THEN...

*DEAN: (to Sam as he's dying, seeing the wound) Hey, hey, look at me. It's not even that bad. It's not even that bad, alright? Sammy? Sam! Hey, listen to me, we're going to patch you up, okay? You'll be as good as new. I'm gonna take care of you, okay? I'm going to take care of you; I've got you, because that's my job, right? Watching after my pain in the ass little brother. (Realizes Sam is already gone) Sam? Sam? Sam?! Sammy! No. No, no, no, no. Oh god. (pulls Sam's body against his) Oh god. (pause, then shouts) SAM!*

Apocalypse of the Soul

"What If?" challenge for SPNland

written by: Kadysn 2009

~*~*~

Title: Apocalypse of the Soul

Rating: PG-13 for language and alcohol use

Characters: Spirit!Sam, Dean, Bobby and a couple others (canon)

Spoilers: none (set end of season 2)

Summary: What if...Sam died at the end of season two? What if...Dean never made the deal with the Crossroads demon to bring Sam back, in exchange for his own soul? What if...Dean never went to hell, and never having been there, he never broke the first seal? What if...Dean wasn't the instrument that brought about the Apocalypse?

Beta: The incredible Suz Mc

Word count: 4986

NOW...

He watched from the shadows, untouched by the recent rain that had fallen, which had delayed the event he now viewed from a short distance away. Unseen, he couldn't pull his gaze from the face of the young man who stood across the clearing, his countenance lit by the flickering flames of the funeral pyre he had set just minutes before. The older man standing next to him reached up to wipe tears from his cheeks, the tracks of moisture glistening by the light of the fire. When he reached out to lay a comforting hand on the other man's shoulder, and found it rebuffed, he stepped back and gave the young man his peace.

Heart-sore, Sam ached with the desire to step out of the darkness and make his presence known. He'd tried several times in the past few days to do just that, and yet something stopped him. He wanted so badly to approach his brother and say...what? 'I'm sorry?' No matter what he'd say, nothing could be changed, so what was the point? Still, he lingered, filled with anguish that he was powerless to reach out and comfort his brother, to let him know he was okay, that things would get better...all the useless platitudes spoken to those who'd lost a loved one.

He'd watched as Dean went to the nearest crossroads and screamed until he was hoarse for a demon to come to him, to make a deal that would bring his Sam back to him. For some unknown reason, no demon appeared. Apparently happy that one of the Winchester brothers had met his end, untimely or not, the demon hoard had not responded to Dean's pleas. Watching his brother cry and scream out in fury and despair, Sam wanted to curse the fates for taking him away.

He felt a strong pull from somewhere, something, to leave this place, to leave his brother and move on to, what? Heaven? Hell? He fought the urge, knowing he couldn't leave until he knew that Dean would be ok.

When the flames had died down, and the shrouded figure of his humanly body was reduced to bones and ash, Sam watched as Dean, his face empty of emotion, turned to walk away.

His spine straight, his shoulders only slightly bowed in his grief, Dean strode to the Impala parked at the edge of the clearing. When he stopped next to the passenger door, he reached inside the open window and lifted out a half-full liquor bottle. He tipped back his head and took a long swig of it, with not a single grimace from the bite of the liquid as he swallowed. Before he could take another long pull, Bobby reached his side and took the bottle from his hands. Dean let loose a low growl, and said a few choice words over Bobby's intrusion, but he didn't argue when Bobby tossed the bottle back inside the car and ordered him to get in.

Fearing Dean would insist on driving, even after having taken a healthy slug of the alcohol, since he rarely allowed anyone but himself to drive his baby, Sam was relieved when Dean tossed the car keys to Bobby and lowered himself to the seat, where he leaned his head back and closed his eyes. Sam knew Bobby would watch out for Dean. He only wished he could still do it himself.

Bobby drove them back to his house. He didn't know where else to go, and he sure as hell wasn't leaving Dean alone. Ever since Sam died, he'd watched Dean sink into despair so deep Bobby was afraid what the kid would do if left to his own devices. Hell, he knew how he was handling things himself. He'd already gone through two bottles of whisky, and he wanted more. Damn, he missed Sam, and he could only imagine what Dean was feeling.

When he pulled the car to a stop outside the house, he sat and watched as Dean roused from his stupor and struggled to pull himself from the seat. It wasn't so much the booze the boy had drunk, but the lack of sleep and his unshed emotions that made Dean so unsteady on his feet.

