A/N: Oh. My. God. I was viciously and violently attacked by plot bunnies. Seriously, I barely made it out with my life. I have like, four oneshots/mini-fics in the works, plus the final chapter(s) of 'Gaslight' and 'The Lives I Have Taken.' Please try to be patient with me, the bunnies forced me to work, and I'm picking at everything little by little.
Warnings: Hell (so blood, torture, mayhem), language (maybe a tad harsher that usual), angst, sappiness (yay Team BroMo!), some dark stuff, a backwards spin on drug addiction, and spoilers for 5.22.
"If you're going through hell, keep going."
In hell, Dean's flesh had been ripped and peeled apart, all the way down to the muscle. He endured the agony for thirty years before it became too great to withstand, and his will power broke like his bones did under Alastair's hammer. He's known pain – emotional and physical – that no other human on earth has known, and he has suffered more than any one person can imagine.
And yet, nothing has hurt as badly as this.
Four months ago, Dean let go of the most important person in his life. Four months ago, Sam went to hell and saved the world.
Since then Dean's been doing nothing but existing. He spends his days impersonating a zombie, moving, speaking, but not feeling, not even remembering. Seriously, ask him what he did yesterday, he couldn't tell you. There's a throb in his chest, so deep and dark that it pounds against his rib cage, threatening to bust through and consume the rest of him. He feels like he's balancing on the edge, teetering over but pulling back just in time to keep from collapsing into that hole inside him. The promise he made Sam keeps yanking him back to solid ground.
He kept the promise, just not exactly the way Sam wanted him to. He didn't kill himself (though God knows he wanted to) and he didn't try to bust Sam out (which he wanted to do even more) but he didn't stay with Lisa, either. He stayed with her for a few weeks, just long enough to regain his footing but not long enough for anyone to form any real attachment. He woke up from Lisa's couch most nights shouting from nightmares. He spent most days in a liquor induced haze. He knew it wasn't fair to Lisa, and especially not to Ben, but he couldn't stop. So he kissed Lisa's cheek, promised to call, ruffled Ben's hair, and left.
After he leaves Lisa's, he takes the Impala to New York and parks her in a storage garage next to their dad's. He figures that's the best place for her, side by side with all of the things that John wanted to keep safe. He takes a few things from the trunk: his favorite gun, the demon killing knife, the angel killing sword, a few random protection charms, and some rare herbs. You never know when you might need something like that, even if you don't plan on hunting. Then he stares at Sam's stuff, which hasn't been touched since the last time his little brother pawed through it almost five months ago. He contemplates going through it, maybe taking a few things with him, but in the end he decides he can't stomach it. So he stares and then shuts the trunk lid for the last time.
He ends up in Arizona, because it's one of the only states in the country that doesn't have some sort bad memory attached to it. He also ends up with a 1997 Jeep that has a rip in the driver's side seat. Dean doesn't care. He doesn't know what he's doing, other than ignoring the voice screaming in the back of his head, telling him to end it all.
He squats in a foreclosed home for a few weeks, stocked up with nothing more than bottles of water, liquor, and some necessity food. It's not living, it's not even surviving, it's…emptiness. It's nothing but existing. Sand and pebbles from the Arizona landscape get into the house, covering the floor like dust. Dean grows a beard and drinks the days away. Most of the time he thinks about nothing, but more often than not, he thinks about everything.
Then, one days, something gets in the house.
He's not entirely sure what it was, could've been anything, really: demon, spirit, wraith, imp, boogeyman, anything. The windows and doors weren't salted, there were no protection symbols carved into the wood, no charms placed over the entrances. Dean didn't bother, didn't see any reason to care. If he was killed by something supernatural then it wasn't exactly suicide, just carelessness.
But he didn't die. Whatever it was that busted in through the door, rushed him while he was half passed out with Jack D, bloodied him up, and then left. While he was lying on the floor, bleeding out much faster than normal because of all the alcohol, he could hear Sam's voice. He could hear Sam asking him why he's doing this to himself, and what gives him the right, after what he did to save the world? Dean thinks about Cold Oak and how he's now in the position Sam was in, wanting to die or save his brother, but bound by a deal and a promise. Sam died so Dean could live, just like Dean did for him a few years ago. So what gives him the right?
He fumbled for his near dead cell phone, and called 911.
Things changed after that. Not so much that he didn't miss Sam every second of every day, or that he didn't regret ever making that promise, but enough to where he shaved and started to protect himself like the hunter that he is. After the hospital had patched him up (four friggin' claw marks, looked like he got attacked by a damn animal), Dean had to haul ass out of the state, because the cops were out to get him for breaking and entering. So he moved one state up to Nevada. Nevada has the same things that Arizona has: sand, desert, heat, and no bad shit attached to it from his past. It's good enough for Dean.
