Pray Your Gods

Sam/Dean. R. ~6600 words. Spoilers up to and including S2 finale.
All his life, giving Sam what he wants is the only thing Dean’s ever done right.

Pray your gods who ask you for your blood
For they are strong and angry jealous ones
Or lay upon my altar now your love.
-Toad the Wet Sprocket

Just outside Kearney, Nebraska, on the longest, loneliest day of his life, Dean waits for the sun to go down.

Three days ago, he left their shoddy little motel room up in northern Vermont on a coffee run and kept on driving. It’d been stupid. Thirty miles outside town he realised what the fuck he was doing and told himself to quit it, turn around. Sam deserved better, Dean owed him.

But he hadn’t gone back.

It’d been one hell of a year. Sam had loosened up a little, thrown himself straight into the good fight right alongside Dean. When they’d hunted, they’d hunted harder, better. They’d taken breaks and filled every spare inch of the Impala’s trunk with pictures, mementos, trinkets. With the days counting down, they’d worried less about the little things.

Dean trades a smile with the wavering red horizon. He guesses he can’t complain, he’d nearly gotten everything he’d wanted. There were some things he’d never been meant to have and he regretted that, but never let it sour what he did.

Now, Sam has a chance at more than Dean had ever dared to dream. The yellow-eyed demon is gone and Sam’s hellish visions with it; the host unleashed from the Devil’s Gate are still trouble, big trouble, but their losses weren’t as bad as Dean had first thought. Even if there were a couple more missing persons, a few more strange deaths than usual, the world had plodded on like before, oblivious.

Dean hears the quiet snuffing of the hellhounds before the crunch of gravel. His smile turns to broken glass. “Gonna let me watch my last sunset? Real nice of you.”

The back of his neck prickles. The worry that he’d packed down churns his stomach; he’s done everything he could for Sam, it’s not enough but it’ll have to do. He knows he shouldn’t have left like that but he couldn’t stand the thought of facing Sam’s panicked desperation, of watching Sam watch him die. It’s selfish as fuck but he just couldn’t.

“You’re right,” Sam says, and Dean whips around, dizzy, sick with hope and fear and disbelief. Black shapes, not shadows but the nauseating, shimmering absence of light, loll at Sam’s feet. “It is selfish.”

“Sam,” Dean croaks. His throat closes over, pressure builds in his skull, throbbing.

The sun dies on one last breath, its light caught and held in the bloodred stain in Sam’s eyes. “But I’m selfish, too.”

*

Dean wakes up groggy with a head stuffed full of sand. His body aches, bone-deep, exhausted like he hasn’t slept at all. He swallows a couple times, working his tongue against the desert dryness of his mouth.

“I brought you coffee,” Sam says, and Dean looks up, finds him sitting a few feet away from the bed Dean’s sprawled out on. He smiles, tentative and shy, and holds out a jumbo-sized cornerstore coffee.

But it’s wrong.

“You’re not-”

Instantly, Sam’s face hardens, eyes flinty. “I couldn’t let her take you. You ran away, Dean,” he says, strained, “and I couldn’t let her just take you,” and while Dean watches, horrified, the soft brown of his eyes is eaten away by the deepest, darkest black. “You think I wouldn’t follow you? That I’d forget about you?” Sam’s voice rises, edges into full-blown panicked rage and suddenly he’s on his feet, the coffee cup gone flying, smacking the wall in an explosion of dirty brown sludge.

“Holy shit,” Dean breathes.

For a long moment, Sam stares at the coffee dripping down the wall, seeping into the dull carpet. “I couldn’t,” he says, softer, broken. He drops back into the chair like a marionette with cut strings, head held gingerly in his hands. Minutes pass, hours, Dean doesn’t know, until Sam finally says, “I’m sorry.”

Dean shakes his head, pushes at the words. Doesn’t want them because this thing, whatever it is, isn’t Sammy and it isn’t sorry. Hurting deeper than he ever thought he could, Dean rolls to the edge of the bed, levers himself up on one arm. He should be dead and he feels like it, but he manages to sit up before bile floods his mouth and he doubles over, heaving.

“Oh, god, Dean,” it says, and it sounds so much like Sam that Dean’s stomach rolls again, turns itself inside out and leaves him helpless and vulnerable while the thing with Sammy’s face watches.

