"So, what's Bobby got to say?" Dean asks, snaking a hand out to steal a few fries as Sam flips his phone closed.
Sam narrows his eyes, then says, "He says the rubbings aren't clear enough. We may need to go back with some serious lighting and take photos. He's pulling an all-nighter to try and decipher it before he sends us hiking out there again."
"Great." Dean takes an angry bite of his hamburger, and he scowls as he chews it, a smear of mustard bright yellow at the corner of his mouth, sticking to the stubble of his two-day would-be mustache. He's looking especially rumpled today; usually does when they hit the deep south. Dean can handle broken bones, stab wounds, contusions and all sorts of injuries, but get him in Mississippi in August, and he turns into a petulant child.
Not that Dean was ever a petulant child; that dubious luxury had been reserved for Sam.
The door chime tinkles, and a group of young women enter, speaking quietly, their voices like silk sliding over skin. Dean looks past Sam, raising an interested eyebrow, and he leers in what Sam assumes has become simple habit. Dean would probably do it in his sleep. Dean probably does.
The mustard is still on Dean's face. He smiles, chewing, as the women walk down the aisle approaching their table in a cloud of whispers and herbs and patchouli, and his head swivels to catch the rear view as they pass.
His eyes are crinkled up in amusement when he turns back to Sam again, smiling with a bright white speck of bun mashed into the groove between his front teeth. The road dirt makes his crow's feet even more pronounced.
Sam sighs indulgently, then he wets his napkin and reaches across the table to wipe the mustard off Dean's face.
Dean's smile goes quizzical, then he jerks back as the cloth touches him. "What the--" he says, then "Sam!" in his gruff John-voice when Sam leans closer and persists.
"You've got mustard. You look like an idiot," Sam explains, using his superior reach to grab Dean by the shoulder and hold him still, thumb digging into his collarbone while he tries to scrub Dean's face, Dean squirming all the while.
"What the hell!" Dean blurts, finally yanking free and jerking away hard enough that his chair goes up onto two legs before it thumps back down. "Stop touching me," he says, scowling so hard Sam almost laughs and rasping his fingers hard against the corner of his mouth.
"Fine." Sam grins across the table at him, then casually stands to follow when Dean jams the last huge bite of hamburger into his mouth, shoves himself up and marches toward the counter. Dean pays their bill silently, still chewing, leaves the change on the counter and stalks outside.
"What is wrong with you?" Sam asks (rhetorically for the most part; Dean's already sweating again, and he looks plain miserable) over the hood of the Impala. That just gets another frown from Dean, and then Sam stops paying attention to his brother long enough to squeeze into the car, trying not to ding the side panel of an aqua Gremlin that's parked too close. Because that would make things totally better, yeah.
They back out of the spot of the quaintly named Soda Fountain, beside an Auto Zone and across the street from an O'Reilly's. He guesses if he tries to make a joke about the redundancy of it, he'll just get a grumpy lecture about how they aren't redundant after all, and that they both suck anyway. And while Sam may sometimes throw Dean that kind of bone, knowing that a good gripe will make him feel better for miles, Sam himself is pretty sticky and uncomfortable and doesn't feel like being the butt of it today.
Halfway back to their motel, Sam catches sight of the run-down grocery store he'd noticed on their way to the diner. "Pull in there," he says, tapping Dean's sweaty, black-smeared forearm, then pointing up the road.
Dean twitches. "Dude. There's a gas station right next to the motel." As if everything they'd possibly need could be found at a gas station.
Well. That might almost be true for Dean, except that Sam has seen the hair gel Dean slicks on every morning; definitely not Quik-E-Mart fare.
"I need shampoo," Sam insists.
Dean groans. "Come onnn. Can't you use mine?"
"Yeah. I did. Now you're out, too."
Muttering curses under his breath, Dean turns right just soon enough, tires throwing up dust and gravel as the Impala fishtails a bit before straightening out. Dean takes a deep breath, lets his hands relax on the wheel, and comes to a respectable stop in one of the store's ten parking spots.
Sam swings his legs out.
"Get me a coke. And some-- some Twizzlers!" Dean calls after him.
"Yeah." Sam eases the door closed.
Once he's almost to the door he hears Dean's car door screeek open. "And a six-pack!" Dean bellows.
Grinning, Sam throws a wave over his shoulder and lets himself into the store.
"What the hell, Sammy?" Dean grouses as Sam tucks himself into the car, settling paper bags between his feet.
"Sorry, couldn't find the Twizzlers," he says, half a lie-- he'd also grabbed a few apples and oranges, then he'd backtracked to the other side of the store for a peach pie, to be fair.
When he glances over at Dean, he does a double-take. Dean's soaked clean through his grimy t-shirt, and the dirt that had clung to the creases around his eyes is smeared, almost like mascara after a good cry.
"You need a shower," Sam says.
Dean gets them back onto the road, and as they approach their motel, Sam jumps when he feels Dean's hand slide gently into his hair.
"Yeah, you did need shampoo." Dean cards his fingers through it, trailing his fingertips along Sam's scalp. "That is some gnarly hair, Sam."
"Then why are you playing with it?" Sam asks, bemused.
Dean frowns at him. He pulls his hand away and turns into the Scott Motel parking lot, and the tires crunch to a stop in front of room 118.
His arms laden with the grocery bags, Sam follows Dean into the room. Their duffles are lain out on their beds and Dean's already halfway stripped when Sam shuts and locks the front door behind him. Shower curtain scrapes over the rod, the pipes tick-tick-tick, and Sam tenses up for the seconds before he hears the hiss of the shower spray start.
He cranks up the window unit A/C and pulls his shirt off, and he stands in front of the air conditioner for a moment, shivering pleasantly as the sweat on his skin cools and he breaks out into goose-pimples, his nipples pulling up into tiny, sharp points.
"Sam!" Dean's voice comes muffled from the bathroom, and Sam huffs and goes to pull the shampoo out of the paper bags. He'd gotten Dean's brand too, and he hands it to him through the crack of the curtain.
"Hey, you're not a total asshole after all," Dean says gruffly, then he gives Sam's arm a squeeze. Not just the Hey, good shot kind of squeeze or the Get your hand away from my tape deck kind of squeeze that Sam is used to, but a... a lingering squeeze. A caressing one. One that massages Sam's muscles as it slides from mid-forearm to wrist, Dean's calluses softened by water. Dean lingers at his wrist, then lets his fingers drift over Sam's palm before they trail away.
"Uh... you're welcome," Sam says. Brow drawn up into wavy lines, he shuffles out of the bathroom to put up the food in the mini-fridge. He hides the pie in a dresser drawer, then sits on the edge of his bed and casually studies the room. It's one of the least garish they've been in lately; three of the walls are covered in surprisingly understated plaid, framed prints of jockeys on their mounts to either side of the near-antique television. The carpet is a threadbare but clean green and gold pattern, and the bedspreads are soft, fluffy dark red things. It could be a lot worse.
Sam feels awesome coming out of the shower, clean and fully human again, his hair finally smelling right after smelling like Dean's for a week. He grins at Dean, who's splayed across his own bed directly in the blast of the A/C in just his boxers, his arm curled protectively around the pie tin, digging in with a plastic fork. Dean gives Sam a sticky grin and tosses the TV remote to him.
"You got me pie," Dean says.
Sam's always marveled at how a handful of simple things--a shower, a dessert, a few minutes of air conditioning--could make Dean seem so happy.
"Yeah, well, it was supposed to be a surprise, jerk," Sam says affectionately, scooping the pie out of Dean's hands without resistance before he finishes the whole thing.
"It was," he hears Dean say as he sets it on the counter-top and pulls drinks out of the fridge. Then suddenly, Dean's pressed against his back, his arms going around Sam's waist as he says, "Bitch," and Sam tenses up, automatically placing the drinks on the counter to get his hands free, sure Dean's about to suplex him or something. But all Dean does is hug him.
Sam freezes there, a little dazed. Hugs are once-a-year things, if that; usually someone would have to die or come back to life, or some metaphorical equivalent, or play out some tragic, soul-searing scene before Sam got a hug.
