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Crossed Wires

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Dean opened his eyes and blinked at the ceiling. Once, twice. He didn’t move, lying there nearly as still as when he’d been a corpse on the same bed.

“Get up, you piece of shit,” he said, loud in the darkened room.

After a minute, moving like a man who’d been beaten within an inch of his life, he began suiting deeds to words.

As he shuffled around the room, finding clothes that weren’t so stiff with dirt or sweat as to be unwearable, he absent-mindedly listed his tasks for the day: Research for a hunt Claire and Krissy were on; avoiding Jody’s lecture about the hunt Claire and Krissy were on; making a few dozen devil’s trap-incised bullets (for Donna); scanning three volumes of an obscure Latin text composed by a mad monk in the 15th century (for Garth); going through the fifth row of the archive room in search of stored evil artifacts that, as a hunter and not a Man of Letters, he had no compunction destroying (that one was all his own priority).

Dean had started talking to himself a lot. In love with the sound of his own voice, Sam would have told him if he could, even though Sam knew it was Dean trying not to go (further) out of his mind. Now that he’d reset all the wards around the Bunker, not even Castiel could show up to surprise him by answering back.

Bobby had left them a hefty chunk of cash, all told, and Dean had been transferring it to an account for Claire at the steady pace of a thousand dollars a week. He would’ve done it faster, but apparently the feds didn’t like large sums floating around like that. He would’ve given it to Jody instead, of age and with a better head on her shoulders than any hunter had a right to claim, but Jody might have asked awkward questions like, why are you getting rid of all your money, Dean?

Sam didn’t have any need to ask. He’d known from the moment Dean had worked out the math of it and taped a calendar next to the mirror in the bathroom. He still wasn’t sure how Dean planned to do it, but he was guessing Dean wanted some way that didn’t leave too much of a mess for the girls to clean up, which ruled out a gun.

Today was the first day of the month, so after Dean brushed his teeth and splashed some water on his face, he ceremonially crossed off the previous day, then ripped off the entire page. He chuckled grimly. “If you didn’t want me leavin’, Sam, you shouldn’t’ve checked out first,” Dean told the empty air.

“I didn’t!” Sam protested, as he always did. “Dean! I’m right here!”

But the hope that strong emotion would break through to Dean was no more valid than it had been for the past four months. Or, really, for most of Sam’s life.

****

Castiel returned to Dean after another month of fruitless effort searching for Sam in Heaven and Hell. Sam watched, raging without being heard as Dean’s face grew bleaker with every word Castiel spoke detailing his inquiries. Dean was sitting at the big world map table, a bottle of Jack nearly empty over the Falkland Islands and his eyes like category 5 hurricanes.

“He said,” Dean choked out, “the Reaper told him, no more resurrections. Just nothing, when we died.”

If Sam had known what was going to happen, he would’ve kept that confession to himself, because of how it had misled Dean and Castiel as to his current situation. Sam still wasn’t clear on the details of Rowena’s final spell. Vengeance, he got. Sam had forced her to kill the only child she’d ever loved, had clawed his way out of her best trap and defeated her in front of her son and the Devil she worshiped, and Sam had only one person to take away in return. Even now, he couldn’t be entirely furious that she’d chosen this method, rather than killing Dean in front of him with her last gasps of existence.

He wasn’t a ghost. No cold followed him; strong emotions didn’t let him move objects. There was no body left behind to burn. He didn’t, truth to tell, think he was technically dead. Just … on another plane of existence, half-intersecting with the mortal one. Able to walk through doors, but also able to sit on chairs. Like Wile E. Coyote: he believed he wouldn’t fall through the floor, so he didn’t.

In his worst moments, he thought that metaphor had become reality. Unheard, unseen by the people who claimed to care the most about him; unable to affect the world in any way he wanted. Helpless and voiceless, no matter how loud he yelled.

He’d been able to accept the hunter’s life because of the things he could do: saving people, stopping pain. Without that, there was only his lack of choices and his front row seat to Dean’s despair.

Castiel reached the end of his spiel and waited for Dean to rage at him about how he hadn’t done enough yet. Instead, Dean stared out into infinity. Castiel frowned. He pulled a chair close to Dean’s and sat down, awkwardly putting his hand over Dean’s on the table, his arm falling over the outline of Australia.

“I think Sam would say that he is content with that result,” Castiel said.

“No, Sam would not say that!” Sam burst out, unheard. Maybe he would’ve, before Rowena had transported him to this half-life. But watching his brother suffer, helpless even to speak to him, made all the difference. He’d thought he’d seen Dean trying to drink himself to death in the year after Dean came back from Hell; he’d had no idea. If Castiel didn’t regenerate Dean’s liver on his way out, Dean wouldn’t make it another six months.

Dean smiled, the way he did when he was accepting the world’s cruelty to him as only his due. “We’ve thought one of us was gone before,” he said. “Hell, we’ve thought one of us was back. I had to check.”

“Dean—” Castiel said. Sam wasn’t sure how that would have ended if Castiel had found the words.

Dean stood and clapped Castiel on the shoulder. “Thanks, Cas.” It was a dismissal, and Castiel knew it.

“I have other angels to attend to,” he said. “There are still many who fell and have not fully grasped their choices.”

Dean nodded.

“I’ll call,” Castiel said, his longing to be asked to stay so clear that even Dean couldn’t’ve missed it.

“Yeah,” Dean said. He picked up his tumbler and stared into it until the whisper of wings told him that the angel was gone. Then his face clenched up like a fist as he collapsed into himself. The noise he made was like metal tearing. The glass crashed to the floor, dark whiskey and gleaming shards everywhere and nothing Sam could touch. Nothing Sam could help clean up.

****

It was creepy, Sam knew, but he had nothing to do but follow Dean around. He couldn’t be caught watching—he could’ve followed Dean into the shower and not been noticed; he’d even tried, in the hope that he’d displace steam like an invisible man, but no dice. There’d been a time he would have used this situation as a chance to ogle Dean, or maybe to try to shake his obsession with Dean (as if seeing Dean unguarded would kill his wants more than seeing him belch and scratch his balls ever had). But now, his vigil wasn’t about desire at all, and not only because he’d had years to become used to what he felt. It was about bearing witness, because someone should.

His brother wouldn’t ever put it this way, but Dean was hanging on because he was still halfway trying to save the world. He couldn’t work up the energy to go out and hunt—and that was good, because Sam didn’t trust him not to get himself accidentally-on-purpose killed—but he could preserve his knowledge for the next generation of hunters, and that’s exactly what he was doing, along with defanging anything in the Bunker that could pose a danger to the uninformed.

