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a long hard day, a long hard night

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That night, Sam drank most of a bottle of very bad scotch all by himself, sitting in the dark, and then he walked unsteady down to the archives and tried to summon Crowley, and he'd done that ritual so many times that he knew the ingredients and the sigils and the words off like he knew his own name, only—only Crowley didn't come. He tried again, and again, and Crowley didn't come. He knelt there dizzy with his hand pouring blood and it just—didn't make sense. When he finally staggered to his feet he held his hand cupped in front of him but he kept bleeding, the wet dripping down to the concrete floor while he made his woozy way down the halls to Dean's room, and it hurt in some soul-shuddering way to push open that door knowing what was behind it, only—only Dean was—Dean's bed was—

Sammy, let me go, the note said. Sam fell. His knees cracked, on the concrete, and he bruised himself so bad that just walking hurt for a long time after. He held the paper in his unhurt hand and he stared at it, his breathing odd and unsteady in his chest. There was no letting go. That wasn't—that wasn't an option. It hadn't been, not for years, no matter what they'd said, no matter what promises they'd made to each other. Dean's heart, pounding steady under his fingers, and their eyes meeting in dim-lit rooms, and the knowing of each other's separate skin. There was another promise that they'd made, a gut-deep wrenching thing, and Sam folded down over his bleeding hand and pressed his face into the scratchy-soft blanket that held Dean's scent and bled and thought, no. No.

*

When searching doesn't work and when torture doesn't work and when praying doesn't work, Sam turns to the bunker. He'll take anything that might help. Crowley can't be found; Castiel's sick, and useless. Witches avoid him, and if they don't avoid him they try to kill him, and then all he has is more blood on his hands and no questions answered. He keeps looking. Dean's out there, he knows it. Sam has a note. Don’t look for me, Sammy. Dean's out there, somewhere, and Sam is going to find him. He won't abide any other option.

The bunker's storerooms go deep. Old books, old rituals. Sam reads minute entries of Letters meetings, discussing new methods and means of discovery. He reads arguments over acceptable risk, over the ethical implications of acquiring power. He listens to a committee debating a proposed spell, one that no one would dare cast. At any rate, says some long-ago scholar, this is all academic. None alive have the blood required. It remains a theory, nothing more.

Alone, Sam takes notes. His heart thuds in his chest. It's silent, down here. The lamps are on in the library because they always are, but there's no music playing, no distant banging from the garage, no distracting commentary for Sam to complain about because he just wants to read in peace.

That's the problem. There is no peace. He makes a list. Ingredients, reagents. A little time. A decision to be made. That's it.

In the crystal decanter on the sideboard, there are a few pours left of the good whiskey. Sam hasn't touched it. He draws a line under the last item on the list and puts his pen down, and then slides the half-bottle of gas station bourbon over the table. The glass is loud on the wood. A long, slow swallow burns all the way down his throat, but it warms his empty stomach. He closes his eyes. If he goes through with this, there'll be no going back.

He puts the bottle down and adjusts his sling, his shoulder aching, then lays his good hand flat on the table and pushes himself to his feet. The decision has already been made. It was made the second he held that note in his hands and knew that Dean had been taken from him, and knew that he'd do anything to fix it. He never should've pretended otherwise—he's been around the block enough times that he should know not to lie to himself. The consequences don't matter; neither does the cost. All that matters is getting Dean back. It's all that ever has.

*

It seems important that he not be in the bunker, for what's going to happen. He drives north in his awful stolen car and turns off his phone for the ride. Hours on near-empty highways, moving fast under vaulted starry skies. The moon's carved down to the thinnest sliver, hanging low over the flat black landscape before it slips over the horizon and then Sam's alone in the dark, his stomach growling and empty, his eyes steady on the dashed yellow line slipping past.

There's a crossroads, seven hours later, in the middle of a huge grassland. National park, protected against development. No one around. He leaves the car on the side of the road. Dawn's threatening, thin grey light diffusing over the sky and a pink glow off to the east. He faces west, looks out over all the empty nothing. A tree, a mile down the road. A pointless wire fence marking the division between the road and the bare land. The morning air whispers cool over his face, fills his lungs clean and easy. He breathes until the sun crests the horizon and light breaks over his shoulders, and then he pops the trunk and gets his bag, hefts it with his good arm, and starts.

*

The ritual's bound in an actual circle. No runes, no special sigils, just a simple ring drawn over the meeting of the crossroads. The blood and salt of it gleam dully in the four fires Sam's built at the crossroads' corners. There's no moon tonight but with the fires built so high it's hard to see the stars, and anyway he's in enough pain that he probably couldn't see them anyway.

