Dean looks up from the oven. “That isn’t you?” he asks, surprised.
Sam shrugs, the action dwarfed by the pinions rising above his shoulders. “It started that way,” he admits. “I told you before, Dean, I don’t control the weather.” There’s a gleam in Sam’s eye and a dimple popping in one cheek. He’s still too formal sometimes, distant in a way that is completely foreign to Dean, but there’s a change in him, even after only a few weeks. Dean can see it, like the thawing of a block of ice, slow but steady.
Spero, he thinks, hope rising in his chest as he looks between the dog and Sam.
“You really expect me to believe that,” he gripes, then tosses the oven mitts on the counter as a thought occurs to him. “Hey, let’s go out. Hit the town, get some burgers. Or Italian at that place in Leesburg.”
Sam’s forehead wrinkles. “Aren’t you heating up a pizza?”
Dean shrugs. “We’ll eat it later.”
Sam thinks for a minute, then shakes his head. “I shouldn’t leave. If someone sees me…”
“We’ll get it to go and eat in the car. C’mon, man. Lasagna from Giovanni’s.” Dean jingles his keys and watches a smile creep over Sam’s face.
“I promised Sparrow a walk.”
“Ah, she’ll be fine.”
Sam pinches his bottom lip between his thumb and finger, a habit from when he was a kid, then drops his hand. “Okay. Let’s go.”
“Atta boy.” Dean tosses the keys, catches them, and leads the way to the front door where he pauses. “Wait a sec, is this going to be a problem for you? Getting into the truck?”
Sam reaches past Dean and opens the door. “I think I’ll be fine.”
True to Sam’s word, he settles in the passenger side of the truck as if there weren’t six foot wings blooming from his back. Dean watches him do it and still misses the exact moment that Sam’s wings vanish. Sam smirks at Dean’s face and outright laughs when Dean’s jaw drops at the sight of glossy feathers crowning Sam’s shoulders, the edges of one or two blending with the hair at the nape of his neck.
“Holy crap, man,” is all Dean says. “You’re like a walking freak show.”
“I have to be able to blend in sometimes,” Sam explains. “I can’t always have people watching me.”
“So you just, what, suck in your gut? But with feathers?”
“It’s like holding my breath,” Sam corrects. “You still see them because you expect to.”
“Are you gonna be able to hold your breath all the way through dinner?” Dean asks.
“I’ve had a lot of practice,” Sam says. He reaches across the seat and starts the truck’s engine. When Dean still hesitates, he rolls his eyes. “I’ll be fine, Dean.”
It’s like something clicks into place behind Dean’s ribs. If he closes his eyes, he can almost—almost—imagine that the steering wheel in his palm, the engine rumbling under the hood, all belong to the Impala and Sam is next to him with a map spread over the dashboard, ready with a Hey, get this.
“Hey,” Sam’s voice says, and Dean’s eyes fly open. “We going?”
It’s not quite the same, but it is Sam next to him, which means it’s just as good.
Giovanni’s is the same as Dean remembers: small, crowded, and warm, with toasted garlic rolls and lasagna as broad as Sam’s hand. Dean holds his breath as they’re seated in a tucked-away corner, but no one looks at Sam any differently and the wings have faded away even from Dean’s eyes by the time their food arrives. Dean is reminded of them again as they leave the restaurant, full of lasagna and meatballs and the piece of tiramisu that Dean ordered and Sam stole.
The snow, which had almost stopped on their drive into Leesburg, has picked up again, and Sam’s wings arch over his shoulders like a feathery cloak, snapping into nothingness the minute he folds into the truck. Dean shakes his head and starts the engine. “Weirdest thing, I swear,” he mutters.
“You’ll get used to them,” Sam says.
Dread curls next to Dean’s stomach, next to the lasagna. “Yeah, about that…” he starts, but Sam catches him before he can start.
“This is temporary,” Sam says, “a reprieve. Castiel reminded me before he left.”
Dean pulls onto the highway as he considers his next words. He glances at Sam, trying to gauge his reaction. “Doesn’t have to be.”
Sam goes still in the shadows on the passenger side, moonlight illuminating the planes of his face. “I’d like that,” he says, finally, in a low voice. “I’d like to come back.”
Dean’s brow furrows. “Come back? Sam, I’m talking about not leaving, period. If you’re gonna draw a hard line, Heaven’s not going to bargain with you. As far as they’re concerned, you signed on the dotted line.”
“Then I don’t have a choice.”
