The Supernatural Appeal of Wincest

Sam/Dean shippers defend the most taboo (and popular) Supernatural pairing.

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Tumblr.com | rigby-floyd

Dean: “They do know we’re brothers, right?”
Sam: “Doesn’t seem to matter.”
Dean: “Oh, come on… That’s just sick.”


In “The Monster at the End of This Book,” the eighteenth episode of the fourth season of Supernatural, brothers Sam and Dean Winchester stumble upon some slashfic featuring their namesake characters in Carver Edlund’s book series:

This scene marks one of the show’s first meta references to its fan community and, more specifically, those “sick” fans who read and write “Wincest” fanfiction. Wincest, a portmanteau of “Winchester” and “incest,” is the original OTP of the Supernatural fandom: the first Supernatural slash community sn_slash (“for all your brotherly needs”) was created on LiveJournal only a week after the pilot episode aired on September 5th, 2005. In short, fans have been shipping the Winchester brothers since the beginning, with many convinced of (or, at least, interested in) a romantic and sexual bond between the two.

A little context: the Supernatural fandom, more than any other, is marked by its “shipping wars.” In one camp, the Dean/Castiel (“Destiel”) shippers, who believe there is a “more profound bond” between the older Winchester and his guardian angel. In the other camp, the Wincest shippers, who believe the bond between Sam and Dean eclipses all others in the series. Both ships are highly popular within the Supernatural fandom, however, Destiel reigns supreme in fandom at large, consistently topping “fandometric” lists and infographics. In fact, many of the uninitiated begin watching Supernatural because they’ve seen so much Destiel fanworks on Tumblr.

Although there are multishippers out there (hello!), the fact remains that Supernatural fans are heavily divided along shipping lines. This makes for a very, ‘erm, passionate online fandom, where social media posts praising either ship are flooded with responses from vehement detractors. Magnificent discord is the hallmark of the Supernatural fandom. But the most common point of contention? Wincest.

In a highly engaging Reddit post called, “Appeal of Wincest?,” many Sam/Dean shippers took to their keyboards to help defend one of the most taboo and most popular ships in the Supernatural fandom.

First and foremost, there’s an argument to be made that Sam and Dean Winchester share the most profound homosocial bond on television. Few would dispute that the brothers’ onscreen chemistry is unparalleled in contemporary fantasy horror; a chemistry that owes itself, in large part, to the delightful offscreen friendship between actors Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki (or “J2”). This intense “bro love” between Sam and Dean can, according to a comment by Reddit-user stophauntingme, lead to some “wires crossing” between platonic and romantic love:

Most wincest shippers generally love gen fics that focus heavily on the brothers as well as far as I know; the show’s gut-wrenching bro love is really something to behold… but as you get more into the dramatics of it all, it can somersault and cross wires and get you into accepting it as a function of romantic love (if you wanted).

[…] [F]or me the show’s heart was, from the very outset, the brotherly love between Sam & Dean and specifically how the sibling roles between ‘big brother’ and ‘little brother’ were a source of comfort to both of them and not burdensome trappings that either of them really wanted to break out of any time soon. I’ve seen the first 3 seasons framed as ‘Dean was young, insecure, and lonely, and given his lack of connection to anyone else more functional, he went to go get Sam in the pilot.’ But I definitely saw it more as Dean wanting Sam back in his life and wanting to be a big brother again. There were a lot of sweet moments (and still are) regarding the two of them as big brother & little brother… some as subtle as Sam speaking so excitedly to Dean that he loses awareness of his surroundings and Dean has to put his arm out to stop him from crossing the street as a car zooms by (one of my faves, lol) to the more obvious instances of Dean gently brushing Sam’s hair back & framing his face in his hands to make sure he’s okay after winning a fight with Gordon.

Moments like those – and Sam and Dean’s sibling roles – come off really endearing considering how mutually affectionate they are to one another in their own ways that seem surprisingly compatible (ying-yanging). For a fan, after awhile of stewing in them, it’s not exactly the most surprising thing that they get rolled up, somersaulted, criss-crossy wires, and bam: you’ve got some potential for wincest.

