At midday, Sam stopped for gas. He put a hand on Dean’s shoulder and shook him lightly.
“Hey buddy, you hungry?”
Dean’s eyelids fluttered but his eyes stayed closed. He took a deep breath, shifted slightly on the seat, then sank back down into slumber. He seemed content, though, so Sam didn’t push it.
At least he wasn’t dead. Sam’s mind flashed back to the time they’d made this drive, along almost the same roads, after Metatron killed Dean. It took all night, just like this journey would take all day, but there was a definite difference that Sam couldn’t help feeling grateful for. Dean might be asleep, but he was definitely alive.
It was after sunset when Sam pulled the car into the bunker’s garage.
“Hey, we’re home,” Sam announced, but Dean slept on. Sam took a deep breath, ignoring the niggling fear at the back of his brain, the little voice that kept asking, “What if he never wakes up? Shouldn’t he go to a hospital?”
“Okay, let’s get you into bed,” Sam continued, talking out loud just to keep his spirits up, just to convince himself that everything would be fine in the morning. Dean’s color was good, he didn’t seem ill. Sure, he hadn’t peed or eaten or had anything to drink since last night in Faerie, but a man could live for three days without water, and right now Sam was fairly convinced that Dean’s unconsciousness wasn’t natural. He’d been drugged by something magical, like Rip Van Winkle in Washington Irving’s story. When the spell wore off, he’d be fine. Sam just needed to do a little research, keep Dean comfortable in the meantime, that’s all.
In the bunker, Sam manhandled Dean carefully down the hall to his room and laid him down gently on his bed. He pulled Dean’s boots and belt off but otherwise left him as he was, since he didn’t have any visible wounds that needed cleaning or dressing. Sam pulled the blanket up to Dean’s chin, left a glass of water for him on his bedside table, and went to bed.
In the bathroom, Sam splashed cold water on his face and brushed his teeth, gulped down a bottle of water, then took off his boots, belt, and over-shirt before collapsing onto his own bed. He left both the door to his room and Dean’s room ajar, just in case. He’d be up in a few hours anyway, he told himself, right after he got a little much-needed rest.
As he drifted off to sleep, his mind replayed the look on Oberon’s face as he realized he’d been killed.
Sam knew that face would haunt his dreams for many nights to come.
Sam woke suddenly, hours later, and sat up with a gasp, certain he’d been somewhere else only a moment before. He nearly jumped out of his skin when he saw a silent figure in the doorway.
The voice was familiar, comforting, and through the fog of Sam’s sleep-deprived brain, the sound of it flooded him with relief.
“Dean. Hey.” Sam rubbed his face, shook his head to clear it. “Everything okay?”
“Yeah,” Dean nodded. “Everything’s just fine.”
Sam squinted against the light from the hallway behind Dean’s silhouette, trying to read his brother’s expression.
“Okay, good. So, you need anything?” Sam wasn’t sure if he should trust Dean’s words, but he’d learned long ago that it didn’t help to challenge him when he was feeling vulnerable.
“No, I’m good,” Dean assured him. “I’m just going down to the kitchen to get something to eat. You want anything?”
“No, I’m not really hungry,” Sam admitted. Dean nodded and shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans. He started to turn away, which was when Sam noticed he was wearing his old henley, the one that was so soft as to be almost threadbare. Dean’s sad-little-boy shirt, as Sam secretly called it.
“Hey,” Sam called softly, and Dean stopped, turned back to look at him. Sam wished he could see his brother’s face. “It’s good to have you back.”
Dean cleared his throat and nodded. “It’s good to be back,” he said, his voice cracking on the last word. As he hunched his shoulders and turned away to shuffle off toward the kitchen, Sam realized he wasn’t wearing any shoes.
Sam lay staring at the ceiling, willing sleep to return, but his brain was too busy. He knew he should be grateful that Dean was awake, that he seemed normal again, that he seemed to know where he was and what had happened to him. Sam knew he should be thanking his lucky stars that this time they’d dodged the bullet that usually found them and pierced right through their best-laid plans. This time, their luck was holding, and Sam knew he shouldn’t rock the boat. If this one time the mission was a success, the last thing Sam wanted was to punch holes in it. He should accept the win and move on.
