Main Fanfic Site

by astolat

Dad made them stop sharing when Sammy was ten. "It's okay, Dad, I don't mind," Dean tried to explain. He didn't. Sammy was a pain a lot of the time, but not at night; even if he'd been whining all day, soon as they got into bed he went warm and snuggly and settled right down, and he didn't flail or kick or snore. And money was tight a lot of the time; a place with three beds cost more than a place with two.

It was just plain sense, so Dean didn't understand why something about the way Dad said quietly, "It's time you had your own bed," made him feel guilty and confused. Like he should have wanted one, and he was weird for not making a fuss. Sammy just stood at the foot of the two narrow beds in his t-shirt and shorts, looking wide-eyed and uncertain.

Dean said, "Yes sir," and added, "Thanks," trying to make up for whatever he'd done wrong, and climbed into the bed closer to the door without being told.

Now that Sammy was old enough to be left alone for a little while, Dad started to let Dean come along on the hunts, whenever he had a break from school. Over the Columbus Day long weekend, they went hunting a vengeful spirit a few towns over and didn't get back until after midnight. The lights were out, or Dad would have had some words to say, but when Dean stumbled into the bedroom, Sammy's eyes were wide open, liquid, reflecting the kitchen light Dad had turned on.

"Go to sleep," Dean said, softly so Sammy wouldn't get busted. Sammy's eyes closed, but about fifteen minutes after Dean had gotten into his own bed, and the lights were all out again, Sammy was standing at the side of his bed whispering, "Dean, Dean."

Dean slid over a little, and Sam climbed in with him. In the morning, even though there wasn't any school, they both bolted straight up in the bed and froze, listening. Dad was still asleep; they could hear him snoring on the other side of the paper-thin wall, and they both relaxed. Sam tipped his soft cheek against Dean's shoulder and yawned. "D'you get it?" he mumbled.

"Yeah, salted and burned it all the way," Dean said, stroking Sam's shaggy head. "C'mon, I'll make you eggs."

They didn't do it all that often. If Dad and Dean got back early enough, while Sam was still up, he didn't seem to need cuddling. Dean was kind of sorry, the times it had been a little rough out there. But vaguely he felt that there was something different about him asking, like maybe it was sort of babyish, so he never did. Dad always slept late after a hunt, so he didn't know about it, but it wasn't a secret; they weren't lying to Dad or anything. It was just, Dean didn't see why it was anybody else's business but theirs, as long as they got enough sleep and weren't going to mess up out there. Once he'd got that worked out in his head, anyway, he put it aside and didn't think about it too much. It was just something that they did, once in a while.

The summer after Sam turned thirteen, they couldn't at all: Dad took them to Pastor Jim's, where they slept in a big attic dorm-style room, three beds all in a row. With Sammy in a safehouse with another hunter, Dad felt safe taking Dean on a few longer trips, and they came back after two weeks in New Mexico to discover that Sam had decided to start growing. And growing. And growing. Dad had been getting a little stern about the puppy fat and making Sam run extra laps; now he scratched his head and said, "Sorry, kiddo, I guess you were saving it for a rainy day."

Sam miserably said, "Bnzugnh," and shoved his head back into the pillows. Aside from the training Dad made him do, he mostly didn't emerge from the attic except to eat. Dean and Dad and Pastor Jim all finished eating before he was half done, but it was okay, they all just sat around and watched him keep going. It was amazing, like a slow-motion train wreck or something.

"Man, you're like narcoleptic or something," Dean said, sitting on the edge of the bed to poke Sam. It was the middle of the day; Dad had gone ammo shopping and Pastor Jim was meeting with some of his parishoners, and he was bored. "Maybe dad should take you to a doctor or something."

"I'm not tired, it hurts," Sam said, and rolled over until he was sort of curled around Dean on the bed, and shoved his forehead up against Dean's thigh. "Like the flu."

