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Between a Rock and a Warm Embrace

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After two vegetarian restaurants, an almost serious usage of the term “buttercup,” and an incident with Dean's mouth pressed against his ear, Sam came to the disorienting conclusion that they were quite possibly dating. Or, more accurately, that Dean was honest-to-god courting him like a modern-day knight in distressed leather armour.

The realization sat heavily in his stomach, and he stared out the passenger side window like it was keen to give him answers to the questions swirling in his head. Dean stood outside, using his sleeve to rub away a smudge on the Impala's sleek frame as he pumped gas.

Sam had noticed a shift in Dean's behaviour not two or three days ago—it had started small, with Dean letting him drive for a few hours, and had quickly progressed. It wasn't that Sam figured something was wrong—on the contrary, Dean was in higher spirits than usual, smiling broadly at rude gas station clerks and letting Sam pick the road snacks and late-night T.V. programs. Generally, he was just happier, enjoying life instead of flip-flopping between rolling his eyes at it and punching it in the groin, and Sam was far from complaining. This Dean was one of which he was exuberantly—though still cautiously—welcoming, but because he was Sam and because the situation involved his brother, he couldn't find it in himself to ignore the issue.

He'd spent the drive from Georgia into Florida trying to piece together everything Dean said and did into a sensible conclusion, but now he wished he hadn't. Now he sat in the passenger seat struggling feverishly to debunk his own theory.

Sam jumped as the driver's door was yanked open, and Dean slid into the seat a second later, armed with two cups of steaming coffee and a packet of Sour Cherry Blasters dangling from his mouth. Sam wiped his sweaty palms nonchalantly on his jeans and accepted his drink from Dean's outstretched hand. The sour candies dropped into Dean's lap.

“I got hazelnut,” Dean said, gesturing to Sam's cup, “You like that one, right?”

“Yeah,” Sam nodded, and Dean beamed at him, obviously pleased.

“Good,” he said, ripping open the bag of candy. He popped one in his mouth and turned the key in the ignition, the engine roaring to life a second later.

“Help yourself,” Dean said, and placed the bag next to Sam's thigh, giving his knee an affectionate smack before returning his hands to the wheel.

“Thanks,” Sam said quietly as they pulled out of the station.

 

-

 

While Dean spent most of the drive humming along to Led Zepplin, Sam spent it trying to figure out just what the hell was going on. The more Sam considered his brother's behaviour, the more believable the courting idea became. It made sense in all aspects except one: Dean had crossed a line. He'd chosen to surpass the unspoken and invisible line the two had set down between each other and mutually—though silently—agreed not to tread on. It was a line that had come into existence around the same time that they realized something a lot stronger and a lot more problematic than family held them together. Sam wasn't sure exactly when that had been; maybe back when they insisted on sharing hotel beds even as John gruffly told them they were too old, or maybe that night at Stanford when Sam had discovered that long, choked voice-mail from a drunken Dean: the one that was still saved to his phone, and would be transferred to every new phone he ever bought. Sam didn't think he could pin down the exact moment when things had come into focus, but he knew one thing: the line was there for a reason. They didn't talk about it, didn't acknowledge it, just let it settle there where they believed it belonged and obeyed it. It was easier that way. For their heads, at least. Not as much for their hearts.

And now Dean seemed bent on destroying that life-defining line, albeit in a way that was uncharacteristically sweet. As Sam worked it over and over again in his brain, he tried to convince himself that he was over-thinking things. Maybe his subconscious brain was looking for things that it wanted to see, but—while plausible—it didn't quite fit. There had been a change in Dean. He hadn't imagined it.

They arrived at their destination three hours after the gas station, Sam with a headache and Dean with a stomach full of candy. Sam raised an eyebrow at the cheerful, blue and orange sign that read, in curling letters, “Home Away from Home” with the word “Vacancy” hanging just beneath it. Dean steered them down a long, gravel road lined with small, grey buildings, each identical except for their doors, which were painted an array of bright colours. There were gardens of blue and yellow flowers snuggling in against the edges of the walkways and the porches of the buildings were furnished with white lawn chairs and hanging plants.

“Cottages?” Sam asked, turning to offer his perplexed look to Dean rather than the quaint little structures in question.

“Thought we needed a change,” Dean said with a half-shrug, the corner of his mouth cocked in a boyish smile.

Sam didn't see sense in questioning it further. It was just another thing on the list of weird things that Dean had done lately. Despite himself, Sam couldn't help but think the little cottages seemed charming. The place looked curiously like a couple's retreat, though Sam was quick to blame that on the bizarre place his mind was in. Either way, the thought made his skin feel hot.

Dean parked the Impala and headed off to the office to pick up their keys, and Sam sat in the car, his window rolled down so he could hear the lap of waves from just beyond the line of cottages. He knew he should be wary of the situation, but he couldn't get a solid grasp on the feeling. The place looked welcoming, and he wasn't going to complain about rooming somewhere decent for a change. Besides, Dean was happy, and who was he to mess with that?

 

-

 

Dean whistled as they walked through the front door of their temporary home. He chucked his duffel bag on the floor of the entryway and stamped into the living area, his boots leaving behind brown tread-marks.

The walls were painted a bright orange, matching the dish towels in the kitchenette and the numerous pillows piled on the squat, white couch. A flat-screen T.V. was positioned atop a dark, wooden entertainment stand and the dining table was set against the wall under a wide window.

