The thing about ghouls was that they reek to high hell when they were whatever it was that passed for being alive, but the smell of them after they've been ganked was downright offensive. Especially up close and personal, where the fumes really got concentrated. Dean glared up at Sam's perch on one of the high walls of the parking garage, his ears still ringing from the gunshot, dripping bits of monster brain onto the concrete. Sam wiggled down the wall, his gun tucked into the back of his jeans, long body dangling for a second before he dropped. When he landed on his feet, he turned to Dean with a grin.
"I told you I could make that shot," he said, so smug and sure of himself that Dean felt the echo of his pride.
"You couldn't have done it in the other direction?" Dean asked anyway. It would have been impossible, Dean's body in the way of Sam's sightline, but he still wasn't thrilled about the mess. He was going to make Sam clean the interior of the car first thing in the morning and hope nothing got baked into the seats. He may have gotten the kill shot, but Dean was the one who lured the stupid thing into the right place and nearly gotten his hand bitten off for it.
"I'll shoot through you next time," Sam said solemnly through his grin. He paused, the flicker of his dimples disappearing, and shook his head. "Burn it or leave it?"
"Burn it," Dean said. He already stank like monster guts. Might as well add burning flesh . And just to be fair-
He waited until Sam flicked the lighter onto the corpse before tackling him from behind, arms tight around Sam's waist, both to keep him from going headfirst into the flames and for maximum filth smearing opportunities. Sam flailed, his arms locked in under Dean's, screeching like a little girl. It echoed off the walls, right along with Dean's laughter.
"You're such an asshole," Sam said over his shoulder when he stopped fighting. He wasn't wrong, but he still leaned in when Dean kissed him, weight resting heavy against Dean's chest. It never got old, the feeling of Sam like this, no matter how many times they did it.
"You love it," he said against Sam's mouth. The bitch of it all, he was pretty sure Sam did.
The motel didn't even have a name. Just a glaring neon sign above the door that read Motel, the m and o blinking out of sync with the rest like cheap fairy lights. It wasn't the best place they'd ever stayed in, but nothing was ever going to be worse than the place that had smelled like cat piss in Georgia and given them all bed bugs. They'd itched for weeks. Sam had been six and Dean had made a game out of putting on the calamine lotion, little pink dots all over them both to hide the painful red ones. They'd learned to check after that.
The giant that crawled out of the passenger seat was a long way from that little kid that used to fit neatly into Dean's lap. Nineteen and too damn tall, still skinnier than he ought to be but filling out slowly. Sometimes, when Dean looked at him, all he could see was big eyes and a wobbly lip and an unending sense of wonder at the world that disappeared way too early. Then again, he thought as Sam stretched his arms over his head, his double layers of shirts not quite long enough to fit right, when he looked at Sam now, he mostly saw hot. Even still partially covered in monster grime. He wolf-whistled and Sam looked over his shoulder to laugh, arms dropping back down to his sides.
Yeah, Dean thought, grinning to himself. I'm getting in there tonight.
Dean threw his wallet over to Sam and grabbed the bags out of the trunk. Two weeks without Dad were coming to an end in the morning. A forever stretching out in front of them without formal schooling or the real need to slow down. Probably no more houses, either, unless it was a special occasion or a long hunt. But in a year, maybe less, Dad would let them be their own team, would do check-ins with them like he did for Jim and Bobby. They could pick where they went, what they did. How they did it.
On one hand, it was terrifying. Dad had always been their home-base, had always been their touchstone, but on the other- Between Dean's aim and Sam's smarts, they were almost as good at hunting as Dad was these days. All three of them knew it. Maybe, once they'd gotten a little more freedom, more time to themselves, Sam wouldn't look so miserable every time Dean brought up the future.
He hid out by the car until Sam gave him the all clear, leading them to a room close enough to dart into without showing off the bloodstains that refused to be wiped off without decent water pressure. Still, he kept the bags in front of himself to hide the worst of the damage, only letting them drop when the door clicked shut behind them.
There were two beds this time instead of the one they had been sharing, time up on playing a road-tripping couple instead of brothers. Sam kicked like a donkey and Dean, admittedly, tended to hog the mattress and both of them ran hot so the covers usually ended up on the floor in the middle of the night, but when Sam laid down with him, Dean knew he was safe. He was there, and not even God himself could get Sam out of Dean's arms. It was one of the things he was most looking forward to, when the inevitable parting of ways came. Him and Sam, every night, curled up like they hadn't been allowed to since they were kids.
Dean took first shower, scrubbing down hard to get the smell off. He could hear Sam ordering dinner from the main room. He closed his eyes and thought about endless nights like these spreading out in front of them. A win in the books. Sam sliding into the shower with him before the hot water could run out. The road waiting to take them wherever they wanted to go.
