A/N: Set season four, spoilers for the premiere, ITGPSW and H&H. Rated for language. Dean was angry, and angry boys swear a little. Title and quoted lyrics are from "man in the Wilderness" written by Tommy Shaw and recorded by Styx.
Man in the Wilderness
Another year has passed me by
Still I look at myself and cry
What kind of man have I become?
All of the years I've spent in search of myself
And I'm still in the dark
'Cause I can't seem to find the light alone
Dean had enough. It was finally enough. He was fed up to the point where every word was anger, every thought at least annoyed—if not something much worse, and ever action teetering on the brink of violence. It was finally enough. He had to go, he was sick of it all. He had to go, enough was enough.
Coming back from hell? Well, that had been okay. Getting out of the pit was a good thing, even with the horror of his memory coming back, the crushing guilt of what he'd done in those last years, trapped in that never-ending round of pain. Even as a torturer, the pain continued, it was different, sure, but in a lot of ways so much worse. The screams, knowing what he did to people. That knowledge with him all the time, and if he hesitated? Well, that bastard watching over him would take a slice or two to remind him to keep focused.
But he was back. Hurrah. Oops, Sammy, did that sound bitter? Sorry, you'll have to forgive me. 'Cause coming back is just so fucking awesome. Oh, yeah.
First, there were the damned angels. Okay, maybe not damned, that would make them demons like Ruby. The pain in the ass angels. Demanding he listen, that he obey, that he have faith that what they told him was right and proper. Just like dad. "Suck it up, Dean, you're a Winchester. Because I know best. You have to trust me, I don't need reasons." He sometimes wondered if his father had escaped from hell to go to heaven and was now some kind of angel drill sergeant. Castiel, and now that jerk Uriel, seemed to expect that instant faith and obedience, especially or most importantly, when it came to Sam.
And there was the other huge problem.
Dean was glad his brother was still alive, those first moments when Bobby had hesitated nearly killed him. The relief had been huge, but then he discovered he had come back to a brother he barely recognized at times. It wasn't just that Sam was so much harder, his body covered with new scars marking the days he fought alone. No, Sam was different. He's been alone for a long time, and while he'd been hurting, grief-stricken even, he'd gone on and grown and become this new person that didn't need Dean anymore.
So, he was leaving.
Dean would tell the angels to put him on the bench, he wasn't going to fight their war. He didn't care if Lucifer escaped hell or Britney Spears became president. He was done, out of the fight and he planned to disappear and spend several days in a drunken coma, then he'd decide where to go from there.
He was tired of being the doormat and scapegoat for everything that happened in the world. He was tired of the crushing guilt of what he'd done, what he hadn't done. He was tired of everyone hating him for everything. Okay, maybe it wasn't exactly like that, but it felt that way. The weight of the world balanced on Dean Winchester's shoulders. His brother's life, that he was used to, that he even accepted, but now that meant so much more, the struggle to keep Sam safe, this new Sam, this Sam that could go on without him.
Why the hell did that hurt like it did? There was this wound, growing steadily, filled with memories of hell, but this other was there and so much worse? The knowledge that Sam could go on without him. Had gone on, fought battles, kept moving.
It hurt. It was slowly killing him, eating him alive with a torture that even hell couldn't conceive of.
Suck it up, Winchester.
Sam didn't need him. He was almost glad of that at times, the weight of raising his brother, of caring for his father, had always held Dean down. He was done with that. John was dead, Sam could fend for himself. It wasn't like Dean was dead, he'd call and let Sam know he was okay, he was just done with it all. Gone, outta here, next stop Shangri-la or someplace with hot babes willing to do his every bidding. Out of the war, done with taking care of everyone but Dean.
Hell sucked, memories of hell sucked even more.
And where the fuck did Sam get off FORGIVING him for what he'd done in those last years in the pit? Looking at him with those big doe eyes, tears on his cheeks and saying it was okay? It wasn't okay, it would never be okay, and the reality of what he'd done would haunt him forever. And Sam just forgave him. Hugged him, forgave him and took him out for steak. Just like that. Sam the freaking caretaker.
Nope, he didn't need Dean anymore, so it was time to go. Maybe, just maybe if Dean got out, they could both have a life, both have something beyond horror and anger and angels and demons and the end of the world.
Dean silently slid the last of his things in his bag and picked up a pad of paper with the hotel's logo.
I'm leaving, catch you later. He wrote it out and looked at it. Nope, that wouldn't do. He crumpled up the paper and tried again. Sammy, I'm heading out… Nope. Crumple. Start again. Sam, I really think. That sucked. Rip, crumple. Tried again, crumpled. Tried again, tore it into tiny shreds. Dean finally managed one he could almost stomach. He looked at it and doodled a little as he reread it. Set it on the table and looked at it again. It would do. He carefully placed the pen beside the paper, dropped the keys to the Impala on top the pad and walked out the door.
