Sometimes Sam wakes up from brutal night terrors, his back to the drawer full of kitchen knives, blocking it off. His parents are in their night clothes, blinking sleep and fear out of their eyes. He sags to the floor when he wakes, and he doesn’t remember the dream that got him down in kitchen, or what he was afraid of. Most times though he doesn’t wake and nobody knows how to jolt him out of it. He’ll be up and talking, his hazel eyes wide-open, but the processes in his brain are all off, and he’s still asleep.
His mother takes him to a therapist against his father’s wishes.
Sam talks with Dr. McAdams for a few hours. Puppets are in a basket on the floor and a box full of day-glo crayons sit spread out on a low table in the vain hope of distracting him from what the session is really about. They talk about Dean, and soccer practice, how he hates Sunday Mass that their mother, a devout Catholic, insists they go to. In a few months it’ll be his confirmation—he plans to take the name Nicholas. Not because of the whole Santa Clause thing, but because of his patronage of thieves and the falsely accused and his intervention in their executions. Sam understands justice, but like Nicholas, he believes in mercy. Dean took Patrick. He’d really wanted George for the whole dragon killing thing, but then A.J. from his catechism class took it, and nothing would do but for Dean to be special, set out from the rest.
He doesn’t know what Doctor McAdams tells his mother after the session is over, but nothing changes at home. Perhaps his mother isn’t as hard on him about confession--he won that battle. Dean doesn’t make fun of him for going to a shrink, although Sam thought he might. They play catch in the backyard, while Ethan and Jamie look on, and Sam does his best to forget all about it.
Sometimes when Sam is upset he gets grim, silent, and jittery. Dean finds the old air mattresses that they took on Boy Scout trips and takes the crappy black Styrofoam loveseat in their room and makes a fort out of it. His Speed Racer sheets partition them off from the rest of the world. They lie inside and watch the light from the window make patterns on the sheets, no younger brothers are allowed.
Mom lets them leave the fort up these days, even though she really wants to tell them to take it down. They crawl in, careful not to knock anything that would send the whole thing tumbling to the floor, and listen to the radio. Dean’s knuckles brush Sam’s and he smiles.
Mary Winchester doesn’t know how exactly she ended up with five boys. They’d been trying for a girl since Sam, but luck got the better of her and John delivered only Y-chromosomes. She gave up after Scott was born, five was a big enough handful.
Sam and Dean have the biggest age gap between them, and yet they’re the closest. She expected Sammy to have that same relationship with Jamie when he came, or at least for Jamie to have it with Ethan, but none of them are like her first two boys. She couldn’t figure it out—they were more different than similar. Dean was a golden boy, the center of attention at all times, while Sam was quiet and introspective, a perfectionist. He tallied up his Halloween candy every year and compared it to what he’d gotten in previous years. He’d do it for Dean and Jamie too, if they’d let him.
The first five years of his life, Sam only ever really smiled for Dean.
Sam wasn't a problem child. Her boys all had their separate issues. Dean’s were grades and girls. She and John worried a lot more for Dean than they ever did for Sam, even when they were spending money on his therapy. Sam’s only trouble was the night terrors and the way it distanced him from them. Eventually, Mary and John realized they couldn’t wake him, he would do it on his own. Or he would simply fall back asleep, wherever that happened to be. Dr. McAdams said that night terrors were common in children, they’d go away soon enough. They learned to stop listening for the thrashing and screaming, but Mary knew they didn’t stop. She knew it was Dean who woke up to draw his brother back to bed.
She feels guilty sometimes, for tossing that responsibility off on Dean, but Sammy was usually so good. He rarely cried as a child, and she supposes she has become spoiled with it. Unable to deal with her second son, focusing instead on her younger boys: Jamie, Ethan, and Scott. Jamie’s easy; he wants so badly to be with her and John where her elder two have struck out on their own. He was the first one to ever beg to sleep in their bed. Sam is independent. It’s almost too simple to step back. Unfair, she knows it, but Sammy doesn’t mind. The night terrors seem to lessen after she stops trying to do something about them.
There is no end to them the way Dr. McAdams said there would be.
