Five ways things might have gone wrong but didn’t.
What did you do, Sam doesn’t ask after the graveyard, after the bullet and their father’s approving ghost, after Dean stops spending his nights in rundown bars and his mornings washing off the smell of someone else’s sheets.
What did you do, he doesn’t ask. What was done to you, what was taken?
He doesn’t ask, because Dean spends his nights with Sam now, as well as his days. They watch football together, the way they did when Sam was young and enamored of Brick Holmes. They knock elbows in tiny booths of tinier diners, and spend an entire day sampling every single pie and pastry available during a slow Tuesday at Ronnie’s Bakery in a town that consists of three streets and a parking lot. They drive down empty highways under skies full of restless clouds: sometimes Sam sings along with the tapes because it makes Dean laugh; sometimes Dean sprawls loose-limbed in the passenger seat and silently watches Sam drive, the hum of the road beneath their wheels the only music either needs.
There’s something in Dean’s eyes that Sam has never seen before; perhaps it is joy, he tells himself, and doesn’t ask.
She’d spent centuries planning her assault on the tower of Sam Winchester’s virtue–centuries, and all of that thrown away within five minutes of meeting his brother.
Such lips were made for kissing, after all, and Dean had breached his own defenses when he traded himself for Sam. Might as well make the most of it–and what better way to convince Sam they were all on the same side?
So she peddles the story of having made her own such sacrifice, of wanting to spare him the same horrors, of still being capable of love, and Dean clings to her like she can patch the yawning hole in his armor. I couldn’t do this without you, he whispers one night while Sam sleeps uneasily in the other bed. I have to be strong for Sam. And his eyelashes dance against the curve of her cheekbone like butterfly feet, like the giddy caress of love. I know you can’t save me, he tells her while they’re safe there in the dark together. I know. It’s okay.
She runs a careless fingernail along the arc of his ribs and he shudders once within her embrace.
It’s okay, he says again. I understand, but Sam won’t. You’ll need to take care of him when I’m gone.
I will, she promises, tucking her head down so her breath sits hot along the soft skin of his neck. I’ll take such dear care of him. Like he was my very own.
Her kiss against his throat is full of teeth.
He kills Ruby when she comes back to him–she failed Dean once, why should he give her a second chance? He kills Ruby, her own knife buried in her spine, and leaves the empty corpse staring sightless up into the sky. And then he takes all his fury, his incandescent rage because the universe shouldn’t exist without Dean walking in it with his shoulder knocking against Sam’s–he takes that and coils it away as carefully as a fuse because he has a job to do and he can’t afford to burn up yet.
With Dean’s amulet knocking hard and hot as a coal against his breastbone, he goes town to town, hunter to hunter, witch to witch. He begs and bargains and cheats everyone who crosses his path, pulse as heavy and even as the drumbeat in a war march. He kills what needs killing until he’s elbow-deep in blood, and follows every road on every map until he finally comes across the right door with the right lock and the right key. Then he knocks on that door, knuckles streaking the weather-worn wood a deep dark red.
When it opens, the flames behind it mirror the ones that have filled his eyes ever since his brother’s death.
4. Work Song
Sam doesn’t cry himself to sleep the night after he buries Dean. He doesn’t cry. He doesn’t sleep. He lies on his back in the exact middle of the bed, one hand hanging over the edge–the hand next to the night stand–the other cupping Dean’s amulet against his heart. He lies on his back and stares up at the dark ceiling and tries to believe that the world hasn’t come to an end, that the sun will come up in the morning and everything will continue the way it always has.
The sun still hasn’t come up, though the faint promise of it sits gentle against the room’s guarding curtains, when someone knocks on the room’s door.
No. He can’t have heard that, because that would mean he’d gone mad, and that would be a betrayal of Dean’s sacrifice.
But it comes again, same knock, and then fumbling at the door handle, so Sam gets up, floor as uncertain beneath his feet as in a dream, and goes to tell whoever it is to piss off.
The person on the other side releases the latch the same moment Sam turns the handle, so that they open the door together.
Miss me? Dean asks. His eyes are shadowed, but his teeth gleam white in the dim glow of the parking lot lights. He smells like grave dirt, once the shock breaks and Sam wraps himself around his dead brother, heedless of how the amulet’s sharp edges bite into them both. He doesn’t realize he’s weeping until Dean starts petting his hair and making shushing noises.
It’s okay, kiddo, he says, fingers curling gently against the base of Sam’s neck. I could never leave you.
5. In a Week
They hadn’t made it past opening the car door before the blood loss got too bad and they’d both collapsed, so now they’re propped together against the angle of the door hinge, Sam sort of draped over Dean, head down against Dean’s shoulder despite the height difference.
It’s not so bad, despite Dean’s unhappiness over the family of squirrels that’s set up shop in the passenger footwell. Baby deserves better, he grumbles when it rains.
Not the first family she’s housed, Sam counters, settling a little more closely into Dean’s embrace. Maybe it’s only fitting.
Maybe, Dean grudgingly concedes after the first batch of babies starts romping around in the back seat. They are kind of cute.
So are you, Sam laughs. Still worrying about the car even now.
Not like I have anything else to do, Dean counters. News flash: watching grass grow really is as boring as advertised. And you suck at I Spy.
Sam could argue that Dean’s the one who taught him how to play, but he’d rather simply appreciate the quiet of their resting place. Remember–? he asks instead each time.
Remember, remember, remember–?
And Dean always does, while the Impala slowly rusts beside them and the small woodland creatures play amid their bones.