Ordeals ‘Verse: 4. The Seldom Seen Kid

Sam/Dean. NC-17. ~10,000 words. Co-authored with Ponderosa.
“You get all the best curses.”

Smoke clings in a dim grey fog to the low-hung ceiling. The woman behind the well-polished bar is middle-aged, the few wisps escaping the scarf holding back her hair framing a face creased with smile lines. Like a softer Ellen, she doles out drinks and change with the same deft hands. There might not be a loaded shotgun hidden back there but her level stare is still more than enough to keep the spotty clientele from causing trouble.

From the selections Dean’s making on the juke in the corner and the wide grin curving his lips, it hasn’t been updated since the early eighties. Another clinking handful of quarters disappears into its churning gears as one of Metallica’s slower numbers starts up.

“Tell me that’s your brother over there,” says the girl helping herself to the empty chair Dean left behind.

Sam politely closes his laptop. This far out in the boonies there isn’t much reception, but getting an eyeful of the crime scene photos saved on the screen wouldn’t do her nights any favours.

The smile Sam forces to life sits awkward on his face. He’s played wingman for Dean often enough that he knows how it works. She’s pretty. Dark wavy hair, dark eyes, a little too pale for there to be much than a token of Hispanic blood in her. She’s slim except for all the right places just the way both he and Dean like.

He’s not interested in her. Not really. It’s been a long while since he’s honestly been interested in anyone. Attracted, sure, because he’s human. But not interested.

“Why, are you interested?” he asks.

The girl’s answer is accompanied by a quirk of one thin eyebrow. She chooses to ignore the edge in his tone, saying, “I might be. What’s your name?”

Sam’s thrown. Out of habit, his gaze skips around the room until he finds the familiar curve of Dean’s back as he leans across the bar, smiling up at the barkeep as he swirls ice around his glass. That glacial edge to her is melting just as fast.

The girl sitting across from Sam twists to follow his line of sight. Her forehead crinkles as she turns back. “He’s… not your brother, is he?”

“What? No, no, he’s my brother.” Sam pushes the laptop aside to pick up his warming beer, holding it without taking a drink. The condensation on the bottle is slick beneath his fingers. “And he’s available.”

She tilts her head, the lines on her face smoothing out. The yellow overhead lights glint in the clear darkness of her eyes. “I didn’t think I said I was interested in him.” Reaching across the small table, she picks up his left hand, hers small and slender next to his. She runs a soft fingertip down his middle finger right from knuckle to nail. “I’m Cara.”

“Sam,” Sam says, reflexively curling his fingers away from her grip.

“Sam,” she repeats, full, shiny-slick lips curving at the corners. She turns his hand over and uses the tip of one precisely manicured nail to trace the lines on his palm. It clicks against the band circling his ring finger. “It’s nice to meet you, Sam.”

Darting a quick glance at his brother, Sam wets his lips in a nervous gesture he’s spent the better part of his adult life attempting to break. They’re hardly ever around anyone long enough for them to pick up on his tells but that doesn’t mean he likes having them.

Dean isn’t paying attention. He’s still busy with the bartender, two empties by his elbow and a fresh one in his hand. She’s smiling at him like he’s the most adorable thing in the world and maybe she wouldn’t mind taking a little bite out of him herself.

“So,” Cara says, still tracing whorls onto Sam’s skin, “are you just passing through? There isn’t much that brings people to Tchula besides family.”

“On our way to Pine Bluff.” They won’t head that way until this job’s finished, or stay long, a day at the most, but it’s true enough. “A friend’s waiting for us there.”

Cara’s restless fingers stop in the very centre of his palm. “It’d just be my luck that you’re heading out tonight, wouldn’t it?”

The juke grinds to a halt, vague echoes of static lingering above the relative hush. Someone cranks up the television on one side of the bar with a defiant grunt.

The weight of Dean’s attention brings Sam’s head up. Dean’s gaze slides from the beer warming in Sam’s grip to their joined hands, then moves from the tips of Cara’s low-heeled boots to the sharp slant of her collarbones. He purses his lips in a silent, approving whistle.

With more reluctance than he’d thought, Sam pulls his hand free. There’s too much going on in his head and no matter how much he wishes sometimes that he were more like Dean, able to shut it all down to enjoy the few distractions life tosses their way, it’s just not in him.

“I’m sorry,” he says, packing his notebook in with the laptop. “I’ve gotta go collect him before he gets us in trouble with the owner.”

Cara looks back from the warm indulgence on the bartender’s face, disbelief etched clearly into hers.

“Maybe I’ll see you around again sometime,” Sam says, and makes his escape.

*
About fifteen minutes later, sprawled in the front seat with the windows wound down to the stuffy night air, Sam hears the rush of noise as the bar’s single door opens. Footsteps crunch across the gravel, circle around the back. The car dips slightly to the left as Dean folds his arms on the driver’s side door.

“I don’t even want to know what you’re still doing here,” Dean says.

Sam clambered across the seat to the passenger side. “What’d you find out?” he asks, scrubbing both hands over his face to banish the little bits of sleep clinging like lint to his brain.

“Margaret, the very nice lady who owns this fine establishment, lives upstate and enjoys crocheting blue booties for her nephew in New York.” Dean opens the door and thumps into the seat, stretching until his back pops. “Aside from that, zilch. Think we gotta head back up to West Helena and dig around s’more.”

“Shit.” Digging his satchel out of the footwell, Sam takes out his notes and flips through to the thin file on Greg Wimberley. “She was our last lead.”

“Not a really solid one, either.” Settling back, Dean closes his eyes. The lone streetlamp at the corner of the lot shines reddish-gold through the stubble on his jaw. “Maybe we should go back to the beginning. Might find something fresh.”

Sam rubs his itchy palm on the leg of his jeans. “The kid had a rough life. A violent death-”

“Teenagers are always nasty.”

“Seems like there could be a direct link between youth and the strength of spiritual manifestation. But that’s something we can examine later,” Sam says quickly, catching the look Dean slants his way. “There are two victims so far. Both knew the deceased, both willingly stated they didn’t like him much, and both survived the attacks. Barely.”

“Which means our guy hasn’t worked himself up to murder yet.” Dean’s thumb taps an irregular beat against the wheel. “That’s unusual.”

“But not unprecedented. There are half a dozen stories I can think of off the top of my head where it never escalated past terrorising victims.”

Dean pushes himself back up with a grunt. “We could just torch him anyway.”

“Do you really want to chance not only having to dig up one grave, but dodging spooked cops while digging up the second?”

Dean gnaws on the inside of his lip, then puffs out a sigh.

Closing the file, Sam stuffs it in with the laptop and shoves the bag into the backseat. There’s hardly any room left back there with both of their duffels, the dirty laundry and the pile of trash on the floor. Pretty soon the car’s going to stink.

“Whose turn is it?” Sam asks, jerking a thumb over his shoulder.

Dean starts the car and glances back, grimacing. For how picky Dean is about the Impala, it’s amazing how lazy he is when it comes to keeping it clean when they’ve spent weeks on the road, never stopping longer than a night or two.

