The backseat feels empty. It shouldn’t, Dean knows that. For most of his life, the only backseat passenger that ever mattered was Sam, and Sam is right here – wholly, miraculously alive and still with him. Jess spent less than a year with them, but her absence is glaring, all the same. A missing tooth. A phantom limb.
And Dad? Well, Dean isn’t ready to think about Dad yet.
Dean glances over to Sam, asleep and curled up against the door with his head tilted at an awkward angle, hiding his swollen eye and the bruise covering most of the right side of his face. Dean halfway considers waking Sam up and telling him to rearrange himself so he doesn’t have a sore neck all day, but the idea of jerking the kid out of peaceful slumber after everything they’ve gone through just doesn’t sit right. If Sam’s neck hurts later, Dean will deal with it then. At least one of them should get some rest. Dean might never sleep again.
He isn’t sure where they’re going, other than away. Their clothes still smell like smoke. Dried blood is crusted in the cuff of Dean’s jacket. Dad’s jacket, which never really fit Dean. It hangs on him like a weight, like guilt, like a void he will never be able to fill. Jess cut a father-shaped hole in their world. Dean will never forgive her for that.
Twenty miles outside of Missoula, Montana, Sam stirs. He scrubs his head against the window. The glass is cold, fogged by his sleeping breath. Beyond the window, a sunless morning dawns, grey and still. When Sam finally lifts his head, his face is as empty as the landscape. They’ve both moved beyond shock, Dean thinks. This is what comes after.
“Hey,” Dean says. He wants to ask Sam how he slept, if he dreamed. He wants to ask Sam if he’s okay, if they're okay. Instead, Dean simply says, “I’m looking for a place to stop. I need gas and a piss. You?”
Sam nods, slowly straightening himself in the seat. His joints pop as he stretches out long, revealing a strip of bare skin around his belly and the knobby bones of his wrists. Dean looks away. He hasn’t touched his brother since Salvation, nothing beyond what was required for the job, and he wants to run his hands over every part of Sam he can reach. Do they still do that? Will it be a part of who they are going forward, or did they leave it back in Missouri with Jess?
A gas station sign looms on the horizon, the green Sinclair dinosaur looking menacing instead of friendly. Dean prefers mom-and-pop operations, even for gas, but Montana isn’t exactly overflowing with choices for places to stop. The Impala is thirsty and Noon’s Sinclair will have to do.
Dean turns into the gas station and pulls up beside a pump. The fluorescent lights overhead wash Sam out, deepening the bruises on his face and making him seem smaller. He looks no less exhausted after his hours of sleep than he had by their father’s pyre last night. They had both made it that far fueled primarily by an all-consuming fury, but once the pyre was lit, the anger had burned away as well, leaving only the numb ache of loss. Dean wants to shake Sam out of his stupor, but how can he? He’s as broken as Sam.
“Hungry?” Dean asks. Sam swivels his head towards the sound of Dean’s voice, blinking at him slowly. Dean waits a beat for Sam to process Dean’s question. When he doesn’t answer, Dean repeats himself. “Sammy? You hungry?”
Sam starts to shake his head, then stops himself. “Maybe,” he says.
“Road fuel or real food?”
Sam shrugs. Not helpful, but Dean can’t be angry about it.
“I’ll find us a place to eat,” Dean says. “Go in and take a piss, in case we have to drive a while.”
The expression on Sam’s face doesn’t change, but he nods again, opening his door and swinging his feet around to land on the concrete. Dean watches the tense curve of his brother’s back as he slouches into the Noon’s. Only when Sam is out of sight does Dean let his own shoulders slump and his eyes drop to the task of fueling the Impala. He leans against the driver’s side door as the pump ticks up the gallons and dollars. He’s so tired, the all-the-way-down kind of bone-weary, and every cut, scrape, and bruise from the past few days throbs in time to his pulse. His heart beats to the rhythm of the gas pump. Tick, tick, tick.
When the tank is full, Dean pulls up to a parking space in front of the Noon’s to go in and piss. He finds Sam standing in one of the aisles, staring at a display of brightly colored bubble gum, his face as blank as ever. He doesn’t look up at Dean.
“You want some gum, Sammy?” Dean asks. Sam startles, like he didn’t realize Dean was standing next to him.
