“God-fucking-dammit…” It’s out of his mouth before he can stop himself.
Sam’s so startled that he drops the two coffee cups and remains frozen in the motel room door, staring at Dean in a way that makes Dean flinch. Also, Dean can’t look Sam in the eyes.
Not right now. Maybe not ever again.
Because, what the hell?
He’s going crazy, dreaming up things that never happened and sure as hell will never happen. He has made sure of it for years now and he’ll die trying to make sure for the rest of his life.
He looks up at Sam’s voice, sounding scared and helpless in ways it hasn’t in years. Dean wants to curse himself for causing it, wants to get the image of almost going there out of his head so that he can look at his brother properly again.
It takes him longer than he likes and when he does look up at Sam he wishes he hadn’t.
Sam has already thrown away the dropped cups, grabbed some paper towels to soak coffee up from the already hopelessly soiled carpet and is now watching Dean with wary eyes and something that comes close to hope.
Dean raises his eyebrows.
Sam shrugs then and smiles a little sheepishly.
“Just… was surprised to hear your voice. Has been a while.” Sam shrugs again and it’s such a foreign gesture on his brother’s broad shoulders that Dean can’t stop staring. Sammy pressed close to him under the oak tree, tilting his head flashes across his mind and Dean coughs, embarrassed and not really sure what’s happening.
Sam’s there in an instant, on his knees in front of Dean.
“The locket? Does it hurt again?”
Dean shakes his head no, can’t bring his mouth to work. It’s like the words get stuck in his throat. He wants to ask Sam what’s going on, why he’s losing time, dreaming up things that never happened and why Sam doesn’t realize when Dean vanishes into dreamland.
“So back not being able to talk when I’m around,” Sam nods and gets up to sit on the bed across from where Dean’s sitting. It’s a different motel room and Dean wonders how many days it’s been this time.
Some of his confusion must be visible on his face because Sam frowns, narrows his eyes and then just stares. Dean can see the exact moment the light bulb flashes on and hopes he’ll get at least some answers.
“Damn. Okay, well guess you were gone again. I never know when you are, since you can’t say a word about it. It’s the locket. Guess that’s blatantly obvious, as it’s still embedded in your chest and we still have no idea how to get it out,” Sam says matter-of-factly and sounds so damn resigned that Dean wonders what Sam’s going through when Dean’s off reliving a past that never happened.
“Okay, so I’ll tell the story again. Hopefully, this time you are around to hear it. The locket… Let’s just say it’s cursed to fulfill people’s heart’s desires. Only, it wasn’t meant to attach like it did with you. Or not for so long anyway. Guess, it has to dig deep to find your heart’s desire, huh?”
Dean feels himself blush, curses his body for being so damn traitorous and for reacting the way it does. He’s not a blushing virgin, far from it. Right now, he feels more like a sick pervert and would prefer if Sam wasn’t looking at him like he’s a damn lab rat.
“The book I found and some sources say it’s supposed to detach itself during an equinox. Either spring or fall. We’re kinda far from either though, so the other thing makes more sense. When the carrier, in this case you, finds his or her heart’s desire and can go after it the curse is lifted.”
Dean’s still not sure how that’s supposed to work out. There’s nothing he actually wants this bad. Only, every flashback kind of pointed directly at it and he’s this close to throwing his hands up and admitting defeat to his perverted mind. Just to stop this whole craziness.
He doesn’t feel ready yet.
“Also, it forbids the bearer to speak about it or you know, write about it even. That’s why you’ve gone mute the last two weeks,” Sam shrugs again and suddenly Dean knows why he’s doing it. Sam’s hiding how helpless he feels, how little he knows and how much he blames himself for not preventing them from getting into this situation.
Also, two weeks? Seriously?
“As far as I understood it, the curse sends the mind off to another plane. A dream maybe? The body remains behind, functioning. Mute. I never know if you are there or not. Don’t even know if you are there now. Despite being silent, you’re acting the same as always,” Sam says, never looking at Dean fully. Like he’s embarrassed.
It helps Dean with his own issue of not really being able to look Sam in the eye, it also makes him wonder what has been going on during the times he checked out.
The urge to touch is back with a force. Stronger than it was during the latest flashback.
