"Can I ask you something?"
The question was spoken with a quiet intensity that immediately got Sam's attention. He glanced over at Dean, but his brother's gaze was firmly fixed on the view in front of them that they'd been contemplating for the last half hour. The sun was well on it's way to setting, bathing the skyline in amazing shades of red and gold, but Sam wasn't interested in that anymore. He was more concerned with what had turned Dean's mood so serious all of a sudden.
Knowing that making a big deal of it would be the surest way to make Dean backtrack, Sam simply said "Sure." as casually as possible.
Dean took another sip of his beer and seemed to be debating with himself whether to actually follow through with the question. In the end he seemingly decided to go ahead, although as he spoke he still didn't look at Sam directly.
"What would you have wished for? If you had a chance to create that ideal world." he said.
Sam winced, the memory of finding Dean hanging there, terrifyingly lifeless, still far too fresh in his mind for comfort. Trying to put aside the feelings of fear and panic that stirred in him just thinking about it, he tried to work out what had prompted the question in the first place.
Aside from the initial emotional conversation they had had about what Dean had faced at the mercy of the Djinn, Dean had been typically tight-lipped about the effects Sam knew it must have had on him. He'd been quieter than usual for the last couple of days, happy to just drive at a leisurely pace to what might possibly be another job, without any real sense of urgency. Sam had been equally as happy to allow Dean that time to get back on an even keel and as much as he might wish his brother would share his thoughts with him, he'd known better than to push and had simply tried to be there in case Dean did want to talk.
Which he apparently now did, after a fashion.
Dean nudged him slightly with his shoulder, shooting him a questioning look, and Sam realised he'd been silent longer than he intended whilst he was thinking.
Taking a deep breath, he frowned a little as he tried to organise his thoughts.
"I don't know. I mean there's the obvious stuff - Jess and Mom alive. And Dad too, of course. Besides that? I'm not sure." he said.
"What about that normal life you wanted so bad? You know, being a lawyer, picket fences, suburbia, the whole nine yards." said Dean with a slight smirk that belied the seriousness of his question.
Sam shrugged. "I'm not so sure that is what I really wanted anymore." he said quietly and Dean raised his eyebrows.
"You're kidding?" he said incredulously and Sam shook his head.
"No, I'm not. I mean, don't get me wrong – I really did want all that stuff, so bad. I thought I could leave hunting and all the baggage that went with it behind me, that I could.. I don't know, recreate myself somehow. But truth is? Even when I was at Stanford, I was still me. I still thought about all that stuff, I still worried if you and Dad were ok. And part of me knew that I'd never really be able to walk away from it. That I was just kidding myself." he said quietly.
Dean took another long swig of beer and looked down at the ground contemplatively, making ridges in the dirt with the toe of his boot almost absently.
"Just because you didn't think it would work out in this lifetime doesn't mean that can't still be your ideal world. That's what the Djinn offers – the chance for things to be as they should be." he said softly.
"Oh yeah? So how come in your version of a 'perfect world' you were a loser and a thief who drank too much and didn't get on with his brother?" said Sam with sudden intensity.
Dean's head snapped up and he shot Sam a look that was part surprise and part panic. He shifted uncomfortably, bringing one hand up to rub the back of his neck briefly.
"Maybe the Djinn was having an off day." he said, trying to make light of Sam's question, but his brother was having none of it. That element of Dean's alternate reality had been bothering Sam from the beginning and now Dean had started this conversation he wasn't going to let the opportunity to have it out with him pass by.
"Nice try Dean, but I'm being serious here. I get Mom being alive, and me and Jess being engaged, and I even get Dad being at peace. I mean, I know that's what's you want after what the demon said before and I can understand the Djinn coming up with him being dead from that. But the other stuff? The way we were with each other and the kind of guy you were? That I don't get at all. Is that really how you see yourself? Where did all that come from, man?" he said and Dean let out a frustrated sigh.
"How the hell do I know, Sam? I don't know how a Djinn's mind works, he musta made a mistake or something. Or maybe he was trying to make it so I'd want to stick around and fix things, so I wouldn't be trying to escape. Look, just forget I asked ok? It was a dumb question." he said, pushing himself off the Impala and starting to walk away. Sam was quicker though and reached out, grabbing Dean's arm and making him turn around.
"No, I won't forget it Dean! I've been waiting for you to be ready to actually talk about this for days and I'm not gonna just let you pretend it didn't happen like you usually do. We need to talk about this." he said.
Dean snorted and tried to pull his arm away from Sam's surprisingly strong grip.
"No, we really don't." he said but Sam wasn't about to let go, in more ways than one.
Recognising the stubborn set of Sam's jaw and the determination in his eyes Dean let out a frustrated sigh and leant back against the Impala again, irritatedly shaking his arm until Sam gave in and let go.
"It was just a question, Sam. I was curious, that's all. You don't have to go making a big deal of it." said Dean, his tone of voice letting Sam know he was in for an uphill struggle to get to the real truth of it.
