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Twilight’s settling on the woods when Benny opens his eyes. Dim, cool. No birds calling, not with the sun sinking away and taking its energy with it. He spreads out his arms over the big lumpy mass of his mattress, opens his chest up. Listens. Out past the clearing, a deer rustling through leaves—two, maybe. A fresh scent of fox, sharp piss cutting through the loam and leaf and damp. Rabbits, new-born, their small hearts beating so fast and pressed-together down in their burrow that it’s near impossible to tell one apart from the other, unless he listens real close. He listens close. There’s more than enough time in the day.

When the sun’s well down and the moon’s pouring light over the clearing, he rolls out of bed. His clothes hang neat on the pegs in the wall; he pulls them on. Why make the effort, he wonders sometimes, but down that track nothing good's waiting. He doesn't bother with the lamp. It won’t be needed for a while yet. He steps out onto the porch and lets the cool of spring night roll over him. Rain coming in a few hours, from the smell on the breeze. It slips through the holler, among the tall old trees, and he breathes it in. Distant mountains, towns he won’t see. It all gets carried along in the water.

He runs his tongue along his blunt teeth. The woods wait. Right around the cabin the critters have better sense than to nest, but that’s fine. Means he gets to stretch his legs. He tips his head back, looks up at the stars bleeding through the thick deep black. He read in one of those books the boys sent (Sam, probably, not Dean) that the light's so far away that the source might've died, collapsed in on itself, long years before the shine makes the long journey for Earth's eyes to see. What a thing.

Crunch of old leaf, earth crumbling—off to the south, past the slow steady bubble of the creek. He licks the inside of his cheek and steps out into the new grass of the clearing, the springtime surge of the earth cresting against the sharp open pull of his senses. Too sharp. He's hungry, let it go too long. Well, it'll be fixed soon enough. He glances up at the canopy of stars before he steps under the trees. Moon hanging low, so they're not as bright as they could be, but that's all right. There'll be time enough to track their slow journey, some other night. All he's got is time.

*

He checks his phone once a day. A compromise, with no power out here in the hills. When he comes back from his hunt—the meat left near where he knows some coyotes have moved in, far from their home territories—he gathers a bucket of water from the reservoir behind the cabin and washes up. The runnels that streak off his chin and hands smear dark in the nearly-dawn light peeking behind the mountain. The aches he'd been ignoring stop aching. That's something.

Rain slowed down, over the hills, but it's coming. The wind's picking up, wet soak of new leaves carried with. When he goes into the cabin and closes the door, it's quieter. He lights the lamp, lets the yellow pour over the big empty square of floor. The bed's a mess, and dust's piling in the corners. He rubs a slow stroke over his beard, riling the new-damp of it. Too long. Rich iron's sitting under his tongue, the beat of nourishment like a false heart making his body wake up again, and he takes a breath, lets it out slow.

There's no clock, but he's always had a good sense for time's steady sift. The phone sits on the bookshelf he made a year or two back, tucked on top of the astronomy book Sam sent. It beeps on after a moment, the tiny greyish-green screen lighting up and telling him the time—yes, near enough to five o'clock. He feels ridiculous with this little silver rectangle, but he'd maybe die without it. He's self-aware, at this point.

No message. He puts it down on the table. He'll leave it, for half an hour. Plenty of battery still. Can't hurt to wait, for just a while. The cabin needs tidying. Maybe after that he'll try reading that Gatsby book again. Man's a fool, he'd thought the first time around, wondering why anyone thought it was supposed to be classic, but at this point—well, there's time to fill.

First spats of rain hit the cabin roof. Here sooner than he thought. He swallows the last traces of blood on his tongue and opens up the windows. The hammering on the eaves will make good company.

The rain pours itself out, steady soughing over the holler and then down, seeping out of the hills down toward some other valley. Sun creeps over the edge of the mountain. The day bursts to life. He takes the book to bed, reading while the light spreads out over the cabin floor, long rectangles that stretch and shrink and sting at his eyes. He dozes, at some point. Day slips past and he dreams things that he'd long thought himself done dreaming. All those long-buried things never seem to know how to stay down. He blinks up at the ceiling, stained amber with the afternoon falling away past the trees. He guesses he can't blame them. He's been avoiding death a good long while; it'd be a hypocrisy to claim anything else didn't deserve to try.

He lights the lamp, once the sun's falsely set. Hunger hasn't sunk in its tedious claws, yet. On the shelf, tucked in with the books and the candles and the spare oil for the lamps, his pads of lined yellow paper. He pulls them down, goes to the table. Looks at them, for a while. The new pen he bought, last time he was down in Hazard, skids palely when he circles it on the pad, and for a moment he thinks he'll get a dodge out of continuing—but, no, the ink steadies and makes a solid black line when he jags it over the yellow again. No excuse, then. It's a foolishness, this project, but then—so are most things, and that never stops anyone. He might as well finish it, now that he's started.

Hours and hours, and he's starting to feel that weak tug, when he surfaces and finds that it's time to check the phone again. He puts the pen down and stretches his hand, leaning back into the solid back of his chair. Same time, every day. One of the rituals he pegs his life to. Been a few months, and that's normal, more or less, and it might be a few more. The days will keep spinning on, either way.

He tucks the paper away in its spot on the shelf, replaces the pen in its jar. Might need to buy another, or one of those five-pen sets they sell nowadays, when he makes his next run to town.

The phone powers on, easy as always. The battery light blinks at him—he has maybe another eight days of charge left, if he keeps on like he has. Takes a minute to connect to what was explained to him as satellites, and he thinks as always of some kind of strange circling moon, drawing up all the scattered noise of the modern world and spilling it back down to Earth. Then—oh. A message, a voicemail.

He punches in his code and lifts the phone to his ear. That woman speaks her monotone, and then:

Benny, hey. Me and Sam just finished up a job out in Colorado and I'm feeling like a long drive might do me good. Thinking we might drop by, unless you have some big plans you haven't let us in on. Hope you've been getting your beauty sleep. Call back if there's a problem—otherwise we'll see you about sundown, tomorrow.

The electronic lady asks what he wants to do with the message; he plays it again. Dean's voice, familiar. Tired. A smile, slipping in, and he can imagine it—Dean leaning against that big car, Sam maybe inside a store or sleeping in the passenger seat, talking low under some other sky. Distant light, making its way to space and back. Practically a miracle.

He saves the message, after the third play. Turns off the phone and holds it against his mouth, just for a minute. They'll be here, and soon. That means a trip down to Hazard and back, and some hunting, and fixing up the cabin so it's worth a couple of humans being here, and he finds himself smiling, standing there tucked into the corner of the cabin. He shakes his head. Enough wool-gathering. There's too much to do.

*

Coffee's brewing and he's stripping a rabbit clean when there's a shift. His hands still, his head picks up. The woods hold frozen, not breathing, because—there are hunters, here. Benny smiles, braces against the counter for a breath. Keeps going with his half-bloody work. They're still a ways off. Their distant hearts beat just a little off-rhythm from each other, but it's a steady thud that provides a cadence for him to work along to.

Sun's nearly set behind the mountain, though it's well-past gone from the clearing. Couple of deer who'd been nosing this way bolt off when one Winchester or the other breaks a branch, down near the creek. Benny shakes his head and dumps the parted-out rabbit into the pot. Handful of herbs, picked around the woods and bought from Hazard, both; carrots, small potatoes, pearl onions. He only makes a meal two or three times a year. Luckily the boys like his cooking well enough. Another split of wood onto the stove and he leaves the stew to bubble, then washes his hands clean of gore.

They're just coming out through the woods when he swings the door open. "You two ain't sneaky at all, you know that?" Benny says.

The lamplight inside's spilling out onto the porch but they're still tucked into the dim of the trees, the shadow cast from the sun's slow sink behind the ridge. His eyes are better than that. Dean runs a hand over his face and shakes his head, shouldering his pack higher, while Sam smiles up at Benny. "You're the one who picked a friggin' wilderness to live in," Dean says, complaining. Oh, that voice. So much better up close than at the far end of a telephone.

