Heart of the Matter.


Dean's life is composed of rituals, large and small.

Some things are tiny, just little details and patterns that make the daily grind of his life a little easier. Things like, every time it rains, Dean spends the evening sitting on tonight's bed and cleaning his weapons, listening to the patter of the raindrops on the windows over the hiss and crackle of his little portable radio. He sprinkles a few grains of salt across the doorway and a few drops of holy water across his sheets before he goes to sleep. He eats granola for breakfast to make up for the greasy diner food he usually has for dinner, except on Sundays when he splurges and has pancakes. He almost never eats lunch.

April and November are when he visits Caleb to stock up on ammo, and February and August are when he sees Joshua to get the Impala some TLC. Wednesdays are laundry days, and Sundays he sleeps in an extra hour. The first week of January is when he visits Stanford to keep a careful, if distant, eye on Sam, but he's only done that once so far so it doesn't quite count as a ritual.

Some things are important, vital to survival while hunting. He always organizes the weapons trunk after every hunt, in preparation for the inevitable frenzied grab for knife or shotgun on the next. He never unpacks, just in case he needs to leave in a hurry, but the first thing he does when getting to a new hotel room is to plug in his laptop. He memorizes his route before he gets on the road in the morning, because getting lost is nothing more than a preventable waste of time.

He contacts Dad at the beginning and end of every hunt and if something goes wrong, and John does the same.

The hunt itself has its own rituals, its own patterns. Notice a problem. Make sure it's a real job. Get close with the locals. Research. Find the source of the problem. Remove the source. Try not to get killed.

Dean likes his life like this, filled with simple rituals. It suits him, comforts him during the hours, days, weeks he spends alone. He doesn't anticipate it changing any time soon.

Then Sam comes back into his life, and suddenly all his rituals are disrupted. Sam argues about music, unpacks both their bags every night even when Dean tells him not to, gets them lost while Dean naps in the passenger seat, goes off half-cocked, argues about everything, and needs his life saved on a regular basis. Dean's surprisingly orderly life is chaos thanks to Sam, but he can't bring himself to mind because he's got his brother by his side again, and really, that's all he's ever wanted.


A boy walks into a bar. He smiles and girls swoon. It's been like this since he turned twelve, and it'll probably be like this till he breathes his last.

His brother comes in behind him, several paces behind. He walks slower, his shoulders hunched in on himself. He is watching Dean from underneath his lashes, but he looks away when Dean glances over his shoulder and smiles his blindingly smile- teasing inviting. He is asking Sam to come out and play. Sam's unhappy frown declines.

You smile at them, ask what they want to drink. Sam curtly orders a beer, and doesn't really look at you, because every time he does he sees the girl he loved and lost. Dean leans across the bar and flirts a little, and doesn't realize that his interest in you stems from a familiar glint in your eyes.

They always order the same thing, in every bar they've ever been in, but you say nothing. You never do.

Sometimes you are male and sometimes you are female, blonde, brunette, red-head, green eyes and gray and blue and brown. You never look the same. But every time they walk into a bar, you are there, waiting, watching over them. They don't recognize you, but that doesn't matter. You know them.

"So where we headed next, Sammy?" Dean asks after draining half his beer. "The haunting in Pennsylvania, right?"

"The poltergeist in Maryland is closer," Sam says, not looking at him. "And it's a lot more violent."

"Maryland it is," Dean says. He finishes his beer in another long swallow, his throat working and his lips wrapped around the bottle, and he doesn't notice the way Sam watches him. "I'm gonna go play a game or two, alright?"

"Sure," Sam says, looking down at the scarred surface of the bar again. Dean looks at him, longing twisting his face now that Sam can't see it, and one hand lifts a little, like he wants to touch Sam, wants to connect them again. But then his hand drops back to his side, and he turns and walks away.

Sam looks up as soon as Dean moves, and he watches him, watches the way the pool cue slides smoothly through his calloused hand. The longing in his eyes exactly matches that of his brother.

You have seen this dance played out over a hundred nights in a hundred sticky-floored bars. Nothing ever changes. You wonder if it ever will.

