They’ve left Omaha in the dust and are headed uphill, into the Black Hills of the Dakotas. It’s a cold, crisp day, more like fall than early spring, and Dean is struck again by how cock-eyed the seasons are. Nature itself feels out of whack. He’s stopped keeping a lookout for attackers and started wondering if they’ll make it to Sioux Falls before some serious snow starts falling.
Sam’s comment cuts through Dean’s rumination on Nature and the weather like a sliver of ice.
“Yeah, about that.” He shifts nervously in the saddle.
“I mean, I lived with Mary for six years, Dean,” Sam goes on as if Dean hadn’t said anything. “She’s good at keeping secrets. She instills loyalty in her followers by taking them into her confidence, making them feel special. She operates on a need-to-know basis, and everybody wants to be the one she shares the secrets with.”
Dean thinks it’s a little different, on account of Mary being his mother, but he doesn’t say that.
“So I don’t blame you for keeping her secret about us,” Sam concludes. “You were just doing what you thought she wanted.”
“Pretty sure she never wanted us to have sex, Sam,” Dean growls. “I shouldn’t have let that happen, at least not until you knew the truth.”
Sam shakes his head. “She wanted us to be bonded,” he says. “The sex was just a byproduct of that bond. It didn’t really matter. It wasn’t important.”
Dean’s eyes widen. “Maybe not to you,” he sputters. “For me, it’s one of life’s essential needs. Man’s gotta eat, gotta sleep, gotta have sex.” He shakes his head. “I shoulda kept it in my pants until you knew, is all.”
Sam rolls his eyes. “And I’m telling you, it’s not important,” he insists. “The main thing is the soul bond. She made sure we had that from the moment I was born, reinforced by you practically raising me — the environmental factor. Nature-nurture. A life-long link. I just wish I understood the purpose of it all, if there is one.”
Dean frowns, then grimaces. It sure sounds like Sam doesn’t value their sex life. At all.
“So. You’re telling me our own mother wouldn’t mind us having sex with each other.” Dean shakes his head. “I gotta say, Sammy, that sounds like one of those new-fangled East Coast ideas. Out here, we call it incest, and it’s pretty damned socially unacceptable.”
Sam huffs out a breath and shakes his head. “Which is why nobody out here knows we’re brothers,” he reminds Dean. “Nor back east, for that matter. Mary was very clear about that. I’m thinking there’s someone very specific that shouldn’t have that little piece of information.”
“The Dark Man?” The words slip out of Dean’s mouth before he thinks them, surprising both of them.
“What did you say?” Sam frowns.
“The Dark Man,” Dean says again, surprising himself. He honestly doesn’t know where the thought came from, guesses he might have read it in Sam’s mind. “Maybe he’s the one she’s keeping her secret from. Come to think of it, maybe he’s the one behind the werewolf attacks.”
“What makes you say that?” Sam’s skeptical, but interested.
Dean shrugs. “Dunno,” he admits. “It just sounded good. I mean, we know he was after us when we were little. She left to protect Dad and me, after she had a vision that the Dark Man was coming for us. Dad didn’t even know she was pregnant.”
“And then she did the soul bond ritual when I was born,” Sam says, nodding, like he’s following Dean’s non-existent train of thought. Like Dean’s making sense. “To protect both of us.”
“Or maybe to keep the Dark Man from finding out about us,” Dean suggests wildly. “Twin souls. There’s stories about twins. Twins who defeat evil, found nations, all that stuff. Maybe Mom soul bonded us to help her fight the forces of darkness, to make us into her little soldiers in her struggle against the Dark Man.”
Sam blinks, thinks about that for a moment. “Wow,” he says finally, huffing out a breath. He shoots an admiring glance at his brother. “I never thought about it that way, but that sounds right.” He frowns. “Maybe she’s leading us straight into the fight of our lives.”
Dean sucks in a breath. “All the preparation, the way we were raised, your training. Makes sense now, don’t it?”
