Dean tightened the fittings on the new carburetor he was installing and let the sounds of Creedence Clearwater Revival distract him. He'd been doing fine today. And then, he'd stepped outside to enjoy a cup of coffee. The sun had been shining, the sky was blue, and he was just blowing on the coffee to cool it off. It had been a small thing, really. Some kid had come out of the drugstore across the street, laughing. He'd leaned against the front of the store, just holding his side and chuckling away. Two seconds later, a smaller boy had come out, scowling. He gave the older boy a pissy look. "You're such a dick, Pete!"
Pete had just kept laughing. "Oh, my God. You should have seen your face, Kyle. 'It wasn't me! It wasn't me!' That was some comedy gold."
Kyle had put his hands on his hips, given a perfect little brother bitchface, then, smacked the back of Pete's head and taken off running. "Yeah, too funny!"
Pete rubbed the back of his head, straightened up to give chase. And then, Dean saw it. The look on his face as he watched his brother run away. Amused, fond, happy. All was right in Pete's world in that moment, as he laughed and gave chase to his little brother.
Dean had smiled slighty, remembering a hundred similar incidents between him and Sam.
Then, the smile had disappeared and the familiar impotent rage and pressing sadness had returned.
Because six months ago his brother had beat back Lucifer, looked him in the eyes, face filled equally with terror and love, and fallen into hell. Dean was still trying to figure out how to deal with that.
On the one hand, he was so damn proud. Sammy had found the strength to overpower the devil. They had found their way back to what made them brothers, been able to use the strength and trust of that bond to save the planet from destruction.
So, you know, yay.
But, to save the world, Dean had had to lose the one person who meant the most to him. He was stuck in a loop of seeing Sam's eyes, telling Dean it was going to be okay. He'd found a way to push Lucifer back. "I've got him..." Like, his being able to jump into hell was a good thing. And, it was. And, it was. On the scale of 'what's good for humanity' Dean knew it was a colossal win. But, just like with every damned victory they'd ever had, the cost had been huge. Dean had sat there, nearly blind with the pain of his broken face, while his heart had ripped apart. Sam had nodded at him, sucked up his terror, and willfully jumped into a cage in hell with Lucifer and Michael.
And, Dean had helped him do it.
So, yeah. A win for the planet.
And, a crushing defeat for Dean Winchester.
It bothered Dean that they'd had no time for goodbye. Because, afterward, Dean had realized there were a lot of things he'd wished he'd said to Sam. He hoped that Sam knew them anyway. That Dean was proud of him, that he'd have gone in his place if he could. That Dean would really fuckin' miss him.
But, still. He should have said something. Should have given him the words to take with him.
Most days, it felt like Dean should have just taken his heart right out of his chest and chucked it in after them. Oh, sure, he was living with Lisa and Ben, and, he could probably build a life there. But, he couldn't seem to let himself do that. He really got the whole 'his heart just wasn't in it…' phrase now. Because, much as he knew it's what he once wanted, and what Sam genuinely wanted for him, Dean just couldn't give over to this life. Too much was missing.
He did continued to try. And, some days, he could almost get there. He'd laugh at something Ben did, feel Lisa slip her arm around his waist, and it was just out of reach, that feeling of contentment, or belonging, or whatever the hell it was.
Dean finished with the carburator and slammed the hood closed. This one was done. He'd just pull the work order and write it up. He heard the sound of approaching footsteps, and turned to see who had come in the garage. A young guy was walking toward him, holding a piece of paper and looking around. Dean wiped his hands on the rag from his pocket. "Can I help you?"
The guy looked over at him. "Are you Dean?"
And something about the guy made his instincts hum. Dean put the rag down, kept his hands at his sides, was aware of the knife strapped to his ankle. "Yeah, I'm Dean."
The guy held the paper out. "Some dude gave me this to give to you."
Dean took the paper. "What dude?"
"Just some guy standing across the street."
Dean walked toward the bay doors. "You seem him anywhere now?"