“Huh?” Sam says.
“I said, you want some gum?”
Sam blinks slowly again. Every movement looks accidental, like he’s underwater being pushed by the currents. After a moment, he shakes his head.
“I’m gonna—” Dean jerks his thumb in the direction of the bathroom. “You want to wait in the car?”
Dean pulls the keys out of his pocket and presses them into Sam’s limp hand until his fingers finally curl around them. “Wait in the car, Sammy.”
“Okay,” Sam says. Dean waits to make sure Sam actually goes to the car before he heads to the toilet.
Dean braces his arm against the wall while he pisses, because Jesus Christ, he needs sleep. A hot meal. A fucking plan. That might be too much to ask for. He’ll settle for a slice of pie, a cup of coffee, and a bed to tuck Sam into. They don’t have to figure out anything complicated today; Dean can sleep on the floor if he has to.
When he washes his hands, the face he sees in the mirror looks like a stranger. No, he looks like Dad. Tired, haunted, twenty miles of bad road. Dean is staring at a ghost, but no amount of burning bones will lay this particular nightmare to rest. He has to live with this one.
Dean loads up on snacks and drinks, even though he hopes to stop for food soon, and after that, find a place to crash and sleep through the day. The snacks will keep, and if they can’t find a diner or something in the next ten or fifteen miles, they’ll be grateful for beef jerky and Twizzlers. Well, Dean will be grateful, anyway; Sam doesn’t seem tuned in enough to be grateful or anything else. Dean can’t blame him.
Back in the Impala, Sam is curled in on himself again, small in ways he hasn’t been since before Stanford. Even at their lowest points in the past year, the three of them had kept each other on an even keel, each preventing the others from sliding too far into depression or frustration. Right now, Dean and Sam are a tripod with a missing leg, barely keeping their balance. Dean doesn’t know what to do about that, if he even could do anything. He has no paradigm for him and Sam on the road like this, together but alone. For the past year, they’ve had Jess, and before that it was mostly Dean on his own for three years. Even the years before Sam left for college can’t provide much useful guidance. They were everything to each other, but Sam was still a kid, and Dean was a protector, not a peer. How do they do this thing together as adults, just the two of them?
“I’m thinking burger, fries, and maybe a milkshake,” Dean says to Sam. He doesn’t really want any of those things. He wants Sam to stop staring into the distance. “Sammy?”
Sam slowly turns to Dean and musters up a faint smile. “Yeah,” he says. Dean isn’t sure Sam was really listening, but a yeah is better than a huh? or silence.
“Then I thought we’d maybe find a place to stop for a while. Get some sleep in a real bed,” Dean continues. He pulls out of the parking lot and back onto the road to Missoula. Sam doesn’t answer, just slow-blinks like Dean is speaking a foreign language. Maybe he is. Maybe they don’t even speak the same language anymore. Maybe Dean should stop trying and give them both a break.
Usually, he’d ask Sam to hand him a tape, but Sam’s pretty hit-or-miss on following basic instructions right now, so Dean leans across him and grabs the tape box. With one hand on the wheel and barely a glance at the empty road, Dean rifles through the box until he finds what he’s looking for. The label on the mix tape has mostly worn away from years of use, but Dean doesn’t have to make out the words to know what the label says: Songs We Agree About. Nothing but tracks they both enjoy, which was a mean feat when Dean made the tape back in 1997. Dean grins as he pops it into the deck and “Drive” by R.E.M. starts playing. He cuts his eyes over to Sam just in time to catch a brief smile ghost across his face.
Another twelve miles down the road, Dean sees a sign for a 24-hour diner. He doesn’t ask Sam for his input. Instead, he pulls into the mostly empty lot and parks. Sam doesn’t stir, so Dean nudges him gently.
“Hey, Sammy. Chow time,” Dean says. Sam inhales sharply, as though Dean had woken him up, but he gets out of the car when Dean does and follows him inside.
The waitress behind the counter tells them to sit wherever they want, so Dean takes a booth as far away from the only other people in the diner as possible. The giant laminated menus are already on the table, so he picks one up and makes a show of looking through it. Sam doesn’t touch his menu. Dean picks it up and puts it in front of Sam.
