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The Bright Lights of Disturbia

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The tattoo hurts less than Sam thought it would. Probably because his thoughts are miles away, with Dad and Dean. Instead of stinging pain, there’s little more than tingling warmth in his chest as the needle moves, tracing over the lines of the design. The buzz of the machine is actually soothing, and by the time Dean shows up halfway through Sam’s session and sits down wordlessly in a chair to watch, Sam has drifted into a trance-state.

He looks back at his brother—at the heavy way that the right side of Dean’s coat is hanging—and through the drifting numbness feels the Colt’s presence crackle, electric and deadly. Dean is deadly too, of course, and beautiful. Right now, he looks nothing but confident, all of his inner turmoil and pain locked up tight inside until tonight is over. Sam’s certain that he’s feeling something, though. Knows that his brother must be worried like hell about Dad.

But Dean’s expression is still as bland as it has ever been when the tattoo artist—Trish—finally taps Sam on the side and announces, “Okay, you’re done.” Pointing at Dean, she adds, “Boyfriend. Strip.”

Suddenly, Sam’s glad that Dad isn’t there with them, because instead of laughing off the assumption the way he normally does, Dean goes beet red. It means that Dean’s emotions aren’t locked up anywhere near as tightly as Sam thought, and he watches consideringly as Dean takes off his coat and his flannel shirt and the t-shirt beneath that, peeling away the layers until Sam can see the freckles speckling his brother’s chest and the mark of his mouth on Dean’s hip where his brother’s pants hang low.

Too low. He’s lost weight, Sam realizes—not much, only a couple of pounds—but lost weight means lost muscle mass. Sam starts to frown, worried about the why of the change, and then stiffens as Trish whistles.

Before he can make a complete ass out of himself by going possessive and hostile, she clears things up by asking, “Are you two in a gang?”

Sam’s used to Dean’s body, doesn’t see the scars anymore when he looks, but he guesses that he can see where the whistle and the question would come from. He has a few of his own, of course—they come with the territory—but not nearly as many as his brother, not enough for her to have commented on. Dean, though—Dean runs into danger headfirst, and he’s always the last to retreat. Add that to his masochistic, martyrish tendencies and his habit of jumping between Sam and anything even remotely dangerous and it’s a wonder he’s as intact as he is.

Dean isn’t fazed at all by the question, which is one they’ve been asked in countless clinics and emergency rooms. He actually looks reassured by it, and tosses her a smile as he passes his clothes to Sam. It’s almost the same smile that Dean uses to get himself free slices of pie and pretty waitresses’ numbers scrawled on the back of receipts. Sam guesses that he and Dad are the only two people who’d notice that it’s a hair too wide to be genuine.

“Rangers,” Dean lies blatantly, no trace of unease in his voice, and then flutters his lashes at Sam. “But don’t ask, and we won’t tell. Isn’t that right, honey?”

Sam manages a slow smile that doesn’t feel cheerful at all, but it must be good enough because Trish throws her head back and laughs. “Excellent! Then you should be good at following orders.” Pointing at her workstation, she demands, “Chair. Now.”

Some of Dean’s flirtatious, carefree mask slips as he obeys. It isn’t replaced by the competent expression he wore when it was Sam’s turn, either. He looks nervous, lips pursed tightly together and movements stiff. Not alarming for Trish, who must be used to seeing nerves from some clients, but Sam knows how wrong this is. How uncharacteristic it is for his brother to show even the slightest sign of fear.

“You ticklish, Ranger?” Trish asks, reaching for the same pencil she used to outline Sam’s tattoo.

“No,” Dean answers. Just that, no teasing or jokes, and Sam frowns a little as he tries and fails to catch his brother’s eyes.

“Good,” Trish responds. “Then don’t move.”

Dean swallows as she starts drawing on his chest and rests his head against the back of the chair. His eyes are open, but from the stiff expression on Dean’s face, Sam would be willing to bet that his brother isn’t really seeing the ceiling. He sits down in the chair his brother was using before, still holding his brother’s coat (and the Colt) in his lap, and studies the minute twitches and tics of Dean’s facial expressions. His chest has finally begun to sting a little beneath the gauze Trish taped over the tattoo, but it’s easy to ignore the slight pain in favor of the sharp-edged suspicion creeping up his spine.

