Summary: Dean meets Michael and realizes that he's ready to let go. Sam, not so much.
Notes: A big thank you to Psychee and Slaybelle 69 for the beta reading. A big shout out to Emrys1 for the beta reading and suggestions. For some reason, this fic has been a huge effort to write. The story is written from Dean's perspective and then Sam's.
Hope you enjoy reading.
== DEAN ==
The change was tiny and unexpected and later he would reflect how those moments captured in unreality would be the things that made everything real.
The change came because one night Dean Winchester dreamed that he was in a field.
White clouds skipped across a blue sky and a soft breeze gently bowed the stalks of wheat towards the horizon.
He stood in the middle of nowhere but instead of the usual fear, and the desperate searching for Sam, there was nothing. He was content to stand and look and let the sun beat down on him and warm his bones.
The field was endless and it was everywhere. Dean held out his hands on either side, let them drift over the wheat as he lazily wandered off in no particular direction.
In this place there were no worries. There were no burdens.
And woke up. Not with a start, not with his heart pumping from a sudden jolt of adrenaline and not in the half scream of a nightmare. It was just a simple reconnection with the world.
Sam was already up.
"Hey," said Sam.
"Hey," replied Dean.
He got out of bed, showered and dressed. They went to get breakfast.
He remembered the dream for weeks.
The dreams didn't happen every night, but they seemed to be more frequent after a bad hunt, or encounters with either faction of the Armageddon.
He would go to bed weary and depressed and in the back of his mind he would be poised for the nightmares that were inevitably triggered by his day-to-day life and by the memories of hell that he could never quite manage to ignore. But the nightmares never seemed to happen. Instead, to his surprise, he'd be back in the field. Or a beach. Or in a forest.
In those places it was nearly always summer or the start of autumn. He was always alone. He felt whole. He felt like it was okay to be Dean Winchester.
He began sleeping longer.
Sam was the one who commented on it first.
"Dude, you slept in."
Sam pointed to his watch. "It's like, nine. I was going to wake you but..."
The sentence was left unfinished but Dean knew what Sam meant. Dean had been living on less than six hours sleep for years now. Dean Winchester did not sleep late, lounging around in bed on a Sunday morning, reading the paper. No, he startled back to consciousness and then tried to function.
The diner wasn't far from the motel. Dean stood outside, considered the weather. It was near the end of winter.
"Let's walk," he said.
Sam's mouth dropped open. "You don't want to take the car?"
He shrugged. "No. I feel like walking. The weather's good and we've got nowhere to be for a couple of days."
Sam smiled at him and Dean thought it was strange that he couldn't remember the last time Sam had smiled like that.
They usually went to bars. To hustle pool for money, to be surrounded by people that were like them – people there to forget, to have a good time, to drink away their troubles. Dean understood drinking away troubles. He'd done it since he was fifteen.
Not that he got drunk these days. He just knocked back enough shots to take the edge off. No real joy in the act. It was like taking medication. Line them up, throw them back. Enough not to feel anything any more and maybe enough get a couple of hours of unbroken sleep.
For some reason tonight he didn't feel like drinking until the bar closed. He thought it might be because he wanted to remember his dreams instead of forgetting.
He decided not to drink shots. There was only one beer for the night, and some pretzels.
Sam kept giving him funny looks. Sam asked him, "Are you alright?"
It spoke volumes that Sam thought his brother was upset because there wasn't any drinking, or insomnia.
Dean nodded. "I'm good."
He wasn't lying.
It took him two months to figure out what he felt in his dreams. The name of the feeling hit him as he waded to his ankles in the warm waters of the sea, against a backdrop of sand dunes.
He felt safe.
A concept so foreign to him, so lost to time, that he could barely remember it to give it a name.
When had he stopped feeling safe? Was it when his father thrust his baby brother into his arms in the middle of the flames, his mother burning to death on the ceiling and told him to run? Was it when he knew that his father could never truly protect him? When he looked into his father's eyes and saw those eyes harden over the years and knew that no matter what he did, he would never be good enough?
He walked into the water, up to his knees and his eyes caught a flash of silver in the blue water. A shoal of tiny fish flitted under the surface, their sides catching the light. He watched them swim around the for a while before they headed back off to deeper water.
Something else caught his eye, off in the distance, down at the end of the beach and he couldn't quite make out what it was but he had no sense of alarm.
Dean merely blinked and then found himself awake in his bed.
The first time Dean laughed, out loud, in public, Sam stopped and stared. Bewildered. Dean had actually laughed at the antics of a squirrel.
"You're... Uh..." Sam couldn't seem to finish.
Dean chuckled. "I know."
"I don't remember the last time you did that," said Sam.
Dean could. When he'd exited the whorehouse with Cas. It seemed a lifetime ago.
"So you think it's weird?" His tone wasn't accusatory. He just wanted to know what Sam was thinking.
"In a good way," added Sam hastily.
"You want to go see a movie?"
"Sure. That'd be great."
Their relationship was changing. It was changing with Dean and somewhere along the way, Dean got his brother back. They began talking to each other. In real ways. About their life together.
He wondered if he'd mellowed with age at long last, even though he was only in his early thirties.
Maybe that was it. He was no longer so frantic about protecting Sam, anxious from memories of hell that hit him when he least expected it, exhausted from lack of sleep, dazed from injury and pain, numb from drinking and trying to forget.
There was a slow but steady slide towards a more relaxed state of existence for both of them.
Sam looked at him closely over the table and furrowed his brow as he concentrated. "This is going to sound crazy but you look younger."
They were in a diner somewhere in Iowa. Dean had forgone a cheeseburger in favor of soup. The dreams had wiped five years off his face.
"Huh," replied Dean. He didn't say anything else.
"Is there something going on that I should know about?"
Dean shook his head. "Nothing."
"It's just that it's been so..."
"Yeah. Good. The hunts are still the same but you know, afterwards, you're not so-"
Dean finished the sentence for him. "-Fucked up."
Sam nodded. "I shouldn't be worried, should I?"
"I mean, it's not something stupid. Like a spell, or a deal."
