Dean’s disoriented and confused after his night out doing god-knows-what (and Sam’s got a pretty good imagination, so). He’s not soaked in blood, though, so Sam takes that as a win.
Waking up from a nearly-sleepless night to find Dean curled up asleep on the ground in front of the motel room door was not the way Sam wanted to start his day.
“I mean it, Dean. I’m not going to shoot you, and I’m not leaving you here, so get in the goddamn car!”
Sam’s driving. That’s a given. Dean’s in no condition to do much of anything. He follows Sam’s orders without much protest, which in and of itself cues Sam in to how bad it is. Dean’s psyche is reduced to order-following, half-brained killer.
Oh, and then there was the humping thing. And the neck-sucking thing.
As Sam drives, Dean curls up in the passenger seat, huddles against the door and goes to sleep. Sam decides that’s a good thing. He needs to think through the problem, figure out what to do.
Obviously, they need to get back to the bunker, keep Dean on lockdown while they figure out how to cure him. That’s step one.
The only known cure for lycanthropy died when Sam filled Duncan full of silver bullets, so the live-sire-blood cure is out. They’ll need to come up with something else. But of course Duncan wasn’t a typical werewolf, so there’s that. He killed once a week, going after specifically chosen victims, stalked them first, risked being seen by witnesses. Not usual werewolf behavior. Most werewolves preferred random lone victims that could be killed in the wilderness, away from human eyes. Werewolves kept to themselves or to others of their kind. Duncan seemed to prefer the company of humans.
Which begged the question: where had Duncan come from? How long had he worked at Big Y Gym? If he hadn’t always been a werewolf, where was his sire? Alternately, if he’d come to Kearney as a werewolf, wouldn’t there be a record of other kills? If he’d killed before Tracy Hannigan, there would be news reports. Police reports.
Not to mention, the last killings of his own parents did not fit the pattern.
Again, Duncan’s killing behavior completely baffles Sam.
Obviously, his first step is to call Garth, who confirms that he’s never heard of a werewolf that behaved the way Duncan did.
“Every werewolf I’ve ever heard of avoids human interactions,” Garth confirms. “Unless...”
“Well, I was going to say, unless he was looking for a mate,” Garth says.
Sam huffs out a laugh. “Kinda of weird mating ritual, ripping out a person’s heart.”
“It might not have started out that way,” Garth says. “Did the victims have a mark?”
Sam pauses, sees the mark on the victims’ necks in his mind’s eye. He reaches up and touches the mark on his own neck, sensitive to the touch.
“Yeah,” he breathes. “They didn’t break the skin, though, so we couldn’t figure it out. He didn’t seem to be trying to make new werewolves.”
“It’s a mating mark,” Garth says. “Werewolves mark their mates, the way real wolves do.” He pauses for a moment as Sam takes that in, then says, “They mate for life.”
Sam snorts. “Or death, in this case.” He shakes his head. “I don’t get it, Garth. If Duncan was mating with them...”
“Why would he kill them?” Garth finishes. “Humans don’t take kindly to being mated against their wills, Sam. You know that.”
“We call it rape,” Sam growls. His jaw sets, grim.
“Yeah,” Garth agrees. “Which is why this is so weird. Werewolves don’t mate humans. It’s not how we’re made.”
Sam sighs. “I guess we’re back to square one,” he says. “Duncan didn’t hulk out, either. No teeth, claws, yellow eyes. I mean, I know the silver bullets killed him, but maybe he just died of being riddled with bullet holes. Maybe they didn’t need to be silver.” He takes a breath. “I wish I knew what I was dealing with here.”
He glances over at Dean, who sleeps on without any sign that he knows what’s Sam’s talking about right next to him.
“Sure sounds like some variation of lycanthropy, Sam,” Garth says. “I wish I could be more helpful.”
“Yeah, that’s okay,” Sam says. “You’ve already helped. A lot.”
“Can I ask you something?”
“Sure.” Sam shifts hands on the wheel, switching the phone to his right ear.
“Did this thing bite Dean?”
Sam takes a breath. “We’ll be fine, Garth,” he says, keeping his voice soft. “Don’t worry about us.”
“Sam, listen. Mating is the strongest drive. Stronger than killing, stronger than the drive to survive. If Dean’s marked you...”
“Garth!” Sam grits his teeth. Of all the times to be reminded that everyone can see how co-dependent the brothers are, this has to be the worst. “We’ll be fine. Thanks again.”
Dean’s still asleep when they pull into the bunker garage, and for a moment Sam wonders if he’ll have to carry him.
That thought brings back memories of the last time Sam carried Dean into the bunker. His jaw tightens and his fists clench at the memory. Dean dead, Dean becoming a demon, Dean turning into a vampire, Dean becoming whatever-the-hell this is — it’s all got the potential to turn Sam’s head into a knotted labyrinth of disaster memories.
He can’t go down that road. Not again.
“Dean? Okay, buddy, time to wake up.” He opens the passenger door, hunkers down to catch his brother before he falls out.
Dean jerks awake, grabbing hold of the open door. The mark on his neck has almost completely healed. Sam will never know if Duncan intended to mate with Dean, but he sure as hell managed to bite him good. That the wound has already closed up and all but disappeared makes Sam’s heart sink. It’s yet another sign that Dean’s infected.
Maybe he’s not completely turned yet, though, Sam tells himself. Maybe if he can keep Dean safe, not let him kill anybody while Sam researches the hell out of a cure...
“Sammy?” Dean blinks up at him, looks wildly around. “How did we get here?”
“I drove us here,” Sam snaps. His annoyance is aimed at the situation, not Dean, and he feels a stab of guilt as Dean looks confused and hurt.
“Yeah. Come on, let’s get you upstairs.” Sam’s feeling even guiltier about what he’s about to do. Lying to Dean is something he’s never been comfortable doing. Locking him up because he’s turned into a monster is beyond horrifying.
Sam’s had issues about being imprisoned or caged from long, bad experience. Doing this to Dean feels worse than anything he’s ever had to do.
Dean gets it, though. As soon as he figures out they’re headed to the dungeon, he gets it.
“Sammy, I know what you’re trying to do, and I appreciate it, I really do,” he says when they get to the door and Sam pulls it open. They’ve cleaned it up since the Ma’lak box explosion, re-installed the iron door, set up a table and two chairs. There are still faint lines on the floor where the old Devil’s Trap used to be.