But you don't get involved. It's not your place.


It's not like Dean never noticed, or that these feelings are new. Sam is beautiful from any point of view, and Dean has always had an appreciation for beautiful things, whether they are male or female.

It's just that things are easier to rationalize now. He knows it's stupid, knows it's beyond illogical, but the fanciful idea that Dean now has the heart of a gay man beating in his chest somehow makes it more okay to want his own brother.

He's not stupid. He knows that lust, attraction, affection, and love are all the products of chemical reactions and neurons firing in his brain. But the childhood image of the heart being the source of those emotions- it's hard to let go of. And maybe he's just making it easier on himself, maybe he's just trying to excuse the fact that he's a sick fuck, but sometimes it feels like it's not quite his heart that feels these things for Sam, and that makes it okay.

And that's bullshit, of course. If only because no one has ever loved Sam as much as Dean.

Maybe it's not just Dean's new heart that's making him think about things differently. Maybe it's his near-death experience. He could have been gone, and while Sam had been way more upset about that than Dean at the time, it's a sobering thought now. The thought that he would have left Sam alone tightens his throat with pain.

He and Sam are inseparable in their way. Sam has pried them apart once before and it lasted two years, and weeks ago Sam walked away. But Sam always comes back, and Dean has never spent even a moment thinking that they will be separated permanently.

Death would have changed that. And if Dean and Sam find themselves standing a little closer than they did before, if Sam now watches Dean sleep instead of late-night TV when insomnia hits, neither of them talk about it. It's just there.

Dean changed his life around when Sam left, and did so again when Sam came back. Now his old rituals, the ones that kept him alive when he's on his own, and kept him from feeling the pain of being without Sam, are gone and there are new ones in their place. Ones to keep him alive so that he can save Sam, and ones to keep him from losing it when he can't stop feeling Sam's pain.

They are tangled up in each other, have been since John placed an infant Sam in a young Dean's arms and told him to get his brother out of the house. Unlike Sam, Dean never has been able to do anything to pry them apart. He's never wanted to.

That's the problem.


A boy walks into a bar. Three steps behind him is his brother, who doesn't hesitate to meet your eyes with a stare that dares you to try and separate him from Dean.

Change is in the air.

They settle down at the bar, elbow to elbow, heads inclined towards each other as they talk. You bring them their drinks, and only Sam notices that they haven't ordered yet, but he says nothing. You think he might be on the way to figuring you out, but that's alright. You never expected to be able to hide forever from a psychic.

Dean finishes his first beer as fast as he always does, and orders another, the one he'll sip over the course of the evening. Sam looks at him with worried eyes.

"Maybe you shouldn't drink so much," he says.

"Maybe you should worry less," Dean says. "I'm fine. Doc gave me a clean bill of health, didn't she?"

"Yeah, but maybe-"

"Maybe nothing," Dean says firmly. "I'm fine, end of story. Two beers is not enough to put me in a hospital bed, I promise."

"I know," Sam mutters into his own beer. "I just worry."

"Well, don't," Dean says. He claps Sam on the back, but his hand lingers. Sam shivers slightly as Dean's fingers fall away from his skin, but you don't think Dean notices.

"Fine," Sam shoots back, a teasing glare from under his long eyelashes. Dean throws his head back and laughs, and he probably does notice the way that heads swivel at the sound, helplessly caught by his beauty in his moment of joy. You know that Sam is as completely ensnared as anyone else, maybe more so because he has loved his brother all his life. Sam is finally learning what that love means to him, and you want to applaud, cheer, do something, because it's taken him long enough.

But you don't. You get Dean's beer, and you watch Sam watching him drinking it, and you whisper your blessings over them both, just like always.

You can't do much more.


When Dean talks to Sam about Dad, he makes it sound like they hunted together, like they spent the last two years side by side instead of on opposite ends of the country. Sam's resentful enough as it is, even though Dean never really minded. He was okay on his own, and Dad had needed him.

