He was sitting in a car. That was the first moment, and it stood alone. The car was running, slow purr of the engine, pulled off onto the right shoulder. His eyes were watering a little. It was a bright, cloudy day, lots of glare off the pavement. Light traffic was going by on the highway, whipping by fast. A big eighteen wheeler went by with a groan, and the car rocked a little in the draft. There was someone else in the car, a big guy with sloppy hair, staring out the windshield with the corner of his mouth tucked in and down in a confused frown.
"Uh," he said to the big guy, "do I know you?"
The guy looked over blankly. "I don't know, do you?"
They went through their wallets and the glove compartment and found a dozen names, none of which stuck. They opened the trunk; aside from the hidden compartment full of guns and knives, and jugs of gasoline and salt and water, they also found a bag with maybe thirty more: FBI badges, sheriff stars, police licenses, hospital IDs. He fanned them out in both hands and held them out. "Pick a card?" Sloppy-hair just gave him a look that said come on, take this seriously for five minutes. "Yeah, okay." He tossed them all back into the bag.
"Okay, so what do you think did this to us?" he asked, as they got back on the road. Going through their pockets, they'd found a key for room 205 at the Higgins Hotel and a matchbook with the address, the closest thing they had to a lead. At least there was only one of it.
"I'm guessing elves," the big guy said.
"Elves?" he said. "What are you, nuts? Where the hell do you get elves from?"
The guy held up a small leatherbound journal, overflowing with post-its and photos. "The page was bookmarked." He flipped it open. "Says they like to mess with people. Swap kids for changelings, lure people into their kingdoms for what feels like a night and return them twenty years later, hit people with elf-shot and make them have hallucinations, and—" he looked up, "—steal memories."
Oh, great. "But, come on, elves?"
"Well, so what do you think did it?" Floppy-hair said, annoyed.
"I don't know!" He rubbed his forehead. "Voodoo? Witchcraft? Some kind of forest spirit?"
"That's pretty much what elves are," Floppy-hair said, still studying the book.
"Yeah, but it sounds a lot less freaking stupid than elves," he said. "It say anything about how we get our memories back?"
The guy flipped through a couple more pages and shook his head. "No, there's not that much here about them. We're going to have to do some research on this."
"Grrrreat," he muttered, drawling it out.
The hotel was a big old clapboard bed & breakfast. The woman at the front desk looked up with red-rimmed eyes and tried to smile. "Welcome back, Mr. Alberts," she said, except that was one of the credit card names, no help. "You fellows have a good time sightseeing today?"
She seemed to be looking at him, so he pasted on a fake smile and said, "Uh, yeah, great," and they darted by to the stairs.
The hotel rooms didn't have numbers on them, so the big guy started trying the key in all the doors, floppy hair dangling over his eyes as he bent.
He watched him and annouced, "I'm going to call you Shaggy."
Shaggy rolled his eyes, moving on to the next door. "Whatever you say, Scooby-Doo."
"Oh, please," he said. "You can call me Fred."
"Are you kidding me?" Shaggy said, looking over at him, eyebrows raised. "You want to be Fred?"
"Dude, come on," he said, following him down the hallway. "Fred was totally boning Daphne. Man, she was hot."
"Dude, Fred wore a freaking ascot or something," Shaggy said. "He was gay." The third door unlocked, and he pushed it open and paused. "Uh. On the other hand—"
He looked inside, past Shaggy's shoulder. The room was painted pink, with lace curtains and crap nailed to the walls, dioramas and violins and bunches of dried flowers. There was a giant king-size brass bed in the middle of the room, brown-and-magenta flowered coverlet rucked up and tangled, both pillows squashed up and dented. Clothes in two sizes were scattered all over the room. He stared at Shaggy. Shaggy stared back at him.
"Look, I just—I don't feel gay," he said, staring at himself in the mirror. He poked his cheekbones, pulled down his eyes. It was weird as hell, his face didn't look familiar at all. He leaned back a little and studied it some more, and tentatively put his fingers up on his neck. He had a purpling bruise a little way under the jaw, almost like a hickey. No way Shaggy had given it to him, though.
"Wow," Shaggy said, crouched down on the floor and poking around in the bags, "that's some serious self-hate you've got going there, Fred. I can't believe I'm dating you."
He flipped Shaggy off. "Not to mention I'm completely out of your league."
Shaggy looked up at him with raised eyebrows. "Oh, you think so."
"Hey, come on," he said, turning away from the mirror and shrugging. "I'm a good-looking guy, you can't deny it."
"Yeah, you're the prettiest girl at the dance," Shaggy said, tossing the flap of the duffel back over and closed. "Great, nothing. Not even a label on the bag." He poked through the side pockets, and then he frowned and stood up, holding a spare cellphone battery. "Hey, you have a cell on you?"
"Yeah, but no owner info on it. Yours?"
Shaggy poked through his pockets and found his, swapped in the battery. "No, but I'm thinking, we've got to have each other in our contacts list—"
"Hey, not bad," he said, and flipped through the call log. Sam. Sam. Sam. 315-555-1231. Sam. "Hm." He hit redial on Sam.
Shaggy's phone rang in his hand. He looked down. "Dean," he read the name off the screen.
"Well," Dean said, snapping his phone shut. "Pleased to meet you, Sam."
"Dean isn't a gay name," he said, over dinner in the hotel's froofy dining room.
"Whatever, man," Sam said. "You need to get over your internalized homophobia and focus, here."
"It totally doesn't turn me on when you use long words," Dean said. "So what've you got?"
"Don't get your hopes up," Sam said. "The library here isn't what you'd call extensive. On the bright side, though, all the books I was able to find seem to say that elves aren't really evil. They're easy to piss off and malicious, but they don't do a lot of killing, so that's something."
