Sorry, this one isn't very happy. There's one more coming next week that will end on a better note. -KHK
K Hanna Korossy
He knew he was back the moment he took his first breath.
Purgatory had smelled like decay and blood, odors his nose—in defiance of all biology—never got used to and tuned out. The trees looked like skeletal shadows of their earthly cousins, rotting and moldy, and the only rustle in the bushes was something that wanted to eat you. And while there were periods of dark and light, mockeries of day and night, the light never burned off the fetid haze that concealed both hunter and prey.
But now... He barely paused, but his senses registered anyway the rain-washed air, the scent of pine trees, the chorus of insect song, the lush woods of not just Earth, but northern America. He was home.
He felt no relief.
Campers nearby was a stroke of luck; he could smell their dead fire from a hundred feet away. He grabbed a backpack and ran for the road without hesitation. It was only when he hit pavement—pavement—that it crossed his mind that the rules were different now, he couldn't just take from the weaker anymore. Or he should at least feel bad about it.
Yeah, maybe later.
He'd been walking the road for a while—time, that was another thing he'd have to get used to again—digging through the pack and throwing out what he couldn't use, when there was the sound of thunder behind him. He cringed away before he realized: not thunder. Truck.
His eyes shied away from the brightness of the light, whiter and purer than anything in Purgatory, even that light elf he'd killed. The whoosh it made sounded like an attacking harpy, and his mind was slow to dredge up "air brakes" instead. He blinked at the huge vehicle, the weathered face that leaned to peer at him through the open window.
"Need a lift?"
It was like trying to translate a second language, that extra beat where the words went through the long-unused Earth filter. He made his shoulders drop, his hand let go of the blade tucked into his jacket. "Yeah."
The seat sank softly beneath him like Baby's had. Glass protected him from the elements all around even as it let him keep watch. And music. His face twisted. Had it always been so loud, so harsh?
"Not a fan of Zep?" the driver asked.
He almost said, "What?" Swallowed and instead shaped the words, "It's fine."
The driver's nose wrinkled. "Whoohee. You've been on the road a while, huh?" He rolled his window down, and more of the clean—empty—scent of trees rolled in.
He didn't know what to say to that and so stayed silent.
The truck squealed and lumbered and lurched. Everything in a thousand feet would know where it was.
"Where you goin'?"
Another pause. "Louisiana."
The driver barked—no, laughed, that was laughter—and scratched the side of his head. "Heh, well, not this trip. I can take ya as far as Boston."
Boston...Massachusetts. So they were probably in the Appalachians somewhere. East coast. Thousands of miles away from where he had to go, but still closer than he'd dared hope. "That's fine."
"Okay then." The driver adjusted his ball cap—like Bobby's—and they drove on.
Bobby. He hadn't thought of the old man in...a while. Even now the memory seemed remote. His first priority was Louisiana. Then…everything else. Baby. Leviathans.
His jaw twitched. God, how had he not thought of Sam until now? Sam had to be...somewhere. The world suddenly seemed huge. All the possibilities beyond this world even huger.
"You c'n grab a few winks if you want," the driver offered over the screaming radio.
He pulled himself tighter into the corner, knife comfortingly solid in his palm. "No." A pause, stirrings of old reflexes reawakening. "Thank you."
He stayed awake with his thoughts until the driver let him off in front of a motel—so freakin' bright, had it always been this bright?—and he got a room with the credit card he'd found in the pack.
Keys. Four solid walls around him. Water that flowed—gushed—from the faucet when he turned a handle. A toilet. How had he ever thought this was shabby? It was ridiculous luxury.
He washed at the basin, eyeing the shower but not quite ready for that. Then he tossed the blankets from the bed into the farthest corner of the room and curled up on them, knife in hand. His stomach was growling, empty, an alien feeling.
He fell asleep hard and fast, before he could finish the thought that he ought to call Sam.
He'd woken hungry, which was something else he had to relearn and get used to again. It was an inconvenient annoyance. The motel did offer free breakfast, but the table in the front office was laden with a rainbow of foods: bright cereals, glossy donuts, different forms of breads, fruit in piles of yellow and orange and red.
He stood and stared at it, perplexed.
"Uh, you can have whatever you want."