It’s hard for Jamie, growing up next in line after Sam and Dean. Dean got all the girls, had his name up in the trophy case for baseball. “A hell of an arm on that Winchester boy” would be on the lips of every neighborhood father. And then Dean won teacher’s worst nightmare in the yearbook.
And of course Sam, who went from being slightly short and pudgy in the 8th grade, to being the tallest guy in school only two years later. Teachers always ask Jamie if he's related to one of them. The ones that know Sam regard him with fondness, and the ones who had Dean have a haunted look in their eyes.
Jamie says yes, it’s the truth, but he doesn’t feel related to them. They are off in their own world of backyard catch and nightly adventures. Jamie is never invited to join, no matter how desperately he wants to. Scott and Ethan don’t understand, they offered Jamie a place in all their play, from Legos to late night movies when they’re older.
Dean teases him mercilessly for being a whiny emo dork, and Sam sighs and distracts his older brother before shouting matches and broken furniture can result. Jamie isn’t sure what to feel about Sam in those moments, but he still goes to him for help on his algebra. Jamie used to go to Dad, but he’s impatient and he’s forgotten most of this stuff anyways, completely unable to explain how he got the answers he did.
Sam sits with him, shows him where he goes wrong, teaches him tricks to remember things, lets him borrow his “lucky” TI-83 when he has a test. Later in life, Jamie is grateful for this. He and Sam are only separated by a year and a half, almost Irish twins, yet it feels like a great divide. Sam tried to reach out to him in the only way he knew how. It doesn’t make it hurt any less when he sees fourteen-year-old Sam and eighteen-year-old Dean walking shoulder to shoulder, always away from him.
There are times, dark times, when he wishes he had the night terrors that Sam does forging a special bond between him and his brother. But then he goes and crawls into bed with Mom and Dad, and he forgets all about it again.
Sam can keep his fevered dreams. Jamie has this. Later in life when he sees Sam’s distance from their mother, and the way he fights tooth and nail against their father over nothing, he’s glad for his relationship with his parents.
John is pretty proud of his achievement—five healthy smart boys. Ethan might be a chronic bedwetter, and Scott might be far more interested in Legos than in speech, and don’t even get John started on the antics of Dean or the patterned madness of Sam—but they’re his boys. They’re easy to love.
He’s full to bursting with it. Enough that he goes to mass every Sunday with Mary because she wants the boys raised Catholic, even though his family had always been politely apathetic. Enough that he puts the beautiful Chevy Impala under a blue tarp and buys an economy car.
He wants Dean to follow him into the Marines—his boy could certainly use the discipline. It shouldn’t surprise him really that Dean doesn’t even consider it for a second. His eldest works in a record store all through high school when he’s not pulling shifts at John’s shop, and goes to KU on sporting scholarship. He’s not sure what he expects—roadie, gigolo, baseball coach— but he doesn’t expect Dean to become a cop. Certainly not after that anti-authority phase Dean went through in high school. Although, Ethan’s behavior later makes Dean look like a well-behaved fascist in comparison.
Scott is the one who ends up in the service, working as a naval engineer. John is proud that at least one of his sons thought to serve their country in the same way he had. He isn’t quite sure it makes up for the fact that Sam is a hoity-toity lawyer, or that Ethan is always involving himself in some crazy amnesty international left-wing crap that only seems to pay in the sheer loads of junk mail flyers that wind up at the house. All his sons laugh when Ethan starts getting on him about the loaded Sigsauer P220 in the closet, and the gun collection on display in a converted portion of the attic. John takes pride in his guns. He’s got a pistol made by Samuel Colt that was rumored to have been used to kill “demons.” John’s especially proud of that piece.
None of his boys share the same interest that he has, not even eager to please Jamie. Dean knows his guns—he has to, but he doesn’t love ‘em. He’s got the best shooting record at his station. There’s some talk that he’ll be put on SWAT, John would like to be able to claim a son on SWAT, but Dean wants to make detective. He says he thinks twice about guns, now that he’s seen young boys with their brains blown open. He scoffs; you gotta protect you and yours. Sam and Ethan have their own response to that. They can both cite loads of statistics on guns, why they’re bad, and how people wind up dead in the homes that stash them. Scott will break them all down and figure out how to make them “better” if he leaves his son alone with them.