"Like hell it is," Dean said. "We've got a whole bunch of news clippings in the room, stuff about deer mutilations and missing tourists. You still think they're friendly little forest sprites?"
"Huh," Sam said, frowning. "That doesn't sound a lot like elves."
"Well, this piece does," Dean said. "You remember what you said about changelings? Three kids gone missing in the woods in the last month, just since a new development started on the southern edge, no sign of what took 'em except a block of wood left in the bed."
"Great," Sam said. "So the elves got pissed off, snatched some kids—" He paused. "So how did we get involved?"
"We went after the kids, moron." Dean said. "We're obviously some kind of road warriors for good—"
"Road warriors?" Sam was snickering.
"Yeah, come on!" Dean said. "Heroes or something. What'd you think we were?"
"I was pretty much just hoping for something other than Natural Born Killers," Sam said.
Dean rolled his eyes. "Yeah, whatever. Anyway, so the elves must have gotten on to us, and they mind-whammied us to get us off their backs. Now we just need to figure out how to get the damn things to give us the memories back."
"Just so we're crystal clear," Dean said, yanking his boots off and dumping them next to the bed, "there is no sex happening here tonight." He lay down and tried to get comfortable.
"Like you would be so lucky," Sam's voice floated out of the bathroom.
"I'm just going to stay right here on my side of the bed, and you're going to stay on—yours," Dean said, finishing a little stuttery, because Sam had come out of the bathroom in boxers and nothing else, and Jesus, okay, maybe he wasn't out of Sam's league after all, even if the guy had the stupidest hair in Creation.
"Whatever you say." Sam finished toweling his head dry and came over to the bed.
"What the hell are you doing?" Dean demanded, as Sam started to get under the covers just like that. "Put some goddamn clothes on."
Sam rolled his eyes and lay down. "I'm not going to sleep in jeans like you, freak." He reached over and turned out the light on his side.
"You grope me in the night and I'll kick your ass onto the floor," Dean muttered, turning his light out too, and lay back down. He stared at the ceiling. Sam's body was a big warm presence in the bed. It should've been weird and annoying; instead it just felt kind of right. He turned onto his side to get away from it, but then Sam yawned and turned onto his side, too. The old saggy bed sighed and gently eased them down into the middle until they were braced up against each other. They were lying back to back and facing the sides of the bed, touching shoulderblades down to hips, and some tension unknotted in Dean's neck that he hadn't even noticed was there. He slid his hand under the pillow, touched the hilt of the knife lying there, and his whole body relaxed all at once into sleep.
He woke up stripped down to his boxer briefs. Sometime in the middle of the night he'd kicked off his jeans and tossed his t-shirt off onto the floor; he didn't even remember doing it. Sam was spooned up around him, arm wrapped around his waist, nose snuffling at the back of his neck, knees tucked into his. It was still kind of dark outside, and Dean was in that drowsy halfway state when his arms and legs were weighted down and didn't want to move. "Goddamnit," he said half-heartedly, not too loud, and went back to sleep.
"Okay, listen to this," Sam said, putting a book down in front of him and leaning over his shoulder. Dean still felt weirded out by how not weirded out he was to have the guy in his personal space. He'd checked out a dozen girls on the way to the library and everything was working just fine in that direction. But when Sam put that big hand of his on Dean's collar, thumb curling around back of his neck, it didn't feel freakish, just kind of warm and good, and okay, maybe a little bit sexy.
"Quit that," he said, just on principle, trying to shrug him off.
"Are you still on about this?" Sam said. "Considering this morning—"
"Shut up," Dean said. Hello, not his goddamn fault. Somebody wrapped you up like a goddamn boa constrictor, he could just take it if his leg got humped a little, and anyway Dean had stopped soon as he woke up all the way. "What is it?"
"It's a feature article from St. Patrick's Day a couple of years ago," Sam said. "Says here some of the original immigrants to the area were from Ireland and Scotland, and they kept a lot of the customs from the old country—leaving out milk for the pixies, and bigger presents when they wanted to clear more land."
"And I'm guessing Robards & Sons Developers didn't leave out a whole lot of milk before they started bulldozing," Dean said.
They stopped at the front desk to get a photocopying card. The librarian on the job was a guy, clean-cut and pretty cute, with little wire-rim glasses and not freakishly big, just what you'd like if you liked that kind of thing, Dean thought. He leaned over the desk and flirted some, experimentally, and the librarian got a little flushed and stammery. "I'll—I'll go get your card," he said, eyes darting over towards Sam, and vanished into the back.
"I don't fucking believe you!" Sam hissed, as soon as the guy vanished. "I'm right here and you're trying to cheat on me!"
"We are not dating!" Dean hissed back. "He didn't do a damn thing for me, I'm straight."
"You're such an asshole," Sam said. "As soon as this is over, I'm going to dump your ass."
"Soon as this is over, you're going to see I'm right, and I am going to be giving you shit for hitting on me for years," Dean said.
After the library they hit the town office three doors down from the hotel, where Sam stole all the paperwork on the development project out of the back office files while Dean kept the bored town clerk distracted.
"Have fun?" Sam said snidely, stalking away fast enough that Dean almost had to trot to keep up, the jerk.
"Hey, that was strictly on the job," Dean said. "Blue eye shadow, man. We have got to get out of this town," he added, as they came back up to the hotel. "I can't figure out why the hell we're even staying in this place."
Sam gave him a pointed look.
"No way, man. If we were gay, we should've had better taste," Dean said.
After dinner, Sam spread out the project plan all over the bed and started reading. Dean heeled off his boots and lay on his back so he didn't have to look at the bedspread: the neon pinks and greens were making his head swim. "Okay, so where do you think they've got the kids stashed? Underground somewhere?"
"I don't think it works that way," Sam said, flipping pages. "All the lore says that elf kingdoms aren't exactly in the real world. It's like another dimension or something."
