Main Fanfic Site

Leader of the Pack
by astolat

"Thought Sam shot you," Dean said.

"There you go confusing the meat suit with the tasty filling inside," the demon said. "That was just a peon. I'm a little offended Sam thought I would be stupid enough to come when he called."

"Yeah, well," Dean said. "Worth a shot."

"But for you, baby, I came live and in person." She held out her arms, long and caramel-tanned, admiring them. The hellhounds were milling around her legs, almost high as her waist: pale white hides and red eyes, long red tongues lolling out between their stained teeth, all of them panting like the exhaust of an eighteen-wheeler and staring right at him. Dean had his hands stuffed in his pockets, clenched tight to keep from shaking.

She looked him up and down and smiled like she could see them anyway. "Brave, brave Dean," she crooned. "Coming to the crossroads all on your own. You know, the boys were hoping for more of a hunt out of you." She reached down to scratch one of the hounds behind the ears. It gave a low stifled yelp like a coyote sound, hungry.

"Sorry not to give you the satisfaction," Dean said. "Wait. No, I'm not."

"Oh, I'll be getting plenty of satisfaction," she said.

"I don't think so," Sam said.
Dean jerked his head around. Sam looked pissed-off, and his wrists and hands were cut-up and bleeding a little where he'd scraped them, probably getting out of the cuffs Dean had left him in. "Goddammit, Sam!"

"Shut up, Dean," Sam said. "When this is over, I'm going to kick your ass so hard for this, I'm not even kidding."

"You're not making a goddamn deal, so don't even think about it," Dean said.

The demon laughed. "Really, Dean, that's not very fair, is it? Everyone's got the right to make their own bargains."

"Shut up, you goddamn bitch, don't you even think about—" Dean started, but she waved a hand at him and his throat closed up around it, his air cutting off.

"You're the bitch now," she said, as he sank to his knees, fighting for air. His vision started going sparkly at the edges. "That is, unless Sammy's got something nicer for me than a second-rate soul going cheap. What about it, Sam? You have something to put on the table?"

"No," Sam said, stepping up closer to her. "I'm just challenging your claim." Then he shut his eyes and put down his head, and jerked it up again, eyes glowing yellow.

She paused, then laughed again, delightedly. The grip on Dean's throat eased up just enough to let him grab feebly at Sam's leg, trying to get hold of him. Jesus, what had Sam done

"Oh, Sam," she said. "That's even better than I expected." She swayed over to Dean, slow hip-swinging deliberate paces, and pushed his head backwards to make him look up at her, long fingers rubbing over his scalp like he was one of the dogs himself. "How does that sound, baby?" she asked him, red mouth moving in the center of his narrowing sight. "A nice little sendoff for you, get to watch Sammy ripped apart as the last thing you see?"

"You made a deal," Dean managed chokingly, rasping it out.

"And I held up my end," she said. "But if Sammy here wants to put himself into the field now, he's fair game." She looked up and cocked her head, smiling. "So how about it, Sam? You really want to get into it with me and the boys?"

Sam laughed, a weird cold sound. Then he snapped his fingers twice and pointed at the ground next to him and said, "Heel, boys."

After a moment, one of the hounds whimpered. Slowly, one by one, they slunk away from her. Some of them brushed past Dean as they went, cold radiating off their sides, red eyes darting to meet his: not albino eyes, but red, full of churning blood, and his whole body just wanted to shrivel away from them. They reached Sam and went fawning around his legs, nosing at his jeans, a couple of them licking at his hands, lapping away the blood from his wrists. Sam didn't even twitch, just stood there with his eyes glowing gold and staring back at the demon.

"The question is," he said softly, "do you want to get into it with me."

She stood alone, her hand still gripping the curve of Dean's head. He could feel her anger through her fingers, tightening on his skull as if they were going to punch holes through the bone. His whole head was pounding like three days and nights of driving on caffeine and sugar, and Sam was standing there with a pack of hellhounds and his eyes demon-yellow, so if he hadn't sold his own soul he'd gotten pretty goddamn close, and Dean was about to go to Hell and he wasn't sure if he'd know the difference.

"I did a lot of research this year," Sam said. "Learned a lot about what hellhounds do to their prey. I guess you know a lot about that too." He deliberately put one of his hands down onto the head of the nearest of the hounds, which gave a low hungry yelp. "Your move."

After a cold furious moment she said, "Ten years. I'll give you the full—"

Sam didn't even let her finish. He looked down at the hounds. "Go ahead," he said, and they lunged forward like they'd been let off a leash, breath like brimstone in Dean's face as they started circling them both. One of them darted in and lashed her leg with its teeth, a blue-lightning crackle where it broke the skin, black smoke hissing out, and she screamed once, short and tight.

"That good enough?" Sam said, and the hounds backed away towards him again.

"Fine," she said, between her teeth. "Fine. He's yours, for whatever his pathetic stained rag of a soul is worth." She shoved Dean hard and sent him sprawling on the dirt road. "And we'll just have to wait and see where the two of you end up," she added in a hiss, and then she was spilling away in a smoking black cloud, and the dead empty husk of a woman toppled to the ground behind her.

Dean just stayed there on the ground, propped up on his raw-scraped knuckles and panting, because he didn't know if he could get himself up straight, and he knew even less what he was going to see when he looked into Sam's face. Then Sam's hands were on his shoulders, sliding under his elbows and lifting him up, "Dean, Dean—" Sam was saying, low and urgently, and Dean squeezed his eyes tight for another second and then looked up.

"What the fuck did you do?" he said to Sam's golden eyes, and then the fury of it brought him up off the ground, gripping Sam's arms and driving him up against the side of the Impala with a slam like tectonic plates. "What the fuck did you do?"

He didn't get his mistake until the hellhounds started up a howl at his exposed back, closing in on all sides around him, grinning lips peeling away from their red gums. Dean kicked one of them in the head as it aimed a first savage bite at his leg, or tried to; it dodged with unearthly speed and slunk back in low and close, eyes roiling.

Sam broke Dean's hold and spun them around, blocking him against the car and sheltering him behind his arms. "Down," he told the hounds, and they backed off a few paces, muttering low in their weird twisted voices, still staring at Dean hungrily.

"I just—" Sam said, "I found a way, all right? You're gonna have to leave it at that, Dean. I found a way to call them off you—fucking down," he snarled at the dogs, as they crept back in.

"Great," Dean managed, their steady meat-grinder growls crawling up his spine. "That's great, Sam, now you just have to not sleep—"

"Shut up, Dean," Sam said. "They can tell, your soul's still up, it's just not hers to claim anymore."

"Awesome," Dean said. "So what are you gonna do with it?"

"Give it back to you," Sam said, and slid a hand around behind Dean's neck before he knew what Sam was doing, long fingers running into his hair and cupping his skull, and Dean just had time to say, "Oh, hell no," before Sam was kissing him, hot wet mouth on his, deep and serious, the bitter taste of sulfur somewhere at the corner of his mouth. He tried to shove Sam off, but Sam just pressed him full-body up against the car, pinning his wrists, and finally mumbled, "G'dammit, Dean, just take it, get it over with," against his lips.

"Fine," Dean mumbled back, and shut his eyes and put his hand on the back of Sam's head and opened for it, and then it was like something was pouring into him: like he was an empty cup filling up with cool cool water, so much it was splashing up over the sides and running wet and clean and sweet over his fingers, down his wrist on a hot summer day, laughing while they washed the car, Sam grinning at him soaking-wet on the other side, a cold beer and the radio blasting.

After a while he finally started to come down and realize Sam had let go of him and they were still kissing—he had one hand around Sam's waist, pressing into the small of his back, and another around the back of Sam's neck keeping him down. Sam had both his hands propped against the car and was just letting Dean hold him in place, weight of his body warm all up against Dean's chest and between his—yeah, that was way enough of that.

Dean made his fingers uncurl and let go. Sam eased back from him slow and cautiously, his eyes back to hazel-green and wide. "Uh," Sam said, and cleared his throat. "So—uh, did that—"

Dean looked away, hot running all the way up his neck, and then he noticed—"Holy shit, they're gone."

"Huh?" Sam said.

"The hellhounds," Dean said. "They're gone—" and then it hit him, looking back at Sam, the car warm behind his back and crickets chirping quiet, not another sound, the night warm on his skin, that he was alive, he wasn't in Hell; he was alive and he was going to stay that way, and Sam was right there still breathing along with him, and he really kind of wanted to kiss Sam again, or maybe start crying. He had to shove Sam off and walk a few steps away and cover his face, and then he had to crouch down on the ground because his knees weren't holding up, and then Sam was on him, wrapped around him and crying so he didn't have to, whispering, "Dean, Dean, goddamn you, you son of a bitch, I told you I would—I won't ever let—"

Dean let him get away with it for a few minutes, then he pushed Sam off—well, maybe Sam hauled him up, because his knees were starting to ache from pressing on the asphalt for too long, and they limped back to the car. Sam kept looking back over his shoulder like he was making sure the demon wasn't going to come back, and he stood there hesitating at the car door.

