Sam is playing with the exhausted horn in his lap, careful not to bump it into his stitches, but the thing is irresistible, so smooth in some places, bumpy and rough in others. He remembers how it had felt to hold it in the wrappings, how it had thrummed with God’s power. He wonders what Joshua had thought about it after he’d used it during the battle of Jericho? If he’d kept it as a souvenir or what he’d say about it now being all used up.
“We met him, remember?” Sam says, not really expecting an answer from Dean. He seems far away in his thoughts and concentrating the rest of his mind on driving.
“Met who, Sammy?” Dean asks, sounding a little surprised that Sam is awake and asking questions.
Sam gestures with the now-white shofar. “Joshua, remember the angel we met? In our Garden, up in Heaven.”
“That’s the same Joshua?” Dean asks.
“Pretty sure they don’t re-use angel names, so yeah I’d say so.”
“So being a gardener wasn’t his main gig then?” Dean asks, readjusting his grip on the steering wheel.
“Maybe it was his retirement or something after the battle of Jericho,” Sam offers.
“I wonder if he’s still around? A lot of angels have died or whatever it is they call it.”
“Remember how our Garden was that place we went on the school field trip? It was an indoor jungle thing and there were birds and it was so hot and humid even though it was winter?” Sam asks, certain that Dean will either claim to not remember the details, or give him shit for mentioning them.
“Yeah, Sammy, course I remember.”
Sam’s heart aches at the pain he hears in his brother’s voice. Because talking about their visit to Heaven always reminds Dean of what came afterwards. About what he threw away. So to distract Dean from settling in the self-hating soup, he throws out another memory of that long-ago field trip. “You were my big buddy, for that field trip. You had to stay with me the whole time.”
Dean smiles a little at that shared bit of memory. “Yeah, our classes were buddies, all the older kids had to keep track of you little punks. Supposedly made field trips easier on the teachers I guess.”
“But we got separated from the group, remember? Because I was chasing that one bird, it was so beautiful, all those colors, the noises it made, and I just wanted to see it closer. You helped me climb over the fence and we went in the trees by ourselves. And it was right there in front of us on a branch like it’d been waiting for us to find him.”
“You really remember all that?” Dean asks, his voice filled with the wonder of recognition, because obviously he remembers it all too.
“Yeah, Dean, of course I do, that’s one of my all-time favorite childhood memories.”
“Guess it was one of mine too. Probably why it was our Garden, right? Since it matched up.”
“We don’t get that anymore, do we? I mean…that’s what Billie said.” Sam clenches his fists at the thought of that reaper taking away the one thing he and Dean had to look forward to. He hadn’t realized until just then how much he’d been counting on it, that there would be some sort of heavenly reward for living this life.
“She might have just been threatening us, who knows until it really happens,” Dean says with that studied vagueness that always makes Sam grind his back teeth.
After the beer bottle bowling on the map table in the Bunker, they’re well and truly sloshed. Sam decides to straighten out what’s been bothering him about the supposed new policy of letting each other make choices that they don’t agree with.
“I know you did something, Dean. When you thought I was dead. Something so drastic you can’t even tell me. So I…uh…I take it back, the new policy thingie, no way, not happening.”
Dean can’t answer, and he definitely can’t hide the wave of guilt and panic and despair just at the memory of whatever it was he had done and Sam’s stomach swoops with worry that it was even worse than he’d imagined.
Sam jabs a shaky finger at Dean’s face. “See! Right there, I see it written all over your face, dude.”
“Sammy, I couldn’t…” Dean trails off, opening his hands out towards Sam like he’s offering their emptiness as the answer.
“Couldn’t what, Dean?” Sam asks, dreading the answer, but needing it, suddenly it’s all that matters. This new bullshit policy thing is not going to work and this is why, whatever it is that Dean’s stalling about sharing.
“You know,” Dean says in this defeated small voice that makes Sam’s heart contract with pain. So it’s even worse than he’d thought.
Sam pauses for a moment, debating on whether to let Dean get away with this again, it’s not like he can stop him from doing this stuff, but at least he can be honest about it. That decides him, they need this honesty between them. Right here, right now, no matter the cost. “No, you…you say it for once.”
“You’re such a little bitch when you drink too much beer. Shoulda gotten you drunk on whisky, then at least you’d be mellow.”
“Say it Dean. Tell me what you couldn’t do when you thought I was dead. No, no…lemme guess, was it Crowley this time?”
Dean swallows several times and opens up the last beer. He chugs down half of it and thumps it onto the map table, knocking over a couple of the bottles they’d been bowling with. He doesn’t speak until the clinking, rolling sounds have finished. “Not Crowley, no, not him…it was Billie.”
