Word Count: 8,052
Summary: Sam and Dean talk about the past.
Notes: This takes place at some point after 6x08, so there are general spoilers for all aired episodes! Being S6 fic, it's kind of dark, but it's also just kind of an ode to how much Dean loves Sam. Much thanks to valiant for giving this a once-over and figuring out what to do with the ending!
Dean's dreaming about Sam when the motel door slams shut.
In the dream, they're sitting at the kitchen table in a house they lived in when Dean was about fifteen. It looks the same as it did then, but the Sam he's sitting with is older, more like he looked a few years ago. They're playing a board game Ben really liked, and Sam's beating him at it even though Dean got it down to an art during the last year.
"Sorry," Sam says when Dean jerks awake.
It takes him a minute to get his bearings – it wasn't a deep sleep, but that just makes the dream cling to the edges of his thoughts more than it should. They're in Ohio, not Florida; Sam's been to Hell and back and doesn't have a soul; Dean's probably never going to play another board game in his life. Right.
"S'okay," he mutters, knuckling at one of his eyes. "I didn't mean to fall asleep."
"It's midnight," Sam says. "How long were you out?"
"I don't know, couple hours?"
"You know, it's not healthy to break up your sleep into small chunks of time." Sam drops the keys on the table and plops down in the chair next to it. "You need at least eight solid hours to be at your physical and mental best."
"Thanks, Mr. Wizard," Dean says dryly. He tips his head to either side, popping his neck with an audible crack. "It's also not healthy to creep around all night and watch your brother sleep, but you don't see me giving lectures."
"I don't need to sleep," Sam says, pulling the laptop over in front of him. "What's the point of lying there in the dark when I could be doing something?"
Dean watches him for a minute, trying to compare the person sitting across the room with the Sam his subconscious cast in that dream. Physically there's no real difference, other than the fact this Sam needs a haircut, but somehow Dean knows he was dreaming about someone else. It's his mannerisms, maybe. The way he carries himself. The Sam in front of him swings between sharp, mechanical movements, which seem to be his default, and a studied, carefully casual kind of body language.
Even now, after supposedly dropping all pretenses, Sam's doing his best to seem friendly. Holding himself in a way that practically broadcasts, don't worry, man, it's just me.
Dean has his doubts.
"Doing what, exactly?" he says. "Making prank phone calls with that chick from The Ring? I'm pretty sure towns like this roll up the streets around nine, and you don't have any reason to be surfing porn, so…"
Sam looks over at him and quirks his eyebrows, his eyes narrowing. It's like seeing a TV screen warp with static when the signal cuts out, but it only lasts for a second; in the time it takes to blink, his face settles into a familiar look of exasperation. It would be so fucking easy for Dean to just let himself believe it's real, that Sam's actually annoyed and cares one way or another what Dean thinks.
"Research. I was going to try to find us a case to work on until Crowley gives us another lead." His expression flickers again, this time into amusement. "And I'm not actually a robot, you know. I still have a sex drive."
"Seriously? You don't need to sleep, but you still gotta clean the pipes?"
Sam shrugs. "I guess I don't need to, but I know that I like it, and I still feel impulse."
Dean shakes his head. "Well, that sounds hot."
"It's not that different than how it is for other people," Sam says neutrally. "I want it, I get it, I don't want it again for a while. Just like… getting a burger when I'm hungry."
Dean remembers a Sam who cried his fucking eyes out at the idea of ganking his werewolf one-night stand. He also remembers a Sam who turned his nose up at the parade of hot chicks Dean threw in front of him before and after that incident, because God forbid he hook up with a girl he met in a bar.
More than anything, though, Dean remembers a Sam who would wrestle him back on beds while laughing in his ear, who liked to look him in the eye when they fucked and kiss way more than was strictly necessary; he remembers a Sam who would come while hissing Dean's name and gripping his shoulders hard enough to leave bruises, his voice hitching with so much emotion you'd think that one word held all the secrets of the goddamn universe.
Now he equates sex with something you order at a drive-thru window, and the really sad thing is that he can't even grasp the difference. Dean probably couldn't even put into terms he'd understand.
"Yeah." Dean picks up a bottle of Advil on the nightstand and dry-swallows a couple. "That's totally normal."
Sam shrugs, his attention straying to the stack of newspapers next to the laptop.
"Normal's pretty relative, Dean."
Maybe the saddest thing is that even now, Dean can't stop himself from seeing this person as Sam.
It might not be all of him, or even the most important part, but it's enough to churn up all of the emotions and memories Dean's spent a year trying to bury. The intensity of those things almost knocks the breath right out of him sometimes, and he has to remind himself that this isn't really the kid whose skinned knees he used to bandage, or the guy who stood outside a Palo Alto apartment complex and watched his world go up in flames.
