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On Your Guard

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“...five-year anniversary of the Hellsgate battle. Hunting licenses continue to pose a regulatory problem for law enforcement, as the latest estimates suggest close to seventy-percent of active hunters now carry Agency-issued certificates, yet they have almost unanimously opposed the Senate bill that would require a public disclosure of their names and areas of coverage.”

In spite of himself, Sam looked over at the television when he heard the topic being covered.

“The bill would bring the Hunting Agency a step closer to becoming federalized instead of an independent entity, and proposes a centralized lore database that could be peer-reviewed. Dean Winchester issued a statement earlier this week in opposition of the bill for being unrealistic and, quote: ‘dangerous’, but urged his fellow hunters to obtain their licenses in order to avoid unjust detainment and obstruction of their work.”

Jess made an aborted gesture to ask one of the bartenders to change the channel, but Sam just shook his head at her in mute resignation. Dean’s picture was on the news constantly, and after years of non-stop coverage he was almost (but only ‘almost’) used to it.

Arguably the most well known amongst his creed, Winchester was of course present at Hellsgate and was singled out last year in the now-infamous segment of the President’s speech at the 2016 Correspondents Dinner.

The screen cut away to replay the five-second clip where the President joked about leaving her husband for Dean, only she called him ‘our real-life Captain America’ like most of his fans did. Then it cut back to the news anchor, this time with a photo of Dean hovering next to her face.

The photo was a couple of years old and Sam had seen it before, but they used that particular shot more than any other for a reason; some gutsy photographer had captured the moment right before Dean obliterated a semi-solid apparition with rocksalt--shotgun in hand and a near-artistic streak of dirt on his chiseled face. He looked like an action figure brought to life. There was even an American flag in the background, crusted with ghostly frost right at the moment the wind had lifted it up.

“He must miss you a lot,” Jess murmured, both of them looking up at Sam’s brother on national television. Sam took a sip of beer and nodded non-committally, hoping Brady and Zach would get there soon.

“Winchester’s opposition to the bill was based upon claims that humanoid supernaturals would use the registry to target hunters specifically, and that undercover work would be rendered impossible. At twenty-six, he remains the youngest American hunter in the public eye to date, however that could change if hunters are forced to release a public census.”

“You okay, Sam?”

Sam nodded again, loving her for her concern but wishing it away. “Just the usual,” he said. Jess knew the nightmares were getting worse and she had almost called 911 yesterday when he woke up in shivers like convulsions, with a cold that had seeped into his bones.

It was a dick move, but blaming his mood on the dreams ensured she wouldn’t push the subject of Dean any further.

“That sucks. You should take some tylenol.”

“Already did, yeah. Thanks.”

In many ways, Jess barely knew him. Sam had learned to bite his tongue when it came to talking about his brother from an early age, in order to avoid strange looks and uncomfortable silences--but it turned out that subtracting the topic of Dean from his life left a lot of things unsaid, and a large swathe of Sam’s integral personality under wraps.

Winchester’s unexpected solo trip to California surprised his fans, who speculated his commitment to long-term girlfriend Lisa Braden would lead to an engagement sometime soon.”

He finished his beer even though he knew that it would only aggravate the pressure that had taken up semi-permanent residence in his temples.

“...For more on Dean’s current plans we go live to our reporter in Palo Alto, Elaine Garcia, who has caught up to Dean during his visit.

Sam’s bottle slipped from his grasp and crashed to the floor.

Elaine, what can you tell us about Dean’s plans ?”

The news desk cut away once more, this time to the reporter on the scene; a middle-aged woman with a microphone was running ahead of the camera, barely in the shaky shot since the operator was obviously jogging behind her.

“Sam, is that...?”

Sam’s body went cold, then burning hot. Both bartenders were gaping at the television and they didn’t seem to notice or care about the broken glass on the floor.

This could not be happening.

Dean! Dean! Can you comment on the Vampire hunt in Vancouver!”

“Will you be attending the UN summit on the supernatural next month?”

“Dean! Why California?”

“Is there a monster in Palo Alto? What are you hunting?”

The reporters were crowding his brother as he walked down the well-lit sidewalk, and from what little of Dean he could see Sam could tell he was annoyed.

“Are you on duty right now?”

“Will you tell us what you’re hunting! Why not bring backup?”

Heart beating in his throat, Sam got up off his stool and looked at the grimy windows of the bar. It was a bright night and the street lamps lit up the sidewalk well enough, but a different kind of patchy brightness was coming their way.

“Oh my God,” Jess breathed, eyes wide. “Is he...?”

“Yeah,” said Sam.

The other patrons were starting to realize what was going on, and finally a woman got up off her chair and went to the door.

“Holy shit! He’s coming this way!”

Someone turned up the volume of the TV sets to full capacity.

Dean!”

“Dean, are you engaged to Lisa!”

“Is it true that Gordon Walker was denied a hunting license and you’re helping him appeal?

On the screen, Sam watched his brother finally come to a halt less than half a block away from the bar. Dean was facing the reporters with his hands up like he was under arrest.

Guys, come on. ” The flashes went off like crazy, casting Dean’s face in flickering white. “It’s Saturday night; why don’t you go out and get a drink? I’m just here on some personal business, okay?

Everyone was muttering excitedly by then, people flocking to the door around the first woman and crowding near the entrance.

Are you here to see your brother?

Elaine, the station’s point-person, had been the one to yell out the question. This woman must have dug deep for her research--Sam wasn’t famous. Some people on campus knew who his brother was, but he himself was outside the press’ radar because not many people in the general public knew he even existed, let alone where he lived. After Hellsgate, he’d stood quietly at the sidelines for less than a year before his fear of discovery had sent him scurrying farther into obscurity, away from the focus of the spotlight.

How long has it been since you’ve seen your brother, Dean?

Dean blinked at her, then looked down at the ten microphones in his face.

His eyes had darkened, and there was no trace of his forced charm anymore. He shook his head. “I’ve told you before; my family is off limits. Leave Sam the hell alone.

Of course, the barrage of questions redoubled.

Why isn’t Sam a hunter?

Did the death of your father at Hellsgate affect your relationship ?”

How would you describe your family dynamic?”

“Are you close with your brother?

That was when Dean reached an arm into his leather jacket and took out his gun.

“Holy shit!” someone in the bar shouted.

The tinny-sounding reporters yelled and scrambled away from Dean too, despite the fact that he was pointing the weapon to the sky and the safety was still on.

My family is off limits,” he repeated, practically growling out the last two words. “Capische?

He seemed, for a second, to be looking menacingly right into Sam’s eyes through the screen... and then he walked away. Nobody followed him.

Sam was so caught up in watching Dean’s retreating back that he forgot the direction he was walking towards. A commotion at the door had him whirling around to look, and suddenly there he was.

Dean. In all his green-eyed, leather-jacket-clad glory.

In person.

“Are you gonna be okay?” Jess whispered, clutching the sleeve of Sam’s hoodie.

Sam couldn’t answer her. The place had gone completely silent.

Dean Winchester walked into a bar and the joke was: Sam wished with all his heart that he would walk right back out.

“Hey,” Dean said, nodding awkwardly in everyone’s general direction.

He had garnered a lot of attention after Hellsgate--mostly for his youth, his role as John’s son and, undeniably, for his looks. A news segment on the tragic figure of the then-twenty-one year old had led to recurring updates on his whereabouts at the same time as the terrified public turned away from law enforcement to look towards hunters for answers. The previously silent vigilantes were glorified as America’s unsung heroes, and Dean’s song had sounded louder than anyone else’s.

The press adored him. His no-nonsense attitude and obvious discomfort during interviews had further elevated him in public opinion, but it was his lovably adorkable side that had gotten him millions of rabid fans. He’d been caught enthusiastically wielding a katana at a museum and the security footage had gone viral, and then a few weeks later someone had filmed him gravely listening to a six-year-old witness in a public park, and the slightly grainy camera phone had captured something that resonated with the country.

The fact that Dean shied away from the spotlight and kept begging people to just let him do his job made him even more popular, and that punchline in the President’s speech last year had shot his fame through the stratosphere.

“I love you!” someone called from around the pool table.

Dean dropped his gaze to the floor, doing his patented self-conscious smile-wince routine. He always looked supremely uncomfortable when people praised him. “Thanks. Thanks guys.”

Sam couldn’t feel the tips of his fingers, and his mouth was completely dry. He hadn’t been prepared.

Dean was here.

Dean.

His gut tugged, and he felt his old fears awaken from their slumber. People were already taking out their phones to record this--to record Dean. If Dean came any closer the camera angle would capture Sam too, and if anyone noticed... if anyone found out that Sam...

“I love you Captain America!” someone else yelled, perhaps emboldened by the previous comment.

Dean winced, mouth twisting. “Just Dean, man,” he said. “Just Dean.”

Obviously he’d spotted Sam already. He was walking towards him slowly, as though approaching a spooked horse that might bolt at any moment.

It wasn’t an unreasonable simile.

“Hey.”

Sam felt Jess slide off her stool to stand beside him, but he could only stare at the brother he hadn’t seen with his own eyes for four long years.

“...Hey, Dean.”

Dean smiled at him, small and honest; fragile with the passage of time. The amulet Sam had gifted him with as a kid was proudly displayed in the center of his chest.

"Heya Sammy."

For a long, absurd moment Sam’s brain was entirely occupied by the thought that Dean was much shorter than he remembered. He took up less physical space than Sam had expected, which was not to say he didn't still irradiate that overwhelming magnetism he'd possessed before Hellsgate happened.

He looked good though; painfully so. He was wearing his usual grungy hunter gear, complete with Dad’s old leather jacket and ratty jeans, but time just kept sharpening and enhancing his beauty. His strong jaw was dusted with stubble and his lips were pink and plush as ever.

A flash went off.

Sam put his arm around Jessica’s waist almost defensively, pulse thundering in his ears.

“You look... real good. How’ve you been?”

Sam shrugged. The comment had been half-aimed at Jess anyway; Dean’s gaze had drifted over to her by the question mark at the end.

“Good. I’ve been--good.” He didn’t ask the question in turn; the internet had kept him up to date on how Dean had been. He’d been off being a hero while Sam let the memory of their father down. He’d been proposing to his yoga-instructor publicist. He’d been saving people and hunting things; carrying on the family business. “This is Jessica.”

“Nice to meet you.”

“Likewise,” Jess responded, but she sounded weary.

Dean turned back to Sam and spoke at the same time as Sam did:

“Do you wanna sit with--”

“Can we talk somewhere?”

They both cut off awkwardly. Jess was the one who suggested they go out back and slipped out of Sam’s hold. “I’ll be here, Sam.” But she was frowning at Dean when she said it.

“Thanks, Jess.”

Sam went straight for the Employee Exit, feeling Dean follow him out into the cool night.

Some guy shouted “Marry me Captain!” right before the door shut behind them.

The acrid alley stench was like a punch to the senses, but the space was narrow and empty, so they couldn’t have asked for more. The street Mitchell’s Pub was on had been dubbed Beer Row by Stanford students, and most places emptied their garbage and bottles out in these alleys days before pickup.

It was dark out; the streetlamps were too far to reach them. Dean’s face was made pale grey by the night, and his eyes looked blue because of the moon.

Sam stepped on a few cigarette butts on the ground, letting the silence build and knowing Dean was staring at him intently but not feeling quite up to returning the gaze. When they were alone Dean could be devastatingly uncensored in his displays of brotherly love.

Sam could be uncensored too, just not brotherly. That was the crux of the whole problem, really--not that Dean knew.

“So that move you pulled s’gonna make front page news,” he commented finally. “‘Youngest Hellsgate hunter waves weapon around irresponsibly, nearly kills ten reporters’? Very redneck of you.”

Dean snorted. “Yeah right. You know it’s gonna be more like; ‘Captain America defends himself from annoying assholes who had it coming, remains dashing hero, can do no wrong’.”

“So you’re finally owning the whole Captain America thing.”

“No I’m not, it’s stupid.”

“I think you like it.”

“I think your face likes it.”

Sam barely hid his flinch in time; he was out of practice. “Whatever. What are you... Why are you here, Dean?”

Dean looked hurt. Sam never meant to hurt him; it was just the lesser of two evils sometimes. The other evil was Sam himself.

“A man can’t visit his baby brother in college?”

There was no time for posturing. “Not when he’s the most famous hunter in America. Not without his team.”

Not when he hadn’t done it for four years. Not when Sam gave him good reason not to want to.

“My ‘team’--” he threw up half-hearted air-quotes. “--is just there for PR, and I’m not that fucking famous. I can still go wherever I want.”

“By yourself? Without a gaggle of reporters following you around?”

His brother made a face. “Fine. If you’re gonna make me say--fine. I’m here to get you back.”

A hot flush swept through Sam.

“...What?”

He’d dreamt of this moment. For so long, he’d--

“I want you on the team. On the road with me. You have experience as a hunter and you’re better at talking to people than me; you’d be a perfect addition. There’s a lot of PC stuff I’m still learning.” At the look on Sam’s face, he went on. “I’m not hating on it, I’m just sayin’ I need to learn. You could help me with research as well as all the other shit that goes with hunting now.”

No. He had to say no.

“...Why?”

Dean sighed, like he’d been hoping it wouldn’t come to this obvious question. “I never wanted this, Sammy. Being a goddamn figurehead? It barely leaves any time for actual hunts. I can’t interview witnesses undercover anymore. I can’t dig up a grave without someone blogging about it. I fucking hate it, but this is my job now. Educating people, warning them about what’s out there... I’m doing my best. I’m... really trying to do my goddamn best, here.”

He’d done a pretty good job, objectively speaking. Dean Winchester’s public image was basically the best selling point the Hunting Agency had in their fight against people lobbying to militarize or federalize hunting as a whole.

“I just... can’t do this alone.”

“Dean, you’re surrounded by people all the time.”

“Yeah, well. I’m still alone.”

For the first time in a long time, Sam let himself think about things from Dean’s point of view. He knew he’d been selfish to go, but back then it had been easy to tell himself he was doing it for Dean’s sake--after all, no matter how lonely Dean claimed to be, that was still better than him finding out Sam’s all-consuming secret. At eighteen, Sam had felt like a ticking time bomb, and he’d wanted to get far enough that Dean was safe from the blast radius.

Now, though, he thought about his loner brother, who had grown up in a world made up of three people. Dean, whose devotion to the abstract concept of family defined him and who saw civilians as something ‘other’ to be protected. Dean, who had been thrust into a role he despised and couldn’t control at twenty-one years old, all because of the battle that had taken their father’s life.

Dean, who was still under the impression that Sam had abandoned him because he didn’t like living in the spotlight and wasn’t willing to bear with it in order to help his older brother shoulder the burden.

“I graduate in a month.”

“I know Sammy.”

Sam took a deep, slow breath.

“Jess...”

“Can come with you.”

He shook his head. “She has plans. She has an internship lined up.”

Dean was biting his bottom lip--more like chewing on it, really. Sam averted his gaze. He loved Jess more than he had ever thought he could love anyone who wasn’t--He had started to think that maybe he might not deserve the happy ending but he could steal it anyway.

She wouldn’t get angry if he left, but he knew he would break her heart just as surely as his own had been broken four years ago, and the bits of scar tissue that he had started to tentatively build would dissolve into nothingness. There would be no coming back from this for her, and he would be condemning himself to a lifetime of melancholy and jealousy and unending frustration by standing at Dean’s side and no closer.

When he didn’t say anything more, Dean stepped towards him.

“...I’ve been getting death threats.”

That got Sam’s attention in a heartbeat. “What?”

“Yeah. Yeah, from like... vampires. Werewolves. Some witches. Most of the humanoid monsters, actually.”

Sam found himself stepping forward as well, urgently looking Dean over to see whether he’d missed anything, whether there was any sign of injury or pain or--It was too dark to tell properly, goddamn Dean was wearing like fourteen layers of clothing--

“I’m fine, Sam. I just... I’d feel better with you on the team, y’know? I’d know you have my back. None of the others know about this.”

So that was that, then. Since Dean had first made his pitch for Sam’s company Sam had gone from teetering on the edge of a precipice to finding himself at the bottom of the ravine. Dean was in danger and Sam couldn’t walk away from that. Dean was in mortal danger and Sam had been away at college, covering his ears and shouting that he couldn’t hear him, na-na na-na na-na .

“I...”

Dean took another step and it came at Sam again, that jarring, new thought; his big brother was small. Fragile, even. In need of protection.

Suddenly Sam realized they were standing differently than two regular people who happened to be related to each other should stand. It wasn’t just the closeness, it was the way Dean was looking up at him and Sam had dipped his chin to mirror the gaze--but God, it was so hard to break away.

“Dean, I...”

“Come with me,” Dean muttered, entreating. “It’ll be like old times, before Hellsgate. Before--just you n’me. Being brothers again.”

It sounded like heaven and Sam should say no, but he’d said yes the moment Dean’s life factored into this.

“...Okay.”

The unfettered relief in Dean’s face was akin to an invisible cuff firmly locking him in. For a long, silent moment Sam felt himself get lost in the magnetic pull of Dean’s gorgeous, moonlit eyes--and then his neck twinged.

It was an old, familiar muscle ache that came from contorting all his restraint and tension into his shoulders and not tipping forward to close the horrible distance between their mouths, their bodies. It had been years since he’d felt it, but it was an effective reminder of the hurt he was signing himself up for.

He stepped away, back towards the door, and told Dean he’d meet up with him later. Dean cleared his throat and nodded, rubbing the back of his head.

Before Sam could get back inside, however, he heard his brother speak again.

“There’s been a some stuff in the news,” Dean said abruptly. “Crop deaths. Cattle mutilation. You seen it?”

Sam had. There had been rational, reasonable explanations in both news reports, but people were far more concerned with ghosts and monsters than with demons nowadays. The religious outcry that the demons’ existence had initially unleashed had been much more controversial than the existence of the demons themselves, given that Hellsgate had been about sending them all back to Hell in the first place. Probably no one even had the wherewithal to suspect what those omens might mean.

“...Yeah. I saw.”

“This one dude was found in his car with his throat slit open last week. You see that?”

“Yeah.”

He leaned against the doorframe and looked down at Dean, thinking about the increasing, exhausting frequency of his nightmares lately. Thinking about the visions of goblets filled with blood instead of wine, and of waking up with the vivid feeling of touching ice so cold it burned.

“Do you feel it?” Dean asked, gaze intent.

“Feel what?”

“It feels like before, like when we were hunting yellow-eyes to avenge mom. Like when Dad was alive. Before Hellsgate. Doesn’t it feel like that?”

Sam let out a long, slow breath, not wanting to be the one who put Dean’s feeling into words even though he knew exactly what his brother was saying. He’d felt it. He’d told himself he hadn’t but he had felt it down to his bones.

In the end, Dean was the one who said it.

“It feels like they’re already back. Feels like demons walk the earth again, Sammy.”

Chapter Text

“The army--”

“You guys have consulting status with the military, Dean, come on.”

“Not all hunters are created equal, Sam. You know that.”

The Impala roared as Dean accelerated to pass a trucker, who gave them the finger and a homophobic slur for their troubles.

“So you’re going to call a press conference to say you don’t think the Hunting Agency should outrank the military.”

“Yeah. ‘Cause I can, and ‘cause I don’t.”

They’d been having this argument for a whole hour and three hours previously had been about the government-sponsored education campaigns about monsters (which had relied too heavily on fear-mongering and been arguably disastrous).

“You’re gonna have to deal with the fact that your big brother can just call a press conference when he wants to, Sammy.”

“The military knows jack about hunting.”

“Exactly. And some hunters know jack about research, which, you know, is kinda key right now given everything that’s going on. Some of these bozos are amateurs who only started doing it after Hellsgate. The lack of standardized training makes certifying people for licenses a total shitshow, and the Agency is stretched thin as it is.”

Sam had no counter-argument to those words. He’d been out of the hunting business for four years, but he remembered what it was like before the general public found out that monsters were real. He remembered Dad.

“If we wanna pass on our knowledge and contain this freakin’ global panic we all need to appear real put-the-fuck-together. The military can’t learn how to hunt in a day and they have their own shit they’re dealing with; the Agency should be separate from them, not above them.” Dean shot him a weary look. “I’m surprised I gotta tell you this, of all people.”

“No, I... I agree with you, I guess.”

He’d been prolonging the discussion so that they had something relatively benign to talk about. They were still an entire day away from Bobby’s, and Dean had turned off the radio after a report about Olivia Lowry’s banishing of the Sears Tower ghost, which lead to a panel discussion on the big names in hunting which of course included Dean and his surprise Palo Alto visit to a hitherto unknown younger brother.

The silence was expectant; awkward.

“So how did your girlfriend take it?”

“Are you really engaged to Lisa Braden?”

The questions tripped over each other but the fact that they both went in the same direction actually made Sam huff out a little laugh.

“You first,” Dean said generously.

Sam snorted. “Thanks.” But he took a moment to consider his answer, thinking back to Jess’ unsurprised nod and badly disguised concern. She’d cried but she’d let him hug her, and then she’d made him cookies--and then she’d made him swear he’d stay in touch and let her know he was alive at least once a month. In another life, they’d be happily engaged by now.

“She’s perfect,” he ended up murmuring, caught up in the aftertaste of warm, sweet dough.

“Well that’s... good for you.”

Sam tried to think of something to add, or something to characterize what he meant, but he didn’t want to share Jess’ comments regarding ‘that brother of yours’ with Dean. Jess didn’t (couldn’t) get it.

“Yeah.” He shrugged. “We’re gonna stay friends, and--”

“No you’re not.”

“...Excuse me?”

It was Dean’s turn to shrug, but he kept staring straight ahead. “I mean, that’s what everyone says. But we’re gonna be on the road, and you’ll lose touch. It’s what always happens. And it’s probably for the best, I mean she was hot as hell but you wanna think about getting over this chick sometime in the next few--”

“Screw you,” Sam snapped, hurt. He deliberately turned his body away from Dean to look out the window. The scenery whirled by, colors dulled by the cloud cover and the retreating light of evening.

“Dude, I’m just saying--”

“Forget it, Dean.”

“What are you, twelve?”

Sam rolled his eyes at a passing motorcycle. “Yeah, ‘cause I’ve always been the immature one out of the two of us.”

“If you’re so hung up on her why’d you even say yes?”

Sam stiffened. He wasn’t going to say ‘because you’re in danger and you asked me to’. Dean was smart enough to know why.

“Are you.” There was a sound like Dean clearing his throat. “Do you want me to drive you ba--”

“No.”

The moment stretched on.

“Do you wanna hear about my thing?” Dean said in the silence.

If Sam didn’t know him so well, even after four years apart, he wouldn’t have caught the hint of contrition. It wasn’t enough to soften his mood, though.

“I’m over it,” he lied.

A sigh. Dean flicked him in the arm. “M’not engaged to Lisa,” he said.

“I don’t care, Dean.”

“Fine. Just thought you should know that most of the stuff that’s in the papers is bullshit.”

“So you didn’t wrestle a Wendigo to death?”

He threw Dean a look over his shoulder and caught the relieved grin on Dean’s face just as it bloomed to life.

“...That one’s true,” Dean said, face scrunched in delight. He looked so stupid when he smiled like that. Especially when his eyelashes caught the sunlight and seemed to shine--he looked particularly stupid then.

“Right.”

*

They made it to Bobby’s on the evening of the second day, just in time for dinner as Dean had hoped.

Sam had decided to stop reading his texts by then. The overwhelming amount of disappointment and confusion from his friends came through bright and clear in just a few lines, and he wasn’t ready to handle it.

The Singer Salvage Lot’s role had changed since Sam had been there last. Its previously unofficial title as the biggest lore library in middle-America had become formal when hunters started being sought out not just for jobs, but to answer large-scale policy questions. Some of Bobby’s phone numbers had flashed across the bottom of TV screens for people to use, and Bobby’s library had seen the real director of the FBI, the Secretary for Defense and the Chief Justice pass through in the past five years.

The fact that its location was still a secret from the public was nothing short of a miracle. Sam suspected some form of spellwork had gone into the concealment.

“We’re walking from this point,” Dean said, parking the Impala at the very beginning of the lot. Several cars and trucks were parked around them that were clearly actively used. Three had Hunting Party insignias spray-painted on the sides and one was a white van with the Department of Defense’s seal.

Sam got out and took a breath that tasted like rust.

“He’s expecting us, right?” Is he expecting both of us?

“Yeah. Yeah, I... he knows I went to get you.”

They made it to the front door in a couple of minutes of sunset and Sam was struck by just how clean and put-together the outside of the house looked. The ratty curtains he was used to had been replaced by an opaque new set in creamy beige, and someone had optimistically planted new petunias in the previously empty potted jars by the front steps.

Dean opened the door without knocking and they both walked inside. Sam was almost relieved to note the interior was much more reminiscent of its previous shabby disarray, and the familiarity struck him with nostalgia for childhood weekends spent here with Dean under Bobby’s relatively lax supervision; no early morning runs, no disapproving Dad.

“Hey, everyone,” Dean said to the living-room at large, and the many people in it.

There was a beat of silence, and then:

“Hey?” someone said, voice shaking with fury. A woman who’d been sitting on Bobby’s couch leapt up and rounded on Dean. “Hey? Are you fucking kidding me?”

“Pamela...”

“Dean!” More people came running out of the kitchen.

“Jesus Christ--”

“You couldn’t answer your phone for three fucking days?”

“Is that Winchester?”

It was almost as if the dozen or so people at Bobby’s hadn’t seen Dean in years, instead of a mere three days. Sam closed the door behind him but hovered near it, letting Dean step into the room and remain the focus of everyone’s attention.

“Dean,” a soft voice sighed. “You’re back.”

A woman Sam instantly recognized as Lisa Braden made her way past everyone and fell right into Dean’s arms. Something sharp and poisonous predictably stabbed Sam right in the stomach. Here we go, he thought tiredly.

“Um. Yeah.” Dean shot Sam a quick look over his shoulder before disentangling himself from her embrace. “Sorry I was a little AWOL.”

“I called you.” Her tone wasn’t accusatory or upset.

“Yeah. I. My battery died.”

She didn’t look surprised. “Right.”

“Dean.” Bobby was standing behind Lisa as though waiting for his own hug (something Sam was pretty sure he’d deny to his dying day). “Why don’t you introduce Sam to everyone?”

Dean smiled, glancing at Sam warmly. “Right. Almost forgot.” He chuckled. “This little guy has known me longer than any of you bozos; it feels weird to introduce him to you and not the other way around.”

To Sam’s surprise, this simple statement seemed to pause the momentum. A frisson of surprise, shock and disbelief went through the group, as though Dean’s words or maybe even his tone were completely out of character. One guy even nudged the person standing next to him and tilted his head in Dean’s direction, mouthing ‘he high?’.

“Everyone, I’d like you to meet--”

“No,” a woman interrupted, seeming to recover first. It was the one who’d leapt off the couch before; a beautiful thirty-something with bright blue eyes and a couple of prominent tattoos. “First I wanna hear what the fuck was going through your head when you ditched us.”

“Pam...”

“No, sorry Lisa but I don’t forgive and forget just ‘cause he brought a half-assed excuse and a pretty souvenir from his trip.” She motioned towards Sam when she said ‘souvenir’. “I want answers and I want a written promise he’s not gonna pull this shit ever again. Turner’s gonna rip me a new one as is.”

“I’m not required to give you a freakin’ two week’s notice to take a roadtrip, Pam,” Dean muttered. By his tone alone, Sam could tell he knew he was in the wrong.

“Of course you are! The entire fucking country is obsessed with what you do and where you go!” She glared at him. “You know how important you are, Dean. And you keep fighting your role in this scene. It’s doing none of us no good.”

Pamela’s entreaty drew nods from the others, including someone Sam had initially dismissed as an unknown woman but whom he recognized on second glance: Jo Harvelle. Except, she was twenty-two years old instead of eighteen and she’d changed her look; her hair was long and she was platinum blonde now. She was also standing next to a stupidly attractive black man in army overalls, who had held Sam’s attention at first.

“Hey, Jo,” he heard himself say, and then immediately regretted it when it drew the stares of every single person in the room.

Jo, at least, smiled at him and nodded. “Hey, Sam.”

“Right,” Dean said, scratching the back of his neck. “Right, once more with feeling: everyone, this is my brother Sam. Sam this is... most of my team.” He squinted at the gathered people. “All of my team, actually.”

“Except Kevin,” army guy said in a deep baritone.

“Right, right, except Kevin.”

“And there’s a bunch of government suits working down in the bunker,” Jo added. “Researchers from Defense, I think. I’m sure they’ll ask for a selfie before they leave.”

“Got it.”

Bobby motioned for Sam to walk further into the room, and Sam complied until he was standing next to his brother.

“It’s... hi.” He looked at Bobby for further instruction, but Bobby was just looking at him with filmy bright eyes and a twist of his mouth. Four years without being called an ‘idjit’ suddenly seemed a terribly long time. “It’s good to meet you all.”

Weary looks with varying degrees of curiosity met his own gaze.

“I’m Sam.” He winced. “Obviously. Like Dean said. It’s nice to meet--”

“Sam’s gonna help us with security,” Dean interrupted, clapping him on the shoulder with enough strength to almost unbalance him. “The higher ups at the Agency have been on my ass about hiring a bodyguard for ever and that’s what Sam’s here to do. He grew up a hunter so he’s got the combat training, and he’s the size of a small planet so he’s got the intimidation going for him too.”

When Sam rolled his eyes Dean grinned and flicked him on the arm--but the weird reaction from the group happened again. People blinked in astonishment, people frowned as though Dean had been body-snatched—it was impossible to miss the strange vibe and the unnerved stares.

Only Bobby looked completely devoid of surprise. In fact, he was smiling with a gravitas Sam didn’t feel his job description deserved, and Sam caught him wiping under his eye when he thought no one was looking.

“He’s also a giant nerd and really into research, so you can ask him about the lore if you have questions. He was always better at it than me.”

A woman with bright red hair smiled broadly at that. “Thank God. I think you’re the first hunter whose research background is actually a strong suit.” She waved at him. “I’m Charlie.”

Sam smiled back; she made it easy. “Nice to meet you, Charlie. I like your shirt.”

It said: ‘Binary, it’s as easy as 01, 10, 11’.

“Thanks!” She grinned. “I’m mostly in charge of social media,” she added. “But anything relating to computers comes back to me one way or another, so think of me as your tech support.”

Dean’s team had a social media person?

“I’m the military liaison,” army guy offered. “Name’s Jake. I think it’s high time we had someone on security, so let me know if you need help setting anything up.”

Sam hoped his blush wasn’t apparent when he shook Jake’s hand. “Nice to meet you Jake. And thanks.”

Jo met Sam’s expectant look and finally gave him a brief (so brief Sam didn’t have a chance to return it) hug.

“Good to see you again, Sam.”

“Y-you too.”

After Jo came a man named Isaac and a woman named Tamara, both of whom had distinct British accents and were apparently in charge of international relations. A blonde guy named Walt and a guy around Dean’s age named Reggie both shook Sam’s hand perfunctorily as well, though neither seemed especially thrilled he was there. They handled transportation and the team’s weapons arsenal, respectively.

Finally, there was no more avoiding her without looking like the jealous asshole he was.

“Lisa, this is Sammy.”

Sam had thought the introduction was going to happen the other way around.

“Nice to finally meet you, Sam.” Lisa looked up at him tentatively, and finally gave him a brief hug as well. She was deceptively strong; her arms felt like a hard bar around his back.

“You too. It’s... obviously I’ve seen you on TV, but...”

She smiled and shook her head minutely. “Just because I’m in charge of media relations doesn’t mean my image out there is real.”

It was a different way of saying what Dean had warned him about the tabloids, but Sam would be hard pressed to think of an instance of bad press about her. The public loved Lisa Braden; she’d been a senior of media studies at UT two years ago when she’d had the misfortune of becoming a fae creature’s object of obsession. Dean had been on campus to drop into an ancient latin lecture and had saved her life by charging into a crowd of cheerleaders to kill the thing while it posed as Lisa’s best friend. Naturally, someone got a horribly shaky video of the event and kept filming up until the moment a sobbing Lisa clung to Dean faintly.

It was a love story for the ages, complete with a damsel in distress. They’d been together ever since.

“Well, that’s the introductions done for everyone,” Dean said louder than was warranted, making both Sam and Lisa jump. “Sammy hasn’t eaten since noon and he needs some grub--”

“Oh no you don’t. I haven’t had a chance to say hello yet.”

It was the woman who’d yelled at Dean first. She stepped forward and held out her hand, but she didn’t look quite so angry when she looked at Sam.

“Hi Sam. I’m Pamela, and I’m the Agency liaison. That means I’m everyone’s boss, including Dean’s, so that means I’m your boss too.” At Sam’s expression, she grinned and added: “Dean’s just a pretty face around here, sweet-cheeks, he’s in charge of jack shit. In case you thought he led his own operation or something.”

Sam hadn’t really given it that much thought, if he was being honest, but he let go of her hand and said nothing.

“I’m also a psychic.”

Sam felt his own jaw drop in surprise.

Dean knew about his visions, of course, but Sam had never told another soul that he was anything other than entirely human. Not even Jess knew; she thought he had PTSD from his childhood.

After the supernatural became common knowledge things had only gotten worse for anyone on the magical range, and admitting to an otherworldly skill (even something as pop-culture as psychic abilities) could be downright deadly. Misinformation and prejudice were still getting a lot of people killed by ignorant civilians.

“Everyone on the team knows but the general public doesn’t. Obviously.” Her eyes were a clear, piercing blue. “I didn’t See you coming, Sam. Surprised me. I am... rarely surprised, these days.”

Sam felt Dean draw closer to him, maybe due to his ingrained protective instinct.

“Which brings me to my next question; has either of you been on the grid the past couple of days? Watched TV, read a newspaper, checked Twitter...?”

“You know I hate that shit,” Dean muttered.

“Just... my email,” Sam said. He’d wanted to make sure his Advisor and his three favorite professors had received his explanatory email as to why he was abruptly dropping out a month before graduation.

“Great. So you don’t know.”

“Know what?”

“Tell them, Charlie.”

The red-haired woman, Charlie, shot Sam a quick glance before turning to Dean.

“Well... the Internet exploded,” she said apologetically.

Dean’s eyebrows flew up. “Excuse me?”

“It’s... it was about Sam. No one really knew about him before, but since you went to seek him out at Stanford someone got a hold of his student ID picture? And his face is all over. I mean literally, it’s everywhere.”

Sam tried not to look as terrified as he felt. He’d known this would happen if he joined Dean: the attention, the digging into his life... he’d had no other choice. But if it was up to him, he would anonymously stand in the sidelines and protect his brother without ever showing his face to a camera.

“Are you kidding me?” Dean hissed. “Get it back! Take it down!”

“That’s impossible, you technologically challenged moron,” Tamara muttered in her clipped accent.

“We couldn’t contain this for one goddamn day?”

“Hey,” Pamela snapped at him. “This is your fault. Charlie got the alert too late, and since you didn’t tell us what you were planning we couldn’t tell you it was the worst fucking idea ever. He’s in it now.” She pointed at Sam. “That’s done. Letting yourself get spotted going to him made damn sure his gorgeous face is gonna be on every news network for the next week, at least.”

“But I-I’m nobody,” Sam blurted, unable to help himself. “Are you sure--”

“Yes,” she interrupted flatly. “Everyone wants to know who you are, Sam. Why has Dean’s brother been a mystery this whole time? Why wasn’t he a hunter?” She tilted her head to the side and looked him up and down, as though she was wondering those things herself. “The public is hungry for information and you’re a shiny new toy they haven’t decided they like, yet.”

Sam could feel Dean’s guilty stare on him but he didn’t return the gaze.

“So... what happens now?” he asked finally.

“Several things,” Pamela answered confidently. “You are very pretty, which helps, and I think people will like the idea of Dean having a security guard who looks like that and is taller than him. But when Dean does a TV interview--”

“What do you mean, ‘when’—“ Dean started.

“--when Dean does a TV interview,” Pamela raised her voice. “We will have a chance to hear him talk about you, and thus endear you to the world through him. Capitalize on his public appeal, so to speak.”

Dean snorted.

“We’ll work on some excuse to explain the separation and reunion to the press, but I want him to be the one explain why you weren’t a hunter for four years. It’s our best bet to make sure you’re not vilified for avoiding your family legacy or whatever.”

It was pretty astounding, how she casually mentioned one of the topics closest to Sam’s heart; the reason he and Dean had yelled at each other before he left.

“Okay listen,” Dean said, and his hand was back on Sam’s shoulder. “I’m sure the schedule for our next few stops is gonna be used to punish me for my little unsupervised detour--”

“You’re damn right,” Pam said.

“--but Sam’s had a long day and so have I. We’re gonna eat dinner and then we’re gonna crash. No more shop talk for today.”

“And who exactly is gonna provide dinner for you two knuckleheads?” Bobby rumbled skeptically, eyebrows raised.

Dean didn’t seem to have an answer for that, stalling in his momentum.

“I can put something together,” Sam volunteered.

“You look like that and you can cook?” Pamela said. “My, my, you’re the whole package, aren’t you?”

“All right, calm down.” Dean waved a hand in the air, then spoke to the room at large. “So we’re clear, people: no one is allowed to hit on my brother. Understand?”

“Speak for yourself.” Pamela eyed Sam up and down again, this time in an obviously appreciative manner. “I’d hit on him even if he was my brother.”

There was a chorus of shocked laughter and chuckles from the rest of the group but Sam’s veins had turned to ice.

*

The team of government researchers emerged from Bobby’s bunker a couple of hours later begging to take one of the books with them. Bobby denied their request flat, and then also denied a guy called Ed’s request to take a picture with Dean (‘This is a secret location, idjits. Secret.’) but the bespectacled woman in charge promised they’d be back.

Spare rooms and inflatable mattresses had been set up for the team to sleep in, a routine people seemed used to. Bobby himself just trudged up to his own room after dinner and left them to squabble over the horizontal real-estate.

At some point Sam lost track of Dean in the midst of rejecting Jake’s generous offer of the couch and trying to pretend he didn’t see Isaac and Tamara quietly slip upstairs together. He finally got Charlie to agree to take the couch and Jake to agree to scoot so Sam could share his space on the floor, and then he snuck downstairs to use the hopefully lesser-known bathroom in the bunker.

He had just rounded the corner at the bottom of the steps when he saw something that made him stumble back and slam his shoulders against the cement.

Two figures were tangled together next to the thick metal door of the bunker, which had been left ajar but not opened wide enough to conceal them. Perversely, masochistically, Sam leaned sideways and peeked between his bangs to confirm his suspicions.

Dean’s back was to him and Lisa was the one pressed against the wall, both of them still mostly clothed but undoubtedly engaged in some pretty frantic activities. She had her legs wrapped around Dean’s waist and her arms around his neck, and he was mindlessly thrusting and grunting like he was--like they were already--

“Wh-what the...” Lisa panted, soft and breathy but audible in the intense quiet down there. “What the Hell’s gotten... into... yes there--”

“Shh,” Dean hissed. “Shh--just--”

“What’s gotten... into you...?”

“Quiet.” His voice was strangled, urgent. “Don’t--just shh--please--”

Sam’s cheeks burned and he started retreating, but he thought he heard Lisa say: “Is this because he--” right before he was completely out of earshot.

*

He found himself gulping the cold night air outside.

He had known what he was signing himself up for. He’d known Dean was in love with someone else; none of this was news. There were far more important things to deal with, like the death threats Dean was getting or the fact that demons might be oozing back out of Hell.

Sam fell back against the passenger door of an old Ford and let the creaking frame take his weight.

The night was chilly and all was silent, but it wasn’t peaceful; instead it seemed weirdly eerie. Sam wasn’t sure how long he’d been feeling this way about darkness and silences... he couldn’t even pinpoint the day his nightmares had started getting worse; all he knew was that for the past few months they had increased both in frequency and intensity. The omens and the fact that Dean had verbalized the feeling were the only tangible evidence he had that he wasn’t going crazy.

When had things changed? He still remembered running through the Hellsgate graveyard, five years ago. He remembered sprinting towards the screams and the pulses of light--Dad had made him stay away from the battle but he had disobeyed eventually, emboldened by the fact that reporters and cameras had started setting up around him. He remembered thinking he wasn’t a freaking civilian, and what if Dean was hurt... but the fight was already over by the time he got to them, and amidst the stench of sulfur and the soot everywhere there had been an overwhelming aura of victory. He had felt it as keenly as he had felt the relief that Dean was alive and the grief that Dad wasn’t. The triumph of good over evil had been palpable in the air.

It feels like before, like when we were hunting yellow-eyes to avenge mom. Like when Dad was alive. Before Hellsgate. Doesn’t it feel like that?

As minutes passed and his desire to interact with the people inside remained nonexistent, Sam thought about calling Jess to hear her comforting voice and bask in being loved for a little while. He got to the point where his finger was hovering over her number in his Recents list... but chickened out at the last moment. He’d only be hurting her, and she couldn’t help him anyway. It’d be selfish. His whole relationship with her had been based on something selfish. He was about to get dragged into the tornado of media that was Dean’s life, and she didn’t deserve that.

He, Sam Winchester, was going to be famous. The prospect made him sick and eighteen again and scared to death that one day, a camera would capture the thing that lurked behind his eyes when he was looking at his brother. And then the whole world would know.

Being in love with Dean didn’t set him apart, and it was hardly original--half the country was in love with Dean Winchester and the other half was well on its way, but Sam couldn’t live with himself if Dean found out. If Dean found out he would never look at Sam the same way again. He wouldn’t want to be around Sam anymore, death threats or no. Demons or no.

Vague sense of impending doom or no.

Instead of going back inside, he started typing up thoughtful, individual replies with explanations and goodbyes to every unanswered message he had on his phone, starting with Brady’s ‘what th hell man???’.

“...Sam?”

His heart sank.

“Oh, hey Lisa.”

He had no idea how long he’d been out there. The sky seemed unchanged, the breeze still cold, the lot still quiet.

She sidled up to him and stood next to him, looking up at the sky. Her hair gleamed, wet at the tips like she’d just showered and hadn’t put much effort into drying it. There was even some moisture at the tip of her perfect nose; she was going to catch a cold.

“What are you doing out here?”

If Sam had to sum up his first impression of her in a single word it would be kind. Lisa Braden was exactly the type of woman Dean should be with, and Sam had no right to be jealous of everything she got to have that he didn’t.

He sighed out a cloud of mist that dissipated in the night air. Demonic smoke was thick and purposeful, destructive and poisonous. Did Lisa feel the change in the air too? Was she uneasy and inexplicably on edge sometimes?

It feels like they’re already back.

“...Sam?”

“Oh, sorry--just... processing.”

“It’s a lot,” she acknowledged, smiling. “I remember coming on a couple of years ago... it was rough. Pam was already at the helm but we didn’t have Charlie yet, and I’m hardly the person to ask about social media engagement APIs--anyway. I didn’t even understand what his job was, exactly. You must’ve figured out by now that he doesn’t hunt anymore.”

“...Yeah.”

“They just drag him from place to place and make him take pictures and film videos and get questions and expect answers. Photo ops where it looks like he’s hunting, but they don’t really let him work the actual job. That’s all he does.” She didn’t have to say ‘he hates it’, they both knew Dean well enough. He was meant to be a hero, not play one.

Dean never wanted any of this.

“I didn’t know so much... planning went into it. Into his daily life.”

She nodded sympathetically, but then she said: “It’s good for the hunting community to keep Dean in the spotlight. Have his story really drive the narrative, you know?”

“Use him as a marketing tool, you mean.”

“If that’s how you want to frame it. Some say he’s a symbol of hope.” She smiled slightly, but Sam didn’t share her silent pride. Dean deserved to live the life he wanted and it didn’t necessarily matter that everyone else deserved to have Dean in theirs.

“Wanna go back inside? Dean got a bit nervous when we couldn’t find--”

“Sam!”

Sam whipped his head around in time to see his brother burst out of Bobby’s front door.

“You tryin’ta give me a heart attack or what?” Dean yelled. “Can’t you brood inside? Stare out of a window or something?”

Sam rolled his eyes, but Dean wasn’t deterred and he still walked all the way up to him and slapped him on the arm, hard.

Ow!”

“Thought you’d escaped into the night or something, asshole,” he panted. But after a long second of tense eye-contact he grinned unexpectedly, and reached up to mess with Sam’s hair like he hadn’t done in ages.

“Ugh, quit it--” Sam ducked away but Dean followed, still smiling and shoving him and basically being a horrific nuisance.

“Say ‘uncle’, Sammy!”

“Screw you.”

“Nah, I don’t swing that way.”

“Dean, Jesus--”

Sam was about to give in to the sparring match this was clearly gearing up to be when he caught the look on Lisa’s face.

She was staring at a delighted, grinning Dean like she’d never met him before in her life, and her eyes were wide with shock.

Sam froze, causing Dean to nearly topple into him.

“We should--uh, go back inside,” Sam said, breathing hard. He ducked his head to look at the ground so he didn’t have to look at Lisa anymore.

Dean paused for a moment but then said; “Oh. Okay. Sure, Sammy.”

The three of them trailed back to Bobby’s without another word.

*

The morning was bright and stiflingly hot for May, and after raiding Bobby’s fridge for haphazard breakfasts the group was ready to leave.

Before he could step out to trek to the front of the lot, however, Sam was cornered in the kitchen by Bobby himself.

“We barely had a moment to say hi, kid.” Bobby smiled sadly. He looked exhausted; even worse than Sam remembered him, and with big bags under his tired eyes. “How’ve you been?”

“Good. Fine.” Sam tried to muster up a smile of his own. The truthful answer was too long and complicated anyway. “Busy.”

“I’ll bet. Woulda called if you were less busy, right?”

His shoulders slumped. “...Right.”

Bobby made a dismissive gesture. “It’s okay, Sam. I understand you needin’ some time. Some space from hunting, and what hunting comes with nowadays.” His gaze was sharp as ever when he added: “I understand you needin’ some space from Dean, too, and that’s also fine. I think it was a brave choice; going to college. I think you should be proud of what you accomplished.”

Sam was so startled he felt fresh tears spring to his eyes. He couldn’t even answer at first, just swallowed dry platitudes around the giant lump in his throat. He hadn’t... he hadn’t expected that. Hadn’t expected to hear that comment.

His time at Stanford had saved his life, in some ways. It had been a necessary respite during a traumatic period and even though it already felt like some distant, impossible past, he was grateful that he’d had a chance to live it.

“Wish this wasn’t the first time someone said that to ya in four years, kid.”

When Sam still couldn’t muster up a response Bobby clapped him in the arm, though Sam barely felt it through his thick hoodie.

“And it wouldn’t have been that long if you’d just picked up the damn phone, okay? Remember that.”

Sam nodded, hearing the message behind those words loud and clear. Maybe he could... maybe if it got too much, he could give the old man a call. Just to chat. Just to hear a familiar voice.

In the end Bobby pulled him into a tight, brutal hug.

“Take care of yourself, Sam,” he muttered thickly. “I know how he got you to come back, but just... remember to protect the both of ya, y’hear? Dean forgets, sometimes. I think he forgets how much you love him.”

*

Sam had been surprised (and pleased in ways he shouldn’t have been) when Dean opened their car’s passenger side door for him and motioned he take his seat.

“Don’t you want Lisa--”

“Lisa rides with Pam to fine-tune their media strategy shit,” Dean had said dismissively, and that was that.

The Impala wasn’t allowed to lead the charge on the road so they rode behind Reggie’s transport truck, an army-camouflaged number boasting a certified ‘Hunting Party’ sign on the side door.

They were driving to New York for the TV interview Dean was clearly dreading, everyone putting up with two days on the road because the big bad hunter didn’t like flying (Pamela’s words). It was clearly something else the team was used to, though. Apparently they communicated via a group chat during trips (the title of which was subject to Charlie’s moods, according to Dean) and Sam was added on it two minutes into the drive. It was called ‘Welcome Sam! (white arm flex emoji)’ when he accepted the invite, and immediately he saw Jo post ‘hey S’, Jake post a black hand waving emoji, Pamela post a kissy face emoji, Tamara post ‘hi from Isaac(driving)&me’ and the mysterious Kevin post ‘omg hi!!!’.

“...How’d you find these people, Dean?”

Dean glanced at him and didn’t answer at first.

“How did all of this happen?” Sam pressed.

“They sicked Pam on me a couple of months after you left.” He squinted out at the road like the sun had suddenly become too bright. “I... got kinda wasted. Got in a fight.”

Sam rolled his eyes. “Nice.”

“Yeah, well--it was a shitshow. They recognized me and the Captain America thing was already catching on, so... it was a potential disaster. The higher ups at the Hunting Agency thought that their poster boy getting into bar brawls wouldn’t reflect too well on us... so they called Bobby, and he called Pam.”

Bar brawls, plural? Sam thought, but he let that go.

“She... handles you?” The obnoxious rise of Dean’s eyebrows told Sam enough about the comment that was halfway out of his mouth. “Yeah, yeah, hilarious. But seriously Dean, how did they get you to agree to that?”

Dean chewed on his bottom lip for a while before answering. “Higher ups made a compelling point.”

He didn’t offer anything more.

“What point?”

Dean grimaced. “Man what is this, twenty-questions?”

“You can’t just expect me not to ask.”

“Well, you can’t just expect me to answer.”

Sam wanted to growl with frustration but instead he filed away the thought and adopted another tactic.

“Tell me about the threats.”

It was Dean’s turn to roll his eyes. “What ever happened to a peaceful drive and some Led Zep, man?”

“Your team has a freakin’ social media person but I’m all you have for security, Dean. Everyone thinks my role here is to appease the Agency but you and I both know this could get ugly fast.”

To Sam’s surprise, a fond smile stretched Dean’s mouth into a crooked slant. “Don’t worry so much, Sammy; all you gotta do is stand near me and be big and you’ll scare anything away from hurting me. After all, why would I hire a ton of muscle if I’m related to one?”

Sam couldn’t believe his brother’s reckless freaking attitude. He couldn’t even believe Dean had told him about the threats in the first place. “You’re an idiot.”

“But you’re so tall,” Dean went on, affecting a trembling breathlessness. “I just know you can protect me with your big, long, thick... arms...”

Sam felt his cheeks heat. “Shut up.”

“Be the Costner to my Whitney...”

“Shut up, oh my God--”

“Oh, guard my body, Sam...”

“Stop talking--

*

They had rooms at the New York Hilton.

Sam had thought Dean was joking at first--it was the Hilton, it was exactly the kind of sarcastic quip they’d make right before checking into The Starlight Motel in the middle of the night.

But he was wrong. Their convoy was able to stay together single-file even during 6pm New York traffic thanks to the insignias on every vehicle (except the Impala, because Sam just knew Dean must have threatened to shoot anyone trying to spray-paint his baby), and slowly but surely they made their way across the bridge, into the city and finally into the hotel’s drop-off area.

The car slowed to a stop and Sam’s hand was on the handle when an impeccably-dressed man in uniform opened his door for him. Even as Sam watched, a team of three bellboys rushed over to the trunk and shouldered his and Dean’s duffel bags.

And then Dean got out of the car.

One of the boys (he couldn’t be older than sixteen or seventeen) fumbled and nearly dropped Sam’s duffel when he realized who Dean was, and the kid with Dean’s bag was clearly biting back the urge to ask for a selfie. Dean just smiled tightly at everyone and instructed the man who’d opened Sam’s door to talk to Pamela a few cars down, then started climbing the steps two at a time.

“I told you that was the Impala!” the kid with Dean’s bag hissed to his companion. The Impala, as though she was the only one in the world.

“Thank you for your service!” the other one shouted after them.

Sam stepped on the glass panels over a stretch of the hotel-wide salt line and watched the shiny, twinkling lights of the sodium crystals for a surreal moment before crossing the threshold.

In the lobby, most of the people in uniform did an okay job of concealing their reactions and at least a couple of them seemed genuinely indifferent to Dean, but the other guests milling about were unabashedly staring. If Sam had any misgivings about the way he or the rest of the team were dressed--and most of them were very much in hunter gear what with their plaid and their jeans and their muddy boots--nobody else seemed to care. Almost to the contrary in fact; it seemed to award them some sort of badass credibility.

Dean approached the long marble counter to check in and made a beeline for the only available clerk; a beautiful plump Indian woman with a long ponytail. In the space of ten feet he was stopped to get thanked ‘for his service’ again by a guy in a business suit, and then again to get thanked ‘for saving us from the demons’ by a couple in their sixties. Both times the person kept shooting glances at Sam looming behind Dean with an uncertain smile on their face, as though they recognized him but weren’t sure what to think of him, just as Pamela had said they would.

They finally got to the check-in desk.

“Mr Winchester,” the clerk said, doing a significantly better job than her desk mate, who had tried to take a casual sip from his water bottle and promptly started choking. “Welcome to the Hilton.”

“Yeah, hi.” Dean flashed her a grin and leaned his forearms against the counter, leather jacket pulling at his broad shoulders. “You have some rooms for us, I think.”

The woman nodded even before checking her records.

Seconds later, Pamela caught up to them and unceremoniously elbowed Dean to the side so she could talk to the woman herself, spiky wristband clinking against the countertop. Dean allowed this and turned his head to look at Sam over his shoulder, a twist to his mouth. “No more run-down motels for the Winchesters, huh Sammy?”

Sam wished the guests checking in next to them hadn’t paused their conversation to eavesdrop quite so obviously.

“Seems not.”

“Well... you can’t say your big brother doesn’t take good care of you,” The soft lighting from the desk lamp nearby cast a golden tint to his complexion, made his lips even pinker somehow. It also highlighted the weary sadness in his eyes, and how obviously forced his teasing smile was. “Bet you never slept in a billion threadcount sheets at Stanford, huh?”

“Can’t say I did, no,” Sam muttered.

“What? Come on, aren’t you excited to check out the bathtubs in this place?” At Sam’s apparent lack of a powerful-enough reaction, Dean pressed on. “I told Pam to get us two kings. When have we ever been able to say that, huh?”

“Wait, what?”

That got Sam to react.

He’d been picturing himself standing outside a door all night keeping guard while Dean made passionate love to his girlfriend on silk sheets.

“W-what do you mean? Why aren’t you sharing with Lisa?”

Dean’s forced grin dropped instantly.

“Sam. I haven’t...” He swallowed thickly and looked around them as though he couldn’t believe Sam was making him say this. “I haven’t seen you in four goddamn years, man.”

A part of Sam thrilled at that. Another feared for his own sanity.

“Oh. I just thought--”

“Yeah, well, you thought wrong.”

Dean remained quiet during the trek to their rooms, even (perhaps especially) when the guy who accompanied them turned out to be a pre-law student eager to ask Sam about his program after the maroon Stanford hoodie had given him away.

The team was occupying a total of six rooms including theirs, which was a ludicrous expense that apparently was being taken up by the production team of the morning show Dean was doing the next day. Jo came over to them to say goodnight and so did Lisa (Dean kissed her awkwardly on the cheek and Sam tried not to wince) but everybody else just went about their business, seemingly used to the routine and uninterested in socializing.

Finally, after Pamela had extracted a promise from both Winchesters to be up and ready by 6am the next morning, the door clicked shut and they were alone once again.

The room was grander than anywhere Sam had ever stayed in, with a lush beige carpet and modern, uncomfortable-looking furniture that loudly projected the impression of unthinkable expense. One couldn’t even see the whole space by standing near the door; its L-shape meant a section with floor-to-ceiling windows canted off to the right and was only visible by rounding the corner. The building itself was smack in the middle of midtown Manhattan and the view of 6th Avenue outside was breathtaking--the freaking MoMa was less than a block away.

“This is...” Obscene. Unnecessary. Ridiculous. Unbelievable.

Dean sat down on the bed closest to the door and started unlacing his boots.

Sam watched him for a moment and didn’t know how to ask for forgiveness--wasn’t even entirely sure he should.

What he did know was that a weird ache in his chest wouldn’t let him go to bed with this feeling between them. It was an argument that had been building for four years, and it had been bound to come out sooner or later. Might as well address it now and have Dean vent at him if it would make him feel better.

“Would you have a room to yourself if I wasn’t here?”

Dean’s head snapped up. It was clearly not the kind of question or comment he expected, but Sam deeply cared about the answer for reasons that went beyond his jealousy of Lisa’s role in Dean’s life.

“Before I joined you guys,” Sam insisted. “Were you just sleeping alone?”

“...What does that matter?”

Sam walked over to him until he was standing right in front of Dean (his head was level with Sam’s crotch... but this was not the time for that).

“It matters,” he replied simply. He wasn’t going to spell out why; Dean knew and he knew that it did.

Dean rolled his eyes. “Have you secretly been one of the fans who is really into my relationship with Lisa?” Before Sam could answer, he added: “Is there a voyeuristic thing going on here I should know about?”

Sam almost panicked but no; Dean’s back had been to him that night. He was just being an asshole as usual and he looked like he always did (unfairly kissable, magnetically attractive) and not like he’d caught Sam lurking.

“Dean. Come on.”

“What d’ya want from me Sam? Yeah I had a great big room like this all to myself. No I didn’t share with Lisa, nor have I ever shared with Lisa. Lisa and I...” he made a dismissive gesture. “I’ve been a sad, lonely little rich boy these past few years, boo-hoo. Five-star hotels every night for the living motivational poster for the Agency, what a fuckin’ tragedy. If it seems so fucking weird that I’d want to hang out with you, feel free to ask Pam for a place to crash. I’m sure she’ll be happy to oblige.”

“I just thought you and Lisa--”

“What about you n’me?” Dean burst out. He glared up at Sam and tossed his own boot aside. “Huh? Why does that always come second for you? Or third? Or fourth? What about family?”

Sam remained patient. “Just ‘cause I feel things different doesn’t mean I feel them less.”

“Well hell Sam, glad to hear you shackin’ up with a hot co-ed and partying it up in college is your way of expressing your feelings for me!” Before Sam could speak in his own defense, Dean went on. “I needed you. Dad had been dead for less than a year, people were starting to shove cameras in my face and everyone wanted to hear what I goddamn had to say about salt as a required ingredient in cement mix!”

He rose to his feet in a rush, suddenly and unexpectedly right up in Sam’s face, heaving chest flush against Sam’s own.

“I needed you, Sam.”

Sam wanted to let Dean get through his long-building outburst in peace, and so he took a step back.

“I know.” He hoped the flush on his cheeks wasn’t too splotchy and obvious. “I know, Dean, and I said I’m sorry--”

“Is ‘sorry’ supposed to cut it? After four years?”

“I didn’t know that was how you felt. You didn’t visit either, so I just--”

A snort. “Right, and you’d made it so freaking clear that you would have lo-o-oved--” he stretched out the o’s mockingly. “--to see me. Your invitations must’ve got lost in the mail.”

“You looked so busy... and so happy...

“That’s what I’m supposed to look like for the cameras!”

“How was I supposed to know that?”

“If you’d bothered to call me you’d have known!”

“Why didn’t you call me?”

“You’re the one who left!”

Dean’s hand suddenly fisted in Sam’s sweatshirt, clutching at the front like it was the only thing keeping him upright. It robbed Sam of his capacity for speech and he was made aware of the fact that they’d eaten up the space between them again in just a few seconds.

Dean was panting quietly and his eyes were wide and lost. His breath felt warm and close.

“You’re the one who left, Sammy. I asked you not to and you said that it was your chance; you said you couldn’t take this anymore and that Stanford was what you’d always wanted.”

Sam nodded, feeling the neck of the hoodie tug because of Dean’s grip on it. “I know.”