And Sam likes hugs. Would give Dean hugs every day, if Dean would let him.
Sam's brain is going a mile a second, and he almost doesn't register the feeling where their bare skin touches from the top of his boxers to the middle of his shoulders. Dean's stubbly cheek scrapes lightly between his shoulder-blades. He doesn't want to stop this. Does not. But annoyingly, his brain gets the better of him, and almost against his will, he says, "Dean?"
"Yeah." Dean's sharp, angry tone is at odds with the careful way he's curling his body against Sam's.
"Why are you hugging me? I know you like shampoo and pie and stuff, but... "
"I. Shut up. Because."
With that, Dean steps back, and Sam hears him plod across the carpet, hears bed-springs, and then canned laughter as the TV flicks on.
Dean won't meet his gaze when Sam turns around. His freckles stand out starkly against his pale skin. Still staring at the television, Dean says, "Dude, I know that rubbing was legible. I've done it a hundred times before." He takes a long drink of his soda then clicks to another channel.
Sam shrugs. "I guess we'll find out soon."
"Yeah. But if we have to hike all the way down there again, somebody's gonna owe me a bottle of whiskey. I don't care who."
Digging in his duffle for his jogging shorts, Sam makes a non-committal noise.
Dean clears his throat. "I miss Magic Fingers. Used to be you could find them anywhere. Now it's like finding, I don't know."
"Like finding the words to finish a sentence?" Sam asks, all smart-ass, settling on his own bed, body angled toward Dean to keep a furtive eye on him. Dean's babbling, one of his biggest tells, and he's got spots of color high on his cheeks as if the babbling wasn't enough. Nervous as all get out. Sam isn't quite sure what that means, in regards to the hug, but he's going to keep watching.
"Yeah." Dean frowns at him, the mean-Dean-face that isn't actually angry. "Just like that. Dick."
After almost a minute of silence, Sam's tempted to keep his mouth shut, to let the dead air stretch between then until Dean starts blathering again. In the end, though, Dean's been bothered all day, and maybe this is just some unusual reaction to all the combined and sundry stressors.
Sam curls an arm behind his head, stretching out. "What do you want to do tonight?" he asks, visibly relaxing in an attempt to get Dean to mirror him, a trick that sometimes works.
"Don't wanna go back out there. Let's just get a pizza or something."
Sam grins at Dean, who's still in his boxers, stretched out on the soft red comforter and hogging all the cold air. Sam can see gooseflesh nubbling up his arms, but Dean gives no indication he's uncomfortable; on the contrary, he is relaxing, a pleased smile starting to turn up the corners of his mouth.
Simple things, Sam thinks, grinning.
"What?" Dean asks, voice threatening, but in an easy-going way that Sam's only ever seen Dean pull off quite so well.
"Nothing," Sam says, still smiling.
They call out for pizza once the chirring of cicadas outside quiets to a low, drowsy buzz. It shows up within twenty minutes, and Sam doesn't bother putting on his shirt to get the door, which opens with a thick blast of oven-hot air. He gives the driver a twenty for his twelve dollar pizza, then closes the door, switching the box from hand to hand to keep the greasy bottom from burning him.
He shoves Dean over and sits beside him and they eat out of the box, cheese burning their tongues, and chase it down with beers straight from the plastic ring. The TV's showing something mindless and fun, some five-year-old movie that neither of them caught the first time around. Laughing at something Dean says, Sam leans back onto an elbow and takes another pull from his beer.
He half-notices Dean shoving the pizza box out of the way and getting comfortable beside Sam. But he can't miss the cool hand that presses between his shoulder-blades. He goes still, eyes glued to the screen, and the hand moves, smoothing down Sam's back until it reaches the comforter, then sliding back up to cup the back of Sam's neck.
It's nice. Nice like when Sam was a little kid nice, when he'd sit beside Dean and watch reruns, and Dean would rub his back until Sam got sleepy. Sam doesn't say anything, just watches the movie and sips on his beer, and tries to subtly make more of his back available for rubbing. He doesn't even say anything when Dean makes a frustrated noise, just lets his eyes shutter closed and feels Dean's square, callused hand sliding up the nape of his neck and into his hair, petting and massaging his scalp in a way that sends a warm tingle down his spine.
When the movie's over, Dean sighs loudly, and he grunts as he gets up to drop the beer cans in the garbage. He disappears into the bathroom to brush his teeth, and Sam follows him, feeling all loose and friendly from all the affection.
But Dean's scowling into the mirror as he scrapes his toothbrush over his teeth violently, and he shoots Sam an edge of that glare when Sam squeezes out a neat strip of toothpaste onto his own brush.
Dean spits hard into the sink, an unexpectedly lewd gesture, and wipes his mouth off with the back of his hand. It's like he's the Crest ad version of Tyler Durden. Then he turns and gives Sam a hard hug, which Sam returns immediately without even thinking about it.
Okay, so this is starting to get a little weird.
"Drrm, yr--" Sam says with a mouth full of toothbrush. He grabs the toothbrush, careful not to rub it against Dean's head, and leans to the side and spits into the sink.
"Dean, you-- " Sam flattens his mouth and looks down at the crown of Dean's dirty blond hair; he doesn't want this to sound like he's complaining, or Dean might get it in his head to never hug him again. In a carefully neutral tone, he says, "You almost never hug me."
"Well, what if I just want to, huh?" Dean is defensive, his voice going all growly-badass as he takes half a step back.
Sam feels his eyebrows do this wavy thing across his forehead before he gets them under control. "That's fine, Dean."
"It better be," Dean says, poking a finger at Sam's chest. Then he envelops Sam in another hug, his nose and mouth against Sam's neck. "Cause I guess I'm gonna keep doing it," he says, his voice strained. With one more hard squeeze, he marches out of the bathroom.
Sam's taken his time brushing his teeth, and had a glass of tap water, and washed his face, and peed, and he finally strips out of his jogging shorts and clicks off the bathroom light. The rest of the room is dark, save for slices of moonlight across the carpet, and the air conditioner is still humming loudly, the rusty tics familiar and comforting. Sam steps carefully between their beds, squinting for loose pizza crusts or beer tabs. When he reaches the middle, he's pulling back his covers when Dean speaks out of the darkness.
"Sammy," he says, low and rough, and Sam freezes.
He hears the slow breath Dean takes before he tells Sam, "Come here."
Still a little shaken from that last strange hug in the bathroom, Sam approaches cautiously. He feels Dean's fingers slip around his wrist like a bracelet, and then Dean's pulling him down and bundling him under the blankets. Again, the familiarity soothes Sam into compliance. Even after Sam outstripped his brother in height, Dean would still do this from time to time, pull Sam into bed with him and fold their bodies together. Sam never argued then, either. It was always easier to sleep with Dean right next to him like that.
Dean arranges the comforter over them both, and it's pleasantly warm underneath after sitting around half naked all night. Dean's legs are cold when they tuck up behind Sam's, and his arm is strong and reassuring when it wraps around Sam's chest. He presses his nose against the nape of Sam's neck and breathes in.
And then he just cuddles Sam for a while, long enough that Sam relaxes and actually starts to fall asleep. He brushes a hand over Dean's forearm where it's wrapped around him, feeling crisp hair and the light ridges of scars, and Dean makes an unidentifiable noise.
"Sammy." Dean's voice is strained. He squeezes Sam against his chest. "I hope this doesn't break your heart, but I... I really don't want to do this."
"Do what?" Sam furrows his brow and tries to look over his shoulder at Dean, but Dean holds him in place, gently rubbing Sam's belly.
"This hugging. Cuddling... thing," Dean says, through clenched teeth by the sound of it.
Sam's heart doesn't break, but it does sink a little. He knows it's weird, this semi-romantic spooning they've got going, but he thought maybe Dean was just tired of never being touched. Sam knows he is, anyway. "Then why are you doing it?"
"I don't know!" Dean whispers harshly.
Sam tries to wriggle away, but Dean holds him even tighter, tangling their feet together for good measure.
"It's like... I can't help it. Like an itch I have to scratch or I'll go crazy, and once I think of it, it hurts if I can't do it."