They’re a handful, his boys, they’re pretty well-known throughout town. All of them tall, strong, and good-looking. Although none of them seem to have the way with the ladies that Dean does, thank the lord and all his angels. It drives everybody in the household nuts—they receive phone calls from angry fathers and crying teenage girls all through out his high school years.
It never seems to bother anyone the way it bothers Sam. John wonders if his second son is jealous, but there are some pretty girls who like Sam, they’re just different from the ones that like Dean. There are times when he’s sitting in the office above the shop watching Dean, elbow deep in a car, when Sam walks in. Always carrying that heavy backpack over one shoulder, because he just got back from debate or mock trial. When he looks away to file papers and looks back, they’ve both disappeared. It worries John how attached Sam is to Dean.
He doesn’t even realize how attached Dean is to Sam until his son gets accepted into Princeton, University of Chicago, Dartmouth, and Stanford—not a single school close to Kansas. Dean says he’d rather die than see his brother at Princeton, so of course Sam tells him that’s where he’s going. It’s not until the school publishes the senior newspaper that they realize he’s going to Stanford.
Mary yells at him for playing such a cruel joke on the family, John sits and quietly chuckles. He’s gotta hand it to his son, he got them all pretty good. Sam sees Dean standing tight lipped in the corner before John does, and he’s on his feet, talking softly to him. John shakes his head and wonders about those sons of his. Then Dean throws a punch at Sam that the other boy barely ducks and the feeling is gone.
Mary is madder about the punch throwing and John realizes he probably should be, but it warms his heart to see his boys scrapping—Sam proving his strength with more than just his sissy pen. Mary always tells him the pen thing is a good thing, mightier than the sword and all that, but John thinks it’s only mightier if your opponent actually cares to read it. Sam and Ethan his two sensitive sons—oh he heard that over and over, every damn parent teacher conference had to mention that at least twice. Good thing his own dad isn’t alive to see them, he’d have whupped them and then John for raising them. He doesn’t want that, he’s proud of them, even when they do make him cringe, even when Ethan is stinking up the house with pot, even when Sam’s eyes are hard and cold and shutting him out.
His other three make it easier to bear.
It’s always the craziest at get-togethers ever since Mary started bringing her boys. The first time she made it back to Chicago for her family was when Dean was nine and Sam was going on five, Jaime was three, and Ethan was just barely walking. She’d met her grandsons before on visits, wouldn’t do to ignore her middle daughter after all, but the rest of the family had never seen them before. She’d expected Shane and Dean to get on really well, they were only five months apart; and Dean was a darling thing, a smile for anybody who needed one. But they hated each other at first sight—Dean’s batman t-shirt at clear odds with Shane’s neatly pressed polo. Dean chose instead to play with Jackie and Della, her nephew’s girls, rather than Shane. He organized grand games for all the kids involving robbers and cops and building castles that none of the adults can see, and suddenly the same relatives that had been lamenting the influx of Mary and her boys, weren’t sure how they ever did without them.
Sam was bright-eyed and solemn, but she quickly learned there was a smile lurking in his eyes and in the groove of his dimples. He helped out in the kitchens with all the aunts making sugar cookies and pies and fried dough.
Dean came bustling through, plastic shield on one arm, and a wooden sword on the other. Sam smiled for him and handed him an outcast piece of cookie dough. Dean leaned forward and ate it right out of Sam’s fingers, tongue swiping out to lick the sugar off his skin. She rolled her eyes and laughed with the rest of the aunts. Mary’s boys were something else.
As they got older the grand games lost some of their vision, and the boys play basketball with the rusty hoop Grandpa set up over the garage. She doesn’t mind that the ball bounces against the side of the house, because they shoveled all the snow out of the driveway in order to play. Sam is easily the best of them, because of of that growth spurt of his, but he stays in the kitchen with the aunts. Maybe, maybe because of that, Sam is her favorite. She doesn’t tell anyone, but he knows. Sometimes when all the other youngsters go off to the movies or downtown out of sheer boredom, the house quiets and clears out. She and Sam go to the Museum of Science and Industry, or the Planetarium, or the Art Institute. Sam loves the miniature rooms at the Art Institute; he goes through them slowly, eyes taking in every detail.
