grianchloch: (The Kiss by sweetgirl7808)
[personal profile] grianchloch
Fic title: A Hopeful Christmas
Characters: Dean/Sam, Castiel, other canon characters
Rating: NC-17
Word count: 7014
Notes: AU from just after season five’s ‘Abandon All Hope’. A gift for [ profile] badbastion as part of the [ profile] spn_j2_xmas exchange.

Dear [ profile] badbastion,

I used a handful of your 'likes' so I hope it works for you!

Wishing you belated Happy Holidays and best wishes for the New Year!!

Summary: When Dean wishes that he'd never been born, Castiel shows him what woulld have been.

Snow fell, dusting the road as Dean guided the Impala into the small town of Haven’s Rest. He glanced at Sam. His brother hadn’t exactly been the best of travelling companions for the last few weeks, but Dean didn’t expect him to be. They were both still reeling after losing Ellen and Jo. Lucifer surviving their assassination attempt had dampened their spirits even further, and Dean didn’t like the feeling that they were no longer simply hunters, they were also hunted. Keeping ahead of Michael and Lucifer, angels and demons, as well as trying to find a way to save the world from the apocalypse was wearing them both out.

They drove through the town, along streets decorated for the season and Dean did a quick calculation in his head. Christmas Eve. Two years ago, he’d arrived back at their motel room to find Sam waiting for him with a sheepish smile so wide it had brought out his dimples and glasses of Egg Nog with one hell of a kick. They’d celebrated what was Dean’s last Christmas before he went to Hell by watching the game, and later, after they’d finished the Egg Nog, they’d stumbled into bed, pulling each other’s clothes off with clumsy hands.

Dean remembered the messy kisses, the press of skin against skin and hands fumbling to bring each other off but what he remembered most was curling around Sam afterwards. Sam fell asleep with his face buried against Dean’s neck, mumbling pleas and endearments until his breathing evened out, and his body relaxed, pinning Dean to the bed. Dean held him close, wishing he could give him what he wanted, wishing he could stay, wishing that he would never have to leave Sam alone, but he couldn’t make promises he wouldn’t be able to keep.

“Dean. There’s a motel.”

Sam’s voice brought Dean back to the present and he pulled into the motel’s parking lot. There were lights hung around the place, and the office had a cheery “Merry Christmas” banner in the window. Dean went to book them in while Sam waited in the car.

“Only got one king left,” the bored kid behind the counter informed him.

Dean eyed the kid’s elf hat and shrugged, handing over a card and signing in. So it would be awkward, sharing a bed with Sam for the first time since Dean had gotten back from hell, Dean mused. They’d just have to deal. The snow was already thick enough to be crunchy underfoot and he didn’t want to take the chance of driving the Impala any further just to save a little embarrassment.

Sam wound the window down a crack as Dean approached.

“We’re in number ten, down at the end,” Dean told him.

Sam slid over into the driver’s seat and moved the Impala closed to their room as Dean walked in the same direction. Dean grabbed their bags from the trunk and Sam locked her up. They both brushed snow from their shoulders as Dean opened the door. Sam stopped just inside the doorway as Dean walked past him to drop the bags down the side of the one large bed.

“Dude, close the door,” Dean grumbled, rolling his eyes when he looked back at Sam to see him eyeing the bed. “It was the only one they had left. Don’t worry, your virtue’s safe.”

“I didn’t say anything, Dean,” Sam glared at him.

“Didn’t have to,” Dean huffed. “Look, I need a drink. Get some sleep, I’ll be back later.”

“Dean …,” Sam objected, but Dean was already closing the door behind him and stomping off towards the road they’d driven in on.

He pulled the collar of his jacket up and shoved his hands into his pockets. The snow had lessened to a light dance of soft flakes that caught in his eyelashes as he walked. He wiped them away angrily, and turned to walk back into town in search of a bar, but he stopped. He really didn’t feel like company, not even the kind with soft skin and curves that could take his mind off Sam for a few hours. With a sigh, he turned and headed in the other direction, kicking at the snow as he went. What he really wanted was to be back in the motel room, curled up in the big bed, skin to skin with Sam. It wasn’t about the sex, although he missed that too, it was about feeling whole again. So much had happened between them in the time he’d been back. A year of lies and betrayals and the aftermath of Lucifer being set free had pushed them apart. At least they were working together now, and sometimes they fell into older patterns, but it still wasn’t the same as it had been, and Dean was beginning to wonder if it ever would be.

