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Dean Winchester wakes up just in time to drown.

Honestly, the whole thing strikes him as a little anticlimactic. He’s faced down chupacabras, werewolves, psycho hillbillies and more deranged vengeful spirits than you could shake a stick at, if for some reason you were in the habit of shaking sticks at things—not to mention the occasional clown. He’s exorcised his own brother, wasted the seven deadlies, slammed shut the gates of Hell and avenged his mother’s death—all to end up tossed overboard by some PMSing fairies. He never thought he’d go out like this, that’s for damn sure, with ice-cold lake water up his nose and his balls trying to burrow up into his stomach.

It’s just adding insult to injury that he’s drowning in Erie. Great Lake, sure, but nothing special. Caught on fire once—or was it the river? Same difference. It was really the work of a seriously pissed-off tribe of Limnades, but everyone blamed pollution. Some tree-hugging brainiacs decided to bleach the lake, which killed all the fish, which made the whole thing nastier than ever.

Ain’t that always the way.

Funny thing about water nymphs, though: they hold a hell of a grudge. Turns out they’re still ticked off about the fish, on top of whatever it was had their panties in a twist before, and they’ve started screwing with people—luring fisherman overboard, sending salt mine workers wandering through miles of pitch-dark caverns until they starve or go crazy, that sort of thing. The body count’s been climbing good and steady for the last three months, which is how he and Sam ended up out on the lake in some pissant little Fisher Price dinghy that turned out to be about as seaworthy as the good ship Titanic.

He’s a little unclear on how they went from arguing over the technical definition of “starboard” to snoozing with the fishes. The last thing he remembers is watching Sam slam back into the railing, cracking his head so hard Dean’s teeth rattled in sympathy. Then the boat pitched, caught up in something beyond the rolling black water, and Sam sort of flopped halfway over the side. Dean remembers flinging himself toward Sam, reaching for him, and then…nothing. Nothing to show for his troubles but a bitching headache, a bellyful of lake water and an M.I.A. little brother who got knocked out before he even hit the water—and Jesus H. tap-dancing Christ, Dean just cannot do this whole song and dance again. Dean was supposed to check out first this time; that was the deal. He goddamn well deserved it.

Dean has never wasted time praying, not even when Sam went all Nic Cage and thought he was working for the man upstairs, and he’s not about to start now. But he does hope really, really hard for a couple things:

(1) if Sam is dead, that Dean can just drown now and be done with it, and
(2) if he’s alive, that he’s in one piece so Dean won’t feel too bad about ripping him a new asshole for screwing this whole hunt to hell.

And maybe it’s a drowning-induced hallucination, brought on by emotional distress and the tediously familiar threat of imminent death, but Dean would swear he feels…taller.

+++

Olivia Conti did not set out for the beach with the specific intention of rescuing a strapping young man from almost certain death, but she’s not too terribly put out about it, either.

If you want to know the truth, she’s glad for the adventure. It’s been a long, gray year since Sebastian died, and she’s been longing for a bit of excitement to come along. As a matter of fact, this very day she has fled to this unfamiliar beach out of boredom, itchy feet, and above all a feeling that if she did not get out of her house, she would start throwing knick-knacks at her daughter’s head. She is grateful that Maria has come to live with her, happy for the company, but honestly, she’s not made of glass. She’s been a widow for nearly a year, longer than that since her husband recognized her face, and it’s high time she started living life again.

At the moment, though, there are bigger things to worry about. Olivia hurries toward the prone figure near the water’s edge and gracelessly drops down to her knees beside him, wincing a little at the impact. For one long, horrible moment, she thinks the man might be dead—but then he coughs, wet and gurgling like a broken coffeemaker, and a second later he jerks all over and turns his head to the side and throws up.

Olivia grimaces at the rush of foul-smelling water. No telling what’s in that lake, these days.

She peers down at the man’s face, scraped-up and muddy, pale against the dark wet sand. He looks younger than she expected. In fact, with his face all screwed up in misery like that, he reminds her a little of her son when he was young, helpless and exhausted with yet another case of the flu.

After a moment’s hesitation, Olivia reaches out and strokes a hand over the man’s cold, wet hair. “There you go,” she soothes, feeling like a fool. “You’re all right. Better out than in, that’s what I—”

“Dean.”

She yanks her hand back, startled, as the young man seizes up with coughing. “I’m sorry, I didn’t quite—”

“Dean, he…where.” He gags raggedly and spits out something Olivia isn’t going to inspect too closely. “My brother, where is he?”

Something twinges in her chest. “Honey, Dean’s…Dean’s not here right now.” She doesn’t look out over the quiet, empty waves.

The man is quiet for a moment as he struggles to heave himself onto his side, which he finally manages after a considerable effort. He stays there for a minute, arm shaking with the effort of supporting him, before finally collapsing away onto his back. Olivia scoots after him. “Got to find Dean,” he says.

“We will, of course we will,” Olivia says, lying through her teeth. “We’ll find him real soon. Let’s just get you fixed up in the meantime, how about that? Don’t you worry, I have a phone in my car, I’ll just run and—”

Out of nowhere, one large hand shoots out to wrap around Olivia’s wrist. The man’s eyes are open now, bloodshot and unfocused. “No hospitals,” he says, gasping, “please, no hospitals,” with his wild eyes staring blindly over her shoulder.

He seems to really mean it. For a moment, Olivia hesitates. Why on earth would he refuse a hospital when he’s clearly in such bad shape? He must have a good reason. Maybe he’s on the run from the law. What if he’s a criminal? He could be a murderer or a thief or an animal abuser or any horrible thing. Bank robber. Mafia hitman.

