Other Pairing(if applicable): none
Word Count: 7,749
Warnings/Spoilers: underage (Sam is 13 or 14 in a brief flashback scene), Season 13
Summary: Dean’s never been what you might call a man of faith. After all, he doesn’t have to believe in God. He knows God exists. But Dean has faith. Dean believes in Sam, and he believes he knows what’s best for his little brother. When Billie takes Dean on a midnight ride through Sam’s past, Dean learns that having faith isn’t just about believing in something you can’t see. Sometimes, it’s about seeing past your own self-doubt to recognize that the thing you never dared to pray for has been yours all along.
A/N: This story takes place after 13.15 “A Most Holy Man.” The first section is a recounting of the final scene from that episode, with dialogue from the show. The story’s title is from Take Me To Church, by Hozier. Created for the 2018 Wincest ReverseBang.
Dean pours himself a whiskey and sips it as he sits staring at the vial of blood in his hand.
They've just returned to the bunker, and Sam's depressed again. Dean calls him out on it, listens to Sam's concerns, and he gets it. He really does. Working for the Mob, killing human beings -- that's not like them. That's not their job.
Doing whatever it takes to get Mom and Jack back? That's their job, and Dean tells himself that's the main thing. It's not like they haven't allied themselves with the bad guys before. Hell, they've worked with the King of Hell when it served their purposes, and sometimes even when it didn't.
So Dean tries not to get all high and mighty about who they work with or how they get the job done. They do whatever's necessary to get their family back. They always have.
“Do you ever feel like we’re doing nothin’ but playing defense? Bouncing from one apocalypse to the next?” Sam asks, soulful hazel eyes full of worry, desperate for Dean’s reassurance.
Dean shrugs. “It’s not exactly our call.”
“I know that, and I’m not saying that we don’t do good, but no matter how many people we save, there will always be more people who need saving. No matter how many monsters we kill...”
“There’s always gonna be another one around the corner,” Dean finishes.
“Exactly. Do you ever think we could change things? I mean, really change things? You know, stop all the monsters, all the bad...”
Dean considers lecturing Sam about how they shouldn’t wish for things they can’t have. He thinks about telling Sam how useless that line of thinking can be.
But all he does is nod because Sam’s hurting. Sam needs his big brother’s assurance right now. “That would be nice,” he agrees.
“Yeah.” Sam looks wistful for another moment, then changes the subject, indicating the vial containing the Blood of a Most Holy Man. “So what are you thinking? You think that’ll work?”
And Dean repeats Father Lucca’s heartfelt reminder, the words they both needed to hear. “I have faith.”
Sam nods, rubs his hands over his face and through his hair, rubs the back of his neck. "I'm going to bed," he announces, shaking his head.
Dean watches as Sam climbs to his feet, rolling his shoulders painfully as he shambles toward his room. Dean can see he's stiff and hurting, could probably use a massage after the battle in Seattle.
Battle in Seattle, Dean snickers out loud, but Sam's already out of hearing, doesn't roll his eyes the way Dean secretly loves when Dean makes a bad joke or a stupid pun.
Dean watches Sam like he always has -- with a bucketload of concern and a truckload of want, buried deep in a bottomless well of shame. Dean's been in love with his brother for so long he almost doesn't notice it anymore. Doesn't matter anyway. He resigned himself to living with the wanting long ago, and it eats away at his soul each and every day.
Sam thinks Dean’s a good man. Sam depends on that, so Dean will never tell him all the ways that's not possible. Sam needs Dean to be his moral compass, and Dean will play that role as long as there is life in his sick, depraved body.
But Dean can't be good. He'll never be good, no matter how he prays for strength, for forgiveness for being such a failed human being and such a terrible brother.
Doesn't stop him from hoping, though. Maybe someday, if he keeps burying his inappropriate feelings for his brother deep enough, they'll finally go away. Maybe he'll finally be free to be the brother Sam deserves, the man who loves Sam the way Sam deserves to be loved. Dean can't stop hoping, because it's all he has.
He'd be the first to deny it and the last to admit it, but Dean Winchester is a man of faith. Despite what he told Father Lucca in Seattle, he does believe.
Dean believes in Sam.
The truth is, Dean would give anything to give Sam a world without monsters. He would. Killing monsters and saving people is what they do, and Dean tries hard not to think how that first part is what defines him; the second part is just a happy byproduct. If he didn’t have anything to kill, he’s not sure what he’d do. Sitting around watching plants grow or working some mundane job in a garage somewhere really wouldn’t work for him.
But for Sam, he’d do it. If they ever found a way to rid the world of all the monsters, Dean would settle down in a heartbeat. Sam deserves a normal life, always had more ability to live it than Dean could. Dean would do anything to give Sam that.
Dean tries to imagine such a world, tries to imagine Sam looking happy and relaxed, doing nerdy Sam-things without the threat of a monster-hunt hanging over his head. Sam could grow a garden. Sam could have a dog. Sam could sit around on a rainy day and read just for pleasure.