It was his fault, all of it. If he hadn’t broken in Hell, Lucifer wouldn’t be after Sam, and the world wouldn’t be on the verge of the apocalypse. If he’d saved Sam from Jake, he wouldn’t have made the deal in the first place. If he’d left Sam at Stanford, maybe none of it would have happened.

The sound of his footfalls changed, and he looked around, taking note of his surroundings. He’d walked onto a bridge leading out of town. There were no tire tracks marring the snow. Dean supposed that most people were already where they wanted to be, this late on Christmas Eve. He wandered towards the side of the bridge, keeping his hands in his pockets as he stared down into the fast running water below. He pushed a pile of snow through the railings with the toe of his boot and watched it fall.

“All my fucking fault,” Dean mumbled to himself. “If I’d been stronger, held out longer …”


Dean spun round to find Castiel standing behind him.

“You can’t blame yourself.”

“Yeah I can. It’s down to me. Our lives are screwed up because I broke. It would have been better if I’d never been born!”

“You really think so?” Castiel sounded so forlorn that Dean had to turn away from him.

“You should go. I’m not gonna do anything stupid,” Dean sighed and hunched his shoulders against the cold.

“Christmas is a time for the giving of gifts. I have a gift for you, Dean.”

Dean slowly turned back towards the angel.

“Is it socks, Cas? Cause I’m down to my last decent pair.” Dean managed half a grin then backed away as Cas reached out to touch his forehead, but he wasn’t fast enough.

“It’s not socks.”


“Where the hell are we?”

Dean looked around. They were standing in the parking lot of a rundown motel. Judging by the quiet stillness, Dean reckoned it was after midnight.

“Harmony, Indiana.”

“And why are we here, Cas?”

“It’s 1986. John Winchester expected to return this morning, but the werewolf he hunted was stronger than he anticipated. It killed the hunter he was working with and he’s lying unconscious in a hospital 20 miles away.”

“1986? I was seven, Sammy was three, and we never stayed here. We spent most of that year in the Carolinas.”

“This is a world where you were never born, Dean. Your father barely made it out of the fire alive with your brother in is arms. He hunts, and he brings Sam up alone.”

“Alone? Sam’s here alone? He’s three years old!”

“He’s in number four.”

Castiel disappeared, leaving Dean on his own.

“Damn it, Cas.”

Dean was already heading for the door with a worn number four almost hanging off it. He passed the Impala on the way and ran a hand over the hood, the cold metal grounding him. He reached for the motel room door handle, then stopped. Sam was three, alone, and probably terrified.

He looked through the window, and through a crack in the curtains, he could see a boy curled up on the bed furthest from the door. Dean took his lock pick kit out and very quietly, unlocked the door.

As he pushed it open, he heard quiet sniffles coming from the far side of the room.


Dean’s breath caught in his chest at the plaintive word.

“Sammy?” he whispered. “Sam Winchester? My name’s Dean and your Dad sent me. I’m gonna put the light on, okay?”

There was no answer, so Dean flicked the light switch anyway. He could see a small tousled head from where Sam was now crouched down on the far side of the bed, and a pair of big eyes blinked at the flare of light that filled the room. Sam stared up at him, and Dean could see he was tensed, ready to run if he needed to.

“Your Dad is okay, but he got banged up and needed to see a doctor, so he sent me to make sure you were okay.”

“Daddy’s hurt?” Sam’s bottom lip trembled and his eyes filled with tears.

“Hey, hey, he’s gonna be okay. He was so worried about you, though. He didn’t mean to leave you alone.”

Dean moved further into the room and watched as Sam eyed him warily. “How do I know you’re not a bad man?”

“Well, because I know that you’re called Samuel Winchester and you were born on the second of May. Your Dad told me that your favorite pie is apple, and that you’re really smart. He gave me the keys to the Impala, and he’d never let a bad guy drive it, right?” Dean rambled.

“He gave you the keys to the Impala?” Sam looked shocked.

“Just until he’s ready to see you again. And I get to drive it so I can pick food up for you. You hungry, Sammy?”

Sam’s nod was still hesitant, but keen, and Dean wondered how long it was since he’d eaten.

“What do you want? Pie? There’s plenty of places still open, I can fetch you anything you like.”

“Apple pie,” Sam whispered.

