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Shake Off the Ashes of Yesterday

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Sam’s hand is just closing around the diploma when he looks out over the crowd—he’s looking for Jess, she said she’d be here, but he didn’t see her before the ceremony started. It isn’t Jess he sees, though.

His eyes land on broad shoulders beneath a dark leather jacket. Short hair on the man, and even from here Sam can tell his brother’s eyes are just as green as ever. It’s Dean, leaning against a tree with his hands stuck in his pockets. Dean’s ghost, anyway, since his brother has been dead for almost four years.

Sam’s body runs hot and then cold. His grin falters.

Then a hand closes over his and gives it a sturdy pump. “It’s truly been a pleasure working with you, Mr. Winchester,” the dean says.

Sam looks back at the man, distracted, and tries a lopsided smile, despite the fact that he feels like he’s about to faint. Dean. God, what—ghosts don’t do daylight.

There’s a piercingly loud whistle as the dean (Dean, Dean, say it three times he’ll come back) releases his hand and leaves Sam holding his diploma, and a shouted, “Woo! Go Sam!”

Sam looks out again—toward the voice first, and there’s Jess, standing up a couple of rows from the back. Then his eyes flick automatically back to the tree, for a second look, and the memory, or the ghost, or whatever Sam thought he saw there is gone. Dean is gone, and just as lost to Sam as ever.

Sam stumbles a little getting back down off the stage.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Dean died on a Tuesday.

The police called him a monster and a murderer, and Sam had to endure the cold, unfriendly looks when he went to identify his brother’s body. He wasn’t allowed to get too close—as though they thought he would tamper with the evidence or something—but he was close enough to see the scar on his brother’s chin, and the glint of light of the amulet he gave Dean when they were both kids.

The police gave the amulet back to him after, when they were done, and Sam sat in his apartment for hours holding it in his hands and thinking about how unfair it was that Dean had died trying to do good—it was a hunt, Sam’s sure it was—and got labeled a psychopath for his trouble. He sits there remembering how Dean saved him and Jess both one cold, November night, and how there had been a handful of months following where Sam thought things were going to be okay between them again.

Except things went pear shaped same as always, and Sam started catching himself looking—worse, he caught Dean looking back. And then there was a night when Dean came around to take him out for a drink—Dean was in the neighborhood hunting some kind of giant supernatural jellyfish critter—and they both had a little too much, and the bar was maybe a little too crowded. Dean was pressed up along Sam’s side in a hot, sturdy line, and there was sweat dripping down his neck, and all Sam could think about was licking it away.

And then Dean turned his head, laughing at something Sam can’t even remember now, and Sam realized their mouths were close enough that he could taste the beer on his brother’s breath. There were flecks of gold in Dean’s eyes as his expression sobered, and Sam was starting to lean in when Dean moved back suddenly.

“Drank too much,” he said, swaying a little on his feet and not looking at Sam. “C’mon, let’s get you a cab.”

Then there was a fight in the parking lot, which Sam started and Dean ended by getting in the Impala and driving off, even four sheets to the wind as he was. Sam couldn’t remember what they were fighting about as he sat in his apartment with the amulet in his hands, but it hadn’t been anything real. It couldn’t have been.

Because Sam wasn’t man enough to tell Dean that what was really pissing him off was the way Dean kept running the other way whenever they got close to actually doing something, and Dean wasn’t brave enough to call him on it.

They didn’t talk about the heat between them. Unspoken rule since Sam was sixteen and Dean was twenty and they jerked off to the same, low class porn movie in their Arkansas motel room. And they both knew that it wasn’t the girl moaning and gyrating on the screen that was doing it for them.

And now Dean was dead, and they weren’t ever having another conversation, let alone that one, and when Jess finally came home that night she found Sam drunk and crying into a bottle of scotch, his brother’s amulet hanging around his neck.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

“I’m so proud of you!” Jess squeals now, throwing her arms around his neck and kissing his cheek.

Sam catches her, and tries to give her a smile, but he’s still scanning the crowd. Dean’s amulet feels like it’s burning into his skin where it still hangs around his neck beneath his shirt.

Jess catches scent of his mood almost immediately and her bright smile dims. “Sam? What it is, honey? Are you okay?”

“I thought I saw Dean,” he explains tersely, searching over her head for a flash of leather. “When I was on the stage.”

Jess’s body goes uncomfortably stiff. “Sweetie,” she says reluctantly, and Sam shakes his head, making himself focus.

“No, I know. I know he isn’t here. I just.” He rubs his eyes with one hand. “Fuck, I miss him.”

A little under four years, it’s been. Longer than that since Sam has heard from his father, who’s likely dead as well. He got out before it happened to him, he’s the lucky one, but he doesn’t feel lucky. He feels left behind.

