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This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series Filthy Mind

Sam woke to the sounds of Dean fucking someone in the next bed. After the initial disorientation, he shoved his head into his pillow. How the hell had Dean managed that, anyway? He would have woken up if Dean had left, and he should have woken up if the waitress from dinner or the girl who'd sold them gas or the tired-looking woman who'd given them their key or the—whatever, if anyone had knocked on their door.

He considered asking for a break in the action so he could go out to the car. But even sneaky, stealth hookups deserved some dignity, and she might not have known that Sam was in the next bed, or Dean might have promised her that Sam slept like the dead and wouldn't notice.

She wasn't making much noise, which supported the theory that she didn't want Sam to wake up. Either that, or Dean wasn't performing up to his usual standards. Given the giggling and reluctance to let Dean go that Sam had seen on too many mornings after, that seemed unlikely. If anything, he would have expected the girl to need to jam her fist into her mouth, if it wasn't otherwise occupied, to avoid crying out.

Whatever she was doing, all he could hear was the slap of flesh against flesh and Dean's harsh breaths, cresting into grunts at the end.

He laid there in the darkness for a while, but he was asleep again before she left.

****

"Look, I sympathize with your burning desire to reaffirm your masculinity after last week's disclosures, but I didn't appreciate last night's performance," he said the next morning as Dean was digging in to his disgusting ketchup-coated eggs.

Dean choked, long enough that Sam was halfway out of his seat before Dean managed to calm down and wave him off. "What the hell are you talking about?" Dean's voice was still rough from coughing. He didn't meet Sam's eyes.

"Whatever girl you snuck in? I might not be twelve any more, but it's still inappropriate." Unwillingly, he flashed back to the last time he'd been forced to be up close and personal with Dean's sexual gymnastics. Dean's endurance had improved since he was sixteen, but that made it even less fun to hear. And without Dad around to complain to, he really needed to stop this behavior in its tracks before it became one of Dean's tease-Sam habits.

Dean wasn't fighting back; he was staring down, gripping his fork as if it were a socket wrench and the eggs a recalcitrant auto part. He was wearing the blank, unfriendly mask he used to confront ghosts, though it was aimed at his plate and not at Sam. "Dean?"

"You must've been dreaming," Dean said flatly.

Sam blinked. Over the years, he'd had reason to distinguish between dreamstates and waking, and he would have sworn he'd been awake. But it did make a lot more sense of why he would have missed a woman coming in or leaving. "Oh," he said, dumbly, then felt himself flush as red as the ketchup Dean was swirling on his plate.

Dean took a breath and glanced up, smiling. "That's okay, Sammy. Who wouldn't have sweet dreams about me?"

Sam grimaced and dug into his too-hot oatmeal.

The waitress came by just then, and Dean gave her his Standard Waitress Smile, the one with crinkled eyes and a tilted head. The one that said, "If you were on the menu, sweetheart, I'd definitely place an order." She was a brunette, nothing out of the ordinary in the way she filled her uniform, but she had nice eyes. She almost overtopped Sam's coffee cup, stopping only when Sam cleared his throat.

****

The rest of the day was devoted to research, not active hunting. Sam was grateful for the extra time. He was still a little sore from the last hunt.

That one had been grim. They'd come to the Boston suburb after the deaths of five preteen girls, and they hadn't managed to prevent two additional deaths. Originally they'd thought it was witches, but it had turned out that the local coven was investigating, same as they had been, and they had managed to work together. After they'd killed the dragon—okay, it was only a miniature dragon, but still—the head of the coven had pulled Dean aside to talk about his bad attitude.

Three minutes later, Dean had been back, bespelled so that he had to talk honestly, and include information about his feelings. The look of outrage on his face had been more satisfying than any good grade had ever been, and then when he'd hurried back over to Sam, the spell itself had forced him to tell Sam what it was about. It had been the best revenge ever, and Sam had wanted to hug the witch, but had settled for a grin and a thumbs up from across the clearing. Powerful and with a good insight into human psychology—just the kind of person he wanted on his side.

Dean had been hurting from a second-degree burn on his leg and lesser burns over most of his forearms, and Sam had been pretty scratched up himself, so they'd stayed in town for a few extra days. That had started out awesome too: Dean had begun loading the car as soon as they got back to the motel, but Sam had complained, and Dean had said, "Yeah, I'd like a day off too, but I don't want you to think I'm getting soft." He'd given up packing while Sam was still convulsing with laughter.

"I don't want you to think X" had turned out to be a big thing with Dean. That had not, in fact, been an enormous shock, but it had been hysterical. When the waitress at the diner had asked what he wanted for lunch, he'd told her that he really wanted a turkey sandwich, but felt like he ought to order something greasy just to gross out Sam. He'd ended up eating his turkey sandwich while scowling constantly, so it had been win-win for Sam.

Sam hadn't abused his new powers. Much. He hadn't wanted this interlude to leave Dean too pissed-off to be good company. Forcing Dean to talk about his major issues was like sparring with a sharpened machete.

Still, there had been moments, like getting Dean to admit that, yes, ABBA was catchy, that would be mockery fodder for a long time. The funniest incident had been all but accidental: Dean had stopped at a drugstore, and when Sam asked why, he'd been treated to an extended discussion of various hair gels and their subtly different effects on Dean's carefully disarranged style. Sam was now convinced that Dean had used more different kinds of hair products than he had actual follicles.

Or maybe the best one was Dean's admission, after he'd finished detailing the car, that he'd often prefer a good engine repair to a one-night stand, but would settle for the latter under time and/or resource constraints. (Not in so many words, but Sam liked his rephrasing better.)

In any event, while they'd been out buying food for their last dinner in town, the witch had popped up again, all smiles and flowing earth-tone clothes in the frozen foods aisle. Sam had smiled at her, so wide it hurt his face, but she hadn't done more than glance his way. "So what do you think of witches now?" she'd asked, crowding into Dean's personal space.

Dean had grinned like he was acknowledging a good prank of Sam's. "Still don't trust 'em, but I think you know what you're doing. And you're really hot," he'd added as an afterthought.

Sam had been surprised that Dean would ever think anything before "hot." But it had sure seemed to work on the witch, Lacey.

"Mind if I borrow your brother?" she'd asked Sam, pulling Dean away.

Dean had flashed Sam a triumphant smile over his shoulder. "… No?" Sam had said as they'd passed the ice cream. He'd been glad that he wasn't the one under the compulsion to talk: Jesus, Dean could trip in shit and come up smelling like pussy.

He'd hoped Dean knew what he was doing. It was one thing for Dean to tell Sam the truth. Sam hadn't much liked the idea of Dean running his mouth to a near-stranger. Not that he'd thought that Dean was likely to get the chance to tell his life story.

He'd spent his remaining night in town eating microwave macaroni and cheese and doing desultory research on the next possible hunts. Dean had called Sam at a little after eight the next morning to come pick him up at Lacey's house. He'd collected Dean under the furious glare of an older man who he'd figured was Lacey's father. Sam had smiled sheepishly at the man while Lacey had given Dean a long, wet kiss and then pressed a wafer on his tongue to release the spell.

They'd hit the road after that, because God forbid Dean stay within two states of a girl he'd just slept with, but the next job on the list was an as-yet-unidentified ghost, which meant libraries instead of shovels. Contrary to Dean's constant verbal jabs, Sam had nothing against the latter, but he did like a good mix of brain- and brawn-work, so all in all, he appreciated a day spent in an archive basement, surrounded by the raisin-bread smell of rotting paper.

****

After a dragon, a routine haunting should have been cake, but the first day of legwork in New Paltz turned up only a few leads; they'd need another day before they could set something on fire. Dean was the one who bitched about lack of progress, but Sam privately agreed with him. They sparred for an hour after dinner to work out some of the frustration, using a grassy patch of land between the motel and the highway offramp. At least that was enough of a workout to make sleep appealing.

A low noise woke Sam. He put his hand on his gun, slitted his eyes open and saw from the bedside clock that it was well after midnight.

The sound from the next bed repeated. The bleed of light from the parking lot outside was enough to reveal Dean lying splayed out and naked.

"Dean—?" he began, releasing the gun as he sat up and rubbed his eyes. But Dean didn't look like he was playing chicken with Sam's sense of decency. He looked—surprised, maybe? If he was having a bizarre sex dream, Sam was never going to let him live it down.

Unwillingly, Sam's eyes dropped to Dean's cock, which was moving in a way that made absolutely no sense: up and down, but not naturally. He was half-hard, and Sam could see the skin around the head bunching up and relaxing like—

Holy fuck.

Adrenalin hit him like a hammer, catapulting him into full awareness. Without thinking about it, he leaned over towards Dean, bracing his hands on the edge of his bed to get a better look.

He couldn't take his eyes off of Dean's dick, darkening with blood as he watched, swaying a little as it thickened. It was almost possible to believe that Dean was doing this on his own, but something else was responsible for the side-to-side jerks and the continued slide of skin up near the head. As Sam watched, the middle of Dean's dick just sort of spread out a little, as if it was being compressed by invisible fingers. A sick shudder went through Sam, bringing him back to himself.

Every succubus they'd ever heard tell of was visible, so this had to be something different. A poltergeist?

Well, he did have someone to consult: "What the hell is that?"

Dean managed to push his head and shoulders up off the bed, propping himself up with his elbows. "Looks like a—oh—handjob."

Sam's stomach flipped over. God, Dean wasn't even covering himself with a sheet. Of course Dean would have an over-amorous exhibitionist ghost attach itself to him; Dean had probably dreamed about this sort of thing for years.

Dean's eyes fluttered closed. Sam watched him as he tilted his head back and swallowed, the tendons and hollows of his neck arrowing down to his naked chest. "Dean!"

"I guess I'm just that sexy," Dean gritted out. His hips were jumping up and down now, little thrusts that should have looked sillier than they did. "Not really used to an audience," he said after a moment. "But hey, if it's working for you—"

Sam opened his mouth to deny it, then realized that if Dean bothered to check, he'd be able to see Sam half-hard in his boxers. He'd been sleeping, it was natural, but explaining that would only lead to further humiliation.

"I'm going to the car," he snapped, and jumped out of bed, looking for his sneakers. The spring night was warm enough that he could get away with boxers and a T-shirt, but when this was over, he was going to get Dean for fucking up the salt lines so that a spirit could get in, even a horny spirit. Come to think of it, that must have been what happened last night.

Dean picked up girls like pennies, and there was no reason they had to be alive for him to do it.

He was in a foul mood by the time he stomped out of the room, not improved any by Dean's soft noises. And he was still steaming when he knocked on their door half an hour later. There was no answer; when he cracked the door, he saw Dean passed out on his stomach. At least he'd dragged a sheet over his ass.
Sam considered waking Dean up, but his own eyes felt like they'd been shoveled full of sand, he had a backache from trying to doze in the car, and in general he'd rather chew Dean out in the morning. He staggered around resetting the salt lines. In his zombielike state, he couldn't tell where Dean had left the break. Then he collapsed back into his bed.

****

When he woke up, Dean was already gone, and there was a bag of donuts on the table by the door. Sam checked his messages and learned that Dean was visiting one of the two graves that they'd identified yesterday as potentially connected to the latest haunted house.

Sam stared at the donuts with suspicion. Dean didn't do peace offerings that didn't involve some heavily masculine activity like engine repair, or at least the use of the word 'bitch.' But the coffee next to the bag was still hot, and Dean had even remembered real sugar.

Thinking about Dean's guest last night led to remembering how Dean had looked, stretched out and pliant under invisible caresses, and so he put it off in favor of eating breakfast and doing work that could produce useful, manageable results.

The second gravesite was within walking distance. Sam showered, left a note, and headed out.

The grave next to their suspect had recently been disturbed. Sam pretended to be a reporter working on a feature on funny stories from the graveyard, and the caretaker was happy to explain: Apparently the dead man's brother-in-law had held him responsible for the death of his wife, and now that the dead man was no longer in a position to object, the brother-in-law had gotten his sister disinterred and reburied in the family plot. As it happened, the dead man was not pleased with this turn of events, which explained the recent paranormal shenanigans at the brother-in-law's house.

Given that the poltergeist had started with breaking glass and had moved up to throwing knives, Sam was going to guess that the brother-in-law had been right all along.

By the time Sam got back the motel, he was more relaxed. He read a little of a rare demonology book Bobby had sent him. And when the door opened to let Dean in, he didn't start yelling at Dean first thing for exposing him to Dean's own supernatural groupie.

Instead, he slapped the book closed and stood up, advancing on Dean. "Why did you let me think it was a dream? Why didn't you tell me?"

Dean smirked at him. "I didn't know there'd be a repeat engagement. Don't worry, this time I told her I'm not exactly a keeper."

"If you've picked up a ghost stalker—"

Dean shook his head. "I got it covered," he said, with all the easy confidence that used to make Sam feel perfectly safe no matter what was happening. "I spent the morning doing the basic ghost-cleaning rituals, and—" he pulled his collar down so that Sam could see he was wearing a new charm just under his amulet. "Ghost repellent. Tells a spirit that you're satisfied, that there's no debt left between you and it." Sam vaguely recognized the shape of it; because they only hunted dangerous ghosts, they'd never had much use for the magics that allowed communication with more benign or indifferent spirits, but he'd seen similar things in books.

"I figure that oughta tell her I'm just not that into her," Dean continued.

Sam nodded slowly, considering. There was always the chance—given their lives, the probability—that the spirit would go Fatal Attraction on Dean once he rejected it, but they had plenty of shotguns in that event.

Chances were she was connected to the motel room somehow. Maybe she was the ghost of some horny former housewife who'd had an affair here once, and who'd seen a chance to recreate the experience with Dean, who after all regularly emitted sex vibes that had to be visible from space. Probably he'd been jerking off while Sam slept, and that was what invited her in.

"Fine," Sam said shortly. "Meanwhile, I found the right grave."

****

They started digging not long before eleven. What they really needed, he told Dean, was to swap the Impala for a backhoe. They could drive it around the country; it would have extra storage space, and it couldn't possibly get worse gas mileage.

Dean's sputtering passed the time. Digging up graves was not the most exciting part of the job. He dreaded Dean's bragging about his most recent, ghostly conquest, but, probably because Dean wouldn't be able to testify to her physical attributes in any detail, Dean didn't bring it up. Sam considered that a personal favor.

They'd just cracked the top of the coffin when Dean made a surprised sound; Sam dropped his shovel and had his shotgun aimed by the time Dean's shoulders hit the side of the grave.

Sam couldn't see anything other than Dean being pulled upwards and back onto the grass. Sam fired a round into the air above Dean's head on general principles, then jumped out of the hole, looking around for the poltergeist.

The salt should have dissipated the ghost for a moment, but Dean was still flat on his back, struggling with—

Sam stopped and blinked. Dean's fly was open, and his overshirt had been ripped, buttons scattered across the grass where they'd landed. As Sam watched, Dean's boots flew off his feet. Dean yelped a protest and swatted his arms in the air, and then his wrists hit the ground over his head. His fists clenched and his muscles strained, from his forearms down to his now-exposed stomach, but he didn't manage to move.

This wasn't an attack by John Bateman, their target. It was the sex ghost. Except that salt hadn't done anything to slow it down, which meant that it wasn't a standard ghost. That meant the other kind of spirit, a demon, and that meant that orgasms weren't its endgame.

