Word count: ~2,700
Summary: After everything, Sam and Dean decided to stay in the bunker. And then Sam discovered an artifact in a secret room that would show each of them something about themselves they'd never known.
A/N: Written as a pinch-hit for spn_summergen, taking one of the prompts very literally. Thanks to fiercelynormal for beta reading.
They decided to stay in the Men of Letters' bunker after everything. After the angels' graces were restored, after Crowley retook control of his domain, both of them with the promise that the gates to heaven and hell would be one-way in from now on. After Kevin and his mom were reunited, after Charlie made peace with her past, after the garden-variety spirits and shapeshifters could be left to Garth and his crew, Sam and Dean went home.
They never explicitly said they were going to retire, but as weeks went by and Dean started buying cookbooks, Sam could read between the lines. He stopped dreading that Dean's footfalls in the library meant he had found a case, and instead started to look forward to the food he brought in when Sam got lost in the books and treasures of the library.
The first time Dean brought in their collection of knives from the Impala's trunk for sharpening, Sam said, "You know, there's plenty of room in the armory. You could stash those there instead of carrying them all the way back outside."
"Thought it was pretty much full."
Sam shrugged. "I did some organizing and cleaning earlier this week. Not everything was stored as efficiently as it could have been."
"Geek," Dean shot back.
Later that day, Sam hid a smile when he noticed Dean making trips back and forth between the main hall and the armory, carefully carrying one or two blades at a time, one of the Batman band-aids Sam had gotten as a joke wrapped around his index finger.
Sam got a post office box in town and started updating the Men of Letters' collection with post-1950s materials. He didn't tell Dean when he found the complete boxed set of Carver Edlund, but if Dean saw the two shelves taken up by black-spined novels of their lives, he didn't say a word. They wouldn't be around forever, after all, and the hunters who came after them should be able to use their hard-won knowledge. Embarrassing though parts of it might be.
Dean came back from town one day with a six-pack and a grin. "They think we've got a top-secret military installation out here."
Sam cocked his head. "They?"
"The old dudes at the diner. You know, the town gossips, the ones who really run the place."
Sam knew. He knew that when hunting, those were the kind of people who could tell you everything about their town, past and present. But they also usually knew the town sheriff, or the local newspaper editor, or someone else who could take way too public of an interest in what they were doing. That was why he'd been avoiding conversations with them ever since they arrived, even more so as the likelihood of them staying grew greater. "What'd you tell them?"
Dean dropped the beer on the table and spread his arms wide. "Not a thing. I'm getting a piece of pie for the drive back, and Martha behind the counter, she says to me, 'Nice to see young men in uniform around here again.' I look down," and he demonstrates, hands out at his sides to display his flannel shirt and jeans. "And I say, 'Ma'am, I have no idea what you're talking about.' Then like she's friggin' Santa Claus, she puts a finger next to her nose and winks. Then she and Bob and Phil start talking about how they grew up here, how they remembered when a bunch of Army trucks showed up and started hauling construction supplies into town. All very hush hush, but it was hard not to notice the new guys around town, you know?"
"Huh." Sam scratched at his chin. "So that's how they got this place built without anyone noticing. They didn't try to hide it, just made it look like something else."
"Bingo." Dean pointed a finger at him. "Bob said he read how the military is taking some of its old facilities out of mothballs what with new security threats and all, and how that's better for the taxpayer than building something new. And then he winks at me." He shrugged. "People believe what they want to believe, I guess."
"It's not a bad cover." Sam turned the page of the grimoire he was digitizing with a hand-held scanner. "Means people won't be asking too many questions if we stick around for a while."
There was silence, and Sam looked up. Dean's expression was inscrutable, but he didn't seem upset. Nor was he denying the possibility, and the spark of hope Sam had been trying not to nurture started to burn a little brighter.
They kept finding new rooms in the bunker. A loose stone that Dean tried to cement back into place turned out to be the secret entrance to a passageway of artifacts, all carefully labeled and catalogued. Sam didn't know which of them was more excited by the discovery: Sam for what he could learn from the objects, or Dean for the way the wall swung open like it was going to lead to a pirate's lair.
Dean poked around for a few hours, Sam constantly biting back the urge to slap his hand away from touching things. At least he respected the sharp blades of the weapons that had been untouched for years. Sam had latex gloves on as he carefully inspected this new collection, one object at a time.
