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Sam groans heartily through his nose, squirming in his bed as he tries to find a comfortable position. He hates to admit that Dean is right about his mattress, but the thing is like a brick, pushing rudely up against his tailbone as he tries to sink into it. He can’t lie all the way down, either, because-- well. Because he’s in a considerable amount of pain, despite the good stuff they gave him at the hospital. The pain is nothing, though, comparatively, because he’s supposed to be dead. He should be dead, floating aimlessly in the great big Empty, thanks to the gut-shot delivered by Murderous Werewolf Number 3, and his ability to aim with deadly accuracy. Instead, that werewolf is dead, and Sam is miraculously, unbelievably alive.

Sam closes his eyes, flashes of Dean’s face imprinted on the back of his eyelids, laughing as he dug the bullet out of his little brother’s spilled guts. Dean had tried to smile and joke through it, tried to keep Sam’s blood pressure from skyrocketing in panic so the red-hot liquid wouldn’t pour out of the wound any faster than it already was, but Sam could see the truth, the fear in Dean’s eyes. The crystal-green was so bright, shining with the horrified tears Dean was holding back, because they both knew how dangerous it was for a bullet to enter where it did. They both knew that it would take a miracle for Sam not to bleed out, right there on that cold floor in the middle of nowhere.

But, well. Dean is a damned miracle in and of himself, so it’s no small wonder Sam walked (crawled, stumbled) away from that place.

Sam knows that Dean saved that bullet, and he wonders if Dean’s even taken it out of his pocket yet. They’d only just gotten home about an hour ago, and Dean had forced Sam to get in bed, set him up with The Office on their old laptop and a beer in his shaking hand, while Dean went to the kitchen to cook them some dinner, and-- and to probably cry in private, with huge, shivering gasps and fat, relieved tears, if Sam’s being honest.

Because that had been a close one. Too close, really, for them to be able to just laugh it off as a hazard of the job. Dean insisted he knew that Sam hadn’t been dead, but how could he have known that, really? Sam knows Dean, knows he thought Sam was beyond his help, because Sam had woken up alone. The only time Dean would ever leave Sam all alone with a potentially-fatal wound is if he thought Sam was already gone, acting on his instilled duty to protect the civilians in their care. Ironically, it was one of those civilians, and not the bullet wound, that had almost put Sam under for good.

He can still feel it, feel Corbin’s hands tightening around his throat, like it’s happening right now, all over again. The blind panic rising in his body as his oxygen had dwindled, Corbin’s cold eyes, staring down at him, having no idea that the whole reason Corbin was alive to take Sam’s life was because he had thrown himself into Hell to save him, to save his right to be alive. To save them all, every last selfish, murderous one of them.

It’s a horrible way to die, strangulation, and before Sam knows it, he feels like he can hardly breathe, even though he knows there’s plenty of oxygen around him, here in his room, in their Bunker. He feels like his windpipe is collapsing in on itself, like he can barely get one molecule of oxygen squeezed through it. He’s wheezing, trying to call out for Dean, but the only noises he’s making are pathetic little whimpers, vibrating in his throat.

Blackness creeps in towards the center of his vision, fuzzy yet all-consuming, and he’s doing everything he can to get up out of bed, needing to see proof of life in the form of his brother, because Dean is the only thing in this world that can convince him that he’s really, truly alive. Dean is the oxygen he needs to breathe every day, and even though he’ll never have the guts to tell his brother that, he never feels more alive than when Dean is assuring him of his vitality with just his presence, validating Sam’s existence by being the tangible proof of his very soul.

But that’s another story.

As he struggles to get out of bed, the pain in his middle shoots through him, molten-hot and diamond-sharp. He’s finally able to cry out as he falls out of bed with a loud thump, landing hard on his side. Before he passes out, he thinks, Dean is gonna be so pissed at me.

When his brain starts coming back online, the first thing he feels is warmth against his skin, and he hears a distant buzzing, in a low, golden tone, and Sam makes a noise of assent, knowing that sweet sound anywhere. He has come back to life at the insistence of that sound so many times that it should stop being a revelation, but the amount of times hasn’t diminished the effect. Not at all.

“There you are, baby brother,” are the first words Sam can plainly make out, and he nuzzles deeper into the touch against his cheek. His big brother’s warm, scratchy palm is being smoothed against his face, his roughened fingers gentle as they card themselves through his tangled, dirty hair. “There he is. Heya, Sammy.”

Sam blinks his eyes open slowly, Dean’s beautiful face coming alive with relief as they lock eyes. Sam just stares for a moment, distantly aware of the shooting pain in his belly, blinking muzzily, letting the world come back to him piece-by-piece, as his world holds all his little parts together, right here on the cold wooden floor of their home.

“D’n,” is all his scratchy throat can offer, but the barely-there utterance of his name makes the smile on Dean’s face stretch into something otherworldly. He can feel his heart speed up, responding helplessly to that smile, beating true against his neck, his wrists, and the wound in his gut. “Hmm. Hi.”

“Hi there,” Dean murmurs back, his smile touching the lines carved into the skin around his lovely eyes. Sam waits for Dean to start telling him what a jackass he is for trying to get out of bed without assistance, but the words never come, so they sit in grateful silence, letting the warmth of their skin do the talking.

