Sam sat by the motel window, watching Dean sleep.
It had been 48 hours since the battle, 48 hours since they finally ended the epic quest begun by John Winchester over twenty years earlier. And while Sam felt some relief that the Yellow Eyed Demon was dead and that their Dad was finally at peace, what he mostly felt was fear.
At the deal Dean had been forced to make to bring him back to life.
They'd talked about it once, Sam emphatically promising he would find a way to get his brother out of this. That there was no force on this earth or beyond that could take Dean away from him. But despite Dean's acknowledgement, he couldn't be sure his brother really, truly believed him. And as for himself - he was terrified. Dean's entire future, his soul, was in Sam's hands now and he'd never felt so overwhelmed.
He finally understood what it had been like for Dean all these years, feeling that responsible for another human being.
Dean shifted suddenly in his sleep, turning his head so he was now facing Sam.
Sam held his breath but Dean didn't wake. The new angle gave the Sam the chance to study Dean's face though, to get a good look at the long gash on his forehead and the slight bruising around it. He could still remember the terror as Dean had been thrown through the air by the YED and the helplessness as once again he'd been paralysed by the demon's power, unable to help his brother or protect him from what was to come. At least this time they'd had a secret weapon.
For all the differences they'd had when he was alive, Sam felt nothing but pride for the fact John Winchester had managed to drag himself out of hell and save his son – again. It didn't stop Sam feeling guilty though, at his own inability to help or at the fact that Dean had gotten hurt - again. In fact the gash on Dean's head was eerily reminiscent of the one he'd suffered in the crash and Sam had to swallow several times as he was assaulted with yet more memories of his brother being in mortal peril.
When he really thought about it, ever since that fateful night at Stanford Dean had had one close call after another. Pissed off spirits, electrocution, Reapers – twice no less – cannibalistic hillbillies, human-sacrificing townspeople, not to mention the YED himself. And that was before you even got to the various law enforcement agencies who wanted nothing more than to send Dean Winchester to the electric chair or lock him up for the rest of his life.
When you actually added it all up, Dean should statistically have been dead long before now and that scared the hell out of Sam. But not as much as the idea that the one thing that could finally finish Dean off for good was Sam himself, in the form of the deal that had been made to bring him back.
Sam had done his best not to be mad at Dean, not to show how monumentally pissed he was at his brother's actions. But that didn't mean he didn't feel it. As grateful and touched and proud as he was by what Dean had done, he was also furious that he could be so cavalier with his own life. That he couldn't see that his not being there, that his soul being condemned to eternal damnation, was a worse fate for Sam than death itself.
With no prospect of sleep on the horizon Sam found himself pondering his brother and the endless contradictions that made up Dean Winchester.
To the outside world he presented this cocky, devil may care attitude that belied a sensitivity that was greater than the one he teased Sam about possessing. He appeared tough and unbreakable, but in reality he had been hurt deeply by everything he'd been through and, Sam had to acknowledge guiltily, by the occasional thoughtless actions of those he loved most. He was the kindest, bravest, most loyal person Sam had ever known, with an endless capacity for saving other people without a second thought about what it might cost him.
Oh yeah – when it came right down to it Sam was proud as hell to be Dean Winchester's brother, even if he could never actually tell him that for fear of bodily harm. But that pride was mixed with sadness too. For the burdens Dean was all too willing to shoulder, for the pain he felt at everything that had been taken from him. Not to mention fear for the risks Dean was always so willing to take to protect others.
It broke his heart that Dean truly didn't seem to see how important he really was, especially to Sam. And now, with this ominous countdown hanging over them, Sam felt an urge more overwhelming than ever to show his brother, even if just for a moment, how much he appreciated everything he did.
How much he appreciated him.
A sudden idea came into his head. It was something he hadn't thought about in months, not since he'd left Stanford behind for good, but now it came flooding back to him. It wasn't anything big or grand in the great scheme of things, but it was the best he could do under the circumstances and it might just be enough to get the message across.
Buoyed by the thought of doing something for his brother he began to mentally make some plans.
"Dean. Come on man, wake up."
