Author's note: Ok, so I know the whole 'tag to AHBL2' has been done to death, but I had some dialogue running round my head that I just had to get out.. So this is my humble contribution!
I cannot praise highly enough the amazing job Jensen & Jared did with this episode, and particularly the end scene. I hope this does them justice!..
And yes I know this technically has not been shown in the UK yet but as most of you are aware, I have zero willpower when it comes to SN! (You have to love whoever first thought of the Internet...)
Dean woke with a start. He sat up, chest heaving, feeling completely disoriented. A glance round the room didn't help much, as it just looked like every Motel room they had ever stayed in. Memories from the past few days were swirling in his mind and as he looked around the empty room he felt panic building.
Where was Sam?
He frowned as he tried to think. Had he dreamt the whole deal with the demon? The final showdown? Was he stuck in a reality where Sam was still dead and he was finally totally alone?
He pushed the covers that were lying over him back so quickly that they got tangled in his legs, and he stumbled a little as he stood up. He was still fully dressed and he had no memory of having gone to bed, but none of this really mattered to him right now. All he was interested in was where his brother was.
"Sam! Sammy, are you here?" he shouted, desperation leaking into his voice.
The room was pretty small, so it wasn't as if there were many places Sam could be. He prayed he wasn't clutching at straws or finally loosing the plot completely and calling for his dead brother.
Even as he called out again, the bathroom door was flung back and Sam rushed out. He was soaking wet, a towel gathered haphazardly round his waist, his hair plastered against his skull. His face was a mix of concern, apprehension and readiness as his glance swung round the room and fixed on Dean.
"What? What's wrong?" he said breathlessly, looking for the danger that wasn't immediately apparent.
Dean was frozen for a moment, relief at seeing Sam alive in front of him preventing his brain from coming up with any sort of coherent response.
"Dean? What is it?" said Sam, taking a step closer as Dean's silence increased the concern he was already feeling.
Realising he was freaking Sam out, Dean swallowed and blinked back the moisture that was suddenly in his eyes.
"Uh, nothing – nothing's wrong, Sam. I was just wondering where you were, that's all." he managed to get out, silently cursing the way his voice wavered slightly.
Sam's eyebrows rose up towards his hairline.
"That's it?" he said, torn between relief that there was nothing wrong and the urge to whack Dean upside the head for scaring the crap out of him.
Dean flushed, suddenly aware how he must have sounded yelling Sam's name like that.
"Sorry, I guess I was shouting louder than I realised." he said, shifting uncomfortably and avoiding Sam's gaze.
And suddenly it hit Sam. Dean had been asleep when Sam went in the shower, and he could only imagine the sort of dreams that would be plaguing his brother after the last few days. For him to wake up, alone, in the Motel room – Sam could imagine what his first thoughts must have been. His face softened as any irritation he might have felt disappeared to be replaced by concern for his brother.
"Hey, don't worry about it." he said gently and Dean glanced up at him with a quick, grateful look. Knowing Dean would appreciate a lightening of the moment, Sam smiled ruefully.
"Just be grateful I grabbed a towel." he said wryly and was rewarded with a look of horror on Dean's face.
"Dude! I do not need that mental image, man." said Dean, shaking his head in disgust as he walked back over to the bed.
Sam chuckled, mission accomplished, and went back into the bathroom to finish his shower.
As the door closed, Dean let out a long breath as he sat down on the bed. He leant forward, elbows resting on his knees, and ran a hand through his hair wearily.
He was more than grateful Sam hadn't made a big deal out of his momentary panic, even though he was pretty certain his brother had guessed what had happened. Sam knew him too well not to have. But now the adrenaline rush he'd had on waking and the relief at seeing Sam were both fading, leaving him drained. He felt like he could sleep for a week, hell, he could sleep for a month right now, and he found himself briefly wondering if it had something to do with the deal. Was the payment a sudden thing or would he just fade away, until in the end he was barely there anymore. He felt a stab of fear.
