Over the next few days, there are times when Sam seems okay, normal and fairly well adjusted, all things considered. This is not one of those times. Dean wakes up to Sam thrashing hard enough to slam the metal rails of the bed against the wall. There’s a sound, high-pitched and keening and at first Dean’s muzzy mind translates it into some sorta air raid siren winding up, but then everything clicks into place. Sam’s scream cuts off and he starts shouting instead, incoherent, with the rhythm and inflection of speech but it’s no language that Dean’s ever heard.
Dean topples from his bed and throws himself on top of Sam. Sam’s bed lets out a death squawk under the weight of both of them as he frames Sam’s hips with his thighs and presses Sam’s shoulders against the mattress. It’s cold, unusually cold. The air feels like a smack in the center of Dean’s bare chest, but Sam is burning up beneath him, t-shirt soaked through and his hair pasted to his head with sweat. He bucks up under Dean with all the force of a rodeo bronco.
“Stay with me, Sam. Fuck. Jesus,” Dean grunts with the effort of holding Sam in place, almost jumps out of his skin when Sam opens his eyes and fixes him with a stare in the dark. “You’re not going anywhere. I just got you back.”
Sam gapes for an instant then thrashes out, his efforts doubled. He wrestles his arm free of Dean’s grasp and hits him hard, a sucker punch right to the jaw, hard enough that flashes of white jolt across Dean’s vision.
“You’re going to apologize for that later,” Dean tells him, and yanks Sam up to a sitting position.
The slight change in altitude does the trick. Sam blinks, once, twice, three times. “You were gone, you left me.”
“I’m right the fuck here,” Dean says, rubbing at his jaw. The skin feels warm, prickly, the tingle of a new bruise rising to the surface. When he ticks his jaw back and forth nothing seems broken. “Besides, you left first.” It’s a cheap shot. His jaw is really starting to pound and he’s working on the mother of all headaches and he can’t help but think it’s at least a little justified.
Sam falls back on the bed again to a metallic clunk, something in the frame falls apart and the mattress lists strongly to starboard. Dean rolls with it until his face is inches away from Sam’s and his ass is planted firmly against Sam’s thighs.
“That sucks.” Sam says, and Dean’s not sure if he’s referring to the bed or Dean’s jaw. Dean counts either one as a win.
Sam smiles at him then, a full on blazing grin, and thought occurs to Dean, settles into him with the bell-clear ring of truth. All of this time, all of these years of fuck ups and frustration and sacrifice, and Dean’s never gotten tired of looking at Sam. He doesn’t think it’s possible.
“What happened?” Dean asks.
“I think the bed broke,” Sam answers, matter-of-fact.
Sam draws in a deep breath, his ribs expanding under Dean’s palms. It’s a good feeling. Vital.
“Desert sagebrush, also known as common wormwood,” Sam starts. “Artemesia tridentata. Animals don’t like to eat it--it smells like paint thinner. Boil the seeds, and it can cure a headache. Boil the leaves and it can dye wool yellow. It smells sweet when it burns, and it burns hot.”
Dean sits back, his eyes not leaving Sam’s face. “Why is that important?”
Sam runs his hands along the tops of Dean’s thighs. He starts tracing absent circles with his thumbs and Dean would think that’s crazy, except he’s been caught little off guard from the bigger kinda crazy coming out of Sam’s mouth.
“It’s how you build a fire in the desert.”
“Alright, Sam. I’ll bite. Why do we need to build a fire in the desert?”
“To get rid of the bodies.” Sam states it like it’s obvious, like everybody is simply born with that sort of demented knowledge.
Dean’s up like a shot, a cannonball banging around in his stomach. Sam makes a grab for him and misses.
“Not you,” Sam says, levering himself up to a canted sitting position. He props his elbows on his knees covers his face with his hands, muffling what he says next. “I never meant you.”
“Who, then?” Dean asks, and doesn’t like the hysterical note in his voice. “‘Cause this isn’t the kinda thing you can just spring on a guy.”
“I don’t remember.”
“Great. That’s…that’s great, Sam.”
Sam drops his hands and looks at Dean, stare so sharp it could cut Dean clean in two. “Do you think I actually want this?” His voice breaks at the end and he hunches in on himself. “I wake up every morning and I have no idea where I am. There are strangers everywhere, and some of them look at me like they know me. Like they expect something from me. And what about all the things I can’t seem to forget? Bodies burning. People on fire. Demons on their knees.”
Dean takes a few slow steps across the room, starts to reach toward Sam, but lets his hand fall to his side instead.
“Then there’s the other stuff,” Sam continues. “Sometimes you’ll say something or laugh in a certain way and it’s so familiar, like I should know it, and maybe I could. It seems like it’s all right here. Like it’s just over my shoulder, and if I could turn around fast enough and squint my eyes in exactly the right way, then I could see it. But I’m not fast enough. And—“ Sam cuts off, darts his hands out to clutch at Dean’s hips. He digs his fingers in hard enough to leave a mark and Dean lets him. "And I hate when you leave me alone. You walk out that door and it feels like a piece of me gets ripped out. Something essential. Every single time.”
Dean’s been on the other side of this argument, knows from experience that it’s a god awful place to be. “I’m not going anywhere,” he says. “I promise.”