Dean remembers Sam doing just that, when they were kids. Sam could lie on one of the beds in the motel-of-the-week they called home and read for hours, his bare feet crossed at the ankles, shoulders hunched as he held the book open on his lap, sometimes propped on a pillow. His face was smooth then, without age-lines and sharp angles, forehead covered in dark bangs that grew down into his eyes so Dean wondered how he could see. His lips were often parted, as if he were silently mouthing the words as he read, and his cheeks and nose were always pink, either with cold in the terminally under-heated motel rooms they stayed in, or with his body’s natural raised temperature, which used to give Dean fits when Sam was little and ran a fever that always seemed too high.
Sometimes Sam would realize that Dean was watching him and look up. At eight, Sam would grin happily, delighted at even a moment’s attention from his big brother. At fourteen, Sam would scowl his annoyance, sure that Dean was about to make fun of him for being so studious.
There was a time before Sam was a hunter, when he was just a little kid whose brother protected him from the worst parts of their daily lives, when Dean lied constantly to keep Sam as innocent as possible for as long as possible. Knowing there was a time before Sam was a hunter made Dean hope there could be a time after. Maybe one day, their work would be done, and they could finally rest, like the song in the Supernatural musical. He’d never stop hoping for that, for Sam’s sake.
Dean takes his glass to the kitchen, rinses it in the sink before pouring himself a glass of water to bring to bed. He shuts the lights off in the library, moves quietly down the hall past Sam’s bedroom. Sam’s light is off but his door is slightly ajar, and Dean can see him sprawled out on his stomach, long limbs taking up too much space, making the bed look small.
Neither of them are completely used to the sleeping arrangements in the bunker. As much as Dean loves having his own room and knows Sam feels the same, neither of them sleeps as well apart as they do when the other one is in the room. They’ve had too many years of falling asleep to the comforting sounds of the other one right there, safe and sound. Except for that long-ago separation period while Sam was at Stanford and those shorter separations while one of them wasn’t on Earth or demonic or soulless, they’d always had the other one less than a foot away in the other bed while they slept.
It’s why Sam usually leaves his door open, even now, and Dean does the same. That way they can hear if the other brother has a nightmare and wakes up screaming. They can more easily fall asleep to the comforting sounds of the other one snoring or moving around in his room as he gets ready for bed.
Dean knows Sam isn’t soundly asleep yet. He’s waiting for Dean to pass his door, for Dean to check on him to be sure he’s resting comfortably. He’ll wait to fall asleep till after he hears Dean undress and settle in his bed.
Dean knows that’s what Sam will do because it’s what he does when he goes to bed first.
Dean stands in the doorway of Sam’s room for another moment, watching Sam’s almost-sleeping form in his bed. He’s facing away from Dean, but Dean has no doubt that Sam’s aware of him. He can only hope it makes Sam feel comforted and safe, knowing Dean’s watching over him.
When he climbs into his own bed, Dean tries not to think about how lonely he is.
Sometime late in the night he wakes with a start. Sam’s standing in the doorway, silhouetted by the dim lighting in the hall.
“Can I sleep with you?” Sam’s voice is small, soft, like he expects to be rejected.
“Of course,” Dean says, sliding over on his bed and throwing the blankets back in invitation.
Sam pads into the room and slips into the bed. He rolls onto his side away from Dean and pulls the blanket up over his waist, tucking his arm under Dean’s spare pillow.
Dean lies still for another moment. giving Sam the chance to talk if he needs to. But Sam says nothing, and when his breath evens out and deepens, Dean knows he’s fallen asleep. He rolls onto his side away from Sam and tries to go back to sleep, tries not to enjoy the feeling of his brother’s solid presence at his back too much.
It’s sometime close to dawn when he finally falls into a tense, fitful sleep.
He’s in Hell again.
He’s not sure how he got here, but he’s one-hundred-percent sure he knows why he’s here.
The place reeks of sulfur, of course. It’s dark except for the reddish light that flashes like a strobe at irregular intervals, just long enough to catch a glimpse of the blood and gore streaking the stone walls. It’s deadly silent except for the occasional scream of a soul in agony. The air is hot and thick, making Dean’s tongue swell in his mouth till he can barely move it. He’s thirstier than he’s ever been. He looks down at his body. He’s wearing a simple blood-stained t-shirt and pants, easily removed when the torturing starts. Chains chafe his wrists and ankles, and of course his feet are bare.
The iron door to his cell clangs open, and Dean looks up defiantly. He expects Alastair, or Asmodeus, or maybe a couple of demon henchmen come to drag him off to the torture room.
Instead, Billie saunters in. She crosses her arms and leans back against the door, cool and unflappable as always. The door clangs shut behind her.
“You think you belong here.”
It’s a statement, not a question.