He could be a terrorist.

Well, he certainly doesn’t look like a terrorist, or like any sort of criminal mastermind, for that matter. He looks like a very sick young man who has only just been plucked from a watery grave by an act of Fate or God or whoever, the Great Pumpkin maybe, and who for some reason has a deathly fear of hospitals. Maybe he has a phobia. It wouldn’t be the strangest thing she’s ever heard; her neighbor Fran is absolutely petrified of bluebirds. The one thing she knows for sure is that she’ll never get him within ten feet of the ER.

So Olivia takes him home.

Well, she can’t just let him freeze to death on this lonely stretch of beach. At the very least, he needs a warm bed and dry clothes. Anyway, she has a can of pepper spray in her purse, though she doubts she’ll need it. The poor boy is looking much too miserable to try anything funny.

Before she can determine whether or not he’s an axe-murderer, she has to get him to his feet, which is an ordeal in itself. He might look like her sick little boy, but in reality he’s a big heavy mass of long limbs and muscle that Andrew, bless him, could only dream about. She can guide the process, sure, but Mr. Probably Not a Terrorist is going to have to do the heavy lifting.

“Come on, now, up you get,” she says, tugging and hoisting at strategic points. “You just hold on to my elbow—there you go. I’m afraid my hands aren’t what they used to be. Arthritis, you know. Happens to the best of us.”

“Urngh,” he agrees, and falls over.

Eventually, between the two of them, they manage to haul him to a standing position, where he sways on his feet like one of those Jenga games in a strong wind. Olivia wraps an arm around his back, ignoring the wet sand squishing into her sweatshirt, and steers him slowly toward where she left her car.

He really is very tall, and heavy, and wet, and frankly smells quite a lot like dead fish. He stumbles a few times, probably over his own big feet, and more than once Olivia has to heave him up from where he’s dropped down to his knees. She’s out of breath by the time they finally make it to the car, her creaky old heart thudding hard in her chest, and she is even more glad than usual that she took her Bayer before she left the house. Still, she’s feeling rather pleased with herself, considering she half-dragged her enormous companion most of the way. She may be sixty-seven years old, but she’s not some doddering old fart, thank you very much, and anyway she’s been trying out that Pilates with Carol at the Y. Good for the blood, that’s what they say.

She props the boy up against the car for a moment so she can dig through her purse, hunting for her keys. The poor thing looks exhausted and disoriented, half-conscious, and also like he might throw up again. She hopes she still has that plastic bag in the backseat.

“What’s your name?”

She looks up in surprise, fingers motionless around her keyring. “Olivia,” she says, after a moment’s hesitation. “You can just call me Olivia, sweetheart.”

He tries for a smile, tight-lipped and washed-out but still sweet. Much too sweet for an axe-murderer. “Thank you, Olivia. I’m Sam.”

She smiles back. “It’s nice to meet you, Sam. And you’re very welcome. Now, why don’t you just hop in the backseat and rest for a while. We’ll get you all fixed up and then…and then we’ll see what we can do about getting you back to your brother.”

“No hospitals?”

“No hospitals.”

He seems like a nice enough young man, Olivia thinks as she opens the car door. She likes his freckles.

+++

Sam Winchester wakes up with his head and bladder aching. Stupid one-dollar beer. He has got to stop letting Dean pick the bars. What kind of a man swears his dying wish is to witness one last wet T-shirt contest, anyway?

Come to think of it, he should tell Dean where he can stick the rest of those eight billion dying wishes, too.

Sam heaves a sigh, lurches out of bed with his eyes screwed shut, stumbles blindly to the bathroom, fumbles for a minute with his too-small pajama pants, and finds himself holding someone else’s dick.

“That’s a first,” he mutters.

(It’s not.)

Against his better judgment, Sam forces himself to wrench his eyes open. He blinks furiously, eyes stinging and head throbbing, as he squints around at his surroundings.

Flowery lavender wallpaper? Check. Small decorative cakes of soap shaped like seashells? Check. Furry toilet lid cover? Check. Conspicuous lack of dirty underwear, mangled tubes of toothpaste, and blood-soaked towels in the sink? Check.

Shit.

He looks down at the foreign package in his hand, and suddenly it all comes rushing back—the lake, the boat, the crack on the head, the old woman at the beach.

His first thought is, I told Dean that dumb-ass spell wouldn’t work.

His second thought is, Maybe he’s a grower.

His third and most fervent thought is, He better not be jerking off.

Sam does not waste time wondering why he knows what his brother’s dick looks like. Half the known world knows what his brother’s dick looks like. The way Dean’s been going at it lately, it’s all Sam can do to get him to pull up his pants long enough to exorcise the occasional demon—you know, if it’s not too much hassle.

Not that Sam is complaining. If Dean’s busy thinking with his downstairs brain, that means his upstairs brain can’t spend too much time fretting about Sam’s long nights and not-so-discreet phone calls—not to mention the friendly neighborhood demon who’s taken to dropping by for apparently the sole purpose of making cryptic comments and calling Sam a girl. She—it—is like some unholy crossbreed mix of Dad and Dean, only female and with better table manners. And also, obviously, totally evil. Probably. Evil with a dash of fast-food addict.

And blonde.

She just had to be blonde.

Sam is wriggling back into the pajama pants when it occurs to him, several minutes behind schedule, that Dean might be dead.

