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Truth Doesn't Always Hurt

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Sam was bored. It had been weeks since he'd had his soul returned to him, complete with a nifty little wall that held all his memories of Hell behind it—no, don't think about it, Sam, don't scratch the wall—and Dean was still insisting that they lay low. As if a simple hunt was going to be enough to trigger an avalanche in Sam's head and unleash all kinds of—nope, don't even go there. Sam sighed and returned his attention to his laptop. He'd been scrolling through newspaper articles all day, and so far nothing had grabbed his attention, until...

'MAN ALMOST DIES OF A HEART ATTACK DAYS AFTER BEING CAUGHT WITH ANOTHER WOMAN'

Sam clicked on the link, interested. The guy was young, 27, and perfectly healthy. The only thing wrong with him prior to being hospitalised was that he had, as the headline suggested, been caught in bed with another woman by his wife two days earlier. Not enough of an oddity on its own, but Sam hit the archives of the newspaper and scrolled back a few months anyway, just in case. He found a string of other extremely convenient coincidences, including a tree that was hit by lightning and fell on a man's car, which he had just used it to run over a dog, and a woman who had suffered a near-deadly bee sting after she had yelled at her daughter in the street. The last one was almost ridiculous, and Sam was ready to dismiss it and click to the next article when he spotted a minor but significant detail: the event had taken place in the middle of December, with the town up to its neck in snow. Huh.

Dean walked into the room just then, and Sam seized his opportunity. "Hey Dean? I think I've found something; come take a look?" He beckoned Dean over and turned the laptop screen to face him. "I think it might be a trickster, a real one this time, but it doesn't have the same sense of humour as Gabriel did. Maybe we should check it out."

Dean frowned. "Sam, I told you, we're laying low." But he moved closer anyway, bending over to study the screen. His eyes flicked over the text, skimming quickly, and he made an interested, uncertain noise. "I don't know," he said, his tone wavering. He and Sam had both been going almost stir-crazy these past few weeks, and this didn't seem like that hard of a job; maybe it was time for them to start easing back into the hunting life.

Sam grinned. He had Dean right where he wanted him. "If we lay any lower, we'll be underground," he said reasonably, pulling the laptop back toward him. "The town's not that far away, and it shouldn't be too difficult to get rid of a trickster. We handled an archangel pretty well."

Dean snorted. "Fine," he said grudgingly, but it was obvious even to him that it was forced. "Go pack a bag, Sammy, I'll make sure Baby's all stocked up."

Sam didn't need to be told twice.

***
It was great to be back on the road again. Sam had never thought that he would be grateful to be crammed into the Impala, his knees practically under his chin, but he was loving every second of it. It meant that he was okay, that Dean thought he was okay. Finally. Sam grinned at his brother when he wasn't looking, and resolutely did not scratch the wall. 

Once they got to the town, Dean found a small, out-of-the-way motel and checked them in. He emerged with a scowl on his face. "God damn it, you'd think that with a motel this far from the beaten path that there'd be at least one room with two beds in it," he muttered, sliding behind the wheel of the Impala and driving around to where their room was. He'd only been able to get a room with a queen size bed in it.

Sam laughed as he got out of the car and moved round to get their bags out of the trunk. "We've shared a bed before; it's not a big deal," he said as he threw Dean's bag to him. "Maybe we can upgrade in a few days. Which one?"

"Room 703," Dean said, hoisting his bag over his shoulder. He unlocked the door and shoved it open, dumping his bag on the bed. "So, what's our first step?" he asked as he began to unpack some of the more immediately necessary items.

Sam shrugged, hunting through his duffel for the salt so that he could start putting down the usual protections. "We can't go in as FBI; there's no way to connect the cases," he said thoughtfully as he pushed the curtains aside. "Journalists, maybe? Talk to the people involved, get their take on what happened, see if we can find a common denominator."

Dean nodded slowly. "I noticed that in the pictures, this guy—" Dean tapped on a photo of a tall, slender man with black hair—"was always in the background. Probably be a good idea to talk to him, too."

Sam grinned. "Great. Then we have somewhere to start." He finished laying the salt lines and sat on the bed with the doormat so that he could draw a devil's trap onto the underneath with a Sharpie. "You wanna grab something to eat before we go to bed?"

Dean nodded, grinning easily as he finished laying some more protection sigils. "Sounds good to me."

***
Dean was still singing praises for the pie when they walked back into the room. "I got first shower, bitch," he smirked, punching Sam on the shoulder as he walked past. Once he was in the shower, Dean paused, rubbing the back of his neck as he groaned softly to himself. He and Sam hadn't had to share a bed in years, not since Dean woke up in the middle of the night for a week straight with jizz in his pants from dreams about Sam doing various illegal things to and with Dean's body. Even not sharing a bed hadn't helped, but Dean had been able to at least keep himself quiet.

Sam poked around on the internet while he waited for Dean to get out of the shower, looking for any extra information that would help with the case. He was not thinking about the fact that he would be sharing a bed with his brother tonight. To think about it would be to acknowledge things that should never be acknowledged—and Cas wondered why Sam's brain hadn't exploded yet. What no one seemed to realise was that Sam had been not scratching a wall of his very own design for a long time. 

When Dean finally emerged from the bathroom, Sam grabbed his things and hurried into the bathroom, not sticking around long enough to risk fixating on a rivulet of water tracking down Dean's chest. He couldn't afford to do that on normal days, but this was a special occasion. Boners when in bed with a brother were definitely not appropriate.

Dean quickly shed the towel and threw on a pair of briefs and a tank top before throwing back the covers and flopping onto the bed with an exaggerated groan. "Sammy, you better hurry up or I'm not gonna let you into bed!" he called, rolling onto his stomach, spreading his arms and legs out and wriggling until he was comfortable. He loved getting a bigger bed; there was just something indescribable about being in a huge bed by yourself.

Sam paid him no heed, but he was still quicker than he normally would be. This was mostly due to the fact that the hot, steamy bathroom felt like the perfect environment in which to take care of the problem between his legs that had made itself known when Dean had shouted about letting him into bed. Needless to say, for the first time in his life Sam didn't take advantage of all the hot water his brother had been kind enough to leave for him. Instead, he switched the gauge to cold and doused himself thoroughly before getting out.

Because he was the smarter brother, Sam had remembered to grab his duffel bag on the way in, which meant that he was already dressed in loose sweats and the only oversized t-shirt he owned when he entered the main room. He dropped his bag onto the floor by the table and then had to force himself to walk over to the bed. "Get your fucking feet off my side," he bit out as he pulled the covers back and slid beneath them. "It's all warm now, you jerk."

Dean snickered, rolling over onto his side and propping his head up on one hand. "Draw me like one of your French girls," he drawled, smirking at Sam. He snickered and grabbed the covers, tucking them up over his shoulder before flopping onto his stomach and burying his face in his pillow, studiously concentrating on anything except the warmth of Sam's body next to his. "Night Sammy," he mumbled.

***
When Sam woke up the next morning, his first thought was that he'd gotten laid last night. He felt warm and content, and he appeared to be lying on a living, breathing pillow. His second thought was that he hadn't gotten laid last night because he'd gone to bed with his brother, and as perverted as Sam was, Dean would likely shoot himself before touching him like that. Which made the identity of the pillow... 

Shit.

Carefully, very carefully, Sam rolled off of Dean and slipped out of bed. He then spent ten minutes in the bathroom taking care of various kinds of business, making sure that when he came out he felt relaxed and ready to face the day. Crisis averted. 

Pleased that he'd managed to get through the night without alerting Dean to his perversions, Sam walked over to the bed and yanked the covers off, skillfully keeping his gaze from being drawn to his brother's morning wood. "Get your lazy ass out of that bed!" he yelled cheerfully, throwing the duvet to the other side of the room. "I'm going out for coffee, and if you're not dressed by the time I get back, I'm dumping it on your head. See you in twenty!"

Dean grumbled and flailed, rolling over onto his stomach. He was pissed that Sam was such an early riser; he'd been hoping to bask a bit, revel in having Sam so close. Stupid little brother, with his stupid perfect hair and his stupid gorgeous face, Dean scowled to himself as he trudged to the bathroom, stepping into the shower.

He spent enough time in there that, by the time he was done, Sam was back. Dean walked out with his towel wrapped around his waist, humming idly to himself. He stopped, eyeing the two cups of coffee in Sam's hands warily. "I just got out of the shower," he said finally. "You make me need another one, and you're gonna need one too. And there's not enough hot water for two separate showers."

Sam tried to laugh and drink his coffee at the same time so that he would have an excuse to not look at Dean in all his half-naked glory, and managed to choke himself. By the time he'd finished spluttering, Dean was dressed. Sam handed Dean his coffee and pretended he wasn't blushing. "So," he said, clearing his throat one final time. "I figured we could get breakfast and then start asking questions, see if we can figure out who your mystery man is."

Dean nodded, taking a sip of the coffee. "Mmm, just the way I like it," he moaned. He finished it off quickly, and led the way to the Impala so they could go get breakfast. Once they had their food, Dean tapped on the files Sam had laid out on the table. "So I was figuring I could also talk to the guy who had the heart attack."

Sam nodded and mumbled his agreement around a mouthful of bacon. He swallowed. "You want me to come with, or should we split up? I could go talk to Bee Sting Lady."

"Let's split for this part, then we can meet up for the car-tree guy and our suspect," Dean decided. He finished up his breakfast, and then headed out to do his interview.

They met up later outside of the house belonging to the guy whose car got smashed by a tree after he ran over a dog. "So," he began as they walked up the sidewalk. "The guy who had a heart attack? He got drunk, confessed to cheating on his wife. The guy he confessed to? Our mystery guy."

"Well the woman who got stung by a bee didn't recognise our mystery guy," Sam admitted. "But her daughter did. She remembers being really embarrassed because he was walking his dog by the house while her mom was yelling at her. The mom, it seems, was too mad to notice."

"With the way she was yelling, I'm not surprised," Dean commented as he raised his hand to knock on the door

A balding, middle-aged man with reading glasses hanging from a cord around his neck answered, and gave them an annoyed look. "Whatever you're selling, I ain't interested."

Sam smiled. "Sir, we're not selling anything, we're—"

"Then I don't want to be saved by your Lord!"

"—reporters for the local gazette. We're doing a story on random acts of God and we'd like to talk to you about what happened to your car last year."

The man, whose name Sam knew was Brian Riley, considered this. "I don't believe in God," he warned them.

Sam exchanged a look with Dean. "Neither do we."

Mr. Riley stood back and let them inside.

Dean glanced around the living room that Mr. Riley led them into. It was riding the line between sparse and comfortable, and almost every available surface was covered with books and magazines. "Do a lot of reading?" he asked casually.

Riley huffed an affirmative as he sat down in his chair, marking his place in the book that had been resting open on the arm. "Books are more interesting than people. Sit down."

Sam managed a smile as he sat beside Dean on the sofa. "So, Mr. Riley, we wanted to know about the night a tree fell on your car."

"What's to know? Lightning struck the tree, the tree fell, my car was in the way."

"Before that, though, didn't you hit a dog with your car?"

"That same night," Riley confirmed, and his tone held no remorse. Sam decided right there and then that he didn't like him. Something must have shown on his face because Riley was quick to add, "Of course, I didn't realise that until after I got home. It was a stormy night; I didn't see the dog." He was lying.

"We read and heard from other sources that a man was walking the dog that you hit." Dean pulled a photo of their suspect from his pocket and turned it so it was facing Riley. "This man. How could you miss both the man and the dog?"

Riley flushed, and shifted uncomfortably in his chair. "I saw him," he conceded with barely a glance at the photo in Dean's hand. "But it was a little dog and like I said, it was pouring with rain."

"According to the news reports, the storm didn't start until after the lightning struck your car," Sam said smoothly.

Riley snarled. "I thought you wanted to ask about that, not whether or not I saw the dog I hit?"

He wasn't wrong. Sam inclined his head. "Okay. So, would you say that it's a bit strange, that your car got struck by lightning half an hour after you used that car to mow down a dog? Kind of like a punishment?"

"I already told you," Riley answered coldly. "I don't believe in God."

"We're not saying anything about God," Dean repeated, coming to stand behind Sam's seat on the couch. "However, we are talking about a concept similar to karma. You killed someone's beloved pet." Spotting several car magazines, he continued, "So someone killed yours."

"Bullshit," Riley spat, clearly irate. "There's no such thing as a higher power—karma, fate, whatever you want to call it. It doesn't exist. And you can quote that in your article."

Sam raised an eyebrow. "But sir—"

Riley cut him off, rising from his chair. "I'd like you to leave now."

"Of course," Dean said smoothly, laying a hand on Sam's shoulder. "It was a pleasure talking to you." He led the way out of the house and back down to the Impala, groaning as they shut the door. "Christ, I'd be tempted to just chop down a tree to land on his head after talking to him once. Hell, I am."

Sam laughed. "Tricksters know how to pick 'em," he agreed, sharing a grin with Dean. "Speaking of, our mystery guy's name is Charles Landower, and he lives here." He showed Dean his phone, where he'd stored the address. "Let's go pay him a visit."

Dean grinned and turned the key, pulling smoothly away from the curb and driving. It took them five minutes to get to the trickster's house, and when they arrived, Dean eyed the house appraisingly. "Looks like a normal house," he said finally. As he got out, he spotted several candy wrappers near the big trash can on the sidewalk—they looked like they'd fallen out of a trash bag. He nodded toward them. "Sweet tooth."

