A/N: I know I said I was going to lay off the angst. I am working on a non-angsty story. Really! But this crept up on me. I just couldn't figure out last week's episode. Namely, where the bleep was Sam at the end. Show! Sometimes you make no sense.
Many thanks to LdyAnne for the alpha. You're a doll, doll.
How to Disappear
Two of Sandover's security guards walked Sam out of the cubicle farm, both of them half a foot shorter than him and generally lacking in muscle tone. Part of him wanted to laugh at them for taking their jobs way too seriously. This was all a joke, and he wasn't a threat despite the violent thoughts. And if he were a threat? They wouldn't stand a chance. But most of him was actually stuck on this isn't my life, this can't be real feeling and the absolute punch to the gut Dean Smith's rejection of him he still felt twelve hours after the fact. Too horrified by his inexplicably painful loneliness, he hadn't slept all night. Instead, he'd spent the early morning hours in his shithole of an apartment staring up at the dark ceiling, wishing for light to finally arrive and wondering if it ever would.
"I no longer require your assistance, George," the shorter of the two guards said as they approached the elevator.
George pondered for a moment, giving Sam a long, assessing look which lingered on his arms. He frowned. "You sure, Fred?"
"Yes, I'm certain. You won't cause any trouble, will you, Mr. Wesson?"
He didn't answer, heading for the stairs. In some ways, Sam was remarkably well adjusted after witnessing someone chopped in half. But in no way was he getting into an elevator anytime soon, and definitely not with a security guard. It just wasn't going to happen. To his surprise, his escort didn't argue with him, merely followed him into the stairwell.
"This isn't necessary," Sam said tightly. "I don't want any problems, I just want to get as far away from this place as I can as fast as I can."
"You cannot leave without your brother, Sam Winchester," Fred said.
Sam Wesson halted his descent mid-step, nearly falling down the last few stairs. He recovered, maneuvering his way to the landing. He turned his head, catching the guard standing motionless above him, watching and waiting. He didn't know what for. He didn't know anything other than he wasn't in the right place, the feeling of it burning through his veins.
"What?" he asked. "What did you just say?"
He frowned as Fred took a step closer, a hand with two fingers extended stretching out for Sam's face. He ducked his head back in an attempt to avoid the touch, arms going up defensively. It worked for only a moment, but Fred wouldn't be deterred. Callused fingertips landed on his forehead. In an instant, the bright fluorescent stairwell light dimmed. Everything around Sam became darker, and for a second he was perplexed, unsure where he was or why. Then he looked up and finally understood.
"Castiel," Sam said, recognizing Fred for who he truly was. "I didn't recognize you without your Columbo trench coat."
"Sam." Castiel didn't say anything else, fixing his inscrutable gaze on him.
Sam remembered it all, his whole life. Every single, miserable second of it flashed before him like his dreams from before had, filled with black violence. He was left shaky and hungry for something he didn't want to admit he knew he now no longer wanted but also needed. Didn't want to admit needing Ruby's welcoming embrace and the power she gave him, like a junkie craved smack. He just wasn't sure if it was born out of genuine need, or reaction to Dean's dismissal, a balm to make himself feel better. He couldn't turn to his brother; his brother didn't want him, didn't want what he'd known about himself even through some angelic mind wipe. Dean didn't want who they were deep down, and the knowledge of that sat heavy with Sam. He hunched slightly, hand to stomach.
"What am I doing here?" Sam asked. "Where's Dean?"
"Your brother is upstairs. We thought it was important for someone to be here for you when he finally understood and accepted."
"What?" Sam's head whirled, he was confused but suspicious. This had all been some kind of game. He clenched his jaw, glaring at Castiel, who only had height on him by virtue of three stairs. "Haven't you … people done enough to him? You put him in the hospital the last time we saw you."
To his credit, Castiel actually flinched at that. It didn't give Sam any sense of comfort. Nothing ever did anymore, except maybe knowing he was well on his way to ending this all. With the power he got from his times with Ruby, he would be able to take out Lilith and Dean could have some peace at last, maybe even happiness.
"Dean needed to see that he is what he is because of himself, not because of any exterior pressure," Castiel said. "We did not know how else to proceed."