"Dude, you want to linger?" Dean said.

"No, uh, it's just—" Sam said, and then it was like he changed his mind mid-sentence and instead he said, "So—back to the motel?"

"Nah, we're going to Bobby's," Dean said, "and I'm gonna drive straight through the rest of the night, and then we're gonna sleep for a week." Also he was planning on grilling Bobby on what the hell Sam might've done, and how it was going to come back and bite them on the ass, but right at the moment all he wanted was the open road, Sam in the seat next to him, and the wind spilling in over his hand on the rolled-down window.

"Yeah, okay," Sam said, and ducked his head, and something a little too relieved to just be a smile cracked open on his face.

Dean got in the car, and waited: Sam was just standing there holding the door open on the other side. "Aw, are you crying again, princess?" Dean called.

"Shut up, Dean." Sam finally got in and pulled the door shut, and propped his elbow on the window. "Are we going or what?" His eyes flicked to the rear-view mirror.

Dean grinned. "It's a hundred and six miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas—"

"Oh, you've gotta be kidding me," Sam said, rolling his eyes. Dean shoved in the tape of "Soul Man" and hit the gas.

He pulled into Bobby's yard around dawn. Chertoff and Mukasey came running through the stacks of junkyard cars barking their heads off happily as Dean got out of the car, and then Sam opened his door, and they both skidded to a stop like someone had put the brakes on them. They fell back whining with their tails between their legs, and Bobby came out of the house in a half crouch, with a shotgun that didn't get lowered all the way down when he saw them.

"Hey," Dean said, trying to grin through the roller-coaster-sick feeling. It was like everything was about to start up again, Sam had just swapped their places and now—"I thought I'd stick around a while after all."

"Glad to hear it," Bobby said, just a little warily, and then he slowly lowered the gun. "Come on in."

He slid them a couple bottles of beer at the kitchen table, and Dean gave him the rundown while Sam sat there peeling the label off of his into little shreds. "You want something else?" Bobby said, eyeing Sam.

Sam's mouth quirked a little at the corners. "I'm not really thirsty," he said.

"How about some coffee," Bobby said, getting up, and Sam stood up and put his hands in his pockets, shoulders slouched. "I can't, Bobby," he said, low and quiet. He glanced at Dean, and said, "I'm going to—" and turned and went outside, screen door bang like a gunshot behind him. Dean stared at Sam's untouched bottle, condensation rolling down the sides in big fat droplets.

"Whatever he did," Bobby said after a minute, "it's not good."

"He's still him, Bobby," Dean said. "He's still my brother. He's not possessed."

"Possessed's not the worst thing that can happen to somebody," Bobby said.

Sam didn't come back into the house after that, and Bobby didn't ask him to. He slept on the back seat of the Impala, his feet sticking out an open door on one side, while Dean fought through one book after another, because Sam still wasn't telling him a goddamn thing.

They drove into town a few times, picked up odd jobs for safe cash, covered Bobby's shopping list and their own long overdue restock: they'd let a lot of things slide the last month or two. Dean tried not to focus on the way Sam always kept watching the rear-view mirror, the way Sam's eyes caught the light and flecked gold once in a while.

"Something's fucking after him," Dean said, standing at the screen door and staring out at Sam, who was sitting on a crate near the Impala, quietly cleaning knives. Chertoff and Mukasey were both sitting huddled under a big wrecked old tractor, far back underneath and crouched as low as they could get, as far from Sam as they could get while still keeping an eye on him, like it was scarier to have him out of their sight than not. "Bobby, he made a deal, that's got to be it. He made another fucking deal, maybe with that Ruby chick, and if I can't find out in time—if he won't tell me—goddammit!" He turned away and slammed four books off the table, panting, because fuck, he was supposed to be done with this—he was supposed to be finished, over and done, and fuck Sam for this—

Bobby shook his head. "He's better at playing it close to the vest than you were."

Dean stopped researching demons and started researching spells: potions, charms, amulets, anything that you could use to make somebody tell you the truth, read their mind, open them up like a box and pick through whatever was inside, anything that was going to let him get into Sam's head. "It's not going to be easy to get a hold of anything like that," Bobby said, bluntly, and that was a thought, anyway.

"Dean, how lovely, you're not burning in Hell," Bela said, when he called her.

"Don't sound so excited," Dean said. "I need some kind of truth-reveal spell."

"And here I thought this was a sentimental gesture," she said. "Going to make it worth my while?"

"Bela, I'm not fucking around," he said. "Sam's hiding something from me—"

"And I repeat, going to make it worth my while?" she said, breaking in. "Come on, Dean, you know how the game is played."

"Goddammit," he muttered. "What do you want?"

"Hm," she said. "I'm tempted to ask for the car—"


"—but I'm feeling generous. Next three magical things you find, mine."

"Whatever, fine," Dean said, making a mental note to let Sam do all the poking around for artifacts.

"Also, a fabulous night involving at least three hours of cunnilingus, to occur within the next three months," she said.

"Oh, dream on," Dean said.

"Call me when you change your mind!" she said brightly.

That night Dean woke up with half a devil's trap imprinted on his face where he'd fallen asleep mashed up against one of Bobby's books, and the moon shining right into his eyes through the window. He stumbled up and to the sink for a glass of water, and then he looked outside. Sam was standing in the middle of the lot under the glowing white full moon, his fists clenched and his eyes glowing yellow, saying in a low tight voice, "No."

After a minute a bank of clouds drifted in front of the moon, rolling in thick and black, and Sam relaxed all over, shoulders easing down. He shut his eyes over the yellow glow, and when he opened them again, they were back to normal. He stumbled over to the car and crawled into the back seat again.

Dean stood braced against the doorway with his heart still pounding. He didn't know what he'd been going to do—he'd been going to run out there with nothing in his hands but a gun and a bottle of holy water to fight something he couldn't see, didn't know anything about, and next time maybe he'd have to.

He went back to the table and flipped open his phone. It was 4 AM on the East Coast, but if he was awake, Bela could be too. "You've got a goddamn deal," he said, when she picked up.

"Mm, price goes up for waking me in the middle of the night," she said. "Now it's cunnilingus and pegging."

"Huh?" Dean said, excavating frantically for the laptop in the middle of the mess of books and papers.

"Personally, I think you'll really enjoy it," she said. "You do know what pegging is, don't you, Dean?"

"Yeah," Dean lied, typing into google. "And I'm not enjoying it with you."

"Oh, but I think you are," she said, with a purr, "that is, if you want to know what sort of well little Sammy has fallen into. Going once—going twice—"

Bobby's goddamn dial-up crawled like a snail. "Fine," Dean said. "But if what you send me doesn't work, the whole deal's off—oh, you're kidding me, pegging?" he said, as the search results came up. She started laughing her head off. "You're a sick bitch, you know that?" he said bitterly. "And your accent's slipping."

"See you in Queens, Dean," she said, trilling, and hung up on him.

The next afternoon, FedEx showed up with a bottle of Visine nine-tenths empty, and he called her up to yell. "Don't be an ass," she said, before he got more than two words out. "It's Ichor of Constantine. I could send it to you in a decanter made of pure diamond and the bottle would still be worthless by comparison. This is far more convenient for use. Five drops in each eye under the light of a full moon, to see truth that is hidden. Oh, and Dean—do be careful. It doesn't turn off again, and usually when you can't see something, it's for your own good. The Ichor has been known to drive people insane."

"Great," Dean said, and hung up on her again and waited, and at one minute to midnight he put five drops apiece in each eye and went outside and yelled, "Holy fucking shit!" when he saw the pack of hellhounds all lying on the ground, in a ring around the Impala.

"Have they been here the whole time?" Dean demanded from Sam.

"Uh," Sam said, rubbing the back of his neck.

"I don't fucking believe this," Dean said. "So what, they're following you around now? How have they even been keeping up with us?"

Sam looked guiltily at the car.

"Are you telling me," Dean said, "that I've been driving around with six hellhounds in the back seat of my car—"

"They don't need to be housetrained," Sam said, like that was the problem.

He'd jerked at Dean's yell and come out of the car onto his feet with a gun in his hand and his hair sticking up in five directions. It was still looking stupid and messed up, and the hellhounds had all lifted up their heads and were watching him with fixed, resentful stares.

"What the hell," Bobby growled, coming out of the house rubbing his eyes.

"He's got the goddamn hellhounds with him!" Dean said.

"I couldn't just leave them," Sam said.