“Kinda feels like my eyes were just stabbed, but this is pretty sweet,” Dean said over his shoulder as he headed to the back end of the cottage. He tracked some more dirt up a single step to the raised area where two matching beds sat next to each other, outfitted with puffy white comforters and cerulean pillows. From there, he pushed open the sliding door right of the beds and peered out at their back porch. Sam eyed the pair of plastic flamingos that sat in the middle of the bamboo coffee table.

“Right?” Dean prompted as he side-stepped the beds to check out the bathroom.

Sam made a noncommittal noise, his concentration still suffering from the extreme amounts of over-thinking he'd subjected himself to in the car. It was true, though; the place might have been trying a little too hard, but it was about a hundred times nicer than most places they'd had the misfortune to have to hole up in before.

“Hey,” Dean said as he returned to the living room. Sam snapped to attention, “You with me, Sam?”

“Uh, yeah, Dean, of course, I'm—,” Sam stumbled, cutting himself short when his brain was about to supply I'm always with you. Instead of sounding like a complete idiot, he said, “Yeah.”

“But I'm right, right? This is nice? You like it?” Dean asked.

“Yeah, it's great. Really nice,” Sam tried to assure him, and failed. Dean saw Sam's struggle almost immediately, and fixed him with a curious stare. He seemed concerned.

“Definitely better than the disco motel, right, Sammy?” he tried, and Sam had to laugh, the tension dissipating.

 

-

 

They settled into their 'home away from home' with take-out and research. Sam flipped through the newspaper article that had caught their eye in the first place, while Dean did some hunting on the laptop for any similar cases in the past couple months. A college student, Jasper Doyle, had gotten ripped to shreds after wandering into an abandoned hotel nearby. Police blamed it on a wild animal and cleaned up the mess, but Sam had suspected something else was going on.

“I got something,” Dean said from his seat at the table. Sam glanced up from the couch.

“Similar attack?” he asked, frowning as Dean balanced precariously on the back legs of his chair.

“Yup. Dude got shredded about a month ago,” Dean reported and tossed a french fry into his mouth, “In his office.”

“Still sounds like a Daeva to me. They've got no problem getting into buildings. Plus, the Z formation in the dirt where the second guy was found kinda speaks for itself,” Sam said, waving the photo at Dean.

“So, why aren't there more killings? A demon has one of these things on a leash—why only two victims?” Dean stood, added another fry to his mouth, and sauntered over to perch on the arm of the couch next to Sam.

“I dunno, Dean. Guess we'll find out?” Sam said, peering up at Dean and offering a shrug.

“So, we're done for the night?” Dean asked.

“I guess so... Why?” Sam furrowed his brow, growing more and more suspicious of Dean by the hour.

“Thought we could go out,” Dean said, his face innocent. He started rooting through his pockets.

“What did you have in mind?” Sam asked cautiously, folded the newspaper and placing it on the coffee table. When he turned back, Dean held two tickets in his hand, smirking.

 

-

 

“How much did you pay for these seats?” Sam asked, staring out at the brightly lit green field in awe.

“Don't ask. Just eat your peanuts,” Dean said, offering the bag to his brother. Sam took a handful and sat back in his seat, straining his neck to look up and around the dome. He'd only been in a baseball stadium once before, and that one had been ancient and spray-painted and haunted by a particularly nasty old ghost.

They watched the game, sharing bag after bag of salted peanuts, cheering for both teams, and smacking each other with a foam finger Dean purchased in a flurry of barely contained excitement. Sam leaned against the arm Dean threw across the back of the chair, and laughed like an idiot whenever Dean would fling himself from his seat, whooping in triumph over home-runs. They bought a corn-dog which Sam took a bite of and let Dean finish, and Sam almost fell asleep on Dean's shoulder during the second half.

“How long have we wanted to do this?” Sam asked, sleepily, as people gathered their jackets and crumpled popcorn bags around them. Sam wasn't even sure who had won, but it didn't much matter to him. The experience of being there, knowing his brother had had the time of his life, was enough.

“Too long,” Dean said as he stood, stretching his arms over his head and heaving a contented sigh, “Now come on. You can nap in the car.”

They walked to the end of their row of seats and waited for the crowd to thin. An older woman, a row up from them, reached out a small hand and tapped Dean lightly on the shoulder. She had a flannel blanket wrapped around her shoulders, and her coral lips were turned upwards in a gentle smile.

“I hope you don't mind me bothering you, but I was sitting just there through the whole game and—” She looked from Dean to Sam and reached out to clasp their hands in her own, “You're a sweet couple. You seem so happy together, it's lovely.”

Sam swallowed, warmth rising in his cheeks and ears, and opened his mouth to correct her. Dean was faster.

“Thank you, ma'am,” He said, voice syrupy, eyes sunny. The woman smiled wider, her eyes crinkling, and gave each of their hands a squeeze.

“You boys have a good night,” She said, waving a ring-covered hand in a tiny wave before slipping into the sea of people jostling their way out of the stadium.

“Nice lady,” Dean said over his shoulder, and Sam just stared and blinked at the back of his head, wishing he could see into his mind.

“You awake back there, Sam?” Dean asked.

“Yeah, I'm awake,” Sam said, finally relapsing. “I just don't like it when you use me to get a girl's attention.”

“Hey, now, don't be jealous,” Dean tossed back, and Sam hid a smile behind his hand.

 

-

 

“Wakey, wakey, eggs and bakey,” Dean sing-songed, gently slapping Sam's cheek with the back of his hand. Sam groaned and batted his hand away, stirring under the covers. He rubbed at his eye with the heel of his hand and squinted up at Dean, who made a noise of approval at Sam's annoyance.

