Pairing: Sam/Dean
Wordcount: 34,000
Disclaimer: This is a work of of fanfiction, written for fun and not for profit.
Thanks: Hugely, to unovis and to q_i and to amonitrate. Since they read this, though, I have edited and re-edited: mistakes, errors and judgments are mine, not theirs.
With deepest admiration and gratitude - odysseaia for the superb illustrations. And most especially to the organisers of spn_j2_bigbang.
Summary: In a dystopian paradise angel Inquisitor Samuel and rogue human Dean are uneasy allies. Together, they could knock their world from its foundations, but both of them have secrets to keep.
AU S/D.
Warnings:
Features angel!Sam and hooker!Dean, drug use, profanity, blasphemy, and some damn fine maple pancakes.
I should add that, in the course of this story, there is an explosion which results in multiple deaths. It's described peripherally, but there are moral issues involved, and I would feel uncomfortable if I did not so warn.

Podfic

Podfic - crinklysolution has recorded Kant's Dove. That's over four hours of recording, and it's absolutely gorgeous. She's posted about it here, and the recording is archived here (mp3) and here (podbook). I loved it.


 



 






"Hey," the bartender hissed, staring hard at Sam over the glass he was wiping with a cloth not much cleaner than the grimed windows. "Not in my bar."

Sam didn't even raise his head when he looked up. For a moment, reckless and irritated, he let the shadow of his wings show behind his head.

The glass dropped.

Paling, the bartender stepped backwards, and Sam looked back at the razor blade in his hand. Sparkling white on the mahogany of the bar, the powder spill glistened back up at him. It was the good stuff, so bitter on his tongue it had to be near pure.

Smiling, Sam rolled a dollar bill and shot the first hit of the evening. Numbing clarity. He felt his wings mantle, unseen. Fuck, that was good.

The second hit was halfway up his nose when the door opened. Cold air spilled inside, chilled enough to crystallize the powder instantly. It tore at the delicate veins of his septum and, too late, Sam dropped the bill and clapped a hand to his nose. Blood dripped through his fingers.

"Sire," the bartender said, horrified. "Sire."

His eyes watering, Sam grabbed at the proffered napkins, cursing the impulse that had taken him past the Broadway lights to the Hell's Kitchen bars. Here the cold was killing, so intense that the breath could freeze in a man's throat and choke him to death.

"Ah, fuck," Sam said thickly, head tipped back, blotting the blood as quickly as he could.

"Sire," the barman said helplessly. "Sire, please."

Sam's blood dripped onto the aged mahogany of the bar. Angel blood spilled, a genetic marker that Sam could not escape, a stigmata that called inescapably to the Angelus. Vengeful blind justice, the Archangels were coming, and it would be the humans who would suffer.

Someone spat on the floor.

The jukebox had cut out. The lights were up. Jesus, he'd heard about things like this: humans catching angels unaware, snatched, merciless beatings with muffled weapons. He had been a fool.

But no one in the bar was looking at him.

Standing in the doorway was a human. Bare-headed, wearing a battered overcoat with a scarf that wrapped around his throat. Narrow-eyed and too pissed off to be pretty. Human with presence. As if they were familiar, he nodded to Sam, an infinitesimal acknowledgement. But the way the man surveyed the rest of the bar was a lesson in cold assessment.

Someone said "Angelfucker." It wasn't a compliment.

Sam stared.

"Yeah, right," the human said, and grinned, humorless. "Just remember I'm the guy gonna get you out of this. You all know what's standing at the bar?"

"Thanks," Sam said thickly, ironic. He was under no illusions about whose skin this human was saving.

"Jesus Christ!" one of the women at the bar said, staring, the one with the tanned cleavage that meant someone was paying for sunshine.

The human said, straight to Sam, "You wanna get out of here now?" As no human had ever spoken to him before, unafraid and certain of being obeyed.

And Sam, who had been all set to leave, his stash in his pockets and his scarf in one hand, said bridling; "No."

"Doesn't have to be like this," the human said slowly, a wing span away. Could have been an angel's face, his, fine boned and green eyed and Jesus that mouth was obscene. Dirty, pretty, hard.

At the back of his mind Sam could hear the beating of wings. Thirty seconds away, the Archangels. He'd never seen anything like the man in front of him.

"You want this the easy way?" the human asked. "Walk away."

"Fucking make me," Sam said, belligerent.

"You said it," the human said, and took off his gloves.

Twenty seconds.

As if he knew exactly where each feather lay, the man reached out a hand and touched Sam's wings.

Sensation hit him like a thunderbolt. All the blood in his veins ran screaming, the beat of it pounding through his skin, his feathers, his dick. Jesus Christ, he was so instantly hard felt like his balls had been clamped, and that was human skin; human flesh; taboo, wrong, against his wings. He should be screaming, but he was choking, dizzy and stumbling, aware he was being pushed forwards but blind to where he was headed. Furious and forced to arousal without his consent, Sam tore himself violently free.

Jackknife reaction, the human spun him back. Had him held again. "Damn you. Stay still."

Sam could feel that human hand on his wing like a brand, a touch that was utterly intertwined with the need to come, to spend now. Jesus, Sam needed to come, his balls drawn up and the skin of his wings drawn so tight he could feel every feather. His head was pounding. He knew he was being shoved forward, knew from the chill on his skin and the knifing cold of the air in his lungs he was somewhere outside. The thunder in his ears was the sound of Archangel wings.

"Let go," he gasped, when everything in him wanted to rut against anything - his hand, someone else's skin, wings, wall, bed, didn't care - until he came.

Betrayed by his own body, Sam could feel rage shiver over his nerves. He felt the hand adjust its grip. Fuck, fuck, fuck, it was like his skin lit up.

"You want to kill both of us?" the human said, so gritty and hard that Sam felt the words in the base of his spine: he could come for that voice alone. He didn't, he was still stumbling forwards with the heel of his hand pressed against his dick - gloves, dammit, did he have his gloves on? -

"Inhibitor," he choked out. "Can't... they can't... see me."

"You're fucking kidding me," the human said.

"Think I'm... stupid?" Sam said, Archangel wings so close now that that they must be overhead.

"Yeah."

"Inquisitor," Sam said, and finally, finally, let his wings show free, the great sweep of them mantling over his back. White wings, except for his great flight primaries. Sam's primary flight feathers, the marks of his calling, were black.

"Jesus fucking Christ," said the human, and let go.

Felt like ice water dashed in his face. His knees were shaking, every muscle drawn tight, and his dick was so hard he was leaking, but he could think. Could at least vanish his wings.

"Don't move," the human said, in his ear.

There was an elbow crooked round his neck and a knife at his throat. Sam wasn't considering twitching.

"Not going anywhere," Sam said, bracing his knees. Warmth pressed against his back, smell of wood smoke from the human's clothes.

"This is where I find out if you're telling the truth," the human said.

"I can't lie," Sam choked out.

"Think you'll find you can." Dry and amused, that voice, when Sam was still high. Still heated with rage, shaking with it. Jesus, ten more seconds, and he would have come in his pants.

They were in an alley. Cold metal kissed Sam's coat. Fire escape. Iron. Enough of it to disrupt a tracker. Humans should not know that much.

But no human had slapped him upside the head with terminal blue balls before either.

"Don't want to be caught any more than you," Sam said, quiet and harsh, his breath freezing as he said the words, cold crystallization.

"Find out soon enough," the human said.

When the Archangels arrived, it was with a blast of light that illuminated the entire street. Windows and streetlights cracked, broken glass stinging the frosted sidewalks. Sam felt the arm about his throat tighten, a fractional tension, but the breath in his ear was steady and warm. He set his jaw and waited. Light ebbed and flowed over the entrance way, the sound of Archangel wings in his head so loud he was surprised he could still hear the human breathing. One of his thighs cramped, suppressed shiver: he didn't move.

Caught, he was... he'd live. The man behind him would not.

It was ten minutes before the Archangels left. Almost the longest ten minutes of Sam's life. Time enough to promise himself he'd never slum again, Jesus, he'd stick to Broadway, he'd never come to see how the free humans lived again, he was a fool of the highest order of fools, he was fucking sorry.

He said, after they'd gone, after it was dark again and the pressure at his throat eased enough to draw a full breath, "I'm sorry." It came out cracked. His throat wasn't exactly angled for clarity.

"Right," the human said, so cynical Sam turned his head against the blade of the knife. He wanted to see those eyes and the person behind them.

Then the hand was back on his wings. He had still been half hard and the impact set him on stiffer than frozen iron, rocked him back against the wall.

"Jesus fuck," he managed, his hands clenched in his gloves, his belly sticky and heated with the pre-come that had instantly pulsed from his constricted dick. His skin was staring.

There were hands on his coat, his pants, hands that were thin gloved and nimble on the buttons. Human hands. On his dick.

"Christ, yes." He didn't care, in that moment. Could have been anyone's hands on him, fuck, the Grand Inquisitor's: he just wanted to come, now. He was drawn up tighter than a harp string.

The human was on his knees in the snow. Shape of those lips... Sam wanted. Didn't care the mouth that sucked him down stronger and harder than anyone else had ever touched him was human. Untouchable, wrong. It was the shock of touch alone that sent him reeling and knocked his head off the wall and Christ, he was seeing sparks, but the pain was enough to sober him for a moment. He looked down, saw those obscenely pretty lips round his dick, eyelashes dropped like a prayer, and started to come.

Lost it. Felt his gloved hand slide off short cropped hair: felt his knees start to go, couldn't breathe, couldn't think, like being rolled by forty tons of black velvet, dick shooting so hard he thought he'd black out with the relief.

Maybe did.

Jesus Mary mother of God, felt like he'd been poleaxed. Better than any Rapture communion he'd ever attended.

That mouth. That human mouth. He - Christ, he could open his eyes, did, and looked down to see the man at his feet spit out Sam's come like it was poison.

"What - " Sam managed.

For a second, the human looked up at him. He'd never seen anything as sharp as the hatred he saw in that face.

Sam, shocked, blinked, and in that second the alley was empty.

His fucking dick was freezing to the zip of his pants, he'd come so hard his hands were still shaking, and he was alone.

It was five seconds before he thought to check his pockets. Missing, one Diocese Council issued inhibitor, one of the new models with the genetic coding. Twenty grand's worth of highly classified equipment.

"Fuck," Sam said and began to run.

Three seconds later he was gone.

 

~*~

 

 

Sam had never been stupid. He knew full well that there was a very thin line between legal and illegal, and he knew he skirted the edges of it on a daily basis. But if God didn't have a problem with the things he did for himself: the drugs, legal, the porn, legal if frowned upon, the almost casual looting of the net databases, why should the Angelus?

Sam justified it to himself as doing the Lord's work. The drugs made him relax, the porn took the edge off a hunger that had to be God-given and was therefore righteous. It might be better to marry than burn, but there was only one angel he'd ever wanted to take to wife and she was dead. The trips he took downtown were research, and the net reports he knew he shouldn't read gave him an insight that meant he was probably one of the best Inquisitors the Council had ever had. He could expect to attend a Rapture communion at least three times a year when most angels were praying for once.

Sam had always reckoned the sin that would damn him was curiosity.

No angel would fuck a human. No angel would touch a human. Yet the human from the bar had sucked Sam off as casually as if he had been a piece of meat.

It was almost routine to set up the sub routes into the database and redirect the net-bots. He was good at this, good enough never to have been caught, but there was no point in being careless.

When the search screen came up - he was some guy in the Baltimore diocese today, with a higher security clearance than Sam theoretically had need to know - he'd typed Angelfucker and hit return. It was the best clue he had. He hadn't expected two thousand lines of encrypted data. It took him three evenings to decode, swearing, backtracking, with his terminal unplugged from the net because some of that coding sent shivers down his spine.

What he ended up with were transitory blog entries, live for moments. Fragments of e-mails. And transcripts. Transcripts from interrogations that were not listed on the database, carried out by Inquisitors he didn't recognize in centers he had never heard of. Angel interrogations. He'd almost pulled the plug when he realized.

Angels were the servants of God. Utterly loyal, irreproachable. Incorruptible. Angels could not lie.

"Think you'll find you can," that low dry voice said, the remembrance of it enough to make him widen his legs and run his fingers down the line of his swollen dick, so dirty and wrong an arousal he flinched from it himself.

Angels would never end up spread-eagled naked over an Inquisitor's table.

These angels had been.

The whole thing was a perversion from start to finish.

There were none of the familiar rote questions. "Do you believe in God?" Sam said to the humans splayed out and waiting for him, five times a day. "Do you believe in his son our Lord Jesus Christ as your only risen saviour?" Sam's hands resting on the controls and his faith just.

"Do you accept angels as his servants on earth? Do you believe in the Angelic Creed? Do you accept the Rapture as the representation of faith?"

"Do you believe in miracles?"

These questions were different.

"Tell us the names of your friends."

"More."

Dates. Names. Places.

"Tell me every time you've attended Rapture communion."

"Where?"

"How many angels have you slept with? What are their names? When? How? What did you feel?"

"Have you ever touched a human with carnal intent?"

"When?"

Angelfuckers. Humans who fucked angels.

He hadn't even known it was possible.

Disturbed, Sam dug deeper. He found himself spending a couple of hours at night in cyber cafes, looking at the semi-legal net blogs, personal testimonies laid out for all to read. Angels wrote about God. Their jobs, their husbands and wives, their children. A few were more daring, wrote about doubts and fears - 'does Jesus love me?' 'Am I doing the right thing?' Existential moments. A very, very few - and those hard to track, changing names and ISPs at the drop of a hat - spoke of darker ideas: less of love, but of deeds.

'Imagined her human, came so hard - '

That post didn't last more than twenty minutes.

Sam did not go back to the Hell's Kitchen bars, any more than he joined his friends on Broadway. He stopped taking drugs. He needed his time for research. At work, he was distracted, looking at humans for the first time as if they were more than the sum of their responses. Their bare skin started to look real to him, the shiver of it across his desk a reaction that might be real rather than instinctive, as if there was a thinking, sexual being inside. He started to hesitate over the shocks that rewarded and punished the questions of the creed as if ...

As if humans had the same rights as angels.

The only human he knew with any degree of intimacy at all was his cleaner. He owned her contract. She'd come with the flat when he moved in straight from the seminary, wet behind the wings. They'd been together six years, Sam and Delaine. Delaine washed his clothes, picked up after him and made sure there were candles in the altar rack and food in the kitchen, a silent presence. Sam only saw her on occasional weekends. He'd always been uncomfortable when she was in the apartment, said a polite good morning and good evening, left tips at Christmas and Easter, felt he could be liberal about her presence in his home and argued her case sometimes, late at night. 'God loves all his children.'

Now he looked at her.

Delaine was middle-aged. Her eyes were tired. Her right leg was painful and she favored it as she moved around the flat. She had a husband and three children she refused to talk about when Sam asked her to sit down in the kitchen.

"Is this about my work, Sire?"

"No," Sam said." I just wanted to talk to you for a minute."

"The tiles need to be scrubbed," she said, mouth shutting on the words.

"Please," Sam asked.

But, shut up tighter than any infidel he'd ever seen or worked on, Delaine refused to talk. Thing was, Sam had begun to see it: the twitch of her left eye that let on that she was desperately worried about her youngest son, hanging out with a bad crowd. The way her knee stiffened later in the day and she wanted to rest it but wouldn't: the way in distress she would run her fingers over her wedding ring as if her husband was partner and not just mate. He'd never thought to look. He was fascinated.

He began to see differences in humans he passed on the street, facial expressions and ways of standing and walking. They'd been functionally invisible to him before: now they were individuals, fascinating and unique. He even began to recognize some of them. The little girl who was sweeping the steps when he left for work. The two rubbish carriers who served his street. The woman whose face pressed against the basement windows as if she was always looking for someone. He started saying good morning as he walked by, and once he nearly had a startled response.

In his dreams he remembered the perfect curve of a human's mouth. Given, he had been tripping, but nothing had ever flown him so high, so fast.

One weekend, in daytime, he even went back to the bar.

It was burned out. Archangels.

Eventually, he did what he should have done to start with. He asked his dealer. It was as if he had asked for the wafers of a Rapture communion, for the sacred moments of ecstasy that came only by favor and faith. But Sam was stubborn.

"Come on, buddy," he said, his heart beating faster, sweating under his T-shirt, his wings tensed. "How long have we known one another?"

His dealer asked for more money than Sam had ever paid for any legal high. Two weeks later he came up with an address Sam had to promise over the Bible he would never divulge.

"Expect to pay," Asroilu said, and the expression on his face - Asroilu, who had pursued stranger highs than Sam would ever consider - was not accommodating.

Sam took cash.

The place was in Alphabet City. Not even a mixed neighborhood, it was crowded, dirty, human, with litter tumbling through the street and icicles hanging from the fire escapes. There were few, well-wrapped and anonymous passers-by, and the piles of snow on the sidewalks were dirty and grey. Sam walked cautiously, alert to the sounds of the street, the hair on the back of his neck prickling. He had to count down the numbers twice to find the shuttered basement door, and when he knocked he would not have been surprised if a human had answered.

But it was an angel who slid back the panel and glared at him.

"What do you want?"

"Uh," Sam said, and then straightened up. " Cloud Nine?"

"Where did you get this address?" the angel demanded.

"A friend gave it to me," Sam said.

"You know what you're doing, boy?"

"I think I need to pay," Sam said, and passed over five hundred dollars in cash.

It got him inside.

He had no idea what to expect. He'd imagined some kind of club, bright lit and swaying with pop music, maybe somewhere where angels and humans mixed freely. Talked. Looking at the uneven corridor lined with doors, his first thought was that he was back under the Rapture beacon, not the ceremonial rooms that lead to the communion hall, but disused Diocesan Council storerooms Sam should not know but did. The lighting was so dim he could barely see the corridor in front of him, and the music was some sort of beast, a low-down beat that hit in at the base of his spine and grumbled through his bones. Waiting for his eyes to adapt, Sam could smell stale sweat, alcohol, wood smoke: the vents on the wall sent heat curling round his skin, but the warmth did not stop him shivering.

"You wanna check your coat?"

"No," Sam said. "Thanks." It wasn't that hot.

"Suit yourself."

There were rooms opening off the corridor, open doors and the sound of high-pitched laughter.

Hesitating, Sam took a step forward.

A naked human girl pursued by an angel ran across the corridor in front of him. At that moment Sam very nearly turned tail and ran.

"You do know the rules, don't you?"

His stomach churning, Sam turned round.

"Neophytes," the angel in the doorway muttered. "Okay. Keep your hands to yourself. You touch the humans, it's illegal. Ask before you join a group scene. You want one of them to yourself, costs extra. Don't even think about credit, we don't do plastic."

"Right," Sam said, nodding. "Fine."

"Have a nice evening," the angel said to him and turned his back.

Sam set his jaw and walked down the corridor.

There was an angel in each doorway, each wearing a white T-shirt that fluoresced in the UV lighting. Stewards. Sam paused at the first open door. "Chess," the angel said. Neatly cornrowed, the man had three bars of eyebrow piercings. "First look's for free. Two hundred dollars to watch. Seven fifty to play." He moved aside and Sam could see into the room.

Naked humans stood poised on a chessboard. Each of them wore a molded hat - a arched horse's head, a castle, a bishop's mitre - and between them, laughing, moved a group of angels.

Sam's stomach churned. This was not... not anything he had expected.

Some of the angels wore red armbands, others black. Clearly there were two teams, and the black armbanded angels were discussing, animated, a move in the center of the board. The humans were expressionless. Sam stared in sickened disbelief. He'd begun to read human faces, to see fear, love, guilt. These humans were nothing more than animated, naked dolls.

The angels had come to a decision. One of them stepped forward, a metal prod in her hand. She poked tentatively at one of the black knights, a middle-aged human whose head was grey at his temples and across his chest. The human shifted from foot to foot, uneasy, clearly not knowing where to move.

The angel thrust forward. Electricity arced over the forks of the metal prod and sent the human stumbling forward two steps. Sam saw the shiver of his skin and the wince that the man could not hide. When the man straightened up on the new square, expressionless again, there were two contact burns on his back small and round as fingertip bruises.

"Jesus Christ," Sam breathed.

"First time?" the angel beside him said sympathetically. "Don't worry. They can't feel pain the way we can. This your thing?"

Sam could have sworn that the human's eyes were watering.

"No," Sam said, backing away. He couldn't bring himself to say thanks.

In the next room, funfair games. A line of humans bent over a rail, their backsides painted with targets. Sam didn't linger. He'd almost turned away, shaking, before he remembered what he was there for and had to look back to check each reddened, upturned face. At least these humans could keep their eyes shut.

Someone scored a bull's eye. There was clapping.

None of the humans were the one in the bar.

Wrestling. Naked human women, oiled, with numbers painted on their bodies. Pet hospital: human patients in green robes so short and loose that they were almost more obscene than full nudity would have been. Angels dressed as doctors and nurses posed them on scales and moved them in and out of cages. Art class: half painted human bodies and angels with spray cans. Sam moved down the corridor checking room after room, his skin crawling. This was... this was... sickening, an objectification he could not understand. This was pure gameplay.

He wanted to stop and ask, don't you know what you're doing? Can't you see you're hurting him? Her? What if it was an angel bobbing for apples with her hands tied behind her back?

