Disclaimer: I don't own Supernatural.
From this distance, the stars look so cold. Silent observers of the universe. Uncaring. Life and death, neither hold much significance. The universe continues anyway. Planets and stars continue their orbits. Their rotations. They are hotter than he could imagine, he knows this, but none of that warmth will ever reach him. Not while his own warmth seeps away, draining out of him from his side. His leg.
And that's okay. He almost welcomes it, the fact that these distant objects will be the only things to witness his life slip away among the trees. He's glad for the small clearing above him. He's glad for the starlight overhead instead of gnarled branches. Dean might be looking at the very same black silk sky in that very same moment, and the thought gives Sam a little bit of comfort. A feeling of connection.
He sees Sirius, the brightest star in Earth's sky. The Dog Star. People confuse it for the North Star, but that's Polaris that the stars in the northern sky appear to rotate around. Polaris is the brightest star in Ursa Minor, though. Most people don't care about these little details, and he knows that Dean would roll his eyes and call him a geek if he was there.
Sam presses his hand a little harder against his side, though he doesn't have enough strength left to press very hard at all, and blood flows freely through his fingers from where flesh should be.
Dean hates witches, and he'll hate them even more when he finds his brother's body bled dry on dew-dampened grass. Really, he's not hoping for a rescue at this point. It was when his wounds stopped hurting that he knew he was in trouble, and now he's more cold and numb than anything else. His eyes are growing heavy and dry.
They didn't know, and they'll never know, that Sam doesn't blame them. He went over the research, too, and missed it just like they did. The witch has a familiar.
The witch had a familiar. Turns out they die with their witch, and Sam came armed with witch-killing bullets. He just wasn't fast enough to stop the panther familiar from taking a large bite out of his side and swiping his leg with sharp claws (and of course they'd find the hunt involving a witch that couldn't have just a black cat).
Now, all he can do is lie and wait. He's glad that he's on his back, he wouldn't want grass and dirt to be his last sight. Or the witch's body with her familiar curled close around her, even if the last moment of their bond made a hauntingly beautiful image. Proof that their bond was so deep, one couldn't live without the other in all senses of the phrase. But that isn't the last sight he wants to see, a reminder that he's alone. This way… well, he can die looking at the same sky that the first humans saw. That isn't so bad.
He doesn't even feel the pain anymore. He tells himself that he should feel lucky, his death could have been so much worse. He could have been in more pain. He could have Dean hovering over him and trying fruitlessly to save him.
No, he thinks he might be the only person who's glad he'll be dying alone. He doesn't want Dean's defeated and desperate face to be the last thing he sees.
Black spots start to cloud his vision, blocking out the spots of light in the night sky. It's so rare to see the stars like this, in the woods without the light pollution of a city masking their true beauty.
He hears noises in the distance, but they're too far away to make out what, exactly, they are. There's a dull satisfaction in the knowledge that he was right in saying that they shouldn't split up for this hunt to search for the witch. An entire forest was a lot of ground to cover for three people, sure, but it's always safer to hunt with back-up. Sam's current condition is the proof of that, but he won't be in this condition much longer. He feels the cold fingers of Death trying to sink through his skin and deep into his flesh.
He thinks that he's okay with dying, that he never really liked this life to begin with, but there is a lot that he wishes he could have had a chance to do. He'll never graduate high school. He'll never get the chance to leave the hunting lifestyle behind (and live in doing so). He won't be there when they finally track down and kill the thing that killed his mother. He'll never see Dean or his dad again. That thought hurts more than he expects. Even if he hasn't been on the best terms with his dad lately, or if Dean seems to find him more annoying as a teenager than when he was a child, the idea of their absolute absence scares him, and he would be the one absolutely absent.
But he won't have to see his family die on a hunt if he dies on a hunt before them. He's not the natural born hunter that Dean is. He's not the soldier that his dad is. Out of the three of them, he's the most expendable. He accepted it a long time ago, and the knowledge has always hurt, but he tries to make up for his shortcomings in the ways he can.
No, it's best that it's him lying there. It's best that it will be his bones salted and burned first. Let the wind take his ashes and scatter him throughout infinity.