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Tumblr.com | noaryr

Sam and Dean’s brotherly affection is the obvious source of many Wincest fics. However, chemistry is not the only reason why fans ship the Winchester boys. Many ship Sam and Dean because it is taboo. After all, fanfiction was never meant to be kosher. The original Kirk/Spock slashfics emerged in direct response to the erasure of queer relationships and sexualities in science fiction. Fanfiction is meant to be subversive, challenging, a revolt against the status quo. Wincest is no different. For many, the Sam/Dean ship is intriguing, new, and exciting: the type of relationship (sibling incest), its participants (the Winchester brothers), and the medium of fanfiction itself exist on the fringe of society. There’s a common thread of illicitness (NSFW) to all three.

Wincest is an escape from the mundane, the tedious, the daily grind of the hunt. It hides in cheap motel rooms of po’dump towns and in the darkened backseat of midnight Impala rides. It’s in how Sam and Dean come to terms (or not) with the clandestine nature of what the fuck they’re doing. This fringe appeal is echoed in a comment by Reddit-user sulphurcocktail:

I can only refer to my little corner of fandom, but most of the Wincesters I know enjoy the illicit aspect of the relationship. They like that it’s taboo, that Sam and Dean are in too deep. Nothing is normalized. And if Sam and Dean try to make it seem normal on the surface (such as lying to people about being brothers), it’s nothing close to normal under that thin veneer.

Think about the (American) Hunter community. It’s Outsider. It’s fringe. It’s absurdly dangerous. If you’re raised in the Hunting life, it’s easy to see how you don’t belong in regular society, how norms stop applying to you. You kill things that look human, sometimes. Maybe you even kill humans, if they’re possessed or infected or bitten or practice black magic. You have your own lexicon. You can’t share your secret with anyone but each other. It’s part warzone, part gang, and always covert. You fear raising children in this world, and your life expectancy is greatly diminished. You depend upon a very small circle for your very life. And if you manage to find some small comfort under these conditions? You grab it and you hang on desperately. No, it isn’t healthy. It’s not supposed to be. It’s bittersweet, dystopian, angsty, delicious devotion. That’s the appeal of Wincest.

All things considered, as a ship, Wincest just makes sense. It doesn’t appear out of nowhere. Maybe, just maybe, Sam/Dean shippers aren’t as “sick” as the Supernatural writers might insinuate. (Unless you own it, you gorgeous freak.) Still, what characterizes most negative reactions to Wincest is many fans’ inability to accept an incestuous relationship: Sam and Dean are brothers and, in our world, brothers having sex is highly taboo, objectionable, abhorrent. But this is fanfiction. Whatever we say, goes. And, if Wincest squicks you out? Keep calm and scroll on. There’s always Destiel on the dash.

FAN/FIC Editor’s Rec: The Last Outpost of All That Is by gekizetsu (Explicit, M/M, Wincest, 59K words) The world begins with the interruption of a sleep. Which is why wakefulness is the only proof of existence. And why the world is fragmented and cannot achieve fullness. And why it constantly seeks to reconstruct fullness. In vain, because the discontinuous will never pass over into the continuous. Mathematics tells us that, last outpost of all that is. — Roberto Calasso, Ka

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About Mary Sue (4 Articles)
Mary Sue is competent in many areas, physically attractive, and always gets her man. She is also a multi-user pseudonym for writers who wish to publish anonymously for FAN/FIC Magazine.

25 Comments on The Supernatural Appeal of Wincest

  1. I ship all combinations of Sam/Dean/Cas, but I think I ship Wincest the most. For me, a big part of the reason why I ship it is because I feel like it’s an inherent, undeniable part of the text. I don’t think the writers will ever really “go there,” but it’s still an underlying, latent thing that crawls beneath the surface plot.

    Wincest is the real tragedy of the show, because even though Sam and Dean yearn for the possibility of being able to live a normal life, the hunter lifestyle has forever barred them from that. And Wincest is the ultimate consequence of that; their whole world narrowed down to just the two of them. Both of them take solace in their relationship, but at the same time, it means TOO much to them; it’s the one thing in their lives that matters to them, and they are incapable of letting another person get closer to them than their own brother (as much as I appreciate Destiel and Sastiel, neither could be sustained in the long term unless they eventually become Wincestiel). If Sam and Dean give in and allow Wincest to happen, then it means giving up any aspirations of normalcy. It means accepting that the way that they were raised messed them up. It means succumbing to the narrative that they never wanted to be a part of in the first place.