He didn't say anything.

The music got louder as he neared the end of the corridor. The big door at the end had three stewards in front of it, maybe the social center of the club, Sam didn't know. There were two more rooms on the corridor to check.

"This is private," the angel said.

"What?" Sam said.

"Private. Son." The angel put out a hand, barring the door.

Sam craned his neck, curious, because if what he had seen before was public what in heaven's name was private?

Before the angel shut the door in his face, he saw two men sitting over a chessboard. Both clothed. One human and one angel, heads bent in concentration.

"Piss off."

"Okay," Sam said. "Okay."

Somehow, those two men... that was intimate. Almost frightening. As if they were... friends.

From the last door, Sam heard the sound of human voices, barking. Angels laughing.

"Fetch," the angel on the door said.

The humans in this room were on their hands and knees. Collared, with tags. As Sam watched, one of them sat up and begged, wide eyed: the angel with him - Jesus, that was a teenager, that human, no more than fourteen - threw a treat the human snatched from mid air. As the humans scuttled across the floor they retrieved balls and hoops in their mouths, returning to drop the objects at the feet of giggling angels.

It was hard to check every face. This was the busiest room he had seen.

"You watching or playing?"

"Watching," Sam said, and peeled off the bills, still searching the room.

And then - Jesus, he knew that mouth - recognition hit him like a blow to the gut.

"No," Sam said.

"Then, son - "

"How much to get one alone?" Sam said.

"You know the rules?"

"No touching," Sam said. He could feel sweat start to run cold on the back of his neck. "How much?"

"Five hundred dollars. That's an hour. You want one in particular, or what any of `em do?"

"That one," Sam said. "The one with the striped ball in the corner."

He peeled off two thousand dollars, and the angel whistled.

"Okay, son. He's all yours. Here's your tag."

Afterwards, Sam could never remember crossing the room. He did remember the short, sharp conversation with the angels playing fetch with his human.

"This one's mine. Find another."

Aware that, obedient as a show dog, the human from the bar was kneeling at his feet, eyes downcast, mouth stretched wide around the rubber ball he had not been told to drop. Naked, the muscles of his back and thighs were so clearly defined that he could have been an anatomy class model.

"We were here-" and then Sam flashed the tags in his hand that would match the ones on his human's collar.

"There's a girl over there," Sam said viciously, coldly furious, possessive. "Looks as if she might have teeth. Try that one."

He watched them go, grumbling.

Then he could look down.

He had been right. The broad shoulders, gleaming with sweat although the room was not over warm: the close-cropped hair. The line of eyelashes. He'd never forget those eyelashes, feminine as a Madonna's.

"Look up," Sam said, the words tight as the clench in his belly. "And drop the fucking ball," he added.

As it fell to the floor, the human looked up.

Blue eyes, not green. But Sam knew the sculptured arch of those cheekbones, and he'd been as intimately acquainted with that mouth as a man could be. That mouth had sucked him off in his dreams for the past three weeks, and once for real.

"Stand up," Sam said.

The man didn't even blink, just rose to his feet, easy, the muscles of his thighs flexing. His knees were reddened. Jesus, couldn't they at least have given the guy pads?

No expression on his face at all.

"I want to talk to you," Sam said low and harsh.

Must be contact lenses, those blue eyes. He knew, sure as he knew the alignment of his own feathers, this man recognized him.

Sam was taller. He stepped forwards, crowding, so that the man had to look up at him. Another inch or so and there would be touching: around them, conversation faltered. Angels were turning to watch.

"You stole something from me," Sam said. "I want it back."

The man's eyes flickered to the doors.

"Hey!" the steward shouted. "No touching, okay?"

Someone gasped. As if touching was any more obscene than a human paid to be a dog.

"How much?" Sam said. "How fucking much?"

Twitch of muscle at the corner of the man's mouth.

"I know the rules," Sam hissed. "I fucking know you're independent. How much? Or," Sam added, " I cut a slice in my arm right here and turn you in."

"Ten thousand dollars," the human said, so quietly that Sam could barely hear him, but the words were bitten out, stabbed into the air between them. "An hour." Grit in that voice.

"Fine," Sam said. "I'll take four. Fucking kiss me."

He could see the shock of it on the man's face, in the sudden faint flush of color on his cheekbones, although every inch of the man was frozen still.

"Hey!" the steward shouted, nearer.

"Kiss me," Sam said. "Now."

He knew, the moment the man thought about running. Had his hand around the human's jaw in an instant, skin to skin, his fingers spread at the back of the man's skull where the hair was razor cut short and harsh to his touch. Had his thumb forced into the man's palate. Stubble, and beneath it the skin was so soft it could be untouched. Human flesh. Under his, the human's mouth was viciously tight with muscle, tensed into rejection. Sam ground his mouth down over the man's lips, widened his jaw, knew they were both hurting. 'Come on, come on,' he was thinking. ' Fucking kiss me back.'

The steward had a hand on his shoulder when those lips finally softened.

Heat shared like blood between them. Sam licked in, amazing soft plush of that lower lip, taste of rubber and bittersweet saliva.

Deal made. He felt the thing clamp down on him, seal on his soul.

He wasn't letting go. His wings snapped, visible, into place so fast it was almost dizzying. The pull at his shoulder blades was instant and painful, but he was already sweeping the feathers forward. Felt them knock someone out of the way before he had the human caught and safe. Chest to chest, face to face - so hot - Jesus, he couldn't be hard again, could he?

Sam snapped them both out of there so fast he was seeing stars.

Landed them, of course, on his bed.

Winded. He was heaving for breath, not even able to banish his wings: feathers fucking everywhere and every which way, his bones aching with the ghost of the power he'd burned through.

"Jesus, fuck," he managed, eyes closed.

Silence.

Sam opened his eyes. He could see himself sprawled over his own bed, legs wide, feet hanging, feathers like wind-sculptured snow. He'd snapped a primary.

Standing by the window, naked, was the human. He was looking out at the city.

The man really could have been an angel. The line of his thighs was exquisite, dense with muscle, his ass so sharply defined it might have been marble. The curves of the muscles of his back where the shadows of Sam's window blinds lay over his skin were nothing other than elegant.

Sam's bedroom window faced the beacon of the Rapture's light. At night, the red-gold fire of it, symbol of faith, spilled through the blinds and striped his floorboards. Tonight it limned the man's head and his upraised hand - broad palm, thick fingers - curved over the strong arch of his neck and shoulders. At the club, Sam hadn't noticed, but here in the Rapture's light he could see scars on the man's skin, silver shadow, chiaroscuro image. Cuts to his forearms. A slash over his hip. His right thigh had been laid open at some point and his lower back was scarred with something that had left a five pointed silver ghost of itself in flesh. On his shoulder, white as a freeze brand, what looked horrifically like a hand print.

His face... his face was turned away from Sam, looking at the Rapture.

Tags at his throat.

"Take the fucking collar off," Sam said, tired, disgusted.

Obedient, the man ducked his head, raised a hand, and let the thing fall. Where it had been there was a knotted cord, an amulet that fell forward to lie on his chest.

"What's your name?"

The man turned round. At the bar, the way he stood had been nothing but a show of power. In the club it had been an artificial, layered submission. Here it was all cocky display: the cant of his hips, the line of his shoulders, look at me. Sam could not but think of that mouth on his dick. Of what it would feel like to touch human skin.

He wasn't that angel.

"We made a deal," Sam said. He could still feel it.

"You don't think that's gonna be written down somewhere?" the man said. "Dude, you fucked up."

"Yeah, right," Sam said. "My problem."

"You get off making deals with humans?" The man said. "Not gonna be my wings on the block."

Sam shrugged. He hadn't known he could make a deal with a human. As if they were equals. He'd put himself so far out in the dark he didn't think there was any way back.

What's your name?" he asked again.

The man snorted. "Who do you want me to be?" He looked down for a second, looked up: slow, mesmerizing rise of his eyelashes. Licked his lips, glisten of saliva on the perfect pretty curve of his lower lip.

Sam, annoyed. "Dude. You sucked me off. You stole my inhibitor. I kind of think I'm entitled."

For just a moment, he could see something real in the man's face, a reluctant amusement. Then it was gone.

"Call me Alex," the man said. "If you have to say anything. You want me on my knees or my back?"

Jesus, both, Sam thought. Fuck, I want to shove my dick in your ass so fast and hard you come screaming my name with the taste of my come in your mouth, and the thought was both so cliched and so hot he had to fist his hands not to reach out and take what he wanted.

"Put some clothes on," he said. "I want to talk."

"Dude, we can do that naked," the man said. He stepped forward. Ran a hand casually over his own loose dick, arm muscles flexing, cupped his balls in his right hand.

"You wanna fuck or not?"

Yeah, Sam wanted. Sam was as hard as he'd been at the bar. Sam was thinking of skin under his fingers, his teeth, of how cocky that mouth would be stuffed full of his dick, of how his hands would look spread on the human's hips. Of what that mouth would say, the shape of it, pleading for dick. Sam's.

"Clothes are in the closet," he said. "Shower, would you? And, dude, take the contact lenses out. Ten minutes," Sam said. "I'll be in the kitchen."

He didn't dare look back, leaving the room. Banged aimlessly around the kitchen, set the coffee maker to on and forgot the grounds, ran through his cupboards looking for sweetener before he remembered, yeah, lived in the pot marked 'sugar' by the stove. Sniffed the milk before he thought, Thursday, grocery day. Jesus, he was as nervous as a teenager.

When the kitchen door opened he had his head bent over his laptop. Casual. He could do casual.

"Right," the human said. "What you wanted."

Sam looked up.

He wasn't a small man, the human, but he was over dressed in Sam's clothes. The jeans were hitched up, the shirt rolled up to the elbows and gaping open over the fine lines of his neck, cord of the amulet stretched tight over his skin. Wet hair. Green eyes. His mouth was set and firm, not the pout he'd worn in the bedroom.

"How do you take your coffee?" Sam asked.

It was the first time he'd seen that face disconcerted. Small curl of victory in his belly.

"Dude?"

"Coffee," Sam said. "Pull up a chair. Black, white? Got hazelnut syrup, chocolate - "

Jesus. The man's feet were bare.

"Even got some sprinkles."

"Black's good," the human said. Uncertainty layered under challenge in his voice.

Sam poured it out. Put the mug straight down on the table, and moved around to his own chair. Sat down, snapped the laptop shut. Should have got himself another cup, something to do with his hands.

"What's your name?"

The human was practically inhaling coffee. Eyes closed, head tipped back, his Adam's apple bobbing as he swallowed. The whole mug went down like candy.

"Tell me your name and I'll get you another," Sam said.

He'd been prepared to push the thing, use his mojo, but Jesus, looking at the man with coffee was like looking at a kid at Christmas. Couldn't do it.

"What the fuck," the human said, shrugging. "Not like it's gonna be any use to you." But he hesitated, passing the mug over.

"I'm Samuel," Sam said. "Sam." He poured the coffee.

"Dean."

"Dean," Sam said, tasting the word.. Tasted real. He handed the mug back.

"Sam," Dean said. "Sam, that's damn fine coffee."

"Thanks," Sam said, surprised. "It's just... ordinary..." he said, and stopped.

He'd never seen a human shopping. Humans got rations. Perfectly adjusted for individual metabolisms, each according to their needs. Paradise was nothing if not a meritocracy.

"You want cookies? I've got cookies."

"Ah, Jesus," Dean said, and put the mug down. "Look. What the fuck's so kinky you gotta play nice before you ask me? You wanna do scat? Got a rubber raincoat in your closet? Haul it out, man."

"I don't want to fuck you," Sam said, and felt something snap harsh and wet inside his soul.

He'd lied.

Fuck, he'd lied.

He froze, felt his wings shiver. Shouldn't there be a thunderbolt, just about now?

Dean was on his feet. "Fuck was that?" Eyes on the windows, doors - Sam would take a fifty dollar bet Dean could get out of his apartment in ten seconds flat, top floor apartment notwithstanding.

Nothing happened.

Sam let his wings relax. Nothing.

God... hadn't noticed.

He took a deep breath and said, "I lied," straight out. Honest.

"Told you," Dean said. The tone of his voice was relieved. He sat down.

And Sam... Sam had to smile, giddy with relief. "Was that when I said... 'coz I gotta tell you, you must know what you look like, but I'm not gonna be that man... or when you said angels lie?"

Chink of coffee mug on the table. Dean's eyes, steady, staring him down.

"You had a knife to my throat," Sam added helpfully. "At the time."

"That the moment when you were gonna get twelve people torched for being stubborn?" Dean said.

"Yeah," Sam said. He looked down. Ring of spilled coffee on the table, must have tipped the mug. "I was going to leave. Was just about to go when you walked in the door."

"Right," Dean said. "That's why you were so co-operative about shifting your ass?"

"I don't like being pushed," Sam said.

"Fine. I'll bear it in mind," Dean said.

"Look," Sam said. "You, what you did..."

Dean didn't need to say anything. Glint in his eyes almost amused.

"I don't mean the sex," Sam said. "Shut up about the sex, will you?"

Dean's face, impatient, engaged.

"My cleaner," Sam said. "My cleaner, Delaine, she's got three kids. The eldest, Joey, he's a clerk over at the diocesan chambers, one of the record offices. Doing all right for himself. Got a girl in Brooklyn, going steady. Middle one's Desiree: she's married, got two kids in diapers. Youngest is Leroy. That's the one she's worried about. Thinks the Archangels are gonna notice one too many cautions."

Dean stood up, took the mug over to the sink, washed it up carefully. The sweat pants were sagging over his ass, the hoodie so loose he had to keep shoving the sleeves up, hair on the nape of his neck velvet short.

"Never met a human who said no to me before," Sam said. "Made me see things different. Humans. People."

Dean ran his fingers over the edge of the counter. Strong hands. Joint of his ring finger crooked, like it had been broken and set wrong. When he turned around and leant back he was frowning.

"Dude, I'm not your confessor."

"I get that," Sam said.

"Way I see it," Dean said. "You met something that didn't fit with your world view. So fucking what? You think yours is the only truth out there?"

"No," Sam said automatically, then thought about it. "No," he said again, slower, considering.

"Bear it in mind, will you?" Dean said. He looked away, and when he looked back it was as if he'd flicked a switch: he hitched his hips against the counter and tipped his chin, eyes half lidded, deliberate temptation.

 

 

 

"You got... what, two hours? Anything else you wanna say to me?"

"Oh, fuck you," Sam said, tired and horny. He stood up and watched Dean watch him walk forward. Two inches between them. Less. Deliberate as a ritual, Sam slotted them together, Dean's thigh hot and hard between his, his dick stiff against Dean's flat stomach, one of his hands over Dean's on the counter and the other curved back round Dean's jaw just like the first kiss. The skin under his thumb was both stubbled and soft, tender where the rest of the man was pure muscle. Just because, Sam blew over his eyelashes, and felt the way Dean flinched. He could only feel it, for Dean's mouth was half open as if there was nothing he wanted more than Sam inside him and his eyes were closed.

Sam bent his head.

"Where fuck is my inhibitor?"

He was prepared for the way Dean jerked against his hands. Wasn't prepared for the moment after that when Dean fucking undulated, bastard, and his free hand squirmed between them with Sam's dick in its sights.

"Listening," Sam said.

"Lost it," Dean said, mouth so close to Sam's ear he could feel the heat of the words on his skin. Could feel Dean's palm curved around the head of his dick, strength of that touch saying Dean knew exactly what he was doing.

"So I get you don't like the wing thing," Dean said. "Something else you wanted?"

"You're not getting this, are you?" Sam said. He let all of his weight fall against Dean, unexpectedly comfortable, trapping Dean's fingers between his own stomach and Sam's.

"I kind of appreciate informed consent," Sam said slowly, his own eyes closed because, yeah, felt like Dean belonged against his skin. "And you don't want me."

He let go and stepped back.

Five of Sam's heart beats - count them - before Dean opened his eyes.

"Really," Sam said. "We are not doing this thing."

"Hell of a price to pay for a conversation," said Dean.

"Sit down," Sam said. "Not your problem." He moved, because Sam wasn't a small man and his kitchen wasn't exactly the size of the Diocesan depository. Sat back in his seat. Watched Dean sit down.

"You got any idea how many forms I had to fill out for losing that thing, dude?" he asked.

Then, then, he saw Dean grin. Like a little boy, all smile-crinkled eyes and charm, and if Sam's heart missed a beat then he hoped God wasn't watching.

"Not my problem. Dude," Dean said. Still grinning. "You got more of that coffee?"

"Get you a beer instead?" Sam offered.

"That'd be... good," Dean said.

Sam was halfway into the icebox when he was struck by a damn fine idea. "You hungry?" he asked, turning round, and it was then that he saw Dean's eyes track up from his ass to his mouth. Fuck yes, Sam thought and then shot that thought down because Dean's face was not exactly slack with lust for Sam's hot bod, but faintly puzzled.

"Dean?"

"What've you got?" Dean said.

"Pizza," Sam said, certain. "Uh... Pizza. Cheese on toast?" He pulled out a beer and uncapped it, passed it across, watched Dean take a swig and wipe off the mouth of the bottle. "Or take-out?" Sam asked, and Dean pulled a face.

"Pizza's good. No deliveries."

"Right," Sam said, reaching into the freezer compartment. "You're illegal and I'm apostolic right now. No witnesses is good, right? Pepperoni or mushroom?"

"Meat's awesome," Dean said, amusement back in his voice.

"See," Sam said, struggling with the wrapping and knocking the oven on with his elbow. "That's not the first time you've rolled an angel. Fuck knows, you've made it pretty clear it's not the first time you've spread for one. And that wasn't the first time you've travelled with one, neither."

Two pizzas only just fitted onto the top shelf of the oven. He'd never tried that before.

"Who the fuck are you?" Sam asked.

"You heard the guy in the bar," Dean said.

"Yeah, right," Sam said. "Like knowing some angelic G-spot and taking your clothes off counts. Dude, that's not what I'm after."

"Not paying enough for that," Dean said. He looked up. "Before you ask, not for sale."

"Fair enough," Sam said. "What can I ask?"

And Dean thought about that for a moment, really thought about it. Shrugged.

"Okay," Sam said. "I'm 26. Grew up in the city, went to seminary on the West Coast 'coz I don't get on with my dad. Came back... 'coz I don't get on with my dad. Got no brothers or sisters. You know what I do for a living."

"I'm, uh, older than you. Four years," Dean offered. "I think. No family left." He ground to a halt. "Dude, what else do you want me to say?"

"You don't like angels," Sam said.

"No," Dean said. "No, I don't."

Oven bell went off. "You want a knife with this? Fork?" Sam asked, burning his fingers on the rack. Oven mitts must be somewhere. Plates were good, too.

"I'm good." There was the knife down on the table, little thing, a fraction the size of the one Dean had held to Sam's throat.

"Do I ask where that came from?" Sam said, dropping the pepperoni on the table and grabbing the mushroom.

"Nah," Dean said, mouthful. "Don' wanna know." His eyes closed. Jesus, bliss on that face.

"You want this one too?" Sam offered, fascinated.

"More of you to feed," Dean said, muffled.

Pizza practically vanished before Sam's eyes, like Dean was starving for it. He hadn't been thin, but there was little spare flesh on his body. Who fed Dean, usually? Where the fuck was he registered?

Finished, Dean learned back in his chair and belched.

"Dude," Sam said.

Dean shrugged, happy. Shoulders down, hands relaxed. Laughter lines by his eyes.

Someone owned this. Someone told it where to go.

"Who holds your contract?" Sam blurted out.

Jesus fuck, knife thudded into the table right between his hands, bone handle swaying with the force of the throw. Dean's face was... he'd screwed up. Big time, Sam had screwed up.

Dean said nothing.

Sam took a deep breath. "How much?" he asked.

"You got five minutes," Dean said. "You wanna hand over the cash?"

"Just..." Sam said. "Just... give me a minute, okay?"

The safe was in his bedroom. He practically ran to it, fumbling with the tumbler, pulling dollars out onto the bed. One thousand, two, ten, fuck, twenty, thirty. Forty. He grabbed an envelope on the way back. Dropped the lot on the table. He couldn't sit down, tight with nerves.

Dean didn't even count the money, just shoveled it into the envelope.

"You... need a lift anywhere?" Sam said, his voice high and tight.

"Nope," Dean said. He stood up, left some bills on the table. "That's for the clothes," he said. "And the pizza."

"You don't need - " Sam said, and felt the seal on his soul crack open.

Deal done.

Smiling, wry, Dean looked him in the eyes.

And vanished.

 

~*~

 

"You ever..." Sam said tentatively. "You ever heard of a human... travelling?"

"Huh?" Beth said.

"Like an angel," Sam clarified.

"Sam," Beth said. "How much of that white powder have you done?"

 

~*~

 

"How do I trace a human?"

"You really asking?"

"Yeah."

"Get their ID. Type it in the database. Print off the record. Sam, we did this in High School. Ask me something else."

"What if you don't have an ID?"

"Ask. What do you think, they're going to say no to you? Pull the other one, it's got bells on. I've got ten minutes, man, want another beer?"

"No, seriously. What if you don't have an ID?"

"Jesus, I don't know. Try the DNA? Who wants to get that close to a human?"

