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In Arcadia Ego

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Sam swallowed hard. His throat ached and his mouth was dusty dry, flavored with blood, lips cracked and painful. He wondered what time it was. It looked close to sunset by the bright blues and golds in the sky, the heavy streaks of color he could see through the trees. The effort to turn his head to try and check his watch was too much. Besides, if the wrist wasn’t there, he didn’t want to know. He thought it probably was, though. It had been morning when the explosion tore into him, and he had drifted awake a few times while the sun was still high overhead. A missing limb would have caused him to bleed out hours ago.

Probably.

He lay on the cold, broken stone and distracted himself from dwelling on how thirsty he was by wondering where his dad was, and what he would think when he heard what happened. If he heard what happened. Hunters liked his dad. His father had always been a hard-drinking, humorless son of a bitch as far as he could tell, but hunters thought he was a hero. They wouldn’t want to tell him what happened to his son. Better to let him think that Sam had just vanished.

Sam snorted weakly at the thought. They would do better to just fess up. His dad might not take his calls or want him around, but he knew a damn sight more about what was going on than anyone else did, Sam was dead certain of that. John Winchester wasn’t going to buy any crap-story about Sam vanishing without a trace, and he would settle the score with anyone who had a hand in the mess.

But that wasn’t helpful now. If he was going to be saved, it wasn’t his father who was going to do it. Sam closed his eyes and let the cool mountain air slide over him, waiting for the end.

Or a beginning.

 

“Just give me the girl!” Sam kept his back to the wall, trying to project authority in his demands while fighting down panic. He knew there were at least two vampires in the room with him, one of whom had a knife to the throat of the woman whose picture he had in his back pocket. Her husband’s frantic, dark eyes burned in Sam’s memory as he shifted, trying to track the presence of the others by sounds from dark corners.

Before one of them had killed the lights, there had only been the two. God knew how many there were now. The only one Sam was certain of was the one standing in front of him holding the hostage, a mocking expression on his face and no waver at all in the hand that held the blade. Sam kept his shotgun trained slightly off to the side and the flashlight firmly focused.

“'The girl'?” The vampire cocked his head, considering. “This girl? Are you sure this is the one you want?”

“Let me have her, and we can all walk away,” Sam said tightly.

A bass voice rumbled from the shadows to his right. Fuck. He hadn’t thought anyone was over there. “Not all of us; seems you’ve already done for a fair number.”

“And why this girl?” The voice was a woman’s this time, and amused, drifting from the left. “Why not one of the other dozen or so locked up downstairs?”

The heavy, acrid odor of smoke and gasoline still stung Sam’s nose from torching the larger structure -- after boarding up most of the vampires inside. There wasn’t time for this conversation. Even with a location this remote, someone had to have reported the fire by now. It was too big of a blaze. A clock was counting down in the back of his mind, but the vampires confronting him seemed entirely unconcerned with the situation. Sam had assumed at least a couple of the monsters would be guarding the captives. Vampires were notoriously lethargic when the sun was up and he'd thought he would be able to do a better job sneaking up on them. This bunch, unfortunately, seemed wide-awake. Sam doubted he would make any headway trying to explain why he barbecued their friends, so he ignored the accusation and focused on the woman’s comment.

“Them too," Sam insisted. "All of the humans.”

“Now wait a minute," objected the male who had spoken first, "I thought I just had to give you this girl -- now you want them all? That’s getting a little greedy, don’t you think?”

Sam felt his frustration soar to new heights. “I want all of the girls, and anyone else you have. Bring them here and I’ll let you go -- now!”

The female laughed. “Let us go? There’s three of us and one of you, honey. And I’ll bet cash prizes that you don’t even know what we are. Gotta love hunters, all balls and no brains. You are a hunter, right? The shotgun and bravado are suggestive, but I suppose you could just be a hick.”

“You’re vampires,” Sam hissed. “I know everything about you I need to.”

“Sounds like 'yes,'” the vampire holding the woman commented dryly. “You sound awfully confident about your knowledge. But what happens when what you don’t know comes back to bite you in the ass?

“For instance,” he continued, pulling the captive up tighter against himself until she gasped in pain, “I bet you had no idea we were keen bargainers.”

“Bargainers?” Sam wasn't sure he liked where the conversation was heading.

“Sure," the male gave a careless half-shrug, "it seems we have you outnumbered, and significantly outgunned -- just with our sheer natural awesomeness. We could add you to the menu easily enough, but it would probably be annoying and someone might get hurt. I don’t see why we can’t all just be reasonable people and come to some agreement instead.”

“What agreement?” Sam asked warily.

“You for them.” The man smiled, showing a full set of gleaming white teeth -- all human enough for the moment, but the threat was obvious. “You hunters like to pride yourselves that you’re saving people from us monsters; time to put up, or shut up. These people are all alive and mostly unharmed; they can walk out of here, go back to their regularly scheduled lives. But only if you make it worth my while.”

“Or maybe I just hold this gun on you until the cops show up," Sam countered. "Cops, firefighters, spectators -- that would put an end to any of your bargaining, wouldn’t it?”

“You think I’m afraid of that gun?” the vampire scoffed. “How long do you think it would take us to take you out and kill everyone alive in this building? Three minutes? Five? You’ve irritated me enough that I’m just about willing to do it out of spite.”

A shuffle in the shadows to his left reminded Sam that he was only still standing there because they were letting him do so.

Sam grimaced. He was without backup, and seriously outnumbered. He could probably extract himself from the situation --maybe-- but that left the others alive in the hands of vampires, to be tortured and transformed. Sam had found himself capable of living with a great deal more than he would have thought possible when he was a younger man, before Jessica and what happened at Stanford drove him back out onto the road, but he didn’t want to add these people to his burden of guilt. Not if he could save them.

“What kind of 'me for them' bargain did you have in mind?" Sam asked with reluctance.
 
“Just your blood. Whenever, and wherever, I want it. For as long as these people live. Unless you die first, of course,” the vampire added thoughtfully after a moment.

“I won’t let you make me a monster like you,” Sam said flatly, ice creeping up his spine at the idea of what was being proposed.

The creature facing him snorted derisively. “Why would I want to do that? I want you for fast food. It defeats the purpose of the entire exercise if I make you a vampire.” He grinned suddenly as something occurred to him. “You think I want you for information, for all those big, super secret hunter things you have in your head.”

Sam stiffened and heard a muttered, “Oh, please,” from the darkness to the right.

“I couldn’t care less about whatever the hell you all are up to,” the bargainer went on. “The only thing I want from you is what’s running in your veins.”

“What’s in his pants might be interesting too,” suggested the female casually.

Sam could see things going from bad to worse and cut in hastily. “You said blood. I let you feed on me, you let the captives go -- unharmed and human.”

“Sure.” Sam's least favorite vampire on the planet shrugged again, the movement of the knife causing the captive to whimper. “We’ll just put this one back with the rest, call the authorities, and you can lurk outside until the cops show up. See that they find themselves back into the proper hands and all. The police get to solve their missing persons case, you get to see that they’re safe, and I get a free meal whenever I call. Everyone goes home happy.”

“I just torched your nest; all of your friends are ashes -- why are you willing to do this?” Vampires weren’t common enough that Sam had encountered many of them in his career, but he had run into enough to know that anything beyond immediate gratification was unusual. But then, so was a kidnapping and gambling ring, so maybe it was just local flavor.

The leader smiled. “I never liked them much anyways.”

Sam expression hardened at the flippancy, but he nodded shortly and let the shotgun dip a fraction towards the floor.

“I want to be clear on how this works before we do anything rash now,” the vampire said, eyes locked onto Sam’s in the harsh glare of the flashlight. “It would make me unhappy to have to hunt down all these sweet people and rip their throats out because you were confused about our terms. And I do mean sweet. A full-grown hunter like you should know you can’t hide them from us, not now that we have their scents. It might take some time, but eventually...” He let the sentence hang there, implication clear.

Sam swallowed back a nasty retort. “Okay.”

“Good," the vampire said. "Now, you’re going to give me a phone number, and I’m going to give you a phone number. When I want you, I’ll call, and you show up. Immediately. You get a number, in case something happens to your phone and you need to give me a different way to reach you; otherwise, I don’t want to hear from you. I won’t transform you, and you won’t hunt me or any of my kind. Unless they are hunting you first, naturally -- it wouldn’t be sporting, otherwise.” 

“I can’t promise not to hunt any vampires unless you can promise me that they won’t kill any humans.” Sam nodded towards the woman standing still as death in the vampire’s grip. “Not even for their lives.”

A ripple of what might have been anger crossed the vampire’s face. “I’ll settle for you agreeing not to hunt any of my kind in retaliation for this particular… encounter.”

“Fine,” Sam agreed impatiently, “and you won’t make any other vampires as long as this lasts.”

The leader looked amused. “Agreed.” Then something colder flickered through his expression. “But it’s going to hurt.”

“What is?”

“The feeding. It’s going to be painful. Very painful.” The tone of anticipation in his voice was unmistakable. Sam’s skin crawled with uneasiness. “And I'll probably call on you fairly often. Maybe even every month -- at least until I get bored.”

Sam’s expression darkened, he opened his mouth to argue -- and his gaze shifted back to the captive, her long, blonde hair sliding over her face making it too easy to recall the thousand and one times he had watched Jess’ hair slide just like that. Sam killed the memory before the pain welled up and distracted him. Jessica was three years dead.

This woman, he could save.

“Fine.”

The vampire arched one eyebrow. “That easy?”

“I don't have time to fight with you. I have to make sure they’re still human before the cops get here,” Sam pointed out. “If they aren't, the deal's off. Put her with the others, then get lost. After that, I don’t want to see anyone around here unless they climb out of a police car or off a firetruck.”

“You’ll see me at least one more time for our little phone number exchange. And just to be perfectly plain -- you break this bargain, they die. And then you.”

Sam nodded shortly, and then backed out the door and into the next room, heading for the outside and its bright sunlight. He would wait until the three left before he went back in and finished the job.

Deal or no deal, he didn’t trust them.