"Dean didn't eat his Wheaties this morning," Sam says, and accepts the shove to his shoulder without much budging, and then they're halfway across the clearing and they smell—god, the rich human swell of them fills Benny's senses to the brim, always does. Dean takes the steps and he's so—immediate, so here, Benny can hardly stand it, and yet there it is. He grins white and wide and then he's in Benny's arms, a quick tight hug, his blood beating warm and familiar tucked against Benny's closed mouth when he dips his face down, just for a second, to breathe him in.

"Hey, man," Dean says, soft, and squeezes his shoulder hard before he pulls back. Sam's slower up the steps, and Benny expects a handshake but Sam pulls him in, too. Ducks his face down, two warm claps between Benny's shoulder blades. Benny holds him by the ribs, surprised, and it takes a moment to process. When Sam pulls back he's smiling, too, smaller but there, and Benny takes them both in, standing shoulder to shoulder on his porch.

"Good to see you," he says, honest. It is, and more than he can say.

Sam ducks his head, nodding, and Dean's eyes crinkle around the corners. "This is the best hotel in the state," Dean says, one corner of his mouth turned up. He grabs Benny's arm, squeezing. "How'd you think we were going to stay away?"

*

When he got the foundation laid down to the cabin—that was a hard year. Not just for the building, and the slow slow process of carrying up all that lumber, his truck on its last legs and wheezing up the mountain. Dean called more, back then. So much was happening, with Sam and with what Dean wouldn't tell him. It's not on you, Dean had said, voice crackling over the poor connection. It's our mess. You just focus on getting whole. Benny had wanted to ask, had wanted to offer—to come out, to help. To try to repay any part of the debt he owed. That he still owes. He understood, though, from how Dean asked—how's the foundation coming? I wish we could get concrete up there—are you good on tools? Do you need help? No, he'd said, listening to the strain buried in Dean's voice. He could handle it. His part wasn't to ask for help, or to burden them with the offer of help of his own. The best way to repay the debt of his life, given twice-over, was just to live. To be there. To have small, ordinary problems, that could be helped with a package sent to the Hazard post office, or an unexpected wave of credit at the hardware store. In return, he didn't cling to false pride, and he didn't complain. He built the cabin, and he checked his phone, and when finally Dean called and said, hey, man, I—um, can I come check out how you're doing? Want to make sure that shack doesn't fall down around your ears, Benny said of course, brother, you come on up any time, and he meant it, and he didn't ask for more.

They tell him about the last job back in Colorado, over their bowls, drinking off the bottle they picked up in town. Cicada-monsters. Benny shakes his head, sipping at the bourbon and letting the fine sweet fire of it burn on down. The things they get into, sometimes. They had help, too, for once. Benny's surprised, and he must let it show, because Sam shrugs, cutting a potato in half with his spoon.

"They were good," he says. Dean nods, slurping up the rich gravy, and Sam wrinkles his nose before he looks back to Benny. "Hadn't been hunting as long as us, but they had the drive, you know? And now they're—well, they're out."

Dean glances at Sam. "Still think we should've asked?" he says, through a cheekful of rabbit.

Sam glances back, and then turns his eyes on his bowl. Benny can't tell—a fight, or an uneasy compromise, or an agreement they wish they hadn't had to come to.

Dean chews for a moment and then sits up straight. "Nah," he says, to a statement unmade. He swallows, and then smiles at Benny. "They earned that retirement. Never mess with someone's golden years, isn't that right?"

"I think I take that as an insult, brother," Benny says, dry, and Dean scoffs while Sam shakes his head, his mouth turning up at one corner, and whatever little tension washes away like rain.

Sam takes the dishes, when they're done, and Dean heads out into the woods. Polite, these two, although it's not like Benny can't smell when they've pissed. He doesn't mind it one bit. It's still such a weird wild high dose of human, strong and sharp amid all the animal mildness and earth. He sits at the table with his bourbon and watches Sam at the sink. His big shoulders moving under his shirt, his arms where they're flexing out of his rolled-up sleeves. The quiet easy bend of his neck as he scrubs up the pot, the simple silence between them. He's glad they get to have that, now, even without Dean around as a charming intermediary.

It's full dark. Benny swallows down the last of the bourbon in his mug and then goes to the fire, sets a few more split logs on it so it'll surge higher, brighter. They don't need the heat, not really. Even with the cool spring night it'll be warm in the bed. He sets one hand on the mantel he carved last winter and watches the wood catch, the light spreading from the inside and cracking through the surface, and he listens to the gentle slosh of the water. Sam's heart beats slow, mellow.

"I figure I've got your brother to thank for those books with the sparkling vampires," Benny says, after a minute.

Sam huffs and glances over his shoulder. "Hey, I told him not to."

"I can just imagine how much good that did," Benny says, and Sam huffs another little laugh, shakes his head. He's smiling, small though it is. Benny watches him rinse the knives, the water streaming in low glimmery angles off the still-sharp blades. He remembers when they were here, last. Remembers everything about it, in fact. Those sunlight days keep close. "You doin' all right?"

"I'm fine," Sam says, like it's automatic, and then he pauses before he sets the knives down slow on the counter. Benny doesn't say anything. Sam wipes his hands on the dry towel and then turns around, sets his hands behind him on the basin. He looks at Benny, square. "I'm as fine as I can be."

Benny nods. Sam's heart hasn't skipped one beat. When Benny leaves the fire, when he comes closer, Sam's eyes don't drop. He puts his hand on that fine solid curve of shoulder, so warm through the plaid shirt, and Sam's brow furrows just a little but he lets Benny do it, looking down into his face.

Benny smiles at him, can't really help it. There are things he could say, but he's not sure Sam wants—or needs—to hear them. Talking's never been his strong suit, anyway.

He squeezes Sam's shoulder, hard, then moves back over to the table to pour out fresh mugs of the bourbon for all three of them. "You know, I read every single one of those books," he says, and there's a second where Sam doesn't get it before he laughs. Benny smiles down at the table. "I'll tell you all about it. My gift back to you."

"Please don't," Sam says, holding out a hand for his mug. "Dean hatewatched the movie and I don't think my mental scars have healed yet."

"It's important to know how badly they're screwing up the lore," Dean says, pushing open the door. His collar and temples are damp and he smells like creekwater, like treebark and the fine pungency of rabbit scat he probably doesn't know he stepped in and the deep black of this earth. Sam rolls his eyes, but it's fond as all hell, and Dean grins at Benny, eyebrows popped high. "What was your favorite part? The kid who decides to stay in high school for a century or the terrible vampy baseball game?"

Benny holds out Dean's mug and waits for him to get a mouthful before he says, "Probably the part where Edward has to chew that baby out of Bella's belly," and he's richly rewarded when Dean's eyes fly wide and he makes a strangled sound, coughing wildly when he manages to get the swallow down. Benny raises his eyebrows, mild. "Oh, was that not in the picture? It was real true to life."

Sam's sniggering into his mug. "Dude," Dean says, making a face, "what?" and Benny hooks a finger in his beltloop and tugs him in, an easy pull that reels him right up against where Benny's leaning on the table.

Dean's still grimacing, even with his thigh sliding between Benny's knees, warm denim and the solid weight of him, and Benny shakes his head. "You thought I was just gonna let that one go, Dean?" He sets his hands on Dean's hips, squeezing, and even through the big playact of disgust Dean's eyes are going dark, his heart leaping as his blood starts to call for what's on offer. Sam's somewhere over Benny's shoulder and Benny can't see his face, but he can hear that heart too, starting to thud hard, ready.

Night's still young, though. He slides his fingers up the back of Dean's shirt, his undershirt, grazes so-hot living skin. Dean shivers and Benny takes a deep slow scenting of him, ducks an inch closer so that he can feel Dean's breath warm on his lips. "Okay, then," Benny says, quiet, and Dean's weight sways closer. "You boys want me to clean your clocks at five card stud?"

Up close, Dean blinks at him, not understanding until Sam snorts and Benny grins. "Oh, you son of a—" Dean says, pushing at his chest with both hands.

He's not trying that hard to get away, though, and Benny's a whole lot stronger. He keeps his hold on Dean's hips, keeps smiling too. "Didn't tell you what the ante was going to be, did I," he says, and Dean licks his lips, and looks right over his shoulder at where Sam must be looking back at him.

"You say that like you've got a chance in hell at beating us," Dean says, after a second, and drops his eyes back to Benny's.