Sam breathes quietly, barely able to hear himself over Dean's ragged breaths. He lets Dean cling to him, his mind racing. It sounds like... a curse? A spell? Maybe a misdirected love spell? Or something more sinister, meant to twist and warp their admittedly overpowering fraternal feelings for each other?
Nuzzling at the nape of Sam's neck, Dean grits out, "It feels so good when I'm touching you. I could just... hug you all day." He says it like an accusation even as he glides his hand slowly down Sam's side to his hip. "Feels good, but it's like... I'm forced to snuggle against my will. It's non-consensual snuggle instigation, Sammy. I feel violated," he says, gruff and angry, stroking a lazy path along the sinuous mid-line of Sam's abs.
Sam pats Dean's arm reassuringly and feels Dean melt against his back with some strange hybrid between a sigh and a growl.
"Okay," Sam soothes. "It's all right. We'll figure this out, okay?"
Dean tangles their fingers together, and Sam continues. "If you need to, to hug me or whatever until we fix it, I can deal with that. You just... do what you need to do."
He can feel Dean's breath coming in puffs between his shoulder blades, can feel his parted lips skim over his skin as he nods. "Fine," Dean says, sounding ragged.
"I should probably get started," Sam says, lifting up on his elbow to push himself off the bed.
"Yeah," Dean says, his arm tightening almost painfully around Sam's chest. "Goddamnit," he mutters.
"How about this. I'll go pee and grab my laptop, then I'll come back over here, get in bed, and start researching."
With a disgusted huff, Dean jerks away from Sam, and Sam rolls out of bed before Dean can change his mind.
He settles back in, lying almost-comfortably on his side, and Dean snakes around him, his stubble tickling Sam's spine. Dean's asleep almost immediately, and Sam begins his research.
When Sam wakes, he's actually got Dean in a bear-hug, somehow. Both of his arms are wrapped around his brother and one long leg is slung over both of Dean's, as if to trap him there. Sam blinks his gummy eyes and sniffs at Dean's hair, and he rolls away, trying to gently extricate the arm that's pillowing Dean's head.
That's what he means to do, anyway. Instead, Dean rolls with him, curling up against Sam's side with his face buried in the crook of Sam's neck. "Sammy," he murmurs, his hand running up Sam's side and then down the middle of his chest, down to the edge of his boxers.
He stiffens suddenly. "Sammy?" he demands, pushing himself up on his elbow. "Son of a bitch."
"Hey," Sam says, rubbing at his eyes. "How are you feeling?"
"Like... " Deans scowls and rubs at his jaw. "Well, like hugging the crap out of you. Then getting some pancakes."
Despite himself, Sam laughs. He edges toward the side of the bed, not missing the way Dean's mouth tightens up.
"Wait," Dean says. "Shit. Come back for a minute, let me get my goddamn fix first."
Sam obeys, not unhappily, and Dean yanks Sam's arm and places it on the bed so he can rest his head against it, curling an arm and a leg over Sam. "Please tell me you figured something out."
Sam sighs. Other than the excessive snuggling he'd received, his night had been largely non-productive. "Well, first I thought it was a witch's curse. But who would curse someone to want to hug? And I don't think we've even talked to anyone for more than a minute at a time, so we definitely haven't had a chance to piss off any witches. It could be a haunted object or location, but again, why such a mild curse?"
"Doesn't feel mild," Dean mutters against Sam's collarbone.
"Okay, point taken. Anyway, just to be sure, whether Bobby needs us to or not, we'll take the EMF reader out to the forest today, retrace our steps."
"All right." Dean's nuzzling at his skin now, nose circling around the birthmark at the point of his shoulder.
"There are a few monsters that could have done it, but none of the signs are right for them to be here. And then there's... have you pissed off a... no, that's way too racist, and I'm sure you're too... tactful for that. Nevermind."
"Right," Dean grunts. "So we talk to Bobby, then we go hiking again anyway. Great." Dean gives Sam a hard squeeze, skin touching all over the place. "At least it's a place to start. Now get out before I make you stay again," Dean says, yanking himself away and turning to face the wall.
Sam hops up and jerks on his running shorts, and rummages in his bag for a t-shirt and socks. He's shoving his feet into his shoes when Dean rushes past him to the bathroom.
Arms crossed against his chest, he waits impatiently until Dean stalks back out, pointedly not looking in Sam's direction. Sam takes his turn in the bathroom, then trots to the front door. "Going to get coffee," he says.
"Cool," Dean says, yanking on his own clothing.
Sam exits their room, bouncing on his toes as he prepares to turn his walk to the gas station next door into a mini jog, then he freezes when he catches sight of a car the color of the bottom of a swimming pool, parked along the other wing of the L-shaped motel. It is most definitely the Gremlin he'd seen yesterday at the diner. It would be a big, funny coincidence, if Sam believed in coincidences.
He takes a fast step backwards into their room and locks the door behind him. He goes to the blinds and peers out. "You know what I said about it not being witches?"
"Yeah?" Dean's voice is laced with a vague annoyance.
"I take it back."
"Son of a bitch!" Dean rushes forward and peers through his own crack in the blinds, his arm going around Sam's back. "Ohhh, shit."
At the diner, the group of women with the naturally dyed skirts and the multitude of bracelets and the dark eyeliner. The ones Dean had leered at so rudely. It could be no one else.
"I guess they were offended by my aura of powerful masculinity," Dean offers. "Witches are such feminists."
Sam smacks him, though awkwardly because Dean's pressed hard against his side. "You're a jerk, and you don't even know what you're talking about," he says. "It was probably the way you were staring at their tits."
"Could have been," Dean admits with a shrug that Sam can feel.
"Okay. Hex bag. It has to be in here somewhere."
"Right." Dean pulls away and rubs his hands together briskly, perking up now that an easy solution is at hand. All they have to do is find it and burn it, then check into a different motel.
Sam starts in the bathroom. "When could they have put it in here?" he calls out, suddenly less sure of his logic.
"You were in the grocery store forever," Dean calls back. "They could've driven back here, pulled some hair off my pillow and done their witchy thing, then driven away before we got back, easy."
"Yeah, okay. Makes sense. And if they were already checked in this morning when we were, I'm sure they could have recognized the Impala parked out front."
"My baby's hard to miss," Dean agrees.
The bathroom turns up no hex bags, so Sam moves on to the kitchenette. He's rummaging through the drawers when Dean curses.
"What?" Sam whirls around, hoping to see Dean holding a filthy little bag. Instead he sees Dean swiping sweat off his forehead, his palm dark with dust.
"Did I ever tell you how much I hate witches? Well, I hate witches."
Sam rolls his eyes and continues his search.
They're at it for over an hour, tediously going over every inch of the room, the insides of their bags, carefully slicing open the sides of the mattresses to search inside, unscrewing the front panel of the window unit (You'd better not break it, Dean warns. I will kick your ass all around this parking lot and leave you for the witches.) and pulling down the smoke detector to check inside of that, too. They finally give up on the hunt after they've checked each other's work (again), and they plop down onto the bed, sweaty in spite of the still-functioning air conditioner.
Dean curls his arm around Sam's back and leans his head on Sam's shoulder with a disgusted grunt.
"We should clean up the room," Sam says.
"We should check the car first."
"Yeah, you're right." It's kind of a reach, but better safe than sorry, Sam thinks.
Dean curses and jerks around until he's almost sitting in Sam's lap. "I don't want to tear her apart. I just want some bacon. And to stop freaking nuzzling you," he says, his nose tickling in the curls behind Sam's ear.
They end up getting breakfast first, because if there was ever a time Dean needed the comfort of fatty breakfast foods, this is it. He's got this hangdog look about him, and Sam couldn't stand to watch him peering into the Impala's guts looking like that. At the restaurant, it actually goes better than he expects; Dean doesn't try to sit beside him. He just snugs his feet around one of Sam's when they slide into their booth, and even if he's slouched down so that their lower legs are glued together by the end of the meal, at least he's not in Sam's lap. Now that's a bridge Sam's glad they didn't have to get to, in order to cross it.