When Sam left, Dad gave up on the pretense of being a real family. Dean ceased to be the eldest son and instead became the soldier. Sam thinks that Dad never tried to be a real father to them, but he'd know the difference if he'd seen Dad after Sam left. Dean doesn't try to disillusion him, because Sam would just get pissed on Dean's behalf instead, and Dean would rather avoid the whole mess.

Dean wasn't lying when he said he'd met Cassie on a case he working with Dad. He just didn't mention that they'd closed the case in three days and that Dean had stuck around after Dad left because he hadn't been able to resist gorgeous, take-no-prisoners Cassie. He'd only been able to leave when he did because Dad had sent him an urgent message about a rapidly escalating murders ghost three states away. He would have come back, though, if things hadn't ended the way they did.

Cassie is, and has been since the moment he met her, the unknown variable in every equation. None of the Dean's rituals apply to her, because the only thing that's predictable about her is the knowledge that he will never be able to predict what she'll do next.

Sam has become a little like that, since college. Dean will think he knows Sam, think he knows how Sam will react, and then Sam does something completely different.

One thing has remained the same, and that is the fact that despite how much Dean loves his brother, no one drives him crazier than Sam. Not even Cassie.

Hadn't occurred to him, huh? Fucker.

Maybe somewhere, in the back of his mind, is the knowledge that Sam is jealous. But he doesn't think about that. He doesn't want to go there.

It's one thing to want your brother. It's a completely different game when your brother wants you back.

So he ignores it. And when he kisses Cassie goodbye, he promises that he'll come back, because the alternative is Sam, and that's a path he never wants to walk.


A boy walks into a bar. You smile at him and he smiles back, but there's a shadow of distance in his eyes, a rueful, "Thanks but no thanks," and you laugh and shake your head.

You wonder if it's because of Sam, or because of Cassie. You think the latter, because Sam isn't with him.

It's too bad. You had such high hopes for them.

Dean orders his beer, drains it. Orders another, and takes it over to the pool table. He's all business tonight, just flirtatious enough to get the attention he needs to win, and totally focused on the game under the layer of good ol' boy fun he projects.

He's so focused, he doesn't even notice when his brother comes in, an hour later. Sam sits at the far end of the bar, away from the pool tables and Dean, but his eyes never leave that corner. He wants more than he knows how to say, you know it. You wonder if this will be the thing that splinters them, or if the right nudge can bring them close again.

You shouldn't interfere. Your job is to watch them, and watch them only. You're not supposed to get involved.

You can't do anything else.

"Here, honey," you say, and set two bottles down in front of Sam. When he looks up in confusion, you nod towards the pool tables. "Why don't you take one over?"

He looks at you for a moment, studying your face. You wonder what he sees there.

"Why?" he asks simply, and you say, "It's what I do." He nods as if this makes complete sense to him, and it probably does. Sam and Dean have their own rituals, their own purpose, their own, "It's what I do." He probably understands better than any other, save his brother.

"Alright," he says finally, and he takes the beers over to the table. Dean looks up and a huge grin splits his face when he sees Sam, the first real smile you've seen from him tonight. Sam smiles back, and you know that you've done the right thing.

You wonder how long it will last.


After leaving Cape Girardeau, Dean develops new rituals to adjust to the presence of Cassie in his life. When he goes into a bar to siphon young drunks out of their money at the pool table, he still flirts- nothing could change that, and besides it's a good way to fit in- but it's never serious, and he never takes anyone up on their offers. He thinks that Cassie probably wouldn't get that pissed at him, since she's adamant that they're not in a real relationship- but he feels taken, feels like somebody's boyfriend, and he doesn't want to betray that. It's too new, too precious, and he still retains the hope that they'll work out, despite everything.

He calls her, at night when they're settled in at a hotel on the way to their newest case. He waits till Sam's asleep, then goes outside and dials the number he knows by heart, and he leans against the wall and lets her voice soak through him like fine wine. When he goes back inside Sam is always awake and watching him across the dark room, but he never says anything and Dean's grateful.

As soon as they finish a case, Dean finds time to send her an email about the job. He's completely honest with her, and the thrill of this is heady because it's never happened before. He's never been able to just lay it out like that, not even with his Dad. It's only been like this with Sam, but that was before Stanford and changes Dean wasn't there for, and so Dean enjoys the luxury of truth with Cassie even as he realizes that he might be driving her away.

