I heard that. She doesn’t bother even opening her eyes, though, so she mustn’t be too upset about it.

Dean, on the other hand, looks much more insulted. “I think you just called me a Green.”

“Well, if the eyes match…” Sam teases, already moving in anticipation of the lunge Dean makes at him.

He doesn’t quite manage to get out of range and goes down hard on his belly, his brother rolling on top of him, and then over again as they jockey for dominance. Sam can’t remember the last time he wrestled with anyone, but he’s clearly out of practice because Dean pins him to the grass in short order.

In fact, Dean’s barely breathing hard as he grins down at Sam, hands braced on either of his shoulders, sitting on Sam’s stomach.

“Going to have to get you into shape if you’re going to fight Thread, baby boy.” Obnoxiously, he starts poking at Sam in the ribs, chest, stomach – skipping around whenever Sam moves his arms to protect himself. Now this is like being eight Turns old again.

Only, back then, Sam didn’t have size on his side.

With a massive effort, Sam heaves himself up, knocking Dean to the side and following after so that their positions are reversed, Dean’s legs splayed around Sam’s hips. Eyes shock-wide and lips parted, Dean looks like his mind just blinked Between. He just lays there for a long minute, certainly breathing hard now, as the color rises on his cheeks. Long enough, in fact, that Sam starts to worry he might have concussed Dean on a rock. But then Dean swallows and seems to come back to himself, shoving Sam off and wiping in vain at the new grass stains on his worn leathers.

He composes himself after a moment. Gives Sam a half-hearted glare out of the corner of his eye and settles next to him again, if a little more stiffly than before. Dean’s never been a very good loser.

In the time they were busy playing around, Impalath has laid down beside Winth, one wing draped over her so that only the curl of her tail is showing. It’s sweet, he thinks, that she has a protector, however little she might actually need one. All too much like he and Dean, really, but he appreciates it nonetheless.

Warmed by the thought, he bumps his shoulder against Dean’s and his brother bumps back gently, letting their arms come to rest lightly against each other. Sam catches the curve of a smile that looks like relief on Dean’s face but decides not to say anything about it. No point in ruining a good thing.

***



The wind sweeping the fire-heights is cool with the snow-kissed promise of rain. It leadens Sam’s hair, already hopelessly knotted, he’s sure, and leaves his skin tacky beneath his riding leathers. Then again, that may be the sweat.

I’m not going to drop you Winth snorts, miffed and amused at the same time. She’s abuzz with the excitement of the day despite Sam’s anxiety dampening her spirits.

“I know, dearheart. It’s not you I’m worried about.” The wind whips the sound from Sam’s mouth, drying his already parched tongue.

Lucifer shifts in his seat on Deth’s neck ridge, the long, lean Bronze remaining perfectly still in the cutting breeze. He spares a scathing look that turns heated a fraction through the slow trek down Sam’s body.

Surely riding leathers aren’t meant to fit this snugly, he thinks, resisting the urge to tug at the hide pulling tight across his thighs, shoulders, backside. Everywhere, in fact. Ellen had promised him that they’d loosen up with wear, but Sam’s not at all sure that makes him feel better. Wear, because this is his uniform now, the one he’ll be wearing for the rest of his life. It fits like he’s been stuffed into someone else’s skin.

Down below, the Weyr bowl is dotted with young riders and dragons, wobbling unsteadily on the air, Wingleaders surveying and trying to corral them into formation. Winth sniffs smugly at their efforts, already close to twice the size of the rest of her clutch. Of course, Queens naturally mature faster, but she’s taking it as a personal accomplishment anyway.

Unbidden, Sam’s mind is flooded with an image of these same Fire Heights, bright summer sun beating down from an entirely different angle onto a wide, stocky back of nearly black scales. Secondhand, he can feel shaking, abject terror cold as Between rolling in his gut.

Sam snaps back to reality, smiling despite the fine tremble still echoing through his limbs. He’s not sure anyone in the Weyr ever knew that Dean, mighty Bronzerider, was absolutely horrified of flying as a child. Shards, he’d almost forgotten it himself, considering how natural Dean is about it after all these Turns, but the reminder helps and he sends a rush of warm affection to the supportive presence at the back of his mind where Impalath tends to lurk unobtrusively.

Heart hammering at his chest, Sam smooths his hand over Winth’s shoulder and steels himself. Obligingly, she lifts her foreleg to help him step up, familiar, except that now there’s no one above to help pull him the rest of the way up into the cradle of the neck ridge. No one sitting behind or in front as he settles himself there. No one else to control the dragon beneath him, because she’s his, all his. One easy swoop of her wings between him and being a true dragonrider.

“Hang on,” Lucifer smirks, urging Deth forward and off the ledge. For a moment the two of them free fall through the air, nothing but heavy muscle under the pull of gravity. Then in a flash of bronze, Deth spreads his wings, rising with the whipping air to a near hover, a few dragonlengths overhead. Waiting.

It’s idiotic to hesitate now. He’s flown a thousand times before, has even been on Impalath by himself a few times, and his trust in Winth is as absolute as the stones beneath their feet. But still it… it means something to do this, to take flight on his dragon, his Queen. To accept their place in the Wing, the Weyr, all of Pern. He hasn’t been a Healer for a long while now, but this is the first time he’s ever had a choice in it.

“I’m ready,” whispers past his lips, dry as the sands of Igen, and then he’s weightless in a storm of cold-clawed speed.

Sam can barely see the plummet, bracing wind coaxing tears from his eyes that blot the Bowl floor into a riot of burred colors. He’s left his stomach somewhere back on the Fire Heights, he’s sure of it, but his heart’s right there in his throat pounding out a drum signal as they fall and fall and fall. Too far, they should have pulled up, Deth pulled up much earlier than this, but Sam’s not afraid, he’s- he’s exhilarated, he’s elated, he’s-

Flying.

Winth’s wings shoot out on either side of him, the very air roaring in defiance as she sails, beats once, twice, carrying them up. Above the sound, he hears shouts, screams. Opens eyes he hadn’t meant to close to find that they’re skimming close enough to the other new riders for Winth to pluck them right off their careening dragons.

“Troublemaker!” he shouts, silenced by the flood of air stinging his cheeks and the laugh he can’t choke back.

Someone has to show them how it’s done Winth breezes, self-satisfaction tinted with thrill as she dip-roll-dives, twisting in midair to dodge a floundering Blue and start winging her way higher.

They ought to make their way back toward the Star Stone - Lucifer will be waiting none-too-patiently for their first lesson in going Between – but Sam can’t resist the way Winth is reveling in a swooping circuit of the Bowl, showing off for the dragons and riders who’ve made their way outside to watch the young Queen.

Or maybe showing off for someone in particular, considering the entirely unnecessary flourish of a spiral she makes close enough to the third tier of weyr ledges. She ends it by pushing off of one with her hind foot before darting up and away again.

In the flicker of a moment it lasts, Sam sees the deep marks her claws score into the ledge, brilliant gold flashing between a set of glossy black, the whir of big silvery eyes above a much smaller, greener pair and a grin.

***



“What in the name of the first egg were you thinking?”

He gets, “I’m fine,” answered back at him, both in his brother’s voice and the deep rumble of Impalath inside of his head. He can feel them shoot a look at one another, feels the huff Impalath lets out as his massive chest swells against Sam’s side where he’s tending the livid Threadscore above the left wingjoint. Sam’s not sure if it was a blessing or a curse the day Dean Impressed a dragon just as self-sacrificing and overprotective as he is.