Every instinct Dean has is telling him to fix this, just like he used to – sling an arm around Sam's shoulders and say, It's going to be okay, man, I swear. Hey, you wanna stay up late tonight? I think Jim Carrey's gonna be on Letterman. Or, Let's sneak out, dude. Drink a few beers. What Dad doesn't know won't kill him. He wants to toss him the keys and a smirk and say, Hey, I'm pretty tired, why don't you drive for a while?
But none of those things matter anymore. There's no up or down, no good or bad. He can't put a band-aid on this one and make it all better with a simple, pointless distraction. He can't cheer up someone who doesn't have a soul.
"Can you still get drunk?" he tries.
Sam actually smiles, and it doesn't matter if he's doing it on purpose and it only goes skin-deep; it makes Dean's heart feel a little lighter. Makes him think maybe, if he looks hard enough, he can find something he recognizes in this weird chalk outline of his brother.
"Yeah," Sam says, lifting his eyebrows. "And I can still drink you under the table while I do it."
"Soulless trash-talk," Dean says, his mouth pulling up in an answering smile. It doesn't go much deeper than Sam's, but it feels good just to try. "Now I've seen it all."
"You got anything?" Sam says, glancing over at Dean's bag. "I could go for a drink right now."
Dean hoists himself up and digs around in the side pocket of his duffel, unearthing half a bottle of Jim Beam.
"I'm a friggin' boy scout, man," he says, holding it up and giving it a little shake.
Sam snorts when he takes the bottle and uncaps it, throwing back a swig.
"If you were a boy scout you'd know how to tie a knot."
"Hey, smartass, I'm the one who taught you how to tie knots. And pick locks, and every other useful skill you know."
"Uh-huh," Sam says, unimpressed. He smiles again when he hands the bottle back to Dean. "And a troop of Webelos could do a better job of tying someone up."
"You're a... Weblelo," Dean says gamely, sitting on the edge of the bed.
The whiskey burns his throat a little, but it's a familiar sting. He never thought he'd be that guy, the one who always has a stash of the hard stuff handy, but at this point he's just accepted it; he started drinking to forget about Hell, and kept drinking when he realized he hadn't really outrun it as well as he thought.
Lisa never mentioned it, not once. She even kept the pointed looks to a minimum, and in return he tried to save drinks four, five and six for the hours after she and Ben went to bed. He preferred a little privacy when he was getting that drunk, anyway – half the point was losing his anchor in reality enough to pretend Sam was still around. Just out of sight, somewhere else in the house, around any given corner.
It was a trick he learned when Sam was at Stanford, a common one for hunters and truckers and everyone else with shitty road gigs. Just pretend that person in your rearview mirror is asleep in the backseat. Just turn up the music a little, enough for cover, and tell yourself that somewhere in the crunch of road gravel, the hiss of the tape-deck and the sigh of the fan you hear their snores and deep, even breaths.
He never went so far as to pretend the other warm body in his bed was Sam, but maybe if it hadn't been quite so feminine, if Lisa's sweet smells and softness were a little sharper and harder, he would have. Who knows.
"You thinking about Lisa?" Sam says eventually. When Dean glances up, surprised, he shrugs. "You get this certain look on your face when you're thinking about her."
"Does it matter?" Dean looks down at the bottle and sloshes it a little. "You made it pretty clear you don't care. I think your exact words were... 'I don't care.'"
"But you do. You can talk to me about it, if you want."
Dean hands the bottle back and scrubs a hand over his face.
"I wouldn't want to bore you with my human suffering." He's aiming for a joke, but it comes out a little too bitter for that, hitting a little too close to home.
"I don't really get bored these days," Sam says. "And I think… talking about this kind of stuff is important. So you can deal with it."
Sam's fished for touchy-feely conversations with that same argument more times than Dean can count, but usually it's accompanied by earnestly tilted eyebrows and dewy eyes. It's almost funny to hear him say it so clinically, like it's a theory he read about.
"Yeah. Lay it on me."
For the first time in days, Dean lets himself really think about what just slipped through his fingers.
He was reaching for something every time he dialed Lisa's number and listened to her voicemail greeting, and it wasn't just her. It was Ben, and the bubble of normalcy they live in, and the fact he had a place inside of it. It was the version of Dean Winchester people didn't cross the street to avoid, or squint at before asking if they could see that badge one more time. For a while there was part of a world he'd only ever caught glimpses of from a distance, and it was nice. It was safe.
But it came with one steep fucking price tag, and Lisa was right when she said the gig was up as soon as Sam walked through the door. Given the choice between that life and one with Sam Winchester in it – even a broken down Sam Winchester who'd been scrapped out for parts – he'd make the same decision every time.
