Shall we take a peek into the Bunker and see how the boys are doing?
It had been three days and Sam had been looking more and more like a caveman each day. It wasn't like they had plans to go anywhere, but typically he still at least washed his hair. Except when really sick or dying, he was more put together than he was these days.
"So what's the deal?" Dean finally asked over lunch the third day.
"Deal?" Sam looked up from his BLT in confusion.
"Yeah." Dean waved his hand and stared at Sam's hair. It was messy and obviously hadn't been washed in days. "What's with the wildman hair thing you got goin' on? I know we aren't on a case or anything-"
"I can't wash it," Sam interrupted, his tone mournful and his expression darkening. He glared at his bandaged left hand. "Hard to do things as it is."
Dean nodded, realization dawning. He motioned to Sam's right arm, still tightly protected in the sling.
"Can't really lift it above shoulder level yet." Sam grimaced. He took a deep breath and released it, then added, "I mean, I'm not supposed to."
Which meant he'd tried even though he wasn't supposed to.
"And you can't," Dean filled in the blank.
"And I can't."
"We could cut it off," Dean suggested.
Sam paused mid-bite, eyebrows raised. "Excuse me?"
"Not your arm, dumbass. Your hair." He smiled innocently. "Solve your problem easily."
"I'm not cutting my hair."
"You're not cutting my hair."
Dean shrugged. "You could just go get it washed somewhere."
Sam snorted. "Dude, I'm not going anywhere to have someone wash my hair."
He shook his head, dropping the sandwich on the plate.
It was the third time he'd done that. Dropped his sandwich. Each time he painstakingly repackaged the bacon, lettuce, and tomato before lifting it for another bite. It wasn't the easiest sandwich to hold on a good day; the insides always tried to slide out. But it was proving even more difficult to eat one-handed. Especially when that one hand had limited dexterity.
For future reference, Dean stored away that very obvious fact he'd so blindly missed. No more sandwiches that fell apart easily for the next few days. Sam hadn't offered a word of complaint over anything Dean had made this week. He'd been eating, and doing, everything left-handed. With a left-hand that was basically out of commission.
Shaking his head, Dean said, "I'm sorry."
Sam paused mid-bite again and half his sandwich fell onto the plate. He ignored it and asked, "For what?"
They stared at each other for a long moment and Dean tried to prepare himself for the coming blow. Even though things had been going relatively smoothly, he was waiting for the moment when Sam finally let him have it. When Sam finally called him out for the things he'd done as a demon. The things he'd said. The way he'd nearly killed his own brother with a hammer in their home.
Dean hadn't been joking when he'd asked Cas if Sam wanted a divorce. Truthfully? He'd spent the last three days wondering what was taking Sam so long to kick him out. To say they were done. That he could never be trusted again.
"What?" He frowned.
"Did you hear a word I just said?"
Well, no. Dean shook his head and tried to keep his thoughts in the present.
Sam held his gaze, his sandwich forgotten on his plate, and said, "I said, unless you did something to my laptop or put Nair in my shampoo, which I'm not actually using right now anyway, then you don't have anything to be sorry for."
Dean held his hands up, ready to launch into a list of everything he had to be sorry for.
"Shut up," Sam said, cutting him off before he'd said a single word. "Look, it's in the past, ok? All of it. If we go down this road, we're gonna be sitting here apologizing to each other for the next month."
It wasn't really in the past, though. The Mark was still on his arm and they had no idea how to get it off. It was still a danger; what if it overpowered him? What if he went down that same road again and wound up -
"Dean. You gotta let it go, man." Sam held his gaze. "I have."
He wanted to crawl into a hole. The last thing he deserved was forgiveness, let alone such easy forgiveness. Of course, maybe it hadn't really been that easy. But right now, all he could see was sincerity in Sam's eyes. He meant what he was saying. If Sam could still look him in the eye and forgive him after everything, maybe things weren't as broken as he feared.
So Dean nodded, his throat too tight to allow him to form words.
Sam smiled and went back to repackaging his sandwich.
After a minute, Dean cleared his throat, and said, "I could cut that for you. Into baby-sized bites."
