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You See So Clearly Now, Love, In the Caverns of the Blind

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Christ, Dean hurts.

His muscles protest as he shifts against the bed. His ass is… well, it isn’t really something he wants to think about right now. Mostly, though, it’s his throbbing chest that’s bothering him—it feels like Sam tore something inside him during that first fuck, when he burrowed deeper into Dean that he’d ever gone before and tried to—fuck, tried to pull him apart, is what it felt like. It’s that deeper, more vivid pain that makes Dean’s breath hiss out with the slightest movement, or if he thinks too hard, or a stray air current in the room passes over him.

The pain is bad enough that it takes Dean a while to figure out that Sam isn’t on top of him, or even next to him in the bed. It’s morning—the angle of the sunlight streaming in through the sliding doors is proof of that—and Sam’s always here in the morning, unless something has gone wrong. Although that possibility really doesn’t bear thinking about, since Dean is usually the one that Sam comes running to after all the bodies have been ripped into tiny pieces and Sam’s blood (polluted contaminated damned) is up.

Shutting his eyes, Dean sinks more heavily onto the bed and tries to fall back to sleep. His body is crying out with a thousand minor aches, though. His ass burns, and that torn hurt deeper inside continues to throb. Each complaint is a reminder of last night, and the day that preceded it, and the night before that.

Shame, strong and thick, washes through him. It clogs his throat and chokes him. He tries to swallow the lump, and sense memory hits him—Sam’s cock in his mouth, Sam’s hands pushing his thighs wider, Sam’s tongue licking his balls, Sam’s mouth moving lower. Dean had already lost count by then, he’d lost everything, and with Sam working him over, it was impossible to feel anything but rushing heat and ecstasy.

Now, as he’s blindsided by the memory, an echo of pleasure sounds in his groin before traveling northward to knot Dean’s stomach with diffuse, confused arousal. Licking his lower lip (more pain; must be a cut there), he turns his face away from the unwelcome pressure of light on his eyelids and feels a tear force its way past his defenses.

There’s no warning—none of the familiar burning sensation at the back of his eyes. Just that continuous, bruised impression of having been dragged through mud and muck and God knows what else and left to soak in his own filth. And liking it, which is so fucked up and pathetic Dean doesn’t even know how to begin processing the information.

Sam’s going to want to do it again, Dean thinks with a flush of understanding.

The thought brings a moment of fleeting panic, which is in turn followed by trembling excitement and hunger. It’s a toss up whether the fear or his need is stronger, although Dean has no illusions left at this point. The more Sam fucks him, the quieter and briefer these alarms will be. And then, inevitably, the day will come when there’s nothing but the thrill of lust and the need for Sam’s body blanketing his.

Dean’s breath catches as his chest tightens alarmingly. The sound of the door to the suite snicking open is a welcome distraction, and although he knows damn well who it is, he doesn’t bother playing dead.

Dean is facing the entrance to the suite when he opens his eyes, and Sam takes a moment to smile at him. He’s wearing a suit—no tie, and the top few buttons on his white shirt are undone and showing off his tan throat. His hair falls around his face in artful disorder, looking just as soft as Dean remembers it feeling between his fingers at one dizzying point in his reclamation. He probably wouldn’t have dared to initiate that touch, even in the dimness of the room and with Sam between his legs and in his soul, but Sam was thrusting into him like he intended to bury himself in Dean’s ass and Dean needed something to hang onto.

There shouldn’t be any false modesty left in Dean after he spent the last few days sating his brother’s seemingly unquenchable lust, but somehow Dean finds himself flushing and looking down anyway. He watches his fingers move restlessly on the bedspread (changed at some point, apparently, since the bloodstains are gone, although Dean doesn’t remember it happening) while listening to the door close again. A moment later, he hears Sam’s footsteps coming toward him.

Dean expects his brother to crawl across the mattress toward him, but instead Sam walks around the foot of the bed. The mattress dips as he sits on the edge behind Dean.

Dean tenses when gentle fingers trail over his bare back, but only briefly. Despite the open connection between them, Sam is being careful not to flood Dean with power and is instead sending soothing, intangible hands to smooth over Dean’s skin. Combined with Sam’s more physical, cherishing touch, the caress makes it difficult for Dean to do anything but slump loosely against the bed.

Besides, his chest seems to hurts less when he’s relaxed.

“I wanted to be here when you woke up,” Sam says, reproachful.

An apology rises in Dean’s throat, and he just barely manages to keep it locked behind his teeth. Christ, how pathetic is that: feeling guilty for waking up without permission? But he is guilty. He is. The emotion is almost overwhelming in its intensity, and Dean can’t seem to remember how to push it away. Too many of his thoughts are wrapped up in the pain in his chest.

“How are you feeling?”

God, what a question.

But Dean doesn’t want to be difficult—there’s no point in causing anyone more pain when he already caved so spectacularly—so he takes the easy, non-confrontational route and says, “All right.”

“Dean.” Sam’s hand has stilled on Dean’s back. Although he doesn’t sound angry, there’s disapproval in his voice.

Dean licks his sore lips and then, more honestly, admits, “Sore.”

“Mmm,” Sam responds with a warm hum. His hand shifts up onto Dean’s side before easing across his stomach to grip his soft cock.

Arousal shivers in Dean’s gut, but his cock doesn’t so much as twitch. Not that he’s surprised. Considering the amount of use Sam got out of him over the last few days, Dean won’t be surprised if his dick turns out to be permanently broken.

“And how about in here?” Sam asks, with an intimate stroke of power through Dean’s insides.

The unexpected invasion makes Dean clench up reflexively (memory of pain from that first night, Sam sinking deeper than Dean could take, Sam ripping Dean up inside to make room for himself) and the pain sharpens into something bordering on agony. Dean hisses and the brush of power disappears immediately. Sam’s hand moves away from Dean’s cock to rest on his stomach.

“Sorry.”

“S’okay,” Dean mumbles, even though it isn’t, it hasn’t been for a long time and won’t ever be again. Questions tremble at the back of his mind—what were you doing, why, are you going to try it again—but he doesn’t quite dare to ask. He resists the urge to lift a hand and rub at his aching chest. There’s no point in moving when he already knows it won’t do anything to dispel the sharp, torn sensation deep inside.

The mattress shifts as Sam moves, leaning down to rest his chin on Dean’s bicep.

“I didn’t mean to be so rough,” Sam says as he strokes Dean’s stomach. “You just felt so good. It was good, right?”

Memory blindsides Dean at the hesitant, self-conscious question and for an instant he’s twenty years old and back in a crappy apartment in Des Moines with his head pounding from the beers he drank at the bar the night before. His ass is a throbbing burn, inexorable reminder of what he did before the alcohol wore off enough for him to remember the countless reasons he can’t. He’s clean, at least, washed the evidence of his sin from his skin before he came into the kitchen to make breakfast for himself and Sam (got to tell him it was a mistake, just a one-off, won’t happen again), and Sam… Sam comes in so shyly, still reeking of sex, and he asks—

“Dean?”

“Yeah,” Dean answers, just like he answered then. “Yeah, Sammy. It was good.”

He wishes he could pretend it’s a lie, another echo from that other time and place, but… Fuck, even now, with shame and guilt coiling through him—even with the pain and the certainty that if he could see inside himself he’d look like a butchered side of beef—he’s too conscious of his own hunger to try.

Sam’s chin jostles his arm where it’s resting—a smile—and then lifts.

“Let’s get you a shower and some breakfast,” he says, with a chaste kiss to Dean’s bicep.

“Okay.”

“Anything you want,” Sam adds as he stands and gives Dean room to—carefully—roll over and begin the process of getting his weary, pained body up. “Eggs? Bacon? You want some blueberry pancakes?”

Dean’s stomach shifts unhappily at the mention of food. He isn’t certain that he’ll be able to eat anything, actually, although of course he’ll try. There’s no reason to upset Sam over something so trivial.

“Whatever you’re having,” he says, glancing up to meet his brother’s eyes without thinking it through.

Sam’s gaze is just as intent as ever, although Dean doesn’t think he’s ever seen Sam looking quite this… well, happy, since that night in the cemetery. His eyes are lighter than normal, the color of Aspen leaves in autumn, and there’s a brilliant depth of emotion warming his gaze. Having Sam look at him like that pushes all of the pain and the low, crawling feelings to the back of Dean’s mind and he moves without thinking, sitting up and reaching out—no idea what he means to do when he has his hands on Sam, but he knows he needs to touch.

Dean’s abused muscles cramp at the careless motion, and when he flinches in response to that pain, he accidentally clenches up and grimaces at the spike of pain in his well-used ass. Sam’s face pinches with concern and before Dean knows what’s happening, he has been lifted from the bed by weaves of power and is leaning against his brother. Sam gets an arm around him and supports him carefully, but securely. A stray wisp of power sinks in through the tattoo on Dean’s back, both an irritant and a balm against the agony inside him.

“Sam,” Dean gasps, squirming as he tries to figure out if he wants more of that connection or if he needs Sam to stop touching him right fucking now.

Sam makes the decision for him, deliberately flooding him with power that stings on first contact and then settles into a deep throb. Feels a bit like his muscles used to after a particularly good PT run.

“Shh,” Sam says, moving forward and bringing Dean with him. “I know it hurts. Let’s get you to the tub and I’ll see what I can do.”

As if Dean has another option.

Letting his head loll to the side, he concentrates on walking—on the more comfortable physical pain of strained muscles and his overworked ass. The walk still seems to take forever, and Dean wonders in an absurd sort of way whether Sam somehow expanded the suite when Dean was passed out and oblivious to the world. When it finally comes, the feel of carpet giving way to cool tile beneath his feet is a relief.

“Shower or bath?” Sam wants to know.

Dean considers the relative merits of having to support himself on shaking legs or sitting on his aching ass and then says, “Shower, if you can help me.”

Sam’s pleasure at being asked flavors the power inside Dean, and for a moment he tastes honey at the back of his tongue. Then Sam regains control of himself and the emotion dims to a vague awareness, which lingers just beneath Dean’s thoughts. He leaves Dean to lean against a wall while he gets the shower running and undresses, and then retrieves him and helps him step under the spray.

The warm beat of water feels wonderful on Dean’s muscles. Sam’s hands, lathered up with rose-scented soap, feel even better as they move over Dean’s chest and stomach. It’s impossible for Sam to support Dean with his hands and wash him at the same time, so instead Dean feels thick, cushioned bands of power loop around his chest. When he tentatively leans into the bands, taking some of his weight from his shaking thighs, they hold him upright where he should be. Somehow, the combination of thrumming power and Sam’s wandering, oversized hands is more comforting than anything else, and Dean closes his eyes and lets his brother clean him.

Sam’s hands go everywhere, heedless of privacy—he rubs soap into Dean’s limp cock and balls with the same gentle efficiency he uses on Dean’s calves. He takes his time with Dean’s back, following every line of the tattoo while absently kissing the nape of Dean’s neck and the curls of ink that have found their way there. And then, with a contented hum, he moves Dean forward several steps and gets his hands on Dean’s scalp, massaging shampoo into his hair before taking his time washing it out again.

By the time Sam is finished, Dean’s sharper aches have all faded to throbs. His cock, not broken after all, hangs half-hard between his legs.

Sam notices when he towels Dean off—Dean catches him looking with a smug, pleased expression—but, surprisingly enough, he doesn’t comment on it, and his hands don’t linger. Instead, Dean gets a chaste kiss on the cheek and a gentle push in the direction of the sink.

“Brush your teeth, baby.”

Dean is already smearing paste on his toothbrush before he realizes just how mindlessly he obeyed. He pauses, looking down at the crushed tube on the sink, while Sam dresses again behind him.

“Problem?” Sam asks without looking over. There’s no threat to the question, just a hint of disappointment, but Dean pushes the darkening gloom at the edges of his mind away and focuses on doing as he’s been asked.

When he thinks he’s brushed enough, he leans over and spits. Then, after rinsing off the brush and putting it back in its holder, he bends down (back giving a twinge of protest) and drinks from the faucet. When he straightens again, Sam is standing behind him, watching. He’s close enough that Dean’s ass brushes the front of his brother’s suit.

Dean jumps, startled, and then grimaces. When Sam takes a single step forward, his clothing shifts against Dean’s bare skin in an oddly erotic way. His hand closes on Dean’s hip, over a stray curl of tattoo, and as the connection opens between them, he sinks down and inside, like fog curling low across a river valley. He’s taking it easy, but the penetration runs deeper this time and Dean stiffens as the wounded, torn place inside of him spasms.

“Shh,” Sam says. “You’re being so good, Dean. Just keep it up, let me feel you.”

Dean doesn’t intend to say anything—stoic silence is his best bet and he knows it—but then Sam thrusts deeper and the next spasm is even stronger than the first—a frenzy of lashing pain as the wounded bits of himself try to limp away from Sam’s onslaught. He gasps involuntarily, one hand flying over to his brother’s with a half-formed notion of prying Sam’s fingers off his hip.

“Be still!” Sam snaps, and there’s the anger. There’s the petulant boy king, slapping Dean’s hand away with a nonchalant flick of power while he worms himself deeper.

“It hurts,” Dean grunts, trying to jerk forward against the counter in an effort to get at least a little space between them.

“I know,” Sam answers, “but I can’t do anything unless I can get a look at the damage. Which is a little difficult with you squirming away from me.”

Somehow, though, Dean doesn’t think a look at the damage is all Sam wants. Not when he’s rubbing up against every miniscule bit of Dean that he can reach.

A moment later, his suspicions are confirmed when Sam’s cheek drops against his and Sam breathes, “You feel so wonderful, baby—like light. Bright and warm and perfect. And so fucking beautiful I can barely breathe. You’re gonna burn me up someday.”

Dean feels like he’s the one who’s burning, though; Sam’s overwhelming presence is gasoline being poured into an open wound. And then Sam actually starts prodding at the pain—with the clumsy curiosity of someone who doesn’t even remember inflicting the damage—and Dean can’t quite keep from sobbing.

It’s humiliating, but at least Sam does draw back a bit, which lets Dean suck in a much-needed breath.

“Must’ve been even rougher than I thought,” Sam mutters. The accompanying stroke of his free hand through Dean’s wet hair is apologetic. “C’mere.”

Dean feels Sam’s hand on his hip urging him around and turns clumsily, then immediately leans backwards as he realizes just how closely he’s pressed to his brother. Sam’s mouth is an inch from his; Sam’s eyes are close enough for Dean to count the darker burnt amber flecks amidst playful Aspen-yellow. Sam presses a splayed hand against Dean’s shoulder blade and urges him forward while nosing at his cheek.

“You haven’t given me my good morning kiss yet.”

It’s as good as a command and Dean takes it as one, tilting his face up and parting his lips.

Sam’s mouth is warm and soft against his, and the kiss starts out gentle enough that there’s only the mildest sting from Dean’s split lip. Then Sam makes a contented, happy noise and pushes more greedily, tongue slipping into Dean’s mouth and fingers digging into his back. Dean obediently opens wider, tilting his head to one side to slot their mouths firmly together. His chest gives a battered, faithful pulse of love that he’s helpless to control.

Warmth spills from Sam’s mouth to his, making his lips tingle and then trickling down his throat. Alarmed at the sensation—and the memory of what happened the last few times Sam has pushed power into his mouth like this—Dean tries to break the connection by pulling back. Sam follows, though, surging into the kiss. The warmth comes faster now, a torrent pouring into him, and Dean panics for a few seconds before the effects of that warmth register.

Where Sam’s power has passed, the aches of Dean’s body are easing. His muscles are unknotting and relaxing. Bruises stop throbbing. The only places Sam can’t seem to touch are those deeper wounds inside of Dean—the places he feels savaged and torn. Still, without his body clamoring for attention or Sam forcibly pressing against the wounds, even that pain seems bearable.

When Sam finally breaks the kiss and looks down at Dean with a smile, Dean can’t help but smile back.

“Better?” Sam strokes Dean’s cheek.

“Yeah. Thanks.”

“Sorry I can’t do anything about this,” Sam apologizes, with a feather-light brush against that deeper, lingering pain. “We’ll take it easy until you heal up. And I—I’ll try to be more gentle.”

More gentle with what? Dean wants to ask. The question gets further this time—almost to his lips—but Sam’s face is twisted up in an expression that seems more confused than anything, and Dean senses that his brother wouldn’t be able to answer.

The thought that Sam is blundering about blindly with all that power is terrifying.

Terror or not, Dean participates when Sam kisses him again—more briefly, and without the fireworks power display. The swoop that his stomach gives when Sam trails one hand down his stomach and over his cock as he draws away isn’t precisely unhappy.

“Get dressed,” Sam says. “I’ll order us breakfast.”

