Dean is an asshole.
Okay, Sam will admit Dean can be heroic and generous and loyal and stupidly sentimental, but the rest of the time he’s a fucking asshole. Especially right now.
Because Sam had just managed to fall asleep at daybreak after a long night of trying not to scratch at his stitches and searching for a comfortable position that wasn’t on his front or back, when Dean just happened to choose that particular moment to start hammering away at the loose front step of the cabin.
Two weeks have gone by, and he’s still mad at Sam for throwing himself in front of a couple of onrushing hellhounds, slowing them long enough for Dean to finish consigning Crowley permanently to Hell. They’d won and it was over. Again. And if that meant Sam had to get chewed on a bit, well, it’s just another case of ends justify means. Again.
Dean let him know the minute Sam had woken up from surgery that he didn’t exactly see it that way and hadn’t stopped making Sam pay for it since. If Dean holds onto his grudge about it any harder, it’s going to start oozing through his fingers.
Sam smiles into his pillow. It could be worse. Dean could not care at all. Dean could be mad at him instead of worried for him. Sam’s been there— too recently— and he’ll take the bitchiness any day.
There was a brief moment, long ago, when Sam had more, when he had all of Dean, and a long time after that when he regretted ever giving it up. But after all these years, Sam’s figured out how to be satisfied with what he’s got: him and Dean, safe and reconciled.
The pounding continues, speeding up, and Sam considers shouting Shut up just to make Dean happy that he got a rise out of Sam. But he’s just so tired. Instead, moving like an old man, he tugs the ratty, gray blanket over his head. He slips back into sleep with the muffled cracks of Dean’s hammer echoing through him like a second heartbeat.
Dean’s head whips around in surprise. “You expecting someone?” he says, laying a hand on the receiver but not picking up.
“I didn’t even know it was still connected.”
Dean goes ahead and answers, and Sam figures that he’ll quickly send the random hunter or bill collector or telemarketer on their way. But the conversation goes on and then on some more, Dean providing a string of short monosyllable responses to whoever's on the other end of the line.
Finally, with a “Let me check with my brother and get back to you,” he hangs up.
“So?” Sam says, eyebrows raised. If it’s a case, he wonders whether Dean will insist on taking it by himself. Sam figures he’s at approximately 70% of fighting form, but it’s that 30% that will get them into deep trouble. But despite how sick of each other they are right now, Sam’s reluctant to send Dean out there without backup. Crowley may be defeated and the warring armies of angels and demons disbanded and disappeared, but it’s long past time to face facts: bad things happen when he and Dean split up.
“Get this,” Dean starts, swinging around a chair from the kitchen table and straddling it, settling in with arms crossed along the back. “Remember Missouri Moseley? From Lawrence?”
“Yeah.” Sam pictures his younger self, sitting next to Missouri on the stoop of their childhood home, all those years ago. His mind skitters away from the memory of Mom’s ghost. “Was that her?”
“No, it was her lawyer. She died a week ago.”
It’s a sign of how tired Sam is that the news generates a small ping of regret, but no real sadness. He and Dean have lost so many; one more barely makes a dent.
“From cancer, though,” Dean continues. “Ain’t that a kicker?” He pulls a face, the one that means you know we’ll never make it that long, and Sam wonders again why Dean takes it so hard every time they have a brush with death, if he’s so certain they’re marked men. “Her lawyer said she’d made a will. And she left us something.”
“I hope it’s not a premonition.” Suddenly boredom doesn’t seem so bad.
“Not exactly. It’s an apartment. In New York City. She moved there from Kansas a few years ago.”
“An apartment? What are we supposed to do with it?”
“I guess she wants us to go live there. Law-talking Guy told me the will specifies we have to live in it for at least six months.”
“I don’t know. But he gave me a message from her. It said, ‘A place of your own. It’s what you need. I haven’t bothered you all these years, but mind me now, boys.’”
It’s strange that Missouri never bothered to contact them before. With the incredible amount of shit that’s gone down since they first met, they could’ve used a bit more warning along the way. Maybe it was too much. Maybe she’d never had good news before now.
“What would we do in New York City?” Sam wonders aloud.
“Damned if I know. But at least it’ll get us away from staring at these four walls.” Dean rocks his chair up onto two legs, clearly getting excited by the idea of forward motion and change. “You up for it? Gotta be some pretty easy hunting in the city. Ghosts everywhere you turn.”
“Okay, Dr. Venkman,” Sam sighs, not because he’s opposed to the idea, but because being put-upon is his role in this little two-man play of theirs. If Dean wants to hunt and for them to play Oscar and Felix in New York, Sam’s in. “Let’s go see what she has planned for us.” He eases himself up off the couch. “By the way, did the lawyer say how he got this number?”
