Dean rolls into the Bat Cave around ten in the morning. Sam's already had breakfast and sits in the library listening to the radio system that Dean rigged to pick up police broadcasts in various different cities. He's working on the hard copy catalog of legit psychics in the United States, writing by hand in one of his leather bound blank books. He expects his brother without knowing when exactly Dean'll show; Sam woke up to a text message that Dean sent in the middle of the night: On my way, soon as I rest for the drive. Sam doesn't even look in the general direction of the entrance when he hears the metal door open and close. He listens to Dean's footsteps, a lagging shuffle instead of the usual steady, purposeful rhythm.
"You didn't have to leave so early, you know," Sam calls. "Unless you have something here to rush back to, that I don't know about."
"Sam," Dean says. And his voice is all wrong.
Sam turns his head far right to look at his brother, finds him standing a little bent to the left with his hand inside his jacket and pressed to his side. Dean's pale with a hurt lip, and his body language reads pain, plain as bad news to Sam. "Dean?" And Sam's up on his feet, moving to his brother.
Dean leans into Sam the minute his little brother's close enough, as Sam takes him by the shoulders with eyes searching his face and body wildly. Dean drops his head forward into Sam's shoulder.
"What's wrong with you?" Sam asks, an edge to his voice. "What happened?"
"Poltergeist got me pretty good," says Dean. "I'm okay. Went to the ER."
"It was that bad?" Sam starts guiding Dean out of the library toward the nearest bedroom, arm around Dean's shoulders. "What the hell are you doing driving back here from Minnesota by yourself like this?"
"The ER was just to be safe—and for the good drugs."
They make it to Dean's bedroom and Sam eases his brother down on the bed. Dean winces and swallows a groan as he gets horizontal. There's already a sheen of sweat across his face. "It's not that bad," he says.
"I'll be the judge of that," says Sam, hands starting to comb over his brother's body. Dean's layered up in a brown thermal shirt, a dark blue button up, and his forest green military jacket. Sam pulls up the shirts gently to look at the spot Dean was guarding with his hand. A giant bruise covers most of Dean's left side, dark purple and blue, almost black in the middle. Sam hisses in sympathy when he sees it. "Geez, Dean. No internal bleeding? Broken bones?"
"They checked," says Dean, a little color back in his face now that he's lying down. "I'm good. Just sore."
"You should've stayed up there a few days. Did you even get any sleep?"
"Four or five hours."
Sam shakes his head, sitting on the bed next to his brother's hip. There's some more bruising on Dean's torso that he can see but nothing as ugly as his left side. Sam wonders if Dean was checked for a concussion and if his screwed knee's hurting too.
"Driving's not so bad," Dean says, looking at Sam. "As long as I'm not on my feet. I didn't want to stay another few days, Sammy. I wanted to come home."
"Yeah, okay," says Sam softly, pulling Dean's thermal back down and petting over it. Dean's been gone nine days. Sam started to miss him after a week had gone by. Dean doesn't mind time on the road, but if he's alone, he's wants to get back to Lebanon as soon as he can. Sam gets it. "I'll get you some ice and water. You have painkillers?"
"Yeah." Dean reaches into his jacket pocket. He rattles the bottle of pills without taking it out.
Sam goes into the kitchen he and Dean partially renovated since finding the Bat Cave in 2013. He pulls an ice pack out of the freezer compartment of the retro-style steel refrigerator and fills a glass with filtered tap water. The police radio broadcast for Topeka is still playing in the library. Sam registers a piece of it on his way back to Dean.
Dean's got his eyes shut and his right hand resting on his belly. 5 o'clock shadow on his jaw. He looks like he could not move for a week, and Sam means to keep him off his feet that long, if necessary. He sits down on the edge of the bed again, and Dean's eyes flutter open.
"Can you sit up?" Sam asks.
Dean pushes himself up the headboard a little and takes the bottle of pills out of his jacket. Sam opens it for him. Dean takes two pills and drinks the whole glass of water, then sinks back down on the bed. Sam presses the ice pack to Dean's side, over the thermal.
"You should get out of that jacket," he says. "Ditch the shoes."
"Too much effort," says Dean. "That ice feels good."
"You're not going anywhere for a while."
"Can't stand doing without me?" Dean grins.
"I can't stand you not taking care of yourself when I'm not around to do it for you," Sam says seriously.
"We're getting too old for this, Dean."
"I'm forty-two. And what do you mean, we? Half the hunts I go on, I do without you."
"You don't have to hunt alone so much, if you would just hunt less."
"Or if you would come along more."
"I'm not even remotely old, Sam. And I'm not actually asking you to come with me if you don't want to. Just don't tell me to stop."
"I'm not," says Sam. "I'm asking you to leave the job to younger hunters a little more and leave home without me a little less."
They're quiet for a minute. Sam holding the ice pack to Dean's side. Dean lying still on his back and looking at the ceiling. Sam lays his free hand flat on Dean's belly, and Dean looks at him.
"Could I hold you?" Sam asks.
"Yeah," Dean says, voice coming out scratchy. He takes over the ice pack when Sam lets go of it.
