Author Notes:OH my goodness, I'm so sorry this took me so long. School and life got in the way of any kind of good writing for a while, but finally I'm finished! I hope y'all enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it :)

(Then)

Sam is sick.

Dark canyons smudged ashy under fever-jeweled eyes, hair plastered to his sticky forehead in snarled loops, skin so warm it radiates temperature from inches away. Dean holds ice packs to his brother's head when Sam doesn't complain that he's freezing, but most of the time he just lies quaking under piles of heavy blankets, eyes closed and teeth cracking together as he dreams. His condition seems to plummet daily and Dean has never been this worried.

They are thirteen and seventeen, and of course John is away.

On the third night of Sam's illness Dean starts thinking to himself, for probably the first time ever, that it's acceptable to panic. He sits by the couch so he can get right in Sam's face and speak gently to him, totally unmindful of the fact that he'll probably catch whatever this is, all of his focus centered on Sam's wellness.

"Whatever you want, Sammy," he says over and over. "Just tell me."

All Sam ever wants is Dean, so he's doing just fine with the current arrangement. Occasionally, though, he wants popsicles and soup, so Dean gets them for him, puttering around in the kitchen as best he knows how.

"You're like my little housewife, man," chuckles Sam one day, rasping over a swollen throat.

"Shut up, bitch," gripes Dean, but his voice is tender in a gruff sort of way and he grins back when Sam smirks snarkily at him.

That night Sam is fever-frozen once again and Dean can't take it. Sam can't sleep so obviously he doesn't have a chance in the world and all they do is sit and talk. Sam can't understand how Dean can have such a bottomless supply of tissues and cough drops, but he likes it. He shivers almost without cease.

Sometime in the middle of the night Dean strips off his shirt and climbs into bed next to his little brother. Automatically Sam curls up against him; Dean ropes their arms and legs together and pulls Sam flush against his chest and within a few minutes his shaking has stopped.

"So finally we found a cure," murmurs Sam, right before he crashes into slumber.

Dean has this horrible suspicion that it's not completely natural for him to have such a marked impact, but he deduces that it's the body heat that fixes Sam's temperature imbalance and he drops off to sleep not long after.

Sam spends much of the next day in a delusional twirling haze, thin limbs too heavy to move, mouth too parched to swallow. At some point he recognizes that Dean's voice is joined by another (familiar, deep), and it must be John but then again Sam isn't sure what's real and what's a dream and the next time anything is clear to him he's in a hospital bed.

" - he could have fucking died and you weren't there - "

" - no way I could have known, Dean, I - "

" - hilarious how you think I know what to do when this happens, you told me to - "

" - pneumonia - "

Well, thinks Sam blearily as he succumbs to hypnotic hallucinatory dreams again, that explains a lot.

The next time he surfaces it's two thirty-five in the morning and Dean is dozing on the chair next to him, forehead resting in one open hand, lips split minimally apart, thick eyelashes splayed over bloodless cheeks bleached ghostly in the faint unnatural light. Sam tries to keep his mouth shut and let Dean sleep but he needs to hear his brother's voice.

"Dean."

Within half a second Dean is electrified awake like he's been waiting for Sam's call, eyes blown. "Hey. Hey." All skittish and panicked. "What's wrong? What do you need?"

Sam smiles, cracked lips registering as papercut pain on his skin. "I'm ok. Calm down."

Dean leans over, jumpy, killed by the need to touch Sam and denied by the contrasting command that tells him no. "You've been out for like three days, Sam."

"No, I was awake," says Sam. "Sort of, for a minute. You and Dad were fighting."

"Yeah." Dean's eyes wax dark. "You have really bad pneumonia, Sam. It took him forever to get here. You could have died."

"Where is he now?" asks Sam, shivering icy through his chest upon realizing the severity of his condition.

"The waiting room," replies Dean. "Only one of us can be back in the ICU at once."

"And how often do you let him take your place?" queries Sam, warm thick voice made all gentle with knowing. Expectedly Dean looks down, a chagrined flush of ruby unfurling across his face.

