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They don't talk about it, but it's not like an elephant in the room. It's more like a souvenir they threw in the backseat and forgot about. Most of the time, they hardly seem to realize it's there; then one of them will glance over their shoulder and remember. The other will see the motion, follow the gaze, remember it too. Then they'll get quiet, pointedly not talking about the gaudy little snow globe or whatever, but neither of them has the guts to pick it up and toss it out the window at the next rest stop.

They'll just keep glancing at it, then at each other, then away, over and over in a loop they can't escape. At least until the next thing that can distract them, the next job, the next restaurant, the next rattle in the engine—anything so that they can stop thinking about it, because they're apparently not ever going to actually discuss it. It's easier when they forget it's back there, rattling around when they take sharp turns, easier to pretend nothing's changed at all.

That doesn't mean it isn't there. It follows them everywhere, even when the Impala was out of commission. It would sit on Bobby's desk among the other supernatural detritus collected over a lifetime, or on Dean's tool bench between the empty beer bottles and wrenches. Sometimes Sam wished desperately to just grab the thing and sit it on the center of the dinner table, make them look at it. Other times, he was inches from finally throwing the damn thing out.

He realizes that this metaphor is stretched to the point of meaninglessness, even within his own head and sighs noisily as he slumps further onto Rufus' sagging couch, surrounded by the smell of dust and pine.

“Don't move,” Dean snaps, squeezing Sam's hand enough to get his attention.

“Hurts,” Sam says as an excuse even though it doesn't really. When he woke up, Dean made him take a few long drinks from the whiskey bottle, half to deal with the pain, half to mellow him out. Sam's shoulders feel too heavy, he's warm all over, and he can't insulate himself from the thoughts. He can't look away from the snow globe.

Dean's too busy restitching his hand to notice.

“Don't be a bitch about it,” Dean grumbles, but he pauses in stitching for a moment. When the needle pierces into Sam's palm again it's quicker, a short pinch and then the drag of dental floss.

“Don't be a jerk about it,” Sam replies with a crooked little smile, eyes heavily lidded.

Dean just rolls his eyes and keeps stitching. Bobby is out, ditching the stolen ambulance and stocking up on supplies. Sam's not sure when they got here, but it must not have been long ago. He woke up twice on the way, Dean at his side dutifully watching over him and telling him everything would be okay. Then they were inside what Sam's learned is Rufus' old hideout cabin, abandoned for years and dusty as hell but safe. Lucifer is gone, the pain in Sam's head and hand enough to keep the voice from returning. The cut on his palm was torn open and while the hospital staff pulled the old stitches and cleaned it, they hadn't done new stitches before Bobby got them out of there. Sam is slumped into Rufus' old couch, leaning against the left arm of it with his hand stretched out into Dean's lap. Dean sits in a kitchen chair beside the couch, broken leg set straight out in front of him.

It's just the two of them by the light of a lantern, no electricity until they get enough gas for the generators. There's nothing to distract Sam from the thing they don't talk about it, and before he can stop himself the words are pressing past his lips.

“I still remember,” Sam says, watching Dean's face. The shadows exaggerate the lines that time has carved around Dean's features and his brows are drawn down as he focuses.

“What?” Dean asks absently, probably thinks he's just humoring a drunk little brother. That's not too far from the truth really. Sam is sort of drunk or maybe high from the morphine. He's awake but highly aware that he's not firing on all cylinders. He feels strange, out-of-body, a little giddy.

“That night,” Sam says, “Edge of Bobby's property. Just before I jumped.”

Dean's hands freeze immediately and he looks up, eyes wide with shock. “What?” he asks and this time his voice is a choked whisper.

Sam smiles lazily, “Were we ever gonna talk about it?”

Dean swallows, looking almost scared. “I… I don't know,” He finally manages before focusing back on Sam's hand. His fingers shake a bit, but he keeps stitching.

“Feels like we've been talking around it,” Sam hums on a heavy exhale, “For… forever. The snow globe. We should talk about the snow globe.”

What?” Dean stops stitching, genuinely confused.

“Wanted to ask—” Sam talks right over him, “From the first day I came back but…”

“Sam,” Dean murmurs, and he sounds desperate, like he'd do anything to get out of this conversation.

“Lisa,” Sam sighs, then realizes he isn't supposed to talk about her. “Don't break my nose,” He adds frowning warily. He's starting to think that no matter how much he wants to have this talk, he may actually be too drunk and concussed.

“Christ, Sammy. Shut up,” Dean replies, but he doesn't sound angry so Sam relaxes. Their eyes meet again in the glow of their kerosene lantern. They should really get some LED lanterns or something; the low, golden light isn't bright enough, makes this feel like a different world or perhaps someplace between worlds. Kind of reminds Sam of heaven.

“In case I don't get another chance to say,” Sam whispers, feels like he's floating.

“Oh God, here we go,” Dean groans, dropping his head.

“I still love you,” Sam says.

“Yup,” Dean nods to himself, an annoyed, sardonic smile on his face. “You're a real girl when you're drunk, you idiot.”

“I mean it,” Sam insists, using his good hand to reach up. He's aiming for Dean's shoulder but his palm meets the side of his neck. Dean goes still again, eyes nervously flicking up for just a second before he's looking away. Sam's thumb drags through the rough grain of Dean's stubble and, feels Dean's hammering pulse against the heel of his palm. For a moment, no matter how screwed his head is, he can remember it all as clear as a bell, see it behind his eyelids—the night before Sam said 'Yes'  to Lucifer.

They'd been drinking with Bobby until the old man had gotten lost staring down into his whiskey glass, nearly dozing in his chair. They left Bobby alone with his thoughts and took the Impala out past the edge of Singer Salvage to an empty field along the treeline of the forest. Dean parked the Impala but left the keys in the ignition, turned on the spotlights they used to have up by the side mirrors. They pulled their old wool blankets from the trunk and laid them out on the ground, chilled but not cold, already well into spring.

They sat together, backs against the grill of the Impala, sharing the rest of a bottle of Johnny Walker. Dean played all of Sam's favorite cassettes as they stared up at the stars. Sam refused to be maudlin about dying, that was not how he wanted to go out. Instead, they told funny stories; the same ones they'd told each other since they were kids, new ones they'd made while apart, new ones they'd made since they'd been back together. They laughed, even if a couple of times it sounded like Dean wasn't actually laughing at all.

They'd talked about everything, all of it, because it was their last chance. Eventually, they had to turn off the music and the lights to keep the battery from dying, but neither of them said a word about going back to Bobby's. They still sat on their wool blankets in the peaceful darkness, and they kept talking. Dean couldn't get enough of Sam's voice, had kept asking questions, made Sam reminisce with him 'til he was hoarse. When the moon was high in the sky, the night more than half gone, Sam found himself leaning against his brother, head on Dean's shoulder. He kept talking, for Dean, until he couldn't anymore. They both silently acknowledged it was a ridiculous chick flick moment, but there was no one in Heaven or Hell or on Earth who could judge.