“Oh, by the way,” the vampire’s voice floated after him with a mocking edge, “I’m Dean.”

~~~~~

A few minutes after Sam had stepped back onto the lawn, the vampire slipped out the door after him, watching with seeming impatience while Sam wrote his number on the back of a receipt. He silently handed Sam a folded piece of notebook paper, gave Sam a quick look the hunter couldn’t interpret, and then disappeared back into the depths of the house.

When Sam heard the sound of a car engine a few minutes later, he went back inside to check on the captives. They were shocky and terrified, but not seriously harmed. And, to his relief, all human. The woman the vampire had been holding was particularly hysterical; mumbling about psychos and lunatics, so Sam figured that anything she said to the police about vampires would be roundly discounted. The rest didn’t even seem to know that much about their captors. Sam told them the police were on their way, and then made his own exit. He stayed where he could observe from the woods, but left as soon as patrol cars pulled up in the yard.

 

There hadn’t been any conversation when the vampire called, just a tersely given address and then a hang up. Sam was left giving the phone in his hand an irritated look until the waitress trying to get his order tentatively asked if he needed any help.
 
Sam paced around the city for a few hours, trying to figure out anything that he could use to avoid the meeting that wouldn’t make the situation even worse. But the vampire had been pretty clear on the terms, and with an air of deep resignation Sam finally looked up the address.

When he showed up, his host, for lack of a better word, unlocked the door at his knock and pointed at the neatly made bed. The vampire’s attention was more on the cell phone glued to his ear than the hunter standing uneasily in the doorway. Sam finally entered, closed the door behind himself and sat in one of the plastic chairs at the tiny table.

If the vampire wanted him on the bed, he was going to have to explain why first.

The surreality of having shown up for an appointment to be bitten by a vampire seemed even more pronounced by the utter normalness of the surroundings. The motel room only differed from the one he was staying in across town by the paint on the walls, the color of the carpet, and the patterns of water damage on the ceiling.

After a long few minutes of Sam dwelling on increasingly bad thoughts about the direction of his life and Dean making vague, unhappy sounds into the phone, the vampire finally hung up and tossed the phone on top of an open duffle bag with a disgusted look.

“Problems?” Sam asked.

“None of your business," Dean said, then added, "Take off your shirt.”

Sam tightened his arms over his chest. “That’s a little fast. You don’t even know my name.”

The vampire leaned against the wall and eyed him. “I didn’t realize this was a date. I would have worn my new socks. I can compliment you on your shoes and go pick you some flowers -- how much hand-holding do you usually need? As for your name, Sam, surely you don't seriously think I haven't done my own homework?”

Sam scowled. “Why do I have to take my shirt off?”

“So we don’t get blood on it when I bite into your throat, but it’s your shirt.” Dean shrugged. “If you don’t mind, I sure as hell don’t.”

“Fine. It stays on then.” Sam hesitated. “Can’t you do this with my wrist?”

“I can; I’m not going to.”

“There isn’t anything sacred about my neck,” Sam gritted out.

“I agree, so stop being such a baby about it. You’ve agreed to meet up with a vampire and let him drink your blood; you’re honestly going to quibble about from where? Should I remind you what's at stake again?”

Put that way… Sam sighed. “People know where I am. I didn’t tell them anything else. But if I don’t show back up, I’ve made arrangements for that information to get out.”

“Duly noted; you want to get on the bed now?”

“What’s wrong with this chair?” Sam was starting to feel a distinct sense of attachment to the chair.

“Nothing, if you don’t mind me sitting on you. Though I have to say, it doesn’t really strike me as that sturdy of a piece of furniture. If you sit on the bed, I can kneel behind you. Be a whole lot better angle, which is mostly to your advantage.” The vampire's smile was a thin façade of friendliness. “Less poking around in your neck with my teeth looking for just the right spot.” He shrugged again. “But like I said before, you don’t want to take my advice -- you can learn from experience, like most idiots have to.”

Sam wasn't thrilled with the answer, but moved reluctantly over to the mattress, the springs protesting as he sat down. “Now what?”

“Now,” the vampire kicked off the shoes he was wearing and padded over to the bedside, “you do what I say, don’t fight me, and then you leave. It’s simple enough, even a hunter should be able to stay with the program.”

Sam ignored the dig and tensed as the mattress sank behind him, nervously clenching his fists in the rough fabric of the bedspread. He felt the vampire twist fingers in his hair and guide his head to the side until the line of his throat was clearly exposed.

“You doing okay?” Dean asked, sweeping an errant strand of hair away from Sam's neck.

“Yeah, peachy,” Sam managed.

“You might want to breathe then," Dean suggested, "you’ve been holding it since I got on the bed.”

Sam deliberately drew in a deep lungful and let it out through his nose. Focusing on his breathing was a welcome distraction from the vampire settling in behind him. It was strange to feel the press of another body against his back. Especially one that was obviously not female.

“Are you always this cold?” he asked, as another strong hand locked around his bicep, holding him in place while the vampire nuzzled against his throat.

“Only when I’m hungry,” the vampire muttered distractedly.

It was… uncomfortable, to be on a bed in a motel room with another person’s hands on him; the soft, short hair brushing against his ear, and softer lips on his throat. It had been a long time since his last lover, and though this entire affair was the furthest thing from passionate that Sam could imagine, his body seemed to have some confusion about the situation. He was opening his mouth to ask another question, anything to cut the tension he could feel starting to build, when the vampire gave a low chuckle, followed immediately by a bright, sharp sting in his throat. Sam jerked reflexively, but the vampire’s grip was unyielding. After an instant, he was able to force himself to relax into Dean’s hold, but then there was acid etching its way through his veins and he was struggling all over again despite himself.

Sam lost track of time after that, aware of nothing but waves of white fire sweeping through his body and the relentless grip that held him in place. He wanted to scream and fight, but managed barely to keep that much control over himself. He used images of the people he had rescued to help him endure, and after that, just the raw edges of his nerve and stubborn pride. Sam could taste blood in his mouth and didn’t even have energy to spare hoping he hadn’t bitten through his lip. Or his tongue. It seemed to go on for an eternity, and then it just stopped.

Sam fell forward, bent over his knees as if he'd lost the ability to sit upright. His ears buzzed and he was dimly aware of movement behind him. Forcing his eyes open he saw the red glow of the alarm clock. Less than ten minutes since he had entered the room. Ten minutes. The pain had stopped, but his body still ached. Nothing sounded so wonderful as curling up in a dark closet and hiding from the world for awhile.

“Look up.”

When Sam didn’t immediately respond, a firm hand grabbed his chin and pulled so that he had no choice but to sit up with it.

The vampire’s green eyes bored into his for a moment before he nodded as if to himself and tilted Sam’s head to one side. He pressed a washcloth to Sam’s throat. “Can you hold this?”

Sam fumbled one hand to his neck and took over.

“Keep pressure on it. It should stop bleeding in a few minutes.” Dean examined Sam’s face again, his lips twisted into a half smile. “We might have to get you a mouth guard; you know you have blood on your lips?”

Before Sam could properly process that comment, the vampire leaned in and ran his tongue over Sam’s mouth. He pulled away almost immediately, leaving Sam staring at him dumbly in surprise.

Dean walked away, fishing through his duffle bag, leaving Sam with nothing to do but hold the washcloth and stare blankly at his reflection in the mirror over the low dresser. He was pale from the pain and maybe blood loss, t-shirt damp against his skin, stained scarlet around the collar along the right side of his neck. Sam leaned forward a bit and pulled the washcloth away from the bite long enough to examine it; two dark holes were visible on the reddened skin; after a moment, blood slowly seeped up. He felt ill and quickly pressed the washcloth back down.

“I didn’t know you could... do this with your fangs.”

“What?” The vampire in question raised an eyebrow.

“Only using two like this, instead of the whole row,” Sam mumbled, lightheaded and sick.

“The whole…?” Dean’s expression of confusion cleared suddenly. “Right." He gave Sam a long unreadable look. "Yeah, well, there’s a lot more out there you don’t know than you do. So why don’t you shut your mouth, and get the hell out of my room. I’ve got things to do.”

That sounded good to Sam. He tested the wounds on his throat to see if they were still bleeding. It seemed to have stopped and he tossed the bloody washcloth at the sink. “You called me. This wasn’t my idea.”

“I called you for a snack, but I’ve had my snack now, and you’re taking up space. Get out.”

“Is this how it’s going to be?” Irritation was doing wonders to clear his head. Sam tested stood up and found the dizziness had mostly passed.

“Yes. Gotta problem?”

“No.” Sam stormed out as best he could, barely resisting the urge to slam the door behind him. He still hurt and he was pissed, but he wasn’t sure why. It wasn’t like he wanted to stay with the vampire. He sat behind the wheel of his car without turning it on, trying to chase the source of his annoyance down. When it dawned on him, he groaned aloud. Despite the unpleasant nature of the visit, the pain that he could still feel like an ache in his bones, and the vampire’s obvious disdain, he had spoken to Sam like a real person. Even if the conversation was mostly curt and insulting, it was still more honest communication than Sam had with someone in months, nothing covert or hedged about it.

Sam abruptly abandoned his plans to check out a haunting in Wichita and decided to go visit with Pastor Jim for a few days instead. If he was getting so starved for contact that spending time in the company of a vampire was starting to be attractive, the ghost was clearly not the most pressing concern he needed to address.

 

“I called you four days ago.” Dean’s voice was ominously level, his eyes sharp with annoyance.

“I was in Southern California," Sam snapped, exhausted from a long drive and in no way happy to be here. "This is Rhode Island. I was in the middle of something I had to clean up.”

“I don’t give a damn what you had to finish or where you were. We have deal. Next time I call you, you have forty-eight hours and then the deal is off.”

“The deal goes off, it’s open season on you and your friends.”

Dean snorted and stepped aside to make room for Sam to enter the apartment, a year of familiarity giving the exchange the cadence of routine. “My ‘friends’ and I aren’t really worried about one little hunter and whatever tantrum you feel like throwing. And haven’t we had this conversation before?”

“Frequently.” Sam stepped past him and looked around, checking the layout by habit. It looked much like the other apartments he had met the vampire in, on and off over the last year. Sometimes it was motels, sometimes hotels, and sometimes apartments like this one; bland, sterile and spotless. Dean had dropped vague hints when distracted that suggested the apartments weren’t actually his, or maybe they belonged to several people, but Sam wasn’t sure. Asking never got him anything but a cold look and an especially vicious bite.

“Strip.”

“You wish."

Dean shrugged and sprawled on the sofa. “It’s your clothes, but I’m feeling messy tonight.”

Sam shot him a withering look. “The deal is for blood, not sex.”

“And yet, I don’t recall saying anything about sex. You reading something into this conversation I don’t know about?”

Sam ignored that. The vampire hadn’t let a visit go by without either insinuating or telling Sam outright that he would be happy to add sex to their arrangement. When Sam had proved not just reluctant, but actively hostile to the idea, Dean had added the sweetener that feeding during sex wouldn’t hurt. Much. It made the possibility... interesting, but Sam had a hard enough time facing himself in the mirror after their visits as it was; he figured he’d be shaving by touch for the rest of his life if he caved to anything else. On long, dark nights when he found himself hesitantly musing over the idea, all Sam had to do was imagine the look on his father’s face if he found out, and his resolve fell firmly back into place. It didn’t hurt that bad.

But even though the offers were explicit and easily turned down, something had shifted in the twelve months Sam had been answering the vampire’s call. Something subtle that evaded Sam’s attempts to define it, but he found himself more aware of Dean than he was entirely comfortable with.

It didn’t make the vampire any less irritating, though.

Sam pulled his jacket off with harsh, jerky movements and tossed it over the back of a chair. He grabbed a folded dishcloth from the counter and threw it at Dean, before slumping down onto the couch himself. He unbuttoned his shirt, refusing to look at the man sitting on the other end of it.

“Why can’t you just use my arm?” Sam found himself asking for what to be the umpteenth time. He hated the whine in his voice, but he was tired and there was no damn reason the vampire had to bite his throat. Or bite at all, really. But Dean had found the idea of using a knife amusing enough that one time Sam had mentioned it that Sam’s pride wouldn’t let him ask again.

“Because I don’t want to,” Dean reminded him lazily, watching the unbuttoning with interest. “When you’re drinking the blood, you can choose. When it’s me, I get to pick the vein.”

“Get it over with then,” Sam grumbled, unhappy but compliant. “I have to hit the road again.”

Dean’s eyes narrowed at that. “I might not be done with you tonight.”

“I have a job. You said you wouldn’t go out of your way to interfere with it.”

“Keeping you with me for a day or two isn’t going out of my way,” Dean said pointedly.

Sam shifted as Dean slid across the couch and straddled his lap, knees pressed up against the outsides of his thighs. It was uncomfortably intimate, but a year had taught Sam that complaining would eventually just land him in a worse position.

The vampire settled himself then raked casual fingers through Sam’s hair, before locking them tight and using the grip to tilt Sam’s head sharply to one side.

Sam winced. “I cooperate; you don’t have to grab me like that.”

Dean ignored him and rubbed his cheek against Sam’s throat, inhaling deeply and dragging his tongue over the pulse point like he could taste blood even through the skin.

Sam focused on trying to relax into the sofa cushions. Dean sucked over the vein without breaking skin until some of the tension began to ease out of the muscles beneath him. With no warning, his fangs slipped in, just deep enough to nick the thick vessel before they were sliding back and blood welled in the wound. Pinned beneath him while Dean fed, Sam shivered as blistering waves of pain rolled through his body, fingers locked tight in the cushions and eyes clenched shut.

By the time the vampire finished and pulled back, Sam was white and sheened with sweat. Dean licked the skin around the puncture wound clean of blood, then covered it with the dishtowel and applied pressure. After a moment, Sam batted his hand away from the cloth and held it in place himself. Dean straightened up and stretched leisurely.

“You know, you really should reconsider my offer. Think of how much more enjoyable, this could be.

Sam eyes snapped open. “I told you no. I always tell you no.”

Dean shrugged and climbed off his lap. “If I don’t ask, I won’t know when you change your mind.”

“It’s not going to happen.” Sam tried to stand, but after a moment, gave up and sank back down.

“Dizzy?”

“Get me a band aid?”

“No," Dean said. "Come into the bathroom when you can stand, clean it up right, then take a shower. You can sleep it off in the spare bedroom tonight; do whatever you have to tomorrow. Going to visit that priest friend of yours?”

Sam sighed, checking to see if the bleeding had stopped yet. “He wasn’t a priest; he was a pastor, and no. He’s dead.”

The vampire turned back to regard the hunter, all hints of levity gone. “I’m sorry.”

“Nothing to be sorry for; it wasn’t your fault.”

Dean leaned back against the dresser. “I didn’t have the impression he was that old. Accident?”

Sam tried standing again; his balance was better and he stayed on his feet. “There wasn’t anything accidental about it. His throat was cut to the bone and the whole place reeked like sulfur.”

“Did you catch it?” Dean asked, sounding more interested.

“No.” There was finality and grief in the tone of Sam’s voice. The vampire gave him a thoughtful look, but let the matter drop.

“Go shower, then get some sleep.”

“I can go tomorrow, and I don’t have to come back?” Sam asked, wanting to be clear.

“Right. I’ll call you in a few weeks.”

“Fine… thanks for not ruining my shirt.”

Dean paused in the act of closing his bedroom door. “Just remember next time -- forty-eight hours, or this whole thing is off.”

“I’ll be there,” Sam sighed.

 

Sam sat on the back of the rusty pick-up truck; sodium streetlights emphasized the pallor of the woman sitting next to him. There was a dirt road beneath the tires and dark fields stretched out for miles around them, the lights of the nearby city lined the hillsides in the distance. Somewhere in the darkness, Lenore’s nest was finding dinner while Lenore herself kept Sam company.

“So what did Gordon say?” she asked quietly, once the last of her people disappeared into the night.

Sam grimaced and gingerly touched the split in the skin over his cheekbone. “It wasn’t so much a discussion as a... demonstration of opposing viewpoints.”

“I still can’t believe you attacked another hunter to save me.”

“Because you’re a vampire?” Sam asked.

She nodded, and pulled her legs up to rest her chin on her knees.

“I’m not a hunter just so I can kill things, Lenore. I’m a hunter so I can save people; stop the things that want to hurt them. You and your nest aren’t attacking people. It’s one thing to not know any different, but Gordon doesn’t get a free pass to slaughter you after he knows you aren’t doing a damn thing to hurt anyone.” Sam was still angry, hours and miles away from his showdown with the older hunter.

“I don’t think you are going to get any support from the rest of the hunters on that,” Lenore said.

“No,” Sam kicked at the dirt, “I don’t think so either.”

She turned her head to watch him. “Going to cause you problems?”

“It’s a big country, and we don’t exactly advertise our whereabouts. I can avoid Gordon.”

“And the other hunters?” she pressed.

Sam shrugged. “They don’t seem to like me that much anyways. I might get a few more nasty looks, but I don’t think anyone is going to get that excited about Gordon and me trading a few punches.”

“What about the part where you left him tied to a chair?”

Sam shrugged again.

“Well, thanks for helping us blow town,” she said wryly. “I wouldn’t have let them pull the engine apart on the other truck if I’d realized we were about to be moving.”

Sam looked over to where the Impala was cooling in the pre-dawn air; a smile pulled at the corners of his mouth despite the seriousness of the situation. “My dad would have kittens if he knew I had used his car to rescue vampires.”

“We don’t make others, you know," Lenore said, voice abruptly serious. "All of my nest, they were like the others until they found me. And once they are mine, they abide by my rules. Or I kill them.”

They let that hang in the air for a little while. Sam had made a moral call when he had stopped Gordon from killing Lenore, and outside of the drama and adrenaline of the situation, found he was still comfortable with his decision. She and her people weren’t the monsters he had dedicated himself to fighting.

Sam wasn’t unsympathetic to Gordon’s position; he had seen the raw hatred in Gordon’s eyes, heard the grief in his voice when he spoke of his sister. If it had been a demon Gordon was determined to kill, Sam wasn’t sure he would have been able to bring himself to intervene, no matter how tragic their cause. Not when some mornings he still woke up sure he could smell the nauseating mix of burning flesh and Jessica’s perfume.

But none of that was here and now, and Sam wasn’t willing to lose the opportunity to ask some questions.

“I have some… familiarity, with another vampire,” Sam began slowly.

“I know.”

“How?” Sam asked, surprised.

“You’re marked. It happens eventually, if a vampire feeds from a regular donor. Most of my kind can’t detect it.”

That didn't sound terribly good to Sam. “What does it mean?”

“That this person is claimed -- hands off.”

“I didn’t think enough of your ‘donors’ survived for that to have any real value," Sam said slowly. "Especially not if most vampires don’t even know this mark is there.”

“Well,” Lenore stretched her legs back out, “there are vampires, and then there are vampires.”

There was something off in her tone, Sam looked at her curiously. Lenore was staring off into the field, and didn’t turn to meet his eyes.

“Can I get rid of this ‘mark’?” Sam finally asked.

“I think it will go away on its own if they stop feeding from you. But other than that... when you die, I suppose.”

“Thanks,” Sam said dryly.

“I was surprised that a hunter would have that kind of relationship with a vampire.” Lenore's voice was rife with curiosity.

Sam grimaced. “He had hostages, and I was there alone. He agreed to let them go alive and unharmed if I would show up and cooperate whenever he called. There were more vampires there than just him; they all have the scent of the hostages. If I try to go after any of them, they will just kill everybody and me. It’s annoying, and painful, but not worth gambling their lives with.”

“Painful?”

“Not when he bites me, really, but afterwards. When he's... feeding.”

Lenore frowned. “He bites you? Instead of cutting you?”

“Yes.”

“Where?”

“My neck, usually. I was half strangled by a poltergeist before he called once and he used my wrist instead that time. It was the exception, though. Why?”

“I’m just… surprised," Lenore said, brow furrowed. "I didn’t see any scars on you. It’s unusual for a vampire to bite a victim they don’t mean to turn or kill. Our physiology makes it difficult.”

“He doesn’t use the whole set of teeth, just two. Makes neat little holes, they heal up clean in a couple of days.”

Lenore had gone still as death. All the little signs of life, the rise of fall of a chest, blink of an eyes, a shift of muscle, minute things that marked the living, or those trying to imitate the living -- all gone.

“What’s wrong?” Sam asked sharply.

“What’s his name?” she breathed.

“What does that matter?”

“His name, Sam.”

“Dean,” he answered, after considering her still profile for a moment.

She swallowed hard.

Lenore.”

“It’s... nothing, really." Because Sam believe that. "Vampire nests are pretty isolated. We don’t often have interaction with others, so it’s unusual to be familiar with the names of other vampires.”

“I can’t believe Dean is a unique name,” Sam pointed out.

“No," she managed a shaky smile, "probably not, but combined with the way he bites you, that’s unusual enough.”

“I’m letting him feed from me on a regular basis,” Sam said. “If you know something about him… You said you owed me, Lenore; I would really appreciate being let in on whatever information you have.”

Lenore relaxed into a better semblance of humanity. “I’ve been around for awhile, Sam. The longer you’ve been around, the more rumors you pick up. I can’t tell you anything specifically, but if he came to my town, I’d pack up and move. You’ve been doing this with him for awhile now, though. If he’s honoring your agreement…” She shrugged. "What else can you do?"

“Can’t tell, or won’t tell?” Sam asked sharply.

“Does it matter?” she asked simply. There was implacability in her face, and the set of her shoulders. Seeing no chink in her armor, Sam turned his annoyance out to the field.

There was no sound but the rustle of long grasses in the night breezes and the low call of an owl.

Finally, Sam stirred with a sigh. “Do you have a place to go?”

“Here, actually.”

“Here?”

She smiled at the surprise in Sam’s voice. “This is farm country. Lots of places to hunt, for us. And plenty of abandoned houses and barns overgrown and forgotten in the area. I’m in the mood to lay low for awhile. Very low.”

“Gordon isn’t going to give up,” Sam warned.

“No," she agreed, "he struck me as just that flavor of psycho. But it’s okay, we won’t stay here long. Move on in a week or so and then… just keep going. Eventually he’s going to have to stumble over another nest and get distracted. We can hold out until then.”

“So why are we sitting here on the tailgate if you’re planning to move in?”

“Maybe I enjoy your company.”

“I think I have enough vampires in my life, Lenore.”

“Do you have enough friends?”

Sam smiled. “No, I can’t say I have too many of those.”

She laid a hand on his shoulder. “If you need me, call.”

“Are you sure you can’t tell me anything about Dean?” he tried again.

“He’s lonely, I would think, or else he wouldn't have taken up with you.” Lenore flashed him one last smile, then slid off the tailgate. “Good luck, Sam.”

 

Sam did manage to avoid Gordon, but true to prediction, his relationship with the hunting community continued to fray until Sam didn’t feel comfortable even calling on the margins for information. With Pastor Jim gone and his dad out of contact, his only real resource left was his father’s old friend Bobby -- and Bobby didn’t seem to be answering his phone much anymore. Sam ended up doing more of his own research and finding contacts that existed in other circles; it ate up more time than he liked and some of it he didn’t trust, but it was usually good enough to get by. Until he found himself stuck with a problem that seemed to have no solution.

A highway in Virginia was the site of a series of horrific accidents. No matter how much work the county put into road improvements in the area, cars continued to go off the road and the body count was piling up. Sam knew apparitions were causing the accidents, but he had burned, salted, and warded every possible lead he could find. There weren’t any graves left and the accidents were still happening. It seemed that every person killed joined the roster of the restless dead despite his best effort. Sam was at a total impasse.

Then, right when he was so frustrated he was seriously considering trying to track his father down, again, to see if he had any suggestions, the last person on the planet he wanted to hear from called.

“What!?” Sam snarled into the phone, the number was unrecognized and he almost hoped it was someone trying to sell him something.

“Who pissed in your Wheaties?” Dean’s lazy, mocking drawl answered him, causing Sam’s frustration to soar to entirely new heights.

“Not now,” Sam snapped. “I’m in the middle of something. People’s lives are at stake.”

The voice chilled. “Our agreement is pretty specific, and I don’t give a damn about anyone else’s life.”

“I do!”

“Like the nice people in the basement?" Dean said pointedly. "Like those lives, Sam?”

Sam closed his eyes and banged his head against the wall. “I’ve been at this for three weeks now, and people are still dying. Please -- I can’t leave now; just a few more days.”

There was a long pause. When Dean spoke again, Sam expected the usual curt demand. Was surprised by what he heard instead. “Three weeks seems like a long time for a hunt. What’s going to change in the next couple of days that will make a difference?”

“I... can find a way to stop it. The answer's here, I just need a few more days. I'll find it.”

“But you probably won’t. And then what? Another couple of days? A week? A month?”

Sam swallowed. “Maybe.”

There was a long sigh on the other end of the line. “I’ll give you five days. Because you’ve been pretty cooperative overall and I’m a nice guy. But you had better be on my doorstep when the sun sets on the fifth day, got it?”

“Where are you?” Sam asked.

“I’ll text you the address. I won’t be here by then, so I’ll have to figure out what my plans are first.”

“Okay.”

Dean waited, but Sam didn’t say anything else.

“I guess we’re all done then,” Dean finally said.

“Yeah, I guess…” Sam reached a decision. “Actually, wait a sec. Do you have a minute?”

“Maybe,” Dean answered warily. Conversations between them were generally limited to the usual ‘where’ and ‘when’.

“I’m out of ideas, and I know you’ve been around awhile." Sam wedged the phone between ear and shoulder and hastily rummaged for his notes. "Listen to this and tell me what you think.”

~~~~~

Dean hadn’t been impressed by Sam’s problem, but he’d offered some suggestions Sam hadn’t considered and three days later, the accidents had stopped and the dead seemed to be finally at rest.

The vampire had the courtesy not to directly mock Sam for asking for his help with hunting business, though he did make a few cutting remarks about Sam’s alleged skills. But with his options limited and lives on the line, Sam reluctantly found himself periodically calling the vampire up and asking his advice anyway.

To his continual surprise, Dean never turned him away.

 

Sam sat on the edge of the bed in another anonymous motel room, lost in thoughts about his upcoming case. His fingers worked the buttons of his shirt by habit. He still insisted on keeping his t-shirt on, but there was no reason to have to soak the blood out of more than one layer if there was a mess.

Strong fingers wrapped around his own and squeezed briefly before letting go. Sam looked up, startled. Dean’s expression was unreadable. The vampire’s behavior had seemed off the last few visits, less... flirty, more business-like. No sexual suggestions and less touching, which Sam wanted to welcome as an improvement, but instead it made him feel unsettled, because even though the casual behavior was gone, he didn’t like the undercurrent that seemed to have taken its place. Something different, and whatever it was didn’t seem to be making Dean very happy.

“Don’t do that.”

Sam frowned but let his hands drop to his thighs. “You aren’t going to feed?”

The vampire shrugged. “You’ve got wrists.”

“We’ve been doing this nearly every month for almost two years now. Every time I’ve asked you to not bite my throat, and every time you’ve refused unless I was injured.” Sam’s eyes narrowed. “Why the sudden change?”

“Maybe your whining is getting on my nerves," Dean suggested in tones that indicated he wasn't in the mood for conversation. "Roll up your sleeve and shut up. I can find more interesting places to bite you if you really want to pitch a fit.” The vampires gaze drifted pointedly to Sam’s crotch. Sam glared, but bit his tongue and pulled his sleeve up.

“See?” Dean pulled a chair over near the bed and sat down, sliding one of his knees between Sam’s legs. “I knew you would see things my way.” The knee pressed warningly into Sam’s inner thigh when he opened his mouth to retort.

When Sam stayed quiet, the vampire sank his fangs deeply through the thin skin of Sam's wrist.

The feeding, which lasted a small eternity, seemed unusually painful. Sam sat shivering in shock for a few minutes when Dean finally pulled back. Through the daze, he thought he felt a hand ghost gently over his hair, almost comforting. But when his senses cleared, the vampire was leaning in his usual place against the wall, arms crossed and expression impassive.

Sam cleaned his arm up silently and left.

 

It had been three months since Dean had demanded Sam’s attendance. Sam was finding, despite his general anger at the situation --and any logic whatsoever-- that he missed the vampire’s periodic company. It had to be his company, because he certainly didn’t miss the holes in his body or the nauseating pain. Probably because between the hunting community’s attitude towards him, and his father’s continuous absence or unwillingness to answer a phone, Sam didn’t have anyone else’s company to enjoy. Random flirting in bars and the people he lied to as he went about his business hardly counted as company, and humans were social creatures at the heart. Knowing that didn’t make isolation easier for Sam to endure.

He knew it was getting bad when he found himself trying to complicate a case just so he could call Dean and get his perspective on it. Sam decided to go visit Bobby instead. The man had been like a second father to him for half his life, and a little human company would do him good. Certainly more good than a vampire who would drum his nails, listen impatiently, then toss off a glib reply and sink his fangs into Sam’s throat. A lot more good. Worlds more good.

But things at Bobby’s weren’t as smooth sailing as Sam had hoped. His father’s old friend had seemed more resigned to see him than pleased, which made his failure to return Sam’s calls less likely to be the result of a busy schedule and more likely deliberate avoidance. Sam hadn’t thought Bobby would be swayed by the business with Gordon, but short of confronting him, that was the only conclusion Sam could draw. He was stuck, though; the Impala needed maintenance work, which Sam was rather abysmal at, and resigned or not -- Bobby was human company he trusted.

Thankfully, after a few days, whatever tension was in the air seemed to ease up. Bobby watched him change the Impala’s oil, then forbade him from touching anything else under the hood. Apparently, whatever auto-mechanical sin he had committed was grave enough to get him a free pass on the rest of the work. Sam paid the favor back by dragging his notes of ‘things to look into when he had time’ out of the trunk and picking one to pursue to get himself out of Bobby’s hair faster.

He was getting ready to pack up and hit the road again when Bobby got a call about a problem in Oklahoma. There were idiots playing with demon summoning, someone needed to put a stop to things before they managed to conjure up a real problem.

“What’s so interesting about this job that they are calling you about it? Can’t they handle it?” Sam asked around a mouthful of cereal.

