An overwhelming force blew him backwards, away from his dying body and away from the god who stood above in triumph. He was sent spinning through the air, wanting to return to his blood soaked skin and rise one last time to spit in the deity's face. But an unnatural power hurled him away from the body as the rules decreed. It was in the laws of death that the soul was to be sent as far away from its origin of death as was physically possible. When people died on Earth, the souls were sent to the underworld. However, his brother's body and his own body had been killed in the underworld, and the farthest place from the land of the dead was the land of the living.
He was returning to Earth.
He was vaguely aware of traveling through the lake while so many confused souls were struggling, shoving, pushing against him in the escape from their own bodies. His human body would not have been able to swim out, for the water was truly only the road for the souls to pass between the worlds on their final journey. However, never before had there been a soul to leave the underworld through the lake as he was doing and as his brother had done. Tumbling against such a great drive, he burst out of the dark water in a frantic upsurge, believing that he had arrived on Earth once more, but unable to see it with his nonexistent eyes. Like a seed on the wind, he was carried by a force superior to him.
The momentum brought him above his human form, sensing the disruption between soul and body. Never should those two entities be divided in the same world, and if they were separated, they were to be reunited as soon as possible. Thus it was that the force lifted the brother's soul a little higher before slamming it back into his fleshy body.
There was a blast of thunder inside his mind, and when he cried out, the earth's air tasted bittersweet against his dry tongue. He sucked in the air again, blessed oxygen in his expanding lungs, and he could hear his heart pounding, deep and alive. The nerves sparked with lightning when his brain flashed to life, electrifying his extremities with a trembling sensation that rippled through his body. Underneath flawless skin, his muscles were heavy and strong, filled with the rich blood his heart was pumping through them.
It was ecstasy in every form, unsurpassed and endless. Life had never been so delicious, so euphoric and divine.
As they opened their eyes into the piercing morning sun, the brothers untangled their limbs from one another. Sam was placed carefully in Dean's arms, while Dean's head rested on his younger brother's shoulder in a grim parody of their death. Feeling the other's warm weight, they separated in a sluggish fashion, adjusting to the use of their arms and legs once again, before they pressed their backs against the tree and formed a space between them. Sam blinked, then quickly skimmed his hands over his stomach and lifted his shirt, searching for the knife's damage. Long calloused fingers danced across taunt and tan flesh where his own blade had murdered him. When he found no scars, no blood, and no wounds, he stared at Dean quizzically, eyebrows knotted in confusion and disbelief.
"It really worked," he told his older brother in a near gasp, dazed eyes peeking out beneath curling thatches of deep brown hair.
Dean was patting his own body down with trembling hands, feeling the rise and fall of his chest, the pulse of his heart, and the warmth of his skin, amazed that their plan had succeeded. "I don't believe it. Dammit, I don't believe it."
"Believe it," Sam grinned through a rim of white teeth, "because we're back."
"I just hope that god doesn't come after us once he realizes that we had the upper hand in this one." Dean rubbed the side of his head, searching for a headache that no longer existed after his body had been healed on the journey back to Earth. "I don't think I'm up for another round of dying. Once is enough in this lifetime."
Sam shrugged a bit clumsily, still acclimating to the weight of his body again. "He won't. We'll end up there sooner or later," he responded, referring to their eventual death. "Besides, we know how to beat him now, so what good is there in getting us again?"
Dean shook his head and looked down at his hand, which he curled into a tight fist, watching the muscles flexing in near amazement. He chuckled underneath his breath, a throaty sound that pleased him with the vibrations in his chest. "Who would have thought the only way to beat the god of death was to die? Still," he admitted after a reluctant moment, "that scared the shit out of me."
Pretending to look astonished, Sam laughed. "Who? You? Mr. I-Laugh-In-The-Face-Of-Death?"
"Oh come, on, don't tell me that watching yourself bleed to death, you didn't have doubts that this plan wouldn't work."
"Maybe I did. But, I figured if I was going, you'd be right there with me."
Dean laughed, shaking his head but grinning nonetheless. "Dammit, Sammy…"
"It's Sam, anyway."
"You have the balls to ruin a perfectly good emotional moment by correcting me? You're getting as bad as me."
Sam gave a crooked smile and feigned apologetic. "All right, I admit, I was scared too. I just…when you started bleeding like that…"
"I know. But I'm proud of you, all right? You did a hell of a job back there, and well, I'm glad you were with me. I wouldn't have had anybody else."
