So I have a confession. I've been struggling with where to go with this, which is why I haven't updated like I should. I had one idea when I first started writing, but now I'm not sure it makes sense for the story and I've posted up to the point where it makes a major difference for the rest of the action (for the next 4-5 chapters).
As much as I don't want to do this, I'm going to say please consider this on hiatus for a little while. I might be able to salvage it and get it up in a few weeks, but it might take me a little longer. I promise I'm not abandoning it! I just need a little time to unsnarl this plot a bit. I'd rather take the time now than write myself into an even worse corner and not be able to fix it at all.
After his evening in the woods, Sam had expected to sleep soundly. It had been a long day, and while not particularly strenuous compared to his day job, it was more exercise than he'd been getting in the last weeks. He had gone back to his room with every intention of crashing as soon as he laid down. Instead, he spent most of the night tossing and turning. He would wake up with his brain spinning in circles about what might happen next. Would he be able to find Dean and cure him? Would he be able to live independently in the bunker? If he brought Dean home, would he still want to be around Sam now that he was a bigger liability than ever before?
In his rational brain he knew all the worry and anxiety wasn't helpful. Everything he'd been through in the last two months had been preparing him to live as independently as possible. He would have to bring Dean home before they could even begin to answer the question of what to do next, and past experience had shown him Dean was more likely to coddle him than abandon him. He should be worrying about how he was going to mark out his own independence from an overprotective big brother than he was about Dean leaving him or pushing him out.
In total, he got four hours of intermittent sleep. He gave up an hour before his alarm was set to go off and got up to start packing up the few things he'd brought with him.
In the quiet of the early morning, he could almost pretend he was just packing up from another hotel. He had never been much of a hoarder and he'd paired his travel bag down to bare essentials as he was hopping across state lines after his brother. Even making allowances like taking the time to fold everything, keeping the order of his shirts, and being mindful of how his toiletries were packed away, he was done in half an hour. He even made a thorough search of every drawer, cabinet, and countertop just to be sure he'd gotten everything.
The extra time wasn't good for him. He ended up pacing back and forth across the room until his watch finally read a decent time for him to descend for breakfast. He took his bag with him and left the door unlocked. He wouldn't be coming back.
The dining hall was always a little subdued in the morning. Not all the residents ate breakfast and most were preparing for the day. It would be a livelier place around lunch when folks would congregate in their normal groups a little more. This early, Sam was sure to be left alone.
He pulled out the book of short poems Helen had given him last week. He had a bit of time to kill before Cas would be there to pick him up. It was as good a time as any to practice. None of the poems were very long. Most fit onto a page, making them the perfect size to get through in odd bits of time.
He lost himself in picking out the letters and reading them as a whole. It wasn't until he heard the scuff of a shoe beside his table that he realized the hall had grown a bit busier as more people woke up and stumbled in. He paused in his reading and tilted his head towards the sound. "Hello?"
"Hi, Sam," Kevin said. "I didn't expect to see you down here this morning. Mind if I join you for a moment?"
Sam smiled at Kevin and motioned at the empty seat across from him. "I couldn't sleep."
"Ah. Nervous," he asked as he sat down.
"Some. What are you doing down this way? I didn't think you usually ate here."
Kevin snorted. "I'm out of coffee and Joe's scones are famous around here. I stopped by for a pick-me-up before my first session."
"You know, for all the coffee you seem to burn, I'd think your office would reek of it."
"Oh, and what does my office smell like, pray tell?"
"Mint, leather, and new books. I was a little thrown by it at first. It wasn't what I'd expected in an office like that."
"New books have a smell?"
"Mmm. Woodsy and sharp. They've got a bit of a tang to them. Haven't you ever noticed?"
"Not really, no. Anyway, that's not why I stopped by. I just wanted to say goodbye. The way my day is structured here, I don't always get the chance."
Sam smiled at him. "I get it. I didn't expect anything, really. I figured I had seen everyone for the last time yesterday."
"All the same. I think you should know you've done some important work while you've been here. I know you've still got a bit of a road ahead of you, but you're doing fine."
"Thanks," Sam said. He hadn't been expecting the praise and it left him off kilter, but it meant so much that Kevin believed he was making progress. Of all the people here, Kevin had the best idea what Sam was dealing with and where he stood. "I'm glad our paths crossed again."