“Yeah,” Sam breathes. “It sure does.”
It’s not an idea Dean’s particularly fond of. He’s been manipulated by his mother since he was four years old, although he only started figuring that out when he was twelve and read her journal. She always had the jump on him, imparting just enough information to keep him on the path she needed him to follow. She sent Sam to him to raise and protect. The spells in her journal helped Dean keep the family home safe until she could come for her sons, presumably to take them away for training.
Sam was barely twelve when Mary came to take him away again, this time to train him in the magic arts. But Dean had been injured in the fire that destroyed their home, so she left him.
Dean wonders how different his life would be now if he could have gone with them that day. How hopeful he had been that he could find them, that they would wait for him to join them. When he found the deserted training camp, it took him a while to process. He’d spent six years looking, hoping, fearing they might be dead because why else would they keep themselves hidden from him?
But of course John had died looking for Mary. The only time he found her was when she needed him to find her, when she needed him to take Sam home for safekeeping.
Sometimes Dean hates his mother. He was a good son, always did as she asked, always followed her lead, even when she wasn’t around. But she had chosen Sam to train up in the magic arts. She had given Sam more of her time and knowledge than Dean ever had from her during his childhood. Dean would be furious with jealousy if it was anyone else but Sam. He’s still hurt and angry that she left, both times, and the second time she kept Sam away from him, lied to both of them so that Sam wouldn’t try to leave, so that Sam wouldn’t try to look for Dean until the day he turned eighteen.
Yeah, sometimes he hates her.
But he’d always figured she had her reasons for doing what she did. He’s still fairly sure of that, although whatever her reasons are they can’t ever replace the years he lost with her. He just wishes he’d get some answers. After all these years, he figures it’s all he can hope for.
Of course, maybe she’s dead and any reasons for what she did have died with her.
Dean’s not sure he’d be able to muster the grief he should feel about that. He’s still too angry with her.
That night, camped out in the open again, Sam pulls out Mary’s journal and hands it to Dean.
“Figured you might want to read it,” he says. “She only mentions you a couple of times, but it’s got a few notes on the Dark Man. Some of it’s just theory and conjecture, but it’s something.”
As Dean takes the notebook, his fingers brush Sam’s, sending sparks up his spine. His dick hardens and his cheeks flush hot.
Sam gives him a tight-lipped smile and lowers his eyes, telling Dean that he senses Dean’s reaction but making it clear that he’s not in the mood.
Dean flushes hotter. He can’t help it if Sam makes him hope for something he can’t have. Sam’s the most desirable person in Dean’s life. Has been for as long as he can remember. He can’t just turn that off.
Dean holds the journal between his hands, rubs his thumb along the well-worn leather. He thinks back to the day Pastor Jim gave him the journal his mother had kept before she left, the one she told Jim to keep for her until Dean’s twelfth birthday.
Did she ever mean for him to follow in her footsteps? If so, when did she change her mind and choose Sam instead?
Sam’s always been gifted, whereas Dean’s only talented. Mary must have seen the distinction, must have recognized Sam’s giftedness when she re-entered their lives all those years ago. She might have meant to take Dean with her until that moment, but then it became clear to her that Sam was the One.
Or maybe it only became clear once she had Sam to herself. Maybe she had intended to bring Dean into their circle earlier, as she’d promised, but once she recognized Sam’s specialness, she changed course.
Dean takes a shaky breath, glances at Sam as he opens the journal.
Sam’s already settled down on the other side of the fire, lying on his side with his back to Dean and the fire as Dean takes first watch. Sam’s still young, still a strong, sinewy sapling, but Dean can see the power in his back. Dean can see the promise of mature muscle and bone in the way Sam’s shirt strains over his shoulders.
Sam’s on his way to becoming as large as he is powerful.
“You had another nightmare last night,” Dean tells Sam the next day.
The path has become steeper, winding back and forth in a switchback up the side of the hill. The horses pick their way delicately among the rocks and weeds, and Dean’s grateful for Remus’ sure footing.