They go through exhibits and Sam says, quietly, “Dean would love this.” He never mentions any of his other brothers, but she doesn’t pay it any mind. Sam grows older and does her proud, he comes to visit her on his own now. Helps Grandpa with his garden and her with her baking. She talks to Dean more on these visits than when he was actually in the house with them because he calls all the time for Sam.
She doesn’t know what’s up with those two, but she knows none of her brothers ever acted like that.
Scott likes his Legos, certainly way more than his other brothers ever did. Ethan enjoys the themed ones—Star Wars, Dinosaurs, Batman, Bionicle—but Scott, he just likes building. He doesn’t care if it’s got Mr. Freeze or Darth Vadar figurines to go with it. He can play for hours. Mom has super-glued the green beveled board over every surface in his room, in the vain attempt to make sure he doesn’t leave them on the floor and nearly kill the rest of the family with them.
Dad is the worst. It’s like he’s got a sixth sense for stepping on them. He’s good about it, doesn’t get angry when the boys howl with laughter at him stepping on another one, but he still plots all the ways he can throw them away.
Scott spends the most time with Dean when he’s got the Legos. He likes the fact that he’s got this special connection with his brother through his favorite toy. It’s the one place that Dean goes that Sam doesn’t follow. Dean could travel to the ends of the earth, and Sam would still follow his footsteps. But not into the world of Legos.
Scott wants to be just like Dean when he’s older. Dad tells him he’s already better than Dean was with cars with the caveat not to tell Dean that. Out of all his brothers, he looks the most like him. He’s built on slimmer lines, even more like their mother than Dean. He’s glad, you can tell he fits in with his family. Dean and Sam look nothing alike, but they look like their parents, same goes for Ethan. Jamie is the odd one out.
When they go trick-or-treating Jamie stays back, resists Sam’s best efforts to include him. He says Sam and Dean are embarrassing him. Scott and Ethan don’t see why. He thinks it’s funny that Dean decided to go as James Dean from Rebel Without a Cause and Sam is Natalie Wood. He isn’t sure what Dean promised Sam to get him to do it, but it must’ve been big, because Sam is wearing thrift-store heels and Mom’s make-up. He’s only eleven and his features haven’t filled out completely, so he passes pretty easily. When Sam gets hit on by some of Dean’s classmates, Scott even feels slightly affronted, like it’s his older sister for real.
Mom and Sam had plotted for weeks leading up to the day, carefully making sure that Dad had no idea. When Sam finally comes tottering down the stairs that night, Dad spits out his beer all over the freshly shampooed carpet. Mom shoos them all out of the house before the shouting match starts, but they all hear it. Sam and Dean laugh and laugh, and Scott and Ethan join in because they don’t know what else to do.
It doesn’t stop being funny all night, especially when Sam has to hang onto Dean’s arm for the first several blocks to keep from toppling over, and the neighbors keep saying that Dean has such a pretty girlfriend. Sam bears it up well, he tells Ethan that it was worth it for the expression on Dad’s face. Jamie gets a strange look on his face, but he doesn't say anything.
Scott loves all his brothers; he knows this best when he’s out there with them all. Maybe he likes Dean a little bit more than the rest. But he thinks they’re all great. If you ask him about the future, he’ll tell you that he sees them all in Dad’s Impala listening to Aerosmith and hurtling down the highway. Sam will probably be buried in the newspaper, and Jamie will be busy with his Game Boy. Ethan might be knitting for all he can imagine, but he and Dean will appreciate the open road, the endlessness of it all.
She thought herself in love with Dean Winchester for most of her life. Since the moment she laid eyes on him at age two. He had a way with girls that had them falling out of their panties. Jeannie was sure it was love, not that whole lust thing. She’d read the difference in her sister’s YM magazine. She didn’t just want to sleep with him, she wanted to know his favorite band and his favorite color and his favorite food. That, she was sure, was love. But she had no idea.
