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Sam doesn’t want to go to the dinner. He has plans for the weekend. Much as he is loathing what said plans are, he knows that he has to finally push himself into completing them. He has procrastinated long enough. Waiting for the next weekend or the weekend after that isn’t going to make his task any easier.

 

But being invited to dinner at Aquaria is a big deal. There are no reservations to be had because the dinner club is strictly an invitation only kind of place. Only members or guests of members are allowed inside. Turning down an offer to go there wouldn’t be career suicide, but it would hinder Sam’s progression for the next few years. Nobody wants a foolish lawyer.

 

So instead of digging out his old flannel shirts, ragged jeans and leather work boots, Sam makes certain that his best suit is freshly pressed and his Italian leather loafers are buffed to a shine. He carefully combs his hair until every strand is precisely in place. The length of it is a bit longer than what an east coast professional would wear it at, but Sam’s persona is carefully crafted to allow for that.

 

His official background is studiously Midwestern; his lifestyle is decidedly west coast. There is ease in his movements that never quite reach his eyes. Then again, not much reaches Sam’s eyes anymore. It hasn’t since the day that he’d had to sign off on the papers identifying a mass of bloodied bones and bits of denim as his brother.

 

Sam doesn’t like to think about that day. When he had set off for Stanford, he had thought that he would never hunt again. A phone call had changed that.

 

Sheriff Jenkins had been a nice enough man. Greying at the temples, weathered in the face, he looked like the sort of man that had been through a lot. His looks hadn’t lied. He’d served in the military and, it turned out, hunted a couple of ghosts with John Winchester.

 

When parts of nature lovers started showing up in the local wilderness, he hadn’t been stupid enough to think that it was just some rabid bear or a pack of wolves. He’d called for John; he’d gotten Dean. That knowledge had made Sam hate his father for the first time in years.

 

When they had laid John Winchester to rest, Sam had sworn to let his anger go with him. There was nobody left to fight with. There was no chance at rebuilding a relationship with his absent father, and holding onto that resentment would only cause Sam more issues in life.

 

It was a good decision as far as Sam was concerned. His father had gone out of the world taking out the one evil that had plagued him since Sam could remember. John Winchester had died like he had wanted. The ache of a hunt being more important to his father than John’s children was an old one.

 

Dean’s death hadn’t been nearly as easy to reconcile. It wasn’t just that Sam had been the one to find the pulpy remnants of what had once been his brother. That was bad, but it was also an eventuality that had always lurked in the back of Sam’s mind.

 

But Sam had always held out hope that he might be able to rebuild some sort of relationship with his brother. He and Dean had been close once – closer than any pair of siblings that Sam had ever met. That closeness had gone away when Sam had gone to college, but the yearning to reestablish it never had.

 

Sam believed that had been true from both sides. Every so often, Dean would send him a note or stop by for chat. He did it more often once their father was gone. But they never could quite come to a consensus. Dean always wanted Sam to start hunting with him again. Sam would inevitably fight with him about it. Dean would always leave.

 

The last thing Sam ever said to his brother was, “Go fuck yourself.” At least, that was the last thing Dean ever heard him say. Sam said a whole lot more than that to his brother’s crushed up and mangled corpse, but he figured that didn’t count. Dean probably would’ve mocked him for his blubbering anyway.

 

 “Sorry, I’ve got to go to this. We’ll take our final drive next weekend, huh? One last ride in your car,” Sam promises his brother’s urn. He laughs at himself a little as he pats the generic, gold toned container.

 

Dean’s bones had been cremated with a healthy dose of salt. The cave of the creature that had killed him had gotten soaked with enough gasoline and salt to ensure nothing was going to grow there for the next decade. If Dean had for some reason decided to hang around and haunt Sam, he’d long since been sent on his way.

 

Sam’s cellphone buzzes with a text from his taxi driver letting him know that his cab is waiting outside. Normally Sam would’ve driven, but the night promises to be long. If he manages to drink too much and ends up wrapping the Impala around a lamppost, Dean is almost certain to come back to haunt him – salted bones or no.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Aquaria isn’t much to look at from the outside.  That doesn’t surprise Sam. In his experience, the more exclusive the place, the dowdier the outside. The truly rich and powerful only go to outwardly ostentatious places when they want to be seen. When they want to do business, they kept things as private as possible.

 

The inside of the building is the exact opposite of its exterior. The entire entry way is lined with aquariums. The marbled flooring changes color every so often, mimicking the bottom of the ocean floor. Sam doesn’t want to think about how much it cost to have the marble custom dyed into that pattern.

 

“Right this way, Mr. Winchester,” the hostess says as Sam finishes checking his coat. As he follows her, the aquatic displays became even more impressive. Brilliant, but common, tropical fish give way to giant tanks with octopi and living coral.

 

“Samuel,” Marcus Farrell greets as Sam walks up to the table. Marcus is a client. He is filthy rich, but generally keeps a low profile. All things considered, he is a rather boring man who only has clients because people like to threaten him because they think he’ll pay them hush money.

 

After being in the law business so long, Sam has come to the conclusion that Marcus could use a bit of scandal in his life. It would probably increase the number of investors interested in his businesses.

 

“Marcus,” Sam greets with a warm smile and purposefully warm handshake.

 

“This place has fantastic seafood,” Marcus says as he sits back down, “and the atmosphere is…”

 

“Amazing,” Sam fills in for him with an appropriately awed tone of voice.

 

Marcus laughs. “You haven’t seen anything yet. Although, you never know if Njord will feel like coming out to play. He can be quite finicky.”

 

“Njord?” Sam asks absently as he nods his thanks to the waiter for filling his wine glass from the bottle already on the table.

 

“Aquaria’s merman, Sir,” the waiter answers, “and you’re both in luck. Looks like he’s decided to come out for a swim.”

 

Sam turns around to look in the direction of where the server is pointing and is surprised to see the mirror that had just been there slowly rolling down into the floor. Beside him, Marcus is almost vibrating in his chair. It is the most excited that Sam has ever seen the man.

 

“He doesn’t perform that often,” Marcus whispers. “Most nights you just see the mirrors that cover his tank. They only bring them down for a show.”

 

Sam smiles and nods. He has seen YouTube videos of professional mermen and mermaids. Some of them have been cheesy, but there are others who are quite talented at it. Given Aquaria’s reputation, he is willing to bet that the performance will be spectacular.

 

But there is something about the slowly disappearing mirrors that make Sam’s mouth want to turn into a suspicious frown instead of the perfectly coached half smile that he wears for clients. The tank behind the mirror is only slowly illuminating itself. The places where the lights have come on have become transparent. Why would the mirrors be one way glass? Is the tank used to spy on patrons when a performance isn’t going on?

 

A surreptitious glance around tells Sam that all eyes are on the tank slowly being revealed. He half expects a drum roll or some dramatic trumpeting to start up, but the only sound is that of the restaurant patrons whispering to each other. Most of the staff is unobtrusively filling wine glasses or watching the spectacle itself. But there are a few workers who aren’t, and they concern Sam.

 

Hunting reflexes may have gone by the wayside as far as Sam’s body is concerned. He knows his draw time isn’t nearly as good as it used to be, and his aim is probably a bit off from where it was as well. But his observational skills get a regular workout. He needs to glean facts about situations even in the not so life or death situations that civil law gets him into.

 

There are a few employees watching the tank with interest that isn’t about a show. They’re nervous even though they’re not twitching. Their posture is too rigid, their gazes too focused. The question is why. The customers are all vetted. The likelihood of any of them rushing the tank is laughable.

 

Sam’s mind is about to start formulating a few hypotheses about that when the first part of the performer appears. He knows those fingers.  The thought is an absurd one to have, but Sam doesn’t have the chance to berate himself for his overactive imagination before the performer’s face is revealed. Hands are one thing, faces are another. That is definitely Sam’s brother in the water.

 

Sam looks down at the table quickly to regain his composure. As much as he would love to stomp over there and demand answers, he knows he cannot. Dean isn’t human anymore. He has green scales glistening on his skin and a tail where his legs are supposed to be. No hunter worth his spare ghost hunting salt would perform such a rookie act.

 

Once Sam has himself under some marginal control, he looks back at the tank. Dean is just floating there. The expression on his face is yearning, and he is staring at Sam. That is not a good sign. If that is Dean in the tank and not some creature wearing his face, then he has been there long enough that he isn’t caring about how sloppy he is in the obvious way he is showing attention to Sam.

 

The nervous employees are looking none to happily at maybe-Dean. The diners are starting to whisper amongst themselves. No doubt they have been expecting a show, and a merman floating in water, looking sad isn’t the kind of thing they've beeen waiting to see.

 

But when Sam focuses back on Dean, Dean’s entire expression morphs. He switches from melancholic to flirty with a blink of his eyes. Sam has seen that smirk a thousand times, always directed at whichever lady Dean chose to be his latest hookup. It adds a layer of confusion to Sam’s already whirling mind, but his confusion is wiped away a second later.

 

Dean isn’t flirting with Sam. He is putting on a show. There is no heat in his eyes as he swirls around in the water, tail flicking out behind him in a way that is completely unnatural for a human. The desperation in his stare is only there for Sam to see. The rest of Dean’s body is busy selling a story to the crowd as surely as Dean used to rope civilians into thinking that he was an FBI agent.

 

The merman in that tank is too Dean-like for him to just be wearing Dean’s face. The mannerisms and the way he had been looking at Sam are too much of a coincidence. So either the creature in there has been made out of more than a few strands of DNA or somehow, someway Sam’s brother isn’t dead.

 

Whatever the case is, Sam knows he can’t leave the restaurant without taking the merman with him.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Hiding out in Aquaria until after the restaurant closes isn’t the best plan in the world, but it is the only one that Sam could come up with during dinner.  Fortunately, Marcus had been so excited by a rare appearance of ‘Njord’ to notice how distracted that Sam was over the course of their meal. Unfortunately, Marcus didn’t have much information to give about the ‘merman.’

 

As far as Sam’s client had been concerned, ‘Njord’ was just an exceptionally talented underwater performer who was outfitted with some very fancy prosthetics and a fantastic makeup job. He didn’t seem to care about the rather odd tattoo that the merman had been sporting. Marcus had passed it off as a piece of skin art that ‘the performer’ had.

 

But Aquaria had other customers that were a bit savvier than rich and good hearted Marcus. Sam had managed to overhear more than one conversation that indicated that some of the patrons knew that ‘Njord’ wasn’t just some exceptionally skilled swimmer. There had been a fair bit of money that was collected after the merman’s performance was over. While some patrons tipped the performer and his performance, others handed their appreciation money over with compliments to the owner.

 

Sam tries to not let that bother him. It isn’t uncommon for rich people to pay large sums of money for unusual entertainment, and he can’t afford to have his mind muddled with anger over their abuse. Even if that isn’t Dean in there, even if it is a supernatural creature that had stolen his brother’s mannerisms and face, those people wouldn’t think of a merman as a monster. And if they knew he's a real, sentient creature, then they should realize that he shouldn’t be treated the way he is.

 

The whole thing angers Sam to think about, so he takes a deep breath to try to calm himself.  He has spent the past few hours of the night dodging restaurant employees. A man his size has slim pickings when it comes to hiding places, and he isn’t about to mess up his efforts by having a tantrum.

 

The waiting has been excruciating. Sam knows that tonight is his one shot at getting to Dean. There won’t be another invitation for dinner at Aquaria for months if not years. It just isn’t the kind of place that somebody Sam’s level gets invited to all that often.

 

Breaking into the restaurant is an even more daunting prospect. Sam hasn’t been involved in a breaking and entering type situation since before he turned eighteen. He doubts that his speed at picking a lock is as good as it used to be. Besides that, security measures are going to be stronger against people trying to break into a place, not break out of it.

 

Sam doesn’t need to get arrested. Getting disbarred would be the least of his worries if that happened.

 

So he dodges the staff until they clean up and head home. Then he waits for the security guard to get bored with playing with the fishes and starts to work his way through the back rooms. The tank that Dean is in is free standing in the middle of the restaurant, but the end of the tank disappears into a far wall. Sam would bet money that Dean is kept back there when he isn’t required to be out performing.

 

Of course, it isn’t like the movies where Sam finds the right door right away. He finds quite a few supply closets and a couple of rooms that he thinks are for ‘private parties’ that he so doesn’t want to know about before he finds the right place. The door isn’t locked, but there is a guard on the other side of it.

 

Sam hasn’t punched another person out in years, and he doesn’t break that streak. Breaking a nearby vase over the guard’s head is a bit clichéd, but it works. The guard never saw him coming. Fashioning ties and a blindfold out of the guard’s own clothes is a bit of an ordeal, but Sam can’t afford to leave evidence pointing back at himself.

 

He hasn’t been spotted so far. His makeshift mask made out of dinner napkins should at least give him plausible deniability should there be footage of him on the restaurant’s security systems. The leather driving gloves that he’d forgotten to take out of his pockets might not be perfect for not leaving evidence behind, but at least cowhide grain prints are a bit harder to track than human finger prints.

 

He is just straightening up from his hard work when a slow clapping sound causes him to drop into a defensive stance out of instinct. A hoarse, clicking type of sound echoes through the room in response.

 

“You’re laughing, really Ariel?” Sam says as he stands up tall and looks up at the top of the tank where Dean is peering over the edge at him.

 

Dean’s reply is a burst of clicks and squeaking noises. His tail is flopping back and forth in the water behind him causing splashes of it to slop over the side of the tank down to where Sam is standing.

