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Burn It Out of My Veins

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It’s desert for miles.  Not that Dean minds the scenery.  It’s the typical ‘riding off into the sunset’ imagery.  But it’s fucking hot .  While the Impala is in grand shape and couldn’t be more perfect, its air conditioning is no match for one hundred and twelve degree weather.  He’s slightly worrying over the radiator as he gasses up at the relic of a gas station.  



Sam had gone in to pay and grab snacks.  He had requested coffee and any type of Little Debbie’s treat but he seriously doubts Sam will glance in any direction of high fructose syrup.  He has a terrible feeling his little brother will only buy water, which sounds amazing right now because he’s sweating his balls off, but he knows Future Dean will want a damn zebra cake or some shit.  



There’s a familiar burn on his right arm.  Absentmindedly, he rubs over the mark and places the pump in its holder.  Maybe it’s the heat that’s making it more noticable.  Or Sam taking way too damn long.  Whatever.



Once he’s done, he goes inside, passing an old Buick parked at the front.  It’s a deep maroon red; if he had to guess it was made in the late 1980’s.  He makes a mental note to look up some later.  Sam has his type of research and Dean has his.  Though, car mechanics is probably more of a hobby at this point. 



The bell announces his entry and the air conditioning is like a small blessing inside the small convenience store.  Arizona is filled with unique gas stations from the border to the Grand Canyon.   Ma and Pop shops and stops sprinkle the midwest but the desert has it out of necessity and they like a certain flare.  This one has Native American themes all over and it reminds him of the freeway they had to take going through Phoenix.  Never again.  He hates how dense the cities can get.  



He spies Sam almost immediately.  Despite how he’s crouching by the tourist section, where all the stupid shot glasses are, he’s still damn noticiable.   Dean stalks over, narrowing his eyes when he notes he had a right to be suspicious.  Sam only has a small case of water.  No treats.   



“So, we gonna blow this taco stand any time now?”  Dean grumbles.  



Sam doesn’t even glance at him.  Instead he peers over the shelves stocked with the very treats Dean desires.  It takes a second but Dean realizes what his brother is doing: lurking.  He’d use surveillance or staking out but the dude is six-foot-four and there’s nothing stealthy about it.  His target is a male dressed in mostly black with a damn trench coat and a standard cowboy hat.  Well.  Okay.  Weird guy wearing long sleeves in ungodly heat is a good sign he’s short of a few crayons in the box.  But that doesn’t require Sam’s time.



Dean rolls his eyes and takes in a breath.  “Sam.”



“Okay,” like a light switch, he moves to pick up the standard brownie with multi-colored sprinkles distractedly.   He’s still staring at Cowboy Hat Guy but Dean’s too busy feeling a short burst of endearment that his little brother had done it on autopilot to care.  He still makes a grab for the zebra cake and Sam picks up sunflower seeds, which...whatever.  



They check out at the front.  Apparently Sam had already paid for the gas.  The lady at the register briefly glances between them and silently rings up the items.  



He thinks of the case they’ve found out here.  Twenty miles down the road, there’s been instances of people found in their cars.   Their bodies had basically been shredded.  But the weirdest part is that no one can identify the people themselves; either their ID’s had been fake or there had been none at all.  Sam suggested the victims may actually be hunters, which wouldn’t surprise Dean at all.  



Sam’s attention is still on the guy with the damn Cowboy hat and Dean wants to justify his annoyance.  But his brother still follows him outside the gas station, away from the air condition and a mute cashier.   Sam slides into the passenger seat silently, staring out the windshield.  Dean peels off another layer and tosses the long sleeved shirt in the back, leaving him with the black t-shirt and  jeans.   Turning over the engine, he glares at Sam.  



“Dude.  Creepin’ on wackos dressed for the Wild West is not a low profile.  What’s your problem?”  



Sam’s got that frown on his features.  His thinking face, as Dean likes to call it.  Brow creased and his lips pursed, as if he’s ready to say all the thoughts rushing through that big dome of his.  Sam’s eyes dart back to the gas station’s doors, as if waiting for the damn guy to walk out.  



Sam .”



“Yeah,” another snap-back and his little brother is looking directly at him  expectantly.  Though, it quickly turns to something like sheepishness when he obviously catches the direct glare Dean’s sending him.  Sam slouches further in the seat.  “It’s just…”



“Wanna play dress-up?”  Dean teases.  Dammit.  He could never stay mad for too long.  There’s too much material here to make fun of Sam.  “If you wanted to get a hat and play Rangers, we could easily---”



“Dean,” an exasperated sigh.  The desired result, honestly.  “He just looks familiar but…I don’t think it’s possible.”



Dean’s turn to sigh.  Sam’s doing the cryptic thing now and he hates that.  He glances back to the gas station to see Cowboy Hat Guy leaving the gas station.  They both watch as he stashes the beer and water case in the passenger's seat of the buick and starts up the car.  Dean already knows what they’ll be doing before Sam asks.  



“Could we follow him?”



This whole situation has quietly caught his attention too but maybe he’s simply annoyed about how.   Sam’s attention isn’t usually on other people if it’s not case-related.  That’s Dean’s job.  Outside of the job, Sam’s focus is generally on Dean, which---well.  Now he’s feeling like a dick.  



“Yep,” Dean chirps and throws the gear into drive.  



---



The case they’re supposed to be looking into is by Tombstone.  They had been in Kentucky for the last job and when Sam had spotted an article on a website more suited for those who believed in aliens, which isn’t uncommon in the southwest, Dean’s learned.  Dean argued that the only way he’ll make a straight shoot for Arizona is if they swing by the tourist trap that is Tombstone and take a tour.  Sam gave him a disapproving look but agreed.  They both know they’ve travelled longer for much less.  Dean simply wanted to visit the town.  



Sam’s quiet as they tail the guy down the highway.  Metallica plays the end of a tune when Dean turns it down, readying himself to say something.  Nothing comes to mind, though.  



This is the same highway those people were killed on.  Torn to shreds and left in their cars with no names, no family to claim them.  He thinks about that sometimes.  Him and Sam go out like that, who would really know?  Jody, probably.  It’s likely she checks up on them through whatever database for John Does looking for their description.  



“Okay, Sam,” Dean’s getting caught up in his thoughts again.  Needs an anchor.  Sam’s usually that anchor.  “What’s up with you and this dude?”



Sam takes a moment to answer, as if trying to choose his words carefully.  Which is expected.  “He looks like someone I’ve met before.”



“Who?”



“I don’t want to say until I can be sure.”



Dean breathes in through his nose and rolls his eyes.  “Whatever.  Anything you can give me?”

 

“Yeah,” Sam shuffles the notebook that had been between them onto his lap, a small one that his little brother’s scribbles on it, “About this case.  Law enforcement thinks they’ve identified one of the bodies.  A woman by the name of Meridith Griffin.  However, she disappeared over thirty years ago.”



“Okay?”



“When she vanished, she had been twenty-three.  That would make her over fifty.  But the autopsy concluded the woman was still in her early twenties.”



“So… not the right person?”



“Or maybe it was Meridith.  Just that she hadn’t aged,” Sam suggests.  



“Demon deals?”



“To not age?  I don’t think so.  If Meridith’s case is the same as the other people killed, I doubt it’s a demon deal.”



“Then witches,” Dean likes this part, despite the underlying frustration of not figuring it out at first.  Bouncing theories back and forth feels like a game between them sometimes.  Small pleasures.  



“Could be, actually.  Sounds like magic.  Maybe witch deals,” Sam says with some humor in his tone.  



Dean snorts.  “Not like we haven’t come across those before.”



“If we’re thinkin’ witches, then we should probably take a look at the bodies.  The most recent is a male.  Age is approximately…” Sam pauses, reading his notes, “...thirty-five.  White.  Massive lacerations to the chest and bled out in a car.  The car itself had been registered to a David Hume, which is obviously fake.”



It rings a bell but Dean glances at Sam expectantly.  From the look Sam gives him, Dean assumes his brother isn’t surprised at all by the missing piece of trivia.  



“A famous philosopher.”



“Ah.  So educated witches.”



“I guess.  It’s the kind of thing we do though,” Sam points out.  



It’s true.  Hunters have so many faces and alter’s of themselves spread across the world.  For Sam and Dean, they get to be anyone but themselves.  Except when they’re with each other.  Sometimes it’s a blessing and a curse.  Which Dean doesn’t want to think about either.



“So this guy we’re trailing---you think he has something to do with it.”



Sam glances back to the road, keeps his eyes on the distant car ahead of them.  “Dunno.  Maybe.”



Dean breathes out, eyes flicking upwards for a moment before settling back on the road.  “It’s gonna be a full moon.”



“Yeah.”



---



The Buick turns on a dirt road that seems like it leads to just more desert.  Dean throws a glare Sam’s way because not only is the dust going to cover the entire car but the undercarriage isn’t built like a damn tank.  Sam gives a shrug in response, which fuels his natural big brother frustration.  



“You’re washin’ her.”



“Like you’d let me,” Sam shoots back.  Like a damn child.  



Dean narrows his eyes as best as he can, despite the consistent bumpy ride that they’re currently experiencing.  They better go to Tombstone after this.  And they’re dressing up.  He doesn’t care what Sam says.  They’re going to be those people.  



The dust from the other car settles in the distance and Dean frowns.  He doesn’t see the car but the dust is still there.  He blinks.  A mirage?  But it’s gonna be sunset in a few minutes.  Not like the sunlight is playing tricks.  



“Dean…”  Sam murmurs, eyes widened.  



“I know, it’s just gone---”



“No---Dean, I think---”



And then it feels like something has hit his body full force.  He slams on the breaks, instinctively throwing the car in park as he wheezes.  Next to him, Sam is choking out breaths.  Dean reaches for him, his hand landing on his shoulder and he grips it hard.  



He’s felt this a few times.  A demon slamming him against the wall, an angel holding him with their mind in the air.  But that had felt like a surge.  The car seems fine but his body feels like a damn bruise. 



“De--- Dean ,” Sam coughs his name out.  Dean can only grip his shoulder harder for a response.  



After a few long moments, Dean regains something close to normal breathing patterns and it sounds like Sam has too.  He swallows, now feeling a bout of nausea but he’ll take that over no breathing.  



“What the fuck?”



“I know,” Sam mumbles.  



Dean turns to look out the windshield, which he probably should have done earlier.  Know his surroundings.  But at least it doesn’t feel like he’s being crushed into the seat by gravity breaking its own rules.  He blinks at the scene.  



The road is still there but now it actually leads somewhere.  If he had to describe it off the bat, Dean would say it looks like a small town.  Cabins and miniature buildings.  Old street lamps line the road, already lit up in the dimming light of the horizon.  The road turns into a paved one, though it’s cement and cracks zig and zag along it.  



“What the fuck ?”



“I know,” Sam says, sounding half as panicked as Dean feels.  



And there are people .   A few, that Dean can see.  They walk along the road, a couple ducking into the buildings or towards the cabins on the outskirts of the area.  Four or five children running about, aimlessly chasing each other.  



“Seriously, what the fuck ,” Dean hisses.  



Sam doesn’t respond this time and Dean turns to look at his brother.  Except Sam is staring directly past Dean.  He follows his line of sight and jumps slightly when Cowboy Hat Guy is standing right at Dean’s side of the Impala.  



“Dean---wait---”



He opens the door with the intention to hit him with it first.  The guy swivels out of the way but Dean’s already out of the car and advancing on him.  Pulling out his glock, he aims it straight at his head.  



“Dean!”



“Who the fuck are you?” Dean demands.  



The guy raises his hands in surrender but it seems like it’s a mockery.  There’s a smirk lining his mouth.  He’s an older man.  Dean hadn’t noticed right away at the gas station.  He’d gotten the impression he was maybe in his fifties but up close, it’s more like sixties.  The lines on his face and leathered skin are a testament to that.  



The man looks over the barrel of the gun directed at his head and past Dean’s shoulder.  He looks directly at Sam.   His smirk grows.  Alarm flooding his chest, Dean grits his teeth and cocks the gun.  



“I asked you a question,” Dean says in a leveled tone that teeters on something deadly.  



That familiar burn on his right arm feels a bit brighter.  He’ll kill this guy if he fucking moves.  Dean falters at the thought.  Sam had said his name seconds ago.  Dean.   That aching need ebbs slightly.  Dean, wait.  He takes a quick inhale, slightly lowering the gun.



It’s then he notices others bodies moving towards them.  Just in time before something hits him over the head hard.  And then everything is dark.




---




Dean wakes up to the smell of sandalwood and dust.   



There’s a light source coming from somewhere and it hurts his eyes.  The sun, he thinks.  But he’s not about to bank on that.  He shifts in the thin sheets and groans weakly as pain rushes through his head.  Fuck.  



He’s overcome with a sense of deja vu, as if he’s played out this scene before.  For a moment, he’s confused, mixes the familiar scent with Bobby’s and thinks I drank too much last night .  And it’s that thought that has him snapping up from the bed because Bobby’s dead and he most certainly did not get the chance to find liquer a few hours ago.  



The room is mostly empty.  The bed is a regular queen, there’s a bed stand on either side and a window to his left, allowing all the unwelcome light in through flimsy drapes.  The door is ajar slightly but he can’t see what’s beyond it.  He narrows his eyes, waits for any sounds. 

 

His mind automatically attempts to collect his bearings.  The general check list of where he and Sam are.  But Sam’s not here.  And that causes the Dean-standard case of alarm.  He shuffles off the bed, looking over the room for his boots and weapons.  A surge of irritation courses through him when he realizes there’s really nothing of his in the room at all.  



Rationally, he knows it was probably Sam who took off his boots and placed his gun and knives somewhere else but he’s not in the mood.  His head hurts and he thinks he has someone in a close vicinity to thank for that.  



Slowly opening the door, he can hear quiet footfalls and a creak of floorboards.  There’s a small hallway that opens up to a common area.  An old carpet laid out in the middle of the living space, a futon and a table with chairs.  And against the side, a kitchenette with his little brother leaning over the stove.  



“What the fuck,” Dean grumbles, wincing at himself as his head hurts with the sound.  Jesus, he needs tylenol or something.  



Sam whips around, that open, sincere look on his face he seems to have whenever Dean shows up out of nowhere.  Little things Dean can count on.   



“Dean,” Sam says, a flicker of a smile but it looks more like a cringe, “You’re up.”



He doesn’t bother responding to that because he’s getting a weird feeling that they shouldn’t be here.  They’re in a cabin.  Or something a lot like it.  It smells like it’s over half a century old and there’s hardly anything to make it homey.  Except maybe that stupid carpet.  



“What’s happening?”



Sam moves like he’s sore and his hair is messy, unbrushed.  He uses both hands to tuck stray strands behind his ears.  Dean frowns.  “Um, I just needed some coffee,” he says, “They gave us some food but I’m gonna have to do coffee the old fashioned way because they don’t…” Sam falters, obviously noticing Dean’s increasing irritation, “...uh, don’t have a coffee maker for us…”



Dean crosses the room and looks out the window near the front door.  Other cabins line the dirt road across the way.  That alarm from before comes back full throttle.  



“Sam…”



Sam’s head snaps back up from an obvious attempt to busy himself with making the damn coffee.  “Yeah.”



“Explain.”



“Yeah,” he says again, “Um.”



Dean chances another glance out the window, spies a couple kids running down the road, kicking up rocks and dirt in their wake.  A horrifying thought comes to mind.  



“Are---wait, is this a Stepford Wives situation?”  Dean sweeps his eyes around the room, looking for anything that would indicate brainwashing.  “Did they get to you?  I am not living an apple-pie life in the middle of bumfuck Arizona, Sam.”



Sam blinks at him, like he’s the crazy one.  But he shakes his head and a small laugh bursts out of him, breathless and startled.  “What?  No.  It’s just---there’s a lot.”



So when Sam finally figures out the gas stove and makes their dumb coffee, he sits them down at the table.  There’s a couple pills placed in front of him; ibuprofen and he throws it back gratefully.  Dean sips at the black substance, mildly wondering if it’s tainted with some sort of potion.  They were considering witches for this case after all.  Sam’s probably already gotten into it.  But Dean’s weakened by the need for bitter caffeine.  He hasn’t had coffee for a good few days and he thinks if coffee is what gets him, then so be it.  



Sam clears his throat, index finger tapping against the surface of the table.  A nervous tick he had developed sometime in high school, Dean recalls.  Their dad yelled at Sam for the restless leg shaking, so Sam turned it into something more subtle.  



“We’re in a pocket world,” Sam starts, conversationally, which has Dean wondering how many times he’s said something just as nuts to Sam.  “I think.”



“Y’think?” Dean throws back.  “Really?”



Sam’s lips are drawn into a thin line, folded and released again, the color bleeding back.  Dean watches the action a second longer than necessary, turning his attention back to his coffee when the mark burns noticeably on his arm.  



“I only know what they’ve told me.  It’s just a space hidden from the world,” Sam tells him, “There’s a whole culture and, as far as I can tell, it’s been around for a few centuries but I won’t know for sure until we look around.”



Dean lifts his gaze back, gestures to the space around them.  “And the cabin?  My possible concussion?  Where’re my guns?  What’s with outside?  What the hell , Sam?”



Sam’s doing that thing .  The nodding with understanding thing, which generally calms Dean to an extent.  It works, he realizes with a trickle of frustration, despite himself.  



“That barrier we hit when we drove into the town is what hides this place,” Sam explains, that finger tapping the wood surface again.  “From what they’ve told me, you can only go through it during a full moon.”



Dean narrows his eyes in thought.  “Last night was a full moon.”



“Yeah.”



“So…?” Dean gestures for him to continue.  



“So the full moon acts like a key.  You can only leave and return during a full moon.”



It’s quiet between them as Dean mulls that over.  Sam’s looking at him warily, as if he’s ready for Dean to pop off.  And that’s fair, considering how things have been going lately.  The mark surely doesn’t help his case.  



The full moon lets someone leave.  And come back.  So if last night was a full moon, they can’t leave until---fuck.  



“We’re stuck here,” Dean concludes flatly.  



Sam nods, averting his eyes.  



“What the fuck?  There’s no spell or, fuck, another key to get us out?”