Dean’s head rears back, and now Sam has his full attention. “No choice?” he repeats. “That’s the kind of crap that’s been shoved down our throats for years now, and we’ve always told the powers that be to shove it. Now you want to bend over for them?”
Sam’s face splits in a bleak smile, barely visible in the dark.
“Fine, then, you tell me. What do you want, Sam? What is it you want? ‘Cause hell if I know.”
Sam doesn’t answer and Dean swallows back the panic crawling up his throat. Sam will stay. Sam will stay.
Dean’s thumbs rub over the steering wheel as he tries another tactic. “Why would you go back, Sam?” he asks. “After all the crap they’ve put you through, why would you sign up for more?” Sam stays silent and Dean sighs. “Look, we’ve gotten out of deals before. We’ll call Bobby, see if we can find a loophole—”
“No,” Sam says firmly. “He can’t know I’m here.”
“Why not? He’s family. Sam, if you stay, he’ll find out eventually.”
Sam’s mouth stays a firm line.
“Seriously?” Dean snaps. “You’re gonna sit quiet and let him go on thinking you’re dead?”
“Why?” Dean demands.
“Because I can’t stay. It will be easier,” Sam says, face washed white then plunged into shadows by the flare of passing headlights, “when I have to go back.”
“Not if we find something—”
“Dean,” Sam says, sharply enough that Dean glances at him before turning his eyes back to the road. “I have to go back.”
“What do you mean?”
Sam is silent.
“Oh, no, we are not doing the whole cryptic-comments-then-clam-up crap,” Dean says, dividing his attention between Sam and the road. “You’re going to tell me what the hell you’re talking about.”
Sam straightens, eyes fixed in front of him. “Pull over.”
“No, absolutely not—”
“Dean. Pull over,” he says again, and Dean finally sees.
There’s a car tipped into the ditch along the side of the road, its tail lights shining feebly in the falling snow. A few yards away is another car with a smashed bumper, broken glass littering the pavement between them. An SUV is parked on the other side of the road, and there’s a guy crouched next to the open door of the car that got hit. He waves a hand as Dean pulls up and shouts, “You guys paramedics?”
“No,” Dean yells back, fumbling for the flashlight in the glove box. Sam is already out of the truck, boots crunching over the glass. He doesn’t look back to make sure Dean is following, but Dean can feel the echoes of Sam’s feathers tingling pins and needles in his hand. He can see Sam sliding down the embankment, silent, certain, and just like that his Sam is gone, replaced by Heaven’s soldier. Dean slams the truck door, swearing as he follows.
He swears again when he reaches the bottom of the slope and sees Sam standing by the crushed door of the driver’s side, checking for the pulse of the girl pinned by the steering wheel.
“She’s awake,” Sam says.
The girl can’t be more than nineteen and her face is ashen in the flashlight’s beam.
“Damn it,” Dean says and pulls out his phone.
The girl makes a choked sound, wide eyes blinking at Sam, then hanging on the space behind his shoulders. Dean realizes with a jolt that he can see Sam’s wings, broad and black in the night. He’d bet the Impala that the girl can see them too.
“Sam,” Dean growls, a combination of a curse and a warning.
“The man already called 911,” says Sam.
“We don’t know for sure,” Dean argues, punching in the numbers, but Sam wraps his fingers around the screen of his phone, quicker than Dean is used to.
“I do.” Sam nods up the embankment at the other car. “That driver will live. The man who’s helping him is a doctor and an ambulance is on its way.” He bends down, his face an inscrutable mask, and reaches through the shattered window to gently brush the blood-matted hair from the girl’s temple.
Her lips come together, trembling with cold or fear. “Please,” she says, a whisper of air. “Pl-please.”
The blankness drops from Sam’s face and he steps away, looking back up the embankment. Naked pain is written in the line of his jaw, in the tightness of his mouth.
Dean crouches by the crumpled door and does his best to smile at the girl. “Help’s coming, all right? Hey, look at me. Can you tell me your name?” He waits for her to focus on his face and gives an encouraging nod.
The girl blinks slowly, lips trembling as she tries to form the words. “Em… E—” The word cuts off in a low moan.
“Emily.” Sam’s voice is hoarse. “Her name is Emily Mason.”
The back of Dean’s neck prickles and he stamps down the urge to grab Sam close and make him hide the wings again, make him stop being this other thing and just be Sam. Instead, he drags a smile from somewhere and reaches through the shattered window for the girl’s cold hand. “Okay, Emily. Just hang in there, okay? You’re doing good.”
