Aki- Okay, so, yeah, the first line of this story popped into my head and the first three memories Sam dwells on, and I wrote this little drabble for them to sit comfortably in. Hopefully there is not too many transcribing errors, because I wrote this first in a notebook.

It was easy for him to piece his life together with befores and afters. Before the apocalypse, before the demon blood, before Dad died, before Jess died, those blissful few years he had before he knew the truth of the things that hid, slip and slid, and killed in the dark. Afters were always the present, the culmination of all the befores, each one taking him one step further into the darkness.

And it all led him here, to Hell and Lucifer's pissed, but he is back in his cage, so Sam counts it as a victory. Things are bad, but he doesn't want to get into the details. He understands, now, why Dean never wanted to talk about it. Sam doesn't want to think about it as it is going on. So he retreats in his mind, where the pain and blood and the burning he isn't sure is from it being too hot or too cold aren't too much to drag him into the present.

Most of those memories tasted pretty bitter, here are the ones that didn't. When he was still small enough to hug Dean around the middle and hide his face in his torso and it was the most comforting thing in the world. Back when he was still short stuff, and he and his father weren't on opposite sides of a cavern, yelling arguments that the other couldn't understand, and Dad would run his hand over Sam's messy head, ruffling already tangled hair in an absented-minded sign of affection. Then much later, Jess's skin again his, her fingers dancing along the back of his neck, lips pressed against lips, and out of breath, the glory of there first time making love. 'Making love' isn't just as euphemism, because Sam knows the difference between love and sex. Jess was love. Dr. Cara Roberts was sex. Madison was something in between. And Ruby—an odd rush of emotions course through Sam, something burning and hateful, equal if not eclipsing what he had once harbored for Lilith— Ruby had been desperation and manipulation. He tried not to dwell on Ruby. There was enough hate around him for him to have it in him too.

Sam doesn't know how long it's been, because it feels like only five minutes have passed, but also a millennia. He wavers between coherency and delusional, awake and sleep. But never really asleep. They don't let you sleep here. But he is so tied and worn out and hurt. These times his mind just slips and then he remembers the sour things. The heat of fire on his face as the woman he loves bleeds down on him. Cradling Dean's lifeless body once, twice, too many times. The taste of blood in his mouth as a young nurse screams and writhes underneath him. The memory makes him want to vomit, but there isn't anything in his stomach to throw up.

This is how Sam's death does— remembering life— what is past and he can never have again. Even the bad parts: the regret of fighting with Dad just minutes before his death, the strained relationship he shared with his brother over the last two years. But isn't that the same as topside—you can never have again what you had last year or even last minutes and isn't that just a tragedy? That time keeps marching on.

Then things changed. It was like an earthquake and hurricane winds and sunlight, which is harsh and comforting after so long with only hell fire to see by. Then it's gone as sudden and quick as it stared, but when it stops— Sam is no longer on the rack, but standing of his own volition on cracked blacktop. He feels numb, but it just because the eternal pain he has had forever is gone. There are no demons, no blood or gore, but a suburban street and green lawn and a little brown in front of him. Through the front window of that brown house, framed by translucent white curtains, was a family sitting down to dinner, passing around mashed potatoes. Woman, boy, man.

Sam knew that man, through the window, who looked hazard and broken and surviving, but isn't that all he could ask for.

He stared and it took a while for him to realize he was no longer in Hell and this wasn't just in his head.

This is after. After hell, after being a special child and psychic powers, after loss and death and tears, after angels and demons. And, yes, it was after Mom and Dad and Jess and that hurts, but he thinks this is an after he can survive in. An after, for once, he can look forward to.