It wasn't that easy, of course.
Leaving aside the fact that they still didn't know where the hell Bobby had fucked off to, Impala's injuries meant that they were effectively grounded until she healed, which could take weeks. More, if Dean couldn't get proper supplies to tend to the wounds, which would only happen if they could get to a settlement and no one there got trigger happy the minute they caught sight of her.
Dean set about patching up Impala as best as he could with what he had on hand, while Sam hid the evidence of how, exactly, he'd killed that dragon. It was a messy, laborious process and Sam looked a lot like a crazy person by the time he was done. Dean manfully refrained from commenting; he suspected that Sam was one sobfest away from a full-out meltdown, which wasn't a great idea.
Eventually, they had things as sorted as they were going to get, and they set out - on foot, what fun - in the direction where Dean's map placed Pinnacle. He just hoped it was still there; it had been over a year since they'd last been out this way and a lot could change in that much time.
All told, it could have been slower going than it was. Impala's injuries hadn't affected her walking pace down any, which made her a damn sight faster than Dean and Sam, and no natural predator was stupid enough to attack them with a dragon in tow so they were blessedly free of bear attacks and the like.
Sam was shaken and quiet. Dean flagrantly pretended he didn't share the worry.
The bloody smears on Dean's cheeks had left angry pink blotches where they'd burned the skin. Sam didn't have a mark on him.
Dean couldn't help but notice the way Sam kept looking at his hands, as though he thought they'd start dripping blood again if he wasn't keeping an eye on them. The gold coin had made a reappearance too; Dean saw the glint of it more than once between Sam's fingers.
Dean bit his tongue on all the things he wanted to say and kept walking.
It took them nearly three days to reach Pinnacle, by which point Dean was very sincerely wondering how anybody managed getting around by foot. Such bullshit.
"Well, at least it's still standing," he said, looking out across the intervening space between them and the city gate. He glanced at Sam. "What do you think our reception's going to be like?"
"They've been watching us," Sam said, his attention fixed on the gate. "We're making them nervous."
"Are we indeed." Dean could work with that. "In that case, let's go make them more nervous."
Dean marched right up to the city gate with a smile on his face, Impala's reins in one hand and his gun in the other. On Impala's other side, Sam was empty handed, but no less intimidating for the lack.
"State your business," the guard shouted when they got close enough, with a quaver in his voice that made Dean smirk.
"Name's Winchester," Dean said, because they had a reputation and he was damn well going to make use of it. "We're looking to trade for lodging and medical supplies. And the first person who looks at my dragon funny is going to be breathing through an extra hole in his neck, capisce?"
"Uh," the guard said, eyes skipping rapidly over the three of them. "I'll just… be right back."
"Stop smirking," Sam said, in an undertone, as the guard practically fled his post. "It's not a good look on you."
"Lies," Dean shot back, and 'oofed' when Sam jabbed an elbow in his ribs.
"Behave," Sam hissed, just as the guard returned with what was presumably someone in charge.
Five minutes of negotiating and posturing later, they were walking through the gate with heads held high while everyone in the immediate vicinity tried very hard to pretend they weren't staring.
All told, it was one of their more painless arrivals in a new settlement.
"I'm thinking we might as well hole up here until we hear from Bobby," Dean told Sam, once they were settled. They'd been put up in a barn on the edge of town, both because it was the only place with a door big enough for Impala to fit through and because the civilians didn't seem too keen on having them any closer than that. "Impala's going to be out of commission for at least a fortnight, and it doesn't seem like a great idea to be out hunting when you're…" Dean gestured vaguely at Sam, "-y'know."
Sam's brow creased in worry. "You sure that's a good idea? What if I," he hesitated, "hurt someone?"
It was Dean's turn to frown. "Is that gonna be a problem? I thought it was just, like, dragons and PMSing."
"Shut up." Sam whacked him on the arm, hard enough to tingle. "It's, man, I don't even know what it was. I just got so focused on needing to protect y…"
Sam cut himself off abruptly, looking frustrated, and Dean reflected that they probably should have talked about this already. No one had ever accused the Winchesters of being good at all this touchy-feely bullshit.
"Hey, I'm not complaining about the dead dragon," Dean said. "I just need to know if you really think you're dangerous. Because I'd rather have a great big wall between us and the mighty outdoors when we can't outrun any dragon that wants to eat us, but if this is a problem…"
"No, I… no. It's fine. I'm fine." Sam bit his lip. "But, we should probably not interact with the civilians too much. Either of us. Just in case."
"Yeah, fine," Dean said, sighing a little. One of these days he would get laid again. Really he was.
"Sorry," Sam said, though he didn't sound quite genuine.
Dean waved a dismissive hand. "Whatever. It's fine. I've got my baby to take care of anyway, don't I, gorgeous?" he asked Impala, who was looking very relieved to be able to get some rest.
She butted her tail against Dean's leg in response and he smoothed a fond hand across her scales.
Sam stood abruptly and Dean glanced at him. "Where're you going?"
"Post office," Sam said curtly. "If we're going to be here for a while, we should put out the word that any information about Bobby should come here."
"Okay," Dean said slowly. Sam nodded and headed for the doors without another word. "Don't go apeshit on anyone!" Dean called after him.
"Yes, mother!" Sam called back, and fled like his ass was on fire.
Dean stared after him for a moment, then turned to Impala. "Should I be worrying?"
Impala blinked at him and huffed out a breath.