 

“Dean?” Sam asks cautiously.

 

Dean’s response is to point at the metal staircase that leads up to a platform that is even with the edge of the tank. Sam is cautious in obeying that order, but not overly so. He needs to move quickly, and even if that is a monster in the tank, he knows he is going to be taking it home with him anyway.

 

“Hi,” he says as he reaches the edge.

 

Dean lunges up out of the water at him. For a split second, all Sam can think is that his career as a lawyer is going to end because he was drowned in a fish tank by a merman Then Dean’s arms settle around him, and while his heavy weight pulls Sam downwards a bit, Dean isn’t trying to drag him into the water.

 

Dean also isn’t trying to leverage himself out of the water. What Dean is doing is hugging him. His tail is flicking back and forth in erratic movements in an obvious effort to keep his torso so far out of the water, and Sam feels a flush of shame for thinking his big brother would ever try to kill him.

 

He doesn’t care that his shame and not his fear is the irrational feeling. He just hugs his brother back, ignoring the way that the green scales on Dean’s collarbone scrape against the underside of his chin.

 

“We need to get out of here,” Sam announces a second later, breaking their hug.

 

Dean drops back down into the water and looks up at Sam expectantly.

 

“I don’t suppose you can jump out of the tank?” Sam asks.

 

Dean tilts his head to one side and then the other.

 

“I’m in good shape and all, but I’m going to have to carry you already. My back isn’t made of steel,” Sam defends himself.

 

Dean frowns and lets loose with another series of clicks.

 

“You can’t understand me, can you?” Sam asks.

 

Dean frowns at him and sighs then makes an impatient tapping motion at his wrist.

 

“I know we’re running against time!” Sam hisses at him.

 

Dean crosses his arms and huffs.

 

“Don’t you get prissy with me!”

 

The end of Dean’s tail lifts out of the water and waves back and forth a few times. The wide fan of it glistens and sparkles even in the dim lighting of the room. It is quite pretty until Dean slaps it down hard enough that the resulting spray of water ends up all over Sam’s face.

 

“Dean!” Sam complains automatically, trying to wipe the water out of his eyes without dislodging his dinner napkin bandit disguise.

 

But Dean is ignoring him. He is instead writhing around at the top of the water with his hands around his throat making gasping noises. It’s bizarre and weird. Sam is suddenly grateful Dean was never much for playing charades because Dean used to get all hurt if Sam laughed at him when he wasn’t trying to be funny.

 

“You look like a dying walrus,” Sam informs him before he remembers that Dean doesn’t appear to be speaking English anymore.

 

Dean looks up at him expectantly at his words though, so Sam figures that he’d better decode the message instead of looming over his suddenly alive brother like a moron. It doesn’t take much for the pieces to fall together.

 

“You need to stay in water,” Sam guesses. “That’s going to be an issue if you need to be submerged. But most lore indicates that mermaids can be out of water for at least some period of time, otherwise they wouldn’t be able to sunbathe on rocks. Assuming that you’re a mermaid.”

 

Dean makes an exaggerated ‘talking’ movement with his hand before gesturing wildly at Sam.

 

“I’m thinking! It’s not like I knew you were here and came prepared for a dolphin rescue!” Sam defends himself.

 

An irritated click answers him. Then Dean is launching himself out of the water and landing with a thud and a pained grunt on the platform Sam is standing on. His tail is half on and half hanging over the lip, and he immediately begins crawling, scraping his tail against the rough metal grating of the platform, losing scales in the process.

 

“Slow down,” Sam urges, “you’re hurting yourself.” It is an instinctual response to seeing his brother in pain, and one Dean wouldn’t appreciate if he could understand Sam’s words. Pain is a part of hunting. Dean has never been one to shirk away from it when a great good was at stake.

 

Although Sam is certain that Dean can’t understand his exact words, the cadence of them must convey enough of his sentiment because there is no way to misinterpret the annoyed, “I’m fine, Sammy,” in Dean’s gaze. Dean’s hand grabs the hem of Sam’s overcoat and tugs on it sharply. He looks at the water and then gestures to his tail with a circular motion.

 

Sam’s coat is worsted wool, name brand that was custom tailored to fit his broad shoulders. He doesn’t even think about how much it is going to cost him to replace when he takes it off and soaks it in the water of Dean’s prison.  He only thinks about how glad he is that he chose to wear his longest coat tonight instead of his shorter, sportier one.

 

The length of his coat mostly covers Dean’s tail, although the fan at the end has to be scrunched together to fit. It looks vaguely ridiculous for Dean’s bottom half to be covered in a coat, but he almost looks human again once the tail is hidden in the black fabric of Sam’s outerwear.

 

Dean is as helpful as he can be when Sam picks him up off the floor. Sam can feel Dean trying to adjust his weight and hold himself in a way that will make things easier for Sam, but it still doesn’t mitigate the fact that Dean is big. His torso is even more muscular than it was when he was a hunter. Sam can only imagine that is because his diet has been controlled by his captors for who knows how long.

 

The thought of Dean going without pie and burgers and fries for years makes something inside of Sam wilt a little bit. His brain can’t compute it. In the past, Dean would’ve called that kind of a diet torture.

 

Focusing on that thought enables Sam to push forward. The adrenalin from his anger on his brother’s behalf is enough to make his muscles move faster without it clouding his judgment like focusing on Dean’s captivity would. He’ll have to deal with that anger later.

 

There isn’t a whole lot of security in the restaurant to guard. Aquaria might cater to an elite group of people, but Sam doubts any illegal substances are kept on property. Even keeping Dean against his will isn’t technically illegal. The law doesn’t recognize the sentience of mythical creatures as far as Sam knows.

 

If he is fast enough, the law on that subject will never have to be tested either. Sam will sue for his brother’s freedom if he must, but he isn’t going to go down in history as the former hunter who obtained rights for all of the supernatural creatures out there that are killing people. He imagines his life would be rather short lived after that point, and other hunters would kill Dean on principle alone.

 

Sam goes out the back entrance of the restaurant. The alley isn’t unoccupied, but the homeless people congregating around the dumpster pay him no mind. They’ve likely seen worse happen, and their stomachs are more important to them than the goings on of a man who is obviously better off than they are. One or two of them might look over when Sam breaks into a nearby car and steal it, but he doesn’t stop to check.

 

Dean makes color commentary from the backseat while Sam tries to hotwire the car.

 

“Shut up. You sound like Flipper,” Sam tells him.

 

Dean ignores him and somehow wriggles around enough that his front half bends over the front seat coat covered mer-ass only a quarter of an inch from the ceiling. His head smacks into Sam’s arm as he braces himself. One elbow rests on the car’s console while the other digs uncomfortably into Sam’s thigh.

 

Even though it has to have been ages since Dean has gotten anywhere near wiring, the car obediently thrums to life as soon as Dean wrestles the wires away from Sam.  Cars always did like Dean best.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Sam ditches the car as far away from his house as he dares. The longer walk means more of a chance of getting noticed, but he can’t exactly have car theft tied to his name either. Dean seems to approve of his decision. At least, he doesn’t complain about Sam jostling him as his steps become slower, and he doesn’t whine when Sam’s coat starts to dry out thanks to the warm, California night breeze.

 

When Sam had purchased his house, he had bought it for security and the future. It was an investment, and he’d wanted both a pool and a hot tub. It had been extravagant given his salary, but he’d grown up making due. It hadn’t bothered him that he’d had a giant house with thrift store furniture.

 

He has slowly replaced his belongings over time, and he can feel the way that Dean’s eyes are judging him from the marble floor of the entryway where Sam had dropped him the instant that they were inside the front door. ‘You left me for this,’ they say. Sam would feel hurt and insulted by that, but Dean just spent part of his life being an aquatic exhibit. Sam decides he can afford to cut his brother a little slack.

 

Aside from that, Sam has more important things to worry about. His silver knife is easy enough to locate as is his salt. His rosary is a bit harder to find. When he finally finds it in his junk drawer in the study, it takes him a little longer to remember the exact words for the prayer for making holy water.

 

By the time that he makes it back to where he left Dean, his brother has pulled all of the buttons off Sam’s Burberry coat and has made a lasso out of its belt. He grins up at Sam as soon as Sam’s shoes clack against the smooth flooring of his entryway.

 

“You look like you’re eight when you do that,” Sam tells him as he hands over the glass of holy water.

 

Dean gives him an approving nod before swallowing half the glass and dumping the rest on his tail, rubbing the water against as many scales as he can. Sam feels a brief stab of guilt for forgetting about the need to rewet Dean, but pushes that away in favor of rushing through the rest of the tests.

 

He absolutely does not cry when Dean passes all of them. He can’t afford tears at the moment. He is exhausted and has to somehow manage to muster enough strength to get Dean to the bathtub.

 

“I don’t think chlorine is good for you, so I can’t put you in the pool,” Sam explains as he half carries half drags Dean up the stairs to his master bath. “Same thing with the hot tub, but that’ll be easier to drain, and it’s indoors so the neighbors won’t spot you.”

 

Dean doesn’t seem to care too much. In fact, he seems delighted when Sam settles him down in the tub, reaching out almost instantly to turn the hot water tap on, letting out a rumble of clicks when it pours over his tail.

 

“Don’t overfill it,” Sam warns him the same way that Dean used to warn him when he was little.

 

Dean ignores him and keeps fiddling with the water flow until the gigantic tub is filled with steaming water. Sam sits on the edge of his giant tub and watches his brother. It’s a little weird, Sam can admit that. But he thinks he is allowed. Until a few hours ago, he’d thought his brother was dead. He figures he can be excused for a bit of creepy behavior.

 

A contented sigh bursts out of Dean’s lips as he stretches out in the water. It isn’t quite big enough for him to stretch out all the way, but the tub is significantly oversized. It is big enough for two people to share, and Sam has never been more grateful for that given the span of Dean’s bottom fin.

 

“I didn’t buy the tub for sex,” Sam blurts out. “It was here when I bought the place.”

 

Dean looks over at him curiously then grins in an infuriating manner and waggles his eyebrows. Whatever communication issues his cursed form might have given him, he is clearly still able to read Sam’s facial expressions. He makes a loose fist and mimes a jacking motion over the upper half of his tail, winking at Sam while he does it.

 

“You’re disgusting,” Sam huffs out, flushing red but unable to keep a smile off his face. He’d missed his brother, even the annoying parts of him.

 

Dean’s grin turns softer as if he senses Sam’s thoughts. His hand lifts up out of the water and pats a couple of times against Sam’s knee before giving it a gentle shove and pointing towards the bedroom that Sam carried him through to get to the master bath. He yawns and mimics laying his head down.

 

Sam laughs. “Are you seriously telling me to go to bed?”

 

Dean leans back in the water and rests his head on the edge of the tub. The snore he lets out is obviously fake, but Sam knows that Dean will keep up the obnoxious sound until he gets his way.

 

“Night,” Sam whispers as he stands up and turns the lights off on his way out of the bathroom. He purposely doesn’t close the door as he goes into his bedroom and strips out of his clothes. Begrudgingly, he pulls back his comforter and slides between the sheets, certain that he won’t be able to sleep a wink.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Sam’s arms want to kill him the next morning. They ache when he reaches up to push the hair out of his eyes. His shoulders are almost as bad.  At first the only thing that he wants is a pot of coffee and a bottle of painkillers. Then the sound of splashing makes its way to his ears.

 

“Dean!” he shouts as he half rolls, half falls out of bed. The soles of his feet ache when they hit the soft carpeting of his bedroom, extracting their payment for making them walk so far in dress shoes. Sam ignores them. His body has had far worse.

 

A frenzy of angry clicks and gurgles greets him as he stumbles into his bathroom Where Dean is halfway out of the tub and dragging himself in the direction of the toilet.

 

“Oh! Oh, uh, you need help?”

 

Dean’s clicking gets even worse, and he makes some hand gestures that Sam figures are the equivalent to flipping a guy off in merman speak.

 

“I’ll just… go make coffee then,” Sam says as he backs out of the room. He closes the door behind him not because he wants to, but because he has manners.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

The lore on mermaids is overwhelming. Virtually all cultures have some sort of water creature that has human attributes. Sam has managed to weed out selkies because Dean doesn’t appear to be able to unzip his skin and walk around like a normal human. Kappas are also out because Dean doesn’t have a giant lily pad shaped bowl thing on the top of his head.

 

But eliminating types of creatures isn’t as helpful as Sam would like it to be. He isn’t hunting Dean; he is trying to change him back to his human form. If he was trying to kill Dean, he could just start trying out random potions and weapons until he found something that would work. Reversing whatever turned Dean into whatever he is requires a bit more thought.

 

Rubbing his eyes, Sam looks away from his laptop monitor and looks at the scribbling that Dean had given him. Whatever had messed up Dean’s speech had also impaired his writing. The scribbles on the notepad that Sam had given his brother are definitely a language of some sort, but he can no more identify it than he can translate Dean’s clicking and whirring.

 

The tattoo on Dean’s chest is Sam’s only real clue. The ink wasn’t there the last time that Sam had seen his brother, and their father had never been one for letting them get random designs on their skin. Tattoos were something that could identify you. Sam can’t imagine that Dean would suddenly go against their father’s advice for no good reason.

 

It takes a bit of internet research and a quick trip to borrow a book from the history professor at the local college, but Sam finds the design. The information about the mark is vague, but it says that it is supposed to seal the vessel. Most of the lore says that it is supposed to protect against demon possession, but Sam has known lore to be twisted before.