The rancid stink of vomit stings Dean’s eyes. He spits, tastes the copper tang of blood beneath the acid burn.

“Here,” it says, roughly. Dean blinks sweat out of his eyes and squints up where it stands near the mess Dean’s just made on the carpet, a damp washcloth in one hand and a tiny plastic cup in the other.

“You’re not Sam,” he rasps.

It smiles, a little sadly, and no matter how hard he tries Dean can’t stomp out how it makes his heart ache. It’s all Sammy’s smile and this thing has no right to wear it, no right to look at him with Sam’s warm eyes and say, “It’s okay.”

Dean blacks out before he can slug the thing right in its smarmy face.

*

The second time he wakes, it’s to the incredible blue of the endless sky. A breeze warm and soft as a breath ghosts over his bare chest, ruffles Sam’s hair. Sam sits close on the patch of grass, books piled high by his side and a ratty, crumpled notebook on his knee.

Head throbbing, he tries to look around. He’s flat on his back on the side of the road in the middle of who knows where, wearing nothing but his jeans. Relief crumbles to bitter ash in Dean’s mouth. The thought of that thing touching him threatens to bring up whatever’s left in his stomach.

“You were starting to wake up,” it says. “I thought you might be sick again.”

Swallowing the sour taste creeping up the back of his throat, Dean says, “I’m fine.”

It looks at him, lips thinned, and goes back to reading.

Gingerly, because it pisses him off to be lying down like this, exposed, Dean inches his way up, getting only as far as propped up on his elbows before his head spins again. Grass and gravel fight for dominance this close to the road; the car is parked maybe twenty, thirty feet away, shining in the sun. To his left, beyond the demon, the rippling grass stretches out like the ocean to the horizon. There’s nothing to give away their location, no clue as to how long that demon’s been driving his car with him passed out in the passenger seat.

With that thought comes hazy memories: being awkwardly shuffled out to the car, the demon pulling his boots and socks off because he’d puked on them; his shirt, too, damp and stained with sweat. A blanket laid between him and the leather, his head laid on the demon’s thigh. Dean’s heart leaps in his chest, scrabbles rabbit-fast against his ribs.

His amulet is still a solid, reassuring weight around his neck, along with the charm Bobby’d given him all those months ago. False comforts; they’re not a threat to the demon. Like this, stripped down, unarmed, even unbound, neither is Dean.

Dean swallows, refuses to wince at the harsh burn in his throat and says, “Meg.”

“No,” it says. “Look, I know you don’t believe me, but it’s me, Dean. And I really am sorry. You look like shit.”

“Yeah, thanks. Couldn’t figure that one out for myself.” Not at all sure he isn’t going to blow chunks again but guessing he’s got a good chance since his stomach isn’t as queasy, Dean heaves himself up to sitting.

“Dean, don’t-”

Icy needles of pain stab into Dean’s skull. He grits his teeth, squeezes his eyes shut before the blackness eating at his vision blinds him completely. His pulse surges stronger still, heart slamming against his ribs, blood pounding through his veins. He curls in on himself, fights to stay upright. But it just gets worse and worse, crippling, agonizing, until the demon is there beside him, the warmth of Sam’s body pressing close unbearably familiar.

“I’m sorry,” it says. “I’m so fucking sorry, this is my fault.”

Dean shakes his head, tries to shake it off, but his body is lead, clumsy and useless. It grunts in something like annoyance and guides him back to the ground with a firm, gentle touch.

As soon as the pain eases just enough, Dean grinds out, “I fuckin’ hate you.”

The demon stills, then shifts again, running a lukewarm rag over Dean’s face and down his neck. He wonders if it did this while he was passed out, sat there in Sam’s body and touched him as if it had the right.

He hates that it’s tears the demon’s washing away.

“Get offa me.”

It smiles that same smile again, lifting its hand just to rest it against Dean’s chest, long, rough fingers splayed in the centre. Unlike before, this contact ripples under his skin like raw electricity, sharp and bright and bringing his breath in a startled gasp.

“Fuckin’ sicko,” Dean snarls, and its face crumples.

“Just take this,” it says, a hardness to its voice not mirrored in its eyes.
It gets up, walks the short distance to the Impala, opens the back door and starts poking around. The rustling of plastic bags floats back to Dean.