That won’t work on Dean. They won’t be needing that or the box now. Just somewhere strong enough to hold up against the strength of a pissed-off werewolf.
“It’s temporary,” Sam assures him. “Just till we find a cure.”
“Right.” Dean’s eyes slide to Sam’s neck, and the anguish in his eyes is almost more than Sam can take.
Sam resists the urge to put his hand there, to cover the mark. But that would call attention to it.
He clears his throat. “So, you’re you right now, that’s obvious,” he says. “Do you want anything? Food? Something to drink? Do you need to use the bathroom?”
“Aren’t you going to chain me up?” Dean lifts pain-filled eyes, stubborn in the midst of his martyrdom. “Aren’t you afraid I might attack you when you come back?”
Sam clears his throat. He rolls his shoulders. “No,” he says, just as stubborn. “I’m not.”
“How can you be so sure, Sammy?” Dean says. He sounds desperate. Scared. “You saw what happened to those other people. You know what I am!”
Sam takes a deep breath. “You’re my brother,” he says, radiating confidence he doesn’t feel. “You’re not gonna hurt me.”
He doesn’t tell Dean about the other part, the part where Dean thinks Sam’s his mate.
No sense in aggravating the situation.
Dean stares at him, pleading, for another moment, then looks away. “I sure could use a bacon double cheeseburger about now,” he says.
“Coming up,” Sam assures him, turning away to the door.
Fear slivers up his spine like a knife as he turns his back on Dean. On the thing that Dean’s become.
“Don’t forget the extra onions,” Dean’s voice reminds him.
In the kitchen, Sam turns on the stovetop, grabs a frying pan, and opens the refrigerator. Ground beef, bacon, cheese, onions, even a little lettuce and tomato left over from the day before yesterday when they last went into town for groceries.
It feels like a century ago.
As Sam cuts up the cheese and vegetables, heats the pan to fry the bacon and burger, he wonders where Castiel and Jack have gone. Then he realizes he doesn’t care much. They might be in the bunker somewhere, for all he knows. The place is huge. Multi-leveled. They could be anywhere.
Sam needs a plan. Dean can’t stay locked up in the dungeon forever. He may not be dangerous right now, but Sam saw what happened to him last night. Eventually, he’ll get out. Eventually, he’ll hurt somebody.
When he takes the food down to the dungeon, Sam bangs on the door before entering.
“Dean? You all right?”
“I’m fine, Sam,” Dean’s voice calls out. “Just peachy.”
“I brought your laptop,” Sam announces as he sets the food down on the table. “Figured you could help with the research on your cure. Just don’t use it to try to kill yourself.”
He’s only half-joking, and they both know it.
“So you seem pretty lucid right now,” Sam observes as Dean settles in at the table and digs into the burger. The look of bliss on his face worries Sam for a split second because it looks so much like the confused, dazed look his brother had on his face this morning when Sam hustled him into the car.
Then Dean breathes in through his nose and opens his mouth, full of half-chewed food, and Sam rolls his eyes. It’s just Dean being a food-slut, as usual.
Other than the table and chairs, the room is empty. Sam’s not ready to think about how long he has to keep his brother imprisoned, but he figures he can bring in a bucket and a mattress if he has to.
He needs to figure this thing out.
“This is incredible,” Dean comments, nodding at the half-eaten burger in his hands.
“What do you remember about last night?”
Treating this like any case, starting with interviewing the lead witness, feels right. Feels safe. Familiar.
“I dunno,” Dean answers, still chewing. “Thing bit me.” He gestures at his neck, where of course the wound has completely healed. “Then you shot him. Next thing I remember is waking up in the car, in the garage.” Dean doesn’t look at him, so Sam knows that’s not strictly true, but he doesn’t press it.
“All the murders happened at night,” Sam observes. “So maybe the curse is nocturnal. The beast only comes out at night.”
Dean smirks. “Sounds like a Hall and Oates song.”
Sam rolls his eyes. He paces the small space, thinking, working the problem. “You didn’t kill anybody last night,” he notes. “Maybe the transformation isn’t complete. Like a vampire who hasn’t had human blood. Maybe we can still stop it.”
Dean winces. “How do you know I didn’t kill anyone, Sammy? I can’t remember a damn thing.”
“I just know, Sam says. When Dean looks up at him doubtfully, Sam goes on. “You were wearing the same clothes you had on the day before, the same clothes you have on now. If you ripped somebody’s heart out last night, it’d be pretty obvious.”
Dean shifts uncomfortably on the chair. He’s finished the burger, wipes his mouth with the back of his hand, wipes his hands on his thighs. He’s nervous. He remembers exactly what he did last night.
Sam’s not going to bring that up. No sir.
“I’m going back upstairs to search the library for anything we might have missed,” he says. “You search the archive on your laptop.” He gets up, reaching for Dean’s empty plate and glass. “We’ve got a few hours till nightfall. My guess is, you’re not going to wolf out between now and then, so let’s see if we can sort this out by then.”
It goes without saying that Dean needs to stay locked up for now, even though Sam suspects he’s not a danger at the moment. Sam doesn’t trust him not to do something stupid. He’d be an idiot to let him anywhere near a loaded gun, and of course the bunker’s full of them.
Dean killing himself is not an option.
Sam gets so lost in his research that he loses track of time. In the bunker it’s easy to forget what time of day it is, and by the time Sam looks at his watch it’s past sunset.
Dean’s probably starving.
Among other things.
Sure enough, when Sam reaches the hallway outside the dungeon he can hear Dean pacing.
“Dean? You all right in there?”
The pacing stops. Sam hears a low growling and snuffling followed by a bang as something hits the door. Hard. The chair, Sam thinks, or maybe the table. He doesn’t think too hard about what’s probably happened to the laptop.
“Okay, you may not understand what I’m about to tell you,” Sam says. “But I think I’ve figured out how to fix you.” He takes a deep breath, closes his eyes as he clenches his fists. “The problem is, you’re not going to like it.”
More growling and snuffling, followed by a bark that sounds like, “Mine!”
“Yeah, that’s the thing.”
He hopes he’s right about this.
“Okay, Dean, I’m coming in.”
Sam’s decided it’s probably better to remove his clothes first. He’s not sure Dean will have the patience to deal with zippers and buttons in his current state. Sam’s pretty sure they would only heighten Dean’s frustration. Dean won’t kill Sam, since Sam’s a willing participant, unlike those other poor victims, but he could do some damage. Sam only hopes the table is still upright, as the thought of being scraped up good on the concrete floor is less than appealing.