Back in the old days Dean would have taken offense at the implications from his brother's questions. Of presuming he was dumb enough to make yet another stupid bargain with shitty terms. These days, however, it didn't seem to be worth the energy or all that important.
"I'll tell you. Just don't think I'm nuts or anything."
Sam got his serious I'm listening face on.
"I remember my dreams."
"I never remembered my dreams. Just the nightmares. Then about four months back I started having these really great dreams."
Sam nodded and looked like he was trying to understand, even though it was clear that he didn't. On the positive side, Sam didn't query it for the rest of the day.
His dreams evolved. The field now contained a farm house. It was a beautiful house and sparsely furnished. There was a fireplace and an ancient stove.
Later on a dog turned up. A black Labrador. Goofy and overly enthusiastic. It ran crazily around the field, around the house and into Dean demanding to be played with. Dean called him Dog.
Dean threw sticks and he threw the ball that mysteriously turned up on the couch one day. He patted Dog on the head, scratched his belly, hugged him, and lay down on the ground to fall asleep with Dog stretched out beside him.
Sometimes Dog would suddenly put his head up, stare out into the distance, whine a little before putting his head back down. Dean would squint out to the horizon as well, and every so often he'd catch that glimmer again.
But it was okay. Dean knew that whatever it was, was meant to be.
"Hey, come on, wake up."
Someone was shaking him. He woke up curled on his side, under blankets, clutching a pillow to his chest. He'd been doing that a lot lately. Moving into this semi-fetal position in his sleep and wrapping himself around whatever was to hand. Sam had joked about a fondness for substitute teddy bears.
"What's the time?" He asked although he knew the answer would be that it was late. He glanced at his watch. Eleven. He'd hit the mattress at ten in the evening. Sam sometimes said that Dean was sleeping the sleep-of-the-dead. He didn't sound like he was joking.
There was a job to do over in Little Rock.
He didn't mind them so much now. The job was simply a job. There was no doubt that they would win, this was something he now understood with clarity.
No matter what happened on the hunts, it wasn't in anyone's best interests for the Winchesters to die.
Dean made Sam celebrate his birthday that year. They weren't much for birthdays but this was the year Dean decided that they needed to recognize the fact that they were born and they'd made it this far.
"That's a miracle right there," he'd said through a mouthful of birthday cake. They'd picked it up from a local bakery. Dean had made them ice, "Happy Birthday Sam" on the frosting and insisted on loading the cake with candles.
Sam drew the line at blowing them out and making a wish but relented after about thirty seconds of watching the growing flames light up the room.
Dean had bought a present. He thrust the gift at Sam, embarrassed as Sam tore into the wrapping.
"It's a journal," said Sam.
"Yeah, I thought you could use it."
"This is – it's great!" Sam grabbed Dean into a fierce and unexpected bear hug.
"I guess you like it," said Dean laughing.
Sam pushed Dean back, grinned. "Yeah, you jerk."
And just then, the mood changed as Sam got serious. Sam hesitated more before speaking these days, seemingly afraid that the grace period they were experiencing would evaporate if he kept prodding in an attempt to get answers.
"Okay, don't go ballistic on me but I've gotta know. Please tell me that you didn't make a deal. Promise me."
Dean frowned, put his hand on Sam's shoulders, upset that his brother was upset. "Jesus Christ, Sammy. I told you, I didn't make a deal, there's nothing supernatural. Just dreams. That's all."
Sam shook his head. "You know it's more than that. I don't want to look a gift horse in the mouth but there has to be a catch. There's always a catch."
Dean shrugged. "Yeah. But you know what? I think it's okay. I mean, it's hard to explain, but really, it's okay."
"Dean. You're not... You're not Dean any more."
Dean nodded. "Actually I think I am. Finally."
His reply seemed to undo his brother and Dean did what he always did of late. He tried to reassure Sam.
"It's okay, Sam. Everything is gonna be okay."
"Stop saying that! I'm sick of hearing it!"
Sam was pacing around the room.
"Well, it's about all you're gonna get, 'cause I don't know what else to tell you."
Sam stopped pacing and turned to face Dean. "How do you know it's going to be okay?"
"I just do," replied Dean.
His brother paced some more. Sam looked like he was going to cry. "I can't go through it again. Being by myself and just trying to survive."
"Sam, I'm not going anywhere."
"I think you're lying."
Dean sighed as he struggled to find the words to express himself and failed. "Look, I don't know what's going to happen but everything will work out fine. I can't explain more than that."
"Well, try. Try to explain," said Sam. His tone was angry.
Dean reached up and put his hand on top of Sam's head and ruffled his hair, much like he had when Sam had been all of ten. Sam was hurting and Dean wished to God he knew what to say but it was impossible. Sam angrily batted away Dean's hand.
"Trust me on this baby brother. It's just a bunch of dreams, nothing bad will happen and you'll marry and have kids and live to be ninety."
Sam gawked at him instead of replying. Dean picked up the TV Guide he'd bought, along with the cake.
"Oh good, Dr. Sexy is on. We can watch this and go and get pizza."
He turned on the TV, and Sam settled down beside him.
There didn't seem to be any point in fighting any more.
He was sitting on the steps, trying to learn how to play a guitar when he noticed that the shimmer in the distance was turning into something solid.
Dog stood up, quivering in excitement, his barks of joy startling the birds in the tree.
"What's up, boy?"
Dean looked in the direction indicated by Dog. A man was walking down the driveway towards the house.
He was plainly dressed in jeans, a shirt and sneakers. His hair fell in sandy curls to his shoulders and to Dean, it seemed the man was faintly glowing in the sun as if he was taking the sunlight, collecting it and throwing it back out into the air.
The man moved casually towards him and Dean just couldn't raise enough of his usual suspicion to wonder why this guy had suddenly turned up out of nowhere. It was much like the appearance of Dog. He wasn't here before and now he was and it was all good.
Instead of asking for proof of identity, or searching for holy water, Dean said, "Hey."
The man smiled, walked up to him, stopping at the foot of the steps.
