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September 2027

The world was quiet on the other side of midnight.

Sometimes Dean liked it, the gentle silence of their house at night.  His nights had been noisy, always, filled with the crackle of burning bones in a graveyard or the drunken laughter of folks at a bar, the clanking of a radiator at a motel or the rumble of semis going by at the roadside, and there was a . . . a sort of sweetness, really, to being able to curl around Sam in their wide soft bed and drift off with nothing but the rise and fall of his brother’s breath in his ears, or the sound of the wind in the trees outside their bedroom, or the murmur of a baseball game on low on the radio beside them.

Sometimes, like tonight, with only the rush and thrum of the rain outside and half a pot of cooling coffee to keep him company, Dean didn’t like the quiet much at all.

He’d had the TV on for awhile after he’d woken, shaken and sweaty with a choked off Sam! on his lips, but even as background noise there were only so many infomercials about ab rollers and wrinkle cream that one man could be reasonably expected to endure, and he found himself wandering from room to room for awhile instead, before he'd eventually settled in the kitchen for the weary, five hour wait for the sun. Nightmares didn’t stalk him often anymore, not like they had during the year he'd carried the Mark, nor during the first few months after Sam had rid him of it, but earlier that night he'd gone to sleep curled like a hurt animal on their couch, angry with his brother and knowing damn well that their fight had been his fault, and his dreams had been filled with darkness and the scent of blood and honey, and with the maddening, restless hum of bees.

The bad nights weren’t when he dreamed of what he’d said and done to Sam as a demon; they weren’t even when he dreamed of the forty years he’d spent in hell, Alistair’s voice, Lilith’s eyes, the screams of the damned beneath his hands.  The bad nights were when he dreamed of Cain, and of his promise, and woke to his arm throbbing again with a deep, abiding ache, like beestings on the bone. It was nothing but the same phantom pain that afflicted anyone who’d ever lost a limb (or, you know, a Biblical, fratricidal, apocalypse-inducing curse), and he knew that; he did; and it faded, always, as soon as he woke up enough to realize that he wasn’t really covered in his brother’s blood, wasn’t really wrist-deep in Sam’s warm intestines, with his brother’s dead, glassy eyes staring up at him from his ruined face, but the dreams and the pain still scared the hell out of him, all the same.

There was a quiet creak of floorboards behind him. He didn’t bother to turn from where he was sitting in the dark, just tightened his grip on his mug and kept his eyes stubbornly on his coffee as Sam came up soft-footed beside him, knowing he needed to apologize, not knowing how.

A familiar hand, calloused and warm, settled on the back of his neck a moment later, thumb and fingers digging briefly, tenderly in to the stiff muscles on either side of his spine, before they drifted up to slide through his hair, cup the back of his skull.  Dean’s head tipped back into the touch, just a little, and he spent a long moment convincing himself that the stupid, prickling heat in his eyes had nothing to do with tears.

He didn't know where Sam had learned his endless capacity for forgiveness, because Christ knew the kid hadn't gotten it from him.

‘You’re a jerk,’ his brother finally informed him, gently, nails scritching at the tender skin of his scalp. ‘You're the biggest jerk that ever jerked, you have now set new records for jerk-dom, and you’re making me a green smoothie and steel-cut oats every morning for, like, the next twenty years. Got it?’

Dean nodded, silently, and after a minute leaned sideways a little to rest his head against Sam’s chest.  Dropped his chin and turned his face a little into the heat of his brother’s body, breathing in the familiar scents of their detergent and Sam's soap, of Sam’s warm, salt-sweet skin.  'Yeah,' he managed. His voice was muffled.  ‘Sammy, I'm sorry.’

Sam snorted, softly. 'I know that, jackass.'

They stayed like that for a little while, silent in the rainy dark.  Half-cradled against his brother's warm body, Dean could hear the familiar thump-thump thump-thump of Sam's heartbeat, steady and strong, and when he finally looked up at him, chin propped against his ribs, Sam just smoothed a thumb along his cheekbone and smiled a little, tired and sunbright and sweet.

The world was quiet on the other side of midnight, but Sam filled it, always, with light.