When he'd first made the deal, he hadn't really had time to think about it. The pure joy at seeing Sam alive again had overwhelmed everything else and then in the heat of the battle with the Yellow Eyed Demon there had been no time to think about anything other than trying to survive. But now it was sinking in and while he wouldn't for a moment do anything differently, he wasn't above feeling afraid of what was to come.
It sounded like a lot, but when it came down to it it was just 365 days. He knew how fast the last year had passed, and the thought of having such a short amount of time left made his heart beat faster and his skin tingle. He didn't regret the decision, not for a second, but he found himself wishing the demon had allowed him longer. Wishing that what he'd been forced to do to save his brother wouldn't ultimately leave him to face things alone in twelve months time.
He knew what Sam had said, and the words had meant more than he could say, but he also knew that the demon was smart. There would be no easy way out of this, no quick fix. And he wasn't about to risk reneging on the deal and condemning Sam for a second time. He'd rather spend eternity in hell than go through that again.
He heard the door open again, more sedately this time, and he sat up straighter. Fixing a nonchalant look on his face he met Sam's questioning gaze with a quick grin.
Sam returned it, but he wasn't convinced by the act. He knew something was still bothering Dean and it didn't take a genius to work out it would be something to do with the last few hellish days. Truth was, Dean wasn't the only one struggling to come to terms with what had happened.
While Sam was grateful to be alive, and hated even the thought of what his death must have done to Dean, he was beyond distraught at what his brother had been forced to do to bring him back. The very idea that in twelve short months he would face losing his brother to eternal torment almost took Sam's breath away.
It was the quintessential Catch 22 situation, and one Sam realised they should have seen coming after all these years. Because when it came down to it, the simple truth was neither of them could face losing the other. They'd had a bond since they were kids that could not be broken, even though it had been stretched at times, and now it appeared that even death couldn't separate the Winchester's for long. But in the very act of saving Sam, Dean had condemned him to a fate that as far as Sam was concerned was worse than death.
A future without his big brother.
There was simply no way round it. Sam would find a way to save Dean. He had to. Because the alternative was something his mind couldn't even contemplate, not for a minute.
As Dean frowned, a look of concern appearing on his face, Sam realised he'd been staring at his brother while all these thoughts were running through his head.
"You ok, Sammy?" said Dean and Sam started to say yes but then decided at the last moment to answer honestly instead.
"No, not really." he said quietly.
Dean was instantly in big brother mode. As Sam sat down on the edge of his own bed Dean got up and joined him, putting his hand on Sam's shoulder without even thinking about it. Sam couldn't help a slight smile at that. It was something he'd noticed in the few hours that he'd been 'back'.
Whilst Dean, for all his protests about not being a 'touchy-feely' kinda guy, would often make some sort of physical contact with Sam - be it a playful nudge, a hand on his shoulder, or just sitting or standing close enough that their shoulders would touch - now he seemed to be making a point to do it even more. Sam had an inkling it was to remind himself that Sam was really here, and his heart ached for the pain Dean must have felt when he couldn't do that, when Sam had been 'gone'.
His musing was interrupted by Dean's anxious voice.
"What is it? Is it your back? Maybe we should get you checked out after all." said Dean, aware he was rambling but not able to stop himself. The thought that something might still be wrong, after everything they'd just been through, was a terrifying one.
Sam shook his head with fond exasperation that Dean's first thoughts would be that something was physically wrong, it not even occurring to him that what was plaguing Sam might be the fact that he'd just condemned himself to an early grave on Sam's behalf.
"No, nothing's wrong with my back. Not even a twinge." he said and Dean sagged a little, letting out a sigh of relief.
"Then what is it?" he said and Sam couldn't help rolling his eyes as he gave Dean a 'are you kidding me?' look.
Dean frowned again, then as comprehension finally dawned he flushed and looked away awkwardly.
"Sam.." he began but Sam cut him off.
"Don't 'Sam' me, Dean. You can't just expect me to forget about this or pretend it's not a big deal, because it is. It's a huge deal." he said, swallowing as he felt his throat tightening again.
Dean rubbed a hand over his face and leant forward. Glancing sideways at Sam he lifted his hands briefly in a helpless gesture.