The Impala turns up nothing. They stop short of slicing open the upholstery, though they do check in excruciating detail for any tiny slices, or even just plain irregularities, in the leather.
When they're done, they slump, sweating, against the vacuum cleaner cylinders at the car wash they'd picked for this task.
"No hex bag," Dean says, reaching out to hold Sam's hand.
"No hex bag," Sam agrees, and he wraps Dean into a sticky full-body hug. Dean relaxes, making a small, grateful sound before Sam pulls away.
Then he puts his pissed-off face back on. "Fucking witches. There must be some new, bagless trend sweeping the witch population, or some shit."
Sam has to laugh, but he ends it quickly. "We could check out their room; if they're responsible, they have to have something to show for it, some way we can reverse this."
Obviously, Dean caught the If. His face goes hard, eyes staring off into nothing.
Sam sighs. "I need to give Bobby a call."
"I'll wash the car," Dean says, his voice gravelly, and he gets into the Impala and maneuvers her into one of the ports. Sam watches him with concern, then slips his phone out of his pocket and speed-dials Bobby.
"Hey," he says when Bobby picks up after the fourth ring.
Without preamble or even greeting, Bobby says, "So first you got the goat of departure, the father of understanding, which, that part we already know. But I was able to verify that the large symbols are correct."
"Goat of departure?"
Bobby sighs. "Look, kid, here's your Satanic lore lesson for today," he says, cranky and impatient, and Sam is reminded that Bobby probably pulled an all-nighter for this--and that Sam may have just woken him up, in the bargain. "The 'goat of departure' is Azazel, who, yeah, you know who he is. But some people don't. Azazel is another word for Satan, same as Baphomet, in some Satanic and pagan cults."
Bobby clears his throat and Sam hears him spit wetly. "Damn summer colds. Baphomet's the 'father of understanding.' So basically, this is some freaky essay carved onto a cave wall, and the title of it is "The Big Ol' Devil." Which should be at least a little interesting to you."
"Okay, yeah. Sorry, Bobby. So what's the rest say?"
"Boy, if I knew that I woulda told you already. You're gonna have to get back into that cave with a floodlight and a real camera and get me some good pictures. Get lots of shots and hold the lights at a few different angles so I don't miss some piddly-ass wiggly line."
"All right, Bobby. We'll head out as soon as we check out this coven--"
"Coven? What's witches got to do with this?"
Sam's nostrils flare, and he can feel his cheeks heat. "It's-- it's just some girls acting, uh, strange. It'll only take a few minutes, then we'll be on our way."
Bobby's sigh is wet and disgusted. "Witches. You boys have the stupidest luck."
"Yeah, I know," Sam says. "I'll call you back later today."
"Watch your back, Sam," Bobby says, then he hangs up.
After a long, smelly hug back at the motel room, which includes Dean pulling both of their shirts over their heads to make it a disturbingly sensual thing, Dean steps back and looks up at Sam.
"Should we share... " His eyes close and his mouth goes flat, color leeching out of his face. He backs away. "No, because then I'd probably want to turn it into a slow dance, and I can almost deal with this constant hugging if I don't think about it too much, but slow dancing in the shower with my little brother would scar me for life." He punctuates his rant by slamming the bathroom door behind him.
Sam stares at the closed bathroom door for a few seconds. They almost never close the bathroom door. It's a safety thing, as well as a convenience thing, and for Dean to break tradition must mean that this sucks a lot more for Dean than Sam had figured.
With a sigh, Sam fetches the binoculars and takes his position at the window. The Gremlin's still there, and the curtains are closed and unmoving, with nothing to suggest... well, anything. It's like watching a still photograph: the cheerful blue car parked in front of the charming log-and-red-brick exterior of the motel, backed by tall, leafy trees stretching up high into the silver sky. Just looking at the sky makes Sam feel hot, and he turns one of the air conditioner's vents so that it's blowing directly on him.
He continues to not think about how hard this is on Dean. His mind only rests on it long enough to know that he... really likes it, and that liking it makes him feel dirty. For Dean's sake, he hopes they find a way to fix it, and soon.
Then his thoughts spin out to the hardware store they'd seen yesterday, and what they'd need besides floodlights, and to remember to pick up batteries for the EMF. He's resting his mind in these mundane, comfortable tracks, eyes still glued to the blue car and the door beside it, when Dean comes out of the shower.
Dean drapes himself over Sam's bare back. "Gross, you're still all sweaty," he says, though his voice is pleasant. He almost sounds like he's smiling. "So, what's going on with the coven?"
"Nothing at all," Sam says. He sighs and turns, letting Dean's arms skim him until they're face to face, and he wraps an arm around Dean, his hand resting at the dip of his back. "We should get out to the cave; if we don't go soon we'll be hiking back in the dark."
"Screw hiking," Dean says, but he begins to dress anyway. A hunt is a hunt.
The battery-powered floods they found aren't too heavy in Sam's pack, and they make decent time to the cave. Dean snatches the EMF reader away from as soon as they've cleared the first wave of trees, which almost annoys Sam, except when he realizes it's because Sam has his other hand looped around the strap of his pack, and this way he has a free hand for Dean to hold.
"Can't help it," Dean says flatly.
They stop occasionally for snack and water breaks, which devolve into hug breaks, which is something so terrifically outlandish that he thinks in a year, he won't even believe it happened.
They do a careful job with the pictures, and the EMF gives off not a solitary crackle. They get back to their motel room with their clothes soaked in sweat, salt drying stiff on their faces where the wind cooled them on the trip back.
"First shower," Dean barks, and he's yanking his clothes off and closing the bathroom door behind him before Sam can even think to argue.
Sam peels his rank, sour-wet clothes off and sits in front of his laptop in his damp underwear. They'd picked up a nice digital camera along with the floodlights, and he plugs this into his computer, uploads the pictures. He skims through them, his eyes sliding away from the head-sized, already interpreted symbols (goat of departure, etc.) down to the crazy scrawl of lines underneath. It's excellent odds that they're ideograms, or some kind of language anyway, because Sam notes some repeating shapes, and even a repeating pair or two. Bobby couldn't ask for a better reproduction, short of getting a plaster cast.
Sam zips the photos up and emails them to Bobby, and gets voice-mail when he calls. "We got the photos. Check your mail," he says and hangs up.
Dean exits the bathroom surrounded by a cloud of steam, his skin flushed pink, and Sam glances up to watch Dean walk toward him. Dean's hand skims up his arm, then squeezes hard at the bunching of Sam's thick trapezius muscle. Sam hisses at the jolt of sensation; it would be perfect with either a little more or a little less pressure. But it just keeps him in a state of bodily tension until Dean smooths his hand upward to curl around the back of Sam's neck. He squeezes there, too, and Sam drops his head forward, going boneless.
"Yeah, you like that, don't you?" Dean asks quietly, and he sounds like he's just remembering that fact instead of laying down out some impromptu dirty talk, but God. Sam sucks in a deep breath and feels the hair on his arms and scalp prickle, feels his nipples harden painfully, and Dean's hand is still kneading the sore muscles at the back of Sam's neck, blunt fingernails sliding up every few squeezes to scrape gently along Sam's scalp.
An unfortunate rush of heat spreads through Sam's chest and belly, and he shakes his head from side to side. Dean lets go, his fingers lingering in a soft brush along Sam's shoulder as he does.
"I'm going to shower. Then we can eat," Sam says, his throat thick and sore.
"Okay," Dean says, and Sam can hear him moving away. Sam unfolds out of his chair and hurries to the bathroom, only taking time to grab a fresh pair of running shorts.
As he passes through the open door, he hears Dean's voice saying, ragged, "Hurry."
It's one of the quickest showers Sam's ever taken and still gotten everything washed. He flicks the comb through his clean hair, barely glancing in the mirror, and is out of the bathroom in five minutes. Now that his most immediate task is done and he's clean and cool and mostly dry, he has time to notice that his stomach is churning with hunger.
He also notices that Dean's already eating, and he's pointedly not looking at Sam, and he has Sam's fast food bag opened up and spread out beside him. It's not a surprise. Sam swallows hard and denies the twisting of his guts in anticipation of Dean touching him some more.
