“It’s over, boy. Time to go home.”
Bobby Singer tips his hat back against the hot breeze, swiping at his forehead with his sleeve. The fire’s burnt itself out, leaving a grisly, smoking scene of death and sorrow.
The bodies are strewn in a line across the open field in front of them, one beside the next. All were burnt to a crisp. None were recognizable, except for their size.
All thirteen victims were children.
“He’s not here, Bobby,” Dean says, shaking his head. He took his hat off when they first arrived at the scene, out of respect for the dead. Or just plain fear. “I’d know it if he was.”
Bobby sighs. “You two and your crazy kismet,” he mutters. “I’ll never understand it, and I’m grateful for that. It’ll be the death of you yet, your bond with that kid.”
“Come on,” Dean says, pulling a short shovel from his pack. “Let’s bury ‘em.”
It takes the better part of the afternoon to dig enough graves in the hard soil to bury the bodies. Bobby grumbles the entire time, complaining about his back and the crick in his neck, about how his “callouses are getting callouses” from the shoveling.
Finally, Dean makes the old man sit under the shade of a scraggly tree next to the river while Dean finishes the job alone. It isn’t easy work, but Dean thrives on the physical labor. It keeps his mind off the fact that he couldn’t save these kids, that they died because he couldn’t get there in time, that Sam might have been among them.
It’s been three years since Dean’s seen his brother. Three years since the night Mary Winchester came home to take her youngest son away with her while Dean recovered from his own burn injuries, inflicted after a nearly-fatal fight with Adam Mulligan, the older half-brother who tried to kill him.
It’s been three years since Sam dragged Dean from the fire that destroyed their home, saving his life by ending Adam’s.
As soon as he was well enough, Dean set out to search for his family. At first, Dean assumed it would be easy. Mary had promised to keep Sam safe, and Sam had promised to wait for him. Dean and Bobby traveled across the plains, into the mountains, following the Overland Trail and the dismantled tracks of the Transcontinental Railroad. The training camp where Mary had taken Sam was rumored to be somewhere in Oregon, so that’s where they headed.
After a year in the wilderness, Dean realized the search wasn’t going to be as simple and straightforward as he first thought. They found the remnants of a training camp in Central Oregon, but it had been deserted for some time, and there was no sign of Sam or Mary there. None of the local Natives or Settlers had ever heard of them. It was as if they had vanished from the Earth without a trace.
The night they spent in the empty camp was the first time Bobby suggested they give up and go home.
“They know where we are. Let them come home to you.”
At one level, Dean knew Bobby was right, that his best chance of getting Sam back was to go home and wait for him. He knew that otherwise he might very well spend the rest of his life looking and probably die as his father had, without finding the person he loved most in the world. Dean would never forgive his mother for doing that to his father. He would never understand it.
But Sam was different. Sam was a child when Mary took him away. He was only twelve years old. Dean wouldn’t stop. He couldn’t. The urge to keep looking, to turn over every possible rock and stone, to check with every passing hunter and every settlement he encountered, was too strong.
So they went on looking, expanding their search as far south as Texas and as far north as Montana. They found struggling settlements, burned-out homesteads and Native villages that had been destroyed or overrun. Marauding humans were almost as common as werewolf packs, now that the Westward Expansion had been abandoned. Eventually, Dean and Bobby made it to California, where the only real human civilizations continued to thrive, in Native fishing villages and in San Francisco, which continued to receive regular supplies from the East by ship. There they learned that Europe and the Orient were struggling with monster infestations of their own.
At first, Dean thought that Mary had hidden Sam deliberately, as a way to keep him safe. But as time went by and Dean ran out of leads, he began to fear the worst. He didn’t stop looking, but he couldn’t shake the aching sensation in his gut that told him Bobby was right: Sam and Mary were dead. They couldn’t still be alive after all this time. If they were, somebody would have seen them. Somebody among all the hunters and Natives they encountered in their travels would have heard something.
Now, after three years, Bobby was urging Dean to admit defeat.
“Come on home, boy,” he begged. “It’s time to start over. Try to make a new life for yourself. You owe them that.”
So Dean followed Bobby back to Lawrence. The town had changed. Many Settlers had gone back East, giving up on trying to make a living on the unforgiving plains, where the topsoil was thin and storms were plentiful and devastating.
