Author's Note: This is the final chapter boys and girls. I hope you've enjoyed the ride and if not, I'm sorry but I have a no returns policy. Goodbye RoboSam. (And can I say, how friggin' cool is it that I wrote that phrase before the show did?) I will miss you RoboSam. You were scary, funny, sexy and you kept us on our toes. And you were taller too, right? Or bigger. Am I right? Mmmm...anyway. I look forward to Sammich time. I love me some Sammy.
Disclaimer: I tell you every time that I don't own them. I've admitted to kidnapping them. I've been paid money to have them shipped out to several of you. But honestly...They're NOT here! I don't know where they are. Honest!
The kitchen was unusually dark. The only light, filtering in from the library, cast a soft glow across the round table where Dean was sitting, head down, sprawled out over several of Bobby's reference books. It was the first real sleep he'd had in four days and Bobby was hard put to wake him.
Even in his sleep, Bobby could see the tension and worry etched across the young man's face and it pulled at his heart the way nothing else could.
Quietly, Bobby pulled a chair out, taking a seat next to Dean and watching him, considering his options before placing a hand on Dean's shoulder, shaking him gently.
"I'm not sleeping," Dean denied, his head popping up off the table.
He blinked away the sleep, his unfocused eyes, rolling around the room before landing on the older hunter sitting beside him. Bobby smirked in amusement at the man's obvious cover and rubbed his hand over the top of Dean's shoulder, giving him a firm, grounding squeeze.
"He's awake," Bobby said gently, "and he's asking for you."
Reality splashed over Dean like a bucket of ice water and he jerked awake. But as much as his instincts told him to bolt down the stairs, Dean remained seated; his heart not yet ready to face the truth of the situation.
"He will sleep now."
Pale eyelids blinked slowly around dark, unemotional irises. It was almost trance-like. From the moment the ominous reaper had turned away from Sam, Dean had found himself spellbound by Death's stare. So much so that at first, he didn't realize that Death was in fact, speaking to him.
"I'm sorry?" Dean asked, shaking the fog from his head.
"Your brother. He's asleep," the pallid man repeated, approaching the panic room doorway.
"Oh, yea. Good."
"For how long?" Bobby's voice broke through the unnatural quiet. Dean had almost forgotten that the older hunter was standing there with him even though Bobby had never relinquished his steadying hold on Dean's elbow.
"Until he no longer needs to sleep," Death answered sardonically. Turning his attention back to Dean, Death offered further instruction.
"Tread carefully, Dean. Remember what we discussed; what you learned."
And with that he was gone. No trace of demon sulfur, no beat of feathered wing, just gone. Dean wasn't sure whether to cry out for his return or to breathe a sigh of relief and so he did neither.
"He's a cryptic son of a bitch, isn't he? What the Hell did he mean by that?"
"Right now, I don't care. All I care is he gave me Sammy back."
Dean caught the inferred 'you better' in Bobby's statement, 'You better hope so'. He turned his face toward the man looking for a confirmation of the doubt he heard in Bobby's voice. The doubt he felt, himself.
"You don't think I did the right thing, do you?"
"Kid, I think you did the best thing, the only thing you could have done. Other than…" Bobby stopped, suddenly conscious of where his mind was going.
"Other than putting him down," Dean finished. His heart sank and then he admitted, "It's okay. I thought it too."
Afraid to see more, they turned away from each other and focused their attention through the doorway to where Sam still laid on the padded metal cot.
"God," Dean groaned. "You saw him, Bobby. He was terrified."
At this, Bobby did turn to look at Dean. He took the young man by the arm to swing Dean's attention around to him.
"What I saw," Bobby started seriously, "was self-preservation and it's made him unpredictable and scary."
Dean couldn't argue with either of those depictions, but there was still a look of uncertainty on his face.
"Dean, he was desperate. You didn't hear him earlier. That Sam, that other guy…was just that; another guy. And he was desperate to hold onto his life and knew you were equally as desperate to get rid of him so you could have your brother back. He's probably been leveraging your feelings for your brother for a while now. To play to his own agenda.
"Am I that easily manipulated?"
"When it comes to Sam?"
"Yea, dumb question."
Once again they fell into silence, their focus returning to the sleeping man, whose hands hung loosely over the edge of the cot, raw and torn from his fight to get free.
"Well," Bobby said, breaking through the silence. "We should probably get him cleaned up, get those cuffs off and make him comfortable."
He stepped forward and then stopped when he realized that Dean wasn't following. Concern washed over him when he turned and found Dean staring with wide, panicked eyes. The man was frozen just outside of the room, unable to pull his gaze away from the still form of his brother.
For the second time in half an hour, Dean shook his head clear. He roughly cleared his throat, pushing away the emotions that threatened to choke him.
"Yea, of course," he said, but couldn't force himself to take a step any closer. "I, uh, gotta go um…"
"Dean, you did the right thing," Bobby encouraged.
"No, yea. I know. There's just um…this thing…"
Nodding his understanding, Bobby conceded.
"Alright, go on. I'll take care of Sam."
That was all the permission Dean needed. He backpedaled toward the staircase, trying to put as much distance as possible between himself and the grief and guilt that were now washing over him.