“Yeah,” Dean replied, one eyebrow quirking. “It was written right there in our section of the will. The one that she filed with him over a year ago.”
Missouri’s apartment is on the west side of a neighborhood between Harlem and downtown called Morningside Heights, tucked in between the institutional structures of a hospital, a massive Episcopalian cathedral, and Columbia University. Sam’s done the research on it, glances down at the map to give Dean directions. He’s marked a few points on the map in the surrounding blocks, places he suspects point to supernatural activity from reports since the previous August. He steadfastly refuses to mention the proximity of Grant’s Tomb, delaying the inevitable smartass remarks from Dean about who’s buried there.
They find a parking spot on the street right in front of the squat six-story brick building, which Sam takes as a sign Missouri’s looking out for them. Please, he immediately thinks, don’t let her literally be looking out. He has zero desire to salt and burn another friend.
Sam gets out and stretches to work out the kinks in his back, while Dean grabs his jacket from the backseat. They jog up the concrete front stoop surrounded by neat lines of garbage cans and scrubby potted shrubs, a zig-zag of fire escapes on the building face overhead, and head up the narrow stairs to the fourth floor where the lawyer, Harvey, and his assistant are waiting in the near-empty #402, scuffed wood floors and empty built-in shelves stripped of signs of Missouri’s flamboyant flair.
Harvey walks them through a stack of legal documents, including the deed and a checking account worth more ready cash than they’ve seen in one place in a long, long time. As the assistant carefully notarizes each document they sign with their real names, Dean leans over to Sam and whispers, “Wonder what would happen if we ever showed up in court to contest something?”
“I’m pretty sure between the two of us,” Sam replies in an undertone, smiling pleasantly at Harvey through his teeth, “we have at least five death certificates and six warrants floating around out there.”
They’re left with a big file folder and a couple of keys on a ring and a personal note from their benefactress.
Dean hops up onto the galley kitchen’s yellow laminate counter and reads it aloud.
Dear Dean and Sam,
I’m sorry I’ve stayed out-of-touch all these years. To be honest, I was too much of a coward to join you in the great battles you’ve been fighting. I guess it didn’t matter in the end, did it?
But you came through just fine—
Sam can’t help but snort at that. Dean looks up with a wry grin. “Still here, ain’t we?” and keeps going.
— just fine, and now it’s time to rest. I had them clean my things out, so you can have a fresh start. If you’re determined to keep hunting, my neighbors won’t bother you. They’re used to some strange comings and goings from my old clients. If you need any emergency repairs, call Don (312-927-4321). Don’t hesitate to call that number. He owes me a favor or two.
I wish I could be here to see you in person. Thank you for all you’ve done. I know you’ve both given so much. Your parents would be proud.
Take care of each other,
Sam blinks, looks away, scans the empty living room, trying to imagine him and Dean still here in a month, in a year. It’s an impossible task.
When Dean says, “Let’s go unload the car,” he follows automatically.
It’s amusing and bemusing, this new side of Dean. He buys towels and an ottoman and a colander and other mundane things Sam never would have imagined Dean caring about. Sam purchases the few items he needs for his room—an old double bed that’s slightly too short, a nightstand, a desk—and leaves it at that. Dean on the other hand, is displaying an unexpected talent at trash-picking and trolling estate sales and is swiftly filling up the apartment with stuff.
It takes Sam awhile to catch on that, as each new-old item is brought in and carefully placed, there’s something familiar about Dean’s decorating. (Really, that’s the only word Sam can find for it.) He wracks his brain to figure out what it is, and then it strikes him. The way Dean’s setting things up is reminiscent of their old house in Milwaukee, the one they lived in the summer before Sam left for Stanford, the summer Sam had crawled into Dean’s bed one night and begged and not been turned away.
It’s subtle, little things: the position of the chunky oak dining table between couch and kitchen, the shape of the lamp, the height of the table the TV sits on. He wonders if Dean even knows he’s doing it. Sam can’t exactly ask, Hey, are you reconstructing the place we lived when I graduated from high school, because I think I remember you fucking me on a couch that looked just like that one.
It’s not that Sam cares— what the apartment looks like, that is— but it’s uncomfortable. It stirs up memories —teenage fumblings in the dark, opportunities outside of Dad’s eagle-eye few and far between, the feel of Dean all over him, inside him, desperate and addictive— that Sam has labored all this time to keep buried under six feet of self-recrimination and rejection. Dean had made crystal-clear a long time ago he was not interested in starting that up again as adults. And Sam had put strain enough on their relationship through the years to break it several times over; he wasn’t going to add incest back into the mix. He starts spending less time there, telling Dean he wants to exercise to work his strength up, taking hours’ long walks along the Hudson, scouting out Central Park, striking out east through Harlem and south toward the skyscrapers. Out and back, like a homing pigeon.