Bobby pulled his achy bones from the car and went around to open the door of the house, stepping aside to let Dean cross through first. He kept quiet, sensing Dean wanted to be left alone, but he kept his gaze on Dean as the young man crossed the room and went up the stairs and out of his sight. Let the boy have his space Bobby reminded himself as he went into the kitchen to brew coffee when what he really wanted was another bottle of Jack D.

When Dean stumbled up the stairs and into the spare room, Sam followed him. Knowing his brother as well as he did, he knew why Dean wasn't expressing his emotions, yet he wished Dean would let loose with them anyway. I know you miss me, dude, but you can't keep yourself bottled up tight as a drum. You'll make yourself sick, damn it! Sam wished he could smack Dean upside his head to get through to him, but he hadn't managed to figure out how to generate that power in the spirit form he was in. Obviously, the power of his mind wasn't getting through that thick skull of Dean's either.

He lingered, watching, as Dean tossed himself across the bed face down. Just when he thought his brother had fallen asleep, Sam noticed Dean's shoulders begin to shake, and his hands clench tightly. Had he the breath inside him to do so, Sam would have sighed mournfully when he realized that his brother was crying, his whole body quaking with his muffled sobs.

Knowing Dean wouldn't feel it, yet having the need to do it anyway, Sam lowered his ghostly form onto the bed beside Dean's prostrate body and laid a hand on his brother's back. When, after several minutes, Dean's sobs ceased and he'd fallen into an exhausted sleep, Sam rose and moved to a corner of the room where he remained, keeping watch over his brother.

When Dean awoke, it was with a thick head, achy body and sore eyes. He pulled himself up and sat on the edge of the bed and rested his head in his hands. Numb, and desiring to stay that way, he craved another drink, or ten, wanting nothing more than to drown himself in the bottle and say to hell with the world and everyone in it. How dare the world go on when Sam couldn't? Fuck 'em all.

He sighed and ran a hand over the coarse stubble on his cheeks, not caring in the slightest that he needed to shave or that his clothes were ones he'd been wearing for two days. He rose from the bed and went into the bathroom and stopped in front of the pedestal sink. He stared into the mirror, not really looking at himself but seeing in his mind's eye his brother crumpled on the ground, his life's blood flowing from his back as Dean held him close, screaming out Sam's name.

Forcing himself to push those images away, he turned the water on and bent down to splash water on his face. He reached out for a hand towel and dried off, then tossing the cloth aside where it landed on the floor, ignored, he turned and walked out.

When he stepped back into the bedroom, his gaze fell on an object sitting atop the small desk in the corner across the room from the bed. He'd tried to avoid it for days, and he still wanted to forget about it, but something inside made him step over to the desk. He reached out and laid a hand on the closed cover of Sam's laptop. Memories of the thousands of times he'd watched Sam sit with the computer open in front of him, doing research on whatever case they'd been working on at the time flittered through his mind, and Dean wished with his whole heart that he could have those times back again. Wished he could walk into a room and find Sammy engrossed in whatever was on the screen. Wanted so much to be able to hear Sam ream him a new one for freezing the computer on porn sites.

Never again.

He knew there were probably files and other stuff on the computer he needed to look through, but he just couldn't deal with it. Not now. Not yet. He hesitated, then reached out and picked the silent machine up and carried it from the room.

Sam watched as Dean stood over the computer, and he wondered what thoughts were going through his brother's mind. He knew what he'd saved on the machine, and he hoped Dean would find the files. Open it, Dean he sent his thoughts out, hoping his brother would somehow hear him. Read what I left there. I left it for you....

When he heard Dean's slow tread down the stairs, Bobby gazed up at him from where he was sitting at his desk, reading. He noted what was in Dean's hands, and when Dean stopped next to the desk and laid the computer on top of a stack of papers and books, Bobby sent him a questioning look.

"I know Sam has—had—stuff on here, and I know I should go through it, but I just can't, Bobby. Not right now. I just...can't," Dean shrugged as he gave Bobby an almost imploring look that seemed to ask don't make me deal with this right now. I don't have it in me.

Bobby nodded silently, and watched as Dean turned and walked out of the house.

His spirit tied to Dean, Sam followed his brother wherever he went. From past experiences hunting with his dad and brother, Sam knew there was something Dean was carrying that kept him bound to his brother. His watch? The black jelly bracelet he often wore? He couldn't remember what he'd worn the day he died, but whatever it was that kept him linked to Dean, he didn't fight it. Feel me with you, Dean. Sense that I'm here with you and that I'm not going anywhere until I know you'll be okay.

Having watched Dean give his computer to Bobby, Sam was sure the files he'd left saved on it, the files he wanted the men to read, would be found. He just wasn't sure yet how Dean would react to them.

