chase_acow: (spn Wolf big bang)
[personal profile] chase_acow
Title: Last Stand at Goblin Valley
Author: Renae [personal profile] chase_acow
Artist: [livejournal.com profile] ladyamarra
Pairing: Sam/Dean (previous Dean/OMC)
Rating: NC-17
Word Count: ~48,500
Warnings: Some gore, but nothing worse than you'd see on the show.
A/N: I can't thank [livejournal.com profile] vipersweb and [livejournal.com profile] apricot_poodle enough for giving me both power-house and swift betas when I flailed at them last week. : ) Written for [livejournal.com profile] spn_j2_bigbang.
Summary: Sam and Dean go undercover at a Wild West show in Utah in order to save a seal, but very little is as it seems. Castiel and Ruby are both involved in a case that makes Dean remember what happened after Sam left for Stanford, memories that he thinks are best left forgotten.

Master Art Post: HERE











THEN

"Did you have to yell so loud?" Sam asked, his voice accusing as soon as he managed to separate out from the rest of the blue-robed teenagers. He had to wade through knots of families hugging and smiling before he made it to Dean. He'd finally stopped hunching his shoulders at least, even though it made the bottom hem of his borrowed gown rise halfway up his shins. "It was embarrassing."

Dean leaned against a tree, shifting a little so the bark would rub between his shoulder blades, and admired the figure his little brother cut from the rest of the too awkward and pimply teenagers. Sam didn't like their dad's training regiment, but he couldn't say that it didn't help him keep in shape. Saturday morning was already melting into the afternoon, and he couldn't scratch the itch that urged him away from all the manicured lawns and Suzie Homemaker families.

"Stop pretending you didn't like it and smile for the camera, dickwad," Dean said, and pulled out the cheap disposable camera he'd lifted from a convenience store to snap a picture before Sam could duck away.

"Jerk," Sam said, though a smile tugged up the corners of his mouth, transforming him from surly to the kid Dean could never deny. He held up his hand near his cheek and shook the tassel out of his eyes before he flipped Dean his middle finger. "Here, take a picture of this."

Laughing, he quickly wound the camera to the next picture and flashed it in Sam's face. "There's one for the scrapbook, you handsome devil," he teased, tucking the camera into his pocket so he could pull his baby brother into a hard hug. It still threw him for a loop when he had to reach up against Sam's shoulders, "I'm proud of you, kid."

"Yeah, like our family keeps a scrapbook," Sam rolled his eyes, but leaned into Dean's touch, just like he always had, even before they'd started fooling around with each other. Sam stepped away before anyone would think that they might be more than just two brothers celebrating, and pulled off his stupid square hat. Tucking it under his arm, he shook his long hair out, and let it curl back from where the hat had flattened it. "Besides, it's just a crappy piece of paper."

"It's a crappy piece of paper that you earned," Dean answered, pulling the diploma folder from Sam's hands and opening it to trace his fingers over the silver embossed letters of Sam's name. Samuel Winchester; it had been a big name when Sam had been a chubby twelve year old, but he'd more than grown into it since then. "One idiot in the family is more than enough."

Sam knuckled him hard in the ribs and scowled hard, "Don't call yourself that, Dean. You made a choice, that's all, and it was fine for you. You're not an idiot."

Dean grinned and rolled his eyes, shrugging his shoulders under the heavy leather of his dad's jacket that he'd permanently borrowed. It was really too warm for it, finally, and he was glad that he'd get to put his plan into motion. "Whatever, geek boy. You can be the brains and I'll be the beauty," he said, and ignored the indignation on Sam's face. There was a flock of girls watching them, and Dean straightened his spine, shooting them a quick grin and a wink just for kicks.

"Jesus, can you say 'jailbait'?" Sam asked and scowled deeper so that the lines on his forehead stood out and the lower half of his face scrunched up. He'd always been jealous of anyone Dean gave attention to, though he'd gotten a lot better about it since they started sleeping together.

Bumping their shoulders, Dean nudged Sam in the direction of the parking lot and scoffed. "Don't be like that, Sammy," he said and reached up to rest his hand on his little brother's back. He liked to tell himself that it was because he knew Sam liked the contact, but really, he could barely keep his hands to himself. "Today, I only have eyes for you."

"You're such a jackass," Sam said, but let Dean lead him along anyway. He waved to a few people that he'd gotten to know over the past four months, but Dean kept them moving so he wouldn't get sucked into any small talk.

The Impala stood out in the row of minivans and family sedans. Her flawless paint-job made Dean's love apparent in every bright gleam and wink of reflected sunlight. He slowed them down as they approached, just so he could have a few extra seconds to admire his baby. Technically, she was still Dad's, but Dean was the one who fixed her, cleaned out the fast food wrappers, and used her as a retreat when he needed some space.

"I swear, I fear for the day I walk outside and find the two of you in a compromising position," Sam said, sarcasm dripping from his tone as he broke from Dean's touch to open the passenger side door. "It's not natural."

Dean didn't take offense, nobody understood him and the car, not even Dad. He loved it when they were in one place for a while and he could use the car while Dad researched. The metal roof felt warm to the touch, the handle fit into the palm of his hand perfectly, and the squeak of the hinges was as familiar as his own heartbeat. He didn't have much, less even than what Sam carted around from town to town, but the car made up for a lot of the things he missed

He slid into the driver's seat and reached over to pat Sam on the thigh. "You know I love you both differently but equally," he said and pulled his hand back to turn the key in the ignition. The engine growled to life and Zeppelin blasted through the speakers as Dean roared out of the parking lot. "I picked up some clothes for you from the house; get changed, and we'll head out to the range."

"I am not spending my graduation day training at target practice!" Sam yelled, turning in the seat so he could glare at Dean's profile. "No way. Not when Dad couldn't even pull his head out long enough to come to my graduation."

Out of the corner of his eye, Dean could see Sam's nose flare, and he swallowed a snicker that would only prolong Sam's anger. The last thing he wanted to do today was get into a fight, there'd been more than enough of that around their house in the last three months. He was angry enough at Dad himself, but he couldn't give Sam an inch because the kid would take a mile.

"Besides," Sam continued before Dean could even get his mouth open. He copied Dean's earlier gesture, but kept his hand on Dean's thigh, rubbing his fingers down Dean's twitching muscles. "I thought that we were going to just spend time together. Y'know, relax."

Sam said the word as if it were a mixture of secret code and embarrassing secret. The combination made Dean's guilt tug at his gut, and he had to remind himself that he hadn't started it and Sam could put his foot down anytime he wanted to. The big brother in him still thought it was hilarious that with all the things Sam could do with his mouth, he still avoided the word 'sex' when it came to them.

"Easy there killer, trust me," he soothed, and cut his eyes sideways because he knew it would calm Sam down. "I've got a plan."

"Dude, your plans usually end up in one or both of us running from the police," Sam complained, but he did turn around and bend over the seat to grab the jeans and t-shirt Dean brought for him. He unzipped the robe and started working on the knot in his tie.

"Yeah, that's why my plans are the best plans," Dean replied, and ran a red light just for the fun of it, while he tried to ignore Sam getting naked in the seat next to him. His dick was already a warm weight between his legs just from Sam's proximity, he didn't need to encourage it any. It didn't take very long to get the outskirts of town and then he let his foot drop heavy over the gas pedal.

Sam snorted and pulled off his dress shirt and tank, idly scratching his blunt nails across his chest. The shirt Dean brought stretched tight across Sam's shoulders; almost see through with age, it rode up around the waist any time Sam moved. Sam folded his slacks over his lap and turned around to place them on the backseat. His thigh brushed against Dean's arm, and Dean shivered in response, shifting in his seat and moving his grip to the other side of the steering wheel.

The two rut track that led out to where they'd set up their training area bounced and slung the car around. Dean slid his hand apologetically down the dash and promised some tlc when they got back to civilization. When they'd first moved to town that spring, they'd cleared a nest of gnomes out of this farm. No one in town had figured out that the place was safe again yet, so they had it to themselves when they needed shooting practice, space to wrestle, or a clear area to draw signals. Besides the ruined farmhouse, the property boasted an ancient barn with three mostly intact walls, an old style crumbling fence, a small copse of trees, and a decent sized pond. He parked behind the barn and cut the ignition.

"Come on, Sammy," he said and nudged his door open with a foot. "I'll bet the pond's finally warmed up enough to swim. Last one in is a butch lesbian!"

He'd started running before he heard the door slam shut behind him. Dean laughed and flailed his way out of his jacket when he heard Sam cursing close behind him. Wearing more clothes gave him the disadvantage, but he'd always been better than Sam at getting naked. His blood pumped through his veins faster as he put on a burst of speed and dropped both coat and t-shirt at the edge of the trees.

The metal of his belt buckle scratched his fingers and he had to slow down so he could reach down and pull off his sneaker. Sam blew right past him with a whoop, reaching out to smack Dean on the back of the head before jumping straight into the pond.

"Jesus, Dean!" Sam shouted as soon as he shot up through the surface. Water streamed down his head, plastering his hair halfway down his face. He tossed his head to get his bangs out of his eyes, and rubbed his hands up tangling his hair, "Fuck! I thought you said it was warm!"

Dean sat on the bank, barking with laughter as he watched Sam's skin shiver into goose bumps. He pulled off his other shoe and his socks before he answered, "I said, 'I bet,' and you should know better than to take that at face value. But don't worry, Sammy; your balls won't shrivel if you don't have any!"

"Bite me, and get your ass in here."

There was a small formation of rocks hanging over the edge of the pool, and he meant to take full advantage of it. Standing, he shucked his jeans and left them puddle on the ground with the disposable camera in the middle of the bundle. Sam was still wearing his boxers, but Dean figured why bother if you weren't going to go all the way, and skinned out of his boxer-briefs too. He tossed them on top of his pile and got a running start before he leaped into the water in a perfect sideways cannonball, as close to Sam as he could.

The water was shocking cold, almost enough to take his breath away and a definite blow to his dick, but Dean stayed submerged as long as he could just to prove a point. When he floated up, he had his smirk in place and his shivering nearly under control. He folded his arms behind his head and let the water rock him back and forth for a moment before he opened his eyes, squinting against the sunlight.

"So," Sam said, smirking hard enough that his eyes crinkled with laughter, "I guess you're a butch lesbian."

Dean smiled and leaned back to let his feet float up, "Well, at least you're a pretty princess, so I have some incentive to stick around."

The water barely rippled up against him before he felt Sam's hand flatten across his chest and push him under. He flailed, even knowing that Sam wouldn't actually hold him down, and kicked off the ground as soon as his feet skidded across the sandy bottom. He broke the surface with a gasp and immediately launched himself at Sam. Surprised, Sam squawked right as Dean hit his shoulders and went down with his mouth wide open.

Dean darted away immediately, cutting through the water; he wasn't about to get caught the same way Sam did. Bubbles kept the water churned up for several seconds, but gradually the ripples leveled off until the pond was smooth as glass. His stomach curled unpleasantly.

"Sam?"

Cautiously, he inched his way over to where he thought Sam had gone down. The water was too murky to see through. Dean spread his arms out, swinging them through the water. He knew that as soon as he gave up and panicked Sam would pop up laughing.

"Nice try, dipshit," Dean yelled, turning around just in case Sam circled around him. "I don't care if you drown, just means more beer for me."

A breeze rippled the leaves overhead and a bird flew from branch to branch. Something cracked behind him and the wind picked up, wheezing shrilly. Clouds covered the sun for a second and the skin on his upper arms broke out in goose bumps. The pond wasn't really all that big, but maybe they had missed something when they cleared the gnomes out. Maybe something was holding Sam under the water.

"Sammy!"

Something yanked his ankles out from under him and Dean hit the water hard, face first. He wriggled and kicked, caching something fleshy with the heel of his left foot. That drove him down until his forehead brushed sand. He turned over and opened his eyes. The sun looked huge and green, wobbling and shifting through the reflection of the water. Two huge hands reached down and grabbed Dean by his head.

Flailing his arms, Dean finally got his feet under him and straightened up against Sam's skinny chest. After he shook the water out of his ears, he could hear Sam laughing beside him. Sam pressed up against his back and wrapped him up in long arms. They were standing in the shallows, the water barely licked up against his hipbones. The mood suddenly shifted and they both snapped to the place where they weren't just brothers.

Sam skimmed his hands down Dean's stomach and under the water. Dean shivered again, but this time it wasn't from fear or the cool water. He leaned and felt just a little bit smug that Sam had to brace himself again to take Dean's weight. The kid might be taller than him, but Sam didn't have the mass to match him yet.

"You've got a pretty big dick for a lesbian," Sam said softly, breathing into Dean's ear. He curled his fingers around Dean and pumped his fist just enough to get them both interested. Sam's hand looked good, tanned and tight against the reddening skin of Dean's dick. Then, making it obvious why he was a bratty little brother, Sam let go.

"You fucking tease," Dean growled, reaching around to guide Sam into a kiss. He made sure to drag his teeth over Sam's lips before he fused their mouths together. The angle was awful, but any kiss with Sam was worth the pain Dean had to go through.

Even their very first kiss had hurt. Sam had literally tripped over his big feet, fallen into Dean's lap, and then taken the opportunity to push their mouths together. Sam had ended up with just the smallest cut on his bottom lip, and a year later the taste of blood still made Dean remember the first time he came with his brother's tongue in his mouth. After that, neither of them questioned the odd new bond that formed between them; Winchesters were weird, end of story.

Sam palmed Dean's neck, helping him stretch around, and locked them tighter together. He bumped his nose against Dean's and backed off just far enough so he could talk. "It's only teasing if I don't follow through," he said, and reached down to squeeze Dean's dick with hard and perfect heavy hand.

"You have too many clothes on to follow through," Dean teased, turning around all the way so that they were chest to chest and dick to dick. He slipped his hands under Sam's boxers and squeezed Sam's ass, both thumbs pressing at the end of his tail bone. "C'mon, I'm going to fuck you into next week."

He backed up through the shallows toward the bank where their clothes lay crumpled in the dappled sunlight. Lifting his face, Dean scratched his teeth over Sam's chin and licked over Sam's lower lip. He'd just sucked their mouths together when his heel smacked into a rock and he tangled in the underwater weeds that grew near the edge.

Going down hard, he landed painfully half in half out of the pond and entirely on top of his jeans, jamming the disposable camera deep into his back. Sam caught himself on the bank instead of slamming into Dean and managed to keep them out of the hospital. The plastic of the camera crunched and shifted while Dean fished the ruined camera out of his spine.

"Smooth move, x-lax," Sam laughed, shifting to the side while Dean glared.

"You suck," Dean answered. He was irritated that he'd broken the camera, but more irritated that it'd broken the moment. He scowled and threw the hunk of plastic as far as he could out into the trees. This was supposed to be one of those perfectly normal moments Sam always went on about; something to share before they went on a hunt for the summer.

"Come here, you big baby," Sam said, pawing at Dean's side until he rolled over on his stomach. "I'll kiss it better."

The scent of the rich soil under his chest mixed with the nearby water and smelled fresh and dark. The grass was cold on his stomach and tickled his ribcage, but he sighed for a different reason. Dean shifted as Sam started touching him and flinched when his brother gently poked at the small of his back, "Ouch, watch it, bitch!"

Sam pressed a kiss to Dean's shoulder blade and moved his thigh over Dean's legs. "You're not bleeding, but some of the skin's broken," Sam said, his breath warm on Dean's skin. He could almost feel Sam's peach fuzz as Sam moved, kissing across his shoulders. "It'll bruise, but I think you'll live."

"Gee, and to think that we've wasted all this time when we could have been playing 'doctor'," Dean said, and then rolled quickly, pinning San underneath him. He grinned, using his best rakish smile, and slid his dick along Sam's soft belly. He groaned at the contact, never fully satisfied no matter how long he touched Sam.

"Yeah," Sam said, moving his legs so Dean could slide in between his thighs and thrust against Sam's balls. The grin on his face could have convinced a nun to steal a pack of gum from the local Stop'N'Rob. "You want to take my temperature?"

Dean dipped his head down, mouthing at Sam's knobby collar bone. He hitched Sam's hips up and yanked his wet boxers down over his thighs. Sam's legs went everywhere, coltishly clumsy as he tried to help, but they ended up right where Dean wanted them, bent over his shoulders. He grinned right back, "Well, I definitely want to stick something up your ass."

Rolling his eyes, Sam shifted, pulling Dean in closer with his heels. "I can't believe you ever got laid with lines like that," he said, lifting his arms behind his head. He sounded like he was in complete control, but his chest heaved up and down, and Dean could see the heat in his eyes. "Good thing I took pity on you."

"That's not the way I remember it," Dean corrected, cutting to the chase as he wrapped his palm around Sam's dick and squeezed him from root to tip. Sam's groan pulled Dean's hips forward until he rubbed against Sam's ass, his dick immediately finding the groove to slide with Sam's wet-slick skin. "I remember you licking your lips and begging me to touch you."

"Want me to beg you now?" Sam asked, twisting as far as he could, caught between Dean's hand and his thighs. He'd always been a wiggler in bed, and it drove Dean crazy. The good kind of crazy where Dean could barely keep his hands to himself since he learned how responsive Sam could be. "I would. I'd do almost anything for you."

Dean bit his tongue and closed his eyes. No matter how many times he watched as Sam blissed out beneath him, it would never be enough. They were a team, and evil things should start shaking in their metaphorical boots because together, there wasn't anything that could trip them up. There wasn't much in his life that made him happy, but Dean felt like his chest was going to explode with a sudden sense of gladness.

Blindly, Dean reached out for his jeans that were crumpled up by his foot. "Thank fucking god," he breathed when he fingers closed on the tube of lube he stuck in his pocket. He managed to hide the small travel sized tubes on him most the time. Dad had been around a lot more lately, butting heads with Sam mostly, and they never knew when they'd have the chance for sex.

"Language, young man," Sam said, using one hand to push himself up and the other to drag Dean down. He thrust his tongue into Dean's mouth, but just for a second before he pulled away and bumped their foreheads together. "I don't think God wants to watch this."

"What are you talking about, Sammy?" Dean asked, opening the cap from the tube and spreading the slick over his fingers. He couldn't wait for it to warm up, but after the pond, he didn't think Sam would screech like a girl the way he did the first time. "Sex is a beautiful act."

"Between two brothers?"

Sam's voice hitched in the middle of the word as Dean opened him up with two fingers at once. One half of Dean's mouth tipped up as he watched Sam thrash his head around. His wet hair curled away from his face and Dean really wanted to bite the tendons standing out from Sam's neck. He worked his fingers in deeper and leaned up, folding Sam nearly in half. "You gonna start freaking out about that now?" he asked, a lick of fear curling around his stomach despite himself.

"Naw," Sam drawled, managing to half open his eyes. He licked his lips, because he knew it drove Dean crazy, and continued, "I made a pro/con chart three years ago. Awesome sex beat out any freak-outs."

"I knew you were a smart boy," Dean said, and wiggled his fingers until he found the tiny bump that made Sam jerk and curse. "Now stop talking so much."

The lube was cold against his own skin, and Dean hissed, but it did serve the purpose to give him a little control. He grabbed Sam's thighs and lifted them up higher, angling his hips so he could rub up against Sam's entrance. After a couple false starts, he was in and they both groaned as Sam opened up, letting him in.

"Sam," Dean grunted, as he pushed. Said Sam's name like the only prayer he ever uttered, "Sammy, Sammy, Sammy."

Sam didn't say anything; he just clutched Dean with his legs and started to jerk himself off in rhythm with Dean's thrusts. It seemed like with every month Sam added height and weight, growing into the man who'd have Dean's back no matter what. He also didn't miss that Sam's cock was shaping up to do a Winchester proud. It was flushed deep red, the skin tight, and Sam was already leaking down on his fist.

When Sam came hard, Dean was right behind him, pushing in one last time before he spurted wildly into Sam's body. He let Sam's legs down carefully and pulled out. Sam stayed like he was with one arm thrown over his eyes as he tried to catch his breath. Dean held himself up, but dipped down to kiss over Sam's heart before he flattened himself out beside his little brother. Sam, predictably, rolled over onto Dean's chest.

"Sorry about the camera," Sam whispered against Dean's temple, and bent his knees so that he could slip his top leg in between Dean's thighs. The kid was worse than an octopus when he started cuddling.

Dean rolled a little so that Sam could fit against him easier and brushed his thumb down Sam's newly bristled sideburn. "It's okay," he said, contentment making his bones heavy and his heart light. "Now that you're out of school, I can see your ugly mug anytime I want."

The arm across his chest tightened, and Dean sighed happily, watching the clouds drift across the sky.


THEN: fast forward


Dean leaned into the counter harder than he should have. One misplaced shove and he'd find himself belly down on a combination of dirt, peanut shells, stickiness from spilled drinks, and things he didn't even want to think about. The bar was a dive. One of those places with cheap drinks and cheaper women. It was a shithouse, but it was the closest thing he had to a home now.

Sam left him, Dad took the car and left him, and for the first time in his twenty-two years, Dean found himself alone. He'd been surprised how quickly watching TV naked while lying on a king sized bed in his own motel room had paled. No one complained when he farted or played the music too loud. No one brought him coffee in the morning. No one was there to stitch him up when he'd tripped into barbed wire on a hunt, either. That was when he'd started his campaign to drink and fuck the taste of Sam out of his mouth.

"Sam who?" Dean asked loudly, tipping his head and chugging the last half of the beer in front of him. It was nearing last call and he wanted to make sure that he had one last pitcher in front of him. After all, it wasn't like anyone was waiting up for him. He hadn't even gotten a motel room because he didn't plan to be in any shape to drive.

The old trucker next to Dean turned and scowled, "What?"

Dean stopped in the middle of gesturing the bar tender over and glanced sideways, "Huh?"

"Sam who?" the trucker asked. If Dean tilted his head and squinted, the man kinda looked like Bobby, but without the sense of humor. The man was clearly annoyed, but for the life of him, Dean couldn't figure out why. Instead he brightened, leaning into the trucker's space.

"Exactly!" Dean slung his arm around his new best friend's shoulder and nearly fell off his stool in the process. "Exactly! He thinks he doesn't need me, but I don't need him more!"

The man stiffened and shrugged Dean's arm off, causing him to list the other way into the couple making out together on his other side. "Are you queer, boy?" the trucker asked, saliva spitting through the air.

"The whole world's queer!" Dean declared, raising his empty glass up into the air in salute. Hadn't he just spent the previous night digging up a half dozen graves looking for the unmarked resting place of Mr. Martez? That shit wasn't normal, "Digging graves by yourself is hard."

"We're good folks around here. We don't tolerate whatever fucked up kinda shit you're into, boy," the trucker said, as he stood up and leaned forward menacingly, "You'd best be making tracks, shithead, unless you want to wake up in the emergency room the day after tomorrow."

Dean turned his head around from trying to get the bar tender's attention. He hadn't really been paying attention, the room was spinning around him and was much more entertaining than talking about … Whatever it was they'd been talking about, "What?"

"Are you fucking inbred, or are you just that stupid?" the trucker asked, fixing Dean with a stare. The man tried to hitch up his saggy jeans, but his beer gut made them slide right back down his hips. "Did your mommy fuck her brother to give you those cocksucking lips?"

Dean was on his feet in a heartbeat and his ex-new-best-friend was down the next, because even drunk, a Winchester could brawl with the best of them. "Shut the hell up," he growled, wobbling only a little on ground that was determined to throw him to his knees. "I don't suck cock and nobody is fucking their brother!"

The bar erupted into chaos as men already three sheets to the wind took the opportunity to start fighting. Dean crowed and punched the first guy to get within arm's reach. He turned and barely managed to duck under a swinging bat. He slugged the bat's owner in the gut and danced out of the way as the man puked his guts out right there in the bar. Dean straightened, looking for his next target.

Someone tackled his legs and sent him crashing to the ground. Their momentum rolled them under the bar counter where all the stools had either been pushed aside or broken to pieces. After all that, Dean actually did end up belly down with a peanut shell up his nose. His stomach lurched as a weight settled on his back to keep him from getting up.

"I heard you earlier," a voice said in his ear, yelling to be heard over the fighting crowd, "so I know you're an idiot, but are you the hunter who dug up Martez?"

"Yes," Dean answered, seeing no reason to lie. The man had been lynched for the unfortunate act of being a migrant Hispanic in a town where a white girl had been raped and killed. The town later found out that the girl had been boinking the Sheriff and tried to blackmail him into leaving his wife. The Sheriff admitted his guilt for the murder, but it was too late for Miguel Martez.

"Christ," the voice cursed. "All right, c'mon and I'll get you out of here before they tear you apart."

Dean snorted and finally managed to dislodge the shell from his nostril. "Who says I care if they rip me apart?" he mumbled, thinking it couldn't possibly hurt more than the current hell he lived in.

The weight moved away and hands grabbed Dean under his armpits, helping him to first kneel and then stand up. All the beer he'd drank was sloshing through his head and if it hadn't been for the arm slung around his waist, Dean would have fallen right back to the floor. He started dusting himself off, ignoring the mayhem around him. He was so tired.

"Haven't you heard the story about how the great sun god cares even for the smallest jackalope in his kingdom?" the voice said softly, and hands tugged at Dean until they started shambling toward the side door. "Besides, I care."

Dean jerked his head up too quickly; the room reeled around him and his blood pumped like explosions in his ears. "Sammy?" he asked, but when he finally found the man's head, surprisingly still attached to his shoulders, Dean found dark brown eyes instead of green shading to hazel. "Who are-"

He didn't get anything else out because that was the moment something heavy and blunt slammed into the back of his head and he pitched forward into strange arms.


THEN: fast forward

Light lanced through his eyelids and pierced straight into his brain, setting off what felt like a string of mini explosions. Even then, it took another few minutes for the discomfort fitting his entire body to become too much for him to ignore. Dean opened his eyes but all he saw was blue.

His head felt stuffed full of sawdust, from his ears to the roof of his mouth, but only if sawdust hurt like a motherfucker. Experimentally, he shifted a little, but his back protested loudly and he had to stay still, pulling in deep breaths before he could work up the guts to try to move something else. The blue above him was really very pretty, but a stupid color to paint the ceiling. Birds probably tried to fly through the windows all the time.

Something slimy-wet and warm brushed over his cheek.

Dean forgot all about his aching head and body as he rolled away from the nasty sensation. He tensed his body ready to fall from the bed to the floor and wondered if he'd been too blitzed out the night before to remember to tuck a knife under his pillow. Somehow he just kept rolling, never hitting the expected carpet while the wet thing followed him, drooling over his other cheek.

"Wolf! Down!"

The shout was loud enough to make Dean flinch, but thankfully it also made the slime attack stop. He finally managed to blink his eyes clear and focus on two figures crouched in front of him. It shouldn't have taken him so long to realize that he was outside and on the ground. He might possibly still be a little drunk.

"Morning," the man said, holding on to the dog's collar with one hand while he ruffled its fur with the other. The dog strained a little against its collar, eager to get back to wiping its snot over Dean. Its face looked like a mask with a white spot over one eye and one side of his jaw that made it appear lopsided. "Sorry about Wolf, he's a little overly friendly."