It speaks loudly to Sam about how truly scared Dean was, about how grateful he is, that he doesn’t have a single negative thing to say about Sam’s stupidity. They continue to just sit there, Sam’s heavy head in Dean’s lap, appreciating their togetherness, thankful for each other’s lives all over again, one more time. “You miss me, little brother?”

Sam hums, not wanting to say yes, god yes, but he thinks his eyes say it for him anyway, because Dean clears his throat, the tips of his elven ears turning pink.

“P-panicked,” Sam explains finally, bringing a shaking hand up to touch the sore, finger-shaped bruises around his throat. “C-couldn’t breathe.”

“Should’na left you alone,” Dean whispers, trailing his own fingers against the purple marks. Sam watches Dean’s face as he touches him gently, smoothing his digits against the bruises, like he wishes his touch alone could erase them. It certainly feels like it could, the pain a distant memory in the face of Dean’s bold tenderness.

Sam wonders if Dean meant he shouldn’t have left him alone to go cook dinner, or if he shouldn’t have left him alone, injured, with a couple of desperate civilians who thought Sam’s life was a worthy sacrifice in the face of their own peril. Or maybe Dean means ever, because Sam has always secretly, ashamedly wished Dean would never leave him alone, wants him around all the time, even-- and maybe especially-- when he says he doesn’t. But Sam doesn’t blame Dean, not even a little bit. He doesn’t think he has it in him to blame Dean for anything, no matter how badly he wants to sometimes.

“Here now,” Sam tells him, wrapping his shaking fingers around Dean’s wrist. “‘S’good.”

It takes a lot longer than Sam would like to admit to get two overgrown men, both a little worse for wear, off the ground, but once they’re up, Dean throws Sam’s arm over his shoulder. “Dinner’s almost ready, and I could use the company. What’d’ya say?”

It’s not like Sam’s answer really matters, because they’re already heading that way, but even if they weren’t, Sam’s answer would always be yes. Yes, always. Yes, forever and ever, amen.

Sam thinks he might be a little high from the pain pills Dean feeds him, but he doesn’t mind. His brother gets him settled on a bench seat at the kitchen table, so Sam just sits back, watching Dean. He likes to watch Dean, has all his life, and he thinks half the reason he grew his hair out was so he could peer at his big brother from behind his bangs. Here, in the kitchen, with Dean in his element-- using his hands to take care of his loved ones-- Sam loves him so much it hurts. But it always does, loving Dean. Sam is used to it hurting him, the pain an old friend at this point.

He smiles vaguely as Dean puts a steaming hot plate of chicken and potatoes in front of him, and they eat quietly, forks scraping against their plates. Sam finishes first, and he puts his utensils down, settling his chin in his hand, watching Dean eat his meal.

“Quit starin’,” Dean admonishes, but Sam can tell he likes it by the little smile on his face, by the pink blush on the apples of his cheeks. Sam didn’t even realize he was staring (yeah, okay, he’s definitely a little stoned), but it’s so nice to be alive, to be able to watch Dean be alive right in front of his eyes. It’s a miracle, is what it is, that Dean’s battered, bruised and beaten body still works so beautifully, and Sam never wants to take for granted these little things, these precious, quiet moments.

“So pretty, big brother,” Sam murmurs, his smile growing smugly as Dean chokes on the last bite of his mashed potatoes.

“Oh-ho-kay, you’re officially cut-off from Percocet tonight, stoney,” Dean answers with a tiny, pleased little smile, clearing his throat as he backs away from the table. He grabs their plates before heading to the sink, and Sam can see the extra swish to his hips as he walks away. He knows Dean is preening under Sam’s gaze, basking in the dangerous flirtation that’s simmered between them all their lives.

“You ready for bed?” Dean asks after he’s done rinsing the dishes, stacking them neatly to dry in the rack. He watches Sam closely for his answer, drying his hands on a dish towel, like he’s hoping Sam will say no, but willing to bet that Sam will say yes, like he’s ready to be alone. Like Sam could ever get tired of being around Dean, would ever willingly leave his brother’s presence.

Sam shakes his head no, regretting it a moment later, as it makes him a little dizzy. But it’s the truth; he doesn’t want to go back to his cold, empty room. He hates his room, how impersonal it feels, the space dead and lifeless, a reflection of his pathetic, shriveled heart.

Dean’s room is always bright, always warm, always home to the thing Sam needs most to fill the void deep inside, but he’s never known how to ask for that closeness. So he doesn’t ask, waiting instead for Dean to offer, but Dean’s insecurities make it difficult for him to imagine Sam wanting to be around him more than they already are, so he hardly ever offers. It’s the sick, cyclical nature of their relationship, and Sam is tired of it, but god help him, he doesn’t know how to get off this rollercoaster, the kinetic energy of the last thirty-plus years impossible to stop.

Dean seems surprised by Sam’s answer, but happy all the same, so he helps his big little brother up off the bench seat, and they stumble together into the library. Dean clicks on a couple lamps, helping Sam settle into his favorite chair. Dean goes over to the liquor cart, pouring them both a drink Sam definitely doesn’t need, but he takes it anyway, letting the familiar weight of the glass still his twitching fingers.

