They'd been on their own before, days without a non-lying word to anyone but each other (days without a non-lying word even to each other, if you wanted to go that far), but Dean felt it more now. He'd been peeled down to just about nothing, past his clothes and his skin and everything else that might have protected him so he didn't notice just how alone he was.
Castiel had been scarce the past week or so, maybe aware that neither of them wanted much truck with angels any more. Or he might've just been off starting that drug habit Dean had seen in the future. Bobby'd practically told them how much it sucked to have the Winchesters in his life, Sam and Dean's curse taking his legs and then taking the memory of his wife, just like they'd been responsible for Mom and Dad's death, and all of it because angels wanted to have their war by way of Winchester blood. Dean thought about calling Chuck for half a second before remembering how he'd say to their faces how much he didn't want a part of them.
All Dean had left was 'no' and Sam, and he wasn't sure how much longer either of those was going to hold out. Yeah, Sam was stuck with him—because his other choices were all gone. Dean beat out Satan (at least for the moment) in Sam's opinion: a real fucking endorsement. When Dean wasn't delivering the fireworks, Sam could take or leave him. His Heaven wasn't Dean's Hell—but it was pretty fucking close, once you scrubbed away the blood.
Dean was almost grateful that Zachariah had gone with the obvious fake Mom. As awful as that had been, it was better than some of the alternatives. Sam'd mentioned that Lucifer liked to masquerade as Jess. (Which really should have been another clue, but Dean was like a damn puppy, ignoring his own mess until you shoved it in his face.) Dean wasn't sure he could have handled it if the angel had managed to speak using Mom's form the way Michael had worn Dad.
And at least they hadn't seen Michael again. Fucker. Dean'd seen his dad possessed before, out in a cabin full of his family's blood. It didn't incline him to cooperate.
But, even full of disgust for angels that he'd never felt for the maggots that writhed in the guts of a fresh corpse, he was still about at the end of his refusals. Sure, he'd hold out for a while after he stopped saying no—saying yes was a step beyond exhausted silence—but he was the same guy who stepped off the rack and picked up the knife. If Michael showed up right now and promised him no Heaven, nothing but not, Dean might even go for it immediately.
Point was, Dean wasn't paying much attention to where Sam was taking them. Sam said there was a hunt. Dean didn't bother to ask whether it was apocalypse-related. If Sam thought that information was relevant, he'd surely say, and if he didn't, he wouldn't appreciate Dean's second-guessing.
Still, Dean was a little surprised when he got back from picking up dinner and found Walt and Roy tied to chairs in the center of the crappy motel room, gagged and freaked-out, foreheads shining with sweat and eyes practically bugging out of their heads as they swiveled their necks to look from Sam, to Dean, back to Sam again.
"Sam?" He put the bags down on the table next to the door and pulled the gun out from the back of his jeans. Walt and Roy weren't Bobby-class in terms of the danger they posed no matter how tied up they were, but there was no harm in aiming.
"Look who I found," Sam said. His smile made the two of them cringe in their seats. Dean noted that their ankles looked as tightly bound as their hands. Sam'd been careful. He'd even dragged in patio chairs from the nonworking pool to tie them to—heavy metal, not like the regular motel chairs that would have fallen apart with a whack or two.
Sam had been pretty enthusiastic when he'd taken them down, Dean guessed, judging from the bruises swelling on Walt's face and the blood crusted under Roy's nose.
"Is this the hunt?" Dean asked, just to be sure. "Or are these idiots still following us around thinking they can kill us and make it stick? 'Cause I'll tell you, guys, Heaven's got a fuck of a return serve."
Sam shrugged. "I've been tracking them for a couple of days. They didn't know they'd failed. I've been explaining, but I'm not sure they're really feeling it."
Dean checked their faces, and thought that Roy at least was smart enough to start believing, given the evidence. Walt was maybe a tougher sell, but he'd do what Roy told him. "What're we gonna do with them?"
