"Cas!" Dean started awake, the sound of his own voice and an imagined, feather light touch against his brow breaking him from rest. The disturbing memory of a dream skittering away to nestle itself in a dark corner of his mind until the next time his eyes closed.
He pulled himself onto one elbow and checked his room. No one else. Just himself and his inability to let go of... someone who could always make him smile.

Time for coffee! Unless his tired eyes closed on him before he could crawl out of bed and slip on some foot protection.

He ended up bare-footing it to the center isle of their spacious kitchen, pretty sure some monster under his bed had eaten his house shoes, taking a bar stool seat there and staring at the empty coffee pot for a good minute and a half. Willing the thing to fill itself with a hearty, medium arabica blend of bitter bliss.
Alas, it stayed empty and the charm of having himself a cup o' joe at... 4 or whenever drained away faster the longer he stared at the disappointing machine.

In the end, he slouched over to their industrial grade refrigerator, pulled out the creamer, poured himself a mug, and nuked it for a half minute. Counting the rotations until it made his incredibly tired brain spin and he had to force himself to inspect his fingernails instead. They could use a buffing.

Milk heated, sugar he was definitely not telling Sam about added, and he took a seat opposite where he had earlier. So he could keep an eye on the door. Or, at least so his back wouldn't be facing it.
Always felt weird when he sat with his back to a door. Even if he didn't know one was there when he picked the seat. Like something was gonna come around the corner and finally get that lethal jump on him.

Whatever. Milk time.

He nursed his drink, holding it between both hands and staring at the stainless steel range where he liked to cook burger patties. Mainly for himself, seeing as Sam preferred... other forms of food. Rabbit food mostly. Dean preferred the rabbit, but, eh, whatever, Stanford.
He looked around the half-lit kitchen, reading any words or legible labels he could without having to move. Not looking forward to what might happen if he ran out of things to occupy his unhappy mind with. He could feel thoughts, potentially even emotions flitting around in there and tonight wasn't even close to a great time for inspecting any of those bastards. Not if he wanted to be able to function tomorrow, and he already knew he had to.
Sam was home, after all.

When the extra sweet dregs of his turbinado lactose treat dripped out the ceramic mug and down his waiting gullet, Dean swallowed, realizing he was fresh out of things to do. Aside from maybe washing the cup, but damned if he was gonna get his hands wet this late at night. No thanks! Cold feet was plenty to contend with without needing to find something to dry icicle fingers on.
He could wash it in the morning.

As Dean slid himself off the stool, ready to resign himself to a wonderful night of roaming the bunker not sleeping, the seat next to his caught his eye. Giving it a good stare, he remembered that that selfsame bar stool had been missing a single foot piece when he and Sam'd moved in to the bunker. Unwilling to do anything too permanent to remedy the situation, Dean'd stuck a wood and linen bound reference book under the short leg and crossed his fingers that his giraffe of a brother would never notice.
He hadn't, so Dean just pretended the chair was in perfect condition and plain never sat in it. Also made sure it was at the least favorite seating at the island for a certain someone who really wouldn't be happy about sitting on a... hm, hundred-ten year old book on Rugaru, Their Hunting Patterns, And The Preferred Methods For Disposing Of Their Carcasses.

Dean snickered to himself as the stool canted, looking sad now that he'd taken the gift he'd so graciously bestowed upon it over two years ago.
"Don't worry, buddy," he said, giving the seat a pat, "I'll get this back to you. Before Sasquatch notices. Promise," he assuaged as he crossed his heart, retook his perch, and set the book on the island top. Ready for a little brush up on one of his least favorite job related creatures. Hell, he'd settle for flipping through a dictionary if it'd help keep his mind off...

The sigh that coincided with the opening of the ancient, surprisingly not dusty nor termite infected book was a pathetic noise, even to his own ears. A mix of frustration, utter exhaustion, uncertainty, and a dark tinge of mourning which scared the hell out of him. Which was exactly why Chapter One: A Taxonomy With Color Illustrations held his attention. Raptly.
He couldn't afford to look away. Even when his eyes felt dry enough that rubbing at them might abrade the inside of his eyelids and definitely not when the ghost of a winged shadow flitted at the skirts of his vision.

He'd been sleep deprived before. Knew that this was about the stage when reality and imagination started blending. Sometimes artfully, painfully well.
That starts happening; better to just keep your nose to the grinding stone and pour yourself another cup of... Right. No coffee.