“You can’t go into Threadfall against the wind! Another few handspans and that could have been your head!” he snaps, tossing a glare at the jagged wound Dean’s rubbing numbweed into along his forearm.

Dean’s dragged one of the chairs from his room out into the larger chamber where centuries of dragon use have hollowed out a deep couch for Impalath. He’s stripped out of his jacket, the heavy wherhide dangling limp from the back of the chair along with Dean’s sweat-soaked shirt. His skin is still shining, pinked from hours trapped inside hide made to protect from Thread and the cold of Between.

“Thank you, Sam. I’m so glad you’re here to educate me since I never fought Thread while you were off safe in a Hold in your Healer greens.”

It’s an argument that got old long ago. Largely because, whatever Sam might feel about it, it never stops being true.

Rather than rehash old points, Sam applies himself to cleaning the burned hide around the edges of the injury, layering on numbweed and oil with careful fingers. It will still scar, but probably not badly, not with the meticulous attention he’s sure Dean will spend looking after it. If only he could say the same about his brother’s own skin.

“You’re making a mess of that,” he says after a few tense minutes of silence. Dean huffs around the roll of bandage he has stuffed in his mouth, trying to wrap his forearm one-handed.

Both of the dragons are watching them, large eyes swirling with tension that feeds back into the air and their riders and in turn to them again, a vicious cycle. Winth’s head is tucked in close to Impalath’s, slightly taller, now, when he’s laying down. Her wing is spread out over his uninjured side, a thrum too deep for Sam to register with his ears vibrating in his bones instead where she’s crooning comfort at him. It’s strange, even by the standards of their admittedly non-standard dragons. That level of physical contact among unmated dragons is rare; they’re an emotional species but not a tactile one. He wonders if it’s more bleed over from he and Dean, their own bizarre bond transcending the-

Sam startles at the sound of the numbweed pot Dean’s been using hitting the stone floor.

“Shards,” his brother curses, the bandage roll falling out of his mouth and unraveling itself across the floor as well.

Despite himself, Sam can’t help the smile that curls his lips any more than he can the sigh as he helps clear up the mess Dean’s made. The numbweed is still salvageable, only a small crack in the clay pot, although the bandage is stained with the red dust of the weyr floor. Glaring down Dean’s attempt to snatch it back from him, Sam retrieves another from his pack, settling down on his knees next to his brother’s chair to set to work.

Dean refuses to meet his eyes, but holds his arm out obligingly, only grumbling after Sam’s started wrapping the wound.

“There are other dragons who could use you right now.”

“I’ve taken care of all of the vital injuries, everything else is just patching up. There’s not a body in Benden who doesn’t know how to handle that.”

“Besides me, I take it.”

“Why are you so determined to take everything as an insult?”

All he gets for an answer is a snort and tension in the corded muscles beneath his hand. They fall into a silence, only the sound of Winth’s thrumming as it bounces off of the domed weyr ceiling to tickle at the edges of his consciousness while he works.

This is how he learned, long before he threw his lot in with the Healer Hall. His hands moving over Dean’s skin, tacky and overheated from training or, later, fighting Threadfall.

There’s more than one scar marking Dean’s skin, most of them time-faded and familiar. New ones still creep up on Sam, though, when he has the time or opportunity to look. The one there, hiding on the inside of an elbow, is a stranger; a thin, clean line, beltknife more than likely.

More than his own temper, Dean’s always had a knack for bringing it out in others. Certainly had enough practice on Sam to have made him a master of the art, though a healthy dose of self-confidence, the age of his Impression, and the ability and willingness to bed every woman worth having who wandered through the Weyr was enough to encourage plenty of people to hold a grudge against him. If ever there was a man born to be a rider, it’s Dean. Not everyone takes kindly to that fact.

“There,” he says, fastening the bandage security. His touch lingers over the border of fabric and skin, checking the fit. Dean’s always been terrible about scratching at them if they’re wrapped too tight.

Dean’s eyes are on the darkening mouth of the weyr, apparently oblivious, but his fingers tighten on Sam’s wrist as he goes to pull away. Haltingly, Dean turns toward him, face a mottle of salt from dried sweat and ash. It highlights the crinkles that line the corner of Dean’s eyes, turns all the cracks and crevices of his neck bright so he looks older, worn, entirely too much like their father.

“Thanks,” he says softly, thumb bumping back and forth over the prominence of Sam’s wristbone.

Sam eases back to sit on his haunches, the turn of his hand to cup Dean’s as natural as breathing. He smiles, “That’s what I’m here for.”

***



The smell of boiling numbweed is persistently awful enough to have chased off everyone but the drudges from the Lower Kitchens. The drudges, Sam and Ellen, that is.

Ruby had begged off in favor of checking all of the flamethrowers the Queen riders will be using to fly Threadfall - probably imagining it would be an easier job, but Sam's seen the state of those since the Fall over Ruatha Hold. Eye-stinging as the production of numbweed may be, he doesn't envy her the task. Anna's Grath will be ready to Rise any day now, and Sam couldn't imagine the irritability that goes hand-in-hand with a broody Queen was going to make the curing and potting of salve go any faster, so he'd asked her to look after Lisa, who's still largely bed-ridden from her first birthing. He hadn't giving a second thought about the command and Anna hadn't hesitated to follow it. It was only afterward that it occurred to him that he's not, in fact, in charge of the Queen's Wing yet, but Ellen had simply smiled approvingly.

All told, he knows more about the production of numbweed salve than the rest of the young Queen riders put together, so it's probably just as well. Their stores from last Turn were largely depleted after Ruatha, and they’ll no doubt be needing more for the Fall over Lemos in twelve days.

Leaning in to check the color of one of the roiling pots, Ellen asks, “How’s Winth?”

Sam was far too young at the time of his mother’s passing to have any real memories of her, but Ellen has always held much the same place in his heart. She’d taken more of an interest in him and Dean than was perhaps strictly called for, particularly after their father had refused to remain Weyrleader when it meant taking her as weyrmate. It had never been quite maternal – she’d had more than enough on her hands as Weyrwoman – but she’d taken care to see to it that they had clothes that fit and weren’t getting into too much trouble wandering Benden on their own. She’d supported Sam when the time came for him to become a candidate and he chose the Healer Hall instead, was one of the only ones who did. Dean’s never said so, but Sam knows she’d helped keep Dean sane after their father disappeared Between.

Sam knows better than to think it’s anything close to casual when she asks after his dragon.

“She’s well,” he replies anyway, stepping in to stir a kettle that looks in danger of scalding on the bottom. “Healthy. There’s a small flaw in the scaling on her left foreleg, but I think she’ll grow out of it.”

“That’s good.” Ellen smiles, breaks away for a moment to stop the drudges from stacking up so closely together the ceramic pots of salve they’ve just poured. “Quite the flier, that one.”

“That she is.”

It isn’t hard to imagine what Ellen’s driving at, but Sam’s been rather deftly avoiding thinking along those lines, so he’s not inclined to make it easy on her.

“Have you given any thought to-“

The steaming contents of the kettle nearly slosh over with the force of Sam’s stir. “No.”

“Sam.” Ellen’s voice is sharp, serious. All of the drudges have suddenly found something to be extremely interested in.

Manfully, Sam resists the urge to fling the ladle in his hand across the room, wrapping his fingers around the handle until his knuckles have gone snow white instead. “Impalath is the only Bronze big enough to challenge Deth for her, and obviously...” metal clangs on metal as Sam makes himself let go of the heavy spoon, casting the bitter thoughts out of his head with a shake. “What’s the point in wasting my energy on it when everyone knows how it’s going to end?”