"Yeah," Dean said unhappily. "That's what I thought."
They were not quite three weeks into their enforced stopover when everything went completely tits up.
Dean, who had been spending most of his time with Impala thanks to the embargo on interacting with human beings, was distracted from his book by the realization that he hadn't seen Sam for a couple of hours. One on hand, it was ridiculous: him worrying about his 24-year old brother, who was by far the more responsible of the two of them, in the middle of a quiet little nowhere town that hadn't seen a dragon besides Impala in at least six months.
On the other hand, this was Sam, and Dean was man enough to admit that he'd always been irrationally dedicated to keeping that kid safe, even before all this crazy shit had started happening. And Sam's twitchiness had only got worse in the time that they'd been here. He was snappish and easily distracted, and he'd been complaining of headaches. He tended to get especially nervous when Dean was out of sight, Dean had noticed, in those rare times that he left the barn for more supplies, or to stretch his legs.
The fact that Dean couldn't remember seeing Sam lurking in the corner since at least lunch was a point of concern.
Dean sighed. "Maybe I should put a bell on him," he suggested to Impala, who was partly ignoring him and mostly just asleep. "Or a leash." He marked his page in his book and headed outside, eyes peeled for a big hulking mass of sulky Sam.
It didn't take long. There was a ladder leaning up against the side of the barn and, at the top, he found Sam sitting on the roof with his arms draped over his knees, staring over the settlement wall at the wilderness beyond.
"Hey, Sammy," Dean said. He sat down at Sam's side, copying his pose. "Whatcha doing up here?"
"There's something out there," Sam said, in a distant, distracted sort of voice that Dean had Dean immediately on edge. "It's been calling me."
"Calling you how?" Dean asked warily.
Sam didn't appear to notice his concern. Which either meant that Dean was a better actor than he thought - doubtful - or there was something seriously not right in the Land of Sam. "In my head. It keeps…" His voice broke. "God, it keeps getting louder."
"Okay, Sam, calm down." Dean gripped Sam's forearm and felt him shudder. "We'll fig-"
"Let go!" Sam yanked his arm away and Dean had a heart-stopping moment when he thought Sam's momentum was going to knock him backwards right off the edge of the roof.
"Careful!" he snapped. "Jesus Christ, are you trying to kill yo-"
The rest of the sentence clattered off into silence when Sam's head snapped up and Dean saw the yellow flare of his eyes.
"Don't," Sam said heavily, and Dean found himself putting his hands up in automatic surrender. "You shouldn't- argh!"
Sam doubled over, both hands clutching his head as his entire face creased in agony.
"Stay there!" Sam barked, when Dean moved instinctively to help. He held out a warning hand and Dean could see his fingers trembling. "Just, don't move."
It went against every fibre of Dean's being not to go over to him. "Sam," he said, hating the fact that he sounded just as fucking useless as he felt.
"I have to go," Sam said abruptly, and he was halfway down the ladder before Dean had even realized he'd moved.
"Son of a bitch!" Dean scrambled to the edge of the roof, and watched incredulously as Sam reached the ground and immediately bee-lined for the main gate without so much as a glance backwards.
Dean half-fell down the ladder in his rush to get off the roof. He hesitated briefly before running back into the barn, a mantra of 'shit, shit, shit' running on repeat in his mind.
Impala lifted her head as he dashed in.
"Sam's run off," Dean told her tersely. He tore through their packs until he came up with his rifle and a hunting dagger nearly the length of his forearm. "No, you stay here," he said, when she started to stand. "It'll be faster on foot. And I don't have time to pack everything, anyway."
Impala snorted and remained standing.
"I know you want to help, baby, but I need you to stay here, okay?" Weapons both strapped on, Dean stepped up to grip Impala's head in both hands. "I'll bring him back. Anyone gives you any trouble, you set the bastard on fire and then get the hell out of here, you got me? I'll find you, don't you worry."
Impala licked him, her tongue flicking quickly across his face, then sat down again.
Dean smiled at her. "There's my girl." He gave her one final pat before turning and racing out of the barn, only just remembering to shut the door behind him.
Dean ran out of the main gate at full tilt, and who gave a shit what the idiot standing guard thought. Luckily, Sam hadn't got far - whatever urge was gripping him apparently wasn't up to making him run - and his silhouette was easy to spot across the open landscape.
"Sam! Fucking… wait!"
Sam gave no indication that he'd heard him, but it didn't much matter at the speed he was walking. Dean ran after him, silently promising bloody retribution for all the shit Sam was putting him through.
"God damn it, Sam," Dean gasped, when he finally fell in at Sam's side. "You couldn't have waited five minutes? The hell is this all about?"
"It's this way," Sam said, more like he was talking to the air than answering Dean's question. His eyes were back to normal, at least. At this point, Dean was taking what he could get.
He toyed with the idea of dragging Sam back to the settlement until he was in his right mind again, but he honestly wasn't sure he'd be able to manage it without hurting him. There was a corner of his mind that wasn't sure he'd be able to manage it at all, busy playing a lurid memory of Sam's hands punching their way into a dragon's chest like it was made of paper, but he ignored it. Because this was Sam. And Dean refused to be afraid of his brother. Better just to see if they could get this out of Sam's system and maybe get some answers in the process.
Besides, they were Winchesters; they didn't play it safe.