Blood trickles from the corner of her mouth, a dark line against the whiteness of her face. Her eyes fix on Dean as her mouth forms one word, a gasp that’s nothing more than a movement. “Please.”
Sam makes a quiet noise, and Dean only has the chance to catch motion from the corner of his eye before he’s suddenly pushed off balance, shunted to the side by a midnight wing. There’s the quick whisper of another language as Sam presses his lips to the girl’s forehead, heedless of the broken glass, then fits a careful hand over the girl’s eyes. Her eyelashes flutter against his palm, mouth pressed together to form another plea.
Then Sam touches two fingers to her forehead.
There’s no sound, no dying breath, but when Sam stands up and steps away, it’s no secret that the girl—choking and bleeding and alive a minute ago—is dead. The snow falling around them suddenly feels very cold.
“Sam,” Dean says, breath clouding, “what the hell did you do?”
Sam’s shoulders are set, broad and imposing like when he first arrived with Castiel, but his eyebrows are pulled together, misery written in the lines of his face. “What I had to,” he says.
“What you…” Dean breaks off, tearing his eyes away from his brother. His hands are shaking, a combination of adrenaline and anger. He curls them into fists and thinks about slamming one of them into Sam’s stomach, wonders if Sam would fold from the blow, whether he’d dodge. Whether it would even touch him.
The wail of sirens reaches them, breaking the silence of falling snow. Dean grabs Sam’s arm and gives him a shove up the embankment. “We have to go,” he says. Sam scrambles up the slope obediently, his wings tucked in close. Dean’s lips curl away from his teeth as he follows, ignoring the urge to rip the damn things from Sam’s back.
Sam must have some idea of Dean’s anger because his wings are nothing more than indistinct smudges from where he’s waiting by the truck. Dean jerks open the driver’s door as an ambulance pulls up and jams his keys in the ignition, turning over the engine and driving off fast enough that anyone watching would be suspicious. As it is, no one gives them a second glance, and Dean shakes his head viciously, wondering if Sam had something to do with that too.
The ride home is silent. The words Dean wants to say are piled up in his throat, leaving him with nothing to do but grit his teeth. Sam doesn’t say anything, and that angers Dean more than he would have expected. Instead Sam sits with his shoulders hunched like he wants to apologize but won’t.
It’s Dean who finally breaks the silence.
“What the hell was that?” he asks, his voice a growl in the dark.
Sam doesn’t say anything.
Dean shakes his head as he pulls down their street, dirty snow and salt crunching beneath the truck’s tires. He pulls into their driveway and turns the engine off, then shifts to face Sam head-on. “You killed that girl. You get that, right? You killed her.”
Sam doesn’t look at Dean, doesn’t even fidget like Dean’s Sam would. When he speaks, his voice is quiet, measured, like he’s explaining something to a child. “She wasn’t going to make it, Dean.”
“We don’t know that!”
“Yes,” Sam says, “I do.”
Dean stares at him, speechless, then gives a broken laugh. “I don’t believe this.” He fixes his eyes on Sam and shakes his head. “This—this is…” He drags a hand down his face, then stops as all the pieces come together. “Sam,” he says, “is this what you do? Is this what Heaven is making you do?”
Sam shifts minutely, and suddenly the wings are back, feathers shadowing Sam’s neck, his face.
“Answer me, Sam, damn it. Are these the kind of missions they’re sending you on?”
For a long minute, Sam doesn’t say anything. When he finally turns to look at Dean, his eyes are dark with anger. “I told you,” he says, biting off each word. “I told you, Dean.” You don’t want to know. “Don’t ask me to tell you again.”
Then he's gone, shoving his way out of the car faster than Dean can see. The front door slams behind him, loud enough to wake the whole block.
Dean lets out a string of curses and follows.
Dean almost wishes he had to go to work the next morning, but the garage is closed for three days, starting Christmas Eve, and for once Dean has nothing better to do than sleep in. Normally he’d spend the morning tossing tennis balls for Sparrow in the back field and then running errands in the afternoon, but the minute Dean blinks at the sunlight coming in through the curtains he knows that’s not going to happen.
Sam’s bed is empty, the sheets rumpled. A quick glance at Sparrow’s bed shows that she’s gone, too. Dean sighs and drags his fingers over his scalp, then goes downstairs for coffee. Sam and him might not be speaking, but Sam at least was generous enough to have made enough coffee for Dean. He never gets the chance to drink it, though. Before he pours himself a cup, a flash of blue through the window catches his eye and Dean makes his way outside.
