They were a billion words wrapped up in a few moments. Images and emotions that, though they were abbreviated, slipped and tore through him with the full impact they had originally bore. This was his life, the good and the bad. This was Dean and him living, and fighting and dying, along with everything else in between. Two lives cross connecting and filled with patterns that trailed all the way down to that second.
That moment when light seared his eyes and he was swept away into the past. When he remembered all the reasons he had to be strong. And he was. His fingers had loosened and Dean, Oh God Dean, had fallen back against the Impala with a dull thump.
He remembered spanning his arms out like the horizon, and baring everything. And before he fell, before Michael and along with him his only little brother, went into that blackness, he thought, So this is letting go. And he wanted to laugh and cry and scream all at once, because his life had been years of being wound so tight, of being a prisoner to destiny, while it’s hands were interlaced with fear and anger. He had always tried so hard, and the irony is not lost on him that to win, in the end, all he had to do was was stop fighting, let go and accept.
It’s going to be okay. He repeats it over and over with the rhythm of his heart. He believes it, though not for himself, but for Dean. In the end that’s all that really matters. When that moment comes he is ready and he is willing, and for once, for once, it is the right thing. And he falls.
Then there is pervasive darkness and the absence of creation going on forever and ever, amen.
Sam Winchester is 1,126 miles away from Lawrence, Kansas when he climbs out of hell. He chokes on sand as he reaches for a light he knows to be impossible. Has to be impossible, but it isn't. That is the sun, and those are the clouds and as he frees himself from his desert tomb and takes in all of these things, Sam starts to cry. He is bent over himself as though he might break in half, but as abruptly as the crying had started it stops. He sits and listens. He waits, and like a condemned man being pardoned, he hears crystalline, perfect silence. And suddenly he wants to cry all over again, because he is alone inside his own head. Their is no voice burrowing in his ear, their is no litany of dark promises or the whisper of violence. Their is only Sam and the sound of sand being blown across the cracked arid ground. He wants to cry out in relief, but instead Sam decides to stand up, and after that he decides to walk and walk and walk.
The trucker who picks Sam up from the side of a road in the middle of nowhere is named Wayne Lindahl. He is 45 and lives with his wife Marie and their two daughters a few miles outside of Phoenix. He enjoys playing Bocci Ball.
“I’ve never played Bocci Ball” Sam says. His voice is thrashed and thick, like he can’t even begin to persuade the words to travel up through him and out of his mouth, like they keep getting caught somewhere along the way.
Wayne had been talking, mostly to himself, for almost a hour, and he startles a bit when Sam finally utters his first contribution to the conversation. He looks over at Sam and his lips hitch into a slight relived smile, his shoulders relaxing.
“Well that’s a damn shame, right there.” Wayne has a deep hollow tree trunk of a voice, solid, like Sam could shove against it and it wouldn't give an inch. It’s calming in a way.
“I suppose.” Sam replies, and suddenly he thinks how ridiculous it is that his first words since escaping the pit should be about a game as stupid as Bocci Ball.
They sit in silence for a few moments before a thought pricks at him and he turns slightly towards Wayne.
"What’s the date?” He was going for casually curious, but Sam knows the question came out taught and frayed. Like mist rising up from the ground, phrases and fears are popping up in his head unbidden. All of them concerning Dean and death, and too little, too late, and let him be alright, let him be okay.
The older man glances back and forth from the road to Sam, the headlights of approaching cars casting shadows, making his eyes look deep-set and endlessly dark. Like death incarnate come to make him pay for his sins. I’ve paid already Sam thinks helplessly, I’ve paid.
Distantly he is aware of Wayne answering him, “February 18.” Their is an undercurrent of wariness in the man’s voice, but Sam isn’t in a fit enough state to acknowledge it. Their is only the shadows on the pale oval face that is sitting next to him, and the encroaching fall of night that is separated only by an inch of glass.
Images and thoughts flash in the corner of his eye, and he wills them away, not at all ready to see them yet. The heaviness of them remains and Sam inhales, though it feels not nearly deep enough. He loosens the hands that had balled up into tight fists and finds four bloody half moons on each palm.
“You okay there?” Wayne asks. Sam looks over at the clearly on edge man and wants to say No, No, No. Right now he’s a few miles away from the ballpark of Okay.
