There's burning in your eyes
Craving I can't hide, that's raging through the heart of me
Just like a wild fire, I want to touch the spark
But I'm safer in the dark
I'm scared to see what happens
If we let it go too far
- ‘Don’t Wanna Love You’, Colbie Caillat
The last person Sam expects to see on his doorstep when he gets back to his dorm after his final class of the day is his big brother.
He blinks, blinks again, but Dean’s still there, hands tucked into the pockets of his jeans, wearing the same worn leather jacket he’d had on the last time Sam had seen him just over two years ago.
“Dean?” he says.
“Hiya, Sammy,” says Dean.
“Uh,” says Sam. The last time he’d seen Dean was a couple of years ago, just before getting on the bus that had brought him here to Stanford. Dean had walked him to the bus stop, then as the bus pulled up, he’d given Sam a hard, quick hug then stepped back, looking down at the ground, eyes shadowed. After Sam had gotten on the bus and found a seat, when he’d craned his neck to peer out the grimy window at the bus stop receding back into the distance, Dean had been staring after the bus, looking so lost that it’d broken Sam’s heart in two.
He hadn’t heard from Dean since then – not until today. So for Dean to be here now…
“Is everything okay?” Sam asks quickly, worry spiking sudden and sharp in his gut, making his brow furrow and the corners of his mouth turn down. He reflexively looks Dean over from head to toe, but his brother doesn’t have any injuries that he can see.
Dean nods. “Yeah,” he says, voice rough, then clears his throat. “Yeah, everything’s fine. Dad and I are on separate hunts right now, and I was in the area.” He shifts his weight, looking uncertain. “Just wanted to stop by, say hi to my little brother.”
“Oh,” says Sam, then just stands there and stares at Dean, drinking in the sight of him. As the surge of adrenaline and worry ebbs, it hits him hard, now that Dean is standing right there in front of him, just how much he’s missed his big brother the past couple of years.
Homesickness is one thing, but most people probably don’t sneak one of their sibling’s T-shirts into their bag and bring it to college with them because they’re unable to bear the thought of being so far away from said sibling. Sam is not most people.
Sam knows it’s not normal, the way he feels about his brother, but, well. He can’t help the way he feels, has felt for years now, and – in this case at least – what Dean doesn’t know won’t hurt him. Sam’s been in love with Dean for so long that it feels like an essential part of him now, carved indelible into his heart and sunken deep into his bones.
Dean is starting to look uncomfortable. “I can go, if it’s a bad time – ” he says.
Sam shakes his head quickly. “No, no, sorry, I just. Uh.” He fumbles his keys out of his pocket and nods toward the doors of his dorm building. “C’mon in.”
He walks the two flights of stairs up to his apartment, Dean trailing silently behind him. Sam had lucked out on the dorm assignments; had been assigned to a tiny two-bedroom, one-bath apartment which he shares with one roommate, instead of being assigned one of the even tinier dorm rooms on the first floor.
As Sam opens the door to his apartment, he finds himself jittering a little nervously, fretting about what Dean will think; despite his best efforts, Sam’s never quite been able to quash his hunger for Dean’s attention, his craving for Dean’s smiles and approval.
He watches his brother as Dean looks around at the miniscule kitchen, countertop mostly bare – neither Sam nor his roommate Gary are particularly keen cooks – at the cramped living room, at the narrow couch in front of the TV with Gary’s Playstation 2 tucked into the tiny shelf beneath it.
“Nice place,” Dean comments. He gives Sam a tiny smile.
“Thanks,” says Sam, feeling a little awkward. Shit. He misses the easy closeness he and Dean’d had, before his last knock-down, drag-out screaming match with Dad, before he’d moved halfway across the country and left the love of his life behind. Before. He doesn’t regret it, coming to Stanford, but…
Sam barely manages to stop himself from flinching as he watches as Dean sit down gingerly on the couch. The Dean of two years ago would have sprawled on the couch like he owned it, his presence filling up all the space in the room; the concept of himself and Sam having separate bubbles of personal space wouldn’t even have occurred to that Dean.
This new Dean, careful and a little hesitant, as if he’s no longer sure of his place in Sam’s life – it makes something cold and hollow gnaw at Sam’s chest, makes him feel like his lungs are suddenly two sizes too small. It hurts, this distance between them, even though Sam was the one who put it there.
“What’s your plan for today?” he asks Dean.
“Drive a few more hours, grab some dinner, find somewhere to sleep.” Dean shrugs. “Usual stuff.”
“Do you,” Sam says hesitantly, “wanna stay here tonight?”
Dean shakes his head quickly. “Nah, Sammy, don’t wanna trouble you,” he says, but the expression on his face is just a tiny bit hopeful, so Sam decides to push his luck.
“Stay,” he says, taking a step forward and sitting down on the opposite end of the couch, facing Dean. “It’s no trouble.”