Sam watched as Dean went to the car and opened the door to sit inside, raising his arms to rest them over the steering wheel. He leaned his forehead against them a few minutes, then sighed raggedly as he reached into his jeans pocket for the keys. Putting them in the ignition, he turned it, and sat there as the car's rumbling motor soothed his jagged spirit.

Sam took up his familiar place as shotgun, and watched as Dean slid his favorite Zeppelin tape into the deck and cranked it. He felt a smile cross his face as he remembered rifling through the shoebox that Dean kept his tapes stored in, commenting about the selection of mullet rock his brother had always preferred. He hadn't appreciated Dean's pronouncement that "Driver picks the music; shotgun shuts his cakehole" at the time, but now he found humor in it, and wished he could razz Dean about it again. As often as he'd offered to transfer Dean's music to CDs, he had to admit to himself that the cassettes were as much a part of his brother as the 'Pala was.

As Dean sat there and listened to his favorite classic rock, Sam stayed beside him, happy for the moment that at least in this Dean could find some peace and comfort.

Bobby sighed deeply then opened the laptop, no more ready to look through its contents than Dean was, but he wasn't going to insist Dean do it himself. If the boy said he wasn't ready, then he wasn't ready.

He pressed the power button and waited while the machine booted up. When the wallpaper that Sam had in use appeared, Bobby felt a lump clog his throat. Before him was a photo he'd forgotten about, but seeing it he remembered the day it'd been taken. He and the boys were at the Roadhouse, joking around. Ellen snapped the photo just as Dean had finished telling a joke. Sam's head was thrown back in laughter, his eyes closed and his mouth wide open, and Bobby could swear he could still hear the belly laugh as it erupted from Sam. His own face was split into a wide grin as he looked at Dean, who had a mischievous smirk going of his own.

Thinking of that day put a momentary smile on Bobby's face, until he reminded himself what he was supposed to be doing. Sighing once more, he ran his finger over the touch pad and began clicking on icons, one after another, looking through files, until he hit pay-dirt.

Dean sat behind the wheel of the Impala, and as Zeppelin rocked through the speakers, he wished with every bone in his body that Sammy was sitting beside him, giving him hell about his music. How often had the kid tried to convince him to move his tunes to CDs? Dean hadn't wanted any part of it, and he still didn't. But Sam, if you were here and started ragging on me about it, maybe I'd agree just to see the shocked look on your face. It was always fun getting a rise out you. You were so easy....

So many hours they'd spent together in this car, crossing the country back and forth in search of cases they thought they could solve. How many times had he looked over at Sam and felt actual contentment that he had his brother with him again, that he didn't have to move from town to town, case to case, and deal with them all alone?

He could admit to himself that his brother had been a good hunter. Damn good. How many times had they saved each other's asses? More times than he could count. But no more. Never again would he be able to look over at Sam and know that yet again they'd taken care of business and helped someone. I don't think I have it in me to do this anymore, Sammy. I'm tired. I'm done. Finished.

When Dean finally returned to the house a couple hours later, he glanced across the room toward Bobby's desk. Sam's laptop was closed and sitting on top of the clutter, so Dean assumed that Bobby had done as he asked and gone through it. Bobby, on the other hand, wasn't in sight. "Bobby?" Dean called out, and when there wasn't a response, he got curious. He searched through the house, and finding it empty, he shrugged his shoulders, figuring maybe Bobby had headed out to his shop. He retraced his steps and went back outside, this time crossing the yard toward the large shed Bobby used for his mechanic garage. The door was open, so Dean walked through it into the darkness within.

No lights were on; the only illumination coming in was from a couple dirty windows to the left. "Bobby?" Dean called out, his voice husky with concern. There was no reply, and Dean was just about ready to turn and leave when he heard a scuffling noise in a dark corner to his right, near the small office Bobby had set up there. Dean turned and made his way through the shadows, stopping in the open doorway.

His gaze fell on the slumped figure at the desk, a nearly empty bottle of Jim Beam close at hand. "Bobby—" Dean muttered as he moved forward.

When he reached out to place a hand on Bobby's shoulder, the older man roused enough to look blearily up at Dean. "Wha--?"

"Bobby..." Dean said as he moved behind and struggled to get the man to his feet. As dead-ass drunk as Bobby was, Dean knew he'd have a hard time getting him back to the house and upstairs. He wasn't about to leave his friend here. "C'mon, man, let's get you back to the house."

It took them several minutes to get there, but by the time Dean got Bobby into the house and to the living room couch, Bobby's legs gave out underneath him. Dean guided him the rest of the way to the cushions, where Bobby proceeded to pass out. Dean collapsed on the chair nearby and with a gusty sigh, leaned his head back and closed his eyes.