“You left me.”

“I know. I’m sorry.”

The slight parting of Dean’s lips unknowingly invited a kiss.

“I’m so sorry, Dean.”

Dean was practically vibrating with tension, and for a long moment he just breathed in short little gusts and stared at Sam’s mouth--maybe he didn’t believe the words coming out of it. Sam’s neck was aching.

“I mean it.”

This caused a blink and a loosening of the hold Dean’s fist had on the fabric. He seemed to deflate.

“Yeah... yeah, I know you do, Sam.” Dean let out a sigh that sounded world-weary. “I’m sorry too. I don’t mean to...”

He let go of Sam’s shirt and flattened his hand against Sam’s chest instead, right over his heart.

“I don’t mean to be an asshole. You had every right to leave.”

“I shouldn’t have, though.”

“Yeah you should’ve.” Dean’s mouth twisted in a parody of a grin. “I just wish you hadn’t wanted to.”

Sam’s heart beat against Dean’s palm hard, as though Dean was the only thing keeping it inside his chest.

“...Sorry,” Dean muttered again. His thumb rubbed absent-mindedly at Sam’s pec, close to his nipple but not quite there. To his muted horror, Sam felt a pulse of warmth flow into his dick and had to suppress a shiver.

Dean sighed. His eyelashes fanned over his cheeks from this angle, russet-gold in the room’s warm light.

“We good?” Sam murmured, hoping none of his stupidly timed arousal was manifesting.

Slowly, Dean nodded. “We’re okay.”

His hand slid away and Sam tried to feel relieved, but all he could muster was a hollow sense of loss.

*

The gathering of people outside the network building was gigantic.

New York was cloudy and it had started to rain about an hour ago but people were shouting and clapping as though the discomfort was nothing to them. Sam had never been in the midst of a crowd like this; when he was still around during the Hellsgate fallout Dean had had a few fans, sure, but they hadn’t amassed anything close to this scale. Sixth Avenue was partially blocked by bodies and the traffic had slowed down to a blaring, furious crawl.

They hadn’t taken the Impala to drive there, but it still took less than ten seconds for people to start recognizing Dean and yelling. There were maybe twenty steps leading up into the skyscraper that hosted the HTA News studio but the sheer number of fans made it seem like an impossible distance; Sam found himself having to physically shield Dean with his body.

Both Pamela and Jake were walking in with them, and they were obviously used to navigating the surge and wane of a crowd moving like an overeager wave. Sam, however, felt the stirrings of panic as he gripped Dean’s arm to steer him safety, desperately considering how very fragile Dean suddenly looked in this context. When Sam had left four years ago he’d already been taller than his brother, but he hadn’t been bigger. He felt bigger now, and viciously glad of it. Without Sam there, a crowd like this could swallow Dean up. He couldn’t believe it had taken actual mortal danger for Dean to ask for help.

“Is that Sam?”

“Sam!”

He hadn’t taken into account the number of fans who’d already know his name.

“Sam, where have you been?”

“Sam, is Dean really engaged to Lisa?”

And one distant yell that almost made him stumble up the steps to the building:

“Sam, how do you feel about your brother?”

Sam pretended he couldn’t hear a thing. “Is it always like this?” he shouted at Jake, who was closest to him.

It was Dean who replied however, turning to nod tightly with a smile that didn’t reach his eyes. “Pretty much! I’m hot stuff nowadays, remember?”

They made it to the double-doors and it occurred to Sam that there must have been a side door or some sort of secret parking-lot entrance that they could have used instead of this incredibly public and dangerous method.

What if a witch had decided to lob a hex bag at Dean back there?

It was only thanks to the two guards at the lobby that the doors slammed shut, and Sam watched them lock and secure the entrance until it was sealed, and the sound was muted but certainly not extinguished.

The inside of the building was brightly lit, partly due to the wall of TV monitors airing the contents of every channel on the network. It was another assault to the senses, to see that much movement and those flashes of color, so when--

“Guys!”

--Sam caught a figure running towards them out of the corner of his eye, he reacted on instinct. He shoved Dean behind him and body-checked them mercilessly, causing the stranger to slam to the floor.

“Sam, Jesus!”

On second glance, the guy was clearly some sort of page or production assistant. Sam felt his cheeks grow hot and he immediately leaned down to help the kid back up, apologizing profusely.

“It’s okay, it’s totally--don’t worry about it, I’ve run into walls before, you’re just... slightly harder.”

Pamela snorted and Jake chuckled with amusement. Dean was just kind of looking at Sam and breathing a little heavily, probably still tired from wrestling his way into the building.

“Sam, this is Kevin,” Pamela said.

Kevin smiled sheepishly up at Sam. “Hi. Not a monster.”

“I’m so sorry,” Sam tried again, but Kevin just shook his head dismissively (albeit while still massaging his shoulder).

“It’s okay, really.”

“How are you doing with the caffeine resolution, Kev?” Dean asked.

“Good, good. Got it down to four cups today, hopefully that’ll hold me over until the afternoon. They’re ready for you, by the way--that’s what I was gonna say before colliding with the, y’know. Human mountain.”

“Kevin’s our messenger,” Jake told Sam. “Helps set up before we arrive, tells us how it’s going to go down. He was the team newbie until you got here,” he added.

Sam winced and opened his mouth to apologize again--but Kevin was already leading the group towards the set of elevators at the end of the lobby.

*

The studio had assigned Dean a production assistant and two pages; a man and a woman either in their late teens or early twenties. Both were gorgeous and both were very receptive to Dean’s natural flirting.

Sam just tried not to grind his teeth into dust before the day was done. Dean living to make pretty people blush was nothing new.

The interview itself went well. Dean was obviously embarrassed and just a touch awkward, but those things were a staple in his public appearances and the audience ate it up. He talked about other famous hunters and their recent successes, praising Bela Talbot’s donation of her artifact collection to the Hunting Agency and referencing Gordon Walker’s recent vampire hunt, which had saved a whole town in Colorado from a coven.

When the topic of Sam came up, the camera panned to him standing in the corner of the studio with a fake earpiece, and Dean teased him on the pre-approved topic Pamela had made them decide on (Sam’s hair) while the crowd crooned and laughed uproariously at the appropriate times. Dean also told the host that Sam was going to work security for their team, and threw in a non-pre-approved dig at Sam’s size. “Kid is built like a brick house, as you can see.”

The host eagerly agreed that she could see that, adding “A nicely proportioned brick house, I’ve got to say”. The audience woo-hoo-ed.

Sam felt himself blush furiously and scratched the back of his neck with embarrassment, which made the audience go ‘aww’.

“All right, all right, calm down!” Dean told them. “I know he’s tall but he’s actually a giant nerd, so don’t be fooled by the Superman look. He’s Clark Kent through and through.”

The ‘aww’ became raucous laughter.

“That’s adorable!” the host exclaimed, clapping her hands in delight and laughing too. “You guys sound like you have a great relationship. Have you always been close?”

Dean smiled at her, and even through the camera monitor Sam was thrown by the wattage of that smile. Christ, Dean was beautiful.

“Yeah. Yeah, Sammy and I have always been real close.” Then, unprompted, he added: “Missed him a lot these past years. Missed being near the kid.”

Suddenly the camera was back in Sam’s face.

Sam’s stomach had dropped to the vicinity of his feet and he seemed to have lost the ability to know what to do with his hands. Did they expect him to say something? He didn’t have a mic on him, and more importantly he had no fucking clue what he could trust himself to say on national television--

Whatever was on his face made the audience ‘aww’ even louder than before.

“Well, you guys are the cutest,” the host declared. “Why didn’t we meet Sam before?”

“He had some stuff to figure out. He was seventeen years old when Hellsgate happened; I don’t think anyone would expect him to commit to national security at that age without getting his education first.”

It was the answer Pam had fed them, almost verbatim. A good delivery, too, so Sam shouldn’t feel disappointed because that made no sense.

He could tell the host was about to move on when Dean abruptly kept going.

“And he’s so... listen, he looks tough, but kid’s got a big heart. Hunting was our family business before it became what it is today.” He paused. Then: “He wasn’t ready. I wanted him to be, but looking back on it... I was wrong, and he was brave. He had to find out who he was, and just... I mean, goddamn, look what he came up with. Look at him.”

Mortified, Sam tried to hold back a visceral reaction that involved him bursting into uncontrollable, wracking sobs, and barely succeeded. It was like hearing Bobby’s endorsement times a million. He couldn’t help but replay their fight from last night; ‘You’re the one who left!’ and the infinitely worse, much quieter: ‘I just wish you hadn’t wanted to’.
The silence that followed Dean’s answer was long and terrifying.
Then the audience burst into applause, cheering and whooping and just generally causing a ruckus. The host was clapping too, nodding solemnly as though Dean had just made a speech about world peace.

“Thank you for that honesty, Dean. It’s so rare to hear you talk about your family, but I think that now we understand why.” She flipped some hair over her shoulder and switched to a more businesslike tone. “Will you tell us what’s next for you on the road?”

Dean had been staring listlessly at nothing since he’d verbally impaled Sam’s heart.

“...Huh?”

“What’s next?”

“Oh; we’ve got some training to do with our friends at Fort Meade. Gonna get to use the big guns, so... should be fun.”

“Sounds good, sounds good. What about romance, though? Any time for that, with so many hunts to coordinate and trainings to handle?”

Dean forced a smile.

“Lisa’s a big girl. She understands that.”

The hostile tone he employed shut down the conversation and the interview ended a minute later. He got a standing ovation from the crowd, and walked off set to chants of “Win-ches-ter! Win-ches-ter!”.

*

Sam had assumed the team would be taking off that same night to get to their next assignment, but Pamela had a nasty surprise in store for them.

They went back to the Hilton and the psychic gave them all of five minutes to ‘remove their makeup and meet the others at the lobby’. Sam tried to share a confused look with Dean but his brother just looked miserable.

“...What is it?” Sam asked finally, leaning against the doorframe to their bathroom while Dean furiously soaped off the TV makeup he’d called his ‘painted whore look’. He was splashing water everywhere while he did it.

“When Pamela wants to meet at the lobby, that means she’s gonna tell me something I won’t like and she doesn’t want me to cause a scene.”

He rubbed a towel over his face but didn’t bother changing his shirt with its soaked, sudsy collar. The group chat beeped at Sam with a post from Pamela that just said ‘waiting’.

“Let’s go.”

Dean had been right; he didn’t like what Pamela had to say.

Once she had him sitting in one of the plush armchairs (Sam standing over his shoulder with his arms behind his back, wishing once again that he wasn’t a security team of one for a person no one else knew was in real danger) she laid out their evening plans. The whole team was spread out around them and listening.

“...and both of you get papped going in. They’ve made the Agency a pretty generous offer and I don’t See anything going wrong if we go, just you being a little bitch about it.”

Dean leaned forward, elbows on his knees, and glared at her. “You should’ve asked me, Pam, ‘cause I would have been able to tell you I’m not fucking doing it. And I know you didn’t See shit, because you wouldn’t waste your talents on such a stupid fucking effort.”

Pamela mimicked his exact pose, head cocked. “You’re doing this, Dean. I said you would and so did Lisa, so it’s as good as done already.”

Lisa was sitting in the armchair next to Dean’s. She shuffled uncomfortably but didn’t say anything.

“But you’re right; I didn’t waste my talents on trying to See something I already knew was gonna happen.”

Dean looked over his shoulder at Sam and his glare dimmed infinitesimally. He gave Sam a questioning look and Sam shrugged; Pamela seemed to think it was important that they agree to do it.

“Fine. Only if Sam comes with us,” Dean said, like a threat.

Pamela blinked, and in the couple of seconds it took her to school her expression back into neutrality Sam realized she hadn’t actually expected Dean to agree, or at least not to do it so quickly.

“Of course. Yes. Great.” She shot Sam a wide-eyed ‘how did you do that’ look when Dean was distracted. “Consider it done.”

*

When Pamela said ‘get papped’, it turned out she meant Dean and Lisa had to have dinner at an upscale restaurant in Soho that had opened recently and was hoping for publicity, and they had to get photographed by the paparazzi going in. The restaurant’s ownership had struck a deal with the Hunting Agency to provide funding and catering for their Manhattan offices in exchange for the PR, and apparently that meant pretending to be surprised by the flashing cameras.

On the drive there (once again in a car with a chauffeur the hotel had provided, not the Impala) Sam fiddled with his uncomfortable new clothes, given to him by Lisa earlier in his exact size.

“You look like a bouncer,” Dean muttered. He’d been fuming for the past two hours.

“You look like a hick,” Sam shot back, since Dean had been allowed to wear his signature plaid and jeans under his leather jacket.

Lisa, in a flowery green thing that looked too thin to protect her from the sudden unseasonable cold, just looked from one brother to the other before staring out of the window.

“Give Lisa your jacket on the way in,” Pamela instructed Dean, not even looking up from her phone, where she was typing furiously fast.

Dean glanced at Sam with an indescribable look before nodding, once.

“Dean. You’ll do it?” She was still typing.

“Yeah.”

“Good. I’m working on the Banes thing. We might be able to work out a meeting after all.”

“...Good.”

Sam tugged at his black shirt-cuffs again so as not to bite his nails or display his nerves in some other obvious way. He’d made the huge mistake of letting Charlie show him what Twitter had looked like today, and the knowledge that #WinchesterBros had been a trending topic was agonising.

“Remember; walk behind them and stay in the back of the shot, okay Sam?” Pamela called as the three of them exited the car.

Chaos descended then, and it was all Sam could do to hold the crowd off the pair for fear of Dean or Lisa being literally trampled under the onslaught of people and their heavy equipment. The world became a cacophony of flashes and yelling and invasive questions for the three of them until he finally got the couple safely inside.

He had help from the bouncer at the door and he managed to do it all without worrying about being photographed looking at Dean with any degree of unbrotherly emotion, since he barely looked away from the ground to avoid tripping over the paparazzi.

“Nice job, Sam!” Lisa said, voice raised to be heard over the music. She was swallowed up in John’s leather jacket, but then the hostess took it away and the green of her dress was highlighted beautifully by the lighting in the establishment.

Dean didn’t say anything, just blinked up at him and panted for breath. He looked flushed and embarrassed by the attention.

Sam scoped out a place to stand near their booth that would allow for a clear view of the exit and the kitchen. He had a gun with silver bullets under his suit jacket and a string of decapitating nylon wire at his hip, but he still swept for hex bags under the tablecloth before Dean or Lisa sat down. The waitress watched him do it with a look of open admiration, whereas pre-Hellsgate that move had gotten John, Dean and himself unnerved glances from waitstaff every single time.

“You sure you don’t want anything, Sammy?”

“I’m fine,” Sam said, and assumed his position a few feet away. His back was to them and he was happy to remain that way.

Time passed without more incident than people coming up to the table to take pictures with Dean or ask for autographs. Sam turned them away with a shake of his head, and found he didn’t have to do much more than stand up to his fullest height to get them to comply.

“Sam, hey, try some of my fries.”

Sam looked over his shoulder to find Dean practically at the edge of the seat, thrusting out his plate like an offering. He’d ordered the gourmet burger, because he was still Dean Winchester, but it was sitting half-eaten on his plate and that was a bad sign. This setting was pretty much a recipe to make Dean feel extremely uncomfortable and out of place.

“I’m fine,” Sam said again, tracking the room’s inhabitants.

“Sam, hey Sam; check out that cute chick with the dreads.”

It went on that way--with Dean trying to engage him over the music and failing--all through the night. By the time the couple was eating dessert, Sam was growing more tired and less suspicious of the ogling crowd of socialites than he had been when the night started. In fact, as he overheard Lisa offer to feed Dean a spoonful of her matcha ice cream, he almost wished a supernatural monster would try to attack.

His face must have given something away because next thing he knew their waitress was right in front of him.

“Hey,” she said, projecting her voice efficiently. “You okay, dude?”

“Fine, thank you.”

She was a short Asian-American woman with close-cropped hair and absolutely no physical resemblance to Jess, but she reminded Sam of her anyway.

Framed by sparkling eyeshadow, her eyes were sceptical. “... You sure?”

“Hey hey hey, no harassing my guard, okay?”

Suddenly Dean was forcefully inserting himself between them, which apparently required him to plaster his back all over Sam’s front.

“Sam’s here to do a job, so I’m sorry but he’s not on the menu tonight. You can’t talk to him while he’s on duty.”

She looked pretty insulted by the assumption that she’d been hitting on Sam, but didn’t correct him.

Dean had obviously talked to Sam several times throughout the meal, so Sam had no idea what the Hell he was talking about. “Dean, what the...?”

“S’okay, Sammy.” And then to the woman again, not unkindly; “I get it; he’s tall and he looks good in a suit, but he’s here to work, so... he’s not interested.”

“Relax, man. I got it.”

She shot Sam a sympathetic look and left without another word.

Sam himself was speechless anyway.

*

At breakfast at the hotel the next morning, Sam sought out Jake to ask him about the non-existent security measures in place to protect Dean.

“It just seems... I mean, yesterday was a mess. He could have been hurt.”

Jake took this in with a nod. “It’s not ideal, but the Agency wants him to be seen and photographed as much as possible. I asked about the main entrances before too; Pam just said she checked for danger with her Sight.”

“So we have no other choice?”

“Sucks, man. It’s part of why I’m so glad you’re here now—“

A movement over Jake’s shoulder caught Sam’s eye; someone had come up to the table where Dean was sitting (alone, while he waited for Sam to bring their coffees) while Sam was stood near the buffet.

He strode over there immediately, something about the look on Dean’s face giving his steps a sense of urgency. A dark, boiling thing in his gut wearily unfurled.

“—and if we’d known we would have been able to protect ourselves better.”

It was a middle-aged white guy, and he didn’t sound like a fan. He was dressed in a well-tailored suit and a rather aggressive frown.

“So? What do you have to say to that?”

Dean’s expression was shuttered and that was a synonym for vulnerable. Sam’s heart hammered in his chest as he watched his brother wearily stand up from his chair, but before Dean could say anything Sam sped up and finally caught up to them.

Hey,” he said firmly. He put a hand on Dean’s shoulder to stop him from answering and stepped neatly between him and the stranger. “Can we help you?”

The man looked up at him, hesitating for a moment as he took in Sam’s height.

But then: “Thought this was America’s biggest baddest hunter. Since when does he have a guard dog?”

Sam didn’t take the bait. “You want to say something to us? Or do you want to maybe take a breath and think about it?”

Pale blue eyes flickered, first trying to look at Dean over Sam’s shoulder (not possible given their relative sizes; this guy was not that tall) and once again staring at Sam.

“Who the hell are you, kid?”

“I’m the guy who’s asking you to reconsider what you’re doing right now.”

“I wanted to ask the Captain why the fuck hunters kept all that shit a secret for so long,” he said defensively. “People probably died because of it. And now we’re supposed to kiss his ass because he was at Hellsgate when he was twenty-one?” He raised his voice, projecting it so Dean would definitely hear. “Because I think looking good in pictures isn’t a valid reason to call someone a national hero. He’s never served in uniform. He doesn’t know—“

“He knows more than you could ever imagine,” Sam cut in. “You have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“His Dad was the real hero, according to the reports. We don’t owe him anything.”

Sam sensed Dean shuffle uncomfortably behind him, and had the ugly thought that Dean might agree with this asshole about that last part.

“Call me crazy, but—“

“Listen man, I’ll call you hospitalized if you don’t back away.”

Sam.”

By that point, Jake was there as well, not to mention that they had the attention of most of the people in the breakfast hall.

Sam stepped towards the stranger, knowing he was being slightly unreasonable; knowing that the man had some legitimate concerns.

“Back away now.”

The man glared at him with naked hatred.

“You heard him,” Jake put in. “It’s not worth it, man.”

Finally, the guy muttered: “Fuck you,” and left.

When Sam turned around to face Dean, he found a strange, unreadable expression on his face.

“Nicely done, Sam.”

Sam lightly bumped the fist Jake had extended. “Thanks.”

“I’mma grab that omelete I’ve been dreaming about.”

“You do that. We’re good here.”

Dean harrumphed next to him and Sam shot him a questioning look, even though he already suspected what had Dean in a state of unease.

“...What?”

After a full-body double-take and much exaggerated blinking, Dean replied: “I’m sorry, what? What was that?”

Sam shrugged. “Asshole had it coming.” He really shouldn’t be feeling good about what just happened, but that dark, sour thing in his chest was crowing its victory.

No one got to make Dean look like that if he could help it.

Dean was gaping at him. “’Asshole had it coming’?” he echoed. “Who are you, man? What did you do with my peace-loving, angelic little brother?”

That brother got detention for punching out a kid in high school. He never existed. “Are you surprised I’m taking my job seriously, or is it just that I’m not gonna let some dick talk down to you?”

Even as he was saying it, he realized it was the truth. Dean apparently hadn't thought about Sam actually protecting him when he'd gotten Sam to come back so that he could protect him.

Dean flushed bright red. “M’not a freaking damsel, Sammy.”

“No? I thought you were Whitney Houston.”

Dean spluttered incoherently for several more minutes and Sam sat down to eat his breakfast.

*

They left New York to drive to the military base in Maryland, where Dean was going to train a group of army cadets to hunt Wendigos. Of course one session with a semi-retired hunter wasn’t nearly enough to tackle a creature as dangerous as a Wendigo, as Dean kept griping about for the good first hour into the drive.

It wasn’t until they passed a roadside advertisement for ‘House Wards: Protect Yourself From Monsters That Don’t Care About Your Electronic Alarm!’ that one of the things Pamela had said the night before finally dawned on Sam. He could have asked her through the group chat, but someone needed to interrupt Dean’s angry rant about useless photo ops.

“Dean,” he cut in. “Did Pamela mention something about the Banes twins yesterday?”

Dean looked mildly taken aback, but nodded. “...Yeah.”

Sam’s heart skipped a couple of beats in his chest. If Dean was at the fame level comparatively held by Hollywood actors, the Banes twins were regarded as rockstars.

They were hunters, but more importantly they were white witches, a term the biracial pair used frequently and ironically during interviews. Sarcastic, gorgeous and just a year younger than Sam himself, they were the only hunter celebrities Sam used to actively seek out to watch on YouTube during college. He’d search for clips of their public appearances, not just in rallies for the rights of humanoid supernaturals but in sit-downs with Ellen, The View, and Oprah. Coincidentally, Max Banes was also part of the reason Sam had figured out he was attracted to guys other than his brother.

“So are you a Max-girl or an Alicia-girl, Sammy?” Dean added with a mocking grin.

Sam wasn’t exactly looking to hide his occasional attraction to men from him forever, but he hadn’t expected the sudden opportunity to out himself either. He felt... unprepared, so he visibly rolled his eyes and chose to ignore the question. “Have you met them?”

“No. But I’m looking to. Pam says they reached out to her to talk to me next time I’m in Canada. Tamara has a contact who used to be a British Man of Letters but is now working in Vancouver with them. Lots of lobbying to create programs for vegetarian vampires, self-aware werewolves, that kind of thing. They are huge supporters of Lenore Hastings.”

“I support Lenore Hastings too, but some of those creatures are also the ones sending you death threats,” Sam pointed out. He hadn’t gotten Dean to elaborate on the nature of the threats since they were first brought up, and he was starting to get seriously frustrated. He leapt on the opportunity to steer the topic of conversation back to them. “Why won’t you tell me at least whether it was an email or a DM on twitter? Were they handwritten in blood and slid under your hotel room door? When did they start? How many have you gotten? What did they say?”

Dean just rolled his eyes and didn’t answer.

“How do you expect me to protect you if you don’t tell me these things, Dean? You know me standing at your shoulder isn’t enough to dissuade someone from trying. I can’t run an IP search without the source tweet, or an email, or whatever it was that they used to get the message to you. We need to get in front of this.”

Still, Dean said nothing.

“How has Pamela not Seen you being in real danger?”

“Pamela doesn’t know to Look in a specific direction if she isn’t told it exists.”

“...And that’s it? That’s all you’re giving me?”

Dean blared the Impala’s horn at a passing pickup that wasn’t technically doing anything illegal, but just looked douchey.

“Pro-life sticker on the back, I fuckin’ knew it--”

Dean.”

“Untwist your panties a minute and relax, Sam. It’s a beautiful day.”

He probably should have suspected it sooner, but that was the first time Sam started to think Dean was lying to him.

*

They made the drive to Fort Meade in just under four hours, but the event was the next day, so Pamela gave the team free reign to do whatever they pleased in the afternoon. They were staying at the Mariott Hotel in Odenton, near the base.

There was a crowd waiting for them when they pulled up in their Hunting Party convoy, and it took Sam a moment to make the connection between these people and Dean’s TV interview, where he’d told the world about his plans.

He let the bellboys take their bags again in favor of ushering Dean past his fans, but halfway to the entrance something in the crowd struck him as odd; one of the men was staring at Dean without yelling. Instead the stranger looked focused, intense--his lack of movement drew the eye amidst the chaos. It made Sam nervous.

“Hey, Dean,” he muttered. “Walk on my right side, okay?”

Dean flicked his eyes up to him and then to the crowd. “You kiddin’ me?”

“Just do it.”

For a split second Sam thought Dean was going to fight him on it, but he acquiesced.

A bullet, a curse, a hex bag.... Sam’s body was big enough to shield Dean completely, and from this angle he would have no trouble blocking whatever came at them. Once again, he was overcome by that disconcertingly violent, protective feeling for Dean’s frame. He felt like he could rip someone apart if they tried to hurt him--and he would gladly do it with his bare hands.

Nothing happened, but Sam breathed easier when they were inside.

“... Thanks,” Dean said awkwardly. He was clearly embarrassed again. The tension in his shoulders was screaming discomfort--and the gritty thing in Sam's chest was enjoying it.

“No problem.” Sam smiled at him. He'd felt weird about towering over Dean at first, discomfited even. But he was liking it now. “Feel like Whitney yet?”

“Oh fuck you--”

“Language, fuckin’ Christ!” Pam said in passing.

They exchanged a look and Dean rolled his eyes at her back.

“I Saw that!”

“No you didn’t!”

Sam laughed. Dean looked up at him and seemed to take it in, eyes roaming Sam’s face with a satisfied look. The people staring at them in the lobby didn’t seem to matter, or indeed exist. He was still pink-cheeked from their walk in, the collar of Dad’s jacket half-popped at an angle on the left side of his neck, his mouth full as ever.

Sam’s neck twinged again.

“Let’s keep moving.” He motioned for Dean to follow Pamela.

“Uh, sure Sammy.”

Their rooms were just as grand this time around. Needing some space, Sam waited until Dean was in the shower like a coward before yelling through the door that he was going to the gym, and fled. He found a random housekeeper (who didn’t overtly acknowledge who he was but who definitely recognized him) to ask about where to go and was given patient directions.

He’d been on the treadmill for no less than ten minutes when he caught himself on one of the TV screens. Specifically, himself ushering Dean and Lisa into the restaurant last night. ‘Dean Winchester escorted into restaurant by his brother Sam as security’, the headline read.

He left the main room after that, fearing more approaches and more questions, and finally found a small, unoccupied stretching room with a punching bag in the corner.

Half an hour later, the door opened.

“Dean may be real-life Captain America, but I don’t think he can do that.”

Sam scrambled out of his downward dog position to look up at his new companion.

It was Jo.

They hadn’t really been alone together since he’d joined up, and Sam had been a little disappointed that she hadn’t sought him out to catch up during their New York stay, but he hadn’t put effort into talking to her himself either.

“Hey Jo. How’ve you been?”

She walked over to the punching bag and awkwardly stood next to it. She was wearing tight black pants and a Cowboys shirt to work out, her blonde hair in a ponytail.

“I’m doing okay. Your brother’s keepin’ us busy.”

“Right.” When she didn’t offer anything else or ask him the question in return, he added: “I’ve been meaning to ask; how’s your mom?”

He had few memories of the severe but kind Ellen Harvelle, since he’d only visited her Roadhouse twice right after Hellsgate and never before John died. Ellen hadn’t been at the battle and she had dodged the hunter spotlight since he’d been at Stanford, as far as he knew, but surely the purpose of her bar was an obsolete thing nowadays.

“You didn’t know?” Jo said, arching an eyebrow, and for a heart-stopping second Sam thought she was going to say Ellen was dead. “She’s working at the Agency.”

Oh. “Your mom is part of the Hunting Agency?” he echoed.

“Yup. You never thought to seek out the hunting license yourself? You’re the fourth person on the team who doesn’t have it.”

He was still processing Jo’s mother’s sudden rise to power, so he thoughtlessly asked: “Who are the other three?”

“Kevin, Lisa and Charlie, of course.” The ‘duh’ was heavily implied.

“Right. Of course.”

He hadn’t given the hunting license a single thought since driving away from Stanford with Dean, and he probably should have. Inside the Marriott hotel gym, however, it felt like he’d never have cause to use it.

Jo started bare-knuckling the punching bag in the corner with impressively good technique.

The team didn’t eat dinner as a group, but when they were done working out Jo agreed to meet Sam in the lobby for a sandwich after they’d showered. He couldn’t quite figure out what it was that made their interactions so stilted since he’d returned (was it her resentment of his leaving the hunting life? Her perceptive senses picking up on his fucked up feelings for Dean? Something in her life that had nothing to do with Sam or Dean at all?) but he resolved to try to reconnect with her.

“Do you miss it? Hunting, I mean—the way it used to be?”

“I don’t know. Everything is so different now, and not all of it is worse. And we still do faux hunts sometimes, when it’s a big publicized monster that calls for ‘Dean Winchester’ to get it,” she smiled sardonically around her bite and mimed one-handed quotation marks. “Tamara and I take point on those.”

“Huh. He must hate that.”

She snorted and nodded, reaching for her soda. “Your brother is a whiny baby.” She took a small sip and then paused consideringly. “But he’s been different since you came. You have no idea what it was like before; he was so depressed it was hard to watch.”

Sam had no response to that.

“So; you Google yourself yet?”

“...No. But Charlie told me about what happened after the interview--”

“Trust me; you want Charlie to be your buffer with the crazy, okay? I was in the background of a promo shot last year and my life was insane for weeks after.” She pointed a finger at him. “You are going to be in the background of lots of pictures. And your brother is kind of obsessed with you, dude; that’s gonna come up at some point.”

Sam put his sandwich back on his plate.

“Rule one is: don’t Google yourself. Rule number two is: Charlie is your queen. And rule number three is: the Agency doesn’t give a shit about any of us so long as we bring them good PR, so... don’t get caught doing anything stupid.”

“... Like what?”

Jo paused consideringly and Sam had time to regret having asked.

“Like...” she leaned forward. Sam’s pulse started hammering in his ears. “... like choosing mustard over mayo for a turkey sandwich.”

Sam snorted and then broke into relieved laughter, and Jo followed suit.

When they said goodnight she gave him another brief, hard hug, so Sam considered the evening a step in the right direction.

*

Of course, then he got back to his and Dean’s room and Dean wasn’t there.

Fingers trembling, he pulled out his phone and hit 1 on his speed dial even as he flung open the shower curtain and then checked behind the couch, as though expecting to find Dean’s bloody corpse hidden away somewhere.

Dean didn’t answer.

Sam strode back out into the corridor. He shouldn’t have left Dean alone, not even for a goddamn second—he should have set up a call system, he should have known better than to take off for two hours as though monsters couldn’t get inside a high-priced hotel. It was late enough that it could be a vamp. A shifter with Sam’s face could have lured him away. A siren looking like a gorgeous woman might have tricked him into kissing her.

He was debating bursting into Pamela’s room to have her use her powers to Look for Dean when he caught something out of the corner of his eye that gave him pause. He ran over to the room two doors down and across the hall from theirs and stopped in front of it, staring down at the door knob.

There was a Do-Not-Disturb sign on Lisa’s door.

A different kind of dread seized his throat, and he took out his phone again. He could try to call one more time, or text him instead, or... or Dean could still be in danger and Sam’s fear of self-inflicted heartache was delaying a potential rescue.

He knocked on the door.

“Dean! You in there?” he called, voice shaking only a little.

Mere moments later, the door swung open and a slightly sweaty, panting Dean Winchester stood behind it.

“Sammy!” He grinned. It was a red-lipped, puffy mouthed thing that left Sam stunned stupid, and not just from relief that his brother was alive.

Dean.”

“You need something?” He still had his undershirt and jeans on. “You done with your workout? Wanna watch a movie or something?”

Christ, Dean the shittiest boyfriend on Earth. Whatever he and Lisa were doing, the fact that he was openly willing to drop it at the tip of a hat--or in this case, at Sam’s word, was a total dick move. What an asshole. What a total and complete asshole that Sam was so fucking glad was alive.

“Aren’t you guys in the middle of something, Dean?”

He was inordinately proud of himself for getting the question out, even while drunk on the power Dean awarded him.

Dean managed a rueful smile. “Kinda. But she’s almost--we’re almost done.” He tacked on a leer like an afterthought and Sam rolled his eyes. What a dick. “I’ll meet you in ours in a minute.”

“Okay.”

The door clicked shut.

For a few seconds, Sam just stood there--in the exact position he’d dreaded ending up in when this whole thing started. He still felt shaky and weak-kneed as the adrenalin rush wore off and the terror abated, but the sour taste of jealousy was climbing up the back of his throat.

A door slammed somewhere further down the corridor and snapped him out of it. He laughed a little at himself and rubbed his eyes, hearing a voice in his head (that sounded suspiciously like Dean’s) needling him about looking like a kicked puppy.

He slowly walked back to their room.

He tried not to feel something stupid like grateful or triumphant when Dean burst through the door less than a minute later, flushed and obviously still kind of riled but all smiles and teasing and shoulder pats and playful shoves.

‘...he’s been different since you came. You have no idea what it was like before; he was so depressed it was hard to watch.’

If there was one thing Sam couldn’t bring himself to regret, it was taking on the task of making sure Dean was safe.

He would do whatever was necessary. He could bear with anything as long as Dean was alive.

*

“You think Dad is covering his eyes in shame up there right about now?” Dean muttered, gruff and rhetorical.

Sam answered him anyway. “No.” He almost reached out to touch Dean’s arm, but then didn’t. They were about to go into the crowded auditorium as soon as Jake was done introducing him. “No, Dean. He’d admire what you’re doing.”

“If I’d tried to tell his unit I could teach them how to hunt Wendigos in one day, he’d’a laughed me off the stage.” The crow’s feet at the corners of Dean’s eyes strained with his forced laughter. He looked frantic, almost disgusted with himself.

His good mood from last night had dissipated by the time their military escort drove them into Fort Meade’s gigantic enclosure.

“He’d understand you’re doing the best you can with your situation,” Sam insisted, even though he didn’t entirely believe what he was saying. “If he saw where you are today, what you’ve done for this country--for the world--”

Dean choked out another ugly, humorless laugh. “I’ve done fuck all since the day he died, Sam, and I’m living off getting credit for his victory. Shit like this just reminds me of it, is all.”

His Dad was the real hero, according to the reports.

It wasn’t true, though. “He was always proud of you, Dean. He didn’t say it enough, but I know he was.”

Dean looked up at him. The depth of self-hatred Sam saw there was unnerving, and he had to fight the urge to touch Dean again, to shake him, to ask him to stop looking so goddamn sad. Nothing and no one was allowed to think so lowly of Sam’s brother, not even Dean himself.

“Dean--”

“He wouldn’t, Sammy,” Dean interrupted flatly, certainly. “If he knew the crap I get up to these days instead of hunting—“ he cut himself off, shaking his head dismissively. “He’d tell me to ditch the team and get my ass back on the road; do my goddamn job. You know he would.”

And then he opened the door and walked out there to tumultuous cheers.

Sam followed him up the steps to the dais and positioned himself next to Jake, on the right side of the stage so that he had a good view of every angle in the auditorium. The last words of Dean’s introduction had been: ‘...you already know his name but I’ll say it again. It’s our real-life Captain freakin’ America; Dean Winchester’.

The applause lasted for a good long while after Dean had taken his place at the podium. Deafening clapping, wolf-whistles and yells came from a sea of proud, patriotic faces.

“I’mma make this short,” Dean said. He was wearing cammo--the whole team was, but Sam found himself thinking that it looked better on Dean with his bottle-green eyes than it did on any single person here, or possibly the world. “We’re here to talk about Wendigos, not about me. I wanna give you somethin’ solid to work on before I leave and we’ve got a lot to cover, so let’s just get down to it.”

And the thing was... he was good.

Sam never should have doubted it, but he had. And he was disappointed in himself for doing so, since he’d been Dean’s first pupil and he had known first hand that Dean expected a lot but had a well of patience, too, and was helpfully straight and to the point when it came to hunting instructions.

The talk took up less than fifteen minutes; Dean used a solo hunt he’d done four years ago as a story thread to discuss what Wendigos could do. Apparently the one he’d been hunting back then had been living in an old power plant and it was just him and a bunch of civilian hikers who had no freaking idea what they were up against. He even referenced Sam at one point to say he confused the tall, giant creature with his brother in the dark and everyone laughed, but of course that hunt must have happened immediately after Sam left for Stanford, and Sam found himself wincing along with the story when Dean did something recklessly stupid (which was far more often than was sane).

As soon as the anecdote ended with a dead monster and a rescued victim they moved the whole class of trainees (along with over a hundred hangers-on who were obviously there for unofficial reasons) to the training grounds. They had laid out the kind of heavy machinery Dean had always lustfully gazed at when he opened the Impala’s trunk, but in industrial quantities.

“Now I know everyone here’s better than me at using this stuff, so we’re just gonna demo the ways in which we wanna target these suckers and then y’all can probably teach me a thing or two instead of the other way ‘round.”

The training area was huge and seemed almost endless; concrete floors and low ceilings as far as the eye could see. It was enough space to accommodate the many, many personnel who were observing the proceedings as well as the entirety of Dean’s team, and the local instructors divided people into groups to walk-through mock hunting scenarios, leaving Dean to move between them and offer feedback.

The photographers who were covering the event went with him, circling Dean like vultures and only occasionally breaking orbit to point their lenses Sam’s way, or at Pamela or Jake or Tamara.

Sam did his best to ignore anything that wasn’t his brother. Dean looked far more in his element in this context than he had at the TV interview, or hell, even in the auditorium just moments ago. He wasn’t a big speeches guy, but it was impossible to miss the ways in which he emulated John when he was like this; stance rigidly familiar, voice barking out corrections when needed, conversing with the officers one-on-one when they called him over for questions.

“This part’s always my favorite,” a voice sighed by his shoulder, and Sam flinched with his whole body because he’d managed to forget Lisa was there too. “He grumbles and complains and kicks up a fuss about these things but then you see him do it and it just... makes sense, doesn’t it?”

She smiled, looking gorgeous in her own cammo pants and tight green ARMY T-shirt.

Sam was, of course, wearing a much larger but somehow equally tight version of the same outfit but he felt awkward and bulky beside her, the focus of every look that was curious at best and critical at worst, whereas Lisa received respectful nods and admiring glances only. Demeaning and sexist as it was, they clearly saw her as an extension of Dean himself instead of as her own person; her accomplishment being that she was the object of their hero’s affection.

And Sam wished he was in her shoes. Pathetic.

“He’s doin’ some good here today,” said someone else, and Sam turned to see Jake standing on his other side.

“Yeah. Yeah, he is.”

“I’m gonna help out group six over there next,” Jake said, staring up at the ceiling and squinting as though he saw something interesting there. “If you grew up hunting under John Winchester I’m pretty sure we could use your input, so... feel free to come help out, if you feel like it.”

Sam watched him go and wanted to follow, but somehow stayed put. He might not have cared as much about John’s approval as Dean did but he couldn’t help but think that if their father was going to be disappointed in one of his sons today, it would have been the younger.

Lisa didn’t comment, just took out her phone and snapped a couple of pictures of the scene for herself.

They stood quietly side-by-side until a cadet walked right up to Sam and planted herself in front of him. “You the brother?” she asked.

“Yeah. It’s Sam, nice to--”

“You hunt too, right?”

“...Uh, sort of. Not officially certified yet, but I’m working on it.”

She didn’t look pleased. “Oh. I thought maybe you could help us settle the fire versus acid debate to kill the suckers.” She snorted. “You know, in case we don’t have a grenade-launcher within reach? But I’ll just wait to talk to Captain America in three goddamn hours...”

“I. I mean, I know the lore,” Sam heard himself saying. “I was raised into it. I can try to help, if you... if that’s...”

He felt a shove at his back and realized Lisa was pushing him encouragingly towards the training area. “Go,” she said, nodding. “You should help them.”

“Okay. Okay, yeah.”

He let the cadet lead him to her group and he did his best. It was a pleasant surprise to realize his rusty skills and understanding of the lore hadn’t disappeared entirely, and there was definitely stuff for him to bring to the table. When the cadets started asking him increasingly complex weaponry questions that were getting out of his league, he felt a clap on his shoulder and Jake smoothly took over.

“Man, this won’t help you with Wendigos though. That was Sam’s point; this semi-automatic shit without silver is like tickling one of these suckers, that’s why you’ve gotta go with the fire or the grenades...”

Sam smiled gratefully at him and Jake gave him a slow nod, then started spewing statistics about target accuracy.

Hours passed and Sam became more comfortable in his role. Jake had been right. It was a good day, and they were making a real difference, no matter how small or why it had come about.

“Hey Sam!”

At one point Sam’s gaze snapped up from where he’d been doodling a Wendigo (quite badly) and circling weak spots. Dean was waving at him all the way across the training groups.

“Sammy!”

Different versions of this exact scene had happened a million times when they were growing up, and especially during the high school years; across the cafeteria, running into each other in the halls, during recess... Cool, older brother Dean had everyone’s attention but he only seemed to acknowledge or care about one person’s.

This time, he was holding a grenade launcher aloft as some sort of trophy. Everything was dramatized by their present circumstances; the setting, Dean’s popularity, the sheer number of people paying attention to them. Like every other time, though, Sam felt a hollow sort of incredulity at his luck in being the chosen one in Dean’s eyes.

“Remember when you said I’d never get to use this?”

Very, very aware that every single person in their vicinity was listening intently, Sam rubbed a hand on the back of his neck and faked nonchalance.

A string of consecutive camera clicks sounded nearby.

“Guess I was wrong,” he ended up calling back lamely.

“Guess you were, little brother!” Dean crowed, grinning. “Guess you were!”

*

Pamela asked Sam and Dean to meet her and Charlie for dinner that night at the hotel restaurant, adjacent to the hotel lobby.

“Fuck my life,” Dean muttered as they made their way there.

“Boys!” Pamela said, smile bright and wide and only slightly sarcastic. “My handsome, handsome boys!”

“What is it, Pam?” Dean said, pushing Sam’s chair back for him seemingly without thought.

Charlie had her laptop with her. “Uh... it’s about Sam in the media.”

Sam abruptly dropped onto his seat.

“What about Sam in the media?” Dean asked. Sam could feel him looking, obviously concerned this was going to send Sam running for the hills.

“The press... most print and online articles, even the fan-sites, they’ve really taken a liking to your relationship. The TV interview started it off, but... look. This is the picture that’s been used most from the restaurant opening in New York.”

She turned her laptop around to display an article titled ‘Sam Winchester holds off crowd to protect brother Dean and his fiancee’. The picture below was a shot of them both in motion; Sam was standing right behind Dean with his back to the camera and his hand between Dean’s shoulders, obviously attempting to push him forward while holding off the paparazzi. In contrast to Dean, he looked almost comically huge, aided by the flare of his black jacket and the span of his shoulders.

Lisa was nowhere to be seen but Dean had turned around to look up at Sam with his bright, ridiculously lashed eyes.

The composition was stunning, and the look on Dean’s face was--

“And this is the picture running for Fort Meade,” Charlie went on. The article was titled ‘Winchester teaches cadets masterclass on Wendigos - with some help’, and the picture showed Dean and Sam at opposite ends of the crowded training room, but the cameraman had blurred everything that wasn’t them and in the unforgiving focus one could clearly see they were looking at each other. Dean was holding the grenade launcher aloft with a big grin; Sam’s smile was smaller and softer.

“We need to use this momentum,” Pamela stated. “Really put Sam in the spotlight and make a case for the Agency’s message. We could have him do an interview on his own--”

“No,” Dean interrupted. “No, Sam is not going to do that. He is here to work security and that is it. I will not--” he added forcefully, when Pamela looked like she was going to argue. “--even consider it. No fucking way. No.” They hadn’t even looked at the menu yet but Dean stood up.

The couple of people left in the restaurant who hadn’t been covertly staring at him before now did so as well.

“Let’s go, Sammy,” he said roughly.

Charlie looked crestfallen, but Sam shot her an apologetic look and followed his brother out of the room.

*

After they had left Maryland, Sam started delving deeper into the suspected demonic return whenever he had free time. This didn’t happen often, but their various hotels had excellent wifi that enabled late-night web surfing the way he used to do it years ago, when Dad gave him extra lore homework in addition to his school tasks.

He was incredibly disheartened to discover that there were more omens than he’d feared; all of them seemingly reported as coincindental by the media. He couldn’t figure out how demons would influence the human world after being banished, though. Without posession as an option, what were they left with?

He brought the matter to Jo a few days later. She seemed uncomfortable but nevertheless put him in touch with a hunter named Ash who was apparently already on the case for the Agency.

“They’ve got good people looking into this, Sam. Why do you need to conduct your own investigation?”

Sam couldn’t tell her about his dreams, even if they hadn’t been in the hotel’s public sitting area.

“Just... curious. Worried. How could they open the gates again?”

Jo swallowed. “Yeah. That question scares the shit out of me.”

She met his eyes for a long moment, then claimed she was leaving him to it. Sam watched her go with a slight frown, but resumed his search without giving her affect too much thought.

*

Jessica called him around noon a month after he had left Stanford to go with Dean.

Sam was in the passenger seat of the Impala, which played to the odds. They had just been in Boston for a couple of days, after a fourth-year medical student from Harvard posted a viral video asking Dean to make sure the bodies in the Pathology lab were really dead. Thankfully, it was a relatively benign haunting case and Jo had taken care of the salt-and-burn, so they were currently on their way towards Pittsburgh for the press conference that Dean wanted about the Agency’s relationship with the military.

Of course their being in the car during Jess’ call meant Dean overheard everything.

You were on the news last night,” Jess was saying. “You looked really good, Sam.

“I... thanks.”

He missed her so bad so suddenly. He missed her baking and her quiet kindness and her huge smiles and the sounds she made when he went down on her. He missed the smell of her hair and the selfish, sweet feeling of being loved in every way he wanted to be loved, even if it wasn’t by the person his soul belonged to.

How are things?”

“I’m okay. Things are... good. How... how are things with you?”

It wasn’t an easy conversation to have, but they made it through, and by the end she was just gossiping about their friends and updating him on what had changed, if at all, the past couple of weeks.

“How’s Brady doing?”

Still drinking too much. I really don’t know what’s wrong with him Sam, he keeps saying he’s not going to med school anymore.”

“Dammit. Sorry I’m not there to...” feeling his throat tighten, he tried to swallow and sound unaffected for the sake of the two people intently listening to his every word. “Sorry I left. Sorry I--”

It’s okay.” They were both silent for a long moment. “I don’t know the details of what’s going on, but I know what he means to you, Sam. Even though you never really talked about him. Or maybe because of that, actually.”

“...Thanks for calling, Jess.”

She said: “Everyone misses you,” with a static sigh, like she’d never see him again.

“Miss you too.”

Take care of yourself, Sam.”

“Yeah. Yeah you too.”

He hung up.

Dean turned the music back up without comment, letting him wallow for a whole hour before chucking an m&m at him from the warm, half-melted bag between his legs.

When they started bickering, they didn’t mention Jess or Stanford or anything to do with their time apart the last four years. Since his outburst that first night at the Hilton, Dean seemed to be at relative peace with what had happened and Sam didn’t feel like discussing it, anyway.

When Sam tried to bring up the death threats instead (his segue this time started with his own promise to physically maim Dean if he threw more chocolate at him) his brother just rolled his eyes and argued nothing had tried to kill him since Sam joined the team, then refused to acknowledge how flawed that argument was.

With the fresh reminder of Jess’ voice in his ear Sam’s resolve to find out what the hell Dean was hiding doubled.

He’d left Stanford because of this, and something was definitely off.

*

The press conference went well and Sam spent the entirety of it standing in the background of the camera shot. Jo’s words played on a loop in his mind along with Charlie’s; don’t Google yourself... don’t get caught doing anything stupid... most print and online articles, even the fan-sites, they’ve really taken a liking to your relationship...

Dean had remained adamant about Sam not being in the spotlight any more than he needed to be, and Sam truly appreciated his efforts. He was able to avoid reading speculation about himself if he didn’t seek out hunting articles on the internet, and they knew when the TV profiles on Dean were going to happen so those were easy to navigate too. Unavoidable events like this one still happened at least once a week though, where his need to be physically close to Dean meant he couldn’t escape the spotlight.

“Do you feel safer with your brother by your side?” a reporter asked Dean during questions.

“Is Sam licensed to hunt?” another wanted to know.

“How does Sam feel about the New England Journal of Medicine article on humanoid supernaturals and the proposed harm-risk triage scales?”

Through it all Sam kept quiet, and kept not looking at Dean on screen even when he knew Dean was looking at him. He literally turned his back on the reporters when ushering Dean from the podium, abusing the span of his shoulders as needed.

*

From Pittsburgh, the Agency sent them to Detroit.

Spending hours and hours in the Impala again made Sam think of his childhood often, but everything else about their journey on the road was different now. It wasn’t just the ridiculous hotels and the luxury he didn’t think he’d ever get used to, nor was it the fact that their schedule was pre-planned and not by him or Dean. There were simply too many things happening around them that kept popping their little two-person bubble; from trucks honking and cheering when they saw the Hunting Party signs to inane conversations happening in the group chat (Charlie would write: ‘u guys see bela talbots new interview?’ or Isaac would say: ‘im starving, who wants dennys’), to Kevin calling to ask Sam about SAT prep or Pamela calling Dean to discuss media appearances.

What waited for them in Detroit was the Bright Futures preschool, which had assigned their class of six-year-olds a project on their favorite historical heroes, and where a young kid called Brian Simms had insisted on writing about present-day Dean. The ugly truth behind that visit was that the Hunting Agency had been facing accusations of racism because of the Gordon Walker license situation, and Brian was a gorgeous black boy in a classroom of predominantly African-American children.

“This is propaganda bullshit,” Dean had said over a dozen times. He said it again while they brushed their teeth and got ready the morning of his ‘surprise’ appearance. “I woulda gone to see this kid without bringing a bunch of cameras. Why the fuck do they always think I’m the person to fix a mess they got themselves into?”

“Dude. I agree with you. Move on.”

Rufus Turner himself had called from the Agency headquarters to yell at Dean so loudly Sam had heard him say ‘you’re a pretty white boy who helped banish all demons from the Earth! Play your goddamn part!’ without the phone even being on speaker. Rufus had been at Hellsgate too, and he was one of the first hunters to be invited to the White House to help shape the new supernatural policies. He was known and loved for both his sarcastic sense of humour and his ruthlessness, but he had been leaning on the latter during his conversation with Dean.

“Also, you know you can’t say ‘bullshit’ the rest of today.”

Dean tried to snort and ended up with toothpaste coming out of his nose.

“Ah, shit--”

Sam laughed, endeared in spite of himself, and Dean flicked his toothbrush at him and splashed a couple of white drops on Sam’s shirt.

“Fuck you, Sam.”

“That’s even worse. You can’t say ‘fuck’ in front of a bunch of kids.”

“Oh yeah? Well fuck you with a giant silicone dildo and then spitroast you before felching--”

There was a choking sound from the door and Sam whirled around. Charlie had just walked into their room and was doubled over laughing, holding onto the doorknob to stay upright. “What the hell did I just walk in on, guys?” she giggled, breathless.

Behind her, Pamela was smirking with an edge that made Sam uneasy. He wondered, not for the first time, how much she Saw when it came to his feelings for Dean.

“Sam won’t let me swear,” Dean grumbled.

Pamela’s smirk grew wider. “And you thought it was totally normal to answer him with a step-by-step porno scenario in the second person.” Her sarcastic monotone had Charlie wheezing out another giggle by the door. “Makes sense. C’mon, didn’t you see the group text? Kevin is waiting for us downstairs. Nos vamos!”

The moment it happened, Sam knew the magazines that ran with the picture of Brian throwing his arms around Dean’s waist would see their circulation increase tenfold.

The leather jacket got smooshed in the little kid’s grip but the giant, toothy grin on Brian’s face was pure gold. Most of the adults in the room aww’ed and Sam watched as a large percentage of the women’s eyes glazed-over with adoration.

“I can’t believe I’m melting over a straight dude being hugged by a child,” Charlie whispered.

A tight, painful thing in Sam’s chest wailed in agreement.

The whole class got to pose with Dean for a picture after Brian sat back down and, once the photographers had left, the CNN camera crew Pamela had given the exclusive to stuck around to film a mock classroom where the kids interviewed Dean about hunting. The team (sans Reggie, Jake or Jo, who had stayed at the hotel) were seated on tiny chairs along the side wall with the television crew so as not to be in the shot, with the exception of Sam who was stood by the door of the classroom with his hands held in front of him.

Ten minutes in, a girl sitting in the desk closest to their chairs snuck out of her seat to amble over to him. The nametag on her shirt said ‘Maya’.

“Who are you?” she whispered.

Sam smiled at her and crouched down. “My name is Sam, and I’m here to keep Dean safe. So he can keep you safe.”

She took the information in. “...Dean is strong,” she said finally. At the front of the class, Dean was still speaking in his soft rumble of a voice.

“Yeah. Yeah, he is, but he’s not--” he almost said ‘invincible’. But Dean was invincible to these kids, just as he had been to Sam not so long ago. “He’s not as tall as me,” he ended up saying, amused at the thought of Dean’s expression if he were privy to this conversation.

He heard Charlie snort.

Maya nodded in agreement of this. “Okay.” And then after a pause. “Thank you, sir.”

Sam’s chest swelled. “You’re welcome, kiddo.” He smiled at her, feeling like a giant.

“Oh for--Maya, please sit down!”

Dean had gone quiet; it was the teacher who spoke. Sam looked up to find every single kid (and the CNN cameraman) looking his way. He wasn’t entirely sure what had happened, but Dean had a tiny, gentle smile on his face that made him look like some sort of proud parent.

“Sorry Cap--Mr Winchester. They are good kids, this is just a lot of stimuli.” She motioned to Sam with a rueful smile. “And we don’t see many hunters passing through, especially not ones as tall as your brother. Please continue.”

Dean took another moment to tear his gaze away from Sam. “Right. Right.” He grinned at the little boy who had asked the last question. “I... yes. Yes I was scared during Hellsgate, actually. But you know what? My Dad was with me, and he was the best hunter in the world...”

*

Another faux-hunt took them to Iowa; this time for what turned out to be a human man staging killings as vampire victims. Three people had died, and Dean called Bobby who called the FBI to make a real arrest, because they had the real FBI on call now.

The volume of texts Sam was getting from Stanford kept getting smaller the longer he didn’t reply to them. Even from Jess and Brady.

From Iowa they went to Kentucky for a Black Dog that turned out to be... a black dog. After that one, Dean got a look in his eye like his every breath let the ghost of their father down, the same one he’d had at the start of Fort Meade, so Sam acted as his buffer with the world for the day.

By dinnertime, Charlie had texted him ‘no idea what we did b4 u, Sam’ and Pamela just sent him rows of heart-eyed emojis. Dean’s mood had improved so much by the following morning that he barked out a delighted laugh at Sam getting cappuccino foam on his nose, and Tamara shot Sam a wide-eyed look of utter shock when she saw it. Jake mouthed “How the hell did you do that?” at him over Dean’s shoulder.

He found out from Jo later that Dean’s dark moods used to last weeks, and involved heavy bouts of what sounded like dangerous alcoholic binges.

“It’s like you’ve got him eating out of the palm of your hand!” she joked.

Unnerved, Sam couldn’t think of a response.

They went from Kentucky to Virginia to talk to UV college kids about hunting and what training to become good at it actually involved. Hunting as a profession wasn’t at the point where the Agency had their own booth on career day, but if things kept going the way they were Sam could see a future where that was the case.

*

She’s screaming... a girl is dead... the girl she loved is dead and it’s her fault and she’s screaming and screaming and screaming--

Sam upped the treadmill settings and ran faster, stomach empty but mind too full.

He wasn’t able to bring the images to the forefront, but the sound of the girl’s agonized yelling was impossible to forget. He’d caught flashes of a park, autumn leaves, a book cover (The Hobbit), straight blonde hair... and not much else. No calendar date, no significant identifiers, not even a face.

He ran even faster. The gym in the Kansas Sheraton had floor-to-ceiling glass windows and through them the pale light of dawn was tentatively competing with the artificial illumination. Sam was alone, which he was incredibly grateful for, but it was also six in the morning and his legs ached because he’d barely slept more than a couple of hours.

Sweat stuck his shirt to his back and dripped from his fringe into his eyes. He kept going, faster and faster and faster until--

“Sam. Hi.”

There was no separate room to stretch in at this hotel, just an area by the corner where the mats were stacked.

Lisa was going to do her morning yoga there.

Sam slowed the treadmill to a pace that enabled human speech, and mustered up a polite smile and a ‘good morning’ while he walked. He noticed her notice his shining skin, what was sure to be his red face, his sweaty bangs and his soaked-through shirt.

“How long have you been up here?”

Over an hour. “Few minutes.”

“Oh.”

She hesitated for a moment before nodding to herself and walking away.

At some level, Lisa had picked up on his reticence to bond with her and responded in kind. She didn’t avoid him, exactly, but the PDA between her and Dean was kept well hidden unless it was for a camera. Sam was always left with the impression that he and Lisa were being overly polite to each other while keeping their unease (or in his case, unhealthy longing) under wraps.

They worked out in silence for another good half hour. No one else seemed to want to use the gym before 7am on a Saturday, shockingly. No one else, that was, until the door opened and Dean strolled in blearily rubbing his face. He was wearing sweats and a muscle shirt, an outfit that was so uncharacteristic of him that it made him look naked.

“Morning, sleepyhead!” Lisa smiled and disentangled herself from a graceful pigeon pose to flit over to him.

Dean paused about midway into the room when he caught sight of Sam.

Sam hunched his shoulders defensively, but didn’t stop the treadmill. “I couldn’t sleep,” he said, thinking to get ahead of Dean’s questioning his life choices.

But Dean just kept looking up at him, blinking slowly. By then, Lisa was standing in front of him and he took her hand but he didn’t greet her; didn’t even blink. Sam could feel the warm pressure of his brother’s eyes on his shoulders, then sliding down to his chest, waist, hips, thighs, calves and back up again. He felt judged, evaluated somehow, like he was on display.

“Jesus Christ, Sam,” Dean said finally. He sounded hoarse, like he had a bad cold. Sam kept walking, unsure whether that warranted a reply. “Did you secretly go to body-building school instead of pre-law?”

Lisa was looking at him too. “He’s like a racehorse,” she said, not quietly enough that Sam couldn’t hear.

Dean swore. Sam, again, said nothing. He didn’t understand what was happening, but he wished he was running on solid ground so that he could get away from the scene.

Lisa moved further into Dean’s space and leaned in to whisper something in his ear. Whatever she said made Dean visibly shudder and grab her arm, as though for purchase or even balance.

“Lisa n’ I are gonna go over some media strategy,” he grunted, and suddenly he was dragging her towards the door and gruffly snapping something over his shoulder about meeting up in the car.