“C’mon, Sammy. You’ve gotta pick something.”
Sam’s brow furrows as he picks at the laminated edge of the menu, but he doesn’t open it. Dean sighs and actually makes an effort to look at his own menu, not for himself, but for something he thinks Sam would eat. It’s morning, but Dean isn’t of a mind to eat breakfast, and he doesn’t think Sam is in a pancake mood. They have three different salads, so one of those will probably work.
“Salmon or chicken?” Dean asks. When Sam doesn’t answer, Dean nudges Sam’s calf with his foot. “Sammy. Salmon or chicken?”
“Chicken?” Sam echoes, but Dean will take it as an answer.
“All right. Chicken it is,” Dean says. When the waitress comes over, she looks at Sam’s bruised face a little too long. Dean clears his throat to shift her attention, then orders himself a cheeseburger with fries and Sam a salad with grilled chicken, coffee for both of them. The waitress glances back at Sam with a worried expression, but Dean keeps his own face as neutral as possible until she gets the message and leaves.
Dean doesn’t disturb the silence that settles between him and Sam. He does knock his ankles against Sam’s under the table; it’s not exactly footsie, more just a matter of having a point of physical contact. At this point, he would hold Sam’s hand on top of the table if it would make either of them feel better. It might, in fact. He doesn’t grab Sam’s hand or anything, but he does slide his own hand across the table so he can touch Sam’s pinkie with his thumb. Dean imagines them as a completed circuit, the electricity flowing from Dean into Sam’s hand, from Sam’s ankle back into Dean. It’s a comforting thought.
The waitress says nothing when she brings the food. Dean worries Sam might ignore the salad, but he mechanically goes about putting the tiniest amount of dressing on it and then taking small, deliberate bites. Dean’s appetite isn’t exactly at its peak, but seeing Sam eat a little at least unclenches the knot in his own stomach enough that he can choke down a few bites of his burger.
Eating the small amount they manage takes a strangely long period of time. It’s coming up on nine by the time Dean calls it quits on his half-finished burger and cold fries. Sam ate maybe a quarter of his salad. They’ve both gone through several refills of coffee, but Dean still feels exhausted and Sam is still in whatever kind of fugue state he has going on. They need a place to crash, and fast.
When the waitress brings the tab, Dean asks, “Hey, is there a motel around here? Me and my brother’ve been on the road a while.”
“Try the Garden Lodge,” she says. “It’s not much, but it’s clean.”
“Clean’s all we need,” Dean says. He gives her the warmest smile he can drum up and drops enough cash to cover the bill and a generous tip. He has to snag Sam by the sleeve to get him to stand.
“So, the Garden Lodge it is,” Dean tells Sam, who slow-blinks. It makes Dean’s heart pound rabbit-quick to see Sam like this, some terrified part of his mind screaming What if this is it? What if he’s broken and I can’t fix him?
The Garden Lodge is a squat, two story motel right off the state route, easy to find with its large sign. The parking lot looks empty. Dean tells Sam to stay in the car when he goes in to get a room, mostly because he’s already wrestling with what kind of room to even get, and Sam’s presence won’t make that easier. He ends up asking for two queens, so they have options. They can both fit in a queen together, but if Sam needs his space, they can sleep separately. Dean knows which one he’s hoping for, but he won’t pressure Sam either way.
Sam is still sitting placidly in the Impala when Dean comes out with the room key. He drives them around to their room, first floor on the far end of the building, away from everyone else.
“Ready to get some rest, Sammy?” Dean asks. Sam stares back at him with vacant eyes, lashes slowly fluttering closed and opening again. “Yeah. Me, too.”
Dean gets out and grabs their bags, opening the passenger door for Sam and hauling him up. If they can get some decent sleep, maybe… maybe what? Dean doesn’t know. Talking isn’t exactly his forte, but they probably do need to have a conversation at some point, for Sam’s sake. Mostly, he just wants to curl up in a bed with Sam and forget the rest of the world.
Once Sam is inside the room, Dean bolts the door behind them. Sam stands there, staring at the beds. He exhales slowly, his shoulders slumping. His bruised face makes him look younger somehow, smaller. Dean aches so badly to touch him.
“I wanted you to have a choice,” Dean says. “Doesn’t have to mean anything either way.”