"Yeah, I miss her. I mean, I miss—" Dean shakes his head and takes another pull off the bottle. "I don't know, man. What we had wasn't perfect, but I got used to it. You know? Maybe it wasn't exactly love, or romance, or whatever, but we had something there. We got each other. She put up with me in ways I didn't expect anyone could."
Sam nods, looking down at the floor like he's processing that.
"When I was with Jess, I always knew something was missing." Dean looks up sharply, surprised, because he's never heard Sam talk about her without some kind of emotion in his voice. "No matter how good things were between us, I was always keeping secrets. There was so much of me she couldn't know about, it couldn't ever be what I wanted."
"And what was that?"
Sam shrugs broadly, like it's obvious. "Real. A relationship where someone knows everything about you, the good and the bad, and loves you for all of it. And vice-versa."
"You think that's what I had with Lisa?"
Sam takes another swig and hands the whiskey back to Dean. "Sounds like it."
Dean considers that, but he knows it's not really true. Lisa knew just about everything there was to know, barring some of the grittier details, but she didn't really understand. That last conversation really said it all – because, yeah, he knows she's close to her sister Cindy. He knows they talk on the phone almost every day, worry together about family drama and cheer each other when things are good. But it's apples and oranges, and it was kind of a shock that she couldn't see that.
He'd wanted to say, what if it was Ben? What if it was Ben and Cindy, and – hell, what if it was Dean, too. What if your sister and your kid and your live-in boyfriend were the same fucking person, and their continued existence was the only thing you had to show for thirty-odd years on this rock. What then, huh? What then.
He didn't say it, because there's really only one other person in the world who could begin to understand.
"I don't think I've ever had that with anyone." Dean looks down at the bottle in his hands, thumbnail scratching at the corner of the label. "I mean, maybe—"
He breaks off and shrugs, taking another pull off the whiskey, and Sam watches him closely.
"Maybe with me," he finishes.
It should be a profound moment, but Sam says it like he's connecting the dots on a case. Looking at the clues and seeing what they add up to. A year ago Dean would have flatly denied it, but he can't even see the point anymore.
"Yeah, something like that."
Sam nods thoughtfully.
"I always thought that, too. I guess it's one of the reasons I never even tried to have a relationship again after Jess. I knew it wasn't possible for me to have an honest, emotional connection with anyone else, so why bother?"
Dean almost lets that slide, but some niggling bit of resentment pushes the words out. "What're you talking about? You were sharing milkshakes at the soda shop with Ruby for a friggin' year. I'd have to double check with Dr. Laura, but I'm pretty sure that was a relationship."
Sam cocks his head to the side, blinking a few times as he takes the bottle. He's been that little does not compute move a lot lately, and it reminds Dean eerily of Castiel.
"I didn't have a relationship with Ruby," he says. "I mean, we had a business relationship, I guess, but other than that it was just sex."
Dean raises his eyebrows. "She got you to do the one thing I spent my last day on Earth trying to talk you out of, and it was just sex?"
Sam actually looks confused.
"We had a common goal. Or I thought we did, anyway." He takes another swig from the bottle and licks his lips. "I wanted to kill Lilith, and Ruby said she could help me do it. I never had feelings for her."
Sam snorts, like that idea – one Dean's been sure of for a couple years now – is so absurd he can appreciate the humor even without a soul.
"Huh," Dean says skeptically.
Sam settles back in his chair, studying Dean's face.
"Is that really what you thought this whole time? That I loved her more than you?"
"Maybe not exactly in those telenovella terms," Dean says sourly. "But yeah, I guess. I thought you, you know. You had some kind of connection with her. I mean, call it what you want, but your little business relationship was serious enough to trump twenty-some years of whatever we are."
Sam's mouth curves down thoughtfully.
"Not really. It was pretty much the opposite, actually. Everything I did with her was about you. I started working with her because I wanted revenge for you. And then when you came back, the angels kept saying you had this duty, but I knew you were really messed up from your time in Hell. So I thought… why risk letting Lilith kill you again, when I could just do it myself?"
"I get that your grasp on right and wrong is a little limp these days, but it wasn't back then. I told you, point blank, that she was a crazy demonic bitch and what you were doing was wrong, and did it anyway."
"Well, I did know it was wrong. It wasn't about how much I liked Ruby, or doing the right thing. It was about doing whatever it took to keep you out of that fight." Sam shrugs and turns his hands up. "I would have rather turned into a demonic freak and have you hate me for it than go back to living in a world where you were dead."
He says it like it's nothing, like he's explaining why he ordered mandarin chicken instead of egg rolls for dinner, but for a moment there Dean's brain can't even process what he's hearing.