The demon has the keys but he doesn’t really need them. There are weapons in the car, too, but he can’t use those on the demon, not as long as it possesses Sam. Holy water, salt, that’s it. Maybe a blessed silver knife if things got really desperate.

The demon comes back with some plastic cups, a two-litre of Ginger Ale and a forty ouncer of golden brown Jack’s. Dropping the soda pop and the cups next to Dean, it twists off the cap to the Jack’s and takes a long drink straight up.

Dean smirks as it chokes on a wet cough.

“Shut up,” it mutters. It settles down again, radiating exasperation, and pours up a half cup of flat pop to set next to Dean, then gets back to doing whatever it was before he woke.

Minutes tick slowly by. It drinks and Dean ignores the Ginger Ale to chew things over despite how suddenly thirsty he is. He feels like crap but thinks he has a decent chance of getting to the car, getting away. That would leave Sam here, though, possessed, and Dean without much more than he’s got now. He could track it down again, sure, but it’d take time.

“Quit it,” the demon says.

Dean offers up his best, most obnoxious shit-eating grin and tries to figure out what the hell the demon’s snapping at him for this time.

“God,” it says. “Could you just, maybe, for one second, consider the possibility that I’m telling the truth?”

“Sure, you do a couple shots of holy water and I’ll give it a whirl.”

Dean expects the roaring silence that follows, but not the uncertain slant of its mouth.

Eventually, it says, “I’m not sure what that’ll do to me.”

“It’ll hurt like hell, you slimy bitch.”

The demon regards him thoughtfully, obviously giving it some serious consideration. “And if it doesn’t?”

Dean shrugs.

“Jesus, Dean.” It goes to the car again, like it’s taunting Dean with how close it is, even going so far as to leave the back door open this time. “You know that if I’m a higher level demon, this test is pointless,” it says, filling a second cup to the brim with bottled water. The journal is in its other hand, rosary caught in the battered spine. It crouches beside him. “You’ll have to bless it.”

Dean says nothing, just rolls halfway onto his side nice and slow to take the cup and the rosary. He stares until it holds up its hands and backs off a couple feet, crouching again.

The ritual flows easily off Dean’s tongue, his head bowed but eyes open, tracking the demon’s restless pacing. He crosses himself with the dangling crucifix and dips it into the cup, disappointed as always that there’s no sign, no indication of any kind that the water’s changed.

“Done?” the demon asks, as if it’s nervous.

Mind carefully blank, Dean says, “Cheers,” and offers the cup.

The demon hesitates, scrubbing one palm against the leg of Sam’s jeans. “Dude,” it says, finally taking the cup and staring down into it. “I really hope this doesn’t hurt.” It licks its lips and swallows once, steeling itself, then knocks the whole thing back.

Its face scrunches, its eyes squeezed shut, but doesn’t howl in pain and start smoking. It cracks one eye open first, then the other, patting at its chest in relief. Then its mouth twists. “That water’s foul, man. How long has it been in the car, since Connecticut?”

Dean’s face settles into a scowl. “So, you’re some bigshot, huh? Doesn’t matter much. Killed that yellow-eyed son of a bitch, I’ll kill you, too.”

The cup crunches in its white-knuckled grip. Just like before, its face hardens, rage spiked, licking hot at the base of Dean’s skull like a tongue of flame. Dean waits for it, chin lifted, nerves jangling.

Just as abruptly, the feeling fades. The cup drops from its grip the same time a wave of exhaustion nearly rolls Dean under.

“Shit,” the demon says. Dean loses sight of it, dropped flat on his back like he’d taken a solid crack to the head, and grabs weakly at its hands when it cups his face. “Shit, you okay?”

“Friggin’ peachy,” Dean grates. “Get offa me.” It doesn’t pull back right away, but when it does, Dean’s skin still hums from its touch. He scrubs at his face uncomfortably and says, “And quit touching me.”

“Sorry,” it mumbles. It stays close this time, rocking first back on its heels then sitting cross-legged on the grass, elbows on its knees and hands dangling between. “It’s like a compulsion or something.”

“Yeah, well, quit it,” Dean says. “I don’t feel like getting friendly.”

Its head snaps up, mouth open, eyes suddenly dark. Still Sam’s eyes but not, lit up from the inside with raw, aching hunger. Involuntarily, Dean shies away and instantly the look vanishes, wiped clean like graffiti on a chalkboard, no trace left.