Decision made, Dean trailed along at Sam's side, rifle in his hands and a careful distance between them that totally wasn't his doing. Sam was obviously following some directions that only he could see; each step was made without a moment's hesitation, even when his route took them into a chaotic landscape of ridges and tumbled rocks that had probably been a quarry once upon a quarter century or so ago. For his part, Dean kept his finger near the trigger and his eyes peeled for any sign of trouble.
The sun had turned the world into a rocky mass of gold and shadow by the time that Sam stopped walked.
Dean glanced around curiously. The spot they were standing in looked the same as all the rest of it. "What are we doing here?"
"Someone…" Sam's head was swiveling back and forth, like he was a dog scenting the air. "Someone was calling me."
"So you've said. Any idea who?"
"That would be me."
Dean whirled around, catching it out of the corner of his eye as Sam mirrored the movement. For a long moment, he couldn't see anything but rocks, and then a massive pair of eyes blinked at them.
"Holy shit!" Dean said, staggering back and watching in horror as part of the rock face unfolded into what was without a doubt the biggest fucking dragon he'd ever seen in his life. Its scales were cracked and mottled, nearly the same dusty brown colour as the rocks surrounding it until a stray light from the quickly-fading sunset hit them and turned them to a glittering bronze. What the hell? Dean had never even heard of a bronze dragon before.
Instead of horns, the dragon's head had a dramatically curved ridge that spread upwards from its eyes and cheeks like a helmet. The thick bone around the eye sockets made the dragon's baleful yellow eyes appear sunken and they gleamed brilliantly amidst the shadows. There was a frightening amount of intelligence in those old, old eyes, and a cruel satisfaction that was far too human for Dean's liking. Dean had the feeling that they could see every single thought in his grubby little soul.
They were in so much trouble.
"The brothers Winchester," that same voice said, rich with satisfaction, and Dean felt the bottom drop out of the world when he realized who - or what - had to be speaking. "How nice of you to drop by."
No human vocal chords could have produced that sound: like gargling gravel and shattering glass all at once. Which left only one, terrifying, conclusion.
Since when could dragons fucking talk?
"You-" Sam sounded as shocked as Dean felt. "You can talk."
There was a sound like grinding bones and Dean realized that the creature was fucking laughing at them.
"Figured it that out all on your own, did you?" it said dryly. "Clearly that reputation of yours is well deserved."
"You want well deserved?" Dean asked. He was not going to stand here and be laughed at by a dragon. He lifted his rifle and pointed it at the dragon's face. "How about we see how funny you find it when I shoot you in the face?"
"Dean," the dragon said, in an admonishing tone. "Don't you think that you should have grown out of this dependence on masculine posturing by now?"
"Nope," Dean said blithely. "And it's not posturing if I can follow through, dickwad."
"Can all dragons talk?" Sam interrupted. Dean could almost see the 'yay, science!' part of his brain come online. At least he sounded like himself again.
The dragon snorted. "The human race is painfully primitive, but I think you'd have at least noticed by now if that was the case."
"So why can you?"
"Does it matter?" Dean asked. "Bet he dies just as easy as the rest of 'em." He ignored Sam's pointed look and kept his gun trained on the dragon.
"Fascinating as your contributions to this conversation are, Dean-o, I'm actually here to talk to your brother." The dragon bared a very large mouth full of very large teeth at Dean. "So why don't you be quiet now before I rip you apart?"
Sam snarled at that, a rough, angry sound that made Dean's hackles rise. "No."
"Ah," the dragon said, sounding supremely self-satisfied. "There you are at last."
"You won't touch him," Sam warned. Dean glanced over and, yeah, Sam's eyes were definitely yellow again.
Not that the dragon seemed to care. "Or what? Sorry, Sam, but you haven't got the power to stop me." A deliberate pause. "Yet."
"What do y-" Dean started, only to have one of Sam's hands land on his chest and push him a step backwards.
"Quiet," Sam growled, and only the fact that the dragon would probably find it amusing kept Dean from smacking Sam upside the head. Sam's head swiveled upwards. "Explain."
"Haven't you figured it out yet? You're one of us, Sam."
"Bullshit," Dean said, and, "Don't you fucking touch me," to Sam, who was back to growling. In an undertone, he added, "Would you get a grip already?"
The dragon was still talking. "You have a great destiny awaiting you. You are to be our leader in the final battle for the Earth."
Personally, Dean was pretty sure than anything more than what the dragons had already done was just overkill.
"Who are you?" Sam demanded.
"A surprisingly apt question, from a human. I am Azazel," the dragon said. "And I am one of Lucifer's generals."
"Lucifer?" Dean and Sam blinked at each other.
"Like in the Bible?" Dean asked.
"Mmm. You two are on fire today." Azazel flashed a smile full of teeth the length of Dean's torso. "Or maybe you will be. If you're unlucky."
"Isn't he a demon?" Sam asked, and his eyes had slipped back to normal while Dean was distracted.
"Now war arose in heaven," Azazel said, in a sonorous voice. "And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. The Book of Revelations. Humans really don't put enough stock in Holy Scripture these days."
"Kind of hard to believe in God when the world gets overrun by dragons," Dean said.
Azazel laughed. "The irony of that, of course, is that there was no better time. Not that He cares, of course, but still. Maybe He'd have taken notice when we got out if you lot were better worshippers."
"Got out?" Sam asked.
"Is there an echo in here or are you boys just dim? I gotta say, I was expecting you to be quicker on the uptake on this." Azazel looked at them expectantly. "Oh come now, you can't really have thought that an entire species spontaneously appeared out of thin air one day. Or did you think we'd been hiding under rocks for millennia? There are gates into Hell. And we opened them. Now we need you to finish the job, Sam."