"Not often," he says, raw. "I take care of you."

Sam is undone by the jealous conviction in his words.

(Then)

The day Sam tells Dean he is leaving is gunmetal-gray, the kind of cold that's cruel and dead, and Dean guesses that misery loves company.

This is what he says:

"So you're gonna leave me here with Dad, huh."

This is what he means:

"Please don't go."

It's not like Dean hasn't guessed that Sam could choose a different life. He and John barely cease fighting, can't find even a place for dinner to agree on, and Sam wears this thunderous iron scowl like it's part of his outfit. Dean is being killed by his brother's unhappiness but the alternative - the thought that Sam might be happier without him, on his own - is worse.

Sam's eyes are scared, morose as he tries to get Dean to reciprocate his gaze. "I can't stay here, Dean. I can't take this bullshit from him anymore. I want my own life."

"Yeah, well." Dean refuses to give Sam the satisfaction of eye contact. If he moves he thinks he might scream or burst into tears or throttle his brother and that look that Sam is giving him is just too much. "You're not gonna get that here. So you better go, if that's what you want."

"Dean - " Sam sounds like he is wholly broken, open agony wounding his words.

"I know, Sam," growls Dean, but he pushes roughly past his brother still rebuffing his gaze, eyebrows knotted darkly and lips clenched together in anger. Severe self-control and he makes it out of the room without another word.

(don't leave me)

Because that's exactly what it feels like.

(Then)

Dean gets two days to process Sam's looming departure; John gets one. The argument that follows Sam's confession shatters the earth, shakes out the clouds, claws scars into Dean's mind. He doesn't have to look at Sam to know his brother's heart is a mess.

John won't go to the bus stop with his sons; he is all defiance, enraged. He barely looks at Sam when he walks out the door and Dean is sick of doing damage control. Neither of them can speak on the drive that will change their lives, although Dean imagines a thousand ways to ask Sam to stay. He'll never do it.

Standing together, leaning against the driver's side of the Impala, thinking mountains and valleys full of words but unable to speak any of them except:

"Hot today."

"Yep."

It's the most impossible goodbye either of them has had to say, so they don't. Dean alternates between counting the clouds (six, or seven if he includes that tiny gossamer fluffball hovering near the sun) and perusing the road for any sign of the bus. He gets the frantic, uncomfortable sensation that Sam keeps looking at him out of the edges of his eyes but staunchly rejects the urge to look back. He thinks they should probably be speaking to each other, about anything, but he can't even breathe and Sam against him is shaking so hard the zipper on his coat keeps smacking against the cold handle of the Impala's passenger side door.

When the bus, an innocent unwieldy rectangle that promises to change lives in one way or another, does finally pull up, Dean is ninety percent sure his heart actually stops. Sam goes to pick up his backpack but Dean grabs his wrist, his fingers a scalding bracelet on Sam's skin, and he gives his younger brother the eye contact he's been begging for.

"Dean," begins Sam, but Dean shakes his head violently back and forth, makes this strangled agonized noise in his throat, and Sam shuts up and reaches for him. They clutch at each other ferociously for a moment, Sam's hands splayed on Dean's back, his mouth open and wet on Dean's throat before Dean shoves him away, still gripping fistfuls of his brother's jacket in his hands. The misery eating at the shine in Sam's eyes is enough to render Dean sober for days.

"Sam, just fuck," spits Dean, and Sam understands then that his older brother is being absolutely murdered by the compulsion to beg him to stay. He also realizes, with a nauseating downward drift of his heart, that Dean's pride will never allow him to do it. It's a shame because that request is the one thing that would make Sam think twice about this, his monumental (reckless?) decision.

"You're the only thing I'm going to miss," whispers Sam, his voice crackling on the last word, and he ducks in and slides his forehead tenderly across Dean's before he tosses his bag over his shoulder and walks away.