When Dean opens the wardrobe, Sam’s preference is obvious. Dean’s old clothes haven’t disappeared, but front and center hangs a black suit with a white dress shirt. The pants and jacket are decadently soft against his fingers, but there’s no gleam to the color—cashmere, then. The shirt is white silk, though, and clings to his body when he puts it on. The top three buttons are missing—no, not missing; they’re just not there. He can’t even find the buttonholes they would have gone in.

Looks like the open-throated suit look is in around here.

Sam admires Dean openly as Dean joins him on the balcony. He was busy while Dean was dressing himself: there’s a new iron-wrought table out here, as well as a couple of matching chairs with cushions. The table is set with a carafe of coffee, a plate stacked high with pancakes, one of those glass syrup dispensers with a metal slider on top, a second plate heaped full of bacon, a bowl of scrambled eggs—cheese mingled in too, from the smell—and a basket with croissants and assorted Danish. There’s also a bowl of fruit—blueberries, strawberries, freshly cut banana, kiwi, grapes, and apple wedges. No cantaloupe in sight, but of course there wouldn’t be: Sam knows Dean can’t stand the stuff.

In the center of the table, stands a vase with a single, deep blue rose, bringing to mind memories of reclining on thousands of those petals while Sam slipped bits of food past his lips. Too bad Dean can’t remember the rest of the night.

Fear is suddenly breathlessly, startlingly close. It’s an absurd depth of emotion for such a passing thought, and his inability to rein the terror back only frightens him more. Then, with a stronger throb of pain deep inside his chest, the panic vanishes.

Unsettled by the rapid flip of emotion, Dean takes refuge in the comfort of cynicism. Clearing his throat, he deadpans, “What, no O.J.?”

Sam flushes in an embarrassed way and gestures toward the table with one hand. Dean smells sulfur as his brother rips a hole in reality—there’s a brief, noxious sound and that screaming sense of Hell before the hole redirects—and then Dean is looking at some white and bustling place lined with gleaming steel counters. People are rushing around on the other side of the hole, and there’s a sound of sizzling and clanking and the bewildering scent of a hundred types of food being prepared at once.

“Orange juice,” Sam snaps.

The people in that distant place—a kitchen—fall over themselves in a mad scramble at the sound of his voice. Within moments, crystal glasses and a vase of the requested beverage have been passed through and set in place on the table. The man who lingers to set everything properly, reaching an arm through the hole with white-eyes and sweat on his brow, keeps darting his eyes at Sam like he’s expecting to be ripped to pieces at any moment.

Dean’s beginning to regret his attempt at self-distraction.

He waits until Sam has closed the hole again and motioned for him to sit down—waits until he’s certain that nameless man won’t be caught in the crossfire any more than he already is—and then says, “I was joking about the orange juice. This is—this is great.”

“Don’t make excuses for them, Dean,” Sam says without looking up.

He’s unfolding a napkin and laying it in his lap, so the avoidance could be coincidental. Not that Dean needs to see his brother’s eyes to tell that Sam is upset. Sam’s annoyance is clear enough in the clipped, sharp way he’s filling his plate.

“I told them the works,” Sam continues. “Not much of a fucking breakfast without orange juice, is it?”

Yeah, Dean’s going to think about a billion times before he opens his mouth to say anything flippant in the future. No matter how unsettled he feels.

“Are you going to join me, or is there something else you’re missing?”

Dean realizes belatedly that Sam is watching him with narrowed, impatient eyes. When he looks over the piles of food, his stomach curls in on itself weakly. What he’d really like to do right now is crawl back into bed and sleep for a couple hundred years—or at least until the torn ache in his chest heals. Sam’s expression says that’s going to happen just about never, though.

Left with a choice between going with the flow or prodding Sam into a completely unnecessary meltdown, Dean quietly follows his brother’s example and spoons a little bit of everything onto his plate. It seems to be the right move, if the gradual lessening of the tension in Sam’s shoulders is anything to go by. When Dean finally brings himself to take a bite of food—nothing big, just a couple of strawberries to start—he even gets a small smile.

By the end of the meal, Sam is talking at a good clip. He’s reminding Dean about the one decent place they lived when they were boys—Dean twelve, Sam eight. Dad was hunting down something that was picking off the residents of Wells, on the coast of Maine, and in early March, with spring just getting around to considering the land, they’d been able to rent a coastal cottage for a couple weeks. There was sand in the bathroom, and worn floorboards that creaked, and splotches of suntan oil stains here and there on the walls, but the view had been spectacular, and the sound of the ocean outside at night was soothing.

It’s their stint in that house that Sam recalls now—a game of Parcheesi on the living room floor one evening when it rained (Dad sitting at the table poring over old newspaper clippings he stole from the library); a morning spent racing each other along the abandoned beach; walking into town and finding a grocery store where Dean scored them a couple bags of M&Ms at his usual five finger discount; sitting on the sun-warmed boards of the cottage’s back porch and eating some egg salad sandwiches Dean made earlier that morning.

Dean thinks it’s that makeshift picnic that sparked this particular walk down memory lane. The taste of eggs, and the brisk breeze that’s making Dean particularly aware that his hair is longer than he’d like it—not quite long enough to get into his eyes, but long enough to be tickling the back of his neck and upper coils of his brother’s mark—strike familiar chords. The air is cool, too, just like it was on that day (too cool to be eating out here, really, but Dean notices that none of the food seems to be getting cold), and the sky has the same flat, broad quality that it had when it overhung the sea.

“You remember the night Dad got it?” Dean asks suddenly, speaking into a brief silence when Sam is helping himself to a few more pieces of bacon. “He came back with marshmallows, and we had a fire on the beach?”

Sam’s chewing slows momentarily, and in the slight hardening of his brother’s eyes, Dean realizes that, in all of Sam’s stories, he hasn’t really mentioned Dad. Has been editing around him, actually. Bringing Dad up over this post-coital breakfast probably wasn’t the smartest thing Dean could have done.

Before the fear trickling down Dean’s spine can take hold, though, Sam’s eyes thaw and he says, “I remember you got yelled at for running around with half a dozen flaming marshmallows on a stick.”

“Totally worth it,” Dean replies. His throat tightens with gratitude that Sam has decided to let his misstep slide. “I got you laughing, didn’t I?”

Sam’s mouth quirks into a broad, dimpling smile and he leans back in his chair. “You looked like an idiot.”

“Hey. I’m not the one who had marshmallow smeared on my face, Stay Puff Boy.”

Sam lets out a bray of a laugh at that, looking a little surprised by the sound and by his own amusement but still generally pleased. Dean’s surprised himself at how normal he feels right now—the guilt and shame are there, sure, but mostly the ache in his chest is a pleasant one. He feels like he’s been sick for a long time and is finally on the mend.

He feels like he’s coming back home to Sam where he belongs.

Sam is either tracking Dean’s thoughts (as far as Dean can tell, his brother is keeping his power to himself, but he knows better than to believe he has that strong an awareness when it comes to his brother’s abilities) or Dean has forgotten how to keep his face blank, because Sam’s pleased expression shifts into something a little more victorious. His smile curves with smug confidence as he lets his eyes move across Dean’s face and chest before dropping his gaze lower, as though he can see right through the plates and the table and the pants covering Dean’s crotch. Dean flushes and looks away.

When he glances back a few moments later, Sam’s expression has gone back to doting. Sam wipes his hands on his napkin, takes a quick gulp of coffee, and then stands.

“I have something for you,” he announces, reaching into his pocket. As he comes around the side of the table, he pulls out a small, velvet box—a ring, probably, and Dean shouldn’t be surprised that Sam has somehow remained a sentimentalist even without a soul. He looks at the box without moving as Sam puts it down on the table in front of him, then waits for Sam to elaborate—to put a hand on the back of his neck or to grip his arm or stroke him with a brush of power. Something.

But Sam just stands there, close enough to touch and yet not closing the last few inches of distance. Waiting.

Finally, Dean asks, “What is it?”

Now Sam does reach out with his power, but not in Dean’s direction. Instead, he nudges the velvet box closer to Dean and then goes back to waiting.

Dean continues to hesitate, strangely reluctant to touch even the casing of Sam’s gift. There’s no particular reason for him to feel apprehensive—he’s given Sam everything he wants, he’s been good, there’s nothing to punish him for, as far as he can tell. But maybe there is. He thought Sam was pleased with his behavior during their confrontation with Lucifer, but maybe he should have been smarter, faster, stronger. He got himself hurt, for fuck’s sake, which he knows breaks Sam’s cardinal rule.

Licking his lips again, Dean swallows and then says, “Can’t you just—”

“Open your gift.” Sam’s voice is quiet, not even a hint of anger there, but the air feels charged and Dean doesn’t dare look up to gauge Sam’s mood from his face.

Shutting his eyes, he braces himself as best as he’s able—which is not very, with that torn sensation still prevalent inside him—and then lets out a shaky breath and reaches for the box. There’s an electric zing when his fingertips brush the velvet surface—less than a second of contact before instinctive revulsion pulls his hand back, but even that’s long enough to spark recognition. Dean has felt that crawling, covetous greeting before. He’s felt it close around his neck and lock into place.

“No,” he breathes, clenching his hand into a fist and putting it in his lap.

Sam is a silent, disapproving figure to his left.

“I—I let you,” Dean says into the strained stillness. “You don’t have to—you don’t have to do this. I gave you everything you w-wanted.”

“Almost everything,” Sam corrects.

A ghost of power against the torn place inside of Dean leaves no doubts as to what he means by that, even if Dean remains confused about the end goal. Dean’s soul didn’t tear easily enough for Sam. It didn’t pull wide enough to accommodate enough of his brother—couldn’t make the room for Sam to bury himself in there along with Dean, to stitch them both into a single whole.

Dean hates himself for cringing back, but even that feather-light brush of his brother’s power hurts, and he’s feeling more and more cornered with each beat of his heart. Now Sam does touch Dean, one hand lightly and possessively caressing Dean’s hair and silently urging him to straighten. It feels like the metal bars of a cage drawing in closer around him.

“But this isn’t a punishment, Dean,” Sam adds. “Now. Open your present.

Dean’s hand trembles as it lifts against his will, driven by the command reverberating in his head. The box is a warm, vibrating, alive presence against his fingertips. Dean feels an excited leap as he draws the lid up and he’s nauseated by his inability to tell whether that emotion came from the box in his hands, or from Sam, or from some sick, twisted part of himself.

It isn’t the collar in the box, but then again Dean knew it couldn’t be. This case is far too small to hold that unyielding, smooth circlet of metal. Sam’s gift isn’t a ring either, though. It’s a medallion—silver with gold inlay in the shape of letters that Dean recognizes from long hours of study beneath Dad’s watchful eye. He’s even seen them in this particular arrangement before; it’s practically the first word he learned to write in ancient Aramaic.

Sam reaches down with the hand not occupied with Dean’s hair and touches the medallion’s surface. “Now everyone will know who you belong to.”

“You really think they were confused before?” Dean says without thinking, and Sam’s hand stills in his hair momentarily before pulling away. “I’m sorry,” Dean apologizes as his insides twist with sharper guilt, stirring the torn throb to new heights.

He is sorry, too, and not just because Sam’s bad moods are liable to end in blood. After all, he should be grateful that Sam still loves him enough to want his claim so publicly displayed: Sam’s name hanging from Dean’s throat in a language that no demon will have difficulty reading. He’s just Sam’s weak fuck-up of a brother, after all, just Dad’s mindless soldier.

And beneath his unease at the thrum of power coming from the thing, Dean is grateful. It’s just… that innocuous seeming bit of metal is reminding him way too much of the goddamned collar.

“Good eye,” Sam compliments him, and Dean starts slightly at the awareness of his brother’s mind brushing against his. “I had it melted down and purified to get the metal for this.” Sam lifts the medallion from the box, revealing a short length of silver chain.

With difficulty, Dean lifts his eyes from the medallion and looks at his brother. Despite Dean’s atrocious behavior, Sam doesn’t seem angry. Hopeful, maybe, with a touch of uncertain shyness.

When he sees that he has Dean’s attention, Sam grins from behind his shaggy fringe of hair and says, “I could tell you didn’t like the collar, even before you found it in the drawer. And I wasn’t ever going to make you wear it again, I just… I hadn’t figured out what to do with it yet. I would have told you—I wanted to tell you—but I didn’t want to ruin the surprise.”

Dean doesn’t know what part of that speech to latch onto first. He keeps getting stuck on the dumbfounded comprehension that Sam believes Dean’s issues with the collar began and ended in its shape—and yeah, okay, that was part of it, Dean has to admit. Talk about a physical reminder of how thoroughly he’s owned: wearing a collar like a damn dog.

It’s more than that, though.

It’s how wide that collar spread his insides for Sam. How deep it allowed Sam to push without trying—without even being in the same state. Sam’s desires and absent thoughts funneled into Dean to become sensory reality, and if Dean has to feel that again—if he has to feel it when he’s like this, when he’s cut open inside and raw and fucked beyond recognition—he’ll…

He’ll what? It isn’t like it’s all that different from what happens when Sam touches the tattoo. So Sam’ll be able to keep in contact with him all day long. So he’ll be able to stretch out and stroke Dean’s insides from the other side of the country. So what? It isn’t like this is actually a choice. No matter how prettily Sam has wrapped his ‘gift’, Dean knows that accepting or refusing the medallion isn’t up to him.

“It’s great,” he says through clumsy, numb lips.

Sam doesn’t seem to notice Dean’s difficulty. Beaming even brighter, he offers, “Here, let me put it on.”

No, don’t.

The words are at the tip of Dean’s tongue, but he bites down on them and remains quiet while Sam steps in close behind him. When the medallion hits the bare V of Dean’s chest revealed by the open throat of his shirt, it’s warmer than it should be. The metal seems to pulse with a phantom heartbeat, a rhythm that the cuffs catch and echo. Despite his best intentions, Dean sits up straighter, trying to pull away.

Before he can get further than the edge of his chair, the catch closes and an invisible shockwave passes through Dean’s body. The last time Sam closed the catch on this sort of thing, Dean’s libido went into overdrive. This time, there’s no obvious spike of arousal, although Dean sort of wishes there was. Arousal would be easier to deal with.

Instead, there’s a sensation like a key turning in a lock. The ghostly awareness of Sam running underneath his skin manacles itself in place—Sam suddenly trapped deep inside of Dean, where Dean isn’t sure he wants his brother. Not constantly. Not always. He rattles at the entry points thoughtlessly, stirring up fresh agony from his torn core, but the bars and bolts hold. All of the windows and doors are welded shut.

“Sam,” Dean whispers, forgetting his determination to make this morning good for Sam, to keep him happy. “Sammy, I can’t—not—not always, you have to—fuck, tell me it comes off.” He lifts a hand, reaching back up where he knows the clasp is, and catches himself and forces it back down with difficulty.

Sam kisses the nape of Dean’s neck—kisses the chain—and answers, “You’ll get used to it, baby. Just wait and see. After a couple of days, it’ll be like I’m not even there.”

That’s an even more terrifying thought, of course—that this invaded, full sensation could become the norm—and Dean jerks up to his feet, the need for air—for space—pounding through him. Before he can move out from between his chair and the table, though, Sam has him by the back of the head and is shoving him down against the table amidst a clatter of plates and silverware. Dean can feel leftover maple syrup from his pancakes soaking into the stomach of his dress shirt.

“Don’t spoil the moment.” Sam’s voice is a low, warning growl. There’s a clatter of the chair being knocked away and then Dean tenses at the sensation of his brother’s crotch pressed up close to his ass.

“I don’t think you understand what a temptation you are,” Sam continues. “You look at me from underneath those lashes and my heart skips. You smile at me and all I can think about is your mouth. You sit there shining with the sun on your skin and I want to touch, and take—I want everything. You’re a compulsion, Dean. A maddening, beautiful compulsion.”

Dean grimaces as Sam’s hand tightens on the back of his head and then thinks, in a disjointed way, of Ben. Christ, he’s going to throw up.

“And,” Sam continues in a darker, hungrier tone, “you don’t want me to even begin describing the things I want to do when you flinch away.”

Dean can guess, actually. Run from a predator and attract its attention: it’s one of the first lessons Dad taught him. And if there’s any word that comes closest to describing what Sam is now, predatory is it. Dean’s attempts to gain some distance—to flee—must be waking every primal, hungry instinct inside of his brother. They must be waking Sam’s need to take and brand and claim and own, and thrusting them to the fore.

Dean has sensed the depth of Sam’s feelings for him. He’s stared into the maelstrom and come away humbled and staggered. He should know better, damn it.

“I’m sorry,” Dean breathes. He doesn’t feel the motion consciously, but he must be shaking because he can hear the plates beneath his stomach and chest clinking faintly. His insides throb and flutter, trembling beneath the near-physical weight of Sam’s presence.