When it had gotten so late that it was early and the whiskey bottle was dry, Sam had caught his brother by the shoulder and hugged him. A real hug, not one armed and three seconds long; Sam wrapped his arms all the way around his brother's chest and held on hard. Dean had struggled, grumbled, and complained—even begged. 'Please, Sammy. Don't do this to me, man. I can't say goodbye like this,'  Dean had choked out, his voice sounding torn open, cut down to the quick.

It wasn't that simple. Sam wasn't just dying. He was going to Hell forever and ever—no take backs, no angel rescues, no heaven. It's not just that they weren't going to see each other, they'd never be together again. They'd thought that was it, the end of the line—Sam and Dean Winchester would never be a team, never exist side by side again until the stars burned out and the universe died.

That was too big for Sam to leave with nothing more than swallowed down emotion and pat on the shoulder, no matter what Winchester tradition said. So he hugged his brother tight until Dean broke down and couldn't take it, hugged him back even tighter. If Sam felt a few drops of moisture against the side of his face, no one but them would ever know.

Sam doesn't even remember who started it; it was more like they moved in unison, the same silent, seamless choreography they'd always followed. Suddenly their faces where less than an inch apart, noses brushing, humid breath mingling between their parted lips. Their mouths met, melting together wetly, and it sucked everything right out of Sam, made him feel hollow. Dean was shaking, subtly shivering deep in his bones; even his lips trembled as he kissed Sam so tenderly it nearly ached. Sam knew it wasn't anything because it couldn't be—he was going to die in less than twenty-four hours—but he suddenly became aware that he wished it was.

Memory within a memory, that Sam from 2010, from before Hell, had been kissing his brother and remembering another field, another night. Sam remembered a hot summer in Tennessee, being sixteen and so fucking stupid—lonely and reckless. He remembered sitting on the hood of the Impala, tall trees and the sound of crickets, the moonlit profile of Dean chewing on a long piece of grass. He remembered sharing a joint with his big brother and laughing at nothing, groaning as Dean insisted on re-teaching him constellations for navigation. He remembered a moment, caught somewhere in the twilight between night and dawn, stopping his brother just as he opened the car door to take them back to their motel. Sam had stepped up close, remembers seeing his dirty chucks between Dean's boots, his sweaty fingers shaking as they grabbed onto Dean's flannel, his eyes closing briefly as he pressed a kiss to his brother's cheek. It hadn't meant anything, not really, but neither of them had known what to say.

That memory got lost over the years, got pushed down under everything else, but it rushed back. Something shifted, hard enough that Sam thought he could actually feel it in his chest, actually feel something being shoved out of the way to make room for something new. It was like finally seeing through one of those magic pictures to the image that's hidden inside, the kind of epiphany that's instantaneous and all-encompassing.

At the same time that it surprised him, Sam knew it wasn't out of the blue. It had been building slowly, quietly. It was written in all the casual touches, the over-protectiveness, the codependency. Realizing he was in love with his brother was like finding something he'd lost decades before, a little piece of himself that he'd forgotten about—same as rediscovering a childhood drawing or a pre-teen diary. Sam had felt like kissing Dean was the missing key to a door he'd never noticed; unlocking it was new and terrifying, but the key fit too well to not have been made just for this, to not be almost familiar.

They could've stopped there. Sam sometimes thinks maybe they should have, but when their mouths finally parted it was with a desperate gasping sound from Dean's lips. The heated space between their faces was filled with whispered words—so sorry, love you so much, always have, you're perfect, you're everything, you're fucking it for me—both of them speaking at the same time, so fast that Sam doesn't know who said what.

But he remembers hearing his brother finally say the words, 'I love you.'  Words Sam only distantly remembered Dean saying in his foggiest childhood memories and never since. Not to any the girls he'd been with, not to Bobby, not even to Dad. Even when it would've been easier to lie, to let the phrase slide off his tongue and forget it just as quick, Dean would find any way to get out of it. He wouldn't say it—not ever. But Dean said it to Sam, heartfelt and solemn, like he'd never spoken truer words his life, and then kissed him again.

They stuttered their way through trying to explain it all, the little moments that had passed between them misunderstood or ignored. Dean had his own long lost memories like that one in Tennessee and they re-told those stories, voices scratched raw from overuse. There were a surprising amount of them, little things that they could only see clearly in hindsight. It didn't make a lot of sense, then and now if Sam's honest, but at the time it hadn't been about logic. They'd struggled to find the words, but the intent came across just fine. Finally, that tangled up mess that Sam had carried behind his breastbone untwisted itself and he felt at peace.

He still remembers the way Dean's palms felt on the sides of his face, the hot press of his brother's plush lips, the flavor of whiskey and burnt sugar. They'd kissed until they grew tired, the urgency fading into something languid and burning hot. Dean kept whispering things like 'forever, don't forget, promise,'  against Sam's lips and it tasted bittersweet. It tasted like Goodbye.

When they pulled away for the last time, the eastern horizon too pale to ignore, Dean had looked so sad and so happy at the same time, bottle-green eyes watery and red-rimmed but with an almost goofy little smile pulled up on his lips. By the time the sun was fully up, Dean would look normal again. He wouldn't cry when Sam had to drink gallons of demon blood, or when Sam became Lucifer, or even when Sam was beating the living hell out of him. Then his eyes had been fierce and determined, free of sorrow or doubt, single-minded in mission. That's the image still in Sam's head when he blinks his eyes open and sees that he's not on the couch anymore.

He's lying on the bottom bunk in the little alcove beside the fireplace, his hand already fully bandaged. He blinks the blur out of his vision and sees Dean carefully using his wooden crutches to grab a couple of drinks from the cooler. He shouldn't be up on that leg, Sam thinks, and tries to stand to help him back to the couch. The bed squeaks as Sam moves and Dean turns quickly at the sound.

“Oh no you don't,” He says pointing firmly at Sam. “You stay right the fuck there, Sammy. I will forcefully tuck you in, and you know I will, so don't tempt me. You can't take many more strikes to your masculinity.”

Sam smiles dizzily, doesn't really feel like he could stand anyway. “How long I been out?” he asks as he lies back down, the foggy dream of a night they don't talk about still pulsing softly inside him. The drugs have worn off somewhat and he doesn't feel as giddy anymore. Suddenly he feels sort of embarrassed that he actually brought it up.

Dean gives him a look, like he's gauging how Sam's doing before carefully making his way over to the bunk bed, a water bottle and beer bottle carried by their necks between his strong fingers. He manages it on his crutches with surprising dexterity, considering Sam knows his brother has already had plenty to drink.