“A man after my own heart,” Dean smiled. “I won’t be long, and I’m gonna lock the door. Only let me in when you hear this, then you’ll know it’s me.” He rapped his knuckles a few times on the table in a pattern. Two knocks in fast succession, two slower, then two more fast ones. “It’s our secret knock, okay.”

“Okay,” Sam agreed, nodding.

Dean made sure the door was locked behind him, and he got into the car and started her up. The purr of the engine soothed him, and he wished he could glance at the passenger seat and see grown up Sam grinning back at him. But he had a different Sam to worry about.

He’d never thought about it before, what John and Sam’s lives would have been like if it had just been the two of them. He couldn’t help being mad at John for leaving Sam locked in a motel room while he was away on such a dangerous hunt.

“Fuck, Dad, what were you thinking?”

“He’s as driven as he was in your reality, but you tempered that drive, even when you were small, Dean. Your need to protect Sam, your love for him, forced your father to make different choices.”

“You have to stop doing that,” Dean snarled through gritted teeth. “If you’re here to take me back, forget it. I’m not leaving Sammy … this Sam alone.”

“He’s not your Sam, Dean. He’s what would have come to pass if it hadn’t been for you.”

“I don’t care what this is. I’m not leaving a three year old on his own.”

Dean turned the car into the small mall, and got out. Slamming the door behind him. When he came out of the store, bags in his arms, Castiel was nowhere to be seen.

Back at the motel room, Sam demolished a considerable amount of pie. Dean tucked him back into the bed furthest away from the door and lay down on the other one. He had no idea how long he could stay, but while he was there, he intended to watch over his brother and keep him safe. After a few minutes, there was a rustle of bedclothes and then Sam was climbing onto Dean’s bed.

“Hey buddy, what’s up?”

“Cold, Dean. Can I sleep with you?”

“Sure, Sammy. Let’s get you under the covers.” He made a nest of blankets for Sam to snuggle down in as he cuddled into Dean’s side and he fell straight asleep. Dean was still awake when dawn broke, his arm around his brother.

Dean asked the girl working on the reception desk where the nearest hospitals were, and started making calls. Not having a laptop sucked, as did not having his research nerd of a brother to pull the information up for him. He did the math, thinking that there hadn't been much of an internet around when Sam was three anyway.

Once he’d decided which hospitals to check out, he bundled Sam into the warmest clothes he could find in his small pack, and called at the Wal Mart in town to buy him a new jacket and a sweater. Then they went for breakfast and Dean bought Sam pancakes, making sure he ate the fruit as well as the syrup, and drank his juice. With Sam firmly fastened in his child seat in the back of the Impala, Dean drove them to the hospital.

Yes, the receptionist confirmed, there had been a man brought in that had been attacked by a bear. She was about to start digging and asking awkward questions, when Dean played the kid card.

"His boy is worried about his Daddy, he just needs to see he's okay." Dean picked Sam up, and as if on cue, Sam whispered in his ear, just loud enough so the receptionist could hear.

"Is my Daddy here, Uncle Dean? Can I see him?" Sam's bottom lip wobbled, and Dean held him tight.

"It's okay, buddy, you'll be seeing your Daddy real soon."

"Aw sweetie, are you Sammy Etheridge?"

"He is," Dean answered for him, assuming that was the name John was using.

The receptionist melted under the full force of Sam's puppy dog eyes and Dean's pleading look, and gave him the room number. Dean thanked her, and carried Sam up in the elevator to John Winchesters room. Dean paused before they went in, and went back to the nurse’s station.

"Hi, we're here to see Mr Etheridge? I didn't want to take young Sammy in until I found out what to expect."

"And you are?"

"Dean. Dean Etheridge. His brother."

The nurse explained that John had been brought in after a bear attack which had killed the man he was hunting with. He was still unconscious, but his wounds had been dealt with and he was out of danger, so it shouldn't be long until he woke up.

The nurse led them into John’s room, and explained to Sam that his Dad needed to rest and that there should be no jumping on the bed, not until he was awake. Sam nodded his head, biting his lip until Dean distracted him stories that he remembered his Sam enjoying when he’d been small, and with the handful of toys one of the nurses brought by.

It wasn’t all for Sam’s benefit. Dean could hardly take his own eyes off John. He looked so young. Dean had to remind himself that the man in the bed was a rookie at hunting, not the hardened hunter that he became. The fire would have been two and a half years ago, and he remembered how raw his own emotions had been for so many years afterwards.

