Contains: Spoilers through 8.09
Summary: Sometimes the problem, Sam thinks, is that there are no rulebooks about how to be your brother’s ex.
A/N: Written for spn_j2_xmas. Many thanks to the organisers and much love to the wonderful applegeuse for the beta. ♥
♥ Podfic by lavishsqualor ♥
ash48, I think you're totally awesome, and I'm really happy I could make you a gift. I tried to interpret your prompt about Dean saving Sam in terms of where they are in current canon, and I hope this works for you. Have a lovely holiday season! ♥
a history of violence
A week after Sam returns from seeing Amelia, they’re driving through Utah. Sam’s mentally mapping their progress on the highway, ink-black lines on an imaginary page in his head, because there’s nothing else to do other than listen to Dean’s music. He has a book in the back seat but it’s warm and he’s too drowsy to read, the side of his head against the half-lowered window glass, his hair a curtain over half of his face.
Sometimes the problem, Sam thinks, is that there are no rulebooks about how to be your brother’s ex.
Fact is, they’ve broken up and gotten back together far more times than can be considered healthy. Neither of them really has a choice, because you can’t break up with your brother. You can’t cut yourself off from not only the only family you have, but also the only person on the planet who’s actually forced to love you whether he likes it or not. Sometimes, Sam likes to pretend that they aren’t related, that Dean always comes back to him because he wants to.
Let me, Sam thinks of saying. He thinks of leaning in, close to Dean, until there’s barely any air between their faces.
No, Dean might say, his hand flat on Sam’s chest, right over his heart, pushing him away. No. We are not doing that shit again, you hear me?
Sam would be hurt but it would be okay because Dean would have this wrecked look on his face, just at the thought that Sam wanted to kiss him. He thinks about what Dean might taste like now, wonders if he’d be able to taste Purgatory on his brother’s lips. If he might be able to shatter Dean just a little. There’s no getting a reaction from Dean these days, not the kind that Sam wants. When they fight, Dean doesn’t even raise his voice.
Dean pulls up outside a motel, and Sam gets out of the car while the engine’s still running. He doesn’t wait to see the expression on Dean’s face. He knows Dean’s leaving, if only for a little while, because neither of them can stand being with the other right now. He still gets a room with two queens out of force of habit.
By the time he gets back with the keys to the room the Impala is gone, Sam’s bags lying in a little heap by the side of the road.
Lying on his back, he stares up at the ceiling and thinks of a story he read long ago in which the canopy of a bed descends during the night, suffocating the guest so the hotel manager can steal his belongings. The idea of being asphyxiated by the bed is oddly erotic but he does nothing about it, letting his vague arousal twitch under his skin.
He doesn’t actually have a reason to stay at the motel, but he knows better than to wander off. He also knows better than to go looking for Dean, who never, ever leaves a trail when he doesn’t want to be found.
He’s just wondering if maybe Dean does want to be found this time when Dean comes in. He’s never needed keys.
Dean doesn’t smell of alcohol. Sam props himself up on his elbows and asks, ‘What’d you do?’
Dean shrugs one-shouldered, standing two feet away from Sam’s bed. ‘Drove.’ He tosses his jacket on to the back of a chair. The cuffs of his button-down shirt are rolled up twice, baring his wrists, and Sam’s never wanted more to put his lips there.
‘What made you drive back?’
Dean gives him a look that says he thinks Sam’s stupid. It’s not often Sam gets that look. ‘I’m gonna shower,’ he says. Sam might have thought he’s had sex, stopped by a bar somewhere and found some anonymous person to fuck in the washroom or the back alley (or in the Impala, and that thought sends a stifled rush of disgusted nostalgia though Sam) but Dean doesn’t smell of sex.
He rolls over and buries his face in the pillow, intending to be asleep when Dean gets out of the shower. He’s always slept better knowing Dean is in the room, even when they’re fighting. Something about having each other’s backs, maybe. Instead of falling asleep, he finds himself turning over to face the bathroom door. He hears the water come on, and thinks of it falling on Dean’s skin like rain, wetting his hair until it looks as dark as Sam’s. He hears a thud—too light to be Dean falling—and a muted curse from Dean. Probably the soap.
