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Rome Was Also Built on Ruins

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It must have started in Purgatory. Reticent soldiers on the battlefield, Dean and Benny didn't talk overmuch about home, afraid to jinx it, afraid to taint the memories with this place and who they were. But Dean was curious as hell after the first - why did Benny want to get back, fifty years later, and the rest of these things had succumbed to Purgatory, not even a thought of leaving?

"You asking me why I want to be alive?"

Dean shrugs. They walk a yard or two apart, keeping an eye out constantly, voices hushed in the unnaturally quiet woods. "Just wondering who you got to go back to, fifty years later. Why you want out when you're just gonna end up back here eventually."

Benny grunts. "I had a woman. And I want a second chance."

"Don't we all."

Dean feels like he's lying through his teeth. He doesn't want a second chance. Already got his, when Cas pulled him out of hell, and it feels like an eternity ago. He doesn't deserve a third one but he figures at least no one's handing it to him on a silver platter. The odds of his escape are just, they're fair. Dean doesn't know what he's doing, trying to get back when anyone else would've given up ages ago. He doesn't just give up, no matter how much he wants to. At this point he wonders if it's just survival instinct. The biological imperative, to go on breathing, to see his family again. Sam.

"Thick brown hair, dark eyes - a good woman. Better'n I was." Benny mused.

Dean nearly started nodding till he realized Benny's girl and his little brother wasn't really the comparison he meant to make. "My little brother'll be waiting on me. He's tough, but he had some real trouble lately. We stick it out for each other."

Benny is silent. The woods are rustling. "Good thing to have, family," Benny says, and Dean says "Yeah" because he can't even begin to explain how messed up the Winchester family tradition is, how much they love each other, how tangled up that is.

A wave of missing Sam hits him like he hasn't been able to let it, and he shouldn't even be letting it now. The idea that Sam's the one waiting for him back home, probably looking for a way to spring him out right now - it's a comfort to know and think about. Sam's the only good, truly good thing left - the only person who's suffered so much and been made all the better for it, a goddamn saint after going through hell. He wants so bad to get back to that goodness, has the sure fantasy of some embarrassing face-cradling reunion, complete with letting Sam cry on him. The strong need to feel safe and return home overwhelms him, and home is his car and his brother and the highway.

Everything's so damn physical in Purgatory it's fucking him up, like this yearning takes root in his body and pulls all the wrong strings. It's not sexual, his need to go through the motions of physical recovery, but the thought of Sam's hands sewing up these wounds stirs him. It's a good touch. No matter how much he bitches about how hard it is to clean up Sam's head wounds with his ridiculously long hair, he'd do anything to be there now, Sam's bare arms braced against the counter lowering his head into the sink, and Dean leaning over his broad shoulders, washing out the dried blood, looking for the open cut.

He barely dwells on it but even the moment's lost attention means Benny shoves him over, and Dean rolls on instinct, away from the wampus cat that nearly hamstrung him while he was daydreaming about safety.

What Dean carries with him is the dark self-knowledge that he's the same as the things he hunts down here - it's a dog eat dog world, he says to Benny - only he's faster with his blade, and better at rationalizing his fucked-up shit. Well, that's going down the tubes fast. There's no one he needs to explain his obsession with his brother to, no reason to try to reconcile it to himself, no reason to get over it when undisclosed longing is fuel for what keeps him moving towards that exit.

-

And when Dean does break out, he is who he's made himself. He hunts topside to distract himself from the fact that he can't do anything but hunt. He feeds the inner beast, while resenting Sam for not reciprocating his monstrous longing for his brother. Above as it is below.

It wasn't right to think of Sam that way when he was gone in Purgatory, maybe never coming back. Even worse now to have that jealous black seed growing in him, the possessive tendril twisting around his heart and his guts. It's not unfamiliar, just stronger, more twisted, like everything else in him. Worst, now that Sam is trying to get away from the freak life and get normal, Dean's bringing back his own whole boatload of crazy. Sam doesn't want to fucking deal with him. Okay, well, Dean doesn't want to deal with himself either, all right? But this is no good.

Sometimes across the front seat, Sam looks at Dean like Dean's acting like an animal, bloodthirsty and teeth bared. At first Dean hated it. He was angry and afraid because he thought he saw fear in Sam's eyes. Dean gets it: your brother comes back from monster hell, a little obsessed, a little bloodthirsty for the hunt, bound to put a man on edge. But they're closer than that, aren't they?

Sam's response soon turned to anger, though, and ain't it a shit world that Dean felt relieved at that. At least Dean knows how to deal in anger.

Sam's failure to look for him, him going back to the normal life, is just a reminder of what a freak Dean is and how irretrievable that life is. He cut his teeth on hunting, he built a life of it, he tried settling down for a year and that's a year that doesn't belong to him anymore. He doesn't deserve the good memories when he ruined Lisa and Ben's lives. Best he can do them is forget. So who the hell does Sam think he is, acting like this last year made him normal, when they're the same, aren't they? Aren't they brothers? Aren't they the only ones who could understand each other, what they've been through?

Or maybe that's not enough anymore. Maybe it's too much misery in the small space between two people.

Fuck, Dean just wanted to be back, on the road, hunting evil to be good, at home with his brother. Sam should know it. But whenever Dean tries to say something, everything comes out angry. He's been away too long, there's too much feeling bottled up in him and he's too used to taking it out on monster hides. Can't open his mouth around his brother and say something so strong it could break them.

.

Dean has to admit to himself that despite his unreasonable yet entirely rational suspicions, Amelia, sitting there in her living room, doesn't seem demonic at all. She looks pretty nice, in a fed-up way. But she sure is making Sam squirm.

Dean tries not to lean so close to the window as to leave breath-fog on the glass.

He knows that when he faked a text to Sam's phone, he crossed a major line. It was only to keep Sam safe from this whole Benny business. If Sam had killed Benny, Dean would have had a hard time forgiving him; if Benny had killed Sam, Dean would've had to gank Benny himself, and then he'd have lost a friend and all his family and Sam dying woulda been his fault, and he'd have to go watch old people in the nursing home as penance with Castiel. Hell no he wasn't losing Sam. So what he did was shitty, but justified.

Tracking Sam's GPS and following him to Kermit, TX, was right up there in terms of creepiness. But he had to know.

Sam and Amelia are having a serious conversation, not exactly a happy running-into-each-other's-arms reunion. Sam hasn't taken his shoes or coat off and, wow, there's some Other Guy there now looking awkward as hell. Did Sam shack up with a married woman?

Dean realizes he doesn't know much about Amelia - apparently there's a whole lot he didn't know. Too hard to ask. Sam didn't have to mention her for Dean to be able to tell sometimes when he was thinking about her, and that hurt. Maybe he was being a jealous bitch, but fuck it if he wasn't entitled to the burn in his stomach, entitled to get a little angry, feel a little betrayed. Figures when he was betting his life on his brother acting as crazy and horribly self-sacrificing as family tradition dictates, Sam wanted to go out and get a normal life instead of pulling his brother out of purgatory. And if he could choose normalcy then, why not now, when Dean's relatively safe? It shouldn't surprise him after all this time.

Maybe Sam doesn't know Dean sent him the fake text from Amelia to keep everyone safe. Maybe Sam just sees it as base emotional manipulation, some kind of jealousy trap. Which, looking at these two crazy kids now, Dean realizes he may have fucked up worse than he anticipated. Still, the end justifies the means.

Apparently Sam is normal and didn't spend the whole year obsessing over getting his brother back and getting his wounds sewn up, just to touch each other like it was some idea of heaven. Sam is normal and has a good thing going with this girl, good enough to ditch Dean over it.

It only rubs Dean's own twisted fixation in his face.

Sam might be mad at him but now he's back here with his girlfriend. This is what he wants, isn't it? Dean just did him a favor. Sam would thank him.
-

Dean goes to the nearest motel and calls Sam from there. His cell goes right to voicemail. As expected. "Sam, I get that you're pissed at me right now, but we gotta talk."

He waits around like a chump for an hour or so, eats at the restaurant across the road but can't really stomach it. Is it gonna be better this way, if they give each other a break? Dean's not afraid to be alone. He's a hunter. He never used to do so bad on his own. Better at making friends town to town, bar to bar than Sam was. Used to be, maybe. Now, he's not so much lonely for human companionship as he is afraid of what happens when he and Sam aren't together to keep each other human.

Well, Dean's a freak, he knows it, always has, so if Sam wants to be normal then apparently he owes it to Sam to stay away.

He goes back to the hotel room, watches some soap opera on TV, refuses to think about anything. Finally Sam calls him back.

"I'm staying," Sam says.

"I'm sorry, you wanna run that by me again?" Dean says, like he's picking a fight, and maybe that's what he wants to do.

"I said, I'm staying. Amelia's here, she's stability, she's something to hold on to." Sam pauses, swallows. "I can't handle hunting with you right now. You don't know what you're like."

