Disclaimer: I'm just playing in Kripke's sandbox.
A/N: Again, thank you so much to everyone reading and reviewing. I hope you enjoy this last chapter, and I'd love to know what you all thought!
The summer sun beat heavily upon the twisting, metal maze of abandoned cars that littered Singer's Salvage Yard, and upon Dean Winchester's back as he hefted the last of his bags into the trunk of his '67 Chevy Impala. Panting slightly in the midmorning heat, he slammed the lid shut on top of them and let himself fall back against the smooth black surface of the Impala. Reaching up, he swiped a hand over the back of his neck, feeling the skin tingle slightly where he touched it. He grimaced. He'd spent a lot of time outside recently, as the reddened, peeling skin on the back of his neck and shoulders would attest. But it was better this way. He was sure of it.
It had been four days since he had tried to exorcise his brother; three since he had regained his memories of the past few weeks, which included not only making a deal with a crossroads demon to bring Sam back from the dead but, more recently, waking up in a hospital room alone after a chupacabra hunt gone bad. There had been no brother sitting beside his bed when he had regained consciousness, nothing except for his dark blue jacket flung over the arm of an otherwise empty chair, and the last thing he had been able to remember was the rushing in his ears as he held the limp weight of his brother in his arms as Sam bled out from a knife wound in the back.
He hadn't understood what had happened, how he had ended up in the hospital, nor where Bobby had gone, but the choking, desperate need to be alone, to find Sam's body, to grieve, had clouded everything else until he had finally thrown back his blankets and bolted, desperate to get away from anything and everything. He had fled the hospital with its sterile white hallways and crisp white sheets and had found himself a crappy room in the first rundown motel he could find, where he-
Dean pulled himself up short, refusing to think of the hours he'd spent alone, surrounded by empty bottles and shattered glass, before finally hearing the room door open and looking up to see-
No. He wasn't going to go there. Sam was alive, and that was all that mattered.
Since regaining his memory, he had done some research on concussions and memory loss. It turned out it wasn't unheard of for someone suffering amnesia to go back to the last traumatic event they had experienced. Dean had snorted when he had read that last part, figuring that having your brother die in your arms was traumatic enough for anybody. But he had been forced to silence himself quickly when Sam had rolled over in his sleep, almost falling off of Bobby's old couch in the process, his face bathed in the eerie blue glow of the laptop screen. Dean had closed the computer quickly and stowed it back in Sam's duffel bag, not wanting to have to explain to his brother just what he had been doing.
Truth be told, he hadn't actually spoken to Sam all that much since the failed exorcism, not wanting to trigger the ugly confrontation that he was sure was coming. Dean had screwed up, big time, and whilst Sam had given no sign that he was pissed at Dean, he definately wasn't acting like he usually did. Things weren't right between the two of them, not by a long shot. And Dean knew that it was his fault. But he had a plan to fix things as best he could. And it was about time he put it into action.
Steeling himself, he pushed himself off of the Impala and headed inside, coming to a halt outside the living room which he and Sam had shared as a makeshift bedroom for years, ever since their Dad had first dropped the two of them at 'Uncle' Bobby's for a night that had turned into a week.
His eyes roved past the rumpled bedding on the floor, then past the empty couch, which was only a little more comfortable due to a series of unfortunately placed springs. The blanket that served as a bedcover lay carefully folded at the end of the couch, a victim of Sam's unwavering neatstreak. Sam's clothes, however, were for once littered over both floor and furniture, and Sam himself was hunched over the small table they had salvaged together during a covert midnight operation the last time they had stayed at Bobby's.
Sam was sitting on a low chair in front of the table, his laptop before him and his knees bunched up somewhere around his ears as he leant in towards the computer screen, eyes fixed on whatever it was he was researching. More often than not these days, he was researching Dean himself, or at least, ways of releasing Dean from the crossroads deal. Making a mental note to find and destroy Sam's most recent information dump, Dean watched his brother silently from the doorway for a few moments before finally stepping into the room.
"Hey," he said.
At the sound of his voice, Sam started and swivelled round in his chair so quickly that he almost fell off. A week and a half ago Dean would have laughed. Now he just watched, silent.
Recovering his balance, Sam looked up, a yellowing bruise on his jaw making his face look slightly lopsided as he met Dean's gaze. The deep gash at his hairline where Dean had knocked him out that first morning, having just watched his dead brother storm into his motel room, demanding to know where the hell he'd gone, was healing well according to Bobby, who had stitched it up as soon as Dean had mentioned it and had then proceeded to lay into Sam for playing stoic in "a dumb ass attempt at sparing your brother's feelings."
Sam quirked a nervous half-smile at him. "Dean. Hey."
"What're you doing?"
Sam looked startled. "Huh? Oh, nothing."
If Dean hadn't been watching his brother so carefully, he might not have noticed the way Sam surreptitiously slid a couple of books under the couch with his foot. As it was, he did notice.
"Sam, I told you before-"
"I'm not gonna stop searching, Dean," Sam interrupted. "I told you before, I'm going to save you whether you like it or not."