"Uh, excuse me," Sam says, "of beating me, you don't even have a poker face," and Dean's attention wrenches away while he squawks out his defense, while Sam drags out a chair at the table and drops into it, while Benny slips over to the bookcase to take out the pack of cards they left on one of their first visits. He plays Patience, once in a while, but the cards are still stiff when he shakes them out of their shiny cardboard case. Sam and Dean are bickering now, that comfortable easy back-and-forth that Benny could listen to—always, really. He watches them, Sam leaning back and Dean leaning forward in the chairs Benny built with his own hands, a dimple digging into the curve of Sam's cheek and Dean faking outrage (or maybe it's real outrage, it's hard to tell with Dean sometimes), and he can't believe it, somehow. There are times this doesn't even feel like his world, just some mysterious dream he wandered into. An odd sort of afterlife.

They keep bickering while he pulls out his own chair—what about that time in Dallas? and oh, please, you're going to bring up Dallas?—and don't really stop until he smacks the deck down into the center of the table. "Five card stud," he says, and slides the deck over to Sam to deal. "I trust you boys know the rules."

Dean scoffs, slinging his arm over the back of his chair. He drags his mug of bourbon closer while Sam's shuffling, narrowing his eyes at Benny. "I haven't heard what this great ante is going to be, yet," he says.

His thighs spread wide, denim straining over the thick muscle, and Sam's smile tucks up into the corner of his mouth while he starts to deal, looking at Dean rather than his hands. Benny scuffs his knuckles through his beard. "It won't be fun if it's not a surprise, Dean," he says, shaking his head. He tucks his thumbs under his suspenders and shrugs. "Maybe y'all can guess."

"Guessing games, now," Dean says, sliding a glance to Sam, but Sam only drops his last card in front him—jack of spades—and neatly squares the deck up next to his bourbon.

"Nothing to worry about if you don't plan to lose," Sam says, stretching his legs out long under the table, and Dean snorts and says oh, it's on. Benny drags his teeth over his lower lip. Sam's eyes dart over to follow the movement, and then he peeks placidly at his face-down card and settles in. Well, all right then. Benny takes a sip off his bourbon, lets the sweet roll straight down his throat. There's a bulge resting heavy in Dean's trousers, a flush to his cheek, and Sam's relaxed. It's going to be a good night.

*

Midnights are real dark in the holler, even with the clear-cut he's made for the cabin. He leans in the open doorway, a cup of new-boiled coffee held against his chest, letting that burnt-toast richness fill up his senses. Rain might be coming, tomorrow. Might not. There's a fecundity to the springtime earth that blurs the scent of things. He's been up here for three years now, going on four, and he still doesn't know every nook and cranny of the mountain, doesn't know the shift of every tide like he did when he sailed, but he's learning.

Behind him, there's a shift, a hitch in the steady slow breathing. One heartbeat picking up out of two. Dean. Benny gives him privacy, as long as he can. It had surprised him, those first few times back when, but as soon as he heard a little more about their lives he knew that was foolishness.

A sharp gasp, a stutter. Awake. Loud to Benny, but maybe not to Sam. Even so, there's a brief noise, a grunt so low in the throat it hardly counts as anything, and Dean's breathing fast but he makes a soft sound in response. Shushing.

Benny turns, puts his back to the jamb. He looks sidelong and finds Sam turned over, slumped onto one side facing the fire, and Dean sitting up, legs bent up in front of him and his fingers laced over the back of his neck. The firelight catches the pale gold of him, puts his face in shadow.

"Coffee?" Benny says, after a spell.

The heavy thud of his heartbeat is already slowing. He drags his fingers through the short hair at the back of his skull, a slow repeated scratch a few times until he scrubs fast and drops his hands, dangling easy from the way his elbows prop on his knees. "Put booze in it," he says, scratched-up like he's been screaming, but quiet enough that Sam doesn't budge.

Benny pours out the mug, with a healthy dose of bourbon, and places it right in the center of the table, and goes back to the doorway with his own mug. Dean huffs, put-upon, but after a slow stretch of silence he pulls the sheet away, stands straight up on the bed. Nude, the whole of him gleams in the sparse light, his cock hanging soft. Benny can't quite see his face. Dean steps careful over the whole long sprawl of Sam's legs and walks bare to the table, and for once the naked spread of him doesn't seem like a challenge, like an invitation. Not being in fact completely dead, Benny watches anyway. Dean picks up the mug and takes two long swallows, and he didn't stir the coffee so that'd be bourbon straight to the gut, but there's no flinch to him at all. What does Dean Winchester dream about, Benny wonders.

He's looking out at the woods again when Dean's feet shuffle up behind him. "You're looking out there like Casablanca and Gone with the Wind are playing a double-feature," Dean says. "What, are the squirrels having a rave?"

Benny shakes his head. "Gone with the Wind, now that's one I actually know," he says, and Dean snorts. When Benny looks over he's wearing his jeans, more's the pity, tugged up loose on his hips. One arm's crossed over his bare chest against the cool night, coffee held at a dangle against his thigh. Looks like he's just holding it to hold it. "Should've just given you the bourbon straight," Benny says. "If you're going to waste my good coffee."

"You two both think you make good coffee," Dean says, but he gamely takes a gulp. His eyes drag out to the woods, despite his mocking. The stars are out but there's hardly any moon, the trees black shadows against the deepest blue of night. There are shadows below Dean's eyes, too.

He thinks maybe other people would ask. That's what comes up, in the books he's been reading. People just ask and ask, no matter how terrible the answers might be. It's something he hasn't been able to reconcile. Dean one time made great fun of how Benny had used the phrase back in my day, but in the privacy of his own head he thinks: back in his day, the privacy of your own head was the most important thing you had. Seems like, in these new days, that last refuge is always under assault. People bleeding out, all over, and hardly seeming to mind.

Dean looks up at him, and catches him looking back. He meets Benny's eyes for a long held moment, and then shrugs, and his eyes slide a few inches south. "What's with the beard, Grizzly Adams?"

Moment passed, just like that. There's a reason he and Dean have always had an understanding.

"Haven't felt the need to keep my barbery in order, I guess," Benny says. "The squirrels don't need impressing. Raving mad or not."

Dean smiles. Closed-mouthed, but there. A breeze rustles through the boughs, rattles leaves, whispers into the doorway Benny's still mostly blocking, and enough touches Dean's bare skin that he shivers. Benny doesn't much feel the cold, but he's not a bad host. He drains the last of his coffee and pulls the door closed, and Dean takes a step back, turning his head to look back at the bed. Sam's sleeping, solid.

"Trim it up," Dean says, after a second. "Unless you can't see yourself in a mirror, or something."

Benny takes Dean's mostly-full mug out of his hand. "Why the hell wouldn't I be able to see myself in a mirror," he says, and Dean only snorts in response, but—well, hell. Why not.

He lights one of the oil lamps. He can see well enough in the dark, but Dean can't, and he obviously isn't heading back to sleep anytime soon. He does have scissors, and even a silver plate he can use to see his reflection, and he and Dean sit across from each other at the table with Benny leaning over a towel, Dean holding the plate up between them. He strokes over the beard. He has let it get long. His hair, too.

While he makes the first snips, just shortening up the growth, Dean's staring—in his direction, but when Benny glances up he sees that Dean's not really looking at him, not at all. He drops his eyes back to the blurry shift of his hands moving in the plate. The scissors are sharp. "Sam had that hole in his gut long?" he says.

Dean's hands tighten on the plate. Release. It's mostly healed. Sam didn't show any sign of slowing down, no discomfort, but the pucker of raw new skin told a story, sure enough. Benny hadn't touched it, hadn't made a show of not touching it—just put his hand on Sam's shoulder and kissed him, when Sam leaned in grinning to offer it, Dean sprawled out groaning on the bed between them, dazed stupid after Benny sucked his cock dry. Sam's mouth had tasted just the same, that odd mingle that tasted half like Dean most of the time.

"No," Dean says, and then has to clear his throat. He shifts in his seat, changes up his grip on the plate. Benny keeps his eyes on his work. He's keeping a half-inch all round, he just needs to make it even. The scissors snip steadily through the thick growth, hanks of hair drifting down to the towel. Dean chews on his lip, rolling the fat swell of it under his teeth, letting it out again. "A werewolf shot him. About—what, two months ago. Something like that."