“He’d be proud of you, Sam,” Jess tells him, reaching up to brush his cheek with her fingertips.

Sam nods, blinking away the burning sensation behind his eyes. “Yeah,” he whispers. “I think he would.”

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Sam and Jess tried dating for a while after the whole near-death experience, but things were never the same. At first because Jess was angry at being lied to and frightened by the revelation that there were things out in the night. Then because Sam remembered he was in love with his brother and no amount of wishing otherwise was ever going to change that.

And then Dean was dead. Dean was dead and Sam ... didn’t really feel up to trying anymore. He just didn’t have enough left to give in that department to justify fucking up someone else’s heart.

But Jess is still a good friend—his best—and there have been a couple of nights when he’s allowed himself to accept the physical comfort she offered. She makes the offer again after the ceremony, but Sam’s pretty sure his inability to perform would only embarrass both of them so he begs off.

He means to go back to his apartment—he really should, he feels like crap—but instead he winds up back at the bar where he last saw his brother alive four years ago.

Despite the slew of graduations that took place today, it isn’t nearly as packed as it was that night, and Sam finds a seat easily. He orders two Wild Turkeys on the rocks, downs one and slides the other to his side, in front of the empty barstool no one’s using. He sits there for a long moment, both hands on the sticky wood of the bar, and stares at the glass. He never liked bourbon, he remembers now: too sweet for his tastes. It was always more Dean’s drink than his.

After a few minutes he stirs himself and orders another.

The bartender clearly thinks he’s a little unbalanced, ignoring the perfect good drink beside him, but Sam doesn’t give a fuck. He just graduated from law school—not top of his class, but well within the top three percent—and his dead brother watched him do it. He’s entitled to a little leeway. Besides, down in Mexico they make whole meals for the dead. Sam’s allowed to offer Dean a single glass.

Sam’s midway through his third bourbon when a hand moves into view and wraps around his brother’s drink.

“Hey,” he starts angrily, turning around with thoughts of sending a fist through the presumptive asshole’s jaw. And then stops as his stomach drops into the floor. The air follows it, sucked out of the room with a suddenness that leaves Sam winded. He’s lucky his drink is sitting on the counter because if he’d been holding it when his hands went weak and limp it’d be all over his lap right now.

Dean doesn’t look at him as he sits down while bringing the glass to his lips. His ring—Dean’s wide, silver ring that was missing from the effects the police sent to him, lost in the shuffle of claims checks and paperwork—clinks against the glass. His throat works as he tilts his head back and swallows.

When the glass is empty, he licks his lips and thunks the glass back down on the bar before flagging down the bartender and requesting a margarita.

If Sam weren’t too shocked over having a dead man sitting next to him, he’d be blinking in surprise at that one.
But then the bartender sets the new drink down in front of Dean, salt crusted along the rim, and Sam watches as Dean lifts it to his mouth and licks the salt free. Swallows. Doesn’t flicker out of existence.

Not a ghost, then.

Sam’s voice comes unstuck and he rasps, “Dean.”

“Hey, Sammy,” Dean says, softly, and puts the glass back down. “You look good.”

He slants a look sideways at that, offering Sam a better glimpse of his face, and he’s definitely not a ghost. Not with those crow’s feet at the corners of his eyes, and the curved scar slicing cleanly through the stubble on his chin. If Dean ever grows a full beard, that scar will still show through, Sam thinks, and is amazed by the thought—the possibility of Dean growing anything when he was dead less than a minute before—is amazing.

“You’re alive,” Sam says, numbly.

Dean looks back down at the bar as his left hand reaches out and steals Sam’s bourbon. “Yeah, rumors of my death, greatly exaggerated, blah blah,” he says, tossing the rest of the drink back. He makes a satisfied noise when he finishes, the only sign he’s not quite as nonchalant as he’s pretending the slight tremor in his fingers as he lowers the glass back to the counter.

“So, law school, huh? This mean I have to call you ‘counselor’?”

Sam’s hand is moving before he can stop it, flying through the air on a collision path with his brother’s face. Dean sees it coming—he must—but he never even tries to move out of the way, and a moment later Sam’s hand is aching and Dean is on the floor. His stool, which tipped over when he fell, rolls a couple of feet away from the bar before coming to a halt.

Everything else in the bar stops as well, all eyes on Sam and Dean. Dean, who is alive, and has been alive all these years, and has gone on letting Sam think he’s dead. The bastard. The goddamned son of a bitch.

Dean’s bleeding from the corner of his mouth, just a trickle of blood, but looking at it makes Sam want to cry. His insides are squirming uncomfortably, and he doesn’t know what to do with himself. He wishes he’d just gone home.

“Sammy,” Dean says, and it’s just going to be another line, another lie, Sam is sure of it, and so he does the only thing he can and turns his back on his brother.

“Get out,” he says, quiet and cold.