He’s an inch into his drink when he hears a soft clatter, and he looks up just as the bullet Dean’s pulled from his pocket stops spinning against the table. Sam stares it, the tiny metal piece with his dried, dead blood crusted on it, and he sighs deeply. He wonders, if he had died, what Dean would be doing right now, at this moment. If Dean would even be alive to grieve over him. If this Bunker would have remained how they left it forevermore, Sam’s dirty laundry thrown over a chair, Dean’s other boots waiting patiently by the door.

“Dean,” he starts, not even knowing how to begin thanking him for saving his life with his quick action and inability to let Sam go, but Dean stops him, sitting heavily across from him with a quick shake of his head.

His big brother downs all four inches of his scotch in one burning, gasping gulp, and Sam shivers with him, the phantom warmth inching through his veins. He wants to reach out, put his trembling fingers over Dean’s hands, where they’re resting, shaking slightly against the table, framing the bullet between his thumbs.

“That bitch wasn’t gonna give you back to me,” he finally mutters, staring at the bullet like he could make it disappear with the voracity of his gaze. “If you had-- if that piece of shit mutt had actually succeeded-- she would’ve just--” He breaks off, not because he has no more words, but because he has no more strength to say them.

“What bitch?” Sam asks slowly. What, exactly, is Dean admitting to here?

“Billie,” Dean answers, then closes his eyes tightly, sucking in a great breath through his teeth, like he knows he just gave something away he couldn’t afford to lose. “Oh. Shit. Damn it.”

“Billie?!” Sam bellows, nearly unseating himself. His mind can’t work fast enough to figure out this equation. Dean plus Billie equals… what? “Dean, please tell me she just showed up to-- to gloat-- or, or that-- that you summoned her to, to bargain, not--”

“Well, that’s kinda true,” Dean admits, and Sam knows, instantly, that even though Sam didn’t fully die, Dean actually did. He-- if Sam had come to, only to find out that Dean was gone, beyond the rainbow, beyond Sam’s reach-- Romeo to his Juliet, his mind whispers, and Sam is glad he’s sitting down, because his knees would surely have failed him in this moment.

“Dean,” he whispers, his voice so small it’s barely a breath, “what did you do? You… you told me-- you told me you knew I wasn’t dead.”

Dean doesn’t answer for so long that it worries Sam into drinking the rest of his scotch. Dean stands, wobbling a little, bringing the decanter over to the table, slamming it down between them. Sam instantly refills his glass, knowing he’s gonna need it for whatever Dean is about to tell him.

“Don’t be mad at me, Sammy,” Dean finally whispers. When Sam looks up, Dean is staring straight at him, his clear green eyes swimming in unshed tears. Sam understands; he knows all too well how it feels to lose his brother, knows even better the miracle of getting him back. He can’t be mad at Dean for making wild, impetuous decisions when faced with a life without his other half, but he’s so sick of the lies he could just scream.

Sam doesn’t answer, just stares at Dean pointedly, jaw bulging with the clench of his teeth. He’s not the one who needs to be answering anything right now; it’s Dean who has truth to spill.

“I, uh, overdosed. On, um, barbiturates,” Dean tells him finally, unable to meet his little brother’s eyes. Sam watches as one perfect tear descends Dean’s papery, stubbled cheek, splashing pitifully against the table. More follow, and Sam can feel his own eyes well up in response.

“On purpose,” Dean continues, when it’s obvious Sam is beyond words. “So I could-- so I could talk to her, bargain with her, whatever. So I… so I’d be dead anyway if she wouldn’t, you know, deal. And she wouldn’t, she wasn’t gonna give you back. Not for anything. She made that, um, pretty damn clear. ‘You can’t lose him,’ is what she said. And she was happy about it. But then, she told me that you weren’t-- that you weren’t gone. Then the doc, uh, she brought me back. Then, you called me not twenty minutes later.”

The truth hangs there in between them, a living, tangible thing that Sam can almost touch. His heart is pounding painfully in his chest, but he can’t let Dean see the grief there, at the very thought of waking up to find Dean gone, so he buries his tired face in his hands, because Dean doesn’t deserve the truth of his emotions right now.

He imagines it, calling Dean’s phone, over and over, but Dean never picking up, being beyond where any phone could reach. The vastness of the loneliness that wells up within him-- well, that’s the true Empty.

Sam stands suddenly, wincing in pain. The chair scrapes so loudly against the floor, Dean winces back. He’s slow to move away from the table, having to ignore the sharp thrumming of his wound being stretched, so Dean is able to jump up, come around the table to meet him as Sam moves to go-- go anywhere but here.

“Don’t go, Sam, wait--”

“Dean, I need some damn space--”

“Sammy, please--”

Dean gets a hold of Sam, his fingers tightening like chains around Sam’s biceps. The touch is desperate, but it doesn’t soothe him like Dean’s touch normally would. Instead, it makes him feel trapped, trapped in the lies that never end between them.

Sam really thought that the lying, the half-truths and platitudes between them were over, especially considering Dean’s honesty over the last case they worked. Dean had told Sam plainly about the truth of the house Bobby and Rufus had worked in years before, about the monster showing their souls in distress.