After two weeks of playing house, Dean decides he wants to get a job at a nearby bar. They’d hung out there a few nights before after their first local hunt, easily banishing a poltergeist at St. Luke’s. Turns out the bar had a part-time job available, one part bouncer and two parts dishwasher. “If we’re gonna stick around awhile, we’re going to need a legit source of income.”
“They’re paying you in cash under the table, right?”
“Well, that’s as legit as we get.” Dean shrugs. “You could probably pick up some shifts there too, if you wanted.” Dean looks at him as if he really wants Sam to join him in this new foray into normalcy, but the one night they’d been there, Sam’d had a hard time shaking the sense-memory of a similar bar in Greeley, banished from Dean and haunted by Lucifer, a girl named Lindsay and the taste of demon blood. It wasn’t a good vibe.
So Dean works and Sam walks. He avoids the college campus, heads farther and farther south, up and down the sharp-lined grid of Midtown, miles and miles under his feet to the short curved warren of streets in the Village and Tribeca to the tip of the island. Sometimes he goes so far he has to take the subway back to Morningside. Sometimes he stays close to home, particularly partial to Riverside Park, the long strip of lawns and broad sidewalks, playgrounds and grassy plots, crowded every afternoon with people strolling, jogging, clusters of old guys playing chess and dominoes at the stone tables at 108th Street.
Sam spends long hours in the dog parks despite the melancholy it sometimes brings. Dogs still love him, still approach him, for some strange reason hidden deep in their animal psyches. They stop by his bench for a sniff and a pet, dozens of them by the time he gets up from his bench to walk home to meet Dean for dinner. He makes special friends with a Doberman in Riverside Park that comes every morning, is disappointed when he misses him some days. The dog walker is friendly, there's small talk, it's nice. Sam asks how she likes her job, and she tells him it’s great, that her agency is hiring. He can see himself doing that. Maybe someday soon. Not yet.
Dean is settling in. Sam still feels like he’s waiting for something, restless and roaming. Yet he likes to be home when Dean is, so most of the time he walks at night while Dean’s at work. There’s nothing in the dark that Sam fears.
What comes next is a confused jumble in his mind. He’s only a few blocks down when he’s strafed by a car’s headlights coming on way too fast. It’s weaving, clips a waist-high stack of plastic trash bags on the curb and sends them flying.
Drunk driver, Sam supposes, and steps back into the relatively safe haven of a shuttered laundromat’s doorway.
He doesn't think it's possible more than a minute or two passes between when the sedan’s brakes shriek as it slams into the power transformer on the corner and when he sprints forward to see if he can help the driver. Sam saw the hood crumple, a head slamming into the windshield, heard the pop and crack of electricity as golden sparks spray through the soupy blackness, but nothing is really clear until the second he reaches for the car’s door handle, when a jolt of current surges through him.
Everything goes still, preternaturally quiet. The roar of wind and traffic disappears; a few stray raindrops hang suspended in midair. A couple of yards away, Sam spies two figures, short, slight women, barely backlit by the nearest streetlight. His instinct is to reach for the gun that he still routinely carries at the small of his back, but he holds himself motionless, sensing that a simple firearm isn’t going to help in this particular situation.
Finally one moves, striding toward him while the other stutter-steps to follow. Through the empty silence, his name echoes. “Sam Winchester?”
The two are close enough now to see. The one lagging behind is a stranger, calmly gushing blood from an enormous gash over one eyebrow, but the closer one has a familiar face.
It’s Tessa, the Reaper.
“Sam. You’re not supposed to be here,” she says sharply, like she’s caught him playing hooky from school. “It is not your time… yet? Again?” She peers around, hands on her hips, as if the answer is lying on the sidewalk nearby.
“I think I was electrocuted,” he offers stupidly, brain still scrambling to catch up.
“You can’t be here.” Tessa says again, as if he hadn’t spoken. “I’m not even assigned to you.”
“Where are we?” Tessa’s companion breaks in, “Who are you people?” Sam realizes she must be the driver from the wrecked car. The dead driver.
Tessa rests a hand on her arm. “I’ll explain in a minute,” she assures the woman gently, and then turns back to Sam. “You’ll have to go back. I wish I could help you with that, but I haven’t got the time. You’ll have to deal with it if you can.”
“Deal with what?” Sam says, still confused.
She points, and he looks down. There’s a glow emanating from right below his chest, from his diaphragm, a small circle shining dimly, as if he’s got a flashlight tucked under his shirt.
“You’re torn and your soul is leaking,” she says matter-of-factly. “I’m not surprised it’s so fragile, after all you’ve put it through. Get it patched up as quickly as you can.”