"Definitely a trickster," Sam murmured as they walked up the driveway. "I don't think we should confront him yet, though. If we just interview him, we can get a better feel for how powerful he is before we make a move. Assuming he doesn't already know who we are." Bracing himself, Sam raised his hand and knocked on the door. 

Dean smiled at the man who opened the door. "Good afternoon. You're Mr. Landower, I presume? We're with the gazette, doing a special report on acts of God."

Charles eyed the two men on his front porch for a moment before smiling. He knew them, of course; who didn't know the Winchesters? Still, he figured he'd let them say their piece. "Come in," he invited, stepping back from the doorway. "Acts of God, hm? You wouldn't happen to be talking about the tree that fell on that horrible man's car after he ran over my poor Muffy?”

"Actually, that's exactly what we're talking about," Sam confirmed as he stepped over the threshold ahead of Dean. "Pretty just punishment, don't you think? We're also looking into similar occurrences, like that man who had a heart attack right after his wife caught him cheating."

"Yes, I heard about that. Some people say Karma's a bitch, but I prefer to think of it as... discerning." Charles led them into the living room, waving them toward the couch.

"Discerning, how?" Dean asked, sitting down where Charles indicated. Glancing around the living room, he spotted several more candy wrappers, as well as an enormous bowl of fun-size candies sitting on the coffee table. He also caught sight of a dog bowl and a leash laying in one corner. The bowl had food in it. "Did you get another dog?" he asked, nodding towards the bowl.

Charles smiled, whistling. A small dog, some sort of terrier mix, came trotting into the room, tongue lolling. "This is Buffy. And Karma is discerning in that it teaches a lesson, delivers a punishment to fit a crime."

Sam raised an eyebrow. Muffy and Buffy? "That's interesting," he said curiously, drawing the trickster's attention back to him. "We haven't come across that view yet. I'll admit, the guy who ran over your dog having a tree fall on his car is well deserved, but can you really say the same for the man who had the heart attack?" He glanced at Dean. "Another one of the incidents we were looking at was a woman with a bee allergy who got stung after shouting at her daughter in the street. Did she deserve to almost die for that?"

Charles affected an affronted look. "Are you saying I had something to do with this?" he sniffed, his tone miffed as he stroked Buffy's fur. She felt incredibly well-formed, considering she'd once been a pancake on the road. "I would say that that man broke his wife's heart. And that woman's words stung much sharper than any bee's stinger could."

Dean eyed the dog warily. It looked suspiciously similar to the one that Riley ran over, and was seriously starting to give Dean the creeps. "Well, I suppose that makes sense," he said.

"Please don't get me wrong," Sam added with as warm a smile as he could manage. "I don't think you had anything to do with this at all—how could you? I was just wondering how you'd apply your theory to our other case studies. To help enrich our article." He looked to Dean for backup, and noticed the way Dean was looking at the dog. He stifled a snort while the trickster affected an offended expression. "My colleague has a thing about dogs," Sam explained, mainly for Dean's benefit. "He mistook one for a big, scary bear once and he's never been the same since."

Dean shot a glare at Sam. "I hate you," he muttered under his breath, scowling at Sam.

Oh, now wasn't that interesting. Charles had to stop himself from completely giving himself away by cackling gleefully and rubbing his hands together. Instead, he contented himself with a small smile. "Well, I always make it my policy to tell the truth, and the truth is this: Liars, cheats, killers, and maligners always get what they deserve."

Despite the distinct lack of gleeful cackling, Sam was still made to feel uncomfortable by the trickster's words. He stood up. "Well, we'll be sure to include your views on our article," he said with a smile, subtly herding Dean toward the door. "Thank you for your time and uh, sorry about your dog."

Dean shook his head slightly; his hearing was weird, and his tongue felt like someone had wrapped it in wool. "Yeah, we'll—uh—yeah," he stammered as he walked out of the house.

Charles waited until they were out of earshot before cackling.

***
Sam eyed Dean curiously as they drove back towards their motel. "You were strangely incoherent back there," he observed. "Everything okay?"

Dean meant to say, Never better, but what came out was, "No." His eyebrows shot up in surprise. "What the hell was that? I tried to lie, and then the truth came out! What the—dammit, it happened again!" Dean stared at Sam in horror. Oh God. Oh God. If Sam—No, Dean admonished himself. Don't invite trouble.

Sam's brain could not process this information, so he did the only logical thing: he smacked Dean's arm. "What do you mean, you tried to lie?" he demanded; "Don't lie to me!"—but then he realised the implications of Dean's statement. Oh dear. "Tell me the sky is green."

"The sky is gr—blue." Dean stared at Sam for another second before abruptly jerking his gaze back to the road, aware that he was approximately fifteen seconds from hyperventilating. Dean lied on a daily basis, from little white lies about how great the diner food was, to more major lies about how he was not checking out Sam's ass, or wondering if Sam would fuck him as hard as he'd fucked all of his other hook ups.

Sam's eyes widened. This was bad. And also kind of funny, but mostly bad. "Okay, so you can't lie," he said pointlessly, trying not to panic. "Obviously the trickster did something to you, although I don't see why he didn't do it to both of us. We both pretended to be something we weren't. Did you tell a particularly bad lie in front of him?"

"I didnt—" Dean coughed as something scratched his throat, apparently his next words: "I said I hated you. But I didn't mean it!"

Sam felt all of the blood in his veins freeze. Of course he knew that what Dean had said back there was said in jest, but... it had really been a lie? An out-and-out lie? Dean had told him numerous times that he didn't blame Sam for the shit that had gone down—shit Sam had caused—but there had always been a part of Sam that had thought, believed, known with unbreakable conviction that deep down, Dean despised him.

"Seriously?" Sam choked out on a laugh so fake it was plastic, after a moment of total silence that lasted just a few beats too long. "You don't?"

"Jesus, Sammy, how could I? Yeah, I hate the shit you've pulled, but I've never hated you. You're my little brother, and I love you, and Jesus Christ in a handbasket I need to find a way to filter this goddamn curse!" Dean smacked the steering wheel in frustration.

Sam blinked, and then looked away. There were tears pooling unbidden in his eyes and he couldn't let Dean see them because for all that he'd thought Dean hated him, he knew how Dean felt when he cried and his big brother was likely to cut out his own tongue rather than let it force a chick-flick moment on them. "Who knew?" Sam croaked out, and it sounded a little more flippant this time, a little more convincing. All the same, he changed the subject. "We should call Bobby."

"Yes, we most definitely should call Bobby," Dean said immediately. "We should also figure out how we're gonna get the drop on the Trickster; he knows who we are."

Bobby was out taking care of a job of his own, so he didn't answer when Dean called. Faced with a frustrated and, under his own admittance, panicking big brother, Sam pulled out his laptop and started to research. Half an hour later, he still had nothing, and Dean was climbing the walls. "Okay, I can't find a thing on tricksters from a reliable source," he admitted, but held up a hand when Dean looked ready to strangle him. "What I have found is something on curses. This is like a curse, right? So it says we have to kill whatever created the curse, and it'll be broken." It was a long shot, but right now it was the only shot they had.

Dean nodded. "Okay. I'm not sure it'll work, but right now I really wanna kill that smug bastard anyway," he admitted. He forced himself to take a deep breath, closing his eyes and sitting down on the bed, holding his head in his hands. He was really freaking out, because right now, he couldn't even lie to himself. Which was bad.

Sam gave Dean a sympathetic look. He knew his brother was freaking out, and he could understand why. Their whole lives were based on lies, including—although Sam didn't always like it—their relationship with each other. Having the ability to lie taken away from him must be making Dean feel very insecure, and Sam couldn't blame him for wanting this over and done with as soon as possible. 

He patted Dean's shoulder on his way to the door. "Come on. We have a stake to whittle."

***
They decided to go after the trickster that night. They'd managed to find a suitable hunk of the wood they needed, and had whittled two stakes; one for each Winchester. The stakes were nice and pointy, and Dean was really looking forward to ramming his into the trickster's heart. Currently, they were parked outside the trickster's house, sitting in the Impala. Dean took a deep breath, steeling himself to get out of the car and go stake a trickster. The only thing making him hesitate that it was a trickster who'd cursed him; what if the curse didn't break when they killed the trickster?

Sam knew what Dean was thinking, because he was thinking the same thing. He glanced at his brother. "We don't have to kill him," he suggested. "The guy knows who we are. If he's anything like Gabriel, he might be willing to make a deal. He removes the curse and we let him live?" Sam shrugged. "We can always kill him after."

Dean gnawed on his lower lip worriedly for a moment before shaking his head. "I don't think he'd be willing to negotiate. Our best bet is to kill him." Dean took a deep breath and then opened the door, getting out and carefully leading the way up to the house.

Sam unlocked the door, and Dean cautiously edged into the house, stake at the ready. It was late enough that the trickster was asleep, passed out on the couch in front of the flickering tv. The volume was lowered, but still enough to cover their footsteps. Dean exchanged a glance with Sam before quickly and efficiently staking the trickster. There was a sound like air being let out of a balloon, and Dean felt something... settle. "Oh shit," he breathed.

"What?" Sam demanded, his gaze flickering between Dean and the stake in his hand. It seemed to have done the job. "What is it?"

"It didn't work," Dean said. "Killing him didn't work; I still have to tell the truth." Dean could feel himself starting to panic, so he sank down into the nearest chair, forcing himself to take deep breaths.

Sam's eyes widened and he went over to Dean, resting a hand on his shoulder. "Are you sure? Tell me..." He cast his mind around for something Dean could lie about. "Tell me I have gorgeous hair."

Dean stared at him for a moment. "You have gorgeous hair," he gritted out, glaring at Sam. "I think I would know if I couldn't lie, Sam!"

Sam blinked. "You think I have gorgeous hair?" he asked incredulously, and then cracked up. "You think I have gorgeous hair! Are you jealous of my luscious locks, Dean?" He scrubbed his hand through Dean's much shorter hair, still laughing. "I bet you could grow this out; you could be a pretty, pretty princess!"

Dean glared at Sam. "Keep talking and I'm gonna start throwing punches," he snarled. "Look, we need to talk to Bobby now. If killing this bastard didn't work, then we need to figure out what will."

"Alright, alright." Sam backed off and held his hands up, his eyes still wet with mirth. "We'll talk to Bobby, before you embarrass yourself even more. Although I'm not sure how much worse it could get. Do I have a great ass too, Dean? Do I have, I don't know, eyes as deep as the ocean?" He was being an asshole, Sam was well aware, but he couldn't help it. It was either this, or stop and think way too much into what the fact that Dean liked his hair might mean—and that wouldn't be healthy for either of them.

Yes you do, Dean thought, but luckily he managed to bite it back before it could come out of his mouth. He settled for glaring at Sam again. "Let's just get out of here and call Bobby."

Bobby, when he finally answered the phone, laughed. And laughed. And then laughed some more. When he was done, he asked Sam to put Dean on the phone so that he could laugh at him as well. Dean gave the phone back to Sam.

By the time they hung up, Sam was red-faced with shame and embarrassment, and he had a list, which he passed to Dean. "In case you hadn't got the memo, Bobby thinks we're idiots," he sighed. "We should have asked the trickster to reverse the curse, because now he's dead, we have to do a spell to remove it. A spell which requires very specific ingredients."

Dean snatched the list out of Sam's hand, scowling as he read it. "Blood of a shifter, scale from a hydra, a Nereid's tear, and the ashes of the purest of children?" he read aloud, his eyebrows rising higher with every item. "Blood from a shifter, okay. And the purest child, I'm guessing a stillborn child? But how the hell are we going to get a hydra scale and a Nereid's tear?"

Sam shrugged helplessly. "Beats me," he said. "Bobby said he might know someone who can help, but it's gonna take him a few days to contact him. We can start tracking down the easier stuff though."

Dean nodded. "C'mon, I bet we can find the shifter and stillborn child if we go look through some news articles. But for now, I want some alcohol." So saying, he got up and walked out to the Impala, waiting until Sam had gotten in before turning the key and pulling away from the curb.

Half an hour later, they were sat at a sticky table in a stickier bar. Sam was nursing his second beer; Dean was on the hard stuff, and Sam had lost count of how many times he'd gone back to see the bartender. He was too busy watching the girl a few tables over, who had been mentally undressing Dean since they'd walked in. Sam burned with jealousy—not only because Dean was highly likely to go home with her if he noticed her attentions, but because she got to look. Sam would never get to look at Dean with such hunger in his eyes, and as irrational as it was, he kind of hated her for it.

Dean was busy getting another shot when the girl walked up to him. She was all legs, ass, and tits, with artfully rumpled blonde hair. She had the air of a determined woman about her. Dean eyed her for a second before turning back to his shot. "Not interested," he said shortly before walking back over to their table.

"C'mon, sweetheart, I can make it worth your while," she purred, laying a hand on his upper arm.

Dean very carefully set his glass down on the table, picked up her arm by the wrist, and said slowly and clearly, "Honey, I would rather go home with him than with you.”

Sam snorted, and watched gleefully as the girl turned and walked away, clearly disgusted by the rejection. "Dude, that was harsh," he laughed when she was seated back at her table, trying not to think about the implications of Dean's words. That wasn't what he meant. "Since when do you turn down a chick who looks like that?"

"Since I can't lie about who I'd rather spend the night with," Dean retorted, ignoring the glares the girl was still shooting at him. He settled for knocking back his drink and determinedly not checking out Sam. "At least with you I don't have to make up some excuse for getting away in the morning."