"You keep saying that," Sam said, while Dean fought the urge to shoot the bastard in the face to make it stop talking to Sam. "What do you want with me?"
"Didn't you ever wonder how you survived when your nursery caught fire? Mommy dearest was roasted medium-well and sweet little baby Sammy didn't have a scratch on him."
"You know," Dean said, with as much condescension as he could muster. "I'm getting really sick of this bad guy monologuing."
"Stay out of it, Dean."
"And what are you going to do about it, hmm, Dean? The only reason you're still breathing is that I'm respecting baby brother's... fondness for you. It's bad manners to eat someone else's prey."
Dean forced a scoff. "Is all the smoke in your head getting you high? I could hand this kid's ass to him without breaking a sweat."
The noise Azazel made in response sounded anything but agreement.
"How did I survive?" Sam asked, not sparing Dean a second glance. Bitch.
"Blood," Azazel said. "Dragon blood, specifically. Good for what ails you. It's been inside you," he said, voice dropping into a mesmerizing hum. "All this time. Waiting. It just needed a little… spark, to get it going. All great men are baptized in fire, Sam. It's just not usually so literal as it was in your case."
Sam stared at him, open-mouthed.
"I hope you've been enjoying the effects," Azazel continued. "There are quite a few. Although some that you're having trouble getting a handle on, I expect."
Dean's mind flashed through Sam's recent strangeness - the possessiveness, the irritability, the obsession with gold, the inhuman strength - added 'dragon' to the mix and didn't find the explanation wanting. Holy shit.
"I can help, Sam. I can teach you how to control it. Take your place at my side and you'll-"
Dean didn't want to hear this.
"Fuck this." He sighted down the barrel and, before Sam could stop him, squeezed off a shot right at one of those disquieting eyes.
Azazel moved faster than Dean had expected; the bullet hit the curve of his cheek plate and ricocheted harmlessly away.
"Well, that was rude," Azazel said, as though a bullet to the face was no more irritating than a mosquito. He cocked his head at Sam. "Does he always ignore you like this?"
"Dean," Sam gritted.
"We're not trying to make friends here, Sam." Dean started to aim again - he wouldn't underestimate Azazel this time - and it was his turn to growl when Sam grabbed the barrel and shoved it down. "Sam!"
"I don't think big brother's being very respectful, do you?" Azazel's tone of voice was utterly reasonable if Dean ignored the daggers hiding inside it. "You really ought to show him his place."
Dean choked on his derisive snort when Sam nodded, eyes flickering yellow as he looked Dean up and down like he was deciding which part to rip off first.
"Sam," Dean breathed, a protest or a plea - he wasn't sure. He took an instinctive step back from the dark hunger twisting Sam's features, and Sam's grip tightened on his rifle.
"Dean," he growled, hot and deep.
Dean flinched at the sound, so unlike Sam's normal voice, and was beyond relieved when the anger on Sam's face drained abruptly away, his eyes turning hazel and horrified.
Sam jerked away like he'd been burned. "I won't," he said raggedly. He spun away from Dean to glare at Azazel. "I won't."
"You will," Azazel said. The calm confidence in his voice made Dean's blood run cold. Azazel's wings rustled in a draconic shrug. "You can't fight forever, Sammy. Something's gotta give. It's only a matter of time."
"No," Sam said, but it sounded more like a prayer than an refutation.
"Well," Azazel said then. "This has been fun. But Daddy's got other jobs to do right now, so I'm gonna have to cut this short."
"Now, wait just a-" Dean started.
Azazel's wings unfurled with a leathery snap and the gust of wind when he launched himself into the air nearly knocked Dean flat on his ass.
"Next time you should come find me, Sammy," Azazel said, voice booming over the sound of his wings. "You'll fit right in, I promise."
Dean fired a shot at Azazel's wing; it didn't do a damn thing.
"And if you don't want another dragon to beat you to it," Azazel added, eyes flicking from Sam to Dean and back again. "I suggest you get rid of those pesky inhibitions and take what you want."
"Azazel!" Sam shouted.
Azazel let out another of those ear-bleeding laughs and then he was gone, powerful wings carrying him away.
"What. The fuck," Dean said, into the ensuing silence. Sam made a choked noise and Dean glanced at him. "Sam?"
Sam wouldn't look at him. "Sorry," he mumbled. "Is it-" He swallowed hard. "Do you think it was telling the truth?"
"No," Dean said immediately. "It's a freaking dragon! Last time I checked they're the bad guys."
"It would explain things," Sam said, as if Dean hadn't spoken. He lifted his head and offered Dean an mirthless smile. "If I'm not human."
Dean made a disgusted noise. "Don't be such a dumbass. Of course you're human. I've been watching out for you your whole life; trust me when I say you're 100% pain-in-the-ass human. Come on, let's get back to town."
"Dean," Sam said, and Dean glanced back over his shoulder to see that Sam hadn't moved an inch. "Ignoring the problem won't make it go away."
"And talking about your feelings isn't fun for either of us, princess. Is old helmet face still talking to you in your head?"
"No," Sam said after a moment.
"And are you suddenly jonesing for a diet of barbequed civilians?"
"Then there's nothing to worry about."
Sam snorted. "Right. We're just going to ignore the fact that I've apparently got dragon blood inside me and I'm a danger to everyone around me."