Shakily, the demon says, “Shit,” and puts a good fifteen feet of distance between them before Dean can blink.

“What the-”

“Don’t, Dean,” it says, pleads with a hand raised in supplication. “Please, don’t say anything.”

“Why the hell should I-”

Please,” it repeats. It keeps backing up until it hits the car, then slides down, knees drawn up and a hand covering its mouth. “Please,” it says, one more time, “just give me a minute.”

Dean almost listens, almost does exactly what it asks because it looks like Sam and Sam looks so tortured, so unsure and afraid. But it isn’t Sam, Sam’s in there somewhere suffering through this thing holding him hostage, and Dean doesn’t give a rat’s ass what the demon wants.

“What’s the matter?” he asks, patronising. “Little indigestion, maybe?” It whimpers, pitiful and small, and Dean shoves aside the knife twisting in his guts. “Guess you should’ve stuck with the booze, huh,” he says, and it flinches like the words are blows. The fear Dean’s barely held in check explodes, the anger and the pain breaking through to beat at the demon like he so desperately wants to do with his own two hands. “Guess you should’ve stayed the hell away!”

“I couldn’t!” it screams. It blurs, too fast to follow, and Dean hears the dull thump of flesh into metal before he sees the dent, sees its hand draw back, knuckles bloody. “Don’t you get it, Dean?” it says, and the trembling that’d begun in Dean’s stomach winds outwards until he realises it’s not him that’s shaking, it’s the ground beneath him.

Gravel dances, jumps into the air; the stack of books topples, pages riffled by the wind. Somewhere, he hears a fence creaking, the protest of old, rusted nails and wood, hears the startled flutter of wings before a flock of tiny birds rush by overhead. The demon keeps talking, stalking closer, voice dropping low into something desperate and seductive. It drops to its knees, looms above him like a storm, the blue, blue sky behind it darkening with the dirty brown of Sam’s eyes.

“I couldn’t just let you leave me,” it says. “I couldn’t let you die. So when you left, I summoned her. The crossroads demon, Dean, just like you did, just like Dad.”

Cold dread seizes Dean’s chest. He shakes his head, tries to speak, but the demon keeps going, talks right over him as it closes the distance between them.

“I tried to make a deal, she wouldn’t take it. No matter what I offered, anyone, everyone, she wouldn’t take it. And then she tried to take me, Dean. She said I broke the deal, that trying to save you meant she got us both.”

“No,” Dean says, but there’s no power behind the word, not enough breath to make it stronger than a whisper.

The demon braces a hand on either side of Dean’s head, its face so close, close enough to touch. “When I found you, she was in me. I think,” it stops, swallows. “I think I let her posses me knowing she’d take me straight to you. She liked the idea of killing you with my hands.”

Darkness eats at Dean, rips and tears at the edges of his mind with dirty, ragged claws. Fighting it off makes the dizziness worse, brings up more bile to burn at his mouth. Inside his head he screams for the demon to stop, screams and screams and struggles vainly to give it real voice.

“But I was- I am stronger than she was, or something, because when you passed out I-”

It stops again, breathing deeply, wetness glistening in its eyes. Its telling him lies, spoon-feeding them to him in great, choking chunks, but it looks like Sam, so much like Sam, sounds like him, smells like him, feels like him that every single fucking fibre of Dean’s being is shouting at him that it is Sam.

He doesn’t trust himself enough to believe it. He’s only ever believed in what he could see, what he could touch, but he wants this too badly, wants too much for them both to be alive and okay and together.

The lie tastes so sweet on his tongue, robust and thick and filling, that he isn’t at all sure he’d hate believing in it.

“I killed her, Dean,” Sam says, and it isn’t Sam but it is, “I- I destroyed her when she tried to take you and I was so fucking happy that she was gone because it meant,” and Sam finally touches him, fingertips to the back of Dean’s hand and it’s like Dean’s nerves sing. “It meant you belonged to me.”

*

Dean sits in the chair beside Sam’s, bundled up in a blanket and drinking some pansy herbal tea because Sam wouldn’t let him go for coffee. What he really wants is a shower to wash away the stink of sick and sweat from a day–half a day, two days, he doesn’t really know–on the road, but Sam won’t let him do that, either.