Sam heaves a huge, watery sigh and leans into Dean. His face is hot against Dean’s stomach and his arms are like metal bands around Dean’s waist as he squeezes tighter and tighter. Dean bends over him and crosses his arms around Sam’s shoulders. He grabs fistfuls of Sam’s shirt and holds on. For the first time in five years, Dean hugs his brother. He can’t for the life of him figure out why he waited so long.
The truth is that he doesn’t want Sam to remember. Not anymore. He knows this is no kinda life for the guy, skipping through the last five years like some demented version of Quantum Leap, but the alternative is worse by about a mile. Scratch that, worse by light years. Dean can rationalize it easy. Living in this screwed up car crash of a world is bad enough, but Sam doesn’t know anything else, and that has to be a kindness. Sam doesn’t remember unbroken highways and hot showers and quickie marts. He has no recollection of baseball games and Black Sabbath shows and big box stores and food that doesn’t come from a can. Or being able to walk into any bar in these United States and get a tequila with lime served up by a pretty bartender with a set of legs that go straight up to heaven and straight back down again. So okay, sure, Dean doesn’t want him to remember and maybe that makes him some sort of controlling whack job, but Dean’s willing to live with that. He’s willing to live with a lot.
The best kind of way to build a lie is to keep the story simple. To everybody at Camp Chitaqua, he’s Sam Hagar, an old friend of the family who’d heard tell of Dean’s set up here, and had come to join this merry band of brothers. He’d had a rough go of it in the past few months, had seen a few things that set him a bit left of center and now he’s a little hair triggered. It’s best to leave him alone and ignore anything that might come out of his mouth. Folks get it. Everyone’s at least a little shell shocked around here. They all have their own particular version of the thousand yard stare.
Dean’s spent the last week hiding Sam in plain sight, watching every move Sam makes and waiting for the inevitable fallout. It’s exhausting.
“What am I supposed to do?” Sam’s sprawled out on Dean’s bed, reading material and the detritus of his breakfast spread around him like a moat. “Sit around here and let you bring me three squares a day, read back issues of magazines? I’ve seen the way everybody looks at me, like I’m some sort of landmine, ready to blow up at any second.”
Dean huffs in frustration. They’ve been bickering for the better part of the morning, and it’s clear that it’s the cabin fever talking. “Okay,” he says. “You’re right. You wanna see what the world has turned into? I’ll show you.” He stops, fist clenched too tight around the collar of his coat. “Last chance. One more shot to back out.”
But Sam’s already on his feet, determination in the strict line of his mouth. “No, we’re going.”
The camp is a busy hive this morning, repairs are a constant menace, the kitchen works almost around the clock, supplies need to be rationed and divvied out, fences mended and the perimeter constantly guarded. Dean waves off a myriad of questions as they cross to the rear of the camp.
Sam’s steps stutter. Ahead of them, the Impala sits quietly rusting among the weeds and tall grass. The hood’s dinged, propped open, the front and back axles exposed like rusty, knobby knee bones. One of the back windows is busted out. The old girl’s an emptied out shell, scavenged time and again for spare parts to keep the Hummers and Jeeps going, vehicles more well suited for the end of the world.
Dean doesn't like coming this way. In the distance, through the diamond link of the fence line, Kansas City smolders away, nothing more than a smudge of red on the horizon. He sets the sight of the car to his back and doubles his pace toward the fence.
“You okay?” he asks Sam.
“Yeah. For a minute there…” Sam trails off, then rips his sight away from the car. “I don’t know. I kinda lost myself.”
“But you’re back now,” Dean says, cautious.
“I think so. Or as much as I usually am.”
Dean’s grown pretty fond of this new version of his brother, the occasional insanity notwithstanding. This one doesn’t hold grudges for one, doesn’t roll his eyes at all of Dean’s tired jokes, or bitch at Dean for bringing home the wrong kind of salad dressing. He doesn’t remember Jess, or Stanford or their father. He doesn’t remember Ruby or Dean at his worst. He’s a fresh start: Dean’s chance to take all of his previous fuck ups and unfuck them.
Dean prattles on as they walk, explaining the watch schedule to Sam. Their perimeter is constantly under watch, even if it’s lightly guarded. “We don’t have the right kinda manpower to do the job the way it needs to be done. Then again, if we did scrape up enough people to cover all our bases, then we wouldn’t be able to feed them.”
“When was the last time you had someone—“ Sam stops, correcting himself, “—or something break through?”
Drumming his fingers on his thigh, Dean wants to say A couple of weeks ago, and it was you, but he holds back. Instead he shrugs. “Few of weeks back. Real clusterfuck, too. A dozen croats bust through the fence line on the southeast side. We lost two people that night.” He leaves the most damning part of it out, everything that happened after. How Nate had delivered the men to Dean, both of them sporting matching bloody slices on their shoulders, and how they’d kneeled in front of him, hands tied behind their backs, and the way they’d flinched when the cool muzzle of his gun had touched the back of their necks, right at the base of their skulls.
Sam’s hand falls on the nape of Dean’s neck, and it’s like he knows, like he can see into the nightmare of Dean’s thoughts and touch him in the same exact spot that he’d pointed the business end of his gun on those poor saps. Those two men whose only crime had been to follow Dean’s orders.