Dean waved a dismissive hand. "Don't be so overdramatic. You're not dangerous."
"Yes, I am." Sam's hand clamped down on Dean's arm and Dean resisted the urge to hiss at the heavy pressure of his fingers. "I can't control it, Dean." Sam sounded horrifyingly resigned. "The anger. The hunger. It's too strong."
"Of course you can. Look at me." Dean waited until Sam's eyes met his. "You can do this, Sam. I know you can."
Sam scowled. "Since when are you a believer in the power of positive thinking? This isn't something that we can just pretend isn't happening. Christ, one suggestion from Azazel and I nearly…" Sam cut himself off before he could finish the sentence, but Dean figured he got the gist.
He affected an overdone scowl. "You really think I'm that easy to kill? Dude, I'm insulted."
Sam's expression creased with confusion, before abruptly smoothing out. "Right, yeah," he said after a moment, his voice curiously flat. "Big bad hunter. I know."
"Be a little less convincing next time," Dean said. "Now can we please go back now? I don't fancy being out here after dark."
"Fine," Sam said, and neither of them said another word for the entire trip back.
They left Pinnacle the next morning.
"What about Impala's injuries?" Sam asked, as Dean tightened the straps on Impala's saddle.
"She's fit to fly," Dean said, rubbing a surreptitious hand down Impala's side as he did so. Ideally, he would have liked to keep her grounded for another couple of days, just to make sure, but he was more concerned with getting Sam as far away from this place and Azazel, the magical talking douchebag dragon, as he could get him.
"And where are we going?" Sam crossed his arms over his chest. "We still haven't heard back about Bobby."
"I figure we'll head back to his place and wait him out." Dean pulled the last strap tight and stepped back. "It's as good a place as any."
Sam bit his lip. "You sure? What about-"
"What about what?" Dean asked.
"Nothing." Sam shook his head.
"It's safe and familiar. Bobby will come back eventually." Dean refused to even entertain the possibility that he wouldn't. He flicked a quick glance at Sam. "And he's got that bunker in case we need it."
Dean didn't specify whether they were going to need it to keep something out or someone in. He was relieved when Sam let it go without comment.
"Alright. I'll go get the post office to change the message."
"Don't tell them where we're going instead," Dean said, as Sam turned to go. "Just in case."
Sam nodded. "Got it."
Dean started packing up their shit while Sam left the barn. He kept banging around for a minute until he was sure that Sam was gone, then slumped against Impala's side.
"So you're a demon, huh?" he asked her, lifting one hand to give her a stroke. "Could've fooled me."
She blinked at him innocently.
Dean chuckled. "Sorry, still not scary." He sighed heavily. "What do I do, Impala?"
Impala butted her head against his cheek and trilled happily.
"Some help you are," Dean muttered. His eyes went without his permission to linger where Sam had just been standing. "And some help I am. Fuck."
That night, Sam ran away.
They'd been in the air for most of the day and Dean hadn't realized how exhausting that would be after several weeks of lazing around. He'd crashed hard and hadn't been aware of anything after the moment his head hit his pack until he was dragged awake by the sensation of Impala's tongue against the back of his hand.
"Wazzat?" Dean mumbled, groping automatically for the knife at his side. "'Pala?"
She nudged him urgently and Dean sat up, eyes gravitating to where Sam had set up his bedroll.
He wasn't there.
Dean was on his feet in an instant, knife held in a white-knuckled grip as he cast about for Sam. He found him crouched down near Impala's abandoned saddle, a bulky shadow in the dark. Sam had his pack open in front of him and he looked to be filling it with foodstuffs from their supplies. It was hard to tell in the dark, but Dean would bet every bullet he had that Sam was fully dressed and ready for a day's travel.
"And where the hell do you think you're going?" Dean demanded.
Sam jumped, the whites of his eyes gleaming in the faint light from their banked fire. "To get some answers," he said.
"Bobby will have answers."
"We don't know that!" Sam exclaimed. "Jesus Christ, Dean, no one's heard from the man in over a month! We don't even know if Bobby's ali-"
"Don't," Dean warned.
"Not saying things doesn't make them not true," Sam said. He sighed heavily. "You heard Azazel."
"I heard him saying he wants you to lead a dragon army in a glorious battle for what's left of the Earth," Dean shot back. "And unless we've changed our party line since last I checked, that's not the sort of life goal you ought to be pursuing. God damn it, Sam, I didn't drag you away from him just so you could go running back as soon a-"
"You didn't drag me anywhere," Sam snapped, showing off his new fondness for getting butt hurt about the dumbest things. "I don't need you to protect me, Dean."
"Yeah, well, you got me anyway. And I'm not letting you go off half-cocked to get your hair braided by a freaking dragon!"
"And since when," Sam said, threatening and low, "do I need your permission to do anything?"
Not that Dean was going to let that intimidate him. "Gee, I dunno, since you got all hopped up on dragon blood maybe?"
Sam let out a low, irritated hiss. "Oh, so now you believe that? Only when it's convenient for you, of course. God, Dean, you're so-"
"So what? Come on, Sam, don't leave me hanging. Tell me what you really think."
"Shut up," Sam snarled, and broke away from their staring contest to stride away a few paces. His shoulders heaved with the force of his breathing and Dean could see the way his hands were clenching and unclenching.
"I can't do this," Sam said. His voice was shaky and unsteady, all the fire of a moment ago extinguished. "Dean, I'm not strong enough."