“Mine, if you do the laundry.”

Rolling his eyes, Sam hauls off his overshirt and balls it up for a pillow. “Cleaning out the back includes laundry.”

The car rolls onto the tightly-packed dirt road. “Since when?”

“Since the last time I cleaned it out.”

“Fine,” Dean grumbles.

Dirt eventually gives way to old asphalt. As the car picks up speed, the wind whips through the smell of smoke clinging to Dean’s clothes. It reminds Sam of the summer before his senior year in high school, when Dean got a part-time job at a garage and picked up smoking for a couple months. The sun lightened Dean’s hair to nearly blond that year, dusted freckles across the bridge of his nose and his back, bare in concession to the heat.

Drifting on the memory of Dean’s sun-warmed skin, Sam settles into a light doze.

*

In the morning, Dean comes back with coffee while Sam’s in the bathroom digging sleep out of his eyes.

There’s a curse and a thud. Sam pokes his head around the corner to see Dean kicking his boots halfway across the room, muttering under his breath, “Fifteen years later, I’m still cleaning up after the little shit.”

Dean sets down one of the cups he’s carrying beside the laptop, lifting the other for an aborted sip. Giving the room a quick once-over, he picks the other one back up. His eyes slip shut in bliss.

With one last furtive glance, he wipes the whipped cream off his upper lip and from around the cup’s edge before setting it back down.

Sam snorts quietly into the facecloth.

When Sam emerges, still in a ratty old tee and a pair of boxers that may or may not be Dean’s, Dean is sorting through a heap of clothes dumped in the middle of the floor. Warm sunlight streams through the open curtains. The tee stretched thin across Dean’s broad shoulders is blindingly white.

A tiny bit of cream clings just beneath the curled rim of Sam’s cup. Absently scratching at his belly, he licks it away, says, “I saw that, y’know.”

Dean’s head snaps up. “Shit, Sam. Didn’t see you there, quit sneaking around.”

Sam shrugs one shoulder and helps himself to a mouthful of Dean’s cooling coffee. Fair’s fair, after all.

Too bad Dean’s is like burnt rubber. Sam tries to scrape the taste off his tongue with his teeth. When that doesn’t work, he licks the caramel swirl off the top of his mocha.

“You know you don’t like my coffee, why d’you even bother?” Dean grins as he stuffs their clothes back into one of the duffels. “You got anything else lying around that needs a wash?”

On his way over to power up the laptop, Sam shakes his head. “You okay if I hang around here? I want to see if we can dig up something more solid on Wimberley.”

“I think I can handle washing your panties, princess.”

A few minutes later, Dean leaves with two duffels slung over a shoulder, his keys jangling in his hand. Sam’s already settled down for a quiet morning with his notes and half the croissant Dean left behind.

Every now and then, he catches himself playing with the ring on his finger.

*
Between checking out Greg’s workplace and heading back to his apartment to poke around again, Dean pulls into the lot of a tiny gas station. While Dean idles in line, Sam climbs out to bask in the light breeze. His suit is cheap second-hand and as stuffy as the close air in the car. There’s a wet trickle of sweat in the small of his back.

Through the open window, Sam asks, “Do you want anything?” and yanks his hand back from the hot metal burn of the roof. He flexes his fingers a few times to work out the sting.

“Water,” Dean croaks. “I’m freakin’ boiling in here.”

Sam thumps the windowsill in acknowledgment and makes his way across the cracked pavement. The electronic chime above the door tinkles merrily, heralding the wonderfully frigid blast of air that hits Sam right in the face. He sucks a quick breath in through his teeth, dazed for a split-second with relief.

The attendant behind the counter glances up. Sam bobs his head in greeting and heads straight for the coolers in the back.

He’s debating the wisdom of grabbing a frozen burrito for Dean when the chime goes off a second time. A glance in the anti-theft mirror shows Dean’s distorted reflection.

Dean says, “Forty on two,” and Sam whistles low.

The price of keeping the car is climbing steeper every day but they’ve never talked about replacing it with something newer, more reliable. It’s the only thing left from life before and now they probably never will.

If Sam lined up all the things he and Dean don’t talk about, he’s sure they would circumnavigate the globe. All the heavy subjects are routinely passed over for long discussions about B-grade horror movies and which Hollywood starlet is winning the grand prize for crazy cakes this month. It’s the way they do things and it works.

Except when it doesn’t.

The thing with Dean’s happened twice now. Both times were surreal, little more than smears of garish paint in his memory. The first was not quite an accident. A spur of the moment decision on his part to make sure the job was done. The second time, Dean’s blood was hot on his hands, the thick, iron smell of it clogging up his throat. Terror blurred the dry catch-drag of Dean’s mouth against his.

One put the ring on Dean’s finger, the other almost killed him because of it.

No wonder it only ever comes up in the abstract.

“Sammy?” Dean calls out.

Too loudly, Sam replies, “Back here!”

As Dean clomps down the aisle, Sam puts the burrito back. A hungry Dean is a cranky Dean but that’s still better than the stench of refried beans after he’s done with them.

Dean rounds the display of Humpty Dumpty chips, looks right at Sam and says, “Back here, where?”

“Hilarious.” With a snort, Sam opens a different cooler. “That hasn’t worked on me since third grade.”

“Jesus Christ.”

A weird jitter starts up in Sam’s gut. Carefully setting the Aquafina bottle back down, Sam slowly turns to see Dean’s big, bug-eyed stare. “What?”

“Sam?”

Sam gives himself a quick once-over. His jacket’s flipped out over the knife sheath tucked beneath his arm, his fly’s not down and there’s no blood on his shirt. Slightly less calmly, Sam asks, “What?”

In the voice brought out only for cockblocked wrath and certain doom, Dean says, “I can’t see you.”

“Are you sure?” Sam grabs onto Dean’s arms, ignoring his startled flail to stare straight into his eyes. “Your pupils are reacting, are you sure-”

“Yes, dickweed, I’m sure, and I can see fine, I just can’t see you.”

Sam cranes his neck to look at the mirror again. His reflection peers back down at him. “In the mirror?”

Dean’s eyes flick up, then down. “Nope.”

“Go buy something. Ask the guy if he saw me come in.”

Dean nods, eyes still showing too much white. It’s barely been two months since the last time one of them ended up as the job. “Yeah, okay. Stick right behind me.”

The guy–Hi, I’m TIM–warily watches Dean plunk a Kitkat on the counter. “That everything?”

The brightest fake smile Dean’s got lights up his face. “Yep. You got a bathroom?” Sam lightly touches Dean’s right elbow. Dean nods to his left. “My brother here, he’s got a bladder the size of a chickpea.”

Tim’s gaze slides to the empty space above Dean’s shoulder. “Sure,” he says, tiny crease forming between his thick eyebrows. “Key’s at the end of the counter.”

“He didn’t already come in?”

The furrow in Tim’s forehead deepens. “I don’t think so, no.” With extra care, he picks up the candy bar and runs it over the cloudy scanner.

“Doorbell go off?” Dean asks, looking up.

