K Hanna Korossy
"Goodbye, Sam." The line went dead.
As did Sam's last glimmer of hope.
Pulling off to the side of the road was accomplished purely on autopilot, one of the many, many, many things in his life Dean had taught him. So was the impassive face Sam tried to keep up as he killed the engine and let the phone drop into his lap.
Goodbye, Sam. When he'd recommended they split up, a part of Sam had hoped Dean would say no. His brother's acquiescence had hurt more than Sam would've admitted, but it was fair. They both needed some time, he'd told himself. Clear their heads, figure out where they stood. They'd be a stronger team for it when they reunited. That promise to himself was the only reason Sam had been able to make himself walk away from his brother. A see you later instead of a goodbye.
But Dean had said it now. Goodbye, Sam. Had turned him away even as Sam had asked—no, pleaded—for a chance to prove himself. And for help, because Lucifer's revelation terrified him in a way nothing else had. He'd asked his big brother to be there for him, please, and Dean had said no for the first time ever. And then, goodbye, Sam.
His hand was shaking around the useless phone. Sam tightened it until the plastic creaked in his grip, but it didn't matter if it broke. The person he needed wouldn't take his calls anymore.
Well, he was an adult now, right? Had hunted on his own, was formidable in his own right. Trained by his brother and father to be the consummate hunter, Sam had embraced the role before and could again. He just…he had to plan. Figure this out. Research everything out there on Lucifer, maybe talk to Bobby. Keep on moving to stay one step ahead of the devil. Watch his back, 'cause he had no one to watch it for him.
He could do this. He couldn't not do this. Lucifer had already promised that killing himself would do no good, and saying yes meant damning the world completely. But that was easy, right: just say no? Piece of cake.
Goodbye, Sam. Well, so what? He'd been alone before.
Sam bowed his head as the first tears splashed into his lap, the stoic act withering under the despair that suffocated his soul.
Failing his brother yet again.
"So, uh. When are you here from?"
Not exactly a question you heard often. Dean's mouth hitched up in the faintest of smiles as he looked down at Chuck. The little prophet was the only one who seemingly hadn't changed at all in five years. "Late 2009. Uh, little bit after War came to town?"
"Oh." Chuck nodded, thinking. Then winced. "So, uh, after you two split up, huh?"
Dean felt his face close off and tried not to think about how he probably looked like Killjoy-Dean just then. "Yeah." He forced the smirk. "So, toilet paper, huh?"
Chuck leaned back on the stump he was sitting on. "You know, you never talked to him again after he called that night."
Dean blinked. "What?"
"That night when Lucifer visited him and Sam called you? That was the last time you two were in touch before…well, you know. He wasn't Sam anymore."
Dean tilted his face away from the piercing nonchalance of Chuck's words. The epitaph of his and Sam's relationship. Okay, yeah, so he'd told Sam no and that they were weaker together and shouldn't even be on the same continent, but…somehow he'd never considered that that was…
"There's, uh. There's something you should probably know."
Dean's glare swung back to Chuck, who gulped and shied away from him.
"You two really should talk more, you know? I mean, all the secrets, it's just bad—"
"Chuck," he growled. "No more archangel bodyguard, remember?"
The little man swallowed nervously. "Right, right. It's just, uh. That phone message you left Sam. You know after he, uh…"
"…tried to kill me?" Dean provided tersely. "Yeah, that's not the kind of thing you forget."
"Okay, well, I'm just saying…that's not the message Sam got." Chuck's eyes darted up to his face, then back down to the dirt.
Dean frowned. "Sorry?"
"I don't…I mean, I see things but I don't always know what they mean so I'm not sure if it was Zachariah or Ruby or what, but somebody was making sure Sam felt completely cut off. He heard a different message."
It hadn't been easy to make that call. To swallow his hurt and pride and tell the little brother who'd just tried to strangle him that Dean still loved him and would forgive him. Sam had never brought it up, but Dean had figured later it was too little too late, or maybe Sam had just been a little busy to check his phone. It had never occurred to him that… He shifted his stance, arms crossing in front of his chest in a pose that was meant to be aggressive but just felt like he was bracing himself. "What did Sam hear?"