Dean's hands are restless on Sam's skin, sliding in nonsensical patterns up his back and arms as Sam wolfs down his sandwich. He can feel the desperation that Dean won't voice, so puts the rest aside for later and turns to Dean, pulling him down to the bed in a huge hug, their chests pressed together and legs tangling, both with one arm crushed beneath the other.
"This fucking... sucks so bad, Sammy," Dean says, his eyebrows drawn sharply down over his closed eyes. He's kneading at the firm muscle over Sam's shoulder blades and arching his back when Sam strokes down along his spine. Dean opens his eyes, and they're frightened, not angry, and a clear green that always makes Sam stare for too long before he looks away, embarrassed. They're otherworldly sometimes, Dean's eyes, but this time Sam finds it in him to hold the eye contact.
Dean trails off and closes his eyes again, lays his head along Sam's shoulder and breathes, open-mouthed and humid, against Sam's neck.
"It's okay," Sam croaks, then he clears his throat. "I know you don't like to talk about this stuff. You don't have to keep reassuring me, all right? I know you're not secretly doing it on purpose, or enjoying it, or anything."
Dean shudders and curses, his hands going painful on Sam's back.
"We'll just figure out how to stop it, right? And until then, you can hug me all you want. Look at it like, like taking antibiotics. You have to keep taking them or else you'll get sick again." This sounds like malarky to Sam, but it's impossible to see Dean this emotionally wrecked and not try to put some sort of band-aid on it. Until he can sanitize and stitch the wound, and there he goes with his awful metaphors again.
He clears his throat again and tries to sound firmly in command. "So what we're going to do is, we're going to get up and start watching the room across the way. I'm betting they'll be going out to get dinner any minute. Once they're gone, we'll run over there and go through their stuff, and see what we can find."
"Yeah, okay," Dean says, his lips moving against Sam's collarbone as he speaks. "That's a plan."
"Right. Let's go."
Nearing 8 o'clock, four women waft out of the hotel room, looking hazy and soft in their crinkled skirts and long hair, jewelry glittering at their wrists and throats.
They're standing side-by-side at their spying window, and Dean squeezes him tight as they watch the Gremlin drive away, his hip smashing hard into Sam's. As soon as the car is out of sight, Sam and Dean step out of their room.
Their approach is casual, even a little loud, joking back and forth as they swagger across the parking lot. Nothing furtive here, just a couple of dudes walking back from the gas station with their beer. Sam picks the lock so fast he might as well have used a key, talking over his shoulder to Dean and laughing genuinely at the rakish angle of Dean's baseball cap.
They slip inside and freeze, letting their eyes adjust to the light and taking a second to make sure the room is silent. Then Sam switches on the light; flashlights look suspicious from the outside, but if the women return to see the light on, they may simply think the last one out forgot to switch it off.
As soon as the light's on, they're in action. Both of them get a pair of gloves and a multi-tool from the gas station paper bag, and they set to giving this room the same once-over they'd given their own, only careful to leave everything where it belongs this time. Sam goes straight to the bathroom and verifies four bags of toiletries, lined up in a neat row.
He pokes his head out. "All four of them are staying in this room," he reports.
Dean glances up from where he's rummaging through a suitcase, and his eyes go immediately to the two beds, crinkling up. "Dude. They're sharing beds. That's hot, even if they are witches."
Sam gives him an ironic look. "Yeah, because sharing beds isssss...." He has to change the trajectory of that, and fast. "always hot, if it's women."
Dean squints at him, then pumps a fist in the air. "Damn right, Sammy. We may make a man out of you after all."
"Shut up," Sam says, grinning widely. When he's not being a total ass, Dean's dorkiness is pretty endearing. Sam lets himself be endeared, still smiling as he returns to his job.
It's slow going, and Sam practices deep breathing techniques as he delves into every nook and cranny. No telling when they'll be back, but if he misses something because he's rushing, what's the point anyway? He glances over his shoulder at Dean, who's humming and methodically rummaging through the kitchenette, calm and collected and well, just pretty cool. Even if his hat does look dumb.
They meet in the middle, at the chest of drawers that the television stands on, and Dean's arm automatically wraps around Sam. Beside the TV is a handful of papers, and Sam's heart sinks as he skims the top one.
"Oh, man," he says, and Dean jerks his head around, his eyes wide and concerned. Sam flips through the papers--the flyers--and his heart just thunks down like a stone in his belly. With just the one glance, he's pretty damn sure they're wasting their time and energy here.
"I don't think they're witches. They might be... just hippies."
"What? Give me that," Dean says, and Sam hands him the papers. Dean frowns, his lips pressing together and going pale as he reads the flyers for the Hippiefest World Tour. He flips through the pages, frowning more at every Folk Music Festival and Hemp Convention that passes through his hands. He finally places the papers down on the table, then arranges them as they were and presses a hand down hard on them. He looks up at Sam, his eyes raw and naked, and he must know that because he closes them.
Sam lifts the hand that's planted on the papers, gives it a squeeze, and tucks Dean into a tight hug.
"I haven't found anything witchy," Dean says, muffled against Sam's chest. "I mean, there are candles, but they're... probably hippie candles. And there was a big bag of weed in the paisley duffle thing."
"Yeah, I found a joint in the bathroom, too. Plus all kinds of "natural" stuff."
"Can we still rip open their mattresses?" Dean asks.
"Of course we can," Sam says, rubbing soothing circles on Dean's back.
When they pull away, Dean's already looking better than he had those few seconds ago. Carefully, oh so carefully, they make surgical incisions at the seams of the mattresses and fish inside. Sam bites his lip as he super-glues the fabric closed, while Dean holds it still for him with one hand and rubs Sam's neck with the other.
A hug is of course required as soon as their door closes behind them. Sam's pretty much used to it by now, so he doesn't think much of it when he opens his arms to Dean and Dean leans into him.
"Not witches," Dean says.
Sam links his hands at the small of Dean's back. "Yeah, but now we can focus on what actually happened, instead of wasting our time spying on some hippies."
"You know," Dean says, his hands slipping casually into Sam's back pockets. "Since they're hippies, them sharing beds is definitely hot. I bet they get high and have orgies."
Sam laughs and they lean apart. Before he lets go of Dean, though, he taps the brim of Dean's cap. "This looks awesome on you."
"Pffft," Dean says, and he snatches it off his head. "Makes me look like a douche, you mean."
Sam raises his eyebrows at him, a smug smile turning up the corners of his lips.
"What, you saying I look like a douche?" Dean squares his shoulders and puffs his chest out. "Little brother, I'll show you a douche."
Sam's head snaps backwards in a gunshot of a laugh, hard and belly-deep. He's still laughing when Dean jumps him, and they tussle on the floor, elbows and knees jabbing, slapping each other playfully, Dean's knees squeezing Sam's thighs as he tries to shove the baseball cap onto Sam's head.
"Giant-- mutant-- head," he puffs, then oofs as Sam gives him a quick, harmless jab to the gut. Sam rolls them, flattens himself out on top of Dean and goes limp, 200 pounds of sweaty dead weight.
"You're the douche," Dean whispers, and that gets Sam laughing again, and he pushes himself up on his elbows. Then finds himself capped, Dean reaching out rattlesnake quick to shove the hat down over his hair. Dean laughs a victory laugh.
"Okay, fine." Sam's cheeks hurt from grinning. He doesn't stop when Dean's arms go around his neck, and Dean pulls him down flat again. Then, Dean's the one who goes limp.
Dean's not laughing anymore either, his muscles tense even as he holds Sam against him, so Sam's smile fades. Seconds tick by, long and awkward, and it feels wrong to be lying in an embrace with Dean when Dean's so obviously miserable about it.
"Look, Dean. I'm going to explain this, and I hope it's okay. I know you... " Sam sighs and drops his forehead to the floor beside Dean's head, and the hat flops onto the ground. "You probably think I hate this, that I'm just being a good sport or whatever. I gotta be honest, though-- I really don't mind. I actually kind of like all the hugging."
Dean moves, muscles shifting, then stills.