The room’s gone quite but for the soft bubbling sounds of revering salve, not quite enough to cover the rush of air as Ellen sighs heavily. “They take your preference into account.”

Sam would be hard pressed to say whether her tone is more exasperated or condescending. As if Sam doesn’t know this fact very well, as if he hasn’t lived most of his life in a Weyr and all the rest of it studying dragons. Blasted if it helps him, but he certainly knows it.

“Is that how you ended up with Lucifer for a werymate?” he snaps, fighting the instant flash of regret. It isn’t Ellen’s fault that Dean wasn’t there for Joth’s last mating flight, and he knows she would have favored him if he had been. Everyone in Benden knows Dean was born to be Weyrleader and now he might not ever be, all because Sam has an inborn knack for shattering tradition, whether he means to or not.

Ellen doesn’t even flinch. “Sam, I went beyond the romance of the matter a very long time ago. Preference is hardly a factor for me, certainly not enough to affect the outcome of a flight.”

Bill had been a good rider. Sam hadn’t ever known him well, but he’d flown second in John’s Wing before Sam’s father had essentially abandoned life as a rider, and he’d tried to help the man, by all accounts. His loss, so few Turns after Sam’s mother, had been a blow to all of Pern and Joth had never settled with another Bronze for more than a flight or two again. It was part of the reason Benden had struggled, never able to find a Weyrleader who could hold his place for long enough to accomplish anything. Sam wonders if the weight of that blame sits as heavily on Ellen as his own situation does on him.

“So what would you suggest I do?”

The smack is unexpected enough that Sam startles, rubbing at the stinging spot on his arm. At least Ellen had deigned to use the clean end of the spoon. “Stop being such a dimglow and do what feels right.”

She’s giving him a look that Sam can’t seem to interpret, frustrated and urging. He wishes on all things green and growing that everyone would stop blathering on about instincts and tell him what he ought to do.

Nudging another kettle over the fire to more evenly distribute the heat, Sam lets the ideas tumble in his mind.

Deth is the largest Bronze in Benden, but more than that, he’s clever, patient. Far too much like his rider, Sam thinks bitingly. Lucifer has spent years jockeying for position – moving between Fort and Igen, making a name for himself before he joined the ranks of Benden, always with his eye on becoming Weyrleader. Even now with the title on his shoulders like a mantle, Sam can tell Lucifer is just biding his time, waiting to secure his rule.

Sam’s skin crawls at the thought of what it would be like if Lucifer had the chance to make good on all of the heated looks and innuendos he’s aimed Sam’s way these last few months. Allowing him as a permanent Weyrleader would be unconscionable, but allowing him to put his hands on Sam’s body, into his bed every night…. The tightness in his throat isn’t entirely from the stink of numbweed salve anymore.

But against Deth, who could stand a chance? Michael’s Sworth or Rafael’s Faith would be just as bad. Sam and Benden both would be Lucifer’s in everything but name. Deth is lean, though, wiry; a Bronze of reasonable size but more muscle might be able to outmatch him in a burst for speed.

Sam still isn’t particularly good at blocking Winth – and for that matter, Impalath – out of his mind, but he does his best to tamp down on the connection as the image of Impalath swooping past Deth in midair forms in his mind. He doesn’t get the sense either dragon had been paying much attention anyway, preferring to keep their sensitive noses on the upwind ridge of the Bowl, playing around, he senses vaguely. This kind of political battle-planning isn’t usually of interest to dragons anyway, but better to be safe than stuck trying to explain himself to Dean if Impalath ever let the idea slip.

The trouble is, Dean does deserve to be Weyrleader, and alongside somebody who could temper his natural tendency to dive into situations headlong. Someone like Sam. They’d be ideal for the job, really, except-

No. Dean’s always done well at disguising how uncomfortable Sam’s tendencies make him, but the look on his face that first time he caught Sam kissing a boy will be burned in Sam’s mind until the day he dies. He hadn’t known what it was like to disappoint his brother back then – it hadn’t even occurred to him that it was possible. So to ask Dean, no, to force Dean into that situation through a mating flight, with his brother, no less, as if any man wouldn’t be bad enough in Dean’s mind… That thought actually makes Sam more sick to his stomach than letting Lucifer bed him.

With a huff, Sam shoves that stream of thought aside. It’s not an option. It isn’t even the same species as an option. But… but it might have a kernel of one buried inside it. Dean deserves to be Weyrleader. Winth being flown by Sworth or Faith would be tantamount to making Lucifer Weyrleader, because Lucifer controls Michael and Rafael. But Lucifer isn’t the only Bronzerider with a Wingsecond.

“Jimth might be strong enough,” Sam muses, sudden hope turning his breath short. “He hasn’t got Impalath’s size, but he’s fast. With Winth’s acrobatics, that could be enough to give him an edge.”Ellen stares at him over the shoulder of one of the drudges, sighs all over again, but it melts into a smile. “I suppose you’re right.”

***



“No,” Sam says muzzily into his pillow, pulling his foot back from where he must have kicked out from under the bedskins last night.

The puff of warm breath follows him, tickling at the sole of his foot before traipsing further up his leg, satiny scales hot against his skin.

“I said no,” he repeats over the sound of dainty, vicious claws scraping bedrock. Not for the first time, Sam’s thankful the Weyrs still favor the heavy stone slabs of their ancestors lined with thick padding instead of the small, woodframed furnishings of his room at the Healer Hall. Maybe Sam isn’t the only rider to ever have a dragon that doesn’t realize it’s not a mouser.

Winth makes a miserable noise, sending him palpable flashes of hungry, itchy, bored and hungry again, on the chance he missed it the first time.

“It’s still dark out.”

But… Hungryitchyboredhungryitchybored

“I’m beginning to doubt the claims that you’re an emotionally complex creature,” he sighs, heaving himself up off the bed anyway, battle lost before it’s begun.

Winth stares down at him, neck crooked into an exaggerated bend to keep him in her sights with the forefeet braced on the end of his bed. She only just fits inside of the room now, even with her wings squashed in close to her back and her tail trailing out the cavernous mouth of the door. That could be enough to account for how quickly the space heats around her, but Sam’s noticed the overall uptick in her temperature these past few weeks. Subtle, probably imperceptible for anyone who doesn’t use his own dragon as a baseline for species-standard measurements. The shift in her color too, might be easy to miss, but it’s steadily growing more intense, saturated. He’s known all along it was coming, but seeing the signs right there in her still hollows his stomach.

Sam? Winth’s eyes swirl with curious worry, picking up on the state of his mind, but not understanding the reason. Maybe it’s a virtue of their size and strength, the absolute power of them, but no dragon Sam’s ever known could grasp humanity’s need to control the course of their own lives. Then again, dragons tend to ignore everything on Pern that doesn’t directly interest them, so spending a brief time with a mate not to their tastes has a great deal less bearing on their lives than it would on Sam’s. Will on Sam’s, if his plan doesn’t work.

“Has Jimth been flying those drills I spoke to Castiel about?” Sam inquires, changing the subject in a way no human would let him get away with, but Winth has the luxury of having at least some idea what Sam’s thinking.

Yes, Winth answers with a wobbly sensation Sam’s come to interpret as the dragon version of an eye-roll. He’s improving steadily. Still not good enough to outfly me, though. The inside of Sam’s head is colored a haughty pink by her tone.