Fuck you, Dean wants to say, I know exactly what I'm like. But he bites his tongue. Sam seems more sad and determined than angry right now, which drives him crazy in its own way, but he can't be the one picking a fight here. He should be sorry for that phone crap he pulled. It kills Dean to know how entirely reasonable it is for Sam to want more than a couple days apart. While Dean's ears are roaring Sam is going on - " - rent a place in town, get a job to make ends meet -"

"That's the most boring thing I've ever heard!"

"Boring is great, Dean. Boring is peaceful."

"Look, I get it, you need some time to cool off -"

"I need to cool off?"

"Okay, okay!" Dean holds up his hands and wracks his brain for something that'll sound better. "We both need to cool off."

Sam sighs and even over the phone Dean can practically hear him shaking his head. Angry, frustrated - either one, sure to be both. Sam is a stubborn sonofabitch, and it worries Dean. If Sam's getting stubborn about this, and Dean can't stick around to needle him into things being okay again, when the hell is Sam going to get over it and let things get back to normal for them?

"So. You're going to stay here with your... married girlfriend?" Dean can't help but scowl.

"She's a friend."

"Oh," Dean says. It comes out pretty insincere and asshole-ish. "Sorry," Dean says to Sam's stony silence, and tries to feel sorry. He knows he should.

"What're you going to do?" Sam asks.

"I can take care of myself," Dean says, and then regrets it. They're both still so prickly.

"Yeah, I get that."

"There's always a hunt."

"And when there's not?"

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Just," Sam pauses, says tightly, "when you run out of hunts, then, you've got my number."

Dean tries not to flinch at the sting of Sam's words. Sam fucking always wants to talk, wants to reconcile and have things be good after spilling their guts to each other. What gives him the right to change his game now? Now, when Dean needs him the most?

But you can take care of yourself, a small mocking voice says inside him. Dean quashes it. It's fucking true, so what?

"Sure," Dean says. "Yeah, I have your number."

He hangs up. The conversation was over. Sam can deal with it.

--

It's not like Dean doesn't scroll down his phone contacts every now and then, get real close to pressing send on Sammy, but of course he isn't the one to break first. Dean sees he's missed Sam's calls one day after a hunt, almost two weeks after they last saw each other.

The timestamp is near midnight, while Dean was sprinting across a graveyard chasing down a revenant. Then he called a few other times right after that, and left a voicemail.

"Hey Dean, it's me. This is probably stupid. I just - it's been a while, thought I'd check in. Call me back to let me know you're still alive." A huffing sound, like Sam knows how melodramatic that sounds. "Uh, be careful." End of message.

So Dean texts, because he's still mad, but it'd be shitty of him to leave Sam hanging. Still alive, don't worry. He thinks it's a good compromise, short, an affectionate jerk.

Why does he overthink this so much.

The next time they really talk is a week later, when Sam calls Dean to tell him about strange deaths in the neighboring town.

"And you're calling me because... you want backup?" Dean asks.

Sam says, "You know I'm not hunting."

"Yeah, I know. What happened to letting someone else do it?"

Sam's silence is heavy and impatient.

Dean doesn't want him to hang up so he says quick, "Course it's good you caught it, more people might've died if you hadn't seen -"

"Sure." Then more silence.

"Sure I can't get your help on this one?" Dean puts all the hope he can in his voice. He misses Sam like hell and is desperate enough to lose a little dignity in his tone. Can't say it outright, he guesses he has to be supportive and let Sam do his normal thing.

"Dean..."

He wants to think that it's Sam relenting, indecision instead of exasperation, sadness. "Yeah, yeah, I remember."

"Call me if you're in trouble. I mean it."

Does he. "Yeah, okay."

"And come by sometime."

This is the first outright invitation Sam's given him, a month after Dean hung up on him. "Thought you were still mad at me," Dean hazards. He may be trying to make Sam feel bad.

Sam can tell. "Yeah, I am, but." It's not a comfortable, brotherly silence. It feels like being held at arm's length. Dean hates that feeling, especially from Sam, who never does that for any good reason.

"But, but nothing." Dean's right back in anger..

"You seriously still want to fight?"

The wind goes out of Dean's sails. "No, I... hell, cut me some slack. Give me some time, Sam." It comes out sounding funny, not like he meant it to. Less like he's standing his ground, more like he's fighting to stand. "Yeah," he cedes, "maybe I'll see you." He hangs up before Sam can pry at the cracks in his voice, try to dig something out that Dean doesn't have a handle on yet.

-

Sam looks downright surprised when he answers the door.

"Hey, Sammy." Dean balances his twelve-pack on the handrail.

"Dean."

"Yeah, I, uh, hope you aren't regretting that invitation." Dean scratches the back of his head with his free hand.

"No, I just..." Sam runs a hand through his hair.

"Bad timing?"

"No! No, it's fine. Good." He's stuck at the entrance, door open, and he hasn't budged to invite Dean in. Maybe Dean really didn't get this one right. "Honestly, I... didn't think you'd come."

Dean doesn't know what to say to that. He hadn't been that cold, had he? Shit. But Sam steps aside and says "Come on in," like they aren't having a complete chick flick break up/make up scene.

"Hope this Miller Genuine Draft says 'sorry I messed with your phone and fucked with your head.'" He puts the box on the card table. Sam's got a crappy old couch and a crappy folding table there, a couple pizza boxes by the trash but a clean enough kitchen.

"Uh, thanks. That's hardly going to get you post-hunt drunk, though."

"Yeah, well, I gotta head out soon anyway. Told Garth I'd be in California tomorrow."

"Sure." Sam nods, ducks his head.

They work through the twelve pack at a leisurely pace. Sam tells him about how he's working double time as a law secretary and doing repairs at a local motel again. It explains why he falls asleep leaning on Dean, five beers in him, near the end of the staticky football game on Sam's twisted antenna.

It's the fucking greatest, Dean realizes. What's more, he's no Home & Garden housewife but he wants Sam to have a better place than this cardboard box of an apartment. If this is supposed to be Sam's good thing, well, it'd better be good. It should have been good and shoulda been years ago, before Satan fucked up his baby brother's head, before life crippled them more and made them even more codependent. He knows as always it's never going to be easy to let Sam go, but go Sam will.

He relishes the weight on his side that's getting uncomfortable and the stupid hair tickling his neck, flopping over and practically swallowing Sam's face. How disgustingly adorable is this is to him, his grown-ass little brother about to drool on his shirt in his sleep? He misses this worse than anything. For longer than Sam's been here, before Dean was in Purgatory. He remembers his heaven, with little Sam who hugged him and thought he was awesome instead of incredibly fucked-up. No matter how aged Sam looks now, though, Dean still sees the same baby brother. It's a comfort, that thought, and he holds on to it always.

He jostles Sam's shoulder, gently slaps at his cheek. "C'mon, Sammy. Up and at 'em." Sam groggily moves, slouches up and unpins Dean. Still, Dean has to walk him over to his room when he looks like he's just going to fall asleep on the couch again.

It's a full bed, swaybacked mattress on a rusty-springed frame, but at least it's not bare. It's the wrong moment to be reminded of those days years ago - the hovel Sam lay dead in, and on the third day Dean sold his soul to a demon for Sam to rise again.

"Hey, Sam, you sure got a crap place," he says, trying to rile a conversation out of Sam, something to remind him that his brother's very alive and well.

"Yeah, well," Sam slurs, sits on the bed nearly bringing Dean down with him. "'S a few things short of home." The look he gives Dean, bleary-eyed and honest and some impossible intersection of fond and bitter - it makes Dean want to reconsider everything. But then Sam lies down and waves a hand at Dean. "Go on, get outta here. Go save Garth's ass, 'n tell him I said hi."

Dean passes a hand over his face. "Sure thing, Sam. Thanks for, uh."

"You too."

Dean splashes his face with water from the squeaky bathroom tap before he lets himself out, gets in his car, turns the engine on and Metallica up loud.

-

Dean stops by another time - when he's in the area already. "The area" is a few hours away, but it's Texas, so that's relatively close. Close enough not to be a big deal. He doesn't know why he needs an excuse to visit Sam - fuck, he shouldn't even be visiting, they should be out on the road together like always - but Sam got this shitty place and is settling in for a reason. Dean knows he has to give Sam space for good now.

"Been thinking about moving maybe," Sam says after beer and pizza, which Dean so generously provided.

Dean raises his eyebrows. "Moving? Not that I love your craphole place and sweltering location, but wasn't the whole point of settling down to... not move?"

"Something like that." Sam's mouth quirks.

Dean doesn't like the sound of it. He knew Sam had basically said he was quitting hunting until future notice, and he probably meant forever considering how stubborn he was about things, but Dean knew Sam better than that. Knew their lives was likely to throw them a disaster to get them back in the hunting game, as crap a deal as that was.

Still, part of Dean had expected Sam to treat this like a rest stop, not a final resting place. He'd get sick of it, and then he'd be back riding shotgun in the Impala again.

"You got your own life now," Dean says, not so much grudging as pained by it.

"Earned it," says Sam.

"Yeah," Dean muses. "You did."

"What're you lookin at me like that for?" Sam licks his lips, nervous or unconscious or just chapped, and wow, apparently Dean really is staring. He must be more tired, had more to drink than he thought.