He hopes Dean will forgive him for this.
Sam takes a deep breath before opening the door. He doesn’t expect to be attacked immediately — he thinks Dean will let him in before — but he’s as prepared as he can be, naked and armed with only a silver knife. The knife is a last resort, of course. He doesn’t expect to use it unless Dean makes a run for it, which he’s unlikely to do since Sam’s giving him what he wants right here.
He hopes to hell he’s right about this.
As he slides back the bolts, the snuffling stops. The silence behind the door is more disconcerting than the growling, but Sam doesn’t stop. He counts silently in his head as he grabs the handle, pulls it on three.
It’s dark in the dungeon. Sam steps inside, slides his hand along the wall to the light switch, leaving the door open behind him.
Dean comes at him from his right, knocking the knife out of his hand, slamming Sam into the wall with superhuman strength and speed. Sam’s head hits so hard that for a moment he thinks he might black out. Dean presses against him so tight he can barely breathe. Sam struggles on impulse, then forces himself to relax. Dean’s mouth latches onto the bruise on Sam’s neck, and Sam braces for the bite. He’s not clear on that part.
Then Dean backs off a little, enough to give Sam room to fight him, to push against him and try to get away.
But Sam doesn’t. As much of an effort as it takes, Sam keeps still, pliant. He’ll let Dean do this because it’s the only way to fix him, the only way to placate the beast inside him, the only way to — hopefully — get it to release him.
Now that he’s got room to maneuver, Dean slides his hands down Sam’s back to his ass. Sam closes his eyes, concentrates on letting this happen, on not resisting as Dean’s fingers find his hole. Dean growls possessively as he shoves a finger inside, and Sam bears down, spreading his legs to give Dean better access. He doubts the beast has much finesse, but this is still Dean, still the brother who loves him and raised him. Sam has to trust that Dean won’t hurt him, at least not irreparably.
When Dean picks him up and lays him down on the floor on his back in one fell swoop, Sam gasps. This is going to be painful after all. Dean sits back on his heels to loosen his belt, and Sam tries to turn over. He moves slowly, carefully, but Dean’s on him instantly, growling as he slams his body down over Sam’s, pinning him to the floor on his back.
“Okay, okay.” Sam puts his hands up in surrender.
Dean backs off again, unbuttons his jeans, and pulls his belt free.
Sam concentrates on keeping his breathing even. He’s prepared for this. Planned for this. He can do this.
Which is a good thing, since Dean doesn’t waste any time. He pushes Sam’s legs back, scraping his back on the floor, then holds one leg where he wants it as he lines up his dick with the other hand. Sam grabs the other leg, determined to convey the opposite of resistance.
The word punches out of Sam on a shout as Dean thrusts into him all the way to the hilt. It’s such a shock that it doesn’t even hurt at first. His back scrapes on the floor. His dick throbs as a wave of lust shoots through him, not for the first time. He’d be lying if he pretended he hasn’t imagined this moment a million times before. His body thinks it’s getting exactly what it’s always wanted, even if his mind thinks otherwise.
In the light from the doorway Sam can see the relief on Dean’s face. It’s so akin to bliss that for a moment Sam thinks Dean’s already come, just on that initial thrust.
Then Dean’s eyes open. He gazes down at Sam, seems to really see him for the first time in the dim light.
“Beautiful.” The word slips out like a prayer, like an incantation. Dean gazes into Sam’s eyes as he pulls out a little, then rams home again. “Mine.”
Dean’s thrusts are shallow at first, then deeper, punching gasps and cries out of Sam with each powerful slam of his hips. Dean’s dick finds Sam’s prostate and hits it over and over again, rhythmic and energetic, determined. Tiny shivers run up Sam’s spine with each thrust, until the nerve-endings feel like they’re on fire. Sam’s eyes slide shut as he tips his head back, abandoning all pretense at restraint, unable to control the desperate noises he makes or the way his body reacts. His back scrapes and his ass burns but the pain is exquisite. It’s exactly what he needed.
Dean grabs Sam’s dick, twists just under the head, and suddenly Sam’s coming. He can’t help himself. Dean’s playing his body expertly. Sam’s a musical instrument tuned just to Dean.
As Sam starts to come down, Dean pounds into him, chasing his own orgasm. Dean wraps his hand in Sam’s hair, tips his head back, and sinks his teeth into Sam’s neck. This time he breaks the skin, sucks and sucks while Sam gasps and shudders beneath him. Then Dean stops thrusting, holds himself still, teeth still sunk in Sam’s neck, and Sam feels Dean’s dick throb, feels his ass fill up, overflow.
Dean collapses on top of Sam, his weight another reminder of his ownership and domination. His tongue laps lazily over Sam’s neck, over the wound he’s made. Sam’s hands are sticky on Dean’s back. He was scratching and clutching hard enough to draw blood. Now both backs are torn and bloody.
Sam waits for Dean to withdraw, to pull out, but he doesn’t. He stays where he is, collapsed on top of Sam with his mouth on Sam’s neck. Sam relaxes his hold, lets his legs fall open, draws one knee back to try to make himself more comfortable.
Dean grunts possessively, tightens his fist in Sam’s hair, then lets it go as Sam relaxes again, bears Dean’s weight as well as he can. If he’s right about this, Dean will come back to himself on his own, but not immediately, apparently.
After a few moments, Sam turns his head just enough to plant a kiss on the side of Dean’s head, just above his ear. When Dean growls and tightens his hold again, Sam gives up, drifts into a fitful doze, waking up when Dean shifts, growls, starts fucking again.
Okay, Sam’s fuzzy brain thinks as his dick stirs and perks up. Apparently once wasn’t enough.
Sam wakes up twice more that night to Dean fucking him. He’s so sore by the last time he can barely keep from crying. His body’s willingness to endure the combination of intense pleasure and pain isn’t something he wants to think too deeply about. He’s a quivering nerve-ending of sensation by the end of it. There’s no room for coherent thought, for anything but the sheer will to survive, to suffer the pain and pleasure equally.
At some point, Dean finally lets him go. Sam scoots carefully out from beneath his brother’s lightly snoring body, staggers painfully out the door as Dean curls up on the floor. He leaves the door open behind him. When he wakes up, Dean won’t want to see what he’s done. Hopefully, he won’t remember it.