Sam's face twitched, one of those frowns that said Dean had let him down once again, and looked at his feet. "I thought you might have some ideas."
"Well, I don't." That wasn't exactly true. Sure, they were tied up in a way that would make a number of Dean's best moves impossible, but he was nothing if not capable of working under nonideal circumstances. Sometimes Alastair would set them up in weird ways, just for the challenge of it, and Dean had never failed to figure out something special.
The things he could do to a pair of hunters—he might even feel it.
He seriously doubted Sam wanted to see him work for real. Sam had come in on him and Alastair after Alastair had broken free, and anyway Sam never liked to think about Dean's wrongdoing Below, only his weakness after. Sam was expecting more in the way of putting the fear of there-is-no-God into them. But Dean couldn't trust himself to bring thunder without lightning, and these schmucks were after all only human.
Sam's shoulders dropped, almost awkward, almost like he'd been before Hell and all those new muscles and all that contempt he had for Dean's weakness. "I can take care of it, I guess."
Dean's stomach twisted some. If he let Sam take out some of that anger on humans—granted, they deserved it, but feeding Sam's rage maybe wasn't the smartest thing for Sam.
Like he'd ever known what was best for Sam.
Dean turned so that he was only looking at Roy and Walt in his peripheral vision. "Whatever."
Sam made a little noise, somewhere between annoyed and really pissed-off. "Fine."
When he approached their captives, he was holding the machete, the one they used on vampires. It looked almost normal-sized in his hands. "Here's the thing," Sam said, casual. "We're kind of busy, what with trying to stop the end of the world and all. We don't have time for your shit. Still, you made Dean watch me die, and then you hurt him—you even thought you could kill him. There's a price for that."
Dean was surprised by the warmth he felt in his chest, hearing Sam talk like that. Yeah, he already knew that Sam wanted to avenge him far more than Sam wanted to live with him, but there was still a kind of comfort in having Sam point out that Roy and Walt's little plan had been rough on Dean.
Sam's eyes narrowed further. "You're gonna leave. Leave the state, leave the country, leave the continent. I'm kicking you out. If Dean and I can't save the world, then you're gonna die screaming like everyone else. But if we do, and if you try to come within a thousand miles of us, I'll know. And then you'll find out just how evil I really get." Dean tried to check out Sam's face, but the angle was bad. Roy'd pissed himself, Dean saw, but he might've done that even with Sam's eyes only human. Dean edged a little closer.
Sam took a deep breath and flipped the machete in his hand, like it was a straw he was twirling. "That seem fair to you?"
Both of them nodded vigorously.
"When I cut you loose," Sam said, "you're gonna go. Stopping for whatever's in that van of yours out in the parking lot would be a mistake."
Before they could do more than flinch, he was cutting at the ropes binding their feet, not too careful with the edge—Walt made a noise closer to a sob than anything else. When Sam had cut them both free, wrinkling his nose at the smell, he jerked his head towards the door and they stumbled towards it so fast that they tangled together, nearly bringing each other down even before Dean put his boot in Walt's ass.
Dean guessed that he was still pretty pissed, no matter how bad things were with Sam. And it was nearly sweet that Sam had offered him the chance to decide the guys' fate.
He watched them limp down the road past the motel, not really sure what he was feeling.
"So," Sam said, like he'd just farted and hoped Dean hadn't noticed, "dinner?"
Dean thought about it. "Eat outside? Kinda stinks in here."
Sam's face went through about five expressions before deciding on 'amused.' Dean didn't know if that was what he'd been aiming for. Part of him wanted to keep sniping at Sam—he'd been trained not to pick at scabs, but he was working on not taking any of Dad's teaching for granted any more. In the end, though, he decided just to eat dinner. Uncomfortable silence had been good enough for the past couple of days.
Half an hour later, chicken bones and fragments of coleslaw stuffed into the takeout bag between them, they were nursing beers and staring at the sunset from the hood of the car. It was another spectacular one, like a lot they'd seen lately—Dean thought maybe the world knew it was ending even if the people didn't, so it was going out in style, the sky striped blood-orange and butter-yellow, then slowly shading to a blue so intense it was like they were underwater.