"Yeah, I know, I'm a girl. But it, I don't know. It reminds me of when we were younger, when we used to hug all the time. I miss that. Now there's this big space between us, even when it feels like we're good, you know... " Sam has to take a breath, because he's wading in deeper than he'd meant to.
He pushes up onto his elbows again, and is glad when Dean rests his hands on Sam's waist and meets his eyes.
"I hate that this is happening to you, I really do. I don't want to enjoy anything at your expense, right? I'm just trying to tell you not to feel bad on my account. Just worry about what you feel like."
Words fail him then, but he thinks he's said enough anyway; he actually wonders how in the world Dean let him get that far in a 'feelings' talk. Then again, these probably do count as extenuating circumstances.
"Yeah, Sammy," Dean says after another long, weighted silence. His voice is rusty and low, and the grateful look on his face makes Sam want to just hug him.
His smile comes back when he realizes that he can.
They split a six pack between them and eat what snacks they have laying around as they halfway watch some Jack Black movie, carelessly sprawled out together in Dean's bed. After Sam's admission, Dean's been quieter, but he's been more mellow, too. Part of that's probably the baby joint he'd lifted from the hippie chicks' room and smoked in the bathroom half an hour ago, but Sam thinks some of the desperation is gone. Dean has to know now that he's not hurting Sam or creeping him out, and he surely trusts that Sam and Bobby can figure it out, eventually.
Dean is flopped out on his belly, his head and one arm slung out across Sam's naked chest. His bare feet hang over the bed, and it feels weird when he laughs, shaking against Sam's ribcage. Once Sam's finished off his apple, he tosses the core into the waste-bin, licks his fingers clean, then does something he's been wanting to ever since this thing first started.
He skims his hand up the back of Dean's neck, then plunges his hand into Dean's hair. Velvety thick strands of hair tickle the webs between Sam's fingers, and he grins when Dean arches his neck. He'd remembered what Dean liked, too.
He scrubs his hand through, massaging at Dean's scalp and pulling carefully on the longer layers on top. Dean sighs against his belly and goes weak and relaxed against him.
"Yeah?" Sam asks. Dean doesn't answer, but he knows, yeah, Dean loves head massages. So he keeps on, carding his fingers through Dean's hair, scratching and pulling gently in all the places he'd learned when they used to practice giving massages--and if that sounds weird to him now, hell, that's just the kind of thing kids do, when they're cooped up and bored together. It's how Dean learned his neck-massage weakness, too.
In the light from the television, Dean's hair looks silvery, and it feels so soft against Sam's palms, clean and free of product. It's just long enough that Dean'll probably cut it in the next week or so, and he looks softer like this. Sam likes it. He runs his knuckles down Dean's cheek to the four-day growth of stubble along his jaw, flattening his big hand against Dean's cheek and stroking down to feel the soft prickle of it against his palm. Dean, totally trusting, worn out and a little stoned, turns his head into it like a cat, making a pleased noise and squeezing Sam's pec. His callused palm skims over Sam's nipple, and then his thumb follows, and suddenly Sam's heart is racing.
"Gotta pee," Sam whispers, hoping like hell Dean doesn't notice his heartbeat before he gets free.
He does take a piss, and while he's in there he brushes his teeth and rinses his face. Dean wanders in while he's drinking a glass of water.
"Tired," Dean says, eyes red and puffy.
"Me too." Sam slides around Dean, resting a hand on Dean's stomach as he passes. He turns off the TV and the lights and tucks himself into Dean's bed.
After a few minutes Dean comes out, shuffling across the carpet and yawning. He flops into bed and drags Sam's arm over him like a blanket, nestling his back into the curve of Sam's body.
"Night, Dean," Sam whispers.
"Night, Sammy," Dean whispers back.
Movement wakes Sam at some ungodly hour. It's Dean, of course, muttering and twitching, his legs kicking.
"Hey," Sam whispers, putting a big hand against Dean's chest, where his heart is racing. "Hey, Dean, wake up."
Dean stills, then tenses, whips his head around. "What's going on?"
"Dude," Sam says, bumping the side of Dean's face with his forehead. "The weird nightmares. That's why you quit smoking, wasn't it?"
"Fuck," Dean whispers, thumping his pillow. "Yeah."
"'Sokay." Sam stretches his legs and yawns, then relaxes against Dean's back.
Dean's restless now, though. He turns onto his back, scratches his belly, turns away again. He's still long enough for Sam to lose focus and start drifting away, then he gets out of bed. Sam yawns and scrubs his hand against his face as he listens to Dean taking a leak, and he holds up the covers when Dean comes back.
Dean gets in facing him. He snuggles in close, arm going around Sam's back and forehead touching Sam's nose. He's still fidgety, but in a more cuddly way; now he's rubbing Sam's back and side, and up into his hair, and he's scooting in even closer and pressing their bare thighs together. He gets a hand firmly in Sam's hair and stops fidgeting except for his nose sliding along Sam's jaw.
"Night," he rasps, but it's like they're both wide awake now. Maybe it's the adrenaline from the nightmare, or the face-to-face sleeping position, or the strange, charged air in the room. Maybe it's going to storm.
Or maybe Dean's going to rub his thigh slowly up Sam's, dragging his hand down to the nape of Sam's neck and giving it a slow squeeze.
Sam goes still, trying desperately to regulate his breathing. He lets himself be pliant, his arm curled around Dean's back and continuing to rub gently, but he can't move other than that, because, Jesus, Dean's mouth is sliding over his jaw now, nothing like a kiss, just the dry glide of his lips over Sam's skin. And Dean's moving a little too, a slow, shallow rocking, their thighs pressing, drifting apart, pressing again.
Dean's fingers dig hard into Sam's shoulder. "I won't be forced into this," he whispers, still rocking, his mouth still moving against Sam's face. It's so hard for Sam to keep from turning his head, just a little bit, just an inch, so that their lips will brush, so that their open mouths will rub together. Instead, he tilts his mouth away, and Dean continues rubbing his face over Sam's skin. His stubble against Sam's neck tickles and stings and makes Sam hyper-aware of the way his boxers are dragging against the head of his swelling cock.
"Dean," Sam whispers, his hand sliding up the smooth muscle of Dean's back and anchoring itself in Dean's thick hair. He doesn't want to push or pull, doesn't want to force anything to happen or not happen.
It may be that he should stop it, he thinks, as Dean runs his open mouth over Sam's adam's apple, pulling it half-closed in an almost-kiss. It's not the first time that Dean's mouth has been on him since this thing started, but it's the first time Dean's done it on purpose, and something about that makes Sam dizzy and weak. He doesn't groan like he wants to; he goes still again. He wants Dean to take what he wants, even if it's what Sam wants, too.
And Sam wants so badly for his brother to kiss him.
The smooth rocking of Dean's lower body is more pronounced now, and when his hips arch forward, Sam feels the blunt, firm press of Dean's cock against his hip, and he's suddenly so hard he can barely breathe. Dean's mouth skim up Sam's cheek, hovering near the corner of his mouth, wet, hot little puffs of breath curling between Sam's helplessly parted lips.
Dean wrenches away with a strangled sound. "I won't do this because I'm forced," he says to the ceiling, shaking beside Sam.
"Hey," Sam says, pushing up onto his elbow. His voice is thin and shaky. "Are you okay? I'm okay. It's just a thing," Sam says, wishing he was a little more eloquent at-- whatever time this is.
Dean takes a deep, uneven breath, hands curled into fists at his sides, erection still pressing up against the fly of his boxers. He lets his breath out in a whoosh. "Yeah, Sammy, I'm okay. A little weird. You know how I said it... it felt bad, when I didn't? That's all. Just feels a little bad. It'll pass."
"Okay," Sam says. "You... you want a hug?"
Dean laughs, a strange, hoarse laugh. "You know I do. Just without all the dicks involved, 'kay Sammy?"
Sam snorts and rolls to face away from Dean, and he reaches back and drapes Dean's arm around him. He feels Dean scoot a few inches lower down the bed before he snuggles up to Sam, his crotch not touching Sam anywhere.
"No more dicks," Dean reminds Sam, probably just to make him laugh. It works.