"Thanks, but I don't need baby-sized bites." Sam rolled his eyes and painstakingly lifted his sandwich again.
Dean couldn't help but smile when bacon and tomato spilled out all over Sam's plate again after he had taken a bite. Sam just set it all down and went back to stuffing the filling back inside. Easily eating his own sandwich while watching his brother patiently try to deal with his one-handed with fingers that were cut and sore, Dean wished there was something he could do to help.
He stared at the sling on Sam's other arm and, not for the first time, wanted to ask for more details. Still, he held back.
Asking about what had happened would only bring up memories of when he'd been a demon. For both their sakes, he wasn't eager to revisit that time period. Maybe it meant he was a coward, but he'd just been a demon, so he really wasn't worried about labels at this point.
They had to focus on the future; on moving forward.
"How's your project going?" Sam asked, giving up on the rest of his sandwich.
Clearing his throat, Dean said, "Going well."
And sure, it was going well. Considering all he was doing was puttering with the car or drinking himself senseless, it was going just dandy. But he wasn't ready to let his brother know that.
"Good. That's good." Sam smiled. He got to his feet and put his plate next to the sink. "Thanks for lunch."
Sam hesitated briefly, then he was gone.
Dean sighed. Another missed opportunity. For what, he wasn't sure, but he'd missed it.
He got up and did the dishes because he didn't know what else to do. Once that menial task was completed, he found his way to the library. Sam had his nose buried in a book as usual, but looked up when Dean walked into the room.
"Hey." Dean leaned a hip against the table. "What's up?"
Sam leaned back in his chair said, "Just compiling a few things I researched while...uh...you know."
Dean swallowed hard and nodded, looking anywhere but at his brother.
"You busy?" Sam asked.
"No. Whatcha need?" Short of becoming a demon again, Dean would do just about anything.
"So there's a file box down in the records room-"
"Which room's that again?"
Sam gave him the directions to the room and which box he needed, then added, "I'd get it myself but…"
He motioned to his shoulder with his cut up hand and smiled sheepishly.
Dean opened his mouth to tease him about it, but came up short. Instead, he managed a smile and said, "I'll go grab it."
Finding what Sam was apparently now referring to as their "records room" took a little longer than it should have. Sometimes he really thought they should have made a map. They'd lived here for a good two years, though, and it was a little too much on his ego to decide to make a map now.
He found the right file box and was about to head back to the library when his phone buzzed in his pocket. Pausing, he rested the file box on one of the ancient rolling desk chairs and pulled out his phone.
There's actually two boxes. They should be right next to each other.
Dean went back to the place he'd found the first box and easily found the box conveniently labeled #2. The Men of Letters did very few things the simple way. Even if he hadn't recognized Sam's handwriting on the label, he would've known it hadn't been a man of Letters who labeled the box.
He put the box on top of the first one and decided to leave them in the rolling chair and just push it back to the library rather than try to carry both boxes. Of course, it might have been easier to have simply carried the boxes. The back of the chair was loose and all too easily leaned backwards. He'd had a few mini-heart attacks with similar chairs they had in the library. Nothing like feeling as if you were going over backwards to wake you up in a hurry.
He was halfway to his destination when a thought struck him. For a moment, he paused right there in the hall and stared at the chair. He tilted it backwards. And then he couldn't help but smile. It was perfect. It was crazy and probably weird and absolutely perfect.
Smiling, he grabbed the boxes out of the chair and took them into the library.
"Here ya go."
"Thanks." Sam reached for the first box.
"No problem." Dean brushed his hands off and asked, "You want to go out for steaks tonight?"
"Uh…" Sam was in the middle of unpacking one of the file boxes. "Yeah, I don't think so."
"Why not?" Dean already had a pretty good idea.
Sam shrugged, but his bandaged hand ran through his hair which told Dean everything he already knew. He wasn't planning to leave the Bunker until he could wash his hair and look more presentable.
"Ok, no problem. You need any help with…" Dean waved his hand at the mess all over the table.
"Thanks, but I'm almost finished," Sam said, shuffling papers into piles.
