The earth was cold, damp beneath his scrabbling fingers but cold and damp were welcome, a sweet balm to the heat, the torture that he remembered before…
Rain hit his face – harsh droplets stinging his skin and dripping down across his cheeks, his chin. He licked at it filling his dry, cracked mouth with moisture. Beneath his fingertips the earth was brown, ingrained and he stared at it, stared hard and tried to make sense of all of this.
A cemetery; a bone yard that was both old and ruined. He didn't recognise it, the scrubby grass, the ruined earth. It meant nothing to him and when he searched his memory, his mind; there was nothing but endless darkness, a black hole that he could not fill.
All he knew was that he was human and that he was alone…
The woman was older, mature and sensible. She knew that – stopping to pick up the man – was dangerous but she had too much compassion to leave him standing there in the middle of the road.
He was tall – well over six foot – and broad, so broad, shoulders stretching the shabby, ripped shirt he wore and knees bursting through his worn down jeans, blood stained material just clinging to skin. His feet were bare and burnt, toe nails like the ones on his fingers caked in brown earth. His too long hair hung all over his face, singed at the edges, curled around his ears and neck. Eyes stared at her blankly as she got out of the car and – gently – took his arm. She knew it was foolish but somehow – despite his appearance – she trusted him and he fulfilled that trust by letting her lead him back to her car, following her like an obedient dog or a small, directionless child. His demeanour was odd, given his size, but she held on anyway, her fingers wrapped around gnarled muscle, her mouth making platitudes she wasn't sure he could hear.
PTS They said and a very bad case of it. He had – no doubt – been attacked in someway. His ribs were black and blue with bruises and his stomach bleeding inside and out. His fingertips were burnt off, his neck showed signs of laceration and there was blood on his hands, in his mouth that did not belong to him. The Police spent hours by his bed but he never said a word. He ate what they gave him and he drank what he was offered but he never closed his eyes, staring blankly at them with fuzzy hazel eyes until they drugged him and forced him down into the mattress praying that he got some rest.
He doesn't speak; only sleeps when he is drugged and stares constantly at walls. The psychiatrist talks to him in a soft voice and tries to get something out of him but he can't – or won't – talk.
They wash him and trim his hair; he twitches when they do so, eyes wild. It is the only time he reacts – to anything – and the barber is so nervous he doesn't come back.
They transfer him to a 'facility'.
No identification makes him a John Doe and they call him John all the time as they talk to him, try to make him listen to them. One of the nurses is washing his face, soft and gentle and she calls him John. He goes rigid, eyes on her face as sudden as anything.
"Sammy," he says and it is the first and last thing he says for a while.
They come and take his picture.
He doesn't react to the flash, just stares into the lens, face slack.
No one has come for him so far and it is an outside chance to think that anyone will come for him now.
Dean is on a job.
Lisa knows how hard it was for him to go back to hunting, knows that he made a promise to his brother, a promise that he was determined to keep whatever happened. She knows how much Dean has cried over this, how he spent his nights drinking whiskey and his days vomiting it up. She understands grief, has seen it first hand, but this, this is stronger and deeper than anything she has ever seen before and it chills her down to the bone.
The paper is local, a rag more than anything else. Usually it is lost dogs or yard sales but today there is a photo – enlarged and grainy – on the front page and it makes her sick to her stomach as she stares at it – not wanting to believe, her heart telling her that Dean's brother is DEAD, her head and – now – her eyes telling her something completely different.
She met Sam once and briefly. A big, shaggy haired man of a boy, all sharp angles and fox-like eyes. She recalls dimples, a sweet smile but a steely glare, she sees long legs in faded jeans and a plaid shirt that had seen one too many washes. Sam looked nothing like Dean – the only resemblance being a cleft in the chin and the same protective expression. She wasn't even sure if she would know Sam again but now – staring at the paper – she was certain.
She bundles Ben into the car and drives to Kansas. The note she left for Dean seems abrupt and terse and tells him nothing. She hides the paper in her bag and hopes that 'Sammy' doesn't make the TV. She doesn't know what she is going to do when she gets there; she only knows she is going to do something.
Dean arrives home; exhausted and covered in slime. He wanted a beer and maybe to share his bed with his hot, yoga girl. It had been a while since they had – well – been intimate and he wanted it, needed it and now – now Lisa was gone.
He finds a phone number and address scrawled on the phone pad. He wonders – briefly – why Lisa would want to go to a 'facility' and hopes nothing is wrong with Ben. He calls her cell but it is off and he frowns, slumping down on the sofa with a beer and a sandwich.