He wants someone to blame for this so badly.  The asshole who knocked him out.  Or Sam for not figuring this shit out sooner.  But he knows he’s the one who escalated the situation.  That familiar burn on his arm aches for violence, for any type of confrontation and he just willingly follows that desire. 



He’s not sure how Sam managed to deescalate whatever happened after Dean got knocked out but maybe he should be grateful they’re not tied up in someone’s basement right now.  The fact that there’s no armed guard outside the door might be due to Sam’s lawyer-brain.



Dean sighs loudly, scrubbing a hand over his face.  His gaze lands back on Sam, who is staring at him with a level of worry.  Shoulders stiff and eyebrows knitted together.  A trickle of guilt filters through the usual brand of Dean’s anger.  



He shouldn’t be giving Sam such a hard time.  They were just following a lead.  And they’ve looked into cases for a lot less.  It hadn’t been Sam who had rushed out of the Impala, guns blazing.  He’s not sorry about it but he knows it doesn’t help the situation.  



“Okay.  So we’re stuck here supposedly for thirty days,” Dean says and Sam nods.  “Then let’s just… Work the case.”



“The town’s...leader?  Mayor?”  Sam tries out and ends up shrugging, “Her name is Arnak.  I think we might be able to get some answers from her.”



Dean leans back in his chair and downs the rest of his coffee.  This is so monumentally annoying.  



---



The longest case Dean’s ever worked had been shortly after Sam left for college.  The general, run-of-the-mill hunts usually last up to a week.  Tops.  With a partner, things got done quickly.  But that one case had been a bitch.  Three weeks.  A wood processing factory, scared workers and vengeful spirit.  It took Dean going in and getting a job there to help figure out what the hell was sawing people in half.  



This case is about to take them a whole damn month.  



Dean might lose his shit.  



A craggle of kids rush by them as they walk up the dirt road that meets the paved one, which Dean assumes is their equivalent of a Main Street.  Some of them bump into Dean’s side, completely unaware of his bad mood and hair trigger temper lately, and he glares directly at them as they run by.  



Sam’s laughing, which is…  It’s different to hear.  Lately, anyway.  With everything else that has happened, he hasn’t had many expectations.  Gadreel, the mark and, fuck, just anything else in their lives, Dean’s learned Sam’s laughter comes rare and few between.  



“Damn kids,” Dean grumbles, when Sam catches him staring.  



Sam grins and shakes his head.  



It’s still hot outside because they’re in the desert and nothing should be living out here.  But he noticed the cabin had a comfortable temperature and he hears the steady hum of generators.  So, whatever this place is, it doesn’t solely rely on magic.  As far as he can tell, it’s a stable community.  They don’t get many looks from people, though when they do, they’re greeted with a hello and smile.  They distance themselves, which is predictable but there’s still a sense of friendliness.  



It’s so fucking weird.  



They reach the town center.  A rather large fountain rests in the middle of the square, the water’s flow a gentle sound.  There’s a child reaching down to swipe her fingers against the surface and a couple resting on its edge.  Dean’s reminded of the water fountains in malls, though this one is sculpted from decades ago and its stone has another language etched around the base.  



He glances at Sam and catches his brother staring at the carvings too.   They could start with that.  Sam’s has an adoration for foreign languages, he supposes they’ll get some clues there.  



“That’s not latin,” Dean remarks.  



“No,” Sam agrees, “Not sure what that means.”



“You probably wouldn’t,” comes a voice behind them.  “It’s rather ancient.”



Dean whips around to see a man dressed in mostly black with a stupid cowboy hat on his head.  It’s like the guy had time travelled, looking exactly like a character from a western.  It’s the same guy from the gas station.  Dean narrows his eyes.  Same guy that was outside the Impala when someone sucker punched him.  



Without much thought, Dean advances one step before a hand falls on his shoulder.  Sam.  His little brother clears his throat and gives a sheepish smile to the man in front of them.   



“Hey, Samuel,” Sam says amicably.  



“You know this guy?” Dean nods his head in the direction of the cowboy.  



Sam nods, still looking rather sheepish.  “Actually...you know him too.  This is...Samuel Colt.”



There had been a case awhile back.  They had come across Samuel Colt’s journal and somehow got Cas to zap them to a time period where they could find the colt.  In that time, Sam had met with the Samuel Colt.  Dean had never met him but Sam had told him all he needed to know.  The guy was retired from the hunting world but he came through for them in the end.  



Supposedly, Samuel Colt is alive and doing well in this ‘pocket world’ and standing right in front of Dean?  For a moment, Dean considers denying this whole thing, demanding to know where his baby is, dragging Sam there and getting the fuck out.  But honestly?  They’ve encountered much more outrageous scenarios than this.  



Doesn’t mean he has to be as civil as Sam, though.  



“Is that right,” Dean says flatly, giving the man in front of him a dull look.  



Samuel Colt, a weathered older man with wrinkles on his forehead and hardened eyes, simply stares back with a smile that looks more smug than welcoming.  He offers a hand to Dean.  “You’re Sam’s brother.  Shame we couldn’t meet under better circumstances.”



Dean takes the hand and gives it one shake as he narrows his eyes.  The statement has a slight insult to it and he truly wishes he could throw back something scathing.  But Sam’s here and he’s almost certain there would be nothing but disappointment there.  



“Likewise,” Dean answers.  “So you mind tellin’ me how any of this is possible?”



Samuel spares a look at Sam, which bothers Dean to no end, and turns back to him.  “I’m sure you’d do better listenin’ to Arnak instead of me.  She’ll tell ya better than I can.”



He turns, gesturing in the direction he’s leading.  Dean gives Sam a look of disapproval, already hating this, but Sam only shrugs.  



“We don’t have a name for this place.  Most folks call it home,” Samuel says, as if they had asked.  



“How many people live here?” Sam apparently found an open window to get questions in.  Maybe he hadn’t gotten much information last night.  Dean wonders, belatedly, if Sam had even gotten to ask anything while he had been knocked out.  “It looks to be around a hundred.”



“Just about,” Colt answers, “Some come and go, but most stay.”



“Like you stayed?”



“Yep,” Colt says, as if that’s enough, and leads them to a small building.



Most of the houses and structures have the typical modern adobe look to it and, if Dean’s being honest, it looks more like Tatooine from Star Wars.  He’ll make the reference to Sam later, just in case it gets another laugh out of him.  



They enter through a door, the hinges creak loudly to announce their arrival.  It’s an open space, with some tables against the walls and a neat bar set up in the corner.  Some stairs indicate a second floor.  Across the room are about five people, sitting on a platform.  It reminds Dean of a town hall of sorts.  Maybe that’s what it’s supposed to be.  



Colt nods towards the group of people, raising his hand to get the attention of someone there.  Instinctively, Dean moves closer to Sam.  A woman approaches them, murmuring something to the others before making her way over.



She’s beautiful.  Probably somewhere in her forties.  Brown skin and long black hair.  Her clothes are something from the 80’s, he’s assuming, since he hasn’t seen shoulder pads in a long time.  She wears a long dress, white with indigo and teal embroidery stitched along the sides.  And then she smiles and it’s like she’s rehearsed it a thousand times before.  Gentle but also hardened into place.



“Hello, I am Arnak,” she bows her head slightly, eyes drifting from Sam and then landing on Dean.  He thinks he imagines it but those eyes seem to narrow in just the slightest.  “Welcome.”



“Pleasure to meet you,” Sam bows his head and Dean wants to roll his eyes.  It’s just him trying to be respectable but he can’t help the urge.  “I’m Sam and this is Dean.  We’ve gotten ourselves stuck---”



“You’re hunters,” Arnak interrupts.



Sam and Dean share a wary look.  Dean fixes her with a stare.  “And?”



“Like Samuel, you’re hunters, aren’t you?” 



“Yeah…” Sam says cautiously.  



“What brought you here, Sam?”  She questions, then to Dean, “You must have a reason to be here.”



Like a permit?  Jesus, he’s tired of fucking weird towns and their bullshit.  “Look, we didn’t mean to be here.  We were following a lead and that---”



“So you’re hunting,” she states, not even a question.  



“Something is killing people nearby,” Sam explains, “We didn’t mean to intrude.  But if you know anything---”



“Perhaps it’d be best to talk more privately.  Now is not a good time,” Arnak says.



Dean swears, if she interrupts one of them one more time---



“I don’t mean to be rude, you see,” Arnak’s voice dips and she tilts her head, “But I am these people’s protector and I only seek intentions.”



Dean has about ten thoughts he’d like to spell out for her.  It’s that unfounded anger again.  The stems of something awful that burns on his arm and reaches those hidden places inside him.  It’s enough to have him nearly have an outburst.  



But Sam must have sensed it from a mile away because he’s already speaking, “We came looking for a monster that is hurting innocent people.  And we only want to know what’s happening around here.  If you know anything, that would help a lot.  If you want to talk somewhere else, that’s fine.”



Arnak blinks slowly, as if processing all of Sam’s words.  She breathes out and flicks her gaze to Colt, who has been rather quiet this entire time.  “You vouched for them.”



Colt only nods.  “I did.”



She hums, crossing her arms and stares back at them.  When she speaks next, it’s to Sam, “Join us tonight?  We have a celebration after each full moon.  We can speak then.”



“Okay, yeah,” Sam agrees, seemingly relieved.  Dean’s not sure why because Sam’s got a record of changing the minds of all types of people, monsters and gods.  But, whatever.  “We’d love to.”



“At a party,” Dean says in monotone, “You want us to talk at a party?”



“Dusk is when it begins,” Arnak informs them, as if Dean hadn’t said a fucking word.  She bows her head, gives Colt a side glance, and returns to the people she had been talking to before.  



Dean whips his head to glare straight at his brother.  “What’s wrong with talking about this shit now?”



“Dean…”



“It’s bad enough we’re stuck here for a month, we have to deal with a mayor who doesn’t have the time of day to talk?”



“It’s not like we’re on the clock,” Sam defends quietly, “We have a whole month to figure this out.  We have all our research and can come up with enough theories.”



“Witches, Sam,” Dean hisses, “It’s witches.”



Someone clears their throat next to them and Dean’s reminded that Colt is still there, unfortunately.  “The celebration is for those who have been welcomed in the past.  We had a newcomer yesterday, so you two won’t be the only ones.”



He begins to lead them back out and they follow.  Dean keeps to his brother’s side.  



“So is that what you do?  Bring people here?”



“If they’re willing.  This place is for those who don’t belong in the world out there.  Don’t fit.  They’ve been running most of their lives or just wandering.  The rejects, I guess.”



Great.  So it’s a place for the misfits club.  Dean sighs, reigning in the frustration from earlier.  The dismissal from Arnak still feels a little raw, though he’s slightly proud of himself for not going off.  They’re trapped, after all.  And until they figure out a way to get out of this place, it’s probably best to take Sam’s general peace-for-all approach.  



There’s not much to the town when Dean gets a closer look at it.  The buildings don’t quite match each other, despite having that modern adobe feel to it; some looking as if they’d been built over a century ago and some within the last decade.  It does seem strangely organized by particular needs.  Food, clothing and other general necessities.  No stores or places of trade.  Dean’s eye catches sight of an auto garage of sorts, the light from inside displaying a couple mechanics working on a single car.  



It’s a weird fucking town.  There’s not too many people, now that he’s gotten a chance to look around.  Some pass by, their stares linger for just a little while before going about their business.  Dean can only give hard looks back, studying everything about the place.  



Sam and Colt are talking.  Dean, consistently, has placed himself between them several times now.   They don’t ever falter in their discussion, which is astounding, but Dean manages to wedge next to Sam.  And Sam always makes space for Dean, even if he doesn’t realize it.  



He captures the gist of the conversation.  Snippets that are important enough for him.  Sam’s enthralled, naturally, and smiling nonstop.  Which is annoying the shit out of him and he knows why.  But that’s---it’s an age-old reason that dates back to the time Sam first smiled at anyone other than him.  He rubs at his forearm where the burn originates, as if he could simply smear it until it’s gone.  



Colt explains the mechanisms of the town.  What makes it work.  It’s self-sustaining.  Dean makes a note to ask about where they get their power but he has a feeling it might have something to do with generators and possibly magic.  Because obviously that’s why they’re here.  Not that Sam seems to care that this could be the epicenter of the very case they’d found.  



“This really is amazing,” Sam murmurs, quietly.  “So how are you even alive?”



Dean narrows his eyes at Sam, inspecting him.  It’s been awhile since he’s seen Sam like this.  And, when he gets the few moments to study him, Dean realizes why.  He’s fucking faking it.  There’s a small indent from Sam’s right jacket pocket where his hand is buried.  He already knows Sam’s got the knife gripped tight.  He’s angled so that he could make a good blow and reach over Dean.  Wedging himself in between them probably annoyed the fuck out of Sam, Dean thinks.  



Colt answers with that stupid smirk and, “That might be harder to explain than small town social economics.”



Sam hums in acknowledgement and halts in his steps.   He’s going to try to sweet talk the answer out, Dean already knows.  But Dean’s reached the end of his patience tank.  



“You’re gonna wanna to explain that to us right now,” Dean fully faces Colt, successfully placing Sam in back of him.  “No more tours.  Tell us what the fuck is going on.”



Colt’s brows twitch, as if he’d like to frown but his expression remains neutral.  “Be best not to get too rowdy here, boy.”



Dean throws a scowl towards Sam.  “Did this asshole just call me boy ?”



“Just tell us what’s happening and we’ll play nice,” an empty promise from Sam because all three of them are hunters here.  Well, whatever Colt is, he’s hunter-adjacent. 



Colt seems to consider the request, though.  He levels a stare with Sam, disregarding Dean altogether.  He’s not sure how he’s supposed to feel about the angled treatment he’s been receiving but he's definitely pissed.  Colt could at least try to acknowledge him.  He gets Colt and Sam have some type of understanding but it’s still getting on his last nerve.  



With a sigh, Colt shrugs and continues walking.  “Like I told you last night.  This place is outside time.  When you’re in here, you don’t age.  Found this place after leaving Wyoming.  Settlements were happening and I wanted off the map.”



“So you just, what, stumbled across this place?”  Sam asks.



“Arnak draws people in, the people who don’t fit out there.  I just so happen to be one of ‘em.”



Dean’s not entirely sure he can believe this guy.  For all they know, he’s a shifter or whatever.  He’s not willing to risk it, especially being trapped.  But it’s a good enough explanation.  They stumbled across this place too.  So, it’s not a reach.  



Colt stops walking and places both hands on his hips, clearing his throat.  “I’ll leave you two to whatever snooping you need to do.  Just don’t make too much of a fuss.  Be sure you get cleaned up for the celebration.”



And, like that, he’s off.  Walking off in the residential area, which Dean assumes is where he lives.  He’s not interested in shadowing Colt, despite the natural instinct to do so.  With a look at Sam, he knows his little brother isn’t considering it either.  The dude is an ancient hunter that made a gun that kills nearly anything.  He’s not sure how sneaking around him would bode well for them.  



Dean sighs out loudly and fully turns towards his brother.  It catches him off guard that Sam is staring right back with some amusement in his features.  Something familiar and light twists in his chest but he screws on a scowl to say, “Shut up.  Let’s look around.”



---



As it turns out, the Impala is parked right behind the small house they’ve been set up in.  So his weapons and other items are in there.  He’s refusing to move anything into the place for now, since he’s sure they can figure out a way to get out of this ‘pocket world’ before the full moon.  But a pistol is the exception because he’s not about to walk around without any type of protection.  



Sam, predictably, just keeps a knife on him.  He also opts for the casual dress shirt that he typically wears under their FBI get ups and some blue jeans.  Dean simply goes for a blue plaid shirt and that’s just about as dressed up as he’s getting for this stupid celebration.  



But the thing is, well, Sam looks good.  He steps away from the mirror and brushes out the wrinkles in his shirt, which gives Dean enough time to study him.  It’s not unusual for Dean to steal looks but the situation feels...different.  They’re getting ready for a weird initiation party, in the middle of the desert, hidden from the world, and he wants to stare at Sam like a lovesick highschooler.  Jesus.  He must have gotten hit harder than he thought.



Sam meets his gaze and Dean has to switch modes fast, deciding to roll his eyes and fake annoyance.  “Finished yet?”



“Yeah,” Sam mutters, glancing back to the mirror.  “What are the chances Arnak knows something about the murders around the area?”



“Pretty good, by the way she was talkin’.”



“Think she has something to do with it?”



He wants to say yes, just on principle.  She was pretty rude to them but not too rude.  It felt like they were talking to a politician, but of a different kind.  But they’ve had to learn the hard way not to jump to conclusions too fast.  Just because Dean’s got a grudge, doesn’t mean she’s guilty.  



“I guess we’ll just have to see.”



“What about Colt?  Think he knows anything?”



“I’d bet money, yeah.”



Sam sighs out, drops his hands to his sides.  “At least we’re not being imprisoned, I guess.”



Small miracles.  While that would typically be a horrifying thought for the average American citizen, they’ve both had their fair share of cages.  Dean might have to count his blessings they’ve been given some type of hospitality.  



They head out as the sun begins to sun.  The colors casting oranges and yellows.  Desert sunsets have always been beautiful to Dean.  There’s a sense of glory to them.  Westerns recognized it and he always adored those films.  But there’s something different about this one tonight.  The waning moon is on the other side of the horizon, surrounded by the faint glimmer of stars.  It just seems unfiltered out here.  



Sam’s shoulder bumps against his as they walk and it’s a comfort.  He’d rather have Sam close than straying away.  That pathological need to have Sam near him at all times hasn’t gone away, even well into his adulthood.  The only difference is that there’s a burn on his arm reminding him it doesn’t hurt when his little brother is next to him.  



People have already emerged from their houses and have been making their way down the road.  He assumes the celebration will be held by that water fountain and he’s correct.  There’s a steady crowd growing in the town’s square.  He scans the area for Arnak or Colt but can’t find either.  



There’s food and drinks set up.  It’s like a tiny festival, honestly.  Music from a band is playing by the fountain, lanterns are strung up above them, lit with fire.  Children are running about and some people are swaying to the tunes heard drifting through the dusk air.  



“Newcomers,” a voice says next to them.  Dean turns to find a young woman grinning.  She bows her head.  “Welcome.  You came in after Samuel, yes?”