Dean glares at her. “How did I die?”
“You don’t remember.” Her lips curl up in her signature smirk.
“Would I ask you if I did?”
“What if I told you this isn’t real?”
Dean raises his eyebrows, takes a quick glance around at the familiar walls. The place looks just as it did the last time he was here. Same smells, same sounds. It feels real.
“So you’re saying this is just a dream?” he demands.
“I’m saying, we’re inside your head, Dean,” Billie says. “You carry this around with you every day. Your own personal Hell. Ending up here for real someday – again – it’s the one thing you’re sure of. It’s what you think you deserve.”
“What’s your point?” Dean doesn’t argue with her. He knows she’s right.
Billie pushes off from the wall, paces away from Dean. “What if I told you you were wrong?” she says. “Would you believe me?”
“Probably not,” Dean acknowledges.
Billie nods. “You say you don’t believe in anything,” she says, too smug in Dean’s opinion. “But you believe in this. You believe this is where you’ll end up when you die. You believe in your brother’s ability to get the job done. You trust him, which wasn’t always the case.”
“What’s Sammy got to do with this?” Dean says sharply.
Billie stops pacing and turns to face him. “Let me ask you. If your lives are really over and you’re here, where do you think Sam is?”
Dean feels the hair rise on the back of his neck, anger rushing in to cover his fear. “Chuck promised me,” he growls. “Sam gets a pass. For everything. He paid his dues years ago, in the Cage. He saved the world.”
“Technically, you both did,” Billie reminds him. “You pep-talked God’s sister out of destroying his creation. The power of sibling love gave balance to the world. Again.”
“So?” Dean challenges. “What’s that got to do with me and Sam? We’re not gods.”
“No,” Billie nods. “But you’re not exactly human anymore, either, not after everything you two have been through. And together, you’re something else entirely.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Dean growls.
“Of course you don’t.” Billie’s smile is grim, and Dean has the distinct impression that he’s being mocked. “If you did, you wouldn’t still believe you’re headed here when it’s all over. Tell me, Dean. What is it exactly that you think is so evil about you that you should end up here?”
“Don’t get me started,” Dean scoffs.
“Uh-huh,” Billie nods. “Okay, I think it’s time to take a little visit to the past.”
And just like that, the scene changes. They’re in a dark motel room, the only light coming in through the curtains from the parking lot as well as a sliver of light from the bathroom. Dean’s dressed normally and the chains are gone. The duffels on the floor are familiar, and Dean realizes he’s been here before – a long time ago.
Something moves on the bed closest to them, and Dean knows that lump, the dark shaggy hair on the pillow.
“Don’t worry. He can’t hear or see us,” Billie promises as the lump in the bed rolls over and sits up. It’s Sam, age maybe 13 or 14.
“Damn it, Dean,” Sam mutters in that high-pitched voice Dean remembers so well, now that he hears it again. Sam flops back, moving restlessly in an effort to get comfortable, and Dean feels a stab of guilt. He can’t pinpoint this night precisely because he was going out all the time when Sam was this age, just to get away from him. Sam had become moody and rebellious as soon as he hit puberty, and Dean’s only recourse sometimes was just to leave. At 17 or 18 Dean had fake IDs to get him into bars or pool halls, and he spent most evenings hustling pool or bluffing his way in on a local game of Texas Hold ‘Em, whatever he could do to try to pick up a little extra money..
And of course there were the girls.
“Why are we here?” Dean asks.
“Isn’t it obvious?” Billie smirks. “Don’t tell me you’re really as dumb as you look.”
“I’m not – “ Dean starts to protest, but the sounds and movements from the bed interrupt him. They’re becoming rhythmic, and the little gasps Sam’s making tell Dean exactly what Sam’s up to, so to speak. “Hey, this isn’t right. Why the hell do you think I should be here for this? Kid needs his privacy, for God’s sake...”
At that moment Sam stiffens and goes still for a moment, then lets out a strangled cry that sounds an awful lot like Dean’s name.
Dean freezes, waits thirty seconds as the kid settles and falls asleep, then he turns to glare at Billie.
“So? The kid had a crush on his awesome big brother. He’s a kid, for God’s sake. Raging teenage hormones, the whole nine yards. How can you hold that against him? Besides, he grew out of it.”
He feels a pang of nostalgia for those days when Sam looked up to him for everything. It makes sense he would be Sam’s first crush. There’s nothing even remotely weird about it.
“Uh-huh.” Billie’s tone is dry, sarcastic. “You keep thinking that. Now come on. I’ve got something else to show you.”
The scene fades, and this time they’re in the rental house where they lived during the last summer before Sam went to Stanford. Dean would recognize this place no matter how many years passed. It’s still the scene of some of his most vivid nightmares.
