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The Glamorous Life

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Thirty hours.

That was how long they'd had Dean. Sam knew, in a distant corner of his mind that wasn't taken up with other things, that he shouldn't be counting, that it was fucking with his judgment. But the count went on nonetheless.

It began with a hunt as random as any of the other post-non-apocalyptic missions.

Men and women in small towns clustered around a sixty-mile radius of Des Moines had been complaining of draining dreams—some would admit to "disturbing," which meant erotic—and then turning up dead.

Dean loved the idea of hunting an actual succubus so much that Sam had needed to restrain himself from smacking Dean for the constant tasteless jokes.

At the bar outside the fourth town, Sam had been focused on the off-duty sheriff's deputy, gently extracting the details. When he'd turned back to their table, Dean had been gone.

After all they'd been through in the past few years, there was zero chance that Dean had just run off to get laid by some corn-fed apple-cheeked girl. But succubus-knapped—yeah, if you got your sustenance from sexual energy, Dean had to look like a Super-Sized Happy Meal.

So now Sam was searching frantically for some extra bit of information, some way to make sure what kind of succubus he was looking for, out of all the varieties. He'd started with the standard types, but couldn't pin anything down. There was Poco Bawa or a lidérc. Might even be a boto; the Chariton River was freshwater, and who'd think to look for a Brazilian import in middle America? But both men and women were afflicted, and the boto was supposed to go after women only.

The most likely thing was a European sex demon. Before Dean's disappearance, he hadn't worried much about it. They'd been planning on a basic exorcism—the classics all responded well to a good exorcism—but now he read in Sinistrari that incubi had no dread of exorcism and no reverence for holy things.

He planned to investigate their attitude towards shotguns.

Once he found it, that was, which was his other problem. They'd already plotted the deaths on a map and found no pattern, mystical or otherwise.

Bobby had told him how to gin up a protective amulet, but hadn't been able to help on the location. And yeah, when he got Dean back there'd be time to kick himself about not getting the protective amulets before starting the hunt; right now, guilt was worse than useless.

Sam checked his computer to make sure that sundown was over. If he fucked this up because of some cloud between him and the sun, he'd have to wait another day, and that wasn't going to happen.

Reassurance complete, Sam stared down at his bowl of water and salt, surrounded by the intricate charcoal drawings. Dean had made him promise not to do witchcraft any more, like if he didn't put Ruby's teachings to use then what Ruby had done to them could be forgotten. But what Dean didn't know would fill a hunter's journal, and anyway this was only witchcraft, not exercise of demon powers. Any evil Sam was doing was purely human.

Carefully, he added the hairs he'd taken from the collar of Dean's jacket. They were light enough that they didn't break the surface tension of the water, floating in a pattern that looked like a rune that Sam almost remembered studying once, long ago.

He raised his knife and carefully cut across the back of his forearm, the least inconvenient place for the results he needed. The blood dropped down, coating the hairs, swirling into the water until the entire bowl turned as black as a demon's eyes.

After a minute, little flashes of light started to appear in the water, yellow and dim like fireflies at dusk. One at a time, then several, and then the black water snapped to white like someone had reversed all the colors in the world.

"Dean," Sam said, and the bowl filled with his brother's face. His eyes were only half-open, but Sam could see by the slight movement of Dean's lower lip that he lived.

"Show me who has him," he continued, and got a view of a dining room table, eight people around it. The first one he looked at redefined beauty; the next wiped the first from his head, and on and on. He almost reached out to touch the surface of the water, just to be closer to them, before he remembered himself and pulled back, sickened and even angrier. Multiple incubi and succubi: no wonder no pattern had been apparent.

"Where?" Like a slideshow, he saw a door with a number on it, then a driveway, then a street, but he had all he needed, and he swept his hand across the black sigils on the floor, smearing them into nothing more potent than coffee grounds.

This was a much better way to work than having to talk to anyone else.


Because his remaining psychic powers were a fuckload less reliable than his balkiest shotgun, Sam didn't bother squinting and pointing. He fired the consecrated round straight into the forehead of the incubus who answered the door, then shot another in the shoulder as the first one fell. They were still beautiful even with the protective power of the amulet.

He fired his left-hand gun at the motion he sensed off to his side, then finished off the shoulder-hit one, a vision of soft hair and blood. Turning, he fired twice more, heart and gut, and that was three down. The fourth came at him with a fireplace poker, of all things, but then they couldn't be used to defending themselves with anything other than their own glamors. Sam put the poker-wielding succubus down with a head-tap, checked quickly for anything moving on the first floor, and bolted for the stairs. They might be keeping Dean in the basement, but he was betting on these monsters going more for bedrooms.

Unfortunately, the gunshots had fucked up his hearing, and so he couldn't rely on the absence of detectable sound upstairs.

Sure enough, there was a succubus in the first room off the hallway at the top of the stairs, scrabbling at the window as she attempted to force it open enough to escape. He shot her between her shoulders (perfect curves of bone, hair shining like molten silver) and didn't wait to watch her fall.

Motion at the end of the hall—two of them, incubi, hands raised and cowering, mouthing some words like 'please' and 'don't hurt us.' Sam'd seen that before when evil creatures knew they were trapped. Mercy was for humans. And Sam wasn't exactly human, so he fired three times more and they were still.

He kicked in three doors before he found Dean. Dean was tied naked to a bed with a quilted pink comforter, surrounded by ruffles and fake flowers—how he'd hate that, Sam thought. He'd probably pretend that was the worst part of the whole experience, and Sam would let him get away with it because really, what else was Sam supposed to do?

Sam stuffed his right-hand gun in the back of his jeans and approached the bed.

A screeching, clawing weight landed on his back, ripping at his neck. The thing hissed and he smelled burning flesh, but the thong holding the amulet parted as he spun around. He heard it thunk against the floor.

She was the most stunning creature he'd ever seen; she smelled like cherries and sunshine, and her eyes were foxfire-green. She was cradling her injured hand in her other arm, looking at him beseechingly.

"Sweetheart," she said. "I'll take care of you just like your brother."


Sam blinked. His thoughts ran as slow as blackstrap molasses. Dean was on the bed behind him. Sam could be on that bed too, with the succubus. He frowned; he was pretty sure there was something wrong with that scenario, but then again Dean hadn't looked like he was in the mood to make fun of Sam, and the succubus could take them both on at once, no doubt. They'd never tried that, for reasons Sam couldn't quite remember at the moment.

A threesome sounded pretty good, actually. Sam backed up until his knees hit the bed. The succubus watched him, her eyes so big Sam could have fallen into them, deep as the ocean and twice as cold.

"Come here," he suggested, making his voice as inviting as possible. He was out of practice with seduction.

"Why don't you put that down?" she cooed, sugar syrup.

He looked at the gun in his hand. True, guns didn't give him a hard-on, not like they did for Dean. "Sure," he said, and put it on the end table. The twisting required to do so brought him closer to Dean, who was stretched out, his wrists secured to the headboard. Sam raised an eyebrow, because Dean always warned against letting any girl do that, but apparently he didn't practice what he preached.

He could smell Dean, a day and a half of nonstop rutting, like a concentrated elixir of Dean's usual post-sex smell, which Sam knew from a thousand late nights and early mornings, Dean stumbling in bowlegged and self-satisfied, tomcat-proud. Dean with his inimitable way of convincing girls that they should look past the terrible manners and the worse pick-up lines for the promise of a sexual rollercoaster. Dean, whose lips were open just a little, slack and ready to take whatever someone was prepared to give him.

"I'm gonna take such good care of you, baby," the succubus said, sliding onto his lap.

Sam turned back to her as her nails scratched down his arms, stinging into welts.

"Yeah, I don't think so," he said, grabbed the gun from behind his back and fired it through her chest. She blew off of him like she was made of paper.

On second thought, a threesome sounded more distracting than sexy. He turned back to examine Dean more closely.

Dean's eyes were closed. Not even the sounds of the fighting had roused him, which meant he was deep under. Sam didn't see any blood flowing, though bruises mottled his arms and upper thighs.

His wrists were ringed with welts, half-scabbed over, where he'd struggled against his bonds. Trust Dean to fight, even with a roomful of sex magic projected at him. Sam almost smiled—Dean had probably mouthed off, too, something about how hot he was even without magic and how jealous that must make them.

He wasn't wrong.

Sam knelt on the edge of the bed, examining the knots binding Dean's hands to the headboard—somebody's pantyhose, which was actually pretty hard to get out of without a knife or scissors. Dean's skin was a little cool, but not much different than normal. In the dimness, it was hard to gauge his color, but again there were no obvious problems.

The skin on the inside of Dean's arm, that smooth stretch between the wrist and the crook of his elbow, was displayed by the position. Sam was fascinated by it, enough to run his fingers down from the nylon circling Dean's left wrist, over the faint traces of veins and the occasional freckle, past the bend of the elbow and over the bicep to where the first scars broke the line of Dean's skin.

Dean twitched, a little, trying to move away from the ticklish touch, but his eyes didn't open.

"Dean?" Sam asked, but there was no answer.

Sam remembered himself and, hastily retrieving the knife from his ankle sheath, cut Dean's hands free. His arms flopped loosely down, and Sam hurried to arrange them more comfortably, a move that brought his hands to Dean's chest. He paused to feel the rise and fall of it, but frowned when he saw the faint marks of bites, and the streaks of what could only be dried semen, marring Dean's skin there.

He needed to take care of Dean. Quickly, he stripped off his shirts, nearly tearing the undershirt in his haste to have them all off.

He had to put the knife down to get his jeans past his thighs, but he'd hear anyone coming, so it was okay to leave it by the side of the bed.

Dean twitched again when Sam knelt between his legs and moved them up and back, opening Dean to him. He didn't make a sound until Sam pushed in—he was still so slick from the incubi who'd been before Sam, and Sam's jaw clenched in reflexive anger even as he was grateful there was no need for further preparation. When Sam finally, finally got home, his balls up against Dean's ass, Dean grunted and moved his hands up to press feebly against Sam's chest, his eyelids fluttering wildly.

"Shh, it's me, it's just me, it's Sam," Sam said, then repeated it until Dean's lips formed his name and Dean relaxed, letting Sam cover him, letting Sam write over every thing the monsters had done to him. He felt amazing, even better than he looked, sweet and slick, every inch of skin Sam managed to touch winding him up further. Dean pulsed his hips up and down, all he could do in his position, and it was perfect, just the right amount of friction. Dean's cock swelled, pressed between their bellies, and Sam had to pull back and watch it, so gorgeous as it curved back towards Dean, the swollen veins darker than the rest of his flesh. Sam wished he could bend himself enough to suck it while seated inside Dean, but he had to settle for using his hand, sweat providing the only lubrication, watching the gleaming pink cockhead appear and disappear back into his fist as he jacked.

Dean groaned and his cock pulsed, only a dribble. Sam wanted to give him so much more, but it was Dean, under all the foreign and unwanted marks of his captivity, and he was quickly overwhelmed, gasping out his own orgasm into Dean's scarred shoulder.

Sam had a list of other things he wanted to do, but not in this bloody room. He'd get Dean back to their own room, wash him off, get it all gone.

Sam redressed in a hurry. As an afterthought, before he picked Dean up from the bed, he picked Bobby's amulet up from where the succubus had flung it.

And vomited all over her corpse when he realized what he'd just done.


Sam kept it together getting them out of the house, just a guy helping another half-conscious guy get into a car, nothing to worry about if you were watching the neighbors. Dean whimpered most of the way there, Sam whispering nonsense that didn't seem to comfort him at all. When they got to the car, Dean slumped down in the back seat bonelessly, one untied boot dragging down into the footwell, the laces damp and dirty from when they'd gone through a shallow puddle from the lawn sprinklers.

He couldn't make himself look at Dean's face.

Each stop light was a struggle not to break down, his knuckles corpse-white on the wheel, his fingers aching, as if even the car knew what he'd done to Dean and didn't want his hands anywhere near it.

There was blood in his mouth. It was a relief, replacing the leather-and-citrus taste—no, he wasn't going to think about it. Even with the amulet, he could still feel how right it had seemed, how obvious. God, he wanted to stop the car and do it all over again, desire sweet as lead running through his veins.


He ached in places that definitely did not need to ache, Dean realized as the pressure in his bladder forced him towards consciousness.

He opened his eyes and saw a wet patch on the pillow where he'd drooled. He wasn't tied up any more, which was an improvement, and he was in a generic motel room, which was another and more significant improvement because it meant that Sam had come for him. He pushed his head and shoulders off of the bed and looked around, but Sam wasn't anywhere he could see, which was less pleasant.

Still, the room wasn't covered in blood or any other sign that Sam was in trouble, and it was probably for the best that Sam wasn't around to see Dean wince and flop around like an eighty-year-old, hobbling from the bed to the bathroom.

He felt weird, more than just fucked-out, electricity crackling under his skin. Antsy, but not in any shape to run or even walk more than ten steps or so. It truly sucked that tripling the amount of sex he'd had in the past six months left him feeling like a sick old man, plus after the first couple of hours it all blurred together, so it wasn't even like he had six months' worth of new, fun memories. Even awesome orgasms could get hard to pay attention to after a while, who would have thought.

He was still filthy, so he started the shower as he pissed, and by the time he maneuvered himself over the side of the tub the water was hot enough to sting his skin.

There were a couple of weird burns on his arms, like someone on fire had grabbed him, but other than that and the scabs around his wrists there was nothing obviously wrong with him.

The whole thing had gone on about a day too long to qualify as fun, but that which does not kill us blah blah blah.

He wasn't looking forward to the post-game with Sam, who always looked so tired now. They'd done everything Azazel and Dad and Heaven had ever planned for them, and even managed to get it in the right order so the world didn't end, but they were still zigzagging across the country, traveling salesmen of the bizarre, and Sam no longer suggested that he wanted more.

Dean couldn't tell him to quit hunting, mostly because he was afraid of why Sam might say no. He wanted to think that his brother still knew how to dream, and as long as they didn't talk about it, he could pretend that it was true.

There was a distant pounding. Maid at the door, most likely. He fumbled until the water shut off, grabbed for a towel—no need to show off the goods and drive the poor girl crazy with what she wasn't gonna get—and limped out to tell her to skip this room for today.


Sam cursed when he saw the housekeeping cart outside their door. He didn't remember putting the keep-out sign on the doorknob, more fool he. He didn't think that he'd left anything too obviously illegal in plain sight, but Dean didn't need to deal with explaining his bruises to some stranger.

Except that when Sam pushed the door open, the housekeeper was bouncing on top of Dean, her skirt hiked up to her waist, her head thrown back like she was doing cheap porn, face anonymous in ecstasy. Dean's hands rested loosely on her upper thighs; he was staring up at her like he'd been concussed. Sam felt the first hot spike of jealousy subside as fear replaced it.

"Dean!" he yelled. Dean turned his head slowly and blinked. The housekeeper didn't even twitch in Sam's direction.

Incubus venom, Sam realized, and cursed the shame that had kept him from shoving Dean under the shower. Dean must still be contaminated with it. Sam hadn't bothered to take off the goddamned amulet, so he hadn't fallen victim after the first time. He'd assumed that he'd just been reacting to the succubus's spell, but they'd certainly had Dean long enough to cover him with whatever it was that they used to seduce.

From what he'd read, and what he remembered feeling himself, a victim would injure him or herself trying to get back to the incubus if the sex was interrupted, and as awful as this was Sam thought that grabbing her would make it worse. Sam turned away, cringing, until he heard the poor girl cry out and slump down on top of Dean.

Almost immediately, she started making confused noises. And then as she staggered to her feet she saw Sam and really started freaking out. Sam ended up backed up against the wall, using his terrible Spanish to say reassuring things that she probably didn't even hear, much less understand, as she tugged at her clothes and fled.

It was worse than he'd thought, because what if she called the cops? Dean didn't force her, not conventionally, but she didn't consent either. Oh shit, he'd left Dean, pretending that they needed supplies but really running from the knowledge of what he'd done, and so the girl was his fault too.

He couldn't spare guilt for her, could only add her to the tally of people he'd harmed by his carelessness. He had to focus on what she might do next. Probably she wouldn't report them, but probably wasn't good enough. Not these days.

"Sammy?" Dean asked, with an urgency that suggested he'd said it a couple of times already.

"We've got to get out of here," Sam told him.

Dean ground the heel of his hand against his temple. "Feel weird," he said, sounding about ten years old. "That girl, she came in 'fore I could tell her not to. I don't—what's going on?"

"It's going to be okay," Sam said, making his voice as gentle as if he were talking to a witness. Looking around, Sam saw towels puddled in the bathroom, and one discarded between the bathroom and the bed. Dean had tried to clean himself off before the housekeeper had shown up, which meant that the incubus venom wasn't fully physical, or at least not soluble in ordinary water. With their luck, Dean was going to need some sort of full-on ritual cleansing. "Can you get yourself dressed?"

Dean blinked a couple of times. "Yeah." His failure to object to Sam's tone was as worrisome as the rest of it. He stumbled several times trying to get his jeans on, but Sam wasn't going to touch him, so Sam kept himself busy packing the rest of their stuff and taking it out to the car.

When he returned to collect Dean, Dean hadn't bothered to button his overshirt, and his boots were still unlaced. Sam swallowed. "Do you—do you need help with those?"

Dean stared down at his feet like they were part of a random show he was watching on TV. "Yeah, I guess."

Sam knelt, looking only at Dean's shins and the leather of the boots. If he didn't look up, then maybe he could convince his body that it didn't want more from Dean than to help him get dressed.

Dean made a small, pained sound when Sam's fingers got within a few inches. Sam nearly fell over scrambling backwards, but Dean didn't seem to be making any conscious connections between Sam and his assailants; he looked confused, not angry, and when Sam tried again, he just bit his lip and let Sam work.

"How'd you get me out, anyway?" Dean asked, as if his brain was slowly coming back online.

Sam's heart nearly stopped. "You don't—don't you remember?" he asked. He tied a shaky knot, then moved to the other boot, half expecting Dean to kick his face in.

Dean grunted negation. "Remember bein' tied down to that bed. They said a bunch of shit about—about hunters at first." Sam froze, wondering how much of what Dean was concealing had been about him. Dean shifted on his feet and continued, "Then there was a lot of fucking. After a while I wouldn't've noticed you blowin' their heads off while they were doin' me."

Sam's mouth worked a couple of times while he fumbled with the second knot. "That's—pretty much what happened," he said. He was a horrorshow of a human being, he knew that already, but it would have taken a saint to turn down a reprieve like that.

"Figured," Dean said, and shuffled away, towards the door. "We going or what?"


Dean was still addled enough that he didn't fight when Sam ordered him into the passenger seat, even though he'd been in exclusive possession of the driver's side since Lucifer had risen. That had been his most overt reproach to Sam, and one he'd known had bitten deep.

But he was in no condition to drive, even his damn feet and shins suddenly feeling like they were on fire like some sort of allergic reaction to Sam's touch, so petty revenge had to give way to rationality. At least that was Sam's loudly expressed opinion, and Dean hadn't worked up the outrage to protest.

His insides felt like they were all an inch out of place, everything just wrong enough to notice. He slumped against the passenger-side door, and if Sam thought he was cringing away from human contact, that was just Sam's delusion (though knowing Sam's guilt complex, Sam would've stopped to argue about the 'human' bit). The way he felt, crumpled and sodden-through, was enough to make him think that defeating Lucifer ought to have been the capstone of a hunting career and retirement would be justified. In other words, he was too old for this shit—at least, he was pretty sure that when he'd been twenty-two, being trapped for days with a nest of incubi and succubi would have been more enjoyable.

After a couple of hours on the road, his head cleared some. He still had only the fuzziest images of the past few days, which was probably for the best. His stomach wasn't quite settled, but he started to feel more like Dean Winchester, badass hunter, and less like he ought to have little cartoon stars and planets floating around his head.

Sam insisted on driving them to South Dakota. That was brave, in Dean's opinion, since they'd bankrupted themselves with Bobby with the craziness surrounding the aborted apocalypse. Sam pointed out that they didn't know why Dean was still causing a reaction like he'd been dipped in incubus venom—something further confirmed at the first gas station they stopped at, where Dean nearly got pulled out of the car by a yuppie couple and they had to drive out fast. The food Sam had been buying was left abandoned on the counter of the attached mini-mart.

At that point, Dean had to concede that they might find Bobby's help useful. He was more worried that Bobby would find it simpler to shoot them (Dean to fix the problem, Sam to prevent him from destroying the world once Dean was out of it) than anything else.

The second time they needed to gas up, Sam gave Dean the anti-incubus amulet, hoping that would control it some. But instead, within seconds, Dean's skin was red in a five-inch circle around his chest. Dean jerked the thong off and flung it back at Sam. The burn blistered quickly, and Sam wouldn't go near Dean to treat it, so Dean ended up tilting his head back awkwardly and using the rear-view mirror to figure out how to bandage himself.

Well, that explained why Sam's touch had felt painful instead of reassuring, like it should've.

So instead of coming along with Sam to watch his back, Dean crouched his aching body in the long grass by the highway, far enough back that nobody saw him, hot and itchy and generally pissed at the world, while Sam went in and filled up the tank. Sam brought back his favorite Hostess snacks, but Dean did not feel in any way compensated.


Bobby was wearing an amulet when they arrived. Dean fled to the garage anyway, mumbling something about detailing. Sam was just happy to see Dean recovered enough to remember that he loved that car more than was normal.

His fond smile didn't last long. "What the fuck did they do to him?" Sam asked Bobby, once he'd laid out (almost) everything and Bobby had shown him the basic texts, none of which mentioned anything about contamination. He realized there was a whine in his voice, a pitiful request for Bobby to be the all-knowing father figure Sam would never ordinarily want.

Bobby's glare suggested that Bobby was not comfortable with that plan either. "I got nothing for you, other than maybe to look for whatever cursed you with luck this bad."

Sam breathed out through his nose and tried to think past the panic. "Maybe—" He turned to tug a book out from the middle of one of the stacks on the desk. He flipped to the relevant section of the Malleus Maleficarum. "Incubi and succubi can't reproduce. A succubus could take sperm from a male victim, and an incubus could implant that sperm into a female victim. But that didn't make more succubi or incubi, just made the kids deformed or produced a cambion—a kind of demonic mule. So how do incubi make more incubi? What if that's what they were trying to do?"

"Vampires make more vampires by sharing blood," Bobby said, tipping his head back in thought. "But swapping body fluids couldn't be how these guys do it."

"Not alone," Sam said. "I didn't get a good look at the room, but—who knows what kind of ritual they might have been attempting."

Bobby sighed and tugged at his cap. "Shit, boy, I don't know anyone with enough experience with sex demons to answer this one. All's I can think to do is wait a week, see if it wears off."

"And if it doesn't? What if he needs to feed, Bobby?" Sam said it and immediately doubted his reasons. He remembered the tug of desire drawing him in, flaring even higher once he'd had his hands on Dean. He should know better than to trust anything that felt as good as what Dean had given him. The lust he still felt was a mirage, a trap. And still he wanted to walk right out to the garage and grab Dean for himself.

Bobby's jaw firmed. "Incubus kills its victims, you know that."

Sam shook his head. He couldn't tell Bobby that he'd suffered no ill effects from—from what had happened with Dean, but there was other relevant evidence, even if he wasn't sure how the girl at the motel had felt afterwards. "He's eating. He's sleeping, he's doing everything a human does. He wouldn't need to take a life's worth of energy—"

"Do you even hear yourself?" Bobby demanded. "How many times do you morons need to act like the rules don't apply to you? Wasn't Lucifer enough for you?"

There was a lot Sam could have said to that, starting with the extent to which Bobby himself followed the so-called rules, and continuing on to the number of times Bobby got to bring up Lucifer before Sam tuned him out. "What about a psychic?" he asked instead.

"Might've used up your lifetime supply," Bobby grumped.

"I'm still waiting for a better suggestion from you than 'hope it goes away.' When was the last time a problem like this went away?"

Bobby looked down, which was answer enough.


It took more than a week before Bobby found a psychic who'd even think about helping a Winchester. Dean spent the time fixing cars and hauling ass down to the panic room every time a customer came down Bobby's driveway, to make sure Dean didn't get close enough to trigger the incubus mojo, which Sam was calling a glamor. Dean was just calling it a pain in the ass.

He was trying very hard to conceal his increasing weakness.

Sam was used to turning his head away to avoid Dean's table manners, so he didn't notice that Dean could barely choke down a couple of bites at a time. Bobby was more observant, but he hadn't said anything to Dean yet. The way Dean figured it, Bobby knew that any conversation about what Dean might need instead of food was going to go south pretty fast, and so Bobby was working his way up to the cold hard facts.

Because it was true: Dean felt the burning in his blood, telling him he needed to go out and fuck. He didn't think he was an incubus, not really. He hadn't gotten any of the cool powers like the ability to visit dreams or dematerialize, shit like that. But he had the need. It wasn't hunger, not like he knew hunger. More like his skin was opening up, dissolving the boundaries between himself and the world, all that he was oozing out slowly until there'd be nothing left but a dried-up mannequin.

The amulets worked fine. He didn't feel any pull towards Bobby or Sam.

But he was starting to wait for the noise of an engine as it roared down the lane to Singer Salvage. Bobby'd put the "closed" sign up after three days, but Dean still hoped, except when he remembered that he needed to hope for just the opposite.