Sam was engrossed in playing with a toy truck, so Dean stood up, and went to stand by the bed, gazing down at his father. His face wasn’t badly bruised, but there were dark circles under his eyes. Dean wondered if it was a help or a hindrance, only having one kid to bring up. The thought that maybe it had been better for John without him around hit him in the gut, and he reached down, touching John’s hand, needing a connection with the man lying in the bed. He knew it wasn’t really his father, but that didn’t make seeing him any easier.

There was a tug on his other hand, and when he looked down, Sam was staring up at him.

“The nurse said not to disturb him. And no jumping on the bed.”

Dean snorted, and smiled at Sam, walking back to where the toys were scattered on the floor and joining Sam when he went back to quietly zooming the trucks across the floor.

When the nurse came in to check on John at mid day, he began to wake up, and blinked sleepily at Dean, his brow furrowing with confusion. That quickly turned to guarded alarm when he saw Dean pick Sam up.

"Who are you?" John asked after the nurse had gone, keeping his tone light. Dean could feel the coiled tension radiating off John. He was obviously ready to protect his son.

"The name's Dean. I'm a friend of the Harvells."

Sam squirmed in Dean’s arms, reaching out towards John. Dean sat him down on the bed, and Sam threw himself at his father. John winced, but held Sam tight, kissing the top of his head.

“Sorry Sammy, I didn’t mean to leave you alone for so long.”

Sam nodded, his face still buried against John’s neck.

“New jacket?” John questioned.

“Dean bought it for me. And pancakes and pie.”

“That’s good, Sammy.”

The nurse popped her head around the door, and smiled at Sam lying on the bed with John. Dean smiled back at her.

“Do you think you could take Sammy to get some candy while I have a quick word with my brother? He’s a little young to be hearing all the details.”

“Sure.” She took the money Dean offered and led a reluctant Sam out of the door.

As he passed, Dean ruffled his hair, smiling fondly. “Your Dad’ll still be here when you get back, okay squirt?”

Sam nodded, and Dean closed the door behind them.

“Okay, I’ll make this quick,” Dean pulled a chair up to John’s bedside. “You’re gonna be in here for at least a week, according to the nurses, and Sam needs someone to look after him. I don’t know how long I’m gonna be able to stay, so where’s the best place to take him?”

“What do you care?” John asked suspiciously. “You don’t know us.”

“I’ve got a kid brother, I practically raised him myself, and Sam reminds me of him. Now, do you know Bobby Singer?”

“Bobby? Yeah, I know him.”

“Okay, more importantly, does Sam know him?”

“We’ve stayed there a couple of times. Sam’ll remember him.”

“I’m going to take Sam to Bobby’s in the Impala. You can pick them both up there when you’re fit enough to leave.”

“Why would you do that?”

“I told you, he reminds me of my brother and I’m not going to leave him alone. Neither should you.”

“You don’t know …”

“Trust me, I do. I was brought up in the life and I know what it’s like to be left to look after myself.”

Sam dashed back into the room, and whatever John was going to say in reply was lost.