"I'm not saying it's not a big deal Sam, but what do you want me to do? I won't say I'm sorry I did it, because I'm not. And I don't know about you but I really don't want to spend the next year raking over this and arguing about whether I was right or not." he said, his tone taking on a slightly defensive edge.
Now it was Sam's turn to put his hand on Dean's shoulder, keen to diffuse the tension before it began.
"I'm not asking you to defend what you did and I don't want to fight with you about it, Dean. Just because I don't agree with what you did doesn't mean I don't understand why you did it, or appreciate it. And I'd probably have done the same thing." he said quietly, knowing it was the truth.
"Don't say stuff like that." said Dean fiercely, already struggling to deal with the fear of what Sam might do to get him out of the deal he'd made.
Sam shook his head. "It's the truth. I meant what I said to you before – there is nothing I wouldn't do for you. And that includes finding a way to get you out of this. Even if I have to follow you into hell and kick Satan's ass personally." he said.
Dean snorted and Sam grinned, pleased to see his brother with a smile on his face even if only for a moment.
"I hear you Sam, and I appreciate it, really I do." said Dean softly, affection clear on his face as he met Sam's gaze. "But I don't want you doing anything that will put you in danger. Saving me by sacrificing yourself isn't an option."
Sam lifted an eyebrow. "Seems to me that goes both ways." he said wryly and Dean shook his head, acknowledging the irony of his last statement.
"Fine, I get it ok? Looks like we'll have to find a way out of this that doesn't involve EITHER of us getting sacrificed – deal?" he said with a smile that belied that the seriousness of his words.
"Deal." said Sam firmly with an answering smile.
As Dean stood up Sam reached out and grabbed his arm as he stood himself.
"There was one other thing." he said and Dean looked at him apprehensively.
"What?" he said warily, dreading Sam coming out with some new problem, some secret he'd brought back with him or a new danger Dean was currently unaware of.
"You kind of took me by surprise before and there was something I didn't get a chance to do." said Sam and before Dean could ask what that was he suddenly found himself being hugged. Taken aback, he stood there for a second before putting his arms round Sam and holding him tightly. Feeling the warmth and affection in Sam's embrace, revelling in the simple fact of his brother being alive that was slowly pushing aside the agonising memory of holding Sam as he died, Dean could feel some of that fear for the future ebbing away just a little.
Sam for his part tried to put all the gratitude and care and love that he felt for Dean into the hug, enjoying the fact that for once his brother was allowing the moment to happen. He really had been taken aback last time, unaware of the reason behind Dean's joy at seeing him and not understanding why his normally stoic brother had suddenly been so open with his emotions. After, when he knew the full story, he'd wished he'd understood then and could have returned the embrace. This was his chance to make amends for that.
Naturally, even despite the circumstances, Dean wasn't totally comfortable indulging in the dreaded chick-flick moment and he was the first to pull away. Looking sightly embarrassed he gave Sam a light punch on the shoulder and shook his head.
"You know if I'd known you were gonna go all girly on me and start wanting to hug every five minutes I'd have gone with the handshake." he said dryly and Sam just rolled his eyes, nudging Dean with his shoulder.
"Jerk." he said and was rewarded with a smile of such utter delight and pleasure as Dean replied "Bitch", that he felt his eyes stinging and a lump materialise in his throat again.
Turning away before he gave Dean even more ammunition about his 'girlyness' he couldn't hide the huge yawn that suddenly came over him.
"We should get some sleep." said Dean, alert as ever to what Sam needed.
"That's right – we should." said Sam, emphasising the fact that both of them desperately needed it. It hadn't escaped his notice that Dean still looked like crap, the strain of the past few days evident on his face and in his body language. In fact he'd had to practically carry Dean into the room before and his brother had been asleep before his head had even hit the pillow, leaving Sam to fondly take off his boots and cover him with the blanket as if tucking in a child.
And he was so keeping that description to himself, since he quite enjoyed having a full set of teeth.
Dean rolled his eyes but didn't deny how tired he was. Grabbing his stuff he quickly went in to the bathroom to change and when he came out, Sam was already in bed.
