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One More Coal (coals of fire remix)

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Dean should know better by now: “Keep Out” in Dean’s handwriting, crude skull and crossbones underneath, is more like a red flag. He should’ve tried a pinup and a couple of used tissues if he really wanted Sam to stay away. Sam entertains the notion that there’s a good surprise behind the door, but Dean’s not comfortable enough around him now (nor should he be) to pull a trick like that, so Sam braces himself in case quick reaction time is needed and opens the door.

It looks like any other abandoned storeroom in the Bunker, except that this one doesn’t have boxes of records. The anti-dust spells are strong in here, so there are no spiderwebs and only a faint smell of … alcohol? Dean doesn’t hide his drinking, though. Sam steps further in.

And is elsewhere.

He’s in a bar, all wooden walls and dim lighting, yeasty smell of beer and low murmur of half-drunken conversation. Reflexively, he jabs his thumb into his long-healed palm, but this doesn’t feel like a break from reality, and it doesn’t have the stench of the true Cage. It could be a hallucination, though why a hallucination would want him trapped in the kind of place he hated is a bit of a poser. In the alternative, he’s really here and here is really there, which would mean he’s stepped through some kind of portal.

And like the hole that brought Henry Winchester to them, it’s a portal in time as well as space: Dean is there, by the pool tables, laughing as he chalks his cue—and looking just like he did when Sam was in high school.

His first thought—tell him everything—is immediately discarded. Of course they can’t change time in any real way. Sam’s understood that since they went back and begged his mother not to have them. Sam doesn’t want to know what he would’ve said if he’d known that she was already pregnant with Dean—what Dean would have let him say. It’d be okay not to be born—but he’d thought they’d get nonexistence together. He can’t imagine what Dean would’ve been like without his brother. He can’t imagine Dean happy.

But now Sam remembers encountering a man who looked more like Dean’s father than John Winchester ever did. He’d naturally had a sense of weirdness then, but desire and denial had combined to let him seize the opportunity to get his hands on this beautiful stranger. The guy had seemed so guilty, babbling about how sorry he was even at the height of the fuck, and now Sam knows exactly why. It hadn’t been that Dean had been fucking his baby brother, or at least it hadn’t been mostly that. Dean walked through that door into time, and Dean got his forgiveness when Sam had no idea what he was giving. Which is just par for the course.

Sam feels a white-hot spike of emotion, a rush like the first hit of demon blood. Dean’s known things Sam hasn’t practically all his life—monsters are real, Dad thinks maybe Sam has to die, there’s an angel in Sam—oh, and yeah, Dean fucked his baby brother, like in some porno version of Back to the Future where they doubled down on the incest.

Young Sam had been thrilled to play out his deepest fantasy with the Dean-lookalike, even when the guy had nearly cried his way through the sex. Sam hadn’t exactly been in a position to judge anyone’s kinks. Sam had thought he was the sick one, when all along Dean had gotten what he wanted from that Sam, like he always did. Maybe it’s Sam’s turn to get something from Dean.

Dean is mythically young, eyes impossibly wider and face softer and smoother, premature crow’s feet missing. Jawline all sharp angles, elfin ears peeking through longer hair, fall of spiky bangs that Dean must’ve thought looked so charming (Dean hadn’t been wrong). Twist to his lips he’d plainly believed then was so cynical, so mature, but this Dean had never seen his brother dead before him. He’d never been to Hell, or watched Sam let Lucifer out, or stuffed an angel into Sam’s body when he knew, he knew, Sam would rather have died.

This Dean is like a flower blooming at dawn, unaware of his own fragility. Dean would’ve punched anyone who called him fragile; back in these years Sam’d seen him break guys’ noses for mouthing “pretty” as he passed. That word usually came with enough homophobia that Sam’s attempts at restraint had always been half-hearted. Sam has knowledge those men hadn’t, and every scar that isn’t yet on Dean’s soul is also absent from this boy’s lake-green eyes, this pouting mouth that has never yet begged a demon to take his soul or said yes to an angel.

Catch Dean on another night and he’ll be hustling in a different way. Sam wasn’t supposed to know, but Dean has never been as near as good at hiding things from Sam as he thinks he is, even now (in the future). Sam had never told Dean that he was aware of where a fair amount of the food money came from; as much as he sometimes wanted to hurt Dean, it would humiliate Dean in a way that wasn’t, never had been, deserved. If sucking and fucking wasn’t honest work, it was still practically the only value for cash Dean ever gave, and there should’ve been no shame in it. Dean shouldn’t have to feel bad about how he’d kept body and soul together during their teen years (despite what had happened to separate them after). Sam bringing his past up would distract from all the things that Dean should regret.