Sam paced the hallways of the Bunker, learning every nook and cranny because he was going to have a use for it when he was corporeal again. He was probably going a little nuts already, but he’d go further down the rabbit hole if he let himself give in to despair. There was always a chance. Their lives were testimony to that, if nothing else.

He wasn’t sure what would happen when he stopped believing that Dean would discover his predicament, but he was confident it wouldn’t be good.

He found a room that had been wallpapered in old newspaper editions, and spent a couple of days reading the almost illegible old stories, just out of desperation for something to do with his brain. Before color television, people had spent a lot more time at bizarre community events, like a chicken plucking contest (there was a picture of the winner—holding the real loser, a bird that looked like it weighed half a pound at most).

He found three secret passages they hadn’t known about by virtue of walking through walls and seeing whether he found anything. He also found a sealed-off room with three mummified corpses in late-1920s formalware, sitting around a summoning table. He’d seen enough mummified corpses to be able to tell that their faces weren’t right. The angles were stretched, or too sharp; their clothes sat awkwardly on them, as if the bodies beneath had joints in the wrong places. The unfamiliar symbols written on the table, in what looked like a mixture of congealed fat and blood, made his eyes hurt, and even though he didn’t think anything could hurt him while he was in this state, he got out of there quickly.

One night, Sam didn’t bother to go back to his room, where the covers were never drawn back anyway, and where the book he’d been reading before Rowena’s spell hit would never open for him. With everything else, he was still pretty peeved that he was never going to know whether the captain would be able to beat the tyrant at her own game. He hardly ever slept more than a few hours there, thus the watching Dean wake thing (not to mention his terror at the prospect of the day Dean didn’t wake, or choked on his own vomit while Sam tried fruitlessly to shift him onto his side).

Dean’s room was a part of Dean, and Sam didn’t have anywhere to be, so he stayed. When Dean finally passed out, Sam gave in and laid down on the bed next to him. He would’ve tried to hug Dean, but he couldn’t bear the fact that Dean’s body would be unyielding and ignorant of his presence.

Faster than he would’ve expected, lulled by the sound of Dean’s ragged, drunken breathing—distressing and familiarly reassuring in equal measure—he slept.

And dreamed: He and Dean were in the dungeon, except that it wasn’t clean and partially overtaken with bookshelves the way it was in reality. Instead, the floor was dark with dried blood and other fluids, and the walls were decked with every torture implement Sam had ever seen in arcane texts and a few he’d never even thought possible.

Dean was sitting in the chair in the center, tied down like he was a demon.

Sam strode over to him and bent to untie him.

“Whoa!” Dean said, which surprised Sam into stepping back.

“What?” Sam asked, annoyed. Even his mental model of Dean was a pain in his ass.

“Don’t,” Dean ordered. “You think I’m sittin’ here for my health? You know the drill. Get busy with the holy water.”

“Why do you want me to hurt you?” Sam asked. He had a range of answers of his own, but he wanted to hear what Dean would say.

Dean rolled his eyes. Sam glared, and Dean caved. “Don’t wanna wake up and have it be worse.”

Wait a second. Sam’s dream-Dean wasn’t ever going to wake up. A wild hope throbbed in Sam’s chest, and he swallowed and controlled his breath, forcing his body into calming. He couldn’t risk waking himself.

The sound of Dean snapping his fingers—even tied up, he could find ways to be extra annoying—brought Sam’s head up. “Am I boring you?” Dean asked. “Come on, I know I say having nothing to do is like torture, but you gotta know that’s an exaggeration.”

“I’m not going to torture you.”

“Really, Sammy?” Dean smiled, and his eyes went black. Sam reared back automatically, even though he knew the demon in Dean was gone. Not that he’d ever fully understood the relationship between the demon and the human—it wasn’t just about soullessness, but—was it possible that the demon was still part of Dean?

No. This was unreal, and it was about fear. Instead of naked in school on the day of the test, he got black-eyed Dean. And maybe so did Dean, in his own dreams.

“C’mon,” Dean drawled. “Don’t wuss out on me. You know you’re still mad. All that shit I pulled. Stuffing Gadreel down your throat, Kevin, the Mark of Cain.”

In a dream, he could admit it. “Part of me will always be mad, Dean. But I’ve done enough stupid stuff for you that I’m not going to let it change how I feel about you.”

Dean’s eyes (green again) widened, as if he hadn’t expected such honesty from Sam. Sam circled him and began untying his wrists. The dream hadn’t even bothered to make the ropes spell-soaked and demon-proofed. Even Dean with his regular strength and savvy could’ve busted out at will.

“Why are you doing this?” Dean asked, almost plaintive.

“Because you don’t deserve to be treated like this,” Sam told him. “Both of us, we’ve paid enough.”

Sam didn’t have time to see what Dean’s reaction to that was, because Dean was moving, turning, punching—

Sam jack-knifed up in the bed, next to his brother moving restless but still asleep.

“Ow,” he said, because why not. It felt as if Dean really had punched him. He worked his jaw—yep, still hurt—and winced again when he touched his fingertips to the line of his jaw, where the skin felt hot, as if it were already swelling. Dean had left the bathroom light on. Sam rushed over to the mirror and saw, in his impossible reflection, a bruise swelling the side of his face.

He staggered back, then let himself slide to the floor as the implications hit him.

Dean had punched him in the dream. In the dream, their dream, they could interact. If he could make a mark on Dean, one that persisted into the waking world, then just maybe Dean would believe that Sam was here.

Of course, that required falling asleep again, apparently in close proximity to Dean, and the chances that he’d calm himself down enough to do that any time soon were about the same as his chances of opening the mail and finding a scholarship to Stanford Law.

Back in the bed, Dean was turning over, into the space that Sam hadn’t left warm for him. Lost in that world where Dean, apparently, went back to suffer in every night, and Dean considered that the better dream option.

It was this kind of shit that made it so hard to resign himself to their lives. For himself, he’d come to terms with it. When he saw how Dean had fed so much of himself into the meat grinder of their existence, though, he just wanted—

Things he couldn’t have, not even if he was in the same plane of existence.

****

Four frustrating and sleepless nights later, he succeeded.

Dean was tied up and waiting, and Sam didn’t waste time.

“Dean,” he said. “It’s me. I’m not dead.”

Dean rolled his eyes just as he had the first time, and Sam backhanded him. “When you wake up,” Sam continued, “you’ll be bruised, just like I was bruised last time when I woke up after you punched me in the dream.”

Dean worked his jaw. “Gotta give you credit,” he said, “that’s new.”