The last thing Dean remembered was nearly getting a dart in the eye at the bar when he'd wandered the wrong way looking for the bathroom. He sat up and rubbed the curve of his head, finding a small bump and fighting the nausea that came with the headache. Somehow two and two just didn't add up to four. He'd expected to wake up in a ditch or maybe a drunk take, not a scene out of the sequel to Deliverance.

"Where the hell are we?" he asked, the gravel in his voice especially rough. He could barely string two thoughts together, but he knew Dad would be pissed if Dean managed to lose the crappy Firebird. Dean would have happily driven it off a cliff to see the last of its embarrassing paint job, but it was all he had, until Dad came back with the Impala. "Where's my car?"

"We're outside of town about fifteen miles," the man answered. He was dark, Native American even though he didn't speak with any more of an accent than Dean did. "I pulled you out of the bar last night before they sliced you open with broken bottles. I didn't know what you were driving or where you were staying, so I brought you back to my campsite."

Dean looked around as far as he could twist his neck without hurling and noticed gear stacked neatly by the fire, and a single sleeping bag that he'd been on before the dog decided to get personal with him. Everything had that look of second hand military, but Dean could also see careful patch jobs that told him the man took care of his belongings.

"It's not fancy, but it's cheap and it gets the job done while I'm hunting."

He realized that he'd been looking at a small arsenal and other tools of the trade. Shit, how unlucky did he have to be to get snatched up by another hunter? It wasn't that Dad had a bad reputation with the other hunters, mostly it was just that they were more glad to see the Winchesters leaving town than arriving. Dean tried to subtly reach for his gun on the off chance that he'd need it, but over balanced and nearly fell over.

"Woah, woah," the guy said, curling one hand tighter around the dog's collar. He held the other out in a peace offering while Dean got his hands behind him and straightened. "You told me last night. I was here to take care of Martez, but you salted and burned him first. I was just minding my own business in the bar when you decided to take on a pack of rednecks."

"I think a group of rednecks is actually called a youmaybe," Dean said, while he rubbed his hands over his face. Slowly, he took a mental stock and remembered that all he had was his knife still strapped to the outside of his ankle; he'd left all his guns in the trunk after he'd finished his hunt.

"A what?"

"You know that guy who tells the redneck jokes?" Dean answered, remembering the time Sammy bought one of those tapes and made him and Dad listen to it over and over again. "You may be a redneck if…"

The guy looked at Dean with wide eyes and an open mouth for a few seconds before he burst out laughing and slapped his knee. "That's not too bad, white boy," he said, grinning like they were already best friends.

Little pieces of last night were filtering into his memory. He remembered the trucker and yelling something about cock sucking and Sam. He remembered the guy across from him, remembered easy hands steering him out into the cool night air. "Thanks man," Dean said, realizing that the guy had really gone out of his way to keep Dean's brains from ending up splattered on that bar floor. Not that many people would have bothered, "guess I had a little too much last night."

The guy let the dog go, and the beast made another move at Dean's face. Upright, Dean managed to fend Wolf off by scratching the itchy place underneath his chest. "He's a good judge of character," the guy said, nodding at Wolf. He stood up long enough to walk over by the burnt out remains of a fire and pick up a canteen. He offered it over to Dean, "I'm Ty West, you want some water?"

"Dean Winchester, and yeah, water would be great," Dean said, holding out his hand for the canteen. He didn't let his guard completely down, but he relaxed enough that the throbbing vein in his head calmed down a little. "How long you been hunting?"

"A couple of years by myself," Ty said, passing the water over. He waited until Dean took a sip, and spat to rinse his mouth out before he continued, "but my mama is a medicine woman back in Utah and I've been around one kind of hunter or another all my life. You?"

Dean took his time to finish off the rest of the canteen. The water sloshed uncomfortably in his stomach, but he knew that it'd make him feel better eventually. He didn't usually get hung over, but the Sam-sized hole in his life had him so screwed up that he was drinking three times as much as usual. He thought about what he wanted to say, having learned the hard way that not everyone appreciated the John Winchester method of parenting.

"Started young," he said finally, but stayed cautious. He was a little surprised to discover that just talking to someone his own age who didn't automatically hate or look down on him eased something in his chest. He hadn't realized until Sam was gone how much Dean had depended on him for just a bit of normalcy. "Been hunting all my life."

Ty looked like he wanted to say something, but instead he propped his arms up on his legs and studied his intertwined fingers. Dean took the chance to observe him. Ty was shorter than Dean, but with longer jet black hair that he pulled into a low ponytail. His body looked muscled, but real skinny underneath clothes too big and old, even though they showed just as much care as the rest of his supplies. That along with the state of his campsite, tucked in some trees off what looked like a side dirt road, told Dean that Ty probably wasn't having the easiest time of it.

Credit card fraud wasn't the easiest way of making a living in the world, but it beat sleeping on the ground. It wasn't safe staying outside by yourself either, not without an awful lot of protection threaded around the perimeter, which was often expensive by itself. Dean worried about what would happen to Ty and Wolf when it got colder.

"You ah, you ever hunt with a partner?" Ty asked, breaking into Dean's thoughts. He looked off to the side from where Dean was sitting. Clearly, he felt uncomfortable, or maybe he'd been struggling harder than Dean had first thought. Maybe he felt just as lonely as Dean.

It wasn't the smoothest segue that Dean had ever heard, but it wasn't the worst either. The good hunters worked in pairs while Dean knew to steer clear of the solo artists. Too much alone time in this business wasn't good. Dean wouldn't ever have made so many mistakes if his family had been around. Dad had stormed out the day after Sam left, and only picked up the phone about every third time Dean tried to call. Dean knew though, that Dad just needed some time to work through his issues and then he'd call for Dean to join him. Dean just had to wait, but nobody said that he had to wait by himself. He'd really never been a loner.

"Yeah actually, usually I do," Dean said, wrapping his arm around the dog. Wolf flopped over on his back asking for belly rubs, and not even Dean could resist those puppy dog eyes and waving feet. He never could say no when Sam pulled that face on him either, "But not right now. I don't suppose you're in the market? I probably wouldn't start any more bar fights, if I have someone else around to entertain me."

Ty looked up and actually met Dean's eyes, his face animated with what had to be hope. "Hunting is easier and safer in pairs," he said, sounding like he was repeating something that someone had told him. He held out his hand to Dean, "So, partners? I mean, for your own good of course."

Sam wasn't the only one who had ever wanted a dog, and Dean was so sick of being alone. It had only been a summer, a few shorts months without his family, but he'd hated every second of it. Here was someone finally willing to stay for Dean. What else was he going to do while he waited for Sam to come back, or Dad, or worse to finally cross the wrong spirit? If it didn't work out with Ty, all he had to do was get in the stupid Firebird and drive away. He wouldn't get invested at all. Not again.

He considered for another minute, but there wasn't really any good reason to say no and several to say yes. "Partners," he said, and took Ty's hand in a firm shake. Then he added, "For now anyway. When my dad calls, I'll have to go."

"That sounds fair," Ty answered, a broad grin reached across his face. He reached out and scratched Wolf too, his fingers brushing Dean's in passing. "Now, how do you want your eggs, scrambled or scrambled?"

Dean had to chuckle, and it surprised him that he already felt better. "I guess I'll take them scrambled," he answered.


*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.



NOW

"Dean, have you seen my gray socks? They're my last clean pair."

"I'm not your sock keeper, Sam," Dean said, shifting on the bed to make his jeans cover the strip of gray peeking out over his boots. Sam wasn't the only one who needed to do some laundry. "Maybe the evil sock fairy ate them."

They'd both been living on edge since their encounter with their prophet, Chuck. Sam still acted with barely controlled emotion, anger crackling at the edges of his motion. Poking Sam probably wasn't any smarter than irritating a slumbering bear, but Dean liked to live dangerously. Sam straightened, and turned to scowl at Dean.

"Better watch out. Your face will freeze like that and then you'll never get laid again," Dean said, pretending to watch Nichole Kidman dancing the can-can on TV. He slurped at his drink to make Sam flinch again before adding, "except for those kinky girls . . . and possibly evil skanks."

Dean had a theory that maybe if he said it enough, he'd get desensitized to the fact that Sam had the bad taste to screw a demon. It really didn't work; he still wanted to rub Sam's nose in his own mess and call him a bad puppy.

He wasn't jealous or anything, because despite the urges that were sometimes near-impossible to ignore, Dean hadn't touched Sam as anything but a brother since he went to Stanford and picked the kid up. On the road again, he'd steered Sam at beautiful women and visa versa because Sam deserved beautiful things when all Dean could give him was graveyard dirt and rock salt.

He hadn't expected it to hurt when Sam told him about Ruby, but it had. Sure, Dean still looked at Sam, because, hello, he still had eyes, but he also followed the strict Winchester Doctrine of avoidance. He might think about it sometimes, dream about them when he didn't wear himself out, but he didn't go any further. Even though he generally read Sam like an open book, Dean didn't have any idea if Sam ever thought about that chapter in their lives.

He shouldn't give a flying fuck who Sam chose to sleep with.

"For the last time, I only did it once!" Sam yelled, probably loud enough for the people two doors down to hear. He threw his dirty socks on the floor and balled his hands into fists as if he wanted to hit something but couldn't pick between Dean and the wall. "Ruby and I aren't like that!"

Swinging his legs over the side of the bed, Dean stood up next to Sam and poked his finger into his brother's chest. "You know what? I'm not sure which would be worse," he said, taking a grim sort of satisfaction when Sam backed up first, "If you're lying, you're bumping uglies with a living corpse and if you're telling me the truth then you and Screwby are doing something worse."

When Sam dropped his eyes and turned his head to the side, Dean knew he'd hit a nerve. He didn't know if he wanted to know the secrets Sam kept from him. In fact, he knew he didn't, because any way the dice fell would shatter the last piece of heart he had left. For Sam's sake he had to do it. "How about it, Sam? What do you do when you sneak out to meet Ruby in the middle of the night? Find the local chapter of the Stitch and Bitch?"

Sam's posture changed, getting tense as he pulled into himself. "Do you have any dirty laundry? I'll go find an all night place," he said, his voice low and dull as he ignored Dean's question.

"What? You only want to play tit for tat? Fine," Dean snarled and shoved Sam, using all his body weight. Sam tripped over the clothes he'd tossed out earlier and fell hard on the floor. Dean didn't waste any time following, putting a heavy knee over Sam's delicate collar bone. "Want to know the first thing they did to me in Hell?"

Sam's eyes widened, but he didn't even try to struggle against Dean's hold. He swallowed and the lump of his Adam's apple made a visible movement all the way down his throat. "If you want to tell me," he offered, trying hard to pull his best who me? expression.

"I don't! I don't want to tell you any of it because it won't help!" Dean yelled. Belatedly, he wished he would have bought a new bottle of whiskey before he started this conversation. It would dull the pain, or at least numb him enough that until he didn't care anymore. "But when has it ever mattered what I want? I probably shouldn't start holding my breath now, huh?"

Sam flinched at the low blow, but he didn't dare to deny it. Only recently did Sam really get how much it had hurt when he'd left Dean for Stanford. It had taken Dean's trip to Hell and Sam struggling on his own to really understand the abandonment. Even so, Dean still would have spared his little brother the pain if he could have.

"Dean, just calm down."

"'Calm down?' You want me to calm down, Sam? Well, screw you," Dean said, breathing hard enough that his vision went a little blurry at the edges. His hands twitched, aching to hold a familiar blade from Hell. "You're the one who told me to get angry. Or does that only count if I'm not mad at you?"

"Dean-"

"Am I interrupting?"

Sighing, Dean slid off Sam's chest and stood up, looking around. Castiel sat at the table in the room's only chair watching them with a vaguely interested expression. The belt of his trench coat dragged against the thin puke-colored carpet. He sat relaxed with his legs spread comfortably and his hands on his thighs as if he hadn't just popped in on them fighting on the floor.

"Nothing important," Dean answered, pulling his shirt straight and bouncing back on the bed. Maybe he should be worried about how quickly his anger at Sam slipped away into sheer weariness, but then he never could stay mad at his brother. "So, how are you going to try to get us killed this time?"

Castiel stared at him blankly.

Sam pushed himself up and then moved so he could lean against the wall next to the bathroom. He kept his gaze on Dean, so Dean didn't look away from the angel.

"I was ordered down to inform you of an endangered seal."

Dean had gotten good enough at reading between the lines that he could tell Castiel didn't agree with whatever Heaven was about to drop on their laps. If Cas wasn't on board, then it must really suck. He couldn't quite imagine what could be worse that torturing and nearly getting murdered by Alistair, but if anyone could come up with something, it was the angels. What a bunch of dicks.

"I don't suppose this seal includes saving a pack of scantily clad nubile young women?" Dean asked, just to see Sam roll his eyes and Cas stare a little more vacantly. Since Hell, he'd just chased women on autopilot; even with Jamie, he'd just been playing a part in the monster movie. He mostly didn't bother unless the girl threw herself at him like Anna had. "Yeah, I didn't think so."

Castiel stood and paced to the other side of the room. He drew the curtains away from the window and looked out on the mostly deserted parking lot. He kept his back to them when he spoke, "The seal is in Utah, near the state park of Goblin Valley. That is all I may tell you."

Dean went cold all over his body. He straightened like he'd just been hooked by barbed wire straight from Heaven. The other two didn't seem to notice that anything strange had happened to him. Sam's voice demanding to know if Lilith was there only filtered through to his ears after climbing through a long windy tunnel. He hadn't stepped foot in that part of Utah in nearly six years. If he kept a list of places he never wanted to step foot in again, Goblin Valley would have been at the top.

"You don't have to go."

Castiel's soft voice broke through the knots winding around Dean's chest. Sam whipped his head back and forth between them, but Cas had Dean locked in some sort of bizarre staring contest. Dean didn't think he'd ever seen Cas' eyes blazing so blue before. He looked like he wanted to say a lot more than he was allowed, but even as much as Castiel bent the rules, Dean knew that he'd never break them.

"There's a seal," Sam said slowly, enunciating each word as if he thought they were a couple of retarded children. "Is there, or is there not an apocalypse looming? Am I the only one who remembers that we have to stop Lilith? If she's dead then she can't-"

"It's complicated," Dean croaked, cutting Sam off in mid-tirade. He'd gotten better at letting Sam's rants slide of his back, but his insides already churned and he didn't want to risk throwing up right there in front of them. He was so sick and so tired of losing the people in his life to the addiction of revenge.

"It is indeed complicated," Castiel agreed, he glared down at the floor, probably thinking about smiting it, but kept speaking in his low and even tone. "Free will is a complicated and dangerous thing. You should both think carefully about your journey to the seals."

"Whatever gets me there fast," Sam muttered, sucking in air hard through his nose.

"I don't like hurrying," Ty said, just like he always said whenever Dean would complain about how long they were taking. Instead, he deliberately slowed further and deftly avoided Wolf when the dog cut through their legs to chase a cat. He smiled over at Dean and added shyly, "I'd rather enjoy spending time with you."

"Dean?"

The way Sam looked at him, told Dean that he'd gotten lost in a memory. Dean grinned, shrugged off Sam's concerns and avoided Castiel's eyes. "Guess we'll check it out," he said, trying to act the way he knew Sam wanted him to, and not like the man Hell turned him into. "Not like I have any better offers."

"I will come to you if I gather further information," Castiel promised. He straightened his back, moving deliberately as if he were carefully shifting the weight of his wings.

"Wait right there, Mr. Angel Britches," Dean said quickly, squinting as he pointed his finger at Castiel. "You were about to pull a disappearing act, weren't you?"

Castiel's expression didn't shift a quarter-inch, but Dean could see his guilt. He waited until Cas opened his mouth before he continued, "Didn't we talk about this, Cas? You made concessions, I almost made concessions. Any of this ringing a bell?"

"I still do not see – "

"All right, you promise breaker," Dean said, pretending to be very disappointed. Other people might call it pouting, but Dean Winchester did not pout. "But whenever you just go 'poof', it makes my eyes all screwy. I'd hate for a demon to take advantage of a weak moment."

Castiel's disappearing act didn't really bother him that much. Yeah, it made his eyes itch like he'd just gotten a face full of pollen, but it didn't last that long. It was more the principle of the thing, and getting a chance to show Cas that Dean might be a good little soldier, but he still had balls enough to yank Cas around just for fun.

The angel heaved a huge sigh, something he must have picked up from Sam the original emo boy. Castiel spent several seconds staring through Dean, so he concentrated on remembering the dirtiest threesome porn that he'd ever watched on the off chance that Castiel was reading his mind. At least the angel might get a little education if he hung around in there long enough.

Finally, Castiel's lips moved in what could either be a smile or a scowl, and Dean did a mental victory dance. "Call if have need for me. I will hear you," he said, swinging out of the room with the tails of his coat sweeping behind him. The door shut with a soft click leaving Sam and Dean alone again.

"Dean, what happened in – "

"I need to wash my dress shirts if we're going to play FBI," Dean interrupted, turning his back to Sam and his questions. Goblin Valley wasn't anything he ever wanted to talk about. Period. Not what came before, and not what came after. So many years later, and what happened there still hurt like an open wound. He didn't need Sam to pour salt in it too.

"Dean-"

A knock stalled Sam's plea this time. Dean looked over at Sam, who shrugged, and then walked over to the door. He curled his left hand around the handle of his gun and opened the door, "What deeply cryptic message did you forget to give us this time, Cas?"

"Try again, Deano, I'm not your housebroken angel."

"No, you're a stray demon we fed once who won't go away," Dean couldn't help squeezing the butt of his weapon. He could trace a good amount of his problems straight to Ruby and lay them down at her feet. Sam cleared his throat meaningfully, and Dean opened the door just wide enough for her to enter. "And if you call me 'Deano' again, I'll shoot you in the face."

"That won't kill me, Dean," Ruby laughed, turning so she could trace her eyes up and down Sam's body. She didn't even try for subtle anymore. Why would she? She thought she was winning their fight for Sam's soul.

"It'd make that body you stole a whole lot less pretty," he growled, slamming the door shut behind her. Dean didn't believe that it was a coincidence that Ruby managed to shanghai a coma girl in just Sam's type. "What the hell do you want?"

"I was just going to give you some information about a seal Lilith is interested in," Ruby said, pulling out all the stops with wide eyes and open hands as if she could ever look innocent. She shrugged and continued, "but if you don't want it, I'll just go."

Dean would have been happy enough to see the backside of her, and not for the usual reasons. Sam, though, fell right into her clutches.

"Wait," Sam said, standing with his arm outstretched toward her, "what do you know?"

Ruby's back was to Sam, but from the angle he had, Dean could see the slow stretch of a smile that spread over her face before she schooled her expression and turned around. A chill ran down his spine as he realized that his time was running out. Either he or Ruby had to go; Sam's future didn't have for the both of them. Not when it was clear that they were both set for different paths.

"I beat the information out of one of her lapdogs," Ruby said, crossing the room. She hopped up to sit on the table, swinging her feet and pushing her shoulders down so Sam could get a good look down her shirt. "This is a seal Lilith is taking personal interest in, so I wouldn't doubt she'll be there."

"Where?" Sam demanded, his face greedy as he stepped closer to her. It was like he didn't remember Castiel had just given them good information on a seal. Say the word 'Lilith' and he was gone. Dean still wasn't used to being ignored by his little brother, and he wasn't about to take it lying down.

"Sorry," he said, cutting in before Ruby could answer, "but we have a previous engagement. Thanks for stopping by though. Feel free to let the door hit you on the way out."

Ruby and Sam both looked at him with twin expressions of irritation and disbelief. Shrugging, Dean held the door open and tried to wave her out. Unfortunately, she didn't budge.

"Well, if you're busy Dean, maybe Sam and I should take this one," Ruby said, her eyes never sliding from Sam's hard jaw line. "It's not that far from here, just over in Utah."

Utah. What were the chances of two important seals happening at the same time in one empty state? What were the chances of both an angel and a demon arriving within seconds of each other to send them to the same place? The universe was fucking with them again, and Dean was damn tired of being a checker in someone else's cosmic game.

After exchanging a single look with Sam, they immediately decided to play dumb. There was no reason to tell Ruby that Castiel had already put them on that trail. On one hand, maybe they'd learn something new and on the other hand, she might show her true colors for the lying bitch she was. Either way, they'd win.

Dean let the door shut and leaned against it. "What do you know about the seal?" he asked, keeping his tone clipped in annoyance. Just because he could see the reasoning behind trying to string Ruby along didn't mean he had to enjoy it.

If she'd had whiskers, Ruby would have been licking them just like the cat that finally caught, gutted and then played in the entrails of the canary. "There's major supernatural activity all over the area. Stuff that makes the Skinwalker ranch look like Disneyland," Ruby said, crossing her legs as she leaned her weight back on her arms. "It's stirring up something big. Big enough to devour the entire state. It's not really my area of expertise, but I've heard rumors that there's Indian magic mixed up in it somehow."

Sam chewed on his bottom lip, his eyes busy darting from side to side. "We don't have many source materials of Native American lore," he said doubtfully, research boy to the very end.

Dean's gut locked up again.

"What the hell is this stuff?" Dean asked through a fit of sneezes, as he tried to duck away in case she came after him with the feather duster again.

Talia brandished the eagle totem at Ty, wafting the incense across his face before she turned back to Dean. "It's a traditional blessing," she answered, and smiled fondly back at her son before, to Dean's surprise, she turned the same expression to him. "The incense will cling to your skin and my prayers will keep you safe."

Dean felt awe sweep over him; he wasn't sure that anyone besides Pastor Jim had ever prayed for him before. Ty squeezed his wrist, and Dean quickly pulled himself back together. He glanced over Talia's shoulder and then smiled. "Maybe you should have blessed the chicken," he said, holding a straight face despite the urge to smile, "because I think Wolf's about to make off with it."

Ty burst into laughter while his mother cursed, and Wolf made a break for the back door with a drumstick clutched in his mouth.

"All right," Talia said, once Ty had calmed down enough that she could speak over him, "maybe you two had better just look after each other."

"Don't worry, ma," Ty assured, pulling her in close so he could drop a kiss on the top of her head, "we will."


"It's an important seal Sam, you can't afford to let this one go," Ruby pressed, drawing Dean back to the present. Straightening up, she let her mask crack and Dean saw the hunger she barely kept in check. "Unless, of course, you've both lost your nerve. You know, the Sisters Winchester has quite the ring to it."

"No one's lost their nerve," Sam snarled, but he still looked at Dean like he wasn't sure that he spoke for both of them anymore.

Dean decided to be magnanimous and let it go. This time.

"You know, you could just tell me if you're tired of all this end of the world stuff. How about it, Dean?" Ruby sneered. She licked her lips while she lowered her eyes to his crotch. "Did the angel forget your dick when he yanked you out of the fire?"

Sam moved almost faster than Dean could track, and had Ruby slammed against the wall with his hand wrapped around her throat. If anything, she looked more turned on by Sam's anger. "You know, sometimes I get really tired of your mouth," he said, his face close enough that a drop of sweat dripped from him and fell on her.

"That's not what you said the other night," Ruby said in a tease, but even she flinched when Sam's hand visibly tightened. Her feet kicked, scrambling against the wall trying to find purchase.

"Sam," Dean said, quietly moving until he pressed his fingertips to Sam's side. He felt Sam twitch closer at just that small touch. "Do you remember the good old days when I was the angry dysfunctional freak and you were the one who told me to cool it?"

If possible, the moment grew even tenser until Dean could almost hear the air thrum around him. Then slowly, by degrees, Sam settled back into the broody, but not dangerously insane shoulders of the brother Dean knew and loved. He didn't soften his eyes toward Ruby, but when he spoke, Dean finally took a free breath.

"Think you've out stayed your welcome here, Ruby," Sam warned, pulling her by the neck to the door. "Next time, try calling first."

Ruby glared, but as soon as Sam opened the door and let her go, she slunk away with her tail between her legs. Just before she disappeared, Ruby twisted to look to her left and Dean saw from the streetlamp that already a hand-shaped bruise had formed around her neck. If she'd been human, Sam could have killed her.

Dean decided to let that one go too. Ruby wasn't human, and Dean had to believe that Sam still had his lines that he wouldn't cross. Even if it killed him, Dean would always believe in Sam. He didn't have to trust him, didn't have to condone the path Sam took to get his revenge for every bad thing that ever happened to them. Dean just had to get to the end, standing side by side with his brother.

"So, that was weird," Sam said, still staring at the door. He jerked around to look at Dean, "That was weird, right?"

Dean pressed his palms against his eyes until he saw spots and then blew out the breath that he'd been holding. He wondered which part specifically Sam was talking about: an angel and a demon tag-teaming them, or Sam's near Hulk-out. It probably didn't matter. "Yeah, that was weird," he answered, wishing for some elephant sized sleeping pills to get him through the night.

"So, we're going."

It wasn't so much a question as a statement of fact that Sam intended to go. Dean knew it didn't matter how many times Sam threatened to leave him behind, it would still rip his heart out every time. "Guess so," Dean said, grabbing his keys. "I'm going to the laundromat. We'll head out first thing in the morning."

He was out at the car before he realized that he left all the clothes in the room with Sam.








The research gave them slim pickings but did provide a place to start, and the car ride stayed silent except for the music Dean kept blaring. Utah was just a hop, skip, and a long jump away from their previous hunt in Idaho. Nine hours of non-conversation in the car didn't come anywhere close to the Winchester record. Since Sam and Lilith had their face off, Dean could feel something building in Sam, just waiting for the chance to burst out. Any more tension between them and they'd be tap dancing on eggshells.

Utah broke open around them at about one o'clock. They slowed down to stop at every two-bit town big enough to have a stoplight so Sam could hop out and buy a local newspaper. Those kinds of towns seldom had any kind of news online, and while the big city stations did pick up some strange and unusual stories, they never got them right. Plus, it was fun to pretend to drive away whenever Sam tried to get back into the car.

"Okay," Sam said, folding the last newspaper open to a specific page. He turned the music down enough that he didn't have to shout for Dean to hear him, "There's been several dozen strange omens everywhere around Goblin Valley. Black Dogs in the cemeteries of Emery, revenant sightings outside of Green River, and the Caineville water supply has turned soapy."

"Dude, banshees?" Dean asked, his interest piquing despite himself. His stomach rolled every time he thought about what they were doing, where they were going.

Sam picked up a paper by his feet and flipped through it. "Looks like," he agreed. "The woman I bought the paper from in that last quick stop told me not to pick up any hitchhikers. Said that you couldn't tell what might be asking you for a ride anymore."

"Huh," Dean said, the area certainly hadn't been like that when he and… It hadn't been like that the last time he'd been through. For some reason most of the people in Utah had a higher threshold of belief than the rest of the continental U.S.; they knew how to take care of themselves better when it came to the supernatural. Probably all the sun and desert drove them a little crazy, but he'd take any advantage he could get.

He might be going a little crazy; there wasn't anything to look at while he drove to keep him from thinking about things he'd rather not think about. Barely any traffic went by either way on the small state highway, and it was a straight shot to their destination. His eyes trailed every mile marker they passed just to keep himself alert since he was still working on a forty-year deficit of sleep. He blinked once and jerked upright, there at the next sign post was a dog that looked eerily familiar. Wolf lowered his head once as the Impala flashed by, but when Dean turned his head back, the dog had vanished.