Sam smirked around his beer bottle. "I guess it'd be difficult to make up any kind of excuse other than, 'I have to go kill some monsters with my kid brother'. Kind of a mood-killer, even if you are about to walk out of the door. You want another?" Sam drained his beer and stood up to go to the bar, giving the girl Dean had just rejected a smug smirk on his way past. Maybe this truth spell thing wasn't so bad, after all

Dean finished off his drink, and waited for Sam to finish his, and then they headed back to the motel. Dean claimed first shower as usual, and then once he came back out, he paused, eyeing the bed warily. "Do you—?" he asked, gesturing vaguely in the direction of the bed.

"What?" Sam asked, rifling through his duffel for his razor. "Just get into bed, Dean. I'll be with you in a bit."

Dean let out a quiet sigh, and quickly slipped into a pair of shorts before sliding under the covers. He stayed on his side, unusually quiet as he contemplated what this curse was going to do to him. If Sam kept asking him questions like earlier, Dean was either going to have to get really good at twisting the truth, or suck it up and admit why he thought Sam had such a great ass.

Sam showered and shaved as quickly as possible, following the instinct that told him he wouldn't have time in the morning, not if they were going to start chasing down these ingredients. Dean was definitely eager to get started, and while Sam couldn't blame him, he wasn't as enthusiastic about the whole thing. Sure, being unable to lie was a huge problem in the normal world, let alone in the life they led, but Sam saw this as an opportunity to get some answers. Not that they would be answers he liked, but at least they'd be honest ones.

Tonight, however, was not the time for that. Sam emerged from the bathroom in his usual nightwear and was surprised when he didn't have to nudge Dean out of the way to get into bed. He showed his appreciation by not shoving his freezing feet against Dean's leg, and turned out the light.

Dean woke up in the middle of the night wrapped around Sam, their legs entwined and their arms around each other. Dean slowly let out a breath and eased closer, tucking his head up under Sam's chin before drifting back to sleep, his only thought that he wished they could sleep like this every night.

The next morning saw them both in the car, heading to the next town over. With Sam's 'awesome' hacking skills, it hadn't been difficult to find hospital records detailing stillborn children, and Sam had gone back as far as he could so that they wouldn't be disturbing the resting place of a child anyone would remember. It was a pretty simple task, but it still ticked one of the items off of their list, so they weren't going to look down their noses at it.

They hadn't really spoken all morning, and it was making Sam edgy. He'd woken up at around the same time as Dean, and they'd been pressed so close together, right in the middle of that huge bed, that there had been barely a breath between them. They'd looked at each other for a moment, cross-eyed due to their proximity, and then sprung apart, each brother simultaneously diving for opposite edges of the bed. Sam had been gracious enough to let Dean use the bathroom first and then go out to buy breakfast in the hope that he would get over Sam's apparent need to spoon in the middle of the night by the time he got back, but it didn't appear to have worked.

At a loss, Sam leaned his head against the passenger window and tried to brood over the sound of Metallica blasting through the speakers. He had to be more careful.

Dean couldn't believe he'd gotten caught clinging to Sam in the night, like this wasn't already embarrassing enough. He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, sneaking surreptitious glances at Sam, for several miles before he finally reached over and turned the volume down. "I'm sorry," he said.

Sam turned to look at Dean so fast his neck cracked. Had Dean just apologised? He never did that without life-or-death situations, or the involvement of some seriously strong magic. Well, Sam supposed, they had that in spades. "For what?" he asked, incredulous.

Dean shrugged one shoulder. "For last night. I shouldn't have, y'know." Because it's crossing the line, even for us.

Sam fought the urge to laugh. Dean was blaming himself for this? It was ludicrous—Sam was the one who should be apologising, but he couldn't; it would give too much away. "Don't worry about it," he said weakly after a moment's hesitation. "It's not a big deal."

Dean held his tongue to keep from giving away why it was such a big deal. "Let's just get these ingredients," he ended up muttering. They were only a few miles from the graveyard, and once they were there, Dean cut the engine and got out, going around to the trunk and pulling out the shovels, tossing one to Sam. "C'mon, let's go burn a baby."

Sam pulled a face. "Do you have to remind me what we're here for?" he asked as he led the way into the cemetery. "It's depressing." Thanks to the church's records, he had a pretty good idea where the grave was, and soon they were stood at the foot of a weathered headstone, the engraving barely readable.

Here lies Harriet and Gretta Mason

The date was long gone but Sam knew they'd died in the late 1800s, both mother and daughter. He nodded to Dean and dug his shovel into the ground.

Dean helped Sam dig. There were two caskets, one for the child—who, according to the records, had been a stillborn—and one for the mother, who had died from blood loss. They broke the casket for the child, and Dean grimaced as they looked down on the tiny body. "C'mon. Let's go ahead and do this."

Sam really didn't like this, but it was necessary. He pulled the bottle of gasoline out of his pocket and doused the bones, and then passed a lighter to Dean. "Should we salt them, too?" he asked uncertainly.

Dean considered the idea for a moment before nodding. "Yeah, can't hurt. Salt's a purifying agent. This kid's already supposed to be pure, but salting it won't hurt." He poured salt over the tiny body, and then lit his lighter, dropping it onto the bones. They caught fire, and Dean watched it morosely. Why couldn't he have just listened to that little nagging voice before they staked the trickster?  Here they were, desecrating yet another grave—except this one hadn't done anything. Hadn't even had the chance to do anything.

Sam was thinking along the same lines, uncomfortable with burning the remains of a child so completely innocent, but he'd rather do this than face the long-term consequences of the trickster's curse. Still, they waited for the fire to burn out in respectful silence, and then Sam knelt to scoop some of the ashes into a bag, mentally thanking Gretta Mason for her help, as unwilling as it was. "Okay," he sighed, straightening up and pocketing the ashes. "Let's put everything back and get going."

Once they had everything packed up and they were back in the Impala, Dean asked, "So, we're after the shifter next, right?"

Sam checked his list, even though he didn't need to. "Yeah, the blood of one," he confirmed. "Don't suppose it matters if we take the blood after we kill it."

"Don't suppose it does," Dean agreed, turning the volume up on the radio.

When they finally stopped for the night, Dean went in to register them for a room, but when he came out, he was scowling. "Only had a king," he grumbled.

"Again?" Sam demanded, disbelieving. God, he was so screwed. They might only be here for one night, but after last night even that was too risky. "Great." He grabbed his bag out of the trunk and trudged off toward the room Dean indicated, trying to look pissed off instead of nervous.

Dean was quiet as they started unloading their stuff. "I can sleep in the Impala," he said finally. "Since—" He cut himself off; no need in making Sam feel any worse than he already did. "I'll just sleep out there." He couldn't even lie while joking, couldn't tell Sam he'd rather sleep in the Impala, because he didn't want to sleep out there, he wanted to sleep with Sam, wanted to wake up in the middle of the night with them curled around each other.

Sam closed his eyes. "No. Dean, you don't have to do that," he sighed, feeling like the world's biggest jerk. "I don't mind sharing. If you do, I'll take the floor."

"I don't," Dean said before he could stop himself. He felt himself flush slightly, so he made some excuse and ducked into the bathroom, stepping into the shower quickly and turning the water as cold as it could go. That had been close.

Sam managed to keep himself from groaning until after he heard the shower come on. Dean clearly felt uncomfortable around him, either because there was a truth he didn't want Sam to find out or because he knew Sam was acting weird. It was probably a combination of both, but the latter was definitely the most prominent just now. Sam sat down on the edge of the bed and ran his hand through his hair. He needed to get his shit together before Dean worked out why.

Dean came out of the shower freezing but clear-headed. Sam was clearly uncomfortable around Dean; but then again, he had plenty of reason to be. Dean hadn't exactly been Mr. Friendly, especially since all the shit with Ruby. And it didn't help matters that he apparently became a clinging octopus in his sleep.

"All yours, Sammy," he said, moving to his bag and quickly snagging a pair of boxers and some pants, waiting until Sam had disappeared into the bathroom before dropping his towel and changing. Dean crawled under the covers, shivering slightly.

Sam took the opposite approach, turning the water on as hot as he could stand it and then jerking off as quietly as possible. He felt loose and relaxed when he returned to the main room, and ready to face whatever Dean's problem was head-on. Instead of getting into bed, he sat down on the edge of the mattress and twisted to face his brother. "Is there anything we need to talk about?" he asked, biting his lip.

Yes, Dean thought. He may be forced to tell the truth, but that didn't mean he had to say it out loud. Instead, he stubbornly kept his mouth shut, looking everywhere but Sam. Eventually, however, he said, "I'm cold. You gettin in or what?"

Sam sighed. Maybe this wasn't the right time. Whatever was eating Dean was bigger than he'd thought, and Sam probably wouldn't like it when he found out what it was. The thought made his stomach churn and he climbed into bed and turned the light out without saying another word. He didn't sleep for several hours.

Just like yesterday morning, when Dean woke up he found that he was pressed tightly up against Sam, the two of them clinging to each other in sleep in a way that they hadn't since they'd both insisted on separate beds when they were younger. Dean froze, holding his breath for a second before letting it out, praying that Sam would stay asleep for a little longer so that Dean could get as much comfort out of this as he could.

Dean tensing up in his arms caused Sam to stir. His eyes fluttered only briefly before he gave a soft sigh of contentment and shifted closer, eager to burrow back into his brother's hold. This time it was Sam who tucked his head beneath Dean's chin and, feeling safer and warmer than he had since he was a child, he let sleep reclaim him.

Dean cautiously let himself relax, adjusting his grip on Sam so that it was more secure. "I got you," he murmured, pressing a kiss to the top of Sam's head. "I got you."

***
When Sam next woke up, he was alone—but before he could panic or wonder if he'd done something to embarrass himself last night, he heard Dean opening the door to their room. He breathed out a sigh of relief and sat up, trying to decide if the memory of his big brother's arms around him had been a dream or not. "Hey," he mumbled, and gave Dean a little wave. "Is that coffee?"

Dean grinned and nodded. "Yup," he said cheerfully, handing over Sam's cup. "You sleep well?" He let his eyes briefly travel over Sam's sleepy form, snapping his eyes back to Sam's face when it slipped dangerously low.

Sam delayed his answer in favour of bringing the coffee cup to his lips, and moaned in appreciation. "Yup," he confirmed after a moment and then, too tired to censor himself, added; "Better than usual, actually. Did you?"

"Yeah," Dean answered, figuring there was no harm in letting himself reply. He moved over to poke the laptop with a finger. "You find anything on nearby shifters?"

Sam rolled his eyes. "I'm sorry, did I not only just wake up?" He set his coffee down on the nightstand and pulled the laptop toward him. "It wouldn't kill you to do some research of your own, you know."

"Considering every time I go near it, it starts acting funny and you automatically blame me, I'm not exactly chomping at the bit to do more research." Dean gave a small shudder, moving to the tv and flicking through it to find the movies.

Sam wasn't impressed. "There's such a thing as a library, you know," he said archly, but he was already tapping away at the keys, doing the work Dean needed him to. He was just better at this stuff, and they both knew it. "Besides, if you'd keep off the trashy porn sites every time you go near it, it wouldn't start acting funny. You've given my laptop so many viruses from Busty Asian Beauties it's a wonder I can still make it work."

"How could I not know; I'm the one that drives you to one on almost every job," Dean retorted, watching over Sam's shoulder. "And a man has needs, Sammy. When he can't get someone else to fill them, he has to make due."

Sam snorted. That was ridiculous. "Since when can't you get someone to 'fulfill your needs', Dean?" he asked, amused and only slightly bitter. "You just have to walk into a bar and you have girls drooling all over you."

"Don't want a girl," Dean said absently. "Hey, that looks promising." He pointed to a forum post about people who'd go missing, only to show up a few days later, acting extremely weird.

Sam froze. A part of him ached to know what that meant, but the rest of him didn't dare to ask—so he let it go for now and allowed Dean to divert his attention toward the laptop. It soon became apparent that these people who were acting strangely were also killing their families, and that told Sam all he needed to know. "It's a few hours' drive from here," he mumbled, pulling up the location on Google Maps. "Breakfast first?"

Dean nodded. "Breakfast," he agreed, packing up his stuff and nabbing the keys to the Impala. They stopped by a diner, and Dean scowled into his coffee when the busty waitress wouldn't take a hint and leave them alone. He had no desire to do any flirting, not with a curse on his head that would be tripping him up every step of the way, and definitely not with anyone who wasn't Sam.

Sam watched with curiosity as his brother openly snubbed the waitress, and actually felt quite sorry for her when she finally moved away, looking peeved. He kicked Dean under the table. "Dude, you don't have to be rude," he hissed, torn between amused and gleeful and disapproving. "It wouldn't kill you to be polite, I'm assuming." Normally, Sam was happy when Dean turned down a girl, but it didn't happen very often. This was getting weird.

Dean glared at Sam. "Yes, I had to be. She wouldn't take a hint." He didn't say anything about why he'd snubbed the waitress; Dean needed Sam's help to get rid of this stupid curse. He didn't need Sam freaking out because Dean would rather flirt with him than some woman.

After breakfast, they bundled back into the Impala and headed for the Interstate and the next town. "So," Dean said, glancing over at Sam before returning his gaze to the road, "when did the killings start?"

"About six months back," Sam answered automatically. "Killings are taking place every couple of months. Trying not to let a pattern emerge, probably, but it's not being very discrete. I'm guessing the shifter picks its next victims and stays with the family for a month or so before killing them."

Dean hummed thoughtfully. "Sounds logical. All right then. Any idea who the next family is?"