"Hello," said the man. Then he smiled at him, warmly and with care. Really, it was a very terrific smile. The sort of smile that made Dean realize that he was in the presence of someone who would make sure he was never hurt again.
The man bent to scratch Dog behind the ears.
Dean considered him for a moment, felt all the clues in his brain clicking together to form an answer.
"I think I know who you are," said Dean.
"Yes," said the man. "I think you do."
Michael laid a hand on Dean's shoulder and he suddenly felt as if his heart would literally burst with joy.
"Yes," said the archangel.
But of course despite Dean's confidence of the past few months, despite his profound unshakable belief that this was right, he just had to question. Maybe Sam was correct about being stuck in another awful deal and just at that moment doubt came flooding back.
There was the rumble of thunder from a long way off.
Michael turned back, frowned slightly at the faint smudge of dark clouds dumping rain miles away.
"Let's go inside. I've a feeling you have many questions."
Dean nodded, walked beside the archangel up the steps and onto the veranda and inside the house. Dog dutifully followed, tail wagging madly. When they were inside, Micheal sat in an over stuffed armchair that Dean couldn't remember ever being there. A fire was going but it didn't seem to give off any heat.
Michael beckoned for Dean to sit down on the couch but Dean decided to stand because his training and his obstinate nature kicked in and his previous experience with the creatures of Heaven left him with a lingering suspicion.
The angel regarded him for a moment, but didn't seem inclined on butting heads with this particular Winchester. Dean reconsidered and sat down. Dog jumped up on the couch, insisted on putting his head in Dean's lap. Dean patted Dog and wondered what he should ask without the archangel taking offense.
Michael smiled at him again, seemingly amused, and began speaking instead.
"This is my gift to you."
Dean knew what he meant - understood completely. "But it's not real."
"No. But you'll experience this as your life. That makes it real," said Michael.
He felt like he was going to cry because he knew what it could mean, and it scared him. "I've been through this before."
"The Djinn wanted you for his own purposes."
"And you don't?"
"You're my vessel, Dean. There is no escaping that fact. But you exist to save the world through me. For that, for everything you've been forced to give up, for everything you'll give up to do this one thing, you won't suffer any longer."
Rain was beginning to fall. It pattered against the windows, smearing the dirt on them. Dean couldn't remember if the windows had ever been dirty.
"I've been tired for a while now," said Dean.
Michael nodded, his expression neutral. "Heaven understands this. My Father understands this. This is why we offer you this place."
"There's no one here except for me and Dog."
"It doesn't have to be that way. You can ask for what you want, and within reason you'll have it."
Dean paused. Oh yeah, there was the hook. "So, it's not really my place. Just for me. You'll control everything."
The archangel cocked his head to one side as he tried to understand the human sitting in front of him. "You misunderstand. We don't want you to inadvertently hurt yourself. With the trials you've been through it's possible you'll ask for things that you feel should punish you. In fact, you're doing it now." He pointed towards the window and the rain outside was morphing into hail that fell with the weight of rocks.
"Oh," said Dean. He changed the subject. "You don't talk like the other angels. Uriel. Zachariah. Cas."
"I've been studying humanity longer," replied Michael. He started again. "You've been fighting your whole life, and it's the only life you know. If you bring that into existence here then you'll re-create hell. So... Yes. There are limits to what you can do."
Dean couldn't help it. He smirked a little. "I'll get bored."
"I doubt it," said Michael.
His brain was working over time. He had questions and he was fully prepared to be told what he really wanted wasn't possible but he'd try asking anyway.
"Can I have other people here?"
Michael nodded. "Yes. For the most part, the answer would be yes."
Dean drew in a breath. "Can my Mom and Dad be here?"
He watched the angel close his eyes as if was having a conversation with someone in his head. "Yes. They can't be here permanently but they'll be here when you need them."
Dean breathed out, his heart starting to beat harder and faster. "Jo and Ellen?"
Michael laughed. "Of course. I couldn't keep him away."
Dean got to the last and most important person on his list. He could hardly hear over the sound of blood rushing in his ears. Dog leaned into him.
Michael paused. Dean waited and it was a full minute before the angel spoke again, his face unreadable.
"I can't promise anything, but it's entirely possible."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Dean, your brother has struggled more than you can ever know. He has prayed fervently. He prayed for help and forgiveness even when he knew the truth about himself. God has never been against him and if Sam can stay the course of refusing to host Lucifer then all will be well."
"Then I have to go back and make sure Sam can do that. Stay on course. I don't want him to wind up like me."
"You mean you don't want him to be sent to hell."
Dean nodded. "If he goes dark side, if he says 'yes' to Lucifer I'm pretty sure that's eternal damnation. He can't go down there. I won't let him go there."
If Michael was beginning to get annoyed with Dean's skittishness, he didn't show it. He didn't look at Dean. Instead he studied the fireplace.
"What makes you think that Sam cannot do this without you?"
"Sam... Sam has his moments." And by moments, he meant those little peeks into Sam's state of mind that revealed how angry Sam could get when he thought he was being treated unfairly or how blind he could get to any other point of view when he thought he had to correct a grave injustice.
"The universe is moving on its axis, turning to other moments in time. To an end and a beginning. Both you and Sam determine the outcome," said Michael.
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
The archangel seemed to find Dean's choice of words amusing. "That you should trust that everything will be fine."
"That's what I told Sam," replied Dean.
"But deep down, you find it hard to trust, so this is difficult for you." Michael stood up from his chair, covered the gap to the couch. Dog immediately moved aside. "Know this - Sam is necessary to this story and God does not care what Sam has done, merely why he did it. Everything he has done to this point has been for you."
Dean found himself hemmed in by Michael on one side and the arm of the couch on the other and unable to move. "Including the bit where he tried to strangle me?"
"Sometimes God's sheep can stray from the path," replied Michael. "Sam deeply regrets his actions. He begs God's forgiveness almost every night. He prays for your forgiveness."
Dean looked aghast. "I already forgave him."
"Yes. He just doesn't realize it yet," said Michael. He paused a moment before continuing. "Dean, too many people have placed too many responsibilities on your shoulders. That includes the responsibility of saving your brother. Dean, this is the way that Sam is saved."
