all of you home for the holidays, i got something to counter that strange feeling you have that your hometown and childhood bedroom are too small for you now.
supernatural, sam/dean (sensing a pattern here). we will say it is rated r. 9311 words, for your yuletide enjoyment.
How to Survive in the Woods
By Candle Beck
This strange thing happened to Dean once.
He was twenty years old and they were hunting a pack of mutant wolf-men in the Blue Ridge Mountains, him and his dad and Sam. They'd been tracking for a few days already, eating cold canned food and army rations and thumbing water purification tablets into their canteens after filling up at creeks. They slept out in their pitched tents, John's fatigue-green one and Sam and Dean's dark blue two-man.
It was summertime and Dean was enjoying himself immensely despite the bugs. His dad was letting him take lead for whole hours at a time, following broken branches and running paw prints pressed into the soil like crescent moons. Sam had gotten a new rifle for his birthday and he was still obsessed with it and not complaining as much as he usually did when he hadn't showered in a few days. Earlier, he had shot a rabbit that they'd cut into strips and roasted on sticks like marshmallows, John shaking his head and saying goddamn that was a good shot boy, and Sam blushing in the pulsing light of the fire, his mouth twitching against his will.
All in all Dean couldn't have asked for much more, and then after Sam retired to the tent to read his book by flashlight because he was a tremendous dork like that, his dad got out a flask and took a long drink before passing it over to Dean. The night lit up like New Year's.
"Dude," Dean said, impressed. His dad usually wasn't so cool.
John smiled his crooked half-smile, scratching his knuckles against his beard. "Ah, you earned it. Good day's work outta you."
Dean grinned, bright feeling in his chest, and took a burning shot. He gasped slightly, his wrist over his mouth, said, "Damn that's pretty good," then paused. "Not that I know good whiskey from bad, of course, that being my first drink ever."
John snorted, gave Dean a are-you-shittin-me-son look. He jammed a stick into the fire and it hissed and spat sparks. Dean snuck another hit off the flask, warmed all the way through.
They sat in a companionable silence, familiar peace in Dean. John worked at the flask and Dean winked and nudged and puppy-eyed him into relenting on a couple more shots. It had been a good day, even if they hadn't had a chance to kill anything besides small game. Beautiful night too, the sky sliced up by trees and the shards were crammed with stars. Great deep-woods smell to the air, soft earth under Dean's hands when he leaned back. He decided that this was awesome. He felt all the way grown up, ready to take on the world.
He was ridiculously buzzed, kinda smiling dumbly at the fire, and John kicked at his boot. Dean looked up at him, blinking. A brief edgy moment of panic--don't let dad know you're drunk--but then Dean remembered how he'd got that way. He grinned at his father.
"Think that'll probably do for tonight," John said, low-voiced and fond the way he got when he was loaded. "Get yourself to bed, Dean. Don't let your brother stay up all night reading, we got a ways to go tomorrow."
Dean bobbed his head, his neck feeling oiled and loose. He didn't feel like he could move under his own power, the ground sucking him down. The sky was millions of miles away.
John gave him an assessing look, eyebrows drawn down, and then with a groan pulled himself to his feet. He loomed huge over Dean, joints cracking like the popping fire.
"C'mon, boy," John said, held his arm out for Dean to latch on. His dad hauled him bodily up, set him on his feet. The world reeled around Dean for a moment. "You're gonna have a head tomorrow, damn son. Don't wanna hear any mouth out of you about it, hear?"
"No sir." Dean shook his head, swaying faintly.
John gripped Dean's shoulder. "All right. Good man. Go get some sleep."
Dean grinned some more. "Yeah. Uh, thanks. Gettin' me lit an' all."
John muffled a snort, heavy-eyed and moving to put out the fire. "Don't get used to it."
"Yeah. Night, Dad."
His dad echoed it, and Dean made his way over to his tent, yawing a bit and overcorrecting, casting around. He could hear the fire hissing as it died, his dad coughing and clearing his throat, the heat fading at his back. Dean was feeling pretty great still.
There was no diffused flashlight glow through the tent, and so Dean tried to stay quiet as he wormed his way in. Sam was always such a bitch if you woke him up in the middle of the night. Dean pried his boots off and left them outside, skinned off his jeans and balled up his sweatshirt to use for a pillow and climbed into his sleeping bag. Sam was a long blue lump, thatch of messy hair sticking out the top. Sam had a tendency to burrow.
Dean lay on his back, floating and woozy. This was a pretty good life they had here, Dean was thinking. They got to play with guns and knives and drive the coolest car in the world and camp out and kill evil shit and all that. Dean was gonna be really good at this, another couple years with his dad teaching him, and Dean teaching Sam because Sam listened to him more readily, Dean was gonna be on another level.