But no matter how he tried to convince himself otherwise, he couldn’t help thinking about the Dean he had met in Faerie. That man had been full of confidence in his life as fae, in his leadership role, in his lack of any distinct memories of Sam and the life he had led before. Sure, Sam’s presence had rocked him; he’d clearly experienced some self-doubt and confusion when he first saw Sam, not to mention the obvious attraction. But fae!Dean had been real. He’d lived a long, long life in that other place and had been admired and looked-up to. Served.
Where had that man gone? Had the magic kiss destroyed him and all his memories? Or had it only submerged him, replacing him with the Dean that Sam knew? Could fae!Dean still be buried inside, under the layers of real!Dean that had somehow miraculously resurfaced?
Whatever had happened, Sam sensed that Dean wasn’t okay, no matter what he said. Just like when his brother returned from Hell, Dean’s protests that everything was fine sounded hollow to Sam. Something definitely wasn’t all right, and Sam should try to help him.
His heart aching with concern for his brother, Sam finally gave up on sleep. Instead, he pulled his boots on but left his sweaty flannel on the chair. He was pretty sure it had Oberon’s blood on it.
He needed a shower. And food. Maybe not quite in that order.
Dean was frying bacon when Sam entered the kitchen. He glanced up, then looked away quickly, although not before Sam caught the sudden flush in his cheeks that spread all the way to the tips of his ears.
Damn. He remembered.
“That smells –– really good, actually,” Sam admitted as he poured himself a cup of fresh-brewed coffee and slipped into a seat at the table.
“Scrambled eggs coming right up next,” Dean said. “You must be starving.”
Sudden hunger stabbed at Sam’s stomach, and he couldn’t help wondering if Dean still had some power to glamour him, even outside of Faerie.
Then he pushed that thought out of his head. Dean had always had the power to help Sam figure out what he wanted, how he felt, what was most important. He’d always provided everything Sam needed, even if there had been times when Sam had to assert his independence.
“Yeah, that sounds awesome,” Sam said, determined not to provoke Dean, to let him tell Sam what he was thinking on his own.
“So — you don’t want me to make you an egg-white omelet?”
Sam felt a shiver go up his spine as he faced the fact that Dean was actually asking about Sam’s breakfast preferences, as if it’d been years since he’d made breakfast for his brother.
Or as if he couldn’t remember very well exactly what those preferences were.
Sam mustered his courage, took a deep breath, and shook his head.
“No, that’s fine,” he said. “Scrambled eggs are just fine.”
“And bacon?” Dean turned around to face Sam, pan in one hand, spatula in the other. “You like bacon, right?”
Sam fought the tears smarting at the back of his eyes as he nodded slowly, determination replacing the terror tugging at the back of his brain.
“Yeah,” he said, and his voice sounded broken, choked. “Yeah, Dean, that’s fine. Bacon is just –– it’s fine.”
Dean nodded, frowning at the bacon as he scooped it onto a plate and set it on the table in front of Sam. He paused, as if waiting for Sam’s approval, then blushed again when Sam gave him a tentative smile.
“Dimples,” he muttered, almost to himself, as he turned back to the stove. “Did you always have those?”
Sam’s heart sank a little more. He took a deep breath, spoke to Dean’s broad back as his brother cracked eggs into the heated pan.
“You know, it’s okay if your memories are a little hazy and confused for a while. You were in there a long time. It – it took me a while to get you out.”
Dean’s shoulders shrugged. “You did what you had to,” he said gruffly. “The main thing is, you got me out.”
“I should’ve come sooner,” Sam mumbled, guilt and shame prickling at the edges of his vision. “I sat there most of the first night, stupidly hoping you’d come back, when I could’ve been researching a way to get you out, or calling Rowena, or Cas...”
“You were in shock,” Dean said. “It happens to everybody.”
“Yeah, but we’re not everybody,” Sam argued, wiping at his stinging eyes irritably. He was beyond tired, still exhausted, traumatized. He really needed a shower. “I should’ve known better. I should’ve done better.”