"Why the fuck not?"

"Because they're hellhounds, Dean!" Sam said. "What do you think they're gonna do if I let them loose? They keep trying—" He swallowed and looked down. "That's why I've had to—I can't control them without using the demon blood," he said after a moment. "They keep trying to go off hunting, so I have to—"

"Well, that's great," Bobby said. "How long do you think you can go stirring up demon blood inside you before you start turning into one, Sam? You keep this up—"

"What do you want me to do?" Sam said. "Just set them loose, open season on everyone? Hand them back to the crossroads demon so she can turn them on other people?"

One of the hellhounds yelped, hopefully. "Fuck," Dean said.

Devil's traps didn't work on hellhounds, apparently: they just slunk right back out, which Dean didn't get: they were just another kind of demon, right? They could smell holy water from ten yards away and didn't seem to need to drink, anyway, so that didn't do any good; and when Bobby suggested trying the exorcism anyway, they all started yelling horribly and Sam went yellow-eyed and straining just to hold them in place. Dean fought his way through about half of the ritual, and then they all put their heads down and started whining, this freaky painful scraping noise, and Sam made a low noise like somebody was kicking him in the stomach and blood started running out of his nose, so that was the end of that.

"Okay," Dean said, "how about we do this the easy way?" He took out the Colt and aimed it at one of the hellhounds. It promptly ran away into the junkyard stacks, and Sam had to spend a few hours hunting it down and bodily wrestling it back, one of his arms wrapped around its throat, the hound whining and fighting and dragging its feet.

Then Dean put the gun right up to its skull, and it quit fighting. It huddled back against Sam instead and whimpered, a hopeless sound like an abandoned baby crying. Sam flinched hard and let go. The hound burst away running and dived back into the circle of all of them, crouched low and ready to flee again.

"Goddammit, Sam," Dean managed. His hand was trembling like a leaf. It took three tries to put the Colt back into his belt, and he didn't suggest trying it again.

Two more days of useless attempts went by, and then Ellen called with an emergency hunt in Minnesota: somebody had just built a new road through an old graveyard and let loose some kind of violent spirit, and the goddamn thing had so far taken out two cars and a schoolbus along the route.

"Uh, we're kinda busy here," Dean said, and Sam reached over and took the cellphone out of his hand and said, "Ellen? Yeah, we got it. What's the address?"

"Dude," Dean said.

"We're not doing any good sitting here," Sam said. "Bobby can keep looking." And then he paused and added, low and quiet, "Dean, we need—I need to be doing something. I should be trying to—to make up for—we should keep moving."

"Yeah, whatever," Dean said, looking away. "So what are we going to do with them?" Sam looked at the car. "Oh, fuck no."

Dean was starting to get what Bela had meant about the eyedrops, because it freaked him out to look in the rear view and see those six unearthly heads staring back at him, tongues lolling red out of their mouths and panting. His shoulders were tight as guitar wire the whole drive, ready to snap, and it didn't help that he could hear them now too, the way they yelped and hissed at each other quietly. And every once in a while when the Impala passed somebody on the road, they'd get all interested, turning in the back seat and resting their paws up while they crammed their heads together to stare out the back window at the receding car, low growls in their throats.

"What the hell," Dean said, after the third time.

"It's people they could hunt," Sam said. He had his hand clenched tight on his own knee.

"There can't be that many people who've sold their souls," Dean said.

"No," Sam said. "I think it's just people who've done something they could go to Hell for."

They hit Minnesota and found a motel, and Sam hesitated outside the door and said, "We could get—we could get two rooms."

"Shut up," Dean said, and went in and got the keys. Sam held the door open and the hellhounds all reluctantly marched in and lay down on the floor unhappily while he and Dean laid down a line of goofer dust and salt along the door and windowsills—to keep them in, which was seriously fucked up.

"So how come I wasn't tripping over them before?" Dean said, shoving one away back towards the wall with his foot so he could get the bathroom door open. It hissed at him, and Dean pulled out his holy water flask. "I'm the alpha dog here, pal, you want me to prove it?" The hellhound subsided, grumbling. Sam just shrugged helplessly.

Sleeping with a pack of hellhounds in the room was not Dean's idea of a good time. He kept waking up with his hand going for the Colt tucked under his pillow. Around five in the morning he gave up and got out of bed. "I'm going for coffee," he told Sam's groggily lifted head, and came back in a couple hours with egg sandwiches from the diner he'd been hiding out in. Sam was already dressed and sitting on his bed looking down at his hands.

"Okay," Dean said, shoving coffee at him. "Let's get going. I want to check out that accident scene."

"I don't think I should leave them in here alone all day," Sam said, looking at the dogs, and Dean rubbed the back of his hand across his head and said, "Fine."

The most recent accident scene was a heap of crosses and wilting flowers and sad waterlogged teddy bears all in a row, with nothing on either side of the road but late model suburbia and manicured lawns. They were about smack in the middle of the borders of the graveyard outlined on their hundred-year-old map. "Awesome," Dean said. "They wiped out the whole thing. I swear, it makes you want to walk away and let people get their asses toasted." The EMF reader didn't so much as chirp while he ran it over the heap of memoria.

"Hey, the original church is still over there," Sam said, jerking his head at the old building, halfway down the next block. "I'm going to go see if they have any records—"

"Yeah, go," Dean said, waving a hand, and started walking back along the road with the reader; the crash had probably started a ways back from the actual place the bus went off the road. The EMF puttered along quietly for a quarter of a mile as traffic shot past him, and he turned to cross the road and check the other side—"Shit!"

The hellhounds stared up at him with their red eyes and open mouths. They were all following him in a line. He looked back at the Impala, pulled off on the shoulder, across the road from the accident scene. The doors were all still closed. "Okay, all of you get back to the car," Dean said. It didn't sound convincing even to him. The hounds just kept staring. "Dammit," Dean muttered, and thought about yelling like crazy for Sam in the middle of the street for about two seconds before he dismissed it as an option too humiliating to bear. Maybe they'd follow him back to the car.

Warily he crossed the road and started back, the hellhounds silently padding along behind, and then about ten yards further on, the EMF reader suddenly crackled to life, beeping madly. Dean jerked his head up and saw a deep white scar on the side of the nearest tree, a thirty-foot oak way older than the road. "Awesome," Dean said, and flipped open his phone, because this was a totally legit reason for calling Sam out here.

Then one of the hellhounds came up and sniffed at the scar. It gave a low yelp, and suddenly all six of them were crowding around, sniffing at the scar, and then they were yelling at the top of their lungs, and they leaped over the nearest picket fence and raced away.

"Hey!" Dean yelled, and jumped the fence after them. The pack didn't slow down even for a second, just kept galloping like mad, glimpses of white and red against the lawns the only thing that let Dean keep following them; that, and the terrified howling of neighborhood cats and dogs as the hellhounds went by. He couldn't stop long enough to call Sam; if they got out of sight, it was going to be impossible to track the damn things down again, and they'd just be out there ripping people to shreds—

He hurdled another fence and stumbled landing, went down and rolled up to his feet and found the pack stopped in the yard of a half-finished construction site. They were gathered around an old gray stone stained with lichen that was half-buried in the dirt. A dark shimmer was trying to form in the air above the stone, but they circled it, yelping and growling, ripping and clawing at it, and when they'd blown it apart they started to dig all together, clods of dirt flying all over the place. Dean stood and stared while they dug and dug, and then they hit the coffin and kept on going, jaws snapping through the old rotten wood and flinging planks and bits of winding-sheet out of the grave that he had to duck to avoid.

They stopped and looked up at him, out of the grave: they'd exposed the whole corpse, a man half-curled in the fetal position, showing the crack in his neck that went along with a hanging.

"Huh," Dean said, a little blankly, and shoved over the stone with his heel. Most of the letters had been worn down, but he could make out barely Jos H n, and a date in the eighteen-nineties. He stared down at it, and then he shrugged. "Can't hurt." He had the lighter fluid and the matches in one pocket, and an emergency ziplock of rock salt in the other.

The hellhounds jumped out and stood around the grave while he doused and salted the corpse and set it on fire, and they yelped approvingly while the flames crackled. "Okay," Dean said, after the corpse had gone to dust. "Back to base." He eyed the hounds warily, but with nobody else to chase handy, apparently they were ready to follow him again. They got back to the car just as Sam came out of the church with a stack of papers.

"Hey," Sam said, "I've got some leads—"

"One of them a guy with the initials JH who was hanged?" Dean asked.

Sam stared. "Uh, yeah—Josiah Hand, he—"

"Already taken care of," Dean said.

"Huh?" Sam said. "But—" Then he noticed the hellhounds. "Hey, how'd they get out of the car?"

Dean shrugged and opened the back door. The hounds jumped back inside one after another. "Come on, I want a steak."