So the psychic's willingness to help out was a relief, if a double-edged one. Dean really should have gotten used to the pervasiveness of dread in his life, and somehow he never had.

This time, the psychic was a short guy, dark-skinned, with a California accent Dean caught from a room away when he was telling Bobby and Sam about his trip halfway across the country and updating Bobby with gossip about people Dean didn't know. Dean finally remembered that he wasn't afraid of psychics and went into the kitchen to join them.

"I'm Dev," he said, smiling at Dean, and Dean stared at him for a second, because he barely looked old enough to drive, much less to diagnose Dean's problem, but then figured he owed the guy at least a smile and a wave.

"Thanks for coming," Sam said, shaking Dev's hand with too much enthusiasm. "We really—"

"Yeah," Dev said, with a trace of the acid Dean remembered from Missouri and Pamela. Might be that being a psychic enhanced a person's cynicism, Dean thought. Most people, there was no way you wanted to be in their heads, and Dean didn't need to be psychic to know that. "So, I don't know how well I can work with this amulet on, but I'll do my best. Do you think you can hold my hand, Dean?" Dean hesitated—just like that, in the middle of the kitchen, no candles or crap?—and then stuck out his hand.

Stung like a motherfucker, but nothing Dean couldn't handle. Not that he really liked to think about it, but his pain threshold was different these days.

Dev winced, like he was picking up feedback, and Dean tried to relax and let himself leave the uncomfortably hot feeling behind. One real improvement of life over Hell was that, when you had an actual body, you could dissociate from it.

Dean drifted for a bit, until he felt Dev drop his hand, and then he blinked himself back to full attention.

Dev was biting his lip, giving Dean one of those sympathetic looks that were useless as fuck and twice as annoying. Dean could feel Sam's anxiety, radiating from him like skunk stink. "There's something tangled around you—in you," he corrected himself. "It's like—the mark on your shoulder, is that the mark they left on you?"

Sam and Dean looked at each other. There was little point in lying to a psychic, and Dev probably wouldn't sell him to some angel-worshiping cult. "I've had that for a while," Dean said. "Uh, it's the mark of an angel."

Dev frowned, not asking any of the questions Dean would have expected. "It seems like the incubus—essence, I guess—is concentrated there. Whatever they meant or didn't mean to do, it's sort of like some of their substance got stuck. And the mark is—well, your soul is also strongest there, so now the incubus essence is in you. I'm sorry, but I don't see a way of getting rid of it." Dean's face must have shown something, and he hurried to continue: "But I'm not exactly an incubus expert. And that amulet does make it difficult for me to see what's going on. There might be something someone else can do."

Bobby took over the thank-yous, because it was pretty clear that the Winchesters were having enough trouble not shooting the messenger.


"Damn, I want a beer," Dean said. He'd fled back to his room and Sam had given him all of two minutes before following. Sam recognized the tactic: Dean had given up on silence and was now ready to change the subject before there was a subject to change.

"I'll grab one from the kitchen," Sam offered, but Dean was already shaking his head. He sat down on the edge of the bed, his shoulders slumped under his too-big plaid shirt. He looked too pale, almost like he was wilting.

"Seriously," Sam said, "it's no problem—"

Dean looked up, his face grim. "I don't want a six-pack. I want somebody to pour me a drink and I want to take it over to the pool table and make some money and then I want to get laid by a girl who doesn't know my real name."

Oh. "We could—" He stopped.

Dean snorted and rubbed his hand across his mouth. "Yeah."

Once again, Sam was dragged back to how good the sex had felt. Most of his life had been about the shit he didn't want to do, the few hookups he'd managed since Stanford blotting out the rest of his miserable existence for a short time. Ruby had been more punishment than pleasure until he'd been deep in the addiction. It was fucked-up, but what had happened with Dean had felt pure, physical and real. Now he knew better, of course, but the memory was so powerful, mixed up with the overwhelming emotions he already felt for Dean.

He couldn't have that, but Dean—

"Why not?" Sam asked, surprising even himself. "It's not like they're not looking. We could go to that place out on Route 29, I could check it out to find the girls who just want to have a good time, bring one out and run interference with anybody else."

Dean's face seemed to collapse in on itself for a split second, then smoothed into an obvious mask. "No," he said, and stood back up, heading towards the duffle with the knives in it.

Sam crossed the room and caught him by the arm. "What?"

Dean flinched away—Sam fell back, horrified that he'd forgotten that his touch burned Dean now—and kept going. It was only when Dean had the bag unzipped, his hands buried deep in its guts and his back to Sam, that he spoke again. "That really what you think about me?"

Sam stared at him, befuddled. Then he moved around so that he could see Dean's profile. Dean's face was tight and—the closest word Sam could find was disgusted. "I don't understand. You said—"

"I didn't say I wanted to make some chick fuck me!"

Sam just stood there. Eventually he closed his mouth. Dean hadn't even gotten the knives all laid out, which meant he wasn't serious about cleaning them. "Dean, since you were thirteen years old you've been lying to get into girls' pants, and it's been working. Now it's easier, and you don't want to?"

Dean's hands stopped moving. A muscle in his jaw twitched. He wouldn't look at Sam. "Lying when she knows you're lying is—it's different. You may not know it because I hide it so well, Sammy, but women have been known to say no to me. I never fucked anyone who didn't say yes on their own, and I'm not looking to start now that I'm a walking, talking roofie."

Dean's hands weren't still, in fact. They were shaking.

Realization hit like a truck—in fact, Sam might have preferred the truck: he knew how that one came out. Dean's silences over the past few days, his unwillingness to meet Sam's eyes, the way he'd babbled on about engines every time Sam tried to talk to him.

"Dean," Sam said, carefully. "How are you feeling?"

"Fuck you," Dean said and picked up a small silver knife.

"Do you need to feed?"

"Fuck you sideways," Dean suggested.

"If you—" Suddenly the Route 29 plan was looking better, enough so that Sam considered knocking Dean out and bringing him along in the Impala. Maybe he could hire someone, coax her into waiting until Dean regained consciousness. Sam frowned, not sure what would happen if Dean were unconscious—would the incubus glamor continue on, unstoppable? "I'm not letting you starve to death."

"We aren't talking cheeseburgers here, Sam!" Dean nearly yelled, letting the knife fall carelessly. "Exactly what is it you expect me to do?"

"A hooker—"

"What if it hurts her?" Dean asked, soft now, staring at Sam like this was a test. And, Sam realized, it was, and Sam was for once entirely prepared to fail. "You say I need to feed, so what happens to the food?"

"The girl at the motel was fine," Sam tried. Dean's expression said exactly how convincing he found that claim, since they had no fucking clue what had happened to her, afterwards. "Even real incubi, they don't kill, not at first."

Dean shook his head. "I spent ten years being a monster."

"What's your great plan, then, Dean?" Sam demanded.

Dean shrugged. "Far as we know, the—whatever, the hunger—is just like the amulet," he said. "No fun, but not gonna kill me."

Three days after that, he didn't get out of bed. Sam finally came to check in on him, and he pretended that he was just being lazy—that car didn't need him, not today, can't a guy take a day off?

Underneath, Sam could see the panic in his eyes. His skin was pallid except where it was too red, and he kept twisting in the sheets, blankets piled on him so that Sam could barely see the outline of his body.

Sam knew too much about what Dean's body looked like, anyway.

After a fruitless debate with Bobby, Sam went to go do what needed doing.


The footsteps down the hallway were different: somebody new, smaller than Bobby, barely making the floorboards creak. Dean sat up with an effort, leaning against the headboard, the molding pressing sharp into his shoulders.

"Well, don't you Winchester boys keep getting in the worst kind of trouble," Jo said, staring hard at Dean as she stepped into his room. She was wearing an amulet, so she wouldn't feel it, the change in him. God, even with it on, he could feel the pull to her, the emptiness that wasn't true hunger. It wasn't even arousal any more, and it wasn't blue balls. It was like that one time he'd been trapped in that crypt in New York, nearly three days before he saw open sky, no food at all and Dad halfway across the state. He'd thought he might die a lot of times, but that was the first time he thought he'd die by degrees, slow and aching.

"You're looking good," he said, because it was true. Her eyes had sharpened even more, but she was just as blonde and curved as she'd been back at the Roadhouse. She was wearing a leather jacket, black and worn-in, over a tight-fitting blue T-shirt and jeans.

She shrugged, but he could tell she was fighting a smile. "So," she said, "Sam says you've got some kind of incubus infection. Is it true? Do you really need to—?" She raised her eyebrows instead of finishing the question.

Dean thought about shrugging back, but it seemed like a lot of effort. "I pretty much used up my lifetime supply of 'I'll die if you don't let me' when I was fifteen, and it felt true then. Now—I don't know I'm dyin'. Sure feel like shit though."

"You look—" she said, and he could tell that the sentence wouldn't have ended well. "Anyway, Sam said—"

Dean chuckled, because he would have paid cash money to hear Sam try to pimp him out. Or maybe he thought of it as pimping Jo out. Hard to predict. "Yeah."

"So, I said I'd take my chances that you wouldn't turn me into a dried-up corpse, and here I am." She smiled, nervousness showing through. "I won't take the amulet off if you don't want me to."

He closed his eyes, because he hadn't really let himself believe that she'd go for it, even when she'd stepped inside. "Jo, I want you to take off that amulet so bad—"

"Really?" It wasn't just their past making her so uncertain. Sam must have thought Dean would object to any use of the incubus whammy, even on someone who knew what it did. Sam had warned her she'd have to argue. No wonder he'd gone to all the trouble to get Jo here, Jo who still probably had a little bit of a crush on Dean.

Dean made the effort to open his eyes and raise his head, meeting her gaze and not trying to hide anything from her. "I know I look like crap, but I can promise you it'll feel good. Long as you understand what's gonna happen. You take that amulet off, you won't say no, not until you put it back on."

She swallowed. Dean watched her mouth, her throat, the swing of her hair against the shoulders of her jacket. "Will I get a chance to put it back on?"

Dean nodded. "There's a—recovery period." He could almost taste her now. In a minute he was going to start begging.

But Jo smiled, half nervous and half reassuring. "Okay." And because she was a hunter and her mother's daughter, and once she made up her mind to a thing she saw no reason to dilly-dally, she stripped off the amulet right there, dropping it onto the table beside the door.

After that, memory disappeared into a haze of sweat and grappling flesh and knife-sharp relief, like air after nearly drowning.


Bobby went to do ill-defined 'business' not five minutes after Jo showed up. Sam couldn't do that—if anything went south, he'd need to clean up the mess.

He didn't really expect disaster. Well, they were Winchesters; the baseline probability of disaster was high. But Dean's girls—they tended to survive, even when they got involved in cases. Cassie, that actress, Jamie, Anna—practically the last angel standing by the time Lucifer had been put down. Maybe Dean's dick really did have magical powers.

This line of thought was depressing for a variety of reasons, so Sam shoved it aside and tried to figure out what would count as sufficient reason to burst in on Dean and Jo.

Even under ordinary circumstances, Dean would never even think to wonder just how difficult it had been for Sam to call Jo. Hi, so I never said I was sorry about that time I got possessed and almost killed you. (Sam suspected he'd done more than that, but he'd been too ashamed to investigate at the time and, given present circumstances, the phone call hadn't been the right time to bring it up. Maybe he'd ask her when they were all very old and it seemed like it had happened to some other set of God's punching bags. The thought was almost enough to make him smile: like he was going to get old.)

So after that excruciating conversation, and after Jo dropped everything to come to Bobby's and help, he got to stand around and think about what was going on in that room. He wondered if it was the same for a woman, that molten rush, every nerve snapping with desire, entering freefall as soon as he'd touched Dean's skin.

Sam was smart enough not to punch the wall. He didn't want to have to explain a broken hand to Bobby. He thought about going downstairs, sitting with the bad memories in the panic room. But cold iron wasn't going to protect him from what was inside him now any more than it had helped him then.

Three hours, he thought. He'd give them three hours, and then he'd at least knock.


Jo groaned softly, and cut herself off in the middle. Dean kept his mouth shut, because he'd got nothing to say worth hearing, but he took the break in the action for the opportunity it was and rolled out of the squishy, overused bed. He pulled on his jeans, not bothering with shorts or a shirt, and headed over to the amulet. Even picking it up by the knot at the end of the thong, the anti-incubus charm heated his fingers unpleasantly, so he flicked it across the room at her. It landed on her belly, the leather snaking across her breasts in a way that he would have found totally hot if he'd had the energy.

He had the unwelcome thought that, even if he did manage to get cured, he'd never do it the natural way with her, because this would ruin the gossamer connection they'd had, the sweet silver thread of maybe that had been there even with their fathers' deaths and all the demon shit in between them.

"Hey," he said, "you wanna take a break, maybe grab some food?" She waited a second before agreeing, like she had to think about it for real, and he was so grateful for the kindness that he had to turn away.

"I'm gonna stay in here," he said, because if he'd been her he would've wanted some time away from him to figure out what the fuck he was feeling. Whether the intensity of the experience had anything to do with her and him or whether it was just magic. He could've told her that an incubus felt awesome because of the magic. It had nothing to do with love or even real lust. But she needed to work that out for herself.

"I could go for a burger," she said, rustling around as she got dressed.

"There's a place down the road a bit, does a good one." He didn't want to think about Jo going out for a meal, because that would just lead to wanting to be out in the world himself, and learning how not to want stuff that wasn't for him was the only chance he had to survive. It was just that a lot of the things that used to make up for what he didn't have were off-limits now.

See, there he went thinking again, and that was never good.

By the sound of it, Jo was dressed now. Dean turned and saw her hide a wince as she stood up from tugging on her boots. The amulet swung on her chest and she wouldn't meet his eyes. Dean guessed she was going to keep it on for a while even when she was a couple of states away.

"You mind sending Sam in?" he asked. He could have gone himself, but Sam'd want to see Jo and probably ask her a lot of stupid questions about how Dean was doing.

She nodded. Dean backed carefully away from the door so that she didn't have to get too near to him to leave. She didn't meet his eyes, and he wondered whether she'd come back to say goodbye.

This time hadn't been as weird as with the girl at the motel. Maybe he was getting used to it. His head had been a lot clearer, anyway, even if he hadn't been able to control a fucking thing. He remembered everything, which made him feel a little less crazy. Also, Jo was hot, and even if this had been the world's most extensive pity fuck, he was grateful.

He probably should have asked her if she was on the pill, or whatever it was that up-to-date hunter girls used. The last thing he wanted was to start another generation of Winchesters for the world to shit on. But Jo was too smart to let herself get caught up; knew too much about what happened to people who got too close to their curse.

Jo was safe. But Jo was also, for that exact reason, not coming back, which meant that Dean's problem was very far from solved.


Sam truly thought that the Olmütz Monastic Libraries collection might have something of use; those Eastern European monks had known their demonic business. But he also needed to be ten hours away from Dean, just to get his head together.

He should have known that driving alone was going to trigger flashbacks: six months of the time the Trickster stole from him, and four months even worse than that. Ruby being in the car had seemed a horrific violation at first, but after a while it had been better than the alternative.

So the road trip only made the hunger worse. He wouldn't have said, before, that he and Dean touched all that much, but they were regularly just a couple of inches from touching. He could have reached out any time, which was why it never really mattered if he didn't.

Now Dean couldn't stand to be within a couple of feet of him. His brain knew it was the amulet, but when it came to Dean his brain never did have the deciding vote.

Dean had held up okay for a few days after Jo left, but Sam thought he was already feeling a little twitchy. He didn't seem to hold a grudge that Jo'd flipped out (okay, that was unfair, but she knew she was leaving them with no solutions—maybe Dean was just letting Sam hold the grudge for the both of them). And Sam—if Sam stayed there much longer, he was going to suggest the perfect fix.

And then he'd lose Dean for real, whatever Dean's body needed.


The problem wasn't so much the sex that Dean wanted to have, or even that he couldn't have it. The problem was that a guy fell all over himself trying to get to Dean when all he'd wanted was some parts for his ancient Corolla. Dean wanted to think that it was the dude's own damn fault for ignoring the "Closed" sign as if he hadn't seen it at all, except for how nobody expects incubus ambush as punishment for visiting a closed junkyard.

Dean had made the idiot mistake of actually working on his own goddamn car in the middle of the day, and so he was outside when the guy arrived. Maybe it was the open air or maybe it was that it had been over a week since Jo left, but the man was over a hundred feet away when he got out of his car and he swiveled, like a dog chasing a scent, and started towards Dean.

Dean was already feeling pretty desperate, and he would've dropped to his knees if the guy had made it over, except that Bobby had appeared out of fucking nowhere and bashed his would-be customer in the head. Then he'd hustled Dean down into the panic room, where Dean had sat and stewed and wished that jerking off would help. He'd left Dean there until nightfall.

Sam was off to the library at Notre Dame, two states away, looking up some obscure Catholic texts about incubi. The only good news about that, Dean guessed, was it meant that Sam trusted Bobby not to put a bullet in Dean's head.

But now Dean's crank had been turned a couple more times, and he could tell he was going to get worse faster. It didn't feel like anything he could get under control, no matter how much time he had to do it in. It was like—drowning, drowning in fire. Nothing like Hell, because it wasn't exactly pain, which meant he was defenseless against it.

Fuck but he missed Sam, not a day gone and Dean still felt the lack of him like a chill in the air.

Except Sam had barely been able to look at him since he'd gotten incubus-stung, which—well, the worst part of coming back from Hell, out of a very long list, had been losing Sam's respect. Getting that back, being brothers again, had been amazing even in the middle of holding the apocalypse back with spit and rock salt. And now Dean had gone and gotten himself all fucked up again. Vulnerable. Sam despised weakness, and Dean couldn't handle this incubus shit by himself, had to be locked down with amulets and wards.

Dinner that night, served on a little folding table Bobby set up in the panic room, tasted like pencil shavings.


It took Sam only five hours to figure out that the monks, whatever their other expertise, had squat when it came to incubus lore. Oh, they had rumors and legends, but nothing Sam hadn't seen before, and nothing he needed.

He stayed another three hours anyway, hoping for a flash of insight and delaying the time he'd have to go admit his failure to Dean.

Sam could feel the unfairness of it all rising up to choke him, marinating his brain in the same sort of rage that had led him into Ruby's arms before. They were supposed to—Dean was supposed to be fine. He fucking saved the world, put Lucifer back in his cage, and now some minor demons had invented a whole new torture for him, leaving Sam helpless as usual.

And, like the cherry on top of the infernal sundae, there was his lie, his total betrayal of Dean. He was used to lying, even used to lying to Dean about things that affected his brother. But he'd always been able to tell himself that Dean was better off not knowing the truth. With Stanford, he'd known that he was leaving, and he'd been sure that a quick exit would be the least painful for everyone. With the demon blood, he'd been even more convinced that he was doing the right thing.

Even if that had turned out well, it still wouldn't justify his current, purely selfish silence.

He needed to confess to Dean. Dean would forgive him for the sex, no question. He'd probably get over Sam's initial lie, eventually, even if he'd always be a little bitter about Sam's propensity to hide uncomfortable truths. But first there'd be yelling and disappointment, and Sam didn't know how he was going to handle the sadness in Dean's eyes, the puzzlement over why Sam wasn't a better person. Screwed up with the amulet, screwed up by failing to notice that there was something out of the ordinary about his need to fuck his brother, screwed up by lying, and now screwed up by wanting to do it all over again.

But if he didn't choose his own time to talk, he was going to spill it anyway, probably at the worst possible time. Either that, or the Trickster was going to show up and tell Dean, just for shits and giggles. Or something worse would happen to reveal his secret. That was just the way the world worked for Winchesters. The best Sam could do would be to explain what had happened, take his lumps (Dean couldn't even punch him, not while Sam was wearing the amulet), and start moving forward again. Dean's horror would help erase Sam's lingering desire.

When he crossed the state line, he had determined that he'd tell Dean as soon as they got some time away from Bobby.


Sam's report that he'd found precisely zip in Indiana was unsurprising but still sucky. Dean did his best to stay out of Sam's way, working on engines while Sam stood guard, reading in a car parked across the entrance to the yard. Dean didn't even know where Bobby got himself to, but he was scarce as well.

At night, Dean fled down to the basement where Sam still didn't like to go. His blood was scalding in his veins, painful and itchy. When he'd been a kid, Dad would run him so hard that 'horny' disappeared under total bone-and-sinew weariness. But now, no matter how many pushups and crunches he did, he couldn't exhaust the need out of himself. With the reality of the situation starting to set in, he thought a lot about his alternatives, and all he could taste was panic, metal and salt and just a hint of sulfur.

Two nights after Sam returned, Dean came upstairs to use the john and Sam followed him back down. There was no 'I've figured it out!' light in his eyes, so Dean didn't expect more than some warmed-over angst. Sammy needed to get that kind of thing out of his system every once in a while, and Dean maybe wanted to say a couple self-pitying things himself. He'd miss the awkward hugs, or at least shoulder-shoves, that generally ended these conversations, but if he thought too much about what he wanted from Sam it would probably come out in the self-pitying portion of the evening.

Dean sat on the single bed, feeling the metal frame through the thin, sprung mattress, and looked up at Sam expectantly.

Sam's face scrunched up like Dean had made a really inappropriate joke. He was holding the book he'd been reading, but apparently it was only a prop because he was just turning it over in his hands.

"What is it?" Dean asked, figuring he ought to kick-start the emo.

"I need to tell you something," Sam said.

Dean tensed, because Sam's tone was the one he used when he was about to admit the really crappy stuff, like demon blood. "Okay." It came out too wary, but how the fuck was he supposed to react?

"I raped you."

At first Dean didn't understand the words, and he replayed them a couple of times in his head, but they made even less sense then. He stared at Sam, who was clutching his book like it was the only weight keeping him attached to the earth.

Sam tossed his head back to get the hair out of his eyes and continued, "When I found you. I lost the amulet in the fight, but I'd already killed all the succubi and incubi so I didn't think it—I didn't think. I just."

Dean wasn't up for reminiscing about his captivity, though it was only about fifteenth on the list of greatest non-hits of his life. By the end he'd been so out of it that he wouldn't have noticed if John Holmes had fucked him. The problem wasn't so much the facts as the way Sam's shoulders were slumped, like he'd lost the car in a card game or something.

Most people were pretty fucked-up about sex, in Dean's experience, and somehow Sammy had joined the masses, maybe part of his whole impossible quest for normality. If Sam had given Dean another beat-down because of wacky incubus mojo, he wouldn't have hidden it for so long before giving in to the guilt and confessing. And sure, Dean got that it was probably less socially acceptable to screw your brother than to beat him up (see: fucked-up about sex), but since the question here was whether Sam had exercised any choice about it Dean didn't understand why that ought to make a difference.

"Sam," he began, and cursed Sam's need to talk things out and his own inability to use words about equally. He wanted to ask why Sam had chosen now to spill the beans, but he had a feeling that Sam could explain until his hair was another inch longer and Dean still wouldn't understand how he thought. "It doesn't matter."

Sam laughed, like chunks of broken concrete scattered at a demolition site. "Of course it matters. I—"

He had to cut Sam off before Sam said something he couldn't come back from. "Dude, you already shot me, this isn't worse."

"I didn't shoot you—" Sam began, automatically, because they'd had this not-quite-fake fight so often that it was just call-and-response. Neither of them counted Meg's possession, of course. But some supernatural shit was more ambiguous. According to Sam, that crazy doctor's ghost had put a chunk of rage in Sam's head and Sam had taken it out on the first person he saw. Honestly, Dean thought that was not nearly as true as Sam liked to believe, but he'd gotten over it a long time ago. "It's not—" Sam stopped like he'd plowed into a tree.

Dean scratched the back of his neck, wishing that he and Sam lived on the same planet once in a while. "If you tell me you knew it was gonna happen or you could've stopped it once it started, then I swear I'll blame you. If you can't, then shut up about it already."

Sam opened and closed his mouth a couple of times, but he raised his head from the goddamned book and met Dean's eyes.

"I still," Sam said, too soft. "I remember it. I remember how it felt. With Dr. Ellicott, I was crazy, I wasn't me. This was—it made sense. You were tied up and covered with—and the thing that seemed obvious to me was that I should—"

"Okay," Dean said, because Sam was bleeding out. He needed to shut up before he did himself damage. "It didn't hurt me any, and anyway it's still not your fault."

"Is it my fault if I want to take off the amulet right now?" Sam asked, deadly serious.

Dean jerked, because that took them out onto open ocean, no land in sight.

"No, it's not," he said, his voice as fragile as spiderweb. His skin was too tight, aching with just the hint that he might get some relief—but holy shit, Sam, Sam couldn't really want him. Sam (at least when he was in his right mind and not strung out on demon blood) wanted good girls, clean girls, girls who read the New York Times and had plans for their futures. And the revelation that he was only thinking about Sam's reasons why not should have been another body blow, but Dean was kind of full to bursting with troubles. This was just one more entry in the list of his sins, which was already bigger than the Manhattan Yellow Pages.

"I should go," Sam said, and Dean bolted upright. That was the last fucking thing Sam needed to do, because if he walked away now he was going to hate himself forever, Dean could see that tattooed across his face.

