Author's Note: Here we are at the end... Thank you to everyone who's stuck with me until this point.
Disclaimer: Nothing's mine.
Chapter 9: Home
Dean's first thought is that it was all a dream. Nothing was real. Sam's still in hell. He didn't get hugged and tucked in by his baby brother – right, maybe that part he wants to forget – and the world's still all wrong.
Before he can give in to despair, though, he realizes he has something clutched in his hand. Something small and hard and perfect that he hasn't had for a very long time. He tightens his grip.
Then he hears voices outside.
Voices. Sammy? Sammy willingly talking to another human being in the middle of the night?
His first, traitorous thought is that it's a demon again – it's Ruby again, and Sam's lying to him and sneaking off behind his back when they've not even been together again for twenty-four hours – but then reason catches up with him. Sam was right. They both made mistakes. He'll go a step further and say they're both going to make a lot more mistakes before they're through. But this is one mistake he's sure Sam isn't going to make again.
Dean considers going to the window, but decides against it. He has to trust Sam – he has to, because he's determined that there are some mistakes he's not going to make again, either. He has to trust that if Sam went outside to talk to someone without waking him, there was a reason for it.
Of course, that doesn't mean he's not going to grab a gun and sit on his bed in the dark, all set to hurtle down the stairs and outside if it sounds like Sam's in trouble.
It's not long before the voices stop. A minute later, Dean hears Sam's footsteps on the stairs. They're slower than they should be – his brother is tired, and from the look of the neatly-made bed, he didn't even try to get any sleep.
That's something they are going to have words about.
But first things first. Sam sounds like he needs help. Dean slips out of the room. He's just in time to grab Sam's arm before he can stumble on the top step.
Then Sam's back in the bedroom, and Dean is ignoring his protests and stripping him of his jacket and boots.
"You said I was a grown man!" Sam protests, turning the eyes on him.
"No," Dean says calmly, immune to the even most melting of Sam's puppy-dog looks when his brother's health and safety are involved. "I said you were an overgrown man. I don't remember ever saying that I was going to stop watching out for you. And, yeah, maybe I have to let you make your own decisions about some things, but this isn't one of them." Dean follows that up with a firm look, so Sam will know he's not joking. "I don't care how old you are, Sammy. If you expect me to watch you fall to pieces and do nothing about it... Well, it's not happening, that's all."
"I'm not falling to pieces!"
"Sam." Sam sighs and lets Dean shove him into bed. "What's wrong, Sammy? Nightmares?" Sam's woebegone look is all the answer he needs. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"You looked like you needed to sleep."
Dean knew it would be some self-sacrificing idiocy like that. After all, this is the man who voluntarily threw himself into Lucifer's cage.
He realizes that, while the thought of that still hurts, it isn't the agonizing, all-encompassing pain that it used to be, not now that Sammy's back.
"So now that you're all grown up I'm not allowed to decide whether helping my little brother is more important to me than a few hours' sleep? You can make your own decisions but I can't? Is that it?"
"What? No! I just... I thought... I didn't want you to..." The words are slurring into each other as Sam trails off, looking up at him helplessly. Dean shakes his head in exasperation. He was hoping to save the talking for the morning, but clearly that's not going to work.
Sam sidles obligingly, and Dean sits on the bed with his back to the headboard, legs stretched out in front of him. He's only doing it because it'll be easier to have this talk if he doesn't have to look Sam in the eye, not because he's hoping his presence will soothe Sam enough to let him sleep. Eventually. After Dean's finished talking to him.
"Everything got so messed up, didn't it, Sammy?" Dean asks, staring at his feet. "And you're right: at least some of it was our fault. But we can't let it happen again, and that means no making the same mistakes we did last time. That means I trust you to know what's good for you... sometimes, at least. That means you let me look out for you, because that's my job and I've had a lot of practice and I'm pretty good at it. It means when you're not feeling good, or something's wrong, you tell me about it and let me at least try to fix it. And it means we don't lie to each other or try to hide things anymore. Ever. OK?"
"'Msorry," Sam mumbles.
"I don't want you to be sorry. I just don't want you to do it again." Dean hesitates, then hooks an arm around his baby brother and pulls him up just enough to let him tuck himself into Dean's side, head resting on his shoulder. At Sam's amused look, he scowls and says, "I'm not having a chick-flick moment! I just want a pillow and I don't feel like getting up to get mine, so I might as well take yours."
Fortunately, Sam manages to muffle his snicker in Dean's shirt, so Dean can pretend he hasn't heard it.