But he’s free now, or at least mostly cured. Sam doubts the beast will return now that it finally has what it came for.
Sam thinks about that as he pulls on his clothes, wincing at the scrape of fabric over broken skin. It’s possible the infection has moved onto Sam. There’s a fifty-fifty chance of that, since Dean broke the skin and inserted his saliva into Sam’s bloodstream. Maybe they’re both monsters now.
That’s a risk Sam’s willing to take. He knew what he was getting into when he made his choice last night to come down here, to let monster-Dean do what he needed to do.
His only fear now is that Dean will feel his choice was made for him, that he wasn’t free to refuse what happened between them. Sam knows intimately how it feels to have his free will pilfered and disregarded. Sam’s had that done to him all his life, even by Dean himself. It’s not something he would have ever wished on another person, least of all his brother, if he’d had a choice.
There was a choice, he reminds himself. He could have let Dean make his own choice, when he was in his right mind. Of course, Dean had already made his choice pretty clear. Sam could have respected that. He could have let Dean die.
But in the end, that hadn’t been an option, had it?
Sam’s a selfish bastard after all.
Sam cleans himself up as best he can. He showers, shaves, and changes into fresh clothes. The wound on his neck has already healed, leaving only a dark bruise behind.
He’s in the infirmary, patching himself up, when Dean barges in.
“What the hell did you do?”
Sam thinks he’s about to get hit, or grabbed and shaken, thinks he’s sick in the head because he’d like it.
When Dean sees the state Sam’s in, though, he stops himself.
“Did what I had to,” Sam answers. “Fixed you.”
“Oh, that’s what that was?” Dean shouts. “Your idea of a cure?”
Sam shrugs. He finishes suturing the cut on his arm — somehow he cut himself, probably on a piece of busted laptop — and picks up the gauze and medical tape.
“I think so,” he says. “I hope so.”
When he realizes Sam’s just sewn himself up with his left hand, Dean rolls his eyes.
“Gimme that.” Dean stalks closer, grabs the gauze and tape, bats Sam’s hand away.
Sam sits quietly while Dean patches him up, checks out his back with gentle hands. This close, Dean’s body heat makes Sam shiver. Sweat breaks out on his brow, on his bare chest.
“Damn it, Sammy, you’re a fuckin’ mess.”
Sam hears the guilt and frustration in his brother’s voice, sits as calmly as he can while Dean grabs the Bactine, cleans the scrapes on his back.
It stings, but having Dean’s hands on him affects Sam like the strongest analgesic. Dean’s hands have always comforted and taken care of Sam, but this is new. This shivery, shuddering feeling when Dean touches him is one level beyond the erotic buzz he’s felt ever since he was a teenager.
You’re mated, his body reminds him as his dick hardens maddeningly in his jeans. Dean’s not just his brother anymore, not just his soulmate, not even just his lifelong crush.
“What the hell were you thinking?”
Sam can’t see his face, but he hears the anguish in Dean’s voice, the shame.
“It’s not that bad, Dean,” Sam assures him. “I’m gonna be fine.”
“Yeah, except you’re infected now and I’m gonna have to put you down,” Dean growls, and Sam huffs out a laugh because he knows Dean needs him to, needs to lighten the mood to keep his panic in check.
“Pretty sure I’m not,” Sam says.
“Oh yeah? How do you know? When I got bit, I turned pretty quick.”
“Exactly,” Sam says. “I’d be showing signs by now. I’d be healing faster, for one thing. Like you did.”
Dean’s hand lingers on Sam’s shoulder for a moment longer than he needs to, and Sam can feel him processing this idea, considering the possibility that Sam might be right.
Dean’s hand is a comforting weight, as it always is when Dean’s patching Sam up, taking care of him. Only now the new lifemate dimension is making Sam horny as hell.
“It’s daytime,” Dean says, withdrawing his hand, making Sam gasp. He crosses to the sink to wash off the blood. “I only turned at night.”
Sam nods. “Okay, so I guess we’ll see tonight,” he suggests with a shrug.
“What the hell were you thinking?” Dean asks again, shaking his head as he turns away from the sink to face Sam again, drying his hands on a towel. “Huh? I mean, where did you get the idea that doing that would fix me?”
Sam grabs his t-shirt, slides off the table and pulls it on with shaking hands as Dean watches. He winces as the fabric scrapes over his injured back.
“I broke the curse,” Sam says. “Fed the lycan. Gave it what it wanted.”
“What it wanted? What about what I wanted?” Dean steps closer, fists clenched.
Sam flinches. “I know,” he says. “I’m sorry, Dean, I am. But you weren’t in your right mind. And I couldn’t let you die, not for something with such an easy fix.”
“Easy?” Dean stares. “You call that easy? What in the hell, Sam?”
Sam bites his bottom lip. “I wasn’t sure it would work,” he admits lamely.
“You weren’t sure...” Dean considers this, takes another step so that he’s in Sam’s personal space, peering up at him with his lips parted and his eyes wide. “So you thought there was a chance your whole plan could go south and you could end up dead, and you did it anyway?”
Sam swallows. Dean’s proximity is doing things to his breathing. His heart rate. “Yeah,” he answers articulately.
Dean’s eyes drop to Sam’s throat, to the wound he left there that’s now just a bruise. He winces, guilt and shame playing over his face.
“Did you stop for one minute to think about what would happen if I lost you? If I killed you?”
Sam nods. “Yeah. Same thing that would’ve happened if I’d let you kill yourself.”
Dean stares, eyes flicking back and forth between Sam’s eyes because they’re standing so close. Sam holds his breath.
“I never would’ve hurt you deliberately,” Dean says, softer. “If I was in my right mind, I never would’ve done that. You have to know that.”
Sam swallows again, and Dean’s eyes track the movement.
“Yeah,” Sam breathes, his heart sinking. “I know. It’s okay.”
Dean raises his eyes again, full of pain and guilt. “No. It’s not.”
“It wasn’t you,” Sam insists. “It was the curse.”
“I remember everything,” Dean says. He runs his tongue over his bottom lip. A wave of lust hits Sam so hard he staggers, grabs hold of the table for balance. “I can still taste you.”
Sam sucks in a breath. He closes his eyes briefly before opening them again, steeling himself.
“Dean, it’s okay.” Sam shivers. “We can put it behind us. We can go back to how we were. It doesn’t have to define us.” It breaks something deep inside him to say it, but he needs to let Dean off the hook. This wasn’t Dean’s choice.