There’s a long moment where he thinks Dean isn’t going to listen, and then the laborious noises of his brother pulling himself up. There’s an odd, wooden clacking noise that goes along with the sound—Dean righting the stool, probably—except it’s someone else who pushes the stool up next to him again, minutes later, and by then Dean is gone.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

This one time in Ohio, things almost came to a head between them.

Dean was drunk that time too, but Sam was stone cold sober when his brother got home well after midnight and climbed into bed with him.

“Sammy,” Dean slurred, one hand moving from Sam’s shoulder down to his hip in a clumsy caress. He moved closer, breath hot and alcohol-thick on the back of Sam’s neck. “Hey, you awake?”

His hand was restless, fingers pushing up beneath Sam’s t-shirt and then down below the band of his pajama pants, and his nose was bumping against Sam’s shoulder.

“Sammy?” Dean repeated, and his hand shifted from Sam’s hip to his stomach, splaying out and rubbing. “I wanna—I wanna talk.”

Except talk wasn’t what Dean wanted, and Sam knew it. And he wanted it. And he was just about to roll over and haul Dean into a kiss when his brother seemed to remember where he was and what he was doing—who he was doing it with—and Dean was out of the bed again before Sam could even open his eyes.

And after that, Dean didn’t touch him for a month.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

By the time Sam leaves the bar, he’s worked his way from fury to panic. He can’t believe he did that—can’t believe he sent Dean away, when only hours ago he would have done anything in his power to get Dean back.

And then Dean showed up, he was right there, and Sam told him to go away again.

Except Sam should have known Dean would never go that easy, not once he made up his mind to do something, and the Impala is idling by the curb out front. Sam’s panic evaporates in a kind of haze as he makes his way over and leans down to the passenger side window. It’s open, and there’s a quiet rumble of rock music leaking out into the night, but more important is Dean, sitting behind the wheel doing his best to look nonchalant.

His lower lip is swollen.

“Idling’s against the law,” Sam points out, because he’s pretty sure Dean passed his allotted five minutes an hour or so ago.

“Guess you’d better get in before someone shows up to arrest me,” Dean replies. His voice is light, but the way he won’t look at Sam betrays his nerves, and suddenly Sam can’t get in the car fast enough.

Of course, once he’s there everything feels strange and surreal.

“Seatbelt,” Dean says, which is also weird, but Sam has no trouble complying as his brother pulls away from the curb. He doesn’t feel any need to ask where they’re going. He doesn’t actually care.

“So you’re alive,” he says instead.

“Guess so,” Dean agrees. “You can hit me again if you want, but I’d appreciate it if you’d wait until I stop the car.”

Sam would like to say he isn’t going to do that—isn’t going to hit Dean—but he isn’t sure he’d be telling the truth, so instead he asks, “What happened?”

“Shapeshifter,” Dean answers.

“And you couldn’t pick up the phone, let me know you were all right?”

One side of Dean’s mouth quirks. “That kinda would have defeated the purpose, wouldn’t it?”

Sam’s gut goes cold and hard. “Stop the car.”

“No.”

“Don’t think I won’t beat the shit out of you just because you’re driving,” Sam growls. “Now stop the fucking car.”

Dean pulls off the side of the road, into the empty parking lot of a chiropractor’s office, and turns off the engine. And sits there, looking straight ahead while Sam stares at his profile. He isn’t sure what he wants to do more, haul Dean into the kiss they’ve been avoiding for the last fifteen years or lay into him again. Or maybe just sit here watching his brother breathe, that’d be good too.

“I’m not sorry,” Dean says eventually. “You needed it. You needed me out of your life so that you could move on and do something with your own.”

For some reason, that makes Sam angrier than any of the rest of it, and he spits, “You don’t have the right to decide what I need.” Then, while Dean sits unresponsive and accepting in the face of that statement, he presses on with, “And it’s bullshit anyway. You let me think you were dead because it was easier than dealing with the fact that you wanted to fuck me.”

Dean shuts his eyes at that, and sighs, some of the tension running out of his body. Sam knows how his brother feels—getting the words out for once felt good. So he opens his mouth again and adds, “You were afraid that if you came back to see me again, you wouldn’t be able to stop yourself.”

“Maybe,” Dean breathes. “Doesn’t change the fact that it was better this way. Look at you, dude—Stanford law? Some swanky New York job lined up? I mean, yeah, you could’ve done better in the women department, but you weren’t even fucking trying.”

Sam can’t find it in himself to be surprised that Dean’s been keeping tabs on him.

“Were you?” he asks.

Dean’s eyes shift toward him in the dim, dashboard light. “What do you mean?”

“Were you trying with women?” Sam pushes.

“I haven’t been a monk, if that’s what you’re asking.”