“I think we’re done with breakfast,” Sam comments in reply. “Don’t you?”

Any response Dean makes to that question is going to be incorrect—he can tell from the dangerous thread running through Sam’s voice—so he keeps his mouth shut and waits. After a few, terrifying moments, he’s jerked back up and power crashes over the tabletop, driving the food and dishes onto the floor with a clatter. Dean is yanked around by one arm, then shoved down again, hitting the mesh table top at an awkward angle that makes his lower back spasm. He shifts around in an attempt to get comfortable, but doesn’t try to resist as Sam grips both sides of his shirt and pulls.

The silk, already ruined from the food smeared across the front, tears. Some of the buttons pop off and fly in various directions—Dean’s frantic eyes follow the arc of one stray up and over the edge of balcony, soaring on a path he’s longed to take himself more times than he can count.

A mouth on Dean’s stomach brings him back sharply to the present, and he looks down to see Sam bent over and lapping his skin clean where the syrup soaked through his shirt. Sam grips Dean’s waist with both hands, kneading sensually while stray wisps of power slip down the back of Dean’s pants to rub over his ass. Inside, where the charm has locked Sam intimately, invasively close, more power purrs into Dean: warm, soul-deep vibrations that first burn and then soften the jagged edges on the ache left from the first time Sam had him.

Then Sam tilts Dean’s face up with a curl of power—he finds Dean’s eyes with his own—and Dean is caught by the sight of his brother. Tawny gold eyes framed by tousled hair. Broad shoulders—Christ, the bulk of Sam’s body, the size of his hands where they’re gripping Dean’s sides.

Dean’s groin tightens. His ass throbs where Sam’s power is teasing over his flesh—he wants more, wants deeper, and he wants it in a sharper, more vital way than he has in a long while. Probably because he just broke his fast and actually remembers what Sam’s cock feels like.

The next pass of Sam’s mouth over Dean’s stomach gets Dean a graze of teeth, which drives a hiss from his throat and makes him arch his back.

“Sam,” he groans, reaching down to put his right hand over his brother’s left. Sam resists Dean’s attempt to pry his fingers loose for a few seconds, then relents and allows Dean to pull his hand up. Sam’s head lifts as well, and he watches Dean with narrowed, suspicious eyes.

But he’s letting Dean do this, he’s giving him a chance to prove himself, and a bolt of desire shivers through Dean again, tangled with a pulse of unconditional love.

Dean holds his brother’s gaze as he draws Sam’s hand across his stomach. Sam’s fingers spread on their own, teasing the damp skin, and then still when Dean presses them down against the bulge of his crotch and thrusts up. He’s mortified by his own behavior, and there’s a large part of him that wants to curl up in a convenient corner, but Sam thankfully doesn’t have to be asked twice.

When Dean doesn’t repeat the movement, he tightens his grip on his own, squeezing and tugging and making Dean’s breath come in short, jagged bursts as he reluctantly allows the pleasure to infect him. He isn’t quite writhing against the table yet, but he’s close.

::What do you want?:: The words melt into Dean’s mind and spill a red hot shower of pleasurable sparks through his overheated body. ::Tell me. Show me.::

Dean’s answer is a burst of arousal and a series of frantic, imagined images that jostle against one another in the nonexistent space between their minds.

his pants dangling from one ankle, Sam in close, Dean’s legs up and hitched around his waist, Sam gripping his forearms to hold him down, Sam driving in and forcing him to open up around Sam, forcing him, forcing—

“It’s not forcing you if you want it,” Sam mocks, and the images in Dean’s head shatter into a new alignment.

he’s on his back on the table with Sam rutting into him, but now Sam’s hands are busy helping him rock down into Sam’s thrusts while he alternates between hanging onto one of Sam’s tense forearms and gripping the edge of the table for support, and Sam is taking him, he’s willing, he’s so very willing, and Sam is giving it to him hard just the way he wants it, the way they both want it—

“Honesty is always the best policy,” Sam purrs against Dean’s upturned throat, and Dean’s head spins with need. He’s only vaguely aware that Sam’s hand has gone from working his cock through his pants to opening his belt.

“You just might get what you want,” Sam adds, and then Dean’s pants are open, and Sam is pulling them down and off.

Dean curls his fingers through the iron mesh of the table, gripping tightly as though that’s going to cool his blood to a boil instead of the seething supernova it’s become. Everything is moving far too fast and yet not quickly enough. Dean’s skin is hot, and it seems like the only cure for the burning is more fire, is Sam on top of him, Sam pushing inside him and coating Dean with oil and flame until Dean can’t feel the pain inside anymore, until the sharp agony is consumed by the inferno.

He tilts his head back, looks up at the blindingly blue spring sky overhead, and feels the medallion shift on his chest. It’s a reminder, not that he needs one, that Sam is already inside him—that Sam will always be inside him—and it comes moments before that ghostly sensation of Sam sticking to the underside of his skin seems to unfurl.

Dean gasps, shuddering, and then stills again as his brother’s very physical hands close around his thighs and push them apart. The sensation of Sam moving in close and positioning himself against Dean’s entrance is somehow both immediate and distant—in no way as intimate an invasion as Sam’s power expanding, easing tendrils down into the depths of Dean’s soul. The deeper intrusion makes that torn place inside of him throb, but it feels good too, it feels right. Dean tenses to keep from dragging Sam down against him right fucking now, but nothing he does can keep his hips from twitching needily as his exposed cock starts to leak.

“So sensitive,” Sam murmurs, putting a hand around Dean’s cock and giving him a firm, slow pull. “Sing out for me, baby. I want to hear how good I make you feel.”

A tiny corner of Dean’s brain is still aware that they’re outside on the balcony—and if his voice didn’t carry when he was screaming for Sam over the course of their last marathon session, it sure as hell will now.

“They’ll hear,” he protests faintly, and then gasps as power pushes up inside of him, slick and warm and widening in his ass. Prepping him with steady, deep thrusts he couldn’t lock out even if he wanted to.

“Who’ll hear?” Sam asks. He releases Dean’s cock to run his hand up Dean’s stomach to rest over his heart. The power inside Dean’s ass twists, opening him wider, and the muscles of his ass quiver weakly.

“Everyone,” Dean says, groaning at the sensation. His legs come up of their own accord, thighs spreading as wide as he can get them before he hooks his ankles together at the small of Sam’s back. The new angle slots Sam’s cock against Dean’s ass in a more obvious, pressing way, and Dean gasps as lapping power teases the outer edges of his hole even looser, leaving the muscle stupidly lazy. His nerve endings jitter with static as his rim gives way with Sam’s first, easy push, allowing the head of his brother’s cock to slowly sink in.

“Good,” Sam grunts, sounding a little out of breath and distracted now. “Then they’ll… all know who—who you belong to.”

Dean’s eyes roll back down from the sky and find his brother’s face. Unsurprisingly, Sam’s intent, focused eyes are locked on him. Inside of Dean, the tendrils of Sam’s power sink even deeper. They reach right down to those hurt, wounded places and cradle them. They stroke them, sandpaper tongues on open wounds. Dean cries out in a wordless shout that he can’t categorize as pleasure or pain.

There’s no mistaking the arousal in Sam’s replying moan, not when his eyes are so hot—not when Dean can feel his brother’s desire prowling restlessly inside him like an enraged tiger in a cage. Sam doesn’t hesitate before snapping his hips forward in a rough thrust.

Dean wants to be quiet, he wants to endure this (but is enduring what he’s doing, is it really?) silently and privately, but Sam pulls almost all the way out and then uses his next thrust to somehow fuck in even deeper. Sam fills Dean up, body and soul, and there’s no space left inside him to bury his moans and shouts. They’re forced from his body along with his air, echoing against the side of the building before falling down over the railing to the world below.

Sam bends forward, blanketing Dean’s body with his own and nipping at the lobe of his ear. It’s one minor sensation in a sea of sensuality, and is lost entirely as Dean gives up fighting with himself.

“Ngh!” he grunts, moving his hips in helpless little jerks that are the best attempt he can offer to aid Sam’s smoother, stronger rhythm. Dean’s thighs clench, heels digging into the small of Sam’s back and forcing him closer. One of his hands uncurls from the tabletop and flies to Sam’s arm instead—cloth and bunching muscle beneath his fingers rather than unyielding metal, but Sam doesn’t seem to notice Dean clenching hard enough to leave imprints of his fingers behind after he lets go. If he can ever manage to let go.

“They’re listening,” Sam pants in Dean’s ear. “Everyone down there… demons… slaves… they’re all hearing just how much you enjoy getting fucked.”

Shame and wanton arousal war in Dean’s chest. He bites his lip, is able to keep quiet for a few thrusts until he pushes up and Sam pushes down and something about the angle drives his brother’s cock directly into his prostate. Then he makes some sort of bastardized mix between a moan and a wail, and Sam’s subsequent chuckle dribbles over his skin like honey.

“Louder,” Sam urges. “Say my name. Tell them who you belong to.”

Dean shakes his head with difficulty—noises are one thing, actual words another—and concentrates on fucking back against his brother’s body, on finding that perfect rhythm that will drive Sam in even deeper, harder.

“Say it,” Sam urges as he ruts into Dean at an even faster, brutal clip, and then gives up on speaking and pushes the words directly into Dean’s head.

::Submit, Dean. It’s such a short way left to fall, and then it’ll be over—everyone will know and you won’t need to worry about it anymore, won’t need to be so shamed and shy about how beautifully you love me.::

“Sam,” Dean moans, forcing the word out on a hissed breath, and then, horrified, clenches his teeth shut.

“That’s it,” Sam praises, reaching between their bodies to stroke Dean’s cock. “I need you—I love you. Let them hear how much you love me. There’s nothing to be ashamed of, baby. This is you—this is how you are, it’s how we are. Nothing shameful about following your nature, and you. Love. This.”

The words are punctuated by harder, staccato thrusts that scrape Dean’s back against the wrought-iron tabletop—and, more importantly—by slick strokes against his insides, Sam everywhere, Sam possessing him inside and out. The tiger out of his cage and roaring, lapping everything with shivering, hot swipes—or maybe it’s a dragon Dean feels moving inside him. Maybe it’s the Dragon.

“You love me,” Sam adds as his dark, horribly focused love pours down the connection between them, and Dean doesn’t so much bend beneath the torrent as he breaks, he yields, and oh God forgive him, but he submits.

“Sam!” he shouts, other hand lifting from the table to grip his brother’s shoulder blade. “Christ, Sam! Sammy, harder. H-hard—ngh! Oh fuck!”

It devolves to rutting between them, then. Just hard, sloppy thrusts, with Sam’s rhythm regularly accelerating until he’s pounding into Dean’s ass at a stunning speed. Dean’s cock jerks, and twitches, and finally spills as he cries out. Sam’s hold on Dean tightens as Dean slumps, both hands gripping Dean’s hips and jerking him down to meet each of Sam’s driving thrusts until Sam comes as well with a particularly sharp snap of his hips and an erratic flare of power that echoes through Dean’s insides.

In the momentary quiet afterward, when Sam’s weight crushes Dean against the table and they lie there panting against each other, Dean wants to panic. But there’s only a throb of well-used pleasure from his ass and the languid contentment of Sam’s power spread deep within his soul, where it’s mostly dampening the ache instead of rousing it. The dragon or the tiger or whatever beast his brother’s passion loosed within him is gone without a trace, and the slightly queasy, shamed feeling that Dean thinks will always come after he lets Sam touch him (and enjoys it) isn’t quite as strong as he wants it to be.

He can’t meet his brother’s eyes as Sam finally eases out and steps away.

After a moment of strained silence, Sam says, “Go clean yourself up. I’ll get you another suit.” But Sam doesn’t move, and Dean realizes after almost a minute of waiting that Sam means for him to go in first. Possibly so that Sam can tidy up the mess they made out here on the balcony.

He sits up, uncomfortably aware of how open and wet his ass is, and hesitantly finds his feet. His thighs shake, weak from gripping at Sam’s waist so strongly. He has to bend down to pull the rest of his pants off his left ankle. The medallion swings and bumps his collarbone—it has a shorter chain than the amulet Sam gave him when they were kids, and Dean realizes that it would have been perfectly framed by the silk dress shirt Sam ripped off of him.

It would have been on display.

“Hurry up, Dean,” Sam warns. “I’ve been neglecting my duties for almost a week. I have a lot of catch-up to do.”

Is that how long it was? Dean thinks dazedly.

Sam could be right. Dean was so involved with Sam’s cock and mouth and the power drowning him that a few sunrises and sunsets could have gotten lost in the shuffle.

“All right,” he says softly, and goes.

Chapter Text

By the time Dean is presentable again, it’s midmorning. Dean can tell from the trucks that have begun to pull up far below—bringing in prisoners and new slaves. The trucks will drive past until late afternoon, dropping their cargo not just here, but at what Dean imagines are countless other sites across the city. It’s the evening arrivals that really bother him, though, and he wishes he’d never asked Sam to explain the difference between arrival times. Now that he knows, the knowledge nips at him every sunset.

In the shadowed hours of twilight, the demons bring in the cream of the crop; those few humans carefully selected for any pet projects Sam’s demons might have. And, of course, people slated to become meat suits.

Apparently, Sam has streamlined the process. A demon can fill out a form now—specifying desired qualities such as height, weight, eye color, hair shade and texture—and when the right human comes in for processing, they’re tagged and separated from the herd.

Sam’s words.

“You look good,” Sam says as Dean stands in front of the closed sliding doors. Outside, the balcony has been cleared of any sign of breakfast, or what happened after.

Dean gives his new jacket a tug and runs a smoothing hand down the front. As far as he can tell, the clothes he’s wearing now are identical to the ones Sam tore off him outside.

“You’re not going to ruin this suit too, are you?” he asks, only half joking. He doesn’t quite dare to turn around. He isn’t sure he wants to know how Sam is looking at him.

But Sam laughs. “Much as I’d love nothing more, like I said: places to go, things to do.”

Dean jumps, startled, as a pair of black dress shoes hit the floor to his right.

“Put those on.”

Dean stares at the shoes, confused. He hasn’t seen a pair aside from Sam’s since Ben came to live with them. And there seems to be no reason for him to need them now, because he can’t leave here, he—

Dean’s thoughts tumble to a dead stop. “I’m going outside?”

“Mmm,” Sam hums as he steps up against Dean’s back and wraps his arms around Dean’s stomach. “Not quite. Just a couple floors down for today. You’ve been up here for a while; we’ll have to reacclimatize you slowly. I don’t want you feeling overwhelmed and panicking.”

The steady flux of emotion coming from the place Sam has made for himself inside of Dean (always now, forever and ever, Jesus Christ, Dean’s going to throw up) whispers another tale, though.

Sam doesn’t want Dean running.

Dean can’t blame him for being cautious, considering their history, but he wishes his brother would believe in him a little more. Dumb and resistant as Dean might be, he’s finally clear on the fact that this is where he belongs. And anyway, Sam has enough layers of binding and ownership on him that Dean could run to the moon and Sam would still be able to drag him back.

But it’ll be nice to get out of this suite. Probably. Maybe. Dean’s stomach is a confusion of nerves, and he’s too torn up inside to really know how he feels about this new development.

Still, when Sam kisses his neck and steps away, Dean doesn’t waste any time grabbing the shoes and taking them over to the couch. He finds a dress sock tucked inside each one and pulls them on, frowning slightly at the uncomfortable, confined sensation. When he slips his feet into the shoes a moment later, they feel strange on his feet. His fingers are clumsy on the laces, uncertain, and the longer it takes, the worse his confusion grows.

Can’t even tie his own shoes, fuck.

“Here,” Sam says smoothly, crouching in front of him. “I’ve got it.”

Dean’s cheeks heat with embarrassed anger as Sam swiftly and easily loops the laces into neatly tied bows. He remembers doing this for Sam, remembers teaching Sam how to manipulate the laces on his hand-me-down sneakers himself. To be forced into this ass backwards, weak position is worse than humiliating.

Then Sam gives Dean’s ankle a caress, and showers fond affection over his insides, and Dean’s anger melts into gratitude.

“Thanks.”

Sam grins at him and stands, then pulls Dean up as well. He doesn’t step away afterwards, which puts them chest to chest as Sam gazes down into Dean’s eyes. Dean is certain he’s about to get kissed again, but instead Sam’s smile fades into a more somber expression.

“There are a couple of rules, Dean. You want to pay very close attention and follow them exactly.”

“Rules for what?”

“Think of them as rules of engagement.” Although Sam’s tone and expression are distracted as he lifts a hand to adjust a few wayward strands of Dean’s hair, Dean is under no misapprehension just how important this is to his brother. He can feel Sam’s focused sincerity rumbling against his insides with the low-grade hum of a revving motor.