The inspiration hits a few weeks later. He's sitting in a bar with his good friend Jose, mindlessly listening to other people's conversations. Eavesdropping is something that Dean's done for as long as he can remember; it's not something that he's going to stop just because he's retired.
"I had this insane dream last night," A woman says from behind Dean.
"Yeah?" A female voice answers, "What about?"
There's a hesitant pause and then the conversation continues, "This is going to sound nuts, but, do you believe that things in dreams can be real? Like, they aren't really dreams they're more of like…moments?"
"Uhm, yeah, I guess, why?"
"It was Ashton."
A sympathetic sigh, "Oh honey, I know you're going through a rough time, he hasn't been gone that long but, Ashton's dead. It was just a dream."
"You don't get it, it was just so real. I swear, it was like he was really there. I swear I could touch him."
Dean's out the door before he can hear the response.
The idea is insane, Dean knows that. It's flat out, bat shit insane. He doesn't care. He's been riding on the coattails of crazy and reckless for as long as he can remember, so he's not about to stop now. Besides, he has nothing left to lose, so why the hell not? He makes it to New York in record time. Honestly, he even thought about getting on a plane, but even his desperation wouldn't carry him that far.
When he finally gets to New York and catches sight of his Impala for the first time in over a month, his chest does this weird constricting thing and his breathing hitches. God, he missed her. He missed her like he misses Sam. He just didn't realize it until now.
"Sorry, baby," Dean mutters as he smooths his hand over the black paint, "I know I've said it before, but I'll never leave you again. I promise this time."
Then he gets in and puts the storage garage in his rear view mirror.
He barricades himself in a motel room just outside of Albany, New York with nothing but Sam's duffle, and all the necessary things to make a dream root potion. He doesn't know if this is going to work. Actually, he'd bet years in hell and say that there's no way it's going to work. Sam's gone, in hell. But is he dead? Is there a difference between dying on earth and going to hell, and just plain walking into it? Because Sam didn't really die, he fell into hell, like Alice down the rabbit hole.
Dean stares into the mug in his hand. The liquid is yellow, and the smell is putrid, just like he remembers it. He knows the risks he's taking. If this works, and he ends up in Sam's head, then who knows what he's going to find in there. He and Lucifer still might be sharing the same brain, Dean has no idea. He doesn't know if he's going to go crashing in there and be killed by Satan, or if he's going to be caught in Sam's hell dreams, of if he's going to die. Honestly, all of the above might happen. On the other hand, if Sam's really in there, then Dean can control what he's dreaming. He can help ease Sam's suffering.
Resolute, Dean drops one of Sam's hairs from his brush into the mug and swishes it around. Then he tosses it back in one gulp.
He's expecting hell. He's expecting the screaming and the agony and the blood. But there isn't any. It's puzzling because Dean knows that you can't escape hell; that's part of what makes it so terrible, hell is eternal. When he was in the pit, he fell into fitful spells of sleep – twenty minutes at the most – and he was still plagued with the sounds, smells, feelings of hell. It's a never ending loop of pain, even in dreams. So when he crashes into what he hopes is Sam's headspace, he braces himself, anticipating the inevitable anguish that is going to assault all of his senses.
But it doesn't happen. It's just empty – peaceful, even. His footsteps echo in what appears to be a huge, marble room. It reminds him painfully of the angels' green room, only not nearly as bright and without all the furnishings. It's just empty. Dean frowns as he takes in the space, looking for something, anything that will take him to Sam. He doesn't know if he should be relieved because Sam doesn't seem to be suffering or panicked because his little brother doesn't appear to be home. He's about to give up. He's about to accept that Sam's gone and there's nothing that Dean can do about it. Then the heavy weight of a hand falls onto his shoulder.
He spins, breathing heavy from adrenaline, with his good punching hand up and ready.
It's Sam, who looks just as freaked as Dean is.
"Dean?" Sam breathes with his eyes wide and glossy, "Are you real?"
Dean's still trying to process because holy shit, Sam's in front of him – he's really there, not a figment of his imagination or a hallucination from too much grief and alcohol. It worked. He's really there.
He doesn't answer verbally; instead he yanks his brother forward by his shirt and crushes him into a desperate embrace. Sam clings back just as hard, fingers digging in past clothes to grip at flesh. Dean hopes it bruises, so that when he wakes up, he'll know that he really saw Sam.
He's not ready to let go, he doesn't think Sam is either, but he has questions he needs to ask: Are you ok? Where's Adam? What happened to Lucifer? How are you blocking out hell? He doesn't want to, but he needs to, so he slowly peels himself away from Sam but keeps a firm grip on his arms.