“Yeah.” Sam nods. Since it was only an hour after Sam fell asleep, Dean had made the decision not to wake his brother, and eventually Sam had fallen back asleep.
Dean clears his throat. “You wanna talk about it?”
“Not particularly,” Sam says.
“Sounds like the guilt is eating you up pretty good,” Dean says. “Might help to talk it out some. Maybe just talk about her, you know?”
“There’s not much to tell, Dean,” Sam insists. “She was beautiful, she loved me, and I lost her.”
“Were you planning to marry her?”
Sam gives an exasperated breath. “What?”
“You heard me,” Dean says, although he knows damn well he shouldn’t. He doesn’t have the right.
Sam twists in the saddle, gives Dean a look that Dean’s seen before but obviously not often enough.
“Are you jealous?” Sam asks, straight to the heart of the matter, as ever.
“What? No!” Dean makes a shocked face that probably totally gives him away. “I’m happy for you! If you were planning to marry Jessica, settle down, start a life together, that’s good! That’s great!”
“Why don’t I believe you?” Sam shakes his head.
“I can’t imagine.” Dean shrugs. “So? Were you? Planning to marry her, I mean?”
“Dean, you are way too easy to read.” Sam smirks. “I don’t even need telepathy.”
“Just answer the damn question, Sam!”
“I hadn’t decided yet,” Sam says. “Not that it’s any of your damn business.”
Which is the right answer, of course. Dean doesn’t have the right to pry. And of course he’s jealous as hell.
“You still could, you know,” Dean says.
“Marry her, settle down, have kids.” Dean’s a masochist and he knows it. Sam probably knows it, too.
Sam scoffs. “Pretty sure that ship has sailed.”
“I’ll bet you could get her to take you back,” Dean says, pressing the point in spite of himself. “I would, after I got over being mad at you for lying to me in the first place.”
Sam screws up his face in disbelief. “Dean, you are so predictable.”
“What? No, I’m not! I’m dangerous. Fascinating. Devilishly handsome. Sometimes terrifying. Totally wrong for you.” The moment the words are out of his mouth, Dean wishes he could take them back. He can’t help the hot flush that rises to his cheeks. “You should try to make her take you back, is all I’m saying,” he finishes lamely. “She’s good for you.”
Sam rolls his eyes, but the look he shoots Dean is fond.
“Pretty sure I’m not so good for her, though,” Sam says, shaking his head. “She did the right thing, leaving me. Anyway, I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t take me back even if I begged her to, and I don’t blame her.”
Dean’s an idiot. He was trying to cheer Sam up and all he did was make it worse.
“Aw hell, Sammy...”
Sam stops dead on the trail, staring away from him, and for a moment, Dean’s confused.
Then he sees it, too. A man on a horse, watching them from the top of the ridge ahead of them. He’s wearing a long duster but no hat, and for some reason he seems familiar.
“It’s Castiel,” Sam says, voice soft, awed. “The angel.”
“Great timing,” Dean mutters.
“What do we do?”
Dean shrugs. “See what he wants.”
It’s been four years since they found the angel camped out in a cabin in the Colorado Rockies, possessing the body of a homesteader whose family had run for the hills upon his arrival.
Castiel had told the Winchesters that he’d been waiting for them. Which was creepy enough before he also mentioned that they were part of a prophecy.
It takes another twenty minutes for the Winchesters to climb the ridge. Castiel waits, still as a statue atop his horse, which stamps impatiently, tossing his head and snorting as the boys approach.
“Hello, Dean,” the angel says in greeting as they draw near. The Winchesters stop side by side, facing the man who isn’t a man.
Dean tamps down a creeping sense of foreboding. He’s faced a lot of monsters, killed more than he can count, but meeting Castiel was the first time he’d come face to face with something that completely defied his understanding of the world. He’d accepted the existence of the supernatural since he was a very young child, understood that most monsters were at least partly or formerly human or animal. In that way, the supernatural world was built logically on the natural one.