“You don’t think anyone’s good enough to outfly you,” Sam points out, grabbing for the pair of trousers he’d folded over the back of a chair last night.

Only because it’s true.

***



The night is alive with firelight, great bonfires open to the sky and glows dotted across every available surface. The smell of roasted meat perfumes the air richly, punctuated by the sharp, happy cries of newly hatched dragonets and their freshly Impressed riders. The Harpers are playing loud and joyous, an old song made for exuberant dancers with swift feet.

Up in the darkness, dragons make blacker-yet shapes against the sky, turning the rim of the Bowl craggier with their outlines. Grath is perched down closer to the ground, finished gorging herself at last. After the weeks she’s spent huddled in a protective mania around her clutch, Sam can’t blame her.

Winth has made a place for herself on the ledge of Impalath and Dean’s weyr, chuffing about how gangly and ridiculous the hatchlings look as if Sam can’t feel her wanting to play with them. He pushes away the immediate thought that she’ll make a good mother to take another deep draught of the heady spring wine in his cup.

“That’s stronger than it tastes.” Dean’s voice is fond, closer than Sam would have expected. He looks over from the spot he’s secreted himself away in, one flight up from the Bowl floor, to find Dean standing on the stairs, arms crossed over his chest, shoulder leaning idly against the wall. Maybe he’s right about the wine. Sam’s not overly wary, but he would have expected to hear Dean coming upon him earlier than this. He’d thought he was being more careful after Lucifer cornered him earlier.

Sam takes another deep drink anyway, mostly out of stubbornness.

Light footfalls make the last few steps, not as unsteady as Dean usually is by this time in a hatching celebration. He’s also alone, which is strange enough in itself without taking into account that Anna is probably eager to enjoy herself after finally getting free of Grath’s pre-hatch moodiness.

Dean’s always rather liked Anna, and Impalath has flown Grath at least twice that Sam remembers. Three times? He can’t recall at the moment. Of course, there have been a fair few rumors lately as to who exactly the father of Lisa’s baby is, so it could be that Dean’s just being… what, tactful? Cautious? That doesn’t sound right.

Sure enough, Sam spots the red swirl of Anna’s hair as Gabriel and Balthazar trade her off in a version of the reel the Harpers are beating out, modified to allow for three partners. That explains it, then - Dean was just beaten to the punch.

Catching him looking Dean murmurs, “’ll be you, soon enough.”

The memory of the low whisper of Lucifer’s voice against his ear slides through Sam like a tunnel snake, words so similar and the intent behind them nothing like it at all, but it’s Dean’s frankness that really steals Sam’s breath. It’s true, of course, and the whole Weyr knows it, he’s sure. Still, there are very few of them who would dare to say it to Sam as boldly as that, and he hadn’t thought Dean was on that list. Out of everything they’ve discussed since Sam made Impression, this is the one that they’ve avoided talking with one another about.

“It’s getting close to time now,” Sam admits gravely. There’s no real way of denying it anymore, not with the way Winth is beginning to shine. Another few weeks, at most, and she’ll take to the sky for her first mating flight and Great Faranth only knows what Sam’s going to do then.

Well, no, Sam knows full well what he’s going to do then, the only question that remains is with whom.

“Everything will be alright.” The strength of the hand Dean lays on Sam’s shoulder doesn’t match the shape of his mouth. If anything, Dean looks even more nervous about it all that Sam feels. Or maybe that’s a trick of the firelight.

“I know,” he lies back because there’s nothing more to say.

They stand together silently for a moment, watching the movement below. Bright blooms of color as the Holder women spin with the music, dresses no doubt made for the occasion, even if it’s only a lower Queen hatching. Harper blue here and there, one or two dots of Healer green.

The Hall has sent a boy named Kevin to talk with him about dragonhealing – apparently he’s been studying Sam’s notes and wants to try his hand. Considering Sam’s probably one of the most envied people on Pern, the surge of jealousy he feels about it is hardly logical. He’d always wanted dragonhealing to be a Craft, he’d just always imagined himself as the one teaching it to new apprentices and journeymen, presiding over their studies. Now he’s simply a wealth of first-hand information.

First-hand information of the most powerful Queen on the planet, he reminds himself. Luckily, Winth is too busy watching the goings on, making greetings to all the new hatchlings, to have noticed his melancholy. The swell of emotion he feels just looking at her shape in the dark is enough, more than enough, to make up for the life he’ll be missing out on. The Healer Hall never had anything that could compare to that.

“I heard a rumor you were considering Cas,” Dean says suddenly, all in a rush as if it’s difficult to get out. It takes Sam a moment to work out what his brother’s talking about, his mind far afield. Maybe he has had enough wine after all.

"Castiel is smart, not overly impulsive,” he shrugs, casting around for Castiel’s dark head among the crowd, but unable to find him. He might have already made his escape from the commotion, too many people for his tastes. “He’s familiar with the politics among the Lord Holders. And he’d be… more open to suggestion, from the right person."

There isn’t actually anything for Dean to choke on, but he breaks down into a coughing fit all of a sudden anyway. Dean’s never been much of a planner, but surely he must have realized why Sam would have chosen Castiel? It had seemed so obvious once the thought had occurred.

Unless, possibly, the idea of two men together disgusts him enough that the thought of his best friend sleeping with Sam upsets him. But that’s hardly fair. Dean’s been clear that Sam’s feelings bother him, but only ever accidentally – he’s never said anything about it, has gone out of his way to treat Sam just the same as before, still seems to love him just as much despite it.

And surely he can’t blame Castiel for the nature of a dragon mating. Castiel wouldn’t even have a choice! He’d be too addled by the mating flight to care that Sam’s a man. Not that Sam gets the impression he’d care, most of the Weyrfolk don’t. Riders tend to mix and mingle however they choose. Dean’s the only Weyrborn he’s ever known who had a problem with it, actually - Great Faranth only knows where he picked that up, but it’s just Sam’s luck, isn’t it? That his brother doesn’t give an egg blasted thought to what anyone in the Weyr wants to do with their bodies so long as they aren’t doing it with Dean’s baby brother!

“Cas-“ Dean clears his throat, scrubs a hand along the back of his neck. “Yes, I… true. I just didn’t know that you… felt that way about him. You could have said, I would have helped work something out.”

Which is a blatant lie. Sam hadn’t felt the touch of any hand other than his own until he’d moved into the Healer Hall, all because Dean was constantly, conveniently, showing up at just the wrong moment.

Dean’s face is red, though, and uncomfortable as he looks, there’s also an earnestness there that Sam can’t deny. Dean may not understand Sam’s nature, but he is trying to be supportive now, however fumbling the attempts may be.

“No you wouldn’t,” Sam points out, taking some of the sting out by choosing to leave it at that, “And I’m not attracted to him, not especially anyway. He’s just the best option I have.”

Dean looks on the verge of saying something, but he stops with his mouth open. Instead he breathes out a long sigh and steals Sam’s cup.

“No, I wouldn’t,” he agrees after so long Sam’s mostly got himself calmed back down again. Whatever Dean’s feelings on the matter, he’s never once asked Sam to change who he is, to even try it. It might not be the happy acceptance Sam would wish for, but he understands how much it means, and how much Dean means it, when he says, “I just want you to be happy.”

***



Dean walks in as Sam is in the middle of checking over Winth’s scales, making a few notes on the changes in her color and temperature as her first mating flight approaches. She’s been twitchy and irritable all day, oscillating between snapping at any dragon that dared get close and pining with unfamiliar longing. With their telepathic link seeming more powerful than ever, Sam’s been in much the same state.