"No," he repeated, rock solid this time, moving quick so that Sam would have to go through him to get to the door, and Sam wouldn't want to do that wearing the amulet. He had a moment of wild speculation—what if Sam could just do him regularly, wear him out—and then he remembered how the guy from the other day had behaved and the fantasy shattered. Sam could fuck him until Dean didn't know his own name and Dean would still be catnip for random strangers.

Sam smiled at him, weary and disbelieving, the way he'd smiled for a few years back when he was a kid and only angry at Dad, before he'd started getting mad at Dean too for following orders.

"Sam," he said, wishing that he could get the owner's manual for the kid's brain. Most likely there were whole chapters on 'don't even bother trying to change his mind.' "Just—give me a couple seconds here."

He couldn't finish a thought—always did better listening to his body, but his body was working for the enemy now. If Sam wanted—the last time he'd said no to Sam, he'd driven Sam straight into Ruby's arms, too busy listening to angels to notice that Sam was the only one who'd ever put Dean first. Maybe this was just Dean talking himself into thinking that what he wanted would be right for Sam—but he knew that wasn't true, not usually, and Sam had said he still felt the pull, even with the amulet on. Dean got it: even his fuzzy memories retained an awful lot of the pleasure, and Heaven knew (right down to the bone) that Winchesters didn't get much in the way of pleasure out of existence.

Dean wasn't strong enough to resist the promise of making them both happy any more than he'd been strong enough to stay on the rack in Hell. "If you—it's cool. I need it, it feels good, and if you want to—" He looked up, trying to let his eyes talk for him.

Sam gaped at him. "It's cool?" he repeated, most likely because he didn't want to use any other words.

Dean shrugged. "It's magic. Not like you have a choice, even ignoring how hot I am naturally." He couldn't figure out what he was feeling, not with the want rumbling through his body like he was going down a bad stretch of highway at a hundred miles an hour. Inspiration struck: "If you don't, I'm gonna have to ask Bobby, and nobody wants that."

Even in the middle of his obvious freakout, Sam was paying enough attention to wince in sympathy at the thought, but his lips were pressed stubbornly together.

Dean sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. Of course Sam was going to make him do the heavy lifting on this. "D'you want me to beg?"

Sam jerked back, inhaling sharply, and stumbled against the bedframe, wobbling until he sat down. Now Dean was the one looking down at him, Sam's eyes wild and dark, flush high on his cheeks.

Dean couldn't get more than a few feet away without starting to feel the burn from the amulet. But some of his best moves worked at a distance. He squatted until they were at eye level, keeping his eyes locked to Sam's.

Sam swallowed, licked his lips—and if Sam thought that pulling fashion-model faces was somehow going to keep Dean from thinking this was a good idea, he was even crazier than he'd been when he'd let Lucifer out of his cage. "You don't want this," Sam breathed, and the roughness of his voice told Dean that he wanted to be convinced.

"Look at me." Dean spread his arms, palms facing Sam, bouncing a little on the balls of his feet. "Still me, Sam. Got some new troubles now, but I'm the same guy. Your idea gets me off and keeps me from feeling like I'm on fire, and it's not exactly like you'll be suffering either. So why do you want me to be the one to say no?"

Sam's mouth worked helplessly. He was probably thinking the really obvious things, realizing that even Dean had to be aware of them, and rejecting them as protests. Dean liked that, as long as the debate stayed in Sam's head and he didn't make Dean walk through the arguments with him. For someone who didn't like running drills, Sam sure was willing to jawbone a lot of routine stuff.

Sam pushed his hands through his hair, nostrils flaring. Dean always thought he looked silly in that pose, like he was trying to keep his head from bulging outwards from the force of his gigantic brain, but right now all Dean could think about was Sam's big hands, wrapped around his shoulders, shoving him back onto a bed, pressing his knee to his chest.

"I need a little time," Sam said. Dean's body twitched with disappointment, but it wasn't no. And Dean got that this was all too much for anybody to handle—completely fucking par for the course for them, but not any easier because of that. He wouldn't mind a pause to consider Sam's revelations himself, if his brain ever got control back from his dick.

He nodded and moved out of the path between Sam and the door. "Promise me you're not going anywhere, no matter what." He figured he was entitled to that demand, pathetic as it was.

Sam looked like he'd been slapped, even though he'd been the one threatening to leave not five minutes back. "I promise," was all he said, and then he was up the stairs and, Dean had to believe, angsting up a storm within the confines of Bobby's property.


You can't seriously be considering this, Sam told himself fifty times over the next few days. No matter what Dean said he wanted, he was speaking from desperation.

But wasn't that reason to consider Dean's suggestion? Jo wasn't an option any more, and Dean's reasons for avoiding civilians were far from crazy. Sam hated the idea of some random person taking advantage of Dean's condition anyway. Unlike somebody else, Sam would remember that there was a person underneath the incubus glamor.

Right, because his reasons for wanting to fuck his brother were entirely noble and had nothing to do with how the incubus poison had made everything right for once in his life. Even when he'd been drinking Ruby's blood, the thrill of the power had been accompanied by rage and a desperate conviction that the world owed him some payback. Arrogance wasn't happiness, no matter how much Sam had tried to pretend. The magic drawing him to Dean had been a trick, but at the same time it had been completely real.

It didn't help that he couldn't imagine a more intense connection than the bond he shared with Dean, not these days. Before Dean had been infected, that hadn't mattered. Sam had accepted that his most important relationship in his life was with Dean, and that, correspondingly, he was going to get laid, if at all, the same way Dean did: casually and sporadically, easier not to know much about the other person. But now, Dean was offering the whole package, and he knew for a fact that it didn't disgust him. Incubus magic had carried him right through that foot-thick barrier like it had been made of frost.

He'd tried so hard to figure out right from wrong. It wasn't so fucking easy, not with demon blood and prophecy and liars on all sides. All he knew was that every time he'd left Dean, voluntarily or involuntarily, he'd ended up worse off than he'd started, usually with innocents as casualties as well.

He wouldn't risk that again. But if he abused Dean's vulnerability now, then when Dean recovered he might not be able to trust Sam any more. He was already too close to believing that Sam would always put his own desires over Dean's well-being.

Sam would have to be strong until they'd found a cure for Dean. Whatever it took, he'd do.


When Sam didn't return to the panic room that night, Dean knew he'd lost his chance.

Sam was probably right. He couldn't really want this, not once he'd thought about it, and he didn't need more reminders of how fucked-up Dean was.

Disappointment was bitter in Dean's mouth, but familiar.

He couldn't stop wondering what it had been like with Sam. Even post-Hell when he'd been drinking most seriously, he'd never blacked out and missed an entire hookup.

Sam made himself even more scarce, researching different aspects of incubus lore. Dean kept on working in Bobby's shop, forcing himself to move forward same as if he'd had a real injury. There was a low-level burn through his body now, like being packed full of coals. It was too bad they'd alienated every remaining hunter in the world except for Bobby and Jo (and the two of them weren't all that thrilled with the Winchesters either, at this point). He entertained a fantasy about Ellen for a while, but imagination just cranked him a couple of degrees higher. Pretty soon he was going to have to think about hiring someone, except there was no way that an outsider would understand, and there were enough nasty surprises in a working girl's life that he hated the thought of being another one.

He tried to stay active, at least when Sam was hovering within earshot, but he ended up spending a lot of time propped up on a bench, looking at his tools through half-closed eyes. He was pretty sure Sam was spying on him, but he wasn't really up to stealth and turning the tables.

Pain could strip away everything else: dignity, morality, love. Turned out desire could work a lot like pain.

Dean was taking a nap—lying down, anyway—in the panic room when Sam came for him for the first time in days.

"Dean," he said, and the raw need in his voice brought Dean to sitting so fast his head spun.

"Yeah, Sam," voice rusted nearly through.

"You know it's not because I want—I just want you to be okay."

Dean snorted and shook his head, feeling like he was carrying the weight of a spare tire around on his neck. "Yeah, that's not in the cards, so what's your second choice?"

Sam closed his eyes. "If you still think you can—I will."

Under the dull haze of hunger, Dean felt a throb of loss, because he hated that Sam thought he had to offer himself up like this. But Dean wanted him, too, helplessly and totally, even if it cost him Sam's respect in the long term. There was no long term for him, anyway. "Oh, I can, Sam."

Sam blinked, and Dean was relieved to see that his eyes were clear. This might be close to whoring himself out for Dean's sake, but at least Sam was keeping it together.

Slowly, Sam reached for the amulet, closing his hand around the irregular lump of stone. Dean wasn't sure he even knew he was doing it, yet. Dean clenched his jaw so that he wouldn't say something that would spook Sam, even though the prospect of sweet relief was making him feel like ants were swarming over his skin. If Sam ended up saying no after this buildup, Dean swore, he was going to get seriously punched, burn or no burn.

Dean rubbed at his mouth, slow, and watched Sam's eyes follow his fingers helplessly.

"You're sure?" he asked, and it was all Dean could do to keep from pleading.

He nodded instead, and Sam pulled the cord over his head.

It was like it had been with Jo, and not. Maybe because he hadn't been waiting quite as long, or maybe because he was getting used to it. He wasn't remotely in charge or anything, but he was able to notice individual details this time: the way Sam's skin glowed in the yellow light filtering in from above; the taste of him, strong and almost sour; the springiness and thickness of his hair, enough that Dean could nearly lose his hands in the heavy dark strands—he'd never admit this, but he kind of appreciated Sam's refusal to get a real haircut, now that he knew how it felt to hang on and curl his fingers through Sam's thick, shaggy hair.


Sam reached out and snagged the amulet from its place on the floor, shivering immediately from the sweat cooling on his body. He got off the mattress, because Dean wasn't going to tell him that he was too close even if that meant Dean got burnt again, and stumbled into his clothes.

He'd thought he'd known what to expect because of what he'd already done. But Dean wasn't an incubus. He was something betwixt and between, and instead of the easy logic of the succubus-prompted first time, the magic had been a torrent, filling his lungs and blanking his mind before he heard the amulet hit the floor. He'd fallen on Dean like a cougar taking down a wounded deer, and Dean had surged up against him with equal fervor, as ungoverned as Sam.

Dean wasn't going to blame him for taking advantage. Dean couldn't even stay mad about Lucifer. He never did get the point of saying 'no.'

Sam's stomach lurched, but even that couldn't dissipate the fog of pleasure. He already knew that he'd be back as soon as he could convince himself he'd waited long enough.

Dean was staring up at the Devil's Trap on the ceiling, hands resting loosely on his stomach, his expression content, almost dreamy.

"Was it—" There was no non-humiliating way to ask the question. "You're going to be okay now, right? For a couple of days anyway."

Dean sighed and levered himself until he was sitting. "Felt awesome, Sam. But you and I both know I'm not okay."

Sam shook his head. "We might have to—I mean, Bobby's not gonna be thrilled with this. But we can go somewhere else while I work on a solution—"

"Where are we gonna go?" Dean asked, deceptively light.

Sam shrugged. "Hunting cabin? There's places where nobody else ever comes by."

"I don't want to live in a cage," Dean said, picking at a loose thread on the rough blanket.

And that was going nowhere Sam was going to allow. "Listen to me. No matter what, we're not going to give up. You're not gonna—I won't let you sacrifice yourself to protect other people."

Dean grinned, rickety and uneven. "Not a worry, Sammy." Sam tilted his head curiously. "I won't—I can't go back there a minute earlier than I have to."

Sam was flummoxed. Dean couldn't think he was still Hell-bound. No demon had a claim on him.

Dean could read his disbelief, and shrugged. "I've done plenty of other things God doesn't seem to like much. Plus what I did when I—I don't think what happens in Hell stays in Hell. Seems like the kind of stuff Heaven notices, you know?"

Sam had said the first thing that occurred to him. "But Dad—"

Dean looked away. "They never got to him," he said with devastating conviction. "He—you saw the look on his face when he got out. Twice as long as me, and he didn't. He wouldn't. So anyway, yeah, no way am I checking out early. Don't want to whammy anybody into fucking me, but I will if I have to."

Dean had built a neat trap, no less powerful for its obviousness: Sam couldn't explain how ridiculous Dean's assumptions about his proper fate were without at the same time encouraging him to off himself. Sam knew he'd figure out how to approach the topic eventually, but right now he was routed, and they both knew it.

"I'm gonna stay down here a while," Dean said. Sam wanted to touch him—not like that, just to reassure himself that his brother was still there, still breathing. But he couldn't, so he took the dismissal for what it was and headed back upstairs to his useless books and his cold bed.


So now, on top of everything else, they were sneaking around Bobby's like a pair of kids who'd just figured out what their dicks were for. Dean put it fifty-fifty at best whether Bobby had an idea of why Dean wasn't so sickly any more, but there was no talking about it.

Whenever they were alone Sam would put his hand to the amulet, his way of asking whether Dean wanted him to take it off, and Dean nodded every single time. After, Sam didn't say anything about how he felt about the sex, which was like a birthday gift until Dean remembered that caring-and-sharing Sam had disappeared somewhere right around the time Dean went to Hell. Dean wasn't the type to think about what all this 'meant' for their relationship or whatever, but he did wonder sometimes what was going on in Sam's enormous head.

He found himself half proud of Sam's he-man habits and half embarrassed, neither of which he'd admit short of torture. Sam was a Viking in the sack, on the occasions they made it to the sack. Dean was plenty kinky himself—the only suggestions he'd ever turned down involved blood or bondage he couldn't release on his own—but Sam seemed to think that each encounter had to be an Olympic trial. Lots of slamming against walls and hoisting into the air and honest-to-fuck growling. Bite marks and bruises and, yeah, okay, Dean looked at them sometimes, after, when he was alone. It felt good, being wanted like that, even if it was fake.

He knew if he said anything Sam would conclude that Dean was criticizing, which was not even close to true. Just, sex was fun and hot and all, but if this was anything like Sam was with girls, maybe Dean shouldn't've ragged on him all those years for keeping it in his pants most of the time. Sam fucked seriously, and Dean found himself not that thrilled with the thought of Sam handing pieces of himself out like that all over the country.

Dean could never match what Sam had to give, even if he could scratch and suck hickeys so Sam's skin looked the same as his, after.

Dying had taught Dean that Sam wasn't ever going to get normal while he thought that Dean still needed saving, or even avenging. Dean needed to make sure that he was safe, truly safe, and then Sam would be able to move on. And sure, it was selfish of Dean to ask Sam to submit to the incubus glamor in the meantime, but he'd always be selfish when it came to Sam, holding on so tight that it only made Sam want to get further away in the end.

He had to find a permanent fix. Sam was twisting himself up for Dean again. Dean was grateful that this time they weren't heading towards apocalypse, of course, but that wasn't a huge consolation when he glanced over towards Sam and watched Sam jerk away, like he couldn't stand Dean's eyes on him.


"Come out here, Sam," Bobby called, and Sam closed De Imaginibus and slotted it back into its place on Bobby's shelf.

"I've got a friend in Maryland, name of David Kelty," Bobby said as soon as Sam got through the doorway to the kitchen. Dean was nodding beside him: Sam was just now being filled in, which was annoying but not particularly suprising when it came to the two of them.

"You've got a phone book's worth of friends," Sam said, not quite as snidely as he would have said it to Dad (not that it would have been true for Dad). "What's special about this one?"

"He thinks he can help Dean learn to control the incubus glamor."

Sam felt a wash of pure relief, but it dissolved when he realized that Dean didn't look nearly as happy. "It's not gonna be easy, Sam. It'll probably take a while." Dean had his hands flat on the table in front of him, leaning forward. His eyes were gold-flecked in the light coming in through Bobby's kitchen window. Sam wanted to grab him and take him upstairs.

"How long?" he asked.

Dean and Bobby exchanged glances. "Could be a year," Bobby said. Dean swallowed and dipped his chin a fraction in acceptance. "Dean's gonna go to his place in Maryland."

"I'll stay with you," Sam said immediately, suppressing the desire to explain to Bobby just how unacceptable a lengthy separation was, given that Dean was his.

Dean shook his head, as did Bobby. "David was pretty specific, no outside presence," Bobby said gently. "Truth be told, it's already a long shot. If he says he needs Dean alone, Dean better go alone."

Dean's eyes were luminous in his too-pale face. He couldn't take care of himself like this. Sam could fuck him, but not fix him, and Dean needed the latter a lot more than the former. None of his research was coming up with any endgame, and with the fragments of rationality remaining to him Sam recognized that their situation was not stable, no matter how good it felt in the moment. Sam couldn't let his own fucked-up obsession get in the way of helping Dean. If this Kelty guy could do that, then they had to go along with his demands.

"How are we gonna get Dean there?" he asked.

Dean actually smiled. "This is pretty cool. Bobby figured out how to amp up that spell we use on the car." The incantation had a long Greek name and a longer pedigree, but Sam had called it the Somebody-Else's-Problem field since the moment he'd learned about it. It couldn't make people ignore the car—that would invite total disaster in traffic—but it could make people incurious, or forgetful about the color, make and model.

That spell had doubtless saved their asses more than once, because a 1967 Impala in cherry condition—the only condition Dean would generally allow—was not exactly inconspicuous, and they tended to drive fast and leave the car parked in plain sight. The field's worst failure had been when Bela had contrived to have the Impala towed; she must have used a very precise cantrip, because Sam hadn't even needed to reset the spell once they'd retrieved the car.

If Bobby had increased the power of the spell to cover Dean's glamor, then Dean would be as safe as he was going to get. Safer even than he was at Bobby's, most likely.

Dean was almost bouncing on his feet. "Gonna have to piss in a bottle, but he figures I'll be fine long as nobody gets too close."

"Okay," Sam said. "So when do we leave?"


Bobby sold the story just like he'd said he would, and Sam was nearly cheerful as they set out.

It was awesome to be back on the road, even for a short trip, even though Dean couldn't get out for a shit or a shower or a shave. He still got the wind in his face, the thrum of his baby under and around him, and Sammy in the passenger seat, safe and sound. The heat of the amulet built up over time in an enclosed space, but it wasn't close to incapacitating; after a day driving, he had nothing worse than a bad sunburn on his right side.

Bobby took care of calling ahead to Kelty and explaining what Sam expected to find. Kelty was cool with it, had even set up a room for Sam to see full of mystical soothing crap, supposedly to help Dean focus his energies. Dean wasn't surprised. A guy like Kelty had to be used to telling people what they wanted to hear, and Bobby's proposition had promised to make Kelty an awful lot of money.

The room was underground, heavily warded against outsiders. Nobody was getting in who wasn't preapproved. Dean figured he'd throw out all the New Age stuff once Sam took off, and then there'd be space for a widescreen TV.

"You're gonna be okay here?" Sam asked after he'd inspected every last crystal and hanging. Kelty, who turned out to be a short dark-haired guy Dean would have had trouble picking out of a lineup, had politely disappeared after showing them around his place.

"Why wouldn't I be?" Dean slung his bag onto the bed and thought about opening up the tiny dresser. Small as it was, his clothes weren't going to fill it, but the duffel was out of place and probably should go in the closet. He couldn't remember the last time he'd had a closet worth using for something other than hiding shit from housekeeping. Probably Sam's senior year of high school, back when they were still renting houses, except by then he'd left too much stuff behind during rushed departures to trust in closets. So maybe it was earlier than that.

Stupid to pay so much attention to a silly thing like a closet, anyway. Sam was just watching him, standing in the center of the room and making everything around him seem smaller.

"Dean," he said. Dean took two steps and grabbed him, fiercely, ignoring the burn where the amulet immediately set his skin on fire. Sam hugged back just as painfully hard, until he remembered the amulet and tried to struggle free.

"'s okay," Dean said, but Sam wouldn't listen, pushing him away. This near, Sam didn't have his usual advantage in reach and weight, but he was still strong as a horse and Dean was forced back, Sam's hands tight on his shoulders, arms braced to keep Dean from coming closer.

"Dean," Sam said again.

This was the last time he'd—No, bad idea to think that way. But he wanted to hold his brother, dammit.

Carefully, he put his hands around Sam's wrists, keeping his touch gentle. He leaned his head forward, close as he could get without an immediately obvious burn. "Take it off."

"No," Sam said, twisting free. But that was just an opening gambit, Dean knew.

"Last chance, Sam."

"We don't—you shouldn't need—if this guy knows what he's doing—"

Dean rolled his eyes. "So maybe I want one last go, before he turns me into a monk." He wished Sam wasn't so hung up on rhyme and reason. How many people got to have freaky incubus-awesome sex without the bummer side effect of drained life energy? And here Sam was turning it down.

Or trying. He could see the uncertainty in Sam's stance, swaying just a little. The crease between his eyes yelled out that Sam was fighting an inner war. Dean wanted to tell Sam to stop thinking and let Dean take care of him, but saying anything like that out loud would only trigger Sam's jackass-stubborn side.

They'd already crossed that line. One more time wouldn't hurt. "Sam," he whispered, the word like the beat of his heart.


Sometimes Sam told himself that the incubus venom, or whatever it was stuck in Dean's body, must be physically addictive. He already had a vulnerability for that kind of thing, and he'd never found a Demon Blood Drinkers Anonymous to teach him the right skills to resist a new dependence.

But Bobby'd kept pretty good track of Jo, and, careful to keep even a hint of concern away from Dean, he'd reported to Sam that Jo neither admitted to nor demonstrated any lingering side effects from her time with Dean. The girl from the motel was also continuing with her daily life and not wasting away, as far as the PI Sam hired could tell. So any addiction Sam had was psychological.

Story of his life, really.

Because it was good, synapse-meltingly good, every touch and thrust. The taste he'd had when Dean had been mostly unconscious was nothing like what happened when Dean was an active (not willing, no matter how hard that was to remember) participant. Even without the incubus glamor, Dean was an exquisitely physical animal; with the boost of magic, Sam worshiped him.

When Dean asked for the last time in Kelty's shabby little basement apartment, Sam honestly tried—wanted—tried to want to say no. But he didn't have the willpower.

What scared him most wasn't the lack of control. It was that he couldn't tell the difference any more between what he wanted when the amulet was on and what he wanted when it was off.

The air was chilly and a little damp, but as soon as Sam had tossed the necklace into the corner, the only discomfort he felt was the distance from Dean, and that was easily fixed.

His hands were clumsy, like they were actually swollen with the desire spilling out of his skin, tugging and tearing at Dean's clothes as Dean reciprocated, Sam's mouth already settled at the arc of Dean's shoulder, too greedy even to wait for him to be naked. There was a brief and painful interlude when Sam wrestled Dean's shirt over his head, and no way was Sam disengaging for that a second time, so he just batted Dean's hands away from his own worn T-shirt, then returned to shoving Dean's jeans off his hips, belt flapping uselessly around them.

Dean stumbled out of his boots and jeans as Sam pushed him back across the room, ending up at the low dresser that was just the right height. Dean groaned, charcoal-rough, as Sam bit along the line of his jaw, tasting salt and leather. Then Sam spun him around, Dean's hands flying out to catch himself on the wood, his nose nearly smashing into its reflection in the mirror above the dresser. Sam barely recognized himself, wild-eyed over Dean's shoulder, face flushed and hair already sticking to his forehead with sex sweat.

Sam opened his jeans one-handed, pushing Dean down with his other hand outspread on Dean's back, Dean's shoulders bunching as his head dropped and his ass thrust back, spreading his legs for Sam. Dean's compliance made him crazy; he grabbed the back of Dean's thigh and pushed until Dean's knee was up on the dresser, Dean shakily balanced on the ball of his other foot. Sam spat in his hand, reached down to slick himself while he folded himself over Dean and mouthed at the back of his neck.

Dean was tighter than he had any right to be, blood-hot and almost painful, just the edge Sam needed. He'd never fucked anyone Dean's size before, his hand barely able to cover the side of Dean's face, and it was a thrill to be able to control Dean so easily, all that breadth and strength submitting as he groaned under Sam. Sam took a mouthful of Dean's flesh and tugged at it with his teeth, just to hear Dean gasp.

When he looked up, he could see Dean's face in the mirror, eyes green as fairy lights, glowing with ecstasy. Dean wanted this, wanted him to fuck in so hard the wood creaked under them and the mirror shivered in its frame. Dean's fingers slipped across the surface of the dresser until he gave up and pressed his palms against their reflection, fighting just to avoid being slammed into the glass with Sam's thrusts. He whined and Sam wrestled a hand around to fist his cock, hotter even than the rest of him, pulsing almost immediately with his orgasm, the shudder wracking his whole body.

Sam's forehead pushed into the sweat-slippery skin between Dean's shoulders as he grabbed on to Dean's hips and came with a choked-off groan.

His toes were numb.

Still vibrating with pleasure, he eased back. Dean made a small grumbling noise, but it didn't sound like pain. Sectors of Sam's brain were coming back online, far too quickly. He was just glad that he hadn't said anything out loud, though there was very little that would have been more damning than what he'd done.

Damning, there was a word.

He couldn't stop himself from running his fingers down the line of Dean's spine. Then he tugged at his shorts and jeans until he was nearly decent. He didn't want to move away, but he only had a couple of minutes before the glamor kicked in again, so he went and recovered the amulet, leaving Dean to get dressed.

Fully clothed again, Dean turned to him and opened his mouth, but something in Sam's expression must have been too much even for Dean, who flicked his eyes away and rubbed at his chin where the stubble was threatening to become a beard after days on the road.