From the window of the bus he watches his brother until he can't anymore, fingers crashed up against the dirty pane, weak defeated chant looping through his thoughts: don't blink don't cry don't blink don't cry until his mind is anesthetized. Then he spends the entire drive convincing himself that the best thing he will ever do for either of them is get away. Because no man should feel things for his brother like Sam does for Dean.

By the time Sam steps onto Stanford's campus he has talked himself into never going back. The problem is he doesn't think he's ever going to find a cure for the venomous knee-bringing desolation that is Dean's absence.

(Now)

Dean says Sam's name and his voice is in pieces, husky fervid growl grinding from his throat, almost a plea. Sam wishes for nothing more than to be able to speak the language of his brother's emotion but he figures he's come this far and he's already known more loss than most people can even survive so what the hell.

"What," he rasps back, bossing forward just a little so their noses almost brush. "What, Dean."

"Sam, we're drunk," says Dean, but he's not moving, and the downward pull of Sam's fingers keeps intensifying.

Sam laughs, genuine mirth that sends surprise scurrying across Dean's saucer eyes. "You always say that when I do this."

"Do what?" demands Dean, muted urgency, and any pause is too long. "Do what, Sam?"

Sam swallows the dryness in his mouth, shakes his head as he gets on his knees, pulling Dean up with him. Frames his brother's face with his huge hands, never takes his eyes from Dean's perpetual pout of a mouth. "Touch you."

Dean's stomach throbs with that creeping, consuming heat, and his mind is screaming for him to back the fuck up right now but he's overriding it because he can't move. Sam is all he is, all he thinks and breathes and eats and sleeps. Without Sam Dean doesn't exist, and it's always going to be that way.

Sam's hands are pawing at Dean's chest, sliding lower again, and he's whispering something frantic that Dean can't make out. It's only when Sam's hand drops to hook in the waistband of his jeans that Dean understands what he's saying.

Can I?

If he wanted to Dean couldn't speak so he bulls forward into Sam's space, cupping the angular ridge of Sam's bristly jaw, and Sam understands that this is permission. He groans a little in jubilation as his hand works its way between his brother's legs, rubbing and squeezing and Dean is losing his mind after five seconds, obsessed with the idea that Sam is getting off on this as much as he is. Sam's voice in his ear, yes Dean yes yes yes as he works him through denim and cloth, firm controlling like they've done this a thousand times and he can take care of everything at once. Dean is choking on Sam's name, reaching between them to unbutton his jeans, and Sam drags them roughly off his hips, doesn't even bother to tease. Unabashedly he frees his brother's cock and his rhythm is sure, bold, hot teasing thumb curling over the unbelievable slickness of the slit as he bites into Dean's throat. Somehow he is the furthest thing from shy.

Dean is going to last for all of a minute.

Abruptly his ability to speak graces him again and he buries his mouth in Sam's neck, "Yeah man right there oh Jesus do that again," and Sam growls back at him, something like fuck yes, fucking come for me Dean and oh God he does, blistering hot orgasm quaking through his veins and the only thing in his mind is Sam. Sam's shoulder in his mouth, Sam's fingers snared in his sweaty hair, Sam's body all curled close to his as Dean comes all over his brother's hand.

"Yes," Sam rasps, rucking his forehead against Dean's, and Dean thinks he says baby but he isn't sure because the quintessential functions of his mind have wholly ceased. His fists are bunched around the fabric of Sam's shorts and he's breathing like he just sprinted a mile and he honestly isn't sure what the fuck anymore except that Sam feels more right against him than anything he has ever known.

They sit and they breathe and Sam is so scared that Dean is going to bolt, disappear for the night and come back tomorrow with all emotion in his dark eyes erased, acting like nothing has changed. He keeps his clean hand bunched around his brother's shoulder and lets Dean sink back down to sanity and after a few moments of peace the rabbit pulse of Dean's heartbeat slows to some semblance of equilibrium.