“Few hours,” Dean replies in that scratched soft voice he uses when it's just them. “Sun'll be up in a couple more.”

Dean sits down carefully on the edge of the bed, brushing against Sam's stomach. Sam scoots back towards the wall to give him room. The older man holds out the water bottle to Sam and painstakingly wiggles a blister pack of opiates from his front jean pocket. He pops out a couple pills for Sam, makes him swallow them down. Dean takes his own pills with beer even though Sam gives him a displeased look. He's too tired to argue about it and Dean's not gonna let a beer he just opened go wasted either way.

Dean presses the back of his hand to Sam's forehead and asks, “How's your head?” as if crazy comes with a fever.

“Better,” Sam breathes back. He's on his side, leaning up on one elbow, eyes studying the knots in the wood floor as Dean's hand slides away. There's a low fire in the fireplace now, adding a burnished orange glow to the golden light of their lantern and a soft crackling to accompany the sounds of the forest. “You were right, about the pain thing,” Sam says.

Dean's lips quirk in a smile that's satisfied but not happy. “Let me know next time you need a right hook to the face to keep the devil away.”

“Shut up,” Sam snorts softly. He shouldn't be able to laugh about this already but it's Dean and he can't help it.

They're quiet for a few minutes, Dean slowly sipping at his beer and giving Sam pointed looks so that he'll keep drinking his water. Sam wonders why Dean doesn't go back to the couch, figures he's putting off having to walk on his leg until the meds kick in.

“You were humming,” Dean whispers, watching the fire. He turns his head to catch Sam's eyes, “Smiling in your sleep.”

Sam ducks his head a little, smiling, “Yeah, 'm not surprised. Was havin' a good dream.”

“Yeah?” Dean asks suggestively, facing away again. Sam can only see the lifted corner of his smirk as Dean tips his beer to his lips. “Clowns or midgets?”

“Shut the fuck up,” Sam chuckles, swatting his brother's side. He might still be kind of high; he feels too happy for a concussed, crazy man hiding out in a cabin off the grid.

“Alright, alright, tell me all about your good dream,” Dean says like he's making some big concession.

Sam's face settles into a considering expression as he watches the shadows in the cabin sway with the flickering of the fire. He wonders if he should just make something up. He wonders if he should toss that souvenir straight into the backseat to be forgotten until the next time it rattles around. He probably should.

“That night,” Sam whispers before he can change his mind and stop himself, before the cowardly, rational voice inside can insist that they're better off not talking about it. “Wool blankets in the long grass, all my favorite music, sipping Johnny Walker and counting the stars… kissing you.”

Dean makes a low sound like he's choking and Sam can see his bare toes clench where they peek out from the end of his cast. He's too quiet and Sam's got a nervous pit in his stomach that makes him open his mouth and keep talking.

“I know we don't… talk about it but, I remember. And I know what we promised isn't really—I know we're not actually… like that. But I can't stop remembering. I'll always remember.” It sounds so stupidly cheesy falling from his lips and Sam wishes he could eat the words back up as soon as he's finished. He fidgets with the fraying edge of the quilt he's tucked under, fingers picking off fuzzy tufts.

“I know, Sammy,” Dean rumbles, head hanging low between his shoulders, staring down at the beer held in his hands. Sam can't help that his eyes flick up eagerly. He wants to hear what Dean has to say about it so badly. For weeks he's wondered what Dean thinks when he remembers—and Sam knows sometimes Dean remembers. Does he regret it? Did he only whisper the word 'forever'  because he knew they only had one night?

Dean takes a deep breath, “I remember,” he exhales. “Meant every damn word,” he says and his voice shakes as he finally turns his head to look over his shoulder. Their eyes meet.

“Me too,” Sam confirms, feels lightheaded with the admission. He hopes this isn't just a fever dream. It'd kill him to wake up and find out this never happened.

“But uh… now isn't exactly the time, you know,” Dean shrugs, turns away again so that Sam is left looking at the back of his head.

“Never will be,” Sam whispers gaze falling to the floor, and he believes it. He doesn't have half a hope that they'd ever actually be… something like the stupid shit they'd said that night. Sam may have trouble telling what's real but he knows when something stretches credulity to the breaking point. He's not hoping that his brother confesses his undying love and they drive off into the sunset. Hell, he's not really sure that he'd even want that if it were possible. It's not who they are.

But Sam's floundering in a world that refuses to stay upright and Dean is his only anchor. Maybe that's why he couldn't put the souvenir back tonight. He needed something to hold onto.

Dean lifts his beer and drains it in a few gulps before standing up. He teeters for a second but Sam reaches out a steadying hand and Dean manages to balance on his crutches. He's got his empty beer bottle in his hand, makes his way slowly over to the couch. Sam watches him go and feels like they're on a boat, the whole cabin swaying slowly in the same rhythm of Dean's shoulders as he limps.

“G'night Sammy,” Dean says after he settles in on the couch.

“Night,” Sam answers, stretching himself out on the bunk. He has a feeling it's not that comfortable, but his body is so heavy and numb that he can't really tell. It's warm and soft and that's enough. As he drifts off towards sleep, he figures that's the best way the conversation could've ended.

 

Xx--XxX--xX

 

The weeks pass quietly but slow as fuckin' molasses. It's worse since Dean can't even walk. Hell, he can barely take a shit by himself—though luckily, he's not hurt enough to suffer the indignity of asking for help on that front. He does have to get help showering though, but it's more like a cold sponge bath since he can't get his cast wet and Rufus' water heater is on the fritz. He doesn't even get a hot nurse, just Sam.

It wouldn't be all that bad except now that Dean's aware of his brother's mental problems he can't stop noticing. Every little twitch, every flick of his eyes to empty corners and empty chairs, every time he presses his thumb over the new bandage on his hand, Dean sees it all. Dean's not a man to be scared by much but he never really considered the full terror of watching someone you care about actually lose it. His own mind struggles to fill in the gaps of what Sam must be seeing; he knows it's Lucifer but is it his original vessel or when he was wearing Sam? Or maybe some angelic, vessel-less version that Sam saw in the pit and Dean can't even imagine?

He knows it's other things too. Sometimes Sam will open a door and look sick to his stomach, like he's seeing dead bodies on the floor, before quickly closing the door again. Sometimes, Sam will jump at noises or flinch away from touches that aren't there. Dean will prod gently, ask if Sam's okay, but their stupid pride and Winchester tradition prompts Sam to answer with a vague, 'yeah, I'm fine'  every damn time.

Dean can't decide if he's scared he won't ever know what Sam's seeing or scared to find out for sure.

But the worst is the catatonia, when Sam just disappears. His eyes are open, the lights are on, but nobody's home and he stands so fuckin' still it's like looking at a statue. It can last for seconds or minutes or almost an hour sometimes. He'll stand in weird positions, caught in the middle of picking up a book or taking off his shoes or once, even in the shower.