“Rule number one,” Sam continues as he strokes his fingertips across Dean’s cheek and down over his lips. “No lies or secrets. I think we’ve proven that, while you might get away with it for a short while, I’d find out eventually.”

Dean thinks about his confrontation with Sam over his indiscretions with the angel, Castiel. He remembers Ben’s small body and ruined head. A sick, nervous taste floods his mouth and he nods, careful not to move his head violently enough to shake Sam’s touch loose.

Sam’s hand turns, fingers tilting to cradle Dean’s jaw while his thumb presses down on the center of Dean’s lower lip. His eyes are dark with musings on all of the things he wants to do to Dean, all the ways he wants to have Dean’s mouth. Dean shivers with the need to break eye contact, but a sudden sharpening of Sam’s presence within him is warning enough for him to resist the temptation.

“Rule number two: no one looks at more of you than can be seen right now. I realize that Bobby’s going to want a peek at the tattoo—I told him about it, and he’s been logging the research hours—and that’s all right. But he’d better be the only one in the room, Dean. And your pants stay on.”

The disconnect is strong enough that Dean jerks his head back without thinking about the probable consequences. Sam’s thumb slips from between his lips at the movement, giving Dean the space to say, “I—what—I—Bobby?”

Sam allows his hand to fall back to his side as he gives Dean a steady, patient look. “I promised you a visit, didn’t I? Once you had accepted me back into your heart?” His expression shifts, acquiring an intimate, knowing heat as he slides his gaze up and down Dean’s body. “And you’ve ‘accepted’ me quite a few times over the last week, haven’t you?”

That innuendo isn’t exactly lost on Dean—he isn’t sure it would be lost on anyone, obvious as Sam is being—and warmth courses through his body even as his thoughts and emotions descend into cascading clamor.

Bobby. He’s going to see Bobby. It doesn’t seem real—he feels as though it can’t be real, not after all this time. Somewhere along the way, the concept of seeing Bobby transmuted into something rarer and finer than a reunion. It took on mythic proportions, about as touchable as a child’s half-glimpsed dream and as attainable as a unicorn’s horn. It became a talisman: an idea to hinge his sanity on during his darker, bleaker moments.

Now the ephemeral concept has been given weight again—terrible, choking weight, for no reason Dean can…

His eyes widen.

He’s going to see Bobby—and, if Sam is warning him about other people in the room, he’s going to see Ellen and Deacon, too. Jo, maybe. Dean’s going to see them all.

And they’re going to see him.

He has to swallow twice before he can get anything out of his throat, and even then his voice is thick and gluey as he chokes out, “I—I think I’m going to throw up.”

He tries to push past Sam in the direction of the bathroom, and Sam grasps Dean’s face between his hands and holds him still. He catches Dean’s eyes with his own—golden irises, a snake’s hypnotic gaze. Steadying numbness seeps into Dean where they’re linked, and he buckles at the knees under the strength of the spreading calm—stronger than the morphine drips he’s had once or twice, leaving him reeling and disoriented.

The torn, wounded places inside of him spasm before easing down to a dull throb and then there’s just Sam keeping him grounded. Sam’s hands are two solid points of contact locking him in place. Sam’s voice is a golden chain threaded around Dean’s mind.

“Shh,” Sam reassures him. “It’s okay, Dean. You’ll be fine.”

Dean won’t be, though. Even through the repetitive, calming waves of Sam’s power, he understands that. How can he possibly be fine when they’re going to look at him? They’re going to look, and they’re going to see, see what he is, what he’s always been underneath the posturing and the bravado, and then he’s—fuck, Dean doesn’t know what he’ll do, but he knows that the thought of catching disgust and scorn in Bobby’s eyes leaves him heart sore and sick.

“I can’t,” Dean insists, his words coming out slurred and loose, but picking up speed all the same. “Sam, I can’t. I don’t—I take it back, okay? I don’t want to see them. I can just… I can stay here, like I always do.” Searching for some arguments that Sam will like, Dean comes up with, “It’s safe here. I’m safe. And you—you won’t need to worry about people looking at me. Okay? All right, Sam? Sammy?”

Sam kisses him. Sam kisses him and Dean opens for it, realizing only after Sam’s tongue is in his mouth that he can taste salt. The tears don’t belong to Sam, so they must be his—fuck, he’s crying, he’s crying despite the anesthetizing blanket of Sam’s power, and if he needed any confirmation of just how pathetic he is, he has it now. But the shame and self-hatred that thrust up through the artificial calm aren’t as strong as the bitter undercurrent of panic, and Dean catches his brother’s shirt in his hands, hanging on as though he can force Sam to agree if he just wills it hard enough.

The unbearable pressure of Dean’s turbulent emotions pushing back against the interference of Sam’s power continues to rise. Dean is struck by the inescapable impression that he’s splashing wildly in a room filling up with water, too panicked to tread through the cold, eeling liquid like he knows he should. Not that it will matter in the end—not when the water floods to the top and forces out even the thinnest layer of air.

And he hurts inside, oh God he hurts, even with Sam’s power damping everything down. But Sam’s mouth is what’s important, Sam’s mouth his tongue his lips his power his mind inside of Dean as Sam contents himself with Dean’s mouth, as he enjoys it, nothing but the thrum of contentment from him, content to have Dean here with him now, and Dean has won, he finally won this one thing, maybe this most important of things. He doesn’t have to leave, he doesn’t have to go see (be seen by) Bobby, he—

Sam breaks the kiss with a suddenness that leaves Dean reeling. Sam smiles that broad, goofy grin that used to drive Dean nuts when Dad was around and he couldn’t do anything about it, and then eases his grip on Dean’s face so that he can wipe the moisture from Dean’s cheeks.

“A promise is a promise, Dean.”

The words sink in only slowly, and with them comes the awareness that Dean is wrong about the smile. This smile is sharp. It’s edged with intent. There’s a trace of the merciless boy king in Sam’s eyes, and the expression on his face has nothing to do with the earnest, overjoyed grins that Dean remembers. The two aren’t even kissing cousins.

Any further pleas or arguments that Dean might have made dry up as quickly as he considers them. His desperation condenses into a hard, clammy lump that sticks in his throat. His voice won’t work, but that doesn’t matter. Dean’s words are useless when Sam already knows everything he’s feeling.

Sam knows what this will do to Dean. He’s intimately familiar with every last scrap of spirit and limping self-esteem the disgust in Bobby’s eyes is going to kill. He’s already marked out each new rend that will carve itself into Dean’s soul when he’s forced to face up to his own feeble submission.

That’s the whole point of this newest lesson.

“Rule number three,” Sam says as Dean fights futilely to get his tears under control. “No one touches you. No one. If I find out that Bobby so much as laid a finger on your wrist, I’ll rip him apart. Slowly. I don’t want to hurt him, but… well, thinking of anyone else putting their hands on you makes me go a little insane.”

If someone had asked Dean just thirty seconds ago whether there was a way to make him feel like more of a pariah, Dean would have laughed. But of course Sam, overachiever that he is, has found one.

A sensation of complete and utter isolation settles around Dean like a clear, hard-shelled bubble. He wonders if this is it—if his last moment of human contact with anyone but Sam has come and gone without acknowledgment. When did that happen? Just who was the last person to lay hands on Sam’s property?

After a moment of intense thought, Dean realizes with a start that it was Lucifer. His last contact with a living creature that isn’t his insane brother, and it was the Devil—old Scratch himself. It’s so horribly unthinkable, Dean almost wants to laugh.

Almost.

“Do you understand the rules?”

Dean’s throat works, but he can’t quite bring himself to say anything.

“Dean.” Flicker of heat across Dean’s back, warning flare of temper from within.

“Yeah,” Dean blurts. And then, because he isn’t sure that acknowledgement will be enough, he adds, “I understand.”

“All right, then,” Sam says, calming. “I’ll drop you off on my way out and pick you up when I get home. If you need me before then, all you need to do is call—but, Dean? Don’t call unless you mean it.”

Unless he’s in physical danger, Sam means, and Dean can imagine all too well the way Sam will enter the room if Dean does decide to reach out for him: with his power lashing out and butchering anything in the vicinity that isn’t Dean.

“I won’t,” Dean says hoarsely.

It isn’t a difficult promise to make.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Dean’s insides twist as he follows Sam out the front door and down the hallway toward the elevator. He still feels that need to puke as a distant, hollow urge, but most of the initial shock has worn off, and the only thing he can sense beneath Sam’s numbing power is the taut tension of dread. He wipes his cheeks once more on the arm of his suit, taking a shaky breath and trying to piece together any shattered, blackened fragments of armor that still remain after Sam’s thorough dismantling.

Today is going to be nothing short of torture, but Dean doesn’t have to let Bobby and the others see how deeply their disgust cuts into him. He can hold it together until Sam comes back to collect him, and then he can let all the blood and the pain out and Sam will hold and soothe him and Dean won’t have to come down here again.

One day. He can manage one day.

The elevator doors slide open at Sam’s approach, revealing the car filled with its cargo of green, writhing flames, and Dean drags to an instant stop. The memory of his last attempt to step inside the car coats his skin with the physical breath of pain, getting in the way of logic and locking his muscles in place. Sam turns back without missing a beat, taking hold of Dean’s elbow and drawing him forward again.

“It’s all right,” he soothes. “The ward won’t hurt you anymore.”

Dean still tenses as Sam urges him over the threshold. A tiny, terrified noise gets wedged in his throat as the ward slips beneath his shirt to feel over his skin, quickly finding the tattoo and sinking into it.

Now the agony will come, blinding and soul-deep. Now it’s going to rip into him and drive him to his knees.

The sensation of being felt up and examined vanishes. The flames don’t dissipate along with it, but their touch softens. They curl around him, welcoming and warm. Dean twists a little as Sam joins him, trying unsuccessfully not to interact with more of that eerie green fire than he absolutely has to. The flames are everywhere, though, converging on Dean so that they can rub against him with sleek, soft crackles of contentment. It’s a relief when Sam reels him in and gives him some more solid contact to focus on.

Dean slides an arm around Sam’s lower back as Sam presses the round button marked 17 and the doors slide shut, closing them in. He stumbles at the unexpected lurch of the car dropping down—it’s been a while since he last felt this sensation, and he wasn’t quite ready for how quickly they seem to be descending—but Sam is there to hold him up. The antique brass dial above the doors swings unhesitatingly to the left, passing 21, 20, 19… The car begins to slow, and then comes to a heaving stop as they reach their destination. The elevator dings lightly before rolling its doors back, and Dean looks through the obscuring flames at a long, opulently decorated hall.

At the far end of the hall, two men—demons, probably—stand guard at a polished oak door where a red welcome mat protrudes into the hallway like a tongue. Between Dean and the guards are large, potted ferns (fake, they must be; there aren’t any windows to let any light in) and art deco lamps that fill the corridor with a warm glow. The green fire clings briefly to Dean as Sam leads him out of the car and then reluctantly lets go. Humming to himself, Sam slings one arm possessively around Dean’s waist and fits their strides together.

As Dean walks step in step with his brother, he can’t shake the feeling that the hallway is lopsided somehow. They’re halfway down before he realizes why—before the missing doors on his left register. Then he glances at Sam. He doesn’t quite dare to voice the question, but Sam’s presence sharpens inside of him for a fleeting moment and Dean knows he was heard anyway.

“We remodeled,” Sam explains offhandedly as Dean’s intense awareness of SamSammySam damps back to a dull throb. “I thought it would be prudent to keep your guests safely confined, but of course I wanted them to have plenty of room. Wouldn’t want you accusing me of being a bad host.”

He’s watching Dean as they walk, with a pleased, expectant expression on his face. For an instant, Dean’s memory intrudes and he’s looking at a much younger Sam—eleven, maybe, or just ten. Sam with his report card, running past Dad and holding it up for Dean to read. Sam shifting from foot to foot, looking excited and anticipatory and nervous all at once and then practically lighting up the whole room with his beaming smile when Dean ruffles his hair and says, ‘What do you want, brainiac, a medal?’

Somehow, Dean doesn’t think Sam would find that fond, joking tone appropriate anymore.

“Thanks,” he says. “That was… thoughtful of you.”

“It’s all for you,” Sam assures him, and lifts his hand from Dean’s waist to toy with the fringe of hair at the base of his neck instead. Dean wishes he didn’t know how true that statement really is. He wishes the reminder weren’t making the shame burn hotter than it already was. And those deep places inside—those torn, aching places—are making it difficult to block out all of the shitty, hurtful emotions slinking around inside of him. His eyes water alarmingly and he drops them, avoiding the guards as best as he can as he and Sam draw near.

He can sense them watching him, though. His skin crawls with their attention as he focuses on the floor, noting how thick the carpet is, how rich, what a vivid shade of red. The temperature around him surges, the air becoming arid and sulfur-laced in his mouth.

“What do you think you’re looking at?” Sam asks quietly. Flames crackle through the words—which aren’t, of course, directed toward Dean. Dean knows that from the flavor of the pissed off pulse Sam’s presence is building inside of him.

If Sam doesn’t want anyone looking at him, Dean is more than happy to go right back upstairs to the suite.

Dean doesn’t think either demon can possibly come up with a right answer to Sam’s demand, not when his internal awareness of Sam is turning red and lightning-shot, but one of them proves him wrong by saying, “We’re rejoicing, Lord, that your consort finally stands beside you.”

“Hail and welcome to the Prince of Shadow and Flame,” the second demon adds, and Dean catches a flutter of motion at the edge of his gaze. A bow.

Sam’s hand tightens on the back of Dean’s neck as the pulse of anger inside of him ebbs again. Sam’s voice whispers through his head. ::You’ve been greeted, Dean. It’s only polite to return the favor.::

The title the demon used doesn’t belong to Dean, though; he won’t—can’t—claim even the most distant kinship to the words still ringing oddly in his chest. He thought the title was Sam’s, that the demon was talking to Sam. That, at least, would have made sense. Hell, even with Sam prodding him now, Dean can’t bring himself to own that name.

‘Prince’, right. That’s a fucking laugh. All of the slaves in Sam’s fucked up new kingdom put together are restrained with fewer chains than the ones choking Dean. There aren’t enough collars and leashes left in the world to match what Sam’s done to him. The weight of the charm around Dean’s neck seems to increase, holding his head bowed, dragging him to his knees—to his belly.

Some prince. Some fucking hero.

But Sam is growing impatient, and Dean doesn’t want the human trapped inside that meatsuit along with the demon to be torn apart for upsetting him, so he somehow keeps to his feet. Words are harder to manage, but Dean’s motivated enough to make it work. He even manages something that might charitably be called a smile as he says, “Great to be here.”

It’s a lie, which Sam forbid, but it isn’t directed at Sam, and Dean senses only mild, indulgent amusement from his brother, so he figures he’s okay. A moment later, Sam confirms it by letting the matter drop.

“My consort is going to be visiting his guests today,” Sam announces as he goes back to stroking Dean’s hair rather than gripping his neck. “I trust you’ll see to it that he has everything he wants?”

The two demons fall all over themselves assuring Sam of that, and then, at an impatient gesture, melt away from the door. Dean doesn’t want to look, but his eyes are drawn up to the brass latch. He stares at it, his stomach a mess of writhing snakes and the deep gashes in his soul leaking something that feels too much like blood to be anything else. Oh God, he doesn’t want to do this, he doesn’t want to be here—

Dean has time to register the door swinging open and then Sam is pushing him forward with the hand at the back of his neck—a gentle nudge that becomes iron insistence at the first hint of reluctance from Dean. Dean’s pulse throbs alarmingly through his body and echoes in his ears. His skin feels too hot one moment, frozen the next, and nausea claws at him with tiny, lurching talons. Distant at first, but growing progressively louder, comes a high-pitched ringing in his ears.

Oh great, he’s going to pass out.

::None of that,:: Sam scolds. His presence sharpens again, clearing away the gathering wash of white and smothering the feedback whine. Dean’s body is still in acute distress, but his mind is irrevocably present in the room, taking in all the details he wishes he didn’t see.

The front door opens in on some sort of common area—a couch, some tables, bookshelf against one wall and a TV against the other. The furniture is dark and rich—mahogany and ebony, and carved with twisted, intricate floral designs. The walls are papered in maroon; the carpet and the curtains on the room’s one small window are a smoky, bruised color, accented with brighter glimmers of gold. Incongruously, the chess set arranged on the small table by the window looks like it’s seen better days. Some of the pieces are scorched. Others looked chipped and pitted.

Jo is sharing the couch with Ellen. Bobby and Deacon are at the room’s larger table, sitting side by side as they look through a spread of notebooks and old, leather bound tomes.

Or rather, they were looking through the clutter. Now everyone in the room is staring at Dean.

