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The Problem of Other Minds

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“You really connected with that girl, hunh?” Dean asked a moment after Magda hung up. The night wrapped around the car like a fist, only the road ahead visible.

“Yeah,” Sam admitted. “I know how angry and alone she felt. Like a freak. Can you imagine if Dad had decided to lock me up and beat the demon out of me?”

Dean’s jaw clenched. “I wouldn’t’ve let that happen,” he said shortly.

Sam thought that one over and said, “I know,” because he did. When it came down to it, Dean would’ve chosen him over Dad, like he’d chosen Sam over everyone else.

“I mean, that kid Elijah, the brother, he just—he didn’t even try,” Dean continued, then shut his mouth into a tight line and glared out the windshield.

“He believed his parents, Dean. So did she. That’s a hard thing to shake off. She might not even have let him help.” Sam could imagine how she woudn’t have wanted her brother to see her like that. Evil, hidden, broken. The shame would’ve been so great. He could almost see Magda, asking her mother to keep her own brother away. To keep herself from tainting him. Her mother probably approved.

“So, uh, you bonded with her over bein’ a psychic kid?” Dean asked, more casually than usual, so Sam knew for certain something was up. Not all that hard to tell what, either.

“Yes, I told her I used to have powers. And that I thought they were gone now.”

“Thought,” Dean repeated.

“You know Lucifer sent me those visions, to trick me into letting him out. I haven’t had any since then, and I don’t even know whether those depended on me being … whatever. I haven’t moved anything with my mind or destroyed a demon in years.”

“Have you tried?” Dean asked, focusing on the view outside with such intensity that Sam was a little surprised that the windshield glass didn’t melt. His knuckles on the steering wheel weren’t showing white, but the tendons in his wrist stood out and his cheek had the hollow that said he was clenching his teeth in preparation for the answer.

Sam wasn’t sure what that answer should be. “No,” he said honestly. “After everything I went through—even if Ruby was telling the truth that I didn’t need demon blood, I just—I didn’t want anything to do with the powers.” He shifted in his seat, the familiar leather about as reassuring as any place could be if they were going to discuss all this.

“Far as we know, Magda’s not part of another round of Hunger Games for psychics,” Dean said. “Worth a look, though, for weird incidents around kids her age. Gonna be hard to identify them if the moms aren’t dead, but we can try.”

“Where are you going with this?” Sam asked, honestly curious. “And no, I don’t think she was fed any demon blood. If Lucifer had a slew of acceptable vessels in waiting he’d have picked one, instead of whatever it is he’s trying to pull now.”

Dean ran his tongue across his lower lip, a nervous habit that never failed to make something deep and uncomfortable twitch in Sam. “So if she’s just psychic—and don’t think I don’t know how weird ‘just psychic’ is—maybe you are too. ‘m not saying I want to go back to when you were falling over with the visions, but—you never know when bein’ able to throw a knife with your mind could come in handy, right?”

“You want me to try and reclaim my psychic powers,” Sam said with as much skepticism as that statement deserved.

“No!” Dean lied. “Just—look, if you were afraid of trying, if you still thought it made you a freak—it doesn’t. Likin’ Vince Vincente, that makes you a freakshow, but it’s not the same thing.”

“Do you think Mom would agree?” Sam asked.

Dean flinched. Apparently his newfound recognition of her need for space didn’t make mentioning her any easier for him. “Dunno,” he admitted. “But,” he drew a deep breath, “it doesn’t matter. She doesn’t know you, and if she thought that havin’ freaky powers made you any less of a son, then you don’t wanna know her and neither do I.” He’d paled by the time he finished, as if even raising the possibility was making him sick to his stomach, but Sam believed him one hundred percent.

“Dean—”

“No, unh-unh, there is no hugging while I’m driving.” Dean resolutely refused to glance in Sam’s direction, and if Sam’s answering snort of laughter was thick with emotion, neither of them had to admit it.

****

Dean couldn’t stop thinking about it, though: whether those powers were still lurking in Sam. If he’d learned anything in this crapsack life, it was that surprises came at terrible times (whether for them or others—for his mom, being ripped from heaven would never be at the right time). So he raised the topic with Cas, the next time the angel stopped by to update them on the search for Lucifer.

Cas sat at the kitchen table, his hand wrapped around the drink Dean had poured him, his legs stretched out in a way that was as human as Dean had ever seen him. “Certainly I expect the powers are merely dormant in him. Your bloodlines were carefully chosen to be matched by the cupid. John and Mary Winchester’s children needed to have the psychic strength to host the two most powerful archangels without burning out.”

Dean nodded. No worse than he’d expected. But, wait—“Children?” His beer bottle was unpleasantly slick in his hand.

Cas looked up, his widened eyes indicating his faint surprise at Dean’s denseness. “You were both bred from bloodlines powerful enough to host angels, Dean. That has consequences. The demon blood wasn’t the source of Sam’s powers, though it aided in their perversion.”

Sam must have been listening from outside, because he came in without hesitation, sitting down across from Cas rather than joining Dean, who was hovering by the sink. “I’ve been thinking about it, and—if the powers weren’t all the way burned out, it would explain some things. Like how my Lucifer hallucinations actually moved things sometimes. I thought it was me not remembering, but I might’ve been moving them myself.” Dean could see the shudder ripple through him, as if Sam still thought he was irrevocably tainted by all that had gone on around them.

Cas nodded. “If you embraced them more deliberately, they could be of great assistance to you in hunting, as Dean’s are.”