Dean knows exactly how long, Benny bets. Maybe not to the minute, but close enough. Dean's eyelids are sunk low, his knuckles near-white on the rim of the plate. Benny doesn't ask. "Werewolves are using guns, now," he says instead, shaking his head. He tilts his chin back and forth, checking to see if he's even. "Dogs too lazy to even use their teeth."

"Yeah, slipping standards, that's the problem." Not nearly as sarcastic as it maybe was meant to be.

Benny runs his hand over his hair, checking the length in the lamplight. Been a while since he really took stock of himself. He doesn't much care about his looks, but then it's rare that anyone's around to notice them.

A squeak of wood-on-wood; Dean stands up, sets the plate down. He holds out a hand for the scissors. "Let me," he says. "Cutting your own hair always looks goofy."

"Goofy," Benny repeats, eyebrows high, but he puts the scissors in Dean's hand anyway.

He gets a touch to his shoulder, warm shock through the cotton of his shirt, and that's his only warning before the snipping starts. He holds still. In the quiet, Sam snorts, and turns over again, flopping onto his front and pulling one of the pillows in close to his chest. Behind him, Dean huffs.

"Best haircut I ever gave was to Sam," he says, real quiet. "I think he was—thirteen, maybe? Chopped it off real short and he just hated it, wouldn't talk to me for two days. He hasn't cut it since. Traumatized."

Benny's head is tilted, Dean snipping along the other side. Hair's falling down in big chunks, getting all over. It's going to be a mess to clean up. Dean's warm, hot, all along his back, and Benny imagines—well. He imagines pointless things. He closes his eyes, letting Dean's fingers move his head as they will, tilting and tipping and feeling himself go as molasses-slow on the inside as the slow surge of a river delta.

New skin. Not healed, but not nasty either, and Sam stretched and moved and crawled over the top of Dean smiling without a single flinch. Two months, and they've been hunting since then. Benny wonders what went on in the weeks right after, down in that bunker he's heard so much about. What things got said between them, in a lamplit dark. He's watched them together, many a time now. From the outside there are things that pass between them that he's not privy to, nor will he ever be. He accepted it, a long time back. Even if there's no room by the fire, there's still warmth to be had.

Two taps to his shoulder, eventually. "Call me Vidal Sassoon," Dean says, like that means anything, but he puts the scissors on the table over Benny's shoulder and brushes off his shoulders, and that probably means it's done. Benny rubs a hand over his head. Shorter than Dean's, but he's not bald—he'll take it. Dean hitches a hip onto the table, looks Benny over from the front, and shrugs. "Could be worse."

"Filling me with confidence, thank you," Benny says. It's a reward when the corner of Dean's mouth turns up. He's lit-up, in the lamp and the firelight, that magic tattoo on his chest the only thing marring all the smooth soft of his body.

Benny reaches out, puts two fingers on the spot just below the ribs where Sam's bullet-scar is. Dean's stomach tightens and he grabs Benny's wrist, but he doesn't stop him. His eyes flick up, to where Sam's sleeping, and the story unfolds right there in front of Benny's eyes. Mortal wounds. He knows the Winchesters well enough, has heard enough old stories told, that he knows what it takes to heal them. How sometimes time isn't close to enough.

"Sam's fine," Benny says. He spreads his hand out on Dean's belly. The heat of him sinks below Benny's skin, like there's a steady flame burning inside.

Dean licks his lips. "He's fine," he says. A statement, written in stone. He is, too; Benny's seen it. He wonders if Dean believes it.

He stands up, and Dean lets Benny's hand slide along to settle on the dip of his waist. He's still looking at the bed, his fingers wrapped only loosely around Benny's wrist, and Benny wants to dip in, to pick Dean up by the waist and get those pretty bowed legs wrapped around his hips, wants to bear him down to the wooden floor Benny laid himself and drag all his thoughts right on out of his head. Wants, simply, to lean in and catch that bitten-red perfect mouth. To take his time. To ask, for something he should never ask for.

Benny pulls his hand back, brushing cut hair off his chest. The little strands get all over. "Made a mess," he says.

"Hey, you don't look like a hobo anymore," Dean says, eyes cutting up to meet Benny's, finally. The skin crinkles around the corners of them. "Count your blessings."

He makes a show of rolling his eyes, and Dean huffs, and smiles, which means Benny doesn't have to say what he's thinking. "I've got to go out," he says. A euphemism. Dean nods. "Don't drink all the whiskey instead of sleeping."

"Okay, Mom," Dean says, but he pushes at Benny's shoulder companionably when he slides off the table to his feet, and waves at him and closes the door when Benny slips out into the woods.

Benny can hear his heart, still, and Sam's. He stands with his back to the trunk of the big hickory and listens to the scuff of bare feet over the plank floor, the steady sough of breathing. The shuffle and shift when he climbs back into the bed, and the jolt of Sam's heart when he wakes up, finally.

Where—? says Sam, and Out hunting, says Dean, and Sam hums, and just at the faintest edge of hearing there's the slide of their skin pushing together, wrapping up into one solid entity in Benny's bed. They don't talk again but their heartbeats settle, their breathing falling into a matching cadence, and then Dean laughs. Low, quiet, and Benny doesn't know at what but something in him catches and clenches, and he opens his eyes and stares out at all the full dark of the woods.

He's not hungering yet, but a hunt will do him good. He can bring back meat for their breakfast, in the morning. Hours yet 'til dawn. He circles the clearing and heads higher up the mountain, this time, following the trickle of the stream, fresh-wet loam caking up the bottom of his boots and the new growth springing up filling his senses. A good kill, a surge of bloody adrenaline. Focus, to help remind him of what's what.

*

In the morning Dean's thrilled by the venison and cooks up steaks with it, and Sam talks with Benny about the book on black holes they brought last time they came. While Dean pretends to be bored, Sam tells about a documentary he watched about the big bang, waving his fork around and forgetting to eat while he describes, bright-eyed, the sound of the universe's crackling expanse. The whole of everything, spreading outward into nothing, all the time. "What's in the space we're spreading into, then," Dean says, skeptical, and Sam rolls his eyes and explains that that's the point, there's nothing, and Dean retorts that just because a box is empty doesn't mean there's nothing there, and Sam sighs, and Dean steals the last of his venison while Sam's trying to come up with a rejoinder.

There's an old, massive hickory, felled halfway up the mountain. After a spell of dozing, through the brightest part of noon, Benny leads the way up the slope to where he found it last night. He has two axes, and with three bodies working that'll be firewood for months. Sam and Dean are quiet, behind him, breathing harder in the thinner air, and while they walk Benny watches the woods, listens to make sure they won't surprise anything untoward, and he thinks about that hum, the universe's buzz from that first explosion, the ripple effect spreading ever-outward. Dean's wrong, he thinks. There's all sorts of empty, everywhere. A vacuum where nothing really is nothing, just waiting for something to arrive to fill it.

The fallen hickory crashed down and took quite a few limbs of the surrounding trees with it, so there's a sort of clearing made among the destruction. Sam starts sawing the limbs and Dean and Benny each start to split the wood, and they spend a few companionable hours like that, mostly quiet, working steadily through the afternoon. Above them the sky's blue shifts from bright to the deeper fuller color of waning day. The sun's always so quick to set, even with spring's lengthening light. Sam and Dean have been taking turns carrying loads of wood back down the slope. Benny's sweating, which doesn't happen often, and his muscles are carrying that good ache of steady labor. Making him think of that first summer when he was building the house. Empty space, becoming something.

Dean's turn to carry and Benny can't quite hear him anymore, which means he's nearly to the cabin, when Sam sits down on the big trunk, letting his axe lean up against the bark. He's sweating, too, his heart beating hard and rhythmic inside his chest. "You think we're good on this?" Sam says, breathing heavy. "I think my shoulder's about to break."

Benny pauses in his chopping, leans on the axe. When he turns, Sam's got his flannel shirt stripped off, his grey t-shirt wet all down the center of his chest, the smell of him sharp and salt and filling up Benny's head. "You humans," he says, shaking his head. "Weaklings."

"Yeah, yeah." Sam's eyes are closed, his head tilted back to the deepening sky. The sweat on him is catching the light, his skin fairly glowing in the golden dim of sunset.