For a long, aching moment, there’s silence. Then Bobby breathes, “Dean.”

Sam’s hand tightens again on Dean’s neck, and Dean bites the inside of his cheek. If Sam didn’t want Bobby talking to him, or looking at him, or thinking about him, then why the fuck did he make Dean come down here? But somehow Sam makes his hand open again. When he speaks, his voice is almost pleasant.

“Well, love, here we are. Play nice with your friends, won’t you? I’ll be back later this afternoon to pick you up.” He leans in close, breath ghosting out over Dean’s cheek and jaw. Dean knows that Sam means to lay an open-mouthed kiss to the side of his throat just seconds before Sam’s mouth is on him.

Over on the couch, Jo jerks. The motion draws Dean’s eyes for the few seconds it takes to register her disgusted, horrified expression. Then he looks away again, chest drawn painfully tight with shame as he stares down at the thick carpet at his feet.

Sam isn’t done yet, though. His fingers twine through Dean’s hair as he trails kisses up Dean’s neck and onto his jaw. Dean can sense his brother angling for his mouth, and a bolt of panic goes through him—not now, not here. He tries to turn his head away, but Sam’s other hand comes up and touches his cheek. It must look like a caress to everyone else, but Sam’s fingers are as unyielding and demanding as those suddenly maintaining Sam’s grip on the back of Dean’s head. Dean’s face is eased around, and a moment later Sam’s lips are on his, Sam’s tongue is in his mouth, staking Sam’s claim, Sam—

“Get off him!”

“Jo!”

There’s the sound of a scuffle over by the couch, and Sam releases Dean’s face. As he jerks his head away from his brother—flushed with shame and, more horribly, heat—he catches a brief sight of Jo shoving away from her mother’s restraining arm. Ellen’s face is whey-pale and terrified; there are high points of outraged color in Jo’s cheeks as she advances toward her death.

“Can’t you see he doesn’t want you?” Jo yells. Then there’s the sound of a chair thumping over on the rug and Jo curses. “Let go of me, Deacon, goddamn it!”

“For God’s sake, Jo, shut up.”

“You shut up, you—you coward! All of you, you just—you’re going to stand there and let him do that to De—”

“Say his name and I’ll burn the tongue from your head.” Sam’s voice, as usual, cuts through the chaos and brings everything to a halt.

Dean counts his heartbeats, willing Jo to be smart, to please, please be silent, and miracle of miracles she is. In the dead silence that falls, Sam’s hand slides from the back of Dean’s head to lightly palm at his waist. Dean glances cautiously over at his brother, trying to decipher Sam’s mood, and finds him smiling.

Sam has killed people while wearing that smile.

“That’s better,” Sam says in a deceptively light voice, and then shakes his head with a cluck of his tongue. “Such language from a little girl. And such naughty, naughty thoughts. But I did try to warn you, Jo. I told you he was mine.”

“He’s not,” Jo insists. Despite the slow widening of Sam’s smile at the insistence, her voice trembles only slightly. “You’re lying.”

“Am I?” Sam asks blandly, and then Dean feels his brother’s attention shift. He’s acutely aware of that place where Sam is locked inside of him, sharp as thorns and burning gold like the sun. It’s a reminder that he didn’t have to look at Sam’s face to gage his mood. He never has to do more than peer inside of himself.

Dean’s stomach heaves and his hand stutters up toward the charm before he can catch himself. With difficulty, he curls his fingers into a fist and drops it back to his side. Even if Sam lets him touch the clasp, Dean already knows that he won’t be able to open it. And lifting the charm from his skin isn’t going to dislodge Sam. Not after Dean opened up that door of his own free will.

Satisfaction beats into him like heat and Dean knows, suddenly and sickeningly, just what Sam is going to say.

“He seemed pretty clear on just who he belonged to when he was begging me to fuck him harder this morning.”

There’s a long, shocked moment of silence while Dean fights his instinctual urge to bring up everything he forced down at breakfast. He thinks about the window on the far wall, and the way Sam pushed and pushed until Dean was doing just what Sam claims. They heard. They must have heard.

Vertigo reels through his head and is chased away by an absent slap of Sam’s power.

“No,” Jo says finally, breaking the silence.

She sounds shakier now, but not as shaky as Dean thinks she would have if she really had overheard them. It’s a slight mercy that he clings to with pathetic desperation.

“No,” Jo repeats more strongly. “He wouldn’t.”

“Go ahead and ask him yourself—look at the little lady so she can see you aren’t lying, Dean.”

No, Dean thinks weakly in Sam’s direction. Don’t make me do this, please.

Look at her.” Command laces the words this time, and Dean’s head lifts unwillingly.

Jo’s eyes are wide and pained. There’s fear there, and plenty of disgusted anger, but mostly it’s desperation he sees. Silent pleas for him to refute Sam, to tell her that she’s right and there isn’t anything to what Sam’s saying. Demands for him to promise her that there’s nothing to the venomous words Sam has surely poured into her ears in the past. She looks at Dean like he’s the white knight he used to pretend to be, like he’s still that bold, brash hunter, like he’s John Winchester’s son and soldier.

She looks at him like he’s everything he’s not, and somehow the limping faith in her eyes brings everything home in a way that Sam’s whispers and truths haven’t quite been able to.

Who the fuck was Dean kidding, trying to be that man? Who the fuck was he ever kidding?

“It isn’t true,” Jo insists, taking a single step closer. “Tell me it isn’t.”

Dean can’t get the words out. But he can tell, as Jo’s expression melts from pleading to horrified, that his silence has answered her well enough.

“Oh my God,” she breathes, lifting a hand to cover her mouth. “Oh my God.”

“Jo, I—” Dean doesn’t know how he was going to end that sentence—he can’t say anything to excuse himself, what he is—but Jo doesn’t give him the chance. She turns and runs down the hallway to the left, quickly disappearing from view. A moment later, a door slams.

“You gonna let me go after my daughter now, Sam?” The calm, steady cadence of Ellen’s voice bellies the fear straining her eyes when Dean looks at her. She doesn’t so much as glance at Dean. It’s like he isn’t even there.

Sam doesn’t respond, but Dean’s getting better at tending to his interior weather, and knows precisely which expression Sam must be wearing from the ghostly emotions layered over his own. When he closes his eyes to block out the terse, hostile lines of Ellen’s face, he can practically see the smile slowly curving over Sam’s lips. The glint of humor in his golden eyes.

“Do you love her?” Sam asks.

“You know damn well I do.” Ellen doesn’t quite voice the ‘you bastard’ Dean hears tacked on to the end of her reply, but it’s close.

“You’d do anything to keep her safe? To protect her?”

Yes.” A hiss, seething with more anger than fear now. Dean would be worried for Ellen if he couldn’t still sense Sam’s satisfaction with the way the conversation is going.

“Then,” Sam says, speaking slowly and reasonably, “You understand how I feel about Dean. Just something to think about, in case you suffer any… negative impulses.”

Sam’s talking about Ellen hurting Dean.

Dean wants to find the fact that Sam even thinks that’s a possibility insane. This is Ellen, who’s been nothing but good to both of them and has had their backs when logic said she should throw them out into the gutter—the sons of the man responsible for her husband’s death.

But she somehow found it in her to forgive, and she held Dean one night that last frantic year, when Sam was sleeping in the back room and Dean had sat up to nurse a beer and found himself unexpectedly staring down a complete and utter comprehension of what was about to hit him. Hellhounds first, and then Hell. He stared at his own future—less than three months away now, so fucking close—and he just… he lost it. Ellen found him there, sobbing on her bar, and she came quietly over and put her arms around him, drawing his face against her shoulder. She didn’t tell him to shush or that it was all right. She didn’t say a single word, even after. Instead, she held her peace as she poured out two shots of tequila and proceeded to drink him under the table.

Now she can’t look at him, and Sam is treating her like a threat.

Dean turns suddenly, reaching up to grip his brother’s shirt. “Sam,” he breathes, keeping his voice lowered so that no one else can hear him. “Don’t make me stay here. I—we came, they—they s-saw me. That’s enough.”

But the golden eyes that meet Dean’s are as unyielding as Dean has ever seen them. It’s like meeting a raptor’s alien, pitiless gaze instead of a man’s.

“I don’t think it is,” Sam counters. He doesn’t bother to keep his voice down, or to elaborate. He just stares at Dean, unmoving, until Dean reluctantly opens his fingers and lets his hand fall back to his side.

Only then, with a tight, disingenuous smile, does Sam look past Dean and say, “Go see to your daughter, Ellen.”

Ellen’s footsteps are even at first, but quickly speed as she vanishes down the hall.

As she leaves, Sam’s gaze drops to Dean’s lips again. Dean’s awareness of Sam lights with heated intention. This time, when Sam leans in for his kiss, Dean doesn’t fight him. He’s a little less enthusiastic than he has been lately, but Sam seems more amused than angered by his reluctance.

“Be good,” he murmurs as he releases Dean’s mouth and then, inside of his head, adds, ::Remember the rules.::

As if Dean could forget.

Sam lifts his head again, looking farther into the room. He seems to be considering something for a moment, and then he says, “Knight to E3. Checkmate in three moves.”

“We’ll see,” Bobby’s dry voice replies, and then it’s silent again, and still.

“Well,” Sam announces. “It’s been fun, but I really do have to run.” He brushes the side of Dean’s face with the knuckles of one hand and adds, in a more intimate undertone, “I’ll see you tonight, baby.”

Dean’s skin crawls with embarrassment and his stomach lurches, but he doesn’t protest the endearment. He doesn’t move away from the touch.

A moment later, Sam is gone and the door is closed.

Dean never thought he’d miss the suite, but he does now. He misses it with an ache the way he guesses amputees miss their absent limbs. And then the numbing, buffering protection of Sam’s power falls away, and missing the suite is the least of his problems.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Dean just stands there staring at the door after Sam leaves. Bobby doesn’t know why the hell he expected any different, but the sinking sensation in his chest tells him that he really was hoping that Sam would leave and they’d find that Dean’s cowed and obedient behavior was nothing but an act.

Bobby exchanges a glance with Deacon, who looks just as unsettled and lost as Bobby feels. After a few seconds, Deacon gives a shrug and inclines his head in Bobby’s direction. Dumping the responsibility for making the first move in Bobby’s lap, the coward. Jo was right to name him one.

She was right to name them all.

Bobby clears his throat, trying not to notice the way the noise makes Dean flinch, and then calls, “Dean.” He keeps his voice as soft as he can make it, like he’d coax a wild animal, and after a brief pause Dean does turn.

It hits Bobby all over again, just how beautiful the boy is. Oh, he’s always been aware of Dean’s looks, in a kind of muted, half-amused way—boy used to flaunt himself, good-looking and he damn well knew it—but surely Dean’s features haven’t ever been quite this refined. His eyes haven’t been this green, his skin this particular shade of pale almond flecked with a conspicuous dusting of freckles. Maybe the root of the change is the boy’s hair, soft without its gel and longer than Bobby has ever seen it. Not that the hair is a surprise, since Sam announced during one of their early games that Dean was ‘growing his hair out.’ As if Dean had any choice at all in the matter.

Bobby’s used to seeing Dean in a couple baggy layers of denim and flannel, or else some ill-fitting pawnshop suit. Today, Dean is outfitted with an open-throated suit that emphasizes the natural grace of his body. The suit seems especially tailored to display broad shoulders tapering down to slim hips and slightly bowed legs. It makes him look a little thinner than Bobby remembers—but no less muscular, as though Sam has somehow taken all of the bulk Dean worked so hard to put on his frame during his too-pretty teenage years and melted it into the sleeker, more compact lines in front of Bobby now.

Some of that’s the suit, but not all of it. Just like some of the boy’s enhanced beauty is the result of the way his longer hair naturally softens his features. Some of it, though. Some of it isn’t at all natural. The way his eyes seem to burn, lit from with by some hidden flame, isn’t natural.

He wonders if Dean knows the extent of Sam’s mark on him.

Dean’s wearing a charm or amulet of some sort (not the one he’s favored since he was a snot-nosed kid, the one Bobby picked up and meant for Sam to give their father), framed by the open gape of his shirt collar, but it’s the hint of black winding up the sides of his neck that really catches Bobby’s eyes once he’s able to look past the overall effect. Bobby’s first glimpse of Sam’s handiwork, which Sam’s been so damned proud of.

It’d be nice to get a better look at that, if Bobby can get Dean to unbend enough. Maybe he should go get his books now, bring out the research—that’s one notebook he doesn’t quite dare leave lying out in the open. Not that he has any illusions about Sam’s total and complete knowledge of Bobby’s progress. He just… He feels better keeping those musings closer to his chest.

Bobby keeps on thinking about moving, and then keeps right on standing where he is and staring at Dean instead. The longer he stands here, the more aware he is that he’s only cataloguing Dean’s appearance in an effort to keep his own emotions at bay. That realization is all it takes before his eyes fill, tearing up with the ache clogging his throat.

“Aw, hell, boy,” Bobby breathes, stepping forward and opening his arms.

Dean stares at him uncomprehendingly for a moment and then, as Bobby reaches out to pull him in, shrinks back against the door.

“Don’t!” he blurts. “Don’t touch me.”

Bobby’s stomach twists. Christ, he should have thought… Damn fool, reaching out to touch Dean after Sam has been putting him through God only knows what. Bobby wouldn’t be surprised if Dean never wants to be touched again, once they get him out of here.

Dean is still staring at him, breath coming fast and hunched into himself like a cornered animal, and Bobby hastens to promise, “No one’s touching you.” He lifts his hands in front of him and backs away, moving until the table is between them, then gestures at one of the chairs on the opposite side. “You want to sit down?”

Dean’s eyes dart to Deacon and then back to Bobby before slipping down the hallway where Ellen and Jo disappeared. Shame distorts his features—another sign of change. The Dean Bobby remembers was never this open. He didn’t wear his emotions on his face, hadn’t been rubbed so raw they leaked out for everyone to see whether Dean wanted them to or not.

“Jo didn’t mean anything by that,” Bobby explains, getting Dean’s eyes again. Boy’s not quite looking at his face, but he’s coming close enough to it to read the emotional weather there. “And it isn’t you she’s upset with,” Bobby adds. “She’s just—it’s been hard on her. Sam’s been hard on her.”

Bobby considers mentioning Jo’s little crush—the one she’s still nursing, whether she knows it or not—and then doesn’t. It won’t do anything more to convince Dean that Bobby is telling the truth, and there’s no reason to embarrass the girl. So he waits instead, willing Dean to understand what he just said, to accept the olive branch, and then curses inwardly as Dean’s mouth twists into something disbelieving and self-loathing. After one last, lingering look down the hall, he drops his eyes again to stare at the floor.

And that’s really when it hits Bobby, just how badly Sam has damaged (not broken, God please) his brother. Because the Dean he remembers—the boy he knew, the man he respected, the hunter he damn near admired—that Dean never would have dropped his eyes like that. Not for anyone.

There’s still no way for Bobby to know from that one shift just how deep the damage runs—how comprehensive it is—but he keeps standing up the Dean he knew from before next to this one, and there just… He didn’t think it was possible to twist someone so far around on themselves, even for Sam. There’s more scar tissue than smooth skin inside of Dean, and more open wounds than scars.

Christ, Bobby’s responsible for that mess.

He’s the one who made the decision to send that damned knife, after all, and even after that, Sam was—damn it, Bobby knew that son of a bitch was using their weekly chess games to pump him for information. And Bobby was arrogant enough to think he could turn the tables on Sam by feeding him stories about their past and reminding him how much Dean loves him. He kept rambling as long and as fast as he could talk, reminding Sam of Dean’s nobility, his strength. Telling him again and again how Dean wouldn’t approve of this, how he couldn’t possibly love what Sam is becoming.

How like a fox he’d thought himself: cunning old fox convincing the farmer to leave the chickens to their hen house and put down his axe. He thought he was succeeding, measuring his success by Sam’s mood, feeling victorious when Sam left with what seemed like a slightly more genuine smile.

And then Sam brought that… that travesty down here, dropping it on the floor like a sack of potatoes and telling Bobby to take care of it. Took a bit of staring for Bobby to look past the pulp of a head and see the size of the body—to register the probable age of Sam’s latest victim—but he laid into the bastard then, all right. No regard for his own safety, or for Jo’s or Ellen’s or even Dean’s. No, all of that was blown free by his horror and pity and rage.

Sam just stood there with crocodile tears streaking his cheeks and took it. He let Bobby yell until Bobby ran out of breath, until Bobby dropped to his knees to cradle the limp, tiny body close, and then he said in an off-handed, careless voice, “It was your idea. After all, you’re the one who told me how much Dean wanted Ben to be his.”