“Here,” his brother says, tossing something at him. It’s only through years of practice living with Dean that Sam manages to catch the small, stiff, hide container. A quick sniff tells him that it isn’t the sort of flask Dean usually favors.

“You should…” Dean fumbles awkwardly, cheeks darkening, “you know, before. Probably won’t have the presence of mind during and you really don’t want to go without.”

Sam almost wants to laugh at how uncomfortable Dean looks, except for the part of him that wants to throw the flask back at Dean’s head. And then, of course, there’s the curiosity as to where, exactly, Dean got the information in the first place. Ugh, he takes back every uncharitable thought he ever had about broody Queenriders – living out someone else’s hormones is a misery.

“Thanks,” he says, reigning in the urge to start an argument. It’s hardly fair to make Dean bear the brunt of what Winth’s emotional state is doing to Sam, especially when he’s just trying to help. Needlessly maybe, but still. While Sam’s natural proclivities have always tended toward the reverse position, he isn’t entirely virginal in this respect; a fact which he knows Dean knows considering his brother forced his way into Caleb’s weyr several Turns back and bodily removed Sam from the Bluerider’s lap. He has a strong suspicion that that’s the sort of behavior that leads to rumors about them being strange.

“There’s, um. There’s more. Just in case.” Dean swipes a hand through his hair and massages at the back of his own neck before drawing a swaddled package out of the inside of his wherhide jacket. He places it gingerly in Sam’s hand, wiping his hand off on his breeches after as if he’s been contaminated.

Sam cautiously unfurls the package, stripping away layers of cloth until heavy glass is laying cool in the palm of his hand. It’s a solid, clear pillar, a bit more than half the diameter of Sam’s wrist, slightly more than a handspan long. It’s rounded on one end with a small knob like a handle on the other.

He can’t imagine how expensive it must have been to have made – let alone Dean asking someone to craft it. Making glass is complicated and time consuming and the smiths usually have more than enough work to meet demands for the glass pane windows that have come into fashion in some of the wealthier Holds. Certainly there’s not much doubt about the purpose of the device, whoever made it had to have known. He wonders if Dean called in a favor, or if he used Sam’s position as an incentive – helping the rider of the future Benden Queen for their first mating flight. There are those who would consider it an honor.

Maybe he already had it Winth points out, disdainful of the tiny glass phallus. There were better options if Sam insisted on having something inside him, she thought. Not that she’d know the first thing about it aside from Sam’s memories, but she’s touchy enough at the moment that he decides not to press the issue. This is even harder on her than it is on Sam, she doesn’t need him making it worse.

The idea of Dean using this on himself snares his mind, though, growing into brambles as Sam fights to shove it away. Images forming in his mind like trapped smoke, of Dean laid out with his legs propped open and his hips tipped up, smooth glass pressing inside of him as his chest speckled with heat and his toes curled in the bed clothes. Heavy muscle and soft, hot skin. Sam knew how soft, didn’t he? Just how Dean would look and feel, the sounds he would make. Sam had spent a fair portion of his life sharing a bed with that body, there was so little about it he didn’t know. So little he wouldn’t be able to manipulate if he-

The rush of air that hits Sam’s lungs on a gasp is cool enough he thinks it must be the first breath he’s taken in a while. He blinks away the haze that had settled momentarily, attention fuzzy and body burning like a fresh coal. One flight per Turn. He’s not going to survive this kind of assault every Turn.

Dean is staring, still blushing, and Sam can only pray that it wasn’t obvious where his mind just wandered to.

“Sorry, I-“ another breath gusts out of him as he nods toward where Winth has curled up in her wallow, a wall of brilliant gold and radiating heat. “It’s all a bit much. Hard to focus.”

With an effort, he forces himself to stop twisting his palms around the glass cylinder.

“Yeah,” Dean agrees, glancing at Winth too. “You know what to do, right? Not- not like that, I mean,” He stutters. Sam’s not sure he’s ever heard Dean stutter. “Obviously. Only that, with her. Is what I meant. You know you have to keep her from eating, you’ll have t-“

“Weyr-bred, dragonhealer, Queenrider,” Sam cuts off Dean’s babbling with a wry twist of his mouth. “Because she’ll get too heavy is she has more than bl-“

Somehow more sure-footed now that Dean seems unsteady, Sam reaches out and puts his free hand on his brother’s shoulder. “Yes, I know what to do. I’ve been preparing for this for a Turn.”

Dean deflates a bit under Sam’s touch, breath coming free in a quiet rush. “Right.”

Sam knows he ought to let go, but the little bit of contact is soothing to his rattled nerves, so he lets his hand linger. Dean is warm and firm, close enough to smell the faint scent of wherhide and firestone and soapsand that always perfumes Dean’s skin.

It’s very familiar and masculine and Sam isn’t certain at all whether it’s helping or hurting his situation, but it feels good. Not entirely foreign. Dean’s always been beautiful and Sam spent too many Turns with his brother as the defining force of his existence to have never thought about it. The want has always been more abstract before, though, never so bright, and close to the surface, tactile.

“Whatever happens,” Dean says, low enough that it makes the atmosphere around Sam heavier instead of dispelling it. The very tips of his fingers press at Sam’s hipbone, and Dean keeps his eyes on them as he speaks. “However things turn out, I’m proud of you. You’re a good man, Sam, and you’ll make a good leader.”

Sam would like to claim that it’s Winth’s state that sets him clinging to his big brother like a weyrling, arms wrapped too tight around Dean’s shoulders and his face tucked into Dean’s neck. He would like to, but he’s not sure he can. That might be alright, though; Dean’s holding on just as tight.

***



Sam wakes with a start, his blood alight in his veins and every last fiber of his being screaming with rage and need.

Winth is largely incoherent in his head, swirls of emotion taking the place of words as she launches herself from the weyr ledge and makes for the herdbeasts in the bowl in the lavender dawn.

“Blood only!” he shouts into the empty silent weyr. His breath bursts free on a whimper as he sits up, slick glass shifting inside of him. Hurriedly, he reaches down, setting aside his own shuddering as he pulls the warm glass free in favor of shouting down the rebellious snarl Winth sends to his mind. Her every urge is dedicated to the hot spill of blood and the need to rend flesh.

Blood only! Sam insists, forcing his legs into pants, fumbling with the ties as he starts running toward the stairs down to the bowl.

Cool morning air kisses his bare chest and feet, unpleasant at any other time, but for now he feels like he’s been chewing firestone, sizzling inside his own skin. His cock is already heavy between his legs, shocky friction slithering up his spine with every step as worn hide rubs at him. Of course it’s his riding leathers he’s wound up in.

The further he goes, the worse it gets, the cool rasp of fever rising in him, bringing a sweeping rush of delirium with it. He doesn’t feel human, trapped in the Between where his mind ends and Winth’s begins. Her rage is his, her dominance and fury, her challenge to all the Bronzes she can hear gathering, waiting, daring to believe that they could be worthy of her. He is burning alive with it, hears himself growling her disdain only after he’s knocked back into his body by the sharp crack of a palm to the side of his face.

Blinking away the faceted glow of Winth’s vision, losing scraps of his own around the edges as though he’s going to black out, Sam finally manages to focus on Dean’s face, tight with worry and frustration.

“Sammy, hold her,” he demands, paying no mind to the fact that Sam’s head is swimming and his skin is clammy with sweat as Dean more than half carries him the rest of the way down to the bowl where the other Bronzeriders have assembled.