“Sure,” Dean says.  “I’m Dean, this is Sam.”



“I am Uki.  What reason are you here for?”



The question must be a common one.  Maybe the line of questioning from Arnak had been slightly justified.  If it’s a cultural thing, he might as well get used to it.  



When Sam doesn’t answer, he decides to say, “It was by accident.”



The young woman, Uki, tilts her head with some question.  She’s gorgeous too, just like Arnak.  Brown skin and ink black hair.  But she’s got an angled bob for a haircut, which frames her face well.  He wonders how hair salons work in a place like this.  Or is everything just completely community led?  



“Well, quite a few come here by accident.  But if you don’t have a reason, perhaps you’ll find one tonight.”



Her eyes slide to Sam, then back to Dean.  He narrows his eyes with suspicion.  The fuck?  



He doesn’t get a chance to voice his thoughts aloud because the music stops and someone is hitting the drums, calling for attention.  All eyes land on Arnak, who has finally decided to show up.  She’s in a different outfit and her hair is up in a high ponytail with some flowers around the base.  She looks regal there, in front of the fountain, raising her hands.  



She begins talking, though Dean misses most of it.   Sam seems to be paying attention, so he doesn’t bother soaking in the general speech she’s offering.  Instead, he studies the people around them.  Misfits and rejects is what Colt called them.  For the most part, the people seem like everyday folk.  He wonders what Colt exactly meant by that.  



“I’d like to formally greet those who have recently come to us.  Anyone who finds themselves here are welcome by all.  This home and land is to be shared and we’re grateful to do so.”



Everyone’s gaze seems to land on Sam and Dean.  Sam shifts uncomfortably next to him and Dean feels himself slip into an awkwardness he hasn’t felt in awhile.  They’re used to being unseen, slipping in and out of crowds easily.   But of course everyone knows who they are now.  Great.  



Arnak continues her speech about love and peace or whatever but Dean tunes it out again, tugging at Sam’s arm to whisper, “So is there alcohol?”



Sam’s mouth twitches into an almost-smile.  “One can hope.”



The music picks up again after Arnak’s closing remarks and chatter rises to match it.  Sam gets caught by one of the locals with pretty eyes and blonde hair.   Typically, he’d like to stick around, try to veer the woman’s attention off Sam long enough to get Sam back by his side but he’s had a hell of a day.  He leaves Sam to ‘interview’ as he begins towards the tables of food and alcohol.



He’s glad this isn’t one of those puritain types of towns, where there’s no liquor in sight and any other vices are looked down upon.  People seem to be acting normal in spite of Dean looking for reasons to think they may be acting too weird.  Everyone in the square looks, well, happy.  Content.  Nothing too unordinary, since it is a celebration and all but---is too content a reason to suspect anything?  In his experience, yes.  



He’s stuffing his face with this town’s variation of flatbread and cinnamon sugar when he spies the girl who had approached them earlier.  Uki.  She’s standing to the side with Colt, arms crossed over her chest, as if she’s cold.  She’s staring pointedly at someone, but with all the people, Dean can’t make out exactly who.  Colt catches his gaze; the man merely looks over the sea of people, right at Dean.  It feels like a challenge of some kind and the mark burns a little brighter.  



Instead of acting on the urge to march over and demand what the fuck his problem is, Dean searches for Sam.  It’s not hard.  The guy sticks out like a beanstalk in any crowd.  He watches as someone’s hand reaches up as far as they can and mess with the shaggy brown hair atop Sam’s head.  Dean makes his way over immediately.  



People seem to get the idea when he makes a beeline for Sam, making room for him as he stomps over.  He’ll have to drag Sam back to the cabin.  Fuck this celebration.  Fuck talking to Arnak.  He’s over this place.  



Of course, when he finally reaches Sam, he notes his brother is laughing, which sparks the seedlings of jealousy he thought had long died away.  That is, until he sees who he’s really talking to.  A bunch of kids.  Ranging from probably eight to teen years.  He blinks.  



Sam instantly sees him, grinning at him so brilliantly, Dean forgets everything for a moment.  “Dean,” he says, breathy, “We were just talking about you.”



Dean has to rip his eyes off Sam in order to look back at the kids.  He plasters on his most convincing soft smile.  “That right?”



“You’re hunters?” says one girl, probably around twelve.  Her coarse black hair in two buns on her head like poof balls.  “Sam says you guys hunt monsters.”



Dean gives Sam a wary look.  Way to blow whatever cover they had.  To children, no less.  “Yep.  Gotta keep people safe.”



“You always together?” the girl asks.  



“For as long as I can remember,” Sam provides and then to Dean, “This is Josie.  Over here is Madison and Jacob.”

 

The others who hadn’t gotten to offer their names chime in and it becomes a whole scene of introductions.  The younger ones offer their favorite things along with their names (“And I like trucks!” says one; another states, “I wanna play hide ‘n’ seek!”).  When it’s all said and done, the preteen, Josie, tugs on Sam’s sleeve to get his attention.



“So you gonna call the Order?”



Sam frowns and Dean is instantly suspicious of this place being an occult all over again.  “The Order?”



Someone close by, a man probably in his late twenties, hears this and decides to give an explanation.  “It’s just a promise to someone else.  You drink from the fountain together and you get a blessing from the goddess.”



“Like throwin’ a coin in the water and gettin’ a wish,” says the woman he’s standing with.  She nods towards the fountain.  “There’s someone doin’ it right now.”



Dean raises his chin to peer over the heads to watch as a couple of women dip their hands in the fountain’s water.  They share some words, unheard by anyone else, and drink from their palms.   Several people who witness whoop and holler, cheering for whatever reason.   God, this place is weird.  



Josie grabs onto both their hands and the rest of the children follow suit.  Tugging and pushing Dean and Sam to the fountain.  “C’mon!  You gotta!”



They’re ushered to the fountain, despite Dean’s grumbling and Sam’s unheard protests.  Some of the children get up on the fountain’s edge, as if to be a little taller.   The music is louder, an upbeat melody in his ears.  He’d probably enjoy it better from a distance, on a stakeout in his car or something.  But right now, he just wants to head for a bed.



“C’mon,” Josie urges them again, shoving at Sam’s leg. 



Sam looks at Dean pleadingly.  These are children, and while both of them are generally okay with handling kids and their antics, this feels like a situation they should probably run away from.  Maybe they get newcomers by siccing the kids on them.



“Magic water?” Sam suggests, though there’s a hint of jest in his tone.  



Dean dips his hands in the water, sniffs and wrinkles his nose.  There’s nothing to indicate it is but they know better than to trust just one sense.  “Brainwash us into staying, probably.”



“It’s springwater,” someone says nearby and it takes a second for Dean to realize it’s Colt.  He instantly glares.  “Just regular groundwater, boys.  If you wanna make the Order, it’s just for tonight.”



“Did you do it?” Sam asks.



Colt shrugs.  “Once.  A long time ago.  Kept the promise so far.”



Obviously, Colt doesn’t feel like sharing.  And it looks like Sam’s uncomfortable with the crowd, suddenly.  He shifts closer to Dean, which, hey, he’s not gonna feel guilty about.  



“Does it have to be said out loud?” Sam questions, dipping his fingers in the water.  Tiny cyclones spring up in their wake.



“No,” Uki says, appearing next to Colt with a soft smile.  Dean thinks he might like this one.  He’s not sure why.  “It’s only a little custom around here.  It’s an age-old tradition but you don’t have to take part if you don’t want to.  It’s a promise to a beloved, in a way.”



Dean considers the proposal.  They’re gonna be here a month if they can’t figure out a way to get out before then.  A gesture to take part in their weird ass customs might win over some of the locals into talking with them.  Not that they seem to clam up when questioned; most of them are friendly.  But it might help in the long run.



He glances up to Sam, who is staring right at him with a pensive look on his features.  He’s waiting for Dean to make the choice.  He hasn’t done that in a while, honestly.  While Dean usually takes the lead in hunts, it’s Sam who is in charge of social interactions.  Dean’s not sure how he feels about that.  



Dean shrugs.  “Guess we’re drinking, Sammy.”



Sam nods, mirroring him.  “‘Kay.”



Promise to a beloved.   Sure.  He’s made several dozen promises to Sam, what’s one more to the list?  Maybe he’s broken a couple but he’ll go with the general rule of his life: Take care of Sammy.   It’s an easy one because it’s been a cornerstone.  What he’s built his life upon.  Nothing really comes close, not even by miles.  Even hunting can’t take precedence over that simple idea.  



He’s accepted there’s something wrong with him for a while now.  Hell might have brought it out for him to see it but even before that, Dean knew.  Normal siblings don’t obsess over each other like how they do.  Older brothers don’t have separation anxiety like he does.  Not normal ones, at least.  Two years without talking to Sam while he was at Stanford had that something wreck him from the inside out, leaving him raw and aching.  



Now with the mark…it feels even worse.  Violent need surges through his blood now.  He’s been ignoring it when it comes to Sam.  It’s soothed only when he’s close but it’s been---well.  It’s hard to brush off the other shit too.  There’s a poison inside him and the mark only emphasized it.  And when it comes to Sam, that lifelong promise--- gotta take care of Sammy ---is so glaringly impossible to get out of his head.  



So when he brings the water in his palm to his lips, he meets Sam’s gaze and thinks I’ll take care of you.   There’s really nothing left to promise.  

 

 






---



Uki sits with them at a table, quietly explaining some of the town’s rules and regulations.  He feels like he’s attending an orientation but it doesn’t matter.   Hopefully they’ll be out of here before whatever brainwashing they’re attempting actually sets in.  



Sam is doing the job of speaking on behalf of both of them, which Dean appreciates because he’d rather not deal with a conversation.  It’s not that he’s exhausted.  It’s just---well.  



Since Cain transferred the cursed mark, there’s an additional energy.  And that specific energy is meant for cravings that certainly aren’t welcomed.  Bloodlust, desire, anything that Dean had worked his whole life desperately trying to hide, are intensified.  He often forces himself to sleep or drive for hours to stave it off.  



Right now?  He needs to drink himself into oblivion to shake the lingering need for---well, whatever the mark targets next.  



“Uki,” says a voice close by.  Both Sam and Dean turn to see a young man with hair about as long as Sam’s.  He smiles and it’s rather charming; Dean has a feeling this guy is probably one of the more popular ones among the ladies in this town.  



Uki turns her attention to the man and grins.  “Tarkik.  This is Sam and Dean.  They came last night.”



“Ah,” he comes to sit down next to them.  “Mother told me they already made a fuss.”



“We, uh, didn’t mean to---”



Tarkik cuts Sam off with a small chuckle and shakes his head.  “This place doesn’t get much excitement.  We’ll be talking about you two for years.  Thank you for the entertainment,” he flashes a smile towards Uki.  “Mother will probably have a headache for days to come, though.”



Uki rolls her eyes, despite the matching amused smile.  Dean looks between them with confusion.  “Is your mom---?” He gestures, hoping one of them could explain.  



“Our mother is Arnak,” Uki fills in the blank.  



Siblings.  Got it.  Dean sighs out, crosses his arms as he rests back in his chair.  Speaking of Arnak...isn’t she supposed to talk to them?  Jesus, he just wants to get back to a bed before he has a real issue.  He might start with the music.  



“We’re actually waiting for Arnak,” Sam says.  “Do you know when she’ll be able to see us?”



Uki and Tarkik exchange a look.  Tarkik eyes Sam, though not with suspicion.  He just seems wary.  “I see.  You have business with her?”



“Yeah, in a way.”



Tarkik thins his lips and nods.  Uki hums, “Well, I suppose we can suspend our talk for now---”



“That would be best,” says Arnak, appearing out of fucking thin air.  



Dean instantly narrows his eyes.  He’s back on his witch theory.  Sam tenses beside him and he wonders if his little brother has the same thought.  “Cuttin’ it close.  We were about to check in for the night.”



Arnak smiles but it doesn’t reach her eyes.  Somehow, the look is still a soft gesture.  “You’ll have to forgive me.  Our people enjoy this festival and hold it dear.”  She turns to Uki and Tarkik and nods her head.  “Excuse us, we have some matters to discuss.”



They both get up from the table and begin to leave. Uki places a small kiss on her mother’s cheek before waving them goodbye.  Tarkik gives them a small salute, throwing a rather dashing grin in Sam's direction.  Dean can’t help but glare at the guy’s back until he hears Arnak speak again.  



“Thank you for waiting,” she eases herself down at the table, sitting across from them.  



“Is it always like this?” Sam asks, gesturing around them.  While their table is off on the outskirts of the celebration, there is still a lot of commotion.  “Everyone seems in high spirits.”



“They are free,” Arnak says quietly, her gaze sweeping over the crowd, “Wherever they had come from, they are free to be whoever they want here.”



Dean catches the brief flicker of emotion over Sam’s features and chooses consciously to revisit what that might mean later.  He leans forward.  “‘M’kay, can you tell us anything we need to know?  Otherwise, we’re about to punch out.”



Arnak regards him coolly, which is not all that surprising.  “Yes, I suppose I can.”  She lets out a breath, folding her hands atop the table in front of her.  “We are peaceful here.  We have some people who leave but with the intentions of coming back.  Samuel leaves for supplies and if there is a lost soul, he brings them here.  We have runners, who keep us in stock.  Placeholders, who learn the world’s advancements and come back to teach us.  But lately…”



Dean perks up at that.  “Yeah?”



“Some of our people have not returned.  Samuel went to investigate and…”  Arnak sighs, her hands unfolding and folding again.  It’s the only real sign of discomfort he’s seen from this woman so far.  “We found that they have been murdered.”



There’s a long pause between the three of them.  The band’s chosen a softer melody, a distant sound mingling with the chatter of the townspeople.  



Dean’s eyes flick to Sam and he can practically see the gears turning in his head.  His lips are in a thin line, eyes locked on Arnak’s folded hands as he thinks.  Dean frowns, lost in his own thoughts.  The people found in their cars, the murdered, they were all residents of this place.  It’s the logical conclusion so far.  



“Do you know what could be killing your people?” asks Sam.



Arnak’s hands unfold and fold again, her shoulders straighten slightly.  “Not yet, no.  Samuel has been keen to...keep it out, whatever it is.  Keep us all safe.”



Dean narrows his eyes.  The mark pulses.  He slides his hands beneath the table and clenches his fist.  He needs to throw himself into sleep.  “Okay,” he sighs, “Anything else?”



Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Sam snap his attention to him, obviously thrown by the pivot.  Arnak shakes her head, long hair swaying from the pony tail.  



“Not about the killings.  I would appreciate it if you didn’t say anything about it among our people.  They know but it has been rather strenuous and daunting.”



She stands and they follow.  Sam bows his head, like before, and says, “Thank you.  We’ll come to you if we figure something out.”



Arnak bows her head and cuts her eyes to Dean.  “You may want to consider getting adjusted in your time here.  There are plenty of things to do if you find yourselves idling.”



“Good to know,” Dean says slowly, keeping his eyes on her until she leaves.  He turns to Sam with an incredulous look.  “She wants us to get fucking jobs ?”



“Sounds like it,” Sam murmurs, scooting in his chair.  “Let’s just get some sleep.  We’re not gonna get anymore leads tonight.”



“Whatever,” Dean grumbles but follows him regardless. 




---




In the midst of everything, it had slipped his mind that there is one bed.   There’s also a couch, so it looks like there’s going to be a game of rock, paper, scissors to decide who gets what.  But he stares at the couch, basically a small futon, then to Sam, and estimates the length.  



Sam’s busy pulling out books from the bag he snagged from the Impala earlier and placing them on the table.  This whole cabin is about to be littered with research in about an hour.  Dean quietly watches him, recalling this morning.  He had woken up in the bed while Sam had been out in the main room.  



Then Sam’s eyes snap to Dean’s, apparently sensing his gaze.  Sam raises his eyebrows expectantly, going back to shuffling books and arranging them into whatever system he wants.  “What’s up?”



“Where did you sleep last night?”



“I didn’t,” Sam replies, nonchalantly.  



He frowns.  All nighters are meant for stake outs, long hunts that can’t be paused or other special circumstances.  Lately, Dean’s found it’s easier for him to stay up all night, thanks to the mark.  He has to make the choice to fall asleep, otherwise dark things come to mind.  But Sam?  Well, Dean remembers the trials, remembers the hallucinations, remembers all the times Sam’s gone without sleep and how his stomach twisted at the sight of Sam’s health deteriorating.  



So he doesn’t say anything.  Simply goes to the light switch and flips it off.  Sam gasps, as an automatic little brother response, offended by default.  Dean says gruffly, “Go to sleep, Sam.”



He plops down on the couch, and pulls the thin scratchy blanket over himself.  His legs dangle from the edge, predictably, and he can only imagine Sam sleeping on the damn thing.  Maybe he’ll joke about it later.  



There’s not much sound from where Sam stands in the room for a few seconds before he hears the light shuffle of Sam’s boots against the floorboards.  When he speaks, it’s uncertain and Dean can’t quite process why.  “There’s room on the bed, Dean.”



That’s a fucking invitation if he’s ever heard one.  



It’s tempting.  There’s several reasons why.  Comfort being at the top of that list.  And at the bottom, in tiny font with a small atstrik would read To be as close to Sammy as possible .  The mark on his arm pulses slightly, as if to give Dean’s answer for him.  



But he knows better.  They might be stuck here a whole fucking month and if he’s next to Sam like that for the entire duration...well.  Dean has enough self control to stay at a safe distance.  Close enough to keep Sam safe and far enough not to touch.  It’s better this way.  



So he repeats himself, “Go to sleep, Sam.”




---



It used to be different, this thing inside him.  



Sam would probably blame their father for it.  God knows Sam blames John for most things.  And maybe it would explain some of it, but not everything.  His pathological need to have Sam beside him is nearly suffocating sometimes.  He can hardly stand it.  He remembers a time when Sam used to need him like this; young and bright eyed and wanting everything Dean could give.  It changed one Christmas and then, well, Sam didn’t need anything anymore.  



Dean’s own need runs deep.  It’s pumped alongside his blood throughout his body, inside his veins.  It’s stuck there and always will be.  He can’t rid himself of it.  He’s tried far too many times.  His resignation to his need had only let it grow, replacing whatever innocent adoration he had for Sam.  The innocence died out long ago.  