Sam shrugged. "No idea. Whenever someone goes missing, they're not gone long enough for a missing person's report to be taken very seriously, so there's no record of it. We'll just have to ask at the local police station for anyone who's disappeared recently only to turn up a few days later."

Dean nodded. "Hate flying blind," he muttered.

When they got to the town, Dean glanced over at Sam. "Your turn to get us checked in," he said. "Maybe you'll have better luck than me."

Sam did indeed fair better than Dean, but he wasn't sure if he should call it luck or not. He walked out of the motel office just as Dean was getting the bags out of the car, and tossed a key to him. "Room 109," he said, jerking his head in the direction of their room. "Two queens."

Dean swallowed down his disappointment, nodding and snatching the key out of the air. He unlocked the room door and dumped his stuff onto his bed. He glanced at the clock on the wall; it read 1:21PM. "Well, we've got time to go talk to the police."

Sam nodded in agreement. "Be my guest. I'm gonna hit the library and see if I can figure out where we're going next."

"All right," Dean said, ignoring the stab of disappointment that Sam wasn't going with him; it did make sense for them to split up.

He met up with Sam in the library later, handing over a file and ignoring the interested look the librarian gave him. "Monica Stayes. Contrary to her name, she didn't stay; she vanished for almost a week about a month ago. Showed up, but she's been acting weird. The sheriff knows the family, says that Monica's husband has been talking, speculating."

"Speculating about what?" Sam snorted, not looking up from the tome in front of him. It turned out that hydras were fascinating, but they were tricky bastards. "Was she abducted by aliens? Or does he think she's been murdered and replaced by a murdering monster that can change its face?"

“He thinks she's cheating," Dean snorted, amused. "He says she sucks at lying—the sheriff said so, too—so he's sure she's cheating on him, because he says she never sleeps in their bed, and has snuck out several times since she came back."

Sam hummed consideringly. "I wonder what she's doing," he mumured, and then thought better of it. "Actually, no I don't. Can we kill her before we find out, please?"

Dean nodded. "I'm up for that," he agreed, his mouth still open to say something else, but it was interrupted by the woman next to him.

"Excuse me, but, I was wondering... My name is Erica, and I was wondering if maybe you'd like to get some coffee later?" It was the librarian, and the way she spoke, so shy, almost made Dean physically hurt, because he had to let her down.

"I'm sorry," he said, smiling regretfully. "I've already got plans."

"Oh, okay, I understand, of course," she stammered out, blushing as she turned away.

Dean wanted to punch something. Preferably himself. Any other time, he would've been glad to at least go get some coffee and chat for a little bit before making it clear that he wasn't looking for anything long-term. Thanks to this stupid curse, however, he couldn’t even do that.

Sam sighed, watching the girl walk away. Beside him, Dean was practically radiating frustration, and since there was no way he was going to work it off with his little brother, Sam felt the need to give him a push in the other, less-favourable direction. "We've got time, you know," he offered tentatively. "If you want to go out with her. I know we said we'd deal with this quickly but that doesn't have to mean right now." He gestured to the book he'd been reading from. "I could do some more research on hydras. It wouldn't be wasted time."

Dean scrubbed his hands over his face. "I can't, Sammy. I can't go out with her, or anyone, not when I—It's impossible. She seems like a nice girl; any other time I would go get coffee with her, if only to be nice, and spend some time pretending I'm just a normal guy who can have a normal relationship. But I'm not, and thanks to that trickster and my stupidity, I can't even pretend anymore."

Sam felt terrible. As a child, he'd been the one to push for 'normal'—homes, jobs, relationships, lives—but of course that was something Dean wanted too, and ever since he'd gone to Stanford all he'd done was take that away from Dean, over and over again. He'd destroyed their own personal brand of normal with the demon blood, and then he'd destroyed Dean's one chance at actual normal when his soulless self had made an appearance. Sure, Sam couldn't actually remember that last one, but he still felt guilty for it. He'd died with the hope that Dean would get the chance to live a good, happy, safe life with someone he loved—and he hadn't even been able to get that right.

"I'm sorry," Sam mumbled softly, and returned his attention to his book. Dean would never know how sorry.

Dean's gaze snapped to Sam. "What for? Did you make that damned demon kill Mom? And don't give me that bull about him wanting to feed you demon blood—it was all on him, the decision to kill Mom. And you didn't make him kill Jess, either. You didn't make Dad go off the rails, you aren't to blame for anything. I used to think normal would be nice, but Lord knows I've gotten enough tastes of it—thanks to that djinn, and Zachariah, and after you jumped into the Pit—to know that it's not me. You aren't to blame for that, Sam. I decided that for myself. I would probably have left Lisa and Ben soon, anyway; soon as the first hint of supernatural stuff came close enough. And Lisa's a good gal; she wouldn't have stood for me splitting my time, because hunting's not a job, it's a life. She would have made me choose, and I wouldn't have chosen her."

Sam stared at Dean for a long moment, utterly speechless. It didn't seem possible, but it was true. Everything that Dean had just said, he believed to be true. The notion was completely insane, but Sam couldn't deny it. Dean didn't blame him for anything—at least not right now.

Suddenly a lot of things made sense. Dean didn't blame him now. He had blamed him before, and he would blame him again. But right now, Dean felt that Sam was innocent in all that had gone wrong with their lives. Sam himself knew that wasn't true, and somewhere deep down Dean knew that, too; Dean thought that Sam was a monster, someone who couldn't be trusted and needed to be put down. But right now, for whatever reason, Dean was in a good enough mood to let Sam off the hook and mean it, and that was good enough for Sam. It was more than he deserved.

At a total loss as to what to say, Sam smiled tentatively at his brother, and closed his book. "Well then you're insane," he observed, hoping that Dean would ignore the slight tremor to his voice. "You deserve a normal life, Dean. You deserve to be happy." That said, Sam stood up and disappeared into the stacks to replace his book. Conversation closed.

Dean growled under his breath and followed Sam, finally tracking him down and laying a hand on his shoulder, turning him to look Dean in the eye. "Sam, if any of us got what we deserve, I'd be dead and you'd be married to Jess, living a white-picket-fence-and-apple-pie life and not worrying about your insane family," Dean said bluntly. He took a deep breath, then said, "I'm going out. Don't bother waiting up for me tonight."

After he left the library, Dean just wandered around town until dusk, then he found the nearest bar, sat down on one of the stools, and told the bartender he wanted to forget everything.

He drank until he could barely stand, then he wobbled his way out and to the Impala, curling up in the backseat with the doors locked.

Sam did wait up for Dean, doing research to pass the time and distract him from the worry gnawing at his gut—worry that only got worse as time wore on. He eventually passed out around 4am, and when he woke up Dean's bed hadn't been slept in.  Damn it.

Logically, Sam knew that Dean was safe. He may have gone home with some chick, or he may have crashed in his car, but he wasn't in danger. Dean wasn't that stupid. But there was a shifter on the loose, and the Winchesters were well-known to most creatures. The possibility, however unlikely, that Dean had been spotted by the shifter and had been taken, was enough to get Sam moving. He dressed quickly and left the motel room, heading in the direction of the closest bar.

Dean, as always, was a predictable bastard. The Impala was parked outside the bar, and Dean was passed out on the backseat. That he'd gotten so wasted that he couldn't drive concerned Sam—what was he thinking?—but he couldn't dwell on that right now. He knocked on the window. "Dean? Come on, man, wake up and unlock the doors."

Dean jumped and knocked his head against the door. He glared up at Sam and rubbed the back of his head. He flipped over on his side, muttering under his breath, "Dun wanna. Dun wanna talk to you; whole damn reason I got wasted." He threw one arm over his head, grumbling.

Sam sighed and knocked again. "Come on, Dean! I need you to unlock the doors so I can drive you back to the motel and you can sleep it off someplace that's actually comfortable," he persisted, annoyed. Sam wasn't the only one who could be a little bitch sometimes.

Dean lifted his hand enough to flip Sam off. "'S comfortable," he said, just loudly enough for Sam to hear. "Go research, nerd."

Sam felt a desperate urge to punch something, but Dean wasn't going to unlock the car anytime soon and the lamppost beside him would hurt a lot more than his brother's face. It would seem that he had no choice. He huffed, frustrated, and banged once more on the Impala's window before turning and walking away.

There wasn't any research to be done, because Sam had done it all. After waiting in the motel room for another two hours, it became apparent that Dean was not going to return, and Sam decided to take matters into his own hands. The longer they delayed dealing with the shifter because of Dean's melodrama, the longer Monica Stayes' family was at risk. Half an hour later, Sam had donned his best suit and was heading into town to do some investigating of his own.

It was going dark by the time he got back. The Impala hadn't returned to the motel parking lot and Sam's heart sank when he realised it. He stumbled into the room and kicked the door shut, the movement making him wince as it pulled at his sore muscles. For all that the shifter had decided to take the form of a five foot tall woman, it had been strong and more than capable of putting up a fight. Sam thought that his shoulder might be dislocated, but he wasn't thinking about that just yet. Instead, he threw his weapons onto the table, toed off his shoes and collapsed face-first onto his bed with a muffled groan.

By the time Dean felt fit to drive, it was dark. He winced at the sound of the door shutting behind him as he moved from the backseat to the front. Carefully, Dean drove back to the motel room, using his key to unlock the door and lock it behind him. He edged past Sam's comatose form, disappearing into the bathroom to take a cold—cold—shower.

Sam didn't wake up until Dean came out of the bathroom, the light spilling across his face when the door opened enough to rouse him. "Ohh..." he moaned, and turned his head away. God, he was in agony. He really should have fixed his shoulder before passing out, and he was pretty sure that his shirt had stuck to the slice in his side from when the shifter had turned his blade against him.

Through the fog pain clouding his mind, it took a moment for him to register Dean's presence. Sam cracked an eye open and watched the shadows move on the wall in front of him as his brother got dressed with mild trepidation. The relief that Dean had returned was surpassed only by the knowledge that he was going to freak when he found out what Sam had done. Deciding that he wouldn't have to deal with it if he was unconscious, Sam closed his eyes again and tried to go back to sleep.

Dean finished getting dressed, and then moved over to sit on the edge of Sam's bed. He reached out to shake Sam's shoulder gently. "Sammy, how—holy fuck what the hell happened to you?!" Dean leapt up, clicking on more lights so he could see better, and he gaped at the tears in Sam's shirt, and the bruises blossoming over his skin.

Dean stilled as a thought hit him. "Sam. You went after the shifter alone, didn't you?" he asked, his voice quiet, tight.

"Yes," Sam mumbled into the pillow, his voice strained. Dean would pick his bad shoulder to try to pull off. "Because you were being an asshole and someone had to deal with it. It's dead, and the family's fine, so don't worry."

Dean gritted his teeth and stalked over to get the first aid kit, then stalked—barely refraining from stomping—back over to the bed. "Off," he commanded, helping Sam out of his shirt. He was gentle, even if he felt like shaking Sam until his teeth rattled. "I know I was being a jackass," he said, starting to clean the wounds, "and I know this needed to be done. However, that does not excuse you going after the monster alone, Sam! Did you even think about what it would do to me—and what I would do—if I came out of that goddamn hangover and found out you were dead because I couldn't pull my head out of my ass long enough to help you, or at least convince you to wait?" Dean grabbed some disinfectant and bandages and began applying them to the lesser scrapes. "Probably not. I would've gone off the deep end, Sam. I can't—and wouldn't, even if I could—live with you dead. And since I doubt there's any demon willing to make a deal with me now, that only leaves two options, but they both lead to the same ending." Dean started stitching up the gaping slash wound in Sam's side as he fell quiet, unable to continue that train of thought; it had almost become a reality when Dean was with Ben and Lisa. But Dean meant it—he wasn't going to live without Sam. And if he couldn't bring Sam back, then he'd join him, one way or the other.

Sam hadn't spoken during Dean's tirade; he'd kept silent, letting the words wash over him. You'd have managed, he wanted to argue, You did it before, and you could do it again—but he couldn't. Whether he liked it or not, what Dean was saying was true. Dean didn't know how to function when he wasn't looking out for his screw-up little brother, and whose fault was that?

"It was just a shifter," he said softly after a moment, but the offering was weak and they both knew it. "I knew I could handle it or I wouldn't have gone alone. It looks bad, but—" He hissed as Dean stabbed his needle through a patch of particularly sensitive skin. "—I'm okay. I swear."

Dean was silent as he finished sewing Sam up, and he didn't speak while he packed away the first aid kit. Finally, Dean said quietly, "You're my brother. You're my brother, and I love you, and you piss me off to unbelievable levels sometimes, but I will always look out for, and after, you."

"I know," Sam sighed, and wished that that wasn't the problem. "I know, Dean."

Dean studied Sam for a moment before deciding that further arguing wouldn’t get them anywhere. "Did you at least get the blood?" he asked finally.

"Yeah," Sam said, perking up. "Just—C'mere." He gestured Dean closer so that he could lean on him while he twisted, careful not to pull his stitches while he dug into the pocket of his pants. It took a ridiculous amount of effort, but at last he pulled out a small vial full of thick red liquid. He gave it to Dean. "Not totally useless, you know."

Dean felt his lips quirk as he absently patted Sam on the hip before pulling away to tuck the vial into the bag with the ashes. "Well. Which are we going after next: the hydra or the Nereid?"

Sam considered the question. His research last night had brought up information on both creatures that he should be able to narrow down their potential locations, but the hydra remained illusive. "The Nereid," he answered after a moment. "I think there's a group of them active not far from here. A lot of tourists seem to be getting very lucky when they go scuba diving."