Now, with Dean’s uneasiness clear and present before him, Sam can’t help remembering how poorly his brother reacted to Dad’s insistence that he be tattooed. Sam didn’t want to push the issue then, with Dad there and the confrontation with the demon looming, but Dad’s gone now. The confrontation might be closer than ever, but Sam’s beginning to think the right choice here would be to talk about what’s bothering Dean because he’s clearly not as settled as he should be about tonight, about what they’re going to do.

Sam doesn’t want to go in there with Dean this vulnerable. If there’s even a chance that talking might shore his brother up, he's going to take it.

“So how come you didn’t want to do this?” he asks.

“Can we have this conversation later?” Dean grunts in response. His face is still tilted up toward the ceiling, but even from this angle Sam can see that there’s too much white and not enough green in his brother’s eyes—clear evidence that Dean’s not just nervous, but riding the fine edge of panic. “I’m a little busy here.”

Trish rolls her eyes as she traces the symbol onto Dean’s chest but doesn’t say anything. Probably thinking about how the most macho guys are always the ones with the needle and pain phobias.

Sam himself is pretty sure neither of those things are Dean’s problem.

“Later like we’re gonna see Da—uh, John later?” Sam says, catching himself at the last moment. Trish seems pretty cool with the whole gay thing, but he’s guessing she’d get a whole lot less cool if he accidentally let it slip that they’re related.

Dean lowers his head so that he can look at Sam, and his gaze has sharpened the way Sam wanted it to—Dean can’t have a panic attack when he’s angry.

“Yes,” he says firmly. “Just like.” There’s determination behind the anger in his eyes: a fierce light as though Dean can keep Dad alive through sheer willpower alone.

And he thinks he’s no good at faith.

“Come on, man. I know it’s not my kickass design, so what is it?”

“Not now, Sam,” Dean growls, cutting his eyes toward Trish.

Without pausing in her work, she switches the pencil to her left hand and uses her right to smack Dean in the back of the head.

“Ow!” he complains, shooting her a hostile look and jerking away. Luckily, Trish seemed to be expecting something of the sort and lifts the tip of the pencil just enough to avoid marring the design.

“I said hold still,” she says, smacking Dean’s stomach. “And stop tensing so much. I haven’t even gotten to the tough part yet.”

“Jesus Christ,” Dean mutters as he settles in again. “You’re like the freaking Gestapo, lady.”

“Oh, stop being such a baby and answer Stretch over there. Not like I haven’t heard it all before anyway. Tattoo artists and bartenders, babe. We hear more fucked up shit than most shrinks. Trust me.”

Dean glances over at Sam—he’s got his ‘do you believe this chick?’ face on—but Sam isn’t in the mood for camaraderie. He and Dean are walking into the middle of a shitstorm in a couple of hours, and Sam wants Dean as grounded as possible when that happens.

If that means Dean has to be uncomfortable now, while they’re lancing the wound, then so be it.

“Is it because it’s supernatural?” Sam asks.

Although Dean’s never been a huge fan of using anything too closely related to the things they hunt, it isn’t a serious guess. Dean’s never been shy about voicing that kind of disapproval. But Sam guesses it’s as good a way as any to get Dean to respond, and the speed with which his brother’s face turns red proves him right.

“Christ, Sam,” Dean hisses, shooting a look at Trish. “That’s—that’s private.”

Sam can read volumes of rebuke in Dean’s eyes—what they do is supposed to be a secret, Trish is a civilian, blah blah blah. But ‘Rule Number One, We Do What We Do And We Shut Up About It’ isn’t what’s really bothering Dean about Sam’s question, and Sam knows it. No, the problem here would be the million and one injunctions Dean has against discussing his feelings at all, let alone in front of a stranger.

Injunctions that Sam is determined to plow through full steam ahead, if that’s what it takes.

On the other hand, if he pushes too hard or too fast, Dean could break in the wrong way—lash out or clam up for good.

After a moment of consideration, Sam leans forward and asks, “Hey, Trish. You have an iPod laying around here?”

“Hang on, just—” Trish draws one more curving line, completing the outline, and then sits back triumphantly. “Boom, baby! Okay, so. IPod, you said? Yeah, I’ve got one. You two need a little alone time?”

“Something like that,” Sam answers. Dean glares at him but doesn’t protest. He’s probably planning on using the opportunity to chew Sam out.