Dean turned with the pan and spatula in his hands, dumped the cooked eggs into a bowl on the table.
“Stop kicking yourself,” he ordered, keeping his eyes off Sam’s face. Sam understood. Dean was embarrassed for him. He was trying to help Sam keep it together. “You did what you could. Hell, you did better than I would have done if our situations had been reversed.”
“I lost you,” Sam said miserably. “You didn’t even know who I was.”
“Then I remembered, didn’t I?” Dean lifted his eyes to Sam’s face, full of raw emotion. “Face it, Sammy. You did it. You got me back. Now eat.”
And Sam did because his big brother told him to, because Dean was here and taking care of Sam, just like always.
The rest could wait. Dean was broken, his memories playing tricks on him, making life in the real world feel more like a dream than real life. Sam could see that. Sam would deal with that. They both would, in time.
For now, they needed to go through the motions, do what needed to be done right here. Right now.
After breakfast, Dean made Sam take a shower and go back to bed, and Sam was grateful.
Castiel dropped by the next day.
“Dean has serious gaps in his memory,” the angel said needlessly after Sam explained what had happened. Cas spent a few minutes examining Dean in his room before joining Sam in the library.
“Can you fix him?” Sam asked.
Castiel shook his head. “His mind contains many complex layers of experiences, the most recent of which are the years spent in that other world. He must reach far back into his memories to recall even the simplest day-to-day activities from his life before, in this world. Yet even when he does that, there seem to be many memories that are simply missing.”
Sam had already figured that out.
As the days and weeks went by, Dean seemed to get better. He was at his best when they hunted, when the visceral reality of taking down a ghost or a monster commanded all of his attention. Then he seemed mostly like himself, most present and aware.
Back home in the bunker, on their days off, he had good days and not-so-good days. There were times when he walked into a room and stopped, his face blank as he forgot what he was doing. When Sam looked up and caught his eye, Dean blushed and looked away, then made an excuse.
“I was looking for the bathroom,” he’d say. Or, “I thought this was the kitchen.”
The bunker could be confusing, its corridors endless and winding and identical. Sam tried not to worry that Dean would get lost, but there were days when he seemed to disappear, and no matter how he searched, Sam could never figure out where he went.
He always showed up, though. “I was target-practicing,” he’d say when Sam asked, or “I was in the garage with the car,” since Sam almost never went there. Sam didn’t push because Dean always looked a little spooked at those moments, and Sam suspected he’d been dealing with his memories of his other life, the one they didn’t talk about. Those memories were Dean’s to reveal, if he ever wanted to, and Sam knew better than to ask.
He couldn’t help wondering, though. Dean had been favored there. He’d been special. The king himself had given Dean an important position.
Sam suspected there’d been even more to Dean’s relationship with Oberon, but he couldn’t bear to think about that. It made Sam feel inadequate, second-rate. It made Sam fear that Dean would eventually tire of him, would seek out a partner who was more inspiring, someone who could give Dean the power and position he deserved.
Sam could never do that. Sam would always hold Dean back. Sam’s issues and history weighed on Dean, made him feel bad for not being able to fix things for Sam. In Faerie, Dean had had a chance to start over, to get away from the misery and degradation of his past. He could forget about the little brother with demon blood who always brought him down.
Sam could never hope to measure up.
Rowena called about a week after they returned to the bunker.
“So my spell worked,” she noted.
“So you took care of the town sorceress,” Sam said in reply.
“Of course. What did you expect? I couldn’t leave her to do any more damage, could I?”
“And I bet you found the grimoire,” Sam suggested, but Rowena didn’t take the bait.
“So how’s our little fairy soldier?” she asked instead. “Does he remember who you are yet?”
“He remembers enough,” Sam said curtly.
“Oh, does he, now? I heard you were hunting ghosts down in Bilouxi a couple of days ago. It seems somebody forgot to bring the salt.”
“We managed,” Sam said. He bristled at the reminder that Rowena was keeping such close tabs on them.
“Oh Samuel, you know I always collect my debts,” Rowena said, sultry and teasing, as if she was reading his mind. “Seems to me you owe me a little extra this time.”