+++

Sam would be happy to know that Dean is not, in fact, jerking off with Sam’s cock, and also that he is alive.

Dean is pretty happy about this himself, except that he sort of wishes he were dead. He’s washed up on some nameless beach—not a nice sandy beach with lots of bikini-clad girls drinking Corona, but a cold, rocky bitch of a place with not a soul in sight. Most of the stones are smooth and harmless, lucky for him, but there’s a stabbing pain in the general vicinity of his gut. Probably a jagged rock skewering his pancreas.

Sam’s pancreas, he thinks spitefully. It doesn’t really cheer him up all that much, since Sam is probably dead—again, the irresponsible shit—and this time he’s taken Dean’s body with him.

Oh, yeah, he figured out pretty quick that he and Sam had pulled the old switcheroo. It was hard to miss, what with Sam’s stupid goddamn Queer Eye for the Nerd Who Never Gets Laid hair being plastered to his eyeballs. Plus, Sam has about a thousand moles. He can feel one sitting right between his shoulder blades; it’s distracting as shit, just like its owner. The real owner, anyway. Sammy.

Dean throws up a few times, heaving and gagging on a flood of swallowed water, and then he does feel a little better. Good enough to get up and start working on Plan B, maybe, except his clothes are soaked and weigh about a thousand pounds, and he can’t get his legs under him, and seriously, how does Sam manage this freak show? Must’ve been a stilt walker in a past life.

Explains the clown thing, anyway.

“My oh my, would you just look what the cat dragged in.”

Out of nowhere, a small hand tucks into one of his—Sam’s—and yanks him up like he’s made of feathers and cobwebs. He’s on his feet so quick he staggers, tripping over his own legs, and he needs a minute to balance himself before he can focus on his mysterious helper.

It’s a girl. Not just any girl, but a knock-out, blonde and smirking. And man, Dean’s all about the girl power or whatever, but this chick has got to be on some serious steroids.

“You do seem to have a knack for getting yourself into tight spots, Sam,” she says, in this weird voice that’s halfway between fuck me now and I am going to keep your balls in a trophy case.

Dean doesn’t know whether to feel grateful or wary or turned on or what, so he just stares at her, baffled both at her unnatural strength and at the fact that Sam apparently knows a hot girl. “Who the hell are—”

And then it hits him. She’s smug, she’s got a grip like a bench vise, she’s blonde—and damn, do they have Sammy’s number or what—she know Sam’s name, and Dean has never seen her before.

Son of a bitch.

His hands fly to his pockets, looking for a flask, but God knows Sam’s never had the common sense to carry basic protections. Failing that, he yanks the gun from the back of Sam’s jeans—how Sam has managed not to shoot his own ass off, Dean has no idea—and aims it at the girl’s head.

“Wrong brother, you demon bitch,” he snaps, finger on the trigger. “Now back off.”

“Oh, this is gonna be good,” says Ruby.

+++

Dean can’t be dead. It’s just not possible. Sam’s thought about it, of course he’s thought about it, it’s been practically the only thought in his head for who knows how long

(five months, two days, sixteen hours, and twenty-three minutes)

but it’s always been this impossible idea, this theoretical outcome that might happen in a parallel universe or a hallucination or something but not here, not for real.

He dreams about it all the time. Whenever he sleeps, whenever he closes his eyes—all twisted up in Jess and Dad and Mom, now, ever since that helpful high-def instant replay. Sam dreams of Dean dying every single night, burning and bleeding and torn apart, but it never sticks. Dean dies and dies and dies but he always rises from the ashes, squeaks out a daring escape, roars away in the Impala with CCR blasting and the bright glare of headlights cutting through the dark.

He read somewhere that you never die in your dreams, because your brain couldn’t handle it. Like those falling dreams—you can fall and fall forever, from the greatest height imaginable, and you can see that hard ground rushing up at you faster than you can breathe, and you’ll always wake up with a jerk of limbs in your bed, every single time. You can never hit the ground; the shock of it would kill you.

And he knows, maybe better than anyone, that the people you love can die screaming, pissing themselves, heaving and spasming around the wide-open spill of entrails and gooey-wet blood. He knows that human beings burn at fourteen-hundred degrees Fahrenheit no matter who loves them or how many lives they’ve saved, but Sam’s entire understanding of the world has always depended on Dean’s invincibility.

If Dean dies before the year is up, does the deal still hold?

+++

Dean is laughing on the inside. Really.

“You Winchesters never cease to amaze,” the demon says, clearly delighted. “Honestly, it is just incredible the ways you two manage to fuck things up. Tell me: do you brainstorm your strategies in advance, or are you more of an improviser?”

Two minutes in and a loaded semiautomatic jammed against her forehead, and she’s already giving him shit. No wonder she and Sam get along so well.

Which reminds him. “Lay off my brother.”

She smirks. “I will if you will, stud.”

What the hell’s that supposed to mean? “I’m serious,” he says lamely, caught off guard.

“Oh, come on, Dean,” Ruby says, rolling her eyes. “Sam needs me. Almost as much as he needs you—though not half as bad as you need him, you big girl. And yet for some reason you’re still planning to fuck off and leave him all on his own. Vulnerable, exposed, grieving…like a big old questionably evil baby left out to die in the cold night air.” She shakes her head. “I have to say, Dean, I don’t know how you sleep at night.”

“Fuck you.”

“Unlikely. Okay then, martyr boy, try this on for size. Maybe you do deserve your happily ever after in Hell. It’s cheaper than therapy, I’ll give you that. But let me tell you something, Dean. Are you hearing this?”