The helpless anger on Dean's face hit home like a baseball bat to the stomach. He'd laughed at what had happened last night, because who'd ever imagine Dean turning down sex?

Dean looked up at him, furious. "Burn the fucking bones," he said.

Which was a hell no. Sam advanced on Dean and his attacker.

"Behind you!" Dean yelled. Sam ducked and rolled, bringing the shotgun up; the ghost was halfway through the barrel when he fired, but it still worked. Sam reloaded frantically, rushing back towards the grave.

Even if the demon wanted to keep toying with Dean, the homicidal ghost was unlikely to have the same opinion, and Dean was in no condition to defend himself. Sam grabbed for the gasoline.

Sloshing the liquid over the open coffin took an eternal half-minute, the noise obscuring any sounds Dean might be making, and then the damned Bic wouldn't go on, Sam's fingers clumsy and forgetful of all his training. At last the wheel clicked under his thumb, and he threw the flaming lighter down. The ghost of John Bateman rematerialized long enough to scream in rage and rush the coffin; Sam snatched up the shotgun and blasted his incorporeal ass.
Sam barely waited long enough to make sure the bones had caught fire before he was running back to Dean. He'd started chanting in Latin before Dean was even in view, hoping the exorcism would work just as well on a succubus as on a greater demon. He skidded to his knees, still chanting. Dean was all but naked now, his jeans crumpled around his ankles and his gray T-shirt wadded into a rope over his collarbone, but the demon wasn't inflicting any physical damage: Dean's skin was unmarked, even his old scars blurred in the bad light.

Dean groaned and put his forearm over his eyes. "Get out of here," he ordered Sam. Sam ignored him, finishing the exorcism. It hadn't done any good. Dean's body was still twisting involuntarily, and his arm was quickly shoved back up to where it had started. Dean's eyes were shut tight, his face screwed up with effort, but his limbs only trembled where they were fixed. He looked like a teaser ad for a rough trade porn site, clenched fists and upthrust cock, offering himself to anyone who could pin him down.

Sam gave up on words and reached out to the space just above Dean's body to grab the thing away. There was nothing; his fingers closed on empty air, and he nearly overbalanced and came crashing down on Dean, whose hips were jerking up, pushing his erection into empty air. Sam reared back: Dean's cock was right there, blue-veined, the skin looking as soft and vulnerable as Dean's lips, the head as wet as if someone had been licking at it.

Sam tried again, more carefully, to shove at the demon. He could feel the heat rising from Dean's skin, could even feel the tickle of the sparse hairs on Dean's thighs, but nothing else. No ghost-cold, no invisible entity pushing aside the air, nothing.

Sam couldn't make sense of the attack. The demon was manifesting physically, so it should have had a reaction to Sam's intervention, even if just to smack him away. Of course, a succubus should have been visible, too.

Dean was breathing hard as his ass ground further into the grass, as if the thing were riding him. There was a line, a slight indentation, at the tops of his thighs, where a human-shaped weight might have been resting.

Sam swallowed and looked at his brother's chest, heaving and beginning to shine with sweat. Dean was curling up a little with each thrust, his abs contracting, grunting with effort each time. His arms were still pinned, his fingers clenching and unclenching, twisting as if he were trying to work his way out of unseen ropes.

Sam concentrated and reached deep inside himself to where his powers had been anchored. He'd promised not to do this any more.

No matter how he strained, he couldn't make his mind wrap around the thing any more than his fingers had been able to. It was like it was on a completely different plane than the rest of existence, only intersecting reality where it touched Dean.

"Sam," Dean said through gritted teeth, "get the fuck away. I'm'a make her happy and then we can work on it."

That wasn't a bad idea, since obviously he wasn't equipped to combat the thing just yet. Except that if he left, he wouldn't know if the thing was killing Dean. Demons didn't do this kind of thing without a happy ending, demon-style.

Dean squirmed and then, shockingly, managed to bring his arms down long enough to grab the demon's invisible hips, pulling her higher on his body. Dean panted harshly and bit his lip, his eyes still closed. He started to thrust up in a real rhythm, his palms smoothing over empty air, curling in as if squeezing his partner's ass.

Sam's heart shuddered in his chest; it was like being fourteen again, every nerve exposed to the world, feeling every inch of his skin catch fire and being sure that death by embarrassment was only a minute in the future. Except this time his embarrassment might get Dean killed, not make him laugh.

His paralysis broke and he rabbited to the car. Dean was doing the only thing he could: trying to make it last, trying to be such a wildcat in the sack that even a demon would hesitate to kill him. Since Sam had just proved himself absolutely useless, he had to hope that Dean's plan would buy them enough time to figure out how to kill it.

After tossing a bunch of crap out of the trunk, he found Dad's journal and ran back towards the gravesite. He found a headstone about ten feet away from Dean, one that would hide him from Dean's line of sight while still allowing him to get there fast, and slumped down against it. He could hear Dean murmuring filthy things and tried to ignore the words, simultaneously straining to hear that Dean's voice didn't falter. Then he stuffed his flashlight in his mouth, flipped the journal open and began to read.

****

Sam was parsing his father's more-than-usually-cryptic notes on African sex demons when Dean groaned, long and pained, and fell silent. Sam stood up so fast that he lost the journal in the darkness.

Dean was spread out on his back in the dirt like a pornographic Vitruvian man. Something dark and slick uncoiled in Sam's stomach. Come streaked Dean's groin, his cock still hard and red, lying along one thigh as it spat out a few last times. Panting, his muscles highlighted by the still-flickering firelight, he looked debauched but not damaged.

Dean blinked up at Sam, and for a moment Sam could see uncertainty. Then the blast doors slammed down. Dean casually sat up and began tugging at his clothes.

Sam's brain started de-icing. The light from the flashlight in his hand was wobbling; he looked curiously down at his hand until it stilled. Then he remembered the journal. "I'll be right back," he told Dean, who had no reaction. He had to root around to find it, a black rectangle on the close-cropped green-white grass where it had fallen.

For a moment, Sam hated his father as much as he ever had, for making the choices that put them in a graveyard, alone, beset by every evil thing that crossed their path. Dad had raised a standing army of two, and the one thing history proved about armies was that they found things to fight.

They just didn't always win.

His every muscle knotted with anger, a thick black feeling that formed a protective seal over the fear.

"Hey," Dean said from behind him. Sam turned and saw that Dean had shoved his feet back into unlaced boots; his overshirt flapped loose around him, little strings hanging from where the buttons had been ripped off. Dean rubbed the back of his neck, looking down at Sam's feet.

Without another word, they went back to the car. Sam resented the way that they both knew, without saying, that it made sense to get the hell out of a desecrated graveyard before dealing with their pending problem. They were so fucking professional it made him sick.

While they were driving, Dean kept opening his mouth as if he were going to say something—something flip and reassuring and utterly stupid, Sam figured—but he never managed actual words. Sam's own brain was malfunctioning; he couldn't concentrate on a single thought long enough to pin it down. His hands felt weak and his breath came too fast.

Sam's fury—that was what it was, this feeling—needed to be aimed at the right target. That wasn't Dean, no matter how much of a—no matter what had triggered this latest trouble. What had happened was brilliantly calculated to mix sex with humiliation and helplessness, and Sam wasn't going to let his natural reactions interfere with saving Dean.

****

Back in the room, Sam went to check the salt lines on the windows and doors. They were intact.

"They were all fine last night, too," Dean said from where he was sitting on the bed.

Sam still felt half-frozen, like a side of beef hung too long in a meat locker. His own body was twitching in reaction to what had been done to Dean. He should suggest a shower. No, that would just make Dean pretend he was totally happy with what had happened. Sam desperately wanted a shower, wanted to wrap Dean up in ten layers of clothes.

He shook his head, forcing himself to work the case like it was any other. The spirit had gotten inside the salt, and the exorcism didn't do anything. So Dean's attacker couldn't be an ordinary spirit or demon. "Al Basti would leave you with a fever and isn't invisible besides. All the other succubus-like creatures I know about are more about draining energy than sex."

He stopped to take a breath. Dean gave him a transparent version of his usual smile, one that had the threat of violence hovering around it. "Maybe I'm just that tasty," he suggested.

Sam reminded himself that Dean needed his bullshit macho posing more than ever right now. "In the morning we should call that witch. She already spelled you once, who knows what she could have done on your way out."

Dean actually looked hurt. "Lacey? She wasn't mad at me any more."

Dean thought that making a girl come was some sort of get-out-of-jail-free card; this was because he'd never been in a long-term relationship. Sam scowled at him. "She's a witch. Who knows what she thought would be good for you? Or maybe she was trying to do you a favor and screwed up a casting."

Even without the honesty spell, Sam could feel the moment when Dean decided that Sam was right enough that pulling his chain wasn't worth the effort. "Fine, but you make the call. I call a girl back, she starts to get ideas." Slowly, as if he wasn't entirely aware he was doing it, he was rubbing his T-shirt against his stomach, as if he were cleaning himself off even though the come had to be long dried. Sam forced himself to keep his eyes on Dean's face and not the movement of his shoulders.

Sam took a deep, calming breath. "And I'm calling B—."

"No way," Dean said.

"I won't tell him—"

"The fuck you won't. You gotta describe the background or he can't help. How long you think it'll take him to figure out you're talking about me?"

Sam looked up at the ceiling, trying to gather his strength for another round of Dean's bullshit. Then he strode forward until he was only a few feet from where Dean was sitting at the edge of his bed and dropped to his knees so their eyes were almost at a level. Dean twitched back, just an inch or so, as if Sam had pulled a gun on him. "A succubus drains her victims until they die, Dean. So, yeah, if I have to take out an ad in The New York Times explaining that my brother is under attack, I'm gonna."

"It's not a succubus," Dean said, his voice as steady as his hands on the wheel of the car.

"And you know that from the extensive research you've done."

Dean watched him, rubbing his fingers over his mouth. Then his eyes flickered closed, as if he were thinking something through. "I don't feel 'drained,' and I didn't feel drained last night or the night before. And a succubus is a demon, which means that the exorcism should've worked. Before you go makin' me a joke to Bobby and every hunter he talks to, let's work on it ourselves."

That … was about an order of magnitude more rational than he would have expected Dean to be. Maybe it was the lingering aftereffects of orgasm, Sam thought, and then wanted to cover his face in shame. "Okay," he said, and he probably said it too softly, because Dean scowled at him like he thought Sam was just pandering to the assaulted guy.

****

Lacey worked at an accounting firm. She was a CPA, which sounded like something out of a sitcom (number-cruncher by day, wacky Wicca by night!) but made a lot of sense. Being good at witchcraft required a good memory and a passion for detail, not to mention the ability to make judgment calls quickly.

If he had to go kill her, he'd need a tight plan.

He'd scoured his more obscure written sources bare by the time nine o'clock rolled around. Dean, showered and shaved closer than was his habit, had gone out to grab breakfast when Sam made the call.

Her secretary put him straight through. "I didn't think I'd be hearing from you," she said. Sam couldn't tell if there was any extra emphasis on the 'you.'

"Did you leave any spells on Dean?" he asked.

"No," she said. It sounded natural. Sam looked at the two candles he could see, points of a triangle that intersected the circle he was sitting in. The flames didn't flicker. He wasn't confident the truth-detecting spell would work wirelessly, but it was worth a try.

"You're sure, not even a blessing or something?" The law of return didn't guarantee good results, just enjoined witches to act with beneficient intent. There was always the chance that a well-meaning gesture had gone horribly awry.

"What's the matter with him?" Lacey sounded honestly concerned. "If he's still talking a lot, it might be that he's figured out that he was causing himself and others unnecessary pain—"

Sam gave a bark of unwilling laughter. "This isn't about caring and sharing, Lacey. And no—" he spoke over her inquisitive sound—"I can't tell you what's going on."

She sighed. "I didn't do anything but the first spell, I swear to you. If you'd like, I can scry, though it would help if you told me more."

How would she be able to focus a scrying on Dean, he wondered. Then he realized that she probably did have access to some material from Dean's body, and felt newly awkward. "Thanks, but if you aren't involved, it's probably a bad idea for you to get involved."

There was a moment of silence on the other end of the line. "All right," she said slowly. "But if you do need help, let me know. You two did a good job with the drake." Because they weren't face-to-face, Sam rolled his eyes; no matter how wicca she was, he still thought it was pretentious to call a dragon anything other than a dragon.

"Thank you," he said, not letting any of his impatience spill into his voice, and hung up.

Then he called Dean. "Where are you?" he said as soon as Dean answered.

"On my way to Disneyland," Dean said. The candleflames bounced up and down like they were doing squat thrusts, which at least answered the question of whether the spell worked with modern technology. "Parking, what do you think?" He didn't wait for Sam's reply, which was fine, since Sam had to clean up before Dean got back to the room. Dean might be getting softer on the topic of witches, but he was still likely to object if he thought Sam was performing rituals without him.

****

Dean spent the rest of the morning protesting that there was nothing wrong with his situation except that he couldn't tell whether the girl was hot. It had been so nice to believe that this was just a matter of super-sexy Dean, chick magnet even on the spiritual plane. But Sam knew their luck wasn't that good.

Sam was almost grateful when Dean begged off of research before lunch, claiming to need to visit a guy in town who sold good knives. He wouldn't meet Sam's eyes, which meant he knew he was putting it all on Sam, making it Sam's fault if tonight went badly. It didn't get less shitty because Dean knew he was being a dick.

"I wish you wouldn't go," Sam said right as Dean was standing in the doorway. Dean froze like he'd just been caught by the cops. The sunlight coming in from outside turned Dean into a black shadow, outlined by blazing yellow. Dean dipped his head, even as his shoulders rose. His overshirt was rolled up, exposing his forearms, and his loose jeans highlighted the bowing of his legs.

Dean put his hand on the doorknob. The light made his ring shine white.

"Sammy," he said, his voice so tired that Sam's protest curled up and died in his throat, "you spent the last half hour telling me not to throw pencils at you. You really think me sitting here saying I'm okay is what you need?"

There was so much he wanted to say: 'Dean, you did hunts on your own, you're not just the guy who shoots things.' 'Dean, you don't have to stop pretending, just maybe not so hard.' But the best he could manage was, "We need to restock the herbs. And get some charcoal sticks, I've got an idea for a protective sigil."

"Sure thing," Dean said.

****

Of course there was nothing in Sam's books or in the databases he used. He didn't even think Dean's eager assistance would have helped, because what he had was a lot of information about incubi and succubi, a little bit of information about non-European variants, and practically zip on invisible sexual attackers. Everything he found turned out to be about that old movie with Barbara Hershey. Even if he took that story as gospel, it offered no solutions, only desperation.

He kept seeing last night in his mind's eye: Dean splayed out, ready for the taking. Unable to see what was coming, required to go along with whatever happened. Because the entity was invisible, Sam thought, it seemed more like a fantasy. A demon lover, a force making Dean do only what he'd really wanted all along.

At the time, he'd been too terrified and awkward to think about the image. But now, when he remembered watching, remembered his hands passing right over Dean's body, it felt like he had been alone with Dean.

The only refuge was in brainstorming solutions. If he fixed the problem, he wouldn't have to worry about Dean's all-too-visible sex life any more.