The mark only intensifies it.  He can’t blame it all on the mark though, so if Sam figured him out...he’d lie.  He knows he would.  Say it’s the demon mark that burns his skin and watch Sam’s face shutter at the implication.  Demon blood, demon marks, they bring out the worst in them, don’t they?  



He hates that need.  Sam brings him back to himself every time the mark calls for more.  But it yields for Sam and Sam only.  And ain’t that a bitch?  




---




Uki helps them find some ‘jobs’.  



Sam somehow lands a nice gig at the archives center, which he supposes is another way to say library.  Uki shows them around, introducing them to the others who keep the place nice and tidy, before telling Sam they could have some use for him there for a time.  Sam’s face lights up like New Year’s Eve for a brief few seconds.  



They end up at the auto center and Dean hits it off with the people there.  They’re friendly but mostly keep to themselves, so Dean’s not going to complain about it too much.  Everything smells of motor oil and desert dust.  It’s just fine to him.  



Food is given out as needed.  That has Sam curious; not the way it’s distributed but how it’s attained.  Uki explains that the runners go get as much food as possible from the outside world, though most of the diet of the town is plant-based.  That has Dean’s motivation to get out of the place ramped up a bit, while he’s sure Sam will want to stick around long enough to try every dish possible.  



They separate around noon to their ‘duties’ and Dean gets stuck changing the oil on most of the vehicles.  There are a couple pick-ups and the stupid Buick Colt had driven.  Gemma, a fortyish looking woman, with a neatly cut afro and tired eyes, seems to be in charge.  She directs most of the workers in the auto shop.  He sorta likes her so far; she gets to the point and hands out smirks every now and then.  



When he heads back to the cabin, the children from last night catch up to him.  Josie’s with them, though she seems to be watching over the younger ones more than playing.  



“Play with us!” says one, around eight, maybe, with scattered freckles and bright curly red hair.  “Gotta play with us!”



“You just gotta kick it,” Josie informs him, as if letting Dean in on the big secret on how to placate eager children.  



Dean spares a glance towards the cabin, where he’s sure Sam’s already leafing through research.  It’s strange.  Before, he could at least spend some time away from Sam.  Sure, his mood would drop to a few levels and he’d feel all...aggravated.  Needy, even.  But here?  The feeling is ten times worse.  It’s like living in a hamster cage and the only thing to do is run on the wheel.  



Dean frowns at himself.  Is he comparing Sam to a hamster wheel? And himself as a hamster?  Jesus, he needs to get outta here.  



“C’mon!  You gotta!” one of the other kids urge.



He sighs.  



---



Sam gives Dean a one-second look-over from the stove and turns back to his task.  The cabin smells like a Subway, if he has anything to compare it to.  Bread and something fried, he thinks.  He processes the expression Sam had when he glanced at him and wonders if it had been judgmental or amused.  



“You roll around in the dirt?”  Amusement, then.  



Dean plops down on the futon, the crumpled blanket stuck underneath him because he hadn’t bothered folding it up this morning.  Probably out of spite.  Sleeping had been an issue last night.  “Those kids cornered me.  We played a loose version of soccer.”



Sam hums for a response, turns off the stove and places the food on the small table.  It occurs to Dean that Sam had enough time to get back from that stupid gig at the archives center and make food for the both of them.  Sam’s cooking is usually suspect, though.  It’s generally meant as a health-conscious sneak attack.  



“Pita bread and fried veggies.”



Dean throws back his head and groans.  He fucking knew it.  “I gotta get outta this place.”



“Just try it,” Sam sits down, begins eating as he opens some huge book.  



Feeling rather spiteful, Dean marches over, closes the book and sits across from his brother.  Sam stares up at him, clear bafflement bleeding into annoyance.  



“The fuck, Dean?”



“If we’re gonna do Little House on the Prairie,” Dean slides the book across the table to join its brethren, “we do it right.”



“No one said anything about---”



“You cooked,” Dean leans back with a piece of pita bread, “Sounds like a special occasion.”



Sam huffs, disbelieving, shaking his head.  Light eyes flicker over him and it makes his stomach twist slightly.  Sam goes back to eating but Dean’s still staring.  That used to do things to him, years and years ago.  Sam freshly graduated, full of distilled bitterness and hot air but would come crashing to halt when Dean said his name.  Stare at Dean like he could still be the center of his universe.  And it would mess Dean up to his core.  But that was long ago and he’d since shackled that up.  



This place is doing things to him.  



The food’s pretty good but he’s not ready to tell Sam that.  His mood is still slightly soured and Sam seems to be content with everything.  They’re on opposite ends.  Which seems to be the fucking problem lately.  Sam running the whole ‘just partners’ line still stings, despite having worked some of their bullshit out.  



Well, at least one of them is okay with this situation.  



Dean announces he’s done and takes a shower to clean  off the dust and motor oil.  The entire place is small but bigger than the endless line of motel rooms they’d stay in.  He can’t be too mad.  They could have been camping in tents or something.  At least these things have noisy air conditioning. 



When Sam comes out of the shower, Dean’s already cleaned up the kitchen and laying on the futon, a book propped up on his chest.  He’s nodding off but since they’re virtually no cell phone signal or WiFi, he’s been reduced to the old days of researching through literature.  



“You can take the bed, Dean,” Sam says, like a fact.  



Dean sniffs, rubs a hand over his face.  “If you wanna take the couch that badly, Sam, I’ll let ya.”



“There’s room.”



He tilts his head, smirks up to his brother.  “Gotta work on your lines, Sammy.  If you wanna get someone in bed, you have to use a better---”



“Good night, Dean,” Sam sighs out, rolls his eyes and turns away.



Despite the fact that he’s still on the futon, he turns back to his book with mild satisfaction.  He’s still got it.  




---




As it turns out, Tarkik also does work at the archives.  He finds out through the people at the garage, which makes him feel a little annoyed by Sam, who could have easily told him.  



Tarkik could be this town’s James Dean.  Styled hair, bright eyes, bronze skin and...that attitude.  Dean’s past teenage jealousy comes back with a vengeance when he realizes that is who Sam will be around for most of the day.  



At break time, he grabs the fruit offered for all in the fridge and runs over to the archives.  The building smells like a library.  Old books and forgotten words, it’s where Sam used to live and breathe.  And what Dean used to associate with Sam as soon as he left for Stanford; not that he’s willing to dig through that particular sense memory.  



He catches Sam at a table, hidden between bookshelves, and places a green apple in front of him.  Sam peers up, eyebrows raised.  



“I always thought you’d be the type to work through the day,” Sam says.  



He’s struck with the realization that Sam’s never gotten to experience Dean in the All-American, workday world.  Not fully, at least.  They’ve been pressured to work here for the time being, which he’s still wrapping his head around, but Sam had presumptions of what he thought Dean would be like.  He finds himself wanting to ask more but stops before the words fly out.



Clearing his throat, Dean sweeps a look in the area and says, “Figured you’d forget to eat.”



Sam sits forward, eyes still on Dean as he rests a chin under his palm.  “Yeah?”



“Yeah.  So fucking eat.”



“Someone went to get the rest of us food.  Wanna stay?”  Despite that, Sam grabs the apple anyway.  Hah.  



Someone implies Dean knows the person.  And, clearly, Sam doesn’t want to reveal who because it would probably start something.  But Dean’s got enough energy; it’s only noon.  “Tarkik taking you out on a little date?  That’s cute.”



The corners of Sam’s mouth dip momentarily.  He sighs.  “Of course you don’t like him.”



“Who said anything about liking him?” Dean gives him a smirk but it feels rather spiteful.  “It’s cool.”  (It’s not.)  “Just thought I’d stop by and---”



“Okay,” Sam gets up, closes the book and picks up the apple.  “I got research to do.  If you wanna jack off while we’re on a case, that’s fine.”



“I’m not the one looking to jack off,” he bites out, smirk still there.  Sam’s got a point but he’s not about to let up.  “But glad to hear you’re carrying the whole case by yourself.”



“I’ll see you tonight.  I’m not doing this with you right now,” Sam says in a clipped tone and walks off.  



In his growing frustration, he takes a moment to realize that, yeah, little brother still took the apple.



---



See you tonight , Sam said.  But Dean’s in too much of a sour mood to deal with him tonight.  Another quiet conversation.  Another veggie meal.  Another invitation to take the bed.  He doesn’t want it.  



The weird thing about this town is that the people all seem content.  The people don’t seem to have grievances of any kind.  Everyone is just fine working for no real payment beyond ensuring the well being and upkeep of the town.  They work to stay active and to keep things running.  It’s just---weird.  A weird utopia that seems shady as hell.  



Dean isn’t about dive into how this all works, though.  Some of the guys from the garage invite him to drink and he agrees.  That’s how he finds himself at the small bar, drinking outside with laughter surrounding him and the stars above.  All the while, he’s silently cursing Sam out.  



He shouldn’t be drinking.  The mark looks for any excuse to take control and he’s handing over the steering wheel.  But, so far, so good.  Despite slapping on the fake agreeable grin and nodding every once in a while, Dean feels his annoyance glaze over with the alcohol, until it’s only an ember in his mind.  



Of course, what’s left is longing.  Always with that familiar, hidden yearning.  Dean doesn’t have enough energy to cover that up tonight.  He drinks and communes.  



Uki stops by, talks with them for a time.  Now that Dean has a good look at her, he sees the resemblance between her, Tarkik and her mother.  If Samuel Colt has been here for a good century and a half, he wonders how old Uki truly is.  She doesn’t seem like the mild-mannered twenty-something she looks like.  Any other time, Dean would have flirted with her and made half-hearted attempts to get her in bed.  But with his thoughts consumed by Sam, he doesn’t even consider it.   She smiles kindly and articulates everything well but there’s something else there that he can’t quite place.  A secret but it’s out in the open, as if she expects others to know it already.  



Tarkik seems the same way but Dean hasn’t gotten a chance to talk much with him.  He’s positive Sam has.  His brother attracts a myriad of different characters and they often attach themselves to him.  He’s not surprised at all that they’re spending time together.  So maybe Sam has some insight on the guy, Dean thinks bitterly.  He catches conversations that mention Tarkik here and there and often it’s followed by laughter.  It’s not making fun of Tarkik but he does seem to be the talk of the town.



There’s Arnak with her obvious secrets.  Samuel Colt is protecting her so Dean can’t trust him either.  He just wants to gank the monster and get out of this wasteland.  



Dean drinks some more.  It doesn’t matter.  They’ll be out of here soon anyway.



---



Stumbling through the door, he’s hardly cognizant enough to close it.  But he does and he’d like brownie points for that.  Kicks off his shoes and they thump somewhere by the table.  



There’s a dim glow from the bedroom and he has the thought that Sam probably fell asleep with the light on.  It brings forth memories of switching off the lamp when he’d come back to the motel after fucking what’s-their-name.  Sam usually dozed off with a book or a laptop next to him.  



On the table, there’s a plate with tin foil over it.  There, where Dean usually sits.  Something in his chest tightens when he realizes that it was dinner for him.  Sam left it there.  Great.



He leans against the doorframe to support his numbed body and expects to see Sam fast asleep.  But he’s not.  He’s staring up at him from the bed, a slight frown on his features.  He wants to crack a joke, say he looks like Dad when he pulls that face but he can’t wrap his mind around the words.  



“This gonna become a thing?”



He means the drinking but Dean smirks at him, cruelly.  “Only if you want it to, baby.”



Sam sighs and pushes off the bed.  He doesn’t even look at Dean as he moves past him, out of the bedroom.  A small spike of panic surges through him.  That innate fear that’s always been there.  Sammy’s leaving .  



Dean snatches his arm, faster than he could register the action and keeps a grip on it.  Sam stills, narrowing his eyes at him.  



“What is going on with you, Dean?” 



He doesn’t know.  Not really.  They had been doing fine until they wound up here.  He had been keeping it cool.  Partners , as Sam put it.  Just work.  They’d been getting along.  And maybe Dean had been pushing it lately, though he felt like he was keeping it in check.  



But now he’s dealing with shit that he used to easily tuck away.  And it’s just---he’s overwhelmed with it.  Wants to take Sam’s face in his hands, kiss him soundly.  Wants to press him against the wall, have Sam feel his desire.  Wants to hear Sam say his name, say it with something other than the usual disappointment or dread that comes with it.  Wants, wants, wants.  



“Nothin’,” he murmurs, keeping his hand on Sam’s arm.  He nods to the bed.  “Wanna sleep, though.”



The frown deepens and Dean knows it was probably the wrong thing to say.  Sam makes a small attempt to get out of his hold.  “I’m gonna sleep out there, Dean.”



“Nah,” Dean feels that smirk again but with less malice.  “C’mon, Sammy, bed’s big enough, remember?”



He backs up, drags Sam with him as they fall on the bed.  Sam lets himself fall on top of him and Dean grunts, feels the wind knocked out of him and he coughs out a laugh.  His brother scoots over, away from him.  



“You’re an idiot.”



“Only drunk, Sammy.”



Another sigh but Sam hasn’t moved, staying beside him as Dean stares up at the wood ceiling.  Sam mutters, “You should take a shower.  You reek of booze.”



“Later.  I’m tired.”



Sam rolls over, his back to Dean and turns off the light.  He yawns and stretches.  Sam fumbles to get under the covers and Dean pretends that’s not a way his brother is putting up another barrier between them.  



---



He wakes up when it’s still dark, his brother’s back against his chest.  His arm is slung over Sam’s waist, like a dead weight and he tries desperately to remember if he had intentionally done that because it would determine how much guilt he feels about it later.  Never mind the slight hard on he has between his legs.  



They’ve been in this position before.  Several times, in fact.  But lately, there’s been no logical excuse for Dean to be this close.  He wishes he could relish in it, take his time to stay there, laying next to his brother quietly.  But he’s got a bit of a headache and he knows Sam likes his space.  And he’s sure Sam would have a few choice words if he woke up to Dean’s dick against his ass.  That would be---well, it would be funny.  But not immediately.  



He slowly withdraws, feels the twinge of the mark light up at the intention.  He closes his eyes, remains on his side until he feels slumber overtake him again.  



The next time he wakes up, he’s moving.  



Small, sporadic movements.  He feels good, doesn’t want to stop.  Dean had been dreaming, he thinks.  He can’t remember it but it felt great.  Like now.  His hand splays over warm skin, keeping the body there against him.  His breath hitches, his face nuzzled between shoulder blades.  



Belatedly, he realizes it’s his hips moving.  Thrusting in jerky movements, against Sam.  He sucks in a sharp inhale, feels himself go ridgid with the shock.  His next thought is if Sam’s even remotely aware and, fuck, he needs to get out of this bed, run back to a lonely and lumpy futon.  



But then he registers a movement that’s not his own.  He hadn’t been the only one.  It’s hardly noticeable but he feels Sam grind back, as if to keep him going.  Dean matches it on instinct before he can think better of it, feels his dick get harder against the rough material of his jeans.  



The hand he had somehow snuck under Sam’s shirt travels lower, daring to explore more.  He thinks maybe, maybe, maybe before he feels Sam shudder against him.  The blanket had been rucked down, draped over Sam’s thighs.  Dean desperately wants to peer up, take in the sight of Sam like this but settles for leaning his forehead against Sam’s neck.  



He grinds against him, waiting for Sam to do the same.  When he does, he feels his own muscles quiver, arousal pulsing through him.  He groans, self control dwindling away.  



His hand dips lower, beneath the sweatpants.  What he finds is the evidence that Sam’s enjoying this just as much.  Sam’s head turns into the pillow, releasing a moan and Dean has the increasing desire to see Sam strung out.  Needs it.  



Within a couple seconds, he’s pushing Sam onto his back and hovering over him.  His thighs straddle Sam’s hips, hand still on his dick.  



Sam stares up at him, eyes dark with arousal.  He looks dazed, as if he had just woken up to this.  His lips are parted, small pants with the rise of his chest.  Dean wants to push it farther, have Sam just completely wrecked before him, hates that he burns with that desire.  He looks for any objection, anything to tell him to stop.  



“You wanna, Sammy?” he rasps out, thumb swiping over the head of Sam’s cock.  Almost immediately, Sam’s eyes roll and there’s a slight arch of his back.  “You wanna?”



Sam nods, hands flying to Dean’s zipper as he fumbles to get his jeans open.  Dean stares at his lips again, thinks he’d like to see them wrapped around his own dick with those hazy eyes staring up at him.  Dean shudders.  



He snatches one of Sam’s wrists, holds it above his head where his hair is splayed in the mess it is.  Sam’s eyes snap up to his, confused and bordering on belligerent.  Bratty, little Sammy, always wanting his way.



“Gotta say it, Sam,” he says, his voice deep, quiet.  “Gotta tell me.”



His thumb skids over the mess at the top, uses the precum to slide his fingers down in a quick jerk.  Sam raises his hips but Dean keeps them down with his weight.  Sam huffs with obvious frustration, closing his eyes tight.  



“You wanna?” he repeats, his dick twitches as Sam releases a whine in the back of his throat.  



“Yeah,” Sam opens his eyes, his voice sounds like gravel but it causes a spike of pleasure anyway, “Yeah, Dean.  Let me.”



Dean releases his wrist and Sam immediately goes for his pants again.  Undone button and a zipper and Sam’s got his huge hand around his cock.  Dean shudders.  Watches as Sam focuses on jerking him off.  The flush of his cheeks deepen in color.  Shorter breaths.  



And then Sam flicks his eyes up to meet his.  Dean can’t take it then.  Taking both of Sam’s wrists, he pins them on either side of his head.  He bends down, mouth against his neck.  Nips at the skin, grinds their hips together.  The easy slide of their cocks has Sam hissing.  Dean tightens his grip around his wrists, keeping himself grounded.  He’ll blow like a fucking teenager if he doesn’t reign it in.  



“De-- Dean ,” Sam breaths out, raises his hips for more friction.  “ C’mon.



Dean huffs into Sam’s neck, thinks maybe it’s fine if he loses it right now.  Sam sure wants to.



He releases one wrist, brings his hand down to Sam’s side, traveling down until it finds the sharp cut of his hip.  Sam tries lifting his hips but Dean holds him down again, keeping his brother still as he ruts against him.  A frustrated sound comes from Sam and it ignites something different in Dean.  God , he’d love to keep Sam likes this; always wanting, desperate for Dean until he fucking begs.  Another shudder brings him closer.  