It isn’t and Dean knows it. And he’s inadvertently answered while trying to avoid the question. There hasn’t been anyone else for Dean, just like there hasn’t been anyone else for Sam. Won’t ever be.

Sam feels a knot in his chest let go.

“What about Dad?” he asks. “Is he running around somewhere too, or ...”

But Dean shakes his head.

Sam only wishes the confirmation hurt more.

“When?”

“About a year ago, month or so after we took out the demon.” He says it like it should mean something to Sam, but it doesn’t. Dean’s talking about a different life: one he shut Sam out of without asking his opinion. Sam supposes he should be angry about that—and he is, he’s definitely angry—but more and more he’s wondering how much it matters. And the answer to that question depends on Dean’s intentions.

“So why are you here?” he asks, the million dollar question.

Dean rolls his shoulders. “I don’t know.”

Dissatisfying as that response is, Sam can tell that his brother isn’t anywhere near willing to answer, so he drops it for now and says, “You have a place yet?”

“Thought I’d bunk down at the Motel 6, watch a little pay per view,” Dean replies. It’s half joke, half unspoken question, and Sam doesn’t have it in him to leave his brother hanging for long. Not when they both know where this is going.

“You can stay at my place,” he offers.

He waits for Dean’s weak refusal, ready to roll right over it, but his brother just nods, and restarts the engine, and pulls back out into the night.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Sam can pinpoint the exact moment he realized his feelings for Dean were no longer strictly brotherly. He was fourteen, it was Dad’s birthday, and he and Dean were baking a cake so they could celebrate when Dad got home. Dean’s idea, that, and Sam wasn’t thrilled about making an effort when Dad missed both of theirs more often than not, but Dean overruled him and he was still young enough to think Dean’s word was law.

Besides, having Dean to himself for three, glorious hours while they mixed and baked and decorated the cake, instead of watching him leave to hang out with his stoner groupies or yet another girl, was well worth the price of having to do something nice for Dad.

And it was everything Sam thought it would be: Dean’s large hands helping steady the bowl as Sam poured the batter into the pan, Dean splashing him playfully with warm, soapy water as the cake cooked in the oven, Dean sprawling next to him on the couch while they waited for the buzzer to go off. And then they were spreading the frosting over the cake, Dean taking the left side and Sam the right, and Sam glanced up and found Dean smiling.

His brother looked relaxed, and contented, and his hair was soft and tousled because he knew he wasn’t going out today and hadn’t bothered with the mousse he normally slathered on. His eyelashes were really long, Sam noticed for the first time—almost girly—and he had freckles everywhere. Gorgeous.

It was an odd understanding to come to—that Dean was beautiful—and Sam didn’t know how to handle it. After a moment of indecision, he hid his nerves beneath a bout of mischievousness and raised his spatula to smear frosting on his brother’s nose.

Dean looked up, startled, and he was even more beautiful then, and Sam couldn’t do anything but laugh because his insides were fluttering around in odd, frightening ways. Dean narrowed his eyes, still smiling, and dipped his own spatula back into the can of frosting.

“Oh, it’s on now, punk,” he said, and then there was a wild chase around the kitchen, stray smears of frosting everywhere, until Sam finally made a dash for the living room and Dean caught him by the back of the shirt and spun him into the couch. Dean followed immediately, straddling Sam’s body and holding him down while he smeared frosting over Sam’s nose and forehead and one cheek.

“Eww, Dean!” Sam protested, squirming, and it felt good so he did it again, more meaningfully. Dean didn’t seem to notice, bearing down harder and catching hold of Sam’s wrists and pining them above his head.

“Gotcha,” he crowed, only it came out as more of a purr—his voice approaching the deeper husk it would be in a couple of years.

Then, still smirking, he leaned forward and licked some of the frosting off of Sam’s cheek.

Sam’s breath caught at that, and he stopped struggling and lay there feeling hot and shivery and faint. Dean froze as well, mouth centimeters from Sam’s skin and breath coming hard. And Sam thought about it, then: thought about what would happen if he moved his hips just right, or maybe turned his head and put his own mouth on his brother’s jaw.

But then Dean rolled off of him, in a single, graceful motion, and wiped the frosting off his nose with the back of his hand. He was twitchy and flushed, wouldn’t meet Sam’s eyes.

“It’s okay,” Sam said, not sure what was wrong but trying to take that look off his brother’s face. “We were just having fun, right?”

But Dean gave a jerk of his head and turned away. “Go get cleaned up. We gotta get this done before Dad gets home.”

Dad didn’t come home that night, though, or the next, or the next, and finally, when he called and let them know he’d be another two weeks, Dean took the cake out back and tossed it in the trash.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

When they pull to a stop in front of Sam’s place, Dean turns off the engine but doesn’t get out.

“You coming in?” Sam asks, and when Dean is silent, he repeats, more commandingly, “You’re coming in.”