Dinner was near-silent. Sam brought a notebook with him, and he spent most of the meal sketching and scratching out various seals to draw around Dean. In general, the less you knew about what you were trying to keep out, the more diffuse the protections would be. He'd need the magical equivalent of a nuclear power plant to make his current ideas more than a momentary nuisance to any focused malicious entity. Staring down at his best attempt, he frowned and rubbed his temples, where the headache had settled in hours ago and seemed ready to start redecorating.

"You're freaking out the civilians," Dean said. "You think you could try something besides your death glare?"

He brought his head up, but Dean was already smiling over at the waitress, gesturing at his water glass. She gave him a little I'll-be-right-there wave, and he nodded and winked. Sam thought Dean was on autopilot; he probably didn't even notice he was flirting.

"So, I thought we'd head on over to that poltergeist in Springfield tomorrow," Dean said deliberately, lacing his fingers together and resting his hands on the edge of the table.

Sam blinked slowly, then forced his jaw to unclench. He looked down at his tepid steak, carrot coins and mashed potatoes. He remembered that the plate had arrived steaming. He forced himself to release the pen and pick up the fork.

Dad had always made them eat unless they were so sick that it would just come right back up. At Stanford, he'd used his freedom to skip meals at will, sometimes eating only one meal every twenty-four hours. Now, he couldn't afford the luxury of nearly passing out from hunger and then stuffing himself until he reached food coma. He opened his mouth and took a bite. The meat would have been fine if it had been hot, and the potatoes were grainy and peppery. The carrots were gelatinous but still tasted like vegetables.

Sam chewed his way through the food while Dean took the waitress's recommendation and ordered himself a slice of Boston cream pie. As long as it had sugar and whipped cream, Dean didn't care about the other ingredients. He ate with apparent enjoyment.

****

The previous attacks had occurred after midnight, but they were still back in the room by nine o'clock. Sam wanted plenty of time to prep. Beyond the usual salt lines, beyond the devil's traps, he festooned the room with every protective charm and sigil he knew. The motel was going to need to replace the carpets and repaint the walls. He invoked protection from four deities and three supernatural guardians. He burned incense that was supposed to make the invisible manifest. Dean choked theatrically and then had to jump frantically on the bed to disable the smoke alarm. The motel might also need to invest in fumigation.

After the preliminaries were complete, Sam laid out his weapons just in case any of his attempts worked. Then he rearranged the order, and decided to hide a couple in handy spots. Ordinarily, Dean would have offered color commentary. His silence made the knot in Sam's stomach tighten further.

Dean worked on his in-progress EMF detector, the one that was going to be housed in a video iPod, for about fifteen minutes before throwing his pliers across the room, embedding the nose in the soft plaster above the television.

"It's going to be fine," Sam said, his voice almost steady.

Dean's sneer in response threatened hot death. He stood, his hands flexing at his sides. "Yeah, that's why we've been walking around like I'm heading to the electric chair."

Well, excuse the fuck out of me for being upset, Sam thought. He took a deep breath. "We still don't know what it wants." Dean opened his mouth, and Sam continued, "We don't know if it's going to—escalate."

"Three nights, that's a pattern," Dean said.

"So you're okay with that?" Sam asked. The question came out flatter than he'd meant it, almost like he was asking seriously.

Dean stalked over to the television and rested one hand on it. "I'm not doing a happy dance, Sam. But this, this is worse."

Eventually Dean sighed, pulled the pliers free from the wall, and returned to his seat to clean up his electronics.

After that, Dean fidgeted, alternately playing with his knives and scanning the TV for something he deemed worth watching. Food Channel: No. Discovery Channel: Yes, for three minutes at a time. Sam kept scratching at his arms and legs, tiny itches fooling him into searching for ants or spiders that didn't exist.

About fifteen minutes after midnight, it began. Dean, who'd been pacing like a caged mountain lion, gave a surprised huff and pitched backwards on the bed, just as if he'd been thrown flat by an angry ghost. Sam began chanting as Dean's overshirt twitched and rustled. Instead of ripping it open as it had the previous night, the entity slipped the buttons open one by one, then pushed the shirt off his shoulders. The demon-thing went for his belt next, popping it open and then pulling Dean's zipper down so fast that Sam would have feared for his brother's safety even if it had just been a woman doing it.

Dean's eyes scanned back and forth as if there were something there to see. "Not that this ain't flattering, sweetheart, but you're really not my type," he said. A stranger would have thought that Dean's drawl was relaxed, but Sam heard the golden thread of anger in it.

Dean grunted in surprise as his jeans wrestled themselves down his hips, just as Sam blew a handful of spell powder over him. It drifted gently down onto Dean's body, encountering no obstacle, coating his stomach and the T-shirt that was being shoved up to his armpits. Dean sneezed and cursed, pushing at his attacker. Then Dean seemed to be squeezing the thing's tits, his expression going from pissed-off to interested and pissed-off.

"Any more bright ideas?" Dean asked as he did something that might have been rolling a nipple between his thumb and his index finger.

Sam checked the cheat sheet of rituals he'd left on the bedside table. He started again, this time in Romanian. He was basically just trusting that intent would trump pronunciation; that always worked with Latin. Dean grunted, and Sam lost his place in the ritual. Dean's cock was hard, and curved towards his stomach in a way that looked—that was what it must look like when he was fucking someone, Sam realized. When he was inside a woman. Sam made his mouth restart the words of banishment.

Every nerve was sparking, fear-energy crackling through him until he felt as charged-up as a plasma lamp. Dean was thrusting up, mumbling to himself as he worked one hand in the air above his dick, like he was almost jacking himself off but was too ashamed to close that last inch.

His back was arching, curling him up off the bed; his other hand stroked the air beside his hip. Sam could imagine an invisible leg, wrapped around him.

Sam's words stumbled to a halt just as Dean thrust up one last time and cursed, coming in thin jets that splashed unhindered onto his stomach. That was bizarre, but magic's rules were always bizarre, and Sam shouldn't be staring at the way the white streaks spattered onto Dean's abs and pooled in the dip of his belly button and ran down over his hips and into the creases where his thighs joined his torso.

Sam swallowed and tried to find something safer to look at, and his eyes dropped to the scar at the front of Dean's right thigh, long and thick, cross-hatched with white keloids from what must have been impromptu field surgery. It looked like a cartoon drawing of a gaping mouth. Dean had gotten that while Sam was at Stanford. It was no uglier than the carnations on Dean's chest and back from his gunshot wounds, but Sam wondered now why he had never asked about it. Wondered how Dean could stand getting so torn up when the world didn't know and didn't care what he sacrificed.

It was all mixed up, sex and failure and the desire to do clean violence to something evil; Sam needed to put his hands on something, but there was nothing safe within reach. He closed his eyes and tried to breathe it all out, shut it down until he was more than a mess of hate-filled blood and bone.

Dean cleared his throat. "You want to clean this shit up—" his handwave encompassed all the extra ritual paraphernalia in the room—"or wait for morning?"

"Morning, I guess," Sam said. "I'm gonna—" He headed for the bathroom, planning to wash his hands and maybe his face. His mind was as empty as a new-dug grave.

While he was still washing the last traces of the spell powder off of his forearms, he heard Dean's shout of surprise.

He charged back out. Dean was on his hands and knees on the bed. Dean's head bowed down and his shoulders strained as he tried to crawl forwards, but failed. His knees were spread far apart, and—

Sam skidded to a halt. It was just so strange. Dean's ass was up in the air, and his hole was stretched wide, the flesh quivering with movement, but there was nothing there. It was like seeing a fakir with incredible control over usually autonomic body functions, except performing a sex show. It was so bizarre that it took him a few seconds to process what was actually happening. Then it wasn't befuddlement but rage that held him pinned.

Dean's hands and knees slipped on the sheets every time he tried to pull away.

If he couldn't get the thing off Dean—

Sam grabbed Dean's wrists, not thinking of anything beyond the need to get Dean free. He braced one foot on the side of the bed and one on the floor, pulling with every fiber of muscle. Dean's face blurred in Sam's vision, just a flash of the whites of his eyes. Dean grabbed on to Sam's upper arms and his shoulders extended as he was pulled inexorably back. His fingers skidded along Sam's skin until they lost their purchase.

Dean was panting now, each breath nearly a shout, letting the pain out the way they'd been taught. He was shaking with the spirit's thrusts, his chest pushing down into the mattress no matter how hard Sam gripped. Sam's right hand cramped and loosened, and his fingers slid and tugged against Dean's forearm until they bumped up against the knob of Dean's ulna. Sam gritted his teeth and squeezed until he felt the pain in his own bones.

"Sam!" Dean was saying it, gasping it out really, as if he'd been repeating it for a while. "Sam, you gotta let me go."

Sam clutched at him, uncomprehending. But they hadn't moved at all. The bed was still vibrating, and Dean's eyes were squeezing closed in time with the sickening motion, and it was almost like he was holding Dean down, keeping him unable to fight back.

It took a second to force his hands to unclench. Dean shoved his arms down, bracing himself. His face was locked in a grimace. Then his head went back as if the thing had a grip on his hair.

"Go," Dean ground out.

The illusion of privacy was the only thing he could give Dean now, so he went.

He didn't leave the bathroom until long after the noises stopped.

****

In the morning, Dean was out of the shower before Sam roused from his stupor. But the sounds of Dean fumbling around their bags eventually brought him upright. Blinking sleep-gummed eyes, he saw that Dean had stolen one of Sam's hoodies, gunmetal grey and so long that it flopped over the edges of his wrists. Fear jump-starting his heart, Sam sprang off of his bed and grabbed at the fabric, pulling it away from Dean's skin even as Dean twisted away.

The bruises were faint, but there was no denying what they were. And Sam knew they were faint only because there wasn't much flesh right around the wrist to bruise.

"It's nothing," Dean said, reclaiming his hand with a tug.

"If it's nothing, why are you hiding it?"

Dean's face grew darker. "You think I want some waitress, or worse a cop, asking about it? Maybe thinking you're my abusive boyfriend who needs the fear of God put into him?"

Sam hadn't feared God in years; too much else was on that list. "Show me the rest."

Dean turned away, which was almost as much confirmation as he needed. But he couldn't afford to back down on this. He waited while Dean examined the rusty brown-and-yellow paisley comforter on Sam's bed. "It doesn't mean—you already know you're not gonna like it."

"Please," Sam said. He couldn't have put words to why he was insisting. The logical part of his brain told him that he should have been respecting Dean's desire for control. But this wasn't just happening to Dean; it was happening to them, and he needed to see what he'd done.

After a moment Dean gave a put-upon sigh and stripped off his shirts in one fast movement, throwing them on the bed.

The bruises ran from his biceps, where Sam didn't even remember grabbing, down to his forearms.

Sam wanted to cover his face, but Dean was already unbuckling his jeans, pushing his shorts down past his knees, trying to hide a wince as he bent a little and turned. His outer thighs were also marked, and blurry spots over his hips. Those were all consequences of Sam's tug-of-war with the spirit. God, that was the best he could hope for, that it was only because Sam had tried to pull Dean away.

He'd seen Dean injured plenty of times, even for stupid reasons: bar brawls and fights over girls and, on occasion, failure to duck when no one with a single functioning brain cell should have failed to duck. He'd seen Dean injured because of him. But it was different now. Even under the purpling lines, he couldn't stop thinking of Dean as he'd been last night, flushed and split open.

He knew why the spirits wanted what they wanted, and he would have torn out his own eyes if that could have removed the knowledge.

"Seen enough?" Dean asked, the sarcasm in his voice almost welcome. His face was a clenched fist.

Sam nodded and stumbled into the bathroom.

****

Sam always preferred it when they ate at national chains. It was more anonymous, which they maybe didn't need to worry about so much now that they were officially dead. It was also more comforting: no matter where you were, an Egg McMuffin was going to taste just like the last one you had five hundred miles away.

He really needed something familiar this morning.

"Dude, you need to stop freaking out," Dean said, sitting across the tiny orange plastic table from Sam. His words were almost obscured by the cup of coffee he was holding to his lips. "It's just sex."

Sam's mouth dropped open. Of all the stupid iron-man crap ever to come out of Dean's mouth—"Dean, you're being—" And then of course he couldn't say it. Angry tears threatened to overwhelm him, and he was fucking tired of being the emotional outlet for both of them. He gripped the edges of the table hard enough to bend his fingernails, using the pain to keep himself from breaking down.

Dean slammed the coffee down on the table between them, ignoring the splash that covered the back of his hand. "Just how do you want me to be dealing with it? Will it stop if I cry? If I decide I'm a victim, a civilian? 'Cause if not, then let's saddle up and not whine about what can't be changed."

Logically, it was possible that it would stop if Dean broke down, but that was unacceptable for a lot of reasons. Sam concentrated on stuffing his anger back into his gut, where it lived with all the other grievances he had against the world. "Okay, then," he said. Dean tilted his head minutely, not quite sure what Sam meant. "If you're not a victim, then it won't be a problem for you to go through all the details. Everything, because we don't know what's important." He heard the bitterness in his own voice, but if Dean could deal with the rest of it, he damn well needed to deal with that.

Dean swallowed and looked down at the reddened skin of his hand. Sam handed him a napkin dipped in ice water; Dean accepted it, because of course physical injuries needed to be treated.

"Fine," Dean said, then looked out the window, rubbing his thumb across his bottom lip. Sam remembered how swollen and soft Dean's lips had looked last night, afterwards. Blindly, he reached out for his drink and gulped, preparing himself to hear Dean's story.

"I think it's been different…spirits, or whatever it is. At least three different girls. Not sure about the guy or, uh, guys."

"Why not?" He regretted the question immediately, but withdrawing it now would be worse.

Dean shrugged. His whole body was tilted towards the window now, one leg drawn up to rest on the edge of his yellow plastic chair. There was a hole growing at the knee of his jeans. He twisted his silver ring with his finger. His face, ghosted in the glass, was blank, almost indifferent. "Haven't exactly been able to get my hands on him. You're right though. I should try."

Behind Dean, a man kicked over the janitor's yellow bucket, coating the floor in front of the bathroom with dirty water. There was a rush of Spanish. Off to the side, a baby stopped babbling and started to cry.

Sam unclenched his fists. "Anything else? I know you don't see them, but do you hear them? Taste, smell?"

Just like that, he could see Dean shift gears from stoic to hunter, really thinking about the question. "Can't hear," he said at last. "Not sure about the others." Tomorrow, Sam knew, he would be.

Sam took what felt like his first breath in hours. "Come on," he said, picking up their trays to head to the trash. "I've got some more rituals I want to perform."

During the day, it was easy to tell himself that this was not too much unlike a hunt.

****

So that was how they worked: Sam tried increasingly desperate measures to stop, or at least identify, the things that visited every night, and Dean went along right up until Sam started talking about blood sacrifices. Sam spent a fair amount of time trying to figure out how he might do one without Dean noticing, but the associated rituals tended to be pretty elaborate, and also to require the death to be extremely fresh.

The entities didn't hurt Dean, not physically, after that fourth night.

Dean found a couple of simple salt-and-burns, puzzles he didn't insist on Sam's help with, and they laid the spirits to rest. It was easier, anyway, to spend more time apart. That way Sam wasn't always watching Dean and Dean wasn't constantly snapping at Sam that he was fine. The only thing Sam had to be grateful for was that Dean thought that Sam was just worried.