"Great," Dean said. "Can we bust in?"
"Not likely," Sam said. "But I don't think we're going to have to." He sat up and collected up the project plan back into a stack and put it on the end table, and started stripping down for bed. Dean kept his eyes on the ceiling. He wasn't interested in the guy's abs no matter how ripped they were. "These guys aren't planning to bulldoze all of the woods—if that was the idea, I'm pretty sure the elves wouldn't be open to talking period—but I think we can make a deal here."
"A deal?" Dean said. "These guys hit the factory-default button on our brains and you want to negotiate? Screw that. I say we load up with cold iron and go in full throttle."
"Yeah, and that's going to work great when they disappear and we can't find the kids ever again," Sam said. "Let's try my way first, okay? We can always go your route as Plan B, but somehow I don't think they'll be up for much talking after we go nuclear on their asses."
"Damn straight they won't be," Dean said. He shifted around on the bed, trying to get comfortable, and then he sighed and got up to take off his jeans. He was keeping his shirt on, though. "How do we even get them talking, put out a saucer and go here, kitty kitty?"
"We'll leave them a note with some presents," Sam said, sliding under the covers. "Milk, some costume jewelry, that kind of thing. We'll go out to the development site tomorrow and set it up."
"All right, whatever," Dean said grumpily, getting in.
"Good," Sam said.
"Fine," Dean said, turning out the light.
In the dark, Sam nudged him. "Roll over."
Dean swore under his breath and rolled to let Sam curl up around behind him again. "Don't get any goddamn ideas," he said. "I am not the girl in this relationship."
Sam snorted, warm puff of breath, and then he leaned forward and put his lips on Dean's neck just under the ear and mouthed it softly, tip of his tongue drawing a wet circle on the skin, and holy Jesus, Dean couldn't fucking breathe, just lay there shivering while Sam sucked and licked him slow and tender, that one spot over and over, and then finally let him go and nuzzled him behind the ear one last time.
"Night, Dean," Sam said, voice gone deep and low and smug-satisfied, the bastard.
"Fuck you," Dean managed.
They drove half an hour to the nearest Wal-Mart and bought a bunch of cheap gaudy stuff, rhinestones and low-grade sterling and plastic jewels, and they set it up that night with a bowl of milk right at the edge of the woods, near the stumps of the trees the developers had knocked down lately. Sam wrote out a polite note in longhand, asking for a meeting, and then they settled down to wait.
Sam was working through the journal, trying to piece together information about who they were out of all the notes about ghouls and zombies and werewolves. "What's the point of that?" Dean said. "We'll find out soon as we get back our memories."
"What if we don't?" Sam said. "Elves like to cause trouble. I'm betting they'd love to see us flailing around without memories for good."
"Then we'll figure it out as we go along," Dean said. "It's not like we've forgotten how to do what we do, we've just—"
"Forgotten everything that matters," Sam said, his head bent down.
Dean swallowed. "I don't know we've really forgotten all that much," he said finally.
"Goddamnit, Dean—" Sam slammed the book shut and stood up.
"Hey, that's not what I—" Dean said, and then he lunged without even thinking about it and tackled Sam to the ground; something small and silver-white, like a dart, went whistling by right through the air where his back had been. "Go, go, go," he yelled, pulling, shoving Sam up and ahead of him, pulling his gun and firing madly as more of the darts came flying towards them.
They were running full-tilt through the development, trees rustling and whispering in a seriously creepy way, even though there wasn't so much as a breath of wind. His back was itching like crazy, and he kept having to stop and turn around and wave his gun at the empty field behind them, sure any second a hail of darts was going to come at them. There was a soft evil giggling coming from—fuck, somewhere up ahead. Dean whirled around again, aiming the other way: still nothing, not a damn thing you could see, and there went the giggling again, off to the side—then Sam caught him by the arm abruptly and zigged a sharp left, tumbling them between two building studs and into the empty shell of a half-built house. "The hell!" Dean said.
"Cold iron," Sam said, pointing to the metal frame. "At least, I'm hoping it's made of steel," he added.
"You're hoping?" Dean said. "Great, come on, get under some cover." He swept the area with his gun and flashlight, looking for movement, as they backed into one corner of the building with the drywall up. He put his back to the wall and slid down to the ground; Sam was already sitting with his own gun out, braced against his knees.
Nothing came at them. Everything went quiet and still, and the trees stopped making noise. After about fifteen minutes, Sam said, "Think they've given up?"
"No," Dean said. "I think those vicious little bastards are sitting out there waiting for us." There was a bent nail lying on the floor; he threw it hard out through the studs, into the bushes. There was a brief flurry of rustling and twitching that died down again.
"Great," Sam said, and let his head tip back against the wall.
Dean didn't look at the long line of his neck. He put the safety back on and sat back. Sam didn't say anything. After a while it started to feel like a meaningful silence. Fuck that, Dean was not going to look over there. If Sam wanted to brood over their issues when they couldn't even remember what their issues were, he could do it all on his own.
After another ten minutes he looked. Sam had his knees up and his elbows braced against them, the gun dangling from his hands. His head was bent forward.
"Jesus, you are gay, you know that?" Dean said bitterly.
Sam silently and eloquently flipped him the finger without even looking up.
"Can't we just kill a bunch of elves without having to talk about our feelings?" Dean said. "We don't know anything, okay? Maybe we hate each other's guts. Maybe we're just partners, like cops or something."
"Just shut up already," Sam said. "I'll get another room when we get back to the motel."
Oh, Christ. Dean rolled his eyes. "Come on, baby, why you gotta be like that."
"Fuck you," Sam said. "Ever since this started—" He stopped and then he said, more quiet, "A feeling's not a memory. They can't take those. So if it's gone, it wasn't there in the first place."
