Recall the deeds as if
someone else’s atrocious stories.
Now, you stand reborn before us all—
so glad to see you well, but—
Once Dean gets the car fixed up again they take off, Bobby waving but seeming glad enough to see them go. Sam’s still not entirely sure how it went down between Bobby and—what even to call it. Himself? His other half? He knows what Dean would say, but Dean’s got a very particular point of view on the whole thing. Sam knows the bare facts, some of the highlights (also known as some of his lowest points—and he raised the devil, he knows from low points), but the details remain a mystery.
“How’s that motel outside Peoria sound? The one with the clown motif?” Dean says, clearly trying to tamp down a grin.
“You’re a terrible person,” Sam says, slouching back in his seat, and Dean’s smile blooms wide, unshadowed. He checks the rearview and changes lanes, doesn’t look over at Sam, but that’s all right. Sam’s doing more than his share of watching Dean. He doesn’t think Dean minds.
Dean doesn’t want him thinking about it. He gets why, though he’s not going to give in. When Dean came back from hell—Sam wishes, more than anything, that Dean couldn’t remember a thing. Even now, there are shadows behind Dean’s eyes when he wakes up, some mornings. Some things that won’t ever go away. He knows that not being able to remember his own stretch downstairs is a blessing—but that’s not all he’s been made to forget, and there’s a difference.
They do stop outside Peoria, at an utterly unbranded forgettable family-run place, with clean beds and not a clown to be seen. Sam trawls the internet for news of the weird while Dean goes out and grabs them dinner, and then they eat surprisingly decent tacos on their separate queen beds, watching VH1 reruns of I Love the ‘70s, arguing over the top of it about whether Bo Derek was hotter in 10 or Tarzan, and Dean's—happy. “You’re like a child,” he says, when Sam says he never thought Linda Carter was hot, either, “who wanders into a—an argument over great asses, and wants to know—”
Sam chucks a balled-up taco wrapper at his face, and Dean shuts up, grinning at the TV.
He wakes up breathing hard, panic surging tight in his chest. The room’s dark. “What—” Dean’s saying from the other bed, sleep-drunk, mumbling, “Sammy, you—what, you okay?”
He can’t answer. He breathes open-mouthed against the pillow, bitter-bile at the back of his tongue when he forces himself to swallow. There’s a creak of springs from the other mattress as Dean moves and Sam passes a hand over his face, holds onto the weird flicker of memory, already slipping away. Fucking some anonymous blonde girl, hard, her hips so little and flinching under his hands—and he’d killed something, or someone? He was burning off energy. His stomach roils, now, and he sits up, shoving the blanket down to his hips and breathing in through his nose, out through his mouth. The room’s still dark, though now that his eyes are open he can see the motel sign’s neon striping through the blinds, little blinking shutters of dim blue that cut through the dark. Dean staggers up out of his bed and crosses the step between them, sinks down to sit on the edge of Sam’s, and Sam can’t see his face, it’s too dark for that, but he can see the outline of him, his weight sunk onto one arm, his bare pale thigh hitched up onto the mattress.
He doesn’t say anything, doesn’t ask, and after a few seconds Sam says, “Did I hurt you,” not whispering but not loud, either. Dean sucks in a breath, but before he can respond Sam says, “Not—not the vampire thing. I know that. I mean—“
“I know what you mean,” Dean says, and he sounds a lot more awake. “The answer’s no, Sam. No.”
Sam’s glad, for once, that he can’t see his face. He thinks that’s the truth, or maybe it’s more right to say that it’s what Dean thinks is the truth. He can usually tell when Dean’s hiding something. It’s not making him feel better, though. He closes his eyes, settles into the darker dark behind them, scrapes a hand through his hair.
Seems like everything he finds out, about that empty year, is just another shovelful of dirt, a pit dug deeper. Dean doesn’t want him looking back, doesn’t want him thinking about it, even, but. On their way to the thing with the dragons in Portland, Dean pulled him close by a gas station’s bathroom and kissed him, desperate and sweet, grasping hands in his hair, and Sam had fallen into it gladly, though it felt like just a day or two since the last time, for him. And then, after, Sam found out what he’d been. They haven’t touched, not really. Not since then.
“Sammy,” Dean says, sounding helpless, “please tell me you’re not pickin’ at the damn thing.”
“Not on purpose,” Sam says. He reaches out a hand toward where he knows Dean is and meets warm cotton t-shirt, and lets his hand slide until he’s got the back of Dean’s neck under his hand, buzz-soft hair under his fingers. Dean’s still, under him, but after a moment a hand comes up to wrap lightly around Sam’s forearm, just holding. Just his skin can be enough. Sam feels drunk on the possession of it, sometimes. All through that last case, that vengeful spirit with the awful mannequins, Dean ignored call after call and Sam knew, he knew, but he didn’t say anything. He can’t feel bad about that, though he wishes that he did. He’s not sure that counts for anything.
“I’m sorry,” he says, after a minute. He doesn’t know if he’ll ever say it enough.
“You got nothing to be sorry for,” Dean says, and he sounds like he means it. Of course he does.
Sam tries to say—he tries, but his breath’s coming shaky, all of a sudden, and out of nowhere everything’s pulled tight and hot behind his eyes, his chest locked up. “Dean—” he manages, but there’s a shiver right through it, and Dean comes closer finally, finally he crawls up awkward onto the bed and shuffles in, and it’s still pitch-dark but it doesn’t matter because Sam can smell him, the sleepy warmth and whiskey of him, can press his face in against his soft cotton-covered chest. He gets his hands at the back of Dean’s thighs and tugs, and Dean lets out a startled grunt but doesn’t fight and then Sam’s got a lapful of brother, hugged in close, heavy and solid and real. Dean’s hands land on his shoulders, one slipping up into the hair at the back of his head, fingers carding through, and—this is unfamiliar, finally, but it feels so good Sam doesn’t want it to stop. He leans his forehead against Dean’s collarbone and breathes.
“Why didn’t you take Lisa’s call,” he says. Maybe it’s cruel, but he needs to hear it.
Dean’s fingers go still, in his hair. The silences stretches long enough that he doesn’t think he’s going to get an answer. “You’re such a chick,” Dean says, finally. Not as jokey as it could be. Sam feels him take a deep breath. “It was never—”
He cuts off. His fingers twine in Sam’s hair, and Sam pulls back, opens his eyes, and in the so-dim flashing light he can nearly see Dean’s face. Dean’s watching him. It’s no kind of answer—except, yeah. Sam knows. That cracked-open absence in the chest is impossible to fill. “Here now,” he offers, trying to smile, and Dean puts a palm to the side of his face, tucks his hair behind his ear, holds him in place and looks at him. Sometime soon, Sam’s going to put him on his back in the sunlight, is going to look his fill. He’s going to make a promise, with his whole body, do what he can to make up for—whatever he’s sure he did. For now, he lets Dean look at him, absently petting the low muscles of his back.
“Yeah,” Dean says, finally, long after Sam forgot what he said. There’s a queer note tucked into Dean’s voice. He leans in close and rests his temple against Sam’s, an arm slinging around Sam’s shoulders, not quite a hug. “Yeah, you are.”