Chuck's shoulders rounded, like he was scared Dean was going to attack him. This couldn't be good. "Uh, just you saying that, um, he's a monster and there was no going back, and you were going to, uh, you know…kill him."
Dean's eyes squeezed shut. Oh, God. No wonder Sam hadn't mentioned the voicemail. Probably thought he deserved it. Heck, he was probably waiting for Dean to follow through on it. He cleared his throat. "When?" he asked roughly.
"When did he listen to it?" Dean barked.
"Oh. Right before…you know."
Dean's jaw shifted and he gave a jerky nod. Right, of course. Zachariah had said Sam might need a little push to end Lilith. It would've been just like that feathered bastard to use Dean to do it. A small part of him was gratified that he'd still had that much influence over Sam at that point…but the rest grieved at the result. Ruby, the angels—crap, even Bobby with his well-meaning insistence to play it safe and let Sam detox alone—they'd all collaborated to isolate Sam from Dean, to make sure he had no hope or support or voice of conscience. Dean himself had left the kid alone for months while he was in Hell. Was it really any surprise Sam had lost his way? That he'd let misguided guilt and the desire for a little control finally over his life delude him into some bad choices? A few hours without Sam, and Dean had sold his soul.
And Dean had told him goodbye and shut the door on him. Left him alone again, after Sam had begged him for help.
Wouldn't Mom and Dad be proud of him now?
Dean nodded curtly. "You saw what happened in Detroit?"
"I…yeah. But, uh, I haven't back when you come from yet. I mean, it's not written yet, right?" Chuck asked hopefully.
No, the Dean he'd met in this dismal future didn't exist yet, and the Sam never would. Dean felt a tired smile break out despite everything. "No. It's not written anywhere yet."
And God help him, it wouldn't ever be.
He almost didn't hear the ring of the phone, he was so lost inside his head. Sam didn't even know how much time had passed. He was pretty sure he'd called Bobby at some point, left some rambling, probably incoherent message on his machine. Otherwise, he was just sitting there in a car that wasn't his, staring unseeingly at the dash, no place to go, no one left to call.
But someone was calling him.
He choked down the harsh tears in his throat, wiping his eyes so he could see. Even so, the words on his phone's screen were blurred. Sam had to painfully squint at them to make them out.
He shouldn't have let hope well up in him at those two simple words. There was no reason to think Dean would've changed his mind in a few minutes. He'd probably just forgotten to tell Sam something, like to take care of himself or something else totally meaningless. He'd speak his piece and end with goodbye, Sam again, and… Sam wasn't sure he could bear to hear it one more time.
But…he couldn't help the flush of hope because everything else was just too unbearable. So before he knew it, he'd clicked to accept the call and shakily raised the phone to his ear.
"Sam, it's me. Listen, uh… I think maybe you're right. We should meet. Talk. Where are you?"
Bottom of a deep, dark well, at the nadir of the earth. And Dean had just lowered a bucket down to him. "Oklahoma," Sam rasped. "Maybe Kansas?" He had no clue where the state line was.
"Okay, uh…meet me in…West Virginia? Remember that bridge outside Jackson? The one where we toasted the haunted—"
"—train engineer," Sam said numbly. "I remember."
"Okay. So…see you when I see you?"
It didn't sound like a goodbye. Why meet halfway across the country for that, anyway? It actually sounded like Dean wanted to see him, maybe even… No, Dean had said goodbye. This was something else. Maybe just some unfinished business. There was still that promise to kill him… Sam huffed a laugh. Lucifer had vowed to bring Sam back from the dead, but Dean could always try.
His chest constricted so tightly at that word, it was hard to breathe. Sammy. That couldn't go with goodbye, could it? He shakily exhaled. "'M on my way."
"Yeah, okay. Good." There was a pause. Sam waited for the sign-off. "Be careful. Grab some shut-eye on the way if you need it, all right?" With no more than that, the call ended.
