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At first in Purgatory, Dean had shaved because it reminded him that he was human.

Back on Earth, it’d been the one thing more constant than eating, sleep, or fucking—maintaining appearances, beaten into him by Dad, and Dean had always seen the point of that even after he started thinking that maybe Dad didn’t have the best perspective on some things. His father had laid it out clearly before he’d taken off to look for Azazel: Dean was pretty enough the five o’clock shadow was acceptable; it made him look more authoritative. But he was a lot closer to ordinary with a beard, and looking good opened a lot more doors than looking like a coffee-drinking, bike-riding hipster, so a not-so-close shave was the best choice.

After Hell, shaving had felt different, and not just because he hadn’t needed to do it for forty years down below. Wasting a good blade scraping his face had felt both weird and oddly indulgent. And every day he didn’t dig deeper, seeing what he could carve into his own flesh, was another day he didn’t prove to himself that he’d gone full black-eyed without the telltale oilslick blink. It had been a small victory, but those had been the only kind he knew how to win, just then.

Enough shit had gone down after that that the meaning of the morning ritual had faded, gone back to making himself the sexiest mofo he could be. Lisa had liked the scrape of his stubble, liked the affectionate cheek-to-cheek rub he’d learned how to give her (he owed her a lot more than that, but any part of his debt he could pay with his body was great).

So in Purgatory he’d continued the habit for a long time. Then one—he couldn’t say ‘one morning’ because who the fuck knew what counted as a day in Purgatory; for all he could tell he’d been there one very, very long twilight, and maybe a thousand years from now there’d be darkness. Whatever: he’d shaken Benny awake because it was time to get moving, and Benny had asked, “Aren’t you forgetting something?” And when Dean had given him the side-eye, Benny had run his fingertips across the line of his jaw.

Dean had shrugged. “Thinking of letting it grow out,” he’d said, even though he hadn’t been thinking about it at all. “You do.”

“I’m a vampire, brother,” Benny’d said. “It’s not an issue. But you—” and there was that look again. Dean had seen it in thousands of girls, hundreds of guys. He’d known almost since they’d met that Benny wanted him on his knees, and he’d been idly considering it. There was no rush. Not like Benny was going to get a better offer. “You don’t need a beard.” Benny’s eyes hadn’t hidden anything: not his desires, not his willingness to be turned down. He was just asking Dean to shave, because he liked the way Dean looked.

“Okay,” Dean had said, and when they’d stopped for the (made-up) night, that had been the first time they’d fucked.

Dean still thought about being with Benny sometimes, afterwards. Not in the way that he thought about amazing lays he’d had, idle material for when he needed to clean the pipes in the shower. He’d never had enough time with Benny in Purgatory for a Grade A fuck; it had mostly been handjobs, and efficient ones at that. The contact had been almost as worthwhile as the orgasms. They’d made a good team, Benny and Dean. The way Benny had called him “brother,” from the first, should’ve made Dean furious, but it was as if Dean had already known, deep down, what was going on back on Earth: Sam wasn’t looking, while Benny was by Dean’s side. Benny was the closest to a brother Dean was going to get, and Benny was just fine with Dean’s savage side.

Now, Benny was gone and Dean was older, if not wiser. Everything had changed once more. He’d realized just how badly he’d screwed up with Sam (again); he’d made as many amends as he knew how. At least he’d convinced Sam not to sacrifice his own life. The gates of Hell remained open, and all the angels had fallen down, but Sam was alive and that was enough for now, especially since they didn’t know jack shit about what was coming next.

And maybe Dean didn’t quite know who he was at the moment. Daddy’s good soldier had burned to ashes on the rack; Alastair’s torturer had never gotten his feet under him; Sam’s brother had let Sam down so many times when it counted; Castiel’s righteous man had said fuck it all; all his other roles, from Lisa’s man to Benny’s almost-brother, had ended worse than that. Why wouldn’t he want to leave all that behind, if he could?

So he cooked big, elaborate dinners, like he’d never had the chance to do (despite Sam’s sugar-tinged memories, pouring cereal did not count, and Lisa and Ben had been happy with the basics). He brought the bunker up to code so that they wouldn’t die in an electrical fire, and he put routers in so that Sammy could have his wi-fi everywhere, even in the dungeon. He had his own laptop now, and if he had a Pinterest board of really sweet-looking guns and other projectile weapons, nobody needed to know but him and his followers. He rearranged his weapons collection every couple of weeks, because he had a wall and a weapons collection and why wouldn’t he? It wasn’t like he wanted to learn to garden. Every journey of self-discovery had its limits.