"Yeah, me too." Kevin rose from his seat. He stood to the side of the table for a moment. Sam waited as he debated with himself. Finally he cleared his throat. "Listen," he said, quietly so no one would overhear them. "I don't normally do this, but I know it can be difficult to find people you trust to talk to, with your job being what it is. I'm going to give you my card. If you ever need to talk – about anything – I'm here."
Sam frowned. "I can't do that. I can't even pay you."
"I'm not looking for payment. You're saving the world; think of it like a job benefit. At least take the card. You don't have to do anything with it, but then you know the option is always there."
Sam reached forward and took the card that was being held out to him. "I'm sure it wasn't your usual type of case, but I'm grateful for everything."
"Thank you! I really do have to go, but take care of yourself."
"Yeah," Sam said. "I will."
Cas found him ten minutes later still sitting at the table, tracing the edges of the card. He tucked it into his wallet for safe keeping. "Are you ready to go?" Cas asked.
Sam nodded. He shouldered his bags and took Cas's proffered arm, allowing him to take the lead. After a short detour to check out with reception and say his goodbyes to Rob and Helen, who had both stopped him in the hallway, they made their way to the front door, leaving much the way they came in.
Sam settled himself into the cramped car. Neither of them said anything as Cas started the engine and pulled out of the parking lot. There wasn't much he could say. In a few hours, he would be home. The amount of work he was going to have to do to even function in the bunker was mind boggling. At least he had an idea or two of where to start now.
He lasted about two hundred miles before he was forced to admit he'd found one more way his life had changed. Sam swallowed hard against the lump in his throat. The moisture in his mouth pooled uncomfortably under his tongue. As the car jerked forward, he knew with absolute certainty that he was going to hurl if he didn't stop soon. He sucked in a ragged breath through his nose and focused on his aching grip on the door handle.
"Cas, man. I gotta take a break," he bit out. "Can we just find a diner or a gas station or something? Anything."
"Are you okay? You look pale."
Sam shook his head and focused on breathing through the rolling mess in his stomach. The car lurched as Cas made a turn. Sam nearly lost the battle right then. They drove for another minute then came to a jerky stop. Sam didn't wait beyond hearing the engine die off. He flung open the door and pushed himself out, sucking in fresh air. Standing upright helped. He moaned and let the car behind him take his weight.
He felt the car rock under him as Cas climbed out and shut his door with a thump. "Sam?"
Sam shook his head. "M'fine. Just a little carsick." After a long moment where he worked on forcing his rebelling stomach to behave while Cas stared at him, he finally sighed. "This sucks."
"I've never known you to get carsick before."
"Yeah. Me either."
It was one of the first times he felt truly betrayed by his body in all this. He had been riding in cars his whole life. He could sleep, work a crossword, or even research without so much as a single protest from his stomach. Now that he couldn't anticipate the way the car moved or distract himself from the motion, he found his gorge rising with very little provocation.
Sam shifted and stood fully. He could smell the acrid fumes of gasoline and hear people coming and going in front of him. They must be at a gas station. "Do they have a store?"
"A small one. Would you like to go in?"
"Yeah. Maybe they have some crackers or something. Is it busy?"
"There are a few people inside, but not many."
Sam nodded and stood. He made his slow way towards the door. He was starting to feel better now that the only movement was his own. He paused to let Cas go first and took his arm when it was offered. In his experience small gas stations were a tripping hazard at the best of times. He didn't want to knock a display over because he was clumsy from his stomach. He pulled his cane in tight to his body and moved when Cas did.
"Be careful," Cas said, quietly. "It's narrow in here."
Sam nodded and shuffled so that he was walking a little behind Cas. He could feel eyes following them through the store. They paused in the middle of an aisle. Cas hummed and shifted away from him. "There's many kinds of crackers. What do you like?"
Sam knew he was being watched. It made the back of his neck prickle. He did his best to shake it off and ignore the feeling, but it grated on his nerves. Couldn't he have five minutes without being the freak?
"It doesn't matter. Something plain. Just whatever's cheap."
Sam's skin was crawling with the scrutiny, and his stomach was decidedly not happy about the nerves it was stirring up. He felt the roiling queasiness return. He squeezed Cas's arm lightly and said, "I'm going to find the bathroom. Would you grab me a ginger ale if they have one?"
Cas patted his hand. "I will. The restroom is against the back wall behind us. The aisle stretches to your left all the way to the cooler wall. There are two more between here and there but the outer aisle looks clear."
Sam nodded and stepped back. He turned so that he was facing more square in the aisle, then made his way slowly down towards the coolers. He aimed toward the humming of the refrigeration and turned left when he hit the wall.