Dean drove to Bobby's as fast as he thought he safely could. He had no idea when Castiel would come for him. In the back of the car, Sam dozed for a lot of the journey. Dean remembered that about him, when he'd been small, the one thing guaranteed to soothe him had been strapping him into his car seat and taking the Impala for a drive. Dean remembered how John would drive around whatever town they'd been staying in, softly singing Beatles songs until Sam quieted, and Dean dozed off too. Dean glanced in the rearview mirror at Sam. Those were the only times Dean could remember his Dad ever singing, and he never listened to the Beatles. Dean wondered if it was because Mary had favored Hey Jude as a lullaby for Dean, and it reminded John too much of his dead wife.
Dean stopped for one night, booking him and Sam into a motel. Sam Sat on Dean's hip as he signed in. The receptionist was charmed by Sam's shyness, and gave him a cookie which Sam clutched in his hand as Dean found their room and let them in.
"That's the Winchester charm starting early." Dean grinned and set Sam down.
Sam stared at him, not understanding, but he happily munched on the cookie as Dean checked the place out and settled them down for the night. Again, Sam slept in a nest of covers against Dean's side. Some things never change, Dean mused. Given the chance, until the last year or so, grown up Sam had done the same thing. Dean knew he hadn't exactly made Sam feel welcome since he'd gotten back from hell, though. Sam had made his choice, and he chose a demon, Dean rationalized, but deep down, he knew how much Sam was hurting as he kept him at arm’s length. Dean sighed, and tucked Sammy a little closer, hoping that Cas would at least let him get the kid to safety before he angeled him away again.
They arrived at Bobby's in the middle of the afternoon the following day. As they drove into the yard, Bobby emerged from beneath the hood of an old truck, wiping his hands on a rag and eying the Impala suspiciously.
"Bobby Singer?" Dean asked as he got out of the car, trying to keep up the pretense of never having met Bobby before.
"Who's asking?"
"The name's Dean. Campbell. John Winchester sent me. He's banged up, and his boy Sam needs someone to look after him until he's mobile again."
"Campbell? John's wife was a Campbell before she married him. Any relation?"
"No sir, just a hunter who happened to be passing by at the wrong, or right, time."
"He must be in bad shape to let you go off with his car and his son."
"He didn't have much of a choice," Dean's voice hardened. "I wasn't about to let a three year old fend for himself."
Bobby nodded, and Dean could see the moment he made the decision to trust Dean, just a little. Bobby walked to the car, and opened the door, smiling at Sam when the boy woke up and saw him. Sam returned the smile and squirmed in his car seat, which Bobby freed him from.
"You're gonna stay with me for a while, until your Dad gets better, okay Sammy?"
"Okay," Sam agreed and held onto Bobby's hand.
"New jacket?" he asked the youngster.
"Uncle Dean bought it for me."
"Did he now?"
"Yep. And a sweater too." Sam let go of Bobby's hand and unfastened the jacket to reveal the warm red sweater underneath it.
“Nice.” Bobby ruffled Sam’s hair. “Now why don’t we invite Dean here in for something to eat …”

Dean didn’t get the chance to take Bobby up on his offer. Before Bobby turned around, Castiel appeared and whisked him away.

“Fuck, Cas, don’t do that!” Dean batted Castiel’s hand away from his forehead. “Where are we now? You can take me home, I get it, Sam needed me to look out for him.”

“I don’t think you do ‘get it’ yet, Dean.” Castiel walked off, leaving Dean little choice but to trail along behind him, grumbling under his breath. When he stopped, Dean almost walked into him.

“Okay, where’s Sam?”

“He’s over there,” Castiel nodded towards a knot of boys of around twelve or thirteen. “It’s been ten years since you took him to Bobby’s.”

Dean recognized Sam, but he was surprised at the company he was keeping. As they watched, a teacher strode across the yard towards them, obviously furious. Dean edged closer so he could hear what the man was saying.

“… a week’s detention! All of you! And Mr Winchester, I find myself having to remind you again about handing your homework in on time.”

Sam wasn't the chubby thirteen year old Dean remembered. This Sam was harder and had a sullen edge to him. Dean waited until Sam was on his own before he walked over to him.

“Sam. Wait up.” Dean noted that Sam’s hand closed around something in his pocket as he eyed Dean’s approach.

“Do I know you?”

“Yeah, you do. I took you to Bobby’s about ten years ago when your Dad was laid up in hospital.”

Sam nodded slowly, a glint of recognition in his eyes. “I remember. You bought me a red sweater and fed me pie. Then you dumped me at Bobby’s and left without saying goodbye.”

Dean was surprised at the resentment he heard in Sam’s voice. He went for nonchalant and shrugged. “I had places to be.” Like right here, right now, which was five minutes after he left three year old Sam, for him anyway.

“So why are you here?” Sam’s whole demeanor changed in an instant. “Is Dad okay? Did anything happen to him?”

“No, I, er, not as far as I know,” Dean thought fast. “I heard your Dad was in town, and thought I’d swing by, see if you were doing okay. How's school?"

Sam snorted. "Who cares?"

"Need to keep your grades up if you're gonna go to college."

"College? Hunters don't go to college. School can't teach me what I need to know, only Dad can do that."

Dean blanched.

“There’s more to life than hunting.”

“Yeah? You gonna tell me that you went to college?” Sam snorted.

“No, but my kid brother did. Pre Law at Stanford.”

“Your family don’t hunt?”

“Yeah, me and my Dad do.”

“So what? He took off? Left you to it?” Sam snorted again, his derision plain.

Dean didn’t know what to say, because at the time, he’d felt the same. He’d known that Sam was different, that he wanted other things in life, but until he left for Stanford, Dean had always thought he would come around, put his book smarts to good use hunting. And as much as Dean had tried to be supportive, he’d felt as if Sam was leaving him, not just the hunting lifestyle, and that had stung.