Now, Dean bends to his task—he must be at the ‘taking their money’ portion of the evening, because he knocks off the balls with brutal efficiency, not even bothering with trick shots, just calculating each one so that each time the cue ball ends up in exactly the right place to sink the next. His targets are open-mouthed, impressed despite their growing recognition that they’ve been taken. He smiles—c’mon, guys, we’re all in this together, right? Some days you get the bear, some days the bear gets you—and this time it works, young men sucked right to the edge of Dean’s event horizon, never knowing how close they came to being pulled in and destroyed. Dean rifles through the bills quickly, not long enough to make them think he’s flaunting it, and slides them into the frayed back pocket of his jeans.

His tongue peeks out to wet his lower lip as he looks around. Jesus, he can’t be eighteen. He’s got some muscle on his shoulders and biceps—Dad wouldn’t stand for less—but he’s undefined, soft at the edges, for all he’s reached his adult height.

He looks up, and their eyes catch. Dean blinks, heavy-lidded, and he smiles, the slow promise of a ride that would last all night.

Well, why the fuck not? Sam thinks. Dean’s always accused him of selfishness, when it was Dean who could never let go. Sam can have this, and he can have it from the Dean he wanted it from earliest and strongest of all. (Never purest, not exactly.) This Dean’s Sammy is a gawky pubescent boy; even Dean won’t suspect that his sicko kid brother has come back from the future.

Sam tilts his head questioningly, and Dean swaggers across the bar, the other people fading into meaningless blurs with the intensity of his presence.

It’s like he’s seeing in stereo, the fineness of this Dean’s skin and the overlay of his Dean’s nicks and dings. The memory of Dean as he is now (later) isn’t any less beautiful, only a bit broader with age, less defensive bravado and more bone-deep weariness in the lines of his face.

“Hi there,” Dean says, winsome, throwing off charm like heat from a bonfire. His voice is so comparatively high Sam almost giggles: he’d forgotten how Dean hadn’t settled into his gravelly growl for years.

Sam’s not the kid who stared at Dean with mute longing through half the states in the Union, though if anything he’s more resentful. “Hi,” he says, and it comes out confident, matching the smile he finds from some reservoir of cool. The smile is the one that shows off his dimples, and he sees Dean’s eyes dilate further. He could offer to buy Dean a drink. Instead he pulls his shoulders back to draw attention to their breadth.

“You been lookin’ at me for a while now,” Dean observes. “Do I have something on my face?” He bites his pink, pink bottom lip.

Some last barrier breaks inside Sam. “No, but you could,” he says, and lets his smile change to the one that he’d perfected when he didn’t have a soul.

Dean goggles, but recovers quickly, remembering that he is supposed to be the smoothest guy in Smoothtown. Nostalgia is sweet in Sam’s mouth over the yeasty bar scent, like he’s being pumped up by the emanations of Dean’s own overinflated ego (so easily punctured, a Hindenburg in the making really). Sam smiles more widely, noticing anew the freckles over Dean’s nose, his cheeks, even the ones on his eyelids mostly hidden by the unreal fringe of Dean’s lashes. Dean puffs himself up under the appreciative scrutiny, all swagger now.

Dean reaches out and hooks two fingers through Sam’s beltloop. Sam lets himself be tugged closer, until the heat from Dean’s body is all he can feel. Dean leans up, so his lips nearly brush Sam’s ear. “C’mon,” he says, and then turns to tug Sam towards the back of the bar like a dog on a leash.

Sam follows; Dean’s unerring instinct for sex opportunities puts them in a dusty storeroom, full of chairs with listing legs and scuffed tables. Sam takes a moment to lock the door behind them. Dean might not mind an audience, but Sam does. Enough light filters in from outside—street lamps and flashing neon from the bar’s sign—that he doesn’t need to try the overhead lights.

He’s been patient long enough. He turns from the door and puts his hands on Dean’s slim hips, pushing him back against a free patch of wall even as their mouths collide, Dean giving it up to him without a struggle. Dean’s mouth is wet and beery. Sam licks into him until he finds the taste that is just Dean. Dean’s youth has brought back all his hero worship; this brother is like a god to him. Dean will still go on to make all his mistakes, but Sam remembers the reason for them now: this love, raging and terrifying, so much bigger than either of them.