As before, Sam’s the only person in the room, and Dean and Billie are standing behind him, unnoticed. Sam’s eighteen now, tall and skinny but with the beginnings of real muscle in his shoulders and back. He’s sitting at the room’s only table, writing on a notepad, earbuds jammed in his ears as he listens to some slow, grinding emo music, the kind Dean would never let him play in the car. When Dean peers over his shoulder he can see that Sam’s writing a note addressed to Dean.
“This – this is the house we lived in the summer before Sam left for college,” Dean says, his voice catching as he’s overwhelmed with emotion at the memory. “What’s he doing?”
Sam hadn’t left him a note. Sam had been there to face him and John when they came home from a hunt. He told them to their faces that he was leaving, triggering the biggest blow-up the family had ever experienced.
As Dean struggles to control the pain of those memories, Sam rears his head back and growls, ripping the note from the lined yellow pad and crumpling it between his overgrown hands.
“Damn it!” Sam swears as he drops the note on the floor, and now Dean notices that the floor around Sam’s chair is littered with little yellow balls of crumpled paper. He’s been at this for a while.
As Sam starts writing again, Dean can’t help himself. He reaches down to pick up the recently crumpled paper, smoothing it out so he can read it. Whether the music prevents Sam from hearing or Billie is somehow deadening the sound and allowing Dean to interact with the scene, Dean doesn’t care. He’s lost in the words on the page.
Dean. By the time you read this, I’ll be gone. I had to go, and I know you probably hate me for it, but if I didn’t get out of here I might have done something we’d both regret. I was that close to the edge. I know I should keep this to myself, lock it up, as you’d say. Nothing good can come of saying stuff like this. But I might never see you again, and I want you to know that it’s not your fault. I’m the one who’s been perving on his big brother since he hit puberty. I’m the one who can’t stop.
Dean blinks, heat rushing to his cheeks as he shakes his head. “No. No. This isn’t the way this happened. He didn’t leave a fuckin’ note...”
Dean leans over Sam’s shoulder to read what he’s writing this time, reads the words: “Dean. I’m in love with you. I’m sorry I never told you....”
Suddenly Sam rears back, nearly knocking the chair over as he surges to his feet, ripping the page out of the pad and crumpling it in his hands.
“Fuck! Never mind!” Sam mutters to himself as Dean steps back helplessly. He watches as Sam yanks the earbuds from his ears and stomps into the kitchen, returning a moment later with a plastic trash can. He gathers the little crumpled papers into it, then takes it back into the kitchen, dumps the grounds from this morning’s coffee into the trash can on top of the paper, and shoves the can back under the sink.
“He never said...” Dean stammers, wrenching his eyes away from this years-younger version of his little brother to stare at Billie. “I never knew...” He looks back at Sam, who has given up trying to write a note and is shoving more clothes into his duffle. Dean watches as Sam pulls one of Dean’s old t-shirts from a pile of laundry on the couch, staring at it for a moment before he presses it against his face and breathes deeply. “Jesus, Sammy. I never knew.”
Dean turns back to Billie, fixing her with a hard glare. “Why are you showing me this shit?” He demands. “This is a long, long time ago. Sam was still a kid. He grew out of it. We both did.”
“Oh, is that so?” Billie lifts an eyebrow, and the scene changes. This time they’re in a hotel room. It’s late, dark outside, and Sam’s older. He’s doing push-ups on the floor, and he’s huge. Muscles strain through the thin t-shirt he wears, and Dean can see the outline of his powerful calves through his sweatpants.
He’s not alone this time. There’s a girl sitting on the bed, eating pizza and french fries from a take-out container. She’s dressed in what might be generously described as work-out clothes, but which look more like underwear to Dean.
“Ruby,” Dean breathes, his blood boiling for an entirely different reason than it did in the last scene. “What the hell?” He moves toward her instinctively, ready to throttle her with his bare hands if he can, but she looks up at the last minute, looking right through him, and it shakes him. She doesn’t even know he’s there.
“You can’t kill her, Dean,” Billie says, as if she can read his mind. “You already did, remember? This is just a Memorex moment.”
Then Ruby speaks. “Come on, Sam,” she says in that wheedling, manipulative voice that used to make Dean hate her so much. “You need to eat something. You can’t keep your strength up on sex and blood alone, as much as I wish you could...”
“Bitch!” Dean shouts, clenching his fists in fury.
“She can’t hear you,” Billie reminds him, and he really wishes he could hit her. He needs to hit something, damn it.
“Come on, Sammy,” Ruby coaxes. “You want your brother back, don’t you?”
“Get me into Hell and I’ll bring him back myself!” Sam bellows as he springs to his feet. He crosses the room in a single bound, grabs up a slice of the pizza and stuffs his mouth. He’s so wild and careless about it Dean can’t help wincing. This isn’t his Sam. This is a man who’s off the rails, desperate and at the end of his rope. He’s abandoned all of his carefully-formed habits, the code of behavior that gets him through the day-to-day of hunting life.