“No problem, Stretch,” Trish agrees, rolling her chair over to a drawer and pulling out a pink iPod. She pops the buds into her ears, scrolls through her playlists, and then the muted, tinny sound of Goth metal bleeds out into the air.

No way is she hearing anything past that racket.

Without sparing them another glance, Trish starts setting up her station with new needles and ink containers.

“You are so goddamned lucky that we’re going after the demon tonight,” Dean hisses. “Hell, I might still kick your ass. The supernatural, Sam? Really?”

“That’s exactly why you have to tell me, Dean,” Sam shoots back. “Because we’re going after the demon. This is obviously messing with your head and you can’t be distracted right now.”

Dean’s lips thin as he presses them together. “I’m handling it,” he says, and then promptly proves himself a liar by jumping when Trish rests a hand on the oval, poker-shaped burn scar on his shoulder.

“Seriously,” she says, her voice louder than it needs to be to compensate for the music blaring in her ears. “You need to stay still for this part.”

Dean gives her an insincere smile and an OK gesture with his right hand. Then, without looking at Sam, he wraps both hands around the chair arms and holds on with a death grip.

“How about I guess and you tell me hot or cold?” Sam offers as Trish starts up her tattoo machine.

“How about you shut the fuck up and let me do this?” Dean snaps, and then thunks his head back against the seat as Trish finally sets the needle to his skin.

Sam quiets for a few moments, letting Dean get used to the sensation while he searches around in his head for a plausible theory. Finally, he asks, “Does it have to do with the demon?”

Dean ignores him.

“Dad?”

Still nothing.

“Me?”

Dean’s fingers twitch involuntarily. It could be the needle plunging in and out of his skin, but Sam gets the feeling that he’s the one who just struck a nerve. Still, that minute twitch isn’t a strong enough reaction to account for the depth of nerves Dean’s displaying, so Sam presses on with the one question he really doesn’t want to ask.

“Is this about what happened in Vegas?”

Dean reaches quickly enough for his head that he smacks himself in the face on the way before correcting with a grimace and pressing his fingers against the hooked scar at his temple.

Bingo.

“Shut up, Sam,” Dean says. “I mean it.” His voice lacks the conviction he probably intends it to have, though: too breathless to sound at all threatening.

“So,” Sam says, feeling like a heartless bastard for pushing, but helpless to stop when getting Dean’s head on straight is so important. “It has to do with me and Vegas. I’m gonna guess maybe you don’t feel worthy of the protection?”

Dean laughs, dropping his hand back down to grip the arm of the chair again. “You get your shrink license out of a cereal box or what, dude?”

“Cold,” Sam translates, and then falls silent again, frowning.

He honestly has no clue why Dean has such a problem with this. Sam has stitched him up tons of times, and that had to hurt a hell of a lot more than getting tattooed. So did Dean’s rape, for that matter. But his brother is gripping the chair arms like he’s in agony, and his breathing has gone funny, and ... oh.

Oh.

“Is it just the fact that you’re getting off on the pain, or is the problem that I’m watching you get off on it?” Sam asks, keeping his voice soft and gentle and completely nonjudgmental.

Dean winces and turns his face toward the wall. There’s a flush across his skin now—face and chest and stomach, even the tips of his ears are reddened. Trish has only just started, but now that he’s looking, Sam can tell from the sprawl of his brother’s legs that Dean is already half-hard at least—maybe more than that. He’s come close to managing a full erection a couple of times in the last few weeks, so it isn’t out of the question.

Dragging his eyes up from the crotch of his brother’s jeans, Sam finds Dean’s eyes firmly shut. As he watches, Dean swallows—a shamed, reluctant ripple of his throat. Sam wants to go over and touch his brother, reassure him, but he doesn’t think that the contact would do anything but make Dean feel even worse.

Tightening his grip on his brother’s coat instead, he says, “Dean, it’s okay.”

“You weren’t ever supposed to see,” Dean whispers in a hushed voice. The sliver of face that Sam can make out from this angle is twisted into an anguished mix of arousal and embarrassment and shame.

“You really think it’d make a difference to me?” Sam replies. “I told you, man, I don’t care about that. It doesn’t—it doesn’t make me think any less of you.”