When they finished eating, he had a thought and flagged down the waitress. "Hey, can I get some steaks to go? Raw ones." Back at the motel he ripped open the paper and put them down on the floor in front of the hellhounds. They looked at the steak and looked up at him weirdly, heads angled and cocked, like they didn't get what they were supposed to do with it.

"Come on, don't tell me you guys don't like steak," he told them.

"Uh, I don't think they need to eat, Dean," Sam said.

"Dude, if I didn't need to eat I'd still eat steak," Dean said, and nudged the package towards them.

The hellhounds sniffed at the steak some more, and eyed him some more, and then one of them suddenly darted in and grabbed one and dragged it back into a far corner of a room with him, huddled around it watchfully. "Yeah, there you go," Dean said, and nudged the package again, and one by one the hounds each took a steak and retreated. They still didn't do anything else for a minute, and then finally they started cautiously gnawing on the steaks, still keeping one eye on him and on Sam. "Nice to show a little gratitude."

Sam was looking up from his stack of newspapers, watching them eat with a weird expression. "I don't think demons give a lot of treats."

"Yeah, I guess," Dean said, then he paused. "Dude, you are not feeling sorry for the hellhounds."

Sam looked at him with his eyebrows raised. "I'm not the one who got them steaks."

"That's different," Dean said. "They did something good, you gotta reinforce that."

"Uh huh," Sam said.

It was starting to get hot outside, and it turned out hellhounds liked to stick their heads out of the car window just as much as regular dogs, if you rolled it down for them. That led to the discovery of the useful side effect: if somebody was sitting doing fifty-five in the fast lane, they'd give a few howls and the jerk would pull over like, well, all the hounds of hell were after him. The only time it didn't work was on a one-lane mountain road in Washington state, when the Impala got stuck behind a little putt-putt Miata covered with Wiccan symbols and Save The Whales bumper stickers and peace signs, and when the road finally branched out into two lanes and the Impala roared by, the driver, a cute blonde with hippie hair and glasses waved and smiled at them and called, "You should think about a hybrid!"

The hellhounds whined. Dean shuddered and hit the gas as fast as he could.

"Yeah, we're going to Spokane," Sam was saying to Bobby on the phone. "Looks like a poltergeist in a hotel. Yeah. Yeah, everything's fine." He closed it up and said, "Bobby hasn't found anything new yet."

"Okay," Dean said. "What've you got on the haunting?"

The hellhounds loved the poltergeist: they went galloping crazily from one end of the hotel to another chasing it around and around, and after a few hours they treed it in the attic. Sam and Dean had mostly stood around in the lobby, bemused, watching them go flying back and forth and hearing the faint gasps and shrieks from the hotel guests as vases fell over for no reason and lamps exploded. By the time they got it in the attic, the poltergeist seemed exhausted; a few old crates and trunks rattled feebly, and a mirror made a heroic attempt to smash itself over Sam's head as he stuffed the last charm into the wall around it; but that was it, and then it gave a lingering wail and was gone.

That night Dean gave each of the hellhounds a bowlful of beef blood—they didn't so much eat the steak as suck the juice out of it, and they especially loved it straight and microwaved. They stood waiting their turn patiently, wagging their tails. "So where to next?" he said over his shoulder.

"There's something going on in Jersey City," Sam said. "Looks like zombies."

"Uh," Dean said. Jersey City was too close to Queens, and he was no way going anywhere near there. "Let's give it to somebody else."

"What?" Sam said. "Are you feeling okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine, what're you talking about," Dean said.

"You want to give somebody else zombies," Sam said.

"Been there, done that," Dean said.

"No, these are real zombies," Sam said. "The Romero, eat-your-brains kind."

"Really?" Dean said, wistfully. He bet the dogs would run zombies to ground like nobody's business.

They did, and then it was fun machete work to finish the job, him and Sam back to back taking them out one after another as the hounds ran them in. They didn't even get winded. "Man, how awesome was that," Dean said, jubilantly, and then his cellphone rang.

"I see you're in the area," Bela said. "So I thought this might be a good time to mention that I put a curse on the bottle in case you reneged."

"Goddammit," Dean said, and hung up on her.

Sam had his eyebrows up. "Just what did you promise her?"

"Nothing," Dean muttered. "Listen, uh, why don't you stick around here tomorrow, I've got to run into Queens—"

"Dean," Sam said, "what did you promise her?"

Dean parked outside Bela's apartment building and sat there in the front seat and ran a hand over his face. "Okay," he muttered. "She's hot. She's evil, but she's hot. I'm like, James Bond with the evil spy chick—"

His phone rang. "Working up your courage, Dean?" she said. "I can see your car from the window, you know."

"Just trying to keep down my lunch," Dean said, and got out of the car.

She was waiting for him with a smile and a silk robe and an actual martini, so dry it didn't taste of anything but air. "Awesome," he muttered, and knocked it back. Then he took another and downed that one too.

"Oh, I am going to enjoy this," she said, purring, and leaned up to kiss him. He was ready to just go along; he figured if he got her hot and bothered enough, maybe he'd get her to skip the sideshow. And then at the last second he jerked his head aside without even meaning to, stupid thought going through his head—just a memory of the last time he'd kissed, that endlessly cool sweet taste that still hadn't faded all the way—

Her eyes narrowed. He cursed himself and put the glass down. "Okay, let's get this over with."

"In such a rush?" She sat down on the white couch and opened up a carved wooden box and took out a bright-red strap-on, fucking eight inches long at least. She put it down on the couch next to her and smiled. "All right then. Go ahead and strip." Dean gritted his teeth. No way was he giving her the satisfaction of making him complain. He jerked off his jacket and pulled his shirts off over his head. She crossed her legs and watched him, cat with canary smug.

He was down to boxers when the door buzzer went off. "What, you invited company?"

"Mm, there's a thought, but no," she said, and got up to press the intercom button. "Oh, look, it's Sam."

"Great," Dean said, looking for his pants.

She laughed softly and said, "Actually, you know, there's a really marvelous thought."

"You are seriously fucked in the head, you know that?"

"And yet you picked up on that very quickly, Dean," she said slyly, and pushed the buzzer. "Come right on up and join us, Sam," she called into it.

"No way," Dean said.

"Even if I let you off the hook?" she said. "Where by 'hook' I mean strap-on."

"No!" Dean said.

"So you'd rather get pegged than spend a little while making out with your brother?" Bela said thoughtfully. "I'm interested by your priorities, Dean." She opened the door and Sam came in, with the hellhounds right beside him. "Lovely to see you, Sam," she said, obviously not noticing the dogs, though her cat streaked across the room and vanished underneath the china cabinet.

"Yeah," Sam said. "You mind?" He pushed in past her.

"Dude," Dean said. "I told you to stay in Jersey!"

"And you thought I was gonna do that?" Sam said, grinning as he held up his cell phone and snapped a photo, carefully maneuvering to get Dean and the dildo both in the frame. "So Bela, Dean promised you the first three magical things he came across, right?"

"Right," she said, eyeing him warily.

"Well," Sam said, "I guess you can pick three of them to stay, then."

"Three of what?" she said.

She got a lot less enthusiastic after she put on a pair of magical glasses she kept around the house and finally saw the hellhounds. They were all watching her pretty eagerly. "Don't worry," Sam said earnestly. "They're housebroken. Except for the relentlessly hunting down anybody damned when I'm not around to control them."

"Very funny," she said bitterly. "Obviously I don't want them."

"Well, they're still yours," Sam said. "Unless you wanted us to take them off your hands. You know, for a fee."

A couple minutes later Dean was pulling his pants back on with deep, deep relief. "You could've mentioned this idea before I left this morning."

"Nah, I really couldn't," Sam said. He was fiddling with his cell phone and Dean's.

"Hey, what're you doing?" Dean said, grabbing for it too late: Sam had already switched the background to a closeup of the red dildo. "Goddammit, Sam!"

"I just wanted you to have a little reminder," Sam said, and then his smile was sliding away from amused like it was on a black diamond slope, "to quit making goddamn deals." Then he turned it on Bela, and it got even harder, colder, the same smile he'd used on the crossroads demon, and his eyes were yellow again like they hadn't been in weeks. "And if you ever lay a hand on my brother," he said softly, "I'll take you apart."

She drew warily back against the wall, and he turned and stalked out of the apartment. She looked at Dean. "Possessive, much?" she said, something that was almost a tremble in her voice making the bravado hollow. "I did wonder how he got you out of that deal. If you can't beat them, join them—standard approach, if a little hypocritical."