Dean wandered off after a while to make lunch, but Sam kept going. It was almost overwhelming, the amount of knowledge contained not only in the artifacts and weapons stored here, but the labels and tags on them, the way they'd been ordered and classified. He could spend the rest of his life here, Sam realized, and not absorb everything.
It wouldn't be a bad way to spend the rest of his life.
Sam wolfed down the sandwich Dean brought him, barely noticing in passing the fond smile his brother gave him when he came back for the plate. He was reading the papers resting on the top of a heavy steamer trunk, free of wards but still heavily marked with symbols.
His eyes widened when he realized it was a trunk full of supernatural detection devices. Dean's homemade EMF detector had dozens of kindred spirits in here: things that would light up or buzz in warning when a spirit was in the vicinity, things that would turn black when touched by a demon, things that could have saved them so, so much trouble over the years.
This was the down side of having found the bunker: a host of what-ifs and might-have-beens had they only come across this place sooner.
Sam straightened his shoulders. He'd long ago learned the danger of getting lost in what-ifs. Even if heaven and hell were safely locked away, it wouldn't hurt to know what was in here, just in case.
About halfway down, his gloved hands closed over a smooth, round stone set into a heavy black marble base. He pulled it out and set it on the shelf, examining the base for clues as to what it was. The stone itself was milky white, shot through with swirls, not quite the size of a soccer ball. It looked like a fortune-teller's ball, and Sam wondered if that was what it was supposed to imitate.
As he stared into the stone, the swirls started to move.
Sam took a step back, but he couldn't get himself to look away. It felt like the clouds parting on a spring day, about to reveal bright blue sky after days of rain. Slowly, something dark started to form at the heart of the stone, mist still swirling around it as the whole scene brightened, and he held his breath in anticipation.
When the swirls stopped moving, and the image was clear, Sam blinked. It was a tree. That was…not terribly exciting.
He went back to the catalog that had been at the top of the trunk, paging through until he found something that fit the description of the round stone. He started reading, and then he froze.
Looking back at the globe, he saw that the image hadn't changed. Examining it more closely, Sam caught his breath.
It might not be exciting, but it was definitely humbling.
He argued with himself for the rest of the day over whether he should show Dean what he had found. It wasn't a question of it being a risk: he had enough faith in his brother to know that what he saw wouldn't be all that different from what Sam had seen. He did some reading on what he had seen in the globe, and it confirmed his first suspicions. Some of it also made his mouth twist in a wry grin, and that was when he decided that he had to know what Dean would see. And he had to show Dean what the stone had shown him.
The next morning, after blueberry pancakes with real maple syrup and local butter—and he was definitely going to give Dean some shit about that butter later—Sam said, "Hey, Dean, I want to show you something."
"More back issues?" Dean asked, his eyes lighting up.
Sam gave him the put-upon prudish little brother look he knew was expected of him. "No. Something from that room you found yesterday."
"Oh." Dean's face fell. "Well, lead on."
He took Dean into the secret room and pointed at the stone. "Here. Just look at that for a second, and I'll be right back." At Dean's dubious look, he huffed and said, "No, this is not payback for that clown jack-in-the-box you found last month. Just…" He made a shooing motion with both hands.
Dean still looked skeptical, but he did as he was told. Sam ducked back around the corner into the hallway and waited, heart pounding. What if—but this was Dean. Sam knew his brother. He knew him.
About ten seconds passed, and then there was a faint gasp from the secret room. Sam tensed, ready to run inside, but then Dean breathed out, "Wow."
Now overcome with curiosity, Sam came back inside. He stayed well back from where Dean was gazing raptly at the globe, and then a slow smile spread over his own face. This was even better than he had hoped.
Underneath the faint, swirling mist of the globe, a green dragon was soaring and looping through a clear blue sky. Its wings were outstretched, long neck extended as it flew. As they watched, it growled and breathed out a line of fire. A moment later, it drew up sharply and blew a couple of smoke rings. Dean chuckled, and Sam's smile grew bigger.
Dean looked over his shoulder. "This is pretty cool, Sam."
"Yeah," Sam replied, knowing his grin had to be stupidly wide at this point but not caring. "It's beautiful, isn't it?"