Dean rubbed Sam's neck and shoulders, and then his back after Sam stretched out for it. When he tried to stop, Sam made a small whining noise, so Dean sighed and heeled off his boots and sat cross-legged on the bed just kneading Sam up and down with first one hand and then the other. That was what he remembered from that summer, afterwards; the week-long hunts, and the long lazy hot afternoons, helping Sam grow up.

At Christmas break, Dad brought Sam hunting with them. Sam had been on day-trip hunts before, but never front and center; he'd been the backup in the car, with the English and Latin books opened to critical pages; with the holy water vials and rock salt shells in neat rows, like he could keep them safe with organization. But since the summer, he was almost as tall as Dean and he could handle the recoil from a shotgun; so Dad took him into the woods with them, one unnecessary word to Dean on the quiet to watch out for him.

He crawled into bed with Dean that night without even asking, or tried to. A twin-size was pretty small for Dean these days to begin with, and now Sam was all long poky legs and elbows instead of small and rounded. Once he was in, there was a lot of wrestling and squirming and lurching on the edges where they nearly fell off, both of them desperately trying to be quiet, freezing in place every time the bed squeaked angrily. But finally they ended up curled together on their sides, Sam protected in the curve of Dean's body, Dean's ass jutting out over one side of the bed, Sam's knees on the other, and they both went out like a light.

Sam got his first girlfriend the next year, a little late but better than never, Dean thought at first. Then Sam confused the hell out of him by turning prissy, refusing to discuss how far along he was towards home base, and yelling when Dean couldn't remember her name. Dean had a new name for her in a couple of weeks: Bad Influence. Sam started bringing home report cards that were nothing but straight A-pluses, all down the line, and throwing fits when Dad wanted him training instead of wasting his time on something stupid like soccer or basketball, all because Bad Influence wanted a boyfriend with a varsity letter, like they were even going to be sticking around that long.

Then it got really bad: they moved, none too soon far as Dean was concerned, and Sam kept calling her. They were two states away and Dad hadn't paid for long-distance service from the house, so Sam got a part-time job after school at the library and turned all his money into phone cards that he spent there, squashing himself into the cramped pay phone booth. Sometimes he was there until late, after the library had closed up and everyone had gone home and the parking lot had emptied out. He wouldn't let Dean get him hooked up with another girl, even though Dean tried and found three in Sam's dating zone, all of them hotter than Bad Influence, at least in Dean's expert opinion.

Dean was getting seriously worried and thinking about talking to Dad about it, even though that was kind of breaking the brother code. Then one night he twitched and pushed himself up in bed: Sam was standing silhouetted in the doorway, and for a second Dean thought—something's happened to Dad—and then Sam came in and shut the door and sat down on Dean's bed and whispered, "Mina broke up with me."

"She what?" Dean said, indignantly. "Man, I knew that chick was bad news."

"Don't," Sam said, rubbing his hand across his eyes. "It's not her, it's us, it's Dad, it's this—nobody lives this way, I'm so fucking tired of it—" and he was crying, quiet but for real. Dean pulled him down and wrapped up around him as best he could, because that was all he knew how to do. Sam didn't really stop that night, just sort of cried himself out into exhausted panting, and went limp finally in Dean's arms.

Dad caught them that way in the morning. They'd both overslept. "What is this?" he said, standing over them, frowning, and Dean felt something shocked and ashamed jump in his belly, like he wanted to pull the blankets over them and hide, even though—they hadn't done anything. He knew by now what Dad was frowning about, but Jesus, it wasn't anything like that, he was in his shorts and his t-shirt and Sam was still in his jeans, for Christ's sake, and he opened his mouth to tell Dad so, and Sam said, "Fuck you."