And with that she flings a hand out toward him, so he’s shoved backward, flying, falling, tumbling, lying on the sidewalk with tiny spikes of rain stinging his face and the sounds of the city rushing back in, shouts of alarm from windows above, sirens not far away, zeroing in on the accident.
He sits up, looks down to find light still oozing out of his chest, brighter than it had been in limbo when Tessa had pointed it out. His soul.
Dean had described the encounter with Death, the replacement of Sam’s soul after it had been left so long in the cage, but Sam hadn’t really been able to imagine how it looked to the naked eye. Yet there it is. His mind tries to make sense of a light that’s bright enough to blind, but doesn’t make him so much as blink. He’s never seen anything so beautiful and so terrifying at the same time. Not his dead father in a graveyard, not his mother as a young hunter, not an angel’s grace, not Lucifer in the Cage, nor Heaven itself. The last time he’d felt like this, Dean had been resurrected and was standing at his motel room door.
Dean. He means to say it out loud, but nothing comes out.
He scrambles to his feet and starts running.
Heading straight to his bedroom, door slammed shut, Sam flings himself toward his computer where he pulls up all of the old files of research on souls zipped up within. He’d stopped discarding electronic research when they’d lost Bobby’s permanent library, and now he combs through what he has, looking for clues about soul-loosening, soul-draining, rips or holes, bleeding and loss.
Page after page. Nothing. Nothing. The longer Sam goes on, luckless, the more desperate he becomes. It’s as if he can feel the soulless version of himself, that automaton, that fucking smug, amoral doppelganger creeping up behind him, eager to take over once again.
His hands tremble as they pause on the keyboard, then he does reach back to pull the gun from his jeans and sets it on the desk next to him. If he can’t hold on—if the remnants of his true self scatter into the night sky unstoppable—then that’s his final answer. He won’t inflict that other Sam on the world again. He's strong enough for that now, knows better now than to lay the burden of stopping him on Dean.
You have to watch out for me, all right? And if I ever turn into something that I'm not? You have to kill me.
Sam redoubles his search, squinting against the unnatural glare bouncing back at him off the middle of the screen. His eyes are burning and he knows he's getting sloppy, but he can sense that he's running out of time. He doesn’t even realize that it’s already time for Dean’s shift to end until he hears the pounding on the door.
“Hey, Sammy. What’s going on? I can see you’re awake. Come have a beer with me, I’m fucking wired.”
Sam freezes, doesn’t answer, has no answer, no way to shield Dean from this but silence.
The knob jiggles. “Sam,” Dean says, his voice lower now, serious. “Why’s the door locked?”
“It’s okay,” he calls. “I’m just—“ But a ready lie eludes him, and he sputters to an awkward halt. He waits. There’s silence on the other side of the door, too. Perhaps Dean will let this one go, head to his own bed, let Sam grope for a solution alone until it’s too late. Sam doesn’t even know how much time he still has—how big is his soul anyway? How long will it take to drain out completely? Where is it even going?—questions that make him press his palm to his belly in a futile effort to physically stem the tide.
He jumps when the bedroom door slams open, so hard it bounces off the wall. Dean picked the lock. Of course Dean picked the lock.
“What the hell— ?“ Dean starts. Then he gets a good look at Sam, sitting at the desk, twinkling like a Christmas light. “What the hell?” He rushes forward and Sam has to hold out an arm to keep Dean from grabbing him.
“What is it? Jesus, Sam. What?”
“Earlier tonight. There was an accident,” Sam fumbles for an explanation. “I was… injured… I ran into Tessa—“ Dean sucks in a breath at the name and Sam hurries on. “She sent me back, I’m fine. But there seems to be a… problem.”
“A problem?” Dean repeats, demanding the more-to-the-story shining right before his eyes.
“With my soul. Apparently I’ve sprung some kind of leak.” Sam waves his hand in front of him. He could almost make shadow puppets on the wall, he thinks giddily. “I guess it doesn’t like to stay put, does it?”
“No.” Dean whispers it, answers as if Sam was asking a real question, even as he raises his own hand to pass it gingerly through the shaft of light.
Sam gasps, curling in on himself, blindsided by the sensation that rockets through him at Dean’s simple gesture. Dean might as well have been running his palm up Sam’s thigh or blowing in his ear, but it wasn’t pleasure so much as raw feeling, the after-effect of it tingling in the tips of his fingers and toes.
Dean stumbles back. “Sorry. Fuck, I didn’t know—“
“No. No, I’m fine,” Sam replies. “Just felt… weird, is all.”
He looks over, and Dean’s eyes are dark with concern. Guilt-dark. Despair-dark. Sam’s way too familiar with that expression on Dean’s face, god, how he hates it, but he doesn’t have a remedy.
“So, how do we fix it?” Dean says, trying for resolute, but the timbre of his voice betrays him. Dean spent months the last time looking for a solution to Sam’s soul problem. Judging from the light Sam’s throwing off now, what it must represent, it’s doubtful they even have days.