Then suddenly the scene changes. The marble room falls away to replace an empty highway, complete with the Impala. It's sort of like a terrible heaven flashback, but it's not hell, so Dean will take it. Sam stares at the Impala like it's a long lost treasure, and then he cracks a half of smile, "let's go, we don't have a lot of time." The comment confuses Dean but he follows.
Sam tugs him to the car, hesitantly letting go when they need to separate to open the doors. They do so quickly and slam the creaky doors shut simultaneously, like they've done so many other times before. Silence fills the vehicle and Dean stares. It's been five months, five months of alcohol and pain and emptiness, and now it's all crashing to a halt because Sam's right in front of him. It's hard to wrap his mind around it.
"How are you here?" Sam asks as he stares right back at Dean.
Surprise flashes across Sam's face, which is then chased away by something that Dean can only describe as fury.
"Don't look at me like that," Dean half pleads, "You would've done it too. You would've done something."
"You promised me," Sam replies shortly, jaw working in anger.
"I kept it."
Sam sends him a short death glare.
Dean sighs and rolls his eyes, "Sorta. Listen, you can tear into me later, ok? You can even take a swing at me if it'll make you feel better, but…not now. Let's just…"
Sam's look softens and the anger drains out of him, "Yeah. Ok." Then Sam's hand finds the sleeve to Dean's leather jacket, and he holds onto it, like a toddler might hold onto a blanket. Dean feels his throat clog up. If Sam is willing to drop all walls like this, then things must be bad.
"How about you? How are you here?" Dean questions after he feels like he can speak again.
Sam shrugs and when he speaks, he does it slowly, like he's on the verge of falling asleep, "Sometimes, when I feel strong enough, I can block it all out. Doesn't happen very often. Most of the time it's just…"
Hell. Dean fills in mentally, it's hell. He swallows and moves his arm closer to Sam, who grips tighter.
Sam snorts with dry humor, "Ditched me the second we hit the pit. Spends half of his time fighting with Michael and the other half ripping me to bits."
Dean winces because he imagines that Sam means that literally, "And Adam?"
"Haven't seen him," Sam replies tightly, "Michael probably got rid of him. Don't know what happened after that."
"S'ok, we'll find him." The reassurance is immediate.
Sam smiles, slow and sad, "Dean, we're not even in the same dimension. I'm in hell, remember?"
Christ, don't remind him. It's way too easy to forget that they were ever separated when they're just sitting in the Impala, talking like no time had ever passed. It's too easy to forget that Sam's gone.
"You know you can't come back, right?"
Dean whips his head back around to look at Sam, "What?"
"It's too risky, Dean," Sam says as he shakes his head, "You got lucky this time, falling into my head when I had enough energy to escape. There probably won't be a next time."
"You could be tortured too, or killed," Sam continues.
"Wouldn't be the first time," Dean replies with a sardonic smirk.
"That's not funny."
"Just the facts, Sammy."
"Sam, don't," Dean pleads and then breathes when he feels his throat tightening, "I can't, man. I tried, and I just can't. M'sorry. And now that I know it's possible…Sam I can control your dreams, shit, I could even keep you here…" Keep you safe, Dean adds silently.
"Not forever, you can't. Sooner or later one of us is going to wake up, and if Lucifer catches on to what you're doing…it'll be bad. For both of us. I won't take that chance," Sam replies resolutely, jaw clenching as he stares out the windshield, eyes squinting.
Dean stares for a second and then chuckles humorlessly, even though there's an obvious affection in the sound as well.
"We've seen each other for a total for four minutes and we're already doing the same ole' shit," Dean says with a smile, "It's kinda nice. Annoying, but nice."
"Yeah," Sam replies, his eyes wet, "I miss you too."
The lump returns to Dean's throat and he has to work not to break down right fucking there, because no matter what, Sam's still in hell, still dead.
"I'm coming back."
"I backed your play," Dean interrupts fiercely, "God help me, it hurt like a sonuvabitch and I didn't want to, but I backed your decision to let Lucifer in. Do the same for me, c'mon man."
Sam huffs and shakes his head, "You promised to leave me here."
"I am leaving you here," And Jesus if that didn't hurt like a bitch to say. Dean actually flinches when the words finish leaving his mouth, "Technically."
"Don't you get it, Dean? I let him out, I had to put him back in, and after everything…"
Dean doesn't like where this is going. Not at all. "Everything, what?"
"I deserve to be down here for everything I did. I deserve to be in hell and I deserve to be here without you protecting me from it," Sam finishes.
Dean doesn't get the chance to do anything except stare in shock before one of them wakes up, and plunges Dean back into reality.