Dinner was Chinese take-out in enough containers to completely cover the little end table between the beds, even with the lamp moved onto the floor. It was the cheap stuff, which meant it was the good stuff, greasy and sloppy and salt heavy. It would be easier to eat across from each other, but Sam sat next to him, their elbows bumping as they ate and one of Sam's knees tucked awkwardly under Dean's hip. It wasn't unusual for Sam to get a little clingy right before he couldn't be anymore, but he had been trailing around behind Dean like a duckling, one hand always reaching for him, tripping them both up. If Dean tried to pull that shit, Sam would throw a hissy fit. But Dean didn't mind, never minded Sam being in his space. Even if he kept dropping rice onto the floor.
Dean slurped as obnoxiously as he could at his noodles, waiting for Sam to make his usual grossed out sounds like it hadn't been one of his favorite games when he was younger to outdo Dean at it. Sam just shook his head, though, reaching across Dean for a spring roll.
"You're being weird," Dean said, tucking his chewed noodles into his cheek as he spoke. That did get a nose crinkle out of Sam and Dean nearly choked when he laughed.
"You're weird," Sam parroted. "And disgusting. Don't talk with your mouth full."
Dean made a production out of swallowing, pleased when Sam's eyes ducked down towards his throat. He wished he had an innuendo to throw out, but none of the ones he could think of would work. Sam grinned at his silence, like he could tell.
When the food was gone, Sam seemed to change his mind pretty quick about Dean being disgusting. He crawled over him, leading with his mouth. They got soy sauce on the carpet and the quilt, but that was a problem for housekeeping.
Sam was suspiciously compliant when Dean suggested going to the bar they'd seen a few blocks away. It was a dive, probably wouldn't bring in much hustle money, but Dean liked it when Sam got loose and giggly. He was the perfect sort of no-longer jailbait with his big eyes and floppy hair and pouty lower lip. He was also a cheap date, which Dean never got tired of reminding him about.
It was the last night they'd have to be alone. They both probably would have been happy to stay in the room all night, but restlessness sat just under Dean's skin and Sam was making him just claustrophobic enough that he needed to get them out. They could stay for a few hours, get back early enough to enjoy some bed time together, and wake up in their proper places to Dad in the morning. Dean had never been on as tense terms with him as Sam but, not for the first time, he was ready for another hunt to spirit him away sooner rather than later and he wasn't even back yet.
It felt a little like betrayal.
They walked over to the bar, shoulders and arms bumping a little more freely than they would have if Dad were there. They were still in Bumfuck- ha- Iowa and even if they didn't look too much like each other, the gay would probably get them beaten down before the incest would. Some people were funny that way. They were both damn good in a fight, but that wasn't a conversation Dean wanted to have in the morning. Instead, he- mostly- kept his hands to himself and only watched Sam's face out of the corner of his eye.
In high school, Sam had always wanted more friends, more people to like him. Dean thought if he'd just whipped out his fake ID skills for more than the family, he would have been swamped with kids trying to hang out with him. He was better than Bill, their old contact that used to mail them the IDs, which was always a bigger hassle than it was worth. Sam could pump out three brand new identities in a day, from birth to death, with official looking paperwork and all.
Still, the bartender looked over his license suspiciously when Sam handed it over, eyes narrowed. Dean did his best not to grin at Sam's look older face. He had never really been able to pull it off, but the bartender bought it and poured them two beers from the well without another word. Dean bought the first round and steered them toward the side of the bar, close enough to watch the pool game happening at the only table and far enough away from the speakers that they wouldn't have to yell to be heard.
Sitting side-by-side at the table was practical. Easier to watch the game. Easier to knock his thigh against Sam's when he saw a good mark. Easier to just touch him, as if Sam's sudden neediness was catching. Sam didn't complain either way, sinking down in his chair and making a face at the first sip of his beer.
"I'll get you a fancy cocktail next round," Dean said, laughing against the lip of his glass.
"Don't be a dick," Sam said and took a big gulp.
"That's not what you said this morning," Dean replied, arm already up to shield his beer from the elbow to the ribs he was expecting. Sam's knee pressed against his under the table. That time, he managed to hold in the nose crinkle that clearly wanted to come out.
Next round, he bought himself another beer and Sam something pink and fruity. Sam glared at him, but he didn't make any displeased grimaces when he sipped at the cocktail as Dean began a game of darts with some guy in honest-to-god overalls. When Dean pocketed a cool hundred, Sam shook his head and mouthed show off at him with shiny pink lips.