“You have the grimoire,” Sam snapped. “Plus whatever other magical artifacts you no doubt picked up from Marion’s shop.”
“And you still have the portrait,” she countered. “Don’t forget, that’s a magic window into Faerie, Sam. You’ll always have a way to see what’s happening there. And so will he.”
Sam considered the fact that the portrait was now stored carefully under some boxes in the dungeon. It occurred to him that Dean might have already found it.
“You know you can talk about it, if you need to,” Sam offered one evening as they were sitting across from each other at the library table. “Whatever happened in there, you don’t have to keep carrying the burden of it alone.”
Dean looked up, met Sam’s eyes with that mesmerizing green gaze that never seemed anything less than magical to Sam, even when he was a little boy.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he bluffed.
“I think you do.” Sam’s voice softened. He’d pulled out the portrait earlier, noted it was in a slightly different place from where he’d put it originally. Dean had definitely found it. “I can’t imagine anything worse than what you went through.”
“Yes, you can.” Dean frowned, and Sam shook his head.
“No,” he insisted. “Not even all those years in the Cage with Lucifer compare to what you went through. I never forgot you, man. I never once stopped believing you’d come for me.”
It was a lie, but a small one. Even when Sam finally gave into despair, finally gave up hoping he’d be saved, Sam never forgot Dean. Never stopped loving him and replaying memories of their life together. Thoughts of Dean kept him sane.
Dean lifted haunted eyes, and Sam winced. He hadn’t meant to make Dean feel guilty about not rescuing him from the Cage. That had never been his intention.
“I can’t, man,” Dean said. “I just — I can’t talk about it. Not yet.”
Sam’s heart sank. “Okay,” he nodded. “I get that. I just want you to know you can, if you want to. I’ll listen.”
It was another week before the topic came up again.
They’d just finished a hunt, were feeling successful because they’d managed to save some children from a rawhead and nobody got electrocuted except the monster.
They stopped by the side of the road in rural Montana and pulled out the green cooler, leaning on the car shoulder-to-shoulder as they watched the sunset. Things were going well, Sam reflected. Dean’s memory gaps were less and less noticeable. This could work.
“They’re all about memory loss and replacement in there,” Dean said, and Sam knew immediately that he was talking about Faerie. “They start in on you as soon as you get there, making you eat and drink their poison, pretending it’s all one big happy family.”
Sam winced, recalling Oberon’s resemblance to their father.
“I knew all of that, so I fought it, just like last time. You have to believe me, Sam. I fought and fought. For years!”
Sam nodded, heart sinking. “Yeah. I know you did.”
“But they remembered me.” Dean’s chin dropped to his chest and he stared at his feet, shifting uncomfortably. “They were ready for me. Oberon –– he took over my training personally.”
Sam swallowed thickly, unable to stop the shiver that ran up his spine.
“He tried to make me forget you,” Dean went on. “He told me he would replace you in every way, even the ways that you and me had never...” Dean cleared his throat, shifted awkwardly before continuing. “In every way.”
Sam nodded, encouraging but dreading Dean’s words at the same time.
“He wanted to make me captain of the guard from the start, said he needed to take me personally under his wing, make me serve him until I forgot how to do anything else. He said –– he said he could tell I was a good little soldier.”
Dean took a deep, shaky breath before he continued, and Sam waited, hardly daring to breathe at all.
“Every day, he stripped a little more of my old life away, my old memories. Every day, I forgot a little more and a little more until there was nothing there. I knew I should remember who I was, what my life had been like before, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t.”
Sam shook his head sympathetically. He couldn’t imagine anything worse. He wanted to kill Oberon all over again, slowly this time.
“Then he started filling my mind with false memories,” Dean went on. “Being a child, growing up, mother and father, sisters. No brother, though. He didn’t give me a brother. My mind was starving for something he wouldn’t let me have, but I didn’t know what it was.” Dean shifted, rubbing his shoulder against Sam’s. “He sent me to collect you because he was so sure I wouldn’t know you. He was so sure of himself.”
“It was a test,” Sam offered, and Dean nodded.
“Yeah.” Dean took a sip of his beer. “But I failed, didn’t I? I remembered you.”