Dean’s hands slide over his ass, his fingers hot as he squeezes, first over Sam’s jeans and then regrouping to go beneath. Sam reciprocates the touch, but he goes up, burrowing under Dean’s T-shirt to feel Dean’s ribcage contract and expand, skin a mix of smooth and scarred already. Dean in 2015 is in fact less marked up, all the resurrections and healing fixing what this Dean has marred. Dean’s nipples are hard little pebbles under his thumbs; Dean gasps and breaks the kiss when Sam pinches one.

“You don’t waste any time,” Dean gets out, breathy and trying to get the upper hand, to control how fast and hard this happens. But Dean doesn’t have Sam’s advantages: size, age, cunning—and years covertly observing Dean’s hookups. Sam shifts so Dean is all but riding his leg. He can feel the thickening line of Dean’s dick through the layers of their jeans, and Dean grunts. Sam wants to melt into him, to be absorbed completely, no more secrets.

Dean turns his head so that he’s pressed into the juncture of Sam’s neck and shoulder. He breathes Sam in, and Sam hasn’t felt this wanted in years. Maybe forever.

Sam reaches between them and unbuckles Dean’s belt. He feels Dean’s stomach tremble against his fingers as he thumbs open the button of Dean’s jeans. The zipper slides down fast, as slutty as Dean is. Sam pauses to look at the obscene jut of Dean’s cock against his threadbare boxers, the ridge of the head outlined as it pushes against its constraint and the tip already darkening the fabric, sticking to Dean’s skin so that Sam can see the slit.

Dean curses impatiently and Sam shoves everything off his hips at once, letting the jeans and boxers fall as Dean’s dick slaps against his belly. Young and dumb and full of come—and all his, right now.

Before they can get into an argument about who will go first, Sam drops to his knees. He wraps his hand around Dean’s erection, and pauses to note that even here, Dean has a few freckles.

Dean’s thick, like he remembers, old enough to be grown into his height and his dick both. Sam hasn’t done this in years, not voluntarily anyway, and he substitutes spit for finesse. Dean’s wide-eyed above him, like he’s stunned at his good fortune, maybe not so experienced yet as he’d pretended to his younger brother even though Sam knows with bitter certainty he isn’t the first stranger to be fucking Dean within minutes of first encountering him. At this age, Dean’s broadcasting that anyone can have him, and it’s not really Dean’s fault that ‘have’ and ‘keep’ are so different.

But now is for giving Dean pleasure, and Sam closes his eyes and focuses on providing the right amount of wetness and friction. Dean’s taste is strong, like his own only in that they’re both guys who do a lot of physical work and wash their clothes in harsh detergent—Sam doesn’t think he’s tasting anything unique to the family. He’s never liked the taste of dick, but it’s still sexy, with Dean’s thigh muscles flexing under his hands, Dean’s panting breath above him and the cut-off gasps that are increasing in frequency as Dean gets closer to the edge.

With effort, Sam takes Dean that last inch, his nose pressed to the wiry reddish curls at Dean’s groin. Dean curses and manages to grunt warningly just before he comes, a thick flood that Sam swallows as he runs his thumb around the inner curve of Dean’s thigh, just brushing the soft skin of his balls.

Sam indulges himself by pulling off and pressing a gentle kiss to that same curve, before Dean can pull away from such intimacy from a passing stranger. He looks up to find Dean staring down at him, vague suspicion making his brows draw together.

“I want to fuck you,” Sam says, which is distraction enough for Dean.

Dean smirks, turns away from the wall, and kneels. Dean’s jeans are down at his ankles, tangling around his boots, and Dean widens his legs as much as he’s allowed. His bare knees are on the dirty floor and his ass is pale, round and muscled with the darker skin of his sac showing between his thighs. So vulnerable Sam doesn’t know if he wants to grab Dean up and hide him away from all that’s going to happen—or to hurt him just to prove that Dean will allow it, that this inability to say no and make it stick goes both ways. Sam goes to his knees behind Dean, lining up with Dean’s ass.

“Hold on,” Dean says, looking over his shoulder, all swollen-mouthed from Sam’s kisses. “You got a rubber? No glove, no love.”

Sam shakes his head, not a negation so much as a recognition of Dean’s consistently very bad judgment. “You get like this and now you ask?”

