When he wakes up, stomach growling and mouth tasting incredibly vile, the apartment is empty. He has no idea what time it is, other than clearly time to rejoin the land of the living.

The apartment is cold, but not as bad as it could be, given that there's a blustery February wind howling outside, tossing flakes of snow in every direction. He scurries into the bathroom, snagging his duffel on the way, and flips the light. He has to squint because the light bulb is bare and harsh, but from what he can see in the mirror, Jo took good care of him. The cuts are dry and dark, healing instead of still oozing. As long as he's gentle with the soap and judicious with the hot water, they should keep knitting instead of opening back up.

He brushes his teeth, bending far down to spit into Jo's low little seashell-shaped sink and nearly cracking his head on the medicine cabinet when he straightens back up. There's a clean towel folded on top of the commode; he uses the toilet and hops right into the shower. It sputters for a moment before coming on strongly. The water is scalding but loses heat steadily after the first two minutes or so. The bar of soap is nearly gone, but its fragrance of flowers is still strong; same with the bottles of shampoo and conditioner he finds perched in the lime-crusted shower caddy.

All of these girl-scents are overwhelming him, so he scrubs up quickly and gets out of the shower as soon as he can. He stays in the bathroom to keep warm while he towels his hair and body dry, pulls on underwear and a clean pair of jeans, and then leaves with the duffel in his hand. He dumps it on the couch, folds up the blanket, and opens up the coffee-table trunk. He's unpacking Jo's weapons from his bag and putting them back into place when his stomach growls again. He finishes up quickly and turns to the little nook that makes up the kitchen.

There's a pre-packaged calzone sitting in the microwave, looking like a mini-football and about as appetizing, but he's not going to turn his nose up at what he's offered. He scarfs it down as quickly as he can, given that its shell has gone pretty tough, and opens the fridge to find anything else edible.

A hand curls over his on the refrigerator handle, making him jump. "She sent me up to check on you," Rob says.

"I'm fine," Sam snaps. He doesn't know what to make of this guy, but something is telling him not to trust him. "Do you always do what Jo tells you?"

Rob just laughs. "Jealous?" he taunts, and Sam's jaw clenches. "She's a pretty girl with a heavy heart, and there's nothing wrong with her taking whatever comfort I offer."

"She's married!" Sam hisses.

"What's Sean's is mine. You know all about sharing with your brother, don't you, Saintly? Now get over there."


"Go stand in the light; I need to look you over."

"I said I'm fine."

"And I'm just looking to verify that so I can tell Jo what she wants to hear."

Sam stays stubbornly rooted to the spot. "Jo wouldn't cheat on her husband."

Rob's hand shoots out, quick as a snake, and drags him into the light. "Oh, you are jealous. No need, Saintly. She just misses him and I'm all she's got left. But you - I've heard all about you." Rob's fingers are warm and thick, prodding gently at his skin, and Sam looks down at his own chest, lit up and covered in goosebumps, and realizes he never put a shirt on after his shower. "Word is, you could charm the pants off anybody you wanted, and I've seen enough to know people are right about that, but they say you don't because you don't want anymore, not after what happened to your girlfriend." Sam feels himself rebelling, starting to protest when he hears Rob so casually dismiss Jess, but those heavy fingers flatten against his sternum and push firmly until his back is against the wall, and those blue eyes have gone hot and mesmerizing. "But I think it's simpler than that - you just don't know who you want, so you haven't made a move."

That hand slides down and forms a warm cup over the jut of his left hip. "Do you, Saintly?" Rob asks, still sounding amused, and before Sam can process anything that's happening, Rob's mouth, hot and wet and wide, is on his.

Sam struggles and bucks his hips away from the wall, attempting to shake free, but Rob just shifts to press Sam back with his body, pinning his wrists against the wall with his hands, and not letting up at all. The kiss goes on and on, and Sam is getting lightheaded. He can feel fingers stroking his hips, dipping just below the waistband of his jeans, and he vaguely registers that that must mean that his own arms and hands are free. That is important information to have, he's sure, but he can't really remember why.

Rob is licking at his mouth, at his cheeks, everywhere, and Sam tries to keep his grip on Rob's shirt so that he doesn't fall; his knees are refusing to lock. Rob's voracious mouth is on his neck, warm, so warm in this cold room and he really should have put a shirt on at some point, or maybe he should just get back under the blanket, and Rob must have the same idea, because he's undoing Sam's pants like it's inevitable, not even a question, and Sam's head lolls when Rob's hot hand slips inside, burrowing past his underwear to find his cock. The heat passes from Rob's hand to Sam's dick, Sam feeling the flood of blood rushing to fill him, and he hears Rob saying something in a pleased tone, feels the pleasure of Rob's unhesitating grip and clever fingers, the wet suction of a grinning mouth against his neck, and the exhilaration of all thought except release being wiped from his mind.

He comes back to himself, to the real world, when he registers that he's shivering, barefooted and bare-chested, trembling against the wall. He pushes away from the wall, does up his jeans, and curls back up on the couch, spreading the blanket clumsily over himself. He looks around for some sign that he imagined the whole encounter, but his head is too heavy to hold up for very long, and he falls asleep within minutes.

Sam spends his days split into two different people, neither part a comfortable fit. With Jo, it's researching what he can on her second-hand desktop with dial-up modem, sharing meals and chores, staying in an apartment crowded with perfume and rituals, and her clear eyes watching him, weighing his fitness for what lies ahead. All of that disappears when Jo is at work behind the bar and Rob comes up to the apartment, a heavy tread on creaky stairs that Jo has to hear, opens the door, draws near, and Sam's mind goes hazy.

There's a loose cloud of pleasure around everything he does, the sweet slide of going to his knees and pulling Rob's jeans open, dragging the zipper down tooth by tooth and hearing each click; the way his thighs go numb from being locked into position as he bobs his head, throat opening with each pass; the euphoria of eliciting those groans and grunts from Rob's pale pink mouth. Sam rises to his feet and opens his mouth for Rob's heavy kiss.

When they break apart, the world stops shimmering and starts to take on a more definitive shape. "What are we -" he asks, his heart racing in his chest, his breath coming in short little bursts.