“Where’s John?” Dean changed the subject. “Is he picking you up?”

“He’s on a hunt. I can take care of myself.”

“I’m getting that. I’m heading to the diner. You coming?”

Sam shook his head, scuffing his shoe in the dirt.

“I’m buying,” Dean added.

That clinched the deal, and Sam followed him away from the school and to the diner that sat on the corner of main street. Dean let Sam order whatever he liked, and approved of the kid’s appetite as he tucked into a double cheeseburger and fries and a strawberry milkshake.

“Sam Winchester?”

Dean looked up to see a cop approaching their table.

“What the hell did you do?” Dean hissed.

Sam shrugged and continued eating.

“Son, I need you to come with me down to the station.”

“I didn’t do anything,” Sam mumbled.

“Well according to the cameras in Mr Albright’s store, you took several hunting knives without paying for them.”

Dean looked at Sam, realizing too late that he was ready to make a break for it. What happened next was a blur. Sam slid out of the booth onto his knees, and almost made it past the cop, who was carrying enough extra weight to hinder him when it came to chasing kids. But he managed to snag the hood of Sam’s sweatshirt, and haul him back. Dean got to his feet to see if he could straighten things out, but caught the unmistakable flash of metal as Sam pulled out a knife. Dean threw himself at Sam, pinning him to the floor with one hand and disarming him with the other, slipping the small knife into his own pocket.

“Fucking idiot,” Dean growled as he pulled Sam to his feet, too hemmed in by onlookers and the cop and his partner to make any kind of getaway.

The cop’s partner took a hold of Sam’s arm and thanked him for his help. Dean could feel hysteria bubbling to the surface, and bit it down. He’d just helped his little brother get arrested. But it had been that, or let him injure the cop, which would have made things so much worse.

Dean was about to follow them, to help Sam get out of the mess he’d landed himself in, when Castiel appeared.

“Thanks for nothing, Dean!” Sam yelled as he was led away, struggling. “Fuck you, man, fuck you!”

Castiel touched his forehead and Dean was standing in the entrance to a bar.

“Where, or when are we now?” he asked wearily.

“Sam is twenty three. This is where he holds court.”

“Holds court? What does that mean?”

But Dean was talking to empty space, so he squared his shoulders and walked inside. Noise assaulted his ears. He approved of the music, but the company, not so much. A biker gang sprawled around the pool tables, and Dean swore he caught the glint of black eyes as one of them watched him as he headed for the bar.

He found Sam easily, lounging against the bar as if he owned the joint, his hand beneath the skirt of a petit blonde haired girl. At twenty three, Sam was tall and lanky, with eyes so devious, they may as well have been demonic.

When he looked up and saw Dean standing there, his eyes narrowed, but he didn’t look surprised.

“Last time I saw you, you’d just gotten me arrested.”

“Yeah, well, if you will be a punk assed kid who thinks pulling a knife on a cop is a good idea, what do you expect?”

Sam whispered in the girl’s ear and she pouted and walked off. Sam nodded at the bartender, who brought two shot glasses, filled them both and left the bottle. Sam handed one to Dean.

“Why are you here? Another attempt to save me? Or are the cops waiting outside for me to leave?”

“Thought I’d look you up, see how you turned out.” Dean knocked back the shot, and filled his glass again. "So where's your Dad?"

"Salted and burned, good hunters send off." Sam knocked his shot back.

"He's ... dead?"

Dean couldn’t help being glad that John hadn’t lived to see Sam become whatever he’d become. ‘Holding court’ Cas had said. Dean glanced around and wondered again what he’d meant by that.

"Do you ever hear from Bobby Singer?"

"No-one does. He was killed by a demon, same time as Caleb and Pastor Jim. Same one the killed dear old Dad."

Before Dean could ask him which demon, a girl with long dark hair wrapped her arms around Sam’s waist. A girl he recognized.

“Who’s your friend, Sammy?”

”For the record, I would have followed Sam.”

Casey. If he’d had the knife with him, he’d have plunged it into her cold demonic heart right there and then. Last time they’d met, he’d begun to warm to her before Sam had killed her, but now he could see the reality of what could have been under different circumstances, he was glad she hadn’t been allowed to live.

“Casey, isn’t it?” he asked. “I’m Dean.”