"Oh, by the way, I got you something. Hope it's still cold enough, I got a little distracted," Sam said, breaking into Dean's mini-psychotic episode. He rustled inside a bag and then poked Dean in the thigh with something.

"What's this?" Dean asked. He didn't need to; it was pretty obvious that it was a bottle, but he hadn't asked for it. His pulse still raced as he looked back outside, searching for any trace that he wasn't losing his mind.

He remembered the last time he drove to a hunt in Utah; he had to keep batting Wolf away from his neck where the dog decided to get a little more intimate than Dean was comfortable with. Ty just laughed and tried to smear honey mustard over Dean's cheek to give Wolf another target. It had been a good day. Their last good day.

Sam waggled the bottle closer to his face until Dean finally let go of his death grip on the steering wheel to take it. "You always gave me this when I was little," he said, "I thought it might help."

Glancing down, Dean saw that Sam had handed him a bottle of off brand chocolate milk, the same stuff that Dean had always made Sam drink when he was little and had an upset stomach. He figured that even if it came right back out, it'd still taste better than straight-up bile. It wasn't something Dad had ever thought of when Dean was sick.

"I think we should stop by Hanksville first unless you want to head straight to the state park," Sam said, subtly not mentioning that Dean had already taken the route that detoured around Goblin Valley. After Dean's aborted trip to do laundry, Sam reverted back to concerned little brother, and Dean felt bone-weary enough to let him. "It's the closest town to the park, but I haven't read about anything weird happening there."

"Could be something or it could be nothing," Dean replied, twisting open the top of the bottle and downing half of it before he lowered it to rest on his thigh. Hanksville wasn't much better than the Park, but if it had to be done, he was starting small. "We'll get a motel room at least."

"All this activity doesn't point to a normal haunting," Sam twisted over the seat, grabbing for something, and Dean had to concentrate not to swerve off the road when he glanced over. Even if he shouldn't be looking, he had to admit that Sam's ass looked even better than it had so many years ago. He'd already been to Hell; perving on his grown up little brother couldn't make his life any worse, and it was better than worrying about what he'd find at Goblin Valley. "I think Ruby's right; it's more like something is stirring all these other things up."

Dean adjusted the rear view mirror. Sam's jeans slipped down his hips until the band cut into the fleshy part of his ass. His boxers were still new enough that the elastic still had strength to stay up where they were supposed to. They were from a pack Dean bought as a joke, little cartoon frogs with their lips puckered ready for a kiss. He should try harder, but his attraction to Sam had never actually gone anywhere except just under his skin where it sizzled with anticipation.

"Right," Dean said, shifting in his seat enough that his shoulder brushed against Sam's leg. He didn't really give himself permission to look or touch Sam very often anymore, but he felt crappy enough about Utah that he'd take what relief he could, "because we haven't seen enough of the supernatural run amok lately."

"Anyway," Sam added, sliding down into the passenger seat with a book clutched between his hands. He didn't notice when Dean readjusted the mirror so he could actually see the road behind them. "I'm thinking that Ruby must not have the whole story or-"

"Or she was lying," Dean put in, unable not to point out the obvious flaw in Sam's logic, "like demons do."

Sam paused a moment, avoiding Dean when he looked over. "There is that," he said mildly, showing Dean that he still wasn't getting through Sam's thick skull, "but she definitely has different sources than Castiel and isn't restricted by all that need to know bullshit."

Dean couldn't tell if Sam really believed the load of crap he tried to shove down Dean's throat every time the subject came up. At this point, they both just as likely to cling stubbornly to something that they knew was wrong rather than admit that the other might be right. It was a dangerous game of chicken, and Dean really just hoped that the collateral damage wouldn't actually include the fate of the world.

Dean turned the music up.


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"Where are we going?" asked Sam. He followed in Dean's wake, a comfort at Dean's back as they walked through Hanksville.

Dean glanced over his shoulder and grinned, "Best place to learn the gossip in a place like this, Sam." He felt a little better when nothing bad happened the instant they crossed the into the city limits. Maybe this wasn't going to be as bad as he'd worried about.

The town had definitely grown in the last several years even though the new sections were built to make the entire place look like an old frontier pueblo. He didn't have that many memories of this place; he'd only spent a couple of nights here with a handful of people who might remember his face. As far as he was concerned, that was all to the good. Dean really didn't do repeat visits.

"Dean Winchester."

The speed that he whipped his head around was nearly fast enough to give him a bad case of whiplash. The woman in front of him didn't even reach his chin, but she had a presence that made people automatically want to respect her. Her silver hair fell in a single braid nearly the size of his wrist. She carried a woven basket full of groceries on her hips, but all her attention focused straight to Dean.

Talia stomped forward, her feet shaking the ground in four long strides. She pulled back her hand and slapped him hard across his cheek. The sting echoed through his jaw and he dropped his eyes to the cracked cement of the sidewalk. A second slap wasn't a surprise and neither was the shame that shocked down his body heating him like he was on fire.

He remembered watching her laugh, could almost feel the place on his cheek where she kissed him. The last time he'd seen her, she'd lived on the other side of Goblin Park.

She walked away without saying anything other than his name, but Dean waited until he couldn't hear her walking away before he rubbed his eyes and looked up. Behind him, Sam chuckled hollowly but it sounded uncomfortable, "Wow, Dean, that must be a new record."

"Come on," said Dean, clearing his throat, and ignoring the comment. Sam wasn't going to ask and he sure wasn't about to offer an explanation for why the woman slapped him. He nudged the inside of his cheek with his tongue and winced at the small cut from his teeth. Tugging up the collar of his shirt, he hunched his shoulders and started walking, his good mood gone beyond recall. "The post office is up here on the left."

Dean crossed the street without looking. Sam cursed and somebody honked, but he managed to make it to the other side in one piece. The bell above the door jangled with oppressive joy, making Dean clench his teeth tightly together. He only relaxed enough to wiggle his bottom jaw from side to side when he caught sight of a familiar looking post mistress.

Even though he really just wanted to curl up around a bottle of whiskey until all the memories went away, Dean managed to put his game face on. He waited until she bent over away from him, giving him a close look at her ample backside before he said, "They still let an old cougar like you out where there are impressionable young men?"

She squawked and tossed about half a dozen letters to the side as she hurriedly straightened. When she caught sight of him, the smile that stretched across her face was genuine. "My little prairie songbird!" she yelled, quickly putting up the partition and walking around the counter. "You finally came to take me away from all this!"

"You know if only I could, sweetheart," Dean said, taking her hand and lifting it to brush a kiss over her middle knuckle. Behind him, Sam coughed about as indelicately as he could muster. Dean continued as if he hadn't heard it, playing the character that he knew Serena expected. "You've only gotten more beautiful while I look like I've been run over by a garbage truck."

Actually, Serena Littlefoote was anything but physically beautiful; her eyes were too close together, her hair thin and she wore clothes that was at least two sizes too small. Something about her made people trust her, and she could act friendly enough to charm a rattlesnake when she wanted to. The character in her face made her pretty despite her flaws.

The last time he'd seen her, she'd drank him under the table and then woke him up bright and early the next morning to collect on her bet. Dean had been stuck outside doing yard work for her in a pair of borrowed cut off jeans for nearly the entire day. She was almost old enough to be his mother, but she'd always flirted even when she knew that he wasn't available. She liked playing the game.

She also knew everybody in town and didn't shy away from telling the good gossip to anyone about anything. If that wasn't enough to endear her to Dean, she also made the meanest pot of queso he'd ever tasted to go with her family's secret fajitas recipe. Last time, Dean had been almost ready to roll over and kick his leg in the air for a chance at seconds. Ty had laughed and dragged him out to the sleeping porch they were sharing. Then he'd been kicking his leg for a different kind of pleasure.

Sam cleared his throat again, and Dean's broken smile fell of his face. He turned and gestured at Sam's chest, "Serena, this is Sam. Sam, this is Serena Littlefoote, Post Mistress extraordinaire and local know it all."

"It's nice to meet you, ma'am," said Sam, turning up his charm as he pulled Serena's attention to him and away from Dean. He held out his hand to her, and Dean really should have told him that it was a little like holding out his hand for a hungry predator to smell.

"Dean Starr, I swear, if I'd known there were two of you, I'd never have let you go the first time!" Serena yelled, using Sam's extended hand to pull him into a bear hug. Before Sam had the chance to wiggle uncomfortably, Serena lowered her hands and gave his ass a vicious squeeze.

He smiled until he remembered Pamela kept slapping Sam's ass too, and then reached in and gently untangled them. He pulled Sam away and put himself in between them. "Watch it, Littlefoote, you'll get me jealous," he teased, making sure that he crinkled his eyes at her. "Listen, you still got your thumb on the town's pulse?"

Serena pretended to pout, but perked right up when Sam went down on his knees to pick up the mail she'd dropped when Dean had scared her. Dean couldn't pretend that at least part of him didn't perk up himself when Sam's knees cracked on the linoleum. He was a professional though, and hell, they hadn't spent the last four years avoiding all mention of their previous relationship for nothing.

Being back here just stirred up all those memories from right after Sam left, and while it made Dean glad they were back together, remembering the pain didn't make him trust Sam not to do it again. Not now when Sam acted half crazed and completely secretive.

"Figures that you just want to talk shop," she said, taking the stack that Sam handed her. She'd been one of Ty's good friends, not a hunter, but she knew the life and what to keep an eye out for. "I wasn't sure that I'd ever see you again. It's been quiet since you cleaned out our last problem and after . . . well. At least, it's been quiet here."

"That's what we were looking at," Sam said, using Dean's arm to help himself get up to his feet and nearly knocked Dean over for his trouble. "There's activity surrounding the area, but here there's nothing."

"Well," Serena paused, giving Dean a long look. "That's mostly thanks to Talia West. She moved into town a couple of years back, and she takes care of our little community here."

"Talia West?"

Dean swallowed hard and vowed to do whatever it took to show Serena that he appreciated her tact in talking around their history. This was why he hated doing repeats; life was just easier when he didn't have acknowledge history. He nodded at Sam, swallowing the bile that threatened to choke him off, "She's the local medicine woman. Knows her stuff."

That might be the understatement of the year, but he didn't want to get further into with Sam at the moment. He didn't harbor much hope that they'd be able to get out of this seal with his secrets still intact, but he wasn't going to play his hand until he had to. Sam had tried to talk about those four years they were apart, but he'd always put the brakes on that. He didn't want Sam to know that he'd always been scraping the bottom of the barrel in desperation for whatever he could get, not just since his break from hell.

"You know I try to stay out of the business, Dean, but if I were you, I'd check out the new Wild West town," Serena said, clicking her eyes back and forth between him and Sam. "That was David's brainchild, but it's actually bringing the tourists into the place again. There's a flyer over on the corkboard. Have him call me if you need references."

"Thanks, Serena," Dean said, nodding his head at her as he walked over to the corner of the post office where the notice board hung. There was so much paper on it that he couldn't see the actual cork. Some of it was yellow with age and cracked at the edges.

"Boy, if you really want to thank me, you'll swing by the bar this weekend and do it properly," Serena said, dismissing them as she walked behind the counter. "And bring baby brother too; my sister needs some eye candy to hang on her arm."

"Yes, ma'am," Dean said, grinning when he felt Sam twitch beside him. He finally found the flyer Serena was talking about and tapped it with his finger, "What do you think, Sam, want to check it out?"

Sam looked at him and narrowed his eyes before he smiled, "Lunch first?"

"You know me, bro, I never say no to lunch," Dean answered, slinging his arm over Sam's shoulders. Sam felt good beside him, underneath him, and if he hadn't had to shove Sam away so they could get through the open doorway, he might never have. He was unraveling faster than he could keep himself together, he just hoped that for once, Sam would be there to pick up the pieces.


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"Are you thinking what I'm thinking, Pinky?" Dean asked, stepping out of the Impala. He kept the door open and balanced his weight between his elbows on the car's door and roof.

Sam followed his lead, mirroring his position on the other side of the Impala and looked across the lot. "I think so, Brain, but I'm not sure if the chin strap will fit around Castiel's head?"

They looked at each other at the same time and cracked up. The sound of Sam's uncomplicated laughter made Dean feel better than he'd felt in months, not including his time down under. For the first time since Castiel had sent them to this seal, Dean thought he might make it through, even if it was just by the skin of his teeth. This was going to be all right.

"Seriously though," Sam said, still smiling as he stepped aside and let his door swing closed. "Are you ever going to grow up?"

Dean threw him a toothy smile and waggled his eyebrows. "Nope," he said, shaking his head just in case Sam needed the extra emphasis. "If I see a chance to play Cowboys and Indians, I'm gonna take it."

The town looked like someone had ripped it right out of the movie Tombstone, complete with horses, actors, and weapons that looked authentic enough to make Dean's hands twitch. They didn't have to wait very long before a man wearing a bowler hat, spurs and three-piece suit sauntered out on the gravel driveway in their direction.

"Howdy, there strangers," he greeted, tipping his hat up so that they could see his bare sweaty forehead. A bright sheriff's badge on the left side of his vest caught the sunlight and winked right in Dean's eye. "How are you this fine afternoon?"

Sam looked over, but Dean just lifted his eyebrows and let Sam take the first shot. Turning to face the man, Sam sketched on his working face and reached out to take the man's hand, "Good, sir, nice and warm out here, huh?"

"It's a little unseasonably warm," the man agreed, shaking Sam's hand. He looked them both over from head to toe, and Dean had seen that expression often enough to know the sheriff had them pegged as a pair of fags. "But just wait 'til summer and it tops triple digits. This you boys' first trip out to Hallow Creek?"

"Yes, looks like quite a place you've got out here," Sam said, facing out to the rest of the town. "Actually, we were wondering if you might have any work available? Serena down at the post office pointed us this way."

The man sized them up carefully, intelligence easy to see behind his eyes, "What's your names?"

"This is Samuel. Sam Samuel," Dean said, gesturing over at Sam, who was clearly only holding himself back from punching Dean merely on behalf of the case. Dean stepped closer to the man and leaned in to whisper, "Don't ask. He's very sensitive about his name. I'm Dean Starr."

Sam snorted but otherwise held to their new aliases. They didn't often introduce themselves as brothers anymore; too many people had heard of the Winchesters. Besides, it was always good to keep their options open, in case they had to play off one another to get information.

"You boys know the wild west culture?" The way he said it made it obvious that he didn't expect an answer in the affirmative. It wasn't that he was rude, just a little resigned, and Dean guessed that he probably had to deal with a bunch of assholes regularly. "Got any talents we could use?"

"What don't we know about the wild west?" Dean scoffed, knowing that he probably laid it on too thick, but it was just too much fun to see how far he could go with people. "We got this great act where Sam here holds an apple in his mouth and I shoot it apart without nicking his nose."

The man smirked, but turned his attention to Sam, "So, I guess that it's too much to hope for that y'all know one end of a Winchester from another?"

"No, sir," Sam said, jostling up against Dean's side as they exchanged a smile. If he'd been anybody else, Dean would have said that it was more than half a leer. "We know our Winchesters."

On the practice range, Dean shot seven out of the ten targets with the prop gun and scowled when Sam managed to get eight. The first chance he got, he was going to go over all the show's weapons and give them the cleaning and alignment that they obviously needed. At least it was enough to convince the guy that they weren't all bluster. He introduced himself as David McCoy.

"I guess we've got a coupla spots you boys might fill for the time being," McCoy said, taking back the rifles and stowing them in a locked rack. "Now I ain't got nothing against your lifestyle choice, but if you want paid, you keep the funny business out of the workplace."

"No problem," Sam cut in, while Dean still had his mouth open. "We'll just be here for a few weeks anyway."

McCoy eyeballed them for a little longer, but when neither of them made a move to start sucking face, he gestured them to follow him, "Come on this way, and we'll get you outfitted. Hang around and look authentic until the first show starts tonight at six. You just watch until you get the hang of it."

"Sounds fair," Dean agreed, unsure whether he would be glad or disappointed to miss the opportunity to play cowboys in front of an audience.

They separated while Dean went to pull the Impala around to the employee parking. A harried looking woman in full western garb grabbed him from the edge of a dirt lot, and despite being half his size dragged him along behind her. He managed a quick peek down her low cut dress, but then he had to concentrate on the ground because he didn't imagine that she'd wait if he lost his footing.

"Hey there, sweetheart, where's the fire?" he asked, when he narrowly missed getting hit face first by the swinging door of the saloon. They quickly went through the main room, and entered a small back hallway filled with clothing and hats to outfit an entire posse of westerners.

"Don't even try to sweet talk me, honey. I've got about a million things to do before we open tonight, and that was before you got dumped in my lap," she said, still holding onto Dean with one hand while she rifled through the racks.

Dean caught sight of something shiny and finally put his foot down, dragging her to a stop. "Hold it sister," he said, holding up his hands in front of his chest. "I don't do rhinestones."

"Naw, you're a badboy if I ever saw one," she answered, taking down several dusty looking pants. She held them up in front of his hips, considering them. "And I am not your sister. You can call me Helen. Here, try these on."

The tiny room barely fit them both with all the clothing, but it had a small dirty window that looked out on the other nondescript buildings that lined the street. He didn't see any obvious place like a changing room where he should go to put the pants on. When she crossed her arms over her chest and started tapping her foot, he shrugged and started stripping right there in front of her.

"So," Dean began, rolling his jeans up with his wallet safely tucked inside. He pulled on the tan pants; he didn't like the way his ass looked in black pants, "we heard a couple of stories about weird stuff going on in the neighborhood. You notice anything?"

"Please, we're a Wild West show, everywhere you turn there's weird," Helen said. He must have been taking too long because she batted his hands away from his crotch. With brisk efficiency she buttoned and tied him up, sticking her fingers in the waistband and jerking slightly to the right. His dick didn't know whether to perk up or hide until she was gone. "The whores sneak away to practice for American Idol auditions, the padre thinks he's a witch doctor, and the drunks usually aren't acting. Where should I start?"

"Witch doctor, huh?" Dean asked, pulling his t-shirt over his head when it looked like she might tear it off his shoulders. She handed him a canvas shirt that buttoned up the front. One sleeve was a little ragged, but he rolled it halfway up his arm. She came after him with a rolled up black bandana and tied it around his neck. "I don't suppose that really fits in around here."

"Oh, he's smart enough not to get into whenever the tourists are around," she explained, stepping back to take a good long look at him, "but don't let him corner you after shift or he'll talk your head off. Maybe even literally. Tuck that in and I'll get your sash."

Little dust motes drifted through the air from the disturbed clothes and Dean sneezed, scratching his nose with the back of his hand. He started tucking his shirt in, "Is there anything else you could warn a newbie about?"

"Sure, Missy is dating the blacksmith and likes to make sure that she has his attention by making him jealous, Cosner cheats at poker, and depending on who you believe, the entire place is haunted, cursed, or visited by aliens. Put your arms up," Helen told him as she started winding the red sash around his waist.

"You are an amazing woman," Dean breathed, vaguely awestruck at how easy she was making it for him. If only all their cases had someone willing to give them the skinny up front.

"I'm an amazing human being," she corrected him, yanking the ends of the sash into a tie just above his hip. "And I wasn't born a woman. Your boots will do for now, they can hook you up with spurs if you want. Just go across the street and tell them I sent you for a hat and six-gun. Anything else?"

Dean couldn't help the chuckle that escaped him. He liked her; she was brisk and straight to the point. Maybe some other time he would have asked which way she swung, but he couldn't risk any complications until they saved the seal. "Yeah," he said, "who would I be talking to when they told me that the place is haunted?"

"Hang around at the tap house long enough and you'll have the legends memorized," she said, pushing at his shoulder until he got the hint and moved backward out of the cramped room into the hallway so they could both get out. "Tourists eat that stuff up."

"Thanks," he said, squinting when he ended up back outside in the bright sunshine. Sam was nowhere in sight, but he still had to go weapon up. "I appreciate it."

"No problem," she answered, and finally broke into a soft smile that showed how pretty she actually was, "it wasn't entirely without its perks for me either."

Dean whistled, watching as she walked away from him. Little puffs of dirt flew up behind her old fashioned high heels. He really wished that he had time to get a better read on her, but Sam would want to meet up and get their game plan going as soon as possible. He went across the street and had a much less interesting time picking out a cowboy hat and prop gun to tie to his thigh.

He pulled the tan cowboy hat down low over his forehead and ambled back out to the street. It was getting closer to opening and there were more people in costumes walking around. He watched the kid dressed like the village idiot following the few horses around cleaning up after them. That kid must have done something unforgivable to be saddled with that job.

Glancing back up the street, Dean saw a group of people dressed similarly and a grade up from the rough stuff he was stuck with. They came out of the building labeled as the town jail, and each of them had a badge pinned to the breast of their suit. Dean didn't envy them the all-black clothes with the sun blazing high over head.

The guy who gave him his gun and hat told him that the script was pretty free-form. Dean and the other rough riders got to wander around town most of the day, being generally rakish and annoying the local law enforcement until the last stand off when they all died a tragic but well deserved death. Sure, he wouldn't win an Oscar or anything, but Dean figured he could do a pretty decent job of showing off in front of the tourists, and he'd already died a couple of times, so that couldn't be too hard either.

He pulled the collar away from his skin and let the trickle of a breeze cool him off a little. The tie around his neck was already half soaked with sweat. He'd have to remember to do something disgusting to Sam with it later. Speaking of Sam, Dean laughed out loud when one of the flat brimmed hats slipped away from the others and aimed right at him.

Sam scowled as he walked across the dirt street to confront Dean. "Stop laughing," he demanded, trying to hunch his shoulders as if that would keep people from noticing how good he looked in the tailored suit. "They're all dicks."

"Yeah, well, what does it say that they put you straight over there?" Dean asked, tucking his thumbs under his sash and canting his hips. This was almost fun; he could nearly feel the sun bake the tension out of his shoulders. Sure there was a case, but for the moment, he felt free to be someone else. He almost wished that he had a stalk of grass to chew on just to complete his new persona.

"Careful, Dean," Sam warned, softly enough that the other employees walking by couldn't hear him. He got close and threw his arm up to lean on the post behind Dean's shoulder. "There's a precedent for people who are given power to abuse it. I'd hate to have to put your pretty little ass in jail."

"This isn't Brokeback, Sam, and 'sides, I ain't done nothin'," Dean drawled, stepping out of the curl of Sam's arm and down to the sand beside the boardwalk. He used his thumb to tip his hat back, "I'm just a peaceful, law-biding citizen, sir."

Sam scoffed, but his eyes started smiling, "My ass."

Just then the acting general store manager burst through the swinging doors to his shop brandishing a broom.

Sam jumped back, bringing his rifle up to belly level as he searched for the threat. "What the hell?" he yelled, moving to take up position at Dean's side.

"Scorpion," the store keeper explained, darting his eyes from side to side. "Lost it, though. You boys see it, just crush it beneath your boot heel and kick it under the boards there."

"Scorpions?" Dean was quickly changing his mind about just how much fun it was going to be hanging out and playing cowboy. He might have shifted closer to Sam but if he did it was just a reaction to wanting to protect his little brother. "No one said anything about scorpions."

"Rats," Sam teased, inching his foot over to kick Dean in the ankle. "Little, poisonous rats that can run up a wall and drop down on your face. With stingers."

"Not funny, you jackass," Dean scowled, that image was worse than anything else Dean could have come up with. Scorpions were bad, but rats were everywhere. He cringed thinking an army made up of little skittering pests that moved in waves devouring everything in their path. If anything, Hell made it easier for him to imagine his worst nightmare.

"Deputy Samuel?"

They turned and watched a woman sashay toward them. Her low cut top was just barely within the realms of decency and he was pretty sure that back in the day, women in her supposed social status never wore that much makeup. She walked right up to Sam and fit her tiny gloved hand into the crook of his arm as if she owned it. Dean stifled the urge to slap it away on principle.

"The girls told me you were handsome, but they should have said gorgeous," she twittered, bringing out a fan and using it, as if the tiny waft of air could made a difference for her with all the layers she wore. "My name is Missy, and I would just love it if you would let me show you around."

"I, um," Sam stuttered, looking to Dean and the other guy for some help. "Actually, we were just about to-"

"Aw, it's okay Sam," Dean said, smiling and clapping Sam on the shoulder. This was just the payback he needed for the rat conversation. "You go ahead and have some fun. I'll meet you later on over at the saloon for some poker."

"Well, you heard the man," Missy giggled, tugging until Sam had no choice but to follow her or pull her down with his weight. "C'mon. I'll show you the welcome room, the boarding house, the stables, and then we can stop in to see the smithy."

Sam kept glaring at him over his shoulder as Missy led him along and Dean didn't bother to resist the urge to wiggle his fingers at Sam in what he imagined Missy's version of the Miss America wave would look like. Seriously, setting Sam up for a fall should be an Olympic sport.

"I definitely think that she missed her type casting," the man said, still standing beside Dean. "There might be an opening down at Jackson's House of Whores."

Dean had to agree, that was one cat in heat if he ever saw one, but Sam could take care of himself whether it involved a self obsessed little girl or a self obsessed little demon. It was weird for a second, thinking about Sam as an actual adult who could take care of himself. It was stupid of Dean; Sam had earned his place as partner instead of tagalong a long time ago. He had a hard time forgetting chubby little Sammy too interested in the clouds to pay attention to his feet.

"Say, did I hear you say something about poker?"

"Yeah, thought I'd go try a hand or two until things picked up," Dean answered, shaking himself from his thoughts that faded away like a ghost at dawn. He glanced back as the man leaned his broom up against the wall. "You interested?"

"Always interested m'boy!" the man said, his tone just a little too enthusiastic. "The name's Cosner."


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"Dean, if you ever leave me alone with that woman again, I will prank you so hard that it will make the Nair incident look like a walk in the park on a warm spring day," Sam said immediately as he pulled a chair around to straddle at the table.

It was late. Most of the tourists were gone, and the few that remained were carefully being watched in the gift store by the other deputy sheriffs. It hadn't been bad for an honest day's labor, not that Dean had any illusions that they were going to be able to stick around long enough to pick up a paycheck. The owner was already being overly accommodating by giving them a week to flesh out all their paper work. But swaggering around town and flirting with the pretty tourists was not Dean's idea of real work.

He'd managed to learn a thing or two as well, so even though he'd only managed to pick up a handful of phone numbers, he couldn't call the night a bust. Dean took a slug out of his mug of beer and glanced over at Sam.

"What? That big, mean girl too much for you to handle?" he asked loudly, pretending to be as drunk as the rest of the players thought he was. They'd all been drinking for a while, but Dean had managed to wind up several pints behind the rest of them.

"No, but I think Jordan might have been!" Jeb, the local town miner and railroad conductor yelled, slapping the table in his joke.

Dean laughed with the rest of them while Sam gave him a death glare. Jordan happened to be the town's blacksmith slash metal worker and Missy's jealous boyfriend. Dean caught sight of him earlier and he was even bigger than Sam. He managed to slip his hand under the table to give Sam's knee a squeeze so Sam would get that he was pretending. He leaned forward over the table and threw a couple of chips on the pile in the middle.