“Did you seriously just say that?” Sam asked, rolling over and resting on his elbows. He blew his bangs out of his eyes as Dean waved a hand at him.

“Hell, yeah,” he said, affronted, as he headed back to the kitchenette. Sam noticed the spatula he brandished. “I had to. I made breakfast.”

Sam became acutely aware of the smell of grease and peppered eggs and half-smiled. Dean continued to surprise him, even now, when they knew each other better than they knew themselves.

“Are you serious?” Sam asked as he kicked off the blankets and forced himself out of bed, the bittersweet scent of coffee brewing beckoning him. Dean's head appeared around the corner as Sam entered the living room area.

“You doubting me?” He frowned.

“No. Just checking,” Sam offered Dean a taunting little brother grin. He'd have to find a way to repay Dean for this—this, and every other thing he'd so graciously given him lately.

They tucked into breakfast at the table, arguing back and forth over the appropriate way to garnish an egg.

 

-

 

The Florida sun beat down on the Impala's hood as they set out across the scorched highway. They had been up late last night watching a soap opera that neither wanted to admit they actually enjoyed, so Dean was gulping down his second cup of coffee. He kept his eyes fixed on the road, watching for road signs that would lead them to the hotel where Jasper bit the dust. Sam reclined in the passenger seat, window rolled down, letting the breeze cool his hot face.

They stopped at a gas station two miles from the hotel and grabbed some lunch. Lunch meaning Gatorade, a bag of trail mix and some beef jerky. They hit the road again with a full tank of gas. Dean picked the M&M's out of the trail mix and Sam rolled his eyes.

“You have to eat more than chocolate and dried meat,” Sam scolded, shaking the bag.

“Yes, dear,” Dean said and begrudgingly washed down some raisins.

The hotel looked old and decrepit when they finally rolled into the parking lot. It was bleached a lifeless color from years of sunlight, and the windows and doors were boarded up haphazardly. The once-red shingles were missing in places, and the large, curved pool was dry and dusty.

“Looks like fun,” Dean said as they scoured the trunk for supplies. He handed a flash gun to Sam.

“A real laugh and a half,” Sam agreed, tucking the gun into the waistband of his jeans.

They scouted out the place where Jasper was killed, but the Z formation had disappeared and there was little else to go on. They hammered down the dented front doors and investigated the musty foyer.

“So what makes you think we're gonna find an altar here?” Dean asked, twirling a flare in his fingers as he walked around the front desk.

“Nothing, really. I'm just hoping,” Sam said and Dean threw him a disapproving look, “You wanna split up so we can cover all the rooms?”

“Alright, I'll take the second floor. You wanna give me a kiss for good luck?” Dean said, far too casually. Sam stared at him, the absurdity of the question bringing his thought process to a screeching halt. He opened his mouth and closed it again, about two seconds away from asking—right there, in a dirty hotel foyer, surrounded by brown plants and peeling yellow wallpaper—if Dean really wanted to kiss him. He grappled onto something that seemed a little less insane.

“Not in the mood,” he said mildly, and Dean just smirked before sauntering off to the stairwell.

Sam made his way down the hallway, pushing open doors with his elbow and surveying rooms down the length of his gun. He didn't find anything that looked particularly demonic, and the shadows were reassuringly still. He finished off the first floor, and headed to the third.

He found the altar in the first room he slipped into, and with it came the Daeva. It shifted out of the shadows behind the door as Sam entered, and pounced on him a second later. Sam hit the wall, pain shooting through his arms and across his chest. He readied the flare gun, but the creature's invisible claws lashed out at him. The gun slid across the floor, and Sam's head smacked into the wall again.

Dean arrived about a minute later, dove across the room and shot a flare from the fallen gun. The Daeva howled as the room filled with light, and Dean clambered over to Sam's side.

“Hey, hey, Sam.” Dean's hand touched his face. “You okay?”

“Just get the altar,” Sam said, tasting coppery blood from his busted lip. Dean leapt to his feet and headed for the table coated in Zoroastrian symbols. He kicked it over with a grunt, the goblet of blood splattering the faded carpet. The shadows had returned to the room, but the Daeva's figure streaked across the wall and was gone, no longer bound to the altar or whoever had trapped it in the first place. Sam slumped over with relief, taking a moment to breathe.

“Mission accomplished,” Dean said, shuffling back to his brother.

“Great,” Sam spat, using the wall to support himself as he tried to stand. “Let's get out of here.”

“Don't hurt yourself, moron,” Dean's hand appeared under Sam's arm in a second, holding him even after he stood with shaking knees.

 

-

 

They left as quickly as they could—though Dean wouldn't let Sam rush—wary of the possibility that some paranoid neighbour would have seen the flash of light and call the police. They made it back to the Impala, Dean turned on a soft rock station, and they got back on the road.

“How you feelin'?” Dean asked after a police car had gone racing past them in the other direction. Sam's lip was swollen and bloodied, and one of the Daeva's claws had swiped his cheek. Plus, his body had taken a pummeling. He was almost positive he had a broken finger and bruised ribs were definitely a possibility.

“Like I got beat up by a—how did you put it? Demonic pitbull?” Sam said irritably, inspecting his wounded face in the mirror.

“So, not as bad as getting beat up by werewolves, but worse than getting beat up by a pissy poltergeist,” Dean concluded.

“Exactly,” Sam said.

Dean pulled over to the curb a minute or two later. Fields lay on either side of the highway, bright green under the sun. Cars raced past, stirring the dust at the side of the road.

“What are you doing?” Sam asked.