The book wasn't as stuffy as he'd expected.
It was beyond what he'd been expecting.
Sure the drawings were uncanny, like they were gonna jump out the page and smack you over the head or something, but every sentence stretched on and on and on and once you reached the halfway point, you'd forgotten where you'd started.

Sam would have loved it.

Chapter Two: Solo Hunting Patterns And The Potential For Familial Groups.
Wow. That sounded nasty. Unfortunately, 'nasty' was exactly the kind of thing that kept someone in his line of work alive some days, so he skipped the last several pages of chappie one and skimmed over a few more things about Rugaru and how the monsters choose victims that'd put the fear of Chuck, er, God in most anybody.

Dean ended up actually learning something from that creepy, long winded dozen or so pages. But the following chapter completely lost him again.
Who in their right mind wanted to know anything about Identifying Sex, Potential Pack Role, Height And Build, And Majority Of Diet By Scat?
And who in their obviously wrong mind would wanna write about it in the first place?
Still, it was something to do, so he kept at it.

As Dean read words that he knew had Latin, Greek, French and Hungarian derivations but also knew he'd definitely never seen before in his life, he leaned more and more heavily on the island top. All those brand new ancient words weighing his head down in a way the mere thought of attending college had years ago.
Not even the advertisements of co-ed dorm rooms and no restrictions pertaining to alcohol in student living spaces had been enough to tempt him to those halls of higher learning. He'd already learned enough through hands on experience to get by as a hunter in a world of creatures that went bump in the night, and that was plenty for him, thank you very much.

Hadn't been plenty for Sam, for some weirded out reason. And definitely not plenty for their mom, as it turned out.
...Was it plenty for Cas? Dean couldn't help wondering, ignoring an unexpected wetness finally relieving his scratchy eyes as his head sank the last few inches and the century old book became a makeshift pillow.

Dean wondered whether this was sleep coming back to torment him further, or maybe, just maybe, let him get some rest.
Only one way to find out, so he let out a breath, ignored the feeling of a tiny bead of water running down one half of his face, and allowed the tension all his worry was keeping locked up in his spine to bleed away.
Within seconds, he was out.

Sam made a conscious decision to change his schedule after the passing and or misplacing of he and Dean's closest family members. Pretty sure that knowing that falling through rips in reality was a very real possibility would have disrupted his circadian rhythm anyway. At least this way he had control over how it changed.

Besides: Dean wasn't- He was taking it pretty hard.

Sam had been aware from a preternaturally young age that dear old dad had a drinking problem. He'd also been aware from the day he saw Dean enjoy his first beer that alcoholism all too often runs in families.
PSA on children's television. Pretty heavy add for a Saturday morning, but it'd helped prepare him for days of counting drinks and pilfering car keys and... generally watching out for things that might set off a bender.
Things like loved ones dying.

So, yeah, an out of the blue twofer? He had his abacus out.

To his surprise, Dean had been really good about it since the funeral. Which the elder had overseen largely while sober.
Sam hadn't seen him passed out on the furniture, not with the scent of alcohol wafting off of him anyway. He hadn't needed to remove all large casks of eighty year old scotch from the 'pantry', courtesy the Men Of Letters cook staff.
In fact, it was almost as if Dean was on someone else's best behavior.

Sure, he was obviously buzzed around thirty percent of his observable waking hours, but, for Dean, that wasn't outlandish for a kickback and relax weekend. Let alone...

Sam'd kept track of the six packs Dean brought home along with groceries from the market, and the bags of bottles and cans that he or Dean recycled, and judging by the weight of those bags, nothing over the limit was going down. Especially considering he liked to join in often as he could. Make it as obvious as possible that his older brother didn't have to go it alone. That he wasn't alone. That he still had his Sammy.

Besides: A cold beer and some melancholy company to commiserate after a terrible day? Sometimes, just what the doctor ordered.

So, no mysteriously vanished nor vanishing brandy or scotch, no secret midnight trips to local bars, and no daytime, non-food poisoning related barf sessions: kind of seemed like Dean had a handle on things, and if that wasn't a little off putting, Sam wasn't six foot four.
Which, when you think about it, was sadder than the fact that they couldn't take time off for a proper mourning period.