"Hey. Hey Padre," Dean mumbled, getting the attention of the little Hispanic man sitting across from him. "Tell Sam the story you were telling earlier. Think he'd get a kick out it."

The rest of the table groaned. It was probably a story that they'd been forced to listen to over and over again, but Dean wanted Sam to hear it straight from the horse's mouth.

"Sure, mi amigo," the Padre, whose name Dean couldn't even begin to pronounce, so he didn't bother to try, said, "This land used to be protected by the spirit of the Cin-an-ev, but the great wolf has not been seen since last summer when the end began. Since then, all the unholy have come to the Goblin Park and they won't stop until the canyons fill with blood. Righteous and unwholesome."

Sam stiffened beside him, but Dean just rolled his eyes and signaled for two more cards. He wasn't going to win this hand, but he'd already come out ahead so he didn't really care. Cosner, on the other hand, was learning the error of his ways.

"Cin-an-ev, what's that?" Sam asked, interested or just pretending. Sometimes, Dean just couldn't tell.

" Cin-an-ev is the trickster spirit of the Ute tribe."

Sam went absolutely rigid beside Dean, and he mentally cursed himself. He'd forgotten about Sam's issues with the trickster mythos. He smiled dreamily to convince the others of his tipsiness and listed to the side until only Sam's shoulder was keeping him off the floor. After a few seconds leaning into the contact, Sam relaxed enough to push him upright again, though he left his hand resting on the back of Dean's chair.

"And what makes you think that we're all doomed?" Sam asked, his voice harsh from the strain of keeping his emotions in check.

The Padre threw his cards down and grew serious. "Because I have seen the bird of ill omen. An owl big enough to swallow the moon that opens the way for death. First the owl warns, then the owl demands, and finally the owl punishes. Before the next full moon, we will all be punished."

"Oh, come on, that's a load of horse shit and you know it," one of the other players sneered, throwing his cards down with more force than needed. A two flipped over and skidded across the table to the floor. "Anybody who believes that cock and balls story is more than three cans short of a six pack."

"Then how do you explain all the weird occurrences, huh, hombre?"

"Coincidence."

Dean burped loudly and set his own cards down firmly. "In my experience, there is no such thing as coincidence," he said and stood, weaving slightly to keep up the illusion of drunkenness. "Gentlemen, I'm out until tomorrow. I wish you all a very pleasant evening."

He scooped up his winnings and folded the bills neatly before he turned to follow Sam out the door. They had their clothes in the Impala already so they slipped around behind the building making sure that they didn't run into anybody else. Dean had already interrupted the whores once, and discovered the only chance they had for American Idol was on the blooper reel.

"So what do you think?" Dean asked, stretching his head to the side until the vertebrae popped and eased a crick in his neck. "Apparently, Padre likes to dabble a bit in the occult. He could be picking something up."

"I dunno Dean, doesn't sound like much of a lead," Sam said, looking around doubtfully as if he expected the owl to come swooping in at any second. "Everything seemed pretty normal today, I think I would have noticed if Hell was about to break loose. Maybe we should have gone straight out to the park."

"No, I think it's worth checking out," Dean said, throwing a stubborn shoulder into Sam's arm. He was warmer than just the beer would explain, loose like he'd lost a weight he'd been carrying around. Sam felt good beside him, and for a second, he wondered where they'd be if he'd just slipped into Sam's bed four years ago. "Before he got wasted the Padre spoke about the other signs. Real end of the world type stuff. Maybe your Hell-dar is off."

"What is the grand finale of the Saturday show a fireworks display that spells out 'Apocalypse Now'?" Sam bumped him back, fully willing to play the who-could-out-stubborn-who game. He looked over and scowled, probably irritated that Dean thought Sam missed something. "This doesn't make any sense, Dean. We have to figure out what the seal is and where it is so we get to it before Lilith."

Dean sighed and looked up at the sky. One good thing about the desert was how many stars he could see. It wasn't like he thought their dad was looking down on them or anything. A man escaped from Hell had better things to do than perv on his two grown sons, but Dean liked to look up and pretend there was something up there, even if it was just a rock candy mountain he'd never actually climb.

"Trust me, Sam," Dean said, grabbing Sam's arm to stop him. He turned and caught Sam's eye, slightly irritated that he basically had to beg his little brother to see reason. He missed the good old days when Sam followed just because Dean led. Something about what the Padre pinged his hunter's instincts and he knew that something was going down at Hallow Creek. "There's something evil here, and I'm gonna salt and burn it."

A horrible sound broke the night, like air squelching through water on the way out of a too small hole. Sam turned the same time he did, peering out into the night. Something thudded into the building around the corner from them. Dean looked for a weapon and grabbed a shovel moving to take point ahead of Sam.

He crept along silently, he sniffed and gagged at the smell of rancid wet waste hanging in the air. Dean felt Sam's hand at his hip and took a wide path around the corner, ready to swing first and ask questions later if it came to that. He lifted the shovel back and took a last step.

Hair slapped him in the face, and Dean got another mouthful of putrid stink. Trying to back up, he stepped on Sam's foot and tripped when Sam yelped yanking backwards. Dean ended up on his butt down in the dirt staring up at a massive spotted horse's ass, and blinking in confusion as the horse shifted and let out another stream of popping farts. He moved double time to get out of the way just in case anything else came out.

"Goldang it ya two bumbling whippersnappers! What in the good lovin' tarnation do you festering pockets of pus think you're doing sneaking up on a man and his horse?"

"Uh," Sam said, as Dean scrambled back into Sam's legs. He reached down and helped Dean up

The horse was a big appaloosa male; the splashes of white dots across its rump and neck made it stand out in the dark. It swung around to face them and revealed Fred, the town panhandler and one of the drunks that didn't need to pretend to convince the tourists. He weaved like a sailor shifting to keep his feet underneath him and gestured with a jug grasped loosely in his fingers.

"Well?" Fred demanded, his voice high and whistling. He lifted the jug and rested it on the horse's shoulder while he continued to curse Sam and Dean. His accent was so thick and he slurred so much that Dean only understood about every other word. The smell of booze almost covered Duke's gas. "They ought to throw you scallywags in the hoosegow. Land sakes, y'all could have scared the living daylights out of me and Duke."

While Fred spoke, Duke wobbled to the side, lifting his head around until he got his teeth around the neck of the jug. He waited until Fred was worked up and then tilted his neck so the jug angled enough to pour down his throat.

"Dean?"

"Yeah, Sam?" Dean answered, watching as Fred forgot all about them to start a tug of war with Duke over the jug that was undoubtedly full of moonshine.

"That evil you were talking about earlier," Sam continued, still staring as Fred finally got the jug back and Duke burped disgruntled as losing. The two of them shambled off together traveling the opposite way that Sam and Dean came from. "Was it a drunk, gassy horse?"

"Shut up," Dean growled, bending over to pick up the shovel so he could lean it back against the wall where no one would trip over it.

Sam couldn’t be stopped though, he'd shifted straight into annoying little brother mode. "No really, they totally deserved to be salted and burned, " he teased, following Dean back to the Impala. "Especially that old timer, he was definitely asking for it."

Growling, Dean unlocked the driver's door and seriously debated ignoring Sam's tapping on the passenger window. Eventually, he reached and flicked the lock up letting Sam slip inside. After all, he would have thought it was hilarious if Sam had been in front. "Give it a rest, Sam," he sighed, as he started the car.

"Fine. So seriously, what's the plan for tonight?" Sam asked, sounding as if he'd completely sobered up, but Dean could still see Sam's smile stretched into dimples.

"The same thing we do every night, Pinky," Dean answered, glancing over to return Sam's grin.

"Try to take over the world," they said in unison.







"Do you remember when we were little?" Sam asked, shifting in the passenger seat so that he could turn and see Dean. He had one leg over the other while he absentmindedly toyed with the fraying edges of his sneaker.

They'd decided that it would be least suspicious if they left with everyone else and drove around long enough that any stragglers would be gone by the time they got back out to Hallow Creek. Turned out that there had been a security guard staying there overnight to protect the property until something had terrified the man so much that his hair turned white over night. Since then, no one willingly stayed out there past two in the morning.

Good news that meant they wouldn't have to worry about being overly sneaky, but also bad news since then Dean was stuck in the car with Sam for at least an hour. There wasn't even any point in going back to the motel room; they'd just have to turn right back around.

Dean kept his eyes on the road, but did answer, "I remember a lot of things."

He remembered making Sam lunch to take to school, giving him the last of the jelly or bread so Dean had to suck it up and drink water all day to weight his belly down and keep it filled. He remembered when Sam finally caught on and gave Dean both a look of betrayal and half of his salami sandwich. He remembered the first time he pushed between Sam's legs, both of them hot and heavy, aching with the need to get closer together. He remembered the day Sam walked out for the first, if not the last time.

"You used to trace my feet on cardboard you got out of the dumpsters behind stores so that you could stuff them in my shoes when they got holes," Sam recalled, one hand still tracing along his shoe while his other tapped an idle pattern on his thigh. "I thought that was the coolest thing ever. You were way smarter than McGuyver."

"Yeah, well I taught McGuyver everything he knows," Dean said, twitching his shoulder a little to jerk the corner of his jacket out from under his butt. "I also gave Chuck Norris some pointers on Kung Fu."

Sam huffed a small laugh and finally unbent his legs from where he had them twisted. With his gangly Gumby legs, he had to be more comfortable with both his soles firmly in the foot well. "Dean, is there anything you want to tell me about this hunt?" Sam asked, his voice soft and barely audible over the purring engine.

"No, Sam," Dean had to concentrate not to grit his teeth between speaking so he wouldn't have to fit in a trip to the dentist into the apocalypse. Demons he could deal with, but he hated going to the dentist; they were creepy and smelled funny. "You heard your girlfriend demon. This is just the welcoming party for something big, mean, and probably ugly. Well salt and burn the fucker, and save a seal. Piece of cake."

"I thought about you, you know."

"What?"

Sam curled his leg underneath him again and turned to completely face Dean. "When I was with Ruby the one time I had sex with her. I-"

"I don't want to hear this, Sam!"

"But I need to say it, please Dean?" Sam asked, unfairly playing his little brother get-out-of-jail-free-card. "She tried to kiss me, and I couldn't stop thinking that I should be trying to exorcise her or something, but she was so warm and I missed you so much. So I picked her up from where she knelt between my legs and I tossed her on the mattress."

There was a buzzing in Dean's ears, but unfortunately, it wasn't enough to drown out Sam's words. He could see the scene playing in technicolor in his mind's eye. Sam, with his stupidly pumped up muscles, hauling Ruby's stolen but tiny body from one side of the room to the other. They'd kiss, and Sam would be all gentle and caring, and no fucking wonder they couldn't get rid of Ruby. Who in their right mind would let Sam go after getting a taste of what life with him was like?

Dean had sold his soul so that he wouldn't have to find out. He sighed and ran his hands over the steering wheel, wishing that they were back at Hallow Creek already. "I don't see what any of that has to do with-" he started.

"I know you don't want to talk about it," Sam cut in. He had his hands in his lap, wringing his fingers like he was trying to get something off. "But Dean, you were the first person I ever loved. You were the first person that I woke up with and felt truly happy. Jess was the last."

"That's nice, Sam, but you can stow the gooey feeling shit," Dean said, pushing the gas harder than he should have while driving down an unmarked road in the middle of the night. Something ran along the side of the road beside them for several seconds before ducking away into the deeper shadows.

"When I followed her to the mattress, she tried to turn around, but I didn't want to look at her and think about you," Sam continued, as if Dean hadn't spoken at all. "So I hauled her back up against my chest and I closed my eyes remembering how it felt when you trusted me enough to put your hands on me."

"Sam."

"You don't even call me 'Sammy' anymore."

"You hated that nickname. Thought only chubby little twelve year olds answered to the name 'Sammy'," Dean said, twisting his hands over the steering wheel until he could hear the plastic squeak. His insides ached sometimes wishing for the old days, but when he looked at Sam, he didn't just see his little brother anymore. The pet name choked him anytime he nearly used it, but he didn't think that Sam had noticed. "What changed?"

"Maybe I wish I was that twelve year old again. Maybe I wish I could do things differently," Sam answered. He blew out a long sigh, and out of the corner of his eye, Dean could see Sam's bangs flip up. "Maybe I wish you would touch me again."

Dean swallowed all the things he wanted to say. He shoved down the urge to immediately agree to anything that Sam said he wanted; give his little brother everything he needed. "I don't know that now is the best time," he said, feeling like he had gutted and dressed his own meat suit.

"If not now, then when?" Sam demanded, a little of the anger and frustration that he'd been carrying around all year slipping through. "When Lilith's won because you don't trust me and we're fighting Hell on Earth? This is as much for you, Dean, as it is for me. We were good together, and you know it."

"You have my answer, Sam," Dean said, resolutely reaching over and turning the music up. In a second, Ratt filled the Impala and Sam retreated to his corner, plastered against the Impala door, staring sullenly out the window. Dean knew that the conversation wasn't over, but Sam would let it lie for awhile at least.

There might have been a time Dean would have jumped at the chance to get Sam back into his bed, but lately he felt too old, too tired. Anything he started with Sam would have complicated written all over it. Angels, demons, seal an everything else muddied the water too much. Dean might have started the apocalypse, but kissing Sam again made him feel out of his league. He had to protect himself somehow.

If it was bad knowing that his brother was lying to him, how much worse would it be that his- that the guy he was sleeping with was lying to him? Dean didn't remember the first few months after Sam left for Stanford fondly. He didn't want to know how life would twist him if he lost Sam again, but he knew it wouldn't be pretty. The only thing he was sure of was that he couldn't jump into this thing. He needed to know that Sam had as much to lose as he did.

He needed to know that Sam needed him as much as he needed Sam. He hated that he really didn't know that if push came to shove, which one Sam would choose. Him or Ruby. If Sam left again, the angels would have to find a new ace to put up their sleeve, because Dean would be out. Finished. Done. There were plenty of places still left where a man could get lost forever, and Dean had always been a better tracker than Sam.

One case at a time. He'd get his little brother back one case at a time. He'd show Ruby how to win a Winchester, and despite popular opinion, it wasn't with fuckery.


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The town didn't look all that different in the extremely early morning moonlight. The drab brown buildings and sand washed to stonewall grey in the light of the nearly full moon. The town barely made a blip on the landscape, and even though it looked authentic, the still fresh timber wouldn't last a blink of an eye in the grand scheme of things. Dean doubted the desert would wait long to reclaim the land.

Somewhere a stray shutter someone hadn't fastened correctly squeaked faintly in the night. Dean couldn't see it, but it banged into the side of the building in time with the wind that howled through the tiny canyon made between the town's buildings. Nothing else stirred, even though Dean thought it would be hilarious for a lone tumbleweed to blow by. He gestured for Sam to follow him and led the way to one end of the street where the building they used as the Padre's chapel stood a little ways apart from everything else.

"I still don't see why we're here," Sam whispered, dropping his voice automatically like they were in a church - or a really great porn shop. "I could call Ruby, maybe she can tell us where Lilith is."

"Sam, I am going to say this once," Dean began, wincing as his voice echoed through the night. He was so fed up with defending his mistrust of Ruby. "If she saved your life, then I am grateful. I'm glad you're alive. I'm fucking ecstatic that - goddamn it." He rubbed his hands over his face, sucking in a breath and holding it until his lungs ached. He continued a little softer, "But she didn't do it for me, Sam. She did it for her, and I don't owe her anything more than a quick death when the time comes."

"Dean-"

He pushed Sam back into the wall, his body bouncing back a little with the force of the shove. Dean held him in place with a hand over Sam's heart and he jabbed his finger in the air in front of Sam's face. "No, we're walking a two-way street here, dude," he said, catching Sam's eyes and holding them steady, "You think I don't trust you, but I know you don't trust me. You don't think I can do the job, don't think I can protect you. Well I can do the fucking job. Get out the EMF reader and we'll fucking do the fucking job."

Sam tensed for a second, made Dean think that maybe he was about to get punched in the face for his trouble. The moment passed, and he became aware that he still had his hand over Sam's heart and he could feel it pounding away at a mile a minute.

"Fine," Sam agreed, shifting to the side until Dean's hand fell away. He let his backpack slide over his shoulder and began digging through the front pocket, "Whatever."

"Fine," Dean echoed, and for lack of anything better to do, shone his flashlight down to the foundations of the church, looking for anything out of the ordinary. All he saw was sand and cigarette butts, but it gave him something to concentrate on other that his little brother. A second later, the off-key whine of the EMF reader pulled his attention back to Sam.

The gadget flared in Sam's hand, the colored lights flashed bright in the monochrome stillness of the night. Dean had never seen an EMF reader act like that, especially one that he had built with his own two hands. It oscillated between loud static that pinned his ears back and piercing squeals that made him want to rip his ears off.

"Dean?" Sam's low voice cut through the other noise, because Dean would have heard him over the crying of all the souls in Heaven and Hell combined. His eyes were wide as he tried to cover the reader's lights and noise with his other hand.

No way that anyone or anything lurking around the town wouldn't have heard all that noise. Dean resisted the urge to cover his ears, but only because he knew that it wouldn't do any good. "Just turn the fucking thing off, Sam," he yelled, squinting his eyes so the flashing lights might not completely ruin his night vision.

Sam shook his head, sending his hair flying in a halo around his face. He looked up and caught Dean's eyes, shock leaping in between them. "I already did," he shouted, "it didn't do anything!"

Real fear crept up his spine as Dean stepped forward and grabbed Sam's forearm. He could feel how tightly Sam's muscles strained and the tiny vibrations that held him hostage. "Just let it go. Drop it!" he yelled, wrapping his other arm around Sam's waist to steady them both.

"Trying," Sam gritted through his teeth as he leaned heavily into Dean.

All the lights on the EMF reader flashed deep red, and the display panel blinked on and off, yellow and white. The panel on the front shattered, tiny bits of glass flying up into their faces. Dean dropped his grip to Sam's hand and flinched when he could feel the heat pouring off the machine. Smoke dripped out the back before it started pouring out, rising up around their heads while Sam groaned in pain.

"Let my little brother go, you shitty piece of crap!" Dean shouted, trying desperately to pry Sam's fingers from the reader. He felt desperate and helpless as Sam's fingers wouldn't move an inch, stuck like glue to a machine that should have helped them.

"Dean, please," Sam's voice went quiet as he slipped to his knees.

The smell of burning plastic filled the air and sparked Dean's panic higher. Sam made little noises of pain that got buried under the screeching and wailing of the EMF reader. "Goddamnit!" he roared, reaching for the gun tucked into the back waistband of his jeans. He pulled it free and tried to shield Sam's fingers with his own before he smashed the butt of his gun into the front of the machine.

Bits and pieces of the reader went flying, and the second Dean bashed his way into the gooey center, the rest of the mangled machine dropped out of Sam's hands. Dean shifted his grip and shot it just to be sure that it wasn't going to leap back up and bite them in the ass. Then he turned his attention back to Sam.

"Let me see your hands," Dean ordered, his voice hoarser than just curses at the possessed EMF reader could account for. Sam had his hands clutched to his chest with his legs sprawled out in front of him and his ass in the sand. He just looked up at Dean in confusion, so Dean smoothed out his voice and crouched down, "Won't hurt, promise. Let me see."

Sam finally held out his hands for Dean to see, but he kept his own eyes cut to the side as if fearing the worst. "Feels like they're on fire," he said softly.

"It's not so bad," Dean told the comforting lie before he even got a first look at Sam's paws. He pulled back Sam's fingers from where they curled into a claw, careful not to move them too much or too quickly. The red skin he expected, but not the absence of blisters and worse. Dean sucked air through his teeth, very much aware of how lucky they'd gotten, "Easy kiddo, just looks like a bad sunburn. I've had worse jacking off during a Gilligan's Island marathon."

"Pervert," Sam said, but he did chuckle nervously and finally took a look at his hands. He spread his fingers, bending them one at a time to work his muscles and tendons.

Dean looked back at the busted EMF reader and watched as it melted into a puddle. It emitted one last dying scream and then bubbled slowly over the sand. He poked the edge with the toe of his book, and the entire pile of plastic moved. It was already cool to the touch, and Dean picked it up, hefting it as he wondered what kind of a Frisbee it'd make.

"What the hell could do that?" Sam asked, grabbing Dean's attention back. He held out his backpack gingerly between the thumbs and index fingers so Dean could slip the ruined device back inside.

The wind gusted faster, making the short hairs on the back of his neck stand up straight. "I don't know," Dean admitted, bending over to grab his flashlight from where he'd dropped it. "Believe me that there's something weird going on now?"

Sam slipped the backpack over his shoulders and grimaced. "Yeah, I believe you," he said, struggling to stand up without using his hands to push off the ground. He grunted his thanks when Dean reached under his armpits and hoisted him up, "but I think I've seen enough for tonight."

"Me too, I think we should talk to more people tomorrow and see what's up with this place," Dean said, keeping his hand on the small of Sam's back. Something was wrong, something more than just the wind spooking him. Somewhere, someone watched them. "Follow my lead."

Dean slipped to the edge of the building and peeked around to the main drag through town. He could feel Sam's bulk behind him, almost close enough to touch, as he started skulking through the shadows back to the Impala.

"Dean," Sam's voice was low and tense, barely loud enough to hear.

Freezing in his crouch, Dean slowly cocked his head up, looking for what had alerted Sam. The air still held the warm heat of the desert. He sniffed but nothing seemed out of the ordinary to tip him off to a supernatural presence. He couldn't trust his ears, not with the ringing he still heard from the EMF. "Sam?" he asked.

Sam slithered quietly up between Dean and the building they were using for cover. His body radiated heat even above the norm, and Dean couldn't help swaying into Sam's body. He could feel Sam's lips brush against his ear, "Eleven o'clock."

Dean didn't know how he'd missed it once Sam had pointed it out. The owl was huge, sitting in the window under the eave of the town jail. He'd seen a lot of night birds in his time, but he'd never seen anything like it before. It wasn't jet black, that would have stuck out of the dark grey landscape, but it was a deep charcoal shading to dingy silver. It stayed as still as death; somehow not even the wind managed to ruffle its feathers.

"You remember what the Padre said," Sam whispered. His chin rasped over Dean's jaw and it shouldn't have been anything. It wasn't foreplay or sex of any kind, but Dean shivered at the intimacy. "First the owl warns, then the owl demands, and then the owl punishes."

The owl turned its head, twisting it almost a full ninety degrees to the side as it studied them. Its eyes started glowing dimly, picking up brilliance the longer Dean held its gaze. Beside him Sam whispered something, but it was drowned out in the wind and his own silent communication with the bird. It twisted its head back right, and clicked its beak once. The next second the owl spread its wings, big enough to blot out the moon rising behind the building, and leapt into the air.

Sam cursed and flattened Dean into the ground as he dived on top of him. The bird dipped low, aiming just over their heads in its silent flight. Dean swore he could feel the air move, feel feathers caress his cheek even though he knew it wasn't possible. Twisting wildly, Dean managed to get chest to chest with Sam while he searched the sky over Sam's shoulder for the owl, but it vanished. Disappeared into a sky big enough to swallow the world.

"Dean, what the hell is going on here?" Sam demanded, even as he showed no signs of letting Dean go any time soon. "You can't keep me in the dark on this one. If something is out to get you I need to know. I am not losing you again."

"I don't know what you're talking about, Sam," Dean said, speaking through teeth that gritted with sand. He wanted to wiggle, struggle, but he was all too aware of their position. Sam smelled better than a night at Oktoberfest, and felt more like home. More than anything, Dean wanted a home. "How about you get off me?"

Sam shook his head, flinging his hair wildly from side to side so it puffed out into the air making him look like he'd come out the wrong end of an electric socket. "No, Dean," Sam said, his nose flexing as he breathed hard. "He said the blood of the righteous . That's you, and I am not just going to sit by and-"

"Sam, if I ever was a righteous man, I'm not anymore, okay?" Dean said softly, yanking his arm out from under Sam so he could try to flatten Sam's hair. The curls tangled around Dean's fingers, and he didn't resist the urge to tug a little. "You don't have to worry about me. I'm going to be fine."

"You're not fine! I'm not fine!" Sam's voice echoed like gunshots across the street and off the windows. He looked like he couldn't decide whether to snarl or cry. "Why won't you just admit it?"

Dean did the only thing he could think of, he lifted his head until his mouth crashed into Sam's for the first kiss they'd shared since Sam had been eighteen. The slight taste of blood made Dean ache, but it wasn't from the growing hardness between his legs. Sam had always had that effect on him.


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"This is what you want?" Dean asked again as they stumbled through the door to their motel room, even though he was praying to every god he'd ever heard of that the answer wouldn't change. He couldn't even stop touching Sam to give him a chance to breathe. He was crazy drunk and nothing that he or Sam could do would let him remember why this was such a bad idea. "You're sure, Sam?"

Sam shuddered underneath Dean's hands, but he never looked away. He chewed his bottom lip and his hands kept tightening around Dean's muscles before letting go and starting all over again like a cat at a scratching post. Sucking in a deep breath, Sam nodded his head and looked up at Dean through his eyelashes. "Yeah, Dean," he replied, his voice the deepest that Dean had ever heard, "this is what I want."

They'd left the window open in an attempt to keep the room cool, but besides a small breeze, the air was still, heavy, and hot. That small bit of wind managed to make the too small space bearable, but Dean still felt like he was about to blaze up from the inside. Sam always made him feel like he was empty inside, ready for the pyre to burn the husk away.

"Then this is what you're going to get," Dean answered, pulling Sam's long sleeved shirt off his shoulders. Both their t-shirts were soaked through with sweat, but the thin material clung to the curves of Sam's muscles, driving Dean to the point of insanity. "Shit, you make me crazy."

The kiss lasted longer than the first of the night. Sam's chapped lips licked rough against Dean's mouth but so very pliant when Dean angled his head to deepen their kiss. Their arms tangled together while they each tried to strip the t-shirts off each other. Dean groaned and batted Sam's hands up into the air. He let the kiss go for just long enough to pull Sam's shirt away.

"Dean," Sam groaned, lowering his head to rest his forehead against the juncture where Dean's neck met his shoulder. His breath puffed across Dean's chest and his nipples tightened in anticipation. It had been too long since they touched; in the past two years they had only pulled farther apart.

Dean paused for a second, but when Sam didn't say anything else, he worked on Sam's belt. The leather cracked with age and use. It took too long to work it out of the groove and rip the buckle apart; his hands shook by the time he finally got Sam's fly open. Once the zipper was down, the jeans fell straight down Sam's slim hips, gathering and bunching when they reached his knees.

Next, he started to peel Sam's boxer-briefs down, but Sam came alive, pushing against Dean's body and tugging on Dean's t-shirt until they both lost their balance and crashed down on the bed. Sam's arm went right into Dean's gut, knocking the wind out of him.

"Geeze, Sam," Dean said, after his first painful breath. He was going to have a bruise over his ribs, "I would have thought that you'd get better at this after a little practice."

He wrestled Sam over onto his belly, but it wasn't easy as Sam kept twisting around trying to kiss him. It was harder now than it was before when Sam was just kid, but the extra effort made his lower belly pool with heat. Sam was miles and miles of bare skin underneath him, and for a second all his doubts and reasons not to touch went flying right out the window. This was just him and Sam as they were meant to be.