Dean shakes his head. “Like we needed one more way to be fucked in the head,” he says. He looks down at Sam’s hand on the table, and Sam holds his breath, imagining for a moment that Dean would touch him, maybe take his hand and tangle their fingers together, tell Sam he’s always felt the way Sam feels.
Then the moment passes. Dean takes a quick breath and backs off, eyes falling to the floor, the table, anywhere but Sam’s face.
“I gotta take a shower,” he says.
And just like that, he’s gone.
Sam tidies up the mess he made in the library the previous day, heads to the kitchen to make coffee. It’s another half-hour before Dean emerges from the corridor. He’s showered, shaved, and changed his clothes, but Sam knows he can’t wash off all traces of what happened last night.
They both know that certain things can’t be washed away.
“Hey,” Sam greets his brother, keeping his eyes on his laptop screen. “Coffee’s fresh.”
Dean grabs a coffee mug, rattling the carafe of coffee as he pours himself a cup.
Sam clears his throat. “Think I found us a case. Vampire nest near Cheyenne. If we leave now, we can be there by evening, take ‘em out in the morning, be home in twenty-four hours.”
Dean sighs. “Sam.”
Sam looks up, raising his eyebrow expectantly. “How are you feeling?”
Dean frowns, looks away. “I’m fine, Sammy. You fixed me.”
“Good.” Sam nods, turns back to the screen. “So about this vamp nest.”
Dean clears his throat, rubs the back of his neck. “I think we should wait,” he says. “Just to make sure you’re okay first.”
Sam nods, deliberately subservient. “Okay.”
“Okay.” Dean takes a deep breath. “I think I’ll just fix some breakfast, if you don’t mind, Buffy. I’m starving.”
“Yeah. That sounds like a good idea. I think I’ll take a run into town, pick us up some groceries.” Sam gets up, wincing as his shirt rubs against the raw wounds on his back. He can feel Dean glancing sharply at him, so he doesn’t look up. He can tell Dean notices the way he limps, the way he’s moving his shoulders and arms with care to avoid rubbing the wounds on his back. He knows Dean’s already seen the bruise on his neck.
In his mind’s eye Sam can see the look of guilt on Dean’s face.
“Hold on a minute, Sammy.”
Sam sighs, stops, turns to face his brother with his most long-suffering expression. “Really?”
Dean blanches, but presses on. “Look, how long has it been since you’ve eaten, huh?”
When Sam doesn’t answer, Dean takes a breath.
“Okay, come on. Sit down and let me rustle us up some breakfast. Then you’re gonna get some rest.”
“Shut up and do as you’re told.”
Dean’s attempt to pull the big brother card falls a little flat, considering, and they both know it. Nevertheless, Sam returns to his seat at the table, albeit with an exaggerated sigh of resignation.
“Where the hell’s Cas, anyway?” Dean asks as he pulls pans out of cupboards and fires up the stove.
Sam shrugs. It hurts and he winces despite himself.
Dean frowns. “Damn angel. He’s never around when you need him, then he shows up at all the most awkward moments.”
Sam’s glad Cas isn’t here at the moment. He’s especially glad Cas didn’t show up in the dungeon last night.
“Maybe he and Jack found something to help take down Chuck,” Sam suggests. Hopeful.
Dean puts butter in a pan, starts chopping onion and peppers for the egg scramble.
“Yeah, that would be just like him,” Dean grumbles. “Charging off into battle half-cocked and without a plan, not to mention without us.” He shakes his head. “Thought he was supposed to keep Jack safe right here till we could all work out what to do next. Together.”
“Yeah, well, you know Cas. Always trying to be the hero.”
Dean rolls his eyes. “You’d think he’d eventually figure out that he’s just the sidekick.”
Sam grins. “Oh, I think he knows,” he says. “Doesn’t stop him from trying to prove that he can be more, though.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” Dean admits.
Dean throws bacon in the other pan, cracks eggs into the one with the vegetables, and stirs. Sam watches him for a moment, realizes he’ll just burn the eggs. He gets up, grabs a spatula.
“Let me do that,” he says as he shoulders up next to Dean. “You watch the bacon.”
Dean bumps his arm into Sam’s, starts to protest and push him away, then thinks better of it. They work side by side, in silence, and of course the eggs are done first. Sam was right.
He smirks as he turns the burner off, reaches for a bowl to spoon the egg scramble into.
It’s not a solution, but they’ll get there. They’ve been through too much together to let this get the better of them.
Dean spends the day in the garage, working on the Impala.
Or so he says. Sam gets the feeling he’s being avoided. If he’s right, Dean’s dealing with the aftereffects of his lycanthropy by ignoring it. At some point, Sam suspects he’ll need to get Dean to talk about it, if only to figure out a way to live with what he’s sure Dean would label something like a permanent “wolf roofie.”
After a good nap, Sam researches the aftereffects of cures to various curses, but doesn’t come up with much. He finally gives in to the urge to call Garth, just to confer with somebody. He means to fall short of confessing what he did last night, but Garth figures it out anyway.
“Oh Sam.” Garth sounds giddy. “Congratulations! Bess will be so excited. She smelled it on you the first time she met you.”
Sam’s confused. “Smelled what?”
“Your bond, of course,” Garth says. “Maybe humans call it something else — when two people are meant to be each other’s lifelong mate?”
“You mean soulmates?”
“Yes! That’s it! But with you two, it’s a physical thing, too. It gives off a particular scent.”
“Maybe it’s just biology,” Sam suggests dryly. “Since we’re brothers.”
Garth chuckles. “You know that doesn’t carry the same social taboo for us,” he says. “Wolves mate with their siblings all the time. Sometimes it’s be only way to keep a pack together.”
“Garth, Dean and I are human,” Sam reminds him. “Just like you used to be.”
“After everything you two have been through, I’m pretty sure you’re a little more than just human,” Garth notes. “And now it sounds like you’ve both got a little lycan in you. We’re practically cousins!”
Sam sighs. This isn’t exactly what he was hoping to hear.
In the early evening, Dean cleans up the dungeon, pulls a mattress off one of the beds and puts in down on the floor in a corner along with a blanket and pillow.
“Technically, we should probably both stay locked up down here tonight,” Sam notes cautiously.
Dean glares at him.
“Just on the off-chance the cure didn’t take,” Sam clarifies.