Immediately they turn toward him, a sea of eager, hungry faces. The anger wells anew, slipping free of him in a vicious hiss.

“Sam,” Dean barks, hand a blistering weight that the low of his back before Sam jerks free, the phantom taste of hot blood in the back of his throat as Winth casts aside the limp body of the heardbeast in her clutches, abandoning the tempting meat under the force of Sam’s will and diving instead for another.

Lucifer wheels in close, Michael and Rafael just behind. Castiel is off to the left, beside Dean, huddled in as if Dean plans to impart some advice to his Wingsecond on how best to outsmart the new Queen, but neither of them actually says a word. None of them ever near enough to touch with anything more than ravening eyes. Sam spins himself in a circle, glaring warning to the assembled Bronzeriders with their heaving chests and twitching fingers. They think that they can claim him, he’ll tear then apart, split their flesh and break their bones for even imagining to lay a hand on him. Unworthy. Unworthy.

Winth’s scream splits the heavy dawn like the first sharp flash of sunlight. Her wings unfurl, clouds of dust rising and herdbeast’s stampeding in terror at the hurricane of her might set loose. Every muscle and tendon surges with the glory of her own power, the lure of freedom in purpling sky above calling out until she can no longer stand it. With a roar, Winth launches herself skyward, beating the air into submission with relentless strokes of her wings until she’s free of the bowl, free of Benden, free of the tiny, insignificant Bronzes and everything else but the wind and the clouds.

Dimly Sam’s aware of the Bronzes launching themselves in pursuit from the Heights, of the hum of energy in his own body as the cruel current of it is unbottled at last, funneled into Winth’s swoops and dives as she sizes up the glittering dots of the Bronzes so far behind. They’ll never catch her, she thinks, laughing to Sam. No one will ever catch her.

Delighted, she makes a game of it, slaloming through the peaks and valleys and the mountain range stretched out beyond Benden to the east to give them a fighting chance. There’s hardly any point in winning at all if no one can see me do it.

Sam laughs giddily, lost in her joy, even as some distant part of him remembers that there is no winning to this game.

After what seems like a very long while, a few of the Bronzes begin to catch up, dark shapes flitting in and out of the clouds. Many of them have already abandoned the pursuit, not nearly strong enough to be deserving of her attentions. Just to see what they’ll do, she pitches herself into a sharp reel, spiraling down and swooping back up.

Lucifer’s Deth and Castiel’s Jimth follow suit capably enough, she muses. Deth is larger, his motions more assured and deliberate. But he’s so dull. Idly, she flips, assessing as Jimth keeps pace, saving his energy for one last push should the opportunity arise. He’s not nearly as large, but he’s sweet in an odd way. She’s have to let him catch her, but then, she thinks smugly, she’ll have to do that for whoever she decides on, since they’re all, obviously, quite hopeless.

Still the idea isn’t entirely repugnant now. The worst of the fire has burnt out of her and curled itself into something new, exciting. Lust, Sam tells her, his own breath stuttering as she shares in the warm flow of it, bathes in the exhilaration, self-satisfied and curiously wanting.

Sam can feel it in his own bones, a strange echo when he feels so separate from his body and so much more aware of it too. There is enough desire in him he must, surely, be vibrating with it, but it’s impossible to tell now, like this. All he can feel is that he’s open still, slick within and hard without. Ready, so ready, the feel of it lighting inside Winth and mirroring back to him over and over again.

Yes, that’s what she wants, someone strong and good to wrap around her, hold her, relieve that strange empty feeling that’s clawed her nerves to ribbons. She wants to be full, to clutch, to-

Oh!

Sam’s eyes fly open, the scene of Winth tumbling through the air meshing bizarrely with the sight of the hallway he finds himself urged down, hustled into a small chamber full of nothing but a vast, unfamiliar bed. The double-vision refuses to subside, Sam struggling along with Winth as she instinctively fights to free herself from the powerful legs trapping her own, the tail wrapping around hers. She tips her head back, ready to sink fang into the weight impeding her wings just as Sam wrestles to turn in the arms clamped around his waist. There is panic, terror, they are going to fall, going to crash, but then great wings are stretching out around them, aiding her own to slow their decent, keep them aloft as that body locks fully against hers and oh, oh yes!

Black scales. Green eyes. Sam’s knees buckle and his vision swims, but it’s alright. Dean is always there to catch him.

“Dean.” Sam intends for there to be more to that statement. Something about ‘no’ or ‘we can’t’ or ‘you don’t want’ but he doesn’t remember it just now. Winth feels so good, Impalath feels so good, and Sam can hardly breathe around it, aching and overwhelmed with pleasure. “Dean.”

“Shards, Sam, just- just don’t.” Dean’s pressing up against him as he says it, the words hazy and barely intelligible with the way he’s settling his mouth against Sam’s throat. It feels better than anything has a right to for far too many reasons to contemplate. Hot, sticky want is still flooding into him through his bond to Winth, her desire and pleasure sluicing over him when he’s already soaked to the bone in it.

For all the love between them, Dean and Sam have lived most of their lives in an extended battle of wills, one pushing and the other shoving back just as hard. Now though, when Dean gives him a rough nudge in the direction of the bed, Sam hasn’t got the strength to do anything but go.

He’s flat on his back, Dean molded to his front, licking into his mouth, by the time Sam remembers about ‘can’t’ again.

“There’s got to be another way,” he gasps, wrenching his head to the side to escape the slick push of his brother’s tongue. It slides instead down the curve of his jaw, laving a path down his neck. If only Dean would stop for a moment, maybe Sam could think straight. They could… could find other partners, it shouldn’t need to be the two of them together as long as they’re with someone. There must be plenty of willing bodies out there who’d be happy to ignore tradition. The idea of stopping long enough to find someone – stopping long enough to get their clothes off for that matter – makes Sam’s instincts scream in defiance. The thought of Dean pressing into some soft, small body instead of Sam’s is even worse.

Dean groans against his ear, licks around the shell at the little ridges of cartilage. Heat bursts through Sam’s gut like Threadscore and honeyed wine.

“Couldn’t. Couldn’t let. Couldn’t trust them,” is as much as Dean gets out, nosing into Sam’s hair instead. At the same time he’s rolling his body against Sam’s, doing nothing to douse the inferno raging inside. His hands are everywhere, strong fingers, roughened from Turns inside of wherhide gloves, digging into skin, yanking at Sam’s breeches until they come free and bare naked flesh.

By the time he gets Sam’s trousers off he’s asking, “Did you do what I told you?” and all Sam can do is nod his compliance. He knows he ought to be fighting this more, it can only end in disaster. Dean doesn’t want this, is disgusted by even the idea of this. Dean will be sick with it tomorrow, look at Sam with nothing but hurt and regret. He might even blame Sam for it, forcing it on him against his will, but Winth’s mating has left no room inside of Sam for anything but teeming need, no strength to say no as Dean presses kisses to his chest. Maybe more than Winth’s mating, he thinks, but the notion is there and gone again before he can decipher it when Dean checks Sam’s answer anyway, thick fingers pressing into him with embarrassing ease and setting Sam writhing.

They’re still at the edge of the bed, the lower half of Sam’s legs hanging off of it and Dean balanced awkwardly on his knees, fighting for leverage and Sam does not care. He does not care that Impalath was not meant to fly Winth or that the whole of the Weyr, and soon enough Pern itself, knows that he’s about to bed his brother and he does not care in the least that it is his brother that he’s about to bed, because he wants it. He wants the funny spikes Dean’s hair sticks up into when he fights his tunic off and he wants the heat of Dean’s stomach pressing Sam’s cock to his belly and he wants the blunt push of Dean forcing his way inside.

