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Sam’d had the ‘if you ever want to talk’ talk with Dean the first night Dean had gotten himself back for good, over the whiskey Dean kept on the top shelf in the kitchen, which Dean privately called the not-dead-yet whiskey.

“Thanks,” Dean had said, instead of the self-protective (yet reassuring, in a fucked-up Winchester way) insults he’d have offered years back. But he hadn’t followed up. It hadn’t seemed useful, or needed; Sam had smiled at him and finished his drink. Dean had gone to bed soon after. He thought maybe half the trauma of being an angel’s hand puppet was how they didn’t need to sleep, but the ridealong human soul still wanted it. It’d been a different kind of unreality than being in Hell, but with actual living people being torn apart.

Feeling someone’s blood on your hands, blinking it out of your eyes—that wasn’t relaxing either.

Lack of sleep, though, he could fix.

Days passed. Dean was fine. Sure, he’d unleashed a genocidal archangel on this world, but they’d gotten the better of him in the end, with hardly more than a few percent increase in Dean’s lifetime body count. He was fine.

He cleaned all the rooms that had been occupied by the other world’s hunters before they moved out (and, fuck, hunters were slobs, probably made worse by the whole apocalypse not-really-worth-cleaning-up-after-ourselves thing, but they could’ve stripped the beds at least). The Bunker’s magical systems were mostly self-repairing, but there was always room for improvement, so he installed a deluxe showerhead in the bathroom near their rooms, half a foot higher than standard so Sam wouldn’t have to duck, programmable so you could start out with pounding and move to pulsing and finally to gentle, if that was the kind of thing you were into.

He made and froze a week’s worth of dinners, for when they wouldn’t have time for cooking, because Sam wasn’t going to keep assigning every hunt he came across to someone else forever. If nothing else, Dean would kick his ass if he tried that for much longer. Dean could definitely do a ghost. Salt and burn, clean and simple. Dust and ashes, no blood, ideally no living people at all, just research and digging and staring into the flame: that sounded good.

He detailed the Impala, and made sure the rest of the vehicles in the Batcave were running, which took a couple of days. Mostly he managed to be so tired that he didn’t remember his dreams. Somewhere in there, Ketch came back. Dean didn’t remember inviting him to stay (though in fairness he’d missed a lot in the past few months and for all he knew Sam had extended special permission; Sam was very much into proving that he could turn the other cheek). One more person to feed—a person who liked steak, not just rabbit food—wasn’t too bad, and Ketch, unlike the hunters, cleaned up after himself.

For lack of anything better to do, he was at the shooting range, making sure he could still bullseye at 100 feet, when Ketch found him. Dean didn’t let his shoulders tighten, just finished his clip before he turned. Ketch was maybe six feet away, looking at him expectantly.

“What do you want?”

Ketch’s lips twitched. “Charming, as always. I don’t know who’s been neglecting you, Dean Winchester, and it’s a matter of academic interest to me at this point. You saved my life, in that other world. I’d very much like to give something back.”

“Yeah? What would I even need from you?” Dean didn’t like the reference to neglect, and he shouldn’t have even been having this conversation. Ketch was at least as irritating as Crowley, and had probably come closer to killing him and Sam.

“Perhaps a fuck.” Dean couldn’t stop his mouth from dropping open at that, those raw words in Ketch’s proper English accent. “My personal preference would be nice and hard, after I’ve marked up your backside, so you really feel it. I’d like to think you’d benefit as well.”

“How are you not dead?” Dean asked as soon as he regained his voice, because it was the first sentence that came to him.

Ketch shrugged. “I read people quite well. If it doesn’t appeal, you need only say the word. I’d be open to other alternatives, although I do usually prefer to give rather than to receive.”

Dean put the gun down—didn’t slam it, because he respected his weapons no matter what. He turned and started to walk out, giving Ketch a wide berth. And yeah, he was walking more stiffly than usual, having to remember to order his legs to work, keeping Ketch in his peripheral vision.