This is scarier than Sam hopped up on demon blood, scarier even than Sam with Lucifer inside him. It was something else then, something they could fight or fix with enough effort. This is just Sam. Dean's not an optimist—all else being equal, they've scraped by too many times to do it again. The odds of Sam fighting through this, of there being a B-side to this mess, are basically non-existent.

It's terrifying because Dean feels like he's losing his brother. Not quick and bloody, but one inch at a time. Every time that Sam freezes standing in one spot and staring at nothing, no reaction even if you shout in his face, Dean feels like this might be the time he doesn't come back. He feels like when Sam does come back, little pieces will be missing—memories of his humanity drowned out by the Hell in Sam's head.

Sometimes, he feels like he's looking at a different person, that the Sam he's known his whole life is already gone. He's got his soul back but it's twisted up and tortured into a new shape that's just as unrecognizable as he was without a soul at all. Sometimes Dean wonders who the hell the Sam shaped person he's living with really is.

But the weeks pass quietly and Sam gets a little better. Dean won't call it an upswing, because sometimes things get better before they get worse and hope is as dangerous as fear, but he stops feeling like Sam is somebody else. He starts seeing his brother again between the strange twitches and sudden stillness.

Dean keeps the mood as light as possible, keeps his worries about Leviathans and regret over Cas to the late nights when Sam's asleep and Dean's best friend is a full fifth of whiskey. He plays up being crippled and that's easier than feeling helpless. He swats at Sam with his crutches and tries to build creative Rube-Goldberg beer delivering machines out of stacks of books, buckets, and chairs. He spends his days watching soaps and telenovellas between checking the news for jobs he can't work. The clock ticks so fuckin' slow he could just scream. Five days in he was already sick of the cast; at fifteen days, he has daydreams about sawing the damn thing off that are almost erotic.

“Dude, stop it,” Sam huffs, lifting his head from the book he's reading.

Dean stills, realizes he was scratching his blunt nails along the cast over and over while in thought. He frowns but then looks right at Sam and starts scratching harder, then starts scratching out a song like he's strumming a guitar, tapping with his other hand on the cast to add a drumbeat.

Sam stares right back, narrows his eyes and purses his lips—classic bitch-face—before snapping his book shut and rising to walk to the kitchen. Dean smiles, “Hey grab me a beer while you're up, huh?”

“You could stand to drink some water,” Sam says, his voice soft but insistent.

“Thank you, diet-police. Why don't you tell me to cut back on bacon next, feed me kale and qui-no-ah or whatever,” Dean scoffs dramatically, settling against the arm of the couch, focusing back on the TV. It's a daytime talk show, bunch of ladies squabbling at each other about things none of them are experts in.

“It's called quinoa,” Sam pronounces.

“Oh my god, why am I not surprised you know that,” Dean says lowly with a shake of his head. His little brother, even if he's kind of a badass some days, is such a fuckin' priss.

Dean lifts his hand when he hears Sam's footsteps come up behind him. Dean's palm is met with the cold press of a beer bottle and he grins, lifts his head to look up at Sammy. The man is giving him an unimpressed frown, but he's just faking, more amused and indulgent than anything else.

“You're an idiot and I hate you,” Sam says and there's no tell in his face that says he doesn't mean it, no mercy in his voice, but Dean knows Sammy's really saying the opposite. He can feel it even if he couldn't point to a single reason why.

“Love it when you sweet talk me, Sammy,” Dean says back, giving Sam a mocking come-hither eyebrow wiggle that makes the other man lift his eyes to the ceiling and turn away with a barely contained smile.

Dean turns his attention back to his beer, using his ring to quickly pop the cap off the dark bottle. He expects Sam to go back to the small kitchen table, back to his book, instead he steps in front of Dean, long legs carefully navigating the narrow gap between the couch and coffee table.

“Dude,” Dean complains, forced to lean back to keep from getting a faceful of Sam's ass.

“Scoot,” Sam says, bending down to gently start moving Dean's broken leg.

“Sam—what? Come on,” Dean protests, but dutifully moves so that his leg is kicked up on the table instead of stretched out on the couch and there's enough room for Sam to take a seat beside him.

“It's my turn,” Sam says grabbing up the remote.

Dean considers arguing just for the principle of it, but there's nothing he was watching anyway and it's not worth the effort. He sighs and sits back, surprisingly more comfortable—he hadn't noticed he'd been sitting in one position long enough to get stiff—and takes a long drink of his beer. Sam switches through the fuzzy channels 'til he gets to some kind of cartoon show. He's been foregoing his usual documentaries and stuff, opting for simpler viewing. Dean can't argue that, doesn't mind the kid shows.

They relax together through the midday, Sam getting drowsy and dozing as he slumps further towards Dean. Dean's noticed that Sam's been hovering closer and closer recently. He thinks it's probably part of the whole hallucination thing; Sam isn't far enough gone to not still be unsettled by his own mental instability. He relies on Dean a lot more, seems uneasy being apart from him. After so long with that empty, robot Sam, it's a breath of fresh air. They haven't been really close in a long time—not since Dean went to Hell—but neither of them is doing too hot and Dean's not about to push his one comfort away, no matter how much it makes him feel like a preteen with a crush.

It's that line between close and closer that keeps annoying Dean in the quiet moments when there's nothing to joke about. The line between Sam's head against the back of the couch or on Dean's shoulder, between their hands lying an inch apart on the cushion or being pressed together palm to palm. It's the line between where Dean shoves Sam away with a laugh or holds on tight.

The part of Dean that wants to keep his promises and the part of Dean that wants to pretend it never happened.

A quick glance over assures Dean that Sam is well on his way to a nap, angled towards Dean with his cheek resting on the back of the couch, but still awake at the moment. The kid needs rest so Dean allows it, doesn't shake him and send him to the bunk beds.

That kiss is like a neon sign blinking in the background of the cabin no matter where Dean goes. He jokes and sends Sam on errands, busies himself with comics and computer games, but he can't forget it. Even more now that Sam brought it up.

Dean always wondered why Sam never said anything when he first got his soul back. It kinda pissed him off actually—for Sam it would've been like they'd just kissed the night before, but he didn't act any different. It sat between them like a third passenger in the car; Sam would give him odd looks and Dean can admit he'd do the same but they never said a word. The longer the silence went on the harder it was to break it, until Dean decided he wasn't going to be the first one to crack. If Sam wanted to talk about it, he'd say so, and if not then oh well.

It was a lot easier to fall back into being the way they've always been rather than step into the unknown, rather than try and make good on promises they thought they'd never keep. Maybe it's because everything's already so different—Cas dead, Sam's head a mess, Singer Salvage just a pile of ash—that's why Dean suddenly can't stop thinking about it.