Bobby stood below, watching the young man's retreat. He knew that escape wasn't the answer to Dean's problems, but didn't have the heart to make him stand and face his fears either.
He had a basket full of fears and doubts himself, but Bobby had many more years of experience in such things and turned back toward the panic room to tackle the least of them.
Approaching the cot slowly, Bobby lowered himself down beside Sam and looked on the boy, the man, whom he regarded as a son. The peaceful sleep that Sam was in, nearly disguised the horrors of the past few hours. Nearly, but not quite. Bobby tried to shake the memory of Sam. A predator that prowled around the edge of the darkened shed, stalking Bobby like prey even though the older man was already tied down and defenseless in a chair. The cold look in Sam's eyes, the desperate tone of his voice as he tried to rationalize his actions; these were the things of nightmares. These were the reasons now, that even in his sleep, Bobby was leery of releasing him of the bindings that held him down.
"I, um…I'm trying real hard to understand, Sam. I am. But ya had me real worried tonight. Actually had to check my shorts after."
Bobby snorted a laugh, since Sam wasn't conscious to do so himself. He then pulled a small key from his shirt pocket and turning away from Sam, pressed it into the lock and released the first of Sam's feet from the cuffs before moving on to the second. There was damage to the material of his jeans, but Bobby was relieved to see that Sam's ankles had been protected by his boots. He slid the Blundstone boots free from Sam's long feet, setting them side by side on the floor at the foot of the cot.
"It just brought back lots of memories, ya know? Bad memories. Don't like seeing my family changed like that, like what I saw in you today."
Bobby took in a slow, shattered breath, trying to gain some composure. But composure it seemed was not to be found and Bobby felt the first tear roll down the round of his cheek, followed quickly by its match on the other side. And this time his back shook when his lungs convulsed around the sob he didn't know he'd been holding back.
"Don't think I could survive another Karen," he said, dropping his gaze into his lap. His eyes landed on callused, well worked hands. The same hands that had plunged the knife into the chest of his wife. The hands that had, a little more than a year ago, repeated the act, only that time using his Colt. Self consciously, Bobby began rubbing his thumb against the palm of one hand like he was trying to remove the invisible blood that was permanently stained there.
"There's no way I could survive," he continued. "I'd sooner have you go ahead and kill me then to live through that again."
He raised those same callused hands and swiped at his eyes and then, clearing his throat, turned his attention to Sam's wrists. They hadn't escaped the trauma unscathed. Bobby released the lock and gently pulled the cuff away from Sam's right wrist. It was scraped and seeping, but wasn't as bad as Bobby had feared. Unfortunately, he could see from where he sat that the left wrist was much worse off. This of course had been the arm Sam had pulled hardest against, using all his strength to put distance between him and the odd man that had earlier held the glowing orb of doom above Sam.
Bobby leaned over Sam's chest and unlocked the cuff. Removing this one from the boy's arm would be more difficult. The metal had bitten deep into the skin, becoming nearly imbedded there. Bobby closed his eyes to hide the cringe of pain he felt in Sam's stead.
Bobby stood and left the room, returning shortly with a bowl of warm water, several clean cloths and a few other items he would need. He came around to that side of the cot and sat down, resting Sam's limp hand against Bobby's own thigh. Having saturated the first rag in clean, warm water, Bobby rang it out and then carefully applied pressure to the skin that was already swelling up around the metal of the cuff. Taking his time, he pried the cuff free of Sam's wrist and then examined the wounds as he cleaned them.
The skin was puckered and swollen, torn in a ragged ring encircling the upper most part of Sam's hand. It looked raw and terribly painful, but the sleeping man never once winced during Bobby's ministration.
"What a mess. And I don't just mean this wound, I mean this whole situation. What is it with you Winchesters? The crap that happens to your family…it's like something out of one of those made for TV science fiction movies. This crap just doesn't happen in real life."
Bobby pried open a round tin of cow salve and slathered the pungent smelling ointment on the open wound and then loosely wrapped a clean cloth around Sam's hand, pinning it in place with aluminum clips. He did the same to Sam's right hand but left it open to the air.
The water in his bowl was polluted with Sam's blood, so dark that Bobby's stomach turned at the thought of how much blood the kid might have lost from his shredded wrist.
Bobby pressed his fingers firmly beneath Sam's jaw line, seeking the pulse point and was only slightly surprised to find it slow and steady. Using his last clean cloth, Bobby swiped at the light sheen of sweat over Sam's face and neck.
Brushing the long hair away, Bobby took a moment to really study Sam's face. It was the same face that just hours before had stood over him, bared Bobby's throat and lifted an arm, ready to plunge the knife home. But it was also the same face that for the better part of three decades had warmed and repaired a gruff ole guy's broken heart.
"Look. You and Dean. You're all I have left. And I know you don't get why Dean had to do this, but I, for one, am glad he did. Just hope everything works out the way Dean thinks it will. Don't know about you, but I get tired of watchin' him be wrong all the time."
Bobby rose from the cot, crossing to the desk where earlier he had laid a couple blankets. He flipped on the desk lamp and then gathered the blankets. Opening them up, he laid them out across Sam's prone form, smirking slightly when they barely reached from shoulder to feet.