"Call me." The words erupted from Sam before he knew he was going to say them. "Every day. At least."

Dean's lips twitched into a smile. "Really, Sam?"

He shook his head, willing Dean not to start in on the bullshit, because Sam was not a weepy teen and also he had plenty of good reasons to want to stay in constant contact with his brother. Dean's expression softened as they stared at each other, until his lashes dipped and Sam knew he'd won.

"Might be pretty busy chanting and lighting candles, but I'll see what I can do," he said.

Sam hurt with not being able to reach out and hug him, squeeze him until Dean admitted that he didn't want to split up either. "If I don't hear from you, I'm coming right back here, and Bobby's friend can just hang his crystals off of me while you work."

Dean snorted. "Yeah, I bet you'd look awful pretty like that."

"Big words for a guy who—" Sam began, intending to say something about just how many times Dean's mouth had specifically been referenced by various rednecks angry at being hustled, then remembered himself and choked to a halt.

Dean's mouth quirked, then settled on a smile that looked more like he'd just taken a punch. But Sam couldn't apologize, because that would only make the problem worse. He swallowed. "Anyway. You call me, okay?"

Dean chewed on his lower lip for a second. "Sure, Sammy."

Leaving was like breaking bones. But for once he was doing it for Dean's own good, and that had to be enough.


The job was the easiest one Dean had ever had, safe and clean and mindless most of the time. Some of the clients were looking for something exotic. About half of those weren't repeat customers. He thought they tended to get more than they expected. Like Jo, they recognized him for a freak, and they minded.

Then there the ones who liked the freakishness, which Dean actually understood better than he would have a couple of years back. If it hadn't been for Dean, they'd be off fucking goats or whatever, which wasn't the most flattering comparison but meant that Dean was probably, on balance, improving the situation for everyone.

Other people were just lonely and willing to pay for guaranteed orgasms. Those were usually the ones who wanted to talk to him. That could be annoying—talking to strangers was always more Sam's thing than his—but it could also be okay, in the small doses that were all that the incubus glamor allowed.

They were all tested. The women showed Kelty proof they weren't going to get pregnant. Dean trusted Kelly a lot more on the first part—he needed to protect his other clients—than on the second, but Dean's options were limited and he figured that anybody rich enough to afford his services would be smart about it.

The sex was weird. Smoking, absolutely. Guaranteed, 100% money-back, Dean batted a thousand, which of course wasn't a big change, but still would have been noticeable even without the uncontrollable lust he felt himself. It was just—the first few times after he'd been infected, when he'd been out of his head, he didn't remember much. And with Jo it had been more like CPR than anything else, coming back to life in her arms.

But with Sam, it had felt—like he thought maybe it was supposed to, except even better than that. Like everything was going to be okay forever, on and on together, rolling down an infinite highway and never needing to stop for gas, always a new horizon. Each touch golden and warm, bubbling through him underneath the lightning that sizzled on his skin.

The sex he had now wasn't disappointing. Dean didn't work that way. But even the people who seemed nice enough, he didn't know them, never would, and didn't much care to. He had it, they wanted it, simple as that. Wasn't like he'd never taken cash for it before. This was easier, because with the incubus magic in effect they weren't ever going to do anything he didn't like, plus the money was a ton better even with Kelty taking his cut.

It didn't matter, because his body had never really been his own. The mission when he was a kid; then, after the deal, it was Lilith's; then it was Heaven's, as witness the mark still on his shoulder. He might've had more freedom to move around before the incubus thing, but when pedal hit metal he hadn't been the one in charge. And after the last battle, when Heaven and Hell had retreated to their corners, he hadn't made it a year before being incubus-knapped, so it wasn't like he knew what to do with himself anyway.

His body was a tool, and a tool needed someone deciding what it was supposed to do, whether it was a gun or a sex toy.

He spent a lot of time working out.


Dean did call, regular as moonrise, like he knew that Sam was itching to get back in the car and come scoop him up. Like he knew that Sam still couldn't stop thinking about how he opened up for Sam, the sounds he made, the taste—

There was a lot of time alone in the car on the way back to South Dakota, and after. The loneliness didn't do Sam any favors.

He moped for a full day before Bobby had him working again—"got to get you out of my hair, boy, I don't have that much left," a couple of simple salt and burns that went unmentioned to Dean.

After a week of random conversations about celebrity gossip, gun control (Dean was, shockingly, for it—after all, he maintained, as a criminal he'd still have a gun, but a bunch of idiots would be disarmed), and the proper care and feeding of the Impala, Sam managed to ask whether Dean was doing okay or whether the need was getting to him. After some fumbling over terminology, Dean said, "Oh!" and Sam wasn't sure which one of them was the idiot. "Don't worry about that, Sammy," Dean said easily. "First thing Kelty took care of."

"That's great," Sam said, so thrilled to hear that there'd been specific progress that he could easily ignore the thread of discontent, the little voice that had been whispering about going to visit Dean, giving him what no one else could provide.

"Well, yeah, getting me under control and gettin' it under control, they're not really the same thing," Dean said, uncomfortable again. Sam could picture him, pacing to work off some of the stress of the conversation, wiping his free hand over his mouth and chin. "Just saying, don't—I'm not sure we're gonna make the Grand Canyon this year, okay?"

"No worries," Sam told him, meaning it. "As long as you're good."

Dean hitched a laugh. "Good as I can be," which, well, he was a Winchester.


"Um," his newest client said, stepping into the room with the amulet clutched tight in her hand.

Dean leaned back against the wall and gave her his brightest smile. He'd picked a light blue shirt—getting no sun, white made him look too much like a vampire—and khakis, though he hadn't bothered with shoes. "Hi," he said. "I'm Dean."

"I'm Rachel," she said, and then looked so surprised that he knew she'd thought, too late, that maybe she should use a fake name. She was plump, maybe five-four, wearing a really nice royal blue business suit and gold knot earrings. Her dark brown hair swung around her shoulders, neatly curled in on the ends.

"Nice to meet you," he said as she looked nervously around the room and took a half-step towards the one chair, over by the reading desk.

"You too." She was barely looking at him, flushed high on her cheeks.

"Hey," he said gently. "This is your show. You just let me know what you want to happen."

She managed to meet his eyes, though she was still as pink as if she'd just finished a five-mile run. "I—actually, I was hoping you'd. Well. Take the lead?"

"I can do that," he reassured her. "Any time you want to put that down," he gestured at the amulet, "we can get started."

She looked at the chain in her palm and raised a skeptical eyebrow, but didn't comment. "Okay," she said, and took a deep breath as she put the amulet down on his desk.

The haze settled into him, golden and delicious, and he didn't care about anything else.

Afterwards, during the recovery period, she started sobbing.

Dean rolled as far away from her as he could without falling out of the bed. "Are you—" Don't be a moron. "Did I—can I do something?"

Rachel covered her mouth with her hands to cut off the sound, but she was still crying, her eyes screwed shut and her hair wild around her face. Dean flipped the sheet over her, careful not to touch her. "No, I'm okay," she said through hitching sobs. "I'm okay."

Dean shoved his legs back into his shorts, then pulled on the khakis and a stray T-shirt as he tried to figure out what to do about such an obvious lie. "Do you need me to get David?" he tried. Kelty's smooth talk was the only hope of resolving this situation.

She shook her head, struggling to cut back on the tears, and she was managing to fight them down in frequency. They had about a minute and a half before the incubus glamor would kick in again. He could fuck her through her tears, easy, but the thought lacked appeal. Dean hurried over to the desk, grabbing the chain and wincing at the burn. He was careful not to touch Rachel when he lowered it down, letting it coil in the space just below the hollow of her neck, the amulet winking up at him through the loops of chain surrounding it.

"It's not a trick, is it?" she asked after a couple more minutes, when she was just gulping breath. "I thought—I was sure it was a gimmick, something you did to make everything seem sexier. Especially when I saw you—" she opened her tear-gummed eyes at last, and moved one hand away from her face to gesture at him. "I mean, seriously? But it's not a trick."

"No," he said.

She laughed, staring at the ceiling. Her fingers curled in the sheet as she pulled it a little further up her body. "Do you know how much therapy I've paid for? How many pills, how many devices, how many stupid goddamned books? And all it takes for me to have an orgasm is an actual incubus."

"I'm not exactly an—wait a second."

She was pink again, embarrassment mingled with recent activity. "Yeah."

"That's terrible," he told her, unguarded, then froze as he realized that he'd been what Sam would call an insensitive ass.

But she didn't seem to mind. "Yeah."

He'd been more than a few girls' firsts, but that seemed different. God, he was glad to be a guy. Girls were more complicated than spellwork, and it was really pretty awful that this woman had gone through over thirty years without ever coming. At least she'd stopped crying. He might've had to run out of the room if she hadn't. "Well," he suggested, "why don't we try for a couple more, while you're here?"

She giggled, though there was still more than a little sadness in it. "I like the sound of that."


Dean had never called when Sam was away at Stanford. There'd been a couple of postcards that first year, and every few months a package, usually containing cheap porn wrapped around a bundle of cash. Eventually Sam decided that it was a mistake to draw things out like that. When Dad and Dean obviously weren't willing to talk, he wasn't going to let them get away with pretending that they still cared. So he marked the next package "Return to Sender"—it had one of their standard PO Boxes on it, so he was pretty sure they'd get the message. And sure enough, that had been the last padded envelope.

Sam had gotten a job at the library to make up the difference. He hadn't missed seeing Dean's careful, blocky handwriting on the tan packages, so much neater than his usual scrawl because he wanted other people to be able to read it. Dean's handwriting was nothing of Dean himself, worse than nothing because the money inside was like some sort of guilt offering, except that Sam was the one who was supposed to feel guilty. He'd wanted none of it.

If Dean had called—

As it turned out, none of that had kept Sam out of the hunting life, so it wasn't worth revisiting.

Anyway, this separation was completely different, and the biggest change was that Dean called him at least once a day, just to shoot the shit. Cooped up as he was, Dean didn't ever have much to report, but that didn't matter. It was enough to hear his voice, make fun of his taste in music, and listen to him bullshit about past victories.

Sam told him about the day's work, when it didn't involve hunting anyway. Bobby kept him pretty busy, researching for other hunters and then doing manual labor in the yard. Bobby wouldn't trust him on a sensitive engine repair any more than Dean would, and Sam wouldn't have mentioned it if he had, because Dean would only be jealous. But there was always something heavy that needed moving and Sam was good at moving heavy things. Dean seemed to enjoy hearing about his misadventures, especially because a stubbed toe was about the worst danger he reported.

They talked about the past when the present ran out of material, sharing good memories and bad. When Dean got choked up over one of his many losses, he'd go silent—Sam was positive that he used the 'mute' button so that Sam wouldn't hear him breathe all wet and uneven, which was as good as crying for Dean—and Sam would wait him out, just like they were leaning next to each other on the car. Sam could imagine Dean's face, the warmth emanating from him even when they weren't touching, and it was almost like being right there with him. Sam's fingers ached to be wrapped around a beer, just so he could hand it to Dean, brushing shoulders as their fingers overlapped. It wasn't even about the incubus glamor. That desire had settled into his bones and lived there entwined with the rest of it, but there was a rest of it: Dean, whole and entire.

He lived with the want and didn't tease Dean about getting back, because he knew it was harder for Dean. Dean was struggling to come home to him. Dean knew what was at stake and he didn't need any extra pressure from Sam.


About five weeks in, when Bobby reported making progress on his side of the plan, Dean took the first step towards easing Sam into his new life. Sam had once told him a fable about a frog and a pot of boiling water. He figured Sam was a lot like that frog: some ideas Sam would never accept outright. But get him used to pieces, a bit at a time, and eventually he'd be right where he needed to be, never noticing how the world had changed around him.

The first step was a doozy, but Dean had a really good story for him.

"So, I have to retire. Quit hunting," he announced to Sam at the beginning of that night's call. Then he waited for the sputtering to die down. "Listen: Kelty says even when I have this thing under control, I'm still gonna have to worry about accidents. If I get hit on the head and end up in a hospital, or if I get arrested, I won't be able to do what I need to do. Can't take the risk any more."

Sam breathed down the line for a couple of minutes. "Is he sure?" he asked, his voice carefully neutral. Dean nodded to himself. Sam was nosing around the bait, not quite sure whether he could trust a treat that good-looking.

"Sure enough to convince me," Dean told him. "You know me, Sam. You think I can keep up some yoga chant, or whatever ends up working for me, in the middle of a firefight? I'm not that calm."

"What about saving people?" Prodding, looking for a weakness.

"I will be saving people," Dean pointed out. "I'll be saving 'em from me. I figure it's an honorable discharge. I'm not—I'm okay with it. I gotta be."


"Anyway," Dean hurried, because he needed Sam to think it over for a few weeks, make all the arguments to himself better than Dean ever could, "there's a long road before I can even think about hunting, or not hunting. Who knows, maybe we'll figure out some trick that'll work twenty-four/seven."

"Sure," Sam said faintly.


Sam didn't entirely trust himself to stop hunting. The power, corrupt as any demon, still lived in him, gleaming and black and sliding over his soul like a slick of oil. Without a constant reminder of the difference between good and evil, sacred and profane, he might backslide. It wasn't just exorcisms and telekinesis—those weren't particularly easy to abuse. He hadn't bothered with working on the mind-control aspects of his heritage, too caught up in hunting demons, but the potential would always be there.

But if Dean were with him, he could imagine a better way. Building a life together. Coming home to the knowledge that Dean was safe.

He had no freaking clue about how to choke the hunger still burning in him for Dean, but he could deal with the endless want. He'd have to, because the alternatives were not to be faced. It was hard enough being apart even temporarily, waking each morning and fighting not to call and demand Dean return to him, fixed or not.

When Dean was better, the temptation wouldn't be so strong, and they could be together. Sam deserved some unfulfilled longings in his life, anyway. Lucifer might have kicked most of the pride out of him, but he was pretty sure he could still use some lessons in humility.

It was just that he couldn't stop thinking about how Dean had felt, skin to skin. Slick and hot and writhing against him, like Sam was the king of the universe without anything demonic about it, nothing but wet heat and shivering ecstasy.

After he burned the bones of a priest who was haunting his parish in Columbus, Sam stopped at a bar with the vague idea of getting just lit enough to find a willing girl. Or, fuck it, a guy. But it was useless. He wanted to curl up inside his own skin, cringing away from anyone who caught his eye. He wanted to turn to the phantom presence at his side and exchange knowing smiles. He wanted—

He wanted, and he'd happily take ten percent of what he wanted if that ten percent was Dean, returned to him. He tried not to say it too often, both because who knew what would follow that basic confession if he got careless and because he knew Dean worried about him anyway. He could hear that much in Dean's voice when Dean teased him about being all alone with Bobby.

Sam slunk out of Ohio like he was still being chased by the FBI. He went back to Bobby's because if he didn't, if he drifted in the Winchester way, he'd be knocking down Kelty's door before he found another hunt.


"So have you always been—like this?" Rachel's languid gesture encompassed the room, the amulet, and Dean's body.

"Nah," he told her, rolling a little bit away. They had a couple of minutes before he'd recharge enough that he'd have to touch her again. "Like I told you, I'm not a real—I used to be a hunter. Ghosts, vampires, werewolves, stranger shit than that. Then I got caught by a bunch of succubi and incubi—" he still felt his skin heat every time he had to say it, but given what he'd just done with Rachel it was kind of stupid to be shy—"and something went wrong, I ended up like this."

"A hunter," she said, trying out the word. "Tell me about it?"

He thought about it. Hard to see the harm in telling her a couple of hunter's yarns. "Only if you'll try some stuff with the amulet on." If he was careful (and flexible) enough, it would hardly hurt, and if he couldn't be out saving people at least maybe he could be helping other ways.

"Dean, I—" He reached out and curled his fingers around her upper arm. He didn't know her, but that kind of despair was hard to hear even from a near-stranger.

"Just give it a try," he said. "I know what I'm doin'."

"You think you're the first guy who thought he could—" She stopped, pale with shame and anger.

"Hey," he said, and shuffled his body a little closer. "If it doesn't work, easy enough to do it the other way. And you'll like the stories, anyway."

"... Okay," she whispered, not looking at him.


Sam tried not to ask about progress more than once a week. But the fifth time Dean hemmed and hawed and ultimately admitted that he was no closer to being able to walk among civilians unmolested, Sam decided that he needed to be working on the problem as well. It was excellent that Dean didn't feel the need to go out and fuck like an incubus in order to stay alive (even if Sam thought that Kelty had solved entirely the wrong problem, one that Sam had well in hand—so to speak—before Bobby came up with the guy's name). Still, Dean's desire to mingle with common humanity was, Sam thought, not at all unreasonable.

Fortunately, Bobby took a trip to consult with some kind of gunsmith soon after Sam had made up his mind to intervene, allowing Sam free rein. He was extra careful setting up all the wards and Devil's Traps. He was pretty sure that if he accidentally put himself inside one of those, he wasn't getting out without a lot of pain. Demon blood: the gift that keeps on giving.

Anyway, he prepared a space in Bobby's garage and did the ritual.

The figure that popped into existence in the middle of the bare patch of concrete was dirty blonde and green-eyed, heart-shaped face and more curves than Route 1. She was barefoot, wearing something gauzy and white out of a Stevie Nicks music video, and despite that Sam knew that if it hadn't been for his amulet he would have been rutting against her mindlessly before she'd finished materializing.

Surprise flashed across her face, then morphed into a smirk. "Sam Winchester."

Fuck, he hated being last year's Hell's Next Top Model. He let his expression harden further.

When she realized he wasn't going to initiate, she smiled wider, lips gleaming. "I would have called you Master," she said, more suggestive than a pay-per-porn ad.

"You still can," he pointed out.

She pouted. "What do you want?"

"Some of your kind did something to my brother, and I want to know what."

The succubus's lips parted. He could see her teeth, sharp and white. "Well, Sam, when a demon and a human love each other very much—or when the demon wants a snack—"

Sam clenched his fist and she curled in on herself, emitting a soft pained sound that Sam was only grateful he didn't find sexy. "They infected him somehow, gave him their glamor. I want to know how to fix it."

She raised her head and giggled then. "No, really? I guess you can take the demon out of Hell, but—"

"He's not a demon," Sam said over her wet rasping breaths. When she managed to look at him again, still trembling with pain, he continued. "How did they do it?"

She choked on her own spit. He waited, then lifted his hand when he judged that she was capable of speech. "I don't know!" she squealed.

"How do you make an incubus?" Sam demanded.

She blinked as if honestly confused. "Why? You want to try?" But her bravado didn't last; Sam didn't even have to lift a finger before she continued. "There's a special circle of Hell. Just like a regular demon, and then there are—enhancements."

"What kind of enhancements?" Sam asked warily.

Her expression changed, fury mixed with what Sam didn't want to think was self-loathing. With her lip twitching in a sneer, the resemblance to Dean was striking. "Oh, the fun kind. It's all French ticklers and glitter."

Sam had never allowed himself to think about how close Dean had come to going black-eyed. Obviously Dean wasn't a demon, no matter what the succubus said. Even ignoring Sam's capacity for denial, Dean had swallowed down Bobby's holy water, so there was objective proof to the contrary. "Could it be done aboveground?"

She tilted her head, examining him like he was a puzzling piece of conceptual art. "Oh, sweetie, you don't have the first clue about Hell. No wonder it didn't work out with you and Lucifer. No living body could survive what we do for ten minutes. Whatever happened to your precious brother—and we'll make a demon of him yet, Sam—he's not one of us." Her face contorted, and he could see the gaping black horror underneath through the sweet smile. "But if you want a taste of the real thing, I can provide. It'll only cost you a couple of weeks—a month, tops. And do you really think you're going to be around to collect Social Security, anyway?"

He ignored her and tried to decide whether he believed her story. The idea of a special sector of Hell made sense of why there was no particular lore about incubus creation. But then, what had happened to Dean? Possibly there was some lingering taint in Dean that the demons had been able to twist, whether purposefully or accidentally.

When he focused on the succubus again, she was wide-eyed, looking like a human in need of rescue from a monster. Sam didn't bother adjusting his expression, because nobody who mattered was watching. "Please," she said, terror stretching her voice too high. "I can—I can give you what you want."

This wasn't a human woman. This wasn't even a ghost echo, lost in its own confusion. This was a monster, and he couldn't go back in time to when it wasn't.

He tuned the succubus out and gathered in the power that let him eliminate demons. Yeah, it was dangerous to use, but not as dangerous as letting a demon bounce around Hell knowing that Dean now had an extra set of problems. The Winchesters had too many enemies left for that tidbit to get around.

Exorcising the demon hurt, like it used to hurt, because he was out of practice. He meant to stay that way. The stabbing pain was not exactly welcome, but he found the agony strangely reassuring.

It turned out that, since a succubus wasn't occupying a human body, what was left over an hour after he ripped out its essence was nothing more than a puddle of not-quite-ectoplasm. That was convenient. Bobby might well have noticed an extra grave on his property, but he was unlikely to check the drains.


A few weeks after Dean first suggested quitting for good, Bobby called him. Sam was dropping hints about Bobby retiring and Sam and Dean taking over his place. "I told him, 'Boy, you're in such a hurry for me to get out, I'm a mite afraid you'll try and speed me along.' Dean," his voice turned concerned, "you know that's not—"

"I know," Dean said, annoyed that Bobby could think differently, even for a moment. "And fuck no he's not gonna walk off with someone else to go hunting, even if—You let me work on Sam. You work on that freakin' revolver."

Bobby didn't say anything for a couple of minutes, only the display of his cell letting Dean known that the call was still live. "I keep letting you down, son. I don't—"

"Bobby," Dean said, his voice coming out soft and shocked. "You have never, never let me or Sam down. I—" He stopped and looked around the room, blurry and indistinct, even though he knew no one was watching. "I know you'll do everything you can to help."

So that conversation really sucked. But after a couple of useless runs at Bobby that Sam only described in indirect hints, Sam started thinking bigger than just semi-retirement for them both. Talking about school again, someplace where Dean could get a job. When Dean refused to play along with that last part, Sam would just make up careers for him. For some reason Sam really liked the idea of Dean making furniture. Which, actually, was not the worst thing Dean could have imagined, if he had ever allowed himself fantasies that weren't about sex. Building something sturdy that people would use, would see every day—if he hadn't been a hunter, yeah, he could have been into that.

He humored Sam, so obviously that Sam got mad, and then he started to say 'Sure, Sam,' without any mocking at all, like Sam was talking about how it might be nice to get a condo on the moon: theoretically true, if you were into that kind of thing, but not relevant. And then he couldn't help but think about it for real, even though that just left him hollow and raw, shoving his face into his pillow so that no noise would get out. He nearly hated Sam, a little, for making him want it, which was stupid because that life had already been out of the question decades before the incubus thing.

Sam still thought there was a way out for both of them. Dean knew better—that door was only open wide enough to admit one—but each time it was hard, harder than he'd thought it would be, to get off the phone and see the clients and wait for Bobby to call with news.

If it hadn't been for Sam, and being apart from Sam, he could have enjoyed living in one place. His excuse for quitting hunting sounded better and better each time he rehearsed it.

He liked the thought of the cash piling up, too, buying Sam a future.

Back when Sam was a kid, Dean had kept a wall between what he did and what Sam got. He'd paid for Sam's clothes and food, anything Sam needed, with Dad's cash or scam money: pool, poker, or even petty theft when he wasn't going to get caught. Dean had spent his real earnings mostly on ammo and the car. (Maybe he'd always known, deep down, that Sam was never going to want that part of their life.) Okay, and sometimes he'd use it for beer or whatever, because—because life was hard, and he wasn't hurting anyone. He was in charge and if a guy wanted to give him folding money for the opportunity to blow him, then Dean was going to take it.

He'd always hated to use his money to make rent, because that was too much like getting Sam mixed up in it. But sometimes there was that too, because Dad never was much good with the accounts, especially once Dean started contributing. If Sam had ever found out, he would have felt guilty and at the same time he would have looked down on Dean even more than he already did. It was just another secret. Sometimes Dean thought about Sam and Dad as civilians. They didn't want to know and they didn't have to know.

After Sam left, there hadn't been any lines to respect. And then after Sam came back there hadn't been too many opportunities, what with Dean getting a little old for most of the places he knew how to find, not to mention with Sam hanging around all the time.

Sam was going to throw the shitfit to end all shitfits when he found out about his inheritance, but in the end, Dean was sure, he'd be realistic.


Sam fucked up his knee something awful on a hunt for a black dog, nearly getting his arm bitten off to boot. He didn't mean to tell Dean, but he was kind of floaty on painkillers when his cell started to vibrate, and the story came out pretty quickly thereafter.

Dean was furious, which made Sam angry, but not angry enough to cater to Dean's need to feel guilty. He could imagine the tightness on Dean's face, the way his lips would pull back, how he'd stalk around the room as he ranted, how the inability to see Sam would make his concern more intense, same as it was for Sam.

"Dean," he interrupted, when Dean started repeating himself, "'m sorry. Don't be mad," tears thickening his voice.