“I’m looking into it,” Sam temporizes, waving vaguely at the computer screen.
“Fuck.” Dean runs a hand over his face. “We did it before, there’s gotta be some way to repair you this time.”
Something about the phrase has Sam locking eyes with Dean. “Repair?” he repeats, poking at the word like a sore tooth.
“Yeah,” Dean says. “Repair.” He turns, striding out of the room, Sam following him to the kitchen, to the refrigerator, where Missouri’s note hangs on the freezer door held up by a magnetized bottle opener shaped like a hula girl. Dean snatches it free and reads the key point. “’If you need any emergency repairs, call Don.’”
“She knew this would happen?” Sam asks.
Dean’s already punching at his phone. “I don’t know. Guess we’re going to find out.” He hits send and Sam automatically crowds closer. As he does, the flow of light washes over Dean’s shoulder, and Sam sees him shiver. Sam feels an echo of it, a matching frisson, bouncing around inside him, into the places he imagines that he’s emptying out. He’s tempted to plaster himself up against Dean’s back, feel the illumination beat against Dean’s skin, soak into his warmth, trap it in the safe space between them.
Sam shakes himself, focuses on the ringing, on the anonymous, automated voice mail message that tinnily responds. “Please leave a message.”
“This is Dean. My brother Sam and I live in Missouri Moseley’s old apartment and she left us a message to call you if we had an emergency. We do, it’s serious, and we need you to get back to us immediately.”
He hangs up. They look at each other, neither prepared with a Plan B.
A knock at the apartment’s front door comes just a few seconds later.
“Seriously?” Sam’s internal alarm bells sound. Because that’s in the realm of high-level power, and most of the beings they know of that can appear in the blink of an eye he thought they’d banished from this plane.
Pointing back down the hall, Dean heads for the door. “Go and hide, Rainbow Brite,” he orders. “In case it’s just the neighbor wanting to borrow a cup of sugar.”
“At one in the morning?”
“It’s New York City. It could happen.” Another knock, and Dean hesitates with his hand on the lock, jerking his chin to indicate Sam’s going to have to move before Dean opens the door.
Sam huffs, but retreats back to the bedroom, positioned by the cracked-open door, ready to rush out at the first sign of trouble. He tries to angle himself so that light doesn’t shine directly out into the hall, but he can’t see anything, only hears a low mumble of voices.
Then footsteps, and Sam opens to the door to see Dean leading a short, impeccably-dressed man with a nonchalant smirk on his face. He looks familiar, but it takes Sam a second or two to place him because the context is all wrong. It’s the witch from Indiana, the one who was fighting with his witch wife. Don Stark.
“Well, you do have yourself a problem here, ” Stark says, looking Sam up and down.
“We know,” Dean says, crowding Sam back into the room so that they’re standing shoulder to shoulder.
Stark purses his lips and leans in, squinting. The light hits his face and Sam jerks back. It’s not the same feeling he got from Dean earlier; there’s something cold, almost slimy about it, an invisible grey ooze seeping into an open wound. He grits his teeth, digs his fingernails into his palm, forcing himself to stand still for Stark’s inspection, pretty sure this is his one best hope.
“Sorry, boys. I don’t think I can help you this time.”
“What?” Dean snaps. “You’re a thousand year old witch! You stopped a Leviathan without blinking an eye. This soul thing should be a piece of cake. And what about your debt to Missouri? I thought you said you owed her, big time!”
Dean’s getting himself worked up. Sam lays a hand on his arm.
“I’m only eight hundred, thank you very much,” Stark replies. “And this ‘soul thing,’ as you put it, is not to be taken lightly. To fix a rupture like that you need a hell of a lot of power. We’re talking blood magic.”
Sam flinches at the word ‘blood,’ and Dean catches it out of the corner of his eye. “Any alternative?” Dean asks.
“Sex magic, then,” Stark offers. “Nothing else can generate the kind of clout it’ll take to seal that up.”
Sam stops himself from reacting again, even though thinking about sex with Stark turns his stomach. He can do it, though, he thinks. But only if Dean leaves.
“The problem is, even if I were willing to—not that it would be a burden—” He runs his gaze up and down Sam’s body meaningfully. “But you’ve met my wife. Darling’s got a bit of a jealous streak. And I really have no desire to be permanently linked to Sam here.”
“What do you mean, permanently?” Sam says.
“The hole you’ve got in you isn’t physical. It’s going to take more than a needle and thread to stitch you up. The only spell I know that might work would require overlaying a small part of another soul into the leak. A soul band-aid, you could say. Or better yet, mortar to seal it up.” He shrugs. “Sorry. I’m not parting with any of mine.”