Dean had asked his dad once if any other hunters had grown up and been expertly trained in the business like he and Sam had, and John, cleaning weapons on a motel bed, had sorta laughed, shook his head. "You boys are one of a kind," John told him.
It only confirmed what Dean had suspected. Everything that happened to him felt like the first time in history. He was living this incredibly specific existence that no one else could hope to understand.
Sam coughed and rolled over in his sleeping bag so that Dean could see the top half of his face, pointy nose sticking out like when he'd been little and had peered over the table like that, watching intently as Dean did his homework. There were shallow lines pulled across Sam's forehead, and Dean had a weird thought that someday the lines would be permanent; someday Sam would be old.
Very strange world, and Dean rubbed idly at his stomach, eyes unfocused in Sam's general direction. He wasn't thinking too hard about anything, philosophical and aimless, just kinda going with what came.
Sam started to snuffle and kick, and Dean let his vision solidify again. He watched Sam shove his sleeping bag down, his sleeping face pinched in a completely typical expression of frustration. Sam was sixteen and most things pissed him off. Right now it was the sleeping bag, too hot maybe or too constricting, either way Sam squirmed until he was half free. His long legs kept pressing out, trying to stretch.
Dean studied Sam, his eyes adjusting slowly to the dark, and he stuck for some reason on the line of his brother's neck as he rolled his head. Sam was biting his lip, jaw taut and clean and there was a flush rising on his face. Dean thought foggily that that was odd, it wasn't really that hot in here, even if a thin sweat had broken out on his skin, that was just because he was drunk. And Sam wasn't drunk; Sam was asleep.
Dean shifted, his head spinning and Sam was his only stationary point. Sam was making these crooked little sounds, cut off in the back of his throat, and he kept tipping his face up, pushing at the air. He had this crazy striving look all muddied by sleep, vague and desperate in the bend of his eyebrows and his abused lower lip.
Sam huffed out a breath, and Dean realized all of a sudden what kind of dream he was having. His eyes darted down instinctively and he saw that Sam had a hand pressed against himself, half-covered by the sleeping bag, the line of muscle in his forearm tensing and giving.
Dean hissed between his teeth. It was the surprise, that was all. It was one of a million startling sights revealed when you didn't make a habit of knocking on doors. Dean was always getting into this kind of trouble.
He fell onto his back. His face was hot and he pressed his fingers to his cheek, picturing the pale marks fading, filling in. Dean could hear Sam shifting and making small uncomfortable noises, the slippery sound of his sleeping bag as it bunched up. Dean wasn't going to look back over there because it was kinda weird.
Not that he hadn't heard Sam before. Sam had never had any compunction about that sort of thing, mainly because Dean had gotten to it first and had never had any himself. They were always in the same room, half the time sharing a motel room bed while their dad snored in the other. There was an etiquette to it, ritual known to brothers and cousins and teenagers in summer camp cabins, and Sam followed it religiously. Turned away on his side, the blanket pulled up above his elbow, back hunched, muffled and quick with his lip bitten to keep the sounds in. A perfunctory apology in the bow of Sam's head, the tight skin at the back of his neck, sorry bro you know how it is. Dean couldn't fault him.
But that was different than this. This tent was meant to sleep two men and that was all; Sam couldn't even sit up straight without his head pushing out the side. His brother was maybe two feet away, probably less, angled towards Dean and rocking and gasping with that maddening look on his face, and there wasn't enough fucking air in here.
And Dean was watching him again. It was mesmerizing, this piece of Sam that for all of his diligence he'd never seen before. Sam rolled his head slow, throat stretched out pale and smooth because he still only needed to shave once a week. He was sweating and his hair was getting darker, stuck in curls against his forehead. Breathing faint and ragged, teeth dented into his lower lip, rubbing distractedly at himself, Sam looked so upset. He looked desperate. Necessary.
"Here, Sam," Dean whispered, thinking in a fractured loop, help him out gonna help him out not weird not weird just helping out.
He reached across the space between them and pressed his hand to Sam's stomach, their forearms crossing and sliding against each other. Sam's breath hitched. His skin was hot and clean-feeling, and Dean pushed the knowledge of it down inside, locked it up as a dark secret. Dean tugged Sam's hand away, stared at Sam's face with his breath caught in his chest and his heart hammering. Sam's mouth went lax and he nosed up, eyes shut so tight. His whole body twitched towards Dean, a distinct wordless plea.
Dean kept trying to swallow but it was like his throat was broken. He had his hand on Sam, his fingers curling, and it was making him dizzy. Sam's shorts were damp and he was so hard, it had to be killing him. Fever hot, molten, and Dean thought that if he ever touched Sam raw he'd be left with blisters.
He thought again, raw, and his grip tightened. Sam. Sam shuddered. All down the long line of his body, slow and hard in that dreamlike way, and his shirt was rucked up a bit so Dean could see the narrow muscle in his stomach shivering.