He heard someone step up beside him. He took a quick step to the side so that they could get past. He let the tip of his cane follow the wall, searching for the point where the unit ended and the door to bathroom was supposedly set.
He had taken two steps forward when a hand closed around his elbow. "Here, let me-"
Sam jerked to his side, spinning to break the grip. His hand shot out to grasp the wrist of the offending arm.
"Whoah! Chill." The voice was of a man, fairly short and on the younger side. Sam dropped the arm as if had bitten him. It was just another customer. "What's your problem, man?"
Sam grit his teeth. "My problem? What's yours?"
He could feel the man drawing up across from him. "Now listen here. I was only helping. No need to be an asshole about it."
"I didn't ask for your help, and I don't need it," Sam snapped. "Keep your hands to yourself."
"Geeze," the man muttered. "Guess that's what I get for trying to be nice around here."
Sam's fist clenched so hard he could feel his nails digging into his palm. He wanted to scream at this guy that so obviously didn't understand basic courtesy, but he knew it wouldn't do any good.
Instead, he turned with a huff and found the bathroom door. He ran his hand down the wall alongside the door frame until he found a plastic plaque. The short line of braille punched into the sign told him he'd found the men's restroom on the first try. He pushed open the heavy door and let it thump behind him. A quick tap of his cane on the tiled floor told him it was a smallish area, probably a one room set up. He reached behind him. He discovered a button lock on the door handle and pressed it in.
He explored as little as possible. He knew just how vile a gas station bathroom could be. He didn't relish setting his hand on a questionable surface. There was a paper towel dispenser on the wall to the right of the sink. The towels were stiff and hard, but he wet them anyway.
The cool water felt good on his face and being out of the watchful eye of a shop full of people was doing wonders for his nerves. He'd had no illusions that this was going to be a cake walk, but he'd thought he was past the worst. He assumed once he left the center he would feel confident and capable. Instead it was like he was standing at a precipice about to pitch headfirst over the edge. He didn't have the safe confines of Brookhaven's walls anymore. He wasn't in a little town that knew and helped the residents. He was in the real world with real people and real problems he had to find solutions for. Unsolicited "help" was going to be one of those problems.
When he felt measurably calmer and was certain Cas had time to find their things, he washed his hands and left the confines of the tiny restroom. As he stepped out, Cas called to him from near the front entrance.
Sam nodded at him in acknowledgement, secretly glad he hadn't popped up at his elbow to guide him out. Instead Sam picked his way around the cramped shelves, and together they made their way back to the confines of the car. More than once he had to make Cas pull off so he could take a break and walk around. He honestly thought these little pit stops were good for Cas too. He seemed to always have a note of relief when Sam asked if they could pause for a snack or a bathroom break.
The drive straight through should have taken them about twelve hours. Between their frequent stops and some bad traffic around Kansas City, they didn't pull up outside the bunker until nearly midnight that night. Sam was tired and sore. He wanted nothing more than a hot shower and his bed.
The night had long since swallowed what little he could see, the deep darkness broken only when another car passed them. The stretch of road they lived on was devoid of streetlights. Even before all of this, he'd thought the area felt abandoned. Now, he realized for the first time just how empty it really was. Somehow, however unsettling the shifting grey landscape of his daytime vision was, it was times like this, when he was completely engulfed in the dark, that sent a thrum of anxiety through him. It was one thing to work at night in the shadows and dark corners of the world. It was another entirely to feel like he was floating in a vast expanse of lightless unknown.
It was a bit of a relief when they entered the bunker and the soft, diffused light broke the darkness. It was barely bright enough to be more than a deep, almost charcoal grey, but in the dimness he could make out more of the individual light sources. Something about that was comforting, and he felt a little of the strain he'd been carrying all day ease. His feet carried him down the steep stairs and into the main war room. He may not be able to see it, but he was finally home.
Cas stopped beside him. "Do you need help to your room?"
Sam tried to think about it honestly. Could he make it on his own? He'd walked these halls half asleep and in the dark a hundred times. There was every chance he could do it now from memory. He wouldn't be making any inroads towards actually learning the layout, but he remembered enough to get himself to his room.
"I think I'm okay."
When he was safely behind his own bedroom door, he dropped his bag by the desk, kicked his shoes off beside it, and shed his flannel over shirt and his jeans into a pile on top of the duffel. He had one desire at that moment and that was the heaven of his very own bed. The rest could wait until he'd lost some of the stiffness from his aching back and legs. He briefly considered relaxing under the spray of a hot shower, but not even that temptation could drag him back up once he'd let himself sink against the mattress.