Sam mostly skulked around eating, sleeping, and restoring himself to He-Man muscle definition, all of which Dean heartily favored and therefore constantly had to stop himself from mocking. They weren’t in a terrible, my-brother-started-the-Apocalypse place, but they weren’t tight enough that Dean could be sure Sam would hear the pride underneath the teasing. Instead, he tried to make sure Sam’s plate had a full rainbow of colors and the right proportions of protein, carbs, and fats, just like the nutrition websites said, and he went out and made sure Sam’s jogging path was clear of obstructions. (Using a machete was the exact opposite of gardening. He was sure that was true.)

It was a quiet life, waiting for the next big shitstorm, and Dean hadn’t said more than a few words to a non-Sam person in weeks when Castiel arrived, squinting into the security camera Dean had installed as if it were some new kind of demon.

Dean opened the door for him, and Castiel’s eyes widened and he stepped backwards.

“What?” Dean snapped.

“What is on your face?”

From behind Dean, Sam sniggered. “Dean’s decided that, now that we have a permanent base of operations, it’s okay for him to look like a mountain man.”

Dean reached for his jaw, rubbed it automatically. The hair was starting to soften as it grew out, and he’d even trimmed it a bit with scissors. Okay, not perfectly, but he was on a learning curve. “Fuck you both,” he suggested.

Castiel blinked. “I’m not here for that.”

Dean decided to ignore that sentence. “Well, come on in,” he suggested. If they were going to get sucked back into the angel-demon war, he wanted to do it over a beer and the quesadillas he’d been planning all day.

****

“But it’s red,” Castiel said, with the kind of incomprehension more suited for asking why the pizza man and the cheerleader need the help of the football team.

“I know,” Sam commisserated, which was not cool, and Dean almost shot him a look that would tell him that, then remembered that he was being supportive and not critical, no matter how much he wanted to smack Sam (lightly, very lightly) across the face.

“Did you seriously come here to complain about the hair on my face?” Dean asked, setting Sam’s quesadillas down in front of him.

“No, I was surprised by that,” Castiel said. Sam and Dean exchanged a glance—no, this was not worth an eyeroll—and Dean slid a plateful over to Castiel too. Castiel tilted his head, probably wondering why he wasn’t getting hamburgers instead.

“Well,” Dean said, sitting down and shaking a napkin out over his lap, “what brings you back to our humble abode? You didn’t exactly stop and write us a note before you took off.”

“I’ve located as many of my brothers and sisters as I could. Many did not survive, or are no longer sufficiently functional. Their consensus is that it is not presently possible to assault Metatron and regain Heaven. Nor do they wish to stay in the human realm. Therefore, they are determined to take over Hell.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Dean said. Angels keeping the demons busy, without the firepower of Michael and the rest of the biggest dicks, and without Cas going out of his mind: what was not to like?

“Really?” Sam raised an eyebrow, like Dean was an idiot. “Without their powers, how would that even work?”

“As you know from personal experience, Sam, it’s possible to open a passage to Hell using the power of ritual rather than angelic grace. Not to mention that some of our abilities will persist … for a while. But you are correct that the Host alone may not be up to the task.”

“You want to talk to Crowley,” Sam said, figuring it out so Dean didn’t have to. “Remember how well that went last time?”

“I seek no pact with him. Any agreement he made with a graceless being would involve the crossroads. I only want information.”

Dean didn’t need to check in with Sam on this: it was a terrible idea, but not one they were going to stop Cas from trying. Which meant they were going back out, too, because Cas was a lot of things, and one of them was family. If Cas was in a fight, so were they.

“You can start as soon as you finish your dinner,” Dean told him. “He’s locked up in the dungeon.”

“You kept him in a dungeon all summer?” Cas asked, sounding nearly as disapproving as he had about the beard.

“Were we supposed to put him up in a hotel?” Dean said, not at all defensive. “He has a bucket.”

Cas blinked, then dismissed the issue. “Very well,” he said, and set to work on his food.

Sam had his furrowed forehead going on, staring at Dean like he expected Dean to explode in recriminations. Because yelling at his family about their dumb decisions had always worked out so well for Dean before. No, he was in—they were in—and it didn’t make sense to pretend otherwise.

When Cas finished and left his plate for Dean to clear away like Dean was a diner waitress, Dean didn’t comment. He piled the dishes in the sink—in theory Sam ought to do them since Dean had cooked, but Sam was fucking terrible at it, always missing a spot, and Sam’s hands chapped something fierce, and it was just easier to do them himself. Someday he’d put a dishwasher in.

“Dean,” Sam’s voice interrupted his thoughts, heavy with concern.

“Yeah,” he said. Maybe Sam would want to sit this one out. Dean would make himself understand.

“You’re sure about this.”

Dean looked over his shoulder. No, of fucking course he wasn’t sure. Hell had scoured the sure out of him, and hiding that from Sam had backfired, convincing Sam that he was the weak one in this family. “I don’t think we can stop him,” Dean said. “And that means we have to help him.”

Sam snorted. “Okay. I’ll start loading the car.”