“It’s new because I just realized I could talk to you in your dreams,” Sam explained. “Whatever else you’ve been dreaming, that’s not really me. I only managed to enter your dreams four nights ago. But I’ve been here with you all along.”

Dean raised an eyebrow. “Think I would’ve noticed my dead brother hanging around,” he said with delicate contempt.

“No, Rowena did something—I’m invisible. And I can’t touch anything, can’t give you a signal. I’m so sorry you had to go through this—”

“Yeah, you show up five months after my brother died, a likely fucking story.”

“I didn’t know I could reach you, Dean! I only figured it out after—” Sam coughed and shifted on his feet. “After I fell asleep next to you. I’m keeping an eye on you, and one night I didn’t bother to leave—I guess, proximity?” He tried to look unassuming and little-brotherly, because inserting two decades of incestuous longing was a little more drama than this conversation needed.

“Oh-kay,” Dean said, “the creepy stalker scenario was already a given, but that is really taking it to the next level.”

“I’m your brother,” he insisted. “Look, I—I can tell you what happened to the car that one time in ’95.”

Dean’s furrowed-brow glare was unimpressed. “I know what happened. You really do think I’m a fucking moron, don’t you?”

“Technically, you think that you think I think you’re a moron—but no! Dad never figured it out, and he could smell me acting out, so I thought—”

Dean grinned, not nicely. “He never knew you like I did, Sammy.”

“My grades, my class schedule—”

A headshake. “Followed ‘em.”

Of course Dean had. “Anything, Dean. Something you don’t know, that you could confirm with the right amount of research.”

Dean sighed and closed his eyes. “We lived in each other’s pockets practically our whole lives, and we told each other our secrets a long time ago. I even know what drinks your girl Amelia liked. All you’re proving is that Sam was my whole world, and I think we both knew that already.”

Sam gaped at him. Dean was stubborn, yes. But to dismiss Sam like he was nothing, by saying how much he cared—which he’d never say so casually if he thought Sam was real—it was like having an I-beam shoved into his chest.

Dean yawned showily. “Can we get back to the punching? The one benefit of you bein’ dead is not havin’ to hear you yammer on and on.”

Sam’s hands clenched into fists despite himself. Dean couldn’t help being infuriating, he knew that, but that didn’t make being on the receiving end any more fun.

So he punched Dean again, aiming to create a matching bruise on the other side of his face. He didn’t want to do real damage, but a few punches between brothers had never been out of bounds. “When you wake up,” he said, “don’t try to explain this as some drunken sleepwalking. It’s me, Dean.” He put all his sincerity into the statement, as he had with the punch.

Dean took a minute, which made sense because that had been a good hit. “Working off some aggression, Sammy?”

Sam grabbed Dean’s upper arms and squeezed, making sure to spread his fingers and thumbs so that the marks would be distinct. “This is me, sending a message to you. You need to figure out what Rowena did to me.” Not that Dean would believe that Sam was Sam, at first, but he could get Dean there with enough time, as long as Dean understood that he wasn’t alone in his dreams. “And don’t think we’re not talking about how you dream about being a demon again when I get back,” Sam said.

“Sure, ‘cause your nightmares are all scary clowns and naked in school,” Dean sneered.

“Yeah, and if this was a nightmare instead of the dream you preferred, I’d buy that.”

“Give you credit, you sound just like Sammy, all psychoanalytic and shit.”

Sam leaned back and smiled down at Dean. “You know, if this is just you dreaming, then you’re coming up with the psychoanalysis.”

Dean’s close-mouthed smile, which must have been painful from the recent hits, was faintly bitter. “We both know I’m only the dumb one compared to you.”

There was no way he could survive a full night of this. Dean knew every button Sam had, most of which he’d hand-carved, and he had no reason to hold back, thinking Sam wasn’t real. Sam pushed his hair back from his face and ordered himself to wake up. Nothing. Before, it had been Dean’s punch, but he didn’t think letting Dean free was a great idea. Dean still thought this was unreal, and Dean might manage to do some real damage in the seconds before Sam was ripped back to consciousness.

He pinched his arm. He felt the twinge, but the dream-world didn’t waver around him.

“That’s good, dude, real convincing,” Dean was saying, and Sam struggled to tune him out.

The dungeon looked pretty much like it did in real life, so Sam headed towards a wall, intending to kick it. But the distance stretched out—with every step, the wall was farther away—and when Sam looked over his shoulder, Dean was only a few feet away, as if he’d moved along with Sam.

Okay, right, this was Dean’s dream, and Sam could either fight him for control, or think of a way around him.

Or—under. Before his expression could give him away, Sam raised his foot and slammed it back into the concrete floor, toes first.

He came awake cursing, doubling over to clutch at the wounded appendage. Damn, it felt like he’d broken at least two toes. Beside him, Dean moaned and turned over, now on his belly and reaching underneath his pillow for the gun he kept there. (Sam sometimes thought of Dean as a reverse princess and the pea: Dean probably couldn’t get a good night’s sleep without the shape of a weapon under his head. For whatever value of good night’s sleep Dean ever got, anyway.)

Sam wondered who’d replaced him in the dream. What Dean’s dream-Sam did, or said. Dean undoubtedly created a Sam who said all the vicious things Dean believed about himself, and Dean swallowed them down like whiskey.

Lying on the bed next to his unconscious brother, who might flail a hand through him at any moment, was awkward, so Sam got up.

Sam didn’t need to exercise any more than he needed to eat, but he couldn’t just sit around staring at Dean. He took a few walks around the Bunker, committing the layout further into muscle memory. He wandered into the kitchen, and missed Dean’s sandwiches with a pain that was almost like true hunger.

He remembered being soulless; sleep had been unnecessary and not missed, except that other people got annoyingly tired and failed to keep up with him. This was almost the opposite, like he was only soul, but not white and glowy. Hungry only for Dean, and the ability to go help people. Maybe Rowena had tried to strip out his soul, but Winchester souls were already so gummy and damaged that she achieved this half-life for him instead.

Periodic checks on Dean revealed nothing more than Dean’s slowly changing angle across the bed.

Usually (for Winchester values of usual) they could get through days without a word spoken, and it didn’t necessarily mean that something was wrong between them. If they were between hunts, or deep in research for one, they had their roles and they moved around each other with the grace of acrobats who’d been throwing and catching one another their whole lives. Experts at being tumbled.

There was a world of difference between not needing to talk to Dean and not being able to.

At long last, when the clock on the bedside table said it was nearly nine, Dean groaned, and it was his don’t-wanna-wake-up groan. Still mostly asleep, he flopped over, releasing his grip on his gun.

There was something off, something not right. Sam couldn’t figure it out, because Dean looked just like he always—

Shit, shit, shit.