“Fixin' you up. Hold tight for a minute, okay?” Dean said with a smile before climbing out onto the road. Sam started to protest, but thought better of it. There was no point in fighting Dean on this. He would appreciate some fixing up, anyway.

Sam sat sideways in the passenger seat, feet planted firmly on the cement. Dean hauled out the cooler and parked it on the ground between Sam's legs. He sat on it now, Sam's knees at his hips and a first-aid box propped open on his lap. He used a cotton ball to dab carefully at the cuts on Sam's cheek, his fingers hot where they brushed against Sam's face.

“You're like a mother hen,” Sam mused as Dean splayed steri-strips over the worst areas. Dean flicked him in the temple. He cupped Sam's chin in his hand to clean his split lip, and Sam watched him closely, following the flickering of his eyes and the slight movements of his jaw and mouth as he worked. He dealt with the wounds with ease, but took his time. That was unfamiliar to Sam. Usually, they patched each other up quickly and efficiently, always on a schedule. Now, Dean was doing his utmost best to be delicate, ignoring the watch ticking on his wrist. Finally, he took Sam's hands in his own, using his thumbs to gently check each of Sam's fingers.

“Middle finger on the right's fractured,” Dean said with a frown.

“I could have told you that,” Sam grimaced.

“Guess you won't be flipping anybody off for a while,” Dean said as he searched the first-aid kit for a splint.

“I'll leave that up to you,” Sam said, and Dean nodded, smiling like he was sure he could handle it.

Dean produced a curved, metal splint from the box and put it on Sam's finger before wrapping it and his ring finger with medical tape.

“'Think you're good to go, Sammy,” Dean said, holding Sam's hand in his own as he surveyed his work.

“Thanks,” Sam said, offering a smile.

“Ah, don't mention it,” Dean grinned as he raised his gaze to meet Sam's eyes. He held it for a second too long, and suddenly there was a question on his face that Sam wasn't sure how to answer. A silent moment stretched on, in which Dean became closer, though Sam hadn't noticed him moving. His eyes skittered down, settling on Sam's mouth. Sam swallowed, his throat tight, and squeezed Dean's hand. That seemed to rouse him from out of his daze, and he backed off a little, giving his brother the space that he seemed to know Sam needed.

“Dean—,”

“Yeah?”

“Were you about to...” Sam managed and Dean's eyes returned guiltily to his brother's. Dean blew out a short breath.

“Nope,” he said and stood abruptly, whacking his head against the car's frame with a loud crack. Sam sputtered and laughed—a little hysterically, considering the situation—while Dean retreated in a flurry of grumbles.

 

-

 

Dean whipped up some mac and cheese when they finally got back to the cottage, while Sam sat begrudgingly at the table and iced his injured finger. Dean was adamant about keeping him off his feet, and Sam decided he was too exhausted—both physically and mentally—to argue with him. Honestly, it was nice to just sit and rest, listening to Dean whisper lyrics to himself as he cooked and flipping through a book that wasn't detailing the many ways to get out ectoplasm stains.

They ate in companionable silence, broken only by the occasional groan of satisfaction from Dean as he scarfed down two platefuls of cheesy goodness. Sam smirked, just as impressed.

“Gotta say, that was probably the best thing you've ever made,” Sam said, placing his cleaned plate and fork into the dishwasher. Dean immediately brightened, broad shoulders straightening as he raised a half-empty beer bottle in thanks.

“What can I say?” He shrugged, leaning against the counter, “I make a mean mac n' cheese.”

Sam nodded in agreement, eyes fixed on the floor. He worked the inside of his lip between his teeth for a second, preparing to open his mouth and then stopping himself. Dean drank his beer, hooking a finger over the collar of his Henley to scratch unconsciously at a year-old scar. Sam felt this tug in his chest and had to say something.

“Hey, Dean?” Sam started, running a trembling hand through his hair, “Can I ask you a question?”

Dean had gone stock-still, his jaw stiff. He seemed to be holding his breath. Sam cleared his throat, trying to break the tension. Dean met his eyes, and for a split second Sam saw that they were begging him not to ask, pleading with him to let this sit, just for now. Just for a little longer because he wasn't ready to explain himself. Then he forced a smile.

“You want the recipe, right?” He joked, taking an unnecessarily long swig from his beer. Sam bit his tongue.

“No chance, Sam. It's a secret. Sorry,” He turned and placed the empty bottle in the sink, then flung the dish towel at Sam's head. Sam caught it, smiling weakly, allowing Dean to retreat to the bathroom without another word.

 

-

 

Dean was obviously feeling uncomfortable about the non-conversation they'd had, and decided to haul Sam down to the beach about two hours later. Sam hesitated at first, the prospect of climbing into bed and sleeping off the day much more appealing, but Dean was trying to make things better, and Sam recognized that.

“I need some air,” Dean had said, clapping Sam on the back as he headed towards the door, “Come on, Stretch. You can quiz me on constellations like when you were eleven.”

Once Sam had stepped out onto the porch in his bare feet, he was glad he hadn't gone to bed. The sky was clear and numerous stars littered the expanse of black, shining determinedly through the city's glow.

They made their way down to the beach, the sand cool and soft. A string of fire-pits crouched on the shore, one assigned to each of the cottages, and Dean tossed a couple of matches into theirs. The wood sparked a second later, the fire growing in intensity as Sam and Dean situated themselves in a pair of reclined lawn chairs.

