Sam looked around; his current surroundings were morphing in a way that was dreadfully familiar, yet impossibly new. He saw the thick, surrounding forest; only he more than saw the physical aspect if it. He felt the life and death of that forest all around him. He could sense every single particle of energy that it took to put that forest together. From measly patches of dirt, to the strongest, oldest oak tree - the one that stood above all the others, looking over the rest of the woods. Protecting all it cared for.
That energy struck a chord in Sam's still mortally conscious mind - the belief that everything would be all right if he could just find the root of that elder oak tree, if he could just sit beneath it, and absorb its strength, believe in its powers of protection.
He sought to find his brother then. Spurred on by the life force of that ancient oak tree - the one that he couldn't see, but stood out amongst the midst of other layers of this place. He knew Dean would be by that tree, that his big brother would be attracted to its strength, would know instinctively the similarities, the safety there, even if he couldn't see them as Sam could.
Sam followed the feel of the tree; let its safety attract him, as he knew it was meant to do. He thought that, finally, his powers were good for something. He would find his brother, and they would be gone from this place, away from nature. There was so much nature here, too much to feel. Nature was too complex -he saw now, too intertwined and infused with greater knowledge. Understanding that none should have, but that Sam was cursed with.
Only maybe it was at least partially a blessing, because it did lead him to his brother. The oak was stationed in the direct center of the forest, and Sam's mind could trace back the area's entire history, knew with one glance - one uncontrollable bout of knowledge - that this is where the forest began. Like the single cell that had created planet earth all those eons ago, the seed of this oak tree had sprung a whole world.
His brother rested at its base.
"Dean." Sam said the word and felt their own world behind it. Saw them as little kids, hiding away. Saw them as aging adults, still on a mission. Saw them as corpses, refusing to accept the reality of death. Knew they would find each other again in the afterlife, blessed with the knowledge that each and every one of their lifetimes was meant to be intertwined.
"I'm here, little brother." Only Dean's voice wasn't coming from the physical body that lied on the earth. Dean was all around Sam - the younger Winchester could feel it, could feel him. Knew that he had bonded with the soul of that old oak tree.
"I can't see you." He knew the complaint was illogical, but he could feel no tie to his brother's body. His spirit was surrounding him, taking him in and offering him a world of safe things, a born again childhood. The normal he had always wanted. But that wasn't what Sam desired.
"Of course you can." His brother would have said it with a scoff, Sam knew, forced himself to remember - this voice was diffeent, this knowledge, it flowed through him, connected with him on all levels. It increased his sense of loss, and made him want to cry.
"I can't, Dean. I can't!" He shouted with his wide outstretch of powers, at the tree and the sky and all the life he could feel and touch. His vocal chords were producing only whispers.
"I'm here, little brother." The tree repeated, Dean's voice mimicked. "All you have to do is wake up."
Sam didn't come-to in the same jerky, uncontrollable, frightening manner that always seemed to follow his nightmares, his late-night trips to a world long since forgotten, one that threatened to take over every aspect of his well-suppressed lifestyle.
He woke instead with the feeling of intense comfort, deep control. He knew he was in a safe place, knew that nothing could harm him here. He wasn't seeing the world through the eyes of a psychic; he was simply trusting his instincts.
"Hey, buddy," Dean's soft voice told Sam that the elder was well aware of his movements. He opened his eyes without thinking about it, and took an actual look at his surroundings. He had to blink rapidly to focus his vision, but once he did, he was glad he wasn't in an upright position.
Sam was half sitting against his brother, half using the elder man's uninjured shoulder as a makeshift bed. Dean himself was propped up against the wide trunk of an enormous tree. An oak tree, Sam knew, and recalled something vaguely from the dream he had just awoken from that gave him that knowledge. The dream itself was slipping farther away from the recesses of his mind with each passing second, and something primal in Sam told him to fight like hell to hold on to it. Something more human, though, told him to let go, that he didn't really want to know.
"You okay?" Dean's voice was distant, and Sam fought himself to hold onto it.
"Yeah," he grunted, trying automatically to raise himself away from his brother, to balance on one hand and escape his big brother's warmth.
Dean, however, would be having none of that. "Easy," he commanded immediately, raising a hand and pressing against the taller man's shoulder. Sam found himself unable to challenge Dean's firm grip or the authority in his tone. He slumped back into the comforting embrace, forgetting entirely why he knew the base of this tree was a safe resting spot.