That jolted Bobby back all right—words Dean whispered to him over beers in the dark, when he was too drunk to know what he was saying. Words Bobby repeated to Sam during one of their chess games, with no more real thought than he gave anything else he’d said. Sam left with a bounce in his step that day, like Bobby was reaching him, like he was remembering what it was like to be human, and to be faced with this now…

“Is this him?” Bobby demanded, shifting his grip on the body to something a little gentler. “Is it?”

Sam kept on staring at the wall over Bobby’s head and didn’t answer, which was answer enough. Bobby remembers looking down at the tiny, lolling head, trying to make sense of the mashed features and remember the boy’s last name. He didn’t recall Dean telling him Ben was as young as the body in his arms seemed to be, but supposed that didn’t really mean anything when it came to Sam.

“Was he Dean’s?” Bobby asked then.

Sam continued to ignore him, but this time Bobby wasn’t going to be put off. He had to know—his fault, his guilt. He had to know just who he was going to be mourning.

“Sam!” he barked, drawing Sam’s distant gaze. His hands shook where they gripped those fragile shoulders as he held Sam’s eyes and repeated, “Was he Dean’s?”

He thought Sam still wasn’t going to answer, was going to keep on staring at Bobby with those eerie, empty eyes until Bobby went mad, but finally Sam said, “Not at first, no. But in the end… in the end he was Dean’s in every way that matters.”

Bobby hadn’t been able to speak—what Sam’s words implied, what sort of insane horror show had been going on upstairs with Bobby’s unwitting help—and Sam had turned away, striding toward the door with even steps.

“Bury it,” he said over his shoulder as he went. “I’ll see you have everything you need.”

Since then, Bobby hasn’t been at all chatty during their chess matches, but of course the damage has already been done, hasn’t it? The proof is in the pudding—or rather, in Dean’s presence here. After all, Sam’s said it again and again. He’s driven it into each of their brains until there was no doubt left for any of them what it would mean when Dean showed up on their doorstep.

You’ll see him again when he submits, and not a second before.

Bobby pushes down another rush of guilty, sickened grief and gestures at the chair again. “Sit down, Dean. Please.”

Maybe it’s the please that does it. Whatever the reason, Dean finally moves closer—cautiously, like he’s expecting to be verbally abused or maybe even physically attacked at any moment—and eases himself down into the chair. Bobby notices that he very carefully sits back from the table, hands clasped in his lap. It’s weird as hell, not to have the boy slouched and spread out. Used to be, Dean took up all the space in a room he could—took more than his fair share, at times. Defense mechanism, Bobby always thought it, designed to draw John’s eye at least once in a while. By the time John passed, it’d become habit, innate and ingrained.

It hurts now, to see Dean so consciously self-contained.

“Christ, Dean, what the hell did he do to you?”

Bobby doesn’t mean the question to come out aloud, and he doesn’t know what he’s more surprised by: his own runaway mouth or the dry snort of laughter from Dean.

“Dean?” Bobby repeats, because damned if that didn’t almost sound like the man he knows.

Then Dean’s mouth twists and he spits, “He fucked me. That what you want to hear? You want the details?”

It isn’t as though Bobby didn’t already know what was between those two—isn’t like he didn’t see Sam making his claim clear before he left. But somehow this is different. Hearing Dean say it like that, in such crude terms, is different.

Bobby jerks back a little, stung just like he’s sure Dean meant him to be.

So, there’s that much of the old Dean left anyway. He’s still determined to mask his own pain by using whatever it is that’s bothering him to bludgeon anyone dumb enough to offer a friendly word. Sam used to get the wrong end of that all the time, and God knows Bobby’s been here before himself.

None of those other blind, defensive attacks cut quite this close to the bone, though.

It’s actually Deacon who recovers first—maybe because he isn’t kin, or as good as. “Dean,” he says hesitantly. “No one blames you. You get that, right? Whatever Sam made you do—”

“He didn’t make me,” Dean interrupts bitterly. “I let him, okay? I wanted it.” He laughs again, still without looking at anyone. “I wanted him. Can’t rape the willing.”

Deacon opens his mouth to respond, but Bobby has finally recovered enough to catch his eyes and give a faint shake of his head. Dean always was an open book if you knew how to read him—even more open now that Sam has scraped him so raw—and Bobby hasn’t ever seen him less willing to hear sense.

Right now, he and Deacon can tell Dean until they’re blue in the face that there’s consent, and there’s coercion—and yeah, there’s rape. And then there’s what Sam has done to Dean, and Bobby doesn’t even begin to understand where that falls, but he knows it’s way the other side of ‘willing’.

Dean won’t hear a word of it.

“Look at me,” Bobby says instead, sitting down in the chair across from him. “Hey. Dean.”

Dean’s eyes start to come up, hesitate, and then drop again.

That sense of wrongness twists through Bobby again and his chest aches to see Dean so damned beaten. Like a dog that’s been kicked a few too many times.

“Look at me, will you?” Bobby has to clear his throat before he can manage to get the words out.

This time, Dean doesn’t so much as twitch. Instead, in a toneless voice, he says, “I can hear you just fine like this.”

“You hear me asking you to listen?” Bobby demands, although of course that’s where he’s aiming this little battle of wills. Taking a deep breath, he repeats, “I want you to look at me, son.”

Bobby feels guilty playing on Dean’s weak points like that, banking so heavily on the paternal regard he feels for the boy—affection he’s certain Dean feels in return for him. Or at least used to. And the word does bring Dean’s head up a little, so Bobby doesn’t feel too guilty.

“Whatever Sam did—whatever you did—” Dean cuts his gaze away again, swallowing, and Bobby says, more sharply, “Dean.”

He hates the flinch that gets him, goddamned hates it, but Dean is looking at him again. He’s meeting Bobby’s eyes, just like Bobby wants him to. Now if only he’d let what he’s seeing and hearing work its way through to his damned head.

“Whatever you did,” Bobby repeats, and then continues, “I still love you. You hear me, Dean? There is nothing you could do to make that change.”

He keeps his gaze level and open, willing Dean to read the emotions there—to read the truth of what he’s saying, even if he can’t yet understand why. And Dean… Dean catches part of it, at least. The look of reluctant hope that dawns in his eyes is actually painful to see.

Worse is the struggle that quickly follows—an inner battle in which Dean has obviously placed himself on the wrong side. Bobby can tell that the boy is mostly fighting against that hope, is trying to keep the emotion at bay like it’s something rancid and foul. Like it’s poison.

Then Dean shuts his eyes and drops his head again, and Bobby can’t make out anything but the way the boy’s shoulders shake.

“I’m sorry,” Dean whispers, rocking slightly. “I love him. I’m sorry. I—I tried not to, I—I fucking tried.”

“It’s okay,” Bobby says, reaching across the table to get a reassuring hand on Dean’s arm.

Despite what happened before, Bobby’s taken aback by the violence with which Dean jumps back. Dean jerks hard enough that he falls out of the chair, actually. When Bobby rises in alarm, he sees Dean scuttling backwards on the floor, putting more distance between them before he even bothers finding his feet. Fall like that had to sting, but Dean’s attention is all for Bobby. His face is furious with panic and, Bobby notes, for the first time since he walked in here he’s having absolutely no trouble meeting Bobby’s eyes.

“I said don’t fucking touch me!” Dean yells. His entire body is vibrating, hands balled into fists like he intends to punch Bobby if he tries coming around the table. “What part of that is so fucking hard to understand?”

Bobby can’t decide whether he’s more shocked by the violence of Dean’s reaction or relieved to see some of his old spirit—even if it is being fueled by fear instead of the anger Bobby would have preferred. Either way, Dean needs calming now before he does something stupid—hurts himself, hurts one of them. Quickly, Bobby puts both hands up again, palms out. Beside him, Deacon—his entire face slack with shock—does the same.

“Okay,” Bobby says. “Okay, I’m sorry. I swear I won’t try it again.”

Dean’s mouth works, like he’s trying to force some words out, but nothing comes. The furious panic on his face is briefly covered by surprise, quickly followed by a flicker of frustration. Then Dean turns sharply to the right and begins to paces along an agitated line on the far side of the table. He isn’t quite avoiding looking over at Bobby and Deacon—is, in fact, keeping a weather eye on them to make sure they aren’t coming any closer. But mostly his attention keeps slipping back to the door in the forms of covetous glances.

Bobby’s seen Dean like this before. So has Deacon.

This is almost exactly how Dean was acting right before he tried to force his way out of that church. When he kept insisting Sam was on his way and none of them had the sense to listen.

The resemblance is strong enough that Bobby looks at the door as well, expecting it to burn open and for Sam to step through like the wrathful demigod he’s become. But the door remains closed and whole, and, when it’s stayed that way for a good handful of minutes, Bobby realizes that Sam isn’t coming this time. Not yet.

He looks back at Dean, taking closer stock of the boy’s expression, and reassesses. Dean isn’t expecting anyone. He’s thinking about making a run for it. Which makes sense, considering how unwilling Dean looked when Sam practically manhandled him in here.

But Dean doesn’t—maybe can’t—storm out. Eventually, his pacing loses some of its steam. He slows, then stops and stands staring at the door with his hands clenched into fists and his lips pressed tightly together.

“Come back over here and have a seat,” Bobby invites and then, when Dean gives him a distrustful glance, he repeats, “No one’ll touch you. Promise.”

It still takes long minutes of coaxing to get Dean back to the table, and when he sits it’s on the edge of his chair. If the boy were any more tightly wound, he’d jitter apart into a thousand pieces. Worked up like this, he isn’t going to be hearing anything Bobby is saying. He won’t be able to.

So, ease him down, dumbass.

Bobby glances around the room for some sort of distraction and notices that Dean’s lowered gaze is a little more purposeful than mere avoidance. He’s trying—surreptitiously—to get a look at the books spread out over the table.

“You want to see what Deacon and I have been doing?” Bobby asks, putting the offer out there where Dean can’t ignore it.

Dean’s body gives a minute twitch—startled to have been caught looking, Bobby thinks, and more than a little guilty about having looked in the first place. Dean hesitates, having shifted his eyes down to his lap instead, and then says, “I can’t lie to Sam. Anything you show me, Sam’ll know. Even if I don’t tell him, he’ll just…” Dean makes some kind of vague gesture toward his head, which is clear enough that Bobby doesn’t even have to try to decode Dean’s meaning.

Oh, is that all that’s bothering the boy?

“That’s fine, Dean,” Bobby says, and Deacon adds, “We’re pretty sure he knows everything already anyway.”

When Dean continues to stare down at his hands, Bobby takes a chance and picks up one of the nearer notebooks. Dean tenses, pushing up off the seat, and Bobby freezes. Dean’s thinking about getting up the rest of the way and stepping back anyway, Bobby can tell, but after a delay that has to be hell on Dean’s thigh muscles, Dean starts lowering himself back down.

Bobby waits until Dean’s ass is back on the chair and then, moving at something like a snail’s pace, puts the book in front of him. Dean sneaks a quick look at the notebook, hesitates, and then eases a hand up to tug it closer.

Letting out a hopefully unnoticeable breath of relief, Bobby lowers himself into his own chair and motions Deacon to do the same. Dean’s watching them from the corner of his eyes—paying more attention to them than to the assessment of Sam’s forces—but Bobby pretends not to notice. He reclaims the book he was poring over before Sam interrupted him—can’t read anything, not with Dean less than two feet away, but he makes a good show of being absorbed. After a moment, he senses Deacon doing the same to his right.

Come on, Dean, he thinks, willing some part of Dean to receive his intentions even if he can’t exactly hear Bobby’s words. No one’s touching you. No one’s even looking at you. We’re over here on our side of the table minding our own business. You’re safe. You’re safe.

It takes almost an hour by Bobby’s watch for the majority of the tension to bleed out of Dean’s shoulders.

Bobby is just starting to think it might be time to draw Dean back into conversation again, maybe work his way around to reopening the topic of just how much Bobby doesn’t blame Dean for everything that’s happened, when Dean announces, “I know where Azazel is.”

He still isn’t looking at anyone, hasn’t raised his head from the book, but Bobby is thrilled with the first sign of unprompted interaction they’ve gotten. Setting his own book aside, Bobby leans forward—careful to maintain his distance—and peers down at the open notebook in front of Dean.

Sure enough, Dean has the notebook open to the section where they have compiled all of the major demons by name and current location. Too few of those entries have ‘destroyed’ written next to them, too many are marked with a star indicating generalship among Sam’s forces. Azazel is the only name Bobby hasn’t been able to turn up anything on. The yellow-eyed bastard might be tap-dancing on the roof over Bobby’s head and he still wouldn’t know it.

Bobby’s about to ask Dean for the information when he notes the set to Dean’s mouth. Bobby didn’t think it was possible for Dean to have made himself smaller, but somehow the boy’s managing it. So, no talking about this one, then.

He casts about the table for a pen, spots one to Dean’s left, and starts to reach for it. He catches himself almost immediately—before Dean notices, anyway—and settles back into his chair, crossing his hands over his stomach. Then, nodding across the table, he says, “You want to update the entry? There’s a pen to your left.”

Dean glances at the pen, then reaches over and picks it up. He writes for longer than Bobby expects, although that’s mostly because of the long, frequent delays between words.

Whatever Dean’s writing down, it isn’t coming easily.

Finally, though, Dean recaps the pen and sets it down to one side, then sits there staring at the open notebook. Bobby gives him a couple of minutes to absorb whatever it is he wrote and then unlaces his fingers from his stomach.

“Can I read it?”

Dean looks up, startled. Like he didn’t realize that Bobby was going to want to see. Shaking his head, he starts to draw the book toward himself. Then he stops and some kind of shadow passes over his face. Something that looks like shamed resignation.

“Yeah,” he says with a defeated sigh. “Here.”

He doesn’t pass the notebook over, though. Instead, he gets up, wandering over to look at the smaller table where Bobby’s current chess game with Sam is set up. Bobby watches him while Deacon leans across the table to retrieve the notebook.

“Jesus,” Deacon breathes after a moment.

Bobby’s watching, so he sees the minute tensing of Dean’s shoulders beneath his suit jacket. Reluctantly, he tears his eyes off the boy and holds out a hand in Deacon’s direction. Deacon hands over the book wordlessly, then turns troubled, sickened eyes on Dean’s back.

Bobby’s gut is tense as he reads. Most of the entry he can skip over—there are fewer demons he’s done more research on, and it isn’t like he needs to refresh his memory on this son of a bitch. But when he reaches the place where Dean has scribbled out Bobby’s question mark and filled the margin with his own cramped scrawl—the letters clumsier than usual, like he hasn’t practiced in a while—Bobby slows and goes over the addition carefully.

Locked up in an Azazel-sized Hell-coffin. Powerless. Demonic powers currently infesting—

Bobby blinks. Looks up again at Dean’s back. Dean’s staring at the chessboard like his life depends on it. After a long moment, Bobby makes himself finish reading.

—currently infesting Dean Winchester. Low risk of outside contamination.

Infesting’, Bobby thinks. ‘Contamination’.

The word choice is more telling of Dean’s mental state than Dean likely means it to be.

Bobby shuts his eyes, wishing like hell that he didn’t know what sort of thoughts are chasing themselves round in Dean’s head right now. Trying not to let his own sudden concerns about the boy—mixed up with memories of his wife, his beautiful bride, snarling at him with a butcher knife in one hand—grow any louder than an uneasy tremor at the back of his mind.

When he feels settled enough, he opens his eyes again and calls, “Dean.”

Over by the chessboard, Dean… Well, the only way Bobby can describe it is that he stills. Objectively, Bobby knows that the boy can’t possibly have shrunk, but he seems smaller, too. A trick of the way he’s holding his body, or maybe that quality of stillness about him that’s encouraging Bobby’s eyes to keep on moving right past him.

For an instant, Bobby feels nothing but admiration. That right there would be a damned useful trick for any hunter to know. Then he realizes just why and how Dean must have developed this skill, what it must have been like for the boy. Trapped in a confined space, doing his best to be quiet, to be unnoticeable, to avoid his brother’s eye.

As though Sam wasn’t always minutely aware of Dean’s location and mood even before everything went to Hell in a handcart.

But Sam isn’t here now, which means it’s Bobby’s eye Dean is trying to duck, and that… that hurts almost as bad as seeing the boy like this in the first place. It can’t be any sort of physical abuse he’s frightened of, either. Not with Sam’s protection looming around him in an invisible and intangible, but nevertheless very impressive shield. Then again, it wasn’t ever physical attacks that cracked through Dean’s defenses.

Break the boy’s leg and he’d smile through the pain to cheerfully give his attacker the finger. Drive a knife through his shoulder and he’d flirt with the emergency room attendant as she fixed it. But a stern word from John, or anything even approaching censure from Sam, and Dean went cold and silent as he bled out inside.

What the hell does he expect Bobby to say?

