He’s not sure whether to be proud or worried.
There's no way in hell he's going in to work today, promises or no, but he slips out to the garage to make the call, leaning against the Impala's tarp-covered side and sending out a Hail Mary to whoever's listening these days that he doesn't lose his job over this. Rick is silent when Dean tells him, then Dean hears the click of the office door closing.
"Dean," Rick says, "you can't keep doing this. We're a small business, I know that, but any of the other guys did this and I'd have them out on their asses. I can't have people coming in when they feel like it and calling in when they don't."
"I understand," Dean says. "I don't know what to tell you. I wish I could say it won't keep happening but…some things have come up, and I've got to take care of them. I don't know how long that's going to take, but--"
"What happened to your brother?"
The question is like a right hook, snapping Dean's head back with the force of the blow.
"What?" he gets out through a throat that feels raw.
"I'm sorry to ask," Rick says, "and I don't want to pry. Normally I'd say it's only my business when it's about my business. But I have a feeling that whatever's going on with you these days is about your brother, which makes it your business, but it affects how I run mine. I don't need explanations, Dean, but I do need answers. Is all this… Is it about Sam?"
Dean runs his tongue over the inside of his cheek, tasting where he's bitten down and drawn blood. "Yeah. It is."
Rick almost sounds relieved. "All right. Take today. I'm not gonna put you in the mix until Monday."
The Impala rocks as Dean's knees threaten to buckle.
"But I'm putting you in instead of Gary for Christmas week," Rick continues. "And I don't want more excuses, Dean, you hear? Take some time, get yourself in order, then get your head down and get back to work." His voice lowers, goes soft. "It's hard, no one's saying it's not, but you either swing with the pitches or you strike out."
Dean clears his throat, pushing off from the Impala. "Thanks, Rick. I owe you."
Rick barks a laugh. "Ain't that the truth. See you Monday."
Dean hangs up, then squares his shoulders. He's got a whole 'nother set of problems waiting for him in the house.
The next couple of days are disturbingly normal. Sam spends a lot of time sleeping. Dean spends a lot of time watching Sam. Apart from the miracle of Sam's sudden reappearance and Sam's new ability to sleep through almost anything, Sam has also—finally—learned to eat for someone his size. He consumes whatever Dean puts in front of him with a single-mindedness that reminds Dean both of the summer Sam finally had a growth spurt and grudgingly inhaled whatever junk food Dean had in the kitchen and the time Castiel agreed to sit down to a meal with them and chewed his way through a burger as though its only purpose was nutrition, not taste.
“I picked up zucchini from the store yesterday,” Dean says, watching Sam swallow and take another bite of the bratwurst sandwich Dean cobbled together for lunch.
Sam doesn’t say anything, just looks up and nods. He takes another bite, chews four times, then swallows.
Dean does the same, trying not to match Sam’s mechanical rhythm. “Honestly, I can’t believe you haven’t thrown that thing against the wall yet and demanded a salad.” At Sam’s silent look, he continues, “You’ve eaten more red meat in the last two days than you’ve probably eaten in your whole life.”
Sam shrugs and his wings rise with him. “Lasts longer.”
“Hey, I’m not complaining,” Dean says and tucks back into his sandwich. Still, he thinks, maybe he should be.
For all he can tell, Sam is Sam. Aside from the practicality of his sleeping and eating habits and freaking wings, Sam seems normal. Which, in Dean’s mind, means that they’re due any day for Sam to break down or blow up.
He doesn’t do either.
Instead it’s Dean who has the breakdown.
On Monday, Dean’s more than tempted to call in sick to work again—after all, leaving Sam alone with Sparrow seems like a disastrous combination—but Dean needs the job and he’s relied too long on Rick’s sympathy. Besides, it’s only one day.
Still, he calls every couple of hours, just in case.
“She’s fine,” Sam answers for possibly the hundredth time. “Still a little skittish, but she’s fine.”
“Did you let her out?”
Irritation leaks into Sam’s tone. “After the fourth time, I left the door cracked so she can come and go when she wants.”
“You left the door…” Dean bites back a curse and instead heaves a sigh. “Please tell me you turned down the thermostat, or the heating bill is going to be hell.”
“You’ve had this dog for months,” Sam says. “Most people would have invested in a doggie door by now.”
“Doggie doors are for pussies,” Dean gripes, but relief is washing over him in waves. This is Sam. This is Sam. He’s doing a bad job of hiding the smile splitting his face if the looks the other guys are sending him are any indication.
