Kalliel (kalliel) wrote,
Kalliel
kalliel

[Fic] Every Rhyme Without Reason 7/12





CHAPTER 7







There’s no real way to describe how Dean plays poker.

Maybe it says something that they’re dealing the river before Sam even catches up with him, but Sam’s not sure ‘quickly’ is an actual strategy.

Dean doesn’t look out of place. But for the ice melting in his hair, he could pass for one of the guys, lit and costumed so he sinks in seamlessly, mise en scène. The whole bar looks like a Coors Lite ad. In it, Dean and the other men play loose, bills crumpled; beers amber; hands at ease. Focus elsewhere, or trained to appear so. They all know how this goes: Every night someone walks away with the pot, and every night they’ll be back here, handing it off to someone new. Dean gets his pocket aces cracked and someone makes a comment about the new guy supplying the table.

God, Sam hopes not.

“It’s rude to stare,” a voice informs him.

Sam jumps. It’s their motel guy, his cards pressed dutifully to his scarf so Sam, behind him, can't sneak a peek. He’s got his scarf wound all the way up around his neck, even though he’s turning beet red in the warm bar. He looks like he thinks Sam's about to climb over his shoulders and steal his cards away. It's the same look he'd given them when they checked in; when Sam asked for the Ethernet cord; when Sam came down for breakfast; when he'd sought out the microwave. Apparently Sam's just inherently suspicious. Though their first meeting--3AM, him and Dean sopping wet and only mostly wiped of blood, their money pooling muddy on the counter--probably hadn't done them any favors.

“Sorry,” Sam says.

"Stand somewhere else."

"Uh. Okay."

Dean falls on the half of the table actively ignoring Sam through all this, untouchably infuriating in a way that only Dean has ever managed. Play darts around the table another time and Dean loses another hand.

Well, fuck him, Sam thinks.

“Table stakes,” Motel Guy tries again, looking somewhere beyond Sam’s shoulder as he speaks. “Ante’s five if you want in. Don't cheat.”

Sam mumbles some niceties and sits. “Do you, um, have change for a twenty?” he asks.

There’s a ripple of laughter from eleven to three o’clock at the table (not Dean). Someone jibes, “Oh, we got a highrolla in the house!” but Sam gets his change and his cards. By the time he even looks at them Dean’s folded.

Again, ‘quickly’--not a term of art, but plenty descriptive. Dean folds on the next three hands, too, and all Sam can think is, Now they’re out $20. Dean’s basically giving it away. Sam knows that’s the game, and that Dean plays a long-ass game (it’s called “flow,” or so Dean says); but the way Dean plays poker is what Sam hates about poker.

Meanwhile Sam’s up about $3, and mostly impressed he’s stayed in this long. Compared to playing micro-stakes on his dorm floor, a $5 ante is a little terrifying; he only had the one $20, and he’s pretty sure that collectively, he and Dean are about his $3 away from not eating tomorrow. From not eating until they get to Colorado, and at this rate they're going to have to walk.

This is what compels him to call, on a 2-7 off-suit. He really, really doesn’t want to lose the ante.

The trouble begins when everyone else calls, too.

Dean raises. So does the guy after him. So does Sam.

By the turn, Sam’s essentially all in, and there’s still nothing on the table for him.

Dean raises.

The next guy folds.

Fold, fold, fold.

7 in the river, and Sam forgets about his poker face and breathes a sigh of relief. Dean has a 2-Jack, and the only other guy left in had pocket 3s. Nothing on the table.

Pocket Three gives Sam a respectful nod as he pushes the pot over. “Ballsy,” he says.

“Beginner’s luck,” says Dean, but he passes his beer down the table towards Sam. It’s full.

“Should calm you down some,” says Dean, and he winks.

Sam wants to punch Dean in his stupid winking face, but he takes the beer and he does feel calmer. He’s actually a much better poker player when he’s got some wiggle room; and even if most of that wiggle room is technically Dean’s money, it feels less like they’re courting disaster--even if "bet like idiots against each other" isn’t typically a strategy that works more than once.