Dean blinks. “I’m gonna go makes us some dinner,” he snaps, heading toward the stairs.
Dean continues to cast guilty glances Sam’s way when he thinks Sam isn’t looking. Sam tries not to notice, focusing their dinner conversation on tomorrow’s hunt.
“I think I’m okay,” Dean says out of the blue. He’s had at least three beers, so Sam knows he’s been working up to this. “I mean, I could feel it, before, in my head. Under my skin. It’s gone now.”
Sam nods. “Good. That’s — good.”
Dean clears his throat. “Since Cas has gone AWOL, I figure I should be the one to let you out in the morning.”
Dean takes another sip of his beer, taps the fingers of his other hand on the table. He’s got something else to say, but Sam doesn’t push it. This thing that’s happened between them is fragile. Neither of them seems ready to face it head-on yet, if ever, and Sam’s okay with that. He knows he did a bad thing. He also knows it had to be done.
He’s not the man he was when he left Stanford, angry and vengeful and determined to be his own man. He’s not the man he was when Dean got back from Hell, still angry and vengeful and so sure he was the only one who could fix things. And he sure as hell isn’t the man he was when he got back from the Cage, willing to sacrifice himself tenfold over to save anyone who deserved saving more than Sam did, which was basically everyone.
He’s Sam Fucking Winchester, the man who did all those things and lived to tell about it. The man who loves his brother and needs to keep him by his side, whatever the cost. After giving everything he could for the rest of the world, he’s keeping this one thing for himself.
“So.” Dean interrupts his reverie.
Sam looks up, takes a sip of his beer. “Yeah.”
Sam winces. He didn’t tell Dean about the vision Chuck gave him, the one designed to make Sam lose hope. Letting Dean get turned into a monster had crushed him, allowing Chuck to gain control long enough to get his power back.
It’ll feel good to kill those vamps.
Later, Dean doesn’t look him in the eye as he locks him inside the dungeon. He leaves Sam’s laptop and a six-pack of beer, which is how Sam knows this is just a precaution. Neither of them expects Sam to wolf out.
Falling asleep isn’t easy. Even with a few beers in him, Sam’s skin itches. His dick hardens painfully as memories of the previous night crowd into his mind. He finally gives into the urge to shove his hand into his boxers, jerks off to the memory of Dean’s mouth on his neck, Dean’s voice growling “mine!” In his ear.
Late that night, probably close to dawn, Sam wakes up with a start. The dungeon door is open, and Dean stands just inside. With the light behind him, Dean’s a black silhouette, still and unmoving.
“Dean?” Sam pushes himself up on one elbow and blinks against the light, trying to see the expression on his brother’s face.
Dean says nothing, just turns and walks out of the room, leaving the door open behind him.
Sam flops back down on his aching back and slings his arm over his eyes to block out the light.
It occurs to him that Dean was standing there for a while before Sam woke up, watching him sleep.
Sam drifts off to memories of the sad, guilty look Dean’s had on his face most often lately.
Sam needs to fix that.
The next day, after they’ve whacked off five vampire heads and dumped the remains in a shallow grave, poured lighter fluid on the entire mess and dropped a lit match, they stand side by side, watching shit burn. It’s been their life for as long as Sam can remember. It feels familiar, as sick as that is. It’s no sicker than what happened the other night, but Sam’s damned if he can figure out a way to convince Dean of that.
Protecting Sam, taking care of Sam, keeping Sam safe. It’s literally stitched into Dean’s bones.
What happened the other night was not that.
Sam needs to convince Dean that he’s still the big brother Sam looks up to, despite everything. Despite what happened.
“I had a crush on you when I was thirteen,” Sam says.
Dean hesitates, then nods. His shoulder bumps Sam’s arm. “‘Course you did,” he says. “I was hot.”
“You were,” Sam agrees. “You still are.”
Dean shuffles nervously beside him. “You sayin’ you still got the hots for me, Sammy?”
This is dangerous territory, but Sam can handle it. He’s been handling it all his life.
“You wish.” Sam huffs out a wry laugh.
Dean says nothing. Sam darts a furtive look at him. Dean’s biting his lip, staring thoughtfully into the fire, and Sam gets the distinct impression Dean wasn’t joking.
Which makes no sense. Of course he’s joking. He can’t possibly really hope that Sam’s hot for him.
On the drive back to the motel, Sam considers the possibility that Dean’s ego might have taken a beating over this whole thing. Maybe he’s genuinely worried that Sam doesn’t love him anymore.
That’s just ridiculous. But Sam knows how insecure Dean can be. Maybe Dean just needs reassurance.
“You take first shower,” Sam says when they pull into the parking lot. “I’m gonna head over to the diner and grab us some take-out.”
He figures he’s being generous, but Dean gives him a look that makes him want to take it back.
“Dude, what is wrong with you?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Sam insists.
“‘I had a crush on you when I was thirteen?’” Dean quotes. “‘You take the first shower while I get the food?’ Who do you think I am? Your wife?”
“What? No!” Sam’s horrified. “Of course not!”
Dean glares at him. “I always take the first shower,” Dean says, which isn’t strictly true, but Sam doesn’t argue. “It’s no big deal. It ain’t like you’re doing me any favors or nothin’!”
“Okay,” Sam agrees. “Fine.”
When Sam gets back with the food, Dean’s still in the shower. He puts down the bags and picks up the remote, flipping through channels till he gets to the local news. It’s a routine that’s so familiar it feels like home. Before they inherited the bunker, the brothers lived, ate, worked and slept in the same room. Sam misses it sometimes.
The bathroom door opens with a cloud of steam, and Sam keeps his eyes on the screen. He deliberately doesn’t watch Dean parade into the room with nothing but a towel wrapped around his waist, if that. Plenty of times in the past Dean sauntered out in his birthday suit.
Sam doesn’t look up to see if this is one of those times.
“Watchin’ porn again?” Dean’s voice covers him like a warm blanket on a cold night. Even the irritation Sam feels is comforting.
“No, Dean, that would be you, remember?”
“Right.” Sounds of Dean rifling through his duffel for clean underwear. “You prefer the Nature channel.”
Sam says nothing, pretending to watch the news, as Dean pulls on boxers and a t-shirt, his standard bed wear.
“I hear they’ve got a great special on timberwolves this week,” Dean goes on.
Sam shoots him a flabbergasted look without thinking, catches Dean blushing as he realizes what he just said.