Most of his vision is black now, so he focuses the small amount left on Sirius. He wants the brightest star to be the last one he sees as he burns out.
His eyes droop closed as he loses the energy to hold them open any longer. He feels his hand slipping away from the wound from which it's supposed to be staunching the flow of blood.
Countless stars die each second. Sam figures that soon it will be his turn.
The darkness he finds himself in isn't so scary when he thinks of it that way. He's just doing what the stars are doing. He's following the pattern of beautiful celestial bodies, only his death won't be accompanied by any novae or supernovae. He'll quietly fade away.
Death isn't supposed to be painful. From all his talks with Pastor Jim, he assumes it's supposed to be comfortable and peaceful, so why does he feel so heavy? There's a persistent ache in his side and on the side of his right leg. He's uncomfortably cold and the weight on his chest that makes it harder to breathe is definitely not from blankets.
It's a whisper. A hesitance to break the rhythmic beeping of the heart monitor and the quiet drone of a TV.
It's a hope, because Sam has known his brother for too long to not be able to read into the inflections he puts upon his name.
The air that fills his lungs is pure, offered to him by a mask covering his nose and mouth, no longer scented like a humid summer night and blood (his own, mostly). He feels the bandages around his side and one of his legs, right where his aches are, and he feels the needles in his arms and the tape that keeps them there. All of these are foreign sensations to his body.
But the hands clasping one of his are natural. They belong there because they belong to his brother, calloused and rough. One hand removes itself from his and finds its way to his face, brushing the too-long hair that his father hates away from his eyes.
He keeps his eyes closed, their lids are far too heavy to open anyway. It doesn't take long for Dean to stop brushing aside his hair, which is thick and unruly enough that every effort to tame it is fruitless. There's a sigh, and two hands are around one of his again. Back where they started.
"Sammy," he says again. It's still a whisper, rough and nearly pleading. "Please."
Sam's not sure what Dean wants from him. He's not sure he has anything to give. He isn't supposed to wake up again. What about the stars? He faded with them, but he hasn't been salted and burned. Dean is beside him. He's coherent enough to understand that he's in a hospital, and in bad shape given all the equipment he can feel attached to him along with the worn quality of Dean's voice. He's coherent enough to understand that he's still alive, but he's not coherent enough to figure out whether that's good or bad.
He hates the hunting life, but he loves his family. He wants to get out of their lifestyle, but is death a little too permanent? He can try to escape in other ways, but if he runs away, he knows Dean will find him. Just like at Flagstaff. If he asks to leave, to have a normal life, he knows he'll never receive his family's blessing for it. Bobby and Pastor Jim's blessings, maybe. But never John's and never Dean's. Their grip on him is so tight, he's not sure they remember how to let him go.
Dean whispers to him again, soft requests for him to open his eyes. To give any indication that he's alive besides the machines claiming that he is.
The room is dim and doesn't blind him when he finds the energy to open his eyes, though they're so dry that he might mistake his eyelids for sandpaper. His vision isn't even completely cleared of the blur of sleep before Dean's face is above him.
"Sammy," Dean says. His voice has more strength in it this time. More relief. His eyes are bright and bloodshot, underlined by purple exhaustion.
Dean's hands hover on either side of his face, like he's afraid that Sam will break if touched, despite already being broken. And maybe Dean is broken, too, with the way he sounds like he's stuck on repeat.
"Are you in pain?" he asks.
As his level of consciousness grows, so does his level of pain. His doesn't even want to breath because the wound on his side stretches and burns every time, and the light weight of the hospital blankets are enough to leave his leg aching more than it should.
So, he nods, and Dean is immediately pressing his call button.
"Don't worry, Sammy. I'll get a nurse in here, and she'll give you some of the good stuff. Just a couple minutes, and you won't feel a thing."
"Cold," Sam says.
It's a miracle that Dean could hear and understand his barely there voice, but Dean has always been more attuned to Sam than anyone else.