Dean pulled a face. "Nereids are water nymphs, right?" he asked, his tone just this side of disgusted. "Great."

Sam shrugged. "They're not that bad. Mostly they just have a lot of sex. Which, I would have thought, is right up your alley."

"Has it escaped your notice that I am unable to lie?" Dean asked dryly. "Can't really seduce someone supernatural by telling them I'm a hunter."

"They'll seduce you," Sam responded automatically, a slight edge to his voice. "You just need to keep your mouth shut. And maybe tickle her until she cries. I don't know."

Dean fought down the impulse to snarl at Sam. "That will not end well," he forced himself to say as calmly as possible. "Trust me."

Sam rolled his eyes. "Whatever. Could you just pop my shoulder back into place so we can get some sleep? We've got a long day tomorrow."

"Fine." Dean didn't give Sam any time to brace, just snapped the shoulder back into place. He smirked at Sam's pained yelp, getting up and moving back to his bed. "Night, Sammy."

"You're a bastard," Sam snarled through teeth still clenched in pain. He kicked out of his pants and crawled into bed, grumbling all the while—"There'd better be coffee when I wake up in the morning"—before getting settled. Only then did he concede a grudging, "Goodnight, Dean," before closing his eyes.

***

Dean wasn't a completely heartless bastard—but he was still pissed at Sam for going off alone after the shifter. So, yes, there was coffee, but only for Dean. Sam just got some green tea. After Sam got done bitching about that fact, they packed up and headed out, driving for the west coast.

Sam knew he shouldn't have gone off to deal with that shifter without Dean, but that didn't mean he wasn't pissed off. Dean hardly ever went on a bender in the middle of a job, and this time he'd acted like a complete asshole for no apparent reason to boot. Yeah, Sam knew he was a handful, and that it must be difficult for Dean to carefully choose his words so that he didn't let slip just how much of a burden his little brother was, but that didn't give him the right to just check out when innocent people needed his help.

Because both brothers were angry and stubborn, most of the journey passed in silence, save for the surprisingly low hum of the Metallica tape Dean was playing. It made Sam feel awkward, claustrophobic, and as they got closer to their destination, he couldn't help but silently agree with what Dean had said last night. Whatever was going to happen in this new town, it would not end well.

Once they got to the motel, Dean slammed the gearshift into park, getting out and going to the desk, grabbing the keys to the room that the woman handed over before returning to the Impala, driving around to the room and taking his stuff into the room. The two brothers didn't speak for the rest of the night.

The next day, they headed over to the coast and Poseidon Scuba Diving. Dean eyed the building warily. "You sure this is where the Nereids are?" he asked suspiciously.

Sam fought the urge to scoff. The first words Dean had spoken to him in almost two days and they questioned his reliability? Wonderful. "Yes, I'm sure," he snapped, the low-level irritation he'd felt since finding Dean passed out in his car spiking once more. "Have you seen the sign? Poseidon? Nereids are part of Greek mythology."

"Hi there, boys!" Sam turned to see a beautiful woman walking toward them, all bright smile and over-exposed cleavage. She had sleek red hair and was wearing next to nothing, and Sam thought bitterly that if anyone was going to get Dean's engine revving, it would be her. Predictably, it was Dean she chose to drape herself all over. "Couldn't help but notice that you were eyeing up my sign," she purred right into his ear. "You interested in diving, baby?"

"In a way," Dean hedged, smiling tightly down at the woman. He was finding it difficult to hide his disgust—and only part of it came from her being a supernatural creature. She was too... much. Everything about her just seemed overdone, especially when he had Sam standing next to him.

Or not, actually. As soon as the Nereid had come over, Sam had taken a noticeable-in-its-lack-of-subtlety step away from Dean and the woman. "So, diving. How deep you gals willing to go?" he inquired, doing his best to grin engagingly at her.

"As deep as you want me to," the woman answered, and Sam wondered vaguely if she would be able to make any sentence sound so filthy. He watched with mild interest and thinly-veiled annoyance as she reached up and patted Dean's cheek. "But you don't want to dive, do you? Skinny dipping's more your style, I think." Sam snorted—she had that right—but it went unnoticed. "My name's Marion. What do you say?"

"I say that sounds like a great idea." Just not with you. Damn. Dean was getting pretty decent at this hedging/hiding the truth thing. "You give private lessons?"

Marion grinned and gave Dean's arm a squeeze. Sam felt an irrational surge of jealousy; the only time he got to feel Dean's muscles was when he was stitching them back together. "You bet I do. How about you ditch your friend and come with me? I'll show you a great time." She fluttered her eyelashes and adopted a 'come fuck me' expression, and Sam had to look away.

Dean pretended to think it over, and then let a slow smirk slide over his face. "I bet you could," he agreed. But not as well as I could show Sam. As he followed Marion away, he lost the grin for a split second, just long enough to mouth, Be prepared, over his shoulder at Sam.

Sam followed along as inconspicuously as he could, but he thought he could well have announced his presence at the top of his lungs—the Nereid wasn't paying any attention to anyone but her latest conquest, already feeling Dean up in a way that made Sam's skin crawl as they walked. She led them beneath the pier, and Sam kept his distance while she lost the few items of clothing that she was wearing without preamble and pressed herself against Dean, wrapping her arms around his neck to kiss him slow and sensual. "Come on, baby," she murmured against Dean's lips, just loud enough for Sam to hear. "Let's see some skin."

Sam realised belatedly that they hadn't really thought this through. They needed a Nereid's tear, not any other fluid, and their lack of communication over the last few days meant that he had no idea what Dean's plan was. For all Sam knew, his brother was under the Nereid's spell, in which case he was about to watch the man he was in love with have sex with someone else.

Dean moved as if he was going to take off his shirt, but instead he slipped his hands into a pocket and pulled out a tube of sea salt mixed with mountain ash. Mountain ash was something like silver—worked on almost all supernatural creatures. The sea salt acted as the sea: something to tie the Nereid, specifically in place.

Dean wasn't quite sure how he managed to do it, but he managed to spread the mixture in a circle around the Nereid. "Gotcha," he murmured, stepping out of the circle.

Sam had to admit that he was impressed, but Marion looked scared. "A hunter?!" she cried, eyes wide. "We're not hurting anyone; we're just having some fun. You don't have to kill me!"

Dean shook his head. "We're not here to kill you; hell, I can't begrudge you having a bit of fun. What you do is pretty harmless, so we have no reason to kill you. Or any of your sisters." Since bodies of water weren't as plentiful as trees, Nereids and other water nymphs tended to travel in groups, so it was a pretty safe bet that there were others here, too.

"However, we do need something from you," Dean continued. "A tear."

"A tear?" Marion asked incredulously, apparently feeling safe enough in the knowledge that Dean wouldn't hurt her to to give him attitude. "I don't cry, sweetheart. In my line of work there isn't much place for it, if you know what I mean."

Dean shrugged. "Believe me, sweetheart, there's no place for tears in my line of work, either. However, we need it for a spell." He studied her for a second, debating whether or not to say anything else. "I was cursed. We need your tear to help break the curse."

Marion cocked her head to one side, considering. "What's the curse?"

Dean gritted his teeth. "Truth."

Marion smiled and folded her arms over her chest. "Well then," she purred, arching an eyebrow in challenge. "I guess you'd better tell me exactly why that's such a bad thing. And none of that bullshit about needing to lie so you can do your job; you won't get any sympathy from me on that front. If you want a tear, you'd better make my heart bleed."

Dean glanced back over his shoulder, but he didn't see Sam. Still, he stepped closer, until he was almost standing in the circle, and growled out, "I'm in love with my brother, and I can only keep it hidden for so long before he finds out. And if he found out, he'd leave again. For good, this time."

The Nereid stared at Dean for a few moments—and then she threw back her head and laughed. "You're what?!" she sputtered when she had the breath, and a tear of cruel mirth slid down her cheek. "Oh man, take it. Take it, you've earned it. You need it. If he ever finds out... Oh God, you are fucked!"

Dean snarled and pulled a small vial from his pocket, holding it up to her face to capture the tear. "Thanks," he gritted out. Then, because he was feeling spiteful, he turned and walked away. "The tide will wash that away," he called over his shoulder.

Sam had been hanging back, waiting for a sign that Dean was in trouble, so he hadn't heard what had passed between his brother and the Nereid. In all honesty, that had been the idea; he'd heard Dean have sex before, back when they were teenagers and Sam was still in the early stages of discovering exactly where his affections lay, and he had no intentions of repeating the experience now. As such, he was surprised when he saw Dean stalking away from the pier without Marion, looking mightily pissed off. Sam hurried to catch up and fell into step beside him. "Did you get it? Or did you get distracted?" he asked suspiciously. 

"I got it," he snarled, stalking back to the Impala and carefully storing the vial. "C'mon. What've you found about the hydra?"

"I don't—Nothing," Sam admitted, surprised by Dean's aggression, and then corrected himself. "Nothing substantial, anyway. I thought I'd work on it when we got back to the motel. What happened?"

Dean just growled again. "Nothing I want to talk about. You head on back to the room; I'm in the mood for a good old-fashioned bar brawl. I'll meet you there later tonight." He tossed Sam the keys and then walked off, forcing himself to take deep breaths. He needed to calm down; he wasn't going to do himself any favors if he didn't.

When Dean stumbled back into the room, it was close to midnight. He had bruises all over his body, a split lip, busted knuckles, and various other cuts from his body coming into extremely hard contact with various immobile surfaces. But at least he felt slightly more in control.

Sam had known at the time that it had been a bad idea to let Dean walk away, but he hadn't thought that it would be quite this bad. As soon as the motel door opened Sam was on his feet, and he managed to catch Dean just before he keeled over. "What the fuck?!" he demanded, caught between angry and concerned. He helped Dean over to the nearest bed and sat him down, flicking the light on so that he could inspect the damage. "What did you do?!"

Dean bared his teeth in what was supposed to be a grin. It looked a lot more frightening, though, given all the blood in his mouth. "Got into a brawl," he said cheerfully.

"I can see that, you stupid bastard," Sam growled, exasperated, and left Dean's side to find the first aid kit. A moment later he was knelt between Dean's legs and dabbing carefully at the cuts on his face. "What I'm asking is why you let them fuck you up this bad."

Dean scoffed. "Rather have my body beat to shit than my emotions." He scowled over Sam's shoulder, hissing a bit as Sam poked a little too hard.

"Oh, did that hurt?" Sam repeated the movement. "Good." He pulled back and dropped his cloth into Dean's lap. "I have had it up to here with your shit, man. Going on the mother of all benders last week, getting your ass kicked all over a bar this week? I know you've got some fucked up ways of dealing with your drama but this takes the fucking cake, Dean. This puts other people in danger. It scares me. So you'd better start talking, now."

"Oh, this scares you?" Dean snarled. "You want me to talk about what's going on? Want to know every single fucked up thing going on in your perverted older brother's mind? You really wanna know? Fine. I'll tell you, but don't say I didn't warn you." He shoved himself to his feet, ignoring the stabs and twinges of pain.

"The whole goddamn reason I've been acting so out-of-control is because of you. It's always because of you! Ever since you were fucking sixteen years old, man. I can't get you out of my fucking mind and it's driving me insane. You think I want to be in love with you? Want to see you every day, knowing you'll never be mine, that someday you'll leave, and most likely it'll probably be because of me? I don't! I don't want to watch those women look at you, wonder what you'd do in bed, and feel jealous that they stand a better chance of finding out than I ever will. I want to be able to clap you on the back, say 'good job' or 'go get her' and mean it, because is fucked up, even for us. But I can't help it and it's driving me insane, knowing that you'll never feel the same.

"I would rather go out and get my ass kicked every night, or even leave and not have you at all than go through this every night, go through having you right fucking there and fighting this." Dean's shoulders slumped and he pressed one fist to his eyes, swallowing convulsively and taking in deep breaths.

"I'm sorry," he said finally. "I should've kept my mouth shut."

By the time Dean finally shut up, Sam was crying. The tears rolling down his cheeks were hot enough to scald his skin, but he didn't feel them. All he felt was his heart breaking. "Dean..." he began after a long moment of silence, looking up at his brother with a lifetime's worth of pain etched onto his face. "The trickster did something else to you. That—that isn't true. It can't be."

"Oh, yeah, because it'd be the greatest joke ever, making a guy fall in love with his own brother, give him a whole goddamn fake history of that love?" Dean shook his head, wishing he'd kept his mouth shut, if only so Sam wouldn't be crying right now. "It's true, Sammy. I can't lie."

"No," Sam snapped, and as he scrubbed the tears from his cheeks and stood up to face his brother he was aware that he sounded like a petulant child, but he didn't care. "You're not in love with me, Dean. You might... You might think you are because of whatever brotherly obligations dad forced onto you, but you're not in love with me. I'm a fuck-up and I'm a burden and a disappointment. I almost ended the world, and when I went to hell to save it, I screwed that up, too. Christ, Dean, you don't love me. You hate me. You think I'm a monster!"

"How many times do I have to say 'I don't hate you' before you'll believe me?" Dean cried, growing frustrated. "And I never thought you were a monster, Sam."

"You liar!" Sam shouted back, and the tears came faster now as all reason left him behind. "You said as much! Why would you say it if you didn't think it?"

"When the hell did I ever say you were a monster?" Dean demanded, bewildered. He would remember if he'd said such a thing to Sam—yeah, he'd said some pretty bad shit before, but essentially putting Sam on the same level as the things they hunted? He would never.