It’s silent for a moment, then Dean says to Stark. “I will.” He doesn’t look at Sam.
Stark searches Dean’s face for a long moment. “So it’s like that, is it? Well, that’s probably all the better. More powerful when you’re committed to it.”
“Dean!” Sam protests. Every word out of Stark’s mouth reeks of danger. Sure they’ve dabbled in spells before, under Bobby’s guidance, but this sounds like really dark magic, and clearly involves putting Dean’s own soul at risk. Plus that’s not even taking into consideration the issue of sex. Sam’s stomach clenches.
But Dean keeps his eyes locked with Stark’s. “We’re shit out of luck on alternatives, Sam. Besides, Missouri led us to Don and he’s helped us out before, remember? We’re going to have to trust him.”
“I can’t let you—“
Dean finally looks at him. “I won’t lose you again. I won’t.” The look becomes a staring contest, and perhaps there once was a time Sam wouldn’t back down, but try as he might, somewhere along the line he’s lost the ability to resist Dean’s resolve.
He doesn’t even need to say it; Dean reads Sam’s acquiescence in his eyes. He turns back to Stark. “Tell us what to do.”
Stark’s eyebrows go up, but he simply says to Sam, “Go shower. Wash thoroughly, start at the head down to your toes, first with the right hand, then again with the left.” He turns to Dean. “Where are your supplies? Candles, oil, salt, herbs?”
“This way.” Dean leads him out of the room without a backward glance. Sam hesitates one last moment, and then starts to undress.
He’s also completely and utterly naked.
Dean catches sight of Sam in the doorway and quickly straightens, getting his back up against the wall by the window. He clears his throat. “I thought I’d, you know—“ he gestures down at his lack of clothing. “So you wouldn’t be the only one…” He trails off, crossing his arms over his chest and dropping his head and generally looking so miserable Sam’s going to call a halt any second.
Instead, he asks, “Is Don still here?”
Sam wonders if he hasn’t relinquished too much of his soul already, because he can’t stop staring at Dean’s body—the smooth curves of shoulders, the vee of his hipbones, the hard planes of muscle on his thighs, and oh yes, his cock —and feels no embarrassment, no remorse, nothing but hunger. It’s been more than a decade since Sam has allowed himself to look, really look, unrestrained, and Dean is no longer the lithe young man he was then, but a powerful, hardened hunter. The flickering candlelight and Sam’s strange illumination ripple in competing shades of gold across Dean’s skin, softening shadows and sparking along the tips of his hair.
Is he going to do this then, going to use this as an excuse to have Dean once more? To use the threat to his soul as blackmail to fill his craving, to relive the physical connection they once had, relive the time when their emotional connection was still simple and unsullied. There must be dregs of a soul in him yet, because he realizes the answer is no.
But before Sam can find voice to back out or simply to turn around and leave, Dean starts pacing. “I’m so goddamn sorry, Sam,” he says. “If there was any other way, I would never make you do this. I should never have—you were so young and I took advantage of that and I never apologized.”
Sam’s baffled. Apologize? “What are you talking about?”
“The way I treated you as a teenager. The things I did to you. Why you left.”
It feels like a kick in the gut. How could Dean be remembering it so wrong? “I left because I was young and stupid. I left because of Dad and my own bullheadedness. You didn’t do things to me. In fact, the way I recall it, I threw myself at you.”
Dean’s shaking his head emphatically; Sam’s own is spinning. He can’t believe they’ve gone all these years with such a fundamental misconception between them. There’s no question they’ve become experts at wounding each other time and again with secrets and lies, but this was one place Sam never expected to have read Dean so wrong.
“I fucked you up,” Dean says.
“It’s not on you, Dean. I was fucked up already,” Sam shoots back. “And I still am.”
“You don’t have to say that.”
“But you know that it’s true! Twice, once after Jess and again after Dad died, I begged you, flat out, to—“ Sam trips over the phrase, what do they even refer to it as? “—to sleep with me.”
Dean’s lip curls up. “Like I would take advantage of that. Both times you were drunk.”
“Drunk enough to be honest!”
“But you never mentioned it again?”
“What about that year when I was soulless? I remember asking you then, too.”
“No.” The lines of Dean’s face harden with distaste. “That wasn’t you.”
“But it was me. Me, without inhibitions over being hurt or hurting you.” This is ridiculous, standing here naked, fighting over who’s more at fault for having sex. Or not having sex. Sam’s not even sure what they’re fighting about.
“Listen,” he says, letting go of the towel around his waist and dropping the one from around his neck on top of it, stepping forward toward the bed, arms out, baring himself. He’s still fucking glowing, but he hardly even notices at this point. “Whatever you think happened in the past, I’m telling you now. I want you. I’ve never stopped wanting you all this time, and I’m pretty sure that means I always will. I’m not drunk, it’s not about this spell we’re supposed to go through with.” His voice breaks a little as he says, “And if the spell doesn’t work? You should still know that’s how I feel.”