And Sam calls him the bossy one.

“Dean, c’mon,” Sam says, tapping irritably at a smudged inscription in a musty old book. “This is important.”

“Dude, you’re telling me,” Dean says and tries another sip of tea, scraping his tongue against his teeth when it hasn’t changed from mildly disgusting. Still, he tilts his head and squints at the lopsided handwriting, trying by sheer force of will alone to turn the ornate loops and swirls into something legible. “I give up, Sammy, what’s the consolation prize?”

Sam huffs and Dean clings to the noise like a lifeline. The more Sam acts like Sam, the easier this is.

Too easy, really, to accept that they’re in someone else’s home instead of another motel. That Dean’s sitting at someone else’s kitchen table drinking someone else’s tea from someone else’s chipped #1 Teacher mug.

It’s a small house, bungalow type, tucked far back from the road with grubby children’s toys scattered on the dried, caked mud out front. The place has the heavy expectant feeling of a home left behind, air closed and stale, things neatly stored away except for a few odds and ends. A spoon left on the counter, a pair of women’s flip-flops by the door, a GI Joe on the coffee table.

There are pictures everywhere, on the mantle, the sideboard, but Dean doesn’t look at them. Doesn’t want to know whose lives they’ve touched this time around, who this house is waiting for.

“This is a tome on demon lore,” Sam says, bringing Dean’s attention back to him. This part is familiar, comforting, them and books and research to be done. Sam’s explained things to him just like this dozens of times before. “Specifically, this section deals with, uh, demon familiars.”

Dean cocks an eyebrow. “Demon familiars, Sammy?”

“Human agents,” Sam says. “Usually, they’re more like slaves, or thralls. Doing the sort of dirty work demons can’t do themselves.” Dean nods, and Sam goes on, “Sometimes, they’re more like what Jake was.”

“Dead fucking meat,” Dean mutters.

A ghost of a smile curves Sam’s lips. That’s only a little like Sam and Dean’s skin prickles.

“Anyway, so,” Sam says, “in possessions, demons live off the power of the soul, right? They don’t need food or to really bother with keeping the body in good shape. Mechanics don’t matter, they just need the form.”

“Right, right,” Dean says, absently going for his tea. He gags a little and moves to spit it back into the mug, freezing halfway there and dutifully swallowing under Sam’s hard gaze. “You going to get to the point any time soon?”

“Familiars are like another energy source. They retain their free will and their humanity and are still as easy to kill unless they’re bound to a demon. Bindings don’t usually happen because it goes both ways.” Sam rubs at the corner of his eye and flips through the pages, tilting the book to show Dean a symbol sketched between chunks of text. “‘Burned into the flesh of the familiar, this crest will impart upon him a measure of the demon’s resilience and strength; the demon earns for itself both the greatest failing and greatest gift of humanity.’”

“So, what, you get a super powered human and a demon that you can off with plain old fashioned bullets?”

“Yeah, I guess,” Sam says, scratching at the back of his head. “But that’s not all.”

Frustrated, Dean sets aside his tea and returns the look Sam gives him head on. When Sam doesn’t bitch, he says, “What else?”

“The demon gains a conscience.”

Dean looks at the book, then Sam, then the book again. “Seriously?”

Sam nods.

The blanket wrapped around Dean’s shoulders gapes as he leans back. Sluggishly, he tries to form thoughts only to have them whipped away like cobwebs in the wind. There’s really only one thing that’s important, anyway. He can see it in Sam’s eyes and fuck if it doesn’t hurt to ask, “Why’re you telling me all this, Sammy?”

Instead of answering, Sam says, “You were out for days. I couldn’t even call Bobby, I was afraid of what he’d say.”

Dean shakes his head, because that doesn’t matter. “Just tell me why.”

“‘Cause I think,” and Sam pauses to wet his lips, scrubbing them dry again, “I think I did more than just destroy her when I saved you. I think I might be becoming her.”

“No,” Dean says. “No, you’re not. You can’t become a demon, Sam, I don’t care what sort of mojo you got going on, you can’t just turn into one.”

“You were practically comatose for two days,” Sam says quietly. “I thought I’d done something worse than killing you. And when you woke up-” Sam’s gaze meets his for less than a second before jumping away. “You saw what happened.”