“It’s 2:13 and I’m still not terrorizing your dog. Was there something else you called about?” Sam asks.
“Yeah, how’re you?”
Sam’s sigh gusts over the line. “What do you want me to say, Dean? It’s been three days. I’ve mostly been sleeping. Not exactly a lot of time to get my feet on the ground, here.”
“Okay, okay,” Dean says. “I’ll quit asking.”
“Thank you,” Sam says in the same tone that had their dad seeing red when Sam was a teenager, and hangs up.
Dean flips his phone shut and slides it into his pocket, then raises an eyebrow at the look Grant gives him. “What?”
“Nothing.” Grant shrugs, still watching Dean’s face. “Just didn’t know you were dating anybody.”
Dean stifles a groan. “Shut up.”
He doesn’t call again, even though his fingers start reaching for his phone a couple hours later. Instead he grits his teeth and keeps an eye on the clock. The second that five o’clock hits, Dean shoves out of his coveralls and grabs his coat, keys to the truck already in his hand.
The drive home seems to crawl by. He stops to pick up Chinese food for dinner, cursing every red light on the way back. There’s no way in hell he’d admit to having separation anxiety, but it’s the longest he’s been away from Sam, and the nightmare that the whole thing is a dream still haunts him. He practically peals into their driveway, almost forgets the Chinese food in the truck, and finally gets the front door open without having to kick it in.
Sparrow gives a sharp bark of greeting, and Dean rounds the corner to the kitchen to see Sam crouched on the ground, wings folded behind him, trying to coax Sparrow to eat her kibble.
Dean dumps dinner on the counter and pulls a hand down his face, cursing under his breath.
“How was work?” Sam asks, then looks at Dean again. His brow furrows. “What happened?”
“Fine. Uh, nothing,” Dean says. “Nothing. Brought dinner. Uh, I’m gonna go wash up.”
He goes up the stairs, closes the bathroom door, and turns on the shower, then sits on the edge of the tub with his palms pressed against his head. It’s not until the steam starts clouding the mirror that he realizes he’s panicking. Things are okay—good, even—and he’s panicking.
Dean fumbles for the shower knob and shuts off the water, listening to it gurgle down the drain. If he listens closely, he can hear Sam downstairs quietly praising Sparrow, probably for daring to get close enough to eat her kibble next to Sam and his wings. Dean braces himself above the sink and splashes a handful of cold water over his face.
Sam is back. He’s here.
But he’s leaving.
It’s almost a relief to drag the thought out into the open and acknowledge it in the full light of day. Dean dries his face on a towel, listening to the clatter of silverware as Sam sets out dinner, and considers his options. Castiel had made him promise to allow Heaven to take Sam back once his time was up…but he hadn’t said anything about Sam deciding to stay.
Dean tosses the towel into the sink and opens the bathroom door, breathing deeper than he has in weeks.
Sam might have changed from his time in the great blue yonder, but he’s still Dean’s brother. And Dean knows his brother. When Castiel comes to take Sam back, they’ll have a game plan. They’ll figure something out, like always. Make another bargain, cash in all their chips, and Sam can stay. Sam will stay.
“Dean?” Sam calls from downstairs. “Food’s getting cold.”
“Yeah, yeah, keep your panties on,” Dean calls back.
Sam will stay, he tells himself, and goes downstairs.
Dean wakes to absolute stillness, broken by a shuddering gasp from the other bed. Through the darkness he can see Sam’s wings held tight against his body, rising and falling with another gasped breath, then going motionless again.
“Sam,” Dean calls.
Sam’s eyes open instantly, breath rushing out of him like he’s been hit in the stomach. He pushes himself up, still trying to regulate his breathing, and Dean flicks on the lamp on the nightstand between their beds. Sam is sitting cross-legged on his bed, squinting in the weak light, hair tousled and looking all of four.
“I’m sorry,” he croaks out. “Nightmare.”
“S’okay,” Dean says, turning to sit facing him. “You want to talk about it?”
Sam’s mouth curls up humorlessly. “No,” he says shortly, then lays back down again.
“You know, most dreams are stress related. They tend to go away when you deal with the problem.” Dean shrugs easily. “Or so they say.”
Sam stares up at the ceiling, his face devoid of expression, but Dean learned stubbornness from his brother.
“I’m not exactly volunteering to talk about things I’ve done under duress,” Dean says, “but I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that there isn’t much of a gap between what you’re asked to do as Alistair’s pupil and what you’re asked to do as Heaven’s Terminator.”