Sam never says anything about this either, but Dean can feel him watching when he sits down at the laptop, and he tells himself that he doesn't like it.

He tells himself a lot of things. Denial is practically a trademark of the Winchester family, and Dean is better at it than most. He always knows when he's lying, though, especially when he notices that Cassie's phone calls and emails are getting shorter, and he tries to think that he's regretful instead of relieved.

He is relieved when Cassie chooses a phone call instead of an email message to deliver the death kiss to the nebulous connection they have. If she'd done it through email, not only would it have been more cowardly than he would have believed of her, but he also wouldn't have been able to escape the room and Sam's too-knowing smile.

He sits on the hood of the Impala, staring up at the night sky, and makes all the right noises as he listens to her tearful confession as to why she wants to break up. As she tells him that it's not his fault, she just can't deal with worrying if this is the time he doesn't make it out alive, he wonders if it counts as breaking up when she was so adamant that they were never really together in the first place. When she hesitantly tells him that, well, she thinks there might be someone else, he smiles even though she can't see it and tells her that it's alright, maybe it's for the best, and he can practically hear her sigh of relief after he hangs up the phone.

Sam comes out after him a little while later, and without speaking Dean moves over to make room for him. They sit together in silence for a while, their shoulders just barely touching, before Sam speaks.

"I liked her," he says, and Dean makes a face at him because isn't Sam supposed to be cheering him up right now? Not that he really needs cheering up, but Sam isn't supposed to know that.

"But she wasn't good enough for you," Sam adds, and gives him a peculiar smile before getting up and going back into their room.

Dean sits there for a long time, growing colder in the winter night, staring off into space and thinking about Sam.


A boy walks into a bar. He is alone, his face tight and drawn. He looks neither to the right nor the left, just walks straight to the bar with a short, angry stride.

"One bottle of the strongest stuff you've got," he says. Something is wrong, you know. This is not part of his ritual, the ritual you know perfectly well from eight months of observation. You wonder what happened, because you know something did.

"I'm sorry, sir, but it's against bar policy," you say. Regretfully, because you're sure that he needs this. You don't know what he needs it for, but it is written in frustration across his face. You think it probably has something to do with Sam.

He plants his elbows on the bar top, leans forward till his face is just inches away from yours. To the rest of the bar, the movement probably looks aggressive. You know better. This is Dean's version of begging.

"It's Sam," he says, low-voiced. You're not surprised that Sam has told him about you, but you are surprised he believes it so readily. Then again, you know from those same eight months of observation that there isn't anyone in the world Dean trusts more than Sam.

"Is he hurt?" you ask. No reason to pretend you don't know what he's talking about, after all. The game is up, so to speak.

"Headaches," he says, with a tight, humorless smile. "We're self-medicating."

"Dean," you hear, and you both look up to see Sam standing there. "You got the stuff?"

"Just waiting on our friendly local bartender," Dean says, and flashes you a glance that is as close to pleading as he will ever get.

And you know you shouldn't, but people break rules for these boys every day, and you know that you're no different. "Alright," you say, and hand over a bottle of the good stuff. "On the house."

Sam nods, pale and tight-lipped with pain, and walks off without a word. Dean smiles at you, says, "Thank you, whoever you are," and follows him out.

You watch them leave. You hope that things will work out for them.

But at the moment, you're not holding your breath.


After the nightmares turn into visions, Dean finds himself adding new rituals to his life, to accommodate Sam's new strangeness.

The heavy painkillers live in the pocket of Sam's coat, now, instead of the first aid kit. Dean buys them vodka by the bottle instead of beer, and he gets used to being woken up by Sam's hoarse whimpers of pain when a vision hits in the middle of the night. Sam isn't allowed to drive for three days after a prescient nightmare, just in case a waking vision hits at sixty miles an hour, and if Dean wakes up to see his cell phone and loose change floating over the table next to him, he wakes Sam up with a firm shake of his shoulders and gets ready to duck the punch that comes as Sam is pulled out of a nightmare.