Dean double-taked over at him, and Dad looked startled too. Sam rolled up off the bed and stood all the way up in front of him, and for the first time Dean realized Sam had gotten taller than Dad, with broader shoulders even if he was still skinny, and Sam had his fists clenched and his face was flushed red and printed with the pillow-seams and angry. "Fuck you," he repeated. "You don't even care. You want us to be useful and do what we're told, and long as we do that, you don't care if we're happy, you don't care if you ruin our fucking lives, long as it doesn't get in the way of your goddamn fucking stupid crusade—"

Dad slapped him once, hard, across the mouth. Dean was sitting up, shocked, and he flinched at the crack. Dad had smacked their asses for them if they got too out of line, as kids, but that hadn't happened in a long time, and for a second Dean thought Sam was going to take a swing back. Dad looked like he thought it too, and his hands were tightening up—Dean got ready to jump out and get between them.

But Sam just stood there a second with his hand pressed to his face, shoulders heaving, and then he straightened with his lip already puffing up and looked Dad in the face and said, low and terrible, "You can hit me all you want, doesn't make it not true," and Dean had no clue what to do with that, and he saw from Dad's face that he didn't, either.

Sam spent the next two years being a pain in the ass.

"Come on, we've got cable for once," Dean said, shoving his shoulder as he dropped down onto the couch. "South Park's on, man, this stuff's awesome."

"We've got cable because you're stealing it from the upstairs neighbor's wire," Sam said flatly, and scraped his pile of books into his arms and got up. The apartment they were staying in only had two small bedrooms off the living room, with one low-watt lamp in each one, so he didn't have anywhere to go, but he took himself over to the table and hunched over the books with his fist up against his ear.

Dean rolled his eyes and popped open his bag of Cheetos and turned up the volume, figuring Sam would get lured over after a while.

He didn't. He was still at the kitchen table when Dad came in a few hours later, with a couple bags of groceries. Dean looked up. "New card come in?"

"Yep," Dad said. "Two of 'em." He tossed one across the room to Dean: Jacob N. Hyde. Dean grinned and pulled out his wallet to slide it in. "You boys feel like helping me work up some pancakes and bacon?" Dad took out a half-gallon of orange juice and put it down on the table in front of Sam: Tropicana, the good stuff he liked.

Sam grabbed his books up again and stood. "I'm not hungry," he said. "I'm going to the coffeeshop."

"Sit down," Dad said. "You're going to eat, and then you're going to get an early night. We've got a job tomorrow, and I need you boys sharp."

"I'm not going," Sam said. "I've got studying to do."

Dad's jaw tightened.

"What's the job?" Dean said, jumping in. They'd come mostly because people kept disappearing from the rest stops in a neat twenty-mile radius around the place.

"It's a nest of arachnas," Dad said. "They're set up in an abandoned factory twenty miles outside of town. They take people back there to feed. This is more important than a school assignment, Sam," which made Dean wince.

"Whatever you want to do is always more important," Sam said. "I already made plans to meet people at the library for study group."

"Any hot chicks?" Dean said.

Sam rolled his eyes at him. "To actually study, Dean!"

"Man, you're a disgrace," Dean said.

"Yeah, I got that," Sam said, bitterly, and shoved past Dad and out the door. Dad's hand twitched almost like he wanted to grab Sam by the arm, but he didn't.

The next day, Dean went out to the factory with Dad and spent seven hours hunting down and killing the arachnas and squashing their eggs. "Okay, that's gross," Dean said, when they finally got into the back of the nest and found the half-digested corpse of the last victim along with another twelve fresh and pulsating egg canisters. He squeezed out accelerant onto the whole mess of it and tossed in a match. While it burned, he and Dad stayed outside, splashing water on their faces and hands from the dirty but still trickling faucet in the wall. It didn't really get the spider-silk crap off, that was going to take vaseline and a lot of scrubbing.

Dad sucked down a few gulps from his canteen and held it out. Dean grabbed it gratefully. His mouth tasted of smoke and the sour birdshit smell of the nest. He rinsed and spit a couple of times before he took a swallow. "Tell me again why Sam got out of this?"

Dad sighed and rubbed his hand over his forehead. "He's too old to drag."

