Read it over on AO3 right here.
They stopped on their way out of town at a Walmart, parking near one of the fences furthest from the store entrance. Dean groaned as he got out of the car, wincing at all the bruises and cuts. He groaned even louder when he really took a good look at the front end of Baby. He heard an echoing groan from the back of the car where Sam had the trunk open.
Sam held a small whisk broom, a pair of leather work gloves and a plastic trash bag in his hands. “I’m just gonna sweep up some of the broken glass.”
Dean gave him a small nod and walked past him to reach into the trunk for the spray window cleaner and roll of paper towels. He scrubbed the blood off the two passenger-side windows that still remained intact. The driver’s side of the car was caked with gore, and it was hard to open that back door where he’d smashed the deputy’s head off. The head that was still there, staring up at him from the floorboards behind the backseat.
Sam met his eyes over the top of the backseat and held the trash bag open while Dean used wads of paper towels to pick the bloody head up, avoiding touching it with his bare hands.
“Think we need to burn it?” Dean asked, grimacing as he finally got the head into the bag.
“Probably,” Sam said, handing it off to the person who enjoyed burning things the most.
Dean let out another groan as he unfolded himself from the backseat and got out the can of lighter fluid and carton of salt from the trunk. He also pulled out the now-bloody green cooler, roughly dumping it onto the blacktop. He was just about to put the bag with the head into the cooler when Sam grabbed his wrist.
“Stop! What the hell are you doing?” Sam yelled. He let go of Dean’s wrist once he stopped the movement of the bag towards the cooler. Sam stepped between Dean and the cooler protectively.
“Dude, we are not using that cooler ever again,” Dean insisted, pointing at the crimson gouts of blood and brain matter staining the white inside.
“You’re just gonna burn the head in it and leave it here?” Sam asked, pointing at the cooler hidden behind his legs.
“It’s already had a head in it today, Sam. This same one, right here,” Dean shook the trash bag at him, “the head of deputy dumbass?”
“But we’ve had it our whole lives, Dean,” Sam protested, gesturing wide with his arms, grimacing at the pain he no doubt felt in his ribs. Dean’s own ribs throbbed in sympathy.
Dean considered his brother’s dramatic posture, his face a little wide-eyed, but sincere, looking hurt besides what the monsters had done to him. “You’re telling me you’re actually attached to this ratty old cooler?”
Sam lowered his arms and his head and sagged against the side of the car. He reached out on either side of him, caressing the smooth paint in a gentle gesture that reminded Dean of how Sam would pet any dog he ever encountered. “Remember what I said when you were talking about how we had to go home?” Sam’s eyes flicked up briefly to make eye contact with Dean.
Dean swallowed audibly, remembering the swoop he’d felt in his belly when Sam had referred to Baby as their home just a little while ago.
“Oh.” He flashed on the cooler always having been there in the car with them. It was like a piece of furniture that you used every single day and took completely for granted, counting on it to always be there when you needed it.
“Yeah, it’s part of our home. I mean to me it is. It’s just, I have so many memories of you and me, and us and dad together, using this cooler. The times we camped out, all these years on the road, in Rufus’ cabin even. It’s always been there, even when the Impala was in storage. Remember?” Sam finished with a small smile that was devastating in how tentative it looked. Sam was practically begging for a stay of execution for the stupid thing, and he really didn’t need to, Dean got it, of course he did.
“It’s worth a try with some bleach…I guess. It’s gonna take at least a whole damn bottle,” Dean said, trying to sound like Sam had barely talked him into it.
“I’ll even do it myself when we get back to the bunker, okay? Just don’t leave it here. Not burned up in this parking lot, not after all that. Please,” Sam said, pulling out all the stops with the puppy dog eyes whether he realized it or not.
Dean shook his head to hide his smile. “Okay, okay. But I’m still getting something temporary to use for the trip back. It’s gonna be bad enough with all the missing windows.”
