Sammy can’t even remember what they were fighting about.
He remembers Dean was irritable— probably because Dad was going to be gone longer than he’d thought, which meant at least another week in this dingy motel. Sammy wasn’t happy with it either, but Dean had clenched his jaw and laid on his bed with his arm over his eyes.
Oh, right. Sammy wanted to watch TV, and Dean wanted to sleep. So Dean yelled, and said he was going out.
That was hours ago. Now, it’s two hours past sunset, and Dean still hasn’t come home. Sammy’s getting worried.
He has enough food, he’s not scared of being alone, but he hates the idea of Dean out in the night, all alone. He would’ve brought a weapon, surely— Dean wasn’t an idiot, he knew how to be safe— but it doesn't help Sammy’s anxiety.
He waits another hour, then makes a decision. Sammy opens the tiny closet, pushes aside Dean’s shirts hanging up, and kneels to the ground. He unzips the duffel, and pushes aside the guns and ammo. Instead, he chooses a hunting knife, the handle almost too big for Sammy to grip. He attaches the sheath around his belt, dons one of Dean’s jackets with the hood up, and brings the spare motel key with him.
The town they’re in is quiet at night. It’s small, there’s barely any cars on the road even in the daytime, so Sammy isn’t worried about anyone noticing there’s a kid alone outside at midnight.
Dean wouldn’t have gone too far, both because he’s on foot and because he would never leave Sammy alone for long. He wasn’t like Dad.
Sammy sees a liquor store at the end of the same street their motel is on, and he figures it’s as good a shot as any.
He stays out of view from the windows, but tries to peer in— looking for any sign of Dean. But the liquor store is empty, except for a bored-looking cashier.
Sammy sighs and considers turning around. He was getting tired, and Dean would probably be coming back soon anyways. He’s about to go back to the motel when he hears a gasp from the alley on the far side of the liquor store.
Sammy grabs the knife from his belt, and walks slowly, silently, to the alley. He glances around the corner, and sees a dark shape against the wall.
He turns the corner, for good, and as he walks closer, he can discern that the dark shape is two people, embracing, against the wall.
But he was wrong. It’s not just any two people, it’s Dean, and he’s with a boy. They’re kissing.
Sammy’s foot kicks against an empty bottle, and it clatters against the ground.
Dean pulls away, his eyes wide. The other boy gets one look at Sammy, hunting knife drawn, and runs in the other direction.
“Sammy,” Dean breathes, and he’s… he’s afraid. Why? What is he scared of?
Then Sammy remembers he’s holding a big knife, and that helps clear things up.
Sammy puts the knife away, but Dean doesn’t look any less scared.
“Don’t tell Dad,” Dean says. It’s not a command or order, it’s not even a plea— Dean is begging.
“Please, Sammy. Please don’t tell. It’ll never happen again, I swear,” Dean promises, so sincere it’s heartbreaking.
“O— Okay,” Sammy says. “I won’t tell.” He doesn’t have time to explain that he doesn’t really care if Dean does it again, it’s not Sam’s business, and he would do almost anything as long as it makes Dean stop looking at Sammy like he’s afraid of him.
Dean swallows and scrubs his hand down his face. He nods, once, to himself. Then, “Let’s go home.”
Sammy doesn’t point out that they don’t have a home, that they’ve never had a home. That the alley they’re standing in is as much of a home as any of the motels they’ve ever set foot in. It’s just a place they’re at, and then, eventually aren’t.
But Dean is already walking out of the alley, tension in his shoulders. He’s shaky the entire walk back. Skittish, nervous. He keeps looking behind them, like he’s afraid they’ll get followed.
“Dean,” Sammy says, interrupting the fragile quiet of the night. “I swear I won’t tell.”
Dean exhales, and he puts on one of his most confident smiles, but it’s fake, forced. “I know, Sammy. I know.”
When they get back, Dean locks himself in the bathroom, and Sammy sits on the bed, alone. He can’t help but feel like he’s done something wrong.
Still, Sammy doesn’t tell Dad. Not even when he’s seventeen, and he and Dean are fighting because Sammy wants to go to college, and Dean can’t stand being alone with Dad.