Of course like that was anything new.
Not above using a little emotional manipulation when it was for Dean's own good, Sam fixed him with a look he knew Dean had christened the 'kicked puppy gaze' and spoke gently.
"This is me you're talking to, remember? I know you, and I know there's more to it than that. I just want to know what's going on with you, Dean. I want to help. Talk to me, please." he said pleadingly.
Dean sighed and looked away, equally as stubborn as Sam when it came to sharing his innermost thoughts. He was sorry he'd asked now, it had been a spur of the moment thing borne of having too much time while they were on the road to think about what had happened with the Djinn. He'd been hoping to find out what Sam really thought, what his perfect future would be. The one Dean still hoped he could one day make a reality for his brother, albeit without the ability sadly to change some things. But instead the conversation had somehow turned to his thoughts and desires instead, and he was really not up for going there right now. Especially with Sam.
But he could tell Sam wasn't going to let this drop, and he was already wheeling out the big guns – starting with that damn look that his brother had been using on him, with annoying success, ever since he was 4 years old.
"You can quit the starving orphan look Sammy, I stopped falling for that years ago." he said, which they both knew was a blatant lie.
"Please, Dean." came the quiet plea again and Dean closed his eyes briefly.
"Sam." he said, his brother's name his own plea, but he already knew there was no getting out of this.
Able to sense Dean's mood as always, Sam waited silently knowing Dean would find his own way in the end.
Dean quickly finished his beer and reached over for another from the six-pack that was sitting on the hood. He knew he shouldn't have more than one when they still had to drive to the nearest motel for the night, but he needed the boost to his courage to pick his way through the minefield his curiosity had landed them in.
Glancing quickly at Sam and then back at the horizon again, he took a deep breath.
"I don't know why the Djinn made it so we didn't get on, ok? I'm serious about that, Sam. I have no idea how these things work other than the whole 'getting what you wish' for deal. But I guess, maybe.." he stopped and for a second Sam wasn't sure he was going to continue but then he did. "I guess sometimes I think you could have that life. The whole 'normal' thing. If it weren't for me."
Sam's eyebrows almost hit his hairline. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?" he demanded and Dean almost flinched.
"Well, think about it for a second would you? You were at Stanford, happy with Jess, and I came and took you away from that. You'd never have come if I hadn't asked you to." said Dean and Sam cut him off, already shaking his head.
"Dude, we have had this discussion a million times. I was already having the dreams about Jess long before you showed up. And we know the signs were there too. It wasn't your fault, Dean. In fact if you hadn't been there I'd probably be dead too, or worse." he said, not needing to expand on the touchy topic of what the Yellow Eyed Demons plans were for him.
Dean shrugged. "Ok, maybe that part wasn't my fault exactly. But you can't tell me part of why you're still here doing this isn't because of me. You've insisted on telling me often enough how it's your job to look out for me too. If you didn't feel that responsibility, if you didn't feel like you 'had' to be here – maybe you could still get away from all this." he said, swinging the half empty beer bottle in an arc to emphasis his point.
Sam stared at him in total disbelief. "Wow. That has to be the single, dumbest thing you've ever said. And that's saying something, considering all the dumb stuff you've come out with in the last year." he said, frustration and anger creeping into his voice.
Dean glared at him. "Gee thanks Sammy – I'm really feeling the warm fuzzies here now." he said, each word dripping with sarcasm.
"Well what do you expect? How the hell can you stand there and tell me that as far as your concerned, the best way to make my life perfect is if you aren't around. Do you not listen to a word I say, Dean? How can someone so smart be so totally clueless?" said Sam, pushing off the Impala to stalk the dirt in front of them in frustration.
"Are you aiming for an actual point here Francis or are you just working through all the ways of calling me stupid?" said Dean, his own frustration growing now. He hadn't wanted to do this in the first place and now not only was he stuck in a heart-to-heart moment but Sam was insulting him.
This day just kept getting better.
Sam paced up and down, taking deep breaths to try and calm down. The worst part was Dean wasn't doing this to be annoying. He genuinely believed he was one of the 'bad' parts of Sam's life and that just floored Sam. Especially when the truth was the exact opposite.
Knowing that trying to talk about this stuff with a pissed off Dean was even worse than trying to have the conversation in the first place, he turned to his brother and held out his hands in a placating gesture.
"Alright, lets just back up here could we? I don't want to fight with you about this but God, Dean – how can you think that? How can you not know that.." Sam stopped, unable to find the right words to try and explain to his brother just how important he was to him.
Dean shifted against the car and looked away from Sam's pained expression, watching the rapidly changing colours of the sky in front of them.
Sighing softly, Sam came back over and leant back against the car again. He made sure his shoulder was resting against Dean's and he thought for a second, choosing his words carefully. He knew this was important, especially after the last few days and what Dean had been through. He had to get this right.