“So good for me,” Dean pants out, “Look so good.”



Something close to a whine sounds from Sam.  The free arm is promptly draped over his face, hiding his eyes from Dean.  



“Fuck, I wanna---” Dean bites his bottom lip.  Be inside you, claim you, mark you up until everyone fucking knows.  “Fuck, Sammy .”



Sam’s back arches up with a whimper and Dean’s name.  He comes like that, under Dean and an utter mess.  Dean watches the display, growing hotter.  His hips stutter and he’s gone, lost in Sam’s ragged breaths and rumpled sheets. 




---



The smell of wet dust mingles in the air, despite it still feeling dry as hell.   Dean feels sticky with the sweat that has dried on his skin.  Inside the garage, there’s only fans, not the air condition everyone else is blessed with.  



Most of the workers at the garage have projects elsewhere in the town; apparently their jobs are just the general mechanics.  The beginning of the month means car tuning but after that, they fix up things here and there.  They’ve left Dean with some car-related problems, so he’s not upset about it.  Especially when they let him park the Impala in there to tune her up too.  



He found out why there’s so many damn vegetables in the town.  There’s three large greenhouses beyond the housing area.  Along with some rows of corn.  The agriculture seems crude but he had taken the privilege of exploring it while testing the limits of the ‘pocket world’.  



He takes little breaks, laying under a car, a matted towel beneath him, or against the rusted metal walls of the auto shop. 



Sam finds him polishing the Impala, unfortunately.  Because that leaves enough room for taunting later.   He looks up to see his brother standing a few paces away, holding a paper bag.  He tilts his head to the side, the beginnings of a smirk sparking at the corners of his mouth.  Dean grunts, goes back to his task.  



“Lunch break?”



“We were told to go home,” Sam’s voice is neutral, normal.  Dean pauses.  “There’s a storm about to hit.”



Dean turns to him, straightening his back.  “Yeah?”



Sam nods, finds a spot to sit down at the table and leans back.  “You gonna be done soon?”



Not: Can I help you?  Because every time that’s happened, Dean throws a tantrum about how Sam does it.  And then he quotes The Karate Kid and Sam quits by promptly throwing a dirty rag in his direction.  Dean thinks that’s happened a good eight times exactly in that order.  



A shrug.  “I guess.”



He continues as Sam sits at the table, probably overthinking something miniscule.  Dean thins his lips as he ponders too, working from his shoulder as he finishes off the passenger’s side of the car.  



This morning was normal enough.  At least, it was for Sam , who showered, got ready, talked about his theories of the case and left for the archives.  Dean played along, hiding behind a coffee mug and grunts, for the most part.  



There wasn’t any mention from last night.  He figures Sam is processing it.  Or waiting on Dean to say something, which, well.  Dean’s not gonna say shit.  That’s Sam’s job.  Talk about things.  Dean doesn’t do that.  Hasn’t done that since Jess died.  Pushing Sam to talk is like pulling teeth and he doesn’t have enough energy for it.  



So he’ll wait on Sam, like always.  



When he’s finished, he closes up the garage and tells Gemma good night.  They head back to where they’ve been staying in silence until they run into the kids again.  Josie is there, seemingly always keeping watch over the younger ones.  



“You headin’ for shelter?”  Josie asks, holding the hand of a girl Dean recognizes as Molly.



Sam smiles.  “Yeah.  Shouldn’t you?”



“Waitin’ on Mama,” Josie explains.  “When she gets done, we’ll all go home.”  Josie eyes Sam with what looks like some suspicion.  “You should be careful of Tarkik.”



All current thoughts come to a screeching halt in Dean’s mind.  That name alone has him narrowing his eyes.  He snaps his attention to Sam, who, evidently, is not bothered by the child’s warning.  Instead, his mouth forms a gentle smile.  “How so?”



“Tarkik won’t ever call the Order, no matter what.  He don’t care to.”



Dean has no idea what kind of argument that’s supposed to be but his jealousy is ready to defend it at all costs.  



“That’s okay,” Sam says, as if what Josie is saying makes any sense, “We’re friends.”

 

 

Josie’s face scrunches up and little Molly frowns.  Josie shakes her head.  “ You’ll see.”



Thunder sounds in the distance and a gust of wind picks up some dust.  Dean shuts his eyes briefly to ensure nothing gets in them.  Josie and Molly are covering their faces.  



“You guys need to go find Gemma.  She’s at the garage,” Dean tells them.  



Josie blinks rapidly, as if she’s got some dust in her eyes and nods.  “Yeah, okay.”  She looks back at Sam.  “You’ll remember?”



Sam nods, as if their conversation had been a serious agreement.  “I’ll remember, Josie.”



The two girls run past them.  Both Sam and Dean make it back to their own little house before the beginnings of the dust storm hits.  



Sam’s talking nonsense.  Or rather, talking about the archives and the stash of information stored there and Dean honest to fucking God could not care any less.   



This place must be messing with seven different kinds of realities.  Does Sam not remember last night?  And if he does, why the fuck is he not dicussing it with Dean?  Not that he wants to but it’d be nice to have some acknowledgement that it even happened.  



Maybe he’s the one losing it.  He could be.  He’s the one with the Mark of Cain after all.  Sam’s finally recovered from the trials and seemingly starting to trust him after the whole...Gadreel thing.  So Sam’s coasting while it feels like Dean is definitely spiraling.  Which is standard.  Only one of them gets to be crazy at a time.  



“Talked to Colt about his own theories.  Finally.  He mentioned the possibility of a demon but then clammed up after Tarkik came in the room,” Sam’s saying, cutting through Dean’s trainwreck of thoughts.  



“What?”



“Yeah, he said something about a demon.  Sounded familiar with it but, then again, he did specialize in demon hunting in his prime, so I guess that makes sense.”



It flies out of his mouth before he can stop it.  “So you’re just hanging out with all the cool kids on the block now?  Good for you, Sammy.”



It stops the entire conversation.  Sam stops what he’s doing, leaving the food on the burner to turn around with a scowl.  



“Dean, the case .  Focus.”



Nah, he wants to feel spiteful.  Fuck the case.  Fuck Samuel Colt.  Fuck Tarkik and Arnak.  Fuck this town.  Fuck this entire state.  



He crosses his arms, spreads his legs as he leans back on the couch.  Guess he’s gonna sleep here again tonight.  “We got three whole weeks to worry about this dumb case.  That all you wanna talk about?”



Sam regards him, his expression turning back to the robotic neutral face Dean’s rather familiar with.  It’s a mask Sam’s worn since a kid.  Their dad unknowingly taught Sam how to use it, especially when giving orders he didn’t like.  



“Yeah, that’s all I wanna talk about, Dean.”



So that’s it.  The acknowledgement Dean wanted had been recognized for a brief second.  And now they’re not going to discuss it, apparently.  Dean pretends it’s what he wanted in the first place.  



Sam turns off the stove and leaves the food in the pan.  He informs Dean it’s his meal, as he’s already eaten.  Instead of sticking around, Sam gets ready for the night, which means he’s not in the same room as Dean.   Whatever.  



Dean rests his head back, considers forcing himself to sleep, despite the lingering burn of the mark.  These past few days, it hasn’t been as prominent.  Like a scar that aches every now and then.  But it still reminds him that the ache stops when Sam’s around. 



When Sam returns, Dean half-expects him to talk about the case again, which will only sour Dean’s mood further.  But he doesn’t.  Instead, he feels hands on his thighs, running up the denim.  



Dean snaps his head up to stare owlishly at his brother.  “Sam?”



“You wanna?” Sam murmurs, flicking light eyes over Dean’s face, a quiet question.  



It’s the same one Dean posed to Sam last night.  Almost shyly, as if he’d bolt if Dean said no.  Dean’s cock is instantly interested.  Sam’s hair is damp and droplets of water left on his skin.  A towel hangs loosely around his narrow hips, threatening to fall with the slightest movement.  



“Dean, you wann---?”



“Yeah,” Dean says quickly, like he’ll never get the damn chance again.  Yes, every time, yes.   “Yeah, Sammy.”



His hands guide Sam’s hips over his lap.  Sam breathes out and it almost sounds relieved .  Excitement skitters over Dean’s skin.  Almost gingerly, Sam places himself over Dean, straddling his hips.  He stares up at Sam, watching.  One hand resting on his shoulder, the other slipping down to the zipper of Dean’s pants.  



Dean keeps his hands on Sam’s hips, not sure if it’s to steady them or to keep himself from exploring Sam himself.   Button loose, zipper down, Sam takes his hardening cock out of his jeans.  Dean bites out a moan, leaning his head back.  He hears the small breathy gasp Sam lets escape, as if he’s getting off just seeing Dean like this.  And that kinda does things to him too.  



The towel is finally lost, falls on the floor when Sam twists just right and Dean bucks his hips.  He can barely register any of it.  Just a bit ago, Sam was pissed at him.  It’s like whiplash.  But Dean’s not going to argue.  He’s just fine with a naked Sam on top of him, jerking him off.  



“Dean,” Sam murmurs, “You…”



He opens his eyes, studies Sam through his aroused haze.  “Sam?”



Sam’s biting his bottom lip, gaze anywhere but Dean’s eyes.  The hand on his shoulder disappears and grips one of Dean’s.  He pries it off his hip and guides it down.  At first he thinks maybe Sam wants him to just hold his ass but then his fingertips graze against his hole.  It takes a moment but he realizes it’s slick and---



Fuck ,” Dean groans.  “You’re ready for me, Sammy?”



That brings a nice flush to Sam’s face.  “In the bathroom.”



Just the thought of Sam spreading himself with lube and his fingers is enough for Dean to want to lose it.  He’s thought about it countless times.  Fantasize watching Sam preparing himself for him, begging for it.  Dean shudders.



“Wanna ride my cock, Sam?” he murmurs.  



Sam’s only response is a bitten off whine, that hand back on his shoulder to steady himself.   Dean lets go of some self control, presses a finger into him.  Sam gasps.  Two fingers and Sam’s rocking back, as if to get them deeper.  



Dean withdraws and Sam gives him a rather dangerous look.  He smirks.  “Gotta tell me, Sammy.  Remember?”



Sam breathes in, obviously frustrated enough with Dean’s bullshit.  “Yeah, Dean.”



“What?”  Dean tugs Sam closer until their chests are flush, “Tell me,” and realizing demands don’t go far with Sam, he tacks on the, “Please.”



“Let me ride you,” Sam says, breathless.  He grinds his hips against Dean’s, which has his cock twitch.  



The ball is in Sam’s court with this one.  So Dean watches with building arousal as Sam lifts himself and sinks down on his cock.  He groans, throws his head back.  Sam gives another gasp when he’s fully seated.  Dean wishes he would have taken all his clothes off for this.  Next time, he’ll try to be more prepared.  Maybe.  



Sam’s panting, adjusting to the size inside him and Dean runs his hands over his sides, gently encouraging him.  “Look at ya, taking it so good, so fuckin’ good, Sammy,” he’s rambling.  It must do things for Sam because he feels his dick twitch against his stomach, precum dragging against the fabric of his shirt.  



He thinks, distantly, as Sam begins to move up and down his cock, that maybe they could have had this all along.  Maybe he could have been lucky enough to smooth the tension and the hard lines in Sam long ago with just something like this.  It would have done wonders for Dean, he knows.  At least, when it comes to matters between them.  



Dean’s got a hand on Sam’s cock, jerking him off in sync with Sam’s movements.  The slick, hot drag inside him has Dean nearly losing it.  He has to stave off his orgasm.  It’s not easy with Sam making those damn noises.  



When Sam comes, he watches with some wonder.  He must have missed it last time, he thinks.  Sam had his face covered before.  This time, Sam attempts to hide his face again, diving for the space between Dean’s neck and shoulder.  



Absentmindedly, Dean snatches his face with one hand.  Their eyes meet for just a moment and Dean huffs out, jerking his hips up as he comes.  



Sam collapses loosely over Dean and he’s fine with it.  They’re panting, tired and sweaty.  He toys with the suggestion of taking a shower together.  




----



The townspeople typically keep to themselves, he notes.  



It’s a strange culture here.  Sam comments on it.  Actually, Sam has a lot of thoughts about it.  They’ve run into towns like this, in the middle of nowhere.  But not quite as friendly.  



There’s a distinct absence of the general Christrian values, loose societal constructs.  Dean doesn’t know what to make of it.  



“Maybe they’re older than we think,” Sam says and Dean frowns at him, a silent prompt to explain.  “Uki talks a certain way.  I don’t mean her accent.  Just...her formality sometimes.  Arnak too.  Think they’re older than Colt, for sure.”



“Tarkik talks like he’s from Grease ,” Dean mutters and realizes, belatedly, that’s more of a compliment.  He scowls when he catches the smirk Sam tries to hide behind a wrinkle of his nose.  “Anyway, didn’t we already say this place stops time?  You said it exists outside of it.”



“I think it’s more than that…”  Sam leans back in his chair, picking up the lemonade Dean had made earlier.  “I think Arnak comes from a time and place that was here before, well, nations even existed.  You should see some of the texts in the archives.  There’s a lot relating to ancient times.”



“That’s not new to us.”



“But gathered in one place?  It’s like she collected them herself.  Like...I don’t know.”



“Think she’s a goddess or somethin’?”



“Or somethin’,” Sam agrees.  “Maybe---all these people are from different times, right?  Gemma and her little girl---Josie---their pictures are in the registry in the archives.  I didn’t get too far but…  I think something’s there.”



“Why don’t we just fuckin’ ask these people?  It’s not like they’ve been secretive.”



“I asked Tarkik about when this place was founded and he changed the subject,” Sam mutters.



Dean rolls his eyes but lets it go.  It’s not like he has room to be sideways jealous when he’s been pretty satisfied lately.  



“Come with me to the archives?”



The question throws him off a little.  So far, they’ve been keeping their distance when they step outside the cabin.  But this is for the case.  So Dean grins and nods.  “Sure.”



---



The archives is just a fancy term for library, really.  Sam’s in his element here, so he allows him to lead.  It’s not like he has much experience in the small building to navigate properly anyway.  Sam takes him to the back, through shelves and walls full of books.  



Fingers graze the spines of some until he finds the one.  Taking it out and opening it, Dean peers over his brother’s shoulder.  



“Here, look.”



Some handwriting in English, neat and weathered.  It says the names: Gemma and Josie Barlett.  It’s not much until he looks at the photo.  Gemma, the woman in charge of the mechs of this town, stands in front of the fountain in the townsquare, hand on her daughter’s shoulder.  It’s dated 1967.  Gemma has her hair straightened, short and barely covering her ears.  Josie has hers tied up and wearing a huge, toothy grin.  



Dean steps back.  “Huh.”



“But that’s not all.  This looks like...just an update.”



“Like a census?”



Sam blinks at him.  Then a slow smile appears.  “Good example.”



Dean quickly buries the bright pride that wells in his chest before it turns childish.  “I know things.”



“I know you do,” Sam chuckles, taking out another book.  



Dean goes for two more and they take them to a nearby table.  Despite it being the evening, Sam assures Dean that everyone has left and won’t come back.  The only thing they’d have to worry about is probably Colt wandering in, which doesn’t garner much confidence.  Dean has seen him drifting about the town like he fucking owns it.  



The books turn out to be what Sam believed: records of the townspeople.  Some have photos but as they go a little deeper in the past, there’s a lack of them.  Instead, there’s light descriptions, names and birth dates.  There’s some that have Dean a little confused; the wording seems off and he hands those off to Sam.  



Finally, they come across a mention of Gemma and Josie again.  Just mentioned by name and dated 1855.  



“Fuck,” Dean murmurs, “They were enslaved.”



Sam leans over to read the bit of information offered on the page.  Dean has to fight the urge to fill the small gap between them, have their sides pressed together.  Later , he thinks.  Sam’s eyes flicker over the record and he sighs out.  



“Her husband died getting them across the river…  Samuel Colt found them shortly after…  And brought them here.”  



Shit.  Dean processes the information.  Josie looks about ten years old but she’s got over a century and a half on both of them.  The kid probably understands far more than they’ve given her credit for.  And Gemma---she’s got to live out her life, skipping past the end of slavery and all that followed after.  



“I’ve found a few other cases like this,” Sam sighs out, “Some people prosecuted for their sexuality, religion or whatever else you can think of.  I’m slightly convinced there’s a shifter living here based on the description but I wouldn’t know until I could prove it.”



Dean glances back to the shelves with the records and eyes the one on the very bottom, at the end.  He fetches it, brings it back to the table as Sam watches him with interest and opens it up.  It’s old paper.  Like, the kind they’d found when researching something in medieval times.  He goes to the first page.  



It’s written in different handwriting.  Scribbles, mostly.  It reminds him of Arabic.  Or maybe someone who used to write in a language close to it.  But it’s all in English.  There’s no date.  



But he knows who wrote it after the first sentence.  



Haven is created and Uki will live.



“Arnak,” Dean says, looks at Sam.  “It has to be.”



“She did say she founded this place.  Haven is what she calls it?”



“Or maybe she’s saying this place is a haven.”



Sam frowns then.  “That doesn’t give us much.  So Uki was with her when Arnak created it?”



“One way to find out.”



Sam’s lips twitch into a smirk and Dean has to squash the burst of familiar joy that comes with that.  “Guess so.”




---



Uki stops by every now and then, which is usually inconvenient.  It’s mostly to drop off food, which seems to be her duty.  It’s small things, like fruits and coffee, but it’s welcomed.  When she asks, Sam requests certain foods, which has Dean slightly annoyed every time he hears kale .  



When she stops by today, they decide to question her ‘casually’.  



“So, Uki, are there any residents who are born and raised here?”



Uki nods as she places the lemons (Dean’s request, since Sam liked the lemonade) in the basket on the table.  “Yes.  Actually, Tarkik was.”



Sam and Dean exchange glances.  They probably should have looked into Tarkik too.  Dean clears his throat.  “Were you?”



Uki pauses with that and the light smile she usually wears slips slightly.  “Ah...not exactly.  But it’s all I’ve ever really known.”



“That right?”