Why the fuck was Dean not bruised like Sam had been?

Dean froze, as if he too was remembering his dream.

“Please, Dean,” he said, but Dean might not have heard him even if he’d been there for real.

Dean jumped up and headed to the bathroom, pulling his shirt off over his head as he went.

Sam forced himself to watch as Dean checked, and checked again, looking for finger-shaped bruises that weren’t there.

Dean braced his hands on the sink and let his head sink below his shoulders. “You stupid, stupid fuck,” he said, low and ragged.

Then he punched the tile wall beside the mirror, hard enough that Sam knew he’d broken at least two bones even before the hand started to swell.

It was only in the shower that Dean let himself curl into a ball, like an animal. Sam could barely hear his barking sobs over the sound of the falling water.

****

There was no reason the marks should have stayed on Sam and not on Dean. No reason other than that Sam was bewitched into a transparent state and maybe everything else was weird for him too, but Sam couldn’t think that way. No reason other than the epic cruelty of life to Winchesters, to snatch away the one bit of efficacy Sam had thought he’d been able to find.

Maybe it was that Sam was more open to the reality of dreams, and Dean was too much of a nonbeliever in everything at this point. And now he’d be five times harder to convince.

Possibly Dean wasn’t letting the damage stick around into reality. From what Dean had said, he let his dream-projection Sam beat him up even before Sam had actually shown up in his head. Dean was protecting himself from disappointment, in a really fucked-up way; neither his mind nor his body would recognize standard wounds as anything other than dreams.

The next night, sleep came quickly, despite his fears. Evidently you could wear yourself out with worry even without having a body to wear out.

Dean laughed shortly when he spotted Sam. “Good one,” he said, nodding his head as if in real respect. “Gotta admit, you had me for a minute there. And you even kept the bruise, that’s—that’s almost poetic.”

“Dean,” Sam said, his voice thick with sorrow, but the rage on Dean’s face told him that there’d be no progress tonight. He had to pretend to be the dream-Sam Dean believed in, or Dean might really hurt him. The best he could do was make this as easy as possible on Dean.

“You don’t have to do this, you know,” Sam said. “Look—Castiel couldn’t find me, right? If he’s right, Sam’s at peace.”

Dean raised his eyebrows. “You think Sam’s the only one I gotta make stuff up to? That’s pretty self-centered.”

Sam opened and closed his mouth a few times, trying to work that one through. “Okay, yeah, but why do you think you hurting will do anything to, to pay off what you owe?”

“It can’t,” Dean acknowledged. “But—” he looked away from Sam, which said something about Dean’s issues since he thought he was talking to himself—“it keeps me from goin’ out and killing everything I see.”

Sam still didn’t get it. Self-sacrifice and internalized rage, sure. But he couldn’t base his reactions on how he would have dealt, in the same situation. Dean lived in the world differently than Sam did, turning outwards what he couldn’t keep inside. Dean was fully capable of going on a rampage, and maybe a dream outlet was the best possible outcome.

Inflicting physical pain would be easiest, though not for him.

And there was a possibility he could think up something that Dean would unconsciously recognize as external. That might be enough to convince Dean’s body to reflect the dream on waking. At the same time, he couldn’t dare something so big that it would be hard to heal. He couldn’t risk the chance that serious damage would pass into the real world. Dean could wake up with a bleeding wound and be unable to—worse, decide not to—sew himself up.

But he’d learned a thing or two about inflicting pain, even if he hadn’t had Dean’s exposure to both sides of the torturer’s rack.

Also, it was possible that he did have a few years of resentment worked up. Dean would forgive him for a bit of slapping around.

“Okay,” he said. “Let’s get started.”

****

Small broken bones didn’t work. Dislocated shoulders didn’t work. Bruised ribs didn’t work. Cigarette burns didn’t work. Even abrading a patch of skin the size of Sam’s palm, which almost made him throw up in the middle of the dream, didn’t work. Every day Dean threw himself into bed almost enthusiastically. And every morning Dean crossed another day off of his calendar, racing towards the time when Sam wouldn’t get a chance to visit his dreams any more.

Sam didn’t want to get creative, the way Dean would’ve out of his inherent need for pride in any craft, no matter how awful.

He sliced off Dean’s nipple (he’d read that they could grow back) and Dean accepted the loss like it was nothing. And in real life, it was nothing.

Also, and Sam knew this was horrible, Dean was kind of a boring victim. He took pain like it was his job, offering only a rough exhale instead of a whimper or a scream even with the most vicious of blows. The surroundings were dream-vague and not at all capable of providing a distraction. When Sam slacked off, Dean would taunt Sam with every failing he could think of, and he certainly had accumulated a list. Sam had known that Dean hung on to his resentments despite the promise of forgiveness, but he hadn’t appreciated quite how detailed Dean’s memories were. Or how one-sided.

It was a more exquisite combination of horrific uselessness and mandatory sadism than Lucifer had ever been able to come up with in the Cage.

And every time Sam got fed up with his self-sabotaging, inflexible, infuriating older brother, Dean would bust out with something that made Sam remember why he wasn’t going to give up fighting to return to Dean.

“… complainin’ about being left at Plucky Pennywhistle’s,” Dean said. “Tell you what, we shoulda switched places, you’d have had something to bitch about.”

Sam snorted. “Yeah, because hitting on girls is so terrible.”

Dean shook his head, like he couldn’t believe Sam was so dense. “Even after you grew up, you still think that’s what I was doing?”

His stomach dropped. “Why don’t you tell me.”

“Dad didn’t leave much cash, ever. First it was so I wouldn’t blow it all playing video games, like I did when I was a kid and you nearly got eaten by the shtriga. Then … Dad didn’t have many marketable skills, either; it wasn’t like he had a trust fund. A lot of the time, he could barely fill up the tank.” Dean’s eyes were hazy with memory. “If we were gonna eat, I was gonna have to feed us.” Sam closed his eyes. How many signs had he ignored, first from ignorance and later from denial? His chest throbbed with sadness, for Dean, for himself, for those long-ago children doing the best they could.

“Don’t cry, Sammy,” Dean mocked. “Not like I didn’t get off, just not the way you thought.”

“If you liked it so much, you wouldn’t be using it as a reason your life sucked because of me,” Sam pointed out.

Dean opened his mouth, but pretty obviously had no response to that.

“You know what?” Sam said. “I’m tired of these games.” He could get angry, too. He hadn’t let himself feel hot rage in years, because it had gone so terribly wrong before, but he remembered how to allow it to happen. “Get up,” he said before Dean could mouth off.

In response, Dean flexed his arms against his bindings, which were yellow and cartoonishly puffy.

