Alright party people, this is it! Thank you all so much for sticking with me for so long, and thank you to every single person who reviewed. I never thought I'd get over 100 reviews for anything, and I'm so humbled by it. You are sunshine on a cloudy day, or something silly like that. *giant hugs*
Note: I used my omnipotent author powers to sort of rearrange the order of the episodes, you'll know what I mean when you read it. Just go with it, lol. I know it doesn't completely make sense, but that's the fun of fanfiction, right? :P
When Sam wakes up, it's slowly and languidly and he's so warm and blissfully comfortable that he doesn't bother opening his eyes right away. Normally he'd at least take a peek at his surroundings through one bleary eye – a quick once-over of the room just to make sure nothing ominous is hovering in a dark corner waiting to strike, which is both a very telling and very sad commentary on the way he's lived his life – but today he doesn't. There's blistering heat soaking through Sam's skin from an inexplicably soothing weight against his chest, and he's not with it enough to know the details but his body knows what his mind hasn't caught up to yet; it's Dean, and that means Sam's safe. So he lets himself relax and floats in that base place between sleeping and not for long enough to completely lose track of time. It's like being weightless, like being wrapped up completely in a soft blanket and painted by sunbeams. It's like a tease of what it would be like to be entirely carefree, and if Sam could actually purr like a cat he would be right now because he's pretty sure he's never been this perfectly content before.
Eventually, the tickle of warm breath on his skin nudges Sam gently toward consciousness, and he blinks a few times slowly before the fog lifts enough that he remembers where he is. The ornately decorated room is even more elegant bathed in rose-colored early morning sunlight, and where yesterday Sam couldn't get over how glaringly obvious it was that people like him and his brother don't belong in a place like this, now, if he squints and focuses on the warmth in his chest and the smell of Dean's skin instead of the twenty-plus years of memories in his head, Sam can almost pretend they do belong here. That this is their bed, in their home, where he gets to wake up every morning wrapped around Dean and nothing's waiting for them outside the door except the impala and freedom.
But then some obnoxious honking from the highway startles Sam awake again, and reality crashes back down around him and he remembers why he should never let himself wish in the first place. It hurts too much when he's forced to realize how much they've given up. And really, when Sam actually thinks about it, he wouldn't want their lives to be that much different anyway. Sometimes Sam hates being a hunter, hates the fear and the weight and constant burden of the world on his shoulders, but then other times he remembers that growing up the way he did is what led him to Dean. If he was normal, some average college kid spending his nights playing beer-pong with his dorm-mates and his days pretending to care about the War Crimes Act of 1996, he wouldn't have Dean's head on his shoulder right now or Dean's naked body pressed against him, and that's worth anything. Sam inhales deeply, letting the scent of sweat and sex and Dean fill his lungs. He's a little punch-drunk off it for a few moments, the way it invades every sense and drowns them until his head is swimming like he's had too much Champagne. Then he rolls Dean over gently, smiling fondly at the way Dean snuffles in his sleep and buries his face into the pillow.
Sam yawns and stretches as he stands up and then shuffles sluggishly toward the bathroom to relieve himself, tossing his head back and forth a few times to get the crimp out of his neck. Morning has always been Sam's favorite time of day. He likes the lingering gooey feeling in his veins leftover from sleep, he likes having a few quiet minutes to himself before Dean wakes up. He likes to rejuvenate slowly in a hot shower without Dean banging on the door; and then he likes to sneak out to the nearest diner or Starbucks because he loves the look on Dean's face when Sam wakes him up with coffee. It's been a while since he's done that, especially since they haven't been sleeping in the same bed lately, and Sam remembers seeing some sort of mom-and-pop restaurant while Dean was checking them in so he decides it'll be a nice way to bookend what was probably the best night he can ever remember having. He unintentionally catches a glimpse of his reflection in the mirror above the sink while he's washing his hands, and he looks so different than he did yesterday. His skin's not that sickly grayish color anymore, the lines on his forehead are relaxed, and there's something almost sparkly in his eyes that hasn't been there for a long time – it takes Sam a minute to figure out what it is and when he does it hits him like a ton of bricks.