They were back to square one again. He had precisely two seconds to feel okay about something and now he wanted to scream in frustration. He liked this place, didn't want to admit it, knew that Michael was telling the truth but the disenfranchised child inside of him could only throw himself to the ground and demand that people stop telling him what to do.
"I don't understand."
"If I'm first to become one with my vessel, then I can protect Sam and put a stop to all of this. I'm more powerful than Lucifer. Sam is kept safe, Lucifer is sent back to hell."
"You're not just saying that?"
Michael laughed again. It was bright and good humored. "I'm an archangel. One of the only angels that has ever seen the face of God. I think you can be assured that I'm telling you the truth."
"If you win, do I get to go back?"
"No. What Castiel told you was true. I'm too powerful for a human body to contain without permanent damage."
"So, I'm not getting a get-out-of-jail-free card?"
Michael shook his head. "I'm afraid not. But you'll be here and you'll be cared for. You'll be safe. You'll be loved. You'll have friends and I shall be here with you when I can."
But Sam... It always came back to Sam.
"The last time I left, it nearly destroyed him."
"Dean, no one gets to leave this life without experiencing grief. Grief hurts, hurts people so badly that they sometimes lose themselves. This time he'll be protected. Castiel has been instructed to watch over him and care for him."
With that, there didn't seem to be much more to think about. Michael's reasonings were logical, rational, and so very tempting.
But more importantly, he knew he hadn't been lying to Sam. It really would be okay. If Dean fulfilled his destiny, Sam would be saved from his.
The hail storm stopped as he stood up.
Michael faced him, arms opened wide to embrace him. "Are you ready?"
And Dean was surprised. Because he was. He really was. He'd been ready for a long time.
Dean stepped forward, felt the arms wrap around him, and the world glowed warm and sweet and peace descended.
"Yes," he whispered.
== SAM ==
He woke up early. It was six in the morning and the light had just started to nudge through the curtains. Dean was standing in the middle of the room, watching him.
Sam knew – just knew.
This was not his brother.
He went through the motions anyway.
His Not-Brother smiled at him.
Sam felt a childish urge to pull the covers over his head and pretend none of this was happening. Instead he pushed himself to action. He pulled a knife out from under his pillow – a habit he'd acquired during Dean's last absence – and leaped out of bed, prepared to fight.
"Who are you?" He demanded in an angry voice. Not that he hadn't guessed already.
Sam took an aggressive step forward, brandishing the knife, knowing full well that his bravado would be meaningless to an archangel.
"Give him back," demanded Sam.
Michael took a step to meet him. He seemed puzzled by the knife and Sam's attitude.
"Can't or won't?"
Sam could feel his legs trembling. It was happening again and he didn't think he'd ever get over these things that left him alone.
"He's gone, isn't he?" Sam nearly died himself saying those words.
His Not-Brother nodded, stepped forward again and extended a hand to lay it on Sam's shoulder.
"Gone from here, but not gone forever. You'll see him again if we can stop Lucifer."
"I don't know Samuel and even if I did, it isn't my place to say."
Sam felt a wave of dizziness pass over him. He wanted to scream with the anguish but couldn't let himself go there. It would be a sign of weakness and he didn't want to appear weak. He summoned his anger instead.
"What am I supposed to do?"
"Stay here until I command that you leave."
Michael looked at him like he was trying hard to stay mad at a small child. "You must obey me."
"And if I don't?"
"The consequences would be dire."
"Don't threaten me."
"It wasn't a threat. I was stating a fact. You would lose your soul. The world would die."
Sam shrugged away from Michael and felt his legs buckling, felt his knees hit the crusty motel carpet that was ingrained with dirt from too many years of perfunctory vacuum cleaning.
His Not-Brother was looking upwards to the ceiling.
"I must go."
Sam shot his hand forward, managed to grab the edge of Michael's jeans."Don't leave me!"
Michael blinked, smiled sadly at him. "Sam, it'll be okay."
That phrase – his brother's phrase. So shockingly familiar Sam instantly let go and in a rush of air Michael was gone.
Sam crumpled and folded the rest of the way, his torso falling onto the floor and he could do nothing but wail his grief to the world.
He wasn't entirely sure how long he remained prone on the carpet. It was long enough that the light streaming through the windows had begun to dim. His logical, college trained brain kept telling him to get off the floor, to get up, to do something. Anything. But Michael had issued his command and Sam didn't have the energy to disobey so he just continued to lie where he was, feeling numb and dead.
He didn't need to look to know who it was. Castiel.
There didn't seem to be any point in replying. Castiel was an angel, he would know what was going on and Sam couldn't be bothered with the discussion.
Air was displaced as Castiel sat down on the floor beside him.
"It does you no good to be like this. I can assure you that Dean is fine."
"Dean is dead you junkless piece of angel shit," replied Sam with as much vehemence as he could muster. It felt good to call the angel 'junkless' and curse the angel because that's what Dean would have done. Well, to Zachariah anyway. Not to Castiel though, 'cause Castiel was one of the good guys. Not that Sam cared.
If Castiel was taken aback by the insult, he didn't show it. "I understand that you are angry but this is God's plan and Dean has submitted to God's will."
"Dean never submitted to anything in his life. He would rather fight than do this."
"If that is what you think then I am not sure that you understand your brother."
"Don't you say that because you don't know. Dean was my brother. Not yours. So shut the fuck up." The anger was helping him with his desire to move again. He sat up.
Castiel offered his hand, hauled Sam to his feet. "I raised Dean from perdition. I saw him at his worst, the contents of his soul. I know him. He has been tired for a long time. He has been wanting this to end."
Sam broke away from him, made for the door, insulted. How dare he? How dare one of Heaven's little foot soldiers tell him that in the end he didn't know his own brother as well as he should.
Castiel blocked his way and wouldn't let him out. Sam's rage grew. Here was someone else telling him what he could and couldn't do and that someone wasn't Dean.
When he raised his hand and tried pulling Castiel out of the body of Jimmy, he wasn't sure why, or what he thought he was doing. He certainly didn't have enough power but he couldn't even think straight and it seemed a way to channel the pain he was feeling.