It's been enough time that Sam trusts in his brother's stability, knows he won't try to flee, and he relaxes the claw-grip he has on Dean's arm. Lets his fingers swipe timidly over the firm landscape of Dean's collarbones, flutters his gaze over the soft open fall of his brother's wrecked mouth. Dean hasn't moved his forehead away from Sam's but he won't raise his eyes from the point they're fixated on, somewhere low, some sight he doesn't really absorb. Sam wants to talk but he's afraid to murder the moment.

Finally Dean brings his hands up to cup Sam's face, thumbs smoothing the harsh blades of his brother's high enunciated cheekbones, flawless symmetry. He is five hundred kinds of fucked up over the joy that is flooding his bloodstream for this, for the swell of contentment ballooning upward through his chest. If he was normal he'd want to throw up. If he was normal he wouldn't have come close to even thinking about this ever happening, ever. But the truth is he's been tossing the notion abstractly around in his brain since he was a kid, since he figured out that it's Sam and Sam alone who is the only certainty in his life.

"Sammy," he says gently, voice all raw-husked with emotion, and Sam infers every single thing that Dean cannot yet verbalize from that one word. He's good at that. After all he's lived his whole life learning how to solve the most difficult pieces of Dean's puzzle.

(Now)

So many details that neither of them has previously been allowed to notice and now they are realizing every little scrap: the way Sam's fingers curl beautifully around Dean's; how Dean is the perfect height to tuck his chin into Sam's shoulder when they are pressed close. Dean grumbles about this, makes out like he hates it and wishes he was the giant of the two, but Sam knows by the little smile lurking across his mouth that he is a liar. They hunch cross-legged on the bed canvassing fingerprint maps over each other's faces, Sam's angel bones and Dean's gorgeous mouth. Their earlier haste was every bit of necessary but now they understand that they can back off, stroll instead of sprint, and right now all Dean wants is to sit with his brother and taste the warm comfortable honey of his breath and learn every secret of his face that distance has veiled from him.

"There's probably something wrong with us," Sam whispers as he races the back of his knuckles down his brother's cheek.

Dean grins a little, snickers, and his eyes never budge from where they are memorizing the pinked arch of Sam's lower lip. "Pretty sure it comes with the last name."

"I mean, I like it," says Sam, and Dean laughs genuinely then, sort of hating himself for how easily he can be brought to mirth now, for how he feels like nothing can go wrong tonight - or ever, really.

"Sam," he says, low. "What does this change?"

Sam draws back a little so he can dig deep into his brother's gaze, reassure him. He is in shock that they are even discussing what has happened between them because Dean just doesn't, and he knows he has to tread with caution because he wants this, wants to be comfortable enough to discuss what is transpiring between them.

"Nothing," he says, like obviously. "Except there's hopefully going to be a hell of a lot less weird tension between us now."

"I'll drink to that," says Dean immediately, coaxing an answering grin to Sam's mouth, and there are those dimples again and Dean sort of wants to bash his head against the wall but at the same time kiss every inch of that smile and it's making his nerves crackle with indecision. He has grown accustomed to blocking himself on every level when it comes to the way he thinks about Sam and it's unsettling to finally have permission.

Sometime in the night their nothing-everything conversation melds into easy silence, and after that what else is there to do but give in. Dean figures it's his round to take the initiative and his mouth on Sam's is silken, shy, flawless. Sam has spent much of his free time dreaming about the taste of Dean's lips and damn if it hasn't been worth the wait, the way Dean kisses first his lower lip, then his upper lip, slides his tongue down between Sam's teeth and his cheek and licks into his mouth. They should by all accounts be unsure of themselves but maybe for sheer consuming need they are not; Sam grabs Dean's face and surges into him, kisses back like his brother's mouth is opium and he's an addict, deprived for upward of a decade. The way they move together is uncanny, slick battle of tongues that starts and restarts as dominance swaps between them. Maybe Sam is just being sappy but this feels like completion, feels like something he's been building up to his entire life, because who else in the entire world understands every shard of his core like Dean? Who else would he die for a thousand times and not think twice about the sacrifice? Not even John. Never has there been such unquestioning loyalty between two people as Sam and Dean Winchester.