Sam’s mind races with what it means that Dean was talking to a reaper, the one who’d been threatening them with The Empty, taking away their Garden. He almost gasps with the sudden clarity, no longer pleasantly beer-buzzed. “The reaper, Billie? The one you’d have to have been dead to even talk to?”
“Yeah,” Dean says, in this small, defeated voice that breaks what’s left of the dam holding back Sam’s emotions.
“Care to elaborate?” Sam asks, and now he knows what they mean about feeling like your heart is in your throat. Because he feels it stuck in there, barely able to breath from one heartbeat to the next. He does not want to know, oh god no he doesn’t want Dean to answer. Fuck honesty, because it’s bad given how quiet Dean’s gotten, how ashen his face has gone.
“Pretty sure you don’t wanna know, Sammy. She wouldn’t do anything anyway, she told me you weren’t really dead, so I didn’t go with her, I came back,” Dean says, slow and precise, not giving away an ounce more information than strictly necessary. And maybe that’s a good thing because once the words get through to his brain, Sam is covering his mouth with his hand and turning a sickly green. He shoves his chair back from the table and lurches out into the hallway.
Dean hears his brother’s unsteady retreat towards the bathroom and then the unmistakeable sounds of Sam retching. He hesitates, not sure if Sam would want him in there or not. The retching continues so he sighs, stands up from the table and stretches, then sets off down the hall. The toilet is flushing and there are noises that sound like muffled screams or maybe cursing. He makes a chicken-shit u-turn and heads to his bedroom, closing the door behind him. If Sam wants to yell at him, he’ll come find him. He undresses down to t-shirt and boxers and climbs into his cold bed.
It’s lonely without Sam in here, he fiddles with the covers, rearranges his pillows and stares at the light coming in from the hallway under his closed door. He sees a shadow pass by, and the sound of Sam hitting the wall next to his door. But Sam doesn’t come in, his footsteps fade, a door opens and slams closed, the lock clicking is loud enough to hear in the bunker’s quiet. Dean turns onto his side and tries to ignore the pull to go to Sam, to comfort him, to help, to smooth things over. But this is too big, too much for him to even think about, much less be able to help Sam deal with. He knows he screwed up big-time, add it to the list he chuckles to himself. It’s a long list of fuck-ups, and so far Sam’s forgiven him for all of them. But this is probably, well maybe, it’s too much. There’s got to be a line somewhere, where there won’t be the balm of Sam’s forgiveness soothing his hurt and pain. It can’t be endless, right?
He flips over onto his other side, and his arms ache with how empty they are. He should be holding Sam right now. He should be there for him instead of hiding from him. Dean decides as he’s most of the way out the door that he’ll tell Sam every gory detail if that’s what he really needs. As hard as it will be to describe taking that handful of pills and choking on the foamy bile, the conversation with Billie as they watched the medical people try to revive him.
He’s got a pot of tea and crackers on a tray and is knocking on Sam’s door and calling his name before he’s thought it all the way through. Sam has locked the door, which is usually a stay-the-hell-away sign between them. But this is different, right?
“Sam?” Dean calls, knocking with his foot so he won’t dump the tray.
No answer, no sound of movement. He listens more closely and hears it, Sam’s definitely crying. He knocks again, a little more softly.
“Sammy? Please, can I come in?”
He hears the rustle of bedcovers, a very heavy sigh that makes his heart twinge because he knows he’s the cause of that pain, and then bare feet slapping the cement floor. The bedsprings protest as Sam pushes off to stand and his brother is on the other side of the door. He can hear Sam lean against it and sigh again. “Go away, Dean. Unless you’re really going to be honest, I need some time alone.”
Dean sighs then himself, resigned to what he’s already decided, that if Sam needs it, he’ll get all the gory details he wants. “Yeah, Sammy, that’s why I’m here. You want to know what happened, I’ll tell you all of it.”
“Can I please come in first?” Dean asks, hating to have to beg, but that’s what it comes down to with his stubborn little brother sometimes.
The lock clicks, but the door doesn’t open. Dean can hear Sam’s retreat, the squeak of the bed, the rustle of his bedcovers. He balances the tray, tests the doorknob and it opens this time, he steps through and closes the door behind himself. Sam’s got only got one of his bedside lamps on, so the room is dim. He’s hiding his face behind his bangs, probably embarrassed about crying and throwing up and carrying on like a drama queen.
“I brought you some peppermint tea and some saltines.”
