It doesn't happen all at once. Said the Skin Horse "You become. It takes a long time…" It takes you a long time to understand that, to truly understand what it meant.
There's a lot of time and a lot of understanding on the way to becoming real, lessons that are learned, choices that are made, hearts that learn to beat in time once more…but in the end it happens as it always should have.
The river, the river, the river…
Water, and tide, and churning cold…and Dean always Dean.
It happens as the Skin Horse had predicted, as Dean's voice had whispered across the darkened motel room 20 years before. "It doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept…" How astoundingly, beautifully ironic that you happen to be all three the moment you become real. How stunningly perfect, how fundamentally right that it is Dean, Dean who takes those fractured pieces, those frayed edges, on that oh so carefully kept body and forces you, rescues you into the real.
"Generally Sammy, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby, kind of like Dad after one of his harder hunts…"
Your hair is ragged,dyed, and your eyes bloodshot, black, your joints ache for release and you give yourself freely to his hands. Make me real Dean, make me real.
And he looks into your eyes and he nods, and his edges are breaking apart now, the threads to HIS soul are coming apart at the seams, but he clings on enough to make you real, to keep you together, and it's enough. It's enough.
"Go to them Sammy."
The difference between being real and existing are so very vast that adults, you included, always seem to miss them. They mistakenly see them as the same, when really, nothing could be further than that truth. You see, being real, is so much more than that, so much more than surviving, it's coming alive, it's finding yourself, it's coming home. It's reaching out and instead of catching fleeting glimpses of yourself, grabbing on and finding so much more.
It's something you've never found before. It's something Dean gives to you. The greatest gift of all.
It's the final solution to a problem you weren't getting out of.
It all begins with fire, something you're painfully used to by now. Something you find strangely apt. In Salem, Oregon you've cornered it, another baby, another mother, one more ceiling burning before you, one more soul to be extinguished on the battlefield.
And it's enough, god damn it it's enough, it is enough to have lost your mother and Jess and so many others to the licking, hungry flames, it's all enough now. And as you pull the trigger, for a second, for one crazy moment of incomprehension you think you got it.
Dead, you motherfucker, dead.
And then you freeze and your blood, the very platelets in your bloodstream tingle and shake within and all you can think, all you can scream as it ravages its way inside of you is.
Huh, didn't see that one coming.
It makes short work of Dean, you make short work of Dean. It rips him apart from the chest across, far worse than back in Salvation a year ago, far, far worse. He lies before you, bleeding, broken and so still you're sure it's killed him, you have killed him.
Your hands turn upwards and it's showing you. Showing you what it just did to your brother, with your hands…and you can't breathe anymore. You can't function. You think maybe you just died here, that your soul just departed with your brother's on this freaking bedroom floor in Oregon as the house goes up in flames.
The part of your brain that is no longer numb claws and claws and screams and screams and doesn't stop screaming, won't ever stop screaming, DEANDEANDDEANDEANDEANDEAN!
But Dean's not there. He's dead, you killed him. You slashed him open, you felt his blood flow in rivulets down your twisted clawing fingers and you killed him.
When you were little and your Dad still loved you without reason or question he'd tell you of the horror of those taken over, of the possessed, of how it was worse than dying, how it was worse than hell. You'd listen partially, with an ear to the floor and the other immersed in your book, whatever you were reading that day. As you got older your Dad would make you promise, look out for possession, the crosses would feel cold to the touch and the christo's at first foreign on your tongue would grow to ease from your lips.
The Rituale Romano and other exorcisms became as frequent to your lips as the essential hunters items your Dad had you reeling off since you were four.
Lighter, rocksalt, bible, stake, holy water…
Oh God Dean, Dean, Dean, Dean, Dean
The first time your brain functions after your limbs no longer obey you you chant the latin, you begin the prayers, over and over and over in your head.
Rehna tere contarte deo…
Come on, come on, come on
It doesn't work. It never works. You just keep bringing the blade down harder and faster and wider and Dean's not moving anymore and you can't even turn it on yourself when you finish.
"Did you think it'd be that easy. Oh Samuel. We are going to have some fun together, you and I."
Your voice makes you sick, your own voice whispering like a serpent, hissing and cajoling and enjoying this so fucking much…
"Say goodbye to your big brother Sammy."
Oh no. No. No. No. Please…oh god…
"Oh little one, dear, dear, don't tell me you still haven't learned not even after all these years, there is no God child, only me…only us now Sam…only us."