Dean just acts, reaches out and curls his fingers around Sam’s wrist. It’s just a touch, simple and normal.
It sends currents through Dean and has Sam gasp out loud.
This time the darkness is not unexpected.
Tears are running down his face and Dean’s so stunned that the arms around his waist don’t really register, neither does the chin on his shoulder.
“Want me to take over?” Sam’s words in his ear make him shiver.
“The onions, Dean. You’re crying your eyes out and I really don’t want you to cut off your fingers,” Sam laughs and tightens his hold Dean for a second, then lets go and steps back. Dean misses the closeness instantly.
This never happened.
They’ve never been this domestic, in any reality.
His heart’s desire.
Dean almost snorts because there’s no such thing. Not for him and certainly not in a scenario where he’s playing house with Sam.
“Shut up, “Dean shoots back and lets the grin slip free when Sam laughs, loud and carefree. It’s such a novel sound that Dean looks. Stares even and takes it all in.
Sam looks so young but not as young as he did during the last flashback. Dean reels a little trying to figure out at which point of their lives this is happening and how this fits into the scheme of things.
“Alright, cry your eyes out Dean. When you lose a finger, don’t come to me though.”
“You’re a cruel man, Sam Winchester.”
The banter feels natural, like he just has to say the things he says, like they’ve been doing it for years instead of just a few minutes. Dean sniffles and tries to look through his tears down at the cutting board. It’s like the onions are mocking him.
Then he’s hip checked out of the way and laughs when Sam makes short process with the half cut onions. There’s a pan on the stove and eggs in a bowl, already liquefied. So, breakfast as it seems. Bacon’s out as well.
“Go, wash your eyes out,” Sam says with another laugh and then goes back to making breakfast.
Dean wanders off; through an apartment he doesn’t know, a hallway he isn’t familiar with and looks around. It feels right to be here but then this apparently is his version of a heart’s desire and the locket is showing him what he wants.
Only, this really can’t be it.
Dean’s never really wanted a ‘normal’ life. He’s seen it in the Djinn’s version and it wasn’t his way.
He’s tried with Lisa and failed spectacularly. So yeah, not what he wants. He shuts up the voice that says it’s more about Sam than the way of life, because he’s not thinking about that.
The apartment isn’t huge, two bedrooms, a kitchen, a bath with a bathtub and Dean grins, because he knows who chose this one. The bed in the master bedroom looks comfy, big and Dean just knows he had say in this.
It’s perfectly clear that this is his and Sam’s apartment. Just the second bedroom being study kinda comes a shock.
There are pictures on the wall in the hallway and Dean stops to look at them when he comes out of the bathroom. He recognizes Jess instantly, but Sam and her don’t look a couple in this one, more like best friends.
Dean’s chest tightens; an ache that has been there, in the background, for years is slowly making its way to the forefront. Dean doesn’t like that at all. He’s good at burying things, denial is something he can really live with. His mind showing him things in such unsubtle ways makes him feel sick.
He looks at more pictures, of himself and Sam, the Impala and Dad. Hunting trips as it seems, nature and fishing. One more of Dad leaning against his truck and that’s how Dean knows this isn’t real. Dad would have never allowed it, would have skinned Dean alive if he ever knew that Dean looked wrong at his little brother just once in his life.
An exorcism is more likely to happen than Dad ever accepting his sons living together with just one bedroom between them.
“Heard anything from Dad?” Sam’s there suddenly, beside him and looking at the same photo Dean has been staring at for a while now. He has a feeling when this is and it doesn’t bode well for their lives together. He’s not sure but the way Sam looks at him the dreams about the fire are already happening.
“No.” And it’s the truth, because Dean hasn’t.
Sam nods then, pulls himself up to his full height and Dean knows what’s going to happen now, here in this bright hallway full of pastel colors and photos that were never taken.
“It’s hunting time then, I guess.”
“What about your interview?” Dean feels like it’s the right thing to say, remembers this about Sam when he came and got him, pulled him away from Stanford and the life he’d so desperately been seeking.
Sam pulls him close then, closer than they’ve ever been before with both of them conscious. He wraps his arms around Dean’s waist and just looks at him for a second.