    So I guess Wincest is the real tragedy of the show while also being the happiest outcome for Sam and Dean. Because the one good thing in their lives is always the other person, and Wincest is like coming home. That rush of relief and love, familiarity. But it’s also guilt, and burning bridges. It means giving in to the hunter’s narrative and abandoning normalcy forever. It violates their entire story arc while also being ultimately the only possible conclusion.

    • FAN/FIC Magazine // January 23, 2017 at 6:21 pm // Reply

      “Wincest is the real tragedy of the show.” This is fascinating. I’ve never thought about Wincest in this way before – as the most natural, yet ultimately doomed, conclusion of Sam and Dean’s story. Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts. (Also, you must be a fic writer. This comment is very beautiful.)

      • Thank you! And yes, I am a fic writer! I actually linked one of my fics to my username here, haha. It’s a fic I wrote that sort of explores a bit of what I was talking about here.

  2. Thanks for the interesting article. I love the relationship between Sam and Dean, Wincest as it were, because of the undeniable, unbreakable -I would die/kill/let the world burn for you- bond that they have. It is the the very definition of unconditional love when they forsake everything and everyone else to save each other. That’s what made the how what it is; that’s what keeps me interested.

  3. Nice article. But SOME destiel shippers have made it a ships war. And away from tumblr or twitter, destiel isn’t even a ‘thing’. I never knew that people even considered Dean with Cass, until I joined tumblr four years ago and I’ve been watching the show since it premiered in 2005.

  4. It’s nice to see an article that isn’t criticizing or condemning Wincest shippers. It’s rare that we get that–even when an article or write up isn’t overtly hostile, it’s often framed in a sniggery, finger-pointing way that’s not very pleasant.

    However, I do have something I’d like to point out. The very first thing you mention is S5 TMATEOTB and it’s criticism of Wincest and shippers. However, you then completely fail to address the fact that despite that criticism the show has continued to give Wincest shippers regular, positive nods and winks in every season. You also fail to note that the leads of the show have said on many occasions that they enjoy the fan creativity the show inspires, encourage fans to love what they love and not let anyone discourage them, and that Jensen (Dean) himself has called Wincest a ‘hot fantasy’ and said that he understands the appeal. The end result is that someone less familiar with fandom who reads this article would likely come away with a very skewed view of how the show sees and interacts with it’s shippers.

    I have a lot of other thoughts on why I ship Sam and Dean and why I think their relationship makes sense, many of which seem to align fairly closely with sulphercocktail’s thoughts. One big reason that I didn’t see mentioned in your article is that Sam and Dean are canonically soulmates. While that doesn’t have to indicate romantic love, that trope is certainly more common in literature, and to me it is another bond that pulls them closer to truly being everything to each other.

  5. There’s a plethora of reasons to ship Wincest. And the show might’ve called it ‘sick’ but it’s also had a canon couple LARPing as Sam and Dean, in addition to Sam and Dean posing as a couple on three different occasions.

    As for the older and younger sibling relationship, I think it goes beyond ‘normal’ sibling-hood or normal for what’s expected from Sam and Dean. Adult men, siblings or not, don’t typically show the sort of physical affection and desire to be as close. Especially those with the ‘rough around the edges’ attitude the Winchesters have.
    There’s also the knowledge that they constantly put each other before other relationships, not out of responsibility, but out of choice. Other characters in the series remark on their closeness, point out how it’s problematic.
    Lisa calling it a ‘tangled up thing’
    And Zachariah calling them ‘erotically codependent’

    As a Wincest shipper, I’ve never done it because it’s ‘taboo’ . And as someone with four siblings, I haven’t done it because I don’t understand sibling affection vs romantic affection.

    I ship Wincest because both of them are willing to go far and beyond what normal siblings would do for one another. Soul selling and death defying aside. Even little ‘filler’ episodes, like the Siren who became Dean’s brother, point to it being what the show is about. Because it may not be ‘healthy’ but it’s deep and abiding, and not going anywhere.

    Someone above posted that they were glad to see the ‘codependency breaking’. Which is usually just Destiel shippers happily thinking that their ship’s going to be canon. But the the show is, platonic soulmates and their codependency. That’s what the main story arcs have been from the get go.