Dean hunched his shoulders forward, tucked close against the cold night air. The adrenaline was running low, and the sweat under his clothes was drying cold against his skin. That moment when he'd seen the dart going and Sam standing up in front of it, the flash of Sam lying stretched out cold and glassy-eyed that had launched him like a gunshot; the panic of it was still living somewhere back of his throat. "It's not gone," he muttered finally. Bastard.
Sam lifted his head and looked over at him.
"It still doesn't mean we're fucking!" Dean snapped.
"You're really an asshole, you know that?" Sam said, not being all weird and quiet anymore.
"You're really a thirteen year old girl, you know that?" Dean said, relieved. "Can we quit talking about this now?" He blew on his hands and rubbed them. His ass was getting cold against the concrete floor.
"Come here," Sam said.
"What? No," Dean said.
"You really want your hands going numb with those guys still out there?"
"Goddamnit." Dean crawled over and settled gingerly back against Sam's chest, between his freakishly long legs. Sam wrapped his arms around and kind of hugged him close. "Oh, for Christ's sake, will you quit—" He squirmed.
"No," Sam said, and hooked his fingers into Dean's belt loops and pulled him back in, snugging his legs up around him. Dean gave up. At least his back was warm, and his thighs where Sam's legs were pressed up against his.
Sam didn't let go. After a little while, he nudged the coat open enough to get his hand inside, and tucked his fingers into Dean's waistband.
"What the hell," Dean said. His stomach was jumping under Sam's broad palm.
"My hands are cold," Sam murmured close to his ear, low and gravelly.
"So put them in your pockets," Dean said, but he didn't move. He had the gun gripped hard between his hands, but God help him if he had to actually shoot anything.
Sam pushed the top button open with his thumb. His fingers slipped a little further down. Dean could look down and see his big hand just resting there, comfortably, between his legs. Oh yeah, that wasn't hot at all. Dean shut his eyes and let his legs spread out like they wanted to. Sam put his other hand on Dean's thigh, stroked up along the inseam.
"Come on, man," Dean said, pleading a little. No fucking way could he get up and move right now.
"Tell me this isn't good," Sam said.
"Sitting in a construction site under siege by fucking elves with you pawing me, yeah, it's awesome," Dean said. "Those tiny bastards are probably watching us. Enjoying the show, you fuckers?" he yelled.
The giggling started again out in the bushes, low nasty spiteful noise like people whispering about you down the hall, and not the cute girls, either.
Sam's hand eased lower. Dean swallowed the whine that was trying to climb out his throat and put his hand over Sam's, not sure whether he was trying to stop him going any further south or just to press it down harder.
"Turn your head," Sam said, nosing at his neck.
"Why?" Dean said, sure he wasn't going to like the answer.
"I want to kiss you," Sam said.
"No fucking way," Dean said.
"So, tell me now, you boys about ready to come out of there?"
Dean jerked awake, the gun coming up automatically; Sam moved with him, grabbing his own, their arms held in parallel. Except for how Sam's other hand was still halfway down his pants. Great.
"Oh, I wouldn't be doing that," the elf said. The sun hadn't made it up yet; the sky was looking gray, and in his silvery clothes, he was hard to make out. He—or it—wasn't like any of the pictures they'd dug up. Short, maybe knee-height, but not in the jolly santa's-workshop leprechaun miniature kind of way; it was skinny and out of proportion, legs and arms too long for its body. Its skin looked waxy and doll-like, too perfect to be real, and when it talked Dean caught flashes of pointed teeth. It was standing on the other side of the open building frame, a good distance away from the steel beams.
"Yeah, well, it's making me feel better," Dean said. "You guys want some more cold iron in your teeth, step right up."
"Dean," Sam said. He slid his hand out gently, leaving a warm patch of skin behind, and managed to work himself out from behind Dean's back and get up in a crouch, facing the elf through the slats. He'd lowered his gun.
Dean didn't lower his. "Sam," he hissed.
Sam flapped his hand at him, impatiently. "Look, we didn't come here to start a fight," he told the elf.
"Ah, well," the elf said, jauntily, "shouldn't have come at night, then, should you? You can't be expecting the Unseelie to sit around and jabber with humanfolk, even if you know the niceties."
"Oh, great," Sam muttered.
"Unseelie?" Dean hissed.
"There are two kinds of elves—nevermind, I'll explain later," Sam said. "Listen," he told the elf, "we know the people here have intruded into your territory. They didn't know any better—"
The elf shrugged. "They'll be learning then, won't they?"
"If kids keep disappearing, they'll do other things than learn," Sam said. "They'll start hunting for them. In the woods. With dogs, and guns, and lights; maybe bring in bulldozers—"
The elf said bitterly, "Your kind always bring in bulldozers, late or soon."
"Not here," Sam said. He reached into his coat and brought out the development plan. "This county has some tough environmental regulations, and this is a planned community. The developers have to leave the main part of the woods in place. This shows what they're planning to build." He held it out through the slats, carefully, not letting his fingers go out past the edge of the metal, and tossed it a little.
The elf looked at it thoughtfully, but didn't move.
"Cut them some slack," Sam said. "You let the kids come back, they'll grow up here, remembering about you guys, and they'll tell their kids, show you the right kind of respect in the future. This doesn't have to be an unhappy ending for anybody." He was really pouring it on, all sincerity and spread hands and big friendly eyes.
The elf tilted his head, its head, what the fuck ever; every time it moved it creeped Dean out even more, especially as the sky got lighter and he could make it out better. It just looked unnatural, like something that shouldn't have worked. "Hm," it said, and tapped its weird twiggy fingers against its lips. "Perhaps we might consider such a thing. But we can't just be handing back our dear little friends, now can we?"
"So how about a trade?" Sam said. "We could get you some more silver—"
The elf snorted. "Silver? 'tis not every day we take in a little one, 'tis not every day we let them go. Not to mention," it added, slyly, "there's a little something else you'll be wanting back too, I think?"