"You'll get your brother back," Rob promises, answering a different question entirely.

Sam can hear Rob coming up the stairs and he sees him walk into Jo's apartment like it's his. "The vernal equinox is in three weeks," Sam says, pushing his chair back from the kitchen table and getting to his feet as Rob sits. He can feel his face go red with anger. "I need to know how we're getting Dean back."

Rob looks up at him for a long moment, eyes staying on him even when the front door opens and Jo walks in, juggling three bags of groceries. "Do you trust me?" he asks.

"No," Sam says. It's the truth. He glances sidelong at Jo, who's putting the food away; his view of her face is blocked by one of the cabinet doors, but he knows from the way she stays flatfooted, doesn't get up on her tiptoes, that her movements are pretty much automatic and that she's thinking more about what she's hearing than what she's doing.

"All the research I've done suggests that Midsummer is the time when the barrier between the worlds is thinnest. If we make our move on the equinox instead, we could fail and not get another chance."

Sam's eyes narrow. "Why do you think we'll fail? What don't you know?"

"We should wait until Midsummer." Rob gets up, gets himself a beer from the fridge, and cracks one open for Jo while he's at it. They clink bottles briefly, unthinkingly, and it sets Sam's teeth on edge. He's ready to start screaming when Rob continues, "And that friend of yours, what's her name, said that Dean was just sleeping, right, not being hurt. He won't mind the wait."

Dean might not, but every day without his brother is another lash from the whip. He's clinging to what he knows with bloody and slipping fingertips. He shakes his head, still arguing, though mutely, because words are failing him now.

Rob's throat is long and pale when he drains his beer. Jo hops up and perches on the one square foot of counter space in the kitchen. "Well, what do your visions tell you? Anything saying vernal equinox or summer solstice?" she asks, her voice carefully reasonable, and Sam hates her for a moment for taking Rob's side, for letting Dean stay in this new, unbearable coma.

But Rob's eyes are trained on him like twin blue lasers and Rob's gone motionless and somehow looming in that moment. For once, his expression is easy to read, even if not to decipher; Sam sees a mixture of avarice and calculation and puzzlement on his face. It's setting off all sorts of warning bells in his head, but there is none of Gordon's hatred and fear in it, so he stifles his alarm - his reactions are all fucked when it comes to Rob - and tries to answer on Jo's question.

Try as he might, though, he cannot think of the answer. He racks his brains and finally looks up at her, posed like a stone angel, and says slowly, "I don't think I've had one - a vision - since Dean killed the Yellow-Eyed Demon." She takes a long, slow sip of her beer. "But that makes sense, doesn't it?" he asks. "I mean, he gave 'em to me, so I guess they stopped when he died."

Jo shrugs. "I'm not exactly an expert on visions, Sam. Maybe you should talk to somebody who is."

She means Missouri, even though she's never met the woman or heard her full name. Lost as he is, Sam can still recognize a good idea. As soon as he's got the place to himself - as soon as he can escape Jo's quiet persistence and Rob's intent gaze - he'll make the call.

The moment his chance comes, he seizes it, pressing send on his cell phone as soon as Missouri's name pops up on the screen. "Missouri!" he says as soon as the line is picked up.

He only hears the hesitation because he was listening for it. "Sam, I'm glad you've called, sugar," she says, her voice, as ever, high and sweet, but he's too keyed up to be soothed even a little bit.

"Why? What's going on?"

"I wanted to try - yes, there he is. You remember last time we spoke, I could sense Dean just by hearing your voice?"


"I wanted to try to see him again, make sure I didn't tell you wrong, but I couldn't locate that boy for the life of me, but now that I can hear you, I can see him, clear as day."

"How - how is he?"

"He looks just fine, baby," she says. "Sleeping. The sunlight is warm on his face and there are flowers everywhere, heaped up all around him." She continues and he closes his eyes, trying to get the image into his own mind.

All he can see are funereal, nightmare images of Dean crushed under the weight of flowers, the blossoms making a coffin of sorts as he's lowered into the ground, the sun shining brightly as he sinks into the cold earth. "He's really okay?"

Missouri doesn't sigh or get impatient with him. She just says "yes" over and over, a litany of affirmation, and he lets each repetition push away a piece of that image.

When he's finally calm, he says, "Missouri. I have a question. About visions."

She sounds dubious but willing to listen. "Sure, sugar. I'll do my best."

"The Yell - the Demon that you sensed in our house in Lawrence - I mean, the first time, after my dad needed to know what happened to my mom. That Demon said he'd given me the visions. And I haven't had even a single one since the Demon was killed, and . . . I don't know, I just wanted to make sure that made sense?"

She sucks in a breath. "No," she says, firm as he's ever heard her. "Visions are powerful creations. And you know gifts don't go away once the giver's gone. That kind of energy doesn't die out; it can get channeled differently, maybe, or passed along. But that power remains." She pauses, and he can sense her reluctance to continue.

"What? Tell me."

"It's too powerful an ability to be given, even by something like the Demon I sensed in your house. That Demon lied to you, Sam; he didn't give you anything, and he for sure couldn't have taken it away."

"Then where did the visions go?" he asks, frustrated. She says something in response, but he's stopped hearing her, because every part of his subconscious has reared up to shout the ugly truth at him. He knows where his visions went. It's just that he can see no way to fix it.

He can't quite work up the nerve to confirm what his gut is already telling him must be true about how he slipped the noose of his visions, and if Rob drops in more often, uses those hands and mouth to strip Sam clean and broken, then it's no more than he deserves.

It feels like he keeps coming to that same conclusion, only to have his thought processes interrupted by Rob's appearances. Rob's taking the stairs two at a time today, quick rather than deliberate, laughing when he opens the door.

"Breakthrough, Saintly," he croons as his hand comes up, holding Sam's skull tenderly, finger stroking lightly at the back of his neck. "I'm getting awfully close." His mouth is pink and pretty, the color surprising against his pale skin, the green cast of his jaw. His mouth is hot and inviting, skillful tongue sweeping everywhere, and Sam's head falls back automatically, welcoming him, opening his mouth for plundering.