“Stop,” Sam grumbles, eyes closed even though his face is still pointed towards the TV. “Can hear you thinking.”

Dean raises his eyebrows, “Oh yeah? What am I thinking about?” Since they'd recently seen the movie on TV, he immediately pictures Lucy Liu and Drew Barrymore from Charlie's Angels naked and licking whipped cream off each other's nipples, a dirty grin pulling up on his face.

Sam opens his eyes and looks up at him with a considering expression, hair all over and he looks about fifteen years old for a second—except the sideburns. Sam smiles a little, “Well now some kind of porn.”

“You're good, Sam,” Dean says, “Should get you a booth at a fair or somethin'.”

“But you were thinking about that night,” Sam says, eyes narrowed and Dean feels himself tense up. Sam's not a mind reader, but Dean's body language just gave him away.

Dean glances at his brother quickly before refocusing on the TV, “You're not high, Sammy. So what's your excuse this time?”

“Excuse?” Sam asks, looking more awake as he shifts so he can keep eye contact. “Do I need one?”

Dean's pointedly not looking back, keeps his eyes on the TV even though it's only commercials.

“You know what sucks?” Sam says, pauses just long enough to give Dean time to grunt in response. “I can't figure out who we're pretending for.”

Dean's brow creases. He still doesn't look at Sam.

“You don't talk anymore,” Sam sighs. He speaks haltingly, long pauses between words as he forces it all out, “And I don't talk anymore. Dad's gone—hell, most people we've ever known are dead—and yeah, I feel stupid and awkward trying to have a friggen' heart-to-heart with my own brother but so fucking what? Who the hell are we saving face for?”

Sam sighs again, slower and softer when Dean doesn't reply. In his periphery Dean can see Sam lower his eyes, fidgeting with his own fingers as he gradually loses hope that Dean will talk. After a few minutes Sam shakes his head, frown cutting deep into his face as he moves to stand up.

“Maybe it's what keeps us sane,” Dean finally says. Sam pauses and Dean tries to take this seriously because he's pretty sure a joke right now is only gonna get him a couple hours of tense silence. “It's the way we've always been.”

“No it's not,” Sam insists, sitting back down body turned towards Dean, and he's got that heartfelt expression on his face now. “We used to talk, man. I used to feel like I could—” Sam stops, takes a breath and looks away. “And maybe it's because I'm losing my mind but I can't do this on my own. I can't keep it all in and you're… You're all I've got, Dean.”

Dean's jaw clenches and he feels like utter horseshit. Sam's losing it, losing it for real and Dean's been keeping him at arm's length like a shot of whiskey and pat on the shoulder is all a Winchester ever needs. He's turning into his father.

“So… who are we pretending for?” Sam asks and Dean finally meets his eyes, sees Sam's urgent loneliness and feels it hit him like a brick to the chest.

“What do you want me to do?” Dean bursts, too loud, just the opposite of Sam's soft, careful tone. “You want me to—what, kiss you again? Promise we'll be together forever when we both know we can't keep that.” He can't believe he said 'kiss.'  All these months carefully not saying it and it bursts out of him now, not even in a good way. He wants to take the words back, rewind fifteen seconds.

Sam's face falls and he shakes his head. “No. I don't know…Maybe?”

Dean's eyebrows rocket up because he really wasn't expecting that. He scoffs out a shocked laugh and Sam's lips quirk too. “You want me to kiss you?” Dean says pointing at himself. This time the word doesn't trip over his lips, comes out naturally. “Seriously? Want me to call you my little girlfriend Samantha and—”

“Ugh, dude, no!” Sam interjects, recoiling with a grimace. “I just want… I don't know, to not ignore it? To just, be honest and see—where this goes,” Sam hesitates before finishing his sentence, must realize how it sounds.

“You sound like you're asking me on a date, Sammy,” Dean laughs nervously, looking away with a shake of his head. His gaze falls to the stark white stretch of his cast and Dean briefly wishes his leg wasn't broken because this is exactly the kind of conversation he'd like to walk away from.

Sam stays quiet, long enough for Dean to look back up and realize his brother was waiting to have his full attention. When their eyes meet, Sammy smirks a little and stares Dean down with all that bullheaded bravery, “Maybe I am.”

Dean feels his stomach twist and it's not entirely pleasant, but it's not unpleasant either. He feels sweat prickle on the back of his neck and huffs another awkward laugh, turning away as much as he can, cast scraping loudly on the coffee table.

“You really are crazy,” Dean mumbles, feels like a total jackass but doesn't know how else to defuse this situation.

Sam sucks in a long breath through his nose and turns away, rises from the couch and walks back into the kitchen. Dean can't help but follow him with his eyes. For a moment, Dean thinks that'll be it. No way will Sam have the guts to try this again. He's stubborn as all hell but even Sam has a limit to how much rejection he can take. Dean can change the subject, demand a grilled cheese for dinner, which Sam will make with ham and tomatoes. Dean'll keep cracking jokes, change the TV over to Family Feud and shout ridiculous answers at the screen in between mocking the dumb answers contestants give. The kiss will disappear into the rest of the things they ignore and forget: Madison, the scar on Sam's back, all those Tuesdays Sam refuses to talk about, that time they got mind-whammied by an angel into a sexless, water-cooler romance. It's just one more thing to add to that dusty shelf in the back of his mind, stored away forever.

“Where would you take me, anyway?” Dean asks, the words escaping his mouth before he can think better of it.

Sam's clinking around in the kitchen, looks like he's checking the ingredients for grilled cheese and fuck, maybe he is a mind reader. “What?” Sam asks in a passive aggressive monotone, briefly glancing back over his shoulder.

“Our date,” Dean says, voice cracking a bit over the words. He swallows to wet his dry throat and hooks an arm over the back of the couch to look at his brother. He doesn't dare hesitate, or he'll never manage to say another word. “I'm not gonna be cheap,” Dean delivers deadpan, “I want steak, candles, the whole shebang.”

Sam freezes before turning quickly, and his face breaks out into this goofy grin, dimples and everything. Dean feels warm all over—terrified because he hasn't felt something like that since Lisa and even then it wasn't as strong as this—but it's unstoppable and Dean can't help smiling back. Sam's grin changes his whole face and Dean realizes it's been months since he's seen it—maybe longer, maybe years. Sammy looks carefree and content and Dean realizes he's missed this more than anything else. For the first time in weeks he feels like Sam might be okay, that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

“Sure,” Sam says as he tamps down his smile, trying to play smooth with a casual shrug as he goes back to the counter to keep cooking, already pulling out the bread. Dean watches his back for another few seconds before turning around and settling into his seat again, satisfied.

Just as he lifts the remote, Sam's voice pipes up behind him, “But if I buy you a steak and you don't put out, that makes you a prude.”