Sam was left alone and floundering in confusion, panting hugely and inexplicably turned on.

He upped the speed back to a sprint again, and didn’t stop until he got an actual phone call from Charlie asking where he was, because everyone else was waiting for their cars at the hotel pickup area and how had he not gotten the text alerts.

*

Another person was found dead in their car; throat slashed, blood everywhere.

A farmer reported her entire herd dying overnight.

The weather was wildly swinging between summer-like heat and winter-like chills.

... To be fair, that last one might just be due to climate change.

*

Three hours into a nine-hour drive from Chicago to Minnesota, Reggie’s pale arm stuck out of the driver’s side of the truck’s door and signalled for them to slow down in a random road in the middle of nowhere. Sam checked his phone as the group chat (titled ‘Brian for President (heart emoji)’ since Detroit, a ten-day record) lit up with questions from Jake, Jo, Charlie and Kevin about why they were stopping.

“The hell?” Dean slowed the Impala and put her into park.

Their entire convoy was smack in the middle of the empty road.

“Reggie. What’s going on?”

Sam got out of the car as well but Reggie’s arms were raised innocently, and his answer was just to point behind Dean at Pamela, who was walking towards them.

“I texted him to stop. There’s been a change of plans.”

“What happened?” Dean sounded grim, and Sam, too, was expecting something deadly or dramatic to have suddenly altered their journey (minor schedule changes would have gone over the group chat, this had to be something big), but Pamela smiled broadly at them.

“It’s good news, Dean. Isaac just got confirmation that the Banes have accepted the Governor of Ohio‘s invitation to attend a benefit for families of supernatural victims.”

Dean blinked. “They... so we’re meeting them there?”

“Yes. It’s the perfect opportunity to dress up, get a bunch of flattering pictures taken, talk the Governor into giving the Agency more money and actually have a conversation with the twins. Also, it’s a good cause and the Agency is all for those, as you know.”

Sam felt his shitty mood lift a little at the prospect of seeing Max and Alicia Banes in real life.

“Okay. Alright, so we’re driving to Ohio.” Dean checked his watch. “We’ve got--what, five hours to get there? What time is this thing?”

“The benefit is tomorrow, so there’s plenty of time to get there, rest up tonight, buy Sammy a proper tux...”

It was always weird to hear that nickname coming from someone else’s lips other than Dean’s, but the sudden anger on Dean’s face suggested Pamela had just spat on their family grave or something.

She smirked and was about to say something else when her phone beeped an alert at her and she had to check it.

“My mom will be there, too,” Jo volunteered into the briefly tense silence. She was leaning against the hood of the small car Charlie drove.

“Will I have to give a speech?” Dean grit out, ignoring her.

“No speech,” Pamela confirmed, still tapping out her reply.

“The Banes are those young Canadian witches, right?” Walt asked. “They look pretty but they don’t look like hunters, if you ask me.”

“That’s why nobody asked you, Walt,” Tamara shot back.

“Mate, I talked to Alicia’s spokesperson and they don’t care about the photo op either,” Isaac said. “I think they’re the real thing. This’ll be good, for the Agency and for us.”

Walt rolled his eyes. “Whatever.”

“Are we staying at Columbus for two or three nights?” Kevin asked, also on his phone and furiously tapping away.

“Two,” Pamela told him.

“Okay.” A second later, he was calling someone and walking to the side of the road to discuss hotel reservations and rooms.

The group as a whole dispersed into their respective cars soon after, but Sam watched Walt and Reggie get on the truck with all the hunting supplies with less confidence than he’d had previously.

*

Given that tomorrow’s event was going to be another crowd scene, Sam didn’t think it was unreasonable to ask his brother about the death threats while they unpacked their bags for the night.

When Dean responded with his usual spiel about not getting any new threats and still refused to answer questions about the old ones, Sam snapped.

“Are you seriously saying you’ll stake your life on my presence being a deterrent for this?”

“Yes! How many times will you harp at me about it, dammit?”

“Are you... did you even get any death threats, Dean?”

Dean’s eyes flashed with worry for a second before anger took over. It was only one second, but it was enough, and he couldn’t have done anything to cover it up. In that moment Sam’s suspicions were confirmed.

Dean had lied to him to get him to go with him.

He should have known.

“Sam...”

He stormed out of their room before Dean could explain, and he ignored his brother’s faux-indignant yelling even though he could still hear it after he slammed the door behind him. Anger churned like a boiling mass in his gut, but he tried to school his breathing and walked over to the place where he might get some answers.

“Hello Sam.” Pamela’s eyebrows rose with interest when he knocked on the door to the suite she was sharing with Tamara. “We didn’t expect visitors at this hour.”

Her outfit corroborated that statement, since she was in an XXL Metallica shirt Sam suspected must belong to a huge, male ex, and the fabric reached her thighs but a whole lot of bare leg was available for viewing.

“Uh, sorry, do you want me to wait for you to change--”

She snorted. “Nah, it’s fine. Tamara isn’t here, actually. Come in, come in.”

He did, hands in his pockets and shoulders hunched. But he was determined to have this conversation with her.

“What can I do for you, Sam?”

“It’s about Dean.”

Her blue, blue eyes flashed. “Mhm-m.”

“I wanted to ask...” he cleared his throat. “I was wondering, and I don’t know enough about how your Sight works so please forgive me if I’m way over the line, but... but I was hoping you could Look to see whether Dean is in danger.”

Pamela didn’t seem to be offended by the request, as Sam had feared. But she didn’t immediately agree to do so, either.

“You worried about him, Sam?”

He nodded.

“Any particular reason you’re worried about him, or this this just a general, loving, brotherly concern we’re talking about?”

“Not... I mean, just in general. He’s so famous, that must mean he’s getting negative attention too, right?”

“He’s got you protecting him now.”

“I...” she wasn’t wrong. “Well, yes, but I’m just one person. And I’d... I’d like to know if I need to... prepare for something in particular. Or... I mean...”

She took his hand in both of hers and steered him to sit on one of the beds. He let himself be guided because he was too surprised by the gesture to protest.

“Sam.” Pamela sat next to him, shirt riding up her thighs. She seemed unconcerned about it. “After you joined us, I took a quick peek in your direction. Both of your directions, which turned out to be the same.”

Her voice was soft, and if Sam had detected even a hint of pity in it he would have leapt to his feet and fled. As it was, he was frozen in place.

If she knew about his nightmares... or worse, if she’d Seen the way he felt about Dean...

“It was like following a single road, Looking for you two, and it was all so tied together that I didn’t See Dean being in any more danger than you,” she continued, words carefully chosen. “I didn’t See him dying anytime soon, if that’s what you want to know. And I Saw you by his side the whole time.”

She hadn’t let go of his hand.

“I Saw...” her fingers squeezed a little. “I Saw some stuff in you that tasted weary. A... a sadness, and conflict. A struggle within yourself.”

Sam’s muscles spasmed. She wasn’t talking about the nightmares.

“I Saw some stuff in you that felt... resigned.” There was no judgement in her eyes. “Felt... unrequited. But it was pure--”

Sam wrenched away and staggered to the door, clicking it shut behind him without another word and running back to his room like the goddamn coward that he was.

“Where did you go?” Dean demanded, but Sam just stripped and threw himself into his bed.

Minutes later, he got a text from her that just said ‘id never tell’ but he couldn’t bring himself to reply.

He wished she’d been talking about the visions.

*

The benefit was being held at the Orton geological Museum in Columbus, Ohio.

The whole team was attending as part of Dean’s escort, but of course Lisa had the position of honor as his long-standing girlfriend.

Once the hotel limousine dropped them off at the entrance, Sam held off the reporters outside yelling questions about Dean and Lisa’s engagement rumours and asking him to confirm or deny them with a zeal he would never understand. A photographer who tried to get too close did end up falling on his ass at the bottom of the steps due to a collision with Sam’s elbow, but Sam felt slightly less guilty than he might have previously.

He felt Dean’s eyes on him when it happened, but ignored it.

Inside was a no-press event, but the place was absolutely crowded with people who were either very famous or very rich; most often both. Local politicians, state senators, the Mayor of Columbus and other prominent public figures were there as well, and aside from the Banes twins, the guest list boasted a few local hunting celebrities and a couple of acting celebrities who had ties to the supernatural in some way or another.

Amidst all those names and titles, however, Dean was, in his own words, the indisputable Belle of the ball.

Sam was almost (but still only ‘almost’) getting used to dealing with Dean’s fame first-hand, but in this context the unreality of it was heightened, and it took him back to the feeling of his first night at the Hilton; it was a sense of overwhelming, obscene wealth in unnecessary display. The filthy rich asked Dean for selfies, the locally famous waited patiently to talk to him for less than a minute, and over and over and over again the impeccably dressed guests thanked him for his and his father’s service to the country and to the world.

The vast hall where the Governor’s people had set up the event was the circular area right off of the lobby that lead to different museum sections. Lit by dark blue hues and decorated with elegant silver streamers, the effect it created was rather discordant with the homey, historical setting and the old building. Nevertheless, a band was playing Jazz on a small stage about a foot off the ground and the background chatter was just loud enough to be overheard.

Sam wasn’t technically a guest, of course; he made up the entirety of Dean’s security detail, and much as it had been before, his position involved him keeping close tabs on Dean and Lisa, who received most of the attention. He’d done a sweep of the place that morning, so he knew its entrances and exits, and he was in contact with the local security team thanks to a quick conversation with the event organizer, but since last night (and thanks to Pamela) he now knew Dean wasn’t in any real goddamn danger.

He’d managed to avoid both the psychic and his brother all day, but after they’d arrived at the venue Dean had kept throwing long, lingering glances at him when he thought Sam wasn’t looking.

Sam wasn’t looking. He was still furious.

“What can you tell me about him?” one bejeweled woman asked, without even introducing herself or trying to start up a conversation first.

“Hey, hey, are you the brother? Can you ask him for a picture for me? My little girl has the biggest crush on him...” The guy wanted him to walk his daughter over there even though Sam was standing across the room from Dean and Lisa.

“Can you ask Lisa for a selfie?”

“Is he really like he seems in interviews?”

“What was it like, growing up with him?”

A man gripped both of his hands. “Mr Winchester, please tell him he’s a hero to us all--” he began gravely, but Sam was distracted by stupid Dean stupidly staring at him again. Dean was staring at him so hard that he was clearly, rudely ignoring the woman who was speaking to him.

The next person who came up to Sam was intercepted by Pamela in a slinky black dress.

“Sorry hun, I need him for a moment.”

Sam raised his eyebrows. “What.”

“‘What’?” She echoed. Then she turned around and looked at Dean, who in that moment looked away from them. “The lovelorn stares are killing me, kiddo, they really are. In about five minutes people are gonna start to notice that Captain America can’t take his goddamn eyes off of his kid brother, okay? Go over to him and fix whatever-the-fuck is going on with you two. This shit is about to get embarrassing.”

Sam clenched his hands into fists. “He’s the one doing it.”

“I’m sorry, and you think he’ll listen to me?”

“It’s not my--”

“It so is your problem, hot stuff.” Her eyes flickered over his torso, seemingly in spite of herself. “Damn you look good. Anyway, I know you hate being noticed and I know you’re basically a shy little wallflower at heart but unless you want some sort of scene to take place here you’re going to go over there and continue to loom prettily near him.”

He fought her for a little longer, but ended up caving when faced with the possibility of exposure. Pam had too much power over him now, and he never wanted to see the look he’d seen last night in her eyes again.

About twenty minutes into hovering ominously right behind Dean and Lisa during the tortuous ‘mingling’ portion of the event, he heard a voice he recognised.

“Hey Sam.”

Sam’s spirits soared when he saw the woman in front of him.

“Ellen! It’s so good to see you.” He smiled, pained but honest, and motioned for the next guest in line to approach Dean. “I’m technically on duty but I can talk, so...”

Jo’s mother was wearing a nice blouse and business pants, and her bright eyes and strong jawline were just as Sam remembered them. She looked beautiful but tired--something about her reminded Sam of his last impression of Bobby.

“That’s okay, kiddo.” She smiled back up at him. The low lighting made it look grim. “I hear you’ve been busy, these past couple of months.”

“Yeah, yeah, the whole team... we’ve been all over the place. I don’t think I realized how busy he is before I joined.”

She nodded. “Dean’s doing a good job for us.”

Agreeing felt like lying, so Sam said nothing. Dean was doing his best, but the ‘job’ the Hunting Agency had him doing was bullshit and Ellen was one of the people who knew it full well.

“Ellen!” Dean had apparently noticed Sam was a little distracted and he ignored the guests to steer himself and Lisa towards them, smiling at Ellen sincerely. “Good to see ya out in the field.”

She chuckled, sighing at the end. “This is what counts as the field nowadays, isn’t it.” Her gaze cast around the room, seeming to point out the absurdity of it all. “Anyway... much as I wish I could be on the road with you kids, I can’t keep the damn knuckleheads at the Agency honest if I’m spendin’ all my time outta the office.”

“Are you here to talk to the Governor about support for the Agency’s training programmes?” Lisa asked, eyes bright with curiosity.

Ellen nodded. “Not on paper, but yes. If you two wanna swing by and impress him, I’m sure it wouldn’t hurt...”

Dean promised they would as if Pamela wouldn’t murder him in his sleep if they didn’t, and Ellen moved on with a final smile at Sam and a pat of his bicep.

Pamela came up to them a few minutes later to introduce Dean to someone he apparently needed to meet--an old couple who must be on the list of potential donors they needed to invest in the Agency. Pamela’s unsubtle plan was to dazzle them into spending by using the Captain America persona, and Sam almost felt sorry for them--he idolized Dean and he’d grown up with him, so he couldn’t imagine what it must be like to meet him in the flesh for the first time dressed in a tux and looking like the result of a fantasy fever-dream.

“Is Captain America’s security guard allowed a drink at a party?” a voice to his left said.

Sam had been hit on by people trying to get to Dean throughout the night, but when he turned with a pained smile on his face he suddenly realized this wasn’t that.

Max Banes was standing next to him with two glasses of something sparkling.

“Oh, God,” Sam said, wiping his hands on his suit jacket. “Uh, hi. Mr Banes. It’s... it’s an honor--I mean, give me one second and I’ll introduce you to Dean if--”

“Whoa, whoa, where’s the rush?” Max’s brilliant green eyes were wide with amusement. He was wearing a pale grey tux with a black bowtie, and he was so beautiful in real life that it hurt Sam’s brain a little. “I’m pretty sure we’re around the same age, so you should call me Max, first of all. You’re Sam, right? Sam Winchester?”

Sam nodded.

“You’re even bigger in person,” Max said, gaze taking in the breadth of Sam’s shoulders. Sam did indeed feel big towering over him, but not unpleasantly so. “I’ve been dying to meet you since you two did that Wendigo-hunting stint at Fort Meade. That was fucking awesome, and...” his smile turned a little rueful. “Seeing you in cammo was a nice bonus.”

Sam’s reply died in his throat. Max Banes couldn’t seriously be flirting with him. He knew the witch was gay, Max was very open about the topic, but there was no way he was hitting on Sam.

“Seriously though. Is it okay for us to chat or are you on duty?”

“I... it’s fine. I actually--I’ve followed you and Alicia for a while and I just wanted to say, you guys do some great work in--”

“Hey, hey, what’s going on here?”

Suddenly and abruptly Dean was inserting himself bodily between them, and the spotlight Sam had tried to keep to the periphery of all night expanded to include Dean, Lisa, Sam and Max in an instant.

The four of them were given a bubble of space surrounded by expectant guests, who were watching the scene without shame. Sam froze like a deer in the headlights, and of course the music paused in that moment as the song ended, and silence reigned for a few crucial seconds before a different beat began.

“Dean Winchester,” Max said, smile wavering only for a second at Dean’s rude attitude and blatant interruption. The up-tempo bass picked up around them. “We finally meet! I’m Max. My sister’s around somewhere too, she--”

“Yeah, that’s great.” Dean’s own smile barely qualified as such; it didn’t reach his eyes and looked more like a hostile grimace. “What’cha asking my brother about, Max?”

Max blinked. Sam prayed Dean wasn’t about to give away how toxically hypermasculine the environment he’d grown up in had been, or make a shitty homophobic comment even if he didn’t mean it.

“Just... we were just chatting, man.”

Behind Lisa, a woman in a blue gown muttered something to her companion while looking at Dean, and the second woman nodded, wide-eyed.

“‘Just chatting’,” Dean echoed, nodding with that hostile rictus still on his face. “Okay. Looked to me like you were trying to get my bodyguard drunk, but...”

Max’s eyebrows rose with disbelief and Sam felt shame and embarrassment flush his face bright red.

“Dean, he wasn’t--”

“If your brother isn’t cool with me hitting on him I’d love to hear it from the man himself,” Max said. “If you don’t mind.”

Dean snorted and put a proprietary hand on Sam’s shoulder, fingers digging in, claw-like.

“I thought that might be what was happening,” he drawled, condescending. “I’m afraid it’s a double no from him in that case, sorry. He’s on duty, so he can’t, and he’s not interested, so he doesn’t want to.”

He got through the entire, unbelievable spiel without even glancing at Sam for confirmation.

“C’mon Sammy, let’s go take care of that thing you wanted to talk to me about.”

“No, it’s okay,” Sam said, standing his ground. Dean was strong, but if Sam didn’t want to be moved then his brother was sure as hell going to have a tough time moving him. “Max and I were having a conversation.”

Max smiled gently and there was a noise like a sigh from Lisa, whose entire existence Dean seemed to have forgotten. Everyone was still staring at them.

“What?” Dean finally looked at Sam with his brow furrowed in confusion. “Sammy, you don’t--”

“Just drop it,” Sam muttered.

“Drop what? I’m just telling Max how things are with you--”

“And I’m telling you to drop it, okay?”

Dean definitely didn’t look like he was going to drop anything; every refusal from Sam seemed to make him more agitated and bewildered. “What the Hell are you saying?”

“Dean, please just--”

“Hey, guys!”

The crowd parted to let Alicia Banes through and she did so in quick long strides, eyes scanning the situation carefully before walking up to her brother and putting a supportive hand on his shoulder. She was mirroring Dean’s gesture, but in a way that was undeniably different.

“Everything okay over here?” Alicia asked.

Max was looking from Sam to Dean with an uncertain smile still on his face. “We’re good. I think... you guys should talk it out, if there’s something... I’ll be here,” he added to Sam.

Sam opened his mouth to reply but suddenly Dean was telling Max: “Thanks, pal,” and leading Sam away like something was on fire.

Midway across the room Sam tried to wrench his arm free of Dean’s grip only to have Dean’s hand settle on his back to keep pushing him forward. Something about their decisive movement didn’t seem to encourage people to come up to them, and those they passed watched them go without a word.

In the distance, Sam heard Pamela calling: “Dean! Where are you going?” and then; “Oh for the love of--follow them please?”

The sound of clicking heels preceded Lisa’s pained: “Where are you taking him?” by just a few seconds.

“I just want to find some place quiet so we can talk,” Dean said gruffly, walking out of the main hall and turning down a seemingly random corridor.

“You can’t leave the benefit, Dean,” she murmured. “Think of the headlines tomorrow--”

“I’m not leaving the benefit, Lisa.” And it looked like he was telling the truth; instead of heading towards the exit they just advanced further into the dark bowels of the museum.

He finally stopped in front of a pair of large double-doors cut off by ‘Caution’ tape. The small plaque on it said it was the dinosaur exhibition.

“This’ll work,” Dean said, and got rid of the tape to let them into what turned out to be a large, low-ceilinged room with a T-Rex skull on display at the center. The only lights were those illuminating the displays, casting multiple confusing shadows.

“I don’t know what this is about, Dean...” Sam said warningly, feeling hurt and humiliated all at once. “...but we were just talking.”

“No way you didn’t notice how he was looking at you, kiddo,” Dean countered. He held the door open for Lisa and then pulled it shut. “No way. Even you’re not that naive.”

“So because he’s gay, he had to be hitting on me?”

Dean snorted. “No, Sam, because he’s got eyes.”

“...You’re an idiot.”

“I just saved your tight ass! Where’s my ‘thank you, big brother’?”

Lisa made a small noise of desperation. “Dean, is this really the best time to have this conversation...?”

“Sure it is.”

“I’m not thanking you for acting like a homophobe,” Sam said.

“Seriously guys, why don’t we do this after--”

“No, we’re doing this now.” Dean pointed an accusing finger at Sam like he was ratting him out in class or something. “He was looking at you like you were water in the desert, and I know you’re mad at me but leading him on just to piss me off is a new low.”

You’ve been lying to me, Sam thought. You lied to get me away from Stanford, and you lied to keep me away. Let’s talk about new lows, shall we? But he didn’t say it, because he didn’t want Lisa there for that particular fight.

“Me having a conversation with Max had nothing to do with you, Dean.”

Dean looked hurt, but that quickly morphed into more anger. “There’s no way you missed him coming on to you,” he repeated.

In Dean’s defense, he was missing the slightly crucial piece of information about Sam welcoming advances from some guys, but that was still no excuse for his behavior.

“I don’t know what he wanted, but I was having a nice time talking to him. And anyway you could have asked me before—“

Lisa took an abortive step forward, heels clicking again. “Pamela still wants us to meet the Governor; can’t we do this back at the hotel...?”

“Sorry Lisa, one moment.” Sam felt guilty about it but not enough to stop. He turned back to Dean, wanting to make one last thing very clear. “If I’d been uncomfortable I would have taken care of it myself. You didn’t need to step in.”

“Yes, God forbid I try to help you--”

“I’m telling you that if I’d wanted him to stop I would have done something about it!”

“But you weren’t doing anything!”

Exactly!”

Dean did a comical, full-body double take. “I’m sorry, you tellin’ me you’re into dick now?”

“Dean!” Lisa interjected, clearly offended on Sam’s behalf.

“He’s not, Lisa,” Dean growled. “He would have told me.” He turned back to glare at Sam. “Right Sam? You’d have told me, right?”

Sam had both literally and figuratively gotten himself cornered there, but this wasn’t how he’d wanted to tell Dean about being pan. He didn’t even think Dean knew what the word ‘pansexual’ meant.

“Sam?” Dean prompted, when Sam didn’t immediately offer up an explanation.

The realization started dawning on Dean as seconds ticked by and Sam still didn’t say anything, and he took a step forward that caused Sam to back away until his butt hit the case of a fossilized tooth display.

“Sam?” Dean asked, not moving any closer but still somehow pinning him against the glass. “Did you... did you like him?”

The question his eyes were asking didn’t seem to be the same one his mouth was. He was practically vibrating with tension, breathing so harshly, so disproportionately reactive to what the argument was about.

“Sammy?”

Sam’s neck twinged, even here, because the urge to ram Dean up against one of these cabinets and shut him up was boiling under his skin.

He was trying to figure out how to deflect or defer an answer when Lisa’s voice cut in once more.

“Dean,” she said thickly. What was in her tone made both Winchesters turn to look at her, and pay attention this time.

She was crying.

“We need to break up. Publically.”

Sam’s heart jumped to his throat.

Dean just stared at her, blinking slowly as though waking from a dream. “...Huh?”

“I’m going to release a statement saying we’re over.” She took a huge gulping breath, like it had cost her to say but now she was relieved to have gotten in out. “First thing tomorrow. I’m going to go back to the hotel for the night, and you two can... can do whatever you want.”

“I... but why?” Dean said.

It was the wrong thing to ask. Sam could have told him that.

...Why?” Lisa echoed, breathless. The tear-tracks down her cheeks were grey; her mascara wasn’t waterproof. “My job is to be your girlfriend. I’m... basically an accessory to you. Like a handbag.” She wiped her cheeks. “And I do it gladly. What you are... my God Dean, what you’ve done for this world...? I did it gladly. You never pretended to love me and I thought we had an--an understanding, but the way you treat me is not...” she shook her head, and Sam felt a surge of profound sympathy. “It’s not fair. I don’t deserve it, and this twisted, tangled-up thing you’ve got with--”

No,” Dean wheezed, suddenly all action as he jerked away from Sam to stumble towards her, chest heaving, arms extended in a desperate attempt to appease. “Please. Lisa please, don’t.”

She glanced at Sam with shining eyes and seemed, for a suspended moment, about to say something earth-shattering.

But then she just shook her head again.

“You may have saved the world, but I can’t believe it took me this long to realize that you’re a fucking asshole, Dean Winchester.”

The oak wood door made a thunderous noise when it slammed shut behind her.

“Dean...” Sam wasn’t sure where he was emotionally anymore, but he knew what he had to say. “I’m sorry.”

Dean turned to look at him, and for a fraction of a second Sam thought he looked relieved--but then it was gone, and Dean just looked uncomplicatedly angry again.

“Now will you tell me?” he demanded.

Like his girlfriend of two years hadn’t just broken up with him in front of his brother.

“... Are you kidding?” Sam almost started laughing at the absurdity of it. “Dean. Did you process what just happened?”

“Yeah, yeah, it’s been a long time coming, honestly,” Dean said impatiently. “I--you said--I don’t understand, you wanted Max Banes to hit on you...?”

Sam couldn’t believe he was the one holding onto the shock of Lisa’s sudden statement.

“Dean,” he tried again, slow and measured. “Your girlfriend, Lisa Braden, just left you.”

“Yeah, I was there, Sam,” Dean said. He seemed genuinely unaffected. “Will you answer my question or no?”

“What is the matter with you?”

What?” Dean exploded. “You heard her! We were never really together. It was... she’s always known I wasn’t--What we had was all surface. She knew that. Called me out on it a month into the relationship, and we’ve had a mutually beneficial understanding ever since! She’s always known my heart wasn’t in it; we have fun sometimes but that’s it. She understood—or at least I thought she did.” He made a face. “Maybe I’m just too irresistible.”

Sam blanched at the cruel jibe; Lisa had turned out to be just like him in a way--someone who wanted Dean in ways they could never have him.

“You are such a dick,” he said with feeling. “You can’t treat people like that, Dean. You can’t sleep with a girl for two years and mock her for wanting to be treated with a minimum of respect. You can’t get mad just ‘cause of your shitty homophobic views when a perfectly nice guy who happens to be gay has a conversation with another dude.” And finally, the accusation he’d been wanting to make all day: “And you can’t lie to your brother about some make-believe death threats just because you felt a little lonely.”

Dean looked like he’d been slapped.

“I...”

“Am I wrong?” He threw open his arms in challenge, letting the anger that had been building up since last night come out. “How long did you think you could string me along without me noticing you’re full of shit?”

“Sammy...”

“Admit it,” Sam challenged. “Admit that you made it all up.” He was so furious he sounded like he was being strangled when he choked out: “You lied to me, didn’t you?”

Dean mouthed wordlessly for a moment before his shoulders dropped in defeat.

“...Yes. I was... I was never the one in danger.”

“Goddammit Dean!” He wanted to punch something; he wished they weren’t in a room full of glass cases and ancient bones. “How could you do this to me? How could you use me like that?” Unshed tears were making his eyes sting, but holding on to the anger was easier. “Is this what you call putting family first? Huh?”

“Sammy, please--”

“I left Jess for you! I didn’t graduate for you! I--”

And then it hit him.

I was never the one in danger.

“I...”

I was never the one in danger.

“...It was me?”

The anger vanished like it had been magicked away, impossible to cling to, and in its place left something hollow. He felt, abruptly, exhausted.

“Sam...”

“The threats were aimed at me?”

Dean’s face crumpled. “Sammy, I was gonna tell you...”

“When? How many?”

Dean let out a low sigh. He, too, looked to be on the verge of tears.

“Tell me. Now.”

“It was... it started a few months ago, with the demonic omens and the Goblet of Blood victims. The Agency is tracking them now but it took them a while to catch on.” Dean ran a hand through his short hair, tux jacket flaring open. “It was a few random hunters who saw the pattern first; they were the ones who figured out Hellsgate wasn’t the end like we thought. One of them... one of the hunters who knew was unlicensed at the time.”

Sam swallowed. “What’s... what’s that got to do with--”

“That hunter... he found a Goblet of Blood victim before they died. They were going on about some special allies to the demonic return... and he got them to talk for a second. Got them to spit out a name.”
A chill went down Sam’s spine.

“It was your name.” Dean looked anguished. “The half-dead sucker told them your name, Sammy.” He sounded broken.

“Who...?”

“Gordon Walker. He called me up asking all sorts of questions... was mighty curious about why the demons would be interested in you as an ally.”

Oh God. Oh God.

Sam slumped against the cabinet at his back, glass creaking but holding his weight. Dean stepped to him.

“Gordon didn’t come out and say it, but I got the sense he wanted to come ask you those questions in person,” he went on. “He’s a smart guy, but he’s not very forgiving. I still don’t know who he shared the intel with, but some hunter nutcases started sending me letters--they thought you were in league with Hell, they were going to ‘make you talk’.”

“Did you--”

“I burned them. Burned all the letters as soon as I got them. I couldn’t risk... Sammy, I couldn’t risk you gettin’ hurt. If I’d told you from the start, you woulda... I figured you’d be easier to convince if you just... if you thought it was me, you’d put up less of a fight... and if you were in the team you’d be more visible. Closer to home and harder to harm.”

Sam was momentarily speechless.

“... It worked,” Dean offered pathetically. “I know it was wrong but it worked, Sammy; they haven’t sent me anything else since.”

“And you didn’t...” Sam cleared his throat, unable to meet Dean’s fervent gaze. “You didn’t wonder why, yourself?”

Dean didn’t answer for a very long time.

“It doesn’t matter,” he murmured finally.

Sam’s head snapped up. “What?”

“Doesn’t matter, Sam. I figured it might have to do with your visions.” His eyes were clear of accusation in the low light. “I don’t care. I won’t let anybody get you.”

It was a promise, solid as rock and sincere in the way only Dean could make it. He meant every word, that much was clear. And when he was like this, all heroic glow and fervent delivery, he sounded so goddamn believable.

“I could be dangerous, Dean. How do you know--”

“I know.” Dean’s mouth curved up in a lopsided smile. “C’mon man, you kidding me? I know. You’d never hurt a goddamn fly, Sammy.”

“Something about me is--”

“Something about you has scary good intuition. That, and migraines. I mean, as far as powers go, the power of perma-hangovers and sometimes being right about what’s gonna happen sounds kinda shitty to me.”

Sam huffed out the ghost of a laugh.

“I mean it though. Nobody’s touchin’ my baby brother.”

“How do you expect to pull that off?”

“I just will.”

“...Not even if I want Max Banes to touch me?”

The sudden tonal change and feeble attempt at humor had Dean’s jaw dropping.

“So...” Dean’s voice shook. “So you really are into guys?”

“...Yeah.”

Even for Dean, his reaction to the fact seemed disproportionate. He didn’t say anything else at first, just kind of blinked dumbly as though he was having some sort of inner epiphany Sam wasn’t privy to. Then, at long last, he seemed to come back to the room, but his gaze dropped from Sam’s eyes down to take in his body from head to toe, as though seeing him again for the first time. Twin spots of color appeared high on his cheeks.

It was another minute before he managed actual words.

“I see.” He loosened his tie and coughed, air whooshing in and out of his throat. “Okay. Okay. I... obviously I’m okay with it.”

“Obviously.”

“No really, Sammy. All of it. You... likin’ Max...” he was clearly making a huge attempt to sound nonchalant. “I mean, he’s almost too pretty, in my opinion... but that’s your... Anyway, I’m sorry if you thought--I’m sorry that I came across as not being cool with this. You and guys, I mean. That’s not what I wanted to, uh, come across. As.”

Sam felt himself let go of that particular grievance the more stuttery and incoherent Dean got. He was disappointed in him, not surprised. The hurt would pass, and Dean would get better at hiding his blatant anxiety over the fact.

But when it came to the lies that had started this whole life-changing mess, forgiving was not forgetting.

“...I mean hell, sometimes I think about Jason Momoa holding me down and it’s--”

“You shouldn’t have lied to me, Dean.”

Dean snapped out of it, features hardening back into gravity.

“I know,” he replied immediately. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, Sammy, I... I panicked, and the thought of... I couldn’t live with myself if another hunter got to you. I know I fucked up. I know I shoulda told you the truth from the start, but they really did stop sending the letters once you joined me. I haven’t heard from them in months.”

“You should have still told me.” Dean nodded. “And I guess I should have told you about me, too. But... it’s not the same. You get that, right?”

“Yeah, Sam. Yeah, I get it.”

“And you shouldn’t have been so mean to Lisa. That was really cruel, what you said.”

Dean kept nodding. “I know. I... it’s complicated. But I’ve always known she deserved better.”

“Oh that’s for sure.”

“...Yeah.”

A pause.

“Does anyone else know about the Goblet of Blood? In the team, I mean?”

“Jo. I wanted a second pair of eyes, y’know, some backup in case some bastard with a deathwish paid us a surprise visit with less than friendly intentions. Gordon wouldn’t, I don’t think, but one of his fanboys might.”

Oh. That made sense.

“And Bobby knows, too. I told him right before coming to get you.”

Oh. Bobby’s last conversation with him made even more sense, now.

“I have no idea what Pamela knows, to be honest.” Dean chewed on his lower lip for a moment, a strange apprehension suddenly entering his voice. “But she’s not... She’s got some strange notions about...” He shook his head. “Best not ask her about us at all.”

“Yeah. Okay.”

He’d gotten more answers than he’d wanted, anyway.

They walked out of the room slowly, hesitantly. Sam would have stayed in the shadows, letting Dean geek out about the fossilized weapons for hours.

The party was still going full swing, and as they drew closer to the music and the chatter Dean’s steps started to drag, falter, until he finally came to a stop a few feet down the corridor that led back into the fray.

They had an unimpeded view of the milling crowd, the sparkling jewels and sparkling drinks, the sultry lights. Sam thought he saw Max for a moment before Dean gripped his arm.

“C’mere a moment,” Dean said, backing into the shadows behind a pillar and dragging Sam to join him. Sam let himself be dragged but stepped back, lest someone caught them and misinterpreted.

“What?”

Dean looked around them to make sure they were alone. There was a childish aura of mischief about him, and Sam flashed back to his early teens, doing stupid shit because that mischief was contagious and his religious devotion to his brother had never been careful.

“Why don’t we get outta here?” Dean whispered.

“What?” Sam did a double take. “The Banes--”

“Will be at another event like this soon enough. C’mon, man. When was the last time we just... hung out without all this crap in the background?” He reached out to grip Sam’s bicep again, almost as if he couldn’t help himself. “Just us, huh? For real this time. One night in our room watchin’ shitty TV like old times. Just us.”

Sam couldn’t think of anything he’d ever wanted more. “...You sure? What about the Governor?”

“Screw him.” Dean grinned. “Gotta earn that forgiveness, Sammy; I’m gonna get your ass drunk.”

“Pam’s gonna flay you alive.”

“I know.” He looked so happy it was almost manic. “Let’s go.”

Sam ended up directing them to the Botany wing, which had an emergency exit that was almost opposite the front steps and therefore much less likely to be stalked by paparazzi.

There was a guard at that entrance, but Dean charmed him with so much efficiency that Sam found room in his heart to pity the poor guy. He looked utterly starry eyed as he opened the door for them and, when Dean unthinkingly clapped him on the shoulder, he actually spasmed in delight.

“He’s never gonna wash that shirt again, Captain.”

“Fuck you.”

They ran across the entire enclosure to get to the exit, leaving a trail of ‘Caution’ tape in their wake and blissfully unaware of just how complicated things were about to become.

Chapter Text

Sam woke to a rapid, repeated thumping sound that felt like it was going straight to his temples.

“Oh God...” someone murmured in his ear, but he couldn’t see them because he hadn’t opened his eyes (and wasn’t yet willing to). All he knew was that there was a weight on his right shoulder, and his entire right side was unreasonably hot.

A warm pressure came down on his inner thigh.

He hurt everywhere, especially his neck, and gravity felt like it was swirling around him, but the pressure felt good. It was almost where he wanted it to be, and he was already anticipating the relief he would feel when it was applied to the ache between his legs. He tried to focus on that anticipation and ignore consciousness altogether--he would just keep his eyes closed and direct the touch to his--

“Sam?” Dean’s voice sounded like a croak.

Sam opened his eyes, discovering immediately that the pressure on his thigh was the palm of Dean’s hand, which Dean was bracing himself with to try and lift into an upright position. Specifically, to try to lift up from snuggling into Sam’s right side.

“Sammy...?”

Oh right. They’d gotten drunk.

They’d gotten really freaking drunk last night.

“Open up, assholes!” The banging noise was coming from the door to their room, and it was getting louder.

Now that Sam could see, he could orient himself in relation to the world: he’d clearly fallen asleep sitting on the floor with his back propped up against the couch and his legs under the coffee table, and Dean had apparently sat next to him and tipped into his side during the night (a night which consisted of less than four hours of sleep).

“Win--” thump “-ches-” thump “-ters!” thump “Open the goddamn door!”

“I can’t...” Dean whimpered hoarsely, burying his face in Sam’s neck. “I can’t do this right now.”

His palm was still on Sam’s thigh, but he had clearly given up on moving. His breath was hot like steam on Sam’s collar and it stank horrendously, but it felt unfairly good, and so did the sandpaper-scratch of his stubble on Sam’s neck.

“It’s Pam,” Sam whispered, possibly unnecessarily. He tried to shift his hips a little but all it did was slide Dean’s hand further up his inseam, practically on his crotch. Dean’s thumb was a hair’s breadth away from touching his dick, and his dick had noticed.

Dean was going to notice it right back in the next few seconds.

“Dean, we... uh, we should...”

Too late. Dean’s owlish blinking had turned quizzical and he looked down at what he was doing.

Sam closed his eyes again out of sheer mortification, knowing his interest would be very visible.

“Jesus Christ,” Dean murmured hoarsely. “Is that a python in your pocket or are you just--?”

A sudden, unexpectedly deliberate poke at his dick had Sam’s foot shooting up in a reactive lurch, and his knee collided painfully with the coffee table.

The vase near the edge of the table tipped over and crashed to the floor, shattering loudly and utterly, and then Sam was scrambling upright and fleeing the scene of his crime.

He staggered to the bathroom and bent over the sink, bracing himself with his left forearm while he undid his fly.

“Sam...” Dean slurred after him. “S-Sam...”

Sam kicked the door shut and shoved his hand into his boxers, barely getting a hold of his cock before he came, whimpering pathetically into his wrist, biting down on the flesh.

About twenty minutes later Dean had let Pamela inside and Sam was feeling marginally better after throwing up everything in his stomach, brushing his teeth, and showering--which was not to say he was feeling at all proud of himself.

“All this time, I thought; goddamn, Sam is a fucking godsend,” Pamela was ranting. They were both sitting side by side on the couch like the kids that got sent to the principal’s office (only the kids were still drunk). “Dean started acting like an actual human being and things were going better than they ever had, and so what if you two act like you’re in your own little dramedy sometimes? I thought: the team can take it. God knows we had our share of angst before with alcoholic Mr Piny McBrooderson over here.”

She stepped on one of the broken pieces of glass and just crunched it under her boot, kept walking.

“And then last night happened. And I got a re-e-eally fun phone call this morning,” she went on. “Mr Turner had some choice things to say about my out-of-control star, guys. Specifically, he had some things to say about our next trip, because it turns out that we’re going to D.C to visit Agency HQ and get a totally unnecessary dressing down thanks to yesterday’s complete and utter fuckfest.”

“D.C?” Dean groaned. “Come on, Pam, why can’t Rufus just insult me over the phone like last time--”

“You left before the Governor’s speech!” Pamela cried. “You never even went over to thank him for the invite to his shindig! You caused a scene! You broke up with your yoga-instructor PR-goldmine of a girlfriend! And you were super fucking rude to Maxwell Banes! In public!” She looked like not punching Dean was taking every fiber of her self-control. “That’s a hat-fucking-trick of terrible choices, Winchester!”

“If you knew I was gonna--”

“I didn’t know! It’s not my fucking job to strain my abilities every fucking day to see whether you’ll fuck up. I’m not your fucking babysitter.”

Dean rubbed a tired hand over his face, letting out an annoyed breath. “Look, I’m sorry about last night, but the Lisa thing was way overdue and the Agency is just gonna have to deal with me being single, okay?” He looked up at Pamela with a raised eyebrow. “I really don’t see what the big deal--”

“They could send Sam away,” she snapped.

Dean went very, very still.

“...I don’t think so,” he said finally.

“You think that choice is up to you?”

“I think if the Agency ever wants me to move so much as a goddamn pinky for them again then yeah, that choice is totally mine.” Dean stood up and swayed a little, but stayed standing. He sounded well and truly pissed off. “And the Impala is mine, and my body is mine, and Sam is mine, so I can choose to walk out on this with all of them and leave the goddamn Agency hanging.”

Pamela didn’t react at all like she thought that was threatening.

“You keep telling yourself that, buddy. If you think they won’t use your weak spot now that they know what it is, think again.”

“Anybody touches Sam, I’mma rip their heads off.”

“Anybody but you, right?”

Dean didn’t respond to that. Sam couldn’t really see his face but his skin had gone suddenly pale, almost ill-looking. Maybe he needed to go throw up, too.

Pamela left them to get ready and slammed the door behind her.

*

The drive to Washington DC from Ohio was brutal even after the cup and a half of coffee Sam forced himself to drink. It was a little over six hours but Pamela had them keeping a breakneck pace, since Rufus had apparently made it very clear that he expected to see them in his office that same day.

Lisa had asked to talk to Dean during their rushed breakfast (‘Make it quick’ Pamela had muttered, but she let them go off alone) and five minutes later the pair had come back looking a little awkward but as amiable as one could have hoped, given what had happened. Lisa got into Pamela’s car as usual and there was no mention of her leaving the team, but Sam still felt guilty somehow, like it was all his fault.

“Oh come on--we’re not even stopping at the Fairmont?” Dean asked no one as Walt took a right at an intersection that looked like every other D.C intersection in Sam’s eyes.

“Want me to say something?” Sam murmured, scrolling down on his cell phone to the subtly named ‘Dean sucks (poop emoji)’ group chat.

“Nah. Let’s just get it over with, I guess.”

The Hunting Agency had a brand new building all to itself as of 2013; paid for in part by the government’s budget reallocation to combat the supernatural and in (a larger) part by private citizens like Bela Talbot, who were rich beyond quantifiable measure nowadays and had bought their share of power by striking at the right time.

The lobby had a tall, ostentatious ceiling that let sunlight in, and could have led to any office building in the world but for the pattern of sigils in black marble inlaid onto the floor.

It was crowded, too; people dressed like hunters, people dressed like office-workers, people carrying old books or big guns or both, people loaded with amulets and people in suits.

Dean’s presence didn’t elicit the usual hero-worship chain-reaction here; they had to stand in line with the many others waiting to pass the security screening. The guards at the desk performing the team’s check-in wordlessly pricked everyone’s arm with a sterile silver needle, dabbed their right hand with holy water, made them touch a copy of the Quran with their left palm and had a vermillion bindi drawn on their forehead then erased.

“Four unlicensed civilians?” the guard muttered, eyeing Pamela’s paperwork.

“Yup.”

He shrugged and let them through once everyone’s pupils had checked out through the security camera. An aide walked them to the main elevators and let them know they were expected in Conference Room C.

Charlie gulped. Sam made a questioning face at her and she murmured; “It’ll be the whole Board, not just Rufus.”

Dreading what on earth that meant, he had no choice but to follow when the aide lead the team into a well-lit corridor and then walked them over towards said Conference Room.

“Here we go,” Pamela muttered, right before the large double-doors with a carved pentagram opened.

When Sam had tried to picture the mysterious Agency ‘higher ups’ he’d had a nebulous vision in his mind of a dimly lit table with faceless people in black suits. This wasn’t quite that.

The room was set up in a semi-circle, and the members of the Board were sitting on one side of a large wooden desk painted with warding sigils from every culture Sam had ever seen, and many that he hadn’t.

He quickly recognized a few faces; Ellen was there, and so was Rufus. Bela Talbot’s face he knew from both business and fashion magazines, as well as television. Lenore Hastings, whose eloquent speeches on humanoid supernatural rights secretly gave Sam a kind of comfort about his own strange abilities, was sitting next to her. He also knew the face of Jody Mills, Hellsgate hunter, ex-cop and famously the current adoptive mother of a vegetarian vampire. Missouri Moseley, the most well-known psychic in the country and also renowned Hellsgate veteran, had babysat him and Dean when they were very young. There were a handful of others whom he didn’t recognize, including a couple of older white guys he didn’t know but whose aura was all D.C politician.

“I’d say welcome, but I really fuckin’ wish none of you were here right now,” Rufus said without preamble.

Sam had to stifle a laugh at his casual delivery.

“Afternoon, Rufus,” Pamela said, taking a seat. “‘Souri. Ellen.”

“Afternoon.”

“Afternoon, Pam.”

“Hello, everyone,” Lenore greeted. “And welcome to the Agency, Sam.”

Sam flushed.

“Sit down all of you, c’mon,” Rufus motioned impatiently. “We called you here to discuss the abduction of Dean Winchester’s rational thinking skills.”

“Sir--” Dean began, but Rufus cut him off.

“No. There will be no talking back. There will be no defending yourself.” He leaned forward on his elbows. “You didn’t toe the line; you stepped right over it. You know that in India hunters immediately partnered with the military. You know that Spain’s Hunting Division is run by their equivalent of the CIA. Do you want people questioning a bunch of assholes operatin’ outside of the current existing law? Huh? You want people to start questionin’ why we’re letting a buncha rednecks with no policy experience run things in America?”

“‘Course not--”

“You want people questioning the licensing process? ‘Cause I question it, Dean. I question it every day, but you tell me what happens when the general public starts thinking ‘hey, maybe I shouldn’t call the hunter hotline, I should just buy some rocksalt and kill that spirit myself!’”

“Of course I don’t want--”

“Then play your part,” the man spat. “People have died, Dean. White witches. Wiccans who weren’t hurtin’ nobody. Plain old humans who some rando decided had to be put down for not fitting in their arbitrary criteria. Do your goddamn job, smile and wave and educate some folk if you can, but never forget your goal in life right now is to make us look good.”

There was a long, pointed silence after his tirade. Then Rufus leaned back against his chair with a world-weary sigh.

“Pamela assured me that your three-day rogue trip to get your brother was the absolute last time we’d see this behaviour from you. I thought we’d been over this, but you acted like an immature brat last night. And we simply can’t afford fuck-ups. Not now.”

Dean’s jaw ticked with tension but he said nothing.

“As Rufus so eloquently put it--” one of the strangers said after another pause. “--we can’t have things going even slightly wrong these days. The Governor of Ohio rescinded his offer for funding. We’re short-staffed and overworked and these are dangerous times for supernaturals--”

“Yes, and if I may speak as a supernatural--” Lenore interrupted. “The concern here is that even the smallest indiscretion could lead to a tonal shift in public perception of the Agency. We know we ask a lot of you, Dean, but if people stop trusting us to lead the hunting business the chaos would be indescribable.”

“It won’t--” Pamela started.

“Pam.”

It was Missouri who interrupted this time, and in a gentle, soft tone too. But she was looking very serious, and she shook her head slowly at Pamela like they both knew something no one else was in on.

“No one can know everything. Especially not the future,” she said.

“I... I meant we’ve got things under control, ‘Souri,” Pamela said. “We’ll do another high profile event very soon, and the Banes agreed to set up a better photo op in a public place next month so we get good footage.”

Rufus shook his head. It was somehow worse to see him look tired than to see him angry. “That’s fine, kid, but that don’t change what happened. You all know we’re facing things worse than goddamn budget cuts.”

The tension in the room cranked up another ten notches.

“Mr Turner, if I could just remind you that the topic is classified--” someone started, but Rufus rolled his eyes.

“If we can’t trust Dean’s team we can’t trust nobody.” He laid a palm flat on the table. “Demons are creepin’ back into Earth.”

Mr Turner--” someone else protested.

“What? I don’t want the public finding out either, but these idiots need to be prepared. They need to be reminded of the stakes.”

“Is it getting worse?”

It was Jo who asked, and it was Ellen who answered.

“Yes, hun,” she said gravely. “It’s getting worse.”

“A sighting?” Dean asked.

“Not yet. But sulfuric traces were found near a corpse in--”

“Ellen I have to insist you stop it right there.” The man was unfamiliar to Sam. He turned to the group angrily. “We have awarded this group all the leeway possible. Enough is enough. We are pulling a portion of the team’s funding to readjust the budget, given the unexpected loss of revenue from Ohio.”

Nobody said anything; there were no groans or muttered complaints.

“You understand why that’s the case?”

Pamela exhaled slowly. “...Yeah.”

“We can’t devote resources we don’t have--”

“We understand what’s being proposed,” Pamela interrupted. “Thank you. I will figure out a way to make it work. This was our failure.”

“Indeed,” another man said. He was older, of Hispanic descent, and his anti-possession tattoo was on the back of his hand. He had a large scar down the side of his neck; it looked like a vampiric bite to Sam. “And I expect this nonsense about Dean and his girlfriend to be cleared up, too.”

“...How are you going to spin the breakup?” Bela Talbot asked. She was the only one who looked like she was enjoying herself immensely.

Ellen Harvelle’s eyebrows shot up. “Is that really relevant to this meeting?”

“We’re discussing Dean’s public image. If we can’t afford him to tarnish Captain America’s cookie-cutter vibe, surely that means he’s going to tell us how he plans to explain away all this drama.”

Lisa stood up from her seat, hands held in front of her. She spoke with perfect poise. “Dean and I have discussed it. We would both like to request not to be publicly together anymore.”

Before anybody else could comment on this, Missouri Moseley raised a silencing hand. “That’s all right, Miss Braden. Your request is granted, and we trust you and Pamela to work out the spin.”

“We do?” Bela said with a raised eyebrow.

“Yes, we do,” Missouri answered in her soft, musical voice. “Dean’s image will survive a breakup, I expect. It’s him being rude that is harder to spin as rebelliousness. Particularly from someone who is supposed to be a role model to young children,” she added sternly.

Sam felt even worse about what had happened, and angry that Dean was getting all the blame and the insults. Dean was the best goddamn thing the Agency had going for them, and he’d only clocked out for one freaking night. “Dean didn’t--”

“I think Sam will be an asset here,” Lisa interrupted him.

She was looking at the Board members but Sam noticed that she’d subtly extended a palm in his direction, a call for caution. He let her continue.

“He’s retained a lot of the enigma factor so far, but the things people know about him are that he’s educated, he’s tall, and he’s quiet. He’s seen as a protective figure, and he comes off as responsible. There’s been a lot of interest in him from the get go... we might consider upping his public profile. Sending them both to cover cases that are likelier to be hunts.”

Dean turned to look at him, panic in his eyes again, undoubtedly flashing back to Sam’s departure four years ago and the reasons Sam had cited behind it.

“Very well, Miss Braden. We’ll have you touch base with the PR department.”

“Thank you.” Lisa sat back down.

“Hey, Sam,” Rufus Turner motioned for him to stand up. “C’mon.”

Sam did as he was asked, clasping his hands behind his back to stop them fidgeting.

“I hear things about you.” Oh God, thought Sam. “Things about you being a good egg and stuff. Good things.”

Oh.

“You look stupid-good in pictures, and it makes us look good to have a big-ass hunk watching over our hero day and night. I think people like the optics of that or somethin’. The PR department is happy with you, is what I’m sayin’.”

“I... thanks?”

“I hear our boy Dean here has been a goddamn ray of sunshine since you came back, which is saying something. I thought we’d be dealing with the faulty Ken Doll model forever.”

A couple of seats down, Walt snorted and had to cover it up with a fake cough. Jake patted him on the back.

“But kid... if I hear Dean broke another commitment to go do God-knows-what with you in the middle of the night, you’d best believe I’mma place you two at opposite ends of the globe, y’hear me?” Sam flinched. “I can’t afford distractions, and if the demons are really planning to strike back--”

A loud scraping sound drowned out the rest of his words.

Dean had stood up from his chair as well, and the whole room went dead quiet. The tension was at a breaking point. Dean didn’t even say anything; he just glared at Rufus and defiantly waited for him to finish.

“...Let’s just say we’ll be watching you two, and let’s leave it at that.”

If Sam didn’t know better he would have sworn the corner of Rufus’ mouth twitched up with amusement for the briefest of moments.

They sent the team away except for Dean and Pamela, who were ordered to stay behind and endure some more humiliation, probably.

“But I need to stay with—“

“This is the safest building in the country, Mr Winchester,” one of the older hunters said. “You can rest assured your brother will not require a bodyguard while he's here.”

“We’ll take good care of him, Sam,” Missouri said, smiling softly.

He had no choice but to leave.

“I’m sorry, everyone,” Sam said sincerely once they were all back in the lobby. “This wasn’t Dean’s fault, it was me, I--”

“It’s okay, Sam,” Kevin replied, walking next to him. “It sucks that you guys left early, but you had nothing to do with the loss of funding, the Max Banes argument, the breakup... any of that stuff.”

*

He dropped his and Dean’s bags on the floor with a thump, and stumbled over to the nearest bed face-first. It had been a really, really long day.

If the PR department liked Lisa’s idea, there would be more attention. More people asking about his life. Who knew, maybe this would mean people were going to track down Jess after all and ask her about their relationship—

A knock at the door cut off his musings before he could build up to a proper panic attack.

It was Charlie.

“What’s up?”

Her hands were clasped together and there was a sheepish air about her. “I... need to talk to you about something.”

He stepped aside so she could walk in. “Yeah?”

“Sam, I did background on you when you joined the team. Obviously.” She set down her laptop bag on a chair but didn’t take the computer out. Sam wasn’t surprised--even if she wasn’t using it he barely saw her without it, it was practically an extension of her body. “I kept most of what I found to myself, since it wasn’t relevant to the group or to Dean’s image or, really... to Dean at all. But with you taking on a more active role in the public eye from now on, I would like to go over this with you for a sec.”

As his unease surged into anxiety, Sam hesitated.

“It’s not... it’s nothing bad, per se,” she added. “Um. Just... just questions about your facebook profile, your classmates and, um... Brady Larkin?”

Oh.

Great.

“What about Brady Larkin.” Of course he knew exactly what she was here to ask about Brady. He even knew which picture on Facebook she was specifically referencing. It had been idiotic to simply ‘untag’ himself and not insist that Zach take it down.

Charlie looked painfully sympathetic. “Sam. What about him,” she said gently.

Sam sighed and slumped down on the foot of the bed.

“You saw the picture?”

“...Yeah. Facial recognition software.” She smiled a little. “It’s cute that you thought untagging yourself would help, though.”

It was a dark picture taken by his friends at a bar, and he was barely in it--but of course there was enough of him that Charlie had found him so that wasn’t entirely true. He and Brady were making out in the far background of the shot. It was one of those nights... they had slept together a few times, even after he had started dating Jess (she had been fully aware and fine with it).

“You think it’ll come up?”

“Not really. Probably not.” She winced. “Maybe.”

Sam felt, abruptly, like crying.

He was so tired.

“Sam, the reason I wanted to talk to you about Brady is, um... is actually... something else.”

What else could there possibly be?

“The reason I brought him up at all, or this picture... you and boys at all, I--” she gesticulated with her hands in the air but Sam couldn’t tell what she was trying to convey with all the finger-waving. “Um, the Internet is a strange and weird place, and all sorts of conspiracy theories come up at a time like this...”

“Charlie, what is it.”

“The latest trend is people thinking you’re Dean’s secret boyfriend.”

Sam froze.

“You’re fucking with me?” he said faintly, shakily. “You’re...” there was no air in his lungs to help get the words out. “You’re not... serious...?”

“Sam, hey, I...” it was so hard to tell whether her wide eyes were just earnestly reassuring or if there was some underlying understanding of Sam’s real source of distress there. “They think you’re not actually related, they are saying you were brought in to be with him and the whole ‘brother’ thing is a cover for your secret love, which is of course ridiculous, but the pictures of you two are so pretty and, and with the breakup entering the news cycle I’m afraid it may fuel the rumors...”

“Oh God.”

“I’m sorry, the only reason I brought it up is some fringe tabloids have picked it up too, and it’s gained a fair amount of traction... I just didn’t want you to be blindsided if you read about it.” she grabbed his hand. “Sam, are you okay?”

No. No, he wasn’t.

“...Sam?”

Sam was struggling really hard to control his breathing, actually.

“Sam, it doesn’t... have to mean anything. Obviously it’s all... obviously none of us will believe it to be true. And we don’t even need to talk to Dean about it, if that’s...” she paused. “Pam didn’t want me to tell either of you, but I wanted you to know. Just... just in case. Okay?”

She knew. She had to know too, or she had sensed it somehow. Why else would she tell him and not Dean?

“Sam...” she squeezed his hand with both of hers. “No judgement, okay? For the Brady thing or... for anything else.” She smiled. “Does Dean know about you and boys?”

He seized the chance to steer the conversation in another direction like a drowning man would a lifeboat. “Yeah. Yeah, I told him very recently, actually.”

She waited, and he figured Charlie was the best person to talk to about that part of the gala.

“He didn’t take it very well.”

Her eyebrows flew up. “Really?”

“You’re surprised?”

“I... yeah.” She frowned. “Aw Sam, I’m sorry. I know people can be shitty when it’s their family instead of a friend, but he was never weird about me at all. And to be totally honest, I always thought...”

When she didn’t continue Sam squeezed her hands in turn.

“I mean, have you seen his reaction when he gets hit on by guys?”

“Not... really.”

After he hit a certain age (and a certain height) guys suddenly stopped hitting on Dean if Sam was around. Before that it had always been some level of creepy, because Dean was too young--in fact, one time when Dean was sixteen John had broken some dude’s finger at a dive bar.

“Well, there’s been a couple of times, when the guy was real tall and pretty, where he seemed flustered, but not—not opposed? I always thought he might wanna try guys at some point.” She shrugged. “Guess I was wrong.”

Sam nodded. Dean was an incorrigible flirt but it had always been women for him.

“Hey, I have an idea. Let’s go out tonight,” she said suddenly.

“What?”

“Yeah. Let’s go out; we won’t be back on the road until tomorrow morning anyway. I think it’ll do you good and I could use a beer. C’mon, let’s do it.”

“I don’t know, Charlie, I’m really tired and--”

But she already had her phone out and sent it through the group chat. “Boom. You have to come.”

“I...”

Her small hand cupped his face, making Sam almost flinch when he didn’t expect it. “Sam. I’m sorry it was my job to be such a dick just now. And I’m sorry your brother was a dick to you yesterday. But I think it’ll be fun, and the chick at the security check-in for the Agency building said there’s a cool bar where the White House interns go...”

“Oh so I’m doing this as a favor to you--

She laughed. “Help a geek out, Sam!”

*

The bar was incredibly crowded and loud. Classy lighting and modern decor made Sam feel like a bull in a china shop, trying to shrink in on himself so that people wouldn’t come up to him and ask for things, talk about Dean, talk about hunting. It happened anyway, of course (especially since Dean and Pamela hadn’t joined them yet to take the attention away) but he kept his shoulders hunched defensively over the bar and stared down at his near-empty glass.

He just wanted some sleep.

“Hey, man.” Jake patted him on the shoulder and grabbed the stool next to his. “I feel you.”

Sam arched an eyebrow. “You feel me?”

“Yeah. Crowded place, sub-par security, lots of kids in their early twenties, and the best asset in any dangerous situation; a fuckton of drunk people.”

“Hey, I’m a kid in my early twenties.”