The lube and prep came easy to him, and Sam stayed where he was chest pressed into the uncomfortably bright sunburst patterned comforter. Dean tried to remember what it had felt like so many years ago, but all he could see was Sam standing side by side with him. Laughing, crying, hungry and tired, they'd shared it all over the last four years. He got lost in memory and it was only Sam's wiggling that brought him back to the present. He added another finger and twisted, pressing down against that small button that made Sam go wild.

Sam opened up around him as Dean replaced his fingers with a thumb and swiveled it around. Sweat ran down his back and the sides of his face while Sam was slippery with it. He flexed his other hand on the globe of Sam's ass, and wondered what ever happened to the scrawny little kids they were when they first started fooling around. Of course, even back then Sam had been lying to him, packing his bags at the same time he made Dean believe that they were going to be together.

Probably, he should take the blame even then. What kind of a man had sex with his own little brother? Dean didn't feel much like a big brother anymore. Not for himself and not for Sam. How could he when part of him was still stuck in Hell while Sam rushed head long for his own damnation? He didn't know which one of them made the first decision to avoid Bobby, but he would have seen through their pretense immediately. It wasn't right to pretend that everything was fine no matter how much he wanted his connection to Sam back.

"Dean?" Sam didn't speak with the desperation of earlier, he just sounded sad but determined. He straightened up on his elbows and pushed back into Dean's body, sliding Dean's dick right into the sweet spot nuzzled up behind Sam's balls.

"Oh, hell," Dean bit the inside of his cheek, trying to trick himself back to the present. He took Sam's hips and straightened them out, teasing his dick up and down Sam's crack. They were both panting again by the time Dean pushed just the head of his dick into Sam's body.

Just like he remembered it, it was tight and warm, and made his heart burst open thinking about Sam letting him. Sam wanting him. Slowly, he pushed in until he hit the back of Sam's thighs and bottomed out. Dean rested there, petting his hands down Sam's back and sides, trying to calm him down like he used to have to.

"I'm not sixteen anymore, Dean," Sam said, twisting his shoulders around so he could see Dean. He jerked himself away and then pushed back, fucking himself on Dean's dick hard enough to make himself hiss for a second. "You don't have to be so careful."

Dean didn't actually need the reminder. Sam was bigger, stronger, there was more of him to hold on to, making it so that he didn't actually fit underneath Dean anymore. He teased his fingers over the spot under Sam's hips that used to make him hitch and squirm in pleasure. Sam only moved to start jerking himself off.

Biting his lip, Dean concentrated on pushing in and out of Sam's body, trying to find the place where sex was just instinctual, but he couldn't turn his brain off. He felt like they might be reading the same book, but Dean had the even numbered pages while Sam had the odd. They were never going to be on the same page.

It wasn't even about keeping him from Ruby anymore, and he realized that it never had been. He wanted Sam back for himself because he wanted Sam. He wanted the Sam he'd come to know better in the last four years, the one who could be his partner. In many ways, the man face down on the bed and the kid that Dean had known before, had nothing in common.

Dean stuttered to a stop, watching the play of muscles across Sam's shoulders. He realized that he'd stopped moving, and started to thrust in again. It should just be like riding a bike. Sam wanted it. He wanted it. But it wasn't right; it wasn't effortless like what they'd had before. It wasn't like what he'd had with Ty or even the short couple of weeks with Cassie. He didn't know why everything suddenly became so clear during sex. There really wasn't any going back.

After another few minutes of awkward pushing, Sam collapsed down on his on the pillow with his arms folded underneath his body. "This isn't working, is it?" he asked, his voice just as small and tentative as it had been when Sam actually was small and tentative.

"No, it's really not," Dean sighed, pulling away from his brother's body. His dick wasn't soft yet, but it knew better than he did that sex just wasn't going to happen.

"We're not the same people we used to be."

Dean didn't know what to do, but he couldn't stomach the idea of widening the chasm between him and Sam by even the space between the room's double beds. When they were young, he'd never hesitated to reach out and touch his little brother. Somewhere along the line that changed, but he missed it like he'd miss a lung. He flopped down beside Sam and cautiously put his hand out on Sam's shoulder blade. "No, we're not," he answered.

Sam twisted just a little, sliding his hand back to rest on Dean's bare thigh. They stayed like that until Sam fell into a light sleep and then Dean moved just enough to put his chest up against Sam's back. Neither of them moved again until sometime around three, when Dean dropped into an uneasy sleep full of memories that he'd rather forget.



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"I'm really sorry about this," Ty apologized again, picking up both his and Dean's bags from the motel room floor and carrying them out to the car. Wolf stayed where he was, basking in a puddle of light from the sidewalk.

Dean rolled his eyes, going over the room one last time to make sure they hadn't forgotten anything. The last thing they needed was to leave something for the maid to find. They already had a pretty high profile in town due to the unfortunate explosion of Ty's jeep. They couldn't chance anyone running their prints or finding an unregistered gun. Actually, Dean would just make a note to stay away from eastern Colorado for a while.

"Seriously," he said, once he was satisfied that there wasn't anything worse than a couple of crumpled take out bags in their room, "stop apologizing. How long have you known me?"

Ty closed the trunk and looked back at Dean before he answered, "'Bout four months."

"Right," Dean continued, shutting the motel room door tight behind him and walking around to the driver's side door. "And in all that time, have I ever struck you as someone who would go this far out of my way just to make someone else happy?"

A slow smile spread across Ty's face, and for a second, Dean thought that he was going to call bullshit, but then he just whistled Wolf over and leaned the passenger seat up so the dog could jump into the backseat. "Nope, you just a big ole prickly porcupine," he teased, waiting on Wolf to move his tail. He got in, shut the door and looked over, catching Dean's eyes, "That reminds me though, did I ever tell you the story of the porcupine and the wolf?"

Dean groaned, hiding amusement behind the reaction, "Yes, and the one about the coyote and the water, the grandsons and the grandfather, and the cross-dresser who saved the world by finding the sacred boa."

Ty grinned broadly at Dean's pretended impatience. He looked better since Dean had taken him under his wing. With regular meals, Ty put on some weight and looked good in the Army surplus gear Dean bought him. Ty was the kind of guy who could get along with anyone, but somehow, they'd actually become friends during the time they'd spent hunting together.

Dean had never thought he could have any kind of link to someone who wasn't family. That was always Sammy's stick. His brother and his father had always been enough, but with both of them gone, Dean figured that he'd take what he could get. Even if that included an Indian who told annoying tribal legends and his flea bitten mutt.

"You know, I don't remember that last one," Ty said, clicking his seatbelt across his chest, "you must have heard it from one of your other Indian buddies."

"Yeah, I call them up when you're in the bathroom so we can talk about you behind your back," Dean teased, then he twisted around to the backseat and pointed a finger at Wolf. "As for you, if you chew, slobber, or shit on any piece of my car, I will kill you, eat you, and wear you as a hat."

Wolf looked at him for a moment, acting as if he understood every word Dean said, but then his mouth dropped open, his tongue lolled out, and Dean couldn't shake the feeling he was being laughed at.

"I thought that you didn't even like this car?" Ty asked, reaching up to pat the cracked dashboard.

Actually, Dean hated the car and everything it represented, but it was the principle of the thing. He scowled and jerked it into gear, "It's the principle of the thing."

Ty laughed, and Dean imagined that the sound followed them all the way out of Colorado.


fast forward


"Jesus, are you okay?" Dean asked, his hands frantic as he worked them over Ty's body.

The second ghost had come out of nowhere and sent Ty flying out of a second story window. Dean finally found the collection of baby teeth that had kept the Juniper twins around for forty years after their death, and tossed them in an already burning trashcan. He took the stairs down two at a time, moving fast enough that if he had tripped he would have managed to break his neck. He just hoped that Ty's neck was okay.

He found Ty, lying on his side in a mangled flower bed that had thankfully not included any rose bushes. Most of the glass had fallen away, but Ty still had a gash on his forehead that dripped blood down half his face.

"I'm golden," Ty mumbled, trying to coordinate himself enough to stand up. "One of these days I'm going to figure out how those old Indians used to shape-change and then I won't have to worry about getting thrown out a window, I can just turn into an bird and fly away."

"Then you'd better fly right back," Dean growled, surprising himself with the ferocious pang he felt at the idea of Ty going away. He hadn't really thought that their partnership would mean more than giving him someone to annoy while he waited on Dad to get his act together.

Ty smiled up at him, finally giving up the fight to move himself as Dean hoisted him up, and then hold him steady while he arranged them to limp back to the car. "Aw, Freckles," Ty said, using the nickname he knew Dean hated. "Are trying to say that you'd miss me?"

"I just don't want to get stuck with your cowardly dog," Dean replied, shifting blame to the tentative Wolf, who had finally crept out from around the side of the house. The dog was an excellent hunting partner when they were going up against people or other supernatural creatures, but at the first sign of a ghost, the dog turned tail and ran.

"Aw, you don't fool us," Ty said, tightening his hold around Dean's neck while he tried to steer them to an easy place to walk. "You like us."

The problem, Dean thought, was that he did like them. It might have taken him twenty-two years, but eventually even the slowest learner figured out that he didn't get a happily ever after. He always lost everything that he loved. Suddenly, his hunter instincts kicked in and somehow Dean knew that he'd just as good as signed Ty's death warrant. That didn't explain why when Ty reached up and guided him into a gentle kiss, Dean couldn't help but sink into it.

He was so tired of being alone.


fast forward


"I didn't really think that I'd be around this long," Dean admitted, though he didn't even know himself if he meant there with Ty or in a more permanent sense of the phrase. They had pulled over to sacrifice a bucket of KFC in a stand of trees off the side of a rural road. He'd been pleasantly surprised to find a small stream running nearby.

Ty smiled, but his eyes looked sad. He tucked his hair behind his ear and leaned down to nip at Dean's chest. "Lucky for me, your dad never called," he said, choosing the safer interpretation of Dean's words. His head was down so he didn't see the way Dean flinched, instead he tangled his fingers in the thong of Dean's necklace. "You know, I always meant to ask where you got this. I've never seen anything like it before."

Dean looked down at his chest, at the warm metal that was as familiar to him as the back of his hand, as the curve of Sam's spine. He palmed it for a second, felt the edges poke at his skin, and then slipped it over his head. "I think maybe I've outgrown it," he said, still holding it even though he knew what he had to do. Sam was gone and there was no sense in holding onto the past.

"Hey, I didn't," Ty started, and then bit his bottom lip. He dropped his eyes and traced over Dean's chest with a finger where the amulet usually sat. "I wasn't trying to start anything. You don't have to get rid of anything or change for me. I just like you."

Wiggling uncomfortable under the way the conversation was going, Dean took a deep breath and slowly let all the air out of his lungs. He held it like that for as long as he could, his chest feeling almost concave with the lack of air. Above him, Ty pulled away.

"Dean, what?"

Instantly, Dean sucked in a huge breath and tossed the necklace as far away as he could given the angles. He didn't see where it landed but he heard it scrape against rock. He banished Sam from his mind, told himself that he didn't care if Dad never called, and looked up at Ty's face. He made his decision.

"I want you to fuck me."

Ty's hips jerked down and they both groaned at the contact. They had fooled around plenty in the last two weeks, but they hadn't gone all the way yet. Dean didn't know what made him say it. He'd never done it on bottom before, but he wanted to give Ty something. He wanted Ty to know how much Dean appreciated him. Whatever it took.

"Yeah, yeah okay," Ty agreed, nipping at Dean's lower lip until Dean let both his knees and his mouth fell open. "If you're sure."

"I'm sure," Dean answered. He dug his fingers into the muscles of Ty's back and tried to block out the image of Sam laying back into the pillows the first time he offered to do the same for Dean.

It turned out to be one of the best decisions Dean had ever made.


fast forward


"Don't you dare fucking die on me," Dean snarled, but Ty's eyes were already filmed over with the red dirt of Goblin Valley. He didn't even manage to reach Ty in time to get any last words in. He didn't even get to apologize for failing him.

The arachnid, a huge fucking spider monster had injected some kind of poison into Ty's body that was eating him from the inside out. Some of the monster's pinchers and antennae still jerked in its own death throes from the same poison that Dean stabbed it with. He almost hoped that it would jump back up like the monsters in the movies that refused to die and finish him off too. It was only what he deserved.

He bent his head down to touch his forehead with Ty's but a sudden stench had him jerking away. Under his hands, Ty's skin started to run, sliding away from his muscles and puddling anywhere that pulled while Dean held him. His face was the worst part, inky veins tracing up from the point that the spider had pierced. It wasn't any way for a man to die; wasn't how any hunter ever wanted to go.

Dean forced himself to drop Ty's body and scramble away when muscle and bone also turned soft. Within just a few minutes of death, Ty was gone. There wasn't anything to bury, nothing to burn, nothing to take back and give to his mom. And it was all Dean's fault. He was going to have to go back to the house Ty had grown up in empty handed and tell the woman who had teased and laughed and called him the second son she'd always wanted that he had failed.

She'd only asked one thing of him. To bring Ty back to her and he couldn't even do that.

In the distance he heard a howl. Wolf's final goodbye.


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"Dean. Dean! Wake up!"

Dean jerked awake, feeling like he was pulling the desert out of his nightmare through a hole in his chest as he tried to claw his way into the real world. Ty's face stayed with him, deformed and mangled away from his handsome features. He knuckled his eyes, rubbing until it hurt enough that he dropped his hands back in his lap.

"Dean?"

He was still in bed next to Sam, both of them naked except for the blanket that barely stretched to cover them. Dean shouldn't have been surprised to feel how right it was to feel Sam's skin against his own. He flushed guiltily at dreaming of Ty while sleeping with Sam, but he couldn't manage to move away. It felt too good to touch someone he cared about again, even if he should knew better than to let himself relax.

Sam didn't ask; he just laid back down with his arm out in a silent invitation. That was probably the only reason Dean could shut his eyes and settle down himself. He just happened to settle right in the curve of Sam's chest. He wasn't cuddling and he didn't need his baby brother to comfort him. He faced the window, but he brought his hand up to cup Sam's bicep under his cheek.

"I've been here before," he said, needing to get the words out. He'd never told anyone about Ty, about what happened. When Dad finally showed up, he hadn't said a word about what he'd been doing for those six months after Sam, and Dean, like he so often did, followed Dad's example. He'd avoided Utah, avoided fucking men, and avoided every memory he'd ever made of Ty.

Sam chuckled a little, just a low rumble in his chest that Dean felt even through his spine. "Yeah," he said, "I kinda figured that."

"It didn't end well."

This time Sam placed a tentative hand on Dean's side before he answered, "I thought that was probably the case too."

Dean closed his eyes and shuddered when Ty immediately popped back up in his imagination. That Ty looked even worse than the last time Dean saw him. His skin grey and greasy, falling in waves from his body, his eyes inky coals as he reached for Dean. Ty's mouth gaped open, an empty void, but nothing came out, not accusations, and not forgiveness.

"Dean?"

"We have to so see Talia West," Dean said, slurring the words together so badly that it was probably a miracle that Sam could understand him at all. It was just about the last thing in the world that he wanted to do, but then again, that was about par for the course. He would have thought that he'd be more numb after a vacation in Hell, but every new slice hurt just as much as the first.

Sam rubbed circles into Dean's tense muscles, working with his fingers to get Dean to relax despite everything that was going on in his mind. "Why?" he asked. He pulled out the calming voice that Dean hated so much because it worked. "Who is she?"

"She's the woman who slapped me when we first got here," Dean explained, tiredness suddenly overtaking him. He closed his eyes again, this time greeted by blessed darkness instead of images of his dying lover. "Because she'll know what's going on."

He blinked his eyes open and focused long enough to read the bedside clock. He'd only been asleep for about an hour and it would be dark for a while yet. He sighed, shifted closer to Sam, and had one more thought before he slipped asleep again. And because I killed her son and I deserve whatever punishment she can think up.


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Talia didn't look surprised to see them when they pulled up in front of her trailer. Serena hadn't been happy when Dean barged in and basically demanded the medicine woman's new address, but she'd eventually given in. He hadn't thought that Talia would ever move, but the memories must have just been too much for her.

They sat in the car longer than usual, but Sam just kept quiet and let Dean work through his panic attack by himself. He thought nothing would ever be as bad as his last trip in an airplane, but this was worse to about the millionth degree. The temperature in the car rapidly grew hotter, and he wasn't going to get anywhere by just sitting in place. He put his hand on the latch.

Eventually, Sam reached over Dean's lap, put his hand on top of Dean's and opened the door for him. He looked out the front window, but he said, "Whatever happened before, and whatever happens now, I'm going to be right behind you. Got it?"

"Fuck Sam, I'm not a nutcase," Dean mumbled, but it lacked any heat that would have let him convince Sam that he really wasn't at the breaking point. No wonder Sam thought he was weak, really the only question mark was how long Sam would tow him around.

"Whatever, dude," Sam said, his voice gentle and teasing, and just what Dean didn't need, "you look a little nutty."

"I hate you."

"You love me."

Dean didn't argue, but he did finally climb out of the car. He took a moment to stretch, his shoulders popped as he reached them up and behind his head. The little trailer was neat, tidy with an awning and small picnic table out in front. Talia had a desert garden on one side of the trailer; she used to be one of the few who could nurture a hardy plant through the desert's mood swings, but now her garden wasted away dead. The plants appeared fragile enough to snap and blow away the second a gust of wind came along.

He knew what they felt like. He'd felt the same way all year.

There wasn't a fence, but a circle of sage grew to about knee height and surrounded the thin tin building. It would have worked just as well as salt to keep the supernatural out, but it was dead too. A clothing line strung from one metal pole to another held towels shifting in the breeze. Wind chimes hung anywhere they could be strung up, but somehow they barely made a noise in the shifting wind.

"Dean, this is a little," Sam trailed off, nudging Dean so he'd look over and see the stacks of small bones sitting at the four corners of the trailer.

"Creepy," Dean finished for him. Talia had known her mojo before, but she'd never been so dark in her leanings. The last time Dean had actually been invited into Talia's house, she'd kept it filled with living plants, history books, and learning tools. Children from all over the reservation had stopped by and known that they'd be welcome.

This place wasn't anything like that. Instead, the very air smelled like death and he doubted whether children came anywhere near the place. They probably told each other stories about the witch that lived there and ate little children who trespassed.

Before either of them took another step, the door shoved open, hard enough to bang against the side of the trailer and bounce back nearly shut. Talia's hand caught the edge of the door, her twisted knuckles gripped it tight like that little bit of screen and metal was the only thing holding her to this world. "You have a lot of nerve, Dean Winchester," she said with a voice that was nearly as low and gravelly as his had become.

"I know," Dean tried not to flinch at the sound of his own voice, "but I wouldn't have come if it wasn't important."

"I've already learned that your version of important does not line up with mine," she said. She wore a beaded tank top and flowing skirt in deference to the heat. The long braid of her hair hung over her shoulder and down to her waist where one huge owl feather dangled from the end.

Dean shut his mouth quickly and only stifled the urge to step behind Sam by the skin of his teeth. Will had nothing to do with it; shame kept his feet glued to the ground.

"Something's happening in the area, we don't know what," Sam said, drawing Talia's nearly black eyes straight to him. "Now maybe we can stop it and save these people, but we're going to need your help."

She stared at him for so long that even Sam shifted from foot to foot uncomfortable. Finally, she threw her head back and laughed up to the heavens. "You, Samuel Winchester, want my help to save the world?" she asked, tears falling freely from the corners of her eyes. Dean didn't think they were laughter induced at all. "That has to be the funniest thing that I've heard in seven years."

The wind chose that moment to pick up and by the rattling, Dean realized that all the wind chimes were made of bones strung together. He shivered despite the heat. This wasn't the same woman who had raised the happy-go-lucky Ty; she'd been twisted. Ty would have wept to have seen her like this.

"I'm sorry," Dean said, feeling almost carried away by the weight of his feelings. "I'm so sorry and if you still have the same talent for reading my emotions that you used to have, then you know that."

"I guess everything's forgiven then."

Sam squeezed Dean's arm, and lowered his head. Dean could tell by the set of his shoulders that he was angry and working up to a full blown bitchfest. "I don't know what happened between you two, but can't you set it aside for now?" Sam asked, somehow managing to hold back his temper. "People are going to die unless we can figure out what's going on!"

Dean couldn't help boggling at Sam as he tried to convince Talia to set aside her need for revenge for the common good. Sam didn't notice; maybe he didn't see the irony that Dean did.

"Talia, I know that I owe you a debt that I can never repay," Dean's voice cut through the noise, silencing the bones and the anger. "I ruined your life, and you can hate me until the day I die. But you used to help people. You used to fight evil."

"You killed my son," Talia said, disgust clear in the curl of her lip. "As far as I'm concerned, the rest of the world can burn. Blood woke the dessert up all those years ago, and only blood will silence it again. This is your fault Winchester, and you can clean up your own goddamned mess. It will all be over tomorrow. When the sun sinks the desert will break and everyone will know the kind of pain I've lived with."

She slammed the door shut and left them standing in the heat. Dean slumped his shoulders and turned back to the car. With every step he got angrier, rage at life and everything nearly blinding him.

"You know what we have to do," Dean said, once he and Sam got into the car. He jerked the Impala into reverse and peeled out of the small driveway. He shouldn't be taking his emotions out on the car, but it was either that or fall apart completely, and he couldn't afford to do that. Not yet.

"Yeah," Sam replied in the tone of voice that meant he was gearing up for an argument. "We have to do more research and maybe call Bobby in for some back up."

Dean's lip curled, but he kept his eyes trained on the road in front of him. It was maybe a fifteen minute ride back to town and their hotel room. "Now who's holding who back?" he taunted, angry enough to finally throw those words back in Sam's face. "No, I have to go out to Goblin Valley tonight. That's the only way that this is going to end. I'm going to end it."

"That woman is not stable," Sam said, his tone going icy-hot with anger. "We are not taking anything she says on faith. We research, we go back to Hallow Creek, and we wait to see what else turns up."










The motel air conditioner thumped in rhythm with Dean's heartbeat. Its motor worked hard just to keep the room ten degrees shy of the afternoon heat. They'd wasted the morning trying to research, but Dean had flinched away from the disappearances seven years ago. He already knew everything there was to know about them from when he and Ty had done the research. Sam had let him, but the expression on his face told Dean he wasn't going to let it go forever.

Dean tucked his shirt in and reached for his sash. He tied it around his waist and checked out his handiwork in the mirror. The huge knot at his hip made him look like a retarded six year old girl. Cursing, he ripped it off and tried again, but without any better success. He could disassemble a gun and put it back together in a minute, but he couldn't even tie a sash.

"Here, let me do it," Sam offered, walking out of the bathroom as he straightened his collar. He stepped close to Dean's back and wrapped his arms around Dean's waist. "I guess you were too busy staring at her breasts to watch the way she tied it."

"I only have eyes for your breasts, Sam," Dean teased, as he lifted his arms to shoulder height to give Sam room to work with. He leaned back and felt Sam take his weight without moving. He fit into the curve of Sam's chest like he belonged there, and despite the build up of extra heat between them, he could probably have stayed there forever.

Deftly, Sam unwound the sash once from Dean's waist, giving him longer ends to work with. Somehow, he managed to tuck the material tight enough that it wouldn't slip under Dean's gun belt while draping the ends to fall to the side. Instead of moving away when he finished, Sam cupped his palms over Dean's hip bones and rested his chin on Dean's shoulder. "There," he said, looking at them in the mirror, "now you'll be the prettiest girl at the prom."

"I think that's my line," Dean answered, but he did drop his hands to cover Sam's wrists. He stayed still even knowing that every second would make it harder to pull away in the end. "Sam, we shouldn't -"

"I'm not giving up on this just because last night didn't go the way I wanted it to. You know me better than that," Sam cut in. He pulled Dean back more firmly to feel Sam rubbing up against his ass. "We'll figure this out."

"Don't hold your breath, Sam," Dean warned, finally steeling himself to push Sam's hands away so he could slip out of the embrace. In the back of his mind, he was already wondering if he'd manage to escape Goblin Valley a second time. He didn't want to leave Sam with that kind of pain again. "I can't go through that again. I won't."

Sam let him go, but didn't let the conversation drop. "I don't understand why," he said, grinding his teeth, "you know we're stronger together."

"Yeah, we are. Too bad there's a demon bitch between us," Dean retorted, tying a handkerchief around his neck. If he just kept putting on layers, maybe he could get some perspective, "and threesomes are like communism. They work in theory, but not so much in practice."

"Stop making this about Ruby, Dean," Sam yelled, finally slamming his fist into the wall. The plaster crumbled and several large pieces fell, but Sam either didn't notice or didn't care. "This is about whatever happened to you after I went away to college. You gotta talk to me, man, I thought you were with Dad?"

"I just got an important call, son, I might be gone for a while, but I know I can count on you to keep doing the job."

Dean frowned at the beat up Firebird he was supposed to drive and tried to talk some sense into his dad one more time. "I should go with you, Dad," he said, trying to keep his voice even so he wouldn't betray his neediness. "Family should stick together."

Family didn't abandon each other.

"You can't go, Dean," John replied, rearranging the trunk to make room for an extra bag Dean had never seen before. They'd already halved the weapons and the scant bit of cash they had between them. "I don't want to hear anymore backtalk either."

"Yes, sir," Dean answered dully, straightening his spine and relaxing his fists.

John slammed the trunk and turned, running his hand through his hair, but he didn't quite meet Dean's eyes. "I'll call when I call," he said abruptly, walking to the Impala's driver side door. "Just keep working the cases I gave you. I don't need to tell you to be careful."

"Yes, sir," Dean repeated, and stepped back out of the spray of gravel as his father and his home peeled out of the parking lot. He stood still until the car was out of sight, and then walked over to the Firebird and kicked the tire as hard as he could. The knees in his jeans ripped as he hit the ground, "Pussy."


Dean cleared his throat and grabbed his hat from on top of the lamp shade where he'd left it last night. "C'mon, we're going to be late for work," he said and didn't stick around to hear anything Sam might have said. The sun hit him like a hammer, and not for the first time, Dean longed for the simplicity of the torture rack.


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Hallow Creek was busier on Friday, more tourists and locals crowding around in the street and buildings. All the seats in front of the stage for the first couple of shows were full, and the dancers and actors grinned wildly while they pocketed their tips. The guy that did rope tricks winked at Dean as he lassoed a pair of giggly blonde twins and pulled them into his lap. Even Duke managed to get free from the dry-out tank and convinced some lobster-red Easterners to share their beer.

Fortunately, they didn't have a repeat of last night's weirdness. Dean still itched to get to it and kill something, wanting to get away from this place and all the memories. Unfortunately, he let Sam talk him into giving Hallow Creek another night. He thought Sam just stalled to give Ruby some extra time to figure out how to screw them over.

Dean watched most the demonstrations, leaning against a fence or nearby pole while he drawled his criticisms. He had the most fun making cheap shots at the lawmen when they got up for shooting demonstrations. A perk of being a bad guy. He could be as obnoxious as he wanted, and for some reason, the girls just ate it up. He found slipping into character too easy; Dean didn't want to think about his problems any more than he'd want to live them.