Rob's hand is twisting in his hair, not painful, just a tease, a hint of playfulness, and Sam's arms come up to lock around his neck, dimly but unmistakably recognizing his own surrender as the greatest self-indulgence he's ever committed.

"You were right," Sam tells Rob while he watches the water boil for pasta. Jo buys ingredients instead of frozen dinners now; Sam's still under house arrest after Henrickson made a surprise second visit to the bar. "About waiting for Midsummer, I mean." He'd agonized over Missouri's words, pulled them apart and tried to make them fit in some other way, but what she'd described had been unmistakably summer, Dean with summer flowers and summer sunshine poured over him, still lost in that silent slumber.

Rob lifts one eyebrow at him. "Starting to trust me?"

Sam shakes his head stubbornly, turning his back to pour the spaghetti into the bubbling water.

Rob's quiet but Sam pretends to be absorbed in stirring the pasta. "Do you at least believe we want the same thing?" Rob's voice is quiet and sincere and Sam is pathetically grateful that they're not close enough to touch; his mind is still his own.

He pivots sharply and Rob spreads his hands as if to say you got me, but Sam's looking past the gestures and the expression on Rob's face, trying to find some kernel of truth somewhere in the man in front of him. "Not exactly, but I think we're in the same ballpark," he concedes.

He's surprised when what looks very much like hurt flashes across Rob's face. "Will you believe me when I promise you something?" Rob doesn't wait for any acknowledgment before barreling on. "I promise on anything you like - on Joanna's life - that I'll do everything in my power to get you to your brother, and to get you both out of the fae's realm."

Sam scrambles to press his unexpected advantage. "I'll hold you to that," he says curtly, turning back to the stove.

Rob's hand steals up his shirt and pulls him back into the heat of Rob's warm body. "I promise, I promise," Rob says as his heavy mouth works along the column of Sam's neck.

Sam's fingering the marks Rob left on his throat in front of the bathroom mirror, watching stray droplets of water left over from his shower trickle past them, make them shine and glitter like bruises never should, when he thinks that what he really needs is to know more about Rob.

He boots up Jo's cranky computer, waiting for the homepage to load. He searches for "Sean Connor" - it hadn't hit him until now that Sean's mother must have been either oblivious or a huge fan - and narrows the search geographically. Once he finds the right Sean Connor, he clicks the link to the New York Times article on the hostage situation at Red Apple Bank. Sean gets the same amount of space as all of the other victims, only a few short lines: Sean Connor, 31, owner of Hell's Kitchen bar Mary Kelly's, was the first to be gunned down. Connor leaves behind a wife, Joanna Connor; his mother, Mary Kelly Connor, died a few hours after her son, of an apparent heart attack.

The bar wasn't named for a victim of Jack the Ripper, Sam notes absently. He clicks back to the page of search results and clicks on article after article, trying to find one that mentions the guy who claimed to be the next best thing Sean had to a brother. Finally, one appears, a long, two-column write-up in a tiny free newspaper that focuses on the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood. The accompanying photograph shows Sean's coffin on the strong shoulders of the pallbearers; Sam squints and enlarges the picture, but he can't be sure if that is Rob at the back left. The article details the widow Mary Kelly's determination to turn the bar she'd inherited from her husband into a profitable enterprise and how eagerly Sean followed in her footsteps. Jo's not really part of the story, and as he skims he nearly skips over just what he's looking for. The second column is full of quotes from one Rex Robson, son of the twin sister of Sean's mother, who describes himself as Sean's "big brother" and rhapsodizes about Sean's love of the neighborhood and plans for the future.

Now that he's got a full name for Rob, he plugs it into the search engine. Even using every trick he ever developed in probing for anything shady, Rob comes up with no red flags. Just an ordinary, rather mediocre progress through the public school system, no college degree, and a few years of minor-league baseball under his belt. The pictures confirm it's him, but Sam sits back in frustration, knowing there has to be more to the story.

Rob has him flat on his back on Jo's lumpy couch, spread out over the towel that's still damp from his morning shower, laid out like a feast. The glittering blue of Rob's gaze is too much to take, so Sam closes his eyes, but that only seems to intensify the sensation of his nipples being pinched and licked, his hips smoothed and caressed, his cock stroked and savored. He can feel himself getting heavy, limbs going lax, and he doesn't even think of resisting when Rob pulls him up, sweeps a thumb across the jut of his cheekbone, and gets him into position.

Rob's cock is long, somehow completely foreign and yet familiar, like a weapon seen but not yet wielded. It's heavy in Sam's mouth, weighing down his jaw like a rock, constricting his throat like poison. He will ache after this, will realize anew that all this is real from the soreness, and he opens his mouth willingly, lavishing saliva and suction and attention on it, hearing with satisfaction the noises of pleasure that Rob makes.

When Rob pulls himself free, cutting off the movements that have become rhythmic, have nearly become automatic, Sam shakes the hair out of his eyes and blinks dazedly up at Rob. Strong hands at his waist coax him into turning over, rewarding him for prompt obedience with a lingering caress of his side and a few moments' tender consideration for his dick. He's pulled easily up to his hands and knees and he trembles as air hits all the saliva-slick patches of his skin, as he waits blindly for Rob to show him how to move. There's a cold wetness being pushed between his legs; his back bows sharply, immediately, and sounds start tumbling out of his throat. Behind the coldness is a hot spear that breaches him, and he realizes it's Rob's finger only when he feels strong teeth surrounding his shoulder. He concentrates and spreads his legs a little wider, as far as the couch will allow. He breathes heavily and waits for more.

Rob pushes in slowly, and Sam feels every last inch of the agonizing slide in and the excruciating retreat. He can't seem to catch up and make time stand still, so there's no chance of adjusting before the position changes; he shudders and arches his back, seeking other contact. Rob's hand finds his dick, that perfect sly grip that only gets better with friction, and Sam can hear himself mewling, whimpering, but can't bring himself to stop. Everything is heat and fullness and a beautiful burn and in that last, long moment he believes every word that Rob has ever said to him.