“Just ‘cause Dad doesn’t know I’m still in the loop doesn’t mean I don’t want to find him. I know he’s mad at me for pulling you away but he’s Dad. We know where he was last, you got the voicemail, his journal. We can go and look for him. It’s not that far and I can be back here by Monday.”
Sam’s lips are soft against his and Dean gasps. Sam is kissing him and it’s the one thing Dean never thought would happen, never wanted it to happen and had still been dreaming about for years. He has to give it to his mind, coming up with such clarity and making it feel real is a masterpiece
Also having the fallout between Dad and Sam still be real and Dad not knowing, well it makes Dean cringe inwardly and pull Sam closer at the same time. If this is the only time he’s only ever getting to do this he’ll enjoy it. Come hell or purgatory… again.
“We’re going on a hunting trip then?” Sam says against his lips and Dean has to smile. It tickles, the vibrations of Sam’s words feel strange on his skin and so very real at the same time.
“Seems like it. And on Halloween even.”
“Go figure.” Sam grins, dips down and pulls Dean into a deeper kiss, faster this time but still held back and almost chaste.
Dean wonders when he became one for chick flick moments, not even thinking about mocking them.
The sun’s hot against his skin when he wakes up.
His lips are tingling and he smiles at the feeling of lips against his. Then his head bumps against the window when the car takes a pothole too fast and Dean wants to curse out loud. His tongue sticks against his teeth all over again and he’s not where he was a second ago. He doesn’t want to open his eyes, doesn’t want to face this reality because he felt good where he’d been. Too good even.
Dean felt content, happy even and his actual life has been so far from any of those feelings lately that he starts to wish those hallucinations to be real.
The sound of the engine, the movement of the car, the sun on his skin, all of it is making it clear that he’s not where he wants to be. Opening his eyes, means facing the fact that he’s so far out of his depth that he’s not sure what’s real anymore.
Sam’s there, next to him, driving his car. And Dean just can’t bring himself to open is eyes or look at Sam.
“You know, I have no idea how often we’ve driven down this road. Must have been a hundred times at least.” Sam’s voice is shot to hell, deep and scratchy. Like he’s been screaming or crying or talking for way too long.
Dean doesn’t jump at the sound of it, though, remains silent and still. But then he doesn’t think he can move at all, feels sluggish, limps heavy like lead. It’s weird how he knows he’s back in reality but can’t seem to be able to act in it.
Reality feels unreal. It’s kind of ironic
“I know nothing’s there anymore. But… I don’t really know where else to go. You know, maybe some of Bobby’s things are still around.”
The rustling of fabric indicates that Sam’s shrugging. He sounds bland now, void of all emotion, as if he doesn’t have any left. Dean’s scared suddenly, not for himself but for Sam. Sam sounding this way never means anything good.
“I just… just wish you’d come back, you know. I know you are there, in like one time out of ten. I know, but then I never really know. Do you know there’s an eclipse tonight? Moon eclipse even. Still too far from fall equinox though, so guess it won’t work anyway. Didn’t work the last time. Been talking to some people…,” there’s a choked of sound and Dean just knows, knows Sam’s clutching the steering wheel too hard and tries to swallow whatever emotion that suddenly crept up on him.
Dean wants to see him now.
So he opens his eyes.
Sam looks bad. Really bad.
Cheeks hollow and the bags under his eyes are black. His skin looks pale, mouth drawn into a taut line and eyes narrowed so much that Dean isn’t able to see his pupils at all. Sam’s hair is even longer, missing a cut altogether and maybe even a few washes.
The white t-shirt is hanging loosely on his frame and Dean can’t remember the last time Sam looked this gangly or haggard. It sends a current of shock and fear and anger through. Anger because how can Sam let this happen, anger at how he’s not there to take care of Sam. Fear of what will have happened to Sam the next time Dean wakes up.
“They said I should think about… about the future. Can’t drive you through the country and hunt when you aren’t even there anymore. Doc’s say it’s catatonia. Comes close, I think. Don’t know how often I’ve told you that.”
Sam’s lips move and Dean hears the words but it’s like Sam’s talking to a ghost. Not once does he glance at Dean or reach out to touch. It’s like Sam can’t stand the sight, the way Dean is. There’s pain etched into Sam’s features, so much of it that Dean thinks this time Sam’s broken for real.