And it's not Dean's usual. Which is why, as far as Sam’s concerned, Dean’s play defies description. The way the old wives’ tales go, you’re supposed to be able to know a man by the game he plays. Sam’s seen Dean play plenty, but that’s not the man he is.

Dean doesn’t believe that people have tells, for one. He’s gone as far as saying that unless someone’s got a gun on him, tells are bullshit. And Dean almost never lies about his hand in card games. He calls when he starts decent; raises when his odds are good. He’ll hustle pool until someone’s ready to run him through with a cue, but Dean almost always plays the world’s straightest game of poker.

Just as Sam's beginning to feel like he has a handle on the pulse of the game, he watches Dean's face shift into something completely indiscernible. Like if you'd smiled welcome with a mouthful of firecrackers.

"Look who we found," says a voice behind him.

Sam feels a hand plop down on his shoulder and for a wrinkle of time he imagines that it's Jerry, 703 texts and a roadtrip away from his morning's chem midterm.

"Roy!" Dean beams, firecrackers and teeth. "What the fuck are you doing here?"

"Well, after your call, we figured we should come say hi," Roy explains. He removes his hand from Sam's shoulder and shoves it back in his jacket pocket. There's another body standing behind Sam, he can feel it. But there's no danger here; this isn't about him. Roy, apparently, just touches people.

"Then I guess some beers are in order," says Dean, and when he excuses himself from the table, chips abandoned, Sam bites his tongue and follows suit. And they whiplash back to some separate set of circumstances.


--


Dean doesn't actually buy their beers. He hands a whiskey to Sam, and holds one for himself, and waits for Roy and the other guy to treat themselves. (A vodka well and a hard cider.)

"This is my brother," says Dean, and Roy toasts Sam.

"Roy," says Roy, gesturing at himself with his glass. "And this is Walt."

"So what are you doing here?" Dean asks again. He flinches as he hikes himself onto the bar stool.

Walt looks Dean from head to toe, says, snidely, "Why is it always something with you, Winchester?"

Sam's jaw goes tight, but Roy just talks over them. "Like I said, we got your call. Figured we'd come say hi. Catch up, shoot the shit--you know."

Whatever Walt sees in Dean, it's clear he has no idea what Dean looked like twenty-four hours ago, or even two. By Sam's metrics, Dean's doing great. It's like he's rekindled that burning obstinance that keeps him anchored--like neither the fog of drugs nor the shitstorm that is the rest of their lives has the power to beat it out of him right now. So maybe poker wasn't a terrible idea. Dean's in his element, knows what he's doing.

"So what are you doing here?" Dean asks again. No teeth, no firecrackers--at least, not visibly. In its repetition, the question warps from genial to deadly.

Which is also Dean's element.

It's clear the three of them aren't friends; what perplexes Sam though, is this resilient charade that suggests that they think they should pretend to be. Was it just sequelae of, at some point in the past, having to put your life in the hands of someone you hated? Was this what they thought professionalism looked like? What was the point?

Wordlessly, Dean switches Sam's whiskey for his own full one. He drinks what's left under Sam's ice.

"Timeshare in southern Idaho?" Dean suggests helpfully, because Roy hasn't answered his question yet.

"Sam, I heard you were at Stanford. I always thought something like that would be nice," Roy says instead, and sounds completely honest. "Good for you, man."

Roy's possibly the only person who ever told Sam that. The sheer cognitive dissonance keeps Sam silent, and he swigs Dean's whiskey instead. He feels lightheaded. He'd sort of expected to play Walt's role in this meet-n-greet--that is, barroom decor.

"Of course, we've heard some other things, too. Strange shadows; dead bodies," Walt adds, also outgrowing his decorative status.

Sam thinks those are big words for someone nursing a cider.