Dean starts to push himself up on his hands, alarmed, but Sam’s bigger and stronger and has his full weight on Dean’s jeans and Dean can’t kick free. In a flash Sam has Dean’s wrists caught behind his back, held tight in one hand as Sam opens his own jeans with the other. “You’ll bend over for anyone, won’t you?” Sam muses, rubbing the head of his cock between Dean’s cheeks, just brushing his hole, barely eased by the thin sheen of precome he’s leaked in anticipation. Dean bucks and snarls, but he’s pinned, has no leverage. The side of his face is pressed into cold concrete, still beautiful with fury distorting it. He’s not going to yell for help, that’s for damn sure: Dean would never admit he was beaten that way.

“Shh,” Sam says, and pulls back enough to rummage in Dean’s pockets where they’re bunched over his calves. “Just making a point.” He keeps his hold on Dean’s wrists just in case, but he bends over so Dean can see him ripping the condom packet with his teeth. He makes quick work of putting it on, because he’s teased himself half to death already.

Dean’s upstairs brain is still outraged, but the downstairs brain is getting interested again, judging by the way Dean stretches his knees just a bit wider, pushing his ass back towards Sam. There’s a slick of lube on the condom, just enough that Dean won’t be torn up without anything more, so Sam doesn’t make either of them wait any longer.

He slides in slow, no choice about it. His grip on Dean’s wrists is undoubtedly bruising, but he can’t make himself let go. Dean gasps, like he can’t fill his lungs, and then he’s raising up, fucking himself back on Sam’s cock, opening up around him until he is all the way inside. Dean’s skin is chilly against his thighs, but inside he is hot as Texas summer.

Sam releases Dean’s wrists and immediately grabs his hips. He can feel the solid bone under sleek muscle and skin, and he squeezes experimentally as Dean braces his hands on the floor and pushes back even further, as if he could possibly take more of Sam inside.

It’s so good he wants to die, not in the usual way, just transfixed right here: peak experience. Blindly, he reaches around Dean’s body, fingers sliding on the sweat-slick skin, and gropes until he finds Dean’s dick. Dean grunts, not all in pleasure, but he’s already hardening in Sam’s grasp. Sam can smell him now over the stale alcohol of the storeroom, sweat and sex and Dean’s own bad-boy glamor, stronger than most magic Sam knows.

“Fucking fuck me already,” Dean whines, bucking forward into Sam’s hand, then back onto his cock. Sam lets him work for it a little while, because it feels so good. Dean’s sweat is sliding down his back and melding with Sam’s own. But he can’t have Dean think he’s in charge, so he brings his other hand around and tugs Dean up and back, forcing him to spread his thighs even further around Sam’s own legs. Dean’s almost sitting on Sam now, unbalanced, and the angle’s changed so that all Dean can do is wheeze needily and make abortive thrusts that move him half an inch at most.

Sam takes pity and takes over. His hand is starfished over Dean’s stomach, and he wishes he could feel his dick moving inside Dean, but even he’s not that big. Dean’s skin is sweat-drenched and his fingers slip as he pushes up with all his might, forcing Dean to reach behind himself and hang on to Sam’s waist to avoid falling forward. Dean’s holding on to him and he’s holding on to Dean, jacking Dean’s cock as he chases his own pleasure.

“Do anything for me, wouldn’t you?” he pants, driving into Dean’s heat again and again. “But it’s really all about you, isn’t it? You gotta have it—”

Dean’s cock jerks in his hand and he has a moment to think about teenage stamina before Dean squeezes his own orgasm out of him in a rush that’s like coming back to life.

Several minutes or hours later, he realizes that Dean is wriggling underneath him, and he barely manages to hang on to the condom before Dean is shouldering him off, obviously a bit freaked. Dean suppresses a gasp when Sam slides out; Sam doesn’t manage to do the same.

“Well,” Dean manages, his voice an octave lower—he’s remembered he’s supposed to be trying John Winchester’s cool—“that was fun.”

Sam has a lot less getting dressed to do, and he’s got his jeans zipped and belt buckled before Dean’s managed to get all the way standing. He looms—he’s good at that even if he tries not to do it most of the time—and manages to be close enough that Dean can’t get out of the door without moving him. He wants to slip some bills into Dean’s pocket, but twenty-year-ahead cash will just get Dean tossed out of grocery stores, so instead he presses a kiss to Dean’s forehead, gentle in a way that causes Dean to rear back in offense at the presumption, then gives in and steals one last kiss from Dean’s plump wet mouth, all salt and curses and the unheard echo of Sam’s name.