Dean nodded and headed back for the chair he'd left in the hallway.
Time to put his plan into action.
Ten minutes later, Dean stood back and checked to make sure he had everything he needed.
Towels. Shampoo and conditioner. That stupid chair that tilted backwards too far. Everything set up next to the sink in the kitchen. It wasn't a fancy salon or anything, but they'd made do with less before.
A flutter of nerves began twisting his insides into knots. He took a deep breath and decided Sam laughing at him was probably the worst case scenario.
We could use a good laugh.
So he took another deep breath and headed back for the library.
Sam looked up from the new mess of files spread across the table when Dean walked into the room. There was a question in his eyes, but no fear or apprehension and Dean's nerves settled somewhat. He took a brief glance at the sling on his brothers arm and the bandages on his other hand. He couldn't do much to make up for everything that had happened since he'd been gone, but he could do this.
"Dean?" Sam asked when he stood there silently for a moment.
"Yeah." He waved a hand. "Come on."
Dean rolled his eyes. Once upon a time, Sam had been eager to follow his directions and moved without questioning anything. Of course, that had been before he'd learned the words where and why. And he'd learned those words right after he'd learned Dean and no which meant the last time he'd followed any directions unquestioningly had been when he'd been about eleven months old. So Dean really wasn't surprised to be met with instant resistance.
"We already ate."
"Will you just come with me?"
Sam huffed as he frowned down at his precious piles and Dean almost grinned because it was so natural, so normal. After setting a pen on top of the form he had been looking at, Sam pushed himself upright and waved his hand. Dean turned and headed for the kitchen, crossing his fingers. This was either going to work or it wasn't, but even if all Sam got out of it was a good laugh it was worth it.
The entire trip to the kitchen, Sam kept asking what was going on and Dean kept ignoring him. And then they were in the kitchen and Sam was staring at the arrangement by the sink with utter befuddlement. It was a good sign. He hadn't instantly busted out laughing.
Dean cleared his throat and said, "Sit down."
"What?" Sam looked at him like he was insane.
"You heard me. Stop being so difficult."
"Difficult?" Sam's gaze went back to the chair, then to the towels and shampoo sitting next to the sink. "What are you doing?"
Dean rolled his eyes and crossed his arms. "I'm doing nothing because you're standing there gumming up the works. So sit your ass down and then I'll wash your hair."
Sam's eyes went comically wide and Dean inwardly laughed. For being so smart and all that, his brother could be pretty slow on the uptake. Sam staring at him like he was crazy was a lot easier to take than Sam staring at him with fear or heartbreak in his eyes. Dean patted the back of the chair.
At that point, Sam seemed to realize he was actually serious and smiled. "Thanks. Really. But, it's fine."
"It's not fine. You look like Tom Hanks in...what was that movie? The one with the soccer ball?"
"Yeah, Wilson!" Dean grinned.
"Yeah. That one. You look like him."
"I do not."
"Have you looked in a mirror lately?"
Sam's expression changed and Dean knew he had looked in a mirror lately and was bothered by what he saw.
Shifting tactics, Dean said, "Look, man, I want a steak tonight and I'm not taking you out in public with your hair looking like that."
"You can get a steak," Sam said, shaking his head. "I'll stay here. My hand isn't so bad now. I won't need the bandages tomorrow and-"
An internal battle was raging and Dean held his breath.
Finally, Sam muttered, "This is stupid," and Dean knew he'd won.
"Just shut up and sit down, will you?" Dean patted the chair again. "You're acting like I'm going to, I don't know, give you a tattoo or something."
Sam snorted and took a step closer.
"I'm just trying to help," Dean said, wishing his voice had sounded just a little steadier.
They stared at each other for a long moment and a thousand things they weren't saying seemed to pass silently between them.
I can't make up for everything I did as a demon.
You don't have to make up for anything, I'm just glad you're back.
Sam sighed heavily, like he was incredibly inconvenienced, then sat down in the chair.
Turning away to hide his grin, Dean grabbed a towel. Sam was sitting straight-backed in the chair and looked stiff and incredibly uncomfortable. Dean threw the towel over his head, then turned on the water. Sam griped and yanked the towel down, then tried to wrap it around his shoulders. One hand under the water to check temperature, Dean used his other to assist his brother.