“You grew up a hunter. I doubt you were a kid for long.”

In spite of himself, Sam let out a bitter little laugh. “Yeah. Well, you’re right; I’m gonna have a hard time protecting Dean from monsters when he gets here.”

“Yeah, well.” Jake shrugged. “He’s been doing okay by himself this whole time. You’re allowed to have some form of fun, you know.” He was sweating a little and his skin looked gorgeous in the warm light of the bar. Sam should stop sipping his drink as an excuse to avoid answering questions from Dean’s fans. “Seems every time I look at you you’re staring outta rainy windows or sighing mournfully over your salad.” He nudged Sam’s arm with his elbow. “Is it a girl?”

Sam sighed. He knew how he came off, but that was part of his curse; that he could never talk to anyone about it.

“A guy?” Jake pressed. “What’s got your bosom heaving like some Jane Austen heroine, man?”

Sam shook his head. “I’m just...” He could’ve brought up Jess as an excuse, but it would have felt cheap. “I...”

Jake waited him out for a beat, then nodded. “S’okay. You don’t actually have to tell me.” He signaled the bartender to refill their drinks. “But that T-shirt is doing some really great stuff for your shoulder to waist ratio and I’mma find you someone to have fun with tonight, if you want. That sound okay?”

Sam opened his mouth to object, and somehow what came out was; “Why not.”

“All right. Good.” Jake clapped him on the shoulder one last time and stood up, craning his neck around them until he spotted what he was looking for. “Yo, Charlie! Come over here, my mighty wingwoman!”

And so it began.

And Sam just kind of... let it happen.

He was introduced to person after person; men and women and drinks and journalists and interns and clerks and PA’s and an architect. He chatted with Tamara for a while but lost her during the next round of drinks; Reggie and Walt tried to use him as an in to talk to a group of women who worked in the First Gentleman’s office; Jo was hanging out with Lisa but she made sure to bring him a glass of water a couple of times.

Charlie found him back at the bar about an hour into Jake’s quest. “Sam, she’s here!” She took his hand in both of hers. “You wanna come say hi? I think her friend is straight--”

And then, as though summoned by actual sorcery, Dean appeared at Sam’s shoulder.

Sam’s heart stopped; the sudden shock of Dean’s presence registering all at once. He hadn’t even noticed him enter the bar; and usually Dean entering any crowded place elicited a noticeable reaction.

“Sammy? Try for a one night stand?” Dean was saying. He clapped Sam on the back, hard. “Sam doesn’t play it like that, Charlie. He’s a take-it-slow type.” He smirked, hand sneaking up to ruffle Sam’s hair in a near-violent parody of affection. “Good ol’ vanilla-bean boy, right here. He won’t do anything without wining and dining her first. And it’s already midnight!”

Stomach churning with humiliation and booze, Sam decided to just stay silent.

Charlie’s smile lost some of its shine. “O-kay... well... he can still come talk to her, if he wants. She’s pretty and she’s an emergency physician at GW; it sounds like she has some fun stories to tell...”

“Nah,” Dean said, still with that off-kilter, manic smile. “Nah, we’re good.”

Charlie shot Dean an annoyed look, then turned to Sam. “Sam?”

“S’okay. Go.”

She raised her hands in surrender and left.

Dean smiled up at Sam like he expected to be congratulated. Again. “Can’t leave you alone for five minutes, can I?” he said, rubbing a hand up and down Sam’s bare arm. “Everyone’s tryin’ to get with my baby brother.”

Sam’s skin tingled at the touch, and he was drunk enough and sleep-deprived enough that it felt good instead of guilt-laden. He didn’t even want to bring up Max Banes and reproach Dean for blocking his chances with someone for the second time in as many nights--he was too weak and too happy to see his brother.

“E-e-everyone wants a piece of Sammy...” Dean murmured.

“Not really. They just want to get to you.”

Dean shook his head. “Look at you, man. I don’t think anyone would use this to get anywhere except a bed.” His eyes roamed Sam’s torso. “Or a bathroom stall, Jesus.” His voice got even quieter; so quiet Sam had to lean forward to hear but no one around them was going to be able to eavesdrop. Dean’s cheeks were a ruddy red; maybe he’d raided the minibar before coming over to join them. “When did you get this huge, hm?”

Sam pressed his lips together to stop something stupid from coming out of his mouth.

“You’re so...” Dean’s hand slid from Sam’s arm to his stomach, careless except for how it trembled a little before he dropped it. “Can’t... can’t stop noticing.”

Sam was glad for the stool supporting his weight or he might have fainted like an actual hypoxemic, corseted woman. He wasn’t even a heavy drinker so these back-to-back binges were clearly to blame for how he was reacting to Dean’s barely there touches.

Green eyes flicked up to his face. “When did my little brother stop being little, huh?”

Sam could see the bartender hovering near them out of his peripheral vision, but he couldn’t bring himself to care. His neck twinged, painfully, as he remembered what had happened in the morning.

“Hey! Captain America!”

A guy around Dean’s age stumbled towards them. He looked like a Wall Street-type of person, despite the fact that they were obviously not in New York anymore.

“You fucking suck, man!”

Sam was back on his feet in a second.

“Sam--” Dean started.

“Say that again.”

The guy was visibly overwhelmed for a few moments, the sight of Sam’s body unfolding from his stool apparently too much to comprehend with a drunken mind.

“...Damn. You his boyfriend?”

“His bodyguard.” For once he regretted not wearing the black suit he wore at functions, but he tried to convey the job anyway. He really wished he hadn’t had that last cocktail, or felt the touch of Dean’s hand, both equally culpable for his current intoxicated state.

“Winchester needs a bodyguard?”

“Well, there’s assholes like you in the world, so yeah.”

The guy was not pleased by that answer.

“You’re a fucking dick.” His bloodshot eyes narrowed. “And you’re protecting a fucking useless piece of shit. Where was he when the York poltergeist leveled that apartment building, huh? Where the fuck was he?”

“You wanna back off, dude—“

“My aunt died there! He plays it like he never did any fucking wrong—I see him on TV all the time, looking like goddamn Prince Charming...”

“Take a step back—“

“Or what?”

“Or I’ll make you,” Sam replied logically.

“Sammy, don’t...” Dean murmured behind him, but Sam ignored him.

“You’re not allowed to do that. I’m just talking.” He squinted up at Sam. “Wait, are you s’pposed to be the brother?” he looked between them. “There’s no fucking way you’re related.”

“Go sleep it off, dude. I’m serious.” He put a hand on the guy’s shoulder to push him away, but was violently shrugged off.

“Fuck off, man, you don’t even look like you’re on duty.” He swayed, almost stumbled backwards. “M’sure your boyfriend can defend himself... the pay can’t be that good. Unless... do you want his dick in you?” he looked from one to the other again, and seemed to reconsider. “Nah, you probably want your dick in him—even I’d fuck that mouth—“

He hit the floor face-first.

Agh! What the fuck, man!?”

It was a double blow—Sam’s fist struck his right cheek and the floor slammed into his left. He was probably justified in whimpering in pain; the sound of flesh on hardwood had been loud.

“Sam, Jesus!”

“Oh my God—“

Jake, Charlie and Jo rushed over to them immediately, but the surrounding spectators started whooping and clapping.

“Yeah!”

“Yeah, Sam!”

“Fuck that guy!”

The guy in question gingerly got to his feet and threatened to sue Sam between bouts of bloody spittle, but Sam was so furious that he couldn’t even bring himself to care.

“I have to say,” Jo started, gaping up at Sam. “I never thought you’d actually do something like this.”

Jake looked less surprised, but definitely impressed. “Damn, Sam.”

“What did he say?” Charlie wanted to know, wide-eyed. But Sam wasn’t about to repeat it, and he figured Dean wouldn’t either.

Just thinking about it made him want to run after that guy and punch him again almost as much as he wanted to crowd Dean up against a wall and hide him from the world. Preferably while Dean let him lick into his gorgeous, plush mouth.

Speaking of Dean—he finally chanced a look behind him to gage how his brother was feeling about the whole affair.

Dean was standing very still against the bar. His face was blank of any overt expression, but on closer inspection he was breathing shallowly and his gaze was flickering from Sam’s face to his hand (no longer bunched in a fist) and then to the ground where the guy had ended up. He was chewing on his lower lip, nostrils subtly flaring.

When he realized that Sam was looking at him he snapped out of whatever was going on in his head to kick Sam’s shin.

“You’re a fuckin’ psycho,” he rumbled, but the intonation was breathy and Sam didn’t take offense. If anything he was still kind of high off the adrenalin.

“A psycho with a really mean right hook,” Jake amended.

The manager of the place was in the middle of kicking them out when one of her bartenders told her who they were, and after that everything was smiles and free drinks. Some random strangers joined them to celebrate (or possibly for the free alcohol) and Charlie’s crush could be seen adoringly leaning against her for balance while looking suspiciously sober.

Sam soon realized that he’d enough, however. After his discharge of energy had passed it turned out that he was just dizzy, weak and tired. He wanted to get back to the room and finally catch up on sleep.

“Yeah, yeah, s’fine by me,” Dean muttered, motioning towards the door. “Let’s go.”

There were general groans of disappointment.

“But--”

“Sorry Charlie, I’m beat.” Sam smiled at her. “But thanks for making me come out.”

She grinned. “No problem. Thanks for making it so exciting.”

The Fairmont was only a couple of blocks away from the bar and this wasn’t a very busy area, so under the cover of darkness Sam figured they could get away with walking down the street.

“So... that’s going to make the news,” Dean said with a distant smile. “‘Dean’s Mountain Man-brother lives up to nickname, kicks the crap out of random citizen?”

“Hm. Think it’ll be something closer to ‘Sam Winchester defends national hero, is very heroic while doing so, probably should be regarded as national hero himself at this point’.”

He shot Dean a smirk.

“I can defend myself just fine, Sammy. Did it before.”

“I know you can, but you shouldn’t have to. Did that sort of thing happen often before I was here?”

“...Sometimes.” Dean sighed out a cloud of air. The tips of his ears and nose were endearingly red in the cold. “Lots of people have lost people Sam. Suddenly having actual monsters to blame makes things complicated. Especially complicated for the supposed monster-killers.”

Sam thought about their father. Their mother.

“We always knew.”

“Yeah. And it made for a jolly old time, huh?”

They were silent for a while, occasionally bumping shoulders. Sam tried to make himself take in the moment; unexpected extra time alone with Dean, a relative rarity if it happened without interruptions.

When they got to the hotel the bellboy opened the door for them without a word, just a proud smile when Dean nodded at him in passing.

“I need some goddamn sleep,” Dean muttered, shifting while they waited for the elevator.

“You and I both.”

“Aren’t you glad we’re sleeping together?”

Sam choked on his own spit and started coughing while Dean laughed.

“You are such a prude, man. Can’t believe you’re the most adventurous one.”

“Liking... guys... doesn’t make me ‘adventurous’.”

They stepped onto the elevator.

“It does in my book.”

“Your book is very heteronormative, Dean.”

Dean frowned. “The ‘hetero’ I get, but I’m far from ‘normative’. I’ve shared my views on Jason Momoa with you.”

Sam snorted, entertained in spite of himself.

“And anyway I’ll try anything once.”

Sam’s laughter petered out. “...What?”

The elevator dinged and they stepped out onto the corridor.

“What. For all you know I’m even more into guys than you are. I jus’... never tried it.”

“Okay, Dean. Sure.”

“What? I’m serious.”

They got to their room and Sam slid the keycard in. It took him two tries. The alcohol again; it must be.

He opened the door for Dean without thinking about it too much, and didn’t expect (but should have) his brother to take it as an opportunity.

“My hero,” Dean breathed, falling backwards onto Sam’s chest and fluttering his eyelashes up at him. The tone was right and the motions were over-the-top, but he still strained to make a joke of it, as though something else underlay the words.

He was so heavy and warm even through Dad’s jacket. His eyes were so beautiful up close.

Sam shoved him inside the room with fake exasperation.

*

He hadn’t known—he’d thought she liked him; it had been almost unbelievable but not more unbelievable than him having the power to command actions with his words...

He felt like hurting himself... He’d made her do something she wouldn’t have done otherwise; there was a word for that and that was what he’d done, no matter that he hadn’t known—no matter that he’d had no idea of what he could do—maybe he should tell the police and turn himself in... or maybe just end it, before he hurt anyone else?

Sam woke up to the sound of someone sobbing, and was confused for a good long moment before realizing the noises came from him.

“Sam?” Dean was there seconds later, touching him, brushing the fringe off his forehead and breathing right in his face. The shadows were dark but the D.C Fairmont had big windows and the faintly pink light of dawn was starting to creep against them. He could see the worry in Dean’s eyes quite clearly. “Sammy?”

He felt like hurting himself...

It hadn’t been him. It had been someone else; those emotions weren’t Sam’s.

He couldn’t stop dry-heaving, tears streaming down his cheeks and nose dripping wet down to his mouth.

“Shit, you’re bleeding...” Dean muttered, and pinched the bridge of Sam’s nose with one hand, cradling his face gently with the other. “But s’okay, it’s okay, you’re safe and I’m here... I’m here, Sammy...”

He hadn’t seen much this time, either. An old robe, a pair of slippers on pale hairy legs. A bottle of vodka and half a joint on a messy desk. The smells had been stronger; the weed, and the lingering perfume associated with a gorgeous blonde woman. A woman who’d said ‘Okay’ when a man said ‘Have a drink with me?’. A woman who had somehow been made to say ‘Okay’.

Sam’s stomach lurched.

“Hey, hey, look at me,” Dean ordered.

Sam did with some effort, meeting his vibrant gaze and letting Dean’s strength build his own.

“I’m here,” he said again.

And that was all Sam ever needed to hear, really.

He felt his pulse gently slope down and his breathing evened out. His hand came away red when he wiped his nose but he was used to the nosebleeds by now, and he gently nudged Dean’s arm away because the pinching was giving him a headache.

“You had a nightmare, right? A vision?”

Sam nodded. He didn’t feel ready to talk about it, but surprisingly Dean didn’t push the issue. He reached over to the nightstand for tissues and gently cleaned Sam’s upper lip and cheeks.

“You ever think about talking to Pamela about your dreams? She might have some insight.”

Sam never equated his sporadic, unwanted visions with the depth of psychic power Pamela seemed to possess, but he had considered confessing to her and asking for advice.

Too much insight was always the problem with Pamela, though.

“...Yeah. I--maybe,” he hedged.

When he was done wiping him clean Dean brushed a gentle, careful palm over Sam’s forehead again. He was sitting on the very edge of the mattress just in an undershirt and his underwear. His upper body loomed over Sam’s and his thigh was hiked up on the bed, flush against Sam’s own in his haste and undoubtedly in his worry.

“Think about it, okay?” Dean murmured. His fingers had gone back to carding through Sam’s hair and they felt so good they were actually keeping the headache at bay.

“Yeah,” Sam sighed. He really wanted to close his eyes and let Dean croon and fuss over him, but he probably had seconds left before Dean stopped what he was doing and took up his ‘no chick-flick’ policy again.

“But not right now,” Dean added. His voice was so low and soft, matching the careful touch of his fingers. “Right now you relax and you rest.”

“Yeah.”

“Jus’... just let go, yeah?”

“Y-yeah.”

Dean readjusted his seat on the mattress but, to Sam’s aching relief, didn’t stop his ministrations. Seconds passed and became minutes, and the light in the room remained pink and delicate and tentative. The absence of pain felt like a gift.

At one point a small clump of Sam’s hair caught on Dean’s ring and Sam felt a slight tug before Dean disentangled it.

Mh.” He tried to suppress the moan but half of it got out. His dick twitched at the stimulus, and his nipples pebbled reactively. He was so into having his hair pulled it wasn’t even funny; though Jess used to tease him about it.

Dean stilled his hand, and Sam grieved the loss of its movements. With his eyes at half mast he couldn’t see Dean’s face properly, and his brother’s blurred features revealed nothing.

But then he started up again and it was a little firmer, almost more deliberate. Better.

“S’okay,” Dean grunted. “S’okay, Sammy.”

Sam gave in to the urge to fully close his eyes, letting the sludgy arousal pulse through him; letting the lure of sleep in the dark draw him in; letting his cock throb and make it hard to think and to remember. He might still be kind of drunk, but why did that matter?

The sheet was barely covering his crotch but it provided a mild sensation, if no real concealment.

“Shh. Got you.”

Dean’s nails scratched gently at Sam’s scalp and Sam let out another half of an airy little noise. His head lolled like it was lead-lined and his neck was too weak to hold it steady on the pillow. His hips wanted to roll or churn or press up against a warm, heavy body. Not looking up into Dean’s face didn’t take him anywhere else but it did create a childish ‘you can’t see me’ effect that seemed to warp reality in the light of dawn.

“That’s it, Sammy.”

Fingers rubbed circles behind his ears. Sam’s mouth fell open as his jaw slackened, muscles liquefying at the dull, mounting pleasure. He wasn’t going to let the whimper past his throat, but it took all his self-control to keep panting quietly without making a sound. It’d been forever since anyone had touched him like this—Jess felt so long ago.

“That’s it. You’re okay.”

Dean’s thumbs pressed into Sam’s temples, drawing figure-eights of pressure while his remaining fingers scraped the back of Sam’s head. Sam’s breathing sounded very loud to his own ears.

“I got you.”

Sam’s dick let out a warm trickle of precome.

“You just let go, Sammy.” Dean’s voice was like gravel. “Let go.”

Sam’s face felt hot, and he felt sweat start to build at his hairline; his armpits; the backs of his knees. He pushed the hand by his hip down on the bed-sheet to pull it taut over his dick for a modicum of pressure, but it wasn’t near enough.

“That’s it, come on.”

Sam’s toes curled and he let out a soft whine.

“That’s...” Dean trailed off, but Sam couldn’t quite pay attention. His dick was dripping into his underwear, and the ache was building towards something that couldn’t be stopped.

So much pain had been replaced by so much comfort and warmth and pleasure and he arched his back to nudge his head into the touch, and was rewarded with Dean’s blunt fingernails at the nape of his neck.

He couldn’t help it anymore; his palm slid over his own hip down to his crotch.

“Yeah. Yeah, Sam.” The fingers in his hair spread and then pressed together in a scissoring motion, tugging at it ever so lightly. “C’mon.”

Sam pressed his lips together and whimpered again, squeezing his own dick so hard.

“Oh God, yeah,” Dean whispered, soft and secret. Sam could barely make out the words anymore, but he thought he heard; “Yeah, yeah, good boy.” And maybe he’d imagined it, but that didn’t really matter; the cresting wave of feeling peaked and he came so hard he bit clean through his lower lip to stop a shout, the bloom of warmth at his crotch coating him in pleasure.

He found out hours later that Dean made the whole team delay their departure so he could sleep all day, exhaustion and malaise keeping him unconscious in bed until dusk.

His memories of the almost-dreamlike dawn were a jumble of vivid nightmare and cloudy soothing aftermath; the feeling of Dean stroking his hair and lulling him back into a deep, healing sleep.

*

“They’ve been getting worse, huh?” Dean commented through a mouthful of scrambled egg.

“Yeah.”

They were rushing their breakfast because they had a day (instead of two as originally planned) to get from Washington DC to Bobby’s to regroup after the Agency’s new directives. Pamela wanted to plan some heavy-hitting appearances and Jo had surprised everyone by announcing that her mother would fly there to meet them as well.

The delay itself was all Sam’s fault, and the whole team knew it. Which was probably why no one had objected when the Winchesters volunteered to grab a booth at the Denny’s for themselves.

“How’s your head?”

Dean licked some mustard off his thumb after asking, and then became utterly absorbed in his glass of ice-water.

“S’okay. I’ve had worse.” Worse headaches. Not worse visions. Being in the mind of that... that rapist--

“That... um, did it help a all?”

Sam quirked an eyebrow. “Hm?”

“Did I.” Dean seemed hyper-fixated on his drawings on the perspiration in the glass. “Did I help. The headache.”

“Oh. Yeah, thanks.” He vaguely remembered Dean caressing his temples and feeling inappropriately good during the massage. He’d had the most amazing wet dream after; had come in his boxers like a fucking teenager. “That was better than extra-strength tylenol, man. Appreciate it.”

“That’s... great. Glad I could help. Good thing you went right back to sleep.” Dean smiled a little, with something impossible to read in his eyes. “Slept like a baby.” His smile broadened. “My baby brother,” he murmured.

Sam ducked his head to hide his face, cheeks hot.

“Here’s your check, Mr Winchester.”

The waitress was standing at their table.

“Whenever you’re ready.” She turned to smile at Sam. “My momma has the biggest crush on you, by the way. Hope you don’t mind my saying.”

Sam chuckled skeptically. “Me?”

“You sound so surprised!” She laughed, dark brown skin dimpling around her mouth. She had a beautiful Puerto Rican accent. “You’re so tall and handsome, always towering quietly in the background... You own a mirror, yes?”

“It’s his eyesight we gotta fix,” Dean put in, grinning too. Sam felt ganged up on. “Though to be fair, he did grow up with a much handsomer brother to look at every day. Easy to develop an inferiority complex, see.”

“Oh I don’t know about that.” She blushed a little. “S’no obvious choice from where I’m standing.”

She took off before either of them could say anything else.

“...Think she would’ve been up for a—“

“Don’t say it.”

Dean splayed his hands defensively. “What? S’all hypothetical.”

“I don’t want to picture that scenario, Dean.”

“Think that means you’re already picturing it, Sammy.” He leered. “Might be fun, huh? Never worked with that ratio myself, but I’m sure you could give me some pointers.”

Sam tried to sound casual. “What makes you think I’ve had a threesome?”

To his surprise, Dean didn’t go for the easy, ignorant jibe about Sam’s sexuality. “Fair enough. But you’ve done it with a guy, right? I mean, you haven’t just been liking guys this whole time and staring at them from afar, right?”

“What’s it to you?”

“Nothing. I’m... curious.” He cleared his throat. “M’sure there’s been plenty of offers.”

“Well, my brother wasn’t there to intercept them, before.”

It was Dean’s turn to go pink-cheeked.

“I...”

“Forget it.”

“So... you’ve done it.”

Sam sighed. He really didn’t get where Dean’s fixation with this topic came from.

“Yes. I’ve done some stuff.”

He could read Dean’s desire to ask him to elaborate plain as day, and didn’t understand it, and wanted this conversation to be over before he somehow gave himself away.

“Define—“

“No.”

Dean’s jaw slackened. “... ‘No’? That’s it?”

“You’re just going to have to live with the mystery, Dean.”

Dean looked upset at the prospect, and vaguely disquieted somehow. His gaze became unfocused for several seconds while he seemed to process this.

He finally came up with: “You suck, you know that?”

“Only if asked real nice.”

It was a stupid thing to say, but Dean’s reaction made it completely worth it. He went white, then back to red, then he mouthed incomprehensibly for a few moments, then he stuttered out Sam’s name and finally he started wheezing with laughter.

“If you two are done flirting, we’ve gotta hit the road.”

Pamela’s words landed like a bucket of ice-water on Sam’s shoulders, and made Dean silent almost instantly.

*

Bobby greeted them with an ill-concealed smile of relief. He hugged Sam gruffly and then he hugged Dean, and then chewed them out for what had happened in Ohio some more.

“Oh come on, Bobby—“

“Ellen told me all about it. There’s never been more dangerous times and you two geniuses thought ditching class was a valid choice you could make?”

“You tell ‘em, Bobby,” Reggie muttered in passing, patting Bobby’s arm.

Dinner was a rowdy affair, as the team discussed the potentially demon-related items on the news as well as updates about their respective specialties. Sam mostly listened and ate his sandwich quietly from his perch on the counter.

“...and then, I get a call from Angela at the Times and she’s asking me whether Dean is pro-gun or not,” Tamara was saying.

Sam and Dean exchanged a look out of the corner of their eyes. John had always held the firm belief that a gun in the hands of an untrained civilian was dangerous, and of course his sons emulated that belief also.

“The higher-ups don’t want us taking a stance on gun control,” Pam said firmly.

“I didn’t answer the question,” Tamara replied. “But it’s going to keep coming up, from international papers especially. So you’re aware.”

At that moment Jo got a call and walked out of the kitchen to take it.

“And what’s with this I hear about Sam taking on more of the public appearances?” Bobby asked Pamela, looking far from pleased. “Why is that necessary?”

“Damage control,” Pamela replied simply. “People seem to like what little of him they’ve gotten so far. We’ll give them a little more. Keep them happy.”

Sam could feel Dean’s guilty eyes on him but he didn’t return the gaze.

“Sam...” Lisa said tentatively. “Would you be willing to do a photo op, or a statement even?”

“I mean, I’d rather not, but if there’s no other option...”

“Sam didn’t sign up for any of this,” Dean said flatly. “He came on to help me. That’s it.”

“This is another way of helping you, Dean,” Lisa replied. The inhabitants of the room went cautiously still for a moment. “And I think Sam understands that.”

“He shouldn’t have to, is what I’m saying.”

“Well why don’t we ask him?”

They both turned to him and Sam wished he could disappear. “I... I’ll do whatever is necessary,” he said lamely.

“Good,” said Pamela. “Glad at least one Winchester has two braincells to rub together.”

“We could do it through me,” Charlie piped up from over the fridge. “Send out a tweet, a ‘candid’ type picture...?”

“No, I want to control the coverage for this.” Pamela shook her head. “I want a journalist to run the first solo story we do for him.”

Charlie shrugged and nodded. “You’re the boss.”

There was a beat of silence, but it was expectant and Sam knew he should say something again.

“So... what are you thinking?” he asked finally.

“Something relatively low-key, relatively local... not something that requires you speak much. I’ll give you some options as soon as I come up with them; I need to do a bit of research.”

Jo walked back into the kitchen with a phone in her hand.

“Dean, I need you on this call,” she said, and walked back out without waiting to see if he’d follow.

Dean rolled his eyes and went after her, tapping Sam’s knee on his way out.

Things started to unwind a little while later, and when Dean and Jo still didn’t come back Sam decided to step outside to call Jessica back. He’d gotten a text from her in the morning asking how he was doing, and he owed it to her to keep his promise.

Sam! I’m so glad you called.” She sounded like she was in a good mood.

“Me too. How are you?”

I’m good. I’m... I actually...” Something happened in the background that made her laugh. “Yeah, yeah... Listen, Sam, I wanted to tell you something before you saw it pop up on Facebook or something.”

Sam knew what she was about to say before she said it. He braced himself, knowing he had no right, no claim, no nothing.

And yet.

Clark asked me out last night.”

Sam nodded to himself. He felt a small, sad smile show up on his face. Clark Feng was a first-year law student, and he was awesome, and was on track to intern at the ACLU last he’d heard.

Sam?”

“Yeah. Yeah, he... I think he’s been crushing on you for a while.”

There was a beat of silence. “...Sam, is this super weird? Are you okay with it?”

Those were two separate questions with different answers, but Jess deserved to hear just the one. “It’s a bit weird, but I’m happy for you, Jess. Clark is great.”

So were you.”

“...Ouch. We’re in the past tense now, huh?”

Oh gosh, no! I meant, because you’re not here anymore—“

“No no, by all means, drive the knife in deeper Jess—“

Oh my god, Sam I didn’t mean it like that!”

He was laughing, and suddenly it wasn’t forced at all. Jess was so good.

“I hope it goes well with Clark. I’m... thanks for telling me.”

Of course.” She took a static-y breath. “You’ll... tell me if...?”

“Nothing to tell.” He thought about it. “Actually, I do have one thing to report.”

And he launched into the story of him meeting Max Banes, and Max Banes saying he looked good in uniform, and Jess yelled in delight and joked about being totally jealous if they’d still been together because no one could compete with Max Banes in the looks department, and it was wonderful.

Sam hung up the phone to realize the call had taken half an hour.

He heard the crunch of gravel footsteps moments later, however, and turned to look.

“Hey, Sam.”

It was Lisa. Talk about déjà-vu.

“Can I talk to you a second?”

Sam nodded and suddenly lost his ability to act naturally, or know what to do with his hands. It was dark enough that her expression was shadowed, and he couldn’t really discern the purpose of this talk from her tone alone.

“What... what do you—“

“I wanted to apologize,” she said quickly, before he could finish the question.

Apologize?” His voice broke mid-word.

“Yeah. For the way I blew up at the gala, and just... for being cold with you. None of what happened was your fault.”

It didn’t sound like she fully believed what she’d just said, but Sam was nowhere near about to call her out for it.

“Dean and I... we’ve talked things through a bit more, and he’s been groveling an acceptable amount.” For a split-second Sam thought she was suggesting getting back together, but she seemed to catch that on his face because she quickly shook her head. “No, no, I mean for me to forgive him and consider him a friend. I don’t—that’s never happening again.” She looked at him carefully, and then added: “Don’t worry.”

Sam’s heart sped up.

“But Dean was the one who hurt me in that situation. Not you. And I hope it didn’t come off as though I was blaming you for what happened.”

She paused for another long moment, fidgeting slightly. Then she took another step toward him.

“Dean was always as honest as he knew how to be,” she said slowly. “And he was always considerate of me--as much as he knew how to be. But I could tell I was never his priority.”

Okay. Sam could see that; his brother would never wilfully hurt someone like Lisa, but Dean could lack self-awareness sometimes. Even though he was still much more emotionally intelligent than people gave him credit for.

“We ended up using each other in a way that wasn’t healthy. For either of us. And I got hurt because of it, but it was my fault for going along with it, too.”

“But--”

“No it’s true; Dean was an ass, but I let him be an ass. I’m not doing that anymore. The fact that he clearly had some--thing else on his mind was no secret between us, and being angry at him for not feeling the way I wanted him to feel was unfair.”

Sam couldn’t really think of what to say in response, and after waiting him out for a few seconds Lisa seemed to give up on him as well.

“Anyway, I just wanted to say sorry.”

“It’s... totally understandable. No need to apologize at all, Lisa.”

She left him more confused than he’d been before.

*

Ellen arrived the following morning, and with her came the infamous Ash whom Sam had been keeping relatively loose email correspondence with since Jo put them in touch.

He was not the image of the MIT graduate Sam had had in mind.

“The sulfuric traces were found in San Jose. No signs of an active possession yet though, far as I’ve found. The body hadn’t been hosting a demon.”

“Doesn’t sulfur imply demonic travel though?” Dean asked him. “Either between hosts or from Hell to a body?”

They were sat around Bobby’s bunker; Sam, Dean, Jo, Ash, Ellen and Bobby himself. The rest of the group hadn’t been invited to the conversation due to the questions it raised about Sam’s nature, which Dean was very serious about keeping contained.

“What would an ally to Hell even look like?” Ellen asked.

“I’ve been looking into it,” Sam confessed. He saw the surprise slacken Dean’s features out of the corner of his eye.

“So have I,” Jo said. “But I haven’t found much, to be honest. There are so many demonic classes and titles and ranks, but they all fall under the category of being that would have been imprisoned in Hell and kept down there. Even Hellhounds.”

Sam nodded. “I think we need to consider something else. Maybe something less literal—I’m sure there are people on Earth shitty enough to want demons to roam free again, for some reason.”

“Agreed. But we should delve into the why—why name you an ally of Hell?”

Sam cast a look around them, but they all knew about his visions at this point. “My powers?”

“How are your powers different from another psychic’s? A witches’?” Bobby asked. “And no offense, Sam, but some of those powers are more useful than yours.”

“I’m sure you’re right about that,” Sam muttered.

“We should investigate that. And consider other people with a set of abilities like yours... if they are demonic in origin, maybe it’s less about what you can do and more about why you can do it. Something special about this type of power.” Ash stroked an imaginary goatee. “I need to find other witnesses. More of these so-called ‘allies’ of Hell.”

“We can’t hinge our case on waiting to find more Goblet of Blood victims to spit out other names,” Dean grunted.

“No, no... the powers have to be the key for the search.” He made a note on his old ratty notebook. “I have to find more people with special powers like Sam’s.”

The girl she loved is dead and it’s her fault...

He’d made her do something she wouldn’t have done otherwise...

Were those the people with powers like his?

He’d considered that his powers might be demonic in origin before; a demon had visited his house when he was a baby, after all. But if he was on an inexorable track to corruption... wasn’t it best to let Gordon and his allies take him down?

“Hey,” Dean murmured. “Sam. We’ll figure this out, okay? It’ll be okay.”

Sam nodded heavily.

He hoped Dean was right.

*

Pamela cornered Sam later that same day when he was exiting the bathroom after a shower. She had her arms crossed over her chest—but they dropped limply by her sides when she took in his naked torso.

“Damn, hotness.”

Sam chuckled, flattered in spite of himself. She always sounded too good-natured to make him uncomfortable. “Hey. What’s up?”

“Need to talk to you. Preferably before you put a shirt on.” She grinned, but Sam felt a frisson of nerves bloom at the directive.

The grin dropped quickly and she shook her head. “Relax; I’m not here to talk about the thing you don’t want me to talk about.” If anything, that made his nausea worse, and something must have shown on his face because Pamela put a completely serious hand on his moist arm. “Hey. Breathe, kid. I’m here to talk about those press options we discussed before.”

Oh.

“And the reason I wanted to get you alone is that he’ll do anything you ask, so when I bring our next outing to the group you’re gonna have my back.”

“What’s our next outing?”

Her tone became businesslike. “Lisa helped me find a great place and here’s my pitch: there’s a dog shelter in Boise that’s being run by a shifter. He can communicate with them, help get them to good homes; it’s all very cute. It’s going to yield relatively local coverage, it’s a contained setting, the focus will be on another person... it’s the perfect photo op for you to get started.” She smiled, looking up at him as though she was hoping he’d smile back. “Dean mentioned you like dogs.”

“...When?”

She cocked her head like he was being obstinate on purpose. “He wouldn’t shut up about you before you joined us, y’know. If he deigned to speak, nine times out of ten it was to blab about how freaking smart you are, or how nerdy. It was pretty annoying.” She rolled her eyes. “Anyway, I think it’s a great op. What do you say?”

Defeated, Sam let his shoulders slump. “I do like dogs.”

He’d had a dog before moving in with Jess—she was allergic, but Bones had found a good home.

“Good. It’ll be great; you’ll see. You’ll be great.”

“...Great.”

Well... he’d known it was coming.

*

And so, the team set off for Boise from South Dakota. Charlier renamed the group chat ‘DOGS!DOGS!DOGS!’ which Dean took as a sign of her tacit forgiveness and therefore the group’s overall acceptance of what had happened in Ohio. Sam was pretty sure it was just a sign of Charlie’s love of dogs, but he didn’t argue the point.

The tabloids ran the story of Dean and Lisa’s breakup with extra heapings of speculation over the mysterious reason behind it, and every time the team stopped at a gas station Sam had to force himself not to read the headlines in case one of them related to what Charlie had told him about. He held fast to the resolution not to Google his name. He avoided magazines altogether.

It was still really, really weird to see those blurry pictures of Dean walking down a random street or walking into his hotel with Sam hovering protectively over him. The pictures of you two are so pretty, Charlie had said.

The morning of his visit to the shelter Sam was so nervous he crept down to the hotel gym to run some of the adrenalin off.

Of course, Lisa was already there when he arrived.

“Guess I beat you to it, this time,” she said, breathing shallowly. After a pause, she smiled, big and brighter than he deserved.

Sam grimaced. “I’m trying to outrun my nerves.”

“Okay. Well, yoga’s good for nerves, believe it or not.” She motioned to her mat and the area around her. “Feel free to join, if you want. I can teach you some basics.”

He felt that he owed it to her to accept the offer, given how good she’d been to him with unwarranted precedent for the reverse.

“I know a bit of the basics, actually,” he confessed. “I had a friend in college who got me into it.”

For some reason, that was hilarious to her. “You do yoga, too?” She laughed helplessly. “Of course you do. Why did I think I could...?” she chuckled, shaking her head.

Sam made a questioning noise but she waved a dismissive hand, and the amusement really did seem genuine instead of bitter or for his benefit.

“It’s great, Sam. Really. Come on, show me what you got.”

Their interactions remained somewhat awkward, but they felt more real than they had since Dean had introduced them. Sam also left the session with an insane amount of respect for what Lisa could do, from headstands to something truly terrifying called the firefly pose.

*

The shifter went simply by the name of ‘Lucky’, which Sam thought was a bit on the nose, but he refrained from comment. He was clinging to the promise Pamela had made him yesterday, which was that this would turn into an online article with pictures and text only, no video interviews, no recordings of him, not even .gifs. It was going to be Sam, one reporter and one photographer.

Even though the event didn’t require the team’s presence (given that it didn’t directly involve Dean), practically everyone volunteered to come watch. Charlie and Jo argued that they wanted to see the shelter, Lisa said she been the one to find the place, Jake argued that Sam would be off security duty and he was the second tallest person with combat training, Tamara said she wanted to stretch her legs after the drive, Isaac just seconded Tamara’s words, and to Sam’s surprise (but a pleasant one) Walt flat-out declared he just wanted to pet some dogs. Reggie alone stayed at the hotel because someone had to.

“So Sam, tell me about your choice of career. Why law?”

Sam stumbled his way through the answer Pamela and Lisa had helped him come up with, drawing clear parallels between the different ways there were to help people. He was asked about Hellsgate itself and what that first year after had been like; he was asked about his father. He was asked about Dean. Obviously.

The journalist writing the article had a nasal, piercing voice that cut through any ruckus made by the dogs. “What about this shelter appeals to you? Why visit Lucky here?”

“I think Lucky has been using his powers for good. I think that’s important to highlight nowadays.” He cleared his throat. “Not everything supernatural is evil.”

The man nodded. “That’s something your brother has also been very adamant about. Do you think the government did enough to educate the public on the dangers of supernatural prejudice given the systems in place to monitor, say, a Rugaru’s feeding schedule--”

And so it went on.

After what felt like hours to Sam, the photographer said she needed to get some pictures of him interacting with the dogs, and the whole group set out to wander around the enclosure.

It was true that Sam had always loved dogs, and he couldn’t deny that dogs loved him back. He found the biggest, meanest one in the shelter within a few minutes and instantly bonded with it, tuning out the high-pitched sounds of delight from most of the team when it tried to bowl him over while the camera clicked furiously.

He later found out that Tamara was taking a video on her phone and posted it on their chat.

“That thing is in love with him,” Jake commented, chuckling.

“Her name is ‘Abu’,” Jo’s voice put in. “It says so on the collar.”

The camera kept clicking very audibly because, as the photographer had explained, she preferred analog shots and the paper had hired her, not Pamela, so they could just deal with it. “Looking great, Sam,” she said.

Sam just butted his forehead against Abu’s and let her lick his cheek and ear. He wondered whether she could sense that he was something not entirely human, and whether that was somehow part of the reason why she liked him better than the others.

“And has Sam always been a dog person?”

The reporter’s voice was harder to tune out than the camera clicks.

“Yeah. Since he was a kid.” Dean sounded amused.

Abu growled when Sam tried to sit up straighter in a fit of self-consciousness, so he stopped fidgeting. But he didn’t stop listening to Dean.

“Sammy’s a real charmer, as you can see.”

“Indeed. Tell me a little about your upbringing; we’ve heard about John Winchester’s impressive story, the trials he went through to close the gates--but it couldn’t have been easy to deal with so much loss so young. How did you two support each other?”

Without seeing Dean’s face it wasn’t easy to gage his reaction to such a sudden, probing question. A few years ago Sam would have put his money down on a punch to the reporter’s face. But lately that had been his MO rather than Dean’s, apparently.

“...I’ve told you guys a million times; that’s not something I’m here to talk about.”

The reporter angled it differently. “Why should America trust your brother to help protect it, then?”

Jo suddenly appeared in Sam’s field of vision and approached the tangle on the floor that was Sam and Abu, gingerly. Her kind brown eyes reminded Sam very much of Ellen Harvelle’s in that moment, and when she winked at him there was something of her mother’s piercing understanding too.

“They should trust him because I trust him.” Dean sounded defensive in the most literal sense of the word. “Because he’s way more capable than--because he’s smart as hell and a good fighter. He comes off as quiet but that brain of his is processing stuff at a speed you-n’me just don’t get. And he’s... I’d trust him with my life. I have trusted him with my life.”

Shamefully, Sam could feel an obvious, unnattractive blush making his face heat at the words. Dean always played down his own intelligence, but it was the latter compliment that really got to him.

Jo smiled down at Abu and reached out a tentative hand to pet her flank. Abu ignored her, instead reacting to Sam’s sudden mood shift by whimpering and yipping while he held on. She became impatient when he didn’t pet her properly again, and in her restlessness managed to flatten him to the ground, nudging her moist noise at him in distress.

“Oh my god,” Kevin’s voice gushed. “This is the most adorable thing I’ve ever seen.”

“Dean?” the reporter’s voice cut stridently though the hubbub. “Dean. Do you need me to repeat the question?”

Sam hadn’t heard that last question, but suddenly he heard Pamela say: “And that’s a wrap from us, Pete! Sorry to cut it here, but as you know Dean’s schedule is very tight. Thanks.”

By the time he had gotten Abu off of him with Jo and Tamara’s help, Dean had walked out to the lot.

*

Sam woke up the following morning after a bizarre dream involving Jake and Brady that hadn’t been hot at all. He’d noticed Jake’s muscles from day one, of course, but he didn’t understand why his subconscious had chosen to picture Jake ripping a car door off its hinges like he was tearing paper. And the parts with Brady had just been... disturbing.

“Rise and shine, Sammy.”

Dean was tugging his jeans on when Sam located him, and for a moment his weak, defenseless mind simply got stuck on ‘back’. There was so much gorgeous, sleek muscle to look at; so many planes and shifts as Dean’s arms flexed and bunched. Would it dip like a wave if he was on all fours and Sam was giving him a good, hard--

“Sam?”

“Y-yeah. Hey.” He wiped a hand over his face and rubbed at his eyes, wincing at his throbbing migraine. “Where are we going again?”

“Back to the East Coast. Jersey.”

“Okay.”

“Are you...?” Dean cleared his throat. “You okay? Your head hurt?”

Sam tried to shake his head ‘no’, which was completely counter-productive.

“Jesus, Sam--” Dean was striding over to him in seconds, still shirtless, frowning.

“S”fine, I’m not...”

“Sam, you’re bleeding.”

Dazed from receiving Dean’s full-blown attention first thing in the morning, Sam could only submit. Dean cleaned him up with a corner of the blanket, leaving a smear of red there.

“You okay? Are you...?” The strain in Dean’s voice filled Sam’s chest. “God, Sammy, you better be okay...”

“I’m fine. Really, it’s worse than it looks.”

The fingers trailing over his upper lip slid away.

“You okay for a drive? Because I’ll tell them all to go to hell, if you--”

“I’m fine. I’ll be fine; it’s not half as bad as last time.” He tried to move to get up but Dean was still crouched next to him, with all his gleaming bare skin and his big shoulders. “Dean, c’mon.”

“Wait, there’s no rush.” Dean brought a hand back up to thumb at his temple and Sam let out a startled little sound. Dean’s fingers were so good; his hands felt amazing touching Sam’s forehead. He flashed back to that other night, that other time he barely remembered... “There we go.”

“Nh...”

His elbow slid on the mattress and suddenly he was lying down again, head pillowed comfortably and Dean moved with him, looming over him carefully. “Yeah, there we go. I got you, Sammy...”

“M’really fine...” Sam sighed, but how could he wholeheartedly protest something he wanted so much, and on so many levels? “We should... shouldn’t...”

“Shh.”

He sank his hands in Sam’s hair to scratch at the back of Sam’s scalp.

“You said it helped, right? Last time?”

“Did.”

“Then let me help.”

Dean pressed his knuckles into the pillow to maneuver better, fingers sliding carefully.

“S’how it should be, anyway.”

“Hmm?”

“Me taking care of you. Not... the other way ‘round.” He coughed. “I’m the big brother. You... it’s so weird that you’re...”

Sam opened his eyes. “That I’m bigger than you?”

They were both very still. Dean’s chest was flushed. His nipples were peaked, pink.

Sam had the craziest thoughts sometimes.

“Hard not to notice,” Dean rumbled. “But you know what I--”

“It should be us taking care of each other,” Sam countered. “That’s how it should be.”

“I--”

“And anyway you can’t stop me.”

Dean’s hands had stilled in his hair. “I don’t know about that, Sammy. You’re looking pretty weak right now. Pretty much at my mercy.”

Sam’s heart was beating in his throat. He’d forgotten his migraine, maybe.

“If any bad guys came at us right now, I think I’d be the one suckerpunching people, and you would be Whitney.”

“It’s not a ‘who’s Whitney’ contest, Dean.”

“Whatever. But you’d be the one needing me.”

He ducked his head down and smiled ruefully. Sam would take on three Wendigos single-handedly if it meant he could press his lips against the sad little crow’s feet at the corner of Dean’s eyes. Smooth them out, or turn them into real laughter.

“I’m sorry I left you alone, Dean.”

Dean flinched.

“But I’m not going to leave this time.” He was too far gone. There was nothing worth saving in him that didn’t belong to Dean, anyway. “I’m going to stay and I’m going to take care of you, too.”

“I don’t...”

“I don’t care what you want.” He summoned the strength from somewhere and sat up, Dean’s hands falling from his head. “I’m not asking you.”

Dean breathed out in a rush, chest rising and falling right before Sam’s eyes. He had a gentle smattering of freckles all over his shoulders and torso, too. Sam had never been allowed to take a good, long look. He suspected he would not be content with the amount of time he was given to study every inch of Dean’s anatomy until it was forever.

“Not asking me, huh?” Dean muttered, staring at him with wide eyes.

If he’d had the slightest idea what he looked like when he did that, when he looked at Sam like that--if he’d had the smallest clue, he would have been the most inventive torturer the world had ever seen.

“...No.”

“Winchesters!” there was a slam on their hotel door. Isaac’s unmistakeable baritone came through loud and clear. “Team meeting, lobby, five minutes!”

*

There was a community hospital in Toms River, New Jersey where the pediatric patients of the oncology ward had taken a picture asking Dean Winchester to come see them.

It was among the most painful, emotionally draining outings they’d done so far. Sam could feel it in the air even during the days before they got there; the frustration, the helplessness, the sadness. Dean was quiet and reserved, the music interspersed with bouts of long silence; the waves back to the honking fans on the road half-assed and far from enthusiastic.

Pamela had reluctantly called it a ‘big impact’ event. She meant emotional impact coupled with the amount of press it would get them; since at this point it was pretty much a classic PR move for any celebrity, of course. But even she had been unable to deliver that pronouncement without wincing.

Sam hated what Dean was doing more than he ever had.

It was an early morning start and nobody spoke much during breakfast. The nurse who had helped coordinate the visit had sent a transport technician to the hospital entrance to greet them, and they were brought to an office to wait for the hospital’s CEO and Director of Marketing for a very quick meet and greet. Then it was time to begin.

“We’ll have you go room by room first; the immunocompromised kids can’t come out for the group photo,” Gisella, the nurse, explained. She was older, with greying hair and glasses, but an impossibly positive energy irradiated from her. “I can’t thank you enough for agreeing to this. It’s like a superhero decided to visit them, Mr Winchester; it really is.”

Dean nodded, the flicker in his smile betraying his nerves only if you knew him as well as Sam did.

“‘Course. Yeah.”

The nurse demonstrated how to put on the necessary contact-precautions and face mask for Dean, as well as the cameraman and the boom mike operator. With them and the parents crowding around the bed, the team was asked to stay outside along with the staff members who were craning their necks to see.

Once in the room, though, Dean was nothing short of magical.

He acted as though all the trappings were irrelevant; ignoring anything and anyone that wasn’t little Monisha Dasari. He talked to her like they were alone and he certainly didn’t move like he had a cumbersome plastic gown on.

Even though Sam couldn’t hear what was being said he could feel it; her expressions of awe, mirth, wonder were all visible through the window. Dean smiled down at her and listened to her speak with a gravity that was heartbreaking. He answered her questions. At one point he high-fived her with his gloved hand.

“He is so good with children,” Tamara commented softly.

Sam silently agreed, and thought about Brian Simms and Maya happily attending class and how the human world was monstrous enough, sometimes.

After taking off the gown and putting on a new one to go into another patient room, Dean and his escort moved to the next. And the next.

And the next.

*

Toms River was a small suburban town, and didn’t have a Hilton or a Hyatt--instead, they were staying at a Comfort Inn not far from the hospital.

“I don’t wanna talk about it,” Dean said warningly, when Sam opened his mouth as soon as the door shut behind them.

“Dean. Today was--”

“No. We both know what today was. I can’t...” he was breathing heavily. “I can’t.”

“Dean...”

But Dean violently shook his head and threw his jacket on the bed, gaze skittering away from Sam’s.

“Dean, please--”

And then he saw the bright film over his eyes, and the tick in his jaw that wasn’t from anger.

Sam watched him helplessly for a moment. Dean walked around the room in restless silence, straightening a book on a shelf, grabbing and returning the TV remote, moving like a caged tiger and not really doing anything that was necessary.

Sam intercepted him on his next lap, practically colliding with him.

“Sam--” Dean choked warningly, but Sam just pulled him in and hugged him.

Their last hug had been five years ago, the day Hellsgate ended. When the paramedics had confirmed what they had already known; that John Winchester was gone, had sacrificed his life to accomplish this incredible task, Sam had crumpled into Dean like wet paper. He remembered Dean stoically holding him, keeping him upright. Letting him cry. Being strong for both of them.

He tightened his arms around Dean’s back and didn’t let him pull away even though Dean had stiffened and seemed like he might try.

Dean breathed hotly into his collarbone for several long, tense seconds.

“Got you,” Sam murmured. “C’mon. I got you.”

And long last, Dean melted against him. He didn’t quite hug Sam back, possibly because Sam had trapped his arms by his sides, but he let Sam take some of his weight.

Sam didn’t comment on the patch of wetness he could feel on his shirt. Dean wasn’t sobbing or shuddering under him, he was just standing there. Sam wished he could exorcise the evil of this situation, the powerlessness one felt in front of an insubstantial, ephemerous foe.

“I’m sorry,” Sam whispered after a while.

Dean lifted his head to look up at him. His eyelashes were all clumped together.

“Nothin’ we can do.”

Sam didn’t let him go for a crucial moment. His stupid body thought that drowning Dean’s sadness with kisses was an option, which it wasn’t. “I know.” The tear in his heart widened during those extra seconds; ripped itself further open.

When he did eventually release Dean, he watched him briskly wipe his nose with his arm and cough, effectively declaring the moment over.

“Anyway,” he grunted. “We should go to bed. Early drive tomorrow.”

Sam pretended to consider this. “I don’t know, I kind of want to watch some TV. If you don’t mind the background noise.”

“...No. That’s... it’s fine.” Dean paused. “Might join you for a bit.”

“Oh. Sure.”

He made room for Dean on the couch and said nothing when Dean sat close enough that his foot was touching Sam’s thigh. If Jo hadn’t hinted at Dean’s past relationship with alcohol, he might have suggested another night of irresponsible drinking for the sole purpose of having an excuse to let Dean fall asleep against him.

*

I-I know that wasn’t my husband. He would never... something is very wrong. And it’s happening to other families, other people have gone missing--so we’re asking Dean Winchester to come to Gainesville to help us. Please. Please help us.”

The footage stopped at Pamela’s tap on the tablet screen, freezing on the image of a muslim woman at the dais of a podium, with the news headline ‘Six Disappearances In One Week: Florida Families In Panic’ mid-scroll on the bottom.

“Dimah Yassin. Sixth person to report a missing spouse in the Gainesville area.”

It was one of those faux-hunts Jo had mentioned early on. A flashy, publicised potential monster as the perfect opportunity for Dean to put in an appearance.

“Dean will go talk to the her and get papped doing it. Jo and Tamara, go interview the chief of police.”

They were gathered outside of the Police Station, between the parked police cars and the stone benches at the entrance. It was oppressively hot out; Sam’s black shirt felt like it was sucking in all the heat and was already plastered to his back with sweat.

“Sam’s coming with me,” Dean said. “He’s better at talking to witnesses than I am.”

“You’re not actually trying to get information on the hunt, Dean,” Jo said, and an unspoken ‘for the millionth time’ could be heard in her tone. “That’s what Tamara and I are for.”

Dean rolled his eyes but Sam felt the stirrings of frustration as well. He also wanted to help in a substantial way. He wanted to figure out what was going on instead of just being an empty symbol to reassure the public that steps were being taken.

That was a necessary role as well, sure, but one Sam wanted to delegate.

“C’mon Sammy. Let’s go.”

Dimah was much more composed when they met her in person; she patiently stood at the doorway to her home for several moments while two photographers clicked away to capture Dean greeting her (with Sam in the background) and once inside, she offered them tea and set them down in her living room.

“Thank you for coming, Mr Winchester. It means so much to us... for you to do this is truly special. I imagine there must be so many places that need your help.”

“Well, I’m here now,” Dean said gently, leaning forward on the couch. “Tell me everything.”

“Okay.” She took a steadying breath. “You see, it started before he disappeared. The changes... I noticed almost immediately, two weeks ago. He’d come home late, or not at all until the next morning. He was angry; not violent but just... frustrated with me, it sounded like. He’d be on the phone for hours, or lock himself in his study. He’d just be... away from me.” Her fingers nervously adjusted a fold of her hijab. “I know what some people are saying. Accusing him of philandering, of having an affair... it wasn’t that. He was like another person. I actually thought about drugs before I thought about him cheating.”

“When you say he was like another person... what do you mean, Dimah?”

“I mean exactly that.” She fixed her large brown eyes on Sam. “He looked like my husband but he didn’t act like him. I have known Ahmed for twenty years. It wasn’t like him at all.”

They walked out and Sam’s mind was churning with theories; a shifter was naturally at the top of the list, but it could definitely be witches, or something non-supernatural at all, or God forbid the first confirmed case of post-Hellsgate demonic possession.

“That sound like an affair to you?” Dean wanted to know.

“With context, and six people disappearing in a week? No. Even if some were involved with each other, that’s too many. I think something moved into town.”

Dean nodeed. “I agree.” He tossed the keys to the Impala in the air and caught them, a pensive look on his face.

“What?”

“...I don’t know. The way she described his attitude... her choice of words?”

Sam paused before getting into the car; rested a hand on its blazing hot top.

“The part about him being ‘like another person’?” he asked.

“No. You notice how she said ‘it wasn’t like him’ instead of ‘it wasn’t him’?”

Sam had, but it didn’t occur to him how important that subtle difference was until Dean pointed it out.

“I’m talkin’ about the part about the drugs. Like him being on drugs.” Dean slowly opened the driver-side door and Sam mimicked him, dropping down on his seat. “I think that’s the part that’s weird about this. The shit he was doing--sounds like she’s describing some strung-out junkie, don’t you think?”

“Huh. I guess you’re right.”

Dean nodded. “Yeah. There’s only certain types of feeders that can do that. I think we’ll be able to narrow down the suspect list some.”

*

“Hey Dean, so get this,” Sam started, pulling up the top two websites he had found. “If we take into account the stories from Mr Jones, Mr Voorhees and Ms Richardson things start to look exactly like an addiction pattern. You were right.”

Dean crossed the room over to him, nodding gravely. “So what’ve you got?”

“Well, according to Jo, Mr Jones described what sounded like signs of withdrawal; clammy skin, shakiness... like actual physical withdrawal. And do you know what type of feeder gets off on addiction?” He didn’t wait for Dean to answer; of course he knew. “The vampiric kind.” He turned the laptop so Dean could read over his shoulder more comfortably. “There’s obviously a million types of vampire, but some of them do hunt by getting humans hooked on their juice. It’s its own high for them, or something.”

“Huh. So is it killing them? ‘Cause Mrs Jones left a note. And Ms Richardson’s partner wrote ‘fuck you Jackie’ on the bathroom mirror, if that counts.”

“I don’t know. But it’s manipulating them, getting them hooked on something, and then getting them to leave their loving spouses.”

“Okay. Okay great, so let’s get to know these suckers.”

To his own distant horror, Sam found himself wanting to smile. He felt elated, intrigued by the case, eager to help those families, determined to find the truth. And he knew Dean felt the same. For once, something real they could work with. Something real they could do to help.

He sensed, rather than saw, Dean shoot him a sly look.

“Old times?” he murmured, almost in Sam’s ear.

A frisson of arousal trickled down Sam’s spine as he realized he could feel Dean’s breath on the back of his neck.

“...Yeah. Old times.”

*

The whole group wanted to help with the hunt. Even Pamela, who was obviously being told something different from higher up, was clearly itching to solve the case.

Her and Tamara’s room ended up becoming something of a headquarters where the hunting experts on the team would exchange theories, witness interviews, and clues. Tamara herself was the first one who brought up incubi.

“If the ‘drug’,” She mimed quotation marks. “Is in fact lust, the victims may not even be dead. Some incubi and succubi keep their prey in lairs; these people could be incapacitated by their chemical adoration and induced sexual desire.”

She got nods from the room. “Never hunted an incubi before,” Jo admitted.

Sam and Dean exchanged a look. “Our Dad did, once. I was... thirteen?”

“Twelve.” Dean grimaced. “It tried to come after you.”

“Oh God, ew.” Charlie shuddered. “Poor Sam.”

Sam remembered Dad going nuts on the monster and Dean sneaking into his bed that night to hold on to him in sleep, but he hadn’t really interacted with the incubus much. It had looked like a beautiful woman, and had said some pretty screwed up stuff to him, but things hadn’t escalated to any physical or sexual violence.

“We should catch up law enforcement. Tell them what to look for in a lair.”

“I agree, but they have to call us if they find it.” Pamela took out her phone from her pocket and waved it. “We’ll take shifts to make sure we don’t miss the call, but we need to be the ones who get this thing. Things could... go very wrong, if it’s the cops try to take it out without us.”

No one questioned her assessment. No one asked how she knew.

“Sam, can I talk to you for a second?”

Sam hung back as the group dispersed, and shook his head at Dean before Dean could offer to stay behind with him. Tamara also left her own room after a quick exchange of looks with Pamela.

The psychic sat down on one of the beds, an uncharacteristically defeated set to her shoulders.

“Sam, I have to bring up something you hate. I’m really sorry.”

Sam almost bolted for the door right then.

“Please, hear me out. I wouldn’t do this to you if it wasn’t necessary. If there weren’t lives at stake. Please.”

Disquieted by the way she was acting, Sam somehow found the courage to stay. He stayed standing, though.

“This thing... it’s evading my Sight. I can’t... I can’t quite See it. Sometimes that happens with monsters, and that’s normal. But I think you all did some strong research work and I agree with the proposed theory. It definitely sounds like a feeder.”

“...Okay.”

“Which is why I need to tell you what I know about incubi. Succubi. Sirens... the whole lot of them. They shape-shift, as I’m sure you’re aware.”

“Yes. Usually into whatever is most desirable to their target.”

“Right. And they know what their pray finds most desirable because they have insight into their deepest, darkest wants, they don’t pick and choose their features at random.” Pamela sighed, low and heavy. “Sam... we both know what shape is the most desirable for you.”

Sam started walking away as soon as she said it.

“Sam wait, wait! Please, there are six people’s lives on the line. Please.”

He got all the way to the door handle, but stopped. The last thing he wanted was to air out his secret in this room; he’d rather be skinned alive. But... it wasn’t his life he was playing with. Pamela had to have some sort of point, he had to believe that.

He turned around.