Sam watched and followed along as Dean struggled to guide Bobby across the yard. He knew that it was his fault the two men were hitting the hooch as heavily as they were, Bobby especially, since Sam knew that Bobby'd had an alcohol problem in the past after he'd killed his wife. As with everything else that had happened surrounding his death and its aftermath, the guilt rode his shoulders. Had the tables been turned and he was mourning Dean, he knew he'd be the one sucking down the booze like it was water. It didn't make him like it any better, though, seeing what his family was going through.

Family. Yeah, Bobby was as much a part of his family as Dean was. Since their dad died, Sam had come to love Bobby just as Dean did, trusting him and going to him whenever they needed his advice or help on a case. It was why, when he decided to leave a letter for Dean on his computer, he left one for Bobby as well.

Sam knew that his letter had made Bobby go for the liquor cabinet. Bobby read the letters, and--Shit, Bobby...I'm so sorry that my last words to you were that painful to read. Fresh guilt wrapped around Sam and it ripped him to shreds wondering what his letter to Dean would do to his brother when he read it.

When Bobby came to, he felt like hammered shit. He slowly sat up and groaned at the light coming in through the windows, and the sounds coming from the other room. His voice hoarse, he called out, even as he pressed a hand to his throbbing skull, "Dean? Boy, ya in there?"

When Dean stepped into the doorway separating the living room from the kitchen, he commented dryly, "Back among the living, are we?"

Bobby growled softly, "Shut up, idjit," as he struggled to his feet. He stumbled across the room and moved past Dean toward the sink. He took his cap off and after putting it to the side on the counter, leaned over and splashed his face with water.

Having been right where Bobby was all too many times, Dean still couldn't resist teasing him as Bobby groaned and moved to sit at the kitchen table. Leaning forward, Bobby rested his head on his arms, burying his face to block out the offending light that insisted on blazing through his skull.

Dean pulled out another chair and the sound of the legs scraping across the floor brought another growl from Bobby.

"Sorry." Sitting down, Dean leaned back, his legs extended out in front of him, his ankles crossed. Softening his voice, he asked, "I assume you looked through Sam's computer files. Was it bad?" He watched as the man he considered another father lifted his head and glared at him.

"He left letters, for you and me."

"What letters?" Dean asked, even as he got a bit pissed off at Sam for leaving some kind of shit on the computer that screwed with Bobby's head and made him hit the bottle. He leaned forward and rested his arms on the table as he continued to watch Bobby.

"Letters, idjit. Freakin' goodbye letters." Bobby said as he rubbed his temples that throbbed like a mutha. "They were probably his version of a will." Lifting his gaze to meet Dean's, Bobby couldn't hold back the moisture that filled his eyes. "That boy—" He couldn't finish the sentence for the lump of emotion that clogged his throat.

Dean understood. He hated that what he'd asked Bobby to do made his friend and mentor head for the bottle, but what's done was done. He just didn't think he was ready to face Sam's letter to him. None of that 'chick flick' shit Sam always liked to bring up. Not yet, if ever. He knew he'd have to, though. Sammy'd had something to say to him, and, well, fuck it. He'd read it. Will that make you happy, Sam? Damn you. Why this? Why now? You had to get yourself killed, and now you put Bobby and I through this bullshit?

Sam looked on, his heart heavy, as Dean and Bobby talked about him and the letters he'd written to them just a few months earlier. If I'd known how it would bother them, I would've done it differently Sam told himself. I wanted them to know how I feel about them. I just didn't think...

When Dean rose from the table, leaving Bobby to his hangover, he reluctantly passed through into the living room and to Bobby's desk. The laptop sat there, silent, yet Dean could hear a voice screaming at him from inside his own mind saying you don't want to do this, man. Give it some time. It's not going anywhere. Never one to shirk what he knew had to be done, he sat in the chair and, taking a deep breath and releasing it loudly, he reached out and opened the lid.

Once the computer was booted up and he saw the photo used as wallpaper, Dean smiled. He remembered the day it was taken, and he could still hear the bark of laughter as it came out of Sam after the joke was told. Dean grinned. That'd been a favorite joke of his. He wondered if Bobby remembered that day, and if he'd been as surprised to see it as he had.

Bobby had left a sticky note with the names of the files Sam had left for them. Dean closed his eyes momentarily, not wanting to do this, but he also wanted to get it over with. Damn, Sammy. You're still a pain in the ass. He clicked on the icon named Dean and once it was open, began to read.