"Nothing. Just... you deserve more than this, Sam."

Sam frowns and opens his mouth, but Dean cuts him off. "You always wanted more than this. A lawyer job, a wife, a nice house..."

Sam's eyebrows are raised high.

"Kids, right? A dog -"

Sam laughs. "Man, you know me -"

"Course I know you."

"- but you don't get it at all."

"Aw, come on, Sam," Dean starts to protest, but then he sees Sam's face again, and it leaves him winded like a punch. He's got fight-or-flight adrenaline and a buzz hammering through his veins, so when Sam leans closer, and Dean feels the hand that'd been resting on the back of the couch touch the back of his neck, he panics and suddenly Sam's reeling back, blood flowing from his nose.

"Jesus!" Dean says, while Sam can only groan. "Shit, Sammy, don't know what I - are you okay?"

Sam makes a bitchy sound, which Dean takes as good news.

"I don't know why I - sorry I hit you, I just - where do you keep the towels around here?" Dean jumps up to the freezer, cracks an ice cube tray into a plastic grocery bag, puts in some water, finally finds a dish towel in a drawer, and returns to the couch. He coaxes Sam to move his hands away from his face. "Is it broken?"

"Don't think so, just bleeding. A lot." Sam's face has horror-movie levels of blood smeared on it, but if his nose isn't broken, well, that's fine.

"Guess I owe you another 'I'm sorry' twelve pack."

"You owe me a sorry keg. A couple sorry handles."

"Yeah, something like that." The panic's calmed in Dean but adrenaline is still putting him on wide-awake alert. His hands were just on Sam's face, and now he can feeling his palms burning. He's still got those drinks in his system.

Sam's leaning back against the arm of the couch, away from Dean, facing him and looking long but shrinking up in one of his nonthreatening shoulder hunches.

"Sorry 'bout that," Sam says, and his face is still so bloodsmeared Dean would've missed the flush there except it spreads to his ears. Dean can feel himself reddening in kind.

"You got nothing to say sorry for, I'm the one who hit you -"

Sam's got a wobbly smile and he's shaking his head. "Sure, Dean, whatever you say," and Dean should be relieved he got out of talking about whatever just happened, but he feels like he just missed something big.

-

The next time they talk, Dean's the one who calls Sam, and asks him to hurry.
"Damn it, Dean, lucky I was so close -"

"You are a sight for sore eyes. Boy, Sam."

Dean's white as a ghost under a mix of red and black blood, breathing tight with pain. He got lucky, really. The skinwalker didn't want to kill him tonight, only run away, which leaves him only maimed instead of dead. Sam puts painkillers on his brother's tongue and he swallows them dry. In a fireman's carry Sam manages to haul him to the Impala and lie him down across the back seat, through all of Dean's hisses and groans.

"You still got your fake insurance?" Sam asks.

"The fake IDs are better."

"ER, then." Sam goes around to the other side to pull Dean all the way across the seat, then lift him into sitting so he can lean against the door. He's too long to fit lying across the seat, and his leg in too bad a mess to bend it.

"Sam -"

"Pretty sure your leg's broken, Dean. Only a hospital for you."

"Fuck! Hate hospitals."

"Yeah, okay."

"Hate casts."

"You're like a child." Sam's voice is tight.

"Fuck off."

Sam shuts up and it's not what Dean really wanted, he's just lashing out in pain. Sam is angry, Dean can tell, but what the hell right does he have to be mad, he's the one who left Dean to hunt on his own

What a load of bullshit, Dean, his own voice says clearly in his head. You do this to each other all the time. You get mad when he gets hurt. Sam isn't any different.

Man, Sam is gonna be even more pissed with him by the time they're through with the hospital. He won't stay too long at Sam's - he'll find a place -

Dean passes out.

-

"Absolutely not," Sam says when Dean mentions this later, in the hospital. "You're staying with me."

"Sam, it's really not - "

"Oh, it's necessary. Your leg's broken in two places." Sam gestures towards the full-length leg cast on Dean, and Dean scowls.

"Man, you don't want to put up with me, I know why you got your own place. I can give you a break in a week or two."

Sam pauses. "You know why I got my own place?" he asks.

Dean looks at him like, Yeah, obviously.

"Why'd I get my own place, Dean?" Sam says slowly.

"Cause hunting and being on the road with me was driving you nuts. Cause you needed to get away from me." Dean keeps eyeballing Sam, who's doing his weird forced-calm thing. "I mean I get it, hunting's not your game anymore and it's what I live and breathe, and you need a normal life. I know that's what you want and what you're good at. You want to settle down and make a family of your own, and just cause I'm too screwed up for it doesn't mean I gotta drag you down with me. 'S always been like that."

Sam gapes at him. He looks like a fish. Maybe it's the painkillers making his mouth run, maybe Dean said too much, he doesn't even know what he said to make Sam look like that. It's pretty obvious to him, just took him a while to be ready to say it. It's not hard to understand, he gets it. He's just gotta get used to it.

"You - you are so -" Before Sam can give Dean an awful pep-talk about how he should believe in himself and hold on to his dreams, the nurse comes in with an overload of information for them both, and Sam has to storm off to the front desk to sign Dean out.

-

Dean can't stop babbling on their way out, towards Sam's apartment. Now that he's let it stew a while and the painkillers are making his tongue loose, his mouth's a faucet that can't be turned off again. He's saying the same stuff over again, repeating himself, and Sam tells him to shut up and go to sleep once or twice but Dean won't, he's fine getting all his talking out now, thanks, while the drugs are making it easy.

They get back and Sam helps him to the couch, helps him lift the leg with the cast onto it so he's lying down. He puts a pillow behind Dean's head and everything, all while Dean is saying stupid things he thinks are jokes - "'m not made of glass, what a nurture-er, you're not my mom."

"You want food?" Sam asks.

"Got any burgers?"

"No. You want toast?"

"Gross. Hey, I can see you rolling your eyes over there." Sam's facing away from him.

"Fine, then just sleep."

"No, you wanted me to talk, I'll talk. I'm not mad at you, Sam."

"Uh huh," Sam says, and his shoulders go from "I'm rolling my eyes at you" to hunched and protective.

"Come on, listen to me. This isn't about you, Sam." Sam turns around, frowning but Dean shushes him. "I know I said some shit, about you and what you did this last year. I was hard on you, and mad, and betrayed, you know it all. Can't say I'm happy about how things went - no, but I understand, okay? You've always been the regular one, the guy with the best shot at normal. No, you still have that shot. It's cause you want it. And me, well, I'm so messed up I don't even think about this stuff anymore. I couldn't swing it."

"But man, I tell you," Dean says, and finds it hard to swallow. "Only way I can swing hunting, do it night and day and feel alright, is if I'm doing it with you. I hunted with Benny for a year and we made it out, thought it could be that easy up here, but shit ain't so simple. I get by at least. But you've got to know, this isn't... it doesn't feel good. We've had our fights and breaks but I never... yeah, we needed them, but I never really wanted them. Not that way. And now, well. I didn't get tired of fighting in purgatory, but I'm tired now."

Sam's leaning back against the kitchen counter, bracing himself with his arms, looking right at Dean while Dean's eyes drift open and shut, wandering somewhere in the middle distance. When Dean looks up at Sam's face Sam can't meet his gaze longer than a few seconds. He looks broken up but still-faced, the way he does when he's listening to Dean and they have to let the words settle. Sam does this, when he knows it's serious, when he knows how hard it is for Dean to muster up to say something. He's got this patience that's a mystery to Dean still.

Finally, Sam says, still quiet, "I remember saying the same to you. In the mental hospital. When I was ready to... to give up, accept that I was dying."

"Cas got you better."

"Sure, I'm not seeing Lucifer anymore, but he can't cure this kind of thing. I still know how old I am, how old I feel."

Dean shakes his head, eyes shut. "I'm telling you, Sam. I'm ruined for regular life. Night and day it's fighting evil for me, and otherwise I'm climbing the walls."

"Well, good luck doing that with a broken leg." Dean's thinks he can hear Sam crack a smile

"Laugh now, I'm gonna make your life miserable, just for that."

"Ungrateful jerk."

Dean beams, nearly forgets to respond with 'bitch', nearly asleep as he is.

-

In the days that follow, Dean's got plenty of complaints for Sam. The TV reception is crap - can't you steal cable from your neighbors like the rest of the country? - the food is crap, there's nothing to do - but eventually his complaints turn into ones about telenovela characters and shit in the news. Sam's complaints, of course, are about Dean's complaining - no, meat lovers pizza is not happening again, it's back to canned soup and I don't care - and after the fourth day, how Dean stinks.

It has been somewhat humiliating, though hardly new since it's been two, three years since he first broke this same leg, to need someone's help getting him to the bathroom. Still, Dean's arms are strong, and he still has the most fundamental dignity left to a man - the ability to shit by himself in private.

"What, you're not gonna give me a sponge bath?"

"Give yourself your own sponge bath. I'll get all your crumbs out of the couch while you do it. You're making the living room rank."

"Whatever, you just can't handle my manly musk."

