AN: Trigger warning! There is attempted suicide in this fic but it is not successful. He also has a disassociation attack. If either of these triggers affect you, this fic may not be right for you.
As Sam went to leave Cheyenne, Wyoming, on a cold and crisp morning, he discovered that the air around him was absolutely filled with silence. The kind of silence that makes you pay attention because it creeps into every crevice, every nook and cranny, until it fills every part of you and floods your senses. It stole the air from his lungs and for a moment, he was paralyzed, trying to figure out where the silence had come from.
The answer, he soon realized, was everywhere.
There were no cars rushing past, no buzzing from electric lines. No people anywhere, no voices, no shouts, no cries. There were no birds in the sky, no barking dogs as he walked away from his clunker and down the road. He passed gardens devoid of buzzing insects. He found cobwebs but they were empty of spiders, and the trash bins he passed held no flies.
Through every door and window he looked in, there were no people anywhere to be found.
He started getting desperate enough to run in and out of buildings, up to houses to pound on doors. His voice, freaked out and desperate, echoed in the air. The only thing that followed him, like a reaper just waiting for him to turn around to take him, was the silence.
Running full tilt, his own feet making quiet slapping sounds on the pavement, he finally got back to his clunker and tore out of town. There would be people elsewhere. Whatever had happened in this town needed hunters on it fast, and that…that wasn't really what Sam was doing these days. He'd stumbled on the hunt in Cheyenne but it had wound up being nothing supernatural, just people going missing for no reason he could find. Maybe it had been supernatural after all and now everyone was missing. He could call Bobby. Bobby could pass whatever was happening on to…other hunters.
Like Dean. He couldn't call Dean himself because, well, Dean probably wouldn't answer. Not for him. Different hemispheres and all of that.
He drove and pulled over in the next town. Decent reception, and he was hungry for once. Towns out here didn't have much for internet cafes but they definitely had fast food places, and that was good enough.
Except there was no one there, either. No one in town, no animals, no insects. Just Sam.
Okay, that was enough to warrant a phone call. He called Bobby first, because if anyone would have heard about strange happenings, it would be him. The phone rang and rang and rang and-
"Singer's voicemail. You know what to do."
He pulled the phone away from his ear to stare at it, completely bewildered, before he hung up and dialed again. Three rings and the voicemail kicked in.
This time, he found his voice. "Bobby, it's, uh, it's me, Sam. Something weird is going on. Give me a call if you get this."
He looked over the list of contacts he had. Most of them he couldn't call, but there were some that he could still reach out to. Some that would still deign to talk with the apocalypse-starter.
None of them mattered, though. If something had seriously happened, if everyone was really gone and the world had seriously ended, there was only one person he wanted to call.
He dialed Dean.
It rang. And it rang. Sam's stomach twisted inside of him, as ugly as the silence that kept pressing in on him.
"Hey, you've reached Dean. Leave me a message – you know the drill."
No. No, no, no. He hung up before he could do something stupid, like cry all over the phone because that's what he felt like he would do.
He leaned against the junker and shut his eyes tight, praying for this to be a stupid nightmare and for him to wake up. This wasn't happening. The world was still full of people and bugs and barking dogs. He wasn't alone. He wasn't.
Wait. Praying. The one thing he hadn't done yet.
Desperately he folded his hands together over his phone. "Castiel, it's…it's Sam, Sam Winchester," he said. His voice shook. "I, um, really hope you're with Dean and keeping him safe and just really busy but-"
He shut his eyes tight. "Please be with him right now," he whispered. "Because if you're gone then Dean's gone and I-"
It was more than he could voice. He couldn't do it. He just couldn't.
No one answered him. He finally gave Castiel his physical location when he remembered about the rib tattoos, but still nothing.
The silence pressed in a little harder. This was Hell, he thought hysterically, this had to be Hell. Too quiet, too empty, no one else except him. No big brother anywhere in sight.
If this was Hell, then there had to be someone around. And Sam had a good idea who.
This time, when he prayed, it was with a touch of anger and, okay, he'd admit it, a little bit of fear, too. "Lucifer," he said, eyes watching everything around him. "I want to talk to you."
Silence. Sam felt his nerves return. "I said I want to talk to you, Lucifer," he said. "You wanted to talk with me, well, I'm here. And I'm listening."
Nothing happened. Okay, fine, if Lucifer wanted to play hard to get, then Sam could do that. There were other ways to get the Devil's attention.
He found most of what he needed at a local hardware store and set about summoning a demon. When nothing appeared in the Devil's Trap, Sam shut his eyes tight. He must've remembered the Latin wrong. He tried a different conjuring but it didn't work, either.
Real fear started to take hold. No angels, no demons. This wasn't possible. It couldn't just be him left behind. There had to be someone left.
Bobby. He had to get to Bobby. Bobby had the answers. And if there was any common ground that everyone would run to, it was Singer's Salvage Yard. That included Dean.
Because Dean was fine. He wasn't gone. He wasn't dead. He wouldn't leave Sam here alone.
He got in his car and drove. The phone kept him busy while he drove, even if it was just to call one person, the only person who had ever really mattered. He left voicemail after voicemail, first the frantic sort because everyone was gone, and it was just him, and maybe he was in Hell. Maybe he'd said yes, or maybe he'd gotten lucky enough to die.
Then it was just a regular check-in of sorts as he drove. Something to help him pass the time as he drove through empty towns and empty highways and empty roads. Because it meant he wasn't completely alone, for a little bit.
And because every time he dialed, Dean at least answered, for just a little bit.
"Hey, you've reached Dean. Leave me a message – you know the drill."
So he talked. It gave his voice something to do. He couldn't bear to sing along to the radio that had already gone fuzzy, or the few cassettes that he'd gotten to pass the time. But he could call Dean's phone and hear his brother's voice and pretend that they were just separated because of his horrific mistakes.
Then he got to Bobby's.
He carefully dialed the only phone number that mattered and listened while it rang. And rang. And rang.
"Hey, you've reached Dean. Leave me a message – you know the drill."
"I made it to Bobby's," he said, and his voice choked a little on the last word. "Um. There's no lights, no sounds. Everything's as quiet as everywhere else."
It hit him with the force of a sledgehammer to the chest that he had nowhere else to go after this. If Bobby wasn't here, then Dean wasn't here. Dean wasn't answering his phone because he was gone, too. Everyone was gone, and this was the end of the world and somehow, somehow he'd missed it. It was just him and the silence.
He realized he was clutching the phone so tightly to his ear that his head actually hurt. "I don't know why I'm doing this," he whispered. "Because you're gone, too. Everyone's gone. There's nothing left."
He shut his eyes tight. "I'm going to go look his place over. Because…well. It's something to do. And maybe, maybe he's safe in the panic room or something. I don't know. But if he's gone and you're gone, then what's the point? I don't want to live in a world without you," and he hadn't meant to say that but it was the truth. The past two months without Dean had been torture. This was just the final straw.
No one came out of Bobby's house. Dean's car wasn't here, and Bobby's vehicles were silent in the junkyard. "I'm going to check it out," he said quietly. "And when I don't find anything, I'm…I'm going to be done. I still have a gun. And then there'll be nobody left."
It felt important to add something, something about how Dean was the best brother he'd ever had, that he'd never be able to apologize enough for betraying Dean and giving up the best partner and friend he'd ever known. Still, he managed to wrap his lips around some sort of words and then he shut the phone off. Slowly he pulled himself out of the car and headed inside.
The stairs creaked just like they were supposed to, and the door made all the right noises when he opened it. "Bobby?" he called. His voice echoed in the silence.
The living room held no one, and the kitchen was bare. The phones sat, still and quiet, and not even the coffee pot made noise. There was no one there.
Only the wheelchair, condemning Sam with every facet of its being, stood against the wall, like Bobby had settled into his easy chair for a while. Or maybe he'd been in the wheelchair when he'd disappeared along with everyone else.
Maybe this world was his own private Hell, and the angels had dropped him here to preserve the rest of the world, the world that was good. This was just a mirror world and everyone else was somewhere better. Somewhere without him.
He searched the whole house anyway, the upstairs, the basement, even the panic room. Everything stood silent, and each moment the silence grew louder, more judgmental. This was his penance, his punishment. He would have to live without anyone else ever again.
And maybe he deserved it (he absolutely did) but he wasn't going to live in this horrible silent world. He was done.
He made his way back to the kitchen and settled into a chair. The table was clean except for two random texts and a notebook, filled with Bobby's handwriting. For a moment, he couldn't breathe, and he pushed the chair away from the table to stare at the floor instead. That was easier.