Dean looks at him searchingly for a long moment. “Yeah, okay,” he says finally, and Sam relaxes.
“Gary – that’s my roommate – is staying with his girlfriend for a few days, so it’ll just be the two of us,” he says. “You can have the couch. I’ve got a spare blanket and pillows in my closet, I’ll go get them – ” He jumps to his feet and is halfway to his room before realizing that if Dean’s staying with him, his brother probably needs to go get his duffle, since he showed up on Sam’s doorstep empty-handed.
“Your bag’s in the car?” he asks, turning around to face his brother. Dean’s gotten up from the couch and is standing in the middle of the living room watching him, lips quirked.
“What?” Sam asks self-consciously. “Something on my face?”
Dean shakes his head, then grins at Sam, green eyes bright. “’S nothing. I’ll go get my bag.”
After Dean gets back with his duffle and a six-pack of beers, which he leaves in the fridge, Sam brings Dean to his dining hall for dinner. Dean orders himself a burger and scoffs at Sam’s Cobb salad, and even when they’re facing each other across a scratched Formica tabletop in a college dining hall rather than inside the booth of a diner in some nameless little town, it’s all so damned familiar that suddenly, Sam can barely swallow his mouthful of salad around the prickling behind his eyes and the lump in his throat.
Something of what he’s feeling must show on his face, because Dean’s eyeing him oddly.
“What’s the matter?” Dean asks.
“Nothing,” Sam says, a little too quickly, then adds, because he can’t quite face the concern in those vivid green eyes right now, “uh. Salad tastes a bit weird today.”
Dean casts the salad a disgusted look. “That’s ‘cause salad’s not a food, Sam.”
“I’m watching my – ”
“ – cholesterol, I know.” Dean rolls his eyes dramatically, and Sam can’t help but laugh.
“If you’re not careful,” he says, “your face’ll get stuck that way.”
Dean snickers at him and polishes off the last of his burger, and Sam’s still smiling when he goes to return their trays.
After dinner, they return to Sam’s apartment and spend the next few hours sprawled on the worn couch watching shitty movies on TV and making their way through the beers that Dean brought. Sam tells Dean about the classes he’s been taking and Dean tells Sam about his last hunt and the next thing Sam knows, the beers are gone and both he and Dean are yawning hugely, blinking sleepily at the TV as the credits roll.
Sam gets Dean settled on the couch with his spare pillows and blanket and draws the curtains. He lets his eyes linger on his brother as he goes to turn the lights off.
“G’night, Dean.” He flips the switch, throwing the living room into darkness save for the thin strip of moonlight peeking from between the gap in the curtains and painting a bright diagonal across the living room rug and over Dean’s blanket-covered legs. Dean’s face is barely visible in the faint light, sleepy and relaxed.
“’night, Sam,” Dean mumbles through another huge yawn.
Sam goes into his room, shuts the door and flicks the light switch off, leaving only his bedside light on, then goes over to his narrow twin bed, sitting heavily down on it with a sigh. He smooths a restless hand over his pillow then lets his hand hover at the corner, hesitating; finally, casting a quick, guilty glance at the still-closed door, he slips his hand under his pillow, pulling out a worn black T-shirt from beneath it, lovingly folded.
It’s one of Dean’s old T-shirts, a black one with a white AC/DC logo emblazoned across the front. Sam stares down at it, tracing gentle fingers over the faded lettering. He’d snuck it out of Dean’s duffle the night before he’d left for Stanford, hastily wrapped it in a clean plastic bag and stuck it into his own duffle hidden under a messy pile of his own clothes.
The first few months at Stanford, he’d been unable to fall asleep unless he was curled around the T-shirt, surrounded by Dean’s familiar scent; he’d shut his eyes and pretend that Dean was right there, asleep on the other side of the room, long lashes dark against his cheeks and plush pink lips parted slightly, his soft even breaths lulling Sam into a light doze. Even now, Sam’s never quite been able to sleep well without sliding one hand under his pillow and tangling his fingers in the soft, well-worn fabric of the T-shirt.
And now – after months of trying so hard not to think about Dean, countless times picking up his phone to call Dean only to put the phone down without actually hitting the call button, seeing him again so suddenly has made Sam feel vulnerable, flayed wide open. He turns his bedside light off and flops back onto his bed in the darkened room, and as he shuts his eyes he turns his head to one side, burying his face in the T-shirt. It doesn’t smell of Dean any more, of course, but. It’s still Dean’s. Much like Sam himself is.
By the time he wakes up the next morning, Dean’s already left, the pillow and blanket folded neatly on the couch the only reminder of his presence in Sam’s apartment the night before.
Nearly a month passes before Sam sees Dean again.
It’s a muggy summer evening, the sweltering heat of the day just beginning to fade as the sun sinks lower in a cloudless blue sky. Sam’s stretched out on his stomach on top of the covers on his bed, right by the window where it’s a little cooler. Yawning, he idly taps the cap of his pen against his lower lip. He’s halfheartedly trying to work on his Ethics paper but is really mostly kind of dozing off when the doorbell rings.