So did the desolation. "All right," Sam whispered to the empty line, then carefully shut his phone off. He started the car, put it into Drive…and closed his eyes a second.
Sammy…Be careful. It wasn't we're good, but it wasn't goodbye, either.
It would be enough to get him to West Virginia to find out the rest.
Sam opened his eyes, wiped his face off with his sleeve, then pulled the car into a u-turn and started driving.
Sam jumped at the sound of his voice, and Dean grimaced. This wasn't exactly how he'd pictured them reunited. Okay, yeah, so he'd actually been able to see the bleakness drain from Sam's eyes as Dean told him he thought they should get back together after all. And Sammy hadn't hesitated for a second to ditch the ugly piece of junk he'd driven there, or to put his bag back in the trunk in the empty spot next to Dean's. But he still looked like he half-expected Dean to shove him out of the moving car, and that was just…that was wrong.
They wouldn't mention, ever, the way Sam had flinched from him when Dean had pulled out the knife.
He owed Sam the story about the future that would never be, and why he'd changed his mind. He also needed to hear more about this Lucifer visit thing because that seemed kind of important. But what Dean found himself saying was, "That wasn't me on the phone."
Sam's brow furrowed. The kid was too pale, Dean was starting to notice, and looked like he hadn't slept in, well, a long time. "When I called you yesterday and you…?" Sam started haltingly, his tone unusually meek.
Dean quickly picked up on the confusion—duh, Sam can't read your mind, moron—and shook his head. "No, that was—" As he saw Sam's face began to fall, he cleared his throat and tried again. "I meant, uh, before. The message I left you. It wasn't me."
Sam's whole face was folded in confusion. He looked like he was trying as hard as he could and still failing to understand. And like he was maybe scared Dean would give up on him or something because he couldn't make out Dean's embarrassed half-explanations. That more than anything spurred him to just man up and say it.
He took a breath. "I left you a voicemail after you took off with Ruby. Only, turns out, Zach did his little changing-reality mojo and what I said wasn't what you heard." Had to be Zach, he'd decided. Ruby had the deviousness but not the ability…and Dean wasn't looking to pick a fight, anyway. Not now.
He watched in the periphery of his vision as Sam's expressions shifted from puzzlement to pained comprehension to shock. "What did…what did you say?" Sam murmured faintly.
"Uh." Dean rubbed the back of his neck uncomfortably. He'd been trying to avoid this part; saying it on the phone had been hard enough. Saying it in person was mortifying. "Just, you know, that I was still pissed and owed you a beatdown—" Sam was starting his turtle impersonation, head sinking back down between his shoulders. "—but I'm not Dad and you're still family and that hadn't changed," Dean rushed on. "So…you know. I'm sorry."
Sam looked frozen. "Oh," was all he finally said.
Okay, a little anticlimactic. But Sam tended to dwell on stuff, turn it over and over in that ginormous brain until he'd looked at every angle and beaten the idea into—
"Thank you," Sam breathed, for the third time that day.
Dean wasn't sure if this time he meant for telling him or for making the call in the first place, or maybe even for saying yes to Sam when he was saying no to everyone else. But the words, hushed and sincere, almost reverent, made his embarrassment fade and the tight clench of his back ease. Maybe Chuck was right, maybe they needed to talk a little more. Dean was so done with secrets.
But no need to overdo it, right? He cleared his throat. "You hungry? I'm hungry. I think we should find a good barbeque place."
Sam just nodded. But the quick sideways glances Dean stole at him revealed that there was a little color in his cheeks now and he wasn't clutching the door handle anymore as if he desperately needed to hang on to something. The tension in the air had ebbed, not the easy comfort they'd once had, but no longer setting Dean's teeth on edge, either.
He could work with that. Not just because he needed Sam to keep him human, but because for the first time since things had gone south, literally…Dean wanted to. They could make their own future. For better or for worse, the Winchester brothers were in this together to the end.
From the way Sam's face had softened into an almost smile as he rubbed his thumb along the edge of his phone, Dean was pretty sure he agreed.