There’s nothing natural about Castiel. He seems completely alien, and except for the fact that he’s possessing a human man, there’s nothing for Dean to relate to. It’s incredibly disorienting.
It occurs to him that he has no idea how to kill an angel, if that became necessary.
It also occurs to him that Castiel may be lying about what he is. Demons can possess people, and although Dean’s never met one that he knows of, he’s heard that demons can fit in by pretending to be the humans they’re possessing.
Castiel isn’t trying to fit in, which in and of itself is reason enough to fear him. The angel is either colossally stupid or too powerful to be concerned about any danger posed by two very experienced hunters (one of whom is also a powerful Master Mage).
“Sam.” The angel turns its gaze on Sam, lifts its chin and narrows its eyes. “You have changed.”
“It’s called growing up, dickweed,” Dean growls, protective hackles raised. “I see you’re still possessing poor Jimmy whats-his-name.”
“Jimmy Novak,” Castiel responds. “Yes.”
“What are you doing here?” Sam asks.
The angel turns its gaze on Sam, then looks back at Dean. It doesn’t blink. “I have news for you both.”
Sam and Dean exchange glances. “Let me guess,” Dean says, rolling his eyes. “You know where our mother is.”
“Yes.” Castiel nods. “I can take you to her.”
“Okay,” Dean says, shaking his head. “And what’s in it for you?”
“I beg your pardon?” The angel frowns.
“Well, in my experience, supernatural entities don’t just appear out of nowhere to do me a good turn,” Dean explains. Castiel blinks. It’s like talking to a small child. “So what’s the catch?”
“Catch?” Castiel repeats, confused.
“Yeah, you know, what do you want in payment for helping us find Mom? ‘Cuz, like I said, in my experience, supernatural entities don’t just do things for us out of the goodness of their hearts, or whatever you’ve got that passes for a heart.”
Dean doesn’t tell Castiel that the only supernatural entities he’s ever encountered were too busy trying to rip his throat out to bargain with him. The angel doesn’t need to know it’s the first time that Dean’s ever encountered a supernatural creature that has more than a basic, brutal intelligence. Even the ones that used to be human, like werewolves, became bloodthirsty animals in their true forms. Not exactly good at conversation.
“Ah, I see,” Castiel nods. “The prophecy says that the brothers will bring an angel with them to help their mother defeat the Dark One. Since I have been the only angel to visit Earth for nearly two millennia, I assume I am the angel in question.”
Sam and Dean exchange flabbergasted glances.
“How old are you?” Sam asks.
Castiel blinks, then narrows his eyes. “My age is unknown. All angels were created at the beginning of time. We are forever and unchanging.”
“But you can die,” Dean suggests. If this clown actually falls for Dean’s inquiry, they might gain some valuable information. “You can be killed.”
Castiel hesitates before answering, and for a moment Dean thinks he won’t.
Then Castiel says, “There have been battles between battalions of angels from time to time. Some angels have fallen in battle. It has been a long time since the last battle, however. Long before the current era.”
“Huh.” Dean shoots his impressed but skeptical look at Sam, who gives him a similar look in exchange. “And this prophecy. You heard it where, exactly?”
Castiel’s eyes narrow again and for the first time he manages to look dangerous.
“The prophecy is not so old. Only a hundred years or so. The prophecy says that there would come a time when monsters had conquered the West, led by the Dark One who gained strength through his children on Earth. The brothers and their mother will defeat the Dark One with help from an angel. So it is written, and so it shall come to pass.”
“Huh.” Dean glances at Sam, frowns when Sam turns away. Sam’s hiding something, but now’s not the time. “And you’re sure the brothers in the prophecy are us.”
Castiel lifts his eyes to Sam, gazes steadily at him for a moment before he turns his gaze to Dean.
“One of the brothers has been touched by the Dark One,” he says, then looks back at Sam. “You have darkness in you, Sam Winchester.”