Dean had told him, “I saw you, lying dead on the floor,” and even though it had been sick, it had truly comforted Sam. Not just the confirmation of Dean’s love, but the healing balm of truth, soothing the years of Dean not allowing Sam the privilege of the real answers.

He knocks Dean’s hands away from his arms roughly, swaying on his feet. How can he be expected to plant his feet firmly on the foundation of Dean’s love if there are always imperfections to be found in the craftsmanship?

“I can’t handle the lies anymore, Dean,” Sam whispers, staring down into his brother’s desperate, tear-stained face. He can’t stand to see Dean cry; he knows he’ll cave in a nanosecond if he stays here, in Dean’s wounded presence. “I-- I need to be alone.”

He’s hurt Dean deeply by rejecting his touch, something Sam hardly ever does. Touch has always been the language of words unspoken between them. More than that, it’s the way they rely on knowing the truth of the devotion that exists between them. But Dean’s touch isn’t enough anymore, and now, all Sam can see is Dean using his touch to soothe him like he’s a wild, unwilling horse, only to force him to perform in the same ol’ rodeo, running in the same circles, over and over, trapped forever.

“I can’t,” Sam repeats, the words barely a sound, and he pushes past his brother’s wounded, desperate face to make his way into the hall.

Dean finds him there a few minutes later, leaning against the cool wall, trying to catch his breath. It hurts to walk; it hurts to do anything right now. Ironically, the pain deep in his guts has little to do with the bullet wound, and all he can manage is to prop himself up against the cold bricks, rubbing his hot face against them. He doesn’t want to go back to his empty room, with its uninviting mattress and the pieces of Sam with which he hates to be alone, but where else can he go?

There’s nowhere on this earth he can go to outrun his brother. And that’s the problem, isn’t it, that even with those few moments of separation, even with the hurt so sharp it’s like reopening his wound all over again, all he wants is for Dean to chase after him. He wants Dean to make him see, to force him to stay. He wants Dean to prove him wrong.

And Dean is so good at giving Sam what he wants, except maybe where it really counts. His heart hurts so bad; all he can see is Dean, lying dead on the hospital floor, foam at the corners of his beautiful mouth, his expressive eyes lifeless, unblinking, forever.

“At least let me set you up in my bed tonight,” Dean murmurs, his hand gentle and tentative as it smoothes its way across Sam’s bunched-up back, his tense shoulders. “I can-- I’ll sleep in your room tonight. You deserve the memory foam.”

Sam deserves much more than that, but it’s a start. Still, it’s so hard for him to give in, so he shakes his head no stubbornly, even though he knows the real answer is yes, even though there’s no way he can go anywhere without his brother’s hand guiding him. Even though he wants to go wherever Dean leads him, and isn’t that just so true of his entire life?

“C’mon, baby brother,” Dean whispers, his voice low, scratchy, scotch-soaked and warm. It flows smoothly to his ears, easing his shoulders, the way the little pet names between them always do. He loves nothing more than to hear the love Dean has for him poured out in those special nicknames between them, which is why he’s put up with Sammy his entire life. It says so many things that Dean doesn’t have the guts to say with more than that one word.

“Lemme take care of you, Sammy. Please.”

Sam’s whole body shivers, and he knows Dean can feel it, feel his acquiescence, if not exactly his forgiveness. Sam is hurt, but he knows he will forgive Dean eventually, because what other choice does his stupid, Dean-soaked heart have? But Dean is going to have to pull his forgiveness out of Sam slowly, carefully, with gentle fingers and tender words. Truthfully, he doesn’t know any other way than to let Dean take care of him, and there’s hardly anything he craves more, every bit the little brother just wanting his big brother to shield him from everything scary in this life.

If he’s being completely honest, he wants Dean to take care of him in every way possible. He wants Dean to cook his meals and to wash his hair, to hold him while he sleeps and to be there when he wakes up. He wants Dean to work him up until he has to soothe him back down. There’s nothing he craves more than to let Dean take care of every single need his body, heart and soul possesses.

But. But, this? This is a start.

Sam lets Dean peel him off the wall, lets Dean put a steadying hand around Sam’s waist as they shuffle down the hallway to Dean’s room, the tension in Sam’s frame melting with every step they take. Dean props him up against the door frame, telling him to hold tight, so Sam watches through muzzy eyes as Dean flips on the lamp, turns the bed down, fluffs his single pillow, then runs down the hall to the linen closet to retrieve a few more. He watches as Dean stacks them carefully, trying so hard not to let the contentment running through his veins show on his face, but god, could Sam love him any more than he does right now?

The answer, surprisingly, is yes, always yes. After thirty-five years of loving Dean, he never stops finding new reasons, new ways to fall in love with him. Sometimes, he wishes he could stop. But he can’t, and watching Dean fret over his comfort, without a single thought of his own, makes that love settle even deeper into his heart, layers a giant band-aid over the gaping wound the lie left in him.

“All right,” Dean says finally, turning to face Sam. He looks a little lost, child-like, standing there with his arms crossed, toes pointed slightly inward. He seems to realize that Sam is still just leaning against the door frame where Dean left him, so he jumps into action, tripping a little towards Sam in his haste to retrieve him.