"You get some sleep, Kid. We'll talk things out later."
Bobby walked from the room, flipping the light switch on the outside of the door, leaving only the desk lamp for light. He trudged tiredly up the stairs and down the short hall into the kitchen. No Dean. He didn't find him in the library either. Prior to going to investigate upstairs, Bobby paused to look out the front door and shook his head gently at the sight of the older brother. He pulled the door open and carefully edged out onto the porch, waiting for an outburst or a reaction to his presence. When there wasn't one, he tentatively stepped down and walked across the lawn to Dean.
In his haste to escape, Dean tripped up the last step, stumbling into the hallway, panting. He braced himself against the wall, took a few gasping breaths and swallowed back the bile before realizing it was no use.
Quickly, he made his way through the house, flinging the door open and plowing down the front steps to the snow covered lawn. There he dropped to his hands and knees and retched.
When his stomach had been appeased, Dean sat back on his feet and wiped his mouth with the back of sleeve.
He sat like that for what seemed like forever; knees imbedded in snow, hands on top of thighs for balance, face turned up into the moonless gray of pre-dawn.
On the outside his body language read guilt, anguish and misery, and inside his mind was just as torturous, as he tore apart every action and decision he'd made in the last four months. Replaying fragments of every conversation and thought that had entered his mind:
I'm not sure retrieving Sam's soul is wise.
I want him to survive.
Unless you want to be a drooling mess?
When angels and demons agree on something, call me nuts; I pay attention.
I don't think I want it back.
Dean closed his eyes and as if by magic, found his mind rewinding four years into the past; he and Sam sharing a beer, leaning against a fence that overlooked a winding river. And then it all clicked into place and Dean became aware that this, this was the moment in time when it all went sideways. His life…Sam's life. As messed up as their lives together had been, nothing had been the same after that day, that conversation.
He said that he wanted me to watch out for you, to take care of you.
He told you that a million times.
No, this time was different. He said that I had to save you.
Save me from what?
He just said that I had to save you, that nothing else mattered; and that if I couldn't, I'd . . .
You'd what, Dean?
That I'd have to kill you. He said that I might have to kill you, Sammy.
Their lives had been in a tailspin after that. The entire universe seemed aligned with the sole purpose of ripping them apart and Dean had fought tooth and nail to keep them together, but to what end? None of it had mattered. The dying and the deals and the resurrections and the self-sacrificing to save the world…all of it together wasn't enough to save Sam.
Even now, with Sam's soul having been retrieved from Hell, it still wasn't enough. Sam hadn't been saved…not really. He'd been torn from Michael and Lucifer's grasp sure, but he hadn't been saved from the agony of being there all this time. His soul had been reconnected with his body, but it had been done against Sam's wishes - well, that other Sam's wishes - and in a way that could easily be described as rape. Death had given Dean his brother back, but there was no guarantee that Sam would stay sane or even alive.
So Dean sat kneeling in the snow, this violation against his brother, resting completely on his shoulders and weighing heavily on his heart. He wanted to feel elated, secure in the knowledge that he had just saved Sam. But there was every possibility that all he'd done was condemn Sam's body to the same Hell that his soul had been through. And that was a failure to protect Sammy the magnitude of which Dean could barely comprehend.
"What did I do?" The question may have been directed toward the bleak sky, but it was intended for Bobby's ears.
Dean had felt rather than heard Bobby approach; felt the warmth of the man as he came to stand behind him. And the comfort.
With a slow, shaky breath, Dean lowered his head down to his chest, his chin rising with every intake of breath and then sinking with every exhale. It was all he could do to keep breathing, to keep from breaking. Bad enough that Bobby would see the snow, stained with what little he'd had in his stomach, but Dean refused to continue to let this scene play out any further than it already had.
It wasn't Bobby's responsibility to pick him up and put him back together. Dean had to dig deep and do that for himself so that he'd be capable of doing the same for Sam when the time came. When, not if.
As if knowing what Dean was thinking, what he needed, Bobby nudged a knee gently into Dean's side and made light of the situation.
"If you're gonna get sick and beat yourself up, you can at least do it inside. Not gonna be responsible for two big babies. I'm not a wet nurse, ya know."
Dean's head bobbed on his chest in a silent laugh, but otherwise didn't respond. Bobby reached down a put a hand under Dean's upper arm. Without waiting for a sign of approval, he hauled Dean to his feet, turning him and giving him a light push toward the house.
Cold, from the folding metal chair, seeped through the fabric of his jeans, sending chills up Dean's spine, and exciting goose bumps down his arms. Absentmindedly, he rubbed at his skin and then groaned quietly when the movement pulled at stiff, unused muscles.
It had been a little more than forty-eight hours since Death had deposited a glowing orb into Sam, pressing the scarred soul back into his body while Sam begged and pleaded for Dean. And for a majority of those forty-eight hours following, Dean had sat in vigil inside the panic room, fighting off the screams that still echoed in his mind.