Sam moves to the other side of the bed and lies down next to Dean. Dean stays on his back, and Sam lies on his side pressed to Dean's right, top arm across Dean's chest, hand cupped over Dean's left shoulder, and face in Dean's neck and hair. Sam closes his eyes as he settles in, smelling the soothing scent that's uniquely his brother's. He feels Dean relax against him, and he knows that pretty soon, big brother will be out. Breathing's already slowing down. Sam doesn't know what's putting Dean to sleep more: his body's need to recuperate or Sam holding him. It's something he's mentally catalogued about his and Dean's relationship, the way each other's touch relaxes them. Sam's tracked the change in his brother's pulse when they're touching or cuddling on more than one occasion. He's learned to use it, touching Dean to calm him down when his brother's upset—even in the midst of an argument, when Sam can get away with it. He's noticed that Dean touches him in response to his emotions too, though Sam can't guess whether Dean knows what he's doing or just picked up the behavior from Sam.
Living together in the Bat Cave for the last eight years has changed Sam and Dean's relationship in a few ways: they're happier together, more harmonious, closer—which other people might have thought impossible but it's true. They take better care of each other. Physical affection's become a part of that: they're each other's primary source of love, despite their sexual relationships with women, and touching is the best way to make each other feel loved consistently. It beats the hell out of talking about their feelings, anyway.
And something about home lends itself to the brothers letting their guard down. Sometimes, all they want is to curl up together and not say a word for a few hours. So they do. They've had the sense since moving in that this is for the long haul. That it's going to be the two of them together until they die. Maybe they love each other a little bit more for it. Maybe they've each privately decided: if my brother's my partner for good, might as well be the way I want to be with him.
Sam knows it when Dean's asleep. He doesn't move for a long time anyhow. Work can wait.
Just after four in the afternoon, rain coming down from a dark gray sky, and Sam's in the convenience store at the gas station nearest the Bat Cave. He left his brother asleep at home to go out for coffee, Ace bandages, whiskey, and muscle ointment. The store's quiet. Just him and the clerk. No music on the stereo system, the sound of the rain providing background noise instead. The Impala's outside at pump 2, only because Sam decided to fill her up for Dean. Sam's items are sitting next to the register waiting for him, as he tries to figure out whether there's something else he should buy. He picks out a packet of black gel pens, which he burns through every few weeks with all the long hand writing he does. He turns his head toward the store entrance as he catches sight of a younger man outside on his way in.
The stranger's late twenties or early thirties, not quite six feet tall, thin with narrow shoulders for a guy, wearing faded jeans, dirty boots, a blue shirt under his sandy brown jacket. He looks shaken up, mind full of something. He goes straight to the counter and asks the clerk for a pack of cigarettes and a bottle of Jim Beam. As the clerk rings him up, the man leans in and asks quietly, "Listen, you wouldn't know where I can find the Winchesters around here, would you?"
Sam never knows what to think, when somebody's looking for him and Dean: is the guy out to hurt them or ask for their help? Few people know that Sam and Dean are in the Lebanon area. Almost nobody knows about the Bat Cave. The ranks of hunters are thinner now than they were before the Apocalypse days, and not all of them have been in the life long enough to have heard about Sam and Dean Winchester. The brothers still don't have many friends, in or out of hunting. Dean hunts alone or with Sam; Sam hunts with his brother or not at all. How this guy, who Sam's sure he's never seen before, knew to come to look for them in Lebanon is a damn good question.
The clerk, who's familiar with Sam and Dean but doesn't know where they live, says to the man, "Is that Sam and Dean Winchester?"
"Yes, sir," the stranger says.
"I know they're in the area. No telling where, though. They keep to themselves."
The stranger sticks the cigarette pack in his jacket pocket and curls his arm around the bottle of whiskey in a paper sack. "Thanks anyway."
Sam watches him step out before paying for his items, nodding and saying thank you to the clerk. The stranger's starting his car next to pump six when Sam approaches him. He leans down to look through the passenger window at the man, rapping on the windowpane. Stranger rolls the window down with a wary look. Sam holds out a business card for the Blue Moon Motel in town. The stranger takes it, face wrinkling in confusion.
"Be there at eight o'clock tonight," Sam says.
"You want to see the Winchesters? Then be there."
Sam walks away to the Impala parked at pump two. The stranger drives off.
When Sam gets home, Dean's in his favorite pair of sweatpants, a white tee, and Sam's hoodie. Dirty clothes on the floor of his bedroom. Lying on his good side and curled around a pillow. It must've hurt to change clothes. Sam still doesn't know if he trusts Dean's health report. Almost wants to drag his brother to the hospital in Lebanon and have him checked out again. Dean would never go for it, though, and Sam's smart enough not to pick a fight. He sets the plastic bag of stuff on Dean's armchair and sits behind his brother on the bed. "Dean. You up?"
"Mmmm," says Dean. "Yeah. Where'd you go?"
"Needed a few things. How's your knee?"
Dean's right knee has been giving him trouble for the last few years. It hurts, locks up sometimes, muscles stiffen in the cold. Just one of those things about hunting and getting older at the same time. And it's not the only part of Dean's body that complains.
"Not bad. I don't know."
"Well, I bought a new roll of bandages to wrap it with," says Sam. "If you got thrown around badly enough to get those bruises, I figure your knee might've taken a hit too. I'm going to make a salve for you in a minute, but why don't I wrap the knee first?"
Dean slowly rolls onto his back, as Sam fetches the Ace bandages and ointment out of the gas station bag.
"The soreness worse now than it was this morning?" Sam asks, pushing up Dean's right pant leg above his brother's knee.