Dean rises to his haunches, cajoles Sam up with him, big hands over his little brother's shoulders as they draw flush. Sam's heat is the kind that blossoms from the core and Dean can smell his hunger, taste it, feel it in the way Sam's hands clench around Dean's hips, the ragged pant of his breath when they surface for air. Nudging persistently to the front of Dean's mind is the knowledge that Sam has been left unsatisfied and he knows that this must be remedied. The younger man has been so patient for so so long.

That kind of dedication deserves recompense.

Dean lets his hands rove up the nape of Sam's neck, knots his fingers in the damp twists of soft hair there, keeps his eyes locked on the kiss-bruised pout of Sam's open mouth. Foreheads pressed urgently together as Dean brings his brother's exhale deep into his lungs on a breath, so near, so intimate, both of their eyes inked preternaturally black with lust and Sam is going crazy. When Dean ducks in to lick into the heat of his mouth he whines and threads the fingers of both of his huge hands through his brother's hair, yanks him closer. Dean seizes upon this opportunity, counters Sam's momentum and shoves him back, so forceful Sam bounces when he hits the pillow. In half the time it takes to blink he rallies and growling pulls Dean down to him, hitch punched into his breath when Dean situates a leg on either side of Sam's narrow hips. This is what Dean is accustomed to, dominance, and Sam tastes the satisfaction in the smirk that he bites from his older brother's mouth.

"Control freak."

"You love it," rasps Dean, angling his head so he can suck his way down Sam's beautiful bared throat, mark him. By the morning there will be a bloom of violent vibrant lilac-gray marring Sam's neck and that is the way they both like it; nonetheless, Dean glosses apologetically over the angry open skin with his tongue before he moves back up to Sam's mouth. The younger man's hands are claw-tense on Dean's back, fingernails carving crescents into smooth skin and maybe Sam isn't as gentle as his demeanor would suggest. Dean gets a knee between both of Sam's and slides up, explores until he can feel everything; Sam lets his head drop back, groans for the perfect friction, bucks his hips into the contact. His eyelashes drip prettily onto golden freckle-scattered cheeks and his trembling stomach is all contours and ridges and symmetry and Dean is so hard for him again, for the way his hipbones arrow up into his skin, for the stripe of black hair that trails down into his jeans. Dean thinks he could taste Sam everywhere now and it wouldn't be enough, thinks there is no way they are going to be able to conceal this unleashed hunger from the public, doesn't care. Sam's breath is hot and unsteady and surely they are steaming up the windows.

Maybe on another day, some foggy crystal-ball afternoon in the future, Dean will build this up until Sam is rent, pleading, powerless, but tonight he can do nothing but take early pity for the total need in his little brother's eyes. One hand pushes Sam's sweaty curls roughly back from his fevered forehand while the other crawls down to replace the void that he has left by withdrawing his knee from between Sam's thighs. Instantly Sam is squirming and he gets his thumbs curled through the belt loops of his brother's jeans and Dean understands, reaches down to unbutton, but Sam beats him to it so Dean goes to work on Sam instead. An indecently quick amount of time and they are free, rucking together with only two parchment-thin pieces of silken material between them, and Sam's blood has turned to lightning, live flickering wires in his veins. His fingers search up Dean's side and the older man grabs his hand, laces it with his own so slowly. The movement is one of such beauty and momentousness that Sam shudders for it. Dean isn't the most verbose individual but he is proficient at getting his point across when he wants to.