When the whole thing had gone down, Dean had wanted to rush into the room to his brother's side, hold him down on the cot to keep him from bucking against the metal bonds, but it was like he was barricaded from the room. Tried as he might, he couldn't force himself over the threshold.
It had taken the rest of that night and into the next morning for Dean to find the strength to breach that doorway. But since that time, he had only left the room for restroom breaks and once for a very quick shower when Bobby demanded that the funk be removed from the room.
Truth be told, Bobby had wanted Dean out of the way while he tended to a few of Sam's own personal needs. Young guys were so squeamish when it came to words like sponge bath and catheter.
Dean spent his time scribbling like mad in his journal and pouring through any book that Bobby was willing to bring down to him. At first he hadn't really had a direction or goal in his reading; he was just taking up the slack in the research department while his baby brother was out of commission. That was until he recalled Death's warning to remember what they'd discussed. He'd called him an intrepid detective and encouraged him to 'keep digging'. It's about the souls.
"What about the souls?"
The all too familiar voice directly beside Dean made him jump and he clutched at his chest, willing his heartbeat to slow down.
"Cas? Why do you have to do that to me every time? One of these day's you're actually going to give me a heart attack and then where will you be without me?"
"I will be here," Castiel paused, catching the roll of Dean's eyes and then continued with a slightly amused quirk of his eyebrow, "wondering where you are and why you are not returning my calls."
"Ha," Dean barked out a laugh. "That was a joke…you made a joke. It wasn't a very good one," Dean pulled a humorous frown and shook his head, "but I'll give you an A for effort."
Dean lowered his head to the desk with a thunk and a chuckle that rumbled in his chest.
"Either you're funnier than usual or I'm just that freakin' tired."
"Have you slept?"
"A couple of hours," Dean raised his head, his eyes rolling towards the ceiling, counting out the hours between naps, "yesterday sometime."
Cocking his head to the side, Castiel gave Dean a critical frown.
"You need to sleep, Dean. You will be of no use to anyone if you are not rested."
"Yes Mom. Did Bobby send you down here?"
"No. I came to talk with Sam."
"You, ah…know he's not really talkin' too much right now, right?"
"I am aware. But this is what you humans do. You visit friends that are ill. Offer them comfort."
"You're back to being friends with Sam? I kinda got the feeling that the summer lovin' was over, Sandra Dee. But don't let me stop you."
Journal in hand, Dean pushed his chair back away from the desk and stood, turning it into Castiel's awaiting hand.
"Offer away. I'll just give you love birds some time, but," Dean hesitated in the doorway, wavering on the decision to leave his brother, "you be sure and let me know if he has anything to say."
He stood there for a moment longer, just long enough to watch Castiel sit down and lay a soothing hand on Sam's arm.
Dean was standing over the kitchen sink, rinsing off the plate he'd just used, when Castiel fluttered into the room. This time Dean had prepared himself for the sudden appearance and wasn't thrown off guard. Bobby on the other hand had not been expecting it and the newspaper he had been holding chattered his surprise.
"Where'd you come from?" he barked.
"Your basement. Sam says hello," he added, turning to Dean, making the man's eyes crinkle around the edges in amusement.
Bobby started to rise from his chair but Dean was quick to hold up a placating hand, stopping the older hunter from rushing for the basement door.
"He's joking, Bobby. Cas is Mr. Funnyman today."
"Shouldn't joke about stuff like that," Bobby grumbled before sitting back down.
Ignoring Bobby's complaint, Castiel turned to the sink, picked up a towel and as natural as could be, took the plate from Dean's hand and began drying it.
"Well Hell, Cas. If you're gonna dry, let me start a sink full."
Castiel shrugged his indifference, placing the plate into the cupboard where it belonged, but quickly changed his mind when Dean actually started running the water. He set the towel down and walked away from the sink. Halfway across the room, he stopped and pivoted back, pausing to concentrate inwardly. Bobby watched his progress and took note of the heavy thinking.
"Somethin' you want to get off your chest?" he asked.
Castiel glanced in Bobby's direction, nodded once and then lowered his head again in deep thought.
The silence brought Dean's attention around to him and upon seeing confusion and concern etched across Castiel's face; immediately began to tense.
"I am curious, Dean. Earlier, when I arrived, I found you talking to yourself."
Dean nodded, waiting uneasily for the question.
"What did you mean, 'it's about the souls'?"
Dean picked up the discarded dish towel, dried his hands and crossed to the table where his journal lay open. He grabbed it up and presented it to Castiel who gave it a sideways look before focusing again on Dean. Instead, Dean handed the journal to Bobby, who took it with more interest.
"It's something Death said to me. 'It's about the souls.' I have a theory, but I've kind of been waiting."
"For what?" Castiel asked with a contemplative tilt of the head.
Dean bobbled his head back and forth, trying to decide whether he really wanted to admit his reason. Upon seeing the looks of the two men staring at him, he knew he was trapped and would have to give in.
"Waiting for Sam," he said uneasily.
Bobby's voice was soft and concerned, which immediately grated on Dean's nerve. He rolled his head loosely on his shoulders before fixing a dark look on the older hunter.
"Son, I hate to break this to you, but we don't know when Sam's gonna wake up…if ever."