 

What if the mark is sealing the curse or whatever it is that has transformed his brother? Destroying the seal should release it then. The idea has merit, so Sam goes and gets his silver knife back out of its hiding spot.

 

When Sam lets himself into the bathroom, he isn’t surprised to see that Dean is watching Spanish soap operas on the flat panel television that Sam has mounted on the wall. They have always been a favorite of Dean’s even back when he was able to speak English. But Dean has never been able to understand them, so it probably gives him a level of comfort that trying to watch regular television wouldn’t. Not that Dean would like the idea that Sam is psychoanalyzing him, but he’s a fish in Sam’s bathtub. He doesn’t exactly have a lot of room to complain.

 

“Hey,” Sam greets.

 

Dean’s gazes flickers in his direction, but quickly glues itself right back to his show.

 

“So I’ve got a theory,” Sam says as he gets closer and takes the remote from where Dean has it resting on the edge of the tub and shuts the television off. The resulting tongue lashing is incomprehensible to Sam’s ears, but he knows Dean’s, ‘I was watching that!’ spiel by heart anyway.

 

“I think this might be a clue,” Sam tells Dean, letting his fingers drift over the pattern on his brother’s chest. Dean can’t quite turn his head at the right angle to look at where Sam is touching, but he tries anyway. He looks back at Sam and actually looks nervous.

 

Sam tries to give him as reassuring of a smile as possible. Dean smiles exaggeratedly in return and reaches up to touch at the same spot on Sam’s chest.

 

“Oh, not that,” Sam tells him. “I mean, yeah, I love you too, but…” Sam sighs and pulls his knife out hoping that it would be a bit more helpful in explaining than his misinterpreted touching had been.

 

“I’m just going to use this,” he says holding the knife up to Dean’s face, “on this,” he says as he taps the tattoo with his other hand. Satisfied that Dean now knows what is going on, Sam moves to see if he can disrupt the power of the seal with a few judicious cuts of a silver blade.

 

Dean shrieks when Sam bends over to get closer to his chest.

 

“Don’t be a baby,” Sam snaps at him.

 

Dean hits the side of Sam’s head with his tail. It is warm, but still slimy and very wet. It also makes Sam’s vision swim for a second. Obviously Dean’s tail muscles are in good shape.

 

“Ow,” Sam complains as he pushes himself up off his bathroom floor.

 

Dean is hissing and spitting at him.

 

Sam takes a half step back towards the tub. Dean curls down low into it, eyes focused on Sam’s every movement.

 

“Look,” Sam tries to reason as he looks around for where his knife went. Dean smirks and pulls it out of the water, wagging the blade back and forth as if to say, “Looking for something?”

 

Sam’s heart beats a little faster, fear mixing into his blood. What if whatever changed his brother has changed Dean’s impulses as well? What if Dean is actually part monster? Dean rolls his eyes at him and snorts, turning the knife around so that the handle is pointing towards Sam.

 

Gingerly, Sam takes the blade from Dean. Dean responds by reaching up to tweak Sam’s nose and ruffle the now wet section of his hair where Dean’s tail blow had landed.

 

“This is your way of telling me I’m going down the wrong path, isn’t it?” Sam asks.

 

Dean’s only answer is to find Sam’s waterproof remote and turn the television back on.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 By the time Monday rolls around, the only reliable discovery that Sam has made is that he shouldn’t give Dean coffee. In retrospect, that seems like something he should have figured out by logical thought instead of actual experience. After all, he had surmised that he shouldn’t start feeding Dean junk food hadn’t he?

 

But black coffee has been a staple of the Winchester diet for so long that Sam hadn’t even thought about it before handing Dean a cup. Apparently Dean’s captors had never thought of giving their specimen any caffeine because Dean had been buzzed for what had seemed like hours afterwards. The splashing in the bathroom had nearly driven Sam insane. Nearly – but not quite. He hadn’t, after all, left his bedroom to go try to study in the peace and quiet of his study.

 

There isn’t much that Sam can do from home except for continuing to comb through supernatural websites, hoping to stumble across a clue. But there are resources that he has that have nothing to do with hunters or witches. If he can’t figure out exactly how Dean was turned into a creature, he can start to look into the people who kept him as one.

 

So instead of calling in sick, Sam shaves and bathes in the guest bathroom. He dresses in his suit and tie and combs his hair in an ‘office appropriate’ style. Then he teaches Dean how to dial his number on the phone.  The numbers on the keys might not make sense to Dean anymore, but the button tones and the pattern aren’t dependent on Dean’s language skills.

 

Sam makes Dean dial his cellphone three times before he feels satisfied that Dean will be able to alert him in the case of an emergency. Dean’s body language tells him that he thinks Sam is in overkill territory, but Sam doesn’t much care what his formerly dead brother thinks. Dean has no room for pointing fingers in the obsessive, protecting his brother territory.

 

Work feels oddly the same as when Sam left it on Friday. More than a few of his coworkers stop by and ask how his weekend went, some with a wink and a smile that says they think his weekend was spent between the sheets with somebody hot and willing. Sam shrugs off their smiles with a tiny one of his own. He had, after all, gotten extremely lucky over the past couple of days – just not in the ways that his fellow cubicle dwellers think he had.

 

Researching the finances on Aquaria from his work computer isn’t illegal. At least, it isn’t until Sam starts hacking into the owner’s private records. Sam would feel bad about that, but his brother has a tail. The window of opportunity for switching Dean back to his rightful, two legged state is frightfully slim.

 

Sure, Dean has been stuck in his altered state for a while, but his previous residence was a giant fish tank. Sam doesn’t exactly have one of those, and his neighbors are going to get suspicious if he has his pool drained and filled with regular water for a ‘real life’ merman to take up residence. That sort of thing would go beyond the polite ignoring that all good neighbors are supposed to do.

 

It turns out that Sam doesn’t have to do much digging, because the owner of Aquaria comes looking for him. To be more precise, Marcus calls him because the owner’s lawyers are checking up on all of the clients of the restaurant that had dinner there on Friday.

 

“I’m really sorry about this, Sam,” Marcus apologizes for the fifth time. “They said that Njord’s tail has been stolen! Can you imagine that? What would the average person want with a tail?”

 

Sam thinks that the better question would be why they wouldn’t report such a ‘theft’ to police, but he doesn’t bother pointing that fact out to Marcus. He is more than willing to go ‘talk’ to the owner of Aquaria about his stolen ‘goods.’

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

There are three bodyguards and a rather thin looking man in a suit when Sam arrives at the restaurant. The whole situation reeks of a setup, but that agrees with Sam just fine. The likelihood that there are any cameras pointed on him is slim. Nobody that buys supernatural items is going to want evidence of the transaction.

 

“I wanted to talk to you,” Sam says without preamble.

 

“Really?” the man in the suit responds. “I was under the impression that I was the one wishing to speak to you about a certain something that has left my possession.”

 

“I think you mean a certain someone,” Sam corrects, “and I’m going to need the name of the person you bought him from.”

 

“I think you misunderstand,” the man says as he gestures at his bodyguards, “I’ll need you to return Njord to me as quickly as possible. Take my associates here to him, and we can all forget this ever happened. You can continue on your merry way with your career, and I can continue running my business as I see fit.”

 

“Somehow I don’t see you stopping there,” Sam says. “And I don’t think that you want to get involved in the level of problems this is going to bring you.”

 

The man laughs. “Are you threatening me? You have no idea what you’re up against here.”

 

Sam’s returning smile is cruel. “I have a better idea than you think.”

 

The man rolls his eyes and lets out a disgusted huff of air. His hired help seem to take that as a sign to attack. While the three of them aren’t supernaturally powered, they are still strong men who likely haven’t earned all of their muscles in the gym. But Sam was raised hunting creatures far more powerful than they could ever hope to be.

 

More than that, Sam is fighting for his brother. Dean wouldn’t let Sam down if the tables were reversed, and Sam sure as hell isn’t going to let Dean have one up on him. Fancy clothes and mortgage or no, Sam is still a Winchester.

 

Mentally, Sam reduces his opponents from bodyguards to thugs as soon as they attack. One comes from each side, and the third one comes at him from the front. They’re not playing fair. Sam is just fine because he can’t win if they play fair.

 

Kicking another guy in his nuts is something that is frowned against in virtually all circles. Sam doesn’t care so much about propriety though. The men attacking him work for the person who has enslaved his brother for the past few years. They’re slime and deserve the bruised testicles and broken noses that they get.

 

By the time that Sam gets the last one on the ground, their employer has realized that he is on the losing side of the fight. The click of his expensive shoes on the asphalt is hurried as he runs away. There isn’t a single doubt in Sam’s mind that the man is going to be gone for just long enough to call the cops with whatever story he can concoct.

 

“Freeze!” isn’t the most original thing to say when pointing a gun at somebody, but Sam isn’t in the mood to be creative. His knuckles are already swelling from the punches he just delivered, and his right cheek will soon be joining them thanks to a lucky punch that his last assailant got in.

 

“You won’t shoot me,” Aquaria’s owner says with false bravado.

 

“No?” Sam asks as he strides over to where the man had managed to run to. “I am an excellent shot and know more about mermaids, ghosts and fucking unicorns than you could ever hope to know. Don’t even pretend to guess at what I will and won’t do.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

It turns out that Aquaria’s owner, one Alec Smith, had bought Dean from a dealer of sorts. They aren’t unheard of in hunting circles, even if Sam never had much direct association with them. Hunters generally distrust them. Then again, hunters generally distrust everybody – including other hunters.

 

Still, his dad had always been the one to handle any purchases with vendors of the supernatural. When Sam was younger, Dean would be left to babysit him. When Sam was older, he had gotten petulant and annoying. Nobody liked to haggle on prices to the background music of hormonal sighs of impatience.

 

“This is strictly forbidden by the terms of our contract, Alec,” the dealer says, her eyes cutting over both him and Sam with more malaise than Sam would’ve expected.

 

 “I didn’t exactly have a choice,” Alec protests. Sam can give him that point. He does have a gun pointed at the man’s head.

 

Bela looks less impressed. “Do you think that I care about your brains staying inside of your body?”

 

“Enough,” Sam barks, commanding the woman’s attention back on him. “The spell that you used on Njord, I need to know how to undo it.”

 

“Spell?” Alec squeaks.

 

Bela’s lips curve into a smile that has Sam tensing.  “Well, you are smarter than Alec, I’ll give you that. When I heard his merman had been abducted, I thought that he was simply the victim of a jealous rival. He isn’t though, is he?”

 

“That really isn’t any of your business,” Sam tells her.

 

“Oh, but it is. You see, you have only one gun. While I have no doubts you could easily subdue Alec, that will waste you precious time which I can and will use to flee. I’m not much of a fighter, not if I can help it anyway.”

 

“I’ll hunt you down,” Sam threatens.

 

Bela’s eyebrow quirks. “A hunter. I should have known. Rather well spoken for one though and entirely too well groomed. Your kind usually reeks of cheap whiskey, sweat and Old Spice.”

 

“I want the spell to undo what’s been done to Dean,” Sam tells her.

 

“Dean?” Alec interjects.

 

“The merman, you simpleton,” Bela explains with a sigh.

 

“But his name is…”

 

“I don’t care what you named him,” Bela interrupts. “As far as I’m concerned you have broken your end of the bargain. Bringing this ox here was a stupid mistake, and you’re lucky you’d make an ugly merman or I’d trade you off to the same person that I bought ‘Dean’ from.”

 

Sam’s gut sinks at her words. “You didn’t turn him.”

 

“Sorry,” Bela says, “and I do mean that. If I had half the spells at my disposal as Crazy Jeremy, I’d not be dealing with the likes of Alec over there.”

 

“Where is this Jeremy?”

 

“Damned if I know. But let’s be honest, shall we? I wouldn’t tell you if I did know. I need my contacts, and he is rather indispensable for a lady in my profession.”

 

Sam glowers at her and straightens his spine, trying to look as intimidating as possible. It works when he deals with other lawyers and businessmen, but Bela looks distinctly unimpressed.

 

“I might be able to find a spell to reverse what has been done,” she says with a knowing smirk, “for the right price. Jeremy isn’t going to be happy about his hard work being undone. Whatever poor soul he cursed is likely a hunter, and you know how they get about their revenge.”

 

“You said he was a real merman!” Alec shrieks.

 

Bela rolls her eyes. “You couldn’t handle a real anything, you nitwit. You ought to be glad that sorry excuse for a hunter didn’t do something horrible to you before this galoot came along.”

 

“What’s your price?” Sam interrupts.

 

Bela’s surprise at his words is quickly hidden, but it was there. Sam feels a bit of smugness at the knowledge that he managed to catch her off guard.

 

“I expected more threats,” she admits.

 

“I’m not in the mood,” Sam lies. The truth is that he can’t hope to hunt her down and then go hunting after this ‘Crazy Jeremy.’ Dealers like her are unscrupulous, but hardly the worst thing out in the less than normal world. Besides that, he doesn’t have the time that going on a serious hunt for her supplier would take. Even if he were to give up his job, it would likely take months to track down Jeremy. Dean can’t exactly ride shotgun in the impala, and Sam is nowhere near wealthy enough to afford building him a permanent tank.