"Dean, I'm..." Sam stumbled for words and none of his collegiate level vocabulary seemed to fit. "I'm touched."
"Yeah, don't get used to it. It's all these over-hyped emotions talking. Give me a few minutes. I'll find some decent bullshit buried in this brain somewhere."
In the distance, a woman cried their names, and they lifted their heads to the noise. Obscured by the blinding sun against her back, the brothers raised a hand to shield their eyes as the woman hurried towards them until she fell to her knees and threw her arms around her sons. "My boys!" she cried, while they pressed their cheeks against her. She turned from one to the other, kissing their foreheads and stroking their hair. When she directly faced Sam at last, she paused and stared at him, looking upon her baby boy for the first time since she laid him to bed the night of her death. "Oh honey," she whispered. Sam promptly embraced her, feeling a love he had never known ignite within.
As Mary held her youngest son and whispered maternal comforts, Dean rose to his feet and faced his father who was standing in front of them. "I came back, Dad," he said, holding his head high and shoving his hands into faded denim pockets. "I told you I would."
John smiled, a gesture that seemed unnatural against his weathered face, and rested his hand tightly on Dean's shoulder. "So you did. I never should have doubted you."
Dean looked over his shoulder to Sam, who was standing next to their mother. "I couldn't have done it without Sam, though. He was with me all the way." To Dean's remark, Sam bowed his head, long bangs tumbling over his face, embarrassed in his father's presence.
Slowly, John moved to his youngest son and lifted Sam's head until they were meeting eyes. Behind him, Mary wrapped her arm around Dean's waist, pulling him tighter as if reassuring herself that her sons were alive and well. Dean allowed her unyielding hold to continue and rested his cheek against the top of her head, merely drinking in the moment. This was his family now, whole and complete in every form, and they would never again be apart.
John looked at Sam and chewed on his lower lip before speaking. "I was stupid to think this family could have gone on without you." His words tripped for an instant before continuing with a renewed confidence. "Dean was right, we needed…need…you here."
Sam smiled faintly, fighting back tears, and he whispered over a lump in his throat, "Thanks, Dad."
After the family had returned to the motel room for a change of clothes and a decent meal, Dean and Sam retrieved the Impala later that day where they rode the back roads against the cresting afternoon wind. The sun, high in the luminous blue sky, shimmered in its reflection on the black paint of the car that swooped around the curves of the green countryside roads and away from the blackened lake. There was silence inside, no music yet, merely intimate thoughts and hesitant conversations.
"Dean?" Sam was looking out the window at the passing colors of the world he had believed he would never see again. Every sensation seemed magnified in the austere reality of how close he had truly been to losing it all. Before speaking again, he waited a moment until he was positive Dean was listening. "Out of everything we've done…that was really our best moment."
There was a pause, and the only sounds were the whispers of the wind slipping through the cracked windows and the gentle growl of the engine climbing over the hills. Dean nodded slowly and shifted his weight in the worn driver's seat, daring himself to agree and admit. "Nothing will ever compare to it, you know that."
"I know. But, Dean? Thanks…for everything."
Dean smiled, a crooked, close-lipped smirk, and he glanced into his one of his side mirrors in a nonchalant fashion. His large silver band caught the sunlight on his finger and flashed it across the car to the glove box in front of his brother. "No problem, Sammy. You did all right yourself, so, you know, thanks."
There were other hunts and other demons in the years that followed, other victims to save and other wounds to heal. Yet, the brothers would never speak of this incident to anyone else, sensing an incapacity by outsiders to comprehend. Their mother would never ask, never pry, but trust that her two sons were finally at peace with life. Even their own father, who had seen more than they, would have failed to understand how his sons had smeared the line breaking life and death and defied the odds as never before. But, Sam and Dean would talk of their journey, only to each other, during the long miles across the dry and dark country or over breakfast in another family owned restaurant at the newest town where they arrived. They would speak in short clips and long rambles, whispers and laughter, even occasionally tears when the days grew long and the memories pressed hard.
But that day in the car, before Sam pressed another dilapidating cassette into the tape player and before Dean pressed his leather boot a little harder against the accelerator, they looked over at one another. After their words had passed, and the thoughts continued, they shared a private smile that would bond them for the rest of time in memory of that past day. Their greatest journey was their secret alone.