The guy stood next to Dean, looked around outside. "No."
Dean glanced at the paper.
Sam is no longer in hell. He wanted you to know.
Dean felt a spike of adrenalin shoot through him. His pulse kicked up and his heart starting thumping in his chest. He grabbed the messenger by his collar, pressed him up against the doorjamb. "What did he look like?"
The guy was either a great actor, or he was suddenly freaking out. He tried to break Dean's implacable grip on him. His hands just scrabbled ineffectively. "Hey. Hey! Just some guy, okay? Jesus! Let me go!"
Dean loosened, but didn't break his hold. "Describe him. Was he tall? Dark hair?"
The guy shook his head frantically. "No, no. He was an old dude, gray hair, about my height. Blue eyes, I think? He just, seemed to appear out of nowhere. I kind of jumped, and he looked over at me. He was kind of spooky, to tell you the truth."
Dean let go and stepped back. "Okay, okay. Sorry for the body slam. Just, anything else you can tell me?"
The guy took in a long breath, tried to calm down. "Um. He was really calm. Like, still, you know? Just barely moved his head, had like, a presence about him? Like, I couldn't have said 'no' to him, almost."
Dean wondered. Castiel had not been back since that night in the car, when he'd asked Dean what he wanted more, peace or freedom?
He stepped back completely, put his hands up in a conciliatory gesture. "Okay, sorry, man. Just, this was," he waved the paper. "Some big news."
The guy nodded. Backed away. "Okay, well. See you around, man."
Dean nodded. "Yeah."
He looked at the words again. Sam is no longer in hell. He wanted you to know.
That night, Lisa must have asked him ten times what was bothering him. Dean just shook his head and did his damnedest to stay away from the booze. He looked at her, standing there in the kitchen, and felt like she was very far away from him. "I'm sorry, I'm just trying to deal with something. Something from the past. It doesn't have anything to do with us, okay?"
And Dean had to hand it to Lisa, she really knew how to let it go and roll with the flow. She never nagged or pushed, was just a solid presence, willing to give Dean as much space as he wanted. He kissed her and told her he had to take a walk.
When he was deep in the woods, miles from the house, Dean stopped. He looked up. "Castiel. Please. I need to see you. I need you to tell me what's going on."
A bright light appeared above. It was still pretty far off, but Dean heard a voice, probably just in his head, it was so quiet. "I do not have a vessel, and you cannot look upon my true form. Will this suffice?"
Dean almost smiled. "It will suffice fine. Did you give me the news about Sam?"
There was a humming quiet while Dean waited. "One of my brothers did, yes. I did not want to ask another human to sacrifice himself so I could talk to you in person."
Dean's heart was in his throat. "It doesn't matter. Tell me. Please."
Another pause. Cas really did suck at exposition. "Dean, I'm not certain how much information I should give you. You have earned your rest. What I know of Sam will not aid you in any way."
Dean sighed. "Forget about aiding me. Just, tell me. Cas. I need to know. Whatever is going on with him. I need to know."
"You won't like it."
Dean closed his eyes, took in a long breath. "Just start with the sentence, 'Sam is no longer in hell…'"
"Sam is no longer in hell. That is true. At least, he is no longer in the cage with Lucifer. He is…troubled. But, he is free from hell."
Dean could hear the reluctance to answer. "Dean…I cannot…"
Dean's patience snapped. "God dammit, Cas. You know what that kid is to me. If you know anything you better spill it, and I mean right now."
"You put me in an difficult position, Dean. Sam was very clear in what he wanted you to know, and not know."
Dean clenched his fists, reached for calm. "Sam isn't here, right now. You are. And you owe me the truth, Cas. At least, we always had truth between us, didn't we?"
"A clever argument, to be sure."
Dean waited. There was something big here. He could feel it. And, Sam, the little shit, was trying to keep him out of the loop. You'll never learn, will you Sammy? If it concerns you, it concerns me.
"Dean, if I tell you this, will you promise not to act?"