Dean’s finger tightens on the trigger. “You have fifteen seconds before I blow six rounds of consecrated silver through your skull.”

“I’ll take that as a ‘yes.’ I’ve been around a long time, Dean, and I have seen worse things than you and your brother and your daddy and all your little hunter pals can even imagine. So believe me when I say there’s not one godforsaken human on this rock that deserves what’s coming for Sam.”

“You don’t give a shit what Sam deserves,” he says, trying not to think too hard about what she’s saying. If this little blonde bitch thinks she can rattle him after the shitstorm that’s been this last year, she’s got another thing coming.

“Maybe not. But the fact remains, Dean, I’m the only one of us trying to help him.”

“Bullshit. You’re using him for something.”

“Who says I can’t do both? You humans—so small-minded.” She steps up, pushes into Dean’s space, even with the gun drilling into her forehead. “I hate to be the bearer of bad news, sugartits, but with your friend Yellow Eyes gone, it’s open season on Boy Wonder. They’re going to be on him like flies on shit.” She shakes her head. Her eyes never leave Dean’s. “Poor little antichrist.”

He leans down and gets in her face, and wonders idly why Sam doesn’t make more use of his height as a scare tactic. “I don’t know what game you’re playing, but you leave Sam alone or I swear to God, you will be begging me to send you back to Hell.”

She just keeps talking, louder even, like she hasn’t heard a word he said. “And you, Dean—you’re just going to let them take him. Leave him to the dogs.” She shrugs, a weirdly girlish lift of thin shoulders. “That is, if he’s not dead already.”

His fingers ache from squeezing the gun. “He’s not dead.”

“Maybe.”

“He’s not.”

She smiles, cold and patronizing. “How’s that?”

The thing about bluffing is that you have to really believe what you’re saying, just for that minute. “If he were, you wouldn’t be standing here shooting the shit with me. You wouldn’t waste your time.”

Ruby looks almost impressed. “Maybe you’re not as dumb as I thought, Dean Winchester.” She steps back, away from the gun. “Doubt it, though.”

He follows her, pressing the gun a little harder into her forehead. “Where do you think you’re going?”

“Thought I’d head down to the bar for a cold one, maybe catch the playoffs game. You’re welcome to join me, but you’re buying first round. And none of that faggy light beer, princess.”

Dean raises his eyebrows, forces himself to laugh a little. “I have to give you credit. You’ve got a lot of sass for someone about to get overnighted straight back to Hell.”

The demon sighs, long-suffering. She sounds almost exactly like Sam when he’s trying to explain the ideological intricacies of Israeli-Palestinian relations for the eighteenth time, as if Dean is suddenly going to give a shit. “Dean, I could have ripped out your spinal cord through your eyesocket at any time during this conversation. I could marinate your liver in your boiling blood and eat it with a nice Chianti. But I won’t, and you know why?” She pauses. “Well, partly because I stopped at Burger King on my way over. It’s all that grease and sugar—fills you right up. But also, Dean, because I am just not that kind of girl.”

Dean is somehow not surprised to discover that she bats her eyelashes like a goddamn pro. He scowls, mostly to remind himself that she’s ugly on the inside. “Soon as I find Sam and figure this out, I’m taking you down.”

“Let me know how that works out for you, tiger. Now, if you don’t mind, I have places to be, things to do, asses to save. You know how it is.” She turns to leave. “Tell Sam howdy for me, Dean-o. I’ll be in touch. Also, you probably want to dry off that gun before you try shooting any invulnerable demons, unless the idea of being an amputee really appeals to you.”

For some reason, he lets her walk away. Maybe the water poisoning is going to his head.

“Oh, and Dean?”

He glowers. “What.”

“Your fly’s down.” And she’s gone.

+++

Sam hears a flurry of activity downstairs as he descends the unfamiliar steps in his weirdly familiar body. It turns out that a mob of older women are fluttering around the small kitchen, chattering rapidly at each other and gesturing wildly with their hands. Most of them are wearing tracksuits, and none of them have the eyebrows God gave them.

Suddenly, as if they’ve caught the scent, they all turn their heads and stare at Sam standing in the doorway. He freezes. Should he run? What if it makes them angry? Maybe he should play dead.

One of the less crazy-looking women breaks away from the pack and hurries over to him, looking relieved. He vaguely recognizes her as the woman from the beach, Angela or Agatha or something.

“Thank goodness you’re all right, sweetheart,” she says, stretching up to press the back of her hand against his forehead. “You gave me a heck of a scare, passing out like that. Maria and I had to ask the neighbors for help carrying you inside.”

“We had to peel you out of those tight, wet clothes,” rasps one of the tracksuits, arching a stick-figure eyebrow in what she seems to think is an enticing manner.

Sam feels a little sick, and it’s not just the taste of dead fish in his mouth. He tries to give the woman a friendly, puppyish, “don’t I remind you of your grandson” kind of smile, but he’s limited by Dean’s face, in which the muscles in charge of “innocent” have apparently atrophied. A brief struggle ensues, and Sam ends up with a twisted grin that falls somewhere between “surprised” and “insatiable.”

He can only watch, struck dumb with growing horror, as the woman purses her thin, papery lips and sidles closer.

Speaking of growing, it seems Dean’s dick is starting to take a little notice of the situation. Sam tries to communicate, with as many vivid mental images as he can come up with, that the woman is about a thousand years old, but Dean’s dick doesn’t seem to care. It’s official: Dean really will fuck anything if it stands still long enough.

