Somebody’s shaking his shoulder. As Dean crawls back to consciousness he notices two things: his head hurts, and he’s naked.
Must’ve been a helluva night.
The “somebody” better not be Sam.
“Let me sleep!” he slurs angrily, burrowing down into his bed —
He’s in his bed. He’s been sleeping. Dreaming.
“Dean, it worked! The spell worked!”
Not dreaming, then.
He slides one sleep-crusted eye open and quickly closes it again.
Sam’s naked, too.
“And I guess the memory spell worked, too?” Sam asks, but Dean knows that tone. Sam’s not really asking, he’s just talking to himself, like he does when he’s working through a problem.
Like waking up naked in bed with your brother.
Dean’s grateful he’s lying face down because he’s got a morning wood, and seeing Sam naked isn’t doing a thing to make it go away. If anything, it’s making him harder.
“All I know is, somebody better make me coffee,” Dean growls. “Soon. I don’t know what we were drinking, but if it made us get naked and fall asleep in my bed together, it needs to go.”
“You don’t remember?” Sam sounds worried. “Seriously? Dean, you don’t remember the other timeline? The –– the Multiple Me Convention?”
Shit. Not a dream.
Dean’s awake now, eyes wide as he lifts his head, spies his discarded jeans and t-shirt on the floor beside the bed. Mustering the strength and energy he definitely doesn’t feel, he rolls off the bed and grabs the clothes in one smooth motion, landing on his feet facing Sam, the clothes held strategically in front of him.
Sam looks far too comfortable — far too familiar — stretched out on Dean’s bed with only a thin sheet covering his own no-doubt impressive morning wood. Dean looks away, forces himself to dress while ignoring the fact that Sam’s watching him as he does it. Ignoring the fact that it turns Dean on, knowing that Sam’s watching.
Sam sounds so concerned, so Sam. Dean almost drops his t-shirt, almost climbs back onto the bed with his brother to reassure him that everything’s all right. Whatever Dean remembers doesn’t really matter, does it? If this is something Sam wants, something Sam expects, then Dean should just give it to him, shouldn’t he?
He’s losing his mind. This can’t be happening. Things never got this weird in that other timeline, did they?
“I gotta pee,” Dean growls. “You might wanna get dressed before I get back.”
Dean tries to ignore the distress in Sam’s face as he leaves the room, but he can’t. He’s worried, too. His memories are a jumble, his head pounds, and he’s barefoot, for God’s sake.
The hall is full of voices. The bunker’s full of people.
Dean stumbles down the corridor to the bathroom, passing two men who look vaguely familiar. They exchange brief greetings with Dean like they know him, and Dean has the presence of mind not to kill them because he’s pretty sure they’re supposed to be here.
“The bunker’s full of strangers!” He exclaims as soon as he gets back to his room.
Sam’s pulled on his clothes, even his boots and over-shirt, the bitch. He still looks hot. He’s sitting on the edge of the unmade bed, hands clasped loosely in his lap, looking lost and troubled. Everything about his brother’s demeanor brings out Dean’s protective instincts.
“Yeah,” Sam nods. “Those are all the hunters from the alternate universe, remember? They’ve been living here while you were gone.”
“Gone?” Dean’s head throbs. “What are you talking about, gone?”
“While you were possessed by Michael.” Sam winces as he says it, can’t quite look Dean in the eye.
“By Michael? I said yes to Michael?”
But Dean remembers. It’s like a bad dream, one he had last week so he’s almost forgotten it now.
“Yeah. You were gone a few weeks,” Sam says. “You really don’t remember?”
“I remember,” Dean admits, sinking into the chair opposite his brother so that their knees brush, giving Dean that little buzz of erotic energy he’s been getting from Sam all his adult life. Only he’s pretty sure that in this timeline he wasn’t conscious of it, or of how much he needed it. And he’s pretty sure they never acted on it. “What I’m having trouble remembering is how we got here last night.”
Sam looks sheepish. “I — I carried you, after you passed out in the library.”
“Okay.” Dean nods. “And? You wanna explain how we both ended up naked? Wait. Don’t answer that.”
