The only reason Sam finds it is because of the noise. C-clang-rattle-rattle-rattle, C-clang-rattle-rattle-rattle over and over again in this endless, insistent rhythm that pulls him up out of the painkiller doze he’s been in for days now. He heaves himself up out of bed, old-man-slow, creakier than the Impala’s doors and shuffles down the hallway towards the source of the noise. He pulls open the dryer’s door and hears whatever it is rattle to a stop on the bottom of the dryer drum. Reaching into the moist warmth of nearly dried jeans and flannel shirts his fingers close on something small and hard and then release it as he’s burned by the heat. Whatever it is got too hot, like the rivets on the jeans. He licks his fingers and dives in after the thing again bringing it out on his palm where it’s not quite so hot now. The spent bullet sits there, shiny, clean, innocent.
He doesn’t have to look at it for long to realize what it is, where it came from. This is the one that almost killed him a few days ago. The one Dean dug around in his guts with the forceps to pull out, displaying it proudly and crowing about how they’d save it and laugh about it someday.
The false bravado of Dean’s words had overlaid the tremble of fear and panic of adrenaline in his voice. Sam remembers lying there, chomping down on the roll of gauze between his teeth, feeling the pain of the gun shot radiating through him, deep inside, then the relief when the forceps and the bullet left his body. The overwhelming urge to kiss whoever it was that had just saved him from that excruciating pain. Then he’d opened his eyes from the pain squint and realized it was Dean, of course it was Dean. Crouched over him, hands searching for more wounds, eyes wide with the terror of just the possibility of loss. He’d shaken his head then, to clear that strange impulse of wanting to kiss his savior and tried to smile up at his brother, prove he was going to be okay.
All of that is playing on a loop as Sam stands in the Bunker’s laundry room, leaned up against the dryer, palm still open, staring at the spent bullet. Lump of metal that had almost ended him. Again.
If Dean hadn’t…but he did, of course he did, like he always does. But there was more to it, it’s lost in a red haze that goes grey around the edges, when he’d been in and out of consciousness, stumbling along with Corbin and Michelle, leaning so heavily on Dean. His brother, holding him up, steady, strong dependable in the storm of crisis. Then that other place, the one with the lanterns, where he’d awoken to Corbin’s hands around his throat, pinning his nose closed, then the nothingness of whatever came afterwards.
All that nothing time, how long was it? Dean had thought he was dead. And Sam knows, that his brother did something, he knows Dean was lying to him in the car when they drove home from the hospital. He just doesn’t know how drastic of a try Dean made to save him. He’s not sure he wants to know how far Dean went this time. He switches it around in his mind, if he’d been in Dean’s place, he would have gotten the victims to safety then…what?
Oh god, it hits him. His hand closes tight around the bullet just as Dean comes in.
“Oh, I didn’t know you were in here. You’re supposed to be resting, not doing laundry,” Dean says from the doorway, small, scolding smile on his lips.
I’m fine. I’m fine. I’m fine. The platitude echoes in Sam’s memory, lingers on his tongue, the lies they tell each other when they’re injured or close to dying. The breakdown happens, but the honesty never comes even after the panic subsides, after the blood is cleaned away, the stitches sewn, the bones healed. That is what’s missing, Sam tells himself, clenching the bullet in his fist, wishing for a flood of honesty to wash it all away.
He holds his palm out, waist high, bullet blinking bright in the laundry room lights. Sam watches as Dean’s face clouds over, pain lines at the corners of his eyes and his mouth deepen. He tries to hide it, but Sam’s seen the remnant of that darkest of fears. Dean can’t look away from the bullet, he seems frozen, his mouth moves slowly but no words escape. Sam hears a hissing sound like Dean’s deflating. It must have been worse than he thought then. He wants to scream and never stop, insist like a child that Dean keep on lying to him. He doesn’t want to know what Dean did. Because he already does, the words don’t need to be said out loud. Because inside himself the knowledge of going further to save each other, each time, every time is lodged deep and permanent.
“How long did they give you this time?” Sam asks after he’s given Dean enough space to fess up on his own.
“No one gave me anything, Sammy,” Dean says, lips set in a sharp line, a silent refusal to elaborate any further.
“So…not a demon deal, then what was it?” Sam asks, insisting even though he knows it’s too much to ask. Dean owes him this, though. He owes him this pound of fleshy honesty to make up for the gallon of blood he shed in the dying this time.
“Wasn’t anything. Saw Billie again, and she…uh, she wouldn’t do a thing. Not for you, not for me. But she told me you were still alive. And I…that’s when they stuck me with adrenaline or something and I came back.”
Sam feels the bottom drop out of the lies he’d been telling himself, the truth too clear on Dean’s face. “Came back from what?”
“Don’t want to talk about it,” Dean says, stubborn bottom lip pouching out.
Sam steps forward and jabs his fingers into Dean’s stomach, the bullet almost falling off his palm. Dean grabs at it, trapping it between their hands. Sam looks at him, his brother that can’t ever say goodbye.
“What if I’d made it to that hospital, Dean, and you were dead? Did you even think of that?” Sam asks, breath leaving him completely as he considers the horrible possibility that hadn’t occurred to him. His stomach feels hollow and empty, like he’s never eating a thing again in his life. He keeps his hand against Dean’s hand, both of them trembling.
“I…no, I didn’t. You were dead, Sammy. You were dead on the floor, you were gone, no breath, no pulse. Just…gone,” Dean says, sounding as empty as Sam feels. He clutches at Sam’s hand with his, pressing the bullet into their joined palms, wrapping his fingers tight around Sam’s hand.
“So you left me there, got them to the hospital and then what happened that you got to talk to Billie?” Sam asks, eyes never leaving Dean’s, feeling a thrum of electricity transferring between them, sparking out from the bullet and what it represents. The end, a beginning, both.