“I’m telling you this because I have to.” She stood up from the bed, hands clenched into fists. “I’ve Seen a future where we leave this place and every last one of these people has died. I think it’s because we never find the creature, or we figure out whose form it has taken too late.” She looked him straight in the eye. “I think it’s because it targets you, and I think you believe it. You believe it’s him.”

Sam’s mouth went dry.

“I’m asking you to keep your guard up around him. For the next couple of days... please, you have to be very, very sure. Every time you lose sight of him, even for a second... you have to be very sure it’s Dean.”

*

Some of the worst forty-eight hours of Sam’s life happened next. He stuck to Dean like glue, but was terrified of everything Dean said or did. He read too much into Dean’s jokes. He didn’t sleep more than an hour each night.

Dean noticed.

“If you’re worried about the creature targeting you, Sammy, don’t be.” He tried to make Sam smile. “I’d notice the second you stopped looking like a repressed monk and actually got some.”

Sam didn’t smile.

*

It was a cop who found it, in the end.

Kevin took the call at 4 a.m. the following night, and woke everybody up immediately. He, Lisa and Charlie stayed behind but every other licensed hunter (and Sam) bolted out of their hotel rooms like they were on fire.

The lair was a disturbingly clean apartment in a well-off part of the town. Some of the victims were clearly still alive when they burst in, but they had something else to focus on at first; the creature was there, too.

It looked like a gorgeous young woman; she was wearing a black robe loosely tied around her waist. There was an almost disturbingly innocent air about her that made her appear too childish to sexualize, and Sam felt sick.

Then Dean said: “Fire!” and the police brought it down in a hail of silver bullets. As soon as it was on the floor it lost the female shape; it became something pasty-grey and moist, humanoid only in the vaguest of ways. Dean shoved a stake through its mouth in a gruesome but chillingly effective move to get the saliva into its own bloodstream, incapacitating it so it could be killed.

A police officer threw up. Tamara and Jake went over to the victims, who were lying in various beds and couches in a drowsy, half-asleep state. When Tamara carefully cut the tip of a woman’s fingertip, the poor thing let her do it with a smile on her face. She was still high, still completely unaware of her surroundings.

“Blood of the victim. Poisons them,” Tamara muttered to the cops, demonstrating just that by coating her dagger with it like she was finger-painting.

“Sarge,” Dean grunted, as the officers stood mostly frozen and gaping at the scene. “Did you call 911?”

“Yes. Sorry, sir. They’ll be here any minute, sir.”

Tamara killed the creature by stabbing it through the heart. It wrinkled and withered and then turned to ash, as though it had been burned from the inside out.

“Fuck,” one of the cops said.

“Any chance it has a friend?” another asked.

“Unlikely. These things work alone.”

Dean motioned to the other hunters to spread out and they did immediately; going to check pulses and attend to as many victims as they could.

Sam found Ahmed’s pulse to be fast and thready, but he was alive. He looked up to tell Dean, who was crouched over the recognizable figure of Mr Jones’ wife. He saw Dean gently close her eyes.

*

They stayed in Gainesville for an impromptu half-day of training after the Chief of Police asked them to. So much press had swarmed down to Florida to cover the situation that the Agency okayed Pamela’s request.

Sam felt reinvigorated after the hunt, despite the person they hadn’t saved in time. It had been a real hunt; Dimah had gotten her husband back thanks to them; thanks to the job they were good at. And Dean... Dean looked better, too. He looked more like his old self than he had in a long time; cracking more terrible jokes, smiling more. Teasing Sam.

Teasing Sam in more ways than he knew.

“Sammy, check it out. Bet you I can get the waiter to ask me out instead of you.”

Their waiter was male, the diner was in Florida, and Sam was not impressed.

“I’m not gonna take a bet over a person, Dean.”

Dean raised an eyebrow. “Afraid you’ll lose?”

“Afraid you’ll be a dick.” He speared some more of his salad on the fork and paused before putting it in his mouth. “It’s a fear born from experience.”

He made Dean snort with laughter and hated that he kept wanting to grin about it. The rest of the team was having dinner just like them in threes and fours along other booths, but Sam and Dean were isolated enough that Sam had no one who could divert his brother’s attention. Dean was stuck on the topic.

“Guys are really into me, Sam.”

Sam was aware.

“Attitude magazine did a whole spread on how hot I am.”

“Congrats.”

“What? You know it’s true.” Dean pretended to check out the waiter as he talked to one of his co-workers by the counter. Sam couldn’t deny the other guy was attractive; around Dean’s height but of a smaller build. Younger, too. “Who knows? I could be persuaded.”

Sam rolled his eyes.

“Might be fun to try new things,” Dean insisted. His gaze turned pensive, and he kept looking at that stupid fucking kid. “In a way, I’m kind of like a virgin if you think about it.”

Sam did not. Want. To think about it.

“That concept is archaic.”

“Your face is archaic.”

“At least I’m not an idiot.”

“You’re just hating because I’m still partially hymenated.”

The statement was so ridiculous that Sam burst out laughing, suddenly unable to hold on to his irritation.

“You what?”

“What?” Dean grinned, clearly cognizant of what he was saying. He was looking back at Sam now. “There’s one cherry I haven’t popped yet.”

“Dean, I swear to God, that is the dumbest thing that ever came out of your mouth.”

“I’m saying a certain thing has never come into my mouth--”

“You’re disgusting.”

“You love it.”

Sam shook his head, still smiling. “I can’t believe you.”

“All I said was I could be persuaded. Be interesting to see if I was still a good lay if you switched the layout on me, don’t you think?”

Sam dropped his face into his own hand, groaning.

“Just thinking out loud, Sammy.” He glanced at the waiter again and Sam caught him at it because he had peeked between his fingers. He kicked Dean in the shin. “Ow!”

“Stop doing that. We are not doing that.”

“Bitch.”

Sam’s heart leapt. “Jerk.”

Dean’s eyes were fond in the soft pink neon light. They both paused as though to acknowledge the moment, and what it meant. Maybe to silently salute a past that wasn’t really ever going to come back.

“All I’m saying,” Dean said again, voice only slightly shaky. “Is that there’s some unexplored real-estate here for the next lucky fella who buys me a beer.”

Breathing a bit louder than was necessary, Sam replied: “That all it takes? One beer?”

“I’m a cheap date but a rich meal, little brother.”

He tried to kick Dean in the shin again but ended up kicking the bench.

*

“The proceeds go to a supernatural education advocacy group called ‘Fantastic Beings’.”

“That name is lame.”

“Your face is lame.”

“Shut up, Reggie.”

“Stand down, Sam. We all know Dean’s face is far from lame.”

“Hey, pay attention, come on.” Pamela clapped her hands. “As I was saying, it’s one night only and the Banes will be there, so we have to go.”

Dean did not give her lip that time, and Sam didn’t think it was because they were in the lobby again. But at least Reggie kept quiet too.

“What’s my role?”

“They are auctioning off spelled items, some talismans... there’s rumors about a rabbit’s foot but who knows. Cursed objects are technically banned from formal auctions, but these people will try to spin them as collectibles, not to be used--anyway, it’s going to be a bunch of rich fucks who want to display exciting magical stuff in their glass cases. You’re legitimizing a wonderful cause by showing up.”

“Great.”

Jo looked up from her phone to say: “My mom says Bela Talbot will be there. Apparently she provided some of the artifacts.”

“Oh, more good news,” Dean muttered.

“What’s wrong with Bela?” Charlie asked, wide-eyed.

Dean shot her a complicit look; “Nothing the eye can see,” he leered. “She just doesn’t like me very much. Feeling’s mutual.”

From a farther couch, Lisa muttered: “Shocking,” but Sam didn’t think anyone heard her but him.

“And you’ll make nice with Max?” Pamela pressed. “Get him to smile real big for the cameras?”

Dean pursed his lips and smacked them. “Yup.”

“Good.” She turned to Sam. “We’ll put you in a tux this time, Sam. Move you from security to attendee.”

“We’ll find him something nice to wear,” Lisa said with a smile.

Sam smiled faintly back. “Thanks, Lisa.”

“Whoa, whoa,” Dean chuckled, unconvincingly. “You didn’t say anything about pimping out my baby-brother, before.”

“We’re not. It’s just that Sam looks good in anything,” Lisa said.

“Or nothing,” Pamela added with a wink.

“Wait, pimping him out to who?” Walt asked, frowning. “Bela?”

“Whom,” Jake muttered.

Charlie snorted. “No, Walt. Not Bela.”

“Wait, do we all have to dress up...?”

As they descended into chaotic side-conversations, words tripping over each other, Sam had to smile.

*

There were no photographers allowed inside the auction house, so the meeting had to happen on the way into the building.

The steps were very broad and low, making for a long, flat ascencion that Sam noted would go easy on high heels. In the dark of nighttime the artificial lighting flooded them in thick, rich gold. Dean’s hair looked like gleaming copper (Sam suspected Lisa had told him to put product in it so it looked good in pictures, and not for the first time) and the white shirt under his midnight-blue tux also changed in color. They’d put Sam in a tuxedo as well, an elegant gunmetal grey number with a black shirt and tie underneath... but he had no idea why anyone would look away from Dean for even a moment. Tonight, more than any other night, he was the most beautiful thing Sam had ever seen.

The paparazzi seemed to agree with Sam from their cordoned-off area at the bottom of the steps; they shouted at Dean while clicking and flashing and asking Dean to turn around, please, Dean, please, turn around, look over your shoulder, turn around, to the camera, into the camera, smile for us Dean, looking great Dean, face the cameras, Dean please!

The team was already inside to allow for the oh-so-casual encounter between the Winchesters and the Banes on the stairs, but Pamela and Kevin had arranged everything to ensure that their respective cars arrived with astounding coordination. Sam and Dean were only halfway up the steps when Max and Alicia got out of their vehicle, waving and smiling at the crowd and the cameras.

“Max! Alicia! Who is your favorite hunter to work with!”

“Are you thinking of moving to America?”

“Alicia! Who are you wearing, Alicia!”

“Max! Is it true that Michael Sam is your boyfriend!”

Sam watched the twins walk up to greet Dean with more anticipation than apprehension; after everything they’d been through in the interim he felt tentatively hopeful that Dean wouldn’t be a colossal dick this time.

“Sam! It’s so good to see you again.”

And then, to Sam’s surprise and Dean’s clear shock, Max ignored the latter in favor of walking around him and embracing the former. The camera flashes went off like crazy.

“I was so sorry to hear you’d left the gala!”

Sam shot Dean a panicked look, but Alicia commandeered Dean’s attention by giving him her hand to kiss.

“I-I’m sorry we did; something came up and we just took off. It was so rude...”

Max smiled. “You’re forgiven. But you should tell me all about that adorable dog shelter to make up for it.”

“Oh, you--you saw that?” Sam glanced at Dean again. Alicia was saying something inaudible to him with a big smile on her face. It looked a bit threatening, somehow. “That’s so embarrassing, I hate taking pictures.”

“You kidding? I thought you looked so cute, rolling around the floor with that huge-ass mastiff!”

Sam laughed. “You’re too kind, man...”

“Hey Max! Glad we could meet again.”

He felt a clap on his shoulder and then Dean was thrusting his hand out for Max to shake. After a moment’s amused hesitation, Max did.

“Hey, Dean.” He looked up at Sam, as if to say ‘This guy, huh?’. “Good to see you again.”

“Sorry about our little disappearing act that night. Sammy and I had some stuff to take care of. Together.”

His tone was circling the vicinity of jovial, which was certainly an improvement, but something about it still sounded off in a way Sam couldn’t quite pinpoint. It just... wasn’t hostility this time.

“Oh hey Sammy, your tie looks funky.”

Sam couldn’t do anything to prevent what happened next.

The paparazzi went wild--his field of vision became a series of flashing images and he felt, rather than saw, Dean reach for his neck to adjust his tie.

It happened almost like a slideshow; Dean leaning in, Dean hunching his shoulders to lift up his arms; Dean’s lips pursing in disapproval as he tugged at the fabric; Dean squinting slightly at Sam’s collar; Dean’s freckled nose. It was probably for the best that Sam couldn’t focus his gaze on his suddenly-attentive brother, especially given how close Dean apparently had to get to work on Sam’s knot.

When Dean was done he patted Sam on his chest and shot the cameras a brief, distant smile, which prompted another flurry of intermittent white lights.

By the time it was over Alicia just said: “That should be enough, right? Are we all set? Shall we go in?”

“Lead the way, ma’am.”

She laughed, but didn’t comment on Dean’s moniker.

Sam didn’t comment either. About anything at all.

The way the auction house was set up emulated an opera house or a movie theatre; it certainly gave Sam a similar feeling, down to the plush burgundy seats and the curtained stage before the opening.

“This place is nice,” Max said, looking around the vast hall admiringly. Some guests were still milling about but most people had started to take their seats. The four of them stopped by a large column at the top of the slope descending towards the rows of chairs. “Our mom used to buy us ramen for dinner some days. Man, how things have changed.”

Dean’s eyebrows flew up. “You prefer this? All this posing around crap?”

“Well...not the posing part, no.” Max inclined his head. “But it is kinda nice to be gainfully employed--as you know, Canadian hunters are technically part of the CSIS.”

“But don’t you miss the job?”

Alicia frowned a little. “What do you mean?”

“Hunting,” Sam put in. “Like, actually hunting.”

Max was frowning, too. “You mean like hunting was before? Having to lie to witnesses because they can’t know what you’re looking for? Having to dig up graves in the dead of night instead of getting an expedited city permit?”

It was Dean who caught on first. “Are you saying you guys still hunt?”

“Of course we do! That’s our job.” Alicia’s eyes were wide with surprise. “Are you saying you don’t? At all?”

Dean looked dumbfounded. “I mean... a little. A very little. When we get a real one.”

“I don’t understand,” Max said. “You’re Dean freaking Winchester! Everyone must be dying to get you places so you can save people. Hunt things!”

“I...”

“What’s stopping you?” Alicia wanted to know.

They were interrupted by one of the ushers offering to take them to their seats (even though he tripped over his own feet halfway there because he kept shooting awed looks at Alicia in her gorgeous red dress). Then they had to halt the conversation because the rest of the team was there, and Alicia didn’t know that she’d just met part of the answer to her question.

The process started soon after that, and for a while they were all silent, watching. A middle-aged guy rattled off the numbers from the side podium while a man and a woman showcased the item in question in a weird kind of mime. The items being sold were jarringly familiar and mundane-looking to Sam--he suspected most of the auction attendees didn’t have a hunting background at all, as Pam had suggested. A cursed box sold for eight-thousand dollars. An old, no-longer-functional hex-bag sold for fifteen-hundred.

“Hey, Sam,” Max whispered.

He was sitting to Sam’s left (Dean was at his right), and Sam tilted to his side to listen.

“For the record, the me-and-Michael thing isn’t true. He’s just a friend.”

Sam felt himself flush. “...Oh.”

“Yeah.” Max smiled, looking up at him from his lashes. The auction house had barely dimmed the lights over the audience in order for the auctioneer to see their bids, but the seats were large and high-backed so it felt intimate enough. “And I don’t want to assume anything, but was your brother really rescuing you that night? Or--?”

“He wasn’t. He was being a dick.” He knew Dean was probably trying to listen in on this conversation and hoped he overheard that part. “I... uh. Feel free to... assume away.” He gave Max a tentative smile back.

And then he felt a pressure on his leg, and whipped his head to the right.

Dean’s hand was on his thigh.

All his breath had left Sam in a rush so he mouthed, instead of saying: ‘What?’. The palm of Dean’s hand was warm and firm, gripping the meat of his quad.

Dean motioned with his other hand for Sam to lean towards him.

Sam turned to look at Max again and saw that Max had caught the whole exchange.

“Sorry, one second.” Sam shifted over to Dean. The hand on his thigh stayed in place. “What, Dean.”

“I’m not...” Dean was frowning. Sam hoped against hope that he wasn’t worked up over his stupid machismo thing again. “M’not trying to be a dick.”

“So does it just come natural, or...?”

“Sam.” Dean searched his face for something. “I... uh, I...”

“You what?”

Suddenly the people around them broke into applause, as a mirror Sam hadn’t paid attention to was sold to some elderly woman.

On Dean’s other side, Tamara was reading a prospectus without listening to them.

“I... just wanted to ask if you’re okay.”

Sam huffed. “Great timing.”

“No, it’s...” Dean seemed frustrated by something. His grip on Sam’s leg tightened. “Sam, I just--I’m sorry, okay, I know you think I’m overcompensating or something but--”

“And now ladies and gents, a quick break before the big-ticket items! Bidding will resume in ten minutes.”

The lights came back up to full brightness and people started talking at a normal volume, leading Sam and Dean to stand up along with everybody else.

“Hey Sam, Alicia and I are going to grab drinks. You want anything?”

“I’m good. Thanks, Max.” He shot Max an apologetic smile and Max shook his head minutely as if to say it wasn’t necessary. He and Alicia took off, almost immediately being greeted by someone who looked vaguely famous, Sam suspected from the world of cinema.

“Sammy I’m sorry, I--”

“Well, don’t you two clean up nice!”

They were interrupted again--but having only met her once, Sam still felt he would have recognized that voice in that accent anywhere.

“Bela.” Dean turned around to greet the woman sitting on the row behind them. “I thought I smelled cash in small bills.”

Bela chuckled, pretending to fan herself. “Aw, you’ve seen my bed lining?” She turned to Sam. “And the younger is here, too. Very nice, I must say. Congratulations to your tailor.”

Sam didn’t know what to say in response. She looked gorgeous--her eyes were enhanced by the teal color of the dress she had on inside an overlarge fur coat.

“It’s been too long, Dean. Long enough I haven’t had a chance to meet your baby brother properly.” She stood up with the fluidity of one who knew full well how her body looked best. Sam couldn’t help his gaze from darting down her frame, just once. “A pleasure, Sam.”

Sam shook the hand she’d extended. “Are some of the items yours?”

“Yes. The dreamroot is coming up, I think. Lots of older folks want to buy those.”

“Is that safe?” Dean frowned. “In the hands of civilians--”

“Their safety is hardly my concern.” She shrugged. “I’m just here as a procurer of goods.”

Dean rolled his eyes. Sam opened his mouth to object to her blase attitude when--

She’s better than any of them. Any of those fuckers. She could decapitate them all in a second if she wanted.

“Ah--”

A headache slammed into his temples so powerfully that he doubled over.

Why are they fighting it? A wedding ring on bloody fingers, the yield of flesh being sliced open, the whispers of the coming storm. Stupid new kids are still trying to get free... trying to fight their gifts and resist this beautiful state of being. Idiots. She wanted to kill them, but they could prove useful--she should wait. The strong one is an interesting case, to be sure. The thrill of power, so much possibility, so much power. The day draws near. She can feel, taste, smell it. They will be rewarded when the Return happens; more power than she has now, power beyond her wildest dreams and endless amounts of black smoke for her to command.

He was being moved--walked, half-carried somewhere.

“Dean...”

“Hold on, hold on Sammy, hold on buddy--”

The vision faded as sound and color returned to Sam’s world. His first thought was that they’d think he was drunk off his ass; which shouldn’t matter, not really, but he still cared. Dean had slung his arm around his shoulders and was practically dragging him to safety, or to... to somewhere, people were shooting them looks of concern and Sam tasted metal in his mouth.

“Dean-n...”

“Almost there. Almost.”

The bathroom attendant’s eyes went wide but Dean just pointed at him and said: “No one comes in.” before slamming the door open.

“Dude, what the--”

Out,” Dean snarled.

He was obeyed within seconds, by three men who probably didn’t even know why they scrambled out of there like something was on fire. Sam had heard John in that command; pure authority.

“Sammy.” His voice went back to being sweet, soft. “Sammy hey, hey, look at me...”

Sam did.

Everything came fully into focus.

Dean’s face was inches from his own, wide-eyed with concern as he looked Sam over. The bathroom was all-marble-and-gold and too much light for the pounding in Sam’s head. Probably a good thing the mirrors were to his back; he was half-sat on the sink, a surprisingly dry space on the counter. His brother was standing between his legs.

Dean grabbed paper towels without looking away from him for a second and started to wipe at his mouth, careful to cover his hand with the paper so it didn’t scrape Sam’s skin.

“Everything’s okay, Sammy,” he murmured, his other hand firm on the back of Sam’s neck, practically holding Sam’s head up. “You’re okay. You’re here, at a fancy-ass auction in a fancy-ass tux. With your fancy-ass brother... in a slightly fancier-ass tux.”

They will be rewarded when the Return comes.

“The demons,” Sam mumbled. “Someone’s planning to help the demons.”

Dean’s movements faltered but didn’t stop. “...That what you dream about?”

Sam felt sick. “I’ve been dreaming about them this whole time. My nightmares...” He felt polluted to his bones. “My nightmares are about demons.”

“Shh, shh.” Dean caressed the back of his scalp with his fingers. “We can talk about this later.”

“N-no, there’s... a woman, she...”

“Sam, it may not even have happened yet.”

“Dean, the woman wants them to come back. I think we were right--Ash was right. Certain powers are demonic.”

Dean shook his head. “You don’t want the demons back.”

“N-no but these people--”

“Dammit, Sam, no.” Dean leaned in so Sam had no recourse but to meet his determined gaze. “You’re nothing like these people. Whoever they are--whoever that woman is. Whatever she wants. We will stop her.” He was gripping Sam’s hair more than caressing it now, holding onto it for emphasis. “I told you; they won’t hurt you. I won’t let them.”

Sam had wanted to kiss him so many goddamn times, but this one beat them all out.

His neck was aching, his shoulders hurt, his head was pounding and so was his heart--Dean, Dean, Dean, Dean. Reassuring, comforting, strong, loving Dean. He wanted so badly to drown himself in Dean. Bury himself in Dean. Immolate himself in Dean.

Maybe the hunger in him registered somewhere in Dean psyche somehow because Dean let out a harsh, sharp breath and threw his arms around him; hugging him tight.

Sam couldn’t believe his own luck--twice in as many months was a miracle. This feeling was a miracle. They fit as though their bones were designed that way; complementary pieces.

“I’ll kill them all,” Dean grunted, right in his ear.

Sam swallowed a whimper and held onto him, wrapping his own arms around Dean’s waist to press them closer. The solid bulk of Dean’s body and the crisp smell of him were all he could feel, and while he was allowed this feeling--while he was permitted to melt, he was going to take all he could from it.

“God, Sammy...”

He felt Dean shudder in his arms and tried to stop it--the confusion his body underwent sometimes, when Sam’s brain knew one thing but his body forgot. As Dean’s fingers started slowly carding through his hair again Sam’s breathing lost its rhythm. Dean shifted slightly, maybe because he needed to transfer his weight from one leg to another but rubbing his whole front against Sam’s. He was so solid everywhere--but also so very contained within Sam’s embrace. One could grow accustomed to holding him.

Sam tried to stop it with everything he had but it was inexorable; this well-trodden path. Dean didn’t say anything more, just switched from resting his chin on Sam’s shoulder to resting his cheek on it, turning his head to the side so his vaporous breath was blowing directly on Sam’s neck. Sam’s skin erupted in goosebumps, and he was moments away from a full-body shudder himself. He needed to push Dean away before Dean felt him get hard; his crotch was flush with Sam’s and Sam was big enough that no one in Dean’s position could miss it.

The fingers in his hair kneaded a little more firmly as Dean shifted again; a slow, languid move that once again pressed his front against Sam’s. And then Dean moved yet again--and again, as though he was restless, or uncomfortable, but it was almost rhythmic, the way he was kind of rocking forward, and he was so close, and the friction was so good. Sam’s dick twitched eagerly, a pulse of energy lighting him up. He breathed in one last time, ready to let go.

And, abruptly, Dean was the one who ripped away.

Sam blinked at him, schooling his features into innocence lest Dean had felt--or suspected--or--

“I-I’m gonna...” Dean rasped, breathing hard. “Gotta--I’ll be back, Sammy. Gonna ask Pam about... be right back.”

He ran out of the bathroom seconds later.

Sam was left clutching the counter for balance, with a hard-on that he’d have little trouble thinking away after Dean’s escape. The migraine returned at the same time as a lurch of nausea had him whirling to dry-heave over the sink.

Dean must have felt it. He must have. If he had figured out that Sam--

“Sam! Aw man, there you are.”

Jake walked in on him hacking out frantic coughs, trying to swallow and breathe like a human being again.

“Jesus, what the...?”

“M’fine,” Sam wheezed. “M’fine, I had a... a sudden-onset migraine, I just needed a break.”

Jake looked at him for a moment. “Well, break’s over. They re-started the auction and Pam sent me to find you guys before people started talking.”

“Dean just walked out. You didn’t see him?”

“No.” Something on his face made Jake’s eyes widen. “The fuck, Sam. Is that blood?” He closed the space between them and squinted at Sam’s upper lip. “Did he... punch you?”

“No! Jesus.” Sam wiped at his inconvenient nose. He was in so much pain, and the pain was nothing to the amount of worry--he needed to find Dean, to explain, in case... in case Dean had felt--

“Sam. What happened? You look like a goddamn ghost, man.”

“I’m... I just... I need to find Dean.”

Jake squared his shoulders and nodded. “Okay. Did he say where he was going?”

“N-no. Yes. To find Pam.”

“Okay. All right, let’s go talk to Pam.”

The bathroom attendant had left when they re-emerged and Sam spared a thought for the potential gossip article that was going to appear the following day.

Obviously vigilant, but without touching him, Jake led Sam back out into the auction. Sam felt horribly conspicuous walking around while pretty much everyone else was seated, but even before they started the descent down to their seats he could tell Dean wasn’t sitting with Pam--their two seats were empty. Had Dean taken off into the night? Terrified, disgusted by something he’d given Sam no chance to deny... had he left?

“Whoa, Sam, Sam...”

Jake gripped him by the arm when Sam swayed where he stood, focusing on not vomiting on some rich guy’s shoes.

“You okay? What the hell is going on with you?”

A burst of applause served as the perfect cover for Sam to not answer, and then he caught sight of Pamela making her way towards them.

“Pam.” Jake waved her over. “Hey, listen--”

“I need to find Dean,” Sam blurted. “Please, I need to talk to him.”

She tucked her hair behind one ear. “Weren’t you just with him? I saw you two run off together like two seconds ago.”

“N-no, no, he just... he just took off, he said he was going to ask you something.”

Pamela frowned, her heavy-lashed eyes noticeably blinking. “Haven’t seen him. Did he say anything else?”

They didn’t get--neither of them understood how urgent this was. “Pamela, please. Would you Look for him?”

She blanched. He’d been more polite, the last time he asked about her Sight. “Sam, what’s going on?”

“Please, I just...” Dean was probably on his way back at the hotel. Or he could have fled to a bar to get drunk. There were so many options, none of them justifying Sam’s sense of emergency. “Please, Pam. Please.”

“Okay, okay, Jesus.” She motioned for Jake to follow and the three of them left the main auditorium, walking back out onto the massive lobby. It was deserted but for the three receptionists and two security guards at each entrance. “Let’s find--I need somewhere quiet.”

“This is--”

“Quiet of people. Different kind of quiet.”

They ended up in the women’s bathroom.

Pamela had grabbed a fistful of the trail of her black dress to walk around, but she released it when they were all finally standing in a triangle.

“Okay,” she said, attempting calm. “Okay, can you tell me anything about what the hell is going on?”

“No. I had... a headache, and he was just... helping. Please, can you just... cast your Eye around the area?”

The marble in here was the same as the men’s. The lights were also a shade too bright.

Pamela sighed. “I’m gonna do it, Sam. But I want you to know that I would never Look for someone without their consent. Not unless I thought they might be in danger. You wanna know his location? Call his phone or track his GPS like a creep. Don’t come to me.”

But the second she’d said the word, it had hit Sam--what this feeling was, where it came from.

Danger.

He’d had a conversation with Pamela not that long ago. She’d asked him: You worried about him, Sam? and he’d thoughtlessly answered: He’s so famous, that must mean he’s getting negative attention too, right? He’d been so furious with Dean about the lie, his misdirection about the death-threats... when had he decided that meant Dean was in no danger at all?

He wasn’t afraid of Dean, he was afraid for him. Something was wrong.

“Do it,” he spat. There was no time to explain.

She didn’t make him wait; just tilted her head back slightly and her gaze became unfocused. Her eyes were brighter than the gleam of reflection could account for; they were glowing.

“Damn,” Jake whispered. “I’ve never seen her do this.”

Sam said nothing. He stared avidly at her and waited.

And waited.

“Wh...” Suddenly she was back, but there was a confused frown on her face. “I can’t See him.”

The bottom dropped from Sam’s world.

What?”

“I can’t... I...” She started to look worried for the first time since he and Jake had gone to get her. “Wait.” She did it again, no ceremony this time; her eyes were just bright suddenly, like added wattage. She came back faster, too. “I think... he’s with something that’s blocking me. Shit, it’s exactly like what happened with that succubus.”

“Look harder,” Sam said, stepping to her. Jake stepped forward too, but he was eyeing Sam, not Pamela. He looked... wary. “What? We have to find him.”

Pamela nodded, and this time she closed her eyes but the glow was so bright that Sam could intuit her eyeballs through her eyelids. She was frowning, no longer serenely gone, and after a few moments she started shaking her head, wincing, in obvious pain.

“Sam...” Jake started.

“Wait.”

“He’s... not far,” she gasped. She was still gone, somewhere Sam couldn’t understand. “He’s close. He’s... someone is with him.”

A drop of blood welled up on the side of her right eye, like a tear.

Sam,” Jake pressed. “She’s gonna hurt herself.”

“Who is he with? Where is he?”

“There is... death.” She held up a hand, wincing again. “A cemetery. He’s alive. There’s a... fuck.”

“Pamela c’mon, cut it out,” Jake snapped. “You’re gonna kill yourself.”

“Who is he with?”

“He...” the droplet slid down her cheek, marking it with a bright red line. Another soon followed on the other side of her face. “I don’t know. He thinks he’s safe.”

“Jesus,” Jake muttered.

But Sam had had enough. “We’re going to get him. Now. Right now.”

He took Pamela’s hand and walked her out of the bathroom without ceremony, tugging her towards the main entrance. Jake followed them, taking out his phone as he did so--presumably to call the team.

“He was just with me,” Sam insisted. “This cemetery, it’s across the street? A block away? Where is it?”

Pamela didn’t answer for a moment. When Sam turned to her impatiently he saw it was because she was wiping her bloody cheek with her hand.

“Pamela. Where is he?”

“Close.” She cleared her throat, avoiding his eyes. “Very close. I think--I’ll be able to find him.”

The security guards gaped at them as they strode over to the doors.

“Call the HH,” Sam told them. “There’s a monster in the cemetery down the street.”

*

It was called Calvary Hill Cemetery.

It was closed for the day, but Sam found he was able to get the gates open with surprising ease. They were old-school, wrought-iron metalwork style. The graves within were neatly kept however, and everything seemed to be in order when Sam got inside.

The desperate desire to scream Dean’s name until he heard a reply was there, but Sam’s hunter instincts hadn’t been completely buried. He let go of Pamela and told her to wait for him at the entrance; she was slowing him down. Jake shot him a frown and stayed with her. She did look a bit pale.

He ran on, useless in his uncomfortable tuxedo and shiny shoes, entirely unarmed... he ran on.

The monster, the siren--whatever it was hadn’t brought a source of light with it. It was hard not to trip over dead flowers or low headstones without a flashlight, and even harder to do without making a noise.

But it was thanks to his commitment to stealth that he heard them before they heard him.

“I mean... you can imagine my surprise.” A male voice that wasn’t Dean’s was speaking. It let out a little laugh. “I’ve seen some messed up shit in my time, but this is up there with the greats, kiddo. Something to tell around the campfire.”

“Fuck you.”

Dean. Sam’s heart leapt, and he slowed his approach. They were at the steps of an especially large mausoleum. Two dark shapes; one lying on the steps, the other towering over him. Its build reminded Sam of the goddamn bathroom attendant.

He crouched down behind a headstone to think of a plan.

“Oh come on. You love me, remember? You love me so much it’s corroding your soul. Taking it over. Hmm... that might actually be the reason I couldn’t hold you in the glamor for very long.”

“What even is the point of all this goddamn monologuing? Did you all make a pact or something?”

Sam took stock of his options. No gun. No nylon wire. No blessed knife. Not even a goddamn toothpick. Of all the goddamn days.

“The point--” it spat, and its voice was becoming distorted. “Is that you understand why you’re dying.”

“Let me guess; a hunter killed your third cousin twice removed--”

You’ve been killing all of us.” It didn’t sound human anymore. “You exposed us to the world and then they celebrated you for it.”

“I happen to like celebrations--argh!” It had kicked him in the stomach. “Fuck. Someone forget your birthday or something?”

“You’ve relegated us--expelled all of us further into the shadows than we’ve ever been. We hunt for scraps--they all know. They are all so fucking careful. All because of you.”

Suddenly the voice changed, and with a crunch and a fleshy squishing sound... so did its silhouette. It became smaller; its clothes ill-fitting.

It sounded female. “I’ve been following you on the road for a while, Winchester. Was waiting for an opportunity like this one.”

To his horror, Sam recognized that voice. It was the schoolteacher from Detroit--Brian’s teacher.

“No...” Dean sounded scared for the first time, too. “You son of a bitch, what did you do?”

“Do? I didn’t do anything, I was waiting for you to let your guard down.” Another crunch, another vomit-inducing morphing shape. “Quite literally in this case. It took forever.”

By the end it was using the reedy, piercing voice of the reporter from Sam’s visit at the dog shelter.

“He’s been something of a nuisance, I’ll be honest.”

And then it was the nurse. Gisella; the bright, helpful woman who’d invited them to Toms River.

“If you touched a goddamn hair on those kids’ heads--”

“Relax, geez! I don’t need to kill anyone to assume a shape, you know.” Her voice was still disturbingly cheerful. “But this exact way you’re feeling? It’s all I wanted you to feel.” Suddenly she let out a guttural growl. “Now you can die.”

“Hey, hey, wait--”

It morphed again, into something bigger, taller and broader than the nurse. Taller even than the bathroom attendant.

“Now, dear brother mine. Will you do as I say?”

It was... it was his own voice. It was Sam.

Sam faltered.

“N-no.” Dean’s voice sounded high, strained. He tried to get away, crawling sideways--he was dragging a leg behind him, was it broken? “Please, no I--”

“C’mon Dean. I’m your little brother. You’ll do anything for me.”

“Sammy, it’s not... not you...”

“Sure it is.” The shape--Sam’s own silhouette crouched down to Dean’s eye-level on the floor. “You love me, don’t you? ‘Cause I love you, Dean. I love you so much.”

A cloud shifted and they were given a touch of moonlight. Sam ducked his head behind the headstone, suddenly afraid he’d be visible.

“Sam...”

“That’s right... do you love me as much as I love you, Dean?”

“More. So much more.”

“Good. So you’d do anything for me, huh?”

“Yes.” Dean had lost his fear and his anger... he sounded flat. Numbed. “Anything. Everything. Everything I do is for you.”

“Good, good.” It chuckled with Sam’s voice. “That’s great. Kill yourself.”

Sam started, like waking from a dream.

“No,” he gasped, scrambling to his feet to run over to them. “No, Dean! Don’t!”

He burst into the scene with something tight in his chest that felt ready to explode.

“Sammy?”

Fucking nuisance,” the siren snarled. Sam almost tripped over nothing when he looked at it; it was so wrong to see so much malice on his own face. “You just won’t quit, will you? Just for that, you’ll watch him do it.”

“Dean!” Sam rushed over to him, but Dean was getting up without regard for the blood Sam could see seeping through his pant leg. His eyes were locked on the creature’s face. “Dean! Hey!”

“Dean,” the siren said, gently. “Do as I say.”

“No, hey, what are you--”

“Don’t breathe.”

Sam whirled around to gape at it. It shrugged, smirking with Sam’s mouth.

Dean was completely silent.

“Dean, no--” he shook him, lifted a hand to Dean’s mouth but there was nothing, no air was going in. “No! Dean, no! Breathe! Dean!”

It laughed. “Aw, man. Even with all that planning--this is a nice little unexpected bonus.”

“Stop it!” Sam yelled. “Let him breathe!”

“I don’t think so.” It started to walk away.

Sam panicked, trying to slap Dean out of it. “Dean! Look at me!”

Dean’s face was impassive. His mouth was slightly open.

“God, oh God... no, please, please...”

The pressure in his chest increased, frantic to get out, fueled by his terror--Sam clutched at Dean’s shoulders, sobbing, begging, pleading, and then... of course, of course; he grabbed Dean’s face and pressed their mouths together to blow air into his lungs.

Except that the second he did, Dean reacted. As though the spell had been instantly broken, his lips parted, parting Sam’s with them, and he drew in a desperate breath directly from Sam’s lungs. His calloused hands came up to cradle Sam’s cheeks and he took the air he needed in a hot rush.

He broke away when Sam had been sucked empty and then Sam was the one gasping for air; they both were.

“Sam?”

He took a step back and Sam caught him before he toppled over by putting his weight on his ruined leg.

“Sam,” he wheezed, pushing at him. “Are you... Sam?”

“S’me. It’s me,” Sam whispered, clutching at him, not letting him go. “I swear. It’s me, Dean.”

“...How did you do that.”

The siren was back.

It didn’t quite look like Sam anymore--there was something off about his skin; it looked grey and sickly, as though starting to rot. The moonlight wasn’t doing it any favors by highlighting the shadows, areas where it was going gaunt when it shouldn’t be.

“How. The fuck. Did you do that?”

“You stay away from him,” Sam warned, shoving Dean behind him. “You leave him alone or I’ll kill you.”

“Kill me with what, loverboy?”

“Wait and see,” he snarled. He didn’t know the specifics of it--he couldn’t say how he knew it, but he felt it in him. Inside him. He had that capacity. He would destroy this creature without needing something so mundane as a tool to do it.

“Sammy--”

“Child, I can kill you both. I can look inside you and twist what you want until you don’t want it as much as you want me.”

Sam thrust out a hand in the air, palm raised, feeling something build. That tension, that desperation in his chest was buzzing like a current. “I don’t think so.”

“Oh no? I’ll make him kill you before killing himself. Actually, I’m going to let him realize what he’s done so I won’t even have to use any of my influence to get him to do it.”

“Sam...?”

“He’ll be so heartbroken... he’ll end his life and then I’ll feed his corpse to my bloodsucking brethren.”

Its voice was a guttural rasp by now. It advanced on him, snarling.

“They’ll fight over the biggest arteries before juicing him out. They’ll rip him apart.”

Spittle was flying from its mouth. Its hair hung in languid strips down too-prominent cheekbones.

“Dean Winchester will be no more.”

The buzzing crescendoed, shooting down Sam’s arm like a shock or the worst muscle cramp of his life, and suddenly the creature screamed.

“Sammy?!”

Sam’s vision blurred, then blacked out altogether.

“SAM!”

He crumpled to the floor, but Dean was there, and he was shouting Sam’s name, so everything was okay.

*

Jake, Jo, Walt and Tamara were standing over him when he woke up. They made a curious picture; armed to the teeth in hunter weaponry but wearing dresses and tuxes, in the moonlit cemetery.

There was a crowd waiting for them outside the gates.

Sam didn’t care about the camera flashes, or the cheers, or the curious look on Bela Talbot’s face. He didn’t care that it was unclear, even to him, whether he was supporting Dean or Dean was supporting him. He didn’t care about his muddy clothes or the migraine that would eat him alive tonight.

He cared about Pamela still standing, and the nod of understanding Max Banes gave him when they passed each other, and the fact that it was over. Dean was safe. It was over.

*

He stepped out of the shower with weak knees; so exhausted he could barely see.

“Sammy? You doing okay in there?”

Dean had made him leave the bathroom door ajar in case he collapsed. ‘You look like shit warmed over,’ he’d said lovingly.

“I’m fine,” Sam said back. But he wasn’t fine.

He struggled to get his clean boxers on, and then struggled to get the shirt he was going to sleep in past his head somehow. Brushing his teeth was even harder.

“Sam? Still with me, buddy?”

He nudged the door open with his foot, letting Dean see him.

Dean was sitting on the foot of the bed, facing him. It had turned out that he’d cut his leg but it wasn’t broken or even sprained, according to the emergency physician. They’d patched him up and sent them on their way.

They’d packed Sam’s bloody nose, too, but a hospital didn’t really have anything to help with what was truly wrong with him.

“Remind me to thank Pam for finding me,” Dean said. “I’ll kiss a kitten on camera or something. M’sure that’ll do it.”

Sam nodded noncommittally. He’d had time to think about his treatment of Pam in that women’s bathroom.

“Bela was great, too. Convincing that cop we needed a police escort to the ER so we could skip red lights.”

“Yeah.” He spat into the sink and rinsed his toothbrush.

“And that... that siren was the fastest goddamn shifter I ever saw. Were you there for the bit where it looked like that schoolteacher? And... the reporter and the nurse?”

“Mh-hmm.”

“You were, huh?” Dean’s voice lost some of its body. “Really? So you saw... what it turned into after?”

Sam walked over to him and sat down (well, dropped into a sitting position) on his bed.

Dean shifted around so he was sitting opposite Sam again. “Sam?” he was almost visibly shaking. “What’d you see?”

Sam let himself think back to the scene in the cemetery.

His brain went to the kiss instantly--as though it had been impatiently waiting to show him again, show him how well it remembered how it had felt, even though it hadn’t even been a kiss at all. Dean’s lips parting and that sucking breath, that stolen air flowing hotly out of him in a gasp. The slide of Dean’s lips against his; the taste of his mouth.

“Sam?”

“I...” He made his way past it to go further back, to that classic scene--the monster taunting its victim, the monologue, the explanation. The monster wearing his face. “Yeah. It looked like me.” He frowned, head still pounding. “Is that how it got you to go with him? How did you not realize it wasn’t wearing my clothes?”

Dean gaped at him.

And then he started laughing.

“...Dean?”

He fell back onto the mattress like he’d just witnessed something hilarious, almost impossible to believe. Sam was in too much pain to catch up with him.

“Dean. What’s so funny.”

“Nothing,” he said, still chuckling. “Nothing. You.” He turned his head to look at Sam, the look in his eyes one of complete amusement. “You, saving my ass like a goddamn superhero. Using your psychic mojo to destroy that thing.”

Sam shrugged, but even that simple action was herculean. “You looked to be in dire straits.”

“I was.” Dean sat up and leaned forward, elbows on his knees. He regained some of his seriousness. “I was, Sam. You saved me. I’d’ve been dead by the time anyone even noticed I was gone, if you weren’t there.”

“You wouldn’t have been away from the group because your crazy brother had a vision.”

Dean actually got up at that and slid off the bed to stand over him. “Hey,” he snapped. “I got myself snatched away in the middle of a crowded room. I got myself almost killed, got it? You rescued me with your badass superpowers.” He pointed at himself. “Whitney.” He pointed at Sam. “Kevin Costner. That’s what happened.”

Sam clasped his hands together to stop them from trembling. He couldn’t see the kiss anymore; now he could only see Dean, standing there in the dark; eyes open, mouth open, not breathing. Not breathing.

“Sam.”

“You could’ve died.”

“I didn’t.”

“If I hadn’t come back from Stanford...” he looked up at met Dean’s eyes. “If you’d been alone...”

“I wasn’t.” Dean smiled. He put a hand on top of Sam’s head, like when they were kids. “You were there.”

The tears wanted to come; slightly nonsensical, largely induced by exhaustion... Sam could feel the burn in his eyes. Exhausted, drained as he was, he wanted to kill that thing one more time.

“Gave me the kiss of life and all.”

When Sam’s gaze snapped back up he found Dean’s skittish to return it.

“I...” Oh God. He’d thought they were just never going to address it, like they did with most things. “S-sorry about that, by the way.”

“Sorry?” Dean’s hand was still on top of his head. He patted Sam gently. “For saving my life?”

Sam winced.

“I’ll take an accidental frenching session over hypoxia any day, man.”

“I d-don’t think it counts as frenching if there’s no tongue.”

Dean snorted. His crotch was blatantly in Sam’s line of sight, which was unfortunate because Dean, like Sam, was in an old shirt and boxer-briefs only. “Fair enough.” The hand in Sam’s hair started to move in soothing circles. His voice got lower. “Still saved me in every way, Sammy.”

Sam hid a shiver. It was starting to get Pavlovian; he couldn’t afford a goddamn erection right now.

“Head hurt?”

“...Yeah. Nothing some sleep won’t fix.”

“I could help.”

No. It was a bad idea. “That’s okay, I think I just... I really need to sleep.”

Dean hummed. “You seemed to really like it, the other times.”

Oh. Oh no.

He abruptly remembered what had happened before Dean had been taken; in the bathroom, that embrace, Dean’s hands in his hair and his body reacting to the closeness. In all the chaos, he’d managed to forget the goddamn reason Dean had run away from Sam in the first place.

“I...” His mouth was dry, but he had to try to explain--had to give Dean an explanation that would justify what had happened without freaking Dean out. “I do.” He strived for a casual tone. “Actually, I probably like it a bit too much, if I’m being honest.” He was assaulted by the sudden need to noisily clear his throat. Dean waited him out, unfortunately. His hand had stopped rubbing circles on Sam's head. “I mean, it’s kind of a thing, with me. Doesn’t mean anything,” he added hurriedly. “It’s just... how I’m wired.”

After a long pause, Dean said: “So?”

Sam didn’t dare look up this time. He looked down at his own lap instead, and his hands flat on top of his thighs.

“So... if you thought I--” Nope, no, no way was he going to put it into words. “--if you felt anything back there, back at the auction, it was just a... meaningless...”

“Sam, what are you trying to say, man?”

“It just looked like you freaked out about something,” Sam blurted.

Dean stepped back, bare feet on carpeted floor. His hand dropped away from Sam’s hair altogether.

“Me? I didn’t freak out.”

Sam shot him an exasperated look. “Then what’dya need to ask Pam about that was so urgent?”

“I...” Dean put his hands on his hips, as though deep in thought. Then he looked up at the ceiling and frowned at something invisible up there. “Can’t remember.”

“Yeah, right.”

If Dean would just call him out on it.

“I don’t... it was probably something about visions. About your visions, and... I don’t know, Sam, I got kidnapped like two seconds later.”

“Did the siren give you amnesia, too?”

Dean snorted. “No. But it doesn’t matter, does it?”

He could have let it go. He could have stopped pushing Dean and gone to sleep like he desperately needed and it would eventually fester between them, make him question everything Dean said, make him paranoid that Dean was misinterpreting what he did or why he did it because he was finally clueing into the fact that Sam felt something very unbrotherly for him.

And it would be like those two days before they caught the incubus in Gainesville for ever.

“Dean, just tell me.”

Dean started to pace the little strip of floor between the beds, in front of Sam. “Sam I told you that your powers don’t scare me. They are yours; they can’t be wrong.”

“I didn’t mean my vision, I meant my...” Jesus, it was like pulling teeth. “My... reaction.”

Dean stopped walking. “Wait.” He turned to look at Sam. “Are you saying you...?” he made a crude gesture with his finger pointing up.

Sam didn’t dignify that with an answer, but his silence spoke for him because Dean did one of his full-body double-takes. Then he sort of dropped onto his own bed, sitting down with a thump.

“Well, fuck me.”

Sam winced, but Dean quickly adjusted the course of his reaction.

“I mean...” He smiled, pink-cheeked but clearly well-meaning. “I don’t know if you know this, but when young boys go through the change their bodies start to do things that are totally natural--”

Sam huffed and then it was his turn to fall back against the mattress, the comforter billowing around him. His migraine objected to the shift in gravity but his neck approved of no longer having to hold his head up.

Dean was impossible sometimes.

“--And that doesn’t mean anything is wrong with them,” Dean went on, voice getting sing-song. “It just means that certain zones of their body called ero--”

“Don’t say it. I hate you.”

But something was glowing inside his belly because Dean was making a joke of it and they’d probably be okay.

“Sam... why don’t you just chill out and let me help you fall asleep?” Sam lifted his head in time to see Dean wriggle his fingers in the air with a cheesy look on his face. “These magic fingers aren’t available to everyone, you know.”

Sam rolled his eyes with some effort.

Dean got up off his own mattress and kneed onto Sam's bed, shuffling over to sit next to him. When he was situated to his liking he gave Sam an inscrutable look and reached out to trace Sam’s hairline with the pad of his thumb without asking.

“C’mon, Sammy. Let me help.”

Sam sighed. He tried to appear put-upon but he could feel a blotchy flush that was probably going to give him away. “Whatever,” he muttered, closing his eyes.

He was too tense at first; too wired to even relax into the mattress.

But then Dean tugged at his hair, just a little. And he started to melt.

“That’s it,” Dean whispered, adjusting his seat on the mattress. “Was that so hard? Hm?” He paused, and added. “No pun intended.”

“Screw you.”

“Now, now, that’s no way to talk to your personal masseuse.” He started to caress the skin behind Sam’s ears and Sam bit his lip and exhaled through his nose, almost screwing up by moaning right then. “...You like that?”

He did it again, scratching a little with his blunt nails.

“Feel good, Sammy?”

“Y-yes,” he confessed quietly. He kept his eyes shut.

He should never have let this happen, because he was already getting hard.

Dean kneaded his way down the sides of Sam’s neck to his shoulders and then came back up, sinking both hands into his hair up to the wrist. “It’s so fuckin’ soft,” he murmured. “Guess that’s why you spend so many hours in the shower, huh? Gotta put all that product in to make it so...” he caught a strand between two fingers and combed it between them. “Hm.”

Sam tried not to squirm. His dick felt full with blood and heavy, starting to press against its fabric confines. If Dean so much as looked down...

“You like that too, huh.”

Jesus. Sam gave a single, small nod. He really needed to keep his eyes shut and not give in to the morbid curiosity to look at Dean’s face.

“You know, you can...” Dean coughed. “I mean... I don’t care ‘bout you liking it a lot.”

Sam could hear the lie. Dean definitely cared.

“You can...” Dean started again. His nails scratched Sam’s scalp harder and Sam pressed his lips together in a line, wanting so badly to groan. “...Sammy, you can let it out. I don’t care. C’mon, lemme hear it.”

“I...” He sounded so breathy, it was pathetic. “N-no, I...”

“C’mon.”

“I don’t--mh.” He clenched his jaw shut again when Dean’s calloused palm brushed the back of his neck. His body was liquefying, thawing down to sludge. “Mh.”

“Sammy come on, s’just us, hm? Just us. It’s okay.”

Sam shifted his hips on the mattress, bare toes scuffing on the floor. There was literally no way Dean was going to miss how into it he was--he felt the burn of self-consciousness and arousal lighting him up. He was so awake.

“You do what you gotta. I don’t... don’t mind.”

“Dean...” It came out too breathy; like its own complete sentence.

“Yeah.” Dean shifted on the mattress again. “S’me, Sam. No one... no one else here. No one else.”

“You...” One of Dean’s hands slid down to caress his chest in broad circles, like one soothing a large, restless animal. Sam lost his train of thought when it passed over his belly button.

“Want you to feel good, Sammy. Just want you to feel good.”

The next circle was wider; Dean’s palm made it all the way to his lower belly, and when it came back up it brushed over Sam’s taut nipples.

“You deserve it.”

Sam whimpered, stifled, in his throat. His dick was fully hard by now.

“You were so brave... My brave little brother...” It felt like he was a hair’s breadth away from touching Sam’s crotch. Sam’s hips wanted to twitch to make that contact happen. “Just want you to feel so good. After everything you did for me...”

Sam squirmed, needing the soothing touches on the places that were aching for them.

“God, Sam... you were fucking... incredible tonight.” Dean’s voice was growing distant, almost as though he was speaking more to himself than to Sam. “Let me...”

Sam’s toes curled in the carpet, anticipation live in him that on Dean’s next pass he was finally going to do it. He was going to slide his hand lower and touch him. On the next one; he was going to pinch Sam’s nipples, or he was going to stroke Sam’s dick and call him ‘good boy’ again--

Sam opened his eyes.

The memory wasn’t clear, but he thought he saw... That night, weeks ago, he thought he’d heard Dean say...

“Dean?” he whispered.

Dean’s movements stilled and he looked down at Sam’s face. He’d showered before Sam so his hair was matted and moist, but no longer gelled. His lips were red like he’d been biting them, and a bead of sweat was threatening to drop from his hairline.

Sam wanted to maul him.

Dean blinked at him, breathing shallowly, for the longest few seconds of Sam’s life. And then... slowly, so agonizingly slowly, he started moving his hand again.

Sam looked down to watch its progress but he felt Dean’s eyes on his face the whole time, hungrily tracking his expression.

The tent in his underwear was obscene. Sam couldn’t stop staring at the gentle, endless slide of Dean’s palm down his torso, his flat abdomen, until it reached the little strip between the end of his shirt and the waistline of his underwear. His dick had curved upwards as though it was reaching up to meet it.

He didn’t know what to do. How to feel. He couldn’t, wouldn’t put it past Dean to turn this into some fucked up version of a ‘thank you’. This could just be Dean not understanding that the hero didn’t deserve the princess’ kiss because he’d saved her; he deserved her kiss because she loved him.

It was wrong to want to take the proffered reward.

It was... it might feel right, but it was wrong.

“Just want you to feel good,” Dean repeated, voice a rasp.

“I...” he had to refuse. “You don’t have to--”

Dean cupped him in his hand.

Sam let out a grunt; the pressure felt so good after so much tension that he felt a small dribble of precome blurt from his dick. His hips twitched of their own volition.

“Shh, shh...” Dean got down on the mattress, lying on his side next to Sam, though not touching him. His hand was warm and big and perfect. “That’s good, right?”

“Y-yeah...”

“Yeah. There you go.” He moved his hand perfectly, palming Sam’s shaft and caressing his balls with his fingertips. “You deserve it. You deserve... everything, Sammy...”

“I... D-Dean, you...”

Dean was touching him, Dean was touching him and he was going to blow his load all over himself so quickly, and it was going to be so embarrassing and so humiliating and so fucking good...

“You’re so goddamn big, can’t even...” Dean’s voice started getting throaty. “Fuck, Sam, look at you...”

But Sam was looking at him, now. Dean was the one looking down their bodies, at his hand trying to hold Sam in his palm and failing.

“Jesus Christ, kiddo...”

Sam reached an arm up over his head to clutch at the blankets, trying to anchor his body so he didn’t rut up into Dean’s hand like a needy fool. He couldn’t take his eyes off of Dean’s face; the way he was blinking those long lashes with effort; the way his lower lip was getting chewed raw.

“You can...” Dean sounded completely out of breath, slack-jawed and slurring his words. “You can let go...”

“Dean...”

“Let go for me. Just for me.”

“Uhn--” His dick let out another thin stream of precome, and Sam shuddered. “Fuck--”

“That’s it...”

Dean slid closer to him, still not quite touching him anywhere but the place where Sam needed him the most. Why was he doing this--why was Sam letting him do this--

“So big everywhere--bet that’s what they all think... all those guys that want to climb on top of you,” Dean hissed. “Bet it’s the first thing that crosses their minds.”

He did something with his grip that had Sam’s hips thrusting up in the air without his consent, releasing another blurt of precome.

“Bet they picture you holding them down. One look at you and all anyone’s thinkin’ is how much you’re packin’ and how hard you’ll give it to ‘em.”

Sam saw it so clearly in his mind’s eye--Dean would gasp, overcome by his own fragility, and Sam would shield him from the world, and the world from him, and he would give it to Dean so good that by the end of it Dean would scream.

He shifted on the bed, fighting the urge to roll them over and pin Dean down, demonstrate how those muscles Dean couldn’t stop obsessing over were more than just for show.

“Bet you’d leave ‘em feeling it for days,” Dean whispered, voice a wisp. He sounded careful; awed.

Sam clamped a hand over Dean’s on his dick and thrust up, chasing the high that was so close. He couldn’t wait any longer, Dean’s voice in his ear was driving him crazy--

Dean tipped into him, finally flush against his side.

And that was when Sam felt that he was hard, too.

Dean--

Dean made a small noise and buried his face in Sam’s neck, like he was embarrassed or humiliated, but he didn’t move away. The hand he didn’t have on Sam’s dick grabbed hold of Sam’s hair for purchase and tugged.

It was automatic; Sam grunted and came instantly. It spurted out of him in hot jets, a release of tension racking through him, every muscle shuddering. He interlaced their fingers together and rode the pressure, churning his hips into Dean’s palm, huffing and panting hugely, his chest too tight for his lungs.

Dean was still hiding his face in Sam’s neck but the sobbing noise he made when he felt Sam come would haunt Sam forever. He hitched a leg up over Sam’s and started to grind into Sam’s hipbone, rocking them both and still gripping Sam’s hair hard.

“Yeah, yeah...” Sam grunted, half-dazed still but encouraging. He let go of Dean’s hand on his dick and grabbed a globe of Dean’s ass. Dean rocked harder, panting in high little notes. “Want you to feel good too, Dean.”

“Ah, ah--” Mere moments later Dean coughed out a pathetic cry and went rigid, and Sam felt warmth bloom on the side of his thigh. He whimpered into Sam’s skin, shaking. “Fu-uck.” He sounded like he was in pain, or about to cry.

Sam tried to turn his head to look at him but Dean didn’t budge, shoulders hunched in shame. “Did you...?”

He could only see the top of Dean's head. 

It would be awful to attack him; to grab his face in Sam’s hands and thrust his tongue in, blanketing him, dominating him--He shouldn't--

“Hey!”

Someone was banging on their door.

“Hey! Sam!”

Sam scrambled upright, heart pounding. Next to him, so did Dean.

“Open up, man! Sam! Open the door!”

“I...” he panted, staring at a wide-eyed, beet-red Dean. “Guess I should...”

“Go, go,” Dean wheezed, motioning to the door. Sam slid off the bed and ran over to open it, then thought better of it and stumbled back to grab his jeans off the floor and tug them on. He glanced down at himself with his hand on the handle--but nothing was visibly amiss.

He opened the door.

It was Walt.

“Dude, it’s two in the morning--”

“Pamela needs to talk to you,” he blurted. He had changed from his suit into jeans and plaid again, and he seemed upset. “She says it’s urgent, Sam. Emergent; whatever. She needs you in her room, right the fuck now.”

Oh God.

“Okay. Okay, I’ll...” he turned around, anguished, to look back at Dean. “I-I’ll be right back.”

Dean nodded, his face impossible to read.

Sam slid his shoes on and didn’t bother with anything else; Pam’s room was just a couple of doors down the hall from theirs, and whatever she had to say sounded like it could change the course of this endless, crazy night. He shut the door behind himself and Walt followed him.

“Did she say what it--”

A neck-snapping blow to the back of his head laid him flat on the floor.

He tasted blood from the inside of his cheek and suddenly felt the weight of Walt’s bulk in the form of a knee pressing onto his lower back. He tried to cry out but the breath had been knocked out of him, and then he dimly saw Reggie run into his field of vision.

“He out?”

“Not yet.”

The last thing he heard before they delivered the blow that knocked him unconscious was:

“Gordon Walker has some questions for you, Sam.”

Chapter Text

They stripped him down to his underwear first thing, and left him alone without even asking any questions. He felt the abrasion on his scalp drip down the back of his neck but couldn’t reach up to touch it.

Reggie poured some vodka on it on the second day.

*

“Sam. You understand I take no pleasure in this, right?” Gordon’s voice had a smoky attractive quality to it that made things worse somehow. “If you work with me here we can figure this out. But playing dumb is really hurting your case.”

Sam stayed silent. He had consistently done so for three days now; it wasn’t a deviation from the norm.