This Sam is like a man possessed, only the demon doing the possessing is Sam himself. This is Sam without Dean, and he’s just about the scariest, meanest son-of-a-bitch Dean’s ever seen.
Ruby seems to be used to this, familiar with Sam’s outbursts and erratic behavior. She lowers her eyes and pats the place next to her on the bed, coquettish and sly.
“You know I can’t do that,” she says as she hands Sam the beer which she just opened for him. “But I can help you kill Lilith. I can help you get the revenge Dean deserves. I can get you what you want, Sam.”
Sam huffs out a breath, sags on the bed beside Ruby as he takes a swig of his beer. “What I want is my brother back,” he says stubbornly. “Lilith is just the means to that. If I can find her, I can force her to bring him back.”
“That’s right,” Ruby coos softly, kneeling up behind Sam. “You keep thinking that.” She puts her hands on his shoulders and Sam shudders, starts to pull away, but she kneads his sore muscles with slow, strong hands, and Dean knows how much Sam loves that. It makes Dean’s hands itch to watch her do it. “He used to do this for you, didn’t he? Dean knew how to take care of his Sammy.”
“Shut up,” Sam mutters, but it’s half-hearted. His eyes have slid almost closed, and he’s leaning into her touch, rolling his neck and shoulders to help work out the tension.
“You miss him so much,” Ruby murmurs, leaning close to his ear. “Sometimes you can almost feel him, right here in the room. Right here in the bed with you.”
Sam frowns. “Shut up,” he warns.
“What? You think I can’t tell that you’re thinking about him when we have sex? It’s no big deal. There’s no shame in it. Hell, if he was my brother...”
“Shut up!” Sam lurches to his feet, throwing the beer against the wall, where it shatters. He whirls on Ruby, fists clenched, chest heaving. A bead of sweat rolls down from his hairline, and Dean can’t take his eyes off it.
“Or what? You’ll hit me?” Ruby taunts, smoothly sitting back on her haunches and reaching for another french fry.
“Get out!” Sam grabs her upper arm, pulls her off the bed, hauling her toward the door. To her credit, she can read him well enough to see that he means business.
“Hey! Wait! Let me grab my stuff!”
Sam lets her go long enough to grab her clothes and shoes off the floor, then herds her to the door. She keeps up a steady stream of protests until he closes the door in her face, leans against it for a minute as he recovers his breath.
Dean takes a step toward him, raises his hand out of habit. The need to offer comfort to his broken, grieving brother is overwhelming.
“He can’t see you, Dean,” Billie says, making Dean jump. He’d forgotten she was there.
Dean steels his jaw and lets his hand fall on Sam’s broad shoulder, feels the heat of it seep into his palm. “You’re gonna be okay, little brother,” he says, low and gruff. “You don’t have to listen to that bitch, you hear me? We’re gonna be okay.”
Sam stiffens under Dean’s hand, raises his head. He goes still, barely breathing.
“Dean?” Sam turns, slow and careful, and Dean lets his hand drop but stands his ground till they’re facing each other, barely a couple of inches between them. Sam’s eyes dart around the room.
“Yeah, buddy,” Dean breathes, filled with pride that Sam’s spidey senses are working better than even Billie knew. “I’m here.”
Hope floods Sam’s features. His eyes fill with tears.
“Dean...” he chokes out, and Dean can’t stop himself. He steps up to wrap his arms around Sam’s shoulders as Sam leans down, gathering Dean’s body tightly against him. “Dean,” he breathes into Dean’s neck as Dean rubs circles on Sam’s sweat-soaked back, closing his eyes as he knows Sam’s doing, just trying to breathe him in.
It takes another minute for Dean to realize his arms are empty. Sam’s smell lingers, but Dean’s no longer standing in the hotel in Illinois, the one where he eventually found Sam after he resurrected.
He’s back in his cell, in Hell, with Billie.
“Was that – was that real?” he asks. “Was I really there? ‘Cuz he sure acted like I was.”
Billie shakes her head, leaning back against the wall and crossing her arms and ankles. “You two are about as thick as fenceposts,” she says, disdain dripping from every word. “I don’t know how you ever managed to save the world so often.”
Dean doesn’t take the bait. “You said he couldn’t hear me or see me, but he sure as hell felt solid enough. Pretty sure he could feel me, too. But I was – I was in Hell. How could I be two places at once?”
“Like I said, thick as a fencepost,” Billie says, dry as sandpaper. “When God made you two, he really broke the mold, didn’t he?”
“Look, lady, I don’t know what you expect me to do with all this – Christmas Past crap, but I’m not Ebenezer Scrooge. I don’t need you to teach me to be a kinder, gentler brother!” Dean tries to put some heat into his words, but it’s not easy being tough when his ankles and wrists are in chains and he’s dressed like a Britney Spears wannabe. If he only had shoes. Being barefoot always makes him feel naked.