"Look, Bela," Dean said, tense. Hunters didn't like her, but if she came calling with a story about Sam going darkside, there were plenty of them already willing to listen to that one. "It's a—it's a temporary thing. He's going to get over it—"

"Oh," she said, rounding her mouth around it, sarcasm dripping. "Yes, of course, because being occasionally demonic is the sort of thing one gets over." One of the hellhounds barked at her, and she flinched and looked uneasily over her shoulder, even though she didn't have the glasses on anymore.

Dean rubbed a hand over the back of his neck. "Just—goddammit," he muttered. "Look, thank you. I'll find a way to pay you back. Just not," he looked back at the strap-on involuntarily.

She rolled her eyes. "I wasn't actually," she said. And paused. "Unless I really just couldn't resist."

"Nice," Dean said. "I'm outta here." He grabbed his jacket and held the door open. "C'mon, guys." The hellhounds trotted out the door in front of him.

Sam was downstairs in the car already behind the wheel, looking deeply smug. "So," he said, pulling out into traffic, "I just literally saved your ass."

"Shut up," Dean said.

Rush hour was just starting, turning the trip out of the city into a two hour slog, so they found a cheap flophouse to crash in for a little while, a pay-by-the-hour room with blackout curtains and a king bed, saggy mattress worse than they usually found at abandoned squats, unidentified stains on the thin wall-to-wall carpet and the sheets. They opened the door and looked around the room, and without a word Dean went back out and got the sleeping bags from the car.

The hounds looked really unenthusiastic about the floor, especially after they sniffed one particular spot near the window, and Dean woke up after a couple hours squashed up against Sam with dogs at his back, sleeping across his feet, and one lying with its head pillowed on Sam's hip. A faint line of sunlight peeked in between the curtains, the only light in the room.

Sam was sleeping on his side with his mouth a little open, soft and vague and pink. They were so close together Dean could feel his slow regular puffs of breath against his own mouth. Dean looked at him and thought about the kiss again, without wanting to. The taste of whatever it had been, his soul, Dean guessed; except it hadn't been just that, it'd been Sam giving it to him, how much Sam wanted to, how glad he'd been.

Dean swallowed and shifted a little onto his back, so he was staring at the ceiling with its blotchy patches instead. One of the hounds curled up behind Dean's knees lifted up his head, ears pricked forward and his mouth hanging open.

"You drool on me and we're going to have words," Dean muttered, and then he heard it too, faintly, something like a thump, something like a moan, a way off through the thin walls.

"Wha'sit?" Sam said sleepily.

"Don't know," Dean said. He got the Glock out from under his pillow and stuck it in the back of his jeans and rolled out of bed. A couple of the hounds padded after him into the hallway. He could hear it a little more loudly once he was outside: low stifled whimpers.

Sam came out knuckling sleep out of his eyes, feet shoved into sneakers without socks. The hallway was low-ceilinged and wider than usual, a little institutional, and they went along it quick and quiet. The hounds had picked up on the plan and weren't howling. They darted ahead, sniffing at the doors, and pulled up around a door about five rooms down and looked back. The faint cries had stopped. They took up positions on either side, then Dean knocked on the door. "Everything okay in there?"

He didn't hear anything back. One of the hounds whined quietly. Dean leaned in and pressed his ear to the door, and then he smelled it too: faint iron tang of fresh blood. He looked at Sam, and then he backed up a couple steps and kicked the door down.

"Jesus," Dean said, and went in. The woman on the bed wasn't conscious enough to cry anymore—barely more than a kid, mouth stuffed full of towel and her wrists tied to the bedposts, torn up where she'd struggled, thin skanky clothes scattered on the floor, blood on her thighs and the sheets, shallow cuts all over her body. She made a soft noise when he bent over her. "Shh, hang on, I've got you," he said, and put down the gun to get out his switchblade and cut her loose.

"Dean!" Sam yelled. Dean looked up to see a guy coming out of the bathroom, his hands red and bloody, with a gun pointing right into his face. Dean had about half a second to look down the barrel, and then the guy was airborne, flying across the room. He smashed into the wall so hard the sheetrock punched in beneath him.

"Go," Sam said, in a voice that made the girl on the bed flinch and curl in on herself, and the hounds leaped forward snarling.

"Sam!" Dean said, too late. The guy in the corner started screaming and clawing at the air wildly as the hounds tore into him, ripping away stuff that didn't look like skin or flesh and melted away into white smoke as they pulled it off. Sam stood over it all watching, his eyes glowing yellow and savage, his fists clenched.

"Oh my god, oh my god," the girl whispered, choking.

"Fuck," Dean muttered, and he bundled her up in the sheets and got her out of the room and down the hall to their own room. "Hang on, I'm calling you an ambulance," he told her, and dialed 911 from the hotel phone. "Yeah, you've got a kid here, she's been cut up pretty bad," he said. "Get someone here quick. I'm sorry, I've gotta go." He left the phone off the hook, and grabbed their duffles and the car keys, abandoning the sleeping bags.

The hounds were lying on the floor licking their paws clean. The guy on the floor was dead, staring up at the ceiling, huddled in on himself with his hands curled in front of him like claws, horror written all over his face. Sam was still standing there, looking down at what was left of him.

"Sam," Dean said. "Come on, we have to get out of here."

Sam raised his head and looked at him, yellow-gold. Then he nodded and walked out past Dean. He didn't say anything and didn't look back, just kept going, walking a little stiffly all the way out to the car, and got into the driver's seat.

Dean hesitated and then opened the back for the hounds and dumped the bags in the trunk before he got in. Sam peeled away from the curb. His hands were tight on the wheel, and the hounds all got low and quiet in the back seat, their eyes vivid red, almost glowing. It seemed weirdly dark and close inside the car, like they were driving alone at night, except outside it was late afternoon and the New York City traffic still blared and crawled and flashed like always. Somehow it didn't seem to make them slow down at all, streets slipping away like water, and Dean couldn't ever catch a street sign long enough to make it come into focus.

"Sam," he said. "Sam!"

"I can't help it," Sam said, something awful in his voice. "I can't—"

"Okay," Dean said, cutting him off. It was worse than Sam not talking at all. "Okay. Just get us out of the city." He glanced down at his cellphone. It wasn't getting a signal at all. "It's okay, Sam. It's gonna be okay."

He kept saying it, kept saying anything that came into his head—"Just don't take the Van Wyck, that sucks this time of day. I hate going by Fresh Kills too. Yeah, go north, we'll take the George Washington—we can go up the Palisades—" until the bridge blurred by underneath them and they were on the parkway, and he managed to get Sam to pull off onto a Scenic Overlook rest stop.

Sam stayed in the seat holding on to the wheel and Dean got out and yanked open the back door. "Get everybody out of here," he told the hounds, and they jumped out and started howling. People looked around uneasily and started to head for their cars, pulling out one after another with squealing tires, and finally Dean went around to the driver's side and opened the door. "Sam," he said, almost as scared as he'd ever been in his life. "Come on, Sam, come on out."

Sam's hands uncurled, and he swung his leg out, moving stiff and slow as an old man, but when he set his foot down on the ground, it was like the whole sky got darker, and the earth trembled a little—not like a quake, just cringing away. The hounds were all crouching low to the ground in a semicircle before him, fawning and whining. "Sam," Dean said, and made himself move in, even though his guts and his spine were all trying to go the opposite direction, and he cupped Sam's face in his hands.

It hurt, it hurt to touch Sam, like putting his hands on a red-hot stove, and there was something like a reddish glow behind Dean's fingers where he held on. He gritted his teeth and held on anyway. "Sam, it's okay. It's okay—" Sam was staring up at him blindly, mouth open like he was desperate for air, and Dean wasn't sure Sam was even hearing a word he was saying. "Sam," he said, and bent down and kissed him.

There was a hunger at the back of Sam's mouth that pulled at Dean as soon as he'd done it, as soon as their lips met, a raging heat that wanted everything, and Dean was pouring himself frantically in. He thought he couldn't do it: he'd run out and Sam would still be burning, but he kept going and going, gasping against Sam's mouth. Then Sam was standing up into his space and Sam's hands caught on his sides and slid up on bare skin, Dean's shirt still untucked from sleeping, and all of a sudden the heat was in him—Sam had him pushed up against the car, hot metal behind his back, Sam's weight pressing against him. "Jesus," Dean said, head tipping back helplessly, and Sam made a low soft noise and put his mouth on Dean's neck, just behind the curve of his jaw.

They stood there pressed together and shivering for a while, neither of them moving. The day was open and clear again, blue summer sky overhead. Sam was just Sam again, and the dogs were lying on the grass dozing, occasionally raising their heads to bark away a car that tried to pull in.

Sam hadn't lifted his head away from Dean's neck yet. "Sorry," Sam whispered, against his skin, and didn't make a move to get off him.

Dean rubbed Sam's back. "It's okay," he said again, trying not to think about why that didn't feel like a lie. "It's okay."