The demon arrives snarling, dragged unwilling from wherever it was—hell, or Crowley's side, or tempting some luckless sad son of a bitch, Sam doesn't know. It doesn't matter. "Sam Winchester," it says, trying for smug and missing by a mile. "Still looking for big brother? When are you going to cut those apron strings, kid?"

It's wearing a man—maybe forty or fifty, grey in his hair. Sam doesn't know if that's better, or not. His vision blurs and he has to blink rapidly, swaying on his feet. When he can see again the demon's smiling at him, though its eyes are wide. "Not doing too hot, I take it," it says. "Haven't we been over this already? Just let it go. Go out there and live your best life. No one's going to tell you a thing, pal. "

"I don't need you to tell me anything," Sam says. "Be quiet."

It squints at him, then looks exaggeratedly around at the ritual circle. "You sure went to a lot of effort to not have a chat." It hasn't moved, stuck right in the center of the circle, at the center of the crossroads, at the center of the fire. It can't move and Sam can see it flexing its fists. "This is quite a trick, Sam," it says, strain in its plummy voice. "How did you even manage to pull me here?"

He ignores it. Midnight's coming. He breathes and doesn't bother steadying himself. Rowan-smoke fills the air, ash and light straining up toward the empty sky, and the demon's still talking, still trying to strain its way to freedom, but it won't win. It can't. He fumbles his phone out of his pocket and nearly drops it, the plastic slick on his blood-wet hands, but he manages to click the side and it says 11:58. He smears it open, sets the screen to stay lit, and then lets it drop to the dirt road.

"Maybe we can make a deal, huh?" the demon says. It's afraid now. "I can fix those gashes, buddy, put your juice back in with just a snap of my fingers. Won't even ask for your soul, you just gotta let me out."

11:59. He drips red-black onto the phone's face and curls his fingers. Just another minute. The demon's pleading, now, fast-talking and shaky. It doesn't understand what's going on.

The phone clicks over, midnight, and maybe Sam didn't need to be watching the clock at all. His vision gets clearer and he takes a deep breath, almost steady, even with more blood than he knew he could afford to lose turning the dirt around him to mud. He wipes his good hand dry on his jeans and transfers the knife to it. It's time.

There's not a fight. Sam puts his bloody left hand on its chest and bears it to the ground and it goes, snarling, its eyes black. His muscles are shuddering with effort but he manages to cut its throat so it can't make another sound. He doesn't need to hear it screaming. The blood sprays out, hot and immediate, spattering on his face, but there's no time for that right now. The ritual was very specific. He's going to do it right.

The hammer he'd slung through his belt cracks the ribcage, but it's harder than it should be to get it spread open. He's weak. He wipes a hand over his face, smearing wet, and starts cutting.

Heart, lung, liver. The blood's still flowing through it, the body still desperately working, because a demon forces life even into something shattered apart and the salt and smoke and Sam won't let it leave.

His hands are slick on the knife and he drops it. The meat is hot, and the smell—iron, and sourness, and burning things. He hasn't eaten in a week, hasn't had water since before dawn, and his mouth's wet now, his tongue desperate, his lips pulling back. The demon stares up at him with dark weeping eyes, its blistered spirit trapped between gritted teeth. Sam slips down to his ass on the gravel, his body giving up on holding his weight. He has to pick up the heart in both hands, the wet muscle still flexing. He has until one a.m. to finish—just one hour, or the whole of this will be for nothing. His stomach clutches emptily and he takes a deep breath, leaning against the meatsuit's hip to brace himself, and brings the heart up to his lips. He doesn't think it's going to take him that long. He takes a bite.

*

*

At the cabin in Whitefish he throws open all the doors, all the windows, lets the humid afternoon air flood out all the stale. It's a mess of dust in here, cobwebs in the corners. The walls covered in the tacky remnants of all their old protective sigils. They whisper over his skin, but they can't touch him. The devil's trap etched into the floor burns deeper into the wood when he puts his hand to it but it doesn't break. That'll work just fine, he thinks.

The well out back still works. He pumps up a bucketful of water, freezing cold from the mountains, and washes the dried gore off his hands, his face. His shirt's a lost cause and he doesn't know what's about to happen and so he leaves it. He takes a careful mouthful of the water and it's so cold it hurts his teeth, and hurts more when it goes down, but at least the taste of blood leaves his mouth.

Back inside, he rolls up his sleeves, checking his forearms. The suicide-cuts have healed up so clean it's like they were never there. He ditched the sling back in Nebraska. He looks down at the trap and drags his hand through his hair, then takes a deep breath. He closes his eyes, and looks.

The world's all shadow and smoke. Points of light burst through the dark, but he doesn't need them. He's looking for the places where dark turns to black. The demon before, it was wrong. It gave up all kinds of things, before it was over. It couldn't help it. Sam had smiled, there in the circle with the fires burned down to ash around him, full to the brim with the knowing. He'd thought that all he was going to do would be to get answers from Crowley and get his revenge, in that order. He'd had no idea it was going to be this easy.

