A/N Well, I'm ridiculously nervous as I post this since it has been a LONG time since I've even attempted to write a story, Supernatural or otherwise.. Having begun – at last – to watch S4 I wanted to try and do at least one set during that time frame, so this is it. There will be spoilers up to and including Monster Movie, since that is as far as we have got in the UK.
I have to say I am by no means returning to writing fanfiction, this is quite simply a one off, but I felt like the story it alludes to - which is an older one of mine called 'Priceless' - needed that follow up. So here it is, for better or worse.
Dedicated to Kristi and my Dad. Just because.
As Sam drove he glanced over to his right for what was probably the twentieth time in two hours. He couldn't help it though, he'd endured so many hours, days and weeks driving this car with a sense of aching loneliness that he needed to reassure himself he wasn't alone anymore. And he wasn't – Dean slept soundly, his head leaning against the doorframe, face pressed towards the glass, and his right arm bent at an angle that Sam was pretty sure was gonna hurt like hell when he woke up.
Even as the words ran through his mind he felt his stomach somersault. He'd spent four months imagining what his brother was going through, thinking about it almost every minute of the day, and unfortunately for him he had a very good imagination. The fact that – thankfully – Dean didn't seem to remember any of it still didn't make Sam feel any better. Memories or not, it had happened. And would still be happening, were it not for the intervention of a god that Sam had a few issues with right now.
Thinking of god and issues made his gaze stray once more to the passenger seat and it's slumbering occupant. Whilst the last job had felt more like old times, like the days before they had to worry about apocalypses, angels, and demon powers, it still wasn't enough to completely fix what was currently wrong between them. Sam knew Dean was still mad about the 'work' he'd been doing with Ruby, about the fact Sam had lied to him about his powers, and likewise Sam was still hurt and angry at the way Dean had reacted. Not to mention a little scared that the angels who had been so ready to save his brother seemed equally ready to condemn him. As a result for every moment of normality – albeit their version – there were twice as many moments where silences that would have been comfortable in years past were instead awkward and loaded with harsh words unspoken.
The worst part was, Sam would have done anything to get past this and he had an inkling Dean felt exactly the same. But it wasn't that simple. This wasn't a disagreement over the hunting life, or unnecessary risks, or self sacrificing deals. This was bigger than all of that put together. Their time apart had changed both of them, even if Dean didn't truly remember what happened for his part, and whatever those changes were they were wreaking havoc with their usual close bond. It wasn't that Sam wasn't glad to have his brother back, because glad couldn't even begin to cover it, but whereas they used to be perfectly in sync and able to almost predict each other's thoughts now it was like travelling with a stranger.
Albeit a familiar one.
Sam missed the days when it felt like it was them against the world. Now too often it felt like they were pulling in different directions and neither of them seemed to know how to reach a compromise. He sighed, bringing one hand up off the wheel to rub the back of his neck. He had an almost permanent tightness there recently that seemed to go hand in hand with the throbbing that was threatening to take up residence behind his eyes. Thinking about pulling in somewhere for the night, having realised with slight surprise just how late it was, he looked for a road sign. Passing one a few moments later he noted the name of the next town, and then frowned wondering why it seemed familiar. After a few seconds it came to him and his eyes widened. Making a split second decision he took the turn off that was coming up on their right, feeling a smile tug at his lips.
He might well have a few issues with the almighty but if this wasn't a sign then he didn't know what was. Smiling to himself he actually felt some of the tension ease a little and when he glanced over at Dean this time it was to check he was still sleeping.
He really wanted this to be a surprise.
Dean woke up as the Impala's engine rumbled to a standstill. Blinking he sat up and then drew in a sharp breath as a shooting pain travelled all the way from his neck to his hand.
"Told you it wasn't a good idea to sleep like that."
Turning his head while simultaneously trying to rub away the pins and needles that were shooting up and down his entire arm Dean glared at Sam, which only made his brother smirk even more.
"Yeah, well you could have woken me up so I could move."
Sam raised his eyebrows. "Oh sure, cos you're such a pleasure to wake up."