Bobby snorted and turned the page in the tome he was flipping through. “Someone’s been planting Strangler Vine out near the middle schools in Jackson County. Figure they have about half of it uprooted and burned, but if they stop now--”

“--it will all grow back,” Sam finished.

“And school comes back there in a few days," Bobby agreed. "Dead kids or loose demons.”

Sam pushed the cereal bowl away and settled back in his chair. “It didn’t sound like your wannabe demon summoners are that close to actually getting anywhere. Some curdled milk and wilted plants seem pretty amateur hour. Why the crises call?”

Bobby visibly hesitated a moment. “Well, it’s not really the demon summoning that’s the problem. I mean, it is, but like you said -- these yahoos aren’t about to call ol’ Beelzebub out of the Pit anytime soon. The problem is the book they are using to do it.”

“What’s so special about it?” Sam rose and gathered the dishes to dump in the sink.

“The pattern the spells are progressing in, seems like they might have something unusual. Something some of us would like to get our hands on. Or at least get their hands off of.”

Sam raised a brow. “You want to get your hands on a book of demon summoning? I thought we just burned those.”

Bobby looked uncomfortable. “Most of those books are about a third weird and twisted crap, a little of which might actually work, and two-thirds delusional rambling. But a few are true demonic texts, for their own use. Those can give us clues to what the monsters are angling for in their plans.”

“And you think this is one of these actual grimoires?”

“It’s suspicious.”

Sam rinsed out his bowl and dropped it in the rack. “I can do it.”

“What?”

“Go get the book. You said Oklahoma? I have business down there anyways. I think I can handle a couple of occult dabblers. Drop the book off in a couple of weeks. Your friends can keep up with their gardening project, and you can finish healing up instead of chasing crazies around the town.” Sam gave a meaningful look to the heavy bandages and walking cast that swathed Bobby’s right leg from something involving an abandoned house and a Brownie that he didn’t want to talk about.

“Ah, I’m not sure that’s such a good idea, Sam.”

“Why not? I’m leaving this afternoon; it’s on my way.”

“Well, I mean… you said you already have business. I can find someone else, I’m sure. No need to interrupt your schedule just to go pick up a book.”

Sam’s brows drew together in confusion. “I’m just going to look into the historical archives in Dallas to try and track down the history on a haunting that crops up every ten years or so. But it’s not due this year, so it’s not exactly a pressing problem. I can do that and get your book, Bobby; you don’t need to try and pull someone off a real hunt for this.”

When Bobby didn’t say anything Sam frowned. “Is there some reason you don’t want me to do this for you?”

Bobby stared at him for a moment as if weighing something, until Sam felt the urge to shift under his gaze, but then he sighed and was just Bobby again. “You’ll need the address.”

~~~~~

Sam wasn’t quite sure how things had gone so wrong, but he was up several gaping wounds and a probable concussion, and down one demonic grimoire and his pride. About the time one of his assailants negligently flipped a hand and sent Sam flying backwards into a bookshelf, it occurred to him he should have asked more questions. Finding the little demon summoning pricks had been easy, but it wasn’t until he had them at gunpoint and was demanding the book that he realized just how bad his information was. In a heartbeat, two terrified looking teenagers had become black-eyed Pit fiends and Sam was fighting for his life.

Everything had seemed over and the hands on his throat were choking out the last of his breath when there was some kind of harsh conversation he couldn’t make out over the ringing in his ears and then he was sprawled alone on the concrete, gasping for air. A hand tangled in his hair and slammed his head back against the floor. Blackness rolled in.

He roused briefly to rough hands tugging at him and a light burning into his eyes, then a harsh chemical smell and the darkness was back.

When he woke again, the situation wasn’t much improved. Heavy ropes cut into his skin where he was tied to a chair and dark spots swam in his vision when he turned his aching head too fast.

“Whe--” 

“Where’s the book, Winchester?” The gravelly voice that cut him off was heated with anger and implacable resolve. It wasn’t the voice of someone prepared to be reasonable.

“Who are you?” Sam managed to gasp out around the swimming pain in his head and disorientation.

“Hunters.” This was a new voice, but the speaker was standing beyond the light of the naked bulb hanging over his head and Sam couldn’t make them out.

“Real hunters,” the first man again. “Not like the twisted charade you’ve been playing at. How long did you think you were going to get away with it?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking ab--” was as far as Sam got before a blow came out of nowhere and rattled his senses. When he could focus again, a man was crouched by the side of the chair; he had a heavily lined face and the hardest eyes Sam had ever seen.

“We can make this fast, or we can make it very, very, slow. But you are going to tell us what we want to know. What are the demons’ plans?”

Sam licked bloody lips and watched him warily. “Look, I don’t know what you think is going on, but I was just here to recover a book for Bobby Singer. He can vouch for me. I don’t know anything about any demons, except the two that jumped me.”

The man stood and looked down on Sam. “I’ve already talked to Singer; how do you think we knew where you were? He thought you might need some help.”

“Help with what?”

“Doing the right thing.” The stranger grabbed Sam by the hair and forced his face up so that the overhead light made his eyes water. “You look so human. So normal. What’s it like?”

“What’s what like?” Sam gritted out, resisting the urge to try and pull away. Hanging out with Dean had given him plenty of practice with that.

“Being a traitor to your entire race, serving Hell.”

“You’re insane,” Sam gasped.

The man released him and stepped back. He pulled a knife out and made a show of testing the edge on his thumb. “Where’s the book?”

“I don’t--” the knife arced out and a place on his arm went first numb, then hot with pain. Sam's shirt darkened around the slash.

“I have a lot of patience and there isn’t anyone around to notice any screaming our conversation might require. Not anyone who'll care anyways. We could have days for this discussion, Sam, won’t bother me at all. You, though, you might not enjoy it as much. Just tell me what we want to know, and I’ll make it quick.”

“I don’t know what the fuck you want; you’re crazy!” Sam hissed, flexing against the ropes. “If I was helping the demons, why did you find me beaten up and unconscious? That sound like something my allies would do?”

“It sounds like the kind of thing they would do to hide the traitor in our ranks. You think I’m impressed by a few bruises?” He leaned in until Sam could feel the heat of his breath. “I want that book. I want to know what the demons are planning with all the omens that are cropping up lately. I want to know where the next attack is going to come from, and I don’t want to worry about you waiting to stab us in the back.”

“I’m not working with demons,” Sam spat.

“I guess it’s the hard way, then.”

~~~~~

Sam had no way of knowing how long the ‘conversation’ went on; they only had one real question, and he could only give them the same answer. After enough abuse, heaped on the abuse he'd already suffered, Sam started drifting in and out of awareness, until finally he sank into true unconsciousness where no freezing water or harsh smells could drag him back up.

Hard packed dirt was pressed into his cheek when he came to again. He was unbound and curled onto his side on the floor. His entire body throbbed with pain and he couldn’t open one eye at all for the swelling, but Sam didn’t get the sense there was anyone in the room with him. He rolled slowly onto his stomach, swallowing back small sounds of pain, and reached out with his good arm to push up to his knees -- but his fingertips brushed something suspiciously familiar and he scrambled up faster than he had intended, nearly falling headlong as his body protested, strongly. A very dim light showed a stairwell, and Sam stumbled towards it, fumbling at the wall for some kind of switch.

A harsh light blossomed in the basement, and Sam just stared. Handfuls of flesh were strewn across the dirt. Too much flesh for one person. Blood splashed the walls and stood in drying puddles. More aware now, the unmistakable stench of sulfur stung his nose. Sam thought he should feel something, but he was fighting nausea and wondering about his own survival; the fate of his torturers was going to have to wait. The chair he had been bound to was sitting squarely against the wall, the ropes that had restrained him coiled neatly on the seat. Sam's head swam and he turned to struggle up the stairs.

Too much to process. He had to get out.

The house itself was in better shape only in the sense that it wasn’t full of bodies. It was a wreck, obviously an abandoned property. Boards were nailed over the windows and other than a few sets of keys strewn on the table and a cooler by the door, there was nothing in the kitchen at the top of the stairs. Sam found a duffle bag in what had been a bedroom, the contents of the bag had been strewn across a decaying mattress and obviously searched. Sam recognized his things and repacked as best he was able. He used a clean shirt dipped in the melted ice in the cooler to wash as much blood as he could from his face, shouldered his bag and stumbled outside with the collection of keys to find a car.

Sam was distantly pleased when he found the Impala, pulled into a decrepit barn behind the property. He slid behind the wheel and passed out again.

When he woke up, the door was still open and flies and gnats were buzzing around his face and body, he was hot and sticky and couldn't catalog any part of his body that didn't ache, but he managed to get the door closed and the car started. There were bodies in the basement and he didn’t know what was going on, or even what day it was -- time to put some distance between himself and the house, see to his wounds, and try and figure out what the hell was happening.

~~~~~

“Bobby.”

“Sam.”

There was a silence on the line between them.

“I tried to get the book for you. Did you hear about that?”

“Some.” Bobby’s voice was guarded, and it made Sam’s heart ache underneath the anger. The hunters had been telling the truth when they said Bobby was involved.

“It wasn’t teenagers, Bobby. It was demons. And then it was hunters. Did you send hunters after me?”

Bobby sighed heavily. “I got a call asking if the job had been picked up from another hunter in the area. I mentioned your name; he was concerned. He said he would stop by and make sure you had it handled.”

“Concerned?" Sam slid down against the brick wall of the convenience store, unable to stand for more than a few minutes at a time. "Concerned about what, Bobby? That I needed help with the job, or that I was the job?”

“Sam--” Bobby started.

“What the fuck is going on?” Sam hissed into the payphone.

“These are bad times, Sam," Bobby said bluntly. "Hard to know who to trust.”

“You helped raise me, what the hell have I done to lose your trust?" Sam almost whispered, feeling one more door slam in his mind. "Why do people think I’m in league with demons?”

“You were the last person to see Jim alive.”

“I didn’t have a damn thing to do with his death, and you know it!”

“I don’t know it, Sam! You were the last person there, and the next thing anyone knows, he’s dead and it was demons that did it.”

“Why does that mean I was involved? He was my friend too!”

“Because--” Bobby bit off whatever he was going to say next and heaved a frustrated sigh into the phone.

“Because what, Bobby?” Sam demanded. “Why does almost every freaking hunter on the entire goddamned planet practically cross themselves when I’m around? I’ve never done a damn thing to anyone, except Gordon -- and he had it coming!”

“No one’s saying he didn’t, Sam. But using your fists on him over a pack of damned vampires... that didn’t help your case any.”

What case?! What makes me different?”

“I’m not getting into this with you, Sam. And it’s a moot point anyways.”

“How can it be a m--”

Bobby cut him off curtly. “We found the basement.”

Sam fell silent, recognizing a nail in a coffin when he heard it.

“Even if every other thing could be explained away," Bobby continued, "there’s only a few reasons I can think of why a demon would slaughter everyone in a room, and leave only one alive. And most of them are bad. They rescued you, Sam. Demons rescued you. And I can’t ignore that. Not on top of everything else.”

“Bobby, I don’t-- I don’t have an explanation. I don’t know what the hell is going on, why the demons left me alive. Maybe they’re just trying to fuck things up for us, make us turn on our own so we’re too distracted to figure out what they’re actually up to. You need to call the hunters off; let me try and figure out what’s going on. They’ll listen to you; I just need some time.”

“I can’t do that, Sam. There’s too much at risk and too many strikes against you. I am sorry.”

The dial tone left Sam staring at the receiver, stunned, until the voice came on advising him how to place a call.

 

“What the hell happened to you?” Dean asked sharply.

Sam just gave him a tired look. Sheets of rain washing out of the sky had turned his hair into a limp curtain around his ears and drenched him to the skin. His clothes, which always looked like they came off the rack of a discount store in a mountain town anyways, were now also badly worn and poorly-fitted. There was an emptiness to Sam's eyes, still shadowed by healing bruises, that was a warning to the wary. Dean stepped out of the way in silent invitation and took the duffle bag from Sam’s hands as he walked in. For once, Sam didn’t protest or even give him a glance, just shuffled past Dean until he stood dripping and shivering on the edge of the tile before it turned to carpet, then stopped as if he was at a loss for what to do.

“How badly are you messed up?” Dean asked.

“I’m fine.”

The vampire didn’t comment on that. “Take a hot shower. It’s down the hall to the right. I’ll put some clothes on the counter; there are towels on the rack.”

~~~~~

The bathroom was clean and the water hot. It was a marked change from everywhere else he had holed up for the last three months. Sam spent a good twenty minutes just sitting on the edge of the tub inside the shower curtain letting the hot water rain down on his bowed head before he even thought about reaching for soap.

When he was clean enough and the water was starting to lose its heat, he twisted the handle off and stepped out to find a neat pile of clothing on the sink counter. Sam hadn’t even noticed when that happened.

After he was dry and dressed in the t-shirt and loose sweatpants, he opened the door to find the vampire leaning against the opposite wall. Dean pointed silently down the hall towards an open door. It was a bedroom and Sam sank onto the edge of the mattress, exhausted and just wanting to sleep.

“You have two options here,” Dean said casually, pulling some things out of a battered cardboard box. “You can either tell me where the injuries are and let me treat them, or you can be a stubborn ass and I can strip you to find them myself.”

“Why do you care?” Sam asked after a long minute.

“You’re a useful resource; I’m protecting my own interests.”

~~~~~

Sam slept restlessly in the bed for three days, only rising long enough to tend to personal matters and swallow some soup and water before collapsing again. Dean's interest in his injuries had been surprisingly persistent, especially considering that it had been three months since he had last called. But Dean hadn't been taking no for an answer and so Sam had tolerated having hands run over almost every inch of his body. Mostly because he was too tired to fight about it and the vampire's had kept his touch professionally impersonal. Any open wounds had already closed, but there were still signs of deep bruising and an ache where his ribs and arm had been fractured.

“You haven’t fed yet,” Sam said quietly to Dean's turned back, having woken to the quiet click of the computer keyboard. After seventy-two hours of near constant sleep he was finally starting to feel human again, and some things needed to be addressed.

“Is that a complaint?” Dean asked, pulling his attention away from the computer monitor on the bedroom’s small desk and turning to face Sam. “I didn’t think you enjoyed it that much.”

“It’s not a complaint. But… that’s what you called me for. I just wanted to know if you were still planning on it.”

“Because you’re sick? You think I might give you a pass?”

Sam gave a half shrug against the pillows, then winced as his body protested the movement.

Dean turned back to the screen. “There’s nothing wrong with you that a few mouthfuls of blood will make a difference for. You shouldn’t be leaving for a few days; I’ll get around to it.”

“I’ll just lie around anticipating then.”

“I can go ahead and do it now if it’s weighing on you so much,” Dean responded to the sarcasm pointedly.

Sam took a deep breath. “Okay.”

The vampire actually showed some surprise at that, and Sam watched nervously as Dean rose and walked towards him. He sat on the bed and reached out to push the hair away from Sam’s throat, fingers barely brushing against skin. Sam flinched from the touch and Dean let his hand fall back to his side with a sigh. “What’s going on, Sam?” 

Sam felt a flush start to creep up his cheeks. “I just thought, you know… you could, if you wanted, while you fed.”

Dean blinked. “Could what?”

Sam glared, irritation helping with the embarrassment. “You’ve been making sleazy suggestions to me for two years now. I finally say yes, and now you don’t know what I’m talking about?”

The vampire raked his gaze over Sam's body as if the sheet wasn't a barrier to his view. “Do you even know what you're giving permission for?” Dean asked skeptically.

“You said you wanted to fuck me, so presumably it would involve more penetration than just your teeth,” Sam gritted out, finding anger a good cure for nerves.

“You’ve been turning me down for two years now,” Dean reminded him, “so unless you tell me you had a big homosexual crisis and took all this damage getting your ass handed to you propositioning bikers in a Georgia bar, I have to say I find your sudden willingness a little suspicious. You suddenly notice I’m a smokin’ hot example of the human form and decide to get some?”

The vampire’s expression darkened at a sudden thought. “This isn’t some weird, misguided attempt at payment for patching you up and letting you stay here, is it? I already told you, this is strictly in my best interest. You don’t owe me anything for it.”

“It isn’t that,” Sam muttered, looking away.

“Then what is it?” Dean demanded in exasperation. “What happened that makes now,” the vampire waved a hand that took in Sam’s bruises, “an ideal time for this? You have a list of things to do before you die somewhere that includes ‘awkward gay sex with a member of the undead,’ and you’ve decided to go ahead and get it crossed off?”

“You said it wouldn’t hurt."

Dean didn't look impressed. “I think any kind of sex at the moment is going to hurt plenty. Remember your ribs? I bet the ones under the boot prints look like cracked safety glass.”

Sam took a deep breath and let it out slowly, then clarified his position. “You said if I let you fuck me while you fed from me, the feeding wouldn’t hurt. I just…” His voice trailed off and he found himself looking at anything but the vampire perched on the mattress at his side. This was a stupid idea.

“I don’t think you’re in a great place to be making that decision right now,” was all Dean said.

There was a flash of genuine anger in Sam’s eyes as his gaze jerked back, meeting Dean's in the twilight darkness of the bedroom. “I’m twenty-fucking-seven years old. That might not be impressive for a monster like you, but for humans, that’s plenty old enough to be making our own damn decisions about our sex lives. I don’t need a chaperone.”

The vampire narrowed his eyes. “It’s tempting to make you eat those words, but I think I’m going to just stick with No for the time being. If you were smart, you would drop it before this altruistic mood of mine passes.”

His gaze raked Sam’s body again with decidedly more interest and the hunter curled defensively despite the pain it caused.

“Yeah, that’s real enticing. Your enthusiasm is contagious.” Dean rolled his eyes and stood up. “Get some sleep, Sam. You still look like five miles of bad road.”

Sam’s anger melted into confusion. “You’re just going to go? What about…”

“Ask me again when you don’t look someone who has to pay for it.”

A ripple of anger crossed the Sam’s face again, but it vanished almost immediately into pale weariness. “So you’re still going to do it, like usual?”

“Like we agreed on in the beginning; I’m the one doing the drinking, I’m the one calling the shots. You were warned about the pain when you made this deal.” Dean’s voice was hard, cutting off any more argument.

Sam nodded, resigned, and settled back as comfortably as he could. The vampire turned off the monitor and left, leaving the hunter alone in the quiet dark.

~~~~~

Unknown hours later, Sam stirred from sleep to the weight of another body pressed along his side. He started to pull away and a leg slid over his own as a hand locked onto his shoulder, pinning him easily in place. Recognition calmed one kind of panic, but he felt another starting in the pit of his stomach. Sam swallowed uneasily, wide awake in the dark room. He lay still, waiting to see what the vampire did next, touched next, but there was nothing but the cool, familiar weight of him and eventually Sam relaxed back into the mattress. He’d made the offer; he would live with the consequences.