Dean spit beer in every direction, and Sam barked laughter before what Cas had said really sunk in. “You’re saying that Dean has … psychic powers?”

“Have you never noticed his ability to convince people to trust him in contexts where trust is most unlikely?” Cas was wearing his ‘silly humans’ frown.

Dean was swearing and mopping wildly at the beer-and-spittle spray that had covered his shirt, but he tried to add in a note of denial to his curses.

“Yeah, but,” Sam sounded as dubious as Dean felt, “that’s just charisma, right? And the fact that he’s so pretty.”

Even in the general disorientation, that word made him want to hide, same as it always did, as if the ghost of his father had heard and berated him.

Cas turned in his chair and examined Dean, and Cas being Cas he probably was seriously evaluating Dean’s general prettiness and its relationship to his ability to fit into most places. “I understand that helps, and I would say that the manifestation of his persuasive powers is not as strong or as potentially incapacitating as your telekinesis, but it may be more effective for all that. Most people affected would not notice that they had acted out of character.”

Dean remembered Andy Gallagher. Remembered handing him the keys to his baby. And then his brother had Dean putting the shotgun right up to his chin. Cas was saying that was Dean. Only subtle, like a roofie, leaving nothing to remember.

How many people had he gotten killed on his say-so? Dean might not have shoved a shotgun up under their chins, but that list didn’t start with Jo and Ellen and it didn’t end with Kevin.

Not to mention the smaller things. All the card games where the other players stayed in a few hands too long, or the girls who knew better but trusted a stranger to take them home anyway. Those weren’t too bad, they were begging to be fooled one way or another, but there were others, people he must’ve twisted in ways that mattered. Underneath Bobby’s harsh words, his infinite patience with Dean’s shenanigans. Sonny, giving him chances that Dean had in the end just up and thrown away.

His stomach was threatening to spit back the last three meals he’d eaten. Sam was saying something to Cas--and then he realized that he ought to be thinking much closer to home.

How many times had Sam stayed with him, not just against his better judgment but against his will? Dean had taken his choices away, again and again, in ways much worse than Gadreel. By wanting him around. Maybe the worst part was that Dean hadn’t even known. Sam had never once had a choice. Sam had never once chosen him. Even when Sam had managed to fight him off for a while, Dean had dragged him back.

There were worse things he could have done, things he’d never tried because he knew full well that Sam wasn’t twisted the way he was, couldn’t even consider the possibility. And now that he knew about what he could do—Dean wasn’t the kind of person who resisted temptation.

The sound of his bottle dropping into the sink and shattering was loud enough to interrupt whatever Sam and Cas had been nattering on about. Dean didn’t turn back to it, just continued towards his room, bypassing Sam’s outstretched hand and ignoring his plaintive “Dean!”

****

In a completely predictable development, Dean did not pull out of his funk, or even leave his room beyond the minimum required to piss and get more to drink.

Castiel tried to talk to him, but Dean refused to respond, and shouldered him aside when Castiel waited outside his door for one of Dean’s infrequent excursions. (“Move or I’ll piss on you instead,” Dean said in Sam’s hearing, and Sam thought he might be serious.)

“I have to leave,” Castiel told Sam on the third day of this. “Crowley has a lead.”

Sam, who had been raiding the library for more information on ‘psychic powers, heritability of,’ for most of the past seventy-two hours, wanted to snarl at him for doing this to Dean. Castiel hadn’t meant any harm, but when was the last time that had limited the damage done to them? “Dean’s not doing so well,” he said, neglecting to mention that he himself was not much better. Even though he’d admitted to himself that he couldn’t function without his brother, this was not the time to speak up about that fact.

“And you think I should stay, instead of hunting Lucifer, to make Dean feel better.”

Despite Castiel’s skeptical tone, Sam thought just that. He already knew he wasn’t enough to fill Dean’s vast need to be needed. “Dean thinks no one could ever really love him,” he said, hating his own contribution to that worst fear. “And you told him that he was forcing people to do what he wants.” Even if Dean hadn’t retreated like a wounded animal, Sam would have known that Dean saw that information as confirmation of his own inadequacy.

“That is not what I meant,” Castiel insisted. “The pull can be resisted—”

Sam pushed his hair back from his face with both hands. It kept him from punching something else. “Yeah, not helping. And anyway, what you meant and what he heard aren’t necessarily the same thing.”

“None of this will matter if Lucifer manages to take a suitable vessel long enough to destroy humanity.”

Sam wanted to scream, because Castiel wasn’t wrong. Plus there were the British Men of Letters out there, doing who knew what to other hunters, most of whom were not particularly nice guys but who didn’t deserve to be stuck in a shitty basement at the wrong end of a blowtorch.

“Yeah, okay,” Sam sighed, as if he had any choice. “Just please, check in. With both of us, okay? You’re important to us.”

Castiel held his gaze for longer than usual, long enough that Sam was tempted to make a Dean-style joke, before he said, “Thank you, Sam,” and blinked away, leaving Sam with the usual twisting feeling of unreality that even thirty years with the supernatural couldn’t erase.

****

Dean left Sam a note, right on the map table where it would be impossible to miss.

He had things to do, and he wasn’t going to do them to Sam.