"Hey, I'm a joy to be around, remember?"
Sam didn't bother to dignify that with a reply, not that Dean was really paying attention anymore anyway. Now he was sitting up and awake properly he was looking around, frowning as he realised they weren't in the parking lot of either a motel or a gas station as he would have expected.
"Where are we?" he said, peering out the window and seeing nothing but the shadowed outline of trees.
Sam was already opening the door, letting in the cool air that told Dean it was either very late or very early.
Irritated by the cryptic response Dean opened his own door, with his left hand since his right was still partially numb, and got out. He pulled his jacket tighter as he shivered slightly and noticed that there was an almost full moon giving off quite a bit of light. Hearing Sam open the trunk and pull something out he walked round to join him.
"Seriously, Sam, where the hell are we?"
Sam winced and mentally wished that Dean wouldn't let that word slip out now and then. Aloud he said, "I told you, you'll see. Now come on."
Dean stared at him. "Come on? Come where? I thought we were gonna stop at a Motel for the night, and unless someone's really let the place go this is not a motel parking lot, Sam."
"No, it's not." said Sam, hoisting the back pack over his shoulder and heading towards the trees on the left.
Dean stood there, literally speechless, for a moment before his brain caught up with the fact Sam was walking away without him. Jogging to catch up he fixed his brother with an unamused glare.
"Ok, you're starting to piss me off now, Yoda. How about a straight answer, huh? One that involves explaining to me why we're heading off on a nature hike in the middle of the night."
Sam glanced at him but kept walking. "It's not the middle of the night, it's the early hours of the morning."
Dean rolled his eyes. "Oh, well, that's alright then. Now I understand perfectly."
Sam grinned but said nothing, however Dean was rapidly reaching the end of his patience. He wanted a hot coffee, a warm shower, and some breakfast since it was apparently the next morning. What he did not want was a hike through the woods while it was still dark with a brother who was answering him in cryptic sentences.
"Sam, I kid you not, if you don't tell me in the next three seconds what we're doing out here then I will drive off and leave you."
"You could, 'cept I have the keys."
"Fine, I'm gonna knock you on your ass, take the keys, and then I'm gonna drive off and leave you."
Sam risked a sideways glance and realised that he still knew his brother well enough to know when he should quit while he was ahead. Stopping he gave Dean an earnest look. "Would you stop complaining if I told you it was a surprise?"
Dean blinked. "A surprise?"
"Do I look like I'm four years old to you?"
"Physically, no. Mentally, it's a toss up some days."
"Sam, I am not kidding."
Sighing, Sam looked serious for a moment. "Neither am I. Look, this is important ok? Just.. Humour me."
Dean considered the request for a second, taking in the slightly desperate look in Sam's eyes. Deciding that his brother wouldn't ask him to go along with something like this unless it really was important, and that he trusted Sam enough for it not to be something to be worried about, he grudgingly gave in.
And tried not to think about the fact that this time a year ago it wouldn't have taken him half as long as to decide.
"Fine, let's get this over with. But I swear if this is some new weird bonding-with-nature thing you got going on, I really am leaving you here."
Relieved that Dean had agreed, relatively easily, Sam ignored the threat and carried on walking. Dean, still not entirely happy, reluctantly followed him.
Thirty minutes later he was seriously beginning to consider the idea that Sam had lost it completely. He knew the last few cases had been tough on him, particularly the rugaru incident, but he'd thought things were going better after their little encounter with 'Dracula'. Certainly Sam had seemed in a much better mood, although that could have been down to the fact he had a lifetime's ammunition from witnessing Dean in honest-to-god lederhosen. Dean winced as he felt his face flush, glad it was dark and that Sam was ahead of him.
He was so never going to live that down.
Pulling his thoughts back to the matter at hand he stared at Sam's back and felt a flutter of anxiety in his stomach. He was used to knowing exactly what his little brother was thinking and while on some level that was still true, on many other levels it was no longer the case. The Sam he'd left behind when the hell hounds had come for him would never have done or said the things this Sam had over the past weeks. He certainly wouldn't have thrown his lot in with a demon, of all things.