"You think I don't know that?"
Bobby lifted his hands in surrender.
"All I'm sayin' is you can't shut down, holdin' out hope on your brother. If you've got something, then we can't sit on our hands, waitin' for him. We gotta move on it."
"Bobby is right…"
"Yea, yea, yea. I know. I know, alright? I just…this is something Sam would want to be a part of. I know it. I just thought that if I could wait for him, we'd…I don't know…work on this together."
Bobby reached out to put a hand on Dean's arm, but the young man pulled back.
"Come on. Don't," Dean said, shaking Bobby off. "I'm good."
"Alright then," Bobby submitted. "Then show me what you have."
Dean pulled a chair away from the table, spinning it on one leg and sat down, straddling the seat. "Okay…well first, I lost the bet."
With narrowed eyes and a heavy brow, Castiel studied Dean intently, wondering why, of all the men on earth, it was always this man to tempt fate when it came to dealing with supernatural forces. Although having known Dean for nearly three years, Castiel's eyes had been opened to the lengths humans will go. And if Sam was involved, Castiel had come to realize that there was nothing Dean wouldn't do.
"There was a wager?" Castiel inquired.
His lips, thinning into a grimace, Dean looked guilty when he nodded his answer.
"I tried to bargain for Sam's soul and agreed to wear Death's ring for twenty-four hours."
"You made a deal?"
Dean nodded again, looking anywhere in the room except at Castiel.
"But you lost the wager?"
Castiel had made his way to the table and ghosted into a chair beside Bobby, his eyes never leaving Dean.
"Jeez, Cas. Stop with the twenty questions and let me talk. I screwed up, alright; took the ring off to save some guy who wasn't even on the list."
"Kinda glad you did," Bobby interrupted with a light chuckle. "I'd have been next on your list if you hadn't."
"Yea, well there's that."
"If you lost the wager, then why is it that Sam's soul is restored?" Castiel asked.
"Death said 'we have use'."
"Meaning what exactly?" Bobby asked.
Dean shook his head. "He didn't say…exactly. Just spouted a whole bunch of cryptic crap that I've spent the last two days trying to sort through."
He took the journal back from Bobby and flipped a few pages toward the front where he'd scribbled out a list. People, places, events; a list of dots that just needed to be connected. He needed fresh eyes on it. He needed Sam's eyes. The man could see patterns in chaos. But Dean would have to be patient and wait for Sam's assistance. In the meantime, he had Bobby and Cas to bounce ideas off of.
"I think," Dean paused to consider his wording. "I think it's up to Sam and me to put this right."
"This?" Castiel asked.
"This…everything. The monsters and the alphas and even your problems in Heaven, Cas. It's all because of us."
"Says who?" Bobby argued.
"Says Death. We're not meant to die and keep comin' back, again and again. Not that I'm not happy we have, but it's wrecking the natural order, screwing up the balance of the universe, or something. And I get it. I messed up my time as Death and I had to go back and put it right. It's just time that Sam and I do the same. No more deals, no more resurrections. When it's our time, it's our time, but until then, we gotta go back and 'mop up the mess' and that includes helping you, Cas."
"Dean, there is nothing you can…"
"You're wrong, Cas. There's plenty I can do. Look, I've got this…list; a soul related list. And your pal, Balthazar is in the top five. Death says it's about the souls and wants me to keep looking into this and I intend to."
Both Castiel and Bobby could see and hear the determination set itself like concrete in Dean. There was no arguing with him, no reasoning. The only one who had a chance in Hell in dissuading him was in the basement in a virtual coma.
Dean folded a page corner in the book he was reading to mark his spot and rubbed absentmindedly at his face, yawning. Peeling himself stiffly from the chair, he stood, lifting his hands above his head, stretching his arms and back. He twisted first left, then right and finally folded at the waist to reach for his toes, relishing the series of cracks that ran down his spine, almost groaning in pleasure. He looked down on the still form of his brother and huffed out a frustrated sigh.
Another two days and still no indication of Sam's recovery, other than his wrists, which Bobby had commented were healing nicely. But otherwise nothing; no soft snores, no rapid eye movement to indicate dreaming, just…nothing.
From time to time, while Dean was bent over his research books, he would catch himself watching Sam; checking to make sure he was still alive. His eyes would drift over and watch the slow rise and fall of Sam's chest, all the while holding his own breath, just in case he was imagining it.
It just didn't make sense. To the outside observer, there was physically nothing to keep Sam from waking up. It aggravated Dean to no end and when he wasn't researching or watching his brother, he was spouting off rude comments in hopes that Sam would be offended enough to hear him and wake up to defend himself.
"You need to stop being such a princess, Sam. This whole Snow White business is getting old. You know that story was nothing more than a big midget gang bang anyway, right? I mean, Dopey…with those big ears…"
"And if you think I'm gonna play Prince Charming and give you a kiss…well, buddy, you've got another thing coming. Maybe Bobby's up for it," he suggested, slyly.
"Up for what?" Bobby asked suspiciously when he walked in on Dean leaning over his brother's ear, grinning wickedly.
Dean's ears flamed up shamefully at having been caught and he ducked his head. "Oops," he whispered to Sam.