As soon as the tension bled out of his muscles, a strong hand took firm grip of his chin, holding his head in place. Sam felt the white sting of delicate teeth sliding into his skin, then lips sealed over the wound. He braced for the pain... but instead, a strange euphoria stirred in him, like lazy pleasure, and an oddly disconnected awareness of the his body. The silky weight of the sheets against his skin, the distant and faint ticking of a clock, the gentle working of the mouth pressed tightly to his throat as it pulled the blood from his body, an occasional rasp of tongue. There was arousal, but no urgency, everything was just… good. Warm, and sweet, and easy. Peaceful. He slipped deeper and deeper into welling sensation until he slipped back over the precipice into sleep.

~~~~~

 

“What the hell was that?” Sam snarled late the next morning as he stalked into the living room, looking for the vampire. He slammed the door to the bedroom so hard picture frames rattled on the walls. The blinds and curtains were drawn, but enough light seeped through and around them that even Sam’s eyes had no trouble seeing clearly.

Dean’s eyes narrowed in annoyance.

“What crawled up your skirt and died?” he snapped back, sitting up from where he had been drowsing on the couch. Sam looked a bit nonplussed for a moment, and Dean took the opportunity to point at the kitchen. “Get some food; you can bitch at me afterwards.”

“I don’t want to bitch at you,” Sam growled, finding a switch with one hand and turning it on. “I want to know what hell happened last night!”

“You slept, I snacked, then you slept some more.” Dean frowned at him, squinting in the sudden light from the overhead fixture. “The blood part is directly related to your need to go find breakfast, in case you were wondering,” he added pointedly.

Sam bit back a rejoinder and made a visible effort to calm himself. He wanted an answer more than he wanted a screaming fight with Dean. They could always do that later. “It didn’t feel like it usually does. It felt… it felt good.”

“So you enjoyed yourself, big deal. People have been romancing about vampires on and off for centuries; anything that persistent must have some basis in reality.”

“The big deal is that I’ve had gunshot wounds that hurt less than it has every other time you’ve bitten me! What was different this time?”

Dean yawned and rummaged on the floor for the paper he had been reading before falling asleep. “Get some food, take a shower, then if you still want to talk about it, you know where I’ll be.” 

“I don’t want to eat, or shower, or wait. I want to know what’s going on!”

Dean ignored him, flipping through the newspaper for the place he'd left off.

Sam stood fuming for a few minutes, but when it was obvious the vampire intended to continue ignoring him, he stalked back the way he came. The hiss of the shower sounded a few moments later.

Sam was still angry when he came back into the room later, hair damp and dressed in his own carefully mended clothes, but he didn’t go back on the attack, just settled at the table with a box of cereal and what was left of the milk Dean had purchased earlier in the week for him. The silence was unbroken except for the occasional rustle of the paper and steady munching from the kitchenette.

Finally, Sam dropped the bowl into the sink with a clatter and eased himself down onto the far end of the couch, still mindful of his impressive collection of healing wounds

Dean raised an eyebrow without shifting his attention from what he was reading. “I hope you have plans to wash that.”

Sam ignored the comment. “I did what you wanted, now talk.”

Dean folded the paper and let it fall back to the floor beside the couch. He pulled a knee up and twisted to face Sam directly. “What’s your problem again?”

“I think I was pretty clear about my problem earlier! Why has every time you’ve done this to me felt like you were injecting me with battery acid, and then last night it… didn't?”

“I have control over how you feel when I’m feeding from you.”

Sam's eyes widened, incredulous. “You’ve been hurting me all along on purpose?”

Dean shrugged, expression unapologetic.

“Why?” Sam asked, to shocked to even find anger for the moment.

“I wanted your pain as much as I wanted your blood. I bargained for it, remember?”

Sam stared at him, struggling for the details of that long ago conversation. “You... said it would hurt, but you implied that it just happened. You never said you wanted to torture me!”

“Then maybe the mighty hunter should have asked a few more questions,” Dean suggested coolly. “Besides -- were you going to turn me down? Let those people die because you felt a little squeamish?”

Sam hugged one of the couch cushions to his chest, trying to find reason in this new information. “Was it because I killed the others -- the vampires in the nest?”

“No,” Dean's voice was even colder, “but that assumption is. I don’t like hunters, Sam. You serve a marginally useful function, or I could happily devote my time to exterminating the lot of you. You stalk and kill hundreds every year, and the only thing you have to know to justify it is whether or not your victim is human. Like because it’s other it doesn’t have a right to exist. You people slaughter so-called monsters that live with humans in total peace, who would rather harm themselves than hurt any one of you. But they aren’t just like you, so it’s okay.”

There was more anger and emotion in the words than Sam had ever heard from the vampire.

“The vampires I killed had abducted and killed dozens of people; they were turning more and more people. I was put on their trail in the first place looking for someone's missing wife. You can’t say what I did was wrong.”

“Of course not,” Dean snapped. “What the hell do you think I was there for? You think I was creeping around that rat-infested basement for shits and giggles?”

“What were you there for?” Sam asked.

“To shut down that little experiment and make sure none of the things involved survived to share their enterprising ideas with other nests. It’s enough trouble trying to keep the population under control without them trying their hand at empire building.”

“The population… the vampire population?”

Dean gave Sam a disgusted look. “Vampires like that breed faster than rabbits. It takes a single drop of blood to cause the transformation and they're almost always impulsive, stupid creatures. Do you honestly think the handful of hunters roaming around dealing with all manner of pest control issues is actually keeping that kind of potential population growth in check?”

Sam took in the words, but vampires like that kept echoing in his mind. Lenore’s weird behavior, all the strange things he had noticed about Dean. He had the suspicion he was going to feel really stupid in a minute. 

“Vampires like that…” Sam said slowly. “Do you mean vampires that make big nests?”

Dean chewed on a nail, but didn’t answer.

“Or," Sam continued, "do you mean ‘vampires like that’, as in an entirely different type of vampire.”

“A vampire’s a vampire; what else do you need to know?” Dean’s tone held a warning edge, but Sam wasn’t in the mood to be held off.

“That thing with your fangs, that's not something you control.” It wasn’t a question.

“That was probably the dumbest of the things you swallowed,” Dean admitted after a moment. "I was kind of wondering about your intelligence at that point."

Sam ignored that and slumped back against the cushions. “You were at the farm to kill the nest.”

“Yes.”

“What were you doing in the basement?”

“The same thing you were, checking out the captives before turning them over to the cops.”

“And you couldn’t just have told me that?” Sam demanded, anger finally surfacing in his voice.

“I told you, I don’t like hunters. And why the hell would I waste my breath -- you think there were strong odds of you buying anything I said? It worked out well for me in the end.” Dean shrugged.

“Not so well for me,” Sam growled.

Dean’s expression was completely unsympathetic. “You reaped the rewards of your failure to ask questions. And don’t think you’re off the hook now.”

“You're still going to try and tell me you’re going to hunt down and kill those people if I don’t show up?” Sam demanded.

“Human life doesn’t mean a lot to me. I don’t kill for the sake of killing, but I’m not adverse to killing for other reasons. You’re right though; I’m not going to hold them over your head anymore. You have a new problem.”

“What’s that?” Sam asked warily.

“You know,” Dean replied simply.

“That there is more than one type of vampire?”

"That’s pretty fatal information. We keep the vampire population under control to keep the hunters out of our business; their controlled existence masks our own. My job is to make sure that secret stays kept from your people. You think you're allowed to know it, and just waltz off on your merry way, completely free and unmonitored?”

Sam swallowed hard and found his gaze sliding to the front door. But he had a taste of how strong and fast Dean could be. Even in perfect health, Sam knew he didn’t have a chance of getting out of the room if Dean didn’t want him to go. His fingers dug into the cushion and he forced himself to relax again. “Why did you tell me then?”

Dean hadn’t missed the glance, but still seemed perfectly at ease. “You had enough hints. You would have put it together soon enough, and I needed to have this talk with you when you did.”

Sam laughed humorlessly. “You said yourself I swallowed all your bullshit, what else was I supposed to know that would have made this grand reveal?”

“I know what Lenore told you.”

“Leave her out of this,” Sam warned.
 
Dean smiled oddly. “Relax. She’s not in any danger from me or mine, not at the moment, anyways. Seems she feels she owes you something, got in touch with me a few weeks after you helped her and her nest hightail it out of that asshole Gordon’s reach. She was afraid she had given too much away and didn’t want to be responsible for your death.”

“How do you know her?” Sam remembered Lenore’s deer-in-headlights reaction to Dean’s name. In retrospect, he wished he'd pushed her a lot harder for information.

Dean kicked his feet up on the coffee table. “Lenore was part of a nest I destroyed back in the twenties. She was one of their new converts, and riding high on the intoxication of bloodlust and murder. She managed to escape in the confusion and took off. Damn fast on her feet, but easy enough to track by the bodies she left in her wake. Then she just vanished. I looked around, but there were bigger things that needed attention, and if I couldn’t find her, then she wasn’t reproducing -- so I let her go. I always meant to go back and finish tracking her down, but things happened and…” Dean shrugged. “A couple of decades later, one of my colleagues was talking about a vampire nest that claimed to have gone vegetarian, completely cold turkey. He hung around for a few days because whenever our lowbrow cousin’s get up to something unusual, it generally means it’s time for another scorched earth intervention, but they seemed to be legit. He said their leader killed any member of the group that drank from a human. His description sounded familiar.”

“You went to kill her,” Sam said flatly.

“Maybe, maybe not. I was suspicious about her identity. I went to go see what my little lost lamb had gotten up to in the forty or so years since our last encounter. Do you know how incredibly rare it is for one of them to make it even a decade? I assumed she had been killed in one way or other, years earlier.”

“You don’t sound like you place a lot of value on their lives.”

“I don’t,” Dean snorted derisively. “Are you going to claim you do? Most of them are vicious, petty monsters, which puts all of the rest of us in danger. I let her live because she proved that she wasn’t.”

“But she knew all about you, and your kind. I thought it was a death sentence to have that information.”

“For a human, and especially for a hunter -- but we make sure the other little vampires know allllll about us. We’re the bogeymen in their closets, the ‘something worse’ they use to threaten their fledglings into line. And the reason their numbers stay so small that some of your kind go their entire lives without running across one. I bet you know hunters that don't even believe in vampires.”

Sam nodded. When he spoke again, his voice was bitter, fingers so tight on the fabric it looked in danger of tearing. “What are you going to do with me? You said it was a death sentence to know. Has this been how you planned it all along? Torture me for a few years, tell me the truth so I know it’s all been for nothing, and then finish me off?”

Dean rolled his eyes. “I’ve gone through an awful lot of trouble with you over the last couple of days if I was just going to rip your throat out, don’t you think?”

“I obviously don’t know a damn thing about you; how the hell should I know what you would or wouldn’t do?”

Dean ignored that and reached out to grab the pillow from Sam’s grip; he shoved it back into place on the couch and gave Sam a warning look when it looked like he might reach for it again.

“This house isn’t mine; I would like to not have to replace the furnishings.”

“Excuse me if that’s not really high on my list of concerns,” Sam snapped.

“I’m not planning to kill you, Sam. I just have to… keep an eye on you. I figure we can just keep on with our deal the way it’s been going and that'll be that. It’s not like you haven’t been getting anything out of it yourself anyways -- I’ve been pretty helpful, don’t you think? And as long as you promise to keep your mouth shut, and we have some regular contact so I can justify the argument to the others that you’re in my control, there’s no reason you can’t keep on with your sad excuse of a life.”

Sam's look was withering. “So you think that without holding some innocent lives over my head, I’m still going to keep on showing up when you call and letting you inflict mind-numbing pain on me because it gets you off?”

“You said last night wasn’t bad,” Dean pointed out.

Sam frowned. “Is that what you’re offering now?”

The vampire shrugged. “It makes no difference to me how you feel while I feed from you. But you will keep this deal with me, because the first time you fail to show up will be the last mistake you ever make.”

“You said you enjoyed my pain.”

“I did.”

“But not anymore?’

“What can I say? I’m a sucker for sob stories and blood like burnt sugar. If you want to keep suffering, I’m not going to complain, but I’ve gotten out of it what I was after. You can have it however you want it in the future.”

Sam didn’t say anything.

“Do you understand how this works?” Dean pressed.

“Nothing changes,” Sam said evenly.

“Right. Nothing changes. And you keep your mouth shut.”

Sam nodded in reluctant agreement. “I think I'm going to head back out. If you're done with me.” 

Dean frowned. “You should stay a few more days.”

“I need to be alone for awhile, Dean. I can take care of myself.”

“Can you? You're still half dead on your feet and if you have other corners to turn to I'd be shocked. I found the police reports, Sam. The human authorities are looking for you. I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt that you didn’t slaughter those hunters, but will the rest of them? I haven’t asked you how you got fucked up, but I’m not stupid, Sam.”

Sam looked past him at the closed door again, wishing himself far away. “How did you know they were hunters?”

“I recognized the address. I try to stay appraised of places hunters like to gather and plot trouble. I take a professional interest, you could say.”

Sam nodded, defeat in every line of his body. “I’m going to lie back down.”

“You do that.”

~~~~~

The door opened a few hours later. Sam, fresh from a nap and trying to sort out his options, looked up from his laptop to watch the vampire settle into the desk chair. Dean regarded him silently for a few minutes.

“What?” Sam finally asked.

Dean gave a much-put-upon sigh. “What’s going on, Sam? I mean really. I don’t want to be involved in this, but...” He made a frustrated gesture with his hand and shook his head. “I have a job to do, and I need you to be able to take care of yourself. I can’t have this... distraction hanging over me.”

“What distraction? Honestly, I don’t even know why the hell you care at all, Dean. I get that you have a good thing here, but there’s a lot of people in the world I’m sure you could find a way to blackmail into the same sort of arraignment.”

The vampire looked annoyed but didn’t say anything.

“Things have felt... different, the last few times you called me. I mean before this time,” Sam tried hesitantly, after a few minutes of awkward silence. “For more than a year and a half, you called me every four weeks like clockwork, touched me as much as you could get away with under the excuse of feeding, made all sorts of suggestions, and then it just... stopped. Suddenly it’s like a business transaction and you can’t get rid of me fast enough. You’re fine with my wrist, I need to keep all my clothes on, you only call every other month at best -- I’m not saying I miss the old situation, but why? I’ve got too many mysteries on my plate that need solving, and…” Sam laughed a little wildly. “I can’t fucking believe I’m saying this, but you’re the most dependable person in my life right now. Then you throw all this other shit at me, and I have to know -- what the hell is going on?”

“Do you?”

Sam blinked. “Do I what?”

“Miss the ‘old situation’?”

“I say all that, and that’s what you want to know?”

Dean shrugged. “You were the one throwing sex on the table last night.”

Sam frowned, annoyed at the reminder. “I didn’t make that offer because I was desperate to get laid, and you know it. If I’d known you could bite me without it feeling like I was being pumped full of acid without sex being involved, I wouldn’t have opened my mouth. What I miss is knowing what to expect from you, not the rest of that crap.”

“You’re lying.” The vampire was eyeing Sam with a different sort of interest. “Not about why you made the offer, but about missing the other things.”

Sam ground his teeth, but refused to rise to the bait.

“Now," Dean continued, "we can either discuss that very interesting little observation, or you can answer my original question and we can leave the rest of this for later. What the hell are you up to that has the entire hunting community out for your blood?”

“I don’t know.”

Dean raised an eyebrow. “What do you know?”

“You believe me?” Sam hated that his life had reached a point where that was a surprise.

The vampire smiled. “I have the advantage of knowing what you smell like when you lie.” 

Sam slumped back against the pillows. “Fantastic. I tell everyone the truth, and the only person who believes me is the one that does me no good at all.”

~~~~~

“So,” Dean had stretched out about thirty minutes into the story, leaning the chair precariously back and kicking his feet up onto the mattress, “as far as you know, the first hint of any demonic activity around you was when your friend the Priest--”

“Pastor,” Sam interrupted.

“--whatever, was killed in his church after you visited him.”

Sam nodded. “Right.”

“And then you don’t know of anything until you ran an errand for another hunter buddy of yours--”

“Jim wasn’t a hunter.”

Dean glared.

“Sorry,” Sam muttered.

“As I was saying, the next thing you know of was when you drove to Oklahoma to retrieve a demonic text from what turned out to be actual demons, and they beat the shit out of you and left you in a basement. This was more than a year after your Pastor friend was killed?”

Sam nodded.

“Then you woke up in yet another basement with some of your fellow hunters. They had some pressing questions for you, didn’t like your answers, beat the shit out of you again. Then when you woke up from that, your hosts had been rendered into so many little scraps of flesh and you were untied. Right?”

“Pretty much." It didn't make any more sense in this retelling than it had the thousand times Sam had gone over it in his own head.

“Adding to this mystery," Dean continued, "the fact that from what you can tell, hunters have never liked you and you haven’t been able to get in contact with your father for -- two years now?”

“A little more than that,” Sam admitted. John’s ongoing absence was a source of great irritation to him. “I haven't seen him since before you and I met. He leaves me messages sometimes, lets me know he’s okay. I just have no idea where he is. Or what he’s doing.”

“Probably safe to assume he’s killing things that go bump in the night,” Dean said dryly. “Now, we were at the part where your friendly hunter buddies sicced the cops on you for the murders in the basement, and you’ve spent the last three months sleeping in your backseat and motels that charge by the hour waiting to heal up enough so you could piss without blood and breathe without pain, hoping no one stumbled across you.”

“Yeah.”

“And it never occurred to you to call me again... why?”

“Why would it have? You were pretty clear about how this worked when we made our little deal. I don’t call you, you call me.”

“Something you conveniently forget when you need help with a case!” Dean snapped.

“I didn’t think you would give a damn!” Sam snapped back. Dean frowned at him but settled back.

“Well, despite my general inclination otherwise -- I do. What’s your next step?”

“Why?”

“What?” Dean asked irritably.

“That’s really annoying.”

The vampire rolled his eyes.

“Why. Do. You. Care?” Sam ground out.

“Sometimes when we feed from someone long enough, we develop a... sense, about them. No need to feel special," Dean cut off whatever Sam tried to interject, "it’s not a voluntary sort of thing. I can either kill you, or do something so you aren’t in danger of dying every other day, to get rid of this irritation. Have you considered hairdressing school? I hear it’s a rewarding career.”

“Is this the mark thing Lenore was talking about?” Sam frowned. “She said it would go away if you just stopped feeding off me. And really,” he added, “I’d be okay with that.”

“Lenore doesn’t have a fucking clue what she’s talking about. If I could make it go away just by not indulging, you would have heard the last of me months ago.”

“What about your need to keep me close? So the rest of your kind don’t kill me?”

“That’s for your benefit. If you died, I’d be off the hook entirely. But I did kind of get you into this, and you’re not a completely worthless person, for a hunter, so I’m willing to be a little inconvenienced to keep you breathing.”

“Wow, that’s just... thanks.”

“Sarcasm isn’t helping your case,” the vampire said. “My willingness to be inconvenienced stops when you start affecting my job -- which is about this point. What’s your next move?”

Sam spread his hands helplessly. “I need more information.”

“That sounds like a reasonable place to start. You going to be okay on your own trying to get it?”

Sam hesitated. “Can I call you if I’m not?”

“Preferably before you catch a bullet.”

 

Sam cursed under his breath and stalked back into the diner. Paranoia was starting to make him jump at shadows. Still, he could have sworn the car idling on the far side of the parking lot was the same car that had pulled in behind him at the gas station earlier in the day -- and the same car he had seen parked along the curb in the motel parking lot across the road from his the night before. Like the saying went, just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean you’re wrong.

Or it could have been some random motorist pulling off the highway to make a call, and their leaving right before Sam could get a look at their license plate was just a screwed-up coincidence.

In the six months since Dean patched him up and shared his own little revelations, Sam had buried himself in research and travel -- and had made very little progress in solving the mystery of why the world was out to get him. He had attempted several times to leave his father a message, begging for any information he had, but the number was no longer in service. John had left him a voicemail a few days later saying he was fine, and would give Sam his new number when he had a chance -- but that had been awhile ago, and there had still been no word. Worried as he was, Sam just couldn’t spare much time to dwell on whatever was going on with his dad. Between his official fugitive status with the cops and trying to keep his own team in the supernatural war from killing him, Sam had more than enough of his own problems he could barely handle without adopting anyone else's.

Maybe most strange out of all the weirdness in his life, now that feeding wasn't an ordeal to dread, Sam found himself looking forward to the periodic visits with Dean. The vampire was just as sarcastic and irritating as usual, but that undercurrent of something had been growing between them. Something that sometimes Sam almost thought he could name. He wasn’t exactly pleased to have Dean curling around him again every time he fed, but it had recently occurred to him that he wasn’t exactly displeased either. It was unnerving on some levels, but Sam also found himself... intrigued.

Mostly, he tried not to think about it.

Solving his personal mystery was a much bigger concern. Lately, he had been focused on finding hunters who knew him personally and who he thought would be willing to at least talk to him before pulling a gun. People he had worked with before or had at least actually met. None of his carefully chosen marks had threatened him, but all of them had been unhappy about his visit, and all of them claimed not to have any information. Word had gotten thoroughly around that he was bad news, and no one wanted to risk exposing their backs to him. Sam was pretty sure at least a few of them were being less than honest about not knowing anything, but short of trying to beat it out of them, they were dead ends. It was frustrating, but Sam continued doggedly at his task. He couldn’t think of anything else to try, and someone eventually had to know something concrete they would be willing to share.

What was really frustrating, though, was the feeling of being stalked he had picked up a few states back. Nothing he could pinpoint or prove, but like the car in the parking lot, there were just too many coincidences to truly be coincidences. He was spinning in circles trying to find his tail, until he was finally was forced to resign himself to accepting that they would show themselves when they were damn well ready, and nothing he could do was going to drag them out of the shadows before that point.

He just hoped they decided they wanted to talk before they decided they wanted to riddle him with bullets.

Which brought him back around to Dean. Dean, who was due to call any day, and Sam needed to have something to tell him this time. The vampire was not impressed with what Sam had managed to do so far in the direction of getting himself off the kill list for half the hunters in the country. Sam was getting the impression that if that didn’t change soon, the vampire was going to strongly suggest a more direct approach to solving the problem. Sam didn’t want to fight with Dean, but he wasn’t ready to start cutting parts off of his colleagues either. Yet.

