Disclaimer: Not mine, no profit made or harm intended.

A/N: One of the 500 codas to 5.22. This one's Sam POV, but like all my stories, that makes it all the better for ogling Dean. Shut up. You know it's true. Not for Lisa haters. That's all I can say, really.

Hollow Men

Hell's not exactly what Sam expected it to be. It barely is at all. He feels... something, a lurch in his gut and a screaming in his head that sounds the way his own voice always sounded on instant replay-- all the right undertones and inflections, but not really him. Not really. A hand clenches in his sleeve, tight enough to uproot the hairs on his arm, counterbalance to the sinking pull on this side of his skin.

For the life of him, he can't figure out why Michael doesn't just let go. This isn't his cage. Why doesn't he save himself before the door closes for good? All he has to do is let go.

Sam doesn't care about Michael, but that home movie playback of his voice keeps shouting, "Let go! Just let go!" He thinks maybe the, "Please," actually comes from lips, but he's not sure what he's begging for.

Michael doesn't let go, and the door slams shut. When it does, a jolt of electricity pulses through Sam, up, down, in out, and crossways all at once, jumping synapses hard enough to burn the bridges on the way across. He splits apart with a popping noise like a thousand fluorescent tubes depressurizing at once.

It shouldn't hurt as much as it does, to be stripped away, pulled off like a leech, but Lucifer has Michael. He doesn't need Sam. Sam doesn't think he's ever not been needed before.

When Lucifer goes, so does Sam's purpose, and that's how he's flayed in Hell, in a vacuum from the inside out, collapsing into the nothing that's left of his life and his destiny and his sacrifice until he turns inside out and comes through the other side.

He knows, now, why we don't remember being born. It hurts like Hell.

Being reborn isn't any easier. Even the streetlight's too bright on brand new eyes. It thankfully goes out, the filament too brittle to survive Heaven and Earth moving around him.

Sam's Hell isn't what he expects it to be. His knees are wobbly, and he feels too light, half expects Dorothy to come skipping by on her way to Oz. He almost wishes she would, since he can't see the road from where he's standing, just that it's empty except for him.

What he can see is Dean doing exactly what Sam told him to do. What he sees is Lisa putting her hand over his on the dinner table, her thumb stroking over the backs of his fingers until they turn and take hers.

"I did that," he thinks, and it's hard to tell how that makes him feel with all his edges still charred and smoldering. He thinks it must be pride. He should be proud . Of Dean-- proud of his strength, of his loyalty, of his determination. If it's a sin to feel pride, then it's fitting, because Sam doesn't feel like he ever left Hell at all.

XX

Sam's Hell isn't exactly what he expected it to be. He never expected to need food and clothing. Never expected to have to take a job, buy a car, rent a room, but he does all those things, when he doesn't know what else to do, and no one stops him.

No one ever offers to let him off the rack if he'll start in on the demons. He just figures someone ought to clean up before things get out of hand... again. It passes the time, though slowly, gives Dean all the time he needs to grow and thrive inside the terrarium Sam builds around him.

Dean goes on living the life Sam knows he wants, and Sam keeps him safe while he does it, keeps everything free and clear-- of demons, of werewolves, of poltergeists and ghouls-- so Dean can spend his nights tending the barbecue grill, learning the guitar, and tucking Ben into bed.

Sam watches sometimes, from his rack. "I did that."

It hurts. It is Hell, after all. Sacrifice is supposed to hurt. "For Dean."

Dean's worth it.

XX

Sam's Hell isn't exactly what he thought it'd be, a confused hybrid of nuance, nostalgia, and normal, peppered with new, now, and never was.

There's a jackalope mounted on the wall, not above the fireplace, because Lisa's not completely nuts, even if she did, somehow let herself fall for Dean. The soccer trophy that does sit on the mantle isn't Ben's, but it came from the same storage locker as the jackalope. The unit's vacant now, except for a few curse boxes no other hunter's come forward to take, and rented under the name Dean has on all his legitimate credit cards and joint checking account.

When the Impala gets caught in a hail storm, because it hasn't moved since Dean bought his Harley, an insurance adjuster comes out to look at it and writes a check to have it repaired. Dean spends the money to buy a carport to park her under and one of those covers people put over cars they never take out of the garage.

Dean does a bang up job of keeping Sam's dying wish, without keeping Sam dead, his memory held in purgatory and stretched like a canvas over things Dean never touches.

"I did that." He gave Dean the freedom to run, and Dean's running. If he's running away, well, Sam figures he has that coming. Payback's a bitch by nature.

XX

Sam's Hell isn't what he expected it to be.

The music's all wrong. He was maybe expecting shrieks and wails, screams of souls in torment. Instead, he gets Dean and an old six string on the back porch. Dean's not exactly a prodigy. His fingers are all crooked and probably arthritic from having been broken so many times, but Sam's heard you only really need four chords or so to play just about anything on Dean's top 40.

He's not surprised to find that's true, listening in the dark, just around the hedge on the other side of the block. He is surprised that Dean doesn't play any of his favorite songs. He must have his guitar tuned wrong, because everything comes out in a minor key.

When summer comes, and the lulls between songs fill with the chirps of crickets, Sam watches fireflies spark over the neighbors's lawns between carefully timed showers from underground sprinkler heads. He doesn't know why Lisa's crying in her room with the window open, sheer curtain fluttering in the breeze. He doesn't wonder, just listens until it's well past midnight and he's wet to the bone.