The field is marked by tracks, Sparrow’s paw prints gallivanting next to Sam’s footprints for a while, then veering off when the line of footprints abruptly ends. He doesn’t have to wonder where Sam went, though—he can see his brother, wings bottle-blue in the morning light, flying in low, lazy loops near the trees at the field’s edge.
It’s impossible, effortless. Dean doesn’t realize his heart’s in his throat until Sam circles back and lands a few feet away, a smile flickering over his face.
“Been out here long?” Dean asks.
“No. My wings were getting stiff, so… I thought I’d stretch them a little.”
“Did you keep an eye out?”
“No one saw me,” Sam says. “I’ve been flying low.” The tilt of his head shows that he understands the double meaning. “You want to try?” he asks.
Dean’s eyebrows jump. “You know I hate flying.”
“Not like this, you wouldn’t.” Sam shoots a longing look at the clouds in the sky, cotton balls against the blue, and then turns back to Dean. “Tomorrow?”
It’s an olive branch. A few years ago, that olive branch might have come in the form of a burger piled with onions or a new tape for his collection. Sam is still looking at him, waiting for an answer. It’s hard to reconcile this Sam, his Sam, with the one from the night before, the Sam who sets his jaw and kills people without a thought.
Sam’s eyebrows pinch together, the smile disappearing from his face completely, and Dean gives in. “Maybe.”
Sam smiles and nods like it’s decided. “Tomorrow,” he says. “My Christmas present to you,” and then he’s gone again.
Dean stuffs his hands in his pockets and hunches his shoulders against the cold air. Sparrow trots back, tongue lolling, and butts her head against his leg affectionately before collapsing at his feet. Dean bends down to rub a hand through her fur, thinking. A year ago Sam was having visions and dodging reapers. A year ago Sam had asked for a Christmas party and Dean had given it to him. A year ago Sam ate soup in the diner and Dean ate a bacon cheeseburger and they didn’t know it was almost over.
The awful thing is that it still feels that way, like any minute something will to take Sam back and leave Dean grasping at air. The awful thing is that that feeling is true.
“What are we doing here?” Dean mutters, eyes fixed on his brother who looks more at home in the sky than he does on the ground.
They stay outside until Sparrow is too tired to chase Sam on his low sweeps over the field and Dean’s collar is soaked under his jacket from the odd airborne snowball. Sam touches down, sweat running down his neck, with a smile on his face that finally looks like peace.
“Better?” Dean asks.
Sam bends to scoop up a handful of snow and press it to the back of his neck. “Better,” he agrees, panting.
They go inside and Sam makes sandwiches while Dean towels Sparrow off and sets her loose in the living room. They eat in front of the TV, Sam sitting next to the Christmas tree and brushing a hand over its branches to release the scent of pine.
“You’re a freak about Christmas, man, you know that?” Dean says when he sees him.
“I’m a freak about a lot of things. We have any eggnog?”
Dean shakes his head slightly, more disbelief than anything, and doesn’t bother hiding the grin on his face. “We’ll get some.”
They both end up falling asleep, Dean stretched out on the couch, Sam on his stomach with Sparrow snoring on the floor next to him. By the time Dean wakes up, the TV is off and it’s dark out. He sits up, groaning, one hand pressed to his neck.
“Comfortable?” Sam’s head peeks through the doorway to the kitchen. He grins at Dean’s sour look. “I heated the pizza from last night.”
“Eating again?” Dean gripes at the same time his stomach growls. “What time is it?”
Dean stands up and stretches, his back popping, and shuffles into the kitchen. Instead of curling up in her bed, Sparrow is trailing Sam around the kitchen, snorting when her nose brushes against Sam’s feathers. The old radio is set up on the counter next to the toaster, crackling out Christmas carols that Sam hums to as he pulls on an oven mitt and slides the pizza out. Dean grabs two plates and sets them on the counter, then snags two beers from the fridge and sits down.
When Sam doesn’t, Dean looks up at him, then back down to survey the food. “What’s wrong? We missing something?”
Sam’s nose wrinkles. “Salad?”
They finish the pizza, except for one lone slice that Dean gives to Sparrow when Sam’s not looking. Somehow Dean wrangles Sam into cleaning the dishes, which Sam does by hand despite Dean asking, “Can’t you use the Force?” which gets him a scathing glare in return. Sparrow settles in her basket with her pizza crust and watches the two of them move around the kitchen, her tail thumping every so often when one of them speaks.