“Yes,” Uki finishes placing the rest of the lemons in the basket and gathers the empty burlap bags, “Tarkik takes trips out there sometimes.  It’s how he’s aged.  He’s gotten to go out more than most of us.”



“But not you,” Sam states softly.  It’s not a question.



Uki turns to Sam then and something dark passes over her features.  Quietly, she answers, “No.  Not I.”  And that seems to do it for it because her shoulders straighten and her chin is raised a little higher.   “I’ll get you two the same tomorrow, all right?  Unless you need anything else?”



She says it as she’s headed for the door and Sam throws Dean a look of some anxiety.  Dean can’t ignore a silent call like that.  



“Uki---wait,” Dean stands up from his spot on the couch then, sighing out.  “Look, your mom wanted us to help out, right?  We’re just tryna connect the dots.”



She stands before the door, her back to them.  For a moment, Dean believes she’ll simply leave.  But she turns to face them with a smile that doesn’t reach her eyes.  “Please believe me when I say no one wants to help more than I do.  But things will work out.  Next moon will absolve everything.”



And with that, she leaves.  




---



So Uki somehow has made herself a suspect, which both of them are bummed about.  They both have come across their share of unintentional villains.  The type who walk the road of good intentions leading to hell.  They’ve strolled down that road themselves; literally, in some cases.  



Sam has a working theory about the demons while Dean is still a little stuck on a pagan god of sorts.  Since Sam doesn’t put much weight on Dean’s assessment, he’s left to do the research on gods himself, which makes him a little worn out at the end of each day.  



They’ve been in the town for two weeks now.  



Two weeks of mundane tasks.  Quiet dinners.  Small talk among the people.  Playing soccer with the kids.  Dry heat and downpours.  Late night frotting.  Blowjobs in the garage and handjobs in the archives.  Light drinking in the early evenings.  



Dean thinks it feels a lot like groundhog day.  Little things change every day but, for the most part, it’s mostly the same.  And---



And he’s fine with it.  



The mark doesn’t burn bright anymore.  Instead, it’s a dull ache.  Like his many scars that eventually fade with the years.  The wild fantasy of the mark becoming obsolete the longer he stays here enters his mind.  The idea that maybe--- maybe ---this thing will go away if he and Sam stay here.  If they---



---they have to leave some time, though.  



The bitter thought of it feels jagged in his chest.  Pierces him unexpectedly, as he’s skimming his hands down Sam’s sides one night.  Sam’s murmuring his name, darkened in arousal and Dean burns with it.  Wants to hear it as much as possible.  That voice that has spoken his name over and over again, now dowsed in the tone he’d been yearning for in his fantasies for years .  And he finally has it.



And it will all end.  



He wants to kiss it off Sam’s mouth, keep there on his tongue.  Every time he says I want it .  Dean makes him say it every time and, at this point, it’s just a part of their ritual.  One that he can’t find himself growing tired of.  Sam wants it.  Sam wants him .  



They don’t kiss though, so the words won’t ever be seared on his lips.  He can’t keep it forever.  



When he lays next to Sam in bed in the aftermath, he spies something close to that something though.  That glint of interest in talking about it.  Sometimes he parts his lips, takes in a breath and their eyes meet.  It’s then, Dean thinks I’m not crazy, right?  This isn’t crazy?  We’re fuckin’ around and you don’t wanna say how messed up it is?  That you don’t wanna talk about it?



But Sam simply sighs out and moves away.  They sleep but Dean feels the tension to his bones with the need.  This will all be over the moment they solve the case.  And maybe he doesn’t want to.  




---





He arrives at the house to find Little Josie and Molly braiding Sam’s hair.  It’s actually neatly done but he suspects that’s due to Josie’s experience.  Molly is placing fake flowers in between the braided hair so that it sticks.  



Sam looks up from the old, worn book and his eyes land right on Dean.  There’s a spark of fondness in his features.  It flickers there for a moment.  But it’s gone the next and Dean hates how his own fondness stays like a reservoir beneath his ribcage.  



“It’s a fishtail braid, I’m told,” Sam’s lips twitch.  An almost smile.  Dean likes those.  “Molly hasn’t told me what the flowers are for.”



“Good will,” Molly responds, then forcefully tilts Sam’s head so that she can place the last yellow and white flower behind his right ear.  “We grow narcissuses out in the backyard, if you wanna come see.”



 

“I’d love to,” Sam responds gently.  



Josie looks up to Dean and purses her lips.  “I told her it’d be better if you woulda picked ‘em yourself.”



“Yeah?”  Dean moves to the kitchen counter, looking for some of the whiskey from before.  Then he remembers himself.  They may be ageless but they’re still children.  Doesn’t feel right to grab a drink right now.  He goes for the water bottle.  “Why would I wanna pick some flowers?”





“If ya’ll courtin’, then you’d have to pick ‘em out for him.”



“...what?”



There’s a prolonged silence in the cabin as Dean spins around, looking at both children and then to Sam, who is pointedly frowning at Josie with question.  Courting.  Did he hear that right?  



And then a burst of laughter comes from Sam.  It’s so explicitly genuine and loud that Dean’s full attention is on his brother.  It’s the light kind of laughter.  The type he rarely hears.  But it’s contagious and he’s chuckling, shaking his head.   He looks so damn ridiculous with his fishtail braid and flowers stuck in his hair.  A couple had fallen out in his sudden movement and Molly scrambles to put them back.  



“Josie,” Sam says, “We’re not courting.  But thank you for offering your flowers.”



A flash of disappointment and then embarrassment from the forever-preteen.  “But---you called the Order.  I thought---”



“What?” Dean frowns then.  



“The Order!”  Molly exclaims delightfully, too much cheer in such a small space.  



Josie looks flustered and confused, glancing between them.  “The Order.  To your promised one.”



“Isn’t the Order a promise in itself?”  Sam asks carefully, tilting his head as Molly fixes the flowers once again.  



“Yeah, but you two drank together---we all just thought---I dunno.  It’s still not right out there, ain’t it?”



‘Out there’ implies the real world with real struggles and real obstacles.  And suddenly Dean understands some of the interactions he’s had between a few of the townspeople.  Shit.  They automatically believed they were a couple.  



The insinuation brings some giddiness as well as a crushing anxiety of what Sam thinks about it all.  Courting.  They all thought Sam and Dean were escaping a homophobic society, which isn’t such a stretch considering what they’d found in the records.  But it’s still---well, did they give that impression?  Is it just Dean that they seem to read like that?  



Maybe it’s not too off the mark, considering how Dean’s managed to somehow fall into Sam’s bed.  And Sam being okay with it.  Casual sex isn’t part of the general idea of courting, though, but he’ll take what he can.  



“It’s never not right out there,” Sam tells her, “But it’s a better world every day.”



He supposes that’s as good as an answer anyone could give the kid.  But then Sam continues.  



“What else entails courting?”



Entertaining the idea isn’t going to help the assumptions.  Dean needs the drink.  He aches for it suddenly.  But he’s stuck watching Sam slowly deconstruct their unspoken thing.  



“Well,” Josie starts, “Someone’s gotta get the flowers.  It’s another type of promise.  Then, on one of the moons, you gotta declare your intentions out loud to each other at the fountain.”



“In front of everyone!” Molly says, stepping back and inspecting Sam’s hair, crowned in the flowers, as if she had single handedly done all the work.  “You gotta.”



“So that’s the end of it?  No marriage?”



“We don’t do that here,” Josie wrinkles her nose.  “Just promise.”



“Just promise, huh?” Sam murmurs quietly.



And then Sam flicks his eyes to Dean.  He feels pinned with the stare, standing still against the counter and bug-eyed.  What’s he supposed to do with that?  



A promise.  Like the one he’s lived by all his life.  Take care of Sammy.   That was it.  That’s all Dean’s held onto for most of his life.  



He stares back at Sam, finding no response in him to say anything back.  He wonders, wildly, what Sam had promised at the fountain.  Had it been something similar?  Had he promised anything at all?  He wishes he wasn’t so wrapped up in this yearning, this unadulterated need for Sam but here he is, wishing away.  



Josie’s the one to bring them back again.  “So ya’ll courtin’ then?”



“Yeah, sure.”



Sam blinks up with surprise at him.  The shock of his own response doesn’t quite settle until he sees Sam’s reaction.  Wrong thing to say then.  Some panic surges through him as he shrugs, recovers with his bravado and takes a long chug of the water.  



When Josie and Molly leave, Sam says, “You’re giving them a false hope.”



And that fucking stings.  “Not like it’ll matter.  We’re leaving before we have to do any of that shit.”



Sam narrows his eyes, doing that Sam-thing.  Studying him, thinking of long-ass words to say back.  Dean doesn’t have the energy for it.  He’d rather reserve it for other activities.  



He reaches out, grabs Sam’s wrist and pulls him against him.  “C’mon, flower-boy.”



Sam still looks doubtful but Dean sees the smile he’s trying so desperately to suppress.  “That’s not even close to funny, Dean.”



“Wanna keep talkin’ about it or move this over here?”  He nods to the bedroom and raises his eyebrows.  



Sam chooses the latter.  



---




Three weeks in and Dean feels himself growing anxious.  He takes walks, ends up at the Impala or the fountain.  He runs into increasingly familiar faces, though he only stops for idle chatter.  He pretends it fills the space where he’d rather be talking with Sam.  Or---maybe just being with Sam.  



It’s a hot afternoon when Colt finds him outside the main townhouse.  He’s been considering weeding out Arnak for a talk.  He could swear the woman is hiding from them.  He’s sure Sam would like to be present in case Dean’s line of questioning leads to the pagan god theory but he’s not completely willing to deal with Sam’s dodging.  



“She’s not there,” Colt informs him.  



No need to ask who.  “Then where?”



He thinks he might kind of enjoy Colt’s conversations, as they tend to be to the point.  But Colt and Sam’s interactions are different.  There’s a level of familiarity and a fondness from Colt that seems to drift between them.  He’s sure Sam’s oblivious to it but Dean knows because he’s known that particular fondness most of his life.  



“Not there,” Colt says, “Don’t know.  She mingles with the people.”



Dean hums, nodding, sparing a glance at the fountain.  “The Order.  Where’s that come from?”



“An old ritual of sorts from Arnak’s people.”



“And who is that?”



Colt tilts his head to the side with a knowing look.  “Arnak ain’t your enemy, hunter.”



“She ain’t a friend either.”



Colt huffs out a small laugh.  “Guess not.”



“So?”



Colt seems to consider him.  Dean waits.  After a few moments, Colt shrugs and nods to the fountain.  “Where Arnak comes from, it’s a somethin’ of a sacred tradition.  They live longer where she’s from, so making a vow means a little more, I guess.  If it’s broken, you’re shunned for life.  A disgrace.”



Dean racks his brain for anything that sounds familiar to it.  He thinks of the engravings on the fountain.  “How old is she?”



Colt truly laughs then, waving a hand.  “Not sure.  She could be as old as Pangea as far as I know.”



Fucking Pangea?  Dean knew it.  Pagan god.  “So, what, she needs followers to keep this place goin’?”



There’s a flicker of confusion before Colt’s smirk returns.  “Ah, I see.”  He gestures to their surroundings.  “Do you see anyone worshipin’ her?”



“I dunno.  You seem to.”



That gets a bit of a reaction; something like annoyance but the smirk remains.  Like he’d been caught with something secret.  “I worship her ‘bout the same amount you worship that boy of yours.”



Dean feels jolted with the comment.  He feels the need to lash out, vehemently deny it or insult him back but Colt steamrolls through.  



“She’s against the idea of it.  She had been a wanderer herself.  These are people like her who needed a place away from the world out there.  Free of judgement.  Someplace safe.”



Still a bit shaken, Dean thins his lips.  It’s not enough information.  If she’s not a god, then what the fuck is she?  “You wanna know what I think?  I think you know what’s actually happenin’ and you don’t know how to fix it.  You know you’re not strong enough to face it.”



Colt stares at him, nearly expressionless and Dean knows he’s right.  That smirk twists into something else.  “Maybe so, son.  Guess we’ll find out.”




---



The aching hasn’t gone away.  



There’s still something awful running through his veins.  Like black tar, slow and overwhelming.  He knows it was there before the mark, before Cain, before Hell.  It’s always sort of been there, he thinks.  



It weighs heavy on his chest in the lazy evenings, shuffling his boots against the hardwood floor and around Sam.  It’s there when he watches Sam come undone, the desire to kiss the sounds off his mouth nearly impossible to resist.  It’s there when he comes to the cabin, watching Sam quietly fixing some food that they’ll end up playful bickering about.  



He’s grown used to it.  That awful, little something inside him.  At least here, he has Sam this way.  He’ll take whatever scraps he can get, desperately grasping at whatever version of his twisted fantasies he can have.  



Because when this is all over, it’ll be ten times worse.  He won’t have it at all.  He’ll know exactly what he’ll be missing.



---



“She could be a god’s daughter or something,” Sam suggests, shifting his legs that rest atop Dean’s lap.  



Dean leans back, head hitting the back of the futon.  He gives Sam a side glance, which he doesn’t even notice because he’s reading another worn book.  “Colt made it seem like she never needed any type of followers though.”



“Okay, so a demon is killing off people from the town.  For what?  Do all these people make deals here?  Maybe that’s why they’re ageless.”



“Doesn’t explain Colt.”



A sigh from Sam.  “A vendetta then.”



“What about Arnak?  This place has to be magic.”



“So we’re on the witch thing again.  She’s a witch who sold her soul to the demon for power?”



“Makes sense to me.”



“But...Uki was weird about it.  Witches can be powerful but to live that long?”



“Maybe she’s the demon.”



Sam huffs out a laugh.  It’s a nice sound.  “Dean.”



“It’d make everything easier, Sammy.”



Sam doesn’t respond to that.  Instead, he resumes reading, flipping a page.  Dean’s nearly convinced he’s not reading at all, just pretending so that he doesn’t have to keep up the conversation.  But he’s seen the guy multitask before and knows better.  



He closes his eyes and says, “Full moon is a day away.”



There’s a stretch of silence and, under Dean’s palms, he feels the bit of  tension in the muscles of Sam’s legs.  It recedes slightly.  



“Yeah.”



“This place---” Dean keeps his eyes closed, breathes in.  “---it’s weird.”



“It’s not so bad.”



“Makes me…” Why is talking about it?  Stop, before you say something stupid.   “...calmer.”



There’s a shift.  He thinks Sam’s lowered the book.  “How so?”



“The mark…  I.  I don’t feel it like I used to.”  He opens one eye.  “You’re different too.”



Sam doesn’t deny it, which speaks volumes to Dean.  He knows.   He knows what they’re doing is so far beyond the realm of who they are out there and he won’t say anything .  It only stacks onto the bitterness and frustration that’s been building the past few weeks.  



“You didn’t tell me about the mark,” Sam murmurs.  



“Didn’t think it mattered until now,” he says.  “Guess this place...nullifies it somehow.”



Quietly, almost gently , Sam says, “Dean.  We can’t stay here.”



And that’s the straw that breaks him.  Of all things, it had to be this.  



Of course he fucking knows that.  Every day here is a damn reminder.  Every time he has to pull away from Sam because it’s just something they do here.  Something so casual, even Dean has a problem with it.  



And it’s exhausting .  Life here is like a dream he can’t escape and he’s not sure if it’s a good or bad one.  He could have everything here, tear away from their lives as hunters until they figure out the mark.  Until everything just settles .  



No more angels or demons.  No more apocalypses.  No more obligations to anyone or anything beyond the invisible barriers of the town.  They’d get to live in some quiet peace.  



But Sam’s been…  It’s almost like it had been after Gadreel.  Keeping Dean at a distance.  They’re physical and but the intimacy only bleeds in small, fleeting moments.  Dean has to keep himself in check constantly .  Ensuring that he doesn’t break away from the routine they’ve established.  Lapping up every little bit of attention Sam gives him because he’s always been so desperate for it.  And he can’t let that show.  



But now, it’s too much.  The slight chastising tone in Sam’s voice, the verbal reminder, that thing he refuses to talk about, hits Dean in his chest.  It rattles inside him, resonating in the empty space he’s carved out.  



Dean throws Sam’s legs off him and stands, grinding his teeth.  He glares down at Sam, who gapes up at him.  The startlement he sees offers only a fraction of satisfaction.  He shouldn’t feel so spiteful but it’s there, settled at the bottom of his gut and stuck.    



“What the fuck, De---?”



“You don’t want this,” Dean states plainly.  “You never wanted me to begin with.  When you get a choice, you choose someone else every fucking time .”



There’s a flicker of confusion over Sam’s features.  Dean watches as his brother sits up, features turning to a more neutral one.  It only pisses him off more.  Sam’s good at forcing himself into a cooler demeanor to match Dean’s outrage.  It must have been something he’s taught himself through their adulthood because the roles had been completely reversed when they were kids. 



“You know that’s not true,” Sam says, calmly and it makes Dean want to yell at him.  Sam looks at him pointedly, his expression growing dark.  “Why is this a problem all of a sudden?”



“Why isn’t it a problem with you ?”  Dean demands, moving closer to tower over his brother.  “You go along with whatever the fuck this is and, what?  It’s just sunshine and roses for you?”



“What?” Sam looks exasperated, as if Dean isn’t making sense.  But he knows what he’s talking about.  And he’s sick of Sam playing dumb.  



“You always wanna talk about it,” he spits out, “Always wanna fucking talk .  And suddenly you don’t.”



“Because you don’t.”



“So you’re a mind reader now?”  Dean snarls.  “You just know what I want?  Just like all those other times, huh?”



“That’s not fair,” Sam points a finger at him, “It’s not fair and you know it.  I didn’t talk about it because this is just---it’s crazy, Dean!  We’re in this little pocket world that makes us weirdly happy and okay with everything and---we just happen to do this.  It’s not like we’d be doing this out there .”



The words come flying out of his damn mouth before he can stop them.  “Maybe I wanted it to!”



It’s quiet then, like everything in the world has stilled just to listen to Sam’s reaction.  Dean sets his jaw, waits for the response.  Or for nothing at all.  Sam’s predictable to Dean.  Certain things can make him scream and yell, or shut down in defeat.  Make him run away.  And that’s the worse one because Sam’s good at that.  And Dean’s good at being the cause.  