Dean's collected quite a few bruises over the last couple of weeks. Sam is never able to look him in the eye the next morning if that eye is dark and swollen from a bare-knuckled attack.

When Dean is woken up by the loose change pinging off his forehead, he knows that the nightmare must be particularly bad. And Sam, consciously or not, is reaching out to Dean in his own unorthodox way, asking for help when he can't drag himself awake.

Dean irritably bats away the floating coins and moves over to the other bed. Sam isn't thrashing around, but then he never does when he's dreaming. His fear shows in his speeded breathing, in the sweat that Dean can see on his forehead and the exposed skin on his chest, in the way his eyelids are flickering fast behind his eyelids. At least his body is reacting at all- when he's in the grip of a vision, he goes perfectly still, and Dean always worries that this is the time he won't wake up.

He shakes Sam's shoulder, ducks the instinctive punch. Waits till Sam's eyes are actually open, dulled with the edges of his dream but still focusing on Dean.

"Hey," Dean says. "You're awake, okay?"

"Yeah," Sam says, and Dean takes this as his cue to go back to bed. A minute later he's almost asleep again, when he feels the bed depress behind him.

"The hell, Sammy?" he mumbles into his pillow, but he doesn't push him away. Apparently taking that as encouragement, Sam wriggles under the covers and presses up against his back.

"Sorry," he says. "You mind?"

Dean knows how bad Sam's dream can get. And if Sam needs some basic comfort in the middle of the night, well, Dean's not ever gonna say no.

"No," he slurs. "Now shut the fuck up and go to sleep."

Sam isn't offended; Dean can feel his huff of laughter against the back of his neck. He snorts in reply, twists around for a second to get more comfortable, and within seconds, is asleep.

He wakes up six hours later to feel Sam's erection pressed against his ass. He freezes for a second, just long enough to recognize the pattern of Sam's breathing, and knows that he's awake. So this isn't just a random morning wood, this one is-

He blushes fire engine red and scrambles out of bed, making tracks for the safety of the shower. He makes the mistake of glancing over his shoulder just before closing the door, though, and sees Sam looking at him, not embarrassed at all, with a decided heat in his eyes.

He turns the shower all the way to cold.


A boy walks into a bar. His brother follows him closely, crowding him, almost touching. Sexual tension sparks between them. You smile and shake your head and eavesdrop shamelessly.

"Dean, when are we going to talk about this?"

"I dunno, how does never sound to you?"

After Dean discovered you, you should have given up your post to someone else. You aren't the only one capable of looking out for them, after all. You aren't supposed to get involved, and there's no way to avoid that if they know you're watching.

But you are involved, and so you just can't make yourself walk away.

"Oh, come on, Dean," Sam says, bumping against him with a nudge too precisely placed to be accidental. Dean stumbles, then turns his head back just far enough to glare at Sam before stomping off to an empty corner table.

"Trouble?" you enquire, setting down a beer in front of him. Usually he drinks to numb his headaches, but tonight it looks like he has a different sort of headache.

"Always," he says with a heavy sigh. He picks up the bottle, but he seems more interested in staring contemplatively into the glass than actually drinking any of it.

You wait.

"I don't know what you are," he says conversationally. "Not human, I'm sure. You seem to be looking out for us, and I'm grateful." He looks up at you. "Do your kind fall in love?"

"Yes," you say. It is the truth. Even the guardians can't help but get involved.

"Have you ever fallen in love?"

This is a harder question. "Yes," you say finally. "Yes, I believe I have."

He nods sharply. "What do you do when the other person doesn't want to admit it?"

"That's assuming the other person loves you in return," you say gently. Though you know that it will never be true for Sam Winchester.

He glances over at Dean, and a smile curves his lips, almost involuntarily, it seems. "That's not a problem," he says softly, then turns back. "I know he does. I know. I just don't know why he won't admit it."

You consider. You think you have the answer, but should you give it to him? Or is it something he needs to figure out on his own?

