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[and gratitude is mine, i admire the way you shine]
Sam/Dean - rated R
4,441 words

notes: AU. this is a companion piece to [it seems you need a saving grace, and a savior is something i'm not]




[and gratitude is mine, i admire the way you shine]


---


Sooner or later, they both knew he was going to ask. Sam is quiet in the passenger seat, and Dean is tapping his fingers on the steering wheel to no music. He can hear Sam breathing slowly – in, out, in, and out again – and it just came out. “Did you see Heaven?”

Maybe he’s just trying to break the ice, but he’s honestly curious, and it dies the instant Sam doesn’t look at him and smile. Dean deals with stuff that hurts by making jokes; Sam was dead and that hurt, and even though he’s not now it still hurts to remember he used to be, so crack a joke about Heaven.

“No,” Sam murmurs, and never turns his head from the window.



---


It’s easier to sleep this time. He can’t explain it, and truthfully, he doesn’t want to. He doesn’t allow himself to think about it, just lets sleep roll over him and pull him under, but it never lasts long. Sam’s always awake now, always moving quietly, and Dean knows what that’s like – not being able to close your eyes because every time you do, it’s the same nightmare over and over, only difference is that it was real, once.

He opens his eyes and blinks at the ceiling, realizing the room is cast in a pale blue glow that’s coming from the television, and the low hum of infomercials buzzes in his ears. He rolls, looks at the clock that says three, and at the window where he can see that, clearly, the sun hasn’t even risen yet. He sits up and Sam stares straight ahead like he’s watching the tv, but Dean knows he’s not.

“You sleep?” Dean asks, fighting the urge to yawn. He rubs at his eyes, not really wanting to go back to sleep now, because… He wasn’t sure why. Part of him was afraid if he slept too long, too deep, something could snatch Sam away while he wasn’t looking, or maybe he was afraid Sam would just be gone because he wanted to be.

“No,” Sam answers and looks down at his outstretched legs.

He just watches Sam for a while, and Sam is careful not to look back at him, picking at the blanket, at his jeans, or just sitting there. It takes a while, maybe longer than it seemed, but he finally shakes his head a little, and says softly “Do you miss him?”

“Yeah,” Dean answers roughly and looks away now. Can’t let Sammy see that pain in his eyes, because that’s not how it goes; he keeps it together because that’s what he does. “Every day.”

Sam nods and swallows loud enough that Dean can hear it. “Me too,” he whispers, and gets up. He goes in the bathroom and closes the door quietly. Dean lies back against his pillow, the fabric cool against him now. Maybe, if he can hold this together enough for the both of them – maybe – they can get through it.



---


Ever since they were young Sam was bad at hiding his feelings; Dean made fun of him, called him a girl, teased him like an older brother was supposed to. He doesn’t find it so funny now, at this age, and when things are such a mess. What’s worse is Sam’s apparent disregard for his own life, and Dean can’t understand that. Dad gave up his life to make sure Sam could live his, and he’s jumping in front of every evil thing he can.

They hunt some black dogs down in New Orleans, and Sam goes down hard trying to push Dean out of the way. It’s hard to finish the job, but Dean does it because he isn’t a quitter, and then he goes to Sam, who’s lying in the dirt bleeding.

“Sam?” He says, turning him over so Dean can see his face. His face is pale, and his eyes are heavy-lidded.

“Not as fast as I used to be,” he says and for a second, Dean wants to punch him.

“What the hell, man?” He says as he helps Sam sit up. There are shreds of fabric and flesh across his shoulder, blood seeping into the cotton of his button-down shirt. “Don’t pull shit like that again, you hear me?”

Sam grunts in pain, winces as Dean helps him stand up. “That thing would have taken out your throat. I wasn’t going to stand there and let it kill you,” Sam says.

“I had it covered,” Dean replies, slipping an arm around Sam’s waist and slipping Sam’s good arm around his own shoulders.

“Define ‘covered’, because it looked like you were going to get killed to me.”

Dean decides not to say anything because the smell of Sam’s blood is making his throat too tight to speak, and the feel of it slicked all over his hands is making his skin itch and crawl – not because it’s blood, but simply because it’s Sam’s blood.

He keeps Sam conscious, but it’s not easy. His skin is ashen and there’s a sheen of sweat over his face and forehead, clinging to his upper lip; there’s blood pooling in the seat, and it smells sharp and metallic, almost sweet. “Sam,” Dean says, slaps Sam’s leg. “Come on, talk to me.”

Sam shivers instead, and Dean knows that he’s in shock.