“Yeah,” Sam says quietly.
“I don’t know what you want. I don’t— I don’t think I can fix this, Sammy,” Dean says.
Sam shrugs. “Yeah.”
“So. So you can sleep wherever you want, and I’ll sleep wherever you want me to,” Dean says. “It’s okay, whatever you want.”
When Sam doesn’t answer, Dean asks, “Do you want a shower?” Sam nods. Okay, Dean can work with that. He goes into the bathroom and turns the shower on to let it warm up. When he comes out, Sam is still standing there.
“Sammy?” Dean says. “Shower’s warming up. You going in there?”
Sam slow-blinks at him. Dean wishes he would stop doing that. It’s like somebody else is piloting his brother’s body, moving it around without any knowledge of how to actually be Sam. Dean at least has an idea of what to do now, though. He pulls Sam over to the edge of one of the beds and sits him down, kneeling in front of him to remove his shoes and socks. He glances up at Sam’s face from the floor to see that Sam’s eyes are tracking him now, at least.
“You’ll feel better after you have a shower,” Dean says, talking to himself as much as to Sam. “We both stink. Well, you more than me. Is that a little brother thing? You always were the smelly one.” He hears Sam laugh once, softly, and it makes Dean smile. He stands up and slides Sam’s jacket off his shoulders, followed by his flannel and T-shirt. Dean pulls Sam back to standing and undoes his belt and jeans, letting them fall. Dressed in only his boxers, Sam shivers. Dean nudges him towards the bathroom. “Go on, Sammy.”
Sam grabs Dean’s forearms in his hands. “Come with me?”
Dean lets out a long, shuddering breath of relief. Sam’s still in there. He’s still in there, and he still wants Dean with him.
“Sure, Sammy. You want me to just sit in there or get in with you?”
“In with me,” Sam says. “Please?”
“Yeah, of course,” Dean says. He takes off his jacket (Dad’s jacket) and hangs it over the back of the room’s lone chair before quickly stripping out of the rest of his clothes. When he’s naked, he hooks his thumbs in the waistband of Sam’s boxers and pulls them down in as nonsexual a way as he can manage. Sam grabs Dean by the hand and holds it tightly. Dean uses that hand to tug Sam towards the bathroom. “C’mon, Sammy. Let’s get cleaned up.”
In the bathroom, Dean steps into the tub and pulls Sam in with him, turning them so the water hits the back of Sam’s head. He untangles his fingers from Sam’s and picks up the paper-wrapped bar of motel soap and a washcloth. He unwraps the soap and gets the washcloth wet. Sam stands there passively as Dean lathers up the soap and begins washing Sam, starting with his hands. He has dried blood around his nail beds, so Dean carefully scrubs each finger before flipping Sam’s hands over and washing his palms. He works his way up Sam’s arms to his shoulders, then washes Sam’s armpits, which makes him squirm and laugh quietly.
“Yeah, well, guys who are ticklish can wash themselves or deal with it,” Dean says, but Sam doesn’t try to take the washcloth away. Sam is quiet and pliable, allowing Dean to move him and reposition however he wants. He gently dabs at Sam’s bruised cheek, his split lip, the cut over the bridge of his nose, trying to balance getting him clean with not poking the injuries too hard. Dean washes Sam’s chest before taking him by the hips and turning him around. The water sluicing off Sam’s body is tinged brownish-grey, revealing more bruises and scrapes on his newly-clean skin. Dean washes Sam’s back and ass, down the back of his legs. Sam lifts his feet one at a time for a pass of the washcloth. When Dean turns Sam back around, Sam is starting to get hard. Dean washes Sam’s dick and balls exactly like he washed the rest of him, carefully but matter-of-factly.
Once Sam’s body is clean, Dean sets down the washcloth and soap and picks up the shampoo bottle. He pours some shampoo into his hand, sets the bottle back down, and spreads the shampoo between his hands. He slides them into Sam’s hair, keeping Sam’s head tilted slightly back as he washes his hair so no suds get in his eyes, just like when Sam was little. A rush of love so fierce and complete suddenly fills Dean’s chest; he has to close his eyes against it for a moment, just to keep it from spilling out.