Something stirs in his gut and he doesn't know why.
He sits in the bed, gaze fuzzy.
Lisa recognises him instantly as the boy she saw outside her house after the incident (and she calls it that to keep herself sane) with the changelings. He is paler, skinnier, but his shoulders are still broad, face still open and innocent. She didn't know if she expected a drooling idiot or someone in a straight jacket but all she sees is a lost soul (maybe literally) who wants and needs something, something that she might not be willing to give – certainly not without a fight.
A garbled message on her cell makes her start. She sits on Sam's bed to make the call. Sam says nothing, just stares at her without recognition. She has given Ben a soda and a magazine and he sits in the corner and reads them. After what happened years ago Ben is – seemingly – unmoved by all of this – but she doesn't really know what is going through his head and perhaps she doesn't want to.
Lisa sounds – well – distressed and he gets up, stares out of the window, at the streetlamp that never appears to work, at the sky. He tries to make sense of what she is saying, tries to understand why she is saying sorry over and over again. In the end he shakes his head and listens, thinking he might be hearing things, that maybe he has to clean the slime out of his ears when he hears the word spoken slow and simple.
He felt as if he were swimming in thick molasses; he knew that there were people nearby, humans; soft hands and warm skin, not wanting to hurt him, to torture him.
He tasted the food they gave him, felt the coolness of the water against his hectic skin. He felt gentle hands in his hair, heard a voice always talking, calling his name, telling him that he was ok – that he was safe now.
He could smell something familiar; spice, sweat, leather. A voice so close to his ear, the whisper of breath on his skin. He wanted to open his eyes wide and see, see the person that was holding him, see the person whose tears were wetting his flesh, his hair.
This wasn't hell and he was safe here.
Dean could always see – in his mind's eye – the wreck that Gabriel left behind – the drooling idiot, the blank eyes. He remembered what Castiel said about what Michael might do to his body, his mind. Lucifer was an angel – the most powerful angel of all – and he – he had ridden Sam – ridden him for days and who knows how long after, who knows how long since Sam plunged into the pit.
He looks at his brother and wants – wants to hear that voice again. He would give the earth – his soul God help him – to see that bitch face, to hear Sam call him out.
He looks across at Lisa and sees her guilt; it is transparent and she isn't even attempting to hide it. He knows – deep inside – that she never intended him to know – that she wanted him to keep his normal. He knew she let him hunt to keep him contented, sober but if Sam was back then there was no question – no question at all who he would choose at the end of the day.
He wants to choose Sammy – trouble is – he isn't sure Sammy is there anymore.
Bobby comes from Dakota; he looks tired, worn. Castiel comes from who knows where, flutters down to Earth in that way of his, face placid, hands tucked into the pocket of his trench coat, head to one side as he stares at Sam.
"Can you fix him?" Dean has asked that question so many times over so many years and it doesn't shame him to ask it again. Beside him Bobby remembers the taste of Castiel's blood in his mouth and the snap of his own neck. He looks at the blank faced man on the bed, at the skin as white and fragile as the sheets he lies on, at Sam's still hands and confused eyes. Lucifer has long gone but his legacy still remains and Bobby wonders at the sense of keeping this semblance of Sam alive.
"Is it what you wish?" A foolish question under any other circumstance. Lisa looks at Dean and he sees the sadness there, the resignation. She takes Ben's hand and leads him from the room without a backwards glance, without a goodbye. It is – and always was – inevitable and Dean watches her go without a shred of regret. He might appear heartless and cruel – but his very presence at the side of this bed says differently.
Dean doesn't answer – just looks at Castiel, green eyes intense and wanting.
Castiel smiles then, peaceful, almost human and touches his fingers to Sam's forehead.
The mist clears as if it was never there. He remembers crawling his way out of the heat, the fires, the torture. He remembers the coolness of the rain and the kindness of a stranger. He remembers being called John and telling them that they were wrong – telling them one word – Sammy. He remembers Lisa's tear-stained face, Ben with a comic book, tasteless food and the sweet scent of home.
He opens his eyes – really opens them – and sees Dean sitting there before him, perched on a hospital bed, Castiel by his side, Bobby standing by the door.
The black hole in his memory clears and he sees, he sees it all.
"Sammy?" Dean smiles so bright it almost blinds him and he feels his mouth – so long unused – break into a smile, feels it crack his cheeks, feels hot tears sting his eyes.
"Dean," he croaks.
And then he knows, he knows he is human and that he is no longer alone…