Besides, there's still the little matter of the nightmares. Dean isn't sure how to handle that, but since it's Sam, he supposes getting him to talk about it is best.
"You going to tell me what your nightmares are like, Sammy?"
"You don't want to know."
"Yeah, I do."
There's a long pause, and Dean wonders if Sam's fallen asleep. He hasn't, though: his breath is hitching slightly. Dean waits. When Sam finally speaks, he sounds so much like the child he used to be that it almost breaks Dean's heart.
"It's dark," Sammy says at last, speaking more to Dean's top button than to Dean. "And hot. And you're not there."
Dean knows that Sam's not telling him everything, not by a long shot, but he knows he's heard the most important thing, and maybe that's enough for now. Later he'll get the rest of the story out of Sam. But right now, right here, he has something he can deal with.
"I'm here now," he points out. "It's like you said, Sammy. You're here. I'm here. That's enough."
"What are you going to do?"
"Well, this morning I thought I had big plans to do nothing, but there's been a bit of a change and now I guess I'm going to sit here till you fall asleep."
"I meant later."
"I'm going to sleep, too."
Dean sighs. "Later when, Sam?"
"Tomorrow... Next week... Whenever."
"I don't know... Why? There something you want to do?" Dean frowns. "Who were you talking to outside, Sam?"
"Gabriel! He's alive?"
"Yeah... He was the one who told me how to get out." Sam pats the amulet, now hanging around Dean's neck. "That helped."
"Is there something I should know about the amulet, Sam?"
"T'morrow," Sam mumbles, snuggling closer to Dean.
"OK," Dean agrees. "Tomorrow." He rubs Sam's back absent-mindedly. "What did Gabriel want?"
"Think he wanted to check up on us. And said... Castiel... might come looking for help."
"Cas? He's the new president of heaven, or whatever it is. What does he need us for?"
"Don't know... Exorcisms, maybe? What're we going to do?"
And that, too, is a question Dean can answer.
"I'll tell you, Sammy. Right now you're going to sleep, and you're not going to have any nightmares because I'm right here with you. In the morning you're going to tell me what happened down there, and what exactly Gabriel told you, and then we're going to figure out what to do next. Together. As for Cas looking for help... Well, we'll figure out what to do about that when it happens. And no matter what, we're going to be all right."
"You didn't stay with Lisa."
Dean swallows. He's been hoping that wouldn't come up, but since when does Sammy forget things like that? The kid doesn't even need law school.
"I know. I couldn't. I'm sorry –"
"Don't." Sam shifts and resettles himself. He's restless, but not as much as he was, and his movements are slowing. "Don't. Dean, I understand. I thought it was what you wanted, or I wouldn't have asked you to go to her."
"I thought so too, Sammy. And don't get me wrong, Lisa's nice, Ben's a great kid... But that's not me, you know. There's only so many report cards a guy can sign before he goes crazy. It wasn't fair to Lisa or the kid. They deserve somebody who really wants that apple-pie life, not somebody who thought he wanted it but doesn't and is just hanging on to it because he's lost what he really does want."
Sam smiles. "Dean?"
"I missed you."
"Go to sleep, Sammy."
There's a minute's silence. Then, "Dean?"
"You still haven't taken the pillow."
"Sammy, if you don't stop talking and start sleeping this minute..."
Dean waits until Sam's chuckles have faded and his breathing is slow and regular. Then he reaches carefully into Sam's pocket and slides out his cell phone.
It beeps as he flips it open, and he curses, but Sam doesn't stir.
"And you try to tell me you're not tired," Dean mutters under his breath. "Damn it, Sam, why do you have to go and buy the most complicated model in the store?"
When Dean finally works out how to unlock the phone, he punches in his number, saves it, and lists it as the primary emergency contact. No way Sammy's going to be stuck without a way to get hold of him again. He's about to drop the phone on the little table between the beds when he changes his mind and goes back to the contact list. He erases the name Dean, types in My Awesome Big Brother, and laughs. Sam's going to have something to say about that.
He sets it to speed dial 1. Just in case Sam forgets that part.
Then he relaxes, letting his head droop over Sam's, and shuts his eyes. His baby brother isn't the only one who's going to be sleeping without nightmares tonight.
Although, as you can see, I've left myself a fair bit of room for a possible follow-up. ;-) Who was Mia and what did she want? Is Castiel going to show up and demand the amulet? And surely our boys are going to have to go through a bit more angst before the past is truly behind them...
What did you think? Please let me know!