He watched as Castiel's eyes went wide with surprise, and nothing much happened. It was more of a hiccup than an exorcism.
"Sam, this is pointless."
Of course it was pointless. He knew that too but he was cornered and enraged and grief swirled around inside of him like a tornado, destroying rational thought.
He turned his attention to the plates on the table, the left over scraps of cheeseburger and pizza he hadn't cleared away and swiped them onto the floor. Then he picked up a chair and threw it across the room and into a wall. Then he picked up the pieces and smashed a mirror.
Dean was gone, gone forever and Dean wasn't coming back and he fucking hated it.
Castiel made him stay in the motel room for three days.
Sam had raged, and screamed himself into exhaustion before collapsing onto his bed. He'd fallen asleep, worn-out. Despite the yelling and the sounds of smashing furniture, no one investigated, so he put it down to angel interference.
He woke up in the middle of the night and tried calling Bobby, thinking less about telling Bobby the bad news and more about getting Bobby to spring him from his temporary jail. His cellphone just gave him an 'Out of Service' message. Sam figured the lack of cellphone coverage was down to Castiel as well.
On the second day he'd given up completely. He'd crawled back into the bed, and refused to get up, or eat, or even drink water. If he could have figured out a quicker way of ending it all he would have but the guns in the room had vanished, along with his knife.
Castiel seemed concern. "You must take care of yourself."
Sam didn't bother to reply. He just pulled the covers over his head like he'd wanted to when he first saw Michael.
On the third day Castiel physically hauled him out of bed, forced him to drink water, and eat and then made him get into the Impala and start the car.
"Drive," said Castiel.
So, Sam drove. There was nowhere to go in particular but Sam found himself heading towards South Dakota on automatic, heading to the only other family he knew.
When Sam had told Bobby the news about Dean, Bobby had mourned in his own way. Mainly by getting drunk. Sam happily joined him until they both passed out.
He didn't have anywhere else to be so he stayed. The signs of demonic influence completely disappeared on day seven. Hunters called each other, puzzled. Cases dried up.
Bobby concluded that Michael had been successful.
The days passed. Castiel stayed, and wouldn't leave. Perpetually hovering and perpetually pissing Sam off. Sam raged that Michael should let Dean go, even though he knew it was impossible.
Around the end of the third week, Castiel suddenly announced that he was needed elsewhere. He promised he would return as soon as possible. Sam told Castiel not to bother.
"Sam, I am charged with looking after you. Do not do anything stupid while I am gone."
Sam couldn't guarantee any such thing but Bobby said that he'd make sure Sam was okay. Sam wanted to hit Bobby right then and there.
Around the fourth week he was helping Bobby rearrange his book shelves mainly because Bobby had insisted he start being useful and it was time for both of them to quit drinking and get their acts together. There didn't seem to be any point in Sam protesting and he felt like doing something that would take his mind off things.
That was until he found a sheet of paper covered in his brother's scrawl.
The anger came back. He screwed the piece of paper into a ball. Threw it at the fireplace and missed. Bobby went to pick it up.
"Maybe you should think about keeping this," said Bobby.
Sam shook his head. "Fuck him. He left me. He fucking left me even though he said he never would. Asshole."
Bobby raised an eyebrow but didn't say anything else. Just carefully smoothed out the paper and then folded it and tucked it into a jacket pocket, presumably so Sam couldn't get a hold of it again.
"Oh, don't look at me like that," said Sam. "He left you too."
"He would have his reasons. Presumably one of them was to save you."
"I could have saved myself. But he never considered that did he? He always thought I was too stupid to take care of myself."
"Sam, your brother thought no such thing. He just wanted to protect you."
"If he was so damn keen to protect me, why didn't he stay around? He didn't care, he just wanted out and this was a convenient way to do it."
Bobby's hurt tone of voice suggested that Sam had taken things too far but Sam didn't care. There was just a swamp of hurt feelings inside of him, and the confusion and words were pouring out of his mouth and now that he'd started, he couldn't really stop.
"You know, it was supposed to be about us being a team. But he was the one that was always making the decisions, always being the big brother when he didn't have to do it any more. I might have walked away too many times to count but I always came back. He was the one that left. And he never intended on coming back. Ever. Not when he went to hell and not now. So what kind of a man was he really when he thought that leaving me to try and carry on would be a good idea?"
With that, he stormed out of the house, and found himself considering the Impala with ferocity.
His brother's pride and joy. His selfish, self involved, lying asshole brother who had abandoned him.
Sam opened the trunk, hauled out one of Dean's shotguns, and proceeded to shoot the car.
He'd blown out the back window and all of the side windows before Bobby has been able to get his wheelchair down the ramp and stop him.
It had been summer when Michael had first appeared. Autumn was moving into winter when Sam made a decision to leave Bobby's place.
"You're more than welcome to stay on. I can always use a hand, 'specially with me stuck in this damn chair."
Sam considered and almost agreed.
"Bobby, I'll be back in a couple of weeks. I just have to check something out."
"So help me boy, if you're thinking of trying out some hoodoo or black magic or spells or whatever the hell else to get Dean back..."
"I'm not... Jesus, no. I'm not going there."
Sam tried to look as sincere as possible, and even if Bobby doubted him, he didn't express his concern. Which was good, since yeah, Sam was lying his head off.
Old habits died hard.
He drove off and hit up every psychic he could find. The hunter grape vine didn't take long to activate and before he knew it, Bobby was yelling at him over the phone.
Sam hung up and ignored the phone calls and the texting for the next two hundred miles. He continued to search but no one could help, no one could reach Dean because, stating the obvious, Dean was dead. Dean's soul, or his consciousness or whatever it should be called had moved on and it wasn't coming back because people just weren't that keen to escape from the pretty place where they hung out with God all the time. It was pleasant and apparently very nice, and no - no one wanted to leave it voluntarily or involuntarily. Heaven was off limits.
As he was driving back to Louisiana to rehash a conversation he'd had with a voodoo priestess because he had new information, Castiel suddenly popped into the back seat of the Impala. He didn't say anything. He just sat there looking disappointed.