Sam tilted his head back, staring up at the scattered bodies of light. Beside him, Dean did the same. How many times had they done this before, craning their necks as they sat on the Impala's hood? More times than he could count, but now they weren't parked in a field or pulled over on a deserted highway. Now, they had the flames, the sand and the unfamiliar crash of the ocean, but they had the same sky. It felt like any other time that Sam had glimpsed shooting stars with his brother's shoulder pressed against his own.

Dean was the important part. Without him there, it would have felt alien, wrong. Sam remembered nights at Stanford, walking back to his dorm after a late class, thinking of Dean. He would notice the night sky and feel an ache in his chest, not knowing where Dean was or who he was with or what kind of trouble he'd gotten himself into. Sam didn't stargaze in California. Not without his brother.

There were a lot of things Sam didn't want to do without his brother.

“How's your hand?” Dean asked, nudging Sam's arm.

“It's alright,” Sam said as he flexed his fingers.

“Good,” Dean nodded, turning to stare out at the ocean. Sam watched as the light from the fire leaped over the sharpness of Dean's profile: the bridge of his nose, his cheekbones, his jawline. Sam dragged his eyes away and tried to distract himself by searching for the North Star in the distance. He noticed that Dean had gone still next to him.

“Hey, Sam?” he said.

“What?” Sam asked, turning to Dean as a burst of sparks lifted into the air.

“Look, I—” Dean stopped himself. Sam could tell he was struggling, so he reached out a hand to cautiously touch his arm.

Dean almost flinched, looking down at Sam's hand with uncertainty. His eyes were glassy, unreadable. Sam almost pulled his hand away, but hesitated. He couldn't tell if it was helping Dean or scaring him off.

“Dean, what—” he started in a low voice, but Dean was already moving, shifting towards Sam. He half got up, one knee perched on the seat of his chair while he planted his other foot on the ground, bracing his hands on the arm rest of his chair to pitch himself towards Sam. He leaned closer, so close that Sam could see the fire reflected in his eyes.

Sam's breath hitched, and the moment came crashing down around them. The tiny sound was enough to knock Dean back into reality, his cheek sliding against Sam's a second later as he changed course. He let his forehead drop onto Sam's shoulder and it felt like defeat.

They stayed like that for a long moment. Sam's hand had found it's way to Dean's wrist, though he didn't know when. Dean breathed slow but unsteadily, and Sam wanted to say something, anything that might begin to make this better. He wanted to reassure him, but the words wouldn't come.

“Sorry,” came Dean's small voice, his breath skimming Sam's neck. Sam opened his mouth to say don't be, but Dean straightened. He turned away, rubbing a hand over his face as he stared down, eyes glazed, at the fire. His hand lingered over his mouth before he let it drop to his side.

“I'll be back,” he said, words flat and dull, and started walking away, toward the water. Sam started to stand, to keep his brother from leaving, but he knew Dean wouldn't listen even if he did try and talk to him. His silhouette became smaller as he moved farther away, no longer touched by the light. Sam watched him go, his stomach twisted and his fingernails cutting half-moons into his palms. He forced himself to sit back down and stared out at Dean's dark figure, the stars disappearing behind a bank of clouds.

 

-

 

Dean woke him up an hour later, shaking his shoulder gently.

“Think it's time to turn in,” Dean said quietly, tucking his hands under Sam's arms and helping him up. Dean guided him back to the cottage with a hand on his back. Sam wiped tiredly at his eyes as they ascended the porch steps, and turned to look at Dean.

“'s okay,” he said. His head felt heavy.

“What?” Dean asked, using his elbow to push the sliding door open.

“What you did,” Sam tried again as he stumbled inside. Dean helped him to the bed. “'s okay, Dean.”

He sat on the edge of the mattress, staring up at Dean's face, bathed in yellow light from the table lamp. Dean looked tired, but he smiled weakly down at Sam.

“Okay,” he said, letting his hands slide away from Sam's shoulders. Sam nodded, and let himself slump onto the bed, his head sinking into the pillow. Dean flicked off the light.

“Thanks,” Sam whispered into the dark.

“Just takin' care of you, Sammy,” Dean said softly.

In the hazy area between consciousness and unconsciousness, Sam thought he felt the feather-light press of Dean's lips on his forehead.

 

-

 

Sam woke bleary eyed around ten o'clock, blinking in disbelief at his watch. He sat up slowly, pushing his hair out of his eyes, and spotted Dean. He hunched over a breakfast sandwich at the table by the window, chewing loudly. Sam felt a pit in his stomach, a remnant of last night.

“Morning,” Sam said, voice gravelly with sleep. Dean jumped a little as he turned to look at him.

“Morning,” He said around a mouthful of egg. “'Bout time you woke up. You sleep like a friggin' bear.”

Sam shrugged and tried a smile. It wasn't often that he was allowed to sleep in—he was used to be woken by either an alarm clock, a police scanner, or Dean—but he felt exceptionally better rested than usual. He appreciated the fact that Dean always knew what he needed.

He shoved off the covers and made his way out into the living room, stopping in his tracks a second later. Dean eyed him.

“What are you wearing?” Sam asked, head cocked to the side.

“Huh?” Dean looked down at himself, then back at Sam, “A hoodie. What's it look like I'm wearing?”

My hoodie?” Sam continued, and Dean averted his eyes back to his breakfast.

“Yeah, so?” Dean said irritably, his face scrunched up in seemingly perpetual annoyance. Which—Sam knew for a fact—meant he was embarrassed. Even with the situation from last night hanging over him, Sam felt the corner of his mouth twitch into a smile.

“Nothing,” Sam said, seeing his chance to lighten the mood. “I just didn't know you could be so sentimental, Dean.”