“You think this is about helping you be a better person?” Billie scoffs. “You think I care whether you and your brother learn to love each other in all the wrong ways? Please.” She rolls her eyes so hard Dean’s afraid they might disappear into her brain. He’s pretty sure he wouldn’t mind if they did.
“So what then?” Dean demands. “When are you gonna tell me what the hell’s going on?”
Billie takes a deep breath, lets it out slow. “Remember this?”
They’re standing in another motel room, only this is one that Dean doesn’t recognize. Sam’s sitting cross-legged and barefoot on the floor in a spell-circle, candles flickering around him as he chants hoarsely over a spell-bowl. His hair is long, his arms streaked with blood, and it only takes Dean a moment to realize what’s happening.
“This is 2012. I’m in Purgatory,” he says. “But he doesn’t know that. What’s he doing?”
“What do you think?” Billie rolls her eyes.
Dean notices the hairbrush on the floor next to Sam, recognizes it as one he hasn’t seen in years. As he steps closer, he sees what might be short brown hairs floating in the pool of blood in the spell-bowl.
“He’s trying to summon me.”
“He’s tried everything else,” Billie shrugs. “He doesn’t know how to find you. No angel will answer his prayers. No demon responds to his summons. He thinks you’re dead.”
Dean moves up behind Sam. “I’m not a ghost, Sammy.” He touches the back of Sam’s head lightly.
Sam jerks upright. “Dean?”
The candles flicker, an unfelt breeze drifting across the floor. Sam sucks in a breath, lets it out slow, as if he expects to see it hanging frozen in the air.
“Yeah, Sam, it’s me,” Dean murmurs, stepping around till he’s standing on the other side of the circle.
Sam turns toward the sound of Dean’s voice, gaze flickering over the walls. His face has grown thin, wasted, and his eyes are sunken and dark. Dean realizes he never saw Sam like this. He never knew how much Sam suffered when Dean disappeared after destroying Dick Roman. By the time Dean got back, Sam had been recovering, beginning to figure out how to survive without his brother.
This man doesn’t look like he’ll be able to live much longer.
“Sammy...” Dean slips to his knees in front of his brother, just outside the spell-circle. Sam stares straight at him, blinking and squinting as if he’s got smoke in his eyes, like he’s looking at Dean through a curtain.
“Dean.” The relief in Sam’s voice is almost tangible. Then his face falls and he flinches, guilt lancing his features. “I’m sorry. I know we promised each other we wouldn’t do anything stupid when the other one died. I’m sorry, Dean. I just couldn’t.”
“I know,” Dean assures him. “It’s okay. I’m not dead. I don’t think so, anyway.” He glances up at Billie, who is smirking at them from a corner of the room.
Sam’s gaze falters, and Dean guesses he’s faded out again. “Dean?”
“Yeah, I’m still here,” Dean says.
Sam swallows. “What do I have to do? How can I get you back?”
“Trust me,” Dean says. “I’m doing my damndest to get back to you right now. I know what you’re going through, thinking I’m dead. Don’t, you hear me? Just have a little faith.”
“Okay.” Sam nods. He seems to be able to see Dean again through the smoke from the candles. He reaches out a hand, like he thinks he might be able to touch him, and Dean leans forward on instinct.
“Dean,” Billie warns.
But Dean doesn’t stop till he feels the tips of Sam’s fingers against his cheek. He closes his eyes and leans into the touch as Sam breathes out a sound that’s somewhere between a sigh and a sob, sliding his hand across Dean’s cheek. Dean holds his breath as Sam’s other hand cups Dean’s other cheek and Sam leans close, breathing raggedly. At the last minute Dean opens his eyes, stares into Sam’s wild gaze, reading all the desperation and hunger there, all the longing and grief and sudden hope.
“I know, Sammy,” Dean whispers. “I know.”
Dean closes his eyes again because it’s too much, because Sam’s leaning closer and he can feel Sam’s breath on his face. He parts his lips, not even aware that he’s anticipating Sam’s kiss, that he’s desperate for it.
Then everything shifts and he’s back in Hell again.
“Really?” Billie’s rolling her eyes. “You thought he was about to kiss you? Do you even know how pathetic that is?”
“Shut up.” Dean smacks his lips closed, still tasting Sam’s breath. “You don’t have a clue.”
“Oh, I think I do,” Billie huffs out a harsh laugh. “I think I understand perfectly. You think this is all about something as mundane as sex? Is that really what you think?”
“No!” Dean protests, almost shouting. “No! It’s got nothing to do with that! Sam and me...we’re family.”
“And what exactly does family mean to you, Dean?” Billie asks.
“Everything!” Dean barks, furious. “It’s everything.”
“I rest my case.” Billie smirks, backing into the shadows of the corner until she seems to disappear.
The room goes dark, sights and sounds fading as Dean grows drowsy. He’s too tired to think, falling asleep without any conscious effort, as if he’s been drugged.