He stopped in the doorway, which Ketch had left open. “You coming?” he asked over his shoulder, and didn’t wait to see Ketch’s smug smile.

He had zero clue what he would’ve said to Sam had they passed in the hallways, but Sam was hard at work re-shelving and re-cataloging from the waves of chaos they’d brought to the Bunker’s books in various crises.

In his room, he waited without turning until Ketch had closed the door behind himself.

“Take off your clothes, fold them, and leave them on the chair.”

“What, no negotiation?”

He didn’t have to turn to know that Ketch was raising a sardonic eyebrow. “Unlike you Americans, I have no desire to engage in pointless debates. I know what I’m doing.”

If this had been a stranger, Dean would’ve punched him out. Not because he personally couldn’t take it, obviously, but because letting assholes like that run around was going to get somebody badly hurt. But he had to admit, Ketch had seen enough of him to know what Dean was, and if he could figure out that Dean needed this … Well, he’d had plenty of opportunities to do worse to Dean by now.

Ketch’s small pleased noise when Dean began to strip started something humming low in Dean’s belly.

The heated silence wound him up quickly; he was all the way hard by the time he was naked. “Knees on the bed, hands on the headboard,” Ketch said as soon as his shirt hit the chair (and yes, he’d folded it). Dean knew that there was nothing quite as ridiculous as a hard-on bouncing around, so he appreciated that he didn’t have to turn in Ketch’s direction to comply.

Dean involuntarily grunted a protest when Ketch wrapped something around his wrist—Christ, it was one of his ties.

Ketch tutted. “I don’t want you worrying about hanging on. I don’t want you thinking about anything except where the next hit is going to come.”

Dean blinked down at the pillow, then swallowed. As his mouth opened to say something about messing with his wardrobe, Ketch’s hand came down hard on his ass. “These ties aren’t fit for a real local detective, and that’s for thinking you could tell me otherwise.”

His jaw clicked shut. Also, he was struggling not to fuck the air, or do something else to get relief, even before Ketch finished securing his other wrist to the metal strut supporting the shelf he’d installed above his headboard.

Give him credit, Ketch’s arrogance wasn’t based on nothing. He started with his hands, but not gentle, aiming so that Dean felt a short sharp shock of pain right after the hit, laying one stroke on the next. And after a minute he talked, which Dean usually hated (and not just from Ketch). But Ketch wasn’t saying shit about how pretty/slutty/whorish Dean was. Instead, he was practically cooing: talking about how Dean was doing so well. Good boy, he said. Good soldier.

It did something to Dean’s brain, made the air go slow and syrupy. This wasn’t—God, he was going to come so hard he’d be lucky if he didn’t stroke out. But he didn’t—this couldn’t be how it went. This wasn’t supposed to be how it went.

Ketch wasn’t smacking him any more, just stroking his flanks, and probably had been shushing him for a while before Dean noticed. When Ketch felt Dean come back enough, he stopped and squeezed Dean’s hip. His voice was gentle, but Dean could hear the steel underneath: “I need you to be strong for me now, Dean. I need you to show me what you can take.”

It could’ve been five seconds or five minutes before Dean figured out he needed to nod.

After that, Ketch used his belt, or somebody’s belt anyway. Good boy, he said, and Dean trembled with the need to prove it. Each stripe was like a burning ember against his skin.

Michael’s contempt had been infinite, for humanity in general and Dean in particular, for Dean’s surrender, Dean’s human belief that he could negotiate with angels. Dean hadn’t wanted to believe Michael’s sneering superiority—after all, once he’d rifled through Dean’s memories for information about Jo, he’d taken to rummaging through them more generally for tips on how to behave for greater credibility with the monsters, which proved Dean knew things he hadn’t. But it was hard to hang on to his self-respect when he was locked up in a corner of his own mind, under the all-seeing eye of the guy he’d handed the keys to. Ketch had him tied up, but Dean was so much more in control now than he’d been, and Ketch kept talking, like he knew how much Dean needed to hear that he was doing well.