Dean swallows, wishing he had Sam’s missing bottle of whiskey to rinse the bitter taste from his mouth. “You’re not a demon, Sam.”

Before he even has the words out of his mouth, Sam’s shouting, one arm flung wide, “I made you my god damn familiar, Dean, what the hell else could I be!”

“You did what?”

“I told you, I destroyed her! And all that power had to go somewhere, right? I’m already less human because of what that demon did to me, and nobody else was standing around waiting to pick up her slack!”

And sometimes, Dean’s grateful for when Sam loses his cool, because then Sam doesn’t spare a thought to censoring himself, just lets it all fly. He winds down fast but keeps talking, words trickling free through the broken gaps of his breath.

“It’s inside me, Dean, and every time I feel it move, you get sick. Didn’t you wonder? There’s not a scratch on you but I know you’re hurting like hell.”

“Maybe,” Dean says, shifting in his squat chair when it becomes obvious Sam wants an answer. “But almost dying never feels all that hot, anyway, right?” He tries for a weak smile that Sam doesn’t return.

“It’s because I’m using your soul to do it, and if I’m not careful, I could kill you.”

“Whoa, Sammy, whoa.” Before fear sinks its claws into him too deeply, Dean pushes it aside, crams it into a little corner of his brain where it can scream all it wants ’cause Dean’s not listening. “We don’t know that.”

This time, Sam does smile, but it’s limp and broken. “Yeah, well, I’m really pretty sure.”

Dean takes a deep breath, then another. He loosens his hold on his fear and waits for the panic that doesn’t come. He wonders if he’s finally sunk so deep into crazy that there’s no room left because mostly, he just feels calm, and thinks this is what it really means to be stark raving mad.

“Okay,” Dean says. He scratches at the stubble on his chin. “How do we keep you from sucking me dry?”

Sam makes a noise that could be disbelief and turns quickly away. Expecting it this time, Dean feels the same tug at his insides as before, but it’s weaker, fades faster. When Sam says, “Just like that, you’re okay with it?” it’s almost as if Dean had imagined it.

Dean doesn’t ask if there’s a way to reverse it, some ritual or item that could sever the bond between someone that isn’t a demon and their familiar. Instead, he says, “If I’m going to be your walking psychic snack pack,” and shrugs.

“Jesus, you’re not food.”

“But I’m mighty tasty,” Dean says, grinning.

The tug comes again, slow, languorous, rolling about inside him like something alive. He tries to hold onto it this time and Sam’s breath shortens.

“Dean,” Sam warns, and that one word is victory. That one word means that he’s not imagining things, that Sam can feel him, that somehow, Sam’s bound to him, and if it’s evil and wrong Dean doesn’t give a flying fuck because it means that Sam needs him.

Dean slumps deeper in his chair, knees spread wide, and his skin tight and itching, barely able to contain him. This should freak him out, or at the very least worry him, but instead it feels as natural as it isn’t. He wonders if it’s a side effect of the demon’s power or something that’s all them.

“It’s not,” Sam says. “God, it’s not natural. You can’t honestly believe-”

“Sammy,” Dean says, whispers, and it feels so good on his tongue he says it again, and again, feeling the warmth curl up inside him, spread out heavy and real to the tips of his fingers and his toes, filling him.

Sam’s eyes are the darkest black. He holds himself still, quivering, nostrils flaring as if he’s scenting the air. Dean feels a smile spread across his lips.

“I know it’s not you that wants this,” Sam says, voice strangled, and Dean’s smile grows; of course he wants this but he’s not the only one. “You can’t want this, any of this, we’ve got to-”

Sam closes his eyes, goes quiet, so quiet. Dean watches through a haze as Sam gathers himself together, and when he opens his eyes, they’re normal, warm and brown and haunted. Softly, he says, “Let me brand you.”

Dean doesn’t even have to think before he says yes.

*

Dean expected a little more glitz, maybe, but it’s not as if Sam is inclined to go out for proper supplies or that Dean feels much like letting him. Sam rambles on as he sets things up, asking for Dean’s help here and there, but Dean doesn’t honestly pay attention to much beyond the cadence of Sam’s voice.

He knows they’re in the living room and that he helped Sam shove aside the furniture to make space. He knows the house has power because Sam boiled the water for his tea on the stove but for this they’re using only candlelight. He knows that there’s a chance that the family living here will return to find the remnants of their spellwork and an equal chance that the family won’t ever be coming home again.