"Don't I get a say in this?"
"Short of killing me, you-" Sam halted mid-sentence, his face reddening. "Sorry," he mumbled. "I shouldn't have-"
"Don't worry about it," Dean cut in, his voice tight. "You didn't do anything wrong."
"Neither did you," retorted Sam. "But hey, since when do you listen to me about stuff like that."
"Sam," Dean started, then trailed off, not knowing how to continue.
Sam stared at him for a few seconds longer, then, shaking his head, went back to his laptop.
Silence drowned out the noises of Bobby tinkering around with one of his cars outside until finally Dean forced himself to voice the question that had been plaguing him since his memory had returned and he had pieced together the events leading up to his waking up in the hospital room alone. "So where were you?"
Sam didn't ask what he meant. Instead, he laughed, a wry gulp that seemed to burst out of him before he could rein it back in. "I went to get coffee," he said, and there was something dark in his eyes as he met Dean's gaze for a second, before Dean broke away.
"And when I got back to your room, you were gone." Sam frowned, his brow furrowing. "None of the nurses could tell me where you were and I couldn't find you in the hospital. So, eventually, I left and started trying to chase down where you'd gone. I finally managed to track you to the motel where you'd set up camp and then-" Sam hesitated, looking suddenly unsure of himself. "Well, you know the rest."
Dean nodded slowly. The memory of seeing the motel room door open and his dead brother walk in wasn't something he'd be forgetting anytime soon. Unless, he thought dryly, another chupacabra decided to throw him into a tree. "And your charm?"
Sam reached inside his shirt and pulled out the missing anti-possession charm on a loop around his neck before dropping it again. "I found it in my duffel this morning," he said quietly. "I think the string must have snapped when I was getting changed or something, got caught in one of my shirts." He shrugged. "I'm not really sure though." His mouth curled wryly. "Guess we were just unlucky with the timing."
Dean was unable to prevent the snort that rose through his throat. "Yeah. Unlucky."
"I've been doing some research the past couple of days though," Sam went on, brightening suddenly, "on protective symbols and binding locks, stuff like that. I think maybe if we got something tattooed on us it would prevent anything getting in, whether we were wearing the charms or not. That way, if anything happened and we didn't have the charms on us, you wouldn't think I was…" He trailed off abruptly. "We would know who we were," he finished clumsily.
Dean felt the bile rise in his stomach at the thought of anything like the events of the past few days reoccurring. Fighting the sick feeling down, he nodded. "Yeah, that's a good idea."
Sam flashed him a quick smile before turning back to his laptop, his fingers starting to dart over the keys once again as he continued with his research.
Dean watched him a few more moments. Sam seemed off somehow, more full of nervous energy than usual, and he kept sending quick glances towards Dean. It only tightened Dean's resolve.
"Look, Sam" he interrupted, studiously avoiding his brother's gaze, which had immediately flicked his way, "I'm gonna take off for a few days. Keep out of your hair for a while, give you a chance to get back on your feet. Bobby'll know where I am, so if anything comes up, just let him know."
He chanced a look up. Sam was staring at him, open-mouthed.
He continued in a rush. "I know I freak you out, Sammy. I mean, I beat the hell out of you. And I'm sorry for that, I am."
Sam was still staring at him.
"Yeah. So, I'll see you in a few." Dean tried for a half-hearted grin, but it came off more as some sort of twisted grimace, and he turned quickly and strode out of the room, and out the front door. It took him a few minutes but he finally managed to track Bobby down to where he was working in the junkyard, and he stopped and said goodbye, mumbling an awkward thanks that Bobby brushed off without hesitation.
That taken care of, Dean headed for the Impala, which he had finished packing earlier that morning and had left in front of the house. It wasn't until he was a few feet away, however, that he saw the dark-haired figure sitting in shotgun. He shook his head, his resolve hardening. "That little bitch," he muttered, before striding forward and hammering on the window.
"Sam!" he shouted.
Sam glanced up from his laptop, which was balanced carefully on his lap. Winding down the window, he raised an eyebrow. "Anytime you feel like leaving, Dean," he stated pointedly.
It was Dean's turn to stare at his brother open-mouthed. Closing his jaw with a snap, he jerked the Impala's passenger door open. "What the hell are you doing in there?" he demanded, bending down so that he was eye to eye with Sam. Didn't Sam realise how close he had come to killing him? How dangerous he was? Suddenly, he was furious. He stepped back, swinging the door wide open. "Get your ass out of my car!"
"Sorry, man," Sam said, going back to the computer in front of him, "but I've told you before--you're stuck with me."
Dean glared at him. "Dude, you are not coming with me. I almost shot you!"
"So? I've shot you before."
"You were possessed, Sam, it doesn't count!"
"You had amnesia, Dean, it doesn't count either!"
Dean growled, and, spinning away, kicked the front wheel of the Impala, furious. "You are such a stubborn pain in the ass sometimes, you know that?"
Sam shrugged easily. "I learned from the best."