One breath. Two.
He couldn't stay here.
Three. Four. Five.
But he couldn't go anywhere else either. There was nowhere else.
Six. Seven. Eight-nine, teneleventwelve-
No, he was done. Bobby was gone, Dean was gone, and all he desperately wanted was to hear his brother's voice one last time. To see his brother again.
He needed to sleep, but he'd never be able to sleep in the silence. He'd have to turn on every radio just to fill the void, let the white noise fill in the blanks that were missing. Or crank the stereo as high as it would go. Maybe then he could sleep.
Or sleep forever. That was the better option.
Carefully he pulled his piece out from the small of his back. He let it hang from his fingers, heavy enough to force him to hold on, and its promise of allowing him to not be there anymore was a siren song. He swayed a little where he sat and closed his eyes.
It took a moment for the voice, a voice, to register. But he knew that voice, knew it better than his own.
Sam slowly raised his eyes. There, in front of him, healthy and as hale as the last time he'd seen his brother, was Dean. He looked no different than ever. Just like Sam would remember, he thought hysterically.
It was definitely time to pull the plug if he'd already started to hallucinate.
"Anyone home?" Dean's hallucination said, and tears sprang to Sam's eyes, unbidden. "Sam?"
It was better than being alone in the end, he thought. At least now he could say goodbye to Dean, even if his brother wasn't really there. "You came to find me?" he couldn't help but ask.
"Yeah," Dean's hallucination said, frowning. "That's sort of why I'm here. We need to figure this out."
That was Dean as he remembered him best: always working to figure things out. Always focused on what came next, always had a plan. Was even willing to come find Sam to make it happen, even after everything.
Sam looked down at the gun. As broken as his mind apparently was with no sleep, at least it had given him this. "Stay with me?" he whispered. "I, I know you're not real but. Please. Stay with me? I don't want to-"
I don't want to die alone.
Boots and denim appeared in his vision as the hallucination crouched in front of him. It even smelled like his brother, the leather of the Impala, grease and oil, aftershave and Dean. It was home and he almost sobbed out loud.
"Sam, look at me."
He couldn't deny his brother, even as a hallucination. Not now, not after everything. He met Dean's gaze and had to blink to see through the tears gathered in his eyes. Dean looked…worried. Worried for him? Definitely hallucinating, but it warmed a part of him he'd thought was long cold and dead.
"Give me the gun," Dean's hallucination said calmly, and Sam winced, because of course he had to disappoint even the hallucination of his brother. It was the one thing he couldn't, wouldn't, do. "Sam-"
"I can't," he said. "I don't want to do this anymore. Everyone's gone, you're gone-"
"I'm not gone," the hallucination told him. "I'm definitely real, and I want that gun, Sam. You're not leavin' me here in this crap world that suddenly lost everybody."
Sam kept his fingers wrapped in the gun. Dean's hallucination suddenly looked angry, and that, that Sam definitely remembered. "You gonna pull the trigger and leave me here alone? You'd seriously do that to me? You don't want to be here in a world that went haywire, I get it, but you can't leave me here, too."
The first vestiges of doubt began to creep into Sam's mind. Suddenly his hand was empty, the gun gone, and Sam stared as the hallucination set it down behind them on the table. Then the hallucination turned back to Sam and grabbed his hands.
The shock of something, anything, touching him was enough to make Sam jerk. But the hallucination's hands were warm around his, calluses in the right places. Dean's eyes shut for a moment in what looked like relief, then opened again and fixed on Sam. "Feel me?" he said quietly. "I'm real, Sam. Here." He brought Sam's hands up to his chest, where the heartbeat was steady, if a little fast, as if Dean was afraid, too. Then up to his face, and Sam ran his fingers over his brother's features. Felt the inhale and exhale as Dean breathed.
Dean's hand rose and touched Sam's face, and Sam could only stare as his brother's thumb wiped away the tears from his cheeks. "I'm here, Sam," he said again. "Don't know where everyone else is, but I'm here."
Sam knew he didn't deserve to, not after everything, but he still reached out and selfishly took Dean into his arms and held on tight. Because Dean was there. Sam wasn't alone.
Dean not only let him hug him, but he wrapped his own arms around Sam and held on just as tight. Like even though the world had ended, they were still okay.
There was still power, at least for a little while longer, but Bobby had a generator anyway, so it wasn't an issue yet. Not that they'd need to charge phones, as long as they stuck together.
Sam very deliberately did not think about the not sticking together part.
Dean said he'd also tried to call Bobby like Sam had, then Castiel, as soon as he noticed people were missing. He'd gone to call Sam, only he'd gotten voicemail after voicemail after voicemail from Sam before he could get out a call.
It took everything Sam had to not blush at the thought of all of those voicemails. "You said you were headed to Bobby's," Dean said, graciously skipping over the content of those voicemails, but his voice had gone soft, like what Sam had said had mattered for some reason. "So that's where I started going too."
"Did you, um." Sam couldn't raise his gaze from his coffee. Still steaming hot, something that probably would end in the upcoming weeks. Gas wouldn't keep forever so the generator would go south at some point.
He forced his voice to work. "Get the last voicemail?"
To Sam's surprise, Dean snorted a laugh. "The phone rang and scared me so bad I dropped the damn thing into the footwell on the other side," he said, embarrassed grin on his face, and Sam found his own lips almost turning up. Somehow, he'd forgotten how to smile, but maybe he could remember again. "I had to pull over to get it, but by that point it had stopped ringing. I kept driving but played your voicemail."
Oh. "Sorry," Sam muttered.
"Yeah. You said that in the voicemail, too. Y'know, I've been trying to conserve gas but I floored it as soon as I heard you." Dean snorted and shook his head. "God you still scare the hell out of me. I seriously thought I'd get here just in time to-"
He glanced at Sam then, lips pursed. "We'll figure out what happened, all right? But don't leave me alone in this hellhole of a world."
"I won't," Sam promised. "We'll stay together. I just…I thought…"
Dean's gaze softened. "I know what you thought. I would've too, if it hadn't been for your voicemails. I was too busy listening to call back. I should've right away. That's on me," and guilt flashed across Dean's face.
It didn't matter. Dean was here. That's what mattered.
The last thing Sam wanted was to be the last one standing.
With their initial "oh thank god you're alive" moment passed, the air quickly turned awkward. While it was clearly eating at Dean, Sam was too busy reveling in the fact that Dean was there. Not a hallucination, actually really there. He remembered the pit in his stomach, the hollow, empty feeling when he'd asked to join back up and Dean had told him no. Yet here was his brother, puttering around the kitchen with little else to do, pacing in what Sam knew was irritation. It left Sam feeling off-kilter as he hovered between the kitchen and the living room, unsure of what he ought to be doing.
"So…" Dean cleared his throat, startling Sam. "Where have you been?"
Sam shrugged and began to fidget with the hem of his shirt. He told Dean about the hunt in Cheyenne that had been a bust. He hadn't meant to stumble into it, but it had sounded like something hunting related when he'd reviewed the missing persons cases. Whatever the reason people were disappearing, though, it wasn't supernaturally related.
"And that's when everyone disappeared?"
Sam paused and glanced at his brother. "You didn't notice?" he asked hesitantly.
Dean shook his head. "I was in the woods on a hunt. By the time I stumbled out, there was no one left. Took forever to get reception back," he said, almost apologetically. Like it mattered that he'd missed Sam's phone calls. "But dude, there's no people anywhere between here and Indiana. They're all gone."
The bees, too. While Dean didn't seem to understand the significance of a distinct lack of bees, and other pollinators, Sam did. They wouldn't have food past a certain point. Never mind the fact that there were no animals for meat. Any chance of trying to figure out how to farm and live off the land were off the table. At some point, the world would just…cease to exist.
As soon as he told Dean, though, Dean's irritation returned. More awkward silence. The lack of sound made goosebumps run up and down Sam's arms.
"You're okay, though?" Sam asked at last.
That seemed to settle some of Dean's anger, and Dean let out a steady breath. When he answered, it was with a grin that Sam had missed. "Right as rain. You?"
"Tired but I'll live," Sam answered. He found himself speaking honestly before he could censor himself. "Just…glad you're here."
"Yeah," Dean said warmly, and it left Sam feeling almost hopeful. "Probably best to stick together with everything going on."
Part of Sam had been terrified that Dean would take off, but whatever was going on, it seemed that Dean was there to stay. Relief flooded him and he shut his eyes. "Yeah. It's too quiet, y'know?" he said, voice trembling a little with just how relieved he was.