Sam tried to smile, took a deep breath, nodded. “Yeah. You did.”
“I even knew your name,” Dean said. “I couldn’t remember my own name, but I knew yours.”
Sam nodded, recalling another time that had happened, another time Rowena had helped him when Dean had lost his memories.
“Then after I – “ Dean shifted awkwardly, and Sam filled in the blank, lips tingling at the memory of Dean’s kiss. “After that, I started remembering you. This life. Bits and pieces. Before I passed out.”
Sam nodded. He’d already guessed as much.
“I’m sorry about that, by the way,” Dean continued, gesturing at his mouth awkwardly. “I never should’ve done that.”
“No need to apologize,” Sam assured him. “You weren’t yourself.”
He could feel Dean shooting him a sideways glance, but when Sam looked up to meet it Dean looked away, raising his bottle take a swig. Sam tried not to watch as Dean’s lips curled around the neck of the bottle, as his adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed.
“He’s dead, you know,” Sam said softly. “I killed him.” However accidentally, however miraculously, he didn’t add.
Dean winced as he lowered the beer bottle. His cheeks flushed and his eyelids fluttered, and Sam waited with baited breath, chewing on his lower lip, as Dean took in the news. He wasn’t sure how Dean would react, couldn’t help wondering if Dean would resent him for killing Oberon. But when Dean finally looked up, Sam could read the relief in his eyes that told Sam he’d done the right thing.
“Okay.” Dean said, voice cracking only a little. “That’s it, then.” It’s over, he didn’t add, but Sam heard it anyway.
Dean’s eyes dropped to Sam’s mouth for a brief moment, and Sam tried not to read too much into it. Even if Dean had wanted that kiss when he wasn’t himself, there was no reason for Sam to expect he’d ever want it again.
And Sam was fine with that. Really, he was. Having Dean back, even as broken and lost as he was, that was enough.
Sam couldn’t help hoping, though. He’d never stop hoping.
Over the next few days, Dean was unusually quiet. Sam kept catching him watching Sam, but whenever he did, Dean looked away quickly and pretended to be busy doing something else. He cracked stupid jokes obviously designed to irritate Sam. Sam figured he was processing the news of Oberon’s death, but one night he learned that Dean had something else on his mind. There was still something he needed to talk about.
This time, Dean followed Sam into his room, leaving the door ajar behind him. Sam was sitting up in bed, reading, but he put the book down immediately. Since that first night, Dean had never come to his room. Not once.
"Hey." Dean stood awkwardly in his bare feet, t-shirt and sleep shorts, obviously ready for bed. He seemed very young. Sam waited patiently, fighting the urge to go to his brother, to gather him up and never let him go.
Finally, Dean took a deep, shaky breath. “I just wanted you to know, even though I wasn’t myself when it happened, I don’t regret it.”
Sam’s eyes dropped to Dean’s lips as his heart sped up. He understood immediately. “Okay.” His voice was hoarse, broken, as if he hadn’t used it in a while, so he cleared his throat, beyond nervous. “Okay.”
Dean lifted his eyes, dark with intent. “Just so you know.”
Sam nodded, speechless, lips parted in anticipation.
“Okay then.” Dean turned to leave. “So we’re good? Good. ‘Night, Sammy.”
Sam sat staring at the empty doorway for several minutes after Dean left, after Dean went back to his own room and closed the door firmly behind him.
Well, that was –– unexpected, the voice in Sam’s head said.
Sam’s mind wouldn’t let him sleep for some time that night, churning with possibility.
During the following week, Dean was touchier than usual. He squeezed Sam’s shoulder when he leaned over him to read Sam’s laptop screen. He put his hand on the small of Sam’s back for a moment when they interviewed witnesses. He rested his arm along the back of the seat in the car and let his fingers play with the collar of Sam’s jacket, sometimes carding through Sam’s hair almost absently, as if he wasn’t even aware of doing it.
At the breakfast table one morning, Sam had to resist the urge to pull away when Dean left his hand on Sam’s arm, the warmth of it soaking through Sam’s shirt-sleeve, making his heart pound.