Dean never leaves his side, trusting that the call button will be enough to drag a nurse over to them. Instead, he keeps one of his hands on Sam's hand, and the other he busies with hitting the call button every ten seconds or so. A constant stream of assurances flows from his mouth, promises of warmth and pain relief, and Sam's not sure who Dean is really trying to comfort: Sam or himself.
He wonders where his dad is. He hasn't heard him, and the only thing he can see is Dean, who actively tries to stay in his line of sight.
His eyes fall closed again before a nurse ever shows up, Dean's requests for him to stay awake ignored.
"My hourglass ran out of sand," Sam says, unsure if he actually got the words out and if they were clear enough for Dean to decipher. But he knows that it's true, and that lack of sand is all he thinks about as darkness claims him once again.
When he wakes up again, he feels lighter overall, even with the added weight of extra blankets draped across him. Extra weight that doesn't hurt his leg like it did before. The mask over his face is gone, replaced with a cannula, but there are still too many IVs hooked up to him. He's the most thankful for the pain being reduced, now just a dull throb that he can put in the back of his mind.
"Sammy?" Dean asks. His voice is no less gruff than it was the last time, but it doesn't sound as strained with the undertones of quiet terror. There's still the relief, though, and Sam wonders if Dean expected that he wouldn't wake up again, because Sam never expected to wake up after he closed his eyes in the woods. How could anyone else?
Sam tilts his head to the side and finds his dad leaning against the wall next to the window, arms crossed over his chest and eyes weary. The sunlight streaming into the room makes the shadows on John's face that much more prominent. Once he notices Sam's staring, he doesn't wait for Dean to respond.
"Hey, Sammy," he says. The corners of his mouth creep up into a small smile, but it looks weighed down by the lines on his face. "You hurting?"
Sam shakes his head. There's a touch of guilt with the memory that he was so ready to let John and Dean go. He was ready to leave them in the most permanent of ways. Seeing them ragged and worried, well, he's not sure how much worse it would have been for them to find him dead. He's not sure he would want to know how much worse it would have been for them.
"That's good," John says.
Sam reaches to press the button to raise the back of his bed, but the second he starts to, Dean takes over for him and looks more alive than he did sitting around. But that shouldn't surprise Sam. Dean's the kind of person who needs to be able to do something to help a situation. Standing on the sidelines and waiting for things to run their own course? Yeah, not his thing. It never has been, and Sam remembers how he used to drive himself crazy when Sam got the flu or a nasty cold because some things have to resolve themselves.
Upright, Sam sees the mess of equipment attached to him. One of the IV bags is dark red as opposed to the clear fluid of the others. There's oxygen being delivered straight into his nostrils and a heart monitor alerting them to the steady rhythm of life.
"She had a familiar," Sam says, though everyone in the room already knows. Has to know, since both the witch and her familiar had been so close to where he was in the woods.
Dean's smile turns into a grimace before it fades away completely. John turns his attention to the window with a sudden interest in whatever is happening on the other side. On the outside.
"We figured that one out when we saw the bodies," Dean says. "Dad went back and took care of them, and Sam, I'm so sorry. We should have listened to you when you said we shouldn't split up, no matter how much longer it would have taken to search for her."
"Dad says it's always better to hunt with back up," Sam says, his words stumble awkwardly from his mouth, his tongue feeling too large.
"You're right," John says. "But I was so sure that this witch wouldn't be a big problem, that the hardest part would be finding her, and I almost got you killed."
Sam doesn't know the extent of his injuries, no one's told him yet, but he knows it must be bad if he woke up with an oxygen mask the first time, and he is still attached to too much equipment for his tastes this time around. He has to push back the wave of guilt that comes with the thought that he was so ready for it all to be over. The hunting. The pain. Is the grief that it would cause Dean and John worth the escape?
He lets his head fall back onto the pillow, too heavy to hold up anymore.
Dean doesn't ask him to stay awake this time. They let him fall back to sleep in silence, uninterrupted. At the spot of consciousness where he is just able to still make out what happens around him, but isn't quite able to interact himself, he feels the back of the bed lower back down until he's lying flat and a hand is brushing his hair away from his forehead.