The only rest he's getting is what he finds with Rob next to him, draped over him, touching him and clouding his mind. The rest of the time, he can't escape the bitter knowledge of his own folly, or the even worse realization that he still sees no other alternative for what he did.

Jo's started leaving a bottle of aspirin by the coffeemaker in the mornings and biting her lip anxiously at night before she heads off to her bed, leaving him alone. He can see for himself that he looks like shit, eyes ringed with dark circles, an unhealthy look of not enough - or any - fresh air hanging over him.

It's not like he really believes that confession is good for the soul. Not after everything he's seen, every secret he's had to keep, and Dean's utter lack of faith in anything except family. But he does believe in punishment, in abasement as a way to forge a new beginning and he smiles to himself as he dials Bobby's number.

"Singer Salvage," Bobby says into the phone when he picks up after a dozen rings. His voice is tired and raspy.

"Did Dean get my visions?" There's no point beating about the bush, not with Bobby, not with the person Dean trusted with his pain.

Bobby grunts, a sound of surprise rather than affirmation or negation.

"I know you promised him you wouldn't say anything. But you can tell me yes or no. When I did that spell to unite our souls and give half to Dean and half to me, it backfired, right? Because even after his year was up and the spell was supposed to reverse itself, it didn't, not completely, right? So he got stuck with my visions." He swallows, hard. "How could he keep it from me all that time? I know what those headaches were like." He shakes his head in frustration. "So he got that piece of my soul along with all of his own back, and, what? I'm walking around with not quite a complete soul?"

"You got some of his to keep," Bobby says, voice rich with anger. "You a better hunter since you broke your brother's crossroads deal, Sam? Dean said something about it, he was so proud of you, the way you'd stepped up and become a world-class hunter. Wasn't till he said it out loud that he realized that you'd kept that part of him that seemed like it was born to live this life. Made me swear not to give you a piece of my mind."

That's why. That's why he could take the kill-shots, why the Impala seemed to fit him better, why Dean had been so weary and aching and hurt; he'd taken away something that Dean needed to live, swapped it for something he would gladly have been rid of, breaking Dean's hellish bargain by making another that hurt Dean just the same. "I didn't know what else to do, Bobby," he pleads.

"Dean asked you not to do anything," Bobby says, implacable. "The minute I suspected you were attempting a spell that dangerous, I tried to stop you. You drugged us, Sam! And don't tell me there wasn't another way!"

"Was - was there?" He holds his breath even though what he really wants is to plug his ears.

"I'd been doing research too. I'd found something that would've put Dean out of that demon bitch's way long enough to invalidate the contract."

"No." The denial is instinctive.


"Bobby -" Sam says, begging for mercy. "Please help me get him back. I'll figure out something to make things right, I swear, but I need him back first."

There is only a long silence on the other end. Then he hears Bobby ask, "Sammy, you okay?"

He can't choke back his sob in time. "Come on now, son," Bobby says. "You ain't in no condition to be taking on any fae like that."

"I need him," he says. "And I've been doing the best I can with what I've got. All I know is that we're going after the fae at Midsummer, and that Dean's in some kind of deep sleep or hibernation or something and he's not hurt or being hurt."

"Who's we?"

"This guy Rob, some kind of expert on fae; Jo said he was the one to talk to."

"Never heard of him. But I've been reading up too. Went through all my books again, started translating them myself in case the English versions missed anything."


"Nothing yet, but I got a stack taller'n you still to get through."

"Bobby, thank -"

"That boy is like my own," Bobby interrupts before hanging up the phone, and Sam recognizes the love and justice wrapped up in that one little statement and smiles again as he clicks his phone shut.

He cuts Jo's hair, at her request, while she sits in a chair near the meager row of three-quarter-sized appliances that pass for a kitchen; New York apartments were apparently designed by the same people who'd fashioned tins for sardines. Her hair is light like fluff, silky when he catches hold of a strand and rubs it between his fingers.

"I'm not tender-headed, Sam," she laughs when he draws the comb carefully and gently through her locks. "You think my mom went this soft on me?" And no, he can't imagine that Ellen would have; it's hard to picture Ellen with a little curly-haired girl. "Five quick swipes with the brush, bristles digging into my head, and a smack on the bottom with the back if she thought I'd been fidgety," Jo says matter-of-factly.

She sounds happier than she has in a long time, even before he invaded her life and set up camp on her couch. Maybe this is what she sounded like when she was talking to Sean and he could answer her with words and touches; maybe this is how she sounded before she had to burn his body.

Memory might be sweet, but he's not Ellen, bustling about with a million things to do; he's got nothing but time, and he can certainly lavish some of it on her. So he keeps going with the wet tortoiseshell comb, watching the gold in it and the gold of her damp hair wink at him with each careful pass. "This is how she did it on days we'd all get dressed up and go somewhere," she says, reminiscing, and he squeezes her shoulder before dropping the comb on the kitchen table and reaching for the scissors.

"Tell me something?"

"Hmmm?" Her eyes are closed now like she wanted to give herself over to the pleasure of the comb running through her hair and scraping gently across her scalp; he can see the dark spikes of her eyelashes down against her cheeks.

"What makes Rob an expert on fae?" He doesn't quite want to broach the subject of her anger when he'd first mentioned what had snatched Dean, but that question's there too, if she chooses to pick it up. He cuts one curl free.

She shifts her weight a bit, trying to get comfortable with staying in the same position for so long, but there's not enough padding on her or the chair to make that really feasible. The newspaper on the floor crinkles with her movements. "Sean told me that Rob's mom used to tell them both stories about the fae, long, detailed stories about their beauty and their danger and the glamour, all of that. He could never remember any of them to tell me, but he'd always talk about that time with a smile on his face. I don't think he ever got over her death."

He turns her head to a different angle, trying to catch the best of the light, and starts snipping at the ends of her hair again.

Her eyes are still closed. "Rob listened to those stories too, only he pretty much memorized them. He told me a couple once. I don't remember them now, but I heard enough to jibe with the lore that was out there. Those stories were true."