They caught a case that day, a pack of werewolves living in an old warehouse on the outskirts of Chicago. When they checked into their motel, Sam’s eyebrows went up of their own accord when Dean accepted a room with a kingsized bed.
“What? There’s plenty of room.” Dean shrugged as they unpacked. “Besides. We’ll only be here one night. How bad can it be?”
The hunt went bad. Sam woke up on the floor of the warehouse, gasping for breath, his throat on fire from being nearly choked to death by one of the werewolves. Dean was lying practically on top of him, fingers pressed against Sam’s bruised neck, checking for a pulse.
“Damn it, Sammy!” Dean’s hands moved expertly over Sam’s aching body, checking for injuries. “Thought I’d lost you.”
When Dean kissed him, it was more of a reflex than anything. Sam almost didn’t notice at first because the adrenaline and pain was so intense by comparison. Dean’s hands were moving carefully over his neck, holding his head gently as his lips moved along Sam’s jaw, his aching cheekbone, then back to his lips. One of Sam’s lips was split, and Dean’s kiss was gentle there too, tongue darting out to lick away the blood almost as if he was tending Sam’s injuries. As if this was a regular part of field medicine for them.
“Sam.” Dean’s whisper was desperate, full of gratitude for Sam’s survival. Sam could almost believe that’s all this was, that Dean was just expressing the relief they’d both felt hundreds of times when one of them passed out after an injury. After all the times Sam had watched Dean die, having him wake up again from mere unconsciousness always seemed like nothing less than a miracle.
This was more than that. After peppering his face and neck with soft, soothing kisses, Dean returned to Sam’s mouth, kissing him deeply, pouring into the kiss all the love and longing he’d been holding back for at least the past week, probably longer. Sam surged up, a sound somewhere between a whimper and a moan escaping him as he kissed back. Dean swallowed the sound, grinding down against Sam’s body so that Sam could feel how hard he was, so there could be no mistaking this for a simple reflex. Dean was deliberately making out with him on the dirty floor of an empty warehouse, among the blood and the grime and the dead bodies of the three werewolves they’d just killed.
“Fuck!” Sam gasped when he came up for air.
“That’s the idea,” Dean agreed, chuckling against Sam’s neck as he writhed desperately against him.
Sam opened his legs, giving Dean space to push up between them, rubbing and grinding through their clothes. Dean shoved a hand down between their bodies, fumbling with Sam’s belt and fly, gripping Sam’s dick through his jeans. The knowledge that it was Dean’s hand touching him was more than Sam could take, sending him over the edge as his orgasm crashed over him and he came hard and long and helpless.
“That’s it, little brother,” Dean panted into Sam’s ear as Sam’s body shuddered and bucked. “That’s it.”
Sam almost passed out with bliss as the aftershocks rolled over him. He was vaguely aware of Dean pulling his own dick out and jerking himself frantically until he was coming all over Sam, stiff and silent. Sam opened his eyes to watch Dean’s face as he came, determined to catalog and store the memory to replay again and again, just in case this was it, just in case this was the only time they ever did this.
When they got back to the motel, Dean made Sam shower first, peeling off his blood-and-semen-stained clothes as gently as possible as he searched for more injuries. After his shower, Dean allowed Sam to pull on boxers and a t-shirt before tucking him into bed with a bottle of water and more painkillers. Sam was asleep almost before his head hit the pillow.
Sometime in the night Sam woke up to the comforting warmth of Dean’s body pressed up against his back, spooning him in his sleep. Dean’s arm was tucked under his, hand over Sam’s heart, snoring softly into the back of Sam’s neck. When Sam laced their fingers together, hugging Dean’s arm to his chest, Dean sighed and shifted closer, sliding his leg between Sam’s under the blankets. Sam could just feel the outline of Dean’s dick, pressed into his backside, and when he pushed back against it Dean made a contented, turned-on sound deep in his throat.
As Sam drifted off to sleep again he felt Dean press his lips against the back of Sam’s neck, at the top of his spine, and it made Sam smile.
In the morning, Dean was gone. Sam pulled himself out of bed, stiff and sore, heart pounding as he went over the memories of last night. Had it been real? Did Dean really mean it? Had it just been an adrenaline-fueled reflex? Would Dean take it back in the cold light of day? Try to pretend it didn’t mean anything?