"Yeah, our fucking memories," Dean said, eyes narrowing.
The elf gave a dreamy little sigh. "Such grand memories they are, too, all full of fire and brimstone and ash."
"Uh, okay," Sam said. "So what do you—"
"Three things you will bring us, in the hour of twilight," the elf said, its voice changing a little, going high and sharp and sing-song. "The teeth of a vampire, the tail of a werewolf, and the bones of a spirit laid to rest under the new moon; these three you will bring us, and for each of the three, we will give back a child. And when you have done," it added, dropping back to its ordinary voice, "we'll even throw in your memories, too," and smiled at them with its red red lips pressed into a thin line, curlicued up at the corners.
The waitress bent down lower than she needed to to put down the cup of coffee in front of him, but Dean couldn't even bring himself to enjoy the view. "This is going to take us fucking months." He drained the cup in one go.
"What? No, I don't think so," Sam said absently. He was still flipping through the journal, like he had been since they'd gotten out of the house. "They wouldn't want this dragging on too long, elves aren't patient like that."
"Yeah, well then maybe they should've sent us hunting something a little easier to track down than a vampire, a werewolf, and a fucking restless spirit," Dean said. "How long's it to the next new moon, anyway? That's at least two weeks right there."
"Dude," Sam said, "they've got our memories, remember? I'm betting that we've already got all of this stuff buried somewhere, we just need to figure out where and backtrack." He waved the journal. "That's what I'm looking for."
"That thing's a complete mess," Dean said. "How're you going to figure out what we did when? Won't some of this stuff have gone bad?"
"Well," Sam said, "most of this stuff wasn't written by us. It's in somebody else's handwriting. I'm betting we got this handed down from someone—"
"Hey, cool," Dean said, grinning. "Like, the zen master who trained us in the way of the warrior or something."
"Uh, yeah, whatever," Sam said. "Anyway, I'm figuring the entries that have my handwriting, that's the more recent stuff. And right here—" he put down the journal on the table and slid it over, pressed open. "—three vampires killed in Red Lodge, stowed in the city morgue."
"That's what, four hours from here," Dean said. "We can be there and back before sundown."
"Bingo," Sam said. "I told you, they're not patient."
They put the vampire teeth down in a neat little pearly pile right where they'd left the milk and silver, just as the sun slipped down out of sight, and the elf stepped out of the rustling bushes to scoop them up in its hand, stirring them with the tip of one finger. "Ah, very fine, very fine indeed," it said.
"Yeah, great, now where's the kid?" Dean said, flatly, his fingers tapping restlessly on the butt of the gun that was itching to come out of its holster. He felt naked without it in his hand.
"Why, home with her parents and asleep in her bed, like any good child would be at this hour," the elf said, with a twinkle in his eyes. If there was such a thing as a homicidal twinkle. "Now, on with you; 'tis not a place for lingering when the Unseelie Court is soon to rise."
It vanished as quick as it had shown.
"That little f—" Dean said, taking a step forward, before Sam clapped a hand over his mouth and dragged him backwards out of the clearing. "You really think they let that kid go?" he demanded as Sam hauled him back towards the car.
"We'll check on it, but I don't think they're lying," Sam said. "They keep their promises as long as you set the deal up right, they just try and mess with you as much as they can along the way."
Dean cracked an eye the next morning as Sam came back into the room and tossed the local paper onto the bed. He rolled over and picked it up as Sam got back into bed. "Thanks," he said absently, as Sam handed him a coffee cup, and settled back against the headboard with his shoulder pressed up against Sam's so they could manage the paper together with their one free hand each.
The story covered five pages, full of photos of happy tearful parents and the little girl insisting she'd been taken by the elves. Of course there was some shrink babbling on about how that was a method of coping with the trauma of the kidnapping, but the important thing was the last page with the picture of the family on their front porch, the little girl being held by her big sister, parents sitting on the steps like they didn't have the strength to stand anymore.
Sam was smiling down hard at it, kind of watery, and Dean would've made a whole lot of fun of him, except his own chest wanted to swell out past his ribcage.
Sam looked over, his whole face still lit up. "Feels good," he said softly.
"Yeah," Dean said, and cleared his throat. "Okay, come on, it'll feel even better when we've got those other two kids back. What've we got?"
"There's nothing new in the werewolf entries I've found so far," Sam said, "but looks like we laid a vengeful spirit in Belle Fourche, eight months ago, on the night of the new moon. With any luck—"
"Let's hit the road," Dean said, downing the rest of his coffee, and they rolled out of bed to opposite sides.
"This job," Sam panted, "kind of sucks." He shoved his spade into the ground and leaned on the handle, breathing hard.
"Pussy," Dean said, gasping, and leaned back against the grave wall. They were already at least eight goddamn feet down, and having to throw the dirt out higher than their heads was killing his shoulders. "How deep is this motherfucker buried?"
" 'Twice six feet, to keep his black soul from rising,' " Sam quoted morosely. "Not that it helped them with that the first time around."
"And why did we bury him back this deep again?" Dean said.
"We didn't have anywhere else to leave the dirt?" Sam said. "I don't know, we probably didn't figure on having to dig up the corpse a second time."
"Great," Dean said. "Remind me to kick my ass for that when we have our memories back."
They finally got down to the smashed-in coffin, full of blackened bones and ash, and scooped everything into the bag. Sam threw it up and out, and then Dean gave him a boost to the edge of the grave, automatically, without even having to work it out; he just knelt down, and Sam stepped on his thigh to his shoulder, both of them heaving upwards in sync. He didn't even think about it until after Sam was out in that one smooth move, and leaning down to haul him out; how fucking easy it was, like they'd been working together all their lives.