"Quit harassing the boy, Dean. He'll wake up when he's ready."
"Are you sure?"
The tone of the man's voice was so soft and young, that Bobby had to actually look twice to be sure it had been Dean to ask the uncertain question.
He was immediately reminded of a fifteen year old who had sat by, nervously watching Bobby care for his little brother's shredded knees and hands. Gravel had a way of being unforgiving on blue jeans and little boys' knees, especially when the same little boy had been running for his life.
Smiling, Bobby remembered a much younger Sam asking for a lighter. The boy had danced around Bobby's suspicious questions and then grinned when the older hunter had reached into his pocket and produced a lighter anyway.
"Don't blow anything up," had been Bobby's advice.
The eleven year old had frozen in his tracks, wide-eyed and unsure then how to proceed.
"Fine," Bobby gave in, waving the boy on. "Just don't kill anybody."
Sam practically jumped for joy and sped away, throwing dust behind his quick feet.
Five minutes later, Bobby heard the unmistakable sound of an entire brick of black cats exploding and echoing across the salvage yard, followed shortly by an outraged cry.
"Ow! Son of a Bitch! Yea, you'd better freakin' run, Bitch, cuz I'm gonna beat your ass when I catch you."
Sam came tearing around the corner, running like the devil was on his heels, which wasn't far off. A second later, Dean cleared the hood of an old beat up Chevette in one bound and was pounding down the aisle after the younger boy. Spotting Bobby, Sam raced toward him, hoping to find safety in the man's presence, but Sam didn't get close enough to find out. Dean lunged out at Sam, laying himself completely out to catch Sam at the ankles, dropping the boy onto his hands and knees, sliding across the rough gravel.
In one fluid motion, Dean grabbed his brother by the arm, flipped Sam to his back and had raised his fist to pound the kid. But he stopped before completing the arc when he realized that the red he was seeing wasn't anger, but blood. Sam's hands were raised in defense of Dean's strike and those small hands were torn and bloody from his collision with the rocky ground. Upon an immediate inventory, Dean found the knees of Sam's jeans ripped wide open over knees and shins stripped of skin.
Bobby knelt down next to the boys, pushing Dean gently out of the way.
"I d…didn't mean…" Dean stuttered.
"I know, kid," Bobby assured. "Don't worry, we'll getcha taken care of," he directed at Sam. "Can you walk?"
Tears streaming down his face in dirty streaks, Sam nodded, looking to Dean for reassurance, but his brother was frozen in fear, his own eyes, pooling tearfully.
"Come on," Bobby groaned, pulling the youngest Winchester to his feet. "Let's get you inside and see what we got. Dean? A little help here?"
Dean was shaken from his trance and jumped up, pulling Sam's arm over his neck for support. Sam winced when Dean's hand brushed against his injured palm. Dean was quick to utter a quiet 'sorry, Sammy'.
It was that same weak, sorrowful tone Dean used now and it was almost frightening to hear it from the man whom Bobby regarded as possibly the strongest person he knew.
That is what unconditional love can do to a man; it can make you strong as iron, but equally it can make you weak. It was more than unconditional love, Bobby knew. It was more than love between siblings. It was as close as one could get to love between father and son, because no matter how you sliced it, Dean had raised Sam. And for as long as Bobby could remember, Hell as long as Dean could remember, Sam had been more than Dean's responsibility; he'd been Dean's world.
Bobby was awash with a strong sense of Déjà vu. Over the last four days, he'd watched Dean slip easily back into a self-destructive funk while Sam lie in a coma. He wasn't eating and barely sleeping. The only things that seemed to hold his interest were the books Bobby brought down to him, the quickly depleting liquor supply and of course his never swaying focus on his brother. It was nearly as tragic as witnessing Dean's reaction to Sam's leap into the cage. The only difference was that then, Dean had promised Sam to go to Lisa and start a life. Now, Dean had nowhere else to turn, nothing more to do…than wait. And there wasn't anything that Bobby could say or do that would make the situation any easier for Dean. He could, however, do his best for Sam.
"Hey Sam," he greeted like it was any other day. Bobby tugged at Dean's sleeve and the older Winchester relinquished the bedside chair, allowing Bobby to have a seat beside his patient. He lifted Sam's wrist, first checking the wound and then closing his eyes to count out Sam's pulse. When his eyes opened again, they were clouded in confusion.
"Okay, it's that time. Abandon ship, Dean."
For a moment, Dean stood his ground, having become increasingly stubborn about leaving Sam's side.
"Unless you've decided to help with the sponge bath today."
"I didn't think so. If you're interested, there's a new book in the library. I ordered it special for you."
"Thanks, Bobby," he said, turning to leave the room.
"And there's left over supper in the fridge," Bobby hollered as an afterthought.
Bobby sat quietly, listening to Dean's heavy feet drag up the stairs and then across the floor of the kitchen. He waited just long enough to be sure that there was no way for Dean to hear him.
"You're awake," he accused.
Bobby reached down into the medkit he kept beneath the cot and his fingers closed around the cool handle of the scissors there. He lifted them up beside Sam's ear, opening and closing them for effect.