Once that task was accomplished, Dean said, "If you think I'm gonna give you a girly head massage, you better be prepared to pay me double."
"I'm not paying you anything at all."
Dean smirked and flicked water at his brother's face. "You're gonna have to lean back unless you just want me to dump a bucket of water straight over your head."
Sam did the complete opposite of leaning back. He pushed himself to his feet and asked, "Why are you doing this?"
"Because I want a steak tonight."
"Dean, thanks." Sam smiled. "Really. But you don't have to-"
"You didn't have to look for me and cure me."
His words startled them both.
"Yes, I did," Sam said immediately. "I wanted to."
"Yeah, well I want to do this for you, ok?" Dean patted the back of the chair. "So sit down, will ya?"
They faced off for a long moment, then Sam sat down again.
Dean breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe this wasn't going to be the worst idea ever. He readjusted the towel around Sam's shoulders, noting he was still extremely tense.
"What's wrong?" Dean asked, turning back to adjust the water.
"You don't have any scissors, do you?"
Dean snorted. "No, you big baby. I'm not going to cut your hair although I absolutely should."
"You absolutely should not." Sam countered, shifting uncomfortably.
"Stop squirming." Dean flicked more water at his face then said, "You're gonna have to lean back if this is gonna work."
Sam twisted and looked over his shoulder. "This isn't going to work."
"Oh ye of little faith. This is gonna work but you gotta relax. What do you think I'm going to do here? Drop you on the floor?"
"That or drown me." Sam's fingers were tight around the arm of the chair. "This chair doesn't feel safe."
"It's not. It's like a hundred years old. It's a relic. An antique. We sit in these chairs all the time." Dean patted Sam's good shoulder and said, "Lean back."
Sam hesitated, then allowed Dean to guide him toward the sink. Dean had a pile of towels already sitting on the edge of the sink to provide some padding. The height was just about perfect, he noticed with relief. He couldn't help but smile when Sam leaned back. He was still sitting there as tense as if he were leaning backwards over a cliff.
"Alright, I've got the water temperature just right for sensitive babies," Dean said, dripping water straight onto Sam's face. "So don't freak out."
"I'm not going to freak out," Sam said, wiping his hand over his face, "but you better hurry the hell up because I have stuff to do."
"Such as?" Dean asked, gently pouring some water over his brother's hair. It had been decades since he'd last washed Sam's hair but Sam was no less squirmy then he'd been as a five year old. "Hold still."
"Such as trying to deal with-"
"If you say deal with the files I will pour cold water all over you. You have been doing nothing but shifting paper for days now."
Sam huffed, then closed his eyes. "Just hurry up."
Maybe touching his brother like this wasn't a good thing. He had swung a hammer at Sam so he couldn't really blame him for not wanting Dean anywhere near his head. Reaching for the bottle of shampoo, he saw Sam white-knuckling the arm of the chair with his stitched hand. His own hands shaking and dripping with shampoo bubbles, Dean fought the urge to run.
Sam had said he wasn't angry; that he'd let the past go. Why did his body language scream discomfort? Sick to his stomach, Dean forced his frozen fingers to move. If Sam wasn't comfortable, if he couldn't handle Dean's touch, if this made things worse, Dean would pack a bag and leave. Where he'd go, he didn't care.
His first tentative contact didn't elicit a flinch. Sam remained tense and unmoving, but he hadn't flinched. For a few seconds, Dean couldn't move. Fingers just barely touching Sam's head, Dean held his breath.
He saw the silver of the hammer. An explosion of blood. Saw his brother's head split open. Saw himself beating Sam to death in the hallway. Felt the power rush through him like the high from a drug.
Blinking back the nightmarish images, he brushed his fingers through Sam's hair. The Mark on his arm was burning, but he bit his lip to distract himself from the unnatural feeling. He started rubbing the shampoo into his brother's hair and the process began unwinding the knot of pressure in his chest. This was who he was; not that evil being with the black eyes. Not some kind of monster that lived to slaughter.