The water shuts off and Dean comes out a couple minutes later in his boxers and t-shirt, rubbing a towel into his hair. Sam’s fingers itch with memory. He knows the feel of Dean’s hair when it’s still damp, the short strands looser and softer than when they’re completely dry.
Dean knows he’s awake. Sam watches as he gets into bed, kicking the blankets away and settling on his front, his face turned away from Sam. ‘Get the lights, would you?’ Dean’s voice is muffled by the pillow.
Sam slaps a hand against the switch beside his bed, plunging the room into semi-darkness. There’s a thin streak of light from a crack in the curtains at the window. ‘Did you fuck him?’ he says into the air above his mouth. It’s quiet and cold, and he can’t hear Dean breathing.
Dean turns over until he’s lying on his back, mirroring Sam’s position. ‘I’ll tell you when you’ve earned the right to ask me that.’
Sam lets out a laugh, a single-syllabled sound. ‘I’ll take that as a yes.’ Envy curls in his mouth like the aftertaste of bad diner food. He turns his head on the pillow, facing away from Dean. It isn’t enough and his body follows, his arms folding themselves across his chest like they can stop his heart from falling right out.
He’s never had a conscience when it comes to Dean. He’s taken what he wants, been given what he wants without having to ask. He realizes too late that he should have answered Dean with a question, because Dean’s always responded to his questions.
Sometimes Sam thinks that Dean’s gone. Such as now, after Benny’s gone bad (and Sam hasn’t even said ‘I told you so,’ not in so many words).
Dean isn’t really gone, not like Purgatory-gone, but Sam feels his absence all the same. It’s odd to feel that someone’s gone when they’re sitting right in front of you, eating greasy fries with relish and never putting on an ounce of weight, but Dean left something of himself behind in Purgatory, and Sam doesn’t know how to get it back.
He can’t really talk about seeing Amelia, a forced trip that Dean seems to think Sam should be grateful that Dean sent him on. ‘You needed closure,’ he says, waving a dismissive hand, refusing to talk about it, leaving Sam to stare out of the passenger-side window at the landscape rushing past.
I didn’t get any fucking closure, Sam wants to say, but the words that will make Dean understand are far out of his reach, the tidiness of mind he’d had at Stanford all but lost to him now. Back then, he’d visualized a life in which he’d maybe stay in academia, teach law rather than practise it, his days filled with Jess and books and reading and thinking and maybe a dog. He hadn’t thought of the things he’d done in the back seat of the Impala with Dean. Hadn’t encrusted the window frames with rock salt. Hadn’t missed his former life on the road, stuck in the back seat with a book while his only surviving family bickered in the front seat about which cassette to shove into the tape deck. It had never been about the music, and Sam was the only one who’d figured it out.
He remembers being twelve and confined to the back of the car. He’d sit in the middle of the seat, imagining that the equilibrium of the car would be better if he sat between his father and brother. He’d keep his gaze fixed on the road outside because the sight of his father’s fingers clenched tight over the steering wheel frightened him. He’d shift surreptitiously to one of the windows, playing that game where he’d take out his notebook and write down the numbers on the license plates of cars that they passed, for no reason other than that he could. Outside the window, the colors would follow them everywhere: the yellows of road signs giving way to the burnt sienna of leaves about to fall, the green of manicured suburban lawns surrendering to the driedupness of shrubs, wind-blown and thorny, along the road. Everything blurred by the rain that splashed across the glass. He’d count the streaks the rain made through the condensation layered on the outside of the window, his fingertip squeaking against the glass as he traced each tiny rain-path. Counting helped to keep things familiar, as though they weren’t running away, as though numbers could replace words, make sense of the world again, make the view outside recognizable instead of being a strange new landscape threatened by darkness, by the purple clouds that rumbled across the sky.