“I can get it,” Dean offered, even though Sam knew where everything went and would probably do a better job than Dean would.

Sam shook his head. “No, you need to get rid of that rug on your face if we’re gonna be out and about.”

Dean squelched the impulse to rub it. What was so wrong with his beard? He thought it made him look more like a guy you’d see in a supermarket, buying groceries for his family. “That bad, hunh?” he said, maybe more in his voice than he’d meant to let out.

Sam’s eyes narrowed, because Sam knew him way too well. “On second thought, why don’t I help you with that,” he suggested. “You haven’t shaved in a while, and you’d probably cut yourself enough to bring a nest of vampires running.”

Ordinarily he’d have taunted Sam about his own attempt to match Cousin It and threatened to Nair him when he was least expecting it. But that way lay Sam thinking he wasn’t worth saving. Also Sam could carry off romance hero hair, if Dean wanted to be completely honest about it.

Still, he couldn’t let Sam get away with everything. “You mess up my pretty face and we’re going to have words,” he threatened.

“Uh, I think you messed it up already,” Sam said and handed him the last plate. “Also, you taught me how to shave, so if I screw it up, that’s really on you.”

Dean scoffed, even though that was true.

****

Dean found himself in the barracks-like bathroom with Sam, wearing only a T-shirt and shorts. Sam was trimming the hair to get it close to his skin. The scissors were sharp and bright, and the snick-snick echoed off the tiles as Sam worked, letting tufts of hair fall into the sink Dean was leaning over. Dean watched his reflection as his ordinary self was revealed, still hairy but just the same as ever. It wasn’t a huge shock; he’d seen himself put back together, gone from gore to perfectly intact skin in an instant, hundreds of times in Hell (Alastair liked to watch himself work). This reveal was less painful, but not completely different.

Dean wanted to make a joke about Sam’s skill, surprising given his own untouched flowing locks. But he didn’t want to make Sam think he was cracking wise about the fact that it had been years since they’d cut each other’s hair (sometimes Dean thought Sam had grown his out so far just so he wouldn’t need to have Dean’s hands on him like that), and he was rewarded for keeping his piehole shut when Sam finished by tidying up the hair at his nape. The chunks that fell down his collar were scratchy, which explained why Dean shivered and why Sam put a hand on his upper back to keep him still.

“Okay,” Sam said, clearing his throat. “Step two.”

Dean obediently went for a long hot shower, softening the remaining hair for the final shave. It felt good, even if he’d miss the beard.

When he got out with a towel wrapped around his waist, Sam was still there, lounging up against the big sink. The room was big enough that the mirrors hadn’t steamed up, which was kind of a pity.

Somehow, Sam had procured Dean’s own brand of shaving cream, instead of the stuff Sam used that always left Dean feeling like he’d been sandpapered. Dean smiled his thanks as he took his place in front of the sink.

“I could do this myself,” he reminded Sam, in case Sam had changed his mind.

Sam didn’t bother to answer. His fingers stroked across Dean’s cheek, spreading the cream, and Dean closed his eyes. The lather felt smooth, a little cool, as Sam recreated his beard, fingertips smoothing along the skin above Dean’s lips.

“Okay,” Sam said at last, his voice lower than usual. “Hold still.”

The first stroke of the straight razor was gentle, not quite dragging against his skin. Sam paused to wipe it after each stroke. He was shaving with the grain; Dean wasn’t going to be perfectly smooth. Sam nudged him this way and that, exposing the line of his jaw for better access, tilting his head down so that Sam could follow the line of his cheek. Sam’s fingers pulled his skin taut so that he could get a closer shave. When Sam’s thumb tugged his upper lip down, allowing Sam to get at his mustache, Dean couldn’t help his indrawn breath.

Sam didn’t ignore it, the way Dean had hoped. Instead he moved closer, bracketing Dean’s legs with his own. Dean could feel his heat, as excessive as the rest of him. The razor continued its irregular scraping. Dean resolutely didn’t look. “Let me tell you how not surprising it is that you’re turned on by a blade at your throat.”

That wasn’t fair, but Dean’s protest was lost as Sam settled their groins together, shocking Dean with the heavy weight of Sam, the press of his thickening cock, as Sam stroked the razor just above the right corner of Dean’s mouth.

It had been years since they’d fooled around, years and whole lives lived and died. Dean had thought they were done, accepted it as only his due. His lips parted, shaping Sam’s name.

“Shh,” Sam said, his thumb pressing just under Dean’s jawbone so that Dean would’ve been staring at the ceiling if he’d been able to open his eyes. Sam shaved under his chin, over his adam’s apple, neat quick flicks each of which could’ve opened Dean’s jugular. Sam pressed closer, stilling Dean’s body where it wanted to shake, and Dean’s breath came in short pants, hot on his own face as it bounced off of Sam’s.