It was snowing, the light flakes dropping slowly from the metal gray sky. He didn't need to see the sun, didn't need to see the stars to know this was the one day he could disappear. Dean had found an ancient spell, one designed to remove someone from the notice of everyone. The spell, in fact, specifically noted that it would "hyde he who uses this spelle from angels and demons, from all the magickes of the faithful and the evil". Hiding from angels and demons was high on the list. If he was going to disappear, he needed to make sure no one could find him. And that included Ruby and Castiel. If someone tripped over him, well he'd be found, but this would at least keep them off his ass for awhile.
He walked through town and out into the field to the south. It was the perfect place. He set his bag down and pulled out the items he needed and laid them in front of him.
Do I really want to do this?
The drive to escape it all, to disappear was so strong it was nearly killing him. He was obsessed with the idea that if he could just leave, everything would return to normal. Oh, sure, his life would be pretty much over, but at least everyone would leave him alone. He was tired of what everyone expected of him, demanded of him, needed from him. It was time it was all over. If he disappeared, Sam could have a life, that dream of a real life away from the hunt, the thing Sam had always wanted, even though he insisted he didn't want that anymore.
Maybe in leaving he could free himself and finally, once and for all, save his brother.
That was what it was all about, or always had been. Sam. And this time? Well, it wasn't just saving Sam's mortal life, this was bigger, Dean knew it was bigger and he knew that those angels—and probably the demons—were cooking up something very unpleasant for Sam. They would expect Dean to go along with it, too. Just assume that he would say "yes sir, it's for the fucking best sir, kill my brother, right." Just like that.
No, not happening.
And maybe along the way he could save himself. Wasn't there an old belief that if you did one unselfish thing in your life, you could escape the fires of hell? Castiel said he'd throw Dean back into the pit without a second thought, maybe this way he could prevent that. Did that make it selfish? Still maybe it was saving Sam. Was that enough?
Sorrow cooled the anger a little.
He'd miss Sam. Even this new, scary Sam. The Sam that could easily toss demons back into hell with a wave of his hand.
Not fair, Dean, you saw what it did to him to banish Samhain.
He sighed and picked up the metal he was planning to use to make the amulet that would be his constant companion from now on. Dean wondered if this spell would hide him from himself as well, let Dean Winchester find silence and someone new go on. If that happened, it was just so much better, so much more that he could hope for.
Well, except for Sam.
If the spell did make him disappear from himself, at least then the worry would be gone, the fear for his brother would be magically removed. That would help. Forget Sam, forget hell, no one could find him, he'd be safe, able to go on and live or die, it would be okay.
Dean lit the candles and took a deep breath, turning to the north, he lifted the amulet.
Goodbye, little brother.
"Goodbye, little brother," Dean's voice echoed through Sam's dream. He jerked awake, trembling from the nightmare he'd had every night for the last week. Every time, Dean's voice had a finality to it, every time it would haunt Sam for the whole next day, he even heard himself snapping at Dean as the remembered emotion from the dream blended with daytime reality. Sam took a deep breath and sat up, automatically glancing towards the other bed, seeking as always after the nightmare, the solace that came from knowing Dean was still there.
Only this time, Dean's bed was empty.
"Dean?" Sam got up, not too worried yet, and walked to the bathroom. The door was open light was off. "Dean?" He could see the Impala still parked in front of the room. Sam opened the door and looked out. "Dean?" he called. The parking lot was empty. Weird. Sam turned back into the room and saw the keys on the table. Crumpled paper littered the table top.
All he could see was the note.
Looping doodles ran down the side, a skull and cross bones, a rough line drawing of a car—indications of Dean thinking hard about something. Sam picked up the pad in shaking hands.
Sammy, it's not working. Or I'm not. I don't know. But it's better this way. Take care of yourself and my baby. Dean.
Sam read the note again, but it said the same thing as the first reading. He read it again, the words not making sense that time. No. He started opening the crumpled bits of paper, reading all the notes Dean had started, full of angry slashes and even angrier words. He read the note on the pad again, his mind refusing to wrap around the fact that Dean had left. Anger surged through Sam, he threw the pad across the room, hearing it smack against the wall. "God damn it, Dean, what the hell? Why did you go?" Sam shouted to the room, anger quickly becoming rage at the idea that Dean had left.
He'd actually left.
Sam started packing. Dean wouldn't get far. Oh, hell, no. And once he found his brother he'd pound him into the floor. He'd scream at him and demand to know why he left. What he was doing, where he was going. WHY? The word shrieked through his head.