It never fails to surprise Dean, the lengths that he will go in order to protect his own.
“I’m sorry,” Sam says.
“Yeah, well, don’t be,” Dean shoots back, but he doesn’t smack Sam’s hand away, just lets Sam keep it there, rubbing his thumb along Dean’s short hair, his hand warm and steady and reassuring.
Changing the subject on a dime, Sam says, “So, Cas.”
“What about him?”
“Have you known him long? There’s something about him that I can’t quite put my finger on.”
Dean smiles at that. “Yeah. Stick around long enough and you’ll find out that’s one thing that’s never gonna change. But I’ve known him a long time. Long as I’ve known anyone who’s still around. Except you, of course. Cas did me a huge favor once, pulled my ass out of the frying pan, so to speak. You can say that we were soldiers together.”
“Maybe one day you’ll be able to say the same thing about me,” Sam says, finally dropping his hand from Dean’s neck with a slow trail of fingers on skin.
“I already can.”
Sam stares at him but Dean doesn't continue. Finally Sam asks, “What was I like? Y’know, before?”
Dean takes his time coming up with an answer for that. Sam’s question is like quicksand, and Dean has a feeling he’s already up to his waist in it. “Brave. You’re the bravest man I know, and I’ve known quite a few.”
Sam ducks his head, hiding a small smile that he tries to wipe away.
Dean scuffs Sam’s hair with his knuckles. “Stupid and reckless sometimes,” he goes on. “Smart, too. So fucking smart. Give you a library and some weird symbol to cipher out, and some people to save.” Dean cuts off then, thinking that maybe he’d already gone too far. “I don’t know. How do you describe a person? It’s impossible.”
Distraction comes in the form of crunching leaves and snapping twigs. He pulls Sam up short, backs up to a wide tree trunk and tugs Sam in tight against him, drawing his gun out of his jacket. The birds have gone quiet and thankfully Sam has too. Dean has taken them out further than he intended to, and now they’re close to the boundary, the fence line visible through the breaks in the trees.
Dean’s on edge. He shouldn’t have taken Sam out this far. He’s got more than one back to protect these days.
“Is it one of ours?” Dean asks, hardly even a whisper and barely moving his lips. Sam’s eyes have gone wide, his chest moving against Dean’s, breath fast and spiked with surprise.
After a tense shake of his head, Sam whispers, “Eleven o’clock.”
Slowly, carefully, Dean edges around the tree trunk, rough bark scraping his back. It’s a croat alright, a formerly middle-aged man in the ripped up dregs of a business suit. He’s filthy, his mouth crusted with old, dark colored blood. It’s a hard call, Dean’s got a clear shot on him but no silencer, and the sound of a gunshot would be like the clarion call of a church bell to any other infected in the area. The thing’s scenting the air, mouth dropped open and his wreck of a face tilted upward.
Sam crowds in even closer, pinning Dean against the tree, slips his hand beneath Dean’s jacket and angles it downward. Dean goes rigid, gives Sam the mother of all stink eyes, but Sam doesn’t notice, intent on the croat’s slow progress as it inches ever closer toward them. Sam’s made it to his waistband, movements like the slow drip of molasses and his bottom lip trapped between his teeth.
Sam’s face is beside Dean’s, his skin soft along Dean’s cheek. Sam’s hair tickles Dean’s nose, his shallow breath brushing against Dean’s ear and for one long, convoluted second Dean thinks Sam’s about to kiss him. It’s a whole new level of fucked up, the way Dean’s heart leaps into his throat when he thinks about how easy it would be. Sam’s right here, so close that the cut of his jaw drags against Dean’s mouth. Screw it. Screw all of it. Dean wants it to happen.
Sam presses one leg between Dean’s, slowly shifting up and in and heat zips along Dean’s spine. Sam shifts incrementally, fingers finding what he was after as he unlatches the snap on Dean’s thigh holster and pulls a knife free.
Turns out that letting the devil ride him bareback for the last few years didn’t do anything to fuck up Sam’s aim. He steps out from behind the tree and in one smooth, fluid motion lets the knife fly. It lands with the meaty thunk, right in the center of the croat’s throat and it crumples right away, clawing uselessly at it’s own neck, fingers slipping on the handle of the knife.
Sam approaches it, wrenches the knife out and wipes it clean on the sleeve of the croat’s suit, then walks back to Dean. Sam tips forward again, plants his forearm against the tree trunk just above Dean’s head and slots the knife back into Dean’s holster.
The smile that Sam gives Dean is treacherous, something close to feral in its single-minded intensity.
Dean’s still all jammed up, not confident enough in the strength of his legs to try walking, some vague panic brightening the edges of his sight.
“Show off,” Dean says, a begrudging sort of pride making him smile back.
“Just wanted to prove that I could pull my weight around here.”
Sunlight filters through the canopy of leaves, streaks Sam’s hair a little red and makes his eyes incredibly bright. Sam’s flushed from adrenaline, minutely shaking from it, small tremors that Dean can feel in all the places they’re touching. Kissing him still sounds like the best idea Dean’s had in a very long time.
Instead, Dean clears his throat, flattens his hand in the center of Sam’s chest and gives him a slight push. “Let’s keep moving,” he says. “Croats are like cockroaches. There’s never just one.”