“Fine, yeah, makes sense. None of those squeaky styrofoam ones though, okay?” Sam asked, instantly laughing at his own fussing. He grinned in obvious relief at his brother. “Thanks, Dean.”
Dean didn’t want to make more of it than it already had been, so he found an empty cardboard box that had blown up against the chain link fence, he rolled the head into it from the garbage bag, sprayed it with lighter fluid, doused it with salt and lit it with his zippo. “Farewell, Deputy Dumbass.”
Sam hip checked him before he noticed Sam’s nearness, he almost fell forward into the flaming box. Sam caught him around the waist though, holding him closer than strictly necessary, but Dean didn’t have it in him to complain. It felt just right. “He’d turned all those people, just this month, Dean. How many other monsters are out there doing the same thing?”
Dean’s eyes went unfocused and glassy staring into the flames, considering all The Darkness had told him, and wondered what it meant that he still hadn’t told Sam all of it. “We’ll figure it out, Sammy. You know we will. We have to.” He leaned into Sam a little, to make the point that it was going to take both of them, supporting each other.
Sam was quiet for a moment, just holding Dean steady. “Something about this trip, just seems like it’s going to make it easier.”
“Really?” Dean asked, surprised to hear Sam sounding so positive.
“Yeah, feels like maybe we’re realigned somehow,” Sam said in a voice that trailed off like he still had things left to say. His arm tightened briefly around Dean’s waist.
“Huh, maybe so. Baby sure isn’t though. Had to crash her into a freaking road construction barrier. One of those concrete and plastic water container ones.” Dean shivered at remembering the crash, Sam kept holding Dean, hip to hip, letting Dean recover.
“Figured it was something dramatic like that. Maybe I’d better drive, you probably have a concussion or worse.” Sam looked him over with a worried grimace.
“We’re gonna have to stop to get the glass replaced. I just checked the weather and it’s gonna be raining for at least half the time if we tried to go straight back to Lebanon. Can’t drive in the rain without a windshield. So, Impala Bob’s is going to special deliver the replacements for all the windows to a shop I worked at once a few years ago. It’s down highway twenty in Bend. We’ll be good just as long as the cops don’t stop us before we get there,” Dean said, hoping Sam didn’t ask for details about the shop and when he’d worked there. It had been while Sam had been at Stanford, and he just didn’t want to go there right now.
“So we just have to make it to Bend without a windshield or most of the rest of the windows. Guess I’ll dig all the coats and blankets out of the trunk, it’ll get cold,” Sam finally let go of Dean, stepping away slowly towards the back of the Impala.
“I’m gonna go inside for clear plastic and duct tape for the back and two side windows. That might help some. We’ll make it, Sammy, ’s not that far to Bend from here. And the rain wasn’t supposed to hit until late tonight. You need anything else from Wally World while I’m in there?” Dean asked, feeling cold and a little unsteady without Sam there at his side.
“I’ll come in with you,” Sam offered, peeking at Dean from around the back trunk lid.
Dean saw how unsure Sam looked, and he moved to join him leaning against the rear taillight. He studied Sam’s face more closely, assessing the damage. “Naw, your face is a whole lot worse off than mine. Why don’t you stick out here and finish getting the broken glass out and make sure that thing finishes burning?” Dean asked, fishing around in the trunk for a water bottle and something to wipe most of the blood off his own face before braving the civilians in the store.
Sam bent down to glance in the rear-view mirror, groaning at the twist to his ribs. “Yeah, you’re right. Uh, I think a gallon of water so we can wash the rest of the blood off of us and the car. Oh and we might need some medical supplies since we’re putting off getting back to Cas right away. Something hot to drink too would be great.”
Dean rolled his eyes at Sam’s monologue list. Sam noticed and smiled. “I’ll check what we’re low on and text you a list by the time you’ve walked all the way to the front door.”
Dean pushed off the side of the Impala where he'd been leaning while scrubbing at the blood on his face with a wet kerchief.