The annoyingly persistent voice, accompanied by someone shaking his shoulder, was enough to rouse Dean from sleep. He opened his eyes only to be greeted by Sam's grinning face entirely closer than it should have been.
"Sam! What the hell are you doing?" mumbled Dean, moving his head back so he wasn't nose to nose with his brother anymore.
"Trying to wake you up for the last 10 minutes – come on, we need to get going." said Sam, still grinning inanely.
Dean blinked. "Have you drunk the entire mini bar again?" he said, looking round for empty bottles.
Sam rolled his eyes. "No, smart ass, I'm completely sober. Come on, we're wasting time." he said pulling back the blankets and exposing Dean to the slightly chill air, courtesy of the motel's antique heating.
"Hey!" he said indignantly, trying to grab the blanket back from Sam. "What exactly are we supposed to be in such a hurry for? And what time is it anyway?"
Sam glanced at his watch. "A little after 6am. And I can't tell you what we're in a hurry for – it's a surprise." he said.
Dean's raised his eyebrows. "A surprise? Dude, I'm not six years old. And did you just say 6am? I'd better have misheard you otherwise I am gonna kick your ass for waking me up in the middle of the night." he said, sounding entirely serious.
Sam ignored the threat, and also kept a firm grip on the blanket. "I mean it Dean – and don't be such a drama queen. 6am is not the middle of the night." he said.
Dean briefly wondered if he'd woken up in some parallel universe again. After what they'd just been through there was no way Sam should be this cheerful and the whole 'surprise' thing was just downright freaky.
He stared at Sam but when no further explanation was forthcoming he realised he was going to have to go along with whatever crazy idea he'd apparently come up with while Dean was busy sleeping.
Sighing in a way that told Sam in no uncertain terms he was treading on very thin ice with the whole thing, Dean swung his legs over the edge of the bed and stomped into the bathroom, muttering under his breath about pain in the ass little brothers suffering from temporary insanity.
Sam just grinned to himself. Dean might be in a bad mood temporarily but it would be worth it in the end. At least he hoped so anyway.
20 minutes later the Impala sped down the road, engine purring throatily as it ate up the miles. Sam was firmly ensconced in the driver's seat, despite Dean's indignant protests. His logic had been pretty simple really – Dean could hardly drive them when he had no idea where they were going. The retort that he would know where they were going if Sam would stop being a secretive pain in the ass was met with a serene smile that only served to infuriate Dean even more. And so he was now grudgingly sat in the passenger seat, glowering at the view as it flew by and occasionally shooting Sam a look that said he was definitely plotting revenge for this one and it wouldn't be pretty.
Fortunately for Sam he didn't have to put up with the glaring for too long, as the soothing, familiar motion of the Impala and the exhaustion that still dogged Dean from recent events meant that he was asleep before they'd even been travelling an hour. Sam smiled affectionately as he glanced over at his brother and saw he was sound asleep, head leaning back against the seat and resting against the window.
It was another 4 hours before Sam had to stop for gas and to stretch his legs. When he came out of the kiosk after paying, Dean was lounging against the side of the car and stretching to pull out the kinks in his shoulders.
"Welcome back, sleeping beauty." said Sam dryly and Dean rolled his eyes.
"Hilarious, Francis. Where the hell are we?" he said, glancing round the gas station that looked like any other in small town America.
"About halfway there." said Sam, deliberately not telling Dean exactly where they were.
Dean glared at him. "You know this whole mystery tour thing is starting to get annoying. Would you please just tell me where we are going?" he said exasperatedly.
"Dude, was the whole 'it's a surprise' thing not clear enough for you?" said Sam, equally exasperatedly.
"Was the whole 'I'm not 6' thing not clear enough for you?" retorted Dean and Sam rolled his eyes.
"Just get in the damn car, Dean." he said and Dean was forced to sit back down or risk being left standing on the gas station forecourt.
As the day wore on Dean's irritation was gradually turning to curiosity. He was more than a little intrigued what on earth Sam was up to, and it was sort of exciting too.
Not that he was ever going to admit to Sam that he just had that thought.