She was over at the Winchester household a lot, even when they were making the addition so that there would be enough rooms for the boys and there were workmen and scary tools all over the place. After all the construction was done, Ethan and Scott were still in bunk beds in the same room.
She snuck into Dean’s room once when she was nine. The shades were all down and there were clothes all over the floor. Dean’s black sheets and heavy comforter smelled like detergent and musky cologne, and she’d fallen asleep on his bed before she could stop herself. She woke up staring at the poster of Balls of Steel above Dean’s bed, and rolled over to find Dean leaning against his doorway staring at her with an amused half-smile.
She could’ve died that day. Dean didn’t seem to mind. He took off his shirt and tossed it into the laundry basket and unbuckled his jeans like she wasn’t even there. She raced out of the room before his pants even hit the floor. Mrs. Winchester called after as she ran out the front door, did she want to stay for dinner? At that point, she would’ve been glad never to see Dean Winchester ever again.
Somewhere in all that pining for Dean she found herself a place in their family, and eventually, a place in Jamie’s arms. She worries about Dean, who changes girls like he changes his underwear, never with one long enough to love. She wants him to find someone and settle down. Dean deserves the love of a good woman, even if he doesn’t seem to think so.
At her wedding to Jamie, Dean shows up in a pinstriped suit and a dress shirt with an open collar, and rocks her heart a little. He is dateless, and she can’t help nagging him a little. Sam, the only one of Jamie's brothers who was invited to be part of the wedding party, laughs uproariously like he’s got some private joke. Jeannie begs him to explain, but he isn’t telling. He just sinks his teeth into his lip like he’s trying to prevent a grin from breaking out. Dean cocks an eyebrow and smiles back.
Those Winchester boys. She married one and she still thinks they’re mysterious as all get out, but Sam and Dean are the worst. It's like they’ve got alter-egos, double-lives they aren’t sharing with the rest of the world. Jamie understands when she tells him about it. Says that’s always been his experience too.
The Sam and Dean show.
He thinks he’s the only one who knows. He’s pretty sure his Dad would actually murder them if he knew what they were doing. Ethan isn’t sure how his dad would handle gay sons, let alone sons gay for each other. He can hardly handle all the material that Ethan brings back with him from Wesleyan. They get into loud shouting matches over gun rights, and the wording of the second amendment that leave Ethan shouting: “Even if it does say that, Dad, maybe the founding fathers were wrong!”
His father goes all white-faced and says he never heard such bullshit, not even from Sam. But Dad knows it isn’t so. Ethan is attacking what his dad believes in. Sam was tearing apart the man. Ethan thinks it must’ve started because Dad thought Sam was weak, having all those night terrors, waking up the entire household. And Sam never forgave him for the thought. It’s difficult for Dean, that Sam wars with Dad and is luke-warm with Mom, but not enough to rebuke him. Maybe because a little part of him thinks Sam is justified.
So Ethan is pretty sure he’s the only one that knows. He’s not sure how long it’s been going on, but when he looks back, he thinks probably a lifetime. He doesn’t know how he feels about it. He spills it to his college friends after getting liberally fucked up on alcohol and pot. He tells them about how one Easter, when the entire family was together again in Kansas, he walked out onto the second floor veranda long after everyone was asleep, and saw Sam and Dean on the hammock. They were swinging peacefully, Dean’s head cushioned on Sam’s chest. And yeah that was a little weird, but then, whoa, Dean stretched up and pressed a kiss to Sam’s lips.
“Don’t want you going back to Stanford,” Dean had said as he pulled away.
“Afraid I’m going to be stolen away by all the out and proud liberals of San Francisco?” Sam asked with a laugh. Dean didn't answer. “Come with me.”
Ethan never heard Dean’s response. He was inside the house and back in his own room in under a second, breathing hard and heart beating fast. He felt nauseous and nervous for the rest of the trip, and it was a real battle to make sure they didn’t notice.
Jessica, who's seen the pictures of his brothers, thinks it’s kinda hot. But Alicia and Chris and Jonathan think it’s pretty fucked up.