Dean walks out of Headquarters, stretches and works the kinks out of his back that he’s earned from hunching over maps for the last hour. The sun has sunk below the horizon and set the sky on fire, the clouds red and scattered like blood spatter. Dean squints into it and tries to remember that old saying about red skies at night. He’s seeing omens everywhere these days.
Sam’s not in the cabin when Dean gets there. He’s left a plate of half-eaten food on the table, some dime-store paperback open and face down beside it. A flash of fear gives way to irritation when Dean sees that his spare army jacket is missing from the hook and his Glock has disappeared from his bedside table. Whatever Sam is up to, at least he’s not doing it unprotected.
Dean digs inside his jacket for his pistol and pops the clip to check it. He taps it against the muzzle one time for good luck then clicks it back in before heading back outside.
The first person he runs across is the Reverend, who’s got a bag of laundry slung over one shoulder and his rifle over the other. Strange days they’re living in, when a man can’t go out to wash his underwear unless he’s armed to the teeth.
“Passed Sam a few minutes ago,” Sonny says by way of greeting. “Heading that way,” he continues, hiking his thumb to the south.
Dean mutters his thanks and takes one step in that direction before Sonny pulls him up short.
“What is it with you and him?”
“What do you mean?” Dean asks.
“You’re different nowadays. I don’t think I’d seen you smile once before Sam showed up.” Sonny fixes him with a sideways stare, a smile spreading across his weathered face. “Now, I don’t really have anything against that sorta thing. Judge not and all that.”
“It’s not like that,” Dean tells him, but it sounds like a feeble excuse.
“What’s it like, then?”
Dean thinks about Sam pressed up all along the front of him, the feeling of Sam’s hand finding its way to his waistband, the soft fall of Sam’s breath on his neck.
“It’s complicated,” he says.
Parsons starts to chuckle and Dean doesn’t stick around to hear what else he might have to say.
It’s as if Sam runs on autopilot sometimes, independent of conscious thought or memory. After a few minutes of searching, Dean finds Sam in the passenger seat of the decrepit Impala, hands folded in his lap and staring blankly out of the grimy windshield.
The way the driver’s door hangs crookedly and by a thread gives Dean actual physical pain when he opens it. The interior of the car smells like rotting upholstery and some creature has taken it upon itself to build a nest in the backseat.
“Hey,” Dean says, then settles into the driver’s seat with a wince. He wraps his hand around the steering wheel, feels the cracked leather give a little bit.
“Hey,” Sam parrots back.
“Making a run. Might get a little violent. Caught word that nest of demons has something that belongs to me.”
“A gun. A very old, very important gun.”
“Must be a hell of a weapon,” Sam says.
“Took out my fair share of demons and vamps with it,” Dean tells him with a certain amount of self-satisfaction. “They say this gun can kill anything. Maybe even the devil.” He watches Sam closely when he says it, testing him, waiting for some sort of reaction. Sam chews on the inside of his cheek but his expression remains passive, and Dean’s not sure if that’s a pass or a fail. Dean goes on, “Heading out in the morning, taking Risa and Nate. Are you in?”
“Are you sure?”
“I’d rather have you at my back than any ten of these other guys.”
Sam grins at him, and it’s the best thing Dean’s seen all day. “Yeah, I’m in.” Leaves that have collected in the foot well crackle when Sam shifts his feet. He runs his hand along the dashboard, almost petting it. “This car was yours, right?”
“Yeah, used to be. Had to give her up. Wait—is something coming back?”
Sam shakes his head. “Not really, no. It’s just...it feels like you in here.”
Dean lets out a bark of laughter and wishes it didn’t sound so bitter. “What? Busted apart and well past its prime?”
“No,” Sam scoffs and smacks the side of Dean’s thigh with the back of his hand. He leaves it there, begins to restlessly brush his knuckles against Dean’s jeans. “More like comfortable. Safe. Right where we’re supposed to be.”
“Prettiest car on the road in her heyday. Got us through more fixes than I can count. I wish you could remember—“
Sam cuts him off. “Do you? Do you really?”
“Yeah, Sam. Of course.” He doesn’t look at Sam as he says it. It’s easier that way. He reaches down and squeezes Sam’s hand like it’s supposed to prove some kinda point, set the lie in stone and make Sam believe it.
“Okay. Good,” Sam says, and there’s a ring of finality to it, as if he’s putting an end to an argument that Dean didn’t know they were having. “You should fix her up. Get her on the road again.”
“One of these days, maybe.” Dean doesn’t like the way his heart feels at this moment, all knocked out of place and pounding too hard.
“You miss this car.”
“I miss a lot of things,” Dean says, and then, quietly, “You have no idea.”
Sam pulls him in fast, his face warm where it’s notched into the crook of Dean’s neck. He should tell Sam that this isn’t what they do, that this sorta physical contact is reserved for long absences or near death experiences, but Sam smells so good, and he’s so solid smashed along Dean’s side. It’s only going to be a minute, maybe less, before the outside world or Dean’s better judgement intervenes, and it’s a conscious decision on Dean’s part to make good on what he’s got for as long as he’s got it. He buries his hand in Sam’s hair, right at the base of his skull, and holds on, hears Sam’s breath catch in his throat. Sam shifts until not even a sliver of space remains between them. He noses at the patch of skin behind Dean’s ear and opens his mouth against Dean’s neck. The kiss is like a brand, an invisible mark that Dean hopes to carry for the remainder of his days.