Learning to use his power more consciously wasn’t hard, exactly, because when he was honest with himself (might as well be with someone, right?) he’d known the basics of what he was doing, if not how much mojo he was putting behind it, for most of his life. Smile, make sure it reached his eyes, tilt his hips, lick his lips and leave them open. Or—and sometimes ‘and’—growl like he expected to be obeyed, like he knew absolutely what he was doing, like he could be trusted to get everyone out alive. Even when he’d pissed people off, most of the time it had been on purpose, so he was getting what he wanted from them anyway. From one perspective, his mind-bending wasn’t much different from his pretty face. Nothing he’d earned, but it worked for him anyway. And you couldn’t leave a weapon lying around unused if it could help.

How many people had he dragged in? Too many civilians to count; Jo and Ellen; Kevin; Victor Henricksen; back and back and back, a line of dead he’d always been ashamed of but now understood was so much more his fault than he’d known.

Once he was paying attention, he could feel it, a kind of buzzing under his skin that got stronger the more receptive the person was to it. Maybe using the power had never hurt him like Sam’s visions had hurt Sam because using it meant getting his way, and that felt good.

The mojo worked better when he phrased what he wanted as a request. Even better when he matched his tone to his words, which was plenty weird when he politely asked a vamp to hold still so he could decapitate it. (He was jazzed that the whammy worked on monsters, or at least some monsters, even though that fact raised ugly questions about Benny and Castiel and even Anna.) It worked best of all when he sincerely wanted the person—entity—whatever—to like him, and it turned out that wanting people to like him was not a thing he could stop himself doing, most of the time. Poor needy Dean, he could almost hear Alastair say.

There had to be a line between charisma and magic, right? Knowing that he wasn’t giving people a choice made it feel different, even though he also knew that most people didn’t understand that big eyes and an aw-shucks smile worked on them without their consent.

He didn’t learn to predict who’d be most susceptible and who wasn’t even worth trying. There didn’t seem to be any particular personality characteristic associated with sustained resistance. Nice sheriffs were stone walls; total assholes with no reason to talk to a stranger treated him like a best friend. And then some days it was the opposite. Even Magneto had a principle behind what he could manipulate, but if Dean did, it was a mystery to him. Luck of the draw, like every other thing in this flaming turd of a world.

As far as he could tell through experimenting on witnesses, the mojo didn’t work across wires, or whatever they were using to carry phone signals these days, so he texted Sam with his location every morning. He was an asshole, but he wasn’t that much of an asshole. Sam must’ve been coming to understand just how much Dean had done to him, because all that came back was an ‘ok’ and, once or twice, ‘nothing on Lucifer.’ He didn’t mention whether he was working on his own powers. If Dean could’ve managed it, he would have told Sam, again, that it didn’t matter whether he moved furniture with his oversized muscles or his oversized mind; he was still the same big damn hero he’d been all along. Sam had never needed to scramble someone’s brains to get them to like him. Sam was good, and it showed.

He could’ve taken more money off of his marks, obviously. He could’ve taken the money without the poker or pool, matter of fact, but he thought it made them feel better to get a real game in, and it sure enough made him feel better—dealing with him was like going out to a really expensive date night. He tried to give some value in return for the cash, which was much more relaxing now that giving value didn’t involve anybody dropping trou. He stayed in crappy motels because he didn’t want to skim more than necessary off of civilians, and because he felt more comfortable in crappy places than in nicer ones.

Nearly the last thing he expected to find in his tiny room for the night, aside from John Winchester resurrected to let him know just how much of a fuckup he was, was Crowley sitting on his bed. No, not his bed: Crowley had carefully spread out Dean’s nicest Fed jacket over the puke-orange bedspread so Crowley’s suit-covered ass wouldn’t have to make contact with it.

“Crowley,” he said, and then stopped the insult that meant to come out next. Instead, he stared at the demon and wondered just how open Crowley was to persuasion. And what Dean might ask him for.

“I heard through the grapevine,” Crowley said in his smarmiest voice, “that your angel spilled the beans about your Jedi heritage.”

Dean rolled his head from side to side, loosening his muscles in the hope that he’d get to administer a beatdown. He refused to talk; Crowley was worse than a radio host with dead air.

Sure enough: “I have a proposal,” Crowley said, “not a deal, before you get your silky knickers in a twist. Jiminy Cricket is off with Moose, brooding. Come with me.”

Dean snorted, without the energy to say more.

Crowley leaned forward, bracing his hands on his knees. “I know everything, Dean. You can’t hurt me—or at least, I like the way you hurt me. We’ve been good together before, remember? I will always accept you just the way you are. I’m the only one who will ever tell you that, and I’m the only one who will ever mean it.” His tone was reasonable, hardly even trying to persuade. He knew that his words would do the persuasion for him, without even needing psychic powers.

Demons lie, but sometimes they tell the truth. When it hurts more.

“Don’t decide tonight,” Crowley continued. “Take a few days, a week. You’ve got my digits.”

“I’d like to cut them off,” Dean said, but he was already talking to empty air.

He closed his eyes and thought about the unopened fifth of Jim Beam in his bag. The faster he got to the bottom of it, the faster he was going to take Crowley up on his offer.

He rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands, then ran his fingers through his hair, mostly just because he missed the touch of another person. There weren’t many comforts left to him, without Sam or sex or the Bunker; somehow eating even the juiciest burger alone at a table, getting sympathetic looks from waitresses, wasn’t as fun. He got their numbers scrawled on checks, though, even without trying to turn on the charm: he wasn’t taken, furthest thing from it, but he must still be giving off the vibes.

Dean sighed and went over to the computer. He had a line on a djinn in Savannah, and the work was the only way he could justify denying Billie her final tribute.