Dean takes Walt more seriously.

"Weird," says Dean. "Your un-curiosity was always one of my favorite things about you."

They're all seated at the bar, Walt Roy Dean Sam, so it's not like Sam had great sightlines on the two to start with, but by some magic of comportment, now Dean feels like a barricade.

"Easy." Roy waggles his hands. "We were just in Twin Falls; it wasn't no ride. And Mackie was a friend--that's all."

"Did you know Sara, then?" Sam asks, which is his own attempt at diffusion. The ripple of Dean's shoulders suggests he'd forgotten, yet again, that there was any Sara at all. It shakes him off his offensive.

Roy raises his eyebrows. "Sara? I mean, sure. Mackie's sister's a Sara."

Fuck. His sister. Of course.

"Have you told her what happened?" asks Sam.

Roy thinks about this, as though that step hadn't occurred to him. "Never could get her to give me her number."

"I wouldn't worry about Sara, though," says Walt. "She's her own breed."

"Hot, though," Roy says defensively.

"Well! That's an enigma wrapped up in--" Dean searches. "--you. Great talk, guys. I think we're done here."

Roy looks at his watch. "There's still time for a few games, right?"

Sam expects a venomous retort from Dean; Dean, who made such a show of not buying their drinks; who doesn't trust them; doesn't like them; and maybe wants to kill them. It's the only thing that makes sense.

But Dean accepts. He and Roy clink their fucking glasses together. And when they end up at a low table, swallowing other men's smoke and rimming the pot with pin after empty pint, there's none of that vitriol, which had been so potent only moments ago.

Roy deals, and when Dean takes his cards, he wants them. Sam can see the glisten in his eyes. The last time Sam can even remember Dean wanting something that badly was Dean begging him to stay. To not get on that bus.

Sam tries not to think about that comparison too much. Tries not to just shout, YOU DO NOT MAKE SENSE. THIS DOES NOT MAKE SENSE.

Because honestly, Sam doesn't get it. He doesn't get the dance of this game they've got going--the hate-tolerate of whatever Roy, Dean, and Walt have on each other. Sam knows you're supposed to leave your rivalries on the field, but the field generally doesn't extend all the way to the bar, only to stop twelve feet over. And he doesn't think people actually do that--the sportsmanship thing. How you feel about someone is how you feel. You don't just turn that on and off.

But what does Sam know. At this point he's lost track of how many of the empties are his own. Dean keeps sending his beer around to Sam every time Sam wins anything. He feels 80% water, 300% beer.

And Sam gets that Dean actually can’t drink them right now; and he gets that it’s suspicious, in this crowd, to voluntarily refuse to drink at the table. Whereas if Dean loses all his beers to Sam, it’s funny as hell. Or so Sam’s gathered, since every time Dean gives one up, the table erupts with laughter and Sam is forced to toast it.

Sam gets all that. In some context, this is probably strategic. But it's a stupid fucking strategy.

He feels like he’s gonna hurl, and honestly, he’s pissed about that, too. He’s gonna hurl, and they all like Dean for that. And if not for that, particularly, it obviously doesn’t hurt.

“One hundred,” Dean raises.

Sam’s stomach does a pirouette. How’d the stakes get so high? There’s only six guys in this game. (The four of them and their two new best friends, who loudly appreciated them as open carry's poster children. Fuck Idaho.)

Sam folds. Fuck the game and the bar and its beer and mostly, fuck his brother.

Dean’s got the pocket aces, but the river has a three, and Roy has three of a kind.

Things don't have to make sense.


--


Fuck his brother.


--


“I mean, cracked aces, twice in one night?” Dean says, as he pays his bar tab with most everything Sam has left. “That’s like, shattered mirror, black-cat-in-a-cemetery levels of--”

“I don’t want to talk to you,” Sam hisses. “And hurry up. I need to go throw up on your bed.”

“Hey, it’s your bed, too.”