He looks happy. Actually happy, like he hasn't in years. His hair is messy and his ass is a little sore and there's a seriously impressive mark that Dean sucked into his neck, and there are still bruises discoloring his chest from when the withdrawal tossed him around the panic room, and Sam's pretty sure he's never been happier in his life. He can deal with the rest of it – the weight on his shoulders, the cravings for blood he doesn't think will ever completely go away, the total shit-storm their lives have become and the hits that just keep on coming – none of it matters. As long as Sam has Dean, he's good.
When Sam gets back, Dean hasn't moved an inch from where he's splayed out on the bed; arms wrapped around a pillow in the absence of Sam's body. Sam can't help smiling; Dean is kind of adorable when he's sleeping. He sets the coffee cups and the Styrofoam food container down on the dresser beside the TV, and then he kicks off his shoes as he crosses the room – crawling back onto the bed and lying down beside his brother.
"Dean," he says gently, nudging Dean's forehead with his own. "Wake up."
Dean moans unhappily. "Lemme alone …"
Sam chuckles warmly. Dean rolls a little so he's pressed up against Sam's chest, and he pushes his face into Sam's shoulder and tries to burrow a little further under the blankets.
"I brought breakfast," Sam whispers, nuzzling his nose into Dean's hair and purposefully blowing a breath over Dean's face to keep him close to the surface.
Dean cracks open one eye and glares up at Sam reproachfully. "Better be worth waking me up so damn early."
"Black coffee that looked so thick when they were pouring it I think it might be motor-oil in disguise, and some sort of disgusting looking, heart-attack inducing egg and cheese burrito thing," Sam answers.
This time, Dean's croaky groan is definitely in appreciation.
Sam can't help the idiotic smile he has plastered all over his face. "I also informed the nice lady who made it that if I found a single tomato, I would be back with my forty-five."
"Knew there was a reason I loved you," Dean mumbles, still making no effort to move.
"Just the one?" Sam asks, and he can see Dean's eyes rolling even though his eyelids are still closed.
"Quiet, I'm sleeping." Dean buries his face back into the pillow and pulls Sam in closer.
Sam honestly can't remember the last time Dean was cuddly and affectionate like this, so he gives in; shifting until he's comfortable and wrapping his arms around Dean's body. He debates getting up and undressing, because the feeling of Dean's sleep-warmed skin against Sam's is nothing short of amazing, but he can't seem to convince his limbs to move.
"Damn, this bed is comfy," Dean sighs. "I could so live here."
Sam just hums in agreement and scratches his fingernails on the small of Dean's back.
"And you're warm," Dean continues, his words slurred a little from sleep as snuggles in as close as he possibly can and presses his forehead into Sam's neck. "God, you're like an electric blanket."
"An electric blanket that walks and talks and has sex with you."
Sam can feel Dean smiling against his skin. "Mm, that's the best kind."
"You're a little bit ridiculous, you know that?" Sam laughs quietly.
"Mhm." Dean kisses the skin by Sam's collar bone and then rubs it with his nose. "So, how 'bout it? You wanna live here?"
"You mean in Nebraska or in this bed?"
"I mean in this bed."
"Nothin' but sex and naps for the rest of our lives?" Sam quips, leaning down a little to kiss Dean's shoulder.
"Sounds good, right?" Dean tongues at the sensitive skin over the pulse-point on Sam's neck, and Sam sighs happily.
"Sounds pretty perfect."
"Guess there's that whole apocalypse mess we gotta deal with first, huh? Just the end of the world, not a big deal or anything." Dean's voice is muffled against Sam's chest, but there's an annoyed edge to it like a little kid pouting. It should be cute, but it's kind of sad, and Sam hugs him tighter.