Turning on the radio and turning up the volume as AC/DC's 'Back in Black' poured out of the speakers he shot Sam a smug grin. Just because he was starting to slightly enjoy himself didn't mean he was letting his brother off the hook for being so dramatic about the whole thing. Sam just rolled his eyes and resigned himself to being deafened for the next few hours as revenge for the fact he was dragging Dean on this mystery journey.
After another couple of hours they were well into the mountains. The sky had brightened and the sun was so warm that both of them had wound down the windows. As Dean breathed in the fresh air and enjoyed the purr of his beloved car, he felt himself relax. Whatever Sam had in mind was unlikely to be unpleasant, and after the last few days it was more than a relief to just do something 'normal' for a moment. He knew by rights they should be getting on with tracking the demons that had been let loose, but whatever this was it was clearly important to Sam so he was willing to go along with it for that reason alone.
"Ah-ha!" said Sam somewhat triumphantly suddenly, startling Dean out of his thoughts.
Turning to see what had prompted such a reaction from his brother, Dean saw they were pulling into the parking lot of a small, old fashioned looking diner. Like so many others it proclaimed 'Real Home Cooking' but this one actually looked like that boast wasn't an empty promise.
"This is it?" said Dean, slightly confused as to why Sam had made such a big deal about a diner in the middle of nowhere.
Sam snorted. "Of course this isn't it! Jeez, Dean, give me a little credit." he said indignantly.
"Well if you'd give me a clue." said Dean, digging, but Sam was already getting out of the car.
"I just remember this is a really good place to eat." said Sam, as Dean got out and joined him walking up the steps into the diner.
"You've been here before?" said Dean curiously, knowing that to his knowledge he'd never been here.
"Yeah, once. With some friends from college." said Sam, deliberately leaving out the words 'and Jess'.
Dean as always though heard what was unspoken and briefly rested his hand on Sam's shoulder. Sam shot him a quick appreciative smile and opened the door.
The smells that hit them made Dean's stomach growl so loudly Sam actually turned to look at him.
"Hungry?" he said dryly and Dean grinned. "Well, now you mention it." he said and Sam just shook his head, amused.
A waitress in a uniform that could have stepped straight out of the 50's came over and greeted them with a warm smile, her gaze lingering just a little too long on Dean. Dean of course spotted this and shot her his most charming smile, which made her blush as she turned to show them to their table.
Sam rolled his eyes and whacked Dean on the shoulder as his brother passed him. Dean of course just gave him an innocent look.
For a mid-week lunchtime the place was fairly quiet so that, combined with their waitress's eager attention, meant within 30 minutes they were both tucking into what was definitely the best meal they'd had in ages. Sam hadn't realised how hungry he was until the food arrived, and for once he was finished at the same time as Dean. His brother of course noticed this and smirked at him as he sipped his coffee appreciatively.
"I was hungry." said Sam a little defensively and Dean chuckled. Truth was it was good to see Sam so obviously enjoying his food for once, and also something of a relief given the lingering doubts about whether his brother had come back 'right'. Pushing such thoughts out of his head since they were having such a nice time, Dean scanned the dessert menu.
By the time they'd both finished off a mound of pancakes each even Dean had to admit he was totally and utterly full. They finished their coffee in companionable silence, both enjoying the fact that for once the food and the coffee was good and they weren't busy on a job.
Sam paid their bill and made sure to tip the waitress who had been so attentive, even though he was certain that she was more thrilled by Dean's killer grin as he said goodbye than by the money. Used to his brother having this effect on women, Sam just ignored it, said a polite thanks himself, and followed Dean back out into the sunshine.
"I suppose asking where we're heading would be pointless?" said Dean as he headed back to the passenger side with a resigned air.
"Yep." said Sam with a grin and Dean shook his head as they both got back in.
The afternoon flew by as they drove even further into the mountains. Soon the towns were few and far between, and the scenery was nothing but sprawling forests, fast flowing rivers and snow capped mountains. It was, Dean had to admit, pretty breathtaking.
Scenery aside though it was still pretty frustrating not to know where they were going, and he smirked as an idea came into his head suddenly.
"Hey Sammy – are we nearly there yet?" he said innocently.
Sam glanced at him. "Not yet." he said and Dean sighed.
After a few moments of silence the question came again.
"Are we there yet now?"
This time it was Sam's turn to sigh.