"Yeah," Dean says, almost groaning it out.
Sam squirts a pea-sized amount of ointment onto his fingers and starts rubbing it gently into Dean's knee. "You were asleep when I left. You get enough rest?"
"Guess so. Didn't mean to sleep so long, but you knock me out."
Sam smiles as he starts to wrap Dean's knee with the bandages. By now, he knows just the right amount of snugness Dean needs. "I dozed off for a while too."
Dean closes his eyes and sighs out a breath, right arm still wrapped around the spare pillow. "My back's going to be a bitch soon," he says. "I can feel it coming."
"Driving several hours right after you got hurt couldn't have helped," says Sam. He pulls the pant leg back down to Dean's ankle. "You know, I could've come up there, if you didn't want to be alone."
Dean shakes his head. "Home, Sam. Not some crappy motel room for money we should save."
Sam lifts up Dean's t-shirt without asking to check on the big bruise. Doesn't look any better than it did eight hours ago. "Let me go mix the salve and I can work on your back if you want. You hungry?"
"Just a little. I don't know what I can keep down right now."
"Soup," Sam decides out loud. He stands up with the tube of ointment in his hand and squeezes Dean's left knee. "Just relax and I'll be right back."
The salve's a Native American recipe that Sam learned from a friend of theirs, an older woman named Alice June who lives on the Potawatomi reservation. He and Dean hunted a vengeful spirit in her community three years back, and she's been one of their only friends in Kansas ever since, sort of a surrogate mother figure. Sam talks to her more than Dean. Sam likes her a lot, likes learning from her. She's taught him about healing the body and the spirit, taught him about the plants native to Kansas and their medicinal uses, their mystical uses. She's told him almost every story she knows from her people because she knows Sam's a sucker for lore. She's also pretty good at giving him advice, especially when it comes to handling his brother.
Sam chooses from the stock room white willow bark, peppermint, wintergreen oil, almond oil, and a little glass container of beeswax. He warms the beeswax on the stove just enough to make it pliable and boils the bark and peppermint. He adds the oils and the bark and peppermint mixture to the beeswax and mixes until he has a dark green salve in the tin. On his way back to Dean's room, Sam puts the needle down on the record one of them left on the record player in the library. The music's loud enough that he can make out the words from Dean's room, one of the many records from the forties left behind by the Men of Letters. Dean secretly finds the music relaxing, though he would never admit to liking anything but the rock he listens to in the Impala.
Dean's just as Sam left him. He helps Dean sit up to take off the t-shirt, then Dean lies back down. Sam wants to wince at the sight of his brother's torso: scraped up in some places and bruised all over.
"Are you cold?" Sam asks. "Want me to turn the heat up?"
"I'm all right," says Dean.
Sam scoops a bit of salve out of the glass container with two fingers and touches them to the big bruise on Dean's left side. He rubs the salve over the whole bruise as gently as he can, paying attention to the rise and fall of Dean's chest and the muscles in Dean's abs for signs of a pain spike. Dean lies still and doesn't say a word, looking at the ceiling. Sam starts using the heel of his palm to rub the salve into the center of the bruise, fingers cupping Dean's waist. "Someone's looking for us," he says. "Stranger from out of town stopped at our gas station and asked the clerk if we live around here."
"He look like a hunter?"
"I don't know. Maybe."
"Did you talk to him?"
"I told him to be at the Blue Moon at eight. Didn't say who I was."
"Damn it," Dean says, more to himself than Sam. "I don't know if I want to go anywhere tonight, Sam."
"Wasn't expecting you to come with me. You should stay here and rest."
"Let you go alone? We don't know who this guy is or what he wants. Could be dangerous."
"I can handle myself, Dean." Sam's moved through other bruises now. He digs more salve out of the container with crooked fingers and starts coating Dean's right side before rubbing Dean's belly. Precaution and comfort. The salve soothes pain and inflammation, and belly rubs soothe Dean. Sam doesn't know what kind of condition Dean's insides are in, but if there's a chance of damage, Sam'll do what he can to heal it.
Dean closes his eyes as Sam rubs his belly, enjoying it. Sam's touch is soft and slow. He can feel the heat in Dean's skin, heat from the friction and the wintergreen oil. He wonders if he'll still be doing this for his brother twenty odd years from now, when they're in their sixties. Sam realizes he wouldn't mind. He likes being a healer almost as much as he likes being a Man of Letters. For someone who's spent most of his life killing things, it feels good to heal instead.
Sam picks up Dean's left hand in both of his and starts massaging it. Palm, wrist, fingers. Hands are important. Theirs are abused more than most other body parts. Sam rubs Dean's palm with his thumbs, massages Dean's wrist and hopes his brother's hands don't turn arthritic when they get closer to old. After a few minutes, he picks up Dean's right hand and spends a little more time on that one. He feels the calluses, the skin rough and dry and scarred. The marks left behind by Dean's gun, by too many scrapes and cuts to count.
"Maybe I could go," Dean says. "It's just a talk, right?"
"Dean," Sam says. "You're not going anywhere like this. Especially not if there's a chance this guy's a threat. You're going to stay in bed or lie on the couch and watch TV. I'll be back in under an hour, I promise. Ready to flip?"
Dean carefully rolls over onto his belly, already smelling of mint. He gathers his pillow in both arms under his head and closes his eyes.