Sam leans up on an elbow, forceful despite the relaxed position. “I am not talking about Heaven or its war.”
“Okay,” Dean allows, “fine. We don’t have to talk about anything you don’t want to. But you’re struggling, man. Maybe it would help.”
Sam barks a laugh. “I’ve only been here a few days,” he says. “You can’t expect me to be normal after that long.”
“C’mon, Sam, you were never normal,” Dean says. “I just want you to be you.” I want my brother back, Dean thinks.
Sam sits up again, all the way this time, and watches Dean closely, head tilted in a way that reminds him of Castiel. Dean waits, quiet, and Sam finally tucks his chin with a sigh. “I am…” Sam starts, then swallows, throat moving silently, and it’s human, it’s Sam, trying to get his words out with his whole body. “I’m trying,” he says, his voice soft in their small circle of light.
Dean nods. He knows. It was almost funny the first time he came down the stairs and saw Sam struggling with the coffee maker, but when Sam studied Dean loading the dishwasher like it would save his life one day, Dean knew something was wrong. He’d thought Sam’s movements, his speech, were aftereffects of being human and living in Heaven for a year. And maybe they were. But Sam has always excelled at adapting to whatever situation he’s in. The problem is that Sam’s not recovering from life in Heaven. He’s adapting to life on Earth, and the fact that Sam is so far gone that simple muscle memory isn’t helping him to make coffee in the mornings has Dean worried.
“I know you are,” Dean says. “And I get it—it’s not easy. I mean, your brain’s been hijacked six ways from Sunday. You’ve been through a lot, man. So maybe just…relax a little. It’ll come back to you.”
Sam doesn’t say anything, but he lies down and folds his arms over his stomach like he’s ready to go to sleep. Dean reaches over and turns the lamp off, then settles back in his bed.
Sam’s voice is quiet in the dark. “What if it doesn’t?”
You can’t tell me this doesn’t freak you out.
Dean’s answer is equally quiet. “It will.”
This doesn’t freak me out.
The rest of the week crawls by for Dean. He radiates tension at work, he knows. Rick is keeping a sharp eye on him and the rest of the guys give him a wide berth that he can’t help but feel grateful for. Bobby calls halfway through the week and knows that something’s up from Dean’s tone. Dean talks to him on the drive home, then sits in the driveway for a half hour, doing his best to convince Bobby that he’s not going to shoot himself.
“I swear,” he says for the hundredth time. “I swear on Dad’s grave.”
“You’re not acting like yourself,” Bobby says. “I’m coming down there, Dean.”
“No, you’re not, you’re going to stay right where you are. I’m fine. Work’s been busy.”
“Don’t give me that crap,” Bobby growls. “You work at a garage, boy. You and I both know that ain’t hard labor.”
Dean rolls his eyes to the ceiling and drops his head back against the headrest. “All right. You win.” He scrapes his teeth against his lip as he thinks of a plausible lie. “I’ve been thinking about hunting again.”
The line goes silent for long enough that Dean checks to see if he lost the connection. Then Bobby says, “Don’t bullshit me, boy.”
“I’m not.” Dean winces. Then again, if somehow Sam can stay… Then they’re back to square one. Hunters looking for them, except now they have an even bigger target on Sam’s back—literally. They won’t be hunting again anytime soon.
Bobby sighs. “And that’s it? This ain’t about you trying to track down your brother?”
“All right.” Dean can see Bobby nodding to himself. “All right. You make up your mind, you tell me. You hear? I don’t want to find out you decided to come back from someone who ran into you on a job.”
“I promise,” Dean says, “the minute I make up my mind, you’re the first to know.”
He hangs up and eases out of the truck, boots crunching on the salt he scattered over the driveway. The minute he opens the front door, he hears a loud bang and a frustrated growl from Sam. Sparrow meets him in the hallway, whining anxiously. He follows her to the kitchen where Sam is glaring at the microwave like it personally offended him.
Sam lifts his arm and Dean grabs it before Sam can hit it again.
“Hey, hey, hey,” he says. “No smiting. Talk to me.”
“It won’t turn on,” Sam bites out. “I know I’ve done it a thousand times, it’s a microwave, I know how to do this.”
“I know, man, don’t worry about it. Here, sit down.” Dean steers Sam to the kitchen counter and pushes him down on a stool. “What’s going on with you? This is kid stuff. Usually you freak out over curing cancer or something.” He dips his head to see Sam’s face, waiting for an answer.