Although, no matter Dean's reaction, Sam'd been fully aware from the moment he'd heard his brother's blood chilling shout for Cas, back at that summer house, by the rip in dimensions which he still couldn't wrap his head around, that he'd be doing plenty of worrying. Plenty for the both of them.

Sam'd kept his, "Well, I'm knocking off,"s consistent, and had cut his bedtime routine down to bare bones. Getting himself into bed with lights out and tablet away a fair bit earlier than was his custom.
He didn't need an alarm to wake him a handful of hours later, when any decent human who worked a day shift would be deep into REM, when he'd slip on a pair of soft soled shoes and make a round of the bunker. Indulging himself in starting and ending each night's ritualistic, paranoia indicative roamings, in Dean's hallway. Just close enough that he could hear if anything was amiss, and far enough that his steps wouldn't wake the born and bred hunter. If he was indeed sleeping.
Though, Dean was rarely silent while awake, so Sam was fairly confident he wasn't.

This particular night, Sam waited at the mouth of Dean's hallway for a good two minutes, unable to peel himself away any sooner. Wishing that his older brother was more of a 'let's clear the air and just talk about it' kind of guy, rather than the 'emotions, what emotions?' kind. But, he supposed, at the end of the day, his taciturn way was just one of Dean's many charms.

Sam turned away from the hallway, suppressing a sigh and thinking the while that they were lucky the two of them communicated as well as they did. Sam and Dad's fights had been things of legend and the older he got, the more thankful Sam realized he was that the universe had given the brothers of the family Winchester the ability, however infrequently exercised, to use their words. Congenially.
In fact, he couldn't imagine Dean ever speaking at him the way their dad had on the daily.
He'd take overprotective over overbearing any old-


Sam stopped in his tracks, mind racing to keep up with his startled heart.
'Cas'? Could Cas be back? Was he- No. Cas wasn't standing at the foot of his brother's bed, doing his best impression of a horror movie villain. Not tonight anyway. How could he be? Cas was...
No, that was the unfortunately familiar sound of his older brother waking from a bad dream. Calling out, this time, for someone who he knew was very, very out of reach.

When he heard the rifflings which signaled, "Stupid- where are they?", yep, Dean looking for his slippers, Sam hustled it into the closest room with a door which he was positive his brother wasn't heading to: A small library off the main hallway.

He held his breath as he listened through the door and watched an obviously barefooted shadow pass in that little light underneath, not interested in being found out by a Dean he had no way to tell the mood of.
Nightmares usually made Dean less sociable, dredging up any number of a lifetime worth of horrifying and traumatic experiences which, as far as Sam knew, the older hunter had never spoken to anyone about.
Save him, and that barely counted. Partly because he'd gone through many of those same situations with Dean and therefor already knew what there was to know about them, but also because monosyllabic, stunted sentences punctuated by a shot glass hitting a bar shouldn't count as 'talking'.

Yeah. This was definitely one of those times when talking would be bottom of the list of things his older brother might be interested in, and considering the direction his plodding footsteps where headed, 'booze' just might be near the top.
One way to find out.

Sam gave it a good ten count before opening the beautiful, hand finished library door, re-closing it, and heading the long way around their house to the opposite side of the kitchen, nearer his own room. In case he needed to make a quick retreat.
He sneaked close enough to the doorway that he could hear the ticking of the old clock that hung in there, and kept his breathing quiet as possible. Forcing himself to refrain from scratching his nose when it started itching.
Yeah, sure, as the years went by he was growing surer and surer that Dean was a tad hard of hearing, considering some days it felt like his favorite word was 'what', but he was also keenly aware that the guy was bar none, one of the most deadly keen hunters on planet earth.
So, no scratching.

Wait. Was that the microwave whirring? Was Dean heating something in a mug without the smell of coffee permeating the entire lower level of the bunker?
Not likely. Unless it was soup. And the guy didn't feel like reaching the extra six inches to the right to grab himself a bowl.
But, no. No food smells either. So what in the world?!

Sam stopped himself from barging right in there to see for himself what it was Dean was preparing for drinking, knowing that was a good way to get Dean's dander up and fast. Instead, he leaned on his years of on the job training and listened harder.
He was adding... sugar? To not coffee. Hm. Then he was taking a seat and sipping whatever it was. Quietly. Since when did Dean do anything quietly?