“Am not,” Dean snapped, puffing out his chest, “I threw on the first thing I saw. 's got nothing to do with you.”

Sam knew better than to be hurt just as well as he knew that Dean was lying. He also knew that he shouldn't taunt Dean in a bad mood. It was probably a better idea to figure out what was bothering his brother, though he had a pretty good guess as to what it was already. Sam wanted to talk about what had happened, but steeled himself. He wanted Dean to mention it, rather than try and force him to open up.

“Alright, fine,” Sam surrendered, deciding to get in one more jab. “Can I have it then?”

Dean glowered, ears red.

“Get your own damn hoodie.”

Sam headed for the fridge, swallowing a laugh. He grabbed a box of cereal and poured himself a bowl. After making himself a cup of coffee, he sat himself down across from Dean.

“Something wrong?” he asked after Dean remained silent other than rather forcefully crumpling up his sandwich wrapper.

“Bobby called. Said he has a case for us in Iowa,” Dean grumbled, throwing his garbage into the can by the stove. “Guess we're checking out early.”

“Oh.” Sam nodded, surprised, and disappointment settled heavily over him. In the back of his mind, he felt like they had been getting somewhere, and he was almost sure that to have to pack it all up and fall into routine now was going to send them sprawling back to where they started.

“I let you sleep 'cause you seemed pretty wiped, but now we gotta motor,” Dean said as he stood. He unzipped the hoodie and tossed it on the couch before heading into the bedroom. When he emerged again, he wore one of his old Creedence Clearwater t-shirts, the image faded from years of use. Sam distinctly remembered buying it for Dean's sixteenth birthday and getting in trouble with their father for sneaking off to purchase it. They had been in the middle of an interview for whatever case they had been working at the time, and Sam had cost them a few hours. He'd gotten a hard scolding, but it had been worth it.

“Did the case seem pretty urgent?” Sam watched as Dean started mechanically reassembling the gun he'd cleaned last night. Dean just shrugged.

“Look, we don't know for sure if the demon controlling the Daeva is gone,” Sam said, “We should probably stick around another day just to make sure nothing comes up.”

Dean looked up from the gun, reading Sam's face.

“You wanna stay one more day?” he asked, and Sam knew that the question had more than one meaning.

“Yeah,” Sam nodded, “I think it's a good idea.”

Dean held his gaze for a second longer, then half-smiled, letting himself fall back against the cushions of the couch. He let his tense shoulders drop and looked down at his hands.

“Okay,” he said, gently, and Sam was reminded of that sixteen-year old Dean again, shrugging into his birthday present with soft eyes. “You're the brains.”

“Alright,” Sam said, tossing his brother a serene smile. Then Dean was off the couch with renewed vigor, the gun forgotten.

“I was thinking we could head into town. Maybe scout out an antique bookstore for you to geek out over. What do you think?” He asked. Sam almost nodded, saw his opportunity to repay Dean's favours, and decided to take it.

“Actually, I kind of had an idea of my own.”

 

-

 

“Let's go,” Sam said from the porch. Dean stood on the threshold, looking at his brother suspiciously.

“Where are you taking me?” Dean asked, watching Sam spin his keys around his finger.

“Just trust me, will you? We've got time to kill. I know a good way to kill it,” Sam made his way down the steps, beckoning Dean to follow. After another second, he did, though he didn't look any less apprehensive.

“Man, I swear, if you're about to tell me Father Time is real and causing shit in Palm Beach then I quit,” Dean said as they climbed into the car. Sam barked a laugh.

“I wasn't being literal, Dean,” Sam shook his head and started the engine.

“In our line of work, you can't be too careful,” Dean said, rifling through his box of tapes.

 

-

 

They pulled into the lot of their destination after an hour of Dean asking near constant questions about where they were going. Sam hadn't budged, though, and had eventually turned up the music to keep Dean quiet. Sam relished the look on Dean's face after getting a taste of his own medicine.

Dean's eyes lit up when he realized where they were.

“Dude, no way,” He said airily, staring out the window.

“I thought you'd like it,” Sam said as he steered them through the gates.

Row after row of antique cars stretched out ahead of them on the grass, and people weaved their way through the vehicles with cameras and cardboard boxes piled high with french fries. Sam rolled down the window to talk to the man by the gate, who gave them a number and then directed them to their place amongst the classics. Sam pulled up next to a 1952 Chevrolet Coupe and parked the car. Dean gazed out the window, still in awe, his mouth hanging open a little.

“Well?” Sam asked, sitting back in his seat and smirking at Dean's astonished face, “You gonna get out?”

Already, people's head were turning towards the Impala. Dean looked at Sam, smile just beginning.

“How the hell did you—” He started, a grin breaking over his face.

“I read about it in the paper,” Sam explained, “Now, come on.”

Dean reached across the space between them and ruffled Sam's hair like he was six again, his hand slipping down to squeeze the back of his neck fondly. Sam dropped his eyes, stupidly embarrassed.

“Get off,” he said finally, shouldering Dean's arm away. Dean laughed and got out, immediately greeted by a group of people eager to know more about the car. Dean launched into a spirited conversation, starting with the fact that he'd had to rebuild “his baby” from the ground up numerous times. Sam climbed out a second later, smiling.

Dean was more than happy to talk about the car for the rest of the afternoon, showing off the engine and letting people slide into the driver's seat to marvel at her interior—as long as they kept their hands to themselves. Sam wandered the aisles of cars, snapping pictures on his phone for Dean to look at later. They bought fries and listened to the band stationed on a platform nearby play some music, and by the time evening started to settle in, they were the last car to pull out. Dean was in the driver's seat, still glowing.