****

In the general shitshow that was (1) trying to figure out how to re-cage Lucifer with the working assumption that Rowena would betray them at the first attractive opportunity, (2) researching psychics, who didn’t seem to be the favorite of the American Men of Letters judging by the negative things they wrote in their records, (3) tentatively trying to discover whether his powers remained, which led to lots of sense memories of drinking demon blood and wasn’t working besides—it was just typical that he’d had a better handle on them when he’d been out of his mind with Lucifer’s damage—and (4) tracking Dean to make sure he was as safe as a Winchester could be, Sam neglected to follow up on Magda for nearly three months.

But Magda hadn’t been around for more than three months. She’d been shot dead before she reached her aunt, and the records Sam hacked screamed “professional hit.”

He remembered Lady Torturer’s self-satisfied account of how they destroyed any monster they found. She’d made no secret of the fact that they defined “monsters” by physical characteristics, not by behavior.

And now Dean was out there, on his own. A hunter—subject of their contempt, even if Toni was the most extreme version—and a psychic with what even Sam had to admit was, in the abstract, one of the most terrifying powers imaginable. The power to corrupt your own will, to turn it against you and in the direction Dean wanted. If Sam hadn’t known Dean, he’d have at least understood the desire to hunt him down. (Yes, Sam was aware of the irony.)

Dean was dangerous, on that they’d all agree. But Dean also had a lifetime of learning when to apply that dangerousness to save lives. And he wasn’t some magician, able to corrupt a mind like the One Ring. He was a persuader, and Sam didn’t give a shit whether that was from looks, pheromones, psychic powers, magic, or anything else. Plus, Dean’s brand of persuasion was nothing like Andy and Ansem’s had been. A person who wasn’t open to persuasion on some point, like, say, whether to go away to college, wouldn’t yield to Dean’s contrary desires. The Men of Letters records were reasonably clear on this: psychics, like telekinetics, came with a lot of different power levels, and even conscious training would make them more precise, but not necessarily stronger.

Nonetheless, if the British Men of Letters got a whiff of Dean’s new understanding of his condition, he’d be a target. Sam knew too well that ridiculous, implausible honesty was one of Dean’s best convincing moves. There was only so much time until Dean spilled the beans to an ally or a fuck, and even if the other person didn’t believe him, the Men of Letters following them around (because how else could they have found Magda?) would. Or they’d grow a brain and figure out that the Supernatural series was connected to the real Sam and Dean. Sam was willing to bet that people who killed supernatural entities on sight would consider ‘humans who’ve been resurrected multiple times’ good candidates for extermination.

Dean might still want to be left alone. But Dean had to understand what was at risk.

****

We need to talk, Sam’s text message said. I’m coming to you.

Getting advanced notice of Sam’s arrival was a little unprecedented, but he guessed that fit into their new, grown-up relationship.

He couldn’t help looking forward to Sam’s presence. The past few months had been nothing compared to the year he’d thought Sam was dead, when the hurt had been so bad that it’d been like walking through razors just to get through the day. But making himself stay away from his brother had left him feeling like his heart weighed a thousand pounds. Like he was carrying all his sins around, no place to put them down.

He could do this. Whatever Sam needed from him, and no more.

Dean spent the day identifying the latest unquiet ghost—there was a girl working at the local library who knew their holdings like the back of her hand, and he’d made sure she didn’t have a school deadline or anything like that before recruiting her to help with the history of Willow Creek he was supposedly writing. Together, they narrowed his suspects down to two, conveniently buried side by side in the Protestant cemetery outside of town. As long as no one moved into the haunted house—and with the police tape and the blood still streaked on the walls, he was thinking that wouldn’t happen in the next day or so—he had time to fix it, even if Sam kept him busy that night.

Dean insisted on buying the college girl a cup of coffee when the library closed—there was no way Sam had finished the drive yet, and he couldn’t stand to think of pacing the grimy rug in his motel room, just waiting.

He could’ve gotten way more of a distraction from Cheyenne than coffee, but he couldn’t tell how much of her enthusiasm was natural and how much wasn’t, so he passed, and spent another hour or so walking around aimlessly. Then he started in on Baby’s maintenance, which was better because it gave him something to do with his hands. It was nice to imagine that, in her way, she loved him. He could tell whether he was doing right by her or fucking her up, and even though he’d done way too much of the latter at least he’d always known the difference.

“Dude, if you are fantasizing about the car we need to have a serious conversation about how private time should be private.” Sam’s voice broke into his haze, and Dean stopped pretending that he was getting the chrome any shinier. He gathered his resolve while he shoved the polish and the other tools back into the kit, and then he stood and let Sam sweep him into a hug that felt better than the best sex and the best booze he’d ever had, put together.

****

Dean’s dingy little motel room was doubly depressing: because Sam now knew how much Dean cherished the Bunker’s tidy predictability, and because it was a single.

Sam stood in the center of the room, awkward as a bear on stilts, and marveled at how Dean could seem at home in any situation, leaning against the wall as if he wasn’t afraid he was going to catch something from it. He accepted the beer Dean offered, and let Dean start in on his own before he began explaining why he’d come.

Surprisingly, Dean accepted Sam’s theory about the risk that he was going to be targeted by the Men of Letters. He just wouldn’t admit that, as a result, he needed to haul his ass back to the Bunker, where they could prepare (now that Sam had undone and blocked all the tricks Lady Toni had used to get in).

“I’m not sayin’ I don’t appreciate the warning, Sam,” Dean told him, with the frayed patience of a man who didn’t understand why he had to explain this again. “But I can’t tell you I got this thing locked down, and I’m not gonna take a chance on making you into my Renfield.”