 

~*~

 

Dean, washing the mug up. Wiping off the bottle. Using his own knife. Bathroom had been spotless.

 

~*~

 

"What do you want?"

"Not my first time."

Two thousand dollars, and the smell of it just the same. Cloud Nine.

"Can I see the manager?"

And this time, Sam let his wings show, unfurled, his black primaries touching the corridor walls.

 

~*~

 

"No we don't keep records. Jesus, humans, they're like rats, you know? One leaves and there's another five knocking on the door."

"Insurance, what do you mean? Think we're a charity? Son, this is a cash business. Cash. Business. Understood?"

"No you can't talk to the staff. You got a warrant?"

"Piss off. And don't come back!"

 

~*~

 

Sam, praying, as he did every night, as every angel did, every night. Personal communion with God, the moment when every angel knelt in front of their own altar in God's presence and affirmed their faith, breaking bread and drinking wine in remembrance of their saviour. The wine bitter, the wafers dry, both of then blessed in the light of the Rapture and sacred.

Sam, counting his communion wafers. Missing three. Counting again.

 

~*~

 

"So, Samuel. Rumor has it you've been asking questions about humans."

"Yeah?" Sam said slowly, his heart beating double time. "Just curious. Case 237, the Gnostic heretic? The one with the red hair?"

"Samuel, remember God knows best. He made this world for us and he made it perfect. Paradise. There are some things, Samuel, you don't need to question. Just have faith."

Smile on the man's face toothy and bland.

"Samuel, you're doing the Lord's work here, and doing it well. We're proud of you. Why not... take some time to yourself, after work? I know you have friends, but angels need community. Join a prayer group? Youth support? There are angels out there who would be more than grateful for the help. Don't..." The man paused. "Don't take your cases home with you."

 

~*~

 

Sam didn't search for Dean's name on the net, no matter how secure he knew he was. God was everywhere.

 

~*~

 

He'd just about reached entropy when the Diocese Council Chambers blew up.

 

~*~

 

"Sweet Mary mother of God," Sam said, and dropped his cereal bowl. The building was devastated, black smoke pouring out of the shattered roof and rising to cover even the burning gold light of the Rapture beacon on its tower. Rubble covered the plaza and through the unsteady lens of the reporter's web cam, teams of angels were purposely quartering the area. Despite the still-burning fires, workers were already on site with survey equipment and heavy plant.

"212 confirmed deaths," the anchorwoman said, her voice shaking. "if you've just joined us these are live pictures from the plaza. Angels, that is the Diocesan Council Chambers you see burning. Angelus officers issued a statement this morning - "

Sam sat down on his coach, open-mouthed.

"- sonic blast. Although the whole area was immediately evacuated, search and rescue teams are searching the buildings for survivors. Head Angelus Michael said earlier today that the Archangels will move heaven and earth to find the perpetrators, stating that all leads to rogue human activity are being aggressively pursued and warning angels to be on their guard and trust in the officers of the Lord. Reconstruction work has already commenced - "

Switching channels, Sam saw video clips of anguished faces, Angelus officers and ambulances, shots of the Rapture beacon still burning, clouded with smoke but undamaged, a statement read by his father's press secretary, helpline numbers. 212 angels dead.

212.

Sam couldn't believe it. Angels... Angels died so seldom and so seldom irrevocably he could hardly believe the newsreader. 212... No, 213, as the numbers on the screen jumped. It was unthinkable.

"Jesus Mary mother of God," Sam said, counting beads on his rosary. "Lord have mercy on our souls."

"Massacre," said the sombre faced angel on the screen.

Then the e-mails started to come in. Was he okay? Were his friends? Sam kept one hand on the keyboard and the other on his remote. Was his office open today? No. The Archangels declared a day of national mourning. Had anyone heard from Beth? From Maria? Was it an accident? Rogue humans? How could anyone - ?

215 dead.

"- and over a hundred humans," the newsreader said. "Now, with the latest from - "

And Sam stopped typing.

It was the first time he'd heard human deaths mentioned and to his shame, the first thing he thought of was Dean's face.

The net database was not listing human fatalities.

It was then that his front door opened.

"Shit," Sam said, and stood up. "Delaine?" he called. "Haven't you seen the news?"

"Yes, Sire?" Delaine said.

"What are you doing here? Doesn't Joey work at the chambers?"

Sam heard the hall door open, Delaine moving something. Vacuum cleaner, maybe.

"Delaine?" he said, gentler, softer.

"Sire." When Delaine turned round, there were tears on her cheeks. "Was there anything you - "

"Christ," Sam said. "Sit down. Come and sit down, for God's sake. Can I get you water? Coffee?"

"I don't know," Delaine said. She was so stiff that Sam thought she must be holding herself upright by will alone. "Sire, I don't know."

"Is there anyone I can call for you?" Sam asked. "Your husband?"

Delaine shook her head. "At work, same as me. Joey - Joey went first, went in early today - " More tears.

Sam reached out a hand and took hers, and neither of them flinched. "Sit down. Please, sit down. Let me make some calls."

He had never been so ashamed of himself.

As Delaine held herself together, sitting so stiffly on the couch that the thing might have been made of nails rather than goose down, Sam pulled in favors from angels he'd forgotten he knew. Registrars in overrun hospitals. Angelus recorders. Begged, pleaded, threatened. After the third cup of tea, Delaine, quietly, began to give him names and numbers, a network of humans Sam began to realise knew as much about bypassing the Angelic strictures as he. Humans should not use the net. Were not supposed to need to communicate.

It took three hours, but at the end of it they had what was probably the only human casualty list in existence.

Joey wasn't on it.

Neither was anyone called Dean. First or second name.

"Is there anyone he might have gone to?" he asked Delaine. "Can I e-mail - Do you want to use my phone?" Sam asked, and knew then that he was acknowledging both of them were standing outside the structures of their ordinary lives. Together.

Delaine nodded, tissue pressed to her lips.

Sam left her in private, made coffee. Washed up. Made his bed. Watered the altar flowers. Heard Delaine scream "Joe - "

He fucking travelled to the living room. But Delaine was smiling through her tears, a great broad reach of a smile that he'd never seen before, made her look beautiful. Smile and nod, as if the person on the other end of the phone could see her. She grabbed onto Sam's sweat shirt as if they'd never kept an unspoken two foot distance between them at all times.

"Oh, Joey. Joey. Baby, I love you. You get home, you hear? Get yourself home."

Sam found he was smiling in response, taut and strained, a smile that knew hundreds had died but at least someone's child was still alive.

"Go home," he said gently, when Delaine managed to put the phone down. "Please, go home. The cleaning will wait." And as Delaine shook her head, Sam said firmly, "I'm calling you a car."

He did. Hustled her into her wraps and her gloves and out the door with a box of her own cookies and a packet of tea he knew wasn't on the ration card, saw her into the car, flashed his credit card at the disgusted driver and made him repeat the address twice.

The air smelt of smoke, acrid on the back of his throat.

Sam went slowly up the stairs to his apartment, hearing the sound of other people's terminals as he went up the stairwell, a muttered cacophony of disaster he still couldn't quite comprehend. 216 confirmed. Dead.

As he came to the top of the stairs and looked up, he thought for a moment one of them was outside his own front door.

But it was Dean.

Dean, crumpled and filthy, sitting curled against Sam's door and watching the stairs with eyes that were wide and bloodshot. Dean, who, when he saw Sam, let the knife he had been holding fall to the floor.

"Hey," Sam said, his voice rough, kneeling. Dean's clothes were charred and bloody and Sam didn't know how badly he was injured or where. "Hey."

His irises blurred, Dean's eyes wandered in and out of focus, but his hand had a rictus grip on Sam's coat. There was blood on his face, his nose had been bleeding.

"Dean," Sam said. "Hush, Dean. I've got you."

That must have been an attempt at a smile.

"Fancy a free fuck?" Dean said, and fainted.

Well, at least the man knew to whom he had run.

Sam dragged him inside on a blanket, terrified of making things worse, and got out the first aid kit. He cut Dean's clothes away piece by piece, the shredded bloody map of them. Wherever Dean had been in the explosion, it hadn't been pretty. His hands were a mess, grazed to fuck and with the knuckles rubbed raw. There was a three inch second-degree burn on his left shoulder, over the freeze brand, and his legs were bruised and swollen, although all his bones were in the right places. His neck and shoulders and the left hand side of his face were peppered with tiny burns. Sam thought he must have been standing counter to the fire, until he saw Dean's back. It was far worse. Looked like something had burned his way across his shoulder blades, the skin destroyed right down to muscle, blackened and puffy.

"Fuck," Sam said, and looked up 'burn treatment' on the database. He carried the terminal into the hall, wasn't leaving Dean alone.

Then he called his dealer. Cost him a fortune. Dean wasn't exactly cheap.

It took him three hours to patch Dean up. It could have been worse: the only thing Sam was really concerned about was fluids, for Dean should have been on some sort of intravenous drip, but Sam knew no one who could score that kind of equipment no questions asked. They'd have to deal. He added vitamin drinks to his shopping list, and sent it off a day early. Then, cursing, he got Dean into bed, and set himself up beside with the table and chair and the terminal.

He could hear Dean breathe. Smoke in the lungs. Database said it would heal.

Some angel on the West Coast, unknowing, posted the human casualty list on Sam's behalf. Through six different aliases. The last thing Sam needed was an Archangel at the door.

Sam called Delaine and gave her the week off, citing the new state of emergency and hoping a week would be long enough.

He called the interrogation offices and took a week's leave. Personal reasons. Then he filled out five different forms and sent them in, to confirm.

Dean was still breathing. He had one hand resting on the pillow, the palm of it burn-reddened. Sam had left that one unwrapped, better to breathe. The other, tucked under the duvet, was stiff with bandaging.

Forty two e-mails. Sam answered them.

Then he answered the answers.

Dean breathed.

At nine o'clock in the evening, just after Sam had burned the soup, Dean woke up. He whimpered, waking: fucking whimpered, and Sam had to hold onto the edges of the bed because the man did not need someone touching his skin. He was bruised enough already.

He could see Dean's eyes move under his eyelids. Losing the slow rhythm of sleep, his breathing changed, becoming lighter and faster.

"Dean," Sam said gently, unable to stop himself, and Dean's eyes opened.

"I don't owe you," Dean said. Words came out cracked.

"You don't owe me anything," Sam said. "But you ended up on my doorstep. Dean. It's okay. You're safe."

Dean's control must have been shot, because there was a twist to his mouth over safe that hit Sam hard. "You think I'm handing you over to someone else?" he said. " Think again. You want to try running faster next time? Your back's a mess."

But Dean looked at him as if Sam was three steps ahead in the wrong direction. "Did it... did it work?" he said, forcing the words out.

Sam reached for the ice chips. "Sh. Your throat's burnt." He was leaning over, intent on getting something liquid at least into Dean's body.

"I said," Dean said, his hands tight on Sam's arm - shit, that must be hurting him, although there wasn't enough power left in Dean's fingers for Sam to feel more than a light pressure. "Did it work?"

Sam gave him an ice chip, wanted to let his thumb linger on Dean's lips, didn't. "Did what work?"

Dean spat the chip out. His eyes had gone to the window, past Sam's shoulder, where the light of the Rapture burned through the blinds.

Then he turned his face into the pillow and shut his eyes.

"Dean?" Sam said softly. "Dean?"

"Fuck off," Dean said.

Christ... was he... crying?

"You want some more morphine?" Sam asked, and Dean lashed out at him, blind. It was meant to hurt, his bandaged hand hitting against Sam's shoulder hard enough to leave bruises.

"Fuck off," Dean managed, voice cracked open, and Sam did. Sat on the chair. Watched Dean cry himself to sleep, face barred black and gold by the Rapture's light.

Sam slept on the floor. Couch was too far away.

In the morning, Dean was awake. He'd curled up in the night, weight on his unburnt right shoulder, looking out the window.

"Hey," Sam said. He was in his pyjamas, his hair falling over his face. Didn't matter. Seemed fair, he'd seen every inch of Dean's skin yesterday.

Dean looked back at him out of two black eyes that had come on well since yesterday. Something must have hit him, hard, in the face.

"Thought we were done," he said. Voice clearer, still not good.

"You missed the bit where you flung yourself on my Christian charity," Sam said, dry. His fingers were steady on Dean's pulse and he hoped it was obvious he was more interested in Dean's skin tone than swooning over the color of his eyes. Or pounding his ass. "And you won't be walking anywhere for a week or so."

Eyes closed, Dean said, "You know I'm carrying?"

The tone of his voice was flat, but looking down Sam found himself smiling. He would take a bet that if Dean really felt threatened he wouldn't be talking first. "I get we've trust issues," he said. "But let me get your back for a day or two, huh? No strings." Two knives under Sam's pillows. Dean's. If they were still there.

"Don't tell me it's love," Dean said, "'coz it ain't."

"Not stupid," Sam said. "But you see the Angelus anywhere near?" He marked off Dean's pulse on the makeshift chart while he waited. 90/60. Not bad.

"More likely to be chained to the bed," Dean said.

"Maybe later," Sam said. "If you wanted. But I don't think you could move right now if you tried."

Dean's eyes on his, steady. Sam looked back. Didn't have to hide anything: nothing to hide. But when Dean let his eyelids close again - cut below his eyebrow Sam had missed, yesterday - Sam could feel the relief like wine. He resisted the impulse to run his fingers over Dean's hair, short mussed fur of it on Sam's pillows, and watched the man move uncomfortably, testing which parts of his body still worked.

"Need to...piss," Dean said. Challenge in his voice.

"You're not getting up," Sam said. He was proud of himself. He'd thought of that one.

"You're kidding me," Dean said, visibly horrified.

"Nah," Sam said. "I just want my hands on your dick."

It was wry enough, thank God, to lighten the laughter lines at Dean's eyes, but not enough to make him any less resentful once he had tried to stand up, failed, and had held out his hand and fumbled under the bedclothes.

"Dude, think of waterfalls," Sam said, tactfully looking out the window.

"Water sports," Dean muttered. "I'll piss on you if you ever suggest this again."

"You want to be lying in wet sheets?" Sam asked. Should have put some music on the terminal. He had no idea what Dean liked. Couldn't place him as a choirgirl fan.

"Embarrassed yet?" Dean asked, done.

"Shut up," Sam said. "Thinking of nuns."

And Dean laughed, dry, hurting. "Next time, I'm walking."

"Yeah, yeah," Sam said. "Now drink."

"You have any idea how sadistic that sounds?" Dean said, feelingly, and it was Sam's turn to laugh.

But when he came back from the bathroom Dean was looking back at the window. He'd dragged the pillows into a pile behind his back - Christ, that must be uncomfortable against the burn - and his hands were plucking at the duvet cover.

"You hungry at all?" Sam asked.

"How many people died?" said Dean.

"What?"

"In the explosion. How many?"

"221 angels. 115 humans, far as I know."

Dean had closed his eyes.

"Who? Is there a list? Who?"

"If there's anyone that you're looking for," Sam said carefully - Joey was fine, but Joey's girlfriend was in bed in her Brooklyn flat with two broken legs and minimal health care - "I can look up for you."

"Would you - " Dean turned his head. "Look, I know this sounds stupid - fuck," Dean said. "Could you read it for me?"

Sam's voice went hoarse long before the end. He fed himself the ice chips, and Dean protein drinks with added fibre.

Felt like praying, and Sam didn't even shiver at the blasphemy.

Dean watched the window, face held still.

Afterwards, they were both quiet. There weren't words.

"I'm sleeping in your bed," Dean said, abruptly, at three o'clock in the morning.

"Yeah, yeah," Sam said. He had been awake, but only just.

Felt... intimate.

In the morning Sam powered up the database and ran through the checklist again. Dean was healing fast, past the predictive curve for human flesh. The bruises on his legs were fading and his eyes were shadowed rather than black. The burn on his back was beginning to knit together, pink flesh creeping over the burn.

"How'd you get this?" Sam asked.

Dean snorted. "Building blew up in my face. What did you think happened, Armageddon?"

"The scar on your shoulder," Sam said. He didn't say brand.

Under his hands, Dean shivered, comvulsive.

"You really wanna to talk about this?" he said. "Got a thing about scars?" Pulled himself over on the bed so he could look Sam in the eyes. "See a fucking shrink. You have them? Head doctors for angels?"

"Dude," Sam said.

"Jesus, fuck," Dean said, and rolled his eyes. "Sam. I don't do the caring, sharing thing, okay?"

Sam looked back.

"I can't remember." Dean said.

"Liar," Sam said equably, and went for more protein shake.

Day four, Dean was walking. Bathroom and bedroom and couch and back, with an improvised walking stick that had once been Delaine's mop handle, and a creative line in complaints, but he was mobile. They'd both nixed the protein shakes, although Sam had insisted on some form of vegetable intake-"So what if it's green? Close your eyes." In the interests of keeping them both entertained, he'd moved the terminal back into the living room and tucked Dean up on the couch, left him with the remote whilst Sam cooked dinner.

When he came back Dean was on the net.

"You posted that list," he said abruptly.

Sam drew in a breath, sharp, through his teeth. Set his jaw.

"You don't know that," he said carefully.

Dean flicked him a glance over the sofa. Yeah, right. He didn't need to say it.

"Didn't look like anyone else was going to," Sam said. He walked into the room and sat down "Guess I don't need to worry you're gonna rat on me?"

Dean said, "You've got no fucking idea."

Text scrolled by on the screen, list of names. Silence, not easy but tense.

"Dude, morbid," Sam said.

Not gently, Dean threw him the remote.

Turning it over in his hands, Sam thought. "Do you play games? Want to watch a film?"

Dean turned over on the couch and flashed Sam a glare. Fuck off. Closed his eyes.

"Read something?"

"I'm not ..." Dean said.

"Ill?" Sam supplied.

He looked at Dean's face. By the strain around his eyes Dean was in pain and too proud to ask for painkillers. Unshaven, the stubble on his chin was no longer a shadow but the beginnings of a beard. Yet the bones of his face and the definition of his mouth created a finely carved beauty that still caught Sam by surprise: the way the man felt was so oddly familiar his physical presence was sometimes startling. Getting to know Dean was not the cautious, uncertain process Sam knew well with other people. It was more as if Sam was relearning someone he had once known well, fitting the pieces of their lives back in place, as if Dean and he shared a vocabulary unique to themselves. At the same time, Sam discovered in himself an endless curiousity about what had made Dean the man he was. He knew now that Dean's personal space was mercurial. Dean would have spread his legs for Sam without a second thought - and probably forgotten two hours afterwards - but he was fiercely territorial about his toothbrush. He ate like a man accustomed to having food snatched away from him, but cleaned up after himself as if the Angelus was watching.

Ill, he was irritable, a man who lived in his body forced to inactivity. It hadn't taken him long to find Sam's weak points and clock them mercilessly one by one: Sam's sweet tooth; his inability to cook; his occasional clumsiness. At the same time Dean had never mentioned the lack of family photographs in Sam's apartment, nor asked about the one image Sam had kept of himself and Jess. Dean could be crass, impatient, irritable. But he said thank you as if he meant it, made himself as inconspicuous as he could in a small apartment, and could make Sam laugh with a sideways glance of shared understanding.

He knew - he'd known at the bar - that he wanted to pin Dean down and get inside him in the worst way possible. Desire was no longer a surprise, although the occasional violence of it sent Sam for guilty, panting showers at least twice a day. But, the feeling both painfully familiar and achingly strange, Sam looked at Dean and knew he was falling in love.

A lost cause.

Even if Dean were ever willing - and Sam nearly laughed just thinking about it - he and Sam would never walk along an ice-strewn beach hand in hand. The story of Sam and Dean would never end up with them curled up on the same couch, skin to skin in easy harmony. They would never eat together in public nor sleep together in the same bed night after night with Dean's head at Sam's shoulder. They might fuck. Probably would: Sam knew it. But they would never be lovers.

It didn't stop Sam tucking the blanket around Dean's sleeping face and tip-toeing out of the room.

On the fifth day, Dean woke up impatient and antsy, unable to stay still in one place, wandering from couch to windows and back again. He borrowed one of Sam's books to re-read - not one Sam expected, surprised all over again - and put it down after two pages. Circled the kitchen opening cupboard doors one after the other while Sam was attempting, an eventually edible disaster, brownies according to Delaine's telephoned instructions.

Finally exasperated and run dry of visual entertainment for the invalid, Sam said "What's wrong with you?"

"Nothing a new back wouldn't fix," Dean said. "Maybe a new life."

He glared at the living room terminal, where a scarlet CGI racing car slid to a smooth halt, abandoned.

"Aw," said Sam, pushed beyond patience. Dean had run through every film Sam owned, mercilessly mocked his porn collection - "Dude, you big girl" - and mended, in ten minutes, the leaking faucet in the bathroom Sam had been meaning to get around to for the last six months.

"Too hard for you, human?"

"Huh?" Dean said, spinning round.

"Patience," Sam said. "Submit to the will of God, Dean, you'll heal - "

"You dick," Dean said, eyes bright.

"Yeah?" Sam said, beckoning obscenely. Grinning. "Come on then," and braced himself for Dean's expected cannon ball charge.