But then that Sam had been left alone, having watched the last member of his family get torn to shreds, and perhaps Dean could understand just a little how he'd come to stray so far from the path they usually travelled. After all, he'd not survived 24 hours without Sam. His brother had had to survive four whole months.
Certainly, when he thought about it rationally, he could have handled things a little better since he'd been back. Trouble was he was scared – not of Sam, but for him. He knew without a shadow of a doubt that Castiel wasn't kidding about stopping Sam if Dean couldn't, and that terrified him. The idea that after everything they had been through he could still end up losing Sam was one that he couldn't even begin to get to grips with.
He should have been celebrating his return from hell, revelling in being back on the road and hunting evil again with his brother. Instead he was struggling to reconnect with the one person he'd known better than anyone for twenty-plus years and trying not to cross lines that were getting more blurred every day. It was enough to make him wish for the days when they'd known exactly who was good and who was evil. Now there were so many shades of grey he was beginning to lose count.
Dean was so lost in these painful thoughts that he almost ran into the back of Sam when he stopped suddenly.
"Dude, a little warning?" he groused and Sam shot him an apologetic look. "Sorry. We're here."
Dean peered round Sam to see exactly where 'here' was. He spotted a bench to their left but not much else. Curious he started to walk forward only to have Sam grab his sleeve.
"Uh, trust me, you don't want to walk that way." said Sam, knowing about the drop that Dean couldn't make out in the dark.
Dean shrugged off Sam's hand but didn't go any further. Instead he raised his arms in the air before dropping them back to his sides and gave Sam a slightly exasperated look.
"Ok, I'm still not getting it, Sam. Unless there's something special about this bench that I'm missing, I can't see any good reason why we're up here in the dark at," he glanced at his watch. "5:30 in the damn morning."
Sam just shook his head with a slight smile. "You'll see in a moment, Dean. Just sit down, ok?"
For a second he thought Dean was going to refuse, just to be bloody minded, but after a moment he grudgingly sat down on the bench. His folded arms and unmistakable body language told Sam that he was treading on very shaky ground though.
Sam just hoped that this was worth it.
They sat in silence for what seemed like an eternity, and Dean found that the longer they did the more he got the niggling sense he'd been there before. It was hard to make much out in the dark, even with the moonlight, but it was definitely vaguely familiar as was Sam's behaviour now he thought about it. Just when he was about to finally demand answers he felt Sam nudge him. "Keep looking."
Glancing at Sam briefly, Dean dutifully turned his gaze back to the darkness in front of them. At first nothing happened then the skyline began to slowly lighten. It was gradual to begin with but then the colours began to deepen in hues of red, gold and pink, and as the brightness increased they were both forced to shade their eyes.
Dean watched in awe as the spectacular sunrise unfolded behind the mountains in front of them. Now he understood. Now he remembered, and as he turned to Sam he saw the relief in his brother's face when he realised that Dean got at last why they were there.
"I know I'm a little late, and I know it wasn't me that got you out, but I promised myself I'd bring you back here after the whole thing with the deal was over. And a promise is a promise, right?" Sam said, softly, and Dean could only nod.
Switching his gaze back to the sunrise he told himself it was the brightness that was making his eyes water and not the fact that Sam had made such a promise in the first place – even if it was just in his head – or that he cared enough still to see it through. He was so engrossed in the beauty of the view that he barely noticed the rustling noises as Sam rifled through the backpack that was resting on the floor in front of them. What he did notice was the smell of coffee and he tore his gaze away from the dazzling colours to see a cup with steam rising from it being held out to him.
He took it, shooting Sam a quizzical look. "Where exactly did this come from?" he said and Sam grinned. "Same place this did." he said, pulling out a paper bag that he also handed across.
Dean took a sip of the coffee then put the cup down on the bench between them so he could open the bag. His face lit up when he was hit with the smell of freshly cooked bacon and he pulled out the sandwich eagerly. Now the memory really was complete. Taking a big bite he chewed happily and swallowed before looking back up at Sam, who was chewing on his own sandwich and regarding him with an affectionately amused expression.