    As for shipping wars?
    Jared gets hate all the time from shippers. Plenty of Destiel shippers even suggest that Misha and Jensen secretly dislike him and that J2 is only a thing for the media. It’s absolutely ridiculous how low it can get.
    I appreciate the effort on the article, but I just feel like you’ve pigeon hold and summarized a little too much for something so complex. This tidbit of a quote from Jensen Ackles is also pretty insightful from someone on the fringe of fandom behavior.

    “I know they don’t (think it’s real)–it’s a hot fantasy. But I think, and you can probably help me out with this, that it might stem from their love of the two characters and how much they have invested in Sam and Dean, and there are really no characters that they want coming into that realm. I think it’s their love for these two characters, they don’t want anyone to interfere. They want it to be just the two of them, all the time, and I think that’s where it stems from. I don’t think they really think we’re gay. So I really think it’s just the fact they are left with no other option when thinking of these two characters, and of course these guys are together. Though I wish that two guys can just be heterosexual males and still have a brotherly love. But that’s why it’s called fiction!”

  6. Thank you for the insightful and respectful article!

  7. Loved the article and really enjoyed reading it! Really summons up what so many Wincest shippers love about their ship =)
    For me it’s pretty much about all of the above: the “us against the world” kind of love, sacrificing themselves to save the other, the inability to function without the other brother, the codependency and unhealthiness of their twisted relationship, and in the very end, to a small part, the taboo of it all.

  8. I just don’t understand how one can support the idea of incest. Fictional or not this is something people suffer from. I know people in my own family who have had to deal with this. And it can never be consensual. There’s always a power imbalance no matter how old, mature etc the pair is. Supporting it normalizes it, and it’s something that should never be normalized. It is too often compared to LGBT+ ships and all that does is hurt the LGBT+ community and the very real argument of lack of representation and respect that community has. I’ve been in the SPN fandom as well as other fandoms, and the demand for incestual/abusive/pedophiliac ships to be seen as equals as normal ships (lgbt+, m/f, etc) makes no sense to me whatsoever.

    However I do love Sam and Dean’s relationship. It’s one of the stronger sibling bonds on television. I’m glad this season so far has moved away from the codependency on onto just pure, healthy brotherly bonding. It’s fun to watch.

    • If you think they aren’t still co-dependent, you haven’t been watching very closely.

      • I don’t think they aren’t still codependent, i think that Dabb is doing a good job moving away from that. I mean, he wrote red meat, and saw how poor it did ratings wise. He knows what the majority of fans want. And that is character growth.

        • Do you understand how ratings work? They have almost nothing to do with actual views. They’re a small portion of the elite community with boxes that show whether they’re watching or not, and do not count rewatches. No one would’ve even known what the episode was going to entail without watching it, and that would have given them neilson ratings.

          This is the sort of garbage that annoys me in the fandom. ‘Character growth’ is basically always ‘Sam and Dean stop dying for one another so that Destiel can happen’.
          And that is ridiculous.

    • The thing is, no one is ‘demanding’ Wincest be made canon. As a Wincest shipper deep in the tumblr community, I’ve seen a lot crazy shippers and tin-hatters. The most I’ve ever seen about making it canon was that ‘It would be canon if SPN was on HBO’ … Which is more of a joke than anything.

      As for normalizing incest, there are countries where same-sex relationships between siblings are not prohibited, and where half-siblings can get permits to marry if they agree not to have biological children. These are developed nations.

      Of course there is a lot of abuse that happens within familial relationships. I’m not discounting that. And I definitely understand why someone would be turned off the ship for those reasons. But to say Wincest shippers do it because they support incest is unfair and untrue.

      People don’t say that people who ship Hannibal/Will Graham support murder.
      People don’t say non-con fics are written by rapists.
      A ship is just a ship. And Wincest takes place in a very fictional world of angels and monsters, where men impersonate FBI every week and come back from the dead every couple of years. So chill with the finger pointing.

      • I never said people are demanding it be made canon. I said people are demanding it be respected on the same level as LGBT+ ships. Every time a SPN crew member tweets something Destiel positive the response is “What about my incest ship? You gonna mention that or pander to one side?”