"No!" he said, a little more impatiently this time.
Dean grinned to himself. The silence lasted longer this time, just enough to lull Sam into a false sense of security so that he jumped when Dean spoke again.
"Now are we nearly there?"
"Dude! Do not make me stop this car, Dean." said Sam and Dean burst out laughing.
"Oh man! You sounded just like Dad!" he said, wiping his eyes and Sam glared at him, but then started to chuckle himself partly at Dean and partly at the fact that he had to admit in retrospect he had just channelled John.
"Well, now I know what he had to put up with." he said dryly when Dean had calmed down.
"Hey! You were the one with all the questions whenever we were driving anywhere. Drove me and Dad nuts." said Dean indignantly.
Sam just rolled his eyes and carried on driving.
It was almost 4pm when they came to a small pretty town perched above a high gorge with a river raging through it miles below. Sam said he just needed to get some things from the shop, in a tone of voice that implied Dean really didn't need to go with him, so Dean instead stood leaning on the wooden railing and watching the river below him.
It was kind of nice out here, wherever here was. They didn't have to look over their shoulder for the cops, as the FBI's most wanted list was probably updated about once a year this far from any cities, and since they weren't on a job Dean wasn't busy looking out for anything suspicious. It was good to take a break he realised, especially after what they'd just been through. He suddenly wondered how many days like this he would get before his time was up and he swallowed, trying to banish the thought from his mind. It wasn't that he didn't think Sam would try and get him out of this, it's just he couldn't bring himself to actually believe it. In case it didn't happen.
The last thing he wanted was for Sam to live with the guilt of not being able to save him, he after all knew only too well what that felt like, so his main concern was trying to enjoy what time they might have left and getting through to Sam that this was not his responsibility.
Oblivious to Dean's bleak musings, Sam came back out of the store carrying a bag full of who knew what. He opened the trunk and dropped the bag inside, then wandered over to where Dean stood.
"You all set?" he said, glancing at Dean with slight concern as he noticed his suddenly sombre expression.
"Yeah, sure." said Dean, turning to follow Sam as they crossed back over to the Impala.
"Hey Sammy?" he said quietly as they reached the car.
Sam turned to face him. "Yeah?" he said, a little wary at Dean's serious tone of voice.
"Nothing. Doesn't matter." said Dean, changing his mind. They were having fun. Why spoil it with talk of how little time he might have left? That discussion could be left for another day.
Frowning, but recognising Dean had made his mind up about whatever it was, Sam got back in the car and started the engine.
Less than 45 minutes later Sam pulled off the main road onto a narrow track.
"This better be a proper road, Sammy." said Dean warningly, glancing out of the window to eye the rutted dirt with suspicion.
Sam huffed. "Yes, Dean, it's a road. Seriously Dude, you gotta get some help for the unhealthy obsession you have with this car." he said and Dean's only response was to whack him lightly on the back of the head.
About a mile along they turned a bend and suddenly a wooden cabin came into view. It wasn't very big, but it looked impressive nonetheless nestled as it was in a clearing surrounded by tall trees. Sam pulled up in front of it and switched off the engine. As the last rumble died away Dean looked at him quizzically.
"Who's is this, Sam?" he said and Sam turned to face him across the roof of the car as they both got out.
"It belongs to the parents of a friend of mine. His name's Alec - he's pretty cool. You'd like him actually, he reminded me of you." he said with a smile. Dean raised his eyebrow at this little bit of information but said nothing as Sam continued.
"He brought us up here for the weekend about halfway through our first year. He said his parents don't use it that much, it's one of those 'handed down through the family' things. Anyway, he told us that if we ever wanted to use the place we could help ourselves. He told us where the key is and said the only condition was we left it as we found it."
Dean frowned. "Isn't it a little risky though? I mean what if this Alec or his parents come by, or any of your other friends. Word's bound to have gotten round now about us being wanted by the Feds." he said worriedly.
Sam opened his arms wide. "Come on Dean, it'll be fine. You really think I'd have brought us here if I thought there was any risk? Alec and his family always go to France this time of year to visit family and the others are probably busy studying. It's the middle of the week, we'll be gone before anyone knows we were even here." he said.