He all but drags Sam out of the passenger seat when the get to the motel, supporting his weight from the car to the door to the bed. He sits Sam down, and it’s an effort to keep him upright, and another effort in itself to get the tattered shirt off of him. Dean cleans the wounds, and piles wet, bloody towels on the floor by the bed. He drugs Sam up with painkillers and sews him up as best he can; when the stitches are all in, he pours holy water over the lines just in case. Either way he looks at it, Sam’s lost a hell of a lot of blood. He almost falls over into Dean.

“Hey,” Dean says, grabbing him, both hands on either sides of Sam’s face. “You don’t get to do this, alright?” Dean says with difficulty. “I lost… We lost Dad, and I’m not losing you too, you got that?”

“Dean…” Sam whispers, sagging a little. Dean presses his forehead to Sam’s until they’re breathing each other’s air.

“Breathe,” Dean whispers. “Just breathe.”

He sits propped against the headboard, Sam draped across his lap, and doesn’t sleep; when morning comes, and orange-gold rays come through the broken shade on the window, Dean stays this way – just like this – with Sam a little longer.



---


The nightmares start once they cross the state line into Georgia. At first, Sam doesn’t do much more than toss and turn, wake with a start, cheeks bright red and his hair damp from sweating. He doesn’t talk about them either, and Dean doesn’t ask; he figures if Sam wants him to know he’ll tell him.

Sam starts screaming in his sleep in Alpharetta, and it wakes Dean up quicker than anything. Sam’s screams are pure terror and pain, and Dean is jumping across the space between their beds to shake Sam’s shoulders and wake him up. “Sammy,” he says roughly, shaking Sam hard. His eyes fly open, and he sits up so fast it knocks Dean over. Sam grabs frantically at the wastebasket next to his bed and Dean flinches when he hears Sam start throwing-up. Dean climbs back up on the bed, kneeling carefully near Sam’s legs and when Sam’s done retching, he carefully pulls him up.

“I saw him,” he says, his voice hoarse and pained. “He’s burning.”

Dean knows that “he” means Dad, and he starts to shake. Without thinking he just grabs Sam and pulls him to his chest, and Sam starts sobbing.



---


At a diner in South Carolina Dean orders eggs and bacon for them both, extra hashbrowns for himself. Sam sips at his coffee with extra cream and sugar, and dials Bobby while Dean shovels his runny eggs doused in ketchup. He sips his coffee – black and too strong – while Sam nods and thanks Bobby.

“We should head to South Dakota,” Sam says. “Bobby has some stuff for us; maybe something to do with the Demon.”

Dean nods stabs at some hashbrowns and shoves them in his mouth. “Great,” he says. Sam drinks his coffee, winces, and pushes his plate away. “You’re not gonna eat?”

“I’m not hungry,” Sam says, staring out the big plate glass window. “Headache.”

Dean digs in the pocket of his leather jacket and pulls out a scratched up pair of old sunglasses and tosses them across the table at Sam. “Here.” Sam looks up at him in wordless thanks, and slides the glasses on.

He sleeps the entire way to South Dakota.



---


Bobby’s house looked the same as it ever has and they don’t stay long. Sam makes minimal conversation, which is so unlike him that Bobby stares for a while. Sam catches his gaze and stares down at the floor, turns away, until Dean tells him to go wait in the car because this isn’t going to take long anyway.

“How’s he been?” Bobby asks.

Dean stares too long out the window at Sam, sitting in the car with his head down, so when he looks back Bobby gets it already. “He’s fine.”

“Sure don’t look fine,” Bobby says, thrusting a book at Dean a little too hard. “He don’t talk much anymore,” he says, looking at Dean as he leans down to pick up a map and hand it to him.

Dean shrugs. “Just not talkative, I guess.”

“That’s not the Sam I know,” Bobby says quietly.

Dean catches his eye then, just holds his gaze. He takes a shaky breath. “Sam’s not the same as he used to be. Things changed, Bobby, you know that.” Dean’s voice is sadder than it’s ever sounded before, with the exception of the time Sam was well and truly dead.

“Yeah,” Bobby says softly. “Changes like that… they make people do things they wouldn’t ordinarily do, Dean.”

“Like run in front of things that can kill you? Yeah, I got that.”

“Sam’s been pulling stunts like that?” Bobby asks, a little surprised; even though he knows Sam’s changed, that’s too new not to be surprised at. Sam was always the careful one, the collected one, the one who always went in fully loaded for everyone else that was half cocked.

Dean nods while he stares down, away from Bobby. “Almost got himself killed running in front of some black dogs. He said he was doing it to save my ass but…” Dean shakes his head and looks up at Bobby. “It’ll get better.”