His ass and the backs of his thighs were singing with purely physical pain, and the strain in his shoulders was just on the edge of lasting damage, when Ketch stopped. After a moment, Dean felt a wet finger trace one of the stripes on his ass, making him hiss. “Very good. Now spread your knees and lift up for me.”

If all his blood hadn’t been south of his waist, it would have made him blush, realizing how he was offering himself. He wobbled a little as he complied, one knee shifting out and then the other, almost unbalanced. Ketch’s fingers breaching him were a cool shock, stinging but welcome.

Ketch’s voice was unsteady, and that felt amazing too: “You saved the world, Dean Winchester. More than once, and perhaps more than one, with Michael gone from that other place. You were, and are, magnificent. Don’t forget that.” Then his free hand came up under Dean’s arm and around, gripping Dean’s throat and jaw to hold him in place as Ketch replaced his fingers with the head of his cock.

It’d been a long time. Dean breathed into the stretch and burn, against the not-quite-squeezing of Ketch’s fingers at his neck. It wasn’t smooth; Ketch moved in sharp little jerks, an inch at most each time, sending electric shocks up through Dean’s belly. Ketch’s other hand clenched Dean’s hip, just hard enough to be reassuring. Ketch hadn’t even undressed, Dean realized; the slick cotton of his shirt brushed against Dean’s chest, hard little buttons at the wrist pressing into his skin, and Ketch’s slacks rubbed against the raw places on the backs of Dean’s thighs, setting off secondary explosions of pleasure-pain.

Ketch settled his weight on Dean, letting him hold them both up. Letting Dean be strong enough to do that, even caught as he was, cantilevered like a bridge. Ketch pressed against his back, conforming to the line of Dean’s body even as he fucked his hips forward, driving them both. Ketch wasn’t talking now, just grunting with pleasure, and it was a little extra flattery to have shut him up. Dean felt every inch of him, hot and solid, pushing and tugging and demanding all Dean’s attention.

As Ketch’s thrusts sped up, he released Dean’s hip and took Dean’s cock in his hot, clever fingers. The skin was rough with calluses, his grip just shy of too loose, making Dean work for it, setting up a counter-rhythm that made Dean half-crazed with its irregularity.

Dean’s orgasm hit him like a high tide, heavier than he’d expected, grabbing him and pulling him under. He didn’t even have time to start feeling oversensitized before Ketch bit out some unintelligible Britishism and came, somehow managing to rest even more of his weight on Dean in the aftermath.

They were panting, syncopated in the otherwise quiet room, when the door opened and Sam said, in the voice he used when he was looking at something he was reading, “Dean—”

Then a crash as whatever heavy reference book Sam had been consulting hit the floor; Dean was already twisting to get out from under Ketch but Sam was faster, ripping Ketch off, screaming with rage—Dean yelled for Sam to stop, but the wet thuds of fists on flesh told him that Sam was not taking calls right now. Dean didn’t have time to pull apart the knots on the ties, so he shuffled forwards until his knees were braced against the headboard. The struts he was tied to were far enough apart that he couldn’t actually reach them, stretched between them in a way that had been a lot sexier a minute ago. He wrapped his hands around the pulled-taut ties and yanked so hard he tore something in his left shoulder, the one that had already been acting hinky.

There was a terrific crash as the bolts parted from the wall and the shelf and its associated weaponry came down on his outstretched arms. Before he could even notice, he was up and pushing the two of them apart with the ties and one still-entangled strut dangling from his wrists. He managed to force Sam back by putting his body between them, one hand on Sam’s chest and the other keeping Ketch pinned against the wall so that he wouldn’t trigger Sam’s instincts by trying to run. Ketch’s mouth was bleeding, one eye was full of blood, and there was a cut on his temple, but he pretty obviously hadn’t been fighting back and Sam hadn’t yet beaten him to death so maybe it would be okay.

Dean had seen a lot of Sam’s anger and a lot of Sam’s crazy, but never combined like this. Sam looked at him with incomprehension for a second. Sam wasn’t seeing him, Dean, but some combination of past atrocities, whether Sam’s own or what he must have guessed at for Dean. “Sammy,” he said, forcing some calm into his voice. “It’s okay. It’s okay.” He felt Ketch’s chest hitch under his hand, probably in amusement, but he couldn’t spare the attention to think about that.