Dean still looked unsure. "I don't know." he said, wary as always of trusting people he didn't know.
"Honestly, it really is fine. Besides, even if Alec did find out we were here he wouldn't tell anyone. He's a good guy, Dean. Remember me saying he reminded me of you?" said Sam softly and Dean flushed a little at the implication behind the words.
He cleared his throat. "Ok. If you're so sure." he said and the beaming smile Sam gave him was worth any remaining doubts he might have still had.
Inside, the cabin was as nice as it looked on the outside. There was one large room with a kitchen area off to the left, a huge fireplace on the right and 2 comfy looking sofas arranged around it. As Dean followed Sam he pointed out the bathroom, which was pretty big and had a bath and a shower cubicle, and 3 bedrooms.
"So there's 2 doubles and one with twin beds. You want a room of your own for a change?" said Sam with a grin.
Dean shrugged, looking a little awkward. "I don't mind using the twin if you don't. Less to clear up before we go." he said, trying to make it sound like a decision based on practicality and not on the fact that he actually preferred sharing with Sam.
Sam seemed to get the reasoning behind it anyway and in fact his thoughts were pretty much along the same lines, especially now. Knowing not to make a big deal of it though he just said simply "Ok." and opened the door nearest the end wall.
Dean let out a relieved sigh and went back out to the car to fetch their bags. Sam followed him and grabbed the shopping he'd picked up before.
As they walked back up the steps Dean asked "Is this the surprise then?" and Sam turned and flashed him a smile over his shoulder.
"Part of it. The main bit is tomorrow though." he said, sounding like a big kid at Christmas.
Dean shook his head. "You're enjoying this whole thing far too much, Sammy. You're not regressing on me are you?" he said.
Sam rolled his eyes. "It's Sam, and don't be such a spoilsport. You're just a control freak that's all." he said, smirking and Dean looked indignant.
"I am not!" he said and Sam just chuckled.
By the time Dean had unpacked a few of their things, Sam was already making food. Still fairly full from the huge lunch, Sam just made sandwiches and grabbed two beers, handing Dean one as he came over to the kitchen area.
"Wanna sit outside?" he said, and Dean nodded. "Sure."
There were some wooden chairs and a table on the porch that ran the length of the cabin and they both sat down. The sky was turning deep shades of pink and blue and the first stars were starting to come out. The warmth of the day was fading, but it was still fairly warm and neither of them felt the need to get their jackets.
Sam leant back and sipped his beer with a satisfied sigh. He could feel the tension easing out of his shoulders and when he glanced across at Dean, he saw his brother was looking more relaxed too.
"This is a nice place." said Dean, sipping his own beer and Sam nodded.
"Yeah, it is pretty cool." he said.
Dean looked out at the trees and the glanced back at Sam, seemingly measuring his brother's mood before he asked his next question.
"So how many of you were here last time?" he said casually. Sam took another swig from his bottle before answering quietly.
"4 of us. Me and Jess, and Alec and his girlfriend Rachel. We were at a loose end one weekend and he suggested driving up here. We didn't have any classes at the beginning of that week, so we knew we had time to get back. It was nice. Jess and I had only been going out a few months so it was our first trip away."
Not wanting Sam to slide too deeply into painful memories, Dean grinned. "Tell me you didn't go for the twin beds, Sammy." he said and Sam snorted.
"Cute, Dean." he said, but the moment had been lightened and he gave Dean a grin that said he knew exactly what his brother had just done and was grateful for it.
"So not that this isn't nice and all, but exactly what is this big surprise tomorrow?" said Dean and Sam shook his head.
"God, you really do have zero patience don't you? Just wait and see would you?" he said and Dean huffed but stopped asking questions.
They stayed outside until the sky finally darkened and millions of stars appeared.
Dean for once was practically speechless.
"Wow. That's pretty amazing." he said softly and Sam nodded. "Yeah." he said, equally softly.
Dean went in first, drawn by the lure of an actual bath. Responding to Sam's call to 'Leave me some hot water Dean!' with a wave of his hand, Dean grabbed his nightclothes and went into the spacious bathroom.