Dean laughs so hard he can almost ignore the way his stomach drops out like a freefall. “You're not getting in my pants after one date, Sammy. What kind of girl do you think I am?” He asks in a prissy voice.

“Well tonight, at Chez Rufus,” Sam says with an exaggerated snobbish accent. “Our special is grilled cheese with a side of potato chips. Sound good enough for you, sugarplum?”

“I'll take mine medium rare,” Dean replies, grabbing the remote to turn the TV to Family Feud anyway.

Dean mutters about how the best answer to the question 'what would you most hate to forget to pack when going on a trip?'  is ammo or condoms. The lady on the screen says toothbrush and it's the number one answer; Dean throws his hands up in disgust. Everyone's gotten by with finger-brushing at least once or twice. He smiles to himself each time he hears Sam's low chuckle behind him. An episode later, Dean hears Sam's footsteps coming up behind him, but doesn't register it immediately. Not until he feels long fingers scraping through the short hair at the back of his head, the touch enough to make Dean jump in his seat.

“Sam wha—” Is all he gets out as his brother tips his head back. He sees a split second of Sam's smirking face upside down, then lips against the corner of his mouth and long hair tickling his cheeks and Dean's breath is frozen in his chest.

It's not romantic or messy or even very long. Just a quick press, warm and rootbeer-scented, before Sam pulls away. His eyes are probing, watching carefully for Dean's reaction. There isn't a reaction; Dean is shocked still, even his heart forgetting to beat for a few long seconds.

“Supper's ready,” Sam whispers as he pulls away, nonchalant as fuck, like he didn't just cross the incest line without so much as looking both ways first. Then he's turning to go to the table.

Dean can't get up fast enough.

He literally can't get up fast enough and he's stumbling trying to grab his crutch and using the sagging arm of Rufus' couch to balance. Sam turns back at the sound of Dean struggling, wide hands up to help steady him, but Dean doesn't want that.

It rushes back to him so sharply it's like a knife through the brain, razor edged and stinging and so fucking clear. Of course he remembers. Of course he still thinks about it. His entire year in the suburbs was spent slowly coming to terms with it.

At first it hurt so bad Dean couldn't take it, couldn't bear to remember that the one person he loved most was currently in indescribable agony and would be for the rest of eternity. Then came the guilt, because he'd taken advantage of his little brother. Sam had been at his lowest moment, had been about to kill himself. Of course he'd search for comfort, but Dean had turned it into something sick and twisted. He couldn't help imagining Dad kicking the shit out of him if he ever found out—even from Heaven. Then it made him angry, because it was the best thing Dean had ever felt. It might have been the best thing he'd ever done with his life, giving Sam—the most deserving person he could imagine—his pure, unconditional love. That everything they could've been was gone and never coming back, crushed before it even had a chance, felt like a terrible crime.

A whole year later, he'd only just began to accept it, to start really living again. It'd taken a lot of alcohol and time, but Dean had finally packed up the memory of Sam's last night and placed it right on the shelf next to other forgotten things. It was only ever pulled down and examined on rare nights when Dean was drunk and desperately lonely in a way Lisa and Ben couldn't ever hope to fix.

Dean still doesn't really know how he feels about it, doesn't like to think about the mess of emotions coiling around in his heart like a pit of vipers, but yes, he remembers what Sam's mouth tastes like—whiskey sour and butterscotch sweet. He remembers the thickness of Sam's hair between his fingers and the glint of his dark eyes in the silver light of the moon. He remembers feeling so small beneath the stars, thinking of all the times they'd looked heavenward from childhood to the present, feeling all the ways they'd changed while the sky remained the same. Their lives were just a blip in the span of the universe but he felt in that instant that Sam was the span of his own little universe and probably had been for a lot longer than he knew. Without his brother at his side, Dean realized he wouldn't give a single fuck if each star blinked out and the world stopped spinning

It's too much and he's been pressing it down with all his might for their own good but that one little peck was the crack that broke the dam and Dean can't not.

He's grabbing Sam's shirt in his hands, pulling him forward, crushing their mouths together and it's so many months too late. He distantly hears the clattering sound of his crutch falling but he can't care. It hurts, stubble scraping, teeth clashing. Sam jerks back in surprise, their noses and foreheads bump together too hard and it's perfect.

“Dean, Jesus, you're gonna fall over,” Sam says pulling away from the kiss, though his hands steady Dean's shoulders. His voice is so casual that it's suddenly all wrong. This is his brother. Sam doesn't change into some overly-romantic, sweet lover. He doesn't react to the kiss with coy smiles and flushed cheeks. He's still just Sam and that's harder to deal with than if he was somebody else.

“I—fuck,” Dean says, realizing now he shouldn't have jumped into this. “Shit,” he curses, “Sorry. Fuck, sorry.” Dean's pulling away too, wobbling and reaching a hand out behind him for the couch as he takes a necessary step back.

All these days trapped together in the middle of nowhere, Sam's been pushing: carefully talking around it or pointedly not talking about it at all, giving Dean these indefinable looks, orbiting closer and closer until 'personal space' is only a historical concept. 'Do you remember?'  the Sam in Dean's dreams has asked nearly every goddamn night since he'd first brought it up, hazel eyes glassy and stoned but earnest; in his dreams, sometimes Dean was even brave enough to answer. Dean's only a man, he'd break eventually, but this is the worst way he could've done it. Their first kiss after Sam came back—god, fuck, he can't believe he's thinking this—should've been something better than a hurried, thoughtless thing spurred on by half-jokes and stifled feelings.

Sam's smiling and Dean is freaking the fuck out.

“Sorry is the last thing you should be,” Sammy says, and his voice is this low, smooth monster that crawls inside Dean's head and shoves things out of the way to set up permanent residence. Sam's narrowed eyes are warm before he bends and lifts Dean's crutch to hand it to him. “Supper first though.”

Sam gauges him for a second, like he's not sure if Dean's about to full-on panic, but he seems to decide it's okay because he turns and walks to the small table. The places are already set, grilled cheese and chips. Sam sits and then kicks out the chair beside him—an offering.

Dean takes a breath, refuses to let himself fall apart, and gets his crutch back under his arm. He can still feel Sam's teeth against his top lip and his heart is thumping too quick, but he's gotta keep it together now. It wasn't that big of a deal. Sam kissed him first. Dean just got up and kissed back. It's fine. It's all fine.

He hobbles over and settles carefully down into the offered chair, hand on the back of it for balance until he's firmly seated with his broken leg stretched out in front of him beneath the table.

Sam's got this cute little smirk on his face, like it's all hitting him at the same time too, and his cheeks actually do flush. “Medium rare, right?” He asks, nodding towards Dean's grilled cheese.

Dean clears his throat and looks down at the golden crisp bread. “No candles though,” He points out, picking up the sandwich for a bite. It's good, tomatoes and ham just like Dean predicted, and melted hot through the middle despite the joke.