He'd thought he'd have had to temper his strength, but Dean fought quick and dirty and didn't pull his punches. They hit the floor in two seconds flat and were rolling in front of the couch a moment later. Sam scored a lucky hit on Dean's ribs - not that he was being too careful, but it was one of the few places Dean hadn't bruised - while Dean managed a jab to Sam's shoulder that half numbed his left arm.

"Fucking... freak with wings..." Dean punctuating each word with openhanded blows.

"Weakling," Sam muttered back, finding he kind of quite liked Dean's weight on top of him and hoping it wasn't too obvious. He had his hands on Dean's elbows, used the leverage to roll them both. "Wingless - "

"- you're nothing - fuck!" Dean said, kicking at Sam's shins, which Sam thought almost unforgivably dirty fighting - "but a roided up human - "

Truth.

Sam could taste it.

He let his hands slacken, tension gone.

"-with a God-complex - " Dean's voice slowing at the end.

Sam felt Dean stop fighting his touch, let his weight drop down on to Dean's body. Comfortable. Dean made room for him, thighs spread, hands clasped loosely over Sam's back, as if he'd realized something had changed.

"What did you say?" Sam said quietly.

"The bit where I called you a dick with wings, or a roided up human? Which one hurt more, man, just so I know?" But Dean's voice was almost affectionate, a little uneasy.

"Truth," Sam said. He could feel the shiver starting in his wings.

"What? Sam, what?" And Dean's hands on Sam's back were no longer gentle, but tight, holding him down.

Sam let his head fall onto Dean's shoulder, the comforting warm solidity of flesh. "Roided up human."

"... Yeah," Dean said uncomfortably, and shifted under Sam's weight. One of his feet scuffed at the carpet.

"Tell me," Sam said.

"Sam."

"Tell me."

Dean's hands slid away. "Let me up. I'm not doing this on my back."

Reluctantly, Sam backed off, let Dean push them apart and walk over to the window. There he stood looking out, hands deep in his pockets.

"I thought you'd ask me," he said abruptly. "I mean, dude, you know I'm human. Travelling? It's an angel thing."

"Dean. I've got a list of things I'm not gonna ask you long as my arm."

"Yeah," Dean said. He turned round, braced. Looked sideways, looked back. "It's the communion wafers. They... like some kind of drug. That's what makes you what you are. There's a reason you guys take them every night, and it's nothing to do with faith. You think you were born with wings?"

Truth. Again.

"Dean," Sam said carefully. "Do you believe this, or know it?"

"They work for me," Dean said. He took a deep breath. "I haven't got... the kind of residual power you have. I couldn't have travelled someone else. But with enough juice I can shift myself. Never could be bothered with the wings. Have to be careful about the blood. I couldn't... I don't remember getting myself here, afterwards."

"You took mine, didn't you?"

"Yeah," Dean said. Corners of his mouth tucked in. "Hadn't expected the inquisition."

"Are you saying..." Sam said "That the only difference between angels and humans... is artificial?"

Dean was nodding.

"I want a drink," Sam said.

He rolled upright and went for the bourbon. Two glasses. Poured the stuff out on the kitchen table with Dean leaning against the door frame, frowning.

"Dude,"

"Don't say anything," Sam warned. He looked down at the glass tumblers, sent one down to the end of the table. Slammed his and poured another.

"How many people know this?"

Dean shrugged. He hadn't reached for the glass.

"I can't..." Sam said. "Fuck. Fuck."

"Sam," Dean said.

"Don't." Glass was empty. Sam didn't remember drinking that one. Poured another, fingers shaking. "I'm going to regret this," he said. "But what else don't I know?"

Dean looked away.

"Fuck it," Sam said, and threw the glass across the kitchen. It splinted on the corner cabinet, sending shards of glass over the counter at the floor, tiny slivers of sharp edged light.

"They've been lying to you all along," Dean said gently. "Dude, Paradise? This ain't it."

"But God must know," Sam said. His voice had thickened, slow, and his throat was tight. He felt dizzy, detached. Shock.

"How far do you want me to go?" Dean asked, brutally honest. He'd picked up the whiskey, was turning the glass in his hands without looking down.

"Tell me," Sam said.

"I don't think God exists."

Dean telling the truth as he saw it. Sam felt the truth of it whisper over his skin, cold as ice. Unless truth itself was a fallacy, a chemical reaction, a thing as much created as his self, his... he wasn't born an angel. He wasn't an angel. Fuck, they were all... not angels. World was a pack of cards he'd had to poke. There was no God. His very faith was nothing but false witness.

"Who?"

Dean looked at him over the glass, eyebrows raised.

"Who did... does... this?"

"Sam." Dean held his eyes.

Angels. The whole beautiful shining circles of the orders of the angels; Cherubim; Seraphim; Ophanim, Archangels, right up to Michael himself.

"Fuck it," Sam said. "Jesus motherfucking..."

"You want something else to smash?"

When Sam didn't say anything Dean stepped carefully over the broken glass and handed down another tumbler. Knelt, and brushed up the glass shards, neat, methodical, as though it mattered if Sam bled. Who the fuck cared? The ichor that ran in his veins was just blood, not blessed but polluted.

He slammed another shot.

"How long have you known?"

"Since I was old enough to keep my pie hole shut," Dean said. He sat down and poured himself another measure of Sam's bourbon.

"You must think... Christ. You must... Are you all laughing at us? Do you all know?"

"Not laughing, man," Dean said. "People..." he said. "People see what they want to see. You wanna see angels? You see angels."

"Personally," he added, "I'm more worried about the size of my dick."

For a moment, Sam didn't know whether to deck Dean or puke on him. He settled for breathing.

"Go to bed," Dean said. "Take the bottle with you."

Sam did. He looked back, unsteady, from the kitchen doorway. Dean was staring at nothing.

 

~*~

 

At three o'clock in the morning, bladder insistent and mouth acidly dry, Sam got up. He saw the light under the living room door coming back from the kitchen. Rested his hand, then his head, against the panels. Inside Dean was humming tunelessly under his breath, some riff Sam should recognize but didn't.

He let the door swing open.

Only the brief acknowledgement of Dean's eyes told him that his presence was known. Dean said nothing. Back against the couch, boots to the fire, he had a blanket laid out by his side and on it weapons his hands moved over as if touch was a language. Guns. Four guns, one disassembled, a rack of throwing knives. A machete. A short sword. Miscellaneous, broad, mitred blades laid out in exact and gleaming patterns. Killing tools.

The room smelt sour. There were blackened rags on the edge of the blanket, as if Dean had used oil to clean the metal. Sam had never seen guns before, but he'd seen pictures, and he was pretty sure that oil was involved.

His head hurt. He was tired, and could not sleep. He wanted nothing more than to be able not to think.

One foot after the other, Sam padded into the living room and levered himself down by the blanket, propped against his wingback chair, eyes on the soothing competency of a man doing something he found utterly satisfying. Here, Dean, Dean's hands - it had the grace of communion, this thing. Trust.

Sam fell asleep, watching.

 

~*~

 

Much later Sam woke again in his own bed with a bucket at his side and a glass of water on the bedside table. He felt as shaky and bruised as a newborn, as if he'd been stripped bare and scourged, his head aching with disconnected images and sharp edged, brutal conclusions.

He'd eaten the apple. The gates had closed. He had fallen.

Staring out of his window, watching the Rapture beacon burn in the clear early morning sky, Sam thought his way through what he had learnt. What he had believed. Who had administered the creed, whose hands gave out communion, who directed the massed orders of his false race. Who benefited. Who'd lost. Who was laughing at a paradise that was poisoned at the heart.

He was fairly certain he'd never look another human in the face again without wanting to apologize.

He'd changed. He felt, washing, dressing, as if every movement was tentative, as if he was learning his own body all over again. His human hands. His fragile, human skin. His heart, not God's, but his own. He was not a reflection of God's image. He was Sam, blind, stupid and fumbling. Only and forever himself alone.

He was staring into his own eyes in the mirror when Dean rapped on the door.

"You want breakfast or aspirin?"

Sam gave himself a very wry smile, and knew that the only way he was going to get coffee was by facing Dean. He dragged his hoodie over his head. Smoothed his hair. He didn't have a game face left to put on.

Somehow he'd thought that if he changed, the world would change with him. But his kitchen was the same as it had been last night and Dean, barefoot by the stove, was whistling cheerfully as he turned bacon in the pan. There was a mug of coffee at Sam's chair that was not just creamy but frothed, and Dean may not have added sprinkles but the jar sat out on the counter.

"You want pancakes?"

Sam was actually starving. "Please," he said, and pulled a face before he could stop himself, rueful and amused.

This was Dean, caring. Dean, who could have left two days ago, and was still sleeping on Sam's couch and cooking him breakfast. Must be love, Sam thought, sick twist of laughter knowing the thing false. But... maybe there was some trust between them. Maybe.

"Dean," he said, over a stack of pancakes and maple syrup and bacon and eggs. "I tortured people over their faith. I.... forced people to agree to the creed. I - "

"Sammy," Dean said, and looked away. Looked back. "Do you want more coffee?"

"Are we not going to talk about this?" Sam asked.

Abruptly he was looking at eyelashes fine and thick as ermine. Dean, hiding his eyes. For a moment, utterly lost - last piece of safe soil crumbling away under his feet - Sam thought, this is where he leaves me.

Then Dean stood up smiling, and clapped Sam on the shoulder. "Dude," he said. "We need to do more than talk."

They planned it out on the kitchen table, Sam's laptop open between them, Dean's father's journal in its heavy leather binding under Sam's thumb. Dean's maps and Sam's notes, Sam's writing neat and exact.

 

~*~

 

"So," Sam said. "When you say - "

"There's no way the Angelus doesn't know. They're in it up to their necks. Missouri, 79: they blew up the whole town, bastards,'coz one kid ate something he shouldn't and got caught on the schoolhouse ceiling. Utah, 81: it's a miracle. Blind human chick suddenly sees the light, starts talking. She didn't last long. Long enough for Dad to write up the file. Queens, 98: - that was the year they cut the rations, yeah? - truck tips over, spills flour in the street. Two hours later the place is heaving with Archangels, but that bun's in the oven already. People started to glow. I kinda liked that when I was a kid."

"Food poisoning," Sam said, fingers on the keyboard. "They died of food poisoning."

"Yeah, right. All twenty-eight of us. Six kids."

"Two babies," Sam said, reading the screen, sick hollow in his belly.

But Dean was shaking his head. "They lived."

"Hospital records say - "

"Still think baby angels are a gift from God, Sam? Special delivery, like your daddy got?"

Felt like the pieces of his life had slotted into place. Of course, Sam thought. Of course.

"Chicago. I was fifteen," Dean said. "Angel got pregnant. She'd... I don't know. She didn't have much time for the church, that's for sure. She stopped taking the wafers. Got herself knocked up. Things started to make sense, and she didn't like what she was seeing: holed up and yelled for help." He shrugged. "Wasn't much left when we got there. No such thing as angel babies. Take it from me, that's the good news."

"Huh?"

"You guys could reproduce, think there'd be any humans left? I kinda like my life where it is."

"Shit," Sam said.

"Big stinking heap of it. You want more coffee?"

Sam leaned back, watched Dean moved round the kitchen, familiar stranger.

"What - " he stopped.

"Sam?" Dean had a hand poised over the top of the grinder.

"Where are you going with this?"

For a moment he thought he'd pushed too far, but Dean took a deep breath, ran his hand up the back of his neck, and Sam knew right there that if he was falling, he wanted it to be with Dean.

"Dad and I had plans," Dean said. He let his hands fall to the counter, grip the edge. Turned to face Sam. "We were gonna... I don't know. Publish. Get pictures, statements, records - some of that stuff dates back to my Grandpa. Then Dad got offed just outside Pittsburgh."

Color going from Dean's face, slow bleed out both of them ignored.

"Gave up playing nice, after that," Dean said. "Wanted to... blow this shit wide open." Knuckles white on the counter. "Didn't work," Dean said.

"What if this was on the net? All of it, so people could - "

"That was Dad's plan," Dean said. "But the way I see it, some human kicks up a stink on the net? Dude, that post would last five minutes. You any idea how fast they can trace an ID?"

"Actually, yeah," Sam said. "So what if... what if it was an angel? Me," he added.

Dean snorted. "Tried that one."

He put the coffee beans in the grinder and let the machine spin for a few moments. Took the old filter from Sam's coffee machine, dropped in the new as if he'd done a thousand times before: same routine, same kitchen. Checked the water and turned the machine on. Sat down.

Sam kept his eyes on Dean.

"You think I just get my dick out for cash and kicks? You remember Cloud Nine? Did you see the guys playing chess?"

"Yeah," Sam said. Not one of his favorite memories.

"Not the..." Dean flicked his hand, dismissal. "The two guys in the room. That was this guy I knew, Dwight, and his son Ignatius. Iggy paid for the room. They'd been doing that shit for years, same game, different places. It was Iggy that found Dwight: they had the same birthmark. They were father and son," Dean said. "They'd known it for years. I only found out when Iggy got pissed. He'd been after Dwight's contract for years, finally got a no. Started screaming for help and got me."

"He's going to post all this stuff." And Sam, sinfully, felt nothing but jealous that someone else could do this for Dean.

"He was going to," Dean said. "He's dead. Coffee's up."

"Archangels got to him," Sam said.

"Maybe," Dean said. He passed Sam a mug of fresh coffee. "Net says he got himself blown up. But Iggy wasn't meant to be anywhere near the chambers that morning. And Dwight's gone. Vanished."

"Sounds like you got stiffed," Sam said slowly.

"Yeah. But..." Dean rubbed the back of his neck. "Dad's journal. My shit. The maps. Iggy had them in a safe box, ready to go. If he'd got busted, this stuff would have been dust before you could say ashes. Maybe... he couldn't do it. Maybe they did get him. I don't know."

"But everything is here. Your Dad's journal. The notes. Your duffel."

"Yeah. Got it back yesterday. Hit and run, dude: you were in bed. You leave your stuff lying around and I'll mess with it."

By the brief grin on Dean's face he hadn't taken the subway.

"Fuck off," Sam said absently, thinking.

"We do this thing," he said "I want more."

Dean stood up. Went to the kitchen window and looked out. Sam's kitchen was at the back of the building with a view of the tenement opposite; frosted glass and heating units; snow on brickwork. Sky was white.

"Let's get out of here," he said.

Dean's back, tension across the line of his shoulders but his hands easy on the counter. Sam didn't know which part of Dean was telling the truth.

"Huh?"

"Something I want to show you."

"Okay," Sam said. "You want me to..."

"Can't travel somewhere you don't know, right?"

Sam called a car. Pulled spare gloves out of the closet for Dean, a muffler, an old shearling-lined jacket, a hat Dean picked up between thumb and forefinger. "Dude. No." He would have been happier if Dean had been wearing snow boots, but Sam's feet were proportional to his height and even with two pairs of socks they wouldn't have fitted. Dean's tolerance had limits Sam didn't want to challenge, yet.

"How're we gonna play this, angel?"

"You know what?" Sam said. "I don't care."

Eyebrows raised, Dean nodded. "Right now, you could walk away," he said, and Sam wondered if going outside was giving him ideas about leaving. "Start doing stuff with humans in public and you're colluding with rebels."

"Forgot something?" Sam asked. He had his keys in his hand and the car was waiting. "I am human." Space in him didn't feel empty. Felt clean.

"Point," Dean said. He didn't look back when Sam followed him down the stairs, didn't even bother meeting the driver's eyes. He had a notebook out, was writing in it, quick sketch map he passed across without a word.

"Where to?" The driver asked. Suspicious eyes in the mirror.

"Uh... Bergen Beach," Sam said, checking Dean's map. "Over the river."

"It'll cost you."

"Fine," Sam said. "You know where you're going?"

The car moved off. Sam sat back, looked at Dean. 'This all right?' He wanted to say, but Dean was huddled back in the oversized coat despite the heat in the car, hands in his pockets, head down. Submissive human, posed like Dean knew the role inside out.

Trace of anger at the back of Sam's throat. It shouldn't be like this.

Sam wanted to reach out a hand, talk to Dean like they were back in the apartment, equals. Must have been written all over his face, because Dean glanced up once and hard and Sam knew the man wasn't budging.

He looked out the window instead.

Where Sam lived, the streets were cleared every morning. The sidewalks were trampled white, the shop fronts lit and welcoming. There were restaurants, bars, hotels, apartment buildings with entrance pavilions and great-coated doormen.

Out of the angel districts, the view changed. Dirty streets with grey snow thrown up in heaps on the corners, barred windows, icicles hanging from the window sills. Where there were people, they walked alone and quickly, shoulders hunched against the cold. Humans.

Dean was not looking, but Sam, who could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times he'd been driven through the eastern boroughs, could not stop. Tenements. People huddled around blazing oil cans. Newspapers stuffed in the windows. Litter in the streets. Faces that turned away as the car passed, and their driver was not stopping, hands tight on the wheel.

It was a relief when the road opened up onto the expressway and the car accelerated, running smooth on the single cleared lane, black tarmac under the studded wheels. Set off the expressway, past the hydroponic greenhouses, there were empty lots; half finished warehouses and wrecked factories, remnants of a city four times larger than the one where Sam lived. For the first time Sam wondered what it would have been like to live in that city. Before the angels. Before paradise.

"You know where you want to stop, Sire?" The driver asked.

"Uh ..." Sam said, and looked down again at Dean's map. "Should be a..."

The road had leveled, and on either side the snow planed out to the horizon, empty space.

"Over there, at the building, " Sam said, and waited for the car to slide to a halt.

The building was roofless, four square concrete walls. Nothing else to see but the white of snow meeting the white of the sky, horizon fading into the unfathomable.

"You okay to wait here?" Sam asked, and caught the driver's surprise at being asked before he nodded.

Slam of car doors echoed across empty space. Dean had already started walking, deep trail of footprints in the snow.

Thirty meters beyond the building, the horizon turned grey. Forty, and the ground dropped from Sam's feet to a beach that was swept clean of snow, pale gold sand in a perfect arc. Shadowed translucent blue and green of the sea ice. The colors were so clear in the washed out air that the impact was as strong as neon in the city.

Sea washed sand, steady rush of waves. Sam watched fascinated.

When he turned, finally, Dean was looking back at him. Something tentative in his face, something that was as much a question as it was acknowledgement.

"Dean?"

"Come on," Dean said, and headed down the bank towards the water.

Close up, the beach was not as pristine as it first appeared. Tangles of wreckage along the water line, plastic and cordage and wood: a dead fish, glass shards worn to colored pebbles. The sand wasn't nearly as easy to walk on as Sam had thought, and he stumbled in Dean's wake.

"You ever skipped a stone?" Dean said, ten minutes past the car, out of sight.

"What?"

Half an hour later, still grinning, Sam looked at Dean's face. Flush of pink on his cheekbones, happy face crows feet at his eyes. Knew he wasn't giving this up, whatever Dean could give him, whatever it took. Bone deep certainty.

"What is it?"

"Nothing," Sam said. It wasn't the time.

"Sure," Dean said, question behind his eyes he wasn't asking. But Dean hesitated, rocking on the balls of his feet before he looked up again. "You wanna do this thing?"

"Yeah," Sam said.

Five minutes further along the beach, there was an overflow pipe wide enough for Sam to stand in the entrance without ducking, boots in two inches of dirty running water.

"Waste from the city," Dean said, answering a question Sam hadn't asked. "Keeps the heat. Come on." He had two torches in his pockets, white halogen bulbs that cut the darkness sharp edged and showed the rough concrete of the tunnel and the tide marks that went right up to the roof.

"This place ever flood?"

"Not while I've been here," Dean said. His voice sounded deeper, echoing. Feet splashing through darkness.

"Came here first," Dean said, unexpected. "Me and Dad, I was fourteen, maybe. Young enough to be stupid. We were after..." His voice trailed off. "Bones are probably still down here. Not human."

"What?" Sam asked. His feet rolled on something slippery, and he had to slap his hand on the side to steady himself.

"Cold changed things," Dean said. "Stuff happened."

"The cold?"

"Nearly there," Dean said. He'd stopped walking, beam of the torch holding still, pointing up. The light shone cold and clear on icicles, a fluted frozen waterfall.

"What is it?" Sam asked, looking up.

"It's an air shaft. Get them every five hundred feet or so." Dean said, and Sam wondered how much further they would have to walk to find the bones of whatever Dean and his father had killed.

"Hold the torch for me? Keep it steady. This was clearer last time I was here. Knew I should have brought an axe. Stay back, will ya?"

Bending, Dean felt for something in the stream bed. Came up with a rock the size of Sam's two fists, smashed it against the ice.

"Dude!"

Crackle of ice breaking, shattering, splintering down on Dean's hair, the shoulders of his jacket, shards splashing into the water.

"Just need to..." Again, Dean looking up under the shelter of his raised arm. "Keep the light here?"

Sam did.

Took fifteen minutes before Dean was done, staring up the shaft.

"Come here. Look up."

Sam walked carefully, ice fragments cracking under his boots. Dean wasn't moving.

"See? Up there, just under the roof."

In the light of the torches, under the sheared ice, Sam could see color. Green and yellow, a yellow the color of an egg yolk. Peering, he could make out delicate curves and shapes, green lace, tangled and pretty. Yellow stars in it like the patterns on a patchwork quilt. He'd seen pictures, but it took him a moment or two to realize that what he was looking at had once been a living plant.