Sam flushes, looks down, away from Dean.
Dean’s instantly defensive. “What? No, he doesn’t. What the hell?”
“Sam met the Dark One when he was a child,” Castiel says, far too matter-of-fact for Dean’s taste. “The Dark One killed Sam’s foster mother when he was four years old. He would have killed Sam’s betrothed, had your brother not intervened.”
Dean stares. “Oh hell, no,” he says. “No way that thing tried to kill Jessica.”
But he knows it’s true. He feels it. He saw it in his vision. Sam’s vision. Which explains why he thought Jessica was killed by someone familiar. Dean was sensing Sam’s recognition of the evil one. Sam had seen him before.
“You are infected, too, Dean,” Castiel says, turning his blue-eyed gaze on Dean. “Not directly, but indirectly through your bloodline. Through your mother. She was infected when her parents died, just as Sam was.”
Now it’s Dean’s turn to be confused. “What? Infected how? What are you talking about?”
Castiel seems almost contrite when he looks at Dean.
“Your mother’s family was attacked when she was a small child,” he says. “The Dark One killed her parents and infected her with demon blood. She was endowed with unique psychic powers as a result, powers which allowed her to read minds, to predict the future, to stay connected with the Dark One as she grew. Her union with John Winchester produced two children whose blood included the infected blood from the Dark One.”
He turns to Sam. “When Sam was four, the Dark One attacked his foster-family, just as it had done with his mother. The Dark One gave Sam his blood, fed it to him directly as he did to Mary.”
Dean doesn’t have to look at Sam to read the distress in his beautiful face. None of this is news to him.
“But why?” Dean demands. “Why would he do that?”
“The Dark One’s purpose is not known to me,” Castiel replies. “It is not part of the prophecy. All I know is that you and your brother are the only ones who can stop him.”
“Well, ain’t that just a big ol’ shiny Christmas present wrapped in a steaming pile o’ horse manure.” Dean glares at the angel, who seems completely unperturbed. It’s infuriating.
Sam’s soft voice startles Dean, yanks him out of his state of helpless anger and horrified confusion. Sam’s face is a mask of misery thinly veiled as steely resolve.
“I don’t know about that last part, but he’s right about the rest of it. I — I remember that night, when I was four. I didn’t for a long time, or maybe I did but I repressed it? But lately I’ve been having dreams.”
Dean stares. “More dreams?” he demands. “Besides the death omen ones?”
Sam nods. His mouth tightens into a hard line. “Yeah. I remember the night of the fire, all those years ago. The Man was there. I watched him — I watched him kill my mother. At least I thought she was my mother, and then he grabbed me and — “
“And you were gonna tell me this when?” Dean’s flabbergasted. He feels betrayed. Finding out Sam was withholding vital information upsets the hell out of him.
“Didn’t think it mattered,” Sam mumbles, but Dean can see he’s just making excuses.
“Of course it mattered, Sam! You were visited by the same demonic entity that tried to steal Mom away from her family all those years ago, and you didn’t think it mattered?” Then it hits him. “Wait. Why didn’t it try to take you? If it grabbed you and — whatever — “
“Infected me,” Sam spits out, as if he can feel the taste of the demon’s blood in his mouth right now. “I don’t know. I don’t know why he didn’t take Mom, either. All I know is, what happened to us was the same.”
“And then this thing recently with Jessica..? How does that fit the pattern? Huh?”
Sam shakes his head, looks away. “It doesn’t. I don’t know.”
“Sam? What aren’t you telling me?”
Sam squeezes his eyes shut, shakes his head, and Dean waits, knowing he’s about to hear something terrible.
“She’s pregnant, Dean,” he says finally. “She didn’t know I knew, but I knew. I know.”
“Wow. Okay. Wasn’t expecting that.”
“I think — I think the Dark Man planned to kill her because it didn’t want me to settle down,” Sam says. “It didn’t want me to marry Jess and start a family because — because it has plans for me.”