Sam closed his eyes again, and took several deep breaths - immediately relaxed, at ease with everything, connected with the surrounding area, so in-tune with it, that he knew leaving himself vulnerable here wouldn't be a mistake. The rise and fall of Dena's chest was lulling him to sleep, a thick blanket of protective feelings covered him, he was so close to peace, so close to total understanding...
"Don't drift off on me, Sammy." Dean's words weren't a request, and Sam wanted to cry.
He settled for a marginally pathetic whimper, followed closely by, "I'm tired."
"You can sleep once we get back to the motel." His voice was promising, and Sam thought longingly of mattresses. His placid attitude could be rightfully contributed to Dean, and the fact that, despite his unwillingness to let Sam drift back to his own, protected world, he was also seemingly at peace with letting him rest comfortably where he was. Which, in its own way, would win out over the need for a bed any day. His brother's fingers running lazily through his mass of unruly hair weren't helping matters much, either. "Long day, huh?"
Sam snorted, feeling a bit more connected to the here and now after doing so. "Long, crappy day." He muttered, agreeing.
"Sammy?" Dean's voice was firm.
"Yeah?" He made no effort to move, kept his eyes shut, and pretended he was still asleep.
"Did something happen tonight that you're not telling me about?"
Sam saw the safety of the old oak tree, remembered feeling its sturdiness, its indestructibility. Not even the strongest of storms could rattle it structure.
"Yes." He answered honestly. He was doing nothing more than testing the durability of something that had always sheltered him. Something he would need forever.
"Was it the Benders?" Sam wasn't really paying attention to the hitch in his brother's tone, the pause before he spoke of the frightful people. He saw all the surrounding factors as simply branches swaying in the wind.
"No." He was honest again, couldn't even imagine being anything else. He was only semi-there - still partially stuck in a world that only half his brain sought to remember. One opening his eyes would diminish some more. He was too tired to fight the truth, too trusting to hide its entirety. If Dean wanted to know...
Sam still felt the oak tree.
"Then what happened tonight, little brother?"
Sam's inner eye took him back to kneeling behind the chair Dean was strapped to, made him recall the helplessness. "I wanted to get out of there so bad." He didn't realize he'd spoke aloud until he felt Dean's hand stop stroking his head. Knew then that this was happening. "I wanted to get you out of there, and the ropes wouldn't loosen."
"I'd been trapped in that pathetic little cage for how long? I don't even know, but a part of me musta wanted to be there, cause I didn't get myself out."
"That wasn't your fault, Sam." Dean's voice was firm now. That parental tone he got sometimes, the one Sam more than often ignored. "How could you have gotten yourself out? Huh?"
"The same way I got those ropes undone." He informed him. "With my powers."
Dean's entire body went stiff behind him, and Sam remembered suddenly that not even the strongest Oak in the forest was immune to the power of the flames.
"Your powers?" Dean's voice took long, stretched out minutes to reattach itself to the rest of his being. His tone was hollow.
"Telekinesis." Sam felt the need to clarify. "Like Max."
"You used...that, to get those ropes undone?"
Sam nodded, and saw the multitude of deaths Max's abilities had caused before he'd diminished his own existence. His eyelids lit up in vibrant colors, to replay the last seconds of the troubled boy's life for the young hunter's guilty conscious. Power led to death, Sam had learned. Unnatural forces led to death. Always. That was fact.
"Sammy..." and the word betrayed so much lost emotion, so many undecided things; Sam wished he were far away from it. From it all.
Then he felt his brother shift, somehow connected to the emotions that he'd known for a lifetime, felt them in their entirety, saw for the first time their truth. "You know, bro, finding a knife would've been a lot easier." Sam had seen the hurling weapon, decided in a split second that it would not cause his death. Decided also, that it would play no role in his life. "Probably less painful, too." He muttered. "I'm guessing that's what brought on the fainting thing."
"I didn't faint." Was the only thing Sam could think to say. He was almost ready to open his eyes again. "Girls faint. I passed out."
"Whatever, bro." The long pause made Sam forget a few things, made life more believable for a few seconds. "Does that mean you're learning to control this thing?"
Dean's fingers through his hair started back up again, and Sam relaxed into it. He felt his big brother's heart beating, and saw for a moment that it controlled the world around them. Dean's blood pumped through this forest, his breathing conducted every inch of life surrounding them. Should his brother cease to exist, all would suffer. Most would die.