It takes him a long time to notice Sam has stopped and is looking at him strangely.

“Are you alright to shower?” Sam asks. “There’s a lot mentioned in here about cleanliness, but I doubt it has much to do with the spiritual kind.”

Dean’s not so sure about that. Whenever he’s heard people talk about spiritual purity, it’s always sounded just like he feels, blank and open and peaceful.

Sam shudders. “Go shower.”

“Okay,” Dean says, shrugging off his blanket one last time. His hands go to the button of his jeans and Sam hisses, catching his wrist in a cast-iron grip. Sparks flare, echo on down his nerves soft as the wings of a butterfly.

“Bathroom,” Sam says, pointing down the hall with his free hand. Dean just nods again, kicking the blanket away as he goes.

Dean doesn’t notice much about the bathroom except it’s the same as dozens that have come before yet different, too. He strips quickly, keeps the temperature lukewarm and washes up with the soap he found stored under the sink. His mind is on Sam, nothing but Sam and the mark he’s about to wear on his flesh.

Minutes later, Sam raps on the half-closed door. Dean shivers and bites his lip, waiting. Sam knocks again, louder, then pushes the door all the way open with a tiny rush of displaced air. “Dean?”

Dean shuts off the water, takes the towel Sam offers him and dries off because it’s what Sam wants. All his life, giving Sam what he wants is the only thing Dean’s ever done right.

Sam leads him back through the hall’s gloom, carefully not touching him, and that isn’t right, isn’t right at all. His body aches without it, little pieces of himself breaking away one by one without Sam’s hands to hold him together.

“After,” Sam promises, lifting the weight from Dean’s chest with one simple word. He can wait. If Sam wants him to, he can wait.

Without needing Sam’s prompt, Dean kneels in the centre of the pentagram etched in salt on the floor, careful not to disturb the smaller Solomon’s seal inside. The air is thick with the smell of burning candles, drenched with his anticipation. He breathes it in, draws it deep, relishes it.

Full dark falls and Sam’s voice begins low, the hard edges of his Latin familiar, soothing. The words melt like wax onto his skin, sink in, replace the blood flowing through his veins. His pulse beats to the rhythm of Sam’s chanting, soft and deliberate and inescapable.

His vision blurs as Sam kneels in front of him. A flare of the candles glints brightly on the blade in Sam’s hand. Sam drives it point-first into seal between Dean’s knees, the solid thunk reverberating straight into his bones.

Sam moves again and Dean twists to follow, moth to flame; Sam burns brighter than the pinpricks of fire ringing him, their light growing dimmer and dimmer, snuffed out with the touch of Sam’s hand to the back of his shoulder.

Time hangs. Air like tar seeps into Dean’s lungs, viscous, suffocating. He waits for the pain, bows his head in reverence to it, but it doesn’t come. Sam’s hand falls away and pure animal panic rips through Dean’s guts.

“Sam,” he rasps, “Sammy,” and Sam is there, kneeling before him, shirt hanging off to bare his shoulder. Dean doesn’t wait for instructions, reaches out on instinct and need, and the moment his palm presses to Sam’s shoulder the sharp ache of a burn flares on his own. It throbs like a second heartbeat through his chest, down his arm and into Sam, pulses like bliss, like ecstasy.

Sam catches him before he falls.

*

Dean’s getting sick and tired of waking up in places he doesn’t recognise. At least this time his head doesn’t feel like it’s about to roll straight off his shoulders.

What he really doesn’t expect, though, it to turn over and find himself face to face with the broad expanse of Sam’s naked back, or to find a fresh, raw-looking burn on Sam’s shoulder.

Tentatively, Dean reaches out to touch the edge of the wound. It’s a fairly simple mark, an elongated S with a single slash like a brushstroke down the centre, and by its crisp lines, obviously intentional. Sam shifts and something snaps tight between them, taut and humming like twine stretched to its limit.

“Holy shit,” Dean says, and Sam snorts a laugh, rolling over to face him.

Sam’s expression is guarded but Dean can feel his apprehension, see the stain of his guilt in it. But beneath that, there’s something like a smug sort of certainty.