“We both know you could get out any time you want,” Sam told him. “Do it.”

Dean bit his lip, considering, then pulled sharply upwards. There was a ripping sound and the ropes fell to the floor. “We gonna fight?”

“Up to you,” Sam said. “I was more thinking you’d put your hands up against the wall while I used my belt, but feel free to make suggestions.”

Dean’s eyes widened to near-anime proportions.

“I figure you like this position because it reminds you of being a demon, when you didn’t feel guilty about anything, but this is way too much like being trapped in a repeating day for me. I was over that one the first time it happened.”

“Whoa,” Dean managed. “Sammy-in-my-head, you really know how to get your freak on.”

Sam shrugged. “You want pain and I can’t think of anything better to do than give it to you. Don’t try to tell me you don’t get off on it, just a little.”

Dean’s cheeks flushed, and he ducked his head as if he really needed to watch his left hand rub at his right wrist.

And then, because Dean was just about as much of a badass as he thought he was, he attacked, giving Sam almost no warning other than the way that the rest of the room grayed out, as if Dean wasn’t paying even glancing attention to it any more. Sam managed to shift enough to take Dean’s blow on his shoulder instead of his chest, and then they were grappling. Dean didn’t know that what he did lived on afterwards; he might do Sam real harm.

Sam imagined Dean barefoot and stomped on Dean’s instep. Dean grunted with pain and Sam took the opportunity to swing him around, shoving him face-first against the wall Sam had moved to within inches of them and letting him bounce off. Dean’s nose broke and a cut opened up over his eye, blood obscuring his vision and throwing off his lunge at Sam. Sam flickered to the side like a ghost and grabbed Dean’s right arm, levering it up behind his body so that Dean had to stop moving or dislocate the shoulder. Before Dean could decide on option B, Sam had him by the collar and pressed against the wall again, shoving his knee between Dean’s legs and pushing hard enough against Dean’s inner thigh to keep them spread wide and off-balance.

“If this is how you wanna play it, I’m game,” Sam said, because if Dean thought Sam was leery of a fight then Dean would keep fighting, and he’d eventually get the drop on Sam. Even torturing himself, Dean couldn’t stop being competent, and he’d soon figure out how to use dream logic same as Sam had. He dragged on the collar, shaking Dean’s head hard enough to make him dizzy. “Or are you gonna take your punishment like a man?”

Dean’s one unobscured eye blinked furious green at him, and his jaw twitched. “Fine,” he spat after a minute. “You gonna back off or is a body cavity search part of the service?”

Sam snorted and moved away just enough to let Dean comply with Sam’s original instructions. Perhaps unsurprisingly—and wow, Sam had not thought this one through—Dean paused to unbutton and strip off his overshirt, then his tee. Of course, you couldn’t get a good whipping through cloth.

Dean’s back was arguably his best feature, other than his face. Broad and smooth, interrupted only by freckles, it hadn’t been scarred even before his resurrection, because Dean looked his dangers in the face. His shoulders were rounded with muscle, the defined swell of his biceps bracketing the hills and valleys formed by the contrast of his deltoids and his shoulderblades as he arched a little, showing off because Dean couldn’t not preen, even in front of his supposedly self-created dream version of his brother.

“You gettin’ paid by the hour, or what?” Dean groused, not two seconds after he’d braced his hands on the wall.

Sam answered that by unbuckling his belt and wrapping it carefully around his hand, the way Dad had when he had tanned their asses.

Because he couldn’t see Dean’s face, the little grunts he let out with every hit were even harder to distinguish from his sex noises, the kind that used to come from the bed next to Sam at night before he fled to Stanford. Sam carefully didn’t watch Dean’s hips flex with each stroke. Yes, he knew Dean liked a certain kind of pain. Even before Hell, Dean had never minded a girl clawing up his back. That had never been Sam’s thing, either giving or receiving, but seeing Dean so obviously aroused by the sensation had an effect on him.

“You love this,” Sam said wonderingly, not even meaning to say it out loud. “I could make you ask, couldn’t I.” Dean’s whole body jumped as Sam punctuated his words with another strike, hard across Dean’s shoulderblades. “Beg for it.”

In a flash, Dean had their positions reversed, Sam shoved against the wall with Dean’s hands fisted in his shirt, their bellies pressed together as Sam’s hand holding the belt flopped nervelessly by his side. Maybe Dean had made their heights more equal in the dream, but regardless he was pressing Sam into the wall with irresistable force.

“An’ what would you beg for, Sammy?” Dean demanded. Fuck, they were both hard, the thick line of Dean’s cock pressing hot through layers of fabric against Sam’s thigh. Sam’s head thunked back against cold concrete as Dean snarled and pressed his face into Sam’s neck. Dean’s humid breath made Sam shiver full-body, and then Dean closed his mouth, biting hard enough that he might’ve tasted blood—

And Sam woke up, barely managing to roll himself off the bed and painfully onto the floor before he ripped open his jeans and started stripping his dick. The orgasm ripped through him like lightning; he was shaking, helpless, suddenly cold and alone.

When Dean woke, he cursed and went to throw his crusted boxer shorts into the washer. If Sam had been able to speak so that Dean could hear, he would’ve told Dean that there were worse situations: it turned out that, when you were incorporeal but had somehow brought your clothes along with you, there was no obvious way to get come stains out of them. And he was leery of taking his jeans off entirely, in case they’d disappear or become unmanipulable, because it would be just like Rowena to create a spell that ended up with him butt naked all the time.

Also, human bites stung like a motherfucker. At least there were no bacteria to make him ill, here.

****

Sam spent most of the day debating with himself, which probably wasn’t the best sign of mental health. At least Lucifer wasn’t showing up to weigh in.

Dean was a few weeks away from his self-imposed deadline. There was a chance that Jody would sense his intent and guilt him into continuing, or that Castiel would return in time to keep Dean from slipping away. But Sam couldn’t rely just on chance. And Dean had been aroused in the real world; that transferred.

It was their last line, the one countless of Chuck’s fans and not a few people who knew them in reality had assumed they’d crossed. Sam had never allowed it to happen, even during the periods he’d actively wanted it. There was no way to be sure that Dean chose it for himself, instead of to keep Sam around. Sam might be functionally a serial killer, but there were some things he wouldn’t do.

Except—he would, he absolutely would, if there was a chance of getting through to Dean. And, if this Hail Mary pass—Dean would’ve made the dirtiest joke imaginable at that phrase, God—if this failed, and even if Dean didn’t believe it was him, Sam needed Dean to know. He needed to confess his deepest sin, deeper because he wasn’t convinced it was a sin.