We’re not poking her with a stick, Sam thinks sourly.

Dean’s dick gets a little harder.

Sam is starting to wish he had drowned.

+++

It turns out Dean washed up about twenty miles east of Cleveland, where he and Sam left the car. The girl at the gas station wasn’t too eager to give directions to Swamp Thing, but Dean experimented with a big dorky Sam smile and ducked his head a lot, and she warmed up to him soon enough.

Dean doesn’t feel too bad about whoring out Sam’s dimples. It’s only fair; God knows they’ve worked on him enough times.

“You just start walking that way, you’ll see the buildings in the distance,” the girl had said, pointing vaguely down the road, but it’s been two hours and he’s still trapped in suburban hell.

Great.

On the bright side, this finally gives Dean the chance to make sure there are no numbers on Sam’s scalp, no plug in the back of his head, nothing like that. Because, for real, if Dean hadn’t spent all those years force-feeding him Brussels sprouts and hearing him whack off, he’d be sure Sam’s an alien. Not that Dean believes in aliens.

(Much.)

Or listens to Sam jerk off.

(See above.)

Come on, Sam’s just weird, with all that whacko talk about Persian philosophy and zombie cats in boxes. Not to mention his “music.” Dashboard something-or-other, Fall Out Girl—seriously, who does he think he’s kidding? No Earth native listens to that crap. His iPod might as well be a communicator to the mothership.

Dean reaches under his shirt and swipes a finger into Sam’s belly-button, just to reassure himself.

He runs a hand over the back of Sam’s head, too, to be safe. He’s surprised to feel a giant goose-egg there, all swollen and tender. It hurts some, but not as much as it should. He’d barely noticed it. There’s no dizziness or nausea, no signs of concussion.

Dean doesn’t really get how this whole soul-switching thing works, but he’s guessing that Sam probably feels like eight kinds of shit right about now. He ruthlessly squashes down the instinctive flare of brotherly sympathy. It’s Sam’s fault they’re in this mess in the first place, him and that stupid spell.

On the other hand, if Sam’s survived drowning just to die of a concussion he doesn’t even realize he has, Dean is going to be seriously pissed.

+++

Maria does not trust this Sam Johnson one bit.

Oh, he acts sweet enough, with his big sad eyes and his tall tales about fishing with his brother. It’s all part of the act. This “Sam”—as if that’s his real name—may have worked his magic on her mother, but Maria knows a con man when she sees one.

He says he grew up on the east side. That’s a load of crap if she ever heard one. He can’t even pronounce “Cuyahoga.”

She has to give him credit for originality. Pretending to drown? Manipulating a sweet, naive old woman into taking him home? Spinning some sob story about his missing brother, who just so happens to be the only family he has left in the world? It makes her sick, the things people will do for a little extra cash to line their pockets.

Of course, her mother and all her friends are falling for it. They wouldn’t know a criminal if he walked in and stole their pearls right off their necks. Patting his cheeks, making sympathetic noises, bringing him tea—her mother even got out the good china. Fran especially seems to have taken a shine to him, which is almost enough to make Maria feel sorry for the man. She’s not one of those anti-capital punishment nuts, but prolonged torture is just cruel, not to mention unconstitutional.

“May I use your telephone?” the scammer asks, sugary sweet. “I have a friend who might have heard from Dean. I should let him know where I am.” Yeah, sure, and the moon is made of cheese. He probably wants to call his cronies and tell them what an easy job this will be.

“Of course, of course,” Maria’s mother says. “What a good idea. Maria, why don’t you show our guest to the phone?”

“Don’t think you’re fooling me, buster,” Maria says in a low voice as she reluctantly leads the man into the kitchen. “I’ve got my eye on you.”

He blinks those big eyes at her, the picture of innocence, but she doesn’t miss the flicker of worry that passes over his face. “I’m sorry?”

Oh, he will be.

+++

Of course the car has been towed, because that is just the sort of day Dean is having.

He and Sam can break her out of the impound lot, no problem. But those assholes had better be taking good care of her. If Dean finds a single scratch in her paint, he’s going to make a whole lot of people wish they’d never been born.

In the meantime, he calls Bobby.

“Sounds like you boys really screwed the pooch on this one,” Bobby says after he accepts the collect call.

Dean tries to glare through the phone. It’s not as easy as Sam makes it look. “I take it you’ve heard from Sam?”

“Yep. He got rescued by a bunch of grannies and taken to the town of Elyria, Ohio. As far as I can tell, he’s safe and sound, and the ladies are force-feeding him ginger snaps. Sounds more like a kidnapping to me, but what do I know.”

Elyria…that sounds vaguely familiar, but then, so do most towns. “You have the address?”

“Of course.”

Dean scratches the back of his neck. “What about the other thing?”

“What other thing?”

“You know, the…thing.”

“Dean, I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Bobby seems to be enjoying this too much.

“The thing where I’m peeing out of my brother’s dick,” Dean grits out.

“Oh, that thing,” Bobby says. “I’m still reading up on that, but my best guess is it’s a twenty-four hour thing. Scares the hell out of you, makes your lives a little more interesting, but no real harm done at the end of the day. Standard nymph crap. You’ll just have to wait it out.”

“So, what, we’ve got some kind of fairy flu?”

Bobby coughs into the phone. “You could say that. Tell you what, Dean. You find Sam and the two of you get out of Dodge. I know someone who’s cleaning out a nest of harpies in Toledo right now—I’ll see if I can’t get them to take care of the nymphs. Those things probably wouldn’t be real happy to see you boys again anyway.”