“Did we, uh,” Dean says, and risks a peek under the sheets. Of course he’s stark naked, and from the shifty glance he slides Sam’s way, Sam decided sometime last night that neither one of them needed clothes. “Holy shit,” Dean says again, “we didn’t.”

And whenever he comes across the rare thing that embarrasses Dean, Sam has to be a bit of a jerk about it, and he laughs now just to prove it. But it’s a warm laugh, washing over Dean like he’s always imagined the Caribbean would feel. Something to swallow him whole, to feel cradled against his skin.

“What the hell,” Dean says, even though he already knows.

Still, Sam says, “I needed to. And I can’t even say I didn’t want to.”

“But, we didn’t,” Dean says, and they couldn’t have, he’d remember that, he remembers everything else that happened right down to turning into some kinda everything’s-groovy hippie zombie. And remembering that makes him a little more shifty, because as much as he calls Sam the control freak, Dean’s never really gone for hardcore out-of-his-mind experiences either.

Sam laughs again and it curls sinuous as a snake up Dean’s spine, pure temptation. “We didn’t. But I really, really want to.”

And that, that should freak Dean right the fuck out. When it doesn’t, he waits for the absence to do the job, and when there’s a complete and utter lack of anything aside from an eager little twist of his stomach, Dean says, “Huh.”

“Side effect,” Sam explains. He fishes around on the other side of the bed and comes up with the same tattered book, diligently ignoring Dean’s snort as he thumbs through the pages. Then, “Huh.”

“What?” Dean asks, making a fumbling grab for the book. “What?”

Sam waves him off and sits up, squinting. The sheets bunched around his waist have flowers on them. He taps his forefinger against his lips in a repetitive little rhythm that Dean recognises as Enter Sandman on the third rendition. “It-”

“What-”

Sam’s mouth tightens at the corners and Dean mutters, “Sorry.”

“The reason I did this,” Sam says, words carefully measured as he gestures at the mark on his shoulder–his right shoulder, but it’s Dean’s left that aches, “was to keep myself grounded. Keep us both from losing our minds, I guess.”

That should panic Dean, too. It doesn’t. And he thinks he could get used to this, because it’s not as if he actually misses the blind, paralysing fear.

“In effect, you get a little of me, and I get a little of you,” Sam goes on, and there’s no mistaking the heat that edges into his voice. Possessive, a little dangerous, thrilling. “You give me inhibitions and I take yours away, in equal balance.”

“Sammy, I hate to break it to you, but I didn’t have much in the way of that to begin with.”

“Well, morality-”

“Nope.”

Sam digs at one eye with his knuckles. “Alright, bottom line, Dean. You’re going to keep me from turning into a murdering psychotic and I’m not going to eat your soul every time I so much as blink.”

Dean can’t argue that he doesn’t like the sound of that. It’s an old, familiar feeling, wanting Sam to need him as much as he needs Sam. Maybe if things were different, if he could actually feel something other than raw enthusiasm for the idea, he’d think differently. But he doesn’t and he can’t seem to make himself mourn the loss of something he’d never wanted.

So instead, he says, “Sounds like I’m doing all the work.”

“I’ll make it up to you,” Sam promises, buried in the book once more, and that’s more than good enough for Dean.

Absently, he gropes across the nightstand for the remote, a little surprised to find one there once he realises they’re not in a particularly nice motel but in someone’s bedroom. He’s not sure what day it is, either, but he hits paydirt on one of the television’s two channels, the opening credits to Independence Day just beginning. It isn’t his favourite movie but it’s fairly mindless, has its share of explosions, and ever since the Trickster, aliens have been a little extra funny.

When the world on-screen starts falling to pieces, Dean thinks he should feel the hole left behind by what’s been taken from him, the weight of what’s replaced it. He knows he’s made bad choices before and anyone sane would tell him this is one takes the cake and maybe the pie, too. Bobby hadn’t looked at him the same since Sam had come back, Ellen hadn’t, even Sam hadn’t.

But that’s gone now. They don’t matter anymore; he’s alive, Sam’s alive, it’s them, just them, together. There’s a bond between them that Dean knows he could reach out and touch, feel quivering against his fingertips. A thread tied between them, marks on their bodies, things that Sam had asked him of him and for once not the other way around.

It’s all Dean’s ever really wanted, and if this is how it’s going to be, this is how it’s going to be.

End

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