A lot of things drove them apart in the couple years before Sam took his leap into the pit, but the Ruby thing – that was the real turning point. He used to love Sam openly, freely, making no secret of the fact he pretty much controlled the tides of Dean's life. If Sam was sad, Dean was worried; if Sam was a mad, Dean was going to kick some ass. And if Sam was happy, the whole goddamn world was happy.
He starting putting some distance there when his life became one big countdown to Hell, just so Sam didn't totally go to pieces when he kicked the bucket. But when he came back, everything was different. There were secrets and lies and broken promises, and closing himself off became a matter of self-preservation. Even that didn't save him from the parting shot – whatever embers of his soul were left after four decades in Hell were pretty much stomped out when he realized Sam had it in him to choose anyone – much less a demon – over him.
And apparently he had it wrong the whole time.
"Are you okay?" Sam says eventually.
"No," Dean says honestly. "No, Sam, I am really not okay."
Dean has to laugh.
"You really don't get it, do you? I guess you can't. You just – you freakin' tell me that the thing that's weighed on me for the last two years, the thing that made me spend most of our last year together hating your guts – which I then got to spend another year beating myself up over – was all in my head. That's a lot to process, dude."
"Sorry," Sam says, frowning. "I thought you knew that. I guess it never occurred to me that you would think I... stopped caring about you."
"What was I supposed to think?" Dean tosses a hand in the air and shakes his head. "I came back from the dead and the first thing you did was lie to my face about the demon chick you were shacking up with. Kinda like how you spent the last month lying to my face about falling off the Soul Train. It's the story of my life, man. I'm always the one with my cards on the table, always the one who cares more, and I'm always the one who gets screwed."
Sam's frown deepens.
"No, you're not," he says, sounding puzzled. "Dean, I did care. I know my methods were a little sketchy, but I did all that because I loved you."
"Don't," Dean says roughly. "Man, just – stop trying to tell me what Sam thinks and feels about anything, okay? You don't know. Whatever I'm talking to right now is just one fraction of his brain."
"But I do know, Dean. I know it the same way I know what foods I used to like and what my favorite movies are. I don't care the same way now, but I remember what the most important things to me were back then."
"How?" Dean finally says. "Help me out here, 'cause I really don't get it. You keep saying you remember things, but – what do you remember? What does that even mean?"
Sam sighs, the corners of his mouth tightening.
"There was a hunt in Maine, maybe six or seven months after Dad died. A spirit was haunting an old abandoned school. It got the drop on you and you busted your knee pretty bad. We stayed there while you recovered, because you thought if I drove I might get one of my psychic vision things and crash the car."
"I think I remember that," Dean allows.
"We were in this lousy motel with a nautical fishing theme for about a week. I think we were basically living off pizzas, but one night you kept saying you wanted a burger, so I went out and found a diner and got you one. When I came back, you bitched me out because I ordered it wrong. You wanted it rare and I got it medium, or something."
"Well, rare's the only way to order a burger," Dean says, resting his elbows on his knees and tapping the whiskey bottle against his leg. "Does this story have a point?"
Sam's eyebrows knit a little, like he's digging deep to get the details right.
"I told you the only way I was gonna go back and get you another one was if you gave me a blowjob first." He huffs out a little laugh. "And you did. You just went for it, with the food and everything right there on the bed. We ended up fucking around for a long time. The sex wasn't even that good because you couldn't move one of your legs, but we just kept laughing about it and trying different stuff."
Dean raises his eyebrows. "Yeah?"
"By the time we were done, we were both starving, but you still wouldn't just eat the burger I got for you. So even though I was hungry and smelled like sex, I went back to the place and got you another one." He lifts his gaze back to Dean, mouth twisting in wry amusement. "And when I came back with it, you said I forgot the ketchup."
"Man, I was a real bitch."
"Yeah, but that's the weird thing. It didn't piss me off. I acted like it did, and made a big thing out of it, and we ended up fucking around some more because you were trying to bribe me, or something But what I remember really clearly is that I was happy. Like, rainbows and kittens, buy-the-world-a-Coke happy." Sam snorts and shrugs with one shoulder. "I mean, it's stupid, right? It doesn't make any sense. We were stuck in a dive motel in the middle of nowhere, you were being a jerk, and you were injured because we screwed up a hunt. There's no reason I should have been happy."
Dean stares down at the whiskey bottle so hard he might bore twin holes right through the glass.
"What do you make of that?" he finally says, when it becomes clear Sam's story is over.
When he looks up, Sam's staring at him with detached interest, the way a kid would study a caterpillar in a jar.