“Yeah,” Dean says finally, glancing over. “Just gimme a minute.”

Sam debates waiting in the car with his brother while Dean gets over the last of his jitters, but then he remembers that he left the place a pigsty. It isn’t like Dean will care, but Sam suddenly wants Dean to like the place. He wants him to think it’s a nice apartment, and to tease Sam for being a neat freak in that way he has that says he doesn’t mind it at all.

“Don’t take all night,” he says, swinging his legs out onto the ground and standing up.

He’s in the bedroom when the door opens again and he hears Dean come in. He’s just changed the sheets on the bed, trying hard not to think of why he’s bothering, and as he stuffs the old ones into the hamper he realizes that he never told Dean where to drive. Dean never asked. Never needed to ask for an apartment number, either.

And when Sam walks back out into the main room and finds Dean sitting on the couch with his legs on the coffee table and a beer in his lap, he says, “So how many times have you been here?”

Dean doesn’t take his eyes off the TV as he answers, “Just outside or in the house?” He takes a swig of the beer and then taps the butt of the bottle against his thigh.

Sam drops down next to him, close enough that their bodies are brushing, and takes the bottle away. “You watch me sleep?” he asks.

Dean licks his lips, eyeing the bottle Sam’s holding hostage. “Aw, c’mon, man,” he complains.

“You watch me fuck?”

Dean doesn’t have an answer for that one, which might mean yes but might just mean he knows where this is going and isn’t in any hurry to get there.

“Why’d you come back?” Sam asks again, more intently this time.

Dean shifts beside him, like he wants to get up, but doesn’t move.

“Answer the question, Dean. I think you owe me at least that much.”

“I wanted to see you graduate,” Dean mutters.

“You did that. Why’d you come to the bar.”

“I don’t know.”

“Bullshit.”

Dean is silent, his whole body tight with tension. Sam leans forward to put the bottle down on the table and Dean’s eyes track him, unreadable. Sam shifts on the couch as he sits back, angling his body toward his brother, and Dean doesn’t pull away.

Dean stays rabbit still as Sam leans in, closer than he’s dared before. Close enough to share his brother’s breath. Dean’s eyes stutter closed then. He swallows and doesn’t move.

Sam closes the distance.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

He used to watch Dean with girls. It was an accident the first time, and a coincidence the second, but pretty soon Sam had to admit he was addicted to the way Dean cupped their faces with both hands and kissed them good and deep. Dean would do things with his mouth that left the girls moaning and then, slowly and carefully, he’d shift one hand from their cheek to her breast—sometimes lower—and then he’d really give them something to moan about.

Dean knew he was there—Sam knows because one of Dean’s girls caught sight of him once, and startled.

Dean was soothing her immediately, kissing his way down her throat while pushing one of those talented hands up beneath her knee-high skirt. “S’okay,” Sam heard his brother say. “’S just my kid brother.”

“I don’t think—” the girl started, still uncomfortable and starting to push Dean away.

But then Dean did something, and she gave a tiny little gasp, and her thighs parted as her head tipped back.

“C’mon, Cindy. Let’s give him a show. Biggest thrill of his life.”

“Yeah,” the girl panted, nodding as Dean nuzzled at her breasts through the thin fabric of her blouse. “Please, Dean.”

They always said please. Always begged for it. And Dean always gave them everything they asked for and more. But it was Sam he looked at when the girls were gone, leaning against the front door with his shirt off and the top button of his jeans popped open, so Sam was never jealous.

Not much, anyway.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Dean shudders when Sam finally kisses him: a shaking inhalation of breath that Sam cuts off by pressing their lips more firmly together, making this something Dean can’t ignore or pretend away. Slowly, hesitantly, Dean’s mouth moves beneath his—Dean kissing back—and Sam brings one hand up to cup his brother’s face.

Groaning reluctantly, Dean tilts his head and deepens the kiss. His tongue slips forward into Sam’s mouth briefly, teasing, and then retreats again. Sam takes that for the invitation it is, pressing his own tongue forward and in and making the kiss wet and hungry.

Dean makes another noise—just as reluctant but lower, hungrier—and this time he shifts his whole torso to the side so that Sam can shift in closer. Dean’s hand brushes against his waist, tentative, but Sam’s been waiting too long for any more of this awkward fumbling and he kisses Dean harder while pressing his other hand into his brother’s crotch.

Dean bucks up into the touch—he’s hard in his jeans, just like Sam knew he would be—but then twists his head away and chokes out, “Stop.”

Fuck Dean for being such a goddamned cocktease anyway.

“Make me,” Sam growls, mouthing his way down the line of Dean’s neck.

He doesn’t actually expect Dean to do it, so the shove sends him tumbling backward and off the couch. He rights himself almost immediately, coming up to his knees and glaring.