Maybe ten minutes before Dean gets back. Benny lets his axe drop down to the moss, wipes the back of his neck. All these things that aren't his to ask, that aren't his business anymore. Burdens the two of them carry on shoulders wide enough to carry a whole world. He knows the role he plays, here.

He settles beside Sam on the trunk. They're going to need to eat again, soon, but Benny's got the deer carcass hung in the woodshed and he knows where some mushrooms are growing, down near the stream. Sam rubs his hands along his thighs, and then tilts his palms up. A blister, just above the heel of his hand. He stretches his fingers out. "Do you want to know?" he says. Benny doesn't look at him. Space of a few breaths, while Sam looks down at the blister. "I'll tell you. If you want."

Benny dreamed, in the time they've been gone. During the brightest part of every day he went down to his bed and found a safe darkness of his own, and while he dozed there were memories and feelings and visions he saw, tucked away into that world kept one step separate from waking. He knew that a darkness was coming, before they ever came to visit this last autumn, before Sam told him the whole sorry story. He knew the worst of it, the horror and silence that stretched out over the earth, a message deep from within his bones, his unbeating heart. Cataclysm coming. No surprise, really, that they were the ones who'd have to deal with it.

Sam doesn't look at him, now. His heart's steady. "I want to know if you want to tell it," Benny says, finally. Honest. What's the point in being anything else.

He gets a sidelong look, for that, and Sam shakes his head. "You should've been a politician," he says, but he smiles, too. They don't talk again, by the time Dean comes up back up the mountain, and Sam smiles back at him when Dean complains about coming all the way back up if they weren't going to do any more work, you lazy bastards, and Sam claps him on the shoulder before they gather up the last of the wood to take back down.

Benny cooks, again, letting the sliced-up meat stew up in the big pot over the wood stove. Onion, and mushrooms, and rosemary he picked up while he was in town, and Dean drops a shot of bourbon into the pot. "Flavor," he says.

Stars are out in force, again. The moon's a faint sliver, lurking just above the tops of the trees. Benny boils up some coffee and they play cards again, rummy this time, and Sam produces a new bottle of bourbon from his pack, wonder of wonders. Dean's trying to cheat, and he's not trying all that hard to hide it, and Sam keeps casting fond looks at Benny. Like a secret, shared. Benny tucks his smile away, trying not to give away his hand, but it's hard when life seems—easy, right at that moment.

The first time he and Dean ever—that was Purgatory. They were searching for the angel, for Castiel, because Dean insisted and back then Benny was willing to do about near anything if it meant he could ride with this irritating shitstain of a human out of the grey horror of that place. They were arguing about something else. Benny doesn't remember what, now, only that Dean was snap-eyed furious, all his hard edges laid bare and dangerous, and Benny condescended to him about something-or-other and then Dean was right in his face, threatening, and something shifted between them, right then.

It hurt Dean, then. He didn't seem to care, and Benny didn't either. Blowing off steam and both of them knew the score. Funny, now, to think back on the odd twist in his chest when Dean left him outside that store holding his new cellular telephone, one number programmed in, already turning his eyes up the highway toward something else. He really had been a fool, through and through.

The level on the bourbon's gone way down and the fire's crackling low when Sam pulls a card from the deck, grins, and lays down four sets and goes out just like that. "Son of a bitch!" Dean says, tossing down his cards. Benny drops his hand down onto the discard pile and pours out another round for all of them, toasting Sam with the bottle when he's done.

"I'm starting to think this deck's cursed," Dean says, leaning back with his mug.

"Oh, that's definitely the problem," Sam says. He's resting his weight on his elbows on the table, leaning in all smug. "Not that you suck."

"You suck," Dean mutters, and Sam laughs. Dean rolls his eyes and sips at his bourbon, pouty, while Benny scrapes the cards all together into a neat deck again. Sam's last set was a houseful of kings, too.

"Is that ante still on the table?" Sam says. To Benny, but he's looking at Dean. "Seemed to work out pretty good for you last night."

Benny takes the moment to slip the cards into their cardboard packet. At the head of the table he's got a nice view, while Sam and Dean look at each other—Sam amused, Dean narrow-eyed. "I don't see why not," Benny says. "Unless your brother here has an objection."

No reason why he should. His ears have flushed pink, his heart picking up. Still, he's Dean, and so he says, "Why do I feel like I'm in a casino?" He drags his mug over the table, the ceramic catching loud over the wood. "The house always wins."

Sam's mouth turns up at the corner. "Don't worry, we'll share the wealth," he says, and Dean rolls his eyes all exaggerated, but Sam's already getting up from his chair, scraping back from the table, and when he holds his hand out for Dean's it's given willingly enough, though Dean's still surly around the mouth right up until Sam pulls him in close by the small of the back and dips down and kisses him. Dean's hand curls into the hem of Sam's shirt, his head tilting.

Low pulse in Benny's gut, something tightening. They are a picture together, that's for sure. Sam drags his knuckles over Dean's jaw, kisses him soft, and then smears his lips over to his cheekbone, to his ear. Whispers, you wanna get cleaned up? Red from his ears down to his throat, already—Dean licks his lips and glances at Benny, from the shadow of Sam's body, and nods.

There's water in the reservoir, around the back of the cabin, and Dean disappears outside without another word. Sam takes a breath so deep his whole chest heaves with it and then he comes around the table to where Benny's still sitting, plants his ass on the edge. Benny tilts his head back, looking him over. "Didn't anyone tell you to stop growing when you were a kid?" he says. He slips his fingers to the inside of Sam's knee. "I feel sure someone must have said something."

Sam shrugs. "I never listen," he says.

Dried sweat, and salt, and the good hickory-smoke smell caught in his hair and lingering on his skin, and all of that's nothing to cover the unique trace of his heating blood. So strong it's caught under Benny's tongue. His mouth tugs up, and he plants a hand on Benny's shoulder and leans down, and they kiss—and god in heaven the heat of him, the bourbon-taste, the smiling easy part of his lips. Benny slides a firm touch up the lean muscle in his thighs. He's stiffening, just from this.

Sam hums, low. Lets his teeth scrape over Benny's bottom lip, a blunt unthreatening tease. "I've got an idea," he says, between their mouths. He leans back up a few inches so they can see each other, and he'd seem unaffected if it weren't for the dark pool of his eyes. "Want to take his mind off of things. You good with me taking the lead?"

As though there were any question of who was in charge when the three of them are in the same bed. Benny nods, anyway. "You won the pot, chief," he says, and Sam smiles at him, and then—scuff at the door, and Dean's back, smelling like old rainwater and heavy beating blood, and Sam looks over the top of Benny's head and says, "Come here," in that easy confident way where he knows that there's no way Dean will say no. Benny's cock pulses when Dean appears at his side, just like that. Sam curls an arm around Dean's waist and kisses him again, his hand still on Benny's shoulder. Dean's jeans are wet at the back, his hands clean, and Benny stands up against his other side and puts his lips at the dip of his throat, where his pulse hammers hardest. Dean's fingers clutch at his, clinging warm and damp, and Benny closes his eyes and listens to the wet sound of mouths moving, tries to drag his mind up above the singing rhythm of their quickening blood.

Clothes disappear, in bits and pieces. They get Dean on the bed, on his back, and Dean drags Sam's shirts over his head, ruffles his hair out ridiculously, and Sam grins at him before he slips down and sucks Dean's cock into his mouth, going straight down to the base in one easy slide. "Holy—" Dean bites out, his thighs jumping, and Benny leans in and kisses him, slides a hand down to his belly to feel the muscle quivering at Sam's attentions. Hot fingers drag through his beard, over his head, panting hot breath slipping against his lips. Whine building up, so low he probably doesn't know he's making it, and that so-warm touch drags down over Benny's shirt and into his open trousers, palms at the rigid want of his cock, and Benny has to pull away then, finally, lets his hips surge against that pressure and looks into Dean's pleasure-glazed eyes, the wet parting of his mouth. When he looks down the sweaty heave of his chest Sam's still working, bobbing slow with his eyes closed. Dean's thighs parted around his shoulders, his cock thick and gleaming when Sam pulls up, his cheeks hollowing.

"When's it my turn, I wonder," Benny says, quiet between him and Dean, and Dean's hips jump, his hand tightening up, and Sam drags all the way off, bolstering Dean's cock straight up. His mouth's dark red to match it, and he lips a sweet sucking kiss there at the crown where that scar is from the circumcision. Benny had never seen that, before these two.