“Ugh,” Sam mumbles to himself. He’s too damned tired to get up, but his roommate probably forgot his keys again and is going to keep ringing the doorbell until Sam gets his ass out of bed and opens the door for him.
He drags himself out of bed just as the doorbell goes again, but when he finally makes it to the front door and opens it, it’s not his roommate on the doorstep.
“Hey,” says Dean. He’s got a fading bruise over one cheekbone and his left arm has a hastily-tied bandage on it.
Sam blinks. “Hey,” he says. He pushes the door open wider. “C’mon in.”
He gets Dean settled on the couch with a cold beer out of the six-pack he’d picked up a couple of days ago, then while Dean’s distracted by the beer, Sam grabs a first-aid kit from his room, sits down on the couch next to his brother and starts unwinding the bandage from Dean’s arm, pointedly ignoring the indignant noises his brother makes.
He gently cleans the cut on his brother’s arm, letting Dean’s grumbling wash over him – “geez, Sammy, I’m fine,” (he is, thankfully: the cut’s long but shallow, nothing too serious) and “wouldn’t have come if I’d known you were gonna fuss,” (likely untrue: the day Sam doesn’t worry about his big brother is the day they bury him six feet under and Dean had damn well better know it).
They’ve done this for each other a million times, cleaning and bandaging cuts and scrapes and bruises, some more serious than others. This cut is barely a scratch and Sam relaxes into the familiar motions, binding Dean’s arm with gentle fingers. When he’s done, he looks up to find Dean watching him intently, eyes soft with a kind of desperate fondness which makes Sam’s throat go dry and his heart thump a little faster against his ribcage, and he can’t make himself look away.
Dean’s the one who looks away first, clearing his throat awkwardly. When he meets Sam’s gaze again, his expression is carefully blank.
“Well? Are you done?” Dean demands, raising an imperious eyebrow.
Sam licks his lips. “Y-yeah,” he says. “All done.” He ducks his head, clearing away the bloodied bandages as Dean clears his throat again and takes a long pull of his beer.
After dinner, Sam coaxes Dean into agreeing to spend the night at his place again, then tentatively suggests to Dean that they go for a drive. He spares a brief thought for the Ethics paper he was working on, which is still mostly unwritten and due tomorrow morning, but there really isn’t any contest: he hasn’t seen his big brother in a month, and if Dean’s going to disappear early tomorrow morning like he did the last time he stayed with Sam, then Sam’s going to make the most of whatever time he does have with Dean.
He slides into the passenger seat of the Impala and it’s so easy and familiar that it’s almost like he never left, warm familiar scent of leather and the gentle purring of the engine and Dean beside him, one arm slung over the back of the seat.
They drive for just over an hour to one of the state parks where Sam’s hiked a few times since coming to Stanford. It’s an easy drive, the roads quiet at this time of night. When they reach the park, Dean cuts the engine and they both get out of the car.
The sky is dark and clear, not a single cloud to be seen, and they settle side-by-side on the hood of the Impala, lying back to look up at the stars. Sam glances over at Dean, one arm tucked behind his head, green eyes bright as he raises his other arm to point out some constellation or other, and is overcome by a wave of affection for his brother so overwhelming that he pretty much misses whatever Dean just said.
Dean doesn’t seem to mind, though, simply rolls his eyes at Sam and repeats himself when Sam makes a questioning noise. The night breeze is cool on Sam’s skin and the sky a vast inky canvas painted with an infinity of twinkling stars, Dean close enough that Sam can feel the warmth pouring off him, and Sam can’t remember the last time he felt this content.
They must be there for a couple of hours at least, gazing up at the stars and talking quietly, but it feels like no time has passed at all when they get back into the Impala to make the drive back to Stanford. Dean parks around the corner from Sam’s apartment building, kills the engine, then hesitates, uncertainty plain in the tilt of his head, the tense line of his spine.
Sam gets out of the car, digs his keys out of his pocket and waits, makes it clear that he’s not going anywhere; after a moment, Dean gets out of the car and grabs his duffle from the back seat. Sam smiles, something soft and warm curling in his chest, and leads the way to his apartment. His roommate’s just heading into his own room when they get back; he shoots Dean a curious glance but doesn’t say anything, just nods at Sam and closes the door to his room.
After Dean’s settled on the couch with pillows and a blanket, Sam goes into his room, shuts the door, looks at his barely-written Ethics paper spread out on his bed and sighs. He ends up having to pull an all-nighter to finish the paper in time to meet the submission deadline, Dean’s gone by the time he stumbles exhaustedly out of his room at 7.30 in the morning and he sleeps through his 8am lecture, but Sam’s still in a better mood that day than he’s been in what feels like forever.