“Yeah,” Bobby says, and the look on his face tells Dean how much Bobby doesn’t mean it.



---


Dean tells Sam about Ellen later than he probably should, and expects Sam to be angry with him, but he’s not. Instead, he nods a little and says “It’s not like Dad told us everything all the time anyway, right?”

He drops it after that, doesn’t mention that they need to go see Ellen soon anyway; he doesn’t mention Ash, because he doesn’t want to think about the things Sam might have him research, because all of them might lead to Sam being dead again, and Dean can’t handle that.

He wakes up in the middle of the night to Sam panting, sitting up straight in his own bed. The room is dark, but the light coming in through the shades from the parking lot makes the sweat on Sam’s skin stand out. Dean’s voice is sleep rough, but he says “Sam?” hoping to get a reaction of some kind. Sam just starts to tremble, and by the time Dean is pushing his blankets away to go to him, Sam’s untangling himself from his own bed and fumbling his way to the bathroom. When the door slams it makes Dean jump and the sound of Sam vomiting makes him wince.

It’s hours before it’s over; once Sam’s stomach is empty he just spends the rest of the time dry-heaving, and Dean sits on his bed listening and not able to do anything. He went in, once, to try and help. Sam looked up at him, eyes glassy and dark, and just said get out, his voice hoarse and unsteady.


The bathroom door is partway open, and he can see the pale skin of Sam’s arm and its quiet now, so he gets up, tries again. The bathroom door creaks and it sounds painfully loud; Sam’s lying on the floor, head pillowed on one arm, the other stretched out. “Sammy?” Dean tries again. He looks up at Dean and his face is drawn, pale; he looks too tired for this anymore. He’s too young to be so tired, and Dean knows it because he’s felt this. “Come on,” he says softly, “let’s get you up off the floor, okay?”

Sam just looks at him like he doesn’t see him, and he’s shivering. Dean kneels down, pushes damp hair back from Sam’s forehead. “You cold?” Dean asks him.

“I’m always cold,” Sam whispers, and it wasn’t the kind of cold Dean meant, but he knows how it feels anyway. So he gets a paper cup from the stack on the sink and fills it with tap water. He watches Sam struggle to sit up, and he knows how that feels, too; he knows how it feels to struggle to stand up, to stay awake, to make yourself live one more day you don’t think you should.

“Hey,” Dean says softly, kneeling down, holding the cup out to Sam. “Here.”

Sam takes it, hand trembling as he brings it to his lips. He takes a small sip, so small, and gags. He just shakes his head, holds the cup out for Dean to take it back. “I can’t.”

“Then just rinse your mouth; you’ll feel better.” Dean watches him swish the water around and spit it out in the toilet, gagging up nothing. “Sammy… What did-“

“Don’t,” Sam interrupts hoarsely. Dean catches his gaze and something in Sam’s face just hurts. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Sam, maybe – “

“Don’t ask me, Dean,” he says, turning his head away. “I’m not going to tell you,” and Dean knows him well enough after all this time to know the sound, the threat of tears in his voice. He knows Sam well enough that he has to let this go right now, because pushing it is just going to make things worse.



---


They’re driving through Wyoming, and Sam’s been to quiet for hundreds of miles when he just starts talking. His voice is quiet, but it startles Dean. “I was dead.”

“What?”

“I was dead, Dean,” he says, looking over at his brother. “I was dead and he… he brought me back,” he says the last part with his teeth clenched.

“Don’t do this right now, Sam,” Dean pleads, eyes back to the road.

“What’s dead should stay dead.”

“Stop it,” Dean says back. “Just…stop it. It’s done, Sam, and there’s nothing you can do to change it now. So just…stop.”

“Pull over.”

Dean looks over at him but Sam’s staring straight ahead. “What?”

“Pull over, Dean.”

“What’s the matter? You going to be sick again?”

“Just pull over, goddamn it!” Sam’s voice sound incredibly loud in such a small space.

The tires spray gravel when he pulls over, and Sam’s got his door open before the car’s even come to a complete stop. Dean’s pulling the keys out of the ignition as Sam’s slamming his door shut. “Sam?”

“You knew,” Sam says. “You knew when he found it what he was going to do. Didn’t you?” When Sam looks at him the anger in his eyes is cold, makes Dean feel cold all over.

“Come on, Sam; I didn’t know he was going to… I didn’t know. Not until the last minute,” Dean says, and it’s the honest-to-God truth.

“But the last minute wasn’t too late; you could have stopped him.” Sam’s so angry he’s vibrating with it.