Right now, though?  Dean wants to run away.  Wants to freak out, scream at Sam that it’s all just so fucked up and bolt out the door.  



The look on Sam’s face says it all, though.  The absolute shock slapped over his features, like his words had a physical blow behind them.  He meant them but he wishes he could take it back.  Wide eyes and mouth slack, Sam gapes up at him.  



After all this time, it’s finally out there.  That empty space inside him throbs, his blood like fire.  All those times being so careful around Sam, covering up his intentions and smothering the yearning…  It’s all been for nothing because now Sam knows.  



“...Wanted?” Sam repeats, almost meekly.  



Wanted.  



He used past tense.  He’s such a fucking idiot.   Not I want to .  Wanted.  Always wanted.  



“I...I---” I’m sorry, didn’t mean to say stupid shit.  I’m sorry, can we just move on?  I’m sorry, I don’t wanna be this messed up.  “Sam…---”



“You…” Sam looks away then, staring at something past Dean with a growing frown and confusion etched in his features.  Then he snaps his eyes back and says breathlessly, “ Wanted ?”



“Forget it,” Dean snaps, going for his boots and doing his best toeing them on.  “It’s nothin’, Sam.”



He thinks he hears Sam mutter something.  Or, at least, try to.  When Sam’s struck with something so unfathomable, he often scrambles for rationalization while Dean simply comes to his own crazy conclusion.  But Sam’s different.  Sam processes things with time and usually that time is away from Dean.  



Dean will make it easier for him.  He’ll run before Sam can.



In his panic, he manages to get the boots on, leaving Sam at the table and a whole bunch of unpacked baggage behind.  



---



He crashes in the Impala.  



Parked behind the garage, he’s managed to keep it isolated.  His little spot, away from this reality that’s messing with his head.  So far, it’s worked out.



There’s the familiar splitting headache that comes with the aftermath of a drinking binge.  It’s accompanied by the terrible taste in his mouth, dry and bitter.  The front seat serves as a great resting spot, though, as it has done for most of his life.  



He shifts, feels the soft light of the early morning on his face, thankfully blocked by the shadow of the garage building.  The empty bottle of rum clatters to the floor and he can’t bother to pick it up.  Later.  Maybe.  



Groaning, he wipes his face, blindly searching with his other hand for a water bottle.  Under the seat, he finds one and chugs it.  Some of it spills onto his shirt but he supposes that it can’t hurt how he already looks.  



He’d done a number on himself last night.  Of course, his first instinct was to drink.  Usually is.  Dean reaches for anything self-destructive before mending whatever’s broken inside him.  He sighs out. 



Something hits the window and he jolts, looking over to the passenger’s side.  There stands Sam, backing away from the door.  A stern look on his face.  Dean would go as far as to say it looks disappointed, which causes a small wave of spitefulness wash over him until he remembers himself.  



He opens the door to the passenger’s side but that’s all the effort he’s willing to expend at the moment.  



“Get up,” Sam says, tone reminding Dean of their father, which doesn’t help him wanting to lash out with something catty.  



“I’m good here,” Dean crosses his arms, lays back down and closes his eyes.  



“Get up ,” Sam repeats.  Ah.  The anger begins to show.  “The full moon is tonight.  We haven’t come close to solving the case.”



“I’d say you got everything figured out, Sammy.”



It’s not meant to be as cutting as it sounds.  He regrets it as soon as he says it.  There’s a long pause and Dean has to force himself to keep his eyes closed because he’s afraid of the dark expression that is surely on Sam’s face.  



“Be at the cabin in an hour.”



And then he’s gone.  Dean reaches for the water again.  



---



Dean thinks that there’s a slight chance he’s single handedly fucked everything up.  



There have been times they’ve managed to screw with the natural order of the universe before and get away with it.  But this is something different.  When shit gets between them, it usually comes to a head.  And it means one of them walks out on the other.  



With a throbbing headache, he faintly recalls the ordeal with Ruby.  Another apocalypse but all Dean had cared about was his fight with Sam.  Or the angel possession, when Dean had to leave himself.  



But this is another level.  It’s like he’s breathing in toxic air, hardly any oxygen to live.  It’s suffocating and oppressive.  And it’s all his doing.  



Despite the bomb he dropped, Sam is talking to him like business is usual.  Sort of.  Dean has the wild thought that it feels like a lawyer talking to their guilty client.  Profession, devoid of emotion.  Sam has shut off that part of him, he knows.  He wishes he could do the same.  



“Colt said the barrier starts to fade where we came in.  So if the demon already knows the location, it’s possible it’s been waiting.”



Dean can only nod mutely.  Sam barrels through.  



“We have to keep an eye on Uki, since I think she’s planning something.  We could draw her out somehow.  She likes you.  Maybe we could use that.”



When Dean doesn’t give a reaction, Sam looks visibly annoyed for a moment before clearing his throat.  He goes for the book he’d stolen from the archives.  



“I found this there yesterday.  It’s lore about another world.  It looked used, like people read from it more than the others.  It even mentions a power that can make a location exist in between two worlds.  I was gonna bring it up last night but---” Sam stops himself and Dean watches the quiet storm over his features.  “Anyway, I think I might know what Arnak is.  Or, at least, where she came from.”



Dean nods again, tracing a groove in the table.  Sam sighs loudly.  He narrows his eyes and snaps, “What?”



Sam doesn’t respond, opting to close the book and push it to the side instead.  



Dean swallows, grits his teeth but it doesn’t stop him from blurting out, “Don’t you wanna know?”



When Sam looks at him, Dean sees the exhaustion there.  He wonders if he got any sleep at all last night.  Probably about the same amount Dean had.  “Know what , Dean?”



“How long?  Why?  How?  Fuck, I don’t know.  Anything.”



“What difference does it make?”  Sam asks, exasperated.  “What matters is finishing this case so we can get out of here.”



“Because you always wanna know everything,” is all Dean can offer.  He knows Sam.   Knows that it’s bothering that he couldn’t see it after all this time.  That he had no fucking clue.  



Sam stands abruptly, clearly done with the conversation.  “It was supposed to stay here , Dean.”



He leaves the cabin and Dean has enough time to wonder what’s that supposed to mean.  



---



Arnak and Colt find him by the fountain.  



He’s checking out the writing, hoping something stands out to him.  Anything to keep his mind off Sam, actually.  At this point, he almost welcomes Colt’s annoying 1800’s swagger and Arnak’s cold demeanor.  



“Do you want to know what it says?”  Arnak asks him, her arm linked with Colt’s.  “I don’t think it will help with the demon, though.”



Part of him has enough energy to snap at her for that.  She’s known it had been a demon and refused to tell them.  Not even offer much information for them to go on.  But he doesn’t want to.  He tells himself it’s because it won’t help them anyway but, really, he just wants this case to be over.  



“Will it get me the hell outta here?”



“No, I’m afraid not.”



“Then no,” Dean answers in a clipped tone.  Okay, maybe he’s feeling more of a bastard today than most.  



Arnak gives Colt a smile and he returns it, nodding to Dean before walking off.  Dean narrows his eyes in Colt’s direction, feeling oddly like a child about to be berated for something.  Arnak moves to sit on the fountain’s edge, skimming her fingertips over the water’s surface.  



“That mark on your arm…” she murmurs, “I did not trust you because of it.  It’s ancient.  And awful.”



Unconsciously, Dean moves to cover it with his left hand before he realizes what he’s doing.  



“But you are still a hunter,” Arnak says, meeting his gaze, “I am fond of hunters.”



“Is that right,” he deadpans.  



She sighs, flicking some water off her fingers.  Instead of the water splattering upon the dirt, the droplets hover above her hand, like levitating marbles.  He frowns, feeling the instinct to stand and get out a weapon.  



“You’re a witch.”



“A faerie, actually,” Arnak corrects him, gently guiding the water droplets back into the fountain.  “I came to this world in its ancient times.  Watched the beginnings of civilization.  Witness its slow decay and steady uprisings.  Humanity is---special to me.”



Sam talked about that book---the one describing another world.  Damn, he wishes he’d paid a little more attention.  No use in that now, though.  



“So you’ve been here for that long?”



“Yes.  They gave me my name.  I watched over the hunters, the brave and curious.  They called me a goddess.  And then I had a child,” she smiles then with some sadness.  “Uki was born to die.  She was sick.  Was meant to live in the land of fae and not the human world.”



“You made the deal,” Dean states.  “The demon…”



“And I broke it.  When the demon came for me, I built this world.  It’s borrowed land from my homeland, displaced and distorted here in this world.”



“And the demon finally found you.”



“Yes,” Arnak chuckles, bitterly.  “I suppose it’s time.  Though these people---if I die, there will be no haven for them.”



“But...demons only go after human souls,” Dean points out.  



Arnak shrugs.  “I suppose the demon had come to that conclusion long ago.  But now it simply wants blood.  I have evaded it for too long.”



Dean sighs, shaking his head.  “We can kill it, you know.  We will kill it.”



“But at whose expense?” she asks, “One of my people?  Me, my children, your brother?  I’d rather not.”



Dean sighs again and looks across the townsquare, where Colt is talking with some other people.  He frowns, looking between both Arnak and Colt.  “Tarkik is Colt’s kid, isn’t he?”



Arnak stares at him coolly, as if considering his conclusion.  She nods once, “Tarkik doesn’t know.  I’d rather keep it that way.”



“Why?”



“Colt doesn’t do well with ties to any world.  At some point, he will leave here and Tarkik will not have to be disappointed.”



It hits him then.  Those words sound familiar.  Words he’s practiced and said to himself, over and over again.  



His attachment to Sam always brought about a twisted sort of need.  Always wanting, always desperately grappling to keep him.  But he had to learn to expect Sam leaving him.  Had to teach it to himself, over and over.  After the first time, it nearly crippled him.  Had Dean known how his insides would turn brittle, he would have prepared himself better.  



And, of course, Sam’s death simply hollowed him out the second it happened.  What had he expected?  Every time Sam was gone in some fashion, he felt that terrible, suffocating emptiness.  The mark has only emphasized it.  



He rubs at his arm, eyes downcast as he stares at the ground in thought.  



Too late now, isn’t it?  His life is only a brief moment compared to Arnak.  Had she made the right choice?  Eventually, all things come out of the bag, in Dean’s case.  But she’s managed to keep her own secrets, elegantly spinning a pretty web that encases this safe haven of hers.  Dean’s own web of lies are tattered and hanging by a few strings.  



“Does Uki know all this?”



Arnak’s eyes flash with something close to unease and she turns back to the water.  “She knows of the deal.  The demon kept finding us, even before the time was up.  And she knows Tarkik had been born to a lover I’d taken.  But we don’t talk about these things.”



“Sounds healthy,” Dean mutters, taking in a breath.  “The demon’s finally found you.  So what now?”



“It won’t rest.  Evil rarely does,” Arnak says gently, glancing at the mark on his arm.  Dean absentmindedly covers again and gets annoyed with himself that it had been his first instinct.  Arnak shrugs slightly, pulling her long hair over one shoulder.  “Samuel says he will kill it but I told him to not get involved, he would.  This is an ancient demon.  Part of the first generation.  It will kill Colt.  He is not as strong as he used to be.”



She sounds so sure in that and, honestly, Dean believes her on some level.  Like he listened to his own father, he’s sure Colt has found a commander in Arnak.  He can’t imagine the infamous Samuel Colt standing down but he’s seen the unrelenting fondness in his eyes when he looks at Arnak and recognizes it.  He’s looked at Sam the same way; probably more times than he’s caught himself with. 



“Tell me,” Arnak prompts, “will you stay after all this is done, hunter?”



“If you know anything about hunters, then you know the answer.”



Arnak hums, a small smile on her mouth and Dean notes that maybe it's the first genuine one he’s seen her use.  “He would be safe.  Happier.”



“He can stay, if he wants.”



“So he knows,” she says and it’s like a stab wound to his chest.  “He knows the bounds of your love.”



That’s his que.  “I gotta get ready.  We’re leaving as soon as this is over.”



He feels Arnaks on him as he begins to shuffle away.  She doesn’t say anything and maybe she intended to end the conversation like that.  It had been effective.  



---



The sunsets in the desert are beautiful.  Sam had mentioned it once or twice while they were here but he’s said it before in the past.  Dean remembers a fourteen year old kid, shaggy hair sticking to his forehead and sawed-off in his hands, watching the colors splayed in the sky.  Sam found joys in the tiny things in the natural world.  The laws of physics, mundane everyday things, landscapes.  



But this sunset comes with a biting kind of beauty.  



Sam stands beside him in the townsquare.  People are gathered in the square.  Some are getting ready to leave for a supply run, some are there to say goodbye.  And some are leaving for a few months or so.  The usual, he’s told.  Both Sam and Dean warned Arnak it’s best if they wait this one out but she stated the spirit here is not to be broken.   The people here have experienced other types of horrors before they got here.  



The barrier has already fallen.  There’s salt lines around the square, just in case.  So far, it looks undisturbed.  There’s not much else they can do.  He has the Knife of Kurds in his hand and Sam’s holding a gun that has engravings on it.  He’s curious as to what it is but talking to Sam means the coldness he’s received since this morning, so he’s not completely willing to put himself out there like that yet.  



He catches Sam’s eyes several times but it’s Sam who looks away.  



Little Josie approaches them, a jeweled headband gleaming in the dying sun.  “You gonna finish the Order?”



“Has anyone questioned why that custom sounds so ominous?” Dean asks, rather feciously.  



Josie doesn’t seem fazed.  “You can do it later but I wanna be there, okay?”



Sam smiles gently.  “We’ll let you know.”



That appears to satisfy her enough and she bounds off to probably find Molly.  Dean looks up skyward and sighs.  



He doesn’t want to think about what happens after this but he can take a good guess.  So far, Sam’s been trapped inside an invisible bubble and tied by this case.  With nothing holding him back, he’ll probably take off.  Hotwire the closest truck and speed away.  He wonders if Sam would like to have the bunker.  



“Sam Winchester, tell me you aren’t acting hunter on this beautiful night,” comes a voice.   “Why don’t you come join me for drinks with the others?”



Dean inwardly groans, trying his best not to show his immediate disdain.  Tarkik.  The male is dressed well, looks like he meant to impress Sam and any other person in the vicinity who has eyes. 



“Not right now,” Sam says lightly.  “But don’t let me stop you.”



Dean shifts his footing.  They’re gonna flirt right in front of him.  Maybe that’s his punishment.  If he’s being honest, Sam’s never showed any real interest in engaging with Tarkik but he never rebuffed any advances either, from Dean’s observations. 



“I won’t,” Tarkik smirks, eyes cutting to Dean for a moment before looking back at Sam.  Dean frowns.  “I am searching for my mother, if you have seen her.”



Sam tilts his head to the side.  “No, sorry.”



“Shame, I was hoping to speak with her about something,” and then Tarkik’s eyes turn black.  “You’ll do, though.”



In a blink of an eye, Dean’s on the ground, pinned by an invisible force.  He feels the air knocked out of his lungs.  He cries out.  



Fuck.  Of course.  



He strains to see Sam still standing but clearly immobilized.  Sam growls.  “Let him go.”



“You mean this meatsuit or your dear brother?” The demon uses Tarkik’s mouth for a twisted grin.  “Shoulda put the salt lines down earlier, boys.”



“Bastard,” Dean bites out, struggling to keep a good grip on the knife.  “What do you want?”



“What do you think ?” the demon snaps, the cool demeanor dropping in an instant.  “Arnak tricked me.  For centuries, I’ve had to endure the scorn of demons.  The one deal that I could never finish.”



“You can’t take her soul,” Sam informs it and Dean frowns, confused.  So Sam knows. “She’s not human.”



“And that’s why I’ll take every other human she’s ever cared about,” the demon grins again, raising its hand.  



The wind picks up, desert sand and dust with it.  Visibility is nearly zero.  He hears people shout and the general uproar of panic.  He hopes they’re getting the fuck away.  The salt lines are definitely gone by now.  



Dean feels the moment control is given back to him.  The demon vanishes and Sam slumps, hands on his knees as he sucks in a breath.  Dean scrambles by his side, searching for the demon.  His muscles feel like they’re on fire.  He hates it when demons and angels do that shit.  



“Sammy,” he breathes out.



“Colt told me everything,” Sam says in a huff, not looking at him, “If we can get the demon pinned, I can finish the rest.”



Dean trusts him, despite all his warning bells going off.  He nods.  “‘Kay.”



---



The main building is where Arnak will be.  And that’s exactly where they go.  



He knows they’re too late when they get there and the doors have been ripped off the hinges.  Broken wood and splinters scatter the ground and lead inside the main building.   Sam and Dean run through the entrance and are greeted by a rather alarming sight.  



Colt has already been incacipated, thrown in a corner, battered and bleeding.  He has the instinct to go check on him until he processes the rest of the scene.  Arnak looks pinned against the wall, struggling and panicked.  



The demon stands in the middle of the big room, holding Uki off the ground by her neck.  Her small hands hold onto her brother’s wrist, kicking and struggling.  



“Glad you got here in time, Winchesters,” the demon says calmly, not bothering to look at them.  



“Let her go,” Sam growls, aiming that mysterious engraved gun at the demon.  



“Or what?  You’ll kill me but Tarkik goes with me,” the demon responds, bringing another hand to graze the side of Uki’s face.  She visibly shudders.  



“No!  I said I will take their place!” Arnak screams and it’s disturbing to hear her lose it.  



He knows that feeling, though.  He had been trained since childhood how to keep it together.  There were hours of their father beating it into their head how to handle a situation, even when someone you love is involved.  



“What good is your soul if you’re not human, Arnak?” the demon questions, still inspecting Uki’s face.  “Do you remember me, little one?”



Uki has both her hands on the one choking her, drawing in a ragged breath and spits in the demon’s face.  The demon hums, unfazed.  



“I’ve found out more about you in our time apart, Arnak,” the demon says.  “Your strange adoration for hunters, the helpless and needy.  Is that why you welcomed these troublemakers so easily?”



It casts a side glance to the brothers.  Dean feels the mark burn.  



“These two destroy everything they touch,” it says, “Even each other.”



“That’s enough!” Dean barks, “Let her go!”