Dean knows the feeling. They haven’t talked at all about last night and if Dean has his way they never will—the memory of Sam with his fingers pressed against that girl’s forehead still raises the hair on Dean’s arms—but this right now is good. They’re good. After almost a month Sam’s shoulders are slowly bending, losing that soldier-straight rigidity, and he even laughs when Dean makes a joke about his wings. It’s a halting version of the familiarity they once had, but it’s still a thousand times more than Dean ever hoped for.
Then the phone rings. Dean looks at it, hesitating, his eyes going to Sam and waiting. Sam catches him at it and rolls his eyes.
“Last time I checked, you still have to pick it up in order to hear anybody,” he says.
Dean shakes his head and tucks the phone into his neck. “Hello?”
“Dean, hi, it’s Abby. How’s it going?”
“Good.” Dean cuts a glance at Sam and mouths, Abby. An inscrutable look crosses Sam’s face, leaving it blank in its wake. He turns back to the dishes, running his dishcloth over the plates with careful thoroughness, and Dean retreats to the living room, close enough for Sam to hear but far enough that he can ignore the conversation if he wants to. “Good, we’re good. How ‘bout you?”
“Crazy with Christmas stuff, as usual, but other than that, good. I was just calling to remind you about tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow,” Dean echoes.
“Dinner? Remember? My aunt’s cooking pot roast and we’re eating at six, it’s super casual, I promise. And there’s pie, which you promised to help eat.”
“Dinner, wow,” Dean hedges, looking behind him at Sam still at the sink. “That’s… Yeah, I do remember.”
“No, no, I didn’t. I just, I’ve already got something going here. Sorry.”
“Oh. Well, if you wanted to come over after dinner or something, that’s fine too. We’re really low-key, I promise.”
“Abby,” Dean says, his voice dropping. “I’m good. Really.”
Abby takes a minute, probably doing her best to read between the lines, and then her voice drops too. “Dean, what’s going on? You’re not—you’re not going to do something stupid, are you? Because you know I’ll—”
“No,” Dean says quickly, “no, everything’s fine, I promise. I’m good. I swear, I’m not looking up directions to the nearest cliff or anything.”
“You’re driving me to the airport Wednesday,” Abby says firmly. “You agreed, okay? No checking out on me; I need my ride.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Dean gives a nod, even though she can’t see. “I’ll even buy you coffee beforehand.”
Abby’s silent for a moment, then she says, “This town cares about you a lot, Dean Campbell. You do a lot of good here.”
Dean folds his mouth in a smile. “This is getting kinda deep for a dinner invitation.”
Abby laughs. “Shoot, you’re right, sorry. Anyway, Merry Christmas. Have a good time doing whatever it is you’re doing. I’m going to ask a bunch of invasive questions later, just so you know.”
“I wouldn’t expect anything less,” Dean says, then hangs up.
Sam is quiet when he comes back in the kitchen. The dishes are clean and the counter is immaculate. Sam himself is perched on one of the stools behind the counter, eyes fixed on the feathers in their glass twirling in time with the circles Sam’s index finger is making in the air. He doesn’t look at Dean when he asks, “How’s she doing?”
Dean puts the phone down and jams his hands in his pockets. “Fine. Good.”
Sam nods silently and Dean curses at the carefully blank look on his face.
“You can’t,” Dean says, knowing Sam will have heard every word of Abby’s invitation, knowing Sam will understand what he means. To explain his sudden disappearance and his miraculous reappearance would sabotage the reason they came to Pooles in the first place. Especially if Sam’s going to disappear again when Heaven snaps its fingers.
“I know,” Sam says. “But you could.” He looks at Dean, already knowing the answer—as if Dean ever would. Then, he admits, more human-sounding than Dean has heard him, “I miss her.”
“I know. I wish it was different.”
Sam drops his chin to his chest, hair hiding his eyes. He’s still for a minute, shoulders bowed, then he looks back up at Dean. “I wish that, too,” he says. His mouth twists in something that could be called a smile. “Part of me.”
“And what does the other part want?”
Sam’s smile pulls wider and he stands. The kitchen lights catch on the tears in his eyes. “It’s no good, Dean. I know, I’ve tried it. You can draw and quarter monsters but not souls.”
“Then what do you want? What do you want, Sam?”
Sam’s eyes flash, anger, or maybe frustration, thrumming in the heavy lines of his wings, in his curled fists. Then it ebbs away, folding Sam with it. When he finally speaks, his voice is just a mumble. “What do I want,” he says, half to himself, turning the words over in his mouth. “I know that. That at least I know.” He leans against the counter, shoulders slumped. “I want to not want. I want to have.”