"It was because of you. I mean, I knew you didn't really care about the food. You just wanted to screw around, but we hadn't been doing it very long and you still felt weird just saying so. But that's what seemed so awesome. As freaked out as you were by the whole thing, you wanted it bad enough that you came up with this dumb way to push my buttons and make me be the one to start it. I'd wanted you like that for so long, it was just – incredible to know you wanted it, too, and that we could do that and still be our normal selves." His eyebrows knit thoughtfully. "I think I must have really, really been in love with you."
Dean takes a deep breath and scrubs a hand over his face. It's nothing he didn't already know, really. It's not a surprise. But it hurts in ways he can't even deal with to hear Sam's voice relating what's apparently one of his best memories ever, when Sam – that Sam is long gone. That Sam's still crammed in a cage with Lucifer, and Dean misses him so badly he almost can't breathe.
"Yeah, I think that's safe to say," he manages hoarsely.
Sam nods absently.
"So I do know what I used to feel. And if I work through it like that, sometimes I can figure out why. But a lot of times I can't. Like—" He wets his lips, his gaze meeting Dean's directly. "That time I kissed you, when I was sixteen. I can't make any sense out of that. It seems like it was a good thing, but it was scary, too. And—"
"Exciting?" Dean supplies. "And… terrifying, and awesome, and almost too weird to even handle? It was always like that. Our stuff, you and me, it was complicated. You're not looking at one kind of emotion there. More like a hundred."
"Yeah. Exactly. I didn't know it was like that for you, too."
"You kidding me? Man, that time was especially fucked up. We'd been dancing around it for months. You thought you were doing a good job of hiding it, but I knew."
Sam nods slowly. "And that's what made it terrifying?"
Dean eyes him, not totally sure if Sam's just playing dumb here, or he actually doesn't understand any of this.
"No. What scared the hell out of me was how bad I wanted it, too. I knew I couldn't let it happen, but avoiding it got harder and harder. Till I finally just gave in. Thought maybe you'd freak yourself out if you actually got what you were after."
Sam laughs. "But you're the one who freaked out."
"Yeah, well, it wasn't a genius plan." He picks up the bottle and takes another swig. "I couldn't even look at you for days after that."
Sam falls silent, studying the carpet, and Dean isn't totally sure how to interpret that. There's no real rhyme or reason to Sam these days; the conversation might be over, or he could just be gearing up for more.
"Why'd we do it, if it felt so weird?"
Dean blinks, but Sam just looks puzzled and interested.
"You want me to explain…" He almost can't even say it, even though he knows this version of Sam won't flinch. The words make Dean flinch when they're just rattling around in his own head. "The thought process behind incest?"
"I guess," Sam says carefully. "It just doesn't really make sense, you know? Our lives were always hard enough without us making our relationship more complicated."
"It wasn't like that. We didn't just… decide to feel that way, and it wasn't just about getting off. It was because you were my brother." He rubs a hand over his mouth, not quite looking at Sam. "I mean, ever since we were kids, the one constant thing in my life was looking out for you. Like you were this extension of me, you know? No matter what I did, I had to keep one eye on Sammy. I revolved around you, and you – you were the only other person in the world who knew all the same crap I did. We were afraid of the same stuff, had that same burden of worrying about Dad and knowing what was really out there. It was like all those feelings, all those different, messed up roles we had to play for each other just got so jumbled up and intense they turned into a whole different kind of crazy."
"But it was physical too, right?" Sam says curiously. "I mean, I remember having thoughts about you that were just... dirty."
Dean's mouth twists up wryly.
"Oh, that was part of it. It came later, but yeah. It was just – I don't even know, man. Intense. I knew I had no business thinking that kind of stuff, but it didn't even matter. I couldn't help it. And at some point I just said fuck it, and I started to love how messed up it was. I loved that no one else knew what that was like – feeling every good thing a person can feel for someone else, all at the same time."
"It was special," Sam says quietly.
"Yeah, exactly. We were always different, but – even when I felt guilty or messed up about it, I still loved knowing I was more to you than anyone else could be. And, man, I set the bar for dirty thoughts. As soon as we were done fucking around, I was planning for the next time. Used to get me so hot, just – thinking about you."
He breaks off when he realizes he's getting hard, his dick already pushing up awkwardly against the fly of his jeans. He shifts awkwardly, a weird flush of embarrassment rising up his neck, but Sam's gaze is already trained on his lap.
"Guess it still does."
"Yeah, well. You got me talkin' you off, over here. That was all a long time ago, man. Ancient history."
"But you still feel that way."
It's hard to peg Sam's tone; he's not being matter-of-fact anymore, but he's not being coy either. There's a glimmer of something else in his voice, something Dean can't interpret.
"What makes you say that?"