Winth was right, yes is the only word for it.

Sam shudders at the feel of Dean so deep in him, faintly painful and sweet enough to make his toes curl. His nails dig at Dean’s back, faded memories of Turns sharing a tiny bed and the pink scratches of others hands so often decorating his brother’s skin flooding his mind. Sam wants them gone, to be the only thing his brother’s body knows, blot out the existence of everyone who’d come before just as Dean is wiping Sam’s own slate clean with fitful, urgent thrusts.

”I’m sorry,” Sam pants, negating it all by sucking the taste of salt from Dean’s bicep where it’s braced next to his head, trying and failing to keep them both from creeping steadily up the bed with the force of Dean pushing into him. “I’m so sorry.”

Dean growls, “Shut up, Sam,” and presses his mouth against Sam’s in an off-target attempt at a kiss that does little more than click their teeth together. Sam tips his head to correct the angle, loses it again a moment later when Dean does something with his hips and he’s suddenly hitting just the right spot.

Sam feels his fingers digging into the flexing muscle of Dean’s back, a charge building up in him like the heavy crackle of tension before a lightning crash. He can’t hear much over his own breathing and the raucous pleasure sounds he’d normally be ashamed of, but Dean’s mouth is close enough to his ear to make out the hushed chant of, “Sammy, Sammy.”

Hiking his legs up around Dean’s hips, Sam does his best to swivel and lift, move with the non-existent rhythm of Dean spearing into him. From the way Dean shudders and bucks into him harder, Sam must be getting something right.

Sooner than he would have imagined, Sam feels his shoulders begin slipping off the edge of the bed. It’s difficult to balance in this position, the only available handholds being the bunched bed clothes and Dean. Dean’s having trouble of his own, grunting in frustration as his hand slips, and then he’s gathering Sam in close, hands bruise-tight on his hips to hold them together as Dean rolls.

The rush of air against Sam’s damp back is a relief, but the throb of heat under his skin is still strong enough to make it a purely temporary relief. The shift does wonders for his view, though. Dean’s laid out beneath him, pink with exertion, eyes all but black. His hair is a mess and his mouth is open on heaving breaths as he pulls at Sam’s thighs, encouraging him into an uncoordinated roll of his hips. It does more to churn Dean inside of him than get any real friction but Sam’s lungs clench at the searing rush of pleasure. He may have been too hasty before, when he thought he didn’t enjoy receiving.

Dean makes an unintelligible sound, hands smoothing up Sam’s chest with an attention that can only be called appreciative. He thumbs roughly over Sam’s nipples, presses up hard as Sam grinds down and knocks a moan free from Sam.

“Yeah, that’s it.” Dean’s voice is rough, choked when Sam clenches up, the feel the hot weight pressing deep into him.

The pressure is winding tight inside of Sam, his own and Winth’s as she an Impalath soar ever closer to the ground. That alone will be enough, he knows, even if every moment up until that pained Dean, he still wouldn’t be able to resist it when the dragon’s complete their coupling. But Sam wants to push him over first. If he’s going to have to live with Dean’s revulsion over sleeping with him, Dean’s going to have to deal with the memory that Sam made it good for him.

Feeling the stretch in his thighs, Sam leans back to plant his hands on the bed, buying himself enough room to shift up and down on Dean’s cock and making his body grip around it tighter. Dean’s head rolls back, eyes slammed tight, lips caught between his teeth as if he’s trying to hold in the high keening noise trembling out of his throat. His hands paw at Sam’s legs, fumble and finally catch hold; one at Sam’s hip and the other wrapped firm around his dick.

All of the breath rushes out of Sam on a grunt. Dean’s- he doesn’t- Sam never expected- “Shards, Dean!”

Brittle, splintering bliss unspools from Sam’s core, melting out through him and pulsing away in milky spatters across Dean’s chest and stomach. Dean keeps stroking him through it, his other hand straining upward to cup around the back of Sam’s neck and urge him down until his face is pressed into Dean’s shoulder.

In this position, Dean can thrust up into him, and Sam cants his hips to try and help although his primary accomplishment in the matter is not shiver so hard with the aftershocks that Dean slips free. Regardless, it takes very little time before Dean’s blunt nails are scratching at Sam’s back and his pelvis is pressed tight against Sam’s ass as his stomach contracts and Sam feels the muted pulse of Dean’s come spreading inside of him.

Dean collapses back into the bed, gasping. Sam has to wriggle a bit to get his legs sorted out where they’re trapped underneath him, but then he’s pillowing his head on Dean’s chest and letting the wash of exhaustion overtake him. There’s an itch of worry niggling in his chest about what they just did and what will come after, but Dean’s fingers slip into his hair, idly combing through it and lifting away the curls that have pasted themselves to his face and neck. Through that comforting haze, Sam can’t seem to hold onto any real concern, and very quickly he slips away into sleep.

***



Sam wakes slowly, unconsciousness slipping away like sand through his fingers. Breath slides into his lungs and back out again in a steady rhythm, holding him captive at the very edge of awareness. He’s not precisely tired, but he feels as though he could laze like this for a week, bonelessly comfortable. His skin feels slightly sticky against the bed skins, but it’s not altogether unpleasant, warm but not the sweltering heat from before.

Before.

Sam’s eyes flash open, mind jolting into reality with jarring force at the sight of Dean lying next to him. His chest is bare, low light of the glows smoothing away scars so that all that remains is skin the color of light spring honey all the way down to where the bedskins are drawn haphazardly over his lower body. None of it is new, or revelatory; Sam’s seen every bit of Dean at one point or another in every phase of his life. His cock’s never fattened up for it before.

And he’s never been so distracted by it before that he’d have failed to notice the glitter of Dean’s eyes staring back at him.

"You were mine first.” Dean’s voice is a rasp, too heavy to entirely be accounted for by sleep.

Cautious as Dean never is, he rolls over onto his side so that they’re face to face, pillowing his head in the crook of his arm. It’s stomach-twistingly familiar, hundreds of nights when they were younger passing before Sam’s eyes. So many hours of his life whiled away just like this, and nothing like it at all. “Before I had Impalath, before the Healers or Winth or anyone else. You were mine, and I didn't want- I can't just give you away to someone else. Not without a fight.”

There’s a set to his jaw that’s waiting for a fight, but Sam can’t think of a word to say.

“Impalath will fly Winth every time she rises if I have anything to do with it,” Dean’s breath is speeding, huffing just enough to stir the air between them, “so if you're going to pitch a fit, do it now."

The bedskins are bunched in one of Dean’s fists, the rest of his body studiously held in check, steeled, as if he expects Sam to physically attack him. After their most recent encounter that’s not completely unprecedented, he supposes, but that’s really the sort of thing he shouldn’t be thinking about at the moment.

Silence drags on into something unsettling in the quiet weyr. It’s one of the lower level rooms, set up just for this purpose with nothing but a bed to provide the vestige of civility. Sam wonders if anyone’s ever been forced to face down this particular situation in here before.

"You're my brother," he says after far too long. It doesn’t actually say anything, but it’s as close to sorted as he can seem to get his thoughts.

Dean grunts, "I’m aware," just shy of hostile. Sam can’t tell if he wants them to fight about this or if he’s just so certain that they will there’s no room for him to imagine anything else.