Dean nodded but let Sam have his moment without calling him out on it, thankfully. "Yeah. I do." He clapped his hands together and rubbed them, and Sam jumped at the sound. "So. Any theories?"
"Uh." Sam fought to keep his gaze locked with Dean's, despite the fact that he felt like he was being judged. It made him feel like a kid again, not measuring up to Dad's lofty goals that Dean always seemed to hit without issue. "No. I've got nothing. I was hoping that Bobby's library would give me something."
Dean pursed his lips but surprised Sam when he didn't say anything about the lack of ideas. Instead, he moved towards the fridge, which at least still had power. "C'mon," Dean said. "Let's get food before it goes bad. Because I don't know about you, but I'm starving."
You're going to eat something, was what Sam heard, but it didn't rankle like it usually did. It just made him that much more relieved to hear that Dean cared, if just in this small way.
Unfortunately, it became clear that Dean intended to split the duties: he'd cook and Sam would start researching. When Sam hesitated, suddenly terrified about not having Dean in his sights, Dean glared at him and all but tossed him out of the room. "I'll make noise," Dean told him, pissed off again. "Just…go."
So Sam went. He deliberately chose a few books and made himself sit down in the recliner near the table. A moment later, when the silence fell again, his heart stuttered in his chest and he nearly rose because Dean could have suddenly disappeared. They had no idea what had happened to everyone else and whatever it was might've taken Dean now, too. No, he still had to be there. He couldn't have just disappeared, left Sam alone-
The cupboard slammed shut, and pans rattled obnoxiously. Another minute later and Dean began to sing what sounded like Styx, which for some reason he could never sing on key. The sounds didn't stop.
Sam took a few breaths and settled back into the chair. Time to start figuring out what the hell was going on.
The first book gave him almost nothing, but it did remind him of another book that might have an idea. He grabbed it and began pouring through it. Alternate dimensions, large apocalyptic creature that ate the entire population, a different apocalypse because every region and religion had their theories.
The books suddenly disappeared, and Sam whipped his head up to where Dean stood, books in his grasp. "What?" Sam asked and trailed after his brother as Dean headed into the kitchen. "Dean, what's wrong?"
A large thud followed the books hitting the table. "Easier for you to shoot ideas past me if you're in the same room as me," Dean said, like Sam was annoying him and this was obvious. Yet there were two red spots high on his cheeks, and he kept stealing glances over his shoulder at Sam.
Something warm flooded through Sam, and tension he hadn't known was there left him. "Yeah, you're right," he said. He was so damn grateful for his big brother, the one who also wanted Sam where he could see him, and he was going to make sure Dean understood that. In a way that Dean could stomach, because outright telling him was going to get rolled eyes and threats for inducing a chick-flick moment.
He cleared his throat while Dean kept putting things into the pot. "So get this, there's an apocalypse monster who's supposed to eat the entire world."
Dean paused. "Like, tip it over and eat everybody, or take some actual chunks out like it's a chocolate chip cookie? Because I don't want to fight a cosmic Cookie Monster."
Sam just sat back and almost smiled. God had he missed his brother.
None of the books had anything anywhere close to something that explained what had happened. There was of course the Rapture, but nothing said that the animals and insects would disappear too, and there were supposed to be the bad people left behind. "I mean, that explains us, but Bobby would probably be here too," Dean said. "Never mind all of Las Vegas and D.C."
So that was out. That and other ideas that they quickly reviewed and then discarded. Nothing seemed to match what was happening.
In the meantime, they were Winchesters: they moved forward. They made a list of things they could salvage and started bringing it to the house. They pulled gas up for the generator and waited for the grid to fail. They brought up food from the pantry downstairs and considered how long things would last without fresh materials. Neither of them wanted to consider the time they ultimately had left.
Yet they were making the most of it. They avoided the Big Topics of Bad Memories but that was fine. They had other things to talk about. Memories of good times. Every time Dean grinned at him or shared a joke, it was everything he could've hoped for. He found his own lips turning up numerous times into something that was almost a smile, but some part of himself held back. It felt like he hadn't earned the right to smile at Dean like they were really brothers. At the rate they were going, though, it wouldn't be long.
Two days after they'd joined back up, they finally started discussing the broader future. "So, what do we do?" Sam asked, setting aside his lunch. The last thing they needed was for Sam to make decisions. If Dean had noticed how non-decisive Sam was these days, he hadn't said anything.
"What do you mean?"
Sam glanced around the room. "Power will last us a few more days at most. Then we'll have to do the generators, but eventually the gas will evaporate. Then that's us without power. Or gas."
Honestly, he wasn't sure what they were supposed to do. The world wouldn't last forever. Their time was limited.
Dean turned back to the weapons he'd been looking over. There wasn't much point to them now but some habits were hard to break, some things were hard to let go of. "I don't know," Dean admitted. "You'd think that if the world was messed up, at least there'd still be angels or something. Demons. But no one seems to be around."
"No, they're all gone," Sam said, eyes on one of the survival guides they'd found in Bobby's bookshelf. Maybe they could make gas last longer with-
"How do you know that?"
The quiet tone held something that made Sam pause. "What?"
Dean had set the weapons down and turned his entire focus to Sam. "I said, how do you know that?" he asked, voice low.
Sam felt his chest tighten. He knew that tone. "I tried to find them," he said, aiming for nonchalant and failing, because he knew what this looked like, what it had to sound like. "I figured if anyone was behind this, it had to be them."
"You mean Lucifer," Dean said bluntly. His nostrils flared with anger. "Lucifer did this, and you know it."
"No, he's gone-"
Too late to take the words back, Sam shut his eyes tight and waited for the explosion.
He wasn't disappointed when Dean slammed the gun he'd been working on down on the table. "How the hell do you know that?" he said angrily. "What did you do?"
There was no real way out of this, so Sam swallowed hard and went for honesty. "I, um. I prayed to Lucifer. And Castiel," he added, wishing he'd said that first, but the damage was done. Dean's eyes widened in shock before the fury set in.
"So your new best friend decided to end the world and what, leave us behind?"
"He's not my new best friend," Sam said softly. Dean stood and began to pace. "Dean, I swear-"
"At what point were you going to tell me that the apocalypse had happened and you knew why?" Dean demanded. "We've been at this for days and you had the answer all this time. Why am I not surprised that you're hiding something, though. I wish I were more surprised but hey, looks like Sam can't change his stripes."
Sam stood and stared, heart beating out of control. "No, this, this isn't the apocalypse, not with the angels and demons. Something else is going on. That's the only reason I prayed to Lucifer, I needed to know what was going on."
Dean glared at him. "How the hell isn't this related to the apocalypse, Sam? And now you're telling me you prayed to Lucifer for help?"
"No one else answered!" Sam cried at last. "I was desperate to see if anything still existed. Castiel didn't answer, there were no demons-"
Wrong thing to say. "Did you call me before or after you tried to summon a demon?" Dean seethed. "Worried that your dealers might have left, too?"
Sam stared, jaw dropped, hurt so strong he didn't even know if he could breathe. Dean pursed his lips, looking nine types of angry, then snorted and turned away. He muttered something but Sam couldn't hear him over the roaring in his ears.
Because Dean hadn't come looking for him in order to solve this new problem together. Or to even get back together. He'd come looking for Sam for answers. Because this had to be Sam's fault.
The roar of the Impala's engine broke through his haze. Somehow, he managed to find his feet, and he raced out to the porch. The Impala's taillights were already on the road and disappearing fast. "Dean!" he shouted. "Dean!"
Dean was gone. He'd rather be alone than be with Sam for a minute more. An empty world was better than dealing with Sam.
And now Sam was alone, again. Forever.
Time sort of didn't work right for a while. Not that it mattered, honestly. Time sort of had no meaning when you were the only one who cared about hours and minutes. When he came back to himself, it was dark out, and the stars shone above him. He was cold, he realized, and he found he was shivering, curled up in a ball on the porch. He stumbled to his feet and went back inside. Everything was dark. He dug his phone out of his pocket for light (to call Dean he had to call Dean and explain apologize beg) but it was dark, just as dark as everything else. Dead. He fumbled for a light switch and couldn't seem to make his fingers work.
He couldn't make anything work. Everything was broken. He was broken. He had to be, to think for a split second that Dean would welcome him back with open arms, that just because the world had ended that they'd be brothers again.