"Yeah," he agrees regretfully. "Listen, while we're on the subject, I … there's something I meant to ask you yesterday but I forgot, with all the – other stuff."
"The mind blowing sex, you mean?" Dean asks, leaning back and grinning up at Sam cheekily.
Sam snorts. "Yeah. That."
"Okay, shoot. Or, wait, do I need coffee first?"
Sam laughs again, but then actually considers it. "Probably," he decides, pushing off the bed to retrieve the liquid caffeine he'd brought back with him.
Dean sits up, tugging the sheet with him to mostly hide his nakedness, and eyes Sam warily. "You're not gonna, like, ask me to marry you or something, right?"
"Wasn't planning on it." Sam hands Dean the paper cup and smiles when Dean brings it up to his lips and his eyes flutter closed like it's the best thing he's ever smelled. Sam takes advantage of Dean's momentary distraction to slip his plaid shirt off so he's down to just a worn t-shirt, and digs around in his bag for a minute until his fingers find the small lump rolled up in a sock he'd shoved down to the bottom.
Dean looks considerably more alert when Sam turns around, and he's blinking owlishly at Sam between sips. "What's with the sock?"
"It's …" Sam stalls. He wants this, at the moment he wants it more than anything, but he doesn't want to ruin everything they rebuilt last night. He still feels like they're pretty fragile, like one wrong move could make everything topple over again and Sam's not sure either of them would make it through another day like yesterday. But even though his heart is thundering nervously in his throat, he can't bring himself to voice the 'never mind' that's on the tip of his tongue. Things need to be right again, like Dean said, and they're not. Not quite yet.
He moves over to the bed again and sits beside Dean's outstretched legs so he can face his suspicious looking brother. Dean's staring at him from under a furrowed brow like he thinks he's about to get punched, and for some reason that makes Sam relax a little. Enough to unroll the sock and let the small, gold amulet fall into his hand and hold it up so Dean can see it. Dean's face sort of rises and falls at the same time – a funny combination of emotions playing across it while Sam watches with bated breath.
"Oh," he says after a long moment, staring intently at the pendant in Sam's hand like he's halfway expecting it to explode at any second.
"Yeah." Sam chews at the inside of his cheek, unsure of what to say exactly. He's unsettled by the fact that he can't really read the expression on Dean's face.
"You … I didn't know you picked it up," Dean says quietly.
"I had to," Sam answers honestly. "I couldn't just … I know you were mad at me. And that's okay, but – I don't know. I couldn't leave it there."
Dean presses his lips together. "So … you want me to …"
Sam sighs, that uncomfortable tightness squeezing in his chest again. He should've known this was a bad idea. "I'm sorry, it's – you're not ready. It's okay. I shouldn't've … well. Never mind." He gets up and turns away from Dean to hide the swell of disappointment that's pinching behind his eyes. Logically, he knows this isn't exactly a rejection; they still had sex last night and said they loved each other and woke up together; but it still feels like one. Like, even after everything they said last night, Dean still doesn't completely forgive Sam for everything he's done.
Sam's halfway back to the desk when Dean unexpectedly starts talking – softly and maybe a little sadly, and Sam turns back around in surprise. Dean's drawn his knees up close to his chest, coffee cup discarded on the nightstand, but he fixes his eyes on Sam's and doesn't look away.
"It used to mean so much to me because you gave it to me. When you were off at school … I didn't take it off once, the whole time you were away. Was like, as long as I kept it on I still had a little piece of you that no one could take away from me."
Sam's sharp inhale gets caught on a lump in the back of his throat.