Finally he was ready. "Ok – you want to know what my ideal world would be? Pretty much the same as yours. I'd like Mom alive. I want Dad to still be here, to be the guy he was before all this happened. I want Jess alive and happy, and I want us to get to be together for the rest of our lives. But most of all? I want to see you get to live your life for youDean. Not taking care of me, not saving everyone, not dealing with all this crap and trying to do it on your own. I want to see you have the chance to do whatever it is you want to do – maybe be a Firefighter, although personally I'd prefer a less dangerous job, but if that's what you really want. I just want to see you get what you deserve – a home, a family, a real life. But I've said this before and I will say again as many times as I have to until you believe it – there would never be a world, perfect or otherwise, where I would not want you to be in my life Dean. You're my brother. That's why I'm here – not because I feel obligated, or trapped, or anything else. I'm here because I want to be." he said, putting as much feeling into every word as he possibly could.
Dean swallowed. He couldn't look at Sam, because if he did he'd plunge them into possibly the biggest chick-flick moment in the history of the world. He knew Sam had said this before, when they first talked about what had happened, but even then part of him hadn't been totally convinced. Because the truth was in his own mind he could never get past the nagging doubt that Sam's life could be better, would be better, if he could just get away from what life as a Winchester meant. But now, hearing Sam say all those things and hearing the raw truth of it in his voice.
How could he do anything but believe it was true?
Sam was watching Dean process his words anxiously, seeing the play of emotions sweeping across his brother's face in the fading light of the sun.
Eventually he couldn't take it anymore and nudged Dean gently with his shoulder. "Dean?" he said, desperate to know what was going through his complicated mind.
Dean swallowed a couple of times and blinked to clear the grit that had suddenly gotten into his eyes.
"You had to get all Dr Phil about it, didn't you?" he said gruffly and Sam let out a slightly shaky laugh as he rolled his eyes. He should have known better.
"Sorry, I forgot who I was talking to." said Sam dryly and Dean grinned at him, the intensity of the situation eased for now. As much as he hated this, he couldn't leave Sam's words unacknowledged though and when he next spoke his voice was completely serious.
"I appreciate what you said, Sammy. It's just you gotta understand, more than anything I wish I could give you the life you deserve. A way out of all this." he said quietly and Sam smiled at him, his face softening as he looked at Dean affectionately.
"I know that, Dean. And I wish I could do the same for you. But you only get one reality, and this is it. And for all the bad stuff, for everything we've been through? We're both still here. And that counts for something, right?" he said quietly.
Dean smiled back at him. "Yeah, that counts for a lot Sam." he said and Sam's smile grew even wider.
They both turned back to watch the last vestiges of sun disappear behind the horizon. Nothing was said for a while, Sam giving Dean time to process what had just been said and happy for now to just watch the sunset in companionable silence.
Dean could feel the heaviness of the last few days lifting off his shoulders and he marvelled once again how just a few words from his brother could make such a difference in his life.
They'd by no means resolved all their problems, nor had Sam even really said anything he hadn't said before. But somehow this time it was different. Maybe his own emotions were just still raw after seeing the life he could have had with his Mom alive, but whatever the reason his brother's words had really hit a nerve and he felt a warmth in him that had nothing to do with the fading rays from the sun.
Glancing at the last remnants of beer in the bottle, he lifted it towards Sam in a toasting gesture.
"To an ideal world." he said quietly and Sam looked at him contemplatively.
"I don't know, Dean. I think this one kinda has it's moments." he said "How about to our world instead?"
Dean rolled his eyes. "That is definitely your last beer, Samantha." he said but he couldn't stop the grin that twitched the corners of his mouth and he clinked his bottle against Sam's in acceptance of the toast anyway.
Sam grinned, ignoring the smart ass comment he'd been expecting anyway, and finished his own beer. He handed the empty bottle to Dean and caught the car keys that were thrown his way. He slid into the driver's seat and waited for Dean to get in.
As they pulled away and drove past the sign that said they only had 20 miles till the next town, where they'd stay for the night, Dean thought about what Sam had said.
Maybe his brother was right. Maybe it wasn't about an ideal world, it was just about their world. And surviving in it, together.
He smiled to himself as he slid down the seat to get comfortable.
Yeah – he could definitely live with that.
Author's note: Hope ya'll enjoyed that one. A little soppy I know, but what can I say? Reading about how Jared surprised Jensen by turning up at his play will do that to a girl:)
What I actually wanted to say here (and at the risk of sounding like an Oscar winner indulging in a major chick-flick moment..) was a HUGE thank you to all of you who take the time to review all my stories whenever I post them. So thank you (in no particular order) to; Ziggy.uk, joeysgirl4eva, Brenny, heyesgirl, Pandora Jazz, alwaysateen, jjackles, Rhesa, heather03nmg, limonade, XinaMarieUhl, Brigid Tanner, LaurenWinchester, misstickleangel, Anime's-mistress, KatieLB, and I seriously apologise to anyone I missed out! Suffice to say if you have ever left me a review, please consider yourself thanked – they really do make my day!
And to anyone still awake, I will be leaving now... See you all soon:)