Dean is singularly handsome in the morning, his face smooth with sleep, long lashes dark against his cheeks, freckles like cinnamon sprinkled over fresh milk.
He's gorgeous. It's an objective fact, one that Sam had known as soon as he'd learned the concept of attractiveness. For years as a child, his yardstick for how attractive someone was had been how much they reminded him of Dean. In the pictures they had left, Mom was pretty, because she looked a lot like Dean. Dad was okay, because he looked a little like Dean. Krissy in first grade was beautiful, green-eyed and freckled with short, pale hair. Sam would look in the mirror at himself and try to find the Dean parts of himself. It was difficult. His skin was darker, hair darker, eyes darker--though they came close to the color of Dean's sometimes, so they were okay. Birthmarks and spots instead of freckles. Thin lips. Skinny arms and legs, not rugged like Dean's.
He'd felt ugly for a year, staring into the mirror every day and never seeing Dean in himself. Then one day Dean had caught him.
"What are you doing, weirdo?"
Being caught out had shaken Sam, brought tears right up to the surface. He'd turned his face up to Dean's and said, "I'm really ugly, aren't I?"
Usually sensitive to when Sam needed real reassurance or a little bit of teasing instead, Dean had quirked his lips and studied Sam's face. "No way," he pronounced just as the gathering tears threatened to overspill. "You're actually the cutest kid in school."
Sam had latched onto Dean, furiously happy, and he'd cried anyway.
Sam tries to lie as still as he can, watching Dean sleep. He can't believe he'd forgotten that; after that day, he'd felt handsome and confident all through elementary school, certain that wherever they moved, even if he wasn't the cutest kid in the school, he was surely one of the cutest, anyway. Confidence to take him through four years of spoiled brats and bullies and teachers who treated him differently because of his stained, unexpertly mended clothing. All because of a few kind words from Dean.
Dean blinks awake not long after, twitching when he catches Sam looking at him.
"The hell, Sammy?" he says, rubbing at his eyes to clear them.
"Dean. Look." Sam swallows, his heart thumping. "I want you to feel better. We'll figure this out soon."
Dean's looking at him like he usually does when Sam tries to explain anything before coffee.
Sam's brain's getting in the way of what he's trying to do, though, and that's making it even harder. He knows that what he should do and what he wants to do are the same, he just doesn't know how Dean will take it-- later.
He sucks in a hard breath. "In the meantime, you can do this, if you need to."
Dean's still looking at him like one of them is crazy, but Sam ignores that and spreads a hand against Dean's cheek, and he leans forward and kisses him.
It's brief and chaste, and Sam barely gets the feel of Dean's lips before he pulls back to check for Dean's reaction.
There's not much of one; Dean is lying exactly as he was when Sam kissed him, but his eyes are open and aware now.
"You can tell me no, you know, that's fine," Sam says. "But if you want to..."
Dean gives him a shallow nod, his eyes wide and caught on Sam's mouth. Sam dives back in, skimming his fingertips into Dean's hair and kissing him again, sweet kisses, soft kisses, mouths mostly closed, only their lips brushing together. The sound Dean makes is deep and relieved, and he wraps an arm around the back of Sam's neck and presses their mouths together harder. Dean's tongue skims Sam's lower lip, then he's taking it into his mouth and sucking, and Jesus Christ, Sam has never experienced anything so inordinately hot. Dean smashes their chests together and both of their hearts are beating hard, pressed right up against each other.
"God, Sammy," Dean says sloppy against his mouth, then he dips his tongue in to lick at Sam's, and Sam whimpers and squeezes his brother, loving the solid, warm weight of him, loving the soft lushness of his lips and tongue, and the hard tug of his hand in the back of Sam's hair.
Dean pulls away with a deep breath, rolling onto his back. He pants, staring up at the ceiling. "Sammy," he says, his words flavored with awe and affection.
"I... actually did need that. We just gotta take it easy with that stuff, because, you know. Dicks."
Dicks is apparently going to be a thing now, because why not? It totally works. Sam's laughing until his stomach aches, laughing until tears well up in the corners of his eyes. Laughing until he forgets how scared he was to initiate that bit of suprabrotherly love. The kissing, the laughing, they make the morning easier, and Dean looks jaunty and ridiculous sporting his new cap as he brushes out the door to get coffee next door.
Sam's pulling on a pair of track pants--they're running out of hot-weather clothing way too fast--and smiling like an idiot when the phone rings.
"Hey, Bobby," he says.
"Hey yourself. The pictures worked, but... well, there's good news, there's freaky news, and there's bad news."
Sam frowns and sits in front of his laptop. "Go on."
"Good news is, I was able to translate what it says. Freaky news? It took me forever because well, it was written in Ancient Persian, if Ancient Persian was graffitoed onto a cave wall in those godawful third-grader balloon letters."
"What the hell, Bobby?"
"I know, that's what I'm screamin'. I don't think it's a hoax; I've had both old diaries for decades, just never put those two pages together until last week."
Dean shuffles in the door, plunks a coffee down on the table and shoves the hat down crooked onto Sam's head. Sam can't help but give him a quick smile.
"So... what's the bad news, Bobby?"
Dean frowns and sits beside him, his hand smoothing over Sam's back.
"It just... don't make any sense."
After a sip of coffee to buoy his mood, Sam asks, "In what way?"
Bobby doesn't answer right away, and Sam suspects it's because he feels bad for sending them out here on a wild goose-chase, and maybe a little foolish because with all his books and languages and decades of research, one short message has him fuddled.
"Well, I checked it against all three of my Ancient Persian texts and even ran it by a professor friend of mine in Japan, but it's just... nonsense. The most relevant match to anything is the Bible, Matthew 5:22."
Sam's face is twisted up in irritation. "What are the actual words?"
"And you would be a fool to say that if you."
"That's it? Exactly?"
Sam googles the phrase, and sure enough, the first result is Matthew 5:22. The next three pages bring up other bible quotes, songs, cutesy-titled books, and other random crap. But Matthew 5:22 is the first, and it turns up a few other times as well, so Sam opens the first link.
He scans the page, then catches why Bobby might have thought this might be even tangentially related. He reads aloud.
"But I am saying to you, that everyone who will be angry against his brother without cause is condemned before the judge, and everyone who will say to his brother, 'I spit on you', is condemned before the assembly..."
He shares a glance with Dean, then finishes. "And whoever will say 'You fool.' is condemned to the Gehenna of fire."
Dean shakes his head in resigned amusement. "What, is it trying to tell us to be excellent to each other?"
"Seriously, Dean? Bill and Ted?"
"Shut up, you know you get all wet for Keanu." Dean squeezes the muscles of Sam's shoulder, then scoots his chair closer and throws an arm around him.
"Maybe it's just trying to tell us to stop being dicks," Sam says. "Or...."
The good thing about Bobby is, he'll let them babble sometimes. When logic doesn't work, sometimes free association does, and Sam and Dean can riff off of one another like nobody's business. So he's quiet on the line while Sam and Dean spew nonsense at each other and Sam stares at the screen, something niggling at him. He's not able to pick out anything that's relevant to them other than the brothers part, or specific enough that it could help anyone at all. Don't be dicks. Songs.
He sighs and opens a new tab, and this time, in quotes, types "And you would be a fool to say that if you." He clicks Search, then immediately grimaces, leaning back in his chair and folding his hand over his eyes. "Goddamnit."
"What?" Bobby says, voice gruff with concern.
"Bobby, I almost can't believe this, but we've been rick-rolled."
Bobby makes the disgusted sound that Sam is feeling deep in his bones, then punctuates it with a ragged, "Balls."
Sam has a pretty good idea of how it goes from here. If he's wrong, they'll improvise. Whatever. Seething, he finds the song he's looking for, transfers it into his iPod, and informs Dean they have to stop at a Radioshack, then it's hiking time again. Dean makes a disgruntled face, but he goes along with the plan, tension in his shoulders telling Sam that he's quietly hoping for the same thing Sam's hoping for.