Drawing to a halt, Dean ran a hand over his face before turning to his brother. "I remember it, Sammy, all of it. You were scared of me."
Sam frowned. "I wasn't scared of you. I was pissed, yeah, but-"
"I tried to exorcise you!"
"It didn't work-" Sam argued, but Dean ignored him.
"Then what about back at the motel room, huh? I had the god damn Colt in your face, Sam! I was about to waste you!"
"But you didn't."
Abruptly, Dean stilled, his face paling slightly as he looked at Sam. "I was going to," he admitted. "You have no idea how close I came to-" He stopped, unable to finish. Finally, he forced himself to take a deep breath. "Look. I'm doing this for you. Me leaving right now is for the best."
Sam's gaze snapped up to meet his. "No offence, Dean," he said testily, "but I don't really care what you think is best for me, alright?"
Dean paused. He was pretty sure that Sam wasn't talking about what he was talking about anymore. He quickly brushed the thought to the side, however and strode forward, fully prepared to haul Sam bodily out of the car if he had to. Sam didn't even blink, just rolled his eyes and went back to his computer.
Dean had just grasped his first handful of Sam's button-down when something caught his eye. He paused. Bobby's anti-possession charm was resting on the outside of Sam's shirt, hanging low on his chest, in clear view. Dean knew it wasn't there by chance.
Pulling back, he stared at his brother. "You're kidding me, right?" he demanded. "Don't think that wearing that will make me change my mind. If the string breaks again and something happens-"
For the second time that day, Sam reached up and hooked his fingers around the charm, bringing it forwards so Dean could see it more clearly. The charm was strung on a long piece of metal chain.
"Break proof," Sam said smugly, tugging at it.
"And don't worry. I took precautions in case it does come off somehow." Sam pulled up the left sleeve of his checked shirt and showed the arm underneath to Dean.
Dean stared down at the underside of Sam's wrist, then looked up to meet his brother's gaze. "What the hell is that?" he demanded flatly.
"It's a Devil's Trap."
"It looks like it's been drawn on."
"I used a Sharpie, actually. It's only temporary though." Sam frowned, staring down at the slightly irregular symbol sketched on his skin, just underneath the scar from Meg's binding lock. "I still think that some kind of tattoo is the best option," he muttered, half to himself.
Drawing back, Dean looked at his brother, who, having finished studying his arm, flashed him a quick grin as he rolled his various layers back down to cover the seal again. "You seriously made yourself into a lock-box?" he said disbelievingly. "Like we did with the car that time?"
"So, you coming?"
Dean looked at his little brother, considering him. Sam's mouth had firmed into its most stubborn line and he looked fully prepared to argue his point all day. And it wouldn't be the first time he'd done just that.
Dean rolled his eyes. "You are such a little bitch sometimes, you know that?" he muttered, irritated. Backing up, he slammed the door on his stubborn, know-it-all, pain-in-the-ass brother and made his way round to the driver's side. Opening the door, he slid into the familiar seat, fully aware that Sam was watching him. Refusing to return the look, Dean reached his hand into his jacket pocket for his keys. The next second, he withdrew it.
"Dude?" he demanded.
Beside him, Sam reached into his own pocket and pulled out the keys to the Impala, handing them over to Dean with just a hint of sheepishness. Dean took them silently.
"Well, I wasn't going to let you leave me behind," he heard Sam mutter from beside him.
Shaking his head, Dean fitted the key into the ignition and started the engine, feeling the familiar rumble of the Impala beneath him.
Surreptitiously, he watched as Sam settled himself down for the journey ahead, closing the laptop and stowing it besides his feet before twisting round and reaching awkwardly into the back seat to filch Dean's favourite pair of sunglasses out of his duffel bag. Sam slipped them on before sliding down in the seat, his legs scrunched up against the Impala's low dashboard. Shaking his head, Dean let his eyes trail slowly over his brother, taking in the gauntness of a few days without food that had yet to fade completely from Sam's torso, sliding quickly over the bandages that covered the torn but healing wrists, and finally coming to rest on Sam's face, half-hidden though it was under the shades. He felt a sudden current of contentment spread through him. Sam was alive.
"Dude," Sam said, pushing the sunglasses up onto his forehead. "You look at the road when you drive, remember?"
Without answering, Dean reached over and flicked Sam's ear, managing to avoid any sites of possible injury whilst evoking a sharp grunt of protest from his brother. "So," he said instead, "you wanna get a tattoo, huh, bro?" He grinned at Sam for the first time in over a week, feeling something familiar slot back into place as he did so. "That's kinda kinky."
Sam shook his head but didn't bother trying to hide his own smile as Dean shifted the Impala into gear and pulled out of the driveway, sending billows of dirt into the air in their wake. "You're getting one too, you know," he said.
Dean shook his head as he reached forward to push his favourite cassette tape into the tape deck. "Dude, I'm totally not."
As he listened to his brother launch into a long, thoroughly researched argument of why, exactly, it was that Dean should get a tattoo, Dean felt a grin play around his lips. Things weren't quite right between them, not yet, but they would be. For a few more months, at least.