"I got nothing," Bobby said. "Dean, if there's a way to banish hellhounds, nobody's written it down."

"Whatever," Dean said. "I'm getting used to them." Bobby didn't say anything, but Dean winced at the kind of silence coming over the cellphone. "Look, what about Sam."

"Well, demon blood," Bobby said, "what lore I've found, it's not like possession. A demon can't just do it to you. They can feed you their blood, but you've gotta choose to use it. I'm thinking Sam didn't get more mojo the first time around because he knew better than to want any part of it, not like those other poor kids. Azazel prob'ly kept shoving those visions of the others in his head to try and get him going, show him what powers were out there."

"Hell of a sales pitch," Dean said. "So how do we shut them down now?"

"You'd start by getting rid of the damn hellhounds," Bobby said. "They're sure as hell not gonna shut down while he's got them pulling at the leash. But I don't know if that'd even do it. This is one hell of a genie to shove back in the bottle."

Dean snapped his phone shut after that awesome conversation and looked across the street at the butcher shop. Then he went into the grocery store and got beer and milk and three kinds of cereal instead. The hellhounds lifted their heads off the floor when he came back into the motel room; then they laid them back down again, disappointed. "Found us anything?" Dean said, putting a beer down next to Sam. He was so not going to feel guilty.

"Yeah," Sam said absently, picking up the bottle. He looked fine—he looked like himself, at the laptop with a half-dozen books open all around him, like any of a thousand hunts and the center of Dean's life. "Looks like a water leaper hatched down in the Florida panhandle. Four fishermen dead in the last two weeks, half-eaten bodies, weird mutilation patterns."

They weren't talking about the kissing. Later that night after they'd gotten the hell away from New York, Sam had pulled out some kind of fumbling awkward conversation starter over KFC in their motel room, and Dean had just said, "Dude, I didn't have to take it from Bela, we saved that girl, you're not demon-eyed anymore; let's call it a win and close the book on the day." For once, Sam had been down with the plan. So Dean didn't have anything to worry about there, except how he kept finding himself staring at Sam's mouth sometimes.

Like now. "Dean?" Sam said, breaking in.

"Uh, yeah," Dean said. "Good enough for me. Let's hit the road."

They found a cheap motel in Laird and dropped off their gear before heading out for the hunt. "So how do we catch this thing?" Dean said.

"Well, uh, we need bait," Sam said, which apparently was going to mean making a scarecrow stuffed with raw hamburger.

"Gross," Dean said. "So, listen—maybe we should leave them in the room." He didn't look at the hounds, who were all running around chasing each other in the motel parking lot, bounding from one end to the other, up and over cars, stretching their legs after sixteen uncomplaining hours in the backseat.

"Huh?" Sam said, blinking at him. "Why? I don't think they can drown, even if they jump out of the boat or anything."

"No, I," Dean said, and then he thought about telling Sam everything Bobby had said and finished, "Yeah, nevermind." So they poled out into the swamp with the hellhounds all piled low, front and back of the shallow boat, with their scarecrow sitting in his own little boat behind them.

"Man, that thing's already getting pretty ripe," Dean said, checking the crossbow again. "The leaper's got to be smelling—"

Then he was in the water, trying to keep hold of the crossbow, and Sam was thrashing around next to him. The water wasn't more than a couple feet deep, but Dean was already covered with mud by the time he managed to get his footing again. The hounds were all perched up on the nearest hillock shaking themselves off, and the leaper was bounding away from swamp-hill to swamp-hill: a giant frog-like shape with bat-wings and their scarecrow dangling from its mouth. "Come back here, you son-of-a," Dean yelled, and took off after it, boots squelching with every step. The hounds shot off ahead of him.

"Dean, wait!" But soon as Sam got one foot up on the wet reeds on the slope of the shore, his sneaker skidded out from under him, and he fell back over into the water with a huge splash.

"I got this one," Dean called back, grinning, wishing he had time to get a picture. "You just don't get yourself drowned, Sammy."

"Screw you," Sam yelled after him, coughing.

The leaper blended pretty well with the green and brown of the swamp, especially with evening coming on, but the hounds were on it, their voices belling through the trees to show Dean the way. They drove the leaper out onto more solid ground, open fields dotted with a few old abandoned shacks and lean-tos, where Dean could pick up the pace, and then all of a sudden their voices got loud and frantic and he saw them coming back towards him.

He couldn't spot the leaper anywhere: the sky was muddy dark gray and the trees overhead were drooping trails of ivy everywhere. But the fucking thing was there, had to be; the hounds were all yelling like mad, and on faith he jerked up the crossbow and took a blind shot into the air above him, and the leaper hit him as three hundred pounds of dead weight, instead of alive and kicking.

It still hit him, though, and when he went over, the ground opened up under him. It felt like he'd hit a plywood board or something, and it snapped under their weight and dumped him down a shaft, pitch black everywhere: the leaper's sticky mouth drooling all over his arms and dripping on his head, dirt and mud getting in his nose and mouth and sliding down his clothes, rough stone scraping his ankle where his pants rode up and banging his head and his back and thighs, until he hit water with a splash.

He took a minute to splutter back up to the surface and figure out that he wasn't dead, and then he took a couple more to shove the goddamn disgusting leaper as far off him as he could, which was nowhere near far enough, and then he got a grip on the side and looked up. He could see the moon and a faint sprinkling of stars coming out overhead, against the darkening sky. He was five feet down a deep straight-sided well, lined in stones, with about eight feet of water under him and a dead water leaper for company. "Awesome," Dean said, and his fingers slid off the slimy stones and dumped him back in the water.

He came up coughing and looked up: the hounds were there peering down at him, six heads in a ring around the top of the well. "Hope you guys are having a good time at least," Dean said. He spat a bunch of times. "God, that's gross."

One of the hounds yelped, and they all went away.

He grabbed onto the side of the well again and started climbing. He got about four inches up before he slid off again. He grabbed the water leaper's body and tried climbing on top of it, but that worked about as well as climbing on top of a beach ball in a pool: it kept shooting out from under him and dumping him back in.

A long time went crawling by. The heat he'd built up running was long gone, and the air down here was clammy and stinking. Dean started out treading water and ended up clinging onto the leaper's floating corpse for a break when he just couldn't keep going any longer.

"Dean?" Sam's voice sounded, faintly. "Dean!"

"Over here!" Dean yelled. A couple minutes later, the hounds' heads reappeared over the edges of the well, and Sam showed up right after. "Man, am I glad to see you," Dean said devoutly, still clinging to the leaper.

"Dude," Sam said, staring. "What are you doing with that thing?"

"Shut the hell up and get me out of here," Dean said. Sam stretched all the way down to grab his hand, and braced him up and out. Dean scrambled over the lip and fell over onto his back on the grass, gasping huge gulps of air.

"I don't even know what it is you smell like, but it's not anything good," Sam said. "Ugh, some of it's on my hand." He wiped it on the grass.

"I'm going to kick your ass for even bitching to me about that," Dean said, and grabbed the tails of Sam's shirt to try and wipe his face off on it.

"Get off me," Sam said. "You're probably going to get some kind of freak disease. Why were you hanging onto it like that?"

"Dude, I was down there a freaking hour," Dean said. "I was trying to stay afloat."

"Uh, the dogs came straight back and got me," Sam said. "It was maybe ten minutes." But he took off his shirt and gave it to Dean. It was wet too, but it was warm from his body.

"Well, whatever," Dean muttered. "It felt like a long time." He rubbed the muck off his face and flopped back over onto his back. The hellhounds came over and nudged him anxiously. "Yeah," Dean said to them. "Thanks."

That night—after a long, long hot shower—he went out and came back with a sack of beef bones and a big jug of beef blood, and six plastic bowls.

They headed back up to Maryland after, hunting a pack of vampires who'd gone crazy and stopped even trying to cover their tracks, leaving a trail of missing people and bloodless corpses behind them. Sam and Dean snuck the hellhounds into the morgue to get them the scent of the most recent victims, and spent three days tracking through the wilderness to find the vampires gone to ground in an old abandoned barn. There were maybe twenty of them, a couple posted as groggy guards on the door, and Sam and Dean had one jar of congealed dead man's blood to work with.

The hounds whined faintly with eagerness as they all crouched together in the bushes scoping the place out. "Keep it down, guys," Dean said, checking the guards out through binoculars. "What do you say, Sammy? Straight at 'em?"

Sam rolled his eyes and grabbed the binoculars away from him. "No," he said. "We need to wait until after dark. Once some of them have gone out hunting, we can take the ones left behind—"

"Yeah, that's a great plan," Dean said, "Except for the part where some of 'em will be out eating people."