When he starts awake he’s back in his bed in the bunker. It’s morning, and Sam’s gone.
Dean lies still, breathing hard and blinking at the ceiling. The light from the hall cuts a swath across the room, and Dean can see his clothes neatly folded on the chair, his freshly-washed flannel hanging over the chair’s back. Sam’s been up for a while. He’s already done laundry.
Dean rolls over, into the space where his brother lay last night. He buries his nose in the pillow where Sam’s head lay, breathing deep, and he can smell Sam’s shampoo, along with the faded smell of sweat that tells him Sam had a nightmare last night, before he slept here. He hugs the pillow to his face for another moment, going over the strange dream he’d just had.
Only he’s pretty sure it wasn’t a dream. He can almost feel Sam’s hands on his cheeks, can almost taste his breath.
A pan clatters against the counter in the kitchen, and Dean starts, eyes flying open wide. It’s showtime. Before he can second-guess himself, he gets up, dressing quickly in the t-shirt and jeans on the chair. He leaves the over-shirt and goes barefoot on instinct, rubbing his hands over his face and hair in lieu of a brush.
In the kitchen, Sam’s standing over the stove, cooking something with onions. Dean doesn’t hesitate. He crosses the room, reaches around in front of Sam to turn off the burner, then takes Sam’s wrist in one hand and pulls the spatula he’s holding away from him with the other, setting it down on the counter.
“Hey!” Sam protests. “Dean? Wha – “
Before he can finish the sentence, Dean steps in close, pushes up on his tiptoes, slides his hands behind Sam’s neck to tug his face down, and kisses him.
It’s a dry, light kiss, chaste and mostly close-mouthed, and it’s over quickly, but there’s no mistaking it for anything other than what it is.
Dean steps back, letting his arms drop to his sides, and looks up at Sam. “So. Are we good?” he asks, going for humor. He flinches at Sam’s look of shock and confusion, the hurt in his eyes. Sam thinks maybe Dean’s fucking with him, Dean can read it in his expression, the way the skin pulls tight around his eyes.
“Why did you do that?”
Dean shrugs. “Just making things clear,” he says. “In case you’ve been thinking it’s just you, all this time.”
His heart is pounding in his ears so loudly he’s not sure he hears correctly when Sam says, “Wait, all these years? How long has it been, Dean?”
“You mean, since I realized I wanted to fuck my brother?” Might as well say it. Just get it out there. No more possibility of mistaking this for what it is now. “I guess it’s been close to twenty years, Sam. Since just before you left for Stanford.” He shifts his feet awkwardly. “I guess I figured you must have been able to tell. That must be why you left.”
“No,” Sam shakes his head, vehement. “No, it wasn’t. That wasn’t why at all. I didn’t know. I thought I was the sick one. I thought, maybe if I left, you could have a normal relationship with somebody else...”
“Right.” Dean rolls his eyes. “Like anybody else could ever put up with me the way you do. How could you think that?”
Sam presses his lips together. “I don’t,” he admits, rueful. “Not anymore. I get it now. We’re stuck with each other, and that’s a good thing. That’s how it’s supposed to be.”
“And you were just gonna let that be the way it was, huh?” Dean accuses. “Go through life with me, never letting me know how you felt? What you wanted?”
“That’s what you were doing, apparently!” Sam says, indignant. Then he frowns. “What changed your mind?”
Dean sucks in a breath. “Let’s just say I had a close encounter. Kind of like a little brush with death, you might say. It helped me see that I wasn’t protecting you, by pretending I didn’t want what I want. I was making you feel worse about yourself.”
“I was handling it,” Sam protests and Dean smiles.
“Yeah, I know you were,” he nods. “So was I. But you know what? All that grin-and-bear-it crap ain’t worth shit if it’s sucking all the joy out of life.”
Dean takes a step closer, reaches up to run his thumb along the corner of Sam’s mouth, making him blush and grin, dimples out in full force. Sam ducks his head, but he doesn’t pull away.
“Now that’s what I needed to see,” Dean says, soft and tender. “Needed my little brother to smile again. And if he wants me to be the one to put those smiles on his face, well who am I to say no? Huh? If that’s what he wants.” He takes a deep breath, going for broke with hands sweating and heart pounding. “Is it? Is it what you want, Sam?”
Sam nods, leaning his cheek against Dean’s palm. “It is,” he says quietly. “You know it is.”
“Okay then,” Dean nods. He takes a step closer, pushes in so that their chests are pressed together, tugs on Sam’s neck as he pushes up on tiptoe again.
Sam wraps his arms around Dean and leans into the kiss with a moan. He lets Dean control it, parting his lips as Dean takes first one lip, then the other between his own. He’s gentle until he’s not, overcome by the enormity of what he’s doing, the never-going-back finality of it. Then he’s greedy, desperate, starving because they came so close to never doing this. Never having this.