"This is awesome, Sam."
Sam chuckled and took a sip of the coffee to wash down his food. "I'm glad you still like it."
"Dude, this might be the best sandwich I've had. Since I came back, anyway. Not to mention the view. But you still didn't answer my question about where you got all this stuff."
Sam shrugged. "I stopped at that store we went to before, on the way in. They were just laying out all the food so it was fresh. All I had to do was pour the coffee in the flask and put the stuff in the rucksack."
Dean shook his head, swallowing another bite. "I forgot we even still had that thing in there."
"Yeah, well, I don't think we've used it since we were last up here. I found it shoved in the back of the trunk."
Dean nodded and Sam was grateful that he hadn't noticed the slight tremor in his voice when he'd said that last part. What he'd left out was the fact that he'd had to cover the bag with an old blanket they kept for emergencies, since the first time he'd come across it after Dean was gone he'd been hit with the memories of their previous visit here and the grief had been so strong it had literally brought him to his knees.
There was a brief silence as they both finished their food and watched the rest of the sunrise. Dean was done first, as always, and he finished off the coffee before pouring some more from the flask. Putting it and the cup back down on the bench he looked across at Sam, his expression serious.
"This was nice, Sammy." he said and Sam literally felt a jolt at the nickname he hadn't heard nearly as often since Dean had come back. Sometimes he wondered if he even was still 'Sammy', on any level, but right now he felt like he'd never stopped being just that.
Swallowing the lump in his throat he nodded and smiled. "I'm glad you liked it. Especially since you were bitching so much on the way up." he said, wryly.
"Hey, you can't blame me for that. You were the one being all deep and mysterious about the whole thing. What was I supposed to think when you drag me out to hike in the woods at some god-forsaken hour of the day? Our last visit out here was so long ago I'd forgotten that this isn't the first time you'd pulled this stunt - I was beginning to wonder if you'd lost it completely."
"Oh, as opposed to only losing it a little?" said Sam, and Dean smirked. "I never said that. But since you mention it,"
Sam shook his head and deliberately grabbed the cup Dean had been reaching for, giving his brother a triumphant look as he took a long gulp.
Dean glared but he couldn't stop the corners of his mouth twitching. It had been too long since they'd teased each other like this without the sharp edge to the comments that had appeared lately. There was no bite to the words, no distrustful tone. It felt almost like the old days.
It was Sam's turn to smirk now, as he held out the half empty cup to Dean, thinking exactly the same thing. Fleetingly he found himself wishing he could stop time right at this moment, so they wouldn't have to go back to the life that was waiting for them.
Sam's attention was drawn back to his brother as Dean handed back the cup and stood up, wandering over to the edge that he could now see clearly, and remembered from before. He stood there for a long moment, simply enjoying the view and the stillness all around them. While he wasn't really one for nature he couldn't deny that there was a certain peacefulness to all this that they rarely encountered. Standing there he could almost imagine that he and Sam were the only two people alive. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly, glancing to his right as Sam came to stand behind him.
"You know I can almost see why some people are so into this outdoor crap." he said and Sam nearly snorted the coffee he'd been about to swallow out through his nose.
"Outdoor crap? Seriously, you gotta start writing this down, Dean. You could have a second career making those inspirational cards."
Dean grabbed hold of the cup and elbowed Sam, finishing the last of the coffee. "Don't knock it, we could use the money."
Sam shook his head, still chuckling to himself. They stood there a few minutes longer before Dean reluctantly nudged his brother with his shoulder.
"Guess we'd better get back on the road."
Sam nodded, equally as reluctant. "Yeah, I suppose."
With one last look at the view they gathered up their stuff and walked back to the car at a leisurely pace. Now it was light Dean spotted the cabin off to their left that he'd missed on the way past before, Sam having parked further away deliberately in case Dean recognised it. As they walked by Dean glanced across and smiled, remembering their last visit and how nice it had been to spend some time there. He looked over at Sam and his expression became serious again.
Sam stopped and turned back to look at him. "What?"