“Don’t wanna park you in some sanatorium. Never. Just, I need to find a place to settle down, keep you safe and I don’t really know how to do this, with the things still going on around us.”
Sam rubs a hand through his hair, grimaces, looks down for a second and then just straight ahead. If Dean could see auras, would even believe in them, he’d say Sam’s as black as the night the way he is looking. He can almost taste the sadness, the despair pouring of from his brother and Dean struggles to say something.
Yes, he wants to go back to this peaceful world, where he suddenly has what he’s never allowed himself to want, where he can have it and not rot in hell for it. Yeah, he wants to live a life where he doesn’t have to fear to constantly land in hell or die or lose Sam one more time.
But it all doesn’t really matter if it isn’t real.
“I don’t know how to save you, Dean. I have no clue at all. Months now and still no clue. This thing has dragged you under and you aren’t coming back anymore. I don’t know where you are but I hope it’s worth it. I really do.”
That’s when Sam looks at him, eyes going comically wide and the car swerves off the road, Sam cursing wildly and Dean feels the smirk on his lips.
“Oh my fucking God. Hell, Dean…,” Sam almost shouts and brakes so hard that Dean flinches when his head hits the passenger side window. He feels even more sluggish, can barely move his hand and knows he’s been gone too long this time.
“Sorry... God, sorry,” Sam is rambling, parking the car and moving around, rearranging Dean’s head so that he’s resting against his leather jacket instead of the glass.
Dean blinks, looks directly at Sam and smiles. Hopes his smile is physically there instead of just in his mind but then Sam grins, laughs out loud in relief and hugs him close.
“Knew you were in there somewhere. Please, Dean, stay this time. Please. I need you here with me. I need you. Fuck Dean, please.”
Of course the world goes black just then.
Dean knows the room, hates it with a vengeance and had hoped to never see it again.
Bobby’s panic room holds so many bad memories that Dean can’t figure why he landed here and how he can make anything that happened in it better.
Sam’s on the cot, eyes moving rapidly behind closed lids and Dean knows when this is. Sam’s wall has just been taken down and Dean’s waiting for him to either wake up or go completely. He has been here for days, glaring at everyone trying to come inside, which was only Bobby anyway.
Sam just lies there, broken and looking older than he is.
Dean remembers berating himself for letting all this happen to Sam, for not being there completely. He wondered what he could have done differently, what that one thing was that tipped it all from bad to worse. He never found an answer.
And really, it all comes back to this one word where Sam is concerned.
Tired eyes blink up at him and Dean knows, just knows it’s Sam in there. His Sam.
“Hey, Sammy. You came back.”
It’s a stupid thing to say, really, but Dean can’t help it. Because Sam came back and that’s what counts.
“Couldn’t leave you alone. Never would.” And Sam sounds so sure that it hurts to look at him then. It’s true all over and Sam, with his soul back inside of him, is actually able to say it and to really mean it. Something Dean has never been able to, he always meant it but could never say it out loud.
“Remember the apartment in Stanford?”
Dean blinks, because this is kind out of the blue but he nods anyway, wants to know where this is going.
“I want something like this again. One day. You and me, a place. Just you know, maybe bigger,” Sam smiles slow and careful, like he thinks he might have just crossed a line he shouldn’t have. But he looks so damn earnest and hopeful that Dean just has to smile.
This is all so very surreal, not real but on the same hand feeling like something that could have happened, could have taken place. In another life, based on different decisions, other roads taken.
Sam pulls himself up on elbows and watches Dean, eyes clear and steady.
“Yeah, Sammy.” Dean doesn’t even need to think about it. It’d do it in a heartbeat if he could. But not here, not where it isn’t real. He wants Sam to be there with him and see it all, live it all. In reality.
So when Sam leans close, kisses him slow and gentle, Dean can’t help but wish for it to be real.
The tuck at his chest feels weird, not really painful but not pleasant either. He gasps when the pull gets stronger and he is somehow being forced away from Sam. Then it hurts, when he hits the wall of the panic room and Sam’s screaming at him.