After the first few weeks, they returned to spending most of their time hunting. It was a welcome distraction, and it prevented Sam from succumbing to depression. They solved all the other supernatural puzzles they encountered, and that had to mean that they'd solve this one as well.

Dean still smiled at the end of a successful hunt, grim but real, and stood a little taller, at least until the next night. Sometimes he'd even remember himself enough to smack Sam on the shoulder, his way of saying 'good job.'

There didn't seem to be a relationship between the hunting and the assaults: they could spend the day investigating or hanging out at truck stops and diners, and the number of night visitors would vary just as much. Sam knew this because he made Dean keep track for the first few months, even though he could barely stomach looking at the numbers and trying to correlate them with day, job, location, or anything else.

Every night, just after midnight, Sam would grab his headphones and go into whatever tiny bathroom they had, closing the door. He'd sit against the tub or the wall or the door, whatever had the least amount of hardware to bang his head against, and he'd hang the headphones around his neck so that he could pretend to have been listening to music Dean hated. His ass got numb from sitting on hard cold tiles, and he got up close and personal with the dirt in the grout, because there was always dirt in the grout. Sometimes he'd pretend that the cracks in the porcelain formed runes that might tell his future: divination by bathroom, or latrinomancy.

At least sitting on the floor meant he didn't have to look himself in the mirror while Dean was outside.

Dean never suggested that they get two rooms. After, redressed and nearly casual about it, he'd knock on the door and demand to be let in, as if Sam had been hogging all the hot water. But then he'd stand back and wait for Sam to come out.

In the old days he would have barged right in, heedless of the fact that two full-size guys in one pocket-sized bathroom was a recipe for bruises in unusual places.

Dean would shower while Sam pretended not to gravitate toward the other bed. Nights that it had lasted extra-long, or nights that Dean made noise, he'd get up out of his bed and pull back the covers on Dean's, looking for—he didn't know what. There were always wet spots; there was never blood. Dean's spunk smelled different than his own, earthier.

When they could swing it, which was most nights, they moved rooms even if they were staying in the same place. Sam would make up some excuse about the AC or the shower and they'd get a fresh new room, one that didn't smell of anything in particular. A couple of times, they were too tired and beat-up to pester the manager for a switch, and Sam spent his hour crouched dirty and trembling in the same bathroom as the previous night.

There was never any quarter, not even the time when Sam was still putting in stitches to close a cut on Dean's right bicep. The wound was deep enough, endangering the muscle, that all Sam did was glance away from his work when the attack started, long enough to see that it was invisible fingers popping the buttons on Dean's jeans and not Dean trying to squirm away. Dean was white under his tan, beads of sweat along his hairline. Along with the slice on his arm, he'd also been bounced off a couple of headstones.

Sam closed the edges with surgical glue, then started rummaging for some gauze. The mattress was shaking underneath them, and he couldn't help losing his concentration. Seeing Dean's half-hard dick flop around like a participant in a puppet show almost sent him to the floor with inappropriate, agonizing laughter. He stuffed his hand in his mouth and clenched his stomach muscles until they hurt.

Dean blinked up at him, still dazed, and the amusement wiped away with the sweep of those thick lashes. "She's gonna rub my skin off before I get it up," Dean told him, the words slow and blurry with pain and exhaustion. "C'n you—?"

Sam didn't get it. Dean forced his hands a couple of inches off the bed, then let them drop. "Help me move her," he said.

Sam was still confused. Okay, so he'd maybe taken a hit to the head along with Dean. Dean managed a hint of a smirk. "She's not gonna stop until she gets off," he said. "Gonna eat her out."

It was all he could do not to rear back, and then it was all he could do not to fall off the bed, because this was so wrong that every inch of his skin crawled. But Dean was wincing, and he was the one who actually had to do it, so Sam bit his lip and tried to figure out how he could move something he couldn't touch.

Dean lifted his hands again, curling the fingers. Dean could touch the entity, right. Sam reached across him to pick up his right hand and jerked it upwards. Stretching and twisting like that reminded him of the huge bruises rising on his back. He wasn't going to be able to keep his balance.

"Fuck," he said, giving up, and moved to straddle Dean, his knees bracketing Dean's thighs, right where Dean's jeans had been shoved down. He was in the same space as the entity, probably, and he was only inches from Dean's dick. And Dean was looking up at him with perfect trust, his cloudy green eyes and twig-scratched face as open as Sam had ever seen.

He took a deep breath and gathered Dean's hands into his own, pushing them around until they stopped. The shock vibrated into his own fingers, the transmitted contact with another being. He wondered, for a second, whether this counted as a threesome.

Dean's fingers curved around the entity without Sam's help, but Sam added pressure. Dean was coaxing, telling her how he was going to lick her real good, and whether or not she heard it she seemed to get the message. Sam thought they were pulling at her shoulders, or Dean was pulling and he was pushing, his hands hot against Dean's as Dean's mouth made more filthy promises. Their hands slid down her back as she arched up. Dean's breath grew choked as if she were settling down over his face and neck, and his fingers moved more quickly against the invisible flesh of her ass.

Sam let his hands drop away. Dean looked—he looked ridiculous, with his eyes closed in concentration, his mouth moving like a baby sucking in its sleep, his tongue undulating obscenely and his hands clutching at empty air.

Sam turned his head, clenching his teeth until his bones ached, and managed to get off the bed without touching Dean any further.

Refusing to let himself think about it, he went into the bathroom, walked over to the toilet, and jerked off. After a minute, he didn't even pretend not to be matching the rhythm of the squeaks from the bed outside.

That night, Dean didn't come knock on the bathroom door. When Sam finally ventured out, his back spasming, Dean was passed out on his stomach, his knees still spread wide. With his stubbled face mashed into his pillow, he looked like he belonged on the cover of a porn DVD, except for the slice on his arm.

****

They saved two sisters from another wendigo in Montana. Sam didn't exactly expect Dean to suggest a double-header, but he was hoping that one or both of them would make a move. At the very least, it might force Dean to admit that something was wrong. Unfortunately, both sisters were too shy or shellshocked to do more than make Bambi eyes at their rescuers. When the initial disappointment faded, Sam realized that he was being an asshole, acting more entitled to get laid than Dean ever had except at his absolute nadir. Guilt made him so extra-nice to the girls during the trek back to civilization that they both made plays for him when they were safe.

Dean didn't react to that, either.

****

After a while, Dean acquired a tube of K-Y that he kept on the bedside table. He'd unpack it almost defiantly at first, slamming it down loud enough to make Sam jump. Later, Sam almost didn't notice how one crumpled plastic tube replaced another.

He never thought about how Dean used it. He never looked at his brother's fingers and wondered.

****

"Why don't you hit, or bite?" he asked once, while Dean was shaving with the bathroom door open. Sam had never said, but Dean seemed to have figured out that Sam didn't like having doors between them except when necessary.

Dean pulled his upper lip taut and cleaned it off with steady strokes, then brought the razor down. "Tried that a couple of times," he said, staring into his reflection. "Not a good idea."

After Dean had finished and patted his face dry with one of the tissue-thin hand towels piled on the side of the sink, he came out, still wearing just his T-shirt and boxers. "Hey," he said, swatting Sam on the shoulder. "I let 'em do what they want, it's not so bad."

Maybe Sam was supposed to tell him that it really, really was. If Dean would even once have broken down and asked for Sam to do or say something, Sam would have, no matter how fucked-up it was. But Sam refused to hurt himself that badly if it wouldn't do any good for Dean.

****

Ellen called them in on a job involving a sorcerer. Six hunters had already gone down trying to kill an honest-to-God swamp monster, and she thought the sorcerer was playing both sides, pretending to want the thing killed, but actually leading the hunters into traps. She didn't have a reason, just a feeling, plus six dead hunters, but Sam was inclined to trust her instincts.

They bypassed the sorcerer and went to the part of the wilderness area where the monster sightings had been thickest. There was a trail of broken bushes and beaten-down grasses, complete with several squashed small mammals. Whatever the thing was, it wasn't hiding.

Dean went first, occasionally squelching through brown water that smelled strong enough to chew, pushing aside sharp-edged grasses with the tip of his homemade flamethrower, and generally having a grand old time. Sam followed, slapping at mosquitoes and keeping one hand on his shotgun.

Just past midday, they heard a commotion ahead, and sped up as best they could. They crashed through a thicket of vines into a sort of clearing.

On one side, the eight-foot-tall swamp monster, a mess of branches and leaves and mud in the rough shape of a biped, raised its arms and opened its mouth in a threat that was all the creepier for being silent. On the other, a dark-haired woman was whirling two brown sticks dotted with darker markings. Sam narrowed his eyes. He could almost make out the runes she was drawing in the air. He'd never seen that done before, but it seemed to be working: Every time she completed a pass, a part of the monster would wither and dry out.

Unfortunately for her, there was a lot of monster.

"Hey, lady, get back!" Dean yelled, and charged in. He needed to get past the woman in order to avoid hurting her badly with splashback; it wasn't a precision weapon, which was probably why Dean had been so jazzed to try it out. Sam followed him, heading towards the woman to drag her out of the way if necessary.

But she sized up the situation and fell back with Sam to the edge of the clearing. The flamethrower ignited with a roar, shooting out a stream of fire that rapidly expanded to the size of a burning car, coating the swamp monster and its surroundings with flames.

Sam put his arm out in front of the woman, then dropped it when she snorted. Dean hadn't mentioned how the smoke was going to fill the clearing so that all they could see was billowing white dotted with burning orange.

"Is that napalm?" she asked, loud enough to be heard.

Sam nodded.

"Oh, I like him," she said. Still, she had a nice smile, wide and crinkled in the corners. Her hair was pulled back in a low ponytail, and she had pink spots high on her cheeks from exertion. "I'm Rose."

"Sam and Dean," Sam told her.

Dean backed up, playing the flames across the area where the swamp monster had been, a sort of reverse fireman. The cylinders strapped across his back swayed, and Sam hoped Dean had been right about how they wouldn't blow up.

Finally Dean reached the clump of trees where Sam and Rose were standing. He nodded his head and shut off the nozzle but didn't take his eyes off of the mass of smoke.

Sam's eyes were burning. "Got any ideas for how to make sure it's dead?" he asked.

Rose raised her sticks and swirled them again, looking for all the world like a woman miming large-scale knitting. The smoke settled down to the ground, revealing a lot of burning vegetation, including an enormous lump now lumbering towards them on its quasi-hands and knees. The napalm had stuck to it, dripping through its body so that the sticks and leaves on the outside were lit up from within even as they shriveled.

"Hunh," Dean said. "I thought it'd go down faster."

They ran. Sam would have bet on surviving several hits from the thing if it hadn't been covered with napalm, but as it was he just fired his shells when he had the chance to knock off larger protrusions. Rose proved equally good at aiming her sticks backwards.

By the time they were faltering and out of breath, the swamp monster was down to the size of a golden retriever, and they could afford to make a stand and blast it into its component plants. Rose's last hit got a ball of dirt at its center that exploded it outwards like a pumpkin.

Sam looked back at their path, a line of smoldering and still-burning debris, and wondered how he'd gotten to the point that thinking 'that went well' was not satirical.

Meanwhile, Dean was shucking off the backpack and demonstrating how he'd put it together, so caught up in his own awesomeness that he barely seemed aware that Rose was a good-looking woman wearing a tight sleeveless T-shirt.

"What about the sorcerer?" Sam asked, raising his voice enough to get their attention.

"Sorcerer?" Rose asked.

It developed that Rose hadn't contacted the sorcerer either. She'd heard about the swamp monster from an entirely different network, a group of enviro-pagans.

Sam scrutinized her as she told Dean war stories, and heard a few in return. Along with the carved spell-sticks, she had a shoulder holster carrying a semiautomatic and a ten-inch knife sheath on her hip. Scars across her biceps, and one faint on her left cheek, suggested some familiarity with hunting.

He wasn't thrilled that she invited herself along on the search for the sorcerer. Not that they had an exclusive right to go after him, so he couldn't say anything.

****

Four hours later, he listened to the sound of Rose kicking her knife over towards him while he struggled with the ropes binding him to one of the big sacrificial posts in the sorcerer's workshop. Her aim was excellent and the sorcerer didn't seem to notice the change when he swiveled away from Dean to check on them.

The fact that the sorcerer hadn't decided to hang Sam from his wrists the way he'd done Rose was their only hope; chalk one up for being too tall for low ceilings.

The sorcerer turned back to Dean, who was refusing to retreat from the little protective arc he'd scrawled just in front of the workroom door. Sam forbore from yelling at Dean again and squatted. He ignored the tearing in his shoulders and his thighs and shuffled himself around the post until he could fumble the blade into his fingers. He felt the blood dripping hot down his fingers before he noticed the pain of the cuts. He levered the knife slowly up until he could let the hilt slide into his palm and hoped Rose cared as much about balance as she did about edge.

Dean ramped up the imprecations; at this point, Sam thought, he was insulting the sorcerer's third cousins, not to mention his fashion sense.

Sam forced himself back to his feet and began sawing through the ropes, trying to keep his arms in the same position as they'd been tied in case the sorcerer looked back too soon. His grip was blood-slick.

The sorcerer strode jauntily over to a table on the side of the room and retrieved a rapier. Sam felt the first rope part. But they were heavy and coated with something slippery enough that even Rose's blade had trouble staying in place long enough to slice through the strands.

Dean stopped mouthing off when he saw the rapier, but he didn't move from the circle. There was no escape backwards, even if Dean would have been willing to take it; the sorcerer's panther waited if Dean tried to retreat.

"What, out of insults now?" the sorcerer asked, nearly cooing. "The cat doesn't have your tongue, does she? Not yet anyway."

"Wow," Dean said. "That stunk worse than your breath."

Second rope. Sam felt the whole knot give a little, but not enough to free him.

The sorcerer jabbed Dean's shoulder, forcing him back to the edge of his circle. Blood soaked quickly through Dean's shirt. If Dean made noise, Sam couldn't hear it. Dean tried to block the next blow with his arm, but the sorcerer just disengaged, poked him in the belly and laughed.

"I can do anything I want to you," he said. "Your friends get to watch. You're lucky, really, when you think about my plans for them."

"Hey," Sam said. The sorcerer stuck his weapon into the top of Dean's right thigh and twisted, and Dean did yell this time. "Hey, asshole."

The sorcerer froze and turned the top half of his body back towards Sam. "Your cr—"

He blinked once and fell, the hilt of the knife fetched up against his Adam's apple. Dean dodged and managed to shove the body through the door before slamming it behind him. Wet sounds came from the hallway. Apparently the panther hadn't appreciated being bound to service.

Sam hurried to Dean, who was already limping to the closest bench. Dean grimaced at the dried-up body parts in his way, then swept a space clear with his hand and sat heavily down.

Rose waited as patiently as he could have expected while he tied up Dean's wounds. She sighed with relief when he released her and began rubbing her own shoulders even as she hurried to the place where the sorcerer had tossed her weapons.

"Thanks for the knife," Sam told her.

"Thanks for throwing it."

"We should see about finding the hunters' bodies," Dean said from the bench. "The rest of 'em, I mean. This is a salt and burn if I ever saw one."

"I'll check upstairs," Sam said. On the way in, he'd seen the sorcerer's library.

