Hola! I'm back again. I struggled with his part of the story, because the show veered in a direction where my story did not and I was consequently blocked. In the end, I decided to plow on with my original idea. Please let me know what you think, especially about Celeste as she might pop up in future stories.

Thanks!


Serenity Prayer - Part 2

In a movie theater in Des Moines, Sam Winchester realized something was very wrong with him.

The theater wasn't more than a little rundown with old seats, sticky floors and the unpleasant odor of old popcorn, but the entire audience was laughing, the woman next to him had actually snorted cola through her nose.

And Sam didn't understand why. He continued to watch the movie, the bluish-white light of the projector flickering above his head, and really focused, on what the characters were saying, how they were dressed, their actions. The male, a pudgy guy with no neck and a weird accent, was so nervous when the hot girl arrived at his desk that he fell backwards in his chair, his girth and the impact knocked over the wall of the cubicle, then another, then another, until a dozen walls fell like dominos, scattering people and flinging reams of paper into the air.

The theater swelled with laughter. Sam frowned and turned to the lady next to him to find her doubled over with giggles yet again, laughing so hard tears dribbled down her cheeks. Sam didn't get it.

And it dawned on him, facts sliding into the place like the tumblers of a lock. He tried to remember the last time he laughed since his return from the pit, more than six months ago. He tried to remember the last time he cried or yelled or been so overwrought with emotion that he had to express it.

But he hadn't. He was even-keeled, locked in some kind of emotional purgatory, where he suffered, he distressed, he worried about Dean, except it was internalized, and distant.

Sam watched the rest of the movie, determined to enjoy it.

He never laughed once or even cracked a smile.

He did some research, but the only lore about humans returning from Hell was about Dean, so he spoke to his grandfather, who had no leads having just returned from Heaven himself, so finally, Sam called Bobby and he hooked him with a faith healer in Brooklyn.

It was how Sam found himself sitting on the stoop in a busy city street waiting for a healer who apparently couldn't tell time. He leaned patiently against the wrought-iron railing, letting his eyes unfocus as people streamed passed. The sky darkened, light systematically fading away until the streetlights snapped on. It grew colder. Tired of waiting, Sam stood and descended the steps. As his foot hit the sidewalk, he heard the fervent clicking of heels and squinted down the street to see a woman in a violently pink coat running impressively in heels, the tail of her multi-colored scarf dangling dangerously between her feet. As she drew nearer through the fog, Sam could see that she was clearly frantic and bogged down by her gigantic purse and a bag of groceries. "I'm late!" she hollered as she skidded to a halt at the steps, panting. "You're my six o'clock, right? And I'm…so unforgivably late!" She pushed up the sleeve of her fuchsia coat, and cursed as she saw the time. "You're Samuel, right?"

He raised his eyebrows and nodded, stuffing his hands in his pockets. "Sam, yes."

"I'm so sorry!" The flustered woman said pleadingly as she dug into the depths of her purse one-handed. "Work ran late; I was researching all day. I have, like, no milk, and I needed supplies, so…I thought I'd stop and get some, because I was early but that meant taking another train and of course, that train delayed and…"

Sam gently took the bag she was holding out of her arms without the healer even noticing. She kept talking about crying babies and elitist advertising executives as she found her keys and led him up to her fourth floor walk-up. She was unlocking the door to her apartment when she stopped talking and gazed up at him with an embarrassed smile. "I'm sorry. I tend to pratter on when I'm frazzled. I'm Celeste, the incredibly rude and tardy healer." Sam shook her cold, ungloved hand.

Celeste, as a healer, was not what he had expected, he thought as he entered her apartment. Her home was a cramped little one-bedroom filled with colorful objects, bright paintings and lots of light. Sam had been to a few healers before and their homes were usually shadowed, dusty and dank, smelling of candle wax with the crackle of dark magick charging the air. Sam watched as she took off her coat to reveal a smart pin-striped pencil skirt, a white button-up, and curves he wasn't too broken to appreciate. She stepped out of her shoes that were so high, they added at least five inches, joined him on the couch. Her auburn hair was long and arrow straight, and she had smooth, olive skin flecked with chocolate freckles and marble-like, hazel-green eyes. Sam was a little skeptical of her powers, and wondered if she was moonlighting just to pawn cash off strangers.

"Don't worry, I'm not ripping you off." Celeste said calmly as if she could read his mind. If she were truly a healer, she probably had. "I just have a life outside of…well, the mystical stuff."

"I never thought that—"

"It's not nice to lie, Sam." She said softly. "This won't work if you're not open to me."