"Objectively? Your skin is flushed, your eyes are dilated and you're breathing faster. But mostly because I know you."
He gets a flare of knee-jerk defensiveness, but it goes as quick as it came. There's no reason for it here; even if Sam is weirdly unfamiliar now, almost a stranger, he still knows practically everything there is to know about Dean. If he wanted to use something against him, he could probably come up with something better than this.
"Yeah, I guess I miss it sometimes. When it was good, it was – really good. We were happy, for a while there. Even if it didn't make any sense, it worked. It was all I needed, and I really thought—" He laughs ruefully and scratches his chin. "Well, you know how things ended up."
"I never wanted it to be like that. I loved you, Dean. I really did. I still would, if I could."
Dean shuts his eyes and swallows, his mouth pulling into a smile he can't quite help.
"Yeah, I know."
He keeps his eyes closed for a minute, holding onto the weird surge of fondness and affection in his chest – things he's tried so hard to forget about, never let himself feel when Sam wasn't around.
Sam stands up slowly, so quiet about it that Dean doesn't know what's going on until Sam's touching the side of his face.
He stiffens, eyes flying wide as he jerks away. "Dude, what the hell."
"It's okay," Sam says. "I want this too. I've wanted to do this again for a long time."
"Uh, no, Sam. It's actually not okay at all. You don't know what you want, because you can't feel anything."
Dean's starting to recognize all thirty-two flavors of fake emotion Sam has at his disposal, but the earnest look on his face almost seems genuine. Like maybe he has the ability to look at Dean and actually see him as something more than any other person on the street.
"This could help me, Dean. I want to understand, because this stuff – with you – is the strongest emotional memory I have. Just show me what it was like. Show me what I'm supposed to feel right now. I want to know who we are to each other."
Dean shuts his eyes again when Sam leans in, close enough that his breaths gust over Dean's face warmly.
"I've been telling you," Dean says, voice wrecked. He can feel the barest brush of Sam's mouth as his own forms the words, and a hot, dirty thrill wells up in him out of nowhere.
He's so close – he's right there, and it's not exactly what Dean wants, but pretty damn close.
"Show me," Sam says. "Come on."
Sam might not have his soul, but Dean's was torn to shreds years ago, and not exactly a perfect specimen to begin with. He was never strong enough to turn this down, not even when he had a million other ways of being close to Sam.
"No," he says tightly, but it comes out more like he's pleading.
Sam tilts his head, pressing a dry, warm kiss just behind Dean's jaw. He can feel his pulse spike, fear and want and need all revving his body up for something he can't do, and reaches out blindly to grab Sam's shoulder.
He can't quite shove him away, though.
Once his hand is there, he can feel the steady thrum of Sam's heartbeat and the movement of his chest as it swells out with his quick, even breaths. He's alive, and this is proof of that – this is what Dean was given to protect twenty-seven years ago. This is what he went to Hell for. This is something he's cherished, neglected, come close to losing a few times, but it's right here. It's still his Sammy.
Before he has time to move beyond that though, his fingers twist in the fabric of Sam's shirt and he's yanking him into a kiss. Sam leans into it, hard and demanding, one big hand curling around the back of Dean's neck.
His whole body aches with the muscle memory of this, and he just wants a little, he just needs something – and then Sam's mouth opens and he stops even trying to justify it to himself.
"Dean," Sam mutters, lips dragging and catching against Dean's own.
They fall back on the bed in a sprawl, Sam's weight pinning him to the mattress in a grind of sharp elbows and hips. For a minute Dean just lets himself be smothered by it, his senses reeling. Sam even smells the same, the way he's smelled since he hit puberty, and when they're connected at the mouth like this it's almost like nothing ever happened at all – this is still his brother, everything he's ever cared about all tangled together in six-foot-five of muscle and self-righteousness.
Dean moves then, hooking a leg around Sam's and wrestling him over on his back.
All he can think about is getting more of this, getting as much of Sam as he can while he has the chance. He's deaf to everything but the metallic clink of Sam's belt buckle opening, the gritty noise of the zipper, the elastic pop of his waistband and then, finally, Sam's cock is in his hand. Warm and thick and so hard it's practically throbbing, pushing against his palm like Sam already wants so much more.
He's barely aware of Sam's hands doing the same thing to him, yanking his jeans open and fighting through the layers of fabric. When Sam's hand closes around his cock, though, his whole body shudders – it's familiar in a way no one else's could be, big and broad and fitting just right.
Dean cups Sam's face with one hand and rubs the familiar lines of it, thumbing over the curve of his cheekbone and the sharp, flat edge of a sideburn.
"I'm gonna fix you," he mutters. "I'm gonna get you back. We're gonna do it, Sam, I swear to God—"
Sam bites Dean's lip and turns that promise into a hiss of pain.