"He'd have caved if you made it an order," Dean said.

Dad didn't say anything a while. The fire inside the room kept crackling, with loud microwave-popcorn bangs as the eggs burst. Finally he said, "Son, you can't order a man if he's not willing. Short term, you can punish him, but that doesn't work forever, and the more you use it, the sooner it stops working. The two of us could handle this job, and Sam knew it. If I tried to make him on this, next time it's something we really do need him for, something maybe he doesn't know about, he wouldn't trust me that he really had to come, and maybe he'd make that the time he bucks a direct order. Because he sure as hell is building up to it." He held out his hand for the canteen again.

"Whatever," Dean muttered. He was hot and sticky and pissed-off, and more so when he got back to the house and Sam was back too, sitting at the table, clean and dry, with a big mug of coffee. There wasn't any left in the pot, and the can was down to scrapings. "You should've come, it was awesome," Dean said, rubbing his websilk-tangled sleeve off on Sam's floppy hair as he went by.

"Goddammit, Dean!" Sam yelled, batting at him, and Dean cheerfully wiped his other arm off too. Sam shoved him back. "Quit being a jerk."

"Better than being a little stay-at-home bitch," Dean said, a pretty reliable insult for getting Sam up and into a scrap. He was tired, but he was still on the adrenaline buzz, and he kind of wanted to get Sam out back and rub his face in the dirt a while.

But Sam just pressed his mouth tight and turned away, hunched angrily over his books. His hair was jutting up into three sticky clumps. Dean tried to enjoy that, but he mostly felt tight and frustrated, irritation churning in his stomach. He showered and lay down, and woke up around three in the morning vaguely aware something was wrong. Sam's bed was empty and the sliver of light under the door was still gleaming. If he listened hard he could still hear Sam's pen scratching away.

"What the hell're you doing still up?" Dean demanded, squinting his way to the fridge for the orange juice. He noticed Sam had gotten over himself enough to drink half the carton.

"Working," Sam said, shortly. There was a neat stack of handwritten pages next to him, and now he was doing math equations.

"Whatever," Dean said. "Waste of time, dude."

Sam paused and then he said, "Don't you want something better than this?"

Dean put down the carton. The juice was sweet and tangy in his mouth, stinging on the bruise he'd picked up earlier. He swallowed. "What the hell's wrong with this?"

Sam didn't say anything. He bent his head back down over his textbook.

It was a warm night, but Dean grabbed the blanket off Sam's bed as he went by and threw it on top of his own. He felt kind of cold.

Sam kept right on being a bitch to him and Dad both. Dean started getting pissed off back, and the two of them sniped over meals, sparred with a little extra edge that meant they walked away with black eyes and bloody noses more often than not. Dad yelled at them a couple of times, and then finally he hauled Dean off and said, "What the hell are you doing?"

"He's goddamn asking for it and you know it!" Dean said, kind of desperate, willing Dad to do something, fix this.

Dad said, "Goddammit, Dean, he's sixteen years old. He's mixed up and spun around, and he doesn't know which way he's going. He'll get over it and settle down, just give him time."

Dean stared at him. It was the first time he'd ever heard Dad say something straight-up stupid, and he wondered for a while if Dad was just saying it to make him feel better, if maybe Dad thought Dean was too stupid to get it was a lie, and then he had the sinking realization that Dad really thought that it was true. Sam was the furthest thing from spun around. Sam had a roadmap and a destination and a full tank of gas, and he was just waiting for the key to the ignition.

It was autumn of Sam's senior year, and they were living in a cabin way out on the edge of town, in the woods, with mosquito netting in the windows instead of glass, so the nutty crisp smell of dead leaves came in all night with the cold air. Sam came home quiet and not a little bitch for once, and when they'd called it a night, out of nowhere he crawled into Dean's bed. But he didn't stop there. He slipped his hand under Dean's shirt, onto his belly, tentative. Dean shoved him out of the bed with a heave. Sam yelped and thudded down.