"So you created this elaborate world and screwed with our heads. Was any of it even real?"
"All of it was, Sam. My superiors thought this route was necessary." Castiel spoke softly, as if he didn't quite agree, but his tone was also filled with assurance. "The ghost was real. The people you saved, and those you couldn't save, they were real."
Oh, God, poor Ian. Poor Paul. If he and Dean had been themselves, maybe they could have prevented those deaths. At least one of them. Sam pinched the bridge of his nose, overcome with fatigue and frustration. Dean hadn't wanted it when Sam offered him the life. He couldn't seem to shake that.
"This was about helping your brother realize who he is, and realize he what he needs to do is also what he wants to do," Castiel said.
"And he realizes it now."
It was all about Dean. Everything lately was all about his brother being his brother again. About what Sam had to do because Dean wasn't Dean, the path he couldn't diverge from now even if he wanted to. He'd made his choice. He'd been mindfucked too, though, dropped into this pointless life so Dean could once again be shown the light. He wasn't angry about that, not really. That was ultimately what Sam had wanted himself, for months now. But hearing it caused a swirl of cold unease to run though his body. He didn't know why. Dean hadn't rejected the life at all, just him. That was the only thing pertaining to him, here.
"So this was all about Dean, and yet here you are with me."
Looking up, he found Castiel continuing to study him with those eyes which were piercing and alert. The attention made him uncomfortable. Sam stared down at his feet, but he could still feel the angel's gaze. It was burning a hole in the top of his skull.
"I did not say this was all about Dean, Sam," Castiel said. "You are here for a reason."
"What?" Sam choked out, voice unexpectedly small and wounded. He shuffled back a step. "What do you mean?"
"There was a lesson in this for Dean, but if it were only for him, do you really believe you would be here?"
Sam blinked. It was true. The forces of God seemed to carve him out at every opportunity, like he was tainted. The boy with demon blood. The sudden change in MO merely made his discomfort grow. The expression on Castiel's face was nearly unreadable. In the bright light of before, it might have been curiosity. Now in the gloom, it looked like ominous judgment to Sam.
"I haven't doubted the hunting life in a long, long time," Sam said, though it wasn't precisely true. What he doubted was wanting to do it forever. What he doubted and fought against was the idea it would all end sad. He would take bloody over sad, because he could not do that again. Not ever. "I know what I'm here to do."
"Do you, Sam?" Castiel's eyes narrowed as he took a step down. "Your intentions may not be as clear as you believe they are."
Sam squared his shoulders. People kept telling him that, but if wanting this war to be over, for himself, for Dean was bad, then maybe he wasn't sure what good was.
"If you're concerned, you can stop me. As far as I can tell, I'm the only one doing anything around here," Sam said. It had burned at the back of his mind since Dean had told him God didn't want him to be who he was. Since Uriel's empty threat of obliteration. Sam suddenly recalled Castiel's face after he'd dispatched Alastair. "You can't stop me, can you?"
"It has never been our place to do so." Castiel took the last two steps down to the landing, and somehow Sam still felt like he had to look up. "It remains only a last resort. Do not doubt that we can, Sam Winchester."
Sam actually felt a spiral of fear at that. It was fleeting. Castiel had no idea what he could do.
"With Uriel's betrayal, we have lost too much ground. We could not wait for your brother to come to terms with his fate on his own. Time is of the essence."
Anger replaced the cold unease, boiling through Sam hot and fast. "What does that even mean? Be specific."
"It became clear to me some time ago that the hopes we have placed in Dean cannot be accomplished without you, Sam," Castiel said, as if Sam hadn't asked him a question. "Your role in this is pivotal. Without you, Dean cannot do what he must."
Sam sighed. So much for specific. He swore these winged bastards all took a course in obfuscation just to be annoying. And apparently they didn't believe too much in free will. He huffed out a breath, starting down toward lobby level again.
"Your brother is upstairs, Sam."
"I know. You said." He kept on his descent. "I'm going to find the car. I'm clearly not going to get any real answers out of you. I'm no closer to figuring out the point of this little game of yours now than I was before."