"So, what?" Sam asks, carefully combing the strands out again; they keep stubbornly curling back up. "You think Rob's mom was a hunter?" He's never heard of a hunter with the last name Robson or Kelly, but then again, most hunters stick to what they know and kill, like Gordon, like Elkins; the Winchesters got dismissed as jacks-of-all-trades until people took a closer look at their track record.

"Could be," Jo says. "Maybe it was her, maybe it was her husband, maybe her parents. I never got to meet her." She shakes her hand, where a piece of hair has landed. "I know for a fact that he didn't get over her death either." She pauses, hesitates a little before saying, "He's been really good to me, Sam."

"I know," he says, surprising himself. He's never seen her go all . . . cloudy and dazed, helpless and boneless around the guy; Jo might be made of sterner stuff than he is.

Rob comes through the door before Sam can say any more, a wide and genuine smile forming on his face when he sees what they're up to.

"Well?" Jo asks; she'd refused to do this in front of her bedroom mirror.

Rob cups her chin with kind fingers and turns her head this way and that. "You look beautiful, Joanna," Rob says, completely straightforward, and Jo beams up at him and leans back to let Sam finish the job.

Rob's been snappish all day, a far cry from his usual cooler-than-thou demeanor, and Sam desperately, angrily wishes that Rob would just touch him and set his mind free. But Rob's keeping his hands to himself, and Sam can't take another minute of this pissiness.

He pretty much lunges forward, achieving direct contact at last, and startles back immediately. Rob's skin is hot; usually he's warm - Sam can't pinpoint much in his memories, but he does remember, vaguely, dopily, that lulling warm lassitude that Rob's touch brings to his mind and body - but now he's running a few degrees even above that. He wonders if Rob is sick, if all of his irritability is a sign of shame that his body can succumb like anyone else's, but Rob looks just the same. Better than ever, actually, his eyes glittering and so blue it almost hurts to look at them, and his pale, perfect face set off by black hair tousled by Sam's embrace. Rob's not looking flushed or hectic, just keyed up and anxious, and Sam gets a glimpse of Rob's big, square, silver watch and realizes what day it is. The vernal equinox is here, and Rob's wondering whether he made the right call.

The realization that saving Dean is this important to Rob, enough for him to get this worked up, takes Sam by surprise but doesn't budge him an inch off his chosen course. He opens the window, letting the first day of spring's chilly air in, and presses forward to lose himself in Rob's hot, smooth skin. Rob responds, finally, but Sam comes without that sweet haze dimming his emotions; he's fucked out and blissed out and sore but the world stays sharp around him.

"We're going to do this spaghetti method, 'cause all I've got is a bunch of little fragments that don't add up to much," Bobby says, voice sliding in and out as the phone he must have balanced on his shoulder gets jostled around while he picks up one set of notes after another.

Bobby was right about loving Dean, if he's hung on to that pet phrase. Sam can remember the day the joke was born.

They'd been at Bobby's on a hot summer afternoon, trying to figure out what could have sucked the intestines out of three white businessmen over in Charles Mix County. Dean had been pushing for some kind of creature living in Lake Andes, and Bobby had gone so far as to allow that there was always that possibility, while Sam, irritable from the heat and the way his hair curled uncomfortably high in it, had scoffed and pointed out that there had been not a drop of water anywhere near the bodies.

"This's the spaghetti method, Sammy," Dean had said, smiling broadly, conspiratorially, at Bobby, who'd taken a huge package of ground chuck out of the fridge and tossed it on the counter. "Throw it all against the wall and see what sticks."

"Quit grinnin' at me like you're waitin' for me to drop my panties," Bobby had said, clearly waiting for Dean to get his lazy ass up from the kitchen table and start helping out with making hamburger patties. Sam had kept shuffling the papers in front of him, sure the solution was in there somewhere.

He had looked up to see that Dean couldn't decide whether to respond by laughing or making a face and so ended up choking on his ice water, and Bobby had clapped a hand to Dean's back as if to smack the choke right out of him, but ended up rubbing warm, paternal circles over Dean's shoulder blade. "You idjit," Bobby said. "You know anyone who makes spaghetti that way, you kick 'em out of your goddamned house."

Sam thinks he can feel Bobby's hand against his spine, comforting and somehow permanent, before remembering that it was Dean's back, not his; that sense-memory must live in another bit of Dean's soul that got swapped over permanently to him.

"I'm listening, Bobby," he says; "hit me."

"Okay, in The Book of Green we got a fae band that lost its queen. Followed the footnotes from there to find a group of satyrs that organized themselves like fae in the Index. I found a legend of a migrant band of fae. And another about fae that've teamed up with tricksters, as if either of 'em needed any more mojo. And there was an apocryphal tale in the first appendix of Bower's last book about fae scouring the world for their rightful king."

In another lifetime, Sam thinks, Bobby could have been a strict but beloved professor, sporting a grizzled beard and neatly slicked hair, translating texts and hunting down nothing more dangerous than footnotes. And in another lifetime, another world, Dean would dote on his wife and be ruled by the iron fists of the little sons and daughters he loved like he couldn't get enough of them.

He has to get Dean back, even if that means bringing him into a world that's caused him nothing but grief; he needs his brother desperately.

"I'm wanted by the FBI," Sam points out, as rationally as he can. "I'm not about to walk into an airport and hand myself over on a silver platter."

He waits for Rob's leer, but it doesn't come; Rob's frowning like a wrench has been thrown into his plans. "You want to drive to South Dakota?" There's a strong hint of that's the dumbest idea I've ever heard in his tone.

"Done it before. Lots of times," Sam shrugs. "It's easier to slip by unnoticed on the ground."

Rob's hand shoots out to circle his wrist, pale, elastic handcuffs. "We'd be wasting time."

"We can make it in less than a week," Sam says definitively. "And this way we can carry all sorts of stuff we wouldn't be able to get through airport security. Trust me."

Rob looks up at him through his eyelashes, straight, dark bristles, with an odd smile on his face. "There's not a lot of 'stuff' we'll need for this; it's down to you and me, Saintly, not weapons." His smile grows broader, Cheshire Cat-like. "Trust me."