"You work in advertising?" There was no irony behind the question.

"Yeah, researcher-slash-copywriter. It's a little demanding, but the pay is good. I can't say the same for your line of work. I went law school, but failed the bar twice. Can't bring myself to try again."

Sam nodded, knowingly. "The test for New York state is the hardest," he said wistfully. "I was pre-law at Stanford before hunting invaded."

Celeste's face softened with sympathy. "I'm sorry your life took that turn. And I'm sorry about your Ellen and Jo."

Sam's eyes rounded with surprise and he didn't pull any punches. "Are you a telepath?"

She smiled cunningly, like she had more secrets than her "Sex and the City" wardrobe and apartment would led one to believe. "You're not exactly unknown in the hunting world."

"You didn't answer the question."

"Relax, counselor. I am very good at both of my jobs. I haven't read your mind. You won't let me in. This won't work until you do, Sam. So, relax, we can just talk for now. Are you hungry? I bought stuff for frittatas."

Over potato and spinach frittatas, Sam found himself asking Celeste more about her life than the other way around and he felt himself unguarding more and more as she answered every question openly and without hesitation. Celeste's grandmother had been an incredible seer and healer as had her mother, but Celeste had fought the gift. She wanted a normal life, and Sam felt instantaneous camaraderie as she told him about the impassioned fights with her mom and her turbulent teenage years. Whether it was fate or just irony or just a terrible coincidence, she fell in love with a hunter, and rescued him from the brink when a witch had hexed him, and eventually started helping his friends and friends of friends and victims. Sam realized how deep into the business she must be when she barely flinched when he mentioned the apocalypse or the notion that Lucifer was real and had been free. She'd figured out how to walk the path that Sam couldn't.

"I think you're ready, Sam," she said as standing. "Follow me."

They walked about five steps into her narrow bedroom that was decorated in varying shades of violet, and smelled of vanilla. She instructed him to lie on the bed. Sam toed his shoes off and acquiesced, prepared to drink some disgusting potion of pureed worms and bat wings or spend the night tripping on smoke from the rare herbs. He watched, head falling onto a pillow, as she poured a lime green liquid into a highball glass and placed a festively slotted spoon over the top. She balanced a soggy cube of sugar on the spoon, struck a match and lit the sugar cube. She tipped it into the glass and the whole thing burned green. Celeste waited a few moments and doused the flames with a shot of icy water. She passed the glass to Sam. "Drink it. All of it."

Sam regarded the glass suspiciously before he gulped it down. The liquid was sweet as it trailed down his throat, but it left an intense burn down his throat that made his eyes water. He coughed, both at the strong taste of anise and the heat of the liquor. "Got a kick," he muttered as the heat spread to his chest.

She made another and knocked it back, coughing and sputtering at the taste. She lit a few candles and set a coil of sage to burn on the bedside table.

And that was it. Sam scanned her table and saw not one container of meadowsweet, no adorable bunnies cowering in cages.

Celeste sat on the bed as Sam stared at the ceiling, apparently waiting. It was silent, save for the sounds of the city—a siren wailed in the distance, a dog barked somewhere below them, a television was playing a game show in the apartment above them. He wondered why she was merely sitting there with her hands clasped and not looking at him, and then he felt a warmness blossom in his chest and spread fluidly throughout his body, like oil over ice. And Sam became aware of the life surrounding him—the particles in the air and the molecules in his skin and the cells of his blood all throbbed with the electric glint of being, danced to the cadence of his heart. He could see it too, globs and amoebas of colors, neon and ethereal, flitting and sparking before his eyes. Sam might have moaned, curling his toes at the splendor around him. He wondered why he hadn't been able to see it before. Why no one had told him that everything had an aura and a pulse and soul. He wanted to stay in this heightened plane forever where he was transcended and unburdened.

Celeste shifted on the bed, her spindly fingers hovering inches above his belly and heart, but never touching. Sam panted hotly, wanting her to touch. He felt vibrant and kinetic and sensual, and he wanted to share it with her, and with everyone. She spoke in a chant and her voice was honey and feathers, and Sam could see it too, a prism fluttering and jerking through the air.