Dean nodded. "What is it?"
"It's a dragon."
"I know it's a dragon, dumbass." Dean tapped the stone with one finger. "What's this thing?"
"Oh. Um." Sam pushed the pile of papers on the shelf close to him. "It's number thirty-nine on the inventory sheet."
Dean took the paper and started reading. His brows lowered. Then he bit his lip. Finally, he dropped the papers and shook his head. "No way."
Sam nodded earnestly. "Dean, it really is a soul-glass."
"No way. Not…" Dean trailed off and pointed at the globe, still showing the dragon alternating between being fierce and playful. "That's not me."
Resisting the urge to say, It's exactly you, Sam went on quietly, "I found some other documents about this soul-glass. It was made to be a detector. Of demons, mostly." Dean's gaze flickered to his, and he went on, "Or of dark spirits in general. If someone who's possessed or evil looks into it, it turns black. Otherwise, the stone is enchanted to reveal the soul of the observer."
"Then it's broken," Dean insisted. "There is no way—" His voice shook, and he turned away. "After everything I've done, that thing should be black as pitch."
Sam drew in a careful breath. "Not after everything you've done, Dean."
He gave a sharp snort. "I s'pose it showed you a basset hound or something."
"Not exactly." Sam gently pushed Dean aside and stood before the stone, watching as it shimmered and shifted from the soaring dragon to something much more solid and still.
Dean peered around his shoulder. "An oak tree."
Dean was quiet for a moment. Then he pointed to the trunk of the massive oak in the globe. "Looks like it was hit by lightning here." There was a thick scar twisting up the center of the trunk, though the tree had clearly continued to grow around it.
Sam quirked up the corner of his mouth. "There was a scientific study once that showed oaks are more likely to be hit by lightning than other trees of the same size."
Dean snorted. "Yeah, that would be you." He leaned forward slightly. "Aren't they pretty hard-headed, too?"
He rolled his eyes even though Dean wasn't looking. "They're very sturdy and strong, yeah."
"I remember that from reading some stuff about the Celts," Dean said, peering more closely at the stone. "They also symbolize wisdom, right? And stability and longevity?"
"And family," Sam added quietly.
Dean looked up at him at that. He didn't say anything, but Sam thought he could read acceptance starting to form in Dean's eyes, and his own heart leapt.
Then he saw movement in the globe, and he pointed. "Look!"
Apparently Dean had gotten close enough to the globe for it to recognize him again. The oak tree was still in the center of the image, but the dragon had come back and was circling around it, neck arched and eyes scanning the horizon. After a while, it settled delicately on one of the uppermost branches of the tree, wings folded into its sides. From this angle, Sam could see that some of the scales on its breast looked scorched, as if the dragon had been burned at some point, though not so badly that it couldn't overcome it.
"Dragons demonstrate power, but also protection," Sam said quietly. "They're guardians and warriors."
"I know what a goddamn dragon means, Sam," Dean muttered, but without any heat. He watched the image for a while longer, and Sam could see when the tension left his shoulders, like he was starting to accept it.
Sam didn't want to push it, so he only patted Dean's shoulder before saying, "I'm gonna go put away the books I left out this morning."
Dean nodded, not looking away from where a tall, sturdy, scarred oak tree supported a powerful, protective, singed dragon.
They didn't say anything more about it later that day, nor the next day, when Sam carefully wrapped the soul-glass and set it back in its case. He tried to judge if Dean's mood had changed at all, but he couldn't have said for sure. He seemed more quiet and thoughtful, but maybe he'd been like that all along while Sam had been paying more attention to his books than his brother.
A couple of weeks later, they were arguing over whose turn it was to take out the trash. Sam knew it was probably his turn, but he was tired, and the joy of verbally sparring with Dean after all of the awkward years when they weren't really talking was too good to pass up. So he laid out a careful argument that hearkened back to his pre-law days, drawing on gender roles in household labor and subverting dominant paradigms and then some bullshit that he didn't believe even as he was saying it, but he kept going just to see the mingled exasperation and fondness in Dean's eyes.
When he finally fell silent, Dean only smirked. "Fuck you, I'm a dragon."
Sam stared at him for a moment. There were a thousand responses he could have made: some snarky, some cheesy, some heartfelt.
Instead, he got up to take out the trash.