“All the time. Drives me nuts. Could be I just missed him,” Tim says, obviously torn between being nice to the crazy guy in the suit and freaked the fuck out. “Bathroom’s that way, if you want to check.”

“Nah, s’okay.” Dean pockets his change. “Might pull over when his eyeballs are floating, might not.”

Tim smiles uncomfortably.

Holding the door open, Dean says, “You have a nice day.”

“Yeah, um. You too.”

The heat closes in like a glove. Impatiently, Sam gives Dean a sharp poke in the gut to move him along.

“Okay, okay,” Dean mutters. “Crawl in through my side.”

“I’m invisible, Dean, not mentally impaired.”

The car rocks as Sam scoots over the seat. Dean gropes the air in front of the steering wheel before settling in, both hands placed very, very precisely on the grooves worn into the rubber.

“You’re invisible,” he says.

“It would appear so.”

“Shut up, that’s not funny.”

“It’s a little funny.”

The tiny quirk of Dean’s lips is ruthlessly quashed. “You’re invisible, Sam.”

Sam drags a hand through his hair. It’s the wedding dress fiasco all over again, without the taffeta. As the initial surprise fades, he’s left with a vague sort of worry. There’s no immediate danger as long as he doesn’t take up jaywalking as a hobby. “Honestly, of all the things that we’ve been through? This is hardly the worst.”

After a moment of heavy silence, Dean twists slowly to fix the space Sam’s occupying with a look that speaks volumes. He waits a beat for it to sink in. “You’re enjoying this.”

Years and years of practice have Sam biting back the grin threatening to split his face despite the fact that Dean can’t see it anyway. It’s not that Sam’s enjoying the prospect so much as he’s-

“Maybe,” Sam hedges.

Dean’s eyes narrow to tiny, accusing slits. “You’re plotting nefarious deeds right now, aren’t you? You were always the sneaky one. In seventh grade, you framed me for-”

From the other side of the pump island, a woman with a small, yippy dog squints at them from behind her giant-rimmed glasses. She’s holding the nozzle about three feet to the left of her gas tank.

“Dean,” Sam interrupts, jerking his chin at the woman.

Dean’s held tilts to the side. “I know you just did something, but I have no idea what.”

“Nine o’clock.”

Casually, Dean’s gaze slides to the woman. She startles when he smiles, hurriedly turning to jam the nozzle into the tank and quiet her dog.

As Dean eases the car the edge of the lot, he angles the nose to the road leading back out of town.

“Where’re you going?”

Dean leans forward to peer at the lack of oncoming traffic. “Back to the motel. You can get your geek on while I figure out what the hell you tripped over that turned you into the Invisible Man.” Puffing out a breath, he adds, “You get all the best curses.”

“This is the first one.”

“Battin’ a thousand.”

Sam scrubs both hands over his face. “What am I gonna look up?”

“Weird.” Slanting an off-target look his way, Dean pulls out onto the road. “I can hear when you move.”

“Do you even have a plan or is flailing around the internet like a horny teenager looking for porn it?”

Dean purses his lips in a low whistle. “Getting feisty there, Sammy.” At the strangled grunt Sam can’t hold back, his voice softens. “Look, we can’t just leave it. So you’re right we don’t have the first clue what we’re dealing with, but the least we can do is go through the last couple days, maybe the week, see if we might’ve bumped into something that could’ve done this.”

“Okay,” Sam says, easing back in the seat. The leather creaks, bringing Dean’s gaze his way. It cuts quickly back to the road. “Okay, but after we check out Wimberley’s apartment.”

Before the warning tightening Dean’s jaw gets close to being voiced, Sam hurries on. “We’re lucky that nobody’s cleaned the place out yet. Even if he doesn’t have family, eventually the landlord is going to get over the creepy factor and get to it. We gotta do it now, Dean.”

“Doubt we’re going to find anything we haven’t already.”

“Maybe, maybe not. But chances are good somebody else is going to be targeted before this invisibility thing becomes a problem. Hell, it could make snooping around even easier.”

The set of Dean’s mouth, the slight incline of his chin, the way his fingertips tap habitually along with the constant stream of music echoing dully in the back, all these things Sam has carefully catalogued and tallied, and they mean one very important thing.

“Fine,” Dean grouses. “We’ll check out his place first but then we’re going straight back. D’you hear me? Straight back to the motel.”

Sam tucks his hands behind his head and hums in satisfaction.

“Y’know, I can still hear you just fine.”

*
They say a man’s possessions tell the story of his life. Some times more than others, Sam believes it’s true. The things he owns now aren’t really his at all–bought with hustled money, a stolen name. But some of them are his in every sense of the word. He won the pocket knife stuck in his pocket fair and square at a farming festival in Georgia a couple of years back. The craftsman insisted on scoring his initials in it with the sharp tip of a hot iron before handing it over. It’s a minor liability that he can’t bring himself to sell off for the bit of cash it’s worth.

Some things aren’t quite as handy to have around and he holds onto them just the same. Nowhere else in the world is Dean’s favourite tee shirt, worn for years in the summer sun and soaked in the phantom smell of leather and clean sweat, except tucked in the corner of Sam’s duffel waiting for night to fall, for Sam to come back, tug its stretched-out cotton over his head before falling into sleep.

It’s one of the only things he has that survived Stanford, both his flight to and from.

Greg Wimberley’s home doesn’t have as much to say as the backseat of the Impala, where there’s a bag full of candy wrappers and a sock jammed so far under the seat that its fibres have fused with the upholstery. Every surface is scrubbed meticulously clean. The kitchen has a place for each shiny pot and each shiny pot is in its place. There are no pictures besides the black and white photos of winter trees, no mail on the living room table, no coffee-stained mug in the bedroom.

A few bottles clink in the kitchen as Dean bumps the fridge door shut. “I told you. This place is a showroom, not a house.”

“Somebody to impress?” Sam murmurs to himself, searching through dresser drawers for the tiny speck of life that Greg had to leave behind. “Too Stepford. Bring a girl back here and she’d know something’s up.”

“That’s just plain creepy.” From the doorway, shoulder hitched up against the jamb, Dean nods at the dresser. “Looks like a cheap special effect.”

Sam shoves the last drawer shut and moves to the nightstand. “Thanks, Dean. My day isn’t complete until you call me cheap.”

Dean’s gaze jumps to the bedside once Sam starts rifling through things. “What d’you think his deal was?”

“Not a clue.” While Dean watches, Sam tosses the bed. There isn’t a scrap of porn in the whole place. Sam doesn’t have close to the appetite his brother does and even he had a few bright, glossy magazines. Most of it is on his computer, but if Greg had one, it was a laptop and it’s long since gone. “You talked to the second vic. What’d she have to say?”

Dean sighs but moves inside the bedroom to help tuck the sheets back down. “Same thing yours did. Quiet guy with a weird sense of humour. Didn’t say how it was weird, though. Couldn’t put her finger on it.”

There’s something not right about sitting on a dead man’s bed, but Sam’s dragged out from the heat and the way Dean’s face twists when a body-shaped indent appears out of nowhere is worth the light flip of his gut. “He asked them both out. Both declined for obvious reasons: Arlene’s been dating the same guy since high school and Amanda got engaged last month. According to them, he didn’t take it well.”