But Sam ignores him. “We always sleep naked,” he says slowly, as if he’s speaking to a child. “You’re always complaining about how overheated you get otherwise.”
Dean gets a flash of Sam’s naked body, curled around him in sleep, and he feels himself flush.
“And that’s all we did,” he clarifies. “Sleep.”
“Last night, yeah,” Sam says. “You weren’t really in any condition for anything else, after the spell. That thing really took it out of you.”
Dean blinks and rubs the back of his neck. “You’re gonna have to help me out here, Sam. My memories are pretty jumbled. You said there was a spell.”
“Yeah.” Sam nods. “My time-closet malfunctioned and started spitting out versions of me from other timelines...”
“Wait.” Dean puts his hand up. “That really happened? It wasn’t just a dream?”
“Yeah, it happened.” Sam clenches his jaw. “Somehow we veered off course, ended up in that timeline when we were supposed to be here.”
Dean shakes his head. “I hate time travel.”
“Well, technically, nobody actually time-traveled,” Sam says. “The timelines just spontaneously diverged.”
“Oh, excuse me, Professor, but it sounds like time-travel to us peons. And if this thing happened ‘spontaneously,’ don’t you think we should figure out why so it doesn’t happen again?”
Sam rolls his eyes. “I should have said ‘unexplained spontaneous divergence.’ But my guess is, the time-closet was the catalyst. I should probably go check on it.”
“You do that,” Dean growls. “And while you’re out there, get me some goddamn coffee!”
Sam makes a face, but obeys. Sam’s been unusually solicitous since Dean got back. He shaved his beard when Dean told him he hated it. (He didn’t, he just didn’t like the reminder that he’d left Sam for so long). He found an awesome hunt for them on Halloween that almost made up for the fact that the bunker was crawling with eager-beaver hunters who kept calling Sam “chief.”
Sam’s been caring for Dean in the only ways he knows Dean will accept. Sam’s caring for Dean now because he knows what Dean’s been through, knows he’s traumatized after his possession. No one knows what it’s like to be possessed by a psychotic archangel as well as Sam does.
Dean wishes Sam had no idea what that was like. It’s not an experience Dean would wish on his worst enemy. Dean still has fantasies about traveling back in time to fix it, to ensure that Sam never suffers like that. Dean would give anything to save Sam from all of it,
Dean would suffer a hundred lifetimes of being possessed by Michael if it would save Sam from even a day of being possessed by Lucifer.
It occurs to him that the time-closet knew. It never allowed Dean to use it because it knew. It only let Sam travel through it because he knew Sam would never do something so stupid as to end the world to save his brother, however accidentally. The time closet knew Sam almost as well as Dean does.
And that’s when Dean decides he’s definitely losing it.
“It’s gone, Dean,” Sam announces when he gets back. Dean accepts the cup of strong, black coffee that Sam offers and frowns.
“The closet. It’s like it was never there. There’s no hole in the wall, nothing. It’s just — gone.”
“So what does that mean, Genius? Huh? That thing’s been here at least as long as we have.”
“Or maybe never at all,” Sam shrugs. “Maybe in this timeline it never even existed in the first place.”
Dean’s head hurts. “So why do I remember it?”
Sam looks sheepish again. “That’s the memory spell,” he says. “I didn’t want us to forget the other timeline. It’s part of who we are. So I used an Enochian memory incantation. Wasn’t sure it would work, actually...”
“A memory spell,” Dean huffs. “So you’re saying we ended up with two sets of memories of two different timelines, like we did when Balthazar re-sunk the Titanic.”
“Right. At any rate, now that the closet’s gone, we should be safe from any more time slips.”
“Let’s hope so.” Dean shakes his head, takes a long sip of his coffee. “Do we know exactly when the timelines split?”
“Pretty sure it was before you said yes to Michael,” Sam ventures, flinching as he says it. It occurs to Dean, not for the first time, that Sam has suffered almost as much as Dean has during the past few weeks. Not only was he missing his brother, but Sam was reliving his own possession every time he thought about what Dean was going through.