“Nah, don’t worry about it. We’ll take care of them.”

“No, Dean.”

“But it’s our hunt,” Dean says. He knows he is coming dangerously close to whining, but come on. As big a pain in the ass as these nymphs have been, it’s the least Dean deserves to wipe them out.

“Dean, I mean it. You don’t need to go out there all pissed-off and get them riled up again. Harvey’s had some experience with nymphs; he can handle it. Besides, there’s a possible possession out in Iowa I’d like you boys to take a look at.”

Well, if he puts it that way. “All right, I’ll do it. So where’s Sam?”

Bobby gives him the address. Dean’s not looking forward to the walk, but he’ll be glad to collect his brother, liberate the car, and get out of town.

Dean walked all the way into Cleveland without catching a ride, but this time he’s only walked a couple miles when a car slows down and putters to a stop next to him. It’s a big blue Buick Electra, your typical old American-made boat, but it looks like it’s been well cared for, and Dean already sort of likes the old guy behind the wheel when he lowers the passenger side window and says, “Where you headed, son?”

He likes him even more when he finds out the guy’s name is Dr. Henry Orsino, he’s a professor of urban development at Cleveland State, and he just so happens to be heading west.

“Thought I recognized a fellow on the move,” Henry says as Dean gladly settles into the passenger’s seat. “I did a lot of hitchhiking in my day. It’s not so safe these days, especially with night coming on. Used to be it was the only way to travel. You learn a lot out on the road.”

“That’s what I’ve heard,” Dean says.

+++

“Oh, thank God.”

Dean opens the door and jumps out before Henry can even slow the car to a stop. Henry parks the car and climbs out somewhat more sedately as his erstwhile passenger jogs toward the small house. There are a handful of women standing around on the porch, clustered around a tall, pale man that Henry’s guessing is Dean’s missing brother.

“Sam!”

Sure enough, the man starts off the porch, looking relieved. “Dean!”

“Henry?”

It’s her voice, more than the barely-recognizable face, that stops Henry dead in his tracks. His own voice, when he finds it, is hardly more than a whisper. “Olivia.”

The old woman with Olivia’s voice hurries toward him. For a minute he thinks she’s going to throw herself into his arms, but she pulls up short and ends up taking his hand and shaking it warmly. Very, very warmly. “Henry, my goodness. I haven’t seen you since—”

“Your wedding.” Something long-forgotten coldness unfurls in his chest. Henry manages to pull an old tired smile out from somewhere, for her sake. “And Sebastian? What’s the old boy up to these days? Still working for the men in blue?”

“He died,” Olivia says. “Last year. Alzheimer’s.”

Henry squeezes her hand. “Terrible thing.”

“Yes,” she agrees. She hesitates. Her eyes are just as dark as he remembers them. “And Violet?”

“Living in Santa Fe with her third husband.”

For a long minute, the pair of them just stand there looking at each other, still loosely gripping each other’s hands.

Olivia pats her hair. A bit of color has crept into her face.

Henry smiles.

Dean coughs. Loudly. “Okay, so, it looks like you two—I mean, if you want to, uh—we’ll just be—”

“—somewhere else,” the other man says quickly, yanking Dean away by the elbow. “Thanks for everything, Olivia.”

Henry doesn’t see them go.

+++

Dean cannot believe they stuck his girl here with this heap of rustbuckets. She deserves to be in a clean, well-lit garage, maybe at that Martha Stewart prison. Seriously, if Dean finds out who made the decision to—is that a Pinto?

“There’s really no better way to do this? Can’t we pretend to be cops or something?”

“IDs are in the car. So are the credit cards. Now move it before the guard comes back.”

With a mostly familiar put-upon sigh, Sam slips forward and starts scaling the fence. Dean takes the opportunity to get a good look at his own ass. He’s not sure whether that’s sick or just vain, but either way—it’s not a bad view. Full points on style and presentation.

“Stop looking at my ass,” Sam says.

“Get over yourself, Sasquatch. It’s my ass. I worked hard for that thing.”

Dean can hear Sam’s disbelieving snort loud and clear, even with him almost to the top of the fence. “Yeah, eating chili fries every day really takes it out of you.”

“Hey, I’m just checking in. Got to make sure you’re keeping it in prime condition.” It’s not like he makes a habit of checking out his brother’s ass. That’d be seriously fucked up.

(Yes, he does, and yes, it is.)

Sam makes it to the top, but instead of throwing his jacket over the barbed wire, he just stays there, clinging to the fence. He looks kind of sick. Come to think of it, Dean’s not feeling so hot himself. “You doing okay up there, Sam?”

Sam shakes his head like he’s trying to clear it. “Yeah. Yeah, sure.” He starts moving again, then stops. “Hey, Dean?”

“Yeah?”

“What time is it?”

And that’s when the cops show up.

+++

Sam realizes three things pretty much immediately upon waking. One: he is definitely in jail—again—with only a drunk and a homeless guy for company. Two: he does not see himself anywhere nearby. Three: the mole is back.

“God damn it,” Sam says.

“Tell me about it,” says the homeless guy.

+++

So they break out of jail.

What, like they’re just going to hang out and wait for Henricksen to pack them off to Sing Sing? Fuck that noise. Sam’s still bitching about the last time they went to prison, and Dean is not spending the last seven months of his life as some daddy-raper’s little bitch.