        There’s a reason Dean’s reaction to Wincest was one if disgust. Now, in order to ship an incest ship you must be okay on some level with the idea of siblings having sex. Any person completely 100% not okay with incest wouldn’t dare read an explicit fanfiction with incest. That’s also another main reason why i don’t like it. The idea of incest/abusive/pedophiliac (weecest) ships are purely for fetishization. That’s what it has to be labeled as, because it’s a fetish. Not saying there isn’t fetishization in the LGBT+ ship community because boyyyy there is. But to be ok with an illegal, immoral ship can only be excused as fetish.

        And again. Never once did I say Wincest shippers actually engage in real life relationships. Though i have met quite a few who have tried telling me that incest is a normal thing. People who are far more than okay with this type of relationship in real life. And that’s where the normalization starts to hurt the real world.

        • I don’t ship wincest for fetishization, and a lot of shippers don’t. I don’t ship any other incestuous ships for that reason.
          I ship Sam and Dean because their situation and their behavior make it interesting to explore, and, in my mind, make it perfectly reasonable and healthy in their particular situation.
          And incest isn’t illegal everywhere, like I said, and morality is subjective.

          And that’s beside the point; because rape and non-consent are popular fantasies in the fandom community, and yet the people who enjoy reading about don’t want to rape or be raped. To say that all Wincest shippers even enjoy it because they have an incest kink is wrong and disrespectful.
          Dean also had a poor reaction to Destiel the -one. time.- it was brought up in the canon; so much that Jensen improvised the famous fourth wall break to point it out to shippers.

          The idea that the ‘crew’ supports Destiel is inaccurate. Because the Wincest fandom gets plenty more nods in the show and by the actors, and the wincest fandom is well aware of that.
          I see problematic Destiel shippers all the time. From everything as petitioning for Destiel to be canon to petitioning for Jensen to be ‘fired’ and Dean be replaced when he took anti-destiel stances at conventions in the past.

        • sulphurcocktail // January 20, 2017 at 2:16 pm // Reply

          “But to be ok with an illegal, immoral ship can only be excused as fetish.”

          Yeah, because fanfiction never fetishizes anything. Ever. It’s against the Fanfic Bible, right? And if you don’t approve of their fictional explorations, they’re not allowed to write it.

          Again, you’re conflating fiction with reality. I won’t say that fiction can’t impact reality (hey, we’re in an era of “False News”, after all), but fanfiction is OVERTLY fictional…proudly, knowingly so. If you don’t like it? Scroll on. You’re not going to shame fic writers into not exploring what they want to explore. If it offends you, steer clear. Writing fiction about it is not necessarily illegal, nor is it unequivocally immoral. (Some fic DOES treat it with the gravity it deserves, after all.)

          “Though i have met quite a few who have tried telling me that incest is a normal thing. People who are far more than okay with this type of relationship in real life. And that’s where the normalization starts to hurt the real world.”

          We understand your objections to the real-world instances. What you’re asserting is that writing about Wincest has lead people to explore it in the real world. To condone it. That’s like saying listening to certain types of music means devil-worship is okay. Or playing D&D will lead to a psychotic break with reality. Chances are, these people were broken to begin with.

          I’ve been floating around Wincest shippers for years and never ONCE have I met one who thinks incest it’s a normal thing, let alone “quite a few”. If I look for it, though, I’m sure I’ll find it, because the internet is a big, big place full of a great many people. I bet if I look hard enough, I’ll also find a Destieler or three who digs necrophilia too. Takes all kinds to make a fandom. Far be it from me to judge.

    • sulphurcocktail // January 20, 2017 at 1:39 pm // Reply

      I’m sorry you have a family fraught with incest, but policing what people fictionalize isn’t your job, nor is it your right to censor them. You are incorrect in the blanket statement that exploring the happenstance of incest either supports it or normalizes it, on the regular. That is fundamentally a false assumption.

      Avoid it, scroll on, and hope that no one ever takes judgemental exception to something you choose to explore.

    • FAN/FIC Magazine // January 20, 2017 at 3:14 pm // Reply

      Wonderful comments and debates, everyone! I hope it continues in a spirit of inclusion and respect, as there are a lot of interesting opinions about this particular topic.

      As Editor, I would like to remind everyone in this thread of our Comment Policy, which can be read in full here:

      We moderate comments before they appear on our site. Our goal is to encourage respectful discussion and foster a safe and welcoming environment for everyone. No matter the opinion, comments should be articulate and informed. Disagreements are okay, but attacks are not.