One careful upward pull of his hand, and it happened again, a gasped vibration drawn out of Sam and Dean couldn't get over that; it was the most captivating thing he'd ever seen. Dean was breathing through his mouth, not panting except maybe a little, and if he was hard himself, hard enough that his dick was a flat searing line against his own body, that was probably only the drunk.
He kept thinking, distantly hysterical now, it's not weird, not weird, happens all the time. Dean's eyes were fixed on his own hand, moving on Sam so naturally. Those cuts of skin visible at Sam's hips, low low low on his stomach. Dean thought about leaning over and putting his mouth there, and then Sam moaned deeply and came under Dean's hand.
Dean snapped his gaze up to Sam's face, and there was the crux of the whole goddamn thing, because Sam's eyes were open.
Dean jerked away from his brother. He grabbed for his own shirt and twisted a fist in the cloth, putting his back to Sam. He was breathing too hard. It echoed, bounced off the nylon wall of the tent where Dean had his face pressed. His gorge rose up and he had to fight it back, sucking hard on the inside of his lip.
Sam wasn't making any noise. Dean was trying to identify the clenching feeling in his chest and he realized with pained shock that it was terror. He was scared out of his fucking skin; that almost never happened to him.
Sam was asleep, he'd been asleep. Dean had--while Sam was asleep. Dean's mind stuck on the worst parts, the part where he had just molested his baby brother, the part where he deserved to be shot in the street like a dog. His hand felt scalded, his face burning with mortification and horror.
He waited for Sam, imagining his stunned disgust, his mouth furious and working helplessly. Dean's shoulders and neck were fused, stiff as metal, and any second now Sam would haul in a deep breath and his voice would be returned to him--"what the fuck, Dean," clear as a bell. Dean screwed his eyes shut, almost throwing up again. He wanted to cry out that he was drunk, so drunk, his only excuse and a fucking shoddy one at that, and Sam was too smart but maybe Dean could pull it off, maybe.
Stars sparkled across the backs of his eyelids and Dean realized he wasn't breathing. He forced his lungs into action, his fisted hand against his rising chest, sticky in the cotton of his shirt.
Whole minutes passed. Dean was counting his breaths, well into triple digits when he heard Sam snore.
Dean almost didn't believe it. He stayed motionless, holding his breath again and not daring to look over until he heard that rusty sound again, snuffly throat-clearing snore that faded to nothing when Sam got deeper asleep. Dean peeked over his shoulder, and his brother's eyes were closed again, caught in shadow and cupped perfect like shells. Sam's face was all smoothed out. His hands were loose on his stomach.
Dean turned back to the sloped side of the tent, pressing his face in and picturing what it would look like from the outside, hollow-eyed and anonymous and foreboding. His hair scratched against the nylon, soft constant rustling because Dean was shaking.
He didn't sleep that night. He came up with all these insane plots and schemes, ways to get the fuck away from Sam before Sam told their father or stopped talking to Dean or stopped looking at him, before Dean fucked things up any worse. There was a railroad crossing a day's hike from where they were, and Dean worked through exactly how it would go, sneaking around Indian-quiet packing up his gear and then hiking alone through the dark woods, following moss, hopping a train. He pictured himself stranded in the middle of hurricanes, sleeping in bus stations and drinking in gutters. Dean deserved the bleakest future.
But for all that Dean could face down a gallery of demons and monsters without a flinch, he was a coward about some things.
Not much past dawn, Dean got up and got the fire going, got the coffee started. He watched the lavender fade into the sky, stars pulled back slow. All the way sober now, but ragged from not sleeping and still sick way down to his soul. He thought it was lucky they were so far out, so many miles from the nearest mirror. Dean's fists ached for glass, which wouldn't help anything and might require stitches.
His dad woke up first, grumbling out of his tent and grunting at Dean before disappearing into the woods to take care of business. John came back, scratching at his beard and looking worse for the wear. The assessing gaze he gave Dean and the snort that followed let Dean know he wasn't looking any better. Dean tried a wan smile.
If his father knew, he would put Dean in the ground.
Dean almost wanted to tell him, just to get it over with.
But then Sam came out of their tent. Sloppy mess of hair crashing over his forehead, half-lidded eyes and endless legs, Sam stumbled over and folded himself down next to Dean. Just sat right down next to him like it was any other morning, and Dean was frozen, sure this was some kind of set-up. He stared at their speckled blue coffee pot with the scorched bottom, rigged over the fire with steam twining up. He heard Sam yawn and crack his knuckles.
And then Sam leaned his shoulder against Dean's.
Just for a second and not for any reason, not to get his attention because when Dean's eyes darted over Sam was poking the ground with a stick and looking as muzzled and dimly confused as he always did first thing after waking. Sam was just kind of listing, his balance settling into place around him.
