Sam was organizing DVDs in a box when Jess walked into their Mirrielees apartment, humming cheerfully to herself.
“Hey babe,” she called, grinning. “I just finished my final presentation and knocked it out of the park!”
Sam chuckled as his girlfriend mimed stepping up to the plate, swinging her bat and hitting a speeding ball. He set the DVDs down on the table, bending down to give her a hug and swing her up into the air. Sometimes he thanked God for making him so tall, it was one of the only things he honestly liked about his body. After being so short as a kid, he sort of felt like his body had listened to his pleas to grow and decided to make it easier on him.
Too bad his body couldn’t have listened to him about other things, but that was what winter break was for.
Jess giggled as he set her down, tossing her hair out of her face and into his.
“Pthbt, stop!” He cried, flinging his arms up. His girlfriend advanced mercilessly, raising a strand of her hair to tickle over his hands.
“What’s this? Is my Sam… ticklish?” she crooned evilly. He nearly fell over the chair trying to get away from her, but regained his footing and dashed for the bedroom, shutting the door behind him with a slam. Jess bit her lip on a wide smile, then tiptoed quietly up to the door and waited. Three seconds of silence. She knew if she pressed her ear to the door she’d hear her boyfriend’s heart drumming in his chest.
Beat. Beat. Beat. Then slowly, the doorknob began to creak, the door opening gently inward. Jess held her breath, raising her hands slowly.
Sam peeked his head out, momentarily confused. He turned to the side. His eyes widened.
The door fell open as she sprawled over Sam, scrambling to get her knees planted in the floor while she tickled every part of him she could reach. Ribs, stomach, neck, armpits— nothing was safe. Sam chuckled breathlessly, nearly crying with laughter. He tried to flip her over and reverse their positions, but was too out-of-breath to do anything but curl up in a fetal position. Jess shrugged and began tickling his back, paying special attention to the sensitive area between those bony hips and the bottom of his ribs. Finally, she started hearing the word ‘Stop!’ in between his wheezes of laughter.
Backing off slightly, she sat on her heels. “Sam?”
The wheezing turned into breathless coughing, which she observed with a worried frown. “Babe, I thought you got over that cold.”
He coughed once more into his elbow, a deep hacking cough, then sat up and turned to her. “No, no, I did! This is just dust allergies from cleaning this morning.”
With a start, Jess looked around their bedroom. She hadn’t noticed before, but with the bed freshly made and all the dirty laundry taken care of, their apartment did look a lot cleaner than before. “Aw, Sam, you cleaned? For me?” She hugged him tight.
He coughed again, grinning. “Naw, I cleaned for me. You know you’re not gonna be vacuuming any time in the next couple weeks.”
She leaned back and pouted. “When I’m on the bed watching DVDs and making soup for you?”
“Exactly. You’ll be busy.” He nodded sagely. “And you may be able to breathe in an apartment that hasn’t been vacuumed for a month, but I ha…” His face screwed up.
Jess leaned back, giving him space for his loud sneeze. She crawled to the bedside table and tossed him the tissue box. “Bless you.”
“Thanks,” he mumbled. He dabbed at his nose and rolled his eyes. “I have allergies,” he finished.
“D’awww,” she crooned, “Sneezy, my favorite dwarf.”
“Who you callin’ dwarf, shrimp?” he tossed back. They could have happily traded insults for a while longer, but Jess’s stomach growled.
“Ugh. Forgot I didn’t have lunch yet,” she groaned. “C’mon, Sam, let’s get noms.”
He followed her into the kitchen and checked the schedule pinned to the refrigerator door. “It’s my turn to make lunch, you good with leftovers?” he asked.
Jess joined him at the fridge, opening it to look dubiously at their tupperware. Though several were stacked neatly on the spacious shelves, she only really trusted the tupperware in the section marked ‘last night.’ The vegetable soup in the ‘last week’ section looked slightly off. “Looks like there’s only enough curry for one. Leftovers and cheese toast?”
Sam shook his head, bangs tapping against his forehead. “That’s so weird. Why don’t you call it grilled cheese?”
“I am a special snowflake,” Jess informed him seriously. “Also it doesn’t count as grilled cheese if you make it in a microwave.”
Sam waited until she looked at him and rolled his eyes theatrically. “You and I grew up in completely different worlds,” he remarked. Jess pursed her lips and started getting ingredients out of the fridge. She laid them out pointedly next to the microwave and went to sit down at their tiny table.
Sam raised an eyebrow at her lack of response. He set the curry in a bowl to reheat and started slicing cheese for the bread. Jess looked at her nails. Sam stared at the blinking microwave read-out. Jess coughed.
“Fine. What?” he asked, turning around and leaning on the counter.
“Just, if we’re talking about the world you grew up in…” She raised her eyebrows meaningfully.
“No, I’m not calling them. My Dad made it clear how we stood when I left.” Sam looked down and away, jaw clenched tight. Jess’s eyes softened.