“Has anyone ever told you you’re bad at poker?”

“I’m not bad at poker,” Dean says, which sounds deceptively simple--missing a witticism.

Sam’s staring at a wet patch on the floor, but he catches a movement in his peripheral vision and braces himself for a stomach-churning clap on the back. It doesn’t come--instead, Dean rubs a quick figure eight across his shoulder blades, ineffective but thoughtful.

“I'm sorry,” says Dean.

“For what?” Sam asks.

“Seriously?”

“Okay. For how much?” Sam revises.

Dean doesn’t answer immediately, and the clatter of the bar around them encroaches on Sam’s attention so fully he forgets he’s waiting for an answer. It’s all very loud, very bright, very warm.

“I don’t know,” Dean says finally, and his hand leaves Sam’s back. “Can you walk in a straight line, Flounder?”

“What?”

“Oh come on. Animal House? Once we get to a town with a video store, I'm gonna need to take emergency measures. This is like, the third movie tonight."

“No, I mean--what do you mean, ‘I don’t’--”

Then Dean’s pushing him toward the door, and Sam’s trying not to run over his own feet. Dean’s talking about cracked aces again, and black cat bad luck. Statistically, it shouldn’t happen--not to him, not in a single night at Bar None.

It’s not a bad beat; even in Sam’s dim recollection of Dad’s games with Caleb’s buddies, or Uncle Bobby--hunter games, where the pot’s always notoriously small--no one’d bat an eye. A couple hundred dollars? At Stanford it might even have been funny: Sam can picture Jerry laughing-crying as he ponies up. A couple hundred dollars is one month of working desk at the library, not even part-time; and if it’s all for bar money, well. Jerry’s got that midterm coming up, anyway.

But he and Dean won't have a dorm to retreat to, paid up through the semester. Their week's almost up. So for two more nights, they have a motel room. They have what’s left in the gas tank, and they have whatever singles Sam crammed back in his pockets. That couple hundred dollars was everything.

Minus the seven flat pastries Sam stole. They have those, too.

And that kind of inventory is not black cat bad luck. It’s just what happens when your apartment burns down, and your girlfriend with it. When there are damage fees, because you haven't paid enough already, haven't lost everything. It's what happens you find some kids, and your brother fries his heart to save them. And you and him, you gurney through those double doors, and there it all goes, because how much does it cost to keep your brother alive? To be told he’s only got a month? To let him keep the bed you don’t want to see him in, and the nurses he claims aren’t hot. Your shitty insurance goes in for 20%, your fake credit cards max out on the rest, your bullshit deductible. (If education’s such a racket, why does four months of law school cost the same as four days of dying?) ER fee gets waived, at least--like getting peanuts free when you sit down at a burger joint, except a hospital bed’s costs closer to a pound of flesh than a pound of beef. Reaper discount on the after-care, except for that one trip to the cardiologist.

But maybe there are some hidden fees there, too, because someone has to pay when you drive two thousand miles to avoid Nebraska--when you drink to forget it--when you hunt to absolve it. In Idaho, bax'aan are more bovine than equine, no matter what the lore claims. Remember that, or you’ll tear something spinning out of the way of their longhorn offensives. Blow your knee out. Or your brother will. Maybe you’re not different people anymore. If you can't understand him, it's not like you're doing any better figuring out yourself, you’re both screwed, after all, because there’s already a hospital somewhere in Missouri waiting on a monthly payment you knew you’d never make. HMOs are stingier than genies, and you, Sam Winchester--you can raise the dead, harness the power of small gods, and you’ll still never get three wishes. And now you’re out of backup plans, because no one stays lucky.

Sam faceplants into Dean’s neck when they stop suddenly, waylaid by--ah, yes. The door. The Bar None door.

Dean’s still rambling on about poker.

“I mean, tactically, we’re doing great. Long game, they’ll let us in tomorrow, no problem. Then we can really work ‘em.”