 

“Very well,” Bela says with a grin. “Let’s talk terms. But... not before I take the trash out,” she says as she grips Alec’s arm and begins to lead him away. “Don’t go snooping around,” she calls out over her shoulder as she goes.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~

 

There are seventeen missed calls on Sam’s phone. Even though he can’t make out a single word of the gibberish that Dean has left on his voicemail, he listens to them all. The cadence of the messages have the same soothing pattern of worried, angry, worried, pissed, frightened, angry, worried that they always have when Dean can’t get ahold of him.

 

If Dean was going to be stuck in his green scaled form much longer, Sam would find the messages very helpful for deciphering the language his brother had been cursed into speaking. As it is, the messages are more comforting than anything else. The spell to change Dean back was costly, but Sam now has it and the first ingredients sitting in a paper bag just waiting for the right chant.

 

Paying Bela back is going to be a different story, but it isn’t anything Sam can’t handle. He was hardly the big name hunter that his father had been, and Bela didn’t seem to want to gamble on his abilities being genetic. As for Dean, she seemed to think he was a rather lousy hunter if he’d let himself get kidnapped by Crazy Jeremy in the first place.

 

Sam hadn’t bothered correcting her of that notion. Bela is calculating. If she thinks the Winchester brothers are rather inept, Sam doesn’t want to disabuse her of that notion. He doesn’t need her coming back into their lives time and again whenever she needed ‘muscle’ to obtain some object to trade.

 

The only lights that are on when Sam gets back home are the ones that the security system turns on automatically. As soon as unlocks the front door, he knows that something is amiss. It is too quiet in the house, and there is an overwhelming smell of orange juice wafting from the kitchen.

 

He draws his gun back out and steps as silently as he can, tracing the odor back to its source. When he gets there, he finds his brother lying in a puddle of water, clutching a butcher knife in a manner that can only be described as a hostile. Part of Sam feels threatened by Dean even though he knows that his brother can’t hope to catch him.

 

The instant that Dean recognizes Sam, he starts yelling at him. Sam knows that he is getting scolded for not answering his phone. Normally that would cause them to end up in an argument about Sam being able to take care of himself, but he is too distracted by the warzone that Dean has created.

 

All of the fresh produce that Sam had in the lower sections of the refrigerator is carefully arranged on the floor. The one exception is the glass bottle of orange juice that was slightly higher up and is now drying into a sticky puddle in front of the appliance. The kitchen faucet is dripping, and the spray hose is stretched out over the edge of the counter. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Dean has been using it to wet himself down given the amount of water on the floor.

 

Once Sam has the overhead lights on, he can see tiny green scales everywhere. Guilt bubbles inside him because he knows that he is going to find more of them once he leaves the relatively smooth flooring of the kitchen and checks out the carpeting of the stairs.

 

“I’m sorry I was gone so long,” Sam apologizes, “and I’m sorry I didn’t leave you enough to eat.”

 

Dean clacks at him a few times and looks down at his tail.

 

“You want to go back upstairs to the tub?” Sam asks. He wants to start the counter spell going as soon as possible, but he doesn’t think that Dean will be very comfortable in the position he is currently in.

 

Dean glowers at him when Sam stoops over, but doesn’t hesitate to wrap his arms around Sam when he realizes that Sam is trying to pick him up. Sam stumbles back up the stairs and deposits Dean into the tepid bathwater left in his tub. He doesn’t stick around for the complaining that Dean starts doing about the temperature of the water, but instead heads down to the kitchen to pick up his spell kit.

 

The spices that he has to burn for the incantation make Sam’s eyes water. Dean has a sneezing fit. The dry, burnt paste that Sam spoons into his brother’s mouth afterwards looks revolting, but he can’t be sure if it is the taste that has Dean looking unhappy or the fact that he is being spoon fed like an infant. Either could be possibilities and neither are avoidable. Sam doesn’t think that Dean can speak Latin at the moment, and the paste must be administered by the one who speaks the spell.

 

Afterwards, Sam leaves Dean to mope and watch a German horror movie. The shattered glass of the orange juice bottle has thoroughly congealed onto the linoleum. It takes forever to clean it up. The rinds from the fruit that Dean had eaten aren’t nearly as bad, but the water he used on himself is everywhere. By the time that Sam makes it back upstairs, Dean is snoring away to the sounds of an infomercial for hair loss.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Sam calls in sick the next morning. His knuckles are bruised, and his face is worse off. He also sounds like he is about to die thanks to all the smoke from the previous night’s spell, so nobody at the firm questions his illness. He just hopes that the more obvious signs of his fight go away before his sickness becomes suspicious.

 

“Morning,” Sam greets his brother as he walks into the bathroom.

 

Dean’s tail looks exactly how it did the previous night, but his eyes fly open at Sam’s greeting.

 

“How’re you fe…”

 

“Sammy,” Dean whispers, so uncertain that Sam’s name sounds more like a prayer than anything.

 

Sam can’t help the grin that breaks out onto his face even though it makes his swollen cheek hurt. “Well at least part of that spell worked.”

 

“I’m going to hunt that douchebag down and beat him bloody,” are Dean’s next words.

 

“With a tail and your good looks?” Sam asks pointedly.

 

Dean frowns down at his sparkly green appendage. “You’d be a good brother and drag him into the nearest body of water for me, wouldn’t you?”

 

Sam bites back the utterly sappy promise that he would do anything for Dean. “Maybe you should ask your pet seagull to help you out with that instead.”

 

“Fuck you,” Dean retorts, “you’re the princess for remembering that stupid movie anyway.”

 

“You’re the one who took me to see it,” Sam reminds him.

 

“They were free tickets!” Dean protests.

 

“Dean, you never paid for any movie you took me to,” Sam reminds him.

 

“Yeah, but we had tickets that time,” Dean protests. “That was completely different from sneaking into the theater, even if it was an animated chick flick.”

 

“I missed you,” Sam tells him.

 

Dean looks nonplussed for a moment. “Just because I mentioned chick flicks…”

 

“No,” Sam interrupts, “I want you to know that I missed you. You’re stuck in my house for however long that spell takes to be undone, but I want you to know that, that you can stay. You know?”

 

“You’re just…”

 

“I’m not ‘just’ anything. I missed my big brother, and you need to know that I still want you around.”

 

The look on Dean’s face turns indulgent. “Yeah. Okay. We’ll see if you still feel the same way in a couple of weeks.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

“I hate fish,” Dean laments as he chews on the sushi that Sam brought him. “I miss burgers and fries and beer.”

 

Sam doesn’t point out that the sushi he brought is high quality because fish and fruit and vegetables are the only things that Dean is able to eat at the moment. For as fast as the first part of the curse let go, the rest of it is taking its sweet time dissipating.

 

“How’re the legs?” Sam asks, hoping to get Dean’s mind off of all the foods that he currently can’t eat. He makes certain to refer to Dean’s tail as his legs in an attempt to keep Dean thinking positively, but he doesn’t think his brother appreciates the effort.

 

“My tail is just fucking peachy,” Dean grumbles. “I’m gonna need a walker by the time I have legs again.”

 

“You’ll probably need a walker anyway,” Sam points out. “You haven’t been on feet in how long?”

 

“Too long,” Dean tells him pain and a flash of fear appearing on his face before Dean’s more practiced scowl chases them away. “Look, Sam, this is probably going to take longer than you think. It’s not like that bastard grabbed me out of the woods one day and I woke up with a tail the next.”

 

Sam’s yellow fin tuna roll turns unpleasantly in his gut at the thought. “Did it…?” he asks helplessly. He isn’t sure what he wants to ask. Did it hurt? Was it terrifying? He already knows the answers to those questions, and Dean won’t tell him the whole truth anyway.

 

Dean shrugs in response to Sam’s not-question. “The guy let his own henchman get eaten by a monster, Sammy. I figure I got off pretty easy, you know? I knew there was something fishy about them when I saw them out in the forest. I hadn’t heard of any new locals going missing, and there wasn’t anybody else that had checked into the hotel.”

 

“You tried to save them,” Sam guesses.

 

“It’s what I do. Did,” Dean corrects himself. “Anyway, the jackass nabs me and lets one of his cohorts become monster chow. Said that it was better than losing a sale.”

 

“So he abducted you so that he could turn you into a creature and sell you?”

 

“What did you think happened?”

 

“I don’t know,” Sam admitted.

 

“Well, from what I can tell, Crazy Jeremy makes his money by stealing hunters and selling them off as supernatural oddities. Makes sense, I guess. At least, it makes sense if you’re fucking nuts. Most people aren’t going to miss a hunter. Those that do are just going to assume they were killed on a hunt.”

 

Sam can’t hide his wince of guilt.

 

“Hey,” Dean consoles almost instantly, “you were fooled. It happens to the best of us.”

 

“I have some stranger’s ashes on my fire place.”

 

Dean cackles at that. “Dude,” he wheezes out, “that is awesome.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

The splashing is what wakes Sam up. The rhythm of it is strange, and in his sleep addled state all he can think is that Dean is drowning. He feels he can be excused for bursting into his bathroom.

 

Dean might disagree. “Knock first!” he yells, pulling his hand away from his not-quite-human dick and dropping a nearby washcloth over his hard-on to cover it.

 

The small, terrycloth square doesn’t do much for Dean’s modesty. It makes it look more like some sort of bizarre water tent than anything else, but Sam doesn’t point that out. He retreats as quickly as he can, the sound of the tap coming on chasing him out the door.

 

In the old days, Sam would’ve whined about having to see Dean’s junk. Now he is just embarrassed that the image keeps replaying itself every time he closes his eyes. Logically he knew that Dean still had to have a dick somewhere. Aquatic mammals keep their penises inside themselves, and Dean’s lower half is still aquatic. Whether it is mammalian or not is up for debate, but Dean is warm blooded even if he has scales.

 

“Get back in here,” Dean’s voice demands the instant that Sam hears the water shut off.

 

Sam doesn’t bother pretending that he hadn’t just spent the last few minutes hanging around outside of the bathroom. He is tired. Whatever it is that Dean wants to say, they might as well get it over with.

 

“Sorry,” Sam apologizes.

 

Dean smirks at him. “If you were curious about the mer-goodies, all you had to do was ask.”

 

“Dude, gross,” Sam says more because it is expected of him than anything else.

 

Dean fidgets and his expression turns somber. “Look, I’m only saying this because I know you worry and get obsessive.”

 

“I don’t get obsessive!”

 

Dean raises both eyebrows in an insulting display of disbelief. “Sure. Look, it doesn’t look normal right now, but nothing below my waist does, right? I look like I could audition for a Chicken of the Sea commercial. I’m sure it’ll fix itself in time. No need to, uh, do any more investigating.”

 

Sam frowns. “Why would I…”

 

“Okay! Good talk. Have a good night, Sammy! Don’t let the bed bugs bite!”

 

Sam shakes his head and shuffles back out to his bedroom. Maybe Dean will make sense in the morning.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

“This is disgusting,” Dean announces as soon as Sam stumbles into the bathroom with the day’s takeout in hand. He’s lucky that he lives in California. He can’t imagine getting healthy to-go in most of the towns they spent their childhoods in growing up.

 

“You don’t even know what I brought,” Sam points out.

 

“Not the food,” Dean mutters.

 

Sam turns around to see tiny green scales floating in the water. They’re dull colored, not the vibrant almost iridescent color they are on Dean’s body. There is also a larger pile of them heaped on the edge of the tub. Another handful are sitting in the trashcan.

 

“I’m molting,” Dean tells him as he scratches at his collar bone above his tattoo. Some of his skin there looks painfully pink, but smooth. It doesn’t look like the skin of an injured fish like Dean’s tail did when he’d lost scales dragging himself around Sam’s house.

 

“At least it’s a good sign?” Sam suggests.

 

“I hope so,” Dean agrees, scratching at one of the clumps of scales that were resting right above his strange tattoo.

 

While Sam is glad that there finally seems to be some physical progress on the de-cursing of Dean, he doesn’t think actively pulling scales from skin is a good idea. He needs to distract his brother, so he shoves a fresh grilled tilapia sandwich under Dean’s nose. It isn’t as effective as a burger would be to a human Dean, but food is still a good diversion.

 

“So you got inked,” Sam says before Dean can start whining about his food and lack of mobility again.

 

“Yeah, anti-possession tatt,” Dean says around his mouthful of sandwich. Performing virtually naked for a bunch of strangers eating at a fancy restaurant hadn’t improved Dean’s table manners. Sam knows that Dean has them stored away in his brain somewhere. He’s going to have to figure out how to make Dean use them at some point. He can’t have Dean being completely obnoxious at dinner parties.

 

Sam shakes his head as if he can clear his last thought from his head. Of course he would love for Dean to stay with him. Being without Dean was one of the worst parts about leaving for college in the first place. Believing that Dean was dead had been almost unbearable.  Only throwing himself into his work had kept Sam from going off the deep end. But fantasizing about Dean staying around is fool hardy.

 

“Possession?” Sam asks instead of asking questions that he is more interested in hearing the answers to. Hunting is all that Dean has known since he was four years old. That and captivity now. Pushing him to start thinking about his future living situation is a sure way to get his ass in the front seat of the Impala as soon as he is mobile again.

 

“Yeah, there was an upswing in demon possession a few years back,” Dean tells him. “It was nasty, man. You ought to be glad you missed it. There were all these black eyed freaks running around trying to ‘salvage the plan’ – whatever the hell that was. Rumor was they were trying to unlock a gateway to actual Hell.”

 

“That would’ve been bad,” Sam observes.

 

“That lawyer speak for FUBARed?” Dean asks.