It hurts like hell and Dean can’t move, hands cramped close of his chest, red lines moving along under his skin, red tinting his vision and he chokes on his own breath. It’s hell and some more.
Dean wishes for the darkness to claim him again but nothing happens, only more pain.
His heart beats fast against his ribcage; like it is being pulled along with whatever it is that is tugging so forcefully. In the end it hurts so much that Dean smashes is head against the wall and almost crows triumphantly when he feels the darkness moving in.
He only hopes he’ll wake up in the world where he belongs.
The grass sways gently in the breeze, casting shadows on the dusty driveway. The sun’s about to set and night is slowly moving in. It isn’t cold but not really all that warm either.
Dean’s sitting on the steps of the porch; listens to life settling down for the night, watching the sun vanish on the horizon. It’s peaceful here and maybe a little boring as well. But he can live with it after everything. A little boredom hasn’t killed anyone yet.
The glass that is handed to him over his shoulder is sweating from the ice-cold sweet tea inside and Dean grins.
“Still some left?”
“Some? More like a gallon.”
“Nice to have neighbors that care so much,” Dean says, tone mocking, imitating Sam from this morning when he told Dean the news of a barbeque in their honor to welcome them in the community.
“Fuck off, you like being waited on.”
And Sam’s right about that. Dean loves being lazy from time to time and having neighbors that actually care but aren’t nosy is a nice contrast from everything he has seen in his life so far.
They’ve been for two months now, not really settled down but more or less having created a basis, which they come back to more often than not. It doesn’t feel like home. Not yet. But Dean feels like they’re close to getting that aspect settled soon as well. At least with the way Sam’s been working his ass off to paint, repair and setting up furniture.
Sam’s a little overprotective these days, doesn’t let Dean do anything that means bodily work above a certain level and Dean can’t really blame him. Not when he’s still feeling the after effects of that locket.
He’s been rubbing that spot for a while now when he feels Sam’s hand closing over his, stopping any kind of movement. Dean’s heart skips, his breath hitches a little and he feels Sam’s rapid pulse against his skin.
“No. Not really. Not anymore. It’s just weird.”
Sam nods and Dean feels it more than see it, the way Sam’s resting against his shoulder.
Sam can’t stop touching Dean.
It has been like this ever since Dean came to in the car with Sam shouting at him, crying even and begging. It was a messy scene and it hurt like hell when the locket finally detached itself from Dean’s chest, leaving an ugly burn mark behind and Dean’s heart stopping for a second.
Minor heart attack the doctors had said and ordered Dean to take it easy for a while, to slowly build up his strengths and to not overdo it again. Until this day Dean’s not sure they believed the story about a car battery and Dean not being careful enough.
That one last time Dean woke up was just mere seconds after Sam begged him to stay. That one last time Dean went into that world, went and wished to have it all with Sam in reality was enough to break the curse.
And Sam being there. They aren’t really sure, just know that the research Sam did let him to a gypsy telling him to keep Dean close. Sam is still insisting that it might have been an oracle and every so often mentions the fact that one’s heart’s desire has to be close and available to be reached out for.
Ever since waking up and hugging the hell out of Sam, things have shifted, changed and realigned themselves into something Dean can’t define. The looks Sam sends him, not always caring and checking if he’s okay, but longing, too, as if Sam’s on the same page, always has been.
But Dean has a hard time believing it.
The locket is gone but maybe the curse is still there. Dean doesn’t know and it drives him crazy sometimes. This lack of knowledge, lack of reassurance that things are actually real.
And Sam being a little weird isn’t helping either.
Sometimes Dean thinks Sam was too eager to settle down, find a place and give them both some rest. But then Dean remembers Sam saying all those things in the car when he thought Dean wasn’t there anymore and it makes sense in ways Dean never thought about.
This is Sam. Sammy, who always wanted a life that was closer to normal than to the actual ones they had. But over the years even Sam’s perspective, Sam’s wishes shifted and Dean’s starting to see that maybe, maybe they aren’t so far apart when it comes to this.
He has only vaguely told Sam what went on when he was gone. Never dared to dip deep enough and actually bare his soul. It’s not him, never will be but Dean thinks that one day he might tell Sam all about it. One day, when he can be sure that Sam won’t run and leave him behind when he realizes what Dean actually wished for.