Judging by the desperate hope in Sam's expression as he looks at you, he's not any close to figuring it out. And judging by the angry look Dean is giving the tabletop, things aren't going to be easy for the Winchesters until he does.

You make up your mind.

"He's never been easy with his emotions," you say carefully. Sam nods, a rueful smile twisting his pretty mouth.

"No kidding."

"He thinks everyone will leave him," you say. Sam's confusion doesn't lift. "Prove to him you won't."

Comprehension dawns. "Thank you," he tells you, and slaps down a few bills for the beer that he drains in a few swallows. Then, squaring his shoulders, he slides off the barstool and crosses the distance between him and his brother in a few determined strides.

You watch as Sam grabs Dean by the shoulder and hauls him out of his seat. You can't hear what Dean says, but his expression is angry enough that you can guess. Sam ignores him, takes him by the wrist and drags him out of the bar.

You watch them leave and smile.


When Sam slams Dean back against the brick wall of the alley, Dean feels a sharp arrow of pain and stars burst over his vision, but he doesn't care. Because Sam follows him, long body pressed against his, and Sam's mouth is on his, and it's so fucking perfect that nothing else matters.

Eventually, though, they have to come up for air, and when they do, Dean's brain returns to what passes for functionality. "What the hell, Sam?" he asks. "What brought this on?"

He must realize that Dean isn't going to protest, because a beautiful smile breaks across his gorgeous face. "I'm proving it," he says, leaning in to kiss you again. Dean stops him with a hand on his chest.

"Proving what?" he demands. He doesn't want to stop Sam. He just wants to understand.

"I'm not going to leave," he says.

Sam couldn't have picked a more surprising sentence if he'd tried. "What?" Dean demands, his eyes going wide. "What did you say?"

"I'm not going to leave," Sam repeats. He leans in again, kissing close, but instead he just presses his forehead against Dean's. "I know I did before, but things are different now, Dean."

"Again I say, what brought this on?" Dean asks. He has to. Because he wants to believe Sam, but he distrusts anything that's handed to him on a silver platter. Moreso when he's wanted it for very long.

Sam shakes his head. "Nothing," he says, and smiles, showing his dimples. They're even more dizzying from up close. "Maybe a little help from our friendly local bartender."

Ah. Dean briefly toys with the idea that the bartender-person enchanted him, but discards it. If the bartender-person had it in for them, she/he would have struck a lot sooner and it probably would have been a lot more bloody. And Dean can be clueless sometimes, but he knows Sam wants this. Sam's made that more or less clear enough.

"Alright," he says, letting his body relax against his brother's. He smiles, and manages not to be blinded by the smile Sam gives him in return. "I believe you."

Sam rewards him with a kiss- hard and deep, and teeth and tongue and possession. Dean gives himself up to it happily, because this is, after all, exactly what he has wanted, for as long as he can remember. It would be stupid to hesitate now that he finally has it literally within his reach- and in the end, it comes down to the fact that he trusts Sam. If Sam says that he's not going to leave, then Dean will believe him.

"We've got to get back to the hotel," he says, when they come up for air. "Now."

"Why?" Sam asks, his lips ghosting along Dean's neck. "I know you've never balked at back-alley sex before."

Dean reaches up, grabs Sam's jaw and tilts his head till Sam is looking into his eyes. "This is different," he says, and he sees by the wondering look in Sam's eyes that he understands.

"I know," Sam whispers.

The drive back to the hotel is the fastest Dean has ever made in his life. He knows what is waiting for him. He will finally be able to see that long body he has wanted for so long, finally be able to touch and taste his soft skin, marked with scars and calluses that declare who he is, who he belongs to. He will finally be able to own Sam completely, and thrills in the knowledge that Sam will own him just as much.

But the best part, oh the best part is that he knows, from Sam's soft smile and the shine in his eyes, that he will have this forever. He will go back to their room and lay Sam down on the cheap bed and do things to him that he has wanted for as long as he can remember, but this won't be the only time. It will happen tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after.

This will be part of his ritual for the rest of his life, and that is the best thing that Dean can ever imagine.