He escorted women up and down the street, from the chuck wagon to the riding arena, and told them stories about how many robberies he'd committed or how many shootouts he'd won. Some of them were even kind of true except that he had to gloss over some of the finer details about ghosts, monsters, and curses. If the tipping kept up, he was going to make more money honestly than he did hustling pool. He felt as if his entire world had shifted.

Every once in a while, he'd look over a blonde or a red head and see Sam staring at him from the other boardwalk. Dean's mouth went dry and it had nothing to do with the heat from the dying sun. The third time it happened, he excused himself and retreated to the upstairs of the general store that also doubled as the employees lounge. He could feel his walls wearing down under the onslaught of Sam's gaze, and he couldn't afford any more complications.

The Padre was the only other person in the lounge, and he flapped his arms in front of a huge fan trying to cool off. He looked ridiculous with his flat brimmed hat pushed to the back of his head with his eyes closed. He tried to direct the flow of air into one sleeve and out the other, somehow succeeding. He looked up when Dean's boots skidded across the floor.

"Hey, hombre, heard you've been making pretty good time with the chicas down there," he said with an exaggerated leer.

Dean swaggered a little, walking over to the ice chests that had the cheap bottled water. "What can I say, dude, some guys just have the touch," he bragged, throwing a smile over his shoulder before he drank the entire bottle in one go. Honestly, he couldn't have remembered the names or measurements of any of the girls he'd talked to. On the other hand, he didn't even have to close his eyes to see Sam's face.

"Better be careful man, never know when pretty packaging is hiding something that could curdle your insides with a just a look."

"You know, I've met government officials who were less paranoid than you are, Padre. Not a lot, but some," Dean said, bending over to pick up a cube of ice. He brushed it across his forehead and felt a remarkable difference. The melted water dripped down his face and he closed his eyes to enjoy it. "Hey, did you spray some water in front of the fan, or what?"

He had to blink to get the water out of his eyes, and then he blinked some more. Padre's clothes turned into a funeral shroud, tattered and gray with grave dirt. His skin melted away from his bones, tinged red and full of popping veins that dripped clumped black tar. Where his eyes should have been, two smoldering embers burned deep in his skull.

"The man of unwholesome deeds boils in water infested with worms. He cannot stay still."

The voice echoed through the room and in Dean's head, deep with a resonance that shook his very bones. Padre's gaping mouth didn't move; he didn't even a tongue in there to speak with. The thin cocked its head and it moved toward him without taking a single step. The rancid scent of death filled the room, and despite everything that he'd ever smelled in his life, including Sam's first attempt to cook, Dean gagged and fought not to throw up.

"Christo," Dean tried, but the word had no effect. He didn't have anything on him, no holy water, no silver, no salt; just the toy guns tied to his thighs that were less than worthless.

"Then he is in the jungle of sword blades, limbs mangled and hacked, the tongue hauled by hooks, the body beaten and slashed."

Dean could see his breath hanging in the air as the creature moved at him. It left a wake of blackened floorboards behind it, the wood rotted and ruined. Fear gripped him and held him still, unable to move or run or say anything else at all. Dean had never felt so petrified before, he lived by action. He struggled against himself not about to get taken out by some mealy-mouthed thing just out of sight from Sam. A Winchester didn't go down like that.

It was nearly within arm's reach, and Dean still couldn't move. The air froze in his lungs; he was so cold he would have fallen to his knees if he could have moved at all. He glared at the thing that took Padre's body, and if that was the only 'fuck you' he managed to get out, he'd just have to live with that. Well, die with it.

"Then he is sunk into two streams that cut like razors. He falls, living out his unwholesome deeds of the past. Gnawed by hungry jackals, ravens and black dogs, and speckled vultures and crows, the sufferer groans. This is what the man of unwholesome deeds experiences. It is absolute suffering."

The thing, whatever it was that took the Padre's body and twisted it to hell, rushed the last few feet to him. It hit him square in the chest, knocking Dean down where his head crashed into the floorboard. He saw light crackle like spidered lightening crawling across his skin and the monster – it – passed over him. The next second, he heard the window splinter and tiny shards of glass exploded over his head.

Just like that, he could move again, his body warming up like so much muddy sludge after a winter's worth of snow. He scrambled up and crawled on his hands and knees to the window. Glass left his palms painted red, and made his knee bone grind unpleasantly. The window was completely gone, just a gaping hole in the wall. Outside Padre made a broken puddle in the sand, completely restored to the man that Dean had met before.

Jerking his head to the side, Dean puked up the water that he'd drank and bile left over from lunch. His stomach muscles rippled as he heaved over and over until they cramped into one long ache. Finally, he clawed himself up to his feet and staggered out to the landing and limped down the stairs. He couldn't think, his brain so far on autopilot that he couldn't come up with a believable cover story for why the Padre had just taken a swan dive.

They'd have to make a run for it before the police showed up. They couldn't afford to get locked up with so many seals breaking right and left. He'd get his wish and they'd have to head straight out to Goblin Valley, but somehow Dean didn't think that's what he wanted anymore. After seeing that disgusting thing and feeling certain that he was about to die for real, he discovered he mostly just wanted Sam.

He couldn't believe no one had started any screaming yet. Maybe everyone was still inside one of the other buildings, or shock kept them silent. Dean hit the general store's swinging door with his shoulder and nearly tripped over the threshold. He bit back a curse of pain and ducked his chin down into his chest waiting for the dizziness to pass.

"Hey, hombre, what's the matter with you? You look like you've seen a ghost."

Dean's head snapped up in time for him to see a completely whole, non-dead or disfigured Padre walking up the steps toward him. Dean held up his hands checking for blood but found his palms clean and undamaged. Looking down to the ground, he didn't see any of the expected broken glass, nothing to even suggest something weird had just happened. Instead, people stared at him strangely.

If there'd been anything left in his stomach, he'd have thrown up again.


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"One more time, what did it say to you?" Sam asked when they managed to sneak away in a lull after the Indian dance showcase and before the raunchy cowboy poetry started.. He'd managed to cover up Dean's earlier freak out with an impromptu lecture about firearm safety. Nothing else had happened.

Dean jerked his hat off and pulled at his hair. His drying sweat kept his hair spiked up between his fingers and made his scalp itch. "I don't really remember, you know? The fucking thing had me shaking in my boots, and you know I don't shake," he had to really concentrate to keep his voice down. David was already looking at them sideways.

It was close to midnight and most of the families had already cleared out, leaving behind the single and the desperate. The atmosphere had changed and with it Hallow Creek's hookers had lost another couple of layers. It was just the sort of party that he used to look for, but he really just wanted to grab Sam and bail on the whole job. They could drive out to Minnesota and rent a cabin on a lake for a week. He'd always wanted to try fishing.

"Dean, I need you to concentrate, it could be important."

"Don't you think I'm trying? That thing muttered something about the man of unwholesome deeds and all the ways I was going to be tortured," Dean answered, mashing his hat back on his head. "Like that's anything new."

Sam's face wrinkled in confusion, "What do you mean? You're going to meet a 'man of unwholesome deeds' and he's going to torture you?"

"No, the guy who's doing dirty deeds for dirt cheap is going to get mangled, but look around, dude," Dean spread his arms wide, "if there's anyone around here unwholesome, it's probably me."

Somewhere nearby, a door opened and piano music and laughter spilled out into the night. Even if anyone happened to look down the alley in their direction, the shadows and a couple of stacked boxes would shelter them. The soft light from the lanterns only breeched halfway down the wall. They might as well have been alone on the moon.

"I don't buy it, not anymore," Sam said as he paced the short space between the buildings. The whites of his eyes shone bright in the night. "If you had sins, then you paid for them already. They can't keep jerking you around. There's no reason –"

"You don't know, Sam," Dean cut in before Sam could really get a steam going. They'd had this argument before about a dozen times, and it never ended well for either of them. "You don't know, but I can think of a handful of reasons and there ain't one of them I feel like sharing right now."

After several minutes of silence, Sam finally spoke again, "So what do you think it was?"

Dean had been on edge for hours, and he'd taken the precautions of replacing the ammo in his left sided six-shooter with small silver rounds. They'd only be good in certain situations, but they were better than nothing. "I don't know," he said, frustration putting him near the breaking point. "Witch maybe, or a death omen. I wouldn't put it past a demon to orchestrate something like that."

"Ruby didn't have anything to do with it, Dean," Sam protested, tone gritted between his teeth.

Rolling his eyes, Dean popped his knuckles, thinking dark thoughts about what he'd do when he finally got his hands on that demon bitch. "You're the one who brought her up, dude," he said, "I was just trying out suggestions."

Sam took a visible breath and calmed down. "I don't know. It altered your perception, right? I mean, you saw the window break? Felt the pain?" he waited for Dean's nod before he continued. "That would take some serious mojo, not the run of the mill stuff we've been dealing with so far."

"Yeah, well nothing in this whole fucked up case makes much sense," Dean said. They had found enough EMF to power a small town, but not any actual spiritual activity, migrating creatures that shouldn't be able to move from their point of origin, and an entire town that didn't seem to care. If there wasn't some sort of puppet master pulling the strings, then Dean would eat his cowboy hat.

"Maybe it's time you told me what happened before," Sam pushed, crowding Dean into the wall before Dean could move out of the way. Sam's long coat enfolded him, finally chasing away the last of the chill that the creature left for him.

"Maybe it's time that I punch you in the face. Get off me."

Sam, being the contrary soul he'd always been, pressed closer, straining against Dean's chest and thighs. He cupped the bottom of Dean's jaw and pulled his head up. "Who was that woman's son?" he asked. "What did he have to do with you?"

Dean locked his jaw and focused on the bottom of Sam's sideburn. He jerked his head up, glaring when Sam forced his knee between Dean's legs, but he bit his lip to keep from making any noise. Sam's body was hard and hot, making Dean break out in another sweat. He probably could move Sam away without hurting anyone. They both trained for silence; there would be no shouts to alert anyone.

Ever since he'd picked Sam up at Stanford, but especially since he'd started bulking up, Dean had been fascinated by the changes. He might be older, but the idea of Sam holding him down made heat lance through his belly. When they'd been together before, he'd always taken the lead, knowing that if they made any mistakes, he wanted to be able to take the blame. That was what he did.

Now though, he wanted Sam on top of him. Inside him.

He couldn't risk it. Sam had already proven that he wasn't in it for the long haul. Not as a brother and not as a lover. Dean couldn't afford the time it would take to put himself back together when Sam ripped him apart again. Not if he wanted to run whatever suicide mission that the angels tossed in his lap next.

"Get off me, please."

Sam backed away, but left his hand on Dean's cheek. His fingers spread across Dean's skin, and his thumb caught the corner of Dean's eye, rubbing back and forth with tenderness. "I'm here, Dean," he insisted, and dipped his head in slowly so that Dean could avoid the kiss if he really wanted to.

He didn't move. Dean opened his mouth readily, and let Sam tip his head, taking control of the kiss. It didn't feel the night before; instead, their mouths met softly, the only point of contact besides Sam's hand. Sam sucked on Dean's lower lip, licking up the outside corner of Dean's mouth. One of them, Dean wasn't sure, couldn't be sure of much anything anymore, made a small noise and Sam pulled away, ducking his head under Dean's jaw.

"I'm right here, Dean," Sam repeated, breathing hard into Dean's neck, "and I'm not going anywhere. I love you and I'm strong enough now that I can carry you for once."

It was so tempting. Tempting to just send up the white flag and let Sam have what he wanted. Sam could take responsibility, it could be his turn for a while. He could save the world. Maybe. Or maybe, it was never Dean's turn to get a little rest. Never his turn to get a breather, because the second he tried that was when the world lost.

He tensed under Sam, pushed his brother away with a hand to the shoulder. It should have been tempting, but he knew he didn't have any real choices. Sacrifice for everyone else made his path easy to see. He grazed his knuckles under Sam's chin and tried to force a grin. He could tell by Sam's lowered eyebrows that he wasn't buying Dean's bravado, but he did back off and that was really all he could ask for.

"I just want you to be okay. For us to be okay," Sam said, walking away. He stopped at the edge of the building and angled his face so Dean could see his profile against the soft yellow lighting of the lanterns. "Just say the word, Dean."

Sam stepped out of sight, and Dean looked up just in time to see the moon blotted out by the wings of a large bird.


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So, it probably wasn't the best idea for Dean to accept Serena's invitation to the bar that night. Although really, it wasn't so much a matter of accepting as much as it was agreeing to meet her there before she twisted his nipple off. She'd just "happened" to run into him as they were closing down the town and let him know in no uncertain terms that she required his presence.

Of course, he could have blown her off. Sam and he about a million other things they could and should be doing. That would have left him alone with Same though, and Dean didn't know what he'd do if Sam kissed him again. Better not to tempt fate.

The bar was just like he'd remembered it, unchanged down to the squeaky chair that he managed to get stuck with again. The music still blared through crappy speakers, too loud and too scratchy, and the women, whose center of gravity could in no way be natural, still shimmied up and down the counter dancing to it. The booze was still cheap and it was still the best flowing river through the area.

Dean decided early on to take it easy. He nursed his third beer while Serena dived hip deep into her third pitcher with her sister. Even Sam had adopted a loose-boned sprawl that worked the room, but Dean knew that Sam was probably less tipsy even than he was. Dean had expected more resistance when he told Sam where they were going, but Sam surprised him with easy acceptance. Probably, that just meant Sam was up to something so Dean stayed on his guard.

"Hey there, Prairie Songbird," Serena slurred, leaning heavy into Dean's side as she used the old nickname. "Isn't it about time you warbled us a tune?"

Laughing, Dean took another drink before he put his glass down so he could have both hands to steady Serena back into her chair before they both ended up horizontal. "Sweetheart, there is not enough liquor left in the state that could get me up to do karaoke," he said, shaking his head.

"But you sang so sweetly," Serena pushed, the thin spaghetti straps of her top kept falling over her shoulders and gave him more of an eyeful than he'd ever wanted. Not that she wasn't pretty enough in her own way, but Dean could still feel Sam's big hands wrapped around him. Warmth still flooded his veins every time he caught Sam staring at him over the table.

"Dean? Singing? Seriously?" Sam asked, speaking slowly while he drew a damp devil's trap in the water condensation on the table. "You must have been wasted. My brother has many talents, but singing has never been one of them."

Serena chuckled, gesturing wide with the hand still holding her glass and sloshing beer over her sister and most of the table. "I remember hearing stories about Dean's many talents. That Ty always was as much of a gossip as any of the girls," she said, her eyes closed making her miss both Dean hunching over in his chair and Sam straightening up to give her all of his attention.

"Ty, huh?" Sam question, leading her on before Dean could change the subject.

"Oh, yes," Serena smiled when Sam leaned over and refilled her glass. "Ty was a beautiful man, and it was easy to see how much he adored Dean. I think we all lived a little vicariously through him when he'd call to check in with his mother. She used to have a store here in town, you know. They were so in love."

The jukebox turned over a new record and the screeching female voice turned over to a low crooning male. Dean chugged the rest of his drink, the beer lukewarm and disgusting, but the ball of foam in his stomach helped settle him. Hearing that name aloud after so long wasn't as end-of-the-world painful as he'd thought it would be. Now that he finally poked the scab he found that the wound underneath more healed than he expected.

"They had that mangy cuss of a dog too," she continued, oblivious to Dean's discomfort. "Some kind of a mix breed that was half outrageous flirt and half humongous dork. Kinda like them boys were." She spoke as if Dean wasn't there, and then paused, wiping her hand across her eyes. "Still think I catch sight of that hound every now and then."

Dean had never seen Wolf again after Ty died, no matter how loud he called and rattled his food bowl. He couldn't imagine one without the other, and apparently neither could Wolf. Eventually, he'd just chalked it up to another one of his failures, one more broken promise in a long line.

"It really was too bad about that hunting accident, and Talia never was the same again. I can't imagine losing a child, but she grew distant, even kinda mean," Serena said, hugging her sister. "Course, we all miss the kid. That smile of his could light the way home."

"I'm going to go get another pitcher," Dean announced, shoving away from the table. The girls were too deep into their mourning to notice, but Sam stood quickly to follow him.

He didn't bother with the bar, just blindly struck out for the back hallway which housed two single-stalled restrooms, but more importantly, the side door outside. Hitting the door hard, it snapped back against the building, but Dean just followed the concrete sidewalk to the shed and then slipped around the side. No one would see him there.

"You were happy once, weren't you?" Sam asked, following him outside. The noise from the bar wasn't much softer, but it was muffled so they couldn't make out any distinct voices. Distantly, Dean could hear the sounds from the highway, but it wasn't enough to let him ignore Sam's question. "What happened, man?"

Dean pushed his knuckles into his eyes until the pain finally made him blink away the tiny balls of light that exploded on the back of his eyelids. "It's a rough gig," he replied, the words catching in his throat, "you should know that better than anyone."

It had been Dean's plan. He was the experienced one, trained like a warrior from childhood, but his case, his research, and his stupid idea that got Ty killed before his time. Ty walked in, trusting Dean to get him out, but instead he just got real dead in a painful and horrible way. He shouldn't have let the kid hang around for as long as he did, he shouldn't have gotten comfortable. He shouldn't have gotten happy.

"Dean?" Sam put a tentative hand on Dean's shoulder.

Sam wasn't the first lover that Dean had gotten killed.

"Shut up and kiss me," Dean said, grabbing Sam's neck and crashing their bodies together.

Sam's hands bit into his hips, slamming him back into the wall. Bricks dug deep through Dean's thin t-shirt, but he groaned out loud when Sam grabbed his thighs and bucked him back. Dean twisted his legs around Sam's waist and locked his ankles together. His stomach felt like he was on a roller coaster ride, jumping and squirming as his dick filled and his jeans pinched.

He couldn't breathe and he didn't care. Sam's body covered his just like he used to outweigh his little brother. The scales tipped back the other way, and Dean found himself in the passenger seat as Sam hitched him up, rubbing their dicks together through their pants. Dean wiggled, grabbing handfuls of Sam's t-shirt as he dug the heel of his boot into Sam's flank. He was going to come in his pants, and for once he didn't give a shit.

"Wait, wait," Sam panted, pushing his face down into Dean's chest where his tattoo colored his flesh. It was as if his body wouldn't quite listen, because his hips kept jerking up into Dean.

Dean groaned, curling his fingers through Sam's long hair. He licked his lips, "Not really my call here, bro." He flexed against Sam's hold, and barely managed to move an inch.

Sam pawed through Dean's jeans, much to Dean's enjoyment, but he had to snort in disbelief when Sam just snagged the Impala's keys and smiled triumphantly. "Come on," he said, slowly steadying Dean while he set his feet back on the ground. "Let's go back to the motel and do this right."

"Such a romantic," Dean teased, but he willingly followed Sam back through the bar and out the other side to the parking lot. They managed to avoid Serena and her sister, and their luck held, letting Sam drive ten miles over the limit all the way back to the motel.

They sat in silence in the car while the engine hissed and popped, cooling down. The door to their room was a teal beacon in front of them, and Dean couldn't take his eyes off of it. The ride hadn't cooled them off any, mostly because Sam's fingers rubbed up and down Dean's inseam the entire way back. Dean kept his thoughts to himself and nearly jumped when Sam finally spoke.

"You gotta tell me now if you don't want to do this," Sam said, his hands wringing the steering wheel like he wished it was someone's neck. Veins stood out on his forearms as his muscles clenched. "If we get through that door, it's going to be harder to stop for both of us."

"Oh, you big hunk of man," Dean mocked in an even deadpan voice. He scrubbed his palms over his jeans to dry them off. "I'm yours. Take me, take me now."

He nearly got a case of whiplash when Sam grabbed his jaw and twisted his head around for another kiss. Sam didn't even pretend to ask for permission as he held Dean exactly where he wanted and licked his tongue past Dean's. After a second, he pushed their foreheads together and they panted into each other's mouths.

"C'mon," Sam urged, pulling away slowly like it hurt him to put so much distance between them. "Let's get inside."

Dean ignored the shaking in his hands as he shut the car door, just as he ignored the small voice in the back of his head telling him what a bad idea it was opening up to Sam again. He shoved his doubt down along with the beer rolling in his gut and plastered himself to Sam's side while Sam fought with the crappy, ancient door lock. His fingers dipping into the back of Sam's waistband probably didn't help much.

The second they stumbled in, Sam slammed the door and tugged Dean back against him. Sam's arms were heavy across Dean's chest and for a second he twitched, thinking about fighting the hold, but then he relaxed into it. He fit his legs inside the vee of Sam's thighs and felt Sam's dick pressing insistently against his ass.

"Dean. Dean, I want to fuck you," said Sam, soft enough that Dean wouldn't have heard him except that Sam's lips brushed the tip of his ear.

Unlike before, Dean almost went boneless. The buzz in his brain drowned out anything else that could have distracted him from Sam's hands, or his mouth. "Yeah," he grunted, tipping his head to the side, "yeah, I want you to."

"Seriously?" Sam stopped what he was doing and held Dean still.

Without turning, Dean could almost see Sam's face twist up in confusion, and he tried to pull away. "Not if you're gonna be a tease," he said, though he made sure that he pushed his ass against Sam's dick while he moved. The habit of trying to one-up Sam was easy to slip into in the lack of any other option.

"Oh, I'm going to tease," Sam promised, his grip on Dean tightened almost painfully as he steered them to the bed on the far side that they hadn't used yet. He spun Dean around and they kissed, he bit this time, worrying Dean's lip and even his tongue before shoving Dean back on the bed.

Sprawled out on the bed, Dean looked up at Sam and suddenly saw him like it was the first time. He could see parts of himself in Sam, parts of Dad, pieces of the people that they'd met, but most of Sam was of his own making now, forged in the forty years that Dean had spent in hell. He stood, confidently shedding his clothing while Dean watched with hooded eyes and then he climbed on the bed, straddling Dean's body.

"I'm going to tease you," Sam nipped at the inside of Dean's thigh, "I'll tease you and then I'll give you exactly," he nuzzled over the bulge of Dean's dick and then continued up, pausing only to bite and the soft skin just above the waistband of Dean's jeans, "what you," he pushed Dean's shirt up and licked over his chest before he kissed Dean's mouth again. Sam leaned back, grinned and finished his sentence, "want."

"Promises make a poor dinner," Dean quoted, fumbling between their bodies to work on his belt. Thankfully, he hadn't tied his boots back when he'd changed into his jeans and he kicked them off. "They also make bad lube."

Sam helped get his clothes off, and in no time it was flesh against flesh as they moved together on the bed. The uncertainty of before had disappeared. When Dean decided made up his mind, he followed through, and Sam didn't make it a difficult choice. They were both going to be covered with tiny finger shaped smudges over their bodies, because they couldn't keep their hands to themselves.

It had been a long time since Dean took his time with the necking part of the night, and it felt good to let Sam do most of the work. Eventually, Sam rolled to the side and up to his feet, searching through the sheets on the other bed. He found the lube and tossed it next to Dean's hip. He pushed Dean's legs apart and kneeled in the space between.

Dean's breath hitched as Sam leaned down and took him in his mouth. The wet suction had Dean arching up the bed and Sam had to hold his hips down to keep from choking. He didn't stay there long though, making Dean groan in protest. A second later, Dean moaned as Sam dropped his tongue behind Dean's balls and licked all the way back to his hole. His thighs jerked, muscles tightening, but Sam caught him again, holding him in place.

Sam's tongue dug into Dean until he could add a finger, widening the small opening. Most of Dean's brain was already offline, but he managed to grab the extra pillow and bunch it under his head so he could see Sam between his legs. He curled his hand around his dick, holding it against his stomach while Sam pushed his leg up to get more room.

"God, Dean," Sam groaned, when he came up for air. His fingers kept pushing into Dean, aided by the lube until he had three in down to his knuckles. "I've wanted to do this for so long. You have no idea."

"I might have some idea," Dean said, rolling his hips down into Sam's hand. Even if he'd kept his hands to himself since he picked Sam up from Stanford, it didn't mean he didn't have eyes. He'd looked enough to catch Sam looking back every once in a while. Ignoring it just happened to be the easier option at the time. "You gonna get to the main event any time soon, little brother?"

Laughing, Sam pulled Dean down the bed until his hips canted up on Sam's knees. He bent down, lifting Dean's lower body as he kissed Dean again. "I think maybe I can oblige you, big brother," he said when he finally straightened back up.

Dean wrapped his fists in the bed sheet as Sam pushed inside him. Sam was bigger than three fingers, but he didn't spare Dean as he immediately started rocking back and forth until he was fully inside. Dean heard the sheets rip and he realized that he'd stopped breathing. Sam was looking at him expectantly and Dean finally drew in a rasping breath through his raw throat.

"Go on," Dean grunted, wrapping his legs back around Sam's waist. The stretching pain hadn't gone away, but it was the good kind of burn, like the stretch of his limits that let him know he was alive. He wrapped his hand back around his dick, but Sam knocked it away and palmed Dean's dick himself.

"Enjoy it, Dean, 'cause we're doing this tomorrow and the next day and for the rest of our lives," Sam said, leaning his weight on his free hand, and changing the angle until he hit Dean's sweet spot with every other push.

The bed bumped against the wall in time with Sam's movements, and Dean imagined that the people next door heard quite the show. He traced his hand up Sam's arm, felt muscles move, rippling with controlled strength. He lowered his eyelids and smirked, "Like your wrinkly old ass will still be keeping up with me. I'm gonna be spinning my wheelchair, leading on half a dozen blue haired old ladies."

"First of all, there aren't any ladies in your future, blue haired or not," Sam gripped Dean's dick a hair too tight, wringing it from the bottom to the top, milking him for all he was worth. "Second, I must be doing this wrong if you can still make jokes."

Sam rode him hard; they strained and sweated together until Sam finally stilled and they both came, flying apart as if flayed to the bone. Dean heaved, his chest rising and falling as he gasped. He felt bared naked to the soul, but Sam just crashed to the side, curling into Dean's body. The sweat on his body cooled fast except where Sam pressed up against him. This was the way they were supposed to be, together made from the same blood and bone.

Sam tapped idly on Dean's chest and smiled when Dean turned his head. "So," he said, chewing on the corner of his bottom lip, "was it good for you?"

"You smug son of a bitch," Dean smiled, shaking his head. He rolled off the bed and stretched his arms over his head, smirking when Sam dropped his eyes. He leaned over and grabbed his jeans, pulling them on before he reached for the keys, "I'm going to go grab the extra salt from the car. I'm not going to sleep good tonight unless I lay the lines."

He was at the door before Sam called out, "Hurry back, honey."

"Everyone's a comedian these days," Dean muttered, shutting the door tight behind him. He breathed in the dry air and wished they were further north, somewhere it was still chilly at night. The temperature shouldn't have spiked so high; Dean added it to the column of weird occurrences. Gravel bit into his bare feet as he walked to the back of the Impala.

The single lamp flickered on and off, but they'd already checked it when they pulled into the motel and decided that it was merely a bad set of wiring. Most of the light came from the neon signs that bracketed the motel and bathed the parking lot in an eerie red tint. There were only a couple of other cars in the lot, their owners long since retired for the night.