Sam groans and Dean can remember the retching sounds they'd make at each other as kids, when deodorant was new and barely a match for their reeking hormones, when motel rooms were particularly nasty, when they'd spar and Dean would trap Sam's head under one of his armpits.

They haven't been this close, around-each-other-all-the-time close, in a long time, and these are strange circumstances, but some things never leave you.

Dean figures out halfway through washing up that he needs help getting his boxers all the way off though. If he's gonna do this right he's going to change out of these five day old things. It's a tight fit around the cast, and wrestling them off then all the way down when he can't bend his leg is too much.

Well, shit.

"Sam!" he calls over the vrrrrrrrrr sound of the vacuum from the living room. Sam owns a fucking vacuum, how about that. It's only a handheld one but talk about settling down.

Sam stops the dull roar, says "Everything all right?"

"Need a little help."

"Can I come in?"

"I thought you could just talk me through it - yes, I want you to come in!"

Sam cracks the door and slips in, and Dean's standing there leaning against the sink like a fool in his boxers, a pair of sweats pushed halfway down his thighs, no shirt on, damp but clean above the hips.

"I can't lean and take these off at the same time, they get stuck on my cast. I was hoping you could... never, ever mention this."

"Calm down, like this is the first time you've needed help getting your pants off." Sam crouches in front of him, and looking down Dean can see his brother's pointy nose hovering near his thighs. Dean supports himself against the sink and Sam works the sweats down his legs and the rest of the way off. "Left foot - right" - then takes the hem of Dean's boxers, and tries to work it around the top of the leg cast.

"Wow, Sam," Dean says after about thirty seconds of this with no success, "You're a real gentleman about this. I mean, my junk is right next to your hand, and you're not even taking advantage of me in my vulnerable state. Very professional."

"You're full of it, you've never been groped by a nurse." Two red spots bloom high on Sam's cheeks. Dean can see his cheekbones and his red nose; Sam is still staring up close at the leg of Dean's boxers around high-up on his cast.

"Yeah I have. I'm just saying, maybe you should ditch law and go to medical school. You'd make a great nurse."

"Oh my god." Sam's voice gets louder. "Did I just walk into a fetish? Is that what this is?" He's definitely laughing at Dean. What an asshole.

"No, and the longer you take trying to get me out of my pants, the lower my esteem for your nursing goes."

"I think I'm just gonna have to cut up the side. I can't even believe they got you into these at the hospital."

"Aw, man! Come on, give it one more try."

"You just don't want this fantasy to end. I bet you're comparing the size of my hands to the size of your dick right now."

"No. What? No!" Dean says, before he realizes that the appropriate response would have been another joke, not something so quick and... defensive. Well, he wasn't. "Fine, just cut them, I don't care, you're the one who wanted me to stop funking up your living room. Rip 'em with your teeth for all I care."

"Uh huh, okay, gonna leave you alone with those sexy nurse thoughts." Sam pulls out his leatherman and snips a couple inches up the side of Dean's boxer leg with the nail scissors. He pulls them down by the band and slides them down around the cast, then slaps Dean on the hip and rocks back on his heels.

Sam's hands are huge. Not, like, huger than his own, but with long fingers. That fucker. The slap jolts Dean and he turns away quick as Sam stands up.

"You do reek," Sam says as Dean pivots toward the sink

"And you're handsy," which is a stupid retort but the best Dean can come up with. He tries not to make it sound weird. He feels weird. What the hell, Sam.

"I'm getting you some new clothes," Sam says, and Dean closes the bathroom door behind him, because come on, privacy.

Once Dean cleans up, Sam will sit next to him on the couch again. Since it's a Sunday they put the game on. No beers for either of them - Dean wouldn't have minded one, and he would have bullied Sam into letting him, but Sam didn't have any on hand. It is, Dean admits, probably for the best. Sam's eating a peanut-butter-and-banana sandwich, and Dean's just eating bananas.

Dean can't get his legs properly stretched out - well, he can, but then he has to move them, and it's all pretty uncomfortable. He ends up with a leg on the couch, a foot on the ground, and sort of leaning back against Sam, who is squished between Dean and the arm rest. It reminds him of the first time he visited this place, and thought it was ugly and could only think about Sam leaving it. It's kind of cozy now. Sam's acquired a coffee table - not tv trays, no, a coffee table - and a coffee maker, and two folding chairs for his dining card table, and some other kitchen stuff from the Goodwill. It feels more like Sam's home than Sam's cardboard box, but it still doesn't have anything familiar, and the stuff doesn't smell like Sam. It's all second-hand and new to them, except Sam's clothes.

Dean leans his head back closer to Sam and sniffs the air, then turns his head when he can't get a scent.

"Dude, what are you doing?" Sam asks.

"Trying to see if I'm smelling you or dog."

"Come on, I haven't even touched a dog lately."

"How come you don't get one? You've been dying to have a dog since you were a kid."

"Because I work two jobs, Dean, and there's nobody to take care of one."

"Well, I'm here."

"You've got a broken leg, you can't keep up with a dog. And of course, when your leg heals..."

"Yeah." Of course, he'll be gone. Dean was never planning on sticking around. "Jeez, you don't have to sound so broken up about it. Can't you get visiting rights to that dog of Amelia's?"
He's trying to get Sam to laugh but Sam doesn't. Dean wrenches his head around again and gets a face full of Sam's hair, and inhales.

"Cut it out!" Sam snaps, and stands up quick. Dean falls back against the armrest, no Sam to prop him up, while Sam goes to the fridge to stick his head in and rummage.

"Sorry," Dean says, in that tone brothers use when they're not really sorry. He smiles. Sam still smells like Sam. He lets Sam do his thing, then the commercial break ends. "Hey, game's back on."

"You gonna let me have some room?"

"Sure." Dean hauls himself up. "Drag one of those folding chairs over here, will you?"

Dean has his leg propped up on a folding chair and Sam has a whole half of the couch to himself. Boundaries are re-established, Dean isn't entertaining thoughts of fake-falling asleep on Sam to take advantage of his brother's warm bulk, get revenge for or revisit his first visit where Sam fell asleep on him, no, not at all. He's trying to give Sam personal space to be in his prickly mood. He's generous like that.

Sam's knee bumps against his and, without moving, Dean feels Sam's arm plunk down on the back of the couch by the way the hair stands up on the back of his neck.

-

Dean didn't expect crutches to feel this liberating. He still can't drive, not with his right knee immobilized by the cast, but he can get up on his own, and he starts going to get the mail himself now that he can. He can also use the goddamn bathroom by himself, which is great. Still can't shower with the cast on, but he's thinking of putting his leg in a garbage bag or something, because he never feels that clean using just a wash cloth.

Sam is already asleep one night when he's dousing himself with as much water as he can to get clean, wearing another pair of boxers with a slit leg. Dean's almost done when he steps in a puddle on the linoleum and slips. He accidentally tries to put too much weight on his cast and jams it, seeing stars as the pain hits him, blindly flailing and failing to catch himself. He yelps, accidentally yanks the shower curtain down on himself, then yells wordless and in pain.

"Dean?" Sam calls.

Nnnrrgh! Dean growls.

Sam runs in and picks Dean up off the floor while Dean is still breathless with pain. Sam's got his arms all around Dean, his warm dry skin on Dean's damp and clammy torso. Sam lifts him to sit on the toilet seat but Dean's still got his arm around Sam's shoulders, his hand grasping at Sam's back and the other wrapped around Sam's bicep. Sam's trying to look Dean in the face and Dean's still grabbing on like a limpet and so their faces meet in between, their foreheads lean together. Sam's still holding Dean hard but moving his hands steady around him, the familiar injury pat-down from his shoulders down his arms and torso. "Dean, you can let go, it's okay, are you okay? How bad is it? Hey" he says, quiet, when Dean opens his eyes. They're nearly cross-eyed trying to look at each other, so close so Dean closes them again. Feels good.

"Did you hit your head?"

Dean grunts.

"Yes or no, c'mon Dean, did you hit it?"

"No? Not really." There's still a lot of bare skin going on. "No, I don't have a concussion, just a bump - landed on my ass, my leg's the thing - aah!" Sam eases him backwards to lean against the tank, but Dean groans, winces, tenses up. "Maybe my back."

"You old man."

It's a gentle tease that they wouldn't have lobbed at each other in the last few months, since Dean got back to the real world. Not this free and easy and affectionate. It hits the tone of this past week pitch perfect, and it makes Dean feel warm again.

Sam makes Dean track his finger with his eyes. Dean passes Sam's concussion test, and gives himself extra points for focusing through the distraction that is Sam's hand on his bare thigh. It's just not regular for them, okay.

Who is he trying to fool. He's a sicko who fucking loves this.

Sam looks deep into Dean's eyes, and slides a hand behind Dean's neck to cup his head, and Dean's heart is going a mile a minute when Sam pushes Dean's head down and says "Just let me check if you're bleeding."

Dean breathes hard while Sam prods at the tender back of his head. He stares at the hair on his own legs, then, selfishly, at the hair on Sam's stomach creeping up from under the elastic hem of his sleep pants. Dark threads on tan skin.