Instead, he clears his throat and says, “Yeah, yeah, I’m alright. You can drop me off at the next exit, please.” After all, Wayne is not who he wants to unburden himself to, isn't the true driver to Sam’s shotgun. This isn’t where he wants or should be.
It takes Sam a month to get to South Dakota. He takes his time with it, acclimatizing himself to people and the world he hasn't seen in eight months, or eighty years. Its slow going; hard for him to reconcile the fact that the world seems exactly the same as it was when he left, and how different he knows he is in comparison. Deep down he knows that isn’t the only reason its taking him weeks to traverse the same roads he know he could travel in days. Dean is the person that is foremost in his mind, but in the heat of fears and insecurities that he can’t even begin to put a name to, he decides to go to Bobby first.
In Reliance, South Dakota, Sam dreams of Hell. He dreams of angels in an abyss, of a forever raging battle. The moments, when the fighting had lulled, where Sam could feel his tormenter as it ran rotting and dirty fingers over the ridges of his mind. Every moment of his life that had ever been dedicated to the alter of Hate, presented in shameful and agonizing clarity. Sam sees these images for what they are and as Lucifer saw them, something to be cultivated and nurtured. They had power in that place.
When Sam wakes, the scenes replay like an after image that’s been burned into his retina. Slipping his legs out of bed, he leans his head forward into his hands, rocks slightly, and breaths. He focuses on the simple act and when that is not enough he stands. From one side to the other he paces to each corner, counting the steps. One, two, three, four, five. Turn. One, two, three....
It takes Sam a few hours to get from Reliance to Bobby’s. Once he’s there, it feels like everything is looming in front of him. The act of knocking on Bobby’s door a lot like trying to climb a sheer cliff. Once he starts he knows their won’t be any going back. Sending up a silent askance to a God he knows isn't listening, he prays that Bobby doesn’t put him down on site. That would really ruin a day that’s already started off on a crippled foot.
He knocks, and waits. When Bobby finally opens the door, he stares like he’s just been punched repeatedly in the gut. He moves on to the next stage pretty quickly though, the next stage being homicidally pissed. Sam wants to say something, convince him that he’s the real McCoy, but he can’t because Bobby takes a step forward, and Sam can’t help but take a step back in response. Then he’s staring at him in an entirely new way. Suddenly, he’s being crushed, Bobby’s arms wrapped around him like he might just disappear into nothing.
“Jesus, Boy.” Bobby says, his voice choked. “Jesus.”
Sam smiles, and thanks the universe for that seemingly psychic talent Bobby has in knowing whether or not someone is trying to bullshit him.
“Yeah, I missed you too.” He replies in a watery voice.
Bobby leans back to take a look at him and grins, shaking his head, like Sam is the most unlikely and absurd thing he’d ever thought he’d see. And, considering the circumstances, maybe he is.
Bobby leads him inside, and Sam takes a seat on the old sofa. The couch gives in all the right ways and he sinks comfortably into it. He stares at a knot in the wood floor, and can remember doing the same thing when he was seven and sixteen and twenty-three. He imagines all those moments occurring simultaneously in the vast ocean that is time. Like he could see everything if only he decided to dip his head under the surface. The thought is unexpected and headache inducing. He shivers and is overwhelmingly grateful for the glass of whisky that suddenly appears in his field of vision. He accepts it and looks up to see Bobby take a seat across from him with his own drink in hand.
“I’m surprised my liver hasn't disintegrated, all the drinking you Winchesters drive me too.” Bobby says, like he doesn't know what to do first, and he’s saying something just to say it.
“I don’t know how I got out.” Sam replies abruptly, deciding to put his friend out of his misery and answer the questions that Bobby really wants to ask.
Bobby nods, “Do you think Dean...” He lets the question trail off. Sam knows what he means. Do you think Dean messed with the cage, do you think he did something?
“No. No, he promised me he wouldn’t do that.”
A couple hours go by, the bottle of whisky getting lower in volume as he and Bobby talk. They are things that Sam doesn’t particularly want to talk about, but he does it anyway, at least as much as he can stomach.
Sometime later, Bobby says, “What are you going to do about your brother?”