His heart is lodged his throat. There's something unbearably precious Sam lost once, something he foolishly tossed away, and he’s on the very verge of finding it again. But he also knows that by reaching for it, he could be tearing down all the new-won peace they’ve found together after many long years of strife.
“Sam,” Dean whispers, rough like it’s dragged out of him. He walks toward Sam, approaching slowly as if Sam might break and run at the first sudden move. Dean steps into the path of Sam’s light, and Sam feels a powerful thrum wash through him. It sounds and resounds, overlaps and intensifies the growing ache of his physical desire, but it doesn’t have the same kind of focal point or limit itself to one section of his nervous system. It seems all-encompassing. Sam’s desperate to close the gap between them, but he can’t move for anything. It’s Dean’s turn.
Dean doesn’t make him wait, though. He reaches out and cups the back of Sam’s head, pulling him down so that their lips meet. Then Dean kisses him, gentle and tentative, like he’s out of practice, like he’s trying to do it just right.
Sam makes a tiny noise in the back of his throat, something embarrassingly close to a sob. He presses kisses in return into the corners of Dean’s mouth, slides his tongue inside, relearning the taste of him, throwing himself into the rediscovery. Dean’s arms come around him, clutching him close and hot, skin to skin, light suspended between them, and they kiss until they're gasping.
"Sam," Dean says, panting into Sam's mouth. "Wait—" But Sam doesn’t pay attention, knows he doesn’t mean it, because at the same time Dean’s busy running his hands over Sam's body, over his arms and chest, tracing the tattoo, palms skimming down Sam’s sides to reach around and grip his ass, firm and sure.
Every nerve simmering with want, Sam brings his own hands up to frame Dean’s face, holding it still so he can bite and suck at Dean’s mouth, starving for more. Sam’s cock thickens and fills where it nudges Dean’s bare hip. He shifts to press it where he needs it most, alongside Dean’s, and the minute they touch, Dean surges forward, driving Sam back against the nearest wall with a grunt and a low whine, his hands grabbing Sam’s wrists and keeping them still.
“Wait,” he demands again, glazed-eyed, licking over lips that are kiss-rouged and swollen. “The spell. Sam, we have to do the spell so you’ll be whole again.”
For a second Sam struggles, uncaring of anything but getting his hands on Dean once more. But then his head clears enough to realize that Dean’s right. They’re headed that direction anyway—god, he certainly hopes so—and Sam’s more motivated than ever before to keep his soul intact.
“Okay,” he says, relaxing into Dean’s grip. “Tell me what to do.” He closes his eyes and tilts his chin to let his head thunk back against the wall.
Dean sucks in a breath. “Christ. Sammy. You are so fucking gorgeous, you know that?” Sam feels him lean in and tongue a wet stripe along the ridge of his collarbone, circle lightly in the hollow of his throat. Goosebumps break out all over Sam’s skin, and he feels his nipples tighten and peak, wants Dean to keep going, lower, down on his knees like Sam remembers him doing behind the deserted bleachers of the high school, sucking Sam off as the summer sun poured heat down on them.
Sam’s so lost in sensation and memory, Dean has to thread his fingers through Sam’s hair, drag his gaze back to Dean’s and focus him.
“Is this your first time, since…” Dean trails off.
“Yeah,” Sam sighs. A memory flashes through his mind of Lucifer and the Cage, of defiance and agony, but Sam banishes it instantly. That wasn’t real. Dean is what’s real.
“Okay,” Dean says, almost to himself more than Sam. “Okay. We’ll take it easy as we can. The most important thing you have to remember is that you’re not allowed to speak once we cross into the circle. Can you do that for me?”
Sam nods once sharply in acknowledgement, and Dean threads his fingers through Sam’s, drawing him toward the bed. As they step over the chalk line, the four small flames around them dip and waver on their wicks. Sam’s about to climb onto the bed when Dean stops him with a hand on his shoulder. He turns Sam so they’re facing each other, reaching down to pick up a vial of holy oil that Sam recognizes from their hunting gear. Dean pours some of the thick, clear liquid into his left palm and dips his right index finger into the pool. He silently paints a circle of it on Sam’s forehead, then on each palm, then carefully around the light’s point of origin on Sam’s torso, and as he joins the ends of this last circle, Dean says firmly, “Vita vitae coniungatur, anima animae coniungatur.”
Sam shivers, adrenaline dumping suddenly into his veins, the seriousness of this ritual crystallizing in his mind. Life to life, that’s not new. It’s their story, their past and future. Dean is all he’s ever truly had in the world, the single constant, the lodestar. But this… this formalization of that fact, Dean speaking it aloud, claiming Sam for himself. Sam finds tears pricking the backs of his eyes as Dean urges him to climb onto the bed. Sam lies down on his back, his legs automatically spreading wide to allow Dean to crawl in between.