Those who remained had hunkered down, built a wall around the town that could be slammed shut against invaders in the event of an attack. The wall was made of spell work as much as rock and sod and iron from the broken railway ties of the Transcontinental Railroad. The town had become a way station for travelers. It had a hotel and a saloon, a blacksmith shop and livery stables, a church and a general store and a few houses, but nothing more.
Ellen Harvelle and her daughter Jo still ran the roadhouse about a mile out of town, welcoming hunters who needed a place to eat, drink, and share news of the ongoing struggle to survive in a monster-infested wilderness.
“The town needs you,” she said as she opened her best whiskey for Bobby and Dean. “Pamela and Travis have been coordinating the spell-casting to keep the wall safe, but the attacks are coming pretty frequently now. Maybe once every three or four months. The bastards know we’re here, and they want to break us. We could use a couple of good hunters with your skills and leadership abilities.”
Nobody had heard a word about Sam and Mary.
Bobby agreed to stay, to become sheriff of Lawrence. But Dean was back on the road within a few weeks, heading West again, determined to find his family or die trying. Bobby made him take a couple of hunters with him, but within a few months Dean was alone. Other hunters wanted gold, or adventure, or the thrill of the kill. They were gamblers and outlaws and misfits, and Dean didn’t trust them as far as he could throw them.
Time passed differently in the wilderness. There were weeks and months when Dean didn’t see another living soul, only wildlife. In the fall, when the nights grew cold and the days were crisp and clear, Dean headed south, seeking warmer climates to ride out the long winter months. He stopped for a few days at a Native village in Nevada and at a settlement in Texas, pitched in and helped with spell-casting and hunting to earn his keep before moving on again. After the first time, they were glad to see him, and it almost felt like coming home when he showed up the following year, and the next.
At the end of each winter he headed North again, making the now-familiar loop through the Rockies and up the Oregon Trail to the abandoned training camp he and Bobby found that first year. Something told him Sam had been there. It was the last place Dean knew for certain that Sam had lived. He always spent a night there, dreaming. He always woke up with tears on his cheeks.
Sometimes Dean thought Sam was near. He imagined he had just missed him when he came across a camp where hunters may have eaten a meal the night before. He imagined how Sam would look, now that he was grown. Tall, he thought, like their dad. Dean imagined the face of the little boy he had helped raise, stretched and thinned with age. Sam’s eyes would be the same, he decided. That was how he’d know him. Dean would never forget Sam’s eyes, even if he couldn’t remember exactly what Sam looked like anymore.
Nothing could have prepared Dean for the night Sam stepped back into his life.
It’s a couple of hours after dark, and Dean’s just settling down to sleep for a few hours. He laid his salt circle and camped under a rock overhang, eating the last of the rabbit he caught and skinned the previous day for his supper. He doesn’t want to draw attention so he didn’t bother lighting a fire; the early spring night is chilly but not so cold that Dean can’t sleep.
When he hears a rustle behind him, Dean draws his knife and crouches quietly, blinking into the darkness. A figure stands about ten feet away, silhouetted against the night sky, silent and still as a statue.
The voice is deep, but something about the inflection is familiar. For a moment, Dean thinks he’s dreaming. Then the figure moves, shuffling sideways so that the moonlight falls on his profile.
“Yeah, it’s me.”
Dean’s on his feet, crossing the distance without hesitation, grabbing onto the apparition before he can disappear.
Later, he takes himself to task for being so ready to believe that this was Sam. His Sam. But in the moment, his desperation gets the better of him. He was about to give up for good. He was on his way back to Lawrence to publicly admit his defeat to anyone who was left alive there. For Sam to materialize now, at the moment when Dean was considering whether to shoot himself instead — it didn’t even matter whether Sam was real or not. If Dean could grab onto him, even for one more moment before he turned into a shapeshifter and killed him, that was enough.
“You got so big.” Damn the shaky voice. Dean’s barely keeping it together.
“Damn it, Sam. Where the hell have you been, huh?” He shakes the kid, then pulls him in for another hug. “Thought you were dead. Thought you were long dead.”
“Yeah. I know. I’m sorry. Mary said it wasn’t the right time. She said we had to stay hidden...”
“Huh? What? Mom? She with you?”
“No, she’s still back at base camp.”
“Where? We went there, Sam. Bobby and me went all the way to Oregon. Found that place deserted and empty. We thought you’d been killed. Figured you were both dead!”