Sam grabbed the kerchief and poured the last of the water over it. He dabbed it gently at the cut above Dean’s eye, pressing it softly so that the blood flow would stop. Sam’s arm wrapped around Dean’s back, pulling him closer. He waited for Dean to meet his gaze. “Hey, uh…I’m sorry for shooting out the back window.”
“I’m not. You were trying to stop them from stealing Her, and me.”
“I wasn’t sure you’d be…” Sam trailed off, unable to finish, the fear and terror written all over his face.
Dean wrapped his arms around Sam’s waist and pulled him even closer. He nuzzled up into Sam’s neck on the side that wasn’t bloody. “Yeah, me either. The alpha said they were going to turn you and make me your first meal.”
Sam shivered at the idea and then started laughing. “They didn’t know who they were dealing with though did they?”
“Hell no, little brother, they had no freakin’ clue,” Dean crowed, hugging Sam until they both gasped at having their ribs squeezed. Dean snaked his arms up around Sam’s neck to pull him down close enough to brush their bruised and bloody lips together, trying so hard to be gentle. But Sam opened to him without a moment’s hesitation, licking the blood right out of Dean’s mouth. Dean returned the favor, blood for blood, kiss for kiss, the heat between them catching like a banked fire suddenly being stirred. Something about almost dying did this to them, almost every time. And for once, they were on the same page to get something nice like this out of the pain.
“You’re making my lip start bleeding all over again,” Dean finally murmured against Sam’s neck, biting at the tendons there, smearing a little of the bright new blood that was flowing again. Sam dabbed at it with the wet kerchief and kissed the corner of Dean’s mouth softly.
“Better take this with you,” Sam said, letting Dean go with real reluctance.
Dean walked slowly across the parking lot in the warm afternoon sun, only occasionally stopping to check that Sam was still in sight. Sometimes he’d get a little wave, or a smile which made him feel warm in that place inside his gut that had the Sam’s-okay-meter. His cellphone buzzed with a text message. Dean paused to read it.
Sam: I hate to see you go, but I love to watch you leave
Dean chuckled and made a big show of wiggling his ass in Sam’s direction. Another message came in.
Sam: Hey, save some of that for me later buddy
Dean laughed out loud and had to respond.
Dean: There’s always enough for you sweetheart
Sam sent him a string of those little characters that Dean didn’t have much use for. A bunch of hearts and lips. He rolled his eyes and kept walking towards the store. God these parking lots were huge. But at least no one seemed to have noticed the blood-stained, window-less, car with the small burn pile next to it.
Within about twenty minutes, Dean had gotten everything on Sam’s list, even all the addendum that Sam kept sending him. He was passing by the hardware section on the way towards the checkout when he noticed the key cutting stand was actually open. They’re never open. It’s gotta be a sign…or something. The little old guy with the blue vest was standing there waiting to cut him a spare set of keys. He handed them over and the dude’s eyes widened comically behind his large glasses.
He whistled in appreciation. “Haven’t seen one ‘a these in ages. This car still really on the road?”
“Yep. She sure is. Had a rough day today, but I’ll get my Baby back to square as soon as I can,” Dean answered, conscious of how proud of this unwavering commitment to his car he is (their home as Sam finally said).
The man ground the two keys quickly, polished them up, and handed them over on a flimsy split circle ring. “Here you are son, and your receipt. Ya know, we might just have an Impala key fob over there on the display.” He pointed to the large rack of glittering and gleaming key rings behind him.
“Thanks, I’ll check it out,” Dean said, he turned towards the massive display, eyes boggled by all the glitz and metal. He spotted a Chevy emblem right away, and an Impala logo, but then something pink and sparkly caught his eye. Once it was in his hand he couldn’t put it back. A wide grin took over his face and he tossed it into the cart on top of the temporary soft-side cooler. The checkout process went quicker than usual and he had the hot drinks and the ice and beer for the cooler loaded up and was out the front door back into the afternoon warmth before he could talk himself out of his spur of the moment plan.
