It felt nice to get out of the dorm. The past few weeks of intensive studying followed by grueling exams had left his brain fried, and Sam was more than ready for winter break.
The weather was cool, by California standards, but nice, the sun out and shining and the breeze mild.
Sam shifted the grocery bag from one hand to the other, the bag of spaghettios, half-dozen apples, and iced tea starting to feel a little heavy and he was grateful that his room was only a few more blocks.
The only thing, Sam decided, that he didn't like about winter break was the fact that he was pretty much the only student left on campus. It had been a nightmare and a half, trying to work it out with the student housing department to allow him to stay, but they had eventually put him up in the visitor's accommodations, and even included the cost as part of his scholarship, thank god.
Suddenly, Sam saw one of the few things in the world that could stop him cold in his tracks.
He would know that car anywhere. Even hogtied an blindfolded and tossed in the trunk, Sam would know that Impala by smell and sound alone. And it was parked on the street right in front of Ray's, not a mile from his dorm.
Sam crossed the street hurriedly, the grocery bag clenched tight in his hand and his heart beating fast, unsure whose face he'd see when he finally pushed open the diner door.
He scanned the room immediately, each face that wasn't familiar making his heart beat faster.
"Just one?" the hostess asked, and Sam threw her a cursory glance.
"Uh, no. I'm actually looking for-" he stopped mid sentence when his eyes finally fell on the one familiar face he never expected to see. Not here, anyway.
"Someone," he finished quietly, then swallowed, "I see them, excuse me."
Dean hadn't seen him yet, his brother's familiar face turned instead toward the waitress, who he was pouring on the charm for, all smiles and relaxed posture in his father's leather jacket.
The waitress turned away with a giggle and a flick of her hair and Dean watched her go, eying up her ass and Sam couldn't help but give a small smile. His brother certainly hadn't changed much.
He made his way toward the table slowly, and Dean finally looked around, their gaze locking across the room and his brother froze, eyes wide with surprise.
Sam sat down in the empty side of the booth, placing his grocery bag on the seat next to him.
"Hey Dean," he murmured, and watched Dean swallow, his brother's eyes darting all over him.
"Heya Sammy," he finally replied, giving a small, tentative smile, "Been a while."
Sam nodded, watching his brother fiddle nervously with his glass of coke for a moment. Sam noticed that his brother's knuckles were bruised, and he fought the temptation to ask how.
"Does dad know you're here?" he asked instead, and Dean sighed, an unhappy turn at the corners of his mouth.
"No," he answered, "He thinks I'm helping Bobby out on a job in San Francisco."
Sam shook his head, looking out the window and Dean shifted in his seat, leaning forward toward Sam.
"Why are you here, Dean?" Sam asked next, turning back to stare hard at his brother.
Dean looked a little insulted at that, his frown deepening, "Dude, come on. It's Christmas. Can't I want to see my brother for the holidays?"
"So this has nothing to do with trying to persuade me to drop out of college and come back, does it?" Sam deadpanned, and Dean clenched his jaw in irritation.
"Not specifically, no," he answered, "I know you, man. You're as bad as dad; once you've got an idea in your head, you're not shaking it no matter what anyone says. So why should I bother?"
"I'm nothing like dad," Sam shot back automatically, and Dean scowled.
"Alright, cool it. Christ, this is not how I pictured this going," Dean leaned back in his seat, and the retort Sam had in the back of his throat was cut off by the waitress swinging by their table.
"Would you like a menu?" she asked Sam, and he turned to tell her no, he wasn't staying, but Dean cut in before he could open his mouth.
"Yes, bring him a menu please. And an iced tea."
"Right up," she gave Dean another flirty smile before flitting off.
"Nice to see you still think you can boss me around," Sam couldn't help but bite, and Dean glared at him.
"Sam, I'm going to make this simple for you. It's Christmas, and I wanted to see you. So I drove all the way from Oklahoma in the span of four days to do so. I think you can spare at least an hour to have lunch with me."
Sam's eyes flicked over Dean's serious face, and finally he swallowed, the tightness around his heart loosening a little.
"It's good to see you, Dean," he finally said, and he meant it, which clearly surprised his brother.