There. Black and black and black with a tinge of blood-red and with them, a black that sings against Sam like a plucked string, a black sharded through white pure soul and crackling fire. Sam reaches out and gathers it up and pulls, easy as taking someone's hand, and then he opens his eyes and Dean's standing in the devil's trap, a pint glass in his hand and open shock on his face. He stumbles a little when he lands and some beer spills, splatting to the floor, and then Dean drops the glass altogether and doesn't mind that it shatters and slams a hand against the wall of air keeping him in the trap and he says, "What the hell, Sammy?"

Sam breathes out, finally. His breath saws in his lungs. "Dean," he says, stupidly, but that's—that's everything.

Dean's hair is longer than he remembers. Apparently it can grow when a body's dead and not-dead. He's wearing that red shirt Sam likes so well, his eyes bright and his color strong, and after a second he flicks a smirk at Sam like he's an enemy or a stranger, and he's so beautiful Sam could just go down to his knees. "Pretty neat trick," Dean says. He takes a step back, looking exaggeratedly around the ring of the trap. "Guess you found out the big secret, huh. You weren't supposed to look."

"You left me a note," Sam says. He folds his arms over his chest. "If you really wanted me to lay off you would've killed me."

Dean makes a little regretful cluck, shaking his head, and then cocks a finger gun at Sam. "Not too late!" he says. He winks and smiles, and his eyes flick black.

Sam doesn't answer. There's a demon in his brother, wrapped around him, wound tight through every breathing cell. He can see the shape of the person he knows, even with the damn mark pulsing hot just under the rolled-up cuff of Dean's sleeve, even with it radiating that hateful, fearful pain. Dean raises his eyebrows at Sam and then rolls his eyes, flicking them back to green while he looks around the trap again. He kicks the toe of his boot into the center of the star. Always fidgeting. One of many things Sam has missed.

"Okay, so you're not feeling chatty," Dean says. He kicks again at the trap, harder, and the wood floor creaks and cracks. Like Sam won't notice him trying to break it. "How'd you manage to scoop me up, Oddjob? I've got a lot of fancy new talents but teleporting sure as hell ain't one of them."

Talents. Yeah, Sam can feel that too. The First Blade is sitting heavy in Dean's belt, at his back, and Sam can feel the power radiating from it—from them both, their paired strength echoing together. Still. Even a Knight of Hell is just a demon, in the end. Sam knows what to do with demons. The knowledge sits full and heavy in a space just under his heart. He hopes Dean can forgive him for it, one day, after.

"Dean," he says. He gets an insolent little smile but Dean's paying attention. No matter how confident he might be, flushed with strength, he's not sure of what's happening here. He's wary. Well, Dean's always been smarter than he lets on. Sam smiles back and it feels wobbly, but Dean's eyes sharpen and focus. "Dean," he says again. "This is going to hurt, I think. But I promise, everything's going to be okay."

Dean steps forward, threatening the edge of the trap. "You promise," he says, low with threat. "What do you think you're gonna do, Sammy?"

Sam searches his face. God, he's beautiful.

He doesn't have to close his eyes, this time. Dean's right here. He leaves his hands loose at his sides and looks into Dean and then with a thought wrenches his soul out into the open air. The black roils out through Dean's mouth, through his eyes and his suddenly-bleeding nose, and then his body drops to the floorboards with a meaty thwack. No matter—it's the light that concerns Sam, now. His newly heavy blood surges high against the thin shield of his skin while he holds the smoke trapped. He can feel it. Every little piece of corruption, encouraged by the mark flickering hot lightning against Dean's true-bright soul—but Sam knows it, now, and it's no match for him. It's so easy.

Caught in the net of his power, the pieces that make up Dean separate obediently under the firm command of Sam's will. The bright of him is bared clean, beautiful and singing familiar when Sam reaches up and trails his fingers through it. The lurking black he sweeps away and it grinds into nothing but dust, disappeared from the earth like it was never there. He can still feel the mark threatening, somewhere under all his brother's light, but the corruption's gone. The taste of blood rises up at the back of Sam's tongue, but he smiles anyway, and with a thought he pours Dean back into the dear vessel of his body and watches his chest rise and his mouth part, alive and whole and good again. Sam breathes out. He did it.

*

He puts Dean on the bed in the back. Awful flashback to the last time he brought Dean to bed, but this is very far from that night in the bunker. He wishes he'd thought to change the blankets. Hopefully Dean won't mind a little dust.

He sweeps up the glass and throws a blanket over the puddle of beer. Dean got a cut on his arm when he went down, but it won't need stitches. Sam wraps a clean bandage around it, blotting the blood, and then sits on the mattress with his hip right against Dean's thigh, and puts his hand over Dean's beating heart, and closes his eyes, and waits.