And the crazy thing is, it would have been okay. Dean’s sure of that. If they’d lived out their lives without admitting these feelings, these desires, it still would’ve been a good life. They’d still be together, doing what they did best, hunting things and saving people and being everything to each other.
Well, not everything.
“Billie said it’s not about sex,” Dean says later, when they’ve been at it for hours, tearing first one of their beds apart, then the other, losing themselves in each other over and over again. Dean’s told Sam about his dream, about Billie’s weird pronouncements on their relationship. Sam’s confirmed that parts of it actually happened, which spooks them both. “She made fun of me for wanting you to kiss me.”
Sam kisses him, just for good measure. “Well, she does have a point,” Sam says. He’s a little breathless because he can’t keep his hands off Dean’s ass, now that he can touch it whenever he wants. They haven’t actually fucked yet — that still seems to be something they need to negotiate — but Dean has a feeling he’ll be the one who gets fucked, whenever they get there.
“What the hell are you talking about?” Dean demands. “It’s definitely about sex. I still don’t understand her.”
“It’s more about love, isn’t it?” Sam says, kissing a trail down Dean’s neck to his left nipple. Dean hisses as Sam sucks the nipple into a hard, tight little nub, forgetting the train of conversation.
“Love is more about love, bitch,” Dean gasps as Sam’s mouth does that thing with his nipple that makes Dean arch up in a state of mindless bliss. “Nothing else makes sense.”
“Exactly,” Sam smiles against his skin, and Dean feels vaguely out-manned, unsure why he seems to have lost this round.
Then Sam shoves a lubed finger up his ass and Dean cries out. “Oh hell, yeah!”
“You’ve done this before,” Dean suggests when they first get undressed together. They’re in Dean’s room, on Dean’s bed, and Dean’s naked and aroused, setting the example as a big brother should. Sam shows off as he undresses, slanted hazel eyes watching Dean with something feral and dangerous, like he’s afraid Dean will bolt and he’s got to be ready to pounce. Like Sam’s the predator and Dean’s the prey.
“O’ course,” Sam nods, leaning down to place a wet, sloppy kiss on Dean’s jaw before kissing down his chest to his belly.
“At Stanford,” Dean guesses. “With Brady.”
Sam stills, then lifts his head. “Among others,” he acknowledges. “I was missing you.”
“You horn-dog,” Dean teases, feels Sam smile and snort against his skin as he lowers his head to kiss his belly again.
“What about you?” Sam asks.
“Pretty sure you know the answer to that,” Dean says, sliding his fingers into Sam’s hair, nudging him just a little to the left.
Sam gets the hint, swallows down Dean’s swollen dick like a pro, and they don’t talk much after that.
Life goes on pretty normally from that day forward. It’s not like sex makes that much difference, after all. After a week or two of honeymooning, when they can’t seem to touch or look at each other without falling into bed on whatever surface provides itself, things settle into more or less of a routine again.
Dean notices little things, though. Sam smiles more. That’s a big one. He seems more relaxed, less tightly wound. Dean feels vaguely guilty about being the cause of years of frustration and pining for the kid, all the ways that must have affected other aspects of his life.
They’ve wasted a lot of years not having the freedom to be who they really are to each other, and for that Dean’s truly sorry. He has a feeling he’ll be spending the rest of his life atoning for that.
It’s worth it, though. Waking up next to the man he loves, being allowed to touch, waking him up with kisses and promises of coffee and bacon, it’s nice. Lazy morning sex is nice. They find a couch to replace the recliners in the man cave so they can curl up together when they watch movies. That’s nice.
But even more than all of that, Dean finds that what he likes most is just being together without all the pretense. Sam’s not struggling to hide anything anymore, and neither is Dean. It feels good to be himself, to be who he really is with the one person who really knows and understands him and, miraculously, loves him anyway.
Dean’s a better person now.
Dean’s never really sure what Billie was doing, what her point was exactly. All he’s aware of is that he doesn’t feel lonely anymore. The emptiness in his chest which he used to fill with self-loathing and regret and shame doesn’t ache like it used to. Maybe he’s finally starting to learn some self-respect.
It’s a paradox, he realizes. Here’s the thing he thought made him a bad man, made him monstrous and freakish, the thing he deserved an eternity in Hell for, and it turns out to be the thing that brings them both a little happiness and contentment in their messed-up lives. He looks in the mirror in the morning and for the first time in his life, he likes what he sees. There’s the man who makes Sam happy. There’s the man who is loved by the man who saved the world.
Maybe he’s a good man after all, just like Sam always said. Flawed, humbled by mistakes he’ll never live down, but far from the monster he always thought he was. Maybe he just needed to believe in himself the way Sam did. Maybe he just needed to trust Sam’s belief in him.
It’s better now, that’s all Dean knows. Not perfect, but definitely better.
And all it took was a little leap of faith.