“What the fuck?” he demands, but Dean is busy getting up and doesn’t pay any attention to him.

It’s more of a struggle than it used to be for him, the right leg moving fine but the left getting lifted down with his hands. Then leaning down with one hand on the arm of the couch to get at the cane lying on hidden on the floor.

“What the fuck?” Sam repeats, but he isn’t thinking about Dean being a blueballing bastard anymore. “What happened?”

“What do you care?” Dean mutters, limping his way toward the door.

It’s just the moment getting to him—Dean lashing out at Sam over this because he can’t say what’s really bothering him—but Sam isn’t feeling all that centered himself right now and as he gets to his own feet he incredulously repeats, “What do I care? You don’t get to ask that, Dean. You don’t get to pretend I spent the last four years partying over here.”

Dean has a hand on the doorknob now, but Sam’s there in an instant, slamming the door shut again with one hand before Dean can get it more than a few inches open and leaning his weight on it to keep it that way. He may not have been hunting, but he’s been working out and Dean is at a disadvantage because of his leg. He tugs at the door anyway, of course, because he’s a stubborn son of a bitch.

“I thought you were dead!” Sam yells, and has the satisfaction of seeing his brother flinch. “I had to identify your fucking body!” He lifts his hand long enough to slam it back down again violently. “Look at me!”

Dean flinches, eyes coming up, and he looks shamed and sad and guilty and angry all at once. Sam catches his brother’s gaze with his own, and holds it, and says, “You don’t get to walk out on me again.”

“I can’t do this, Sam,” Dean rasps.

“Why’d you come to the bar, then?” Sam pushes, furious at his brother’s continued denial.

“I. Don’t. Know.”

Still holding the door shut, Sam grabs his brother’s shirt with his other hand and hauls him in for a kiss. It’s more violent than their first, almost angry, and Dean’s muffled grunt isn’t anything but protest. He shoves at Sam’s chest, but it’s easy to turn and trap Dean against the door, easy to hold him there and kiss him until he quiets and starts kissing back again. It’s good with Dean kissing back, rekindles the fire in Sam’s belly, and if all he wanted was a quickie he knows he could have it now. He could lift Dean and bring him into the bedroom and have what they both want.

But that scenario ends in Dean sneaking out in the middle of the night, bum leg or not, and never coming back.

So instead Sam breaks the kiss, still trapping Dean against the door with his body, and says, “I want you. I want to fuck you, Dean, and you want to fuck me.”

Dean swears, low and hostile, and slams a fist awkwardly into Sam’s chest, trying to push him off.

“Admit it,” Sam presses. “Admit you want this.”

“No,” Dean grunts, even though he’s still flushed and his cock is hard.

“Why not?”

“Because I’m not fucking things up for you like that!” Dean yells, and Sam is startled enough to allow himself to be pushed back a step. Luckily, Dean has lost all thought of trying to run.

“Look around, Sam!” he continues. “You have a home. You just graduated from fucking Stanford Law. You’ve got friends, a life. You don’t fucking need me coming in and screwing it up!”

“Is that what you think you’d do?” Sam whispers.

Dean laughs, rubs a hand over his face, and doesn’t respond.

“Part of me died when I thought you were dead,” Sam says. It sounds melodramatic, maybe, but it’s the truth. And he doesn’t think anything short of melodrama is going to get through to Dean.

Sure enough, his brother’s eyes have come back up and he looks like he’s listening.

“I’m in love with you,” Sam continues. “I’ve been in love with you for years, or didn’t you notice?”

“That doesn’t—”

“Matter?” Sam suggests, ready to argue the point when his brother agrees.

Except Dean gives him a scornful, weary look and says, “Of course it fucking matters. It just doesn’t change anything.”

Unsmiling, Sam steps closer again. “Why did you go to the bar?”

“Why the fuck do you have to keep on harping on it?”

“Gee, I don’t know, Dean. Maybe because I want to hear the answer.”

Dean’s mouth tightens at that, and his eyes dart away. But Sam’s done dancing around this, and he stands there quietly and waits his brother out. Finally, after a few minutes of strained silence, Dean says, “I wanted to see you.”

“Just see me?”

Dean purses his lips and doesn’t respond.

“What did you think was going to happen when we came back here, Dean?” Sam pushes. “Where did you think you were going to sleep?”

The flush that creeps up across Dean’s face answers that one for him, and Sam feels justified in resting a hand on his brother’s hip and leaning in to nip at his throat. Dean swallows, tilting his head back, but doesn’t otherwise move. It isn’t submission—Dean Winchester isn’t the submitting type—but it’s surrender and that’s close enough.

Sam bites and mouths his way back up to his brother’s lips, which are pliant and eager against his, and spends a couple of lazy minutes just kissing Dean and trying his brother’s old trick—keep their mind occupied with your mouth and creep with your hand.