“Yeah, I bet. You’d think the rock on her finger would be a big enough sign to lay off.”

Like a moth to flame, Sam’s drawn to the ring on his own hand. It’d taken him weeks to get used to the constant, light pressure and the way it clinked against a diner’s heavy porcelain mug. Water got trapped beneath it if he wasn’t careful after washing his hands, irritating his skin. At night, after Dean’s asleep and he’s awake reading, the glint of it in the light as he goes to switch off the lamp still catches him off-guard.

“Maybe he was a psychokiller that couldn’t get it up and somebody did the world a favour,” Dean says, breaking the long silence.

“Except now he’d be an undead psychokiller.”

“And I’ve got a whole matchbox of solutions to that problem.”

“Alright, alright. Fine.” Back to his feet, Sam smoothes the covers into place. Dean’s eyes follow the rumples in the cotton. “We’ll light him up tonight. If he’s not our guy, you’re digging up the next grave on your own.”

“Knew you’d see it my way, Sammy,” Dean says, keys jangling impatiently in his hand as Sam takes one last look around the living room, making sure everything is where it should be. There’s a very slim chance of someone detecting their presence but that one chance is all it takes.

Dean hangs back as Sam checks the hallway for neighbours. Sure the coast is clear, Sam tugs on Dean’s cuff and is suddenly catapulted back fifteen years to the edge of a cracked, sun-blasted road, his small fingers anchored firmly in his big brother’s frayed denim sleeve.

Past overlapping present, Dean says, “Keep hold. I wanna know if you fall down a rabbit hole.”

Down the hall, one of the other apartment doors swings open. Quickly, Dean backs up to the stairwell, as if he’d just arrived, while Sam stays where he is, gaping at the glint of sunlight on Cara’s dark hair.

She looks up, right through Sam, to see Dean climb the last stair. Recognition flickers across her face.

“I know you,” she says, keeping her distance. “You were at Billiards. What’re you doing here?”

“Detour,” Dean replies, defensive, prickly frown on his face. “I heard about a friend, came to pay my respects.”

Cara’s gaze jumps to Greg’s closed door. Guiltily, she says, “Sorry. I didn’t realise Greg had many friends out of town.”

“Didn’t have many friends, period.” Dean stuffs his hands in his pockets, shoulders hunched. “But he was mine. You knew him?”

Cara fidgets with a charm hung from her bag’s strap. “Not really. He wasn’t a bad- I mean, he was a good neighbour. I’m sorry about what happened.”

“What the hell did happen, anyway? Cops won’t tell me a thing ’cause I’m not family.” Dean’s frown darkens to a scowl. “More family than he’s ever had.”

“I don’t really know.” Letting the charm fall from her fingers, Cara digs through her purse for a small, slim cell. “I didn’t see him around much for a couple days and then the police were here, asking me questions.”

“What kinda questions?”

“About how he lived, if he was seeing anybody. The usual stuff, I guess.” Jamming the phone back into her purse, Cara takes a step back. “I’m really sorry about your friend, but I’ve gotta go.”

Cara turns, throwing one last shaky smile over her shoulder before trotting down the hall to the other stairwell. After she’s gone, Dean searches the empty air. “Sammy?”

“Right here,” Sam says, knocking their shoulders lightly together. The worry creasing Dean’s brow vanishes. “That’s a pretty big coincidence, isn’t it.”

“Didn’t seem all that surprised not to see you.”

A hot-cold twist tightens Sam’s stomach. “At the bar, she wouldn’t let go of my hand. She was drawing patterns on my palm the whole time. Dean, we gotta follow her.”

“Later. We’re going back to the motel, like we agreed.” Dean’s hand bumps Sam’s elbow, follows his arm down to grip his wrist. “If we’re going to tail a witch, I need to be able to see you, Sam. And now we’ve got something for you to research.”

*
Dean peers doubtfully at an iron filigree cross dangling from a blood-red chain. “Are you sure this is gonna work? If I had to drive two hours in the blistering heat to get to the only goth boutique in this entire fuckin’ state, I wanna make sure you’re sure this is gonna work,” he hisses.

“It’ll work,” Sam says. “You’ll be able to see me, nobody else will. It’s like slapping a band-aid over open-heart surgery.”

The shop is close and cluttered, musty like a basement. The girl behind the counter has enough metal in her face to shut down an airport. Sam wouldn’t say she’s pretty but she’s striking. Probably around college age and fascinating even without the complicated tattoos winding their way up her forearms.

“Anything else we need?” Dean squints at the tiny, empty vial with a silver cap between his thumb and forefinger. It’s thin and fragile looking, about an inch long. “Are we sure this is gonna be enough?”

Barely restraining himself from snatching it away, Sam says, “Yes, it’ll be enough. Do you have everything else?”

“Everything you put on the list.”

“Good. Okay, we’re done. Go check out.”

Dean slants a sly, considering leer the girl’s way. Under his breath, he says, “I wouldn’t mind checking that out, wonder where else- Hey!”

Startled, the girl looks up. “Sorry, did you need a hand? With something?”

Sam keeps his hand spanning the back of Dean’s neck, ready to pinch him again if he gets off track.

“No, no, I’m all good.” Slapping on a slick smile, Dean dumps his armful of stuff on the counter and plops his elbows on the edge. “I’m Dean.”

The girl’s smile is quick and fake. She starts punching numbers on the old, manual register. She’s an obvious miss, but Dean being Dean, he’s still smiling, still trying. It’s always been a mean little consolation to Sam that when Dean hits, he hits hard, but when he misses, he misses. “Is this everything?”

“Maybe. See, I’m new to all this.” Dean waves a hand at the small store. Gritting his teeth in annoyance, Sam flicks the tip of his ear. Hard.

“And,” Dean says, too loudly, “I could probably use a hand with all the herbs and stuff. Somebody to show me the ropes, y’know?”

“Looks like you’re doing fine to me,” the girl says. She picks up the small vial and wraps it in tissue paper. “Your girlfriend sent you in with a list, huh?”

Dean doesn’t deflate an inch. “Yep. Definitely a girl.” He doesn’t even bat an eyelash as Sam flicks both his ears. “She’s a bit clingy.”

Without a single drop of remorse, Sam gooses his brother.

“Fifty-three twenty,” the girl says, pierced eyebrows arching sharply as Dean jolts straight up off the counter. “Sir?”

“Pricey,” Dean covers, forking over Gerry G. Green’s Visa.

The girl looks unconvinced but hands over a rich, violet sack tied over with gold thread, everything tucked neatly inside. She doesn’t bother to check the signature on the back of the card before she hands it back. “Thanks for shopping with us,” she says, voice falling flat.

“Yeah.” Dean shoves the card back in his wallet. “Thanks.”

Outside, the evening heat closing in, Sam says, “So this is what it’s like to be you, huh. Get away with anything.”

“Shut up,” Dean says, ignoring the kid passing by that gives him a dirty look. “I look like a schizo talking to myself.”