"Bullshit." Dean yanked Sam round to look at him. His entire face was crumpled with anguish; it made Dean's heart twist. He took a deep breath and pushed on. "You're the strongest person I know, Sam. You can beat it."
The sound that Sam made was too hollow to qualify as a laugh. "This isn't a fight. It's a hostile takeover. And I've already lost. Just like the rest of the world."
"Now you're just being an idiot."
"No, you're just being stubborn." Sam took a deep breath. "I have to go, Dean. I need to know more about what's happening to me so I can learn to control it."
"Yeah, you're not going anywhere. Impala," he called, and pointed at Sam. "Sit on him for a while."
"Stop," Sam said to her, his tone of voice enough to send tremors down Dean's spine. "You're not part of this."
And Impala, Dean's beautiful girl, froze in her tracks. Dean watched as her head tilted in a brief question, and then she turned and slinked off through the trees without so much as glancing Dean's way.
"I-" Dean stared after her in open shock. "Did you just mind whammy my dragon?" he demanded.
Something in Sam's expression went sheepish, but the defiant jut of his chin was anything but apologetic. "I'm not letting you keep me here, Dean. It's too dangerous."
"We'll figure something out," Dean said, starting to feel frantic. "Once we find Bobby, I'm sure he'll have some ideas for how to help you deal with your anger issues-"
"It's not about anger!" Sam snapped.
Dean glared at him. "Could've fooled me."
Sam huffed out a breath. "…sorry."
"Just… tell me what's going on with you, Sam. Please."
Sam mumbled something.
"What?" Dean asked, leaning in to hear better.
"I said I don't want to," Sam said, in a tone of voice that reminded Dean of when Sam was six years old.
"Right now, I couldn't give a rat's ass what you want," Dean said. "Come on," he added, trying for gentle and not doing a particularly good job of it. "We're in this together, aren't we? Winchesters against the world?"
Sam was shaking his head. "I can't. Not with you, I can't."
"Why not?" Dean demanded. He shifted to grab Sam's shoulder and Sam jerked away. "God damn it, Sam, why the hell not?"
"Because I can't focus on keeping the dragon instincts under wraps when I'm busy worrying that I'm going to jump you!" Sam yelled.
Dean stared. "Uh," he said, the arm he'd reached out to Sam hanging in the air between them. "What?"
Sam's chest was heaving like he'd just run a marathon. His face was heavy with emotions that Dean couldn't parse in the dark.
"I want you," Sam said, deceptively simple. "In all the ways I shouldn't. I have for, God, it feels like forever. But ever since this… thing happened, it's like all of my instincts are hardwired into the draconic part of me. And they keep getting stronger." He met Dean's eyes steadily. Dean envied him his ability to be calm at this moment. "And it's suddenly very difficult to ignore just how easy it would be to have you."
"You… that's-" Dean's thoughts slipped through his fingers before he could catch any of them long enough to find something to say. "Are you fucking with me?"
"You weren't supposed to know." Sam shook his head. "But if this is what it takes to make you understand why I have to do this without you…"
"What, no. That's not-"
Sam sighed. "Dean. Azazel was right: I can't fight forever. Right now, I'm resisting pretty much every urge I've got and that's not… I can't do it. It's tearing me apart. I have to figure out how to balance me and the dragon."
Dean swallowed hard. "And how do you plan on doing that?"
"Dragons are hoarders, Dean, you know that. I need something I can own," Sam said, stressing the words as though trying to convey their sheer importance. His gaze was heavy with purpose as it settled on Dean. "Someone."
Dean wasn't sure he liked the sound of this.
"Tell me that you don't already belong to me a little bit, Dean," Sam pressed. There was something almost hypnotic in his voice and it was making Dean feel dizzy. "Look me in the eye and tell me honestly that you wouldn't submit to me if I told you to. That you don't submit already, without even noticing."
Dean's instinctive 'fuck you, no' stuck in his throat - because it wasn't a lie, but neither was it true enough for him to be able to give it voice.
A satisfied growl rumbled from deep in Sam's chest. "Mine." He took a step forward.
"Now wait a minute," Dean started, but it was too late.
Sam sprang towards him, big hands curling around his hip and behind his neck as he pulled Dean into a kiss that didn't take no for an answer. Dean's mouth opened on an instinctive gasp and Sam took immediate advantage; his tongue snaked between Dean's lips, fucking into his mouth and claiming every inch of space for its own. Sam was a damn good kisser, Dean decided faintly, head spinning as Sam stole his breath away with every sweep of his tongue. Sam's hands were confident and possessive, moving Dean's body to suit Sam's needs and gripping hard enough that Dean would find bruises later.
Dean's own hands twitched weakly where they'd landed on Sam's shoulders; later, he would wonder why it hadn't even occurred to him to push Sam away, but right now he couldn't do anything but hang on.
Dean was feeling light-headed by the time Sam released his lips to trail a series of burning kisses down the length of his neck. He groaned in confusion and unexpected pleasure, squirming in Sam's iron grip. Sam's mouth was merciless as it worried at the juncture of Dean's shoulder, drawing blood to the surface until it was more pleasure-edged pain than the other way around.
Then suddenly everything stopped and Dean found himself swaying drunkenly on his feet, head spinning and body cold without the blanketing too-hot heat of Sam against him.