Again, Sam’s suffering is infinitely greater than Dean’s. It’s just the way of the world, in any timeline.
“So I’m not imagining it,” Dean suggests. “I remember rescuing Jack. I remember bringing him back here, closing the rift, trapping Michael and Lucifer in apocalypse world for good.”
“No.” Sam sighs. “You’re not imagining it. That’s what happened, in that other timeline.”
“But not here.”
Sam takes a deep breath. “Here, Lucifer and Michael broke into our world. Lucifer took Jack’s grace, zapped us to that church in Maryland. You said yes to Michael to save your family.”
Dean has a feeling Sam always thinks of it that way. He doesn’t think “Dean said yes to Michael.” He thinks, “Dean said yes to Michael to save his family.” It’s like a slogan, or a mantra.
Sam, on the other hand, said yes to Lucifer to save the world. Again, Sam’s a better person than Dean. Dean would never do it any other way. He could never put the world ahead of Sam. That’s just the way he’s made.
“Then we killed Lucifer and Michael reneged on his deal. I remember that part.” Dean thinks for a moment, then adds, “I hate it here.”
Sam starts, raises his eyebrows. “Yeah, I can see why you might prefer things the other way.”
“Damn straight. Bunker full of strangers, Michael in the wind. This place sucks.”
The sick thing is, he really means it. He remembers that other timeline. Things were good, or at least better. Until all those Sams started popping out of the time-machine, everything was fine there. They’d managed to close the rift to the other universe without losing anybody and life had gotten itself back to a semblance of normal. Sure, they didn’t save all those people over there, didn’t bring them back here where they’d be safe, but that was alternate-Bobby’s job. Mom had decided to stay with him, and that had hurt at first, but it had made sense, too, and Dean had a feeling he’d get used to it eventually. The main thing was, they’d got Jack back and trapped Lucifer over there where he was probably dead by now, and Michael was still there too, trapped forever with no possibility of escape.
Just before the Sams started falling out of the time-closet, Sam and Dean had been home alone, enjoying a little domestic R&R. Castiel was off with Jack on a road-trip, exploring the universe the way only angels can do. Sam and Dean had had the bunker to themselves again, the way it was supposed to be.
In that timeline, Sam and Dean had had each other, in every way.
Dean blushes involuntarily as the memories flood his mind and body, memories of Sam spread out naked on his bed, of Dean taking care of him in all the ways he loved most.
Only that isn’t the way things are in this timeline. Here in this universe, he and Sam have never crossed that line, although he’s pretty sure he’s thought about it. He’s pretty sure Sam has, too.
Yeah, things were definitely better in that other timeline.
“We need to get out of here,” Dean says as he finishes chugging his coffee. “Just get in the car and drive.”
“Okay,” Sam agrees. He takes a deep breath and rises wearily to his feet.
It’s too easy these days to guilt Sam into doing something he doesn’t really want to do. All Dean has to do is ask.
They make it to the garage without anyone noticing, which is the kind of miracle Dean hasn’t had much of lately.
It’s dark and raining outside, of course, but Dean doesn’t mind. He points the car toward Dodge City and settles back for a three-hour journey. Ever since they went there for a hunt last year, Dean’s wanted to go back. There’s a cheesy gunslinger wax museum and a cowboy-themed indoor mini-golf amusement center he’s been dying to visit. He can’t wait to sleep another night in the gunslinger motel where they stayed before, but this time they’ll be alone. No Cas, no Jack.
They’ve been on the road for barely an hour before Sam breaks their uncomfortable silence, just as Dean had known he would. Sam knows he can’t get anything serious out of his brother unless they’re in the car. It’s where they’ve always had their best conversations. It’s dark and quiet and they’re alone. It’s like a goddamn confessional, this car.
Sam clears his throat. “We should talk.”
Dean raises an eyebrow, keeping his eyes on the road. “About?”
As if Dean ever had a chance.
Sam takes a deep breath. “We need to talk about how things were different in that other timeline. Between us. You know what I’m talking about, Dean,” he says, and Dean can hear his eye roll, even if he can’t see it because he’s keeping his eyes on the dark, rainy road ahead.