Dean was right. This had to be because of Lucifer, because of Sam. Somehow, he'd done this. He'd caused the world to empty itself of its occupants, of good people who didn't deserve to be dead-
Oh god they were dead. Bobby was dead, Jo and Ellen and anyone Sam had ever known or cared about, they were all gone. And now Dean was gone. At least his brother wasn't dead, but Dean was gone, too.
He reached for a chair but missed and instead hit the floor hard enough that pain registered at long last. He felt like he was swimming through mud and muck, everything moving slow and him unable to take in a breath. It didn't matter, though. Nothing mattered anymore.
Nothing mattered without Dean.
For one blinding moment of clarity, he suddenly wanted to be as far from himself as he could be, too. He didn't want to deal with himself either. No one should have to.
Maybe he could fix it. If it was his fault, maybe he could fix it. Maybe this was the trickster again, or Lucifer, waiting for him to fall in line and obey, or offer himself up. Maybe he could bring everyone back for Dean if he just ended the problem.
His legs weren't responding, wooden blocks attached to his waist, so he crawled and dragged himself over to the side table. Clumsy fingers scrabbled at the drawer until they managed to get the whole thing pulled out. It hit the floor with what had to be a large bang, but it barely made any noise that Sam could hear. Papers went everywhere, along with what looked like a deck of cards, and then, finally, the gun tumbled out.
He could barely make his fingers work but they finally grasped the gun and pulled it up. Still loaded, just as ready as it had been a few days ago when he'd tried it the first time. He wished he'd done it then.
No. That wouldn't have been fair to Dean, to come in looking for him only to find his recently dead corpse. But maybe he would've brought everyone back so Dean could've had the world turned right again.
The gun rested against the side of his head. His hands shook on the handle, already slick with sweat. He just needed to stop shaking. He just needed to stop being, period.
He pulled the trigger and finally heard something: the blast from the gun so close to his ear, loud amidst the fog and silence that had swallowed him. The high-pitched ringing echoed and almost burned, and he tried to shake his head of the noise.
If he could hear, or at least be bothered by the lack thereof, he wasn't dead. Somehow, he'd screwed up. Again.
This time, he wouldn't miss. He grabbed the gun with both hands, pushed the tip of the barrel against the middle of his forehead and closed his eyes. I'm sorry, he couldn't help but think. He wished he could tell Dean.
Then the gun wasn't there anymore. He looked at his now empty hands and realized something was moving in front of him. Everything seemed blurry and he couldn't quite make it out, but it looked like his brother. Hands pressed against him, moving from his own hands all the way up to his cheeks, and it felt warm, almost too hot to stand.
Sam blinked and thought he lost a few moments. When he reopened his eyes, Dean's mouth moved in a way that Sam recognized as him speaking. The ringing in his ears still hadn't cleared, though, and besides, his brother wasn't real. Dean couldn't be here. He'd left.
Honestly, it was aggravating, that Dean's hallucination had kept him from pulling the trigger again. Surely even Dean's hallucination knew that it was better if Sam was gone. "Stop," he thought he said, but his voice sounded muffled, underwater. "Stop saving me." There was the gun but how had it gotten all the way over there? He reached for the gun but couldn't seem to make his hand work. It didn't matter, because the hallucination kept it out of his reach.
The hallucination spoke again. Sam fought to get at least one ear to work. Something about warming up and a popsicle. The tone was almost flippant, jesting in a way that Dean would say. It made Sam's eyes burn.
"You're not real," he tried to say. "Dean left, so go away." He was done. He couldn't do this anymore. He just couldn't.
If Dean had left then what was the point? His big brother had given up on him, as he should have.
But the hallucination wasn't giving up. It was sort of endearing, that a part of him saw Dean as someone who still cared, enough to try to be there, to save him. I'm real, the hallucination said with something that almost sounded like a chuckle, but it was weak. I left but I'm back.
Everything Sam desperately wanted to hear. His brain really was a masochist, wasn't it? "I'm done," he said and shook his head. He didn't want to be alone in a world without people, and there was nobody left. He tried to reason with his brain. "My fault, but I'll fix it. I just gotta die. Just, just let me die," because this wasn't Dean, not really, he wasn't real and seeing this fake brother made him ache for his real brother all that much more.
Suddenly he was being hoisted up and mostly dragged down the hall. Maybe his hallucination wanted to kill him. That was fair. He didn't honestly care at this point. He was done.
He wound up pulled into the bathroom on the main floor and hauled into the tub. He heard something, cursing and other words, but he tuned them out. The world had taken on a dark tinge along the edges and he was sort of waiting for the rest of it to go black too. Maybe he could die with his hallucination holding on to him. He could feel what felt like Dean's arms under his armpits, hands clasped over his chest. It felt familiar and Sam closed his eyes. This was good. He was okay with this. It was more than he deserved but he could go like this.
Then he felt himself turned around and suddenly hot knives tore into him. Sam shouted and tried to get himself free as the wet heat sank into his skin like needles. No, no, let him out, god no please, he didn't want this, he didn't-
He tried to fight against the hallucination as feeling returned to his appendages, but the only thing he got was a gentle grasp and a warm body helping to alleviate the pain of the hot shower. Words finally started filtering in, no longer underwater but audible and coming in clearer by the second. "…got you, I got you, take it easy, Sam. I'm real and I'm here."
It couldn't be possible, but the body against his refused to let go in a way that was so stubbornly familiar. Sam wanted to let go and cry where he was. Because that was all Dean and somehow, his big brother had come back. Somehow, he wasn't alone.
He wanted to ask why. He wanted to ask how. But the only thing that came out of suddenly chattering teeth was, "Don't leave. Please, please don't-"
"I won't," Dean, really truly Dean, promised. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have left before, I'm an idiot, I'm so damn sorry Sammy."
Sam shut his eyes against the world he'd been forced back into but held onto Dean. Dean kept holding on to him and refused to let go as they stood under the hot spray of the shower.
Time got a little blurry after that. But not in a bad way. More of an 'I'm exhausted and nothing makes sense so just be patient be with me' sort of way. And Dean was the epitome of patient.
Sam found himself on the sofa, favorite blanket from upstairs covering him at all times. From his line of sight, he could see Dean in the kitchen, Dean in the library, Dean everywhere and right at his side the entire time. Getting Sam hot tea, helping empty out the cabinets and tossing what looked suspicious, talking about the Impala that had died about eight miles out after she'd run out of gas, making comments about any random idea on what had happened that he stumbled across in the library, anything that kept him engaged with Sam.
Sam felt like a fool but he ate it all up. Desperate for his big brother's affection and presence? Nah, not him.
But each time Dean knelt beside him and talked with him, each time Dean called him 'Sammy' while he brought him tea, each time Dean rested a hand on his shoulder and stayed with him made it that much harder to believe that he would be alone at the end of this. And made the inevitable separation that much worse, honestly, but he couldn't find the way to tell Dean that. He had no words.
Dean, on the other hand, talked a lot and covered a wide swath of topics. Including apologies, apparently. He apologized for saying what he had about Lucifer and demon blood and refused to let Sam shake his head and absolve him. "It crossed a line," Dean said quietly. "It wasn't true and I damn well knew it. I just…I got scared and pitched it at your head. I wanted a fight and figured you'd give me one if I pushed."
Yeah, that hadn't happened. Dean seemed seriously shaken at the thought of Sam killing himself and going blank, and he doubted that Dean would do any 'pushing' anytime soon. He hadn't wanted to scare Dean, that hadn't been the intention, and he tried to voice that to Dean because it mattered. Dean just shook him off and said he knew. Dean looked like he would've preferred if Sam had been doing it to get his attention, and Sam didn't push.
Through it all, Dean never left him. They stayed together, with Dean even going so far as to haul out a cot and set it up beside the sofa. It wasn't like they could fit together on the sofa and honestly when was the last time they'd shared a bed? They'd been teens, Sam thought, but even so, it had never been like this, with Dean's hand resting against his back to count his breaths. That, Dean hadn't done since Sam was young and usually sick. The warmth of Dean's hand had always helped more than any cold medicine, and now it settled him and let him breathe a little deeper.
Slowly Sam began to climb out of the fog that had enveloped him. Disassociation his brain supplied and he promptly ignored it. It didn't matter what it was. It wasn't where he wanted to be but it was the only thing he could find himself in. It was safer, easier, than trying to focus on a world without Dean. Because Dean was going to leave again.
Which was why, whenever Dean tentatively said he needed to go get the Impala where he'd left her dead in the middle of the road, Sam scrambled to get his feet working. His legs still felt like wooden blocks. It didn't matter. If they'd been made out of paper straws, he still would've found a way to make them work. He didn't want to be left behind. Not again.