Sam tries his hardest not to smile, but he can’t help it, watching Dean get all flustered over him. He should call Dean out way more often, if this is the result: his big brother being all sheepish and shy. It’s a beautiful look on him, this deference, and Sam can only imagine how Dean would look if his goal was to make Sam feel good, make him come. How determined Dean would be then.

Okay, that’s definitely the pain-killers talking. But it’s true; there’s nothing more beautiful in this world than his brother. He thinks that he probably would love Dean no matter what he looked like, but Dean looks like this: strong, broad shoulders melting into bulging biceps and worn, life-roughened, squared hands, with thick, dexterous fingers. His chest is wide and warm, soft in all the right places, but hard, too, where it’s formed a protective covering over his heart. His belly is a tender spot for Dean; he’s never been able to get the six-pack abs that come so naturally to Sam’s lean frame, due to his love for all things burgers, bacon and beer, but it’s hardly necessary, because it’s strong enough to hold his soul in place, and soft enough for Sam to rest his weary head, and that’s all Sam could ever ask.

Dean’s face is the true handiwork of God Himself, something only an all-seeing being could create, because there’s no one on this earth who faces perfection in the mirror in the way his brother does. Nobody could even come close to recreating the perfect, sharp jawline complemented by the give of his soft, plush mouth. His smile is one to live and die by, and his eyes are the color of freshly mowed grass and redemption, his benediction, his brother. The love of his life.

Sam realizes he’s staring when Dean clears his throat, waving the hands he’s proffered for Sam to take, to be led to the bed he’s dreamt of lying in since Dean bounced on it, wiggling his eyebrows, proclaiming, “it remembers me.” He wants to be remembered by this bed, too.

Dean gets Sam situated against the pillows, covering his legs and stomach with the soft blankets before standing back, clearly hovering, unsure. Sam’s not sure what Dean wants, and Sam’s not sure if he has the guts to ask for what he wants. All Sam wants is for Dean to be bold enough to stay, to climb in next to him. All Sam wants is to be bold enough to ask for his brother, because he knows that Dean could never, would never even want to say no to him.

“Thanks, Dean,” is what he decides on, his voice soft and fond around his favorite word.

Dean just nods, looking a little lost here, in his own room, around his things, a little confused as to why he’s leaving. Sam’s heart is pounding wildly as he watches Dean turn to leave, a maddening beat pumping staystaystaystay in his ears. Dean gets all the way to the door before Sam quietly says, “Dean.”

Dean stops on a dime, his whole body relaxing, like if he took one more step away from Sam he’d never stop feeling the ache of leaving. “Yeah?”

He can’t even look at Dean’s back as he says this, can barely hear his own voice around the fear clogging his throat. “You could, uh. You could-- you know. Stay.”

Dean turns slowly to face him, and Sam knows that Dean needs to see his eyes to really believe what Sam is telling him. So he gathers every ounce of courage his Winchester blood affords him, meeting his big brother’s gaze from across the room.

“Yeah?” Dean asks again, but it’s asked differently this time, breathy and grateful and disbelieving.

“Please,” is how Sam responds, because he doesn’t know how to ask Dean for anything big without eventually begging for it. He would beg so good, Dean doesn’t even know.

The smile on Dean’s face tells him that Dean does know, actually. And that, more than anything, settles Sam’s nerves over this once-and-for-all. They both know what’s going on here, and it seems like they’ve finally come to a place where they’re both able to name it. The lies, the secrecy, the skirting around half-truths, it all seems so silly and meaningless when faced with the very real possibility of their brother dying without ever having the chance to know the extent, the depth of each other’s love.

“I just-- there’s something I wanna--” Dean starts, shaking his head like he’s clearing it. “I’ve got just the thing, okay? Sit tight. Don’t-- don’t go anywhere.”

Sam wouldn’t move even if he could. There’s nowhere he wants to be more than in Dean’s bed, with his beautiful big brother smiling down at him like it’s the most incredible thing he’s ever witnessed.

“I won’t,” he promises, the imprint of Dean’s smile as he pats the door frame before exiting causing Sam to practically float right out of his body.

Dean is back fairly quickly, but even in that short amount of time, Sam’s eyes have started to droop. Dammit, Dean’s bed is so comfortable, and Sam feels so at home, all wrapped up in bedclothes that smell like everything he loves most in this world. He knows that when he finally drops off to sleep, it’ll be the best sleep he’s gotten in… hell, maybe ever.

His big brother climbs into bed next to him, and Sam watches him through half-lidded eyes, his heart beating wildly against his ribcage. In all the scenarios Sam has envisioned through the years, they always start like this: Dean, climbing onto the bed, crawling towards Sam, his big body graceful and feline, stalking his willingly caught prey.

Dean settles next to him, shoulder-to-shoulder, and they smile at each other, a little bashful. It’s ridiculous, two fully-grown men grinning shyly over sharing a bed, but it’s the newness of it that thrills Sam. There’s very little in his life he can be happy about without any tender strings attached, and this is one of them.

What was he angry about again?

Dean holds out a little vial of clear liquid, shaking it in Sam’s face. Sam takes it slowly, reading the inscription: Truth Serum.