Luckily, no one has quite figured out who they are yet, so the FBI up in Cleveland hasn’t gotten hold of them. The local cops just stuck them in the town jail. All Dean has to do is rap out a couple messages in Morse code on the pipes, pick a few locks, disable some security cameras, knock out three overweight cops, and yank the evidence bag that has the car keys. Piece of cake. He could do this shit in his sleep. Sometimes he does, although there’s usually more hot girls involved.

Yep, getting away from Obie and the gang is simple. The tricky part is going to be Operation Car Freedom, redux.

Dean and Sam crouch in the shadows near the impound lot, staking out the scene. They’ve tweaked the plan a little, but mostly they’re counting on the guards thinking no one would be so dumb as to attempt a break-in twice in one night. Whatever. Dean has a good feeling this time around. Besides, it feels good to be back in his own body. His senses feel more familiar; everything is cleaner, sharper.

“You can’t see for crap, man,” Dean mutters out of the side of his mouth. “We’re getting you glasses.”

Sam glares at him, probably so he has an excuse to squint. “Yeah, well, your balls itch all the time. We’re getting you condoms.”

Dean laughs; he can’t help it. Sam manages to keep up his grumpy face for another minute, but then he breaks and gives Dean the dimples, all pleased with himself, and Dean has to thump him manfully on the shoulder before he does something insane like lick his little brother or fuck him or smash his feet with a sledgehammer so he’ll stay with Dean forever and ever.

And then Sam distracts the guards, and Dean hops the fence and makes his way to the car, and she roars to life like she’s been waiting for him, and Sam finishes picking the lock just as Dean pulls up at the gate, and somehow it all works out just the way it’s supposed to. About damn time a job went according to plan.

+++

The motel in Indiana only has singles left, but it’s five in the morning and he and Dean are both too tired to care, so the two of them cram onto this one narrow bed like they haven’t done since Sam was fourteen.

Dean passes out in his clothes—just toes off his boots and falls face-forward onto the bed, with just enough energy left to scratch his balls before he’s out like a light.

Sam is exhausted, but for whatever reason, he can’t crash. His eyes are wide open from the second he hits the mattress, stinging like they’re held open with toothpicks.

Dean is an unmoving lump next to him, snoring a little and radiating heat across the mattress. There’s a sliver of orange light cutting across his forehead. Sam thinks about saying something sincere and brotherly that Dean would punch him for if he were awake—“I’m really glad you’re not dead yet,” maybe, or, “Seriously, no more one-dollar beer”—but he opens his mouth and what comes out is, “You do have a really nice ass.”

Damn. He has got to start writing these things down before he talks.

Luckily, Dean is still dead to the world, so Sam just moves a little closer and hooks two fingers into Dean’s jeans where they’re loose around his hips. Dean’s skin is warm and smooth, familiar, and Sam yawns and closes his eyes.

+++

Back in Elyria, Olivia Conti is lying awake in her bed, thinking of her first love. Tall and dark, roguishly handsome—everything she thought she’d ever wanted, once upon a time.

She wonders if he still drinks red wine with dinner. She’ll have to ask Maria to help her pick out a nice one.

Every great once in a while, she thinks, things work out just the way they’re supposed to.

+++

They wake up in the late afternoon, just as it’s starting to get dark, and have sex on the floor.

It’s not intentional, obviously. Dean doesn’t exactly wake up every morning with the urge to bone his little brother.

(You can probably figure this one out on your own.)

It’s more like a series of escalating taunts. Sam rolls over and “accidentally” jams an elbow into Dean’s ribs, and Dean kicks Sam in the shin, and Sam punches him in the kidney, and somehow they end up on the floor, slobbering on each other and still sort of fighting.

These things happen.

Dean shifts his weight and grinds hard into the cradle of Sam’s hips—hey, if life hands you lemons—and Sam bucks and shudders, both hands grabbing hard at Dean’s ass.

That's when Sam starts gnawing on him. He bites at Dean’s mouth like a frigging cannibal, sinks those sharp teeth into Dean’s jaw like he’s trying to eat him alive, as if he hasn’t already. It’s weird, is what it is, and no one is more surprised than Dean when he starts biting back.

Sam tugs Dean’s hips closer, rolls up into him and sticks his tongue in Dean’s ear, like that’s not completely gross. Dean just happens to squeak out a pathetic-sounding groan that feels like it comes straight from his balls.

He pulls back in revenge, gets a little space between them, just enough for his hand to slip down and cup Sam through his jeans. Sam’s head snaps back so hard he’d probably knock himself out if it weren’t for Dean, who has his free hand tangled up in Sam’s hair and therefore takes the brunt of the impact. Good thing, too—brain yourself too many times in a week, and you end up getting coloring books for Christmas for the rest of your life.

Dean ducks down and grazes his teeth against Sam’s stubble, then moves to suck on Sam’s bottom lip as he presses experimentally against the bulge in his jeans. Sam lets out this helpless, gasping little whine into Dean’s mouth. He sounds like an idiot, and Dean is absolutely one-hundred-percent going to be jerking off with that sound in his ears to the end of his days.

Curious about any other interesting noises Sam might have in store, Dean grinds the heel of his hand against Sam’s cock and chuckles, a little out of breath, as Sam writhes under him. As Dean might have predicted, Sam does not take this for long without striking back—and, as usual, he fights dirty. One hand slides up from its proprietary position on Dean’s ass, wriggles under Dean’s shirts, and Dean finds himself arching down against Sam’s thigh as Sam rubs raw, branding circles along Dean’s spine and scrapes rough nails against the small of his back.