“You're in a good mood,” Sam said, glancing side-long at his brother.

“It's your fault,” Dean said, arm hanging out the window. He looked at Sam and offered a lopsided grin.

“I can live with that,” Sam said, and when Dean kept staring at him, punched him playfully in the shoulder.

 

-

 

Dean flopped onto the couch with a loud, satisfied huff and settled his head against Sam's thigh, crossing his legs at the ankle and propping them up on the armrest. He had a beer in one hand and the T.V. remote in the other. Sam, who had to grab his 2000-page book and heft it hastily into the air before Dean's head could collide with it, stared down at his brother with disbelief and internally damned his 'don't-let-Dean-get-hurt' instinct.

“Really?” he asked, trying to balance his book on the armrest next to him.

“The game's on,” Dean said like it explained everything. Then, “And this is the only couch we have.”

“Yet not the only thing available for sitting,” Sam pointed out and shoved the antique wooden chair nearby with the toe of his shoe. Dean tilted his head and gave the bad excuse for a piece of furniture a nasty look. Sam couldn't really blame him; it was more a horrible work of art than a chair.

“Haven't you ever heard of sharing?”

“Haven't you ever heard of personal space?”

“Shut up,” Dean boosted the volume on the T.V. and successfully drowned out Sam's exaggerated sigh.

 

-

 

An hour later, Dean was asleep, breathing slow and loud as the game continued in the background. He still had the beer bottle in his hand, its bottom almost touching the floor as he let his arm hang off the side of the couch. Sam stretched over his brother to grab the remote from the table and muted the game. He'd tell Dean what the score was in the morning.

Sam spent a few more minutes reading his book, shifting his leg a little under the weight of Dean's head. His brother slept soundly, fingers scratching idly at his stomach. Sam glanced down at him, then again a few seconds later, closing the book and setting it down on the table.

Hesitantly, he let his left hand settle on Dean's head, sliding it over his hair, soft from his recent shower. Dean's chest rose and fell slowly, his breath whistling through his almost open lips.

It reminded Sam of being eight years-old and taking care of his bedridden brother for four days. John had only supposed to been gone one, and Dean had come down with a fever and a harsh cough that had frightened them both. It wasn't often that Sam had to look after Dean in those days. Even as he lay in bed with a cold cloth and a dizzying headache, he urged Sam to go grab a bowl of cereal and catch up on cartoons. But that was just Dean, never wanting to worry or burden Sam with his own problems. Even now, when Dean harboured good feelings instead of bad, he didn't want to force them on Sam, avoiding putting a label on what was happening between them.

And that was where Sam had to draw the line. He couldn't let Dean bury his emotions like he usually did, especially when, deep down inside himself, Sam knew he was feeling the same things. He'd let those feelings bubble to the surface over the last few days, but there always that lingering doubt that kept his hands at his sides and his mouth sealed shut.

Sam carded his fingers through Dean's hair, pulling gently, before letting go and starting again. He massaged his fingers into Dean's scalp, rubbing slow circles with his thumb. It relaxed him to see Dean so peaceful.

Sam had been denying himself something good, something that felt right in his gut even when it hadn't in his head. And how could he stop himself now, when Dean was quickly coming to the same realization? They had something—always did—that was going to win out, every time, over and over, against all odds. Why not make it into what they both wanted it to be?

Sam watched the silent football game and continued to rhythmically comb through Dean's hair until the final score was on the screen and the broadcasters were recapping the highlights. He shut off the television and looked at the clock on the wall, realizing that it was almost one o'clock—he'd fallen into that state of timelessness that he had always equated with down-time with his brother. He figured he should rouse Dean and send him to bed.

“Feels awesome,” Dean said quietly.

Sam started, jerking his hand away and burying it against his stomach. He stared down in shock at Dean, whose eyes were still closed and whose lips were pulled into a lazy smile.

“I didn't know you were awake,” Sam said, trying not to sound as flustered as he felt.

“Hey,” Dean said with a frown. He raised his hand to his head. “Why'd you stop?”

“Uh,” Sam swallowed, let out a half-laugh half-sigh and let his hand return to Dean's head, “Sorry.”

Dean hummed appreciatively, folding his hands on his stomach and running his tongue over dry lips. Sam watched him, debating, knowing that the only decision he had to make was to be happy or not be happy. It was obvious; always should have been obvious.

“Dean?” Sam said gently.

“What's up, Sammy?” came Dean's sleepy reply.

“I think we should talk,” Sam said. “About what's been going on... What you've been doing, the way you've been acting.”

Dean's eyes were half-open, looking up at the ceiling.

“You gonna tell me you hate it?” he asked, voice low with sleep or something else Sam couldn't pinpoint.

“No,” Sam said too quickly, hand pausing it's slow movement through his brother's hair, “No, I don't, I—How could I hate it? You know I don't.”

“I know, I know,” Dean said with a tiny shrug, “It's just sometimes you can't tell when things are sweet as hell.”

“I just wasn't sure how to take it,” Sam explained. A stretch of silence followed, where Sam stared at Dean's lashes flickering over his eyes, a deep, dark green in the low light.

“Me neither,” Dean admitted, rolling his bottom lip between his teeth.

“I kept thinking I had to stop you, that I had to— had to keep this from happening,” Sam continued, gaze drifting around the room, landing anywhere but on his brother. “For... obvious reasons.”

Dean snorted humorlessly and nodded against Sam's leg.