“Dean, what--” Sam’s heart speeds up again, but not in a good way, because Dean can’t honestly think he can just force Sam to spill any more of his guts--

“Hey, whoa, Sammy, hey, no, shhh kiddo, it’s okay.” His brother soothes him immediately, because he knows all of Sam’s tells, can see the panic rising up behind his eyes. “It’s not for you, baby. It’s for me.”

There are several things in that sentence that make Sam’s eyes bulge out of his head, least of all being called ‘baby’ in a tender, non-brotherly way. His brother has a lot of sweet nicknames for him, but he’s been very careful not to let those nicknames take on a romantic connotation. Until now, it seems.

“What…?” Sam asks dazedly.

“Found it in one of the storerooms a few weeks ago,” Dean explains, uncorking the little bottle. He lifts it to his nose, making a face, before continuing. “I-- Sammy, I don’t like the lying either. Maybe once upon a time, I did it willingly, to keep you out of the loop, for my own selfish reasons, but now--” He shrugs. “I want to. I’d just pour a little in my drink, and you can ask me anything you want to. Anything you’ve ever wanted to ask me. I want to,” he repeats, looking Sam squarely in the eye. “You deserve the truth. All of it.”

Sam mulls this over, watching his brother closely. Honestly, he’d resigned himself ages ago, knowing he’d never get the full truth, the full story of Dean’s life, even though he’s watched nearly all of it play out right before his eyes, but he hates it. He wants to know everything about his brother, every single tic and twitch, every impulse, every bad thought, every half-formed dream. It’s overwhelming for Dean to present this to him, the truth on a silver platter.

“Dean, I’m not sure if--”

“Well, that’s too damned bad.” Dean splashes about half the bottle into his scotch, swirling the glass around before chugging it. All in about five seconds, before Sam’s protests can even form on his lips.

“Oh, my god,” Sam says blankly, and then he laughs himself silly. “You are such an idiot. Oh my god, Dean!”

“Didn’t taste like anything,” Dean answers, smacking his lips. “I wonder how long it’ll take to work.”

Sam is still laughing at him, his idiot brother who just downed a fifty-year-old vial of Men of Letters Truth Serum without even a thought of possible negative side-effects.

“You’ve got the most beautiful smile I’ve ever seen. Wish you’d do it more,” Dean tells him quietly, and then pinks up all the way to his ears, and back down his throat. “Oh. Um. I guess it’s working already.”

Sam’s heart is beating in his throat, and he can’t help but laugh even harder over the dumbfounded, gobsmacked look on Dean’s face. Sam doesn’t think he’s ever heard something so life-affirming from Dean before, and he wonders what other Sam-tinged thoughts are floating around in Dean’s brain.

“This seems unfair,” Sam answers eventually, once he’s able to stop giggling under his breath.

“Not to me,” Dean shrugs. “Deserve the truth, don’t you, Sammy?”

“Yeah,” Sam murmurs, unable to look away from the easy, perfect contentment painted on his brother’s lovely features. “What’s it feel like?”

“Like the best Xanax in the world,” Dean responds, shrugging his shoulders. “C’mon, Sammy, ask me the good stuff.”

Sam’s sense of fair play is just too strong to let this go on one-sided. Before Dean can protest, he snatches the vial out of his fingers, dumping it in his own glass, swallowing it one fell swoop. Dean’s mouth hangs open in surprise as Sam smacks his own lips.

“Didn’t see that one coming,” Dean admits with a chuckle.

“You’re right,” Sam tells him slowly, stretching his arms out in front of him, his bones and joints popping, feeling like he’s just had the best massage of his life. There’s nothing in this world that’s bothering him at the moment, and he feels like he could do, could say anything to Dean, and it wouldn’t hurt him, hurt them at all. “Feels good.”

“This feels good,” Dean says. “Bein’ here, with you, like this. Always wondered how you’d look in my bed.”

Sam can easily see how quickly this could go south, and although he wants that so badly, there are so many other things he wants to know before this takes a turn.

Still, he can’t help but admit, “always wondered that, too.”

They smile at each other vaguely for what feels like an eternity, before Dean slaps him on the thigh. “C’mon, Sammy-baby, time’s-a-wastin’. Don’t know how long this stuff is supposed to last. Any question you want. Hit me.”

Sam hardly knows where to begin, so he just asks the first thing that comes to mind.

“Do you really want me to cut my hair short?”

“No,” Dean answers quickly. “No way. Looks good. You’re the prettiest person on this whole earth, Sammy. Don’t want you to change a thing.”

Sam bites his lips just to keep from saying all the things he wants to in response to that. Instead, he says, “your turn to ask.”

Dean turns towards him a little, and Sam’s body mirrors him, like it always has. He can’t move too much, the pain in his belly still sharp, but it’s distant now. The pain of not inching closer to his brother when he’s like this, warm and open and all Sam’s, is nothing compared to a flesh wound.

“Why…” Dean seems hesitant to ask, so Sam knows the silly questions part of this game is over. “Why didn’t you ask me to come with you? To-- to Stanford. Would’ve. In a heartbeat, I would’ve.”