Sam moves away after what feels like a million years, and Dean's gone from clinging to frozen, feeling his injuries ache after the adrenaline rush peters out. "You seem fine."

Dean looks at Sam, standing there in front of him, tall and golden. He lets his eyes travel up and down, he wants to drink Sam in, because he can, because he can't take this time here with Sam for granted. Soon as he can go he should go, let Sam get back to his two jobs and sleeping regular without keeping an ear open for his brother slipping and hurting himself. Let this obsession loosen its grip on him.

"You need anything? What?" Sam asks, crossing his arms over his chest protectively.

"Nothing, just glad you're okay," Dean says. Sam wrinkles his forehead, squints, conveying Are you sure you don't have a concussion. "Nothing, no, never mind." He shivers.

"Here," Sam says, and fucking towels him down, gets the top of his head, doesn't touch the back again. It gives Dean's skin a warm buzz, and then Sam comes back with a blanket, and any other time he'd be complaining but his body might be in a little bit of shock, and he kind of just wants to take a pain pill and go to bed.

He does take one, and lets stupid warm shirtless Sam walk him back over to the couch, where he puts an extra blanket over Dean.

-

Dean doesn't know what kind of realization he had last night. The light looks different when the sound of Sam in the kitchen wakes him up. Snagging a glass from the cupboard, Dean squeezes into the tiny kitchen space next to his brother and fills the cup from the sink. Sam tries not to be in the way with his sandwich-making at first, but when Dean braces himself against the counter while he drinks, nudging his shoulder against Sam's, Sam leans back, giving Dean the support he implicitly asks for.

Since his leg doesn't actually seem to be worse after last night's fall, Dean gets up and cleans around the place while Sam is at work. Figures he should have done it before, but they're just a couple of guys living out of motels most of their lives. Their expectations were never that high for their own cleanliness. He knows Sam's tolerance for filth is lower than his, though, so he can do Sam a favor for looking after his gimp brother.

Vacuuming while on crutches seems to be nearly impossible, but he can do the couch cushions okay, and the carpet around the couch. He washes the dishes in the sink with a counter to lean on, dries them leaning on the wall, puts them away. And then it's noon, and he's bored again, so he takes Sam's laptop and surfs for porn.

It's not really engaging him, though. He's mostly just scanning the sites he knows, the categories he normally likes, objectively evaluating his hypothetical interest without getting into it. His eyes settle on a title: FIERY LATINA SISTERS SHARE HUNG POOL BOY. Maybe. It reminds Dean of the one time he made it with sisters - or, well, maybe they just made out, he kinda blacked out before he remembers anything porn-worthy. But oh, they were porn-worthy to him.

Sisters! He gets a twinge in his gut at that, not quite arousal but the taboo of it intriguing him. He wonders about that, if these porn actresses or those girls at the bar are really sisters, what if they are, and do they do that often? Do they like it? Is touching each other something they're actually into or is it all attention-getting and they don't really care? Is it like a game for them?

Dean remembers hustling pool with Sam, the game they made of it, putting on personas: one of them drunk and the other holding him back. He remembers the thrill they'd get out of it, being in cahoots. And yeah, he's thought about this before too - about sharing a girl with Sam, like those sisters want to share this guy. Yeah, he's thought about it, when he was particularly insistent on Sam getting laid and chilling out, when they were young and Dean was more sluttily adventurous, and then again when they were together all the time, on hunts and at bars and staying in some nights, when Sam sometimes looked at him full of longing - but that was when Dean had a year to live. Different kind of longing.

Now there's no girl, and Dean thought he wanted to share the road with Sam but he's realizing maybe it's more than that, maybe it's changing, maybe it just has to change. Maybe Sam really means it when he says he wants to settle down and leave their life.

Dean is struck with the need to go into Sam's room and lie in his bed, some way to sneak close to him while he's at work. It isn't about incest at all, wow, there he goes, he actually let the word pass through his mind - but no, the point is, this isn't incest, this is just the need to be close to his brother who seems to be pushing him away.

He heaves himself off the couch to go open Sam's bedroom door. He hasn't been in there, between being couch-ridden and being very aware that this is Sam's place, not his, that he's still a guest and Sam always liked his privacy.

The bed is the same shitty frame, though now it seems that Sam has a better mattress, and the sheets aren't too bad. And then there's not much else - a closet half-full of clothes and no chest of drawers, a pile of dirty clothes on the floor, a pair of boots, a pair of sneakers, and Sam must be wearing his shiny Fed shoes to work. It really barely looks lived-in, but lived-in it is. The bed's a little rumpled. Dean'll fix that.

He spots the shirt Sam was wearing yesterday on top of the clothes pile, and snags it. The laptop is still in the living room, and he'll leave it there - not going to let that train of thought follow him.

Dean clutches Sam's shirt in his fist and thinks about trying to catch Sam's smell in it, pure and untainted by this new place and the second-hand things in it, the way he was trying to get Sam's scent earlier.

He lies face down on the bed and doesn't think about the sisters he got with and doesn't think about sharing a girl with Sam - well maybe a little bit - and doesn't think about having Sam that close, like last night, and doesn't think about what if he stayed, what if he and Sam could work something out between staying put and hunting -

Inhaling the scent of Sam and must from the pillow and sheets, he grinds a little against the bed in some frustration, derailed from his porn distraction, dick more interested than his brain. Sam's shirt is in his fist and not near his face, and Dean squeezes it and thinks desperately of nothing at all, just this forbidden thing he's got right now - then tosses the shirt at Sam's pile and buries his head under a pillow.

When he wakes up he can hear Sam moving around in the kitchen, but the sounds are muffled. There's a blanket flung over Dean that wasn't there before, and Sam's bedroom door is shut. The room is darker, the window dimmer, and Dean checks his watch - 7:00pm. Sam must have just got back.

"Had a good nap?" Sam asks when Dean squints around the corner into the kitchen.

"Yeah. Sorry for... your room."

"Thought you'd like the change from the couch. If you want to use it during the day while I'm gone... I mean, don't eat in the bed or anything -"

"It's okay, I'm fine. Thanks. 'Preciate it." Dean doesn't say anything about the blanket. He feels warm just thinking about Sam putting it on him. He thumps over to bump shoulders and rub elbows with Sam at the sink, help him rinse the broccoli.

"You could keep those porn sites off my computer, though," Sam says as he peels potatoes, and Dean winces. "Don't need any more viruses."

"Aw, come on. Can't blame me if I get bored, sitting around here all day. And cleaning! I cleaned, I bet you didn't notice."

"I noticed." Sam jostles him with his shoulder. "Finally earning your keep around here."

"Careful, don't knock me over, Sasquatch. I'll break my other leg and you'll never get rid of me."

"You wish," Sam says, smirking. "You love being taken care of."

"Oh yeah, really looking forward to the next time I need help using the toilet." But Dean's ears are hot. He doesn't mention the blanket. He doesn't, and neither does Sam. It's just a fucking blanket, but Dean's clinging to it, like a scrap of... something.

He keeps up the friendly crowding, and Sam doesn't snap at him for it again.

The next morning, he sticks to Sam's side as Sam makes toast, annoying him for his own selfish pleasure. After Sam leaves and locks the door behind him, Dean crawls into his bed, seeking out his brother's body heat. He sleeps an hour or so more like that, and the mornings after that.

-

At the three-week mark, Dean gets a walking cast. Sam drives him there but he fights Dean on driving home - "your foot is three times the size of the pedal, you can't drive like that" - for which Dean extracts a tax of "all right, but I'm making dinner."

"You drive a tough bargain," Sam smirks.

"I'm not putting up with any more of your rabbit food. We're going to the store and getting some meat and potatoes. Every kind of meat."

So they do. Dean mans the grocery cart, Sam does the running around, and the menu for the night is hamburgers with grilled onions and barbeque sauce. Sam wolfs his, hungry but also surprised at the fact that Dean can cook.

"Dude, I know how to do hamburgers. Most basic thing, really. You act like I never had a kitchen."

Sam's eyebrows raise, but he doesn't say anything, mostly because his mouth is full of his second burger. Dean chews his slower and frankly basks in the attention.

"I should keep you around," Sam says when they're leaning back on the couch, full stomachs. "You can have dinner ready when I come back from work. A couple more weeks ought to pay me back for taking care of your gimpy ass."

"Do I look like June Cleaver to you?"

Sam snorts, and turns on the TV. It's one of the Terminator movies. Good enough.

"So how's settling in going?"

"... Huh?" Sam blinks, then turns away from the TV to look at Dean. "Fine, why?"

"Cause you almost always come home at the same time. And you never tell me about friends or anyone you meet." He sounds more and more like a worried mother of a teenager the more he says, but Dean soldiers on. "I mean I know I'm an embarrassment and all, can't bring anyone home, but you don't even go out. Aren't you trying to get a normal life?"

"Sure," says Sam. "I've got jobs. I'm doing what I'm interested in." He comes around the corner within Dean's eyesight.

"But, didn't you want to stay here to be friends with Amelia?" Sam makes a strained face. Dean's gotta ask him about that later. "And get a social support group or whatever? One happy hour with the coworkers isn't going to kill you. I'm not asking you to take me or anything."