“Hey, let’s rinse that out,” he murmurs to Sam, once he has a hold of himself again. Sam lets Dean tip his head farther back and rinse the shampoo from his hair. “There you go. All clean.”
The corner of Sam’s mouth twitches into a smile. He switches places with Dean of his own accord, letting Dean get his own hair wet under the shower spray. Dean doesn’t take as much care washing himself as he did with Sam, focusing on getting the grime out from under his nails and otherwise just rinsing off the sweat and dirt. The water is starting to get cool as he finishes up, so he turns the shower off and grabs a towel. Sam doesn’t look nearly as vacant, but he still allows Dean to towel him off.
“Go get under the covers before you freeze,” Dean tells him. Sam stands there a beat too long, but then he does as Dean says. Once Sam is out of the bathroom, Dean braces a hand against the shower stall, head hanging. It’s all too much, too much, and the idea of leaving the bathroom and having to crawl into a separate bed from Sam feels intolerable. He slowly dries himself off, stalling.
Dean walks back into the room naked, but prepared to just grab clean clothes out of his bag if need be. Instead, he finds both his duffel and Sam’s on the bed nearest the door, and Sam in the other bed, scooted towards the wall so there’s room for Dean. The covers are even folded back, inviting him in. Dean knows the look on his face must be stupidly grateful.
“I wasn’t sure,” Dean says. “I didn’t know what you’d want.”
“Don’t be stupid,” Sam says.
“You don’t have to. I know it’s not the same as it was. It’s different without—” Dean flinches. He can’t even say her name aloud yet. Sam narrows his eyes. Dean’s heart jumps just to see a real expression on Sam’s face.
“Us and Jess were us and Jess. You and me are you and me,” Sam says. “And it’s always you and me, whatever else.”
“Get in the bed, Dean.”
Dean slides into the bed, which is already warm from Sam’s body heat. He leans to switch off the lamp. The window has blackout curtains, so even though it’s late morning, the room is dark and quiet. He quickly finds his legs tangled with Sam’s, his brother’s hot mouth on his, kissing and biting bordering on savage. They’d both been more careful with Jess, gentler and slower, but with just the two of them, that falls by the wayside. Even banged up like they are, they don’t know how to keep it slow and easy between them.
“Dean,” Sam says, rolling on top of Dean and burying his face in the crook of Dean’s neck, mouthing and biting. The thrill of Sam’s teeth in Dean’s skin makes Dean’s dick jump, trapped between his body and Sam’s. He grinds his hips upwards while his hands plunge into Sam’s damp hair, urging him to bite harder. He feels more awake and alive with each sharp, sweet spike of pain.
“Sam, Sammy,” Dean says, as Sam keeps biting down Dean’s chest. He tugs on Sam’s hair, not to stop him, but just because he can. After hours of dull, vacant silence, all he wants is to touch Sam, to be touched by him, to reassure themselves they’re both alive, they’re both still here.
“Dean,” Sam repeats. He bites one of Dean’s nipples, making him arch up off the bed, then soothes it with his tongue. “God. Dean.”
“Yeah, yeah, I’m here, Sammy, I’m here,” Dean hears himself saying. “I’m not leaving. I’m not going anywhere.” His dick drags along Sam’s thigh. He could die like this. Without this, he could die. Both are true.
Sam licks and kisses across Dean’s sternum and down his stomach, biting at Dean’s navel. The cut on his lip reopened at some point, leaving behind tiny red smears as Sam goes. Dean hooks his ankle around the back of Sam’s leg, his heel digging into the meat of Sam’s thigh as he slides down Dean’s body. Finally, Sam’s mouth is on Dean’s dick, taking it in deep. Dean’s fingers flex and pull in Sam’s hair as Sam swirls his tongue and sucks.
“Shit, Sammy. Goddamn.”
Sam nods a little as he keeps sucking and licking. Dean didn’t think he could get close to coming that quick, but Sam knows his body and his body knows Sam, and within a few minutes, he’s ready to pop off like a bottle rocket. He pulls on Sam’s hair.
“Sam. Sammy. C’mon, c’mere.”