Sam looks at his brother's back before he reaches out. The broad, muscular shoulders. Long line of the spine. A few scars across Dean's upper back. Skin pale from months of winter, freckles faded. Sam coats his hands with the last of the salve and lays them on Dean's lower back, the spot that bothers Dean the most besides his bad knee. He massages it for a while with fingers and palms. He can feel the muscles tighter than they should be, especially around the vertebrae, and when Dean's whole body clenches because Sam presses his thumb into a knot, Sam says, "Breathe, Dean." He rubs the knot loose, feels Dean's body relax again.
Sam scoots up the side of the bed and starts rubbing Dean's shoulders. Those are always tense. Sam's grateful for his big hands when he gives Dean a massage because they make it easier for Sam to work Dean's upper back efficiently. He rubs the breadth of Dean's shoulders, spends a few minutes between Dean's shoulder blades, then starts massaging Dean's neck.
Dean hums in satisfaction, and Sam smiles.
"If you ever get sick of being a library recluse, you could make a career change to male masseuse, Sammy," Dean says.
"Shut up," says Sam.
"What? LMTs make good money."
"You're the only one I'm interested in treating, jackass."
"Why, Sam. Are you trying to make me blush?"
Sam rolls his eyes affectionately, still pulling at the back of Dean's neck. "Jerk."
Dean doesn't reply, quiet and motionless under Sam's hand. Sam rubs his neck longer than he needs, then pets the back of Dean's head in one glide, as he says, "I'm going to go make you some soup."
"Toast would be nice," Dean mumbles, as Sam leaves the room.
Sam brings his brother a bowl of tomato rice soup and toast on a tray forty-five minutes later.
He drives his Charger to the Blue Moon Motel, pulling into a parking space at eight on the dot. The air's cool, damp, and smells of rain. Only three other vehicles in the lot besides his. The LED motel sign glows blue and white in the dark: big squiggly letters spelling out BLUE MOON on top of a word box announcing Rooms $59.99 Cable WIFI Clean. Sam gets out of his car and looks around for which end of the motel the clerk's office is in, then sees the stranger from the gas station stepping out of a room several doors down. They make eye contact, and the stranger comes toward Sam. He doesn't have any weapons on him that Sam can see, but Sam's not going to take chances. His favorite gun's tucked into the back of his waistband.
"Are you a Winchester?" the stranger asks, as he reaches Sam. He's got his hands shoved into his jacket pockets.
"Sam. Who are you?"
"Carson." He holds out a hand for Sam to shake. "Carson Jacobs."
"You a hunter?" Sam says.
Carson nods. "Why else would I be looking for you?"
"Who told you where to find us?"
Sam smiles just a little. "Right."
"Where's your brother?"
"Recuperating from a hunt."
"He all right?"
"He'll be fine. What do you need?"
"Info, mostly. And maybe some supplies."
"I'm listening," says Sam.
Carson describes the case he's been working up in Nebraska for the last two going on three weeks: a string of women in their twenties and thirties raped in their own beds. They all live alone and describe the attack and the rapist in the same strange terms: they claim their rapist isn't a man but some kind of creature, huge—at least seven feet tall, irresistibly strong, unclothed with a muscular torso and shoulders but bony arms and legs, no hair. They couldn't make out the face too well in the dark but they all said his eyes flashed gold when he climaxed. Each woman told Carson that at first, her rape was painful….. the creature was rough, held her down with great weight on her chest, and his penis felt huge. But eventually, she started to feel pleasure, and her terror gave way to an unexplainable lust. Her orgasm followed his; that was consistent with every victim. And the weirdest thing about the case are the after effects. The women want sex all the time now, more than any of them ever have before. Two of them recently committed suicide. One raped her girlfriend. Two of the boyfriends of the victims called Carson up to complain about the disturbing sexual encounters they recently had. The cops are treating it like a serial rape case and dismissing the women's descriptions of the attacker as trauma-induced illusion.
Sam, wearing a disgusted grimace, says, "That sounds like an incubus."
"An incubus?" Carson says. "Isn't that a band from the 90s?"
"An incubus is a sex demon. The male version of a succubus. They feed on sexual energy."
"So how do I kill it?"
"You exorcise it. But it's not going to be easy. You have to catch it when it's in the middle of feeding."
Carson looks at Sam in disbelief. "You mean while it's raping someone?"
"Yeah. Tracking a sex demon down when it's not assaulting a victim is damn near impossible. There are summoning rituals for demons, sure, but I haven't heard of anybody using one on an incubus. I don't know if it'd work."
"Even if I exorcise the bastard, couldn't it just come back? I'd rather kill it."
"I wouldn't worry about it coming back," says Sam.
"Trust me. It's pretty much impossible for any demon to claw its way out of Hell these days."
Sam's not surprised that Carson doesn't know about him and Dean closing the Gates back in '13. It's not like the Winchesters sent out a newsletter. Hunters must've noticed the decline in demonic activity eventually, although closing the Gates didn't affect the demons that were already topside. It just meant a guarantee of exorcisms being a permanent solution.
"So I'm guessing there's a special incantation for this incubus," Carson says.
Sam nods. "I'll have to go home and look it up for you. Think you can wait 'til morning?"
Carson looks a little bit uneasy but says, "Sure."
"Once you get rid of it, the victims who are still alive should go back to normal."
"I was hoping."
