AN: Been on a recent SPN kick after staying out of the fandom a long time. Been craving fic with certain elements and ended up writing this.
Future!fic, hunter retirement, primary nonsexual/nonromantic relationship between Sam and Dean.
The Gentleness of Home
It was raining when they woke up late morning and it hasn't stopped all day, only fluctuating in heaviness. The driveway and the paved path leading into it from the road are slick and dotted with puddles. Water pools around the Impala's tires, her black body reflective. Rain soaks into the house's exterior, dripping from the eaves and out the gutters. The smell of wet wood permeates into the house's interior. The world outside is a dim, soothing blue. Night draws near—another hour or so.
Sam opens the window in Dean's bedroom, letting in the sound of the storm. It's the first day of September, cool after dark but not cold enough for Sam to worry that the draft will make Dean sick. Sam looks at his brother asleep on the bed, lying on his back with his left hand resting on his stomach. Dean woke up earlier than usual this morning, padding into the kitchen in his socks and squinting at Sam who sat in the living room with a cup of coffee and a book. Sam briefly wondered, more out of old habit than anything else, if Dean had had a nightmare. But his brother didn't say anything and Sam didn't ask.
Sam returns to the kitchen, where he has a pot of a beef and vegetable soup on the stove. He cooked it from scratch, like most of their meals. Sam started hitting the cookbooks hard, not long after he and Dean moved in three years ago. Having a real kitchen of their own for the first time in their lives put a swift and permanent end to their crappy eating habits. Sam stirs the soup, which is more of a snack than dinner. His intuition told him, not long after Dean retreated to his bedroom, that his brother could use some comfort food. Soup is classic for them, after growing up on the road without a mom and a progressively absent father. Easy, fast, tasty.
Sam turns off the heat, takes two bowls down from the cupboard and fills them, then sets the bowls on a tray with spoons and cloth napkins. He'll put the leftover soup in the fridge later, for tomorrow's lunch. He carries the tray to Dean's bedroom and leaves it on the windowsill before waking his brother with a gentle grip of the shoulder. Dean opens his eyes in a way that tells Sam he was sleeping light, and Sam speaks in a low tone without thinking about it. "Hey. Made some soup. You hungry?"
Dean thinks about it for a second. "Yeah. I could eat." He turns his head on the pillow to look out the window. "Still raining?"
"Hasn't let up." Sam brings the tray to Dean, and Dean sits up in bed, his back against the headboard. Sam takes his own bowl from the tray and sets it on the night table next to the bed, sitting in the easy chair where Dean reads or surfs the internet or sometimes drinks while quietly thinking. Sam's got one in his bedroom too. He sits in Dean's chair, hunched over, and moves the spoon from the bowl on the table to his mouth without caring about bad manners. For a few moments, the brothers are silent. "You okay?" Sam asks.
Dean glances at him. "Yeah. Why?"
"Got up early this morning. Then took a nap. Not your usual routine."
Before they settled into this house, Dean would've said that Sam's fussing over nothing. But they've both become attuned to each other in new ways since leaving life on the road. Without all that motion and turmoil, they've shed old patterns and developed new ones and learned to read each other all over again. They talk less. Peaceful for the first time in their lives and grateful for the ability to be quiet because there's nothing to argue about, no problems to solve. Within the first six months of living in the house, Sam and Dean both realized just how relentless the action had been prior to retiring and how, even after living most of their lives in each other's pocket, there were still things they didn't know about each other—like the subtle movements of each other's face when life was good, instead of catastrophic. What are my brother's signals, when life is mundane? They've learned.
"Had a dream I was hunting," Dean says, halfway through his bowl. "It wasn't bad."
Sam's quiet for a while. "Do you miss it?"
They've been through his a few times. There's that saying, "old habits die hard," but hunting wasn't just a habit. It was life. They don't know how to do anything else. Even now, they stay in the game by acting as resources for other hunters. Sam's got a library on the weird to rival Bobby's, which includes the dead man's books. Dean has the shed out back fully stocked with every weapon a hunter could need: some of them his own and Sam's that never leave home and a bunch of extras they're willing to give away to hunters in need. They've given way phony cards to at least dozen active hunters, posing as FBI or CIA or CDC or Homeland Security the way Bobby used to do for them. They're slowly becoming known as a safe house for hunters: they've harbored three different people in three years who were hurt, on the run, or just shit out of luck somehow. They're nicely out of way in the Colorado woods but not so remote that it's impossible to rely on them if you're passing by.
"Barely," says Sam. "I think about it sometimes. But I'm happy without it. You?"
"Little bit," says Dean. "I always will. You know how it is."
Sam doesn't reply, taking in the information. "You know," he says, putting his empty bowl and spoon down on the night table. "If you ever want to go somewhere, just to get away, all you need to do is ask."
Dean's mouth curves a little as he looks at his brother. "Don't you think we've had enough traveling for twenty lifetimes?"
"Yeah. But I know you. Nothing feels more right than driving the car somewhere. And I don't just mean to the store."
"Trust me, Sam. I'm good where I am. If I get antsy, you'll know."
Sam nods. "How's your back?"
After millions of miles and way too many hours in the driver's seat, Dean's back finally decided to pitch a righteous and bitching complaint as soon he and Sam stopped moving. Their first year homebound, it was bad. Days and weeks of nonstop aching and burning pain bad. The second year was better. The third was pretty good. No small thanks to Sam, who persisted with massages and heat pads and took Dean to an acupuncturist and a chiropractor and bought him a two hundred dollar U-shaped body pillow for back support and kept him off his feet whenever the pain was anything worse than dull and annoying.