Dean—

God, I wish I didn't feel I have to write this. I would've said all this

to you in person, but I know how much you hate chick-flick moments.

Too bad because this is going to be all that and more. I need to say

some things, and I need you to stick with me here and let me say it,

ok?

Dean groaned. That's just like Sam to spread on the guilt. Bring it on, dude. I'm here, reading this, just like you wanted.

Ok…if you're still with me, then this means that, for whatever reason,

I'm dead. I'm sorry, Dean. I don't know what happens, but I want you

to know I'm sorry. Sorry that I'm gone. Sorry that you're having to

go on without me. Sorry for everything. This sucks, man. I didn't

want this to happen, obviously, but it has, and I know that you will

be fine. You have to let me go. Move on. You don't have to keep

hunting, though. I want you to have a happy life, Dean, whatever that

means. I want you to have your own family—wife, children, dog, house

with white picket fence—or whatever your equivalent is. Just don't give

up and think you're not worthy of it, Dean. You are, you more than any-

one I know.

I'd give anything to still be with you, but you know what? It's ok, too.

We've always figured our lives would end in battle of some sort, right?

I'm pretty sure that's how I'll bite it, but you know…it is what it is. I

just don't want you to go out looking for revenge. Promise me that, ok?

It won't do me any good, and you don't need it on your conscience. Let

it go. For me.

Do me a favor? Watch out for Bobby. He's crusty and stubborn and he doesn't like these moments any more than you do, but do this for me any-way, ok? Help each other. Just sayin'.

Ok, here's the hard part. I love you, Dean. You've been the best big

brother a guy could ever have, attitude and all. You raised me, and you

were a better father to me than Dad ever was. Thanks for that. I just

wish I would've told you so more often, but then, we never did that, did

we? I know you love me. Thanks for that too.

I'll look in on you from time to time. I'll give Mom a hug for you.

See you around…

Sam

Dean leaned his head on his hands and wept.

Sam stood in the corner of the room and watched his brother read the letter, and when Dean's shoulders began to shake with his sobs, Sam hung his head and felt like crying also. He was glad that Dean read the whole thing, though, that he'd allowed Sam to say what he wanted to say. Thanks, Dean.

He crossed the room to stand beside Dean, wanting so much to be seen or heard one last time. He laid a hand on Dean's shoulder, and with a silent prayer sent upward, said Dean...I'm here with you. Hear me. Feel my touch...

Dean raised his head and lifted a hand to wipe the tears from his face and missed Sam so much. He wished he could turn back time for just one more chance to see his brother, to hear him speak, to tell Sam what he'd never chosen to put into words. He hadn't needed to, though. Sam knew.

Sam, he said silently, hoping wherever his brother was he'd hear him. I heard you. Thanks.

Sam smiled.

~*~*~

Sam lingered, watching as Dean and Bobby got on with their lives. He wasn't surprised that Dean returned to hunting. It was a large part of who his brother was and Sam knew Dean wouldn't give it up abruptly just because he was gone. It was important to continue helping people, and hunting was the way Dean chose to do that.

Sam had been gone for several months and as much as he wished he could stay, he knew he couldn't. He wasn't doing anyone, himself included, any good by staying, and as time passed he'd felt a pull on him from somewhere, something, getting stronger and stronger. He knew he couldn't struggle against it much longer. The need to stay and continue watching over Dean and Bobby wasn't as strong as it was at first, and he knew it was because the men would be fine. He could go, and he realized he was ready.

He was in Dean's motel room, watching from a corner of the room as his brother slept. Dean was on a hunt, and had sat up late that night doing research on Sam's, now his own, computer.

As Sam gazed at Dean, his thoughts full of times they'd spent together in hundreds of motel rooms just like this one, a soft light began to coalesce in the center of the room, growing brighter by the second. Sam moved closer, sensing that his time there was coming to an end.

The bright light formed into two figures, their faces radiant with love.

Sam gazed at them, and his heart filled with happiness. "Mom. Jess."

Mary held out her hand, and said, "Sam. It's time, son."

Jessica moved closer to Sam and when she reached his side, she reached up to caress his face. "Are you ready, baby?"

Sam looked at her, then at his mom, with love in his eyes. "Yeah, I am. But Dean—"

"Dean will be fine, and you know that, Sam. You've known that for a while now." Mary moved to his other side and reached for his hand and held it in hers. "Let's go."

Nodding his head, Sam turned for one last, long look at Dean asleep on the bed, then with a smile, walked with the women into the Light.

Dean, asleep, smiled and said softly, "Sam..."

finis