You scream so hard and so desperately but your mouth doesn't even move from its smirk as your traitorous limbs move away and leave your brother in a pool of his own blood. Drowning…dying…
You don't know how to describe it, the feeling as you move down the stairs and out to the family huddled on the lawn, the feeling of being invaded, violated. It's as if your veins are alive, as if your being smothered and you can't get enough air, you have no control…you can do nothing but watch and scream as your body is moved like a puppet, a fucking puppet through the night.
You kill the parents.
You break the father's neck first and then press the tip of the dagger still stained with Dean's blood into his wife. The baby cries and cries and as you turn to her your brain tries to shut down, tries to explode, implode in on itself, anything to stop you seeing this.
Oh no, no, no, not the baby. Please god don't touch the baby.
Your voice hushes to her as you pick up her squalling body from the dead embrace of her mother. "Rockabye Baby, on the tree tops."
Then there's movement infront of you and another appears, inky black eyes take in your form and nod, seemingly knowing what to do. The demon before you takes the wriggling child from your grasp and then disappears.
He moves you, turns you back, away from the bloody bodies on the lawn and back to the burning house. Back to your brother.
"This is what happens to people that get in my way." Your voice says aloud. "They burn."
"You become. It takes a long time."
Somewhere along the way, between Seattle and California, you think you may have lost your mind. You pray you have, pray that you don't have conscious thought anymore, and it's with a horrific jolt that you realise where you are and that you can still think, can still know what's happening, and that makes your soul shrivel up so tightly inside you can almost feel it against your ribcage.
The demon has your body, but it doesn't have your soul, or your mind, as much as it has you, you're not real yet, Dean told you, Dean had always told you growing up that it took time to become real, that once you were real you couldn't BE ugly. And right now you're the ugliest fucking thing on this Planet, so you're not real, you're not. And if you're not the real Sam Winchester, then that means it can never truly have you.
The thought occurs to you between all the Latin and the screaming and you latch onto it with a fever.
Not real, not real, not real. Not.
In California you meet a blonde at a bar and take her back to the motel room. You fuck her and you strangle her with your bare hands watching as the life fades from her eyes and your face peers down at her with a manic grin.
In Boston she's not only blonde, she has curls and it occurs to you as your cutting that he's picking the ones that look like Jess. The howls of anguish are silent, and smothered and so very consuming that the demon tells you to shut up at one point, and you scream all the louder in some vain, pathetic attempt to get to it, to piss It off. Anything, anything but this. You head into the bathroom to rinse off the blood and his eyes stare back at you, soulless and black.
You try to forget about Saint Louis, try to forget about Rebecca's face lighting up as you rang the doorbell, and staring down at you with horrified disbelief as you hung her from Zach's bedroom ceiling.
Your father was right, this is worse than hell. This is worse than everything and anything. So much worse.
Your prayers turn from stophimpleasestopstopstopstop to lord give me a moment, just one moment of control, you would use that moment. You fantasise as you light up yet another families' ceiling of ramming the knife into your heart, of taking a gun and blowing your brains out. But the demon knows it. Of course it knows it.
And it mocks you.
"You want the knife Sammy?" It laughs, holding it in your fingers, bringing it up tantalisingly to your throat, cutting a tiny jagged slice into your neck. "You want this knife?"
And then it throws back its head and howls, deep and low and you can hear the souls of those you murdered crying, and yours cries with them.
Let me out. Oh let me out please.
The answers the same. "No."
Sam Winchester has become America's most wanted criminal by the time you burn a hole in your palm with a cigarette in Ohio. It's just laughable, so fucking laughable.
Not real. Not real. Still not real. You think.
You take long drags of the cigarette and feel the hated smoke fill your lungs. God you hate smoking, could never stand it. Your lungs feel as smothered as the rest of you as you lie in the cornfields staring up at the sky.
You ache for Dean. With an intensity and a desperation that threatens to take what little humanity you have left. You miss him. You miss him so badly, so, so badly. You hope he's happy and safe now, with Mom, you hope he's not teasing Jess about her Smurf outfit in heaven. You hope he forgives you, that somewhere deep inside of him he can forgive you.
You blow the smoke into a ring and watch the circle float up into the stars, and you pray for a fucking asteroid.
Sarah's the hardest, not quite as hard as Dean, but harder than Becky and all the others. At first she's wary, you're a suspected serial killer after all. But it doesn't take long to explain the shape shifter story to her, to gain her trust. Oh how it hurts to watch the smile on her face when she spots you across the gallery the next day. She flings herself into your arms and you can almost feel her, and you scream, you scream, you scream, you scream till she stops breathing, and you scream for a long time after that.
You're in Alabama one day, chewing on a piece of hay, burying the body of a farmer's daughter beneath the corn when the demon lets you see your watch and you catch a glimpse of the date. Six months, it's been six months since you left Dean in a pool of blood, in a burning house, six months since you lost all ability to control your body. Six months.