His brother stopped like he'd been hit on the head. "I'm not mad," he said after a long moment, blatant contradiction. "I just—what're you doing out there, Sammy?" He sounded honestly bewildered. "You don't want to hunt, you don't like it, and you sure as fuck aren't safe without me watching your back. You're waiting for me, I get that, so fucking wait for me."

Sam sank down onto his bed, the one Bobby had shown up with a couple of weeks into his stay, grumbling about how he needed to clear out that storage room anyhow. "I don't—I need something to do," he admitted. Planning for the future, like he'd started to do, was distinct from now. And he realized, with the distance allowed by high-quality drugs, that he had no particular roadmap for getting from now to then.

When he came down from his high, he was going to have to change that.

"You tried video poker?" Dean joked, obviously trying to jolly him into a better mood, and Sam obligingly chuckled.

"What do you want to do? When you get out?" He'd asked before, but never got more than lame jokes in return.

Dean sighed. "Ah, Sam—"

He knew it wasn't a fair question, because Dean had built his entire façade around being the guy who didn't want anything else out of life but the hunt. But he'd seen enough the past few years to know that Dean had a couple of secret wishes of his own, and not all of them had to end horribly. "Just—talk to me, 'kay?"

Maybe it was the drugged-out slur in his voice, maybe it was only that it was late, but Dean swallowed audibly and, after further hesitation, said, "I've been thinkin', it'd be nice to have a place outside a big city. Near enough to get anything you want, far enough that we could have a house."

Sam stretched his leg out along the mattress. Dean's voice curled into his ear, confessional, and his dick twitched.

He hadn't allowed himself to do this, ever. Not that Dean would be disgusted—he'd probably find it hilarious, not understanding just how deep Sam's corruption went—but it was wrong for Sam, dangerous. He knew all that, but the drugs made reality cotton-edged, malleable. He reached down and popped the button of his jeans, wriggled his hand inside. "Yeah? What kind of house?"

"Maybe a Victorian, with one of those little towers." Dean's voice still had a little bit of 'seriously?' in it, but Dean was nothing if not willing to commit. "Uh, a porch, sit outside after dinner and have a couple of beers. Fireplace for the winter. You could—you could have a study, look out over the garden."

Sam tugged slowly, enjoying the feel of his cock filling. "Garden? You gonna start growing flowers?"

"Fuck no, that's your job," Dean rejoined. "I spend my free time with my baby. You want lilacs and tiger lilies and that shit, you put it together."

Sam snorted, pressed his thumb down and thrust his hips into the air. He didn't point out that Dean had named specific flowers in his imaginary garden that he didn't care at all about. "You won't go into the back yard, even for barbecue?"

"I didn't say that," Dean chided. "Mmm, barbecue. Summer nights, fire up the grill. I could go for burgers and sausage, no reason to choose."

"It's your heart attack," Sam said, a little breathless now, hoping Dean would chalk it up to the painkillers. "You gonna cook for me all the time, then?"

Dean didn't even bother to curse him. "You'd look good in an apron, making me pie," he said. His voice turned wistful. "Apple pie, cherry, maybe some Boston cream. I could build a pie safe—you know that's actual furniture, do you believe it?"

"Yeah, I know," Sam said, rubbing faster. "You—you build it and I'll use it," he promised.

"No fences, though," Dean said, like that made any kind of sense. "I know there's that poem and everything, but—I wouldn't want fences. I'd want to see what's going on."

"Sure," Sam agreed. Right then he probably would have agreed to Dean's yen to make the front parlor into a Metallica shrine.

"It'd be nice to get a place that needed some work," Dean said, and even through the haze of arousal, Sam could tell that this was, for Dean, a confession. He opened his mouth on a soundless gasp, grateful for and hating the distance that kept him from reaching out and grabbing Dean. "New roof, new paint, that kind of thing. Makes a place more, you know, worth staying at."

"Uh-hunh," Sam managed. He was so fucking close—

"Put a satellite dish in," Dean mused, "games and those cooking shows you love—"

Sam jerked up and came, shoving his hand in his mouth to silence the groan. He laid back and fought to keep his breath even, pleasure rolling over him like the tide.

"Sam?" Dean asked, just a hint of worry.

"Don't lie, you're the one who can't get enough Food Network," Sam managed heroically, still seeing sparks of color flash behind his eyelids.

"That'd be awesome," Dean said, as soft as if he knew Sam was about to roll over and sleep now.

"Yeah," he agreed. "Tomorrow, 'kay?"

"Tomorrow," Dean repeated, and even if he couldn't touch Dean, even if he'd never be allowed to get exactly what he wanted, right now the thought of Dean, safe and certain to be there tomorrow, was enough to make him happy.


Dean hadn't entirely expected Rachel to return, or maybe that was wishful thinking. He'd been pretty fucking embarrassed that he hadn't been able to make her come when she was wearing the amulet. He'd been a little handicapped by having to stay far away from her chest so as not to get burned, but not enough that it should have mattered. When she showed up on her regular day and time, he guessed that his failure made the incubus powers even more attractive.

"So," she said during one of their breaks, "you're Dean Winchester."

Fuck, he should have known better than to tell her so many details. Just another complaint to lay against his failure of skills. "How'd you figure it out?"

She shrugged, which made her breasts shimmy intriguingly. "I work for Homeland Security. I can correlate information like you wouldn't believe."

"You're not scared of bein' in bed with a serial killer?"

She turned on her side, propping herself up with one elbow. "But you're not, are you? You're a hunter, you and your brother. There were always anomalies in your files. The FBI doesn't mix well with vampires and ghosts."

He nodded fervently, remembering Henricksen.

"Tell me more," she said. "Start with how you're not dead in a police station in Oregon."

"That," he started and then, surprising himself, grinned. "That's a long story. I'll tell you if you promise to bring a vibrator next time."

Angry silence. Then: "I've tried—"

"Yeah, but I've got a couple of ideas. It won't hurt."

"There's lots of ways to get hurt," Rachel told the far wall. Dean knew what she meant—trying and failing, again and again, was rough on a person. It was a lot easier to stop trying. But he wasn't planning to be around forever, and Rachel was nicer than most of his clients. Sex should be compensation for the rest of being alive. She deserved to have that, same as anybody. It would be nice to help one last person. Kind of like a fuck-you to the demons that had done this to him.

"Please," he said.

She sighed. "Fine."


Sam didn't know exactly what Dean had said to Bobby about the black dog, but Bobby kept him on light duty for weeks afterwards, so Dean must have done one of his Dad impersonations. Except that Bobby would never have taken shit from Dad, so Sam could hardly imagine how Dean had guilt-tripped him. Sometimes he wished—well, it was selfish to be jealous of Dean's connection with Bobby. It wasn't like Dean hadn't proved his basic loyalty, over and over.

It was only that Sam couldn't get over the feeling that Bobby thought Dean would be a lot better off without Sam in his life.

One night, when Dean had been so busy he'd barely had time for fifteen minutes of conversation, Sam got drunk enough to confess his suspicions. (Dean would have dragged him out of the kitchen before that could have happened, and then bitched at him for the next week about holding his liquor.)

Bobby stared at him, eyes round as quarters. "I oughta slap you," he said, voice thick. Sam blinked back, stomach sinking. "You boys don't even know where the one ends and the other begins. Do I think it's right? 'Course not. But I ain't fool enough to—" He stopped, looked away, and poured himself another shot. He downed the alcohol with a grimace and shook his head. "The both of ya talk a lot about which one's stronger, which one needs the other more. It's a bad way to think, but if Dean's deal and drinking demon blood and all the rest didn't teach you that then I don't expect an old man's nattering will make any difference. You're good men at heart, the both of you, but you'd be a lot better if you—"

His mouth slammed shut, and he shook his head. "Nah, I don't mean that. You got dealt a dead man's hand. I don't rightly know what you should've done instead. I do know—Sam, you can't put your life on hold forever. Even if you're not opening the gates of Hell, you—Dean's a man grown now. He wants you to stand on your own. Doesn't mean he don't love you more than anything else in this world or the next."

Sam swallowed, tasting tears and bile through the sourness of his beer. He knew he was the one who was running behind now, too afraid of being left alone to think right. Dean might have been infected by the incubus glamor, but Sam was the one who was sick. "I know all that," he said, staring at the bottles on the table in front of him. "I know, but I can't—"

"Yeah," Bobby said, and sighed. "I didn't figure you could."


It took a lot of careful contortion and three different attempts before Rachel came with Dean's hand on the vibrator, but it was totally worth it for how she thanked him (he manfully ignored the tears). Then it was three more sessions before they managed it again. Ordinarily he wouldn't have wanted to work that hard, but after so many demon-hazed fucks it was sweet to create some purely human magic, like mastering a really complicated rifle. He figured the incubus power helped him out, at least by convincing her that her body really was capable of coming, but he was going to claim credit for the rest.

"I got you something," she said after the third time. They were sprawled as far apart as they could get on the bed, which was big enough that Dean didn't feel too much heat from the amulet, though he was going to ask her to take it off if she didn't mind going again the magical way, because its proximity did get hard to ignore after a while.

"Mmm, what?" He hoped it wasn't jewelry. Everything he wore was his, chosen and made meaningful by years of familiarity, and he'd hate to have to turn her down but he wasn't going to wear something just for her.

She got out of bed, grabbing for the green robe on the back of his chair with the weird modesty so many women had. When she'd covered up everything he'd just seen and touched, she walked over to where she'd left her briefcase by the door. "Here," she said, returning with a manila envelope.

He opened it, curious, and gave himself a papercut on the flap, swearing and sucking on his thumb before he pulled out a single heavy sheet of paper.

"What is this?" It had fancy, almost unreadable lettering, like the credits in an old monster movie, and Sam's name smack in the middle.

"Your brother took a bunch of summer courses. He was only shy a few credits, and Stanford has a lot of government contracts. I got the idea from a TV show, actually: I convinced them to overlook the last few units, and now he's officially a graduate."

"This is—" He had to take a breath. "How'd you know I—"

"I have listened to you talk about your life," she pointed out. "I know you don't want him out there hunting if you can't be there. At least this gives him some options. You're both out of the federal databases now. They clear the data when someone's declared dead. So he doesn't have to worry about that either."


"Happy early birthday, Sammy," Dean said, his voice full of sunshine, when Sam called to ask him what the fuck.

"Why would you—?" It was so cruel, and cruel in a way he'd thought Dean incapable of. "Dean, a fake diploma isn't going to do anything."

"Not a fake," Dean said, wounded, as if only now realizing that Sam might have distrusted his gift. "Call 'em up and check if you want. You're a college man."

Dean's voice was so confident that Sam had to believe him. "How?" he asked.

"Kelty's got some friends in high places," Dean said casually. "Pulled some strings, 'cause I guess he got tired of hearin' me talking all the time about how you pretty much got screwed out of your fancy education. He said it was fuckin' with my chi or whatever, says I'll do better if I know you're happy."

"How—I'm legally dead, Dean, how can I—?"

Dean snorted. "I don't think schools track stories about felons dying in custody, Sam. You better get one of those Facebook websites or whatever, prove to the internet you're still alive so you can't be the dead guy, but after that you should be golden."

Sam sat in silence, suppressing the laughs that shook him, but not doing quite as well with the tears.

"Dude, you better not be crying."

"No," Sam lied. "Dean, I—" I don't even remember why I thought this would make me happy, he wanted to say. But he couldn't spit at Dean's generosity, this shocking indulgence from a lost world. And a Stanford degree certainly wouldn't hurt in implementing his agenda for when Dean could be around civilians again.


"Dean," Sam began the conversation a few weeks later. "I, uh."

"What is it?" Sam hadn't been so hesitant in months. The circumstances might have sucked, but in some ways they were doing better than ever, able to say anything without the constant pressure of each other's physical presence, enjoying each other more because they weren't cooped up in about a hundred square feet of car twelve hours a day.

"I wrote my application essay for law schools."

"That's great," Dean said. "Right?" He'd been so grateful when Sam decided to take Rachel's gift and use it. Sam deserved a future as shiny and neat as he could make it.

"Yeah, but. I had to—there's this big gap on my CV, and I need to explain it. So the essay, it's. I—it's about you, and Dad, and how we grew up, and how you called me right at the end of Stanford. The thing is, it's—when I wrote my college essays, I did the same thing. Making my life into a fairytale where Dad runs us around the country and my brother who's only four years older raises me, gets me to school and makes my sandwiches and gives me the sex talk. I've got twelve high school transcripts and I took precalculus in three different states. I overcame all these obstacles because I'm just that good and in America you can get anything as long as you work for it, right?"

Dean didn't know what to say to that. The criticism of their father was old hurt, healed up enough that it didn't seem worth mentioning.

Sam continued: "When I wrote it for college, I believed every word. And now I have to tell the same story so I can explain how when you called me to come help find Dad I had to come, and how we drifted around for the next five years. I have to show that I'm worthy of being rescued from the underclass all over again, and I'm doing it because that's how it works, that's what gets you admission. But now it's—I know the parts of it that are lies, even when they're just facts, even if you take out all the supernatural shit. I don't want you and Dad to be characters in this fake drama I wrote where I'm the hero and you're the, whatever, the Giving Tree. You didn't do any of it so I could escape that life." Dean opened his mouth, but Sam barreled on as if he could see Dean's intent to interrupt. "You didn't do any of it so I could stay, either. You did it because you're my brother, and I don't want to exploit that."

Dean couldn't help it; he laughed. He could feel Sam's indignation radiating across the airwaves, so he tried to convert his reaction into words that Sam could somehow translate. He was smart enough to bite down on the first thing that came to mind, which was 'You had no problem drinking demon blood and now you're worried about the ethics of exploiting your tragic family history?' Yeah, no, and actually that made more sense of why Sam was freaking out now, not trusting his own judgment even though that was all behind them.

"Sam," he began, kind of enjoying being the big brother who could put it all in perspective, "you're talking to a guy who ran credit card scams and hustled pool just to put gas in the tank. You think I'm worried about what you put down on a piece of paper? Like you said, it's not really me and Dad, and why would it matter what some pencil-pusher thinks about us anyway? You do what you gotta do. Let's face it, our life hasn't been so freakin' grand so far. If you can pretty it up so's they let you in and it makes them feel good about themselves doin' it, then I say take what you can get."

Sam was silent for a while. "You can read the essay, if you want."

Dean hadn't even known about the college applications, and that was at a time when Dean would have sworn he knew more about Sammy than about his best gun. He wondered how he would have felt if he'd come across one of those essays when Sam was seventeen, whether he would have seen himself in Sam's description at all.

Dean shook his head, knowing that Sam would feel his reaction even halfway across the country. "So do you have to take that test again?"

Sam shrugged—Dean didn't have to see it to be certain of that. "Won't hurt. Prove I still have a brain. Did you know that I'm not even that old for Harvard or Yale? Turns out, a lot of the students there take off time between college and law school."

"What do they do?" Dean asked, idle curiosity mostly.

"Get Ph.D.s, work in government, volunteer with the Peace Corps—save the world, I guess."

"'Save the world'?" Dean repeated, not sure he'd heard right. Then he snorted, and Sam realized what he'd said and broke into that helpless, choked-off laughter that had been nearly absent from their lives since—well, for a long time. Hearing Sam laugh kept Dean going too, not that he'd ever admit to giggling or anything like that, but his stomach hurt when he was done. "You—you'll fit right in," Dean managed finally, so proud of Sam he felt stretched out of his skin with it.

Then he noticed the time—Ralph would be there in a few minutes, and it was much better to be prepared for Ralph. The man had the refractory period of a sixteen-year-old and tastes that might have impressed Alastair. "Hey, look, gotta go."

They didn't bother with goodbyes. They both knew they'd be talking tomorrow. It was a greater certainty than they'd had in years, and, while Sam's name still showed on his phone, Dean was content.


The letter arrived at the post office while Bobby was off on his road trip, but even if he'd been back at the yard Sam would have called Dean first. Dean didn't pick up, so Sam left a message, and just as he parked back at Bobby's, Dean returned the call.

"Harvard's giving me a ton of money," Sam said immediately. "I'm still gonna have to borrow another ton, but with starting salaries the way they are, and you and me living the way we know how, we're only talking about a couple of years of wage slavery."

"That's awesome," Dean said indulgently, and sincerely. It used to drive Sam crazy how Dean could mix those, but Dean wasn't being condescending. He'd had enough trouble accepting the idea that he was done hunting—Sam had heard it in his voice, wistful and speculative even as the months passed and no permanent cure emerged—and it was easier for him to want normal indirectly, via Sam. "How much is a ton?"

"I'll be borrowing about fifty thousand dollars." It was so much money for them that it might as well have been a million, so he didn't bother to hem and haw about it. He got out of the car, closing the door carefully so that Dean wouldn't overhear the slam and complain about rough handling, and headed towards the porch.

Dean let out a whistle. "They just give that kinda money to broke-ass law students with no job history anybody can find? No wonder the economy's in a fuckin' mess."

Sam smiled. "Hey, I'm a good bet now. And like I said, after a couple of years I'll be able to take any job I want. Helping people, you know."

"Harvard man," Dean said, his voice softening. "So, uh, you're not gonna have to borrow the cash. There's—in Bobby's attic, there's a box. It's ours—yours. Should be more'n enough."

"What?" Sam almost dropped the door key. He fumbled his way in, stepped carefully over the wards, and stopped just inside. "Dean?"

"I'm real glad—" Dean started, then fell silent. Sam hurried up the stairs and wedged the phone between his shoulder and his ear so that he could pull the cord to get the attic ladder to come down. "You should. You should grab on to everything they give you and more."

The ladder was as frail as a grandmother's bones, creaking worrisomely under Sam's weight, but he was only on it for a few seconds. He saw the box as soon as he pulled the string that worked the single bare bulb on the ceiling. It was a cardboard carton right near the ladder, dustless, marked WINCHESTER.

It was nearly filled with stacks of money, twenties mostly, neatly banded together. Sam picked up one of the stacks and thumbed through it: newer bills. This wasn't some legacy of Dad's that Dean simply hadn't seen fit to mention for a couple of years. His stomach lurched. "Dean, where is this from?"

Dean breathed out. Sam shivered, suddenly freezing, and turned around in a tight circle, checking out all the darkened corners in case there was something waiting to hurt him. "I've been doing some work for Kelty."

Like that, Sam understood it all: the nature of the work, along with the fact that there was not and never had been a cure in the offing. Eventually he'd make time for rage at Dean's complete betrayal, but he had a more pressing inquiry. "Why are you telling me now?"

In the silence, he watched a glittering cloud of dust pass through the light, the bulb still swinging a little from when he'd pulled it on.

Bobby had said he needed to visit an old friend in California to talk to him about the new Colt. Sam had offered to keep him company—it was too big a state to avoid, and worse things had happened to Winchesters in other places—but Bobby had said no, this guy didn't like meeting new folks, least of all hunters because they always ended up asking for favors. Sam had nodded understandingly, but now he remembered that Bobby had taken ten times longer than usual getting on the road, moving like every step hurt.

Dean thought that Hell was his final destination. But the Colt could kill anything, which meant that it destroyed souls. Azazel hadn't gone back to Hell, he'd just gone.

"No," Sam yelled into the phone, hurrying towards the ladder. "No, Dean, you can't—"

"I'm sorry," Dean said, barely audible. Sam pounded down the hallway, heading for the stairs. The tank was full; Bobby had a day and a half's worth of lead, but Sam would call and force him to wait. "I told you, I can't live in a cage, Sam."

"We'll find something," he swore. David Kelty obviously hadn't really been trying to help, and Bobby had been spending all his time building the new version of the Colt from scratch, for reasons now glaringly plain. Take Hell out of the equation with a soul-killing weapon, and death started to look like an escape.

Dean sighed. "I don't—I want you to have a life, okay? I, uh, I always loved you more than anything—" and Sam was shaking his head, negations spilling from him like tears because this was mortal-wound stuff and he would not have Dean just saying—"I'm not sad, Sammy. I'm ready."

"I'm not!" Sam screamed, but Dean had already hung up, and wouldn't answer back.

He left five messages on Bobby's voicemail, three entreating and two threatening, before he hit the county line.


Kelty had been pretty understanding about Dean's announcement. Unhappy, sure, and he'd tried to sweet-talk Dean into hanging around longer, but he'd backed off once Dean made his intention to leave clear. Of course Kelty didn't know the whole story, and he was probably going to be pretty upset with the bloodstain on his nice clean walls, but that was going to be Bobby's problem.

Dean finished up with his last client. She was no different than anyone else, other than being the last. Except for Sam, once the incubus magic settled in to work, they were all pretty much the same, which was what made it so much hotter and so much worse than real sex. He wished he'd had the chance to do it regular, one last time, but Rachel hadn't been in the mood for that—she was kind of mad at him for quitting, even if she wouldn't admit it, and even promising that he'd drop by if he ever got down to DC hadn't made her relent. At the end, at least, she'd smiled at him for real, smart enough to know that nobody ever felt better for leaving angry.

After he'd washed up, he went out into the kitchenette to grab himself a snack. Kelty was waiting for him, beer on the table in front of him open and untouched.

"Hey," Dean acknowledged, then opened the refrigerator.

"You're sure you won't reconsider?" Kelty asked, a formality, like the cops reciting the Miranda warning.

Dean grabbed a carton of milk—man can't live on beer alone—and closed the door. "Nah," he said, tilting the carton up. He wished Sam was there to rag on his manners.

He wished a lot of things.

"I'm sorry, then," Kelty said, and something in his tone made Dean turn.

"What did you do?" he asked, wary. He hadn't worn a gun in months, but he still had a knife in his boot. Only problem was, Kelty took that amulet off and Dean wouldn't even know how to use the knife any more.

Kelty wouldn't look at him. "We made a lot of money together, Dean. We could have gone on like that, but I'm not one to keep a man locked up against his will."

Dean tensed up. "But you know somebody who is."

"Hello, Dean," a new voice said from the doorway. Dean turned, slowly, because speed wasn't going to help this. The guy was in his late forties, well-kept, nice suit and slicked-back hair, neatly trimmed little beard peppered with gray. Everything about him said: I am well-connected and know how to get things done. "I'm Henry Parker. You'll be working for me now."

Dean wanted to curse—should never have given Kelty this much warning, should just have waited until Bobby showed up. Instead, he put the milk down on the counter and wiped his mouth with the back of his left hand. "Hi, Hank. It sure sounds like a nice offer, but I—"

Without looking away from Dean, Henry pulled a gun and shot Kelty three times, pop pop pop, so loud in the small space that Dean's ears rang. "I hate unnecessary violence," he said pleasantly over the gurgling sounds of Kelty's demise. "But more than that, I hate missing a chance to make or keep money. So why don't you go pack your things, except for your weapons of course, and we'll get you set up in your new home. I know you can't help but enjoy the work, and I'm sure you understand how dangerous for all concerned it would be if you were allowed to run loose."

Behind him, drawn by the gunfire, two large enforcer types appeared. They were each wearing amulets, so seduction wouldn't have worked even if Dean had miraculously figured out how to control the glamor while under stress.

Bobby, Dean realized. Bobby was heading here, and if he showed up while Henry and his men were still present, he'd be walking straight into his death.

Dean put his hands up. "Hey, I'm convinced," he said, resolving not to give Henry a reason to disbelieve him until they were well away from this place.


Sam thought that he knew freaked-out from, say, finding out that he was supposed to lead the demon apocalypse. Or a full year waiting on Dean's deal to come due. Or waiting for the last few seals to break. Or, or, or. As it turned out, though, fresh terror worked just as well as ever, at least when the reason was Dean.

He'd just crossed the state line when his phone buzzed, Bobby's name appearing like a curse.

He didn't say anything when he hit 'accept.' If Bobby was calling to tell him—


A thousand pounds left his chest—Bobby was scared, but not devastated, which meant that Dean wasn't dead yet. "Yeah." Didn't mean Sam wasn't mad as Hell, and he knew whereof he spoke.

"Dean's—he's missing."


It was almost unbelievable, listening to Bobby explain that he'd lost Dean, come to find Kelty's body and no signs of struggle. Bobby's best guess was that Kelty had told someone else that his cash cow was about to stop putting out, maybe a client who really and truly didn't want to be cut off—and when they had Dean back, Sam swore, he and Bobby would be having a conversation about Bobby's full knowledge of Dean's new job. He shoved the anger into a corner of his brain to ferment for later.

Sam could imagine why someone who'd had a taste of Dean might take matters into his or her own hands to keep unimpeded access.

Bobby said that there was no sign on the outside of Kelty's building that anything untoward had happened, but there was no way to tell how long it would be before someone else came across the body and called the cops. Sam might be able to get in later to investigate, but in this at least he trusted Bobby. If there were clues, Bobby would find them at least as easily as Sam would.

Bobby hadn't found any records yet, but he wasn't as good with computers as Sam was, so he agreed to bring Kelty's laptop to a motel where they could get started investigating.

Sam pressed harder on the gas, feeling the car shake underneath him as if she was just as terrified as he was. The sour-metal taste of fury coated his tongue. He wished that there was someone left, above or below, to bargain with. He'd give up any hope of touching Dean again, he swore, if he only got to save his brother.


"Anything I can do for you?" Henry asked, politely.

Dean bared his teeth. "You can tell the goon with the tattoos on his arms to take off the fucking amulet." He turned and stretched his collar, wincing at the pain it caused, to show off the burns on his upper back. "Looks like someone used me for an ashtray. These're gonna scar, decrease the value of your investment."