"What do you think, Dean?" Sam says, sliding his hand up Dean's soft belly. "Does he get a turn?"

His other hand's between Dean's thighs, where Benny can't see, but he can see it when a bead of white pearls up on the pretty perfect crown of Dean's cock. "I'm gonna stab you," Dean says, voice shaky, and Sam grins like a shark in response but he crawls up the bed, muscle popping out in his shoulders in the lamplight, and he knocks Dean's mouth right open, kissing him wide and demanding. His jeans are still on, gapping at the back, and Dean slides a hand right into that space, grabbing Sam's ass and trying to drag him in, trying to get friction. Benny cups Dean's balls, slips his fingers down past them, and—oh, he's wet there, not as wet as he will be but enough that Benny's touch skates easy over the blood-hot skin. Dean groans into Sam's mouth, spreads his legs wider, and Benny's mouth waters. Yes, his turn.

Salt, bleachy-bitter, and Sam's spit and the blood filling it, close and throbbing—it's so good Benny can feel his fangs threatening to drop and he slurps up, kisses close-mouthed up the straining stiff side instead. A hand lands on his head but his hair's too short now to grab. "Is that good?" Sam murmurs, somewhere, and Dean just pants in response, and then there's—shifting, Sam rolling off the bed and heading somewhere else.

"Benny," Sam says, and Benny opens his eyes to find Sam unbuttoning his jeans. "Get him on his knees."

Sam shoves his trousers down and that big, big cock springs out, heavy against his thigh. Benny licks his lips and nods and looks up to find Dean struggling up on his hands. Help actually is needed, Dean's thighs shaking, and Benny kneels there right with him, kisses him and holds him up by the waist while they wait for whatever Sam's planning. Dean fumbles his shirt off and then drags his nails through the hair on Benny's chest, his stomach, and gets his cock in a two-handed grip, squeezing. Benny has to dig his fingers into Dean's skin, maybe too hard from the way Dean's mouth drops open, and then—then Sam's there, behind Dean, and he kisses Dean's shoulder and his throat and his jaw and then grabs Benny's chin and pulls him from Dean's mouth, kisses him too all brief and hot, and then he says, his cheek sliding along Dean's, "Spread your legs."

Dean's eyes slam closed, his head tips back. He does as he's told. Benny ducks down, curled in a little awkward, but it's worth it to have Dean's cock in his mouth, his hands shaky and encouraging on his shoulders, scraping futilely along his scalp. Sam's shifting, behind, and Benny helps keep Dean spread and open while Sam works his way in, Dean's heart beating so hard and desperate that it's nearly all Benny can hear. Oh, Dean says, under the rolling thunder, oh fuck, Sam—and Sam grunts, too, and Benny kisses Dean's trembling stomach, bites blunt over the soft tenderness around his budded-up nipple, puts his mouth right over the pulse in his throat and sucks, and Dean grabs him by the shoulder and moans out loud, his body rocking back against Sam fucking him.

They're so much together that Benny can hardly take it. He has to take deep, conscious breaths, keeps his fangs in place, breathes the iron-rich perfume of them both through the frail armor of their separate skins. Sam's moving slow, keeping Dean in place with a strong grip on his hips, and Benny eases in close, lets his cock smear against the hot skin of Dean's stomach, slides his fingers between his legs to cup his balls, trailing along the lube-wet sparse hair to carefully glance over where Sam's breaking him open. Dean's grip on his shoulder tightens, his breath stuttering. Sam's hardly thrusting—just rocking in slow waves, churning his cock inside almost, and Benny—god, he wants in, he wants that to be him, wants that so badly his molars grind and he drags up Dean's throat to his mouth, shoves his tongue inside and makes Dean take it. He does, too—he does, and he groans rich and low in his chest, and Sam says, then, his voice brittle, "You like that, Dean?"

Benny's cock leaps in his trousers and he starts to shove them down, shove them off. Sam gets like this, sometimes—makes Dean talk, makes him say it. Dean nods, eyes squeezed shut, his hands flailing back to hold onto Sam wherever he can reach skin. Sam shakes his head, though, presses his mouth against the top of Dean's ear. "Need you to tell me," he says, while Benny's kicking his trousers off the bed, and Dean moans aloud and says—"Yes, fuck, yes Sammy, come on—" and Sam smiles, slides one hand down to Dean's cock to hold it in that huge grip, and then he says, sliding his eyes open to look at Benny: "You think it'd feel better with both of us?"

Dean—his eyes fly open, his mouth too, and he's looking right at Benny but he doesn't say anything. His thighs flex and he shudders, and Sam fists the wet length of his cock and says, "Yeah," and he says, then, to Benny, "Come on," and—

They shift around, on the bed. Dean makes a sound like he's been punched when Sam pulls out, but Benny's there waiting and he kisses Dean, sliding two fingers down and inside him, feeling that sticky-open heat, feeling his pulse from the inside. Benny lays back against the headboard and Sam helps Dean squat over his cock, and when he pushes down—ah, ah. He has to close his eyes, grabs the wood behind him so he doesn't hurt Dean by squeezing too hard. Every time, every time it's like nothing else, even broken-open already—swallowed in all that tight brutal heat, wet and welcoming, and Dean drops a hand behind him to brace against Benny's chest, moaning at the stretch. "Lay back," Sam says, soft, and Benny wrangles up the presence of mind to help—he catches Dean's weight in both hands, lets him lay nearly flat right up against his chest. He kisses the bare sweating shoulder in front of him, slides one arm around Dean's stomach to hold him tight, and feels the quiver straight from Dean's bones when Sam's fingers slide up against where he's pressing Dean open. Wet, hot, lube everywhere—Sam kneels up between Benny's knees, traces a line up his balls to the root of his cock digging up into Dean, and then he—presses two fingers in, just like that. Dean makes an awful noise but Benny can hardly focus on that. God—tight, already, and now the pressure of Sam's fingers—distinct, somehow, hard where Dean's so close and soft, and Dean's breathing now like he did when they'd run flat-out through the woods. Sam leans down, presses a kiss soft against his mouth, and he murmurs, "Biloxi, remember?"

What?—but Dean laughs, sort of, shuddering all over Benny, and Sam nods and braces a hand against the headboard next to Benny's head and just—works him, slides those fingers in and out, loosening Dean up and it's like a hand working him but inside, and it's taking everything Benny has not to fuck up before it's time. He works slow massaging circles into Dean's hip, instead, and braces against Dean's shuddering, and when eventually Sam blows out a quick breath and says, "Okay," he's ready for when Sam pushes Dean's thighs up, all of Dean's weight tipping right into Benny's hips. It's an awkward shift while Sam plants his knees on the outside of Benny's thighs and inches forward, but then—blunt hot slick pressure where everything's already so slick and hot and Benny presses his forehead against Dean's shoulder, holds him tight around the waist, and then—oh, that push, that tight push, and Dean isn't making any sound at all other than his frantic heartbeat, not even breathing, and then—

Sam groans, and Dean makes a deep hurt sound somewhere in his chest. Benny drags his head up with an effort, puts his palm over Dean's heart, but when he looks Sam's already got a hand splayed over Dean's jaw, tilting his head up to look into his eyes. "Tell me," he says—rough, tight, and Benny can't blame him from how this feels. Sam's cock presses against his like—nothing he's felt before, a throbbing heat he can hardly stand. "Dean," Sam says, dipping in to kiss his mouth, and Dean, he says again, strain at his eyes, and finally Dean's hands slide up to Sam's shoulders, his fingers wrap into Sam's hair, and Benny can't see his face but whatever's in it must be permission, must be pleading, because Sam ducks in to kiss him again and then—starts to move, cautious, inching shifts of his cock sliding all up against Benny's, working in the trapped tight space, and Dean writhes between them and—

The lamplight's flickering over the walls, the fire casting long strange shadows on the ceiling. Benny stares up at that, keeps his lips folded between his teeth and bites into his own flesh, because he has to concentrate on something to not just fall over the edge. Sam falls forward, balances with one stiff arm by Benny's head, and Benny presses his closed mouth against the racing beat in the thin warm skin under his wrist while Sam cautiously picks up the pace, while he finds a rhythm, while Dean drops his head back and moans out loud, constant, his voice cracked-open inside his chest. Benny catches one of his thighs, pulls it back and out and Sam shifts deeper, faster, and the feel of it is—wildfire, the biting pulse of lifeblood straight to the gut. A gasp from one of them, their hearts shuddering in lockstep. Benny tilts Dean's hips up, shifts and presses back against Sam, and—and—Dean collapses back against his chest, turns his face in against Benny's jaw and groans steady endless pleas into his throat, and Sam doesn't stop, his cock dragging into the relentless heat all around them. Snapping, now, full thrusts that rock them all against the bed, and Benny has to rein in all his self-control not to move. Sam pushes his mouth against Dean's cheek, his temple, mutters senseless stupid bed-things against his skin—Dean, he says, his voice dragging deep somewhere under the blood, and yes, and you like that, god, you're taking us, you're doing so good, you—and Benny's thighs draw tight, he snaps his hands to Sam's hips around the bulk of Dean's sprawling moaning weight and drags him in, crushes them all together with a staggered moan from both of them—from all three of them—and then he's coming, his balls clutching up and his belly unwinding, his fangs dropping and his own blood smearing black-rust over his tongue, everything suddenly slicker, tighter, good.