Dean was tense and awkward all through breakfast (oatmeal in tin mugs and jerky and a couple of charred pieces of bread shared out between them), but Sam didn't say anything. Sam didn't do anything. He was just there, just like always, and Dean had this incredible thought. It broke over him like the brand-new day.
Sam didn't remember.
Dean suddenly wasn't sure: had Sam's eyes really been open, there at the very end? Even if they had been, had there been any awareness in there at all?
Sam talked in his sleep sometimes. He used to sleepwalk when he was younger. Dean had found him sitting in a motel hallway at three in the morning once, having a disjointed conversation with empty space, his blank eyes heavy and open, but unseeing.
Unseen, Dean thought. A tendril of hope split through concrete, pushed up like a weed. It couldn't be true; he couldn't have gotten off so easy.
But the discontent on Sam's face was just his standard brand, itchy from not having showered, not looking forward to the hike, probably still hungry because Sam would eat half a diner menu for breakfast every morning if they had the money for it. Dean went digging in his bag for his emergency Snickers, watching Sam's face carefully as he offered it to him. Sam looked surprised, pleased. He smiled at Dean. He said, "Thanks man," and bit off the end of the wrapper, tucking the scrap in his pocket because they'd both been indoctrinated to pack in and pack out.
There wasn't anything weird about Sam at all.
They struck their camp and started out tracking, John in front then Sam then Dean. Dean stared at his brother's legs, dusty jeans scissoring. He had this bizarre feeling, a thrill like making it out of the supermarket with three cold steaks shoved down his sweatshirt, specific got-away-with-it rush, but that was only on the surface and underneath Dean kinda wanted to off himself.
He kept thinking about how he hadn't meant to do it, how it just happened. If it had happened once it could happen again--Dean had an obligation to keep Sam safe from this kind of thing.
Sam and his dad got farther ahead as Dean trailed, stricken and lost in thought. The day warmed and the light broke heavier through the trees, palpable and thick. Dean wasn't doing his job, wasn't keeping an eye on the rear, wasn't searching for clues. He stared at the ground, picking out Sam's bootprints and tracking his brother instead of the wolf-men.
Sam came back to him after a little while. "Hey, Dad says you better pick it up before your fool ass gets killed."
Dean had stopped dead. His hands were clenched on his pack straps, nails biting into his palms. Sam was standing there scratching the back of his neck, squinting against the sunlight. Dean couldn't read his expression with his face all scrunched up like that.
"Dude, are you okay?"
Flinching, Dean stuck a smirk on his face. He trained his gaze somewhere to the left of Sam's head because he'd always had trouble lying to Sam's face.
"Yeah, y'know." Dean pressed his shoulders up and back so that his spine cracked, his pack shifting. "Kinda tired but it's fine."
Sam nodded, looked back over his shoulder at their father's retreating back. "Did he get you drunk last night?"
Dean went still. What was this--was Sam giving him an out?
"Uh, yeah. Little bit." A lot, Dean should have said. Blind stinking drunk is what I was, just out of my mind and never a threat to you otherwise, Sammy, I swear it.
Sam huffed. "That's so lame. You know he'd never let me."
Dean kinda sagged, the pack suddenly mountainous on his back. Another jolt of relief, another blistering wave of self-loathing, and it was all Dean could do to keep his smirk up.
"Maybe he doesn't want to be embarrassed by what a lightweight you are."
"Ha." Sam stepped forward and shoved at Dean, solid against the front of his shoulder. "Least I wouldn't be all slow and stupid the next day."
In spite of everything, Dean wasn't about to take that shit from his kid brother. "I'll show you slow, motherfucker," and then he lunged at Sam and Sam spun away, backpedaling and laughing open-mouthed.
Dean chased him up the path, their heavy packs clanking and dragging, and Sam kept looking back at him, taunting, "Stupid, Dean, you're just really really stupid right now," and that made a strange red haze fall across Dean's vision. It wasn't all anger; there was something else going on there but Dean veered away from it instinctively, defensively.
They caught up with John, who was sitting on a log eating an apple with his switchblade, and he grabbed Sam as he tried to blow past, hauling him to a stop and giving them both a brief reaming for making such a racket. Sam and Dean stood next to each other, shifting their weight from foot to foot, saying yessir and nosir without hesitation. Dean couldn't stop glancing at Sam and every time he did Sam was looking back, slanted dark looks with the corner of his mouth crimped up. It tugged at Dean, unraveling a thread inside him.
But he pushed that aside because he'd been resurrected, given a miraculous second chance at life, and he wasn't going to fuck this one up. Sam didn't remember and so Dean didn't have to either. Never in his life would Dean do a more terrible thing, and that was the barest silver lining: it was probably good to get that taken care of sooner rather than later.
John told them to fall the hell in and they started marching again. Sam looked back at Dean, his eyes shielded and slit. He reached into his pocket and pulled out half of the Snickers bar, still in its wrapper with the top part folded down, smashed out of shape. Sam handed it back to Dean, said, "Here, it'll keep you moving."