“It’s different. You didn’t—you didn’t see it, you—” The rest of Dean’s admittedly disjointed explanation cuts off with a hiss as Trish’s needle hits a particularly sensitive spot. The way his groin twitches up tells Sam that it wasn’t precisely a hiss of pain.

Trish notices the movement as well and, without pausing in her work, shouts out, “Down, boy!” She shakes her head a little and, in a slightly lower voice, adds, “Swear to God, some days I feel like I should charge by the hour. Be sunbathing on my very own tropical island right about now.”

Dean blinks his eyes open at that, looking over at her with a foggy, disoriented expression as he tries to process her words.

Sam, who doesn’t have his brother’s skewed world-view tossing up roadblocks between him and comprehension, immediately says, “See? You’re not the only one who gets off on this kind of thing.”

But instead of looking comforted by the knowledge, Dean squeezes his eyes shut for a second time and turns his head away again. “I think I’m gonna hurl,” he groans.

Sam does move at that, putting his brother’s coat down on the chair and going over to stand by his head. He can’t really get at the nape of Dean’s neck right now, but he can and does stroke his brother’s hair. Dean tenses at the first touch, eyes fluttering open, and Sam hesitates as he waits to see whether the contact is helping or just freaking Dean out more.

After a moment, his brother’s eyes focus—Sam can see Dean figuring it out, sees him understand that it’s Sam standing there—and some of the tension runs out of him. Cautiously, Sam touches Dean’s hair again, and when his brother continues to look up at him, dazed but trusting, increases the pressure.

“Don’t think about him,” he murmurs as he starts to massage his brother’s scalp. “Stay here, okay, Dean? I need you to stay here with me.”

Dean licks his lips—a quick, nervous dart of tongue—and then pants, “Frau Blücher over here’ll kill me if I move. Where the fuck do you think I’m gonna go?”

Sam knows that his brother understood what he meant, though, and Dean is craning his neck back so that he can watch Sam more easily, so he doesn’t correct him. Instead, he leans over and catches his brother’s mouth with his own.

For a long moment, Dean lies there unresponsively and Sam’s heart begins to speed with the terrifying thought that he misread his brother. He’s about to move back again and apologize when his brother’s lips tentatively part beneath his and press back. With gentle care, Sam tilts his brother’s head up a little further, trying to get better angle so that he can deepen the kiss.

“If you two get spunk on my chair,” Trish announces, “You’re buying me a new one.”

Sam’s face heats quickly enough that it hurts—he can’t believe he forgot they had company—and he immediately straightens.

“See?” Dean says. “Horses whinny in fear before her.” He licks his lips again—with intent, this time, Sam thinks: tasting the kiss—and then adds, “Like to see Dad try and handle her.”

Sam smiles a little at the thought of their father, and what he’d make of Trish, and then remembers where Dad is right now, and what he’s doing, and how unlikely it is that they’re going to see him again at all, and sobers. Luckily, Dean has allowed his eyes to sink shut and doesn’t see Sam’s expression sour—the last thing Dean needs right now is to have Sam’s fears dumped on top of his own.

Sam clears the blockage in his throat as softly as he can and starts massaging again, providing Dean with a comforting distraction while Trish does her job. His eyes travel down over his brother’s torso as his fingers work in Dean’s hair, taking in all the minute, helpless twitches of Dean’s muscles, and finally land on the mouth-shaped bruise on the crest of his brother’s right hip. He watches Dean’s groin twitch, sees the outline of his brother’s cock take shape against the inseam of his jeans as Dean hardens.

Truth be told, now that he’s had time to get used to the idea, Sam isn’t surprised that Dean gets off on a little pain. All the times Dean got hurt when he was growing up—badly, sometimes—that particular switch in his brain would have gotten flipped as a defense mechanism. If Dean wasn’t already wired to appreciate that kind of stimulation, that is. And Sam can’t pretend he hasn’t considered mixing a little pain in with his own pleasure—can’t deny that he’s gotten hard at the thought of his hand and Dean’s ass.

But he doesn’t know whether that sort of thing is something that his brother is ever going to be comfortable with, not after what happened with Hanson. He wouldn’t blame Dean at all if the answer turns out to be no—he’s too aware of the fact that it would have been an uphill battle getting Dean to embrace his desires even without the complications from the rape thrown into the mix. The lost possibilities make Sam’s chest ache, but one glance at his brother’s face is enough to soothe the worst of it.