"It's okay," says Dean. He eats the last of his soup and wipes his mouth with the napkin. Sam takes the tray and the bowls back to the kitchen. "Hey, Sam?" Dean calls without moving from the bed.
"Yeah?" Sam says. He reappears in Dean's doorway.
Dean stares at him for a moment without speaking. "Will you…. come lie down with me for a little bit? Unless you're busy."
The corners of Sam's mouth quirk and he shakes his head before crossing the room. He rounds the foot of the bed to the empty side, toes off his shoes, and lies down next to his brother. Dean turns onto his right side facing away from Sam, and Sam moves to spoon him without hesitation, his arm around Dean's waist and his chest pressed to Dean's back. Forehead resting against the back of Dean's skull. He feels his big brother's body relax, feels himself relax too.
Cuddling—they never use that word because they both dislike it—has become an ordinary practice between them. Sam got into bed with Dean once when Dean was sick, did it again when his brother was noticeably depressed on what turned out to be the anniversary of their father's death that first year in the house, then started spooning him whenever Dean's back got bad enough that he couldn't get comfortable enough to sleep. Without discussing it or planning on it, the cuddling became commonplace. It doesn't hurt that they have a house all to themselves now and they're both old and worn enough not to give much of a shit about anything anymore, except being comfortable. Sam is more often the big spoon than Dean, but Dean does his share of comfort-cuddling, on the rare occasion that Sam's sick or has a headache or just wants the affection.
They have their eyes closed, lulled by the sound of the rain and each other's body heat and breathing. They've wasted more afternoons cuddling and napping together in this house than either one of them cares to admit. Sam likes to think they're playing catch-up for all those years they really needed this but were too proud, troubled, or distant to go for it.
He never thought that this is where they would end up: in a house of their own, mostly retired, healthy and whole, happy together. He had his money on death by hunting, and he knows Dean did too. They got out when they did because they finally didn't have anything bigger than routine hunts hanging over their heads and they figured that if they didn't quit then, they never would. At first, they weren't too sure what they would do. Sam suggested the house, which once belonged to Rufus. Dean looked at him hopefully and said, "You want to stay together?" To which Sam said, "Dean, I can't imagine anything else."
A crack of thunder rolls through the earth, makes Sam realize he was almost asleep. He can smell Dean, that familiar scent of his brother's skin that Sam's known since he was a baby, and he feels so glad that Dean's safe here with him, that he gave his big brother the home their father had always wanted for Dean. Dean's been battered body and soul too many times, and Sam remembers that whenever he holds his brother like this. He remembers it and he's filled with this soft, strong desire to just care for Dean and protect him for the rest of their lives. He won't breathe a word of that feeling to his brother, of course; it's important to let Dean feel like the protector.
Sam starts rubbing Dean's belly, slow and sloppy. It's more muscle memory than conscious thought. Belly rubs soothe Dean a lot. Sam had no idea until one night when he tried it to help Dean's stomachache. Dean didn't know he liked it so much either. Next time he was feeling down, he was bold enough to ask for it. Sam does it a lot now. Sometimes, he just holds his hand to Dean's belly, under his brother's shirt, for the skin to skin contact.
For Sam, his upper back is the sweet spot. That's something Dean's known since Sam was a toddler. These days, Sam doesn't even need to feel crappy for it. He'll lie on his stomach, and Dean will rub circles on his upper back until he falls asleep or turns onto his side for Dean to hold him.
There's an ease to their affection now that they both deeply appreciate. An openness. They've shifted from protection mode to nurturing. They've grown gentler, tenderer with each other. They're just so damn happy to be alive and at peace, they've surrendered to every natural impulse they have to be caring toward each other.
"Sometimes I think it's not hunting I miss," says Dean. "Just Dad. And Bobby. And Cas. All those times in between gigs, when we did stuff for fun."
"We can still have fun, Dean," says Sam, eyes still shut. "That can be the only thing we do."
"I'm serious about the road tripping. We can take the Impala wherever you want, any time. We don't have to go hunting to justify going places."
Sam's hand rests motionless on Dean's belly now, a warm and comforting weight.
"I'm all right, Sam," Dean says quietly. "Promise. A man can be nostalgic, can't he?"
"Sure," says Sam, his breath warm on the back of Dean's neck.
They're quiet for a while, until Dean rolls over to face Sam and Sam moves to give him room. But then Dean's circling his top arm around Sam and tilting his face forward into Sam's chest and Sam cradles Dean's head in his gigantic hand, has Dean's right knee trapped between his own legs. Dean's wearing sweatpants and a white t-shirt, feels like soft cotton all over.
"Go for a walk later?" Dean mumbles.
"In the rain?" says Sam, equally sleepy.
Later, Dean will put on one of his pullover hoodies and they'll walk down the path from their house to the road with only a flashlight in Sam's hand to guide them, Dean humming Metallica, both of them feeling the rain through their clothes. They'll walk a little farther than they mean to, and when they get home again, they'll strip and stick their clothes in the laundry hampers. Sam will cook dinner in his boxers, while Dean showers. They'll eat on the living room sofa in front of the TV. Sam will go to bed first, after he dumps the dishes in the sink and gives Dean a hug.
For now, they nap together, somewhere between awake and asleep. Sound and smell of rain coming through the window.