"We can't kill twenty vamps on our own all at once, Dean," Sam said. "If we go in there and get killed, those people still get eaten."

"So we need a plan C," Dean said.

They crawled around the other side of the building and stacked a pile of deadwood and brush up against the side of the building, and sprayed lighter fluid halfway up the wall before they torched it. "This is a really bad idea," Sam said under his breath while they started to circle back to the door, just before the guards came unexpectedly around the corner.

It was a toss-up who was more surprised, but the hounds had the best recovery time and jumped them both. It turned into a wrestling match on the ground—apparently vampires didn't have a problem seeing hellhounds, or getting hold of them; when the hounds ripped at them, blood came out. The hounds managed to pin them long enough for Dean to get in with the machete, but the vampires got out a few loud yells, and by the time Dean had whacked off their heads, the rest of the vamps were pouring out the front door. "Into the woods!" Dean said, shoving Sam on ahead of him, back the other way.

"I told you this was a bad idea!" Sam said, and they took off running. Behind them, the vamps kicked open the hayloft doors at the back of the barn, and five of them jumped down to the ground. Dean wheeled around to hold them off.

"Fucking hunters," spat the vampire in the lead—she looked about fifteen, until you got a close-up: wild bloodshot eyes, long pale white-blonde hair matted down with a decade of dirt and full of leaves and blood, fingernails so long they'd curled over onto themselves.

"Hey, nobody made you go on the Soylent Green meal plan," Dean said, and lashed out. Most of them fell back, but the girl ducked under and darted at him, whip-fast, and she had the machete out of his hands and an elbow in his guts so quick he was on his knees before the blade hit the ground. She kicked him flat onto his back and was on him, stink of rot and blood while she gripped him by the throat and started to push, and there were six vamps on either side of him.

He had a second to think wow, this was going to suck, and to hope that Sam had gotten his ass out of there, and then seventy pounds of hellhound hit her in the chest, snarling. Dean rolled away coughing for air. The vamp hissed furiously and heaved the hellhound off; he hit the ground and one of the other vamps kicked him in the side, savagely. The hound curled away whimpering.

"Son of a bitch!" Dean said, scrabbling up the machete and struggling to his feet. Sam was there, goddamn idiot, grabbing his arm and hauling him up. They were back to back in a ring of vampires now, the hounds all clustering in tight with backed-into-a-corner snarls, the kicked one limping in behind the others. Dean reached down and patted him on the head with his free hand. "Sorry that didn't work out so great, pal."

The vamps all looked at the girl. She smiled bright-eyed and fanged and crazy and said, "We'll take them alive. We'll cut off their hands and feet and drink the blood fresh from the stumps, and make cups out of their skulls when they're dead."

"Okay, that's just nasty," Dean said. He tried to edge in a little sideways, to get himself between her and Sammy, although Sam wasn't cooperating.

"Maybe you'll die second," she said, watching him with glittering eyes. "Maybe we'll let you watch us pluck out his eyes and carve out his intestines, and drink from him while he screams."

"Yeah, or maybe you'll just keep standing there talking, and we'll die of boredom before you get up the guts to come in range," Dean said. "You want it so bad, come and get it."

She only laughed and said to the others, "Go slowly. I want to lose no one else. Let them feel death coming towards them."

The vampires started edging in closer around them, hands ready. Dean adjusted his grip on the machete, grimly. Soon as they were close enough—he'd hit that one on the left and try and make a hole to go through, see if he couldn't get at the crazy-ass leader and take her out before they pulled him down. Okay, so that hadn't worked great the first time around, but—

"Here," Sam said quietly behind him. Dean reached back without looking, and Sam pressed the Colt into his hand.

"Dammit, Sam," Dean said, switching hands fast; this was so not the time. "What the hell are you planning on using?"

"It's not for them," Sam said. Then his hand was on Dean's shoulder pushing him inexorably down to the ground, and the sky went dark above them.

The vampires hesitated, and then the fire from the burning building was leaping towards them, a huge orange-red plume arcing away from the barn and slamming the first of them into the ground, jumping over to the next and the next, like the lightning from freaking Raiders of the Lost Ark, until they were all on fire and screaming. Sam's hand was heavy as a ton on him, gripping hard.

"Sam," Dean gritted out, trying to push up from the ground. "Goddammit, let me up—Sam, that's fucking enough—" The vampires were collapsing to the ground still thrashing, hair and clothes blazing up yellow and hot, the hounds were watching and panting, eagerly, and Sam wasn't stopping. "Sam!" Dean yelled, and dropped himself instead, went flat to the ground and rolled away and up.

Sam was standing there watching it, fire reflecting the gold in his eyes, jaw clenched. He looked at Dean, eyes burning and miserable. "You have to," he whispered, and Dean got what Sam had put the gun in his hands for.

"Fuck that," Dean said flatly, and turned and threw the Colt away, his best major-league throw, all the way into the woods. "You want to burn those bastards up and listen to them scream, don't you ask me to stop you. You want to stop, you stop. You hear me, Sam? Because I don't give a fuck if you want to torch them all, I'm not going to stop you, I'm going to go down right the hell with you—" and Sam inhaled a sobbing breath, and the fire went out.

He sank to his knees in the charred smoking ruin around him. Dean took the machete and finished off the last few weakly moaning vampires, quick and clean, and then he went to Sam and crouched down to grip him by the shoulders. Sam made a choked noise and leaned forward and pressed his forehead against Dean's chest. "It's okay, it's okay," Dean said, rubbing the back of Sam's neck, long gentle strokes from his head all the way down to his shoulderblades.

"It's not," Sam whispered. "Dean, I can't—I'm fighting it all the time now, and it just keeps getting harder. I want to use it. Sometimes I just feel like, it's going to come exploding out of me, and I—Dean, I don't want to turn into some kind of monster. I'd rather be—"

"Screw that," Dean said. "That's not an option, Sam. You already know what happens if you check out on me, so quit thinking you've got an escape hatch."

"So what the fuck do you want me to do?" Sam yelled, jerking away from him and staggering up to his feet. He turned around and glared down at Dean, still yellow-eyed. "You're gonna just sit around while I turn into a demon, Dean? While I start hurting people—doing who the fuck knows what with these powers—"

"Dude, so far, you've racked up a demon, a serial killer, and a whole bunch of psycho vampires who wanted to rip our limbs off and drink from the stumps," Dean said, straightening up. "Yeah, I get it, you're freaked out. But you're still you, Sam. You do more damage when you get pissed off, and you need a pair of sunglasses, but call me crazy, I'm not seeing a downside here I can't live with."

"Yeah?" Sam said softly, still glittering. "And what about this one?" He took a step closer, and Dean felt his mouth go dry, all the way dry.

He swallowed. "Like I said," he managed. "Nothing I can't live with."

Sam just stood there a minute longer trembling, and then he said "Jesus, Dean," groggily, and Dean blew out a deep breath and gave him a gentle shove. "C'mon," Dean said. "Now we've gotta go find that gun."

"You didn't have to throw it that far," Sam said.

"Just making sure you got the point," Dean said.

It took them the rest of the day to hike back out to the car, and another hour to find a Super-8 and wash the hunt off. They ended up at a mom-and-pop diner down the road, eating meatloaf and mashed potatoes with the dogs lying under the table yawning or giving a quiet yip every once in a while, making the truckers at the counter look uneasily over their shoulders. The hound who'd gotten kicked in the fight put his head on the banquette next to Dean's thigh and looked up at him with hopefully glowing red eyes. "Dude, you'll get yours, but I'm eating all of this, unless you want the coleslaw," Dean said.

It turned out the hellhounds did want the coleslaw, weirdly enough, and to keep it from turning into an under-the-table scuffle, he had to get extra. The waitress brought the six orders of coleslaw with a puzzled, wary expression on her face, and didn't seem to notice them sneaking the dishes under the table, even though the hellhounds clattered some while they licked it out of the plates.

They walked back to the motel slowly through the late summer night, the hounds darting out ahead and coming back. In the sitting area of the room Dean held up the bag of meaty bones he'd picked up and sternly said, "Okay, you guys are gonna sack out here and not interrupt," and they all yelped agreement and curled up on the floor in a big pile, each with their own.

Sam was grinning when Dean turned around. "What?" Dean said, defensively.

"I love you, you know that?" Sam said, low and soft, and Dean wanted like anything to laugh it away, except he couldn't make himself do anything but look down, away from that look in Sam's eyes that he had a hard time buying was for him, and then Sam's hands were sliding onto his face and tipping it up, like he was the girl in some 1940s flick.

"Sam," Dean said, trying for aggrieved, except his heart was pounding too hard, he wanted it so fucking badly. Sam kissed him softly, just a press of lips, and Dean shivered hard all over and broke loose to gulp some air and shove Sam back onto the bed.