Sam moves closer, tangles their hands together and Dean takes a deep breath. He’s sure one day isn’t today but maybe today is a step closer to it.
Dean blinks into the red sky and takes a minute to find his words.
“Isn’t it the way of life? To change?”
“See? That’s what I mean. Usually, before…” Sam stops and looks at him. Before…. Means before the locket and Dean being a vegetable for some months. Yeah, he knows what Sam means.
“Before, I would have made a sarcastic comment and let you off with a joke. You’d be pissed and would huff for some time before you’d start nagging again.”
Now Sam laughs, deeply. The sound vibrating against Dean’s side where Sam’s pressed close. He chuckles and shakes his head.
“Yeah, maybe I’ve changed. But I’ve been to some places that scared the hell outta me, Sammy.”
“No. That good. I wanted to stay.”
Sam nods, as if he knows, as if he has figured that out a while ago. And knowing Sam, he actually did figure it out a while ago.
“When I knew what the curse was… I hoped. Hoped it wouldn’t take you to places you wanted to stay at. But then, you were gone, here but not really. I was alone all over again even though you were there. Talking, even in the beginning, about the most inane things. But then there was the silence and I feared… I thought, I’d lost you. Again. For good this time.”
Dean gets it, knows where Sam’s coming from but he still isn’t ready to tell it all. He’s not ready to follow the one wish he made in the other reality. The burning ache in his chest intensifies again and Dean rubs the spot, Sam’s hand pressed against his moving along.
“I just… Dean. The oracle was so very clear on the curse. She said it had to be the heart’s desire, fulfilled in dream and being able to be lived in reality. That the heart’s desire had to be close and open to it. I just… I don’t know what brought you back. And I know you don’t want to tell me but if it can be lived here. In reality, maybe…” Sam doesn’t go on, looks sheepish there and maybe a little embarrassed.
It looks strange on him. He’s not 14 anymore and way stronger than he ever was.
Sam looks good now, good again. Healthy, tanned from the work on the house and the food the neighbors keep on bringing them. He’s not sure he wants to hug Sam or hit him for coming up with the story of Dean being sick for a long time and only just recovering. But as far as cover stories go, this one’s a good one.
Covers their absences when on a hunt as well, with Dean needing therapy and all that.
But sitting there on the steps of the porch, close and touching in ways they’d never dared before Dean thinks it’s time to take a step and try if this can survive in reality. Sam seem to sense it somehow and Dean wonders if this thing, this tension between them had been there all along, buried under stronger feelings, anger, resentment, fear and numbness.
Their lives have been nothing but a roller coaster ride and they’ve managed most of it side by side. Dean thinks back to the flashbacks/dreams/hallucinations and realizes that it wasn’t just him and his mind but Sam’s closeness and desperation as well.
Sam’s feelings have been in there. The hope that slowly grows within Dean is not unexpected nor unwelcome, it’s a strange feeling though. And Dean hopes he’s not imagining it all, because that would seriously suck. But maybe, just maybe he isn’t alone in this and this damn locket caught on to it in the end, faster than either Dean or Sam.
Sam breaks the silence once more and Dean smiles because Sam just can’t let things do once he’s focused on them.
“I just… I changed, too. With nothing but the shell of you around and all those thoughts. But… the locket detached and you looked at me… I just, sometimes I feel so hopelessly lost and then you look at me this way and I just want to…,” Sam stops again and doesn’t continue this
Dean leans in, closer to Sam and almost laughs when his brother gets cross-eyed. He hasn’t felt like this in years, no pressure to save the world, no worries about losing Sam to something dark or other, no angels or demons sitting on their shoulders for now. Just them, together, on a path they’ve never taken before.
Dean hopes. Dean hopes for the first time in years that he’s taking the right step.
Sam’s lips are as soft as he remembers them but so much more real here. The surprised gasps and then the moan are what Dean wants to hear, what he has been waiting for. And then they are kissing for real, deep and slow, just testing and tasting.
“Okay?” Dean whispers against full lips.
“So very fucked up but totally okay,” Sam whispers back.
And Dean knows it’s real. It’s them and it’s real.