It had started once Sam got used to Dean being back from Hell. Before the whole ‘Sam sleeping with Lilith because Prophet’ thing. Sam had woken up around 6:30 am one morning as they were just entering a small… ish town. He’d groaned, rubbed his eyes, and blearily asked his brother if they could stop for a few hours.
Dean didn’t really feel like arguing, considering he’d been driving all night, so he might as well book a motel bed and get his four hours while Sam did whatever it was he wanted to do in whatever the fuck this small town was.
But then, the next week, it was almost the same thing. Only this time, Dean did fight him on it.
“Hey, can we pull over here?”
“Why?” Dean demanded. “What’s up, man?”
Sam sighed and rubbed his forehead. “I just need, like, two hours, okay? You can… I dunno, go to a bar. Buy eight burgers. Bang some random chicks, I really don’t care. We can get out of here by nine, okay?”
Dean rolled his eyes, but didn’t push it.
And eventually, somehow, it became a theme. Every Sunday, around 7 o’ clock, they’d stop in the nearest town and Sam would get out and go Do His Mystery Thing and Dean would… well, Dean would go off and Dean Winchester.
It’s only now, all these years later, that Dean’s finally starting to question it again.
Sam’s known this was coming. He’s been expecting it for a while, and in all honesty, he’s surprised it took this long.
6:45 am finds Dean pulling into a motel parking lot, switching off the engine, and stopping. Sam looks at him.
“Dude, what’re you doing for two hours every week?”
Sam pulls his best bitchface to see if he can get out of it. “Nothin’ you’d care about. Just hang out with Cas or something, I need to go, alright?”
“No, not alright. It’s been like five years, Sammy, we been doin’ this every week. I wanna know, and I think I’ve earned the right to, drivin’ ya and never askin’ questions.”
Sam rolls his eyes. “Okay. I’ll tell you on the drive home if you really want to know.” He grabs the handle of his door and shoves it open without any further ado, abruptly ending the conversation.
So apparently he can get out of it.
Dean watches him walk away, shaking his head. There’s no fuckin’ way Sam actually plans on telling me about it later. He groans, his mind already made up. He hates doing this kind of shit, but he hates having his brother hide things from him more. Which leaves him with only one option.
He follows him.
Sam walks out of the motel parking lot, down to the corner, crosses the street, grabs a three-dollar coffee from a gas station convenience store, and keeps walking. He makes it all the way across town in under fifteen minutes (which Dean greatly resents, stupid healthy motherfucker) and when Dean rounds a corner and sees Sam’s bitch ass disappearing into a large old-looking building with stained-glass windows… lots of things click into place.
Sundays. Of fucking course. Dean never considered it because he was not like Sam, but… of course that’s what he would be doing.
Dean pushes his way through the main doors of the church. There are two ushers standing by the doors into the sanctuary, and as he approaches them, they reach out toward him, smiling and holding bulletins. He waves them off initially, then changes his mind and takes one, smiling politely back at them.
“Welcome,” a sweet old lady tells him. “Enjoy the service.”
As he enters, they’re singing a hymn. He finds a spot in the back, on the opposite side from where Sam is, several rows behind him. He carefully situates himself so that he can keep an eye on his brother and almost as an afterthought, respectfully silences his phone.
“You may be seated,” the deacon announces, and the congregation does. Dean pulls out his bulletin and looks it over. As the service continues, Dean participates in only the parts he’s comfortable with, and he just listens and watches Sam.
He doesn’t know why, and he’s not even sure if he could describe it if he tried, but he feels something he can’t qualify, sitting in that church, watching his brother. It settles in his chest, just below his heart, a feeling of warmth and comfort and familiarity. It feels… it feels like home. Which is crazy, because Dean’s never put much stock into any of that religious mumbo-jumbo, he never believed, not like Sam did, but it does. It feels like a place he can be safe and protected and vulnerable. Like Mary making him apple pie, dancing around the kitchen with her huge infectious smile. Like when Sammy first came home, and John used to let Dean hold him, sitting on his father’s lap as he read them bedtime stories. Like sleeping in the Impala, curled a little too close to each other thanks to years of sharing motel beds, waiting for the rest of their family to come home.
It feels like Cas, who’s waiting for him at the Men of Letters bunker. It feels like he should be carving his name into the pew, DW, his signature, as proof that he was there and he didn’t try to bolt. It feels like he’s loved, here in this sacred space, like he matters, like he is worthy, and the thought makes him want to turn tail, run and hide, but he doesn’t.
Because he’s watching Sam. He sees him as he bows his head, as he sings the hymns, as he recites the Lord’s Prayer, and he knows. He knows with a certainty that he’s known very little else in his life, the kind of certainty with which he knows death and taxes and his love for Sam, he just knows, he believes, even. That this is home for Sam, too.
It’s a home for both of them, a home they sorely need, and Dean knows he can’t take this away from his brother, he can’t keep him away, and he wonders in the back of his mind whether he’ll even be able to keep himself away, now that he’s been here. Now that he’s had a taste of what this is like, now that he’s gotten to feel God’s unconditional love.
He listens to the pastor preach the sermon, hears how he speaks of unconditional love and acceptance, as that is God’s way. He hears the way that he believes it, too. He hears the way he never once condemns homosexuality as a sin (and if that’s the first building block towards accepting himself as maybe not being 100% heterosexual, well. He can keep that to himself for now.) and he understands that Sam doesn’t just find the nearest and most convenient church. He chooses his places of worship carefully, so that they align with his values. Because since when does Sam do anything that isn’t carefully planned out?
He sees throughout the church many different faces. Old and young, male and female and androgynous, and many white people, of course, but many people of color as well. He sees the diversity of the pocket he exists in. He sees the people who are trying to be seen, and he sees the people who are trying to blend in. And he’s sure he’ll blame it on the atmosphere or something else later, but he loves every one of them.
When the service ends, people slowly file out – including Sam, who doesn’t see him – until Dean is the only one still standing in the sanctuary. And when no one else is around, he finally moves out into the open space outside, and he watches his brother mingle with these strangers, drinking coffee and talking and laughing and he thinks, this is something I never knew I needed.
Maybe not for the religion itself, necessarily, but for the community that’s been built up around it. For the people who will see him as more than the mask he makes himself out to be. For the children who look at him curiously and pull on his jacket, for the parents who drag them away and glance at him apologetically over their shoulders, for the elderly women who kiss his cheeks and tell him he’s a beautiful young man (and hell, he hasn’t been a young man in a while, but it’s nice to hear anyway).
And after several minutes of smiling at Sam across the room, he turns and walks out of the church, back across the town, back to his Baby, and he sits in the car and tries to make heads or tails of what he’s just experienced.
He’s still sitting there over half an hour later, when Sam knocks on the passenger window and he jumps six feet. (He bangs his head on the roof of the car and shut the fuck up, Sammy, that wasn’t funny.)
And then they’re back on the road, on their way home after this week’s hunt, and once that city is well in the rearview, Dean finally relaxes. He glances at his brother, smirking.
“So… exactly how devout of a Christian are you?” he asks.
Sam groans. “Did you follow me?”
Dean doesn’t reply, he just nods, and Sam slumps down in his seat, bringing his knees up to his chin. “You’re never going to let me forget this, are you?”
Dean is silent for a minute, and then he says, “do you have a church you normally go to, near the bunker?”
“Yeah. Whenever we’re not on the road on Sundays. Why?”
“Do you think… you think I could come with you, next week?”
Sam stares at him, and Dean determinedly glares at the road in front of him, until his brother clears his throat, sits up straight, and replies, “yeah, I think we could make that happen.”