"Don't talk about later." His voice is rough, straining when he presses their dicks together between them and gets his hand around both. "Tell me how it was before. Remind me, Dean, come on."
Their fingers twine together and Sam moves with him, muscle and sinew flexing under his skin as he lets Dean set the pace. Maybe he doesn't feel it the way Dean does, but he wants it, that much is obvious. He wants it, and that means Dean can want it, too.
"The first time," Dean grits out. "You remember that? Think we both – hated ourselves for it, but we just – couldn't freakin' stop. Knew it was all fucked up and it didn't even matter."
Sam nods, expression twisting with concentration.
"Yeah," he mutters. "Keep going."
Dean drops his forehead against Sam's shoulder, chest aching sharply.
Even if he were good at talking about feelings, he wouldn't know how to put this – them – into words. It was always a messy tangle of want and need, always craving it and knowing he wasn't supposed to. Like getting away with something all the time. It took ages before he stopped pretending that every time they did it was going to be the last – that he just needed one more taste, and then he'd be able to say no.
"Just wanted to get inside you," he blurts out. "I just wanted all of you. Anything I could get. Been thinking about it so long, I just – went crazy. Thought I was gonna be sick, but it was so good. Came so hard I almost blacked out."
"It was good, huh?" Sam breathes, his thumb rubbing against the head of Dean's cock. "I'd been waiting so long. Not just since that kiss. I'd thought about it – God, since I knew what sex was."
"Jesus." Dean's hips jerk, his body already too close to the edge. "Sammy."
"I'm right here," he whispers, fingernails scratching against the back of Dean's neck. "Keep talking."
It's stupid, but some part of Dean almost believes this'll work – like maybe he can feel enough for the both of them, actually make Sam whole again by wanting it bad enough.
"The last time." He hisses the words right into Sam's ear. "Lasted so long. Just couldn't stop. You remember that? Remember how you just wouldn't stop touching me? Thought you were gonna cry, you were so fuckin' wrecked."
Sam goes slack-jawed when Dean's fingers tighten, making those strokes he's giving both of them a little more fierce.
"Yeah," he groans, his hand picking up speed, taking over until he's just dragging Dean where he wants him. "Knew we were just making it harder, but it was—"
"It was so fucking worth it. Always thought it was. The things you did to me – it was your fuckin' fault, Sam. The way you'd look at me and the way you needed me. You always – needed me so goddamn much, I couldn't – couldn't just let you go. I couldn't ever be normal."
Sam lets out an injured noise, his breaths huffing loudly in Dean's ear. "I know."
"Just wanted to take care of you. Any way I could."
"You always did. Like I was more important than everything."
You were, he thinks, pulling himself up so he can really look at him. It's insane how close to the surface all that old obsession really is, that even now Dean still covets every part of him – his body, his face, his smarmy little punk-ass jokes and attitude.
Sam meets his gaze, hot-eyed and intense.
"You love me," he huffs, his voice hitching. He sounds scared and desperate, like a little kid. "Don't you, Dean?"
They've never said it while fucking around – hell, they've pretty much never said it at all, but right then Sam sounds like he wants to hear it, like he cares.
Something cracks, breaks wide open inside of Dean, and he couldn't bite the words back if he tried.
"So much, Sammy," he hisses. "Always loved you best, even when I fuckin' hated you."
"God – Dean, yeah – yeah, I love you, too."
It's the present tense that does him in. One more stroke and Dean's tensing and shooting across Sam's stomach. It doesn't matter if it's not true; for ten seconds he can believe it, let himself have what he wants. His whole body thrums with the weight of those words and the momentum behind them – years, decades of his life when that fact was always the most important thing.
His fingers tighten around Sam's dick, jerking him in hard, desperate tugs.
"Come on, Sammy," he grunts, gaze roaming over his face and taking it all in. "Come on, just for me. Just like this, like always."
Sam's lip curls as his hips jerk up, his eyes squeezing shut tightly. It's maybe the one single expression of his Dean hasn't seen since he came back, and it hits something deep and fragile inside of him.
"Fuck," Sam snarls.
Dean feels it everywhere as Sam comes – the jerk of Sam's dick in his hand, the tense shudder of Sam's body under his. It feels real and familiar and right, burning in his chest almost as intensely as when he came.
He collapses next to Sam on the bed and just lays there for a few minutes, panting against the pillowcase with one leg still slung over Sam's. Those words jangle around in his head over and over, I love you, too, sounding a little stranger each time. The more reality creeps in around the edges of his numb, fucked-out haze, the more he knows something isn't right.