Sam choked on a sob, and his knees buckled so hard he had to sit down. Dean couldn't lie. Whatever came out of his mouth was whatever he believed to be true. Which meant... Which meant that Dean had forgotten. He didn't remember the time he'd made Sam feel so fucking worthless, so beyond hope and help that he'd cracked Lilith's head open like a coconut and kickstarted the apocalypse. Not that Sam blamed Dean for that. As far as Sam was concerned, his actions that night just proved that Dean had been correct in what he'd said. Sam was scum. The worst creature on the planet. But apparently the realisation that his brother should be at the top of his 'To Kill' list hadn't been outstanding or disturbing enough for Dean to even remember telling Sam about it.

"Let me jog your memory," Sam croaked at last, fishing his cell out of his pocket. For something that had been saved two years ago on a completely different phone, he found the voicemail message easily, and hit play. Dean's voice rang out in the silence between them, slightly tinny but Dean's nonetheless. Sam looked down at the floor as he shook and sobbed silently, the way he did every time he listened to it—at least once a week, to remind himself.

"Listen to me, you bloodsucking freak. Dad always said I'd either have to save you or kill you. Well, I'm giving you fair warning. I'm done trying to save you. You're a monster, Sam—a vampire. You're not you anymore. And there's no going back."

Dean stared in horror at the phone. "Sam, I never sent that. Why the hell would I ever say that? You're my brother, for Christ's sake! When the—" At thought occurred to him, and he swallowed. "Sam. When did you get that message?"

"Right before I killed Lilith," Sam answered dully, not looking up. A recorded female voice asked if he wanted to save the message for another time, and as always, Sam said 'yes' before putting his phone back in his pocket. It didn't matter what Dean said, under a truth spell or not, Sam would never not believe the words in that message. Deep down, he'd believed them for a long time before they'd ever been spoken.

Dean gaped at Sam, aghast. "Sammy," he said, his voice hoarse. "I did leave you a message, while I was trapped in a goddamn room by Zachariah, but I never said that. I don't think that, Sam, don't feel it, don't believe it. You're my little brother, and, hell, you're a better man than I am. I don't know what happened to that message, but I'm willing to bet Zachariah fucked with it. You gotta believe me, Sam: I don't think you're a monster."

"No," Sam breathed, feeling utterly broken open and exposed. He just couldn't process this—and whether or not Dean had actually sent the message... "I am a monster. You know the things I've done. You can't love me. Not like—"Not like I love you.

"Oh, so just because you let yourself get drawn off the straight and narrow by a demon—who wouldn't even have been able to get to you if I hadn't sold my soul, and she was playing off of your desire to get me out of my deal—and make some mistakes means you're a monster?" Dean demanded, stepping forward to grab Sam's shoulders forcefully, barely resisting the urge to shake his brother. "What does that make me, Sam? I tortured souls in Hell for ten years. And I liked it. I broke the first seal, started everything off. Plus, there's also the whole being-in-love-with-my-younger-brother thing." Suddenly aware that Sam might not want Dean touching him, Dean let go of Sam's shoulders, backing up a step and folding his arms across his chest. "If you're a monster, then so am I."

Sam followed without even thinking, stepping right back into Dean's space, not to size up to him but because he wanted to be close. For the first time since they'd been kids, he thought he might be allowed to be close. "You're not a monster," he said softly, his eyes still wet as he stared down into Dean's. "You're my big brother. And I love you, you fucking idiot."

Dean swallowed, closing his eyes as he turned his head away. "Neither are you, Sammy. You're not a monster." It hurt to hear Sam say those three words, because Sam would never mean them the way Dean wished he would.

"No, you're not hearing me," Sam persisted, willing to put the argument about being monsters aside for now in the face of something which was far more urgent, far more important. If Dean didn't believe that Sam was evil, then he might really love him, in which case Sam needed to get his message across loud and clear, now. "Dean, I've been in love with you for so long. Don't pull away from me."

Dean shook his head, stepping back. "Don't mock the man who can't lie, Sam. It's not like you," he whispered, stepping back. "I hear you loud and clear, Sammy. And it's a fucking shitty thing for you to do, use this fucking curse against me."

Once again, Sam followed, backing Dean up until he was against the wall. "It's not like me," he agreed. "I would never do that to you. You've just said that I'm not a monster, right? I wouldn't be saying this if I didn't mean it. I love you. God, I've denied it for so long, hardly let myself think about it most of the time because I knew it would never happen. I'm not good enough for you, Dean; you deserve so much better. But it's true. I love you so much."

Dean shook his head again, more out of confusion than anything else. "You can't. Not me. Jesus, Sam, you think I deserve better than you? That's complete bullshit. You deserve better than me. I'm no one; just Dad's perfect little soldier," he said bitterly.

"You're the best big brother that anyone could ever ask for," Sam corrected gently. "You're strong and loyal and you're always there for me when I need you. You've been my entire world since I was a baby. I'd tell you that you're gorgeous too but I don't think I need to inflate your ego." The joke fell kind of flat, but Sam thought he saw Dean's mouth twitch. "I used to hate all your goddamn girlfriends. Still hate every chick you pick up. They can look at you and touch you exactly how I want to, and I wish you'd look at me the way you look at them. Like they're something you want..." Sam blew out a shaky breath and looked down, just for a second; when he met Dean's gaze again, he tried for a tentative smile. "So, if you do want me, I swear I'm yours for the taking."

Dean looked up into Sam's eyes desperately, searching. He let out a small, choked sob and lunged forward, pressing his lips to Sam's. His hands flew up to bury themselves in Sam's—ridiculous, amazing, stupid, soft—hair, gripping tightly, using his grip to pull Sam closer, arching up into the kiss, unable to do anything but murmur Sam's name over and over and kiss him desperately.

Sam stumbled back with a surprised moan, but he quickly got with the programme, his hands falling to Dean's waist to hold him closer as he kissed back. "I love you," he panted into Dean's mouth. "You hearin' me now? I love you."

Dean nodded, unable to pull away for longer than it took to say, "I hear you, I hear you." Then he was kissing Sam again, this time not quite as desperately, taking more time to explore and enjoy.

"God, Dean," Sam sighed, and relaxed into the new pace Dean was setting. It felt incredible to be able to do this, to take his time to learn Dean, the way he tasted, the way he used his tongue. There was nothing, Sam was quickly discovering, quite like kissing his brother. But then he licked at Dean's bottom lip and the tang of copper that he tasted had him pulling back, mumbling; "Dean, stop, we have to stop."

Dean whined in the back off his throat, but he could feel the pain from his injuries starting to creep back in once more. "Really starting to regret that fight, now," he muttered, pulling back but shifting his hands from Sam's hair to his upper arms. He studied Sam for a moment. "We're not going to pretend this never happened, are we?"

Sam smiled softly and touched Dean's face. "No," he promised. "Definitely not. But I need to fix you up, so sit down."

"Good," Dean nodded. He moved to sit on the bed, watching Sam as he patched up Dean's wounds. "Guess this is one time something good came of me getting my ass kicked."

Sam knelt between Dean's legs once more with a sigh, and picked up the cloth that had fallen earlier. "Don't say that," he snapped, his voice a little harsher than intended; his hand shook as he brought it up to the cut on Dean's left cheekbone. "This bullshit stops now. I get that this was a particularly stressful situation, but if that becomes your default way of dealing with things..." Sam shuddered. "It would have killed me to lose you before. Now? I—It's just not even an option."

Dean shook his head, reaching out to rub Sam's shoulder comfortingly. "I only did it because I didn't want to face you," he said quietly. "Didn't want—well, exactly what ended up happening to happen. I just thought it'd end a bit different."

Sam covered Dean's hand with his own and looked up into his bruised face. "When are you going to believe me when I tell you that I'm not leaving; that, whatever happens, I'm done running?" he asked, defeated. "Even if I didn't return your feelings, you're still my brother, and I'd still love you more than anything."

Dean shrugged. "Figured when you said you'd stay, you never took into account that I might have more-than-brotherly feelings for you. I just never thought you'd feel the same."

"That doesn't matter!" Sam insisted. "In the future, whatever you have to tell me, doesn't matter how bad you think I'll react, just tell me. The only thing that could make me leave is you telling me to go, and I don't want this." He gestured helplessly to Dean's face. "I never want this."

"I know," Dean said softly, leaning down to press a gentle kiss to Sam's forehead. "I know. I'm a dumbass, we established this long ago. I promise, though, I will talk to you. Or at least try to."

Somewhat mollified, Sam lifted his face up to capture Dean's lips in a soft, sweet kiss. When they broke apart, he was smiling. "Okay," he conceded, raising his cloth again. "Now shut your pretty mouth so I can stop it bleeding."

***
The next morning, Dean woke up feeling very warm, and vaguely sore. He was wrapped around Sam, but Sam was giving him a run for his money in clinginess. Dean chuckled softly, giving Sam a soft kiss on the top of the head. "Morning, Sammy," he murmured.

For a brief moment when he was waking, Sam froze, terrified that Dean had woken up first and caught him snuggling—but then everything came back to him, and he made a happy sound as he relaxed into Dean's arms. "G'morning," he mumbled back, pressing as close as he could. "I like this."

Dean chuckled softly again, then poked Sam in the side. "Cuddling's nice and all, but I need a shower." His grin turned into a leer as he wriggled out from under Sam. "Care to join?"

"Mmm." Sam looked up at that, peering blearily at Dean with obvious interest in his eyes. "I think I could manage that," he agreed, and crawled out of bed to follow Dean into the bathroom. 

Dean turned the water on, undressing himself before stepping under the spray, moaning happily. After a second he glanced over at Sam. "C'mere and do my back," he ordered, smirking.

Sam had taken a moment to just appreciate the site before him—Dean, naked and wet and glorious—but now he looked up, and smiled. "Whatever you say, man," he chuckled, slipping out of his sweats and climbing into the shower behind his brother. They were out of body wash, so Sam lathered up the bar of cheap motel soap between his hands and then, fucking finally, reached out to rub the suds into Dean's skin. 

Dean let out a soft groan at the feeling of Sam's hands on his skin. "Jesus, been waiting to feel this for forever," he muttered, leaning into Sam's touch. His back arched like a cat's as Sam worked his way down Dean's spine, but he jumped when Sam's fingers brushed his ribs. "Ticklish," he muttered, turning to scowl at Sam. The sight of Sam naked, with water running down his body, however, had Dean, Jr. taking notice. Dean let his eyes travel down Sam's body and back up, letting a slow smirk cross his lips as he drawled, "Well, you've got nothing to compensate for."

"Shut up," Sam chuckled as he advanced on Dean, crowding him up against the shower wall. He slid his soapy hands up Dean's chest to tweak at his nipples, and leaned in close enough that their breath mingled between them. Despite this display of bravado, there was still a slight waver to his voice—excitement? uncertainty?—when he murmured, "Kiss me."

Dean smiled back, slow and sweet, before winding his arms around Sam's neck and gently pressing his lips to Sam's. He sighed at the contact, feeling the knot that had twisted itself inside of his chest sometime in the night—worry over whether or not Sam would still want this—loosening. He pulled back to nibble down Sam's jaw, letting one hand run down over Sam's shoulder, chest, and stomach—and Christ, did that kid have a set of abs on him—before hesitantly brushing over Sam's dick, which had become very interested in the proceedings; almost as much as Dean's own. "Can I?" he murmured.

"Fuck," Sam hissed, his hips jerking forward of their own accord. "Please."

Dean smirked and wrapped his hand around Sam's cock, stroking slowly, just learning the weight and feel of it in his hand. He varied his strokes and pressure, learning what made Sam gasp and what made him thrust without control. "Wanna suck you," he murmured, sucking a hickey into the side of Sam's neck.

Sam moaned and pressed his face into Dean's neck. "Keep talkin'," he huffed, caught somewhere between amused and hopelessly aroused, "and you won't be able to do anything."

"Well now, we wouldn't want that," Dean murmured, moving up to nibble on Sam's earlobe for a second before sliding to his knees and slowly jacking Sam's cock a couple more times before he leaned forward and licked over the head, collecting the precome that had beaded there on his tongue. Sam's taste was slightly different than his own, but it was still good. He leaned back in, licking up the vein running up the underside, and then carefully fitting his mouth over Sam's cock, careful not to touch the skin with his teeth.

Sam let his head hit the wall with a groan, his eyes fluttering shut as he was engulfed in warm, wet heat. How he kept from thrusting in and choking Dean, he would never know, but later he would be proud of himself. For now, he tangled one hand in his brother's hair and gasped, quite simply, "Dean."

Dean barely kept himself from smirking, instead focusing on Sam's body and the cues it was giving him. After a moment, he let his teeth just barely touch Sam's cock, rather like letting one's nails barely stroke down someone's arm. He pulled back, glancing up at Sam and asking casually, "So, you wanna come on my face or in my mouth?"

Sam was trembling, his free hand clenched into a fist and his eyes squeezed tight shut in an attempt to maintain control, but Dean's words were enough to shove him over the edge he had been desperately clinging to. He cried out, coming without warning, and looked down to watch himself paint Dean's face with streaks of white. It was by far the hottest thing he'd ever seen.

"Jesus," Sam panted as he came down, his cock still twitching in Dean's fist. "Sorry."

Dean just grinned, his tongue flicking out to lick at a bit of Sam's jizz near his lips. "Good thing we're in the shower," he chuckled, getting back to his feet.

"Fuck that," Sam muttered as he pulled Dean close, and set about licking every trace of come from Dean's face. When he was done, he kissed Dean again, and trailed a hand down through the golden hairs beneath his brother's navel to grasp his cock. "What do you want?" he asked, his thumb flicking, teasingly light, over the head.