Sam blinked, the killing haze leaving his eyes—replaced by acute embarrassment as they widened with comprehension. “Oh, God.”

Dean felt his own mouth twitch, because they were so far past TMI and humiliation that it had to be funny, now that no one was literally about to die. “So, uh, you think you can hang on while I get dressed?”

Sam nodded mutely, which was further proof that he was freaked the fuck out. Turned out that shutting Sam up only required giving him an eyeful of Dean’s more exotic preferences. Dean wasn’t going to say it was worth it, but he managed a grin for Sam anyway.

Ketch went into the hall before Sam did, which was probably wise—Dean had no idea what to say to him anyway, and Sam was unlikely to be comfortable leaving the two of them alone, consensual sex or no.

Sam didn’t close the door all the way, and Dean didn’t move to shut it. He focused on the ties, now truly good and ruined, and the knots now so tight that cutting them off was the only option.

He went to get the scissors from the desk at the side of the room. Dean could still hear them, which one or both of them maybe intended. “May I say a few words about your brother?” Ketch sounded almost amused, though by now Dean could hear the effort he was putting into it.

“You don’t know anything about Dean.”

“I don’t know your brother as well as you, to be sure.” He could hear the smirk in Ketch’s voice. Dean had sounded the same, defending his love-‘em-and-leave-‘em ways, which was an uncomfortable thought that he wasn’t going to poke at any further right now. Ketch kept talking: “But as I keep reminding you, I am good at what I do. You’ve already been so careless, broken so many things. Don’t add to the list by shaming him.”

Then there was only the faint noise of Ketch’s feet disappearing down the hallway.

Dean finished sawing the ties off, which was just as awkward as it sounded, and hotfooted it back into his shorts, because he knew what came next.

Sam knocked on Dean’s door, for all the good that would do. Dean straightened his shoulders, which stung and pulled at various parts of him, and grabbed the dead guy robe for good measure. Sam didn’t look directly at Dean when he came in; his gaze couldn’t settle, swinging away from the bed and then back.

Sam cleared his throat. “I thought—”

Dean looked at him and saw what he meant: Toni Bevell had touched him like that. And he’d let Ketch, let him—

“No, Dean,” Sam said, because Sam was as fluent in Dean as the reverse. “If it wasn’t like that—one’s got nothing to do with the other.” And Sam believed it. But then again what Sam believed and what was true, especially when it came to what was okay for Sam to suffer, were often two very different things.

“But,” Sam said, because of course they couldn’t just let this slide, despite the fact that Ketch might have been the hundredth of Dean’s one-night stands that Sam had met in the aftermath—oh, who was he kidding? Ketch was here in the bunker, like no casual fuck ever, and also: “I just. I didn’t know you—”

Dean sighed and scrubbed the heels of his hands into his eyes, already tired. “Okay. You got five minutes. Ask whatever, and then we aren’t gonna talk about this.” He’d learned to compromise with Sam, plus the deal he’d offered was a lot better than he’d get if he outright refused to talk, given Sam’s habit of pestering.

“Oh,” Sam said, eyebrows raising in surprise, which would’ve been insulting if Dean didn’t have the same reaction to Sam breaking a pattern. “Um. Okay. So, you, you like this? I mean, obviously you like it. But, uh. Why—what does it do for you?”

“Which part?” Dean wasn’t trying to be obtuse, no matter what Sam’s expression said. He sighed again. He was too fucking old to feel this embarrassed. “Sometimes I like dick. A lot of the time, it’s easier to get, and less work for me once I got it.”

Sam huffed in exasperation and reached out to swing Dean’s desk chair around so that he could sit facing Dean. “I couldn’t possibly care less about that. And, I mean, I’ve been pretty sure about you screwing anyone that’ll have you for years. But. He beat you, Dean. Is that—do you like that because of Hell? Have you always—he used a belt.”