Sam can’t even begin to think on how his life might’ve been different had he not been too stubborn, too afraid to ask Dean to follow him. It doesn’t really matter, anyway, because he didn’t ask, and this is his life. The possibilities are too great, the implications of people who might still be alive if-- no. He can’t go down that road, refuses to torture himself with what if's.

“I was too afraid you’d say no,” Sam admits, trailing a hand out to touch Dean’s thigh. When it causes Dean to scoot closer to him, Sam’s grip tightens in confidence. “Wanted it too much. I didn’t think you’d say yes, didn’t think you’d ever leave Dad.”

“Hmmm,” Dean murmurs, letting his warm palm cover the back of Sam’s hand. Immediately, their fingers twist to clasp together, and Sam wishes he could go back and tell his pining, seventeen-year-old self that Dean does eventually hold his hand, and that it’s so much better than he ever imagined.

“Why didn’t you ask to come with me?” Sam counters, hardly able to concentrate with the way Dean’s fingers are stroking over the tender skin of Sam’s palm.

“I was-- I was afraid you were leavin’ because of me. I couldn’t stand to-- to hear that you didn’t need me half as much as I've always needed you.”

Sam sucks in a breath, turning even closer into Dean’s warmth. He’s practically laying his head on Dean’s shoulder, they’re so close, Sam so comfortable and loose here, in Dean’s bed. He nuzzles his forehead against Dean’s neck, the smell of his sweat and the heat of his breath thrilling and comforting all at the same time. Their touches have never said this much, have never spoken so loudly of how deeply the devotion between them runs, how twisted the brotherly-love between them has become. Has always been.

“Needed you so bad, Dean,” Sam whispers, right into Dean’s neck, hiding in that safe space his big brother forms for him when he needs it the most, when things scare him this badly. “Always have. Always will.”

Dean sighs deeply, a happy, relieved noise, and without either of their full knowledge, they sink completely down into the bed. They lie together, close, Sam’s head resting against Dean’s shoulder, his nose buried in the juncture of Dean's neck and shoulder. Dean’s strong arm wraps around his waist, pulling him closer, tighter against his big brother’s body. It shouldn’t be comfortable; Sam should be too big to be able to curl up against Dean like he’s still a boy, hopelessly lost for his big brother, but they’ve always defied what should be. They've always just been what is.

Sam nuzzles in deeper, the point of his nose pulling at the collar of Dean’s t-shirt.

“Take off your shirt,” Sam demands, all confidence and truth about what he wants here, under the spell of serum and Dean’s closeness. He wants Dean’s skin so badly, wants the warmth pressed against him, wants to bury himself deep inside, never to find himself whole again.

“You, too,” Dean tells him, getting his own shirt off before helping Sam with his, slower.

They lie there, taking each other in, like they haven’t seen each other without a shirt about a million times. But this is different, this is Dean for Sam, Sam for Dean. Sam moves first, placing his head right back into the warm spot on Dean’s chest his body heat created, letting his fingers trail softly over the velvet-smoothness of Dean’s belly, his open palm coming to rest against Dean’s wildly beating heart.

“Does this feel as good as I think it does?” Dean whispers, bringing his own hand up to cover Sam’s once more, their fingers lacing together where they rest.

“Better,” Sam murmurs, knowing that they’re wasting an opportunity to get the Big Questions asked, but this feels like an answer to every question Sam’s ever had, anyway.

Dean tips his head down as Sam raises his chin up, and their faces are barely an inch apart, now. Sam can see all the freckles he’s always wanted to count, the exact way the color of Dean’s eyes come together, the teeth marks in Dean’s lips from where he’s been biting at them. Sam wonders what Dean can see in him, if he’s able to read all the answers in the same way Sam is reading Dean’s truth.

“How long have you felt like this? About me?” Sam asks finally, their mouths so close he can taste Dean’s breath.

He hears the way it catches in Dean’s chest, the way his heart starts thumping madly against Sam's palm. Still, he waits, knowing he needs the answer to this one question more than any other answer he could ever receive.

“Sammy, god. My-- my whole life. All of my lives, all of them.”

“Dean,” he whispers behind a sob, and that’s it, that’s all she wrote.

Their mouths meet somewhere in the middle, open and gasping, the same noise erupting from their throats, or somewhere deeper. An assent to this, to what they’ve always needed, the question they’ve never stopped asking each other, but never had the guts to answer.

“Fuck,” Dean bites out against Sam’s lips, and Sam groans in response, his hand coming up to cup Dean’s face, bringing him closer, closer. They can’t get each other deep enough, their teeth sharp, but their tongues shy until Sam tentatively touches his to his big brother’s, wanting his taste so badly he’s crazy for it.

“Yeah, Sammy,” Dean whispers, and something about that, something about hearing his baby nickname on the tongue of the man kissing him within an inch of his life breaks every single thing in him, and he’s open, all the way, completely torn apart for his brother.

“Dean, please,” he gasps against his brother’s lips, biting at them desperately, his hands a wandering mess over the expanse of warm skin that’s been denied to him his whole life.