“Yeah. Sorry about that. We didn’t mean to scare you, Dean, but Mary said it wasn’t time. She kept telling me I’d put you in danger if I let you find me.”
Dean pushes Sam away, keeping him at arms’ length so he can get a good look. The boy’s rangy, tall and slim, taller than Dean. He looks like the twelve-year-old Dean remembers, only stretched long and with a deeper voice.
“Whatcha been doin’? Huh? Where ya been these past six years?”
Six years. It’s been six years.
“Training,” Sam says. “Learning everything there is about being a good hunter. Also...I’m a mage now, Dean.”
“A — a what?”
“Yeah.” Sam nods, licks his lips. “Mary taught me everything she knows about magic. She says I’ve got real potential.”
Dean feels a hot swath of jealousy surge through him. His mother had given this knowledge to Sam, the knowledge of doing spells and incantations, all the things Dean had learned from her childhood journal, the one Pastor Jim gave him when he was twelve. The knowledge and training that was supposed to be his, Dean’s mother had given to Sam instead.
“That’s good, Sam,” Dean says, keeping his voice as steady as he can manage. “That’s real good. You’re smart. You probably memorized everything first time you learned it. I’m happy for you.”
Sam nods, takes a deep breath. “So I can join your fight now. Mary says I’m finally ready.”
Dean takes another step back, staring at Sam with wide eyes. “My fight? What are you talking about, Sam?”
Sam blinks, frowns, shifts his feet and licks his lips, nervous and unsure. “The monsters,” he says hesitantly. “The fight against evil. I’m ready to help you now. I was useless before, so I can see why you didn’t want me, but I’m eighteen now, Dean. I’m a mage as well as a hunter. I can help.”
Dean’s stuck back on what Sam said before that last thing; it makes his insides swoop hard and hot. “Didn’t want you? You think I didn’t want you? Where in the hell did you get that idea, huh? How could you think that?”
Sam frowns, licks his lips again. “Well, I mean, I get it. I was a criminal, wanted by the law. A total liability. You couldn’t have that hanging around your neck while you and Uncle Bobby were trying to do your jobs.”
Dean’s sight goes black and for a moment he thinks he might pass out. Sam thought Dean didn’t want him?
“Sammy, I don’t know where you’re getting your intel, but I looked for you. I went to that camp on the mountain in Oregon as soon as I could and I looked for you. I’ve never stopped looking for you. How could you think I didn’t want you? How did you get that idea?”
Sam gives a slight shake of his head. “Mary said she talked to you,” he says, confusion suffusing his features, making his skin look darker. “She said you told her to train me, keep me with her until I was old enough to join you.”
“I never said that, Sam,” Dean shakes his head violently. “No, no, no. I don’t know why she said that to you, but I haven’t seen Mom since that day after the fire. The day she took you away.”
Sam blinks, then squints, like he’s trying to decipher the hidden meaning behind Dean’s words. Or like he’s finally making sense of things Mary told him, about Dean wanting him to stay away. Dean knows that wouldn’t have made sense to Sam, but he would’ve believed it if Mary told him that it was what Dean wanted.
It kills him to think of Sam believing that Dean would send him away like that. To think of Sam spending the last six years believing Dean didn’t want him, believing Dean thought Sam was useless and a burden...
Dean can see the moment Sam believes him. The moment the pieces fall into place for him.
“Take me to her,” Dean commands, anger bubbling just under the surface of his words so that even he can hear it.
It’s dangerous, traipsing through the woods at night, but Dean’s too keyed up to care. Sam leads the way, and Dean’s immediately impressed with Sam’s ability to see in the dark. He steps sure-footedly between tangled tree roots and pushes aside undergrowth, following a path that Dean’s sure he wouldn’t be able to find even in the daylight. Sam only stops once in the first hour, kneeling by a running brook for fresh water, and Dean does the same, stunned by the cold, fresh taste. He fills his canteen as Sam waits patiently, which is when he realizes Sam isn’t carrying a pack.
“Is it far?” He asks as he shoulders his pack.
Sam shakes his head. “Just a few hours walk.”
“Sam, I don’t understand. How did you know where to find me?”
Dean can’t see the boy’s face, but he’s fairly sure Sam’s smiling. He looks off across the woods for a moment, and when he faces Dean again, his eyes flash in the moonlight.
“I know a location spell,” he says. “It’s easy. I can show you when it gets light, if you want.”