Dean looks away as he grabs the food bag, occupies himself by digging into the bag as Sam turns his attention back to the TV.
“Hey! You forgot my extra onions, bitch!”
“Oh.” Sam gets up, ready to run back to the diner before he realizes what he’s doing.
“Never mind,” Dean says. “Come on over here and eat something.”
Sam’s overcome by a sudden vision of sitting at the tiny table with Dean, their knees knocking together under the table — Dean’s naked leg brushing against Sam’s —
Okay, shower time. Cold shower time.
“Nah, I’m not hungry.” Sam darts into the bathroom. He glares at himself in the mirror for a moment before peeling off his clothes and stepping into the lukewarm shower.
Of course Dean used most of the hot water, the jerk.
He manages to jack one off anyway, doing it fast and dirty while imagining Dean pushing him up against the wall in the dungeon, cutting off his airflow, thrusting his thick, calloused fingers into Sam’s ass.
His orgasm is intense and adrenaline fueled, leaving him weak in the knees and shivering under nearly-cold water.
Of course Dean used both towels. Sam dries off as best he can, then wraps one wet towel around his waist.
The thing is so tiny it barely covers the essentials. Sam briefly considers walking out in the nude, as Dean did, but he quickly discards that idea. He doesn’t want to provoke Dean into another stupid competition. He knows he has the bigger cock. He doesn’t want Dean thinking he’s flouting it.
Not now. Not after the other night.
He returns to the other room with every intention of keeping his eyes down, of focusing on getting to his duffle and grabbing his sweatpants. He’s determined to put them on without once glancing at his brother. He’s done it a million times. He knows he can.
He’s not prepared for Dean’s reaction as he walks into the room with nothing on but a tiny towel barely held together around his waist.
Dean gasps, stumbles backwards, and collapses on the floor between the beds, obviously having tripped over the chair as he tried to stand when the bathroom door opened.
Sam blinks. “You all right, man?”
A fist appears over the edge of the bed, thumb up.
Sam grins despite himself as he heads over to his duffle. “Didn’t mean to startle you. I guess I figured you’d know it was me.”
“Yep!” Dean squeaks.
Sam glances over, unable to help himself, and immediately wishes he hadn’t. Dean’s still lying on the floor, bare legs sprawled wide, chest heaving through his tight white t-shirt.
Sam’s dick twitches, hardens.
“How was the burger?” He tries for casual. Where the hell are those damn sweatpants?
“Good!” Dean squeaks from the floor, and Sam figures it out. The chair must’ve caught him in the groin.
There they are. Thank god. “Didn’t need those onions after all, huh?”
“Extra onions, dude,” Dean croaks.
“Right.” Sam finds the sweatpants, drops the towel and pulls the sweatpants on, all while Dean lies on the floor, possibly watching him.
Sam just doesn’t care. Whatever the hell is up with Dean is not going to make Sam lose his shit. It just isn’t.
He starts to turn around, planning to head to bed, when Dean barrels past him, headed for the bathroom. He thinks Dean might be clutching his dick, or maybe covering his groin, but he can’t be sure.
After the door closes behind him, it occurs to Sam that Dean was in here jacking off while Sam was in the bathroom.
Like he couldn’t do that while using up all the hot water, the big jerk!
Sam rolls his eyes as he climbs into the bed furthest from the door. He pulls his laptop onto his lap, determined not to look up when Dean returns to the room.
Dean stays in the bathroom so long Sam starts to worry. When he finally comes back, he’s limping a little, doesn’t even glance at Sam.
“What happened in there?” Sam asks brightly. “Did you break your dick?”
Dean climbs into his bed, pulls the blankets up and turns his back on his brother.
“You’re going to sleep?” Sam says, incredulous. “Dean, it’s only 9:30.”
“Shut up!” Dean grouses. “I’m tired. Turn off the light when you’re done with your porn. And keep it down! God, I hate sharing a room.”
Sam knows Dean’s still feeling guilty, so he keeps his snarky retort to himself. They took this hunt as a way to avoid what happened, as a way to remind themselves that this is what matters. The work is the important thing, and they’re a good team.
Being mated doesn’t have to change anything.
Sam stays up for another thirty minutes, scrolling uselessly for possible hunts, then puts the laptop away and turns out the light.
Sometime in the night, Sam’s awoken by the sound of Dean crying in the other bed.
Dean doesn’t answer, so Sam figures he must still be asleep. As Dean tosses and turns, Sam considers waking him up, decides against it as Dean’s sobs start to subside.
Then Dean starts talking in his sleep.
“I’m sorry, Sammy. I’m sorry. I know I was supposed to protect you. Supposed to keep you safe. I fucked that up. Let you down. I’m sorry, little brother. I’m just so damned sorry.”
Sam scrubs a hand over his face. He can’t let this go on. He sits up, reaches across and grabs Dean’s arm, shakes it.
“Hey. Hey, Dean. Wake up. You’re okay.”
Dean goes quiet and lies perfectly still. In the dim light through the curtains Sam can see his eyes glisten, so he knows Dean’s awake.
“Yeah, I’m here,” Sam assures him, although that’s obvious. “You were having a bad dream.”
“Yeah, I was.”
Sam lies down on his side, facing his brother. “You know, you didn’t let me down,” he says quietly. “If anything, I let you down. I should’ve asked you before I did what I did.”
Dean snorts. “You didn’t do anything, Sammy. The way I remember it, I was the one doing the raping.”
“It wasn’t you, Dean.”
“Oh, I’m pretty sure it was,” Dean growls.
Sam takes a deep breath. “I wasn’t raped, Dean. If anything, you’re the one who didn’t get a choice about what we did. That’s on me. And I — I’m the one who should be sorry.”
“Don’t you say that, Sam,” Dean warns. He sits up, facing Sam. “Don’t you dare say that. After what I did to you, don’t say that!”
“You didn’t do anything to me,” Sam insists.
“How can you say that?” Dean’s voice is choked, on the verge of tears. “How can you say that after I practically broke you in half? After I slammed your head against the wall hard enough to break your skull? After I dragged your back over that rough concrete floor until you were bleeding all over everywhere? God only knows what I did to your insides...”
“Dean, stop it!”
Sam’s up and on Dean’s bed before he has a chance to think about what he’s doing. He grabs Dean’s shoulders and shakes him. His hands find Dean’s face, cradle it gently, and Dean stares up at him with his liquid green eyes, mouth slack from crying.