Sam looks like a total goober with his mouth hanging open like that. Dean means to tell him as much, but the throbbing pulse under Sam’s jaw demands immediate attention, and he gets distracted.

“I’m going to fuck you,” he says instead, apparently possessed. “I’m gonna, I want—Jesus, you don’t even—”

“God,” Sam says, “God, fuck, you fucking asshole,” and comes like a champ, like he’s been waiting for it his whole life, shaking and clawing and making these shivery whimpering noises that make Dean want to fuck him into the ground.

For a minute, Dean feels so blissed-out and drunk with pleasure that he thinks he might have already come—and then Sam surges up and knocks Dean back onto his ass, rips open Dean’s jeans and wraps a hot sweaty hand around his cock, and Dean maybe passes out for a minute. He’s still coming when he wakes up, or maybe he’s coming again, or else his brain is leaking out of his cock, but either way Sam is chewing on his ear like a fucking crazy person, and from now on they are going to do this every hour on the hour until Dean’s dick falls off or he goes permanently blind.

“You know, Mr. Dahmer,” Dean says into Sam’s hair, “if you wanted to eat me, all you had to do was ask.”

“Shut up,” Sam says, dragging his sticky fingers over the head of Dean’s cock, and Dean does.

+++

Dean is nowhere to be found when Sam gets out of the shower, but the car keys are on the dresser, so Sam isn’t too worried. Sure enough, Dean comes banging into the room while Sam is shaving, rattling around and making a lot of noise like he always does when he wants Sam to pay attention to him. He probably doesn’t realize he’s humming ABBA, and Sam for one isn’t planning to enlighten him.

Sam keeps shaving. He’s learned the hard way that, nine times out of ten, the mountain will come to Mohammed just as soon as it gets bored and needs someone to bother.

True to form, Dean appears in the open doorway five minutes later. He whistles approvingly, probably at the fact that Sam is not technically wearing pants. “Don’t say I never got you nothing,” he says, shoving a plastic shopping bag in Sam’s face.

Sam judiciously refrains from slashing his Mach III across Dean’s radial artery. “What now?” he asks, somewhat redundantly, as he reaches into the bag and pulls out Dean’s latest purchase.

“Reading glasses, Sammy,” Dean says proudly. “Got ’em at CVS. You can thank me later.”

Sam rolls his eyes so hard they ache in his head. “Don’t hold your breath. I hope you grabbed some condoms while you were at it, Casanova.”

Dean shrugs casually. “Didn’t have them in my size.”

Sam’s about to make a crack saying how maybe they’ll shrink in the wash, but he realizes that if he says that then Dean might stop having sex with him, and anyway it turns out Dean really is a grower, so instead he just rolls his eyes and tries on the glasses.

“Dorktastic,” Dean says. “They’re perfect for you.” He ruffles Sam’s damp hair. Sam slaps his hand away, and Dean smacks him on the ass and wanders out of the bathroom. “Get a move on, Sammy,” he calls over his shoulder. “Places to go, demons to waste. Let’s blow this joint.”

+++

“I’ll drive,” Sam says, trying to sound nonchalant.

“Fat chance, four-eyes. Get in the car.”

Dean slides behind the wheel. His key finds the ignition in the dark, and the car wakes up with a dull roar that gives Dean a warm feeling in his chest. The leather seat is cold under Dean’s ass, and he wriggles around until it warms up.

“You know, they make a cream for—”

“Shut up, Sam.”

Dean tries to tell himself that nothing’s really changed, not where it matters. Sam is still an annoying bitch with shitty taste in music, and Dean still doesn’t care about saving the whales or recycled toilet paper or whatever the hell Sam is yammering about this week. Dean is still going to guilt Sam into coming with him to dives and strip clubs, and Sam is still going to bitch about the cheap beer and fake tits. Sam is still the whiny little brat wheedling his way into the last bowl of Lucky Charms, and Dean is still the older brother who should know better than to give in to those sad puppy eyes.

Dean is still going to die in seven months, and Sam is still never going to forgive him for it.

If anything, he’s made that worse. There’s still Ruby to deal with, and Gordon, and the runaway hellspawn, and any other whackjob hunter or demon who thinks Sam’s soul is up for grabs. Only now, he and Sam have this…thing. This slobbery, desperate, fleeting, unbelievably good thing.

Dean looks over at Sam, who’s busy fiddling with the vents and heaters in exactly the way Dean is always telling him not to do. There’s a massive purple bruise blossoming across his throat like a birthmark, and he shoots Dean this look like he’s daring him to say something—about the vents, about the thing, about the price of tea in China.

“Are you going to drive, or were we just planning to let the demons come to us?” Sam says, all impatient and pissy-mouthed and somehow, miraculously, alive.

Dean’s first and only thought is, Fuck it.

“Just making sure you didn’t forget your teddy bear, princess.”

He puts the car in gear and steps on the gas, peeling out of the parking lot with a screech of tires that he can only hope his baby will forgive him for. They’re back on the freeway in under a minute, and for a while, Dean can let himself get lost in the purr of the car under his hands, the glow of headlights lighting their way, the quick twist of a smile Sam doesn’t think he notices.

After a couple minutes of comfortable silence, he reaches out and hits a button on the tape player. The player hums and crackles, and Dean relaxes back into his seat as a familiar song bursts out of the speakers, right where they left off.


“Long as I remember the rain been comin' down
Clouds of mystery pourin' confusion on the ground
Good men through the ages tryin' to find the sun
And I wonder, still I wonder: who'll stop the rain?”