Dumping his clothes on the chair Dean slid under his own covers, wincing a little as various bruises made contact with the mattress. He really wished everything they fought would stop throwing him into things. He was starting to feel like a rubber ball.
Before he got too comfortable he reached out and switched off the lamp. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness he lay there quietly for a moment, enjoying the simple pleasure of hearing Sam breathing on the other side of the room.
Dean shook his head at the sappy tone of his thoughts. He really hoped it wore off soon, otherwise he'd have to start wearing pink.
He jumped a little as Sam's voice interrupted his introspection.
"So maybe we should head out in the morning. Pick somewhere nice, stay for a couple of days." he said tentatively.
"You mean like a vacation?" said Dean, sounding a little amused.
Sam knew he was opening himself up to ridicule but he didn't care. They'd earned this, they'd more than earned it, and it was suddenly very important to him that they spend at least a few days not being hunters, not being responsible for the safety of the world, but just being brothers.
Aloud he said "Yeah, if you like. It's not like we couldn't both do with some time off."
Dean knew Sam was right but he also knew they had certain responsibilities they couldn't just ignore.
"I hear you Sammy, but you know we've got work to do. All those demons that got out? It's not gonna be long before they start causing trouble. Not to mention all the usual ghosts and ghouls we gotta take care of. It's not really the best time in the world to decide to play tourist." he said ruefully.
"That may be, but I still say we deserve a couple of days." said Sam stubbornly. "I just want us to spend some time together without having to worry about anything or anyone else for a change."
Dean could hear the unspoken words that went along with that sentence. That they should take the time to appreciate each other's company before it might be too late.
As if sensing what Dean was thinking Sam spoke up again. "I'm not saying we're not gonna have time to do that in future, before you start thinking that. I meant what I said about saving you. I'm just saying – after the last few months I think we both could do with a break. That's all."
Dean thought about it for a moment. Despite the severity of his deal with the demon, the more he heard Sam talk about saving him the more he found himself believing him. He could hear the utter determination in his brother's voice, and recognised it as the same determination he'd always had to save Sam from his 'fate'. Maybe it was time he started having faith in his brother, the way Sam had always had faith in him. That said, it didn't mean that Sam wasn't right – it would be good to spend some time just hanging out, especially when the memory of what it felt like to believe he'd never have another chance to do just that was still so clear in his mind.
"Alright, I give in. Vacation time it is." he said with a grin that Sam could hear in his voice.
"Thanks Dean." he said softly and Dean knew Sam was talking about more than just agreeing to take a few days off.
They lay there in silence again when suddenly Sam heard Dean chuckling.
"What?" he said, turning his head so he was facing his brother.
"Kick Satan's ass?" said Dean, his voice full of fond amusement, and Sam blushed even in the dark. It had sounded less ridiculous in his head, he had to admit.
"I would you know." he said, trying to sound indignant, and Dean found himself laughing harder at the mental image he now had in his head.
As always Dean's laugh was infectious and it wasn't long before Sam found himself chuckling too. It felt good, a release of sorts, and Dean found himself wiping away tears that for the first time in ages were of laughter and not sadness.
"Dude you are seriously weird - you know that, right?" he said and he could picture Sam's eye roll.
"Yeah well, who's fault is that?" said Sam dryly and Dean snorted.
"Oh, don't go blaming me for the way your mind works Francis. It's not my fault I got all the good genes."
"You keep telling yourself that, Dean." said Sam, ducking as he saw in the light from the window a pillow fly through the air towards to his head.
Ignoring Dean's indignant protests as instead of throwing it back he used it to get himself more comfortable, he closed his eyes. Smiling even as he did so at Dean's mutterings about inconsiderate younger brother's keeping pillows that weren't theirs, he found himself feeling suddenly lighter than he had before.
He was still worried about what was to come, about the danger Dean faced, but he was filled with another feeling. A feeling of hope. Because when it came down to it, they'd beaten the odds before. Time and again they'd faced death and destruction and made it through – together.
And they'd do it again.
There wasn't a force, on this earth or beyond, that could tear them apart. And Sam intended to prove that.
It was a promise. And everyone knew – a Winchester never broke a promise.