Beyond Sam's request for the napkins, they hadn't exchanged words. Dean had felt Sam counting each time Dean popped another cap, but he was only six in so Sam could suck it, and anyway Sam hadn't said boo on the subject.
Sam stretched, a little stiff so that Dean knew he was exaggerating to get Dean's attention, and patted the Impala with idle fondness. "I always feel safer with her," he said. "Hard to believe the crazy things she's survived."
"Didn't even need a resurrection," Dean agreed. He had a flash of himself beating her up, then building her back again. He guessed it didn't matter. Talking to a car like it cared, that was just another game, and maybe he needed to give that up too before it got taken from him.
"Dean," Sam said, with that tone that was Dean's cue to roll his eyes and curl in on himself so that the subsequent conversation would be as short as possible.
Dean flicked at the label of his beer with his thumbnail.
Sam stopped there, apparently even more surprised by Dean's failure to cringe than Dean was. Dean at least kind of understood why he wasn't doing this dance any more. You came into the world naked and howling and alone, and that's how you went out too, no matter how nice your car was or how many people checked you out when you walked past. Seemed kind of stupid to pretend like shit didn't hurt when it did, when pretending only set you up for the next beatdown.
Sam cleared his throat. "I, uh. I don't think we're on the same page about what happened in Heaven."
Now Dean very much wanted to roll his eyes. "Nothing new there," he pointed out. In fact, turned out that Sam was pretty much Bizarro Dean. To take a totally random example, look at the best days of Sam's life. Not Sam's fault, since he'd been saying it straight out since he was a scrawny little teen—he didn't want anything Dean wanted. Just, Dean had never full-on believed him.
Sam had been right all along, not just for himself but for Dean, because it turned out that open roads and easy girls were a gnat's eyelash compared to the Texas-sized ways in which the Winchester experience sucked, and Dean had been fooling himself (and only himself) all along.
"Can we—go inside, maybe?"
Dean didn't get why this would be any more fun in the room, but it was getting dark enough that the heat was almost done bleeding off the car, and anyway she'd witnessed more than enough of Dean's breakdowns over the years, so he didn't see much reason to fight. He shrugged and grabbed up their trash.
The room was a lot uglier than the car plus the sunset, in Dean's opinion, even if it was mostly aired out from earlier events and even if there weren't any obvious cigarette burns in the carpet. He shuffled himself over to his bed and sat down, hands on his knees, then decided to be petty (it was good enough for angels) and keep his eyes anywhere but on Sam while Sam figured out how he wanted to pep-talk Dean this time.
Except—wasn't he done with all that, too? Pretending like it was Sam who cared about their relationship. If he couldn't keep the sarcastic emphasis out of his mental voice, he could at least admit the truth. "We shouldn't be worrying about our memories, we need to focus on the big shit: Zachariah on our asses, God cutting us loose."
Sam hovered in the middle of the room, right where Roy had been tied. "I think our memories are the big shit, Dean. Or part of it, anyway."
"Zach really hates me. Don't think it's personal with you," Dean mused. Which led him towards a place he'd been going for a while. They weren't a matched pair, salt and pepper (or maybe salt and sulfur) like the angels and demons wanted them to be. There might be a way to turn this Grand Canyon between them into something useful.
Dean bit his lip and went for it.
"If you keep saying no, and I say yes. Lucifer'd still be in the wrong vessel. He'd be weak. Michael could take out Lucifer without a fight so big it ends the world. That could be as good as—" but Sam's frantic headshaking gave way to hurrying over to Dean, dropping to his knees and grabbing Dean's shoulders.
It felt good, all Sam's concern focused on him, but the feeling was a lie. Anger bubbled in his chest like blood. "Come on, Sam, it's not like you don't want to split up."
