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“Breakfast?”

“Yup, after a shower.” Sam ruffles his hair and sets his feet firmly on the rough, industrial hotel carpet. The bed he shared with Dean these past two days feels like home and his stomach tugs a little at the thought that they will have to leave this haven. Defiant, even to an arbitrary check out time, Sam flops backwards, the back of his head knocking Dean in the solar plexus. Dean isn’t prepared for the blow and the air in his lungs gusts out in a woof.

Christ that kid’s head is made of iron. Dean thinks and blushes straight through to his scalp remembering Sam’s weight hovering above him in the darkness. Yesterday this all made a hell of a lot more sense. Last night Dean had experienced one moment of frigid, cold-sweat panic. Sam had left the room to go pick up dinner at a small pizza joint in the center of this grease spot Indiana town. Dean would have beaten his own ass for acting like such a girl if it had not been for the excruciating inability to breathe in Sam’s absence. Sam materialized 30-minutes later with an extra-large pizza loaded with six kinds of meat, two six packs of beer, and an Italian sub slathered in garlic-herb dressing. Dean had wanted to weep.

They ate dinner, drank beer, and watched an old John Carpenter classic. They laughed and heckled the characters, their voices finding a natural harmony. The discordant cacophony of the past four months stripped away as dying leaves are from the branch creating emptiness but also the promise of new growth in the spring. They shouted cold weather survival techniques like drill sergeants and foaming beer burst out Sam’s nose when Dean declared to him and the room at large that he would “straight-up rock that bitch with a sawed off and a stick of dynamite if it fucked up my dogs like that.”

They found each other as the nights wore on, hands tracing patterns on naked skin. Dean’s hardness a searing flame that lit Sam from within. Dean feels desire stir, but his need is balanced by a grumble in his stomach, which causes a low chuckle to rumble through his chest.

“Dude, really? Get your ass moving.” Dean feels the corner of his mouth tug up into a smile and he brushes a lock of wavy chestnut hair from Sam’s forehead. “I’m starving.”

“You ate half a pig last night between that sub and the pizza. Relax.” Sam pushes himself up on one elbow and traces the raised white puckers of scaring on the inside of Dean’s thigh. Dean drinks in the attention. No one has ever touched him with the reverence that Sam uses when his fingers trail across Dean's body.

“Dean.” Sam feels tears prick at the corners of his eyes and he swallows hard, this needs to be about Dean, about his lover, his only family, not about his own fear. There will be plenty of time for that later. The hitch in Sam’s voice rips through the thin veil of gauze separating Dean from reality.

It’s time. Dean thinks. Although he knows that Sam loves him, his tongue feels like it has been replaced by cement.

“I thought…” Sam stops, shakes his head before he continues. “I thought that you said you didn’t have any scars when you came back. I mean aside from Castiel’s handprints.”

“Yeah.”

“So?”

“Sammy, I did that.”

Sam opens his mouth to ask why.

Why didn’t you talk to me?

Why didn’t you let me help you?

Didn’t you know this would hurt me, to see you do to yourself what I watched a hell hound do to you less than a year ago?

Sam remembers the look on Dean’s face when he saw him with Ruby, drawing out a demon, an adept at using powers he swore to Dean he’d foregone. Of course Dean did not trust him. Sam understands he has earned that mistrust, as angry and recalcitrant as he has felt at times. He pushed Dean away, deserted him, left him to buoy a driven and distant father, lied to him, and somehow, Dean has found him out and destroyed his own skin rather than turn to his brother for comfort.

“It wasn’t 4 months.” A steel band tightens around his chest.

“What?”

“I don’t know Sammy, time is different down stairs. 4 months up here is more like 40 years.”

“God, Dean.”

“It…every day, Sammy, every day they would tear and rip and shred at me, in ways you can’t imagine. And every day…like magic…I would be healed and it would start all over again. And at the end of each day…this demon, Alastair, he would come to me and make me an offer. He’d take me off the rack, if I started to put souls on. Started to torture. Every day I told him to stick it where the sun shines.” Sam reaches for Dean’s hands, presses his lips to Dean’s knuckles.