The parking lot was still fairly empty, especially out towards where they were parked. He could see from this far away that Sam was sitting on the Impala’s hood, long legs stretched out in front of him, back slouched against one of the pillars since there’s no windshield to lean against. His brother, his little brother took up so much room, so much space. Seeing it laid out like a geometry puzzle, it made him wonder again how Sam had lasted this long, folding himself up to fit in the front seat beside him. That Sam kept making that choice, year in year out was one of things that Dean admitted to himself he’s most grateful for.
He could feel himself getting sappier and sappier as he returned to Sam. Especially when he thought about how near he came to losing him for real just a few hours ago (again!). It never got easier, even though it was normal for them, but after the last few years, somehow, it had come back into sharp focus again. There wasn’t a world he wanted to live in that didn’t have his Sam in it. That might be selfish or wrong or whatever, but it was the god damn truth. And that’s what they’re supposed to be doing, telling each other the truth, right?
He psyched himself up then, to confess the rest of the stuff about the Darkness, before it came out some other way to hurt them. Sam must have heard him coming by now, rattling along with the cart filled with their supplies, Dean could see Sam’s smile start to expand, but he couldn’t see his eyes through the sunglasses he was wearing. He grabbed the new spare keys out of the bag and jingled them. “Hey! Gotcha somethin’,” Dean called and tossed the key ring over to Sam, who of course caught them without a problem.
“What the hell is this?” Sam asked, holding the keys away from him like they were possibly dangerous.
“What’s it look like? They’re your own keys, to ya know, our home. Just like you said. Thought it was about damn time you had your own set.”
Sam held up the key ring that had a sparkly pink crown and the word PRINCESS spelled out in flowing fancy script and burst into laughter. He stopped abruptly when he re-split his lip, but kept chuckling and giggling and it was just too adorable that Dean couldn’t help joining in.
Sam finally got himself under control enough to speak. “Thanks, Dean. It means a lot, you giving me my own keys after all this time.”
“Uh…Sammy, I hope, well I hope I didn’t take too long to finally do it. Yesterday, when you talking about how you wanted to try something else…uh…with someone who was a hunter who knew the life. Well, I thought we could take a chance again and see if we could work this time,” Dean said, heart somehow feeling two sizes too large at the same time his stomach had hit the pavement between his feet.
Sam practically gasped when he heard Dean’s words and went still like a deer that had heard the snap of a twig nearby. He slowly looked up, meeting Dean’s eyes and examining him closely.
Dean could see him checking off all the boxes:
am I being teased?
does he mean what he’s saying?
holy crap, out here in broad daylight?
Dean saw something break through the worry and hesitation, it was Sam, his Sam. The one he’d been seeing glimpses of on this trip. The Sam who always chose him. He couldn’t breathe until Sam answered him and it had been a while now.
Sam of course noticed and reached out to hold Dean’s forearm. “Breathe, Dean. I’m just thinking about how to say this.”
Dean leaned his hip against the car and Sam’s thigh, now they were all connected, he took a deep breath as quietly as possible and waited.
Sam took his sunglasses off and tossed them through the missing windshield onto the passenger seat. He held the stupid girly keyring in the palm of one of his Sasquatch paws, it looked ridiculously small and somehow perfect. The keys disappeared when he closed his fist.
Dean was right back to holding his breath. Why’s he taking so damn long? It must be a no, or a hell no what are you thinking kind of answer coming. He swallowed nervously and began to shuffle his feet, ready to catch the keys if they were thrown back at him.
“Yeah I did say that, about trying for some kind of arrangement with a hunter. I wasn’t trying to get you to do something like this, though. I feel bad that you might have thought that. I really was just trying to be encouraging, in a general kind of way, especially after the whole thing with Piper.”