“She probably thinks your girlfriend’s crazy.”

Opening the passenger’s side door, Dean sets the bag on the middle of the seat. “Just get in the car, crazy.”

Sam slaps him in the gut.

*
By the time the get back to West Helena, full dark has fallen. There’s a tight, itchy feeling skittering beneath Sam’s skin.

“We should burn the bones first,” he says, standing close to Dean’s side as his brother opens their room door. Though the hall is empty he keeps his voice low.

“Too late.” Flicking on the overhead light, Dean drops the bag on Sam’s bed and goes for his duffel. “I wanted to light the sucker up days ago. Not my fault you dragged us down to that bar and got yourself cursed.”

Since Dean’s pretty much right, Sam goes to draw the salt circle they need in the middle of the floor. It’s a small one for only the vial, the copper brazier they picked up and the flint knife from their stash that they’ll be using to draw blood.

“That’s so freakin’ creepy,” Dean says.

Sam snorts a quiet laugh, wondering not for the first time what it’s like to see a benign object float through the air instead of the sharp glint of something aimed straight for the kill.

“Hey, Sammy?” There’s a soft, cautious note in Dean’s voice.

“Yeah?”

“You’re not- I mean, you’re wearing clothes, right? You didn’t get your naked ass all over my car.”

“What?” The brazier drops in the middle of the circle harder than Sam had meant. “Dude, I’m in the stupid cheap suit I was wearing when it happened!”

Dean nods quickly. “Okay. Right, ‘course you are. Just, heh.” He scratches the side of his neck. “Weird how everything else you touch doesn’t go poof.”

“Not really. Sorta makes sense that anything on me went invisible when I did. Thought about changing, because I hate this suit, but then what would I do if something else I put on wasn’t affected?”

“Good, good. Good thinking, Sammy.”

For a moment, all Sam can do is stare. There are times, scarily enough, when Dean makes perfect sense. This isn’t one of them.

After everything’s set out, Sam says, “Kill the lights, wouldja?”

The lights click off, leaving Dean to find his place at the other side of the circle by candlelight. He sits with his feet tucked under his knees, hands spread loose on his thighs. “Aw, baby. You’re such a romantic.”

Reflexively, Sam snaps, “Shut up. Light the herbs.”

Dean’s silver Zippo snaps open, flame jumping up brightly. He holds the bundle above the brazier until it catches, then drops it in, smouldering away.

“You first.” Sam holds up the small knife. “Don’t forget-”

“I know, I know.” Dean takes the knife in his right hand, his left in the smoke curling up from the brazier. He flexes his fingers a few times, his ring glinting in the firelight, before spreading his hand flat, palm up. Setting the tip of the knife at the juncture of the heart and fate lines, he takes a deep breath, says, “Blood of blood is truth.”

Thick, dark red wells to the surface. Dean’s upper lip twitches as he presses a bit harder, wiggling his fingers so his blood pools in his palm.

Lightly, Sam touches the back of his hand. His gaze darts upward, lands on nothing. His lashes slowly lower again as Sam takes the knife from his grip.

“My blood, my truth,” Sam says, sinking the bloodied tip into the very same spot on his own left hand, “in your blood.”

At Dean’s harsh breath, Sam says, “What? What is it?”

“Your blood, it’s just. Hovering there, man.”

“Guess it’s working.” Sam wets dry lips. “Ready?”

“As I’ll ever be.”

Carefully, Sam tilts his hand. Blood follows the shallow curve of his heart line, thick droplet quivering at the edge of his hand before falling into Dean’s cupped palm. The rest follows in seven precise drops.

“Now?” Dean asks.

Sam nods. Dean doesn’t move. “Yeah, sorry. Now.”

Dean shakes his head. The vial is almost lost between the tips of his fingers as he sets it against his hand, fingers curved so his heart line forms a channel for their mixed blood to flow into it.

“That’s good,” Sam says. “C’mere.”

Obediently, Dean closes his wounded hand into a fist and leans forward over the brazier. The amulet around his neck falls into the waning smoke.

For a split-second, Sam remembers the taste of Dean’s blood on his lips.

Sam’s fingers tremble as he pries open the silver loop with blunt fingernails. It takes him a couple minutes to twist it around the worn leather cord.

Even after it’s done, Dean stays where he is, eyes closed. His chest rises and falls with each shallow breath.

Sam says, “Dean.”

Dean’s forehead wrinkles before his eyes slowly open. A warm, welcome grin cuts deep into his cheeks. “There’s my dork kid brother.”

The crazy Gordian knot Sam’s stomach tied itself up in falls loose. “It worked.”

Without a care for anything else, Dean launches himself across the circle. He catches Sam in a headlock as they both crash down. “Yeah, genius,” he says, scrubbing his knuckles hard against Sam’s scalp. “Damn right it worked.”

Sam howls and flails and smiles so hard his face hurts.

*
Happy Rest Cemetery

The graveyard north of town where Greg’s buried is new. The plots are all carefully pre-planned, with groomed paths herding them in orderly rows. All the gravemarkers are squat, square blocks of stone. The whole place is flat and open. It gives Sam the creeps.

Greg’s grave is too fresh to have a proper marker set in the ground. The sod is easy to roll back, the dirt beneath mechanically flattened. While Sam’s not looking forward to cracking open that coffin to find a fresh body inside, at least getting there isn’t going to be as back-breaking as digging through decades of settlement.

Four and a half feet down, Dean stops for a drink. He’s stripped down to just a tee and dirt-smudged jeans. “When I go,” he says, rubbing sweat off his face with his arm, “don’t bury me. Spend too much time in graves as it is.”

Dozens of responses jump to the tip of Sam’s tongue. Who says I’m gonna outlive you? is one he’ll never say. You really think there’ll be enough of us left to bury? is the one he thinks too often. Gonna burn those stupid cassettes stuffed under my seat is the one he’s saving for when he needs it most.

“Don’t worry,” is what he says now, taking the offered water bottle from Dean’s grip. “I’ve got an urn in the trunk I’ll to glue to the dashboard for you.”

Shocked laughter rings out on the still night air. “Always got such a mouth on you, Sammy.”

Sam splashes lukewarm water on the back of his neck. “Guess so.”

After another long drink, Dean shakes his head ruefully and goes back to digging. Sam waits for his pulse to slow before joining.

Another trade-off with modern graves is the effort it takes to pry the coffin open. With no next of kin, Greg must’ve arranged his own burial, and he wasn’t cutting corners on eternal rest. The box is solid oak and air-sealed.

Sam shares a long look with his brother.

“This is going to be disgusting, isn’t it?”

Sam slumps against the raw grave wall. “At least it isn’t a solid steel Trek pod.” The dirt is cool through his clothes. He’s long since tossed most of the suit, down to slacks and a sleeveless undershirt. “He’s only been dead a couple weeks. I doubt decomposition speeds up that much.”

Dean stares hard at the curved lid. “If he’s already a puddle of ooze in there, at least he won’t take long to burn.”

It’s pretty ugly when they finally crack it open. Greg’s body is discoloured and bloated, his flesh split open like a floater. The stench that wells up clogs Sam’s throat.