Dean swallows. “You can, Sam. You can, okay? We’ll figure it out.”
“No, you don’t understand.” Rancid desperation threads through Sam’s voice. “I can’t stop.”
“I can’t stop.” Sam’s voice rises. “I can’t leave Heaven, not when I can help.”
Dean’s forehead wrinkles. “Yes, you can. That’s exactly what you can do, you can just walk away. Leave it.”
He draws back when Sam barks a laugh, high and hurting. “Oh, Dean. You should know how this works, you spent more time with Dad than anyone.” When Dean doesn’t do more than look at him blankly, Sam presses, “Think of how many times Dad got drunk over wanting to do the same thing. Hunting? Dean, he hated it. He just didn’t have a choice, not after he knew what was out there.”
“Sam,” Dean says, making sure to keep his voice steady. “It’s not the same. All right? This is Heaven’s war, Heaven’s agenda.”
Sam smacks a hand down on the counter, and despite himself Dean jumps. “That’s not the point!” Sam shouts. “Because now I’m part of it! They ruined me. How do you keep a soldier on the front line? You make him care about the cause. And what happens when the war doesn’t end?” Sam flings out his arms, knocking the glass of feathers to the floor with a crash. “When it stretches on for centuries and there’s nothing left to fight for but this idea? Don’t you get it? I can’t come back. I can’t— I’m—”
Dean stares as Sam covers his face with shaking hands. The line of Sam’s shoulders is tight, his wings drawn close, and as the horror of what Sam’s saying registers in Dean’s mind, his own body goes rigid. Sam’s powers have divided him. It’s as great a schism as Stanford, wider even, because California was somewhere Dean could visit and this time he doesn’t know half the things Sam has to do, is forced to do, does because he wants to.
How horrible, Dean thinks, to want something you don’t want. To be made to love something.
Sam makes a wounded noise, jerking Dean out of his thoughts. Dean steps forward, his head echoing with the memory of the panic room door muffling Sam’s screams. He reaches out a slow hand to curl around Sam’s nape and gently pulls him in.
“I hear you, Sam,” he says into the hair by Sam’s ear. “I hear you, little brother.”
They don’t stand there long. Sam doesn’t let them. He shifts in Dean’s arms and Dean lets him go, like he always does. Sam stands and sniffs and does his best to pull himself together, shore up his cracks, be the wall holding back the ocean for the whole world, and Dean lets him.
Then Dean tips his head to the front door and says, “C’mon.” Two minutes later they’re in the truck, cruising slow while Dean fiddles with the controls until the radio is crackling out Silent Night and the heater hums just below. Sam doesn’t say anything, just hunches in his seat, wings nothing more than shadowed outlines at his shoulders.
A faint smile curls Sam’s mouth when Dean pulls in front of the first house with Christmas lights decking every eave. There’s a plastic reindeer with a red lightbulb for a nose next to the mailbox. At the next house, a blow-up Santa is on the roof next to the chimney, looking over the nativity set on the ground below. Sam sighs and settles in, leaning his forehead against the truck’s window like it’s an old friend. His hair spreads over the glass, a dark halo echoed by the gleam of Christmas lights through the window.
Dean swallows and keeps driving.
They’re on the second row of houses when Sam turns, putting his back to the glowing lights and facing Dean. He doesn’t say anything for a few minutes, long enough that Dean glances over to see if Sam’s gone to sleep. He hasn’t. He’s looking at Dean the same way he did before he left for Stanford, before he made up his mind to go to California and wreck the fragile cohesion of their little family, wishing and wanting with his heart on his sleeve. Dean almost hates him for it, waits for the inevitable blow, and then Sam says in a broken voice, “Dean, what do I do?”
Dean shakes his head, chest aching. Choosing between things he wants is something he’s never been good at. “I don’t know, Sammy.”
Sam huffs a laugh, more a breath of air than anything, and sniffs. “Me neither.”
Dean rolls forward to another house, this one with angel figurines bordering the walkway, trumpets held in their glowing hands.
“Whatever you decide to do, though,” Dean clears his throat, “just remember that I’ve got your back. Whether you want to go or you want to stay, it’s your choice. You get to choose. And whatever happens…” He shakes his head, a smile tugging at his mouth. “I’m with you, Sammy. All the way.”
Sam is silent, but when Dean glances over Sam is smiling, relief so plain on his face that Dean has to look away.
“Thank you,” Sam says, reaching out to grip Dean’s wrist.
Delicate flakes of snow begin to fall as Dean grips back.