Dean heart started thumping heavily again. There was definitely something here. "I'm not promising a damn thing. Tell me what you know." Silence. "Please, Cas. Tell me."
And, if air could sigh, he heard Castiel give over. "Fine. But, only because I think he needs your help. Sam is at a monastery in Maine. "
Dean actually felt his heart stop. It kicked in again with a slamming rhythm as he tried to understand. "What, you mean his spirit, his ghost?" And in Castiel's pause, Dean knew. Holy Mother of God. "Sam's alive!"
Castiel, even though he couldn't feel human emotion, could understand the seismic shift in Dean. He observed how Dean closed his eyes, dropped to his knees and bowed his head. If he'd had a vessel, Casteil would have put his hand on Dean's head, tried to soothe the storm of feelings he could see blowing through his human friend. But, he could do none of those things, so he explained.
"Sam was pulled from the pit, it's true. Rumor is, that God himself did it. But, no one knows for certain. He was given back his body, and put near here, some time ago."
Dean's eyes snapped open. "Near here? Some time ago? When? What does that mean?"
"Dean, I was not here. I was tending to…other things. I only learned Sam's fate recently, when I, ah…tried to 'check up on him' in the cage. He was not there, and I made some inquiries."
Dean tried to keep his freak out to a minimum. This wasn't Cas' fault. Stay focused, Dean. "Okay. So, Sam's at a monastery, and he isn't doing well. Is that all we've got?"
Castiel paused, and Dean felt as if he had come closer. "His mind is not well."
Dean laughed harshly. "Well, no kidding, Cas. Having Lucifer as your soul companion might tend to screw a guy up."
"I tried to communicate with him, but he is closed off."
Dean looked up, despite himself. The light forced his eyes closed. "Closed off how?"
"It is difficult to explain to you. Before, even when Sam had been drinking the blood, or having dark thoughts, I could see his mind. I could see his soul. He was always open to me. He was ever trying to find good, even in the midst of his deepest confusion."
"Everything is closed. His mind, his heart, his soul. I watched him for some time, and all he did was sit by a window. His eyes were open, but he did not hear me. He did not react to my presence. I could not stay long, the other monks were starting to sense me. I tried, Dean. Truly. It was as if all his human emotions were burned away. As I started to fade, he spoke. He said, "Tell Dean I'm not in hell. Nothing else. Just that."
Dean nodded. He stood up, walked a bit, trying to take in the fact that Sam was alive. That he was aware enough to know who Dean was. That he had enough 'Sam' in him to know Dean was wrecked over his being in hell. The fact that he wanted Dean to know he was out told him enough. Sam was in there.
"Cas. Thank you. Really. I -" Dean coughed through the emotion suddenly clogging his throat. "I kind of miss you, man."
Somehow, he could feel Castiel smile. "I am never far away, Dean. If you have need."
Dean sighed. "Same here. You know, if you have something a human could do for you."
"Thank you, Dean."
Dean felt the angel leave. The light dimmed then disappeared.
Well, damn you, Sam. You found a way to friggin' bring me joy, and piss me off at the same time, same as ever. Then, for the first time in months, Dean truly smiled. It was time to gas up the Impala and head to Maine.
Dean had said goodbye to Ben and Lisa. Whatever he was facing with Sam, it wasn't fair to make her wait around for him. So, he'd said he loved her, and thank you and he didn't know when he'd be back. She'd given him a long look, asked if this was something from his past. Dean had said, 'It's everything from my past.'
Lisa had kissed him. Told him to talk to Ben, explain why he was leaving. "I love you, Dean. But, he's a kid, and you need to tell him why you won't be here."
And, that's why he'd stayed with her when he was broken and lost. Because she took him wherever he was, and let him go when he needed to be gone. He'd stood in the doorway, looking at the two of them. "I don't know how to thank you, both of you. When I came here, well, I was a mess. You gave me a home and a place to lick my wounds. You made me see that I could go on living, and that was kind of an iffy proposition when I got here."