Dean took it, kinda dumbstruck. Sam smiled at him and then turned away, a leaf-cut shard of gold sunlight sliding across his cheek, down his neck, and Dean couldn't breathe but after a minute he worked it out again. He went on following his brother.
And then, if you can believe it, eight years passed.
They're in another goddamn tent.
It's the desert this time, Death Valley in the fall, out here tracking something they haven't a hundred percent identified yet; Sam's best guess is that it's the physical embodiment of fury, possibly from Pandora's own box. He's been muttering in ancient Greek all day. Dean is annoyed and anxious because he can't understand anything his brother is saying, and also because they had to leave the car only about a quarter-mile off the highway, shining like obsidian, and his mind tortures him with images of various people fucking with her.
The ground might as well be solid stone. Dean can't get comfortable, squirming around and kicking at the bottom of his sleeping bag. He's having a princess and the pea moment, certain that he can feel jagged pebbles digging into his back through the tent floor and sleeping bag. He keeps wanting to check his boots for scorpions even though his boots are inside the tent; the whole idea of scorpions lying in wait is just completely nerve-wracking.
"Dean. Quit it."
Sam is hunched down in his own sleeping bag, a few cowlicks sticking up, voice low and muffled.
Dean flops on his back. "What? I'm not doing anything."
"Lie still. Keep quiet. Go the fuck to sleep."
Dean scowls at the roof of the tent, faded red color and the moon shining through faint and blurry. "Like it's just that easy."
"I told you not to drink the rest of that thermos. Too late for coffee. You remember how I told you it was too late for coffee?"
"Dude, you're literally saying I told you so? Now I have to beat you up."
Sam makes a smothered half-chuckle sound. Dean looks over to see Sam's hair trembling over the top of his sleeping bag. He kinda wants to see if he can make Sam pop his head up, maybe just the strip of his eyes, narrowed and glinting.
It's the tent. Sharing a tent with Sam makes Dean's brain take awkward tangents. He's been like this for a long time.
"Take a shot," Sam mumbles, and Dean is sure he's misheard.
"Um. At what?" he asks. It kills him to admit it but Sam was right about the caffeine: Dean's pulse is racing for no apparent reason.
"You got that Beam still," Sam says. "You can counter your earlier numbskullery."
Dean snorts. "Don't make up words."
"Whatever, man, you're barely even literate. Please get drunk and pass out already."
Dean shakes his head, he's not gonna do that, he's got really good reasons for not wanting to do that. He weaves his fingers over his stomach, arms inside the sleeping bag, and his thumbs dig in hard under his ribs. A visual flashes through his mind, that long-ago Sam trying to rub himself off all sleep-drunk and clumsy, and Dean jams it into a hole immediately. He never has any trouble keeping his mind off it, usually. It's been almost ten years; he wasn't the same man, barely a man at all. It's not a memory that he's ever needed or wanted and he has forced it miles away from himself, but there's not much he can do when they're in a goddamn tent again.
He risks a glance over at his brother and it's a bad idea because Sam is looking back, half his face showing in the dark. His mouth is hidden still and Dean experiences a totally random spike of irritation at that.
"No?" Sam says. "Just gonna be spastic all night and keep us both up?"
Dean grins because he knows it's expected. "That's the plan."
Sam sighs loudly, a stage sigh. It's weird hearing him talk without being able to see his lips moving. Dean has never been any good about reading people's eyes, really much more comfortable using the whole face.
"You and enclosed spaces," Sam mumbles. "Fuckin' bane of my existence."
Dean scoffs. "Because you're such a treat, you Greek-talking asshole."
"Are you serious? Seriously giving me shit about being prepared for the goddamn job?"
Sam shoves the sleeping bag down, all the way awake now and halfway to pissed off, but Dean is surprisingly okay with that. Sam hits the switch on their mini camp lantern and foggy gold light fills the tent. He's glaring at Dean, mouth all bitchy and his eyes darker than they usually look. Dean gives him the patronizing little-sammy's-upset look that never fails to worsen Sam's condition.
"I know you just wanna show off how well you chant in dead languages, Sammy, it's okay. I was always telling Dad, having an obsessive-compulsive geek in the family is gonna come in handy one of these days."
Sam punches him. Pretty hard, too, that deep jarring ache flaring in Dean's shoulder. Dean can't help grunting a little, shifting away but Sam leans closer than he was before and so it evens out. Dean rubs at the forming bruise.
"That was kinda uncalled for."
"Hardly." Sam's eyes are so thin and hot, making Dean think of forest fires. He's rolled onto his side now, just about a half an inch too close, a single breath. "You're picking a fight instead of letting me sleep. Punchable offense."
Dean shifts, something curling in his stomach like guilt but kinda skewed, tinted a darker shade. "You called me the bane of your existence," he says, aware that it's a weak defense before Sam rolls his eyes.