“Yeah,” Dean breathes, impressed. “I’d like that.”
After another hour of walking, Dean asks, “Why now?”
Sam understands without asking Dean to clarify. “My eighteenth birthday,” he says. “Mary said you told her I could join you as soon as I turned eighteen.”
Then Dean remembers. It’s May 2, the date they had always celebrated Sam’s birthday when they were kids.
Sam hadn’t wasted a day.
Daylight is just creeping through the trees when they reach a clearing. The grass in the clearing has been stomped down, but otherwise there’s nothing there.
“Here we are,” Sam says. He frowns, eyes narrowing.
“This is where your base camp was?” Dean looks around for signs of life, or even of recent camp activity, but sees nothing but the flattened grass.
“Is,” Sam corrects, frowning. “It’s here. It’s just hidden. Hold on a minute.”
Dean watches as Sam closes his eyes, breathing in deep through his nose, then raises his arm straight out in front of him, palm out. For a moment, nothing happens, and Dean starts to wonder if Sam’s having a seizure.
Then the air shimmers and buildings appear.
Dean whirls around, staring wild-eyed at the frame houses that weren’t there a moment before. There’s a stable with fresh hay strewn on the floor, a long low building that looks like a Native longhouse with a door covered in buckskin, and a smaller house that looks like a supply depot. A few flat patches of ground where tents may have stood complete the circle. Dean notices sticks laid in a precise replica of the protection sigils he used to lay around the farm back home in Lawrence, more sigils drawn on the buildings in black charcoal. The fire-pit in the center of the clearing is visible now, still smoldering. Otherwise, the camp is deserted.
“How did you — “ Dean lets his gaze settle on Sam, and the sight takes his breath away.
The rising sun is casting a reddish-gold light on Sam’s skin that makes him look other-worldly. Powerful. Almost glowing.
At the same time, the lost look in his eyes as he gazes around the empty clearing makes Dean’s heart ache. Dean can see the little boy Sam was once, but it’s the young man that makes Dean’s heart race. Sam is beautiful, radiant, magical. With the power of the spell still shining out from his multi-colored eyes, Sam’s stunning, and Dean can’t tear his eyes away. He stares, transfixed. Bewitched.
He’s grateful he couldn’t get a good look at the kid in the dark, because he’s fairly sure he never would have followed him. He wouldn’t have been able to. As it is, he stands frozen and staring like a smitten schoolgirl, and it isn’t until Sam finally notices and frowns that Dean can look away.
But it’s too late. Sam blushes, grins so that his dimples are on display along with his unusually white teeth, and Dean’s unable to look away again. He can feel his face splitting open with a grin of his own while his chest blooms with so much warmth he’s pretty sure he’s melting.
“Yeah.” Sam ducks his head, long hair falling around his face. “It’s an invisibility spell. It’s really useful.”
Sam looks up, biting on his lower lip. He smiles bashfully again when he sees Dean still staring and shakes his head.
“A spell, huh?” Dean repeats, clearing his throat. “That something Mom taught you?”
Sam nods. “Yeah. She learned it from a Navajo shaman. Along with the hiding-in-plain-sight spell I used tonight when I found you.”
“But — “ Dean frowns. “I saw you. I knew it was you. I mean, I didn’t even question that, and I know better. I know about shapeshifters, man, and I still knew it was you. So how did you manage that, huh?”
Sam ducks his head again, shakes it a little. “Your mom, man. She knows so much.” He looks away for a minute, and Dean stares at his profile. It’s beautiful, too. “She made some kind of soul bond between us, I think. She didn’t explain it, wouldn’t confess to it when I asked her. But I think we’re connected somehow. I think she did it a long time ago, before she gave me to you and your dad.”
Dean’s shocked. Why would their mother do this? What purpose would it serve?
At the same time, it hits him how perfect it is. It explains so much, all the feelings he’s had for Sam since the first time he saw him, back when John first handed four-year-old Sam down out of his saddle and into Dean’s arms, when he told Dean to take care of Sam. When he said, “He’s yours now.”
In the same moment, Dean remembers. They’re brothers. Actual blood brothers. That’s why he and Sam feel so connected. It’s genetics.
But genetics can’t be all this is. Dean shakes his head. He never felt this connected to Adam, despite sharing his blood. Adam was only his half brother. Dean and Sam share a mother and a father. They’re full brothers.
But if it’s genetics that cause them to feel so connected, why the soul bond? Wouldn’t that be overkill?