Dean called the third round as the last one when Sam returned with two of the fruity cocktails that had more of a punch than the beer did, but mostly tasted like sugar. Sam didn't really drink. Didn't like it the way Dean sometimes did; the way Dad definitely did.
It was one more weird thing in a list of weird things that weren't adding up to anything good. Dean wasn't the most book-smart guy in the world, but he knew people and he knew Sam better than he knew even himself. Something was up, but he was going to have to wait until Sam let him in on it. He missed the days when Sam told him everything right away, when he couldn't wait to split all his secrets fifty-fifty. Dean had always kept them safe. He still could if Sam would just let him.
"Trying to get me drunk enough to put out?" Dean asked as he took his glass. "Think I'm a sure thing."
Sam's face went from heat pink to embarrassment red, his cheeks lighting up like a pinball machine. Dean laughed and squeezed Sam's thigh under the bare cover of the table. Screw Iowa. If anyone had a problem with them, they were both able to knock a civilian out with one punch. Hell, watching Sam one-punch down some asshole was probably better for his libido than the alcohol.
"Come on, lightweight," Dean said when they finished off their drinks. Sam didn't look more than buzzed, but he was right there in that sweet spot, the one that tore away some of his too-frequent scowls and bad moods, the one that made his dimples pop and his eyes stick on Dean.
"I'm not a lightweight," Sam insisted as they left the bar, tripping over a crack in the sidewalk almost as soon as the door closed behind them.
"Sure. I totally agree," Dean said, laughing when Sam stuck his tongue out. His breath smelled like raspberries.
The terrible, cracked sidewalk made a good enough excuse for throwing his arm around Sam's waist and pulling him in. Wouldn't want him to survive a night of ghoul hunting only to be wounded by his overgrown feet. Sam was a little sweat damp at his lower back, hair sticking to his forehead and the tops of his cheeks. When he dipped his head to rest on Dean's shoulder, an ungainly slouch that made walking that much harder, Dean didn't deny himself the chance to press his nose into that messy hair. Just for a second.
Soon, he told himself. Nothing but nights like this one for the rest of their lives. They just had to keep going.
Sam tackled Dean onto the bed closest to the door as soon as their boots were off. The bed creaked warningly under their combined weight. Dean's ribs creaked under Sam, all his breath knocked out of him in a rush. Sam didn't give him enough time to recover it, mouth fitting over Dean's, his hands pushing up under Dean's shirt. He had been chewing on his nails, the ragged edges of them scraping over Dean's skin and catching at the hair right above his jeans.
"Easy," Dean said, digging his head into the pillows to get enough space to talk. He tucked his hands under Sam's arms and dragged him up, grunting with the effort. It was easier to breathe with Sam sitting on his hips. He bent his legs up like a cradle and Sam leaned back against them.
Sam was a little wild-eyed, his hand still under Dean's shirt, fingers flexing and relaxing over and over. Even little lightweight Sammy didn't get plastered off two cocktails and a beer, but he still wasn't all there now. Dean wrapped his hand around Sam's wrist, thumb to his racing pulse.
"Dude, what's with you tonight?" Dean asked, ticking his thumb back and forth over soft skin. Sam closed his eyes, shoulders slumping, the hand laid flat over Dean's stomach curling into a loose fist. A tendril of oily fear crept up Dean's spine, his own pulse picking up speed. He shoved it down and blamed Sam's kiss attack for the way he still couldn't quite breathe right.
"I'm just trying to- to make the best of it," Sam finally said, his Adam's apple bobbing. "I don't-" He shook his head, his hair a mess around his red face, lips pressed together in a tight line. "I don't know when we're going to get to do this again, and I just want-"
"Hey. Hey, come here." Dean tipped them to the side, one arm curling around Sam's chest to keep him from sliding off the bed. It left them pressed in close, their legs tangled together, Sam wiggling until he could put his forehead against Dean's shoulder. He clutched at the back of Dean's shirt, the collar pulling tight enough to be uncomfortable. Dean resisted the urge to make him let go, letting his breaths come shorter, letting the cotton cut into his skin.
Instead, he just gently finger-combed Sam's hair away from his face, tucking it behind his ear to expose the corner of one closed eye. He traced the shell of Sam's ear with the edge of his thumb, down over the jut of his jaw until he could hook it under Sam's chin. For a moment, Sam resisted, his head kept stubbornly down against the gentle pressure, before he finally turned his head, eyes meeting Dean's. They were suspiciously shiny, but Dean wouldn't mention it.