"No," he said, mortally still caught up the progressing conversation, but only half knowing it. "It means I'm a freak."
Dean nodded slowly, Sam's head shifted slightly. "Yeah..." he dragged out. "But we already knew that."
"Jerk." A smile tugged on the corners of his lips.
"Seriously, though," he went on, Sam leaned back further into him. "Is that why you flipped out tonight?"
"What? You don't think that warrants a flip-out?" He was defending his own behavior, tied finally, almost fully to reality.
"Sam," Dean went on, that one word telling him that he wouldn't be receiving a direct answer to his question. "You scared the shit out of me, kiddo. I thought...well, you don't really want to know what I thought."
Sam saw in the moment even more failure. He had done nothing right this evening. Managed to get his brother tortured, then put him through hell all over again. He was a walking sin, a talking disappointment, a living freak, a breathing murderer.
At last, he opened his eyes.
He was no longer half-caught in the current of his dream, and reality, the surrounding forest, seemed much more dismal now. "I'm sorry." He breathed. "I didn't mean to do it. Any of it."
"You mean, use your powers." Dean concluded in that all-knowing tone of his. "Right?"
Sam wanted desperately to re-escape to the safety of a subconscious world. "Yeah," he chuckled at himself. "I can't do anything right, can I, man? I get captured by those freaks. I have these…whatever the hell they are, and I can't even control them. It's pathetic."
Dean's hand stopped running through his hair again, and Sam thought for sure he had lost him, reminded his brother of what a useless freak he was. Dean would finally capitalize on all the anger he was surly repressing because of Sam; would finally see that his little brother was nothing more than a scared loser who'd abandoned him to go to college, only rejoined him to get his own revenge, tried to kill him with his own gun, shot him with rock salt, shouted hateful things, caused his torture, always put him in the middle of his battles, and resented him for being a good person. Dean would leave his little brother, and Sam would deserve it.
"Listen to me, Sammy." Dean commanded, only Sam didn't want to, knew what this was leading to. But he had no choice, he simply braced himself for the impact of the coming words – forced himself to memorize his brother's comforting hold before it was gone forever. "What happened tonight? It. Wasn't. Your. Fault."
"Dean…" Sam tired; surly his brother had misunderstood what he'd told him. Somehow didn't grasp the bigger picture.
"Shut up, Sam." He snapped, and the younger man was almost frightened by the anger there. "What happened tonight wasn't your fault. You can't control the telekinesis, just like you can't control the visions. And that's not you fault."
"But I should be able to control them!" Sam snapped, angry with himself for pushing his brother to abandon him. "They're my powers! I should have been able to use them before those bastards hurt you. I…I should have been able to save Jessica."
"She died because I didn't want to believe it, Dean. I dreamt it would happen." He echoed his own reflection in Bloody Mary's mirror, marveling at how right that spirit had been. "And I didn't do a thing."
"You didn't know." Dean's voice was still firm, still held confidence. Confidence, Sam realized, that the elder man was placing in him. He wasn't sure if that helped, or just made his feel guiltier still. "And the next time it happened," he went on strongly. "You did do something. Remember Jenny? That woman in our old house? Her and her kids are alive right now because you did learn to believe in those dreams. We saved them because of you. Doesn't that count for something?"
"Of course it counts," Sam was slightly perplexed, too used to believing everything was his fault to completely grasp the whole meaning of this conversation. "But that doesn't change what happened to Jess. Or the fact that I can't control any of it." He felt so useless; surly Dean would see how true it was.
"Jessica didn't die because of you," he repeated. "And if you keep believing that she did, her death will have been for nothing."
"What?" His voice was shaky, he considered pulling himself away.
"You can't keep drowning in this guilt, little brother." He spoke rationally, and Sam wanted both to cling to that, see its truth, and to pull himself away violently, knowing it was too easy. "What are you so afraid of?" He asked suddenly, and Sam was taken aback.
"What?" He repeated.
"What are you afraid of?"
"Nothing." He bit, feeling suddenly cold towards his brother, he rolled away from him then; repositioning himself so he was next to him, leaning against that tree trunk.
"That someone else will get hurt because of you? Your powers?" He guessed, sounding as if he finally understood. Sam kept his eyes locked straight ahead; a small tree was the only thing in his direct line of vision, he focused on it. And stayed silent.