Because Dean might enjoy a little pain, but he’s also come to enjoy this, to welcome the gentle caresses Sam offers. Now, when Sam kisses him tenderly, Dean responds in kind instead of going defensive and frightened the way he did in Vermont. Even if the sex has to be gentle, Dean’s still going to enjoy it.

And God, Sam would still consider himself lucky if this is all he ever gets: Dean lax and trusting and calm beneath his hands.

As his gaze drifts back to his mark on his brother’s hip, Sam frowns, considering. He’s probably not going to be able to convince Dean to come back to another tattoo parlor—his brother is still too embarrassed by his reactions, despite Sam’s reassurances—so he might as well take advantage of the moment while it’s available. And a glance at the clock is enough to tell him that there’s plenty of time to do this and still get out to Andy’s in time to play guard dog.

Sam isn’t going to spring it on Dean until the last second, though. The more quickly it happens, the less time Dean will have to overthink things and worm his way out of it.

It takes Trish another forty minutes or so, but finally she finishes and sits back in her chair. “Ta dah!” she proclaims, brandishing the tattoo gun. Am I good or what?”

Dean blinks for a moment, clearly surprised that the ordeal is over, and then starts to get up. Trish immediately pushes him back down with her free hand.

“Woah, cowboy. Still need to do a final wipe down and get you covered up.”

Dean mutters something under his breath that’s too soft to make out, but which is undoubtedly a swear. He complies, though, lying quietly while Trish puts down the tattoo machine and rips open a packet of antiseptic wipes. Dean’s sweating, his hair damp beneath Sam’s fingers, and Sam shifts one hand down to rest on his brother’s right shoulder.

“Relax,” he says.

“Easy for you to say,” Dean responds, and then flinches as Trish brusquely wipes down his new tattoo and the surrounding, reddened skin.

Sam waits for Trish to finish taping Dean’s bandage in place before leaning across his brother and pulling one of her earplugs free. She looks up at him with a grin.

“Done sexiling me, huh?” she asks, and then pats Dean’s side and adds, “Okay, you’re set.”

Sam tightens his grip on his brother’s shoulder as Dean tries to sit up again, keeping him in place.

“Dude, what gives?” Dean demands. Sam can sense the urge to fight his way free in the way Dean starts to twist, so he slides his hand further up Dean’s neck and catches one of his brother’s pressure points in a warning grip.

“Do you have time to do a couple smaller jobs?” he asks.

“Oh, hell no!” Dean growls, and now he’s definitely struggling. Sam tightens his hold in response, making his brother wince and still.

“Amount you two are tipping, I’ve got nothing but time,” Trish answers, but she pushes back a little from the table anyway, shaking her head. “But I’m not inking anyone who doesn’t want to be inked. He says he’s done, he’s done.”

“Damn right I am. Leggo, Sam.”

Instead, Sam leans down, getting his mouth right next to Dean’s ear and whispering, “I want to mark you.”

Dean goes still again, breath coming quick and light. When Sam slowly eases up on his neck, he still doesn’t move, eyes flitting back and forth on the far wall. He isn’t protesting anymore, but he isn’t agreeing either, so Sam reaches down with his right hand to press against the bruise on his brother’s hip. Dean sucks in a sharp breath, hand shooting up to grip Sam’s bicep in a loose hold.

“This is good, but it isn’t enough, is it?” Sam says, pitching his voice low and for his brother’s ears only. “Don’t tell me you haven’t thought about it, Dean. Haven’t wanted something a little more permanent.”

“One matching tattoo’s gay enough, dude,” Dean manages, but he doesn’t sound so sure about it, and he isn’t shoving Sam away.

“That’s practical,” Sam responds. “This’ll be different. Just for us.”

Dean doesn’t say anything, just lies there noiselessly panting. His stomach is rising and falling in short, enticing jerks. Sam has to avert his eyes to keep from getting distracted from the matter at hand.

“Come on, man,” he urges. “We’re already here.”

“Christ,” Dean breathes. And then immediately follows the exhalation up more strongly with, “You don’t get to ask for anything for the next five years.”

Although he’s been pushing for this, and although he could sense Dean weakening, Sam still can’t quite believe that his brother actually agreed to it. “Okay,” he says quickly.

As he starts to straighten, Dean catches his wrist and adds, “And I want compensation. Steak. You’re buying me steak.”