He stumbles out, leaving Dean behind to recover himself, and heads down the hallway back to the front of the bar—

And he’s back. The air of the bunker is much dryer and cooler. Dean’s musk is still heavy in his nostrils. He wipes his mouth with his thumb and comes away with a fleck of Dean’s spunk. He doesn’t know why or how, but this was real.

It hits him again, now that he’s out of Dean’s heady presence, that Dean’s had this time-slip before Sam. Dean’s known Sam before Sam knew Dean, take that all the ways it could mean. It’s another branch for the fire of resentment inside him, that Dean would try to hide this portal. Dean had this bit of understanding of their history and had denied it to Sam, the same way he tried to control everything he thought Sam would be too fragile to withstand.

It’s so Dean, to have begged Sam for forgiveness when Sam couldn’t possibly know what he was supposed to forgive. Sam can’t even be mad (madder) at him; it’s not as if Dean felt in any way forgiven. Sam knows that much.

They were a snake swallowing its own tail. They were each other’s cross to bear, and the one staggering under the other’s burden at any given time would float away into nothing without that weight. Sam’s never not going to be angry about Gadreel, just as Dean’s never not going to be sick with guilt about everything he was and wasn’t responsible for.

But if they’re trapped in this loop together, then they’ll be in it together. Sam won’t flinch from his responsibility any more: he is the one to keep Dean in check. He’d no more asked for that than Dean had asked to have a six-month-old baby dumped into his arms. But when had asking for anything been necessary to be responsible for it anyhow? They were woven through each other’s timelines, closer than blood, closer than apostles drinking from the same cup.

And in the end—he loves Dean. He doesn’t have to forgive Dean to love him, or to need to save him. Dean needs to be protected from his own worst impulses, including the ones to run roughshod over Sam. Dean has so much to live for that shouldn’t be surrendered to the Mark. Regular orgasms are a powerful reinforcement that can create a bond even if you don’t mean to, as Sam has reason to know. This can be a tie between them that neither will have cause to resent.

Tonight he’ll pin Dean down, ignoring Dean’s irrelevant self-flagellation.

****

The Mark must be restless tonight, because Dean has not only cleaned the kitchen top to bottom, he has made both steak and creamed spinach, which he thinks doesn’t count as a vegetable because of how much fat it has. And he’s drinking root beer, which maybe has some sort of placebo effect because it’s dark and comes in a bottle.

Dinner is too good to waste, so Sam eats it mostly in silence, letting Dean talk about the groceries he picked up earlier and how he opened the Impala up because of a weird noise—“not a noise exactly, I just get a feeling sometimes, you know? And sure enough, there was this hose—”

Sam’s been tuning car talk out for most of his life, and it’s still easy to do. He butters a roll—locavore butter, which he knows because Dean ragged him mercilessly about getting it even though Dean was the one who bought it for him. Once they’d kind of settled down in the bunker, it had become clear to both of them that Sam’s idea of shopping involves getting a bunch of vegetables he doesn’t know how to cook and the occasional smelly cheese. Dean’s passive-aggressive cooking is Dean’s messed-up way of trying to take care of Sam, and mostly Sam appreciates it. Today, he does: the butter is good, and so is the steak and spinach.

Dean’s smirk as he notes Sam’s cleaned plate is tiny, but there. That’s a good sign, something the Mark wouldn’t allow Dean if it were winning its struggle for control.

Another thing they don’t talk about is the implicit agreement that Dean will do all of the cooking and most of the dishes if Sam does most of the research. Comparative advantage, they called it in his Economics class, but Dean would have some bizarre and self-defeating sexist/homophobic reaction if he admitted it outright, and might even refuse to divide the chores, which is in nobody’s best interest. So Sam leans back and watches Dean putter around, letting pans soak in the sink, towel thrown over his shoulder as he tidies up.

Sam is procrastinating.

Dean’s shoulders tense, millimeter by millimeter, as Sam keeps watching him.

Finally, Dean slams his hands down on the counter next to the sink, rattling the dishes in the drying rack. “Only way I’m gonna snap is if you keep starin’ at me!”

“I’m not worried about that,” Sam says mildly.

Dean hears the truth in his voice and turns, still wary. “Then what?”

Sam leans back in his chair, widening his stance, taking up more space. “So when were you going to tell me that you were the guy I fucked that one night in college?”