Sam, feeling a vague twinge at the thought that he was basically eavesdropping, ran through a mental manifest of the contents of their fridge. Eventually, he narrowed down what the other Winchester could possibly've scrounged up that might warrant heating and the addition of sugar: Milk. And milk would indicate... Whoa.
That his brother- Dean Winchester, was trying to coax his body back to sleep. Sam never thought he'd see the day.
Or night, as it were.

Blinking through his perplexion, Sam found himself at a loss. When had Dean... matured? Why was he behaving so responsibly? What had possessed him to treat himself with more care than he'd treat an indestructible punching bag? Who- Who was Dean talking to?

Leaning his head closer to the doorway, Sam's heart climbed back down into his chest as he realized the one-sided nature of the short conversation.
Dean was talking to furniture. Great. And just when Sam'd thought his night couldn't get any stranger.
Oh, great. The sound of a book being opened. If reading off hours wasn't out of character for Dean, Sam wasn't a Legacy member of the Men Of Letters.
Then again, if the book had pictures, Dean could potentially be entertained for hours.

Right. Strike that. Wasn't in any way fair to Dean.
Seriously though: it'd been a rare day indeed when Sam had seen his primary caretaker pouring over any kind of book unrelated to their job. So what had piqued the interest of the most dedicated hunter he'd spent much time around?
Oh, right. It was probably that weird book Dean'd 'fixed' a lopsided stool by sticking it under the unintentionally short leg. Something about Rugaru And The Common Cold?
Whatever the title, it was something that even Sam himself had deemed worthy only of serving as an unused chair's prosthetic foot. So why was Dean taking the time out of his night to read it?

The answer provided itself in the form of a head setting down on about a solid pound of wood pulp and ink.
Like many a college student cramming before finals, Dean had studied until he'd passed out. Though, in this particular instance, Sam suspected that the falling unconscious part had been the intended outcome as opposed to some unfortunate, early end to a study session.

Sam stood there, waiting until he was sure what he was hearing was indeed the breathing pattern of a snoozing Dean, then, with great care not to scuff the wall or floor, he crept to the absolute edge of the kitchen and peeked in.

Yep. Out like a light. And no alcohol in sight. 'Course, Dean had chosen pretty much the worst possible place to pass out. Considering he wasn't twelve and had hated waking up from slouched over a table since an even earlier age than that. Always complaining at Sam for 'letting' him sleep like that when he knew it kinked up his neck something fierce.
Standing in the doorway, Sam grew closer to certain with every passing tick of the somehow still functioning, forties era kitchen clock that his ridiculous brother was not going to start awake and walk back to bed on his own. An intervention was needed, and he was just the Winchester for the job.

Turning from the -and he was never admitting this to Dean's face- adorable sight at the center island, Sam wracked his brain until the information he needed rattled out. He'd be riiight back.

With less than one minute elapsed time, he was back at the mouth of the kitchen, slippers that he'd remembered seeing kicked off in front of their den television in hand. Ready to coax a hopefully up for a little sleepwalk Dean into them and back to bed.

Being a hunter himself, and knowing his brother pretty well, Sam was aware that assuming Dean hadn't brought a weapon with him on his little late night run would be a very poor life choice. So he made his approach far more obvious, not bothering to mask the sound of his steps nor his breathing.
It would be both safer and more comfortable for all parties if the guy probably drooling by then on a seriously old book was woken by ambient noise than by an unexpected touch. Sam wasn't interested in stitching anything up this late at night, nor in needing to drive a town over for an X-Ray. Not for him or Dean.
So as he passed into the kitchen, he inhaled. Preparing to say-

"Dean?" And with the syllable, he stopped in his tracks, forgotten footwear falling from frozen fingers as he processed what he was seeing. Or not seeing.

Deciding panicking was usually a useless endeavor, Sam gave himself a beat in which to think.
Where was the most likely place to find his comatose brother, aside from where he'd just left him? Where could Dean possibly have been spirited?
Answer: his own personal bedroom.

So Sam quick walked it down the hall to the open door, one hand pulling out his phone in case he needed to start calling people.
Jody'd be disappointed if her's wasn't the first number he dialed. His thumb was hovering over her number though, so disappointment was gonna be the last thing on her mind if it turned out Dean wasn't... right there in his bed. Looking like he'd never left it.