The speaker was a pot-bellied young guy in a shirt with a symbol on it that should probably be familiar but that wasn't worth expending the energy to try to remember. The boy wouldn't have lasted a day in Purgatory, slow and weak and an orgy for a hunting pack. He turned away from the prey and tried to take in the breakfast offerings again.
It was too much. Too many choices. He chewed his lip, then finally decided: one of each.
"Uh..." The thin voice spoke up behind him again as he crammed the third kind of fruit into his pack. "You're only supposed to—"
He whipped his head around to glare at the motel guy.
Who shrank back, acceding his superiority. "Right, just, uh...take whatever you need."
He filled the pack until it was full but not heavy, and chose a donut—not one of the ones that bled red, but one of the brown ones, chocolate, Sam's preference—to cram into his mouth as he zipped the backpack shut. Anything else? He scanned the table.
Oh. Coffee. He almost laughed. He'd actually forgotten coffee.
Three gulps and his hands were shaking. Four, and distant sounds grew too loud, his gaze jumping around as it sought danger. He tossed the rest. He'd remembered it...differently.
So much of this he'd remembered differently.
The shower had been more challenge than pleasure. He avoided looking at his faintly glowing forearm. Naked, drenched, he'd felt ill at ease until he was free of the small bathroom and had his weapons again. The cars that zoomed by made too much noise to hear any approaching threats. It was a relief to be dry and dressed and armed.
He'd tried hot-wiring a car, muscle memory having the job half done before he even thought about it, but realized he was too twitchy to drive safely. The days of being on the road in Baby, Sam at his side, felt like an old dream. And the bottle of alcohol he'd gotten from the liquor store down the block, the first bottle he saw as he walked in, felt like a punch to his system. He'd lived here more than thirty years, been in Purgatory...well, he didn't know how long, but far less. But that felt so much more real than this place of noise and light and color.
Stocked with food and in clean if tight clothes from the pack, he walked to the road, glanced for a moment at his hand, then stuck out his thumb.
Seemed like he'd forgotten how to talk to people, too.
So much of interaction was stupid, useless. The drivers that picked him up mostly left him alone after a few attempts at conversation, but the one that kept droning he just tuned out.
Now that he'd thought of Sam, he couldn't stop thinking about him.
Sam had been his hope those first...weeks?...in Purgatory. It would take his brother a while to figure out where he was, let alone wait for an eclipse to do the entrance spell. And there was no telling how big Purgatory was, how long it would take Sam to find him in it. But he hung on to the fact that his brother would look for him.
He stopped counting days after two months, and some time after that, without his even noticing, his hope crumbled away completely. Sam hadn't been able to find him, or get to him. Or...or worse. The last time he'd seen his brother, after all, had been in a building full of Leviathan. Maybe no one was left to look.
But no, he wasn't buying that. Not until he had solid proof, and maybe not even then. For now, he would assume this world still contained Sam. And after Louisiana, he'd find him.
In the meantime, in a store in the ironically named Bethlehem, PA, he bought a phone.
It took the rest of the day for him to dredge up the phone number out of a dusty corner of his brain. Only one number out of the several phones Sam had, but it was the main one. The one that should tell him whether there was anyone to call. The one he could've rattled off in his sleep before. Before Purgatory had lived up to its name and purged everything but survival skills from his mind.
He dialed it slowly in a motel in a Hancock that second night. Found his hand shaking as he listened to it ring. He tightened his fist until the edges of the phone dug into his palm.
"This is Sam. Leave a message."
He opened his mouth, closed it again. Sam was still paying for the phone, so he had to be alive. Just...not answering. He cleared his throat. "It's me. I'm...back." His hand rubbed over his mouth. "Tell me where you are so we can meet up." He paused, hit the End button.
That was it. Now it was just more waiting.
His arm was throbbing harder, impatient. He pretended that was what made it hard for him to go to sleep.
He bought basic outdoor gear in a camping store in Virginia somewhere—Pulaski? The routes he'd lived on all his life were also a blur—more comfortable with a bedroll in the wild than in motels. The card from the pack was declined, but it was easy to pick the pocket of a rich jerk who shoved past him on the street. He knew it would be burned quickly, so he bought everything else he might need: water bottles, a good change of clothes, portable food.