“Gross.” Though it doesn’t help much, Sam yanks his shirt up over his mouth and nose. The smell of his own sweat is far better.

Dean makes a couple gagging noises before following suit. Voice strained, he says, “That’s not normal.”

“Definitely not normal.” The smell drives Sam to the foot of the grave. “Open up the bottom. I’ll give you a hand up.”

Hauling himself out of the hole, Sam flops back on the grass for a moment to suck down the fresh air.

Dean slaps the bottom of his boot. Chunks of dirt patter into the grave. “C’mon, Sam. No sleeping on the job.”

Greg’s ghost shows up as Dean strikes the row of matches. It’s as twisted as the thing in the ground, its eyes bugging out, fish-belly white in its bloated face. It zeros in on Sam, mouth open to speak, when the gas catches.

A mirror image of the flames roaring in its grave burn it to nothing in a few seconds.

In the silence after, Sam says, “That was pretty weird, too.”

*
Cara works in a modest-sized office building that houses anywhere from three to five companies–the sign out front doesn’t quite agree with the local business directory. From six to nine the next morning, they stake out the employee lot in back for her blue Honda Civic.

“Maybe she works a four-fourty,” Sam ventures.

“Her car wasn’t at the apartments this morning, that’s pretty early to be up on a day off.”

“Boyfriend’s house?”

Dean scratches at the dusting of stubble on his chin. “Maybe. Let’s go ask. I’ll talk, you snoop.”

*
Being invisible presents new challenges daily. For instance, Sam likes to pace while he thinks. It drives Dean nuts, which more than anything else probably solidified the habit.

In retaliation, Dean took up sharpening knives. Sam’s never bothered to tell him the steady, quiet rasp of steel on stone has lulled him to deep, dreamless sleep more than once.

Lurking outside Cara’s hospital room waiting for Dean to round up her doctor means dodging a steady stream of nurses, visitors, carts and trolleys and one old woman who shouldn’t ever be allowed near that motorised scooter, let alone drive it.

“We appreciate your time, Dr. Witten,” comes Dean’s voice from around the corner. “A third case may give us the information we need to catch this guy.”

“It’s a sad way to get it,” the doctor replies.

Witten is a middle-aged balding man, heavyset, carrying more than muscle closer to his waistline. His face is craggy but his gaze when it lands on Cara’s open doorway is kind. He has the look of a man who set out the save the world and learned to take what small victories he could.

“Yessir, it is.” Dean flips Sam’s black moleskine shut. “Is there anything else you can tell me? I’d prefer to speak with her alone, if she’s up to it.”

Dr. Witten pulls off his thick glasses to rub them clean on his shirt. “She’s understandably confused, Agent Evans. In situations like these… please remember that.”

Dean nods curtly, easing the door mostly shut behind them. The hospital noises fade in the background.

Cara seems small and lost amongst the white sheets and white pillows and white, white wires trailing from the machines beside her bed. She opens tired, bruised eyes when Dean says her name.

“I knew you weren’t his friend,” she croaks.

“Water?” Dean asks.

She nods, and Dean picks up a cup from her tray, holding the bendy straw steady for her to sip. After a moment, she sinks back down, wiping her mouth with a shaking hand.

“I’m a federal agent,” Dean says, hooking the stool at the foot of her bed with a toe and pulling to close. “SSA Dean Evans. You met my partner, Sam Williams, in Tchula.”

A sliver of a smile curves her pale lips. Quietly, Sam bends down to flip the pages of her chart. Unlike the first two victims, who were beaten and strangled to the point of losing consciousness, Cara also suffered a minor heart attack. Practically unheard of in a woman of Cara’s age and fitness.

“How is your brother, SSA Evans?”

Dean laughs nervously, charmingly, and laces his fingers together. “You picked up on that, huh?”

Some of the spark from that night in the bar brightens her eyes. Finished with the chart, Sam has nothing to do now but stand by his brother and listen.

“I know who did this to me. You won’t believe me. No one does,” Cara says, her pretty voice a ruined rasp.

“Oh, I can believe a lot.”

“I dated him once, y’know?” Cara extends a steadier hand for the water, holding it herself this time to drink. “Don’t date the neighbours. They know where you live.”

“Greg Wimberley,” Dean clarifies.

Again, she nods. “Even slept with him. He seemed nice, confident. But he- he didn’t-”

“Take your time.”

“He was a self-obsessed, controlling, arrogant dick. He got rough. I said- I told him, no, no, I didn’t like that sort of thing, but he just kept barking orders at me. Do this, like this, no, you stupid bitch, what’re you good for-” Cara breaks off with a sob. The cup falls from her fingers, a dribble of water soaking into the sheets.

She plunges on, pulling her arm from Dean’s tentative touch. “But. But I didn’t let it get to me. Got up, got out, told a friend. A cop. He didn’t hurt me, so I didn’t file a report, but I wanted- I’m gonna move back home. To Tchula. I have family there.”

“Good,” Dean soothes. “That’s good. Family’s always best for us.”

Tears in her eyes, she nods.

“But you haven’t told me yet, Cara. You have to tell me who did this to you. I promise I’ll believe you.”

Cara covers her face with her hands. Her nails are short and jagged, broken like she’d clawed and clawed at something too strong for her to hurt.

“He did,” she says. “Greg. He’s dead, I know he is, but he did this to me.”

*
In the parking lot, Dean settles into the seat and puts his hands on the wheel.

“You still think she did it?” Sam asks.

Dean blows out a heavy breath. “She could’ve gotten back at Wimberley first. Got pushed around, got pissed off. We still don’t know exactly how he ended up looking like that mess we roasted.”

“Then what, she develops a taste for it, starts twisting curses on random guys to get back at them for what he did?”

“She’s pretty messed up. Ghost Greg could’ve been working his way up to taking her out. The first two attacks were practice runs. Perfect his plan and hurt two women that hurt him at the same time.”

Sam leans back, the seat creaking beneath his weight. The wound on his palm itches. He rubs the side of his thumb over the bandage again and again. “We should check out her place. See if there’s any signs of witchcraft there, or even in her family in Tchula, before we go back in there and accuse her of anything.”

“Yeah,” Dean says, “Yeah, okay. It’s not like she’s going to be cooking up anything else in the meantime.”

*
Cara’s place gives them squat. Sam learns her full name, Cara Peterson, from the pile of mail on her desk, that she enjoys old black and white romances and idolises Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly. There’s a poster of Hepburn from Breakfast at Tiffany’s above her computer, all sleek, classic lines and a coy smile.

“There’s nothing here to even suggest she’s practicing,” Sam says, clicking out of her email. “Not even a pentacle.”

“That charm on her purse, the one she was playing with-”

“Was a tennis racket, Dean.” Snatching up the stray tennis ball beside the desk, Sam lobs it at Dean’s gut. “She plays tennis.”

Dean grunts, catches the ball on the rebound and flops into the overstuffed, violent orange armchair by the television. Idly turning the tennis ball over in his hands, he says, “At least we know why Wimberley didn’t show up right away when we lit him up. He was working on her.”