"If there's anything special you need for the exorcism, I'll see if I can dig it up out of my storeroom," says Sam.
"Thanks. I appreciate it."
Carson pauses, then shakes his head. Sam nods and says he'll call tomorrow. Carson starts walking back to his room, and Sam returns to his car, his face cold from standing outside for thirty minutes.
"Hey, Sam," Carson calls from the door of his room.
Sam looks back at him.
"Where can I get a good breakfast around here?"
"Try the diner on Willow and Kansas," Sam says.
It's the only diner in town. Thank God their pie's up to Dean's standards.
"An incubus?" Dean says, walking stiffly through the library to the mini fridge, wearing a bathrobe and slippers.
"Yup," says Sam, flipping through pages in one of the old exorcism books he inherited from Bobby.
Dean makes a face on his way to the table where Sam's sitting, a water bottle in his hand. He lowers himself into the chair adjacent to Sam, wincing as he does. "Nasty sons of bitches."
Sam glances at him. "You about due for another round of pain meds?"
"Yeah." Dean reaches into the right pocket of his robe and takes out the bottle of Advil. He hands it to Sam, Sam pops the cap off and shakes two pills into Dean's palm, and Dean washes them down with several gulps of water. "He's working this job alone?"
"Looks that way," says Sam. "Unless he neglected to mention his back-up."
Dean shakes his head. "I'm convinced a hunter's almost always better off with at least one partner, no matter what the job. Garden variety ghosts might be an exception, but….."
"Dean, you hunt alone all the time."
"Yeah, but I'm me. And I never tell you to stay home when you want to go with me, do I?"
Sam's eyes skim over the pages he has his book opened to. He picks up his pen and starts copying the exorcism onto the pad of paper next to the book. Dean stares into the middle distance with his knees spread wide and his ankles hooked around the front legs of his chair. He's slouching, comfortable as he can get where he is.
"Maybe you should go with him," he says to Sam.
Sam looks at him skeptically and keeps writing.
"What if he screws up the exorcism?"
"Dean, I'm not going."
"Why not? It's only a few hours drive."
"I don't know Carson, I'm not going to invite myself onto his job, I'm not interested in hunting a damn incubus, and I'm not about to leave you home alone right now. You're hurt."
"Oh, please," says Dean. "I didn't even break anything. I can take care of myself. If this dude doesn't pull off the exorcism, that means more women suffer. Not to mention, the friggin' demon might kill Carson just for screwing with it."
"When's the last time you heard of a sex-demon physically killing anyone?" Sam asks.
Dean pauses, clearly at a loss. "That's not the point, okay? The point is, this guy could use your help, and you have no good reason not to give it."
"I just gave you four good reasons!" Sam shuts the book, rips the copied exorcism out of the notepad, and folds the piece of paper in half. He stands up and looks down at his brother. "I'm going to bed so I can get up early tomorrow and give this to Carson. You need anything?"
"Cup of tea might be nice," says Dean. "And a little help out of this chair."
Sam wraps one arm around Dean's back and helps him ease up out of the chair. Dean grunts in pain a little as he stands, and Sam winces in sympathy because the soreness is always worse on the second day than it is on the first. Together, they shuffle to Dean's bedroom, and Sam lays his brother down gently on the bed, pulling the sheet and blanket over Dean too.
Standing in the kitchen waiting for the kettle to boil, Sam looks over the copied exorcism. He hasn't been on a hunt in about a month. He never hunts without Dean. Not since they closed the Gates of Hell and Sam phased out of full-time hunting and into being the first Man of Letters since 1958. It's not that he hates hunting; sometimes, after a few weeks holed up in the Bat Cave, it feels good to go out there with his brother and do something physical instead of intellectual. He's good at it, he knows that. Second best hunter in the world, as Dean would say. Once upon a time, Sam was a hunting machine all by himself after Dean died in Broward County, again when he was topside without a soul and without Dean for a whole year. He does take some pride in his hunting abilities. It's just not the work he wants to do day in and day out anymore. He's happier in a library, sleeping in his own bed every night without having to worry about his safety or Dean's.
Sam brings Dean a mug of green tea and finds his brother already dozing. He wakes Dean up and sits down on the bed. They make small talk as Dean empties the mug. Sam turns out the lamp and lingers in the doorway just for a moment, looking back at his brother, before going down the hall to his own room.
The sky's still dim and gray-blue with storm clouds eight o'clock the next morning when Sam drives back to the Blue Moon Motel. The air's cold and humid, a mist swathing the tree trunks all around the Bat Cave, and Sam smells rain. Carson's just coming out of his room when Sam pulls into a parking space, squinty-eyed with the collar of his jacket turned up and a duffle bag slung on one shoulder. Sam doesn't get out of the car, rolling his window down instead as Carson approaches him.
"Turns out it's a simple procedure," Sam says. "Incantation only, nothing fancy."
Carson takes the piece of paper from Sam and looks over the Latin scratched out in Sam's careful print. "All right. Thanks. I don't know if my pronunciation is worth a damn, but I'll do my best."
Sam smiles. "It might take more than one recitation. Just keep going until the bastard's gone."
"What am I looking for exactly? Smoke leaving the body? The body bursting into flames? It doesn't sound like this is a typical possession, I mean—the victims describe this thing like it's a monster, not a person."