Dean closes his eyes and groans like he’s been socked in the gut and tries to pull his hand away.
“Dean, just tell me,” Sam insists, not letting go, pulling Dean even closer so that he almost stumbles into Sam.
“I…uh…I took some pills. Michelle was there to go get the doctor,” Dean admits in a whisper through gritted teeth. He still doesn’t open his eyes.
Sam steps back and sags against the dryer. The thought of it hitting him hard, his brother actively killing himself, dying again for him, just to have the chance to beg. He remembers the times he’s begged for Dean’s life, and it overwhelms him. The never ending merry-go-round of death and bargaining they’re both on and it’s shit, it’s all shit and it’s not worth it and he could have lost Dean. Damn it, he could have lost him, and then what? And he would have done the same thing if he’d been in Dean’s place. He feels himself shaking, like he could fly apart into so many pieces right here, right now and Dean would never be able to put him back together.
Dean steps forward and puts his hands up on Sam’s shoulders, grounding him, steadying him so he can stop shaking. “Go ahead and yell at me,” Dean says, looking down at their feet nearly slotted together.
“How can I? I would have done the same damn thing,” Sam admits, shrugging just to feel the weight of Dean’s hands still on his shoulders.
Dean’s head shoots up so fast Sam can hear his neck crack. Dean’s eyes are on him, hawk-sharp and predator-observant.
“That was some Romeo and Juliet level bullshit, huh?” Sam says, laughing at the dark stage they’ve both found themselves on. Milling around with this unstated suicide pact, bumping against the uneasy reality of mortality.
Sam holds the bullet up between finger and thumb in front of Dean’s face, turning it so it catches the light. “This is not enough to take me away from you.”
Dean leans the rest of the way into Sam, pressing their bodies together and pulls the bullet out of Sam’s fingers. “It was though, Sammy. It did.” He slips the bullet in his front jeans pocket and wraps his arm around Sam’s lower back.
Sam’s overwhelmed with Dean’s closeness, need pouring off of both of them in waves. They haven’t been this…done this in so damn long. “You left the light on for me, I heard you promise to come back to me,” Sam says.
“You…how?” Dean asks sounding so in awe, so surprised, his face opening like the dawn, so beautiful with the joy this thought brings.
Sam can’t stop himself then, he needs to taste that joy, in the midst of all this sadness and pain. Needs it to stop thinking about their near-miss Shakespearean tragedy. So he kisses it right off of Dean’s lips until Dean’s got him wrapped up close in his arms, pressing him up against the dryer, grinding their hips together. Even though he’s numbed up from the painkillers he can feel everything, how they’re both diamond hard already, senses heightened somehow, maybe it’s just from memory, or maybe it’s just so good because he’s waited too long to have this again.
Dean’s kisses turn hard and insistent, Sam can barely hear him say in a low growl between their lips, “You saved me, Sammy. Just like you always do.”
Sam pulls away for a moment so he can answer. “Always, Dean, always will.”
Then there are no more words. Before Sam can make a move of his own, Dean has them both in hand, stroking in a fast rhythm that has Sam gasping with pleasure. Sam wraps one of his hands around Dean’s to add more pressure, using his other hand to grip Dean’s ass tightly pressing them together as they both thrust into the tunnel of their joined hands. Dean breathes out Sam’s name as he comes, plea and praise all wound together. Sam moves through the new hot slickness, ignoring the pull of his stitches, chasing the oblivion of completion.
Sam comes back to himself when Dean is cleaning him up with a warm towel from the dryer. “God that feels good,” he groans with pleasure, wrapping his clean hand around Dean’s neck.
He must press too hard then, because Dean goes to his knees then, right there in their laundry room, uses his lips and tongue to thoroughly clean Sam, holding on to Sam’s cold ass cheeks to steady himself. Sam runs his hands through Dean’s short hair, cups Dean’s chin to tilt it up. “Thanks, Dean,” he says, ghosting a finger across Dean’s shiny lips. Dean’s tongue darts out to lick at it as it passes by. Sam shivers with a thrill of electric pleasure, memories of what that tongue can do to him flitting through his brain.
Dean’s eyes darken and he stands up graceful and slow, spent cock bobbing out of his jeans. Sam wipes him off gently with the towel, tucks him back in, zips his jeans and buttons them closed. Rubs his hand slowly over the lump of the bullet in Dean’s front pocket. Dean groans and presses his hand against Sam’s, and there’s going to be a bruise there on the soft part of Dean’s groin, bullet-shaped, purple-blue and deep.
Dean runs a hand along the edge of Sam’s stitches, gentle probing to check that nothing popped. When he’s satisfied, he gently presses into the bruises that still ring Sam’s neck.
“Wish I could have killed that asshole slow,” Dean says, low growl back in his voice.
“I’m just glad I got there before he…” Sam says, trailing off, not wanting to go back down that trail of thinking. “He got what he deserved.”
“I always think I’ve gotten used to it, how messed-up people can be, still surprises me sometimes,” Dean says, leaning into Sam’s chest and resting his head on Sam’s shoulder.
Sam wraps him up tight in his arms, talks into the top of Dean’s hair. “Yeah, just look at us for example.”
Dean laughs then, a low chuckle that sounds painful, then tapering off into a giggle that sparks something inside Sam. “Romeo and Juliet level bullshit, huh?”
“I like our ending better though,” Sam says, kissing his way down from Dean’s ear to his neck, biting him gently. Dean melts into him then, and Sam is glad he’s leaning against the dryer so he can hold them both up. He knows now deep down in his gut, that he’s more than strong enough to get the both of them through to however it really ends for them.