When Dean stirs again, the sun's going down through the open windows. Sam keeps his eyes closed and so he doesn't know what expression is on Dean's face when there's a shocked deep breath under his hand. A moment of still silence and then Dean says, slowly, "Why's my ass wet?"

Sam smiles but something cracks, deep in his chest, and he folds over his own knees, burying his face in his hands. "You landed in your beer," he says, eyes squeezed shut.

Another little silence and then he can feel Dean shifting, his weight tilting the crappy mattress. When he speaks again his voice is a little higher, a little further away. Quieter. "Sam," Dean says. "How—"

He doesn't finish. Doesn't have to. Sam wipes his wet eyes and drops his hands to dangle between his knees. The floor between his boots is thick with dust and he watches that rather than look up to see himself reflected in Dean's face.

He'd thought about whether to keep it to himself, but he'd discarded that almost immediately. Secrets haven't gone well between them, the last few years. "You have to let me finish," Sam says. The bed creaks when Dean shifts his weight again. Dean doesn't touch him and for a second Sam yearns—wants to turn around and bear Dean down to the crappy mattress and make the ancient springs really groan, wants to take Dean's face in his hands and erase the distance between them—but he doesn't get that. Not now. He takes a deep breath. "We'll figure it out, but—let me finish, okay?"

"You haven't started yet," Dean says, with a ghost of humor.

Sam closes his eyes. He tells Dean everything.

Sometime during the telling Dean shifts around and stands up. He doesn't leave, like Sam half-expects—just paces over the table, braces his hands hard against it and stares down. When Sam describes draining his own blood Dean wrenches out one of the chairs and sits down with a thump. Sam hasn't rolled his sleeves down, though—Dean can see that he's healed. Maybe that makes it worse.

He doesn't know who the meatsuit was. He didn't look for a wallet, for ID. There wasn't much left of the man, after, and Sam built another fire once he was done and burned the remains. He doesn't let himself spare details. Doesn't let himself spare either of them. For one whose blood contains a demonic taint, the ritual had said, greater power may theoretically be accessed by the consumption of the blood, flesh, and organs of power of one who is possessed. A demonic taint. That was putting it lightly.

"I don't know how they came up with the ritual," he says, finally. "Maybe it was Azazel or Lilith, one of Lucifer's loyalists, who knows. Maybe they weren't sure what was going to happen." He shakes his head. "Had to make the perfect vessel a little more perfect."

Dean's silent, over at the table. Sam sits up, blinking, and looks out the window. Sun's nearly down.

"I know what I did," Sam says. "I don't know if you can kill me, Dean, but—"

"Hey," Dean says, and Sam shuts his mouth while Dean's chair scrapes back, and then all of a sudden Dean's across the room, crouched in front of Sam, his hands on Sam's knees. "We've been over this. Nothing's getting you, not while I'm around. Especially not me. What kind of big brother do you take me for?" Sam huffs, his eyes getting wet again so he has to blink hard, and Dean squeezes his thighs. "Hey, you think you could look at me? I'm getting a complex, here."

Sam has to swallow around the solid mass in his throat, but how can he refuse. When he looks down Dean's eyes are kind of shocky, wide. He's not trying to fake a smile, thank god. Sam doesn't know how he'd handle if it Dean were trying to pretend like everything was just a-okay. Dean searches Sam's eyes. Sam doesn't know what he's looking for, but he stays still. It is the absolute least he can do.

"Do you feel okay?" Dean says, finally. Sam snorts and Dean frowns. "I'm just asking, come on."

Sam shifts out from under Dean's hands, has to get to his feet. A horrible sort of energy crawls under his skin. "I can't believe you," he says, under his breath, and braces his hands against the window. "Dean, I ate someone."

It's the first time he's put it that way, even to himself. The ritual, the Letters, the notes, everything was so clinical. Consumption. Ingestion. Absorption. He doesn't know why they wouldn't just call it what it is. He can still taste copper in the back of his throat.

"I had to find Crowley," Sam says. The forest outside the cabin is dark, sunset trailing through the treetops. Behind him, he can hear Dean shifting, hear the scuff of his boots on the dusty wood, and more than that he can—he can hear, feel, taste, some sense deeper than all of those that reaches out and knows Dean's soul by the tiny fault lines the mark makes. That faint greying distortion. He wraps his hands hard around the wooden sill, lets the edges bite into his skin. Rufus carved runes into the wood here. Sam can feel them, too.

"Sammy." Dean takes a step closer, puts his fingertips lightly on Sam's shoulder blade. Sam closes his eyes. "Sam, hey."