Her eyes narrowed and she looked him up and down, eyes full of suspicion.

“Look, sweetheart,” Dean drawled. “I’ve got some business with your boyfriend. Personal business, so if you don’t mind?”

Casey glared at him, but Sam was watching him with interest now.

“Go, I’ll see you later.” Sam bent down and kissed her.

She walked away, hissing in Dean’s ear as she passed him. “You stink of angel.”

Dean turned to watch her go, then turned back to Sam. There was no need to talk around the subject, not now, and he really wanted to know just how bad it had gotten.

“So, Sammy, you ever visit a place called Cold Oak?”

“I knew you had to be something more than human,” Sam grinned at him, eyes glittering. “Cold Oak made me the man I am today. My own personal Thunderdome, but then I think you know that already.”

“Let me guess. Yellow Eyes made you an offer you couldn’t refuse?”

“Yellow Eyes? Oh man, he’ll love that one,” Sam laughed, knocking back another shot.

“He’s still alive?” Dean blanched.

“Alive and kicking.”

“No …” Dean’s voice was little more than a whisper.

So Sam had come out of Cold Oak alive, BFFs with Azazel by the way he was talking, so if the gates were opened, he had his army, and Sam? By the sound of it, Sam was on board with the whole plan.

“He killed your mother,” Dean hissed, slamming his hand against Sam’s chest and pushing him back.

“He had his reasons,” Sam smirked, stepping back into Dean’s space. “But you seem to be taking it personally. I’ve gotta wonder why that is. Why don’t we ask him?”

Sam glanced over Dean’s shoulder, and Dean turned, not wanting to see who was standing behind him, but unable to stop. He found himself looking into the baleful yellow eyes he’d thought he’d closed forever when he’d killed Azazel with the Colt.

“And who do we have here?” the too familiar voice asked.

This time when Castiel appeared and fingertips touched his forehead, Dean almost sagged with relief.

He stumbled when they landed, taking a step away from the drop into a fast running river. He looked up and saw what was left of the bridge. Broken shards of twisted metal. He turned around, but there was no sign of the well lit town that had been there before.

"Where are we?"

"December 24th 2009, back where you started."

"But ... what happened? Where is everything?" he asked as he wandered back the way he’d come, looking at the piles of snow covered rubble where houses had been standing a few hours earlier.

"This is all that’s left. The world ended, Dean. As soon as Sam had the Colt in his hands, Azazel made him an offer and he accepted. He opened the Devils Gate, let hell loose on earth, and when Lucifer asked, he gave himself up willingly. Adam was Michael’s only chance for retaliation, and he fell. Lucifer cleared the earth of humans, leaving a wasteland behind him, and he scoured hell of every last demon before he lay siege to heaven."

"No." Dean whispered. "Sam would never willingly say yes."

"The boy you helped raise, the boy you influenced to be the man he is now, he would never say yes. But the boy you met who grew up alone with no buffer between him and the darkness save your father? He did.”

“But I failed him.”

“You endured the very worst hell could muster. You stood against the force of the darkest, most destructive torturers even seen, all with one intent. To break you. And you withstood them for 30 years. We failed you, Dean, I failed you. If you must blame someone, blame me, but don’t blame yourself. Sam needs you, just as much as you need him. He needs the hope only you can give him.”

Dean stared at Castiel, not thinking about the versions of Sam that he had met, but thinking of his Sam, lying alone back in their motel room. He had a choice. He could keep his distance, or he could put the past behind them and move on.

On impulse, he planted a kiss on Castiel’s cheek, grinning at the shocked look on his face.

“Happy Christmas, Cas. And thanks for the gift.”

Dean ran all the way back to the motel and let himself into their room. It smelled faintly of pizza and at any other time, he would have been checking to see if Sam had left him any, which he always did, even now. But Dean had more important things than pizza on his mind.

“Dean?” Sam’s voice was sleep roughened, and Dean heard the sheets rustling as he moved in the bed.

Dean sat down on the edge closest to Sam, and leaned forward to switch the light on. Sam was lying on his stomach, sheets slipping down his bare back as he propped himself up on his elbows and blinked sleepily, shying away from the light.

“You okay?” Sam asked.

“Yeah, I think so.”

Dean looked at Sam, really looked at him. There was no sign of the Sam he’d met earlier. His Sam looked back at him, hopeful confusion in his eyes. Dean reached out and ran his finger along Sam’s cheekbone, skimming over the healing scrape that marred Sam’s skin.