Sam works his lips slowly up Dean’s neck, follows the line of Dean’s jaw and Dean tips his head back. He lets his eyes fall closed, dangerously wrapped up in the heat of his brother’s mouth. Sam palms Dean’s cheek and his hand is soft, which comes as a surprise to Dean even though it shouldn’t. It’s not like the devil ever had to do any of his own heavy lifting.
That thought is enough to bring Dean back to the here and now, and he stops Sam with a small tug to his hair. Dean tries to rationalize it, strike some kind of bargain with his stupid, reckless heart. This thing with Sam is dangerous, all tripwires and hand grenades. Dean curls his fingers in Sam’s hair to hold him steady and kisses him, hard and fast, like a parting blow, then pulls back. He scrapes his bottom lip through his teeth, sucks it into his mouth and tastes Sam. His brother.
“Jesus,” Dean says, his head spinning.
Sam’s still touching his face, dragging the pad of his thumb along Dean’s cheekbone. The feel of it puts cracks in Dean’s already fragile resolve, so he takes Sam’s hand in his own. Sam kisses the side of his wrist and there’s a question in his eyes, a bright flush on his face and his lips are open, slack and wet. He makes a noise, this half-sigh that shouldn’t be as sexy as it is.
“Cut it out,” Dean tells him, harsher than he means to be.
“What the...” Sam trails off, confusion replacing the heat in his expression. Dean’s a hair’s breadth away from taking it all back, shoving Sam backward onto the seat and following him down.
“We’re--” Dean stops, takes the time to reconsider. He gets out of the car, slams the door closed and is rewarded by the abortive clunk of the latch misaligning, as if even the car is disappointed in him. Out of habit, he glances across the fence line. All’s clear.
Sam’s not giving him an out and follows him, leans against the car and hooks his heel on the back bumper, like he’s done a million times before. His hands are buried in the pockets of his coat and he looks down, his hair covering his eyes. He gives Dean a sideways glance, his tongue curling thoughtfully around his canine tooth, and that’s another thing he’s done a million times before.
“This isn’t us,” Dean says.
“Then what is it?” Sam asks.
There are a lot of things that Dean wants to say. He wants to call it a big fucking mistake, the product of a claustrophobic life smothered in nobody but each other, or some dicey decision brought on by years of living in foxholes. Instead he says, “I wish I could tell you. C’mon. Big day tomorrow. Early start.”
“Wait,” Sam says, pushing away from the car. “Am I coming with you? Because.” He makes an all encompassing gesture.
“Not gonna let you sleep in the car, if that’s what you’re asking,” Dean says, already moving in the direction of the cabin. He’s dizzy, exhausted, vaguely nauseated, and his body seems to be staging some sort of revolt because the only thing he really wants to do is kiss his brother.
The smell of old rot shocks Dean back into consciousness quicker than smelling salts. He’s being hauled bodily across the floor, boot heels scraping and bouncing on the ground. Someone’s got him by the back of his collar and he isn’t able to catch a full breath to save his life. He can’t reckon up from down, his vision fuzzy and indistinct. Sam’s calling his name, but it sounds very far away, watery and shifting, might as well be coming from the bottom of the ocean. Dean struggles, lashes out and gets a face full of linoleum for his efforts. He claws at it, tries to make it to his feet but gets yanked up instead, skewing his already shaky balance. He winds up running sideways, tripping over his own feet and banging his elbow against something hard. A metallic echo is drowned out by the panic-inducing sound of shattering glass and pain shoots up and down Dean’s arm, renders his hand temporarily limp and useless.
“Keep it together,” Sam says, desperation making his voice tight, and okay, alright, Sam’s the one with the death grip on the back of his jacket. Good thing to know.
The rapid-fire racket of an automatic weapon goes off behind them and Dean’s instincts take over, his senses kicking in with sharp clarity. Dead fluorescent lights above him, rows and rows of metal shelving on either side, scavenged a long time ago, the sound of pounding feet behind him. The smell of ancient produce left to rot. They’re in a grocery store, and for one lunatic moment Dean wants to laugh. They’re in a hell-bent dash toward the heavy metal door to the back office, and right it now looks like the motherfucking pearly gates to heaven. Sam yanks the door open and tosses Dean inside, turns and squeezes off three rounds before slamming the door and setting the lock.
He doesn’t even pause to catch his breath before he’s all over Dean, eyes wide with fear, propping Dean’s back to the door and checking for injuries. A second later, something collides against it with a force so strong that Dean’s teeth rattle and he trips forward a step.
The last half an hour comes back to Dean in fits and starts. Their progress into town, an unavoidable hot zone about at the halfway point to their rendezvous with the nest. He remembers Sam sitting by his side in the back of the Hummer, twitchy with pent up nervous energy. It had been too quiet, the streets almost too clear of rubble and debris. They’d turned a corner and had run into a herd of croats, a dozen of the motherfuckers in front and more spilling out from the surrounding buildings on the side, creating a bottleneck of bodies. The gun mounted on the back of the vehicle had jammed. Damn thing was always breaking down and there was no reason for this time to be any different. He and Nate had jumped out onto the street, intent on clearing them a path through the mess and it was about then that he’d felt something crash into the back of his head. Lights out after that.