The next morning he woke feeling unsettled. The meager light that spilled into his room from the high set window felt dim, and he spent a long time just lying in his bed listening to the sounds of the bunker. After a full night of sleep, it felt alien. This place had become close to a permanent home for them in a very short time, but he might as well be on another planet. It was huge and labyrinthine, with little to no accommodations for someone like him that he could remember. He doubted the Men of Letters had considered it likely they would need to be accessible in that way. After all, how does a blind man hunt or study ancient lore?
He was starting all over. Putting a place of this size into any kind of order wasn't just daunting, it was damn near impossible. Still, he'd never thought he would be able to go grocery shopping or climb a cliff face either, and he'd done both.
Moping wouldn't help. He was finally home. He was one step closer in his mission to find and cure Dean. If he had to reinvent the Men of Letters filing system to do it, he would. He pushed himself up and wound his way through the maze of corridors to the shower. When he was fresher, he wandered into the kitchen.
"Sam," Cas said as he stepped down into the central area. Sam nodded at him, but he was far more interested in coffee than conversation.
Cas seemed to understand immediately what he was after. "Careful, the burner is on. There's about half a pot left."
Sam grunted in appreciation and helped himself. Once he had settled on a stool at the table, Cas took a seat across from him. "We didn't talk yesterday about what would need to be done. I assume there's work you might need help with in order to make the main areas useable."
Sam nodded. "Yeah, a bit, but none of it is essential right this second."
"Sam," Cas said. There was a sternness to his tone Sam rarely heard directed towards himself. If anything it reminded him of Dean calling him on his bullshit.
"Okay, yeah. There's a lot. It will all need some sort of system."
"Where would you like to begin?"
Sam took a long drink off his coffee, giving the question some serious thought. The kitchen was going to be a high priority if he was going to keep them fed. But so was his bathroom and his own room. "My room. I'll probably start in there. The rest I can probably fumble through for a few days, but I need my things to be in order."
"Very well. Shall I make breakfast before we get into it?"
"Would you like to eat before we begin?"
"Cas, I uh...I appreciate it. I do. But you don't have to do that."
"Make breakfast? I assumed that until we set up the kitchen it would be easier, but I won't if you don't want me to."
"No! It's not that. I just meant I know you've stuck around for a while now and I don't want to keep you from doing your own thing. You shouldn't give up your life just because I am…what I am now."
Cas sighed, deeply and heavily. "Don't be ridiculous. I've told you many times that this is where I want to be. Now, do you want breakfast or not?"
Sam couldn't help the small niggle of guilt clawing at his chest. This was exactly what he'd been afraid of, the people in his life having to take care of him. Still, he was grateful. He didn't know how he would manage on his own right now.
Sam brushed off the thought and shrugged. "I've been gone for over three months. I don't know that there's anything fit for consumption in the fridge. Dean sometimes keeps some bagels in the freezer though, and the butter should still be okay."
Sam leaned back in his seat as Cas rose and crossed the room. There was the rustle of bags being moved around and finally the freezer door thumped shut. "I didn't find bagels but there's a pack of English muffins with a threatening note taped on them."
Sam chuckled. "That will work. Just throw a couple under the broiler and they'll toast up."
"The note says eat these and die. Just for clarification, it's a warning not to steal them and not because they've been poisoned, correct?"
"Yeah. Dean's possessive of his snacks, but he's not here right now. If he throws a fit, blame it on me. I can't possibly have read the note."
There was the clatter of a pan as Cas set about hearing the oven and making them some breakfast. Sam was content to sip at his coffee. When they finally had their toast and were nearly done with their food, Sam sat back and stretched. He breathed deeply, enjoying the familiar smell of the kitchen, a little spicy and a little musky with odd notes of more exotic herbs floating around. There were even hints of whiskey still lingering.
Cas finished the last of his toast and cleared the plates and mugs into the sink. Sam would do the dishes, but they could wait until later. "So," Sam said. He wasn't fond of the idea of asking for help, but he had to get something done, take some small measure of control back over his life here in his own home. "Are you sure you want to help? It's probably going to be a pretty boring day. Lots of labeling and sorting."
Cas laid a hand on his shoulder. "Yes, I'm sure."
Sam nodded and rose. "Then let's get started."