Sam cocked a skeptical eyebrow. “Dean, if you haven’t yet, I’m pretty sure it’s not gonna happen.”

Dean gulped the rest of his beer and turned to put it down on the miniature kitchen counter. When he turned back, he wouldn’t meet Sam’s eyes. “I think it already has.” Sam gaped at him, long enough that Dean continued: “A lot of it, you could say it’s family keepin’ us together. But Gadreel? You got over that like—like I fucked your girlfriend on prom night.”

“Maybe I’m just that forgiving,” Sam said, which was a little funny seeing as how he could feel his temper rising, not just from the reminder of Dean’s betrayal but from Dean’s general stubborn-assedness. He’d held out the hope that Dean had come to understand that Sam’s love, at least, had nothing to do with Dean’s powers, any more than it depended on Dean’s physical beauty. “You’ve spent my entire life complaining that I don’t do what you tell me to. I don’t get how you think that I’d do a one-eighty because you can push some other people to do you favors.”

“Yeah, but I didn’t—” Dean stopped, grabbed another beer, popped the top and took a fortifying chug. “But when I meant it, like when I wanted to live in the Bunker or be the one to go after Amara, you went along.”

Sam ground his teeth. ‘Because I love you, you moron.’ No, unlikely to work. “And what about when I left you for Ruby?” Even saying the words hurt. “You’re not going to tell me that you weren’t serious then.”

“You were hopped up on demon blood, doesn’t count. Same when you were soulless.”

Dean was just going to keep making up excuses. And he wasn’t going to value his own safety as much as Sam did.

It was the worst kind of Hail Mary, but Sam didn’t know any other way to get through to Dean. He could punch Dean until his knuckles were split and Dean’s ribs were cracked and Dean would still maintain that he was in charge of what happened. He might even be right about wanting Sam to hurt him: Leopold von Sacher-Masoch had nothing on Dean’s desire for self-punishment.

Another kind of touch, though—

It wasn’t anything Sam had planned to disclose, even under the new honesty policy. He’d spent so long working his way back into Dean’s good opinion. But that opinion was worthless if Sam wasn’t willing to throw it away for Dean’s protection.

“Sorry to burst your bubble, Dean, but you don’t control me,” he said, and moved in. “You never have.”

Dean let himself be backed up, until his shoulders hit the wall. He frowned, clearly annoyed at himself for letting Sam have the advantage. “No way you can know that.”

“I really, really can,” Sam said, and leaned down to kiss him, telegraphing his intent but knowing that Dean wouldn’t understand unless he wanted to. Dean’s mouth was slack with shock, his lips a mix of soft and chapped that scraped along every one of Sam’s nerves, making him shudder involuntarily with the intensity of the pleasure-pain. The taste was sour and faintly yeasty. Sam got as far as tilting his head to deepen the kiss and settling his hands on Dean’s hips before Dean recovered enough to shove him away.

“What the fuck,” Dean said, and Sam could tell that it’d been meant to come out as a roar.

“Tell me to stop,” Sam suggested.

Dean’s mouth opened and closed a few times, only serving to highlight the plumpness of his lips. “Sam,” he said, or mouthed anyway. Then: “Stop,” loud enough that anyone could have understood him.

“No,” Sam said, and slid his hands under Dean’s shirts. Dean’s stomach muscles twitched under his fingers. Dean’s skin was warm, the smoothness interrupted with moles and scars. Sam had hugged him and sewn him up and popped his trick shoulder back into place and bumped up against him while they brushed their teeth in too-small bathrooms, but he’d never allowed himself to touch like this.

“Sam, please,” Dean said, agonized, his eyes the same shade of despairing they’d had when he’d first come back from Hell. “You don’t want this. I’m, I’m making you, and I won’t—” His hands flailed, clearly torn between punching Sam away and trying to wriggle free without hurting him.

Sam froze. Yes, back when he’d been a lovesick teen, he’d let himself imagine that Dean might reciprocate. But he’d known better even then, and Dean had never done anything that couldn’t have been read as mere obsessive codependence. He’d prevented himself from hoping; he’d ignored all the sly digs from demons and angels, written them off as commentary on his own special brand of damage. He’d shared a Heaven with Dean, but let what it contained drive them apart.

But Sam was nothing if not trained to react quickly to new information. The wild hope surging through every cell couldn’t be allowed to distract him from the reality of Dean, and Dean’s unbelievable stubbornness. There was still only one way to get through to his brother, and it didn’t start with words. He leaned in and took a deep breath of Dean’s scent near his hairline, a mix of sweat and fancy hair gel. Dean shuddered, and Sam slid his hands further around Dean’s waist. Dean was so solid, so real. “If you’re doing this, that’d mean you wanted it, right? Because I’ve been waiting most of ten years to hear that. Saying no to you pretty much every day of those years, by the way.”

“No,” Dean said, but it was his general denial of intense emotion, meaningless. Sam brushed his nose against the skin of Dean’s neck, behind his ear, then dared a barely-there kiss against the place where his neck met his shoulder.

“Dean,” he said. “C’mon. Name me one time I’ve done something just because you told me to.”

They were so close that he could feel Dean’s pulse jump and judder. “You came with me,” Dean whispered at last, and fortunately Sam knew exactly what that meant: Stanford, after Jessica.

“Because I wanted to. Maybe my reasons weren’t great, but they were mine. Not yours. A fact I remember you getting pretty mad about, back in the day. I even left, for a little while, and I didn’t come back to save your ass because you made me, either.”