Sam pulled while he scrambled against the wall, loose dirt spilling under his shoes, and heaved him out onto the giant mound of dirt spilling away from the mouth of the grave. Dean rolled down the slope and spread-eagled onto the grass, and Sam crawled over and flopped down next to him.
"I can't move my arms," Sam whined.
"Yeah, okay, let's just lie here a while," Dean said.
"What the hell?" said the cemetary guard.
Dean nearly cracked his skull open going headfirst over the wrought-iron fence, Sam tripped over his untied shoelaces in the parking lot and took the skin off his knees and palms, and then they were diving into the Impala and peeling out with tires squealing like crazy.
"God, pant, fucking, pant, dammit," Dean said, pounding his fist on the steering wheel. "Those fuckers are probably laughing their asses off over all this. I bet they called the fucking security on us."
"I don't think elves are all that big on telephones," Sam said, head tipped over the seat back with his eyes closed. His face was streaked with dirt like warpaint. Dean glanced over and grinned and reached out and tousled Sam's hair down over his face with his filthy grave dirt hands until Sam jerked up and slapped at him in a truly girly flailing way. "For fuck's sake, you jerk, you're seriously twelve," Sam said, spitting and rubbing his mouth.
Dean laughed like crazy at Sam's glare, until Sam's eyes narrowed and he started unbuttoning his own jeans. "Come on, man, what's with the peep show, I'm driving here," Dean said, his mouth suddenly dry.
"I guess you're going to have to keep your eyes on the road, then," Sam said, evil bastard. He pulled his shirt off over his head, wiped his hands off on it and leaned back into the passenger side corner. "I'm doing fine—over here on my own." His voice slid down about half an octave, getting kind of breathy. Dean wasn't looking, he goddamn well wasn't looking, and then he was looking and Sam was leaning back with his eyes mostly shut, his hips working into his hand, his cock sliding easy and sweet through his fist, his chest rising and falling, and he was—he was—
"You shoot on my upholstery and I swear to God I'll," Dean managed, just before Sam said, "Oh, fuck, yeah," and let his head fall back, shuddering slow and pretty into his own hand, and Dean couldn't make words anymore, just gripping the wheel with both hands tight and staring straight ahead, pretending he couldn't see out of the corner of his eye. Sam's chest was shining with clean sweat, and all Dean wanted to do was haul ass over to the side of the road and put his hands all over him and mark him up.
He got revenge, because thanks to the marathon of gravedigging, they were running late and had to drive straight back to the development, so Sam had to wear the t-shirt he'd mopped up with. "This is so gross," Sam muttered, holding it away from his skin with a hand.
"You want to flash your nips to the little people, be my guest," Dean said, smug, and slung the bag of bones over his shoulder. "Come on, let's get this done, I want a shower."
"I have dibs, man," Sam said.
They piled them up in the spot and waited for Elfman. He popped up right on schedule, about five minutes later, and examined the heap of bones. He picked out one of the fingerbone bits and bit down on it, like a jeweler testing a gold coin.
"Ew," Dean said. Sam's face was screwed up in pained disgust.
"Prime, prime," the elf said, tossing it back into the heap. "Well, I won't keep you with chattering. You boys will want to be off hunting straightaway, won't you?"
"Whoa, whoa," Dean said. "What?
"Why, 'tis an hour to moonrise, no more than that," the elf said, opening its glittery black eyes wide. "Sure and a pair of fine hunters like yourselves can track a werewolf in a trice, but seems to me that's little enough time to allow."
"Oh, you've got to be kidding me," Dean said. "There's a werewolf around here?"
The elf smiled his nasty curling smile again. "You'll be finding the track up where the creek meets the river, a mile north right that way." He pointed directly into the forest, and the nasty soft giggling came from the trees all around them.
"Sons of bitches," Dean said, and Sam didn't even try to cover his mouth this time.
"So I guess the werewolf's the one that's been killing the deer and the tourists," Sam grunted, shoving a branch out of the way. He held it until Dean got past and let it snap back behind them. The full moon was up and shining yellow-bright, unnaturally large and still near the horizon, filtering through the trees.
"This town sucks so hard," Dean said, struggling up the slope, shotgun in one hand. Of course the werewolf had decided to go to higher ground. There were scraps of fur left here and there on the bushes, and occasionally he spotted a clawed footprint in the ground, bigger than Sam's hand. "Tell me something, what kind of bad luck do you have to have to get elves and a werewolf?"
They froze. A low gravelly howl was coming from somewhere up above them, rising and rising until it sounded like a fire-alarm yell. "How big is this thing going to be?" Sam whispered. Suddenly a massive crashing started up above them, and Dean knocked Sam flat as about eight terrified deer came leaping down the hill right past them. One jumped right over their heads, both of them ducking under their arms.
"Holy shit," Dean said, panting, and then Sam was grabbing him frantically and dragging him up to his feet, yelling, "Run, run—" and they were scrambling all the way back down the hill they'd just been climbing with the gasps and snarls of the werewolf panting after them.
Dean skidded to a stop, turned and got off one shot that just made it howl even more furiously. The recoil threw him off his feet, into Sam, and they both went head over heels down the slope, crashing through bushes and leaf piles, the whole world spinning crazily in the moonlight.
Dean slammed up hard against a tree and lay there staring dazed up at the branches, all the breath knocked out of him, his nerveless fingers empty. He shook his head hard and pushed himself up onto his elbows and froze. The werewolf was ten feet away from him, shoulders as big as a fucking linebacker, crouched low on its forefeet.
He grabbed for his emergency ankle knife as it jumped, hot stinking breath and yellow eyes, bloodstained jaws grinning madly as they opened in front of his face, and he shoved his forearm sideways into its jaws and prayed the leather would keep its teeth out of his skin while he stabbed it hard over and over in the side, the little blade punching holes that poured black hot blood out over him.