He couldn't help the groan of pleasure that escaped as he sank into the blissfully hot water. Feeling the aches and pains he still had from his fight with the Yellow Eyed Demon easing away, he leaned his head back and closed his eyes.
He woke with a start to the sound of Sam banging on the door.
"Dean! You're gonna turn into a prune if you don't get out soon!" Sam called, sounding partly amused and partly exasperated.
"I'm coming! Have a little patience, would you?" Dean called back and he heard Sam muttering as he stomped back into the living room.
The water now slightly cooler than it had been, Dean washed himself quickly and pulled the plug. Concious of the fact this was someone's house and not just a motel, Dean found himself cleaning the bath out. Shaking his head and grateful no one could see him, he gave it a final rinse and opened the door.
Sam looked up from one of the couches were he was sprawled out reading a book. Dean rolled his eyes.
"Trust you to find a book." he said.
Sam ignored the comment and settled for nudging Dean with his shoulder as he walked past him to use the bathroom himself.
Opting for a long hot shower rather than a bath, Sam was pleased to find there was plenty of water left for a change.
By the time he came out Dean was dozing lightly on the sofa. Smiling affectionately at the sight, Sam went over and shook Dean's shoulder lightly.
"Hey, Dean – come on man, don't go to sleep there." he said and Dean opened his eyes, blinking up at his brother blearily.
"Huh? I'm awake, Sam. I was just resting my eyes." he mumbled and Sam chuckled.
"Sure you were. How about you rest them in an actual bed?" he said, reaching out and grabbing Dean's arm to help him up.
Dean muttered under his breath but he allowed Sam to practically lead him into the bedroom, hunter's instinct the only thing that stopped him tripping over on the unfamiliar route.
Sam pulled back the covers on one of the beds and Dean literally fell face down into the pillow with a satisfied sigh. Sam shook his head and pulled the blankets back over Dean.
"Don't even think about tucking me in, Sammy." came the mumbled threat and Sam pulled his hand back as if burnt.
"Wouldn't dream of it." he lied and went over to his own bed. He was just dozing off when he heard Dean's voice.
"Hey Sammy?" he said quietly and Sam turned his head to face him.
"Yeah?" he replied.
"This is nice. It was a good plan." Dean said and Sam felt a lump materialise in his throat at the simple statement.
"I'm glad you like it." he said, as soon as he trusted his voice enough to speak. He just hoped Dean liked the real surprise which was still to come.
Moments later, both Winchesters were fast asleep.
It was the smell of coffee that woke Dean this time. Opening his eyes he blinked in the half light and for a second wasn't sure where he was. Then it came back to him and he glanced over at Sam's bed only to see it empty, the covers tidied neatly as if no one had been there.
Dean frowned, but before he could get up and go look for his brother, Sam opened the door and came in carrying a steaming mug. He grinned when he saw Dean was awake.
"Hey, morning sunshine." he said.
Dean grunted and took the coffee from Sam, inhaling the aroma appreciatively.
"What time is it?" he said gruffly as he sipped the hot liquid.
"Early." said Sam non commitedly. "We should get going though." he said and Dean looked at him.
"Go where?" he said and Sam just smiled. "You'll see." he said.
"Not again." muttered Dean but he dutifully finished his coffee and stumbled to the bathroom to get ready.
When he came out there was the lingering smell of food but no sign of breakfast. Sam was already wearing his jacket though and was putting something into the old rucksack Dean had almost forgotten they kept in the Impala.
Never one for conversation in the morning, Dean pulled on his own jacket and boots and followed Sam outside. He shivered in the slightly chill air and regarded the still dark sky with mistrust.
"Sam, is it me or is it not light yet?" he said evenly and Sam just shrugged.
"It's getting light. Come on, lets go." he said, striding off towards the trees.
Dean glared at Sam's retreating back for a second before following him grudgingly. Whatever this was had better be good – this was two days running Sam had had him up in the middle of the night.
In the dawn light they were easily able to see the path Sam was following. Dean would have asked how long it was going to be till they reached their destination, but he had to use all his breath just to manage the path as it rose steeply. There were trees on both sides, but Dean was too busy watching where he put his feet on the rocky ground to look at the view.
After about half an hour the ground suddenly evened out and Sam quickened his pace.