“Don’t have that long,” Sam slurs. “Now we gotta-- We got a day to kill this thing, and fix you, and find Dad, and--”

“It’s not that bad.”

“We’re working, and you got me drunk--”

Sam can't pull the door open. Dean says, "Push," but Sam keeps pulling. He just needs to pull harder, like Dean and that river and the bax'aan bearing down on them. He needs to pull--pull everything upward, pull Dean upward, pull his head out from under, pull their knife from that monster's neck. Sam just needs to pull.

"It says push, goddamn it," Dean insists. But he would, wouldn't he.

Dean would.

Dean shoves him hard against the door from behind. Sam's hands fly up to break his fall and the door pushes open.

“You got me drunk,” Sam repeats, just in case Dean couldn’t tell.

“I know, Sammy,” says Dean. “That was stupid of me. It was really stupid. I know."

"Are those bugs?"

Sam had expected to feel clearer once they got outside and the temperature froze the haze out, but there are little dark things sitting in the light above them. He stares until the bulb haloes, and Sam can see the reddish burn of it even under his lids.

"Those are bugs, Dean--"

Sam grabs Dean's shoulder to steady himself as he goes up on tiptoe. He wants--he needs--to see the bugs in full, every body segment articulated, each hairy leg a dead, translucent exoskeleton. He needs to see their timelessness.

Dean gasps. "Sam, stop--"

Sam bears down; he can almost see them.

"Sam, I can't-- Sam, fuck--"

The acuity of the dead bugs wheels away as Dean collapses beneath him, and with Dean goes any semblance of balance Sam has.

There's too much glass on the ground for us to fall, Sam thinks. We can't. Or they shouldn't, but they will. As usual.

There's shards, there's glitter, and full half bottles sticking up like trench spikes in the snow. All of which is less forgiving against skin than sole. Still, that wouldn't kill them, Sam thinks; it's fine. Maybe it'd hurt, but it's bar trash. It's nothing. Of course, arteries have a stupid way of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

A few days ago Sam killed a bax'aan with nothing but a knife and necessity, after all. And that bax'aan didn't even need to touch Dean to fuck him over.

That's the rub: The difference between life and death is just a bunch of little, tiny--

Sam coughs as Dean forcefully redirects their passage downward, and Sam's lungs slam against the wall. The bar wall.

That woman, Sam thinks. The woman from before, fucking that john right here. How'd she get home without shoes, and all this glass on the ground?

Dean's breath stutters against Sam's chest, and he moans. Are you okay? Sam asks, or means to ask, or would like to make his tongue ask. But maybe he doesn't, because Dean doesn't answer--just leans hard into Sam, and Sam's not even sure if Dean's keeping him upright, pinning him against the wall the way he is, or if Sam's the one keeping Dean up.

He feels each syncopated staccato as Dean's chest balloons with air, releases it, balloons again. Dean is pleasantly warm against him.

"Why do I always forget that drunk-you isn't fun?" Dean muffles into Sam's shoulder. Sam feels cold air slither between them as Dean begins to push away. Suddenly Sam panics, thinks don't go. Grabs him back. Fists the hem of Dean's jacket in one hand, its collar in the other. Holds Dean close and tight.

"Sam," says Dean. "That's not helping."

"Who are we even supposed to be helping with this job?"

"Sam."

Beyond them, the bar door swings open--Motel Guy. Motel Guy peers into the dimness, eyes slit against the wind and errant would-be snow, and he and Sam lock eyes. Motel Guy sees them, sees the both of them then, and quickly snaps away. Keeps his head down and gets walking.

Sam wonders if that's what he'd looked like, to that woman. If she'd opened her eyes and looked up and saw Sam looking away.

He wonders about her shoes.

Sam feels pressure against his thigh as Dean tries to extricate himself again--and does a poor job of it. Sam feels the cold and that woman and the clatter of poker chips, the buzz of the light above and Dean, Dean's warmth, Dean's weight, the dance of his lungs and maybe even his heart--and then he feels everything at once, and then Dean's hands ratcheting around Sam's shoulders as Sam's dick bulges against him.