"You don't get it," Sam says. Dean's hand spreads out, warmth sinking through Sam's shirt, and Sam ought to move away. "What I did."

"You fixed me," Dean says. Sam's not looking at his face but his voice is firm, low. He takes another step and when he speaks again it's closer, his breath warm through Sam's sleeve. "What you did—Sam. You know what I was. The things I—"

He cuts himself off but Sam can fill in what might fit into the awful empty space left behind. All sorts of things he imagined, in the time they were separated. It was harder, almost, than those times Dean has been dead. At least then Sam had known where he was. The empty unknown turned out to be more than he could bear.

Dean's fingers curl into Sam's shirt, shake just a little. "The ritual let you get me back. It's over now, Sam. We can handle it."

When you look up steadfast in the dictionary, Sam thinks, there ought to be a picture of Dean. He lets his heavy head drop between his shoulders, trying to drag up the strength to say what he needs to say. He should have left, before Dean woke up. Should have run. Maybe that would've been easier. Finally he stands up straight and turns around, sitting on the window sill. Dean's watching him, planted solidly, still not smiling but not looking at Sam like he's a monster, either. Not yet, at least.

"It's not over," Sam says. Dean frowns, but how could he understand. There are sigils painted onto the wall next to them, right by the bunk beds Bobby had put up. Sam puts his hand over one meant to ward off listening demons, and while he holds Dean's eyes he smokes it into nothingness, the paint evaporating off the wall like it was never there. Dean's mouth parts, shock making him still. When Sam pulls his hand back he turns it over and it's clean, no scorch marks or flaked paint, no sign anything even happened, and he drops his hand lax to his thigh and watches Dean's eyes follow it like it's a loaded weapon.

"The ritual, it wasn't a one-time thing. It's not like it was before. With Ruby." Dean frowns, lids flickering like they always do with that name. Sam wants to reach out. He balls his hands into fists instead. "There's not going to be a detox, this time."

"How do you know?" Dean says. Throws it down, like a challenge.

Sam bites his lips between his teeth. Shrugs, even if he knows that kills Dean when he's on edge. Sure enough, Dean's eyes go tight. "It changed something," he says. "In me. It's different. I feel—" There's no way he can articulate it. This—switch, that flipped, somewhere deep below his brain. Maybe it's in the soul itself. He takes a slow breath, considering Dean. "Maybe you know what I mean."

Dean frowns at him, not comprehending, before his eyes clear. Shame visibly wells up so fast before he turns away that there's a pulse of answering guilt, low in Sam's belly. He can't dwell on that, though. He has to make Dean understand.

"I'm not sorry I did it," he says. That needs to be clear. If nothing else, he thinks Dean of all people might understand that feeling. Dean's staring through the bunk beds, his arms folded over his chest. Sam takes him in. The lines of his profile in the gathering dark, the shape of his shoulders. The sturdy lines of him. He's so glad, despite it all, that he gets to see it again. He licks his lips and clears his throat. "I am sorry for what you're going to have to do."

"God," Dean mutters, and then he says, "Just—stop it. Stop it, okay." He shakes his head, drags a hand over his face, and then turns resolutely around to face Sam, square-on. His jaw's set. Stubborn. "Quit talking like that, already. You think there's anything at all you could do that would make me—at this point? Now? That there's anything at all?"

Sam sighs. "You don't know what—"

Dean steps forward and grabs Sam by the biceps, his fingers curling in hard. "Where've you been, genius," he says, shaking Sam a little. His eyes are wide and Sam can't see the color, not anymore with the sun sinking away, but they're not black. He'd know. "There's nothing, you hear me? No matter what. I promised. Back then, you remember? I promised. You made me one, too."

The church. Heat rises up, the memory flooding through. Dean's hands on him, pleading. The look on his face. It's pretty close to the one he's wearing now and Sam's vision goes a little splintery, a little blurred. He was angry, afterward, when he realized what Dean had done to keep him here. Thought Dean had broken his promise. It wasn't until recently that he realized it was a promise kept. I plight thee my troth. It isn't necessarily a kindness.

"Dean," he says, voice rough, and Dean reaches up and gets his hands on Sam's face, his thumbs sweeping familiarly over Sam's cheeks, over the stubble he hasn't shaved off in—too long. Almost a beard, at this point. He hooks his fingers over Dean's forearm, holds on, and lets Dean tuck his hair behind his ears, lets Dean try to hold Sam together with just his hands. He closes his eyes. He doesn't think it'll work, but Dean's right. He made a promise.

"It's dark as shit in here," Dean says, up close and soft. Sam huffs. Dean drags his knuckles over Sam's jaw, prickling in the hair there, and then takes a step back, grabbing Sam's wrists to haul him up, off the window sill. "C'mon, Sasquatch. I want to go home."

