one, two, three, four,
five, six, seven, eight, nine, nine, nine, nine…
By the time the Impala’s carved a path out of New York, the sun’s setting. Dean’s not really leaning on the accelerator. There are problems up ahead, yeah, and they’re big ones—but everything urgent in him sits in the sleeping hulk of his brother, silent and slumped on the other side of the bench. Everything else just pales in comparison.
Pennsylvania’s blurring into Ohio and Ezekiel hasn’t said a word, not since they got into the car. Sam just looks like he’s sleeping, curled up with his forehead against the window, and he’s never going to be small again but sometimes he fakes it pretty well. Dean keeps glancing over. Feels like he’s looking at Sam more than at the road, and hell. Who can blame him. He’d be touching Sam, too, if he thought he could get away with it, but he doesn’t want to wake Sammy up. Or—or Ezekiel, maybe. Whichever. He doesn’t have the radio on, or a tape, and he’s coasting along I-90 at an easy seventy-five, nothing but the sound of the engine and the highway wind. It’d be peaceful, if he weren’t sick to his stomach.
His face still hurts, a little, under the new whole skin. Ezekiel healed him, the tiniest glow of white-fire magic so that Sam wouldn’t suspect anything. Dean wasn’t hurt in the church, after all. Not like Sam was. Dean tightens his hands on the steering wheel. Wouldn’t do to have Sam suspect, Ezekiel had said, and Dean had gone along because—because, Christ, what the hell else can he do.
He’s going to have nightmares about that church. About Sam’s too-skinny face, the hollows under his shocked-open eyes. The blood slipping dark to the rotting sacred floorboards and Sam empty-handed, looking at Dean like—isn’t it obvious? Glowing on the inside while he peeled himself open, bloody wet and mutilated, gleaming white-gold lighting up the tears streaking down. And then—even after, after Dean kissed him careful, wrapped up his split palm and brought him in close. After the fall, after he dragged a half-comatose Crowley out and shoved him into the damn trunk. That drive, with Sam shuddering fly-stung in pain, moaning, collapsed over and into himself like just being alive hurt, and nothing Dean could do—that was a nightmare, all on its own. He tried holding onto Sam’s hand, just so Sammy could maybe ground himself, but Sam flinched, said stop, stop it hurts with his voice cracked right down the middle. Nothing for it but to put the pedal to the floorboard and drive with the sour taste of Sam’s looming death lingering at the back of his tongue, ignoring the horrific lightshow all around and hoping a hospital could provide some kind of miracle, if heaven couldn’t.
A semi passes by and he glances down. Accidentally let the speed drop to sixty. If Sam were awake he’d be getting no end of crap for it. He drags a hand down his face and tries to focus. The sun’s really down, now, and they’ll be coming up on Cleveland soon. They’re headed back west, back toward the bunker, but he’s not really driving with anywhere in mind. He tries to think when he slept last and it’s kind of a blur, but he doesn’t want to stop. Can’t imagine sleeping before Sam wakes up. Can’t chance that this, Sam up and living, could be a dream.
All he wants is Sam. He chances a look over and Sam’s still sleeping, his face healed-up and soft in the passing headlights, even if he still looks wrung-out. Nearly hurts, to look at him, and Dean refocuses on the road, dashed yellow line skimming past and disappearing under the dark hulk of the car. So familiar, and not enough to distract him. He just doesn’t—he doesn’t understand how it got so wrong. The year’s been rough, no doubt about it. He knows that some things got said that maybe shouldn’t’ve, and that’s on him. It was just… hard, when he got back. Hard to talk, hard even to touch without flinching, and there were all those nights of not sleeping, of turning to fighting because it was easier, and it turns out it was doing something to Sam.
He forgot. For all Sam surges ahead, does whatever he wants, for all that Dean’s been on his back for the kid for over fifteen years now, for what feels like his whole life, sometimes Sammy’s nothing more than his little brother. Picks up shit Dean never meant to say and holds it close, tucked under his big heart, long past when Dean’s forgotten whatever fight they had that prompted it. Stores up words and uses them like knives, to cut himself to ribbons. Like it’s ever been what Dean says that matters.
He remembers, though. He made Sam a promise, in the church, but Sam made him a promise, too. All the way back, months ago. That first trial. Sam promised that they’d make it to the end, together, and Dean—well, he bought in. Deep down inside, he believed Sam. Believed that no matter what kind of day it came to when they finally had to cash in their chips, they’d be doing it together. It’s been hard, these last months, no doubt about it. Hard on Sam, and hard on Dean, too, but—he remembers that night, in the girl’s room at that stupid ranch. No matter how freaked and worried he’d been, there was Sam’s big hand wrapped around the back of his neck, conviction lighting him up, his thumb dragging over Dean’s jaw, making Dean meet his eyes. There’s light at the end of the tunnel, he’d said, half a smile on his face, a dimple curving into his cheek. Dean can remember it like it was yesterday, and he’d believed it. If only he’d been able to convince Sam that his belief was true.
Sign says Cleveland’s coming up in forty miles and he shifts in his seat, dry-eyed and aching. He’s still nauseous over the choice he made. About the light that’s lurking, wrapped around his little brother’s soul. He’s going to have to lie to Sam, for who knows how long, and that guilt’s already sitting heavy in his chest. Well, it can take a number. They made each other promises. To be together. Hell came long ago and Dean feels like he’s about to drown in the high water, but that doesn’t matter. No matter what, he’s going to look after Sam. Going to do his damn job. Keep his promise. Maybe the light at the end of the tunnel’s going to turn out to be hellfire, but they’re still going to get there, side by side. One way or another.