"I'll go with you," Sam said. Dean stared in surprise before rattling off just why it might be a bad idea. At least eight miles out, carrying gas tanks there, not carrying Sam because the last time he'd done that, Sam had probably been ten.
He wasn't going to have to carry Sam though. Sam could, would, help. He could carry a gas can eight miles; he'd carried more for longer. "I can do that much at least. And…and we're sticking together, right?" he couldn't help but ask hesitantly.
There was no hesitation in Dean's response. "You need to stop at any point, you tell me. I can always get the car and come get you."
That wasn't something Sam really believed, but Dean seemed to notice his doubt and stood all the more resolute, adamant in his words. And none of that mattered because it wouldn't be necessary: Sam would stay with him at all times.
The gas can hung in his grasp, heavier than he'd expected. Dean watched him blatantly, making Sam feel judged for how little he could handle. He could do more. He would do more, but Dean just took the other can and refused to let him have it. How was he supposed to prove himself to Dean like this, with a single can and a daunting 8 mile walk ahead of them?
Daunting was right. Sam kept falling behind, walking slowly down the road when muscles insisted they weren't ready to work like he wanted them to. He desperately fought to make them work, to keep time with Dean. Except-
Except his brother kept slowing down to stay with him. Dean didn't leave, he didn't heave a huge sigh of exasperation. He walked with Sam and stopped for a bit with Sam and stayed by Sam's side. Never once did he leave Sam, despite his initial promise that he'd go get the car and come back for Sam. He could've, easily.
Yet he didn't. It almost made Sam believe that Dean was there to stay.
A few hours later and they finally reached the Impala. She was still there, in the middle of the road, and it reminded Sam of just how empty everything was. The doors weren't even locked, yet she hadn't been touched. No rustle of wind, no chirping bugs or frogs in the grass, no chittering squirrels in the trees. There was nothing except the Impala taking up both lanes of the road.
The silence broke when Dean wrestled the can from Sam's hands. "I can do it," Sam said, or tried to. His lungs didn't seem happy with him and the pace they'd set.
"You can," Dean agreed, surprising Sam. "But I'd rather if you, I don't know, could breathe?"
"I'm not out of shape," Sam argued. "I'm not. I can do this." Just because he wasn't actively hunting didn't mean he couldn't still keep up with Dean.
Dean set the cans down and caught Sam by the elbow. Sam suddenly found himself steered to the passenger side and pushed gently into the seat. "You can," Dean said again, quieter this time. "But you're recovering from shock and…other things," he added with a cringe. Sam cringed too, mind flying back over the days where he couldn't respond or do anything. Not exactly making a valid argument for capable partner that Dean could rely on.
"Hey," and Sam glanced up. Dean's face was set in that firm and determined face that Sam had long ago learned to listen to, because this was Dean at his most serious. "That's not your fault. Any of it. I never should've left. That's on me."
"I didn't have to break down," Sam countered softly. "I just tuned out."
"Anyone would've tuned out, dude," Dean insisted. "The point is that everyone else would've stayed tuned out. Not my little brother." He almost sounded…proud. Sometimes Dean made absolutely no sense to Sam.
But Dean wasn't done. "It's not gonna happen again, though. Because I'm not gonna leave you again, and I know you think I will," Dean said with raised eyebrows. "I can see it all over your face."
Sam felt his face burn at being so transparent. "Dean," he began, and then didn't know where to go from there. He wished he had the right words to say, to tell Dean, I wish you'd stop making promises you might not want to keep, or maybe to say, I wish you'd keep this promise and not leave me alone. He wished he could believe his brother.
Maybe this was justice, for all the times Dean had so desperately wanted to believe Sam, and Sam had let him down.
Being there, in the Impala, sitting with his feet hanging outside the car, he felt between worlds. Seated in the seat that was all but made for him, with Dean beside him, that was home. Outside the Impala was the cold and empty world with the silence just waiting to choke him. He hung between the two, wanting nothing more than to slide all the way inside the car and close the door. Cling to it when Dean wanted him out.
"Cas isn't a better partner."
Sam jumped at Dean's sudden voice. "I mean, he's fun and all," Dean continued, rambling a little as if he were nervous, "and you should see him in a brothel-"
He stared at his brother, so aghast that for a moment he forgot everything else. "You took an angel to a brothel?" he hissed, horrified. Only Dean.
Dean ignored his outburst. "He's got no straight face when it counts. And he doesn't understand any of my references, and he doesn't know any of my codes. He doesn't know any of that. He's a great guy, and a good friend, but he's not my best friend. He's just…Cas."
Not you. Cas isn't you.
He couldn't have heard it more obviously than if Dean had shouted it in his face. And while Dean had been saying things like it for a while, for some reason, this resonated deeper, meant more. This sounded like something completely Dean.
Dean wanted him to come back. To be his best friend. To be his brother. Not Castiel, Sam.
For the first time in what felt like weeks, Sam felt his lips turn up into an honest to god smile. It felt weird after so long not remembering how, and his face felt too tight, but the joy inside of him refused to be contained. Dean had missed him, wanted him back.
There were no words for how much that meant to Sam, how much happiness he felt, but from the relieved smile on Dean's face, Dean understood all the same. "Yeah," said Sam, smile going just a little bit wider, "I missed you, too."
Dean grinned. "'Course you did. I'm awesome."
Sam huffed out a surprised laugh. "You keep telling yourself that."
"I will. And I'll keep telling you that you're awesome, too," Dean said, like it was something so factual that it was easy to say. Sam inhaled sharply and Dean's grin softened to a smile. "I will," he said again. "You know I will."
Then he patted Sam's shoulder and the side of his face before heading to where he'd set the cans down. Sam sat and watched him, warmth flooding through him.
He was pretty sure they both held their breaths while he tried to start the car, but neither released it when she turned right over. Instead, Sam was certain that they waited until Sam turned and slid back into the seat properly, door shutting. He wished the moment looked more confident, but he was sweaty, legs feeling like jelly, and still vaguely out of breath from the long walk in the heat. Yet Dean still smiled at him like he was made of gold.
He wasn't sure he deserved the level of honor, that he could make Dean that happy just to see him. But if Dean let him, he'd spend the next however long they had proving himself worthy of Dean's trust and brotherhood.
"Let's get our stuff and go," Dean said suddenly. The car hadn't moved.
Sam blinked. "Go? Go where?"
"Anywhere," Dean said. He began to warm up to the topic, growing a little more animated as he spoke. "We've wanted to see the Grand Canyon for how long? We pass it, like, all the time, but we've never taken the turn off. And there's other spots on the way I know you've been dying to get to, like other national parks and world's largest ball of twine or whatever."
It was what Sam had always wanted for them. A chance to just stop and see the grandeur, the ridiculous, the once in a lifetime type of things. As many times as they'd crossed the country, though, they'd never stopped for much outside of hunts. Not just for the hell of it.
Not just because they were two brothers taking a road trip together.
"You said it yourself, the world won't last without the bees and pollinators and whatever else," Dean continued. "It's all going to come to an end at some point. Well, I'm not wasting it on worrying. We had a list of stuff we wanted to do. So let's go do it."
It sounded amazing, and Sam had the sudden urge to hold onto Dean as tightly as he could. The world had ended somewhere and somehow when they hadn't been looking, but they were still here, together, at the end of everything. And they could stay together until the last lights went out and they were left in the dark.
Even then, they'd go out together. The two of them against it all.
It felt a little like waking up. His next breath came easier and with more oxygen, or maybe it was just the light in Dean's eyes that sparked his own. Whatever the reason, Sam felt ridiculously hopeful in a way he didn't think he would've at the end of the world. He felt like Dean's little brother again, worthy of the title, and he had his big brother back.
He felt more like himself than he had since Dean had died.
He smiled again, wider than before. "So what are we waiting for?" he asked, and Dean whooped and put the car in drive.
They made it back to Bobby's way faster than the long walk out, but Sam couldn't even find it in himself to be upset or irritated. Dean helped him out of the car and together they took off for the house, grabbing food and flashlights, pillows and blankets, as much gas as they could pull from Bobby's tanks, distilled water that took up the entire back seat. Somehow, Sam's favorite quilt had made it to his seat, and he beamed at Dean and felt like an idiot for doing it, but it was such a Dean thing to do, such a big brother thing to do, and Sam was lucky enough to have gotten that back. Dean smiled back like it was the best thing in the world, to be Sam's big brother.