"I'll call you worse," Sam tells him.
"Ah, you can go to hell."
Dean crosses his arms over his chest, eyeing the long rumpled line of Sam's body running into the sleeping bag bunched around his hips. Dean feels a flush creeping up his neck and he sits up, jerks the tent flap zipper down.
"Get some fuckin' air in here," Dean mutters. He stays sitting, hunched over his knees with his back to his brother. He can see a skinny slash of the desert at night, the bruised color of the land and the shadow-making sounds of the nocturnal. The air is fresh and cool but Dean has no better luck catching his breath.
"We need to get a bigger tent," Dean says without looking back at Sam. If he tilts his head right, he can see a constellation he recognizes, can't remember the name but there's a story about it that Sam told him once.
Sam rustles behind him. "What for?"
That stumps Dean. They only have to camp out once every few months and it's not like they hang out in the tent playing cards or braiding lanyards or some shit. All they use it for is sleeping, and it is just the right size for that. Dean fiddles with the zipper, waiting for the freakish heat to fade from his skin, thinking that Sam was right about enclosed spaces not being Dean's friend.
"Because you smell, Sam," Dean settles on eventually. "We need a bigger tent because you stink this one up like it's your job. Maybe even two tents."
Dean is braced for Sam to hit him again, and Sam doesn't disappoint, his knuckles digging hard under his shoulder blade, gouging like a knife and Dean cants forward, silently hissing between his teeth. He was ready for that, but then Sam does something unexpected, grabbing Dean's shoulder and hauling him back down to lie flat. Dean thumps, barely missing a concussion, and Sam keeps him pinned with one hand.
"Why are you so freakin' twitchy tonight?" Sam asks.
Dean pulls at Sam's wrist but Sam doesn't let him up. Dean scowls. "Unhand me, villain."
"Ah, no. Honestly, I'd like to tie your ass down, but that's not really practical right now."
That is an insane thing for Sam to say. Dean knows this because his head almost explodes, his insides contracting like he's been electrocuted. He gets a vividly clear image in his mind, stretched out on a motel bed with Sam leaning over him, bare to the waist and his ribs level with Dean's mouth as he lashes Dean's wrist to the headboard.
Dean shakes his head sharply, dispelling it. He stops fucking around and twists out from under Sam's hand, growling a little when Sam tries to resist initially. Dean gets an elbow into Sam's chest and shoves him over.
"Just go to sleep," Dean says, eyebrows crouched down, tilting his face away. "I'll be quiet."
"What the hell, Dean?" Sam sounds more irritated than anything else. "Don't start something you're not gonna finish."
"I didn't start shit, go to sleep."
"No, man, you got my attention now."
Dean flinches, hopes it's imperceptible. He doesn't want Sam's attention right now, an alien state of mind.
Sam pushes up on his elbow, still awful close. "Look at you, you're tenser than hell. What's got you so riled?"
Nothing, nothing, a whole great surging tide of nothing all through Dean, carbonation and static and white noise because otherwise his memory is going to betray him. His fingers will remember the shape of Sam, sweltering heat and damp fabric, and his ears will fill with phantom gasping Sam sounds, and the picture behind his eyes will be that long slow shudder working its way through his brother's body. Dean has to hold it back; it's crucial.
"Lemme be, Sam," he manages. His eyes feel huge, too big for his face.
Sam's expression changes, his mouth going soft with surprise, a vague trace of realization in his eyes but that's not possible. Sam can't have figured out what's wrong with Dean; Sam doesn't remember.
Sam sways over him briefly, and then draws back, looking uncertain. He glances at the open tent flap, and Dean stares up at the flawless line of neck disappearing into Sam's crash of hair. Sam clears his throat.
"You know, I always liked camping out," Sam says. The change of topic is so abrupt, and Sam's tone so mild, that for a second Dean can only blink.
"What-" Dean stops because his voice sounds weird, tries again. "What're you talking about? You were such a whiny bitch about it when you were a kid."
Lifting one shoulder in a dismissive shrug, Sam says without looking at his brother, "Mostly just for effect. I didn't really mind it all that much. Felt, like, the most basic thing you could learn, how to survive in the woods. Because at some point you're gonna have to."
Dean doesn't answer, having no idea where Sam's going with this and afraid to ask. He watches Sam lie back down on his side with his arm folded under his head. There's a faint pink color on Sam's face, and he doesn't meet Dean's eyes, staring at his chin instead.
"And I always sleep really well like this," Sam tells him, his voice dropping by inches with every word.
There's a joke in there somewhere, some way to break the fog of electric tension massing around them, but Dean can't concentrate on it, sneaking glances at Sam and rhythmically clenching his fist, hidden by his body. Sam's mouth curves in a slow smile.