Dean stood, slightly bent with his hands fanned out over the trunk. He breathed through his mouth and searched out the tiny imperfections left in bodywork from the crash and his own crowbar-happy melt down. No matter what Dad had said, he'd always taken care of the car better than he had himself. It still felt weird to have less scars than his baby.

"Did you know that salt has over fourteen thousand known uses?"

"Holy fuck!" Dean yelled, jumping as Castiel's voice came out of nowhere. Adrenaline shot through his body, making his heart pound against his chest and his lungs ache. "Jesus, shit. Cas, what have I told you about popping up out of nowhere?"

Castiel just stared at him, and then continued as if Dean never had his freak out, "Ancient Rome used salt to pay its workers. The present day work 'salary' comes from that, 'salarium'."

Dean rolled his eyes; it figured that the angel wouldn't show up for anything useful like telling them where and what the seal actually was. No, it was the same old bull shit the angels been feeding him for months. "Okay, well that was incredibly not interesting. Anything else you want to bore me with?" he asked, feeling more twitchy the longer Castiel stared at him.

It wasn't like he didn't know that both Heaven and Hell had a whole accounting of every sin he'd ever committed. When he was young, he'd thought that the lives he saved and the monsters he'd killed would make up for any indiscretions he happened to trip through. How could fucking his brother really be worse than some of the shit that he saw every day?

Somehow, he'd kinda thought that he'd feel guiltier meeting his angel while he was still freshly fucked from his brother. Still, the Bible was full of incest, and God never seemed to care. As his first year out of Hell drug on, Dean was less and less likely to buy into the whole "special" snowflake theory of his life. God didn't care what he did as long as he willingly played the good little soldier when the time came. One father was just like the other.

Dean slid his key into the lock, and opened the trunk. Before he could even look for it, Castiel held out the salt canister. Taking it, Dean scowled, and continued going through the motions of lifting up the false bottom to check in their weapons stash. The empty space where they'd kept the salt until about five seconds ago glared at him accusingly.

"Salt is important to Hunters, it is protection and safety," Castiel said, turning first his head and then the remainder of his body so he could rest his weight against the car. The longer he stayed with them, the better he became at pretending to be human. Dean made a mental note to take the angel out drinking with him the next chance he got. "Salt doesn't change. It is constant even if you dissolve it in water, the water evaporates and leaves the salt behind undamaged."

"Still waiting for the point, Cas," Dean egged him on and added another notch to his mental tally when he saw Castiel's eye twitch ever so slightly.

"It is like God's love, unchanging and eternal," Castiel said, sliding his hands into his ever present trench coat. No matter how many times Dean tried to explain that the coat wasn't always the best camouflage, the idea never really sank through all that crazy hair. "Like His forgiveness. Dean, if Ty forgave you so long ago, how could you think that God would be so different?"

Dean slammed the trunk lid closed, only slightly careful not to trap Castiel's coat inside. "What the hell do you know?" he snarled, ready to start throwing punches. It had been too long since he felt the comforting sting in his knuckles.

"I know that no one has ever felt anything for me like what you and Sam feel for each other," Castiel answered, his eyes sorrowful while he met Dean's gaze head on. "It is a precious gift."

"Maybe you should try eHarmony," Dean said, turning his back on the angel for his brother.

"Dean, don't let your past trouble your present. Learn to let go. No one can make you go back to Goblin Valley. No one can make you sacrifice."

Dean turned back around, mouth open to tell Castiel to mind his own business, but just snorted as he saw the empty parking lot. He would have given just about anything for that trick back before Sam went to college and no motel room was big enough to fit both his brother and his father. Their fighting drove him crazy, and it never what or if he said anything to try to calm them down; one would just turn their anger on Dean. They wouldn't even have noticed him disappear.

"You all right?" Sam asked from the bed, as soon as Dean opened the door. He sounded as tired as Dean felt, but something in Dean's expression made him sit, ready to get up if he needed.

"Yeah," Dean answered, waving Sam back down. He stooped to run the salt in front of the door. Then he moved over to the window and laid another line. "Just had another mostly unhelpful visit from our friendly neighborhood angel."

Finished with the salt, Dean turned and saw that Sam had left him the side of the bed closest to the door. He'd stripped the top cover off but had pulled the sheet over his lap. Sam had always hated having his feet covered, and even in winter went out of the way to untuck the blankets so he could poke them out every once in a while.

He stripped out of his jeans and turned out the lamp leaving the room in darkness. He easily navigated to the bed and crawled in next to Sam. Dean felt like he sank into the mattress, already half asleep after everything that had happened that day. Rolling onto his side, Dean fit himself in beside his brother.

"Sam, I have to tell you something," Dean said before he could change his mind. He only flinched a little when Sam curled his arm under Dean's shoulders and pulled them more tightly together. "After you left for school, I started drinking. When I stopped, I fell in love."

Sam brushed his fingers over Dean's neck and nodded. "Okay," he said, his voice gentle, "go on."

Clearing his throat, Dean continued, talking long into the night until his voice grew hoarse.







They drove silently to work that afternoon, but not because of some kink of awkward morning-after silence. Sam stretched his arm across the seat and rested his fingers on Dean's shoulder when they pulled off the highway onto the gravel road that led to Hallow Creek. All the questions Sam could think up, Dean answered the night before while Sam locked their legs together.

In the darkness, Dean found his voice, and with that, a weight finally lifted from his shoulders. He couldn't help smiling against Sam's shoulder while he talked about Ty's tendency to tell annoying old Indian parables. His heart stuttered when he told Sam about sleeping with Ty, though for once he kept the details to a minimum. He considered those memories special, and he wanted to keep them safe.

However, even the dark didn't give him enough strength to tell Sam how Ty had died. Dean's throat closed and he couldn't force the words out no matter how much he tried. He'd had a lot of bad days in his life, and the last one he spent at Goblin Valley still ranked high on the list. Sam understood, he had his own losses after all, and just curled around him so they could finally sleep.

They pulled into the back parking lot, taking the last spot right in the middle. It had never been so full before, but David had told them that Saturday was their busiest day. However, despite the cars, there wasn't any of the usual buzzing activity. All that was missing was a lone tumbleweed bouncing down the street.

Dean looked at Sam over the Impala's roof. "What do you think, bro," he asked, cocking his eyebrow, "overnight ghost town?"

"Maybe, let's go see," Sam said, ducking back into the car to get his shotgun. He left his long coat in the backseat, and his suspenders made his shoulders look huge. "Something doesn't feel right."

"Stick close," Dean warned, partly because he wanted to Sam keep him safe, and partly because he wanted to see Sam roll his eyes.

Once they passed the first building, he found the other employees of Hallow Creek already clustered around the Sheriff's office. They were a motley looking bunch half in costume, but completely freaked out. The sound of their hushed voices barely carried over the sand. Dean elbowed his way into the middle of them before he could hear what they were saying.

"Yes, it's horrible." Missy continued, her fan flying in front of her face like she could make it get rid of the memories. "Apparently, David showed up this morning and found them all dead."

"Who?" Dean asked, pushing through the crowd to Missy's side. He ignored Jordan, the blacksmith's growl and put his hand on Missy's upper arm. "Who's dead?"

"The horses," Missy said in a whisper. Her face looked paler even under the powdered makeup she used, and there was no feigning the expression of despair. "He said that all the horses were down with bloated bellies and foam out of their mouth. The stink is just awful."

Sam followed Dean and put his hand on her other shoulder just for a slight squeeze. Jordan had obviously had enough of that and stood to get between them and Missy. Sam easily gave way and moved to Dean's side. "What could cause something like that?" he asked.

"I don't know what could have caused all of them to fall over dead at the same time," Jordan said. He was a big guy, muscled from swinging hammers, but even he looked spooked. His heavy leather apron was tied crooked and hung off one hip. "I mean there's been some weird shit, but what the hell could do that?"

A scream shattered the last, little bit of peace left in the place, causing them all to jump. The group turned in the direction of the yell, and mobbed after it with a hive mind.

Dean grabbed Sam and held him back from the others. "You packing?" he asked, quietly just in case of any stragglers.

"Rock salt in my shotgun, and the knife in my boot," Sam answered, grimly bringing his shotgun up to a ready position. He looked over with his game face on, "You?"

"Silver," Dean answered, and then saw something out of the corner of his eye, "and look, the smithy left a toy behind."

Dean grabbed the branding iron and jerked his head for Sam to follow. It wasn't hard to find the group; they had all clustered at the far end of the street on the other side of the bank. He wrinkled his nose as they walked; a fetid stench filled the air.

"He's dead! Freddy's dead! Oh my god, he's dead!" Missy yelled before her hysteria caught up with her and she fainted, falling back into the already hot sand.

Breaking into a run, Dean rounded the corner in time to see David place a poncho over a dead man's face and shoulders. The man's stomach was bloated, and his clothes were ripped like he'd tried to claw into his own belly. It smelled even worse next to the body, and Dean had to bring up his shirt cuff to breathe through.

"Looks like the same thing that got the horses," David said, crossing himself before he stood up. The crowd backed away, forming a perfect circle around the body.

"So what? Is this some kind of horse flu or something?" Jordan asked, holding Missy in one arm while he fanned her.

"Don't be stupid," David cut in quick, before the panic could start. "Helen, call the police, then call the radio stations and tell them we'll be closed today for some routine cleaning."

Dean elbowed his way to the front and knelt down. The poor bastard had his own gore caked under his fingernails. Other than the obvious, Dean couldn't see any other wounds. He squinted up into the sunlight, "Is anybody else missing?"

"The Padre never clocked in this morning," David answered, massaging his temples.

"The Padre. Son of a bitch," Dean muttered under his breath. He'd had the dude right under his nose and he hadn't seen it. Course, the fucker could be anything, Dean knew that he'd never gone up against anything like it before.

"Hey, Dean."

Standing up, Dean dusted off his knees and walked back to where Sam had stopped. His brother had rolled up his shirt sleeve and crouched next to the trough. Sam glanced up as Dean approached, and let his fingers dangle into the water. "You smell that?" Sam asked.

The water wasn't clear, not like it had been just yesterday. He sniffed again and finally pinned down the scent away from the dirt and dead animal. "Rotten eggs," he replied, wiping his fingers across his eyes. "Sulfur."

Sam slipped his arm into the trough all the way to the bottom. He brought his arm back up and water dripped from his elbow. When he opened his fist, bits of yellow tinted sludge fell back into the trough. Sam nodded, "Sulfur. Wasn't Freddy one of the drunks?"

"Yeah, and he wasn't that great of an actor, either," Dean said, and then remembered the last time he'd seen the guy. "He fell into the water trough last night after my close encounter of the gross kind."

Sam nodded, letting the rest of the sulfur drop and wiped his hand on his pants. "He might have swallowed some of the water then, but," he sighed and ran his hand through his hair, "it shouldn't have been lethal. Not if it was just sulfur. Not like that."

"Yeah, well guess what else? The good Padre never checked in for work this today," Dean said, turning to put his back against the post so he could watch the rest of the workers scuttle around and shut down the town. "We have to get these people out of here now before something worse happens."

"I think it might be too late for that."

Dean jerked his head around to look at Sam, but Sam's eyes locked on a place over Dean's left shoulder. Spinning around, Dean felt the earth start to shake under his feet and he spotted what caught Sam's attention. A plume of dust at least twenty foot high headed straight at the town.

"What the hell is that?" Dean shouted, jumping up on the boardwalk and dragging Sam with him. The dust storm moved fast and against the wind. There wasn't anything natural about it.

It hit the end of the street with the force of an exploding bomb. The earth churned up, flying in either direction as the burrow plowed through the street. It made a hard left and tunneled under the tavern inn. The building lurched to the side, boards groaning in protest. Windows shattered, and the screaming began.

"Oh shit," Dean swore, and ran halfway into the street, waving his arms to get the attention of the people. "C'mon, come on! Follow Sam!"

Dean waited, shoving people when they wouldn't move fast enough. He staggered as the ground rolled again and the building weaved back in the other direction. A woman screamed, shrill and high, and Dean cursed some more, heading to the door.

Helen laid just inside, pinned to the floor by an overturned bookcase. Broken glass and other bric-a-brac littered the floor, making Dean's already precarious footing worse. The chandelier overhead swung wildly, tipping in the opposite direction from whichever way the rest of the building went. Dean saw the chain links holding it to the ceiling wouldn't last much longer. It was poised to land right on top of Helen. She struggled like a wild thing, but the bookcase was too heavy for her to move.

"Hold on! I'll get you," Dean had to yell over the background noise. The building was literally shaking apart, spewing glass and wooden splinters long and hard enough to do serious damage. He weaved to avoid an unwanted piercing even in the short distance to her and fell to his knees by her side. "I'll lift and you wiggle out."

The awkward angle made him grunt as he heaved, but Dean managed to lift the bookcase. Helen moved about a foot, but then got caught up in all the layers of her heavy skirt. Dean had to let the bookcase drop, his trembling muscles about to give out anyway, but he managed to steer it so not to crush her legs.

"I'm caught," Helen said, pulling frantically on the material of her skit. "It's caught in the nails."

"This isn't exactly the way I pictured getting under your dress," Dean teased, trying to calm her down while he grabbed the top of her skirt and ripped it straight down. He grabbed and yanked, pulling her the rest of the way out while leaving her skirt behind. There was a long tear through her panty hose that freely dripped blood. He swung her up into his arms and backed up just in time to miss the chandelier crashing down.

The air was full of dust and there were almost more holes than wall in the building. Something landed a glancing blow to Dean's head, but the blood didn't get in his eyes so he ignored it. The doorway flexed in front of them, each side trying to lean in opposite directions. Taking a running start, Dean leapt through just as the second story split and the roof crashed down.

Grinning down at Helen, Dean gloated, "Now, do I know how to make an exit, or what?"

She slid down from his arms when they were far enough away, gingerly putting weight on her injured leg and smiled. "I still don't swing your way tiger, but you can rescue me any day," she said and pulled his head down and kissed his cheek. "Thank you."

The dirt and sand swirled like a whirlpool, sucking in the wood and brick of the building. The noise increased until it almost deafened them and Dean had to help Helen scramble further back out of the way from flying debris. Even though it seemed like forever since the attack started, he knew it had only been a couple of minutes. The building was disappearing before their very eyes.

"Anytime, sweetheart. Now go get with the others," Dean ordered, looking around for any other stragglers.

She didn't need to be told twice.

Dean pulled his gun, wishing for something a little bigger – like a bazooka maybe. Anything big and fast enough to turn the earth into soup wasn't going to stand up and take notice of a little silver. He raked his mind trying to think about what it could possibly be, but he came up with blank.

The roof still remained at eyelevel, but Dean had to squint through the cloudy air just to see that. Bits of broken two-by-fours and shingles littered the ground far enough away not to get caught in the whirlpool. The morass of swirling sand chewed down everything else and in another minute even the roof disappeared. After another second, the sand stilled. Besides a shallow depression in the ground, nothing betrayed the fact that a building stood there only seconds before.

In his experience, when everything went so quiet all at once, it meant that the worst was getting ready to explode. He clicked the safety off his weapon and tightened his grip. He could hear the frightened employees of Hallow Creek down at the end of the street and turned his head. Helen had made it halfway there, and Sam started running out to help her.

Between one step and the next, Helen disappeared in a geyser of dirt. The only grenades that Dean had ever seen were in the movies, but he imagined that a big enough one would have looked awfully similar. The ground shot straight up, a near perfect circle with about a six foot diameter. He lost sight of her in a second, but there was something bigger, a solid mass inside all the sand, that moved as fast as a Wendigo despite its increased size and mass.

"Helen!" Dean yelled as he ran into the flying sand. He shot, firing quickly and close to the ground just in case he found a chance to save her. He hit the trunk of the thing, saw it jerk in response to the bullet, and high over head, it screeched in pain. A spray of blood and one of Helen's arms dropped down to Dean's side; he had to dodge several other smaller bits flesh and guts that cascaded down mixed in a waterfall of sand. Whatever it was sank back down into the ground, but this time it stayed close enough to the surface that they could track its movement.

The last of the sand finally fell back down, and Dean found himself standing across from Sam. They were both covered in filth and looked shell shocked at the speed and violence of Helen's death. Her blood made the sand stick to their skin.

"What the hell is that thing?" Sam yelled as it burrowed under the bank, cracking the front wall nearly in two.

"I have no fucking idea," Dean answered, still staring in shock at the pieces of Helen scattered across the ground. The sound of twisting metal and more screeching glass pulled him back and he jerked his head around. "It's in the fucking parking lot!"

He took off running and felt Sam fall in behind him. By the time that they reached the parking lot, it was a complete disaster. Half the cars were upended like a child's scattered toys. Dean's heart stopped until he found the Impala sitting relatively unscratched in the middle of the chaos. His relief was short lived when he realized that it would take an act of God to get it out without a tow truck.

Unfortunately, angels aside, God hadn't been too forthcoming with them.

He shaded his eyes with his hand and found the plume of dust headed off to the northwest. The way it moved, it must be doing forty miles easy. Good enough to get it back to Goblin Valley inside twenty minutes unless it stopped to snack on anything else.

Sam was already scrambling over the ruined cars, trying to get to the Impala. Dean followed in his wake, watching carefully where he put his hands and feet so he wouldn't lose either to shattered glass and shredded metal. He jumped down from a minivan into a clear space on the gravel and popped open the trunk while Sam stuck his torso through the open passenger side window.

Quickly, he started tossing his weapons into a duffle. Sam joined him a second later, flipping through the pages of research they'd combed earlier. His heart still raced, and he was more determined than ever to get to Goblin Valley and finish this. He'd messed up years ago. Ty's blood had awoken something terrible from the bowels of the desert, and now Dean had to save the seal, anyway he could.

"Dean, I think I know what that thing is," Sam said, mumbling while he tried to hold onto some of the papers with the corner of his mouth. "I think it's one of the investigated cryptids. A Death Worm."

"What the hell?" Dean asked, scowling when he saw that he was dripping blood on the knives from the cut on his head. He couldn't even feel it with all the anger coursing through his body.

Sam reached out without looking and snagged the first aid kit from the side of the trunk and plunked it down where Dean could reach. "You know, like Tremors," he answered, still reading.

"So, I kill this bitch, and then I'm just one degree away from Kevin Bacon, right?" Dean joked, as he zipped the bag shut and set it by his leg. He picked up the first aid, grabbed a bandage and didn't bother cleaning his wound before he slapped it on his head.

"I don't think now is really the time to be funny."

"I tell you what isn't funny, Sam. Hell," Dean said, stabbing his finger into Sam's chest. Of course, he managed to poke Sam right in his tin-star badge and probably hurt his own finger more that Sam. "Hell on Earth is even less funny. I'm going to save that seal."

The growling of an engine and a car horn honking interrupted them before they could start a full out argument. Dean hopped back on top of the minivan and pulled his hat back on from where it hung around his neck. The inside pressed against the bandage on his forehead, but he didn't have to squint to see the bumblebee painted Ford Mustang. He hated being happy to see Ruby.

"Come on Tonto, let's go hunt some fishing bait," Dean said, taking the lead this time as he made his way across the parking lot. His boots skidded over the hood of a Honda and he had to wave his arm to catch his balance.

"No way, if either of us is the Lone Ranger, it's me," Sam groused, but he followed Dean closely.

Dean turned back just enough to grin over his shoulder. "Fine," he said, and then continued after a second of thought, "I'm Zorro, he's cooler anyway."

"Sam!" Ruby called as soon as she spotted them, standing with her hands on her hips as if they were naughty children caught playing in the mud. "Sam, we have to-"

"We," Dean said, gesturing between him and Sam while he emphasized the word to let Ruby know that she was not included, "need to borrow the car. Thanks."

Ruby jerked away like he'd tried to tackle the keys away from her instead of just threatening too. She kept her eyes locked on Sam as if she thought Dean was too low to notice. "Sam, I found her. Lilith is here and she's in the middle of a conference call to Hell right now," she informed them, speaking fast and smiling when she decided that she had Sam's undivided attention. "All we have to do is bust into her lair, take out a couple of minions and then she's yours for the killing."

After everything they'd been through in the last couple of days, Sam still changed at the barest mention of Lilith's name. Subtle movements and tics of muscles that all combined to leave him a completely different person. He already moved forward, blinded to everything but Ruby when Dean crossed over and grabbed his arm.

"Dude, you forgetting about our case? There's a freakin' monster worm out there eating buildings and my friends!" Dean yelled, trying to banish the leftover image of Helen smiling at him through the clothing racks. "This is going to happen tonight. Lilith can wait; these people are going to die unless we do something!"

Ruby and Sam looked at each other for several long seconds, making Dean grind his teeth in frustration. He and Sam used to be able to communicate like that. Last night proved that it was still possible, but Dean felt like a fool to think that it had meant anything to Sam. Just because Sam was the first thing that he thought of in the morning and the last at night, didn't mean the feeling was reciprocated. He still paled in comparison to Lilith.

"You know the difference between me and you?" Sam asked, and he wasn't angry, which put Dean further on edge.

Anger he could deal with, but when Sam shut down and tried to use his gigantic brain to support what he was going to do anyway, there was no reasoning with him. The college educated kid wasn't going to listen to the guy who never finished high school and learned everything worthwhile from the road. Sam had convinced himself that he knew better, that he knew everything.

"I don't know, Sam, I'm good looking, and you're tall?" Dean answered, resenting the time wasted arguing in front of Ruby. The urge to blast her just on principle was nearly overwhelming, he took a step closer to her, but Sam grabbed the front of his shirt in his fists and jerked him back around.

"No," Sam shoved Dean back hard, but kept a hold of the shirt, ripping its tails of out of Dean's pants. "I'm a big picture guy and you can't get your head out of the details!"

Dean waited for his own anger, but it didn't come like he expected. If felt like everyone, angels, demons, Sam, wanted him to be angry, but he couldn't do it anymore. Whatever little bit of him got left in Hell must have been the part that made him really care. He just wanted the end to come so he could finally be done. Instead of shouting, he reached up and gently pulled Sam's hands off of him, but he didn't let them go either.

"Sam, man, we can't keep doing this," Dean said, looking away toward Goblin Valley. He didn't plan on dying, but if that was what it took, then he'd do it; he'd spill his blood so others could keep theirs. That was the way a hunter wanted to go out. "You have to pick. Me or her. The job that we've trained for all our lives that helps people, or the revenge that's going to destroy you and us. But if you pick her, don't ask me to watch. I won't. I can't."

"You're just willing to throw yourself away!" Sam cried, finally showing some of the anger that he'd been bottling up like he'd been preparing for a shortage since Dean got out of Hell. "Dean, it isn't right. You're worth just as much as those people over there. More! Come with me. We can kill Lilith."

"Sam, you can't seriously be willing to say that it's worth it for all these people to die just so I can live a little longer," Dean said, even though he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that was exactly what Sam was willing to say. "This is a sacrifice that I'm willing to make. My mistake kept this place in danger; my life for all of theirs sounds like a fair deal."

"No, Dean," Sam was crying now, and it wasn't pretty little tears rolling down his cheeks. He was blotchy and desperate enough not to notice the snot and waterworks. Dean might have been worried about drugs instead of PMS to explain the mood swings if he didn't know that Sam would never be that stupid. "You can't ask me to do this again, not when we're finally getting somewhere."

Dean took a deep breath and reached up to grab his amulet searching for a little bit of comfort. It had taken six hours to find it when he'd finally gone back to get it after Cassie had slapped him hard in the face and taken away his only chance of finding his own normal life. He'd had to replace the leather cord, but the little gold face had been good as new, winking up at him from where it was half hidden by moss.

"Where are we, Sam?" Dean asked, ignoring the growing group of people that were gathering around them. "Because from where I'm standing, it looks like you're leaving me again. You're my shadow, you ignore me. You remember the pie, you forget the pie. You've got my back, you lie to my face. We sleep together, and you think that I'm just going to fall in line? I don't think so. You know that song?"

Sam laughed and wiped his nose on his sleeve. He looked down and grimaced, realizing that he was still buttoned up in the fruity black lawman's outfit. Shrugging out of the suspenders, he let them fall into the dirt and shook his head, "You want to narrow it down a little?"

Dean sighed and kicked at the gravel, he really should have thought that through before he'd brought it up, but he guessed that he was committed now. Or maybe he was just ready to be committed. Surely a rubber room of his very own would be more relaxing than dealing with Heaven, Hell, and annoying little brothers. "You know, the guy and he's singing," Dean cursed under his breath and then softly trying to carry the tune, sang, "I would do anything for love, but I won't do that."

"Meatloaf?" Sam's eyebrows shot up his forehead and he looked like he couldn't decide whether to laugh or get out the Roman rituals for an exorcism right there.

Ruby sighed heavily, making sure that they could both hear how impatient she was, but Dean had to give her credit for being smart enough to keep her mouth shut. One word out of her and not even Sam would be able to stop him from taking a swing at somebody. She pointedly looked at her watch, but it reminded him that he was under a deadline too.

"Whatever, dude," Dean groaned, shoving his hands down into his hip pockets. "I'm just trying to say that this is that."

"What?"

Dean shrugged, "I can't stay here and watch you throw away everything I've ever tried to teach you. Sam, I know that you're just trying to do your best, but it's not worth it." Sam still looked confused, so Dean continued, "Look. Me going in there is the same to you as you going after Lilith is to me."

"I'll stop," Sam said immediately, so fast that Dean knew that he couldn't believe it, and he opened his mouth to say so, but Sam beat him to it. "I can't stop."

"And I have to go in there," Dean yelled, so tired of never getting what he wanted. "This is my fault and I have to fix it. Just go. Kill Lilith with your new BFF. I don't care anymore."

Sam's jaw ticked in anger, but at least he had stopped crying; Dean knew that he'd never been worth crying over. Dean turned away, ready to find a way to end this. He wasn't prepared for Sam to jerk him back around and crush him to Sam's chest.

"Do you think this is what Ty would have wanted for you?" Sam asked, and pressed his lips together in tight straight line. His vice-like arms held Dean still, and they stepped all over each other, Dean trying to get away and Sam trying to keep him.

"I think that he would have wanted me to save his friends, and that's what I'm going to do," he finally shoved out of Sam's hold and took a step back. He couldn't believe Sam would try to use Ty's memory that way, he'd finally gone too far. "This is it. Your crossroads. I'm going out to Goblin Valley to kill every evil thing there and then I'm going to get my car, drive down the road and do it all over again. Goodbye, Sam."

Dean walked away, slowly enough that Sam could have caught up to him easily if he'd wanted to. He didn't have to turn around to know that Sam wouldn't. He heard the car door shut, and a second later, Ruby's Ford started and peeled out. The tires screeched over the cattle guard and disappeared down the road.

Sam was gone.

"All right, who has a car I can borrow?" Dean yelled, turning to the crowd of employees. Half of them looked completely shell shocked, some of them were bleeding, but a couple looked at him with clear eyes. "I can't promise that you'll get it back, but I am going to go kill that thing once and for all."

David stepped up, "We looked through all the cars on the edge, they're toppled over each other and blocking the only decent ones. It's like that thing knew exactly what it was doing."

"And with the horses all dead, we're stuck here waiting like fish in a barrel," Jordan added, still holding Missy, who must have fainted again.