“I don’t want to upgrade this to a cheesy torture session, Sam. But I will.”

Sam maintained eye-contact with him, but he hoped he was conveying just how unimpressed he was with his captor.

“Getting you here was tough, you understand? We’re not letting you go without answers. And I know, I know those ominous threats Walt sent your brother were corny as Hell, man, I get it. But he got it exactly right; Dean panicked soon enough and brought you in to keep a close eye.” He nodded thoughtfully. “Easy to read, your brother. That’s a pretty short list of priorities he’s got.”

The bathroom they were keeping him in was nondescript but for its patterned tiled floor and the metallic chair Sam had been chained to, facing away from the mirror. The high window was far too small for Sam to fit through, and also happened to have been boarded up. Once a day Reggie’s arm (Sam was pretty sure it was Reggie’s pale arm) would toss a cling-film wrapped gas-station sandwich inside. So far, no obvious escape avenues had presented themselves.

When Sam still didn’t say anything, Gordon sighed like a put-upon father of three and scratched at the back of his neck.

“You realize, I hope, how guilty this makes you look.” He leaned down to Sam’s eye-level. “I started to question things a few weeks ago, I’ll admit it. Told myself there was nothing for me to pin on you. I was actually considering letting this go.”

He sounded like he was telling the truth.

“And then... oh Sam, then Walt and Reggie told me what they saw when they found you in that graveyard. You, passed out. The body of the creature that had tried to hurt your brother; somehow, impossibly defeated. No weapons in sight.” He cocked his head to the side. “Guess your list of priorities is pretty predictable too, huh?”

*

“There’s a nationwide manhunt for you right now, Sam,” Gordon opened with on day five, locking the bathroom door behind him. “Winchester’s kicked up a pretty little fuss at your disappearance, and you gotta hand it to the guy: that face on television got everyone bending over backwards to his whims, including the Agency and the US government.” He sounded sincerely impressed, too. “I suppose the issue of that much power being awarded to a single hunter is up for discussion, but for now that’s the status quo, isn’t it?”

Sam kept quiet, but then he was hardly the person to see Dean’s image elevated to Helen-of-Troy levels of powerful as much of a stretch (and that Dean’s beauty was an intricate part of that image was undeniable).

“Sam. If you don’t make things easy on yourself, I’m going to have to kill you, you understand?”

Sam couldn’t help his gaze flickering up to Gordon’s face at that.

It was the first time Gordon had threatened his life.

“Does that surprise you?” He cocked his head. “If you’re in league with Hell you need to be put down. The clock is ticking, and you haven’t done anything to convince me otherwise.”

He still refused to talk, but the temptation was there. Could he reason with Gordon? Make him understand?

But then Gordon pulled out a blessed knife, and cut his forearm with it.

There was no hiss, no sizzle, no burn; just Sam’s blood trickling down to the floor. And that still wasn’t enough evidence for the man.

*

They drenched him in holy water every day, and checked the pentagram on the floor under him for imperfections. He wasn’t able to actually shower due to the small issue of being chained to the chair at all times, but he could use the toilet with some effort and a lot of maneuvering. He was not able to shave, either, and no one was going to give him access to a razor anyway, so he started to grow a scruffy, itchy beard. Brushing his teeth was also off the table, which was much more awful than he would have thought.

Sometimes he overheard Walt and Reggie talking--they didn’t argue often, but when they did Walt’s voice got loud enough that he could tell exactly what was being said.

*

He had a lot of time to think. He planned and discarded several escape routes. He mostly thought about Dean. He thought about Jess seeing the news of his disappearance on television, or on Twitter. He thought of the other people he’d seen in his visions... of what they had become, or would become.

He thought about deserving to be here. Something about him was close to demonic enough that Hell saw him as an ally. He’d somehow... killed a living creature without touching it. And he didn’t regret doing so at all; not with Dean’s life on the line. It had felt good to save him, in an uncomplicated way. It still did. Even this... it had all been worth it to save Dean.

*

On day seven, Gordon’s patience ran out.

“I have an errand to run, but when I come back tonight I expect an answer. I expect my friends will tell me you finally came up with an explanation and started talking. Do you understand?”

Sam cocked his head, but still kept his mouth shut.

“Sam.” Gordon’s eyes held a firm conviction Sam found familiar, and couldn’t fault him for. He’d been brought up by someone on a mission. He’d known the results of demonic destruction more keenly than most. He understood the argument about the needs of the many, and how they compared to those of the few, or the one. “I don’t want to do this, but this is not the time to take risks. You understand? Taking chances with Hell could bring them all back. I will not have millions of lives on my conscience.”

He walked out and shut the door behind him.

Sam was left alone once more.

*

“We’re going to have to move him.”

“No fucking way. That’s too risky.”

“Either that or we kill him. But this isn’t a sustainable situation, man...”

“Gordon said he’d decide tonight.”

“You see the fuckin’ news man? It’s on every goddamn channel. His face. Our faces. Fuckin’ Winchester threatening to hunt us down--”

“We’ll be heroes when the truth comes out, Walt. Just... hang tight, okay? Hang tight.”

*

When Sam heard the front door slam open that night he was fluctuating in and out of consciousness, starving, and he assumed he was dreaming. Then he assumed it was Gordon, coming to end his life.

Then he heard the gunshot.

*

Dean wasn’t the one who busted the bathroom door open--it was a nameless, masked SWAT agent who shouted: ‘He’s here!’ and proceeded to check behind the shower curtain after seeing Sam was obviously alive.

But then... then Dean barreled into view. He slammed into the door and then elbowed the black-clad, special-weapons officer out of the way to get to Sam.

“Sammy,” he wheezed, falling to his knees in front of Sam to grab his face, his shoulders—his restraints.

And yet Sam’s first thought on seeing him wasn’t relief; it was worry.

Dean looked awful: his skin was pale and clammy, his face was gaunt in some places and puffy under his eyes; his lips were pale, chapped and dry. He looked unhealthy and anemic; for all that his eyes were shining with manic energy.

“Someone cut these off! Now!” Dean roared, and a figure with a nondescript metallic contraption rushed over to work on the handcuffs behind Sam’s back.

Distantly, Sam could hear sirens.

“You’re okay, you’re okay...” Dean muttered even as he was assessing Sam and wincing, carefully looking over the drying cuts on his arms, the bloody chafing on his wrists. Sam felt like doing the same the more he saw of him; he felt like Dean should be the one getting looked over.

Dean was wearing the same uniform the SWAT agents were but he’d removed his helmet—Sam didn’t know enough about SWAT protocol to guess what must have happened for Dean to be allowed to participate in the rescue operation. He didn’t ask, either, because by the time it was over he was being carried onto a stretcher by three men.

They covered his half-naked body with a blanket that Dean insisted on helping tuck, and after that Dean still made sure to stay in Sam’s field of vision the whole time they were loading him onto the ambulance.

Sam caught a glimpse of a thunderous sky and a generic small-town street. They’d kept him in a condo that looked somewhat run-down from the outside, but was otherwise unremarkable.

“Careful,” Dean snapped at one of the EMTs when the stretcher rocked, however minimally. Then he climbed in after them and took Sam’s hand as his property, clutching it in both of his own like it was a lifeline.

He kept up a stream of words that was directed solely at Sam, constantly talking with a strained smile on his face. His eyes were red-rimmed and bloodshot with spidery veins, but he ran them up and down Sam’s body, feasting on the sight.

“Oh, and you’d better be ready to kiss some kittens and puppies Sammy, ‘cause Pamela deserves it. She did some serious hoodoo to See past the hex bags those assholes had set up. We also had a bunch of people from the Agency help out--two of Lenore Hasting’s vampires volunteered to retrace your steps, and they came to the hotel and tracked the getaway car all the way to freakin’ Dallas.”

Sam watched him as an EMT put an IV in his arm and hung a bag of fluids overhead.

“And, and Lisa organized this crazy media-campaign to get the public to call in in case you showed up anywhere...” he ticked things off his fingers like he was running the list. “Charlie got my fans involved too—hashtag FindSamWinchester has been trending for four days. Oh, and Bobby was the one who kicked the FBI’s asses into gear.”

He glanced at Sam expectantly and Sam realized he’d forgotten to say anything back. At all.

He hadn’t spoken since they found him.

“That’s... great,” He whispered, voice a rasp. Dean breathed out in a way that made it look like his chest was partially caved in. “But... Dean.”

“What? What is it?”

“Are... you okay?”

Dean stared at him for a long moment before his features crumpled. “Of course I am, Sammy.” He sounded wrecked, and very much not okay. “Of course I... why would you...?”

Sam’s concern only worsened at Dean’s obvious emotional fragility, but he understood that they were hardly in a setting where Dean could allow himself to unravel.

“Okay. Okay, what about... what happened to Walt? Reggie?”

The change was instantaneous: at the mention of those names Dean’s gaze went focused and dark, the tick in his jaw unforgiving. “Reggie took one in the leg. They are both alive and headed straight for prison, if I got any fuckin’ say.”

One of the EMT’s shot him a look with raised eyebrows.

“...Gordon?”

Dean’s hand squeezed Sam’s tight enough to grind bones together. “Wasn’t there when we got ‘em, but he won’t be going far. I promise.” He ducked his head so that the other EMT could reach over Sam for something on a high shelf, but didn’t break their gaze. “I’ll get him myself, if I have to.”

Sam squeezed his hand back.

*

The doctor in the ER wanted to admit him to the hospital because she said he needed IV fluids, but Sam used his voice again to say no. He refused even after she insisted and held strong in the face of Dean’s adamant support of her assessment; he shrugged off the nurse’s comment about it being an overnight stay that would get him out by tomorrow morning—and he signed the AMA form about leaving Against Medical Advice with nothing but relief. All he was was tired and hungry; he could rehydrate on his own. And Dean needed to get some goddamn sleep, too, which was not going to happen if Sam was in the hospital.

“Sam’s been through enough, Dean. It’s his decision.”

To Dean’s outrage, Bobby was on Sam’s side. He’d met them at the ER five minutes after the ambulance dropped them off, and he’d been allowed to stay after he threatened to call some very important-sounding people that he happened to have on speed-dial.

Sam had also tried to have Dean be seen by someone--but he was unsuccessful in that regard. The physician certainly eyed Dean with concern as soon as Sam pointed him out, but she explained that just as Sam had a right to sign out of the ER as AMA, Dean had a right to refuse being evaluated unless they could somehow prove he was mentally incapacitated.

Bobby didn’t say anything when Dean scoffed at that suggestion.

A couple of hours later, a tech in dark blue scrubs slid past the curtain. “May I speak with you?” she said timidly to Dean.

Dean frowned and Sam was moments away from politely asking her to leave without her selfie when another woman, older and in a suit, came in after her.

“Dr Ernest and Mr Blooming would like to discuss exit strategy with you, Mr Winchester.”

Exit strategy?

But then it hit him: There’s a nationwide manhunt for you right now, Sam, and it’s all because your brother kicked up a pretty little fuss at your disappearance.

Oh no.

It’s on every goddamn channel. His face. Our faces. Fuckin’ Winchester threatening to hunt us down—

“Press?” Sam asked. “Here?”

To her credit, she didn’t try to lie. “’Fraid so. They aren’t allowed inside, but the main entrance is no longer a safe option.” Sam could easily imagine the crowd that must have gathered to see or photograph or stalk Dean, but less easily imagine anyone wanting news on him. “I will say this, gentlemen: Dean Winchester is not the first celebrity to come in through our doors, and we have plans in place for just this scenario. We just want to go over the details with you and you’ll be on your way, you have my word.”

It turned out she was entirely right.

After Sam ended up demanding they have the conversation around his bed so he could participate, the plan was straightforward and foolproof, even if it did involve Bobby driving the Impala to the fifth floor of the doctor’s garage building.

The hospital had given Sam a pair of scrubs that barely reached his ankles but swam around his waist, but Dean didn’t even make fun of him for it; he just looked like he was about to burst into tears for a moment before wrenching his gaze away.

The Impala’s low growl was waiting for them, like a homecoming.

After losing a staring contest with Dean, Bobby stepped out of the driver’s seat and sat in the passenger side. Sam collapsed into the backseat, which had been his domain before Hellsgate after all—except the times when Dad wanted to drive through the night and have them sleep, and Dean would curl up around him when they were both young enough to fit back there.

Someone had left bags of beef jerky, four bananas, two greasy Subway sandwiches and a giant bag of peanut m&m’s for Sam to dig into, and he grabbed a banana immediately.

“Let’s get outta here, huh Sammy?” Dean said with a grin, twisting to look over his shoulder.

“Yeah.” Sam smiled at him and swallowed a giant bite. “Yeah. I’ll even let you pick the music.”

“You shut your cakehole.” But he couldn’t even muster fake-outrage; he sounded too damn choked up with joy. “You’re in the backseat, man, you’ve no status here!”

“Do I get a damn say?” Bobby muttered.

No,” both Winchesters said at once, and then Dean laughed, and no matter how shaky it was it reassured Sam to the point where he could relax into the cushions. Dean was going to be okay and he was going to make sure of it. He was back now; Dean would have someone to watch over him again.

“Hold on to your butt, Sammy. She’s missed you.”

*

The group chat, now titled ‘SAM IS BACK (heart)’, had over a hundred texts for Sam to catch up on. He also had about fifty missed calls from various people and a string of worried messages from his Stanford classmates, including Jess and Brady.

Instead of scrolling through them, he fell asleep shortly after his third banana (and second bag of m&m’s) because Dean switched to a soft rock station and those knocked him right out. He let it happen, comforted by the rumble of Dean and Bobby’s voices engaged in conversation in the background--whatever snippets his ears had picked up barely made sense, anyway.

“So you’re back with us, huh?”

“Don’t start with me, Bobby.”

“I’m not. Just... glad to see you again, is all.”

He didn’t dream, and had enough practice with rude awakenings growing up that the need to resurface to get out of the car wasn’t too much to bear. The team was waiting for them to regroup and so he, Dean and Bobby walked across the Salvage Lot in the half-light of evening.

“Let’s get you straight to a bed, huh?” Dean was saying, but Sam shook his head.

“Shower first. And a shave. And a toothbrush; I feel gross.”

“Shower it is,” Dean course-corrected instantly. “Straight to a shower and then to a bed. And I told the guys that they’d get to greet you when you woke up tomorrow, and not to be in the way tonight.”

Sam smiled fondly at the ground. “S’okay, Dean. I don’t mind.”

“No.” Dean shook his head. “No, you can be a hero tomorrow. Tonight you catch those z’s.”

“Guestroom upstairs is yours, Sam,” Bobby said gruffly. “And if you need anythin’, you just gotta holler a little so I can hear you from my room, okay?”

Sam nodded, clapping him on the shoulder in thanks.

The team was spread out across Bobby’s living room when the door swung open.

A panicked silence froze them in place when Sam shuffled inside. It would have been pretty funny, actually, if not for the immediately noticeable fact that the group had shrunk by two pointed absences.

“I told you people, we’ll do this tomorrow--” Dean started warningly, but to everyone’s surprise Jo interrupted him by letting out a hiccoughing sob. She covered her face with her hands, horrified.

Sam’s heart leapt at her reaction, and he almost wished he had enough energy to go over to her, hug her--if he didn’t feel so dirty with crusted sweat and a week’s worth of bucketfuls of holy-water without soap, he might have done just that.

Instead a wide-eyed Charlie patted her on the shoulder while Jo furiously rubbed under her eyes. Jake took a step towards them but didn’t actually do or say anything else; he just looked at Sam with something heavy in his eyes. Tamara’s palm had come up to cover her mouth, but she was smiling. Lisa and Isaac were smiling, too. Kevin twisted his hands nervously in front of him until Sam nodded back at all of them, and then he broke into a huge, relieved grin.

“Hey everyone.”

“It’s great you’re back, Sam,” said a voice from the couch.

Pamela was sitting on the edge of the cushions, and it took Sam a second glance to figure out what was off about the way she looked. Then he realized that it wasn’t mascara that was clumping her eyelashes together in crusted red.

He flashed back to that women’s bathroom at the auction, and to what he’d made her do.

“I was told I have you to thank for being here,” he said hesitantly. He’d never gotten to that apology before being kidnapped. “Pam, the last time we—“

“It was no big deal, Sam,” she interrupted, shaking her head. Sam could tell she knew exactly what he’d been about to say. “But there is something we need to address...” She paused. “What is with your beard, Mr Mountain Man?”

Everyone chuckled nervously and Sam huffed, feeling a small smile tug at his mouth. “My kidnappers did not make facial hair a priority, what can I say.”

She stood up, swaying slightly on her feet but making her way to him unassisted. Dean watched her carefully, watched both of them carefully, as though afraid one or both was going to faint at any moment and he’d have to catch them. To be fair to him, Sam was weary of the possibility as well.

“You look like shit, gorgeous,” she said once she drew up in front of him.

“Back at you,” Sam countered. He took a deep breath. “Pam, I... you saved my life.” He wanted to do or express something else, but it was hard to formulate new ideas in his current state. “You found me, just like you helped me find Dean.”

“Yeah, well.” She bit her lower lip. “I figured you were too pretty to die, so--”

He put a hand on her upper arm, trying to convey the feeling through touch. For all he knew Pamela could absorb some emotions that way; he’d never asked her about that aspect of her powers.

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, Sam.”

She smiled, conciliatory and clearly exhausted herself. For now, it was enough.

*

“Dean,” Sam said, for what felt like the twelfth time. “This is not happening with you in here.”

Dean had set up shop inside Bobby’s upstairs bathroom without an ounce of shame. He’d watched Sam brush his teeth and shave with an annoying amount of intent, and now the idiot was insisting on doing the same for Sam’s shower.

“Of course it’s happening.” He pretended to dust off the toilet seat and then made a show of sitting down on it, leather jacket and all. He crossed his legs and then his arms, the picture of obstinacy. “I’m not gonna peek, okay princess? But you look like you’re gonna keel over and die like, any second.” He shrugged. “My plan is to act before you crack your head open, how’s that.”

“I’m fine.”

“I’m still staying.”

Sam lifted his gaze to look at him and came to a realization he would have arrived at much sooner if he hadn’t been quite so exhausted. Because for all his bravado, there were heaps of naked fear in Dean’s eyes, and he wasn’t even doing a good job at hiding it. No matter how broad his shoulders or how James Dean-esque the tilt of his head, his swagger was all surface, and he needed to be in the room for his own sake more than for Sam’s.

“You could stand outside and listen?” But he’d already acquiesced in his head.

“”Fraid not. Come on, Sam, just don’t jerk it for once. Just this once.”

Sam weakly pretended to gag. “You’re disgusting.”

“You love it. Now take off your clothes, little brother.”

It wasn’t fair that that made him shiver; it just wasn’t.

“Fine.” He gingerly removed his scrub top to illustrate his defeat, hoping his bruises didn’t add to Dean’s worry. He leaned over to get the water running. “Fine. But you need to go downstairs and eat something when I’m done. Promise me on... the...”

He’d been about to make Dean swear on the car’s paint job, but when he saw his own wrists he realized that a new problem had surfaced.

The ER staff had done a good job of disinfecting and neatly bandaging his wrists and forearms, but... they had neatly bandaged his wrists and forearms. If he wanted to shower he had two choices: he could plastic-bag the situation or he could ask for help soaping himself up, and one of those options was awfully, desperately appealing scenario—

“Hey Dean, can you get me a couple of plastic bags from Bobby’s kitchen?”

Dean, who had instantly caught on to his dilemma after he followed Sam’s gaze, didn’t respond right away.

The water kept running in the background, like white noise.

“Dean?”

“...Will you be a little bitch about it if I just do it myself?”

Whatever came through in Sam’s expression made him snort, obviously taken as a response to the rethorical question.

“C’mon, Sam, nothing I ain’t seen before. It’ll be just like when we were kids.”

“No it—“ Sam coughed. “It won’t.” He was so tired, and his body wanted that hot shower more than anything, and the possibility of someone else doing the heavy lifting for him was excruciatingly tempting. But the risk—the consequences

“Sam.” Dean nudged him gently in the chest and Sam’s considerable bulk swayed like he was stuffed with feathers. Shit, he was crashing fast. “It’s no big deal if we don’t make it into one. Come on. Let me do this for you.”

Let me...

He was so tired—surely that meant he was too exhausted to react to Dean’s touches. This level of physical fatigue must mean he would be safe, right? And it would get things done faster so that he could sleep and Dean could get some food... and he wasn’t really thinking past tonight anyway; he certainly wasn’t thinking about anything that might have happened between them prior to his capture.

He felt his shoulders slump.

“...Okay.”

Dean nodded, briskly rolling up his sleeves and motioning for Sam to finish getting undressed. Sam did so in economic moves; staring at the floor all the while. No big deal. No big deal.

The water was hot to the point of near excess, but when Sam sat down in the tub and felt it rise up to his waist he could only sigh out all the air in his lungs in pure, bone-drenching relief.

“Good?” Dean asked casually, examining the gel bottle as though its label was inscribed with secrets. “This okay? You feel okay?”

“Yeah.”

“Great. Okay, then, keep your hands like this...” One of Sam’s arms dangled off the lip of the tub; the other was bent and braced at the elbow, resting against the wall at a ninety-degree angle. Dean eyed the arrangement. “Great. Yup. Guess I’m just gonna...”

He was still for another moment, and then started into movement with a decisive nod. He squeezed out some gel onto the sponge (that’s a loofa, doofus, a voice that sounded like Jess’ corrected gently in Sam’s mind) and leaned over to scrub at Sam’s shoulders.

He was thorough and as rough as Sam wanted him to be; soon making the skin feel pink and new.

“We doin’ okay so far?”

Sam’s eyes had drifted shut, but he made an effort to open them again.

“Don’t pass out on me, okay?”

Dean was working on his chest, eyes fixed on what he was doing. He looked very serious about getting to every speck of dirt, as though he was performing open-heart surgery and the task required all of his attention.

When he scraped over Sam’s nipples Sam found his eyes drooping shut again.

“Hey,” Dean flicked his left pec. “You can crash in your bed real soon, but not yet. Stay with me.”

He leaned forward to get to the side of Sam’s torso that was furthest from him, and Sam’s newly focused gaze caught a wince on his face.

“D’you put a towel under your knees?” he murmured, frowning.

Dean snorted, shooting him a guarded look from a very close distance that was all eyelashes and freckles. “You tryn’ta tell me something?” A puff of his breath fanned over Sam’s nose and mouth.

Sam found some energy to feel self-conscious, particularly in his current position. “N-no.”

“’Cause I could do this all day, kiddo, just you try me.” He was still so freaking close. His eyes were bright to the point of being feverish.

The words ‘try me’ were going to haunt Sam for weeks.

“But I’m sure you say that to all the boys and girls,” Dean added, getting back to his task after a pause.

Minutes passed in silence, nothing but the soft splash and trickle of water as Dean worked. Sam’s anxiety ebbed, if not his desire. The warmth and relaxation were so oppressive that his eyelids fluttered shut once again, body loose and sludgy under the ministrations of the only person he’d fall asleep in front of.

His head lolled forward, and Dean nudged under his chin. “Hang on, Sammy,” he whispered.

Sam tried, but he had started to half-dream at certain moments by the time Dean was rubbing at his foot, even though the sluggishness was shot through with pleasant flares up his legs, heat tugging at gut.

At one point his thighs fell open; one knee folded and the other extended for Dean to work with. He vaguely hoped that there was enough soap to make the surface of the water opaque.

“So...” Dean said, bringing him back.

Sam blinked up at him with difficulty, owlish and out of it. “...S-so?”

Dean pointed at his hair with a smile that was only slightly off. “We gonna have ourselves another situation when I do that?”

The soap-hidden semi Sam was sporting twitched in anticipation. He closed his eyes, mortified at his body’s readiness despite the odds. Only Dean could bring out that side of him even at a time like this.

“Shut up,” he murmured.

If only he could fall asleep fully... the darkness was such a promising place to hide. He wouldn’t be embarrassed if he was asleep; he could just claim it was his body reacting to touch and not his desperate, lovelorn self. He’d let Dean do anything to him while he was passed out. If not for the electric shivers shooting up his muscles when Dean rubbed his toes, he might have sunk so deeply into unconsciousness that Dean would have to carry him out of the tub.

“Sammy...” Dean’s voice was lava; molten and crepitous. “Sammy gimme one more minute, okay? Almost done.”

Sam managed to lift his eyelids to half-mast again.

Incidentally, half-mast was also—

“Seriously though, is this okay?” Dean asked, scooting over to Sam’s head again with the shampoo bottle in hand. “You okay with this?”

“Yeah, Dean. It’s...” The gentle lap of water against his skin was so soothing, even to his nerves. He shifted his position, warmth flowing around him. “...Yeah.”

“Good.”

With the soap, and the wet, and the new slickness of Dean’s hands in his hair, Sam was twitching out of his skin within seconds. His exhausted psyche couldn’t keep up the self-consciousness in light of the new sensations overwhelming him, and he let out a soft sound he hadn’t even realized was forming in his chest. His cock throbbed and twitched to full hardness, a thorough unwinding that started from his spine and didn’t seem to end at his extremities.

“Yes, shh,” Dean soothed. “Good. You’re so good.”

Sam moaned quietly—the heft of his dick swayed in the water with the churn of his hips, and it felt so damn good that he was finding it hard to care anymore even though Dean must have obviously noticed.

“So good.” Dean’s voice was deep as a grave. Sam groaned hollowly. He released a blurt of precome that instantly felt exactly like the warm water engulfing it. He couldn't even really tell when he was leaking fluid and when it was just the bath. “You’re so... That’s it. That’s it.”

“Dean...” his voice sounded slurred and dreamy. He felt his head loll perilously side to side, but it was just too heavy to keep up.

“Yeah, that’s my—“

Dean’s ring got caught in his hair again; Sam keened, toes curling and knees coming together as another pulse of pleasure spurted from his dick into the water.

“That’s it, good...”

Sam’s hips twitched again, water sloshing around him as his eyes rolled into the back of his head.

“Good boy. Good boy, Sammy—“

The pleasure crested to a plateau and suddenly he was coming untouched, hot fluid into the warm water, so warm, so boneless, liquid gushing into more liquid and everything loose.

Dean ended up drying him and half-carrying him to the bed.

Sam was deeply, utterly asleep before his head even hit the pillow.

*

He woke up with a pounding headache and the urge to pee, and after voiding his bladder and drinking the glass of water at his bedside he went right back to sleep.

The awful crampy pain in his back was going to take days to heal, but Sam felt like a human remade the next time he regaine consciousness. He was in Bobby’s guestroom still, and what looked like sunset was filtering in through the curtains. He must have slept nearly eighteen hours.

Dean was slumped over on a chair in the corner of the room—he hadn’t been when Sam first woke, but he looked like he’d been there a while by now.

Sam didn’t want to wake him, but if he also didn’t want to leave Dean sleeping in that uncomfortable-looking position. He should take the bed Sam was vacating.

With care, Sam walked up to his slack-jawed brother and gently nudged him in the shoulder.

“Dean...” he whispered. “Hey.”

Dean startled upright, almost elbowing Sam in the nose. “S-Sam?” he choked, blinking furiously. “Sammy!”

“M’here!” Sam wheezed, trying to capture his flailing arms. “Hey, hey... I’m here, Dean! I’m—“

Dean stopped moving, panting furiously. He squinted at Sam and seemed to deflate when he caught sight of him, body swaying where he stood.

“Sammy,” he said, voice breaking. There were tears in his eyelashes. “You’re okay.”

“Yeah, Dean. I’m all right.”

There was an echo of raw panic in Dean’s eyes—the leftovers from his awful, malnourished expression only serving to enhance it.

“Sammy,” he said again, choked.

And then he sort of fell into Sam’s arms.

He ducked his head to bury his face in Sam’s shoulder, and he was trembling like a leaf. Sam felt a potent rush of protectiveness overtake him and leave him winded, almost angry though he wasn’t sure at what; all he knew was that he wanted to fight and hurt and kill anything that caused Dean pain. He wanted to shield Dean with his own body and let nothing and no one touch him ever again.

He held Dean tight and felt Dean sob, the trembling only getting worse.

“Dean. It’s okay.”

“N-no,” Dean mumbled, and he was—Sam felt the tug and drag of Dean biting the fabric of his T-shirt. He was half-chewing on it, it sounded like. “F-fuck.” He’d curled his hands into the front of Sam’s chest and they were smushed between them so that Sam felt huge, engulfing him. It was a good feeling.

“It’s okay,” he kept whispering, nonsensically. “It’s okay, Dean.”

Dean tried to press their bodies together even tighter, like he was trying to fuse himself to Sam. It would certainly be harder to lose him if they became a single creature, but the laws of physics insisted on keeping them as two separate beings.

“Shh. S’okay.” The patch of wet over his clavicle was definitely not just spit.

“S-Sammy...”

It was a very long time before his trembling started to subside. The sun had set. Sam didn’t loosen his hold, but he was becoming aware of several things, at the forefront of which was a memory. The sweetness of reunion could only maintain its influence over him for so long; his brain had always taken moments like these and tarnished them; it was his specialty after all.

After such a restoring sleep, he was having too easy a time recalling a scene that helped twist this comforting hug into something else; the memory of what he and Dean had been doing when they’d been together before he was taken.

“Sam.”

“...Hm?”

Dean didn’t push him away. Every time he breathed Sam felt the press of his expanding chest; they were that close.

He could smell Dean’s unwashed scent. It was awful that he wanted to hoist Dean up by his hips and carry him back to the bed to do everything except sleep, to reassure him of how very present Sam was and how ready to take care of him again.

Dean shifted a little in his arms, and then shifted again.

They heard steps right outside the door, and sprang apart like they’d been burned. “—sandwiches again.” Charlie and Jo’s voices were perfectly audible as they walked by the room.

“I can make scrambled eggs.”

“Yes! That sounds awesome; you’re a life-saver—“

They faded again as the pair likely headed for the stairs, but it had been enough.

“You must be starving, let’s go have dinner,” Dean blurted, and opened the door to stumble outside before Sam could answer.

He was halfway down the stairs by the time Sam stuck his head outside, but he couldn’t follow him without stepping into some pants.

*

He entered the kitchen to cheers and clapping, and Bobby didn’t even grumble at anyone for making a ruckus.

“Hi guys.”

Sam smiled at them and was about to make for an empty chair when Charlie stepped forward and gave him a hug. They didn’t quite line up, but everyone took a turn hugging him, which meant that by the time Bobby gruffly patted him on the back, Sam’s stomach had started to audibly rumble.

“Good to see you, Sam.”

“So glad you’re okay.”

“We missed you.”

“Thank God you’re back, Dean went full psycho again.” That one was Jo, and she whispered it in his ear before drawing away. She still looked suspiciously like she was going to cry again, but hid her face before he could be sure.

Pamela hugged him too, with a pat on his lower back that was almost on his ass. She was wearing sunglasses indoors, at night, and Sam hadn’t forgotten the specifics of when she strained her Sight.

“So...” Kevin said, eyes darting nervously to Sam’s bandaged wrists. “Sam, how are—“

“Let’s let Sam eat,” Lisa interrupted. “Tamara helped me prepare tortillas and they are really good with the scrambled eggs.”

They started talking hunter gossip like always. Nobody asked Sam about his confinement or spoke Walt or Reggie’s names; he sat next to Dean and got three helpings of everything in silence. Even the hints about the media frenzy Sam had heard from his captors and Dean’s own televised 'threats' were absent from the conversation, as though this scene existed in a vacuum and Bobby’s was isolated from the world.

It was only once he had eaten enough to feel human again that he figured someone had to say something.

“—of course they’ll invite Dean to the Hellsgate anniversary event,” Jake was saying. “No question.”

“Yeah, and it’s gonna be huge. That ceremony keeps getting bigger every year--”

“Hey, so. I’d like to say something.”

The whole room went silent, and Sam cleared his throat.

“First, that I’m glad to be back. Obviously.” He smiled at them. “But I also... I think there’s something I need to explain to you. Because you guys must have wondered why they took me.”

Dean, Jo and Bobby whirled to look at him, and Dean said: “Sammy, no—“

“It’s okay, Dean.” He looked at Charlie, Jake, Kevin, Pamela, Lisa, Tamara, Isaac. “I was targeted by Gordon because he thought I was dangerous. He thought I wanted the demons to come back for some reason. He was wrong.”

“Of course he was, Sam—“ Isaac started.

“But I am something other than completely human.” He couldn’t help his gaze roving over to Pam. “I have visions, sometimes. I’m not a psychic by any means, but... I am something.”

They all stared at him.

“And I wanted you to know.”

“...Visions of what?” Jake asked.

“The future?” said Tamara.

“I think so, yeah.”

Charlie blew a raspberry out of the side of her mouth.

“So Gordon didn’t take you because he thought you were related to Bigfoot?”

They all burst into nervous laughter, and it was easier after that. Much easier than Sam would have thought.

*

After dinner the group started to disband, but Sam stayed sitting because he needed to digest his food and the stories about what they’d done for him while he was gone. Charlie had shown him a couple of screencaptures of famous people using #FindSamWinchester that included the German president’s official account, a Hemsworth brother, and Max and Alicia’s joint twitter @TwinningBanes. Lisa told him about her interview on MSNBC where she’d pleaded for his case, and gently introduced the idea of following-up Dean’s official statement about Sam being safe with a press conference.

It was overwhelming and meant more to him than he could say, but Sam hadn’t forgotten what Dean had told him when they found him; the person who was ultimately responsible for his rescue. He could too easily picture a parallel scene from the one he’d caused at the auction; Dean telling Pamela to Look harder, deeper, to push through the pain and Find him.

He still owed her that apology.

“Hey, Sam.”

He looked up to see the woman in question standing in the middle of the kitchen. They were alone; everyone else had gone to bed except Bobby, who was calling someone in the Japanese Hunting Troops where it was morning, and Dean who was nursing a glass of scotch and watching TV because he was probably brooding over Sam’s confession about his powers.

“Wanna take a stroll with me?”

She motioned to the front door with her head, and Sam quickly scrambled to follow her outside, waving at Dean over his shoulder.

The night was bright; a clear full moon shone up above and Bobby’s had always been a good place to see the stars. A needling voice in the back of Sam’s head whispered that brightness didn’t mean safety, and that Sam had always known that Hell was blindingly white.

“Is this some sort of existential conversation spot?” he murmured, boots crunching along the dirt as he and Pamela walked into the bowels of the lot.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” But she smiled a Cheshire-cat smile.

“Hey, I... I’m really sorry. For everything.”

She didn’t answer until she’d led them between two pickup trucks, where they were cut off from view of the front steps of Bobby’s. Then she leaned against the chassis next to him, sighing like they’d just hiked ten miles together.

“Okay. Say what you gotta say.”

“Pam... when Dean’s involved, I... That day, I, I lost it, and—I was an ass. Worse than that, I was... cruel to you, and there’s no excuse. But it’s just... I can’t help myself. When it’s him, I can’t...” he tried to search for better words, or any semblance of coherence, but couldn’t come up with anything else. “I can’t help myself.”

Pamela nodded slowly.

“Look, I forgive you, okay? It’s... I always knew how deep it went. The thing with you and Dean. And I don’t mean—I mean the depth of it, not the scope. I had something that came close, once, and when it was taken away...”

She sighed and paused a moment, like she was making an internal decision. Then she turned around and lifted up the back of her leather jacket and her shirt.

“See that?”

A tattoo in spidery writing proclaimed ‘Jesse forever’ on her pale lower back, the lower half of the ‘f’ vanishing under the waistline of her dark jeans.

“What happened?”

She dropped the fabric and turned to face him, patting him on the chest after, almost pitying.

“He was killed by a civilian.”

Sam’s stomach dropped. “Shit. I-I’m sorry—“

“It was a week after Hellsgate. You remember what that was like, right? People were nuts. Gun stores emptied out, practically panic in the streets... So, someone told someone else about me. They came to my place armed with semi-automatics.”

“Jesus.”

She sighed. “Yeah... he never stood a chance. This isn’t just a fashion statement, if you were wondering,” she added with a gesture at her outfit. Sam had never questioned the fact that she always, always wore black; even at the fancier events. “It’s for that idiot human I loved, trying to protect me. I didn’t See...” her voice got thin and she instantly went quiet.

After clearing her throat, she sounded more matter-of-fact.

“A lot of what I do is for the memory of that idiot human. I know you think this whole Dean-tours-America thing is awful and possibly useless, but when the Agency was being set up they needed something to anchor their message on. And all those news segments on your pretty, pretty brother gave people a hero to worship. I’d Seen how much people would need something like that. And I know it’s bullshit, okay? I know Dean hates it and I’m not saying it’s fair to him. But if me corralling him into playing this role saves one goddamn person, then it’s worth it in my book.”

Sam understood. He still disagreed, but he understood where she was coming from better than he had before.

“The night they asked me to take on this role–Dean got into five fucking bar brawls in a week, I don’t know if he told you? He ended up in the hospital--anyway, Bobby called me practically in tears, begging me to keep Dean alive.” Something in her tone made Sam think that she’d hated Dean for that a little; for not appreciating being alive enough. “I told him I’d think about it, and that night... I Looked into the future for clarity. Looking too Far is dangerous, and I rarely do it. But sometimes...” She hunched her shoulders like she was cold, even though the weather had pulled off another off-seasonal swing and it was a balmy night for late fall. “I Saw a future where things took a turn that was really fucking dark, Sam.”

The chill in her voice was enough for him.

“We all feel it; visions or no visions, psychic abilities or bullheaded intuition. A potential darkness looms near, and we should all be really fucking scared of it.” She shook her head. “I didn’t actually bring you out here to talk about demons, or the creeping presence of Hell. Or Jesse.”

“Then...?” Sam crossed his arms over his chest.

“I figure you should know that I suspected you were special from day one. When I can’t See things, sometimes it means... well, you know.”

“Oh. Yeah.” He felt the stab of guilt again, this time for more than one reason. “Sorry I didn’t tell you sooner.”

“No way, kid, you don’t have to apologize. If anyone understands about keeping your powers under wraps, it’s me.”

He didn’t want to think too hard about her loss--what she’d compared it to.

“Sam, if you ever want to talk about your visions, or... or just talk.” She managed to give him a pointed look without lowering her sunglasses. She had really expressive eyebrows. “I’m someone you can talk to about things, okay? And not just supernatural power things, either. Human things too. Things to do with totally natural, understandable feelings--”

“I get it, Pam.”

“Just putting it out there. That’s all I wanted to say.”

The distant sound of footsteps on dirt had Sam turning around before he could consider taking her up on her offer then and there, and he saw his brother’s backlit figure walking around the lot in an obvious pattern. Dean had come out looking for him.

“Guess that’s my cue,” Pam said with a smile. She pinched Sam’s cheek affectionately. “You’re a good egg, Sam.”

Rufus had used that exact expression to describe him in D.C. Sam almost called her out on talking him up to the older hunters of the Board, but she was walking away and then Dean was there and he’d thrown on his blue plaid shirt—the one that brought out sea green flecks of color in his eyes.

“Hey, Dean.” Pamela clapped him on the shoulder in passing.

“Barnes.”

But instead of walking Sam back to Bobby’s, Dean positioned himself on the other side of the small space, leaning against the other pickup truck just three feet away.

“...Hey.” Sam shot him a cautious look.

“Hey.” Dean sounded gruff, voice all low like when he subconsciously channelled Dad; a feat surely aided by the scotch. He was frowning.

“What do you--”

“How could you tell them, Sammy?”

Sam sighed. Of course that was why Dean had come to seek him out alone.

“I’ve gotta be able to trust them, Dean,” he said tiredly. “I’ll go crazy if I can’t. And I don’t think it was fair to thank them for what they did for me by keeping up a lie of omission.”

“But Walt and Reggie--”

“Did what they did. I’m still feeling it, trust me.” He lifted his left wrist in the air, showing off the bandage. The motion twinged his sore joints. “But I’m not letting that fester, okay? These are good people, and they care about you--about us.” At Dean’s shake of his head, Sam persisted. “Look at what Lisa did: she has every reason to hate you and, at most, to tolerate me being around. And instead she worked her ass off to help find me, I’m sure with no thanks from you. They all did.”

Annoyance flickered across Dean’s features, and he stepped away from the truck to move into Sam’s personal space.

“Does it look like I care what they think?” he said. “Do you think I give a shit about that? We both know Lisa’s a good person, but I care about you being safe, not...” he made a frustrated noise. “It was a stupid risk, Sam.”

“Well, it was my risk to take,” Sam countered. “So you need to be reasonable.”

“No,” Dean said flatly. “No, I’m done trying to be reasonable.”

“I’m sorry, did you try very hard?”

“You get yourself kidnapped again and I’mma lose it, Sammy.”

His voice broke on the word, and Sam froze at the burst of raw emotion in it. Dean’s frame shook with contained anger, or maybe it was all fear.

“I mean it,” he went on, like a threat. “I can’t go through that again. This past week, I did some things... some shit I am not proud of. And I would do it again in a second, if it meant a shot at getting you back. You have no fucking idea, Sam.”

Oh, Sam had an idea.

He stepped towards Dean, heart aching, suddenly unable to stay angry that Dean’s brutally honest take on the situation. It was classic Dean, just like “Don’t leave me, Sammy,” had been classic Dean four years ago, just like “I just wish you hadn’t wanted to,” had been classic Dean in New York. Raw and painful and emotionally gutting.

“Sam--”

Before he could make a conscious decision to do it Sam had grabbed him by the shoulders and hugged him tight. Again.

“Idiot,” he murmured, seeing Dean’s sickly face in that SWAT uniform again. “Never do that to yourself again.”

“Don’t fuckin’ leave me again,” Dean whispered back, clinging back to him as tightly as before. His fingers dug into Sam’s back with painful strength, but Sam didn’t mind it.

Never, thought Sam. I’ll never leave you again, no matter what it does to me.

Minutes passed. After he’d calmed down a little Dean mumbled something into Sam’s shirt that was incomprehensible.

“What was that?” he asked gently.

“Sorry ‘bout your shirt,” Dean repeated.

Sam huffed. “I don’t give a crap about my shirt, Dean.” He patted Dean on the back. “I give a crap about you.”

Dean snorted and drew away, shaky but making an effort to shove at Sam like usual. “You’re such a piece of shit. That’ll show me to get all worked up about your possible demise.”

Sam chuckled. “Right, ‘cause we’re known for handling that stuff well.”

Dean’s hand was still on his chest. “...Right.” He tipped his face up to meet Sam’s gaze. His eyes were all shiny, possibly from the alcohol still.

Sam’s neck twinged.

Unfortunately, with the added aches and pains from his week of confinement, the jolt was so bad that his back spasmed noticeably and he flinched in pain.

“Sammy?” Dean said immediately. “You okay? Another headache?” He was already reaching up for Sam’s head with one hand.

“No.” Sam said quickly, stepping away. “N-no, I’m fine.”

Dean’s arm instantly dropped to his side. His eyes clouded with worry and after a moment’s hesitation he, too, stepped back until his back hit the truck. Suddenly there was as much space between them as there could be.

“I...” Dean’s jaw was ticking. “I didn’t mean—“

“It’s fine. I just don’t think... it’s just not a good idea.”

Dean’s forehead cleared with comprehension--and apprehension. “Sammy I-I’m sorry. I thought you wanted—“

“Yeah, that’s the problem.”

He did not want Dean doing any of that because he thought Sam wanted him to.

“Sam—“

“That night at the hotel,” he said firmly, suddenly needing to rip the band-aid off. He watched Dean’s mouth drop open, and knew they were both flashing back to it. “Dean, you... you understand I would’ve never asked you to do that, right?”

With every word he spoke Dean looked sicker; like he was actually sick, like he was about to vomit.

“What I mean is...” Fuck, this was hard to get out. “If you did that out of some sort of... if you thought you had an obligation...”

“...Obligation?”

“If you did it only because you thought it was what I wanted,” Sam said quickly. “That would be fucked up. And wrong. And just... just wrong.”

Dean’s breathing was like a wheeze. “Didn’t you... want...?”

“I...” It was Sam’s turn to feel his face heat. “What I want doesn’t matter. But I don’t want you to do something only because you think I want you to do it.”

They both paused and considered that statement. Sam inwardly acknowledged he could phrase it better.

“I mean: I don’t want you to do that shit for me as some sort of... like, reward for something.” Dean mouthed ‘reward?’ like he didn’t know what the word meant. “Dean. Do you hear what I’m saying?”

Dean shrugged helplessly. “I just wanted to make you feel good. Was that so bad?”

“Obviously it wasn’t bad, but that doesn’t—“

He caught up to his own accidental misinterpretation of ‘bad’ too late. Neither of them said anything for a moment, and the implication hung in the air. It stalled the momentum of the argument, but Dean didn’t look like he was going to throw up anymore.

“I.” Sam couldn’t fix it. “I meant.”

Dean didn’t help him out. He just stared at him with those wide, gorgeous eyes.

“I just don’t want you to feel—“

“—obligated. You said.”

If Dean Winchester had ever in his life been accused of shyly doing anything, what he did next was it: he slowly pushed off the truck and took a tentative step toward Sam.

“Dean... ”

“But it was good, right?”

God. “I... ‘course.”

Sam shouldn’t lunge forward and lift him up off the ground until they crashed into something, because that would be wrong, too. Dean was panting quietly, but there was no way he could know Sam’s thoughts. No way it was in response to a perceived danger.

“Sammy.” Dean’s eyes lowered to the ground, but he also took another step towards him. “If you liked it, what’s the problem?”

He was close. They weren’t touching yet, but he was at the edge of Sam’s personal space, which was itself a noteworthy sign, since Dean had never acted like Sam’s personal space was a thing before.

“I told you,” Sam started. “The problem is you felt like you had to.”

“But I didn’t.” Dean’s voice was getting quieter, shakier. “I wanted to do that for you. That makes it okay, right?”

...for you. “I...”

Did Dean have any idea what he looked like in moonlight?

“You’re makin’ a really big deal out of this, Sam.”

Isn’t it?

“Does it have to be?” Dean murmured.

Sam’s next breath smelled faintly of scotch and of Dean. He was touching Sam in every other sense but the literal one, and that was only prevented by a hair’s breadth of air between their bodies.

Dean was looking down at Sam’s chest, which was heaving as Sam’s short, sharp breaths struggled to keep him conscious, rational and sane; a lot to ask of oxygen. His famous mouth was slightly open but Dean didn’t say anything else, just stood there and it almost seemed as though he expected Sam to do something.

Sam had the absurd thought that his brother had made it to the entrance of a cave and was nervously waiting for the dragon to come out and eat him.

“Dean...”

Dean blinked but still didn’t look up.

Sam watched his own hand reach for Dean’s arm and close around his elbow. The sleeve of his shirt was soft and well-worn, almost silken to the touch. The muscle and bone underneath were firm.

“This is a bad...” Sam started to whisper, but ran out of breath halfway.

Dean’s voice was so low Sam almost didn’t hear him.

“This s’whatever you want, Sammy.”

That wasn’t what Sam wanted to hear from him, much as it was exactly what Sam wanted him to say.

He tugged Dean gently by the arm and slowly rounded on him to press him against the truck, leaving ample time and opportunity for Dean to fight him off. He kept his eyes locked on Dean’s face, trying to track his expressions for any hint at his thoughts. Dean was meek as a mouse, visibly breathing but otherwise willing to be handled. He still didn’t meet Sam’s eyes. He wasn’t actively encouraging any of this, though, he just allowed it. Pliable. Malleable. Passive.

...That Dean would do anything for him was no secret.

Sam started to pull away. It was a terrible idea to fall into this with Dean ever again. The other times Sam had been half-asleep, or barely conscious from pain, and this wasn’t that anymore. Dean would let him do anything to him but if Sam took what was being offered without considering Dean’s feelings on the matter he was no better than a—

Dean’s arm shot out and grabbed him by the neck of his shirt.

Sam froze as Dean panted quietly, decidedly not looking him in the eye but tugging at the fabric until Sam had no choice but to stumble back into him.

Dean drew him in until Sam was pressed up closer even than before, pressing Dean against the car with his whole body and there was no doubt this time that Dean was feeling the full, intimidating length and hardness of Sam’s dick flush against him. But although Dean looked somewhat panicked, he didn’t flinch.

He whispered: “Please,” instead. “Please, Sam.”

Sam could feel that Dean was hard, too. Sam could feel him. Dean was at least getting off on this crazy, tangled up thing too.

It would take more resolve than Sam possessed to refuse him.

With agonizing care (and so slowly it was tortuous) Sam canted his hips forward and watched Dean close his eyes, mouth falling open. It was insane; the relationship between cause and effect that meant Sam’s action had originated Dean’s beautiful reaction.

He repeated the move gently, muscles shaking with the effort of keeping himself in check--and was rewarded by Dean loosening his grip in favor of clutching at Sam’s shoulders and sighing low in his throat.

It sounded better than any of Sam’s dreams.

“Sam...”

Sam felt like the monster he might become as want surged in him; a desire to tear into Dean until he was nerveless and completely spent. But he forced himself to keep going slow; he gradually slid his hands down Dean’s sides until they reached his hips. When Dean’s head fell forward to rest on Sam’s chest he let himself cup Dean’s ass in his palms, but only after enough time had passed and still moving frustratingly slowly, giving Dean time to refuse.

Dean didn’t refuse; he made a soft, open-mouthed sound and started grinding forward in tentative little motions. Sam squeezed his handful with relish, encouraging him but letting him set the pace.

“S-Sammy.” Dean’s voice was thready, and his posture was slumped like his spine couldn’t hold him up. “Sam...”

Sam’s body wanted to respond to his tone, wanted to fulfill every need it implied—but Dean couldn’t know the extent of what he was asking, and he certainly wasn’t asking with words.

“Sam...” The truck was creaking with Dean’s movements. His spiky hair was tickling Sam’s clean-shaven chin. “Sammy...”

Sam kept himself in check, drawing from his well of restraint to turn his bandages into ropes, his aches and pains into debilitating weakness.

“F-fuck,” Dean gasped softly, moving faster. He felt so hard against Sam’s hip, his dick a hot outline pressing eagerly into the flesh. “Sam...” He wrapped his arms around Sam’s neck, all the better to hold onto. Sam let him, panting hugely and trying not to feel too self-conscious about the way his muscles trembled, or about how loudly he was breathing.

Dean’s already bow-legged thighs were spread wide, so when he started sliding his right leg up the outside of Sam’s jeans it was the most natural impulse in the world for Sam to use his grip on Dean’s ass to lift him up, just a little so he could shove his knee between Dean’s legs.

Dean cried out and scrambled to get his other leg around Sam’s waist, a plaintive, weak sound escaping him as he essentially tried to climb Sam’s body.

Sam’s body was ready because he’d been wanting to do this for years, not minutes. All he had to do was stop holding back. He grunted with satisfaction, not effort, and picked Dean up by bending slightly to grab under his thighs and then hefted him up against the truck.

A metallic groan announced the pickup’s structural integrity straining to bear their combined weight, and Dean’s whimper was almost lost in the noise, but Sam caught it because Dean had buried his face in his neck. His knees squeezed Sam’s sides, and his ankles locked around the swell of Sam’s ass, and he started rutting against Sam’s stomach with a desperation that made Sam lightheaded.

You like it, Sam thought viciously. You like that I can do that.

Sam’s dick let out a trickle of precome just as Dean made another muffled whimper into his neck, his movements already losing coordination. It was just like last time, where he sounded like it was hurting him, or embarrassing him, or both. Maybe it was, but the hitched, shocked little noises he was trying to hide were the most beautiful fucking thing Sam had ever heard.

“C’mon,” Sam grunted. He flexed his arms to help Dean move faster and noted Dean’s distressed sounds with relish, spurring him on. “Yeah. Dean, yeah, come on.”

“N-n—“

“Yes,” he snapped, certain for once. Dean was hard as rock against him, that much was clear even through his jeans. “Come on, Dean.”

“Oh, God--

He felt Dean’s hips stutter and then a hiccoughing cry as he stilled, the heat of his crotch getting hotter and wet, and he sounded like he was sobbing into Sam’s shoulder when he came. His whole body shuddered and his hips rode it out on Sam’s lower abs, heels digging painfully into Sam’s back.

Sam came right after as though he’d been waiting for permission; dick spurting in a gush that had him slapping a hand against the chassis behind Dean to remain upright, a guttural growl escaping from somewhere deep in his chest.

Eventually Dean’s legs slid back to the ground and he dropped his head back, resting it against the top of the truck. He sighed, glittery eyed, and Sam watched the bob of his Adam’s apple on his long, stretched neck.

Sam wanted to kiss him more than he wanted to catch his breath, but he didn’t dare. Kissing now would be outside the context of getting off—it would come from a place of emotion. They hadn’t covered that in their preliminary, vague outline of a conversation. He didn’t know what to say. He felt like a battery that had been charging for ten years; he already wanted to pick Dean back up, to bite his neck, to suck him dry, to figure out if anything would make him shout Sam’s name instead of whisper it, to flip him over and fuck him up against the rusty pickup under the black sky.

“...You okay?” he asked.

Dean didn’t answer at first. He was still breathing shallowly, and staring up at the stars in lieu of Sam’s face.

Finally, he sighed out: “Fuck.”

“Dean?” Sam felt worry seep into his bloodstream, chasing away the high. “You okay, man?”

“Yeah, yeah I...” Dean finally looked over at him, lifting his head. It was hard to tell in the moonlight but he seemed as though he might be blushing. “M’okay.”

He shifted his stance and bit his lower lip. Neither of them said anything more for a moment, but Sam stayed where he was because he still kind of needed to lean against the truck for support.

Then: “I thought you’d be a gentleman in the sack,” Dean said.

“Spend a lot of time wondering how I do it, did you?” Sam shot back automatically, not meaning it.

“N-no. Fuck off.” He scratched nervous fingers on the back of his neck. “I just. I should’a known all of this wasn’t goin’ to waste, but...” He made a vague hand-gesture when he said ‘all of this’ that seemed to encompass Sam as a whole. “But... goddamn, little brother.”

Sam felt his ears go hot. He was still pressed up against Dean from knees to chest, and moving seemed like it would take gargantuan effort but he’d have to do it soon, or Dean was going to feel the impossibly fast renewal of his interest.

He watched Dean bite his bottom lip and chew on it pensively from a close-up point of view he’d never really been afforded before. The plump shape of it was shiny with spit and there were reasons why entire websites existed in dedication to Dean’s mouth. That such a familiar sight could feel like uncharted territory was something he’d never considered.

“So is this why you like guys?” Dean asked, quiet. “Because it’s better?”

Sam was so thrown by the question that it took him a few seconds to come up with a response. He floundered for so long, in fact, that Dean nudged him in the chest like there was a chance he thought Sam wasn’t paying attention to him.

“Sam? Do you like guys because it’s--”

“I like guys because I like guys,” Sam said. He finally found the strength to take a step back and give Dean some breathing room because something inside of him was bursting, expanding, fizzing and spitting sparks of satisfaction. He’d never felt this smug, this triumphant, this freaking powerful. Not ever. “’Better’ depends on the person.”

“Oh.” Dean nodded, processing. “Okay.”

Sam shoved his hands in his pockets to prevent them from doing anything else.

“‘Cause Jason Momoa aside, I. I never.” Dean made another vague hand-gesture.

“You never thought about it?”

“Never did it.” He blinked. Coughed. “...I thought about it.”

Sam felt himself start to smile. “I know that. I had to hear about your partially-hymenated theory, remember?”

“Yeah, well, that’s still true. But...” He half-shrugged even though his attempt to smile back didn’t reach his eyes. “Wasn’t exactly in a position to ask for volunteers.”

Sam hesitated. On one hand, he didn’t want to enlighten Dean to the fact that there wasn’t a man in the world who’d refuse Dean’s ask for ‘help’, but on the other, there was no way Dean was unaware of the effect he had on people.

Sure enough Dean’s explanation made more sense when he spoke next. “Don’t think there’s anyone else I’d’ve trusted with this.”

“Oh. Okay.” Did he say ‘Thank you’? “Well... as long as I’m not making you do anything.”

Dean cocked his head to the side. “Made me do somethin’,” he muttered, gaze dipping down for a second.

Sam’s brain short-circuited at the same time as his dick twitched. “You’re unbelievable.”

“Thanks.”

Dean.”

“What?” But his smile was real now, if a little incredulous. It felt like they were having a conversation again instead of a weird postmortem of their five-minute ride. “I’m nice, but I ain’t that nice, Sammy. You got any idea how much people would pay to get roughed up by you?”

There was no verbal response to that that wouldn’t get Sam in trouble, and no physical one that wouldn’t draw a scandalized yelp from Dean at the very least.

“All I need to know is that you’re okay with this.”

“You need a signed confession?” He snorted. “Yeah, I’m okay with this. Are... are you?”

Sam had already asked and answered himself the question: whatever Dean wanted from him, he was willing to give. His body belonged to Dean. His heart--Whatever Dean wanted from him, he was willing to give: whether that was a male form to rub up against for the novelty of it, or a comfortingly familiar person to seek solace in. Sam would be there and he would relish every fucked up second of it, because the past few minutes had been the best of his life and he didn’t care how pathetic that was.

“Yeah. Obviously.”

“Okay then. We done?”

There was so much left that Sam wanted to explain, or hear Dean say, but mostly there was a universe of things left to do.

“Uh, sure. We should...”

“Yeah.” Dean straightened his spine and squared his shoulders like he was re-donning his personality. “I love this lot but the outdoors give me the creeps these days. Feels like the black smoke is right around the corner.”

They walked to Bobby’s side by side, and all Sam could think about was Dean’s inadvertent confession, and relishing any or all implications it might have. It was going to be really hard to fall asleep, and not because of the fact that he'd just slept the day away.

Because it’s better?

*

Sam woke up alone.

He had, of course, known to expect this since it had taken a stupid-long argument last night to convince Dean that Sam felt well enough to pass out without supervision, and that Dean desperately needed a long shower of his own and a horizontal surface to sleep in. Even with a forcibly extricated verbal agreement, Sam had still feared finding Dean stubbornly camped out in the chair, because Dean had a long history of defying Sam’s requests for solitude under some pretext or other ever since they were kids (and a very small part of Sam blamed that trait for the tenebrous nature of his love for his brother).

But Dean wasn’t there, and Sam took the opportunity to stretch out his back, running through a few yoga routines to strengthen and relax his sore muscles. He showered and shaved, feeling once again like a new man. He changed the bandages on his wrists after the shower and was pleased to note they were healing just fine, and likely wouldn’t need to be re-bandaged after a couple of days. When he was done, he padded downstairs and discovered Lisa and Pamela were the only two people who were up before him.

They were having a peaceful breakfast and speaking in low murmurs because the living-room was still full of sleeping hunters, plus Kevin and Charlie. Sam espied Dean on the floor next to Isaac, curled into a comfortable-looking bundle with peacefully slack, untroubled features.

“Morning, Sam,” Lisa whispered with a smile.

Sam smiled back and waved at her, and tried not to think anything too petty or awful (Because it’s better?).

He set himself to making another pot of coffee instead, and after a few minutes of relaxing silence Pamela said: “You in a good mood today or what?”

Sam’s cup clinked on Bobby’s countertop. “...What?”

“You were whistling the intro riff to ‘Thunderstruck’, if I’m not mistaken. A pretty feat, too.”

“I didn’t even know you could whistle,” Lisa added with a bemused smile.

Sam turned back to his chosen task and committed to nothing, despite the warm feeling bubbling in his stomach.

