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hum a few bars, we'll remember the tune

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The bar is nothing special—they've been in a hundred like it. Dean steps in and scans the room, his eyes falling on Sam in a heartbeat.

He'd come back from doing the laundry and found Sam gone, a note on the bed that said he was across the street. For once, Dean isn't much in the mood, but he crosses the room to Sam anyway.

"Thought you were supposed to be sleeping."

"Yeah, well. You know how that goes."

Sam looks exhausted. The lines have been under his eyes since Rhode Island, and they're getting to be a permanent part of his face. Dean catches the eye of the waitress and points to Sam's beer, holds up two fingers. He slides into the booth across from Sam. They've chased leads for a solid week since Bobby's, had their asses handed to them twice by the queen bitch of all, and he's sick of being toyed with. All he really wants tonight is to hit the sack, but enough's enough.

"So, this is familiar," he says.

Sam tries to shrug it off. "It's not a big deal, Dean. Don't make it one." Poison comes on the jukebox. Every rose has its thorn. "I seem to recall you spent a lot of time not sleeping after you got out of Hell."

"Trust me, I get it. But it's my prerogative to worry about you. You know that."

It wins him a faint smile, and the line of Sam's shoulders relaxes a fraction. "Well, I appreciate it. But I'm fine. Really."

The waitress brings Dean's beer, and Dean flashes her a toned-down version of the grin he's perfected in countless bars in countless towns, but he barely spares attention for it. "You gotta sleep sometime, though, Sammy. Reaction times down, reflexes, you know the drill."

Sam's eyes flicker to Dean's hand, which is wrapped up in gauze because Sam was slow on the trigger two days before.

"Yeah, I know."

Dean studies him for a moment, then pulls the sleeping pills out of his pocket and puts them on the table. Robo-Sam didn't need sleep, but this Sam does, and he's not above using Sam's guilt if he has to. "I know you don't like it, but it's better than the alternative."

Sam gives him a long, steady look. Then he reaches out and takes the bottle. He studies it for a minute, then opens it and takes two of them, washing them down with the beer before he pushes the rest back across the table.

"Good. Thank you." Dean puts the bottle back in his pocket, and gives his brother a hard look. Sam says he doesn't dream of Hell, that he doesn't remember his dreams these days, but Dean's not sure if he believes him. "It gets better," he says. He puts all of his conviction into it, and hopes it's true.

"So, where to next?" Sam asks, changing the subject like a champ. Dean taught him well.

"Chicago," Dean says. "Bobby wants us to check out some kind of ancient figurine. A mother goddess statue. Supposedly used in summoning rituals. He thinks it could be our key to getting the upper hand on this Eve chick."

"And by check out, you mean steal."

"I like to think of it as borrowing. It's for a good cause."

"Great. What do you say we avoid getting arrested this time?"

"See, now, that's a fantastic idea. I knew there was a reason I keep you around."

Sam smiles a little at that. "Maybe you should reconsider," he says.

Dean's mood takes a sudden, downward turn. "What the hell's that supposed to mean?"

"I am kind of a liability. You said it yourself. If my life is on the line, then so is yours." He meets Dean's gaze, and Dean can't look away. "Don't get me wrong—I'm here as long as you want me to be. I'm just saying, hunting with me might be a good way to get yourself killed."

Dean can't deny it; he's thought it, too. If Sam had one of his attacks in the middle of a hunt, they could both be toast. "Wouldn't be the first time," he says, with a tip of his beer.

Sam's so tired, he doesn't even crack a bitchface at that, just gives one of his soft, nearly nonexistent laughs that makes Dean's heart kick because it's so Sam. It still hasn't gotten old. After six months driving around with the stranger wearing his brother's face, it still kind of makes him want to kiss somebody or maybe bust down crying in sheer relief every time Sam does something that Dean recognizes as pure, unadulterated, unmistakable Sam.

He's distracted enough with the feeling that it takes him a good ten seconds to notice the song on the jukebox has changed. When it finally registers, Dean shakes his head and looks skyward. He laughs to himself. "Aw, man, what are the odds?"

Sam meets his eyes, curiosity quirking his face. Dean waits for it, and sees the moment when he recognizes the song.  

I'm a cowboy
On a steel horse I ride
I'm wanted—

Sam's half-stricken, half-giddy expression is an echo of Dean's. Dean has no name for all the things he's feeling, but a bubble of gladness, of freedom, wells up inside him. He's alive, and Sam is, and they don't owe anybody anything. Sam's eyebrows raise, and he lifts his beer, mirroring the salute. They drink.

Sam's next blink lasts too long, and Dean can tell that the pills are starting to kick in. He kicks Sam's foot under the table. "Hey. You ready to get out of here?"

"Yeah," Sam says, his voice rough. They throw a few bills on the table, then head out across the parking lot.

They're most of the way there when Dean sees Sam sway slightly, and he throws an arm around Sam's waist. "I gotcha," Dean says. Sam starts a little in surprise, but he's half out of it and doesn't fight that hard when Dean hustles him into the room. He sits down heavily on the nearest bed; Dean crouches at his feet and starts to unlace Sam's boots.

"You serious?" Sam says.

"Shut up, bitch. You're halfway gone already." He gets Sam's boots off and pushes him back, tugs the covers down.

"N' whose fault is that?" Sam says, but he's pretty much talking in his sleep. Dean pulls the covers over him and sits on the edge of the bed. It's not ten seconds before Sam is out, his whole face relaxing as he goes slack. A huge fist of emotion settles in behind Dean's breastbone, making his chest and throat ache like crazy. Sam might be a giant, and he might have saved the world, but he looks about five years old.

Dean reaches out, nobody to stop him now, and smooths Sam's hair back from his forehead. It's stupid, is what it is. Everything they've been through, everything they've done and suffered for each other, and here he is again with something to lose. It's hitting him hard, now, the way it didn't at first. This is real. Sam's told him that every way he can, as often as Dean'll listen. For what it's worth, I got your back. We're not even brothers, here, man. I gotta fix what I gotta fix.

I'm here as long as you want me to be.

He's not walking away from this, and neither is Sam. And he should be terrified, is the thing. But instead, tension he didn't know he was carrying floods away like water. In its wake, he's exhausted, and all he wants to do is close his eyes and catch his own wave of sweet oblivion.

He kicks his own boots off and climbs over Sam, settling in with an arm slung over Sam's middle. Sam's warm, and smells like day-old aftershave and little brother, and Dean's not immune to that basic animal comfort. If Sam settles in and breathes easier when Dean does, that doesn't mean anything. So, they're a little weird when it comes to each other. So what? You sell your soul for somebody, you put your faith in somebody against all the forces of Heaven, against the devil himself, and they come through? Things are bound to get weird.

Dean closes his eyes and sinks toward sleep like a stone through a cool, dark sea. On the way down, he sings under his breath into Sam's shoulder, "I'd drive all night, just to get back home." It's ridiculous; he knows that. They could bite it tomorrow, and if Sam ever mentions to another human being that they did this, Dean might have to deny they even know each other. But tonight, he's not letting anything in this world or any other come between them.