Henry frowned. "Erik kept the amulet on when he sampled your charms. I'm surprised."

"Your thug's fucked in the head, what a shock." It actually had been. Dean didn't get how the guy could want to know Dean wasn't into it more than he could want what Dean could give him. Some people were demons already, black-eyed or not, that was the only explanation.

The really disturbing thing about Erik's sicko games was that the guards had wrestled Dean into cuffs first, which aside from everything else stung like a motherfucker; cold metal on new burns was no fucking picnic. If Dean'd been wearing boots, or if there'd been just one less of them, he could've avoided being strapped down, but then again if Dean didn't have incubus woven through him like worms in graveyard dirt he could've avoided being strapped down, so maybe what-ifs weren't all that helpful. Dean hadn't understood why there'd been restraints set up in his cell in the first place—the whole point of keeping Dean on tap was that 'no' wasn't in his vocabulary any more—until he'd figured out that the cuffs weren't supposed to be for him.

So far, they hadn't been used on anybody else. But Dean knew this wasn't the kind of setup you put together just in case. Especially not with the unblinking eye of the video camera in the corner, waiting for new opportunities. Strap a guy—or a woman—down, shove Dean inside, then remove the cuffs once the victim was deep in it, and you'd have some powerful blackmail. Or just a way to destroy someone's life, if that was more profitable.

Henry clapped his hands together, startling Dean out of his speculation. "I'll tell Erik he's not to repeat the experiment. I hope that will be satisfactory."

Dean rolled his eyes, disgusted even though he hadn't hoped for better. "Now you're just being an asshole." Satisfactory would be Erik tied down and—Dean forced the thought away, because too many of his ideas on that score came from experience down below, and thinking about that was never smart.

Henry smiled at him, that same tolerant politeness that was worse than a fuck-you. "Fair enough. I'll still tell him. You can have a good life here, Dean. Safer than hunting."

Dean wasn't stupid enough to tell Henry how very little he knew about Dean, but he expected that his expression was saying a lot for him.


Kelty's computer produced a client list that, because it was based on nicknames, would have been completely useless had Bobby not also managed to snag Kelty's journal—like a hunter's journal, except kept by a supernaturally inclined pimp. The information linking nicknames to actual identity was in Aramaic, which probably would have stymied most vice cops but was not particularly problematic for Sam.

It took them five torturous weeks to eliminate all Dean's customers as suspects, one by one. When Sam managed to snatch a couple hours of sleep in between phases of the investigation, they always ended in nightmares, Dean tied up and back in that room where this installment of the horror series had begun. Kelty at least—and it killed Sam to think this, but it was still true—had an incentive to keep Dean in good working order. Someone else, someone who'd kill to get Dean for himself (or, herself, but when it came to fucking the unwilling Sam was going to go with statistics) might not care about anything but the demon glamor, and Dean would exude that no matter how broken he was.

Sam had to restrain himself from beating the shit out of each and every one of the clients. He wanted to jump out and grab them, scream in their faces that Dean hadn't wanted it (well, maybe he'd have done the women, but still), make them see that they were exploiting an illness, a vulnerability, no better than piling on a drunk girl at a party. He wanted to smack them around until they admitted to everything they'd made Dean do. But the person he wanted to hurt was the one whose knuckles would be bleeding at the end of that process, and he was self-aware enough to understand that. Also, getting arrested for assault would cramp his style a fair amount and he didn't have that kind of time to lose.

If it wasn't one of the clients, though, they were well and truly shafted, because Kelty could have told anyone. He almost wished that Bela was still around to give them entrée into the world of assholes who made money off the supernatural instead of protecting other people. Bela would have made them pay, and probably would have warned their target that someone was looking for Dean. But she could have given Sam hope, and right now he needed that much more than he needed safety.


Erik wrapped the amulet in silk the next time, which meant there were no burns. Hunh. Learn something new every day, Dean thought.

"I know why you keep that thing on," Dean told him the time after that, fighting reflexively against Jim and the other guy whose name he'd never learned—Douchebag No. 3—as they worked to secure him. "You're scared that if you do it like everybody else, I'm the one on top."

"Shut the fuck up," Erik said, far from eloquent even by Dean's standards.

"What?" Dean asked. "You know, the incubus mojo means sex. Doesn't fix what kind it's gonna be. That's all you and your freaky little desires. So what are you afraid of?"

Erik smacked him, hard enough that Dean felt a stab of heat as something tore in his neck. Dean put up with a lot of bull—a whole state's worth, if you asked him, and maybe the state was Texas—point being, he was used to being kicked in the teeth, but when the kicker was a fellow human there were usually rules.

Dean was fucking sick of rules. Jim and No. 3 had paused in their efforts to watch Erik work on his hard-on, and Dean twisted so that he was the one grabbing them and got his feet under him on the mattress just as he pulled them towards each other, managing to make their foreheads crack together satisfyingly. He shoved them back as he kicked out, wishing more than ever for his boots as he landed a heel in Erik's side. Erik stumbled back; Dean launched himself off the bed, putting his elbow in No. 3's nose as he went.

He split his knuckles open on Erik's face before Jim figured out that all he needed to do was take off the fucking amulet. Dean couldn't fight after that, and fortunately No. 3 was not so much of a douchebag that he would interrupt. Or at least he was a douchebag who understood that his employer vastly preferred him dragging Erik to safety to him getting revenge.

After that, Erik wasn't allowed to play his little game—Henry figured out that the merchandise was actually at risk—and Erik's nose had a permanent kink in it, so all in all it was a win, relatively speaking.


"Still nothing," Bobby said grimly, ten days after they'd tracked down the last client. Sam didn't want to know how many favors Bobby had called in. But hunters tended more towards the Gordon Walker side of morality, and it was just unlikely that they'd know about someone running a supernatural brothel. Bobby's own connection to Kelty (and Sam kept a careful ledger in his head about Bobby's lies on that count) had been almost accidental, competing over the same book at some occult auction.

Sam's latest tracking spell had fizzled as well. (Sam knew Bobby kept a mental ledger of his own, little boxes ticked off for each use of magic, extra when the magic was even arguably a darker shade. Like Sam, Bobby wasn't going to say anything while they had more pressing business. Didn't make him a hypocrite, just a practical man.)

"It's like Dean's disappeared," he said. "Even if—there'd be traces." That was, after all, how they'd been raised: putting the traces of the dead to rest. Dean wasn't a ghost because Dean wasn't dead. But he had to be behind wards more powerful than any they'd encountered before, which said disturbing things about the difficulty of extracting him once he'd been found.

Bobby frowned. "These spells, they track essence—soul, right?"

Sam did not like where this was going. Ten years in Hell or not, Dean's soul had still been good enough for Heaven, or at least the upper management in God's absence.

"I'm just sayin'," Bobby continued, sensing Sam's reluctance, "that psychic said that the incubus whatever was entwined with Dean's soul. What if he's been changed so much that his—signature, I guess—is different? Then the tracking spells wouldn't have anything to grab a hold of."

Sam had been using Dean's leftover clothing, pieces from the car a couple of times when a ritual was a long shot and he needed something that was tied to Dean with blood, sweat and tears. He thought about it, and nothing he'd used postdated Dean's affliction. They hadn't exactly had time for shopping trips afterwards.

"We'd need to track a mixture of incubus and Dean," he said, already considering which of the spells could be modified. "There's a charm that's used to locate missing children, you take something from the father and something from the mother—"

"Where are we gonna get a chunk of incubus?" Bobby asked, following his thoughts.

Sam grinned, and knew it was one of the smiles that made humans nervous. "That's the easy part."


The next time Dean saw Henry, Henry was holding Jim's gun. Dean sighed internally. He'd been working pretty hard on Jim, whispering in the guy's ear while he rutted. Dean could force himself to talk through the drunken fog flowing through him during sex, but it hadn't been easy. Bring your gun in next time. I want your gun. Just bring in the gun. I'll be so good, just bring me your gun. Now he'd wasted all that effort, and Henry was going to be wise to the strategy in the future.

"Were you going to try to kill me, or just yourself?" Henry asked. He held the gun with the ease of an expert. Dean would have preferred some showmanship, but Henry was too practical to do something stupid like running the muzzle down Dean's cheek.

Dean didn't answer; didn't see the point.

Henry smiled, but this time there was more of an edge to it. Dean expected that, in a couple more months, he'd have wiped the smile right off the fucker's face. "Very well. I've learned a lesson, and now you will as well."

In the event, it was more like a refresher course: Pain sucks just as much the thousandth time around. Time had blurred the edges of past tortures, making what Henry's guys did seem pretty bad, even though it was all non-disfiguring stuff. Jim was especially creative. Dean presumed he felt humiliated. Well, he could join the fucking club.

Thing was, 'I've seen worse in Hell' really wasn't a giant comfort, however much of a badass it made Dean.

There were only two things that had gone right since Kelty died. First, nobody here had mentioned Sam, which he had to hope meant that they weren't thinking about him. And second, so far, his only customers hadn't needed to be forced into his room. He was even pretty sure that most of them had no clue about the terms of Dean's employment. On average, they were kinkier than the folks Kelty had found, but nothing Dean couldn't handle—anything that could get a person off worked on him, after all. Soon, though, he was going to have to choose: he could bite through his wrists, go back on and then off the rack, and be black-eyed before he deliberately raped anybody. Or he could get started aboveground, while he still looked human.

There was no right thing to do. But he knew what he ought to do. He was just too much of a coward to take charge before anything too bad had actually happened. So all he did was wait, and hope that Sam was being careful.


Bobby left Sam alone for the summoning. "I like you better when I don't see you work," was all he said. That was an improvement on being lied to, Sam guessed. Nor was he thrilled with the idea of Bobby watching him extract blood from a demon. Not that he was going to do anything with it other than what they'd discussed. He didn't even know whether incubus blood would offer the same hit, though if they came from Hell there was every reason to expect—anyway, it was irrelevant.

He'd have to put himself in the Devil's Trap to get the blood. There was some risk that Bobby was going to leave him inside if he couldn't get out of his own volition, but it was a chance he was willing to take.

Because Dean was at stake, it was easy to be careful. He performed the steps of the ritual with precision—Dad used to say 'it takes as long as it takes,' Zen hunter bullshit that Sam had never accepted. He got the point now, though.

As soon as the incubus materialized, Sam punched it, snapping its head to the side. He caught it as it folded and shoved it into the chair, binding it extra-tight but leaving a stretch of arm exposed so that he could get what he needed.

It bled just like a human. He had to massage the vein at the crook of its elbow to get a full cup, skin reddening under his fingers because of the proximity of his amulet. He didn't kill it yet, in case he needed more.

He had one of Dean's overshirts. In case the handprint made a difference too, he had one of Castiel's feathers, a grisly souvenir from the last battle. He'd never shown Dean, who'd have wanted to burn it, but you never knew when angelic remains would prove useful. He cut a square from the shirt, ragged red threads whisper-soft against his skin, and put it in the copper bowl along with a hunk of the vane, stiff and unyielding as Castiel himself had been. Then he added the blood, streaking down the sides of the bowl like rain.

There was a red dot on the second joint of his thumb, just a bit of splatter. It was almost automatic to raise his hand towards his mouth—



Dean needed him a hundred percent, not strung out and puffed full of power that only wanted to be used and didn't care how. (Oh fuck what if Dean's blood—no.)

Sam snarled at the unconscious body of the incubus and wiped his hand off on his pants.

This was simple witchcraft, no demonic powers required. He started the chant, sprinkled in the herbs, lit the candles. The smell was liniment-sharp in his nostrils, masking the metal and burnt hair underneath.

When the mixture was ready, he spread the map out. Someday someone really ought to update these for the internet age, he thought. It would be a lot faster to do this with Google Maps. Maybe that could be his research project next summer.

Yes, Sam was aware that he was mentally babbling in order to control his fears. It worked, so the imaginary Dean mocking him could shut the fuck up.

He coated his fingers in the liquid, turned greasy and nauseating, black as melted tar and nearly as sticky, and flicked them over the map.

A blot landed on Virginia, a quivering dome. The other drops quickly dragged themselves over to the same spot, leaving what looked like a daisy drawn in charcoal on the map.

Sam hurried to grab the more detailed maps before the spell ran out of juice. He managed to get down to street level before the spell liquid quivered and went thin and rotten, all in an instant.

He called Bobby to let him know it was done. Then there was the incubus, still unconscious. He could pull it out of its body like he'd done with the succubus, but he had the feeling that would make getting out of the Devil's Trap a tad harder, reminding the universe at large exactly how much demon was left in him.

In the end, he banished it back to Hell. Knowing that he could rid the world of demons, but chose only to cage them, was a familiar itch. It wasn't like he was sending them to get rehabilitated, just making them some other hunter's potential problem. But Bobby would be happier, and he very much needed Bobby on his side at present.

The Devil's Trap hurt some, like charging through an electric current. Sam was just glad to have made it through.

Bobby returned within minutes. Sam was already checking the weapons. "Most likely, we're going after humans," he said, not looking up from his shotgun. "How much of a problem are you gonna have with that?"

Bobby cleared his throat. "Not much," he said, and no matter how angry he sounded, Sam believed him. Bobby was the one who'd had to deal with Kelty's corpse, and with the knowledge that it was his plan that had lost them Dean. Bobby might have been willing to kill Dean to save him, but having him enslaved was different. Anyone complicit in that horror had voluntarily withdrawn from the human race.

At least Sam could agree with him that far.


Yeah, so the waiting for Sammy thing was good in theory, but the only thing Dean was worse at than research was waiting. Dean lasted all of a week before he knocked Douchebag No. 3 out and went looking for the exit. He was pretty sure he was underground again—it made sense, easier to ward and keep him away from nonpaying eyes—and he saw a stairway at the end of the hall when he came out of his room.

Henry was waiting at the top, arms crossed over his chest. "This is getting to be a bad habit, Dean."

"You should see me with a pack of cigarettes," Dean told him, weighing his chances. The amulet would fry him up good, given how narrow the stairway was, but if he put Henry down quick he'd be okay.

"Did you know," Henry asked, and paused for dramatic effect—Dean fucking hated him more for that than for being locked up, almost—"it's not that difficult to get a hitman on retainer, even when he'd have to go to South Dakota to carry out the job?"

Dean forced himself still. "Easy thing to say."

"Hard to ignore, though. You Winchester boys, you're famous, among other things for the high regard you have for each other's well-being. So you walk back down those stairs, behave yourself, and maybe in a month or so I'll let you call your brother and tell him you're fine, as long as he stays away."

Sometimes Dean wondered whether he'd ever really gotten out of Hell. He wanted to throw up, and he wanted to say 'fuck it' and beat Henry until he looked like raw meat, and he wanted to—

He wanted to stop, but he couldn't. So he took a careful breath. "Let me ask you something, Hank. You say you know about Sam. He faced down Lucifer and the Host of heaven, so what d'you think you've got they didn't?"

Henry's lips quirked. "Why, you, of course."

So there was nothing to do but turn around and go back to his pathetic little cell.

There was a bright side, he guessed. No way was Sam still in South Dakota, not the way they'd left things, and not with Bobby walking into Kelty's place to find only the wrong corpse. So Henry couldn't be tracking Sam all that closely.


They watched the houses on the block for nearly forty-eight hours before they were sure which was the one entertaining visitors. There were no obvious surveillance cameras or other defenses. The house belonged to one Henry Parker, a good citizen if you looked at the public records; not even behind on his mortgage. Parker made a lot of money as an independent consultant.

Bobby in a suit and tie looked ridiculous to Sam, but objectively he made a perfectly respectable detective. They had a long debate over whether the people holding Dean would be likely to have investigated Dean's history, in which case they'd be on the lookout for any tall, dark and part-demonic visitors, but in the end Sam just told Bobby flat-out that they were both making the approach. Bobby grumbled, something about planning to haunt the Winchesters if Sam got him killed, but Sam put on his suit too, plus a long coat to hide the shotgun.

Sam rang the doorbell, and he and Bobby raised their fake badges in perfect synchronicity when the door opened. The man inside wasn't Henry Parker.

"How can I help you?" he asked, even as his eyes flicked to the door at the end of the hallway.

"Have you seen this man?" Sam asked pleasantly, holding up one of his few pictures of Dean.

Again with the eye-flick. "No, I'm sorry. Should I be looking out for him?"

"No," Sam said, and punched him in the throat. Bobby made a peeved noise but stepped forward to give him another whack, just for luck, and shove him to the side as he crumpled. Sam tucked his picture away and followed.


Dean was with one of the clients when a commotion broke out, loud enough that Dean could hear it through the door. Erik charged in and dragged the guy off, ignoring his needy screams. Getting interrupted was like having his dick scrubbed with steel wool; Dean made some noise himself. Then Jim was there with a needle, stabbed into his bicep. Dean fought it as hard as he could, but the world just slipped away, wrapped in layers of fog.


Leaving Bobby behind to guard the stairs, Sam headed into the basement, which was a warren of little storerooms. He kicked open four doors and shot two men before—

For a sunstruck moment, the only thing he could see was Dean: twice as beautiful as he remembered, turning his head to Sam like always.

Dean was on his knees in front of Parker, his eyes wide, pupils mere pixels. Drugged, Sam thought. He was shirtless, gleaming with sweat, wearing nothing but thin white cotton boxers. Parker had a gun jammed deeply into the soft flesh of Dean's throat, his other hand caressing Dean's cheek. "Sam Winchester," Parker said, sleek and relaxed.

Sam didn't suppose that greeting Parker with 'Dead man walking' in return would win him much goodwill. "I'd like you to let my brother go now," he said instead, his voice as flat and still as a pool of blood.

"We seem to be at an impasse."

"I can be reasonable," Sam suggested. Half a second, and his knife could be in Parker's eye. "Let him go and I give you my word you'll live."

"Your word," Parker repeated, as if the sound of his own voice was savory. "I'm sorry, but given what I know about you, your word is not your bond." Dean twitched a fraction, trying to turn his head away from the gun. The motion looked almost involuntary. Parker stuck his thumb in Dean's eye anyway, and Dean whimpered. His skin was turning red on his cheek and down his jaw where Parker's gun rested.

"So make me a counteroffer," Sam suggested. Parker wasn't wearing anything around his neck, not visibly, but there was a gleam of silver at the wrist of his gun hand. Sam reached out with his mind, gently, and started picking at the weld where the amulet was joined to the rest of the bracelet.

"You create a binding circle around the three of us that will only let me out. I walk away."

"Or you step outside and shoot me, then come back for Dean." He had to be careful not to break any metal on the inward-facing side, where Parker might feel the sharp edges pressing into his skin.

"Surely you can create a circle that will deflect a little thing like a bullet," Parker said reasonably.

Parker was substantially overestimating the extent of Sam's remaining powers, but saying that seemed likely to be neither credible nor, if believed, helpful. "Or you throw a gas grenade into the room, come in and kill me while I'm unconscious, then grab Dean before he dies."

"Then our negotiations have come to a halt. Unless you're prepared to live to fight another day." Dean's skin was blistering now where it was too close to Parker's amulet, and he let out a hurt little whine and slumped down.

"Dean," Sam said.

Dean's eyes fluttered, huge and grass-green. He made a halfway attempt to rise up, and Parker pistol-whipped him across the jaw, snake-quick.

"Walk away now, Sam, and I'll entertain an offer for an exchange. I'm sure a man like you can think of something I might appreciate."

Sam fought down the sneer. "Dean," he repeated. "Look at me."

Dean whimpered but obeyed, and even through the drugs, Sam could tell that he felt the danger, the fact that at least one person was not going to leave this room alive. Dean hissed as Parker's left hand fisted in his hair.

Using Dean was unfortunate, but Dean knew better than anyone besides Sam how stupid it was to ignore a weapon just because it was painful to wield it. Sam released Parker's amulet and whipped it away, careful to arrest its motion before it slammed into the wall and made noise.

Parker stiffened, looking down at Dean with a new intensity.

Dean tried to push himself to his feet, shaking with the drugs. Parker let the gun fall away and cupped his other hand around Dean's chin, tugging him upwards.

Sam shot him in the throat.

Dean made a high-pitched, wounded sound as the corpse fell backwards. Sam hurried forward, forgetting about the amulet around his neck until Dean flinched. Sam could see Dean's cock tenting his shorts; the incubus glamor had been triggered, and now Dean was hurting to finish it.

"Boys!" Bobby yelled. "You in there?"

"Yeah," Sam yelled back. Probably they should have thought of some code word, but they didn't usually deal with people and he hadn't considered all the possibilities. "Give us a minute, okay?"

That produced a dubious silence. There were a lot of things Bobby might not prefer to see, though, and he could just pick one to imagine that he liked better than the alternatives. Sam fought the amulet out from under his shirt, nearly ripping his tie off in the process, and slung it into the same corner as Parker's.

It hit him like a tidal wave, stronger than he remembered. Every cell in him felt like it would explode if he didn't touch Dean right then. He scooped Dean off the floor and shoved him against the wall, right next to the blood spatter; he sneered at it, triumphant, as he shoved his hand into Dean's boxers and jacked him roughly. Sam swallowed Dean's moans, exulting in the taste of him, like a cold beer after a long day's labor except a thousand times better. Dean shuddered and gave it up, heat streaking over Sam's hand, and Sam barely managed to rip his own pants open and stroke once, twice, before he came all over Dean's stomach.

Sanity returned in time for Sam to ease Dean down until he was sitting against the wall, head turned away from Parker's corpse. Sam ignored the delicious, floating feeling that he wanted to indulge in for hours. Instead, he put himself back together and grabbed the amulet.

"Bobby?" he yelled, wondering how much noise they'd made.

"Yeah?" Wary, but not disgusted.

"Can you—Dean needs some clothes." Sam searched his pockets and came up with a couple of crumpled napkins, enough to clean the worst of the spunk off of Dean, who twitched under Sam's hand but didn't fight.

Bobby came through the door, his gun still out, a bundle of fabric under his other arm. He inspected Parker's body, then tossed the shirt and pants towards Dean.

Sam bit his lip and did his best to stuff Dean into the clothes without touching him. With the drugs, Dean was unable to control his grimaces, but he was also in no condition to dress himself, so Sam had to live with with the pain he was causing. It seemed so literal compared to all the other things he'd done to Dean, he thought and wanted to laugh, his brain loose from its moorings with all that had just happened.

Finally Dean was decent, or as close to decent as he could get, wavering on his bare feet. "The car's just outside," Sam told him, and even through the haze Dean's eyes brightened.

"Dean. It's good to see you, boy." Bobby's voice was thick with regrets Sam knew too well himself.

But there were some things on which they'd never see eye to eye. "You'll be wanting to leave now," Sam suggested, turning to him.

Dean slurred something like "What?" but Sam ignored him.

"Sam—" Bobby looked half-broken.

Sam put his hand to his gun. "I know you were only doing what Dean asked, what he thought was best. And you've always been a good friend to Dean, even when it cost you. I appreciate your help finding him. But you came out here in the first place to put a bullet through my brother's brain, and I can't see you right now."

Dean stared at them, blinking hard. Sam was almost glad Dean was in no condition to participate, because the conversation he was going to have with Dean about the same issue needed to be one-on-one.

"What's your plan?" Bobby asked, wearily.

Sam shook his head. "Not that damned Colt. I'm not giving up."

Bobby tugged at his cap. "I didn't—I'm sorry we didn't tell you. But if you don't have any real ideas, you're only making it harder."

Sam huffed, because that was the stupidest thing he'd ever heard Bobby say. "It doesn't get harder than Dean dying! You didn't give me a real chance. I'm going to fix this."

Bobby sighed. "I'm not—there's a place you can go. Just for a while. But Sam, Dean's not gonna thank you."

Sam took another look at Dean, punch-drunk and irreplaceable, staring back at Sam like Sam was a mirage. He nodded, acknowledging Bobby's point, because 'ask me if I care' was kind of implicit in his stance. "Dean," he said, and Dean wobbled forwards, following him to freedom, or as close as Dean could get.


Dean woke up long before he opened his eyes. He could tell, from the tender heat on his left side and the vibration around him, that he was in the car with Sam. So that much was awesome. But only that much.

He thought for a while about what he was going to say to his brother. His reckless, batshit, amazing brother.

"I know you're awake, I could hear your breathing change," Sam said, before Dean had figured out a plan of attack.

"Nothing's different, Sam," Dean said, opening his eyes but refusing to look over. Fuck, his mouth tasted like a garbage dump. He wanted a burger and a Coke almost as much as he wanted to be able to hit on the drive-through girl selling them.

Sam made an exasperated noise. Dean got his point. Being out of Henry's clutches was a huge relief, and he probably should have started with a thank-you. But Sam wasn't going to look the reality of Dean's situation in the eye until someone tied him to a chair and wired his eyes open like in that one Kubrick film.

Sure enough: "We're heading to an abandoned house. We'll stay away from people."

Dean thought about that for half a second. "Yeah, you can guarantee no one's ever gonna come to the door? What if somebody's car breaks down, they come to where we are with their fourteen-year-old daughter? Or worse. You know what the average age of puberty is, Sam? 'Cause I looked it up. Average, means half of 'em are younger."

Sam shifted in the driver's seat.