Dean’s never known siblings who feel this kind of connection before. Not that he’s had a lot of experience, or read so many books. But it’s not something he’s ever heard of.
Then it hits him. Mary didn’t tell Sam. He doesn’t know they’re brothers.
“Why would she do that?” he asks, shaken. He’s not sure why he doesn’t just come out and tell Sam the truth. He just knows he needs to hear Sam’s answer first.
Sam huffs out a laugh. “Well, she wouldn’t tell me when I asked, but I have a theory.”
“Go ahead, I’m listening.” This should be good.
“I think she had a vision, about us,” Sam says. “I think she sees us together, in the future.”
Dean sucks in a breath, hides his racing heart by rubbing his neck and staring at the ground. He should put an end to this right now. Sam deserves to know the truth, even if Mary thought he didn’t.
Before Dean has a chance to overthink the situation, Sam lifts his head.
“Something’s coming,” Sam says, pulling a long blade from a sheath strung across his back, adopting a defensive stance as he stares out into the woods beyond the buildings.
Then Dean hears it too, a low growling that might be animals if Dean didn’t know better. It’s coming from all around them. They’re surrounded. Definitely out-numbered, from the sounds of it.
Dean drops his pack, draws his six-shooter and turns so that he’s back to back with Sam. “We need a better defensive position,” he says, glancing at the supply shed. “We’re sitting ducks out here in the open.”
He feels Sam’s nod of agreement.
“Gotta move fast,” Dean says. “On three.”
As soon as Dean yells “Go!” he grabs Sam and runs headlong for the shelter, slamming the door behind them. He can feel rather than see the monsters swarm into the clearing, then hurl themselves against the door and walls of the shed. The growls become howls as the creatures take out their rage and frustration on the small building, and for the first few seconds all Sam and Dean can do is lean their weight against the closed door and hope for the best. In the gloom it’s hard to make out the shelves and barrels, but when Dean’s eyes fall on the two-by-four leaning against the wall he grabs hold of it and frantically shoves it into place across the door, relieved when it holds. The building was clearly designed to withstand just this kind of assault.
“Werewolves,” Sam shouts over the banging and howling. He’s put his blade away and has a gun in his hand, following Dean’s lead.
“No shit!” Dean shouts back as he wedges his gun into a hole between the wooden slats of the wall. “Silver’s the only thing that kills ‘em. Silver bullets to the heart.”
“I know.” Sam shouts as he loads his gun and takes a position next to Dean.
It’s not too hard for Dean to get one of the monsters in his sights. They’re literally crawling and clawing all over the little supply shed. Dean catches a flash of long, jagged teeth, aims his shot six inches below, and fires. The monster yelps and falls away, replaced immediately by another one. Dean fires again, hears Sam’s shot hit its mark as well. The same thing happens twice more before Dean faces the fact that he’s almost out of bullets and the shed’s beginning to shake. Claws are ripping at the boards of the walls, wedging in between as the monsters try to yank the shed apart.
“There’s too many of them!” Sam shouts as he pulls his gun inside to reload.
One of the things manages to tear away a shingle from the roof and Dean gets a good look at drooling, ugly werewolf before he blows it away, only to be replaced by another a moment later.
It occurs to him that they’re both going to die here, without ever getting to know each other again. After the long separation, to be taken down by a pack of werewolves in the wilderness, far from any human settlements or villages, means nobody will ever know what happened to them. They’ll disappear without a trace, like so many other hunters Dean’s known.
He glances at Sam, at his tense young face, his lean coltish body just beginning to show the promise of the muscled mountain man he’ll one day become. Or would become, if it wasn’t all going to hell right here, right now.
“Sammy, I’m sorry...” He never meant for Sam to think he didn’t want him. That’s what he’s sorry about. That Sam spent the last six years thinking Dean didn’t want him, when Sam’s been all Dean’s been able to think about every minute of every day since the moment they parted.
A werewolf has managed to tear a big enough hole in the roof to wriggle through, and Dean barely has time to whirl on it and fire before another one drops through the same hole. In the tight space the air fills with the sound of gunfire and snarling beasts, the smell of gunpowder acrid and choking. Dean’s out of bullets. He doesn’t have time to reload. He tries anyway, then makes a last ditch scramble for his blade instead as he feels something grabbing onto him from behind, slamming his head against the wall.