Dean closed his eyes. He could get through this conversation, but not looking at Sammy. Dad had used one, too, when he thought Dean’d earned it, but Dean didn’t think Sam had paid much attention to that at the time—Dad hadn’t ever done it in front of Sam and Dean had always been too ashamed to let on. Sam was probably just talking about the amount of physical damage. “’s not—that part doesn’t matter. It’s about—” He stopped and took a couple of deep breaths. “It’s about being ….” Then, before he could lose his courage, lower but still distinct. “Good.”

Sam’s sharp intake of breath told Dean that he’d heard perfectly. Sam’s silence didn’t seem disgusted.

He’d never have put it that way before tonight, but Ketch had reached in and turned that switch as if it’d been labeled. It was shameful because he knew that desire couldn’t be fulfilled, not really, not after all he’d done and all the ways he’d broken. But he could pretend, with someone who wanted him the right way.

“You broke the wall,” Sam said, almost impressed, and fuck yeah he’d broken the wall; better that than breaking one of them, even Ketch, though that shelf was going to be a bitch to fix. “Oh God, Dean, your wrists—”

Oh yeah, there were friction burns, not even noticeable among all the other emergency signals from the rest of him. He brought his hands down so they were covered by the robe’s sleeves, ridiculously embarrassed now, even after everything else he’d exposed. “’s no big deal,” he said, not that he was going to ask Cas to heal him, though Jack was going to have a million awkward questions.

“Let me at least—” Sam said, and was up and at him instead of finishing, catching Dean’s left wrist in his own massive paws, turning the sleeve up to inspect it. There was very little blood; mostly it was just more welts where the ties had bitten deep. There was even a hint of a diamond pattern from the fabric indented on his left wrist. When Dean darted a look at Sam, Sam was watching him with concern and not a little guilt, which meant he’d noticed Dean favoring his shoulder, too.

And when Dean hunched in on himself in response, it just hurt more. Rather than face the full gale force of Sam’s puppy-dog eyes, he let Sam take him into the bathroom, where he had the supplies to clean the scrapes and cover them with bandages. Sam’s focus on Dean’s injuries was laser-like, right up until the end.

“You know,” he said, hanging on to Dean’s right wrist so that Dean couldn’t go anywhere without a real struggle, “of all my regrets, and there are a lot, one of the biggest is that I thought that I could be stronger than you, when I could only ever be angrier.”

“Sam,” Dean said warningly, resolutely staring at the tile wall off to the side.

“No, Dean,” Sam said, and he didn’t sound guilt-wracked, or scared, or self-deprecating. In some ways his quiet confidence was scarier than any of those, because it was a call to Dean to man up and match his courage. “We both made mistakes. But you’re still the best man I know. Even with your questionable taste in men. And music. And food—”

Like that, they were grinning at each other, high as if they’d just finished an easy salt and burn back when that was an accomplishment. “If ‘gas guzzlers’ comes out of your mouth next, I’mma kick your ass,” Dean warned.

Sam just lifted an eyebrow, letting Dean take the ‘you said it, not me’ as understood. Dean ducked his head. “Back at you,” he said, and then hightailed it back to his room before Sam could work out whether Dean meant the best man thing, or the questionable taste in men thing. Dean would be walking carefully for a few days, but he could still move fast if he needed to.

He could barely feel Ketch’s presence in the bunker. If the man had any sense, which had yet to be determined, he’d make himself scarce for a few days, until Sam could look at him without a shame spiral. Ketch had seemed to understand that this wasn’t a thing. If he didn’t, he would soon, and that wasn’t a problem for tonight.

Even the sight of his bed now covered with the remains of the shelf and its assorted weapons couldn’t dim Dean’s good mood. Weird as it was to have Sam know this secret, he couldn’t regret it. Too bad about Ketch’s face and all, but knowing that Sam would straight-up, bare-hands murder anyone he thought was hurting Dean was a lot more comforting to Dean than it probably should be.

They weren’t good men, not exactly. Together, though, they could be good enough.