Without warning, the thrilling beauty cascading warped. The wisps of unknown colors gnarled into twists of tendrils of hellfire. The sounds that hummed like urban music morphed in the gnashing of chains and the pitiful bawling of a billions of souls that echoed out of reach, like ghosts overhead, because he was deep in the mine—in a prison made of torment and brimstone alone, except for the silver-tongued voice and the glimmer of trembling wings. There was blood on his hands and a scream in his throat as he was blasted with pain so unfathomable it splintered his spirit. But Sam was strong, fortified by the knowledge that he had won and it was finished. He could fight for a thousand years, because he was his father's son and Dean's little brother and he could protect everything that made him Sam Winchester. He just had to push it down, hold it tight and bare the pain—

Smoke wafted into his nose, making him choke. He rolled over on the soft mattress coughing, and struggled upright, sickened and bewildered. Sam felt winded and raw as if he'd run a marathon through his greatest tragedies. He rubbed his eyes with a trembling fist, and stared at the flames and didn't know where he was, down below or up above. It took a minute, but he remembered the girly bedspread and the sounds of Brooklyn. He was in the healer's apartment. The candles on the bedside table had tipped over and set the smoldering sage aflame. Reflexively, he snuffed it out on the bottom the large ashtray it sat on and righted the candles.

Celeste was gone. He didn't know what had happened or if it had even worked. His head ached a little, and there was still a pleasant thrill in his chest. But there had been flashes of what he undoubtedly knew as The Cage, and it was that knowledge that powered him off the bed into the hallway, tilting and angling away from the light. The bathroom door was ajar, and leaning to the side, Sam could see Celeste hunching over the toilet, and a beat later he understood why. Sam didn't feel too forward stepping into the bathroom and soaking a cold cloth. Celeste retched again, skin clammy and covered in tears and he swept her hair over one shoulder and dropped the cloth on her neck.

She trembled and sobbed, and the second he placed a hand on her shoulder, he knew with the same steadfast certainty that she had seen what he had. She had been in The Cage with him. "The frittatas were probably a bad idea," Sam whispered lamely as he stooped on the peach bathmat.

Celeste gaped at him with those unique hazel eyes that were flared with the same despair and terror ebbing through him. "You went to Hell." Her voice was reed thin and wavering, but it wasn't a question.

"Yes."

She sobbed. "The Cage."

"Yes."

"You probably should have led with that."

"I'm sorry. I couldn't…I didn't know…" he stammered.

"You thought I was a hack and you didn't trust me. I get it." There was anger clinging to every word. And then it vanished. "Sam, thank you."

Sam ignored her. "I haven't…remembered anything from my time down there, so I had no idea that you would get a face full."

"Son of a bitch!" She cursed, ire returning. "Sam, you don't have to apologize. Just warn the person digging around in your psyche." She was a mess with trails of mascara down her cheeks and an unhealthy pallor. Celeste moved slowly and the wild effervescence had vanished, and had left her weak and slightly gray. Sam felt guilty.

"It'll pass, don't worry." Celeste said with wave of a hand. "Let me freshen up and we'll talk."

Sam opted to return to the living room and not the bedroom as if the evil he'd revisited still lingered in there. Celeste joined him a few minutes later, face scrubbed or make-up and a puffy pink bathrobe over her skirt and untucked blouse. She sat on the coffee table in front of him. "I think I know why you feel so detached from everything." She rubbed her hands together as she spoke. "The supernatural can affect the human spirit far easier than good ol' fashioned real life. It can leave brands or even devour it completely."

He already knew that. "That's what happens to demons, right?"

"Well, yes, but that takes centuries, if it works at all. You're a fighter, Sam, and you're a lot stronger than you realize. I do read minds, and I'm damn good at it, but I couldn't read your mind or even your mood until you let me. You can self-protect better than anyone I've ever met. And that's what saved your spirit."

Sam frowned to convey his confusion. Maybe he was better off not knowing if his soul had withered away from hell and the demon blood and taking Lucifer inside his own body, leaving him cold and indifferent, unable to laugh or love or care if people lived or died.

Celeste placed her hands over his, easily regaining his attention. She didn't look at him like some kind of human-demon hybrid; he recognized the kind reassurance in her features. "You don't need to be afraid. Sam, you are quite human. Do you remember feeling that burst of protectiveness, the need to fight?"

"Yeah…"

"That was you, protecting your humanity."

It was the last thing he'd expected to hear.

Celeste grabbed his eyes and held them as tightly as she had his hands. "Essentially, you hid your humanity from Lucifer. He wanted to strip you of it, and you kept it from his reach. You buried it, behind memories and thoughts. He could still destroy some of the things that make you Sam Winchester…and that's why you can't remember things and feel so disconnected. But you'd already knew how to overpower him because you'd done it before. He didn't win, Sam. Not for a second."

Sam shook his head in disbelief. "But I'm broken. I don't feel anything anymore. I've seen monsters tear into people apart and I feel nothing."