"We're here." he said, a little out of breath, and Dean looked up to see a clearing in front of them that lead to a cliff edge. In it, near the edge, was a wooden bench.
Sam sat down, putting the rucksuck on the floor next to him. Dean walked up to the edge and looked out at the view. Below them was a carpet of trees and directly ahead was the shadows of mountains just visible against the lightening sky. Turning round he walked back to the bench and sat down next to Sam.
"So is this.." he began, but Sam cut him off before he could finish.
"Just wait a minute." he said softly and Dean frowned, but stopped talking anyway and turned to face the view Sam was already busy staring at.
For a few moments nothing happened, but then suddenly the sky directly behind the mountains began to glow orange. Seconds later the horizon exploded into dazzling colours of red, pink, orange and gold as the sun slowly rose behind the mountains.
Dean literally felt his breath taken away.
"Wow." was all he could manage and Sam glanced at Dean's face, pleased beyond measure to see the awe and amazement in his brother's expression.
"Pretty impressive isn't it?" he said quietly and Dean glanced at him briefly before feeling his gaze pulled back to the spectacle in front of him.
"Impressive isn't the word. You saw this last time?" he said, still staring, and Sam nodded even though Dean wasn't looking at him.
"Yeah. Jess and I hiked up here the morning we left. She'd spotted the path and asked Alec about it. We couldn't believe it when we saw it. It was the most beautiful thing either of us had ever seen." he said.
"I'm with you there, Sammy." said Dean and Sam didn't correct him for once.
"I was going to bring her here to propose." said Sam quietly and Dean turned to look at him, compassion in his gaze.
"I'm sorry." he said and Sam shrugged, giving a slightly watery smile.
"It's ok. I wanted to share this with you. After everything that's happened lately? I wanted you to see this, to remember stuff like this exists. I know it's not the Grand Canyon, but.." he trailed off and shrugged, hoping Dean would get what he was trying to say.
Dean's gaze softened and he put his hand on Sam's shoulder.
"It was a lovely idea, Sam. Thank you." he said and Sam smiled, blinking so he didn't turn the moment into one of Dean's dreaded 'chick-flicks'.
"It's nice to see stuff like this, before, you know." said Dean softly and Sam's eyes widened.
"That better not mean what I think it just meant." he said and Dean sighed, flicking his gaze to Sam and then back to the view.
"I can't just pretend it's not there, Sam. That's not gonna do any good. I'm on a time limit here and I want to make the most of that." he said quietly.
"What, so you're gonna just tick off all the things on your to-do list and then happily go with the demon when it shows up?" he demanded and Dean rubbed his neck, sorry he'd mentioned it now.
"That's not what I meant Sam. I just think we need to be realistic about this, that's all. I mean it's not like I'm counting the hours or anything." he said but before he could finish, Sam jumped in.
"8,688 hours, if you want to be precise." he said and Dean blinked as he stared at Sam incredulously.
"Ok, Rainman. I'm not sure whether to be touched or freaked out that you're keeping count of exactly how many hours I got left." he said dryly.
"I'm doing it because I'm not going to forget, Dean. I'm going to get you out of this. I promised you, and I meant it. But I need you to believe it. I need you to promise me you won't give up, or go along because you think you're doing what's best for me. Because you won't be. If you end up going with that demon then you might as well have left me dead. Because that would be worse." said Sam, with heartfelt sincerity.
Dean sighed and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees.
"Sam, I get what you're saying, really I do, but I am not going to risk you dying because I try and get myself out of this." he said vehemently and Sam ran his hands through his hair in frustration.
"Fine, I'm not asking you to try and get yourself out of this, I'm asking you to let me get you out of it! I'm not going to get myself killed, but I am not going to lose you either. I WILL fix this Dean, I swear, but you have to fight too. You have to promise me you will do anything and everything to stay with me. Please, Dean. Please." he pleaded and Dean swallowed.
He'd never been able to refuse Sam anything, not the important stuff, and not when he used that tone of voice or those damn puppy dog eyes.
"You know I don't want to leave you, Sam." he said, his voice rough with emotion and Sam smiled.
"Then don't." he said, as if it was the most simple thing in the world.