Rob clearly wasn't expecting him, but Sam just waits patiently on the doorstep until Rob blows out an ill-tempered breath and lets him in. The place is palatial, one of the old New York brownstones that was built to last. There are wide windows framed in thick velvet curtains, the panes polished clear and sparkling. Everywhere he looks, something is twinkling brightly, the furniture and the art on the wall all gleaming and coordinated in shades of gilt and green.

"I'm ready, man," Sam says before Rob can ask. "All packed" - he hoists his duffel bag up to eye level - "and ready to go." He takes another long look around, deliberately avoiding Rob's impatient eye. "Looks like you're not, though, so just steer me to the books and I'll stay out of your way while you pack."

He feels better than he has in months; he hasn't taken a first, proactive step in rescuing Dean in so long, and when he woke up and realized he could familiarize himself with the texts Rob was using, his stomach had settled and he'd been able to breathe again.

"Out," Rob snaps.

"No," Sam says stubbornly. "We need to get going today, and I know I owe you, but I'm not going to let you fuck this up either." He's toe-to-toe with Rob, glaring up at him.

Rob smiles all of a sudden, that familiar smirk settling back into place as he slides a warm hand around Sam's neck and bends his head to kiss him thoroughly. Sam cannot keep his arms from coming up to hold Rob closer.

"Most of the books are already packed away, Saintly," Rob says, strong teeth near Sam's ear, Sam's cheek. "But sit tight and I'll bring you something."

Sam goes obediently to the green velvet settee he'd dumped his duffel next to and sits; the piece is firm despite the plushness of the cushions, and he sits up straight. On the opposite wall is a framed piece of thick, heavy paper, metallic ink glittering under glass. He gets closer and finds it's a family tree, an unusual one, with only female names in the unbroken chain of branches until there, at the very bottom, are Mary leading to Sean and Moira to Rex.

"Very House of Black," he says when Rob comes back into the room with a big cloth-covered book in one hand. "Harry Potter," he clarifies when Rob makes no comment. Rob just steers him back to the couch and Sam takes the suggestion and opens the book.

There's not a lot of new information there, but it's good to have things so clearly laid out, and he goes through the material carefully, trying to commit as much to memory as possible. If Rob said there wasn't room for this in the car, or that it's not one of the crucial texts they'll need, then that's good enough for him.

His stomach growls and he holds his place in the text with a finger and checks his watch. It's been hours since he showed up unannounced, and he's starving.

"Rob?" he calls, getting no answer.

He makes his way down a bright hall, glancing into each room he walks by; the place is empty. He turns to head back to the living room and sees a large framed photograph on a small table in the corner of the hallway, just near the open doorway back to the main space. It takes him a minute to realize that it's not Rob staring out at him with those challenging blue eyes; it's Rob's mother, who passed those eyes and that face down to her son intact, as if there was no second person involved in Rob's conception. Next to her is a woman with lighter hair and china-blue eyes holding a small, round blond boy against her hip. Rob is seated on his mother's lap, upright like it's a throne, his face already much more defined and stripped of baby fat than his cousin's, defiant gaze mimicking his mother's.

He hears the front door open and goes back to the living room to see Rob, who says, "Let's get going, then, Saintly." Sam scoops up his duffel and the open book and sees an envelope addressed to "Joanna" on the table by the front door; he leads the way out and Rob locks up behind them.

Sitting out front is a big, shiny SUV the color of sand with tinted black windows. "Hop in," Rob says. "Maps are in the glove compartment. You're navigating."

The car is tricked out with all the bells and whistles, so conspicuous that Sam's tense until they get out of New York City, only then reasoning that Henrickson has no clue that he's not with Dean or in the Impala. And Rob isn't anyone the FBI would be looking for. Right here, in the buttery-soft beige leather passenger seat, sitting high above the traffic, is the safest place he could be.

Rob doesn't drive like Dean; there's no easy slouch with one arm out the window, no fond pats to the steering wheel, and no domination of the stereo. Rob's got the A/C on low and some radio station on, the volume too low to make out much. Sam looks sideways at him and sticks one of the maps from the glove compartment into the back of the book; he keeps reading, trying to take advantage of the silence.

"Pull in here," Rob says out of the blue.

"I'm not tired," Sam assures him. "I've only been driving for a couple -"

"I'm stopping for the night, and that means you are too." There's no room for disagreement in Rob's tone.

"Here, though?" The place is way nicer than his usual digs; there's a valet coming for their keys already. "We can't - I mean, I can't -"

"Saintly," Rob says, meaning shut up. "Can't take it with you, can you?" If that's code for anything, Sam doesn't get it. Still, he can't let Rob assume the expenses of a trip that's to save Dean; he needs to pay his way.

"Unless you're rolling in it -" he starts before Rob interrupts him yet again.

"I am." Rob gets out and heads for the shining glass doors and thickly carpeted lobby, and Sam scrambles to get his book and his bag and follow.

He reaches the front desk in time to see that the credit card Rob slides across the cool marble counter has his real name on it, and the man in the discreet dark-blue uniform smiles after he swipes it through. "Thank you, sir. Room 2448. If you'll follow the bellhop to the elevator."

The room is large, the bedspread and the curtains beige shading into gold. The bed itself is enormous, bigger than a king, and heaped up with pillows. Five minutes after Rob's tipped the bellhop for bringing up his luggage, Sam's face is buried in one of the pillows, soft and cool, his ass is in the air, and Rob's heavy hand is inching down his bare back.

The bed is too plush for Sam to have any stability at all on his hands and knees; he just keeps sinking into the dense softness like it's quicksand. Rob lays Sam out flat with a pillow under his hips and drapes himself on top of Sam like a blanket. The air conditioning prickles pleasantly against Sam's warm skin, and by the time he comes back to himself and hears the shower running, he's covered in marks from an insistent mouth.

"Why would the fae take Dean?" Sam asks, finishing another chapter. Rob looks in the rearview mirrors and switches lanes.

He doesn't realize he even said it out loud until Rob answers him. "Fae take what they like. They like beauty."

No surprise there; Dean's always been the one with the outrageous good looks. But he's had those all his life - at least, once he grew into his too-pretty features and bulked up a little. If it was just a matter of getting Dean alone, why hadn't they taken him when Dad had taken off and Sam was at Stanford?