"Actually, it's a lot like that," Sam snapped. His bangs were a mess, falling across his forehead and making it easier not to meet his eyes. His fingers flexed against Dean's biceps, like he was reminding Dean what he could do to Dean if he wanted to. "You need to listen to me."
"Why, so you can tell me how wrong I am some more?"
Sam made a noise of such pain that Dean checked, through his lashes, to make sure nothing had really happened. Sam blinked down at him, like Dean was supposed to confuse intensity with sincerity. "The stuff you saw in Heaven, Dean. That was the start of my road, not the end. Those memories, they were times I thought I was heading to something—we were kids, we both were, and I didn't know then what I know now. And you know, there's almost ten years of my life we didn't visit."
"Yeah, because there ain't exactly been a lot of Thanksgivings and golden retrievers since then," Dean bit out, annoyed at being the one made to say it. Fuck, his own memories had walked him backwards, that's how good life got for him. That wasn't Sam's fault, but Dean wasn't going to pretend he was okay with Sam only being around because they were chained together by the apocalypse.
Sam tilted his head, like he was checking his work. He huffed out and set his jaw in the way that meant he planned to stubborn Dean into submission.
"Prank wars, Dean. That fairy circle in Ohio. Saving lives. Singing along in the car. Saving your life. Buying your midget-sized undershirts when we finally make it to a Wal-Mart. Watching you sweep the table when you're hustling pool."
Dean shook his head. The words were right, but it was no better if Sam gave up on escape and just tried to enjoy the crappy parts of their life. Dean'd tried that way for years, but Sam was too smart to fool himself for that long. Anyway, listening to Sam talk himself into some fantasy was going to end up leaving them worse off in the long run.
He tried to armor himself against the flicker of hope that it wasn't Sam who was fooling himself. No, not armor, that had all been knocked down, shattered, run through. The opposite: he had to let it go, give it up.
Sam actually fucking grabbed Dean's face with his enormous paws, forcing Dean's head up so that their eyes met. "Bringing that little girl in Chariton back to her parents. Remember how they looked at us? And then we stopped at this shack and had the best tacos I ever tasted, and you said good tacos in Iowa were practically evidence of witchcraft, and I talked about immigration patterns until you put a handful of ice down my back. I was happy, Dean. I think we were happy."
Sometime during Sam's speech, Dean found himself leaning forward, Sam's palms a little sweaty against his skin.
Fact was, Dean wanted it to be true so much he was nothing but a shell filled up with want, and it felt so much like the emptiness he was used to that he wondered whether Famine hadn't been wrong, whether he was just always so hungry that he couldn't get any hungrier.
"I grew up," Sam said, like he could tell Dean was finally listening. "I've had those great moments with you, the ones worth coming back to. Yeah, that doesn't happen every day. But when it does, there's nothing I want more. And I want it to keep happening."
"I don't know how to believe you," Dean said in a rush, possibly the worst confession of failure he'd ever had to make. "Next time you think you know better, or Lucifer makes you a sweeter offer—"
Sam brushed his thumb over Dean's cheek, gentle, even with tears shining in his eyes. "Just listen, Dean. I didn't lie to you when I was a kid and I'm not lying to you now. This is what I want. You're what I want."
It was too much, a flash flood in the desert, his heart too hard and shriveled to unclench. He wanted to deny it, shut down, go back to just being mad. Sam was fighting so hard, brave like he'd been brave fighting off the demon blood all over again. Dean didn't get why Sam even thought Dean ought to matter to him, since Sam was stronger than he'd ever been, but Sam's eyes were open and honest. Sam, at least, believed what he was saying, at least as much as he'd believed he could be normal all those years ago.
He'd been trying to let Sam go, because that's what Sam wanted. But he didn't know who he was after he did that, and he didn't have any fucking time to find out. Letting go of Sam meant nothing to hold on to, so no wonder he was screaming and flailing around like his first years on the rack.
"I don't know how much of me is left," Dean admitted.