"Some sex demons have been in the same body for centuries," Sam says. "Over time, the body they possessed changes, becomes disfigured. I'm not sure why. Every exorcism I've done on incubi and succubae that have older bodies like that, they pretty much disintegrate as soon as the demon's back in Hell. No telling what your demon will do, but my guess is the body's dust."
"Listen—if things don't go the way you plan and you need a hand, call me." Sam gives Carson a business card with his phone number written on the back. "It's only an hour and half to Holdrege from here. Less if I speed."
"Thanks," Carson says. "I'll take you up on the offer if I have to."
"Shoot me a text if you finish it, so I know it's done," says Sam.
Sam rolls up his window and watches Carson get into his own vehicle. Carson heads south on the major street running parallel to the motel front, toward the diner. Sam drives into the opposite direction, back to the Bat Cave.
They both know that someday, sooner than he likes, Dean will have to retire from hunting—at least physically. Sure, men like Bobby and Rufus and Travis all hunted into their fifties and sixties, but if it's a rough ride when you're twenty-something, it's just plain unreasonable when you're old enough to collect Social Security. Sam doesn't want Dean dying with a gun in his hand, and Dean doesn't want that for himself either, no matter how hard it's been to imagine something else.
They think about it more and more: what Dean can do instead of hunting full-time that'll make him happy and keep him safe. He'll never be a Man of Letters, like Sam. He may love having a home, but he's spent too much of his life mobile to park himself anywhere for months on end. It's both occurred to them, though they have yet to discuss it, that Dean might start combat training young hunters or accompany them on hunts for the investigative work but leave the actual killing to his juniors.
Sam's content to head the Man of Letters organization into the foreseeable future, though it'd be nice if the gig paid. For money, he teaches at the college in a neighboring city, two days a week and office hours every other Friday morning; he got his master's degree in anthropological folklore a few years back and managed to hook the job because of his knowledge rather than his abysmal resume. He's a professional nerd all-around now, according to Dean.
Sam suspects that his brother's secretly shocked that he's stuck around this long. Dean probably expected him to take off as soon as the Gates of Hell shut—get an ordinary job, his own house, a steady girlfriend turned wife, the works. Part of Sam expected things to turn out that way too. But when it came time to decide, Sam found that he just couldn't leave. Not completely. Call it a sense of responsibility to legacy, call it habitual loyalty to Dean, call it whatever you want. All Sam knows is that he's likes his life the way it is right now, and he's been thinking lately that if he's going to get himself a long-term woman, maybe she ought to come from hunting too. Or want into the MoL. Maybe blending the civilian life with the hunter's is actually the best way to go.
Around ten o'clock at night the day after Carson left Lebanon, Sam gets a text from him. Incubus dead. Thanks again. Sam smiles at his phone and says, "Hey, Dean."
"Carson took care of it."
"That's what he says."
Sam's in the library, and Dean's in the lounge nearby, carefully arranged in the most comfortable armchair with his feet up on the ottoman and the TV tuned to some old, terrible B-grade horror film. He hurts all over, but it's better than yesterday. Sam's been catering to him dutifully, though he doesn't hesitate to tell Dean to screw himself when his big brother makes outrageous demands.
Sam's back to the psychic catalog. He's on the G's, which is good progress as far as he's concerned. He's already decided to organize them by state, after he's done with the alphabetical. Easier reference, should a hunter call looking for a psychic while on a job.
The old landline phone—a black model left behind by the original Men of Letters—starts to ring on the radio desk not far from Sam. He gets up to answer it and wishes for the thousandth time that they could get caller ID on the thing. "Winchesters."
"Hey, Sam, it's Harlan." Thirty-five years old, anti-witch specialist, and one hell of a woman, according to Dean.
"Hey, how are you?"
"I'm in Daisytown, PA taking care of a jealous housewife elbow deep in magic. How are you?"
"Pretty good," says Sam. "Buried in the paperwork and playing nurse."
"Aw, what's Dean got into now?"
"Poltergeist. It's nothing worse than a bad fist fight, so I wouldn't worry."
"Give him a squeeze for me and tell him old men should take it easy."
Sam chuckles. "He'll love that. What can I do for you, Harlan?"
"Well, I'm going to need a deactivation remedy for the obsession curse this woman put on her husband."
Sam cringes. "Okay. I think I can find one. Anything else?"
"A stiff drink would be fabulous. Nothing skeeves me out worse than witches in love."
"It's a long way from Kansas to Pennsylvania. Could you give me a minute to look up your remedy?"
Sam puts the phone down on the table next to the receiver and moves to the book case where he's shelved every resource on witchcraft he and Dean possess—dozens and dozens of books, most of them Bobby's, some of them Sam's own discoveries over the years. Black magic, white magic, red magic, wiccan magic, various histories of witches, curses, hexes, voo doo, hoo doo, a volume on warlocks, reversal spells. Sam picks out a book he suspects has the right info for Harlan and starts flipping pages. He carries the book spine to forearm with his fingers folded into the crease and picks up the phone with his other hand. "Harlan?"
"That was quick."
"You ready to write this down?"
He lists the ingredients needed for the anti-spell, the preparation instructions, and finally the words. Obsession with a single lover should instantly melt away and some semblance of sanity return to the cursed.
"Sounds good," Harlan says. "Thanks, Sam."
The line clicks out, and Sam hangs up.
"Was that Harlan?" Dean calls out from the TV lounge.