Sam’s wan smile from underneath his hair is beautiful and terribly sad. Dean sets the tray on the side table nearest Sam and pours a cup and hands it to his brother. Sam accepts it and shows his thanks to Dean by drinking most of it immediately.
“Can I sit?” Dean asks, standing at the foot of the bed. Sam gestures with his eyes at the empty side of the bed. Dean steps around and sits down, curling one leg up under him and facing his brother. “So what do you want to know?”
“All of it…none of it.”
“Well, that’s specific,” Dean teases.
Sam grimaces at him. “Your thought-process, when you decided to…try and talk to a reaper. Walk me through how you got to that point,” Sam says, clutching at the empty mug with both hands.
“I was laying there, trying to get up the energy to get out of the hospital bed, and Michelle, remember her? She was trying to comfort me, about you being dead. She said something like: death isn’t the end. And it reminded me that I wasn’t out of options. I kinda went from there.”
“So you killed yourself, and then what was the plan?”
“The plan was to beg, which I did. Asked her to take me instead. But she didn’t go for any of it. She told me some stuff I already knew,” Dean says.
“Like that I couldn’t lose you, that I was doing it for me, not for you or the greater good. All things I already know,”
Sam can’t speak, his mouth starts to move, but nothing comes out. It’s probably too much to hear Dean just say it.
“But I came back, Sam. As soon as she told me you were still alive, I ditched her, came back as the doc was reviving me. Knowing you were alive, brought me back. So you saved me twice that day.”
“Dean, you can’t keep doing this. I mean, c’mon, you know I’m mortal right? I am going to actually die for good at some point,” Sam says, eyes filling up with tears again.
“Well, I want to go with you when you do. Simple as that,” Dean says, knowing that it’s anything but simple.
“But that’s not what you were asking her for. You asked her to take you instead. You were going to do it all over to me again, leave me. And I can’t…”
Sam can’t finish and it breaks something in Dean seeing his brother struggle. The damn holding back the rest of it is just gone now. “I didn’t think of it like that. I’m sorry, I didn’t game it out, I was in the moment. Shit. I just was trying anything in that conversation with her. Desperate, you know,” Dean sputters to a stop, stumped at what else he could possibly say to make Sam understand he hadn’t meant it like that. To leave him behind.
“I know, desperate, believe me, I know it all too well. But you know that new policy we were pretending to make earlier? The one neither of us is really going to follow, not when it comes to you and me?” Sam asks, scooting a little closer on the bed so that their legs are in contact now.
“Yeah,” Dean answers.
“Can we just agree that it’s bullshit?” Sam asks, urgency in his voice.
“No, no way, Sammy, I don’t want you to do that for me.”
“So we’re back to this again? After all we’ve gone through, the Mark, Lucifer, everything. You’re going to sit there and tell me you don’t want me to try and bring you back if you die.”
“No, I don’t if it means you’re the one dying instead. Because I’m not worth it, I am not worth your life, Sam. I know you don’t see it that way. But it’s true.”
“Whether you like it or not, whether you believe it or not, I’d say the same damn thing. Which brings us circling all the way back to the bullshit. We need to get on the same page here, Dean. This is part of what I was saying, it being a strength for us, not a weakness, how far we’ll go for each other. That advantage will be even stronger if we both accept it, don’t you think?”
Dean turns away from Sam then, breaking their contact and hiding his face so his brother can’t see what his words do to him. He’ll never be able to make Sam understand what he means he’s not worth saving. He sits on the edge of Sam’s bed, his whole body rebelling against the want to throw himself into Sam’s arms, to not turn away but harden himself instead. But he has to, there’s nothing worth losing Sam, no life worth living without him in it, and Sam’s too stubborn to ever see how true it is for him.
Dean doesn’t say anything for a while, either accepting the proposition or considering how to reject it. Sam has no idea, all he knows is that Dean is still in his bed and he got to say what he needed to about the stupid new deal thing. Then he notices that Dean’s tucked his face away so he can’t see his eyes, and he’s gone tense and hard in his arms, like he’s holding onto something he doesn’t want to let out. Sam takes pity on him, doesn’t push, doesn’t ask more questions, just scoots closer so he can rub his brother’s strong back in a soothing circle until he relaxes a tiny fraction. He slips an arm around Dean’s waist, holding him tight, reminding him that he’s got him. He thinks the words as he rubs Dean, I’ve got you Dean, I’ve got you.
Dean sighs after more than a few silent minutes, but Sam’s not going to interrupt this with snark.
He turns back towards Sam, rubs his face over his chest and shoulder, wiping away the tears that no one is going to mention. “I see what you’re saying, I do. But I don’t…” Dean trails off, looking defeated and small.