Sam swallowed. "Then maybe it's time to make a fresh start," he said. "I'll help you when you need it, and you help me. I choose you. Not because I have to. Because you make me a better man, and because I love you—don't, Dean—" pressing hard on Dean's cheek to keep him from turning away—"and because I want to. Will you choose me?"
Dean couldn't look at him, not for this. Sam dropped his hand, but he didn't pull away, still kneeling in front of Dean like he was sewing up a wound.
He could hear them both breathing, his own rhythm ragged and Sam more even but still fast, amped-up. Sam really thought Dean had a decision to make. 'I never had a choice' was Dean's automatic reaction, along with all the resentment that had always floated alongside the proud certainty. But. 'Never had' wasn't the same as 'don't have.'
Along with what Dean had always wanted, Sam was offering pain, maybe total disaster. That was the price. Dean knew it, even if Sam didn't want to admit it.
Pain was an old friend, and disaster—well, Dean had put out that welcome mat once or twice.
When Dean opened his eyes again, Sam was still watching him. He didn't look like Dean expected: like he was waiting for Dean to hurry up and get the point, eyes narrowed and not even surprised at Dean's slowness. Instead, Sam was just—there. Like he'd be there as long as it took, true north while Dean's compass heart spun and settled. Sam wasn't smirking, but Dean had the sense that Sam was waiting for a reason to smile.
Sam had never been a choice for him before. But Sam was worth choosing.
"Yeah," he said. He could feel more words thrashing in his chest, trapped the way they always were, about how he wasn't going to be able to do this without hearing Sam say it again, and how even then there were going to be times he didn't buy it. If Sam really knew him, if Sam was willing to deal with all of him, then Sam wouldn't need to hear those things, though there were probably other words that Dean would be honor-bound to produce eventually.
"Thank you," Sam said, his smile brighter than high-beams. Dean smiled back because he couldn't help it (some things, he still couldn't choose, but he guessed he was okay with that).
Sam rocked back a couple of inches and started digging in his jeans, mumbling curses and then a bark of triumph when he produced—
"I thought—" Sam mumbled, flushing.
"I know what you thought," Dean told him, because Sam had been right.
"Will you?" Sam held the amulet out, dangling from his clenched fist.
Dean examined him, his eyebrows disappearing under his bangs as he gave Dean his best eager-puppy look. The amulet was their history, but maybe it could be their future too, grabbed up and remade from trash because they weren't going to let anyone else decide what it was going to mean. "Yeah, Sammy." Dean offered his hand, palm open, ready now.
Instead of putting the cord in Dean's hand, though, Sam held on to it, using both hands to pull it wide enough. Dean accepted the inevitable and bowed his head, almost like he was getting a blessing.
The press of Sam's thumbs against the sides of his neck didn't feel like any blessing he'd ever known about.
The amulet caught on his collar and then fell inside his shirt, like a shared secret. The metal was cool against his skin, but only for a second, taking up his body heat like it had never left.
Sam didn't lean back, his hands just drifting down a little. If Dean moved just an inch, he'd be close enough to—
Sam's breath was hot against his face. Sam was up on one knee, he realized, and was shocked enough to snap his eyes up. He'd never been this close to someone and not kissed them, he thought.
None of his old rules had worked. He already knew it was time for some new ones. And if he managed to piss off God and the angels in the process, well, that was just a bonus.
He had to take a couple of breaths before he could speak. "This is a little weird, right?" Sam would know better than he did, he figured, and the thought barely scraped his skin.
"Yeah," Sam said, voice full of laughter, "it's a little weird. But, you know, I'm okay with that."
"Yeah?" Dean said. His voice wasn't shaking, whatever Sam might have said if asked.
"We eat weird for breakfast." And laced into the humor was a dirty sort of promise; Dean could feel his own cheeks pinking in reaction. This was going to be a pretty big change, he thought, and maybe that was the point.
"Okay then," he said, and brought his hands up to Sam's wrists, pushing him away gently. Not saying no, not even close, just giving himself a little room to think. "Roy and Walt," Dean realized. "Was that, like, an engagement present?"