“God. Fuck,” Sam’s saying. He pushes Dean’s shirt up and presses along his ribs, prods at the small lump forming on the back of his skull. “Are you hurt? Nate was supposed to cover your back. It shoulda been me. I never would have let it happen. I’m sorry. I’m so fucking sorry.”
“It’s okay. Not your fault. Just got my bell rung a little, that’s all.” Dean tries to shake off a nagging blurry spot in his peripheral vision. “Where are the others?”
“Took off. I dunno. I sorta lost track after I saw you go down. You just crumpled and I couldn’t get there quick enough.” Sam’s talking faster and faster, starts to pace the floor, his vague, shadowy form lit by a small window high up on the cinder block wall. He takes long strides, dodging knocked over file cabinets and kicking at strewn papers. “I’ve never been so scared in my life. What if something happened? What if I didn’t get to you in time? Jesus, Dean. Just. Don’t be so reckless. Okay? You’re the only person I have. You’re all I got.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” Dean tells him. “I promised. Remember?”
With a visible effort, Sam tries to ground himself, coming to a stop in front of Dean, exhaling a long, slow breath and squaring his shoulders. A muscle in his jaw ticks. “Of course I remember. How could I forget?”
Dean feels like he’s falling from a very great height, and it’s not from the blow to the head. He hooks a hand around Sam’s neck. “Come here.”
“Wait. What?” Sam spits out. “But last night you said--”
“Forget what I said. Remember the rest of it if you want to, but forget that.”
He pulls Sam in the rest of the way and kisses him, nips and bites at Sam’s lips, feels a shock at the first tentative touch of Sam’s tongue against his own that runs a straightaway down to his cock. He angles his head, licks in deeper, and swallows down the taste of Sam, strange and familiar all at once.
Sam takes a second to respond, stunned still for a moment, then he finds Dean’s hips and latches on to them, tugging them in tight against his own. Dean’s trapped, shoulders levered against the cool metal door and the front of him along Sam’s warm body. He’s pretty sure there are at least two croats on the other side of that reinforced steel, and right now that doesn’t matter. Not one bit. What does matter is the way Sam draws Dean’s leg up to hook around his waist and bends Dean exactly the way he wants him. And that near perfect pressure as Sam rocks into him, and the sound of Sam’s voice as he groans, all gravelly and wicked as sin.
It’s weird, but it’s the good kind of weird as Dean mouths at the cut of Sam’s jaw and down the long, exposed line of his throat, Sam’s stubble rough on his lips. The fact that Sam’s a guy plays second fiddle to all the rest; Dean only has the energy and willpower to deal with one existential crisis at a time.
Dean’s jeans feel too tight, the friction as they move together almost enough to get him there but not quite. He wants to strip Sam down, take his time, figure out exactly what makes Sam tick and do it over and over again.
Sam snakes a hand between them, his face set with a dark smile, and works open the top button on Dean’s jeans, just enough to get inside and palm his cock through his boxers. Sam kisses him again, nothing tentative or shy about it this time, pulls off and whispers, fast and immediate, “C’mon. C’mon, Dean.”
It does the trick. Dean bucks forward, his cock pulsing against Sam’s hand, spunk hot and thick and shooting up the inside of Sam’s wrist. The wind gets knocked out of Dean and he thinks about repaying the favor, but Sam’s already shuddering against him, hips moving in tiny bursts and hissing through his clenched teeth.
Dean works on getting his breath under control and waits for the soul-crushing guilt to kick in. It never does. The building doesn’t fall down on them, the wrathful fist of God doesn’t descend from heaven to deliver a celestial right hook. The planet doesn’t go spinning into oblivion and the world isn’t ending any more than usual. It’s just him and Sam, and it’s exactly how it’s always been. Something huge builds in Dean’s chest as he thinks about all their shared history, all that time wasted.
As if reading his mind, Sam says, “Are you gonna freak out now?”
Dean starts to answer, but he’s interrupted by the low, guttural sound of an approaching engine. Sam’s up in a flash, and hauls Dean to his feet. He takes out a croat before the door is open six inches, and he takes out another before they reach the shattered plate glass window at the front of the store, just in time to watch Nate and Risa--and their ride out of town--pass them by.
“Just so you know,” Dean states calmly, “now I’m gonna freak out. Then I’m gonna kill them.”
The look Sam directs at the Humvee as it speeds away is thunderous, the kind of look that could lay waste to cities. “I’ll do it for you, so you don’t have to.”
“Is that the crazy in you talking, or is that you?”
“Not too sure. Can I get back to you on that?”
A few blocks off of the main drag, the town abruptly becomes residential, houses stacked side-by-side like cardboard cut-outs. It’s a shining example of middle class suburbia stuck in a time capsule, but look a little closer and the signs of abandonment are clear. Kids’ toys still litter overgrown lawns, front doors hang open, garage doors, too, exposing empty, dim interiors that have mostly been picked clean.
Sam and Dean walk through back yards, jumping fences and avoiding the occasional formerly domesticated family pet. They peek through kitchen windows and patio doors, catching snapshots of a world that was never theirs and never would be. They’re not sure what they’re looking for, just sure that they’ll know it when they find it. Their situation is pretty monumentally fucked, all things considered; they’re a two hour drive away from camp, don’t have a car and the sun has already marched too far across the sky.