"I dunno, Dean..."

"Dude, if you're doing this because you're afraid I'm gonna fall and break my other leg while you're gone, you're dumb and you're sabotaging your career."

Sam's eyes are wide.

"You can't believe I'm encouraging you, I know."

"Shut up," says Sam, his voice fond.

Dean makes a face that's suppose to convey his offense that Sam would have thought otherwise, that Sam thinks he's so selfish. But really, he is selfish. Trying like hell not to be, but what else do you call someone who crawls into his brother's bed and smells his shirts and stays on his couch even with crutch mobility?

Sam says, "Thanks, yeah, okay. I'll do it. Tomorrow night."

Dean holds him to it. When Sam comes back Friday night at 7:30, a bit later than normal but hardly partying, Dean looks up from his telenovela.

"Whoa. Happy hour not so happy?"

Sam looks down around the mouth. He shrugs. "Yeah. I know schmoozing's all part of the gig, but... those guys are kinda tools."

Dean feels a little bad for Sam, but a little pleased at his own luck. "Let's go out tonight, okay? Obviously you can't get drunk if you're gonna drive our asses home, but there's gotta be some place with pool. We could have a good time. Whaddaya say?"

So they go.

There's not much pool to be played at first, so they have a game of cards in the corner with some other guys. Dean knows Sam's tells, and Dean's poker face sucks but he's great at grandiose bluffing. He feels more like himself, his old self, and instead of Sam growing more distant with the greater number of people and more space in the room they're closer. Like those nights they scammed at cards and cheated at pool, the two of them in cahoots. Only tonight they don't have any tricks planned. Dean likes the feel of it.

Then one of the poker guys calls for a game of pool, and Dean says "School him, Sammy." Sam does while Dean watches, living vicariously through his brother. Sam's tall and long and lean and stalking around the table occasionally he un-hunches and looks as towering as he is, and damn, it looks good on him, always did. And so what if Dean lets himself look while Sam's bent over the table, if he's appreciative it's only for the sheer familiar aesthetic spectacle of the thing, his very long brother stretched out and posing, an athlete of his own kind.

"You don't know anyone here, do you?" Dean asks Sam when he sits back down.

Sam shakes his head. "Not my side of town."

"No Amelia?"

Sam makes that face again.

"Dude, you wanna tell me what's going on there?" Dean's chest feels funny. It's awkward asking since Sam has never, ever brought her up since he first settled here.

Sam fiddles with his fingers, rubbing the blue chalk collected on the tips from the pool cues. "Nothing. I dunno. We really had something but when it came to me or her husband... she wanted it both ways, but I can't. I can't do that kind of thing. I wouldn't have wanted her to. And unfortunately the guy doesn't look too kindly on us just being friends."

"That When Harry Met Sally thing? Men and women can't be friends?"

Sam snorts. "We had a bit more than friendship going on, for almost a year, Dean. But yeah, total crap. Working's kept me busy and my mind off things."

Dean shakes his head. He's had enough to drink that he doesn't mind slapping Sam on the shoulder, and telling him "Busy ain't happy. Wish you'd get some more of that second one."

Sam quirks the corner of his mouth, looking down at his pint glass. He raises it to smile at Dean so Dean clinks his against Sam's, feeling weirdly lighter, a little more unhinged. Alcohol. It's been a while.

They get back to their place around one in the morning. Dean only had a couple beers in all, since it was only economical, and anyway he hasn't been drinking in a bit, had to keep sharp enough for that card game. Sam had a couple too, which is great, Dean tells him. "You gotta relax after a week of work, Sam, come on, just have one more" - of course Sam ignored him eventually, knowing his limit to safely drive them back.

Sam's tired, sure, and so is Dean. Dean feels stretched and warmed up, like he wants to go all night. He knows this feeling, like when he wants to go home with a woman, continue the night elsewhere. There's that warmth jumping under his skin to get out of the bar, do something, not necessarily in that order.

Of course this cast wasn't going to get him any action and he didn't really see any he wanted - fact he wasn't even looking -, but he can't help his feeling of excitement. First time really getting out in weeks, and not playing it up to win big money, not gearing up to or down from a fight - low-key, just hanging out.

Dean's babbling about Sam's pool game, like he'd have anything to really say about it that Sam didn't already know because he was there, and Dean's telling stories in the age old tradition of stuff they both already know - old memories of people they duped who really walked right into that one, they deserved what was coming to them they were just so gullible, and Sam's snickering at their own antics, too late to disapprove so he might as well laugh.

Dean's sitting on the couch, Sam is walking back and forth across the living room. He gets them both glasses of water because he is always that guy, till he really goes over the drunk line. Which, really, neither of them are. They're just very very happy, and buzzed.

Dean grabs the cup mug Sam holds out and hooks his other hand around the back of Sam's knee. He doesn't think about the consequences, just wants to bring Sam and his tall self closer, trip him up a little. Sam wobbles a bit but stays upright, eyes locked on Dean.

Dean finds himself looking straight up, neck straining, as Sam's brought close with his hips kinda close to Dean's face. His neck is cricked and his throat is strained and Sam from this angle looks kinda weird, but hell - "I'd know you from any angle" he says out loud, and for some weird fucking reason Sam blushes, his face going all red at that. Without saying anything back to Dean. Without moving. Letting himself be tugged close.

Dean imagines hooking his fingers through Sam's belt loops and pulling him down closer that way. He grabs Sam's wrist. Sam's skin feels hot to the touch.

"All right, you're drunk," Sam says. "C'mon, just drink the water."

"No, I'm not drunk, I'm fine. C'mon Sam, let's stay up."

Sam looks like he doesn't know about that. "No, man, you're drunk."

Dean tugs Sam's wrist but instead of Sam overbalancing and plunking down onto the couch, he pulls back so hard it lifts Dean's ass up off the couch, has him on his heels for a split second. He lets go quick and leans back, puts a hand to his cast on instinct.

"Shit, sorry," Sam says. He starts to lean over, reaches out a hand towards Dean, and Dean hears the breath catch in his own throat. Sam stops.

Dean's gut flips.

"'S okay, I'm okay. You okay?" His throat is dry but he doesn't drink the water in his mug.

"Yeah," Sam says. "I'm just tired and I shouldn't. You shouldn't." Dean's still looking up at him, Sam still standing kinda close to look at comfortably. "Sorry," Sam says again, and he looks really sorry, horribly sorry, and then he slides his open hand gently along the side of Dean's head. The ball of his thumb slides towards the dip of Dean's temple, Sam's palm warm and solid. It feels really good. Sam combs the short hairs there between his fingers for a few seconds, and then his hand falls away, leaving Dean aching, honestly aching.

"Don't," Dean says, then swallows hard, feeling the muscles in his throat working, seeing Sam watching. "Yeah, okay, you go sleep. Thanks. For the water."

As Dean drifts off he thinks, I don't want to leave. It's a thought he's terrified of, ever since he's been feeling it, and he's been feeling it all his life. It's been enough to live with that. He doesn't know how he can live with this constant awareness of Sam's hands and how they feel on him, his shameful grasping, the want turned to yearning - doesn't know if he can live with himself, if this goes too far.

He watches Sam close all the next morning, and if Sam's avoiding his gaze or Dean's just being paranoid, he can't tell. After Sam closes the door behind him and Dean clicks the lock shut, like they've been doing for weeks now, he rolls into his little brother's bed still smelling like him and humps the mattress, eyes squeezed furiously shut, blocking out the sound of the small moans that escape him. He goes till he's on the edge of coming, then rolls over and brings himself off neatly in his hand, wipes up with his own t-shirt. There's a burning shame in his stomach, a flush on his chest, and everything is so fucking wrong but he can't help feel the flood of physical relief that rushes through him, calming him despite the recognition.

He's got to head out today, or tomorrow. It's gone far enough.

-

With his walking cast he does a load of laundry, packs his bag and vacuums the whole place with Sam's absurd bachelor vacuum cleaner. He calls Garth, who tells him about a case and when Dean says he's not looking for work just yet, offers him a bed to crash in on his houseboat. He sets steaks to thaw on the counter. He's terrified enough that he'd almost leave a note and drive away but they're in a good place. It'd kill him to throw away everything he got back over not just the past few weeks, but months.

Dean's got it worked out. He'll come visit now and then. He'll stop at Sam's between hunts. When Sam needs help moving he'll lend him a hand, and Sam's not always one to ask favors but whatever he needs, Dean'll do for him. He almost feels bad about not sticking around to be more useful... but it's clear they both need space now.

Dean's at the stove when Sam comes home. Sam looks surprised, then smiles, then admires the rest of the room. Then he notices Dean's packed bag, sitting out.

"You plannin on going somewhere?"

Dean feels the impulse to be prickly, like any other time, but he just feels sad. "Thought it was about time I gave you a break, stop taking up all your couch space." Light and joking, not too self-deprecating, it's not that big a deal.

Despite Dean's best efforts, Sam still looks mad. "When? Tonight? When were you planning on telling me any of this?"