Dean considers feigning ignorance. He thinks about saying something like, “No, I got no idea what you’re talking about, Sammy,” but he doesn’t.
Sam’s suffered enough.
“Okay,” Dean nods. “So talk.”
Sam takes a deep breath, then lets it out slowly. “Look, Dean, I know you’d like to forget that other timeline, and I get that. It’s easier to pretend none of those things happened.”
“Technically, they never did, right?” Dean glares at the dark, rainy road, daring it to argue.
“No, right, of course.” Sam shifts and fidgets in his seat, and Dean tries not to notice. “Technically., you’re right. But the thing is, we remember them, and that changes things. We’ve gained new understanding of things because of those memories. At least, I have.”
Dean realizes too late that he probably should have denied the whole thing. He should have pretended not to have any memories of that other timeline at all.
But of course it’s too late now. Sam knows.
“And the thing is, I don’t regret anything,” Sam goes on, and Dean can feel Sam’s eyes on him. He knows exactly what it looks like to be fixed by that gaze. Sam’s beautiful kaleidoscope eyes are full of sincerity. Hope. Dean just knows it without even having to look at him. “I don’t regret a thing, Dean. I never will.”
Dean can’t help rolling his eyes, shaking his head. “Sam.”
“I understand if you want to forget it. After everything you’ve been through with Michael, it’s a real clusterfuck to have all those memories of a life we never lived. I totally understand why you’d rather pretend it never happened.”
He can’t do that to Sam. Not after everything he’s been through. Not after everything Dean couldn’t do to save him.
Dean takes a deep breath. It’s now or never. “I remember everything, Sam,” he says.
He feels Sam’s eyes on him as he clears his throat. “You do?”
“Of course I do.” He realizes what he’s about to say a split second before he says it. “No regrets here, either.”
It’s something he can give Sam, this validation. It’s something he owes him, for all the extra suffering Sam’s endured. “I just need a little time, that’s all.”
“Yeah, of course,” Sam breathes, and his relief feels like something tangible that Dean can reach out and grab hold of. “Of course, Dean. Totally understandable.”
“And I’m not sleeping with you in a bunker full of strangers,” Dean growls. The least he can do is set some boundaries. “While they’re in the bunker, you’re sleeping in your own room, capiche?”
“Yeah! Yeah, of course! Absolutely.”
The truth is, Dean needs his space in a way he’s never needed it before. Being possessed has given him a new-found appreciation for alone-time. He’s not sure he can handle Sam being plastered all over him the way he remembers in his other memories. He wants the bed to himself for a while, just until he gets his equilibrium back. Just until he’s absolutely sure he’s alone in his own head again.
He’s grateful to Sam for being there when he wakes up screaming, though. That never gets old.
They check into the cowboy motel around midnight, barely make it to the bed before they’re all over each other, clawing and biting and ripping each other’s clothing. It’s always been that way between them, Dean realizes. Stolen moments between the horrible reality of their lives. Desperate, panting interludes between one hell hole and the next.
But at least life allows them these respites. At least they get to carve out a moment’s solace in the midst of all the horror and suffering.
Dean drifts off afterwards, unsure whether he’s just had a momentous first time with his brother or a reunion.
Time travel’s a bitch.
He’s dreaming. He’s sure he’s dreaming this time, because he’s half-aware of lying in the cowboy motel bed with Sam. His Sam.
Stanford Sam’s standing in the doorway, watching them.
“Hey.” Dean waits, just to see if Stanford Sam will disappear. He’s not real, Dean knows. This is a dream. Some weird reaction of his sleeping brain to the events of the past 24 hours.
When the apparition doesn’t fade, Dean huffs out a breath, rolls out of bed and reaches for his clothes. Maybe the mundane task of dressing will shake the ghost loose.
Stanford Sam’s still standing there when Dean finishes putting his boots on.
Damn, this dream is long and boring.
Stanford Sam watches him, drinking him in like a cool glass of water, and Dean knows that look. That’s the “I’ve been missing my brother something awful” look. Dean huffs out a breath and reaches for his jacket.