“But I don't anymore,” Sam finished, hand stilling on Dean's head.

“What do you think now?” Dean asked, those dark eyes meeting Sam's. He hesitated, the words stuck on his tongue.

“I think we can make this work,” Sam said, simply, because he knew that's how Dean needed to hear it. Not a flood of emotion, not a declaration, and—God forbid—not a chick-flick moment, but an answer. An honest, genuine, positive answer.

Dean held his gaze for a long moment, searching Sam's face for uncertainty. Sam knew he wouldn't find it. Then—after Sam's heart had bruised itself against his ribs—Dean smiled, slow and easy and so, so grateful.

“You sure?” he asked, smile careful but unwavering, “You sure this is what you want?”

“Are you doubting me?” Sam grinned, ignoring the heat creeping across his cheeks as relief filled him.

“Just checking,” Dean retorted. He reached up and took Sam's hand in his, palm rough but familiar, pulling it away from his skull and smoothing it on his chest, pressed over his heart. He held it there for a few long minutes, and Sam could feel the thrum of his quickened pulse, feel his own heart trying to match it. He thought he could almost hear the sound, like gun shots, bottles clinking together, fireworks bursting, single beds being pushed together.

“God,” Dean said suddenly, letting Sam go and rubbing his face with both hands, “That's the corniest thing I've ever done.”

Sam scoffed.

“After the week you've had? I dunno...” Sam said.

Dean swung his legs over the side of the couch and sat up, stretching his back and legs. He gripped the edge of the couch and looked over his shoulder at Sam, eyes half-lidded and tired, mouth quirked lazily upwards.

“You should hit the sheets,” Sam said, amused.

“That's it? You're just gonna send me to bed now?” Dean asked.

“We can talk more in the morning,” Sam said, his stomach stirring just thinking about it. “You need sleep.”

“'Gonna dream about your stupid face,” Dean said as he stood, tossing a half-assed flirtatious look in Sam's direction.

“You do that,” Sam said, watching Dean's fingers skim over his knees as he passed, walking a little jerkily with exhaustion.

Sam sat for a moment, adrenaline making him feel light. He stared at his lap, the realization of what they'd just discussed—what they'd decided to be, to become—making stars erupt in his eyes and his throat tighten in the best way possible. He entwined his fingers, and let out an embarrassingly trembly breath, fending off the ridiculous smile that threatened to take over his face. He closed his eyes to calm himself and when he opened them again, Dean stood in front of him.

“Dean?” Sam looked up at him, blinking.

Dean bent over him slowly, bracing himself with a hand over the back of the couch. His other hand found it's way to the junction between Sam's shoulder and his neck, squeezing gently. He leaned closer, close enough to press their foreheads together, then their noses, and—after their hot breath had mingled in the air for too long—their mouths. Dean's eyes fell shut immediately as he pressed his lips to Sam's in a long, tentative peck, his thumb rolling over Sam's collarbone comfortingly. Sam, stunned and paralysed, stared at the dappling of freckles on Dean's face like they were the stars from the night before. A second later, he found himself eagerly kissing back, lips catching hurriedly at Dean's. Dean tilted his head to initiate something deeper, and Sam could suddenly taste stale beer, and smell the cottage's mango soap, and feel the softness of his brother's over-worn shirt in his fingers, and it was all so pleasantly and inherently Dean.

The sharp coldness of Dean's ring against his neck made Sam pull back, heaving in a heavy breath as Dean's eyes opened slowly, his eyebrows raised in what might have been amazement. He swallowed and let his hand touch Sam's cheek, palm warm. He straightened, nodding his head slightly, affirmatively.

“That was okay,” he said breathily, and Sam huffed a laugh, letting his shaking hands fall away from Dean's shirt. “You okay?”

“Yeah,” Sam managed, scraping his hair back from his face. “Definitely.”

Dean smiled again, eyes soft as he looked at Sam.

“G' night,” he said, gaze darting down in a moment of quiet wonder, and started to retreat to the bedroom.

“Night, Dean,” Sam called after him, sure he'd made the right decision.

 

-

 

They shared silent conversations as they packed the next morning, collecting up their few possessions and loading them into the car. Bobby had called in frustration, but neither of their good moods could be spoiled. They told him they were heading out as soon as possible.

“Well, what the hell's keeping you?” he'd grumbled.

“Nothing particularly important,” Dean said curtly, trying not to laugh as Sam smirked at him from the bedroom. Bobby hung up after some indignant mutterings involving the words 'hopeless' and 'idjits.'

A half-hour later, Sam locked up their cottage while Dean, framed by flowers on the cobble-stone walkway, offered it a salute. Sam dropped off the key and then returned to the Impala, sliding into the passenger seat as the engine rumbled to life. He noticed a minute later that Dean was looking at him. Sam cocked his head to the side, eyes darting uneasily around as Dean continued to stare, smiling slightly.

“Dude, what?” Sam said finally and Dean snorted.

“Nothing,” he said and draped his wrists over the steering wheel, “I was just wondering if we should head straight to couples therapy or if we're at the 'party in Vegas' stage of our relationship.”

Sam raised an eyebrow.

“I vote Vegas, but you know me,” Dean continued, offering a suggestive wink. Instead of replying with a smile—though it would have been easy—Sam made a show of lifting up his right hand and slowly unwrapping the white medical tape from his fingers. Dean watched in expectant amusement. Sam gingerly straightened his middle finger as best he could in the splint, and flipped his brother the bird.

Dean gaped and smiled simultaneously, annoyed and impressed and in awe, and Sam loved him.