It isn't until Sam reaches up to scratch his face and push his hair out of his eyes that Dean really gets it.
There's no hint of exhaustion in way he moves, no laziness or post-fuck lethargy. It's fast and efficient, because Sam doesn't get tired, and he sure as hell doesn't experience any kind of afterglow.
Because he doesn't have a soul.
"So how much of that was total bullshit?" Dean says, rolling to his back and staring at the ceiling. "'Cause what you just said – I know that's a load of crap. You're not Sleeping Beauty, and I can't magically fuck emotions back into you. So all that stuff about you wanting to remember things and understand how you felt – none of that was real?"
Sam stretches, his spine popping as he flexes his shoulders.
"Not really," he admits. There's no emotion or inflection to his tone. "I just wanted you to remember those things."
"What was the point of that?"
"Because I need your help, and it seems like you're still on the fence about this Crowley stuff." Sam scratches idly at his neck and looks over at him. "I know you don't really like me right now – and I don't blame you. I probably wouldn't like me, either. But it kind of seems like that's making it hard for you to remember that you have a really strong emotional connection to me when I have a soul. So… I made you remember."
Dean lets out a rough huff of laughter, because there's really nothing else he can do.
"Wow. Just… wow. You're a real dick, you know that?"
Sam studies him, eyebrows knitting in a look of pity that's devoid of compassion. Dean wouldn't have even guessed that was possible; all the condescension and none of the sympathy.
"Look, I honestly wasn't trying to hurt you." He reaches out and pats Dean's shoulder, smiling awkwardly. "And I wasn't lying about anything I said before – not about the past. Sam, the brother you know, loved you. That's actually the last thing I remember thinking right before jumping in the pit. So it's a good thing that you got back in touch with those feelings, because I'm sure I'll return them if we fix me."
Dean bats Sam's hand away, but he doesn't get up and walk out the door like he wants to. As manipulative and fucked up as the whole situation is, it's brilliant in a way that's pure Sam. He can't walk away, and it's not just about getting his brother back – now it's also about making sure this psycho walking around in Sam's body doesn't exist a day longer than absolutely necessary. Now he's invested on two levels, both of them personal.
He blows out a long, slow breath. "You know, as much as I want to hate you – I don't know. You were always a sneaky bastard. I can't pretend I don't recognize this part of you, even if I should've beat it out of your ass a long time ago."
Sam looks confused. "So... are you mad?"
"That doesn't begin to describe it, but it's mostly my own damn fault. I can't really expect you to know better, but I should've."
Sam folds one arm under his head, settling into the pillows like he's getting comfortable.
"Your emotions clouded your judgment," he says, smiling a little, like Dean is one of those jokes only he can fully appreciate.
"Yeah." Dean clenches his jaw and looks over at Sam. "That always seems to happen with you."
He gets it, he really does – this version of Sam isn't any more real than the one Dean used to pretend was just out of sight during the last year. At most, it's the lizard-brain part of him that just wants to eat, fuck and kill things.
But the rest of him, every last thing that made Sam who he was, is imprinted on Dean in a way that defies words. He remembers Sam's dorky, snuffling laugh when he was thirteen and awkward, remembers his trembling hero-worship and clumsy affection. He remembers Sam's bangs-in-the-eyes phase at sixteen, the library books he'd read aloud to Dean when they were stuck in a room with no cable; he remembers Sam's high school crushes, each and every one of them, and he remembers exactly when Sam got past third base.
Those things are all encoded in Dean's big brother DNA, and that's why he can deal with this. That's why he's going to find a way to make things work with this hollowed-out version of Sam as long as he has to, right up until he can shove his soul back into his body and have the real thing.
"You really want my help?"
"Yeah," Sam says slowly. "That's what I was just saying."
Dean stretches his legs out and crosses them at the ankle, then turns to Sam and lifts his eyebrows.
"Then go get me a burger, man. I'm starving."
Sam laughs, short and incredulous. "Seriously?"
"I look like I'm kidding? I don't care if your soul's being held by the King of Hell or the freaking Dukes of Hazzard, I'm not lifting a finger to help your punk ass till I see some food."
For a minute there he doesn't know if Sam's going to go for it – if he understands what Dean's trying to do, if they can at least find some small connection here – and then Sam's mouth slowly curves up on one side, dimpling his cheek.
"Rare?" he says knowingly, hands moving to button up his jeans.
"Of course, dude. And don't forget the ketchup."
Sam rolls off the bed and grabs his jacket, but he pauses when he picks up the keys. He eyes Dean with that same funny smile, both familiar and strange.
"I won't forget, Dean."
"Better not." Dean gives him a little nod and a smile, and for the first time in a long time it actually feels real. "And if you do... I guess I'll just have to remind you."