That he’s unclean, Bobby answers himself a moment later. He’s expecting disgust and hatred. He’s expecting all those names Bobby has heard through his contacts; the filthy things that people who don’t know any better call him.

Bobby’s chest gives a stronger tweak of pain and he grimaces. Dean should know better than to expect that from him. He used to know better.

But yelling at Dean about that right now is just going to upset him further, so Bobby locks the ache behind his teeth and simply invites, “You want to look and see if you can tell us anything about any of the others?”

Dean’s surprise is pitifully easy to read, even with his back turned. Deacon also jumps beside Bobby, staring over at Bobby like Bobby just grew an extra head. Before Deacon can make any sort of protest that will just curl Dean right back up inside himself, Bobby tilts the notebook back in his direction and jabs his finger at the ‘low risk of outside contamination’ bit. He might not know just what Dean means by that, but this is Dean, damn it. Bobby refuses to be afraid of him.

Anyway, Dean seems more afraid of Deacon and Bobby than Deacon is of him. He takes the long way back to the table, skirting around the exterior of the room on a looping, cautious circuit and giving them plenty of time to change their minds before he finally slips back into place with a lowered gaze and empty expression. When Bobby puts the notebook in front of him, Dean goes back to reading without comment, leaning close to the page like he can block out the rest of the room.

Bobby lets the boy work, keeping an eye on him to make sure he isn’t deteriorating further. He’s circumspect about it, though; careful to leave himself at least enough leftover brain power to make some adjustments to his own notes on Sumerian resurrection rituals. They don’t really need to know the counter to Azazel’s raising anymore—and anyway, Bobby’s more than half convinced this ritual is just going to be another false lead—but the more of this mystical crap Bobby can study, the greater the possibility he’ll be able to sus out some sort of universal law of magic or something. He’s going to need as comprehensive of an understanding as he can get if he’s going to try countering any of Sam’s more creative works.

Bobby hasn’t really seen it yet, but he’s already betting that the tattoo on Dean’s back is going to be a nightmare of illogical, seemingly impossible tangles. Soul magic, just like those pretty puzzles on his wrists.

Even insane and evil, Sam should’ve known better than to muck around in something like that.

Dean’s own attention keeps on shifting, like a nervous dog scenting for danger—first toward the door, then down the length of hallway toward the bedrooms where Jo and Ellen are holed up, then across the table in Bobby’s direction. Mostly, actually, it’s Bobby’s hands he keeps eyeing.

At first, Bobby thinks it’s just paranoia, that Dean’s worried Bobby will forget again and reach out. Then he looks more closely at the boy’s face and realizes that it isn’t fear tightening Dean’s lips.

It’s longing.

Moving off an instinctive hunch, Bobby not so accidentally moves his hand closer, resting it across the top of his book within easy reach of Dean. Sure enough, Dean’s hand twitches forward in gradual, cautious shifts, until Bobby can almost feel the heat coming off of his fingers. And then Dean stops. He’s given up any sort of pretense with the notebook, staring fixedly at the centimeter or so separating the tips of his fingers and Bobby’s pinky.

Come on, Bobby urges silently. His hand aches from how still he’s holding it in an attempt not to frighten the boy away. Come on, son, you can do it.

And then Dean sits back abruptly, drawing both hands down in his lap, and announces, “Done.”

Damn it, Bobby thinks as he brings his own hand back to rest on the edge of the table. But he keeps the frustration from his voice as he asks, “You want to give us the highlights?”

Dean licks his lips with a self-deprecating shrug. “It isn’t much. You guys have been pretty thorough and, uh. I’ve been out of touch.”

“You knew about Azazel,” Deacon points out, which Bobby could just about smack him for. Deacon didn’t mean anything but encouragement by it, but Dean has that small, still look about him again—expecting punishment, trying to hide himself in plain sight—and his skin has gone even paler than it already was.

“That’s okay,” Bobby says before the silence can get too thick and painful. “I’ll read it through later tonight.”

He reaches for the notebook and is surprised when Dean tightens his jaw and drops a hand over it, keeping it in front of him. He’s still avoiding looking up at their faces, but his voice is steady enough as he says, “Ruby’s dead. I guess she kind of got overshadowed next to the whole Lucifer thing. Probably why you missed it.”

Bobby’s spine tingles at the mention of the Devil—Lucifer, Christ, he always thought the Morning Star was a myth—but he ignores his own instinctual reaction and keeps his voice calm as he agrees, “Probably. Everything’s been a bit stirred up since… uh, since the news broke.”

Since that unearthly scream that went through everything and everyone, is what Bobby thinks but doesn’t say. It was bad. Bad enough that Ellen had to near break Jo’s wrists keeping her from scratching her own eyes out. Bad enough that Bobby still breaks out in a cold sweat when he thinks about it—Deacon’s had nightmares every night since, Bobby can hear him screaming himself awake through the wall between their rooms.

But none of them were there. They weren’t in the room with Lucifer when he went.

Rumor has it, Dean was.

Rumor has it, he’s the one who killed him.

Bobby wants to ask. As much as he knows Dean needs careful handling, as much as he recognizes Dean is a tangled mess of nerve endings and broken emotions, the need to know is almost as powerful.

Almost.

“You ready for some more?” Bobby asks instead, setting aside the question of demonic hierarchy altogether. “I don’t know if—if Sam’s mentioned it, but he’s opened up a new front in Europe.”

What Bobby doesn’t say—what he doesn’t have to say—is that the reason Sam opened that new front is that there’s no real resistance left here. Oh, there are pockets—cities and fortified towns, some camps in the middle of Mexican jungle or Canadian wilderness, a handful of underground railroads that Bobby has deliberately refused all but the most superficial knowledge of. But for the most part, it’s all over for North America.

He sees that news hit Dean—hit him hard. Dean’s eyes shut and his forehead creases in grief, quickly followed by a bitter, fierce clench of self-hatred. It’s shame Dean settles on, weary and worn, and Bobby diplomatically doesn’t say anything as the boy braces his elbows on the table and puts his face in his hands.

Dean doesn’t cry for long, thank God—sitting here listening to him without being able to say or do anything to help is torture, pure and simple—but Bobby can tell that each and every tear is hard-bought. His own eyes feel a little watery by the end, and he hasn’t been able to cry over this endless, losing war since… Santa Fe, wasn’t it? The Day of Decimation?

When Dean finally lowers his hands, his cheeks are wet and his eyes are red. Staring self-consciously down at the top of the table, he asks, “Where, uh. Where in Europe?”

By the time Dean has finished looking over Bobby’s maps and analysis of the European front—Bobby snuck in a few notes on the most hopeful pockets of American resistance as well, hoping they’d cheer Dean up—Dean isn’t relaxed exactly, but Bobby senses that he isn’t quite as on edge. It’s probably as good as Dean is going to get, actually. Especially with so many potential landmines waiting to be triggered.

No point in putting it off any longer.

“So,” Bobby says as casually as he can, “can I see it?”

Dean freezes where he’s looking over Bobby’s map of France. He doesn’t ask ‘see what’. Probably because there aren’t a whole lot of things Bobby could be wanting a look at.

Bobby waits for Dean to start up again, but Dean doesn’t. Dean keeps staring stiffly and blankly down at the map, tension thrumming through his body and radiating from him like heat.

Finally, when Bobby is about to apologize for asking and change the subject to something more innocuous, Dean rasps, “Just you.”

“You want Deacon to leave?” Bobby checks, exchanging a glance with Deacon.

Dean nods and then lets his head bow forward, revealing the graceful curve of the back of his neck. More of that tattoo there, just brushing up against the lower fringe of his hair. Dean’s hands, which were spread over the map, have curled into fists.

Deacon rises without protest, resting a hand on Bobby’s shoulder as he announces, “I’ll just go check on the ladies.”

That mention of Jo and Ellen hunches Dean in further again, rounding his shoulders and drawing shaking fists toward himself, and Bobby sighs internally as he nods. He waits in silence until he hears Deacon open and close a door down the hall, and only then gets up and moves slowly around the table. And then stands there, waiting, while Dean sits and stares at the map.

Bobby waits a full five minutes and then offers, “You don’t have to show me if you don’t want to.”

Dean seems to come back online at the sound of Bobby’s voice, shaking his head and rising. He moves slowly and carefully, like his entire body aches. It might just at that, as tightly as he was holding himself.

“No, sorry. I was… distracted.” Dean half glances toward Bobby, and Bobby realizes that Dean’s face is flushed. His pupils are blown, his breathing running a little too fast and shallow. It doesn’t look exactly like panic, more like… Oh, hell.

Bobby cuts his eyes away, a flush of his own painting his cheeks. “You need a few minutes?” he asks gruffly.

Even though he isn’t looking in Dean’s direction, Bobby can still sense Dean’s surprise. Not that Bobby figured out what’s going on—the expression on Dean’s face said that he was clearly resigned to that much—but that he’s being offered time to collect himself.

If Bobby had Sam in front of him right now, he’d punch the son of a bitch, and never mind what the repercussions to himself would be.

Actually, to hell with waiting for a response. Bobby’s giving Dean the dignity of privacy, at least, even if Dean can’t ask for it.

“Give me a holler when you’re ready,” he says, moving for the hall.

“No,” Dean blurts unexpectedly. “I don’t want—”

When Bobby turns around to look at him, Dean is biting his lower lip. He’s gripping the chair with one hand, a light sheen of sweat over his face, and as Bobby watches, he makes a strangled noise in the back of his throat and twists away, leaving Bobby staring at his back. Not that he moved fast enough for Bobby to miss the sudden swelling against the crotch of his slacks.

Aw, Christ. Bobby does not want to be here for this. But Dean called him back for some reason, so he settles for averting his eyes and trying not to hear the way Dean’s breathing has gotten low and rough.

“Don’t,” Dean says, trying again, and then after a low moan he adds, “Don’t leave me alone with him.”

It isn’t like Bobby didn’t already suspect Sam was somehow here—likely linked to Dean through that damn tattoo—but the confirmation makes him feel sick. The fact that the son of a bitch has been right here, waiting, this entire time. And then he had to go and do this to the boy, just when Dean was settling a little—

No, Bobby corrects himself. Just when Dean was about to start undressing himself.

Sam, you sick, possessive son of a bitch.

Bobby clings to his anger as he listens to Dean’s breathing break with reluctant moans. Once, the boy growls in frustration, shoving the table back a few feet, but that brief display is followed by what Bobby senses is an even stronger attack that leaves him collapsed on his knees with his forehead resting against the table’s edge.

Finally—after what feels like a couple hundred years—Dean utters a bitten off cry that’s louder than the other noises he was making. Bobby glances over reflexively in time to see the boy stiffen in an unmistakable way before slumping, bowing forward and pressing his head against one forearm. Tiny tremors run through Dean’s body, and a second later Bobby can smell it—with no way to open the window and no air fresheners on hand, everybody who steps foot in here for the next hour or so is going to smell it.

Sam, marking his territory.

Over on the floor, Dean makes a single, soft noise that sounds suspiciously like a sob and is silent.

“I’m going to get you some water,” Bobby announces, turning away. “I’ll be right back, okay?”

Dean doesn’t answer—maybe doesn’t hear—but Bobby hurries anyway, hating every second spent away from him. There are towels as well as glasses in the bathroom, and he takes one of each—wets the towel, fills the glass, and then, as an afterthought, grabs a second towel as well. When he returns, Dean hasn’t moved, still hunched over on the floor where Bobby left him.

“Dean,” Bobby calls, voice at a soft and reassuring pitch. “I’m not going to touch you, but I’m coming over there to put down the water. And I brought a couple of towels. I thought you might like to… clean up.”

Dean stirs at that, glancing in Bobby’s general direction while somehow still not precisely looking at Bobby. He takes the glass once Bobby sets it down, throwing it back and swallowing it all in a single, long draw. When he puts the glass down again, he eyes the towels for a moment before standing up and tottering slightly on shaky legs.

Bobby steps forward to steady him and then catches himself at Dean’s panicked glance. Easing back, he watches Dean put a few more feet between them. Dean stands there for all of a couple seconds, his breathing still more ragged than Bobby would like, before shrugging out of his jacket.

“Don’t you want to—” Bobby starts, glancing at the towels.

“After,” Dean says dully. “You want your look, this is how you get it. Take it or leave it.”

His voice is harsh, but embarrassment tinges his cheeks and ears, and Bobby can’t in a million years believe that this is a decision Dean has made for himself. No, these are Sam’s orders he’s following—Sam’s voice in Dean’s head right now, maybe. Sam whispering God only knows what filth and possessive declarations of love. Telling him God only knows what lies.

And Sam means for Bobby to examine Dean’s back with that reek in the air, with shame flushing Dean’s skin and making his hands shake.

Sam damn well better hope Bobby’s cooled off by the time he comes back, because otherwise Bobby’s going to do a damned sight more than just punch him.

Bobby wishes he could tell Dean to leave it, clean himself off already and put his damned jacket back on. They can go sit in Bobby’s room until the smell has cleared, limit themselves to chatting about meaningless, trivial things.

But this is too important of an opportunity to miss.

Bobby hates himself a little for it, but he stands quietly as Dean untucks his shirt from his pants and starts to unbutton it. It seems to be taking an unusually long time, and Bobby thinks Dean is stalling until he notices just how badly the boy is shaking. It’s taking him three or four tries to even grip the buttons, let alone work them through their holes.

The urge to offer assistance is instinctual, and Bobby consciously has to work to push it down. He’s relieved when Dean finally manages the last one, and draws his shirt off without hesitation. Bobby almost gets looked in the eyes then, in the moment before Dean drops the shirt and turns around.

Bobby stares at the revealed breadth of the boy’s back with his breath stuck in his throat. Dean doesn’t move, but as time stretches out, Bobby is aware of his increasing anxiety in the way the muscles in his back tense.

“Well?” Dean grunts finally. “Can you fix it or what?”

There’s something horribly like pleading in his voice.

Bobby shakes himself free of his fascinated shock and steps closer, mouth still hanging open. He doesn’t know just what expression is on his face, but he guesses he looks like he just got hit upside the head by a shovel. It isn’t his fault, though. Not faced with something like this.

Sam’s tattoo is beautiful, vile as Bobby knows its purpose must be. Sinuous lines of black and red and gold wind through one another in intricate designs that seem to shift as Bobby peers at them. The lines are moving, he sees when he gets closer—not quickly, and not obviously to a casual glance, but Bobby has been staring for almost ten minutes now, and he’s seeing definite shifts. The tattoo’s lines are rolling and ebbing as though pulled by an invisible tide, each slight drift timed to the rhythm of Dean’s breath. The red lines are almost imperceptibly brightening and dimming at irregular intervals—mimicking the ka-THUMP ka-THUMP of Dean’s heartbeat, Christ.

The tattoo spreads everywhere—up the back and sides of Dean’s neck, down along his shoulder blades and the small of his back.

Lower.

Bobby clears his throat reluctantly. “Dean, you need to take off your—”

“This is what you get.” Dean’s voice is shaky but unyielding and Bobby knows better than to argue. He must have the lion’s share here, anyway.

He moves closer, quietly so as not to alarm Dean. Some of those slowly drifting twists of black seem to echo symbols Bobby recognizes, symbols he’s seen in some of the books Sam’s given him with an amused smirk. Bobby reaches forward, frowning, meaning to grip Dean’s hip and tilt him a little to the right for a better look. He’s a hairsbreadth from contact when Dean lurches forward.

“Fuck!” Dean spits, twisting and hiding his back from Bobby’s view. “I said no! I said don’t fucking touch me! Fuck!” Grabbing his shirt from the floor, he roughly shoves one arm into a sleeve, realizes he’s putting the shirt on the wrong way around, and jerks it off again with another swear.

Bobby watches him in confusion. He could understand this kind of severe reaction if Dean honestly doesn’t want to be touched—and he wouldn’t blame him for it. Not after the things he must have been through. But he also knows he didn’t imagine the wistfulness in Dean’s expression before, when he almost let himself reach for Bobby’s hand. So if it isn’t a question of what Dean wants…

“Sam told you not to let anyone touch you, didn’t he?” Bobby realizes aloud, feeling ten different kinds of stupid.

Dean freezes with his arm thrust halfway up his sleeve. The look he shoots toward Bobby is two parts relief, one part heartbreaking yearning.

“Jesus Christ, Dean. Why the hell didn’t you say something?”

Dean licks his lips in something Bobby’s beginning to recognize as a nervous habit the boy isn’t even aware he has, and then answers, “I tried. I couldn’t—couldn’t get the words out.” His lips twist in a wry, bitter expression. “Guess that was rule number four. No talking about the fucking rules.”

“There are others?” Bobby checks. Because damned if he’s going to keep on stumbling around blindly when Sam has rigged Dean with invisible C4.