“I apologize,” Sam says, then winces. “I’m sorry. I’m…having a hard time. Adjusting.”
“I kind of got that from the yelling and the pounding.”
Sam’s forehead furrows, mouth turning down as he shakes his head. “I didn’t think it would be different, coming back, but… Castiel tried to warn me. I see things—” he flings an arm at the microwave “—and I remember using them. I guess remembering and doing are…” Sam shrugs, “not the same.”
Dean pulls out the stool next to Sam and sits down, folding his hands on the kitchen counter. “You’ve been trying real hard, huh?”
Sam’s teeth are bared in something between a grimace and a smile. “I couldn’t help changing. I had to. I just didn’t know how much…” He cuts himself off, but Dean can finish for him.
“Until you got here.”
Sam nods miserably.
Dean echoes the gesture, running the edge of his thumb over a dark smear of grease on his hand, and thinks about how exhausted Sam was those first couple of days, already at the end of his rope and suddenly scrambling to adapt to a life he thought he knew.
“I called you about fifty times that first day at the garage,” Dean says.
Sam huffs what could be a laugh. “You did. It felt like the first time Dad took me shooting. The phone rang and I couldn’t even remember which button to push. It never got easier, no matter how many times I picked up.”
He talks different, Dean realizes with a pang. The words are close, but there’s too much hesitation, not enough of the drawl Sam picked up during his high school years when John spent three years taking hunts in the South. It’s nothing in the long run—nothing compared to wings and secret missions that Sam won’t talk about—but Sam has always used words, to fight back, to soothe victims, to thread together a case. Of all the things to have changed, the way Sam talks might be the hardest for Dean to accept.
As if Sam knows what he’s thinking, Sam darts a look at him and licks his lips. “Angels don’t talk, really. It’s thoughts more than anything, and in Enochian. I’m out of practice.”
“It’ll get easier,” Dean promises.
Sam fixes Dean with a look. “It doesn’t matter, though, does it? I only have a few more weeks,” he says, and panic claws its way up Dean’s spine again.
“Nobody’s taking you anywhere, Sam,” Dean says. “No one’s making you do anything you don’t want to. Got that?”
Sam doesn’t answer, his mouth twisted in what could be called a smile.
“Sam. We’ll work it out. We’ll tell him no. What’re they gonna do? Your Jedi stuff is under control, nobody’s gunning for us. We can do whatever we want.”
Sam does laugh, then, barely a breath but it hooks Dean’s attention, somehow important in its smallness. “Can we?” Sam says. He spreads his hands out on the counter, measuring the length of them against the tiles, then stands. “I’ll practice talking, then.”
“You do that,” Dean answers, thinks about saying something like, Don’t keep me awake with it, though. Instead he says, “I’ll help,” and Sam smiles for real.
The next morning is cold and white. Snow fell during the night, leaving a soft layer of white over the yard, pillowy and perfect—until Dean opens the door and lets Sparrow out. He watches ruefully as she takes off across the back field, stopping every so often to nose at the fine powder and bark in excitement. She’s panting by the time she lopes her way back to the porch, clumps of snow, mud, and stray pieces of damp brown grass caught in her fur.
“Happy now?” Dean grumbles at her. She cocks her head, one ear swiveling, blue eyes guileless. “Troublemaker,” Dean says, unfolding his arms and turning to go back to the warmth inside.
A playful growl stops him, and Dean turns back to see Sparrow backed on her haunches, taunting him with a brittle wooden stake, twine trailing from one end like a limp ribbon.
It takes Dean back to November when Sam’s tentative plans for a garden were nothing but a pile of muddy sticks and twine, and the pit in Dean’s chest seemed to expand with every passing day.
Dean blinks. The field is churned-up white, the sticks are nothing but sticks, and Sam isn’t gone anymore. Dean gives a breathless laugh. Sam is here.
“You can keep that,” he tells Sparrow, who paws at the remaining stakes heaped under the snow. She drops the one in her mouth once she sees she’s not going to get a game out of it, then shakes, snow flying from her fur. “Don’t bother thinking I’m letting you inside,” Dean warns, opening the door.
Sparrow holds his look, then makes a dash for it. Dean blocks her with a knee, but the brief scuffle ends with Sparrow wriggling through the opening and Dean spitting out dog hair with a rueful grin, Sparrow’s collar dangling from his fingers.
Sam is in the kitchen, shielded by his wings, but he turns with a smile when Dean comes in. “I thought I’d make breakfast,” he says, tipping his chin to the bowl of batter he’s whisking. The stove is on, a chunk of butter slowly melting in the pan.