“Say it went like this.” Sam starts ticking things off on his fingers. “He’s a sleazebag abuser. Cara goes after him. Now he’s a sleazebag ghost abuser. He goes after Cara, we go after him, end of cycle.”

“Yeah,” Dean says, “no. The Invisible Man doesn’t fit. And we can’t confirm Cara’s witching her way through life.”

“Exactly. What’s the one thing me and Greg have in common, except for her?”

Realisation tightens Dean’s mouth. “Son of a bitch.”

*
Billiards is exactly as they left it, right down to the drunk in the corner dribbling beer into his beard. The same woman is behind the scarred counter, glancing up as Dean slides onto a stool, a warm smile softening her face.

“Didn’t think I’d see you again. Done visiting your friend up north already?”

“I just had to c’mon back and see that pretty smile of yours again, Leah. How about you keep me company while I drink some of that beer you’ve got back there?”

While standing uselessly by while Dean questioned Cara grated on Sam’s nerves, looming behind his brother without a thing he can do this time is infinitely worse. People tended to steer clear of the dark, brooding presence at Dean’s side, unwilling to tangle with the flat stare Sam leveled their way where they’d have been more than happy to take on Dean’s careless jibes.

It’s like Dean’s out there all alone. More vulnerable just because people can’t see that Sam’s got his back.

If they don’t break this curse soon, Sam’s going to snap.

Leah sets a bottle on a napkin on the counter, popping the top. A smoky wisp curls out of the mouth. “Where’s your friend?”

Dean shrugs the shoulder Sam’s hand rests on. “Sam’s around.”

Folding her arms on the counter, Leah leans forward. Tiny bits of gold glint at her ears. There’s a lighter band of skin around the ring finger of her left hand. “Is he, now? Left behind a mightily disappointed young woman, the other night.”

Oh, did he now, Sam thinks. He squeezes Dean’s shoulder, reassurance and warning both.

Dean takes a long pull on his beer, twisting his wrist afterwards to idly read the label. “Didn’t disappoint me.”

Wrinkles crease Leah’s forehead, her thin mouth gone flat.

“Should I be worried there’s something in this?” Dean asks, tilting the bottle.

When Leah’s gaze jumps up to meet Sam’s square on, Sam can feel tension spring to life in Dean beneath his hands. He leans more of his weight on Dean’s shoulders, less to keep Dean down than to keep himself grounded.

Leah straightens up, stepping back to put some distance between them along with the wide counter. “I see that charm round his neck but it won’t do you much good. Is blood all you’re willing to share with him?”

“He’s my brother“, Sam hisses softly. “But you knew that.”

Dean pushes his beer aside to fold his hands on the counter. “Break it. Now.”

“I can’t.” At Dean’s hard stare, Leah shrugs. “It’s the truth. I can’t end his curse no more than I could Wimberley’s. It’s not within my power to do so.”

Sam snaps, “Explain,” before Dean’s hand goes for the gun in his belt.

“Realisation,” she says. “That man was so puffed up with his own self-importance, so blank towards women. He wanted them to love him but didn’t care to return the favour. So selfish, filled with nothing but thoughts for himself.”

Sam flashes back on Wimberley’s bloated body. Dean says, “That’s pretty literal, lady.”

She ignores him, colour high in her cheeks, eyes bright, feverish, boring into Sam’s. “You put your ring on his finger. You won’t touch him but you won’t let others touch him either. You think you don’t need him the way you do. With the passing of this night, you’ll have faded away to nothing, become the nothing to him that he is to you.”

Dean bolts to his feet, jostling Sam back a couple stumbling steps as the stool overturns. “Are you telling me you slapped a curse on my brother that’s gonna kill him unless he- What, you self-righteous bitch, what’s it gonna take?”

Leah smiles, beautiful and benevolent and completely crazy. “Unless he loves you.”

Dean slams his hands down on the counter and shouts, “He does love me, you stupid cunt!”

The silence after is deafening.

Warily, Sam watches the dozen or so regulars rise to their feet a couple at a time. “Dean,” he says, “Dean, leave it.”

“Leave it!” Dean whips around, fisting the front of Sam’s thin shirt. Goosebumps prickle to life all up Sam’s bare arms. “No, Sam,” he says, low and measured. “I’m not gonna leave it.”

“All he has to do is let himself be intimate with you,” Leah says.

Before Sam can stop him, Dean whirls on her. “Lady, the last thing I’m doing is fucking my brother for your sick enjoyment.”

“Okay!” Sam bursts out. “Time to go. Seriously, Dean.” An elbow to the kidney draws Dean’s attention to the dark, scowling faces of the bar patrons. More than a few of them have pool cues clenched in their fists. “We’ll figure it out.”

Determinedly, Sam starts dragging Dean towards the door. From the confused looks jumping around, even Fight Club isn’t enough to dull the masses to the sight of a guy tugged around by nothing.

Outside, Dean throws off Sam’s grip. “What the fuck are you doing?”

“Get in the car. Drive.”

“Sam!”

“We’ll figure it out!” Sam drags both hands through his hair, feels drying sweat prickle in the soft breeze. “Trust me. We’ll figure it out. But we gotta get out of here before those guys in there follow.”

“Fuck. Fine.” Dean wrenches open the car door and gets in, letting Sam take care of his own. He sets his gun on the seat between them. “For now.”

*
Six hours later, they’ve got nothing except the cold comfort that Leah told them the truth.

“Enough,” Dean says, almost slamming the laptop shut on Sam’s fingers. “It’s two hours to sunrise, Sam.” He pulls the computer out of Sam’s reach before sitting on the edge of his bed.

“There’s got to be something.” The weird electric buzz that’s been zipping through Sam’s veins for the last couple hours surges. “Something we missed. If we-”

“You think I’m comfortable with this?” Dean asks, waving vaguely at their room. They’d gotten it in a hurry, less than twenty minutes from the bar. Almost everything is still in the duffels dropped haphazardly by the door. There’s a puddle of white around the container of salt Dean slammed on the windowsill. “I’m not, Sammy. I’m really, really not. But I’m even less comfortable with the idea of you ceasing to exist, so take your damn pants off.”

Sam’s stomach loop-de-loops and drops straight through the floor.

“I’m serious,” Dean says. He jerks up off the bed, kicking off his boots, yanking off his socks and the light button-down he’s wearing like he’s got something to prove. “Nothing noble about dying over something like this.”

Protests bubble up Sam’s throat to evaporate on his tongue. The simple fact is he doesn’t want to die. Not now, not even in ten or twenty years. Stubbornly, Sam wants to keep on living long past a hunter’s expiration date. A long, full life he can look back on and say wasn’t so bad after all.

Hardly more than a whisper, Sam says, “Okay,” and stands up.

Three feet of dull, office-grey carpet stretch like miles of Nebraska nothing between them.

Dean nervously wets his lips. The light overhead catches the bright sheen of sweat on his upper lip. Neither one of them moves to turn it off.