Fifteen minutes later, Dean and Rose appeared in the door. Sam looked up from the pile he'd assembled. "Come on, Sam," Dean said.

"I've still got two bookshelves—"

"We've got two minutes before the fire comes upstairs," Dean said over Rose's "That's black magic."

Sam sucked it up and shoved two thick volumes into Dean's arms, grabbing the rest of them himself.

"Sam's just curious," Dean explained to Rose, who was looking at Sam with new suspicion. She'd retrieved her knife, he saw. He didn't ask what they'd done with the panther.

****

Later, over drinks, Rose let them get away with an extremely abbreviated version of their life stories, which might have had something to do with the way that she turned every question about herself into an anecdote about magic or demons. When she mentioned a few practices that weren't exactly white magic, Sam raised his eyebrow; she bit her lip and didn't mention the sorcerer's books again.

"We should keep in touch," Rose said after Dean had boasted of his tulpa-exterminating prowess. "I don't have a predictable schedule, but who knows? If you guys calm down and stop charging into situations unprepared, we might end up fighting the same bad guys again one of these days."

Dean drained his beer. "Prepared enough for today," he said as he set the empty down with a thunk.

"Please," she said. "We got captured, you got tortured. If you're happy with the results, I'd hate to see your definition of half-assed."

Sam snorted despite himself.

Rose leaned back in her seat. "I do have one question, though."

"This I gotta hear," Dean said.

Rose examined them in turn. "Are you two just as crazy in other ways?"

Dean smiled at her, but there was a thin layer of ice over it now. Sam took a little longer to get it, and felt every capillary in his skin filling up with blood. "Sorry, no," he said, stumbling over the words. He was already imagining it anyway: Rose between them, kissing Rose's shoulder, kissing past it to latch his mouth onto Dean's collarbone, putting his hands on breasts and chests and thighs, anything he wanted to touch open to him. Pressing her between them like her namesake, letting her draw blood if she wanted, hot and close and wet. Sam dug his fingers into his thigh, grounding himself.

Dean was watching him sidelong. "Hey," he said. "I'm going to turn in. You make sure she gets back to her room safe, little brother."

Sam frowned in annoyance, but Rose just smiled, wide and slow. She didn't protest that she was a big girl.

"Actually, I'm pretty tired too," he said abruptly, his eyes fixed on Dean's retreating back. "I'm sorry," he told her, and sort of meant it.

Rose shrugged, her mouth quirking up in a way that highlighted just how attractive she was. "Worth a try. You boys take care, now."

"You too," he said, totally sincere this time. He threw enough money down to cover their tab and took off.

Dean was just sitting in the car, holding on to the wheel, when Sam caught up with him. He jerked in surprise when Sam tapped on the glass of the passenger side. Dean didn't ask, just started the car and drove them back.

The place they were staying had poor framing; the bathroom door wouldn't stay fully closed, drifting a couple of inches open no matter what Sam did.

Sam couldn't see much, only a slice of Dean's shoulder, twisting and turning. Dean was on his back, then on his stomach, then on his back again. Sam leaned his head back against too-warm tile and put his fist in his lap, his cock throbbing relentlessly, fever-hot against his spit-slick palm.

He imagined biting down on Dean's neck, licking down the lines of his pelvic cut, touching the inside of his elbow and the back of his knee and all the other soft places.

He came just before Dean finished, and had to flush the tissue standing on still-wobbly legs. Dean didn't seem to notice Sam's distraction when he stumbled into the bathroom, which was the only mercy Sam needed.

****

Not long after, while Sam was supposedly off researching the history of a haunted house, he broke down and called Bobby. The chill library basement had been empty for an hour, so he didn't worry about being carted off to the looney bin for spouting insanity in public. He swore Bobby to secrecy, knowing how unlikely that was to work, and then explained the situation.

Bobby was silent for several long minutes.

"I never heard of anything like that," he said at last. "I'll look around best I can without talking to anyone else, but—"

"Yeah?" Sam asked, his fingers biting into the plastic of his phone, already knowing that he wasn't going to like what was coming.

"Are you sure this is a problem? I know it's not your way, son, but Dean ain't never been too picky, if you know what I'm sayin'."

Carefully, Sam put the phone on the table in front of him, to the side of the microfiche reader where he'd been sitting. His eyes stung from too long looking at badly scanned newsprint under poorly maintained fluorescent lighting, his fingers ached from being balled into fists, and his shoulders felt like bags of rocks.

This was the reasoning that Dean heard in his own head. In Bobby's voice, in Dean's own, probably in Dad's and even Sam's, because when had Dean ever let facts get in the way of a good fixation? Dean had convinced himself that he ought to feel lucky, and that there was something wrong with him for being less than perfectly thrilled that he got fucked three ways to Sunday every night.

"Sam? Sam?" Bobby's voice from the little speaker was tinny and concerned, reminding him that, for all Bobby knew, something from the current hunt had just shown up and eaten Sam.

He unclenched his hands and picked up the phone. "I'm gonna let that one go, Bobby, because you haven't seen Dean. It's a problem." He pressed 'end' and smiled in the empty room, feeling his chapped lips stretch and crack, because problem was funny, funny like calling the Black Death a health challenge.

In college, he'd taken a course on Slave Life in the Americas. It was easy to think that a person wouldn't survive enslavement, degradation, forced labor, forced breeding, whipping, and all the other harms one set of humans had figured out how to inflict on another. And plenty of people did die. But not all. There were the lucky, if you called that lucky, and the adaptable. The survivors were not necessarily strong, though it helped.

Dean was adaptable.

Dean had adapted.

He trained like he was hoping to win a biathlon: target practice every time they found an empty field; crunches and pushups until Sam was exhausted just watching; the food on his plate everything that Dad had made them eat to build strength instead of the burgers and fries Dean loved; long runs with Sam. Dean hated running, hated that Sam had been able to outpace him since he'd hit six foot two. About five miles into a run, he got this grim look of I'm-gonna-get-through-this that was so hard to see that the only thing worse was the rage on his face when he thought Sam was deliberately slowing his own pace so that Dean could keep up.

It felt like watching Dean get devoured by army ants when Sam's only weapon was a stick to poke them with.

But hey, Dean was hunting better than ever. If anything, the fact that he now stopped for a second outside any place where they'd encounter people, rolling his shoulders and taking a deep breath, had improved his interview skills. That moment of hesitation dampened down his usual—his previous—smarminess. Sam wasn't entirely sure what strangers saw, but he thought it was a little-boy vulnerability, a sort of pleading for kindness.

And Dean being who he was and looking how he looked, strangers responded.

Adaptation.

****

They stopped to make silver shot out in a deserted field. Dean was in charge of melting the silver, because that task related to setting things on fire. When he poured the stream of molten metal down over the steel screen and into the tub, steam billowed up around him and Dean grunted; that was when Sam noticed that Dean wasn't wearing any protective gear, other than gloves and goggles.

Interrupting the process would just increase the danger, so Sam screwed his fury down into himself and waited until Dean put the ladle down on the asbestos pad.

Then, before Dean could start prying the screen off the tub and examining the results, Sam grabbed him and pushed him back towards the car. "Hey!" Dean protested. Sam's inspection found a black comma burnt through Dean's shirt, just above his right elbow, and two holes like vampire bites over his left bicep.

"Take the fucking shirt off," Sam ordered. Dean grimaced as the flannel rubbed against his skin under the pressure of Sam's fingers.

The burns underneath were small but nasty, as Sam had known they'd be.

He'd spent the past week telling himself to keep quiet, telling himself that Dean would slow down of his own accord once the next hunt was finished.

Sam nodded to himself, then got the medical kit from the trunk.

"Sam," Dean drawled, pulling off the goggles and grimacing in what he probably thought was an unconcerned smile.

Dean tried again a couple of times, saying Sam's name in different inflections, while Sam forced Dean to sit on the hood, then applied antibiotic ointment and bandaged Dean's arms.

Sam had to be careful with the bandages so that Dean retained a full range of motion, because Dean was going to jump right into the next fight he found.

He was almost finished; he just needed to wipe his forearm across his eyes to clear out the blurriness and sniff back the heaviness in his throat. Then he smoothed his hand over the taped-down gauze, rough against his fingertips. The white square nearly glowed against Dean's pale, brown-freckled skin.

"Sam," Dean said.

"Should I even bother?" he asked, not raising his eyes from Dean's chest. "I mean, you don't care that you're not invincible, why should I?"

Dean was silent. Eventually Sam had to check, and found Dean staring down at him. Dean's mouth worked, but no words came out. His face was pale under his heavy stubble, making the pink of his lips even more prominent.

Sam came out of his crouch and stepped back. Dean's expression tightened. "I know I'm not invincible," he ground out, each word sounding rough-hewn from rock.

"It hurts me when you get hurt," Sam told him. That was it, the bottom of the barrel, the truth that could only cut Dean further but might just get him to pay attention.

Dean's eyes darkened with some kind of fear. Sam had never wished more for the power to read minds. Then Dean firmed his jaw and jumped off the car, bending to retrieve his still-mostly-usable flannel shirt. "No, it doesn't," he said and stalked back over towards the tub, which was now gently steaming.

****

On what looked like a routine salt-and-burn just outside Cincinnati, they got caught in a kind of poltergeist showdown. Dean was a whirling dervish, moving as fast as the ghosts, as if he could guess where they were moving without seeing them, firing blast after blast into empty air. Sam commandeered an earthmover and just scraped the ground open, bursting the tops of a lot of graves, including some that were probably not resting uneasily until the Winchesters arrived. He was able to rig up a sort of sprayer system with a gas can and a length of hose, and the whole mess of corpses had gone up at once. Dean got out unscathed, and all Sam had was a bloody nose from hitting the edge of a gravestone.

The only problem was that the operation took so long that the cops arrived before they'd managed to escape. At least Dean had lost his shotgun in the fracas, so they were unarmed when they were apprehended.

Getting taken into custody was as fun as it ever was, in that it sucked donkey balls. Dean's forethought had been useful: they'd both been carrying fake college IDs, and even if they looked a little overage for kids trying to pull off a stunt for a fraternity contest, the cops didn't seem inclined to question the backstory. Instead, they seemed to think that treating Sam and Dean like potential hard-core criminals would teach them a valuable lesson. They'd be locked up at least a day, one of the cops said, until they could get in front of a judge and get bail.

Sam had a flash of terror when they were fingerprinted at the jail, but apparently their previous files had gone into some sort of archive when they'd been declared dead, and they were processed without any outcry.

And then it was time for the strip search. Sam tried not to be too obvious about his freakout, but somewhere between the time when he was told to open his mouth and the time when he was told to spread his cheeks he started shaking. One of the guards conducting the search found Sam's apparent fright hilarious, and Dean's unfriendly glare in response promised nothing good, so Sam ground his teeth and stood up straight. He'd throw up when they got out and he got a chance to be where Dean couldn't see him.

Dean didn't react to the search, not even when they had him squat and cough. Not even when the asshole guard told him that he had a cute butt. Face blank, like he'd just—checked out. Adapted himself away from the situation. He took the orange jail clothes that he was handed and got dressed, but without his usual grace.

A different, blessedly non-communicative officer took them to get a cell assignment, which was another thing Sam hadn't anticipated. If Dean had to spend a night with anyone but Sam—

It felt like there was a rave going on in his chest, a thousand beats a minute. He concentrated harder than ever, trying to push his will into the intake officer and her computer: together, together, together.

"Tier 2, C10, both of you," she said, dismissing them with a wave.

Sam felt his shoulders drop with relief.

"Hey," Dean said, the first time he'd spoken since they'd hit the bright lights of the police station. "Your nose is bleeding again."

Sam tilted his head up and pinched his nose between his finger and his thumb. After a second, Dean put his hand on Sam's elbow, guiding him towards the next set of locked and guarded doors.

What with the time spent in processing at the police station and the transport from the police station to the jail, they'd arrived just in time for lunch. Sam tried not to think about the timing on that. If they hadn't started after three am in order to work around Dean's affliction, would the police even have shown up in time to catch them?

The cafeteria was the usual concrete-and-plastic nightmare. The bare floors were discolored with spots from accidents that had never really gotten cleaned up. The thick cinderblock walls had eighteen layers of paint, the top coat white and chipped away in places to expose last time's mint green. The trays were brown, scratched and slightly spongy from years of use. The utensils were supersoft plastic and slightly smaller than knives and forks from the outside world, shorter even than Sam's fingers and about as useful. The whole place smelled of old sweat and older grease.

Fortunately, if that was the right word, Sam was hungry enough that tasteless jail slop seemed reasonable.

Because this was jail, not prison, there was no telling what the various other residents had done, or allegedly done, though they weren't in a terribly high-security facility. Sam just focused on the area around Dean, following him through the food line so that no one could come up behind him without going through Sam first.

The benches and tables were moderately crowded, but Sam found a space where they could sit across from each other. The guys nearest them edged away after Sam gave them a once-over.

Dean ate as if he were filling a gas tank, except that Dean was a lot more careful how he treated the Impala. He wasn't hunched over his food or otherwise giving off really obvious victim vibes, which was good, and given their size and obvious teamwork, Sam figured that they were unlikely to get many challenges. He wanted nothing more than to reach out and put a reassuring hand on Dean's arm, but even if Dean wouldn't bite his head off that would most likely put them in more danger than keeping himself aloof. A little voice in his head wondered: what if Dean wouldn't bite his head off? What if Dean was willing to accept comfort, at long last?

He poked at the food remaining on his plate. The green stuff hadn't been bad, but he was willing to bet that even the rats would avoid the orange stuff as long as they could.

****

After lunch there was time in the yard. In this case the yard was a square in the middle of the facility, gray concrete walls stretching four stories up all around them and the cloudy white sky above them like the top of a box. Bleachers ringed the sides, except at the exits and along one side where there were a couple of netless basketball hoops.

There were no weights out. Sam guessed that, with this being a temporary facility, they didn't do too much to keep the cons (or pre-cons) from being bored.

That meant that the inmates had to make their own fun. Sam and Dean ignored the groups clumping irregularly and the few loners and wordlessly headed for the spot that was the farthest away from the most people. It was like a reverse Traveling Salesman problem, he thought, or Traveling Hunter, but he didn't grin because he didn't want to give anyone an excuse to take offense.

As it turned out, he didn't need to.

They'd only been sitting on the bottom row of the bleachers for a couple of minutes before a medium-large group started walking towards them. Sam checked out the guards at the entrance to the yard, who were very much not paying attention.

Sam counted eight in the group. It wasn't bad odds if they didn't get pried away from the bleachers, though a couple of the guys looked like bouncers. He felt Dean tensing up next to him.

Sam scanned the group. The leader, a bald guy with a nose like a hawk's beak and a tattoo sitting over his collarbones like an elaborate necklace, was in the center of the group. Sam ID'd the two top lieutenants, one on the right and one on the left, though the guy closest to the leader on the left was the comic relief, a short wiry fellow who would have to have a smart mouth and a bad temper to maintain his place.

"These are our seats," one of the lieutenants said, fake-friendly.

He heard Dean breathe beside him. There was really no way to avoid violence, he thought, so he stood, and stood and stood, working every inch of his height. One thug on the edges of the group took an involuntary step back, but one of the other enforcers was at least as tall as Sam and as wide across the shoulders as a shotgun was long.

"I'm sorry," he said, as Dean edged a little bit away from him, preparing for what came next. "Do you mind?"