“Knew I kept you around for something,” Dean says, tossing Sparrow’s collar on the counter. He smacks Sam’s bicep with the back of his hand and grabs a fork to prod the butter around the pan.
Sam snorts, then shifts, one wing lifting to scoot Dean out of the way while Sam pours batter into the sizzling pan. It’s a small gesture, harmless, but Dean jerks out of the way fast enough that Sparrow gets up from her bed in the corner and gives a short bark. Sam freezes, his whole body going still in that eerie way that reminds Dean there’s a good chance his brother is more angel than human.
There’s a moment of silence, then Dean gives a hoarse laugh. “Sorry,” he says, “reflex.”
Sam doesn’t say anything, but his shoulders come down a little. Already skittish around Sam, Sparrow still won’t get within five feet of Sam’s wings, but she curls up on her bed while Dean takes over the pancakes, prodding the bubbling batter and surreptitiously watching Sam fumble his way through setting out plates and silverware from memory.
“Cupboard,” Dean says, nodding at the right one, when Sam hesitates with the carton of orange juice in his hand. Sam grabs two glasses with a quiet, “Thanks,” and sets them next to the plates.
With Sam’s back turned, Dean’s vision is filled by the wings that he still can’t quite believe are his brother’s. Earlier in the week he’d almost had a heart attack when he rolled over in the middle of the night and caught the edge of a wing from the corner of his eye. Too many monsters had wings, too many angels, and remembering that it was Sam under the feather canopy had only come after a few heart-stopping seconds. In the light of morning, though, with Sparrow a steady presence in her corner and the tension run out of Sam’s shoulders, they’re fascinating. The dark blue feathers are too thick near the base for him to see how they’re attached to Sam’s body, and for the first time Dean wonders how Sam navigates something as simple as shirts.
“Do you wear armor?” Dean asks. “When you’re out on missions.”
Sam turns, the question clearly catching him by surprise. He blinks, then says, “In a sense. Nothing you’d notice, though.”
Dean nods, letting the subject drop.
“You can touch them, you know.”
Dean’s head snaps up to catch Sam watching him. His brother lifts the edge of one wing.
“You sure it’s safe?” Dean asks, only half joking. The feathers he’d saved from tracking Sam earlier in the year were still electrically charged weeks after sitting in a cup on the counter. To touch Sam’s wings… Dean shakes his head.
Sam studies Dean’s face, then rolls his eyes—muscle memory, Dean thinks, but Sam is trying like he promised—and stretches out a wing to brush Dean’s hand.
Dean’s throat closes on a yelp, but the electric jolt he’d expected doesn’t come. In fact, there isn’t anything—just the feeling of stiff, elegant feathers that are softer than they should be. A small smile lurks in the corner of Sam’s mouth as Dean tentatively lifts a hand and brushes it over a row of primaries. After the brief touch, there’s nothing, but after trying again, slower, a feeling sweeps up Dean’s arm, not a snap of electricity—more like taking a deep breath of icy air. He waits for Sam’s nod, then does it again, sensing warmth deeper, rising closer the longer he touches the feathers.
“Pretty cool, huh?” Sam says, the words still awkward as if he’s practicing a foreign language.
Dean has a sudden image of Sam sitting in the house on his first day back, doing his best to remember the easy way he and Dean used to speak like he would an old Latin text. Answering Dean’s stupid questions about Sparrow and the heating bill must have been the result of hours of Sam searching his memories, doing his best to be the brother Dean remembers.
Dean swallows and drops his hand. “Do they work?”
Sam shrugs and the wings rise with his shoulders, then settle. “I guess there was one good thing that came out of this.” He grins, dimples carved into his cheeks. “Dumbo finally learned how to fly.”
Things get easier. Dean goes in to work on time every morning and Rick doesn’t fire him from his job. Sam digs up some box from the garage that’s filled with a bunch of Latin texts that Bobby dumped on them years ago when Sam had a broken foot and needed something to do. Dean snorts when he sees Sam settle on the living room couch with a notebook, a pen, and the biggest book in the box, but Sam has barely made a dent in his translation when Dean heads to work two days later.
“It’s harder,” Sam explains. “Different from the Latin that we—they—speak.”