 

“Yes, that is exactly what it was,” Sam deadpans back.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

“Don’t look,” Dean orders as Sam picks him up out of the tub, soggy towel wrapped firmly around his tail. Dean looks more like a monster now than he did when Sam first brought him home.

 

There had been a sort of elegance and beauty to Dean’s merman form. That had, after all, been the whole point of his transformation. Sam doubts the resale value of an ugly merman would be nearly as high as a pretty one. Freak shows make more money when they’re pretty to look at.

 

But now that Dean’s body is starting to revert to his true shape, his skin is horrifying. Half of it is a scaly mess, the other half is bright pink and shiny. It is also highly sensitive if the way Dean hisses when Sam picks him up is any indication.

 

“This shouldn’t take long,” Sam assures his brother as he moves him to the kiddie pool that he has set up in the next room. He briefly wonders if his bucket of bleach and detergent is going to be enough to clean up the mess that Dean's molting has made of the tub. He wonders is he should just pour straight bleach onto the porcelain and skip the dilution step.

 

“Take your time,” Dean says with a voice of practiced nonchalance like he isn't watching Sam stand at the entrance to the master bathroom. “I’ll do sit ups or something while I wait. My fabulous swimming abs are starting to disappear on me.”

 

“A true tragedy,” Sam commiserates.

 

“Hey, they were the best part of being kept in there,” Dean says. “You ever try fake flirting with people who are eating steak when you’re getting fed kipper snacks?”

 

“Dean.”

 

“Don’t. Don’t give me that sad, feel bad look. It sucked. It sucked out loud. But I wasn’t beaten or molested. Treated like a fluffy poodle, sure. But it could’ve been worse.”

 

“They took away your freedom. Made you some sort of pet,” Sam snaps back, anger he had forced down bubbling back to the surface now that his brother is finally making some progress.

 

“I didn’t say I wasn’t going to go find the bastard that did this to me and get some payback,” Dean reminds him. “I’m just saying it could’ve been worse.”

 

Sam narrows his eyes at his brother. “Since when did you become an optimist?”

 

Dean laughs and flicks water at him. “You shut your pie hole. Never let me hear that dirty word come out of your mouth again.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

“Sam! Sammy!” the yelling from the bathroom shocks Sam out of his sleep. Adrenalin pounds in his veins, and he reaches under his pillow for a gun that hasn’t been there in years.

 

“Sam!” Dean calls out again, and Sam rolls out of bed to go into the bathroom unarmed.

 

“What’s wrong?” he asks.

 

The look on Dean’s face is pure agony. “You have any pain killers?” he mumbles so quietly that part of Sam is wondering why his brother was shouting not a minute earlier. Then his brain catches up with the fact that Dean is actually admitting to being in pain instead of toughing it out.

 

“What’s wrong?” Sam asks.

 

Dean’s hand fists into the waterlogged towel that he’s been keeping over his tail. Sam’s eyes track the movement. His own hand twitches by his side with the need to look and see how bad the damage is.

 

“Don’t you dare,” Dean threatens.

 

“If there is something I…”

“You can go get me drugs,” Dean snaps. “There isn’t much you can do about my tail splitting itself back into two legs, and I don’t want you looking.”

 

“Dean,” Sam huffs with impatience.

 

“Drugs, Sammy,” Dean responds.

 

“All I’ve got is over the counter stuff,” Sam tells him. He hasn’t had any major surgeries where he’d have prescription stuff still lying around, and he hasn’t pinched drugs form unsuspecting hospitals and pharmacies since he was seventeen and still following his father around the country.

 

“Better than nothing,” Dean grunts.

 

Sam can see his point. He rummages around in the medicine cabinet like a moron for a few moments before he remembers that he quit putting pills in there and moved them down to the kitchen by his coffee maker where he was more likely to be taking them.

 

“I’ll be right back,” he promises as he runs out of the room. He is back as quickly as he can be and tries not to worry when Dean swallows almost half the bottle.

 

“I’ll get you some better stuff tomorrow,” Sam promises.

 

Dean’s answering smile is more of a grimace. It haunts Sam’s eyelids when Dean finally orders him back to bed.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

“They look kind of toe-ish, right? Toe-like,” Dean says, wiggling his fin-feet. His fin has been slowly thickening and shortening over the past few days, and the spines of it have started rounding out in places. There is still a sprinkling of green scales dotted in amongst the flesh colored skin.

 

“They look weird,” Sam tells him honestly.

 

“Yeah,” Dean agrees. “How was the hunt?”

 

Sam grimaces. Making payments to Bela for her spell isn’t how he likes to spend his weekends, but he knows better than to make that sort of enemy. He can’t afford to when Dean still isn’t himself. Still, hunting means bruises and slightly illegal activity on the best of days. He’s playing a dangerous game with both his life and his brother’s.

 

“That great, huh?” Dean asks. “Look, as soon as I’m on my feet again…”

 

“You’ll be learning how to walk,” Sam interrupts hotly. Normally he wouldn’t dream of suggesting that Dean not do something, but today is a different matter. He doesn’t feel like listening to Dean go off on how he is going to hop right back on his hunting horse and ride off into the sunset. Sam has spent quite enough time knowing that his brother is dead. He isn’t keen on going back to the not-knowing.

 

“Touchy,” Dean says, wriggling his toe-fins in a way that is more flopping than actual movement.

 

“That looks gross,” Sam informs him.

 

“I don’t know. Looks kind of cool to me,” Dean retorts with an obnoxious grin on his face.

 

“When do you think you’ll be able to be out of water?” Sam asks.

 

“Not sure. I kind of woke up in it when they first started fusing together, you know? But the craving for it isn’t as bad now. Why, you want your kinky sex tub back?”

 

Sam laughs and shoves at his brother’s shoulder. “You can stay in here as long as you want, and you know it.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Sam is busy tackling a mountain of paperwork that involves filing motions and rebuttals and whatever else the senior partners of his firm think he should be doing when his phone rings. He answers without thinking much about it, mind still stuck on the details of Szymanski vs Smith.

 

“Don’t freak out,” are the words Dean blurts out instead of a normal person greeting.

 

“Not really reassuring, Dean,” Sam tells him as his heart starts pounding.

 

“It’s not bad. I think. Just. There’s some blood, but I have a pair of ankles now,” Dean pants into the phone.

 

“Tell me you didn’t cut yourself,” Sam hisses into the phone.

 

“No. I might not’ve gone to some fancy college, but I’m not an idiot,” Dean snaps. “I just thought I’d warn you.”

 

“Why?” Sam asks, suspicion building over his fears. Dean wouldn’t be calling for something as easily disguised as a bit of blood in a bathtub.

 

“You’re probably going to have to have the carpet cleaned,” Dean pauses and tilts his head to the side, “And the stairs and the kitchen floor, but I think I can…”

 

“What are you doing down in the kitchen instead of my bathroom?” Sam hisses.

 

“I was hungry,” Dean lies. Sam knows he’s lying. He left his brother an entire smorgasbord.

 

Dean,” Sam puts as much threat into his name as possible.

 

“Fine.  I was stealing your beer. And I may have started feeling tingly when I was dragging myself down your stairs. But you have to remember that this is at least half your fault for having white carpeting in the first place. Who has white carpeting?”

 

“Just, just drink your purloined beer, and try not to play with your ankles,” Sam says as he hangs up on Dean.

 

One of his coworkers is peeking his head over Sam’s cubicle. “Had no idea you were so kinky, Winchester.”

 

Sam sighs. “Go away, Mort.”

 

“You need to bring the boyfriend in sometime. Everybody is wondering who has you all tied up in knots,” Mort continues as if Sam hadn’t just told him to go away.

 

“Go away,” Sam repeats.

 

“If you get me coffee every day for a month, I might not tell everybody that you’re into kinky stuff involving ankles.”

 

“You go on ahead and tell everybody that,” Sam says. “And when I bring Dean in, you’ll regret it.”

 

“Dean?” Mort makes a face. “Wasn’t that your brother’s name? That’s kinda strange, Winchester.”

 

Sam grins. “You have no idea how much.”

 

~~~~~~~~~

 

“You told your office that I’m your boyfriend?” Dean asks as he munches down on the fish tacos Sam brought him.

 

“You bothered by it?” Sam asks.

 

“Not our usual cover, but taking in a random stranger would be a little bit harder to explain. I suppose that I’m going to have to get used to being officially dead.”

 

“You don’t have to be. We can petition the court and…”

 

“And what? I’ve got a rap sheet and a working knowledge of how to kill monsters. You don’t need to be ‘alive’ on paper to hunt.”

 

“Maybe you shouldn’t go hunting,” Sam mutters.

 

“Sam,” Dean sounds like a deflating tire when he says Sam’s name.

 

“I mean it. This could be… No. This should be your new start.”

 

“I’m not qualified to be anything else but a hunter. Or, well, I was a really good merman, but I’m not getting one of those funky tails and performing for rich people’s birthday parties.”

 

“You could stay with me,” Sam reminds him.

 

“That’s living somewhere. Not, not being somebody. Come on, Sam. You know the difference.”

 

“I do,” Sam admits. “But you could figure out what it is you want to do with your life. Dad died avenging Mom. You don’t need to go as well. And don’t start in on the innocent people dying. They were dying when you were stuck in a fish tank too. And guess what? Other hunters will get to them.”

 

“It’s that simple for you?” Dean asks, staring down at his hands.

 

“Of course not. If something happens in my back yard, I don’t ignore it. But Dean, those people’s lives aren’t more important than our lives. You’re more important to me than they’ll ever be.”

 

“Don’t get all mushy on me,” Dean says.

 

Sam scowls back at him. “Look, I went through hell thinking you were dead. You’ll forgive me if I don’t want to see you die again or wonder where you are or if you’re okay.”

 

“I don’t fit in your new world,” Dean reminds him.

 

“No? So you haven’t spent your entire life conning people into thinking you’re somebody that you’re not? I have a law degree. I passed my bar exam. But my entire career is based on confidence. My degrees just got me in the door.”

 

“Sam…”

 

“No. I’m done arguing about this,” Sam says as he stands up to leave. “For once just think about staying put, will you? Think about staying with me.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Dean demands whiskey the day that he is ‘a real boy’ again. Sam buys it for him. It doesn’t hurt Dean’s ability to walk all that much because he can barely stand upright as it is. Still, Dean’s been dragging himself across Sam’s floors to do his business and getting into trouble for a while now. Doing it with a pair of legs and feet doesn’t seem to be bothering him and his pride too much.

 

Sam thinks about recording some of it so that he can laugh at Dean later. He wouldn’t dare record anything when Dean was still the slightest bit merman. Private recordings always have a way of becoming public when least expected. The last thing Sam wants is a bunch of hunters and conspiracy theorists on his doorstep.

 

“I need to start eating worse now,” Dean mumbles drunkenly into Sam’s shoulder.

 

“Of course, why would you want to treat your body well?” Sam agrees with as much sarcasm as his inebriated tongue can manager.

 

“Burgers and fries and pie,” is all Dean retorts with. He probably figures that is a good enough explanation.

 

“I like my legs,” Dean says as he pats at his knee. He is wearing a pair of Sam’s gym shorts and the most threadbare tee that Sam owns. Regular clothing had sent him into a weird scratching fit earlier with a bonus rant about crazy nudists. Sam hadn’t really understood it even before he was three sheets to the wind.

 

“They’re all bowed,” Sam reminds Dean.

 

“Yeah,” Dean says with a smile, petting at his left leg like it’s a cat.

 

“Dude, quit feeling yourself up on my bed,” Sam orders.

 

Dean grins. “I can’t help it. I’m dry and have no scales.”

 

“I noticed,” Sam whispers back like he is sharing a secret.

 

“Did you now?” Dean whispers back.

 

“I notice everything about you. I have to because you’re going to be gone again,” Sam tells him, unable to keep the sadness out of his voice.

 

“Aw, Sam, I’ve always come back,” Dean reminds him.

 

“You don’t have to comeback if you never leave,” Sam points out.

 

“I have to leave,” Dean informs him.

 

“Why?”

 

“Because,” is all the answer Dean gives.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

The hangover that Sam wakes up with isn’t terrible. He and Dean had both eaten a large meal and drunk water before they got sloshed the night before. His headache isn’t the most pleasant of things to bear, but the odd feeling of a head resting on his chest is more than enough to chase away the immediacy of it.

 

Dean is still out cold and is drooling a little. Sam can feel the wetness on his skin. He would wake his brother up, but he isn’t cruel. He knows that Dean’s hangover is going to be worse than his. He hasn’t had alcohol in ages.

 

More than that, Dean has been sleeping in water for the past few years. As comfortable as a bed is, he isn’t going to be able to sleep properly in one for a while.  If Sam’s body is keeping Dean asleep, Sam is more than willing to loan it out for a while.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Dean makes Sam buy him tennis balls to put on the feet of his walker because he wants it to ‘look authentic.’ Sam would call him insensitive except for the fact that Dean is the same way about his car remaining in its original condition. Sometimes Sam thinks that Dean missed his calling as an antique dealer. He certainly has the eye for detail, and he is downright persnickety about things being in the right condition.

 

“This sucks,” Dean says as he clomps into the kitchen. “I’m not out of shape – not that badly. My muscles should be fine.”

 

“Your muscles are fine. It’s just your brain that’s messed up,” Sam reminds him, not bothering to hide his glee at the innuendo he can put behind his words.

 

Dean’s expression dims a little, and his eyes stop making contact with Sam’s. His laughing, “I guess,” is far too strained to be the real deal.

 

“Dean?” Sam asks.

 

“What happened to my car?” Dean asks in an obvious change of subject.

 

“She’s sitting in my garage,” Sam tells him. “I, she… There isn’t an easy way to tell you this, but…”

 

“You didn’t paint her a different color, did you?”

 

“No!”

 

“Change her suspension? Screw with her rims? Put douche-y glass packs on her exhaust?”

 

“Dean, no. Calm down,” Sam says, reaching out to put a placating hand on his brother’s shoulder. “I just put a mount on her dash for my iPod.”

 

Dean looks at him like he confessed to kicking puppies. Sam takes a fortifying breath. “And I, maybe, pay for a mechanic to change her oil instead of doing it myself.”

 

“I don’t know where I went wrong,” Dean whispers.

 

“Look, Sarah is a good mechanic, okay? She’s better with that car than I am.” Sam half expects Dean’s face to tilt into a dirty grin and make a few dirty comments. Instead his angry frown, changes into a pensive one.

 

“She’s good to Baby? And you haven’t taken her to one of those quick change places where they strip a girl’s threads and don’t give her the time she needs?” Dean asks.

 

Sam winces. “Just once,” he admits. “I was on a road trip!”

 

Dean stares at him. “You’re a foundling. I don’t know how we’re even related.”

 

“You’re just saying that because you’re still bitter about me being taller than you,” Sam tells him.

 

“But I’m prettier,” Dean retorts.

 

“Vain,” Sam corrects.

 

“But still pretty,” Dean says with an uncoordinated shake of his hips. It looks ridiculous framed by the metal of his walker.

 

“Well, you did make a nice mermaid,” Sam admits with a smug grin.

 

“Merman,” Dean retorts. “My abs were priceless.”

 

Sam casually lifts his shirt up and looks downwards. “I think mine are better.”

 

When he looks back up, Dean’s mouth is open. It shuts quickly, and Dean looks away. His, “You flash people often?” is half-hearted at best.

 

“Dean?”

 

“What’d you make for breakfast?” Dean asks brightly in return.

 