She shrugged with a humorless laugh. "Why would you? How many horrible things have you experienced? It's like this: if I cut you with a knife, it would hurt, of course, but not as much if I stabbed you with it. You're desensitized to bad things because you've lived through far worse."

"How do I fix it?"

Celeste crossed her arms over her chest. "You tell me."

"You're the healer. Gimme a stock of those green cocktails..." He sputtered.

"Absinthe isn't a cure; it's just a way of greasing the wheels." Celeste informed him. She studied him, eyes narrowed and gaze boring deep. "You've felt extreme emotion before, and you probably didn't like it. You probably ran away from it…"

Sam's entire body seized up with a cold, immediate refusal. He wagged his head back and forth defiantly as he thought of that night under the streetlight in the Indiana suburb, watching Dean eat dinner with Lisa and Ben. How emotion crashed over him like a tsunami and he had very nearly drowned, bereft and adrift. It made him feel giddy and violent and feral. After everything that had happened with Lucifer and before, Sam needed to retain control. "No. Maybe…it's not so bad. I mean, there could be worse things, especially in my line of work."

"Sam, you know this isn't right. You wouldn't have come here if you thought it was."

"I can't be out of control again. I have to stay me and…that night, I felt…everything. I can't do that again."

Celeste opened her mouth at the same time Sam's cell phone rang. He leapt on the interruption, tugging the phone out of his coat pocket and answered it gruffly.

"Where are you, boy? I've been calling for hours." It was Bobby, not Samuel.

"I'm off the grid for a few days. What's going on?"

Bobby cleared his throat. "Thought you'd like to know that your brother is in the hospital. Cedar Springs, just north of Yellowstone."

Sam clutched the phone so tightly it cracked. "Is he okay? What got him?"

"Nothing got him, except bad luck. He took a header off a cliff into a river to save the kid. I'm shady on the details, but it's been twelve hours and he's still in there, so…"

"…it's bad," he finished. "Yeah, um…thanks, Bobby."

"Go see your brother, Sam."

Sam hung up and stared at the phone. Celeste was wrong about everything she'd told him. The very idea of his brother careening headlong over a cliff and the consequent fall to the hard water below inspired a surge of trepidation so intense that he couldn't breathe right. It was followed by a jolt of something fierce and sustaining that it compelled him to act. Sam hastily shoved an envelope of cash into Celeste's hands and bolted down eight flights of stairs.

He left his Charger in New York, flew to Denver and rented another car for the drive to the hospital. He slipped into the hospital with a practiced ease usually reserved for sneaking out of one. He stayed in the shadows, ducking into a patient's room when Lisa emerged from an elevator. Dean looked horrible and small, swaddled in layers of blankets and flushed with fever. Sam acted on long-buried instincts, pulling up a chair and gently unearthing Dean's limp arm from the blankets, making sure not to pull out any IVs or monitors. The same compulsion that coerced him to his weapons and car and luggage a thousand miles away, directed him to gently rub the smooth skin inside his forearm with his fingertips. He'd done it a million times when Dean was sick or hurt, and it had anchored him when he was floating in delirium. This time, it provided more solace and reassurance for Sam, brought the world more solidly under his feet, and his humanity closer to the surface.

He remembered things he had forgotten like that the smell of the Impala and that liked to read the Harry Potter books out loud when they drove between hunts and that Jess sang off-key in the shower.

"Sammy."

Dean's head rolled restlessly on the pillow before turning towards him, mumbling as he did when he was on heavy drugs. Sam slipped his hand Dean's and squeezed softly. "It's okay, big brother. I'm okay."

Dean tossed more fervently, and his voice grew stronger. "Ben…Ben…it's all right…jus' kick."

Sam smiled, albeit wistfully. Celeste was right that being with Dean would help him, cure him. He knew that the powerful attraction that had brought him here was the same thing that compelled him to leave. He hadn't been able to pinpoint what he'd experienced outside of Lisa's house or back in Celeste's apartment when Bobby called until now-it was love, fraternal and unbreakable. Sam finally understood that while evil had threatened to pull him apart; love would put him back together and seal the cracks.

Love had made Sam do many things, and as gut-wrenching as it was, this wasn't nearly the hardest one. He rewarded himself another minute with his brother to push the matted, dirty hair off his forehead and place a big hand over his heart just to feel its reassuring beat. And then he exited the hospital, moving through the shadows, because Sam was still utterly unstable, haunted by demons his brother couldn't kill (try as he might) and Dean had a family now.

Because Sam had fallen to ensure that life went on, especially Dean's.