Bobby’s guests woke up one by one, trickling into the kitchen with zombie-like groans for coffee (Charlie) or food (Isaac), or wordlessly propping themselves on the table (Tamara). Jake helped Sam make toast for the others in relaxed silence, at one point doing a cool spinning trick with the butter knife that had Sam playfully trying to one-up him with a twirl of his own—until Jake pulled out the stops by grabbing a fork, too, and Sam had to concede defeat.

When Dean finally stumbled in after Bobby himself, he yawned hugely and ruffled Kevin’s hair before plopping himself down on the seat next to him.

“Man, my back is sore,” he groaned, stretching and cracking his spine. He didn’t look at Sam when he said it (he hadn’t looked at Sam since he’d walked in), but Sam happened to remember a plethora of reasons why Dean might be feeling it more than usual. Heat swept through his gut at the memories; the creak of the rusty pickup, the press of the heel of Dean’s boot on his lower back, the desperate, pathetic, incendiary sounds Dean had kept trying to muffle or hide.

“Sorry this ain’t the Fairmont, princess,” Bobby grunted.

Dean rolled his shoulders and smirked at him. “My ass is too sweet for anything other than a billion thread-count sheets these days, Bobby.”

“Your ass has to be on the road in an hour, darling, so you’d better get yourself ready by then,” Pamela said.

Sam tried to school his features into normalcy and sat down at the table on Kevin’s other side.

They were leaving for D.C to visit the Agency again. The five-year anniversary of the Hellsgate battle was just two weeks away, but there were several things to take care of before the team could become fully engaged with preparations, according to Pamela. Apparently Lisa had put out a statement on Dean’s behalf yesterday about Sam recuperating rapidly and wanting to get back to work, and she asked Sam for a favor so politely that Sam swallowed his chagrin and agreed to have a photographer take pictures of him walking into Agency Headquarters in his bodyguard suit, back to his usual duties.

After breakfast, they all packed their stuff with practiced last-minute haste and nothing about the bustle was unusual... except for Dean.

In characteristic efficiency borne from their upbringing he and Sam had finished before most of the others, but instead of walking out to the Impala and waiting for them there the way he would have previously, Dean set himself up to be kind of a general nuisance throughout the process. He tickled Charlie to near-tears, tried to claim he could bench-press Kevin if he just held still in plank long enough, mock-interrogated Tamara in regards to her intentions towards Isaac, and goaded Jo into an arm-wrestling session that he only won by the narrowest margin.

“I know he’s not drunk ‘cause our Deano’s a needy, maudlin son-of-a-bitch when he drinks, but you got any idea what’s with him today?” Bobby asked Sam.

Pamela didn’t say anything, but she did clap Sam’s shoulder in passing one time and made Sam feel it.

On his part, Sam was floundering. He’d become so used to operating under the angst and weariness afforded to him by fruitless yearning that he was buckling under the knowledge he’d gained last night; that Dean liked to be handled, that Dean worried his lower lip when he was turned on, that Dean looked gorgeous when he came. He didn’t know how to act and he certainly didn’t know what Dean expected from him going forward, but he was having a really hard time not smiling.

The atmosphere persisted in the car. Dean was cracking jokes one minute, blasting Led Zep the next, and tapping drum solos on the steering wheel to fill even the four seconds of silence between songs. They didn’t discuss anything to do with the night before but he was undeniably in the best mood Sam had witnessed for ages, even if it did lend itself to zero insight into what he was actually thinking or feeling.

The only sign that anything had even happened between them was that, though he wore his sunglasses, Sam was sure he caught Dean staring at him at least twice.

*

After half a day on the road and many miles between them and Bobby’s, Dean’s mood remained wonderfully amusing to behold, but the bubble Sam had been living in since his rescue had burst. Or exploded.

All it took was scrolling down the news feed on his phone.

The tone of the newscasters wasn’t overly alarmed, but to Sam’s trained eye for demonic omens it was absolutely chilling to see. Three people had died with slit throats just last night; one in Santa Ana, one in Toronto and one in Daytona Beach (Fox News hadn’t even reported the one that had happened in Canada) forming an ominous triangular shape. In the past week the increasing number of oddly patterned crop deaths had caused a severe grain shortage in certain areas of Texas, where nothing was growing on the dead earth. Gruesome images of herds of dead cattle mutilated to the point of bare recognition were reported all over the country. Monstrous activity seemed disproportionately high too: vampires attacking a public school in the light of day, record numbers of sightings of corporeal spirits... it all made Sam think of the unrest felt by the creatures of the forest preceding the arrival of the biggest, baddest predator.

He gave in to the urge to Google himself as a distraction, but that was a mistake. He found an alarming amount of news articles and footage that specifically related to his disappearance, starting with the TV interview with Dean that had mobilized the government and the Hunting Agency to meet his demands—but which he held off watching while Dean was right next to him. It was incredibly bizarre to see news anchors show clips of a press conference where Dean got through a statement about Sam being taken through ferociously gritted teeth, and even weirder was when they switched to talking about Sam and showed pictures of him in his black suit ushering Dean into buildings, or holding off a crowd, or getting his tie adjusted by Dean on the steps of the auction house. They referred to him as Dean’s brother for the most part, but he watched Lisa’s interview, saw the ‘Breaking News’ banner that was used to announce his return, saw footage on YouTube called ‘Sam Winchester’s Stanford classmates react to him being found’ and Jess wasn’t in the video but he recognized Becky, Zach and Troy yelling in joy when Brady’s voice (he was holding the phone) announced that he was safe and unharmed. It had permeated so much of the media landscape and he’d had no idea how deeply while he was away.

“Sammy, you gotta stop. You’re gonna give yourself a migraine with that.”

Sam looked up at Dean and saw his own distorted reflection in Dean’s sunglasses.

“Lisa told me... and in a way Walt and Reggie told me, too. It’s just... different to see it for myself.”

Dean gave him a tired smile. “Trust me, I get it. Probably better’n most.”

Sam nodded.

“But Charlie’s right. It’s always a bad idea to watch that stuff, especially without her to filter it out.”

“I know. I just... I wanted to catch up on what’s been going on.” He tossed his phone in the glove compartment and slumped down in his seat. He hadn’t clicked into any of the gossipy-sounding articles, which to be fair hadn’t been too many. ‘Is Dean Winchester’s brother a romantic foil to his love life?,’ was the worst headline he’d glimpsed in a ‘Related News’ column. “It’s getting so much worse.”

“The omens? I know.”

“Can’t help thinking... if I knew how to control my abilities I could figure out all this demonic crap. Maybe even help prevent their return.”

He saw Dean go tense out of the corner of his eye.

“You always said you couldn’t seek out the visions,” he said carefully.

“And I can’t. But... the visions aren’t my only ability.”

“Sammy, that siren--”

“I killed it, Dean.” He shook his head. “I killed it with my mind. And Gordon tried everything and none of it touched me, but something inside of me granted me that power.” He turned his head to look at Dean full-on. It was high time he confessed the truth he’d already admitted to himself. “And I’m grateful for it.”

Dean echoed: “Grateful?”

“That thing was going to hurt you.”

“...Oh.” He didn’t smile, but he wasn’t frowning either. “That’s—“

A loud car-horn blasted on Dean’s side and drowned out his words, and a car with a group of teenage-looking kids drove beside them. The occupants were all waving and cheering, including the driver.

“Eyes on the road!” Dean yelled at them.

Sam couldn’t help but chuckle despite the interruption of their moment, watching as the teens cheered and ‘woohoo’-ed back. They quickly overtook the Hunting Party truck (driven by Jake now) and were lost to Sam’s field of vision a few moments later.

“Dumbass kids,” Dean grumbled, craning his neck to make sure they’d settled back into safe positions. “I was drivin’ better at twelve freakin’ years old.”

Sam nodded, flashing briefly back to Jess’ facial expressions when he used to tell her stuff like that about his upbringing. She would have gasped if he admitted to being alone in a car driven by a twelve-year-old Dean. Their lives had always been really, really far from normal.

“Hey, Dean. About the thing with my powers.”

“Yeah?”

“You’re sure you’re not freaked out?”

“Of course not, how many times I gotta tell you?” He shook his head at Sam like he was disappointed. “It’s a part of you. Nothing about you could ever freak me out.”

Internally disagreeing, Sam ignored this. “Then you should know that if anything tries to hurt you, I might use them again.”

Dean shifted in his seat. “Thought we’d established I ain’t the one in danger here.”

Sam snorted. “I’m sorry, do you think that because Gordon managed to hold onto me longer your abduction doesn’t count?”

“Sammy--”

“You need me more than ever, Dean. I told you I was here to protect you as much as you’re here to protect me. More so, since only one of us can kill things with his mind.”

Dean shot him a wide-eyed look. “Sam, I can take care of--”

“Don’t even say it, ‘cause you can’t take care of yourself for shit.” The image of Dean’s gaunt features--the purple bruises under his eyes flashed through his mind, and reinvigorated his anger. “You certainly didn’t demonstrate that ability while I was gone; state you were in. Don’t you fucking dare do that to yourself ever again.” The expletive made Dean jolt. “And from now on you’re gonna let me do my job, and I don’t care if it upsets your stupid macho sensibilities. You’ll shut up and take it.”

Dean shifted in his seat again. “I-I know you’re big and bad, Sammy, you don’t gotta sell me on it.” His tone was all shaky even though he obviously tried to sound joking.

“If you know it then you better start acting like it. Eventually I’ll come up with something to get you out of the deal with the Agency, but for now you’re a public figure, and one without any apparent regard for his own safety. You were right from day one; you need me to protect you. And I need you to accept that.”

“S-Sam, I--”

“I said I need you to accept that, okay?”

“Sammy...”

“Okay?” Sam snapped.

For a moment Dean just breathed hard and gripped the steering wheel with white knuckles. Then:

“Y-yeah. Yeah, okay, I hear you.”

*

When they got to the hotel Dean brightly asked the team for an hour-long break before they were driven to the Agency and Pamela generously responded that they had ten minutes.

“You wanna be the one to keep Turner waiting? I didn’t think so.”

Dean took that in stride and then refused the bellboy’s offer to carry his and Sam’s bags, instead striding over to the elevator and tapping the button five times, as though that would make it come faster.

When they got to their floor he walked briskly to the room with Sam trailing behind him, a bit confused.

“What’s the rush?”

“Get in,” Dean muttered, practically shoving Sam inside and kicking the door shut behind them. “C’mon, been waiting all day—“

And he dropped the duffel bag he was holding and launched himself at Sam.

Sam stumbled back until he slammed into the door and dropped his own duffel in shock, Dean’s weight certainly enough to knock him off-balance. He gasped when Dean grabbed a fistful of his hair and started to gnaw on his neck, rubbing his crotch against Sam’s leg and Sam could feel his cock; already blood-heavy and hard.

“D-Dean,” he gasped, completely unprepared even though his own dick was way ahead of him in getting with the program. “What the--”

“Just... please,” Dean hissed, cruelly tugging at Sam’s hair. He was basically humping Sam’s hip. “Please, Sam--”

Sam tried to bring rational thought into the situation but Dean’s hot little tongue was completely counterproductive to that end. “Wait, Dean wait--

“Dude,” Dean panted, tipping his face up to look at him. His cheeks were flushed bright red and his lips already looked swollen. “We gotta have a heart to heart every time?”

They should. Also, every time? At the very least, they needed to establish some rules about what the hell was going on—

Dean’s hand slid down to cup his crotch and Sam lost his train of thought. “Fuck.”

“S’what I thought.”

Sam grabbed a handful of their father's leather jacket and tugged it off, launching himself off of the door and pushing Dean towards the nearest bed.

Dean made a noise that was either fear or arousal, and he fell back against the mattress with a thump when Sam shoved him there. “Sam...”

Sam was on him in a second, climbing onto the bed with his shoes still on. Necking and dry-humping like a couple of teenagers was still turning into the best sex of his life, but he couldn’t help but wonder what Dean knew about getting off with another guy. Because Dean’s default seemed to be throwing himself in Sam’s path and letting Sam do what he wanted, and Sam wanted a dangerous number of things...

But they had nine goddamn minutes.

“Sammy, come on,” Dean muttered, arms reaching up expectantly.

Sam lowered himself down so Dean could lock his arms around his neck and huff into his neck again. Dean was already shoving his pelvis up to try to get some friction, but Sam blindly yanked at the button of his jeans and then at his fly, making Dean give a strangled yell when Sam took out his dick and gripped a firm hand around it. It felt wet already, sticky with its own slick.

“Fuck, oh fuck--” Dean gasped. “Sammy please--

“Almost there,” Sam grunted, jerking him despite the bad angle. It came out more reassuring than he’d intended, almost like he was trying to soothe Dean. “You’re almost there, come on, come on, Dean...”

Dean whimpered into his hair and bucked under him, come shooting up onto Sam’s belly and chest, a couple of ropes landing on Dean’s own shirt. His arms squeezed Sam’s neck so hard he was almost choking him. “Oh, God...” he moaned. “S-Sam... oh, fuck, Sammy...”

Sam’s dick twitched, but he wrung out Dean with all his best moves until Dean pushed his hand away, spine arching with pleasure. Sam pushed up from him when Dean’s arms finally flopped to his sides, hungry for a look at his sated face.

Dean looked even better than Sam remembered. His eyes were closed and his features slack, nose and cheeks and ears and neck all flushed rosy-red with contentment. A single bead of sweat trickled from his hairline down his temple. Best of all was his wet mouth, half-open and so inviting it made Sam’s dick hurt.

“Your huge fuckin’ hands...” Dean slurred, head tipped to the side. “Fuck, s’so good. Fuck.”

Sam wanted to mount him like a dog, which he was not going to say.

And anyway they had three, maybe four minutes left.

Fully prepared to take care of himself, Sam reached down with one hand and continued to hold his torso over Dean with the other, knowing he could get himself there in under a minute if he could keep staring at Dean’s face looking like that. He didn’t even undo his fly; jeans tended to hang loose around his waist and by simply undoing his belt he had enough space to shove his hand in and take a hold of himself.

“Sam?” Dean had blinked his eyes open. He looked a bit cross-eyed. “You gonna...?”

Sam went still.

“Want me to?” Dean said.

“S’not... you don’t have to--”

Dean’s hand slid into his jeans and nudged Sam’s own away. He was looking down between their bodies, almost giving himself a second chin by bending his neck. His fingers made their warm way to Sam’s aching dick, only slightly trembling, and he shivered.

“Oh God,” Dean breathed, caressing far too carefully.

Sam shifted his hips a little to press into the touch. He tried to stifle the harsh sounds of impatience crowding his throat to come out.

“You’re so...” Dean sounded reverent. “That’s gotta be a fuckin’ dream.”

Sam didn’t quite get his meaning at first.

Then Dean added, longingly: “Getting fucked by that’s gotta be a dream.”

And Sam saw it so clearly in his mind’s eye: Dean with his scared noises turning over in this very bed, asking Sam to please do it, right now, regardless of the time, please, and his pretty ass would take every inch with an impossibly good stretch and he would love every fucking second of it.

He spurted all over Dean’s hand, coming in long, hard pulses that felt like they started at the base of his spine. He fucked into Dean’s hand to ride it out, thrusting restlessly and groaning as his arms threatened to buckle and bring him down flush on top of his brother, maybe so he could finally lick into his mouth. It was so good he almost did.

But then it was time to go, even though Sam could have gotten hard again, could feel the electric tension in Dean that might mean he could have, too.

He had no clue what they were getting into with this. No goddamn idea.

*

“Ready?”

“I’m just walking him in, right?”

“Yes, honey.”

Sam had donned his black uniform like he’d promised Lisa (Dean still shook his head and called him a bouncer, like he did every time) and waited for Pamela to tell him he could get out of the car. Dean was being escorted by Sam, of course, so he was also sitting in the back seat with a grumpy set to his shoulders.

“Here, tuck this in.” Pamela tugged his sleeve down to make sure the newly changed bandages around his wrists weren’t visible. Sam made a mental note to remove them altogether by nighttime--his wounds had scabbed over and could do without the wrapping.

Her phone rang.

“You in place? Yeah? Yes, ‘cause we’re all set. Yeah.” Pamela distractedly pushed her sunglasses up her nose. “Yes, I’m telling you. He looks gorgeous. They both do. Yeah, I know, I know. Make that two tickets to Hamilton and we’re even. Yeah.”

She hung up and made a shoo-ing motion at them.

“Go. Sam, look recovered--just be your beautiful self.”

Sam rolled his eyes and pushed Dean out of the car in front of him, keeping a sharp eye out for any waiting fans, or anything worse. But the Agency building wasn’t an easy place to congregate (certainly nothing like the television studio in the middle of busy New York) and they hadn’t announced the trip, so it was an uneventful walk. Sam not being able to resist reaching out to brush his fingers along the small of Dean’s back one time to steer him past the main entrance wasn’t an event, no matter what it felt like.

The meeting at the Agency wasn’t with the whole Board like last time. Rufus, Ellen and Missouri met them in Rufus’ office, where the team sat or stood without ceremony to update their bosses on the current state of affairs and plan out Dean’s next moves.

“And of course Gordon won’t try shit again—he’s on the run, if anything,” Rufus was saying. “But our next thing really needs to be about hammering this whole ‘not all supernaturals are bad’ spiel. God knows we’ve been trying to get it through people’s heads for five freaking years but there’s always been hunters who wanted this shit to be black and white, too.”

“What do you think, Pam?” Ellen put in. “We could bring in Lenore?”

“Actually...” Lisa half-raised her hand to speak. “If they are willing and able, we should do something else with the Banes.”

Sam went still, and caught Dean doing the same across the room.

“We’ve had... incidents both times we tried to collaborate with them, and their popularity is unsurpassed. We could do an open classroom, or a joint lecture at a college...? Or film an ad, even, if--”

“I’m not filming an ad,” Dean interrupted.

“We might film an ad,” Pamela said, ignoring him.

“Anyway,” Rufus growled, shooting Dean a dirty look. “First things first: Sam’s press conference. Doesn’t have to take questions, but Dean should do more than put out a written statement--people miss your face. God knows why; it’s ugly as can be.”

Dean rolled his eyes.

“PR told us that Sam should just stand silently in the background, which I suppose is his expertise at this point.”

Sam agreed.

“There’s actually something else we wanted to talk to y’all about,” Missouri said in her soft voice.

The whole team turned to her expectantly, something about her tone sending a frisson of alertness through them. Sam hoped it was news on a hunt, something real for him and Dean to do.

“The omens are undeniable. We are in danger, and the attack from Hell may be imminent. We have our best researchers working around the clock on this, but you all need to be vigilant. We suspect we are very close to confirming the case of possession.”

“How close?” Dean asked, all of a sudden in his real hunter mode; hunched forward in his chair and tonally dead serious.

“We think it’s in the West Coast somewhere.”

“That narrows it down,” Jo muttered.

“The pattern of signs has concentrated there, despite widespread incidents across the country,” Ellen said, scowling at her daughter. “And the Mexican government agreed to send four shamans to California to help our psychics search.”

Sam thought of Jess with a pang. Could he warn her?

“We are also going to significantly up magical security for the Anniversary event this year,” Missouri said. “It’s going to be the largest concentration of hunters and supernaturals yet, and obviously it’s a known location for anyone wishing to stage an attack.”

“And we all think it’s still a good idea to congregate at the site?” asked Jo. “Why not celebrate at Madison Square Garden?”

Rufus looked pissed. “Of course it’s a dumb idea. But it ain’t up to us, not without ‘tangible evidence’ of risk, or the honchos from the Wyoming tourism industry are gonna carve us a new one.”

“And they don’t care that maybe, just maybe, if something was looking to reopen the pathway that could let demons funnel back into Earth, Hellsgate is the place to do it?”

“That’s why we need to figure out this demonic plot before then.”

It hit Sam at the exact moment it seemed to dawn on Dean.

“We need to go to California,” they said at the same time.

Ellen nodded carefully.

Missouri gave them a small smile. “You said it, not us. But...”

“Someone’s gotta investigate this,” Dean finished. “Real hunters, pre-Hellsgate hunters who know about demons and who also happen to know about what’s going on. You need boots on the ground, not just Ash’s MIT genius behind a computer.”

“...Yes.”

Sam could feel the thrum of energy, too; he was sure that the whole team was feeling it and that Dean was at its center, as a clear, important task was set for them.

“We’re gonna find that goddamn demon.”

He exchanged a look with Sam that was all determination, their father’s sacrifice at the forefront of their minds.

*

“I gotta say... ” Charlie commented hesitantly as they walked into the hotel lobby. “Demons seem... scarier than ghosts or vampires.”

“We’ll keep you safe, Bradbury,” Tamara said with a smile. “You can be our tech support. Operate from the van, be our guy in the chair.”

Sam didn’t reply because he’d just caught two men with their phones out who were clearly filming Dean.

“Hey, hey...” he called sternly, walking over to them. “Put those away, come on.”

One of the guys frowned up at him. “Or what? We’re members of the free press.”

Sam motioned for the group to keep going and, when Dean predictably stayed put, he stood in front of him to block him from view of the cameras. Any shifter or feeder or werewolf looking to stalk Dean and attack him wasn’t going to get any extra information about Dean’s whereabouts.

“This isn’t news. Dean is working hard to help people; we don’t need his location broadcasted every two days. Leave us alone.”

“Do you want an article out there about how Captain America is against free speech? Huh?”

Sam extended a warning hand so they wouldn’t come closer and fleetingly remembered what his flat palm could do. This idiot had no idea what he was capable of to keep Dean safe.

“Post whatever you want. But you both know this is fucked up, and you need to stay outside in the street.”

He waved the hotel’s security guards down with his other arm and pointed at the two reporters.

“Is it the Fairmont’s policy to allow the harassment of guests?” he called. “Get these two out of here. Now.”

The guards (neither of whom was taller but both of which were broader than Sam was) scurried to obey and escorted the irate reporters out without questioning his authority.

“Let’s go.”

They went up to their room in silence, and Sam was still seething with irritation so he didn’t have much room left in him to be concerned that Dean seemed annoyed with him for stepping in again and doing his job. He was under the impression that he’d made it very clear to Dean how it was going to be from now on.

Sam keyed open their door and let Dean in after he’d subtly glanced around and been satisfied no one (and nothing) was waiting for them in there. Then he shut the door and discovered Dean standing right behind him when he turned around.

“You doin’ it on purpose?” Dean muttered, moving with him when Sam tried to step around him. “Huh?”

Sam’s anger stalled in favor of his confusion. “Doing what on purpose?”

“Actin’ all...” A motion that didn’t mean anything to Sam. “To get to me.”

Get to you?” Sam looked at him in disbelief. “What are you talking about?”

“You’re...” Dean huffed, chest heaving. On second thought, he was breathing really hard for someone who’d just taken the elevator up twenty floors. “You’re being all... with your fuckin’... and, and the... you know...”

“Did you have a stroke?”

Dean made a frustrated noise and glared at him. “You tellin’ me you don’t know? How the fuck is that even possible?”

“Know what, Dean?”

“That it gets me crazy when you do that!”

Sam’s center of gravity actually shifted at those words.

He gaped at Dean as though he’d never seen him before.

“...What?”

Dean had gone all splotchy red, especially his ears, and he looked rather panicked but he didn’t speak.

“Dean. You... what?”

Dean just shook his head. “I...” He made a weird sort of strangled noise and grabbed the front of Sam’s black suit lapel. “It... makes me want you to...”

Sam let out a harsh breath. “To what?” he grunted. He took a step forward and Dean took a step back, but he didn’t look scared. A thrill shot through Sam.

“Sammy...”

A sudden blast of noise broke the spell.

Both of their cell phones were ringing; Sam’s phone with his generic but piercing ringtone and Dean’s with ‘Smoke on the Waters’. Sam took his out of his pants pocket and saw Charlie’s name flash across his screen, and when he looked over at Dean’s he saw Lisa’s picture on his.

Dean startled guiltily and rushed to pick up.

Both women turned out to be calling about the same thing; Charlie had convinced them all to go out again, which was probably a bad idea but everyone had still agreed. Her argument was based around the fact that D.C was by far the city they visited most often, and that she was getting to know the good bars.

Sharon said it was a dive, but the good kind of dive, you know?”

“I... I don’t know, Charlie, we...” and then he noticed that Dean was speaking to Lisa in a quiet, careful voice that was all measure and gentleness and a volume so low Sam couldn’t overhear, and an old hurt spoke for him. “Actually, we’ll be right down.”

Dean’s head snapped up in surprise. His expression was extremely hard to read, but he ended up muttering something into the phone and hanging up.

“So...”

“Let’s go, we don’t want to be late.” Sam straightened his collar and made for the door.

“Okay. I...” Dean didn’t follow him. “You head on down. I’ll meet you there.”

“I can’t leave you--”

“Ten minutes. We’re inside a salt line, Sammy.”

Sam still made sure the corridor was clear on his way out, and that no one got off the elevator on their floor.

It was stupid to feel hurt, or jealous, or anything else like that.

He wasn’t a complete idiot. He knew what Dean’s future held; the thing Dean had always dreamed of. Sam had been the one to leave, sure, but it was Dean who’d always wanted that apple-pie version of normalcy, of domesticity; a woman to settle down with in the long term and a family and maybe even kids.

Sam was going to enjoy this crazy ride while it lasted, but he shouldn’t let himself forget that.

*

“Can’t we find someone gross for Sam to punch out?” Charlie said with a grin.

Lisa sighed. “That played really well, actually. Wish we could arrange that.”

Sam was mildly horrified. “...Seriously?”

“Sam, you looked so tough. It was awesome.” She looked like she thought he was fishing for compliments or something. “Obviously.”

“Yeah. And kinda hot,” Jo added, not looking at him.

They waited for Dean in the hotel lobby for a good fifteen minutes until Dean finally joined them. He was his usual self and didn’t shoot any significant glances Sam’s way or anything, which Sam tried to pretend he didn’t notice.

Charlie kept up her enthusiasm during their walk to the dive bar du jour, and Sam had to admit when they got there that it was much closer to the bars he felt comfortable in. Even Dean was nodding with approval.

Of course as soon as the bartender recognized him, she exclaimed: “Dean Winchester drinks for free!” and that was that. Everyone in the room cheered even if they didn’t know who they were cheering for, and people’s cell phones were whipped out, and for a split-second Sam was convinced the tension in Dean’s shoulders meant he was going to turn tail and leave.

But then he grinned and half-bowed, for all intents and purposes embracing the attention. He swaggered into the bar like he owned the place and walked over to the counter, where he seemed to take his free drink allowance as a challenge, because he accepted every refill with gusto.

“Captain! Take a selfie with me!” a gorgeous woman angled her phone and Dean smiled tightly into the camera.

“Take a shot with us, Dean!” Two other women brought him a tequila shot and a lime wedge, and Dean obliged them too.

Sam should have seen it coming, but Dean was well on his way to getting shitfaced just an hour into their night. For some reason he had decided to be the life of the goddamn party, and it was the first time Sam had seen him play into the whole Captain America thing even a little.

“To the president!” someone shouted.

“To the president!” a bunch of people echoed, and Dean drank another shot of something disgusting-looking called a Purple Nurple. A woman giggled and leaned into his shoulder and looked up at him adoringly while something wrenched under Sam’s ribs, but he just rolled his eyes indulgently for all to see. He was playing referee to his popular, beloved brother. Nothing was new. Nothing was different. Nothing hurt more or less than it had before.

“Sam’s my bodyguard,” Dean was telling a small group. “He’s also my baby bro, but as you can see...” he motioned towards Sam and didn’t finish the sentence, as if Sam’s build spoke for itself.

Jo patted Sam on the arm in passing, shooting him a sympathetic look before moving on, but Sam saw his chance to take a break and took it, following her to the bar where Jake and Lisa were waiting.

“I’ll tell you one thing... he’s never done that before.”

Jo and Jake nodded along to Lisa’s wide-eyed assertion. “Closest he came was... what, the Portland blackout?”

“Probably,” Jo muttered. “Man, that was a shitshow.”

“S’mmy! Where are you?” came Dean’s cry, all but a minute later. “C’m’ere, have a shot!”

“Christ,” Lisa huffed. “Want me to go over there and guilt him into acting like an adult?”

Sam snorted. “Thanks, Lisa. I got it.”

“You’re a hero, man,” Jake said.

“Sammy!”

Sam went. Dean had had four kinds of shots, five types of beer and multiple cocktails, and someone had to look out for him. Sam was staying sober, knowing full-well it was going to fall to him to carry Dean back when all this was over. Whatever all this was, exactly.

“Here, Sammy. These nice girls want you to have a shot, too.”

Sam re-joined Dean’s little fanclub without much enthusiasm, but was saved when one of the women clearly picked up on his lack of desire to partake and instantly offered to double-down for him. Sam silently thanked her for her perceptiveness and passed off the opaque little glass.

Dean stared up at him with slightly unfocused eyes, one arm around the same thirty-something woman in business casual clothes as before. Up close Sam noticed she was still wearing a DOD identification badge around her neck. No question she’d just left work and was unwinding with her friends--she’d had no idea she was going to end up happily tucked into Dean Winchester’s side with a tipsy smile on her face.

“Sammy... Ayesha says her boyfriend is taller n’you.” He pointed at the woman who’d saved Sam from the Purple Nurple. “Tell her there’s no way.”

Sam smiled apologetically at her. “I’m sure you’re right.”

“I know I am. He’s six foot seven.”

“Nooo...” Dean cooed, face falling with comical sadness, and everyone in the vicinity laughed.

Sam caught Isaac’s eye across the room and Isaac gave him a thumbs up and an encouraging look, as though trying to get Sam to have fun.

The night was really turning into the opposite of fun.

“Sam.” Dean nudged him in the stomach, still looking up at him. He seemed displeased not to have Sam’s full attention at every second. “Sammy.”

Sam looked down at him after swallowing a sigh. “Yeah.”

But Dean didn’t really say anything more... just stared and blinked slowly up at him. He’d left his palm flat on Sam’s abs.

“I’m gonna go get us more shots,” the DOD worker said, still smiling brightly, and slipped out from under Dean’s arm.

“I... bathroom,” Dean said, and stumbled so badly when he tried to walk that he nearly took Sam down with him. Luckily Sam caught him in time and steadied the both of them, grunting with the effort.

“I’ve got ‘im,” he muttered to the group, taking most of Dean’s weight to drag him to the neon ‘Bathrooms’ sign.

They weren’t gendered, but there were two single-occupancy doors instead of toilets with stalls.

“Alright, let’s go,” Sam sighed, opening a door and pretty much spilling Dean inside. “If you feel like you’re gonna throw up, just tell me okay?”

Dean skidded but didn’t fall, and when Sam shut the door behind him he righted himself with surprising agility and pressed Sam up against it.

“Whoa--”

He started sloppily mouthing under Sam’s jaw without preamble, nudging his hips into Sam needily.

“Want it s’bad...” Dean slurred, teeth dragging across the skin of Sam’s neck. “Can’t wait... God, Sam...”

Sam’s pulse had shot through the roof, but there was no way this could happen here.

“Dean, we—we can’t—“ he panted, hating himself and the stupid words coming from his mouth.

“Why not?”

“Because—“ he pushed away, trying to think. “The, the team’s gonna wonder where we are...”

Dean started up at him, breathing shallowly. His sweat reeked of alcohol but his eyes were suspiciously alert, compared to his act back in the bar. “But I...” his gaze dropped to Sam’s crotch. “I want it.”

“Dean--”

“Come on, Sammy... need it.”

Sam sighed and Dean clearly saw he was gaining ground because he pressed forward again, this time grabbing both of Sam’s wrists and bringing his hands around to cup his ass. Sam squeezed on reflex, loving how solid a handful Dean was, loving how shameless Dean was about trying to rub his dick on something, anything. He’d always imagined Dean would be a suave sex-God at this stuff, but reality was a million times hotter.

“Yeah, yeah, c’mon... need it so bad, c’mon...”

He started up a grinding rhythm into Sam’s thigh that soon sped up; clumsy in his urgency. The little wanton noises he let out chipped away at Sam’s resolve bit by bit until there was nothing left, and Sam realized he’d been actively encouraging Dean’s movements with his grip on Dean’s ass.

Fuck, Dean,” he groaned. Dean needed it; well, he was going to get it.

He hoisted Dean up without warning, carrying him the couple of steps to the sink until they crashed into it. He sat him on the porcelain lip and Dean whimpered like it hurt even though he could take five bullets and keep going in real life, and Sam was going crazy with this. He scrambled for Dean’s fly and undid it, and they didn’t have time for much but Sam slid his hand inside Dean’s underwear and palmed him, massaging his dick urgently to get him there. He may have had a gallon of alcohol, but his dick wasn’t flagging.

“Fuck y-yeah,” And then Dean grabbed Sam’s wrist and shoved it in further, nudging his fingers past his balls. “Here...” he hissed.

Sam’s head was about to fly off. “You sure?”

“Done it before.” His forehead was scrunched in either pain or want. “No one with fingers s’big s’yours, but... fuck, need to come so bad--”

He didn’t have to say more. Sam had felt the unnatural slick of lube around Dean’s hole that meant Dean had fingered himself earlier. When they were waiting for him in the lobby, probably. Bastard.

“Please, Sam.” He ducked his face like he was hoping Sam wouldn’t look at him, like after all the begging and the wanton nudging he could hide his desire from Sam’s view. “Please do it,” he hissed.

Sam sank a finger in without much trouble, and he crooked it when he knew he needed to. Dean spasmed, clinging to him with both arms, and arched his back to facilitate the angle, trying to spread his thighs.

“Y-yeah... right there...” he whispered, like it was a secret. “Y-yeah...” When Sam fucked his finger in and out he followed the movements like a champ, hips churning with the rhythm Sam set. He started to lose the shyness, too, as he chased the high. “Yeah, Sam. Yeah.” He was breathing in gusts, but then so was Sam. “Yeah, yeah, yeah, there—“

What if Sam kissed him then? What if he leaned in and just devoured his mouth?

“You gonna come?”

“Fuck, yeah... Sammy...”

“Gonna come, Dean?”

Dean’s fingers curled in Sam’s hair. “Gonna...” he slurred, panting. He was riding Sam’s finger in choppy thrusts now, trying to get it in deeper, which was impossible at this angle and with access limited by clothing. “Gonna...”

Sam’s neck was killing him and his whole body ached to touch Dean’s mouth.

What he did instead was bend down and swallow the head of Dean’s cock, making Dean yelp and come instantly. His hips jumped and he spurted an impressive amount of fluid but Sam swallowed it in full, tongue teasing at the slit to get more of it.

“F-fuck...” Dean thrust into Sam’s mouth and back onto his fingers, slowing down as his aftershocks slowed too. “Oh... oh, God...”

Sam would have stayed longer, happy to suck hard and taste Dean for hours, but Dean tugged him up by the hair when he became too sensitive.

It was okay though, because Sam’s new favorite view was waiting to greet him; Dean was shivering a bit still but he looked like he’d taken something harder than alcohol. His jaw was hanging open with his tongue peeking out, lips bright red where they’d been abused by his own teeth. His eyes were half-closed, as though he was savoring something too tasty to be distracted.

“So good,” he said hoarsely, lashes fluttering. “Can’t help m’self. Get hard all the time.” Christ, this was going to go to Sam’s head. “Want it all the time.” Dean’s hands slid down from Sam’s hair to Sam’s chest to Sam’s abs to his belt. “All the goddamn time...”

He undid the buckle with a bit of fumbling and then the button and zipper of his jeans. He took hold of Sam with both reverent hands, jacking him slowly.

Sam was already dangerously close, and he had no patience for slow. He shoved his pelvis in and got Dean to pick up the sloppy rhythm, quickly getting into it, quickly building and building and--

“We should’a stayed in our room. I wanted you to, to hold me down and... and...” Dean chewed on his bottom lip. “And I don’t give a fuck about these people, I jus’ want you... want you all the time...”

Sam groaned.

“S’true, Sam... can’t stop thinking about it, about you... about you lettin’ me touch you... or makin’ me... do whatever you want...”

Sam cupped himself in time to come in his hand instead of all over Dean. He squeezed his eyes shut and let his head fall forward to rest against Dean’s chest, groaning deep in his throat.

“That’s it...”

The cleanup wasn’t pretty, but Sam splashed his face while Dean peed and tried to look less glittery-eyed and satisfied than he felt.

They made it through the rest of the night somehow, and walked back to the hotel with the others, and Dean clung to Sam most of the way but no one seemed to think that was suspect. It was hardly the first time Sam had had to carry his drunk brother around, though certainly the first time this group had been there to witness it.

Sam let the boiling joy in his gut simmer until they went to bed, and then he buried his face into his pillow and grinned so wide he thought he was going to dislocate his jaw.

Maybe the long term wasn’t going to be his, but the present sure as hell was.

*

The Press conference was massive; the biggest Sam had been a part of. Pamela had taken Rufus’ instructions to heart and had Sam stand behind Dean like he usually did, to make it clear that things were back to normal and the press could move on from the story of his kidnapping. She made sure to tell him to stand up to his fullest height but Sam didn’t need to be told to do that anymore; he was in, he’d bought into the role.

Dean made a brief statement about Sam being back to speed and made sure to mention his upcoming trip to California. Then he took questions from the press.

They’d set up in an enormous conference room on the ground floor of the Agency building, and someone from the PR department that Sam hadn’t met was managing the questions from the reporters from a seat next to Dean’s. Lisa had greeted them as ‘Cole’.

“Danny, then Pete!” Cole shouted over the barrage of questions.

An older guy stood up to ask his question as the hubbub died down. “Dean, I’m Danny from the Post; can you talk a little bit about what was going through your mind when you found your brother at the hands of radical hunters?”

Dean, who was doing a terrible job of hiding his desire to not be there, sighed into his microphone. “Uh, well, first thing was making sure Sam was okay. And... and I was relieved. And glad that he was... okay. And he kept sayin’ he wanted a shave, so I knew he’d be fine.”

This got a chuckle from the room.

Someone asked about Walt and Reggie’s motives, but Dean dodged that question like a bullet and looked to Cole to call the next person.

“Trevor Pearson from the Buzzfeed; the video of your declaration of war on Sam’s captors went viral, can you tell us a bit more about your state of mind when you made such a statement?”

Sam made a mental note to watch the video the next time he had a moment alone, even though he was a little weary of what he would see.

“Uh, not...” Dean cleared his throat. “Not really. I just wanted Sam back, I would’ve... said anything. Done anything.”

They moved on without giving Sam time to process those words.

“Hi Mr Winchester; Lorna Michaels from Teen Vogue--will you be participating in the hunter training programmes the Agency is setting up and if so: what would you say to young women specifically to encourage them to become hunters?”

“Well, we need more hunters who are trained and who get how... murky the business can be. I mean there’s good monsters and bad people, and... smart people, smart young women, are super important. Moral complexity ain’t always something guys are good at right off the bat. Uh, not sure if that’s...” he shot Lisa a questioning look but Lisa nodded in encouragement. “Girls are made to grow up really fast. They tend to be more emotionally smart, because of what we expect from them, as, uh, a society. And they are badasses, physically strong badasses too, so. Yeah, we’ll take all the help from them we can get.”

Someone else asked Dean about details of the California trip and he muttered something about additional information when his plans had been finalized.

“We have time for one more,” the Agency’s press secretary called. “Camille.”

Another female reporter stood up--Sam couldn’t help noticing how beautiful she was first thing, and judging by the way Dean’s back straightened, he couldn’t either.

“Hi Dean, I’m Camille Richards from the Globe. I wanted to hear a little more about Sam’s rescue operation. Obviously it’s a confidential subject, but if you can talk about the role the vampires and the psychics and the consulting witches played...?”

Dean smiled at her, probably grateful for the softball that enabled him to talk up supernaturals in a positive light some more, but maybe also because she was gorgeous.

“...even Max and Alicia Banes offered to fly down from Canada again and help. But we had our best people on it, and obviously it worked out ‘cause we got Sammy back.”

“Thank you,” Camille said, smiling. “I think everyone was glad to see him protecting you again.”

Dean’s smile broadened and Sam tried not to twitch irritably.

“Thank you, Camille.”

The conference ended soon after that, and Sam avoided the narrow-eyed looks Dean gave him as they made their way to the main hall. It wasn’t even the first time he’d put a hand on Dean’s shoulder to escort him places--Sam was guarding him, after all.

*

In the end, Sam locked himself in the Fairmont lobby bathroom to watch the clip on his phone while they waited for their cars.

The YouTube video he found was called ‘Real-Life Captain America GOES OFF on criminals’. It was a twenty-second cut of the moment posted by some fan.

They’d put makeup on Dean, but makeup couldn’t hide the impossible way his eyes were sunken in their sockets, a sheen over them like an infection, or drug use. Sam saw the interviewer repeatedly glance at something off-camera with a questioning look, as though they too were wondering what the hell Dean was on.

He almost let the phone slide out of his hands when Dean started to speak; his voice was deep and raspy, like John’s. He had been asked what he’d say to Sam’s captors if they were watching, and he wanted to know which camera was filming him. He turned to look straight into it with unsettling fury. Slowly, the cameraperson zoomed in on his face, which just made it worse.

His voice was laced with venom.

You’re dead men walking; all of you. There’s not a goddamn corner you’ll be able to hide... not a rock you’ll be able to crawl under, because I’ll find you. When I get Sam back, I will hunt you down to the ends of this world and into whatever plane of existence comes next, ya hear me? I will hunt you like I’ve hunted monsters my whole damn life; you have no idea how good at this I am. I will find you, and when I do, I am going to rip your lungs out.”

There was a long, unsettled silence in the studio until the interviewer wrapped up as graciously as he could, and then the clip cut off.

Sam left the stall and went back out into the lobby, grabbed Dean by the sleeve of their father’s jacket, and told Pamela they needed a minute.

“Sammy, what the--”

He brought Dean back into the bathroom and paused only long enough to open every stall and make sure they were alone. Then, he whirled to face Dean and started to advance on him until Dean was backing away all pink-cheeked and breathless.

“Sammy...”

Dean’s back hit the door and Sam kept going, registering the now-familiar tinge of fear-turned-anticipation in Dean’s expression and filing it away.

“Ain’t... ain’t complaining or anything...” Dean managed. “But what--”

Sam grabbed his face in both his palms and crushed their mouths together.

Dean whimpered and immediately kissed back with a ferocity that almost made Sam stumble back, grabbing Sam by the sides and shoving them together. His lips were so soft and plush and of course Sam should have expected it, had expected it, had felt them against his when he thought Dean was never going to breathe again, but it still blew his mind. The inviting wetness of Dean’s mouth when he let Sam lick it open was heaven. Sam groaned, thrusting his tongue inside and desperately wishing they had hours, days to do just this, not even stopping to sleep or eat, just so he could ravage Dean’s lips and leave them kiss-swollen, obvious to anyone who looked at him.

“S-Sam,” Dean breathed, but he more than allowed the next frantic few minutes, yanking Sam by the hair and sinking his fingers in it.

When they rejoined the team Pamela cussed them out for arguing near the public, since they needed to present a unified front. “Save the fights for the drive,” she snapped.

Sam acted suitably chastised, thankful of her ignorance this time. Dean bowed his head like a man at church, his smirk hidden into the popped neck of the leather jacket.

*

Nowadays, if Sam’s phone rang and he didn’t recognize the number he’d still pick up; it was an ingrained habit. Sure, he spoke to a lot of telemarketers, but growing up with Dad’s ever-changing roster of disposable cell phones, missing such a call could mean missing vital, even life-saving information.

And during his years at Stanford, an unknown number could always theoretically, breathtakingly, mean Dean.

So even though they were in the car with the convoy driving across the country and the road was long and Dean would overhear the conversation for sure, he picked up when his cellphone rang with an area code that wasn’t familiar.

Sam? Is this Sam Winchester?

It was Max Banes.

“H-hey! Yeah!” His pulse jumped to overdrive. “Oh my God, hey! How are you?”

“I’m fine, man. How are you? I’m so glad it looks like you’re back on your feet!

Beside him, Dean had gone quiet and still as a statue.

“I-I, thanks, Max. It really was no big deal, they got me out of there in no time.”

Only you would downplay being held prisoner.” He chuckled.

Sam laughed a little, too, but he was overly conscious of Dean’s unsubtle tension. “Yeah, well...” he trailed off, unsure as to how to ask Max why he was calling.

Heard you guys were on the road,” Max said, and didn’t wait for Sam to admit they were. “Heard you were going to California.

“We are.”

Cool, cool. Alicia... heard something else, too.

It crossed Sam’s mind that Max was about to say something about him and Dean even though it wouldn’t make any sense within the conversation, but he waited it out.

I heard there’s a group of hunters gathering to find the first demon to come back to Earth.”

Sam made a choice, and put the phone on speaker.

“Hey Max, I’m in the car with Dean, and... yeah, you’re on speaker.”

Oh. Hi Dean.” Max’s tone was marginally less warm than it had been before.

“Hey,” Dean said, cautious but not rude. Sam rolled his eyes.

I was asking Sam about the rumors circling, about a little hunting party looking for a demon.”

“...Hunters are gossips, man,” Dean replied, eyes back on the road.

Don’t mean the info isn’t true. My sister got it from a reliable source.” Max paused. “We want in. Alicia and I.

Dean pursed his lips in thought. “Hey Max... no offense, but weren’t you guys teenagers when Hellsgate--”

Sam was, too,” Max countered immediately. “And you were twenty-one, man, not forty.”

“I, right, it’s just--”

We’ve got other abilities, anyway. Powers you wouldn’t understand.”

“I... guess you’re right. Yeah. You’re right, I-I’m sorry.” Dean surprised Sam, and possibly Max as well, by suddenly changing course. “I’m... really sorry, Max.”

There was a pause on the other end of the line and Sam wondered whether Max, too, had heard a strange echo in meaning from Dean’s apology.

So we’ll see you there, is what you’re saying?

“Guess so. Sam’ll send you the details--we’re staying at the Ritz-Carlton.”

Damn. All right, then we should meet up tomorrow and plan this hunt. I can’t wait to hear about your first-hand experience.”

Sam frowned in confusion at the phone. “Uh, Max... isn’t Toronto two, three days’ drive?”

We’re flying?

“Oh, right.” Sometimes he forgot people did that. “Uh, great. So that means we’ll see you really soon, then.”

Yeah. Take care, Winchesters. Alicia says hi.”

“Bye,” Sam and Dean replied simultaneously.

They exchanged a look after Sam hung up that was all weariness on Dean’s part.

“...I’m sorry about the gala, Sam. I was a fucking asshole.”

Sam hadn’t been expecting that.

“Uh. Thanks. I’m over it, but... yeah, you were a fucking asshole.”

“I just...” he looked like he was about to say something but then he turned to face the road again, and said something else. “Anyway, glad it’s behind us. Guess you’ll finally get to go out with him, now that we’ll be in the same place for more than one night.”

He was staring straight ahead as he said it, but the smile was mechanical and only involved his mouth, not his eyes. When Sam didn’t say anything in response, he went on.

“I’m sure he’ll say yes, Sam.”

Sam kept quiet, watching him.

Dean grimaced like he was trying to leer and failing. “As someone who’s sampled the goods I’ve gotta say I wouldn’t be surprised if he said yes more than once, if you know what I mean,” he added desperately.

“I don’t think he’s into me like that, Dean.” Not after the charity auction. Not after the cemetery.

Dean scoffed. “Yeah, right. He’s into guys and you’re--uh, I mean... I...” he coughed. “I mean damn, Sammy, you got me to go for it.”

“I don’t think your logic would hold up in court.”

“I think your ass defies logic, lawyer-boy.”

An incredulous laugh got caught in Sam’s throat on its way out, and he turned to look out of the window.

He felt Dean turn to look at him. “What? You gettin’ all bashful on me now?”

“Shut up.”

“Y’know Sam, I never met a guy who was so nice in the streets and so freaky in the—“

“We’ve barely done stuff in a bed, man, let alone between sheets.”

Dean didn’t say anything for a moment. Then he muttered: “...Yet,” And left the topic of Max alone.

*

When they went into their room (at the Ritz-Carlton, a remnant of eighteen-year-old Sam still noted with disbelief) Sam dropped their duffels by the door and was moments away from pinning Dean to the nearest horizontal surface--or vertical, or anything, when he saw something on his bed.

It was a card, folded in half to stay upright.

The fact that it was only on one bed was what set his teeth on edge first, because if the hotel had left some sort of message for them it would definitely be on both beds or on the single table between them. Asymmetry didn’t fit the aesthetic of the room.

He held Dean back by pushing at his chest and walking over to the paper, even though it didn’t look dangerous in and of itself. But spells took on many forms, and this could be anything from a self-igniting enchantment to a glamored weapon.

“Sammy be careful,” Dean rasped, obviously on the same line of thinking as Sam. “And don’t read it out loud,” he added, and Sam nodded.

He picked it up with care and nothing happened. It felt ordinary--it certainly looked ordinary. It was on hotel stationary. He opened it.

Someone had handwritten a clear instruction in an elegant, looping script. They had used teal ink.

Meet me in my room. Now.

~ Lugosi.

“Who the fuck is Lugo--Bela,” Dean said, shoulders slumping with realization. He’d silently crept up behind Sam to read over his shoulder (or try to jump in front of him if there was any danger, Sam didn’t doubt).

“I wonder what she’s doing here,” Sam muttered, turning over the card. There was nothing else on it.

“Only one way to find out.”

*

She was in the Deluxe Suite, of course. Sam still didn’t know her that well but he already felt as though he had a grasp of who she was; of the fact that obviously she’d be staying in the most expensive, most luxurious room in the hotel complex.

“Oh, goodie. The whole team.”

Bela stepped aside and opened the door for them, letting them walk into her grand quarters with a casual wave. It turned out everyone had gotten her faux calling card, and correctly deduced where she was staying.

Pamela nodded at her in passing. “Hello, Bela.”

“Bela,” Isaac greeted.

“Bela,” said Jo.

“Talbot,” Dean grunted pointedly.

“It’s good to see you, Tamara,” Bela said, ignoring everybody else but seeming to give Tamara a genuine little smile. “I hope all those hours on the road haven’t put you off American highways.”

Tamara rolled her eyes and didn’t respond, but it had sounded like an inside joke between the two British women.

“Why’d you ask us here, Bela?”

She shut the door behind Kevin with a flourish. “Word on the street is the demon is in this state, and you’re hunting it.”

Sam felt his jaw drop. “Who the hell is leaking all this information?”

“Sweetheart I’ve got methods you wouldn’t dream about.” She smirked. “And anyway you know hunters are gossips.”

Dean scowled. “You still haven’t told us what the hell you are doing here. And you’ve never been a hunter, Talbot,” he added before she could answer. An edge of disgust crept into his voice the way it didn’t when referencing Charlie’s non-hunting background, or Kevin or Lisa’s. “You used to be a bounty-hunter. You only ever cared about getting rich.”

Bela’s smirk stayed in place but it turned cold. “All I’ve ever cared about is survival, Dean. Sue me for wanting to survive in style.”

“Right, ‘cause selling dangerous amulets to CEOs for profit is all about ‘survival’--”

“Speaking of amulets; that trinket around your neck would fetch a neat price at the black market, you know--”

“I will never sell this--”

“All right, let’s not get off track, here,” Jo interjected. “Bela. What do you want. And don’t say you’re here for the Board of the Agency ‘cause there’s no way.”

The whole team looked at her expectantly, and she cast her gaze around each of them in turn. She was wearing expensively ripped jeans and a stylish red shirt, but the reason she didn’t blend in with them had nothing to do with her fashion choices.

“I’m here... to help,” she bit out.

“Yeah, right--”

“Dean,” Lisa interrupted, shushing him. “Let her talk.”

Bela gave her a grateful nod and went on. “Here’s how I see this; you guys need funding going into this hunt and the Agency isn’t going to give it to you because it’s not official. You need resources you don’t have access to anymore because the idiots who thought it all ended with Hellsgate were careless, stupid fucks who didn’t plan for this the way they should have.”

“And you’re providing all this for us for free?” Jo said.

“What’s in this for you?” Dean asked flatly.

She snorted. “Is not wanting Hell on Earth not a good enough motive?”

“Nope.” He didn’t even hesitate. “There’s got to be something in it for you. And either you tell us right now or we walk.”

Bela crossed her arms over her chest. “How diplomatic of you.” She sighed, glaring at Dean, and spoke only to him. “...Let’s just say I have a vested interest in none of the hellish creatures coming back. Not demons and not anything else.”

Dean seemed surprised to have gotten an answer from her, as ambiguous as it had been, and, amazingly, let it go after a long moment of silence.

“Is it true the Banes twins are coming in, too?” Bela asked.

Pamela nodded, as Sam and Dean had updated the others on that development as soon as they took a rest stop on the road. “Tomorrow.”

“My mom is as well,” Jo said, and that was news to Sam. “And Ash.”

Bela nodded thoughtfully. “Well, well... this should be an interesting little gathering.”

*

“Tomorrow’s gonna be somethin’,” Dean commented casually as the elevator doors closed behind Isaac and Tamara, leaving them alone to go to their floor.

Dean’s casual comments rarely sounded as offhand as he meant them to. It was actually kind of endearing.

“Yeah. We never worked with a group of hunters this big before.”

“Dad was worth ten hunters,” Dean said.

They both knew he knew better than that, but Sam didn’t call him on how dangerous John’s loner tendencies had been to his own life, let alone the success of the hunt. John was far from the only hunter who had preferred to work alone; it was still the norm and not the exception, the way Hellsgate had been an exception.

“Well, this is a definite all-hands-on-deck situation, so I’m glad we have a bunch of backup,” he said. They stepped out into the corridor towards their room. Two hotel workers were wheeling a huge cart with fresh supplies midway down the hall.

Neither Sam nor Dean said anything else until their door was shut, and then--

It was frighteningly simultaneous, almost choreographed, how they both reached for each other and slammed together. Dean immediately went for Sam’s mouth, moaning into his lips, grabbing him by the hair with both hands to bring him down to his height.

“Mh--Dean, God...” Dean’s mouth was better than pornography, and pausing to let him know of this fact seemed like too much effort. And yet--

Dean tugged painfully at Sam’s hair, rising on his tiptoes and inhaling air harshly through his nose as he kissed Sam deeper, tongue curling around Sam’s. Sam’s arms wrapped around his waist and madly he thought that he would never let Dean go, never give him back to the world that loved and idolized him.

“S-Sam...” Dean hissed as Sam nudged a knee between his legs, right where they stood. “How long you wanted me like this? Huh?” His voice was already wrecked. “Tell me. Tell me.”

Forever was too revealing. Months would be a lie.

“All day,” Sam growled instead. It was true. It was every day.

“S’the opposite, for me,” Dean said, hushed. “Want you all night.”

Sam groaned, feeling his dick ache with it. “Christ, Dean.”

They stumbled to the nearest bed and fell down on it heavily, still kissing. Maybe it would be okay if the demons came back, as long as they let Sam keep kissing Dean forever. Dean was such a good kisser it was stupid, or making Sam stupid, and either way it felt too good to ever consider stopping.

Until a loud knock on their door made them both flinch.

“Winchesters! Charlie’s makin’ us go out again!”

It was Jake.

“You guys comin’ or what?”

Sam shot Dean a look that was meant to be questioning, but Dean was looking at him the same way. He was still panting quietly under Sam, mouth open, lips begging, just begging to be bitten.

“No thanks, Jake!” Sam called back, eyes locked with Dean’s. Dean’s gaze took on a daring, exhilarated quality. “Tell her next time!”

“...Okay! Sleep tight!”

Sam kissed Dean before he could add to the answer, muffled noises in his mouth with frantic urgency. He always felt like they had seconds, like he should make the most of it before this was taken away from him.

*

The line is broken; they are free to roam the Earth. There’s a fire crackling nearby, but it’s manmade. Amidst the chaos and the screams, it’s the other darkness... the oily, bone-chilling, seeping black that permeates everything it touches, including their souls. It’s cold beyond anything the human world can understand. A black frost. And it’s growing, and it doesn’t care about the flames.

In fact, it’s ready to devour them in a relentless, sizzling takeover.

The dream had been so vivid--a battle setting at the Hellsgate site the way Sam had always imagined it; the way it must have been before he ran into the smoke with a panic that Dean be alive. Chaos and debris and screams that weren’t human, people with all-black eyes, some of them strangers, some of them friends.

He snuck down to the hotel gym even though it was obscenely early and he had an awful headache from the vision--but Dean had been asleep for once. It was good to be alone, to stretch and run and lift until the rush of excercise had helped clear his mind of the seeping darkness.

Lisa showed up about an hour after he did.

She wasn’t wearing makeup and her eyes were puffy from sleep, but her hair had been pulled into her usual elegant ponytail and she was dressed for her morning session.

“Morning, Sam.”

It wasn’t quite a routine, but they had been coinciding at various gyms since those two initial encounters (one before and one after the breakup). Lisa could still stretch circles around him but she was a very good teacher, and Sam’s grasp of the basics meant he could try for slightly more advanced stuff thanks to her. None of the other team members frequented the gyms as regularly, and if Jo came in she always went straight for the punching bags and ignored the mats, so it was just them every time.

“Hey, so... wanna hear something funny?” Lisa asked when they were done, and something about her tone was deliberately casual suddenly, and caught Sam’s attention. He noted in some bleak part of his brain that it was a very Dean-esque quirk; something the two had had in common.

“...Sure.”

She smiled, still panting slightly, but the smile was off, too. “I get sent a bunch of tabloid articles for work, right? And I have to seek them out, too. I mean, that’s my job.”

“Right.”

“Well.” She was definitely building up to something. “One of those tabloid headlines was about you and Dean.”

Sam tried not to let any of his sudden terror show. “Oh?”

“Not unusual. The press kinda stopped caring about me when Dean and I broke up, which was great, but... he’s so hot, and I mean, obviously speculation is their thing, right?”

Sam’s pulse was beating faster than it had been during the workout.

Lisa brushed a nonexistent speck of dust from her knee. “Anyway, you’re gonna laugh...” but neither of them were anywhere near laughter. “...but this article, right, is all about how your bone structure is so different and how there’s basically no way you two are really brothers.”

They think you’re not actually related, they are saying you were brought in to be with him...

“Lisa, I--”

“They had a bunch of other pictures, too... of you with him. You loom really well.”

“I...”

“Sam.” Her eyes suddenly fixed on his and Sam flinched. But she didn’t look angry or sad, just determined. “The two options the article was going for were: either you two were really brothers, in which case everything the paps caught was platonic... or you two weren’t related, in which case something else was definitely going on. There was no third.”

And when she smiled without even a hint of bitterness Sam felt a surge of admiration that he’d maybe never felt for anyone before, because Lisa looked like she had gotten over Dean.

“So that’s good. That there are two options, and that those are the ones the press is contemplating. That’s really good.”

Sam reached out a tentative hand and they both watched it engulf hers.

“...Thank you.”

He hoped she understood that he wasn’t just thanking her for the information.

She shrugged lightly. “You’re welcome.”

*

Max texted Sam that they were on their way to the hotel from the airport, and Sam saw Dean see it happen but he didn’t comment. They were having breakfast with Jake, Isaac, Kevin and Jo, and conversation was casual, and they hadn’t really discussed Max since the drive. Ash and Ellen arrived right after he sent a reply text anyway, and the moment was lost in greetings.

There wasn’t a good place for all of them to congregate--or, Dean couldn’t come up with anything better than Bela’s gigantic suite despite his own protests of her idea, so they eventually all ended up there.