"Jesus," Dean gasped, leaning forward to capture Sam's lips in a messy kiss. "Touch, oh god, Sam, just touch me, so fucking close," he moaned, unable to help it, thrusting into Sam's fist, the friction almost unbearable.

Sam obliged, tightening his fist and stroking Dean in time with the frantic thrusting of his hips. He sucked on Dean's neck as he jacked him off, dipping his thumb into the slit every so often just to hear him gasp. "Come on, baby," he breathed, and rolled Dean's earlobe between his teeth. "You're fucking gorgeous like this."

Dean honest-to-God keened in the back of his throat when Sam tugged on his earlobe, and he moaned as he came, his hips stuttering. He leaned forward, panting slightly, resting his forehead on Sam's shoulder. "Jesus," he sighed. "That was hot."

Sam held his hand under the water to clean it off and brought his other up to the back of Dean's neck, fingers tangling in the wet hair there. "Yeah," he agreed, still somewhat breathless. "I can't believe that just happened."

Dean laughed. "Me, either," he agreed. "Keep expecting to wake up." He kissed Sam once more before pulling back and washing up, helping Sam and accepting Sam's help.

This time, Dean just left his towel in the bathroom when he walked out, crossing to his duffel to pick out some clothes. "So, let me guess: We leave, go to the next town, and start researching the hydra," Dean said.

"Yup," Sam agreed, allowing his gaze to wander appreciatively over Dean's body as he dressed, simply because he could. He'd spent too many years averting his gaze; now he was going to look his fill. "We still need to break that curse, although I'm beginning to think we should have sent the trickster a thank you note and a fruit basket instead of killing him."

"Maybe," Dean laughed. "Because Lord knows I would never have told you if I wasn't forced to tell the truth." He tossed some clothes over to Sam. "C'mon, get dressed and let's go get breakfast."

After they'd eaten, Sam insisted that Dean accompany him to the library. He already knew all there was to know about hydras except, it would seem, how to find one. Actually, he was starting to wonder if they weren't just mythical creatures after all, and the information about the spell Bobby had found hadn't just been planted by a trickster as, well, a trick—but he wasn't sharing this theory with Dean yet. 

Once in the library, Sam forced Dean to sit down at a table and disappeared into the stacks. He returned with an armful of books and sat opposite Dean, smiling to himself when their knees met under the table and he didn't feel a frantic urge to pull away. "Okay, get reading," he mumbled, and pushed the book at the top of the pile over to Dean. "We need to find one of these sons of bitches ASAP."

After Dean had read a couple of books and was beginning to develop a headache, he remembered something Bobby had once said, the last time he'd had to help John with a Greek monster. Frowning slightly to himself, Dean got up, walking over to the Mythology section, and selecting a book containing the Twelve Labors of Hercules.

He brought it back to the table, and flipped to the second labor: The Lernaean Hydra. "Hey, Sammy, here," he said, turning the book to face Sam. "Says here that the original hydra was created by Hera for the purpose of killing Hercules, and it became his second labor of twelve to atone for killing his wife and kids. He found it in a swamp, near a lake. Know where there's lots of swamps in America? The bayous of Louisiana." He scanned the rest of the labor. "So, basically, to kill a hydra, once you cut off a head—and we're gonna need a golden sword blessed by Athena for the immortal head—you have to burn the stumps to keep more heads from growing."

Sam groaned and hid his face in his hands. How had he missed something so obvious? Clearly the stress of everything had gotten to him. "I'm sorry," he mumbled, peeking at Dean through his fingers. "I don't know why I didn't think of that." He straightened up and pulled the book toward him, his eyes quickly scanning over the details Dean had already outlined. "We're never going to be able to kill one of these things," he said at last, a frown creasing his brow. "But we don't need to. We just need a little scale." Of course, that didn't make their task any easier.

Dean smirked and reached over to pat Sam on the shoulder. "We all make mistakes, Sammy-boy," he grinned. "And we may just need a little scale, but... Well. Hydras were made to kill. They're hunters, killers."

"And where the fuck are we going to get a golden sword blessed by Athena from?" Sam asked, arching an eyebrow.

"Ever seen Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief?" Dean asked, grinning. "We go to the Pantheon in Tennessee."

Sam stared at Dean, not sure whether he was supposed to be impressed or terrified. "Well then," he said slowly, far from convinced. "I guess we've got some driving to do."

"Don't gimme that look," Dean laughed, lightly smacking Sam upside the head with the book of Hercules's labors. "I'm not completely locked in the 80's." 

Sam groaned and snatched the book from Dean, trying to fight his smile. "Keep telling yourself that," he snarked playfully as he stood up. "Helping me put these books back and we can get going."

***

It took a couple of days to travel across the country, but eventually they reached Nashville, Tennessee. As they drove past a sign welcoming them to Nashville, Dean said, "Nashville: home of my least favorite music. Yee-haw!" At Sam's blank look, Dean gave him a disgusted look. "Dude. The movie? Grover—Never mind."

Sam shook his head, looking out of the window. His hand was resting casually on Dean's thigh, had been for the last fifty miles or so, and neither of them had mentioned it. It was nice, this kind of thing being normal for them now. "And you call me the geek," he chuckled. "So where is it we're headed?"

Dean tossed an indulgent grin in Sam's direction. "'Cause you are a geek. I'm just well-educated," he chuckled. "And we're headed for the Pantheon. 'S got a giant statue of Athena, maybe we can have ourselves a Hercules moment."

"I think you mean the Parthenon, dumbass," Sam corrected, amused, and then cut his gaze to his brother. He'd seen Hercules, but it still took him a moment to work out what Dean was saying. When he did, Sam's eyes widened almost comically. "You want us to have a chat with a Greek god?"

Dean snorted at the look on Sam's face. "Unless you know of a mystical golden sword blessed by Athena for sale on eBay, yeah," he said. "Look, I know we only need a scale, but like I said the other day, we need a back-up plan."

Sam narrowed his eyes in a way that gave the impression that, had he been standing and therefore unable to bash his elbow into the passenger window, he would have put his hand on his hip too. "What happens when she laughs in our faces?" he asked archly. "Or when she smites us for our presumption?"

Dean rolled his eyes and gestured vaguely to his whole body. "Dude. This is me, the guy with the big mouth who got himself cursed into telling the truth. And this is Athena, the goddess who loves helping her mortal heroes. She's not gonna smite us. She'll laugh at us—ho, boy, will she laugh at us—but she won't smite us."

"Fine," Sam said, still not entirely convinced. "I trust you. I don't know why, but I trust you."

"Because I'm your brother and you love me," Dean said easily, laying a reassuring hand on Sam's knee as he pulled into the parking lot of a motel. "C'mon; let's go get a room.”

Sam didn't think he'd ever get used to purposefully asking for a king in the office of a motel room. It still sent a little thrill through him whenever the key was handed over, and again when they unlocked the corresponding door to find the bed there, huge and waiting for them. It probably had something to do with the fact that Sam would never fully get used to the fact that this was real. Still, just to prove it to himself, he pulled Dean in for a quick but heated kiss when they got into their room before calling the first shower and hurrying into the bathroom. Sam didn't stop being the younger brother just because they were in a relationship now; he still loved being a little bitch.

Dean laughed as Sam bolted for the shower. Some things never change, he mused. Catching sight of Sam's duffel on the chair against the wall, Dean's mouth curved into a smirk. Now would be the perfect time to see if Sam had any embarrassing secrets hidden away.

He rummaged through the back idly, sighing disappointedly to himself when he didn't find anything. Then he spotted an old, old, old pair of socks wadded up and stuffed into a small pocket in the corner of the inside of the bag. Dean smirked. What could Sammy have hidden here? he wondered, pulling the socks out and straightening as he pulled them apart.

And froze, staring at the small, familiar horned amulet hanging from a leather cord.

Sam took his own sweet time in the shower, using up as much hot water as he dared to—he didn't want to leave Dean with a cold shower; he valued his sex life—before finally getting out. Once dry, he brushed his teeth and exited the bathroom, a towel tied loosely around his waist, to find Dean sitting on the bed. His expression was unreadable, and Sam frowned. "Everything okay?" he asked as he moved over to his duffel, digging through its contents for a clean pair of boxers. They really needed to do laundry soon.

Dean's gaze flicked from the amulet to Sam and back down again. He swallowed, and then, when that didn't help restore his voice, he cleared his throat. "Missing anything out of your bag, Sammy?" he asked, his voice rough.

It was Dean's tone, rather than the actual words, that sent a horrified chill racing down Sam's spine. Automatically his fingers found the place in his duffel where he'd kept that ancient pair of socks for so long, and felt his heart rate pick up speed when he realised exactly what was missing. "Dean..." he began, soft and placating and just a little desperate, but nothing followed. Sam didn't have the words for this. 

"You picked it up out of that trash can," Dean whispered, staring down at the amulet. He couldn't even remember why he'd dumped it; all he could remember was that night, when he went to fiddle with it like he did every other night since he got it, he'd been hit with crushing guilt.

"I'm sorry," Sam whispered right back, thankful that his back was turned so that Dean couldn't see the tears brimming in his eyes—but the truth was, he wasn't sorry at all. At least, not for saving the necklace that Sam knew Dean now held in his hands. That amulet had signified everything they'd ever been through; the fact that they were brothers and that both of them would always put that first. Dean hadn't taken it off since that Christmas so many years ago until Castiel had asked for it, and when he'd thrown it away, Sam hadn't had any choice. He'd had to save it, if only to remind himself of what he'd once had with Dean, and what he'd lost. 

It didn't matter that they were together now, and that things between them were better than they'd ever been. For Sam, the amulet represented a piece of their relationship, an innocence and a purity, that they would never get back. Dean had never expressed any regret over throwing it away, after all.

Dean studied the amulet for another few moments, the only sound in the room the sound of the air conditioning and some water dripping from a leaky showerhead. Eventually, though, Dean stood and walked over to Sam, the amulet still in his hand. "No. You don't have anything to be sorry about; I'm the moron that threw it—us—away. I regretted it like hell, Sam." Dean worried his lower lip for a moment before tentatively reaching out to lay one hand on Sam's shoulder. "Put it back on me, please?"

Sam turned to look at Dean, his eyes wide and hopeful as he searched his brother's face. All he saw there was sorrow and utter sincerity—which, he supposed, was to be expected. He reached out to take the cord from Dean's hand and looked down at it. The thing hadn't seen the light of day since he'd taken it out of the trash can and stuffed it in with those socks; unlike the voicemail message that had been played every week, the amulet had been too painful of a reminder to look at. Until now.

Slowly, so slowly, Sam raised the necklace and lowered it over Dean's head, and then let his hands drop to his sides while he just stared at the amulet where it rested in the centre of Dean's chest. For a long moment nothing happened, but then Sam made a strangled sound in the back of his throat and pulled Dean into his arms.

Dean didn't bother fighting back the tears pricking his own eyes as he wrapped his brother in his arms, pressing his face into the crook of his neck. The familiar weight of the amulet was comforting after being absent for so long, the daily reminder of how stupid he'd been gone now. "I'm so sorry, Sammy," he whispered, pressing a kiss to Sam's skin. "I'm so, so sorry. I was so stupid; never should've thrown it away."

Sam held Dean closer even as he worked a hand between them to press his palm against the amulet. He had to feel it, to know that it was back where it belonged, settled over his brother's heartbeat. "Thank you," Sam croaked, his lips pressed to Dean's temple. "For putting it back on. I didn't think you would, I thought—"that you didn't want it; that you didn't want me.

"I am a moron," Dean mumbled. "I regretted it every day. I never not wanted you, and having that amulet was a piece of you I could carry with me, even when you went to Stanford. I don't even remember why I dumped it." He pulled back to press a soft kiss to Sam's lips. "I love you. Thank you for saving this."

Sam whimpered, actually whimpered, as for the first time since things had started between them, he left himself accept that it was real; that he could have this. He kissed Dean again, slow and sweet, his hand still pressed flat against the amulet. The horns were digging into his palm but he didn't care. It was there and Dean was kissing back and Sam finally felt whole again. 

***
They'd ended up having themselves one hell of a chick flick moment, but Dean figured they were allowed one, given the circumstances. Now, Sam was picking the lock so they could get into the Parthenon and try to talk to a giant statue of Athena that may or may not come alive.

Sam straightened up when he heard the lock click and stepped back to allow Dean to go in first. He checked around to make sure that no one had seen them before following. "Okay," he sighed. "The floor's all yours, hotshot."

Dean walked through the Parthenon and up to the statue, tilting his head to one side. "Well," he began, crossing his arms over his chest. "Dunno what you're expecting, but I'm not groveling like Hercules did before Zeus, begging for help."

There was a terrific wind, almost hurricane-force, that swept through the Parthenon, and when it died down, the statue of Athena gave a shudder, and then stretched out her limbs before looking down at Sam and Dean through marble eyes. "Thank goodness; that movie was positively terrible. I mean, did you see how they portrayed me? I looked more god than goddess."
For a long moment, Sam could do nothing but stare—but then he realised what he was doing and looked away. "Um, yeah, you're right, uhh, ma'am," he offered, exchanging a look with Dean. "Thank you for... manifesting?" He'd never felt so awkward in his life. They were talking to a Greek god!

Athena glanced down at Sam in amusement. "I've had my eye on you for a while, young Winchester," she said. "A man after my own mind, as it were." Her gaze shifted to Dean, and her amusement turned into a a smirk. "And you're the man who got himself cursed into telling the truth. Too bad you two killed Veritas; she could have lifted your curse so easily."