"Good to see you too, Sammy," Dean husked out, before clearing his throat loudly and sitting forward again, elbows leaning on the table.
The waitress chose that moment to come by the table again, Sam's iced tea in her hand and a menu tucked under her arm.
"Thanks, but I don't need the menu. Just a chicken ceasar salad for me, thanks," Sam gave her a tight smile, and she jotted it down before leaving again.
"Still eating rabbit food, I see," Dean teased him, with a familiar smile, and Sam scoffed.
"And the slabs of grease on bread you like to eat is real food, is it?" Sam teased back, and just like that, it was like old times, like Sam had never left. They teased each other about their food, Sam's hair, ("You trying to get on the cover of GQ or something, Sam?"), the hole in the collar of Dean's shirt. Sam hadn't realized how much he missed his brother until he was there, sending a sly wink Sam's way before flirting heavily with the waitress, which made Sam roll his eyes, but damn if he didn't get her number with the check.
"Every time. Every time, Dean, aren't you tired of deleting women's numbers off your phone?" Sam nudged him at the register, and Dean smirked, paying for both of them.
"Is that really a question you have to ask?" Dean waggled his eyebrows and Sam laughed, shaking his head.
"You're a piece of work, Dean, you know that?"
"I'm a piece of work, I'm a love sick boy, cloth cap, caviar, and corduroy. All over the map, justa lost in space, with a filthy mind and a choirboy's face!" Dean started singing, accompanying himself to air guitar and Sam laughed, pushing him toward the door.
"Alright Jimmy Buffett, cool it," he laughed, and Dean grinned.
Then they were standing next to the Impala, Dean twiddling his keys nervously.
"So," he said awkwardly.
"So," Sam replied.
"Wanna ride back to your dorm?" Dean offered, and Sam looked at the ground, scuffing his shoe against the pavement.
"You weren't planning on sticking around for awhile?" Sam asked, doing his best to keep the disappointment out of his voice.
"Didn't know if you'd want me to," Dean answered in a mumble, and Sam looked up.
"Of course I want you to, I haven't seen you in almost four months."
"Then I'll stick around."
There was an awkward moment of silence where they just looked at each other, before Dean cleared his throat, walking around to the driver's side.
"You coming or what?"
Sam smirked, opening the passenger side door and getting in.
The drive back to the guest housing was mostly silent, Sam only speaking to give Dean directions, and it wasn't long at all before they were pulling into the parking lot, finding a spot and getting out.
"This is where you live?" Dean asked incredulously, and Sam laughed.
"I wish," he answered, "It's just for winter break, undergraduates aren't allowed to stay in the dorms over the holiday, so they relocated me here."
"Huh," was all Dean said in return, looking around with interest as they passed through the lobby and made their way to the elevator.
Sam had a moment of surrealism, once they reached the room and stepped inside, watching Dean looking around his temporary living space. It seemed... so out of place, to have Dean here.
Then Dean turned to him and gave a small smile, so clearly pleased to be here with him that Sam couldn't help but cross the room to him, pulling his brother into a tight hug.
Dean seemed surprised at first, but barely gave a moment's hesitation before hugging him back, giving Sam's back a firm pat.
"I miss you," Sam confessed into Dean's shoulder, and his brother tensed, arms tightening around him.
"I miss you too, Sammy," Dean answered gruffly, "S'not the same without you."
"I know," Sam acknowledged quietly, pulling back, "How is everything? How's... dad?"
Dean shrugged, sliding his hands in his pockets, "Same as always, really. Just chasing jobs, you know the drill."
Sam nodded, and Dean smiled, turning to drop himself heavily on Sam's bed.
"No tree, Sammy?" he asked, and Sam shrugged.
"Where would I put it?"
"Get one of those Charlie Brown trees!" Dean encouraged, and Sam laughed.
"Maybe I will," he smirked, and Dean smiled.
"That reminds me," Dean snapped his fingers pointing at Sam, "Got a present for you."
"Oh Dean, why'd you do that? I don't have anything for you," Sam frowned, but Dean waved him off, rooting in his inside pocket.
"I didn't expect you to, don't worry about it," Dean shrugged, finally pulling something from his pocket and handing it over with a flourish.
"Merry Christmas, college boy," Dean smirked, and Sam laughed, taking the fake ID from Dean's outstretched hand.