Over the last Turn, Sam has grown so accustomed to having Winth’s awareness resting subtly in the back of his mind that it’s a shock to find himself startled by it when she adds, We’re both hatched from Joth. No one would think to keep us apart.

Impalath rumbles and indistinct threat at the idea of anyone trying, the pure possessive affection suffusing through Sam from both dragons enough to leave his chest tight. It’s only then that he realizes what they’re up to at the moment, and renewed heat flushes his skin. The flight is long over now, the two of them sequestered somewhere - Sam’s weyr at best guess from their impressions – taking their time with one another. They had to have been blocking off the feeling from him, there’s no other excuse for how he could have not noticed, not felt the satisfaction-tempered desire.

The feeling’s no easier to ignore now than it was before, but in a distinctly different way. Before the flight he’d been ravaged by it, afflicted with it, boiling and burning and charred alive. This he’s bathed in, all contentment and round-edged lust that makes his muscles want to so lax and his skin revel in the smooth slide of the bedskins again him. It’s worse, in a way, because at least before he had the energy to fight it. Now, trying to pack the feeling away and sit up is like pulling out his own teeth.

“No,” He says more firmly than he feels. “I won’t force this on you. Not again.”

Dean rolls over onto his back again, one eyebrow cocked up to look at Sam skeptically. In the process, the bed clothes drag down, exposing one hip and a long swath of thigh that Sam is absolutely certain has never been so hard to look away from.

“You can barely stand that I’m attracted to men! I’m not going to make you bed me for the next however many Turns just because dragon-lust makes it bearable for you. That’s not- That’s the worst thing I can imag-“

“Why would I care that you’re attracted to men?” Dean interrupts, propping himself up on his elbows. Naturally, that jostles the bedskins more yet so the dark thatch of hair around Dean’s cock is visible. Sam desperately needs his brother to stop moving.

“I’ve been asking myself that question for half my life, but you obviously do. You’ve all but threatened to knife every man I’ve shown interest in.”

“That’s because you have terrible taste. You think Caleb or Gabriel is good enough for you? I had to protect you from yourself.”

Now Dean’s gone and sat all the way up, back resting against the wall at the head of the bed with his arms crossed over his chest. The bed clothes are somewhere around his knees and that lazy heat inSam’s stomach has twisted into something eager and breath-stealing. It’s muddling his mind, or maybe Dean is, because he just said… Could Sam have actually been that wrong about Dean’s motivations for this long?

Rather than try to work out any of that, still not sure what he’s meant to be thinking or feeling, Sam asks a shaky, "Does it always feel like this, after?"

This time at least Sam has the luxury of being aware of himself, distinct and separate from Winth, but the hot, slick want is still enough to have him fighting the urge to rut lazily against the bed. Or Dean. Preferably Dean, really, and that thought has not yet ceased to be supremely odd. Although, evidently, it might not be entirely unwelcome.

"What do you feel like?" Dean’s fingers rest lightly at Sam’s hip, almost hesitant until Sam shivers and then the touch firms, teasing over his ribs.

“Like I’m fifteen all over again and getting hard every hour on the hour,” he laughs self-consciously, muscles in his stomach twitching as Dean’s fingers ghost across them.

Warm air gusts against his shoulder and then slowly goes wet as Dean cautiously presses his mouth to skin. “I could help you with that, if you wanted.”

A quite sound leaks out of Sam as Dean’s fingers card through the wiry hair around his cock, fingertips brushing along the base.

“Do you want to?” he counters. His own hand is tracing a path up Dean’s arm, feeling out the swell of a biceps as it flexes when Dean takes hold of Sam and starts to slowly stroke him.

Dean never gets around to answering, but Sam thinks as he’s pressed back against the bed with Dean over him and around and inside, that he’s got all the answer he needs.

***



Sam ascends the steps to his weyr slowly, exhausted but fulfilled. Dean follows close enough behind him to dispel any doubt about what happened between the two of them this morning, hand spread possessively over the small of Sam’s back. He keeps anticipating that a moment will come when he or Dean snaps out of the mating flight haze and starts to be bothered by the open advertisement of their coupling, or of the coupling itself. Instead all he feels is smug. Smug and desperate for a bed to collapse into for a nap. Dean is precisely as energetic a lover as everyone’s always said, and the dragons aren’t doing anything to discourage that.

Winth and Impalath are curled together in the wallow of her couch when they enter, a spiral of alternating gold and ebony. A huge, sleepy eye opens where Winth has her head crooked against Impalath’s neck at his approach, falls half lidded again when Sam gives her eye-ridge an affectionate scratch. The warm wash of her pleasure laps at the edges of his own, no longer the overwhelming surge, but no less present. Impalath bumps his nose against Sam’s shoulder to get his own dose of attention and Sam’s fingers find themselves tangled with his brother’s on smooth black scales.

The discreet sound of a throat clearing drags Sam’s attention back to the entrance of the weyr, a silly, helpless wriggle of embarrassment in his chest when he finds Castiel standing there.

“My apologies for the interruption,” Castiel has never been especially emotive, but Sam would swear there’s a smirk hiding somewhere in the line of his mouth, “The Wingleaders would like to discuss a strategy for Bitra.”

Sam only just manages to contain a groan at the thought of spending the next couple of hours in a meeting hall working out flight plans. Just the memory of those hard wooden benches is enough to make him wince at his current state.

He knows Dean has to be at least as exhausted and tender as he is, and the small flinch Dean gives before letting out a sigh is confirmation enough that he’s right. Still, this is the job, it’s just their bad luck that Winth decided to rise the day before Threadfall.

“Right. We’ll, uh,” Dean pauses to scrub a hand over his face, “We’ll get cleaned up and head down. Give it an hour, ok? And have the kitchen send up some klah.”

“I’ll take care of it,” Castiel agrees with a small nod as he eases back out of the weyr again, that maybe-smirk still lingering in his expression. “Weyrleader. Weyrwom- er. Sam.”

It’s most definitely a smirk on Dean’s face when Sam looks at him out of the corner of his eye.

“Not a word,” Sam glares, shouldering past his brother into the bedchamber. Dean trails after him, hand finding its way to hook in Sam’s belt at the back.

“Whatever you say, Weyrwoman.” His laugh tussles the hair at the back of Sam’s neck and then he’s mouthing softly at the skin there. Sam’s entirely too well-used for the twitch of his cock to be anything but pleasure-pain.

“We don’t have time for that,” Sam points out, all in vain considering how he’s letting Dean maneuver him toward the bathing room.

Dean toys around the waistband of Sam’s breeches, deftly undoing the catch so he can slide two fingers along the ridge of muscle at Sam’s hip. “I’ll wash your hair.”

This time the groan does leak free of Sam at Dean’s wheedling tone, a much hungrier sound than the Wingleader meeting inspired but no less wretched.

“Cheater,” he accuses, brushing aside the curtain to the bathing room, already shucking the trousers down his legs.

Turning in the circle of Dean’s arms, Sam starts working his brother’s clothes off, trying to work out how late they can reasonably get away with being. As late as they want, he supposes; they’re the Weyrleaders, it’s hardly as if the meeting will start without them.

Dean’s laugh is a low, throaty thing pressed hot against Sam’s ear. “Only when I can get away with it.”

Slipping into the soothing heat of the water, dragging Dean after him, Sam can’t help but answer his brother’s grin. Great Faranth help him, at this point he thinks he’d let Dean get away with just about anything.

The End

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