Sam put up with Castiel sitting in silence for about fifty miles before he pulled the car over.
Castiel didn't immediately reply. Instead, he handed over Dean's amulet. Sam had no idea where Castiel had got it from.
"It is time to move on," said Castiel.
"I don't have to do anything I don't want to," muttered Sam, petulant and pissed off all over again.
"No, but now you have the opportunity to truly do what you long to."
The angel disappeared again on that cryptic statement and Sam could only sit in the car and feel the weight of the amulet around his neck. It was his now, that was for certain. He automatically wrapped his hand around the small figure, closed his eyes.
"Dean, if you can hear me, I gotta tell ya – I miss you, man. I miss you so much and I have no idea what I'm gonna do."
At the back of his mind he was hoping for a small hint of Dean, maybe something that whispered instructions to him and told him what to do. He'd spent his entire life protesting about being bossed around and controlled and now that his father and brother were gone, he was lost.
Two days later, he found himself in a small town in Iowa. There was nothing to do and the lead he was following evaporated. Bobby called him again. Bobby had stopped yelling at him and now he wanted Sam to investigate a job in California. San Francisco to be exact.
Hunting jobs were few and far between and Sam needed to keep himself occupied. He took the job even though he was queasy at the thought of revisiting a city that signified his almost forgotten other life.
The haunting turned out to be easily fixed but not so the Impala.
The car died as he tried to drive out of the city.
The mechanic told him that parts were expensive and hard to source. Sam took it as some sort of sign because there was no way that car was ever going to stop. His Dad had taken care of it and Dean had taken care of it and Sam had tried his best. There was always regular servicing and Bobby kept putting aside spare parts and changing them over when required. Sam contacted Bobby. Bobby told him that there was no way to get the Chevy back to South Dakota easily or cheaply.
The guy at the garage wanted him to sell it. A classic car collector would love the Impala, and Sam would make himself a tidy sum of money.
Sam couldn't bring himself to sell the car. Switching on his most earnest expression of what Dean had always termed, 'puppy face', Sam somehow managed to convince the garage owner to keep the car until he could figure out a way to get it back to Bobby's salvage yard.
His cash situation was dire and Dean had always been the one that handled the credit card applications. Mainly because Dean had insisted that only one of them should have a criminal record that could result in life imprisonment. Sam had always followed that rule and breaking it now seemed like a bad idea.
That meant he was stranded in San Fran and Sam wasn't sure what to do next apart from take care of his immediate needs. He managed to find a cheap motel and after a week of slogging his way through the Wanted ads in the newspaper, found himself a job at a bar. These days, there was competition for any and all jobs, even the crap ones.
The past kept hanging around him, reminding him of his life and the things he'd seen and the things he knew. If people came into the bar and seemed ready for a fight Sam didn't presume drugs or alcohol, Sam presumed demonic possession. If a glass broke on the ground, Sam thought it was a ghost or a vengeful spirit.
The motel was too expensive on the pathetic money he earned so he was forced to find somewhere even cheaper and that meant sharing an apartment. The newspaper had screeds of advertisements for roommates and people to share houses with or whatever but most of the rents were out of his price range.
In his weekends he grabbed an extra shift at the bar or tried to get in on a hunt but the demonic activity was non-existent, local hauntings were mostly taken care of, and the monsters and ghouls had gone underground. Like most hunters he was bored and having to find other ways to occupy his time.
One night while he was trying to keep his job by smiling at the paying customers, one of the customers turned out to be an old professor. Professor Brad Kelvin. He'd told Professor Kelvin all those years ago that he was just going on a temporary leave of absence.
Kelvin couldn't seem to believe what he was seeing. He greeted Sam with enthusiasm, wanted to know what had happened to him. The subtext being: why in God's name was Sam serving food in a bar?
Somehow Sam agreed to meet his ex-professor for breakfast the next morning. Kelvin paid. Insisted on being called by his first name. Sam skipped most of the gory details but told the essential truth. Jess was dead. His father was dead. His brother was dead. It was too many losses for someone who hadn't turned thirty yet.
Brad took pity on Sam and invited him to come down to his office at Stanford and talk some more. He didn't bother to talk to Sam about going back to college or anything else, and Sam was grateful for that. Sam didn't want to admit it to himself but he was thankful to talk to someone who wasn't obsessed with all things supernatural. Brad liked people and talking about education and that was the sum total of Brad's interests.
Sam managed to find a place to stay about two weeks later and although he wasn't thrilled with having to share an apartment, it turned out to be not-so-bad. His other two roommates were thoroughly normal. One of them even went to church on Sunday and played in a Christian rock band. Sam, for reasons he couldn't fathom, found it strangely endearing.
Sometimes, his feet would get itchy and he would book a cheap flight and visit Bobby for the weekend. They would share some beers, and Sam would wander around the yard, hoping to feel Dean's presence but he never did. Bobby kept up on the research when he was asked but few calls came through and there was no suspicious stories in the paper. Bobby shifted his attention from hunting to more productive past times. Bobby, after about 30-years of neglect, had started trying to do home repairs. He'd decided to convert his place so that it could be used by a guy in a wheelchair. His only concession up until that point had been ramp at the front of the house.
Sam helped him paint, and clean. They pulled apart the bathroom and installed a wet room and repositioned the kitchen benches to a lower height. He asked Bobby if he'd heard anything about Michael, or if Dean might be out there somewhere.
Bobby shook his head. "You gotta let it go. It's like you're some kid threatening to hold his breath until you get your favorite toy back."
Sam was offended, as he nearly always was. He packed up and left an hour later.
"Call me," said Bobby.
Sam refused to call for a week.
Brad got Sam a job in Administration, and Sam spent his days helping out with student admissions and the paperwork. Sam put away every spare bit of cash he had and somehow managed to get the Impala out of the city and back to South Dakota.
The days went by and they merged together and one day Sam woke up and life was - well, it wasn't exactly good – but it was okay. He'd slowly carved out his own life, whatever that may be.