~~~~~

Sam had been nursing the same beer in the darkest corner of the bar he could find for almost four hours before his mark showed up. Garrett Haskell wasn’t anyone Sam had hunted with before, but he had two things about him that made him a person of great interest for Sam: he was an active hunter in the same part of Oklahoma Sam had been grabbed in and might know what the hunters who had held him were suspicious of, and he had been one of John Winchester’s mentors when he was learning the hunting trade back when Sam was still a baby. Whatever the big secret was that had set the foundation for getting Sam blacklisted had started before his earliest memories, and Garret Haskell was one of the men most likely to have that answer.

He dropped a chair at the end of the booth Haskell occupied. The old hunter was a grizzled specimen of the kind, but there was plenty of fire in the look he leveled on Sam.

“Get out.”

“Mr. Haskell, just listen for a minute. Please.”

“I don’t have anything to discuss with you, and you’re lucky I’m tired and wanting a drink more than a fight. Just go away.”

“Look, my name is--”

Haskell snorted. “I know who you are. Your daddy is a damn fine hunter; does honor to your momma’s memory every day of his life.”

Sam blinked, surprised. “You knew my mother?”

The hunter gave him a look like he was dim.

“Of course not. If she’d been alive to know, I’d never have met John. It’s for his sake I’m willing to give you a pass tonight.” Haskell gave a meaningful look towards the door.

Sam ignored the pointed hint and leaned in. “Look, I don’t want any trouble. I just want to know what’s going on. People seem to be saying a lot of things about me, but no one wants to tell me what exactly it is I’m supposed to have done.”

Garrett Haskell pulled a cell phone out and laid it very deliberately on the table between them. “You have about fifteen seconds to get out of sight before I start making calls. You ever seen a lynch mob, Samuel? It’s not a pretty thing, but those men you killed had a lot of friends in these parts. Be interesting to see who gets here first, them or the cops. The cops are still looking for you, aren’t they?”

Sam slammed his hands on the table in frustration and stood up.

“Ten seconds,” Haskell said.

Sam ripped a few bills out of his wallet and tossed them on the bar as he stalked past. Maybe Dean had a point about the best way to approach things after all. He certainly wasn’t making any headway being nice.

~~~~~

Sam stormed out of the bar and headed for the Impala. There was an assortment of the usual bar riffraff loitering around the front of the building, but he ignored them in his irritation and tried to remember how much money he had left on his latest credit card, and where the drop for the next one was. It was time for another cash advance.

He was almost to the car when one of the anonymous men stuck a foot out unexpectedly and sent Sam sprawling into the dirt. Sam sprang back up, muscles tense and fists balled for a fight, was almost relieved at the idea of a target he could punch, but amused green eyes and a very familiar face took the wind out of him.

Dean?” Sam hissed, looking around to see if anyone was paying attention. No one was, the vampire grabbed his arm and dragged him in the direction of the Impala.

“Nice to see you too, Sam. I enjoyed my trip, how was yours?”

Before Sam could tell him what he thought about the joke, Dean continued in a less amused tone of voice.

“You would think someone with as much of a mark on their back as you have would be a little more wary of their surroundings. I’ve been watching you for hours now.”

Sam shook the hand off roughly once they reached the car. “What the hell are you doing here?”

The vampire ran a hand admiringly over the Impala’s hood and shook his head regretfully when it came away coated with dust. He wiped it off on his pants and turned back to Sam. “I finished my job early and was planning to give you a call, but since I was at loose ends...” He shrugged. “Figured I might as well hunt you down and see how it was going. Nice to see you’ve kept yourself intact this time. Toss me the keys. I took a cab out here and you drive like my grandmother. I mean, like she probably would have driven, if they'd had cars back then.”

Sam fished them out of his pocket and handed them over. “How did you find me?”

Dean unlocked the driver's door and slid inside, then leaned over to pop the lock on the passenger's side for Sam. “There’s this newfangled crap out there called technology. It’s pretty nifty stuff; you should look into it.”

Dean.

“I traced your cell phone and your credit card. I got the name and number off of it last time you stopped by. I track and find people for a living, Sam. It’s not all skulking through graveyards and sleeping in coffins, you know.”

“You don’t sleep in a coffin,” Sam muttered, not sure what to do about this turn of events.

“How do you know what I do the three hundred and fifty five odd days of the year you aren’t with me?”

“Do you?” Sam asked pointedly.

Dean flashed Sam one of his enigmatic smiles. “I’m a being of endless mystery.”

“You’re a pain in my ass.” Dean opened his mouth to retort and Sam gave him a warning look. “Don’t even say it.”

“Fine, let’s move on then. What did you want with the old guy in there?”

“It was nothing.”

“It was nothing or he knew nothing?”

Sam sighed and leaned back against the Impala's familiar leather. Appreciating that at least there was one constant in his life. He glanced almost involuntarily over to Dean and had the not entirely unwelcome thought that maybe there were two now. “Garrett Haskell. He knew my dad when I was a baby. I thought maybe he might know whatever it is that no one seems to want to tell me.”

“Are you sure he didn’t?”

“He offered to call the local hunters and the cops if I didn’t clear out in thirty seconds, then take bets on who got to me first. So no, I’m not sure he didn’t, but I don’t think he’s going to be a really strong resource, you know?”

"Hmmmmm." Dean thought that over. “You ever get in touch with dear old dad?”

“No.”

Dean nodded. “So what next?”

“I thought I would get dinner, and then... head out to Kansas and see if any of the old neighbors remembered anything.”

“I thought you did that already and it was a bust.”

“It was, but... maybe someone will be home that wasn’t last time.”

The vampire raised a skeptical eyebrow. “That’s your big plan? Go door-knocking in your dad’s old stomping grounds again, hoping one of the civvies might remember something useful?”

Sam crossed his arms. “If you have a better idea, feel free to share it.”

“You need to stop playing the rabbit, Sam. Where does Garrett Haskell live?”

~~~~~

An hour later and fifteen miles distant, Sam wasn't much happier than he'd been earlier.

“I really don’t like this, Dean.”

“You’ve said that, Sam," Dean said patiently. "Now shut it. He’s home.”

Sam stayed quiet in the shadows as headlights swung into the driveway. The old hunter stomped around the porch for a few minutes, probably checking the wards Sam had slipped them through with minimal effort, then fumbled the keys into the lock and pushed the door open.

Haskell barely cleared the doorway before Dean grabbed him by the collar and shoved him hard into the wall. Sam closed the front door and flipped on the lights.

“Son-of-a-bitch,” Haskell snarled, struggling against Dean’s grip.

“Maybe,” the vampire pushed a little harder and the hunter stopped fighting him, “but that doesn’t really change your situation, now does it?”

Haskell glared at Sam. “They were right about you, damned traitor!”

“Hey now,” Dean got the hunter's attention. “I’m not a demon; you don’t need to get your panties in a twist thinking I’m about to redecorate this room with your organs.”

“You sure as hell ain’t human!” He heaved against Dean’s grip as if making his point when the vampire remained unmoved by his struggle.

“I never said I was human,” the vampire smiled. “I said I wasn’t a demon. There are plenty of other things out there that find humans delicious. Keep being difficult and I might give you a taste test. What are you, A? A positive?"

The hunter went limp against the wall, breathing unevenly and with his face flushed an unhealthy color. The look he gave Sam was pure accusation. “Vampires ain’t no better than demons. Your daddy would weep if he knew what you were up to.”

“I’m not up to anything!" Sam defended himself, "Just tell me what I want to know, and we’ll leave.”

“I’d start talking,” Dean added, leaning his face closer to Haskell’s throat and inhaling deeply. “I’m already feeling peckish, and aimless threats and sullen silences really make my stomach growl.”

“He always knew you were going to go bad, with the demon blood in you; he just didn’t have the strength to do what needed doing when you were a boy.” Haskell’s last word was a slurred pant, and Sam stepped closer, alarmed, and not entirely certain he’d heard the old hunter right.

“Dean?”

The vampire frowned and let Haskell slide down to stand on his feet. The hunter started to slump over and Dean pressed an ear to his chest. “Shit, call an ambulance.”

~~~~~

 

“He’s going to be fine,” Dean told Sam firmly, later the next day.

Sam nodded from the passenger side of the Impala. Deangodaddy analytics slid behind the wheel and pulled out of the parking lot.

“The cute and chatty nurse was more than happy to tell me everything I wanted to know about her very colorful patient, Mr. Haskell. This wasn’t his first heart attack, and since it didn’t kill him, it probably won’t be his last. They’re going to keep him a couple of days to run some tests and give him a few more monotonous lectures on the dangers of red meat, and then they’re going to send him home. He’ll going to be fine. You know, for a while.”

“Thanks for checking on him for me," Sam said absently. "I wasn’t getting anywhere on the phone.”

“I would have checked on him anyway; I’m not in the business of killing hunters, as a general rule. I would like to kill hunters, but at the end of the day that just makes my job harder and my life more uncomfortable.”

Sam let the familiar rumble of the car fill the silence between them for a few minutes. “You told him you were a vampire,” he finally said.

“I wanted him scared. Not that scared,” Dean grimaced, “but scared enough to talk to us. Bad luck he had a crappy ticker.”

“I thought it was a big, dark secret?”

“What?" Dean shot him a look. "That there are vampires out there? We took out his security system before he got there, he doesn’t have any pictures of me, and he doesn’t know I’m any different from any other blood-sucker. It’s fine. Not like it’s going to hurt your reputation any,” he added pointedly.

“That’s fair enough. It's not like I can be any more damned in their eyes that I already am I guess. But... they think I have demon blood?” Sam repeated for what felt like the thousandth time, while Dean maneuvered the Impala through the heavy afternoon traffic. The vampire was squinting in the sunlight, and kept tugging his sleeves down as if was irritating his skin. He’d insisted on driving though, claimed he wasn’t in any actual danger, certainly less than he would be in if Sam was trying to drive in his preoccupied state. “Why would they think that? I mean... how would that even be possible?”

Dean sighed with annoyance and cut off an ancient VW bus that seemed confused about the difference between the carpool lane and the passing lane. He flashed an inviting smile at a convertible full of teenage girls zipping past on the left. Sam hit him hard on the shoulder. The vampire glared at him.

“What the hell did he mean that I have demon blood?”

“I have no idea, Sam! If I did, believe that I would have told you maybe the three or four hundredth time you asked! You want to hole up around here and wait for Haskell to get out of the hospital and ask him for some details to go with his dramatic little statement?”

“No,” Sam said decisively. “I’m done playing games. I’m going to South Dakota and getting some fucking answers out of Bobby Singer if I have to beat them out.”

“Finally, a good plan. Drive in shifts?”

“Yeah, but not yet.” Sam gave Dean a sidelong look that was hard to interpret. “Find a motel room. I owe you some blood and we could both use some rest.”

“I’m good to drive for awhile if you want to get going. This isn’t my favorite time to be on the road, but I can manage.”

Sam shook his head. “Let’s just stop.”

“You know," Dean said after a few minutes when Sam had returned to brooding silence, "the old man could just have been full of shit. There’s nothing to say you have demon anything in you. And even if you do, it doesn’t change who you are.”

Sam just shook his head again and didn’t reply.

~~~~~

When Dean finally pulled into an anonymous motel that met his exacting standards of ‘not an obvious firetrap’ and ‘sheets are probably washed’, Sam just waved off any questions about room preferences. After checking in, Dean pulled the car around to the back of the building and they made their way into the standard two-bed, ground floor, hold-the-roaches room that would have fit neatly into any roadside dive. Maybe without the garish yellow and green swirled wallpaper or the odd statue of what was probably a dolphin bolted to the top of the television, but local color and all that.

Sam spent some time in the shower debating a new approach to life, since his old one apparently didn’t work at all, and this approach was more about living in the moment and taking chances. Taking one chance in particular. A sudden fit of doubt kept him under the water longer that he had planned, second guessing himself and making excuses, but he finally gathered his nerve, pulled only his boxers on and strode out to face the problem head on.

The problem in question was still fully dressed, lying back on one of the beds with his boots kicked up on the comforter, watching something that seemed to heavily feature squirrels.

“Going to put your clothes on?” Dean asked absently, using a knee to nudge Sam’s bag helpfully closer to the edge of the bed.

“I wasn’t sure it was going to be necessary,” Sam said slowly.

That got all of Dean’s attention. The vampire clicked off the TV and swung his legs over the side of the bed, sitting up. “Come again?”

“You turned me down before because you said I wasn’t in shape to be making the offer. I wasn’t nice about it, but you were right.” Sam licked his lips nervously. “I’m not messed up like that now, and if you’re still interested, I think I am too. To try it, anyways. At least once.”

“It?” Dean raised an eyebrow.

“Sex.” Sam glared, resisting the urge to cross his arms, or retract the offer.

The vampire took his time looking Sam over until the hunter felt himself blushing to his hairline and wished he had crawled under the sheets before making the offer. Or not made it at all. The boxers, especially over his damp skin, didn’t do much for modesty. Sam wasn’t ashamed of anything he had, but he wasn’t used to being appraised quite so openly either, certainly not by another guy.

“Okay.” Dean shrugged.

Sam blinked blinks at the abruptness. “That’s it?”

“Well, I don’t know why I should be arguing here exactly.” Dean stood up and stepped into Sam’s space, causing the hunter to back up until his legs hit the mattress and he sat down on the edge. “I’ve made no secret of my inclinations towards you. The problems from before aren’t really an issue now, you seem healthy enough to me, so if you want to have sex --great! Let’s go for it.”

“Um. Good then. What do you want to do?” Sam asked, hating his own uncertainty and the unfamiliarity of the ground.

Dean didn't seem to have any such trouble. “I’m hungry.” The vampire traced his fingers over Sam’s collarbone, the light touch raising goosebumps over Sam's skin. “I want to make you all shaky and sweet with pleasure, then sink my teeth in somewhere tender and swallow all that richness down.” He stepped back, smiling when Sam leaned instinctively forward, following his hand, then raised his gaze to meet Sam’s wide-eyed stare, pupils starting to expand with arousal. “Why?" Dean asked casually. "What did you want to do?”

Sam swallowed. “Your plan sounds good.”

"I thought you might like it." Dean's confidence was a good balm to Sam's hesitancy. At least he seemed to know what the hell he was doing. "Scoot back up on the bed a little then. Feet on the floor, knees apart.”

Sam followed directions obediently, laying flat and bemused as he reminded himself sternly that life was an adventure.

He jerked back to attention and propped himself up on his elbows, startled, when hands landed gently on his knees, then slid up until they rested on the inside of his thighs. Dean was kneeling between his legs, watching him intently. When Sam didn’t say or do anything except watch him back, Dean's lips curved into an inviting smile and he let his hands continue sliding up and over until they lay against the skin of Sam’s waist. Sam imagined he could feel Dean’s breath through the thin fabric between them.

“Wait,” Sam said, a kneejerk reaction when Dean curled his fingers under the waistband.

Dean stopped, holding Sam’s gaze, poised as if he could wait like that forever. But Sam couldn’t, couldn’t watch what happened next, and couldn’t wait any longer.

He slid his arms out until he was flat on his back again, staring up at the cracks in the ceiling. It was somehow easier when he couldn’t see Dean’s face.

“Okay.”

There was a chuckle from below.

“Does not looking at me make it easier to think of me as a girl?” Strong hands flexed on his waist as if in reminder.

“No. I just...”

“Relax. It’s okay.” Dean sounded amused rather than offended, and that eased a little more tension out of Sam’s muscles. Callused fingers hooked into the waistband of his boxers and slid them down and off Sam's feet, exposing his half hard cock to Dean’s view. The vampire pushed at Sam’s knees to get him to slide them further apart and moved in closer. “Still okay up there?”

“Yeah,” Sam muttered, starting to feel embarrassed for entirely different reasons. There was a pretty attractive guy on his knees between Sam’s legs who didn’t seem to want anything but give him a blowjob, and Sam was making him work for it. After opening the door for the entire mess in the first place.

“Good," Dean said. "Keep your hands on the bed. If you move them, I'll stop.”

That was the only warning Sam got before a hot, wet tongue licked a broad path up the side of his cock. He shuddered hard and heard another chuckle from between his knees. Dean blew across his wet skin, causing another shiver to ripple through Sam’s body.

“You’re easy.”

“I haven’t gotten out much lately,” Sam muttered.

Dean snorted his opinion of that, then with no warning swallowed Sam to the root. The tight heat and suction caused Sam to bite his lip bloody and clench his hands so hard in the sheets, he thought he felt them rip. Dean let the shaft slide out of his mouth slowly, swirling his tongue around the head, before pulling back entirely.

“How was that?” he asked, in a rough but pleased voice.

Sam had the horrible suspicion Dean was grinning. He tried frantically to figure out what he could say that would make him continue, but all of his thought processes seemed focused on the swollen heat between his legs.

“I would say we should talk about our relationship now,” the vampire commented thoughtfully. Sam made a choked sound and struggled to sit up. “But,” Dean continued --and damn him, Sam was sure he was grinning now, “I suppose I’ll take pity on you, seeing as it’s been awhile and all. Settle back down if you want me to continue.”

Sam sank back onto the mattress, his cock still aching but his mind a little clearer. That lasted until Dean raked his short nails lightly over Sam’s thighs, shoved them open a little wider, and settled back to work with the apparent goal of frying what brain cells Sam still had functioning. For long minutes the only noise in the room was the whir of the air conditioner, the soft, wet noises of Dean hard at work, and Sam's faint, involuntary gasps.

“Soon,” Sam finally got out, distantly amazed he was still making sense, but vaguely aware there were manners to mind. “It’s, you need to move -- soon.”

Dean’s hands tightened on Sam’s hips and he swallowed harder, the muscles of his throat massaging the head of Sam’s cock until Sam felt the world white out for a moment with the force of his orgasm. Things refocused in pleasant, boneless haze. He was dimly aware of Dean cleaning him with easy swipes of his tongue, then moving his attention to the delicate skin high on the inside of Sam’s thigh.

Sam’s leg jerked in Dean’s grip and he hissed, startled, when the sharp sting of Dean's teeth cut through some of the buzz.

Dean pulled his mouth away from Sam’s leg long enough to mutter, “Chill out, enjoy the afterglow.” Then he settled his mouth back over the bite and ran his tongue across the wound, seemingly happy to lavish the same sort of attention on Sam’s thigh as he had been giving to Sam’s cock only minutes earlier.

Sam didn’t know why he was objecting and let his leg relax again in Dean’s grip. With the sting of the bite eased somewhat, the gentle sucking was actually not unpleasant, and the sensations it was causing to ripple through his body were very not unpleasant, even still coming down as he was.

“I’m just going to close my eyes for a little bit,” Sam mumbled a few minutes later, when the post-orgasm lethargy seemed to be deepening and Dean showed no real interest in releasing his leg anytime soon.

~~~~~

Sam stirred awake when the moon was high and the city around them slept. He was still naked, tangled in the sheets. He started to turn over, but movement caused the band aid on his thigh to pull and he settled back, not interested enough to mess with it. The bathroom light was on though the door was closed, causing weird shadows in the room. When the mattress shifted, Sam looked up to see Dean sitting against the headboard. He was still fully dressed, his booted feet stretched out on the crisp whiteness of the bed sheets, just sitting in the dim light, looking down at Sam. His face was expressionless, and it was too dark to see what was in his eyes.

“Can you taste it in me?” Sam asked softly. “The demon blood?”

“Go back to sleep, Sam.”