They also can’t stop smiling at each other.
They find a minivan with a partial tank of gas and a battery that still works, and Dean adamantly refuses. He’ll walk the hundred miles back to camp before he’ll take that kinda dent to his pride. Dean makes the case for a ‘Vette they trip across, obviously someone’s mid-life crisis and treated with the requisite amount of care. It’s in mint condition, t-top, candy apple red and pretty as a picture. Sam leads him out of the garage, muttering about how fiberglass wouldn’t stand a chance against a croat with a baseball bat.
“Aw, Sam. You ruin all my fun,” Dean complains.
Sam leers at him, says, “Not all of your fun,” and Dean feels his face go red, all the way to the tips of his ears.
They compromise on a pickup that still has farming equipment in the back, shovels and pitchforks, clumps of soil clogging the corners of the bed, long turned to dust. Something about a wide bench seat makes them both feel at home. Dean gets it started on the third try. The tape deck clicks on and Johnny Cash comes through the speakers on a blast of sound that almost sends the two of them clawing through the back window.
“Hell, no.” Sam says, thumbing the tape out decisively.
“But Johnny’s a classic,” Dean says.
“He’s too sanctimonious.”
“Sanctimonious?” Dean arches an eyebrow at Sam. “He killed a man in Reno, just to watch him die.”
“Eh,” Sam shrugs. “I call bullshit.”
Dean makes it out onto the highway and points the truck in a direction vaguely north and east. He’s been this way before and doesn’t need a map, drives on the wrong side of the road just because he can. The truck’s a relic, honest-to-god cigarette lighter in the dash and lights that you turn on by pulling a chrome knob. Eight-track tape deck and a radio with exactly five presets.
Sam occupies the center of the seat, left hand riding high on the inside of Dean’s thigh and fucking around with the radio with his right. He concentrates, turns the dial past all the stations that spew government propaganda. They don’t need to hear it. Dean’s got a pet theory that Palin’s been possessed by a demon since the inauguration anyway. Sam pauses when something threatens to form out of the static, punches AM to FM and back to AM again until a voice breaks through. Rough and low, with a two-pack-a-day sound to it. It’s some guy’s pirate radio station, broadcasting from at least three states away. The guy’s on a real Dylan kick tonight, playing whole albums, and Dean drives for an hour to the piercing wail of a harmonica shooting across the ether. He makes the final turn toward home as the record changes to Blonde on Blonde and Dean knows it’s vinyl, the real deal from the muted scratches coming through the speakers. He smiles when Dylan tells him that the Mona Lisa must’ve had them highway blues, thinks the guy might be onto something there.
Sam’s next to him the whole time, rocking with the dips in the road. Dean digs his elbow into Sam’s side, just to make him laugh.
Cas is manning the gate tonight, which is kinda laughable, considering the guy is down to one good foot and his aim was shit even before he started in on the self-medication. The truck’s headlights catch on him. The whites of his eyes are bright red and he’s swaying a little.
“Good to see you in once piece,” Cas says as Dean rolls to a stop and gets out in front of the gate. “Nate’s in his cabin. He doesn’t know you’ve come back.”
Dean nods, reaches out and nudges Sam. “Head on home. I won’t be long.”
It’s a short walk to Nate’s place, and the instant Dean’s shadow darkens his doorstep the guy starts spewing excuses. “We thought you were toast. Sam too. Sorry. I get that you’re pissed. We screwed up.”
“I’m not pissed,” Dean says, filling up Nate’s doorway. “It’s not about me, anyway. You’re gone. You leave in the morning. Check your weapons with Cas at the gate.” Dean had learned a long time ago that clean breaks were better than crooked ones. He turns around and finds Hooper walking up the steps behind him. Dean stoops in front of him and the kid flinches back. Dean doesn’t like that one bit. He understands it, though. “Do me a favor, would ya?” he says. “When you grow up, don’t turn into me. Whatever you do, don’t be like me. Got it?”
Hooper’s face is wide open and solemn. He nods, but doesn’t say a word.
“And don’t forget to brush your teeth.”
Sam’s sitting on the bed when Dean busts through their door. He’s wearing only his shorts, his bare chest tinted a warm color from the lamplight. He’d found the chance to wash up, his hair wet and dripping on his shoulders, his skin clean and smelling like soap.
Plucking at his sweaty clothes, Dean says, “I’m filthy.”
“I wouldn’t have you any other way.” Sam stands up and towers over Dean. “Did you kill them?” Sam asks, and Dean isn’t sure if he’s joking.
“Ah, man. I’ve gone soft. Just kicked ‘em out.”
“That’s not soft and you know it.” Sam’s mouth twitches like he’s trying not to smile. He takes his time stripping Dean down, kissing and licking at each newly exposed patch of skin. By the time he turns his attention to Dean’s waistband, Dean’s a shaking, begging mess, so hard he aches with it, precome soaking through his shorts and seeping into his jeans. Sam kicks the blankets to the foot of the bed, pulls Dean down on top of him and uses him instead.