They'd had plenty of fights over the years; some of them particularly vicious. They'd exchanged hateful words and brutal blows. Said and done things they both regretted. He'd nearly killed Sam a few days ago and yet here they were.
The first time he'd seen his brother, Mom had told him to be gentle. Four year old fingers weren't always particularly gentle, but his had been when he'd reached out and touched his baby brother's head. Even now, he remembered that moment. The way he'd stroked his fingers over soft baby hair, mesmerized by the tiny being that was his little brother. The way Sam had scrunched his face up at the contact like he was about to cry and then hadn't.
He'd relaxed under the touch.
A tear rolled down his cheek when Sam relaxed under his gentle touch now. It had happened just like that; a second before he had been tense and the next he seemed to melt into the chair. Wiping his face on his shoulder, Dean fought to control the emotions flooding him.
They were going to be alright.
Emboldened by Sam's trust, Dean found himself relaxing, too. He'd told Sam he wasn't going to give him a massage, but he did anyway. It was easy and comfortable and obviously Sam wasn't hating it. He was so relaxed that Dean wondered if he might even fall asleep. Smiling to himself, Dean didn't rush the process.
He might have said he was doing this in order to get a steak out of the deal, but he was getting a whole lot more than that.
He was getting his brother back.
The water temperature was just right and his brother's hands were gentle, tentative even, at first. Sam would have found the whole thing utterly humiliating if he didn't also find it so incredibly wonderful. So yeah, it was embarrassing to have his brother washing his hair. And, admittedly, closing his eyes and allowing Dean this kind of contact after everything they'd recently gone through was a bit stressful.
It wasn't that he didn't trust his brother, because he did. Really, he did. He wasn't afraid of him. He'd been afraid, true. Afraid he wouldn't find his brother. Afraid, once he had found him, that the cure wouldn't work. And then afraid, once the cure had worked, that it wouldn't last. But it was lasting and things were getting back to whatever counted for normal in their lives.
The whole idea of Dean washing his hair had struck him as ridiculous and nothing but a good way for a lot of teasing to ensue. But Dean was serious about it. The past few days Dean had seemed so uncomfortable just to be in the same room with him. And now he was standing here shampooing his hair.
It was surreal.
Surreal, but he couldn't help but appreciate it. His inability to wash his hair, on top of every other challenge that came from two arms out of commission, had been driving him up a wall. Even though he had no plans to go anywhere, it was frustrating. Either Dean had figured that out, or he'd just gotten sick of seeing what a mess his hair was. Regardless, Sam hadn't in a million years expected his brother to offer to wash his hair.
"Wow, I must be doing a great job," Dean remarked. "You look pretty happy."
Sam hadn't even realized he was smiling.
"Water temp ok?"
"Haven't drowned you yet," Dean said proudly.
"No, you haven't."
"I never drowned you when we were kids, either."
Sam snorted. "We wouldn't be having this conversation if you had."
"You know what I mean." Dean flicked water at his face, then asked, "Shoulder doing ok?"
"Not a bad position?"
He wasn't completely comfortable, of course. But he never was these days, even with the painkillers; when he took them. Right now, though, he was as relaxed as he'd been in weeks. Dean was applying just the right pressure in just the right places and the mild headache he'd been suffering from all day was finally easing.
Dean turned the sink on, then started rinsing his hair as he said, "This has been a long week."
"Long summer," Sam corrected, taking a slow, deep breath. He kept his eyes closed because he wasn't sure either of them could handle eye contact right now.
"Yeah." Dean sighed. "It's been a long...everything."
Truer words had seldom been spoken.
Eyes still closed, Sam asked, "How are you?"
He waited for the lie. For the easy quip. But he received a long, thoughtful silence instead. It was a relief, actually. To know his brother was giving the question sincere thought and not simply tossing back a smart-alec reply. After everything they'd just gone through, honesty was appreciated.
Dean cleared his throat, his hands still gentle as he worked. He finally said, "I'm...alright."
Sam believed him.
"What about you?" Dean asked, turning the water off.
"I'm alright." Sam was a little surprised, but it was the truth. He was alright.