~~~~~

Things seemed as normal as they ever were, when they left before dawn the next day. They didn’t talk about the night before, though Dean was maybe a little less respectful than usual of Sam’s personal space. They tossed what little they had carried into the motel room into the Impala and headed north again.

Dawn was starting to crust the edge of the horizon when Dean finally pulled off the road and into a pitted parking lot.

Sam raised his head and look around from the road map he'd been studying. He generally knew the way to Bobby's house blind and in the dark, but less so with major interstate chunks closed for construction. “What are we doing here?” he asked as Dean climbed out of the car and stretched.

“Feeding you. I hear a diet of soda crackers and gas station food isn’t good for people. Especially not ones donating blood and sleeping like crap.”

Sam pulled the door open and took a moment to work travel kinks out of his own spine. “I sleep fine.” Dean just shot him a look and led the way towards the front doors.

He started to say something when a woman stepped out of the diner and brushed past them. The vampire paused with his mouth open, then he looked thoughtful and turned around, watching as she walked away.

“Dean?” Sam asked, curiously.

“Hold that thought.”

The vampire moved so fast he was a blur, and in the next second, he was dragging the woman around the corner into the darkness of an overgrowth of bushes.

Sam looked around to make sure no one else had noticed, and hurried after them.

The sodium lights of the parking lot were just bright enough to let Sam make out the tableau. Dean knelt on the woman’s back, with his knee digging into her spine and her arms twisted up behind her. Sam was about to demand to know what the hell was going on, when he abruptly noticed that the vampire was having to strain to hold her down.

“What the hell, Dean?!”

“Look what I found, Sam,” Dean gritted out against the struggle. “Free-range demon. Think there’s a market?”

“Let me go, or I’ll sear the skin from your bones, human!” spat the writhing figure in the leaves.

“If you think I’m human, lady, you aren’t paying much attention,” Dean retorted. Sam distinctly heard the pop of tendons in her shoulder as Dean changed his grip.

"My mistake, vampire," she sneered, the injury making no visible impact on her at all. "I missed the reek of death on you for a moment."

Dean snorted, tightening his hold even more. "I'm surprised you could make it out over your own."

“We need to get it away from here,” Sam hissed, looking around to see how close he could pull the car up.

The woman ceased struggling. “You have the puppet with you. How charming. Are you doing well, puppet? All strong and healthy for your master?”

Dean looked up at Sam, but his question was for the demon beneath him. “And what do you know about that, bitch?”

She laughed and it was high and shrill, grating on Sam’s bones. “I know allllll about his plans for his puppet. And such big plans they are. Plans to set right what’s been so long wrong, put our true master back on his throne. You take care of the puppet, vampire. We'll be wanting him back in one piece when it’s time.”

Before either of them could ask her another question, the body beneath the vampire gave a sharp jerk and then black smoke was billowing out of its mouth. In seconds, the smoke was gone, leaving the air reeking with sulfur and the vampire kneeling on a battered corpse.

They stared at each other for a moment, shocked. Then Sam swallowed hard and his face fell into grim lines. “I have to get to South Dakota.”

Dean nodded and followed him silently back to the car.

~~~~~

Singer Salvage was exactly as Sam remembered it when the Impala ghosted into the yard. The moon was high overhead and the house sat bathed in the silvery light, surrounded on all sides by piles of rusting scrap and bare dirt.

Dean stopped some distance from the house and turned off the car. He rested his hands on the wheel and looked over at where Sam sat gazing absently out at the yard of the closest place he'd ever had to a home. In the kitchen window a single light was burning.

“You want me to do this?” the vampire asked finally.

“No. I need to do this.”

“You want me to come with you at least?” Sam hesitated and Dean continued. “Singer is one of the hubs in the hunter network; he’s going to know what happened at Haskell’s place by now. I’m not a secret.”

“Come on then," Sam said, "but this is my show.”

“Hey, I don’t work when I don’t have to.”

“Which reminds me, don’t you have a job you’re supposed to be doing?” Sam asked as he climbed out of the car.

Dean shrugged and closed his own door. “The job finds me when it needs doing, I’ve got a sixth sense for where I need to be. It’s a vampire thing for those in my line of work. Right now I still have some time to spend helping you out. That could change any moment.”

“How much notice do you get?” Sam asked, as they quietly walked towards the house.

“It starts like an itch in the back of my mind. Then the itch turns into a problem. I don’t like problems, Sam; they complicate my life. I find them less complicating at the bottom of dry wells or abandoned mine shafts. Staked and set on fire has also proved to be a good solution.” He nodded at the house. “Speaking of which, do you know how you’re going to handle this?”

Sam shrugged. He considered and discarded half a dozen plans during the long drive north, finally settling on the direct approach as the most likely to be productive. “I’m just going to tell him what I know, and then suggest he fill in the blanks. Ideally, while you loom ominously in the background.”

“This is the guy who helped raise you?” Dean asked with a raised eyebrow.

Sam’s jaw set. “He’s keeping secrets that are going to get me killed, and he hung me out to dry. Bobby’s gotten all the free passes from me that he’s entitled to.”

“Let’s do this then.”

They climbed the low steps to the porch, the worn wood creaking under Sam’s weight while the vampire ghosted silently behind him.

It was three in the morning, but Sam didn’t think Bobby was asleep. He was proven right when the door opened on his second knock. They stood there a moment just looking at each other, then Bobby’s gaze drifted over his shoulder to where Dean was lurking. After a moment, Bobby sighed and stepped back.

“Well, I suppose you should come in.”

The kitchen was exactly as Sam remembered it. If there was one place in Sam’s life he had thought of as home other than the Impala, it was this room in Bobby’s house. Where some people’s childhood memories of the kitchen included the smells of baking bread and family dinners, Sam’s was filled with gun oil and the clatter of beer bottles. But it was still safety, and innocence, and a world that made sense. He wished they could have done this anywhere else.

“You want a drink?” Bobby asked gruffly.

"Sure."

“None for me.” Dean leaned against the wall, arms crossed casually. “I’ve already had one.”

Bobby shot the vampire a dark look and slid a bottle across the table to Sam.

Sam popped the cap off and took a long swig. When he had swallowed and set the bottle back down, Bobby sighed and sank into the rickety wooden chair across the table from him.

“Why the vampire, Sam?”

“How’s Haskell?” Sam asked instead of trying to answer.

“Better before you two scared him into another heart attack,” Bobby snorted. “But he’ll live.”

Sam was relieved despite himself. He'd never wanted to hurt anybody, he just wanted them to stop trying to hurt him. “The vampire’s with me. Our deal has nothing to do with tonight’s business, so as long as this stays friendly, consider him wallpaper.”

“What do you want?"

Sam slammed the bottle down. “Damn it, Bobby. I want the same thing I wanted last time. I want to know what the big secret is, why I’ve always been on the outside. Why the hell people think I killed Pastor Jim and slaughtered those hunters who grabbed me in Oklahoma. Why they grabbed me in the first place!”

Bobby took his own drink, gaze shifting to the window over the sink as if there were some kind of answers there. “What do you know?”

“I ran into a demon who called me a puppet and said its master had plans for me. World ending plans, Bobby. And Haskell didn’t tell me much, but he said I had demon blood. Also with no explanation, of course. I’ve tried to reach my dad, and I only hope he’s still alive, because I haven’t heard from him in forever. I have to know what’s going on, Bobby. Whatever's going on, its gone way too far already.”

Bobby nodded slowly. “Yeah, I suppose it has. John should have been the one to have this talk with you. I told him that, back when you were learning the trade, before you went off to Stanford and he started walking darker roads. I warned him that if you weren’t told, it was going to come back to bite us all in the ass. Jim, though--" Bobby paused to take another long pull of his beer, "he argued against me. And in the end, your dad took his advice. It was easier for him, I suppose. Jim thought that it would mess you up, you see. Said that once you knew, it would open something in your mind and heart that would be better left shut. And John was afraid that was true, that if you knew, you would go after things you had no business chasing. He was wavering there for awhile, I told him that if you didn’t know, you couldn’t be prepared for what you might be facing. I thought I had him swayed, but then you lit off for college and he shut down again. He didn’t like the betrayal much, you recall, but once he’d thought it over, he decided that was probably the best place for you after all. And it freed him up to do what he’d wanted all along anyways.”

“What was that?” Sam asked in a low voice.

“Go after the thing that killed Mary, of course.”

“A demon killed my mother; you can’t track them. They just show up and vanish.”

“Yeah.” Bobby leaned back in his chair. “That isn’t exactly true. But that’s John’s problem and obsession; that’s not what you’re here for tonight.”

“No,” Sam growled. “But we might get back around to that.”

“Not tonight. You can ask your dad about what he’s been up to, next time you see him. And you already know the answer to your question. Garrett told you before he collapsed; you’ve got demon blood in your veins.” Bobby threw back the last of his beer.

“How?” Dean asked quietly, before Sam could stutter out one of the thousand questions he had.

Bobby ignored Dean completely. “What do you know about your mom’s death, Sam?”

Sam’s brow furrowed. “My dad heard a scream; he ran upstairs and she was pinned on the ceiling, bleeding; the entire room was on fire. He was barely able to grab me before he was forced out. That's it, all he ever said.”

Bobby nodded, not looking surprised. “He left out an important part. When he ran into the room, the demon was dripping blood into your mouth. It kept him pinned against the wall until it was done, then handed you to him and told him to keep you safe because it had plans for you. It vanished and John barely got out before the room exploded.”

Sam was left speechless, so Bobby shrugged a little and continued.

“He wandered around for awhile, out of his head with grief and rage. Eventually, he ran into Jim. Jim put him in contact with some hunters, and the rest, as they say, is history. A few people got the story, back when your dad was still blissfully ignorant of what’s lurking out in the shadows. He shut up soon enough when he was able to grasp the real implications of what the demon had done. But by then, rumors were already spreading. Not sure there are many out there who know the truth anymore, but hunters risk their lives on the information they trade with each other. Once a hunter doesn’t trust you and there’s some cause behind it, that spreads like a wave. Jim dying and what happened in that basement were the last straws.”

“Bobby, I didn’t have anything to do with that! I’ll swear on anything you want. They grabbed me in Oklahoma because of Jim?”

“Partially, though that was mostly Gordon’s doing.”

“What does Gordon have to do with this?" Sam growled.

“He started sniffing around you after your little fist fight. I don’t know if he already knew about your connection with the demons or if he found that out later, but he heard about Jim’s death and started trying to stir up a witch hunt. Those hunters in Oklahoma were friends of his; they heard you’d volunteered to go after the grimoire and it sent up some red flags. I told them to park their asses and leave you alone, but then they grabbed you anyways and before I could find where they’d stashed you and try to get you out... well, you know what happened.”

“Yeah," Sam was lost in thought, trying to fit the new information into his world view, "I know.”

Bobby got up and grabbed another couple of beers out of the fridge. He popped the caps off on the counter and slid another across the table to Sam. “Here, this one’s without the holy water.”

Dean snorted derisively from his place against the wall. Bobby shot him an irritated look, but didn't say anything.

“Thanks,” Sam picked at the label on his bottle, missing the exchange. “What do the demons want with me?”

Bobby heaved a sigh. “I don’t know, Sam. I don’t think anyone does but the demons themselves. Maybe John does by now, but if so, he ain’t talking.”

“Do you know where his dad is?” Dean asked.

“I thought you were wallpaper,” Bobby snapped. “You see that paisley over the sink contributing to this conversation any?”

The vampire’s eyes narrowed and he straightened up menacingly. Bobby looked unimpressed.

Sam held a hand up before something stupid could happen. “Guys, I’ve got enough problems. Please.”

Dean resettled himself, still glowering.

“I can’t tell you anything else, Sam. Last I heard from John was a few months back; he was off in Russia doing some research, said he’d be in touch when he got in touch. You know your dad.”

“Yeah, I know my dad. Fuck.” Sam rubbed at his face.

Dean shifted against the wall. “You going to send a pack of your dogs after us when we leave?”

Bobby looked like he'd aged ten years since he'd met them at the door. "Not this time. No promises about the next. Sam, I want to believe you. I really do, kid. But... there’s no precedent for this. You might even be telling the truth, but you have demon blood in your veins; they might be able to use you for things and you not even have any idea. We don’t know what they want you for, and what they can use you for.” He shook his head. “The best thing you can do for yourself is get out of this life. Go find a nine-to-five job somewhere in the daylight world and leave anything to do with hunting alone.”

Sam leaned forward until he could rest his elbows easily on his knees and met Bobby's eyes. "Do you think that will stop people from coming after me? Stop the demons who want to use me?”

“If you walk away, it’s going to be harder for the diehards to drum up anyone against you. Maybe you should think about options elsewhere. I hear Western Europe's a nice place to live. And there’s not many people likely to follow you there. See if you can lay low, disappear.” Bobby sighed. “As for the demons -- I don’t know what to tell you about that.”

Sam nodded and stood up. He'd gotten the answers he'd been looking for. It wasn't Bobby's fault they only led to more questions. “Thanks, Bobby.”

“Don’t thank me, Sam. Just stay away. And watch your ass.”

~~~~~

Sam took the keys back from Dean and kept silent as he pulled the Impala out of the yard and back onto the main road.

“Can we head southeast?” Dean asked.

Sam nodded and picked his way in that direction for the next few hours, sometimes on highways and sometimes on back roads. Dawn was cresting again before he pulled into a suitably anonymous motel. The room was much like the one they had shared the previous night and Sam, without driving to keep him partially distracted, paced the mottled carpet, trying to figure out the ramifications of what he had learned.

Dean let him pace and brood for awhile, then grew bored with the entertainment, grabbed Sam by the belt loops and hauled him down onto one of the beds.

“Let me go," Sam fought to free himself. "Let go!”

Dean tolerated the struggle for a few minutes, until Sam landed a lucky punch and Dean's patience came to an abrupt end. He gave Sam a sharp shake and pinned him effortlessly to the bed. “Stop it. I’ve been nice and I’ve been patient, but the only thing you’re going to accomplish winding yourself up like this is to get sick. I would find that inconvenient.” He licked a broad stripe across the back of Sam’s neck, and felt Sam still beneath him. “You know how I feel about inconvenient. Besides, if it’s just nervous energy you need to burn, I think we can find a better way to handle it.”

When Sam didn't renew his struggle, Dean slowly sat up. Free of the weight, Sam lay flat for another moment or two, gathering himself, then rolled over to face him. “So, this ‘better way', am I going to like it?’”

“You liked it well enough the other night,” Dean said as he pulled his shirt off over his head and kicked free of his boots.

Sam followed the motion with interest, more than willing to be distracted for a good cause. “Another round of the same thing?”

Dean raised an eyebrow. “I thought we might try something a little more adventurous.”

“How adventurous?” Sam asked warily, sitting up to untie his own shoes.

Dean took advantage of Sam's distraction to pin him down again, this time flat on his back. The vampire's smile was infectious and Sam felt his dark mood sliding into something more malleable. 

“Touch me,” Dean ordered, fingers making quick work of the buttons on Sam’s shirt.

Sam gingerly slid his hands over the smooth muscles of the vampire’s back. His skin wasn’t really cold, just cooler than Sam was used to. It felt silky under the rough pads of Sam's fingers as he ran hands down to the worn denim around Dean’s waist. He let them rest there a bit awkwardly, waiting for more instruction.

“You want an engraved invitation?”

“I don’t know what you like.”

Dean rolled his eyes and pushed up so he could get at the front of Sam’s pants. “I like you to touch me. If you do something I don’t like, I’ll be sure to let you know.”

“That’s helpful, thanks.”

Dean ignored his sarcasm, tugged down the zipper of Sam’s jeans, and rolled onto his back beside him.

“You want instructions? Get my jeans off.” He tucked his hands under his head and gave Sam an expectant look.

Sam sat up and reached obediently for the button.

“Not that way, use your mouth.”

“Are you serious?”

The vampire shrugged. “I just wanted to be touched. If I have to give directions, I’m going to make it interesting.”

Sam eyed the jeans. “You have a button fly?”

“Mmmhmmm. Lots of practice for you.”

Sam glowered at him, but leaned over to work gingerly at the worn cotton lying flush against the flat plane of Dean's lower stomach. His nose brushed against the cool skin as he eased the buttons free with his teeth and tongue.

He worked at the task for a few minutes, the only sound in the room cars passing outside and the indistinct murmur of televisions through the paper thin walls. As Sam reached the bottom of the row, he was suddenly aware of the swollen flesh laying just a layer of cloth away. He undid the last button, then pressed his mouth against the denim and exhaled warmly into the fabric, mouthing gently. He heard a muttered curse from above, and then strong hands were tugging at him until he lay alongside Dean again.

“Don’t start things you aren’t prepared to finish,” the vampire growled at him, before taking his mouth in a hungry kiss.

Sam was breathless by the time he was released, tasting blood from nicking his tongue on a fang. “Who says I’m not prepared to finish it?” he challenged.

“The way you couldn’t even watch me blow you the other night. I have trouble believing you’ve progressed from blushing mortification to going down on a guy yourself in the day or so since then.” Dean nuzzled in beneath Sam’s ear, licking at his skin even as a hand slipped beneath the waistband of Sam’s boxers and into the warm heat between his legs.

“A lot of things have changed since then, in case you didn’t notice.” Sam was having trouble keeping his train of thought focused.

“Maybe, but some things remain the same. And the rest can wait until tomorrow.” Dean punctuated his sentence by twisting the fingers of his free hand into Sam's hair and pulling his head back to bare the clean line of his throat.

Sam hissed in pain but didn't resist Dean's hold or the stinging bite that followed, he bucked his hips into the hand working his dick with firm, knowing strokes. Whatever Dean was trying to make him feel was worlds away from the languid pleasure Sam had grown used too. This was a fiery sunburst against the pale blush of what he had come before, and he wrapped his arms around Dean unthinking, trying to pull him closer than flesh while new sensations built into something overwhelming in his mind. At some point thought deserted him entirely, and Sam lay shuddering helplessly under the onslaught of the physical and the mystical until the feeling crested and swept him over the edge.

For awhile afterwards Sam just lay there, trying to hang onto the strange lassitudal mix of calm and euphoria left in the wake of having his mind utterly blown. Dean was still pressed against his side, licking gently over the puncture wounds. It took Sam a few tries to find his voice.

“Do you want me to...?” His arm felt somewhat disconnected still, but he patted at Dean’s hip, offering to return the favor. Or as much of it as he could from his purely human vantage.

Dean reached over Sam to grab a cloth from the nightstand. He pressed it to the wounds in Sam's throat and sat cross-legged beside him. “No need. I got my own fun riding the taste of that rolling through your body. Blood is better than sex alone, but blood and sex together is the best way to fly. It get's even better with practice,” Dean added thoughtfully after a moment.

Sam closed his eyes. “I’m not sure I can handle much better than that.”

Dean traced am idle finger around one of Sam’s nipples, it tightened under his touch and he heard Sam's breath hitch. “We’ll have to continue this line of experimentation. We’ve barely started to explore what I can make you feel.”

“All good, I hope.” Sam opened his eyes and looked up.

The vampire smiled, eyes glittering. “As long as you enjoy it, do you care?”