"Jesus, Sam, I just - I got the walking cast, the pain's manageable, I'm getting restless." He shrugs, as if it's that simple. Should be. "Besides, you were busting your back taking care of me for the first couple weeks, and I'm here all the time keeping you from getting settled in. I should be driving you crazy."

"What? I'm settling in fine." Sam looks uncomfortable. "I've got jobs."

"Yeah, Sam, but what about last night? You said you were busy, but are you happy?"

Sam's mouth opens, closes. He works his jaw. "I'm doing what I want. I'm happy."

"Man, I don't think so."

"What?" Sam says again, this time defensive instead of confused.

"This place," Dean gestures. "All your second-hand crappy furniture. I get that you don't have money for fancy shit, hell I wouldn't know a thing about it, but none of this stuff matches. It doesn't fit. It's not really yours, it's not you. I've seen your room, it's emptier than a motel room. Nobody'd guess you were planning on sticking around." He turns the boiling potatoes on low and hobbles to the other side of the room, for no other reason than a need to not feel cornered in the kitchen.

Sam watches him and leans against the wall. "Guess I don't feel ready to settle in this town. If this job goes well but nothing else comes up I can still go to law school - if something else comes up it might come up somewhere else..." Sam runs a hand through his hair.

"That's what I'm saying, though. Maybe you want a normal life but what have you got? Thinking of moving but you don't know where to, and an ex you never see?"

Sam pinches the bridge of his nose, a gesture Dean knows well and feels bad about. "Why the hell are you saying all this? What's it to you?"

"I want good things for you," Dean says, and feels a twinge at how selfish he's really being, what his real reasons are.

"Well you're being a real dick about it."

"Yeah, well -" Dean runs a hand over his face. "Sorry. See, I've been here too long. It's about time I get out of your hair, give us some space."

"Dean, come on, you clean the living room and make dinner and say you're in my hair? You're not - you only just got your walking cast. Just... take it easy and I can finish cooking -"

"I'm fine, Sam, geez. I already called Garth."

Sam stops. Shit. Here comes the puppydog look.

"He's got a cot on his houseboat for me, till I get my sea legs again. No hunts, not till I'm out of the cast, I know. But you gotta spend your time on your life, Sam, not on me. I owe you a huge fucking favor, and you gotta call me in on it 'cause I know you don't always like help but I wanna, you know."

Sam's doing that fish-mouth thing again for a brief moment, which Dean remembers from the hospital when he said he'd only be there a little while. Finally, he says, "Shut up, Dean, just shut up."

"What's your problem?" Dean bursts out. "You quit the job and the road, you wanted your own place, you wanted us to be apart -"

"Not that -"

"Yes, that. Come on, Sam. You wanted a break and here you go, it was good for us, but now I can't go? You're not about to jump back into shotgun and go on the road with me."

"That's what you want?" Sam asks, voice rising.

"No, not - I mean, so sue me if it is what I want, but I haven't been trying to persuade you to come me or anything because I know you just want a good thing here -"

Sam snaps at him, "Do you want you or me to finish dinner?"

"Uh." What the fuck, Sam. "Me."

"Then wake me up when it's done." And then Sam lurches into his bedroom and shuts the door. It's a loud shut, and he hears Sam rattling around in there, bouncing off the squeaking bed.

This makes no fucking sense. Dean finishes dinner while trying to figure out what the hell Sam is so mad about. He thinks about what to say and all he doesn't want to say, everything he was trying to avoid by skating out of here with just a note.

The steaks are done and the onions are fried and the potatoes boiled and mashed. Sam's stopped making noise for the last half hour and Dean hopes he got some time to calm down, maybe nap. He goes over and knocks on Sam's door.

"Hey, Sammy."

He hears the faint squeak of the bed, but before Sam replies at all the door suddenly opens and there he is standing there, in his undershirt and shorts, hair rumpled about his face. He looks more tired than sleepy, and radiates warmth and that smell, his particular Sam smell.

Dean is wrecked. He's completely fucked. He can feel all the stupid symptoms coming over him, pupils dilating, nostrils flaring, lips suddenly dry. His heart hurts. This is what he's leaving. Sam's face is barely a foot from his and he can see where the lines are starting at the corners of Sam's eyes, between his brows.

Dean was going to say something about dinner or how they're adult men who need their own space, but instead he blurts out, "You look exhausted."

"Yeah," Sam crackles. He clears his throat of sleep. "Long day. Pretty shitty." He's looking right at Dean, eyelids drooping heavy, still blinking sleep away. He's leaning against the door jamb and Dean is right there still.

"Shit," Dean says. He wipes his palms on his jeans, a nervous gesture. "Sorry about that."

"You know, Dean, you're not. You're not really." Dean's surprised, hurt. "You act like you're a huge burden around here or like you're keeping me from being normal, but I'm as normal as I'm gonna be, and you're just leaving cause you're scared. Again."

"I'm not -"

"Yes you are. You're running. I don't know what from -"

"You calling me a coward?"

"Yeah, I am!" They're leaning even closer, angry now, and Dean's taking a step into Sam's room. "If you were anybody else I'd believe you were just restless, but you're my brother, you think you can just walk in and out and I'd have no clue?"

"You don't have a fucking clue, Sam," Dean growls, jostling Sam's shoulder.

Sam takes a swipe at his hand, backs up but Dean doesn't let him get far. "Then why don't you tell me?"

"I told you! Not gonna stick around and fuck things up -"

Sam grabs Dean's upper arm. "You think you've been ruining my life this past weeks?" Dean pushes him off. "What is your problem? You weren't the only one there last night, Dean."

Dean freezes, breathing hard. He realizes he's backed Sam into his room, but Sam's still looming over him, it's not an unfair fight. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"Fine. You wanna ignore it, then fine, go ahead and leave."

"Dammit, Sam," Dean growls, and now they're shoving at each other. "Don't get fucking mad when I'm trying to let you - "

Sam trips backwards onto the bed, and Dean falls onto him, a thigh between Sam's legs, struggles against the heat of his brother's body and feels Sam's dick half-hard against his hip.

It should freak him the fuck out. But all he can think of is Sam's arms under his hands, how soft his shirt is and how thin. He doesn't stop to look at Sam's eyes, just kisses him, mouth already open, dirty and moving and licking Sam's lips. Explaining, as it were, what a sick fuck Dean was and why exactly Sam needed his own space to himself and Dean should really get out of here.

Sam shudders underneath him, opens his mouth under Dean's and - jesus christ - kisses back sure and strong and solid, laving Dean's tongue against his, his mouth hot and wet. He moves as if he's the one who coaxed Dean into this.

Dean breaks off, then - "Fuck," he says, while Sam tries to reach his mouth again. "What the fuck, Sam? You're not freaking out?"

"God, Dean," and it's not the shocked tone, it's the you're so dumb smartass little brother tone. Stupidly fond. "You think I didn't see this coming?"

"I didn't fucking see it coming! You don't have to," but then Sam's kissing him, and Dean grinds involuntarily against Sam's hip. Sam lifts his outer leg to wrap around Dean, and Dean 's got Sam's arms pinned to the bed, and they kiss and bite each other's mouths, pushing and pulling, Sam hooking his leg around Dean's waist, fitting them snug together.

Dean pulls back again - "I swear to god, Sam, if you're fucking with me -"

"You think this is a joke?"

"I mean it, fuck, Sam, this isn't just - I'm being honest here." Dean leans up to look Sam in the eye. Sam's looking at him, serious too. "I don't wanna - this isn't normal, and we were getting so good, but I don't have anything here and if you want anything else -"

"I'm serious, shut up, Dean, and stop freaking out. Please." Sam leans his head up, nips Dean's lower lip, sucks it into his mouth and pulls, drags it out. Dean's all the way back to breathless by the time he's done. "You can punch me later, even, just."

"Not gonna punch you." Dean reaches down to cup Sam's thigh, right under his ass, pushing to nudge Sam up towards the head of the bed. Sam goes quick and eager, and is he serious? Dean scoots his own lame ass up the bed, then reaches out a hand to grab the waist of Sam's boxers. Sam's eyes are glued on Dean's hands, and so Dean hesitates till Sam nods, croaks "Yeah" and hurries to take them off himself. Dean sees a drip of precome clinging to them, stretching thin into a strand before it releases, dripping down onto Sam's bare thigh. Dean has the impulse to catch it with his tongue, but he's slow, so he settles for reaching a hand down and wrapping it around Sam's cock. Sam groans, "Please" and hearing Sam say please does shit to Dean so Dean ducks his head down, spreads Sam's thighs open with his hands, and moves close press his face against Sam's stomach. Awkwardly leaning on his side but too eager to give a fuck, Dean pushes his lips against the trail of Sam's hair on his belly, nudging up the t-shirt with his nose, tonguing Sam's salty skin along the trail of hairs till he gets to the base of Sam's dick. Panting hard now, Sam pushes his hand up along the side of Dean's head, cupping it just as he had the night before, and Dean hums with pleasure.

Right as he's about to open his mouth on Sam's dick, he pauses, looks up, and says, "You sure you want this?"