Kiss me, Sam thinks. Wild abandon, he thinks. That's what this needs. Kiss me kiss me.

He's never needed that before, wanted it, but now he wonders why not. Now his desire is clear and urgent. Sam's drunk as hell, that much he knows, and everything's too slow too dim too buggy for wild abandon. (There's no bugs out now, it's winter--they've been skeletons in the light bulb for months, or years--)

But is it wild?

To not want to feel abandoned.

Disgust or delight: Those are basically Dean's options now, right?

Kiss me, Sam thinks. Don't leave me.

He imagines a thousand fractured details--the chafe of Dean's fingers against buttons, the sibilance of his own belt as it comes undone. And Jess with her hands at his throat, Jess in borrowed lingerie, because the borrowing was thrilling to her--it's a thing, she'd said (and how would Dean's hands feel on his cock? Thrilling? Cold as shit right now, probably, but maybe they're not here, maybe they're at home, wherever that is, maybe-- That woman from Rime (girl? woman) Rime without her shoes, with a hundred dollars in her hand because she doesn't trust it anywhere else. Mackie, blue and very very dead.)

He imagines Dean, tearing himself away from Sam, away from Sam forever. Glass in their palms as they crawl deeper into hell, separate and alone.

Chalk dust settling over Jess's breasts under the board in that study room, that one time, during midterms.

River silt flaky in Dean's hair. Air expanding his lungs (for now, for now, if only for now)

If Sam drops his pants he wonders if he'll see it--his blood and all its nightmare-weaving monstrosity, or fate coursing through his goddamn penis and fuck that should leave him cold--cold for life--but Dean pats his bulge and Sam's breath hitches. Everything feels like a knife's edge and then Dean, in neither disgust nor delight, says, "Dude, you have no idea how jealous I am right now. I mean, how much have you had to drink? And you're still--fucking--you can still--"

Dean grunts as he jerks Sam's waistband forward and down.

There's a blast of cold air--cold cold cold!--and Sam yelps.

Dean lets go of Sam's pants, Sam feels his unfondled erection wither, freeze away. Everything aches. It's fast and horrible.

Sam shudders. He's gonna throw up. That's not what he wanted. That's not at all--

You're leaving me-- out in the--

"You're a bastard," he croaks.

Dean just laughs. One swift, sharp "ha!" and then he's done. "You're fucking wasted, man," he says. "And you're going to hate me so much for the hangover tomorrow. I can't give you another reason."

"But I hate you right now."

Dean doesn't reply, just staggers his way through their tundra of glass and motions for Sam to follow. "Be careful, drunchie. You slip and fall, and I'll tell you right now, I can't carry you. Jesus, Sam! Stop that, I'm serious--"

Sam scowls dramatically, marches as deliberately as possible through the slush and onto the main road. He'd dance if he knew how, just to spite Dean. But he's feeling significantly more sober and significantly less warm, so he pulls his jacket tighter and opts to storm back to the motel as quickly as possible.

Given the way Dean keeps dragging him back onto the road, Sam's a lot more cold than sober.

The third time, Sam doesn't feel Dean grab him at all--just hears his voice from somewhere behind him. "Sam, wrong way," he says. But he doesn't divulge which was the right one. Sam has no choice but to wait for him.

"So what'd you do when you turned twenty-one?" Dean asks when he catches up. He sounds out of breath. "I mean, alcohol-wise. Did the cheerleading squad have to pyramid-carry you back home afterward?"

"Why does it matter?"

"Just--slow down and answer the question. Hey, I said slow--"

"I was studying for finals."

Dean chuffs, then coughs. "And your friends just let you? That's not what good friends do."

"Fuck you. I told them my brother gave me my first beer when I was eleven, so being legal hardly mattered. Which they understood, because they were good fucking friends."