“Okay, so not your dad. But come on, Sam! You’ve told me so much about your brother… Don’t you think he might like a little heads-up?”
Sam scowled. “So, what, I call him and say, ‘Sorry, Dean, turns out you never actually had a little sister?’”
Jess shrugged. “If that’s how you want to phrase it. Personally I might mention the physically draining surgery coming up, but that’s up to you.” She stood up and walked over to him, raising a hand to trail along his sharp jaw. “You’re a good man, Sam Winchester. Don’t you think your brother would like to know that man?” There was something too vulnerable in Sam’s eyes, too hurt and scared. Jess pressed soft kisses against his lips until those eyes slipped closed.
They stood braced by each other, sharing the same breaths. Bing! Both jumped at the noise from the microwave and Sam laughed shakily. He opened his mouth but bit back whatever he was going to say, dipping his head for another kiss. Jess gave it to him, sweet and lingering. Backing up slightly, she licked her lips and gave him a half-smile. “Think about it, okay?”
That night after an unusually quiet dinner, Sam ducked his head and peered at Jess through his bangs. “I’m gonna… go outside for a bit. Call my brother.”
She smiled and squeezed his hand. “I’ll be here when you get back.”
Standing in the parking lot outside of his residence, Sam blew out a breath and peered up at the sky. Out of habit, he lifted a hand to the silver butterfly knife in his pocket and checked the stage of the moon. Waning gibbous, it hung slightly lopsided in the sky. Sam sighed again and relaxed his shoulders. Whatever danger there was out here— in the middle of one of the most gentrified towns in bourgeois California, he thought with a smirk— at least it wasn’t werewolf season.
He opened his old flip-phone and ran through contacts, clicking on the “D” that remained on his top three. He cleared his throat, lifting the phone to his ear to hear the rings. With each tone, it felt like his ribs grew tighter and tighter.
Dean picked after eight rings. Sam let out a sigh, not realizing he’d been holding his breath.
“Sammy? You okay?” The growl in his ear was the most familiar sound in the world.
“Yeah,” he said softly. “Yeah, Dean, I’m good.”
The voice at the other end huffed out a bitter-sounding laugh. “Not bleeding out or dying? Or dead drunk?”
Sam pressed his hand to the bridge of his nose. From concerned to furious in three seconds. His family, ladies and gentlemen. “Freshman year was a bad time… Last year— I’m fine now, Dean.” He tried to put as much sincerity into statement as possible. “I’m doing good.”
“Well, whoopty-doo for you,” Dean snarked. Sam cringed, noting the sounds of other voices in the background.
“Look, I’m sorry if this is a bad time to call…” he began.
“Are you? I guess you were too sorry it was a bad time to call, oh, I don’t know, ANY TIME IN THE LAST TWO YEARS,” Dean shouted. The background voices abruptly stopped, then started up again with renewed vigor. His brother was probably at a bar somewhere.
“Look, just…” Sam sighed. “I’m sorry, okay? I thought, with what Dad said, you wouldn’t…”
“Wouldn’t what? Want to know my little sister’s alive?” Sam flinched, squeezing his eyes tightly shut.
“It’s… I just… I’m trying to tell you something, okay?” he snapped. Dean went moodily silent on the other end.
“Well? Talk, princess.”
Sam was beginning to think this had all been a waste of time. He walked to one of the trees that overlooked the street and considered banging his head against it.
“I’m getting top surgery this week,” he blurted out. On the other end of the phone, he heard an intake of breath. And a scraping of a chair. Apparently Dean had needed to stand up to process this information.
“Like for your…” Dean’s voice lowered, “boobs?”
Sam leaned back against the tree and sighed, feeling the rough bark dig into his back. “Yes, Dean, for those.”
“Like… to make ‘em… bigger?” his brother continued in a horrified whisper.
“Yeah, Dean, I wanted to put some air balloons on my chest, maybe go up to a double D,” Sam snapped. “No, dude, to get them removed.”
“Fuck, Sammy,” Dean hissed. “You said you were okay!”
Sam felt tears prickling in his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose to make them go away.
“Breast cancer is not okay! Tell you what, I can be there in two days, just hang tight,” Dean snapped. Not for the first time, Sam noted how his brother’s voice sounded most angry when he was worried.
“Dean, I don’t have cancer,” Sam said, more calmly than he felt. “I’m getting top surgery cuz I’m not… cuz I’m not a girl okay?”
He heard his brother gearing up for some other misunderstanding and cut it off at the pass. “I didn’t get cursed by some witch or kidnapped by feminists or anything. I’m just… I’m trans. I’m a guy. I was designated the wrong body at birth—“ he laughed, remembering how he’d felt first learning that terminology, like a puzzle piece clicking into place inside him. “I’ve always felt that way.”
“…Yeah, I know,” Dean said, subdued. “You used to tell me you wanted to be a boy when you were, like, five. I thought you…” he trailed off.