"Shouldn't say always," he amends, closing his eyes. "I. I used to have this weird dream."
Everything inside Dean grinds to a halt. His gaze arrests on Sam's face, searching for a telltale smirk, a sarcastic tic of his eyebrow, some shadow knowledge. But Sam is impassive, save the dim lines stretching across his forehead and the way he shut his eyes like he's scared of what Dean might see.
Dean draws in a painstaking breath. "What kinda dream, Sam?" he asks in a whisper, the two of them telling secrets.
Sam is quiet for a long moment. His mouth is moving slightly; he's chewing on the inside of his lip. Dean is staring, not bothering to hide it because Sam can't see.
"Well," Sam says, shaky timbre and such care taken with each word. "It was about you. You and me in our tent."
It's perfectly silent for a moment, neither of them moving at all. They're two days from anywhere and it feels like the wind has died down outside specifically so that all the insects and animals can lean in and listen. Like the world has stopped for the two of them, for this moment, but that might just be Dean.
"Sam," Dean says, and he doesn't know if he means to stop Sam or encourage him or what. It's just the only word he knows right now.
Sam presses his lips together, ghostly determination on his face. Dean is so so glad his eyes are closed. "I thought it was so messed up. I didn't know what was wrong with me, but I figured, it's just a dream. What harm can it do? And then. This is the crazy part, man. One night I woke up and my dream was still going on."
Sam opens his eyes. Dean's heart basically stops, and Sam asks him softly, "You remember that, Dean?"
Dean makes a small falling sound, all his worst fears revisited. Something cold is clutching in his chest. Sam's eyes are fixed on his, and Dean doesn't recognize the look on his face. Watchful and incisive under half-closed eyelids, something moving heavy and slow across Sam's expression. Dean is terrified, bright and sharp and hard. Sam remembered the whole time.
"I'm sorry," he says quickly. Dean has been waiting to say that to his brother for eight years, and now it's too slight a word against the planet of regret on his shoulders. He says again, "Sorry, I'm sorry, Sam, fuck. I'm so fucking sorry."
Sam kinda recoils, jerking back an inch or two. His eyes widen, colored with surprise and doubt. "What?"
Dean shakes his head, his face wrenched and flushing hot. "I was drunk, man, and I, I wasn't thinking. I don't know what the fuck I was thinking. You just. It was like you were in pain. I didn't, I won't-"
He stops there, his throat slamming closed. He's breathing too fast, panicky heaves through the collapsed feeling in his chest. That worthless burn across the surface of his skin: he doesn't deserve to breathe the same air as his brother.
But Sam is pushing up, tilting closer to him even as Dean scoots back against the tent. Sam's mouth is open, his eyes flickering as he blinks fast.
"Wait, hang on a second. Are you. Do you think you took advantage of me or something?"
Squeezing his eyes shut, Dean turns his face away. "You were asleep. I fuckin'. While you were asleep."
"Dean, Jesus, I thought you knew."
Dean isn't expecting that. Sam's voice is shivery and full of distress, and when Dean looks back at him, Sam is staring, his hand hovering near his brother's hip. Dean swallows hard.
Sam shakes his head, watching his hand move over Dean without touching him. He looks fascinated.
"I thought you'd figured it out. I thought it must have been so obvious."
Dean fists his hand in the sleeping bag. He can feel this dense cloud gathering around them, thick in the pockets of space, charged and sparkling with spare electrons. He licks his lips, nervous.
Sam ducks his head. His fingertips alight on the edge of Dean's hip, just for a second as Sam tells him, "Dean. I was sixteen years old. And when I was sixteen years old all I was was in love with you."
It's possible that Dean's never hit that register before. It feels like something torn out, like if he coughs it'll come up red. His heart is hammering, going unbelievably fast, and Sam is screwing with him, he's got to be.
"That's not fucking funny," Dean says, scoured and harsh. He flicks a helpless glance at his brother and Sam is still just as close, still looking at him with a freaky mix of nerves and hesitation and smothered hope.
"No, it really wasn't," Sam agrees. "Pretty traumatic, actually."
"The second you touched me," Sam interrupts, manic color high on his cheeks. "I woke up the second you touched me."
Dean stares at him. That moment crashes back in on him, full lights and sound, the moment when he'd laid his hand flat on Sam's stomach and Sam's chest had hitched. Sam had tipped his head back and his body had begged at Dean. Sam had been awake.
"Why," Dean tries, finding his voice crippled and weak and hating that. "Why didn't you ever say anything?"
Sam makes a half-hearted scoff. His eyebrows are pulled down, making him look sinister and solemn but Dean can see his mouth twitching, Sam's trying-to-keep-it-together look. Dean suddenly wants to press the palm of his hand against the side of Sam's neck, locate his pulse and confirm that they're in this together.
"What was I supposed to say? 'Hey man, that semiconscious handjob was the high point of my sexual life until I was twenty-one years old'? That would have gone over real well with you."
