At night, they still share stories. They both wake up crying. Neither of them ever stops missing their brother.
One day, Sam brings home a dog. Dean pretends to be indignant, but Sam swears the dog will be his responsibility, and since he’s home more than Dean is, Dean grudgingly agrees.
“I miss you when you’re not here,” Sam claims. “I need the company.”
Dean can’t argue with that.
One night, Dean wakes up screaming. He’s back in Hell, with Alastair. It’s been a while since he had that dream, definitely since before he came to this world. He’d started to hope that particular dream was done torturing him, but of course it isn’t.
“He figured out how to break me,” he tells Sam afterwards.
His throat’s raw with screaming, cheeks damp with tears and snot. Sam’s holding him, ostensibly to keep him from flailing around and breaking things, including Sam, but Dean’s allowing it because he really needs it right now.
“After thirty years, he figured it out,” Dean goes on, voice shaking. “He told me Sam was dead from natural causes and he ended up here in Hell, because that’s where he belonged. He showed me Sam being tortured, told me if I behaved, if I got off the rack and started torturing other souls, then I’d get to see him again. He’d even stop torturing Sam once in a while, let us be together.”
Sam squeezes Dean tighter against his chest, and Dean buries his face in the crook of his shoulder, breathing deep.
“I never told Sam that,” Dean confesses. “I think he knew, though. I think he knew why I broke.”
Sam cups the back of Dean’s head, presses a kiss to his temple.
“I love him so much, Sam.” Dean’s voice breaks, his body shakes with sobs.
“I know, Dean, I know.”
Dean cries himself to sleep but Sam never lets him go.
One night, two years after they moved into the little house in Lawrence, Dean looks across the table at the man everyone in town assumes is his husband and realizes he loves him.
This kind, gentle man who misses his own brother at least as much as Dean’s misses his, is someone Dean loves. Maybe not as much as his brother — there’s not enough love in the universe to replace Dean’s brother in his heart — but enough.
As this epiphany hits him, Sam looks up, surprised, as if he can hear the words Dean’s not saying. Dean holds Sam’s gaze silently until Sam smiles, soft and fond and more than a little grateful.
And just like that, without exchanging the words, they both know.
Dean’s heart unclenches just a little that night. Later, he dreams of his brother, standing with his back to Dean as he looks off into the distance. They’re standing on some kind of bridge, the car parked a few feet away, as if Sam was driving and stopped here to enjoy the view.
Sam turns, smiling the way he sometimes did, part exasperated, part fond.
“You’re early,” he says.
“I don’t think I’m even here,” Dean answers, glancing around. “Is this Heaven?”
“What do you think?” Sam scoffs lightly.
“I’m doing what you asked, Sam,” Dean insists, defensive. “I’m living.”
Sam nods, serious. “I know.”
“I miss you so much, man,” Dean blurts out.
“I know that, too.”
Dean’s eyes fill and he moves forward without even realizing it, taking Sam into his arms, tucking his face into Sam’s shoulder, breathing deep.
“You’re doing good, Dean,” Sam murmurs. “I’m proud of you, big brother.”
“How much longer?” Dean’s sounds pathetic, but he doesn’t care.
“Seems like you’re doing okay,” Sam remarks, rubbing his back, soothing. “Better than you expected.”
“I miss you every fucking day, Sammy.”
“I know.” Sam holds him tight. “At least you’ve got somebody. At least he’s with you.”
“It’s not the same!” Dean cries, pulling back so he can look at his brother. “Sammy, he’s not you!”
“Of course he isn’t,” Sam smirks, the bitch. “But he loves you. You know he does.”
Dean can’t deny that. His not-brother loves him. It’s a good thing. It’s not enough, but it’s a good thing.
Sam reads Dean’s confusion and shakes his head. “It’s okay. I’m not jealous. Not much, anyway. You’ll be here with me soon enough.”
“I will?” Dean can’t stand how hopeful he sounds. He feels like such a fool.
“Of course you will,” Sam assures him. “Time moves differently here. We’ll see each other soon, I promise.”
“In Hell, time moved so slowly,” Dean reminds him.
Sam nods. “This isn’t Hell. It’ll be okay.”
Of course it will.
“Sammy, sometimes I think I see you.” Dean’s almost afraid to admit it, afraid to jinx it. “Out of the corner of my eye, or down the block, or even next to me in the car when he’s right there.”
Sam takes a deep breath, lets it out slow. “I’m always with you, Dean. I told you that.”
“Yeah, but. Is it really you?”
Sam shrugs. “Maybe. I told you, I’m always with you. We’ve always had that sixth sense about each other, remember?”
“Can I ask you a question?” They’re standing side-by-side now, facing out into the beauty of the wilderness, shoulders and arms pressed together, fingers touching on the bridge railing.
“Will he end up with his brother, when this is all over? Is there a Heaven for them?”
Sam frowns thoughtfully. “I don’t know the answer to that for sure, but I feel like there must be. It wouldn’t be very fair if we’re the only Sam and Dean who get that. And just because I haven’t seen any of the AU hunters or any of our AU friends here, doesn’t mean they’re not here. Heaven’s a big place, and Jack’s opened it up to everybody.” Sam nods. “I think you can reassure your friend that he’ll most likely see his brother again someday.”
Dean nods. He tangles his fingers with Sam’s, squeezes. He’s suddenly very tired, so sleepy he can barely keep his eyes open.
Dean struggles to open his eyes, realizes a moment before he does that he’s in bed, at home, with not-brother Sam lying next to him, his eyes open and gazing at him with sleepy fondness. Their fingers are tangled together, and Dean smiles as he brings Sam’s hand up, kisses the back of his knuckles.