And that right there is progress. Sam talking about anything Heaven-related is practically a home run, but Sam talking is something Dean doesn’t think he’ll ever stop being grateful for. His words come easier now, the colloquialisms and mindless responses to Dean’s chit-chat flowing easier. He’s settling, too, getting into a routine. He’s staying, Dean reminds himself, but it’s a game plan he hasn’t really talked about with Sam, mostly because each time he thinks to bring it up, Sam does something, something simple and mundane and human, and Dean can’t bring himself to talk about Sam’s other side when the Sam he wants is right in front of him, cursing when he spills hot coffee, then shooting Dean a glance to see if he did it right, like he’s thirteen instead of twenty-eight.
And that’s what pushes Dean to decide to ask Sam for more answers. He’s too old to be hiding from anything anymore and keeping even well-intentioned secrets never did the Winchesters any favors.
Sam, though, doesn’t agree. He gives Dean small glimpses into what life is like as the sole member of Heaven’s special ops, but shuts down when Dean presses for more details.
“I’m basically a hybrid, Dean, remember?” Sam says.
“You’ve hated angels because of some of the things they’ve done.”
Dean scoffs. “I’ve hated angels? Last I checked they weren’t on your good list either.”
Sam holds up a placating hand. “I know. And they’re still not, but…some of the things they’ve done… I guess what I’m trying to say is, I understand, now.” Before Dean can ask, Sam gets up. “You don’t want to know,” he says, and heads out the back door, boots clomping on the porch, leaving Dean in the living room.
The thing is, Dean does want to know. That’s what’s made Sam so distant—it’s not the wings or the angel-stuff, it’s the damn secrets. And finally he’s struck the edges of whatever Sam is keeping from him.
The thing is, all of Sam’s secrets have been terrifying.
Work is slow on Friday. It’s the day before Christmas Eve and Dean isn’t doing anything more than fiddling with an oil filter and arguing with Carey about that week’s football game when Rick tells them they can all go home early. Dean’s more than happy to wish the guys Merry Christmas and head home, see if he can’t get Sam to try his hand at a game of poker, maybe pop some beers.
Dean rubs his hands together briskly as he heads out to his truck. Snowflakes delicately drift their way to the pavement, settling and hinting at more to come. The truck’s tires make treads in the half inch that’s already fallen as Dean pulls out of the parking lot and heads home. His mind immediately goes to Sam and the way a fresh blanket of snow always seemed to bring him a measure of peace. A few weeks ago, the sight of snow falling from the sky would have driven cold spears of dread into Dean’s chest. The last thing he’d needed were more memories of Sam’s last year.
Now, though, the snow isn’t a threat, and Dean is humming, God help him, to the Christmas music on the radio. He grins even bigger when he pulls up to the drive and sees Sam sitting on the front step with Sparrow, the two of them apparently—finally—reconciled. Sam’s wings are spread to the side, feathers ruffling a little in the slight breeze. One wing is curved over the dog, forming a blue-green cave to keep her warm. Dean gets out of the truck and jerks his chin to where Sparrow is burrowed close to Sam.
“Looks like you got yourself a shadow.”
“She decided they weren’t so bad once she figured out they were useful,” Sam replies absently. His eyes are distant, looking beyond Dean like there’s someone behind him. For some reason, Dean’s mind goes to Carol, the vision of her picking her way carefully down the snowy walk to get the mail appearing clearly in his head. He glances behind him, even though Carol’s house is hidden by the bend in the road, then turns back to Sam.
“She visited her daughter up in Maine for Thanksgiving,” Dean offers. “They’re all coming down for Christmas, I guess, flying in tomorrow. Cheaper tickets on the 24th.”
Sam nods silently, eyes still fixed over Dean’s shoulder.
Dean steps forward until he’s standing in front of Sam. From here he can feel the warmth from Sam’s wings, soothing and soft, as if the electric jolt his feathers always gave before has been tempered, grows more gentle the longer Sam is here. “You want me to say anything for you?” he offers. “To Carol?”
Sam shakes his head.
It reminds Dean of Sam as a junior in high school in the wake of one of his and John’s fights. By then, Sam had packed away his tears, never crying in front of John unless he was injured, and only offering simmering anger when he and John butted heads. After, though, Sam would sit quiet with Dean, still angry but mostly hurting. Twelve years later, the expression of aching loneliness on his face still looks the same, and Dean berates himself that he didn’t think of this, that most people in town think Sam is dead, that with his wings Sam can’t be seen.
“I’m sorry, Sam,” Dean says.
Sam ducks his head and nods a little.
Dean squeezes Sam’s shoulder as he goes into the house, and slides a pizza in the oven.