"That's why," Sam said, roughly. He looked wild and terrifying: hair disheveled, lips slick and swollen, breath rapid, eyes hot. Dean licked his lips, disbelieving, and a shudder rocked through Sam's frame; Dean got the feeling that it was taking everything Sam had in him to maintain the distance between them. "That's why I can't stay. I'll force you, Dean. I'll break you and I don't want to, God, I don't, but a part of me wants to see it happen, wants to make it happen. And I can't. I can't do that to you. So I need answers."
"And you really think the freaking dragons are going to help?" Dean demanded, because yelling about this was miles better than addressing the fact that every nerve in his body was lighting up like a Christmas tree. "News flash, Sam. They're going to brainwash you into becoming their general or whatever the fuck so you'll destroy the last of the human race, or else you'll refuse and they'll kill you. Do not pass GO, do not collect $200."
"Dean," Sam said, and it was more of a sigh than a word.
"Together?" Dean offered, and even to him it sounded like begging.
Sam's eyes were fixed on Dean's neck and Dean belatedly realized that he'd brought one hand up to press against the hickey that Sam had left there. Dean couldn't for the life of him couldn't have said whether he was trying to hide it or feel it more clearly.
Sam shook his head. "I can't stay. I'm sorry, Dean."
"You-" Dean tried, and swore when Sam lunged for him, one arm already swinging.
Pain sparked behind Dean's eyes and the world went black.
Dean woke up tied to a tree.
"Son of a bitch," he said, with feeling. He'd been lashed to the tree trunk some fifteen feet up, legs straddling a branch as thick as his torso. And, yeah, Dean appreciated not having been left on the ground where just anything could have wandered by and eaten him, but this position was not doing the family jewels any good.
The combination of the overhead canopy and the limited amount of light filtering through the air made it hard to know what time it was, but Dean's internal clock told him that Sam's head start was probably at least half a day long already.
Dean took a moment to work through every swear word he knew. It still didn't seem like enough.
Experimentally, Dean wriggled his hands, trying to find the knots in the rope. No luck. And Dean didn't have the mobility to get to the knife strapped to his thigh.
God, he could easily die of dehydration if he didn't find a way down, and soon. And it wasn't like some random forest in the middle of nowhere had a lot of human traffic going through.
"Impala!" he called, and it sounded desperate even to his own ears.
Thankfully, it was only a handful of moments later that familiar footsteps filled the air and Impala's face appeared through the leaves.
"Thank God," Dean breathed. "You gonna help me get down, baby?"
It took a couple of false starts, but Impala eventually managed to rake her claws down the rope and cut Dean loose. He wasted no time in climbing down, groaning at the pain in his legs.
"I'm going to kill him," he told Impala. "Just you watch."
Impala looked unimpressed.
"Whatever." Dean decided that pacing was a perfectly acceptable way to stretch out his sore muscles, which was just as well because he didn't think he could sit still if he tried.
Sam had kissed him.
Sam wanted him. In a Biblical sense.
Maybe even loved him; this was Sam he was talking about, after all. Dean wasn't sure how anybody could be so stupid as to fall in love with a fuck-up like him, but Sam hadn't exactly been showing good decision-making skills recently, so who the fuck knew.
And sure, the dragon blood was clearly behind the whole growly 'mine, mine, mine' cockblocking routine, but Sam had said he'd felt like this - whatever 'this' was - even before that. That he'd wanted Dean for a long time, if Dean had understood him right.
So he'd left to make sure that Dean was out of groping distance or whatever, even though going off to face Azazel on his own was clearly the dumbest thing he could possibly have done.
And how the hell did Dean feel about this?
Dean brushed his fingers over Sam's mark on his neck. The skin was tender to the touch and Dean hissed a little at the contact. The memory of Sam's mouth against his neck, Sam's body hot and hard against his, filled his mind and Dean flushed. He remembered feeling overwhelmed, dominated and, somehow, cherished.
He thought about the phantom memory of the kiss that had started it and his cheeks grew hot.
"I'm not in love with Sam," Dean said aloud, because it needed to be said.
Because he wasn't. Not the way Sam might have been in love with him. And he wasn't in lust with him either. He hadn't been chubbing up thinking about Sam's hands or his mouth or his dick. He'd never have dared.
The problem was that he couldn't really consider his feelings for Sam platonic, either.
Because Sam was Sam. And Sam was everything. Which was so much more frightening than a simple thing like being in love.
"Fuck," Dean muttered, finally giving up on the pacing to slump down in the dirt.
Fact #1: Dean needed Sam. In whatever way he could get him, as pathetic and codependent as that was.
Fact #2: Sam couldn't be allowed to do this on his own.
Fact #3: Sam had left because he didn't want to make Dean do something he'd regret.
Fact #4: Dean had never in his life regretted Sam. And that included one very unexpected kiss.
Really, it all added up to one logical solution. Amazing that Sam hadn't figured it out.
And there was almost certainly a sexuality crisis looming somewhere on the near horizon - Dean was very carefully not thinking about the 'i' word that summed up this whole situation - but it was going to have to wait.
Because, right now, Sam needed Dean. And Dean had long since given up angsting over how much he needed to be needed by Sam.
Next time you should come find me, Azazel had said. There was only one place that Dean could think of that would be the headquarters for a demon-dragon army. Especially within walking distance for Sam.
"Come on, baby," he said to Impala, climbing to his feet to begin the task of packing up the supplies that Sam had left him. "We're going to go get Sammy."
He caught up with Sam about 20 miles within the border of Wyoming.
"You fucking bastard," he said.
