Sam and Dean wandered into the little tattoo shop off the backroad leading out of a small town west of Chicago. Sam was still buzzing from having Dean back, hands clenched at his sides to try and resist reaching out just to touch. He was thrumming, full of demon blood, but his focus was entirely on Dean. Needed a fix that was salty brother skin and green irises penetrating deep under all his twisted layers, knew his brother was even more off-limits than before.
Dean was a little more relaxed. Still jittery from decades spent in hell, but confident in a way he wasn't before. Sam noticed it, but didn't say anything. Didn't know where they stood right now. Dean had become this for him. The weight settled on his shoulders and sobered him some.
"Joey?" Dean shouted into the shop as the bell above the door echoed out into the cramped space. The shop was clean, up to code, but tiny. One tattoo bench pressed tight into the wall, two cracked vinyl chairs pressed against the other, beaded curtain to the back swaying with the wind that the boys brought in.
A large looming figure shadowed the doorway, obscured by the wooden beads. The intimidated air wore off when a voice hollered back "Deano?"
Dean rolled his eyes when Sam chuckled at his expense. Cuffed him gently on the shoulder. Well, he meant to cuff him gently. Sam staggered a little with the force of it, concerned gaze not for his bruising shoulder but for Dean's lack of awareness at his own strength. A tense silence settled between the two of them, thick as a demon cloud.
Dean paled, didn't want to give away just what had happened down under, why he was so strong, body so honed. Played it off by saying "my virgin body is ripped, Sammy" and flexing his bicep.
Joey laughed at the two of them, gave them both a once-over. He had been seeing these boys for years. Could remember giving both of them all of their ink. Always let the boys wander in and out without appointments as they pleased, all the work done for free. Of course he'd prioritize them, he wouldn't have his two little girls anymore if it wasn't for the giant Winchesters.
He startled when he looked at Dean, though. All clear skin without scars or ink littering it.
"Dean, boy, what have you done?"
Dean shrugged. "Took a vacation, now I'm a changed man." His grin was both fierce and playful. Joey didn't bother asking for more of an explanation, the boys told him that things went bump in the night a long time ago, but he didn't want to know more than that.
He looked between the two of them. Something was wrong. That light energy that flowed between them was marred. Something was sticky and black, turned sour. He wouldn't press, knew they told him more than most folks by letting him tattoo them. He didn't ask for the motivation for some of the designs, but he didn't need to. It was clear as day. Why they couldn't pick up what each design meant he didn't know, and normally chuckled at their stubborn inability to see what they meant to each other.
Joey could tell they still hadn't talked about it, but there was tension about it where there wasn't before. Before, it was playful. They didn't know how they felt about each other but driving around three feet apart was enough for them. But it wasn't enough now. Joey could feel it simmering just under the surface, something needed to be said, or they would combust.
"Need everything you've ever done on me all over again, Joey."
This didn't surprise him, he could see Dean's baby pink skin, freckles standing out without the ink to hide them. Knew Dean loved his work, was emotionally invested in it.
"You're lucky I have enough storage to back everything up. C'mon, let's see what we can do." He waved them into the back room, a little more spacious than the front, but not by much. Three overgrown men weren't supposed to fit back here.
Joey looked at the space between them that wasn't there before as they tried to situate themselves in the tight space. Joey figured maybe it was high time someone stepped in here.
He wheeled out the office chair, plopped into the seat, and booted up his computer. It took a few minutes to navigate through his files and find all of Dean's previous tattoos. Joey put them all in one printing document and zoomed out to display all nine pieces.
"Alrighty then, Deano. We've got one for mom, one for dad, three for Sammy boy, and four for civvies and monsters, that sound right, don't it?"
He turned around, wicked grin on his face. Dean was a flustering fish, mouth opening and closing, no noise coming out. Sam was shell-shocked, but the one to catch his voice first.
He gestured to one of the tattoos, it was a complex knot interwoven with arum and acacia. He had seen it on Dean’s broad shoulder before, but had figured it was for some girl that Dean had been with while Sam was away at Stanford. But that wasn’t even in the list of things that Joey had rattled off. He jabbed a finger accusingly at the screen, “this is for me?”
Dean found his voice, then. Muttered out a “none of your business, Sammy” and tried to shove him out of the room. But four months apart had Sam broadened out, and he didn’t budge.
Dean could see the gears working in Sam’s brain, could see his brother going through a mental catalogue of the flowers he knew and their symbology. Dean swore under his breath.
Arum was easily identifiable, it looked like a lily but was unique enough for Sam to know what it was. And the meaning of it was clear – faith and purity. But he was confused about the other flower. At first he thought it was a dandelion, and felt sad. Being with Sam was overcoming a hardship? The demon blood heating his gut cooled, and felt like a lead weight. He didn’t know what to take of this, and starting panicking.
But then – he remembered. Acacia. Secret love? He looked down into Dean’s eyes and knew, then. Dean’s cheeks reddened, his fluster bringing out the green of his eyes, he looked close to tears.
“Sam, I –“
But Sam cut him off by raising one large hand, and strode out of the shop. Dean sighed deeply and turned back to his friend, “goddammit, Joey.”
Joey just stared at Dean for a moment, didn’t apologize. Turned back around and printed out all the tattoo sheets. Dean knew Joey wasn’t sorry for what he’d done, but why had he done it?
“I can try and do these all today, but it’ll hurt, son.”
Dean just shucked off his layers of clothes, “I can handle it.”
Joey didn’t see Sam again that day, had waved Dean out of the shop, red and bleeding but back to the way he looked before, if not better. Stress weighed heavily on both men’s shoulders, but Dean had clapped him on the back, thanked him, and wandered off into the dusk, Impala nowhere to be seen. Joey hoped they could work it out, still didn’t regret what he said.
A few months later, he heard the impala roll into his dusty lot, met the boys at the front door. Dean wanted a red rose to accompany the small smattering of flowers on his shoulder, and Sam wanted the same flower, too.
True love, Joey knew then that he had done the right thing.