Sam was pretty sure his heart was going to burst, filled as it was with unspeakable joy.
Just as Sam finished putting the last jug of water in the back, Dean came out from the house with a plate. "Lunch is served," he declared, and Sam snorted when he saw the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
"I can't remember the last time we had PB and J," Sam said. "I think we were kids."
"It's a staple," Dean defended, taking a big bite of his. "What do you want, caviar?"
Sam grinned and took a bite of his. More jelly than peanut butter – just the way Sam liked it. "Well, if you wanted to prove to me that this is real, this is how you do it," he teased. "Because no way would my brain have made up a ridiculous lunch like this."
"Well excuse me princess," Dean said with a fake glare, and he shoved Sam to the side. Sam took it with an easy grin. "I slaved over this lunch, I'll have you know."
"Oh yes, terribly sorry, I acknowledge the five minutes you spent putting this together."
"It was three," Dean said and gave a snobbish sniff. "Thank you very much."
They shared a grin and finished their sandwiches. Dean told him he'd used up the loaf with a ton more sandwiches and put them in one of the two coolers Bobby had. "Make room in the back, I'm bringing as much food as I can with us," he warned.
Eventually they had everything packed, and it was cold and dark whenever they wandered inside. Sam's watch said it was close to 1:30 in the morning and it felt like it. He felt exhausted down to his bones, and his head throbbed. All he wanted was to collapse, preferably somewhere flat.
Yet when he reached the living room, the sofa standing alone in the middle of the room, he couldn't bring himself to settle down on it. It felt like stepping back into the world with fog and uncertainty, of that horrible empty feeling inside of him.
Dean didn't say anything, just grabbed Sam by the arm and gently tugged. "C'mon, Sammy," and together they went upstairs. They bypassed their usual two twin beds and went to the single queen Bobby had for guests. They'd shared the bed, despite their size, after Dad had died, the only time Dean had allowed Sam close. Sam had thought about a picture he'd seen in college of two kittens curled around each other after being rescued from a drain pipe, and he'd thought it fit for them in the wake of their father's death. Nearly drowned and holding on to their sibling, the only thing the world had left them.
They were still those same orphaned kittens, huddling together now when the rest of the world had disappeared.
They still managed to fit on the same bed, and Sam clutched at Dean's shirt, half terrified that he'd wake up and Dean would be gone with everyone else. Or that Dean would change his mind and leave without him.
Maybe Dean felt the same way. Maybe he wanted to protect Sam, reassure him that he wasn't going anywhere. Whatever the reason, he rested a hand on Sam's back, feeling each breath that Sam took in and let out. Sam fell asleep that way, his brother acting like a shield, ready to defend him no matter what.
When Sam opened his eyes, Dean was awake, but he was still there. He looked way more awake than Sam felt. "Been awake for a while," Dean admitted when Sam asked. "I just…didn't want you to wake up without seeing me."
Sam smiled. It was getting easier to do with each one he gave. "Let's get out of here," he said.
Dean ruffled his hair, making Sam squawk and try to smack Dean's hand away. "Seriously?" he yelled as Dean left the room chuckling. "How old are you?"
"I had peanut butter and jelly yesterday," Dean hollered back as he started up the shower. "I clearly have no clue."
Sam scowled in his general direction but couldn't hold it for long. This was what he'd wanted: his big brother back. That meant taking the bad with it, like Dean messing up his hair, pranking him, farting and picking his teeth.
It shouldn't have made Sam so happy but damn if he didn't feel downright giddy at having his brother back.
By the time Dean was done, Sam had instant coffee made up, and he grabbed the shower while Dean fried up the last of the eggs and potatoes that Bobby had had lying around. They ate fast, but the sounds of breakfast still cut through the constant silence. Sam found that he couldn't look in the other room, where the wheelchair had been packed up and put away in the corner. It was more obvious than ever that Bobby wasn't there, and it hit him again that there was no one left. It was him and Dean and the car.
Dean seemed to share the same feeling, because neither of them wasted time doing dishes or really cleaning up. They weren't coming back so what did it matter? He wondered idly if it would mold as they tossed in their things and got into the car.
Sam swallowed hard. Here, in the car, with everything packed up, it suddenly felt different than it had yesterday when they'd made promises to see everything they'd never seen before. It was a fresh day and Sam had no idea what that meant. Doubt niggled at him, and he felt out of place.
He cleared his throat, catching Dean's attention. "Last chance," he said, aiming for a jesting tone and falling flat.
Dean pursed his lips. "It's the end of the world, Sammy," he said, and Sam couldn't help the sharp inhale at the nickname that seemed to flow so easily off of Dean's tongue. Dean softened at that and gave Sam a sad smile. "Who the hell else would I want to be with?"
The doubt faded and Sam smiled. "Jerk," he said, and something lit up in Dean's eyes. Like he'd been waiting for Sam to catch up.
Before Dean could respond, though, something flashed in front of the car. Sam gasped at the movement, then stared because that was Castiel, trench coat and all, standing in front of the car outside in the silence and waving his arms frantically.
Even through the window, Sam could hear the angel as if he were inside the car. "You need to wake up. You both need to wake up!"
Wake up? "What do you mean, wake up?"
"Wake up," Castiel said again, and this time, he turned to look straight at Sam. "Sam, you have to wake up!"
Him? This was a dream? But…but it couldn't be. How could he sleep and wake up and exist all in a dream?
Unless…unless it wasn't a dream.
His stomach dropped out, and he felt a chill he couldn't shake. The missing people in Cheyenne. The hunt that hadn't been a hunt. When suddenly everyone had disappeared.
"Dean," he whispered. The world shimmered around him, color fading fast and the interior of the Impala giving way to a dark and empty room. No, no, please no, Dean-
Dean reached for him, or tried to, but the world kept shifting. "Sammy," Dean began, and Sam felt tears burn in his eyes. It had been him all along. It had been his fault after all.
Sam looked at his brother for probably the last time, and the sob came up out of nowhere. "I'm so sorry," he managed, and he shut his eyes and thought of the empty room.
Pain hit him first, as did the cold. The silence hung around him, sick and invasive. He opened his eyes that felt heavy and felt the air punch out of his lungs. Not the car but an empty, dusty room. Dark, too, with only the moon light through the broken glass window as his guide.
He tried to move but found his body trapped. He couldn't feel his hands, but he could feel his shoulders, aching and throbbing and pulled tight. His feet dragged on the floor and he fought to get them underneath him. Nothing worked right, none of his limbs would respond, and he knew he should be feeling panic but he couldn't. All he could feel was the ache in his limbs, the cold seeping into his bones, and the feeling of wrong.
And his heart, shattering in his chest, because he was alone. There was no Castiel.
Once he managed to get arms to move, he felt the sharp pain of something in his arm. IV, attached to a drip bag of fluids. That meant-
Memory came back slowly. Wandering into the old abandoned warehouse in the district where a few of the victims had last been seen. Carefully moving through the floors. Seeing the corpses lined up, pale with eyes open and unseeing.
Feeling the blow from behind that had sent him sprawling to the floor. Coming up with his knife meeting the shimmering blue hand of the djinn.
Then he'd been back at his hotel, ready to leave, only to find the world empty.
Footsteps echoed, but the cadence was all wrong to be Dean. He shut his eyes at the reminder of the brother he'd gotten back, only to lose again. A djinn alternate reality. It hadn't been real. None of it. Somehow, it made Dean's easy acceptance and love that much harder, and he struggled to breathe.
He didn't expect to be suddenly cut down to the ground and hauled towards the line of corpses. Apparently, the djinn had thought he was used up and dead. Pain flooded through his hands as feeling returned to them, but he bit back the cry. Not now. Not yet.
He couldn't make things right with his brother but he could still be a hunter. He could still do that much right.
As soon as the djinn turned away, Sam glanced around and found his gear. The blade wasn't doused in lamb's blood because he hadn't known, but it would still hurt. And not many things survived with their head chopped off. He forced his legs to move, to let him crawl over to the corner. The knife was in reach-
A hand grabbed his leg and yanked him back, drawing a sharp, agonized cry from his lips. "You weren't very tasty," the djinn said. "But that's what I get for eating a Winchester."
With every ounce of strength he had, Sam pulled his other leg up and kicked. It was enough to startle the djinn and Sam scrambled for the blade. Numb fingers that he couldn't feel caught on the edge, easily nicking the first few fingers as he cut through the binds on his wrists. Blood flowed and he didn't feel any of it. Probably not a good sign.