"What the hell is wrong with you?" Dean said, his heart pounding, and Sam said, from the floor, "I got my SATs back."

Dean didn't need to ask how Sam had done. There was something in his voice, begging and triumphant all at once, as much as saying, it was on the table, everything was on the table, if only Dean would—like he thought Dean wanted that, like it was a bargaining chip that could make Dean come on the road trip with him.

Dean shut his eyes and rolled onto his side, and Sam crept back into the bed and snuggled up behind him. Dean lay there with Sam's breath on the back of his neck and Sam's arm over his waist and Sam's knees tucked into the backs of his own, cold air biting outside and warm warm warm everywhere around him, and it occurred to him that Dad wasn't being stupid at all. There were just some things it hurt less not to know.

It was a relief when Sam finally left. It happened two weeks to Labor Day: Dad had just announced they were going to Baton Rouge. Sam announced he was going to California. Dean sat on the front porch and winced his way through the fight inside, and when it was over he took Sam to the depot and smacked him upside the head one last time before Sam got on the bus. And then he went back to the motel, and the room was quiet, and Dad rubbed a hand over his face before he looked up and said, "Well, son, we'd better get going."

Dean said, "Yes, sir," and it was easy, the whole hunt. It was easy all day long, and at the end of the night they had themselves a quiet companionable beer-and-burgers dinner at the local joint.

Dean didn't miss Sam. He didn't miss Sam at all. Sam hadn't been that missable for a long while, and he'd topped off being a twerp with being an idiot. Dean just didn't get how anybody could walk away from this, from the truth. It was like standing in the middle of the interstate and shutting your eyes, and pretending that because you couldn't see the eighteen-wheeler coming, it wasn't going to flatten you to the ground. Somebody that stupid, he didn't want to know. All he missed was the idea of Sam, the kid he remembered, who used to look at him wide-eyed and treat him like a hero. The sooner he got that fantasy pried out of his head, the better.

Then he came in late one night in November, wet and cold and stumbling-asleep, two banshees down and a twisted ankle to show for it. He was shacked up in an empty unheated ski lodge that week; Dad was down in Arkansas. Dean managed to get his boots and his mud-soaked clothes off, and then he crawled into the bed and said muffled, "Sam, get in here, will you?"

He heard himself say it and shocked wide awake, his throat squeezing tight. He took two fistfuls of the blanket and held on.

The Sam he got back four years later, like a stretched rubber band snapping back into shape, wasn't the same one who'd gone away. He was still uptight and prissy and bitchy, especially if Dean made a little effort and provoked him for the amusement value. But he slotted into the empty place at Dean's back like he'd been made for it, and all the high of hunting, of putting in a good day's work and taking the bad guys down hard, it was ten times better all of a sudden, a kind of teamwork Dean hadn't ever had even with Dad.

Afterwards, after Jess, Dean almost wished he hadn't had that one hunt with Sam—that one chance to see who Sam was when he was happy, when he had the life he wanted out in front of him, his straight shining road. It was a stupid life and the road was a mirage, but it still sucked like a Hoover to have the point of comparison, so Dean could know in painful detail just how fucked up Sam was now, and know that the anger and rage that kept lashing out at him weren't about him half as much as they were about the girl who'd burned up on the ceiling.

It was a long while before Sam pulled it together again, and typical that what actually got him over the worst of it was Dean nearly getting toasted. The night Dean checked himself out of the hospital, he lay in the motel bed taking careful shallow breaths, wondering how long it was going to be before his body just up and quit on him.

"Dean?" Sam whispered.

Dean didn't answer him; he was too tired to make his mouth move. The bed sagged after a minute and Sam was in with him, moving as cautiously as if he was still a ninety-pound twelve year old and there was any way in hell he could get in without Dean noticing. Dean still didn't say anything, and Sam curled close and then he put his hand on Dean's chest, spread out wide over Dean's heart.

