Sam used to think that the way he loved Dean was killing him slowly, drowning him absolutely. How he felt when he looked at his big brother was suffocating, crushing like water in his lungs he couldn’t expel, not for a lifetime of trying. When he ran away to Stanford and could breathe just that little bit easier for the first time in forever, he thought that confirmed it: if he stayed with Dean he would surely sink. Living apart from him wasn’t much better – a lot like being lost out on the waves with no land in sight, no way home, adrift – but at least he had some air. It was the best he thought he could hope for.
Then Jess burned, just like Mom, and Dean saved him from the flames but the tide of him didn’t let Sam go. Sam was drowning again, even after all those years apart, after Jess – it hadn’t changed. If anything, it was worse. The two of them alone in the Impala, the hollow space in Sam’s heart where Jess used to be filling up just as surely as the rest of him, completely overcome by the impossible way he needed his brother.
Sam used to think that the way he loved Dean was too much, a flood, inescapable and completely out of control, and that it was killing him.
Then Dean reached for him with shaking hands, touched Sam’s mouth tentatively with cracked, desperate lips, and now Sam knows better.
Dean was never the flood; Sam didn’t drown because of how he felt for his brother. Dean was the air; Sam drowned because he needed Dean to breathe.
Dean’s hands in his hair and his tongue slipping into his mouth were the first deep breath of Sam’s life. Like being rescued from the stifling depths, Dean’s touch brought him back.
His lungs were finally full and Sam was dizzy and high with it. The first time Dean begged Sam to let him in, Sam was soaring, so far above the waters that had tried to choke him as long as he remembered. He writhed and tossed restlessly under his brother as Dean opened him up, and when Dean finally filled him Sam understood; it wasn’t that he couldn’t live with Dean, it was that he couldn’t bear to live without him. Like this. Together, whole, as indistinguishable as that same dangerous sea.
Years have gone by and Sam still can’t breathe quite right unless Dean has his hands on him, his mouth on his skin or his dick buried deep in the tight heat of the home Sam makes them. Sam gets shot and Dean takes pills thinking Sam won’t find out and when they’re together again in the Impala it’s still not enough; the close call, the throbbing wound in his stomach and the sickly colour of his brother’s skin, the darkness under his brother’s beautiful eyes makes Sam feel like he’s drowning again.
It’s not until they get back to the bunker and Sam has eased his brother back, sliding naked into his lap and helping Dean inside that Sam’s chest starts to relax, properly expand.
Dean exhales a breathy litany of ‘Sam, Sammy, baby boy couldn’t do it, not without you, Sammy’ as Sam settles, taking Dean all the way to the base, and he keeps his hips still to let Sam adjust. Their eyes are locked, pleading and thankful, and Sam can read their lives in the shifting greens that shine up at him.
Sam cradles the back of Dean’s head with one trembling hand, lowers his mouth to his brother’s, and kissing him, finally breathes, and comes alive.