Despite his nervous excitement, Sam laughs at that, and can’t resist planting a quick kiss on his brother’s forehead. “Soon’s we’re done here, okay?”

Trish has edged closer again, looking a lot less nervous now that Dean seems on board with Sam’s request, and now she clears her throat to ask, “So what’re we doing?”

And that’s the question, isn’t it? The one that has Sam’s heart beating faster in his chest, and his mouth going dry, and his palms sweating. He wipes his hands on his jeans in what he hopes is a surreptitious manner and catches Dean’s eyes with his own.

“You trust me?”

Dean knows Sam far too well to miss the nervous tenor of his voice, but if he does notice Sam’s anxiety then he doesn’t acknowledge it at all. Instead, rolling his eyes, he mutters, “Why the hell not.”

Reassured by his brother’s typically juvenile response—if Dean’s hiding his nerves again, then it means he’s feeling better, which means Sam is on the right track—Sam grins and moves around the side of the chair. Dean watches him calmly until he reaches for the top button on Dean’s jeans.

Then he barks, “Woah!” and scrambles upright in the chair.

Sam freezes but doesn’t take his hands back where the tips of his fingers are hooked beneath the waistband of his brother’s pants. He can feel Dean’s panic radiating off of his skin like heat. Sees his brother’s pulse jump in his throat.

“I’m not taking anything off,” Sam explains, keeping his voice soft and gentle. “But she needs more room to work if she’s going to put anything on your hip.”

Dean continues to look at him, wide-eyed and breathless, and after a moment Sam offers, “You want me to go first?”

He’s prepared to negotiate location if that doesn’t calm Dean down either, even though the hipbone appears to be the spot they mutually agreed on when all of this started a month ago, but Dean finally shakes his head. He doesn’t look much calmer, but his jaw is set in a determined way that Sam is more than familiar with.

“No. I’m already here, right? Just ... watch the goods.”

The words are joking, but Sam can hear the earnest plea in his brother’s voice—can see it in his eyes—and it makes him pause. He doesn’t know if Dean is so upset because of how clearly he enjoyed getting the protection tattoo, or if it’s Trish’s presence that’s throwing his brother off, but he does know that he doesn’t like seeing Dean like this.

No matter how nice it would be to have some kind of permanent, visible claim on his brother, freaking Dean out this badly to do it isn’t worth it. Sam meant the second tattoo as a calming influence—a way to settle Dean’s faith in their relationship, at least. Taking this step was supposed to leave Dean reassured. It was supposed to make him happy, prove to him that Sam’s here, that he belongs to Dean and vice versa, that he’s not fucking leaving after tonight.

Instead, it looks like he’s just fucked up again.

Grimacing a little at the bitter taste in his mouth, Sam shakes his head and takes his hands back. “Another time,” he says as he steps away, giving his brother room to stand.

But Dean’s eyes narrow. He uncurls his hands from the chair arms, where they flew when Sam made his latest misstep, and starts opening his jeans himself. “Fuck that,” he growls, pushing the denim not just open but halfway down his thighs. Defiant, he swings his gaze from Sam to Trish as he hooks his fingers in the waistband of his boxers. “How much skin do you need?”

“Depends on what we’re doing,” Trish answers, politically not commenting on the push and pull of their argument. A little dazed by all of Dean’s mood shifts himself, Sam wonders if they’re the weirdest couple she’s ever had in here.

Probably not.

“You’re the man with the plan, Sammy,” Dean says. “What’re we doing?”

Sam’s tempted to keep his mouth shut—Dean will probably back down without any clear direction at hand—and then sighs. If Dean does back down now, he’ll be testy and out of sorts all night, which will probably get one of them killed. Probably Dean, the way his luck runs. No, at this point it’s better to push through and hope that the end result will leave Dean a little more sorted than he is right now.

Otherwise, Sam’s seriously considering dosing him with some sleeping pills and leaving him in the car.

But that’s an issue for later. Right now, Sam has more immediate, pressing things to worry about. The flutter is back in his stomach—stronger this time than it was before, now that so much is riding on how Dean takes this—but he does his best to ignore it as he looks at Trish and asks, “Paper and pencil?”