And you're still not real. So you're still Sam Winchester. And still nobody can take that away from you.
The demon gets creative in your disguises as you ratchet up the body count, you go blonde, brown, curly, straight, long, short, you grow a beard, wear a hat, but it never lets you go. It never takes somebody else and just lets your body go. It gets a sick pleasure out of using you. And it tells you this often.
You don't sleep, not anymore, it never lets you shut your eyes, so you learn. You learn to play games, like I Spy, and 99 bottles, silly games you and Dean used to play to keep the demons at bay when you were young. The irony isn't lost on you. It's the one part of you the demon can't control, your mind. And probably the one thing it wants. It can't use your powers. Nor can you for that matter, but you gain some kind of satisfaction that the one thing the demon wanted it doesn't get.
It hisses at you in the night but you keep it up, over and over and over.
99 bottles of beer on the wall, 99 bottles of beer, take one down and pass it around, 98 bottles of beer on the wall…
You're laughing in your head when it breaks one of your fingers. But the singing only gets louder.
You become sort of horrifically numb and complacent as the demon uses you to rape and murder and kill its way across the backroads of America. You guess you're sort of like a coma patient, trapped beneath a surface, desperate to claw your way out but stuck inevitably just out of reach.
It hurts. It still aches. It still breaks your soul apart into so many pieces and you still wish for all the kings horses and all the kings men to fucking show up and put you back together again.
So imagine your surprise when eight months after you go under, they do.
In Shade Creek, Pennsylvania you become real.
Finally, unequivocally you become real.
You're lying back against a rock watching the moonlight ripple off the water. It's safer out here. Nobody asks questions or shoots you worried glances, isn't that Sam Winchester? Isn't that the killer?
Just you, the demon, and nature at its finest.
The rock is cold and hard and you climb off of it and walk back to your tent. The demon opens up the plastic bag before you and retrieves the liver, pushes it down your throat. God you hate liver. A part of you knows the demon knows that. Has known it from the first second you thought it.
You'd tried, in the early days, reverse psychology, god I really hate beer and fries, but it hadn't worked, it had heard your plan to think reverse psychology before you even came up with the idea. You gave up trying in the end. You gave up on a lot of things.
Your soul feels tired, and stretched so thin you think you may crack if you touch one more woman, if you taste anymore blood. Wishful thinking. You'd been desperate to crack for seven long months now.
It brings up your finger to wipe away the blood at the corner of your mouth and you leave the tent and head back to the rock. It's darker now. Difficult to see. You lie down, spread eagled once more. And then you hear the footsteps.
The demon swings your body around violently and you can feel the shock, you can feel the horror in its blood, for the first time, in its blood instead of yours but all you can think is Daddy, and all you can see is hope.
John Winchester stands impossibly nonchalant before you.
"John" you growl, on your feet. "What a pleasant surprise, I really should have expected this at some point but I gotta say I just didn't think you were that smart.."
"That's your second mistake right there then." Your dad says calmly.
"And my first?"
"Fucking with a Winchester."
The demon moves fast and your heart surges as it lunges at your father and then stops, abruptly, violently, stops. You watch in disbelief as it brings your head down to peer at the rock below you, the rock which moments before had been a typical rock and was now chalked over with a devils trap.
Yes. Oh god. Yes.
"Clever John. Clever but I think you should let me out now."
"Now why would I want to do that?" Your father replies stepping closer still, the colt in his hand.
The demon brings your hands up to your throat then, encircles it tightly and squeezes. "Because I will strangle your son before you if you don't."
You know you're supposed to feel panic, or fear, but you don't. You've known since this began that this isn't going to be a happy ending for you. And dying is the release you've been praying for the past seven months.
Your Dad however stumbles, falters slightly, you can see his eyes flashing as he takes in your appearance, takes in your hands gripping tight to your throat. "And you think I'll let you walk away from here in his body, just to keep him alive?"
"That's exactly what I think you'll do."
No, Dad, No! You scream and scream inside once more. Don't you let him take me again, you kill me Dad, you kill me Daddy. Please.
"Then you don't know me very well." Your father finally whispers, and he pulls the trigger.
The bullet hits a lung. You know enough about injuries to know that much and you cheer and laugh inside at the absolute disbelief warring through the demon's mind. "You just killed your son Winchester."
Your Dad looks at you, really looks at you, "No. I just saved him."
The demon isn't done yet though, it hurls your father through the air with a ferocity and violence you're now used to, it slams him into a tree and you see him go down, hard.