"What are you going to do?" Dean asked, and he felt just about worn through with exhaustion. "Gonna lock me up in your basement while you go to law school? Get Jo to move in so she can guard me while you're not around?"

"You weren't even trying!" Sam yelled, sounding about two inches away from totally losing it. Dean turned, and the sight of Sam washed over him like a warm shower even through the rest of the awfulness. "I thought you were—you gave up!"

"I'm still waiting to hear your genius idea," Dean pointed out.

"We're going to Flint. There's an abandoned neighborhood, nobody comes through but the houses are still there. That's where I'll do the research."

Dean crossed his arms over his chest and kicked his foot up on the dash. Shit, he wasn't even wearing shoes. That fucker Parker had a lot to answer for. The only reason Dean wasn't rejoicing at the thought that the guy was dead was that nobody, nobody deserved what was happening to him downstairs. "Not an answer, Sam."

"It's the only one you're getting," Sam said darkly. "And if you shut the fuck up I'll let you drive."

Dean didn't know how he was supposed to feel. What Sam and Bobby had rescued him from had been unbearable, sure enough. And Sam, seeing him—it was like sun after years in the dark. But he didn't think he could handle being locked up forever, trapping Sam with him to boot.

"Just—you have to give me a chance. You didn't even—it hasn't even been a year."

Maybe it was Sam's voice, frayed and fragile, or maybe it was how he made Dean think about his deal and the long twelve months between bargain and collection. Dean cleared his throat. "Okay. Okay, Sam."


The place in Flint was just as promised, not even squatters for blocks around them. Sam drove half a mile every Tuesday night to leave their trash on a different part of the grid so that the garbage truck wouldn't stop in front of their house.

Dean grumbled, but he was safe for the moment. Sam had threatened him with a geas if he didn't swear that he wouldn't get the Colt from Bobby, and he'd agreed. Sam thought he expected Sam to accept, eventually, that being locked in a house with only Sam for company, surrounded by every anti-personnel ward they could think of, was no kind of life.

Sam would accept that when he was dead. Maybe.

Dean wouldn't let up on the subject, making sure Sam knew how miserable he was, and how dangerous he was. What if the house burns down, Sam? Wards won't do shit then. You know I'm a valuable commodity now, Sam. You think Henry Parker was the only one with that particular bright idea? You gonna kill everyone who knows about me? Sam had shut that one down pretty fast by asking, 'You gonna let me?' Dean wasn't freaked out so much by the question, Sam thought, as the fact that he really had to think about the answer before shaking his head.

When September came and school was supposed to start, Sam expected, there would be another massive showdown, but he had a couple of months before that blowout.

Every couple of days, Sam took off the amulet and went to Dean's room.

The pathetic thing was, Sam could have been deliriously happy if Dean hadn't been so set on his worst-case scenarios. Sure, Sam knew that they couldn't stay like this forever. But a couple of weeks to remember each other, that was all he was asking. Then again, Dean didn't really want to be as close to Sam as the reverse, so even that part of it wasn't great for Dean. It was just so hard to remember, when Dean sighed and arched his neck and opened his mouth, when he put his perfect lips on Sam, that it wasn't because he felt the same things as Sam did.


Dean looked over at the clock. "We could go again. If you wanted," he offered.

Sam froze behind him, and Dean suppressed a sigh; looked like he'd fucked up again. Nobody ever called Dean well socialized. But, crap, he'd missed having this, the certainty of being known under the heat of the glamor. And he'd thought maybe Sam hadn't yet grown tired of having Dean blocking any chance he had of a real life. Before Sam's devotion soured into resentment, before Sam learned to regret his stubborn insistence on keeping Dean around, Dean wanted as much of Sam as Sam would give him.

"Why would you—I mean, are you, do you need more?"

Dean was glad he didn't have to see the confusion on Sam's face. "Nah. Don't sweat it."

"You don't—" He could feel Sam fumbling for words. Sensitive, the boy was always too sensitive for his own good. Like maybe Dean was supposed to hate the sex now, even though the magic was making sure that it was just as hot as always, plus it was Sam.

"I'm fine, Sammy," he said, letting the aggravation color his tone so Sam would know he was serious. "It's just, it's not like we've got to get up early next morning, and it feels good, so." He felt like an asshole, because what was a reprieve for him was a distraction for Sam, but he just—the alternative was not wanting anything, the way he'd been when Dad died, and if Sam wasn't going to let him kill himself then Dean was going to ask for a little consideration, that was all.

Sam was silent, long enough that Dean could feel the glamor prickling over his skin again. If he didn't get a move on, Sam was going to lose the chance to say no.

"Yeah," Sam said, his voice already rough with readiness to start the next round. "Yeah, okay."

Afterwards, Sam put the amulet on, then whined when Dean tried to put a pillow wall between them so he wouldn't get the shit burnt out of him in the middle of the night when Sam, inevitably, tried to colonize Dean's side of the bed.

Fifteen minutes of shoving and grumbling later, he was about ready to kick Sam out, when he remembered. "Hey," he said, grabbing Sam's wrists, "wrap the goddamn thing in silk, all right?"

After that it was all fine.


"Maybe if we put you in front of one, it'd be able to tell what happened," Sam wheedled, as patient as he knew how to be.

"Haven't we spent enough time being laughed at by demons?" Dean rejoined. Sam didn't disagree, but the discomfort was worth what they might learn.

In the end, Sam just set it up. He didn't mention that he'd done the ritual before, so Dean double-checked all Sam's work. That meant Dean walking over the Devil's Trap again and again. Sam wasn't sure who that was meant to reassure, but he hoped Dean took some comfort in the confirmation of his continued non-demonic status. At a different point in his life, Sam might have wanted to share the corruption of blood with Dean. Now he only watched Dean's shoulders relax a fraction the fifth time he crossed over the painted lines and settled himself on the opposite side of the room.

This time Sam called up an incubus. A male might have different insights, and Dean, with all his fucked-up near-chivalry, was less likely to feel an unwarranted sympathy.

The demon arrived yelling. Sam sloshed an arc of holy water at it to get its attention. It turned to him, beautiful face stretched from hissing.

"Two choices," Sam said. "First, you hold out on me and I'll kill you slow. Second, you tell me what I need to know and I'll make sure you're fed better than you dreamed was possible."

"Sam!" Dean squawked. Sam shook his head and kept his eyes on the demon, who was hunching itself to make a smaller target while looking him up and down. Sam wasn't a hundred percent sure what his demonic reputation was these days, but pretty much any human in the know would have believed both halves of that offer.

The incubus, he noticed, was only a couple of inches shorter than Sam, and muscled like a Bowflex model. Squarish hero's face, curly brown hair, skin that somehow managed to be both taut and dewy, inviting every kind of touch, like maybe if you licked at it enough you'd get to the candy filling. This wasn't a possessed body, Sam knew. He wondered what the incubus had looked like in life. Whether, if Dean hadn't featured so heavily in everyone's End Times plans, Dean too would have been selected for the special treatment that had produced this demon.

Sam took a deep breath. "Tick tock," he warned.

The incubus licked its lips, slow and sensuous. "What do you need to know?" The words sounded pornographic in its mouth.

Sam wondered whether his near-addiction to Dean was making him more vulnerable even with the protective amulet, then pushed the fear out of his mind. "What happened to my brother, and how do I fix it?"

The incubus turned, catlike, and examined Dean with the same intensity. Its eyes widened. "Abomination," he said, and Dean flinched.

"That's rich, coming from you," Sam snapped.

The incubus shook its head. "I know what I am. I even know what you are, half-breed. But that—not demon, not angel." It shuddered. "I think I might be sick."

"How do I get the incubus out of him?" Sam demanded.

It tilted its head, a cat toying with its prey. Sam clenched his fist. Black blood started dripping from the thing's nose as it bent over in pain. Sam could feel the pressure building in his head, along with Dean's nearly-as-powerful hatred for Sam's powers, which Dean didn't need a lick of telepathy to convey.

"You'll never get it out!" the incubus spat, muffled by the blood. "He'll burn, you'll burn, you'll all—"

Sam bent his head and focused, imagined invisible claws extending from his hands all the way through the circle, ripping the incubus to pieces. It died quickly, no possessed body to sustain it, and Sam staggered back.

He heard Dean shuffle towards him, pause a few feet away, then continue on. The hesitation was enough to remind him that he needed to stand on his own, and he straightened, bringing his hand away from his temple (not as if his fingers could unknot the mess of snakes in his head, writhing and biting). He edged away from Dean, far enough that Dean shouldn't be feeling the amulet.

"I'm fine," he said, which was mostly true. "It wasn't possessing a human, so—"

Dean cast an impatient glance at the corpse, which was already starting to look a little gelatinous around the edges. "Yeah, you look just awesome. Not like your head's about to fall off or anything."

"No," Sam insisted, wanting Dean to understand. "With an exorcism, it's like the demon is threaded through the body. Pulling it out is like weeding—you have to yank really hard to get out the roots. This wasn't the same at all—" He stopped. "What if I could do it to you?"

"Hunh?" Dean stepped closer. Sam watched carefully but didn't see the little signs that Dean was in pain, so he allowed it.

"I could pull it out of you," he said, believing it as the words came to him. "It's not exactly an exorcism because you're not possessed, but that incubus wasn't possessed either and I did fine—"

Dean's face contorted. Faster than Sam could back away, he got in Sam's face and shoved him, hard. "You are not fucking fine! Your eye's full of blood and I know you're hurting."

Sam rocked back on his feet and squinted, realizing why he felt like he'd been punched. "Dean," he said, and stopped, because pointing out that, as Winchester injuries went, this was maybe half a level above a hangnail was not going to be convincing, no matter how true it was. "You said you don't want to live like this." Dangerous, because if Sam failed then Dean got another two-by-four in his arsenal of arguments, but worth the risk. This would work, he could feel it.

"And you said you didn't have the juice left to do anything major. How many demons'd we need to bleed before you got enough gas in the tank?"

Sam frowned. He'd drink a river of blood to save Dean, and he didn't think he was making up excuses to get back the rush of power. But he'd lied to himself about that kind of thing before. "Ruby said—" he faltered under the weight of Dean's hatred; he knew the look of rage, fear and contempt wasn't directed at him, but the knowledge wasn't comforting, because Dean would have been justified in blaming him as well. "She said that part wasn't necessary. I think that was about corrupting me. The rest of it, that's just me. You have to let me try." His voice cracked, because Dean kept talking about dying, again, killing his soul so there'd be no going back, and Sam just couldn't handle it any more.

Dean's hands twitched by his sides, like he wanted to wipe the tears rolling down Sam's cheeks. He looked away and his shoulders dropped. "You stroke out on me and I swear I'll bust you out and beat you back into grade school."

Sam nodded vigorously. "Tomorrow," he said, because even he understood that Dean wouldn't let him try right now.


Sam grunted his frustration for the tenth or the ninetieth time. "I can't—with a possession, I can sense the demon," he explained, finally noticing Dean's raised eyebrows. "But I can't—I don't feel anything different about you. I can't grab on to what I can't feel."

Dean guessed that made sense. "Is it the amulet?" The psychic had said pretty much the same thing, he remembered, and mentioned the amulet as a possible cause.

Sam nodded, following his thoughts. "So, then—"

"Take it off, then move fast after?"

As ideas went, it was far from their worst, and maybe not bad even if you weren't grading on the Winchester curve. So they ended up slumped together on the bed, Sam's leg thrown over Dean's hip as he curled himself around Dean. Dean twisted himself around so that he could see Sam's face and stop him if he got back into nosebleed territory. Sam put his palm on Dean's chest, fingers covering big chunks of the tattoo, and took a deep breath as he closed his eyes.

Dean wondered, a little, whether he'd see black if he lifted Sam's eyelids.

Then the pain hit. Sam had said exorcism was like weeding, a foreign invader pulled out of a body, but this felt more like Sam was pulling out his circulatory system, veins and arteries and capillaries all twisting and tearing as they were ripped loose. He tried not to scream, he tried harder than he'd struggled for his first five years in Hell, but the pain just kept ratcheting up, like every cell in his body was exploding in agony.

The buzz of the incubus glamor setting in again was the sweetest relief since Alastair got him down off the rack.

Sam was frantic this time, and Dean was more out of it than usual, so he was grateful when Sam hauled him into his lap, letting Dean loll his head back onto Sam's shoulder as Sam thrust up and dug his fingers into Dean's sides, warm and slippery. Sam was gasping words like 'anything' and 'always,' and Dean pressed himself against Sam's skin, their legs locked together.

After, Sam hotfooted off the bed and stumbled back into his shorts. Dean was content where he was, staring at the flaking paint on the ceiling. He should touch that up, he decided. Maybe tomorrow.

"I'm sorry," Sam said once his breathing had slowed. He sounded defeated. "Once I started looking, I could feel it, but. It's wrapped around you—around that mark on your shoulder—like a fucking oak tree."

Aside from everything else, Dean didn't much like the way Sam still talked about Castiel's handprint, like it was some kind of mutilation. Maybe Dean hadn't wanted to lose his scars, maybe he hadn't wanted to be Heaven's butt-boy, but Castiel had been a hero at the end and (as usual) he just wished Sam would show a little more respect. "You still don't get to drink demon blood," Dean reminded him.

"I know that!" Sam snapped. "I thought—it isn't the same as it was with real demons. It's not just strength I need, it's finesse. If I had a couple of hours to work at it—"

Dean shuddered at the thought of hours of what he'd just been through. But, not going to happen, so he put it out of his mind. He didn't feel too bad, not really. He hadn't let himself expect that Sam's idea would work, and there was a certain relief in not having allowed any hopes to form.


Sam had become inured to botched jobs over the past few years, so he only moped for a day or so before starting to work again. He could never push the failure completely out of his mind. He was almost strong enough to save Dean, but not quite, and he honestly wasn't sure whether it was worse to be a complete loser.

He tried not to fight with Dean about the wasted time with Kelty, but it was difficult, especially since Dean had ended up a sex slave and still wouldn't admit that leaving Sam had been a bad idea.

Sam had spent a fruitless day of searching for a way to compress time so that he could do in two minutes what would ordinarily take two hours. Dean had been working on the tiles, so when Sam started their usual fight about Dean's lies they were in the kitchen. "I didn't do it for the money," Dean said, out of nowhere.

Sam gaped, anger pushed aside by surprise.

Dean apparently took his silence as disbelief, turning his attention to the dishes stacked by the sink. "I didn't turn the money down, but they paid so I knew they wanted it, okay?"

The thought of Dean putting a price on himself when he should have been Sam's was infuriating, yes, but Sam had dealt with that by ignoring it. "Dean," Sam found his voice, "I never thought any different."

"Then why do you keep asking about it?" Dean practically yelled.

Because I want to know if I was better than them, Sam thought immediately and winced. Dean threw up his hands and turned away, heading for the door. Sam's heart pounded and his stomach clenched. Whatever was going on in Dean's head, it was a fair bet Sam had just made it worse. "Wait," he said, and Dean froze, hand on the doorframe. "I just—I know you had to do a lot of things you didn't want to."

"What else is new?" Dean muttered, which Sam wasn't going to let distract him. Except—

"Dean?" he asked, hearing the dread in his own shaking voice.

"Never mind, Sam." Dean's voice was his fake-Dad voice, the tone evoking orders Sam hadn't followed in years.

Sam visualized the box of money from Bobby's attic, the banded stacks crisp and clean despite their origins. Dean had been so casual about the whole thing, lying to Sam easily. So convincing, just like he'd explained their way of life when Sam was a kid, how Dad was really good at parting fools and major corporations from their money. Except that there had been a point when his and Dean's standard of living had improved noticeably (noticeably for them, at least). There'd been new shoes and lunch money, clothes that didn't scream Salvation Army so that Sam was now the smart new freak instead of the near-homeless new freak, Dean's first brand-new gun. That last one, Sam remembered distinctly: Dean had shown Dad, so proud of his ability to contribute to the family business. Dad had praised Dean's eye for quality, but he'd immediately warned Dean that he had to be careful—money's not so easy to come by, son—and Dean had ducked his head and said yessir, and after that he'd been careful to hide his upgrades from Dad.

Dean had been barely fifteen.

Saliva flooded Sam's mouth. He swallowed deliberately, forcing himself still, because if he threw up now he'd never convince Dean that it was anything but disgust for Dean's choices, for Dean himself.

Dean was still standing in the doorway, back to Sam. He sighed and rubbed the back of his neck, shoulders bunched as he prepared to walk away.

"You did what you had to do," Sam rushed out.

Dean turned back, uncertain. "Yeah, I did." Aggressive, like he expected Sam to argue, which Sam wanted to do—Dean did what he thought he had to, not the same thing, except that Sam couldn't figure out how to say that without accusing Dean of being stupid, which wasn't what he meant at all. His head was buzzing with the desire to resurrect everyone who'd ever hurt Dean and set a new standard for Hell's torturers.

If he told Dean that he shouldn't ever have had to make those choices, Dean wouldn't get it. He'd think that Sam was complaining about their pathetic fucked-up lives instead of talking about the person Dean was. In Dean's cosmology, evil existed; people took advantage; Winchesters sucked it up. Sam couldn't say he was sorry (entirely inadequate, and missing the point) and he couldn't say he understood (Dean would never want him to).

He breathed out, ragged. He needed to focus on what Dean was going through now, regardless of the underlying structural damage. "I'll never agree with your choice, but that's over with. And if there's anything you want to talk about, I want you to know that I—it's okay to be angry at them." It's okay to be angry at me, he meant, but couldn't quite get there.

Dean sighed. "It was fucking, Sam. Okay, sometimes freaky fucking, but compared to the rest of my life, that ranks about up there with running out of gas on the highway."

Sam was almost grateful to be able to fight about this, so he wouldn't have to review a decade of Dean's caretaking, looking for evidence he'd ignored before. "Yeah? Those scars on your back say otherwise." Dean hadn't said anything, but Sam wasn't blind. Apparently sadists liked kinky incubus sex too. Sam couldn't even imagine what it would be like for Dean to suddenly want to get hurt, just because someone else wanted to hurt him. The way he suddenly wanted Sam every time the amulet came off.

Dean bowed his head, exposing the nape of his neck. "I handled that," he said, and oh there was a story behind that sentence, but Sam wasn't sure he could deal with it right now.

"Does it feel real?" he asked. "When they want—wanted something you wouldn't. You wouldn't ordinarily want, I mean." He didn't even know what he wanted to hear, couldn't imagine a comforting lie or a useful truth.

Dean stared at him, honestly—as far as Sam could tell—puzzled. "There isn't much realer than a hard-on."

Maybe that was enough of an answer. Sam had seen enough of Dean's pre-incubus conquests that he should have known better than to think that Dean would equate sex with feeling.


Dean worked in the house, painting, fixing the stairs, picking up some plumbing as he went. He rewired all three stories—the electricity hadn't been touched since the house was built sometime before World War II, and though Sam didn't believe him he thought they'd been more at risk of dying in an electrical fire than anything else that might have gotten them, especially with him stealing from the grid. So that felt good, despite the fact that he couldn't go outside and even worried some about being visible through the front windows. Sam had chosen the location well, though, and days would pass when not a single car came down their street, so he tried not to get nervous.

Sam wouldn't let him touch any actual spellworks or magical artifacts, and probably thought he was being subtle about it. Whatever, it left Dean time to read, which was kind of nice. He worked his way through David Foster Wallace, Ernest Hemingway, Hunter Thompson, some others. He'd give Sam the names and Sam would retrieve the books.

Dean liked reading books by guys who'd made their marks on the world and then made their own decisions on how to go. Sure, Dean hadn't written any books, and almost nobody knew how he'd helped save the world, but there was Sam, and Dean figured Sam was as good a memorial as any ten masterpieces. Sam, for all his brains, didn't notice any particular pattern in his choices, which was one less screaming fight they had to have.

After a while, he started having conversations with Sam again, like they'd had on the phone, just shooting the shit. They argued about whether vampires were alive—"It's the definition, Sam—something's alive if you can kill it!"—and whether any good music had been recorded in the present century. They debated Thelma and Louise versus Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Dean always went for Thelma and especially Louise. It was the car that tipped the balance.


Dean was concentrating on the diagrams and photos spread out in front of him. Sam inspected him carefully. He looked good. The weight and muscle he'd lost during captivity was returning, and their nightly sessions seemed to be making him even sleeker and prettier than he'd been before he'd been cursed, like there was part of him that did feed like an incubus now. Or maybe he'd always been that way, and Sam hadn't noticed.

Sam was beginning to hope that his own presence would be enough to deter Dean from the idea of suicide. After Sam spent a horrific hour graphically describing the state of Dean's post-Hellhound body, Dean became very careful not to do more than hint at how the world would be better off without him.

The cursed house Dean was working on now was one of Bobby's research projects. Honestly, now that Dean had fixed anything in their squat that looked like it had even considered breaking, it would have been more effective to employ Dean building things, like more EMF detectors. But given enough tools, Dean might well build himself a Colt of his own, or an equivalent—there were plenty of ways to deliver a killing blow without bullets, and Sam didn't understand enough of the mystical theory to know when a projectile was even required. Ruby's knife had worked awfully well. So it was probably smarter to make Dean hit the books instead.

Dean glanced up to make sure Sam was paying attention. "The curse is probably written on one of the walls of the house, maybe behind a mirror or something where nobody'd know to find it. There's a cleansing ritual to untangle the curse from the people once you find it, but the ritual is pretty complicated. Might be smarter just to burn the whole house down."

Sam nodded. Except that the family might not think they'd been saved from all that much if they had to destroy everything they owned to preserve their lives. "If fire works, why don't we find the thing and cut it out of the wall, then just burn that part?"

Dean tilted his head, considering. "I don't know. Maybe. There's something here about the curse being woven into the bones of the house."

Woven into the bones. Sam frowned. "You think it might migrate if we burn the curse but don't do the ritual?"

Dean shrugged. "First time we've seen this type of magic used to curse a family. Safer to burn the whole thing." Dean was all about safety these days, because he couldn't come along with Sam. He'd made it clear that he would have preferred it if Sam didn't mess with the supernatural at all, but hunting was Sam's payment to Bobby for helping them find this place and putting Sam in touch with the right locals while Sam tried to figure out what he was going to do.

Woven into the bones. Like Dean's incubus, woven into the marks Castiel had left on him.

Cut the wall out and just burn that.

"I'm a moron," Sam said.

Dean hitched a laugh. "Don't be so hard on yourself, Sam. Just because you're not as good a hunter as me—"

"We don't need to get rid of the incubus," Sam said, believing it as he said it. "We need to get rid of the angel."


Sam turned away from the table and headed towards his computer, already making a mental list of the books they hadn't touched since the final battle with Lilith, books of angels and visitations.


Dean couldn't let himself trust Sam's crazy theory, not even after Sam swore forwards and backwards that the ritual he'd invented had to work, not even after Bobby agreed that it was worth trying. He remembered Sam's confidence that he could break Dean's deal, his certainty that he could gank Lilith and stop Lucifer's rise. Dean wasn't mean enough to say all that to Sammy, and the situation did seem a bit different now, accident instead of deliberate malice aimed at playing the Winchesters. But hope was more painful than flaying, and Dean had considerable experience with both from which to make that call.

Here was the hard part to admit: if he got cured, he was going to have to figure out how the fuck to live without Sam. But the alternatives were all terrible—he had to admit, even if he did manage to off himself and stay out of Hell, Sam would never be the same, and Dean couldn't leave him behind like that. Sam had to be sure that he'd done everything he could, just like he'd taken care of Dean since this incubus thing started.

This time at least he wasn't going to ask Sam for one last pity fuck. Sam had given him more than enough.


Dean stood, chest bare, staring at the handprint the way he never did any more. His hand twitched as if he wanted to touch it, but he met Sam's eyes in the mirror and didn't move.

"It's okay to miss him," Sam said. Sam didn't, not really, but as bad as that time had been for them Dean didn't have the same burden of shame every time he recalled what had happened, so he guessed it was easier for Dean to have a couple of warm fuzzy feelings about Castiel.

Dean's lashes lowered. Sam guessed what he might have said—he pulled me out of Hell; he believed in me when nobody else did, not even you; he died for me—but he stayed silent, so Sam didn't get to agree. "He wouldn't want you to keep it, not when it's doing this to you," Sam said instead, and that was true too.

Dean snorted and shook his head. "Should've known," he said, casual like he was when he was about to say something too important to be serious about. "'Course anything that touches me'd go to shit eventually."

"Dean," Sam said, heart squeezing in his chest, because Dean would find a way for this to be about his own corruption instead of being the target of evil. He wanted to grab on to Dean and squeeze until Dean understood that he was the most precious thing in the universe. Sam would do just that, he swore, as soon as he'd eradicated the incubus from Dean's body.

"Let's do this thing," Dean said.


Dean considered that he'd been awesomely reasonable about complying with Sam's ginned-up ritual. He'd painted the cross on his forehead even though it felt like putting on makeup, what with the holy mud Sam had given him (seriously, holy mud—Sam had blah-blahed his way through an explanation, but Dean had tuned it out). And then he'd painted another cross on his chest. Amazingly, the ritual didn't require a third cross on his dick, even though that was basically the target.

He wiped his fingers on his jeans, gray and gritty smears. Sam grimaced reflexively and Dean gave him an eyebrow saying roughly that Sam hadn't provided any tissues so what the fuck; Sam tilted his head, acknowledging the point.