Trish wheels back over to the counter and its bank of drawers to retrieve a small pad and the business end of a broken pencil. When she tosses them over, Sam catches them easily and then turns around to use the wall as a makeshift table. He’s had this planned out for a while, and even with the last-minute addition he made to the design while Dean was getting tattooed, it doesn’t take more than a couple of seconds to sketch out. He hesitates, seeing it on the paper, but it’s too late to back out now, so he curls his left hand around the pencil and then turns around to hand the pad to his brother.

Almost immediately, one of Dean’s eyebrows rises. “That’s Ehwaz,” he points out.

Sam’s tongue feels like it’s glued to the roof of his mouth, but somehow he manages to croak out, “Yeah.”

“In a circle,” Dean adds.

“Yeah.”

“With your name around the edge.”

“Looks that way.” Sam doesn’t think he’s been this nervous before—not even when he was steeling himself to tell Dad and Dean about Stanford. He can’t seem to get a full breath—maybe because his stomach is twisting into new and interesting shapes, maybe because it’s taking every ounce of determination to stay where he is instead of sprinting for the door.

He can’t read Dean’s expression.

Dean looks at the paper long enough that Sam is starting to sweat and then says, “Ehwaz is the marriage rune.”

No matter how hard he tries, Sam can’t say anything to that. He shifts in place a little and then makes himself stand still, waiting.

Finally, Dean peers up at him. He seems to have forgotten his distress, at least, even if the incredulous expression on his face isn’t doing anything good to Sam’s insides.

“Dude, are you proposing?”

No, Sam thinks, but that wouldn’t be true and Dean can smell a lie on him from a hundred miles away. He swallows, forcing his heart back into his chest where it belongs, and then makes himself say, “Maybe?”

“We can’t get married, you asshole, we’re—” Dean catches himself before he actually says it in front of Trish, but Sam can see the word swimming around in his eyes.

Brothers. We’re brothers.

“You know, Canada isn’t that far away,” Trish puts in helpfully, and then raises her hands when Sam shoots her a glance. “Okay, keeping out of it.”

“I can’t believe you’re doing this now!” Dean exclaims. Sam isn’t sure his brother even noticed Trish’s comment.

This couldn’t be going worse if Dean had thrown the pad back in Sam’s face, and Sam has to blink his eyes rapidly to keep the tears back. He doesn’t know why he’s so upset about this, except that he’s tired, and he’s been on edge for one reason or another for the past two days. It’s stupid—this is stupid, Sam doesn’t even know why he thought it was a good idea in the first place.

“Christ, Dean,” he says, hiding the debilitating ache in his chest behind a mask of annoyance and reaching for the pad. “If you’re gonna be such a jerk about it, I’m sorry I did it at all.”

Dean holds the pad out of range. “Oh no, you don’t get to propose and then call do over.”

Sam doesn’t know what he’s supposed to be feeling anymore. He doesn’t know which option is more appealing: crying or hauling off and punching Dean. He can’t actually do either—he refuses to let Dean know how much he wanted this, how much he wanted Dean to want it as well—so instead he clings to his irritated facade and snaps, “If you don’t want to, then just say so.”

This time, when he reaches over his brother for the pad, Dean leans sideways off the chair to keep it from him. Sam’s reach is always going to be longer, though, and Dean seems to realize that, planting an elbow in Sam’s stomach to keep him away long enough to toss the pad into Trish’s lap.

“You’re doing that,” Dean announces as he drives the elbow up into Sam’s ribs. “Get off me, bitch.”

Sam’s too shocked by his brother’s acceptance to resist being pushed back out of Dean’s personal space. Stunned, he stands next to the chair as his brother haggles with Trish over size and exact location. He’s still trying to process when Trish pulls a lever on the side of the chair and tilts it back, bringing Dean’s bared hip up so that she can work on it.

When Trish has started up the tattoo gun again and Sam still hasn’t moved, Dean finally reaches out and thumps Sam’s thigh with one fist. “Dude, shut your mouth,” he says. “You look like a frog.”

“Dean,” Sam manages. His brother’s name comes out small and choked, which isn’t surprising considering how much crap it has to push aside in Sam’s chest in order to get out.

“Yeah, whatever,” Dean mutters. “For this you owe me pie too. Steak and pie.”

But he’s smiling gently, and there are hardly any shadows in his eyes, and when Sam stirs himself to grab his brother’s hand, Dean holds on right back.