The little guy laughed. "Yeah," said the lieutenant. "We mind. See, these are all our seats." He waved his hand in a sloppy arc that encompassed most of the yard, though Sam was willing to bet that these guys didn't run the black areas or the Hispanic areas, and part of him was annoyed at the man's presumption. Just because they were new didn't make them stupid. "But if your pretty boy here wants to pay the fine—" He raised his eyebrows.

It was all Sam could do not to roll his eyes. "Yeah, we're gonna have to say no, thanks."

And then his first punch took down the talkative lieutenant just as Dean's flattened the other one, which Sam only saw out of the corner of his eye.

"'Pretty boy'?" Dean asked, a smile in his voice. Sam kicked the guy in front of him in the nuts; the thuds he heard indicated that Dean was doing something similar. "Seriously, guys, get some new dialogue."

Sam grabbed the leader and one of the backup thugs of about the same height and smashed their heads together, then ducked a blow from the refrigerator-sized inmate. He jumped over a tangle of limbs on the ground and had a chance to check on Dean, flushed and grinning.

They had a quick and silent conversation that, had it used words, would have featured the phrase 'what the hell, why not.' So Sam dropped to his knees and bent forward, while Dean barrelled into a roll right across Sam's back that put Dean's feet squarely in Refrigerator's gut. The momentum was enough to stagger the guy back for long enough that Sam was able to stand and dart forward to punch him in the neck, one two three, then get back out of the way. Dean, meanwhile, had bounced off Refrigerator and jumped to his feet like he was spring-launched. He wasn't wasting much time on the last man standing, just a knee to the balls and then one fist to the stomach and the other to the chin as his target collapsed like a map folding up.

Refrigerator blinked at Sam twice, then fell over onto the talkative lieutenant, who had been scrambling to stand.

The lieutenant who hadn't talked and the little guy were getting back to their feet. Sam's blood was pounding like a tidal wave inside him. He smiled at the men. The tangible, hittable men. The lieutenant stared at him for a second, and then bent to start dragging his semiconscious leader away.

The little guy reached behind his back and produced a shiv that looked like it had begun useful life as a toothbrush. Sam sighed. "Dude, put that thing away and we'll show you some respect, okay?"

"Sam—" Dean whined, but he was only teasing.

Mr. Little had plenty of smile lines, but the look in his eyes was death. "Fuck you," he snarled. Like Dean said, these guys needed new dialogue.

Sam shrugged and turned his back.

Red flag, bull. Sam waited, stepped and dropped, dodging the strike and using a roundhouse kick to knock Little's legs out from under him. He was slightly surprised that Dean hadn't intervened, but didn't have time to worry about it. He grabbed the man's feet as he stood up, dragging the body along the ground until it was dangling vertically. Sam tightened his grip on Little's ankles and thrust down as if he were trying to set a fencepost.

Little's head hit the ground with a satisfying thump. Sam pushed Little's now-limp legs away, and the unconscious body slumped to the ground.

Sam brushed his hands together, cleaning off the dirt that had accumulated, and looked around at the nervous staring faces that had clustered around. He tilted his head, fought off a Dean-like smirk, and asked the world in general, "Any questions?"

There were none. After Sam nodded permission, a couple of inmates who hadn't been involved in the initial confrontation dragged the remaining unconscious thugs away. Dean stood with his arms folded, scowling, and stayed that way even when Sam sat back down on the bleachers.

The guards were gossiping and looking over their way, but still showed no inclination to get involved. Sam imagined they weren't getting paid enough to do so.

Five minutes later, he broke down. "What's your problem?" he asked, shading his eyes with his hand as he stared up at Dean.

Dean tightened his mouth as if he wanted to try the silent treatment, but that lasted all of ten seconds. "Gosh, Sam, I don't know," he bit out. "Could it have something to do with what happened the last time you turned your back on a guy with a knife?"

Sam rocked back on the ribbed metal bench. Hadn't seen that one coming. Which was, he had to admit, Dean's point. So to speak. He clamped down on the utterly inappropriate smile that wanted to spread out on his face.

But hell, this fight had been coming for a damn sight longer than the one they'd just finished. "Well, look who's back. The blessed Dean Winchester, martyr and patron saint of hypocrites."

"Fuck you, Sam, I'm not the one begging some jailhouse rat to stick a blade in me!" Dean's voice was low, but when Sam stood up to get a better position, everyone else in the yard stopped moving.

"No, you'd prefer to get killed on a hunt!" He stepped close, trying to keep from shouting.

"Oh, that's rich," Dean snapped back, his voice dripping with contempt. "Who's the one who charged in front of a dire wolf last week, hunh? Who's the one who dropped his fucking shotgun with that zombie and decided it'd be fun to take it apart with his bare hands? Before you go nominating me for the Reckless All-Stars, you take a good long look at yourself."

Sam stared at him, full of too many things to say and no order to say them in.

Dean nodded to himself. "But this ain't about that, is it? This is about—" He dropped his eyes from Sam's and rubbed the back of his hand across his mouth. "I'm handling it, Sam."

"I'm not," Sam said, and knew it for pure truth as soon as it came out of his mouth. "You have to let me do something." Dean knew what he meant, of course: magic, probably black.

Dean's hands twisted by his sides. "If you don't have any new ideas, there's no sense in going back over the same old shit."

"Just give me two weeks with those books, Dean. I don't—I hate to see you like this."

"I'd be golden if you'd just shut the fuck up about it." Dean sat down, his shoulders straining against the jail jumpsuit.

"You get attacked every night!" The words came out louder than Sam intended, and Dean flinched minutely.

"Evil's been fucking me since I was four years old, so tell me what's new," Dean snapped.

Sam got that Dean would rather be hopeless than have his hopes crushed. But the only reason they weren't already risking their lives on another hunt was the barbed wire surrounding the jailhouse. Adapting wasn't working. "It's not inevitable, Dean. We can do something to change it."

Dean's voice was low and furious, raw with humiliation. "I come."

"What?"

"It's sex, I come, all right?"

Did Dean think he didn't know that? "That doesn't mean you want it."

Now Dean was the one inspecting Sam like he was from Venus. "I'm pretty sure it does," Dean said.

"That's just a physical reaction!" He couldn't believe he was having to argue this. "If you'd choose not to do it, then you don't want it."

"If a chick makes your dick hard, that's just a fact. Doesn't matter if you think she's a bitch from hell. All that means is, hellbitches get you hard." Dean swiveled on the bench, facing Sam and waving his hands around as if he were still the all-knowing big brother explaining the natural order of the world. "It's like, if you get cut, then you bleed. Wanting won't do shit when what you need is stitches."

Sam knew they were both speaking English, but that didn't seem to be helping. He pushed his hair off his forehead, leaning towards Dean. "Okay, but bleeding doesn't mean you want to bleed, right? It's something that happens to your body."

Dean ignored the fact that Sam had just totally flipped his analogy, caught up in his fervor to impart the Tao of Dean: "The point is, there are people out there who need saving and things that need killing, and we're the ones to do it. So until you figure out a cheap and easy way to get my fan club to stop showing up, I don't want to hear about this again."

Sam shut his eyes and tried very hard to keep his face still. Eventually, the urge to scream and cry passed, and he didn't. According to Dean, that meant he hadn't wanted to, he realized, and the bitter smile on his face kept Dean silent for the rest of the time in the yard. The other inmates monitored them out of the corners of their eyes and didn't make any sudden moves in their direction, which was just how Sam liked it.

****

In the close quarters of their cell, neither of them were inclined to take the fight further. There was nothing much to do other than discuss likely hunts, assuming that their luck held and they were allowed to post bail like ordinary, average grave desecrators. Dean was partial to a supposed siren infestation up in New Hampshire, while Sam was holding out for something warmer and more southern, maybe one of the hauntings in South Carolina they'd had on the list for a while.

The thing was, there were only a few reliable topics between them. Music degenerated too quickly into well-rehearsed insults. Past exploits bored Sam, and anyway they were largely off the table now that they didn't talk about Dean's sex life. Pop culture sometimes worked, though Dean's horror movies and Sam's fondness for action movies starring regular Joes didn't overlap much. Mostly if they weren't talking about the job, they talked about the past, growing up together and apart, but Sam just didn't want to do that when they were behind bars, no matter how temporary the captivity.

Eventually they both fell silent, listening to waves of conversation and occasional disputes from the cells around. Sound carried, in here; Sam even caught the unmistakable sounds of someone getting his rocks off, up and to the left of their cell. He counted the bars and calculated the force it would take to break them. Then he gamed out three different ways to get out of the building, if it became necessary.

Just after eleven, right when the guards announced lights-out, Sam pulled the gray wool blankets off of their mattresses, old things as scratchy as horsehide, and shook them out. With the bunk pushed into the back corner, he stuck one end of each blanket under the top mattress, far enough in that the weight of the mattress would hold it in place, and tugged them until they covered both of the exposed sides of the bottom bunk, a makeshift canopy bed.

Dean sized up the contrivance, his face as still as a mannequin's in the bad light bleeding in from the few bulbs still lit out on the tier. Then he nodded. "Thanks," he said.

Sam's heart seized up. The idea that Dean would thank him, be grateful for his assistance in managing this nightmare, made him want to puke.

When they got out, they weren't going to New Hampshire or to South Carolina. They were going back to Bobby's, and he was going to reread every book there until he found an answer. Maybe he'd been going about this the wrong way. Maybe instead of eliminating whatever was doing this, he could add a modified curse, some sort of repulsion thing. Make Dean untouchable by any entity, spirit or corporeal. At this point, he didn't think Dean would mind.

Maybe when he opened himself to whatever was left of his powers, the solution would present itself, as obvious as a monster emerging out of the shadows that had concealed it. He'd given his word to Dean that he'd abandon his demonic heritage, but he'd break that vow in a hummingbird's heartbeat if it meant fixing this.

Making plans kept him from pounding his fists to meat against the cinderblock walls.

Dean slipped into the bottom bunk before the attack started, so as not to be caught out in the open. Sam heard him shifting around and imagined him taking off his clothes. He'd been so fucking beautiful during the strip search, like one of Michelangelo's subjects come to life, all clean muscle and smooth lines.

Did Dean wish to be marble instead of flesh? Sam wouldn't blame him. And still, if the day came that Dean didn't want to live like this any more, Sam knew he'd say anything, bind Dean with every compulsion he knew, to keep him alive and with Sam.

Sam knew the entities had arrived when the bedframe started to shake. The metal was all in one piece, so it didn't make much noise, other than a low scraping of the feet against the concrete floor. Sam figured that made sense: you didn't want your prison bunks to be made anything that an inmate might unscrew to use as a weapon. He couldn't hear Dean at all, no matter how much he tried. His brain helpfully presented him with an image: Dean, his shoulders bunched as he gripped the sides of the mattress, shoving his face into his pillow so as not to make a sound.

On the tier below, someone was singing some kind of Irish folk song that wasn't Danny Boy. Sam first tried to tune it in to the exclusion of everything else, and when that failed, he opened his mouth and started his own low-volume rendition of every song he remembered off of Nevermind. With luck, it would make sure no one heard any sounds that might escape from Dean.

He was pretty sure that Dean understood why he was doing it. No, Dean would understand; he had to believe that. Not that Dean would enjoy Sam being considerate of his pain any more than he'd want Sam to ignore it.

The attack was particularly bad that night, lasting for what seemed like three or four times the usual eternity. Sam didn't have a watch, and he wasn't usually this close to the action, so he couldn't be objectively sure, but he was convinced that it went on for at least two hours. Long enough for a shift change, long enough for him to work through his own version of Document and start in on The Joshua Tree.

Midway through One Tree Hill, the bunk stopped trembling. Sam kept singing, just to give Dean a little time. Then he heard what might have been a sob, buried in a grey and beaten-down pillow. It didn't repeat, and Sam finished the song and shut up.

He was just sitting above Dean like a human Maginot Line, totally ineffectual. Hugging his knees to his chest in a way he knew was ridiculous on a grown man, Sam thought it was a good thing that all this had gone down after they'd defeated Azazel's plan. Because, right now—

He wanted the world to burn.

****

They still needed to go to bars when they wanted to make a semi-legal buck. Sam might have had a few more shots on average now that he was spending so much quality time with toilets. Dean could neither afford that, as spirits apparently took badly to whiskey dick, nor could he admit to Sam that he wanted some temporary oblivion. But even that wasn't much of a change; Dean didn't generally drink to get drunk, not when he was around Sam.

He didn't even do anything to discourage the girls, the ones who accumulated around him like crumpled-up bar napkins. He didn't seek them out, but he never had. He bought them drinks once they'd approached him and smiled at them without showing his teeth, same as ever. Just, at the end of the night (always before midnight now, and that meant endless jokes about turning into a pumpkin, each girl always smiling as if she were the first one to have thought of it) he'd go home with Sam instead.

Sam didn't get why Dean pretended that any of them had a chance with him, and Dean didn't do much to explain. Keeping in practice, he said. Sam thought maybe it was Dean's way of saying to himself that nothing had really changed. That if he didn't take one of those girls out to the back and have her up against the wall, it was only because he didn't want to. Or maybe vice versa, to the extent Sam understood Dean's bizarre philosophy of the material world.

****

For reasons both good and bad, Bobby wasn't going to help him use his gifts to help Dean, so Sam made do in other ways. Dean and Bobby liked to pretend otherwise, but Sam remembered plenty from the old days; Meg hadn't killed every contact Sam knew. In fact, the ones she'd let live tended to be just the ones Sam needed to talk to for his current endeavors.

Possibly that ought to have bothered him.

The good news was that restoring his powers turned out to be a lot like fixing the plumbing in an abandoned building. The structure was there, but the pipes were gummed. Some of them were broken, others just needed a good hard whack.

But the power didn't have anything to hold on to, not directly. So the next step was to trace the problem to its source.

One of the sorcerer's books was a variant of Liber Juratus with an expanded, hand-annotated section on using demon powers to perform mortal tasks. The ink was brown and faded, and when Sam ran his fingers over the pages, they felt almost sticky. He thought he'd probably get rid of the book when this was over.

Sam hadn't said much to Dean about his plans, but at this point Dean's assistance might be required, or maybe Dean would get some satisfaction out of helping. When he was ready, he waited to explain until they'd just absorbed a big lunch and Dean was pretending to clean his knives but really just dozing in front of the television.

"That's blood magic," Dean said before he finished, in the tone that said 'no way' and meant it. He sat up straight and began sliding the knives back into their sheaths and cases.

Sam had been prepared for that objection. "Not death magic. Blood's not inherently good or bad. It's just power."

"Yeah," Dean said, still meaning 'no way.' "Who you planning to cut?"

"My blood'll work fine."

Dean tested the edge of an athame against his nail. "Dude, you sure as hell ain't the pretty one, so when did you get stupid?"

Controlling a spell of that magnitude was hard enough at full capacity. Woozy with blood loss was a handicap that few witches (or warlocks, if you wanted to say that was what Sam was proposing to become) would risk.

"I'm certain that it will get us the answers we need, Dean." He put his absolute faith into his voice, and Dean finally lifted his head. The past months had carved the faint lines around Dean's eyes and his mouth into permanent additions. If anything, Dean looked better like this, the smile lines and crow's feet working with the stubble to roughen the prettiness of his face into something utterly gorgeous, unmistakably a man rather than a boy.