The thing that will always stand out the most to Sam when he looks back on this night: the way Dean stares into his eyes as he works Sam's boxers off his arching hips. Focused, somber, tender like he has been blind forever and Sam is the first thing he sees upon being graced with sight. Sam pulls him down and crashes their lips together and Dean's hand wriggles between them and then he's curling it around Sam's cock and Sam can't breathe, kiss disconnected by the abrupt gorgeous moan that spills from his mouth. It's perfect but it's not enough, he wants everything, so he yanks at Dean's shorts and after a brief scramble they are skin-to-skin all over and neither of them can really take it. Dean collapses onto Sam's chest and paints kisses all over his neck, his collarbones, his wet wet mouth. All of Sam's mind is centered around the sensation of absolute closeness: it has never been like this with anyone, never been so comfortable or right. The fact that this feeling of completion has been reached with Dean, with his own honest-to-God flesh-and-blood brother could fuck with his head for days but he forgets about it because he always does, because they're Sam and Dean and there's been something not quite right about their relationship, about their dynamic, for a long time. Of course this wouldn't be any different. Maybe it would be strange if itwas.

Dean is up on all fours now, still angled so he can keep his mouth pressed to Sam's, but his hand has found its way back between his brother's legs and Sam feels thirteen again, minutes away from climax instantaneously. But Dean has to play a little and he smoothes the backs of his fingernails over Sam's balls, daubs precome down his aching pulsing cock until it's almost covered and Sam is purring. Dean feels his stomach clench for how flawless Sam looks, how vulnerable, and he can't take it as much as Sam can't, has to get him off and see his face when he comes. Sam gasps for the unanticipated friction, eyes flying wide, and Dean is magnetized to him. Infatuated, awestruck, wordless.

"Dean."

"Mm." Rough, merely a notch above broken rasp.

Sam throws his head, tense all over with the pleasure, but he forces himself to master it so he can speak, fingers dancing up the warm muscled interior of Dean's thigh. Involuntary groan of "fuck," but the next thing he says is intentional. "Can I - again?"

For all the world Dean can't understand why Sam still thinks he needs permission; they are clearly gonna have to work that out of his system, but at the moment the thought of both of them getting off together is enough to make Dean's eyes turn briefly, minimally back into his head and it's all he cares about. The growl he gives in response is near inhuman, feral. "Sammy, Jesus fucking Christ. Yes."

Through Sam's eyes an ephemeral splash of triumph streaks; he reaches up for Dean's cock, swollen and sore pressed against his belly, and Dean will never understand how Sam's palm against him already feels familiar. He doesn't hold it against himself. It's hard to understand anything now.

Sam leans up and they kiss, sucking-deep for a long moment before Dean pushes him back, rucks his forehead gently across his brother's own. "Wanna look at you," he says, gruff, so Sam smiles and lies back. The intensity of their eye contact is too much and he's shaking trying to postpone his orgasm, so set on waiting for Dean, but he can't, toes curving painfully, biting down on his lower lip as his body trembles through the rush of impossible ecstasy. He screws up his eyes and crushes Dean's hand and Dean makes this noise, this heavy shattered whine, so deep and probably it's for the fact that Sam is coming all over his brother's stomach in thick hot milky splotches. Their eyes meet; Sam is proud that he can even function enough to keep stroking Dean off, but no way is he going to stop because Dean is shaking and iron hard and Sam knows he is close. Leaning down the elder man skips his mouth over Sam's in a shadowy emulation of a kiss; Sam bites down on Dean's lower lip and that is all he can withstand. He cries out, shuddering, and suddenly Sam's hand is warm and sticky with his brother's seed.

Together they breathe, recover, rejoin reality. The way Dean kisses Sam, opening his mouth just so he can close it over his little brother's upper lip again and again, is the only thing that keeps Sam from chalking the whole night up to a fantasy, something idly imagined to keep him happy during the thousands of miles spent folded up in the Impala.

Later, washed clean and lying as near to one another as they can under a solitary thin chill sheet, Dean's front pressed to Sam's back with their limbs twined. Dean is blurs and smudges, drowsing, but Sam's mind is running marathons. The curtains are parted slightly and a skinny slant of mischievous silver light steals into the room, brightens a slice of Sam's face. He smiles. It is only fitting that there should be a full moon on this most life-changing of nights.

*********