"Yup," Sam says, going back to his table.
"She on a job?"
"You should've let me say hey."
"She called for info, Dean, not to put up with your flirting."
"Put up with it? It's totally mutual, Sam."
"Sure it is."
"Still jealous I get all the hotties, huh?"
Sam's grinning, arms braced on the edge of the table and pen back in his hand. "Who still uses the word hottie? You're turning into that old guy who thinks he's smooth but talks like time stopped fifty years ago."
Sam shakes his head and starts writing down the next psychic's name. He's collected every business card, scrap of paper, reference in John's journal, and psychic in his and Dean's phones to compose the catalog. He already has the cards and pieces of paper ordered alphabetically and splits them into two piles: copied and uncopied.
When he hits the J's, Sam hears the television die and his brother's pained grunt, followed by the sound of his footsteps muffled on carpet and shuffling across tile. Dean emerges into the library and plants himself in the chair at the end of Sam's table. He's wearing his Dead Guy Robe, which is going to fall apart in a few more washes. He's holding onto an empty coffee mug, and he looks worn out—not tired but energetically spent.
"You okay?" Sam asks.
"Yeah," says Dean, half-groaning it. "I've popped enough painkillers for the year in the last three days, but I'm afraid if I go to bed without taking another dose, I'll wake up in the middle of the night feeling like road kill."
"There's no shame in needing relief, Dean. You're not twenty-five years old anymore, you don't need to pretend like you're immune to pain."
Dean sighs, staring at the table top. "I keep trying to figure out what I would've wanted to be, if Mom hadn't died and Dad hadn't become a hunter and turned me into one. And you know—I can't come up with a single thing. Not one."
Sam puts down his pen, looking at his brother soulfully. "What did you want to be before she died? Do you remember?"
Dean's quiet for a beat. "A firefighter. Some fucking irony, huh?"
"If it's any consolation... I believe you could've been anything, Dean."
"Sam. You're talking to the guy who dropped out of high school and barely passed a class that wasn't gym while he was going."
"Yeah, well—not because you weren't smart."
"I was a mechanic in that Djinn fantasy. Remember that? I must've been, what, twenty-seven when the son of a bitch caught me?"
"Djinn dreams are bullshit, Dean," Sam says. "You know that as well as I do."
"Yeah, but you were on your way to being Mister High-Powered Lawyer in that fantasy too. Just like you would've been if I hadn't dragged your ass with me after Jess died."
"Dean, if you hadn't come back for me that night, I'd be dead. And you didn't make me do anything. I followed you because I needed revenge. And I got it, didn't I?"
Dean shakes his head. "Revenge is a never-ending rabbit hole, brother. At least in this family."
Sam can't argue with him there.
Dean blows out a breath and combs a hand through his hair. "Sam."
"What if I want to go out Butch Cassidy style?"
The two men look at each other, lamplight shining on Sam's face, Dean's face tight and grim. Sam feels his body freeze and some kind of primal emotion crawl up his spine. Maybe dread. Maybe despair.
"What if I want to go out with a gun in my hand? Doesn't that beat old and useless? I don't know how long I can keep up the monster brawls before I really fuck myself up, but hell, it beats... It beats boredom. Doesn't it?"
Sam gets out of his chair, pulls Dean's up, and takes him briskly into the ground floor foyer where a massive eight foot tall mirror with a gilded frame was bolted into a wall during the bunker's original decoration. Sam grabs Dean's robe by the collar and peels it off his brother, ignoring Dean's protests. Robe on the floor at their feet, Sam yanks Dean's t-shirt up and off, and Dean hisses and curses because it hurts to lift his arms that high.
Dean stands in front of the mirror in socks, slippers, and pajama pants and Sam stands behind him, both of them looking at their own reflections. Dean's upper body is leaner than it was when he lived constantly on the road; he's lost body fat and gained a bit more muscle since he started eating healthier. His anti-possession tattoo looks faded below his collar bone; he's been meaning to get it retouched. A few scars linger faintly on his chest, belly, and arms, and if he turns around and looks over his shoulder, he could see the ones on his back that he hasn't inspected in a three dozen showers. His skin's pale from the last several months of cold weather, but once June rolls around, he'll tan three shades from walking around shirtless in the sun.
"Look at that," Sam says. "Look at yourself."
Dean's looking. But he doesn't see what Sam sees right away. He doesn't want to acknowledge how bad the bruising appears. Three days out from the wall-slamming, floor-kissing, window-breaking dance with that bitch poltergeist, Dean's left side is almost entirely violet and blackish blue. He knows the way he bruises well enough that he expects it'll stay in that color range for at least ten days, probably longer. It'll be a month before it's gone completely. Other, smaller bruises speckle his belly and chest, one sharply painful fucker on his right hip bone, scratches and scrapes down his arms and across his knuckles and a few on his chest. In this light, it looks a lot worse than it does when he's checking himself out in bed. "Yeah," Dean says. "What about it?"
"Do you think I like seeing you like this?" Sam demands. "Do you think I like worrying about whether the doctors missed something more serious because you pretend the pain you feel hurts so much less than it really does just to come off like a badass? Do you think I want to watch you destroy your body over the next twenty years, if you get that many as a hunter?"
Dean bows his head a little, chastised. "Sam—"
"No! Getting out was never just about me, Dean! It was about us! It was about both of us getting out and being safe. I don't want to... I don't want to waste away in this world without you. And I don't want to watch you lie in some in-patient facility for the last decades of your life because hunting past your time turned you into a vegetable."