Sam glanced away, embarrassed, just as Dean spoke. "If you're so certain, if it means that much, then we'll use my blood."

"Fine," Sam said. Dean looked surprised that Sam hadn't put up more of a fight. But Sam wouldn't need much more than a pint, and Dean could do that while running and shooting, as Sam knew for a fact.

****

They sat cross-legged facing one another, the large ritual basin in between them. It was lacquered red on the outside and black on the inside. Sam was aware there was a theory behind the colors, but he didn't really care. From above, Sam realized, they formed the shape of a winking eye, two carets bracketing a circle. He wondered what housekeeping would think when they came in to clean up the mess. The only rituals usually performed in an anonymous Days Inn room like this had very little to do with witchcraft.

"Give me your left arm," Sam ordered. The bandages were waiting, piled up to one side, along with a pint of orange juice and a plastic tub of the Trader Joe's three-ginger cookies that Dean pretended not to like.

Dean stuck his arm out with an aggrieved sigh. "You know, with that makeup on, you look like a clown. Think you'll scare yourself out of your pants?"

Sam ignored him. The blue, red and black face paint was admittedly odd-looking, but no matter the hue of the magic you were calling up, witchcraft was about respect. The ritual had face paint in it; ergo, Sam was using face paint. He had raw power to burn, but his only hope of channeling it into a divination was to follow instructions.

Carefully, he smoothed the salve over the flesh of Dean's inner arm, ignoring Dean's quite justified protests about how bad it smelled. He said the words of blessing over the knife, and thanked Dean for his willing sacrifice. He did it in Latin, just so Dean wouldn't add that to his bitch list. Then he sliced across Dean's forearm, just below the crook of his elbow. He turned Dean's arm so that the blood spilled down over his skin, a shining red cuff, and into the bowl.

The things already in the bowl were as shriveled as raisins, but when the blood covered them it was as if he'd poured water on sodium. The explosion blanked Sam's vision, and the smoke took a few seconds to dissipate after that. Dean swore while Sam coughed, the days-dead taste unbelievably foul on his tongue. When he managed to wipe the irritated tears from his eyes, he saw that the bowl had cracked into three perfectly regular pieces. They reminded him of a biohazard sign, lying there on the floor.

He remembered himself and grabbed Dean's arm, using butterfly bandages to hold the wound closed and then covering it with gauze, wrapping it carefully as he cleaned off the still-sticky blood. Dean didn't protest, watching Sam as if he might explode like one of the spell pellets.

"Did it work?" Dean asked when Sam let him go.

"Let's see," Sam said. "Drink that," he ordered absently, shoving the orange juice at Dean. Then he got up and unfolded the map of the United States onto the nearest bed.

"Why?" he asked.

After a second, a pinprick of white light appeared in the air above his head, growing slowly until it was the size of a bumblebee and darkening in color until it was a sick, mushroomy yellow. Then it floated delicately over the map, swinging in circles, tighter and tighter until it settled just over a spot in the East.

Sam double-checked so as not to make any mistake. Alewife, Massachusetts.

"Lacey," he said, considering, then started to refold the map. Dean was inspecting him like he was a car crash and Dean was stuck in the gaper delay. But Dean was also stuffing cookies into his mouth, so Sam wasn't going to complain. He started to pack, shoving clothes randomly into his duffel.

They were in the middle of Pennsylvania, and they had a long drive ahead of them.

****

The guidelight returned when they hit 95, hovering at the upper edge of Sam's vision. It took them unerringly towards the town, then through streets that seemed familiar (but then, some days they all seemed familiar), and finally to a large Victorian painted cake-yellow.

Their timing was good. It would have been awkward to march into her place of work and—and get her to fix whatever she'd done.

Dean shut off the engine, but he didn't leave the car as Sam got out and slammed the door, not quite hard enough to draw a rebuke from Dean. Sam walked around to the driver's side. Dean was just sitting there, his hand still on the ignition. "You don't have to come in if you don't want to," he told Dean, keeping his voice absolutely neutral.

Dean shook himself, almost invisibly, and swung the door open so that Sam had to step back. Sam waited as Dean checked his weapons, and then they started up the flagstone walkway. The front garden was full of purple flowers and delicate frog-green fronds. Sam recognized a lot of the plants, and assumed that the others also had witchery purposes.

Their feet made hollow sounds on the old wooden stairs. Sam pressed the doorbell, and they waited.

Lacey answered, her face already lighting with pleasure as she opened the door. She was still in her business clothes, a bright green skirt suit with a mint shell underneath, and her hair was pulled back in a twist. Nothing about her screamed 'evil, life-destroying witch.' "You should have called!" she said. The guidelight flared more brightly in her presence. She noticed it, and her expression became uncertain. "What's that?"

"May we come in?" Sam said, and pushed past her. Dean, his lips compressed and his jaw tight, followed. Lacey turned, her face showing nothing but confusion. Sam allowed her to close the door behind them.

"Dean," Lacey appealed, "what's going on? Did you figure out what was wrong?"

Dean's mouth twitched. "We were hoping you'd explain that."

She rocked back a step. "I don't know—"

Sam had been sitting in the car for over five hours, thinking about how this would go. He was not in the mood for denial.

Azazel's aims had been rotten all the way through, but he'd had a firm grasp of the theatrical fundamentals. Sam nodded. Lacey's body slammed back against her blue-and-white striped wallpaper, rattling the family portraits to either side of her. He kept her pinned for a second, then let her slide down to her feet.

She wobbled and swept one hand up, her lips already forming some cantrip. Sam clenched his fist. Her mouth squeezed up like someone was twisting her chin in his hand.

What Sam was doing was not entirely unlike what happened to Dean every night. He glanced over at Dean, expecting to find discomfort with his use of enemy tactics.

Dean's face was a blank journal page.

"Dean's always been a sexist pig," Sam informed her. "I assume that has something to do with what you did, but what's relevant now is that it means that I'm going to be the one who deals with you. And I think you'll find that, where I'm concerned, chivalry is dead."

Lacey shook her head, more in general denial than in response to anything Sam had said. "I never—I follow the Path, I wish no harm on any man, I—"

He thought about it, and her head thunked back against the wall. "What did you do?"

She was almost crying now, her voice thick with terror. "I didn't!"

His voice was a bored monotone. "I did the spell, I asked it who, and it led me here."

Lacey's hair whipped around her shoulders as she continued her denials. Sam catalogued the contents of the room. If she didn't come up with a different story soon, he was going to have to get creative. There was a fireplace, he saw, and a poker that looked like it had seen a hundred years of regular use.

"Wait!" Dean sounded almost scared, though why that would be was a mystery to Sam; he had the witch under control.

Sam turned to Dean, who had his hands raised as if he were reassuring a nervous child. "Before, you said why. Why, Sam, not who."

He considered that for a moment. It was a good point.

"Who?" he asked.

The light bounced away from its place over Lacey's forehead and zoomed up the stairs of her house.

He pursued. Behind him, he heard Lacey fall to the floor, and the soft noise of Dean helping her to her feet.

The light was waiting for him at the top of the stairs, bouncing a little like a malicious Tinkerbell. He followed it down the narrow hall, covered with reproductions of the Old Masters in curliqued frames, to the farthest door on the left. It seemed anticlimactic, nearing the end of all this, to reach for the doorknob, but kicking the door in might give a bit too much warning of his intent.

The door swung open on a bedroom. The bed had a rough blue blanket thrown over the sheets; there was an antique dresser and a mirror over it in a wooden frame covered with old, peeling gold paint. A man sat in a yellow chair by the window, right where he could look down at the street below and spy on all the neighbors.

Sam recognized him: Lacey's father, the one who'd scowled at Sam and Dean and the Impala like each one of them was a piece of trash that needed removal. The light zoomed to him, circled him a few times, then disappeared with a soft pop. The man turned his head, no trace of surprise on his face, and regarded Sam with the same contempt as he'd shown before. Sam wondered why, but he knew there was no answer that made sense.

Behind him, he heard the others. Feet scraped over the hardwood floors as Lacey lunged forward. Sam turned in time to see Dean grab her firmly, immobilizing her arms. "I don't want to hurt you," Dean told her. "Make a move on Sam—" he tilted his chin at her and smiled charmingly—"that'll change."

Lacey's father wheezed with laughter. "Look at him! Still slutting around. D'you still want her, boy? Doesn't matter, though, if she wants you."

"What are you talking about, Dad?" she asked, her tone moving from fear to exasperation. She really had no idea. Lucky girl.

"It's a curse," the man explained. "Every time he raises an unclean lust, it's visited upon him."

Sam understood, in a general and distant way, that this was important information. But he was getting so hot, physically hot, and he really needed to know: "How do we lift the curse?"

The old man snorted. "He has to do it with someone who loves him. True love. Good luck with that, eh?"

Sam had a perfect view of Dean's reflection in the mirror. The image was just a little odd, the small asymmetries of his face reversed. Dean's expression was not blank enough to conceal the collapse of his hope. The world went white for a second while fury crackled through Sam like lightning. He hated everything in his life up to this point, and most of all he hated that this foul old man had accidentally hit on Dean's craziest, deepest fear.

There was a funny smell. Burnt hair, Sam realized; the small hairs on the warlock's forearms, his eyebrows, were curling and blackening, crazing up as if he'd gotten too close to a flame. The man was cringing into his beaten-up, overstuffed seat, too old to run and too mean to beg.

Sam stepped closer, studying him, the way the liver spots swam through the rough seas of his skin, how his scalp showed through his thinning white hair. "No matter what I do to you, you won't live long," he said, thinking it through.

He bent down, down, and rested one hand on each side of the warlock's armchair, bracing himself carefully so that he could just brush a kiss against the man's left temple.

Then he stood and stepped back. The sign he'd left fluttered under the thin skin like a black butterfly, then melted away.

"What did you do?" Lacey asked, her voice high with misery and terror.

"Just—left my mark on him," Sam told her.

"I don't—I don't recognize it," she said.

He grinned. "Don't worry," he said, knowing that his smile was a death's head. "He'll be meeting those who do soon enough."

"I just wanted to teach him a lesson," the old man whined.

"And look how much we've all learned," Sam said softly. He returned to Lacey, dismissing her father from his attention. She was standing next to Dean, her shoulders slumped and her face red, possibly with shame. For her sake, he hoped it was shame. "Now, as I recall, you taught Dean a lesson the first time we met, so I'm thinking the impulse might run in the family. Before you decide to try something else, you remember the Threefold Law—and think of me as the sheriff."

Dean was watching him with open concern. Sam knew that they had to get out of this house, or something terrible was going to happen.

"Come on, Sam," Dean said, as if he'd heard Sam's thoughts, and hurried across the floor, staying as far away from the warlock as possible, to pull Sam out of the room. Then they went down the stairs and out to the car, Dean never letting go of Sam's arm.

Dean had started the car, driving who knows where, when the implications really hit Sam. 'Every time he raises an unclean lust.' That meant that Dean's assailants weren't full spirits, which was why the salt lines had been no barrier. They'd been called up by the curse on Dean, who was already inside every protection they had. The things that attacked him were representations of people he'd seen during the day. And that meant that Sam—

Dean's hands were clenched around the steering wheel like it was a cliff edge and he was about to fall.

There had been a couple of days when Dean had hardly seen anyone but Sam, spent digging in churchyards or hiking through deep woods. And there had never been a night without an attack, not since the curse began.

And it got worse: According to the warlock, if Sam had given in to his sick desires, if he'd fallen that one last rung into depravity, that would have stopped it. Sam felt a heaviness in his hands, a pain that ran into his chest, like a dozen iron morningstars had been embedded in him. It was what he remembered from grieving for Jess: the cessation of a universe, the grinding to a halt of the whole world.

****

As soon as they'd checked into the motel and brought the bags in, Dean went for the one that was full of breakables and pulled out a fifth of scotch. He popped the cap and took two deep slugs, one after the other.

Sam wanted to join him, but thought it would be a bad idea for a variety of reasons. Instead, he checked and found the K-Y in the side pocket of Dean's duffel. Good; that would be one less problem to deal with. He tossed it onto the nearest nightstand, right next to the alarm clock.

"Get on the bed," Sam said. He began to unbutton his overshirt.

"Fuck no," Dean said, putting the bottle down and stepping back towards the door. Sam focused on the emergency exit diagram over Dean's shoulder, imagining the lock freezing, holding itself in place.

"Someone who loves you, Dean," Sam said, weary, letting his hands still on the last button.

Hesitation, and something darker, flickered on Dean's face. "You really think being brothers is gonna cut it?" Worse than the uncertainty on his face was the faint scrim of hope, barely there, devastating in its very weakness.

Sam wanted to touch Dean, hold him close, promise him safety and forever. But he'd need a blowtorch to get through to Dean that way, even if Dean would hold still for it, even if Sam deserved to be allowed to do it. So instead he shook his head. "No, I don't."

Dean was a wax figure.

"You don't—" he said at last. And then Sam could see the implications hit him. His shoulders pulled in and he huffed out a breath like he'd taken a fastball to the chest. He looked at Sam like he'd looked at their possessed father in that cabin, when the bedrock certainties of his life had crumbled into air. For the first time in his life, Sam felt like a criminal.

Sam forced his hands to start moving again, getting the last buttons open. "Even you'd take a while to get someone else to fall for you, especially now. It has to be me."

Dean sneered. "Yeah, what a big sacrifice for you." He looked a little surprised that he'd said it.

And Sam deserved his scorn. "I know there's no getting back from this. I know that. But this is the one thing I can do for you." He shrugged the shirt off his shoulders and began tugging at his T-shirt.

"If I say no, you gonna force me?" Dean sounded honestly curious.

Sam raised his head. "Not now. But tonight?"

Dean turned away. "That's not—it's not you." He took the two steps required to bring himself up against the wall, spreading his hands out and leaning into it so that his forehead touched cream-colored paint.

"Some of the time, it's me," Sam corrected. "Maybe after a couple of years of meditation I could stop. But as far as we know, I don't even have to be around you to do it." He toed off his boots, then unbuckled his belt. "All I have to do is want you."

He could tell himself that he wouldn't have developed this fixation if it hadn't been for the curse, forcing him to get so close to Dean. It might even be true.

Dean pounded his head slowly into the wall a couple of times. He wouldn't look over at Sam.

"If I'd known," he said at last. "Maybe it wouldn't—" But then he stopped, as if he'd decided that neither of them needed to hear that.

Sam already knew, anyway, just how much blame he bore. The warlock was going to burn for his part; what, Sam wondered, was a fitting disposition for him?

"I'd knock you out if I were sure it'd work that way," he told Dean. "But breaking the curse might need both of us." He pushed down his jeans and shorts and stepped out of them, naked except for his socks. Then, for lack of anything better to do, he sat down on the bed and took off the socks, crumpling them and stuffing them into his boots. Dean still had his forearms against the wall, his fists clenched, eyes fixed ahead like he was hoping to discover a secret message waiting for him there.

At last Dean shrugged and made a sound that was half a laugh and half a sob. He turned to Sam and did a brief double-take at Sam's nudity, then flushed under his tan and fumbled with his shirt, hurrying to catch up.

Dean had to fight with his gray T-shirt to get it off, his amulet riding up and catching on his chin. He took a deep breath when he got to his jeans, letting it out slowly as he popped the buttons on his fly.