“Sam…” Dean starts and looks at the floor.

“When you figured it out, the last minute, Dean,” he spits out, “you didn’t even try to stop him.”

“Sam, I-“

“You let him do it!” Sam’s hands are fisted in his jacket so suddenly that Dean doesn’t remember him moving. The car is hard behind him when Sam slams him against it, and the breath goes out of him. “You let him do it!”

“I couldn’t stop him, Sam,” Dean says.

“You’re a fucking liar,” Sam seethes. “He would have listened to you, if you told him not to do it. He would have listened to you.”

“I couldn’t,” Dean whispered, his lip trembling no matter how hard he fought against it. “I couldn’t let you be dead anymore, Sammy. I just… I just wanted you back.” Dean doesn’t cry easy, it’s not in his nature, but when it comes to Sam it’s just a whole different ballgame, and the tears burn.

“You selfish son of bitch,” Sam whispers, his whole body shaking, and the tears burn just as bad as Dean’s. His hand is unsteady, but his punch is solid. Dean tastes the blood in his mouth before the pain registers, and he bends forward, hands on his knees to spit. He can feel the missing chunks on the inside of his cheek where his teeth met his flesh, where Sam’s fist connected. When he stands up straight again, he can still see Sam’s back while he’s walking away.



---


His whole life Dean’s known fear. He knows what it feels like, how it tastes the stink of it; he shivers with it for two days in an empty hotel room in Wapiti, Wyoming. When Sam stumbles in on the forty-ninth hour, he smells like smoke and whiskey, cheap beer. Dean can see him sway a little, unsteady on his feet, drunk.

He doesn’t ask where Sam’s been; he doesn’t want to know. “You ok?” he asks instead, and Sam’s eyes are unfocused.

“I hate you for this,” Sam whispers.

“Yeah,” Dean replies quietly. “I know.”

Based on sheer size and body mass alone, it takes a good amount of alcohol to get Sam drunk, so he doesn’t want to know what Sam’s been drinking when he gets close enough to grab onto him. Sam’s clumsy on his feet, eyes unfocused, and stumbles into Dean ungracefully. “I hate you,” he whispers, and Dean holds him a little tighter because he’s not so good at this, because it’s all he can do. Sam can’t hold himself up any longer, or won’t, and his legs start to buckle and Dean just goes to his knees with him. “I hate you,” he whispers again and Dean can hear that he’s crying, doesn’t need to see his face, can tell through body language, through too many years of just knowing Sam.

“I know, Sammy,” Dean says softly, and just holds on.



---


They don’t talk for almost a day, and Dean almost thinks about asking Sam if he wants to call it quits. He’ll take him back to Stanford and walk away like none of this ever happened, never bother him again. They drive over six-hundred miles from Wapiti to Yellow Pine, Idaho and stop at a Motel 6. It’s not that the drive is too long or that Dean can’t go further, they just need a damn break.

Sam takes off and Dean doesn’t ask him where he’s going; he drinks a lot lately and it’s unnerving because it’s unlike him, but Sam’s been doing a lot of things unlike himself lately. And maybe they just need some time apart to fix things, to make them better somehow.

He must’ve fallen asleep, because when Sam opens the door it startles him awake. The clock says its way passed closing time. Sam falls on his knees next to Dean’s bed and Dean sits up, afraid something’s wrong, that Sam’s done something they’ll both regret. “Sammy?” He grabs Sam’s face in his hands, tries to see his eyes, and what he sees is all of Sam’s hurt.

“I’m sorry,” he whispers. “I don’t hate you. God, I’m sorry, Dean…”

“Nevermind,” Dean says, moving to get up, but Sam’s hands on his arms stop him. “Sammy…”

“You don’t… You don’t understand how much I don’t…don’t hate you,” Sam whispers and their faces are so close he can feel Sam’s breath on his face, warm and smelling like whiskey. Sam’s hand brushes against his cheek and Dean pulls back a little.

“Sam.”

Sam pushes forward, pushes his mouth against Dean’s. His lips are wet, warm, salty with the taste of tears and bitter with the taste of whiskey. For a second Dean forgets, forgets that they haven’t touched like this since Sam was alive again, forgets that this isn’t right – not right now, not like this.

“Sammy,” he whispers, hands on either sides of Sam’s face and pushes him back slightly, pulling their mouths apart.

“I want it back,” Sam says. “I want this back.”

“Sam, don’t. Not… not like this. You’re drunk.” Sam’s pushing at him and Dean’s pushing him away, just like things have always been. Sam’s face plays out all his hurt but Dean can’t do this now, not like this. He stands up and maneuvers Sam, and Sam lets him, doesn’t fight.