Sam swallows, and opens his eyes. Dean's looking up at him, close, and he's still not smiling but he's here. The least Sam can do is be here, too. "Yeah," he says, and shrugs off how his voice cracks. "Let's go home."

*

Dean mocks Sam's car choice for about a hundred miles: what kinda crappy plastic piece of crap, what's with this upholstery, manuals are a pain in the ass. Sam leans into the passenger side door and watches him drive. They hit the interstate and in the glow of headlights Dean's hands are lit up on the wheel, on the gearshift, his thumb tapping the side of his thigh. The radio's turned to some pseudo-classic station that keeps playing Journey, and Dean makes fun of that too but he doesn't bother with finding something else. He wants the noise. Sam will take it.

They're fifty miles past Billings before Sam thinks to ask about the Impala.

"Where were you?" he says.

"Some bar," Dean says, dismissive. His jaw's tight and he doesn't want to give up details. "North Dakota somewhere. It doesn't matter, Sammy." They're going down a hill and he busies himself with downshifting, checking the mirrors. Like it's nothing.

"We should get it back," Sam says, firmly. Doesn't matter. To hell with that.

Dean gives him an impatient look. "We can take care of it later," he says.

Right now, the only thing that Sam doesn't like about this car is that it has bucket seats. He wants to slide across the Impala's wide bench, wants to put his forehead down on Dean's shoulder, wants to breathe against him. Dean was with Crowley, he knows that. Maybe Dean thinks it'll be dangerous.

"I hate this car," Sam says. Dean glances at him, frowning, and Sam shrugs. "It's too small. No legroom."

"You've got crappy taste," Dean says. "We've been over this."

"Yeah, so, we've got a better option," Sam says. Dean sighs. Sam licks his lips and takes a deep breath. If they're going to keep together, if they're going to do this, there's no better time to start than now. "The demons won't be a problem. If that's what you're worried about."

Dean's hands tighten on the steering wheel. "You know that," Dean says. He glances over the center console again. "For sure. You know that for sure?"

Sam nods and Dean looks out again at the highway. "Let me help get it back," Sam says, soft. "I don't want to go home without it."

Dean bites his lip. "Without her," he says, after a minute. He sits back in the uncomfortable bucket seat, settling in for the drive. "She's a lady, Sam. Get it right."

*

Sam wakes up around the time they cross the Nebraska-Kansas border. He pushes upright with a start, has to wipe his mouth of drool.

"Hey there, Sleeping Beauty," Dean says. His voice is gravel, but he smiles at Sam anyway. His eyes are golden-green in the afternoon light, no hint of dark at all. "Thought I was going to have to get out a marching band to wake you up."

The Impala's rolling smooth down the highway between the soybean fields on either side. Sam slouches down on the bench again. For an instant, he'd worried the whole thing had been a dream.

It wasn't hard. That's the thing that still gets him. It wasn't hard, not at all. Dean had piloted them to some podunk nowhere in the middle of North Dakota and underneath midnight Sam had reached out and found the demons lounging around the car—guarding it or holding it hostage, Sam wasn't sure—and with the faintest impulse he'd wanted them to go and they were gone. When they pulled up to the garage where it had been moved the whole place was empty, just a lingering stink of sulfur to indicate that the enemy had been there at all, and Dean had hustled them both out of the stolen POS and into their car and back out onto the waiting highway so fast they didn't have time to discuss it. He wishes he hadn't fallen asleep. Two days without and everything that happened and the Impala's familiar rumble and the long-ingrained dent where he's been sitting half his life—he didn't have much of a choice. He shifts and spreads his legs, stretching, and it's not exactly subtle when his knee touches Dean's. Dean doesn't move away and Sam folds his arms over his chest, focuses on breathing. It's a bright, clear day.

The bunker's dark, when they open the door. Dean pauses, at the top of the stairs. Takes a deep breath. "You better not have screwed with my room while I was gone," he says, after a few seconds.

Sam throws the big switches, turns on all the lights. "Threw out your mattress," he says. "Replaced it with a decent one."

"Liar," Dean says. He comes down the steps, slowly, his hand heavy on the rail. "Bitch, you love the memory foam."

His eyes are serious, steady. God, he's here. He's here, when Sam had battered his heart against the walls for two months trying anything, anything, half convinced Dean would be dead or lost to him by the time he caught up. He says, "Dean," with his voice frayed, and then Dean's dragging him in, hugging him, finally. Sam drops his bags, heedless of the crack when some glass jar breaks, lets Dean pull him down and buries his face in Dean's shoulder.