Bobby had told him that he had been keeping an ear to the ground for news about Dean, but its been quiet. For all intents and purposes Dean is contently living at Lisa’s, going to BBQ’s and little league games and not anywhere near anything resembling a hunt. Just like Sam had wanted him too.
“I don’t know.” Sam sighs, scrubbing a hand over his face. He realizes he hasn’t shaved in weeks, knows how rough he must look. “I wanna see him...I’ve wanted to see him since I got out, but - “ He pauses, thoughts that have been chipping away at his brain for the past month finally solidify into something final. Resigned and flat he says, “I don’t think I can.”
Even when he hates Sam, and Sam hates him right back, Dean has always loved him with a conviction that he has never felt deserving of. He cannot risk what may happen if he goes to Dean: him dropping everything. No matter that he could of had a chance with a woman to grow old with and a child he could of been a father too. No matter that he is leaving the freedom and peace he wanted and fought for. He could abandon that, and for what? For him, which isn’t any reason at all as far as Sam’s concerned. He may not be the best brother and he has made scarring mistakes, but Sam loves Dean fiercely. He loves him enough to leave him be.
“You’re a fool headed idiot.” Bobby says, giving him a look to accompany the comment, like he knows exactly what Sam is thinking.
“I can’t do that to him Bobby, I won’t. He deserves a chance to be happy. He deserves to have a family.” He counters in a strained voice.
“You are his family, Sam. And he deserves to know. I know you boys, and I know that that brother of yours isn’t ever going give that life a chance while he’s in the dark. Not while he’s carrying that weight around with him.” Bobby is breathing hard, anger and frustration and pure helplessness lacing every word.
Sam sees the validity in what he’s saying. He also sees the kind of selfishness that’s in his decision. Who is he to make choices for Dean and the direction of his life? But then Sam thinks about the presence he can feel sometimes just off his vision, there but not, like a residual. And then he knows that Dean is better off thinking he’s dead.
“I can’t.” Sam repeats, his throat feels tight. Bobby stands up, looking like he wants to throw his empty glass at the wall. It passes though and finally he says sternly, “Fine. That’s your decision. Here’s mine. Dean ever calls, I’m tellin’ him the truth. I won’t lie to him, for both your sakes. And let me tell you, when he finds out, you’re in for a world of hurt.”
Sam knows. He just hopes he gets enough of a head start for it not to catch up with him.
Sam leaves Bobby’s with some cash, a duffle of clothes and a beat up Nova that probably should have given up the ghost years ago. He drives for hours until he hits Omaha. It is almost midnight when he checks into the Step Back Inn.
That night Sam dreams of a house. He is standing across the street, eyes transfixed on the illuminated window where his brother sits eating dinner. Sam’s heart aches at the sight of him and he has the urge to rub his chest to rid himself of it. The streetlight he is standing under pops as it gives out, but he dismisses the sudden darkness. He watches as his brother passes a bowl to Lisa while still listening to Ben who is talking animatedly. Dean doesn’t look exactly happy, but he doesn’t look as boughed as Sam was afraid he would. He seems distracted and Sam knows that the darkness Dean carries just behind his eyes is still there. He knows because he can see it, just as he can recognize it in himself when he looks in the mirror.
Dean grins as Lisa says something to Ben, and Sam realizes that Dean has a chance. Dean may be grieving and he may not yet be a part of this family, but it could grow. It could grow into something lasting.
He suddenly feels a tug and his body goes numb, loosing all sensation. It feels a lot like not existing.
Sam is about to take a moment to ponder that when he wakes with a gasp, alone in his motel room. He can see his green jacket lying on the floor near his bed, even though he hasn’t worn it since he’s been back. He sits up and can feel hair plastered to his forehead, his t-shirt sticking to him with sweat, even though he feels deathly cold.
The weeks go on and Sam travels. Sometimes literally, but sometimes he travels the farthest when he’s not moving at all. When he is asleep Sam has found that he can go so far, but usually he only ever ends up in one place. Dean. Dean is who he see. His first thought is that he is dreaming, but soon Sam knows he’s mistaken. They are dreams, they just don’t belong to him. Sam sees his brother often in those weeks, and it should ease something in him, seeing him at all, but Sam finds that it only ever makes things harder when he comes back to himself, waking in the stillness of the morning, the sun making everything glow. To Sam, it looks duller than it has any right to.