Which didn't make any sense. Sam could either hear or see most anything happening, coming, or going from the kitchen from their den. Especially considering all the electronics were powered down for the night and there was no other significant source of noise in the entire deserted bunker.
Sure, he hadn't been watching the hall connecting the kitchen to Dean's wing, but his body was a fine tuned hunting machine and his mind was sharp as a well made tack. How could he have missed a lumbering, potentially sleepwalking, full grown human stumbling around in his peripheral?
Barely sounded possible.

Yet, there he was. Peaceful as a babe in a non flea infested manger. Sheets in place well enough that it looked almost as if he'd been tucked in.

Watching for one more incredulous minute, Sam decided the only thing for it was to chalk it up as a win and put himself back in bed for the night.
So, stopping off to do a quick tidy and recon in the kitchen, and finding no evidence of poltergeists, he did just that.
Thoughts of better tomorrows dancing in his head.

Dean stood at his range, searing a raw half pound of ham down into a quarter pound of breakfast, when he started to feel actually awake for the first time that morning. The smell of heaven on a grill tickling his senses alive and getting his metabolism going better than a cup of that coffee he had brewing up would in about three minutes time.

He took a moment to pull a mug down in anticipation, then grabbed another and two plates while he was at it. Knowing Sam would be just as hungry as he was after his jog or whatever it was the Sasquatch got up to these mornings.
The poor guy had looked sort of down the last... recently, understandably, and Dean knew a good start to the day was important for a growing hunter.
...Which Sam no longer was. Right. Then why the heck was he cooking for him? Damn, Sam had it easy!

Grunting as a bubble of oil spat on his bare forearm, he flipped the delicious slabs of pig flesh onto the breakfast plates and moved them onto the island to sit by the platter of fluffy eggs he'd already set out.
"Sam! Foods up!" He called, vowing to himself that he wouldn't wait up for the not kid if the food started getting cold.

Speaking of cold: Coffee time!
So he walked over to the machine and pulled the pot out from under the spout just as the last drops fell, poured out two mugs worth, and set those on the table by the steaming mounds of food. Fully aware there would be no leftovers once he and his Andre The Giant sized brother finally got his a-
"Sammy, food's gettin' cold!" Dean snickered to himself, knowing how much Sam disliked both being called by his childhood nickname, and being called multiple times for any given reason. Aside from someone's imminent death.
...Maybe he should just dig in. Stop thinking before he got himself in trouble.

As he reached for the back of a stool chair, he remembered that Sam liked to have a little greens with every meal and that, for some reason, the guy was never satisfied with green tomatoes in the breakfast scramble. So Dean walked over to the fridge, pinched something out of a translucent food bag, and placed it on the food at the designated 'Sam' place at the island table.


"Yeah, Dean. I heard you and I'm here. Huh," the stilt on stilts said as he paused in the doorway. "Smells good."

"You say that like you're surprised," said Dean as he pulled out a chair and sat down. Disappointed that Sam didn't look near as annoyed as he'd been hoping for.

"Heh. Is that tomatillo?"

"Hm? Oh, right. That's what those little suckers are called."

"You cook them without knowing what they're called? Does that sound just a little unsafe to you?"

Dean scoffed and forked a good bunch of egg into his mouth before answering. "We kill stuff we don't know the name of. Pretty damn similar if you ask me."
"'Sides, I know what they're called. Just didn't remember." Swallowing, he indicated the other place setting at the island.
"Now sit down and eat your breakfast."

With an amused huff, Sam sat and scraped his chair closer, giving his food a good stare before opening his mouth. "You put garnishing on this, Dean?"

"Yeah, so?" Dean said around another mouth of breakfast. This time a small speck of grease dripping at the corner of his mouth, causing Sam to wipe at his face in order to hide his mirth at the sight.

"Uh, nothing, Dean. It's just, where did you get-"

"Found it in the fridge. Now quit whining and start on your breakfast. Before the eggs congeal. And the tomatillo turns purple."

Really confused now, Sam picked up his fork and dug in. Wondering, as he cut a piece off of his ham, how in the world Dean could know the life expectancy of a green tomato but not remember the name for one.
He shrugged, figuring, life is full of mysteries. Like how Dean got to bed before he could walk back to the kitchen last night. Now that was one Sam would love an answer to.
Looking up with the intention of broaching exactly that subject, a strange site caught Sam's eye.
"Dean, why is there a feather in your hair?"

