Sam wakes with a start. He's fallen asleep on the library table again, on top of his laptop. His body is stiff, his shirt soaked with the booze he spilled hours ago. He can smell himself, and he reeks. He's a crumpled, sweaty, boozy mess who hasn't showered or changed clothes in days, much less slept in a bed.
And the last time he ate? The hollow feeling in his belly tells him it's been a few days since that too.
But nothing matters anymore, 'cause -- there he is.
Leaning in the doorway, wearing a tight black tee-shirt and tight jeans, barefooted and smelling like he just stepped out of the shower, hair damp and perfect, crossed arms looking tan and strong and lacking any scars -- how can all the scars be gone like that? -- smirk firmly planted on those insanely full lips --
For a minute, Sam just stares. He thinks he's dreaming. He thinks Dean isn't real.
Until he speaks again.
"It's me, Sam," he says, smiling a little, loosening his arms and taking a step into the room, and Sam can see the insides of his arms, the smooth skin -- no scars there either. "I'm back. Took me awhile, but I think I've got this thing figured out."
Dean reaches up and rubs the back of his neck, a gesture so familiar it makes Sam's chest ache.
He's on his feet and crossing the room before he knows what he's doing, sweeping Dean into his arms before he can think, holding him close, tears streaming down his face.
"Jesus, Dean," Sam sobs. "Thought you were gone for good, man. Thought this was it."
"I know," Dean murmurs, stroking circles on Sam's back, pressing his face against Sam's scruffy cheek. "Had to get some shit together. Didn't want you seein' me like I was. Needed to fix some shit first. It's ok now. It's ok."
Sam can't let go, can't release the man who's meant everything to him since he was old enough to understand how much he loves him. Pressed close like this, Sam can feel every muscle, his brother's body warm and strong and alive, smelling like citrus shampoo and soap and aftershave and Dean, with only the faintest hint of --
Sam pulls back suddenly, releasing Dean like he's been yanked off by some physical force. He stumbles backwards, staring, watching as Dean recovers smoothly, letting his arms lower to his sides, his chin drop so that his eyes are hooded as his eyebrows go up, his lips curve up into that knowing smile again.
"What the hell happened to you?" Sam growls, and now the scent of sulphur is stronger and Sam wonders why he didn't smell it before.
Of course it isn't easy to smell anything over his own noxious odor. Reason to shower more often Number One: so one can tell when one's brother smells like Hell. Literally.
"It's ok, Sammy," Dean says gently, carefully. "I'm still me."
"Yeah?" Sam challenges, gesturing at Dean's smooth, scar-less arms. "All your scars healed? Old bone-breaks too, I'm guessing?"
Dean raises his hands, palms up.
"It's me, Sam," he says. "Just new and improved, is all. Up here?" he taps his temple lightly, "Old grapefruit's just the same. Maybe a little clearer now without all the concussions."
Sam shakes his head.
"You can't lie to me, Dean," he says. "I've been to Hell, remember? Spent over a hundred years there. How long were you there this time, Dean? What's it done to you this time? Besides healing your body? You still have your soul? Huh?"
Dean lowers his eyes then, and Sam knows he's right. Knows he's hit the thing square on the nose.
Sam sinks down onto his chair, has his face in his hands, slumps over with his elbows on his knees. He's still crying a little, chest heaving with pain, wrecked by this new revelation, coming so closely on the heels of his joy over Dean's resurrection.
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
"Sam," Dean's voice is low, soft, a kind of sigh or a prayer, and it makes Sam moan with despair.
"I need you to try to accept this, Sam," Dean tries again. "You of all people should know that when these things happen, it's not always a bad thing. Sometimes good can come out of evil."
Sam scrubs his face, looks up at his brother -- or the thing that used to be his brother -- knowing he can't kill this, knowing he won't. He'll listen. He'll give this creature his attention, do his best to make sense of what's happened, to eventually accept it.
Maybe even learn to love this dark version of Dean who stands before him now, looking like sin and smelling like Hell.
Because Sam doesn't have it in him anymore to resist Dean or to stand up to him. Not anymore. Not after all they've been through together.
And Dean can see it, the resignation and surrender in Sam's face, knows his brother better than anyone and can just read him like a book.