Sam’s frantic voice shouting his name is the last thing he hears. Sam’s face plastered with a look of horror and fear is the last thing he sees. Serves him right, he thinks as his head slams against the wall again and he blacks out, the sound of gunfire ringing in his ears.
When he comes to, it’s quiet. His head aches and throbs. His back is burning and he thinks he’s back in the farmhouse, on fire. For a moment, he thinks he’s died and gone to Hell. He always assumed he would, for the sin of falling in love with his brother. For hating his half-brother. For not being a good son, for driving his mother away and letting his father die. For losing the family farm.
Sam’s voice is next to his ear, causing a hot rush of love and desire to crash through him, making his skin tingle painfully.
Not Hell, then.
Dean cracks an eye open and is nearly blinded by the bright light flooding in from above and behind Sam’s head, casting his face in shadow. The light haloes around his head so he looks like an angel.
So Heaven maybe, Dean’s bruised brain suggests. We’re in Heaven.
“Sammy?” he croaks. Not Heaven. Everything hurts too much. The air smells like smoke and blood and wet fur.
“Oh thank god,” Sam breathes. Dean feels the ghost of Sam’s hands at his throat, in his hair. Sam’s been checking his injuries, taking his pulse.
“Wh — what happened?” Dean struggles to sit up, clutching his pounding head. His hand comes away bloody, and he’s immediately nauseous.
“I don’t know,” Sam admits. He grabs hold of Dean, slides a supportive arm around him.
Pain sears down his back.
Dean lets out a strangled cry and Sam lets him go, laying him back down gently on his side.
“Oh my god, I’m sorry! You’re hurt!”
All Dean can do is grunt in pain, curling himself up in a ball as Sam examines his back.
“Okay, I’m gonna need to get this off,” Sam says, voice shaky and uncertain as he tugs on Dean’s jacket. “You got tore up pretty good. I need to take a look, Dean, okay?”
Dean lets the kid remove his jacket, gritting his teeth against the urge to scream as the material tugs and tears at his wounded skin.
“Looks like some pretty serious claw marks,” Sam mutters as he pries Dean’s shirt off, rips the material away as Dean huddles and shivers. Shock. He’s in shock, his brain offers helpfully.
“Wh — where did the wolves go?” Dean stammers, his voice trembling and breathy.
“I don’t know,” Sam says. “They’re just gone. Now lie still while I get something to clean this.”
Dean’s shivering violently now, teeth chattering uncontrollably. Lying still is pretty much impossible, but he does the best he can while Sam climbs over him to the storage shelves to find what he needs.
“This is gonna hurt,” Sam warns before he pours something that stings like hell on Dean’s back.
Dean cries out, curling away from the pain. He forces himself to focus on Sam’s soothing hand on his shoulder.
“Shhh, it’s okay, I got you,” Sam murmurs, rubbing Dean’s arm rhythmically until the worst of the pain subsides. “Now I’m gonna put a salve on it and get you patched up. Try to hold still for me, Dean.”
Sam mumbles in a language Dean doesn’t understand as he works, the sounds rhythmic and rhyming, and Dean begins to relax under his large, capable hands. Sam shouldn’t be so good at this, Dean’s brain reminds him more than once. He’s too young. Dean knows enough spell work to know that Sam’s weaving a healing spell, something he probably learned from Mary, and it makes Dean jealous and sad to think of all he’s lost. All those years of Sam’s life that Dean can never get back. All of Mary’s attention that should have been Dean’s, too.
He drifts into a warm, heavy sleep, and when he wakes up there are tears on his cheeks.
He rolls onto his back before remembering why he shouldn’t. But the pain isn’t as sharp as it should be. In fact, it’s more of a dull ache, as of a wound that happened weeks ago instead of just a few hours. He’s stiff, and when he pushes himself to sitting and rolls his shoulders, his muscles cramp.
Hating how pleading and desperate he sounds, Dean pushes himself to his feet and staggers to the wide-open door of the shed, into the sunlight.
Sam’s standing at the the side of the clearing, tending a large bonfire. The sun is already sinking low on the horizon, and it’s obvious Sam has spent the better part of the day cleaning up the mess they made. He’s gathered wood and other fuel to build a funeral pyre, then wrapped the bodies of the werewolves they killed and laid them out on the pyre. The acrid-sweet smell of roasting meat makes Dean’s stomach churn; he presses the back of his hand to his mouth and waits for his stomach to settle again before staggering out of the shed.