Of course, it’s his dad’s old leather jacket, the one Dean wore for years before losing it sometime after Sam went to Hell.
Dean brushes past Stanford Sam, opens the door to the parking lot, the kid on his heels.
The diner is just across the parking lot, one of those all-night places that lets anybody order pancakes at midnight. This one serves drinks, and Dean orders a whiskey neat, thanking whoever Howard Johnson is for making sure his motel diners had a liquor license. And fish tanks.
Stanford Sam orders a glass of water and quarter-turns the glass at regular intervals with his long, tan fingers, making the ice melt so that his skin becomes wet and shiny.
“Something on your mind, Sammy?”
Sam’s mouth curls up in a half-smile, but he doesn’t look up. Not yet. It’s like he’s afraid to show Dean how much pleasure he’s getting from just sitting here. With Dean.
The waitress brings Dean’s apple pie ala mode and Dean grins appreciatively, wordlessly offering Sam the first bite.
Sam frowns with a sharp shake of his head and rolls his eyes. “I don’t want pie, Dean. I hate pie. Why are you always trying to make me eat?”
“You’re too skinny,” Dean says, and it’s true. The kid’s too thin. Not much muscle yet, not like later. “You should eat.”
Dean takes a bite of the pie, opens his mouth when Sam glances up. He almost chokes at the look of disgust on the kid’s face.
“Gross, Dean,” Sam complains, but it’s half-hearted and they both know it. The kid’s cheeks are coloring, and it’s hard to tell whether his lips are curled in a grimace or a half-hidden smile.
Dean decides to go with the later. He eats the rest of the pie with exaggerated enthusiasm, aware of Sam glancing at him from under his bangs. Blushing.
“So why’d you drag me outta bed, Sam? Huh? Jealous?” Dean pushes the empty pie plate aside, reaches for his whiskey.
“What? No!” Sam starts, raising wide eyes to Dean before looking away again.
But Dean knows the kid. Knows he struck a chord.
“Well that’s just dumb, Sammy. He’s you. Fifteen years or so older, but definitely you.”
Sam shakes his head. “You don’t understand.”
“What? What don’t I understand?” Dean nods as the waitress arrives to take his empty plate away, offering a refill of his whiskey. He had almost forgotten what a pain in the ass young Sam could be. All the angsty teenage whining. All the moods. “Look, if you don’t want to tell me how hot I am, how you’re lusting after my every move and you’d like to shoot everybody I sleep with, then don’t. But don’t expect me to pretend you’re not jealous. That’s just stupid.”
Sam’s staring at him, mouth hanging open, frozen in shocked disbelief.
“What? Am I wrong? Tell me I’m wrong, Sam, cuz from where I’m sitting, it sure looks like jealousy to me.”
Dean takes another sip of his whiskey, shrugs and smirks and suddenly realizes he feels young again. It’s not just the jacket and the kid sitting across from him. He doesn’t feel the usual twinges in his knee or the crick in his neck.
“You’re an asshole,” Sam says.
“I love you too, Sammy.” Dean smirks, lifting an eyebrow.
“God, Dean.” Sam flushes pink. It’s adorable.
“No, I’m not him.” A sudden memory pierces Dean’s consciousness, sending him suddenly spinning out of the dream and into a memory. He’s in a dark alleyway, talking to Sister Jo, and she’s just called him ‘God’ and he’d taunted her.
It’s a Michael memory, Dean realizes, and his stomach swoops. His breathing stops.
“Dean? Dean, are you okay? What’s wrong?”
But it’s too late. He’s crashing. He’s deep under water, gasping for air, swimming like the fish in that goddamn tank, desperate for light because it’s so dark he can’t see.
“Dean!” Sam’s voice, urgent and filled with fear, pierces the darkness. It’s muffled by the water, by the pounding and rushing in Dean’s head as he runs out of air. He’s pretty sure Sam won’t make it in time to save him, but he’s got to stay conscious till the last possible moment. He’s got to try, for Sam’s sake...