He thought he’d have trouble sleeping, but spending a whole day fretting had its upsides. He laid down next to Dean and was out like his batteries had been removed.

Some amount of time later, the lights flickered on in the dungeon chamber. Dean had joined him.

“I thought we’d try something different tonight,” he said, before Dean could try for the upper hand by offering some cutting observation about last night’s events. He raised his hand and the ropes that always held Dean down were gone. He stepped towards Dean, bringing himself within arms’ length.

“That’s cheating,” Dean objected, but he didn’t bring them back.

“No, that’s accepting reality. Right now, you and I are talking in a dream. And in a few weeks, you’re going to kill yourself, right? So I won’t get this again.”

“You don’t have it now,” Dean said, but almost like he was enjoying himself. Dean stood, so they were face to face. He couldn’t feel Dean’s breath—there was almost never any temperature in the dream world—but he would have, if they’d been real.

Sam stood to his full height, not exactly looming but close. “I don’t like hurting you, Dean.”

“Thought I made it pretty clear I don’t care what you want,” Dean said.

“Just for once, let’s do what I want to do.” Sam put his hand on Dean’s arm, firm but not squeezing. He widened his eyes and tilted his head just a fraction, because he wasn’t above using blatant manipulation.

Dean tried to keep a straight face, but Sam could see the smile struggling just underneath the surface. “You’re me, and you’re still a whiny bitch.”

Sam let his expression indicate what he thought of that.

“Fine,” Dean sighed. “What do you want to do?”

Sam leaned forward, pulling Dean toward him at the same time, and kissed Dean. Dean’s lips were soft, warm, like anyone else’s physically. All the difference was in the feeling.

Dean jerked free of Sam’s grasp. “No,” Dean said, breathing fast. He wouldn’t meet Sam’s eyes. “I promised myself I’d never—”

“What does it matter now, Dean?” Dirty pool, but he was done playing gentle with Dean. “If you want it and I want it, who’s left to say no?”

“Sammy,” he said, not more than a breath.

“I love you,” Sam told him. “In every way I know how. Some I don’t even like. This isn’t one of those.”

The shocked O of Dean’s mouth was pornography all on its own. Combined with his dilated eyes and pinked cheeks, he was pure sex. Sam swayed towards him without even meaning to.

Dean trembled, but didn’t pull back. Sam kissed him again, bringing his hand up to cup Dean’s cheek, and Dean settled into the kiss, mouth opening in surrender, like a sunflower unfurling for the sun.

Sam pulled away just long enough to see that they were still in the dungeon, and he switched the scene to Dean’s bedroom with a blink. Another blink, and they were naked—Dean jerked in surprise, but Sam had his fingers pressing against Dean’s neck and Dean was too busy gasping and hanging on to Sam’s waist to make any smart remarks.

He pushed Dean back onto the bed. He bit at the contours of Dean’s jaw, sucked bruises in a line down Dean’s neck. Cain and Castiel and even the monsters who’d torn holes in Dean had all had a piece of him, and Sam was determined to beat them all.

“I shouldn’t get this,” Dean mumbled, almost to himself.

Sam didn’t have enough brain cells to deal with Dean’s self-loathing. “Doesn’t matter,” he managed. “I want it, so you have to get it with me.”

He fumbled on the nightstand and found lube—fancy stuff, nothing like what Dean would have in the real world, but there was something to this dreamscape thing, and it was slick and natural-feeling on his fingers. He wanted Dean to wake sore, and so he started with two fingers. Dean arched up and he put his other hand on Dean’s chest, pressing him down. “Let me,” he said, and Dean groaned. His head was turned halfway into the pillow, baring the curve of his neck where Sam had mottled the skin. Dean shuddered and hooked his hands under his knees, pulling them up so that he was almost folded in half under Sam’s hands, spread wide and vulnerable.

Sam cursed under his breath and closed his eyes before the sight of Dean took him apart entirely. When he was more under control, he pulled back and added more lube, then worked a third finger into the tight heat of Dean’s ass, pushing as deep as he could. Dean’s mouth opened on a soundless moan and his cock smeared a wet streak across his stomach, moving with Dean’s panting breaths. Dean’s eyes were closed and seeing the soft, almost demure fans of his lashes made Sam’s heart pulse with inexpressible tenderness, even as he pushed his fingers in hard and unyielding until Dean whimpered in pleasure-pain.

He slicked up his cock, barely daring to touch himself for fear of losing it. Dean was spread out before him; it would have been ridiculous if it hadn’t been so hot, Dean’s cock pushed up against his belly and his tight balls framed by the stretch of his thighs. Sam closed his eyes, just for a second, then guided the head of his dick to where Dean was finally, finally ready for him.

Pressure, heat—Dean yielding to him, supporting him. Dean’s shoulders so solid and strong under his hands, even with the weight Dean had lost over the past few months. Dean gasping wetly in his ear, arching up at the brush of Sam’s hair against his cheek. Dean taking him in, surrendering the one part of himself Sam had never had.

For all the times he’d imagined this, he was stunned by how good it was. He could hear himself stammering words of praise, shotgun phrases that made Dean tremble. He managed to lift his head just enough to meet Dean’s pleasure-shocked eyes, and then he was gone, riding an orgasm that picked him up like a tidal wave and deposited him back in the waking world.

****

Dean’s reaction on waking was pretty funny even under the circumstances. He blinked up at the ceiling, then made as if to roll over, then stopped in shock as his ass must’ve protested the movement. He froze for nearly a minute, his eyes racing back and forth as he thought about the possibilities. Then he carefully rose to a sitting position, glanced down disgustedly at his crusted boxers, and headed to the bathroom, wincing as he tossed his shirt into the corner. He failed to meet his own reflection’s eyes in the mirror, instead casting his eyes immediately towards his neck, where the bruises Sam had left bloomed like flowers.

Dean growled and bolted back to his room, where he paused only long enough to drop his boxers and jump into new clothes, the occasional grimace his only concession to what must be lingering soreness. He was already on the phone to Garth by the time he was stalking barefoot to the kitchen, telling Garth with furious embarrassment about the incubus-type entity invading his dreams despite all the wards in the Bunker and demanding help in that way Dean had that was secretly begging. It sounded like Garth heard the real need behind Dean’s outrage and promised to look into every source he had.

Dean’s next call was to Castiel, with just as much rage and even more embarrassment. Dean’s hair was standing straight up from his head by the time he was done, from all the pulling Dean had done while he was trying to explain to Cas just how not okay it was to have his dreams invaded by some creature that literally got its rocks off pretending to be someone Dean really wanted. From Dean’s side, it sounded as if Castiel was curious about the identity of this person, and Dean’s denial that it mattered was not particularly convincing. Still, Dean wasn’t the type to confess the full scope of his problems even to his very own angel, and Castiel hadn’t drawn anything further out of him by the time Dean ended the call.