~~~~~~~~~

 

When Sam gets home from work, Dean is waiting for him in the garage. He looks almost like a little boy with the way that Sam’s old clothes hang off him. The shoulders on his shirt fit well enough as does the waistband on his pants, but the length of the sleeves and the inseams of his pants are adorably long. Not that Sam is going to tell him that.

 

“Hey,” Sam greets as he gets out of the car. Dean grunts in response. His eyes are roving over the interior of his car like he suspects Sam has had parts of it replaced with pink pleather.

 

“Do you need some alone time?” Sam asks as he turns around to pull his briefcase out of the car.

 

When he stands back up, Dean’s gaze is no longer on his ‘Baby.’ He is looking at Sam, but at what, Sam has no idea.

 

“Dean?”

 

His brother visible shakes himself and plasters yet another fake grin on his face. “Look at you,” he says, “all grown up.”

 

“Been that way for a while now,” Sam reminds him.

 

“Yeah, but… Fancy suit, fancier tie. Bet you bought those with your own money and everything.”

 

“I’m not sure what…”

 

“Go on in the house, Sam,” Dean cuts him off brusquely. “I need to fix her up properly.”

 

Sam frowns but lets it go. There is no way that he is going to get Dean to open up on the subject without a fight, and Sam doesn’t even know what the subject is to start pushing. “You sure you can work on her?” he asks instead, gesturing at Dean’s walker.

 

“Baby’s held me up in worse situations,” Dean reminds him. “She isn’t going to let me down now.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Dean starts jogging. Honestly, actually jogging, and it gives Sam the willies. He has seen Dean train. He has grappled with him and seen him do one armed pushups and five mile runs and thousands of crunches, but jogging is different from that.

 

Jogging is Dean putting on Sam’s smallest pair of athletic shorts and no shirt. Jogging is Dean stealing Sam’s water bottle with the sippy straw instead of toughing it out or carrying their father’s old, beat up canteen. Jogging is Dean making Sam buy him the loudest, flashiest running shoes that he can find even though Sam is fairly certain that Dean HATES lime green as a color.

 

Dean knows a lot of Sam’s neighbors now. At least, he knows all the housewives and househusbands and that one artist who actually makes enough on his artwork to provide for himself without working five part-time jobs on the side.

 

“We should buy you new shorts,” Sam comments as Dean bounces down into the kitchen. He starts his jog every morning when Sam leaves for work. He says it is because he wants to walk Baby off to school even though the concept doesn’t really fit.

 

“These are fine,” Dean says as he chugs down a glass of water. Sam eyes him warily and tries not to worry about Dean’s H2O consumption. He’s still up around twelve glasses a day.

 

“I can see your ass,” Sam finally tells him.

 

“They’re shorts,” Dean replies.

 

“No, like, when you’re jogging. The bottom of your… Look, your ass is bigger than mine, okay?”

 

“I know. They’re shorts,” Dean says again with a wiggle of his eyebrows.

 

“You’re wearing those on purpose?” Sam doesn’t squeak. He doesn’t.

 

Dean shrugs. “I’ve gotten a lot of offers to start extramarital affairs if that’s what you’re asking.”

 

It isn’t. It so isn’t, but Sam’s mouth curls into a moue anyway. “Tell me you’re not screwing around with my neighbors.”

 

“Why? You jealous?”

 

“No! Just, it could turn out awkward,” Sam mumbles.

 

“Aw, don’t worry, Sammy. Everybody thinks you’re tapping this,” Dean pats his nylon covered ass, “on the regular. I wouldn’t let them think that you’re not man enough to keep me satisfied.”

 

Sam tries not to blink or stare or look dumfounded at Dean’s proclamation, but he thinks he fails. At least, Dean starts laughing his perky butt off over whatever look is on Sam’s face.

 

“You’re a jerk,” Sam huffs in irritation.

 

Dean grins and reaches up to adjust Sam’s tie. “Have fun at work, Dear.”