Your strength is fading, you can't move from the rock, but the demon's going down with you, you can feel it.
It roars and screams, your voice echoes through the night air, hoarse and furious.
And you feel some of its control slipping, and for the first time in seven months you can move your mouth again and you struggle to talk.
But words fail you, and the world fades away as Dean steps out of the darkness.
Dean. Dean. Dean.
You manage a garbled "Oh God."
And then Dean's before you, he's casting worried glances to your father, and you notice the burns across his cheek. He got out. Somehow, some way he got out. Your brother survived. Oh god he made it.
He studies you as he walks towards the rock, and as he steps closer his face is riddled with tears. "Sam? Sammy?"
"Dean…" The word bursts out of you like a prayer, still a struggle, still desperately forced through lips that are fighting for control.
"Let him go you bastard."
Your brother walks closer and you desperately want him to stay back. "Dean, stay away." You manage, before a sneer's back in place. "That's right Dean, stay away we wouldn't want little brother to bleed out all over this rock would we?" But the breathes are short and the heart beats too fast. It's losing. You know it is.
"Sammy, if you can hear me, I want you to listen and listen good." Dean raises his eyes to the stars a moment and then brings them back, helpless, broken. "Little brother, we've looked, Dad and I, we've looked everywhere Sammy and there's nothing, nothing to get rid of this thing other than the colt. And if that doesn't work, Sam I need to know, I need to know kiddo, do we let you walk out of here? Do we let you go?"
You fight, you pull and push with everything in you. "Ahhhh." The cry bursts from your lips, part agony at the bullet in your lung, part desperation. "Dean, Dean, you can't let me walk, you can't." You gasp, struggling to raise your head even as you feel it warring for control. "You know it. Please. Please Dean, make it stop man…make it stop."
Dean steps forward then, his hands close enough to touch you. He's shaking, his hands are shaking and he's crying, tears rolling down his scarred cheek.
"Sam…oh god Sammy…is there anything? Anything you can think of? There's got to be something."
"It's weak Dean." You manage with a groan "It's weak now, you can destroy it now. But it needs to be inside me. I'm not going to make it anyway Dean…" and it feels so fucking good to use your mouth, to speak the words that YOU want to say for once. "The bullets going to kill me man. You know what you have to do. You know it."
Dean leans forward and grips your shoulder and you're not sure if it's safe but my god it's the best feeling in the entire world, to have your brother touch you again. To see him alive, and safe. "Sammy…" He brings his forehead to yours for a moment. "How do you want to do this?"
And you know. You know.
"The creek," you manage, before you violently convulse. "Fuck you Winchesters, you'll burn, I swear you'll burn and I'll take him with me, I'll see his soul on fire, I promise you that. I'll rip him to pieces before you take me."
Dean steps back and you war for control again, this time a battle that's more evenly matched, the Colt is doing the job.
"Dean…" you struggle "Dean, now, you have to do it now."
Dean reaches forward and hauls you up beneath your arms, lifting you and dragging you down the riverside. It's stumbling and desperate and awkward but all you can hear is Dean's heart and all you can feel are his arms around you.
"Sammy I'm sorry." Dean whispers over and over, "I love you, I'm sorry."
"Don't you do that." You gasp out. "Don't you make apologies to me Dean, make me real." You pause as he hauls you into the water. "You make me real".
For a moment his eyes cloud with confusion, but you realise the moment he gets it, the very second. His eyes gaze into yours with an understanding, a flicker of remembrance.
And then your Dad's there, stumbling and climbing to his feet, shouting and crying.
And you're on your knees in the water by then.
"Do it Dean. Do it. I love you. Do it."
Dean looks like this might just destroy him, that this is too much. This is finally enough to end him. But he loves you. So he'll do it. He has to. There's no other choice. You're dying anyway, this way you can make sure to take it with you.
And then Dean begins to whisper, even as he tangles your hair in his fists.
"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept."
He brings his lips to your forehead and kisses you softly. I love you. I'm sorry.
Your Dad stands beside Dean waist deep in water now, hand to your shoulder, a benediction. "We love you Sammy."
"Generally, by the time you are Real," Dean croaks, as he bends your head forward, " most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. "
You gasp out a sob then, and smother the fighting in your soul, the warring still vying for your body.
I love you.
Dean's fists push your head beneath the surface.
"But these things don't matter at all," he whispers as he holds your head under, your body automatically fights briefly, but then you give in, and you let the gentleness wash over your soul. You're at peace soon. You're real.
Dean looks down at you. "Go to them Sammy."
And the air is gone, and so is the demon. And all you can hear before the darkness consumes you is Dean.
"because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."