"Good a time as any to give you a greatly needed haircut. Take this mop of yours down to presentable."
"Like your brother's," Bobby added with a wicked grin.
This time, there was a flicker of movement around Sam's eyes; a slight pull around his mouth.
"Enough screwing around, Sam. I know you're awake."
Sam's eyes fluttered open, his pupils contracting as they adjusted to the light. His focus cleared and he found Bobby frowning down on him.
"How long have you been awake?"
"Na…" Sam's voice was non-existent, having been tattered during his re-souling and the days of disuse following.
"Don't try to speak. I'll go get you some water. Get Dean."
But before Bobby could even stand, Sam had brought a firm hand up to surround the older hunter's forearm, holding him in place. Bobby's eyes bounced from the white knuckled grasp to Sam's face.
The young man's eyes were frantic and Sam whimpered quietly, his head throbbing after he'd shook it a little too vigorously.
"Alright. Just the water then. Maybe a bottle of Tylenol?
Sam closed his eyes and relaxed his hold on Bobby, settling back into the thin cot mattress.
Bobby was back before Sam could even register his absence. He felt Bobby's hand cup the back of his head and pull him into a more upright position.
"Open up," was the soft instruction.
Sam opened his mouth and Bobby slid three pills from his hand past Sam's lips, followed shortly by the rim of a glass.
Sam reached out for the glass, taking a big gulp and then sputtered on the water as his throat closed in protest.
"Slow down. Small sips. I don't want you choking and throwing up all the meds I just gave you. Understand?"
Sam nodded, giving Bobby an apologetic look and took a slow, controlled drink.
Bobby put a hand across Sam's chest, got a firm grip under the man's upper arm and pulled him the rest of the way into a sitting position. He took the glass and poured another half glass, handing it back to Sam.
"Here, finish this and then I think you'd better stop for a while."
With Bobby's hand on his shoulder for support, Sam took the glass in two hands like a small child and tilted the water into his dry mouth. Over the rim, he watched Bobby closely; Bobby reciprocating the careful attention.
When the glass was empty, Bobby took it gently from Sam's hands and set it on the ground beside him.
Sam nodded his reply, sighing in relief. He tested his voice by clearing his throat, but frowned when he found it just as raw as it had been before the water. Giving up, he settled on whispering.
"Were you out?" Bobby filled in the rest of the question. He looked at his watch. It was nearing midnight. "A little over four days. How you feelin'?"
Sam raised his eyebrows in an exhausted look that over emphasized how worn out he looked.
"Tired," he admitted, dropping his chin to his chest. All of Sam's weight seemed to follow his head's lead, leaving him hunched over his lap with nothing to hold him up other than Bobby's firm hand.
"How long have you been awake?" Bobby repeated his earlier questions.
Sam lifted a hand, demonstrating by spreading his thumb and forefinger an inch apart. "Bit."
"And you're avoiding Dean because…?"
Again Sam used a hand gesture to answer, his fingers and thumb opening and closing rapidly which Bobby understood to mean 'talking'.
"He talks too much? Well duh, Sam." Bobby chuckled lightly. "It's okay," Bobby added, "Dean's already asleep at the kitchen table. He must have passed out right after sitting down. He's precious...when he's sleeping."
Sam smirked ever so slightly from beneath the long hair that cascaded over his face. With his free hand, Bobby brushed the hair out of Sam's face and tucked it behind the young man's ear.
"It's good to see you, Kid."
Sam smiled again, this time the smile extended up to his tired eyes.
"Okay. Well, we've got a few things to take care of, namely this IV and the…uh…" Bobby pointed down toward Sam's lap. "I can take it all out and you'll have to take care of your own…personal needs, yourself. Or I can leave it in until you feel a little better. Personally, I think you should leave it in cuz that IV's keeping you hydrated. But it's your choice."
One look at the grumpy crinkle centered in Sam's forehead gave Bobby the only answer he needed to hear.
"Why did I bother asking? Alright, let's lay you back and get this taken care of."
Together they lowered Sam's back to the mattress and Bobby set about removing first the IV and then the catheter.
"Toughen up a little," Bobby joked when Sam winced at the removal of the catheter. Sam just huffed his disapproval and blushed.
Bobby helped Sam get into a clean change of clothes and now Sam was seated on the edge of the cot, elbows resting on his knees, a fresh glass of water in his hands.
"You wanna lay back down?"
"Nah." Sam's croaked out, his voice slowly returning.
"Alright. So…you know I won't be able to keep your brother out of here for very long, right?"
"And I can trust you not to do something…stupid?"
Sam rolled his eyes and gestured with his hands at his worn out appearance.
"Where am I gonna go?"
"You got an hour. Don't make me regret this."
When Bobby had left the room, Sam breathed out a long, slow sigh of relief. He found it strange that after four days of unconsciousness that he would crave more silence and solitude, but that's exactly how he left. Like the trauma of whatever he had experienced had been such a concussing event that it had left him aching and his ears ringing. And the peace he had found upon awakening was blissful, but also endangered, because sure as anything, Sam knew his brother.