"But then we kept getting shuffled into all those memories of yours, memories that were happy to you because you were alone, because I wasn't there." Dean laughs humorlessly and looks away. "The night you left for Stanford, I can't even … seriously, Sam, that's like in my top five list of the worst moments of my whole life and to find out it was a happy memory for you …"
Dean's whole face has clouded over and he looks so damn sad – so lost and dejected and so very small that it's all Sam can do not to go to him. He doesn't; what he should be doing instead is explaining himself, insisting that he loves Dean and promising that he was never happy to have to leave him; but he can't do that either. He's just frozen solid, so stunned that Dean's actually talking about this that he can't even blink.
Dean sniffs and rubs one eye roughly. "And then after all that, hearing Cas call the thing useless was just … it was too much, y'know?"
Sam nods numbly. He waits, just for a minute, until Dean tosses his head toward the empty side of the bed as an invitation for Sam to join him.
"Did … did you ever consider that maybe Zachariah was doing that on purpose?" Sam asks slowly, carefully, after he's settled back down beside his brother. "Sticking us in places he knew would piss you off?"
Dean narrows his eyes but doesn't say anything, so Sam takes a deep breath and continues.
"I mean, think about it. Out of all the hundreds, thousands, of memories I have, we just happened to end up in the night I left for school, and the time I ran away, and somebody else's happy Thanksgiving? Don't you think maybe the angels were just screwing with us again, trying to drive us further apart? To make you want to say yes to Michael?"
For a long time, Dean just considers him with a strangely blank expression on his face. His eyes are still a little squinted, like he's actually thinking it over, which Sam supposes is at least a small victory. And least Dean's not outright disagreeing and deciding Sam doesn't deserve to be forgiven after all.
"No," he says finally, "I didn't. I never … thought about it like that."
The vice around Sam's heart loosens just a bit, just enough to make it easier to breathe again. "I've always liked being independent, that's just how I am. You know that," he maintains gently. "So yeah, I've had some good times without you, but Dean, I swear, the only reason I was happy in those memories was 'cause I was getting away from Dad, from hunting. Not from you."
"I … yeah. Okay." Dean bites his lip thoughtfully.
Sam shifts an inch or two closer and breathes a tiny sigh of relief when Dean doesn't stop him. "Before I left for Stanford, back when I got my acceptance letter? I thought about – for months I toyed with the idea of asking you to go with me," he admits. He's never said it out loud before, always assumed Dean would laugh at him or scoff at how ridiculous the idea was.
Sam nods and squeezes Dean's thigh. "Of course I did. You piss me off sometimes but you're my brother, that's how it's supposed to be. I would have asked you to come with me in a heartbeat if I thought there was even a one in a million chance that you'd say yes."
"You should've," Dean replies quietly, almost sullenly.
"I'm happy I didn't," Sam counters, continuing quickly to quell Dean's angry protest. "It would've been asking you to choose between me and Dad. And that wouldn't have been fair."
Dean sighs and shrugs. "I guess so."
"Besides, I … I think I needed to be on my own for a while, to figure out where I really belong. It's here, it's with you. I didn't know that back then, but I do now. It's right here." Sam goes for broke, closing the distance between them and resting his head on Dean's shoulder. He smiles to himself when Dean immediately wraps his arms around Sam's shoulders and pulls him in the rest of the way.
"Sap," Dean mutters, actions betraying the annoyance in his voice as he kisses the top of Sam's head.
"Deal with it." Sam grins wider lets Dean take all his weight. "Most of my happy memories do have you in them. All those times we watched cartoons together on Saturday mornings while Dad was off doing god knows what. That time Mike Edberg gave me a fat lip in the hallway and before I could even get up to defend myself, you swooped in out of nowhere and threatened to kick his ass if he ever touched me again."
Dean chuckles. "I actually remember that. That kid was a douchebag."
"He was like twice my size and you damn near made him cry," Sam laughs, letting the scent and warmth from Dean's body fill him up.
"Alright, fine, gimme the damn thing," Dean huffs, grabbing the black cord out of Sam's hand and pulling it over his head; the metal talisman falling back into place over his sternum like it never left. Sam schools his features back into the most ambiguous expression he can manage, because Dean doesn't like to make a big deal out of things like this, but inside Sam does a little happy dance. Now everything feels right again.