"Surprised, though, that they didn't wait for you, Saintly," Rob says with a possessive smile. "That pretty face and those visions dancing around in your head. Fae like power even more than beauty."

Sam tries to smile back around the lump in his throat and the knot in his gut. He made Dean the perfect prey with his soul-switcheroo; the visions he sloughed off onto Dean only made his brother even more attractive to the things he was hunting. Even if he spends the rest of their lives apologizing, he can't make up for what he did to Dean.

"Pull over," he says sharply. "I need to drive."

Once he's behind the wheel, he asks, "So why did Missouri only see him sleeping? What are they doing with him, with the people they take?"

"They'll keep him until Midsummer," Rob answers, looking pointedly out the window. "The stolen are a big part of the ceremony. That's when they'll decide whether to make him one of their own forever or kill him."

No. Not even the fae could fail to see Dean's worth and choose to discard him like trash. Sam refuses to entertain the notion for a single moment; he concentrates on the real threat, that the fae will adore Dean so much that they'll want to keep him with them for all time. He pushes down the thought that at least that way Dean would be safe - from hunting, from Henrickson, from him - he needs to believe that Dean is still Dean enough to never choose anything but Sam.

They've hit Illinois and are making good time when Sam looks out the window to see flat, dry land and weathered buildings on which the paint has faded until they blend right in with the dust. "How are you going to find the fae?" He'd called Bobby again, pushed for any information that would give him a reasonable starting point, but Bobby had said that his dogs hadn't even been able to find a trace of Dean after about three miles northwest of Bobby's property. And the site where they'd stopped, whimpering and pawing at the ground, didn't so much as set off a click from the EMF meter or flare up at a little salt, iron, or holy water. "Do you have a self-bored stone?"

Rob glances at him speculatively, with eyes that look like the only water around for days. "Never did find one of those," he says thoughtfully. "That's why the timing of this has to be just right. Come on, Saintly, you read the book. Midsummer Eve -" he prompts.

"- under the full moon, even a mortal can see the fae reveling," Sam finishes with him. "But how do you know where to look at all? 'Three miles northwest' is pretty vague, and that's a lot of area to cover. Plus we don't know if they're even in the same place."

He needs to know the plan; Dean only wouldn't share the details of a plan when he knew he was taking on too much of the danger and Sam would pitch a fit. He doesn't think he's got another martyr on his hands, but Rob's dedication to this case has never made much sense to him; it's certainly not due to any loving devotion to him.

"These fae are constantly on the move, you're right. No one's ever been able to pin them down before." Rob pulls his sunglasses out of his pocket and slips them on.

"So how are we going to do it?"

"I've got a plan," Rob says dismissively.

"And I've got a right to hear it."

"Ooh, Saintly, look at you with your backbone firmly in place," Rob says, tone neither pleasant nor unfriendly. "The plan is you."

Instinctively, Sam shrinks back into his seat. "Me?" His heart starts racing. This is the most important case he's ever been on, and the most nebulous, and Rob needs to have a better idea than that. "I couldn't even get out of the apartment to do any research, I've got no idea what kind of fae we're after, I don't know how to convince them to let Dean go -" The words are spilling out of him, panicked and sharp and high.

Rob's hand, tight on his jaw, is the only thing that stops him. Rob shakes, none too gently, and Sam's head feels like it's been set on a spring like a jack-in-the-box instead of a neck. "But you know your brother," Rob says firmly. "I'm not tracking the fae; I'm tracking Dean, with you as my self-bored stone."

Oh, he wants to say, that would make sense, except I'm not the one with a hole in me. That'd be Dean - I'm actually overflowing with what I took from him. Instead he clicks his jaw, nods, and keeps quiet. Rob's fingers stroke through the ends of his hair and across the back of his neck.

His blood starts buzzing one day and won't stop, no matter how long he lies in the oversized tub. Rob's hands only make it louder, but the vibrations feel too good to stop, and Rob draws back, uncertain for the first time, but Sam latches on to him, won't unlock his arms and legs, keeps them cinched tightly together. All he can think about is Dean and his Magic Fingers obsession, and then it hits him, this feeling is because he's close; Dean is almost in his grasp, and he laughs, wild and free, even when Rob's mouth covers his.

There is nothing to stop him from pressing Rob down into the big soft bed, nothing to keep him from swallowing down Rob's dick, nothing that won't let him crawl up Rob's big, hard-muscled body to sink down at last on his spit-slick cock and watch Rob's eyes go from electric to fiery. Every touch just gets his blood humming more insistently, and that in the distance is the sound of the victory drums. He knows, deep down, that they're going to win. And then Rob pumps his hips and Sam just can't think anymore.

The moon rises full and luxurious overhead, spilling light down almost wantonly, wasteful and reckless. Sam just follows the tug in his gut, Rob moving next to him, both of them stepping silently through the tall grass of this untended meadow.

Somewhere between one breath and the next, he sees Dean. And then he's running, flat out, like he's aiming for a four-minute mile, and his blood is singing, but Dean doesn't get any closer. Rob's hand closing around his arm brings him up short. Suddenly Sam can see the fae ringed around his brother's bier, every detail extraordinarily sharp. The flowers heaped up on Dean's recumbent form are as varied and vivid as Missouri had prophesied, but the fae's faces are far from friendly. Some of them, he sees, are carrying spears or bows and arrows, and their beauty is terrible, a weapon all its own; he has to slit his eyes to be able to look at them for more than a moment.

They ring protectively around Dean, and before the circle closes, Sam can see that Dean looks like he's merely asleep, just resting for a few hours. Most of the lines on his face have smoothed themselves out, and there's no loss of muscle mass, no diminution that tells the truth about the many months he's lain there. Sam dares a look at Rob, who's watching Dean with a hungry gaze, drinking in Dean's beauty.

Rob propels them both forward, and the music that's been winding its way through the air and into Sam stops, the dead silence shocking him, making him think for a moment that Dean's somehow been killed.