When Sam didn’t have an answer to that, Dean slid off the bed and stretched. “Go take a shower,” he suggested. “ I need to think for awhile.” Sam, aware suddenly of the mess in his boxers and the drying sweat on his skin, grimaced and complied.

~~~~~

When Sam walked out of the bathroom, Dean was sitting on the other bed, staring at the curtain-covered window. He looked over and watched as Sam dressed in the loose clothing he preferred for sleeping. 

“What are you going to do?” Dean asked quietly.

Sam didn’t pretend to misunderstand the question; it had been preying on him since they had left Bobby’s hours earlier. Minor distractions aside. “I don’t know. I don’t know that there’s anything I can do.”

“You could come with me.”

Sam smiled wryly as he hit the lights and slid under the sheets on the far side of the bed Dean was perched on. “Go with you? Hang out with your super secret vampire buddies and hunt down disobedient little vampires? I bet they would love that, you keeping a hunter as a pet.”

“You wouldn’t be a pet.”

There was a quality to Dean’s stillness that Sam hadn’t ever felt before. A seriousness to his voice that sent a shiver up Sam’s spine, like a portent of something unknown. “What would I be, then?”

“You would be mine. In all ways, you would be mine. One of us. Forever.”

Sam drew in a sharp breath. “Dean...”

“The demons can’t use you if you’re no part of them, Sam. If you were one of us, there wouldn’t be any demon blood in your veins. Whatever plans they have for you would fall apart before the weight of your different nature. We come from humanity, and we mimic humanity, but at the end of the day, it is just a mimicry. Their polarities, Heaven and Hell... to be one of us is to sidestep all of that. You would be free.”

“Just like that?” Sam asked with a touch of bitterness. “A few drops of your blood and everything would just go away? Be better?”

“No. We aren’t like that, we aren’t like them, the others that you hunt. It doesn’t take a few drops, it takes an ocean, and time. Sometimes ten years, sometimes more. It’s not an easy path, and we offer to... so very few, Sam. Even among those who choose to walk it, not all survive. As for the better, only time can tell you that.”

“Ten years or more, to become a vampire?”

Dean nodded, eyes dark in the soft streetlights that the curtains didn't block. “To become one like me, yes. There are no accidents or casual creations among my people.”

Sam shifted so he could see Dean better. “Have you done it before? Made someone... like you?”

“Once. A long time ago.”

“What happened?”

Dean sighed, the sheets rustling as he moved. “I don’t actually drink much human blood, Sam. We don’t need it to survive. Animal blood is sufficient for life; what human blood gives us is power. Speed, strength, other things -- harder to define. But that power comes at a cost. The more we drink, the stronger we are, and the more drawbacks we have to overcome. At the farthest end of our power range, we can sway the politics of entire regions. Start wars, and stop them. But wielding that influence makes us virtual prisoners in dungeons of our making. Even the few mouthfuls I’ve had from you this week will make the sunlight something that sucks for awhile. Not immolation bad, but... uncomfortable. A few more of these snacks without some downtime and I might not be able to tolerate it at all. Crossing rivers could be difficult; other issues could crop up.”

“What does that have to do with you turning someone else?”

“I loved her,” Dean said simply. “I offered her this chance because the life she was trapped in was small and unworthy of her. I wanted her to be able to live a larger existence, to live it with me. But part of the journey from where you are to here is to experience every facet of the drawbacks to our existence, and do it all without even the thinnest margin of the power that normally makes up for the misery. It starts slowly, a couple of years in, and then gets worse and worse until finally the transformation is complete and you can make the decision of how much you care to endure.”

“It... killed her?”

“No.” Dean’s voice was as cold as a winter’s night. “She was close, she would have survived. Hunters killed her. Humans who came upon her when she was at her weakest point. Asleep and helpless in the deep caverns where we lived. I had to hunt, I had to leave her there alone. Someone undergoing transformation feeds only from their creator, and they feed deeply and often. She couldn’t travel with me, and so she died.”

The grief in Dean’s voice for a woman probably hundreds of years dead made Sam’s heart ache.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered.

“You didn’t have anything to do with it.”

“That doesn’t make your pain any less.”

There was heavy silence in the darkness for awhile.

Sam finally sighed. “I can’t give you an answer right now.”

“I know.”

“What you’re asking, offering...”

“I know, Sam. I didn’t expect you to throw yourself into it with open arms. I'm not demanding anything from you. I just wanted you to know that you have... options, if you choose to exercise them.”

Sam nodded, knowing the vampire could see him clearly in the shadowy room.

Silence fell between them again, but it was hours before Sam slept.

~~~~~

“Who are you calling?” Sam asked muzzily the next morning, when he was woken by the low murmur of Dean talking to someone on his cell phone.

“A cab.”

“Why?” Sam was suddenly alert, sitting up in a slide of sheets and rubbing sleep out of his eyes.

Dean pulled his boots on and bent to do up the laces. “I told you I had to go when I had to go, and that it might crop up suddenly. This isn’t a job I can ignore any more than you can ignore yours when you’re on a hunt. I’ll catch up with you as soon as I can. If you want me to, that is.”

Sam climbed out of bed and started stuffing things back in his duffle bag, stifling a yawn. “Don’t bother with the cab.”

“You going to give me a ride to the airport?” Dean raised an eyebrow.

“Unless you have an objection, I thought I would tag along for awhile. We can just drive to wherever you need to be.”

Dean frowned at him. “Seriously? Because I’m not going to say no. I’d rather pull my fingernails off than fly.”

Sam nodded and paused with a dirty shirt in his hand, trying to to remember when the last time he did laundry was. “Yeah, it’s not like I can really do anything else right now. I don’t think the hunters can tell me more than Bobby did, and if there any more hidden secrets about this I haven’t ferreted out yet they can just stay hidden until I’ve wrapped my mind around what I’ve already learned. I don’t know how to go about hunting a demon, much less interrogating one. And I’m not sure I should do it even if I did. I think... I think my dad was right. Not about keeping it from me, but about what I would do, it being a stupid thing. And I can’t actually find my dad, so...”

“So tagging along with a vampire is your next best option?”

Sam shrugged.

The corner of Dean’s mouth edged in to a smile. “Okay.”

“Okay, I can come?”

“Why not? It might be interesting doing this with a partner.”

Sam changed into his street clothes quickly and shoved the last of his belongings into his bag. “You don’t usually work with others? You had a few with you when we met the first time.”

“This is generally a pretty solo gig. That was a huge nest and we were aiming to ash the entire place, so I called in some backup to make sure nothing went south. As it happened, you were the only loose end that needed cleaning.”

“And you certainly didn’t have any trouble with me,” Sam remembered darkly.

“Nope,” Dean agreed, “you made things easy. And look how nicely it’s turned out.” He shouldered his own bag. “ Ready to go?”

“Just let me brush my teeth. Where are we heading?”

“Louisiana. Land of endless swamps, gators, and Cajun rednecks.”

“Somehow, I think they might have more than that down there.”

“Not where we’re going.” 

~~~~~

A day and a half later in hot, muggy, Louisiana, Sam waited in the shadows until he saw Dean hurry out of the rundown, clapboard house. He stepped out to meet him and they walked down the sidewalk together, brushing against each other occasionally as they paced rapidly towards a better part of town.

Dean’s expression was grim, but when Sam opened his mouth to ask what he had found out, the vampire gave a sharp shake of his head and they continued walking in silence until they reached the limited safety of the Impala.

“So, what’s the news?” Sam asked impatiently once they were both ensconced inside. The drive had been long and sleep had been scarce. Sam knew it was sharpening his temper. Things would be better if he could just get out of the heat for awhile.

“Nothing good.” Dean checked the mirrors to see if anyone was paying them attention, then pulled smoothly away from the curb. He had wrested the keys away from Sam with the argument that he knew the area, and Sam had let him have them. Dean took far more pleasure in driving than Sam ever had; he acted like even short trips were grand adventures. 

“One of my colleagues took care of a problem out here a few months back. Some jackass decided what he wanted most out of his undeath was a harem of busty babes to help keep him busy during the long nights. For a species that forms permanent individual bonds, it’s surprisingly not uncommon. Morons. Sometimes I think the solution would be to just kill off every one of them around that hasn’t found a mate yet, and threaten the pair bonds with their partner’s final death if they reproduce. No one asks my opinions, though.” He shook his head. “Anyways, said jackass wasn’t too careful about who he was grabbing, and there was some unpleasantness involving a mayor’s step-daughter, and so on and so forth. We thought everything had been cleaned up neatly, but apparently in the haste of the scorch and burn, one of the involuntary inductees got overlooked. The guy who handled it's busy in the northwest now on another matter, so the whatever,” Dean made a swirly motion towards his own head, “tapped me.”

“What’s she doing?" Sam asked. "I mean, she has to be doing something bad, right? To get your attention?”

Dean looked even grimmer. “Apparently, the guy had so many new converts running around, he wasn’t able to control them properly through the haze of their awakenings. She got away from him and went home. Confused, starving...” The vampire sighed. “There’s no human equivalent to that kind of hunger.”

“What did she do, Dean?”

“She walked into her house and ripped her kids’ throats out," Dean said bluntly. "All three of them. Then after gorging on their blood, she must have woken up enough to realize what she had done, and went completely crazy. Ran off into the swamp. Which is, unfortunately, where the real problem started.”

“Killing her children and being crazy isn’t the real problem?” Sam asked incredulously.

“Well, the crazy part is. She’s found an abandoned church moldering out in the bayou, and she’s building it a new congregation.”

“I don’t suppose this new congregation is comprised of voluntary recruits?”

“We should be so lucky." Dean's thin smile lacked anything resembling humor. "It’s comprised of any kid she can get her hands on when she goes wandering the fringes of the city after dark. A whole building full of half-starved, undersized little vampires. Like a powder keg just waiting for a match.”

Sam considered that for a moment. “Jesus.”

~~~~~

By the time the sun set three days later, Sam had been throwing up in the bushes for almost twenty minutes. Dean had started off patting his back and trying to offer some comfort, but he was abysmally bad at it, and finally Sam snarled at him to just keep his damn distance for awhile.

“It had to be done,” Dean offered, when Sam could stand up more than five minutes and lurched over towards the car, still with a greenish cast, but without the wild look so much to his eyes.

Sam swallowed hard as his stomach tried to rebel again, but after a moment it settled down and he was able to find his voice. “I didn’t say it didn’t, I just... I could hear them screaming, Dean. And it doesn’t matter if they were vampires, they were kids. And we burned them alive.” He was grateful Dean hadn’t made any smart remarks about squeamishness. Sam was proof against a lot of things that would have sent the average citizen screaming into the night, but this, thank God, was not one of them.

“They were monsters, Sam. Little pint-sized plague carriers that would have been completely uncontrolled as soon as they realized they didn’t have to stay in that fire-trap with Loony Lucy. A child’s brain... well, as badly as most adult brains handle it, a kid’s brain just can’t handle the change at all. They are always insane, and they are always out of control. They don’t form the bonds that help stabilize adult vampires, and they don’t seem drawn to form nests either. They just kill and destroy until they get put down; they were doomed as soon as she touched them. We didn’t kill them, Sam, we just stopped them from walking around.”

“I know. You told me all of this. I'm not blaming you for anything.” Sam wished for something cool to lean his forehead against, anything to help combat the headache that was beating behind his eyes. “That doesn’t help much now, though. We boarded them in and set the place on fire. And they woke up, and they were still just kids.”

“You wanted to come,” Dean reminded him.

Sam stood up and glared. “Give me the damn keys and shut up.”

~~~~~

Later in the night, they lay twined together in the cheap cotton of the motel sheets. Sweat slicked Sam’s skin and his breathing was still rough, body slowly coming down from Dean's latest efforts on their mutual behalf. Dean’s tongue was sliding lazily over the puncture wounds in his throat as Sam stroked an idle hand across his back and tried not to imagine what his dad would say if he could see where Sam was now. It was surprisingly easy to dismiss the idea, Sam was feeling too good to want to dwell on the unpleasant.

Finally, Dean pulled back and sat up. “So, are you going to stick around?”

Sam folded his hands behind his head and eyed him thoughtfully. “With you, or in Louisiana?”

“Whichever.” The vampire shrugged.

“What are you going to do?”

“I asked first.”

“Well, I’m certainly staying in the area for a little while, and I don’t mind your company, so I guess it’s your call.”

“Staying?” Dean raised an eyebrow.

Sam rolled over and snagged a local paper off the floor. He tossed into Dean’s lap.

“Page eight.”

The vampire flipped through and scanned the paper. He gave a low whistle. “This all the work of one spook, you think?’

“Four deaths? Possibly. I did some research when you were out communing with your fellows or whatever that was earlier. The place has been a hot spot of spirit activity since the factory was built, but it’s only since the expansion has been going on that it’s been violent like this. It’s not just the deaths; there’s vandalism, accidents. The place is a disaster.”

Dean lowered the paper and gave Sam a long look. “You sure you’re ready to jump back on the horse?”

Sam sighed and flopped back onto the pillows again. “I can’t change anything, all I’m doing is turning in circles inside my brain until I’m so frustrated I just want to scream. I’m a hunter. I don’t know anything else anymore.”

“You think about what Singer said?”

Sam frowned. “About walking away? Getting a normal job and trying to stick with the mainstream?”

“Yeah.”

“I thought about it. But... I tried that before and people got hurt. I don’t think they’re going to let me go like that. And I don’t think there's anywhere I can run that would be far enough away, you know?”

“Who got hurt when you tried to run, Sam?”

“My fiancée.” Sam's smile was a twist of bitterness and regret. “My beautiful, smart, fiancée, Jess. She didn’t want anything but to build a life together, and she didn’t know a damn thing about the supernatural. Then one evening while I was out studying late, the same monster that killed my mother tracked her down, pinned her to the ceiling of our apartment and burned her alive. I got there just in time to see the grand finale, but it was already too late to save her.”

“So you ran away from all that jazz and back into the shadows of the hunting life.”

“At least out here I expect to meet nightmares and monsters around every corner,” Sam snapped.

Dean held his hands up conciliatorily. “I wasn’t judging you. And I’m sorry about the girl.”

“Yeah, well," Sam said, mollified, "after the fit he had thrown when I went to college in the first place, I thought my dad would be thrilled to see me back. But instead, he couldn’t seem to get rid of me fast enough. When he found out what happened to Jess, he practically shoved the Impala’s keys in my hands and pushed me out the door. Didn’t say a thing about it, just told me how sorry he was, and promised that when he had enough information, we would kill it together.” Sam snorted. “He wouldn’t tell me a damn thing. I told him I would hunt it down on my own; he wished me luck and walked away.”

“Did you try?” Dean asked.

“Oh, yes. I got absolutely nowhere. Eventually, I started taking jobs I could make a difference for, save people I could still help. But I’ve always been waiting for that phone call. Waiting for him to tell me it’s time. I guess now I know why he didn’t want me involved. Nice of him to let me know himself.”

Dean brushed the paper off the bed and lay back down beside Sam. “Which brings you right back to hunting.”

Sam watched him with dark eyes. “I can’t do a thing about the demons, can’t find my dad, can't see a way clear of the mess at all -- but this is something I can do. The factory’s down the road and I’m at loose ends, so I’m going to swing by and take a look.”

“Well, I suppose I could hold off on my spa day for a little while longer.”

Sam closed his eyes and tilted his head back, feeling strangely peaceful for all the upheaval in his life lately.

“Thank you.”

~~~~~

“Nice of them to shut this place down for the week.”

“It will be longer than a week,” Sam said, slapping at a mosquito. “A lot longer if they can’t do something about the problems they keep having. Can’t get anything done if the employees are afraid to work.”

“How many things do you think they'll try before they work down to salting the ground and having the place exorcised?” Dean asked sardonically, walking backwards beside Sam and keeping an eye on the surroundings.

“I think it’s a pretty long list to reach that point, not that it would help much anyways by now. The damn thing is living in the very walls.” Sam cast Dean an annoyed look. “And what are you doing? You said there’s nothing out there. We would have noticed if we were being followed, it’s not like there was a lot of traffic on the road out; this place is deserted.”

“Maybe not deserted enough,” the vampire muttered, scanning the tree line.

Sam stopped dead. “Is there something out there, or not?”

Dean squinted up at the sun, then blinked and shook his head. “It’s midday, Sam. With the sun up that high, I can’t sense squat. I just... don’t think we’re alone.” He waved one frustrated hand towards a huge open pit where the forest debris from the latest expansion effort was still burning after the crew’s early morning efforts. Before a machine operator hung a hand in a conveyor belt and the decision had been made just to shut the whole operation down for a few days and try to figure out what the hell was going on. “That mess isn’t helping.”

“I can’t believe they just left a massive bonfire like that raging without anyone watching it.”

The vampire snorted. “What’s it going to get out of control and torch? The mud? It’s been raining here for weeks and it’s in a pit. They probably couldn’t afford to pay anyone to watch it anyway, not after the shit that’s been going down around here.”

“None of which we have seen any sign of yet,” Sam pointed out.

“Maybe we have to break into a building before the locals start getting agitated.”

“Maybe.” The hunter stepped up to the edge of the fire pit and stared down into the flames and glowing embers of the burning greenery. 

Dean move up beside him and frowned. “How big is this thing? You could fit three or four houses in this hole, and this isn’t the first burning. You think an expansion really requires them to clear-cut this much land?”

Sam shrugged, but before he could reply, he heard an odd buzzing and a sharp yelp beside him. He spun to face Dean and was just able to take in shocked green eyes and a long, dark shaft sticking out of the vampire’s chest as he staggered, before two more shafts bloomed in his shoulder and hip and he stumbled over the edge, sliding out of sight into the burning brush below.

“DEAN!” Sam yelled, horrified. He looked frantically for a way down into the pit that wouldn’t land him directly in the flames.

“Come away from there, Sam!” an apallingly familiar voice called from behind him.

“Gordon?” Sam asked in disbelief. He heard the distinctive sound of a shotgun cocking behind him and slowly turned, hands spread out to his sides.

The other hunter was stepping out from behind a nearby shed, shotgun held at the ready. Behind him, two other men were stepping slowly out of the underbrush holding crossbows.

“Your little vampire friend is already done for," Gordon said with satisfaction. "There was dead man’s blood on those arrows; he’s not coming back up from there.”

“What are you doing here, Gordon?” Sam hissed.

“Doing what needs to be done. I knew there was something wrong with you, Winchester, back when you chose vampires over your own kind. So I followed, and I watched, and I asked around. You know what I found out?”

“I know.”

“Yeah,” Gordon nodded slowly. “I suppose you do. Traitor.”

“I didn’t do any of the things you said I did, Gordon! I stopped you from killing people who weren’t hurting anyone, that was it!”

People?" Gordon spat in disgust. "You didn’t save any people from me. Those were walking corpses. Blood-sucking monsters who prey on the innocent and spread their disease to real, honest-to-God people, who can’t defend themselves. Vampires, Sam. Like the one you’re fucking. Oh,” he smiled broadly, “but I guess not anymore.”

Sam’s hands balled into fists as he dropped them to his sides. “You don’t know shit about me, Gordon.”

“I know you have demon blood running in your veins; I know murder and holocaust blows in your wake. I know you side with monsters against your own kind and have taken death into your bed. I know everything I need to know about you, Sam. Everything I need to feel completely justified in wiping your stain off the planet.”

Sam was furious, but he was outnumbered and surrounded, and Dean...  Sam fought for calm, panic and anger weren't his allies here. “How did you find me?”

Gordon snorted. “You’re not that stealthy. I lost you a few times, but you were easy enough to pick back up. Haskell to Singer, to Louisiana. I figured if you still considered yourself any kind of hunter at all, you would have to check this place out eventually once you were in the area. And you don’t need to worry about the ghosts anymore. We took care of that earlier while scouting out the place. Damn poltergeists.”

“Thanks,” Sam ground out.

“No need to thank me, this has all been my pleasure.” Gordon leveled the shotgun. “Now, time to meet your maker, Winchester. Maybe he’ll take mercy on your worthle--”

“Hey!”

The hunters all spun to face the speaker. A man in a construction hat was walking towards them, waving his arms. Behind him, emerging from the dirt road through the trees, were a number of vehicles, some with official looking logos emblazoned on their sides.

“Hey! You guys can’t be here!" the man yelled. "What the hell are you people doing out here?!”

Sam took advantage of Gordon’s distraction to flee towards the factory’s ramshackle buildings. A blast rang out and he flinched at the sound of lead peppering the metal sheathing of the shack corner he had just turned. Footsteps squelched in the mud behind him and Sam poured on the speed, turning another corner so he was out of sight, then ducking into the forest.