Sam huffs once against Dean’s dick before sliding back up Dean’s body to kiss him, lips still blood-tinged. Their dicks slide against one another, wet from Sam’s saliva. Dean presses as much of his skin to Sam’s as he can, touching from his toes up to his forehead, pressed to Sam’s as they grind against each other. Dean wants to do a thousand things, take Sam every way possible, to reassure himself, to reassure them both, that they still have this, have each other. He couldn’t pull away from Sam if he tried, though, so they rub against each other, sweat-slick and frantic. Sam bites Dean’s throat hard enough that when they kiss again, Dean tastes the faintest tang of his own blood. He wants that, Sam’s teeth marks on him. He wants scars of Sam’s making.
“Dean,” Sam says into the skin of Dean’s neck. “Don’t you leave me, don’t you fucking leave me.”
“I wouldn’t, Sammy, I swear,” Dean promises. “Nothing could make me leave you, not ever.”
“Anything else. I can handle anything else,” Sam pants.
“You don’t have to. Not going anywhere, Sammy,” Dean says.
Sam’s quick, hot breaths hit Dean’s throat. “I thought, I thought—”
“Shh. Shh, Sammy, it’s okay,” Dean says.
“I thought he was gonna kill you,” Sam says. “Dean, I thought—”
“But he didn’t. I’m here, it’s okay.”
“I would’ve killed him. I should’ve.”
“Shh, Sam. Don’t, don’t.”
“Shh, Sammy. C’mon, it’s okay.”
Sam lets out a harsh, broken cry as he comes against Dean’s hip. The heat of it, the smell of it, the feel of Sam against him, the sharp sting of his teeth – Dean shouts his brother’s name as he comes, too, spilling between them. They crumple together, sweaty and sticky, entwined and entangled. Everywhere they can touch, they do. Feet pressed together, fingers laced together, Sam still mouthing softly at Dean’s throat.
“I want this forever,” Sam whispers against the sensitive skin of Dean’s neck. Dean carefully brushes his thumb over the edges of the bruise on Sam’s face.
“Me, too,” Dean says. It’s the truest truth. There’s nothing he has wanted more, nothing he ever will. All they have is each other. Maybe that’s all they ever really had. Maybe it’s all they need.
“I’m sorry about Dad,” Sam says.
“Me, too,” Dean says. “I’m sorry about Jess.”
“You need to talk about it?”
Sam shakes his head. “Not yet. Later, maybe.”
“Yeah, later’s good,” Dean says. “Get some sleep?”
“Yeah,” Sam says.
They lie quietly in the dark for a while, though Dean can feel from the way Sam holds his body that he isn’t dropping off to sleep yet. He nuzzles his face against Dean’s throat a few times, and they shift, repositioning themselves until they fit together perfectly, two halves of a whole. Sam sighs softly, his weight pressing Dean down into the mattress.
“Whatcha thinking, Sammy?” Dean asks.
“What do we do tomorrow?”
“I don’t know, man,” Dean says. “I guess we’ll figure it out. We’ll call Bobby, maybe.”
“The demon’s dead.”
“Yeah, it is.”
“We don’t have to keep hunting,” Sam says. “Not if we don’t want to.”
“Yeah,” Dean agrees. “Do you want to?”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t gotta know today, Sammy,” Dean assures him. “Like I said, we’ll figure it out.”
“What do you want?” Sam asks.
“I just want to be with you,” Dean says. He feels himself blush a little at the confession, but it’s true, and if he can’t say it now, after everything, then what was the fucking point of any of it? “That’s the only thing that really matters to me. Everything else is sprinkles, Sammy. It’s just the shit that goes on top.”
“Okay,” Sam says. “Yeah, that’s good.”
Slowly, slowly, one heartbeat at a time, Dean falls asleep, Sam breathing against his neck.
“Let’s drive up into the mountains,” Sam says, looking out at the Rockies.
“Any particular reason why?” Dean asks.
“I want to see snow.”
Dean smiles. Sammy always loved the snow. “Yeah. Sounds like as good a plan as any.”
The questions can come later. The answers can come later, too. The guilt, the grief, the shame, the regret – everything else can come later. For now, they are whole and alive, with nothing but this car and each other. It was always going to come down to that, in the end: Dean choosing Sam, Sam choosing Dean. For now, though, they have mountains and snow. They have today and tomorrow.
It’s more than enough.