He knows he’s succeeded when he eases the zipper on his brother’s jeans down and instead of pulling away or freaking out again, Dean lets out a soft moan. When his hand brushes against Dean’s cock through the worn fabric of his underwear, Dean is hot and hard. The fabric is damp to the touch—precome—and as Sam strokes gently his brother’s cock twitches.

When Sam reluctantly releases Dean’s lips, his brother mutters, “Oh, fuck,” and drops his head back against the door.

Sam nuzzles at his jaw—rough brush of stubble—and then gets his mouth up by his brother’s ear. “Come to bed,” he whispers, taking a step back and drawing Dean with him.

Dean takes a single step and then stumbles—almost falls before Sam catches him. Sam remembers his brother’s bad leg then, and spots the cane lying on the floor where Dean dropped it in their tussle. Dean’s flushing—embarrassment this time, not arousal—and Sam wraps his arms more firmly around his brother’s body to support him.

“Does it hurt?” he asks.

Dean hesitates, which is enough of an answer for Sam, and he sweeps Dean up onto his shoulder without another second’s delay.

“Woah!” Dean blurts immediately. “Sam. Dude! Not cool!”

But Sam’s tired of Dean’s hang ups, and he wants to see his brother in his bed, and so he ignores the protests and the weak pounds against his back and carries his brother into the other room. If he’s a little careless with Dean as he tosses him onto the mattress, then it’s only because having the wind momentarily knocked out of him shuts Dean up long enough for Sam to get rid of his shoes and pull his shirt over his head.

Dean’s recovered enough by then to push himself up on his elbows so that he can watch as Sam opens his pants, only his eyes are caught a little higher than Sam expected. It makes his fingers slow, uncertain, and then he realizes what Dean’s looking at. He’ll give the amulet back, maybe, once he’s certain Dean’s not going to try to run and leave him with nothing.

For now, he bends over so he can get rid of his pants and then, naked, moves toward Dean. Dean seems to realize where he is and what’s happening then, with a belated start, and he licks his lips as Sam crawls onto the bed and starts pulling at his shirt.

“I, uh,” he says. “I’m a little worse for wear. Fair warning.”

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Sam hates Dean’s scars. He always has.

Dean used to be proud of them. Like they were a badge of honor, or something, instead of a pointed reminder that Dean screwed up (or Dad did, or Sam) and got hurt. Maybe almost died. But of course, he never thought about that because he was big, brave Dean Winchester, and it didn’t matter if he went out first as long as Sam was safe.

Sam confronted him about it finally, when he caught Dean preening in the bathroom mirror one too many times.

“They’re ugly,” Sam said, holding loosely onto the doorframe.

Dean started, looking over his shoulder, and then relaxed when he saw Sam. “Dude, don’t you knock?”

“Door was open,” Sam said, which it was, and then he ignored the unspoken order to leave by wandering in and sitting on the toilet. He could see Dean’s newest scar from there: three lines that ran down his side and onto his hip. The lines were still angry and red, and looked painful, but a few inches to the left and Dean wouldn’t have been standing there because the yeti would have disemboweled him.

Dean caught him looking and grinned. “Pretty cool, huh?” he asked. “I’m thinking of saying they’re from a grizzly. You think the chicks’ll buy it?”

“They’re ugly,” Sam repeated, drawing his knees up to his chest. He was only ten, but that was already old enough to know the best way to shoot Dean down.

Dean did deflate a little, looking down at himself, and then, with a half-smile, tried, “You don’t think they’re cool? I mean, come on, dude: battle scars. Chicks dig that kind of thing.”

“Maybe,” Sam allowed, although he wasn’t sure why Dean cared about that. “But I don’t. I think they’re ugly and stupid.”

It hurt a little in his chest, the way Dean’s face fell, but the consuming fear that Dean wouldn’t care enough about getting scarred up and would jump in front of something he couldn’t come back from eased and that was more important. Keeping Dean alive and with them was more important than making him feel good. Besides, Sam could make it up to him later.

“I guess,” Dean muttered, turning away from the mirror and shrugging back into his t-shirt.

Sam slid off the toilet seat and trotted after him. “You want to play checkers? There’s an old board in the closet.”

Dean lifted his shoulders in a half-hearted shrug. “I dunno.”

“Please? And then after we can watch Batman.”

That got him a little more interest, and a smile, and the unhappy feeling in Sam’s chest went away as Dean ruffled his hair.

“Holy cheese whiz, Batman!” Dean proclaimed, and Sam giggled and bumped against his side. His big brother didn’t need scars to be awesome. He was already awesome cause he was Dean.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Dean isn’t kidding about being worse for wear. He’s got a whole collection of new scars: bite marks and claw wounds and there’s a shiny, smooth patch of skin running up Dean’s left side. Like someone put a flame torch to him.