He just prayed he remembered where the Impala was, and that he could find it before anyone else did.

~~~~~

It was sunset by the time Sam found the car, but at least he seemed to have beaten Gordon and his playmates to it. It had been a long half-day of creeping through the woods, getting turned around, and hard work avoiding the officials crawling all over the place while keeping an eye out for Gordon or his men.

Sam patted his jeans down for the keys, then tried the handle. It was oddly unlocked, which just gave Sam something more comfortable than a tree to bang his head against. Dean had the keys. He could clearly see in his mind’s eye earlier that day as the vampire snatched them out of the air and slid them into a pocket when they had first arrived at the factory site. Dean...

Sam rubbed furiously at his eyes. He didn’t want to think about the vampire. At least not until he was safe and had the privacy to deal with the loss on his own terms. And it was a loss, Sam felt it keenly in places he'd thought long numb. The sooner he got out of here, the sooner he could... do whatever was next. It had been awhile since he'd hotwired a car, but he'd learned on the Impala and his fingers knew what to do even if his eyes were full of tears. From the smoke. It had to be the smoke. Sam had just reached down when something registered in his nose, a new smell, strong enough to cut even through the heavy, cloying reek of forest fire that clung to the very air around him. He froze in place, hope warring against reason, when the internal debate was abruptly interrupted by the soft jangle of keys sliding over the bench seat and landing on the leather next to him.  Sam stared at them for a moment, turning his head just in time to see blackened fingers sliding away again into the backseat.

“Don’t.”

The pained, raspy voice locked Sam in place before he could turn all the way around.

“Dean?” he asked harshly.

“You expecting... someone... else?” Labored and rough, but unmistakably familiar. Relief flooded through Sam.

“How did you get here?”

“Painfully.”

Sam glanced into the rearview mirror, but they were past sunset now and Dean was just a dark indistinct shape “What... what can I do to help?”

“Just drive. Somewhere... safe. Need to feed... not here.”

“You need me to find you some blood? You said you can drink animal, right?”

Silence from the backseat.

“Dean?”

“Too much... damage. Not... animal.”

“Then what? How can I help you?”

A sound like a sigh drifted to his ears, and a horrible crackling noise as something shifted on the Impala’s upholstery. Sam didn’t want to imagine what kind of injuries Dean had to have sustained to make that kind of sound, but long years of dealing with horrors were filling in the blanks.

“Just... drive.”

~~~~~

He drove for what seemed like hours. Talking was obviously an incredible hardship on Dean, so Sam shut up and didn’t ask him anything else, just concentrated on getting out of the area. Going back to the motel was obviously out of the question. He picked a highway at random and drove away from the city lights, choosing turns and off-roads that led further away from civilization, seeking darkness and privacy. Finally a hand settled on his shoulder and the vampire rasped. “Here. Pull... over.”

Sam did. Pulling the Impala off onto a stretch of grass so overhung with cypress that it was almost like a cove. He turned the engine off and waited, hands in his lap and eyes straight ahead. “Dean--” he started.

“Shhhh.” Sam hadn’t heard movement this time, but the voice was almost in his ear, and the stench was so close, it was nauseating. “Shhhh, Sam. Won’t... hurt you. Stay still, don’t... fight.”

Something rough brushed against ear and he tilted his head without being told. Fingers tangled in his hair, crackling as they tightened, Sam could feel flakes of burned skin settling against his bared throat. Dry lips rasped against neck. Sam's fingers clenched on his own knees as he forced himself to hold still. It's Dean, he told himself, just Dean, and he'd sat for this a hundred times before. When the teeth finally sliced in, Sam let his breath out in a slow hiss. Neither acid agony nor absorbing pleasure slid through him during this feeding, just a ripping sensation as the blood was drawn from his veins, painful, but in a natural sense. It went on and on, continuing long past any previous feeding between the two of them. He was so used to trusting Dean's control that by the time Sam realized he was in danger it was already too late, and he could only slump helplessly against the seat as his consciousness was drained down into darkness.

~~~~~

He stirred awake to lights so bright they burned through his lids and an irritating beep that wouldn’t let him stay asleep. The squeak of rubber soles on a polished floor and the low grade hum of conversation brought him closer to true awareness. He finally gave up and opened his eyes when he heard someone approach the bed.

“Good morning Mr. Stillwater. How are you feeling?”

Sam watched with detachment as the nurse checked the machines beside the bed and then leaned over and shined a penlight into his eyes.

He made a disgruntled sound and tried to pull away.

“Now, don’t be like that. You don’t want to be one of those patients we like better unconscious than awake, do you? If you’re good, you might even be able to get out of here today. After the police are done talking to you, and the doctor says you can go.”

The mention of police chased away the last of the fuzzy feeling in Sam’s head. The nurse chatted while she finished whatever she was doing, not seeming to mind his lack of answers, then took her cart and headed back into the corridor with a promise to let the doctor know he was awake. The door was closed behind her for barely a minute before it eased back open and a familiar figure slipped into the room. He wore gloves, and the hood of the jacket under his leather coat was tugged down over his forehead until it almost touched the tops of his oversized, dark sunglasses. But he moved easily, and what little skin Sam could see was clean and pale.

Sam smiled despite the confusion of his surroundings. “Dean.”

~~~~~

With Dean’s assistance, it hadn’t been hard to slip out of the hospital without answering any questions after all. The only thing he had been suffering was the effects of a severe vampire bite, and an entire day in the care of medical professionals had taken care of that. Mostly.

Sam curled up in the Impala’s passenger seat. He was still battling a horrible bone-deep chill and the sunlight beating against his skin was wonderful. That the vampire next to him wasn’t as happy with the experience didn’t do anything to dim Sam’s own pleasure in the sensation.

“You could enjoy that a little less openly,” Dean groused.

“I’m not bitching about the twenty-four hours I spent unconscious in the hospital having who knows how much blood and fluids pumped into me after you practically drained me dry; the least you can do it shut up and let me enjoy being alive.”

“Is that a dig?"

Sam raised his head from the seat and gave Dean a pointed look. “How about we snipe later and you tell me what happened back at the factory instead? When I saw you go into the fire -- I thought you were dead!”

"You mean deader than usual?”

“You know what I mean,” Sam growled.

“Yeah,” Dean sighed, “I do. There weren’t any other options, Sam. The number one rule of my people is to not let yours know we even exist. Getting shot and climbing back out of that pit a little singed to wreck some vengeance would have been fine, if the arrows hadn’t been soaked in dead man’s blood. Gordon and his assholes of unspecified number already knew I was a vampire, obviously. If they had seen me moving around instead of paralyzed after shooting me full of that crap, I would have had to kill them all. That’s not exactly a terrible idea anyways, but we didn’t know how many there were. Could have been two, could have been half a dozen lurking around. Even, as it turns out, if I had gambled on being able to track them all down and kill them so there weren’t any witnesses, the entire party got interrupted by the local authorities swinging by to take a look-see at the fucking haunted factory. That would have been a total disaster. I did the right thing.”

“Ex-haunted factory.”

“Yeah. Good input there, thanks.”

Sam pulled his t-shirt up to get some of the light on his stomach, letting it chase off the goose bumps. “So, instead, your masterful plan was to just lay in the fire until they went away?”

Dean shrugged. “The brush was pretty deep. I crawled around the edge to the far side of the pit and slunk out once everyone was otherwise distracted. Then made my way through the woods and holed up in the Impala until you got around to joining me.”

“You make it sound like you just took a detour on a Sunday afternoon stroll.”

“You want a blow by blow of what it felt like to painstakingly make my way through a burning pile of trees while feeling it sear my flesh to the bone and wondering if you were getting your ass shot off up top by a psychotic hunter and his gang of thugs?”

“Not especially.”

“I didn’t think so. Now, did you have any other haunted buildings you feel a compelling need to explore, or can we just hole up somewhere nice and quiet for awhile and get our heads together?”

“Quiet sounds good.”

“So glad you agree.”

~~~~~

As it turned out, quiet was good. It felt better than he had thought it would to have nothing to do but lay around. Sam had the idea that downtime would give him too much room to brood and be miserable, but Dean was proving to be a diverting companion. Sam wasn’t sure what Dean was doing during the long hours while Sam slept off his recent adventures, but the vampire was always on hand when Sam was awake.

One week of rest turned gradually into two. Dean had left at one point to run an errand he didn’t want to talk about, but he came back and resumed their cohabitation as if he had never left. At the end of the third week, he told Sam he was going to have to go away again, but he didn’t think it would take that long. Almost like they were living together. And it was... surprisingly nice.

Sam spent half that night under Dean's expert sexual tutelage, and the rest of the night on the couch with his head on Dean’s lap, drowsing while the vampire flipped through channel after channel. He was enjoying what he had while it lasted. When Dean left this time, Sam had his own errand to run.

“How long are you going to be gone?” Sam asked after Dean finally settled on something black and white and so fuzzy Sam could barely make out the actors.

“I thought you were sleeping.”

“No, you didn’t.” Sam shifted around until he was upright.

Dean shrugged. “You seemed to want me to think you were sleeping; I thought I’d be polite.”

“Thanks.”

“But since you aren’t asleep -- you want to tell me why you smell sad?”

“I smell sad?” Sam echoed, bemused.

“Maybe resigned," Dean said, giving him a considering look. "They can smell similar. What’s going on?”

Sam dropped his legs across Dean’s lap and leaned back against the arm of the couch. “Maybe it’s because you’re leaving tomorrow.”

Dean rolled his eyes and shoved Sam’s legs back to the floor. “I think I would have noticed if you were that delicate. But hey -- you don’t want to talk about it, I’m not going to pry. You’ve certainly got enough crap going on to make anyone a little depressed.”

Sam shrugged and turned his attention back to the screen. He was surprised when Dean spoke again.

“When I get back, you want to go see the Grand Canyon? You said you hadn’t ever gotten around to visiting it. I’m not easily impressed, but as far as gigantic holes in the ground go, it’s worth at least one trip.”

“That’s a long drive from here.”

“I’ve got nothing else to do.”

Sam smiled, trying to keep the misery he felt out of his expression. He wanted to talk to Dean about his plan, but if he did, he knew the Dean wouldn’t stay away. And if he came... Sam didn’t want him to come. He needed to close this door himself. The vampire had done and risked enough already, the rest was Sam’s task to finish. Dean was leaving before sunrise; Sam only had to keep it together for a few more hours.

“Thanks. I’d like that.”

~~~~~

Sam barely waited for Dean's taxi to pull out of the driveway before he was on the phone. “Bobby.”

“I thought you and I had an understanding, boy.”

Even over the crackle of the phone line, Sam could hear the irritation in Bobby’s voice.

“You owe me.”

“I don’t owe you squat.”

“You do,” Sam insisted. “I was doing you a favor out in Oklahoma, Bobby. I went after that book for you, and you didn’t even give me a head’s up there were hunters on my trail.”

“Wouldn’t have done you any good anyways; by the time I realized what was going on, you were probably already unconscious.”

“But you didn’t even try, and you owe me for that. You also could have mentioned when I offered in the first place that it might make people want to kill me, you know?”

Bobby sighed. “What is it that you want, Sam?”

“I want an address. I have something to settle.”

 

The cabin was remote. Miles from any city, far down twisty gravel roads and deep in the mountains. Sam left the Impala some distance away and hiked through the woods, creeping up the slope towards the home as he got close. The grounds were clear on all sides, but the dawn haze helped mask his ascent from anyone who might be taking a casual look.

He was surprised at the lack of security he found around the place itself. There were the usual precautions of the paranoid, but nothing that slowed him down much. A few minutes after Sam reached the porch he was carefully padding through raw-beamed rooms, looking for one in particular.

When he found it, he moved silently to the bed and pressed the barrel of his gun to the temple of its sleeping occupant.

“Good morning, Gordon.”

Gordon didn’t move, but there was a difference to the tension level in the room that let Sam know his quarry was wide awake.

“I just want to talk to you. Don’t do anything stupid, and we can both walk away from here.”

“You think we have something to talk about, Winchester?”

Sam took a few steps back so he was well out of reach before letting Gordon turn over. “Get dressed.”

Gordon slid carefully from his bed and stepped towards the dresser.

“Uh, uh.” Sam motioned him back with the gun. “You can wear what’s on the floor. I don’t want any surprises.”

Gordon moved slowly, keeping an eye on Sam as he pulled his clothes on.

“You bring any of your unnatural friends around this time, Winchester?”

Sam’s eyes flashed dangerously. “You killed my only friend, Gordon. Don’t think I’m going to forget about that.”

“I see. Is that what this is about then? Revenge?”

“Something like that.”

“You mind if I pee?”

“Is that the bathroom through that door?”

“Yeah.” Gordon edged slowly around Sam until he had one hand on the doorknob.

“Push it open slowly; I’ll tell you when you can go in.”

Gordon pushed the door open with one hand, and when Sam’s eyes tracked the movement, used the other to whip a table lamp off the desk at him. The impact stunned Sam long enough for Gordon to duck around him and dart out the door.

Sam thought he would go for a gun, but when he caught up to him a moment later, Gordon was doing something at the fuse box in the hallway.

“Back up!” Sam snapped. Gordon put his hands in the air and backed up obediently.

“Too bad your boyfriend isn’t around anymore.” Gordon jerked his chin towards the cut the lamp had opened at Sam’s hairline and the blood dripping down the side of his face.

“What were you doing?” Sam demanded, ignoring him..

“Just wanted to make sure all the power was working fine; wasn’t expecting guests, you know.”

“Yeah. Walk into the living room. Sit on the stool by the window.”

Sam felt a line of tension creeping across his shoulders. Gordon had been edgy and nervous before he had escaped into the hallway. Now he was as relaxed as if he was taking an afternoon stroll. Sam cast a quick glance at the open fuse box as he walked past it; it looked normal to him. But something had changed.

Suddenly, Gordon lunged for a magazine bin. He reeled back, pointing a sawed off shotgun. Sam fired a shot but tripped on the edge of a rug and fell headlong across the floor. He looked up to see Gordon’s eyes dark across the barrel of his sawed off, one hand pressed to a spreading scarlet stain on the front of his white shirt.

“Time to end this, Winchester.”

Sam threw one hand out in a pathetic attempt to shield himself as Gordon’s finger tightened on the trigger; he squeezed his eyes shut and heard the blast... but nothing happened except a thud and some choked laughter.

“Yeah, Sam. You’re completely human all right. Nothing wrong with you at all.”

Sam opened his eyes and sat up slowly. Somehow, between the time he had tripped and the time the gun had gone off, the massive couch had leaped from its spot across the room and landed on the wounded hunter, pinning him to the floor.

Sam struggled to his feet and kicked the shotgun away from Gordon’s outstretched fingers. Blood was flowing heavily from the wound in his chest and his breathing was labored.

“Grab a seat, Sam. Let’s talk this out like gentlemen while I still have some life to me. Of course, the way you work, we might get along better after I’m dead.”

“What happened to the couch, Gordon?” Sam asked warily.

“You waved your hand and it flew here, Winchester. What the hell do you think happened to it?”

“You’re lying.”

Gordon let his head drop back to the floor and laughed again, it turned into a cough, blood spattering his lips. “There’s a lot of advantage to that in this position. Guess that demonic taint of yours is good for a few things, huh?”

Sam wiped at the blood that had run down to his chin with one hand, lips tight and grim. “You’re fucking lying, Gordon.”

“Why don’t you pull up a chair and we can discuss it?”

Sam frowned, leaving the mystery of the flying furniture for a moment. There was something wrong, something really wrong... His mind flashed back to Gordon at the fuse panel. Gordon so relaxed afterwards. Even now, bleeding out on the floor, so insistent that Sam sit down and talk to him...

“It’s going to explode," Sam said flatly. "There was something in the fuse box; you’ve rigged explosives.”

“Well, you never know when uninvited guests are going to drop in," Gordon said, not bothering to deny it. "I hunt vampires, Winchester. Wanted to make sure I had a suitably warm welcome for them if they ever came at me in numbers.”

Sam spun on his foot and ran for the door.

“It’s too late, Sam!” Gordon yelled after him. “We all gotta die sometime, even Hell spawns like you!”

Sam didn’t bother answering.

Detonation.

~~~~~

The sun had long since set when he heard the sound of gravel crunching, footsteps coming towards him. Sam turned his head with great effort to face them. He knew the sound was only for his benefit -- those who stalked him in the night made no noise they didn’t choose to make.

“Hey,” he rasped in greeting, twisting his lips into as much of a smile as his injured face would allow. He couldn’t focus very well, but he knew who knelt beside him. Between the blood loss and the evening chill, his body was more numb than hurting. A deep sense of calm had settled over him; he hovered on the threshold of life and death and faced both unafraid. He could tumble to either side, the choice was his.

The blurry, dark figure traced over his lips with gentle fingers before moving to touch other places. Those places flared with renewed pain and Sam’s involuntary outcry was muffled by a cool hand pressed firmly over his mouth.

“You’ve certainly managed to make a total fuck-up of it this time,” Dean greeted him.

“Sorry. Next time, I’ll run faster,” Sam slurred, closing his eyes against the reddened edges seeping into his vision, obscuring the stars. He expected to get a sarcastic reply, but there was only silence from the vampire.

Sam struggled to open his eyes again, but gave up when fingertips brushed against his lashes.

Dean’s voice was quiet when he spoke again. “You’ve done well to hang on this long, but no hospital on the planet can fix this now. You have to decide, Sam.”

Images bloomed behind Sam’s eyes. Jessica, his father... Dean. Places he had been, and things he had witnessed, both wondrous and terrifying. The dreams he'd had and the life he'd lost, hopes he still carried inside. Sam felt the gentle beckoning of oblivion pulling at him, a velvety darkness like the space between stars, where all things were forgiven and understood.

It was growing closer, a warm shroud being drawn across his senses -- when sudden agony in his hand made his eyes fly open and he gasped. Powerful fingers were wrapped around his, grinding his bones in an implacable grip.

“I said decide, Sam. Not give the fuck up.” Anger filled Dean’s voice, but with the strange sense of clarity that filled Sam’s mind, he heard grief underlying it.

Grief for him.

“Why?” The question slipped out without thought.

“What do you mean, 'why'? Why not? You’ve still got a crapload of things to do. A fiancée to avenge, people’s asses to kick, demons to banish. And let’s not forget your dear old dad we still need to hunt down and cut some answers out of. That’s a lot of work to leave undone.”

Now the tones were almost offended, and Sam felt his lip twitch again. “You don’t want me to go.” 

The grip on his hand eased somewhat. “I don’t... I don’t want you not to go, not if that’s what you really want. If you’ve thought things over and you’re sure. But -- I think you need to decide right now, Sam. You’ve lost a lot of blood; you’re still losing it. There’s other injuries. If you don’t decide now, you’re not going to have the choice.”

Sam’s eyes fell shut against his will; what was left of his strength seemed to be running out of his body like dye from cheap cloth.

“I don’t want to be alone,” he managed.

“You won’t be, not with me. I won’t leave you, Sam. Ever.”

The voice sounded very far away now, but the bedrock certainty and resolve rang like a bell to Sam’s fading consciousness.

“‘Kay.”

“Sam?” Dean asked sharply.

“Okay,” Sam tried again, but he couldn’t make his lips move. His chest was unbearably heavy and even the mountain beneath his back was a fading dream.

But Dean must have heard him anyways, or just took the matter into his own hands, because Sam was hauled up off the cold stone and into arms like iron bands. Renewed pain was a red scream in his mind, but he choked on it as a thick liquid heavy with the flavors of salt and copper filled his mouth, it sat there, bitter and warm, for a moment before a new spark of something mingled with it and Sam swallowed greedily. The new flavor was the essence of berries and sunshine and everything wonderful that had ever passed his lips. It spilled through his body like air spilled over his skin and brought his nerves singing back to life, beating back the pain even as it registered, flooding him with a sense of wellness and pleasure.

Sam drank willingly from the source until it pulled away and he found himself blinking into Dean’s eyes. Eyes he could see clearly on a mountainside lit only by the crescent moon.

“It won’t last like this," Dean answered the unspoken question in Sam's eyes, "and you aren’t well. It’s going to take a few days to fix as much damage as you have. Probably more than a few days actually. This isn’t an easy road to walk.”

“I’m still human,” Sam managed after a moment, through the whirl of new sensations.

“Mostly. For a little while,” Dean agreed.

“Still human, but... other. Demon, vampire... what the hell does this make me?”

“It makes you only one thing you need to worry about now, Sam.”

The vampire’s lips curved into a feral smile and his eyes glinted with promise and possession.

“Mine.”

 

END