It snarled muffled around his arm and started to close its jaws, bone grinding down as it clenched and yanked, fuck, it was like his arm was going to come out of its socket, and then the gunshot went off like thunder next to his ear. The werewolf slowly sagged and went limp on top of him, light fading out of its eyes.
"Jesus," Dean said, letting his head fall back against the tree. Sam was kneeling next to him, panting.
"You okay?" Sam said, grabbing the wolf's jaws and prying them open.
"Yeah," Dean said, hauling his arm free. "Get that fucker's tail and let's get the hell out of here."
They limped back up to the hotel and stopped. The woman on the front desk was still there, talking into the telephone and wiping tears away from her face. Dean traded looks with Sam: they were covered with dirt and blood and stuck over with bits of leaves and grass, and under all that, Sam's shirt still had white streaks on it.
"Don't say it," Dean said.
"We'd better climb in the back," Sam said.
"Fuck," Dean said.
Sam boosted him up to the windowsill, and jumped for it himself. They hauled themselves into the room and just sprawled out on the floor. Dean finally dragged himself up to his feet, threw the stinking bloody tail into the emptied trashcan to keep it out of the way, and staggered into the bathroom. Sam followed him in a few minutes later, and Dean didn't even bother arguing when his clothes started coming off too, a ruined heap on the tile floor, and they climbed into the shower together.
They didn't say anything at first. Sam hissed as he rinsed out the scraped patches on his knees, and Dean soaked his arm under the hot water a long time: the skin hadn't broken, but he already had bruises in two thick lines coming up where the wolf's jaws had clenched on him. "We should put some ice on that," Sam said, and closed his eyes and put his face into the spray, dirt and blood sheeting away off his skin.
"Yeah. Hold still," Dean said, and carefully worked an inch-long splinter out of Sam's shoulder without breaking it.
They got the worst of the dirt off, having to scoop leaves and junk off the drain cover a couple times to keep the tub from backing up. Afterwards Dean put himself under the stream for a while, braced against the wall, and let the water run. Sam put soapy hands on his shoulders and ran them down his back, thumbs pressing hard right where he needed it. "Fuck," Dean groaned, arching into it.
He turned and got his own hands on Sam's waist, soap-slick running down his sides like an invitation, and it just felt so fucking good to touch him, to prove to himself they were both in one piece. Sam's grip was tightening on his hips, drawing him in close, and Dean ran his hand up Sam's chest and pulled his head down.
They were kissing under the water, eyes shut against the spray and sweet water getting in their mouths, over chapped lips, licking at Sam's tongue. The shower wasn't big enough, nowhere near big enough, and the third time they wobbled and nearly fell out, Dean reached back blindly and shut off the water. "Come on," he said, panting, and shoved a towel at Sam.
Sam pushed him back flat onto the bed and crawled on over him, up on his hands and knees. Dean shoved a pillow under his own head and got his hand around Sam's dick, jerking it easy and slow, just getting warmed up, watching the way Sam's face went all soft and hungry, panting. "I want," Sam said, "Dean, I want—" his hips pushing his cock into Dean's fist, steady.
"Yeah," Dean said, scared for his fucking life, although he had to have done this a million fucking times. Maybe it was just like this every time, chest rising and falling deep and slow because he couldn't get enough air, hands clenched on Sam's hips so they wouldn't shake, feeling so goddamn alive with Sam shivering under his hands.
Sam leaned over the side of the bed and groped in Dean's bag, and then Dean shut his eyes and let Sam work him open. "God, you're so—" Sam said, against his belly, and put his mouth on Dean's cock, and it was all brand-new, like he'd never had this before, his cock sliding over Sam's tongue, so hot and wet he was fighting to keep from just shoving at him.
"You can, you can," Sam said, and went back down on him, hands tucked under Dean's hips and pushing him up. Dean grabbed onto Sam's head with both hands and let himself thrust crazily up, sloppy and off-target, Sam licking at him clumsily, scraping a little with his teeth, until his cock just slipped out and Sam cupped it in his big hand, mouthing along the length of it, sucking on the head, fingers of his other hand pushing back in. It was rough, and it hurt a little, but he was already sore and flying high anyway, and it was so fucking hot the way Sam turned him over, the way Sam's cock pressed into him, slicked up and forcing him, his legs spreading wide.
He pushed his face into the pillow, panting, his cock damp and leaking hard against the sheets, they'd kicked the cover off onto the floor, and Sam was so fucking big, all over him, and Jesus, he had to have it. "Yeah, baby," he said, and he didn't know how he'd lasted three nights without this, Sam's hips snapping forward into him, driving, and he pushed up into it, so fucking good, so good—
Sam said, "Jesus, please," and wrapped his slick hand around Dean's cock, jerking him in time, and he went over like his head was coming off, slumping down into the pillows and going over onto his side because his arms couldn't work anymore, Sam sliding down with him, arm wrapped around his waist and breathing so cracked and broken it sounded like he was crying.
After a little while, Dean turned over and pulled Sam down onto his shoulder, his hand dug into Sam's hair, Sam breathing against his skin still in those choked-off short gasps, trembling. Dean said softly, stroking him, easing him down, "It's okay. I've got you, man, it's okay," rubbing his shoulders, the back of his neck where his hair was curling damply. Dean wasn't ever going to move again. He didn't get how he'd ever forgotten this, feeling like this: like he'd forgotten how to breathe or eat or fire a gun, something essential.
Morning was fighting its way past the lace curtains in the window before they came down enough to fall asleep, Sam's leg thrown over his and head still pillowed on Dean's shoulder. Dean woke up late in the afternoon when a shadow slid off his face and let the sun into his eyes. He was starving, but he didn't move, just drifted with his fingers running over Sam's arm, a scar in the crook of the elbow; he didn't know how Sam had gotten it, but it felt familiar under his touch. Sam smiled against his skin, sleepy and so goddamn smug Dean could feel it.
