It starts with a hand to the lower back.
That’s nothing new. Seems safe enough, considering all the times Dean’s placed it there before, brief touch guiding Sam out of doors ahead of him, or offering support in times of injury (even when the injury was mild and Sam was fully capable of walking on his own). But it’s safe, he figures. Brotherly, almost.
Thing is, Dean communicates through touch. Sam has his words, but Dean– he’s always communicated better through his hands, through touch—words ribbing sometimes, sometimes the exact opposite of what he wants to say, but touch gentle, reassuring. He trusts Sammy to get it—they’ve always been on the same page, easy silent communication even before this new thing between them started up.
Slight raise of his eyebrows for hey, you wanna get out of here? Tiny tilt of his head for pretty sure this guy’s certifiable, you seriously trusting him right now? Jerk of his chin for cover the back door, he’s gonna make a run for it. A smirk edging on lewd grin, telegraphing in advance, I am about to make the stupidest goddamned pun and you will pretend to be annoyed even though I know you love it and it makes me so goddamned happy to make you happy. And Sam only needs to roll his eyes, quirk his lips up the tiniest bit for Dean to hear the returned you are such an idiot and I love you endlessly.
But sometimes… Sometimes, when they’re out, in public, around people who might know, who know that they’re brothers— when they’re out, and he can’t touch Sam because someone might see— in those moments, Dean feels like he’s missing a limb, gone deaf or blind, some essential facet of himself cut off.
So he starts with a hand to the lower back.
The first time, Sam just raises a brow at him, but lets it slide without pulling away when Dean lets his hand linger there for too long to be considered ‘normal’, should anyone actually see, his thumb stroking idly against Sam’s flannel.
When that doesn’t get a response, not so much as an eyebrow quirk, he lets his hand linger longer, moves it between Sam’s shoulder blades, lets his thumb brush over the soft skin of Sam’s neck, just above his collar. A shoulder squeeze here, a bicep squeeze there, and sometimes a squeeze to the back of Sam’s neck, his thumb stroking through the fine hairs behind Sam’s ear.
Once, he slides his hand fully up into Sam’s hair, tangling into the strands and giving them a brief tug. Once, unthinking, when Sam’s sitting on the couch at Jody’s, he plops down on the armrest beside him, fully leans into him and slings an arm around Sam’s shoulders.
And still nothing.
Once, when they’re in a hunter bar, he thinks they get some dirty looks shot their way, but then they’ve always gotten those. No real change there. Once, he thinks he might’ve seen something on Jody’s face, some look of recognition as her eyes flit quickly between the two of them, but whatever it was, she schooled it back so quickly that Dean can’t really say for sure. Once, he sees Claire’s lips curl up in a knowing smirk, but then, she always seems to have that smirk on her face, so what does he know? And Rowena— well. Rowena’s always looked at them like that, even before, like she knows exactly what’s up, but whatever. Who cares what that witch thinks anyway.
All he knows is that no one is saying anything, so the touches get bolder, linger longer.
Cas is a non-starter. Dean’s pretty sure they could fuck in front of him and he’d just look at them with that same infuriating implacability he’s always had. And Jack is pretty much the same—such a pure soul, so innocent that Dean doubts he’d ever register that there was something wrong with what he and Sam are doing. He just looks at them with that look of utter fondness on his face, like their love makes him happy or some shit, and Dean, well— it makes him happy too, so he can’t fault the kid.
After his hand has climbed as far up Sam as it’ll go, he redirects his energy lower. They’ve always sat close, and no one’s ever batted an eye at that before, but now he presses his thigh fully into Sam’s, lets his hand rest on Sam’s knee for a heartbeat too long, and then—still nothing—finally squeezes Sam mid-thigh, letting his thumb stroke over the outer seam of Sam’s jeans.
The final step is Sam’s hands. God, but he loves those hands, and this seems more intimate than all the rest, somehow, letting his hand tangle with Sam’s long fingers, and when Sam squeezes back, finally, when his thumb brushes soft over the back of Dean’s hand, Dean feels like he’s won the ultimate victory, feels his heart swell in his chest. This simple touch. This simple, simple touch. Who knew that that could feel so satisfying.
He brings their tangled hands to his lips, briefly, in gratitude, and when still no one looks at them askance, Dean feels his heart settle. Maybe they don’t actually have to hide. Maybe they never did.