Dean couldn't get enough breath to speak, didn't even really want to, not when Sam was saying things there weren't words for, just by lying there quiet next to him. Dean was scared a little to die, scared a lot to leave Sam on his own without Dad or anybody to look out for him, but inside he was still full of something stupid, happy at least for a moment.

That feeling came back choking him, twisted around inside, while he looked down at Sam lying on the mattress in front of him, limp and empty, gone. Dean just sat by it watching, like maybe if he stuck around long enough Sam would draw the rest of that last breath and open his eyes. Once in a while he crept over and almost got on the mattress with him, almost touched Sam's face or his hand. But as soon as he got close it was too easy to tell Sam wasn't there anymore. Sam was cold. And Dean was scared when he got in the car, scared so fucking bad, Hell in the back of his mind like every nightmare he'd ever had of fire and pain and losing everything, but Sam was gone, not just across the country doing something stupid, so everything was gone anyway. There wasn't much left to lose.

The year after that went so fast it seemed like Dean was holding Sam's body in the rain on Monday and hearing the first howls on Friday. He was cleaning a gun, and the low wild hungry sound of it leaked in through the door and the windows like a police-car siren, long and knife-edged and whistling. He couldn't move while he was hearing it. He just held still and hard with his hands clenched tight on the parts, staring down into the guts of the pistol, and tried not to let anything show. When it died out, he looked up and found Sam staring at him. "Hey, hand me that box of tissues," Dean said, and made his mouth smile, even though it felt like a sticker someone had taped on his face.

Sam went out a little later and got them dinner, beer and fries and burgers, rare all the way through, juicy and dripping. Dean ate every bite, humming with pleasure, licked his fingers after and took the second beer Sam handed him. "Man, that was good," he said, and belched. "Listen, I'm going to go out, hit that bar we saw down the road—"

"Dean," Sam said, and oh hell no, Dean didn't want to have this conversation. He said as much, and Sam said, "No, no conversation, I just—look, I've let you have your way pretty much this whole last year, haven't I?"

"Yeah, I guess you have," Dean said. Sam had been a pretty good sport once he'd quit fighting the inevitable, six months in, when he'd finally wised up and shot that Ruby chick and given up trying to find him a way out of the deal. "Man, those twins in Duluth—"

"Yeah, Dean." Sam rolled his eyes, but he was smiling a little too. "So listen, I'd kind of like to have my way tonight, okay?"

"Yeah, all right," Dean said. "So what are we doing, we gonna watch Masterpiece Theater and braid each other's hair?"

"No," Sam said. "Let's just—lie down early, okay?"

"Well, you're a boring date," Dean said, but he wasn't slow about heeling off his boots and shucking his jacket, because he knew what Sam meant. Sam crawled in with him and curled close, next to him and around him, head pillowed on Dean's shoulder and his nose pressed up against Dean's neck. Dean petted Sam's head, feeling drowsy and heavy already, warm all the way through, and it was worth it. It was worth it to be feeling like this again, everything in place.

"Dean," Sam said softly, "I love you."

"Dude," Dean said, and shoved at Sam's shoulder. It was kind of weak though, he didn't have the energy to really put anything behind it.

"No, you're gonna listen to me for once," Sam said. "I love you, and I want you to know that. I want—I want you to remember, after—" and Dean tried to sit up and look him in the face, but he couldn't make it up off the bed.

"What the hell did you do," he said, and tried to shove at Sam again, but his arms wouldn't fucking work, he couldn't—

Sam pushed himself up, over him, and looked down. He seemed weirdly far away, a fuzzy glow around him. Dean tried to grab for him and missed, his hand flopping against Sam's arm like it was made of rubber. "I'm sorry," Sam said. "Dean, listen to me. I've seen the way you look at me, I know you've been worried—"

"No," Dean said, "no, no, Sammy, no," and tried again.