“Sammy, god, love you, love you so damned much--”

The truth serum is clearly still in effect, because Sam never thought he’d hear Dean admit those words, despite knowing he felt them all the way down to his atoms. He pulls Dean closer, on top of him, not minding his wounds at all, but Dean is his big brother, and he remembers to take care of Sam even when Sam can’t be bothered. He gets his elbows planted firmly on either side of Sam’s body, knees snugged deep into the mattress, pushing his mouth deeply against his baby brother’s, making their whole bodies melt, come alive finally, for what feels like the very first time.

“Love you, Dean, love you, love you--” He can’t stop saying it against Dean’s mouth, loving the way Dean’s body shivers and shakes every time he hears it. Sam wraps his strong arms around his brother and pulls, needing the full effect of Dean's weight on top of him, stitches and wounds be damned.

Dean gives in, pressing him fully to the bed, and they both gasp, mouths coming apart at the revelation of their hard cocks pushing against each other for the first time.

“Oh, shit,” Dean gasps, digging himself even further into the bed, moving his hips purposefully against Sam’s squirming, begging body. “So damned beautiful, Sammy, god, want you so much, can’t--”

“Please, please,” Sam begs mindlessly, not even knowing what exactly he’s asking for. All he knows is that he needs it, and he needs it right now.

Dean gets their shorts pulled down far enough for their dicks to rub together, and Sam almost rockets off the bed, nearly bucking Dean off of him with the force of his shiver, the feeling of their bodies loving each other for the first time. In the way they were always supposed to, in the way soulmates are meant to love each other.

As Dean moves his hips to find a rhythm for their bodies to grind together, Sam gets a hand between them, trying his hardest to wrap around both of their hard, fat lengths at the same time. There’s too much to fit even in his huge hand, but it doesn’t matter, because the feel of Dean’s-- the evidence of his want, his need for Sam, the validation that Sam has never been alone in this, in this sick, twisted way of needing his brother-- that Dean could, would and is hard for him, he barely needs two more firm strokes before his tired, wounded, aging body unloads, his toes curling against the mattress that he’ll be damned doesn’t remember him.

“Holy shit, Sammy,” Dean gasps against his neck, from where he’s been biting, sucking marks of ownership into his little brother’s skin. “Can-- can feel it, so hot, god--”

Dean’s hips pick their motion back up, aided and abetted by the large hands of his baby brother planted firmly against his ass.

“C’mon, big brother, mark me up, make me-- make me yours--”

“Oh, fuck,” Dean moans, biting Sam’s filthy mouth as his hips stutter, the feel of Sam’s half-hard, come-covered cock branded against his own, the insistent push of his little brother’s hands, and the validation of the sickness between them being shared, being vital, necessary all their lives--

Sam feels Dean’s hot release splash against his belly, and he moans with Dean as his big brother sucks on his bottom lip, letting his little brother wring every last drop out of him. He nearly collapses on top of him, but remembers at the last moment, dropping to the side.

“Dean,” Sam breathes as Dean gathers him up to him, close, not giving a single damn about the come smearing all over their bellies and chests. “Oh god, Dean--”

Dean doesn’t let him say one more word before kissing him again, but it’s different now. There’s still heat, but no desperation. This is his devotion, Dean is showing him. This is his love, the way Dean’s tongue is soft, exploring every inch of Sam’s mouth as his hands smooth softly across Sam’s skin, feeling every single bit that he’s longed to touch for longer than he can remember. Sam’s hands work in tandem, squeezing Dean’s waist before moving up his flanks, down his chest, up to his neck, through his short, sweaty hair.

After their heart rates come down, Dean backs away slightly, carding his sticky fingers through Sam’s sweaty hair, moving it back from his face so he can see everything, every microexpression. But Sam’s okay with that, truth serum or not. He doesn’t have a thing to hide from his brother, never has, doesn’t even know how to hide from Dean. He wants Dean to seek everything he needs to find in him, needs to be everything Dean could ever want.

Later, after they’ve showered, after Sam’s gotten a fresh set of stitches, because he inevitably popped them, and a new clean bandage, they settle back into Dean’s sheets. Dean had made up the bed again, with clean bedclothes, and Sam had watched him from the doorway, again, but differently this time, with a love-sick smile on his face. He takes in every inch of his brother’s exposed skin, marveling that it’s all for him, and what’s more, that it always has been.

Dean flicks the lamp off, opening his arms wide for Sam to cuddle up to him. They lay there in the darkness, taking it all in, feeling the softness of each other’s skin, and if they find tears on each other’s faces, they don’t mention it. They just wipe them away gently, understanding.

Sam wonders, right before he’s pulled down into the best night’s sleep he can remember, if the truth serum is still working. He gathers his courage to ask, wants to hear it out of the heat of the moment, because even though he knows, it’s not the same as hearing the words.

“Do you love me, Dean?” he asks his brother softly, half-hoping Dean is already asleep and won't hear.

Dean takes in a big breath through his nose, letting it out hotly against Sam’s face. The taste of his brother’s breath is already addictive, so he reaches his chin up, searching for one more kiss. Dean gives him one, two, three more, softly, slowly, taking him apart atom by atom, building him back together with his love.

“Yeah, Sammy. Love you. Love you, baby brother.”

“Love you,” Sam whispers back, knowing that no matter what kind of questions life will throw his way, he has the only answer that ever really matters.

He doesn't need to know if the serum is still working.

He has the truth, all wrapped around him, right here.