“Dean?" Sam murmured. "You sure you're okay?"

“Yeah. Look,” Dean paused. There was so much to say, but he didn’t know how to start. How did he tell Sam that it didn’t matter how bad things were now, that they’d both messed up, but it didn’t matter. They mattered, the two of them together mattered. One without the other didn’t work and all the shit they’d put each other through was bearable in the face of what could have been. He took a breath to begin explaining it all, but what came out was “I miss you”.

Sam smiled, just the corners of his mouth tilting upwards at first, but it grew. His eyes lit up as his cheeks began to dimple. It wasn’t the widest of smiles, but it was a beginning.

“I miss you too.”

Sam reached up and pulled Dean closer, until his forehead rested against Dean’s.

“Come to bed.”

Dean nodded, unable to resist kissing Sam first. It was a soft brush of lips at first, testing, making sure Sam wanted the same thing, and given that he kissed Dean back, opening his mouth to let Dean in, Dean guessed he was okay with it. He wrapped an arm around Sam’s shoulders, pulling him closer, but Sam smiled against his mouth and shivered.

“Cold, Dean. Let me warm you up.”

Dean pulled back, then smiled sheepishly. He was still wearing his jacket and the leather was freezing to the touch. He ran a hand down Sam’s naked arm, stealing another kiss before standing up and shedding his clothes, leaving them and his boots in a pile by the side of the bed. Sam scooted over as Dean slid into bed and into the warm spot Sam’s body heat had made. Dean groaned as the warmth enveloped him. He rolled over and pulled Sam towards him, surprised at the yelp of protest.

“Dude, you’re freezing!” Sam objected, but gave in, pressing his heated skin against Dean’s cold body, grumbling as he did so.

Slowly, Sam relaxed, but as Dean warmed up, he noticed a different kind of tension radiating from his brother. Sam’s hand was splayed over Dean’s stomach, resting nervously as if Sam hadn’t decided whether to push his hand down Dean’s shorts and wrap it around his dick, or move his hand up to Dean’s chest and curl it over his heart, the way Sam liked to fall asleep.

Dean ran his fingers over Sam’s causing them to twitch on his abdomen, a small movement that certainly got Dean’s dick’s attention. But this had to be Sam’s choice. Dean dragged his fingers up Sam’s arm, tracing his muscles and drawing circles on his shoulder. He pushed his fingertips into Sam’s hair and placed slow, deliberate kisses along his jaw.

“Whatever you want, Sammy.”

Sam let out a long breath, his shoulders relaxing, and Dean took that to mean that they would be sleeping, so the press of Sam’s large hand against his belly came as a surprise. Sam slid his hand under the waistband of Dean’s shorts and wrapped his long fingers around Dean’s rapidly hardening cock.

“S …Sammy …” Dean stuttered against Sam’s mouth, thrusting up into the tight grip of Sam’s hand.

“I want you,” Sam stated, nuzzling Dean’s neck and with a moan, Dean tilted his head back, baring his throat so Sam could continue driving him crazy with his mouth.

Dean slid his hands down Sam’s back, cupping his bare ass and kneading the flesh until Sam rocked against him, the leaking head of his dick leaving damp trails over Dean’s hip.

“Please Dean, touch me,” Sam gasped, shuddering as Dean obliged and fisted Sam’s cock, thumb slipping over the slit with each stroke.

They worked each other, uncoordinated pulls and tugs bringing both of them closer to the edge. Dean looked up to see Sam watching him intently, mouth soft and inviting, eyes fluttering half closed as Dean slammed his mouth against Sam’s, tongue thrusting deep, tasting the moans rumbling up from Sam’s chest. Then he was panting, short puffs of air over Dean’s lips as his body jerked and he came, spilling hot over Dean’s hand. Sam’s fist tightened around Dean, and he came as his brother shuddered in his arms.

It was well into the morning when Dean woke the next day. Christmas Day, he thought, then smiled as Sam snuffled in his arms.

They’d already saved the world, just by being brothers and growing up together. Maybe, just maybe, they could save it again.

For the first time in a long time, Dean felt as if they had a chance, as if there was hope left in the world after all. And that was the best Christmas present he could have wished for. He sent a small prayer to Castiel, thanking him for the gift, and bent his head, seeking out Sam’s mouth and kissing him until his eyes began to open. Dean smiled at him.

“Merry Christmas, Sammy.”
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