He still missed Dean, he still talked to him on occasions at night just before he fell asleep. He never felt Dean's presence or got any sign that Dean had heard him but the act comforted him, so he did it anyway.
A year later, he met a woman. Charlotte Laird. She was a lawyer and did a lot of pro bono work. A friend of Brad. Brad was the one that introduced them. Sam knew he'd been set up, but he'd decided that he was willing to try. To his surprise, they became good friends.
She was the first one to broach the subject over a stack of pancakes in a diner, about a year after they had first met and two-years since he got stranded.
"Okay, I'm going to say something here and I don't want you to take this the wrong way."
He stopped pouring maple syrup onto the pancakes and frowned. "That doesn't sound good."
"Sam, I'm worried about you."
Sam was startled to hear this. "Um, not sure what you mean by that, but, uh thanks for the concern."
"Sam... I love you, you know that. But I wish that you were..." Charlotte hesitated, clearly not sure whether she should go on.
"Okay, I can't eat my pancakes wondering where the hell this is going. 'Fess up," said Sam.
She smiled at him. "You're angry. I don't know why. When you're not angry you're depressed."
He dropped his fork on the plate, his eyes going wide. "I don't know what you mean."
"Sam, you come across as a really decent, nice guy. But it's what's lurking underneath the surface that scares me."
Okay, so he knew where this was going now. "I didn't mean anything by it."
"Sam, you were yelling at him. I thought you were going to hit him."
And by 'him', she meant the poor hapless kid Sam had torn strips off in the administration office because he'd forgotten his tuition payments.
"I feel guilty enough about that already," replied Sam. Because he did. He was getting better but the darkness had a nasty habit of poking its head out when Sam thought he had it under control. Worse, it happened not when Sam was wronged himself, but when Sam thought it was about other people. He found himself upset by other people's behavior. He had become the guy that cursed up a storm when he got cut off on the freeway. "Besides, Brad tore me a new one when he heard about it. I'm sworn to good behavior."
Charlotte sighed, slid her hand across to his. "I don't know anything about you. A whole year and I know next to nothing."
Sam shrugged his shoulders. "There's nothing much to talk about." Except of course, there was.
She smiled at him, trying to draw him out. "You know you can trust me. Right?"
"Sure," he replied, trying to keep things light. Then he saw her eyebrows climbing up her forehead, in alarm. He looked down to his free hand, which had picked up the fork and the fork was being repeatedly stabbed into the pancakes in a way that suggested he would be just as happy stabbing it into human flesh.
Afraid, he dropped the fork again. Charlotte was right. Totally right. Dean had been gone for two years and he still wasn't over it. Not really. All he did was try to keep his bitterness submerged under the veneer of an average-middle-class-white-guy.
He took a deep breath, let it out.
"I trust you," he replied.
It was the most difficult thing he'd said to another human being in a very long time.
Castiel turned up in the bathroom one night when Sam was staying over at Charlotte's place. Sam was in the middle of taking a leak when the angel of the Lord chose to make an appearance.
"Can't you give a guy some warning?" As he said it, Sam turned his back to a wall and tried to rearrange himself.
"Charlotte is a very nice woman," stated Castiel. "She is kind, thoughtful and generous."
Sam turned to face Castiel. "Yes, thanks. I know that."
"I was just confirming the facts for you."
"Like a unwelcome private detective. Look, it's the middle of the night and we're in a bathroom in my fiancée's apartment. What do you want?"
"She loves you."
"She is a good influence on you."
"Yes, and yes again. To reiterate – what do you want? I mean, I haven't seen you for a while now."
"You need to come with me."
"No I don't. I have to get to my job in about four hours, and I have a life. Leave me alone."
"You need to see this," said Castiel. Then he reached over and put a hand on Sam's shoulder.
The grave was in a potter's field. There was a small headstone with a number and an inscription that said, "Known Only to God."
The town was tiny. Nowheresville in a middle-state that could be anywhere.
Castiel explained what Sam could already guess. "Dean's body was found on the church steps. The sheriff's department tried to identify him but they had no luck. They buried him here."
Sam hadn't been prepared for this because when Michael had left he'd thought that he would somehow get Dean back, or not at all. For some reason his mind hadn't conceived that he'd be standing at his brother's grave, long after the main event.
His mind didn't know how to react.
"Why are you showing me this?"
"I believe it is called closure. That's what Dean told me."
"So, you talked to Dean?" Sam tried to casually ask.
"And he wants you to be happy, Sam. He wants you to live your life because he understands now."
"What does he understand?"
"That life is precious. That you have a brief moment on Earth before passing. So you should live it as fully and with as much joy as you can because it is God's gift to humanity."
Sam snorted in derision because the brother he knew hadn't been big on spouting gooey sentiment. He changed the subject.
"What should I do now? Identify the body?"
"That is your choice. You may consider having the body moved to Lawrence if you wish."
He hadn't thought of that. Yeah, maybe he could shift Dean to a plot closer to their mother. He could visit them maybe. Every so often. But not right now. At the moment the thought of going through the paperwork and the red tape was too much.
"Now I take you back," said Castiel.
Sam and Charlotte got married six months later because Sam had managed to slip one past the goalie. They both repeated the unexpected conception mantra, "But we were so careful," for two weeks straight. Then they accepted the inevitable. After that, Charlotte was excited and Sam thought it was pretty great news himself.
At least, that's what he told Charlotte. The more paranoid part of him, the part getting a teeny bit crazier with the passing of time, suggested that perhaps hellish influences has caused a condom failure.
Castiel turned up again one night when Sam was driving home at seven in the evening, several tubs of ice cream stacked on the front seat.
"Would you like to know the gender of the baby?"
Sam didn't immediately answer. He was too busy trying not to swerve all over the road. He got the car back under control and looked in the rear view mirror.
"Not really, since the ultrasound told us months ago. But thanks anyway."
Castiel as usual didn't understand the sarcastic humor. He merely blinked.
"Sam, do you not understand? What your brother said was the truth. Your life is good."
The one thing worse than an angel that dropped by unexpectedly was an angel that spoke in riddles.