"Before the ice," Dean said. "There were plants in the air shaft. Enough light here to grow. I reckon the ice came quickly here, maybe some kind of flash freeze." His shoulder bumped Sam's, warm. "You're looking at what it was like, before."

"Before?" Sam asked, staring, not understanding. He could feel rather than see Dean turn to look at him.

"Sixty years ago, my Grandpa drove here past green fields. Before they lit the Eastern Rapture. Before the ice came."

"What are you saying?"

"Where the Rapture beacons are, that's where the ice is. Symbol of faith my ass. Ever wonder how much energy those bastards use? This adding up for you?"

"You saying ..."

"Most folks don't notice. See, the Raptures started off small, and the power drain was less. Maybe made colder winters, shorter summers. The ice came in gradual, most places: hit the east coast first. Most times, people didn't notice the rebuilds. Here though, the ice came in quick, quick enough to freeze this stuff in place."

Dean's shoulder still against his, Dean's voice quiet.

"Reckon the Rapture takes the heat out the land. Burns it up."

"No," Sam said.

"My Grandpa drew maps. He travelled. Drove. Gave him a chance to see it happen. There's other people think the same."

"No," Sam said. "No. Dean. No."

He could feel Dean's shrug.

"Only a theory."

"You're wrong," Sam said, dry mouthed. "You have to be wrong."

"Whatever," Dean said.

"Really... no. No," and Sam was getting out of there, Sam was stumbling down the tunnel towards the light, Sam was suddenly aware as he had not been before of the darkness behind him and the weight of soil over his head and wet musty air that smelt of chemicals and decay. By the time he reached the beach, he was running.

He only stopped at the water's edge, waves touching his boots. Salt in the air, salt and ice; clouds gathering over the sound. Stared out at the horizon.

Could hear Dean's footsteps come to a halt. "Sam?"

"Jess went to the Rapture," Sam said.

He could hear the breath hiss through Dean's teeth. Sam had never mentioned Jess' name before to Dean, but there were gloves in the hall that would never fit Sam's hands. Jess would never be back for them. People called to the Rapture never came back. Serving a higher purpose. Called to God. Honored, the Angelus said. Sam had believed it.

"And I thought... I thought... they said it was a blessing, that... I never got to say goodbye," Sam said. "So just shut up, will you? Shut up, because I - " when he turned round Dean was looking at him steady and cool. "I'm so... so," because he needed to Dean to understand. "So angry right now."

And Dean nodded once, twist to his mouth that said Dean knew about loss.

Sam took a deep breath and looked back at the sky. He looked at the sky a lot, hands in his pockets, Dean at his back. Watched the clouds roll in until he could breathe again.

Dean said, "Snow's coming, dude. Let's get home."

Sam shoved his hands deep in his pockets and started walking. After a moment, Dean fell in behind him, close but not too close.

 

~*~

 

"So show me," Sam said, after Dean had shoveled pizza in the oven and they had both eaten in silence, watching snow fall outside the windows. "Where your Grandpa went. What happened."

"You sure?"

"Yeah," Sam said, and Dean pulled out the maps and the folder with scribbled notes on yellowed paper.

It was a journey Dean knew by heart, his fingers tracing roads on the maps that no longer existed, hesitating on towns and cities Sam did not recognize. Dean didn't need to check or hesitate: he knew his grandfather's notes as if he had taken them himself. Dean knew the Rapture beacons as if they were personal enemies. Knew when they were founded; who built them, when. How far they ranged. What had died, each time a new Rapture was lit. Dean had hunted the corruption of the Rapture's cold across the entire country. All fifty states, he said, a gritty pride in his voice, and then had to explain.

By the time the sun rose, Sam was convinced.

Dean was asleep. Mid sentence, his hand had gone lax on the maps. He'd blinked at Sam once, almost unseeing, and curled himself up on the carpet. By the time Sam reached out to touch his shoulder, he'd slipped into unconsciousness. There were shadows under his eyes that had not been there the night before. Six days ago, he'd been a crumpled mess on Sam's doorstep.

It wasn't accidental that Dean's head was resting warm against Sam's thigh and Sam could card his fingers through Dean's hair, reading.

When the man began to wake up, Sam made coffee.

"If I told you," he said, and handed Dean his mug, "I wanted to get into the Council Chambers, the depository, could you do it?"

"... warn a guy, huh?" Dean said. He'd paled, the bones of his face showing sharp under white skin, and his hands were clenched on the coffee mug. Took him seconds to relax, but Sam wasn't asking. Not direct, anyway.

"We in this together, or what?" Sam asked.

"I can get you in," Dean said. "Question is, what're you gonna do when you get there?"

"Records," Sam said. He looked down at the maps and papers on his living room carpet. "Don't get me wrong. What you and your dad and your Grandpa did, it's something else. But I want... under the Rapture," Sam said. "The depository. That's where they keep the paper records. Stuff the Angelus doesn't want on the net. Meteorology. Genealogy. Those things date back centuries." He could remember seeing the filing cabinets when he was a kid, overawed by the massive storage rooms but unconvinced that the records had any value. "Proof - proof that can't be explained away. Angel records."

Dean leant back against the couch. "And you know this how?"

Sam could feel his jaw stiffen. "You ever wonder how I ended up doing what I do? You expect to find an Inquisitor, when you walked into that bar?"

By the look on Dean's face, so carefully still, Sam knew he had wondered.

"My father... my adoptive father," Sam corrected and smiled a little as he said it. "He's an Archangel."

"... Yeah?" Dean said. He'd put the mug down, and the raised eyebrow indicated Dean was pretty well acquainted with angelic primogeniture.

"I refused," Sam said. "I wanted... I couldn't have married Jess, for one thing. But he brought me up as if I was going to be... what he is. Ask me about creeds, man: you want me to recite proverbs in Aramaic? Means," Sam said. "I spent a lot of time under the Rapture beacon. It's not just records under there. There's lecture rooms, study halls, couple of chapels... I was a curious kid," he said, and wondered for a moment where that young boy had gone. Lost somewhere with Jess's death and the sound of his own voice reciting responses.

"You know your way round in there? asked Dean.

"Can't imagine it's changed that much," Sam said. "Dust in some of those rooms, you should have seen it."

"So if I get you in, you're not gonna need a week in there, pulling files?" Dean asked. "Even with the... damage?"

"Three hours, tops." Sam said.

"You really want this?"

"Feels like... I wanna post this now, Dean. But it's half the story. I want both halves. I want it enough that no one can ignore it."

"Let me think about this," Dean said.

"Course, I could do it myself," Sam said. "Brave the Angelus. Come up with a really good excuse why I'm wandering round the seventh level with a camera in my hand."

Dean said. "You're not doing this alone. They'd slaughter you."

"Yeah?" Sam said. "Strikes me it might be easier."

Dean looked down, shaking his head. "Sam. Angels get tagged the moment they walk in the door. You think they're that casual about the Rapture? Moment you walk in that place, they'll be watching you." When he looked up, Dean's mouth was set as hard as his eyes.

"So I find some legit reason for being there," Sam said. "I dunno. Some case file."

"You're not going in on your own," Dean said, flat.

"I didn't know you cared," Sam said.

"Fuck off," Dean said. "I'm thinking."

"Don't strain yourself. Want more coffee?"

"Yeah." Ten seconds later, Dean shouted "And I like my bacon crispy!"

"In your dreams," Sam yelled back, and pulled the packet out of the ice box.

When he carried the plates through fifteen minutes later, Dean had the terminal on and was scrolling through blogs Sam did not recognize.

"Dude?"

"Just give me a minute," Dean said, and reached up one-handed for breakfast without even looking at Sam.

It was more than a minute. When the photographs came up on screen, Sam choked on his toast, and Dean shot him a look and switched to the laptop. Sam put the remains of his breakfast aside. He could have gone the rest of his life without knowing that yeah, shit did turn some people on.

"Can you get another of those inhibitors?" Dean asked.

"Probably," Sam said, changing gears with effort. "What happened to the first one? Can't we use that?"

"Don't have it," Dean said.

"Wouldn't work for you, anyways," Sam said. "Don't know if you tried it, dude, but that baby works on a genetic fingerprint. Could get me in, though."

He saw Dean close his eyes before looking up, slow, over the laptop screen. "Yeah?"

"Hey," Sam said. "I thought it was cool. Could get one of the old ones, it should cover both of us. Turn it on inside, though, they're going to wonder why we're both suddenly missing."

"Just need... what, three hours in the archives?" Dean said. "Could... You know they got shielded rooms down there?"

"What?"

"People get lost down there. Really lost," Dean said, fingers busy on the keyboard. "Forever lost. You even think of going alone, you'll be singing soprano. Got it?"

"Huh," Sam said, and went to wash up the plates. The printer started to hum as he was up to his elbows in suds: ten used coffee mugs between two of them, still not worth turning on the dishwasher. Delaine would be back tomorrow. He was due back - Jesus - he was due back at work on Tuesday.

Couldn't do it.

Had to do it. Dean wanted an inhibitor, he had to go back to work. Pretend like nothing had happened.

Sam felt sick. Washed the last plates up in a daze and wandered round the kitchen three times before he stopped in front of the picture of himself and Jess. His twenty first birthday. They were both smiling. He looked so young. Jess so beautiful. Closest to family he'd ever had.

"I didn't think there'd be anyone other than you, babe," he whispered, fingers on the frame. "Didn't plan it this way." Jess smiled back at him, unknowing.

"Don't think you'd even like him," Sam said.

Jess was still smiling.

"I'm sorry," Sam said quietly.

He was still looking at Jess's face when Dean yelled from the living room. "Dude!"

"-Yeah?" Sam said, when he'd got as far as leaning against the door frame.

Dean had a pile of printouts and a shit-eating grin.

"Wanna go to a party?"

 

~*~

 

"You must be kidding," Sam said.

They'd been arguing since lunchtime.

"I don't see the problem," Dean said. "Honestly, dude, you've seen worse."

"I don't fucking think so," Sam said, and tossed a sheaf of printouts at Dean's sprawled legs.

"Look," Dean said. "You wanted in, I've got you in. Jesus Christ, Sam, I've got you a printed invitation with your name on it. What more do you want?"

"You any idea who these guys are?" Sam said. "What do they do?"

Dean raised an eyebrow.

"Okay," Sam said. "Fine. You might have spent every weekend in chains with a dildo up your ass but, dude, I haven't. You think this is easy for me?"

"Won't be your ass," Dean said reasonably.

"Dean."

"Look at it my way," Dean said. "Either we do this thing, and it's nice and easy, just dress up for the cameras, or we're stuck trying to sneak both of us in through the tightest security on the East Coast. You got another plan?"

" - no," Sam said. "Doesn't mean I had to like it."

Dean shrugged. "You were the one wanted in."

"Yeah. Well. Can I have second thoughts?"

"Come on," Dean said. "You never know, might even enjoy yourself."

"Dean, this is so hard-core it's out the other side," Sam said. "I don't even want to know how you found this stuff."

"Dude. It's not like it's my first time."

"So you've ridden half the Angelus. Well, fine, bite me," Sam said. "Dean, these guys aren't messing around. This shit's so illegal I don't even want to think about it. And, Jesus, to throw this kind of party under the Rapture - "

"Not the first," Dean said.

"Yeah, I get that. I get that these assholes do this all the time and don't get caught. I get half the Archangels are fucking humans, and Jesus, that's not something I wanted to know. I get that - " his father's name on two of the invite lists, and hadn't had been a pleasant surprise. " - this is okay for you. But it's not okay for me."

" - no?" Dean said softly. He moved his hand down his chest, slowly, ran his fingers over his belt buckle and then cupped his palm over his dick, hint of a downstroke. Half inch flex of his hips rolling up. Eyes wide, looking at Sam. Display that said nothing but sex. "You want, party boy?"

"Fuck off," Sam said, and went for a shower to the sound of Dean laughing.

 

~*~

 

He had not been the only one counting the days. The next morning, when he woke up, his living room was noticeably Dean free, cushions on the couch plumped, blankets gone, the duffel bag vanished from behind the wing chair. All the printouts had disappeared. His bathroom had only one toothbrush in the mug and the coffee machine was cold.

There was barely time to make one aimless, lonely sortie through the apartment before Delaine's key sounded, letting her in as if nothing had changed.

 

~*~

 

"Don't do that to me again," he said to Dean, first thing that evening, after the front door opened and the duffel dropped clinking to the carpet.

"Aw. Sam. Want me to leave you a note?" Dean mocked.

"Yeah," Sam said. "What if I do?"

 

~*~

 

Stuck to the door the next morning, where Sam couldn't miss it, a sheet of paper that read, "Gone out. Back soon."

"Thanks. Dude." Sam said to himself. Swearing and paranoid, he put the thing through the shredder, which made him five minutes late for work. No one noticed: the place was still in uproar after the Council Chamber explosion. Sam pushed spreadsheets around his terminal and planned how he was going to get his hands on another inhibitor. Last time, he had pleaded a case investigation and pulled rank, but he suspected that after a twenty thousand dollar loss the same excuse wouldn't serve him again. Then someone sorted out his caseload and, fuck, he was back at his desk. "Do you believe in God?" He could taste his own disgust.

 

~*~

 

That night Dean went through his wardrobe. "Haven't you got a suit?"

"I thought I was supposed to be naked," Sam said, tired and bad tempered. Five humans spread over his table today, pointless cruelty.

"You wish."

Dean was whistling through his teeth, unperturbed. Hangers rattled.

"If I said, I want to fuck you right now, what would you say?" Sam asked. It was honest curiosity until he saw Dean swallow.

"Sam."

"You gonna give it up for me, Dean?"

"Sammy."

"Spread your legs, let me in? I'd make it good for you."

"Thought you wanted it pink and fluffy," Dean said, muffled. He'd stopped sorting, was resting his forehead against the wardrobe door.

"Changed my mind," Sam said.

"Stuff happens," Dean said. He turned round, still leaning against the wardrobe. "Sam. There's something I didn't - "

Sprawled on the bed, shirtless, Sam ran his hands up his thighs and watched Dean track the movement. Eyes darkening. 'Gotcha,' he thought.

"Didn't think it was just me," he said.

"I can't," Dean said, and walked out.

 

~*~

 

Dean didn't come back for two days, which would have given Sam ample time to repent if he'd had the inclination. Given Dean's duffel bag was still in Sam's wardrobe and all the paperwork was in the safe, no question Dean was coming back, but the invitation said Friday and there was no way Sam was pulling that shit on his own. He'd got the inhibitor, he'd bought a new suit that cost rather more than he'd budgeted, he'd run through what he needed to do over and over again. Drawn himself plans of as much as he could remember of the record office, went through the filing system, noted what he should be looking for and where. He'd got himself a miniature camera with a memory bigger than his home terminal, and learnt to use it. Started to think about what he was going to say when he blew this thing wide open on the net.

Thursday night, a woman he did not know called him to check arrangements for Friday. Payment in cash; package delivered at seven; collection at midday on Saturday unmarked.

"Fine," Sam said, mouth dry.

When he got home on Friday the duffel was gone.

He took his time showering. Shaved. Clean underwear, clean sheets, shirt ironed crisp, new suit. Matching socks, shined boots. Cufflinks. Camera. Lube in the bedside drawer. Game face on. He'd been practicing: seven backlogged, pointless inquisitions on his work schedule, setting his teeth on edge. "Do you believe in God?"

He thought he was prepared for anything, but when the doorman buzzed up, "Er, you expecting a delivery, Sire?" He knew he wasn't ready.

Opened the door and felt the shock of it straight through his skin.

"Did you shave?" Sam said, unguarded. He didn't mean Dean's chin.

Dean, tonight, had pulled on beauty like armor. There was a sheen of oil on his skin, gleaming under the stairwell light. His bare chest was smooth and faintly gold, tanned where he had been pale in Sam's bed. Leather trousers, tight and soft and fine as kidskin. Boots. Flash of eyes lined with kohl as Dean nodded at the man beside him.

Sam said, intelligently, "Uh."

"Sire. Sign here, please." Datapad held out politely. "Sire?"

Sam's hands were stiff. Not the only thing that was stiff. "Thanks," he said, while Dean's eyes went all over him very slowly indeed, and Sam didn't even manage to watch the delivery guy print off his receipt and leave.

"Tell me you didn't pay money for that suit." Dean's face, grin on it small boy wicked. Dean himself again.

"Yeah?" Sam said, and hit back "What happened to you? Temporary memory lapse? You forget your shirt or just lose it?"

"You noticed," Dean said.

"What, you want me to pretend you got clothes on?" Sam said. "Dude, you've got nipples like frozen strawberry yogurt. I'm getting you a coat."

"Not good enough? You don't like the image?"

Arriving back at the door with something padded and enveloping, Sam said, "Oh, I do," with possibly more emphasis than Dean was expecting. Wicked glint of Dean's eyes, flash of tongue between lips pressed together, and Sam wondered if Dean actually knew just how badly Sam wanted, or if he still thought they could dodge the issue.

Then Dean said, shrugging on the coat, "You ready to go?" and Sam went for his gloves. Followed Dean down the stairs and let him hold the door, 'coz Sam and Dean weren't anything they'd ever been before tonight, and Sam had done his research.

"You ready for this?" Dean said, quietly, in the back seat of the car. Look in Dean's eyes as he said it meant, Sam figured, that this was Sam's get-out clause.

Pissed, Sam said "Watch me," and failed to resist smiling at Dean whilst showing all his teeth which was about as alpha a challenge as he could manage in the back of a limousine, clothed.

Dean actually snarled back, sent the blood so hot through Sam's dick that the bulge at his crotch became even more noticeable. But Dean wasn't letting either of them off the hook tonight. Quick glance down that was confirmation, not question - bastard - and then Dean said, "Good to know you can get it up when it counts."

"You gonna be this bitchy with a leash on, dude?" Sam said conversationally, but Dean only pulled the loose coat down and bared his neck, eyes glinting sideways at Sam's face. Bite me. Sam ran two fingers and thumb across the back of Dean's neck, all sweetly scratched with razor-cut hair, and then closed his grip, knuckles pressing into the nape of Dean's neck. Bending into it, Dean dropped his head, let his thighs widen, and shot Sam a smirk that told him Dean knew exactly what Sam was doing and payback was gonna be a bitch.

Sam just slid closer. "You got what you need?"

"Try me," Dean said, still looking up.

"You gonna run off again without telling me?"

Dean rolled his eyes. Sam took advantage, leaned in and pinched a nipple. Meant to tug and leave it, but Dean's nipples, small and taut, felt uneven under his fingertips as if the cartilage had been pierced and healed. Sam, investigating, rolled one gently between thumb and forefinger.

Dean stuck his tongue in Sam's ear, wet and squelching, and said, "Fuck off." Rumble of it like fur from the outside in.

The jolt of lust went straight to his dick. Ears. Who knew? "Do that again," Sam whispered, face close enough to Dean's to feel a hint of warmth and stubble. Flattened his fingers over Dean's chest, skin warm and firm, hardened nipple in the palm of his hand.

"Save it for the cameras, dude," Dean said, and pushed Sam's hand away.

"Okay," Sam said, and slid back along the seat.

Dean had flushed.

'Oh God,' Sam thought, and looked away, triumphant and amazed and craving so much more, now, that he dared not look anywhere other than the back of the driver's head. He could smell, faintly mineral, the trace of oil on Dean's skin and his fingers were slick.

The courtyard gates were dark, but there were more guards than normal at the gate and Sam had to show the invitation twice before they reached the Great Hall. Opening Sam's door, the driver bowed him outside while Dean stood waiting. The air was cold, the dry cold that meant frost and the surface of the snow in the courtyard had crystallized, sparkling in the reflected light from the great windows. Sam could see where the stonework was smoke blackened, and one wing of the offices was still windowless, but most of the debris from the explosion had vanished as if the place had never gone up in flames. Reconstruction had been miraculously swift.

"You ready for this?" Sam said, as the car pulled away.

"Let's go." Dean's voice was flatter than Sam expected, because he himself was half exhilarated and half terrified, adrenaline sharpening his perception.

The stonework of the stairs struck up cold and hard under his feet, and the braziers on either side of the doors burned after images of fire across his eyes. Behind him, Sam knew Dean had heeled as neatly as a show poodle, but the shape of his hands in his pockets and squared line of his jaw had not been submissive.

There were more guards on the doors to the chamber, although these wore Angelus black rather than the white and gold of the Council yeomen. Beyond them, the great Hall blazed with light.

Sam took a deep breath. Remembered what it was to be his father's son, drew on a sense of entitlement that hardened his face and made Dean into property. He didn't deign to nod as he flicked the invitation over the console.

"Sire. And companion," the guard acknowledged. "Anything to check?"

Sam snapped his fingers for Dean's coat without even looking, Angelus to the core, and dropped the tag into his suit pocket with faint distaste.

"Do you wish to be announced, Sire?" The guard asked.

"Yes," Sam said, and felt Dean's involuntary start.

As he had done at seven, after his confirmation; at sixteen, after his first Rapture communion; and for the years of his majority before Jess, Sam stood relaxed and still on the threshold of the Council Chambers whilst the guard ran through his full name and the list of his titles. He could practically feel Dean's stare, cold on the nape of his neck. He hadn't told Dean.