Dean lifts his hands to his hips and rests them, staring at the floor. "I'm not your responsibility, if that's what you're worried about."
Sam turns around choking down angry words, hands passing up his face and back through his long hair. He pivots back to look at Dean in the mirror. "If I had to spoon feed you oatmeal and give you sponge baths every day until one of us kicked the bucket, I would do it, Dean, and I wouldn't resent you for it. Not for a single day. But I don't want to have to, because I want better for you. Why do you think I take care of you every time you come home like this? Because I love you. Not because I'm obligated. Not because you're my responsibility. Because I love you. So for once in this fucking relationship, I get to be the selfish one: I don't care if you get bored in retirement. I really don't. You're retiring when the time comes. Period."
Sam walks out of the foyer and back up into the library. Dean stands in front of the mirror for a minute and looks at himself. Tries to imagine himself thirty years older. Forty. Hair white or gone. Wrinkles. Age spots. Muscle gone. Skin sagging. Eyes clouded. He never saw a man he loved turn like that. Fathers and grandfathers barely got close, some of them barely older than Dean is now when they bit the dust for good. He's spent so much of his life dismissing old age as an impossibility. Maybe the truth is, he's scared of it. More scared than he ever could be of death itself. He knows what death's like a hundred times over. He's seen Heaven and Hell and Purgatory. But he's always been young.
In the morning, Dean wakes up to breakfast on a tray carefully placed on the night table next to his bed. A note in Sam's handwriting: hot bath waiting when you're done. Buckwheat blackberry pancakes with butter and maple syrup, black coffee, and orange juice. Dean clears his plate, empties the mug and the glass, and gingerly pushes himself out of bed. He can hear music softly playing in the study, low enough not to disturb him while he slept with his bedroom door shut. He moves stiffly down the long corridor to the big Man of Letters bathroom, where several shower cells are walled off from a private room with a stand-alone bath tub.
The tub's filled to the brim, water at that perfect temperature almost too hot. Dean strips more slowly than usual and eases himself into the bath. His favorite supernatural trash mag is folded on the little wooden table near the tub, but today, he just wants to tilt his head back onto the porcelain lip, shut his eyes, and soak. His brother's too good to him.
When Dean finally walks into the study over an hour later, dressed and hair quickly air-drying, Sam's doing push-ups. A pair of free weights is on the table near him. Dean takes a seat without speaking, and Sam finishes his reps.
"Hey. Thanks for the star treatment."
"You're welcome," Sam says. He's got that post-run glow in his face, and the hair nearest his face looks damp. "I'm going to go shower real quick."
Dean lifts his hand up in the direction of the bedroom and bathroom side of the bunker. "Knock yourself out."
Sam disappears, and Dean settles in with the latest issue of Weekly World News. He's on the last few pages by the time Sam comes back clean. He only glances up in his brother's general direction for a second.
Sam changes the record on the record player, and Dean doesn't pay him any attention. Doesn't even bother to mentally register the song, which is already nearing its end because Sam set the needle down somewhere in the second half.
But then Sam's standing next to Dean's chair with his hand out, and Dean only has to look up at him for a second before he gets Sam's meaning. "You're not serious," Dean says.
Sam just smiles, hand still palm up in the air between him and Dean. "I won't tell if you don't."
Dean just stares at him in disbelief.
"Come on, the next song's about to start," says Sam.
Dean hesitates for just a moment, before getting out of his chair and following his brother to open floor. This is Sam's way of apologizing without apologizing for yelling at him last night. Dean feels obliged to let him have it.
"You're the girl, shorty," Sam says, arms looping around Dean's waist.
"Fuck you, I am not short," Dean says but he's already got his arms wrapped around Sam's upper back. It's almost like they're sharing a long hug, as they sway on their feet.
Dean doesn't need more than the first few words to recognize the song: Lena Horne's "I Can't Give You Anything But Love." He loves this song. Apparently, his brother's a fan too.
Dean pretends that he didn't just warm up inside, and if Sam can feel the way Dean leans into him a little more, the taller Winchester doesn't mention it. Dean tips his face forward into Sam's shoulder, hiding his mouth and closing his eyes. Sam's shirt smells of breezy laundry detergent, books, aftershave, and his own skin. He's warm and clean and ridiculously big. Physically stronger than Dean, even though Dean will never admit it. Sam Winchester, Dean's gentle giant.
Sam lifts his left arm to lay his hand flat in the center of Dean's back, pressing big brother into his chest. Dean's cheekbone almost touches Sam's jaw, the one that isn't scratched up, and Dean's body stays relaxed from head to toe. Sam starts singing the words of the song softly, smiling the way he does when he knows Dean isn't looking. "Love will find a way. Wait and see. Those skies now are gray. Dream a while, scheme a while. You're sure to find..."
Dean turns his head to lay it on Sam's shoulder and thinks, My brother's such a damn sap. Who am I kidding? If he wants me to retire, I will.
"...happiness, and I guess all those things your heart's been pining for. Gee…. gee, I wanna see you looking swell, baby..." Sam quits for the next few lines, closing his own eyes to savor the moment: his brother warm and close, just the two of them. Safe. Happy. Home.
They sing the last line together: "I can't give you anything but love."