"Shh," Sam said, catching his wrist and pressing it gently down to the covers. "Bobby'll be here when you wake up, I'm gonna call him first—"

"Sam," Dean said, thickly.

"She couldn't bring me back all the way, Dean," Sam said. "Part of me didn't, the part she couldn't get at, the best part. It's—it's been hard, Dean. I didn't notice at first, but it—no, don't—Dean," and Sam pushed him back into the pillows. Everything was darkening around the edges, Dean's eyes wouldn't stay open. "I love you," Sam whispered, soft, against his cheek, and brushed a kiss over Dean's gasping mouth. "I love you," and then he was gone.

It was the howling that woke him, brought him clawing up and out of sleep, desperately. Dean hadn't ever thought he'd be grateful to hear a hellhound. He was still sick and groggy, and he couldn't make his hands work. He managed to call Bobby on the fourth try, and then couldn't talk, just made choked incoherent noises, said "Sam!"

"Dean," Bobby said, "Dean, I'm on my way, don't do anything stupid—I don't know what he's done, he didn't tell me anything—just wait there and—" Dean dropped the phone and staggered out of the door, in sock feet and t-shirt and jeans, stumbling and flailing. He shoved a couple fingers down his throat and bent over and made himself throw up as best he could, bringing up a mess of half-digested burger that stank, and then he fell against the car and pressed his cheek to the cold metal of the hood.

The car was here, so Sam had to be close. It took him a while to get that worked out in his confused head, and longer to struggle across the parking lot, stumbling down to skinned palms and knees over and over, until he was on the street to look around. There wasn't anything around except other motels and the roar of the highway, nothing except a low concrete slab of a chapel, with the windows still lit up, halfway down the strip. Dean broke into a shambling run, trying to let his muscles remember how to do it without his brain.

The hellhounds were out, following after him, low hot panting breath. They were keeping back just a little—he wasn't fair game yet, but they were waiting, following, with their long red tongues lolling out of their red mouths, so pitch black they were part of the night, red eyes the only thing glowing. One of them yelped loud and jumped at his heels, snapping; Dean jerked forward involuntarily and fell onto his hands and knees again, half-crawled the rest of the way through the doors.

Sam was up at the front with a minister or something, a tall blond-haired woman, both of them standing before the altar with its candles lit. It didn't look like a spell or a ritual or anything special, he was just talking to her, arguing, "It's not right. It's not—Dean never—he's saved how many people's lives? Me and Dad, we wanted revenge. He's never wanted anything except to stop these things, take care of the people he loves. He was never out for himself, he never asked for anything for himself— It's not fair. He can't go to Hell because he loves me. That can't be right. That can't—he never asked for anything—"

And the woman said gently, "Sam," in a familiar voice, and Dean started trying to blink his eyes clear, to rub them, hauling himself along by the pews—

"Please," Sam said. "She didn't even keep her end of the deal—she didn't bring back all of me, she didn't bring me back right. It can be broken—"

"You know what it means if it's broken," she said. "You can be made whole, Sammy, but you know—"

"Yeah," Sam said softly. "I know. Please."

"No," Dean said, staggering forward. "No, please—Mom, please don't—" and she turned and smiled at him, with eyes shining and wet, and she said softly, "You could have asked," and then she turned back and reached out and touched Sam's face.

For a moment both of them were there, blazing up to incandescent white, and then she was gone, and Sam was standing there wavering like a tree in the wind, ready to fall. "No," Dean said, and was over by him, catching him. "No, no—" and he was in a dark wet field again, covered with Sam's blood; he was on a dirty linoleum floor, smell of smoke from the candles that had gone out, trying to keep Sam's warmth in under his hands, and the hellhounds weren't at the door anymore, but he was in Hell anyway.

"Dean?" Sam said, and Dean said, "Sam, you goddamn asshole, I'm not going to let you, I'm not," and Sam said, "Dean, Dean," and wrapped his arms around Dean, and Dean clung to him and sobbed into Sam's shoulder, just flat-out cried, and Sam stroked his head over and over, and after a while Dean just fell asleep in his arms right there.