Sam looked torn between running away as fast as his legs could carry him and eating Dean whole. "You shouldn't be here," he settled on, as Dean slid off Impala's back and onto the road.
"Tell me something I don't know, genius." Dean stomped up to Sam, feeling every inch of his skin crawling with the knowledge of just how fucked they were if any dragons realized they were here. "So how about you get on Impala without throwing a bitch-fit and we can have this fight somewhere where we're less likely to get eaten in the middle."
"God damn it, Dean!" Sam hissed in an undertone. "Why can't you do what you're told for once in your life?"
"Because this is a stupid plan. And I make it a point never to listen to stupid plans."
"Oh, and I suppose you have a better- mmph!"
It wasn't the best kiss, Dean had to admit; he'd knocked Sam off-balance when he'd fisted his hands in his shirt and pulled, and there was no room for finesse in the firm, close-mouthed press of their lips, but it did the job. It only lasted for a few seconds before Dean was stepping back.
Sam blinked at him in a rare moment of absolute bafflement, and Dean coughed.
"That's my better plan," he said, and willfully ignored the place inside him that wanted to feel shy about it. Dean Winchester and shy did not belong in the same realm of existence.
"Dean, what are yo-" Sam cut himself off abruptly, and it only took Dean a moment to recognize the ominously familiar creak of leather wings.
"Shit," Dean said. He looked to Sam. "How do you want to play this?"
Sam raised an eyebrow at him. "Since when do you follow my lead?"
"Since this is your goddamn fault in the first place. The least I can do is be here to watch your back when you're trying to get yourself killed."
"Gee, thanks," Sam said. He considered for a moment. "Stay out of their range. I might get… irrational if you get hurt."
"Gotcha." Dean unslung his rifle and waited with Sam while the dragons came closer.
There were three of them, reds, and normally Dean would have been swearing up a storm, but Sam was calmly in control as he unsheathed his knives and braced his feet wide.
"Land," he said, his voice taking on that deep resonance of command that he'd used the night before. And then, "Stay."
All three dragons touched ground and froze in their tracks. Sam's grin was decidedly draconic as he leaped to attack.
Dean took pot shots from afar; the dragons were clearly trying to shake off Sam's compulsion, but they couldn't move fast enough to avoid Dean's bullets or the deadly sweep of Sam's blades. It was over in no time at all, and Dean had to admit that it was going to make hunting a hell of a lot easier if Sam could get a handle on these new skills of his.
"Dean!" Sam strode over to him, liberally splashed with blood and his expression hot. He looked about three seconds away from pinning Dean to the floor, which Dean wasn't sure he was quite ready for. Especially not when there would be more where those came from.
"We have to go, Sam," Dean said, and it was a struggle not to make it sound like an order. He was a bossy son of a bitch, so sue him. Sam's fingers stroked against Dean's cheek in a familiar gesture that made Dean's pulse jump. "I need you to come back now. Sam. Sammy!"
There was a pause, and then Sam jolted back.
"God, Dean, I'm sorry. Fuck, I knew this was going to happen. This is why you can't be-"
"Sam," Dean said, and waited until Sam met his eyes before continuing, in the most serious tone he could muster. "You're my brother. And I'm here for you. No matter what."
Sam's eyes flashed a hungry yellow; Dean fought the urge to flinch.
"You shouldn't say that," Sam said, in a voice that shook with repressed emotion. "I can't-"
"Yes, you fucking can." Deliberately, Dean cupped Sam's cheek with one hand. "You need me to let you in? Be something you can own? Well, here I am. We'll figure this out together."
Sam looked stricken. "You can't… sacrifice yourself like that, Dean. I won't let you."
Dean huffed out a breath. "I'm not sacrificing anything. I… look. I can't promise that I won't freak out about this later, but this is not a 'take one for the team' situation. I mean, fuck, you didn't hear me complaining last night did you?"
"I didn't really give you the chance," Sam said, but there was a touch of brightness in his voice that hadn't been there a moment ago. He stared at Dean, looking fascinated. "I don't think I've ever seen you blush before."
"Shut up," Dean said, hating the way it made his cheeks prickle more. "And don't you even pretend that I couldn't have stopped you if I'd wanted to."
Sam frowned. "I'm stronger than you now. I could have-"
"But you didn't," Dean insisted. "You're still you, dumbass. And I am not talking about this for one more second, so I hope you've had your fill of warm and fuzzies for today because I am fucking fed up."
"Stuff it." Dean cocked his head at Sam. "You ready to go?"
Sam hesitated. His gaze skittered over the dead dragons, then down to the mess he'd made of his clothes. "You sure about this?" His eyes returned to Dean.
The hickey on Dean's neck throbbed under Sam's intense gaze. It was a brand, a compact on a new future for them. It was permanent, real and fucking scary. It was Sam.
Luckily, only one of those things mattered.
"Wouldn't have asked if I wasn't," Dean said, with all the conviction he possessed. "Let's get out of here already. This place gives me the heebie jeebies."
"The 'heebie jeebies'?" Sam parroted, with a tentative smile that warmed Dean right down to his toes. "What are you, twelve?"
"You know that would make you a pedophile," Dean said, and laughed at the horrified expression on Sam's face. They could do this, he realized, as Sam's hand wrapped gingerly around his wrist, affectionate as well as possessive. Be themselves and still be… this.
And all the dragons in the world had better fucking run, because if they'd been formidable before, now they were going to be unstoppable. They always had been better together.