Looking at Sam, Dean wondered suddenly if maybe it was. He could remember vividly all the times he'd asked Sam to trust him to save him, to believe in him, and in the end he'd done it.
Albeit not quite in the way he'd planned.
But he'd done it because Sam was his brother – that was all there was to it. So if that was the case for him, why not the same for Sam?
An image flashed across his mind suddenly.
"You're my big brother, Dean. There is nothing I wouldn't do for you"
Sam's words had been heartfelt and fierce, and at the time Dean had been too emotional to really register the impact of them. Even when they'd talked about it afterwards, his mind had still been whirling too much to really take it in properly.
But now, sitting here in this amazing place feeling like there was no one in the world but the two of them, he found himself daring to hope. That Sam would find a way. That he'd never give up on him. And all he had to do was not give up on Sam.
When you put it like that, it really was simple.
"Ok." he said and Sam blinked, raising his eyebrows.
"Ok? That's it, just ok?" he said and Dean shrugged and smiled.
"I'm agreeing with you, Sammy. That's what you wanted isn't it?" he said and Sam snorted.
"Yeah, but since when did you ever give in so easily?" he said and Dean smiled softly at him.
"Since I could do what you're asking so easily. I do believe in you, Sam. I promise." he said.
Sam ducked his head and swallowed several times at the simple honesty in Dean's gaze. The weight of responsibility settled on him again but this time it felt bearable. Because in a way they were sharing it together. Just like they always did.
When he was finally able to speak again he cleared his throat and managed a quick glance in Dean's direction.
"Ok." he said, repeating his brother's simple statement. Dean smiled at him and sat back, turning to watch the spectacular sunrise again.
Sam sat back too, and tentatively put his right arm across the back of the bench. He half expected a smart comment or an elbow in the ribs, as with Dean leaning his head against the back of the bench – and now against Sam's arm - they were halfway to an actual hug. The sideways glance he gave Sam told him that he knew exactly what he was doing, but he didn't say anything or move, so Sam took that as acceptance of the 'moment'.
After a while, with the sun now risen quite high above the mountains, Dean glanced down at the rucksack near Sam's feet.
"So is there actual breakfast in there?" he enquired casually and Sam laughed outright.
"Took you long enough." he said and Dean smirked. "I'm a growing boy, Sammy." he said and Sam rolled his eyes as he reached down and dug out the bacon sandwiches he'd made while Dean was still asleep and the Thermos of coffee.
They ate their breakfast in companionable silence and it was Dean who reluctantly voiced the fact they should be on their way.
Sam knew he was right, that for all his reassurances the day before it wouldn't do to push their luck, not to mention the fact they had work to do, but he couldn't help feeling slightly sorry that it had to end. It had been nice to step outside it all for a moment, to just be normal for a change.
As they walked back down the path Sam noticed Dean's step was lighter, that he stood that little bit taller than he had the day before, and he was glad that they'd done this. They'd both made promises and he knew one thing you could always count on was a Winchester's word.
It didn't take long to tidy the cabin so it looked as it had when they'd arrived, and the Impala was loaded and ready to go all before 10am.
As Dean went to get in the driver's seat, assured by Sam that he'd get him back on the main highway, he stopped and looked over the roof at his brother.
"Hey Sam?" he said and Sam looked up from opening the door.
"Thanks. For all this. It was a pretty good surprise." he said and Sam grinned, ducking his head.
"Better than the Grand Canyon?" he said jokingly but Dean's answer when it came was serious.
Sam stared at him in surprise for a moment, then nodded, as that was all he could manage.
As they got in and Dean gunned the engine, they were both thinking the same thing even though the other didn't know it.
That some things, like making promises you meant to keep no matter what.
Like sharing a moment and a place that would stay with you forever.
Like knowing that whatever happened there was someone who had your back and always would.
These things were priceless.
And in that sense? They were the richest people in the world.
Sam took one last look as they drove away from the cabin. He'd never got the chance to bring Jess back here in the end, but he had a feeling she'd approve of his little visit this time.
And they would be back.
In 8,686 hours they'd be back, to watch the sunrise and toast the fact Dean was still alive.
And that was a promise Sam would move heaven and earth to keep.