“For thirty years I told him. But after so much time, so much blood and pain, I couldn’t tell him anymore. And I got off that rack Sammy, I got right off and I started ripping them apart. God help me, I liked it, after all that time, getting to deal some hurt back. You kept asking how I felt…this thing inside me…I hate it. I wanted to feel nothing, and then you.”

Sam stares at Dean with awe. Who is this man? Who is this man that could possibly endure torture beyond what any human being could bear, break, and still be able to reach toward another being with tenderness, with love? Grace. Sam feels it for the first time, not a word printed on onion skin, or spouted from pulpits, but a swaddling that binds him and Dean together in this moment when for all practical purposes they should fly apart. It is the thing he begged for not 24-hours ago, the thing he thought God would never grant them.

“Dean…” The love in Dean’s eyes fades, the emptiness Sam has resented, railed against, flows back into his face. Sam feels a desperate need to drive it away at any cost, o explain that they are not alone, that Dean is not alone and never will be again.

“Dean, you don’t know what I’ve done, it’s not just you, I can’t know, I can’t begin to imagine what horrors you….” He kisses Dean’s scars again, Dean’s face, lips, neck, chest. Sam kisses him with fervor, willing his lips to remove the memory of hell from Dean’s pores and to Sam’s surprise, Dean is still. There is a shift in the universe and reality steps to the left. Sam feels the soft breath of creation sigh into his consciousness, Yes. Love each other.

“Ruby, you know, what I’ve done, I’ve been…” He stops, because this might end it all but he can’t let Dean walk this path alone. A new sensation takes root in Sam's heart, a knowledge and bearing witness to the horror of their lives will save save them both. “I fucked her Dean. I let her do things…” Deep breath, nothing but truth and that force urging him forward.

“I drank her blood Dean. I was so lost, and I figured if I couldn’t get you back, that I could at least kill Lilith. Please Dean, please don’t disappear again, you’re not alone. Hate me if you need to, I know that I betrayed everything we’ve fought for, everything Dad died for, but please, know that I love you.”

Something explodes deep inside Dean’s mind. It’s all too much, looking at Sam, his brother, his lover, knowing Sam came inside that thing. Thinking about Ruby’s blood serving as a substitute for him, even as Alastair flayed his skin off in strips, tortured him, taunted him. He wondered how Sam did it, if Ruby would slice her breast and let Sam suckle like a pup. Sam’s scent so close, the heat of his skin makes Dean wretch, bile searing the back of his throat.

A chair is in Dean’s hands. He doesn’t remember taking it up. It splinters against the wall, all his rage, the chair, the degradation and pain, his fear and finally his failure. He swings until all that is left is kindling, and then it is his hands trying batter the shame out of his skull.

Two arms circle him from behind and drag Dean to the floor. He writhes and curses, until there is nothing left, until everything is gone and all he hears is the sound of his and Sam’s harsh pants. A lightness moves i his chest, the hollow pit, the vipers gone, and clear brilliant dawn breaks inside Dean.

“Dean, Dean, Dean.” Dean becomes aware that Sam is chanting his name, like a mantra, like a prayer. “Dean, I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

Dean stretches a hand to Sam’s face.

“Sammy. I can’t…”

“No Dean, I know, I know, if you never forgive me I know, I love you, just don’t ever forget that.”

“Sammy, too tight, sasquatch. I can’t breathe.” Dean pulls at Sam’s arms and twists to face him.

“Oh.” Sam releases his grasp.

“It’s gone Sammy.” Sam slumps. He knows this is the end.

Dean reads the resignation and rolls his eyes. “Not you Sammy. Not you. Never you.” Dean strokes Sam’s face. “The pain Sammy, it’s gone. Don’t you feel it? Something has changed, not just us, not just you. I feel…” He chokes, joy beating against his ribcage, the last remnants of hell shrinking from this new light, burning off like dew under the warm caress of a mid-July sun.

“I feel free Sammy, we’re free.”