If he's covered in goosebumps, it's because whatever Dean was playing touched him, because Dean can still touch him when nothing else worthwhile does. And, if he shivers so hard his teeth rattle, it's because sacrifice is supposed to hurt and not because there's anything wrong with Dean leaving a half dozen empty beer bottles on the step or a haze of cigarette smoke in his wake.

"I did that," Sam thinks.

XX

Sam's Hell isn't exactly what he thought it would be. He expected it would hurt all the time, burning, searing, slicing, tearing pain. Instead, it just kind of aches, or it's numb until it isn't anymore. The dull throb mixed with the nothing make it hard to think, and then, when something does break through, he feels useless for not seeing it coming.

Dean's not wearing a helmet the day he wrecks his Harley just up the block from his house. He never remembers how it happens, but the police report says the throttle most likely stuck. There's no other reason, as far as anyone can see, that he'd have sped through that intersection and under that tractor trailer without ever slowing down.

There's no reason his head doesn't come unattached either. It's not like the angels have any interest in protecting him anymore. And for some reason, Sam's pissed about that. Really fucking irate, because how dare they abandon Dean after everything they laid at his feet? Dean could've died just when he was getting to live.

And after all Sam's done to give him that life.

He's still pissed when he sneaks into Dean's hospital room, almost doesn't notice Lisa walking down the hall toward him until she's an armlength away. Fishmouthing and backpedaling, he's searching for a logical explanation in his head, when she just blows on past. He barely notices the glazed look in her eyes, the high flush on her cheeks over pale, chapped lips and streaked makeup.

There's a ring on the nightstand next to Dean's bed and a folded piece of paper with Dean's name penciled on it in a script that isn't really cursive or print. Sam doesn't read it, but he knows what it says. He can tell from the way the ring's just lying there on top of it, lies like the truth.

There aren't any fingerprints on it. No hand has held it in a very long time. Her palm never settles over Dean's at the dinner table anymore.

Dean's glass is always in the way.

And she doesn't ride on the back of Dean's Harley. Dean prefers to ride alone.

She doesn't sit on the step to hear Dean play his guitar. There's no room on the porch since Dean put in the refrigerator to hold his beer.

That ring's been sliding off for awhile, and Lisa's not bound by Sam's dying wish to keep it on.

Sam wants to be pissed off with Lisa, too. First, the angels leave, and now her, all of them monumentally fucking up Sam's sacrifice, but he can't, because those dark circles under Dean's eyes didn't happen in the accident, and the twenty pounds or so he's lost didn't just peel off on the asphalt.

"I did this," he knows. And he can't even bring himself to pretend it was for Dean.

XX

Sam's Heaven isn't exactly what he expected it to be.

It's hard, every day since Dean woke up to find Sam sitting at his bedside.

Sam's legs still feel wobbly, and he still can't see the road.

Everything hurts, all the time. Dean busts him across the mouth when he finds out Sam's been around for months. And when Sam doesn't try to defend himself or even rationalize his actions, Dean hugs him so hard Sam's afraid his ribs might crack.

Sam never thought in Heaven he'd need food or clothes. Never thought he'd have a car payment and rent, or need a job to make them, but he does, and so does Dean. When Dean drops Sam off at his apartment after a weekend hunt, it takes a few hours to get used to the silence.

Sam breaks his leg falling off the trampoline in Dean's backyard, which he knows he has no business being on in the first place. He burns his mouth on roasted marshmallows at Dean's Labor Day barbecue, and busts a gut laughing when he nearly chokes to death in a Chubby Bunny marshmallow cramming contest because he was stupid enough to take Ben's bet against Dean's elastic cheeks.

He sorta misses the pocketknife he loses in the bet, because Dean taught him how to play Jackknife with it when he was seven. And the lump in Sam's throat hurts something fierce when he teaches Ben the same game. The kid's a natural and he sticks it on the first try, flipping the blade off the back of his hand.

The day Dean adopts Ben, Sam buys him a cheesy coffee cup that says 'Dad' on it, and they stay up all night talking about theirs for the first time in... ever without getting into a fight.

Sam almost cries when Dean says they're naming the baby after him. He teases, if it's a girl, Sam can teach her how to braid her hair. Just for that, Sam threatens to start wearing a ponytail. When he does, it gives him a headache, but it's worth it.

Dean cries when Sam tells him he's getting married. And then he denies it, gives Sam the kind of purple nurple that doesn't come in a glass.

Something hurts all the time, something new every day.

But as it turns out, that's what love is.

And they did that together.

The End

A/N: I realize this makes almost no sense, and that I'm probably the last person anyone wants to see an episode coda from, but hey, insomnia does weird things to a person. Also, I haven't been able to run for 3 days because of weather, and my legs are keeping me awake. Who knew training for a marathon would start out as a whim, become a second job, and then turn into an obssession in the span of a few short months? I miss my freaking endorphins, so as soon as this is posted I'm hitting the pavement for *checks the archangel miCoach* 1hour and 55 minutes or about 10 miles cuz I'm slow as hell. LOL. I promise I won't throw things if I come back and find my inbox is empty. By then, I will be feeling no pain.

A/N2: The raffle for the Lance Armstrong Foundation Team LIVESTRONG gear is still open until the end of the month. Drop me a PM or an email if you want to find out about my charity running blog and how Tracer and I are running the Bank of America Chicago Marathon to raise money for cancer survivors in memory of Kim Manners and Danny C.