He does it to get a look at Sam, he admits. Half terror and half bravado, he wants to drink Sam in. That's what this has always been about. Sam doesn't disappoint, as if he could. The tips of his hair are stuck in sweaty curls to his neck and collar, his mouth is hanging open in this dangerous 'o' shape. Dean wants to watch that mouth do terrible things to him. Sam's staring at him, eyes dark and wide.

"Fuck, Dean," Sam says, gasping. "Isn't it a little late?"

"I mean," croaks Dean, throat dry. "You really want me to blow you? I'm your brother. You want this, this incest thing?"

Sam groans and closes his eyes, pushes Dean's head involuntarily and grips his own thigh with white fingers. "Please, please" he pants. The sight of Dean's little brother all twisted up and flushed like this, over him, the temptation he's just laid out - it makes the heat pool and coil in his belly again, sends a rush straight to his head.

"I slept in here after you left every day this week," he says, settling down onto his stomach the way he's used to in Sam's bed now. Sam is downright panting at his words. "I jerked myself off here this morning with my face in your pillow. Smelled like you."

"You - fucking tease," Sam grits out, and Dean can't help but grin. "If you're not gonna -" The rest of his words are cut off by a gasp, as Dean sucks the head of Sam's cock into his mouth, tonguing the underside. The taste of it is a bitter, bleachy shock, the smell of come familiar but Sam's is different - Sam's - his face so close to the dark musk of his brother's groin, and Dean shudders. Sam is making these breathy moans that draw out long when Dean tongues his slit, sounds Dean would associate with someone much younger, and boy does that twist his gut and key him up. His mind goes blank for a second with how blindingly hot this shit is, and with that he sucks Sam down as far as he can go.

With saliva and Sam's precome dripping down from his mouth he uses his hand at the base to pump Sam's cock, resting his forearms against Sam's thighs, the bed, nearly faceplanting as he gets a rhythm going with Sam's hips. Sam's not pushing his head down but the warm weight of his hand moves down to the back of Dean's neck, slides over to his shoulder where it grabs tight and kneads. Dean's jaw aches. He's not exactly used to this but he gets the idea. Sam's grip tightens soon, and Dean knows his brother's going to come, the stutter and irregular force of Sam's thrusts giving way to long, guttural moans from Sam, to "Fuck, Dean - fuck, fuck, Dean, gonna come" - hearing his name jerking rough out of Sam like that shoots lust through Dean's belly to his dick, which is pressed hard against the mattress.

Sam nudges Dean away with his hand, then removes it from Dean's shoulder, choking out a sound as he comes right into Dean's mouth, and Dean sucks Sam off all the way, and swallows.

"Are you serious?" Sam asks. Dean doesn't know what he's talking about, it's a little late to be questioning that move.

"I'm all in, Sammy," Dean smirks, raising an eyebrow.

Sam laughs at that, then before Dean can get a handle on it he grabs at Dean, gets an arm around his shoulders and another around his waist, and rolls him over and onto his back before Dean can complain about being handled. Dean's dick lifts from the bed jutting hard into the air, bobbing and drooling. He's got a mess of precome stuck to the sheets where he lay, a thick string of it between his dick and the bed, and the cool air hits his smeared-wet belly. Sam's looking at him, and he looks fucking eager. Hell.

Sam crawls down to put his own face near Dean's dick and Dean's head jerks back, eyes rolling. He doesn't know why he can't handle this but he nearly can't - "You don't have to" he blurts - and then the heavy round head of his cock swings against Sam's cheek, then taps his jaw, and it's the hottest thing Dean could never have possibly imagined.

Sam's eyes are dark and narrow down there, and Dean sees his grin flash at the choking gasp Dean makes when Sam presses his face against Dean's dick again. Dean puts a hand in Sam's hair and strokes, doesn't push, just strokes, and Sam makes a low content noise in his throat at that.

Sam rubs his face on Dean's dick and it makes Dean wanna die. Before Dean can come just from that, he moves down, licking his tongue all over Dean's balls, leaving them wet with spit. He moves at what feels like a glacial pace from there back up Dean's shaft in long stripes, till Dean is shaking on his back, hands cramped in aching claws from trying to dig them into the mattress.

Finally Sam's hot wet mouth sucks tight and hot around the head, one of his hands around the base and shaft, the other cupping Dean's ass with a finger pushing towards Dean's asshole. He clenches and tenses and bucks, and Sam sucks, and he comes like hell as Sam pulls off, getting some of Dean's come around his mouth.

Dean, still quivering, reaches a finger out to wipe the come off Sam's lip. Sam's mouth drops open at his touch, and as Dean sees it, he knows he can trust this, this is what he's been looking for.


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EPILOGUE


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Dean's really fucking into it, okay - this, the not-splitting-up thing, the making out thing, the fucking thing - because he's really into Sam and he's spent a lot of time thinking about forbidden closeness and shit. And yet Sam is so fucking calm, back to not saying things like "you can't go now", not because he's afraid of Dean proving him wrong and turning tail, but because he can wait and see. Really takes things as they come.

Dean realizes this thing they have, domestic and insanely intimate, isn't something Sam's afraid of wanting. Sam's made some peace here, and it takes his breath away how calm he can be about this. Dean both doesn't understand it and aches to have a real role in this life. It's still hard for him.

In his head, Sam's the fussy one who wants to talk about shit, but now he's just taking this all in stride. Dean doesn't know how it isn't driving Sam crazy.

"How is this not driving you crazy?" he asks, and Sam shrugs, says "It's too much work to worry about it."

"So you just decided you don't wanna worry?"

"Yeah."

"Easy as pie?"

Sam chuckles. "Wow, you are so not easy," which Dean snorts at. "But it's okay. Everthing's okay."

Dean doesn't want to say What about when I'm better and on the road again, will it be easy then? Or will this just be over? Will it go back to before where I visit sometimes, and we watch football and drink beer, and we ignore each others' arms on the back of the couch? The thought of returning to hunting for Dean feels, as always in life, like an inevitability. It goes best when he doesn't think of it at all.

And of course, while Dean does mental and emotional gymnastics, Sam's just making his bed, and Dean's leaning against the door frame, taking all the worry up for himself. Figures Sam would be unreasonably calm about this.

Dean watches Sam silently till Sam notices, and keeps watching as Sam silently lets him. Dean's stir-crazy is going to get worse before it gets better, but at the end of the day, Sam is where he wants to be - on the couch, next to Dean, probably cupping the back of his head and kissing him absurdly, insanely slowly.

-

Sam suggests that once the cast comes off, Dean should stave off boredom by getting some kind of job, one that'll let him heal fully before he puts more stress on the leg - "unlike last time," Sam emphasizes, and Dean just glares: "We're not gonna talk about whose fault that was".

Construction is a relatively rough job for a man just bouncing back from an injury, especially when it comes to standing. Dean ends up finding luck when he recognizes the guy who owns the closest non-foreign-car garage as the man whose family they saved six months ago.

"Yeah, we moved - wanted to be closer to family, you know, appreciate the good things. Life is short."

"You're telling me," Dean says, smiles big and genuine. "Just got back on this leg, had a real close call. You don't wanna hear about it."

"As long as you're not in town because there's any trouble..."

"No, no, nothing like that. I'm doing the same thing you are. Maybe not retiring but laying low a while. Family."

Rick looks at him, and nods in approval. "Well, I can do you this favor - you willing to come on part-time? I know it's not much..."

"Good, part time is good. Not aching too hard for money." Dean doesn't say "two incomes", is used to being secretive about how he gets money but secretive is different from closeted - well, if they're sticking around maybe he's nervous about what people think he and Sam are.

Basically just the same, is what they are - Dean comes home, Sam's making burgers in a pan on the stove, they watch each other and nudge each other, and though sometimes they just don't do anything, some nights Sam straddles Dean on the couch, or Dean follows Sam into his bedroom without Sam saying anything. Things get so much better after Dean loses the cast.

They aren't buying less shitty furniture or whatever still because Sam is intent on moving as soon as he finds the right place to move, so the apartment doesn't really feel more like a home except that Dean starts feeling more used to it. They're getting a bigger bed though, because this one is too small to sleep in, and the couch is becoming truly miserable.

Still, their direction feels uncertain, despite Dean's newly-affirmed devotion to his brother. Their refusal to talk about the future shows the aggressive allowances Sam is making for Dean's restlessness, and Dean isn't sure he can keep himself away from hunting forever.

Then one day, Dean sees a pathetic little dog, big paws and short nose putting it at six months at most, dripping wet hanging out outside of the garage. The owner says he's never seen it before, and the thing looks half-starved, no collar. The garage isn't in a residential area, so Dean takes it to the vet, where a young woman (not Amelia - Dean's gonna be honest, he felt a little scared at that prospect) tells him there's no chip on the dog either.

So Dean feeds the dog the second half of his sandwich, puts him in the back seat of the Impala, and takes him home.

"Sorry I didn't give you any warning, Sam, but I've got a friend here - you think we can get dinner for one more?"

When he pokes his head around the corner from the kitchen and sees the wiggling wet doberman mix Dean has in his arms, Sam's face is priceless.