When the door opened and Dean entered the room with a tray of coffee and breakfast sandwiches, Sam almost collapsed with relief. It wasn’t that he’d been afraid Dean would bolt, exactly. But the look on Dean’s face told him he needn’t have worried.
“You know I’m not going to kiss you good morning every day,” Dean said.
“No, right, that’s okay,” Sam assured him quickly.
“I brought breakfast,” Dean offered, and the tentative way he said it went straight to Sam’s heart.
They ate quietly, knees knocking together under the table. Sam winced as he swallowed, throat still sore from last night’s hunt, and Dean shook out a couple of painkillers from the bottle, put them down on the table with a water bottle. He waited as Sam swallowed the pills and the water, then nodded his approval.
They drove back to the bunker in companionable silence, music blasting whenever it got too quiet. Dean left his arm on the seat back, letting his fingers tap the rhythm along with Bad Company and the Allman Brothers. When Zep’s “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” came on, he ran his fingers along Sam’s collar and into his hair, leaving them there, carding through the strands gently, tentative but reassuring at the same time, making Sam shiver.
Back at the bunker, they went about their separate routines, getting ready for bed, checking the warding on the bunker’s doors as they usually did every night, remembering whose turn it was without having to ask. They took their showers together in the spacious communal bathroom, in separate stalls. They brushed their teeth side-by-side at the bathroom sinks, barely glancing at each other, towels firmly wrapped around their waists like always. It was flirtatious and sexy as hell, as it always was for Sam, but he was so used to it he didn’t even wonder whether it meant more now. He just knew it did.
“Good night,” Sam said when he reached his door. They always parted there for the night, Dean seeing Sam safely to bed before going to his own room.
This time, Dean followed Sam into his room and shut the door behind them.
“This okay?” Dean asked when Sam turned around, eyebrows raised in surprise before he could stop himself.
“Yeah,” Sam said, huffing out a short laugh. “Of course.”
Dean dropped his towel, stood in all his naked glory with a look on his face that was half smirking, half hesitant, still a little confused.
He nodded when Sam gave his permission, reaching out for Sam’s hand, the one that held his towel in place. Sam let him take it, let him thread their fingers together as his towel fell to the floor, leaving Sam as bare as Dean. Dean looked down, reached out with his other hand to touch the bruises on Sam’s belly and ribcage. There was a contusion on Dean’s left shoulder, another one on his hip, but Sam had sustained the most injuries on this hunt. Werewolves always ganged up on the biggest guy.
“Remember that time you fell out of that apple tree in Massachusetts?” Dean stepped closer, fingers playing lightly over Sam’s stomach, his ribcage.
Sam shook his head.
“Yeah, you were about five, I think,” Dean said. “It was just after your arm healed, and I was so afraid you’d broken it again.”
“How do you even remember that?” Sam said, but the reproachful smirk Dean gave him answered his question. Dean remembered every time Sam was hurt. Those memories were always the strongest. “It’s like a hundred years ago for you.”
“Probably more, if you count all those other times we were apart.”
Sam sucked in a breath, held it as Dean stepped closer, so that their chests were almost touching. He ran his hand up Sam’s back, tangled it in Sam’s hair, tipping his head down.
“You know what I don’t remember? I don’t remember why we never did this before. I don’t remember why I ever thought it was a bad idea.”
“You had your reasons,” Sam assured him. He was trembling, shivering everywhere Dean touched him.
“Yeah, well, I can’t think of a single one of ‘em now,” Dean said, pulling Sam’s face down so he could reach his lips.
“Good,” Sam murmured just before Dean kissed him.
Dean was slow and careful, taking his time laying Sam out on his bed, using his mouth and hands in ways Sam had only dreamed about. He played Sam’s body like a musical instrument, pulling sounds from deep inside that he swallowed and claimed, then did it again. He loosened and unwound Sam’s muscles and ligaments until he was as relaxed as a rag doll. Dean opened Sam’s body with his mouth and lubed fingers until Sam was begging and shaking, until he was so ready Dean could slide easily inside, making Sam feel full and complete for the first time in his life.