After the first phrase, Sam could see heads start to turn.

It had been six years, and this was not a Diocesan Council meeting. Sam knew he was looking at a room full of people artificially divided, but at the same time the presence of humans in the heart of the Angelus shamed him with his instinctive and horrified sense of blasphemy. It helped that many of the Angels had masks and were dressed in evening dress and not robes. The humans wore clothes which ranged from jeans through sequins to leathers that made Dean's simplicity look conservative. Nothing like the elders of the Council who were white-clad and generally bearded in Sam's memories. And where Sam had expected the curved pews and the gravitas of the Council Chambers he remembered, here were lights and servitors, people talking and tables piled with food. Music that was not choral but electronic.

As the roll of his titles came to an end, Sam looked back at the angels staring at him. Sam was not rebellious, had never been, had never considered rebellion possible until Jess, and these angels knew. What was going on here was dangerous and Sam did not have a all-access pass. The room was so etched in tension Sam could see more than one angel's involuntary show of wings.

It was fear that Sam saw reflected back at him. And he found he quite liked that feeling.

He was smiling when he reached back, slipped two fingers between the waistband of Dean's leather jeans and the smooth skin of his stomach, and dragged Dean forward. Crooked one arm round his neck, just as Dean had done at the bar, holding tight enough that Sam could feel every curve of the muscle of Dean's shoulders pressed against his own chest. The strength of Dean's right arm, pressed between them. Dean's fingers. Dean's chin, forced high, rasped stubble against the hairs on Sam's forearms. He ran two fingers through a belt loop and rested his thumb in the groove of Dean's hip, just where the flesh started to hollow. Sam, touching human skin, breaking taboos like they were communion wafers.

It was a blatant display. Ownership. Sex. Sam let his eyes travel the room again, knowing he knew - had known - at least half of the angels present, meeting eyes behind masks. Then he let his eyes close, bent his head, and bit Dean hard. Hard enough to bleed.

Afterwards, somewhere else, he was amazed Dean hadn't floored him. At the time he fucking loved the unexpected sexual power of it, the way Dean arched against him with nowhere to go but hard up against Sam's dick, the way his head jerked back, the "Son of a-" that hissed through his teeth and ended with an audible snap. Sam loved that every angel in the room knew that Dean had lost it for him in that moment, knew what and to whom Dean belonged.

Dean's blood was human. Filthy, impure. Sam, eyes closed, licked Dean's neck clean and swallowed. Then he looked up and smiled.

He might just as well have hung his crucifix upside down, but it worked. He'd practically held up a six foot poster that validated his presence. Any tension in the room was no longer due to Sam's unexpected presence but Dean's polluted, spilled blood. Right now Sam thought he'd laid out their credentials sweeter than a genetic chip ID, and the knowledge it had worked was very good indeed.

Sam did say sorry before he let go, but even he could tell his voice wasn't apologetic, and he was running his thumb over the bite mark at the time, which was not exactly tactful. Although Dean had had Sam's balls in the palm of his right hand through the whole thing and Sam figured he'd been damn lucky not to loose at least one nut. Kind of hoped that meant Dean had a reason for keeping Sam's junk in good working order, and yeah, he did appreciate Dean's ability to get down and dirty in the interests of self preservation.

But when he let go, Dean's face said so clearly, 'What the fuck?' that Sam almost rolled his eyes. This wasn't the place or time to explain. He knew where the bar was, but it took nearly five minutes to get there, a duel of Angel eyes met and eyes avoided, Dean silent at his back.

At last he could hand over a glass of bourbon, and Dean slammed it and then Sam passed over the second.

Sam said. "So. Talk to me."

Dean opened his mouth. Thought. Closed it and shrugged. Beads of blood on his neck the shape of Sam's teeth.

"Okay," Sam said, nodding. "Okay. So."

Both of Dean's eyebrows up.

"Yeah," Sam said, and Dean drained the second glass and held it out for more.

It occurred to Sam that later in the evening they would be doing things even more illegal than they were at the moment, and perhaps sober was good, but then he looked at Dean's face and lifted a finger for the girl at the bar.

"If you'd been - " Sam started and stopped. "Okay. I should have told you."

Dean held out his hand for the third shot. "You wanna run through who you are again? Just in case I didn't catch it the first time you didn't tell me?"

Jesus, Dean... "I did say Archangel," Sam said, and watched as Dean dipped his fingers in the shot glass. "What?"

Squinting, Dean reached up to rub the bite mark with bourbon. Didn't even flinch, although the rough and ready antiseptic must have stung.

"Pass it over," Sam said. "I'll... " but Dean was not looking at Sam's face but past his left shoulder.

"Samuel," someone said. "Not the sort of party I expected to find you attending. How are you?"

"Thomas," Sam said slowly.

"That was some entrance," Thomas said, bright eyes acute behind the slits of his half mask. "And such a beautiful... companion. Dear boy," Thomas said to Dean. "Forgive me, but... I have seen you before, haven't I?"

Dean's glance at Sam said, you changed the rules, you deal.

"You probably have," Sam said. Thomas had always been too observant for Sam's peace of mind. It had not been Sam who had told his father about Jess.

"Still," Thomas said, cheerful and curious, "Playing with human blood, Samuel? What would your lovely fiance say?"

"Jess was blessed by the Rapture," Sam said shortly. "Two years ago. This is Dean. Say hello to the nice human, Thomas, you'll be seeing a lot more of him." And as Thomas' eyes moved down Dean's chest, lingered; "With me."

"Feeling a little possessive? Don't worry, it won't last. You wouldn't... " and as Thomas reached out a hand, Sam said, "No," but it was Dean who took a step back to stand at Sam's side.

Thomas shrugged. "Can't blame a man for looking," he said, and Sam could almost see the veiled comments in the Council gossip blogs. Then he added, malicious: "So crude, but... I do know the going rate."

It was meant to hurt both of them. But Dean didn't move, just stared Thomas down until the angel nodded quickly to Sam and turned back into the crowd by the bar.

"'s okay," Sam muttered. He didn't care about Dean's before. Sam was now. But Sam came with his own baggage, and most of it Dean didn't know. "I figured this is how it'd be."

"Yeah, well," Dean said. "I didn't. Never thought to mention just who you are?" Dean forgetting the insult, focused on what Sam hadn't said about lineage.

"Does it make any difference?" Sam asked. He turned round, so he could look Dean in the eyes, equal.

That was what remained of the third bourbon slammed, and Dean wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "Nah."

"Good," Sam said, "Because that's my Dad standing behind you."

In the first clumsy move Sam had ever seen Dean make, the man spun around so fast that his shoulder slammed Sam's and rocked them both. Prepared, Sam had a hand waiting, closed his fingers on Dean's biceps just in time to hold them both poised between confrontation and retreat.

"Hello Dad," Sam said, and did not let go.

His father's eyes moved deliberately from Sam's hand to Dean's face, from Dean to Sam. He'd always favored the dramatic, Sam's father. Black tails, black shirt, black hair. No jewelry tonight. No mask.

"You're keeping unexpected company these days, Samuel," the Archangel drawled.

Sam raised his eyebrows. "Hadn't expected to see your name on the guest list either," he said.

"I find the younger generation... intriguing," Sam's father said. "Tell me. Is this you rediscovering your roots, or merely indulging a previously unexpected penchant for vice?" The tilt of his head expressed the mildest curiosity.

"What would you prefer?" Sam asked. Unseen, he was rubbing his thumb against the curve of Dean's upper arm, but the reassurance was for himself. Dean had settled solid on both feet, shoulder hard against Sam's, a loyalty that if Sam was honest he didn't deserve.

"Samuel," Sam's father said sadly. "You know I only want you to be happy."

Sam said nothing, and against all expectation, it was his father who broke first, eyes shifting back to Dean's face.

"I don't recall you introducing us," he said. Sam's father, who conveyed his instructions to the humans whose contracts he held in writing when he communicated at all.

Dean said, "Dean."

"So. Dean. Is my son treating you well?" Head just a fraction further to one side, it was the mildest of inquiries.

"Dad," Sam said, as Dean let himself lean against Sam's chest. Didn't stop there, sinuous as a man with serious muscles could manage, and Sam, startled, looked down in time to catch Dean mirror his father's tilted head. When Dean did it, his head rested against Sam's shoulder, and Dean, his eyes half closed, was smiling.

So was Sam's father. "Touché," he said softly as he looked at both of them. Then he added, to Sam, "I think you should know," he said. "That I have always believed God's mercy to be infinite. How then can that of a father be less?" He waited, unmoving.

"How long did it take you to come up with that one?" Sam asked, and slid his spread fingers over Dean's belly, slick over skin.

"Learn a little trust, boy," the Archangel said, and if Sam hadn't known better he would have thought there was both anger and impatience behind the icy civility of that voice. "Call me."

"Sire," Sam said as his father, who knew every social grace in the book to thirty degrees of singularity and practiced none of them, nodded to his son and his son's human lover without distinction.

Sam watched the Archangel's tall figure cut through the dancers and walk, elegant, through the Chamber doors. It was only when Dean rolled his shoulders and slid free that he realized he had been staring after his father for far longer than was comfortable.

"Ah, fuck," he said, and then, lame: "Sorry."

Dean shrugged. "I'd have put a shirt on if I'd known," he said, dry.

"You wouldn't do it for me?" Sam said, although the amusement faded fast.

"Dude," Dean said. "I took my shirt off for you."

And Sam had to dip his head and grin.When he looked up, Dean was watching the dancers.

As if his father's exit had been permission, the tone of the thing had changed. Where there had been an uneasy restraint, now there were hints of excess darker than anything Sam had seen at Cloud Nine. A purely sexual energy, forbidden, febrile and dirty. By the overloud laughter and the unsteady gestures, it was fueled by a free bar run ragged and drugs Sam knew with altogether too much familiarity.

"Do you think that's legal?" Sam said, idly watching an angel on the dance floor gyrate between two excessively blonde humans in rhinestone bikinis.

"No?" Dean said, and passed Sam a bottle of beer.

"It's not the closest of relationships," Sam said. "I wasn't expecting... what he said."

Dean rolled his eyes. "I know," he said, and knocked his beer bottle against Sam's. "Kind of absolved us from getting from getting down and dirty on the dance floor, though. You wanna head out back for make-up sex?"

"Did we argue?"

"Yeah," Dean said. "And just so you know, you should grope me now." All of him easy and open, trusting, maybe a little amused. Not selling himself, this time. This time both of them knew it was a sure thing, steps of the game planned out.

So, because he could, Sam kissed Dean. Took his time and made the burn of it warm, not barbed. Not touching Dean anywhere else, not asking for anything more, feeling only the slow, tender slide of his mouth against Dean's. A gentle tug at the swell of Dean's lower lip, an irresistible feather light trace against the strength of the bow of his upper lip. Apology and blessing and thanks all rolled into together, words Sam couldn't say. Dean's mouth so soft against Sam's, so gentle, Sam had to see. But Dean's eyes were closed.

"Hey," Sam said, quiet huff of breath against Dean's mouth. Watched Dean's eyelashes come up, slow, from four inches away. Dean's eyes dazed, pupils blown, irises not just green from this close but threaded with hazel and gold.

It was only when Dean ducked away that Sam realized his hands had come up to cup Dean's face.

"Dude," Dean said, short and harsh. "Not a girl."

"I get that," Sam said. Thought about what they were doing, and ran his hand up the back of Dean's neck. "So. Wanna fuck?" If anyone was looking, yeah, he was hard. He could feel the tension in Dean's muscles.

"Know somewhere quieter?" Dean asked. Cock of his hips said everything about yes, when his eyes were now so guarded Sam could read nothing.

The cupola was boarded over, and there was hoarding against two of the walls that hid the oak paneling, but the library corridor was open and unguarded. "There," Sam said. He didn't look back, didn't drop a hand on Dean's shoulder or the strong curve of his lower back, didn't tuck a hand in Dean's back pocket to cup the firm muscles of his ass under leather. As if they were lovers. Instead he shouldered through the crowd and expected Dean to follow.

But it was Dean who, barely past the entrance and in full view of the party, slammed Sam against the wall and dropped to his knees.

"Jesus Christ," Sam said fervently, and Dean flattened his hands against Sam's hips and rubbed his face against the long line of Sam's dick under cloth. Dean's mouth as heated as he remembered it, sensual and hard. Dean opening for Sam, breath warm on Sam's dick, Dean saying yes like he meant it - Sam had both hands on the back of Dean's head before he knew where his feet were. "Oh God," he said. "Oh, God, yes," as Dean, looking up through slitted eyes and grinning, ran his chin up the seam of Sam's trousers and bit through serge and cotton at the head of Sam's dick.

"Ah, you fucker," Sam said, and dragged Dean up by the armpits, rolling them both over and over against the wall. His hands on Dean's skin, Dean's on his, thighs pressed together, the bulge of his dick pressed against Dean's, an exquisite shifting pleasure. And Dean: breathtaking surrender, Dean was hard for Sam. Scent of Dean's sweat fresh and clean over the damp charred smell of the corridor.

"Come on," Sam was chanting under his breath, "come on." His hands were hard now on Dean's wrists, his back, wanting Dean's mouth under his, Dean beneath him, under him, fucked open and begging. He hardly felt himself stumble back when the door clicked open under the weight of two men, and knew only that it was suddenly dark and both of them were wearing too many clothes.

Then Dean said "Sam," very softly, all of his body pulling back from Sam's hands when he had been, Sam knew it, willing. "Sam. Stop."

"What?" Sam said, not stopping, and then Dean slammed his cupped hands over Sam's ears. Silent thunderclap of pressure that exploded in Sam's head and left him unsteady and blinking, rolled up against the classroom wall.

From five feet away. Dean said, "Stuff to do."

"Yeah fuck," Sam said, and shook his head.

"Sam."

Ran his fingers through his hair. Jesus, one of them was going to have to finish this soon, because it was killing Sam, and that was before they got to the good stuff.

"We got spotted?" and Christ, that wasn't his voice, fucked-out rasp.

"Three cameras I saw," Dean said. "There'll be more. One set of guards too turned on to care where we went. Dude, you guys permanently repressed? 'Coz those two looked like they'd seen their first porno."

"Don't," Sam said.

Dean looking at him. Dean's mouth swollen, flush of color on his cheekbones, hair raddled by Sam's hands. "You want a moment?" Look on Dean's face frankly intrigued, but there were five feet and a job to do between them.

"I'm good," Sam said. But his fingers were not steady as he took the inhibitor out of his pocket, held it up for Dean's nod, and turned the thing on. "It's got a five meter range," Sam said. "So if you're on something tonight, don't get too far." Nothing showing on Dean's face, but Sam was short again on wafers.

"That was us falling into a shielded room," Sam said, and jammed one of the closet doors half open with his suit jacket, as if he really had pulled Dean inside and up against the wall into scanty, obvious privacy. "That's where we need to be." It was the door by the terminal board. Looked like it led into a storeroom, and Sam was expecting Dean to at least raise an eyebrow. But it was Dean who slid into the passageway first, and it took Sam only a moment to realize that this was Dean taking point.

Emergency lighting flickering dull along the passage, dust at the back of his throat. Sour taste of stale damp. "Hang a left there, by the pole lamp? And then down the stairs. Most of it's underground," Sam said, and then, "Dean. You... I can't walk away from this, okay? I can't."

"Sam," Dean said, and Sam shut the fuck up.

Seen from a viewpoint three feet lower than Sam's as an adult, the corridors and passageways of the Council Chambers had been a hidden kingdom of refuge. Sam could not recall having seen anyone else on his solitary, wondering explorations, only the dust and occasionally, the words of people he did not know and suspected to be long dead. Words on blackboards; scraps of paper; books; footprints of lives Sam would never live. It was more than possible some of these words, Sam thought, had been human and not angelic.

It had been a very small rebellion, Sam's exploration, half days and hours snatched from an exacting curriculum. Sam wondered now if what he had learnt then - that the Angelus was not the sum of all knowledge: that he himself and not the angels was the measure of his own worth - had subtly prepared him for the moment when he had met Dean's eyes in a Hell's Kitchen bar.

There was no blueprint for the Council Chambers. The building had been old before the Rapture, before the angels took possession, and it had been built and rebuilt, haphazard, at need. Corridors were abruptly truncated, rooms divided and doors moved. Whole wings were closed off, left to the mice and the spiders. Most of the structure was underground, but the blocked windows on the upper levels suggested that either the building had sunk or that the ground level had been artificially raised.

Sam was working from five year old memories and the notes he had made and studied late at night, glancing out of the window at the great tower with the light of the Rapture beacon burning at its peak. The map was in his head, the shape of corridors, old notice boards, a door handle, a picture. A lamp. He'd expected to fumble his way through the passages, but they moved smoothly, him and Dean. Quiet as they could be, always alert: the corridors were guarded, and Sam no longer knew the pattern of the patrols.

He had expected Dean, not to be uncertain: he could not imagine Dean faltering, but to follow Sam's lead. But Dean moved with confident precision, as if he knew the way as well as Sam did. Assured as if he too unrolled plans in his head.

Dean was human. Dean could not have walked these corridors before.

Sam knew he would never ask.

The door to the archives was unassuming, one door among many in a corridor that was institutionally blank. Sam put his hand on the door and smiled. Pushed it open.

Ceiling so high Sam had to crane his neck to see the girders. Metal shelving, struts pierced with shelves that braced, held centuries of records in metal containers, paper records, books, journals. Sam had spent months here when he was younger, fascinated by the lives of people long dead. He might have been uncertain about the route: here, he knew exactly what he was doing.

When he looked at Dean, Dean was looking at the shelves open mouthed.

"You - " Dean said, still staring. "Sure about this?"

"Yes," Sam said. "Watch the door, will you? I know what I'm doing."

He had surgical gloves in his pockets. On route to North American meteorology he found an empty desk and adapted it for spreading out papers, taking photographs after photograph as quickly as he could. Cloud formations. Ice patterns. Ground water temperature graphs. Sam took the East Coast first: if they got disturbed he wanted at least one set of complete data. Under the whine of the humidifiers he could not hear Dean's footsteps, but occasional glimpses of movement indicated the man was moving restlessly within the inhibitor's range.

Twenty minutes in, and Sam moved West. He had most of the information he wanted, trusting Dean with his back, pulling out files in batches and not one at a time. Photograph after photograph, one hand on the camera, one hand flicking through papers. The thing grew its own rhythm, the soothing, muffled click of the camera, the rustle of papers.

It was so absorbing Sam did not hear the footsteps. It was only when he heard the gun cock that he looked up.

Not a Council guard. Angelus. Black uniform, armored black, half mechanized protection that made the angel something alien, something meant to instill fear.

Sam dropped the camera in his pocket, turning round. Wondered if he'd end up a footnote in an encrypted file. Wondered how much it would hurt, before they buried him in an unmarked grave. Wondered if someone else would find his files, his carefully constructed arguments, Dean's evidence.

"Put your hands on your head. Don't move." The guards's voice sounded sharp and nervous even through the voice modulator, and his hand was not steady on the gun. Sam stood as still as he could, arms raised.

Wondered if Dean knew. Wondered if Dean was bleeding out, somewhere between the dead files and the cold steel of the storage scaffolding.

The camera was so heavy in his pocket he could not help wondering if the fabric was stretching.

"What are you doing here?" The guard asked, and as he asked he was tapping at the small hand-held terminal he carried on his arm, his eyes invisible under the red-tinted eyepiece of his helmet. "What is your name?"

"Uh - " Sam said, and Dean wandered unsteadily from behind the stacked shelves, fingers tugging at his fly and head down as if... as if he'd been for a piss. Cold fear hit Sam broadside. Dean. Dean dead. Dean, so stupid he couldn't fucking see the Angelus when it was right fucking in front of him.

"Hey, stud," Dean said, and looked up. Looked up grinning, reckless and joyful. "You finished?"

Sam had no words. Weakly, he gestured to the guard, but Dean didn't even turn his head.

"Close your eyes," Dean said, and threw something up in the air. Small black spinning disc - and then Sam saw Dean duck down behind his raised arm and the guard start to aim the gun and clapped his hand over his own eyes, only just in time, because the room exploded in light. So bright the back of his eyelids turned scarlet, and the heat of the light flashed over his forearm and his ears, and the weird thing was that it was totally, utterly silent. Bright as an Archangel. Brighter.

Then, darkness.

Dean said dryly, "You can look now. And seriously man, you'd better be done 'coz we're leaving now."

When Sam let his hand drop, the guard was still staring at him. Motionless. Even the tracking light on his helmet had ceased. So still, it was obvious that there was something wrong. Even though his helmet was directed at Sam and his gloved hand held the half raised gun, the weight of the guard's stare was gone.

"What the fuck was that?" Sam breathed.

Dean shrugged. Little grin at the corners of his mouth.

Then the guard collapsed. Crumpled from the head down, heavily armored shoulders convulsing, folding in on themselves. The gun hit the floor first, falling from a gauntlet that had so unexpectedly opened Sam was staring at it openmouthed. Then the guard's knees thudded down with a force that made it very plain how much heavy armor he was carrying. Slow arc, his body falling forward set his helmeted head rocking, all control gone. It seemed to Sam as if the guard fell in slow motion.