“Fine,” the demon sighs, dropping Uki to the ground.  “I suppose it’s my day, isn’t it?  Kill the Winchesters and imprison the one faerie on Hell’s most wanted list.”



“If we don’t kill you first,” Sam says, cocking the gun.  



The demon pauses, tilting its head to the side.  “Yes, I guess you’d rather kill this meatsuit before I could kill him.”



It raises its hand and Sam is flung towards him, immobile.  Dean moves to follow but is pinned to the wall before he can even shout Sam’s name out.  It takes Sam’s chin in its hand, forcing Sam to look at it.  Panic surges through Dean.  



“Maybe if I kill him first, you’d be broken enough as a trophy.”



“Please!  Leave them alone!” Arnak screams, tears running down her face.  



“Why should I?” the demon snarls, “You promised an obsolete soul.”



“Then take mine!” Uki screams from the floor, holding her arm and Dean assumes it must be broken.  A silence falls over the room.  “I am still half human.  It’s still good, isn’t it?  Take mine as payment and you can leave this place.”



The demon seems to consider the offer.  “A willing soul?”



Dean grits his teeth, straining against the invisible force keeping him against the wall.  He can hardly breathe.  



“This place needs my mother’s magic to keep others safe.  If she goes, these people have nowhere else to go.  Please, take me and let my brother go.”



“Uki, no ,” Sam grits out.  “It’s not worth it.”



The demon’s eyes flash black and grins.  “A generous offer.  But I think I’ll take your soul anyway.”  It turns back to Sam and Dean’s heart stops.  “ And I get a Winchester.”



Sam begins muttering something and Dean realizes belatedly that it’s an exorcism.  The demon stares at Sam with some mild amusement.  



“I’ll just come back,” it says, the voice becoming distorted due to its power slowly being relinquished.  “Surely, you know demons come back, Winchester.”



Dean drops to the floor when the demon’s power can’t extend to him anymore.  He groans, feeling that burn in his muscles.  He takes in a ragged breath.  His eyes catch sight of the gun Sam had dropped when the demon pulled him to it.  



Sam continues the chant.  Uki’s shouting, pleading with it uselessly.  Its hand goes to Sam’s neck, beginning to choke him.  Dean scrambles for the gun, his blood on fire.  



“You’ll find I’m no longer in the mood for games, Winchester.”



“Hey!” Dean shouts, pointing the gun at the demon.  



“Dean!” Sam manages to spit out, “Not---center mass---!”



The demon throws Sam down, its rage finally peeking through.  “I am one of the earliest demons made.  You think it wouldn’t take long for me to come back?”



As Sam picks up the chant, Dean cocks the gun.  “You won’t be coming back, buddy.”



He fires the gun.  



Light flickers in the demon’s eyes as it screams, holding its shoulder.  It stumbles as Arnak screams.  It convulses, falling to the floor.  Sam and Uki scramble to Tarkik’s body.  



The black plume of smoke begins trickling out of his mouth, embers lighting up within the blackness.  It’s trying to escape, Dean realizes.  But all the demon can do is die in its raw form, turning to ash on the floor.  



Dean frowns, looking at the gun he had just fired.  Damn, he wishes he’d gotten over his pride and asked Sam what this weapon was.  He gets up shakily, shuffling over to them.  Arnak is already there, holding her son’s head in her hands.  



She looks up tearfully at Sam, who has a hand on Tarkik’s wrist.  He gives her a strained smile.  “He’s fine.  Just get his wound taken care of.”



Uki cries out and embraces her mother.  Arnak covers her face in her hands.  



Sam looks up at Dean from his spot on the floor.  All the fear and adrenaline from before catches up with Dean as he stares down at his brother, taking in a long breath.  



“Sam?”



Instead of answering, Sam murmurs to Uki that Colt will need medical attention too and gets up.  He staggers and Dean catches him by his arm.  Sam doesn’t pull away, even when Dean helps him out of the main building.  



---



It’s too early in the morning when they’re all bandaged up and everything has settled.  The moon outshines the stars, offering enough light for Dean to pack the Impala.  



“Leaving us already?”  



Dean glances up from the trunk to look at Colt.  He shrugs.  “Said we’d leave when this is all over.”



It’s quiet between them as Dean finishes packing, slamming the trunk door closed.  “Didn’t think I’d see the day when Arnak felt like she didn’t have to hide.”



“What about you?” Dean asks.  



“I don’t hide, son.”



“But you run away,” Dean points out.  “He’s your son and you leave whenever you get the chance.”



In any other circumstance, Dean would be expecting a punch in the face for that.  And, on some level, he does.  But Colt seems to consider that statement.  He cocks his head to the side, a smirk slowly growing.  



“That what you gonna do?  Run away?”



Well.  It’s not a punch in the face but it still feels like it.  Dean shrugs, ignoring the sinking feeling in his gut.  “Not usually the type to run.”



Colt seems to decide he’s done with the line of conversation and nods his head in the general direction Arnak and her family are.  “Gonna go ‘not hide’, if you don’t mind.  Guess we’ll see you boys if you pass through.”



“Yeah.  Maybe.”



Dean waits in the car.  



---



Leaving Arizona is possibly the best and worst feeling for Dean.  They have a long road trip ahead of them and Dean half-expects Sam to take off at the next gas station.  



But Sam doesn’t.  



While there’s tension, Sam still talks to him like everything is normal.  Like they hadn’t spent a whole damn month, trapped in some utopian society and fucked whenever they could.  He’s never longed for Sam’s natural tendency to discuss feelings as much as he does now.  He just---shit, he just wants to know what he’s thinking .  



“Colt made the demon gun,” Sam explains, rummaging through a bag at his feet to pull it out.  Dean’s still counting mile markers, like it’ll help with his mounting anxiety.  “It doesn’t kill the host if the demon’s power begins to weaken.  So, like, the exorcism.”



Dean quietly listens, watching the yellow lines blur together on the road.  



“He told me where Arnak came from.  I think Uki had been planning to trade her life from the start.  We were just lucky enough to be there when this all came to a head, I guess.”



He hums, as if he’s actively listening.  And, he is, in a way.  It’s all registering in his mind as information.  But he’s having trouble processing.  Sam managed to figure out the case on his own, just as Dean did.  But Sam found a way not to kill Tarkik in the process.  If they had been on better terms, they could have finished it before anyone got hurt.  Maybe.  



“Dean.”



He glances at Sam and his attention snags.  Sam’s staring at him with something dangerously close to outright concern.  But that doesn’t make sense, does it?  If anyone is acting weird, it’s Sam.  He’s not the crazy one here.  



“Did you hear me?”



“Loud and clear, Sammy.”



Dean turns back to the road, feeling deflated.  In his peripheral, he spies Sam’s form slump against the seat.  



---



When he parks the car in the garage, Dean gets out first.  He faces Sam as he closes the door and breathes out.  Better now than later.  



“Hey, uh,” Dean starts, clearing his throat, “So I’m gonna just---I’ll go.  Hit the road, or whatever.  I just need a night here.  Grab my shit, rest up.  If that’s good with you.”



Sam’s looking at him, emotion barely sparking in the corner of his eyes.  He blinks slowly.  “You’re leaving.”  It’s a dead question, like he needs Dean to say it again for it to be true.  



“Yeah,” Dean swallows, averts his eyes as he pockets his keys.  “Make things easier, y’know?”



Instead of answering, Sam grabs his bags and heads inside the bunker.  



---



The plan had been to sleep.  And he will.  Eventually.  Probably after putting a good fifty miles between him and Sam.  Then he can crash in the Impala and sort his thoughts out in dreams.  Process.  That’s the word Sam uses, right?



He’s on his second glass of whiskey.  Not rum because the other morning was kinda hell to wake up to.  Whiskey has a burn in his stomach that matches the one on his arm.  It feels right, all things considered.  Three fingers of whiskey already in his system and he’s about to choke down another.  



The memories from the haven will have to last him awhile.  To serve as a reminder of how far their relationship could go.  Maybe he had been lucky enough to have it for a brief time but, if Dean’s being honest, it hadn’t felt the way he wanted it to.  Sam had been detached.  He thinks, with some grief, that it was probably exactly like that.  



He shouldn’t have expected much, though he’s not sure what he had expected in the first place. He never thought past the idea of Sam engaging in his fantasy.  Everything else seemed normal enough but with the physical relationship added on.  Nothing truly intimate.  



Part of him thinks he should write a note or something.  But he’s not good with those.  Ends up tossing drafts away in the trash.  Goodbye letters are Sam’s thing, if he bothers.  Dean’s not used to leaving.  Maybe a text but that would mean he’s open to a response, which he’s sure Sam wouldn’t be inclined to do.  



He sighs, leans back in his chair, leaving his glass to collect condensation on the library’s table.  It’s too late for this.  Or early.  It’s about one in the morning and he should be sleeping.  Told Sam he’d leave.  



The familiar sound of footfalls reach his ears and he snaps his attention to the direction.  While he has a damn excuse for his restlessness, Sam should be sleeping.  But there’s Sam, entering the library.  His gaze is set on Dean and it makes him feel scrutinized.  Sam shuffles closer, his boots audible against the floor.  Dean holds his breath.  



Sam’s eyes flicker from the glass of whiskey to Dean and something passes over his features.  Too fast for Dean to recognize what it is under the light buzz of alcohol and the current distress of Sam approaching him for anything.  



He stops just an arm’s length away from Dean, nearly towering over him.  Dean raises his eyebrows expectantly, formulating about three incoherent sentences in his head until he gives up.  



“The promise---at the fountain---did you actually make one?” Sam asks him, his voice sounding rough, unused.  



“Yeah,” Dean says quietly.  I’ll take care of you .  That was his promise, wasn’t it?  The one he’s desperately clunt to most of his life.  He hasn’t always done right by it; made up excuses for what he’s doing under that promise.  But he’s always tried.  Always.  



Sam averts his gaze for a few long moments, nodding and pushing some hair behind his ears.  A tell.  He’s nervous.  Dean can’t imagine too many reasons why.  He had been adamant before; acted as if everything was fine and dandy as soon as they left the haven.  They’re last conversation about their relationship had been ended by Sam’s It was supposed to stay here , which Dean could interpret as: We don’t do that.  



A quiet huff of breath from Sam.  “You really leaving?”



Dean searches his brother’s face for a right answer to that question.  It sounds like there should be.  Of course, he doesn’t want to but better he leave than have Sam vanish on him for the mess he put them in.  “Yeah.”



Sam’s face crumbles and he ducks his head with a short nod.  The recovery is quick, as he straightens his shoulders and takes in another deep breath.  Had it been the wrong answer?  Dean sets his jaw, feeling as if he’s got to defend himself.  Isn’t that the right thing to do?  



And then Sam sets him with a determined look, remnants of that bit of dejection from seconds ago still there.  “Not sure if I can keep my promise if you go.”



That’s right.  They never said their promises aloud.  Josie’s probably upset about it but he’s sure she’ll forgive them after learning about the demon.  They did hightail it out of there, though.  Without many goodbyes.  He’s sure Sam said something to Arnak and Uki.  But that’s about it.  



Dean clears his throat, picks up his glass in a mock toast.  “No time like the present.”



Sam’s fingers enclose around his, slowly taking the glass away and placing it back on the table.  Dean frowns, opens his mouth to protest but then, “You promised to keep me safe, right?”



He blinks.  “I---”



“It’s what you’ve always said.  Because of dad.  And then---” Sam cuts himself off, frowning with a shake of his head.  “That was your promise, wasn’t it?”



Dean nods, afraid his voice may betray the warring emotions in his head.  Throughout this conversation, he’s slowly built up his defense mechanisms but---Sam’s too close, too close , just enough to reach out and---



“I promised I’d stay with you.”



It shouldn’t strike him as hard as it does.  In that moment, Dean hadn’t expected to ever hear the promise, though he had been curious before.  Of course, promises are always light between them.  Too few and far between.  Sam’s vows are as rare and awe inspiring  as a solar eclipse.  To know he made one the same time Dean did at the fountain rattles him slightly, bounces off the walls of his ribcage.  



I’d stay with you means more than Sam could know.  His biggest fear confirmed right before his eyes.  Does Sam understand that?  Is that why he had said it out loud?  He’s leaving so Sam doesn’t have to.  It’s why he left a few months ago after Gadreel.  He can’t stand to see Sam go, so he has to.  



Sam looks almost defeated when he kneels down, hands on Dean’s thighs and parting them to settle in between.  He stares up at Dean with a pleading glimmer in his eyes.  It has Dean’s blood on fire.  



“I thought…” Sam begins, as if having trouble with the words to say, “I didn’t want it out here.”



“Want…?”  Us?  What we had in the haven?  What?  



Sam’s fingers dig into Dean’s thighs momentarily, absentmindedly, Dean thinks.  “If we messed around out here, it would be different.  It would have to be different.”  Sam sighs, rests the side of his head on Dean’s knee, hair obscuring his view of Sam’s face.  “It was supposed to stay there.”



“Why?”



Sam’s muscles visibly tense.  “Everything would be different, Dean.”



It doesn’t have to be so different , he wants to tell him.  It’s them .  They can get past anything.  Distantly, he thinks Sam’s right in some way.  But he doesn’t know if he has the grounds to defend this.  He’s already said what he’s had to.  



“It would be messy.  Messier than our normal.  And if you---” Sam raises his head then and Dean almost startles seeing the glitter of unshed tears in those light eyes.  It’s blinked away but it had been there.  “What if we stopped?  I could handle it in there but I don’t---it makes it real out here, Dean.  I kept thinking I would be okay if we left it in the haven.  But here?  In the real world, I don’t want to let go of you eventually and I always have to---”



“Sammy,” Dean says, surprised at the firmness in his own tone, “You want it?”



It’s the question he posed to Sam everytime they started something.  Before he’d take him to bed, before he could lay him out, watch him come undone.  He had to ask.  And now he has to know for sure.  Because this muddled explanation is sounding a lot like he wants it.  And maybe he’s beginning to understand Sam’s detachment.  



Sam’s eyes flicker over his face, expressing growing more distraught.  “Yeah, Dean.”



He asks because he has to know.  “Did you before?”



A small frown as Sam dips his head, rests his chin on Dean’s knee for a moment.  “Not...not like you.  Recently, it’s been---different.”



That fucking word.  Different.   Dean swallows, feeling his nerves spike.  “How…how recent?”



“You came back from Purgatory and…” Sam murmurs, “You and the vampire and then---you were just.  I don’t know.  It all made sense when we were in the haven.  And then you said you’ve always…”



Sam stares at him in the eyes then and Dean holds his breath.  



“Let me keep the promise, Dean.”



Since he came back from Purgatory.  It had been such a volatile time.  To know Sam had been warring with himself over this has Dean reeling.  All that time? 



He hadn’t thought much about why Sam would fall into bed with him.  Maybe he’d been caught up in the fact that it was happening at all.  It had been a desire he never thought would be fulfilled.  And even then, it had been halfway done.  And now he knows it had all been intentional .  Sam hadn’t just agreed on a whim.  



He thinks of Arnak and the fountain.  Whatever magic in the water had him loosen his inhibitions.  Had the mark quiet down.  Let him feel more content with everything.  He gets it.  Sam knew all this and thought ahead.  Put up those stupid walls that barracades Dean every time.  But not now.  He can’t let that happen now .  



He takes Sam’s face in his hands, prompting him to get closer.  He bends over, rests his forehead against Sam’s and says, “Gotta let me keep mine too.”



“Yeah, Dean,” Sam murmurs, bringing his own hands to cup Dean’s face.  



Dean closes his eyes, lets them stay like that for a few heartbeats until he can’t take it anymore.  



He cants his head and places a tentative kiss on Sam’s mouth.  Nothing with much pressure behind it.  Something soft that wouldn’t warrant much of a response.  He pulls away then, slowly and opens his eyes to see Sam staring at him, as if attempting to process the action.  



He realizes, belatedly, that they’ve never kissed.  He had wanted to.  God , he wanted to.  But what they were doing was too casual, too far from affection, that Dean felt he could never be allowed.  It shocks his system how familiar kissing Sam feels, as if they’ve done it countless times before.  



Sam makes a sound in the back of his throat and moves forward, slotting their lips together again.  Dean nearly falls back with the force of it but Sam steadies them together as he traces the seam of his lips with his tongue.  Dean eagerly responds, opening for Sam.  He drops a hand down Sam’s front, tugs him forward until Sam maneuvers himself on Dean’s lap. 



Sam breaks the kiss, hunching over to bury his face into Dean’s neck.  Dean huffs out a small chuckle when Sam’s hair gets in his own face and has to comb it out of the way.  Sam hums and he repeats the motion, running his hands through Sam’s hair to elicit the same response.  He likes Sam pliant like this, stuck in his arms and muscles loose.  



“I don’t have to know how long,” Sam murmurs, breath tickling Dean’s skin.  “I don’t wanna know why or how or whatever.  I just…” 



Dean continues combing his fingers through Sam’s hair, absentmindedly.  He slinks his other arm around Sam’s middle and feels his brother relax against him.  



“I just need to know it’s just us.  If we---if you wanna,” Sam takes in a breath, withdrawing slightly to look Dean in the eyes.  There’s a determined expression there, pinning him.  “If you wanna do this, I don’t wanna let it go.  It’ll mess me up, Dean.”



“Mess you up more than this?” Dean smirks and has the hindsight to know that it’s probably not the best time to joke about this.  But he’s trying.  And Sam must see that, as he shakes his head and chuckles.  “C’mon, Sammy.  You know it’s you and me.”



“Gotta say it, Dean,” Sam reaffirms, “Whatever happens, I don’t want it blowing up in our faces.  This is it.”



Dean nods.  He gets it.  At least, he gets some of it.  No late night hook ups, no one else comes between.  Can’t throw it into an argument just out of spite.  He knows.  And maybe it’s crossed his mind because, well, it had blown up in his face not even two days ago.  Just thinking it had been all over was enough to send Dean packing.  



“I want you,” Dean says, reaching up to cup the back of Sam’s neck.  “Whatever happens.”



The smile that lights up Sam’s face is brighter than an angel's grace.  Dean’s chest tightens and he moves to kiss it off Sam’s lips.  



Whatever happens , he thinks.  



He likes that promise a little better.