The cannula's been removed, along with his IVs, days later, and the doctor reluctantly clears him to be discharged. He's loaded with orange prescription bottles that promise pain relief and defense against infection. His hospital goody bag is stuffed with gauze and medical tape and anything else he might need. When the instructions for his care are recited, it's Dean and John who listen. Sam can't stay interested, and he's too tired to try.
Then, the doctor's gone and he's being helped into some sweatpants and a t-shirt that John grabbed from the motel room the night before, hospital gown forgotten and his original clothes too torn and bloody to try salvaging (he suspects that Dean burned them one of the times that Sam fell asleep, but he's not sure Dean's left the room even once). Dean helps him into the wheelchair when Sam realizes that his injuries took a larger toll on him than he first thought.
Dean pushes him through the halls. "Don't worry about needing help, Sammy," he says. "You've had to take care of me and Dad plenty of times after bad hunts. We kind of owe you."
His right leg is propped up with a pillow beneath it, forcing Dean to be especially careful to avoid running him into anything. But Dean doesn't need anyone to tell him to be careful. He moves slowly through the halls, not even stopping to flirt with any of the nurses. All of his attention is on Sam and getting him safely through the halls and to the backseat of the Impala, loaded with blankets and pillows for the ride back to the motel.
He feels every bump and dip in the road, and he can't suppress the sharp gasps and quiet hisses that escape his lips at the sudden jolts of fresh pain. Dean tells their dad to slow down, but John insists that the faster he drives, the faster they can get Sam into a bed and comfortable.
Sam wishes he could have stayed in the hospital because he's starting to agree with the doctor's opinion that he's really not ready for any sort of travel yet.
But they make it back to the motel room in record time and Sam is settled on a pile of pillows with a family that hovers only when one member is gravely injured or ill.
The ceiling is lackluster compared to seeing the stars in their full glory overhead. The air is stale and has the scent of smoke and bodily fluids that won't wash away permanently embedded in it instead of the air in the woods that still smelled fresh despite the amount of blood in the area.
"Do you need anything, Sammy?" Dean asks. "Dad's gonna go run to the market."
"More painkillers," Sam says, because damn if that car ride hasn't taken its toll on his already battered body.
Dean laughs a bit at that. "You can't have any more for a couple hours yet," he says. "But it might not be the worst idea to get some food into you. Think there's anything you could handle?"
"No. I don't know."
"Well, you're getting soup, then."
John leaves them, and Dean turns on the TV, asking for Sam's input on what to watch (even if half the channels show barely more than static) for the first time in a long time. Sam's never been injured this badly, and he once again wonders exactly how bad his injuries are for Dean to be willing to watch shows that he hates just because Sam wants to watch them.
At night, John goes to a bar. It's not unusual for him to rid himself of the stress that comes with a hunt through the use of alcohol, but Sam's surprised that he's held off until Sam was back at the motel before going out. He's surprised that John went to the store and made sure they had anything they would need before he left, if only for the night.
It's a drill that they all know far too well, one that they've done for years. John leaves to get drunk, maybe find a woman to spend the night with. Dean plays babysitter and listens for a phone call asking him to go down to the bar and cart John's drunk ass back to the room.
Sam is just there.
Dean does his best to keep the mood light, but Sam wants to be back at the hospital because the painkillers they gave him aren't working as well as the ones they pumped into him through the IVs.
"I want to go outside," he tells Dean. "I want some fresh air."
"I could open a window."
"No, I want to go outside. Just for a minute."
Dean sighs, but helps Sam out of the door and onto the ground so he sits with his back against the motel and his right leg stretched out in front of him. The effort of the short trip leaves him panting and sweaty. It makes his side and leg burn more than they already did.
He looks up at the stars, but they aren't as brilliant as they were in the woods, not with the light pollution from the city clouded the view. The sight of them doesn't calm him or take away the pain like it did in the woods.
"Hey, Sammy?" Dean asks once Sam's more-or-less caught his breath.
"What did you mean when you said that your hourglass ran out of time back at the hospital?"