"Whatever, man," Dean pants.

Silence falls snowy between them.

The next thing Sam knows, their motel is smack in front of them. Sam starts mechanically for the stairs, only to stop four steps up to turn to Dean, still at the bottom.

Dean's bent forward, arm braced against his leg as he sucks in air. He massages his other knee for reasons Sam recalls and then forgets and then recalls again. But for now Sam's forgotten, so he asks, "Are you okay?"

Dean rights himself. "Focus on the stairs. And I'm fucking serious, don't slip; pay attention."

They take one step at a time.

"Are you okay?" Sam asks again.

"I can't believe even drunk-you keeps asking me that."

But Dean's the one who trips on the last step. Sam grabs his arm just before he slides a hell of a long way down.

"Holy crap--" Sam gasps.

This is how they die.

It's not going to be some demon with some big plan. No, they're gonna take flight from stairs and they're not going to be ready for that.

Dean sighs as he regains his footing. Apparently he hadn't felt the same epiphany, because all he says is, "For the record, it was whiskey, not beer, and eleven-year old you said you wanted it."

Sam frowns. "Right, 'cause you're so into giving me what I want."

"My god, Sam. You're worse than a girl the morning after."

He bears down close, fingers brushing skin before they find Sam's pocket. They follow the cut of Sam's hip down to his pelvis, curling through the denim of Sam's jeans. Sam's breath catches, but Dean's just there to snake the keys. He exits quickly in favor of fiddling with the lock on their door.

Dean licks the frost from his lips as the door finally gives way.

"So are you going to kiss me at least?" Sam asks. His tongue feels thick.

Dean just pushes Sam into the room and onto their bed. There’s a cold flash across his ribs as Dean drags the laptop out from under him, making his shirt ride up. He feels hits boots pulled from him. Then Dean folds the coverlet over him, slippery and pungent with smoke.

That feels like a No. But Sam can't even see straight, can't tell what Dean's face is doing, what he's thinking.

"Well, are you?" he asks. Sam's not sure he can hear himself.

"Ask me when you're sober. If you remember any of this, then we'll talk," says Dean, which sounds suspiciously like a "Fuck no." Sam can't remember ten minutes ago, barely knows what minutes are. He's not going to remember anything tomorrow.

"I'm asking you now. I have to."

Suddenly Sam lashes out, makes a grab for whatever he can find of Dean. Dean must not have expected Sam's agility, because Sam's fingers close around thin cord--necklace, Sam thinks, amulet--and he yanks Dean toward him before Dean can even think about making his escape. Dean swears, and Sam hears the back end of him crash into the nightstand as he loses his footing. Dean grabs at Sam's back to anchor himself. His head presses against Sam's, but still he slides, until they end up cheek to cheek.

"I don't see how strangling me helps anybody," he says. But he breathes deep of Sam, grips harder. With every breath his lips feather against Sam's cheek. Not a kiss, not really, but it feels good.

"Sam, you gotta let me go."

When Sam doesn't, Dean croaks, "Seriously. I can't--"

He can't find his footing; he's hurt. Can't escape the necklace--Sam's holding its cord too tight to his own chest.

Sam lets go. Dean doesn't. He holds Sam, just a moment longer. Longer than he needed to, longer than he should have. He turns into Sam's cheek.

(Was that a kiss?)

Then Dean disappears. Sam holds his breath.

Dean pulls the rest of his body into bed, brings cold air with him. "Told you I wasn't going anywhere," he whispers, voice gravelly.

"No," Sam mumbles back. "No, you never did. You never promised."

He tries for his kiss again, but Dean pushes him back.

"Here's a promise," Dean says. "I'm not gonna let you do anything you might regret."

Sam tries again, feeling unregretful.

"That means no, Sam," says Dean, and rolls until his back is all that faces Sam.

But Sam tells himself it could mean anything.

Anything at all.


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