"Seriously, dude?" Sam smirked, examining the ID and Dean grinned.
"Yeah! Come on, what college student doesn't want a fake ID for Christmas?" he challenged, and Sam had to admit there were several people he knew who would pay Dean a pretty penny for the quality forgery his brother could whip up.
Sam shook his head with amusement, looking at his brother's grinning face.
"Thanks Dean," he smiled, and Dean shrugged.
"Forget about it," he said, but Sam knew his brother was pleased as punch that Sam had taken the gift in good humor.
Sam twiddled it between his fingers for a few moments, not sure of what to say next, but Dean saved him by kicking off his shoes and sliding back on Sam's bed, plucking the remote up off the nightstand.
"So how many channels you get on this thing?"
Sam didn't think it would hurt as much as it did, when Dean was packing himself up to leave four days later, a phone call from their father about a banshee in Louisiana bringing Dean's trip to an end. It was a little startling, how easily they fell back into old habits; Sam allowing Dean to have the side of the bed closest to the door- as he always had- sitting on the floor, sorting out their laundry, or even sharing a six pack of beer while they watched some game or another on TV, picking opposing teams to root for on purpose and egging each other on.
And now Dean was leaving, and Sam had an inkling, now, of what it must have felt like for Dean, when he left.
Dean was completely packed, all his possessions in his bag by the door, the two of them just standing awkwardly now, unsure of how to say goodbye.
"Well, drive safe," Sam said, and Dean nodded, twirling his keys through his fingers uneasily and looking at Sam with an unreadable expression, "Call me when you get there, ok?"
Dean nodded again, and Sam finally sighed, biting the bullet and just stepping forward, pulling Dean into a tight hug that his brother immediately returned with a fierceness that broke Sam's heart.
"Seriously, man, be safe out there," Sam said, so acutely aware that with his brother's line of work, any time he saw him could be the last, "No injuries, got it?"
"I do my best," Dean said wryly, and Sam gave a small half smile.
"Miss you already," he couldn't help but confess, and Dean gripped his shoulder tightly before pulling back.
"You could always come with me," Dean offered, the first time he had his whole stay, and Sam clenched his jaw uncomfortably.
"I can't, Dean," Sam said quietly, trying to will his brother to understand, "My life is here now, I'm doing well at school, and I like it. I just can't... give this up. It's important to me."
Sam hated the way his brother's face closed off, going cold with hurt as he nodded anyway.
"Right," he said gruffly, picking up his bag and turning his back to Sam, reaching for the door knob briskly.
"You could always stay," Sam found himself saying desperately, wanting so bad for this to end well, for Dean to want to come back and see him again, instead of taking that hurt and using it as an excuse to stay away. Wanted even more for Dean to stay, even though he knew in his heart that his brother never would.
Dean froze, hand on the knob, and he answered without turning around, "I can't do that, Sam. You know I can't."
"Yes, you can. You don't have to hunt, Dean, you could do so much more. Dad doesn't need us, he's never needed us."
"Shut up, Sam," Dean snapped, and Sam clenched his jaw tightly, staring an irritated hole into the back of Dean's head, temper flaring at his brother's attitude, "You have no idea what dad needs, or you wouldn't be here right now. You'd be in the car with me, already halfway to Louisiana."
"I couldn't live like that anymore, Dean. I couldn't take his barking orders, demanding that we give up everything to follow him around-" Sam started, and Dean snapped around, anger boiling to the surface.
"Just stop it," Dean hissed, "Stop trying to make it about dad. It's never been about dad, Sam, it's always been about you. What you wanted, and damn any consequences or responsibilities you were leaving behind. I don't want to hear your tired old excuses."
Sam snapped his mouth shut, angry, but he had no answer for that, at least not one Dean would ever accept or understand, and so his brother left with a scowl, slamming the door behind him.
Sam watched his brother leave from his window, the familiar rumble of the Impala's engine echoing in the bare parking lot, and Sam felt a twist of pain in his guts at the thought that Dean may not ever come back.
Got to Louisiana. Happy New Year.
Sam looked at the text on his phone four days later, something like hope stirring in his chest. The gift of Dean's company was something he wasn't sure he could live without, after all.