Rob's hand is trembling, damp with sweat, but his voice rings out, clear and carrying. "Midsummer Eve, many full moons ago, you lost your queen. You have been seeking her heir, the king from the prophecy you all know in your hearts." He drops Sam's arm and steps forward, the moonlight hitting him like a spotlight, washing out his pale skin and making his eyes glitter; Sam cannot get his feet to move him closer to either Rob or Dean - they're cemented to the ground. "I am the lost king. Her blood runs in my veins. I am Rex."

Instantaneously, every single electric-blue gaze is focused on Rob's face, and Sam finds himself able to move once more. The sound of voices - questioning, demanding, staking claims - floats over his head; he leaves it behind and rushes over to his brother's side.

"Dean," he whispers, reaching out to touch that still face, that loose hand lying by his side.

He doesn't know how long he stands there, but it's not long enough to take in every detail of Dean's physical being, the dense softness of his hair, the patterns of his freckles scattered across his cheeks and nose, the slow and steady throb of his pulse in his throat. A cheer goes up behind him and Dean's eyes - soft and lambent - open and focus, after one long heart-stopping moment, on him.

"Sammy," Dean says, voice rasping and trying to find a smile.

Sam holds out his shaking hands and Dean, reaching for him, vanishes.

"What did you do?" Sam screams.

He's not sure who he is yelling at, but it's Rob who steps forward. "Dean was taken because they believed he might be the lost king. Now that I've been acknowledged as the rightful king, they've let him go."

His brain is just not working. "Let him go? Killed him?" His fists are raised, itching for weapons.

"No." Rob's voice stops him mid-stride. "Let him go, put him back where they found him, no different than when they took him."

It takes some time to process that, but when he finally does, he's sure of something else. "You used me. You've been trying to find these fae ever since your mother told you that you were the lost king, and you let me believe you were trying to help me find Dean."

Rob's wearing that familiar, unsettling smile, but his eyes - and the eyes of all his clan - are focused and cold. "Didn't I help you find your brother, Saintly? Safe and sound, not a scratch on him? And when they realized he wasn't the one, wasn't he set free to go?"

He can't bring himself to admit it, any of it. But he can't walk away either - something is binding him to the ground again. "It's you that we're puzzling over now," Rob says, and Sam's blood runs cold. He can't be kept apart from Dean one minute longer, or the last vestiges of his sanity will slip away. "What are we to do with you?"

Rob comes close, tips Sam's chin up with his warm fingers, and brushes the hair out of Sam's eyes. "Such a pretty boy," Rob murmurs, kissing him deep, and Sam can't fight it.

Rob breaks away and Sam gasps for breath; Rob just smiles and slides a hand into Sam's hair. "Any time one of my band requires a favor, you will do all that is in your power to grant it." He grins, a flash of white teeth in the dark night. "I'll be seeing you," he whispers, and seals the deal with another kiss.

When Sam opens his eyes, Rob and the rest of the fae are gone. It takes a moment for his legs to start moving, and he tries to remember where Rob left the SUV. He finds it in about ten minutes, and remembers Rob making a show of putting the keys in the glove compartment. He fishes them out, starts the engine, and turns on the headlights, scouring the landscape for Dean.

Dean's asleep in the passenger seat when Sam knocks on Bobby's door. The Impala is gleaming in the moonlight, sitting next to Bobby's truck in the driveway, safely away from the scrappers that litter the yard. Bobby says not a word when Sam points to Dean, just squints to see him through the windshield and makes no excuses for the water welling in his eyes.

Sam carries his brother upstairs and puts him to bed. There are two chairs in the room, and Sam drags them both over so that he and Bobby can sit side-by-side and keep vigil.

Sam wakes up to the smell of coffee and bacon and sits up with a start when he realizes the bed is empty. He runs down the stairs, taking them four at a time, and bursts into the kitchen. Dean and Bobby are sitting there, all four elbows on the table, nursing enormous mugs of coffee.

"Dean," Sam breathes, then chokes on the torrent of words he feels coming up.

"Morning, Sammy," Dean says quietly.

"I don't - I'm sorry - what do you -" Sam stutters, and Dean's face softens.

Dean gets up and with steady hands gentles Sam into a chair. "Sam. You saved me. From the crossroads demon and from the fae. So quit saying you're sorry."

"But I took away what you need to hunt," Sam says, focusing on Dean's face, full of forgiveness, instead of Bobby's.

"No." The denial is unmistakable.

"No?" He can hardly dare to believe. He darts a glance at Bobby, who's shaking his head like he knows exactly what Dean's up to, and his heart sinks.

"Look, Sam, this was always about saving people. Even more than hunting things. And I can still do that."

"But you could - you could settle down, live a normal life." Even as he says it, he knows it's not true. Dean might possibly have chosen to settle down, but he won't be forced into it because the skills, reflexes, and instincts he spent a lifetime honing have been stripped away from him.

"I can still save people, Sammy," Dean repeats quietly, and Sam subsides.

So, Sam thinks, the fratboys they saved from the vengeful spirit that haunted their basement were right; this bar is the perfect place to unwind: cheap beer that tastes like the good stuff, pretty girls who could shoot pool, and a bartender whose eye could be easily caught.

Dean's talking to one girl in particular, a girl with long black hair and little black glasses and big black boots, so Sam heads over to get the next round.

"Hey," he says, and the bartender looks over, nods, and starts to mosey over.

Sam looks over at Dean, laughing and bending a little to get his ear closer to the girl's pretty mouth, and figures he should buy the girl a drink too, just for putting that smile on his brother's face. Since he woke up, Dean's confined himself to doing all of the research and digging the graves; his smiles were different back when he was the one with the gun.

"Let me get three beers, please," Sam says, pulling the cash from his pocket and setting it down.

This time, when he looks up, he notices that the bartender's eyes are a familiar, unmistakable shade of electric blue. The bill he's laid on the bar gets swapped for a note on stiff, pale paper. You are very good at this, indeed. Doesn't matter how that came to be, does it, Saintly? What matters is that you remember what you owe me. Your first job starts tonight. He crumples the note in his fist and the bartender smiles pityingly at him.

He thinks he can hear Rob's laughter.