Suddenly he stopped, the possible reason creeping up through the layers of rage. Sam's stomach started roiling. Did Dean leave because of me? Because I used my powers to defeat that demon? Sam was sure they'd settled that, it hadn't come up again since Halloween, but it lurked in Sam's consciousness—always there, taunting him. That and the words from his brother that if Dean didn't know him, he'd hunt Sam. And of course the implication was always here, unspoken but there. Hunt him—and kill him.
Sam finished packing and picked up the keys. He had taken one step towards the door, when the portal slammed open so hard the knob buried itself in the wall. So not paying for that.
"Where is Dean?" Castiel demanded from the doorway.
"I don't know." Sam turned to the angel.
"Where is he?" he said, coming into the room, Sam backed away from the fury written on the angel's face.
"I don't know," Sam repeated. "He left."
"He's gone," the angel growled.
"I know, I just said he left," Sam snapped. Who knew angels could be so annoying?
"No." Castiel backed him up against the wall. "He's gone. We can't locate him."
"Is he dead?" Sam whispered.
"I don't know."
"What do you mean, you don't know?" Sam yelled.
"He's gone. We can't find him. We don't know if he's alive, dead—anything. He's gone."
"Gone?" Sam couldn't get his head around that—where could someone go that angels couldn't find them?
"Gone." The angel leaned close, only inches separated his face from Sam's. "What did you do?"
"Me? I didn't do anything, I told you, he left."
"If I find out you're lying, what Dean suffered in hell will look like a week at an amusement park compared to what I'll do to you." Castiel glared at him for a moment longer and disappeared.
Sam stood with his back against the wall. The look the angel had given him was scary. The fact that the angel had no idea where Dean was terrified him. Oh god, Dean. Everything crashed down on him in that moment. Dean was gone, lost, nowhere to be found. No, not again. Sam reached down and picked up the pad of paper with Dean's note on it. He carefully tore it off the pad and folded it, tucking it into his pocket, a token to carry until he found his brother.
Sam sank down on the bed, unable to do more at that moment. The grief from the long summer suddenly back as surely as if it had never gone. This time Dean, I'll find you, I'll save you.
He patted the pocket with the note.
Leaving wasn't as easy as Dean thought it would be. After four days he was beginning to realize it. He knew Sam was looking for him, had even caught a glimpse of the Impala two towns back. The fact that his brother was unconsciously trailing him showed just how well Sam knew him, even this new almost unknown Sam. Dean had even tried to change gears, head in what he'd thought was a different direction, only it must not have been that big of a change—that was the day he saw the Impala.
Dean sighed and shoved open the door on the sleazy bar at the edge of the town he was traveling through. It was a little sleazy even for them, so he figured Sam wouldn't look there, if Sam had gotten to town already. It was a dingy dive of a place. Dean walked over to the bar and ordered a beer, a shot and a burger, hoping that he'd survive the food poisoning the place probably served with the fries. After ordering he stalked to the farthest, darkest corner of the bar and sat down where he could watch the door.
He'd been seated for fifteen minutes, picking through the rancid meat on his plate, when he heard the engine of his car thrumming outside the emergency exit. Dean looked up, through a grimy window he saw the Impala slide into one of the parking places out front. Shit. Dean got up and headed to the bathroom, thankfully the fetid place had a window big enough to crawl out of, he hauled himself up, being careful to disturb as little of the filth as possible, and slipped out the window, pushing it closed from the outside before dropping into a urine-scented alley below.
Dean leaned against the wall for a moment, trying to decide which way marked the best escape. This was the closest Sam had come, and it would be hard to ditch him if Sam was only a couple of minutes behind him. He glanced down the alley, thinking. If he headed away from Sam—well that was the logical choice, and Sam would know that, so Sam would head in the opposite direction, past the car and back into town. Or would he think that all through and come up with a Princess Bride level of logical reasoning? Dean shook his head, unsure of what to do.
"Dean," a voice purred from the shadow veiling the building opposite him. He turned away, ignoring the voice. Whoever it was followed him, Dean was leading them away from Sam. "Oh, come now, I know it's you. You can't ditch me now that I've seen you. It was hard, after your spell, but I've found you. I can't wait to tell them I just stumbled over you." A hard laugh echoed through the dark. "And as soon as I find your brother, it will be lovely."
"Who are you?" he finally said, still walking away.
"You don't know me? I'm offended, and we were so close those last years."
"Go away, you have the wrong person," Dean said, resisting the urge to run, the cadence in that voice was starting to sound familiar.
"I doubt that," she said, suddenly in front of him. "How could I forget the man I helped dismember—well, how many times was it?"