Dean walked a couple of steps to close the distance between them, then stood there not quite sure what to say. He was wary of bringing up anything that might ruin the mood, nor did he particularly want to have a 'moment', but he felt he needed to say something after the trouble Sam had gone to.
Sam meanwhile was looking at him expectantly, a slight frown on his face as he watched Dean clearly struggling with whatever it was he wanted to say. He was just about to ask what was wrong when Dean finally came to a decision.
"It doesn't matter."
Sam's frown deepened. "Ok." He said, and turned back to the car but Dean grabbed his sleeve and pulled him back.
"No, I don't mean it doesn't matter. That what I was going to say doesn't matter,"
He stopped, realising he was confusing himself and that Sam was now looking at him like he was the one who'd lost it. Sighing in frustration he started again. "I meant that it doesn't matter that you weren't the one to save me. I know you think you let me down but you didn't. I know you tried and honestly? I'm glad you weren't able to do anything stupid that would have brought me back. It doesn't make any difference how I got here or even why – what matters is that I am."
Sam ducked his head, toeing the dirt with his boot. Dean had to hide his grin, getting a flashback to a teenage Sam who used to do the exact same thing whenever he was unhappy about something or getting told off by John.
As Sam looked up again Dean managed to compose his expression, just.
"I know you don't blame me, Dean, but I blame myself. I told you I'd save you, and I didn't. And then I couldn't even fix it afterwards. I'm just.. I'm just sorry, that's all. I'm sorry."
"I know." said Dean, softly. "And for what it's worth I'm sorry too."
This earned him a confused look. "For what?"
"For leaving you alone in the first place. And for flying off the handle a little, about the whole demon up-chuck thing."
Sam's eyebrows actually hit his hairline. "Demon up-chuck thing?"
Dean shrugged. "Yeah. What else do you wanna call it, Sam? I saw, remember - it's like the possessed dude throws up the demon. It's kinda gross, actually."
Sam stared at him. "That's the bit that bothers you? Seriously."
Dean rolled his eyes. "Yes, Sam, that's the bit that bothers me. Of course it's not, you idiot – but the point I'm trying to make here, before you got all pissy about the details, is that I shouldn't have handled it the way I did, ok? I'm not saying I'm happy about you working with Ruby or with lying to me about your powers, but I do know you thought you were doing the right thing. Even if you weren't."
Sam let out a deep breath, not sure he really wanted to get into this right now. It seemed a shame to spoil what had been a nice morning, but he could hardly get out of it now Dean had brought it up. And although he was still hurt by his brother's reaction and still confused about whether what he'd been doing was right or not, he did recognise an olive branch when he saw one. Maybe it wouldn't kill him to meet Dean halfway.
"I don't want to fight with you about whether or not what Ruby and I were doing was right, but I do appreciate the apology. And I'm sorry too, for the lying to you part anyway."
Dean nodded. It wasn't quite the complete apology he would have liked, but it did cover the bit that had hurt the most so he let it go. They weren't going to solve everything with one conversation – or even one apology apiece – but it was a start and maybe that was the important bit.
Sam seemed relieved by his acceptance, and by the lack of a follow up comment, and Dean was suddenly glad of his decision. Clearing his throat he held out his hand and Sam pulled the keys out of his pocket and dropped them into Dean's palm. Grinning a little at the unspoken communication, which was sadly rarer than it used to be these days, Dean unlocked the car and got into the driver's seat. He started her up as Sam threw the rucksack into the back and slid in next to him.
As they headed back to the main road Sam took a last look at the cabin over his shoulder and then turned a pensive gaze to the trees that were going slowly past the window.
Perhaps they hadn't really resolved that much but they'd eased a fair amount of the tension between them and for that he was grateful. And when he thought about it he was certainly in a better position than he had been the last time they drove away from here.
Then he'd been clinging to blind faith, to a desperate hope that he would save his brother. And while things hadn't worked out on that front, while he'd faced his worst nightmare twelve months later, the important thing was they were both here, now. A little battered around the edges, but alive.
And whatever else might come, to Sam that was still something priceless.