He remembers this too. Remembers the mixture of vulnerability and trust, remembers Dean kneeling over him, looking down at him with desire and reassurance and determination as he guided Sam through the first time. Sam had come before Dean had barely touched him, and again with Dean inside him.
Urgency takes hold of him; he wants that again, now, no more waiting. He curls up, straining for Dean’s mouth, and Dean leans down to kiss him back like he’s breathing Sam in. Together, part of me, inseparable. The intervening years spin away, there’s only now, beginning and end are concepts left for people outside of this circle.
Dean reaches down, his hand still slick with oil and glides lightly over Sam’s cock, silking down tight coils of hair, skimming behind his balls to press a finger cautiously against Sam’s entrance. Sam breaks the kiss long enough to nod, to curl fingers into the meat of Dean’s shoulders, to tuck his heels up into the small of Dean’s back in order to give the best access that he can, silently green-lighting the next step and the next and the next after that.
There’s pressure and stretching, Dean seeking to make room inside him. Sam aches as small motions grow stronger, deeper, going on forever, too long. Dean’s fingers stroke his inner walls and Sam’s unable to stop from straining to meet them, his mouth open against Dean’s salt-scented throat, unable to suck in enough air.
Then fingers are gone and a heartbreaking moment of emptiness is replaced by the force of Dean’s palm under his knee, lifting his hips even higher, the head of Dean’s cock hot and slick pushing into him, Dean’s voice echoing through him, again pronouncing, “Vita vitae coniungatur, anima animae coniungatur,” as he forces his way home in one long thrust.
With a gasp, Sam’s free of himself, a release to the surface after a lifetime underwater. Floating, he can see the secret parts of himself worn thin, stained glass patterns letting his soul leak out in colors that aren’t in the visible spectrum. Then Dean is there, whispering along the weakest points, filling in, shoring up the spiderweb of cracks, blending piece after piece of himself with Sam to make a whole again.
Somewhere else, hips move in a rhythm. Somewhere there are hands and mouths and sweat and need, and Sam senses them, as whatever thread has been strung tight between him and Dean, wound around their hearts and wills their whole lives, pulls tighter still until Sam is bound to his brother with no seam to show for it.
Once again he’s fully back in his body, Dean’s cock striking sparks inside him, his hand on Sam’s cock in desperate motion. The pressure in Sam builds and detonates like a shock wave, barreling through his connection to Dean. Dean roars once more, “Vita vitae coniungatur, anima animae coniungatur!” Sam bites deep into his own palm to keep from shouting too, and arches up, coming, his orgasm crashing outward, Dean’s thick and wet inside him. The candles extinguish, Sam’s light winks out, and the room is plunged into darkness.
He realizes he’s alone in the bed, bolts upright, muscles twinging, and peers down at his chest, finally able to breathe when he sees it’s back to normal.
“Good morning, sunshine.” Dean’s sitting at Sam’s desk in lounge pants and an old blue tee, Sam’s laptop open in front of him. “Or I guess, not so shiny anymore.”
He grins, and Sam finds himself grinning back. He shouldn’t be. This is not time for that. What they did last night is nothing to be taken lightly. There should be earnest conversation, discussion of implications, boundaries, the future. But instead, Sam laughs, sinking back with his elbows in the pillows just… laughing.
Dean just watches him, the look on his face so stupidly fond, Sam’s tempted to tease him about it, but instead asks, “What’re you doing?”
“Craigslist, of course,” Dean answers. “Looking around for a cheap king-sized bed.” Dean smirks, but Sam senses a tremor of uncertainty darting underneath; Dean’s concerned Sam might not be on the same page, might have regrets. Sam realizes it’s not something he’s reading from Dean’s expression, but a discordant note struck at a pitch no one but Sam can hear. Again Sam knows that he should be curious, perhaps alarmed, that they should carefully investigate the limits of this phenomenon.
What he does is kick the blankets down to the foot of the bed, stretching his arms to the sides, planting one foot flat on the bed in clear invitation. He tells Dean, “I’m not so sure we’re done with this one quite yet.”
Dean shuts the laptop and pounces.
“Will you be out walking while I’m gone?” Dean asks, stuffing his key into the pocket of his jacket.
Sam nods, because he can tell Dean is already looking at him and he doesn't have to turn his head to know it. Dean's attention is like fingers brushing across his skin now, tangible. Sam flicks his thumbnail along the edge of the business card he’s holding, the information on the dog walking agency that the woman in the park had given him, what seems a lifetime ago.
“Maybe,” he replies. “But I’ll be here when you get back.”