When Dean didn’t relax even one muscle, Sam realized that he was going about this all wrong. He could argue facts with Dean until they were both blue in the face; they were never going to see the world in the same way. “Dean. We promised that we wouldn’t lie to each other, that we wouldn’t keep secrets. We promised to trust each other. I need you to trust me on this. I know what being controlled feels like.” Dean flinched at the reminder of Gadreel, and that was only fair, but Sam had a different objective in mind. “I need you to believe me: I’m not under any psychic influence. I’m here because I want to be, and I’m not leaving.”

He knew Dean well enough to feel the words hit him, almost like a slug of fine whiskey. He was asking Dean to break an old pattern, but Dean had managed before, and Sam had faith in him.

Slowly, almost unnoticeably, Dean’s arms came closer in to Sam, sinking down until they were in something that could have been mistaken for a simple hug, at least by a child who didn’t know anything about the birds and the bees. Sam breathed in the familiar smell of his brother, astringent and sandalwood, and let Dean’s racing thoughts run out of gas and stall.

“If you’re really worried,” he said once Dean was leaning into him, breathing in the same rhythm, “you can let me take the lead.”

“You just wanna boss me around,” Dean said back, shaky but real.

Sam grinned into Dean’s neck. “Maybe,” he agreed. He didn’t point out that Dean liked to be bossed around. “Why don’t we get started on that: Get on the bed.” He realized that he’d have to release Dean, at least a little, for that to happen.

When Dean bent to undo his boots, Sam did the same, because he needed a normal task to take the edge off of the fact that this was really happening. He managed not to break any laces or fall over his own feet, which he was counting as a victory. Dean stood, feet bare, and began unbuttoning his shirt. Sam paused to watch rather than following suit. He could have said he was worried about whether Dean had been eating, but much more he wanted to see Dean baring himself for Sam.

Maybe Dean’s self-punishment diet had consisted mainly of whiskey and burgers, but you couldn’t have told that from the solidity of his chest, the breadth of his shoulders, the curves of muscle that came from hard work in dank graveyards rather than well-lighted gyms.

Dean had his jeans open and his thumbs hooked in the beltloops, ready to get entirely naked, but a flash of red caught Sam’s eye. “Wait,” he said. Dean’s whole body twitched, and his cock pressed further out against his—holy shit.

Sam bit his own lip, hard. “Just the jeans.”

Dean’s eyes closed and his faced suffused with blood. His breath ragged, he obeyed, dropping the jeans to reveal his fucking silk panties. They were lace-edged and cut for a man—he’d gone out and bought them for himself, and Sam nearly had to curl over with the extra shot of arousal. Dean’s already-hard dick stretched them out far enough that the edge no longer touched his stomach, and a dark spot on the lace showed how close he was already.

Dean had done this because he wanted to wear them, because he thought no one else would see. “You like those?” Sam asked, shocked that his voice was even, though had it dropped down towards Dean’s own growl. “You like walking around knowing you’re wearing something pretty?”

Dean nodded, still unwilling to open his eyes. “Look at me,” Sam ordered, and he did. Dean’s pupils were huge, his lips parted for his panting breaths. “How long have you had these?”

Dean shifted uneasily from foot to foot.

“Did you wear them back in the Bunker?” Sam demanded. “The only one who knew? Looking at them in the mirror, in the morning, before you got dressed, then going out all butch?”

Dean nodded, almost imperceptibly.

Sam groaned.

“Not … every day,” he said, like each word cost him dearly. “When I, when I needed it.”

Needed to feel good, maybe needed to feel like something other than Daddy’s blunt little instrument. Sam didn’t get it all the way, not yet, but he could work with it anyway. The fuzz of Dean’s pubic hair peeking above the top of the panties, just above the little satin bow, and the hairy thighs below might have made the view ridiculous. Instead they heightened the sheer sexiness of the underwear, all delicate for this secret part of Dean that Sam was discovering for the first time.

“Who else, Dean?” he asked, without even having meant to do so. “Who else knows this about you?”

Dean shook his head. He must be dizzy, with all the blood going to make him blush—all the way down to his nipples, Sam saw—and to his straining dick. “There was this one girl, when I was a kid, made me try on her panties. And then,” he ducked his head, and there was real shame in his voice, “when I was a demon. I didn’t, I didn’t care about anything, and—”

“Stop,” Sam ordered. He couldn’t hear Dean say Crowley’s name, not now. He wasn’t proud of the possessiveness he felt, but he was going to be honest about this too. “Doesn’t count, wasn’t you.” Dean opened his mouth to protest but then very obviously reconsidered, given his oft-expressed stance on Sam’s soulless behavior. “From now on, this is mine.” He gestured, and meant the panties as well as the man wearing them; Dean would understand.

Dean’s eyes flicked up, a flash of his cussedness reasserting itself. “We take a vote on who’s in charge and I just don’t remember?” He was so beautiful, and so brave, standing there not trying to cover up despite how Sam was leaving him exposed.

Sam grinned and knew it was a predator’s. “You were the one worried about manipulating me. Now get on the bed.”

Dean licked his lips and Sam nearly jumped him right then. But he was rewarded for his restraint when Dean eased himself down, arranging himself like an odalisque. With one arm propping his head up, his other hand on his belly and one knee drawn up, he was a sensual overload, and Sam didn’t even resent that Dean knew it.