Dean lies there, biting his lower lip and trying not to look nervous, while Sam sits back on his heels and takes in the damage. He wants to ask what happened, but there are a hundred stories here, and now isn’t the time for them. Although he’ll be sure to make time soon.

“If you, uh. If you don’t want to, I understand—”

Sam leans over and licks along the burn scar and Dean shuts up. When Sam reaches the top, he glances up his brother’s body and meets Dean’s cautious gaze.

“Can you feel that?” he asks.

Dean shifts on the bed. “A little. Not—not a lot. Nerves are pretty fucked.”

Sam moves over to another wound—this one older, three long lines Dean got when they went up against a yeti—and licks along those as well. Dean’s stomach twitches at that, and his breathing goes shallow and erratic, but Sam still looks up again and asks, “How about that?”

“Y-yeah,” Dean breathes.

“Good,” Sam answers, and then starts pushing his brother’s pants down. Dean’s hand is around his wrist instantly, stronger than Sam was expecting. He pauses, meeting his brother’s eyes and waiting for an explanation.

“I fucked up my leg,” Dean tells him.

“Yeah, I got that from the whole cane thing. So?”

“I had a couple surgeries. It’s still healing, so, uh. It’s not pretty.”

As though Sam cares what he looks like. But Sam does pause, if only to check, “Do we need to be careful?”

Dean looks surprised by the question, and it takes him a moment to consider before he says, “Just don’t expect me to twist into a pretzel or put any weight on it and we’re good.”

“Okay then,” Sam replies, and then twists his wrist out of his brother’s hand and keeps going.

It does look bad. Dean’s leg looks like a side of meat that some first year med student was practicing sutures on, actually, and Sam’s chest goes tight at the thought of Dean going through that alone. Before his brother can misinterpret the look on his face, he bends down and places a gentle kiss on one of the angry scars running along the inside of Dean’s thigh.

Dean clears his throat. “You didn’t get some kind of weird scar fetish when I was gone, did you?”

Sam has to laugh. “No,” he answers, crawling back up so that he can get at his brother’s mouth. “It’s just you.”

He kisses Dean for a while, content to rut lazily against his brother’s uninjured thigh while Dean bucks his own cock up against Sam’s hip, and revels in the feel of Dean’s hands in his hair. He kisses Dean long enough for his brother to lose some of his hesitancy, for them to be rocking together with urgency, and then slips a hand between them to feel back behind his brother’s balls.

Dean jumps when Sam’s finger breeches him, but doesn’t complain. He just starting writhing faster, left leg a dead weight on the mattress but right helping him out, and soon Sam is pushing his finger in and out while Dean clings to him and pants. It’s a pretty picture and Sam spills first, just from rubbing against his brother’s body like a horny teenager.

Dean comes a couple of minutes later, with Sam’s tongue in his mouth and two fingers in his ass. He comes with a gasp and a tense jerk of his body and Sam’s sure it’s the hottest thing he’s ever seen.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

After, lying there in bed with his brother in his arms, Sam makes himself ask the question he’s been dreading: “Are you going back to hunting?”

It’s a valid question. Dean’s leg might be fucked up, yeah, but no one has ever accused Dean of common sense before—not as far as his own limits go, anyway. And Dean hasn’t said: the limp and the weakness and the pain might be temporary.

But Dean shakes his head after a few, tense moments and Sam does his best to keep his relieved sigh inaudible.

“So,” he says instead. “What are your plans?”

“Bobby said I could shack up at his place for a while,” Dean answers. “Maybe work at the salvage yard, help with research.”

But he doesn’t sound like he’s all that thrilled with the idea, and the words are out of Sam’s mouth before he can even consider working Dean up to it.

“Come to New York.”

Dean has gone completely still and quiet in his arms.

“Dean?”

“I heard you.”

It isn’t rejection, but it isn’t acceptance either, and Sam’s mouth has gone dry. Now that he’s been given paradise, Dean can’t just rip it away from him again. He can’t.

“It doesn’t—you don’t have to say forever. Just as long as it takes to get back on your feet.”

“Haha.”

“No—look, I’m serious, Dean. I want you to come to New York with me. And you don’t have to stay any longer than you want to, but I. I don’t want to lose you again, okay? I don’t want you to leave.”

Dean’s silent for long enough that Sam thinks his answer is going to be the wrong one—that it’s going to be no—and then he says, “Ask me again.”

About New York? Sam wants to say, but he senses that isn’t what his brother means. He casts his mind back over the dizzying, incredible night and then, with a hopeful catch of breath, remembers the other question he’s been obsessed with.

“Why did you go to the bar?” he asks.

Dean’s arms tighten around him, and he shifts his head so that he can kiss Sam’s chest.

“Cause I wanted to come home.”