Not even when he tells Dad about Stanford, and Dad looks at him so disapprovingly Sammy just wants to say something to direct his attention elsewhere. He still doesn’t tell.
But now, all these years later, John Winchester is dead, and there’s no risk of Sam ever sinking that ship. So Sam (mid-thirties), looks at Dean (late-thirties), and Cas (ageless) and sees the expression on Dean’s face.
Dean is watching Cas. Dean is always watching Cas. They have been orbiting each other for years, like binary stars on an inevitable route to collision. Sam is afraid to say anything. He doesn’t even know what he would say.
It’s a normal day, and a normal case (as normal as they get, at least) and Sam is researching the history of the podunk town they are currently in.
Dean steps into the diner with a smile on his face and his phone to his ear. “Yeah, you too, buddy,” he says as he walks towards Sam’s booth. He hangs up the phone, and the memory of his smile still pulls at his crow’s feet.
“How’s Cas?” Sam asks, and Dean slides into the booth, adjusting his suit.
“He’s good, he’s heading our way soon, got a couple things to take care of first.”
Sam hums and nods, then turns his gaze back to the case. Town history websites and online archives blur together for the next few hours as they each try to find whose body they need to exhume.
Sammy tries to focus, but he isn’t really thinking about the case. He’s thinking about Dean, and he’s thinking about Cas, and he’s thinking about Dean-and-Cas.
If you’d told Sammy, age twelve, that his older brother Dean would be in love with a man some day, he would probably take it in stride. (The disgraced angel part would take a bit of convincing, however.)
“Got it,” Dean says, staring down at his phone, at the same time Sam says—
“Remember when you were sixteen?”
Dean frowns. “Wh— yes? Are you getting senile, old man?”
Sam shakes his head. He’s in too deep to back out now. “No I mean— behind that liquor store. It was Tennessee, and you ran out but I followed you. I found you, with— with a guy. And I swore not to tell Dad.”
Dean doesn’t meet his gaze. He clears his throat. “Kinda hoped you’d forgotten about that,” he chuckles lamely, though his posture is tense.
Staring at his brother over the laminate table top, Sam is overcome with the need to reassure him. “I don’t care, Dean. I mean— It’s not… It doesn’t change anything. You’re still my brother, man. And Cas—“
“What about Cas?” Dean asks, and it’s sharp and biting and nervous, and Sam is suddenly looking at the scared, sixteen year old Dean he saw in the alley beside a liquor store.
Sam sighs. “Cas is family. There’s nobody better, Dean. I’m happy for you both.”
Dean watches Sammy for a long, tense second. Then he clears his throat, and he sighs, and all the nervousness and tension that he must’ve been carrying for years seems to just wash away. He no longer looks afraid, just… tired. Years of waiting do that to a guy, Sam supposes.
“Thanks, Sammy,” he breathes, quietly. “It’s not— nothing is official, with Cas. We haven’t, like, talked about it, or anything. Just… seems to be the direction things are going.” Dean rubs a fingernail across the texture of the table.
“...It’s been a long time, hasn’t it?”
Dean nods, and from the way his eyes scan the table, his hand in a loose, almost-fist, Sam can tell he wants a drink. But he’s been cutting back, because it makes Sam nervous and Cas agrees.
“It has. Real long.”
Sam hesitates for a second, but in for a penny, in for a pound, right? “Dean—look. You deserve every bit of happiness you can get, okay?”
Dean gives him a look that Sam can’t quite parse. But he nods, nevertheless.
When Cas gets in, later that day, Dean is filled with nervous energy. He looks at Sam too much; prompting Cas to look at Sam too much, prompting Dean to frown at Cas for trying to figure out why Dean was looking at Sam— it’s a whole thing. Sam decides to leave the motel, and let them figure it out for themselves.
But he sees, the next morning, how Dean looks at Cas. Like he can’t quite believe what’s in front of his eyes. Cas walks up to Dean, and looks at him with a question in his eyes, and Dean just knocks his shoulder against Cas’s. Sam smiles into his coffee cup.