He woke up in the motel room, band-aids on his knees and hands, Bobby and Sam Sam Sam sitting at the window talking in low voices, and when Dean made a noise and struggled up, Sam looked over at him, with eyes clear as sunrise, and came over and said softly, "I'm here, Dean," and Dean said, "Yeah," and punched him flat.

"Uff," Sam said.

Bobby got up and picked up his jacket and said, "Guess my work here's done," dryly, and came over to clap a hand on Dean's shoulder. "See if you two can manage not to make any more deals with demons for a year maybe, how about that."

"Yeah," Dean said, and Sam pulled himself up from the floor and gave Bobby a hug that made him cough and look embarrassed before he left. Sam turned back after the door had closed, and Dean said, "Don't even think about it, bitch, I'm still pissed at you."

"Dean," Sam said, "Dean, I had to. There wasn't anything I wouldn't have done to save you."

"And that's what you picked?" Dean said. "Dying?"

Sam was quiet, and then he said softly, "I'd have done worse, Dean. A lot worse. Ruby wanted me to. You wanted to see me leading an army of demons? That the kind of life you wanted to buy for me? Either way, Dean, I was going to be with you in the end. One place or another."

Dean looked away. Sam sat down on the bed next to him and put his hand on Dean's knee, over the sheets. "We're alive, and neither of us is going to Hell. How much more do you want, Dean? You that scared to keep living?"

"I don't goddamn want to die, quit putting words in my mouth," Dean muttered, and rested his forehead against the heel of his hand. He had a fucking headache from whatever Sam had doped him with, and they were okay for now, but everything was going to start again, and one of these days Sam was going to get himself killed again, and then—

"Hey—hey," Sam said, cupping his face. "It's not going to happen like that, Dean."

"How the hell do you know?" Dean said. "Maybe if we just shack up somewhere, a cabin or—"

"No," Sam said gently. "We've got a job to do, we're going to keep doing it. You wouldn't be able to hide from it, Dean, not forever."

"Great," Dean said, "so then it's just—" He shut his mouth and shut his eyes, because goddammit, he knew he ought to be happy, he was happy, but it was all still there, everything that had sent him to that crossroads the first time around, it was all going to happen again—

"If I died," Sam said, "you'd go right back to the crossroads, you'd make the same deal with anyone who'd take it—"

"Yeah, I goddamn would," Dean said.

"You think the guys upstairs would let it slide twice?" Sam said.

"Guys upstairs," Dean said, and huffed, feeling a little twisted up and uncomfortable inside. "I don't even know what freaky spell you used, what that was."

Sam smiled a little, kind of sadly, and he said, "It's not an option anymore, Dean."

"That's supposed to make me feel better?" Dean said. "Sammy, I can't, I don't want to do this alone—"

"You won't have to," Sam said. "We're going together when we go."

Dean paused, breath still coming fast in his throat. "How do you know?" he said, when he could say anything. It took him a while, and it sounded kind of stupid and watery when it came out.

"I just know." Sam shrugged. "So do you."

Dean realized he did know, if he just quit panicking for thirty seconds. "That's fucking annoying," he said, clearing his throat.

"Whatever," Sam said. "Can we go back to sleep now?"

"No," Dean said, "I'm hungry."

Sam brought him a sandwich from the table. Dean ate his sandwich while Sam puttered around the room, closing the blinds, locking up, putting away some of their scattered gear. Finally Sam came over and pushed the covers out of the way and got in. He put his hand onto Dean's waist and eased his fingertips under the elastic of his boxers.

Something in Dean's belly jumped and quivered. He licked the crumbs and the bit of mustard off his fingers. "So what are the guys upstairs supposed to think about this?"

"Shut up, seriously," Sam mumbled, and rubbed his thumb over Dean's hip.

"Yeah, okay," Dean said, and turned off the light.

= End =

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