Sam fell easily, bouncing a little, and heeled off his shoes. Dean sat down to get his boots off, but Sam pulled him down backwards with him and they were rolling over the bed, kissing crazily and rucking up the sheets and the quilt into ridges all around them, Sam's hand under his shirt, the other cupping his head, the other gripping his hip—"Uh," Dean said, dragging himself out from under long enough to do the math.

"I want," Sam panted, a half-scared desperate note in his voice, "Dean, I want, let me—"

"Yeah?" Dean said, more a question than an answer. Sam closed his eyes and Dean's boots came loose around his feet, laces pulling themselves out slow and careful and balletic until he could just kick them off. "Pretty cool," Dean said, swallowing. His button-fly opened up, one button after another coming loose. The pressure was like phantom fingers sliding over him, a little clumsy and tugging, and okay, that was kind of hot, especially when the touch slid down inside, skimming down his hips and his thighs, smooth and frictionless.

"Is this okay?" Sam said, hoarsely, eyes still shut.

"Yeah," Dean said, starting to think maybe it was. "Yeah, Sammy, it's all good—"

The jeans folded themselves off him, and holy shit, he was actually floating off the bed, maybe half an inch, just enough to let his jeans and boxers clear without him having to lift up; his shirt peeling up and over his head, all of it at the same time. Sam was braced up over him, shivering, lip caught between his teeth and that little studying-frown dent between his eyes. Fingers started to curl around Dean's hip, stroking up his sides and his back, over his chest, going everywhere, and Dean let himself lean back into all of it.

"Man," Dean said, dreamily. "This is like, being in bed with all the Laker girls at once or something. Hey!" He jumped at the smack on his ass and opened his eyes and glared at Sam.

Sam smirked back, yellow-eyed. "Sorry, still getting the hang of this," he said, insincerely.

Dean was about to jump him, except just then a firm grip closed around his cock, and Dean had a solid set of priorities. "Oh, fuck," he said, strained. Sam shuddered and threw himself down next to him and went a little nuts, biting Dean's collarbone, tonguing his nipples wet and hard, rubbing circles over them with the flat, and meanwhile Dean's cock just kept being slowly and carefully jerked, silky smooth touch that didn't need any lube, cupping his balls too.

"You're not, you're still," Dean panted, because Sam hadn't even gotten his shirt off yet.

"Yeah," Sam mumbled, but he didn't seem to feel like taking a break long enough to strip down. He roughed up Dean's nipple some more, leg thrown over Dean's thigh, seam of his jeans pressing in with all his warmth behind it, and then started kissing his way up even while more touches were curling around Dean's thighs and ass, one fingertip tentatively running all the way down. Dean flinched helplessly when it got to his hole, because okay, it wasn't really his idea of sexy. But the touch stroked over him a few more times and once he got the reflex calmed down, he started to get the picture, especially with Sam pressed up all against him, kissing him sloppy and eager and wet, stroking him all over.

Sam kept touching him down there, lightly, still jerking him, smooth strokes all over his inner thighs coaxing him to spread for it. Dean's legs eased up, getting all relaxed and lazy. Dean grunted a little when it finally pressed inside, and Sam made a low pained sound like he was feeling it himself. He sat up and jerked his shirt off fast, fell back to wrestle his jeans and his shorts down over his hips and kick them onto the floor. Dean watched, sprawled out on the bed half-dazed; all the time Sam was still working him over with the telekinesis, and holy fuck, more of it now, deeper in him, stretching him open—

Sam rolled back over and curled up around Dean again. "Dude," Dean said thickly, shoving his face against Sam's shoulder, "you done this before?"

"Uh, no? What, you mean the—?" Sam said.

"No, I mean the backdoor thing!" Dean said.

"Yeah?" Sam said. "Me and Jess, a few times—wait, so, you never—"

"Shut up, sure I have, 's just too much of a pain," Dean said, squirming and gasping—there was suddenly this weird amused feeling all over him, like the touching had gotten a little playful, and oh holy fuck, inside him, it was, Sam was, pressing deep and stroking, and Sam was jerking his cock, and Sam was kissing him, nipping at his lower lip, sucking on it.

"Dean," Sam panted, and Dean couldn't fucking move, he was getting it five ways at once, any one of them good enough to make it to home plate on. He couldn't even get his muscles in line long enough to grab hold of Sam's cock, full and heavy riding against his hip, head smearing a wet trail as Sam shivered. "Dean," Sam said again, deep and hungry, and something like a technicolor picture opened up in Dean's head, Sam sliding that cock into him, slow and easy, his legs hooked over Sam's hips and pushed back against him—

"Jesus, Sam, fuck," Dean said, groaning, because it wasn't actually happening but it felt like it was, the careful touch inside him pressing deep and wide, swelling in him, and it was Sam, Sam was here and with him and Sam was going to be okay, and so was he, and Sam pressed in him even deeper and then he said low and irresistible, "Dean, come on, come for me," and Dean shot all over them both.

He made a point of tilting his hips over to get as much on Sam as possible, because seriously. "I don't believe you whammied me to get me off," Dean said, working up a grumble as he grabbed hold of Sam's cock.

"I think I did a little more than just, oh, fuck," Sam said, moaning, as Dean pulled him down into the mess and started jerking him off the good old-fashioned way, and that worked pretty awesome too.

Dean was leaning against the counter for a better view of the cute chick filling the order when his phone rang. "Hey, Bobby."

"I've got—well, it's not great news, but it's better than nothing," Bobby said. "There's an ancient Babylonian ritual for purging demonic blood. It ain't gonna be pretty, I'll tell you that right now—starts with branding and it goes downhill from there—"

"Yeah, we'll pass on that one," Dean said. "Listen, Bobby, don't worry about it anymore. It's under control."

Bobby paused. "You want to run that by me again?"

"It's okay, we got it covered," Dean said.

"I got a feeling I'm gonna regret asking this," Bobby said, "but how?"

"Uh," Dean said, "well, for one thing we bought Sam some colored contacts. Would you believe, turned out he needed glasses anyway. I knew all that reading was going to catch up with him some day—"

"Dean!" Bobby said.

"What do you want me to say?" Dean turned away from the counter and looked out over at where Sam was sprawled out on the blanket, nose stuck in a book again. "Sam's got a handle on it, I got a handle on him—" he smirked to himself "—the dogs are staying in line—"

"The dogs?"

"They're good dogs!" Dean said. "Man, this vengeful spirit we were after yesterday, you should've seen it, we scared it up and they nailed it in ten minutes—all right, look," he hurried on, hearing Bobby getting ready to really blow the lid off, "We're not worrying about it anymore. And I'm sure as hell not sitting him down for some torture."

"Dean, your brother's got demon blood in him."

"And that's already saved our asses more than once," Dean said. "Bobby, we're doing our job, we're helping people, getting rid of the evil things out there. If it turns out that's not good enough for somebody upstairs, then I guess at least we'll go to Hell in style."

Bobby didn't say anything a while, and then he sighed. "I sure hope you boys know what the hell you're doing," he said, in the tone that said it was a long shot.

"Yeah, well," Dean said. "Me too."

His order was up when he turned around. He stuffed a couple extra bills into the tip jar as thanks for the view—seriously, those were some nice short-shorts—and grabbed the bag of burgers and shakes and onion rings.

"Thanks," Sam said, snagging one when Dean dropped the bag down on the grass in front of him. Dean stretched out next to him and sucked down his chocolate shake. They ate companionably, shoulders bumping; the hounds were all lying around the blanket, sleeping in the grass, although their noses kept twitching. It was that last-week-of-August hot, sun filtering down gold and almost too bright through the leaves, air baking-warm on his skin. The park was pretty busy, but the hellhounds had cleared them a nice shady spot in a corner of the big meadow. Sam's t-shirt was riding up and there was a warm bare strip of skin above his jeans, hint of sweat shining in the hollow of his back.

Dean licked his fingers clean and napped for a while, warm and full and comfortable, and then he rolled over and noticed Sam was still reading. "Okay," he said, stretching, and nudged Sam in the side with his knee. "Enough with the lying around." He gave the dogs a whistle. "You guys too."

They lifted their heads. He unrolled the jacket he'd been using as a pillow and dug into the pocket, and their ears all pricked up and forward. "Uh, Dean," Sam said, staring, "isn't that the cursed doll we took off that witch last week?"

"Yep," Dean said, getting up. He waved it at the dogs, soft raggedy arms of evil flopping around, and threw it, a long ball way across the field. They all lunged to their feet and ran after it yelling. Sam started laughing helplessly, and Dean grinned and reached down to pull him up.

"Come on," he said. "Let's go play a little fetch."

= End =

With many many thanks to Terri, giddy, and Ces for beta! ♥

All feedback much appreciated!
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