Then Dean was off to ransack the library and the Men of Letters’ files. He didn’t tear any of the books apart, but it was a near thing. Sam had thought he’d seen Dean incandescent with anger, but this was a fury that was as deep as the Mark of Cain’s, without anything external prompting it. Dean wanted to rip the thing he thought was doing this apart shred by shred. He wanted it to hurt.

Sam’s heart ached, and he couldn’t stop himself from reaching out, time and time again, only to have his hands pass through Dean’s arms like air.

He’d done it. He’d crossed the barrier between his state and Dean’s reality, but he still needed Dean to believe it was him and not some new fuckery. Another in a long list of moments that meant victory to him and agony for Dean—but this time, he had to believe that the agony would eventually give way to recognition of the truth.

He already knew that Dean would only hate himself more if Sam visited him in dream-space and tried to insist on his identity. Dean was on track now, and if there was one thing his brother knew how to do, it was to find out the cause of the unnatural and uncanny.

****

Dean slammed a book closed. Then, after a second, he opened it again. The volume was one of the older ones in the collection, darkened around the edges of the pages and hand-lettered. Sam peered over his shoulder. It was a list of the supposed contents of the Book of the Damned. “It’s a spell,” Dean said disgustedly. “It’s a fucking spell.”

“Yeah, only what I’ve been trying to tell you ever since this happened,” Sam said, but Dean was already moving towards the garage and reaching for his phone.

Sam debated going with him, but if he somehow failed to get in the Impala when Dean finished whatever he was about to do, he could have to walk back to the Bunker, and that didn’t sound like a great idea.

So instead he haunted the halls incessantly, pausing only to read the pages of the books Dean had left open in the library, even though that was also a recipe for frustration. At this point, he’d take even being able to raise a breeze in the real world; at least then he could’ve turned a page.

It was three days before Dean returned, dragging a woman with him, her hands encased in the cuffs they’d learned to make for Rowena. He led her ungently to the table where all his research was spread out and pushed her down into the seat in front of the list of spells.

“Somebody put a spell on me,” he said, with the sound of someone who hadn’t spoken for days. “You figure out who cast it, and you lift it, and I won’t kill you and hunt down every person you ever loved.”

At that moment, Sam would’ve believed Dean, and the woman didn’t look dumb either.

The woman—witch—was terrified, fine trembles that disturbed the dust that had settled over the table in Dean’s absence. “Do you,” she swallowed, “have any idea who it might have been? If I have a name, I can do better.”

Sam could tell Dean hated himself for speaking.

“Try Rowena.”

“Rowena, the one who called herself the arch-witch?” Their guest was surprised enough that she sounded less frightened.

“Yeah, I guess,” Dean said, not looking at her. “Redhead, Scottish accent.”

“It’s a place to start,” the witch said. “I’ll need supplies.”

****

Three revealing spells in, and the witch hadn’t come up with anything. With every failure, Dean glowered a little more, and at some point she’d break and make an escape attempt, and then Dean really would kill her.

“This should have worked!” she insisted, about as angry as she was scared, glaring up at Dean like it was his fault.

Dean scrubbed his hands through his hair. “Why wouldn’t it’ve worked?”

The witch, whose name Sam still hadn’t learned, opened her mouth to snap back, and then paused, tilting her head consideringly. “Tell me again how you know there’s a spell.”

“Something came to me in my dreams. Not a succubus, not a shtriga, nothing like that. The wards on this place can keep out angels and demons. And that book says there’s a revenge spell that can haunt dreams until death.”

The witch looked over at the book Dean had identified. “I can’t read Latin,” she said quietly. “Can you?”

Dean pulled it over and put his finger on the relevant line, leaning in so that their faces were close together. The witch didn’t even flinch, caught up in the mystery. “‘A curse to wander lost: Those who love will see their lost one until the end of their days, and wake to the loss again.’”

She bit her lip. “I’m going to need more sage, and a few other things.”

****

Sam couldn’t smell in his state, but Dean’s sneezes and outraged expressions were enough to tell him what the room now smelled like. Dean was focused enough that he hadn’t even objected to the new scorch marks on the research table.

“Okay,” the witch said, with the increased confidence that came from success. “I can tell you a few things. First, the caster is dead, and you’re right, it must be Rowena.”

Dean swore at the confirmation. “That hellbitch is still torturing me.”

“No,” she said. “Or—It’s not a spell on you.”

“Hunh?”

“It’s a spell on whoever you saw,” she explained. “They’re the one who’s wandering lost. The spell is keeping them from our reality. They move only in dreams.”

Dean blinked, unable to process. “You mean—” Sam saw him realize that his brother was alive, and then Sam saw him realize exactly what they’d been doing that convinced him that Sam wasn’t all in his head. Dean swallowed. “Lift it,” he said, voice as hard and featureless as concrete.

The witch blanched. “Magic that powerful—” She shut up and bent over her mortar and pestle. “I’m going to give you a list,” she said after a few minutes. There was a thin thread of steel in her voice; you didn’t get to be a powerful witch without at least some spine. “I need these items exactly as described, or it won’t work.”

Dean glanced at the list she scribbled. “Won’t be a problem, unless you try to fuck me over.”

In Dean’s partial defense, now that he had a plan, he did cook the witch a variety of delicious, if fatty, meals while he had her locked up and working on the counterspell. It turned out that her name was Jane, and she was ordinarily a fortune teller with a traveling circus. And, when he finally realized that she was half expecting to be raped, he called up Jody and had her send the girls to take turns chaperoning, which seemed to reassure her that all Dean was after was her magic. It was even touching that all he had to say was “it’s for Sam” to get them to come running.

Dean also took the opportunity to get the girls familiarized with the Bunker’s many tricks, in case they needed to use it. Sam would’ve worried more about the next step in Project Off Yourself, but he knew that was on hold. And Dean did much better when he had people to take care of. Sam was torn between jealousy that he didn’t get the benefit of Dean’s fussiness (he’d never gotten hot mint chocolate with little marshmallows) and gratitude that Dean had people in his life who had an inkling of his value.

Sam stayed out of Dean’s room and out of Dean’s dreams. He wasn’t sure what they’d say to each other. When Dean got him back to the solid world, there’d have to be a confrontation, but a problem for later was almost like no problem at all, for a Winchester.