The cool air sends him right back inside for his jacket. His shirt is a shredded, bloody mess, but he manages to shrug his jacket on over the bandages Sam’s wrapped around his torso before stumbling back outside. His stomach rumbles, but in a normal way this time, and when he gets to Sam he doesn’t even need to grab hold of him for balance. He’s definitely feeling better. His head doesn’t even hurt anymore.
“Hey.” Sam greets him, looking tired and dirty but still the most beautiful thing Dean’s ever seen. Even covered in soot and blood and dirt, Sam takes Dean’s breath away.
“You did this all by yourself.” It isn’t a question. Dean’s impressed. There were at least ten bodies, including the two Sam dragged from inside the shed. Burning them took a lot of fuel. “Why wrap them first?”
“They were human beings once,” Sam says with a frown. “Probably hunters. They deserved this. I tried to find out who they were, but nobody carries identification papers anymore, I guess.”
“You think they got your friends?” Mom. Dean doesn’t want to think of her getting bitten and turned into a werewolf, but he knows it’s a possibility.
But Sam shakes his head. “There would’ve been signs of a struggle,” he says. “The camp’s just — deserted. They left some supplies, so I guess they might come back, but the werewolf attack was just a coincidence. I think.”
Sam shakes his head. “I don’t know, okay? I’ve warded the camp, so we can stay here tonight. The smell of dead werewolves should be enough of a deterrent anyway.”
“Well, that’s comforting,” Dean says. But also probable. Werewolves were like any animals; they didn’t like the smell of death, especially the death of their own kind. Dean had encountered enough werewolf packs in his years on the road to know that much. Once you killed one, the others weren’t likely to come back. They’d go after easier prey instead.
“How are you feeling?” Sam throws Dean a concerned glance, and Dean tries not to read too much into it.
“Fine,” he admits. “Better. Hungry.”
Sam nods. “There’s dried meat and beer in the storage shed,” he says. “Canned fruit, too. Just let me check your bandages.”
“Food first, bandages later,” Dean insists, and Sam reluctantly agrees.
Sam finds the food while Dean tends the fire, then Dean lets Sam sit him down on a log to eat while Sam kneels down behind him to take a look at his wounds. Dean tries not to appreciate the warmth of the fire as Sam gets him naked from the waist up again, and he really tries not to enjoy the feel of Sam’s hands on his naked skin, but it’s pretty much a lost cause. The combination of a warm fire, food in his stomach, the buzz the beer gives him, and Sam’s soothing touch makes Dean nearly moan with pleasure. He knows there’s something wrong with him to feel this content under these circumstances, but it is what it is. If he died now, he’d die a happy man.
They take turns tending the fire through the night, and toward morning they curl up together for warmth on Dean’s bedroll, under the blankets Sam retrieved from the longhouse.
“Remember when we used to do this when we were kids?” Dean can’t help asking. They’re lying on their sides, facing the fire, Sam’s back a strong, solid wall of warmth under the blankets. Dean snuggles close, spooning Sam’s slender body, and although he’s taller now, they still fit together, just like they always did. Sam even smells the same, with a little manly sweat, blood, and dirt mixed in.
“Yeah,” Sam sighs, pressing back against Dean just like he did when they were small.
“You had nightmares about the fire, but you always slept better this way,” Dean murmurs, nosing into the back of Sam’s neck and breathing deep.
“Yeah. Felt safe like this.”
“I tried so hard to keep you safe, all those years,” Dean says. His heart swells with love, with the loss and longing of years spent apart.
“I know,” Sam whispers. “You did that, Dean. I was always safe with you.”
Until I fell in love with you, Dean’s brain reminds him. Until I wanted more than just this. Until I found out we were brothers and I realized what a monster I am.
Dean scoots back, lets out a huff of disgust at himself, trying to put an inch of space between them.
Sam scoots right back into him, obviously needing the physical contact and the feeling of security it provides, and Dean can’t pull away again. He can’t let Sam think he doesn’t want to be close, doesn’t want to let him have that feeling of safety, that feeling of being loved by someone. It’s just not in him to deny Sam that. Especially not now that they’ve found each other again.
So Dean lies still, lets Sam snuggle into the cradle of his body, lets Sam sleep that way. The kid deserves his rest, after everything that’s happened over the past twenty-four hours. It’s the least Dean can do.