"I don't," and Jesus, that can't be Dean's voice, Dean can't sound that thready and uneven, "Sam, what the hell?"
Sam bites his lip, looks away. "I'm sorry. I know it's fucked up. I tried really hard to stop."
"But you didn't." Dean stops, a crazy idea ricocheting through his mind. He sucks in a breath, sits up and Sam looks at him, all distraught moss-colored eyes and working mouth. Dean almost can't speak, kinda struck dumb, but he manages to ask, "Sam, did you ever stop?"
Sam's eyes cut away and without thinking Dean grabs his chin, pulls his face back around. Sam is pleading with him silently, don't make me say it, don't, but Dean is going to get the truth out of him even if it takes all night. He says his brother's name again, low and demanding, and is plainly astonished when it makes Sam shiver.
Sam shuts his eyes. "No. Tried. Couldn't."
"Fuck." Dean drops his hand from Sam's face, fingertips feeling blistered. "Oh Jesus Christ, Sam, we're so fucked."
Sam starts. There's an almost audible crack as their eyes meet. "We?"
"Fuck," Dean spits again, growling. He scrubs his hands over his face, thinking about the length of Sam's body and the clean planes of his features, knotted with distant longing that Dean never properly understood, the wounded look of his mouth, the calm and quiet in Sam that make Dean feel drugged.
His head in his hands, Dean says without looking at his brother, "Yeah. We."
He hears Sam's rough inhale, and then his hands are wrapping around Dean's, pulling them down. His fingertips scuff on the undersides of Dean's wrists. Sam is looking down at him with a new expression, broken open and stripped clean, kinda amazed, kinda wrecked with disbelief. Dean's throat clicks as he swallows, marshaling all his courage to keep his eyes on Sam's.
Sam's mouth forms the shape of Dean's name, and then he's leaning down, his breath on Dean's lips, and Dean stuns them both by jerking away.
It's just. Sam was about to kiss him. Dean is having a panic attack or a heart attack or something, everything in him crushing against everything else. Sam hisses and pulls back, color flaring on his face.
"I thought you wanted-" Sam says, and then he bites down hard on his lip, forcibly cutting himself off. He narrows his eyes, trying to look pissed off but Dean can see right through.
"You better not be fucking with me, Dean," and Sam's voice is terrible, shaking.
"No," Dean says immediately. "I'm not, man, I wouldn't. Christ. It's just weird, okay? Kinda really weird."
Sam looks taken aback, surprised. A piece of hair falls in front of his eyes, soft curl. He keeps scanning Dean's face, searching and digging stuff out of him. Dean is taut and frozen under the inspection, staring at Sam's mouth.
"Yeah," Sam says. "But, we're. We're still gonna, right?"
Dean pushes up on his fist, a maddening tremble running along the edges of his muscles. There's this thing that Sam does to him, takes him away from sense and discretion, strings him out to unfamiliar places that echo worse than memory. Dean is thinking about Sam being in love with him since he was sixteen years old, and about Sam being here with him now.
He grabs Sam's collar and pulls him in, goes for his mouth fast so he doesn't second-guess it. Their noses bump and Dean half-misses, catches the corner of Sam's lip, scalding open press at the oddest angle, and then Sam tilts and pushes into him and it's for real then.
Sam, Sam's good at this, biting at Dean's mouth and slicking his tongue. He folds one hand around the back of Dean's head and heat rockets through Dean's body because Sam's hand is huge and firm and he can control Dean so easily like that. Sam kisses him and kisses him and kisses him, and both of Dean's hands are shoved down the back of Sam's shirt, swift over insanely smooth skin and hard hooked shoulder blades and the tripped ladder of his spine.
Dean pulls away, gasping, and Sam promptly flattens him, rolling them both over and settling on top of his brother. Dean makes a stupid noise, air searing in his lungs, Sam heavy as hell and hotter than fucking sin. Sam's got him pinned and somehow Dean's hands are in his hair now, lost to the wrist.
Sam grins down at him, mouth swollen and panting slightly. His eyes are blackened and depthless and it pretty much ends Dean.
"Dude," Sam says, appropriately amazed.
Dean nods. He doesn't trust his voice right now, but he has faith that Sam will get his meaning.
Sam runs his hand up Dean's face, smooths down over his hair. He gives Dean this reverent look, like he just watched him hang the moon.
"You with me, Dean?" Sam asks, barely audible.
Dean twists his fingers in Sam's hair. He draws his brother down and says against his mouth, "With you, Sam."
They come back to each other. All the way down this time, and they are together, the only place Dean wants to be.
there ya go. eyes on the new year, friends, and meanwhile i hope you have a merry christmas, a happy hanukkah, a kwazy kwanzaa, a tip-top tet, and a solemn and dignified ramadan. (tm krusty the clown)