This was the secret Sam’s been keeping. This is why he seemed so secretive when he first told Dean about what his vision. Dean understands now. Sam thought he was destined for evil.
Dean’s not having that, no sir.
“Sam, you listen to me,” Dean says, keeping his voice low and intent, just between them, although he’s pretty sure the angel can overhear. “What that bastard did to you was wrong. It was evil. But that doesn’t make you evil, you hear me? And we are gonna hunt that bastard down and finish him. You hear me? We’re gonna find the Dark Man and kill him!”
Some of the tension goes out of Sam’s shoulders, and Dean takes that as a win. He glances at Castiel, who squints at them like he’s trying to read their minds.
“So, the Dark Man,” Dean says. “What can you tell us about him? Is he some kind of demon? Or another angel?”
“He is not an angel,” Castiel says, clearly offended at the notion. “My best guess is he’s some kind of high-level demon.”
“And this prophecy you keep talking about, the one where we’re supposed to defeat him. Does it say how?”
“It does not,” Castiel concedes. “However, I believe I know someone who may be able to help us with that.”
“Us?” Dean sucks in a breath. “Who said anything about ‘us,’ choirboy? Just gives us directions and we’ll find him. And our Mom.”
“I cannot allow you to go alone,” Castiel says. “The prophecy says — “
“We’re supposed to have an angel on our shoulder, yeah, I get it,” Dean grumbles. An idea occurs to him that makes him keenly uncomfortable. “Say, you haven’t been watching us all this time, have you? Watching over us, like a guardian angel?”
Castiel’s eyes shift away for a moment, then back to squint intently at Dean. “Not all the time.”
“Oh man, I knew it!” Dean exclaims, shaking his head. “Heading back to Lawrence all those years ago, when we never ran into any of the evil things that were taking out whole cities. That was you, wasn’t it? Keeping us safe.”
“I might have checked in on you during that time,” Castiel acknowledges. “But you seem to have your own psychic sensory awareness.”
“Our own what? What’s he talking about, Sam?”
Sam frowns. “I think he means you make your own luck, Dean,” Sam says. “Which makes sense, given how many times you’ve nearly died. I tend to agree with him.”
“You think I’ve been lucky?” Dean stares. “Losing Mom, losing Dad, losing the farm. You call that luck?”
Sam shrugs. “Could be worse,” he notes. “You could’ve died back there on the farm when Adam tried to kill you. Or that time up in the Rockies with the werewolves. Or later when we were battling the monsters in Lawrence. I never saw a man so close to death, all three times.”
Dean blinks, thinking back. Then it dawns on him. “You were there, Sam, each of those times. You saved me, little brother. If I’ve got good luck, its name is Sam Winchester.”
Sam smiles, dimples showing, and Dean’s chest grows warm. He can feel a grin breaking his face open as he gazes at Sam’s profile, at the way his hair falls forward over his forehead as he ducks his head.
When he finally drags his eyes away, he finds Castiel watching them.
Dean frowns. “All right, we’re in,” he says gruffly. “Now let’s get going before these poor horses starve to death or get hoof rot from standing around on the damp grass for so damn long.”
“So where’d you get the horse?”
They’re on the plateau above the Missouri River, riding north. Dean figures they’ve come about 100 miles since their night in Omaha. Sioux Falls is still another day or two ahead of them.
“I borrowed it from a man at a roadhouse near Sioux City,” Castiel explains. “He had no more need for it.”
“You mean, he’s dead,” Dean clarifies.
Castiel shoots him a confused frown. “No, I mean he no longer needed the horse. It belonged to his son.”
“So his son’s dead.”
“Yes.” Castiel nods.
“Did you kill him?” Dean raises an eyebrow.
“No,” Castiel shakes his head. “I believe he died of natural causes. His father didn’t elaborate. He seemed more interested in becoming extremely intoxicated.”
Dean exchanges glances with Sam, who shrugs.