“It’s ok, Sammy,” Dean says, sitting Sam down on his own bed and bending down to take off Sam’s shoes. “Everything’s gonna be ok; I promise,” he says looking up at Sam’s face.

Sam slides his hands up Dean’s face, slips forward and presses his forehead against Dean’s and just breathes. Dean closes his eyes and just feels the warmth of Sam’s skin against his own.

“Sammy…”

“I love you,” Sam whispers, eyes closed, mouth so close to Dean’s that Dean can feel the words as much as any one could. “Dean, I… God, I love you so much…”

“Come on,” Dean whispers, slips his fingers around Sam’s wrists and pulls his hands away, pushes Sam backwards. “Go to sleep.”

The hurt in Sam’s eyes is raw and real, and Dean has a moment’s opportunity to fix it, the damage he may have just done, but he doesn’t. Sam closes his eyes and rolls on his side, back to Dean.



---


The ride through the state line is quiet, he steals glances at Sam out of the corner of his eye, but doesn’t turn away from the road, doesn’t try to talk to fill up the silence, doesn’t turn the radio on. Sam breaks the silence when he turns and says “I have to go to the bathroom.” His voice is quiet, scratchy, rough from throwing up through the early hours of the morning.

“We can stop,” Dean says, nodding a little. “I can get us something to eat.” He chances a look at Sam, and Sam gives him a tight, forced smile and nods.

The little mini mart is dingy, the floors stained and some of the food on the shelves so outdated it’s disgusting. The girl behind the counter is young, maybe seventeen or eighteen, and snaps her gum loudly, doesn’t look up from her magazine. Dean stands there and stares at the door for a minute, almost waiting for Sam to come through the door and ask him what’s taking so long, but he doesn’t and the girl looks at him. “You want something?”

“No,” he says, shaking his head. “I’ll just… I’m fine, thanks.”

He nods at her and gets sodas for himself and Sam finds some things on the shelves that aren’t out of date, just grabs some beef jerky. He checks out and Sam still isn’t done in the bathroom, so he just goes to find him.

Sam’s leaning over the sink, wetting his face with cool water, and he looks terrified, sick. “Sam?”



---


Oregon complicates things so much more. The virus is deadly, and when blood-to-blood contact happens with Sam, Dean feels sick, trapped. He won’t let anyone kill his brother, not now, not ever again. If Sam’s sick, if there’s no cure, if he has to die, then Dean’s going with him this time.

When it turns out that Sam has some kind of immunity, it’s not time to keep secrets anymore, and Dean knows he has to tell Sam the truth. He means to do it at the hotel, means to tell Sam everything Dad told him, but he can’t make himself do it. Instead, he touches Sam’s face.

“Dean?”

He kisses Sam, slow, sweet and thorough, and when Sam pushes him away he chokes. “Sammy…”

“Don’t do this,” Sam says, voice tight with emotion.

“But I thought… I thought you –“

“Don’t do this if you don’t mean it,” Sam whispers. “Don’t give this to me if you’re going to take it back.”

Dean traces his thumb over Sam’s cheek, his other thumb over Sam’s lips. “I promise,” Dean whispers. “God, I promise, Sammy.”

The way Sam kisses him almost hurts; it’s so desperate, so full of need. His hands squeeze Dean’s shoulders, tighten in his shirt, slide down and bunch Dean’s waistband and belt, and Sam kisses him like he needs him to breathe.

It’s different this time; there’s no rush, no one to hide from because Dad’s gone, and Dean’s almost sorry, but he’s not. It’s slow and hard, Sam arching and gasping under him, skin warm and alive, scars mapping his chest and stomach from a lifetime of fighting. Dean’s hurting him, no matter how easy they take this; it’s just been too long for it not to be painful - whether he can see it Sam’s face, or hear it in the noises he makes, or just because he knows when Sam hurts.

“Dean, please…” Sam breathes, eyes squeezed so tightly shut, face pressed to Dean’s neck, his hands gripping Dean’s hips so hard there would be finger-shaped bruises in the morning.

“Shh,” he whispers, “I got you, Sammy.”

It’s good to feel Sam like this, tight around him, warm under him, real. “Oh god,” Sam moans, broken, almost painful. “Dean…” Sam arches up and throws his head back so suddenly he almost cracks his skull into Dean’s chin, but misses by millimeters. Sam’s mouth is open, eyes closed, and Dean can feel the warmth of his come between them.

When Dean comes, it feels like home and that somehow this might be okay.

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