There was a flash and a flutter and Castiel stood below him, attired in his customary, crumpled clothing. Sam halted, clenching both his fists and his jaw. Before he could skirt around Castiel, the angel took hold of his arm. The whole world skittered, went dark, bright white, and he almost passed out. He did close his eyes for a moment, finding himself outside when he opened them again. The car was there, familiar and ready as always.
"You are right. This wasn't about being a hunter for you," Castiel said. "This was about something else."
Castiel frowned, circling to the hood of the car. He placed a hand on it, glancing down.
"You seek immediate results. You explode into action without considering the whole picture. It is a dangerous method of operation, Sam." Castiel looked at him with that enigmatic expression of his. For a long while he just kept at the staring contest, breaking silence to ask, "Did smashing that phone accomplish what you wished it to? Do you even understand why you did it?"
Sam didn't know what to do with those questions. He opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out. It wasn't about the phone. That much he knew. Before he could gather any kind of thought, Castiel was gone with a gust of wind and he was left standing alone. He broke out in gooseflesh, the bite of Ohio's spring air cool against his skin. He didn't think that was why he was cold. Turning, he found the car was parked across the street from the Sandover Building. He looked up to the top floors of the high rise, where Dean was.
Except he wasn't.
"Goddamned angels," Dean growled, suddenly there on the street with him. He kept moving, not missing a stride, determinedly aiming for the driver's side of the car. "What a bunch of almighty fucks."
"Dean?" Sam asked stupidly, rotating to watch Dean's progress. "You're here."
"Yeah. I don't know about you, but I've had enough of this place. Get in."
Dean was all bluff and bluster, and for the first time in a long time Sam saw something other than defeat in his brother's eyes. The relief he felt was palpable and yet terrible. He opened the door and slid into the car, but the chill followed him.
"What happened?" Sam asked, like he didn't already know. He knew Dean was more Dean now than he had been.
"Castiel's boss thought it would be cute to light a fire under my ass or something," Dean said. "This was their attempt to show me hunting was in my blood. In our blood. It's who we are."
It was nice of Dean to include him, but Sam wasn't sure it was sincere. He wasn't sure if this was where he was supposed to be. At the end of the day, that feeling in his gut, of Dean's rejection and of this isn't my life, this isn't real was still there. Everything should feel right, not wrong. He had Dean back at long last.
"You'd think it would kill them to be direct for a change. I could live without all of this divine intervention crap."
Castiel's vague questions rolled around in Sam's brain. Everything he did, he did because he had to. He did it because the alternatives were inferior options. It was the one thing in this mess of a life that he knew to be true. The angels were losing this battle. They were the ones going about it wrong, not him. Sam thought maybe Castiel had been trying to tell him that the blood in his veins wasn't the same as Dean's. He already knew that. But different didn't have to be wrong. Different didn't mean he was the trusty sidekick. He didn't want to lose the power he'd felt when he killed Alastair with mere thought.
"Hey, are you hungry? I'm starving. It feels like I haven't eaten in a month," Dean continued, talking more in the last five minutes than he had in forever. "We can go get some artery-clogging diner food."
It might have been an olive branch, Dean's way of saying that he was on board with Sam's program now. But he wasn't, or wouldn't be if he knew everything, and Sam couldn't change his plan of attack anymore. At the end of the day, he still wasn't sure Dean was strong enough. Sam was. He was this close to being able to take on Lilith and win. He couldn't stop. It was for all or nothing, and it could not be for nothing.
"Sure, sounds good," Sam said.
"So what went down with you, anyway? Did you get touched by an angel this time?"
Sam glanced over, shaking his head. "Not really. I guess I was just along for the ride."
"Huh," Dean said. He fumbled with the tape deck, popping in one of the Led Zeppelin albums and practically heaving a sigh of relief at Robert Plant's voice. "Well, I don't know if they meant it or not, but I think you were there to help me figure it out. Everything they put us through, man, it means we're in this together. Hell or high water."
Sam nodded, casting his gaze out to the blurring, passing buildings. Castiel had said his role was pivotal. He didn't know what that meant, but something in him told him Castiel thought Sam wasn't meant to stand at Dean's right shoulder. He caught his reflection in the side view mirror. He looked faded, like he was disappearing, and all he could think was that there, that's not me.