He should have known better, damn it. He should have realized that bastard wouldn’t set up this little reunion without sprinkling some thorns in around the roses first.

Dean nods once, wearily, and drops his eyes. “Already sort of warned you about them.”

Bobby doesn’t concern himself with figuring out just which of Dean’s idiosyncrasies don’t actually belong to him. It doesn’t matter, not as long as Bobby has to play this greater chess match with Sam as well as the lesser ones he’s been soundly losing.

“You think you could stand still for a few minutes while I sketch your back?” he asks. When Dean hesitates, he adds, “No touching. I don’t want Sam pissed at me any more than you do.”

Dean lets out a shaky breath of relief at that and nods, drawing his arm back out of the sleeve and dropping his shirt on the floor again.

“I don’t suppose you can take off the necklace?” Bobby checks as he rummage around on the table for a pencil and a fresh sheet of paper.

Dean gives a tight shake of his head. Bobby pretends he doesn’t see the boy’s mouth tremble.

“That’s fine,” Bobby assures him. “It’s a thin chain. I can sketch around it.”

Sketch it as well, once he’s done with Dean’s back. Even if he has been working on the damned cuffs since Dean showed up at Ellen’s door with them welded shut on his wrists—with no real results, either. There’s a counterspell somewhere. There has to be.

Bobby starts to drag the table back into place so that he’ll have a solid surface to draw on and then pauses, looking over at Dean’s back. Not at the tattoo this time, although it’s difficult to look past that much concentrated, tangled power.

Bobby’s looking at the tiny tremors running through Dean’s muscles. At the shamed flush painting his skin.

Bobby can’t really smell the results of Sam’s little demonstration anymore, but he’s certain that Dean is blisteringly aware of the odor.

“Dean,” he calls gently.

Dean tilts his head back slightly, just far enough for Bobby to make out one of the boy’s down-turned eyes.

“I’d hug you if I could.”

Dean turns his face away again quickly, but Bobby sees the side of his throat work.

“No. You wouldn’t,” Dean says—of all the goddamned, pigheaded—and then adds in a tight, hoarse voice, “But thanks for saying it.”

Best behavior, Bobby reminds himself as he grips the pencil tightly to stop himself from getting up and proving him wrong, and damn Sam and his rules right to Hell.

Don’t give Sam any reasons to skin you alive, old man. Dean needs you here. Whether or not he believes in you anymore.

Finally, once he feels that he’s more or less back under control, Bobby says the only thing he can. “You’re welcome, son.”

They both pretend Bobby can’t tell Dean is crying.

Chapter Text

Even after having cleaned himself up, Dean can’t rid his mind of the shameful memory of how it felt to kneel there with Sam’s power riding his body while Bobby looked on. Anyway, there’s only so much a washcloth can do, and Dean knows better than to accept Bobby’s offer of a borrowed change of pants. Even more shaming than the knowledge that Bobby witnessed his depravity, though, is the fresh confirmation of just how broken he is.

He cried in front of Bobby, for fuck’s sake. Not just a little, either. He cried like a goddamned little girl while the torn, sharp pain deep inside of him throbbed at each breath and Bobby’s words (lies) twined around Sam’s voice in his head.

::See, baby?:: Sam whispered while Dean did his best to hold still for Bobby’s sketching. ::I told you it would be fine. Bobby knows better than to speak his mind aloud to you. He knows what I’d do to him if he ever tried to hurt you like that.::

Dean had no need to ask Sam for clarification—not when he already knows what Bobby must think of him. He had no reason to doubt—not when the day has been so strained and polite, both Bobby and Deacon on edge to say just the right things so that they’ll avoid upsetting Sam.

Now, as he sits stiffly with one of Bobby’s oversized tomes in his lap and Bobby and Deacon safely on the other side of the table, it’s all Dean can do to keep the tears from coming again. His own weakness turns his stomach, and he wishes desperately that Sam will come for him soon so that he can break down in peace. Or even better, so that Sam can drown Dean’s emotions out with the numbing flood of his power.

Dean was running on a more even keel this morning, with Sam damping the agony in his chest to a manageable roar. He didn’t feel so raw.

A knock on the door brings Dean’s head up hopefully, but he knows almost instantly that it isn’t Sam. Sam’s presence is just as close as ever where Sam is locked inside him, but Dean can sense the miles in his brother’s thoughts, and there are no greeting tendrils of power playing over his skin. Dean ducks his head down again before Bobby can catch his eyes, and stares intently at his book while Bobby calls out, “Yeah?”

The door clicks open and a voice that Dean recognizes as belonging to one of the two guards says, “We were wondering, my prince, what you’d like for lunch.”

Dean stiffens as he senses Bobby and Deacon focus on him. His face heats with a wretched, shamed flush.

‘My prince.’ As though Dean rules here, rather than serves.

Dean won’t answer them. He won’t.

“If these meatsuits are responsible for holding your tongue, we can see it loosened easily enough.”

That’s a threat: Dean’s made enough of his own to recognize one when he hears it. His gut clenches in denial and he forces his mouth open to rasp, “I’m not hungry.”

“Samuel told us to care for you, my prince,” the voice says. “We would be remiss in our duty if you do not eat.”

Like Dean gives a shit.

But Sam’s awareness sharpens inside of him again—Sam keeping watch on him from afar—and Sam’s voice rolls through him, ::I don’t care what, but you’re going to eat. You’ll need your strength when I return.::

Sam’s attention fades again just as swiftly as it came, offering no more than a lingering caress between Dean’s thighs as it goes.

“I—whatever you normally bring is fine,” Dean mumbles, and then squeezes his eyes shut until the demon has bowed its way out again.

Afterward, he has to force his fingers to ease off where they’re gripping the book and is dismayed to see that he’s managed to tear some of the pages. He doesn’t remember clutching it so tightly—more evidence of just how little control he has over himself.

He waits for Bobby to ask about the ‘prince’ comment, but Bobby doesn’t mention it. He also doesn’t raise an eyebrow at the elaborate plates brought in less than twenty minutes later and set up on the table, although from the glances Dean sneaks at Deacon’s expression, this isn’t exactly the norm that he asked for.

Can’t go around serving the royal consort on prisoner’s rations, though. Not if they want to keep their skins intact.

Ellen and Jo stay in their rooms to eat. Deacon brings a plate in to them while Bobby sits with Dean, rambling on about times that Dean doesn’t want to think about anymore. Those days are gone. That man is gone. Even the boy that Bobby occasionally mentions is long dead. And Sam’s absence from Bobby’s stories is painfully obvious, allowing Dean’s mind to fill in the spaces with the ghost in his head. That, of course, attracts Sam’s attention again, and Dean is forced to try to choke down mouthfuls while Sam hums in the back of his mind and strokes sensuous tendrils of power over Dean’s insides.

It’s a wonder he manages to eat anything at all.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Sam comes for Dean in the middle of an awkward game of chess—with a second set that Bobby produced from his room. Even if Dean hadn’t figured out, on closer inspection, that the set by the window has been carved from human bone, he wouldn’t have dared to interrupt his brother’s game.

Chess was Bobby’s idea, and it strikes Dean as a pretty brilliant way to avoid having to keep up the pretense that he isn’t completely disgusted by his visitor. It’s just the two of them in the room now. Deacon left some time ago—supposedly to take a nap, but Dean caught him glancing nervously at the door and he knows that it’s Sam Deacon really wants to avoid. Not that Dean blames him.

Sam announces his presence with a twisting clench of power around Dean’s thighs beneath the table. Before Dean can do more than gasp, the door opens and Sam is in the room. Sam doesn’t give Dean a chance to adjust, either. He comes forward with ground-devouring strides to grip Dean’s chin, turns his face up and kisses him.

Dean is fiercely aware of Bobby sitting just across the table, but he doesn’t quite dare try to pull away. Anyway, he’s already proved to Bobby just how much of a slut he is for Sam. There’s no point in trying to dissemble now. And he missed Sam.

Fuck, he missed him.

“Been wanting to do that all day,” Sam murmurs when he finally breaks the kiss. He nuzzles against Dean’s cheek for a moment, then straightens and settles a hand on Dean’s nape. His power sinks more deeply into Dean at the contact, soothing places that have been chaffing and raw since Sam left. Sam maintains the contact as he strolls around to stand behind Dean, then bends low again and sets his lips to the side of Dean’s throat.

Dean finds himself relaxing despite the shame that accompanies the contact—and then tenses back up again when Sam’s other hand pushes down into his pants.

“Sam,” Dean pants, grabbing his brother’s wrist in a weak protest.

Across the table, there’s a squeal of Bobby’s chair pushing back and then a clatter as it falls to the floor.

“Get your goddamned hands off him,” Bobby spits—like Dean isn’t hard, like there isn’t a large, panting part of him that’s desperate for more, that would do anything if only Sam doesn’t stop touching him. Like Dean isn’t already damaged goods a thousand times over.

Sam’s questing hand freezes. Dean squirms once more before stilling himself, his chest rising and falling in rapid, shallow pants. The sudden quiet in the room seems deafening.

Slowly, Sam’s head lifts from Dean’s throat.

“What was that?”

“You heard me. He doesn’t want you touching him.”

“Doesn’t he?” Sam’s nose nudges Dean’s jaw meaningfully. His hand shifts inside of Dean’s pants, gripping Dean’s cock and rubbing the head. “Go on, Dean. Tell Bobby what you want.”

::Unless you want me to start removing body parts.::

The threat echoes relentlessly in Dean’s mind, and Bobby hasn’t even begun swearing before Dean gasps out, “I want you. Sam. I want you to t-touch me.” And, silently, he thinks as loudly as he can, not here, please. In the suite. Please. Please take me home.

A feather-light brush of power tells Dean his plea has been heard, but Sam’s hand doesn’t move as he says. “See, Bobby? He wants this. He wants me. His own brother.”

“You sick son of a bitch,” Bobby growls in a choked, disgusted voice.

Dean doesn’t have to meet Bobby’s eyes to know that that tone—those words—are directed at him, and he twists his face away, resting his forehead against Sam’s cheek in a silent plea for protection. Sam’s hand slides from Dean’s nape to grasp the front of his throat, thumb sliding up and down along his jugular.

“I’m going to take you home and fuck you now,” Sam purrs. “Would you like that?”

“Yes,” Dean breathes fervently. That’s an offer he can get behind with his entire being—even his cringing, shamed side is eager for that defilement, eager to lose himself in Sam’s touch… just as long as it happens behind closed doors instead of here.

Dean is careful not to look at Bobby as Sam slips his hand from Dean’s pants and then helps him up, and Bobby doesn’t speak as Sam guides Dean back out the door. As far as Dean’s concerned, he doesn’t need to speak.

He’s said more than enough already.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Sam falls on Dean as soon as the elevator doors close behind them, cutting them off from view of the two demonic guards (changed from this morning) on Bobby’s door. Sam shoves Dean against the elevator wall, gripping Dean’s right thigh and hauling it high around his waist and rutting forward. There are layers of fabric between them, but they seem paper-thin as Sam rubs against him.

Dizzied by the flames’ renewed attentions, Dean clings to his brother and tries to maintain a grip on his fraying emotions. It’s been such a long day, though, and despite the new, soothing wash of Sam’s power over those torn, ripped places deep inside of Dean, Dean just doesn’t have the strength to even attempt to regulate himself any longer.

He knocks his head back against the mirrored elevator wall and shudders. He knows he’s crying even if he can’t feel his tears through the flames. His mind wants to be here with Sam—here where it’s safe, where he’s loved—but Bobby’s parting words are still rattling around inside his head. Bobby and Deacon’s disgusted glances burn beacon-bright in his memory.

“Shh,” Sam pants, his hands at work opening Dean’s shirt as he drives his hips forward in a sudden, sharp thrust. “I’m here. I love you, Dean. I need you.”

The elevator doors ding their arrival in some distant, far plane, but Sam doesn’t move. His mouth finds Dean’s throat and bites down, sucking greedy bruises into his skin. He loses patience with Dean’s shirt and rips it open with no finesse whatsoever, sending an explosion of buttons through the elevator in plastic shrapnel. Dean has time to suck in a breath and then Sam’s hands are on his sides… his back… moving restlessly over the tattoo while Dean’s awareness of his brother’s presence intensifies and drowns his self-hatred in a sea of need.

::Couldn’t stand his eyes on you,:: Sam confesses as his teeth scrape over Dean’s pulse. He thrusts forward again and again—sharp, staccato motions that feel like fucking, even though Dean is almost positive even Sam can’t manage that when both of their pants are still on.

::I didn’t want to send you down. Didn’t want to leave you there. But you had to know. You had to see what they think of you, baby. They don’t understand. They don’t deserve you.::

Dean’s pretty sure that Sam has that the wrong way around, but the arguments get caught in green and gold lines of fire that seem to have sunk right through his skin and into his soul. He doesn’t resist as he’s hauled through the open doors and down the hall toward the suite.

As Dean staggers along with Sam’s hands wandering everywhere they can and Sam’s power licking over the places Sam can’t currently reach, it occurs to him that he’s been acting like even more of a pathetic asshole than usual today. Crying at every little thing. Unable to summon up even the ghost of his former armor to help in facing Bobby and Deacon.

It’s not my fault, a cringing voice whimpers. How am I supposed to be strong when it hurts so much?

And it does hurt—even Sam’s presence hasn’t done more than dim the agony to an ear-splitting shriek. The pain was bad enough this morning when he first woke up, but it’s worsened steadily throughout the course of the day. As though some sort of natural anesthetic was finally wearing off. Or maybe like Dean was coming out of a prolonged state of shock.

Toward the end there, with Sam still gone and Bobby and Deacon’s scornful revulsion beating at him in the confines of their rooms, it felt like someone poured acid over his insides—like some corrosive, poisonous liquid was eating deeper into him all day.

Now that he’s thinking about it, Dean can feel the acid at work even now, and he whimpers aloud as Sam jars his upper body in tearing the remnants of Dean’s torn shirt free.

“It’s okay,” Sam murmurs, already starting in on Dean’s pants. “It’ll be good. It’ll be so good, just like you want, all right?”

No. No, it’s not all right. None of this is right, and won’t ever be again.

But it’s all Dean is allowed, and it seems a little late to try shutting the barn door. He doesn’t protest as Sam finishes stripping him and puts him on the bed. When he watches Sam hurriedly shed his own clothes before following, there’s even a raw, sharp-edged flutter of desire in his stomach. As Sam’s body covers his again, Dean’s cock is hard and flushed despite his nerves and that lingering, not-quite-smothered shock of pain.

Sam’s mouth descends and cuts off Dean’s air for a moment—Sam’s tongue plunging in deep, taking what Sam wants, taking everything Dean’s offering and reaching for more—and then Sam’s weight lifts long enough for Sam to better position himself between Dean’s legs. Sam’s cock is a heavy, huge weight against Dean’s entrance, where Sam’s power is lapping him open and slick. Dean’s body jerks helplessly against the bed and he groans feverishly.

“So beautiful,” Sam says, soothing a hand down Dean’s chest. “Perfect for me. Mine. All mine.”

He sinks deeper inside of Dean’s soul as he enters Dean’s body—setting off echoes of the first time. Dean can almost feel the cleavers and hooks sharpening, forming themselves from Sam’s power and boundless, grasping need and seeking out those deep, already wounded places inside of him. Hungry for new mutilations.

Dean turns his head to the side, tensing, and Sam’s big hand cups his cheek.

“Not now,” Sam says hoarsely as he seats himself more deeply inside of Dean’s body. “Not yet. I won’t—just this.” His other hand grips Dean’s thigh and jerks his leg up higher, slotting their bodies more perfectly together and driving a choked noise from Dean’s throat. “Just give me this.”

Reassured, Dean relaxes into the moment. He gives himself up to Sam, to his brother’s hunger, and lies as passively as he can while Sam drives both of their bodies into a frenzy. Just like he’s always done, he gives his brother what he needs. And it’s good, just like Sam promised it would be. It’s better than good, actually. It’s damned near ecstasy.

But afterward, when Sam rolls to one side and drags Dean close in his arms, Dean stares wakeful and resigned out at the room. Sam didn’t say ‘not again’; he said ‘not yet.’ The hooks, like the collar, haven’t been destroyed. They’ve just been laid aside for the present in preparation of… of what, exactly? Some mystical, unknown tipping point Dean has somehow managed to keep from falling over? The next time Dean accidentally pisses Sam off? The next full moon? Later tonight?

No, Dean senses as he hides a slight shiver. Not so soon as that. But not so far off, either. Not the way Sam keeps absently sending tendrils of power in that direction and stroking the edges of those sore, raw places with loving caresses that burn with the flames of a thousand suns.

Not yet, but soon.

Soon.