"Fuck," Sam says, desperate, and he shoves his arm between Dean's back and Benny's chest, hugs Dean close, and Dean makes a sound like someone's died when Benny's cock jostles free—Benny slams his head back against the headboard, the shudder still careening through the pit of his stomach—and he's what they brace against while Sam hammers home, Dean busted-apart and what's coming out of him gone high and strained and wanting, and Benny—he holds on, makes a space of himself.

He feels it when Dean comes, when Sam does. When they shudder together, and still. He presses his lips against Dean's shoulder while he rears up and kisses Sam, frantic; he shifts careful to one side when Sam tucks his forehead against Dean's and then pulls out, finally, Dean making a cracked-deep sound in his chest and stretching out his legs. Wounded. Sam shushes him, but his thighs are quivering about as much as Dean's are.

It's left to Benny to leave the bed, to find the cloth draped over the basin and wet it, to come back to the mattress where Sam's tucked Dean close against his chest, pulled him in like something he's worried might break. Left to Benny, to knee in close, to wipe up the spill of their mixed spend, the lube smeared halfway down Dean's thighs. Trace of red on the cloth, when he pulls away, but Sam's eyes are closed with his lips pressed against Dean's sweaty hair, Dean's face tucked in against Sam's chest, and Benny—he balls up the fabric and tosses it into the fire. Burst of flame, smoke gouting from the wet cloth. He has spare washrags. Sam and Dean don't react, don't move other than to push closer together, and Benny sits back on his heels, takes slow and deliberate breaths. Their skin shines in the firelight, pale gold and amber, gleaming with sweat. The cabin smells like them, again. It'll be a long while before it fades.

*

In the thick mulch under the tree he traps the fox under his hands and bears down and snaps it neck, the frail bone cracking sharp. The frantic shrilling of its heart staggers on long enough that when he rips in through the fur the blood flows fast and hot over his tongue. Animal-thin, bitter with a strained hunted life, but it's still blood. Metal-taste, strong. Sustaining. That's what matters.

The fox drains fast. A day's meal, nothing more. He lets the body drop down to the scuffed-up leaves, the smell of its mangy fur and its death filling up his head. Right after drinking he's always too-aware of the world, senses unfolding out to the furthest edges, and he kneels in the dirt with his hands loose on his thighs and keeps his eyes closed, tries to settle. A car, driving past on the low mountain road, two heartbeats inside—one alert and one sleeping. Most of the holler's sleeping. When he can bear it he slits his eyelids open, takes in the flood of night. The fox is bright, still warm, even mangled. A sad specimen, but he tries to take only what the world won't miss. He wipes his mouth with the side of his hand, sucks off the small smear of blood he didn't catch while feeding. Coyotes will make a good meal out of the fox. It won't go to waste.

When he comes back down through the trees, dawn's crested the earth on some distant horizon, but the holler's still dark. The hills and trees provide good cover. Not why he built the cabin out here—though it is a bonus not to have to shrink away from all that light. It was the solitude he needed.

Sam's sitting on the porch when Benny enters the clearing, his bare feet stretched out over the grass. Wearing a t-shirt, his jeans, with one of the oil lamps at his side making a pool of smoky amber light in the greyish purple of early morning. There's a book resting between his knees, but he's not reading, and he looks up when Benny appears, and gives him one of those small abstracted smiles that means he's thinking hard about something-or-other.

Once he's washed his face and hands from the pump, Sam shifts over an inch or two so there's space for Benny to sit, if he wants. He sits. No rain-smell and the sky's empty of clouds as the dark thins out above them. A clear day.

"He still sleeping?" Benny says, eventually. Sam snorts. Fair enough. Benny leans back on his hands, stretching his legs out to mirror Sam's. Taste of blood's still strong in the back of his throat, but he can smell Sam's too, that so-slow athlete's heartbeat pumping the perfume of it up through his skin. Easier to pay attention to when his belly's full.

Sam leans forward, elbows on his knees. He turns the book around and around in his hands. A paperback, probably one they brought, but Benny can't see which one. "Wanted to read, since we've got time off for once," he says, finally. "A whole day with nothing to do and I can't concentrate."

Quiet, for a minute. Birds are starting to wake up, lazy things, finally noticing the morning creeping over the mountain. Days getting longer, minute by minute. Of course, here in the holler they all last about the same.

"Saw those notebooks, on the shelf." Sam looks just over his shoulder at Benny. The lamp catches all the hollows in his face. Makes him look older. "Wouldn't have pegged you for the writing type."

Benny's entirely unprepared for the weird curl of who-knows-what that moves through his belly. He sits up, runs his hands over his thighs. "I'm not," he says. Sam's eyes narrow, curious. "Lot of time to fill, that's all. Lot of time behind, too. Seemed like the right thing was to… try to pin it down, somehow. Get everything straight." He licks the blunt edge of his lower incisor, swallows. "Wasn't expecting anyone to read it."

"I didn't," Sam says, immediately. Benny looks at him, into his clear honest face, and believes him. Sam nods, like a promise, and then right away shakes his head and leans a shoulder against the wooden pillar that supports the awning. "Too bad no one can read it. I bet a historian would sell his soul for that."

Scribbled and crossed-out, and he knows his spelling's bad, even Andrea would make fun of him for that in her teasing way. A mess of notebooks without any kind of flow. Not much history there, not really, just what memories he's put down as they come to him. Before the war, before the sea. Before the bite. A little house with dirt floors, back on the lonely far edge of the parish. The humid air, full of growing things, and the trees crowding up close. He can still recall the smell of that kitchen like it's the dew-damp of this morning. A basin sink; a wood stove.

He clears his throat. "What about you-all?" he says. He holds out a hand for the book Sam's been messing with and Sam hands it over, without much hesitation. "A story about the lives of Sam and Dean Winchester, now that'd be a piece of good reading."

Sam snorts. "You have no idea," he says, under his breath. He waves off Benny's frown, though, drawing one knee up to wrap his arm around it. "Last few years it might be a little—much. A lot that'd be pretty hard to believe."

"Death and misadventure and the heroes still living to fight another day," Benny says. He glances down at the book; The Return of the King, a battered copy with the gold on the cover flaked nearly all away.

Another pause. Sam's eyes are distant, though they're pointed in the right direction. "Yeah," he says. His hand goes to his stomach; after a few seconds his eyes cut to the closed door of the cabin. Dean's still sleeping, inside. Benny would've heard if that changed.

Sky's brighter, now, though the sun's still a long way from really being visible. Benny picks up the lamp and blows out the flame, saving the oil. Right away the porch seems dimmer, though he can still see every detail of Sam's face when his eyes dart back, his attention back on the here-and-now.

He hands the book back to Sam. "Plenty of day left. No chores, either, I promise. Wouldn't want to sully my reputation as a host."

Sam wraps both hands around the book, holding it like it's an anchor. He traces his thumbs around the outside of the stylized ring of flame in the middle, and doesn't look up when Benny stands. "Thanks," he says, after too long a pause.

Benny claps a hand on his shoulder, holds it there. "Haven't read that one, yet," he says. "It's not like that Twilight stuff, right?"