"This is really important," Sam said, using his Dean-I'm-super-not-kidding-this-time, no-you-really-have-to-know-this voice. "You have to enter into the ritual with a spirit of willingness."

"The fuck does that mean?" Dean asked, still perfectly calm.

Sam made little flappy motions with his hands. "You know, be open. To whatever."

"The whole reason we're doin' this is 'cause of how open I am to whatever," Dean said automatically, and regretted it when Sam flinched. He sighed. "Give me a clue, Sammy."

"Just—we're asking for aid. This isn't about deals. It isn't even about deserving anything, because that's not how it works. If help comes, you have to accept it."

Dean almost smiled at that, because Sam had him pegged right. Left to himself, he wouldn't let himself trust offered help. He figured he had good reason. Look at what Heaven had demanded in return last time. But he could open himself, he guessed, like he had back when he was talking to Sam through the Ouija board.

And sure enough, when he nodded, Sam sank into the same cross-legged position on the floor. Dean imitated him, far enough away that he wasn't feeling any heat from the amulet. He made himself relax, working on his breathing until his heartbeat slowed and he was loose and ready.

Sam's voice, speaking words Dean didn't know, was like the sound of the Impala's engine running smooth. Dean trusted him with everything.

Still, he jerked a little when the crosses started to heat up, the mud liquefying again and dripping down his chest and his forehead, drops hanging on his lashes until he blinked them away. Sam sped up, his voice high and strained, and Dean wanted to shout out loud how proud of Sam he was.

Castiel's handprint started to tingle, like being gripped again. Dean remembered how he'd been at the end, frightened only of losing, joyful in his certainty that his death had meaning. Dean's tears had fallen onto his face, streaking trails through the grime and blood of the last battle, and Cas had raised two fingers like he was going to deliver one of his knockout specials. But instead he'd tapped Dean's lips, pressing in a little too hard, like he couldn't quite control his fingers any more. "Be of good cheer," he'd said, and right now Dean knew that Sam was right: Castiel wouldn't want to keep Dean trapped like this.

Dean didn't pray, but he closed his eyes and remembered Castiel's grace, unfurling huge and clean over them, so beautiful that even the demons had stopped fighting and known awe.

Sam was punching the words out like bullets, and Dean felt something tear loose inside him.

Invisible doctors were trying to restart his heart, and not being careful with the voltage. He arched up, his arms flying out reflexively. It was better than the best orgasm he'd ever had, and it was like dying, and it was like breaking apart—he imagined doves, exploding out of him in a pulse of white feathers. Behind that there was something else, cobweb-sticky, fragmenting into dust before he had time to really feel it.

He faceplanted practically in Sam's lap, his arms still twitching and his fingers jittering out an extra rhythm on the floor. His heart was keeping a techno beat and he couldn't feel his legs.

"Dean!" Sam grabbed at his head, trying to lift it, and then Sam must've remembered the amulet, because he backed off and Dean's nose met none-too-clean carpet. That was enough pain to shock him back into control, and he pushed himself up a couple of inches, enough to lift his head and grin weakly at Sam.

"The handprint's still there," Sam said, swallowing, his frown lines already deepening.

Dean bit his lower lip and managed to wobble into a kneeling position, so close to Sam that he should have been feeling the burn. "I don't think it's the scar that matters," he said, and put his hand out to close around the amulet. "You did it, Sam."

Sam looked down at Dean's hand, fingers curled so that they brushed his chest, and stopped breathing for long enough that Dean started to worry.

Then he grabbed Dean's hand and together they pried the cord off of his neck. Dean tossed it into a corner and Sam knelt up, reaching out like he was going to grab Dean's head with both hands and—

But that was just habit, conditioning from what always happened when Sam took off the amulet. Dean felt his skin heat, purely natural, and swayed backwards, getting back some of the distance he hadn't noticed himself closing.

Sam looked down, blushing too. "You did it," Dean repeated, doing his best to get them past the moment.

"Holy shit," Sam said, raising his head. "Dean—"

"Yeah," Dean said back, and grinned like a pirate king.

After that there was some hugging, and maybe a couple of manly tears.


They drove out of Michigan slowly, stopping at first every couple of hours for Dean to 'stretch his legs,' by which he—shockingly—didn't mean 'ogle girls' but actually 'strike up conversations with random people.' Sam got it, he did, but he was still grateful that stage wore off pretty quick. Once Dean was certain he could have a conversation with a civilian, he remembered that he hadn't ever much cared for that kind of thing.

Dean insisted on swinging by Bobby's, and although there was some discussion about shotguns and Sam's powerful resemblance to his daddy, they called truce for Dean's sake. They loaded the box of money in the trunk despite Sam's fervent desire to set it all on fire. "Try to be less stupid," Bobby said when they were on their way out, and Dean just grinned up at him, so Sam shrugged uncomfortably and relaxed when Dean hit the gas.

Massachusetts was still summer-hot. They checked into a motel (Dean bitched that they were paying a week's worth of cash for a night's worth of stay, but he knew the big-city drill as well as Sam did; it was just Dean getting back into the groove) and Sam spent a full day walking around Cambridge, looking at apartments.

Dean met him at a Mexican café not far from the law school and Sam gave him the rundown. There were a couple of places that would be fine, if Dean approved them.

"Hey, whatever you like, 's cool," Dean said, then stuffed about half of his burrito into his mouth. "Thought they had dorms, anyway."

Sam blinked at him. "Uh, student-only dorms. If you're prepared to be my domestic partner, we can try to get university housing." Sam hadn't suggested that because—well, the reasons hardly needed elaboration. This was their happy ending. He had no right to want more, but he had no desire to pretend to the rest of the world that he had what he wanted.

Dean busied himself chewing and swallowing.

Sam fiddled with his napkin and thought about ordering another beer. "You know," he said, "the gym was advertising for self-defense instructors. You'd be awesome, plus, college girls."

Dean froze. Then, carefully, he tipped his beer up and drank the whole thing in one long pull, oblivious to Sam's eyes down the line of his throat, Sam's fingers itching to feel the burn of his stubble. He clanked the bottle down on the table and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "Gotta move the car 'fore I get a ticket," he said, and was gone before Sam could figure out what he'd said wrong.


Dean slid into the driver's seat and instantly felt better. Nice to know he was still a simple guy, taking the good stuff where he found it.

He closed the door and flexed his fingers on the steering wheel, staring at the back of the Volvo in front of them.

Sam was talking like they were just going to play out one of his homemaker stories.

His fantasy life, the one that Sam had encouraged him to have and that Dean had allowed because, stupidly, stupidly, he'd thought it couldn't hurt—all those fairy tales assumed that Dean wouldn't be able to hunt, that it would be okay if he stayed with Sam. That wasn't true any more.

For a thousand dollars, what's 'things Dean has no business wanting,' Alex?

This time they'd call each other, Dean from some roadside joint and Sam from his cute little dorm. Eventually the frequency would drop off, Dean drunk and tired and figuring it wouldn't hurt more to skip a day, Sam busy and eager to join his friends for dinner or study group or whatever. They'd pull apart and Dean would go on, because there still wouldn't be any choice.

The passenger-side door opened. "Dean?" Sam settled into his seat, and Dean couldn't help but imagine what it would be like when that didn't happen any more.

Dean closed his eyes and took a long breath, keeping it even and controlled. "I'm not going to teach a self-defense class, Sam."

"Okay," Sam said, drawing it out.

"Soon as you find a place, I'm hitting the road." There. He'd said it, and it hadn't killed him. It wouldn't kill him.


Dean couldn't work up the energy to say it again. Sam was a smart kid, anyhow. Which was, he guessed, kind of the whole problem (selfish again, wanting what wasn't best for his brother). He clenched his jaw against the sound that wanted to come out.

Sam was quiet for a while, long enough that Dean thought maybe they weren't going to say more about it. Then: "If this is because of—I would never. I swear, the domestic partner thing was a joke, you don't have to worry."

And oh shit, Sam was clearly going somewhere very different in his head, which meant Dean had to fix this. "The fuck, Sam?"

"I'm not going to molest you again," Sam said, each word clear as ice, like a punch to Dean's heart.

"I know that," he said, and hoped that Sam heard the wistfulness as confusion.

"Then why?" Sam demanded. "You said we'd be together. You said—"

"Yeah, but that was—"

"That was another lie, you mean?" Sam yelled, smacking the dash with both hands. Dean looked at him helplessly. "I don't want you to leave." The words seemed to fill the car, Sam as always brave enough to say the things neither Dad nor Dean could ever manage. Which just went to prove that Sam was made for something different.

"I don't want to go," Dean admitted, sounding like a kid in his own ears.

"Then why are you?" Sam asked, just as wide-eyed and uncomprehending as when he'd asked the same thing about Dad.

"You know why," Dean told him. "God's not taking his messages. The angels packed up and left. We're all there is. And evil's still in the game." He didn't think he'd ever earn his way out of being Hellbound, but there was always the Colt if he got a chance to plan it, plus you never knew. Anyway, that wasn't the point. Sam had always said Dean didn't know who he was if he wasn't hunting, but Dean knew exactly who he'd be. He just refused to be that guy, regardless of how much the life sucked.

Sam growled, and Dean fought off the stab of fear and the deeper twinge of concern. "No."

Of all the things he could have said, Dean hadn't expected that. "Excuse me?" Sam did think he was Dad in a lot of ways, but that didn't mean Dean took his orders.

"Fuck you, no! You don't get to say 'we' and then take off!" Sam's hand shot out, like he'd just remembered he could touch again, and grabbed Dean's collar, jerking him roughly towards the center of the seat. "You don't get to promise me a life and then run away from it."

"Sam—" Dean scrabbled to keep from falling into Sam's lap and managed to stabilize himself, one hand far too close to Sam's thigh.

Sam shook his head, his fingerips hot where they brushed against Dean's neck. "No. I want us to have that, what we talked about. We can do hunts, if they're near, like Bobby does. You can join the volunteer fire department if you need to be saving even more people." He sighed. "If you really can't stand to live in one place, we'll get back on the road. But I want to be here, so I want you to do what you said and make a home. Stay. Stay with me." Somewhere during his speech, his hand had loosened and slid down so that he was gripping Dean's shoulder.

Dean felt like he was down about three pints of blood and a couple of shots to the head besides. It couldn't be that simple—but then there always were a ton of hunts in New England, more than you could shake an iron poker at. His stomach lurched so bad he thought he might throw up, but he couldn't help thinking that he could try it Sam's way. Sam would eventually find another girl with a bright future, get sick of him and show him the door, but he couldn't imagine that feeling worse than he did now.

"Really?" he asked, hating the way his voice shook.

Sam's smile mostly made up for Dean's discomfort. "Yeah," he said, and Dean thought that he might even be blushing, unless that was just a trick of the yellow light coming from the streetlamps. Dean felt himself swaying, still not entirely balanced, like he could just eliminate the distance between their mouths and—

He straightened himself so fast that he got a little dizzy. Sam jumped in reaction, and then they both stared out the windshield until Dean started the car and drove them back to the motel.

He turned off the engine but didn't get out, needing the safety of his girl for a little while longer. "Sam," he said, and the words stalled out in his throat. Sam twisted in his seat expectantly, waiting him out. Dean swallowed past the prickly feeling and forced himself to speak. "You were right. I gave up, and I shouldn't've. You saved me when I didn't think it could happen. I—thank you."

Sam's eyes glossed with tears. "Back at you," he said, smiling all wobbly. It was almost impossibly hard for Dean to open his door instead of leaning across to grab him. Even when Dean did get out, standing in the muggy darkness, he could feel Sam's closeness. He closed his eyes and tried to store the moment deep inside, borrowing Sam's strength for his own.


It wasn't easy, and wouldn't have been even if Dean hadn't factored into the equation at all. Sam got them into university housing despite the late date by smiling and begging. He met his classmates and took his notes and tried to think about school like Dean had always pitched Dad's training when he was a kid—not useless, just useful on a longer timeframe. He checked Dean's research and read casebooks with a flashlight in the passenger seat when they drove to the site of some haunting, ignoring Dean's frown that said Dean wasn't sure he should be bringing Sam along. Once, right before they pulled into that night's cemetery, he came across a footnote that made him laugh out loud. Dean purported not to believe him until Sam showed him, right on the page, that there was a tort specifically directed at the desecration of a corpse, so they could get sued by angry relatives as well as arrested.

"'Negligent or wrongful,'" Dean read out, working it through. "Okay, say we proved that the ghost was hurting people—how could it be 'wrongful' to torch the bones?"

Sam wished, as powerfully as he'd ever wished for a normal life, that Dean would take his own intelligence as seriously as he took his weapons. But Dean wouldn't appreciate Sam's commentary, so he shook his head and played along. "Assuming we didn't get committed, I'd argue that public policy should favor the living, so, yeah. Can you imagine what acknowledging the supernatural would do to the law? Murder trials would be completely different—you could do a séance, call up the dead guy to testify."

"Some of 'em might not be able to swear on God's name," Dean pointed out.

Sam wasn't going to think about how humans might transform in Hell, because it wasn't relevant. "Plus any murderer with a brain would salt and burn."

Dean snorted and opened his door. "They'd have to add a whole new flavor of Law & Order, anyhow."

He followed Dean, speculating back and forth about how a paranormal CSI would work, and he was happy even with his shoulders aching from gravedigging all the next day.

After a couple of months, he convinced Dean to come meet his study group, promising beer and a widescreen TV at Jan's apartment. Sam arrived before Dean, holding up the Sam Adams as his admission ticket, and Jan ushered him in.

"I don't know if I believe this Dean guy actually exists," Tom told him, handing him a cold beer. Sam grinned, and he was the only one who knew how fake it felt, because Dean was so real and so excluded from the rest of the world—officially dead, for fuck's sake, and living under Mom's name so Sam could claim him as a domestic partner.

Did Dean actually exist? Even living together, Sam sometimes felt like Dean was telescoping away from him, just waiting for Sam to come to his senses and tell Dean that, actually, this whole hunting thing was cramping his style. Or maybe Dean thought that Sam was going to get tired of the make-believe gay relationship part. Sam knew that it wasn't doing him any good, Dean too close to get past and too far away to touch, and maybe in a couple of years he'd figure out what to do about that, but right now he was just treading water and the only thing he needed was Dean swimming alongside him.

Not that Tom cared about any of that. Tom cared mostly about Sam's contribution to the outline. Which was totally fine by Sam.

He sat on the arm of a couch and listened to his classmates debate which of their professors was going to give the hardest exams and who'd be first to win Gunner Bingo in the section. "Gunner Bingo?" he asked, since this was the first time he'd heard about it. Jan, unable to look him in the eye, explained that it was a way of tracking people who participated a lot, by which she plainly meant 'jerks who make the rest of us look bad.' Apparently Sam was a valuable square, and everyone expected him to be offended, when all he wanted to do was laugh until he cried. He shook his head and wondered if maybe he ought to be the one begging Dean to pack up and get out of this place. But then he remembered Bobby's legit business and all its benefits, and knew he owed it to Dean to make a place for them that didn't involve endless scams, broken-down motel rooms, and indifferent ER docs.

Every time the doorbell rang, Sam jumped up—Troy called him a big labrador retriever and everyone laughed—and finally, it was Dean, shuffling his feet and hesitating to enter until Sam came up behind Jan and grinned his relief.

"Hey," he said as Jan took Dean's additional alcoholic offering over to the fridge. Dean still looked like he was expecting to get yelled at for breaking something, even though Jan's apartment was furnished in Early Grad Student, so Sam took his arm and propelled him towards the living room. Dean's leather jacket was warm under his fingers, and Dean smelled, inexplicably, like sawdust. Sam hoped to hear the funny story about that later.

"Everybody, this is Dean," he announced, aware that he practically had a flashing sign over his head reading 'He's with me!' Hopefully Dean would interpret it as acting.

Dean shook hands all around, smiling more widely at Susan and Renee (of course). "What do you do, Dean?" Susan asked.

Dean's smile didn't falter. "I sell sporting goods," he said, as if he hadn't made fun of the phrase for ten days straight after he'd gotten the job. He could have just said 'guns,' even though that wasn't strictly accurate, since he'd had to learn how to pretend to know what he was talking about for fishing and camping too. He glanced over at Sam, and Sam realized that he was probably trying not to freak out Sam's friends. Sam nodded reassuringly, touched that Dean wasn't trying his usual fuck-with-the-civilians tricks—like he was really thinking that they could have this life together.

Pretty soon Dean was explaining that no, the store didn't carry tennis gear, and 'sporting' was more like 'shooting, plus stuff you need to go shooting out in the woods, or kayaking and putting hooks in fish if that's your thing.' Sam drank his beer and thought that Dean was better at fitting in than either of them were fully prepared to admit.

"So, you're gorgeous and you do manly things all day," Susan said, leaning towards him. "Tell the truth, Sam just pays you to be his arm candy. How much does a guy like you cost?"

Dean's grin didn't budge, but it was like the light in the room had been cut in half. Sam was on his feet before he knew he'd moved, pulling Dean up until they were shoulder to shoulder. Susan was already looking alarmed, and Sam knew he was making things exponentially worse, but he couldn't, he couldn't—

Dean managed to spin out some excuse for them and when Sam could manage more than half a thought again he was being shoved into the car, Dean bitching about how he was losing the miraculous parking space he'd found after only fifteen minutes. Dean drove them home without looking once at Sam. When he pulled into the lot, Sam knew he had to talk before Dean's certainty that Sam was ashamed of him hardened into cement.

"It kills me to think about you there," Sam said. "I had no idea, I thought you were safe and getting better. You lied to me over and over."

Dean snorted. "Yeah, and if I'd told you, you wouldn't have freaked out or anything."

"Of course I would have freaked out!" He fisted his hands and forced himself calm. "I just don't get why—none of them knew you."

"That's kind of the point," Dean said, almost gently.

"Was it—was I that bad?" He'd never meant to ask, but he had to know.

Dean jolted in his seat. "What?" As if he'd misheard somehow, not wanting to admit that his baby brother was basically confessing how much he'd enjoyed the mandatory fucking imposed by the incubus curse.

Sam felt like he had a mouthful of razorblades, but he almost welcomed the anticipated shock of the cuts. He could keep secrets from Dean for maybe four months, at the outside, and he'd run out the clock on this one. "I can't stand the thought of them getting to have what I should have been able to keep for myself."

Dean's mouth opened and closed a couple of times, like one of the fish he was always saying was too stupid to live. He cleared his throat. "Work with me here, Sam. You're saying you—liked it, with me?"

And really, Sam would be justified in giving him the full-on disgusted expression, but he was a little too terrified of pissing Dean off right now. "Uh, yeah."

Dean shook his head. "Wanted it, sure. That's not the same thing."

Funny how they could think so differently and still get each other, once in a while. "Like it, want it, think about you all the time, the whole package."

"Hunh," Dean said, and then nothing. After a minute Sam wanted to scream, and after five Sam wanted to storm out of the car and do something dramatic, like quitting school to become a monk. Dean would probably just follow him, though, and the thought of letting Dean loose on an unsuspecting monastery was a tad too cruel for Sam's imagination.

"So," Dean said at last, shifting nervously in his seat, "if I said that maybe I—if you want to, I mean."

Winchesters were demonstrably stupid, deal-making, not-so-much-family-drama-as-family-horror-show types, but usually possessed of enough cunning to get the job done. "Yes," Sam said, with deep conviction. Maybe he ought to hire skydivers to say it. Maybe he ought to spraypaint it on the hood of the car. Except that would get him killed, and not in the fun way. Fuck, he was losing it—

"Well?" Dean opened his door and slid out. Sam stared at him, hypnotized. Dean's eyes dipped, lashes like veils. "I'm goin' upstairs. To our one-bedroom apartment, where we live. Together."

"Oh," Sam said, so happy he thought he might melt into air. But, even better, he didn't; he followed Dean, buzzing with too much energy to touch him, six inches apart the whole way, aching all over.

Stumbling into their tiny, spartan living room, Dean turned at last. Sam grinned to see him, that face unmatched by angels (this Sam knew for certainty), but Dean's expression was serious, concerned. Sam froze, because Dean might still say no. As hard as he'd worked to allow that to happen, he thought that rejection might burn him out like a lightning strike, smoking black crater that walked like a man.

"You gotta be sure," Dean said, and Sam gaped again like an innocent seeing his first ghost. Dean glared back, the familiar irritation that Sam could be so smart and so dumb at once. "It might not be what you think." Dean was rosy pink all across his cheeks and the tips of his ears, so bright Sam wanted to touch his skin just to feel the heat. "I'm good, but I'm not that good, you know?"

He actually got Dean's point. Sex was a big deal even without the various complications of their situation. If it didn't work between them because Sam expected it to be magical, the way the incubus infection had ensured before, it could be such a disaster that they'd never recover.

On the other hand, you might think they'd never recover from (a) death, (b) soul-selling, (c) demon blood-drinking, (d) apocalypse, (e) et cetera.

"So prove it," he said. Dean's eyes widened. "Prove how you don't need a boost from Hell to make me scream."

He could see the challenge working on Dean, even as Dean's eyes flashed with a second's worth of anger in the certain knowledge that he was being manipulated. It was for a good cause, and anyway Sam was morally obligated to use Dean's pride against him, so Sam just smirked until Dean cursed and grabbed him and reshaped his mouth into a kiss.

Sam had done this so many times out of his mind with lust that kissing Dean still felt new. He had so much to learn, and he pulled Dean bruisingly tight against his chest to start the project as he licked across Dean's teeth.

Dean pushed at Sam's shoulders and leaned back just enough to break the kiss. Sam went as soon as he realized that Dean might be having second thoughts, but Dean was smiling goofily and Sam couldn't do anything but stare down at him.

"Let me drive, 'kay?" Dean whispered. Ordinarily, Sam would have struggled just to make a point, but that seemed idiotically counterproductive here, so he relaxed, let Dean take over the kiss. Dean's hands cupped his face, his thumbs stroking over Sam's jawline, calluses slowly rasping against Sam's stubble. He kissed soft and wet, slow sweeps of tongue giving way to little nibbles, testing Sam out.

So maybe they were going to take the scenic route. Sam smiled into Dean's mouth, bringing his hands up to cover Dean's, their fingers overlapping.

Thank you, he thought as Dean walked them backwards towards the bedroom. He wasn't sure whom he was addressing—the obvious supernatural candidates were either evil or likely to be displeased with the very aspects of Sam's situation that were working so well for him—but maybe it didn't matter.

"You're still gonna let me fuck you, right?" he asked Dean as they pulled each other's shirts off, because it was a pretty important question.

Dean snorted and pushed him down onto the bed, straddling him before starting to work on his belt, his fingers tickling Sam's stomach. "Depends on how pretty you beg," he said. Sam's eyes closed involuntarily and he arched off the bed, loving Dean's self-satisfied chuckle too much to be irritated by it.

Oh yeah, this was going to work just fine.


A couple of nights after Sam made Dean the luckiest bastard in creation, they went out to a bar near campus. Even though Dean was probably the oldest person there except for the owner, he was also the hottest and accompanied by the second-hottest, and the eyes on them as they made their way through the crowds agreed.

Halfway to the bar, Dean remembered how it had been when everyone he saw looked at him like that, when he couldn't tell them 'no thanks,' and somehow Sam picked up on his stupid hesitation. Sam stopped flat, right in the middle of everything, tuned out the rest of the world and brought their foreheads together. His voice turned the crowd noise into the murmur of the sea. "We can leave if you want."

Dean gave his best 'are you damaged?' eyeroll, but Sam only smiled indulgently, which Dean guessed was better than most of the alternatives.

"Fine," Sam said. "Drinks?"

They bellied up to the bar, shoulder to shoulder with other laughing patrons. Now that Dean had gotten past the flash of memory, he felt a lot better. The place was packed with rich kids just begging to be fleeced, and maybe in a bit he'd teach a couple of lessons about the difference between physics and pool, but right now he was happy just to get his beer and lean into Sam's side.

Some of the girls and a couple of the guys were still checking him out even after he and Sam had put away their first drinks nearly in tandem. Dean grinned and tilted his head at the prettiest, but only in a friendly way.

Sam looked around, kind of obviously imagining Dean rethinking his choices now that he could see all the alternatives, some of them with really nice racks. Sam returned to his drink and rolled the bottle between his palms, staring at the countertop. "You don't have to, just because I—I know you could find someone else." He snorted. "You could find a busload of someone elses. I know it's wrong, and I won't ask you to—"

Dean shoved him, not gently. "You know what? Fuck right and wrong. The only guy who had a right to tell me what to do died saving my ass, and yours." He looked around, remembered that they were in gay liberal heaven, and grabbed Sam's chin, turning it so that he could reach Sam's mouth. He took a while, bringing his A game. "This is all me," he said when he pulled back. "This is all of me."

There was a brunette watching, thrilled, on the next seat over. She caught his eyes while Sam was still blinking. "Want company?" she asked, leaning forward to show off her extremely well-fitting V-neck, her hand moving up and down on her beer bottle.

Dean grinned at her and pushed his weight into Sam's shoulder, rebuking his frown. "Nah," he said, happier than he remembered ever being. "Maybe tomorrow night."


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