Ethan swears up and down, slurring his consonants and rocking slightly from his perch on the window seat, that it’s consensual, Dean would never abuse Sam, but they don’t change their minds. When he realizes how distressed he feels that they suddenly see Sam and Dean as these perverted assholes, he knows he’s actually okay with it. Maybe "okay" isn’t the word, but he can’t think badly of them for it. Can’t think they’re gross or disgusting.
Dean and Sam are his older brothers. And they’re crazy, and too wrapped up in each other to notice the rest of the world sometimes, and Dean’s a fucking cop, which really grates on him. But what they have, it isn’t gross or perverted or even wrong. It just is.
And he isn’t going to tell anyone else. Because Jamie would tell their parents at once, and Scott would be just like his college friends. He knows it. And yeah, maybe Sam and Dean brought this upon themselves, but he thinks of how hard it must be for them. To not be able to shout from the rooftops how much they love each other. And he knows they do. Sam even joined a practice in Lawrence to be close to Dean, and Ethan knew he’d gotten better offers.
Ethan sees the secret as a burden he has to bear. So he throws himself into his causes. Limiting gun rights; citizenship for illegal immigrants; maglev trains to cut down on fuel emissions; awareness about the electric car; pro-choice and gay rights measures; an end to No Child Left Behind; breaking pharmaceutical patents. If it falls under the liberal agenda, he’s behind it.
And most days he really wishes he didn’t know, because it changed the way he viewed his brothers. But some days he realizes that he’s the only one who actually knows Sam and Dean. Everybody else walks through the world, trying so hard to puzzle them out, but only Ethan has the missing piece.
He’s having dinner with Sam in some cozy Italian place. Either Sam will come back to his place, or Dean will go to Sam’s. They’ll make love for hours, making up for the ways they can’t have spontaneous sex like normal couples.
Dean isn’t paying attention to the food, only the shirt that brings out the color in Sam’s eyes. Dean doesn’t even realize that Sam’s stolen half the pasta off his plate, until he looks down ten minutes later. He knows his brother only does it to get under his skin, and that he’ll gladly fork over the rest of his meal if Dean asks for it, but he can’t help being a little indignant.
They’ve been doing this, playing this game, ever since Sam was fifteen and a hot summer's day resulted in a chance run through the sprinklers. Dean doesn’t know what to tell himself when he thinks too hard about this, them, their situation. But he really does think if Sam hadn’t come running through the water at that moment—hair plastered to his forehead, and ringing the hem of his damp t-shirt out—he might have been able to walk away, put it in some dark dusty corner, and forget it forever.
Alas, the world was not so kind to Sam or Dean Winchester, and neither could put what they were aside. Sam was one of those geeky types, with a full on ego-defense mechanism of intellectualization. It had him researching anything pertaining to that word that made everything between them so very not okay.
There were months where Sam would list how the feelings they shared were not chemically possible, in-between heated kisses hidden deep in the woods behind their house. Dean would groan, tell Sam to leave it, point out that the librarians at the county library probably thought Sam was insane or some kind of pervert.
Sam did, for Dean, even as he said, 'I am a pervert.' It was hard. The only place they trusted to be together was in the woods, under the barbed wire fence that hemmed the sprawling forest in. Sam still has scars, thin raised lines on the inside of his forearm, from a mad dash out of the trees before someone came looking for them.
It was hard, and there were days, dark horrible days, when Dean didn’t even think it was worth it. But it never went away. No matter how much he cursed at it, no matter how much he tried to fuck it away with other girls. Sam’s name whistled through his bloodstream, and nothing, no matter how many Pater Nosters and Hail Marys he said, could make it go away.
Sam stopped going to confession when he was thirteen, anger at God for not taking the fear and pain and rage of the night terrors away. It forced all of his faith out. Nothing, not even the righteous wrath of John Winchester on behalf of their mother, could make him sit inside that booth next to Father Gray. But Dean still goes. He’s just stopped asking for things he knows are never going to change.