It looked impossible. No way he could hike the distance before sundown and if Helen got through on the radio then everyone would know that the town was closed. It was just a matter of time before the police showed up, and he couldn't afford to get them involved. They'd get killed and he'd end up on the radar again. Then it came to him, and he snapped his fingers.

"What about Duke?" he asked, already walking over to the storage barn and the last place that he'd seen the horse. "He doesn't drink the water right? So maybe he didn't get infected with whatever knocked the others out."

"You'd be taking your life in your hands, son, taking Duke with you to go fight that thing," David cautioned him, but he kept up and had already fished out the keys that would open the barn. Somehow, it had escaped the destruction that made the rest of town look like a war zone.

Dean smirked and set his bag down so he could help slide the heavy doors open. "And it's not like I don't do that every day anyway," he said, grunting a little as he stretched out a muscle that had already stiffened up. As long as he kept his mind focused on the task, then he didn't have to think about the gaping Sam-sized hole in his life. "The horse will be sober enough to get me there, right?"

"Yeah, as long as he doesn't get you lost," David replied, whistling a little. After a second, something rustled in the back and the horse walked forward, whickering happily when he saw Dean. "Give me a second and I'll have him ready for you."

Dean didn't really want to take a second. He wanted to get the job finished and he didn't want to think about whatever it was that Ruby did to wind Sam around her little finger. Sam said that they weren't sleeping together, but Sam lied about so much now that Dean couldn't know for sure. Maybe he ought to feel used, but really, people wanting him for sex wasn't anything new. It wasn't anything to be ashamed of.

He took a step back, and felt desperate enough for company that he actually wished Castiel might show up for a quick word of advice. But even his shadow was just a small puddle of darkness under his feet from the sun burning brightly over head.

Once again, he was all alone.


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The watch on his wrist told him that it was just a little after four, but Dean's gut swore that it hadn't eaten in days and his ass felt like it had skidded over every pothole in the state of Utah. Duke, while willing to let Dean climb up on his back and steer his head in the basic direction Dean wanted to go, managed to carry on the most uncomfortable gait known to man.

Dean remembered just enough from the riding lessons Ty gave him in one afternoon to stay on Duke's back when the horse shied away from a strange bundle on the ground. He was glad that he'd skipped breakfast when it turned out to be a mutilated cow's torso. It wasn't the work of the Death Worm though, not unless it had grown arms ending in razor like claws. The area was getting more and more out of control. If he couldn't stop it, it would end in a blood bath.

The landscape changed too, more than he remembered from before. The characteristic hoodoos that marked the area weren't the vaguely phallic shaped formations that he'd made so many jokes about in the past. Instead, the tips of the rocks twisted in unnatural shadows and resembled more the goblins that the park was named after. Dean couldn't shake the feeling that he was being watched. It started when he'd first crossed the boundary marking the state-owned park, and with each step Duke took, the feeling just grew stronger.

At first it had been easy to track the Worm by the wake of churned up dirt it left behind, but the closer they got to its lair, the deeper underground it went. He'd lost the last visual signs of the creature's trail at least a mile back. They were deep into the park, off the campground and away from any kind of marked trail. Every time he gave Duke his head, the horse unerringly swung back toward Hallow Creek.

He tugged the reins back until Duke came to a stop, and Dean raised up, putting his weight on his boots to ease the strain through his thighs and ass. Sweat dripped freely down the sides of his face, stinging in the dozens of scratches and scrapes that he couldn't afford to stop and care about. He knuckled his eyes hard, wiping grit out of the corners, and then kept his eyes closed.

In front of him were two different paths. One led up and around a steep and windy trail that circled a formation of barren rock. The other was an easy path, wide and smooth with a slight decline. He knew which one he'd pick, and he knew which one was most likely to take him where he wanted to go.

Dean opened his eyes, and this time he shied and startled the horse. The same owl from before sat in the tree closest to the easy path, staring at him with wide yellow eyes. Up close, it was just as big as it had appeared in the dark. No natural bird could get so huge, or have such deliberate shading. It looked at him with obvious intelligence.

Dean swallowed the lump in his throat and glanced over at the other trail.

At the top of the rise sat a wolf, or at least some kind of dog. Unlike the owl, it was indistinct as if it were smoke barely contained, and smaller than a natural beast would be. It stood up and paced back and forth, picking up its paws daintily before it turned to leave. The wolf stopped once and looked at Dean over its shoulder, big golden eyes winking at him before it disappeared on the trail.

"Wolf?"

It slipped out before Dean could lock his jaw shut. It couldn't have been Wolf; he'd never heard of a ghost animal and he didn't think that the real Wolf would have made it much longer than Ty. They were too dependent on each other. Though he had searched everywhere for the dog after Ty died, willing to defy his dad to keep Wolf if that's what it took, he'd never found a trace of the animal.

The owl hooted, drawing his attention back to the present.

"First to warn, then to demand, and then to punish," Dean muttered under his breath. Duke shifted restlessly and started to back up. Dean used his knees to squeeze Duke into motion and decided at the same time which path to take.

Duke didn't look at the owl as they passed it by, and Dean decided to follow his example. His skin prickled and every muscle in his back seized up with the effort not to look back over his shoulder. The weapons bag shifted over his thighs and he tightened his grip until his knuckles turned white. He didn't relax until he'd put half a dozen hoodoos between them and the owl.

The wind whistled in and out of the rock formations and Duke's plodding steps echoed back and forth between the walls of rock that kept them centered on their path. Every now and then, Dean swore that he heard a skitter of pebbles that meant someone followed them. Whenever he turned around, there was never anything in sight. His paranoia ratcheted up, but he studiously didn't even think about wishing things had turned out differently with Sam.

After another half hour of mindless riding, Dean snapped out of the light doze he had fallen into at the sound of something crunching. Duke shied a little to the side at Dean's jerk, but the crunching continued. Reining Duke in, Dean glanced down and saw that the horse danced on a carpet of bones.

"Guess this is where we say goodbye," Dean said, holding onto the saddle with one hand while he swung down to the ground. For an alcoholic horse with a gay crush, Duke had really turned out to be all right.

Duke stayed still while Dean stripped the bridle off and tied it back to the saddle horn. The horse ducked his head and butted his nose against Dean's chest in affection. Letting the weapon's bag drop, Dean scratched behind Duke's ears until the horse whickered happily.

"Go on, now," Dean urged, finally pulling up and nudging Duke away. "Go have a drink for me."

Slowly Duke turned around, but once he had moved out from the bones and death, he changed to a fast walk. Dean watched for a minute until the horse was out of sight, sighing, "And then, there was one."

His boots were definitely not made for tripping and sliding over sun bleached bones, but Dean managed to get across the swath without breaking an ankle. Once he reached the middle, he saw that the bones actually did make a perfect circle around him. The sand was hot enough to bring the temperature in his boots up another significant amount. Every now and then, a small ripple would move across the ground, and Dean knew that he was on top of the Death Worm's lair.

There were a couple of rocks situated in the unconvincing shade of a dead scrub tree. Dean walked over and sat down, prepared to wait as long as it took to get his next shot at the worm.


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"Hey, is this seat taken?"

Dean fell off the rock, jerking as though shocked when Sam spoke. The sun had moved further across the sky, until the shadows of the hoodoos stretched like skeletal fingers ready to drag him away. His shirt was soaked completely with sweat and a buzzard staring at him from its perch a stone's throw away.

"Dean?"

Sam leaned down, snapping his fingers in front of Dean's face. It took a little longer than he would have liked, but Dean finally focused on his little brother's concerned expression and noticed the bottle of water Sam held out to him. "Have at it," Dean invited, taking the water and drinking half of it down.

Carefully, so they wouldn't touch through the oppressive heat, Sam took a seat on the rock next to Dean. He'd changed out of the lawman's clothes and into his own baggy jeans and shirts with the sleeves on his outer shirt rolled halfway up his arms. Sweat slicked his hair back away from his face, and the skin on his nose had started turning pink. Dean reached up to feel his own nose and hissed as his fingers nudged skin that already felt bubbly with sun burn.

"That's going to suck tomorrow," Sam said evenly. "Maybe your nose will fall off."

"Maybe there won't be a tomorrow," Dean replied, digging deep to make his voice as rough as he could. He honestly hadn't really thought that he'd ever see his little brother again, "What are you doing here?"

Sam picked up a handful of grit and let the sand run out through his fingers until all he had left were a couple of good sized pebbles in his palm. He picked one up and tossed it out into the wind. "My brother's out trying to get himself killed," he said, shrugging both with his voice and with his shoulders. "I thought maybe I'd come out and try to save him from himself."

"Yeah, like I'm the one who needs to be saved from himself," Dean snorted. He untied the handkerchief from around his neck and dribbled a little bit of clean water into the middle. It wasn't much, but it did clean the stickiness off the back of his neck and cool him from the breeze. "How's Lilith?"

"Alive and kicking, for now," Sam answered, throwing another pebble at the buzzard still staring at them, hoping they were going to fall over dead at any second. "I'm still going to kill her, but I want you alive for victory sex afterwards."

Dean sighed, the hot air heavy in his lungs, but it was something. Sam really was trying; even if he couldn't give Dean everything, something was going to have to be good enough. Besides, it was pretty much par for the course as he saw it.

"It's good to have you here, Sammy," Dean said, using the nickname deliberately. Hell, if they were going to die anyway, Sam needed to know that Dean was always going to love him.

The buzzard squawked and lumbering into the sky as Sam got a lucky hit in. Dean didn't need to turn to know that Sam would have his million watt smile plastered across his face. He did anyway, and Sam leaned in to press their lips together in a quick and chaste kiss.

"So, what's the plan?" Sam asked, leaning back so that his shoulder would bump Dean but they wouldn't be sharing any more heat than necessary.

"Waiting, mostly."

Sam huffed a little and shook his head. A strand of his hair fell in his eyes and he dragged his fingers through his hair to straighten it. Then he reached down and moved a bag at his feet so he could get another bottle of water out. "Good thing I showed up then," he said, tilting his head back as he wrapped his lips around the bottle. "I have a plan."

"Your plans always suck," Dean bumped their shoulders together again. "We never end up wearing women's underwear or running from the cops or anything."

"Yeah, that's why I have the best plans," Sam turned and grinned before he continued, "Besides, I knew that you'd forget the dynamite."

This time, Dean leaned over and kissed Sam, "All right Sam, you had me at dynamite."


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With another inch of shade, the middle of the bone pit would be completely covered in shadow. The temperature hadn't gone down any, instead it might have risen by a few more degrees. There hadn't been any other sign of life since the buzzard flew away. After they finished with Sam's plan, they were stuck waiting again, and Dean's throat felt too sore to hum any Zeppelin.

Dean tried to swallow again, painful in the dry heat and felt just like he had when he had waited for the hell hounds. He'd never been afraid of death; a hunter who was wouldn't live very long. That didn't mean that he didn't wish for one last cheeseburger or ride on the magic fingers before the end.

"You listen to me good, Dean," Sam said, pulling him out of his reverie. "We're going to kill this thing and its blood is going to flood this place. You can make things right about whatever it is that you think you've done, but you had better be alive at the end of the day. Because if you're not I will amp up my psychic powers until the demons let me walk into hell after you, and believe me, you'll be sorry."

"Gee Sam, you know I get all tingly when you go get all Alpha on me," Dean deadpanned, idly wondering if Sam had progressed to reading other people's thoughts. Just to check, he worked up the most ridiculous image of Sam wearing a tutu while doing interpretive dance to the song I Kissed a Girl. Sam's jaw didn't grind any harder.

Ty had always been so full of life; he even twitched in his sleep like he was a dog after a rabbit. It used to drive Dean crazy. It wasn't like they talked a lot about his life, but Ty never would buy into Dean's theory of their family curse. Not when he had half a dozen old Indian stories that he could twist to make it look like Dean was jumping at shadows.

"Watch your own ass, Sammy, I've got plans for it," Dean said, grabbing Sam's jaw to turn his face around for a kiss. He slid his tongue past Sam's lips and actually did feel his skin tingle when Sam started sucking on it. He made plans to fuck Sam on a vibrating bed while eating a cheeseburger as soon as they got back to civilization. He broke off the kiss, "Go ahead and get ready."

Sam swatted Dean on the ass as he passed and climbed up the side of the canyon. In just a few seconds, he tucked himself away out of sight. It was uncanny how such a gigantor managed to disappear so completely. Dean watched the spot for another few seconds before he backed up into his own starting point.

There wasn't even a wind stirring, but the dirt continued to rumble in on itself. Slowly, oh so slowly, the Worm rose up from underneath the earth, sand cascaded down like so many little waterfalls until its scaly light brown hide was bared to the air.

Dean looked up at the Worm and tilted his hat back, wishing that he had a piece of straw to chew on in the corner of his mouth. Spitting, he finally drawled the line he'd been thinking about for the last half-hour, "Partner, this town ain't big enough for the both of us."

He moved the instant before the Worm did, but he wasn't quite fast enough. It hit his legs and sent him tumbling painfully hard. He went spinning into the ground, his mouth open enough to get his teeth full of dirt. His lungs closed shop, but he managed to roll sideways until he could get his feet under him.

Gasping for air, and blinking the sweat out of his eyes, Dean realized that the Worm had swatted him out of position. Past its body, he could see Sam gesturing, trying to wave him back. He feinted to the left, but the
Worm wouldn't take the bait. It stayed right in the way of the path he needed to take to get back around to Sam and the high explosives.

The Worm struck, quick as a viper despite its size, and again Dean just managed to fall out of the way by the skin of his teeth. This time he somersaulted over his back and came up automatically on his feet. He didn't stop to see his new position, just started running in the first doable path he found. It screeched again, like it had when he'd shot it earlier at the town, and he felt the ground shake when it dove under the sand to follow him.

Dean risked looking back over his shoulder and then pulled an extra burst of speed out of his ass when he saw just how fast the giant mound of red sand was catching up. The rock formation slowed him down as he had to duck and weave around them, but the creature just bulldozed right through them. Knifelike shards of rock flew into his back and he had to leap over rock slides that managed to get in front of him.

He didn't have time to think more than a second ahead, if Dean saw an opening, he took it and he just prayed that there would be another following. His lungs burned, ready to explode from the hot dry air he sucked in. The Worm caught up with him, and the ground under his feet threw him high in the air, slamming him into a rock wall. He fell on a shelf and laid still.

Only a few feet from where he fell, the Worm disappeared again, burrowing down in the ground to turn around. Dean didn't move, he didn't even breathe hoping that it wouldn't be able to find him. Looking all around, Dean realized that he didn't know where he was; nothing looked familiar and the swath of destruction that followed them was too wide to show him the way back. The demolition hadn't even settled yet. As he watched, more hoodoos fell, knocking into others that continued like a line of dominos.

A wailing howl sounded somewhere to his left and the Worm turned at once, following it away from Dean. He took the chance that between the howling and the rocks falling, the creature wouldn't be able to tell that Dean was behind it again. Despite the heat, shivers raced up and down his spine. It was Wolf; he knew that howl.

Scrambling over busted rocks, Dean did his best to catch up and failed miserably. He had to stop, still panting, and wait for Wolf's next howl to correct his direction. Wolf was leading the Worm straight back to Sam and the waiting dynamite.

The explosion rocked him back as the earth shuddered like a tidal wave suddenly breaking over land. For what seemed like the hundredth time for the day, Dean went flying through the air and crashed in a jumble of limbs. Dazed, he decided that maybe he'd just take a short nap and wait to get eaten.

"Dean! Dean!"

At first, Sam's voice was just noise that barely filtered in past the pounding already in his head. Then something struck Dean's cheek, and he managed to pry his eyelids open enough to see Sam's fuzzy face floating above him. Sam hit him again, and Dean winced, managing to roll his head to the side to miss the third blow.

"Dean!"

"Geeze, Sammy. You don't have to yell," Dean complained, letting Sam help him up so that Sam wouldn't feel completely useless. He was a giver like that.

"Come on, you have to see this," Sam said, and took Dean by the elbows to heave him up on his feet. He kept his arms around Dean's waist, helping to support Dean's weight. Actually, he took most of Dean's weight.

Dean struggled on legs that felt limper than the spaghetti noodle mush Sam used to love as a kid. The sun must have gone completely down while he was out. The shadows were dark down where they were among the rubble, but the sky that he saw to the west looked like it was on fire.

"Is it dead?" he asked, slurring a little in fatigue.

Sam pulled him in tighter, but Dean didn't mind. Without the Death Worm burrowing in the sand to keep the heat unnaturally high, the temperature dropped like a weighted spike once night fell. "Just come see," he said instead of answering.

It took them nearly ten minutes to make their slow way back to where they'd set the trap. Dean knew they were getting close when they had to cross the circle of bones that the Worm used to mark its lair. Around another set of crumbled hoodoos, was a huge pile of rubble with sickly looking green pus bubbling up through the cracks.

"Don't touch it," Dean warmed, stopping in his tracks so that Sam nearly tripped over their forward momentum. He remembered Ty's face dripping away and gagged at the sense memory. He felt cold all over, and even though he wasn't dead, he hurt like he hadn't hurt since his last moment on the torture rack.

Sam petted his neck, gently rubbing muscles that Dean hadn't even realized hurt yet; he was going to end up one big bruise in the morning. "Look up," Sam whispered.

On top of the pile of rocks was Wolf. At least, it looked a little like Wolf, but also not. There was the familiar spot over his eye, but his coloring was off, and he still moved as if he blurred with every twitch. He glowed from the inside, a white light against the red rock and glowing gloom.

"Wolf?" he asked, taking a step without Sam's help.

It yipped Wolf's familiar greeting, but the sound echoed far longer and wider than it should have. Wolf started to pick his way down the rubble, growing brighter the closer he came. Where he stepped, the Worm's blood hissed and turned black, melting until it became just another part of the rock. He stopped when he was just about level with Dean's eyes and then sat down in his stupid looking sprawl that made his legs slide over to one side. His tongue lolled out, laughing as if he knew exactly what Dean was thinking.

"Dean, what's going-"

Dean shushed Sam, holding up a hand to stall any other questions or interruptions. "Wolf?" he asked again, but it didn't seem quite right. He'd never heard of an animal coming back as a ghost before. He shut his eyes tight and said the name he'd wanted to say from the first, "Ty?"

The gasp behind him told him that something had happened, but he couldn't bear the thought of opening his eyes to find that ghost had disappeared completely. It took another touch at his cheek, this one cool and gentle, to get him to risk it.

Ty stood in front of him, dressed and looking just as he did the first morning they came out to Goblin Valley. The white glow dulled the natural tan of his skin, but nothing could mask the smile of his face. He kept his hand on Dean's cheek even as he looked over Dean's shoulder to see Sam standing there. If anything, his smile widened.

"Ty, I'm so sorry," Dean apologized, tilting his head a little to make Ty's fingers slip under his jaw. He finally got the chance to say a few final words, and his mind blanked except for his confessions. "It should have been me."

"Don't be so noble, Freckles, It wasn't your fault," Ty said, laughing as his voice rocketed back and forth just like Wolf's bark had. "You are exactly where you are supposed to be. At Sam's side. That is the truth no matter what else happens. Remember."

"Thank you."

Sam spoke at the same time he did, and Dean broke contact with Ty so he could step back and brush his back against Sam's chest. Sam's bulk gave him the extra push he needed to do what came next.

"I loved you, Ty. I should have told you," he said, voice gruff as he battled against tears. He'd cried enough for a whole bower full of girls lately. Whatever a bower was anyway. Despite the emotions rolling in his gut, a faint sense of accomplishment lifted him up. "I should have shown you more."

"Silly white boy," Ty teased, stepping back up the rocks. "Of course we knew you loved us, and we loved you. Forgive my mom, Dean, she hasn't been herself lately. Goodbye, Dean. Good luck, Sam."

Between one eye blink and the next, Ty melted back into Wolf and then the animal glowed so brightly that Dean had to put a hand up to shield his face. Then it was over.

Ty was gone, and Dean was back where he belonged.


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"Things are going to have to change, Sam," Dean said, breaking the silence they'd kept since climbing out of the ruined Utah state park. They had just managed to miss a whole string of flashing lights speeding back along the highway. Dean didn't envy their job trying to explain what had happened.

"It's very mature of you to realize that you're going to have to share the remote more," Sam said, obviously misunderstanding Dean's intent.

Dean scowled, the fucker didn't even sound winded while he barely managed to set one foot in front of the other. He'd buy Duke the horse's entire weight in beer for a ride just about then. "Asshole, you know what I'm talking about," he replied, wishing he had the energy to trip Sam to the ground.

There wasn't any light except for the moon, so Dean couldn't watch Sam's face for clues to what he was thinking. He had to rely on what he could hear from his brother's voice and what he wanted to believe anyway.

"I know," Sam replied, quietly as if he didn't want even the cactus to hear what he said. "There's no rule book for how maintain a relationship between brothers slash lovers slash hunting partners."

A chuckle escaped before Dean realized that it might not be completely appropriate.

"What?" Sam asked, already defensive.

"Nothing," Dean shook his head. "I just thought it would be funny if that was like, Oprah's Book Club choice of the month, or something. I mean, can you just image the looks on all those soccer moms' faces?"

Sam brushed his hand over Dean's shoulder blade, "Dude, I think you've finally gone over your quota of concussions."

"Sam, what do you and Ruby do when you sneak out at night?" Dean asked, mentally bracing to be shoved away. He had to ask though, he had to keep asking until Sam finally told the truth no matter how much he didn't want the pain of knowing.

"We play Guitar Hero," Sam said, and then continued without pausing for a beat, "Dean, I promise that I'm not going anywhere. I'm with you until we both manage to go out in a swinging blaze of glory. I just have to do this first. I have to kill Lilith or everything that has happened since I was six months old has been for nothing."

His gut still fell, but it wasn't as bad as it could be. He wasn't going to lose his brother, not like this. "That far back, huh?" he asked, kicking a stone that happened to be in his way. His foot throbbed to protest the extra movement.

"It's bigger than just you and me. Bigger than just our family even," Sam spoke, but his voice sent chills up Dean's spine. He sounded like one of those televangelists, sure that they were the only way and prepared to beat people senseless until they agreed. "I can handle this, I just need you to trust me."

"Sure, Sammy," Dean said after a pause that might have swallowed the whole night. "I can trust you. I do trust you. For now. What I don't trust is that demon bitch who's jerking you seven ways to Sunday."

"Let me worry about Ruby."

That was less than reassuring, but if it was all Dean was going to get, he'd take it. He should have been more used to that whole bullshit need-to-know game that Dad always played with them. He wondered if Sam even knew how much he'd changed to be just like Dad. Probably not, not when all he ever wanted was to be the complete opposite.

Dean wondered how much he even knew his brother anymore.

"Animal, vegetable, or something else?" Sam's voice cut into Dean's thoughts.

"What?" Dean asked, glancing over.

"It's a long walk back," Sam answered, his shrug evident in his tone.

Thinking for a second, Dean answered, "Animal."

"Human?"

"Yes."

"Male?"

"Yes."

"Robert Plant."

Dean paused, then answered, "No."

"Liar," Sam teased. "Haven't you heard what happens to liars?"

"Been there, done that, screwed the pooch with the t-shirt," Dean answered, then rolled his eyes. "Fine, natural, supernatural, or daytime TV?"

"Supernatural."

Dean grinned, it was a long walk back, but he couldn't ask for better company.










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Castiel watched the sun come up over the desert and gave thanks to his Father for the beauty of His world. He hadn't realized how much he had missed such a simple pleasure in the last two thousand years. He would give up his vessel at the appointed time and let Jimmy's soul move on, but he couldn't help a small wish for a body of his own once the Winchesters were finished with whatever destinies Heaven decreed for them.

He hoped they were far away from Utah; the chaos of the last few days had left the local law enforcement with a burning need to find a scapegoat.

"Guess this one goes to you."

He didn't need to turn around to place the demon's voice; he'd been aware of her inky stench since she had appeared eight seconds before. He'd been aware of all of her activities since Dean had begun work on the seal. His orders to leave her be had made his borrowed skin itch, but who was he to question the will of God?

"You possessed the woman Talia to send Dean into the desert," he observed. "And you used the guise of a man of God to mislead him."

"Not me, but someone I trust," she answered, then quoted, "And it was written that a martyred man's blood will fall in the desert and bake into the dust. As it crumbles into ash, so shall the seal break."

Castiel turned his head to look at her. Angels were above petty gloating, but his heart still sang with knowing Dean and Sam both acted with love and honor, "The seal is intact."

"There are others," she shrugged as if she felt the fate of the world no more important than the direction of the wind.

"We will stop you."

She laughed, the sound jarring in its beauty, though it came from a monster. "And what a crackerjack job your garrisons are doing. You didn't seem much of a factor in this one."

He had been told to stay out of it unless Dean's life was actually in danger. Castiel had wanted to bristle at that; pain was pain, and both Winchesters had been through enough for a thousand lifetimes. Job may have suffered more, but Castiel had not been there to see it. His orders were more and more confusing and needed faith instead of understanding.

His faith was no longer built on stone, but the shifting sand under his feet.

"In fact, based on your non-smiting, I'm guessing that you've been pulled back, haven't you?" she continued, her voice clearly amused. "Don't you wonder why?"

He did. "It is not my place to wonder," he answered, looking back to the sun that lifted fully over the horizon while he wished for the Son instead. He looked around the world and thought that maybe the Father had become vengeful again.

She sighed, "If only demons were so well trained as unquestioning, unthinking beasts, but I guess you are housebroken. I can see the Winchesters are so safe in your hands. What makes you so much better than me?"

"You will not survive."

This time, her laugh was not beautiful, but hateful, full of death and destruction. She wiped a tear from the corner of her eye and turned with him to watch the sun. Finally, she said, "I think you missed the 411, Cas."

"Lilith –"

But she was gone, just like a mirage, leaving him alone and with more questions than he had before. He glanced up to the sky for a moment, but then his shoulders slumped. A single angel wasn't even as powerful as a raindrop in a hail storm when talking about the powers of Heaven. Still, he couldn't deny that something wasn't right.

Castiel straightened his tie, took one last look at the horizon and then flew up to headquarters. Even if his superiors weren't willing to tell him what the orders actually meant, he was not without his own resources. It was the least he could do when two humans were willing to shoulder the rest of the responsibility for Heaven and Hell.





LIVEJOURNAL LINKS!
Part One//Part Two//Part Three//Part Four//Part Five//End Notes/Extras

DREAMWIDTH LINKS!
Full Story//End Notes/Extras

Date: 2009-08-01 04:54 am (UTC)
norwich36: (Default)
From: [personal profile] norwich36
I really enjoyed this. Ty was a terrific OC, and I loved all the Pinky and the Brain references. It was fun that they got to fight the worm from Tremors, too! And wow, fantastic job dealing with Sam and Dean's conflict over big picture/ immediate picture issues.

Goblin Valley

Date: 2009-10-13 02:28 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Really, really liked this story, always wanted a Western from Supernatural, it would be just perfect. Excellent storytelling, looking forward to reading other stuff you've written....
chase_acow: (Default)
chase_acow

Renae

female/her/she
over 30
easily correctable

March 2019

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