Turned out a guy with camping gear had an easier time hitching than a guy with just a backpack. 'Cause hikers were never serial killers, obviously. Morons. He even got picked up by two stupid...hot…girls.
Okay, yeah, that was something else he hadn't experienced in a really long time.
Turned out a spirit riding along in your arm and a brother who wasn't answering his phone were serious buzzkills. He stuck the girls' numbers in his pocket and forgot about them as soon as they dropped him off.
Sometimes he walked a while. The open terrain in Tennessee and Alabama made the back of his neck itch, and the wooded, rocky areas had him weaving from cover to cover. He almost took out a guy who startled him at a rest stop. And the second time a kid's shriek had him yanking out his blade, he started avoiding civilization as much as possible.
He called Sam two more times, the first time just heavily breathing like some stalker perv, the second, ending the call as soon as the phone beeped. He listened to the outgoing message, though; it still settled him to hear Sam's voice.
He sometimes forgot to eat, and sometimes ate too much. Purgatory wasn't a real physical plane: he hadn't needed to eat or sleep, his hair and nails hadn't grown, and while he should've been whipcord lean from all the running, the mirror said he hadn't lost any weight. Only his eyes were different, hard and wary.
He hadn't missed mirrors, either.
And he thought a lot about Sam. About what Sam would've done when his brother disappeared. He'd managed to get him back from a wendigo, from the brink of suicide-by-angel, from freaking 1944 once. Had he not been able to figure out Purgatory? A glance at a newspaper and some math revealed almost a year had passed—how had Sam coped for that long? The four months his big brother had been in Hell had seriously changed Sam, and then he'd had Bobby to lean on. Was he buried in guilt? An alcoholic? A stone-cold hunter? Suicidal?
On the edges of Clayton, he called Sam one more time.
"If you get this...meet me at Rufus's cabin. I should be there by..." He flailed a minute, realized the phone had the date and day on it. "Friday." He ended the call, then after a moment's thought, turned it off.
He released Benny in the graveyard and bade his friend goodbye. Then he turned north, toward Montana.
Sam wasn't there. The dust and the mice said no one had been in a long time. He stood looking around the room, the stuff tossed around, the remnants of the summoning spell on the table that he thought they'd cleaned up after calling Crowley. Shrugging off the thought, he pulled up the hidden compartment where they'd stashed the laptop and their notes. The keyboard felt weird under his fingertips, but damned if electricity wasn't awesome. It was easier now to recall things from before, and he had the cell phone site up and accessed in no time.
Sam's phone was in southern Wyoming, slowly heading northward. Toward him.
He cleaned up the mess and dusted the place. Got rid of the charred remains of the spell. Put away his few new meager belongings. Checked the laptop again: northern Wyoming now. Turned his phone back on to find there were no missed calls. Changed into clean clothes and shaved. Paced.
And then he heard the Impala pull up.
Dean turned to the door and waited.
Sam hadn't looked for him.
Dean ran a hand through his hair and took a deep breath of the night air, then leaned both hands against the cool metal of his car.
Sam was supposed to move on, find a girl, plant roots. But Dean thought it was understood that that was after he made sure his brother was in a better place. And had exhausted every way of trying to get him back. And never really found peace even when he did.
His brother hadn't actually said what he had done, or why. To be fair, Dean hadn't exactly asked, either. But Sam's silence had cut so deep that anger was a lot easier than feeling the betrayal or finding the words. He'd fled the house when the silence inside became suffocating.
Bushes rustled to his left, but he cast an unworried glance that way. It was probably a raccoon, maybe a fox. There were bears in the area, probably even wolves: definitely some things that could eat a man. But the mundane threats of this world paled against those he'd faced for the last year. The year when Sam had traded in the hunt and his brother for the easy life with an easy girl.
He shook his head, jaw set.
More rustling. Then an owl swooped down out of nowhere and grabbed something small and wriggling from the bushes, flying away with it. Hunter and prey. Kill or be killed. Enemy or ally, black or white.
Dean glanced back at the cabin. A brother who saved your life and watched your back, or a brother who left you behind.
He dropped his hands from the car. Shuddered once, then, shoulders rounded, turned back toward light, safety, and Sam.
Some part of him silently, secretly wishing he was back in Purgatory.