Dean's arms are tight over his shoulders, his hand broad and warm and familiar cupped over the back of Sam's neck, sliding up into his hair. Sam pulls him in closer. The steady rise of his back as he breathes, the smell of him. "Hey," Dean says, soft against Sam's ear, and Sam shudders, the muscles along his back rippling with just the shock of—Dean, Dean here, finally home. He mutters god into Dean's shoulder and lifts his head and Dean's looking up at him, two inches away. Sam takes a chance: he leans in and kisses Dean, just once, a soft careful press with no demand for more.

Dean takes a short sharp breath, his hand tightening in Sam's hair.

"I'm not—" Sam starts, pulling back again. "I just—"

Dean licks his lips. "We should probably talk," he says, low. He slides his other hand to Sam's hip, though, curling in, and when Sam steps back Dean just moves with him, staying close until Sam's pressed against the wall, the stone hard on his back and Dean warm all along his front. Sam takes a deep, shaky breath. Drags his fingers down the stubble on Dean's jaw, brushing his thumb over the soft shining plump of his bottom lip. Dean's eyes are going dark, now, his pupils spreading, and Sam can hardly believe it. Heat pools in his stomach. He drops his other hand to the small of Dean's back, presses him close, and all that warm denim pushes right up against Sam so that he drops his head back against the wall, squeezing his eyes shut. God, it's been—so long, so long, and he thought—

"Maybe we'll talk later," Dean says, breathless, and Sam nods, and then Dean drags his head down and they're kissing, again, and it's such pure relief that Sam groans aloud into Dean's mouth, tasting him sour and soft and everything that Sam's been missing.

Their hands fumble together and their teeth clash, awkward. Sam doesn't care. Dean's overshirt is thrown to the floor and Dean scratches Sam's stomach when he insistently shoves both of Sam's shirts up. A stitch pops when Sam finally wrestles them off over his head, but that doesn't matter because Dean's hands are sliding up his chest, his teeth dragging over Sam's collarbone, and Sam groans and gets his hands on Dean's ass and starts walking them backwards, their boots knocking together and his knee between Dean's thighs. They crash into the war table and almost fall over, but Dean wriggles up to sit and spread his knees around Sam's hips and drag him in close, and shit is Sam hard, already, his dick full and desperate, pushing forward into all that welcome hot pressure. Dean groans and digs his nails into Sam's back and kisses him filthy like they're already fucking, and Sam has to hold on tight to Dean's neck, to his thigh pressed up close around Sam's hip, just to keep a grip on some kind of reality.

It's been so long—not just the two months of awful absence but also the terrible, terrible months before it, both of them circling each other with raw wounds, betrayal and distrust keeping them at arm's length. What a waste. They fucked once, just before Dean killed Abaddon. Just drunk enough to do it but not enough to make it not miserable. Afterward Dean had pushed Sam off and rolled to the edge of the bed and buried his head in his hands, and then he got up and left. They didn't say a word about it, just let the hurt fester deeper, and then Dean went after Metatron alone, and then—

Dean bites Sam's bottom lip and then sucks it in, his mouth plush, and Sam's hips lurch forward, grinding into Dean's heat. "Fuck, Sammy," Dean breathes, lips moving against Sam's. He's holding onto Sam's waist now, his grip tight.

Sam pulls back, has to look—and god, Dean's mouth red and wet, his cheeks flushed and his eyes heavy-dark, and he's looking at Sam like—Sam gets his hands on Dean's face and holds him close and kisses him again, deep and knocking Dean's mouth wide, licks in and bites and then breathes into his mouth and says with their foreheads leaned together, his nose brushing Dean's, "Can I—Dean, can I—" and Dean shakes his head, clutches at Sam's side, whispers rough and low: "Don't, Sammy—don't ask, okay, please don't ask, just—"

He gets Dean's belt open, turns him around, shoves his jeans and briefs down to his knees. Dean leans over with his hands planted on the war table, breathing like he's coming off a sprint. Sam spits onto his fingers and rubs wet between Dean's cheeks where he's blood-hot and giving, his other hand flat on the low of Dean's back over his t-shirt, and spits again and pushes in two fingers at once, forcing past the resistance. Dean grunts like he's been punched but his hips arch back, his head hanging between his popped-up shoulders, his legs spread as wide as he can with his jeans around his knees. He's so hot inside, tight, and the spit's not nearly slippery enough but Sam fucks his fingers in and out anyway, spreads the wet as much as he can. Dean moans abrupt and loud, flinching back into it, and then Sam can't wait anymore—he tugs his fingers out of the tight clinging pressure and yanks his belt open, tears open his fly, and Dean's panting and rigid and waiting and he says, "Come on," barely voiced down at the table. Sam spits again and smears his hand over his dick, but he can't wait and Dean doesn't want him to and he hooks his hand over the turn of Dean's hip and finds Dean's hole and thumbs himself inside, and Dean groans and pushes back, helps, and in one threatening slide Sam's seated back home, pressed as close as he can get into all that incredible constricting heat, and he drops his forehead to Dean's shuddering back and just holds for a second, just breathes, tries to make sure his heart doesn't stop.