Sam smiles at him as encouragingly as he can, but he doesn’t interrupt.
Dean blinks and examines his face, sees what he needs to in order to finish. “I don’t know how to accept it or if I can, the part about you risking your life for me.”
Sam sighs and smiles at how damn consistent Dean has been all these years. “A long time ago, Dean, you said you were my weak spot, and that I was yours. That’s all I’m saying here. Same thing really, so did you believe it back then?”
“Yeah, of course I did.”
“So what’s changed then?” Sam challenges, knowing it’s on the knife edge whether Dean will answer.
“A lot’s happened since then, a whole hell of a lot. And in the scheme of things, I stack up what I’ve done to you, and I can’t…” Dean trails off again, the defeat written in the slump of his shoulders.
Sam squeezes him extra tight, feeling like he needs to hold Dean together just long enough for the words to be said. He holds back on saying anything though it’s hard to let Dean struggle.
Dean takes in a deep breath and holds it, struggling to calm himself, he presses into Sam’s side and buries his face in Sam’s neck again. The words finally come, mumbled against the sensitive skin. “I can’t account for why you’d even want to, you know, save me.”
“Ever heard of a thing called forgiveness, or grace even?” Sam asks, kissing the side of Dean’s head.
“How?” Dean asks.
“How what?” Sam asks.
“How can you forgive me for the shit I’ve pulled? I just don’t get it, Sammy.”
“I remember things like the night when you came back to me after Sonny’s, or saving me from the fire, both times. I forgive you because I know you, I know what’s in here,” Sam says, placing his hand over Dean’s heart. “I know whatever you do, you do it because you love me. And yeah, it is probably dumb of me to forgive some of the things you’ve done. But I have to, because you’ve forgiven me for equally stupid stuff.”
“Does it really balance out for you?” Dean asks.
“Not really, no, but it doesn’t have to though, that’s where the grace comes in, so just be thankful, okay?” Sam asks, hand still on Dean’s heart.
Dean reaches up and presses his own hand over Sam’s, lacing their fingers together. “I am thankful, every damn day. You have no idea how much,” Dean says.
“Oh, I’m pretty sure I do, maybe that’s what you need to remember.”
Dean looks up at him then, heart in his eyes along with some more tears forming at their corners. Sam leans down and kisses them away as softly as he can because they’ve both shed enough tears tonight. Dean’s arms are around him then, holding him close but then it’s too tight, making his stitches pull. He gasps with pain and Dean lets him go, pushes him to lie back on the bed. Sam goes willingly, trusting Dean with whatever comes next.
Dean pushes up the hem of Sam’s shirt and peels up the edge of the bandage covering the stitches across his stomach. He peers at them closely and pats the bandage back down when he’s satisfied they’re still okay, kissing gently all around the edge. Sam shivers at the feeling of his brother’s warm lips on his skin. Dean’s eyes flick up meeting Sam’s and then he smiles slow and wicked. He trails kisses down to the top of Sam’s boxers and snags them in his teeth, pulling them down slowly.
Sam groans at how good the fabric moving over his hardening cock feels and gasps when Dean licks at the tip. He lifts his head to watch because there’s nothing more beautiful than Dean giving him head. Dean’s eyes flick up to his again, checking that Sam’s okay, that he wants this. Sam caresses the side of Dean’s face but doesn’t say anything. He wants whatever Dean does here, because he knows what Dean gives him with his body is the rest of the words Dean can’t say out loud.
Dean’s hands press his legs farther apart and he settles between them, worshipping at the center of Sam until he can’t stand how good it is. He pulls at Dean’s head, bringing him up for a kiss that’s desperate, filled with all the terror of can’t-lose-you-again. Dean has them both wrapped up in his hand, sliding and thrusting hard and fast. Sam wraps his hand around Dean’s and adds that little bit of pressure to bring them both over the edge.
Dean collapses next to him and Sam wraps an arm around his back, tucking him in close. They’re both quiet and still for a moment, and Sam wonders if he needs to try and stay awake for what happens next. Dean kicks his boxers the rest of the way off and uses them to clean them up. He pulls the blankets over them both and snuggles his head down onto Sam’s chest, tucking under his chin where he fits best.
“I’ll try, Sammy, I swear I will,” he says, rush of breath blowing warm over Sam’s chest.
Sam runs his hand through Dean’s hair, pushing the wrong way against the short hair at the nape until he shivers. “I know you will, Dean, thanks.”
He sleeps then, tired out by the push and pull of their life and the work that goes into a complicated love like theirs. It all seems so world-ending sometimes, but it really comes down to this, they try. They try, they screw up, they fight, they love. Then they try some more.