 

~~~~~~~~

 

At Dean’s insistence, Sam takes him with on the latest run to pay off the debt he owes Bela. He keeps a careful tally of all that he owes her and reads their contract regularly so she doesn’t start to mess with the terms. He doesn’t doubt that she’ll try, but Sam is a good lawyer and a great hunter even if he hasn’t been in the game since high school. She isn’t going to best him easily.

 

For all of Dean’s elation that he is back behind the wheel of his car, he looks nervous. He shouldn’t be. The errand that they’re on isn’t even a hunt, just a negotiation with somebody that Bela has pissed off in the past. She had needed somebody with negotiating skills to get her some fancy pendant that would make her richer than she already was.

 

Sam isn’t being egotistical to say that he is her best choice. Hunters are good at deception and subterfuge, but they’re rarely high up on the diplomacy food chain. Their entire existence is based around killing things. Monsters aren’t going to want to be killed no matter how nicely a guy sweet talks them.

 

“You okay?” Sam asks from over in the passenger seat. Even though he has been driving the Impala for the past couple of years, the passenger side of the car feels right to be in. The car has always been Dean’s even if their father was the one who purchased it long before Dean’s legs were long enough to let his feet reach the peddles.

 

Sam used to feel better being in the back, but being up front makes him feel like Dean’s equal. It makes him feel like an adult more than his mortgage and utility bills ever have.

 

“I could use a glass of water,” Dean mutters.

 

“You just…”

 

“I know,” Dean interrupts. “I know, okay?”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

There is willful ignorance, and then there is stupidity. Sam thinks that they’re both the same thing. That doesn’t stop him from participating in both on occasion. Usually those occasions involve his brother in some manner.

 

The problem with willful ignorance is that not even Sam’s stubbornness can hold out forever. Dean is drinking a lot of water. He’s willingly eating shrimp that haven’t been deep fried or slathered in an entire stick of butter. And while he has always been a flirt, Dean has never been one to purposely draw the attention of random strangers.

 

It is disturbing, but not life threatening. At least, it isn’t immediately so. Sam isn’t taking any bets on the future. Dean’s eyes have been glancing at the highway more and more often as of late. If Dean goes back to hunting, there is a good chance his differences could paint a target on his back.

 

Not all hunters are scrupulous about who and what they deem a monster to be. And who knows what actual monsters might do if they can sense that Dean still isn’t fully human? More importantly, what if Dean starts getting reckless because he thinks he isn’t quite human anymore? Sam wouldn’t put it past him. Dean can be exceptionally thick about some things.

 

“I made tuna melts!” Dean calls out as soon as Sam walks through the door.

 

Sam pushes his worry aside at the proclamation. Tuna melts are full of mayo and cheese. Dean always makes them with the whitest bread and slathers on butter for the toasting part. He has made them before. Sam can remember one time that he cooked them with aluminum foil off the heat of the Impala’s engine.

 

“What has you smiling?” Dean asks.

 

“Thinking about that time in South Dakota,” Sam answers honestly.

 

“Sap,” Dean accuses softly. He turns his head away, but not before Sam catches the faintest color of a blush on Dean’s face. It is another thing that is new, but Sam isn’t sure what the cause of it is. He doesn’t think that being a merman has given Dean a sudden sense of humility.

 

“Did you buy chips to go with?” Sam hates the way that he sounds just the slightest bit whiny, but tuna melts make him nostalgic. He can’t eat one from a restaurant because they always come with fries, and tuna melts are meant to come with dill pickle chips because that is what Dean always shoplifted for them.

 

“Of course,” Dean says with a hand wave to a plastic sack sitting on the island. “I bought them with your money though.”

 

“I think they’ll taste the same without them being ill gotten goods,” Sam tells him.

 

“Says you,” Dean retorts as he slides Sam’s melt out of the pan and slices it diagonally, just how Sam likes it - never vertically, never horizontally, always diagonally.

 

When Sam bites in, it tastes as good as ever. But there is a bit more fish and a bit less mayo. He could attribute it to Dean’s aging tastes, but he doubts it. Not with the way that his brother is practically devouring his dinner.

 

“Hungry?” Sam asks as casually as he can.

 

Dean stops inhaling his food long enough to swallow. “Not really,” he says before he tucks in again.

 

“You want burgers tomorrow?” Sam asks hesitantly.

 

“I ever not want burgers?”

 

The knot in Sam’s stomach unwinds a little bit at Dean’s words. “If you grill them for us, I could maybe sneak a pie into the food budget for the month.”

 

“Food tease!” Dean accuses merrily.

 

“Only if I don’t put out.”

 

The light in Dean’s eyes doesn’t dim, but it does turn darker for a second. Like he is imagining the pie Sam is going to bring him. It is gone the next instant which disturbs Sam more than the look itself. Dean feels the need to hide, and that never ends well for them.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

“Look, you don’t have to go,” Sam says for the fifteenth time.

 

Dean rolls his eyes and continues combing his hair into a carefully slicked part. It doesn’t look bad per se, but it doesn’t look like Dean either. It makes his brother look like some corporate dick. Sam wonders if his brother feels the same way when Sam gets ready for work in the mornings.

 

“I’ve always taken care of you, haven’t I?” Dean asks as he turns away from the mirror.

 

“I’m not a child,” Sam reminds him.

 

“I know that, Gigantor,” Dean says with a smirk. “But you’re supposed to bring a date. Going solo is going to make you look like a loser, and I’ve been taking up too much of your time for you to find a girl. Unless you do have a girl that I don’t know about?” Dean sounds unhappy with that thought.

 

“No girlfriend that I’ve been hiding from you,” Sam reassures him. “I’m not paranoid about you stealing them anymore.”

 

Dean doesn’t look as mollified by the answer as Sam thought he would be, but he doesn’t look upset anymore. It’s enough of a win for Sam to dismiss it.

 

“I can’t believe you chose that suit,” Sam says as he watches Dean pull his dark burgundy coat over his dress shirt.

 

Dean frowns. “The lady at the store said it looked good.”

 

“It does,” Sam reassures him. “It’s just not your norm.”

 

Dean looks uncomfortable and stares at the tips of the dress shoes that Sam bought him. “I’m usually pretending to be a cop.”

 

“And now you’re pretending to be my boyfriend,” Sam adds.

 

Dean fidgets with his tie. “I guess.”

 

“And that doesn’t bother you?”

 

“You picked a hell of a time for a heart to heart, Sam,” Dean deflects taking a few steps away.

 

“I’m just wondering where your head is at,” Sam tells him.

 

“Nowhere good,” Dean snaps. “I’ll go get the car started. Don’t spend too much time primping, Princess.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Sam’s bosses love Dean. Everybody loves Dean, and Sam curses himself for being forgetful of the fact that his brother is just as smart as he is. Dean will never admit that fact, but given the proper motivation, he can be downright crafty.

 

Doing something for Sam has always been one of Dean’s best motivators. He can be charming and well-mannered when he wants to be, and tonight is one of those times. Sam would heckle him for it, but he has a spot at the senior partner’s table thanks to Dean’s machinations. A certain amount of respect needs to be given for that.

 

“So, Sam, didn’t know you were gay,” Mort says as Sam goes up to the bar to order a round of drinks for the table.

 

“Really? I could’ve sworn you made a crack about his naming being Dean,” Sam retorts.

 

“I was just joking,” Mort says, oily smile on his face.

 

“And I’m reminding you that my sex life is none of your business,” Sam tells him as he collects the drinks and walks back to the table.

 

“I’ve known Sam since he was in diapers,” Dean is saying when he reaches it. “We lost touch for a couple of years though.”

 

“Well, the important thing is that you’re together now. Heaven knows it is difficult enough finding somebody nowadays, but with the hours that Sam works…”

 

Sam clears his throat and sits down. “I miss anything?”

 

“Just your boss telling me that you’re obsessive,” Dean says with a smile.

 

“Not that I don’t appreciate your hard work, Sam. But you should listen to your partner here and slow down a bit more. I wouldn’t have three divorces under my belt if I’d listened to that advice back in the day,” Mr. Schmidt tells him. “You looked positively exhausted a few weeks back. Working like that does the firm no good.”

 

Sam shoots his brother a dirty look when Mr. Schmidt turns to talk to another couple at the table. Dean just grins back at him.

 

“Hey, Dean is it?” Mort says from over Sam’s shoulder.  Sam scowls and swears that he is going to hack into Mort’s computer and do porn searches on it.

 

“That’s me,” Dean agrees, stretching out his hand for a shake.

 

“I thought I’d come over and introduce myself. Get to know the man in our Sammy’s life.”

 

Sam can see the instant that Dean’s eyes harden and plots start brewing behind them. Only Dean gets by with ‘Sammy.’ Even he wouldn’t get a pass on it, but he has ignored Sam’s attempts to rid it from his vocabulary in the past. Sam doesn’t have the heart to fight him about it now that he has him back.

 

“Well, now you’ve met me,” Dean responds. “Although, I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure?”

 

“Mort,” Mort says, pointing inanely to the nametag on his vest.

 

“Ah,” Dean says.

 

“We didn’t know Sam was gay,” Mort trudges on.

 

“He isn’t,” Dean responds quickly. “But I’m not going to get into a debate about the Kinsey scale, sexual orientation or gender stereotypes with you.”

 

“I’m not trying to…”

 

“Yeah, you are,” Dean cuts him off.

 

“Mort,” Mr. Schmidt says, “don’t you have a date of your own that is missing your company?”

 

Mort glares at Sam as if he caused him trouble and says his goodbyes.  Sam looks at his brother with raised eyebrows.

 

“What?” Dean asks in a whisper. “I can act all educated when I want to.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

“I had a good time tonight,” Dean says once they make it back home.

 

“You? Had a good time,” Sam repeats.

 

“Yeah, I did. It was nice meeting the people you work with. And it was awesome being able to eat the fancy steaks being served instead of swimming around shaking my perky mer-ass at people.”

 

“I think you still shook your butt at a few people anyway,” Sam points out.

 

Dean grins. “Well, they were snoopy.”

 

“And you decided to reward them?”

 

“Why? You jealous?”

 

“No,” Sam tells him. “I’m worried. You’re acting strange.”

 

“Come on, Sam. Can’t you drop that?”

 

“No, I can’t.”

 

“Why not?”

 

“You know why not!” Sam exclaims. “Our lives have never been easy. Ignoring things doesn’t make them go away, and you’re not acting like yourself.”

 

“You mean I’m acting like a monster,” Dean says.

 

“That’s not what I meant.”

 

“But it’s what you’re thinking,” Dean accuses. “I know that look. The one that speculates and latches onto an idea so hard that it won’t let your brain let it go.”

 

“Fine, yes I’m worried that the curse isn’t completely undone. But I’m also worried that you’re so comfortable playing the little corporate game. You were performing for all of them tonight. You were more than happy to pretend to by my lover instead of my brother. That isn’t the sort of thing that you do,” Sam points out.

 

“Well maybe I changed,” Dean shoots back. “I was stuck in that tank a long time with just myself for conversation.”

 

“I know,” Sam says.

 

“YOU DON’T KNOW!” Dean roars, pulling his tie off and throwing it on the floor. “I promised myself that I was going to fix things with you. You know? I was going to do better and, and…”

 

“You have,” Sam assures him.

 

“I haven’t,” Dean says with a shake of his head. “Sometimes I think you’re the only person I’m capable of loving, Sammy.”

 

Sam blinks. He is confused at Dean’s sudden change of topic, but he doesn’t stop his brother form speaking.

 

Dean’s laugh is mirthless and cruel. “You’d think being stuck in that tank would’ve cured me of it, but I just wanted you. Every night I wanted to see you, and every night I knew that you would never be out there. Then you were. It was like some giant cosmic joke.”

 

Dean paces the floor, putting his back to Sam. “Then you brought me home to this nice, picket fence life. And you ran around trying so hard to fix me and take care of me. It was so easy to just fall into it for a little while. It was easy to lie to myself that I was doing a good thing for you, but the truth is that there ain’t no fixing what’s wrong with me.”

 

“That’s not true,” Sam denies. “Whatever is wrong, we can fix it.”

 

“Not this,” Dean says as he turns around and puts his back to his brother. “I am a monster, Sam. But it isn’t some creature mojo left in my veins. The curse that is over me isn’t something we’re gonna be able to burn away with sage and a few incantations.”

 

“You’re not a monster!” Sam yells as if more decibels will get through Dean’s thick skull.

 

“I’m in love with my own brother!” Dean shouts at the wall, still firmly turned away from Sam. “I think there are special places for people like me. People who enjoy playing house with their own sibling ought to be shot. The only good thing that I’ve done in my life is save people, and I don’t even want to do that anymore. It’s not even that I’m scared. I’m just tired.”

 

“You don’t mean that,” Sam says, uncertain of what part he is trying to convince Dean he doesn’t mean.

 

“I do,” Dean tells him as he starts to walk away. “Just go to bed, Sam. I think we’ve both had a long night, and I don’t want to fight anymore.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Dean is gone when Sam wakes up in the morning. There is a fancy rental car in place of the Impala along with a list of cars at different dealerships that Dean has test driven and given his stamp of approval to. Sam isn’t all that surprised. He knew that Dean couldn’t have spent all of his days gossiping with the neighbors.

 

A quick inventory lets Sam know that his silver knife and favorite rosary are gone along with all of the salt in the kitchen. The lighter fluid for the charcoal grill is also missing. Part of him is livid that Dean has run back to hunting. The other part is just happy that Dean thought to take some provisions with him.

 

Dean’s note tells Sam not to worry, that he isn’t suicidal. He says that he’ll call. Sam doesn’t doubt that Dean will. Of the two of them, it is almost always Dean who crumbles first when they’re not speaking to each other.

 

But Dean took away Sam’s ability to crumble. A promise to call isn’t the same as a promise to call soon. Sam doesn’t have a number he can even try to reach his brother at. Running out after a declaration of incestuous love is an all-around shitty thing to do. 

 

What is worse is how people start to ask about Dean. Neighbors come by to see if he is feeling okay. Mr. Schmidt castigates Sam for not spending more time with his partner. Mort makes sleazy jokes that Sam would file harassment charges over except for the fact that Dean is his brother, and any good investigator is likely to find that out. Instead he keeps loading viruses on Mort’s computer and lets the air out of Mort’s tires on his lunch break.

 

Days turn into weeks. Weeks turn into months. Then one day Dean’s beloved Baby is sitting in Sam’s driveway when he gets home.

 

There is a vengeful part of him that wants to nick her paint as he pulls around her and into the garage, but she was there for him when he thought Dean had died. She was the last member of their family left standing, and when Sam and Dean are gone, she’ll probably still be there to carry their silent memories. She doesn’t deserve to have her paint messed up just because her owner is a jerk.

 

“I hate you,” Sam tells his brother as soon as he is through the door.

 

“You want to hit me?” Dean asks.

 

“No. But only because you’d probably break one of my vases if you fell,” Sam tells him. “Where the fuck have you been?”

 

“Hunting,” Dean tells him.

 

“No shit.”

 

“Can you calm down on the attitude a bit?” Dean asks.

 

“I’m thinking ‘no’ would be a good answer to that,” Sam tells him.

 

“I was hunting down Crazy Jeremy,” Dean says.

 

“Are you crazy yourself?” Sam asks. “You know what he did to you!”

 

“I did,” Dean agrees, “and I had to. I’m a dead man, Sam. Can’t pin a murder on a guy who doesn’t exist anymore.”

 

“You killed him,” Sam says. He doesn’t feel bad about it, but his mind is having troubles reconciling Dean actually murdering a human.

 

“I didn’t kill him,” Dean says. “Although what I did do is close enough to it.”

 

“Dean, what did you do?”

 

“I figured that he wasn’t the kind of guy that would just reform if I asked nicely, and he was exactly the kind of guy who would come after me again. Aside from that, he’s also the kind of chump who would talk his way into alliances for profit.”

 

“So you what? Cut his tongue out?” Somehow that thought is more disturbing than Dean putting a bullet in the guy’s brain.

 

“I took a page out of The Bible. An eye for an eye, a fin for a fin.”

 

“You turned him into a merman?”

 

Dean nods. “I, uh, might have sold him to that Bela chick on the condition that she not bother either of us again.”

 

“You might have?”

 

“Okay, I did. For an obscene amount of money even though that creepy fucker is nowhere near as pretty as I am,” Dean says.

 

“How do you know that she isn’t going to remove his curse and force him to tell her his secrets?”

 

“Well first of all, I burned most of his shit and took a video of its destruction. Second of all, I maybe altered the speech portion of the verse to make it permanent. Unless you have the feathers of an angel,” Dean says with an eye roll and some finger quotes around the word ‘angel.’

 

Sam nods once before saying, “Don’t get me wrong. It’s great that you stopped him, and I’m glad you didn’t kill him. But that doesn’t fix most of our problems.”

 

“I know,” Dean admits. “I’m still like, part actual monster, if you’re wondering. I guess the spell attaches to your DNA or whatever. So I’m going to be chugging Aquafina and downing McFish sandwiches for the rest of my life.”

 

“And preening for my neighbors?” Sam asks.

 