"Delia?" Dean stopped and looked at the woman in front of him, trying to see the demon he knew must be there, panic flowing through him. She's looking for Sam? I have to keep her away.
"Nice to be remembered," she lashed out at him, he felt the punch connect and then nothing.
Dean awoke to a sea of pain, the agony so complete that for a moment he was convinced that his brief sojourn back on earth had been some kind of hell inspired delusion. He took a shuddering breath, it was enough to send spears of pain through his body, but also let him know he was not in hell. The air smelled moldy, it didn't have the tint of rotting flesh and sulphur that permeated the depths of hell.
The agony did have that edge of damnation to it. Delia had him pinned to the floor, whatever was holding him there was driven through his wrists and ankles, the ones in his arms just touching the edge of a nerve, if he moved at all, the pain was unbearable. He remembered this well, it was a favorite starting point for Alastair and his ever-helpful helper Delia. They had explained for long years about perfecting this technique, how they'd passed it on to various humans so they could use it as well. Always the lesson, always this agony, always right before the fun really started.
"Awake are we?" Delia purred. "I want to talk to you about your brother."
"You can't have Sam."
"Where is he, Dean?"
"You're the demon, you find him."
"That is proving to be something of a challenge lately, and we aren't sure why. Where is he?"
"You can't have Sam."
"Dean, you want to tell me."
"You can't have Sam." It was a common refrain in this conversation, Dean wondered again if he was back in hell and it was starting again. Oh, please no. Dean stared up at the dark beams over his head, bracing himself against the onslaught of memory.
"Awake again?" Alastair's hated voice flowed over him. Dean looked at the demon, watching as Delia finished ramming a spike through Dean's wrist so they could start.
"Fuck you," Dean growled at the demon. It was the same conversation they'd been having here in hell for thirty long years, well, twenty–nine years, fifty weeks, three days, sixteen hours, twelve minutes and twenty-seven seconds.
"Yes, well, that didn't work, so let's move on, shall we? We have something special today." The demon rubbed his hands together in happy anticipation. "Delia? Let's make sure he can't move." She came over and smiled at Dean, running a clawed hand over his face before pinning his head to the wall with a spike through his neck, blood flowed down his body, Dean could hear each breath as it gurgled through his open trachea. If only this would kill me. Yeah, right, dream on. She smiled at him and patted his face and then turned away.
"Let's start again, Dean. Join me, help me with my work," Alastair said with a smile.
"Um, let me think," Dean gurgled. "No, you freak, bite me." Oh shit, shouldn't have said that. He held his breath and Delia took a savage bite, tearing away part of his thigh. "Thanks, still won't work."
"We have a present for you, someone got a little sloppy," she cooed.
"What?" Dean demanded, his heart sinking. Please. It was his only prayer in that place, "please" and it wasn't for himself.
"Of course, you only need one eye for this," Alastair said. A second later pain blossomed, Dean heard himself screaming, felt the rush of blood down his face, then opened his eyes again, he could only see out of one, Alastair was holding the other in bloody fingers. "Bring him in."
"Let me go!" Sam's voice echoed through the bowels of hell.
"Welcome, Sam, we've been waiting so patiently."
"Dean!" Sam said, meeting his eyes, sorrow and regret was painted on his face.
"You don't get Sam," Dean gurgled.
"Ah, but I have him. Delia, if you would?" Alastair said.
"You don't get Sam," he repeated.
Dean watched as they pinned Sam to the wall, watched as they sank hooks into his brother's body, watched as they tortured Sam to the point where, even in hell, Sam faded away. Dean was weeping, begging them to stop as he never had for himself by the time Sam slumped. They turned on Dean and started with him, but it was nothing compared to what watching them torture Sam had done.
Five days later, five days of pleading for Sam, of watching them torture his brother, Dean made his offer. "If you let Sam go, let him out of here, I'll do what you ask."
"If you go back on this, he's back here. For now he'll just be dead. Good enough?"
"No, Dean," Sam begged, blood covering his body.
"It gets you out, Sammy." Dean watched as they tortured Sam one more time, this time when he slumped, he disappeared. Dean sighed in relief, they tortured him one more time too, just for good measure, but then took the pins out of his wrists, and left them out, for the first time in thirty years.
"Where's Sam?" Delia asked.
"You don't get Sam."
"Please, tell me," she twisted a pin in his left wrist. Dean ground his teeth against the pain. "Pretty please?"
"Dean, Dean, did that work before?" she asked congenially, then snapped the index finger on his left hand, he heard the bone break. He tried not to scream, it didn't work. She laughed and pulled out a knife. "Let's talk shall we?"
To Be Continued