Dean’s eyes fly open. He’s back in the motel, naked and in bed and gasping for breath. Sam’s shaking him, looking down at him with that worried furrow of his brow in the light from the bedside lamp. He sighs with relief when he sees Dean’s awake, sits back against the headboard, runs a hand through his sweat-soaked hair.
“It was just a dream.” Dean’s breathing slows but his heart’s still pounding. “Then it was a nightmare.”
“No shit.” Sam huffs out a breath. “You were flailing and flopping around like a dying fish.” He shakes his head as he realizes what he’s said, obviously remembering what Dean told him about how it felt to be possessed by Michael. “Sorry.”
“Maybe we should sleep in separate beds, till this thing blows over.”
Then Dean remembers. Sam’s been sleeping in his room since he got back, although not in the bed. Dean remembers waking up in the night to find Sam in the chair, dozing. Watching over him.
No wonder Sam isn’t getting any sleep.
“It’s not going to ‘blow over,’ Dean,” Sam says softly. “Recovering from possession isn’t something you just ‘get over.’”
“Right. I gotta pee.”
In the bathroom, Dean washes his face, avoiding his reflection as much as possible.. He runs a hot shower, lets the water sluice over him, forces himself not to panic as clouds of steam rise around him. He makes himself stay in the shower until his heart stops pounding, till he can endure the feel of the water cascading down his face and body without wanting to scream.
He’s not sure he’ll ever go swimming again.
When he gets back to the bedroom, Sam’s lying on his back with the light off. Dean can tell he’s awake, though. He can see Sam’s eyes glisten in the light filtering through the curtains from the parking lot.
“We’re gonna get through this,” Sam murmurs as Dean settles under the blanket next to him, not quite touching.
“We’re gonna find Michael and kill him,” Dean answers.
“Right.” But Dean knows that’s not what Sam meant. “What did you dream about? Before, I mean.”
Before the nightmare, you mean. “You,” Dean says. “Stanford You. That kid in the hoodie with the long bangs. He was all cute and lost and missing his family. You know the one.”
“Yeah, I do.” Sam sucks in a breath, then lets it out slowly. “You know I was never really that innocent. I knew how I felt about you, for one thing. I could tell there was something really wrong with me, even then.”
“If I could go back and save you from all of it — Azazel, Lucifer, the whole thing — you know I would.”
“Yeah,” Sam breathes. “I know.”
“None of that stuff should have happened,” Dean insists. “You didn’t deserve to suffer like that. I never should have let that happen to you. I should have stopped it.”
“You let me go,” Sam reminds him. “You let me make my own decision about Lucifer. You trusted me. You let me do what I needed to do.”
Dean says nothing. He hates that memory.
Sam takes a deep breath. “And I’m here now, Dean. I survived. So will you.”
Dean’s quiet for another long moment, staring at the ceiling. Leave it to Sam to understand. Leave it to Sam to know exactly what Dean means.
“Michael’s bad. I mean, he’s evil. But he’s not Satan. He didn’t ride me for 180 fucking years.”
“Dean.” Sam props himself up on one elbow, turns toward his brother. “Don’t. What happened to you was terrible, any way you look at it. Don’t minimize it. Don’t dismiss it by comparing it to what happened to me.”
Dean turns his head, looks up into Sam’s familiar face, his chiseled features half in shadow.
“It’s gonna feel real good to run that son-of-a-bitch through with my archangel blade.”
Sam smiles. “Just like you killed Lucifer,” he murmurs.
“Just like we killed Lucifer,” Dean corrects. He reaches up, tucks Sam’s long hair behind his ear, leaves his hand against Sam’s cheek.
Sam leans down, captures Dean’s mouth in a hungry kiss as he runs his hand down Dean’s chest and belly, reaching possessively between Dean’s legs to take what he wants.
They don’t talk much after that.
Maybe he’ll never be able to make up for all of Sam’s suffering. Maybe he’ll never completely understand it. But Sam’s here now. Sam’s alive and warm and in Dean’s arms.
Whatever comes next, Sam will be right there by Dean’s side.
Right where he belongs.