As always, Sam was struck by the elegance of Dean's body, each curve of muscle and jut of bone perfectly arranged. Light gilded his skin; shadow defined the dips and hollows, the contours of his abs and the powerful lines of his quads.

Dean approached the bed with the same wariness he used when approaching grieving parents. Sam, still sitting on the edge, turned his head uncomfortably as Dean crawled to the center and waited there, on hands and knees, his head dropping down below the level of his back, the wings of his shoulderblades raised as if in anticipation of a blow.

"Well?" Dean asked.

"Not like that," Sam said. No, the truth was: he begged. He swung his legs up and rolled so that he could put a hand on Dean's shoulder. "I need—"

Dean turned his head. His brows were lowered in fury.

Sam couldn't finish that sentence, but the facts remained as they were. "I don't think I can," he said.

"Great," Dean snapped, and dropped down, rolling his body towards Sam's and reaching for Sam's cock. Sam grabbed his hand just before Dean's fingers closed on him, almost afraid that Dean was going to castrate him half-accidentally. He pushed Dean's hand back, putting them palm to palm, lacing their fingers together when Dean didn't resist, until their hands were pressed against Dean's chest, over his heart, and Sam could feel the heat of him on his fingertips.

"Let me," Sam said, and stretched himself to brush his lips across Dean's.

Just a press of skin on skin, no strength behind it. He could taste the liquor on Dean's breath. From this distance, Dean's eyelashes were still unbelievable, long and thick and completely concealing.

He gulped air and bent in again, this time running the tip of his tongue across Dean's lower lip. Dean breathed out, not quite a sigh, and Sam did it again, finishing with a gentle downwards stroke right at the center.

Their fingers were still loosely clasped, pressed between their bodies, but Dean's other hand came up to hold Sam's shoulder. His grip was shockingly strong; Sam couldn't have freed himself without damage.

Eventually he untangled his hand from Dean's and broke the kiss, then had to lean his forehead against Dean's for a second, just dealing with the carbonated lightness of his blood, the way the bed felt as if it had been spinning like a carousel under them.

He put a hand on Dean's hip where the smooth skin was roughened by three scar lines, warm over bone and the beginning curve of muscle. He rolled them over, putting Dean on his back under Sam. Then he bent his head and started kissing his way down Dean's chest. At last he felt Dean's cock twitch and start to rise against his chest.

He was selfish and horrible and everything his demon patron ever could have hoped, because he was storing up every silken touch, every scar and freckle his fingers discovered, the dimples where Dean's ass joined his back and the heavy curves where his cheeks met his thighs.

Dean's legs spread when he coaxed them apart. He buried his face in Dean's groin, feeling the head of Dean's cock bump against his cheek. He kissed the soft place right under Dean's belly button, the only place other than under his chin that Dean carried extra padding.

He desperately wished that he'd taken that ass Billy Palmer up on his offer sophomore year, because if he had any idea what he was doing he would have made Dean fuck him. But the disaster potential was already too high, and anyway they didn't know whether the curse required the same acts Dean had already been subjected to.

Sam wrapped his hands around Dean's thighs and sucked the tip of Dean's cock into his mouth. Dean made a soft 'unh' sound, and Sam nearly wept with the knowledge that Dean was going to do this, was going to get off for him. His own cock throbbed, filling and rising against the bedcovers.

Dean was thick and the spit-slick flesh rubbed past his lips, forcing his mouth wider as he went further down. Sam spread his hands and slid them up towards the juncture of Dean's thighs, feeling the hairs soft and springy under his palms, until his fingers were spread out over Dean's femoral triangles and his thumbs rested on the soft curve of Dean's inner thighs, brushing against the velvet of his balls.

Sam breathed him in, leather and bitters, and pumped his tongue against the underside of Dean's cock. Above him, Dean was alternately cursing and grunting, muffled as if he'd stuck his wrist in his mouth.

Dean's hips snapped up, and Sam surged with him, taking him just a fraction deeper. Dean cried out and his cock began to pulse; Sam could feel the come squeezing its way through the length in his mouth, fast and staticky.

Mouth dripping spit and come, he pulled off and raised his eyes. Dean had his head twisted into the pillow, the back of his hand covering his eyes as if he were trying to shade them from the sun.

Sam slowly crawled back up the bed, staying far enough above Dean that his cock wouldn't drag against Dean's skin, because he wasn't sure he could stand the touch. He hesitated, wondering if he should ask Dean to say yes or if that would only make it worse.

Worse, he decided; he'd already made Dean more complicit in this nightmare than he should have. Bracing himself on one arm, he took the lube off of the nightstand and flicked the cap open with his thumb.

Dean blinked slowly, his eyes following Sam's hand. "Lemme," he slurred. Sam had a moment of terror when he thought he was going to shoot all over Dean before they'd even started, but he managed to pass off the lube and used his freed hand to press hard at the base of his cock, staving off the impulse to come.

He sat back on his heels, between Dean's spread thighs, while Dean coated two fingers and drew his left leg a little further up so that he could just—

Sam dry-swallowed as Dean's gun-callused fingers pumped in and out of himself. Dean's dick twitched, half-hard again. At last Dean withdrew his hand. He turned his head to nod at the lube lying on the pillow next to him. "Your turn."

Barely breathing, Sam managed to squeeze out a palmful of K-Y. He bit deep into his lip and coated himself as quickly as humanly possible.

Dean's eyes were closed when Sam breached him. He tried to go slow, tried to watch Dean's face, but after a few inches it was just unbearable, and he closed his own eyes and clenched his teeth and pushed, pushed until he was in as far as he could go, Dean folded up underneath him, his balls snug and soft against Sam's belly.

Dean's indrawn breath was not quite a whimper. Their chests were pressed together so that it felt like they were breathing in tandem, Dean in and Sam out. Dean's legs were pushed so far up and out that the strain must have been severe, but Dean wasn't fighting and Sam couldn't make himself give Dean any room. Dean was sauna-hot around him, slick and tight as if he'd been made for this.

I'm doing this because I love you, Sam thought. It was the worst thing he'd ever wanted to say.

Beneath him, Dean groaned and turned his head to the side, exposing the tendons of his neck. The sheen of sweat coating his skin was too much; Dean never looked so wrung-out or worked-up when he'd finished with the curse-spirits. Sam bent his head and licked down the hollow of Dean's throat. Salt and ashes.

Dean brought his hands up then, settling them in Sam's hair. His fingers threaded gently through the messy, sweat-sticky strands, rubbing against Sam's scalp.

"C'mon," Dean rumbled. "Do it, give it to me, do it."

And Sam did. There was a whining noise. He realized it was coming from his mouth, but he didn't care, couldn't care, had to get closer. Dean's outspread thighs slammed against Sam's hipbones with every thrust. Sweat dripped down Sam's chest and caught on Dean's. It was like there was a bomb timer winding down inside him; each time he pistoned down he felt another tick.

His mouth was spewing words, random phrases of filth and love. His hands pinned Dean's shoulders to the bed.

The explosion, when it came, knocked him into outer space.

He had no idea how long it took for him to realize that Dean was still trapped under him. Swallowing back his fear, he braced his hands on the mattress and pushed himself up. Their skin separated with a wet, uncomfortable pull.

He opened his eyes and saw that Dean's face was wet. He honestly had no idea whose tears had done that.

Carefully, he pulled back and out of Dean, unable to keep back an indrawn breath at the overwhelming sensation. Dean winced, then grimaced more deeply as he brought his overstressed legs back down to the bed.

Sam wanted to kiss him again, just on the forehead, just to reassure. But that was probably a bad idea.

Instead, he went into the bathroom and showered. It wasn't symbolic. You didn't get clean after something like this. It still needed doing.

When he came back out, wrapped in a towel because he hadn't remembered to take a change of clothes in with him, Dean was sitting uncomfortably on the edge of the bed, still naked. He didn't speak to Sam as he took his place in the bathroom.

Sam got dressed and packed his things. It didn't take long.

When Dean came out, he hadn't bothered with a towel, as if he'd decided that it didn't matter any more. Sam waited as Dean pulled his boxers and jeans back on. Then, shoeless and shirtless, Dean did a circuit of the room. He got a gray-green henley out of his bag and pulled it over his head, tugging at the sleeves to get it to fit right. "You leaving?" he asked, not sounding very curious.

"I'll wait until tonight," Sam told him.

"If it doesn't—" Dean began.

"It'll work," Sam said, his voice a black cloud. It wasn't even that it was Sam that was giving Dean the problem, he knew. It was 'true love.' Just thinking about it made Sam want to beat Dean up, along with the warlock and his father and, hey, himself, just for starters.

****

It worked.

Sam left at one in the morning, and Dean didn't tell him to stay.

****

Sam was cautious, sticking to research or simple one-man jobs, routine salt-and-burns that could be accomplished midday. Anything more complicated that wasn't urgent he passed on to Bobby and got out of town.

A couple of times there was no time to find another hunter and he went in hot, using the power that surged through him like an ocean current. Ava had made their abilities sound dirty, but the truth was that using them properly felt good the same way that a hard workout did, or a well-written paper. Developing fine control was an accomplishment, and gave him more options than just slamming someone or something up against a wall.

He probably could have done without using the telekinesis, since there was nothing he hunted that he hadn't killed before, but he had a duty to be careful. Sam knew that the worst thing he could do, worse than everything he'd already done, would be to get killed out on a hunt on his own. He hoped, he prayed, that Dean knew that the same went for him, and that Dean still cared enough for that to matter.

He jerked off sometimes, safe in the knowledge that it was pure fantasy, that Dean wouldn't be paying for it the next night. Repeating that to himself, he almost didn't feel guilty.

He often thought about the warlock's words. True love. That couldn't be all wrong. Sick; twisted like a strangler vine; even horrifying. But not all wrong.

Months passed.

Sam was in Indiana, sitting in the junker he'd bought and scoping out a potentially haunted house, when his alternate phone rang. He didn't recognize the number.

"Hello?"

"Hey." Dean's voice was as tentative as his own. He heard Dean clear his throat. "So, there's this hunt—oh, fuckit, Sam. Come home."

The world blurred. "Where are you?"

"Impact, Texas," Dean said, and even in his stunned condition Sam could tell that Dean was dying to make fun of the name.

"Twelve hours," Sam said, and started the car.

Of course, after Dean hung up, he had to turn the engine off for a moment, just so he could drape his arms over the steering wheel and cry, just to get it out of his system. But he made it in eleven anyway. The one patrol car that turned on its lights and started after him found an urgent errand elsewhere.

****

The night was warm and clear when he arrived at Dean's motel. The Impala was parked at the far end of the parking lot, right in front of the last room on the row, no other cars around her.

Dean was sitting on her hood, drinking a beer from a six-pack sitting on the ground by him. He gestured, and Sam picked one of the remaining bottles just to have something to do with his hands. He leaned against the passenger side, crossing his arms over his chest so that he wouldn't do anything stupid. The metal was warm from the earlier heat, but not uncomfortable.

He heard the clink of Dean's ring against the glass bottle.

"So you have to shut up until I'm done, 'cause I spent a lot of time on this," Dean said at last.

Sam nodded quickly, not daring to turn his head.

"I'm not like you. Things don't mean the same to you as to me. Some things anyway. You didn't break me. I'm messed up some, but that's not on you. You mighta been part of the curse, but you were the whole cure.

"There's only two things I care about in this world, and that's hunting evil and you, Sam. I can see a day coming when gettin' laid goes back on that list, but it always comes last anyway. Well, always since I was sixteen," Dean added with tactless frankness, and Sam couldn't suppress a snigger.

"Point is," Dean continued deliberately, "I needed to get my head together. But I shoulda told you right off that it was only for a while. At least, if you still want to do this."

Sam wished that Dean had bothered to define 'this.' But it didn't matter, did it? "I do," he said.

He heard Dean take a swallow of his drink. "Good," he said. "That's good."

And then Dean jumped off the car, his boots crunching in the gravel of the parking lot. Sam kept his eyes closed, but every nerve felt Dean's approach. He was inches away, he was hovering, he was—

Plucking the unopened beer bottle out of Sam's hand. Sam's eyes popped open. "You gonna drink this or just romance it?" Dean asked, his eyes bright.

Sam gaped at him, then recovered and snatched it back. "No takebacks," he said.

"Big talk for a guy who doesn't have an opener," Dean pointed out.

At which point Sam was morally obligated to take a careful look at the cap, concentrate—

The neck of the bottle exploded, glass cubes and beer foam spewing everywhere. Sam dropped what was left of the bottle, wiped his own eyes clean and then grabbed frantically at Dean. Dean's hands got in the way of Sam's; Dean's "shit shit shit" mingled with Sam's "sorry, sorry—you all right?"

Finally, Dean managed to push Sam back against the car. Dean's shirt was soaked, but his face was undamaged.

"Uh," Sam said. "I was nervous?"

Dean grinned, the triumphant grin of a guy who was going to bring this up again and again and again. "Guess you're making the next beer run," he said.

"I guess I am," Sam said. The lightness that filled him was better than any drink.

Dean frowned for a second, then flipped over to a slight smile. "Good to know you haven't gone all Darth Vader. If a beer can still outsmart you, I'm pretty sure you're not any kind of threat to the world."

Sam didn't much want to talk about that, not right now. Instead he smiled at Dean, stupid with relief, and Dean grinned back.

"There is a hunt, you know," he said, as if they'd been stopped in the middle of another conversation.

"Of course there is," Sam agreed. "But right now—" He just wanted to look at Dean, fill his eyes and his consciousness up with Dean's presence. Sam would have sworn he'd remembered the exact shade of Dean's eyes, the precise length of his lashes, every faint freckle layered over his skin, but every inch of him seemed new and wonderful in the bad light spilling from the motel.

"Hey," Dean said softly, as if he were coaxing a stranger out of harm's way. They were still only inches apart.

Sam's entire body felt like it might go the same way as the beer bottle. He looked at Dean's mouth, imagined the feel of Dean's stubble against his tongue. He coughed and shifted, trying to ease his sudden discomfort. "About that third item on the list," he said.

Dean shrugged and looked away sheepishly.

"You need to know that I still feel the same way," Sam said. "I won't—you don't have to worry about me, but—that's just how I feel. I'm not going to tell you I won't be jealous, but I'll live."

Dean smiled at him again, this time with a little sadness mixed in with the sweet. "You won't need to be jealous," he said, and the certainty in his voice nearly brought Sam to his knees. "It's like that chick-flick with the pirates says: True love doesn't happen every day."

Like that, they were hugging, Sam bending so that he could put his head on Dean's shoulder. Dean's arms around him meant security, just like always. Sam tried to make the same promise with his own grasp. He was fucked up in ten or twenty different ways, so fucked up that 'freaky demon powers' didn't even top the list.

Maybe that was what made him perfect for Dean: Hell, it had taken black magic to convince Dean that Sam actually loved him. Dean was a miracle, but most people didn't know what to do with miracles when they arrived. Sam wasn't going to make that mistake. He'd spent enough time being sorry, and here Dean was, choosing him.

Anyone who got in the way of happily ever after—well, Sam was strong and creative, and he'd been pushed around by other agendas enough for twelve lifetimes. With Dean at his side, there was just no limit to what he might do.

END

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