He’s too late. Sam knows this is a problem of his. This time though, this time it’s by mere minutes. He is breathing hard, strands of hair poking into his eyes, as he studies the hole in the drywall in front of him. For a second he has no idea how it happened, that is until his knuckles start to burn. There is a body behind him and a body to the right of him. Everywhere he looks there is death. He knows he should be used to it; like a gossamer string, death has woven itself so entrenched and hopelessly entangled into Sam’s life. At the moment though, accepting these deaths is a stage Sam finds impossible to get too. The Lamia is dead, but that is a hard comfort to take when there is a dead one year old feet away and the child’s father, his neck snapped, so close to him he could reach out and touch the tips of the man’s lifeless fingers. It was his first hunt since he’d been back and he can’t help but feel that this is completely his fault. If Dean had been here... He cuts that thought off as soon as it starts. It’s useless and heavy and tonight he just can’t shoulder it.
Sam returns to his motel room like a man submerged in arctic waters, like he is miles under, with pounds of pressure threatening to undo him. He readies himself for bed by rote, so weary and exhausted on every level. He crawls under the sheets and exhales. He is asleep in moments.
Sam is standing on a dock. He is asleep, and yet inexplicably in the middle of a quiet vast forest. A placid lake sits in front of him. The dock spans out before him and he can make out the outline of a person sitting in a chair further down. He moves forward and then suddenly he is there, standing just behind the man, without ever remembering the steps he had taken to get to the end. He looks at the back of the blond head, watches as the man casts out another line into the water.
“You gonna take a seat, or are you just gonna stand there with you jaw hanging open like a lobotomy victim?”
Dean, he thinks, Dean, and it feels as true as anything ever has.
He lowers himself into a chair next to Dean’s, one that Sam knows wasn't there a second ago.
His brother looks over at him and smiles, the crows feet at sides of his eyes crinkling.
Sam can’t help the smile he gives him in return. He’s missed his brother so damned much, and to see him here, looking relaxed and happy - it’s so hard. Its like Dean’s the one that’s dead. He looks away, watches the slight ripples travel across the water.
“So fishing, huh?” Sam asks, raising an eyebrow playfully.
“Yeah, yeah, whatever man. This right here is heaven, I don’t care what those feathered douchebags say.”
Sam huffs a laugh and after a few minutes, turns to look at Dean, who is staring at him looking strained, his adams apple bobbing convulsively.
“Sammy - ” He starts, shakes his head a little. He looks out at the lake like he can’t bare to have Sam see him straight on when he’s vulnerable like this. Sam’s always hated that Dean’s felt the need to do that.
Dean clears his throat, “ I know you’re not...really here. So I know that me saying this to you isn’t gonna make a bit of a difference, but I just wanted you to know that, I’m sorry.” His voice catches a bit, but Sam can see him steel himself. “I’m so sorry that you had to do that, and that I can’t do anything to help you now, and I’m so pissed that you made me promise not too. I never thought it would be possible to be so fucking angry at someone and so proud at that same time.”
“Dean.” Sam can see that he’s on the verge of breaking, and it feels like knuckles to the sternum.
“Dean, look at me.” His brother turns to him haltingly. “You have nothing to be sorry for. You were there man, you were the one thing I needed, and you came through. I fought my way back because of you. I just didn’t want to let you down.” The side of Sam’s mouth curls up and memories flicker just beyond.
Sam can feel that detached sensation overcoming him and he knows that he’ll be gone soon. He looks at Dean, sees the tears, and knows he can’t do this. He can’t leave Dean grieving when he doesn’t have too. Sam knows that he isn’t the same, like he knows that only angels can drop into other people’s dreams like it’s nothing, or how when he’s tired he sometimes sees black wings stretching out like a death omen in his shadow.
“Dean, I’m sorry.” His brother looks bewildered, but Sam doesn’t have enough time to explain. Even so, he manages to get out the most important part. “Hawesville.”
And then he’s gone in every sense of the word.
He wakes the same way he fell asleep, alone. He hopes with everything he has that he hasn't just made a horrible mistake.