Dean reached up with his non-fork filled hand and pulled the little black feather from his head. Holding it in the light a good few seconds for inspection. "Dang. Pillow must've sprung a leak."

"Uh, Dean? Our pillows are filled with polyester fiberfill, not feathers. Same with the comforters," he supplied at Dean's intake of air.

"Well, how 'bout the beds?" Asked an older brother who was late to his next bite of pork.

"We replaced the old ones. Remember? These are-"

"Right, right. Damn heavy, but worth every ounce." Dean took a beat to fill his mouth once again.
To Sam's unending entertainment, The older hunter never choked on his food. Also spoke with impeccable diction, no matter the size of whatever he happened to be multi tasking his pie hole chewing up.
"'Sides: Someone could'a died on those ancient tick bags. Best to take them out back and burn 'em all. Just in case-"

"Their ghosts were, for some reason, haunting their old mattresses. I- heh, I remember," Sam said, barely holding back laughter revisiting the memory.
Dean'd refused to sleep on any of the perfectly preserved beds in the entire bunker until they went out and bought fresh mattresses and bedding sets.
Especially entertaining since Dean had absolutely zero problems with motel beds and had instead opted to sleep on one of the den couches. Even after Sam'd pointed out the blatant reupholstery job on one back panel that would likely signify someone having been either shot, or stabbed while sitting there. A much more likely place for a haunting than a well kept bed in someone's private quarters if you asked him.
But, Dean being Dean, hadn't budged and so they'd gotten the new mattresses, salted and burned the old ones, and once Cas had moved in they'd done the same for the one in the room he'd chosen. The job being considerably easier since Cas was an Angel and possessed certain divine powers which made moving heavy furniture a literal breeze.

Sam closed his eyes in a grimace as he realized where his train of thought had brought him, knowing that Dean's would have dropped him off at the exact same stop.
Moving only his eyes up from his plate of quickly disappearing food, he let out a breath as he silently wished that, just once in a while, he could be wrong about something.
But, no. Dean's face had shuttered, all good natured joking vanished in the space of a sentence. Perhaps the most worrying part: When Dean swallowed, he set his fork on the table next to his plate.

At the light ting the stainless steel prongs let out, Sam looked up, acting as if he had no idea anything was wrong.
"Done already?" He asked, calling Dean's attention to him and with it, getting a good look at his eyes. "Dean?" No need for acting when his voice came out concerned. "What- what's up? What's wrong?" A quick shake of a sullen head cut off anything more Sam might have said.

"Nothing. Just- just forget about it," Dean said with a sigh. Which felt wrong.
Sighing was Sam's thing.

"Okay," Sam said, a noncommittal head bob low key signaling that the chef was welcome to explain if he changed his mind.
If it was someone else sitting across from him, Sam might even have said something to that effect.
As it was, he directed the obvious majority of his attention back to his plate and loaded up another bite of well seasoned breakfast. Feelers out, just in case.

"I-" Dean started and stopped in a choked off stutter.

Sam raised his head, affecting a 'wrong tube?' eyebrow, giving his bro every out. Aware, as he watched Dean's hands bunch into fists, that pressure of any kind would get him another "Nothing" in a heartbeat.
When Dean looked somewhere close to his face and opened his mouth once again, Sam held his breath.
Could this be the moment he'd been waiting most of their lives for? Was Dean going to talk about something personal with him?
Not likely.

"I miss him Sam." Sam felt his mind do a double take. "I miss Mom too, but -and I'm sorry to say it- I knew Cas longer." Then Sam felt his eyes grow wider. "We knew Cas longer, and I- I-" Sam flinched ever so slightly as his brother slapped the table and shoved himself out of his tall seat. The sound of cutlery and stone wear rattling dying off as Dean gave a painful sounding huff.
"I can't sleep. Not right, anyway. I mean, sleep 'n' me've never been besties, but-" he bit off the last syllable, as if unable to continue, as Sam watched on in shock. Shock that he was hearing any of this at all. Shock that his brother wasn't sullenly excusing himself from the table to crank oldies out of one of the numerable hi-fi speaker sets the Men Of Letters had inexplicably been so fond of.