They screw around and then cat nap, wake up just enough to screw around again. It’s limitless, the things Dean wants to do to his brother. At one point Dean wakes from an uneasy doze and finds Sam curled between his legs, his back bent like a quotation mark. He’s got Dean’s cock in his mouth and he’s sucking him fully hard again, his mouth all sloppy wet heat and his hands skating up the sensitive skin on the inside of Dean’s thighs, forcing his legs wider. Dean opens up as far as he can go, hooks his leg around Sam’s shoulder and gets lost in the press of Sam’s tongue along the underside of his cock. Sam takes Dean down to the base, moans as Dean sinks his hips into the mattress then gives in and bucks up.
Dean touches Sam’s cheek and feels the shape of his own cock, drags his thumb at the seal Sam’s lips have all around him. Dean says “Look at me,” and Sam does. He comes like a shot.
This last time might be the best by far. They’ve wrecked one bed and moved to the other, clean sheets cool on Dean’s sweaty back. Sam hovers over him, sinking down onto Dean’s cock and it’s slow like torture, hot and so, so tight. The muscles in Sam’s legs shake with the effort, and he breathes in short, bitten-off gasps. He takes Dean all the way in, moves his hips in an experimental little circle then shivers. Precome beads at the tip of Sam’s cock and Dean gathers it onto his palm, smears it up and down Sam’s length and jerks him off. Sam likes it rough and fast, so Dean obliges, throws his head back when Sam comes, squirming and clenching down on Dean’s cock as he spills over Dean’s fist.
Sam’s hands are spread wide across Dean’s chest, fingernails scraping lightly at Dean’s nipples each time he shifts. They set a rhythm of slow, easy thrusts, and Dean slides into his orgasm, already mostly spent and shooting dry, straining to get deeper into his brother. Sam looks at Dean the whole time, and every slight change in Sam’s expression hits Dean like a revelation.
Dean’s aware of the empty place at his back before he’s fully awake. He’s slow to open his eyes, doesn’t want to wake up and find Sam gone. He’d spent the last five years nurturing apathy, but Sam has come back—or at least the most important parts of him—and it’s left Dean scrubbed raw and exposed.
From across the room, chair legs thunk onto the floor, the soft fall of heels against the planks follows soon after and Dean rolls over, tucks his hands beneath his cheek and looks at his brother, really looks at him, openly and unashamed, like this might be his last chance. He’s caught very much off guard by the beauty of his brother, the fragility of him in that moment. Sam's sitting in the straight backed chair across the room, skin the color of tarnished silver from the predawn light slipping in through the window. His head is bowed, hair spilled into his eyes and he has his hands clasped loosely between his spread knees, the thumb of one hand tracing over the knuckles of the other.
“You gave me a butterfly knife when I was fifteen. I wanted one so badly. Kept asking for it for a month, and you finally got me one for my birthday. Useless goddamn weapon.”
Dread solidifies into a rock in Dean’s gut and starts to slingshot around. “I remember,” Dean says.
“Showed me how to use it, too. Do you remember what you told me?”
Dean can’t be too sure, but he’d always had a pretty well-worn script when it came to things that could potentially make Sam bleed, so he makes an educated guess. “I told you not to cut yourself.”
“And the first thing I did was cut myself.”
Despite it all, Dean has to smile. “Not too deep, though. And you were always a pretty quick healer.”
Sam continues to rub at his knuckles, perhaps chasing some phantom pain from years and years ago. It had been a shallow cut, a month out and even the scar had disappeared. “Back then, I thought I was the only kid on the planet whose birthday presents always came with some sorta warning label.”
“You probably were.”
“I think it started then. I was crazy about you. Fifteen years old and all I could think about was how much I wanted my brother.” What he says next is so quiet that Dean can only barely make it out. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I thought it would be easier on you. There’s a lifetime of stuff I wish I could forget, and here…you show up and it’s all wiped clean. Or it was. I didn’t want to take that away from you.”
“Couldn’t sleep, and I was sitting here watching you, and everything was so quiet and I started to think about that one hotel room in Missoula, and that goddamn awful wallpaper. You remember it? The stuff with all the fishing lures all over it?”
“Yeah, Sammy. I remember.”
“It’s Sam,” he says, but any sort of reproach is swallowed up by his smile, a white flash of teeth in the darkness. “And it hit me. All at once. All the times that we’d been like this. Exactly like this. Just you and me. So it’s here. It’s back, and…I don’t know how long it’s gonna last. But I want you to know that I’m not saying no. It’s never going to be no.”
Dean can't tear his eyes away, so entirely in love with his brother. Dean tries to compact all of that into something small and simple. Sam’s always been the smart one, though. Dean just knows how to hit. He says the only thing that comes to mind, and hopes it will be enough. “Then get back over here.”
The nights are getting longer. Colder too. Dean has a feeling in his bones. It’s going to be a long winter. Outside, the wind howls like the devil.
Sam’s feet are freezing when he gets in bed. His fingertips are just as cold, and Dean shivers as Sam touches his face, presses his thumb to Dean’s bottom lip.
“I knew it,” Sam says from up close. “Even when I wasn’t sure of anything else.”
“What did you know?” Dean fits his palm over Sam’s hip.
“That we’d always end up here. That whatever happened in between, no matter what, we’d always end up right here.”
Thanks for reading.