Sam frowns briefly before reaching forward to drag their kerosene lantern to the center of the table. The generator is up and running now so the main lights are on, but Sam pulls a zippo from his pocket and lights the lantern. This is the dumbest thing they've ever done, Dean thinks, and that's in a long list of ludicrously dumb things.

What is he doing? His brother is bats-in-the-belfry, certifiable. They can't do this now.

He remembers the night Sam first talked about it. Dean said it wasn't the right time and Sammy said 'it never will be.' He was so right it stung to hear. There isn't ever a time for this, won't ever be some future where they're okay and stable. Their lives have always been this, so the only time is now, while they're still together. Before it's too late again.

The answer settles in Dean's gut and there's no undoing that revelation.

If he ever gets to heaven, his Dad is so gonna kick his ass.

Dean wipes his greasy mouth with the back of his hand, watches briefly the way Sam chews, his wide jaw and slight stubble and pink mouth. Dean's not into men—okay, well certain guys can be sexy and he's experimented but he's not gay—but Sam does something to him.

“We really doin' this?” Dean asks lowly, panic gone and in it's place a gut-deep solemnity for everything this means.

Sam licks his lips, lifts his napkin to wipe his mouth. His eyes are anxious but his body language is conspicuously relaxed. “I want to,” He says.

Dean can't think of anything to say. Sam nervously fills the silence.

“I mean, like you said, I don't want to be your—your girlfriend or something but, I've thought about this a lot.” Sam's eyes meet Dean's, the amber light of the lantern picking up similar tones in the hazel of his irises, veins that shine like fool's gold weaving through indefinable honey-blue. “I'm tired of running,” Sam says, and his voice holds the certainty that his eyes don't, “Everything I'm trying to hold in, I can't hold this in too. I'm not ever gonna be like you or dad, able to shut it all off, and…I don't wanna be.”

Sam licks his lips again, brow set in determination before his hand moves slowly across the table and settles on top of Dean's. It should be ridiculous, should make Dean want to laugh. The sight alone, his hand nearly swallowed in Sam's wide palm, scars and callouses and blunt fingernails, should be the least romantic thing he's ever seen. But he doesn't see a man's hand, he sees Sam's, and it feels warm.

Sam whispers, “Not saying I know what I'm doing, 'cause I don't. But I'm not gonna hide it anymore.”

'I need this,' is what Sam doesn't say, but Dean hears it. 'I need to not be afraid of myself. I need to feel something real. I need to lean on you and I can't without the truth coming out, so here it is.'  Dean hears it all in the spaces between.

Dean gives a brief little smile, looks back down at his plate, but doesn't move his hand from under Sam's. The silence stretches, thickening the air.

“God, say something,” Sam demands in a rushed huff of breath.

“You were right,” Dean says, the words falling out easily, “There won't ever be a right time for this.”

Sam's face collapses and he quickly attempts to pull his hand away. Dean's faster, catches his brother's fingers before they can escape. “Lemme finish,” Dean says and it comes out a whisper. Sam swallows, looks like he's ready to bolt, but gives a single nod.

“You're crazy, and I'm fucked up inside and out, and it's not ever gonna be a right time,” Dean admits what's been on his mind. “I'm… sick of waiting for it too.” He sounds so fucking retarded. He doesn't want to have this conversation. His sandwich is getting cold.

Then Sam's lips part in something that looks like surprise and hope , and it's goddamn beautiful is what it is. Dean's lived with a robo-Sam, and he's been living with an insane Sam and this expression is something he hasn't seen in way too long. This is what Dean sold his fucking soul for and he can't believe he ever forgot what it looked like. Sam, happy.

“So,” Dean clears his throat, tightens his grip on his brother's hand briefly before letting go. He picks up his sandwich and takes another bite, talks through chewing just to see Sam's eyebrows twitch in disapproval. “No fuckin' clue what I'm doing either. But that's never stopped us before.”

Sam looks away, a huge stupid grin pulling up his lips that he's trying to hide. Dean feels melted inside, warm and mushy soft. It's been all ice and iron since Cas and Singer Salvage and Sam's cracked head. Dean couldn't let himself buckle under the weight of everything, and he's been numbing it all out with alcohol and sarcasm just to get through the days. He feels warm for the first time since Cas went nuclear, feels human again rather than just going through the motions. It's brief, but it's there, and the light at the end of the tunnel gets brighter.

Dean sniffs to cover it all, “Still not putting out 'til I get a real steak though.”

Sam's laughter keeps the cold away.

 

Xx--xX

 

Much later that night, when the dishes are washed and put away and the TV is playing re-runs lowly, Dean is laid out on the couch again. He's leaning against the arm with both feet up on the coffee table, heels sliding against the old magazines, and he's got a glass of whiskey in his hand. He's trying to knock out and beer isn't enough for that these days. Sam putters around setting up the cabin for night, closing most of the shutters and putting the thick plank of wood across the front door. It won't stop a demon, probably not a Leviathan either, but it'll give them enough warning to get their guns out at least.

When he's done and the lights are off, the only remaining light is the lantern which Sam brings over with him, setting it on the coffee table a couple inches from Dean's feet.

“Try and actually sleep tonight, huh?” Sam says, walking straight past and heading for the bunk beds.

“Whoa, you're going to bed already?” Dean replies, turning to follow his brother with his eyes.

Sam gives him an amused look. “Yeah, aren't you?”

Dean feels like this night shouldn't end just yet, despite the hour. His stomach is churning from the idea that they're actually going to try—he doesn't know what to call it. It's not dating, but it's something. It's been the best night they've had in the cabin, and Dean's not excited to greet his demons when the lights go out and the nightmares set in.

“Stay up a little bit,” Dean insists, shoving the rumpled quilt away from his side to make room. “Have a drink, watch The Late Show.”

Sam pauses for a moment before he shrugs and settles onto the small couch beside his brother. Dean leans forward to grab the whiskey bottle from the table, lifting it in offer, but Sam shakes his head. The Late Show isn't on, so they watch All in the Family on a fuzzy station and Dean thinks the title is a little ironic. He's always hated Archie Bunker, but has met enough old bastards like him that it's kind of funny. Sam leans back, comfortable, but his hands fidget and Dean notices he's rubbing into that cut on his palm. It steals the warmth from Dean's chest and he finds himself frowning.

“Think I should be able to take this off soon,” Sam mumbles toying with the edge of the gauze along the base of his thumb.

“Don't pick at it,” Dean scolds grabbing Sam's hand and bringing it close. He peeks under the bandage, sees the fresh pink skin; he'll have to pull the stitches. “Leave it on another day,” he orders.