Dean and Sam fit together as Sam had always known they would. Dean was the missing piece inside Sam, the other half of his soul. Their bodies were natural extensions of that deeper part of themselves that could never be truly separated. Their union transcended the limitations of their physical existence, transcended even the limits of time and space. Together, they were something more. Something new. It was as if the act of coming together created something else entirely, something beyond the two of them. It was a thought that made Sam’s head hurt, made him want to write poetry, or maybe a song.
But for now, while their bodies writhed together on Sam’s bed, it was what they had. And Sam was sure that even Dean would agree it was pretty damn good.
“We need to go to the beach.”
They were lying side by side, Dean on his stomach, Sam tracing the fine scars on his back. He was wondering if Dean remembered having wings, if he remembered flying.
“I mean it, Sammy. Find us a hunt at the beach, will ya?”
Sam snorted out a chuckle. “Yeah, right. Like you’d ever let us take a day off to lie in the sun.”
“Hot chicks, very few clothes, mai-tais with those little umbrellas...” Dean sucked in a deep breath, let it out slow. “Pretty sure I could be talked into it.”
“Sounds like you just did,” Sam smiled, replacing his fingers with his lips, kissing along the imaginary outline of Dean’s non-existent wings.
Dean twitched and shifted subtly. “Tickles,” he complained.
“You love it,” Sam murmured as he lowered his mouth to Dean’s skin again. This time he added his fingers, tickling deliberately along the sensitive skin of Dean’s sides.
“Oh, oh, that is so unfair,” Dean wiggled out from under Sam’s hands, rolled over as far as the bed would allow.
“You always were the ticklish one,” Sam grinned as Dean glared at him.
“We need to get a king-sized bed,” he said, and Sam couldn’t argue with that.
Things might have shifted between them, but their fundamental relationship remained as it had always been. They were brothers with benefits, best friends and lovers. If anything, they talked more, shared their worries and concerns more now that they shared a bedroom again.
Not that they didn’t have times when they each needed space. They slept together in Sam’s room, but either one of them could retreat to Dean’s room if need be, and they both knew it. It was just coincidence that, once they got the king-sized bed, neither of them ever did.
They burned the painting out back of the bunker one night, standing shoulder-to-shoulder as fire consumed the small pyre they’d built for it. As the flames began to die down, Sam slipped his hand into Dean’s, and Dean let him.
Dean’s memory lapses kept improving, so that by the end of a year he seemed almost normal. There were still gaps, and sometimes it surprised Sam when Dean couldn’t remember something or someone significant from their past, while at the same time he seemed to be able to recall unimportant details so easily. But that was just the way memory worked. Overall, Sam had to admit that Dean’s was remarkably good, given everything that had happened.
Sam didn’t tell Dean that he’d checked in with Sheriff Scott, learned that none of the people they rescued from Faerie ever recovered any memories of their old lives. Sam bore the guilt for that alone, secretly researching ways to fix it until he was forced to admit defeat. Dean’s recovery was the exception to the rule, apparently. Nowhere in the lore could Sam find mention of anyone who remembered their old lives after such a long time in Faerie. Nowhere could he find records of anyone who didn’t want to go back. Just as he’d known from the beginning, leaving Faerie was a death sentence for most people.
The fact that Dean wasn’t most people was more comforting than it should be. Sam didn’t deserve to succeed in getting his loved one back when all those other people got was a sad shell who couldn’t even remember who they were, who spent the rest of their lives wishing they were somewhere else.
Sam lay next to Dean sometimes, just listening to him breathe, watching his chest rise and fall, and let himself feel grateful. He knew it was selfish, being so grateful for something that no one else could have, having this when there were so many lonely people in the world, when so many people suffered so much because they never had this, or lost it. Sam’s gratitude made him feel guilty, so he kept it to himself.
Sometimes Dean’s eyes would open, the light from the hallway making them seem luminous and otherworldly, and Dean would gaze at him silently, as if he knew. As if he could read Sam’s mind.
As if he was silently assuring Sam that he would feel the same way, if their situations were reversed.
It was their little secret.