"I have no idea what you're talking about," said Sam. "Now, if you're finished, I have to get this ice cream back to my heavily pregnant wife."
"I will see you later," said Castiel.
The word 'later', it turned out, was a highly subjective measurement of time for an angel.
About two weeks before the birth, Sam finally got around to arranging for Dean's body to be transferred to Lawrence. He had no idea why. It just suddenly seemed very important.
He also decided to tell Charlotte about Dean and John Winchester. Not all of the details. Just more than he'd told her before. Which were the bare facts.
He had a mother and a father and brother and they were all dead.
Tom Dean Winchester was born with ten toes and ten fingers. He was the most beautiful baby Sam had ever seen.
Charlotte kissed their baby on the top of his pointy head and said, "That's a spooky amount of hair for a baby."
The nurse informed them that although babies with full heads of hair weren't exactly common, it wasn't unusual, or a sign of genetic problems or anything else.
In moments of stress, Sam had acquired the habit of playing with his amulet. He was twirling it around his finger while he stared through the window at the fresh little bundles of life and the crazy part of Sam told him that maybe his first born had already been swapped out for some misshapen demon baby.
"Baby brother, you'll marry and have kids and live to be ninety. And that's it. There's nothing else and you gotta realize that I forgave you a long time ago. So stop with the nut bar behavior and have some fun. Seriously, it's like watching a long tail cat in a room full of rocking chairs."
Sam whirled around, thinking the voice was behind him but there was nothing and no one.
He called again. "Dean?"
A nurse passing by glanced over at him as she walked by.
It seemed his brother had spoken.
After the funeral, Charlotte drove Sam out to the junk yard. She had no idea what they were going to do but Bobby had left everything to Sam so here they were. The house was nearly falling down and there were rusting car bodies as far as the eye could see.
Sam hadn't talked to her since the funeral. For the most part he was cheerful and a loving husband and father. But just every so often he'd get in a strangely dark mood, get into their car and take off for the day. He'd never fully explain his behavior but she suspected it was something to do with his past, the one that he didn't talk about except for the odd slip of the tongue after he'd drunk a little too much or after sex when he let his guard down and as a result, she didn't push him. She thought he was haunted by the ghosts of his family in a way that he couldn't fully let go of, even though he tried very hard.
Tom and Jenny, their two kids, were old enough to take care of themselves. Tom was a senior, due to graduate that year. He was a responsible kid and he'd been assigned to look after the house and Jenny until they got back. Jenny was sensitive and trying to cover up her sensitivity with a smart mouth and wild behavior. Sam kept telling her that it was okay to feel. Jenny kept looking at him like he was nuts.
Charlotte had met Bobby when Sam had proposed. He'd taken her to meet an old man in a wheelchair in the middle of nowhere. The kids also knew of Bobby. They'd talked to him on the phone. Met him once at Christmas when Sam insisted Bobby stay for the holidays. Charlotte had suggested that Bobby could move in with them since he was getting too old and he was confined to a wheelchair but Bobby couldn't be convinced and Sam wouldn't insist.
She stayed in the car when Sam had walked off. Now he was standing by the body of a rusting car from the 1960s. It's black paint was fading. His back was turned towards her, his head down and Charlotte thought she saw him talking to a man in a trench coat, which couldn't be right. She knew the yard was deserted.
Charlotte got out of their car and walked towards him. A whisper of conversation reached her.
"You will not see me again."
Sam nodded and said, "Tell Dean I understand."
By the time she reached the wrecked car, the man was nowhere to be seen. She frowned, came to stand beside Sam and put her arm around his waist and tried to show her support. Sam startled slightly at her touch.
"I thought I saw you talking to someone," said Charlotte.
He smiled slightly at that, one of the smiles he used when he was thinking of a joke that had nothing to do with her, or their life together.
"Where'd he go?"
Sam gestured vaguely out towards the mountain of rust and twisted metal. "He had to meet someone else."
She knew she wasn't going to get anything further from him so she switched subjects. "I wish you'd talk to me."
Her husband looked down at her. She noticed that his hair was grayer. It seemed to have changed over the past week. His mouth quirked in that way that said to her that he was unsure. He took a deep breath and let it out. He pointed to the decaying hulk of the car with the fading black paint.
"It used to belong to my Dad and then he gave it to my brother. It was even mine for about four months."
Charlotte nodded but didn't say anything else.
"I still miss them," said Sam.
"They were your family. That's normal," she replied. It wasn't something trite she was trotting out to make Sam feel better. That's what she believed.
Sam chewed his bottom lip, brow furrowed, considering something. "A friend told me a long time ago that life has to be lived. I always thought it was bullshit, but I think I can see his point. I guess it just took time. I think now that Bobby's gone, it's like my old life has finally gone too."
He laughed at that. A small self deprecating laugh. Charlotte kept her arm around his waist and pulled him closer.
She was short. Her head barely came up to his chest. "You're a good husband. We have two great kids. A house. It's a good life."
Sam shook his head. "Yeah, but you know, sometimes I just wanted my old life back. I never knew why. I guess it was because underneath it all I was still angry that they left me. I just couldn't let it go. I didn't appreciate what I had as much as I should have and I'm sorry for that."
He bent down, kissed her on the top of her head.
Charlotte smiled up at him. "Do you know what you want to do now?"
"There's some stuff I want to keep. Bobby has a lot of photos of the Winchesters. I guess 'cause he didn't have his own family."
"I'd love to help you sort them out," she said.
"Sure," said Sam.
Sam turned around, took her by the hand and began walking over to the house.
"Did I ever tell you about Dean?"
"No. Not really. I know he was your brother. That's about it."
Sam laughed again for reasons Charlotte couldn't quite fathom. She walked with him up the steps as he began his story. A story that seemed to be the one that we all tell ourselves, after time has passed and we can look back on events with a softer, kinder heart.
"Dean was the most giving person I ever knew. He was brave and he was smart, even though he wouldn't admit it. If you met him, you'd think – who's this total jerk? But that was just a cover. He'd give anything to the people he loved and you know, in the end, he saved me. In fact, he pretty much saved the world."