Faster than he’d ever stripped before, Sam got down to his boxers. Typically, Dean’s reaction to seeing him without his overshirt was a combination of appreciative and mother-hen scrutiny, checking to make sure Sam hadn’t gotten too skinny. It should have been offputting, but Sam had accepted long ago that he was always going to want the searchlight of Dean’s attention, however he could get it. Now, Dean’s eyes were hooded with wanting, no concern at all, and Sam preened as if he’d been taking lessons from Dean himself.

Then he couldn’t wait one second longer and all but collapsed onto Dean, driving him onto his back. Dean’s breath whooshed out but Sam didn’t let him recover, seizing his mouth and framing his jaw with unsteady hands. Keeping him in place, to make it as clear as possible that, even when they were done here, Sam was never letting him go in any way that counted.

They were skin to skin from chest to Dean’s cold and bony toes, except for the interruption of Sam’s boxers and Dean’s—yes, he was going to keep coming back to this—panties. He broke the kiss and watched Dean’s head fall back against the covers, so close that he could’ve counted the freckles on Dean’s eyelids. “Should we keep them on?” he asked, breathless with imagining the alternatives. “I could push them aside and fuck you like that.”

Dean’s body convulsed underneath him, not enough to push him off but a solid vote in favor of Sam’s plan.

One of the nice things about fucking the guy you’d watched obsessively for years was that you didn’t have to ask him where he kept his condoms and lube.

“I’m clean,” Dean said as Sam stood, answering the question Sam might not even have asked, desperate as he was.

The only thing that could have cleared Sam’s head at this moment was Dean’s own safety, so Sam gave it real thought before he nodded. “Me too.” He brought the lube back to the bed. “C’mon.”

Dean obediently rolled onto his hands and knees. Sam nearly lost it right then: the panties had a mesh back, showing the crack of Dean’s ass and the dark shadows of his balls through a haze of red. He bit his tongue and tasted blood, then blinked a few times until he was sure he could touch Dean without shooting immediately. The mockery might almost have been worth it—but he wanted Dean to feel him for the next week.

Fantasy proved more accommodating than reality, however, when the damned mesh refused to stretch. Dean made only a slight protesting sound, but Sam was pretty sure he nearly racked Dean’s balls in his attempts. Sam pulled back and rethought. “Push your knees together,” he ordered, and Dean’s compliance was a thrill in itself. He tugged the panties down so that they rested below the curve of Dean’s ass, binding his thighs like a red silk rope and allowing them no more than two inches apart.

“You look amazing,” he told Dean, wanting to reward him. Dean grunted, more exasperated than pleased—‘get on with it’ in Dean-speak, which Sam allowed because he entirely agreed.

Sam didn’t have much room to work, and Dean was probably going to have trouble sitting down for the next few days, but if Dean even tried to pretend he didn’t like pain with his pleasure Sam was going to laugh at him. He pressed one slick finger inside the furnace that was Dean. His hand looked so tan against the paleness of Dean’s ass, highlighted by the bright red line of the panties just below.

He pulled back to add more lube and a second finger, then curled them both, searching for what Dean liked. Dean had his head turned so that Sam could see his profile, and the smallest twitch of Dean’s lip told him where to press harder and where to pull back. Dean’s eyes were closed now, lost in his own pleasure, making soft grunts as Sam pressed and tugged. Dean’s shoulders were bunched, holding himself up, and Sam could have spent a thousand years mapping the topography of his back.

But if he didn’t get his dick inside Dean right the fuck now, his heart was going to explode, and anyway it was unlikely that Sam had world enough and time, so he spread his fingers, feeling the cling of Dean’s flesh and watching it stretch to accommodate him. Then his patience, never his strong suit with Dean, was at an end.

Dean didn’t protest when he pulled back. As Sam slicked himself up, he found his eyes caught on the back of Dean’s neck, where tiny beads of sweat were caught in the fine hairs of Dean’s nape. He’d done that. He’d do more.

They both groaned when the head of Sam’s dick dragged along the back of Dean’s thigh, leaving a shiny streak that ended just above the panties. Sam pushed forward again, found his target then glanced away. He cursed viciously—Dean chuffed laughter—and repositioned himself with shaking hands.

This time, he got where he wanted to be. Dean was like a silk fist around him, hot and dragging despite all the lube Sam had used. Dean said, “Sam,” again and again like it was a prayer, like it was his liturgy. He pushed in, deeper and deeper, in jagged bursts like lightning strikes.

At last he could force himself no further. The front of his thighs pressed against the back of Dean’s, interrupted only by the scratchy mesh line keeping Dean’s legs so close together. His own knees were almost touching; he wasn’t balancing on his own but instead was using Dean, forcing him to hold them both up as his hands settled on the top curve of Dean’s ass, his thumbs stretching out to cover the line where the panties had just been.

“I don’t give a shit why we’re here,” Sam said, snapping his hips and forcing a groan from Dean, “This is real, and I want it, and we get to have it,” punctuating each phrase with another thrust.

That was the extent of his ability to stay coherent. He dug his fingers into Dean’s sweaty flanks and gave himself over to the fuck. He was involuntarily attempting to force Dean’s knees wider, frustrated and turned on by the resistance.

If he’d had control of his brain, he would’ve expected what happened next. The panties gave up the fight with a ripping sound audible above the slapping of their skins; Dean’s legs spread automatically, straining against a binding that was no longer there; Sam pitched forward, driving down and impossibly further inside Dean, and came with a mingled yowl of surprise and ecstasy, his brain emptying of everything but Dean, Dean, Dean.