The flash of self-loathing that crosses Dean’s face tells Sam everything he needs to know.

Dean braces himself to take a hit. When Sam makes no immediate move to beat the stuffing out of him, he wipes his hand nervously across his mouth. “It ain’t the worst thing I’ve done to you this year,” Dean finally says, as if that matters.

No shit, Sam thinks, but keeps it in. “I went into that room too,” he says, and watches Dean get it—that now they’ve both completed their loops. He can tell that Dean had already pretty much figured out, and repressed, that he’d had his own teenage encounter with an older Sam; denial had worked fine for him until Sam had brought it up. “So what are we going to do about it?”

“Nothing,” Dean says, folding his arms over his chest. Before Sam can speak, he continues: “We’ve got bigger problems. Crowley and Metatron, and the Mark—that’s now, not so many years ago I don’t even remember it.”

That’s a lie. “This is also now. I can still taste you.”

Dean blanches. “I’m sorry,” he says miserably. “I never shoulda—”

“Gone along with me when I came on to you? Twice?”

Dean’s eyes flash warning. “You aren’t a siren, Sam. I had a choice, and I shoulda—” The words escape him and he swallows.

“I wanted it then and I want it now,” Sam says. It’s the truth, and they’ve had more than enough lies. Dean’s head jerks back, like he’s been slapped. “You already know this works between us. It could make us better.”

Dean’s eyes drop as he bites his lip, and Sam feels his dick start to sit up and take notice. Dean wants him too, even if he’s not willing to make the first move. Dean wants him enough to go along with Sam twelve-odd years ago and enough to go along with him now. It’s only that Dean thinks he isn’t worthy of anything that makes him feel good.

Sam presses his advantage. He stands and crosses the floor so that he’s close enough to be kissed, or hit. Honestly, he’s expecting both. “You said you wanted to fight the Mark. This is something to fight for.” This close, Dean’s crow’s feet show even when he’s not smiling. Sam wants to see Dean smile again. “We’ve been messed up for so long, Dean. How about being messed up in a way that doesn’t hurt, for once?”

Dean still won’t meet Sam’s eyes. Beneath his stubble, he’s too pale, not enough time in the sun. “It’s not right,” he whispers.

“But it’s good,” Sam says. That’s enough for him right now. More than he deserves, and less than he wants. He doesn’t have a choice about enough in his life. He’s choosing to have this with Dean.

Dean doesn’t say anything, but slowly his arms come down from their protective position. Instead of reaching for Sam, he braces himself on the counter, the grooves of the muscles in his forearms standing out where he’s rolled his shirt up to wash the dishes.

As Sam cups Dean’s cheek in his hand, as he leans down to kiss Dean the way Dean ought to be kissed, he thinks about those poor kids in the past, wanting so much and getting so little. Sam isn’t an innocent any more, and there’s nothing he can do for those younger guys, but there’s something he can do for himself.

Dean kisses like it’s the only way he can save himself from drowning, then makes a small noise of protest. Sam’s bending him back against the counter at an angle that can’t be comfortable. Sam backs off enough for Dean to straighten and helps Dean unbutton and tug his shirts off. Dean’s eyes are downcast even now, and Sam realizes: Dean thinks he’s not as beautiful as that teenaged twink.

“Hey,” he says, and catches Dean’s shoulder in his hand. He waits for Dean to look at him, and then he waits for Dean to see him. “You’ve never looked better.” He says it simply, not with the wide-eyed sincerity he’d use for a witness. There’s no need to dissemble. Dean’s shoulders and arms are thick and curved with muscle; he doesn’t have a six-pack but he doesn’t need it—his beauty wasn’t made in a gym.

Dean blushes—blushes!—and cracks a grin, deflection so automatic that Sam can’t even resent it. “You ain’t so bad yourself,” he says. His hands, reverent on Sam’s chest, say something more eloquent.

“Come on,” Sam says. “Show me your memory foam.”

And Dean does, abandoning their shirts for tomorrow’s cleanup, leading the way so that Sam can admire the sleek lines of his back. Sam’s not exactly jubilant—there are too many unknowns ahead for that—but he’s better than he’s been. He’s got a fighting chance at clawing Dean back from the cliff that the Mark wants to throw his brother over. If anything can reject the effects of the Mark, it’s two Winchesters, which is stubbornness squared. As long as he keeps Dean focused on that, they have a chance.

Sam breathes deep and follows Dean into the future.