“Okay, back to the prophecy,” Dean says, turning the conversation to something that might actually be important. “You said you knew someone who might be able to help us with that.”
Castiel nods. “His name is Chuck Shurley,” he says. “He is a Prophet of the Lord. He lives in Sioux Falls.”
“Well, that’s convenient,” Dean comments.
“What’s a Prophet of the Lord?” Sam asks.
“I’m guessing it’s what it sounds like,” Dean answers when the angel stares at Sam without answering for a moment too long. “But what we really want to know is, where’s the Lord in all this? You say you’re an angel of the Lord and this fella Chuck is a prophet. So where’s the Lord? Is there a Lord?”
“There is a Lord,” Castiel assures him. “Unfortunately, he hasn’t visited this Earth in some time.”
“Oh, there’s another Earth he likes better?” Dean rolls his eyes.
Castiel frowns. “I do not believe so,” he says, taking Dean’s question far more literally than Dean intended. “However, the ways of the Lord are not always clear to Man. Or angels, for that matter.”
“Right,” Dean nods. “God works in mysterious ways. Ours is not to wonder why, ours is to do whatever the hell the higher authority tells us to do. Except Sam and me don’t follow rules too well, in case you hadn’t noticed.”
Castiel’s confusion grows. “Yet you are an officer of the law,” he says. “Sam is a Master Mage. You have both taken oaths to uphold the commandments of your professions.”
“Have we?” Dean blinks. “Out here, over a thousand miles from civilization, we get to pretty much make up the rules as we go.”
“But as sheriff you have sworn an oath to uphold the law,” Castiel repeats. “And as a Master of the Magic Arts Sam has sworn his oath never to practice black magic. Only to use magic for good. Surely that means something.”
“It does,” Sam assures him. “It means a lot.”
“But it don’t mean we can’t bend a few rules if the need arises,” Dean says. “I wouldn’t hesitate to end you, for example, if I thought you were a threat.”
“Perhaps I should take that as a compliment,” Castiel suggests.
“Take it however you want,” Dean says. “Just don’t forget it. I’m not bound by any rules out here. If I see something that needs doing, including killing, I’ll do it. Ain’t nothin’ gonna stop me, not even the badge I swore to serve.”
“I will keep that in mind,” Castiel notes solemnly.
They find a hollowed hill near the river to bed down that night, a dugout that offers some shelter from the wind and cold. The air smells like snow. While Dean waters and brushes down the horses, Sam skins and cooks the jackrabbits he caught, then wards their campsite so they can sleep.
“I don’t sleep,” Castiel explains when Sam offers to share their bedrolls.
“Oh.” Sam holds out a tin plate featuring cooked rabbit and wild onion. Castiel shakes his head.
“I don’t eat, either.”
“Suit yourself,” Dean shrugs as he digs in. As usual, Sam’s campfire cooking skills are superb.
Of course, everything tastes good after a day on the trail. When he’s done eating, Dean stretches out his bow legs toward the fire, leans back against a log and pats his belly, then looks up at the stars.
If it wasn’t so cold, and if they weren’t on their way to fight a demon who’s been haunting their family for nearly fifty years, he’d say the night was nearly perfect.
“I’ll take first watch,” Sam offers. He’s already washed the dishes in the river.
Dean studies his brother’s sharp profile in the firelight, pats the space next to him.
“Let Castiel keep watch,” he says, nodding his chin up at the angel, who stands awkwardly just outside the campfire’s light, hands hanging loose at his sides. “Get on over here and look at these stars with me.”
Sam hesitates, shoots a glance at Castiel, then lifts his eyebrows at Dean. “You trust him?”
“About as far as I can throw him,” Dean admits. “But what’s he gonna do? Kill us in our sleep? Let us get torn apart by a roving band of werewolves? Sort of defeats his purpose, don’t it?”
“We don’t really know his purpose,” Sam reminds him. “We only know what he’s told us.”