Dean's gaze was not on Sam, but on the doorway behind both of them.

Guards patrolled in pairs. Sam saw Dean's eyes rise even as the first guard's body stilled, and saw in it something black and wickedly glinting. As he turned to the doorway, Sam saw, shit, the black sheen of Angelus armor plate. The second guard.

Something whistled past his face, and then he felt a concussion of air as if the sound barrier cracked open right in front of him. Deafened, Sam knew he was falling, and as he felt his body twisted and he could see the second guard fall with him, start to crumble to the floor. But Dean was on his feet. Dean was running past Sam.

Astonished, dazed, Sam realized that whatever Dean had done, it had saved both of them, and then his elbow cracked off the tiled floor and hurt. But the guard went gently down to lie full-length on the floor.

"Jesus," Sam said. Thought he said. Couldn't hear. "Jesus fuck, what was that?" Couldn't hear anything, cotton wool ears, and his elbow really, really hurt.

Dean's hands were empty again. No, Dean's hands were on Sam's, urgent grip. Dean's mouth was moving, still no sound. Sam's ears were ringing. He pointed at them, shook his head, and saw Dean realize. Nodding, Dean mouthed at him, "It'll be okay."

"Yeah," Sam tried, but Dean had no time for words, had one hand hard on Sam's arm and was shoving both of them out the door, back in the passage, running now.

"What was that?" Sam thought he might have said, but Dean didn't even look round. Hustled them both forward, eyes flicking backwards and forwards, on guard while Sam was having issues keeping upright. Clumsy footed, hurting. Stumbling past the corner bookcase, past the lamp, fumbling at the latch to the classroom room. Dean's hand on his shoulder holding him back. Dean sliding the door open stealthy tense, whatever it was that was small and black back in his right hand. Then both of them were through the door, back in the classroom where they should have been all along..

Sam's elbow still hurt, he was still breathing hard, and Dean turned round and dragged his head down and kissed him.

Fuck, it hurt: violent crash of mouth on mouth and Dean's teeth sharp on his lower lip ow. "What?" Sam said, pulling back, confused, willing, but wanting to see Dean's eyes.

Dean wasn't looking back. Dean had two fists on Sam's shirt, pulling it open, two buttons stripped off and spinning onto the floor. Was running a hand through his own hair as if it was Sam's hand, as if Sam had held him down.

Then Dean jerked his head at the classroom door and set off again, Sam in tow, and they were out in the corridor. Sam realized, blinking, that the party was still going on. Belatedly he recognized what Dean had done - oh yeah, they were supposed to have been fucking - and tucked his hand in Dean's belt. The gesture was meant to be casual, but his grip clenched unexpectedly tight. For a moment Dean hesitated and looked back, and then stopped: he'd been dragging Sam forward as if they were equals, but the rules changed when they were back in the light. So it was Sam who pulled them forward, the crowd parting. He caught a glimpse of the girl in pink, a startled angel flaring her wings, Thomas surprised and angry. There were two Council guards at the door. Sam swept by those, his hand now on Dean's neck where there should have been leather and wasn't, the skin under his fingers too vulnerable without the familiar cord of the amulet.

As they went past the entrance guard Dean's head was down. Sam's was flung high. Sam utterly up for staring down anyone who might dare to even consider stopping either of them. But the guards were stoic, and it took seconds to hand over the tag and collect Sam's coat, and then they were stumbling out into the dark. The car was waiting. Sam dragged them both into the back seat, scrambling, Dean's elbow in his ribs and Sam's feet slipping off the seat. Hands on skin. And the car was moving and Dean was shaking under his touch.

Dean was laughing. They'd left two of the Angelus unconscious on the floor of the Council depository, their names would be on every bulletin in two hours, and Dean was laughing.

Dean was really laughing. Eyes crinkled, head thrown back, joyous flash of color on his skin. Not even bothering to move, his belly rolling against Sam's, Dean was looking down and catching Sam's eyes and grinning so wide he was almost like someone new. Someone Sam didn't know, but could come to like. Dean so triumphant, as if they'd won already.

Sam, astonished, felt his own laughter - shock reaction, his brain helpfully supplied - well up inside his skin, felt his mouth stretch wide to let the whole thing out When it came, laughter bowed his spine, curled his head into Dean's shoulder and set them hard against each other. His hands gripped Dean's hips. He couldn't look Dean in the eyes. They'd only start all over again. Sam slid down in the seat and took Dean with him, curled over each other. Sam's thigh over Dean's, Dean's arms around Sam, Sam's head on Dean's shoulder. Let them both ride it out close as brothers.

Then Dean hiccuped, seriously, and Sam dragged the coat over both of them, right over, so they were buried in slightly musty padded flannel and darkness. Fumbled his way through fabric to find Dean's head and took the next hiccup with his own mouth, still laughing. It wasn't much of a kiss, more of a hey, we did it, and Dean was still gone. Still loose and laughing too much to care. Sam let his fingers push down Dean's spine, along the strong curve of his backbone and the sweet soft skin in the small of his back, and hung on.

By the time the car came to a halt Dean had started to pull himself together, but Sam was so far gone he was seeing sparks behind his eyelids. So hard, he'd gone beyond arousal into an odd preternatural clarity, where he knew he'd moved from wanting to having and didn't care. Knew they'd have to talk. Knew he would be posting in a hurry, knew they'd have to be somewhere else as soon as Sam could pack, knew he had no idea where they would go or what would happen. Knew it would have to wait.

It felt almost like watching himself from the outside. Paying the driver off, nodding at the doorman, watching Dean go up the stairs. Watching the twist of his hips as he tried to see Sam and the staircase at the same time. Dean was shirtless again. The coat was wrapped in Sam's arms as if it could hide the snarl in his belly. Sound of footsteps, Sam's hearing coming back, underwater muffled but clear. Sam's hand on his keys, knowing - apprehensive, jubilant - knowing they were going to fuck, he and Dean. Now. He could barely get the keys in the door, and Dean was too close. Sam could smell the oil on his skin and the sharp clean sweat of him, leather, and something cold that might have been steel or the after-shock of an electric charge.

When the door opened he didn't even look, just wrapped a hand around Dean's waist and pulled him inside. And Dean, loose and relaxed in Sam's hands, Dean came. Might not yet realize why, but that was okay, Sam could live with that. He had to let go to lock the door, and only then realized Dean was talking, had quite possibly been talking all the way up the stairs, although Sam had been far too busy watching Dean's ass to listen.

"- way that guard went down? Awesome - "

Bed.

"- and you got what you wanted, yeah?"

His hand on Dean's forearm, tugging.

"- Sam?"

Shape of Dean's mouth. Made for Sam's dick.

"Ah, fuck," Sam said, last chance, one hand on his bedroom door. "- I can't - " and he met Dean's eyes. Dean knew. Oh yeah, Dean knew. Last bit of coherent thought Sam had laughed at him, waste of a set of perfectly good clean sheets on the bed, but the wall was closer. He slammed them both into it.

"Jesus," Dean said. "Slow down, Sam, it's okay, it's - "

Look in his eyes like Dean was going to say no, like Dean could walk away even now. Sam let his hands cup Dean's face, thumbs soothing the thin skin over his cheekbones. Gentle as he could manage, although his hands were not steady. Let his own eyes speak for him. Want you. Need you. Please.

When Dean closed his eyes, his eyelashes brushed Sam's thumbs. As if he was allowing himself surcease, his body loosened against Sam's, and Dean sighed. Let himself move against Sam, between Sam and the wall, an awkward hitching rhythm that was almost unpracticed, his hands uncertain on Sam's back. But Dean was hardening, impatient little jerks of his hips rocking against Sam, getting himself off, and Sam clenched his hands and let Dean take what he needed. Until Dean said, "Sam." Almost surprised: his eyes opened and Sam could see the shock there, as if he hadn't expected Sam to be real. It did something to Dean, rocked his head back, set the flush burning on his cheekbones, made him gasp. Dean, wanting.

"Say yes," Sam said, and even though Dean was arching off the wall and his hands were bruise tight on Sam's hips, Sam needed absolution. "Say yes."

Dean said, "Do it."

Sam nodded, covenant made.

Then Dean's mouth was under his.

Sam loved that Dean was so solid under his weight. Dean was not going to break. Dean had kicked ass with the Angelus, tonight. Dean was as strong as Sam, maybe stronger, all muscle and heat under Sam's hands. So that Sam could thrust into Dean's mouth as if they were fucking already, and Dean's tongue fought back against his wet and dirty. Lingering taste of beer from both of them. Guilty, smug, Sam loved that Dean had to tilt his head up for Sam. When Sam had to pull off to breathe, Dean followed him down, his teeth closing on Sam's lower lip sharp as a cat biting. Sam's instinctive flinch ground his hips into Dean's and, oh God yes, Dean was so hard for him. Swollen and heavy, the heated bulge of him pressed against leather, rolling against Sam's thigh. Dean openmouthed, teeth against Sam's neck, shadow of a bite as shallow as Dean's breathing.

They'd done foreplay. Two weeks of it. Sam fumbled his hand between them, fighting Dean's fingers in the same space after the same thing, stripped the zipper on Dean's jeans and practically ripped his own open. He was so hard his dick sprang free, and the shock of relief ran straight up his spine, rocked him forward to rub against Dean's belly. Oiled heat, but not close enough. Sam spread a hand under Dean's ass and lifted, felt Dean's thighs clamp down over his hips and his hands come up to grip Sam's shoulders and pushed in. Fuck yeah, his dick against Dean's, crush of flesh to flesh so hot it was almost absurd. So far beyond anything Sam had ever done before that his eyes were threatening to roll back in his skull and he had pins and needles in his hands. It was like flying.

Dean was shuddering, trying to rut against Sam's weight, but Sam was holding him down - up - perfect friction, and if it was good for Sam it had to be good for Dean. So good that, swear to God, Dean whimpered. Knocked his head off the wall, and when he opened his eyes his pupils were shot to fuck and what he said did not make sense. The words were dragged out so gravel hard they were nothing more than a rumble in Sam's chest. Might have been - and this Sam heard only because his tongue was in Dean's ear - something to do with fuck and please which was so exactly what Sam was thinking that he let Dean roll his hips up. Slam of skin on skin, Dean rocking hard, jack rabbit short strokes just like he was going to come. Come just from this, desperate and pleading.

Sam wanted to see that. Sam braced himself against the wall and looked down to see Dean's leather jeans open and strained over his thighs, wiry dark hair trailed down over his stomach. Dean's dick flushed and gleaming, wet sliding sticky against Sam's own. Would look so pretty in Sam's hand, head of it popping through Sam's fingers. Sam forgot he was standing upright, let go of the wall to reach down, so that when Dean fucking convulsed at the first touch of Sam's fingertips they were already sliding down the wall.

Sam was shaking so much he couldn't lock his knees and Dean, Dean was gone, head back, coming, keening, shooting, both legs wrapped around Sam's thighs and his fingertips biting into Sam's back so hard they were lucky there was no blood. Sliding, halfway down the wall, Sam knew he was going to come and couldn't stop. Rush of it harsh and utterly inevitable and so strong it felt like nothing but, fuck, felt God touched. Like Sam was smashed apart. All he could do was hang onto Dean and ride the thing through, hips pumping, thighs cramping, grasping for breath. His head on Dean's shoulder, rolling from side to side. Felt like he had been torn to shreds and hung up to dry, utterly destroyed. Part of himself Dean - he could almost taste the way Dean felt, triumphant and ugly all at once - parts of himself Sam. Sam high as a kite, drifting, knowing Dean was with him in the darkness.

It was only when his knees hurt so much he couldn't ignore them any more that Sam opened his eyes.

Dean was looking back.

His head was tilted back against the wall, his eyes such a clear green that they reminded Sam of leaves under ice. His mouth was flushed, maybe just a little swollen. He was smiling.

It was only then that Sam realized Dean's hands were pulling on his shoulders. A weary came-so-hard-I-can't-move pressure, as if Dean wanted Sam to move, although it was Dean who was splayed open over Sam's lap. Perfect weight, his jeans stretched so tight over his thighs that Sam wanted to reach down, drag out Dean's balls, his half-hard dick, rub them under his palm and over the soft gleam of the leather. See if he could fuck Dean here, spit and promises. Sam's dick, deeply interested, twitched, and the shiver of it hurt so sweetly Sam almost gasped. He put both hands on the wall, bracketing Dean's shoulders - Dean had broad shoulders, freckled under the gleam of sweat and oil, strong enough to take Sam's weight - and let his head hang down. He had no words.

As he lent forward, Dean watched him. All the way. Open eyed. Fitted his mouth against Sam's so gently it felt like gossamer meeting, touch suspended in silk. They breathed together. It was possibly meant to bring them both down, but it didn't work. Sam had to fight to keep his hands from tightening, from pushing for more. Starting all over again.

His dick was, painfully, hardening again and he could feel Dean shiver.

"Dean," Sam managed, and the word came out splintered and bleeding. "Dean."

And he wanted: he wanted more than Dean's skin on his, he wanted Dean laughing in his bed, both of them curled up safe from the dark, he wanted Dean cleaning his guns in front of the fire, he wanted Dean's crazy, reckless energy, his cynicism, his softness. Wanted so much Sam felt cracked open with the power of it.

"Up," Sam said, and heaved himself standing, Dean's weight warm and hard tipping off his thighs. Dean was still holding onto Sam's shoulders, came up with a grunt when Sam managed to get to his feet. Absurd, they both still had their boots on. Sam had a spare hand to hold his own trousers up, but the other was resting as light as he could manage on Dean, the place where the small of his back hollowed out and the skin was so soft and finely haired. "Bed?"

Dean's eyes, corners smile-rumpled, so open Sam could see the light play through the strands of color in his irises. "You need to ask?" Voice as low as Sam had ever heard it, but Dean's tone was amused, resigned. It wasn't quite what Sam wanted but it was what he'd got and he was good with that. He could work with a yes that was more than a little ambivalent, as if Dean hadn't wanted this but was too far gone to say no and knew it.

"You backing out on me now?" Sam asked, his voice so carefully pitched between tease and challenge.

Dean twisted free, walked forward, roll of his hips so cocky Sam nearly laughed. Sat down on Sam's bed to take his boots off. Head down fumbling with the laces. "Nah," he said, and kicked the boots under Sam's bed. Shimmied the jeans off his hips and down to his ankles, tugging the soft leather off his feet.

Sam really liked Dean's bare feet, the elegant narrow fan of the long bones of the arch of them. He watched Dean lie back and fold them in, fold himself up, legs raised and spread, ankles pressed to his thighs, feet braced against the eiderdown. Sam had never seen anyone do that before, open themselves up so easy like it was nothing. He couldn't help looking, the bunch of the muscles of Dean's shoulders, strong hands spread over the sharp bones of his ankles holding himself open. Flushed, lovely, the vulnerable shape of his balls, his dick starting to pink and fill against the flat muscles of his stomach.

Sam still had most of his clothes on and Dean was laughing at him. "Sam. Sam. Get undressed."

"Oh yeah," Sam said, and pulled his shirt over his head and had his trousers round his knees in seconds. Made the mistake of glancing up and caught Dean's eyes, heavy lidded glitter. That really was lust that darkened Dean's eyes and dried his mouth - tiny pink sliver of Dean's tongue flicked out over his lower lip - set his hands clenching on his own ankles. Lust that explained the rise and fall of his chest and his hardening dick. Dean wanting Sam. Sam heeled his boots off, stepped out of his trousers, stepped forwards, and smiling ran his thumbnails down the pale skin and strained muscles of Dean's inner thighs. Cupped his hands under Dean's ass and leaned down, letting his shoulders push Dean's legs further apart, so the tendons stretched under his skin and Dean's hips moved, a little abortive thrust that made Sam grin.

"You want me, Dean?" he asked, almost formal, almost rhetorical, his mouth poised over the tight soft curve of Dean's balls.

"Yeah," Dean said back to him, and tilted his hips off the bed, trusting Sam's hands. Strain on his muscles that showed all of them off, so hot Sam would have thought Dean was posing again except for the look in Dean's eyes. Dazed. Dean's breathing was tied down to gasps, hot as hell, and when Sam looked down -

His thumbs had slipped. Slipped into oiled, forgiving flesh, Dean lubed up and ready for him where Sam had expected to coax and court his way through Dean's defenses. Insanely hot, the thought of it curled through Sam's spine and jerked him forward by the thrust of his dick alone. Dean had prepped for him. Dean had, somewhere Sam had never been, opened his own body up for Sam. Thought of Sam's dick and used his own fingers to ease himself free, make it easy for Sam. The image caught at Sam's throat and sent heat curling through his belly, bittersweet, because Sam really appreciated the thought but the image was... lonely. Dean on his own.

"Next time I want it to be me," Sam said roughly, knowing they might not have a next time, and caught Dean's eyes as he pressed both thumbs into Dean's slicked hole, pushing hard past more resistance than he expected. Dean's body was tight, incredibly hot, smoother and somehow more delicate than Sam was expecting as if the skin of him inside was thinner than silk. But just as strong: Dean was pushing back against Sam's thumbs, struggling to open himself up, muscles tightening. Sam could see the ripple of his abs and feel the way his body moved, soft wet muscular warmth inside Dean gripping his thumbs as if Dean's body wanted Sam as much as Sam wanted Dean.

He wasn't going to last. His dick was already hard, demanding, leaking onto his belly, and Dean's skin was sticky not only with drying come but fresh dribbles of pre-ejaculate. Sam hoped they'd done enough, hoped this wasn't going to hurt, and straightened up. Wrapped one hand around Dean's raised thigh and the other round his own dick, looked down, lined up and pushed in.

Dean was so fucking tight. Feel of him hot wet silk binding Sam's dick, waves of pressure as Dean panted and pushed back and fucking writhed on Sam's dick, head gone back and eyes screwed up with the effort. Sam fucking knew it, he was too big, he was hurting Dean, he was going to have to stop and he wasn't sure he could.

"Sam," Dean said, both his heels digging into Sam's back and his hands clawing at the eiderdown. "Fuck. Love your dick."

Relief, permission. "Good," Sam managed to say. He let his weight fold over Dean and hold him down, both of them adjusting as easily as if they'd done this before. Braced himself on the bed, his fingers entwined with Dean's because it had hurt, watching Dean clutch at nothing. Holding them both poised and waiting. When he moved it was with a long, slow thrust he almost hadn't meant to make: he was so near coming already he'd expected his dick to want short and fast. But grounded in Dean's grip - hands, ass, thighs - Sam managed a rhythm slow and irresistible as the tide on a beach. Long deep thrusts Dean was begging for even as Sam was pushing inside. "Come on, you asshole, fuck me, oh God - " Sweat gleaming on both of them, no spare hand to push his hair back from his eyes, Dean's muscles cording as he fought Sam's hands.

"Sam," Dean said to him. "Sam, please." Untouched, Dean's dick was so hard it stood proud of his belly, deeply flushed, bobbing and jerking with the push of Sam's hips. Sam loved Dean like this, open and desperate, rolled his hips and hit something inside Dean that sent him arching from the bed, hands cramping. Dean was babbling.

Sam did it again. Prostate: that was the angle, then. In hope, he committed it to memory and tried to stay slow and deep - he could hardly believe Dean had taken all of his length - and failed. He couldn't stop, hips snapping down and dirty, his balls slapping against Dean's skin, sucking squelch of the lube loud in his ears. Dean's voice - "Sammy. Sammy!" Oh God, Sam knew he was wanted, knew he was going to come, pulled a hand free to touch Dean's dick - wanted both of them together - and saw astonished Dean come untouched. Dean jackknifed up, spine arched, his dick shooting so hard come striped his chin and dripped down the tendons of his neck. His body was vise-tight and clenching on Sam's dick, so tight Sam didn't think he could move and then knew he had to, fucking Dean hard and fast through every spasm. He thought he may have started to come seconds after Dean did, but orgasm hit him like a thunderbolt and wouldn't fucking stop, dick pumping, hips jerking, head back eyes rolling up fuck fuck fuck Dean so strong it had never, ever been like this before. He was never going to come down.

He might have blacked out. Wasn't sure. Knew eventually that he was curled round Dean's body, Dean's hands tentative and tender on his back, his soft dick held close in Dean's body. His own hands splayed on Dean's neck and shoulders, pulse of him still hammering under Sam's fingers. He could feel Dean struggle to breathe under his weight and thought, clear as if he'd read it, next time it's Dean's turn. If there was a next time. Something he'd never done before. But the image of himself under Dean, fucked open and owned, was so hot Sam felt his sore spent dick try to quiver and knew he would beg for Dean the way Dean had begged for him.

He was done. It took effort to wrap his hands around Dean's back and roll them both on the bed, and the moment when his dick slipped from Dean's body made both of them wince. But Dean's head was on his shoulder exactly where it should be, Sam's thigh between Dean's, perfectly matched to each other. He should be working. He should be downloading the camera, sorting through references, gathering evidence.

"Dean," Sam said, like there was no other word, like this was the beginning.

"Sam?"

"What?" Sam asked, because right at that moment he'd give Dean the world on a plate if he wanted it. Or at least try.