      Our policy is to delete comments that are: abusive, inflammatory, rude; off-topic; racist, sexist, homophobic; spam, including solicitations and ads for other websites; not contributing to the discussion (e.g. one-word comments); personal attacks.

      If you recently posted a comment and do not see it on the site, this means it is either still in our comment queue waiting to be approved or we’ve deleted it for one of the reasons listed above. If you see a posted comment that you feel has violated our policy, please contact us right away.

      Thank you for reading and commenting. 🙂

  9. Great article! I shipped wincest at the very beginning when I first started watching SPN before switching permanently to destiel when Castiel came around in season 4, so I get where the wincest fans come from, and as a general rule, so-called “problematic” ships don’t bother me in the least, it’s often the reason why they’re interesting in the first place.

    From my personal experience (yours may vary), the other destiel shippers around me were also mostly okay with the ship, they didn’t go out of their way to criticize it, but they had big problems with a portion of the wincest shippers themselves (although I think they were mainly J2 shippers of the grossly delusional SPN Gossip variety) who tended to be hateful towards destiel fans, Castiel, and even sometimes Misha Collins. So from what I saw, the hostily going on wasn’t your run of the mill, frivolous shipper war…

    I get why some wincest fans end up getting defensive though, since I know they do receive hate in their mailbox telling them that they’re sick for shipping that particular ship, but I also saw how it lead some of them to become agressive towards other shippers, and to lose it a little and accuse destiel fans of hating Sam and/or Jared for some reason I still cannot fathom… Anyway that’s my personal experience with the ship and its fans.

    • FAN/FIC Magazine // January 19, 2017 at 11:38 am // Reply

      Interesting insights! Yes, from what I’ve observed, some of the hostilities in the Supernatural fandom go beyond the “run of the mill, frivolous shipper wars” because there are such strong parallels between the Sam/Dean intimacy onscreen and the Jared/Jensen friendship offscreen. The two ships almost bleed together in a really seamless way that can cause even further “wires crossing” (as noted in the article by Redditor “stophauntingme”) and, sadly, a lot of anger and hurt feelings. That’s the fascinating thing about the Supernatural fandom, though: its intensity. If you fly too close to the sun, you burn.

      Thanks for reading and the lovely comment! 🙂

    • sulphurcocktail // January 19, 2017 at 12:53 pm // Reply

      Interestingly, I’ve had a similar experience, but I was discouraged out of the Destiel fandom by the Destiel shippers. (I was toying with multi-shipping at the time.) Their insistence that unless Destiel was made canon, the show was queerbaiting them, and how “gross” and “disgusting” Wincesters supposedly were drove me away. I have only received hate from Destiel shippers. Clearly, your mileage has varied.

      Shipper vs. shipper aggression has gone on since the first days of shipping, just about! And it’s not gonna stop any time soon. I figure the best we can do is judge each other as individuals. Who a person ships doesn’t wholly define who they are, especially if you keep a bead on what’s fantasy and what’s reality.

      PS…some Destiel shippers do dislike Jared and Sam. It’s silly to think otherwise, because no bunch of shippers are a monolith or hive mind. Just sayin’. Doesn’t surprise me in the least. I’ve seen it.

      • sulphurcocktail // January 19, 2017 at 12:58 pm // Reply

        EDIT: What I meant to say is that of all the hate I’ve received, it’s only been FROM Destiel shippers. Because I’ve received good things from ’em too. I have dear friends who are Destiel shippers. Sorry!

  10. I tend to fall mostly into the latter camp myself, the taboo is intriguing and boundary pushing, but I think for me there’s a little more to it than that. I tend to compare Wincest to my only other sibling ship – River and Simon Tam from Firefly.

    The one thing they share in common at their their core is that the characters are broken from the very beginning of canon, their lives are already on the fringe and the appeal of finding physical and emotional connection with someone as broken and needing human connection and love as they are is compelling to say the least.

    • FAN/FIC Magazine // January 19, 2017 at 11:31 am // Reply

      Great point about Wincest’s similarity to the River/Simon ship from Firefly. Both of these pairings have “fringe appeal.” And these two “broken” ships reflect a very different relationship dynamic than, say, Fred/George Weasley “twincest,” which totally squicks me out.

      Thanks for reading and commenting! 🙂

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