Dean keeps driving, and Sam goes along for the ride. The day before Christmas Eve, they clear out a nest of vampires outside San Antonio. Afterwards, Sam drinks three glasses of rum and coke in a bar and tries out his Spanish on the bartender. He’s not drunk, just buzzed enough to let the thrill of victory simmer in his veins and say the first clichéd, ungrammatical things that come to his mind.
Dean’s not there. Sam feels his absence like there’s a ghost sitting next to him on a bar stool, warm imaginary breath against his ear, a voice calling him Sammy and a hand squeezing his thigh.
He loses his way twice when he walks back to the motel, the Santana song that was playing in the bar echoing in his head. He turns his collar up against the sleet and lets his instincts guide him, like some fucking homing pigeon who can always find his way back to his brother.
Dean’s not there when Sam gets back to the room, but the Impala is parked outside and Dean’s unopened bag is lying on a chair. Sam falls into one of the beds, still dressed, a chorus of where are you where are you where drowning out the other sleepy voices in his head.
It’s the day before Christmas. The world hasn’t ended; not that there’s ever a day off in this business, but Sam had sort of liked the idea of an ordinary, low-key apocalypse putting an end to the epic shit that’s his life and Dean’s. Except it probably wouldn’t have worked, Dean and him bickering their way through whatever version of Heaven they found themselves sharing.
He wakes slow, letting himself become aware bit by bit of the unusual chill in the room, the sound of the old cranky heater like a whisper in the still air. Dean must have turned it on sometime during the night. Sam turns his head on the pillow, finds himself facing the bathroom door. It takes a full minute’s effort to turn the other way, see Dean’s tousled hair above the blankets pulled over his face.
‘This isn’t working,’ Sam says, because one of them has to say it.
Dean looks up from his burger. ‘You giving me the break-up talk again?’
Sam stares at him. ‘You’re serious about this, aren’t you? You’re serious about not taking this seriously.’
‘What d’you want me to say, huh? I know this isn’t working. But I’m not the one who throws in the towel when things go bad, am I?’
It stings. It’s meant to sting, and it’s true. Sam’s always been the one to run away, and maybe one day he’ll do it again and he won’t be able to stop himself any more than Wile E. can stop himself from crashing into a painted hole in the wall.
Sam looks around aimlessly, not really looking at anything. Behind Dean, in the next booth, a woman is trying to get a small child—bundled up so thoroughly in winter wear that Sam can’t even tell if it’s a boy or a girl—to eat some fries. Threadbare lights trail limply over the window, half the blinking bulbs cracked or missing.
‘Once, just fucking once,’ Sam says, ‘I wish we could have normal-people problems.’ Bills to pay. Dogs to be vaccinated. Retirement accounts to be opened.
‘I’d have thought you had your fair share of normal for a whole year. Or wasn’t that enough?’ Dean slurps at his soda, deliberately noisy because he knows it annoys Sam. He’s mastered the art of eating obnoxiously, riling Sam in a way that no one else can.
Sam scrubs a hand over his face. ‘Dean, I’m serious.’
Dean gets up and throws down some cash on the table, his burger half-eaten. ‘You coming, or what?’
Sam gets up and follows, half-afraid that he’s going to find his bags on the sidewalk again, but the Impala’s waiting, engine idling, Dean’s fingers tapping the steering wheel to some unheard beat. He’s roadrunner-bright in the sun, his hair gold. He’ll outsmart Sam every time, and Sam will allow it because this is how it’s going to be. Dean won’t let him go, and Sam’s too much of a coward to start fighting again, knowing he won’t win.
Or maybe he will. Maybe he’ll insist on getting out of the car at the next town, hitch his bag over his back and find a bus station, knowing all the while that Dean will follow. Maybe he’ll even get into the spirit of the season, find a sprig of mistletoe to drag Dean under, let himself imagine that a single kiss can unravel the tangled knots of an entire year, a whole lifetime.
This is how Dean will save Sam, imprison him in their history and never let him go, both of them driving and driving, itinerant even when the space between them is filled with silence, never ever running out of road.