****

Honestly, it was a good thing that Dean was trapped under Sam’s body and dazed from the most mind-altering orgasm he’d ever had; it might’ve been even better had he still been held in place by the panties, too, because even Sam’s body and his own together weren’t enough to keep him from wanting to bolt.

Sam was an endless river of heavy warmth, flowing over him and even inside him, still, uncomfortable now. That felt appropriate. Getting Sam should hurt some.

He wanted to believe Sam so much. But when did he ever get what he wanted?

Except. He hadn’t asked. Hadn’t even made a move. And if wanting alone would’ve been enough, then it should’ve been years ago; he hadn’t strengthened the powers so much as started noticing them.

Tensing his muscles made the thick intrusion of Sam’s cock go from uncomfortable to actively annoying, so he forced his body to relax. Sam was crushing him into the sagging mattress, pressing the air out of his lungs. Dean rarely fucked guys big enough to do that, which probably said something about how he repressed his feelings. Either that or it said something about how few giants there were walking the earth. Anyhow, with any guy other than Sam, he’d have been freaking out just from the physical constraint, struggling to get away. That didn’t feel as important, or maybe as useful, with Sam.

I need you to trust me, Sam had said.

He could feel his pulse, hammering through his body. His skin, sweat-slick and sticky everywhere they touched. His muscles, strained and aching from the last hunt and the fuck.

It took a while to figure out what he didn’t feel: scared that Sam was going to leave him again. Sam had said he needed Dean’s trust, but what he meant was that he trusted Dean. Dean was probably going to fuck that up eventually. But he wasn’t strong enough to turn Sam down. And if Sam was brave enough to admit what he wanted, to tell Dean what he needed, then Dean wasn’t going to wimp out on him.

****

Sam didn’t know how long it was before he came back to himself. His dick was still mostly hard and mostly inside Dean, the sensation almost painful. He was lying on top of Dean, chin over Dean’s shoulder and hands on Dean’s biceps, pressing Dean down onto the mattress. Dean’s warmth soaked into his skin as they both moved with Dean’s slow, uneven breaths.

Oh, crap. “Dean?” Sam asked with dawning concern. If he’d passed out and left Dean hanging, he was never going to hear the end of it.

“’m good,” Dean mumbled, sounding embarrassed himself.

In fairness to Sam, his brain was only rebooting in stages. It took him agonizing seconds to realize that he’d made Dean come untouched, just from getting fucked. His dick jerked, trying to pretend he was eighteen again.

“Shut up,” Dean said, more loudly this time, and twitched his shoulder, urging Sam off. They parted with mutual gasps of pleasure-pain that couldn’t interrupt Sam’s smug grin. He stared up at the anonymous motel ceiling, happier than he could remember being before.

Dean rolled onto his side, facing away from Sam but in exactly the right place for what another man would’ve called cuddling. Dean would claim that he was only getting away from the wet spot. Sam didn’t make him defend himself, only tilted back towards Dean and slung a hand over his hip, nuzzling into the dip of muscle between his shoulders.

This was easier to say post-orgasm, and without looking Dean in the face. “I know you’re worried about interfering with my free will, and frankly you should be. Not gonna lie, I thought about it a lot.” Dean tensed up, and Sam squeezed hard enough to bruise, reassuring and instructing him to stay put at the same time. “And what I ended up with was: for whatever reason, it doesn’t work on me. There’s nothing ‘out of character,’ like Castiel said, in any of the times I’ve gone along with your dumb-ass plans, just like there’s nothing out of character in any of the times I haven’t. So shut down the drama and come back to the Bunker. We’re safer together, and if the Men of Letters do come after us, there’ll be plenty of use for your power to cloud men’s minds.”

Dean considered this for a long time. Sam was almost asleep when Dean snorted.

“What?”

“Cloud men’s minds. Maybe it doesn’t work on chicks. Which would explain—”

Sam nudged his thigh between Dean’s legs, not pressing against his balls enough to cause any discomfort, but not all that far from them either. He noticed the red welts left by the ripped-apart panties, striping Dean’s upper thighs. Dean hissed when Sam ran his fingertips over Dean’s left outer thigh, the most accessible spot. Not a serious injury, Sam judged. “Sorry about the panties,” he said, just to feel Dean’s skin heat at the use of the word. “I’ll get you some new pairs.”

“Trust your fashion sense? Yeah, right.”

Sam squeezed, his palm covering a wide swath of the welt, and Dean gasped. “I’ll get you some new pairs,” he repeated, “and you’ll wear them for me, and you’ll like it.”

The click of Dean’s throat was loud in the sex-fogged room as he swallowed. Then: “I thought I was the one with the mind control powers.”

Sam didn’t bother to hide his grin as he flipped Dean onto his back and braced on his arms so he could look down at Dean. “Don’t think I’m going to need mind control for that.”

Whatever response Dean might have given was lost in Sam’s mouth, exchanging grasping, greedy kisses. And if, as Sam put his hand to Dean’s neck and pushed his head back against the pillow, as he bit his way across Dean’s ribcage and sucked his nipples to tenderness, as he pressed Dean’s leg up against his chest far enough that Dean sucked in a breath at the stretch—if he thought that having this with Dean was even better for the fuck-you it gave to the long-foiled plans that had produced two angel vessels who didn’t want the job, well, Dean wouldn’t disagree, and he was the only one whose opinion mattered. Their relationship was twisted and fire-annealed, stronger for all the damage it had sustained. Dean was the one thing he’d never give up; nothing and no one could matter more.

And, if necessary, Dean could convince anyone else that Sam was right.