Reunions are supposed to be teary eyed affairs, full of hugging, explanations or apologies, maybe thanking whatever deity you choose. And in Sam’s experience, they are like that, for the most part. This reunion is different though, this one starts with a punch.
Sam had been sitting on his bed, legs crossed at the ankle, chewing on the nail of his thumb as he tried and failed to paying attention to whatever inane thing was playing on the television. He had been waiting in Hawesville, Kentucky for three days. It was the place where the Winchesters had lived one blistering hot summer when Sam was sixteen. John had been laid up those three months, biting at the bit, gruff and growling in equal measures. Despite that, it had had its decent moments. Moments Sam, no matter how bitter he was about his childhood, could recall with fondness. Sam knew without a doubt that Dean would know what he meant by Hawesville. And so, he was left waiting anxious as hell, hoping and dreading the thought of Dean actually showing up in radiating turns.
And then, lo and behold on the third day their is a knock on the door, and Sam’s answer is met with a quick and precise hit to the gut.
Sam drops to his hands and knees, gasping in air in greedy gulps. After a few seconds he manages to look up to see Dean regarding him blankly. That look isn't good, Sam knows, and out of everything he can image proceeding it, the one thing he does not expect are the strong hands that help him up.
Dean is staring at him, Sam can feel it like heat on a sunny day, but he can’t bring himself to return the eye contact. Instead he says, “I probably deserve that.” His voice is hoarse and Sam wants to imagine that its just from the recent lack oxygen even though he knows otherwise. Dean’s voice, when he answers, is equally rough. “Yeah, you do.”
Sam feels callous fingers gently lift his chin, and Sam finally meets his brother’s eyes. Dean is looking at him with so many emotions that Sam can’t identify them as they come and go across his brother’s face. And it’s such a relief, seeing Dean, it’s like coming home. In that moment Sam remembers all the things he’s been through, the horror of his life just before and after hell, of how fucking terrified he’s been these past few weeks. Of all the memories that a flash of light and a toy army man brought to the surface, and all he can think is a rapid repetition of, Thank God Dean’s here. Everything is finally going to be okay. Dean’s here.
It takes Sam a moment to realize he’s crying. Dean leads him to the bed and sits them both down, his arm going around Sam’s shoulders. As Sam leans into him, Dean rests his chin on the top of his head. They remain like this until Sam is spent, and he releases himself from Dean’s hold.
“How’d you know it was really me?” He asks, glancing at his brother though still blurry eyes.
Dean’s smirks as he says, “We went fishing, remember?” Sam smiles slightly in return and Dean continues, looking more sober.“ At first I didn’t know what to think, I’ve been dreaming so much lately.” Dean pauses and shakes his head, “But, that last one...it felt like you. It felt like you were really there, like when Cas pops in and wants to talk shop. That and I called Bobby.”
Sam nods and says solemnly, “Bobby is very knowledgeable.”
“That he is,” Dean agrees. Their is a sudden silence that extends until Dean hesitantly asks, “Sam, why didn’t you come to me?” He sounds angry and confused and just a little hurt.
“A lot of reasons. I didn’t - ” Sam sighs in frustration, “Lisa and Ben are important to you. And me being around tends to put people in danger. I didn’t want that to happen, and -”
“And...” Dean prompts.
“Something isn’t right with me. I can feel it. Theirs something wrong with me.” The last part is a near whisper. It terrifies Sam to think of how long lasting the mark Lucifer has left on his body and soul is. It is just one more thing that sets him on the outside of everyone else, even his own brother. One more thing that makes him the pariah he never wanted to be.
“Sammy.” Dean says, his voice is sure and steady, exactly the kind of reassurance Sam didn’t even know to ask for. “We’re gonna work this out, okay? You’re not going to be handling this alone, I promise you.” He lets out quiet laugh. “I mean, I’ve seen you at your worst man, you think you coming back from the pit with some dream walking powers is gonna make me run for the hills?” He can feel Dean’s hand heavy on the nape of his neck and for the moment at least, any doubts he might have had are smoothed away with it, and he nods.
It’s going to be okay. He repeats it over and over with the rhythm of his heart, and this time, in this second, he has the faith that it will be true for both of them.