A boy walks into a bar. His brother walks beside him, their shoulders touching, smiling at one another. Sam bumps Dean with his shoulders, and Dean leans into him a little before they sit down at the bar.

"Two beers," Sam says, good cheer pouring off him in waves. There's not a trace of tension, upset, or general angst to be found anywhere on his person, and Dean, though not quite so perky, definitely looks a little less intense than usual. You smile.

"Coming right up," you say, and plunk the bottles down in front of them. Dean grins at you as he drains his, but his body is leaning towards Sam. You suspect that he's not entirely aware that they're touching, but by the glint in Sam's eye, it's deliberate on the part of at least one of the Winchesters.

A pretty blonde girl approaches, leans against the bar next to Dean. Her body is angled to show her ample cleavage to best advantage. Neither brother notices.

"Hey, stranger," she says with a flirtatious smile. "I haven't seen you around before."

The girl must be blind, you decide. Any fool could see that he belonged to the man beside him.

"Just passin' through," Dean say, friendly but distant. She leans closer, smiling like a predator, completely mistaking the signs. Foolish, foolish girl.

"Need someone to show you the sights?" she asks.

Dean smiles ruefully at Sam. "Sorry, darlin'," he says. "But I come as a package deal." He leans back against Sam to make his meaning completely clear. She flushes an unattractive shade of red.

"Oh!" she says, and makes her escape, probably hoping to keep from making an idiot of herself. Too late, you think unkindly.

"Some people just never learn," Sam says. Smug is surprisingly attractive on him. Dean tosses a careless grin over his shoulder at Sam, and then turns and looks at you again, oddly intense.

"What time do you get off?" he asks, perfectly casually. Flirting, like you're actually the attractive blonde bartender you're pretending to be.

"As soon as you leave," you say. Dean smiles like it's Christmas morning, like this was exactly what he was hoping you'd say.

Sam's smile matches his brother's. "Then we'll see you around back," Sam says, and the two of them finish their beers and clunk them down onto the bar top in perfect unison. They bump shoulders once more, share a smile, and leave the bar. All eyes follow their departure, yours included.

You disappear and good-natured and pretty Tessa Martin returns to her place behind the bar, none the wiser to her brief absence. You keep her face and form, however, as you reappear outside the side door and walk around the corner into the alley where Sam and Dean are waiting.

You think you know what's going on. You don't. For the first time in almost a millennia, you are completely surprised- and by humans, at that.

As you approach, they smile at you, and the light is poor, so you don't read the intent in their eyes. They don't say anything, just grab your hands and draw you closer, close enough to kill.

Close enough to kiss.

Dean is the first one to lay his lips against yours, chastely, and then he draws back and Sam replaces him, kissing you just as gently. Despite the sparks in their eyes, there is no heat in the kiss, no sex- just a soft touch that says so many, many things that humans have no language to express.

Most humans, however, aren't wise enough to understand this, and will talk and talk, spilling endless words in an attempt to describe what they can't. The Winchester brothers know that some things are beyond the human tongue- but you are slowly learning that perhaps, there is nothing beyond the human heart.

"We just wanted to thank you," says Sam, who is better with words. But it is Dean who looks at you, almost painfully earnest, and says, "Can we see you? Just once?"

You stand still for a long moment, barely breathing. This… this is such a bad idea. Even after all you have done for them, this is worse.

You know that you can't say no.

"Alright," you say, and step back. "This once."

And then you shed your human illusion, and stand there in your full glory. They blink and close their eyes, blinded, but the image lingers on the inside of their eyelids. They'll be seeing you for days.

"You're welcome," you tell them. And then you walk away.

You smile to yourself, secretively. Watching over them has been a gift, knowing them moreso. You won't forget them soon, if ever.

They are like two stars, glowing together against the dark night sky. They will be the guiding light for so many lost souls, crying out for aid. You will be able to see them from the sky, from the stars, from your home. You will have to watch them from afar, because it is no longer your duty to keep them safe.

But you'll be seeing them again. Because even though it is no longer your duty, there is no force strong enough to keep you from watching over them.

Sam asked you once, have you ever been in love? What he should have asked was, With who?