****

Everything was set up in the old dungeon, which had the most ability to contain a spell gone wrong. Sam knew that was the reason, but he still didn’t like the reminder of how central a role it played in Dean’s psyche. Everyone was watching Dean expectantly, waiting for his go-sign. “I need the room,” Dean told them, and Claire escorted Jane out. Sam was frankly a little worried about Claire’s level of interest in witchcraft, but he could put a word in Jody’s ear once he got out of this.

Dean sat heavily on the chair in the center, his hands gripping the seat between his spread legs with white-knuckled force. “Sammy,” he said. “If this works, might be you come back, but only like in a horror movie, and you haven’t eaten for eight months. I know you’re willing to take the chance. I wanted you to know—I’ll take that chance too. I won’t leave you alone out there.”

Sam hadn’t once considered that possibility. Dean was the one who knew all the horror-movie rules. But Dean was right about his readiness. He understood what Dean was saying: Dean was willing to do what Sam would want; he wasn’t going to condemn Sam to this nonexistent existence just to keep Sam safe. It was what Sam had wanted to hear for years, even decades.

“Thank you,” Sam said. He knew Dean wouldn’t hear him, but it needed to be said.

Dean cleared his throat. “Okay,” he called out, rising and straightening his shoulders, visibly turning himself into the man so confident that he had nothing to fear, whether from witches or curses.

Claire was the first one back in. “Are you sure we shouldn’t call Castiel back?” she asked, her eyes seeking reassurance from Dean. Dean shook his head. “Nothing he can do,” which really meant that Dean didn’t want to get his hopes up. Sam wasn’t sure Dean was wrong, and there was nothing Sam could do about it anyway, which was almost comforting.

Jane shushed them and began painting symbols on the table in front of her.

In the end, the spell was much less showy than most of what Rowena had done, and Sam didn’t even notice the transition until Claire gasped. Dean’s head snapped up from watching Jane work, and the look on his face—

Sam had seen that look a few times, but the first time he hadn’t known what it meant, and the second he hadn’t had a soul. They collided, hard enough to knock the breath from both of them, Sam wrapping himself around Dean and breathing in the raw, real smell of him, sweat and unwashed road dust and the fried chicken he’d made everyone for lunch. His fists clenched, one at the top of Dean’s spine and one at the small of his back, and Dean spread his hand wide over the back of Sam’s neck. They were breathing as one, shaking as one, crying as one.

There was a small embarrassed cough. Sam blinked the tears out of his eyes as he raised his head, unable to tell which of the women had been the source.

“Thank you,” he said, without releasing Dean—squeezing harder to ensure that Dean let him speak. “Thank you so much. Jane—we’ll try to make it up to you.”

Jane looked torn between yelling and offering forgiveness in the face of Dean’s abject need. Claire looked at him inquiringly, and Sam nodded—yes, please take care of her, get her out of here while I talk to my brother.

“Come on,” Claire said. “I’ll get your stuff and get you out of those.”

Alone with Dean, Sam finally let himself relax his grip far enough that he could pull a few inches back and look down at Dean’s tired, elated face. The crows’ feet were constant now, even when Dean wasn’t smiling, but he was smiling now. Dean’s eyes were spilling over, his freckles standing out starkly against his skin. He was too thin under Sam’s clutching fingers.

“I’m so sorry,” Sam said. “All the times I hurt you in the dreams—”

Dean made a disparaging noise. “Nothing I ain’t been through before. And—you were trying to get back,” he said, like he was just working it out now. Like he finally understood that Sam had only ever wanted Dean to hear him, believe him.

Sam leaned in before he could change his mind and caught Dean’s mouth. It was different here, where taste and smell were real, and the slide of Dean’s teeth across his tongue was amost painful. Dean’s arms tightened reflexively around him, and they staggered a few steps across the room to collide with the wall, Dean grunting into Sam’s mouth at the impact.

Sam released him long enough to scrabble at his belt. Dean’s stomach jumped under Sam’s fingers, and he made a noise that resolved into Sam’s name. “Wait, wait—”

“Waited my whole life,” Sam told him, which was maybe not the most reassuring thing to say under their particular circumstances.

“No,” Dean said, though he didn’t loosen his own hold on Sam, so Sam didn’t start to freak out. “Sammy, I—spent a lot of time thinkin’ about this. You were right when you said there was nothing left to stop us. But you got choices now. You could have anyone.”

If Sam hadn’t understood that their entanglement was, would always be, dangerous and unhealthy and above all a hard secret to keep, his heart would’ve broken a little more for Dean’s assumption that he was the only one who couldn’t leave.

“I didn’t do it because you were all I had in the dream,” Sam said. “I chose you. I will always choose you. It’s too late to say you don’t want it. And that’s the only thing I need to know.”

“I do,” Dean said, helpless and joyful all at once. “You know I do. But—” he turned his head to the side. Sam could see each individual hair across his cheeks and chin, the stubble that even shaving twice a day barely tamed. The line of his jaw could’ve taught Euclid something about beauty bare. “Not here,” he said, like he was confessing. “Spent too long in here, Sammy.”

Sam had forgotten: it hadn’t been just nights Sam had been with him. Dean had gone here in his dreams to be tortured long before Sam showed up.

Sam smiled at him, so purely happy that it didn’t matter that there was probably a pissed-off witch outside, not to mention a young woman who was going to demand a lot of explanations and who really didn’t need to see both of them come out of the room with sex hair. “Okay,” he said, and grinned again. “Besides, I really need a salad. And a newspaper.”

Dean raised his eyebrows. “Taste about the same,” he teased, even though his voice was still rough with emotion. Sam couldn’t help but lean in and cup Dean’s cheek in his hand to steal a quick kiss.

“Getting’ out of this room’s gonna require letting me go,” Dean said, his tone a little higher than he probably intended.

“Yeah,” Sam sighed with real regret.

“You know I’m not letting you out of my sight ever again,” Dean continued, rubbing his thigh almost unconsciously against Sam’s. Which reminded Sam that he really, really, really needed a shower and a load of laundry. Dean hadn’t commented on the smell yet, but there was no way Claire wouldn’t notice.

“I can live with that,” Sam conceded. Dean’s protectiveness was fully reciprocated. Maybe it was creepy and weird that Dean’s willingness to let him die from instant starvation was what reminded him that Dean had finally accepted Sam for who he was. Now that Sam knew he could leave, and talk to other people, he found he had very little need to do so. More of a need to take Dean to his bedroom and fuck the stuffing out of him in the real world. He bent down and kissed Dean again, just to see Dean’s reproachful expression war with his prurient interest.

Dean sighed happily. “Gonna be the death of me,” he said quietly, just for Sam’s ears.

“Probably,” Sam agreed. “But not today.”