"I am an awesome big brother," Dean declares dramatically, and Sam hums in agreement.
"You are. M'lucky to have you."
"Hell yeah. I should get that in writing so I can kick your ass if you ever forget it."
"Like you've ever needed an excuse to kick my ass," Sam scoffs, squirming when Dean pokes him in the ticklish spot under his ribcage. "Okay, okay, I give!"
"Asshole," Dean mumbles under his breath. "Kiss me, bitch."
Sam does, leaning up and brushing his lips against Dean's for a minute before he pushes forward so he can suck on Dean's tongue. Dean kisses back languidly, curling his fingers in Sam's hair.
"You need to shave," Sam murmurs into Dean's mouth, the rough stubble tickling his chin.
"You need to brush your teeth," Dean returns, nipping at Sam's bottom lip before pulling back and smushing Sam's face back into his neck. Sam just rolls his eyes and snuggles closer. "Remember Wichita?"
Sam grins. "Yes. Dad only left us for the weekend but we had sex like seventeen times."
"Pretty sure that would kill me, now," Dean laughs, and Sam laughs back.
"You are gettin' kinda old," Sam quips.
"Yeah, yeah. That and you're a lot better at it now." Dean flicks Sam's elbow playfully and Sam bats his hand away.
"Gimme a break, I was only sixteen."
"God, sixteen." Dean groans. "Man, that's messed up."
"You were practically a child molester," Sam agrees, cheeks twitching as he nods solemnly.
"Hey, I used to really worry about that!" Dean protests. "You know, that I was …"
"Corrupting me?" Sam supplies, his lips turned up in a smile. "Pretty sure I wouldn't have taken no for an answer."
Dean huffs a reluctant laugh. "That is definitely true. It was just so much more work to actually go out and get sex, when I had someone so fuckin' willing for it right there."
"So what, I was basically just a glorified blow-up doll?" Sam cries, only sort of indignant at the accusation.
"Pretty much," Dean jokes, ruffling Sam's hair.
"You're so romantic."
Dean chuckles deeply and tightens his arms around Sam. The slightly awkward angle combined with the extra pressure from Dean's hug makes a particularly sore spot on Sam's battered chest press against his own arm, and he hisses involuntarily – nerves flaring in pain for just a second.
"Shit, sorry," Dean mumbles, pushing Sam back a little. "Still sore?"
"A little. S'okay though," Sam promises.
"Lie down," Dean urges, nudging Sam onto his back and then standing up and reaching for his duffle bag. He grabs a small jar from one of the pockets and slips a pair of boxers on, and then he's back a few seconds later, pushing Sam's shirt up to his armpits and clicking his tongue sympathetically.
"I'm fine," Sam says again, but Dean silences him with a look.
"Shut up," he advises with a smirk and one raised eyebrow. He twists the top off the glass jar, scoops up a glob of the thick, grayish cream with his finger. Sam eyes it warily, but Dean just shrugs a shoulder as he starts slowly massaging it into Sam's tender skin. "Bobby gave it to me. It's supposed to help with bruises. And wipe that stupid look off your face, god, you'd think I just whipped out a ring or something."
Sam can't help the jovial laugh that bubbles up out of him. Dean may be rolling his eyes and ridiculing Sam like he always does, but the message underneath is loud and clear. He doesn't need to say it and Sam doesn't really need to hear it – the 'I love you' is so obvious it's almost deafening. Sam would never mention it, cause they don't say shit like that, but Dean is really sweet sometimes, when he wants to be.
"Thanks," is all Sam does allow himself to say. He's pretty sure Dean gets it anyway.
"Just taking care of you, like always."
"Never stop, okay?"
Dean's mouth curves into a real smile, eyes crinkling around the edges and glittering like they do when he's genuinely happy. "Wouldn't even if you wanted me to."