Sam kisses Dean to make him stop talking, to make him stop those terrible allegations, that awful self-flagellation.
“I wanted it, Dean,” Sam murmurs against Dean’s mouth, on the verge of tears himself. “I wanted all of it.”
Dean melts into Sam’s arms, even kisses back for a moment. When he pushes away, Sam lets him go. He resists every urge and impulse to pull Dean back in, never to let him go.
“No,” Dean says, staring at Sam’s bare chest. “No, Sam. You can’t mean that.”
“I do.” Sam nods. “Wanted it ever since I was old enough to know what it meant.”
Dean raises his eyes, searches Sam’s face while Sam holds his breath. He knows Dean doesn’t feel the same way, but he can’t help hoping Dean won’t hate him, now that he knows the truth.
“Sammy, I don’t — That’s not — “
“I know, Dean,” Sam interrupts. “It’s okay. You don’t have to feel that way about me. I’m fine with that, really. Been living with it for more than twenty years now.”
“Sam.” Dean puts his hand on Sam’s bare shoulder, and Sam’s fucked up enough to enjoy it. “You’re my brother. The most important person in my life. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for you. You’re my — my fuckin’ mate, for god’s sake, soul-wise and now — Whatever.”
Tears sting Sam’s eyes. He blinks them away, nodding. It’s not like he hasn’t been rejected before. He’ll live through this. There are definitely worse things.
“It’s okay.” Sam nods. “It’s okay, Dean.”
“You kept this hidden all these years?” Dean’s eyes are big, his lashes long and thick.
Sam nods. “Didn’t want you to think you owed me anything,” he says. “Because you don’t. You don’t. But. You being you, I was afraid you’d pretend to reciprocate just to make me feel better, so.” He takes a deep breath. “I’m sorry, Dean. I’m sure this isn’t the news you wanted to hear. But I couldn’t let you go on thinking you raped me. God!”
Dean lets his hand slide over Sam’s shoulder, down his arm, and Sam shivers.
“My feelings for you are pretty fucked up, not gonna lie,” Dean says. “You already know that. You tried to tell me once that you’d never do to me what I did to you when I let Gadreel possess you, and I believed you. It hurt like hell, but I believed you.”
“I lied,” Sam reminds him. “I was trying to hurt you because I was so hurt and angry myself. I lied.”
“I know,” Dean nods. His hand trails over Sam’s wrist, his pulse. “But you gotta know. I’d do that again, if it meant keeping you with me. I’ve pretty much accepted that about myself at this point. And so should you, probably.”
“I do,” Sam nods. “I know you, Dean, and I accept the way you are. I’m not asking you to change.”
“I know you’re not, Sammy.” Dean trails his fingers into the palm of Sam’s hand. He curls his fingers around Sam’s and squeezes. Sam squeezes back. “You gotta know, I don’t think my feelings for you could be any stronger than they already are. I don’t think I could feel any more for you than I already do.”
“I know. I know.” Sam’s throat closes up. He nods vigorously, squeezes Dean’s fingers again, fighting the tears that threaten to fall.
“Doesn’t mean I can’t try,” Dean says.
Sam shakes his head. “No. Don’t. Never mind, Dean, please! I’ve lived my whole life loving you this way, accepting that you don’t. Going on like that isn’t hard for me. It’s normal!”
“Well, it’s a little different now. You know. After the thing.” Dean waves his free hand between them, huffs out a nervous chuckle, and it’s been so long since Sam’s heard that he wants to cry.
“Thing is, you looked pretty hot coming out of the bathroom after your shower last night,” Dean confesses in a rush. “At least, my dick seemed to think so.”
Sam’s mouth falls open, but he can’t think of a coherent thing to say.
“Practically killed myself falling over the chair so you wouldn’t see.” Dean lifts his eyes to Sam, embarrassment making his cheeks flush, his eyes brighten. “Took forever to work that one out in the bathroom after. I finally gave in and thought about you, and bam!”
Sam blinks. His heart flutters. Heat rises on his chest and cheeks. He still can’t think of a damn thing to say.
“So maybe you’re not the only one after all, Sammy, is what I’m trying to say. I just need a little time to think this through. Our lives are already so complicated. And like I told you, I don’t think I could have stronger feelings for you than I already do. Jerking off to thoughts of you on your knees isn’t exactly an improvement on the way I’ve always thought about you.”
Sam swallows, huffs out a laugh. He’s light as a feather, floating free and easy on the breeze of Dean’s words.
His brother’s a goddamn poet. Who knew?
Sam always knew.
“What do you say we take this slow,” Dean says. “Give us both time to recover from what happened the other night. Let me think it through and mull it over. See where we are in another week or so. Sound okay?”
Sam licks his lips, nods. “Yeah,” he manages, his voice broken and breathy. “Yeah, Dean. Sounds good.”
“Good.” Dean looks down, realizes they’re still holding hands, and pulls his free gently. “And put a shirt on. I’m getting a complex just from looking at you.” He raises his eyes to Sam’s and winks. “Among other things.”
They give up on sleeping, get dressed and head to the diner for breakfast. They knock knees under the table, brush hands as they reach for the syrup at the same time. It’s normal. Ordinary.
Sam can’t stop grinning.
On the drive back to the bunker, Sam sits like he always does with his knees splayed wide, legs too long to stretch out comfortably with the bench set for Dean to drive. He bitches and complains about Dean’s choice in music, and Dean smirks because he always wins that particular argument. It’s an unusually warm day, so Dean rolls down the driverside window, leans his elbow on the doorframe. When he reaches his other arm across the back of the seat, lets his fingers play gently with the hair on the back of Sam’s neck, Sam tries not to enjoy it too much.
When they get back to the bunker, Cas and Jack are in the library, researching.
“Where the hell have you been?” Dean demands.
They look up at him blankly. Cas says, “We have been here, working. Where have you been?”
“Clearing a vamp nest in Wyoming,” Dean snaps.
Sam claps a hand on Jack’s shoulder. “How are you doing?”
“I’m good,” Jack says with his earnest smile. “I’m doing well.”
He glances at Dean, then back up at Sam. “Has something happened?”
Sam starts. “What do you mean?”
“You two seem — happy, I guess.”
Sam and Dean exchange glances.
Dean shrugs. “Getting a job done right always feels good, doesn’t it, Sammy?”
“Yes, it does, Dean. Yes, it does.”