He managed to get the handle as the djinn rebounded, hauling him away again with a snarl. He swung the blade clumsily and watched as the djinn avoided it with ease. The next thing he knew, the djinn pushed his arm back towards him, and this time, he felt the blade as it sunk into his side.
Oh god it hurt. Oh god Dean, he just wanted Dean-
He struggled to get it free, only for the djinn to stab it back in again, this time a little lower. It didn't go as deep as Sam forced his fingers and his arms work even with the throbbing ache in his shoulders. How long had he hung there?
"Tell you what, I'll give this one as a freebie," the djinn said. "I'll drop you right back where you were, and you can enjoy your last days in your dream world." His hand not pressing on Sam's arm began to descend.
Sam didn't know how he managed it. He twisted and dragged the blade free, slicing through himself in the process, but it wasn't what the djinn had expected. With a yell Sam brought the blade up and through the djinn's glowing hand and kept going until it rested between two very shocked eyes. He shuddered as the blue force reverberated against his head, then sank to the ground and stared at nothing. Blue blood flowed everywhere.
With a moan Sam rolled onto his side and threw up. Red blood mixed with blue, and he had to get up. He had to get out. Work, legs, come on, move-
You can do it, Sammy, he heard his brother say, a phantom echo that made him shut his eyes and keen at the loss. None of it had been real. Dean had been gone, they were separate and always would be because he'd screwed them up, screwed the world up, and he was supposed to be finding a different hemisphere.
Slowly he made it to his feet. Pins and needles were in every limb so bad that his eyes flooded with tears. If he stopped moving, though, he'd never get up again. Move. He had to keep moving.
He managed to gather up his bag, settled in the corner and covered with a little amount of dust, then stumbled out to the main room. No stairs, thankfully, but it was a long walk to the door. Tears rolled unheeded and he dragged the bag behind him with one hand, the other hand going to the stab wounds. He knew he was leaving a blood trail but what else could he do?
Once outside, he looked for the car, then realized it was the crap clunker he'd picked up, not the Impala as he'd expected. He whimpered and bit his lip hard to keep it in. Moving. He had to move.
He slid into the driver's seat and shut his eyes. He needed to get as far from here as he could. If he stayed in Cheyenne, he'd have to find a room, and the motel was bound to call in a bedraggled and bloody guy what with all the people going missing. He had to get away.
The car started up, and Sam put the pedal down.
Somehow, he found his way to the highway and kept driving. He didn't even know which way he was going, and it didn't really matter. The only thing he had to do was keep the car on the road. Black spots filled his vision but he pressed on.
A few hours later, after being honked at numerous times and somehow managing to dodge a state trooper, he finally relented and pulled off. The Good Nite's Rest welcoming sign flashed amidst the darkness like a beacon, and he managed to park the car almost within the lines. Well, within the lines of two parking spots but whatever. He was fighting to stay conscious, parking was a miracle.
He sat in the car for a minute and wondered if he could just pass out here. No one was bound to bug him, right? He could just rest. Rest and try to recover.
Dean's smile flashed through his mind, Dean hovering by his side as he curled up on the sofa, Dean making him sandwiches and tea and coaxing more and more smiles out of him. Dean coming back for him.
He wasn't sure if he hadn't been stabbed in the heart. Honestly, it might hurt less. He could call Dean, he realized. There'd been other drivers on the road, corpses in the warehouse. It wasn't silent anymore. There was life here. This was real, and that meant-
That meant Dean was out there, somewhere.
His fingers fumbled for his bag on the seat beside him and he dug for his phone. When he pulled it out, however, nothing worked. Dead and in need of a charge.
He could relate.
He finally pulled himself out of the vehicle and staggered as he tried to find his feet. The bleeding hadn't really slowed, and he should've dealt with it at the time but he'd just wanted to get out of there. At least the car didn't look bloody, so anyone who looked in wouldn't call it in. Dean would've had his ass for leaving while so severely injured.
He gritted his teeth and dragged himself into the main office.
The TV was on in the corner, the date running across the bottom with the stock market numbers, and he realized he'd been there for over a week. Trapped, bound, and drained for over a week.
"Can I help you?"
She was the first person he'd seen, honestly, the first real tangible proof that there were people in the world. She had a motherly look to her, a little older, wrinkle lines around her eyes that had come from laughing, and though he was sure he looked like an extra from a horror flick, she regarded him with not just suspicion but compassion. Her hair was pulled back with a flipped sort of ponytail, the kind that Jess's mom had done. Her clothes were wrinkled and she looked tired.
She was the best damn thing he'd ever seen, and his eyes watered a little.
"You're beautiful," he found himself saying before he could censor himself.
She blushed straight to her hairline. "Sorry," he said, and his voice sounded hoarse and wrong for not speaking for a week. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to, to embarrass you."
"Well, it's not often I get to hear something like that," she said with a sweet smile. "Now what can I get you, young man?"
He wound up with a room, a queen bed because asking for two doubles just…hurt. "Are you sure you're all right?" she asked as she ran his credit card. "You look a little worn down, honey."
More than. Dead and the rest of him hadn't gotten the memo yet. "M'all right. Just need to sleep," he admitted.
"Well, that you can do. You call the front desk, ask for Bev, and let me know if there's anything else you need, all right?"
Definitely the mothering sort, and it made Sam long for his brother all the more.
He managed to stumble into room 8 and nearly dropped to his knees. Not yet, he couldn't yet, he had to get the bleeding under control now. He pulled the kit out, grateful he'd wiped his fingers clear of blood before walking into the office, and tried to find the needle and thread. Once he'd managed to do that, he made his way to the bathroom and shed his shirts. Only then did he get a look at the damage.
Three stab wounds. How had he missed the third?
He grabbed the nearby towels and shoved them up against his gut. One was sort of deep, the other two not as much, but in an instant the towel was soaked through. Crap. He sat down heavily on the toilet seat and fought to make his fingers work.
He managed to close the wounds, though the stitches looked bad. They held, and if he scarred, well, then he scarred. He didn't care anymore. All he wanted was to pass out for a few days.
Two cups of water later, and he forced himself to ring out the towels as best he could. He'd need them later, maybe. Or if housekeeping barged in, hopefully they wouldn't think he was a serial killer.
Once he got back to the bed, though, he found he couldn't sleep. Not…not yet. His eyes turned to the phone sitting beside the bed. Even if his phone didn't work, he could still…
He shut his eyes tight. Not Dean. He couldn't bear the thought of calling him and not having him answer. That would kill him faster than the stab wounds.
But he could see if the rest of the world was still there. Just in case.
Numb fingers pushed the familiar number and he pulled it up to his ear. One ring. Two rings.
Not the answering machine. Sam shut his eyes. Bobby was alive.
"Hello? Who's there?"
He let out an unsteady breath and forced back the sob. That meant Dean was out there. The word was back to normal.
Sam froze. "Sam, son, that you?" Bobby asked again. "Talk to me, Sam. Where are you?"
He dropped the phone back onto the receiver and forced himself to breathe. No. No, he wasn't going to make Bobby deal with him. Not the guy who'd started the apocalypse, who'd let his brother down so badly that Dean had cut him loose. Different hemispheres.
He leaned back on the bed, covered his face with his hands, and cried.
When he woke up, someone was pounding on the door. It was dark outside still, only the floodlights from the parking lot bright through the curtains.
Knocking. Right. He fought to pull himself to his feet and stumbled to the door. His face felt tacky, and his chest felt hollow. Everything felt hollow, like the djinn had carved him out and left him an empty shell. He felt numb, almost as disconnected as he'd been after…
It had been an alternate reality. Dean hadn't been there so he hadn't left Sam alone. Small mercies, he supposed, but somehow, he felt even emptier than before.
The only thing he could feel was his gut. His stomach was on fire. He curled a hand around the wounds and made it to the door.
Dean was on the other side. Sam froze, eyes wide. "Dean?" he whispered, the word punched out of him. But…but…
Was he still in the djinn reality? Had the djinn gotten him?
"Your phone doesn't work."
Sam blinked. Dean was still there, gazing at him expectantly. He swallowed around the million questions and fought for a word. "What?"
"Your phone," Dean said again. "I've been trying to call you for days. No answer."
With his free hand he scrambled for the nearby table and caught his phone. Oh. Guess he hadn't charged it yet. "Dead," he said. Like the black screen didn't make that obvious.
"How? Sam, where have you been?"
How Dean could stand there and ask him those questions, like he'd just stepped out for coffee and come back to find Sam missing, he had no idea. How Dean was even there to begin with was what Sam didn't understand.