"Don't even fucking start with me," Dean said. "You didn't know any more than I did."
"I knew there had to be a reason why I put up with you," Sam said, and licked at his neck until Dean shoved his head away. Sam grinned and just came right back, sat up and pinned his shoulders down and kissed him, over and over, sloppy annoying kisses all over his face.
"Bitch, you are going down," Dean said, twisting his head away to either side. He shoved his knee up between Sam's thighs, Sam groaning and pressing back into it. Dean grinned and locked his legs around Sam's thigh and flipped him hard, and the bed squealed in complaint and sort of sank under them as they hit.
Sam stared up at him, both of them frozen, and then they cracked up. Dean cautiously let himself back down to the mattress, and Sam reached over and tugged him in close again, hips slotting together easy, his leg sliding between Sam's. Their heads were on the pillows, so close he could feel Sam's breath on his lips, and his heart turned over like an engine starting, and Sam said softly, "Yeah," bringing his hand up to cup Dean's face, rubbing his thumb slowly over Dean's mouth. "Yeah, me too."
They threw the werewolf's tail down onto the ground, and Dean folded his arms. "Okay, come out, come out, wherever you are," and the elf popped out like a jack-in-the-box from behind a bush and came over to inspect it.
"A handsome specimen, to be sure," the elf said, picking it up and running the bloody thing through its hands. "Seems there was a great deal of noise about in the woods last night, though. I do hope the creature wasn't giving you boys too much trouble?"
"Nothing we couldn't handle," Dean said. "Enough with the chit-chat. We had a deal. Third kid goes home, and we get back our memories."
"Mm, so we did, so we did," the elf said. "And the wee bonny lad is back in his cradle as we speak, but as for the memories, are you quite sure you wouldn't like to let us keep them? Such a tangled, bitter web as they are, full of things beyond mortal ken. We'd buy them from you to keep, with swords forged of starlight, that no demon can withstand; with nets woven of whispers, which no spirit can escape. Books of magic, elixirs of life—will you not take them in exchange, and go on your way as you are, free of the weight of all those years?"
Dean stared at the elf, and turned to look at Sam. Sam looked back at him, and after a moment, he shook his head. Dean turned back and said, "No deal. Give us back the memories, and we're done."
"Well, if you insist," the elf said, and smiled.
"Oh, Jesus," Dean said, and went for his gun, sick with terror and rage. He was going to—he was going to kill them, all of them, the twisted fucking evil—
"Dean!" Sam said, grabbing him, as the elf backed away.
"I am going to fucking burn this forest to the ground and plant it with salt, do you fuckers hear me!" Dean screamed, fighting it as Sam tried to pull him away, until Sam locked his arms around him and just wrenched him around and off his feet. Dean staggered and turned and shoved Sam off him, shoved and almost took a swing at him, except Sam's face was streaked with tears and shock, and it fucking hurt so bad to look at him that Dean turned away.
He stumbled back out into the bulldozed grounds and slid down to his knees, forehead resting against the metal frame of a building, gripping it with both his hands so tight the edges of the stud dug into his flesh.
"Dean," Sam said behind him. "Dean, come on, man, it's getting dark, those other elves are going to be out soon—"
Dean didn't give a fuck. Sam slid down next to him, back against the steel frame. "I'm not going anywhere until you do," he said. Dean breathed deep, twice, and then he made himself stand up, made his legs move. It was like sleepwalking, going past the skeletons of the houses and the utterly silent trees.
He got in the car and sat there with his hands on the wheel. Sam got in on the other side and shut the door. Neither of them said anything, just kept on staring straight ahead, down the empty black road outside. There wasn't anything to do. Pretend it never happened—there was no fucking way. He knew what Sam tasted like, what his skin felt like slick with sweat; what he sounded like, coming. The way it felt to lie curled up around him after a hunt. Forgetting that, not in a million fucking years. Even right now, right this second, all he wanted was to turn around and grab Sam, pull him close and tell him it was going to be okay, wanted to put his hands on Sam's face and kiss him, long and deep and slow, pretend they'd never learned the truth, and that meant it sure as fucking hell wasn't going to be okay.
He had to let it go, or he was going to lose everything, except he couldn't. He had no fucking idea how he was ever going to make it through another night, lying alone in bed with Sam on the other side of the room, listening to him breathe, when he knew what it could be like, what he could have instead. Sick and fucked and wrong, and more right than anything he'd ever had in his life, and he was never going to be able to have it again.
"We can't go back to the hotel," he said, still staring out the windshield. It was something to say, to fill up the silence and keep him from reaching out and smashing up what was left of his life. "The owner's kid will be back now, the police will be all over the place."
Sam didn't say anything. He didn't move.
"We'll have to get another laptop," Dean said. His throat kept trying to close up on him. "At least we've got the journal. I guess we'll—" his voice cracked. It cracked, and then he said, "Sam, I don't know what the fuck to do."
Sam took a breath in a gasp, loud enough to hear in the silence. Dean shut his eyes a moment, then he made himself look over, and Sam turned and looked back at him, his eyes scared and reckless all at once, and said, "Hi. My name's Sam. It's good to meet you."
Dean stared at him, his heart trying to hammer its way out of his chest, because Jesus, they weren't allowed to—they couldn't—and then he said, "Likewise."
Sam never looked away, his voice getting steadier, stronger, and he said, "So, how far is it to the Grand Canyon from here?"
"About nine hundred miles, give or take," Dean said, and he guessed this was what it felt like to just jump off a cliff and find out you could fly, because Sam was leaning over, and Dean had his hand in Sam's hair, clenched tight, and Sam said, into his mouth, soft and warm, "Think we can make it by tomorrow night?"
Dean kissed him again, hard, the taste of his mouth already as familiar as air. "Not going to be a problem," he said, and started up the car.
= End =
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