“Just hold on,” Sam said, his voice strained as if he were lifting two hundred pounds. “Almost there.” The razor touched down at random spots on his skin, butterfly kisses, where Sam must have been cleaning up small patches.

“Okay,” Sam said at last, relief and lust entwined in his voice. “Turn around and open your eyes.”

Technically there was no reason for obedience any more, now that he’d heard the clatter of the blade into the sink, but Dean didn’t argue. The towel fell away and their bodies rubbed together, chest to thigh, as he turned in place.

There was a fleck of shaving cream on his temple, and the skin on the lower half of his face was paler, but it was just like he remembered it. Except Sam was looming over his shoulder, his eyes dilated with arousal. Dean could feel Sam’s hard-on, now with nothing between them but Sam’s sweatpants.

“Look at you,” Sam said, more musingly now. “I missed you.” His hand cupped Dean’s pec, then drifted down over his belly, settling on his dick, grasping it just loosely enough to make Dean gasp and grind himself forward, trying for more friction.

“Was right here,” Dean managed when his brain came back online.

“Yeah, but—” Sam gave up trying to produce words, which was pretty flattering, and shoved two fingers in Dean’s mouth. Dean closed his eyes and sucked. They were bitter from the shaving cream, but Dean didn’t mind. Sam’s other hand on his lower back had him bending, and then Sam’s fingers were pressing into him, not very carefully. Dean couldn’t breathe with how good it felt.

“Eyes open,” Sam demanded, and Dean obeyed, staring down at the razor. It showed him a slice of his reflection, one wide eye and a chunk of his nose. “No,” Sam said, indulgent. “Look at yourself.”

Dean brought his head up. Sam spread his fingers and Dean fucked forward helplessly, hands braced on the edge of the sink, but he didn’t look down. It was just him, him and Sam behind him, Sam’s eyes hot and hungry in the mirror.

“Whatever you think you see,” Sam said, pressing into him with relentless strength, “you need to know that I see a hero. I know you’re trying to be different, and I don’t want to stop you from doing anything you’re doing for you. But I still need you, and I still want the guy I know, because he’s pretty awesome.” He twisted his fingers and Dean couldn’t stand it any more. He shoved back and spun around as soon as Sam let him go, Sam’s face already collapsing—afraid he’d gone too far, afraid he’d done the wrong thing—and Dean dropped to his knees, ignoring the pain of slamming into the cold tile in favor of grabbing Sam’s waistband and tugging.

He sucked Sam’s cock until he gagged, until tears were running from his closed eyes, Sam moaning and wobbling above him, his hands squeezing Sam’s ass. He never wanted to stop, but Sam pushed him away too soon. When Dean looked up, wiping his mouth, Sam was grimacing, nostrils flaring with an attempt to keep control. Sam’s whole face was a question—can I?—and Dean answered by bending over the sink again.

Sam felt impossibly large, pressing in with only spit to slick the way. Dean widened his legs as much as he could and let his head loll back on Sam’s chest—Sam was still wearing a shirt, fuck—as Sam’s hand came around to rest on his belly, pulling him back onto Sam’s seemingly endless dick. Sam’s eyes in the mirror were wild, desperately hungry, and Dean’s body thrummed with the pride of making Sam feel that.

The backs of Dean’s thighs finally hit Sam’s quads, solid muscle that Dean could’ve put all his weight on. Sam groaned and bit down on Dean’s shoulder, still watching them in the mirror, which made the move so deliberately sexy that Dean lost it right then, coming untouched all over the sink and the floor.

Sam took this as permission to really give it to him, thrusts so hard they shook the sink on its moorings. Dean held on as best he could, loving every sound and scrape of teeth, and Sam joined him quickly, hot pulses where he was already sore.

Dean might’ve made a noise when Sam’s dick slipped out, and Sam shushed him, smoothing his hand over Dean’s back. “So,” Dean said. “Thanks for the shave.”

Sam laughed, and it sounded sincere. “Any time, man.” His fingers returned to Dean’s jaw, stroking gently. “Seriously. Don’t grow a beard again, okay?”

Dean wanted to make fun of him—it was just some hair, something Sam ought to be very familiar with—but he kept thinking about what Sam had said about seeing a hero. It was hard to believe Sam really felt like that, when Dean was still regretting the fact that he was going to have to look in a mirror every morning now. “Dunno, Sam,” he said lightly. “Do I get you as my barber on a regular basis now?”

“If you want, every day,” Sam said like he was saying something else entirely, and before Dean could crack a joke (because Dean could restrain himself only so many times) Sam had him up against the wall and soundly kissed.

So they were going back out into the world, with whatever crappy plan Cas came up with. But they were going out together, all the way. And maybe Dean didn’t need to change everything about himself. If he had Sam on his side, maybe the guy he saw in the mirror wasn’t so bad after all.

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