“I didn’t grow out of it,” Sam said. “And it’s… I just want them gone. Things will be better when they’re gone.”
“That’s it, okay?” Sam asked.
“I mean… congratulations?” Sam could almost hear the leather rustling as his brother shrugged. “Like, it’s not a dangerous surgery, um, right?”
Sam closed his eyes, leaning his head back further against the tree. Somewhere down the street he saw a biker pass, light flashing. “No, it’s not too dangerous. I’m not supposed to drink for two weeks before or lift heavy things for a couple months after, but it’ll be fine.”
“Okay.” Dean sounded more sure, on solid ground. Complications after surgery had been a part of their lives for a weirdly long time. Mostly they dealt with it by ignoring the doctor’s instructions. “Do you want me to come down?”
Sam blinked, eyes finding the moon in the sky again. “Aren’t you and Dad on a hunt?”
“Nah, I’m free and easy,” Dean said with affected casualness. “Seriously, Sammy. I can be there if you need me.”
Sam was silent, imagining it. His brother joking with nurses at the hospital the way he had when they’d gone in to get their more serious injuries checked out, winking as he stole medical supplies and smuggled them out in his jacket pocket or in his wheelchair. Staying at the apartment with him and Jess, making them soup and judging their choice of DVDs as ‘chick flicks.’ His lips curled in an unconscious smile.
“It’s a long drive,” he said, gently. “You don’t have to make the trek up here. I’ll be fine.”
Dean sighed and for a moment it was like he was right next to Sam, shoulder to shoulder against that sturdy tree, staring up at the sky. “Be safe, kid. Don’t let them give you any of the funny drugs, you don’t wanna wake up in an ice bath.”
Sam rolled his eyes. “They’re not gonna steal my kidneys and sell them on the black market, Dean.”
“Kidneys? Who said anything about kidneys? I’m worried about your liver! It’s probably pining away there in college-land, they’ll take it out and give it to someone who can appreciate it.” Dean responded. Sam couldn’t help laughing.
“Your voice sounds deeper,” Dean commented.
“Yeah,” Sam grinned, loving the way it rumbled in his throat. “They got me on testosterone. I had to stop taking it for a bit, for the surgery, but I’ll be back on it soon.”
“Cool,” Dean said.
The silence grew between them, comfortable as the pillows they used to pile on motel beds, creating a soft barrier as they watched tv together.
“You won’t tell Dad, right?” Sam asked.
“Not unless you want me to,” Dean responded with uncharacteristic seriousness.
“I just figured… he wouldn’t take it well.” Sam bit his lip, shrugging defensively. “Well, who knows, he might not care.”
Dean sighed. “That’s between you and him. Swear you’re just like each other. ‘Cept, you know…”
Sam scowled. “What.”
Dean laughed. “Except you’re a bigger bitch.” He choked. “I mean—“
Sam laughed softly, shaking his head. “Jerk.”
“So it’s okay, that I…? Agh, screw it Sammy, you know what I mean.”
Sam nodded. “Yeah, I do.”
Since this was as close to talking about feelings as Dean usually let him get, Sam sighed, getting ready to say good night.
“Hey, just—“ he shook his head, savoring the warmth growing in his chest. “Just thanks, you know?”
“Hey.” Dean’s voice was warm. “No matter what, I’m always gonna be your big brother.”
Sam’s eyes prickled again. “Yeah, I know,” he said somewhat hoarsely.
“Good luck with your surgery,” Dean added, sounding somewhat embarrassed. “Call me if anything happens. Or, you know, if you want to.”
Sam laughed, vision beginning to grow blurry. “Yeah, you too. Call me, I mean. I’ll be on the good drugs, it’ll be hilarious.”
“Just remember what I said about the ice baths.”
Sam rolled his eyes, a tear escaping onto his cheeks. “Jess… she’s my girlfriend, you’ll love her… she’ll make sure no one steals my liver. We’re gonna be watching movies for the next couple weeks.”
Dean groaned. “Not chick flicks, Sammy! Thought I taught you better’n that.”
Sam smiled. “Yeah. You taught me the best.” He wiped the tears off his cheeks, enjoying the sounds of his brother sputtering with mock outrage at his sappiness. He could hear the happiness in his brother’s voice.
“Good night, Sammy.”
He went back upstairs to hug Jess and maybe cry a little on their well-made bed. The lopsided moon peering in their window didn’t judge. Neither, apparently, did his brother.
All things considered, Sam was less than surprised to receive a card saying “Aren’t you glad you got that off your chest?” the next week. He smiled somewhat dopily when he showed it to Jess and she laughed and kissed his cheek.
“Brothers,” she said, rolling her eyes fondly.
The card stayed on their bedside table beside the picture of Sam’s mother for years, until it was burned in what Stanford police deemed to be a fire caused by faulty wiring. But that’s another story.