Dean said nothing. But the quality of his silence was eloquent, and his hands rested so lightly against Sam's skin that he might have already left.

"Dean... " Sam said carefully, and ran his fingers through Dean's hair, cupped them over the back of Dean's neck. He'd thought sex wouldn't change them. He'd been wrong. But Dean, Dean who used sex as a weapon, Dean who whored himself out without flinching, Dean -

It must have been good for Dean. Must. And maybe Sam could get better. Research. Learn what Dean needed and do it, every damn time, keep Dean so fucked out and high he'd never look at anyone else. Never need to get on his knees for a stranger ever again. Unless - but Sam could do that for Dean. Sam could be the stranger in the bar, hot and filthy out the back, Sam could be the pick-up in the street with a pocket full of dirty notes.

"I'm in love with you," Sam said abruptly, surprising himself.

Truth.

"Not... " Sam said, backtracking, because he'd felt the way Dean's body froze at the words. "Not asking for anything else. Don't need you to be anything else." But he did. He needed to be Dean's, wanted Dean to lay claim to him the way Sam wanted to to say fuck you to the world, he's mine.

"Don't go," Sam said, and kept his touch so light he could barely feel the warmth of Dean's skin against his fingers. But it was not Dean who fell asleep.

 

~*~

 

"What is it?" Sam asked.

Already he knew that he did not want to know the answer.

He'd slept for two hours, no more. In the small hours of the night, the coldest hours of the watch, he'd woken alone. Grabbed his boxer shorts from the bedroom floor and stumbled into the hallway, seen the light under the living room door.

Stopped in the doorway like he'd walked into glass.

Dean had looked up. Looked up slowly, his eyes dark, his face pinched. The set of his mouth was nothing Sam ever wanted to see again in this life.

If Sam had left bruises, they'd healed. Dean wore nothing but his leather jeans, unzipped. His elbows were braced on the table in front of him, his spread legs under it. Weight on the balls of his feet, so that his thighs were strained and his knees knocked the tabletop. He was leaning forward, the cord of his amulet cutting across his chest and the back of his neck, the amulet itself hanging free. In front of him on the table, three unfolded, crumpled sheets of paper. His father's journal. A mug, stained. Sam's laptop and his camera, set to one side as if Dean had thought about beginning and crashed to a halt.

The way he looked at Sam, they could have been strangers. As if Sam was someone he'd never known. And Dean's own face - Dean's face was so horribly still there could be nothing but hurt behind the mask of it.

"Dean," Sam said softly, knowing that whatever they'd had, whatever they had been to each other, it had gone. He'd been asleep, and it had slipped through his fingers, smashed, and he had not known.

Fumbling with the papers on the table, Dean's hands were stiff. When he shuffled the three sheets together and held them out, he could not meet Sam's eyes.

Sam felt the weight of every footstep he took. Four steps, across the carpet of his own living room. His hand reaching out, careful not to offer even the slightest suggestion of touch.

The papers were thin and strong. Instantly recognizable, with their scarlet lines and typed entries, brief facts of life and death. A birth certificate. A death certificate. Three short notes on a testimonial.

Samuel Winchester, born May 2nd, 1983, to John and Mary.

Nine months later - the time it took to bear a living child - Mary Winchester's death certificate, so brief it did not record cause of death. Both birth and death certificates carried the imprinted chip of the Bureau of Human Genotypes.

Samuel Winchester, if he lived, would be Sam's age.

The last page held three notations, oddly truncated, as if it stood as an abbreviated note to a report that must have recorded far more information. The three entries were referenced, the number sequence suggesting that, once, there had been a file of information. Perhaps more.

Report of Vagrancy, the first note read. John Winchester. Dean Winchester. (Five years, one month.) Samuel Winchester. (Eleven months.) Detained pending judgement.

Dean. Dean's family. Nothing else could have hit him so hard, so fast.

Record of Adoption. Samuel Winchester, eleven months. The date on it a day past the report of vagrancy, as if it was deliberate. As if someone had marked this child, and taken.

Even if Sam had not known that it was, had to have been, an angel who had taken this child, the first reference on the document was unmistakably of the Angelus.

The second was his father's.

It was the moment Sam's life imploded. He lost, turning in on himself, the color of the night sky, the walls of the room. The way Dean sat, so still and so very quiet. The shape of Sam's own hands, the sound of his own breath. He read the line over and over again until it became surreal, a pattern of numbers and letters burnt into paper by an ink that might as well have been blood.

In his hands, the shape of his own life betrayed. John's youngest son, Dean's baby brother - Dean's Sammy - had become the angel Samuel. Samuel, who had grown up an archangel, who had dyed his wing feathers black and served a fake God false witness. Sam's voice. "Do you believe in God?" "Oh God, yes. Yes! Make it stop!". Samuel, who had in the name of his faith, blind, witless, tortured people whose only fault was to be as human as Sam himself.

Samuel, who had sinned with his own brother. Who had known his brother Dean as he should not have done. And would do so again if he could.

Because that must be what lay behind Dean's face, the sin of them together. Incest. And Sam knew, sickeningly, absolutely, Sam knew that wanting Dean - Dean his brother - was burned so deep in his bones he would never be free.

It was the third line, though, that nearly broke him.

John and Dean Winchester had died together, two weeks after they had lost Sam. Before Sam had even known he had a family to lose, it had been lost to him. If Sam had ever gone looking. If Sam had ever found out that he had a father, a brother, they would have been dead to him.

He had no idea how long he had stared at the pieces of paper that had given him his family and taken it away, so brutal he felt hollowed out with the shock of it, but when he looked up Dean was standing. Dean, his face turned away, was shrugging into his coat, the military overcoat Sam had seen once before. On the table his duffel bag, sagging open, hinted at weaponry reclaimed.

"I didn't know," Sam said stupidly, as if ignorance was any excuse.

Dean glanced up. "Never thought you did." He was checking his pockets.

"Don't go," Sam said.

But Dean wound the muffler around his neck and pulled on his fingerless gloves. It would be freezing, outside.

"Don't think you're getting this, baby brother," Dean said.

"I won't lay a finger on you," Sam said, and knew he lied.

But Dean's smile was so tight Sam knew they'd gone past promises.

"We're done. Sam. You don't need me."

"You think?" Sam said, and he was beginning to get angry, because Dean had found him and wanted him - and Dean had wanted him - and now he was saying Sam wasn't enough. Dean, who'd grown up with the family Sam had ached for in the long, lonely years of trying to be someone he wasn't. Could never be.

"You gonna walk away? What happened to changing the world, Dean? Not got the guts for it?"

Dean went pale then, and for a moment Sam thought he really had gone too far, and then he saw the way Dean's hands were clenched, white at the knuckles.

"Sam," Dean said.

"So tell me, 'coz I'm not getting this. Fuck, Dean, you know we're gonna blow this thing wide open. This is where it all starts. And you're leaving?"

Cold, direct, Dean said to him, "This was always where it ended. You got what you need. You don't need me."

"Bullshit," Sam said.

"You really don't, Sam," Dean said.

"Because we screwed?" Sam said.

"No," Dean said, and so briefly Sam knew he was never meant to see it the corner of his mouth quirked, memory and desire and hurt. "It was always gonna be this way."

"Set me up, run out on me?"

"You got no idea," Dean said.

"So tell me. I don't understand. Tell me."

"Sam," Dean said. "I can't help you with this. I can't. If you try, the whole thing blows up in your face. You have to do this alone."

"Why the fuck should I?" Sam said, and he was so very angry. Betrayed.

"Don't be - " and Dean was angry too, frustrated and glaring and out of words. Slammed a hand down on the table, dull crack of metal on plastic before he stood back.

Between them was Sam's first inhibitor.

Sam didn't understand. "That's mine," he said, but Dean knew that. "Why... ?"

"I told you," Dean said. "You lose everything, not much left but the way it hurts. You ashamed of what you did, Sammy? Nice little games with torture and faith? You ever kill someone, Sam?"

"No," Sam said. Dean's face. Fuck, Dean's face.

"I have," Dean said. "See, before, I'd killed a few people. They were trying to kill me, so I reckoned I was entitled. Then I killed a whole lot more," Dean said. "And most of them were just like you and me. Would have been worth it," Dean said. "Maybe. If it had had worked."

"You tried to blow up the Rapture," Sam said. He said it very slowly. "It was you." Dean was nodding, stiff, like it hurt. "You used this. My inhibitor. You got in. You blew it up."

"Yeah," Dean said. "You got a murderer on your hands, baby brother. Not so pretty now, huh? You gonna kiss me goodbye or just wave?"

"Fuck," Sam said.

"Yeah," Dean said, and hoisted the duffel to his shoulder. "Well. It's been real."

"Fuck. Dean."

"Did that," Dean said. "Paid my dues. You and me, we got nothing left. You hear me, Sam? We got nothing."

He didn't even slam the door when he left.

It took Sam six hours to write up the data, and he was still crying when he put it on line.

Then he walked away.

 

~*~

 


"Six months after the revelations of The Rapture Report, Free Press Associates are proud to present the first live interview with author Samuel Winchester. Showing on Thursday at 9.00pm, the hour long discussion with Eirene McAvoy covers family, faith and what the future holds for this most private of rebels. Tune in on Thursday to catch the whole story from the man who changed the world."

 

~*~

 

"First of all I'd like to welcome Sam Winchester to the studio, and say thank you for joining us today. Sam, how are you doing?"

"Fine, thanks Eirene." Sam had his hands folded peaceably in his lap, his legs relaxed. He looked open, approachable, trustworthy. It was a pose he'd spent a long time in front of a mirror perfecting.

"Sam is of course the man who wrote and published the world-changing The Rapture Report. Posted on the net six months ago to the day, The Rapture Report was the first piece of documentation to prove that there was no genetic difference between humans and angels, and that our divided world was an artificial construct. The Rapture Report went further, proving that the Angelic Raptures were instrumental in creating the power drain that left our world caught in a bitter winter. Control of the source of power provided by the Raptures was, of course, one of the key political elements allowing the Angelus to dominate society.

"Sam, we pretty much all know the result of The Rapture Report's publication. But I'd like to start with you. What led you to investigate the dynamic between humans and angels?"

Sam smiled for the camera. "I... met a man in a bar," he said, and despite the fact that he and Eirene had practiced this twice over, Sam still needed to reach for the glass of water on the table in front of him. "It was an Hell's Kitchen bar. Human. I was bleeding."

"So you were expecting the Angelus? I never thought," Eirene said, "I'd ever say that without looking over my shoulder."

"Yeah." Sam ducked his head for a moment, looked back up. "It was my own fault. I'd been stupid. Anyways, there was a human there who saved, not only me, but everyone else in the bar as well. My father was an Archangel," Sam said. "I was brought up as part of the Angelus. I'd never considered humans as people. But he, this man, changed the way I thought. I'd never... I started to see people as people, not humans or angels."

"You're talking about a privileged upbringing," Eirene said, and smiled at Sam to take any sting out of the words.

"Yeah," Sam said, and shifted in his seat.

"Quite a jump to the rebels," Eirene said.

Sam looked down and smiled. He hadn't even known there was a rebel movement until the report had been published.

"Yeah," he said again. "Although I wasn't exactly conformist. I hadn't taken full membership of the Angelus. I was living with my girlfriend, Jess. There were other things I wanted to do with my life. I think now," Sam said, "I was lucky to have those choices. So many people missed out on so much more simply because of their perceived identification."

"That's been one of the most divisive effects of your report," Eirene said. "The revelation that angels were adopted. Human. How did you cope with it yourself?"

"At first?" Sam said. "I was furious. I'd never got on that well with my father - my adopted father - and I found it hard to deal with knowing I'd had another family. A human family. But I couldn't walk away completely - he's my dad, the man who brought me up."

 

Twenty minutes from his apartment, just about the time the blogs were refreshing so rapidly the bots lost control of the net, Sam ducked into a cyber cafe and called his father.

"It might be too late," Sam said. "But I thought you should know. Turn on your terminal."

"Sam," his father said. "I know. Where are you?"

 

"I'm guessing you know who my father is," Sam said, and a ripple of amusement went through the studio audience. "I had no idea he was involved with the Rebel movement. Looking back, what I did was so shortsighted. The Rapture Report could have torn our society apart. If it wasn't for the men and women like the members of the Rebel Council and angels like my father already having plans in place to cope with this sort of event - hoping for it - we could have stayed divided for a very long time."

"You're being very careful with your words," Eirene said. "But I'm sure we're both thinking about the West Coast riots."

"That was terrible," Sam said. "And... like you, there were people I knew on both sides."

"I think we're agreed that we owe your father and the angels and Archangels who thought like him, and the Rebel Council, a great debt for ensuring a peaceful transition," Eirene said. "But you were involved as well, weren't you?"

"Only peripherally," Sam said. "We had to get some kind of interim council up and running, so I sat in on that for a while, although with the new elections we're hoping to pull in more people to speak for all of our communities."

 

For the first time in her life, Delaine would be voting. Desiree bought a terminal. Joey got a new job on the polling team, and later, with the campaign staff.

 

"And I hear you were involved with the Council for Truth and Reconciliation?"

"That's a tough question. Yes, I was. Still am."

"You want to say why?"

"I was an Inquisitor," Sam said, and the audience rustled in consternation, as if they hadn't known. "I'd tortured people over their faith. I hadn't even thought what I was doing was wrong until I started to see humans as people, who should have had the same rights that every angel had as a matter of course. Then I was appalled. I wanted to track down everyone I'd ever been assigned and apologize. When I talked to my father, this is what we came up with."

 

On the West Coast, they had the Institute for Healing. On the East, it was the Council for Truth and Reconciliation. Testifying - and making reparations - became a rite of passage for angels and former angels horrified by what they had become. Truth telling became a catharsis for humans who had survived the worst of the Angelus. The courtrooms became a scene of family reconciliation, a place of hope.

 

"You were the first angel to testify?"

"Yes, I was," Sam said. "Although... I haven't been an angel for a while, Eirene: not since I learned who I really was."

"Talking of that choice, Sam, were you involved in the decision to make treated communion wafers freely available?"

"Along with everyone else on the interim council, yes, I was," Sam said. "And I voted yes. It was a difficult decision. We felt we should give everyone the opportunity to choose, making the risks very plain. Travelling's a useful ability," Sam said, "but when the price for it is infertility, people need to be informed."

 

Becky, shaking, tentative, peered at a human child in a stroller. It was so wrapped up she couldn't tell if it was a boy or a girl, but when it smiled its gap-toothed smile she thought it beautiful.

 

"Did the council consider banning the wafers?"

"We did consider it," Sam said. "There's a transcript of the debate on the net, as there is for all proceedings, if anyone's interested. But we felt it wouldn't be fair to those people who hadn't had the opportunity to know what it felt like to be an angel. Also, of course, there would have been a great deal of resentment and anger if we had put a ban in place - on both sides - and when you consider the implications of a black market, the consequences could have been appalling."

"So you stopped taking angelic communion?"

"Yes," Sam said. "I feel .. comfortable as a human."

 

There were angels who wanted to be human and humans who wanted to be angels. There were people who wanted to be both. There were people who wanted to stay exactly as they were. Suddenly, there was a sense of freedom, of personal identity being something flexible, a matter of choice. It was a change both welcomed and feared.

 

"Then of course, after the revelation that angels were made and not born, you spoke in the report about the Raptures," Eirene said. "How did you feel when you found out about the environmental impact the Rapture beacons had on our world?"

"Devastated," Sam said. "I lost my fiance to the Rapture six years ago. I felt utterly betrayed, both that we lost our country to the Angelus' lust for power, and that we lost so many fine people, both human and angel, to the same cause. I'd like to remember in particular Ignatius and Dwight Johanson, whose family history and genetic profiles were the last proof used in the report on angelic and human genotyping."

"I gather there is a forensic investigative team working as we speak?"

"Yeah," Sam said. "Let's say they're finding a few unmarked graves. Mostly, we're talking about missing people who made their opposition to the kind of faith the Angelus stood for a little too obvious. Sometimes... some deaths, Jess, seemed to be random."

"Do you think you'll ever find out what happened to her?"

"Like everyone else who lost a family member," Sam said. "I don't know. But I can hope."

"What about climate change?" Eirene asked. "We all saw the daffodils this year, and we're seeing fresh produce in the warehouses. But the climate is no where near what it was a hundred years ago. What's happening?"

"I'm not an environmental expert," Sam said. "But from what I gather, it's not just like flicking a switch. It will take a long time for things to adjust - it took twenty years for the Raptures to freeze the country: it could take as long to thaw. We're lucky to have the Rebel seed banks. Without them, and without the power from the Raptures to run the greenhouses, we would have been in serious danger of starving ourselves to death. Planning how we were going to deal with the sudden loss of power and manage our resources was why it took so long to power down the towers and start to redistribute the power they were using."

 

When the East Coast Rapture powered down, the crowd was half human and half angel, fully celebratory. There had been fireworks, and picnics, and short, relieved speeches. There had been cheers. There was talk of a permanent holiday.

 

"Just prior to the publication of The Rapture Report, there was an attempt to blow up the East Coast Rapture," Eirene said. "Did that have any effect on your decision to publish?"

"Yes," Sam said. "The person who did that - and let's not forget, killed 115 humans and 221 angels in the attempt - made a very public statement of protest directed at the heart of the Angelus. I'd be lying if I said I didn't consider The Rapture Report similar. If it hadn't been for the prompt actions of the Rebel Council and the breakaway Archangels, the effects of publishing The Rapture Report here on the East coast could have been pretty much the same. Many more people died in the West Coasts riots than perished here in the Rapture explosion, and for that I am partially responsible."

 

After the riots, what was left of the Western Angelus disappeared. Later, there were rumors of a compound south of the border. The Eastern Angelus disintegrated. Half of its members had been planning the end of the world for decades. Half were detained.

 

"Although the West Coast riots were largely the result of the Angelus seeking to retain control," Eirene said, "Rather than the publication of The Rapture Report."

"If I hadn't published," Sam said. "The riots, and the Angelus reaction to those riots, would not have happened. We owe - I owe - some very brave people a great debt for the action that stormed the West Coast Chambers."

"Absolutely. If the West Coast power outrage had occurred, you and I wouldn't be sitting here today," Eirene said. "Sam, we haven't talked about faith, but when we see the kind of miracle that was the powering down of the West Coast Rapture seconds before it hit critical mass, it's hard not to see the hand of God at work. I know some people have found it difficult to reconcile their adherence to the Angelic Creed with the way that creed was enforced. Other people have found the freedom to believe in a personal God liberating, and I know that for some of the Rebel Council - and indeed your father - faith in God rather than the Angelic Creed was a motivating factor in joining the Rebel movement. How do you stand on the issue?"

"I believe absolutely in my father's faith in God," Sam said carefully. "And I can see and admire how his beliefs shape and support his personal politics. I find it harder to believe in a God who could let this happen. But... " Sam said, and thought of Dean on his doorstep. Dean, later, caught on camera on the steps of the West Coast Rapture. "Sometimes you have to believe in miracles."

Eirene smiled, and said, "We've discussed your family, Sam, and how you published The Rapture Report. I know you've chosen not to stand for the first Council elections. What are your plans for the future?"

This was the question for which Sam had been waiting. The reason he was here, after two months of negotiations, two practice runs, and too many cups of dire coffee.

"Like many other people," he said. "I lost someone as a result of the changes. Someone close to me. I know they're still alive. Eirene, I know I'm associated with the Rapture Report because I published it, but that report was the result of work by many, many people. To the botanists and meteorologists who tracked early temperature changes and the people who were brave enough to record their experiences with the Angelus, to the people who realized very early what was happening and began to record what was happening and fight against it, I and everyone else here owe their thanks. Nearly all the case studies and evidential reports in The Rapture Report were compiled by someone else, someone much braver than I am. All I did was pull the data together. It's that person I'm looking for."

"I hope you're watching," Sam said, directly to the camera. To Dean. He wasn't smiling. "I think we should talk."

"Well," Eirene said, although Sam was so relieved to have said the words that he was only just listening. "I think that's a theme for us all as we seek to reconcile our society, and a great note to end on. Let's talk."

"Sam, thank you for being here with us tonight. Ladies and gentlemen, humans, angels, and everyone else - Sam Winchester!"

 

~*~

 

Two months later, on a beach, Sam walked down the tide line to the place where his brother stood.

Dean watched him all the way. He had sunglasses on, but the waves still pushed fractured shards of ice at his feet. The thaw would take decades.

The way Dean stood, relaxed, hands resting loosely in his pockets, he'd made peace with himself. Maybe saving people did that for you. Sam didn't know. He'd like to.

But there were things about Dean Sam knew now that he didn't know then, guesses and whispers and intuition. There were questions Sam was never going to ask his brother, but Sam had been thinking. Sam was still thinking, walking down a beach towards his brother.

"Hey," he said, softly, gently.

Dean said, "Sam."

Sam said, "It wouldn't have mattered if you'd stayed. After the first half hour, no one cared."

Sam said, "I hear you're a hero now."

"You knew," Sam said, and Dean took off his sunglasses.

"Yes," he said.

"But you wanted me anyway," Sam said.

Dean didn't look away. He said, "Yes."

Sam said, "That's okay with me."

The tide left them rainbow-shined pebbles and half a seagull's wing.


Finished.