Dean smiles again and Sam watches the little crinkly lines form on the edges of his beautiful green eyes as he nods.
"So what'd'ya say, Sam?" Dean asks, because he's not gonna presume, not gonna take what he wants if it's not given freely, and Sam knows that. "Are we good?"
Sam runs his hands through his greasy hair, takes a long, shuddering breath.
"I don't know, Dean," he mutters, mostly for himself, so he doesn't feel like a total push-over in this. "It's gonna take some getting used to."
Dean nods, regains his serious expression again, looks thoughtful and in control, like an older brother should.
"I can live with that," Dean says.
"I mean, you're a demon now, is that it?" Sam's terrified to hear the words spoken out-loud, but he has to -- he just has to know.
Dean shifts uncomfortably, keeps his eyes lowered.
"Not exactly," he admits. "More like a kind of demon master. Like a sith lord without the cheesy tattoos."
"Huh," Sam nods, pretending not to notice the bile rising in the back of his throat. "And there are powers, I'm thinkin'? You've got mojo now."
"Oh yeah," Dean brightens, looking suddenly like a kid on Christmas morning.
Which is so creepy it makes Sam cringe, which Dean notices so he tamps down on his excitement, lowering his eyes again.
"I can do some cool stuff," he shrugs, chastened.
Sam closes his eyes, counts to ten, opens them again.
Dean's still there, smiling a little, hopeful look in his eyes.
"I can control it," Dean tries again. "I don't need to use it, like before. It's something I can control now. I was too weak when I was human. But now that I -- Come on, Sam, you gotta see what an advantage this will be. I can be a better hunter than I was before. You and me -- we can be a better team. I'm not a liability anymore. I can't get hurt."
He takes a step closer, and Sam can almost feel his heat.
He tries not to shiver.
"I can keep us safe, Sammy," Dean says with great sincerity, like it's the most amazing and wonderful thing. "We can still do our jobs, just better now. We don't have to worry about the other one all the time. I can keep us both safe."
Sam closes his eyes again, but the tears squeeze out anyway, slide down his already-damp cheeks and drip off the end of his nose.
"Sam," Dean breathes, and Sam swears there's compassion in that deep voice, although he's pretty sure demons don't feel compassion. Or love, although he could swear there's that in Dean's voice too.
Sam wipes the back of his hand across his eyes, blinks up at Dean wearily.
"You know I should kill you right now," Sam says.
A fleeting look of pain crosses Dean's face, then he lowers his eyes and nods.
"I know," he murmurs. "But you won't."
Sam shakes his head, lowers his eyes again.
"No, I won't," he agrees. He huffs out a bitter laugh, and Dean takes another step closer, so that he's right in front of Sam, right between his knees. Sam tenses, then feels Dean's hand on his head, fingering the limp strands of hair.
"How long since you've slept, Sam?" Dean asks quietly. "Or had something to eat?"
Sam shrugs, puts his face in his hands, feeling suddenly bone tired.
Dean touches Sam's hand, and Sam raises his head, looks up at his brother blearily.
"Come on," Dean coaxes, slipping his hand firmly into Sam's and tugging.
Sam rises obediently to his feet, lets Dean lead him down the hall to the bathroom, stands there as Dean turns on the shower, tests the water temperature, finds clean towels and lays them out.
"Now you clean yourself up," Dean tells him. "I'm gonna go fix you something to eat."
Dean turns to go then, but Sam grabs his wrist, pulls him back in for a fierce hug, ignoring the sulphur so he can just feel his brother's body along the length of his own.
"I'm gonna fix you. If it kills me, Dean, I'm gonna fix you."
Dean lets himself be hugged tightly for another moment, then gently disengages.
"Okay, tiger," he smiles up at Sam, which brings more tears to Sam's eyes because Dean looks so young suddenly, so hopeful and eager and new at everything again. "Let's just get you cleaned up and fed first. Then we'll worry about the fixing thing."
And Sam nods because it's Dean, his big brother, taking care of him as usual. And he just wants everything back the way it was, before all this began. Wants it more than life itself or, at the moment, than any miracle that could save his brother from whatever it is that's happened to him.
There'll be time to figure that out later, now that Dean's back.Next Chapter