Ben had sighed, ignored the two fat tears in his eyes. "Someday, will you come back again?"
Dean had clamped down on his own emotions. "Yeah, someday I'll come around and see how you're doing. I promise."
Lisa had kissed him, and whispered, "Let me know you're okay when you can."
Dean had hugged her tight. "I will. I will."
Driving up to the unadorned gate of St. Bartholomew's Monastery was pretty anti-climactic. There wasn't much to see beyond a hell of a lot of trees. The actual building was set high on a pine-crusted mountain in the wilds of Maine's coastline. He'd seen it on their website. Who would have thought monks would have a damn web page? The large building was made of stone, and hidden well amongst the old growth forest that surrounded it. There were no signs pointing out its location, and only a single road, with a closed iron gate keeping it from the public.
Sam was in there.
Dean picked the lock, could see no electronic surveillance, and so drove through, not bothering to lock it behind him. At the top, there was a wide stone arch that lead to a courtyard where two other cars were parked. Both old Jeeps. Dean pulled up next to them and got out. The simple wooden door didn't have a knocker and it was so thick Dean doubted anyone would hear a knock. He lifted the iron latch and let himself in.
He stood there in the quiet for a minute. He could see why Sam would seek this place out. After his own stint in hell, Dean's mind had made enough noise for a marching band in a Mardi Gras parade. What had helped him was having Sam beside him, having the Impala's engine soothe him. He wondered if this place was soothing Sam.
A portly monk came down the large wooden staircase in front of him. "Good evening. I'm brother Timothy. Are you in need of assistance?"
Dean cleared his throat. Now that he was here, now that he was actually going to see Sam, his chest was getting kind of tight and his mouth was drying up. "Ah, yes. I'm looking for my brother. Not, you know, a brother like you, but my actual brother. Um, we have the same parents, I mean -"
The monk smiled. "I get it. How can I help you?"
Dean stopped dithering. Pulled out his wallet, and the one photo of Sam he had from the last two years. It was a Polaroid from some state fair where they'd been looking into a demon sighting. Some booth had taken them for a dollar, and Dean had made Sam stand still long enough to have one taken. "In case you go missing or something." It had been one moment of lightness, watching Sam give a fake smile to the girl behind the camera, while he gritted his teeth and told Dean he would eat nothing but burritos for the next week. Dean had laughed, Sam's expression had loosened, and he actually had a slight grin in the photo. Dean had looked at it a lot in the last few months, absurdly grateful for that one moment of levity between them. He showed the photo to the monk. "Have you seen him? I heard he might be here."
The monk looked, and his face went from open and friendly to concerned. "Ah, yes. Sam."
Dean closed his eyes and let out a long breath, felt his eyes fill. He couldn't help it. After everything, he wasn't sure he'd let himself believe Sam could really be alive. And this round-faced monk had just confirmed it. Jesus. He's really back.
Brother Timothy continued. "But, I'm afraid he left, oh, three days ago?"
Dean's eyes snapped open. "What?"
"He just wasn't here after vespers on Monday. His bed was neatly made, but his backpack was gone. And, I'm sorry to say, so was he."
"Did he say anything to anyone about where he might be going?"
The monk shook his head and let out a troubled sigh. "I'm afraid Sam didn't talk to anyone when he was here. He showed up about three weeks ago, looking…hollow, is really the only word that comes to mind. He looked very ill, like he'd been ravaged by some kind of sickness. When he looked at me, it was like I could see all the pain and sadness of the ages in his eyes. I asked if he needed refuge. He nodded, just the once, and I showed him to a room. He stayed for almost three weeks. I think he looked better. I only checked up on him a couple of times. He just wanted a place to rest, I think." He looked intently at Dean. "Is there anything I can do for you?"
Dean looked at the monk, and strangely enough, he felt the corner of his mouth lift in a small smile. "No. You took care of him when he needed it. That's something I can never thank you enough for. Really."
The monk studied him for another moment. "You're going to look for him."
Dean's smile became a full-on grin. "No. I'm going to find him."