Dean stepped inside and shut the door, eyes casting around the room, taking in everything. Sam could only stare at Dean, taking in his brother. Dean was there. Dean was there. His big brother was alive and standing in his motel room.
Sam startled, but Dean just stood there, gazing at Sam almost gently. Not helping him in believing this wasn't the djinn dream. "Sam," Dean called again. "What happened?"
"Djinn," Sam said numbly. "Not the happy dream sort." Well. Some of it had been a good dream. Dean, back at his side. Brothers to the end.
What did it say about him that he had accepted a world devoid of people if it meant he got Dean back? How condemning of him was that?
Eyes widened at Sam and for a moment, Sam was terrified that he'd voiced that much out loud, but all Dean said was, "How long? Sammy, how long?"
Sam shrugged. "Don't know. A week, maybe. It doesn't matter." He shook his head because that didn't matter at all. Not compared to Dean being there, really there.
When he blinked, he suddenly found himself seated on the bed, the world moving around and around him. Dean knelt in front of him, hands wrapped tight around Sam's arms, brow furrowed with outright worry. That was all Sam saw before he shut his eyes and fought against another wave of vertigo. The entire room wouldn't stop spinning, and all he felt was dizzy.
"Yeah, that doesn't surprise me," Dean said, and Sam realized he'd spoken aloud. "When's the last time you ate?"
Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, leaning against the Impala while they packed. He didn't remember what they'd done for breakfast the following morning, but he remembered the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. "You cooked," he said, then shut his eyes. "In the other reality. The djinn world."
"Yeah, well, pretty sure peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in a djinn world don't have any real nutritional value, dude."
Sam froze. Had he…spoken out loud? No, no he knew he hadn't. Because Dean would've questioned the peanut butter and jelly note. Not…said it like it was common knowledge. Because it wasn't.
He'd reached out and grabbed Dean's arm before he thought about it, instantly catching Dean's attention. His brother was saying something, something that sounded a lot like Sammy, worry growing, but Sam could barely hear him over the rushing in his ears. The hollow feeling wasn't hollow anymore, but pain again, that same shattered feeling he'd had before. He missed the numbness of the hollow feeling.
He looked up and saw Dean still kneeling there, and it was like he could really see Dean. The bags under his eyes, his full concentration on Sam, hair every which way like he'd had other things to do than comb it. Like find Sam.
"Dean?" he whispered. He couldn't voice all the other questions he wanted to ask.
But just like any other time, his big brother heard him. "I'm right here, kiddo," Dean promised.
He blinked, blinked again against the sting, and managed to get a question to trembling lips. "How did you know?" he choked out. "That, you, that…"
He shook his head and Dean's fingers tightened around his arms. "The sandwiches," Sam said, almost desperately. "You made sandwiches."
"Yeah," Dean said, like it was obvious and Sam had lost his marbles. "And?"
"The sandwiches," Sam said again, all he could said, eyes locked on his brother. "How did you know?"
Realization finally crossed Dean's face. "I was there with you," he said quietly.
What? But, but, how did-
"Dream root," Dean continued. "I definitely had enough of your hair in the Impala to make it happen. I mean, I didn't know you were in a djinn's reality-bending crap fest when I did it, but…"
No, it wasn't Sam who'd lost his marbles, it was Dean. Dean, who'd for some reason turned to African dream root to try and find Sam and somehow managed to lock himself into the alternate reality with Sam. Dean, who had really been there. Dean had been there.
It didn't make real sense, why Dean would go using dream root to find him. But that meant that the Dean in his dream had been his brother, the one who had stormed out but come back, the one who had rested beside him on the long hike out to the Impala, the one who had promised to never leave his side and to go anywhere with him and made him stupid sandwiches just to make him laugh.
He'd missed his brother, but he'd missed this brother, the big brother who was larger than life, who would chew Sam out with one breath and beat the living daylights out of whoever tried to mess with Sam with the other. This brother was the man who'd raised him. The one who could see past his mistakes and faults and still love him.
Sam wasn't sure what he'd done to deserve that, but it was being offered to him in the form of a brother who, even after waking from a shared alternate reality, had come looking for him.
Dean seemed to sense the unspoken question and just shrugged. "You wouldn't answer your phone," he said. "I didn't have any other way of getting in touch with you. And I knew something was wrong."
For Sam. Dean had come looking for Sam.
"You were really there?" Sam had to confirm. "I thought…I didn't know it was a djinn thing at first, the world without anyone, I thought it was real, but then when I woke up-"
He stopped. If Dean had been real, he would've been there, strung up alongside Sam. But he hadn't. It had been Sam waking up alone, again.
He tried to find something else to say, some way to measure out the scrambled feeling in his mind and heart, but nothing came out. Thankfully, Dean changed the topic by moving towards the phone, rambling about food while he stayed crouched in front of Sam. "How's pizza sound?" he asked. "There's always a pizza place open. Well, there is when there's people in the world. Thank god for that, right? Because life without pizza would've sucked."
Rambling: Dean was nervous too. Sam wasn't alone in that, and somehow, it was that fact that helped settle his own anxiety. They were together. That was what mattered.
"The world has people in it again," Sam said quietly, and Dean went still. "All those people, and you still came looking for me."
Dean rested his hand on the phone but didn't pick up the receiver. Instead, he turned to Sam, gaze open and hopeful. "I didn't come looking for you the first time because everyone had disappeared," he said. "I came looking for you because I'd wanted to find you."
Slowly Sam began to smile, helpless not to in the wake of Dean's admission. Dean had come for him. Dean, it seemed, would always come for him.
Sam tightened his grasp on Dean's free arm. "I missed you," he admitted.
Dean grabbed back, solid when Sam felt unsteady. "Me too," he said quietly.
Even as a fresh wave of dizziness stole over him and made Dean fuss like a mother hen, even while he ordered pizza and somehow got free Jello out of it from Bev at the front desk, Sam didn't let go of his brother.
Even through all of that, Dean didn't let go, either.
They stayed a few more days. Bev kept checking in on them, and assured them that she'd get them more towels when Dean politely asked. He wasn't so polite with Sam when he discovered why the towels were pink, and he carefully checked the stitches and even replaced a few of them to help minimize the scarring. He read Sam the riot act while he tended to his fingers, chewed from the knife blade and also in need of a stitch or three. While Sam slept, apparently Dean placed a call to Castiel, and the angel promised to be there as soon as he could to help heal Sam. It felt like a benediction.
When Sam felt well enough to travel, he mentioned just once that he could follow Dean to Bobby's. At the sight of the clunker parked lopsided out front, Dean snorted. "Yeah, no," was all Sam got before Dean called Bev and asked if she was interested in an older car that ran. Turned out she wasn't, but her nephew had been looking for a usable car to get him back and forth to work, and he'd be happy to pay cash. And that was that.
Dean wound up taking some of the cash to pay Bev, saying they'd gotten a call about fraudulent charges, blah blah blah, card won't work. It wasn't often that they paid cash for the rooms but Bev had been good to them. Good to Sam. And to his big brother, that was worth more than gold.
She sent along more gelatin and a "hope you feel better" as they headed out. Sam paused at the side of the car that waited for him and couldn't help but feel like somehow, this was even more important than it had been in the alternate reality. It hadn't been his place for a while but it was again.
Slowly he sat down in the passenger seat. It was stupid that his eyes burned and he'd deny it to the end of his days that the car had made him tear up, but this was home. Him and Dean in the Impala with smell of the leather seats, grease and oil, aftershave and fried food. Home.
Dean was gracious enough to not say anything. Probably because when Sam looked, Dean's own eyes were red, and his brother resolutely firmed up his jaw and moved his gaze to the road.
He did move his hand to Sam's shoulder and let it stay there for a minute. "Bobby's?" he asked.
"Bobby's," Sam confirmed. "Then…whatever hunt you have in mind."
Dean shook his head. "Grand Canyon. That's what I've got in mind for my awesome little brother."
Sam froze, heart beating wildly somewhere in the vicinity of his throat. "If that's still okay," Dean added. "And I told you I'd remind you how awesome you were."
"Jerk," Sam choked out, not even able to feign annoyance to cover his affection. He didn't know what he'd do without his stupid big brother who kept keeping his promises. And now, he didn't think he'd have to.
"Bitch," Dean said fondly. More careful than he usually was, he slid the car onto the main road and steered them towards South Dakota. They kept the windows rolled down the whole way and let the sounds of life flow past them.