The check comes, and Sam foots the bill after they wrestle for it over the table. Sam’s narrowed triumphant eyes don’t leave his as the last victorious flourish of his signature is put to paper. Dean rolls his eyes. He would love to know what a hand-writing analysis would say of Sam. Sarcastic chi chi bastard, probably.
They leave the restaurant with laughter in their voices and carefree steps. It lasts all of two seconds before Dean’s shoulder explodes with pain and he falls back against the pavement with a hollow thud. Glass is shattering, falling crystalline on the streets, silvery zings of reverberation that Dean hears above the sound of Sam shouting his name.
There’s blood everywhere, his, spreading in a halo around him, soaking through the shirt that Mom bought him for his birthday. He’s been shot and it hurts to breathe, but every breath, every solitary heave of his chest, is so important. Someone is calling an ambulance and Sam is babbling over his body, trying to staunch the blood flow with his suit jacket.
“I’m going to die,” Dean says.
Sam’s eyes shut and he looks so angry that Dean would even say such a thing, that Dean wants to laugh. But it would hurt and probably piss Sam off worse.
“You’re not going to die, Dean,” he tells him, voice sure, his shaking hands contradicting every word out of his mouth.
“I—I’m bleeding too much.” It’s in his mouth, leaking out at the corner of his lips, making him cough and gurgle.
Sam purses his lips and visibly stills himself. “You. Are. Not. Going. To. Die.”
“No, you listen to me, you jerk!” Sam pushes down hard on the jacket covering his wound. “We’re going to grow old, alone together on some farm in the middle of nowhere, with nothing but books and corn fields to keep us company. You’re going to make barbecue every night, get a beer gut and fart in bed, tell bad jokes to me that I’ve heard a hundred times before. You’re not done yet here, Dean!” his voice skips and he chokes up. “You’re not done! You haven’t changed the world yet!”
Dean doesn’t know what his brother says after that. He only sees his lips moving and his cheek smeared with blood. If this is the last look at Sam he’s ever going to get, it seriously sucks.
When he wakes up again, hooked to an IV and a thousand little beeping machines, the pain is still there. He doesn’t start to feel better again until Sam walks in, green shirt ruined and stiff with Dean’s blood, and plunks a jumbo bag of M&M's hard on his stomach. He doesn’t have the courage to steal a kiss, Mom and Dad aren’t too far away. But he does clasp Sam’s hand and smile.
“You’re the one who’s going to change the world, Sammy,” Dean says, before his parents and brothers descend upon them. Sam quietly slips off while Dad tells him what happened. Convict serving time for assault and battery got paroled on Wednesday, and promptly decided to take down his arresting officer—Dean Alexander Winchester. Would’ve hit Dean straight through the heart too and that would’ve been the end of him. But a bicyclist passed behind the shooter, hit his gun arm with the handle bars. It’d thrown of his aim and in spite of taking several more shots, he never got a clear one again. Dean is silently thankful for his unbelievable luck.
Sam listens to the story standing by himself just outside the hospital room for the fifth or maybe the sixth time. He lifts his eyes upwards, and says thank you to a person he no longer really believed in.
The mirror before him goes dark and smoky, images of a family assembled around a hospital bed swirl away. The veiled priestesses arrayed before him watch, waiting for his reaction.
Dean swallows. “What does it mean?”
They are silent for a long time. Finally one, taller than the rest, steps forward. Her voice is soft and quiet. “In every world, every layer of reality, the same choice is put before you. And every time, you choose the same.”
Another speaks up, “Maybe it is time to forgive yourself.”
He bows his head.
“Or make a different choice.”
But there is no other choice, not really. When he looks back up at them, he sees that they know it in the lines of their backs, the tilt of their heads.
“Go, find your brother, and leave this place.” The tall one tells him. “Have a care to tread where men should not.”
Dean shoots them a last look, turns on his heel and runs like hell. He knows not to scoff at forces this powerful, and he needs to find Sam. They have to get out of these catacombs, and reaffirm their existence in the light of day. It's different from what the Djinn showed him, because somewhere five Winchester boys wake up every morning and not just two. Somewhere Dean has been down this road before, stopped at the crossroads, and chosen the same fork.