“If you want,” Dean says.

 

“You mean that?” Sam asks. “Because if you don’t, then I’m not going to keep you here. But you know I want you here with me. Safe.”

 

“You sure about that?”

 

Sam shakes his head. “I told everybody at work that you had to fly out east to help with the death of an aunt, so I’m going to look like a jackass who couldn’t keep his man if you don’t stay.”

 

“You did?”

 

“I can live without you,” Sam tells him, “but I can’t live with anybody but you.”

 

“And me being, you know, about you. You’re okay with that?”

 

“I’m learning to appreciate it,” Sam answers.

 

“Good, because I spent a lot of the money Bela paid me on getting a fancy ID and stealing some dead schlub’s social security number,” Dean says as he holds up a California driver’s license.

 

“Dean Smith? That isn’t terribly inventive,” Sam says.

 

“I’m just happy his name was ‘Dean.’ Explaining it away as a nickname would’ve been awkward,” Dean says as he puts his new ID back in his wallet.

 

“Well, I guess there is just one more thing left to do then,” Sam says as he steps closer to his brother. He can see how Dean braces himself like he is expecting a punch. It makes Sam feel more than smug when he leans down and presses a gentle kiss against the side of Dean’s mouth. “Welcome home future Mr. Winchester.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Epilogue: Timestamp
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Sam thinks his hands have developed a mind of their own. When he sits on the couch with Dean, his fingers find his way into his brother’s hair. If they run errands together, one hand always tries to hold one of Dean’s. When Dean lets Sam take him out on a date, Sam almost always finds his hand curling possessively around Dean’s waist at some point. If he is drunk enough, the waist gets bypassed in favor of Dean’s ass.

 

Dean has a nice rear though, so Sam gives himself a pass on ass grabbing. Dean doesn’t mind it. In fact he enjoys getting groped far more than he enjoys having his hair played with. He loudly reminds Sam that he isn’t a girl whenever there is a commercial break or boring scene. Dean can be an ass like that.

 

Still, Sam’s dick is confused where Sam’s hands aren’t. Dean is hot. Objectively, Sam has always known that. He loves Dean in ways that would always have interfered with other relationships.  Also? Dean is a really good kisser even if he does roll his eyes every time that Sam takes over and does, “That freaky face cradling thing.”

 

Dean is also the same asshole who has always been more than willing to fight with Sam when they both get stubborn. While Dean is more than thrilled to play at being Sam’s boyfriend, he still fights with Sam like he is his brother - which he is – so Sam can’t exactly ask him to stop that.

 

Well, he could ask Dean to stop. But then he’d have to live with Dean looking like a kicked puppy when he thinks Sam isn’t looking, and acting like a stoic, macho prick when he thinks Sam is looking. Sam isn’t about to sign up for that rollercoaster of emotions.

 

The problem is that it is hard to sex things up with Dean when he does something that reminds Sam how much his brother irritates him. It brings up the petulant teenager in Sam who wanted nothing more than to show up his brother and make him suffer.

 

Sibling rivalry is keeping Sam from tapping Dean’s squeezable ass. Not that Dean knows that. Sam suspects that Dean thinks it is the incest factor. It logically should be the incest factor, but logical isn’t something that has ever truly applied to the Winchesters since the day that Mary died while defying the laws of physics.

 

“Hey, you want to order in pizza?” Dean asks as he sorts through the coupons he has carefully printed off and saved in a handy coupon pouch that he bought at the dollar store. He hasn’t found a job yet, and has instead been taking his ‘house husband’ role very seriously by trying to pinch Sam’s pennies for him.

 

“Sure, just…”

 

“Keep the anchovies and shrimp on my side. I know, I know,” Dean says as he waves off the rest of Sam’s sentence. “Go get my tool kit from my bedroom, would you? I need to fix that latch on the kitchen cabinet, and I’d like to see if I can fix it before the delivery driver gets here.”

 

Sam rolls his eyes but does as he is told. Dean’s mission to turn household chores into competitive sports is a bit odd and a bit annoying, but it is better than him getting the urge to go hunting. It is also better than him going to a local bar and starting a fight just because he is bored.

 

Dean’s room isn’t exactly a mess. He hasn’t gotten rid of his default mode of keeping everything organized enough to pack it up and run if need be. It comforts and worries Sam at the same time. He wants Dean to put down roots. He doesn’t want it to be easy for him to leave again.

 

Despite the relative cleanliness of the room, Dean’s tool chest isn’t immediately in plain sight. Sam has to go digging for it, and manages to knock over a box when he finally locates it in the bottom of Dean’s closet. Normally Sam wouldn’t go snooping in his brother’s stuff, but the vibrating dildo that starts buzzing as it rolls across the carpet is a bit hard to ignore.

 

There is only one reason for Dean to own that particular sex toy and have it stocked with fresh batteries. Well, there are two reasons, but Sam is fairly confident that Dean hasn’t been bringing home girls when Sam is at work.

 

He hastily twists the base of the vibrator back to its off position and throws it back in the box that it had been hidden in. By the time that he makes it back down the stairs, Dean is already bitching about how long it took Sam to get his ass down the stairs and how he is now behind the eight ball for beating the pizza man.

 

Sam ignores him in favor of staring at Dean’s butt as he works on the cupboard latch. The way the denim clings to and curves around it is pleasant, but the image playing in the back of Sam’s head is more graphic. Dean’s been practicing having anal sex. He’s been practicing because he wants to have anal sex, and Sam is the guy he wants to have it with.

 

The thought makes Sam’s cock perk up a little. They haven’t moved past make out sessions and jerking off. They haven’t talked about why. Dean has known that Sam wasn’t ready for that the same way that Sam has known that Dean is worried about scaring him off.

 

“Booyah!” Dean yells as he finishes screwing in the last bit of hardware just as the delivery car pulls up in front of the house.

 

Sam shakes his head and wills away thoughts of his cock in Dean’s ass away. “Nobody says ‘booyah’ anymore,” he says as he walks to the door.

 

“Just for that, you’re paying for the pizza,” Dean retorts.

 

Sam shakes his head and does as he is told. Tipping the delivery driver extra and loudly thanking him for getting their pizzas there so quickly. It doesn’t hurt to stroke Dean’s ego on occasion, and old habits of getting into another person’s pants die hard. Dean might be a sure thing, but Sam has manners.

 

“Yummy, yummy, yummy,” Dean chants as he opens the box. One half is a traditional pepperoni and sausage. The other is a disturbing concoction of shrimp, anchovies, ground beef, mushrooms and green pepper. Dean swears it is awesome. Sam is kind enough not to point out how radically different Dean’s taste in pizza is nowadays.

 

“Beer?” Sam asks as he opens the fridge.

 

Dean just nods, mouth too preoccupied with stuffing itself with food. Sam pulls out the entire pack instead of just two bottles, and Dean quirks an eyebrow at him.

 

“Trying to get me liquored up, Sammy?” he asks as he swallows and grabs his bottle from Sam’s hand.

 

Sam can’t help but flush at the question. It is stupid, something that Dean has probably said to him a hundred times before. But this is the first time that Sam had ulterior motives for getting alcohol into Dean’s system that involved sex instead of coercing Dean into covering for him studying instead of researching for the latest hunt.

 

“You are!” Dean crows as he salutes Sam with his beer bottle. “You pervert, seducing your big brother like that.”

 

“I hate you,” Sam mutters as he starts grabbing food from his own side of the pizza.

 

“Not what your cock thinks,” Dean says. “In fact, I think he likes me a whole lot.”

 

“You are very close to not getting any ever again,” Sam threatens.

 

Dean shrugs and grabs another slice of pizza apparently unconcerned with the legitimacy of Sam’s warning. They don’t say much more while they eat. It isn’t a relaxed silence. It can’t be with the way that Dean keeps shooting Sam suggestive looks every time he glances in Dean’s direction, but it isn’t uncomfortable.

 

“I’m going to go brush my teeth,” Dean announces after he finishes stuffing himself full of food.

 

Sam nods.

 

Dean stares at him for a moment. “I’m going to go brush my teeth so we can have sex,” he states plainly.

 

Sam spits his mouthful of beer onto his plate. “What?”

 

“I don’t want to hear you whining about how my mouth tastes. So hurry up and finish,” he explains as he walks out of the kitchen and disappears up the stairs.

 

Sam looks a bit regretfully at the remains of his supper before putting it in the fridge. He then locks up and shuts off the lights. Dean is hovering outside of the door to Sam’s bedroom. For all of his earlier bossiness, he looks uncertain.

 

“You forget how to open the door?” Sam teases as he comes up behind Dean and settles his hands on Dean’s hips. Dean doesn’t flinch at the touch, and Sam feels unaccountably irked that he hasn’t managed to surprise him.

 

“Waiting for you to finally make it up here,” Dean says, tone just a touch off like his words are something other than gentle teasing.

 

Sam presses a kiss into the side of Dean’s neck. Predictably, it makes Dean grumble and squirm away. Dean is all on board for sex and playing house, but casual intimacy when it isn’t a performance for the benefit of strangers is a different matter.

 

“Girl,” Dean accuses as he twists the doorknob open to the master bedroom. Sam follows him inside and takes a moment to watch as Dean starts to methodically strip out of his clothes. It isn’t the frenzied strip of a man about to get laid, but his normal way of getting disrobed.

 

“Show ain’t free,” Dean scolds. “Get naked.”

 

Part of Sam wants to start a squabble over Dean’s orders, but he tamps that instinct down. Nakedness is mutually beneficial to both of them. By the times that he is done undressing, Dean is reclined on Sam’s bed, pink dick laying soft against his thigh.

 

In contrast, Sam’s cock is already half hard. It bounces as he walks the few feet to join Dean. He feels vaguely ridiculous, always has when wandering around naked with a hard-on.

 

“Somebody is eager,” Dean mutters as Sam settles next to him.

 

“Shut up,” Sam mutters, lightly punching Dean’s shoulder.

 

“Hey,” Dean’s tone softens, “what’s up? Besides the obvious.”

 

“Nothing!” Sam instantly denied.

 

“Right, because you’re totally the guy to get randomly turned on by pizza.”

 

“Dean…”

 

“Not that I’m judging. Pizza is awesome. All the melty cheese and greasy goodness on top of chewy, highly processed crust with…”

 

“I found your thing. When I was in your room,” Sam admits.

 

“My thing is on my crotch,” Dean shoots back easily.

 

“I’m trying to be serious here,” Sam complains. “I found your, you know, sex toy.” If part of Sam was hoping for his brother to be embarrassed, he is sadly disappointed. He is also an idiot because Dean doesn’t do embarrassed when it comes to sex.

 

“A man has needs, Sammy. Besides, preparation is key. You’re a big boy, and my poor rosebud is small.”

 

“Rosebud? Really, Dean?” Sam can’t help the nervous chuckle that comes out.

 

Dean smiles at him. “Feel better now? Can we get on with the sexing up of my hot body?”

 

“Yeah, about that,” Sam clears his throat. “I was wondering if…”

 

“Yes, you can stick your dick up my ass,” Dean interrupts. “Like you even had to ask. I ever say no to you?”

 

“Yes?”

 

“About sex?”

 

“Yes,” Sam answers as he pulls Dean in for a kiss, making sure to palm the side of his face while he does it.

 

“You’re lucky I want to get off,” Dean halfheartedly threatens as he trails his fingers down Sam’s abdomen, stopping only when they reach his cock. Sam’s dick gives a twitch as they brush against it, thickening as if trying to put itself into Dean’s grasp.

 

Sam growls and rolls over, pinning Dean underneath him. There is an uncomfortable moment where Dean’s arm is pinned between them, but a little shifting gets it removed, and Sam can happily rut against Dean’s hipbone while sticking his tongue into his brother’s mouth.

 

Dean’s dick hardens quickly in response to Sam’s movements. It starts leaking precome onto their stomachs, easing some of the friction burn of skin on skin, but not quite making it dissipate.

 

“Lube,” Dean grunts against Sam’s lips.

 

Sam grunts and reaches blindly for the tube he has stashed in the nightstand. The lid of it clicks open with a happy sound as he flicks at it with his thumb. When he rears back to get better leverage for slicking their cocks, Dean takes the opportunity to flop onto his stomach.

 

Sam stares at the pale globes of Dean’s ass for a moment, suddenly unsure of what to do. Dean doesn’t say anything, but he does wiggle impatiently. The movement is enough to allow Sam’s dick to override his brain.

 

His first finger slides in almost effortlessly, though Dean’s channel clings to it in ways that Sam’s dick definitely appreciates. His second and third fingers don’t go in quite as smoothly, but Dean seems to know what he is doing because he breathes out and pushes back onto Sam’s digits in just the right ways.

 

In what feels like no time at all, Dean’s asshole has gone from tiny and pink to still tiny and pink and slightly puffy. It stretches obscenely around Sam’s fingers when he pushes them inside, but contracts back the instant that he pulls them free.

 

Sam thrusts them back in and out a couple of times, fascinated at the way Dean’s body reacts to having him inside of it.

 

“Put it in me already,” Dean growls just as Sam is teasing his entrance again, running his fingertips around the rim.

 

Sam reaches down to slick his cock up and knees into position.

 

“Wrap it up first, Cowboy,” Dean says. “I taught you better.”

 

Sam obediently goes back to the nightstand to fish out a condom. He does his best to ignore the fact that his brother was indeed the person who lectured him on safe sex and why making your partner orgasm was important.  Dean’s lecture isn’t what he wants on his mind for their official ‘first time.’

 

The pressure as he finally starts to push inside Dean is different from what it is like with a woman. It shocks Sam a little even though it shouldn’t. “Tight,” he grunts as he slides out a little and back in, trying to find the right pressure and angle for penetration.

 

The resulting shake from Dean is either a dry laugh or a shudder of pain. Either way, he doesn’t tell Sam to stop, and Sam doesn’t offer. He has to trust that Dean will tell him if something is too much.

 

By the time that Sam’s balls finally slap up against the curve of Dean’s ass, he feels ready to explode. It’s tight and warm inside of Dean, and he hasn’t fucked anybody else in months.

 

Taking a deep breath, Sam starts to thrust, trying to find the best angle to go at. Dean twitches and adjusts his stance on occasion, but doesn’t say anything to help guide Sam’s efforts. He is left to just the sound of their breath and the slick sound of their bodies rubbing against each other – the leftover remnants of a childhood spent making as little noise as possible lest the monsters or landlords come to get you.

 

But lack of vocalization doesn’t keep Sam from communicating with Dean. His body instinctively knows how to counter Dean’s movements. The twitch in Dean’s left shoulder tells him when the tug on his channel is tilting more towards pain than pleasure. The shiver along Dean’s ribs lets him know that he has hit the sweet spot. The hand that lets go of the grasp it has on Sam’s bedspread to sneak down between Dean’s thighs is self-explanatory.

 

Sam lets his hands tighten their hold on Dean as he starts to pick up the pace. His headboard starts tapping against the wall, and his breath starts coming in pants. He means to reach around and help Dean jerk himself off, but Sam’s orgasm creeps up on him from out of nowhere, shooting out of him like it has somewhere to be and hit the snooze alarm one too many times.

 

Dean grunts as Sam pitches forward onto him, but he holds them both up long enough for Sam to regain muscle control.

 

“Sorry,” Sam whispers into Dean’s shoulder blade, nipping at it afterwards because it is freckled, and Sam’s sex addled brain thinks it is a good idea.

 

Dean answers him with a low moan, his whole body tensing for a second before collapsing against the bed. Sam goes down with him, but only enjoys using Dean for a body pillow for a second or two before grabbing the base of his condom and pulling out.  He dutifully stumbles to the bathroom to dispose of it and does his best not to strut on the way back out with his standard cleanup towel and washcloth.

 

Dean is sprawled out on his back, dick mostly soft, but not all the way. Sam knows from experience that he could go over there and tease it back into being hard again. Dean’s recovery time is frightening for a man his age.

 

“That wasn’t so bad, now was it?” Dean asks. Sam is kind enough not to tell him that his voice sounds ten kinds of fucked out, even though he suspects that Dean might be proud of that. He has his ‘I’ve just had sex’ smile on, and it gives Sam a dirty thrill to know that he put that look on his brother’s lips.

 

“You should move in with me,” Sam says as he throws the towel over the wet spot and tosses the washcloth at Dean.

 

“Thought I already had,” Dean responds as he wipes at his stomach.

 

“No, I mean, in here. Like, we should start sharing a bedroom,” Sam explains.

 

“Sammy, you’re such a romantic,” Dean scoffs, but his post-coital smile turns into something gentler as he speaks. “You trying to make an honest man outta me?”

 

“I don’t think anybody could do that,” Sam points out. “But I do think that we’re together now, and we’ve never had a problem sharing space. Besides, I like sleeping with you.”

 

“Easy access,” Dean notes, throwing the washcloth onto the floor.

 

“Not everything is about sex,” Sam reminds him, pulling Dean as close as he thinks he can get by with.

 

“No, but sex is still awesome. I wouldn’t mind having it more often,” Dean says curling up into the space that Sam carefully left between them. “Now are you done being serious? Can I nap now?”

 

Sam presses a kiss into his hair because he can. “Yeah. You can nap now.”

 

 

 *Fin.*