"I'm not going anywhere, okay? We just have to wait a little bit," Dean said softly. Sam's hands tightened in his shirt, choking him, and Dean squeezed Sam's biceps in quick warning. The effort to loosen his grip was almost visible, but the pressure under Dean's Adam's apple released. It didn't do anything about the pound of his heart that he was sure Sam could feel. "You know how Dad is. Give him a week, maybe two, and we'll be alone again."
Sam stayed silent.
"Come on," Dean said. He unwrapped them from each other, twisting to get off the bed. He undid the buttons of Sam's overshirt, nudging him to sit up. He pushed the shirt off, untangling Sam's hands from the sleeves and dropping it to the floor. Sam raised his arms over his head and the t-shirt came off too, Dean's palms sliding over his warm skin on the way up, counting the bumps of his ribs and feeling the rise of scars he shouldn't have had. He knelt on the floor to untie Sam's boots, gentle as he tugged them off.
How many times had he dressed and undressed Sam? He could remember a squirming toddler laughing and running away from being forced to wear pants. A sick fourth grader who could barely lift his arms up, so weak as Dean spent hours changing him from sweat soaked pajamas into dry ones until there were no more clean ones in the bag. A surly fifteen-year-old who had kissed him like it hurt, who had pushed and shoved at Dean's clothes at the same time, both of them having to explain why their newish t-shirts suddenly had ripped collars. A few hundred times after that, rushed and slow and drunk, in shared bedrooms and motels they'd never see again and out in a field where the wind had blown Sam's boxers halfway down the road.
He was careful, this time. As sweet as he could ever be as he slipped the hook of Sam's belt and parted it, as he thumbed the button of his jeans through the worn-down hole. Sam lifted his hips then one leg after the other as Dean stripped him down to nothing. When Dean had thrown off his own clothes, Sam held his arms open and welcomed him in.
Dean took his time. Words weren't his strength the way they were for Sam, made his insides squirm and his thoughts start spinning. He'd always spoken better with action, hoped Sam understood. His hand dragging down over Sam's chest, fingers sprawled wide. I'm here . His lips pressing to the jut of Sam's collarbone, salty and sharp. I got you. His fingers in Sam's hair, pulling him up just a little. We'll be okay. A slow, slow kiss that makes Dean feel more exposed than his nakedness. Just hold on for me.
When Sam pulled him down, Dean went.
The breeze from the window made Dean shiver, even with his Sam-shaped blanket. Dean traced the curve of Sam's spine with his nails and grinned to himself when Sam shivered right along with him. They should have showered, gotten the sweat and jizz off with more than just a rub down with the edge of the sheet, but Sam was still clinging and Dean didn't want to let him go. Housekeeping would just have to deal with it in the morning.
"We could leave." It was said into Dean's neck, Sam's lips moving over his skin, distracting before the words sank in. "Before Dad gets back, we could just- go somewhere else."
"We could leave him a note, so he doesn't think we're dead or anything." Sam's arm tightened over Dean's chest, his words still soft but coming faster. Dread built up in Dean's stomach, coiling tight and ugly and heavy.
"I know a place," Sam said. Dean squeezed his eyes shut and tried to will them back to an hour ago. Sam always told him his secrets. He just had to wait. "We could be together. No one would know we're brothers. We could stop hunting. Be normal." The words flowed out of him easily, the most animated he'd been all night, and Dean's insides felt hollowed out and cold. He had a plan, because Sam always had a plan. The problem with Sam's plans was that he never thought them through.
"Sam." Dean fisted his hand in Sam's hair, tugging just hard enough to make him stop talking.
Sam finally looked up at him, one eye barely cracked open. He looked so tired. So old. Dean wanted to give him everything, had always wanted that more than anything else. Didn't mean he could always do it. Dean tucked Sam's hair behind his ear and tried to calm his racing pulse.
"You know we can't do that to Dad," he said. Sam opened his mouth but Dean tugged gently at his hair. "Just give it a little more time. Soon we'll be able to take more trips like these and maybe in a couple years we can set up a base like Bobby. Just give it more time." Sam's body stayed tense against his, his eye closed again.
“I'm tired, Dean," he said. The conversation wasn't over, but Dean couldn't push. Wouldn't. Could only hope Sam would listen to him and burn whatever plans he had in that head of his.
Dean pulled Sam closer to him for just a moment before carefully turning him onto the mattress. "Alright. Good night."
Dean pressed one last kiss to Sam's temple before carefully crawling out of the warm bed and into the one across the room. The sheets were cold against his skin, the bed suddenly too big when just minutes ago it had been too small. He closed his eyes and pushed down Sam's questions, pushed down the creeping worry, pushed down the uncomfortable weight of Dad's return, and tried to sleep.
"Whatever happens-" A whisper from across the room, or maybe the beginning of a dream. "I love you."