“I didn’t think you were trying to guilt me into this or anything. Sammy, tell me there’s a ‘but’ coming at some point here,” Dean interrupted, impatient to hear the final verdict on whether he’d completely screwed up everything again.
“There’s no ‘but’, just a ‘yes’,” Sam answered. He leaned over to brush their lips together, sighing the yes into Dean’s mouth so clearly that Dean could taste it. Sam’s yes tasted like freedom and forgiveness and smoothies all mixed with the coppery taste of their shared blood.
Sam leaned back against the car again, putting just enough space between their faces so he could see Dean’s eyes. “I meant it, about the feeling re-aligned thing. And us, trying to be an ‘us’ again, that’s only going to help that realignment get even stronger. And we need it, Dean. To get stronger together, not just for the Darkness, but for the rest of it.”
“The rest of it?” Dean asked, completely fascinated by Sam’s eyes once again, they’re always so changeable, different every time he lets himself look, and now they were so open and clear he felt like he could see every color Sam’s ever seen in there all swirled together.
“Whatever the rest of our lives is going to end up being,” Sam answered, smiling so wide that his dimple threatened to go permanent. Dean leaned over and kissed it soundly, licking at the salty skin while he was there for good measure. Sam closed his eyes and sighed with what sounded like happiness.
“Haven’t heard one ‘a those in a while,” Dean whispered into the shell of Sam’s ear. “Missed hearing you happy like this.”
“It’s good to have a chance at it at least,” Sam said, sounding more hopeful than he had in a very long time.
Dean realized that he could spend all afternoon staring at his brother’s beautiful eyes, but they had to get to Bend before it got dark. Having only one working headlight was just asking for police attention they didn’t ever need. “So, looks like we’ve got some work to do, just to get back on the road, you want to handle the tape or the plastic?”
“Tape, I guess,” Sam said, digging in the Walmart bags for the rolls of silvery duct tape.
It took a roll and a half of tape and most of an hour before they were ready to roll. The fire was finally finished, ashes spread and salted. The green cooler was rinsed out and wrapped up in a plastic bag in the trunk. The Impala started up after a couple of tries and they were on the road to Bend.
Sam drove, using his new keys, the ridiculous key-ring dangling and swaying, making both of them smile to themselves. They wore their sunglasses to protect their eyes from the wind, and didn’t bother with the music, the wind noise was too much.
“You never realize how much you take a windshield for granted until you’re missing one. I had no idea,” Sam said after a few minutes at highway speed.
“I’m just glad it’s not winter or something,” Dean answered. He thought about other things that he’d discovered he’d missed when they were suddenly gone and he’d taken them for granted. He adjusted the heater and tucked the blankets around Sam’s legs. “You warm enough, Sammy?”
“Not really, but it’s keeping me awake. How about you?” Sam asked, looking over at Dean who hadn’t taken enough of the blankets or coats for himself. “Wouldja scoot over here? C’mon, share these blankets with me. Don’t want you going into shock or something.”
Dean hesitated, but then rearranged himself so that his head was right next to Sam’s shoulder. He leaned up a little and rested it there for a while, happy to get to feel close like this before maybe messing them up again. But he’d promised himself that speaking the truth was the way back to deserving to be with Sam. “Hey, uh, Sam. There’s some stuff about the Darkness that I gotta tell you. And I’m not sure why I haven’t already, but, anyway, here goes…”
Dean talked and Sam listened. And Sam drove and asked questions. Dean pretended to fall asleep and then reluctantly answered the questions after Sam poked him hard enough. Sam talked then, about being at the hospital with the rabids, and what he’d had to do, how he’d survived. Through the whole conversation, they felt the realignment that Sam had noticed before happening again. It had been too long since they’d worked a case with all of the information on the table, without holding anything back from each other. This was how they worked best. By the time they’d reached their destination in Bend, the missing glass in their home was just a minor detail. But at least they were in it together again.