Dean's gaze was fixed on Sam. "You think, that because you have this gift, you're supposed to able to save everybody?" Sam saw the truth of the statement, mixed with the tone his brother said it in; it made Sam wonder finally which if the two brothers truly had the bigger hero complex. Dean would hunt and save people for the rest of eternity – but Sam would take every single loss home. And never let go of them. "Man," Dean chuckled humorlessly, "You know it doesn't work like that."
"I…" only Sam had no idea what he wanted to say.
Dean didn't seem to mind, his big brother had his own speech to make. "Sammy. You can do these things, you see things, move things, and yeah, that gives you a
little bit of an edge." He paused, and Sam realized the real sentiment was coming. "But that does not make you responsible for every bad thing that happens. Jessica's death, mom's death, Max's suicide, this burn on my shoulder," Sam clenched his teeth harder at each memory. "None of it happened because of you."
Sam was silent for a span of impossibly long minutes, weighing everything his brother said, debating it, playing with the idea. He remembered Jessica's voice in his nightmares, the "Why?" that always echoed around him. Only then he recalled times before her death, when they were happy. She would tell him the same thing Dean was trying to get him to understand now.
"It's not your fault your father's stubborn." She'd told him after he'd offered the bare minimum of information on his family situation.
"We both decided to stay up last night, Sam. This isn't your responsibility," She'd whispered into his chest one afternoon after she'd missed a mid-term because she'd slept through the alarm – having stayed up until the break of dawn with her lover.
"You shouldn't blame yourself." Her angelic voice whispered to him. He didn't know what the memory was, but he thought perhaps it was time to start listening. A soft breeze wafted through the forest, drifted over Sam and made him shiver.
He spoke without meaning to. "It wasn't my fault?" His voice was small.
Dean put his arm around the younger man's broad shoulder and squeezed gently, his own tone was soft, understanding. "By God, I think he's got it."
Sam smiled at the humor, feeling Dean in the words, knowing it was his brotehr's way of saying, 'Welcome Back.'
"I couldn't have saved her?" He had to make sure, had to hear it again.
Dean shook his head back and forth, "No, Sammy, you couldn't of."
"You shouldn't blame yourself."
"It still hurts." He admitted, realizing for the first time that it wasn't just guilt he'd been feeling all these months – that perhaps that's just what he'd been hiding behind.
"You loved her." Dean said sadly.
"I…I…" A broken sob caught in his throat, and for a moment he was petrified. He didn't know how to let go of emotion, thought it belonged inside of him, a constant reminder, something he should be forced to work through each and every day.
It was Dean who finally taught him that he'd been wrong – that guilt shouldn't be carried like that. He pulled his little brother to his chest and let Sam's head fall onto his shoulder, said nothing about the wad of shirt the broken man clenched in-between his fists. He just stroked his hair and spoke lovingly, resting his own chin on Sam's head so he could feel the movements of it when he talked. "It's okay, little brother. It's okay now."
Sam cried then, clutching to Dean life the lifeline he was. Rejoicing in the fact that his older brother still stood strong despite all the things Sam had done to try and destroy him. Sam cried and released guilt, he sobbed and accepted lost, he whimpered for the hole in his heart that would never completely heal, and finally, he took shallow breaths of acceptance. In and out, his breathing slowly became steadier, slowly; he was putting himself back together, using his big brother as a solid foundation.
The brothers were still holding onto each other after the crying ceased all together, and Sam prayed that Dean wouldn't let go. "You okay now?" The elder whispered and Sam shut his eyes briefly, then opened them again.
"Yeah," he breathed, and at last, it was the truth. "I'm…not responsible for Jess. Or mom. Or anything that…that I thought I was." And he believed it. Not because of his own breakdown or the realizations he had come to tonight, but because Dean had told him so, and his big brother would never lie to him. "I didn't do it."
"No, little brother," his chin was still lost in Sam's mess of hair. "You didn't."
Sam remembered his dream again, remembered the strong oak tree and his brother's voice all around him, it reminded him now of how eternally grateful he was for his brother's presence. Knew without question that he would be lost without him.
"I'm always gonna be here, Sammy." The younger man briefly wondered if his brother had gained the ability to read minds, but knew in his heart that Dean wasn't psychic. He was just the best big brother in the world.
A/N: Well…that certainty required more brain cells than I thought it would. I'm pretty pleased though. What did you guys think?