"I just… I don't think that I was supposed to wake up again," Sam says. "Back in the woods, I felt like it was my time. I could feel that I was dying."
"Sam, you did die. They had to operate and stitch you back together," Dean says. "That familiar's bite did a lot of damage, and the blood loss wasn't helping, and they lost you on the table. Twice."
Sam's heard of people having near-death experiences in situations like that, but Sam doesn't remember having anything like that. No white light to go towards. No pearly gates or heavenly welcome party trying to persuade him to stay with them.
No, there were only the stars above him. Once he closed his eyes in the woods, it was all darkness until he woke up in the hospital.
"Oh," he says.
"I was ready, though," Sam says, unsure that Dean wants to hear it. "I, you know, accepted that it was over."
"You're lucky you're injured, Sammy," Dean says. "That's the only thing stopping me from beating some sense into your head."
"It was the stars. I was looking at them and how they just didn't care that I was dying. They watch everything and just keep going. They continue with their lives regardless of what happens around them. And I was okay with the same stars that the very first humans saw being the last thing I ever saw. I thought that maybe you were looking at the sky, too, and I wasn't so alone that way."
"I was sprinting through the goddamn woods because I heard a gunshot and your yell, barely, and I was fucking terrified," Dean says. "Then, by the time I find you, you're nearly dead. Now, you're telling me that you were okay with that?"
"I don't know. Maybe I just thought that it wasn't that bad. I mean, you and Dad are both better hunters than me. Dad and I are always at each other's throats, and we haven't been close like we used to be in a long time," Sam says. "And when I was lying there, it just seemed like it was all for the best that I went first. I picked out Sirius and Polaris, and I watched them as they watched me die. And it was peaceful."
"You really think that?" Dean asks. "You really think that we would be okay with you dead?"
"No, but you wouldn't have had a choice."
"And what do you mean that we aren't close anymore? We're next to each other pretty much all the time."
"When's the last time, other than right now, that we had a real conversation?"
Dean doesn't answer.
"See?" Sam asks.
"Well, what do you want from me, Sam?"
"I don't want this life, Dean. I'm not a natural born hunter. I don't belong here," Sam says. "Look at where hunting's gotten me. I almost died."
"Maybe we just need to take a break. You really went through a lot with this last hunt," Dean says. "Once you're healed up. C'mon, pick a place for a vacation."
"I want to go out to a field, one that's not near any cities. I want you to see the stars like I did, Dean," Sam says. "Without light pollution obscuring them. I want you to understand."
Dean takes a deep breath. "That's what you want?"
Sam sits on the hood of the Impala with a beer in his hand and Dean next to him. "Do you remember the first time we did this?" he asks.
"After the first time you almost died on a hunt? How could I forget? I spent so long trying to prove to you and myself that we weren't as distant towards each other as you felt we were," he says.
"I don't really remember that much from after I killed the witch," Sam says. "They must have had me on some pretty great painkillers."
"Seriously? You don't remember?"
"Not really, no."
Dean takes a long drink from his beer. "Dude, you made me help you outside when you were in terrible shape, and then you wouldn't shut up about the stars or accepting death. Do you have any idea how much it freaked me out to hear that my little brother was just fine with dying?"
That part, Sam remembers. He still thinks about the experience he had in the woods, and he still feels bits of the absolute serenity that took over him that night when his wounds stopped hurting and he stood at Death's door.
He looks at the stars. In a field like this, they are easy to see and brighter than in any city where they've stayed. It is silent and a little cold, but not uncomfortably so. The chilled breeze feels good against his skin. Refreshing.
"You get it now, though, don't you?" Sam asks. "The feeling. Looking at the stars like this."
"Yeah, Sammy. I get it," Dean says. "Now, shut up and let me enjoy the view."
Moments like this make Sam glad that Dean found him in time, and he laughs. Dean looks at him from the corner of his eye and cracks a smile of his own.
Not all stars burn out quietly. Some live long lives and go out in a brilliant explosion.
Author's Note: And so ends my version of how Sam and Dean started driving to fields to look at the stars (as mentioned in Swan Song). If you liked it, please leave a review and consider checking out more of my work!