“Yeah, well, I believe him,” Dean says with a shrug. “He seems too clueless to make all that shit up. Or maybe just crazy.” Dean spins his index finger around his temple. “Besides. We could use all the help we can get, if we wanna find Mom and do battle with the thing that killed her family, your foster mom, and those poor people in Boston.”
Sam huffs out a half-laugh as he sits down next to Dean on the bedroll. “Yeah, maybe you’re right.”
They sit silently for a few minutes, staring up at the stars and sharing Dean’s flask. Dean warms to Sam’s body heat and the burn of the alcohol. His tongue feels heavy. It’s good.
“I’m really sorry about Jessica, Sammy.”
Sam shakes his head. “It wouldn’t have worked out, even if she hadn’t left. Anyway, she’s safer now. The baby’s safer.” Sam takes a quick sip from the flask, winces at the burn.
Dean reaches out, takes the flast from Sam’s fingers. Their hands touch, sending sparks up Dean’s arm. His face and chest flush hot.
“It could’ve been a good thing,” Dean says, warm and loose. “If you’d married her and settled down, I would’ve been happy for you.”
Sam makes a face. “No, you wouldn’t,” he snaps. “You would’ve been just as miserable as me.”
Dean huffs out a breath. “Yeah, maybe. But I want you to be happy, Sam. I want you to have a normal life.”
“There’s no normal for me,” Sam says. There’s bitterness in his tone. Resignation, too. “Harvard, Boston, living in a brownstone with electricity and indoor plumbing, wearing suits and driving a horseless carriage — That’s not me. That’s not the life I was meant to live. It would’ve been a mistake to stay.”
“Well anyway, I’m glad you’re here,” Dean says. “Even if it’s only because you lost your family.”
“That’s not the only reason, Dean, and you know it.” Sam takes a deep breath, lets it out slow. “I couldn’t stay away, not forever. It’s probably better this way. Not that I’m glad Jessica left me, but I couldn’t have stayed with her forever. It just ain’t in me.”
Dean nods. “I figure we’re both happier on the road,” he says.
Sam slides down so he’s lying next to Dean, so their bodies are lined up side by side, barely touching.
“I’m happier with you,” Sam says softly. “It just took me a minute to remember that.”
Which is Dean’s cue to kiss the person he loves most in the world, of course. To finally feel Sam’s soft lips on his after so long he’s almost forgotten how it feels.
The stars are reflected in Sam’s eyes, which seem unusually dark in the firelight. Dean turns toward Sam, slides his hand along the younger man’s cheek, into his hair.
Something moves in his peripheral vision. It’s the angel, shifting awkwardly as he watches them.
“Hey, uh, Castiel.” Dean glares at the angel. “Mind turning around?”
The angel frowns. “Why?”
Dean rolls his eyes. “It’s called privacy,” he explains, tamping down his impatience.
The angel blinks, clearly not understanding, but does as Dean asks, moving awkwardly in a perfect half-circle until his back is facing the Winchesters.
When Dean turns his attention to his brother again, Sam’s grinning up at him, leaning into Dean’s hand, and for a moment Dean just gazes at him, enraptured.
“It’s good to see you smile, Sammy,” he says quietly.
“Shut up and kiss me,” Sam says, so Dean does.
They’re both tipsy, and with the angel standing just a few feet away neither brother feels like doing more than kissing, but it’s a start. Sam’s lips are warm and soft, just as Dean remembers, and kissing him is as familiar as coming home. Their bodies fit together with only minor variations; Sam’s grown again, put on muscle. Dean’s not a small man, but in Sam’s arms he feels younger, lighter. He gets flashbacks to being held in his father’s arms, and it’s soothing. Comforting.
The fire in his belly and the way his dick hardens is all about Sam, though. Nothing and nobody makes him feel the way Sam does.
And the way Sam holds him, reverent but passionate, tells him Sam feels the same way about Dean.
For tonight, it’s just them. The rest of the world can burn or fall away now that Sam and Dean are together again, in every way.