"No?" Sam said, his brows raised. Even he knew he wasn't being that convincing.
"Well, next time, remember: I like guns," Dean said, so that he wouldn't say something more stupid.
"We've got to talk about this overcompensating thing," Sam said, grinning back just as hard.
"Says the guy with the knife the size of his thighbone," Dean pointed out. "But if you want to go there—"
"I do," Sam said, his smile turning hotter as he dipped his eyes downwards. "I really, really do."
Dean laughed, because he couldn't help himself. "Seriously?"
Sam tilted his head and, cat-quick, shoved Dean flat on the bed. "Better than your best line, asshole."
Dean stared up at him, the position familiar from sparring and, yeah, fighting for real, and he felt something new. Starting over, Sam said.
Might as well do it up right, then.
He nodded a challenge, feeling the cheap polyester bedcover scrape across the back of his neck. "Mouth like mine's not made for talking," he said, and Sam groaned and was on him, heavy as a slab of concrete, lips and tongue hot and wet and fucking everywhere, like he couldn't decide where to start. Dean's legs were still hanging off the bed, feet on the floor, giving him just the right leverage to thrust up, his hardening cock rubbing against Sam's belly, Sam grunting frustration because he was too far down to do the same, his hips pumping into the space between Dean's knees.
Sam launched himself upwards, awkward and landing so heavy on Dean's stomach that Dean might've ruined the proceedings by puking if he didn't have abs of fucking steel. Sam's mortified look while Dean coughed was also rewarding, so Dean was just going to save that up for later, when Sam needed reminding who was the one with the smooth moves.
Sam squawked when Dean pulled him down again, and he complained about the bruises the amulet ground into his skin (Sam could bitch about cold beer and hot chicks, and this Dean knew for a fact, so he didn't take it personally), and he fought with Dean for who got to go first, rolling across the bed that sagged and whined beneath them. Or at least he fought until Dean managed to pop the button on his jeans and wriggle a hand inside and then Sam, never a great multitasker, gulped and closed his eyes and stopped putting sentences together. There weren't words for how he looked, wrecked and glorious in a way as far from angelic as Dean could imagine, mouth opening on a gasp as Dean pulled the orgasm out of him, jagged lines on his belly that just begged to be licked off.
When Dean scooted off the bed to go to his knees and do just that, Sam's curses got even more drawn-out, his hands squeezing Dean's shoulders as Dean worked, bumping his cheek up against Sam's sticky, twitching dick just to make Sam shudder. The salt-sour mixed with the day's sweat on Sam's skin, better than a shot from the top shelf.
It was a serious thrill when Sam managed to sit up, grab his shoulders, and throw him back onto the bed in one swift move, solid and easy as swinging a shovel. Dean grunted, more in admiration than surprise, as Sam unbuttoned his overshirt almost faster than Dean could've ripped it off, then rucked Dean's undershirt up to his armpits. The amulet was tangled in the soft cotton, thong a stinging line around Dean's throat, but who the fuck cared when Sam was bending down, biting across Dean's pecs, stopping to lick the lines of the tattoo. Dean groaned and opened his own jeans, shoving them down his hips and hoping Sam would take the hint.
Coming through in the clutch, Sam turned his head just enough to spit into his palm. He jerked Dean off with a grip just shy of painful, his head bent so that he could watch himself work. Dean grabbed the back of Sam's neck, fingers slipping on sweat and strands of hair. His thighs were shaking. He arched his back so that Sam had to splay his other hand over Dean's belly to keep him down, and that was it, done and done, coming hard enough that the world disappeared into the white.
When he figured out which way was up, Sam had them scooted into the center of the bed, wrapped around each other like a manifold in an engine. Sam was smiling into his shoulder and playing with the amulet. Dean wasn't sure his jizz-covered fingers were exactly the best way to take care of the thing, but then again he didn't much care.
He could always make Sam lick it clean later.