They make no mention of it between them, only make their way with purpose to the cave where Dean originally spread the fabric out over the jumble of symbols and carefully taped it down. Where he'd smoothed the wax over the ridges thoroughly, almost lovingly, sinking into a near-Zen state as if he were waxing the Impala over a long afternoon. His hands had been black with wax, and he'd held them curled, palm up, in his lap as Sam drove them back to their room.
They enter the clearing before the mouth of the cave and Sam wedges his iPod and its new little speakers into the branches of a fallen tree. He hits play, and from the moment the first synthesized notes pump out, tinny and terribly, terribly 80's, Sam can tell that they've got it on the nose. The burr of cicadas quiets, and a breeze ruffles the leaves, where the air had been oppressively still ever since they'd entered the woods. Dean wraps an arm around Sam's waist, and they wait.
Rick Astley begins to sing.
We've been trying for a long time
To say what we want to say
But feelings don't come easy
To express in a simple way
But we all have feelings
We all need loving
Dean groans loudly, his discerning taste in music deeply offended. "Oh god, why?" he asks the sky, his voice agonized. Like listening to this song is worse than what he's been through in the last few days. The cicadas have gone utterly silent, the breeze has strengthened, brushing the hair out of Sam's eyes, and Sam can feel a low thrum of power in his bones.
And who would be the fool to say, that if you
Hold me in your arms
I won't feel better
If you hold me in your arms
We can brave this storm together
We both know there's a problem
A problem that we've got to face
So put your trust in me, lover
No-one's ever gonna take your place
"Lover?" Dean demands. "Seriously?" But despite his protests, the activity here in the clearing is intensifying. The breeze has turned into a strong wind, hissing through the trees in a rhythmic sussuration that accompanies the clicks of Casio keyboard drums. It spins into the clearing, leaves twirling and dancing around them. The music swells, far beyond the capacity of the ten dollar speakers, and a light flickers inside the cave.
And damn if it doesn't feel like this shitty Astley song isn't ushering in some magnificent, momentous event.
Sam and Dean exchange weighted glances, seeking reassurance in each other as the tuba solo, or whatever, makes the air shimmer around them.
You only have to hold me
Touch me to make me feel so good
You only have to hold me
To make me feel the way you know I should
The light from the cave brightens until Sam has to shield his eyes against it, and suddenly everything freezes.
A figure walks out of the cave, his shadow stretching long before him. In confident strides he comes, until he's blocking the light and Sam can make out his body and face.
His stupid little short body in rolled-up jeans and a canvas jacket. His stupid, smug little face.
"Oh goddamnit, I was really hoping it wasn't you."
"Ouch, now my feelings are hurt. Who were you hoping for? Link? Aladdin? Plato?" The Trickster takes another step forward and clasps his hands behind his back, grinning. "Who else would have bothered to pull a fast one on Bobby Singer? At least with me, you know what to expect."
Sam notices now that Dean is completely still beside him, that the swirling leaves are frozen in the air, and the only sound is Rick Astley singing, at a much lower volume, his outro of hold me in your arms x infinity. "You think you need to teach us a lesson," Sam says flatly, nostrils flaring in annoyance.
"I do like seeing the both of you squirm," the Trickster says, and that sends a hot flush of embarrassment to Sam's face, "but yes, the lesson is the thing." He cocks his head at Sam expectantly.
"Wha-- " Sam aborts the sentence and regroups. What lesson could this possibly teach? Is it about some sex issue, like he's trying to tell them how very fucked up they are? No, that doesn't sound quite right. They're both already aware of that. Is it about Sam being selfish and getting what he wants even if Dean doesn't want it?
Keeping tight control over his voice, Sam draws his shoulders up square and says, "I get it. I don't want Dean to be anybody's puppet. Not even if it benefits me. I want him to have free will, the right to choose."
The Trickster smirks, his eyes sparkling. "No, that's not it, though it is interesting that you choose that interpretation."
Before Sam can ask why, he makes a sweeping gesture. "Have you noticed, over these horrible, so very trying days, how much happier you've both become, even when you're complaining? Have you noticed how honest you are? How well you get along?"
Sam frowns at him. "Yeah, but I thought it was just part of the--"
"Nuh-uh, Sammy-boy. That was just a happy side effect. And some people say co-dependence is a bad thing."
Dean's arm is an iron clamp around his waist. Sam is flustered and hot, and he was tired of playing games with the Trickster long before they shared this clearing. "What... what is the fucking lesson?"
The Trickster smiles an ironically angelic smile and spreads his arms. "Dean had it right. Be excellent to each other."
Sam grunts in startled disbelief.
"You had it right, too, snuggle bunny. Quit being dicks."
Sam would stomp forward and grab this forever smug god of douchebags by his collar and shake the shit out of him if it weren't for Dean holding him back. "All this, for some lame platitudes?!"
The Trickster nods solemnly. "I'm now using my serious face, so you have to pay attention. If the two of you will just tidy up whatever mess is between you, and maybe, you know, like each other just a little more, you might actually have a chance of living through all this."
They stare at each other as Astley sings quietly.
"Why are you telling me this?"
"Because I kind of like you idiots, and it would be a shame for two such entertaining screw-ups to kick the bucket. That, and you both have things to do, whether I care about them or not."
With a snap of his fingers, the Trickster disappears.
The sounds of the forest come crashing down around Sam, and Dean's arm is suddenly soft and pliable around his waist. Now Rick Astley is singing "Never Gonna Give You Up," though Sam definitely never added that to his iPod.
Dean's arm slips away. He looks down at his hands, and back to Sam, then scowls briefly at the speakers. "What the hell happened just now?"
"How do you feel?" Sam asks instead of answering.
"Well... I feel like I could seriously use a cheeseburger. And that I could actually eat it without having to sit in your lap."
Sam smiles. "That's a good thing, then."
Dean scoops up the iPod and frowns, trying to figure out how to turn the thing off. "Seriously though, what happened?"
Sam takes pity on him, and on his iPod. He reaches out and simply unplugs the speakers. His hands brush against Dean's, and Dean doesn't pull back or make some smart-ass holding hands remark, like he might have done in the past.
"It was the Trickster."
Dean groans, squeezing his eyes closed. "What the hell did he want this time?"
"He told me that we should... Be excellent to each other. And quit being dicks."
Dean's reaction was almost twin to Sam's. "The fuck? We went through three days of me groping you against my will, all for some lame bullshit as the punchline?"
With a nod, Sam says, "But he did say that if we... I guess it boils down to, if we make an effort to be closer and more honest, we might make it through whatever huge and terrible thing is coming."
"Huh. Well, when you put it like that, I guess I can quit pissing in your cheerios."
That yanks a laugh out of Sam. Grinning, he drops his stuff into his bag, and they begin the hike back to the Impala.
Twelve hours and 500 miles north of Forest, Mississippi, Sam settles in his bed, freshly washed and just tired enough, drifting inside a quiet contentment. He nods off to the sound of the shower running.
Then opens his eyes a few minutes later when he feels a weight settle on his bed.
As Dean slips under his covers, Sam's heart speeds and his hands and face tingle. He turns onto his side to see Dean in the motel-dark night.
"Sammy," Dean says quietly. He slides closer, wrapping an arm around his waist, the tension in his body relaxing when Sam slings an arm around his shoulders. "I never meant that I didn't want to do this."
Sam feels little sparks spreading and warming his skin, and his mouth is dry as the desert.
"I just didn't want to do it against my will. Or because you were doing a good job at playing along, or whatever," Dean says.
Sam nods, pulling Dean closer until their foreheads are touching.
"I... I wanted to do it. All of it," Sam whispers. "I'm sorry."
Sam assumes his apology is accepted, because instead of an answer Dean ducks his head in, brushing his lips against Sam's before he kisses him properly, lips warm and soft, and moving with an intent--and more importantly, consent, God, Dean wants him--that makes Sam groan. Dean's thigh slips up between his legs, and Sam opens his mouth and groans again when Dean's tongue slides sinuous and wet against his.
Buried deep inside Sam's duffle, two small speakers come to life, whispering Rick Astley into the night.
Never gonna give you up,
Never gonna let you down
Never gonna run around and desert you
Never gonna make you cry,
Never gonna say goodbye
Never gonna tell a lie and hurt you