“Okay,” Dean repeats. “Okay.” In two quick strides, Dean closes the distance. His eyes are wide, uncertain, and his hands are steady until they grip the front of Sam’s jeans. “We’ll just- Handjobs, okay? Start small. If that doesn’t work, we’ll.”

The first button pops out of the loop like rifle kickback. Dean doesn’t say what they’re going to do if this doesn’t work and Sam is grateful because he’s already dizzy. The sound of Dean lowering his zip, knuckles barely grazing him through the denim, almost sends him to his knees.

“Wait,” Sam tries.

“S’okay, Sammy.” Evading Sam’s attempt to grab his wrist, Dean undoes his own jeans. After, he just stands there, fly open wide enough for Sam to see the dark black boxer-briefs beneath. “Doesn’t mean anything.”

Sam closes his eyes for a minute to drag in a slow breath. The air filling his lungs is heavy with the smell of Dean’s sweat, overlaid with the sweeter, green apple smell of the gel going soft in his hair. He breathes in again, deeper.

“Same time,” Sam says.

Dean’s fingers hook in Sam’s open fly. They brush the hot swell of Sam’s cock and twitch away, resettle lower, closer. “Knew you weren’t getting any,” he says, that familiar, joking older brother tone roughed up. “Doesn’t matter whose hand it is, huh?”

Biting the inside of his lip, where Dean can’t see, Sam nods. It’s an easy lie to tell and an even easier one to see straight through. His fingers feel thick, clumsy, on the band of Dean’s shorts. The skin pressed against the back of his hand is warm, so soft. He can feel the flutter of Dean’s muscles as his fingertips find slick, wet heat.

Dean’s hand comes up to land on his hip, bracing and drawing him closer all at once. The other hand pushes in through the slit in Sam’s boxers instead, curls around his cock to pull it free.

Sam wants to see Dean’s hand on him, wants to see Dean’s face, and fixes his gaze on the soft hair at Dean’s nape instead.

Dean says, “Soft and slow or good and hard?”

Sam grabs onto Dean’s shoulder before his knees buckle. Heat pours off of Dean, almost too much to take, and Sam lets his arm slide further back, hook over his brother’s shoulder to hold himself up.

“Both,” Sam mumbles, “I like both,” and turns his body into Dean’s to ease the pressure on his wrist as his hand drags down the full length of Dean’s cock.

The groan that tries to slip from Dean’s mouth is barely held in check. He shakes his head, denial of it or of what they’re doing, and lets his fingers feather over the head of Sam’s cock, slicking precome down over the shaft on the next pass.

“C’mon,” Dean grunts, breath tickling Sam’s neck. “Not a one man wonder, here, c’mon.”

Belatedly, Sam realises he’s just cradling Dean’s cock in his hand, head bumping against the inside of his wrist. He fumbles finding a rhythm to match Dean’s steady strokes, too caught up in the light scrape of gun calluses on delicate skin, how wide Dean’s palm is, how his fingers span the width of him with plenty of room to spare.

The edge of Dean’s thumbnail scratches over his slit. Sam’s whole body jerks in response, pleasure a throbbing bassline in his blood. His fingers slide into Dean’s short hair, cup the back of his skull to tilt his head just right for their mouths to brush shakily together.

Dean surges into the kiss and takes it completely out of Sam’s control. Sam opens to the push of Dean’s tongue, answers the demand for more than the weak noise shocked out of his throat with a muffled, broken moan. The chalky taste of cheap motel creamer fades until all Sam knows is the slickness of Dean’s mouth.

The heat building between them flares to a peak. Dean jerks back, gasping, “Shit, shit.” He yanks at the cord around his neck, close to snapping the old leather in his haste to get it off. “Jesus Christ.”

Sam catches his wrist and steadies the swaying amulet to get a good look at his blood bubbling in the vial hung beside it. “Holy shit. Quick, drop it.”

The vial bounces once on the carpet before it bursts. Hot droplets of blood and glass shards spatter Dean’s bare feet. With a curse, Dean jumps back, gaze glued to the slow seep of what’s left inside the vial into the carpet.

“Can you-” Sam coughs, clears his throat. His lips feel wet and swollen from Dean’s mouth on them. “Can you still see me?”

Dean’s eyes come up, catch on Sam’s face before sliding down, jumping guiltily back up again. “Yeah,” he says, gravel-rough. “Yeah.” He scrubs the back of one hand over his mouth, chews on his lip for a second and licks it. “Think I got glass jammed in my foot.”

“I’ll- Lemme see, I’ll get the kit.” Turning his back, Sam tucks himself away with trembling hands. He catches the smell of Dean on his fingers as he wipes hair out of his eyes. His heart shudder-thuds against his ribs.

“Thanks,” Dean says, and when Sam turns around, his jeans are buttoned, the cuff of one leg rolled up. There are half a dozen tiny pinpricks of blood on his skin.

It turns out only one is a piece of the blood jewelry. Sam doesn’t even need the tweezers to eek it out but uses them anyway, Dean’s dark gaze a weight bowing his neck as he works.

As Sam cleans up the glass shards as best he can, Dean asks, “What’re we gonna do about her?”

“I don’t know. That guy might’ve been a first class bastard but he didn’t deserve that. Who knows how many others she’s done this to?”

Dean sits up and motions for the laptop. He hasn’t bothered to put his overshirt back on. Both feet are still bare, pale and slender, weirdly vulnerable against the dark wash of his jeans.

Sam goes to the bathroom to dump the broken vial into the garbage. He hesitates at the sink.

“We dig up enough evidence to link her to just one and the cops could take care of it for us,” Dean calls out.

It takes Sam a long time to turn on the taps and wash Dean from his hands.

*
A week later, Leah Crawford is in police custody. The amount of smug satisfaction Sam gains from watching her being led away in cuffs is tapered, but not nearly enough to make him want to hang around Tchula a minute more to see the charges stick.

Their gazes catch as she scans the sidelines, hold. The knowledge of what they did shines bright in her eyes, twists her mouth up in a smile. “Can you truly blame me, now?” she calls out, resisting the grip one of the cops has on her shoulder.

Sam says nothing, Dean a silent, prickling presence at his side.

“But I know,” she says, softer, as she lets the cop move her along again. “I do know.”

After, while they’re packing up the trunk, Dean asks, “You wanna head up north for awhile?”

“Get out of this heat?” Sam jams their empty laundry duffle into a corner. “Hell yes.”

“Awesome.” Tossing the keys Sam’s way, Dean rounds the bumper to the passenger’s side. “Just hit the brakes before we hit Canada.”

End

5 Responses to “Ordeals ‘Verse: 4. The Seldom Seen Kid”

  1. FayRen Says:

    I so wish there was more of this ‘verse! I love the slow progression of their relationship over the four existing stories.

  2. Laura Says:

    more please

  3. samidha Says:

    This was really excellent. I love the slow progression, as FayRen said.

  4. dristi2u Says:

    this ‘verse is so readable and addictive. pls write more!!! i bless(/curse) you with hyperactive plotbunnies…. :)

  5. woozie Says:

    I stumbled across your stories, I couldn’t stop reading them! I loved these four in this series. I wish there were more! Great writing, loved the angst and slow progression.

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