"Jesus that's big, you freakin' overachiever," Dean mutters, his voice shaking. Sam huffs. One of Dean's hands comes up and grasps Sam's hip through his jeans, and Sam has to grit his teeth when Dean clutches around him, inside. It's amazing that he doesn't come right then. He has to move, then, he has to, and he rocks in and out just a few inches and Dean moans again, an edge of pain to it, but he pushes back too, he shudders fly-stung and arches his hips, and so Sam does it again, and again, and Dean crumples down to his elbow and he drags his hand up to brace on the lip of the table and then Sam's fucking him, for real, shoving in tight and almost-painful, grinding where Dean needs it.

It's not wet enough. It's all friction, and pressure, and it feels so good Sam's lungs are going to collapse. Dean's barely loosening up around him but he's rocking back, he's helping. Sam pushes his hands up Dean's back, rucks up his t-shirt and smears sweat up the beautiful thick muscle over his spine, and Dean shifts, pushes up and fucks his hips back and says, "Sam," over his shoulder, deep and demanding, and Sam leans forward and kisses the side of his mouth he can reach, sloppy and off-center while he grinds in and in, while Dean clings to him down-deep. Dean licks over his lip and bites it and breathes against Sam's chin, groans low and tight in his chest, and then he nudges at Sam's cheek with his nose and whispers come on, do it—and Sam's hips lurch harder into him just at that, his balls tightening, and he shoves his fingers into Dean's mouth and lets Dean lick them wet and then reaches down between them and rubs around where his dick is breaking Dean open, makes the slide just a little easier, and then he stands up straight and pushes Dean chest-down to the table and fucks in, because Dean's letting him, Dean wants him to, because Dean's hips arch back and his ass tilts up and he lets out jolted moans every time Sam pushes in, face buried in his folded arms.

Sam leans into the hand he has planted between Dean's shoulder blades and rocks in hard, just a precious few inches where Dean's holding him tighter and hotter than a fist. It's surging up, he can feel himself swelling, and this is—fuck, it's going to be fast, and he wants—he grabs Dean by the ribcage, his grip slipping through the t-shirt, and hauls him upright so he sinks back onto Sam's dick with a startled fuck. Sam grabs him rough by the jaw and kisses him again, gets his tongue in his mouth, and Dean groans into it but kisses back, or tries to at least with Sam's hips still working, churning in deep and tight, and Dean ripples around him and then Sam comes, lurching in and holding hard with his breath coming fast and sharp. Sam leans his forehead into Dean's temple, breathes his sweat, unloads in spasms so deep his legs feel like they might give out. Dean wraps his hands around Sam's clutching forearm, squeezes tight. Fuck, it's been so long.

He slides his hand down Dean's throat, down his heaving chest, slips his fingers into the barely-there trail of hair and finds Dean's dick heavy and full, straining, and Dean sucks in a strangled breath, clutches again around Sam where he's barely softened at all. Jesus, that feels good, even if it's too much. Sam slides back, slow, pushes in again on his own slick mess, and again, the ride finally smooth. Dean leans his head back against Sam's shoulder, groans choked and low when Sam squeezes his dick and turns his face in against Sam's, breathes into Sam's jaw, and then Sam pulls back all the way, wincing with Dean when he's finally out, and then he turns Dean around to lean against the table and drops to his knees and sucks Dean's dick down to the base. He slips his thumb into the hot throbbing wet between Dean's legs and listens to him groan shocked out loud, and works his tongue, sucks hard and demanding and Dean's holds his head, his hips pushing back and forth between Sam's mouth and the deep pressure Sam's slipping inside. He comes so fast that Sam chokes, but he swallows it down. All that bitter familiar bleachy salt, with his mouth working soft and tender until Dean's thigh quivers under Sam's hand and he whispers god, Sammy, oversensitive and trying to pull Sam off.

Sam slides up Dean's body and wraps his arms around Dean's waist. Dean blinks at him, eyes wet and dark, and then surges up and kisses Sam until his lips are tingling-sore, Dean holding onto him so tight there'll be bruises. He touches the damp at the corner of Dean's eye, slides back to rub comfortingly under Dean's ear. It's bright down here, brighter than it was when Sam was just using the library lamps. The air's cool on Sam's bare shoulders. Dean's breath is steadying, slowly, and he finally slides away from Sam's mouth, kisses his jaw and then drops his forehead down to Sam's shoulder, his arm still curled around Sam's neck. His dick pushes soft and wet against Sam's thigh, their bodies close, sweat springing up between them. Sam closes his eyes. It's looking like they might stay here awhile. That's perfectly all right with him.