That gets a real laugh out of Sam, a surprised bark that's loud in the clearing. "No, it's not like the Twilight stuff," he says, shaking his head. He tucks his hair behind his ear. "You should try it. I think you'd like the ending."

Benny hums, and squeezes Sam's shoulder. Leaves him alone.

Inside, Dean's sleeping hard, curled up in the center of the bed in the dim. Benny could make coffee, or he could cook up something for their breakfast, or he could—well. There are lots of things he could do. That distant look on Sam's face keeps tugging at his chest.

The bed's warm, from Dean's heat. He doesn't touch him—doesn't want to get that whining complaint about too-cold skin—but he slips in close under the blanket and takes what he can get. A few hours of sleep, that's all he needs. Easier to fall into it, knowing they'll be there when he wakes up.

*

There are murmuring voices, and a coffee-smell in the air. Noon-light pouring in through the windows and something cooking over the stove, with the door wide open and the springtime thundering inside his head.

They play cards, again, something called Texas hold 'em that Dean says is the popular game now. He sets himself up on the porch, carving up a piece of found wood to replace the cooking spoon that's threatening to crack, and he hears about other hunts, beyond the crazy cicada thing they just left behind. A shapeshifting qareen, werewolves. Something called a soul eater, which even he's never heard of before, and he doesn't know why Sam's eyes cut fondly to Dean in the telling of it but it's just another detail to tuck down close, to remember. He pays them back with a memory stirred up from the old, old past, when he hopped a train from Louisiana and rode up all the way to New York City, watching the country slip past his eyes. It was emptier, then. Quieter.

"Did you have one of those bandana bag things on a stick?" Dean says, somber but with his eyes crinkling around the corners, and Sam hits him over the shoulder.

That night Sam announces that he's going for a walk while their dinner cooks up on the stove. "Want company, weirdo?" Dean says, and Sam says, "Wow, thank you, but no." Dean shakes his head, but he doesn't seem worried, and Benny isn't, either. Sam can take care of himself, and from what Benny can see he generally does. Anyway, he'll hear if anything happens.

Dean sucks his cock, while Sam's gone. A surprise, though it's certainly nothing Benny will ever turn down—he's whittling at the block, trying to get the shape of the spoon to turn out of it, when Dean knocks his legs open and sinks down between them, his thumbs sliding up the inside of Benny's thighs, and Benny lets him at it. Dean moves quick, determined, and Benny slides down in the chair and sprawls himself open and lets Dean take what he wants.

When it's over, Dean holds him in his mouth for a few long seconds, swallowing with his eyes closed. Benny's balls pulse just at that, even if they've already given everything up. He drags his thumb up the stubble-heavy hollow of Dean's cheek. Dean's eyelashes flutter open. Pulling off is slow, Benny's cock sliding out in slow wet inches with a sucking pull that feels about as good as the coming did, but then Dean finally lets him go and drops his forehead down to Benny's weak thigh.

Benny tucks himself back into his trousers and puts a hand on the back of Dean's neck. His heart's picked up the pace, but nothing terrible.

"You got room in this dump for two more?" Dean says. Voice has gone hoarse, low. He curls a hand around Benny's calf. "Me and Sam can pay rent."

The nearly-invisible hairs on the back of his ears are catching gold in the lamplight. Benny traces a finger over the delicate shell, weak for a second. Imagining. "I know for a fact y'all use fake money," he says, just as quiet, and Dean snorts indelicately against his leg and then sinks back onto his heels. He stays kneeling there at Benny's feet, and there's a bulge in his jeans but he's not moving to do anything about it, even with his mouth as wet-fucked as it is. Benny licks his lips and tries to concentrate. "Anyway," he says. "I think there's something that needs doing more than chopping up stove wood. Usually is."

"Yeah," Dean says. He chews the corner of his mouth, head tipped down. "Always is."

He doesn't ask. That's always his rule. It's not fair, to any of them, and it's a disservice to what's been done for him. He doesn't ask. "You can say it," he says, instead. Dean frowns, his eyes darting up. "If it'd do some good."

Dean looks right at him. His eyes are dark, pupils spread wide in the low light in here. "I appreciate that," he says, and it's honest. He pulls his back straight, his hands braced on his thighs, but he stays down there on the floor. A log pops in the fireplace with a crackle of sparks. "I'm just tired, that's all. Something's coming, and I can't—"

He shakes his head and Benny sits back in his chair, turns his face out to the night outside the window so he doesn't have to see whatever's flickering under that expression. Dark out, and when he closes his eyes and listens he can hear Sam's heart, far down by the creek, still. Beating in the same rhythm as Dean's, or close enough as makes no difference.

"Darkness," Dean says, under his breath, and finally he levers himself up to his feet. He grimaces, rubbing at his knees. "Not young enough for that anymore."

"You're a whippersnapper, if you ask me," Benny says.

Dean snorts. He plants his ass on the table, jostling Benny's carving out of the way with his hip. Folds his arms over his chest. "Feel like I should kick your ass for that," he says. He tips his knee against Benny's. "Sorry. Sometimes I just miss…"

He trails off and Benny doesn't know, truly, what goes in that empty space. Dean shakes his head and looks to the closed door. Sam'll be back, soon. Benny can hear him, coming up through the trees, moving slow and thoughtful in the pitch-black of night.

"You tell me if that room opens up here," Dean says, after a long beat of silence. He nudges Benny's knee again, and when he turns his face back there's a smile on it, small. It's not reaching his eyes. "We'll be first in line, promise."

Benny squeezes the muscle just above his knee, soft enough that it won't make the nerves leap. He swallows down the first thing he thinks. "You got yourself a deal, chief."

*

They head out early, in the morning. They always do. Benny boils up coffee and watches Dean wash his bleary face, watches Sam pack up their bags. They brought books, again. Something for a retired gardener, which is obviously Dean's work, and a history of Louisiana politics which is no doubt Sam's, and then a book he's heard of.

"The Inferno?" he says, turning it over. Slim little thing.

"Dante didn't get a damn thing right," Dean says, hunched over his coffee. "Take it from an expert."

Sam grimaces, but then nods. "I mean—yeah, no, it's all totally wrong. Good book, though. Thought you might like the part about purgatory."

"Yeah—no leviathan or big scary monsters or that reek from your pits or half a dozen vamps trying to kill you," Dean says, starting to grin. "Practically paradise."

He laughs, at the look Benny gives him. Sam rolls his eyes, but he's smiling, too.

Dawn's not quite over the trees when they shoulder up their packs. "What's next?" Benny says, leaning against one of the pillars.

Dean glances at Sam, and Sam lifts his chin, squares up. Like a weight settling back down that he'd forgotten he was carrying. "We'll figure something out," he says, firm, and he's not saying it to Benny. "We always do." Dean licks his lips and ducks his head, pretends to fuss with the straps on his pack. Sam takes a deep breath, and a smile settles down as he blows it out. His heart's steady. "Read Return of the King," he says. "The good guys win."

"Spoilers, Sammy," Dean says, nudging him, and Sam rolls his eyes, and then—

Benny closes the door, shutting out the view of the morning. He sits down at the head of the table, where his cup of coffee's sitting nearly untouched. The other two mugs sit empty, cluttering up the place. The bed's a tangle of rucked up blanket, the smell of warm living bodies and spend rising up out of it.

They're crunching down through the woods, their footfalls nearly matched. What, says Sam, and Nothing, says Dean, and then—the good guys win? There's a pause. They do, Sam says. They go there, and back again, and they live. That's a win.

He knows the story of the Inferno. The old man used to get great entertainment from it, when they sailed. That almost-paradise of purgatory—it was supposed to be joyful, because the souls had been spared. How could it be joyful, though, the old man had said, in the absence of God?

I think I'm Aragorn in this story, Dean says, distant. They're nearly to the creek, already. Come on! Big hero, saves the day. Totally me. Sam says, Right, drenched in sarcasm, and Dean says, Look, just because you're a tiny hobbit who needs saving all the time, don't come complaining to me, and Sam says, Okay, hold on, if either one of us is a hobbit—

The creek's running loud, full of spring rain. Birds are calling with the morning, and the forest stirs. Their noise, their blood, is almost lost in the waking world. In the quiet of the cabin, Benny closes his eyes. He'll hear them longer, if he concentrates.