Sam tracked as Dean began pacing the space between his prized cooking range and the center island, looking as if he wanted to walk right out of his skin and forget everything that had ever happened to him.
A feeling Sam understood, but thankfully, had left behind for good some years ago.
He chastised himself when he came to the late realization that he should already have said something. And at the complete lack of... anything his mind was supplying him with.
He couldn't dredge up one thing, profound or not, to say. No words of comfort nor... anything useful. The great 'can't we just talk it out'-er struck speechless by his brother, of all people, being the first to breech a sore subject.
He'd never seen it coming.

"I just-" Dean stopped dead center in the open space, face pointed toward the ground, eyes barely visible but, even so, obviously very much filled with pain. "I miss him, Sammy," Dean said, head flicking back up when he realized what he'd called his brother. Shoulders relaxing after about a quarter second of eye contact; assured he hadn't offended with the name slip.
"Not having him here... it hurts."

Sam stared at his brother, still struck dumb by the admission freely given. Stared long enough for a pair of distraught hands to bunch and unbunch a good three times and for a hint of dejection to enter the mix.
He owed it to his brother to say something, because not doing so and soon- Uh-oh. There it was.
Him just staring like a guppy, not responding? Dean was starting in on an emotion that usually led to Sam not hearing the guy's voice for multiple days: Rejection.

Just as the older hunter closed his eyes, one booted heel lifting in anticipation of a swift exit, Sam cleared his throat. Motioning for Dean to take his seat the first move he'd managed in far too long.
When the only reaction was a waver ending in the boot heel coming back to flat ground, Sam opened his mouth, hoping he didn't choke.
"I think... I know the feeling." At the unclenching of a pair of fists, he motioned once more for Dean to sit.

"When Jess... died," he started, tongue stumbling in between words, "I couldn't sleep. Barely ate. Hated seeing happy couples. Or happy people, for that matter." He paused, wetting his lips and making sure Dean was listening before muscling up more.
"It was, uh, really tough. Suddenly not having her around. Not seeing her smile." Sam glanced down at his cooling, half eaten mound of food, then back up at the sound of his brother retaking his seat. Allowing a twitch of a smile at the small victory.
"Tougher though, knowing that..." Sam didn't like the way his throat felt when he inspected this batch of memories; tight and sticky and far too warm for comfort. "Knowing that I'd never get to share a meal with her again, never- never congratulate her on passing the bar, never... find out where our lives were gonna take us. Together."

"I forgot," said a Dean who sounded like his throat felt just as nasty. Hunched and closed off in his seat, but it turned out, hanging on every word. "Sorry. For your loss."

Sam didn't try to stop his short lived, sad smile at that. "Don't worry. All that happened, like, a dozen years ago. A baker's dozen, actually."


"Yeah. Still," Sam agreed.

"Guess we both have someone to miss," said Dean, pulling himself a little straighter in his seat and laying a hand on the table. Right near his forlorn fork.

"Multiple someones. At least we still have- y'know," Sam indicated the space between them. Then the bunker itself. Knowing how much having a place to call home had brightened Dean's outlook on... life.

"Yeah... That," Dean agreed. Waving a hand in a halfhearted attempt at mocking Sam's sentimentality. Ending the movement with a quick scrub at his own face. Conspicuously near the tear duct region.

Understanding and respecting the need for privacy regarding one's personal grief, no matter what his big brother thought, Sam had no interest in using those little lines of water trailing from his eyes against him. He didn't even mind pretending they weren't there, as had years earlier been tacitly agreed upon as being the correct response to this type of situation.
No exceptions.

Sometimes, he had a feeling Dean still saw him as that pudgy, petty, twelve year old he'd helped their dad raise.
Someone he had to shield from what evil in the world he could and who he had to be strong for. Couldn't show his insecurities to. Couldn't allow into his 'messed up' head space. Couldn't-


"Yeah, Dean?" Sam said, hiding all trace of surprise at his brother's soft tone.


"You're welcome." Sam let that sit until Dean finally filled his fork once more, then added, "Thanks for telling me. And... thanks for breakfast."

Dean scoffed, then popped the heap of eggs and ham into his mouth before responding. "Since when do you 'thank' me for anything?"

Sam couldn't help the guffaw at Dean's attempts to speak around an extremely full set of cheeks. Looking comically related to a chipmunk as he chewed without dropping a crumb.
"I guess, since now."

"Awesome. You got a helluva lot of thanking to catch up on there, Sammy," said while pointing at the hunter in question.

With a quirk of the mouth and an amused huff, Sam said to that the only thing he could. Relieved when Dean did the same right back.