Dean sneered. "Are you saying you ain't got the juice or the balls to help us?" he asked, eyeing the goddess dubiously. It was a dangerous game to play.

Athena drew herself up to her full height. "Anatomically speaking, no, I do not 'have the balls' to help you. To use your crude vernacular, I do have the juice, but the inclination to use it is rapidly dwindling."

Sam smacked Dean in the arm, appalled. What part of 'Greek god' did he not understand? "Ignore him," Sam advised Athena, blushing furiously. "He doesn't think before he speaks. If you know who we are then you know that we help people, and we need to be able to lie in order to do that. Please, we need your help."

"Yes, you do," Athena conceded, studying the two brothers. "You two are trying to remove it via spell. The one that requires a hydra scale." When they both nodded, she sighed. "And I suppose you wish to receive a golden sword, blessed by me?"

"Yes, for—"

"A back-up plan, yes, I know. I knew that would get me into trouble one day. Very well. You two... amuse me. But you, Dean Winchester, annoy me. You would do well to avoid any of my sacred symbols for quite some time," she advised the elder brother with a hard look.

Dean swallowed and bowed his head in gratitude. "Thank you, Athena."

"Yes, well. Here. Once you have completed the spell, the sword will return to me." Athena reached behind herself and pulled a small golden sword from a fold in her dress. She held it out to Dean, who took it carefully. It looked almost exactly like Percy Jackson's sword/pen, Riptide.

Sam let out a sigh of relief, eternally grateful that Athena hadn't come down hard on Dean. "Thank you," he said earnestly, looking up at her. "Thank you so much. And Dean'll behave himself in future, I swear to... to..."

"That you swear it is enough," Athena said with a smile. "I am sure I don't need to tell you boys to be careful," she added, with an extra intense look leveled at Dean.

Dean grinned cheekily. "We're usually careful, ma'am," he promised.

"Usually," Athena repeated dryly.

"We'll be careful," Sam promised, catching hold of Dean's sleeve as he started to back away. "And we'll get the sword back to you in one piece. Thanks again for your help."

"Yes, thanks," Dean called, waving slightly. He thought he saw Athena smile—but it was more like a smirk. He saw why when they got outside: At least twenty owls were sitting on the Impala, and most of them had already... relieved themselves. Dean's jaw dropped and his throat worked furiously, but he couldn't make anything come out.

A part of Sam felt like maybe he should attempt to console Dean, but the bigger part of him—the little brother part—found the sight before them absolutely hilarious. "That's what you get for pissing off a goddess," he crowed, even as he moved to chase the owls away from the Impala. When he turned back, Dean was still gaping like a fish, which just made Sam laugh harder.

Dean very slowly closed his mouth, held the flat of the sword up to his face, and proceeded to smack his head into several times.

***
"Okay, I am getting a shower, then we are finding ourselves a goddamn hydra and getting its scale," Dean announced. He'd just finished washing his baby—the owls had even coughed up all those disgusting pellets full of bones and fur and god-only-knows what else—and almost all of it had ended up on his clothes. Dean grumbled under his breath about various things as he walked through the room.

"Good," Sam chuckled smugly from his position on the bed, his grin hidden by the book in his hands. "You're not coming anywhere near me while you're covered in bird puke."

Dean angled a glare at Sam as he walked into the shower. When he came out, he only had a towel wrapped around his waist, and Sam was still reading his book. Dean smirked and sauntered over to the bed, climbing onto it and then crawling up Sam's body. He plucked the book out of his younger brother's hands and tossed it to the floor. "Think I need some comforting," he grinned, settling himself onto Sam's lap and rolling his hips down. "Did just have to go through the trauma of cleaning owl shit and barf off of my second favorite thing in the world."

"Your second favourite thing?" Sam asked slowly, smirking as he settled his hands on Dean's waist and rolled his hips up into him. "And I always thought that was me." He tried to pout but he couldn't keep the grin off his face long enough. Instead, Sam shuffled a little further up the bed so that he could lean forward and kiss Dean's neck, sucking a bruise into the skin just high enough to be visible no matter what Dean wore.

Dean groaned as Sam's lips met his skin, his head shaking slightly. "Nah, you've always been my favorite," he managed to gasp, his cock twitching under the towel. He reached down and untied the simple knot that held it on his waist, letting the towel fall behind him, over Sam's thighs. "Your turn," he murmured, reaching for the hem of Sam's shirt.

Sam let Dean take his shirt off before getting a hand on the back of his neck and pulling him in for a kiss. "Mmm," he moaned when they broke apart, both wriggling as they tried to get Sam out of his jeans. "Even when pie is involved?"

"Even when. Pie is fleeting, Sammy. You are forever," Dean said, a cheesy grin pasted on his face as he lifted himself onto his knees so Sam could slide his jeans and boxers off.

Sam kicked the offending items of clothing onto the floor and brought his hands back to Dean's hips so he could pull him down again. The sensation of skin on skin was, as always, perfect, and Sam moaned. "You say the sweetest things," he mumbled breathily, wrapping his hand around both of their dicks and starting to stroke.

"Only to—ngh—only to you," Dean gasped, his back arching as he thrust into Sam's grip, his hands falling onto Sam's shoulders and kneading as Sam's grip tightened.

Sam's lips found Dean's skin again, trailing along his jaw and down the column of his throat as they both fucked Sam's fist. His grip was tight enough to provide the most delicious friction, and the feeling of Dean's cock sliding alongside his own with only their mingled precome to slick the way was borderline blissful. "You're so fucking hot," Sam groaned, his face pressed into the crook of Dean's shoulder now. "Want you to ride me one day, just like this. Would you do that, Dean? Would you let your little brother fuck you?"

Dean had been right on the edge, but Sam's words sent him over, and he came messily, all over Sam's fist, cock, and stomach, Sam's name a hoarse cry torn from his lips.

Sam followed close behind, choking on a moan as he shuddered through his own release. By the time he came back down, he was laughing, breathless and happy. "I guess we know the answer to that question."

"Y'know, one day we'll have to actually get around to the really-fucking-each-other part of sex," Dean chuckled, leaning down to nose at Sam's earlobe before nibbling on it. "C'mon; I need another shower," he wheedled, dropping a kiss on Sam's lips. "Then we sleep, then find the hydra."

***
They set off pretty early the next day, before Sam was even fully awake. The coffee he drank with breakfast did little to rouse him and he slept for most of the morning, his head resting against the passenger window. When he woke, the sun was high in the sky and Dean was humming along to whatever tape he was playing today. Sam thought it might be Metallica again but he would have to turn it up a little before he could be sure—so he did, and it was. He was all smiles when Dean turned to look at him, incredulous. The greatest hits of mullet rock just didn't sound so bad these days.

Dean returned Sam's grin with one of his own, humming along to the song as they drove down the Interstate. When they arrived at a motel in a small town several miles west of New Orleans, Louisiana, they once again ordered a king, and set up inside the room.

"So," Dean said, plopping down and flipping through Dad's journal, "we got an actual plan, or we just gonna head in there and hope for the best?"

"I don't know," Sam answered from his position at the table. "Can we even have a plan for this? Hydras aren't exactly predictable. Just get in there and hack away."

Dean gaped at Sam before sprinting for his duffel. "Where's my notebook?" he cried, dramatically pawing through his clothes and pockets. "I have to write this down; Sammy wants to start off with killing something!"

Sam rolled his eyes, and as an afterthought gave Dean a good kick. "Fuck off," he sniped. "You can't reason with a hydra, and the only way you're gonna get a scale from one is by peeling it off its corpse. I'm just being realistic."

"Hm, true," Dean conceded. "So, one of us will have to man the golden sword, the other a flamethrower or something to burn the stumps so new heads don't grow," he said.

"Athena gave the sword to you," Sam pointed out. "You should probably keep hold of it. I'll take the flamethrower."

Dean nodded. "Sounds like a plan," he said happily. He caught a glimpse of a—really—old woman's face in the newspaper on their table, and he snatched it up with an interested noise. "Hey Sammy, check it out: This old woman, Madame Roberts, lives on the edge of the swamp. The swamp where several people have gone missing in the past few months. She says that the swamp holds many secrets, only revealed to a select few. Think maybe she knows something?"

Sam looked up, peering at the article curiously. "It's worth a shot. We can go see her tomorrow, find out what she knows." He kind of hated going to see old women who called themselves 'Madame'—most of them turned out to be superstitious hacks—but right now it was all they had to go on. Sam himself had no clue how to find a hydra; they needed all the help they could get. 

***

Madame Roberts was the real deal; she helped point them in the right direction to the hydra's lair when she saw the sword Dean carried. "Bless you, child," she'd proclaimed, ruffling Dean's short hair. "You have been blessed by Athena, that is no easy feat, nor is it an easy burden to bear. She will be with you through all of your days. Now go out there and kill that stupid hydra."

Dean tossed a grin to Sam as they trekked out into the bayous with the guide—one familiar with the supernatural—that Madame Roberts had directed them to. "I like her," he announced.

"Yeah, I'm not surprised," Sam laughed, grinning right back. "I think she thought you were hot."

"Psh, that's because I am hot," Dean laughed, shoving Sam playfully. "But you know you're the only one for me, Sammy," he added, batting his eyelashes playfully.

Their guide turned to them then, his eyebrows raised. "Aren't you guys brothers?" he asked, torn between amused and incredulous. Sam felt his cheeks flame.

"In the we-would-die-for-each-other way," Dean said, tossing the man a huge grin and looped his arm around Sam's shoulders. "This's Sammy, the best guy I’ve ever had the pleasure of sleeping with."

Sam's blush deepened even further but he leaned into Dean automatically and managed to laugh. "You're a jerk," he grumbled, whacking Dean's chest. Their guide just gave them a disbelieving look—as if—and  turned away again, shaking his head. Sam pressed his face into Dean's shoulder as they followed along, mumbling just low enough for him to hear. "You'll pay for that later."

"Oh, gonna break out the gags and ropes?" Dean grinned, planting a quick kiss on Sam's frown.

Roughly an hour an a half later, Dean wished they had the ropes with them; at least then maybe the damned hydra would fucking stand still while Dean lopped its heads off and Sam and the guide took turns cauterizing the stumps.

It took another good half hour to get the job done, and by the time the hydra finally fell they were all bruised and bleeding. Sam was pretty sure his hair had been singed at one point—the smell would certainly suggest so—but he didn't have the energy to care. He dropped his flamethrower onto the ground and bent to pull a small knife out of his boot, which he then tossed to Dean. This next task was less than pleasant, and Dean was closest to the corpse. Sam straightened up, eyeing a particularly nasty cut on Dean's shoulder that he wanted to get stitches into ten minutes ago; the sooner they left, the better. "Get the damn scale and let's go."

Dean dropped to his knees beside the corpse, cutting several scales from it. "Never know when you'll need one," he said, shrugging at Sam's questioning look. "Thanks," he added, addressing the guide as he stood up and stashed the scales in a baggie.

The guide just grunted his acknowledgement and started off the way they'd come, leaving Sam and Dean to stumble along behind him. 

***
When they got back to the room, Dean immediately grabbed the duffels and pulled out the shifter's blood, Nereid's tear, and ashes, laying them out of the table. "You got the ritual from Bobby?" he asked Sam, nervousness curling his stomach.

"Yeah," Sam answered, handing over the piece of paper he'd copied the details down onto. They'd patched each other up back at Madame Roberts' place, and despite being exhausted and sore, Dean had insisted on completing the spell as soon as they got back. Not that Sam could blame him. "Basically you put all the stuff together, say the incantation and do the hokey-pokey."

Dean tossed a glare at Sam. "Do the hokey-pokey, really?" he growled, digging out a bowl and mixing the ingredients together. "What's the incantation?"

Sam smirked. "It's on the back, dumbass."

Dean flipped the paper over suspiciously, then grinned sheepishly. "Oh. I knew that." Then, feeling utterly ridiculous, he recited the incantation—which, of course, was in fucking Ancient Greek—and did the little dance that went along with it.

The air seemed to go tight for a split second before snapping like a cord pulled too tight. Dean sucked in a huge breath, then turned to Sam, his eyes huge. "Did it work?" he asked wonderingly.

"I don't know," Sam answered, standing up from the bed and walking over to Dean, the smirk still on his face. He thought back to when this first started, to one of the first questions he'd asked Dean as a test. "Tell me I have stupid hair."

"You have stupid hair, and I hate tugging on it when we kiss," Dean said. A grin spread across his face. "Dude, it worked!" he exclaimed, jumping on Sam and clinging to him like a monkey. He grabbed Sam's face and kissed him hard before pulling back suddenly. "Hey," he said, his voice serious. "Got something I wanna tell you."

Sam's eyes widened slightly, taking in Dean's earnest expression. There was nothing scary in his eyes, so Sam allowed himself to relax and brought a hand up to touch Dean's face. "What is it?" he asked softly. 

"I am completely and totally in love with you," he informed Sam, turning to nuzzle at Sam's hand before leaning forward to kiss Sam again.

Sam grinned against Dean's lips and kissed him back, holding Dean to him as tight as he dared. Of course, he already knew that Dean loved him; when Dean had told him, he'd been unable to lie. But this, hearing Dean say the words willingly, without being forced by some stupid spell, meant so much more. Trust Dean to know that. "I love you, too," Sam murmured when they came up for air, barely allowing an inch of space between them. "So fucking much, Dean."

"Good. Just thought I'd let you know," Dean murmured.