Sam nods tiredly and doesn't reply. Dean considers asking if he's seeing anything right now, but then decides he doesn't want to know. He sets Sam's hand down in the space between their thighs, but rather than letting go, he leaves his hand right there, right on top of his brother's. It's not exactly hand holding; their fingers aren't intertwined or anything. It's just Sam's hands are warm and Dean's are chronically cold and—well, he's gonna justify this however he damn well pleases. Like Sammy said, who the hell are they trying to look tough for anyway?

Sam scoots closer as inconspicuously as possible, and Dean decides right then to just fuck it all. He feels like a fuckin' middle schooler too nervous to make a move. They said they're gonna try, so he's gonna try. He lifts his arm and swings it over Sam's wide shoulders, pulling his brother in close until the taller man is half slumped against him. It's not awkward somehow, and in a moment of clarity Dean realizes it's because they used to do this, for years, just not with the knowledge of how much it meant.

Sam deflates, air gushing out of his mouth as he relaxes fully into Dean's side and it's viciously comfortable. Dean feels his own mouth twitching up in a hesitant smile. He's reminded of summers spent wrestling and winters spent in pillow forts, the sensation of Sammy pressed against him intrinsically familiar. For a minute, he can almost forget all the shit they're barely keeping their heads above. His leg doesn't ache and finally he's not cold, Sammy safe against him and warm like he was born to be a space heater. They stay like that for a while, the episode ending and another old sitcom starting up. Dean shifts for a second to set his empty glass on the table, mellow enough that he doesn't feel the urge to refill it.

When he settles back into position against his brother, Sam turns his head and Dean feels the tickle of long hair against his jaw, feels the cool tip of Sam's nose brush against his throat and it causes an involuntary shudder. It's deep in his bones and likely imperceptible to Sam, but Dean feels it. There's nothing dramatic, no fireworks, no pounding pulse, just a soothing easiness that sucks every last ounce of stress and anger right out of his body. Without it, he feels like he's melting altogether, the support beams inside him dissolving.

Dean turns his head towards his brother, silent just like the first time; what they'd thought would be the last time, under the moonlight in a chilly field in South Dakota. It's different now; they're older and Sam is lit golden by the light of the lantern rather than silver by the moon. He's still Sammy, still fills up Dean's vision like he's the only thing that matters. Their faces are only a scant inch apart now, noses faintly touching. Dean meets Sam's eyes and there's a voice inside him calmly saying, 'yes, yes, yes.' Sam isn't beautiful, isn't sexy, doesn't get Dean's blood racing. Yet looking into his placid hazel eyes, Dean feels like his brother is perfect and he remembers the taste of the words, 'I love you,' the one time he managed to say them. Dean doesn't hesitate.

He closes the gap and they're kissing and it's all the things it should be, the things he was too impatient to wait for earlier. It's light at first, and neither of them close their eyes. Sam's lips are bubblegum pink and so god damned soft. He tastes like salt and mint and Dean's eyes finally fall closed when he feels a slick tongue prodding against his lip. The kiss slowly deepens to something uncontrollable, something that shakes Dean's foundations and makes him feel like he's coming unhinged from the planet, like gravity doesn't dare try to hold him down.

Sam's hand, the unscarred one, touches Dean's cheek then slides lower, palm resting against the pulse of Dean's carotid. His thumb is pressed lightly against the corner of Dean's mouth, like he wants to feel the kiss as it happens. Dean's arm that was stretched across Sam's shoulders pulls him in tighter, hand creeping up the back of his long neck, thick fingers curling in satiny dark hair, feeling the shape of Sam's skull and cradling it close.

A desperate, embarrassing sound escapes Dean's mouth, the slow kiss suddenly not enough at all. He can't stop himself, their lips meeting over and over, heavy gasps in the space between. Sam sits up straighter, no longer leaning against Dean's side, meeting him with equal enthusiasm. It's everything Dean thought it would be and more, better than his memories.

The kiss moves from warm to hot, but never boils over into something sizzling. It's still effortless, still more like the relief of coming home after a long day than the adrenaline rush of a roller coaster. Dean's nose presses into Sam's cheek and his eyes open to half-mast, the hazy vision of his brother's contented face enough to fill his chest with something fizzy like champagne. He's turning his body more towards Sam, good leg coming off the coffee table and hips shifting. He reaches out a hand to balance and it catches on Sam's thigh, worn denim and firm muscle beneath his fingers

Sam makes an urgent noise, muffled against Dean's mouth and the hand at Dean's neck slides back, gripping his nape and pulling him in impossibly closer. Sam's other hand lands on Dean's chest, sliding low until it settles against his side. It's his scarred hand, Dean can feel the bandage through his thin tee, but the touch is still burning hot and impossible to ignore.

Sam kisses like it's an art, like he's making it up as he goes but knows exactly what he's doing. His sharp little teeth and smooth, pillowy lips and slick, clever tongue move against Dean the way a professional dancer improvises. There's no awkwardness, no painful clashes or bumps, no sticky drool, or clumsy misses. It's awesome and Dean feels like if this is all there is to it, he can die a happy man. If he can do this to Sam whenever he wants, he'll have lived a life fulfilled.

He doesn't know how long they kiss, but it's brought to an abrupt end when Dean turns a little too far and the heel of his broken leg slides off the coffee table hitting the floor with a hard thunk.

Dean pulls his face away from Sam's quickly and hisses, “Motherfucker,” as the pain radiates up to his hip. His hand leaves Sam's thigh, much higher than he originally remembers placing it, and helplessly grips at the white plaster to try and stifle the ache.

“Shit,” Sam whispers, his hand falling from Dean's neck and settling on the cast as well. “You okay?”

“Yeah,” Dean rumbles lowly, “Gimme a sec.” The pain fades slowly through long seconds of throbbing and doesn't entirely leave. His leg still feels sore and he can't help but be annoyed at the damn thing.

“No, it's okay,” Sam mumbles and Dean finally turns to meet his eyes.

He was wrong when he thought Sammy isn't beautiful, it's just different from anything that Dean would've termed that before. Sam is a whole new definition of the word, his cheeks flushed and his lips damp and darkened. His eyes are bright, catching the combined golden light of their lantern and flickering of the TV. Sam smiles and it's a little crooked but painfully endearing and Dean feels his heart tug insistently. Once upon a time he thought 'tug on your heartstrings'  was nothing but a turn of phrase; as an adult he's learned it's very real.

“We should sleep,” Sam whispers, eyelids heavy. He leans in for one last kiss, their swollen lips sticking and dragging a little as Sam nips at him. Dean's eyes close briefly, savoring the feeling before his brother pulls away. Dean lets him go.

When Sam slips into his bunk bed and Dean's laid out fully on the couch, the TV is turned off and the sounds of the forest creep in—crickets and owls and other little rustling things—beneath his old quilt Dean feels warmed through his core. When he falls asleep, for the first time in weeks, he doesn't dream.