It was an interesting scene, to be certain, and Sam was glad to be a part of it. He was forcibly reminded again of how good he and Dean were at the job, and how intrinsic it was to their core personalities. They divided the work among everyone according to each person’s strengths and paired non-hunters with the more experienced of the group, and Dean just kind of naturally assumed the role of general leader, and no one questioned it.

Midway through the initial discussion on how best to track the demon down, Max sent Sam a text that just said ‘oow up’.

“The key is in the omens,” Jo was saying.

“Nothing about them is gonna help produce a realistic tracking algorithm, kid,” Ash said, with a familiarity that made Tamara’s eyebrows shoot up. “We’ve got the area, but to narrow it down we need eyewitness accounts. We need the demon to do something.”

But Dean was shaking his head. “Waiting is not a course of action we can afford, Ash.”

“I agree with Dean,” said Isaac. Next to him, Jake was nodding along. “It’s about preventing shit, innit?”

“Then what’s your idea?”

“My idea is we do some more research and figure it out.”

Ellen rubbed tired fingers into her temples. “We need supplies, people. Who’s gonna send out word via the old backchannels that everyone better get to churches, synagogues, temples...? Folks nowadays ain’t stocking holy water. Salt lines are everywhere, sure, but how long’s it been since any of us speed-drew a pentagram?”

“Are you suggesting practice runs?”

“Why not? You young ones sure need them.”

It was in that moment that the Banes twins knocked on the door.

Sam, Dean and Pamela were the only ones who had actually spoken to them, but the rest of the group knew of them of course. It was pretty amusing to watch Charlie and Kevin’s reactions in particular, and Jake got unexpectedly incoherent when Alicia addressed him.

Of course Dean was still somehow the awkwardest of all, particularly around Max. Sam noted with mild distress that Max looked somehow better in plain dark jeans and a black T-shirt than he had in a tux—his eyes looked especially green. He was so beautiful that when he smiled it seemed to make the whole room pause.

After introductions were over Max quickly made a beeline for Sam, motioning with his hand for Sam to lean down.

“Sam, so good to see you. Can I talk to you for a second?”

In the background, Sam heard Dean stumble mid-sentence and end up rambling himself into a silence. Other people were still talking (in fact Jo and Ellen sounded like they were having a minor argument with Pamela on the couch) but Dean had heard, and was still listening in.

“I... yeah. Of course.”

Sam was about to make for the door and thus the corridor outside, but Max shook his head and pointed to Bela’s balcony.

“Nice view,” he said, and Sam shrugged in agreement and stepped out after him.

The wind buffeted their clothes and ruffled Sam’s hair, but it would certainly muffle any words that were said.

“This way certain people will be able to keep an eye on us,” Max said, gesturing to the room behind the glass panel doors.

Sam felt known in a way that was naturally uncomfortable to him.

“What’s up, Max?”

Max smiled, all camraderie. “Not much. I thought maybe you might want to update me on something.”

“...Like what?”

“Well, last time we spoke you told me to... assume away. I thought maybe you wanted to tell me not to do that, anymore.”

He was referencing their hushed conversation at the auction house, when Max had asked about Dean’s interference the first time they’d met.

“That’s what you want to talk about?” Sam asked, mind still full of demon-hunting and world-ending scenarios.

But for the first time, a sliver of hurt could be discerned in Max’s features and Sam had the sudden realization that the witch hadn’t let on any of his true feelings at surface value. Max might not appear reserved but he was, and Sam was the Winchester brother who was being a complete ass to him this time. He’d... in relative inadvertence, he’d led Max on.

“I... sorry, Max. I’m sorry, I don’t—“

“I just want to know the truth.” He shrugged. “Dean’s story started all heroic and shit, but he always seemed a little dead behind the eyes to me, no offense, and that stuff with gorgeous girlfriend just didn’t look believable. And then... five years after Hellsgate Dean’s mysterious ‘brother’—“ He didn’t mime the quotation marks but they came through loud and clear. “—suddenly showing up out of nowhere was... something else. And you guys look nothing alike, man. And the way he looked at you... I mean.” He smiled, pitying.

“It’s...” Sam wasn’t sure what was worse; doubling-down on the truth or...?

“C’mon, Sam. You don’t need to explain. It’s pretty obvious you guys are far from just brothers.” Max looked almost pained, but he was clearly enjoying having the uppder hand, and he’d hidden away that trace of hurt already. “I don’t need a signed confession or anything, but... I’ll take a nod, just to help me process this little crush, y’know?”

Sam hesitated for another few seconds, but eventually he gave in.

He nodded, and Max clapped him on the shoulder. “Knew it. Good on ya.”

“I’m sorry if I...”

“Oh no, please don’t,” Max cut him off. “My ego can’t take you letting me down easy.”

And he was off before Sam could elaborate, or tell him that things had only really happened recently, or that he had no actual clue as to what was going on with him and Dean other than that he got to steal kisses behind locked doors and it was making him feel more alive than he had in years.

*

That night, Bobby called Dean to let him know he was on the road to join them as well. He was bringing a couple of other hunters Sam didn’t know but who’d apparently met Dean, and when she heard about it Alicia said she’d called in a favor from another hunter-witch, and she would be coming as well.

The Ritz-Carlton was going to end up hosting a veritable army of hunters.

Dean hadn’t asked about Max all day, or tried to get Sam to tell him what they’d talked about, and Sam hadn’t volunteered the information because he was a coward and he was afraid that if he tried to make Dean put their mess into words it would all fall apart.

He wanted to kiss Dean a little while longer.

*

They acted as a hub for the next couple of days, calling their European contacts, Skyping international consultants and, thanks to Bela’s far from understated resources, hooking into the network of black-market magic dealers and bounty-hunters to procure as much anti-demonic weaponry as was possible. The room was repurposed with surprising ease; Bela’s door remained open as people came and went but by day two it had turned into part-storage of illegal weaponry, part-library, part-something of a command-center.

They had yet to have a breakthrough, but Max and Alicia were working on modifying a promising tracking spell and as many trusted on-duty hunters as possible had been alerted to keep a lookout thanks to Bobby’s network of contacts. Tamara had a lead on a dagger of the Kurds she was hoping to acquire in time with Bela’s help. Charlie had helped boost the information through secure backchannels and Lisa helped to ensure that the opposite happened in public; so far no sensationalist stories had leaked about the potential end of the world.

Mid-afternoon of day two, Ellen pointed out that they could at least count on the enormous Devil’s trap to contain the demons first, but something was bothering Sam; some piece of information that was all the way at the back of his mind, a niggling sense that a missing clue was right within reach.

He stopped typing and looked at Dean, racking his brain for the answer.

“Sam?”

And then it hit him.

...five-year anniversary of the Hellsgate battle.

The television had been playing in the bar he and Jess were at when Dean found him. Background noise; Sam had barely been paying attention at first.

...five-year anniversary of the Hellsgate battle.

What had the announcer been saying before that?

“Sam?”

“I think I...”

It had been about the event. Something about the Devil’s trap.

And then he had it: “Officials promised construction would be complete by the end of this year, in time for the five-year anniversary of the Hellsgate battle.”

“Sam?”

“It was this year,” he muttered, fingers flying over the keyboard as he looked it up. “They were rebuilding the railway lines—“

“Yeah, they finished that last month,” Jo said. “I think we were invited for the opening but we were in Washington.”

“But the omens had started. They finished construction when the omens had already started.” He found an online article about restoration of the five-pointed railway immediately, and Jo was right about the timing, it ended a month ago almost to the day. But something was still off about the whole thing.

“Our people looked it over, Sam,” Ellen said, frowning. “It’s secure.”

It’s not, said a voice in the back of Sam’s head. He couldn’t explain how he knew, but he suddenly just did.

“It’s not secure.”

It was Jake who said it.

They all looked at him; he was perched on the arm of a couch that Max, Bobby and a couple of new hunters occupied. He looked up with a weary set to his shoulders.

“How did they test it?” he asked Ellen. “With no demons to fight, to trap.”

“Spellwork,” said Ellen. “Three different witches—“

But Jake was shaking his head and so were Max and Alicia.

“Spellwork can be fooled,” Max said.

“This trap hasn’t faced a real challenge,” Jake declared flatly. “Not yet.”

“What are you suggesting, Jake?”

He sighed, and it struck Sam that in his latest delirious malestorm of emotion he’d failed to notice that their military liason looked utterly exhausted.

“All it takes is one break. One flaw in the line; an insert of wood, less than an inch in thickness, that’s been painted over.” The finality of his declaration set Sam’s teeth on edge, even though he knew, rationally, that Jake’s prophetic-sounding certainty came from his combat experience and not from any preordained knowledge of how exactly the enemy was going to break the demons free. “We can’t count on that trap anymore. They’ll get out.”

There was a long moment of stillness in the crowded room.

Then, movement.

Dean pointed at Pamela. “Call whoever you know at the event,” but she already had her phone out. Alicia, too, was calling someone and Ash muttered something about hacking into the pentagon for some goddamn reason, Kevin and Charlie jumping to assist. Bela and Max started discussing spellwork with Tamara, and how it could be fooled. Bobby took out two phones (one with ‘FBI’ written in marker on the back with tape).

“It’s not enough to get them to cancel the event,” Ellen said hollowly. “If we don’t find that demon and hand it over, it’s going to go through.”

Dean nodded, grim.

*

The trials use the word ‘cure’. Winchester used that word too, towards the end: he was fading at the same rate as she was coming back sharper, in focus, and he kept saying he was healing her, curing her. But she doesn’t feel ‘cured’. This existence is not a cure, it is a curse and she almost wants it to end. Telling herself that it wasn’t her is a lie; it was a mangled, evil version of her that did those things, sure, but it was still her. The evil came from within her, from the darkest corners of her mind. Even the body she is in right now is a lie; some girl she killed and whose meatsuit she now inhabits in a human, breakable way. Her skin doesn’t fit. It’s the skin of some girl she killed.

Sam woke up with a gasp, and this time Dean was there, shushing him and caressing him and grasping him by the shoulders.

“Sam! Sam, hey!”

He’d been shouting ‘Stop’. He could almost hear it, like an echo in his own voice.

“I... sorry,” he choked. “Sorry, I... I saw...”

It had been subtly different. Not because it wasn’t a vision, but because the girl had been remembering being a demon, and she wasn’t one anymore.

And the Winchester she'd been thinking about had been John.

“Dean... the trials, the... the three trials Dad performed to banish them. What was the third?”

“I don’t... he didn’t tell us what they were, remember? And no one’s been able to figure out how he knew what to do, not in five years.”

“But the Hellhoud,” Sam insisted, feeling certainty grow in his gut. “We agreed—“

They’d talked about it only once: right after Hellsgate Dean had brought up the day John had killed a Hellhound and gotten utterly soaked in its blood doing so. It was the first of the last three hunts he’d taken them on, the last three hunts he’d ever gone on before the third resulted in the Hellsgate battle and in his death. Demonic activity had spiked every time John had completed each hunt, as though the demons had felt the growing danger to their kind. The battle itself had been caused by an amassing of demons zeroing in on whatever John had been doing in that cemetery mausoleum, and he had only succeeded thanks to the hunters he had managed to convince to fight.

Dean had theorized (and Sam had agreed) that those three hunts had been the three steps to close the gates of Hell for good, a sort of three-step ritual, but they’d never figured out what they involved in any precise way. John had never told them, not even at the end when Dean was allowed to fight alongside him.

“I think the third trial was about a demon. About turning them human again. Reversing... curing them.”

“What?”

“Dean, I-I got her name.”

*

Bela found her the old-fashioned way—no spells, just gave the girl's full name to a good PI she happened to know. The girl refused to travel to California, and refused to receive them for a visit either. She was told about the deadline, that they had three days left to help fix a potentially disastrous, deadly problem, but she refused.

She agreed to a phone conversation, however.

Sam, Dean, Bobby and Ellen gathered around Dean’s cell on speaker in Sam and Dean’s room. They hadn’t told the others yet and they didn’t intend to unless the girl led them to something useful; false hope was still false at such a last minute.

This is Meg.”

Her voice sounded young, Sam thought with some shock. The being in his vision had felt ancient, and weary.

“Hi Meg. My name is Dean.”

They’d all thought it best Dean be the one doing the talking, since it was likeliest Meg knew of him, at least.

I know. What do you want to ask me.”

Dean glanced at Sam, then looked down at the cellphone again. “...I need to know if there’s anything you can tell us about how demons could come back to Earth. How they could return after the gates were closed.”

She didn’t answer for so long that Sam almost chimed in to ask whether she was still there.

There was a contingency.”

Bobby gripped Ellen’s arm and Sam and Dean exchanged another look, eyes wide.

“A contingency?”

Yes. Some time ago, my fa—a demon called Azazel infected humans with demonic blood. They were the only ones who wouldn’t be pulled back into Hell. They could reopen the gates. Let the demons back out.”

It slotted into place like a puzzle piece Sam had already known was there, and simply hadn’t been able to find before. But of course that was it. Of course it was.

He might have freaked out, or started to, but in the next moment he had Ellen’s palm on his knee, Bobby’s look of unsurprised determination, and Dean’s hilariously flippant nod to tide him over.

He told himself that part of him had already known, and it felt like the truth.

All I know is that these humans could do it. They weren’t all going to go darkside immediately, the blood affected each of them differently, but if they gave into their powers it fucked with their heads. Made them want Hell to come back.”

Dean winced. “How do we find them?”

I don’t know.”

“Do you know anything about a single demon returning first? A scout type thing?”

No.”

“Do you know whether they are planning—“

“I’ve told you everything that I know.” Her tone was decidedly final, but before she could hang up on them Sam felt an impulse he couldn’t ignore.

“Wait, Meg, before you—do you remember him? Do you remember John Winchester?”

There was another long pause.

Then, in a thin, high voice; “I’m sorry.”

And she hung up.

*

Two days before it was scheduled to happen, Sam accepted that the Hellsgate anniversary was going to proceed as planned without the group having found the demon, or having any definitive proof that might make a case for cancellation.

They had done everything they could, but even with Meg’s new information they simply didn’t have enough.

Sitting around Bela’s room with a frantic edge to every individual task, the crowd of people who’d come together to fight were on the verge of losing hope.

Sam watched Dean watch them, and he read Dean’s thoughts as his face went through a series of contemplations and then came to a decision. He stood up, and Sam kept watching him, and loved him for so many reasons but among them for what he was about to do.

“All right everybody,” Dean said. “Listen up!”

The room stilled at the sound of his voice.

“We’re all thinkin’ it so I’m just gonna say it; this event is going through. There’s gonna be a fuckton of civilians there. We are gonna have our work cut out for us.”

“How motivational,” Bela muttered.

Dean glared at her. “We’ve got a lotta people to save ‘sides ourselves, but we have weapons. We have numbers. We have long-timers who grew up with the job and newcomers who took to it like fish to water. We’re ready.”

“Damn right we are,” said Tamara.

Dean nodded, smiling a little. “The job has never been about getting credit for what we do, and the past five years have been weird as fuck for all of us, but this right here is where we thrive. We hunt monsters, we stop the Apocalypse every other weekend. This is the shit we’re good at, and we’ve planned for it, we’ve put in the work. We’re ready.”

Sam could see his words break through; in new faces and in old friends; in Bobby’s proud eyes and the set of Ellen’s jaw, in Pamela’s divertingly impressed expression, in Lisa’s complete lack of surprise.

“So what I’m saying is, don’t relax. Don’t lose focus. Don’t lose hope.” Never had he been more of a leader, a hero, or a shining beacon than in that moment, in a room full of hunters without a camera in sight. “Be on your guard, ‘cause this is happening in two days and we’ve gotta be ready to take care of it. Like we always are.”

*

The night before the event was spent in a motel of the sort Sam and Dean had grown up in--for anonymity, they’d all agreed. The army of hunters that had descended on Wyoming from all over the country was spread out amongst the various inns and motels in the area, all the better to be closer to the Hellsgate site. They would have faced an hour-long communte from the nearest Hyatt if anything had happened overnight (though Sam suspected it wouldn’t, if he knew anything about demons and their regard for dramatic timing) and it would have raised too many questions otherwise.

“Nice throwback, huh?” Dean said, smiling a little as they both dropped their duffels at the foot of their respective beds in sync.

“For a certain value of ‘nice’, I guess.” Sam pointedly looked up at a patch of yellowing ceiling, but he felt the warm pull of nostalgia too.

“C’mon, Sammy.”

“Yeah, yeah.” He shot Dean a sly glance from under his bangs and, not for the first time, got stuck there. There had been so many nights during their childhood when he’d worried about never seeing Dean again; about it all ending on the hunt they were going on tomorrow, next week.

“So we should—“

He cut Dean off with a kiss, cradling his face in his hands so he could caress his cheeks with his thumbs.

Dean responded instantly, like he did every time; as though he lived in a state of constantly expecting Sam to do this, as though he was ready for it every second of the day. He opened his mouth to slide his tongue past Sam’s lips and made a deep noise of contentment, grabbing two fistfuls of Sam’s shirt where it hung loose around his waist.

Sam grunted in response and dropped his hands to Dean’s ass, squeezing, obsessed, and Dean arched his back with a muffled moan. He tucked his hands under the fabric of Sam’s shirt to dig his fingers into Sam’s waist, his back.

“C’mon—“ he whispered, arching again to rub his hard cock into Sam’s groin. “C’mon Sam—“

Sam shoved him onto the bed, and relished in the little bounce Dean’s body made when it landed on the mattress. The springs protested both of their significant weights but he didn’t care, he was on Dean the next moment, grinding their dicks together and when Dean pointed at the bed and said: “See? Sheets.” Sam just snorted and kissed him again. And kissed him, and kept rocking into him and kissing him and not wanting to stop—until Dean pulled away and bared his neck for Sam to bite at, which Sam was willing to accept as substitute.

“I. I wish,” Dean panted, but trailed off. Sam pulled back to watch him, noting his bitten lip.

“You wish?” Sam prompted, desperate to offer anything to fulfill Dean’s wants.

“Wish we had more time,” Dean said, gaze slanting away in trademark avoidance. “I... uh, there’s a list of stuff I wanna do with you that’s a mile long.”

Sam groaned. “And since when—“ Dean hooked a leg over his waist and thrust up his pelvis, shameless about chasing the friction as always. “S-since when has this list... been updated... fuck—“

Dean’s hands were in his hair, using it to direct Sam’s face back to his neck.

“Dean, how long...?”

Dean didn’t answer for so long that Sam stopped expecting it, and instead started sucking what was going to be a spectacular hickey into the spot below Dean’s jaw.

“Long... really long time,” Dean ended up sighing. He didn't say the words but his tone implied... the way he said it would hardly fit 'weeks' in terms of a timeframe.

Sam undid Dean’s fly without stopping the ministrations to his neck, and then he undid his own, and they were rubbing their dicks together and Dean was groaning at increasing volume and Sam was shushing him because his stupid brother had forgotten how thin motel walls were, and that was hilarious.

“Sam...”

Dean took hold of Sam’s cock in his hand and stroked it, always so carefully.

He flicked his eyes up to meet Sam’s.

“I want you to fuck me with this.”

Sam felt a blurt of precome dribble from his slit, warm and damning. “Fuck,” he choked, burying his face in Dean’s neck one more time to try to steady himself before he came all over Dean’s stomach. “Fuck.”

“Will you?” Dean breathed quietly. “Will you?”

“God, Dean, yes.”

He tore away from Dean’s body entirely and flung his own shirt off, then kicked off his jeans and his underwear while watching Dean scramble to do the same while watching Sam.

“You... you’re sure about this,” Sam panted, fetching the lube and a condom from his bag and kneeing onto the bed. He didn’t uncap it until Dean nodded, and then Dean took the tube from him.

“This is on the list,” Dean muttered, falling back and starting to finger himself. Sam couldn’t help climbing over him to watch his face while he did it, even though the tangle of their legs made things harder for Dean in terms of maneuverability—but if he’d wanted space he shouldn’t have looked so much like what Sam thought Heaven looked like.

“Ah, fuck,” Dean grunted, shoulders hunching. His arm moved in a telltale rythm, bicep bulging across his torso to extend his reach. “Don’t... don’t touch me or I’m gonna...”

Sam, whose hand had been about to touch Dean’s exposed pec, paused. “If you come before I fuck you I’ll just get you hard again.”

Dean whimpered. He closed his eyes. “And how... how are you gonna do that...?”

Sam cocked his head, mock-pensive. “I see some options...” he muttered, and let his fingers nudge at Dean’s nipple. Dean’s nostrils flared, mouth tightening. “I could lick you...” He lowered himself down and flicked his tongue over the nub.

“S-Sam, I...”

“I could suck you.” He closed his mouth around Dean’s nipple, tugging gently with his lips and making Dean groan.

“Ah—S-Sam, I-I’m gonna—“

“I could eat you out.”

Dean’s eyes flew open, fixing on Sam’s face with something like alarm. He made a noise that was completely incoherent.

“Or...” Sam narrowed his eyes and brought a hand down to where Dean had fit three fingers inside himself and was still rocking into them. “I could...” He nudged one of his fingers past the tight ring of muscle and pressed his thumb behind Dean’s balls. “I could fuck you anyway.”

Dean’s whole body seized and he shouted, come splattering Sam’s stomach and Dean’s own chest, ropes and ropes of it, messily marking them both. Sam dropped down to kiss him, furiously shoving his tongue into his mouth and gnawing on his lips at the same time as his finger fucked into Dean's ass. Dean moaned and undulated under him, until he finally shoved Sam back by the shoulder and bit out: “God, fuck me right now, Sam, fuck—“

Sam rolled on the condom urgently and then grabbed Dean’s legs to position him the way he wanted, Dean’s rubbery, come-slick limbs satisfyingly malleable in his current state. He pushed into him without waiting, Dean whispering “Come the fuck on, come on—“ furiously.

It was Heaven, a squeeze and a heat that felt so good it was Sam’s turn to forget they had to be quiet. He couldn’t wait—he immediately started pumping in and out and in and angling to rub at Dean’s prostate with his thrusts. He was going to come in no time, he was going to implode–

A blaring sound made him snap his head to the side, panting in confusion.

His phone was ringing.

“Don’t,” Dean breathed, eyes wide. “Please, please don’t stop.”

Sam couldn’t. He ignored the call, uncaring of whatever alcohol-fuelled ‘last-night hurrah’ they missed, uncaring of anything but Dean.

“Tell me about your list,” he bit out.

“I...” Dean squeezed his eyes shut again. “I-I want to wash you again,” he whispered. “I’d... clean every bit of you... your amazing fucking body—“

“Fuck,” Sam spat, going faster.

“I’d suck you clean. I wanted to do it that day in the shower at Bobby’s... you would’a loved it, Sammy, I’d’ve been so careful...” Sam groaned. “I-I want you to fuck me against a wall... against the hood of the car...”

“God...”

“I want to do so much... fucked up shit to you, Sammy...”

Sam’s balls ached and he was seconds away from coming. He reared back and pumped his hips harder, faster, chasing it. So close.

“Want to tell you... you’re the most gorgeous fuckin’ thing I ever saw,” Dean hitched. “Want to tell you I... I just want you so much—“

Sam hunched over and cried out when he came, pulses of heat wracking through him and pouring from him, wishing he was pumping Dean full of it. He gripped Dean’s waist and ground against him until he couldn’t take it anymore, until he had to collapse on top of him with a guttural moan and kiss him again.

“Want you too,” he gasped into Dean’s mouth, licking his lips open. "Want you too."

Love you too.

*

Right before he drifted off to sleep, Sam checked his phone.

He had a missed call from Jess, but he made a mental note to call her back when it was all over.

*

Hosting a celebratory event at a cemetery was weird, no matter how one dressed it up. With that said, Sam had to acknowledge being reluctantly impressed with the setup of the Hellsgate anniversary. He’d avoided the televised broadcast in the past because Dean had appeared as a special guest every year, but he’d looked up previous years in the last two days and it was rather overwhelming.

“Can’t help feeling we’re using the public as goddamn bait,” Dean muttered angrily under his breath.

Sam felt the same way.

All these people to catch one demon and the warped human beings who wanted to reopen the gate and usher in countless more.

The atmosphere reminded Sam of a county fair, though this was somewhat darker in tone and dialed up to a fever-pitch even without taking into account the chill in the air that felt like imminent snowfall.

People had travelled from all over the world, not just the country, to be there. The crowd was massive, and for obvious safety reasons Dean wasn’t wading through it about to cause a mob scene, but even watching things unfold behind the curtain was disquieting. Reporters were everywhere, documenting the site and standing in front of camera operators describing the events to news desks. Mourning families who had lost people because of a monster, or what they thought (or wanted to think) had been one wandered in contemplative silence. Curious onlookers, visitors from the area, travellers from afar, minor celebrities, religious devotees, everyone mixing together in a specific ebb towards the gate, most of them surely to see it for the first time. Humanoid supernaturals had come, too, though Sam had a hard time distinguishing them from human beings.

Sam and Dean separated from the group shortly after arrival precisely so that Dean could be secreted away backstage with the help of the event organizers. There was no heartfelt goodbye with the team (now plus Max and Alicia), no crying except maybe one teardrop hastily wiped away by Jo when she shoved Sam in the arm, but she had plausible deniability on that one because it was just that cold.

The two security guards assigned to Dean (in addition to Sam in his black suit) led them through empty areas that circled practically the whole enclosure, where the oldest, furthest gravestones had been erected in asymmetric, less aesthetic lines. When they started to get closer to the back of the stage and the gate itself from a winding back-path, Dean asked the guards to give him and Sam a moment and didn’t wait for their agreement before dragging Sam between two port-a-potties. He stuck out his head to make sure they were out of sight of the guards and Sam scouted the other side, but it was a deserted stretch of cemetery and the toilets had been set up for employees only; no one was there.

“Cozy,” Sam huffed, though thankfully the cold weather had ensured any smell had been completely neutralized.

“Shut up,” Dean grunted, and drew him down for a hot, breathy kiss.

When he drew away he was pink-cheeked in addition to red-nosed and bright-eared. It hurt Sam’s chest, how he was so beautiful, how much he was loved.

“God, Dean. This is it.”

The words formed steam clouds as soon as they were exhaled.

“If I asked you,” Dean started, gaze darting between Sam’s eyes. “If I asked you to leave. For me.”

Sam smiled down at him, and tipped his head to the side. “Not even for you.”

“...Worth a shot.” He sounded reluctantly proud.

“We should go.”

Dean nodded.

They moved on.

The sudden winter chill had made the ground hard and difficult to dig, but the construction workers had bravely set up a stage around the famous gates of hell.

That the Hellsgate door led to an old and decrepit mausoleum was no secret, but it was strictly monitored and preserved and had remained sealed ever since John Winchster slammed it shut five years ago today. That the door had, under the right circumstances, been unlocked to lead into a dimension that was nowhere on Earth was almost laughable to think now; it irradiated nothing, it gave away nothing. Even Sam, painfully attuned as he now knew himself to be to demonic energy, couldn’t see it as ominous or threatening or a source of danger. It was... somewhat rusty around the hinges, dust gathering in the ornate carvings. Whoever was shirking their maintenance duties had Sam’s full endorsement to continue.

The stage rose around the door like a frame, with two elevated platforms at each side and stairs leading up to each of them—or leading down, depending on how one looked at it. It was cordoned off and there were three Sam-sized guards making sure it stayed that way, as well as making sure that the onlookers paused for just five to ten seconds before moving on, allowing others to view the gates after them and keeping the flow of the crowd steady.

Event organizers and Agency spokespeople had been filtering in and out of the platforms all day, announcing guests, giving speeches, issuing reminders about disturbing the graves and following the paths.

Now, a woman who’d hurriedly introduced herself to Dean backstage and whom Pamela, at least, had communicated with in the past came to tell them that the press was in position, the crowd was getting restless, and could Dean please for the love of God come out for his appearance. She seemed to be on the verge of tears.

“You ready?” Sam asked him, ignoring everyone else.

Dean nodded, squaring his shoulders.

If something was going to happen, it was definitely going to be now, and it was going to happen near Dean. Sam’s nerves were on hyperdrive, his hands were shaking for reasons other than cold, the dagger of the Kurds tucked into his belt was digging in uncomfortably, and his pulse was through the roof. He knew it was coming. He could taste it, and the evil wasn’t coming from the gate, it was all around them.

“Please, Mr Winchester,” the teary event planner, Ava something, urged them anxiously.

Dean flashed Sam one last look and stepped out onto the stage.

A thunderous cheer erupted at his presence.

The heavy black curtain swung shut behind him and Sam lost sight of him for a few seconds.

Snowflakes started to descend from the sky.

Sam saw Ava wipe a smudge of red from under her nose.

“DEAN!”

He was too late—he lunged forward because he forgot about the plan, about the cellphone in his pocket, about alerting any of the other hunters strategically scattered across the crowd, but he was too late.

Dean was slammed to the floor by an invisible (a telekinetic) force, and a man from the crowd was walking up the steps to the stage before a single word left Dean’s lips at the same time as Sam heard Ava laugh.

And then he saw that the thing ascending the steps wasn’t a man.

“No,” Sam gasped, stumbling forward, but his limbs suddenly became unnaturally heavy and he sank to the floor, pulled down by a power outside of his control.

He watched, helpless, as the body of a tall, blonde man in a suit was operated by something that most definitely wasn’t human.

“Oh, Sam,” Brady muttered, as the crowd watched uncertainly. No screams had erupted yet, but it would be seconds before someone realized this was not a show.

“Brady,” Sam breathed.

“Not for a while now, no.”

His eyes went pitch-black.

The first person shouted; someone in the front row who had seen it. A collective gasp went up in response and panic rippled through the people. Mutterings, then isolated yelling broke out. Cries of “Run!” and “Demon!” and an awfully distinct “Alberto, grab the kids and go!” as realization spread.

“You’ll have to forgive the dramatics, but our friends are hungry for hosts, Sam!” Brady called over the already growing hubbub. “There are so many of them just itching to come back... they’ve been shut away for so long, they’ll be so hungry... we had to make sure they all had a home!”

“Let Dean go!” Sam shouted back. Dean was clearly struggling to get up but it was as if his back had been glued to the stage floor, and he couldn’t seem to get a sound past his throat. He was trying to twist his body around to look at Sam.

Brady—the thing that used to be Brady cocked his head. “Nah.”

Others were climbing the steps onto the stage, and Ava walked over Sam’s prone body on her way to join Brady too; making sure she stepped on his hand with her boot.

“Out of all of us,” she commented, glancing back. “I’m surprised you’re the one who held out the longest.”

The crowd was becoming a directionless mob, panic having set in fully and chaos reigning. Sam thought he saw fighting; he definitely heard a gunshot, and maybe it was the hunters against the demonic humans but he couldn’t really tell and he couldn’t focus—Dean.

“I was surprised too,” said Brady, walking over to Dean. “So much darkness in that mind already... so much innate twisted shit in that gorgeous head of yours.” There was no way anyone but their little group could hear him, not without a microphone, but Sam still flinched. “But all that means is that when he turns, he’ll be the strongest.”

Ava’s eyes narrowed. “We’ll see.”

“That we will.”

Sam tried desperately to lift his arm, hell, some fingers, but couldn’t.

More people joined them on the stage—there were six of them in total now, with four people Sam didn’t know but who, like Ava and Brady, seemed to be his age.

The fighting (a faction of it) had reached the front row and tumbled past the cordoned area, right into the steps of the mausoleum that hosted the gate. A man was shouting orders at the hunters shooting after him, orders like ‘Stop’ and ‘Shoot at each other’ and they were obeying—Sam knew that man. He told himself that all these people helping the demon were known to him even if he didn’t recognize their faces.

A roar tore from somewhere further away, and another series of gunshots, and then a piercing scream that had Sam’s heart leaping because he thought it sounded like Jo. He definitely heard another battle cry that belonged to Tamara moments later, probably using her machete, hopefully to do some damage and take none.

“It’s now or never, Brady,” one of the newcomers said. “Either he turns or he dies, and his pretty brother with him.”

“No!” Sam shouted. He scraped his hand along the icy floor, wet with melted snowflakes.

“Oh-ho!” Brady said, clapping his hands. “Yes! It’s totally working!”

Ava was glaring down at him.

Dean was making desperate, airy sounds of distress that went straight to Sam’s stomach.

“I knew that would be all it took.” Brady moved closer to Dean, so that he was standing right over him. They were at the very edge of the same platform as Sam, and Brady had no visible weapons trained on Dean but it was more than enough to terrify Sam, thinking what he could do. “I’m going to strum his heartstrings like a guitar, Sam.”

“No you’re not,” Sam snarled, bending his legs, gathering them under him. A hot, burning thing he gratefully recognized was fueling his movements, pushing past whatever Ava had done to him to give him strength.

Brady just looked happier the more he fought.

“I’m going to keep him alive for ages before sending him straight to Hell.”

“No,” Sam ground out, crouching onto hands and knees. The power was a haze over everything but he could feel it building, and in that build there was no fear, no hesitation despite Brady’s encouraging reactions.

“He’s going to miss your hulking body so much...”

“No.”

“He’s going to be so scared, so hurt... and you won’t be able to save him.”

No.”

He stood up.

“Oh, Sam,” Brady gushed, staring at him with open admiration—and something else that the old Brady had looked at him with, too. It made Sam feel sick to see it on those features when a creature was using them. “You are magnificent. I knew I chose well.”

“I’m the one who snuck you back,” Ava snapped, turning to look at Brady for a moment. “I’m the one who spilled enough blood to get you through into this dimension, so we could reopen the gates.”

Brady seemed not to have heard her.

“Sam, it’s not about giving in so much as it is about being free. He’ll still be with you, you know he will.” He nudged Dean with his foot. Dean’s eyes were so wide Sam could see the whites all around the irises. “You know he’d be with you whether you were a mass murderer, a genocidal maniac or the Antichrist. And this is just about you being your whole self.”

Sam eyed the group of people around him and Dean and those on the other platform, not letting himself get lost in the battle happening just a few feet below them that most certainly involved many of his close friends risking life and limb at every second.

“If you’re the one to do it, you’ll be the first one rewarded. And I think we all know what your reward will be.” Brady smirked, this time playfully kicking Dean lightly in the ribs. Sam’s power surged. “You’re so afraid of his rejecting you if he sees who you really are, what you really want. We’ll give you forever with him, Sam. Not just the lifetime you’d have him for anyway, but longer.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Sam saw Jake stumble up onto the stage on the other side, and his chest clenched in worry. “Jake, don’t!” he called, not taking his eyes off Brady and Dean. “Let me handle this.”

Jake looked at him.

Ava burst out laughing.

“Fucking finally!” she giggled, clapping. “I can’t believe he didn’t figure it out!”

She was talking to Jake.

Sam felt himself go white. His hands were so cold it was as if his heart had stopped and he no longer had any circulation. The shock of it was so profound that it paralyzed him for a moment.

But only a moment.

“How could—“

“Don’t.” Jake situated himself in what Sam hadn’t realized was a gap between two of his fellow demonic recruits, fists clenched.

There were so many of them. Tens, probably, counting those fighting below. And they’d all turned. Oh God, Jake

“What’s it gonna be, Sam?”

Brady pointed down the steps where the door was. It still looked innocuous in Sam’s eyes.

“Come on, Sam. We both know that Hell on Earth or Dean dying is a no-brainer for you.”

“I...”

He couldn’t help it; his gaze drifted back to Dean.

Dean was still flat on his back, but his face was red with strain and he was obviously trying his damnedest to not be a passive spectator to the scene.

Sam thought of the metaphorical black frost of his vision, of Pamela’s chilling words, of the version of the future he could bring down on the world by opening the gates. He thought of the death, the destruction, his father’s sacrifice.

And then he thought of a world without Dean.

“Sam?”

Dean would be shaking his head if he could. His eyes were screaming ‘no’.

Brady’s boot moved to his neck.

“Are you going to make me ask again?”

He was going to crush Dean’s windpipe.

Sam lifted his hand in the air, palm up.

Brady smiled. “Please try. I’d love to see what you can do when you’re really angry.”

And that was when, across on the other stage, Jake sprung into action.

Sam’s adrenalin was on such overdrive that he just accepted the distraction without pausing to feel relief and went with it—he shoved at Brady with everything he had and managed to push him away from Dean, and then he threw Ava to the floor somehow.

“Dean!”

“Sam,” Dean coughed, scrambling to his feet as whatever had been holding him snapped.

They both saw Jake take out three people by tossing them about like they were made of feathers, like they weighed less than nothing; his breath was unchanged and Sam could see that because it was steaming in front of his mouth as snowflakes continued to fall. A man shot what looked like raw electric sparks out of his hands but Jake knocked him out before he could touch the wet stage, and he landed on the floor with a thump. And then Sam realized that a woman was helping him by removing her gloves and threatening to touch some of the others, which for some reason terrified them. Another woman simply ran away.

It wasn’t... some of them hadn’t changed. Some of them were fighting it, like Sam had.

“Why won't you stay down!” said a feminine voice to his right, and then Ava was shoving Sam to the floor again, blood dripping down her nose.

“Ava, don’t kill him yet!” the demon in Brady’s body shouted. It extended a hand towards Dean and drew him towards it, boots sliding as Dean’s body soared through the air, away from Sam again.

Sam felt another burst of desperation that leant him the strength he needed to get up one more time. His headache was tearing him in half but he persevered, blindly trying to push at Brady.

Jake leapt from one stage to the other and landed with a crash, but on his feet.

“You fucking idiot,” Ava snarled at him, splitting her focus between Jake and Sam. “I told you we’d kill them! I told you I’d send a spirit right to your little sister’s bed—“

Jake didn’t rise to the bait, shifting into a fighting stance and shooting Sam a trusting, encouraging look.

Sam nodded and pushed at Ava with everything he had, causing her to stumble sideways and giving Jake his opening to charge at her.

“Last chance, Sammy boy!”

Sam whipped around to face Brady and Dean again.

Brady had an arm around Dean’s neck this time, and Dean wasn’t fighting the hold; he appeared still as though paralyzed.

“I want you to join me real bad, but even I have my limits!”

Sam drew in a freezing breath, feeling the hot trickle of blood drip down to his mouth.

There were so many noises in the background; shouts, screams, cries of pain and victory, the thump of bodies, the rip and tear of battle. Ava yelping just a few feet away, Jake’s feet sliding on the wooden platform.

“Now or he dies, Sam!”

Sam looked down at the door—the gates of Hell.

He saw movement out of the corner of his eye.

He looked up again and realized that Dean’s eyes were glowing with resolve, with confidence; he’d seen it too.

And then:

“Jake!” Sam shouted, and threw the dagger of the Kurds soaring into the air.

Jake caught it and didn’t hesitate—he plunged it into Brady’s side with a strength that crunched bone.

*

Lisa was the one who took charge during the aftermath, surprising everyone and possibly herself, too.

The hunters were worn out, physically and mentally exhausted. Pamela had to call Missouri to help shoulder the psychic burden and she was driven away from the site at thirty miles over the speed limit by Tamara. Isaac didn't even try to pretend he wasn't following after them in another car. Jo went to the hospital with Ellen, who would live but needed urgent surgery to save her right leg. Cleanup was needed, and calling emergency services, and rituals had to be organized to calm the spirits to prevent the Hellsgate site from becoming the most haunted place in America, and the press had questions and the public had questions that needed to be immediately addressed.

But Lisa made a million phone calls and coordinated everything with Charlie’s help, even giving Kevin some responsibilities in the communications area that made everyone (but especially Kevin) feel better.

It had mostly worked; the thorough evacuation plans, the prep. The dagger. Casualties were minimal, though people died on both sides and minimal was not zero.

Bobby shepherded Sam and Dean to his pickup truck and locked them in so that they could evade the army of reporters. “And stay there.”

He pointed at them both before taking off again, looking in dire need of a vacation.

“Sam...”

“I need to call Jess,” Sam blurted, clapping a hand over Dean’s knee. They were both sitting in the backseat. “I’m sorry, it... I can’t wait.” It had occurred to him the moment he saw Brady climb the steps to the Hellsgate stage but he hadn’t been able to do anything about it until the battle was over.

Dean nodded.

She picked up on the third ring.

Before you say anything—I’m okay.”

If he’d been standing, he would have dropped to the floor. “Jess,” he choked. “What happened? Where are you?”

I’m in the hospital. Brady went... it wasn’t Brady. He attacked me last night.”

“Oh, God, when you called—“

I’m okay!” she shouted, and she was laughing but Sam felt a wave of choking, overwhelming guilt threaten to take him under. “Sam, seriously!”

She let him interrogate her about her injuries for a bit, though. He tried to hide the fact that he was crying over the phone but he was pretty sure she noticed, and there was obviously no way Dean didn’t.

“You’re sure you don’t want me to come to—“

No, dummy. I’m good, and I’ve got my girls here with me.”

“Right.”

Call me tomorrow if it’ll make you feel better; I’m getting discharged.”

“Jess, I... I’m so sorry.”

She sighed. “Come on, don’t be.”

“I...” But his guilt wasn’t her issue. “I’ll try.”

“Good. Love ya, Sam. You know, as a friend.”

That managed to draw a shaky laugh from him. “Love ya as a friend too, Jess.”

He hung up.

Dean didn’t say anything. Sam almost wanted him to, but he got a quiet acceptance instead that was slightly uncharacteristic, yet welcome.

He watched Dean for a long moment as the snow flurried outside, gaining momentum. It had started to set and Bobby hadn’t left the engine running so they were stupid-cold inside the car, but they were alive and they were together.

They were also due a very significant talk, but they were too tired and exhaustion was the last thing the already non-talkative Winchesters could contend with when facing a conversation that might involve the topic of emotions.

Instead of any of that, Sam noticed that he’d left his hand on Dean’s knee at the same time Dean seemed to.

Dean covered it in his, and that was all that needed to be said, for now.

*

It became apparent just hours later: Jake Talley had erupted onto the world stage, in addition to the literal one.

Sam had seen (and heard) the footage so many times already that he had memorized the inflection in his own voice when he’d shouted “Jake!”, and he could only pray that it was enough to convince the Gordons of the world that he was on the right side—he hoped so, at least. What mattered was what happened next, though:

Jake caught the knife in an elegant sweeping move, and then gorgeous, powerful, fearless Jake Talley killed a demon on camera in a flash of spitting sparks as the snow fell, and he managed to save Dean Winchester and the demon’s host in that same fell swoop.

And he did it all in his army overalls.

People were losing their minds over him. The super-strong superhero. The man who’d prevented Hell on earth by neutralizing the bad guy, on camera. They had the video from multiple angles, no matter how shaky the shots; everyone could see it with their own eyes, could replay Jake’s heroic moment as many times as they wanted. This time, they had the evidence in tangible, undeniable high-definition.

He was so strong. He was like Superman.

He was some sort of real-life Superman.

*

Jake had told Sam the truth immediately after Brady died, in characteristic efficiency: they’d threatened his family, he’d been trying to keep them safe while at the same time fighting the influence of his powers. He didn’t apologize for not confiding in Sam sooner even though he’d known about Sam’s involvement in the story for a long time, and Sam didn’t want or expect him to.

He did surprise Sam by clapping him in a brief embrace before they parted, though.

*

They gravitated to Bobby’s, as Sam and Dean tended to do when they needed to center themselves or recuperate from something that didn’t require hospitalization. All it took was a quick message through the group chat (‘Apocalypse CANCELLED’) for the whole team to agree to meet back there a week later, to discuss next steps. The whole team now meant Max and Alicia too, and Ellen, and Rufus had apparently insisted to Bobby that he was coming too.

Sam and Dean had a few days there by themselves first, however, with only a lone father-figure who could be easily avoided—and who maybe knew to make himself scarce, but Sam tried not to think about that.

They had sex twice the first night alone; first a desperate, rutting, aggressive fuck in the lot which, despite the distance from the house, had to result in Sam stuffing fingers in Dean’s mouth to try to muffle Dean’s unbridled shouting when Sam slammed into him and rocked the Impala. The second time was in the shower, and Sam let Dean put his promises into action and scrub them both clean before gently sucking Sam off, his orgasm cresting more gently and fluidly and almost plateauing, feeling like it lasted forever as he came into Dean’s throat in a long stream.

They shared the bed, unbeknownst to Bobby, and the next morning Sam woke up before Dean and couldn’t help sliding his hand into Dean’s boxers when he felt Dean’s morning wood poke him in the side. Dean woke up in the middle of his own orgasm, and he almost moaned really loudly but Sam smashed their mouths together to muffle it, morning breath and all. After, Dean rolled over so his plush, perfect ass was pressing into Sam’s achingly hard cock and Sam frantically rutted against him, blood singing at the stupid domesticity of it, the sleep-soft brush of Dean’s skin, the way he smelled. “Yeah...” Dean murmured, eyes still closed and drifting out of consciousness again. “Hmmm... S’mmy, yeah...” Sam hooked a leg over his waist and went faster, rougher, finally coming with a muffled grunt when Dean slurred, sleepy: “Jus’, jus’ put it in, S’mmy...”

They kissed in corridors of the house, groped each other if Bobby went into another room. During a particularly slow afternoon, Dean mentioned that the bunker downstairs was probably soundproof and Bobby agreed that it was, and an hour later Sam had shut the vault-like door and licked Dean’s ass loose and open until Dean’s loud, sobbing cries turned into near-wailing. And then Sam had him on all fours and pounded into him from behind, bare, going a little crazy at the sound of their skin slapping together and the squelch of the lube, grabbing Dean by the waist and shoving him back onto his cock like a ragdoll, with Dean literally crying with pleasure under him.

They were worse than horny teenagers about the whole thing, the way they’d been since they’d started this only now with more freedom and less impending doom on their minds. They couldn’t stop—wouldn’t. Sam feared he was sliding into insanity because he couldn’t bring himself to care that it was happening, and surely that was a bad sign.

They had sex in the kitchen when Bobby left on one of his top-secret day-long DOD trips and then again in the shower because Dean insisted, red as a beet and clearly embarrased but stubborn as always, that he got off on the body-worship ‘Good boy, Sammy’ stuff more than Sam did, and Sam agreed they needed to test who was right, certain that it was him. Dean kept figuring out ways to ask to be picked up without actually coming out and asking Sam to pick him up and fuck him. They had more sleepy sex and hungry sex and over-sensitized sex and one time a lamp crashed to the floor and Sam was sure it couldn’t be explained by the way the bed had been rocking.

They tore through a decently-sized chunk of Sam’s lifelong fantasies and Dean’s ‘list’ in six days.

And for six days, they didn’t talk about what they needed to talk about.

*

The night before the others were due to arrive Sam had Dean lying on his back in the backseat of the Impala where he’d dreamt of having him for as long as he could remember, and he was kissing him because that would still always be his favorite activity.

“S-Sam...” Dean panted, rocking his hips up. “S-Sam, fuck... gonna...”

It was so hot how quickly Dean started to squirm, how he still couldn’t hold out very long unless he’d come recently. His dick was digging into Sam’s hip with an insistence that made Sam dizzy with that feeling of overwhelming power again.

“Stop, stop, I really...” Dean gasped when Sam started nipping at his neck, knowing now that that was one of Dean’s more sensitive areas. “S-Sam, Jesus...”

“You’re so old, can’t believe you still go off in two minutes,” Sam muttered, grinning into the skin of Dean’s jaw.

“F-fuck you,” Dean bit out, hipps stuttering. Their legs were a tangle half-out of the car, but Sam felt Dean’s thighs try to spread under him. “You still have no fuckin’ idea what you do to me...”

“I think I have an idea.”

But Dean was shaking his head, eyes closed in what looked, adorably, like concentration.

“You touch me n’I... fuckin’ explode, Sam, I swear...” he murmured. “I know you’ve been this secret sex-God monster this whole time, but I... with anyone else, any girl, I was so fuckin’ good in the sack. But with you... I just...” he was trembling. “I just lose it, Sam, I just...”

Sam churned his hips experimentally, watching Dean’s face.

Dean bit his lower lip in a futile attempt to muffle a whimper. He was so flushed and flustered, God.

“Lisa figured it out,” he confessed in mortified whisper. “She would mention somethin’, anything about you in the middle of it and I...” he brought both his hands up to his face, covering it in shame. “I would lose it every fuckin’ time.”

Sam stopped moving.

He looked down at Dean as something seismic once again moved within him.

“You... God Dean, you’re so hot I can’t...” he couldn’t articulate it, was the problem, not with words.

So Sam crashed down into him and kissed and kissed him and rutted onto him until Dean was spasming, heels digging into the backs of Sam’s thighs and breath hitching as he came despite his best efforts to hold out.

“Could do this forever.”

Sam heard himself say it before he could consciously decide it was a good idea.

Dean stared up at him, still panting in the aftershocks. “...What?”

Sam hated the demon for making him confront it, but it had been right. His ultimate fear had always been Dean rejecting him, but he also knew what Dean’s fear was. He’d always known, because Dean didn’t really work very hard to hide how terrified he was of Sam leaving him.

And there was only one thing he could do to face the former while soothing the latter.

“I could... I want to do this. Forever.”

Dean blinked.

“I don’t want to leave you again. I won’t.”

He cautiously leaned down and kissed Dean again. Dean didn’t respond.

“...Dean?”

“I...” Dean blinked some more, swallowing. “I. Me too.”

“Us.”

“Yeah. Yeah, just us.” He gave Sam a lopsided smile. “I’m not really seeing how we’d word the public announcement.”

“Well, I mean, eventually we’re gonna have to figure out some creative excuses for—“

“I’m sorry, you wanna talk logistics right now or you wanna fool around some more?”

Sam grinned and kissed him again.

They would figure it out. Sam already had an inkling of what he wanted to propose to the team and to the Agency going forward, and how to do it without giving away his and Dean’s beautiful secret to any of them.

He hadn’t seen it in a vision, but it had been such a clear version of the future that it might as well have been.

Chapter Text

One year later

 

The diner was called Angela’s and they’d been in it before; it was close to Bobby’s and the cook burned the bacon just the way Dean liked it. They’d never met an Angela who worked there, but the woman in charge was named Portia and she was nice enough, so long as you didn’t expect your toast to be wheat, whole-grain or gluten-free.

Personally Dean felt like she should consider making an exception for people with celiac disease, but he didn’t run the place.

“...and he also said the treatment was really helping with the flashbacks. So that’s good.”

“That’s great, Sammy,” Dean said encouragingly. He wasn’t all that invested in this Brady kid’s mental health other than out of a general desire for people not to carry extreme trauma, but Sam’s guilt at not recognizing his friend’s possession was winding down very slowly.

“And Jess is officially done with rehab, thank God,” Sam added, and Dean hid a smile behind his coffee cup. The kid had such a big heart, and there was so much room it in—sure, Dean was still working on accepting the difference between being the most and being the only , but a while ago Sam had said ‘ Just ‘cause I feel things different doesn’t mean I feel them less ’ and Dean hadn’t forgotten.

“She and that Clark guy still going strong?”

“Yeah.” Sam nodded. “Yeah, I think that’s gonna last. She sounds really happy.”

“Good.” Dean’s own guilt fluttered like a moth in his stomach, but he shoved it down. “Isaac and Tamara are probably still gonna beat them to an engagement, I bet.”

“Not if Valerio proposes to Max first.”

Dean nodded. Max Banes had officially forgiven him ages ago after making Dean say ‘Sorry my insecurity came out as asshole-ery ’ three times, which he listened to with a beaming smile on his face. He and Sam had patched things up too and were getting on better than ever, especially since Valerio entered the picture. Max’s boyfriend wasn’t tall or Sam-like at all; he was a nurse who had saved Max's life after a hunt gone wrong and their whirlwind romance was the tabloid’s new favorite topic of late.

“...six-year anniversary coming up. Jake Talley was recently invited to the White House for a sit-down the the president, and his little sister Mia had this to say about it.”

They both looked up at the television above their heads, where Mia Talley was answering the reporter’s question with a patience and a poise that belayed her fifteen years of age. Then they cut back to the footage of Jake shaking hands with the president under a barrage of camera flashes.

“He’s kicking ass,” Sam commented proudly. He and Jake had also become a lot closer after the second Hellsgate battle, and had recently set up the Special Children group for those at risk of turning demonic. “I'm so glad he’s taken to it so well.”

Dean thought back to the week after Jake saved the world; how the .gif of the moment had trended number one on Twitter, how Charlie had wanted ‘the Falcon’ to be Jake’s moniker because of some comic but the real-life Superman thing was already spreading like wildfire. Dean had been so deliriously fucked out at the time that he hadn’t stopped to think about what it could all mean for him until Sammy brought it up at the team meeting.

“Better than I did, you mean.”

Sam smirked. “Oh, obviously better than you.”

Maybe if I hadn’t been half-drunk all the time trying not to miss you, Dean didn’t say, not after finding out the other reason Sam left for Stanford. He'd thought he had it bad during that time what with the alcohol and the bar-fights and the concussions, not the mention the start of the bad-wrong dreams about all the ways he could persuade Sam to come back and stay. Now his stomach hurt just thinking about Sammy wanting him like that leaving because of it, not knowing he could have Dean any which way.

“Obviously.”

"Hi gentlemen!" A waitress came up to them with a bright blue notepad, scribbling something on it. “My name's Mindy and I’ll be taking over for Gis...ella...”

She’d lifted her gaze to look at them.

“Hi,” said Dean, managing a smile. Things were so good right now that he felt pretty damn generous when this happened these days—who’d’ve thought all it would take would be Sam’s constant presence and affection, with hours of mind-blowing orgasms thrown in the mix.

“Hi,” she breathed. She was blushing, gaze darting from Sam to Dean and back again. “Sorry, I—I was saying that I’m taking over for Gisella so you should let me know if there’s anything else you need.”

“Will do,” Sam said.

“Great.” She spun around and took off in a rush.

Sam shot Dean a ‘be good’ look but then they both looked up at the television again.

“...percentage of licensed hunters is estimated to be closer to eighty-five-percent, and the mandatory ethics section has received widely positive feedback, ” the news anchor went on. “After the kidnapping of a celebrity hunter’s family member last year, the Agency updated their licensing process to include a thorough psychological exam...

“‘Celebrity hunter’s family member’?” Dean echoed, impressed.

“They didn’t even say your name.”

Exactly, and there was a reason for that. “Man, I owe Lisa like... ten bouquets of flowers.”

“You owe Lisa like, a car ,” Sam countered, and he was right. Without even getting into everything Lisa had done for both of them on a professional level, the fact that she hadn't told Sam what she'd whispered in Dean's ear that one time at the gym was worthy of a sainthood.

(He looks like the kind of guy who holds you by the neck when he fucks you. He looks like he could do that and lift you up in the air with his other hand)

“You know what? I’m glad we’re seeing those guys tonight,” Dean admitted. “Pam was a pain in my butt for four long years but she saved both our asses, and Isaac’s heart was never really in the cause but it was so freaking adorable to see how in it for Tamara he was. And Jo...” he smiled fondly thinking of Jo. She’d been so weary of Sam’s powers at first but Sam had won her over and then some. “Jo has always been awesome.”

“Too bad Kevin’s gone.”

Kevin was at MIT, overcaffeinating like a regular college student. “He’s doing great over there.” But Dean would miss him, too. “And hopefully getting laid by a hot nerd.”

“We should go visit him sometime. Look for a hunt in the northeast?”

Dean nodded. “We can ask Charlie to tag along; she’s basically his Yoda.”

“Sounds fun.” Sam smiled and took another sip of coffee. “You’re gonna have to learn to be quiet if she’s in an adjacent room, though, ‘cause I’m not going to stop fucking you,” he added conversationally.

A bolt of painful heat shot through Dean.

“Christ,” he hissed, his traitorous dick already chubbing up at the words. Stupid Sam and his stupid incendiary comments. If only Dean hadn’t known just how good Sam was at following through on those sorts of promises. “Killin'  me.”

“Then let’s get out of here.”

“Yeah, yeah, let's.” He’d feel so much more dignified if he could maintain a straight face and keep up the front of indignation, but his mouth was already twisting into a smile. “I gotta piss and then I’m driving us to the closest by-the-hour. I won’t make it to Bobby’s.” And he got up before Sam could do anything other than follow him with dark, hungry eyes.

It was on his way back from the bathroom that he overheard their new waitress talking to one of her coworkers.

“Did you see the guys in table nine?” she was saying.

Dean kept walking, forcing himself to mentally shrug it off.

“They were so hot I literally forgot how to speak .” Her coworker laughed. “I’m serious! They must be actors, right? Or models? Have you ever seen two guys that hot in real life?”

“Yes, actually; I once saw two pictures of Idris Elba side by side.”

It was Mindy’s turn to laugh. “Touche ! But still...”

Their voices had drifted off by the time he made it back to their booth.

“What?” Sam asked when he saw the look on his face. “What’s got you looking like that?”

Dean shook his head and put down a couple of bills on the table. “Nothing. Let’s go.”

“Come on, what is it?” Sam asked again, shouldering his jacket on.

“Just...” Dean looked at him, really looked at him, and took it in once more: his dark hair in morning sunlight; the relaxed line of his broad shoulders; the diverted spark in his eyes. All the things he cared about in the world, all the things he had to remind himself he got to have. “Just feel like today will be a good day, is all.”

Sam processed that and then shook his head. “Wow, I can see the headlines now: ‘Over-the-hill Hellsgate hunter officially senile, has started to lose it’.”

“Shut up!” Dean shoved him through the door, grinning. “The last ones were all: ‘Captain America now hunting full time; rumored to have Bigfoot as sidekick.’ They still love me, man.”

“Wait, sidekick?” Sam walked over to the Impala in the parking lot in a fit of breathy laughter. “I am not Robin to your Batman, Dean.”

“Thought you were Costner to my Whitney.”

Sam snorted. “Thought you wanted me to be Whitney.”

“Either way man, Whitney was hot as hell.”

“That’s true.”

They got into the car simultaneously.

“Do you want me to look for something on Google m-mh--”

Dean had leaned over and kissed him, pawing at his crotch a little for good measure. They’d parked in the back and no one was around, so he slipped in some tongue and had Sam panting harshly and kissing back in seconds. Sam kissed him so fiercely every time; it was so fucking flattering.

When he drew back Sam chased his mouth and recaptured it, groaning and starting to harden under Dean’s hand.

“Bed,” Dean mumbled against his lips, because they’d been here before. “R’member... bed...?”

“Want you now.”

Dean squirmed in his seat, shot through by another bolt of heat. “Y-yeah, but... bed s’better...”

Sam drew away, huffing. “...You’re right.” He looked out of the windshield, making sure they were still alone. “Okay, yes.” He ran a hand through his hair, smiling faintly. “Right.”

Dean bit his lower lip, already kind of wanting to take it back.

Sam shot him a fond look like he knew what he was thinking. “Let’s go, Dean.”

“Let’s.”

He revved her up and peeled out of the parking lot, roaring onto the open road.

People were starting to forget his name, slowly but surely, and the attention was waning the longer he stayed off the grid. He could finally do his job again, and if some kid wanted the former Captain America to drop by he could do that, too, without it being broadcast. He could banish a ghost, dig up a grave, fire a shotgun, carve a sigil, draw a pentagram to save a life. He could save the world the next time it needed saving. He could do it all; everything, anything, and he didn't need to look over his shoulder anymore because he knew Sam was watching out for him just as he was doing the same for Sam.

He'd heard that overused phrase applied to hunters before; trying frame them as tragic figures, as lone wolves, as doomed warriors. Who will guard the guards?

Trick question, he thought, stealing a glance at Sam in the passenger seat. They guard each other.

 

 

 

Fin -