"Good," Dean said, messing with something on the sink.
Sam waited for a towel to be dropped over his face as an indication Dean was done and he could deal with the rest. Instead, though, Dean's hands were back in his hair, massaging in some conditioner. By now, he didn't have any pride left and was more than content to allow his brother to do whatever he wanted because it felt amazing.
He was glad his eyes were closed because it made it easier to hold back the tears of relief that threatened to make an appearance.
Despite everything, Dean was still Dean.
Yeah, they had the Mark to deal with and thinking about it was enough to keep Sam up at night. Dean had been a demon and they probably weren't through the fallout from that yet because when in their entire lives had they been that lucky?
But he wasn't a demon anymore. He wasn't wild and hunted; fresh from Purgatory. He wasn't desperate and angry; defensive and hurt after the Trials and Gadreel.
Right now, he was just Sam's big brother and, after the past few years, a quiet moment like this seemed miraculous.
"What are you thinking about?" Dean asked softly, not pausing in his work.
Sam tried to focus on the comforting touch of his brother's hands. Hands that had once lifted weapons against him; had tried to kill him. Right now, it was difficult to believe any of that had ever happened.
It was the first time in the past three days he'd said that.
Sam had to swallow hard against the lump in his throat before he could ask, "Yeah?"
"What are you thinking about?"
"Just glad you're ok, man."
Dean was silent for a long moment, then said, "So I'm definitely thinking steaks tonight."
Sam smiled. Leave it to them to completely avoid the hard topics. Denial was one of their strengths after all. So he said, "Steaks sound good."
"You're gonna have a hard time cutting your steak."
"Damn it," Sam muttered. Cutting a steak with a painful, bandaged hand would prove difficult to say the least.
"It's ok," Dean patted his shoulder with a wet hand. "I'll cut it into bite-sized pieces. You can't help it you're a big klutz."
"I am not a klutz."
"You dropped a lamp and sliced your hand open."
"I was drunk," Sam said defensively. "Besides, my center of balance was off because of the sling."
"And that makes you less of a klutz?" Dean laughed.
"Alright, alright." Dean turned the water on and started rinsing the conditioner out. "I'll compromise."
"We get burgers tonight and hit a movie. Steaks when you aren't incapacitated."
"Excellent." Dean turned the water off. "You've got thirty minutes to make yourself presentable."
The towel was dropped over his face just like he'd been expecting.
Smiling, Sam pulled it off his face and found Dean standing in front of him. His expression was a blend of pride and uncertainty. Pride for thinking of a way to assist and uncertainty as to whether or not he'd succeeded.
Sam sat up carefully and rubbed the towel against his hair then dropped it over the arm of the chair and held out his hand.
Dean raised an eyebrow but didn't move.
"I'm out of working limbs here dude," Sam said, waving his hand. "Get me up from this antique chair before it falls apart."
"How did you manage without me?" Dean teased. He avoided Sam's bandaged hand and instead gently grasped his forearm and pulled him to his feet.
"I didn't," Sam answered completely honestly.
Dean's eyes were filled with regret and pain, but he squeezed Sam's good shoulder and said, "We are definitely going to see a movie with explosions and testosterone."
"No chick flicks?" Sam asked, grinning as drops of water ran down his face and neck from his freshly washed hair.
"No chick flicks." Dean rolled his eyes, amusement shoving the other emotions aside. He looked better than he had in ages. "And I'm not blow drying your hair, princess, so you better get started because I'm not waiting for you. I want my burger."
"I don't blow dry my hair," Sam said, trying to sound more irritated than he was.
He half-listened to his brother's muttering, then looked back at the sink — crowded with bottles and towels and brotherly love — and smiled.
Hope you enjoyed! I loved writing this one and getting to dig deeper into the aftermath of Dean being a demon. They're both awfully resilient, but it couldn't have been easy (or instant) for them to recover after something like that.
Next up, I'm planning to post another little one-shot from the Cal Leandros world. After that, I'll be back with an addition to my series "Fifty Miles". A tag to A Most Holy Man, from season 13.
Thanks so much for reading!