He knew that as soon as Dean found out that Sam was awake, the silence would end and the questions and the demands would begin. There would be an onslaught of hands; grasping, seeking, being sure that Sam was one hundred percent whole and safe.
Not that Sam minded. It was expected and necessary in Sam's world; even appreciated. But not yet…not right now. Now, Sam needed this.
Long, slender fingers raked through his hair and slid down over his face, first scrubbing the sleep from his eyes and then rubbing the stiffness from his jaw and neck. Closing his eyes, he rolled his head loose on his shoulders, enjoying the slight pull of the muscles down his back.
When he opened his eyes, his brows knitted together. On the floor next to the cot was a black leather journal. He reached down and grasped the book, juggling it slightly to keep a pen from rolling out of the place it was holding.
Opening it to the page, Sam saw Dean's handwriting. At least he was pretty sure it was Dean's. The handwriting was frantic and messy; messier than Dean's typical block letter scrawl. This was disjointed and chaotic and it was more than Sam's lethargic mind could or wanted to tackle. But one phrase leapt off the page and made Sam reconsider. 'It's my judgment that should be questioned.'
Sam sat further back into the center of the cot and pulled his long legs with him, tucking them Indian style beneath him. With the journal lying in his lap, Sam began to read what appeared to be Dean's most recent entry.
Hind sight being what it is, I'm feeling pretty worthless right now. The one true instinct that I have, to protect you, has led me to do the opposite. Cuz in saving you, I've put you in more danger. Stupid.
I don't know if you're gonna wake up and if you do, are you gonna be some kind of invalid that I'm gonna have to spoon feed for the rest of our lives? I mean, I'll do it. Don't get me wrong. But what kind of life is that for you?
I know. I could get you one of those chairs, with the mouth thing, so you can drive yourself around. We can paint flames on it and I'll get you a little license plate that says Sammy's wheels…that's not very funny…sorry.
You just need to wake up. Cuz I'm not guaranteeing that I'm gonna be sane if you wait much longer. And then Bobby'll be left with two idiots to take care of. As it is, I think he's ready to pull the trigger on me. So that doesn't hold out much hope for you then, does it?
I just wish you'd freakin' wake up already, so that we know what we're dealing with. Cuz if I know, I can deal with anything. Instead, I'm sitting here with my thumb up my ass, playing research geek, praying to Castiel and to God (if the truth be told) that I haven't made the biggest mistake of my life. And isn't that just a bitch? I've spent the last, however many months, conducting this stupid 'case study'… A study of the judgment in the unsouled. What BS. Turns out it's my judgment that should be questioned. And for whatever it's worth, no matter how this turns out, I wouldn't do it any differently.
Feeling the need to let Dean sleep, Bobby waited two hours before returning to Sam. He entered the room and found Sam hunched over the journal, chewing on his bottom lip, and twirling a pen in a loose pattern that his hand had memorized. There were three other books open, spread out all around him on the cot. He looked…in his element.
"What are you doin'? You're supposed to be taking some time before I let loose the tornado."
"Oh, yea. I know. But Dean's got a whole case file going on here and I guess I got sucked in."
"Are you supposed to be reading that?" Bobby asked nervously. "I mean, you just woke up. Can't you just rest for a bit?"
The thought occurred to him that it might end up being a full time job keeping this kid from scratching at the wall Death had installed in his head.
"Four days isn't enough rest, Bobby? I mean, Dean's got something here. There's a connection and if you can bring me my laptop I think I can get some of this sorted out."
"Yea, Dean's already said as much. Look, you two will have all the time in the world to work on this, just…for now…go easy."
Sam looked up at Bobby and saw the worry sketched out there across his face. Recognizing it as true concern, Sam gave in. He clicked the pen closed, set it down inside the journal and then systematically shut each of the books lying around him. When he was done, Sam folded his hands in his lap and looked expectantly toward Bobby.
Bobby was struck by the sight and almost laughed out loud. Sam looked like a kid on Christmas morning waiting patiently to be handed his first present.
"So, you're ready then?" Bobby chuckled.
"Is he awake?"
"No," Bobby said abruptly. "Do you think I'd be able to keep him out of here if he was?"
"Oh. Well, don't wake him up. I can tell he hasn't been sleeping."
"Yea? How's that?" Bobby's mouth twitched with amusement.
Even without seeing or talking to each other, these boys had such an ingrained sense of one another. It was like that creepy communication between sets of twins; unexplainable.
"This journal. His handwriting has gotten progressively worse. He's practically writing in shorthand by the end…Dean doesn't know shorthand," Sam added wryly.
"No, he hasn't had much sleep. You know as well as I do that he's not gonna take care of himself if you're down and out."
"Yea. But he should."
Nodding his head, Sam lowered his eyes to his hands and fidgeted with the healing wounds on his wrists, feeling the guilt wash over him.
"Hell yes, he should. But neither of us are ever gonna get that through his thick skull, so there's no use getting' all worked up about it. Dean on the other hand will get worked up if he finds out you've been awake all this time and we've left him up there to sleep it all away. He's waited long enough. So…I'm gonna head up there now."
Sam continued to nod without looking up to meet Bobby's empathetic gaze. Bobby rested a warm hand on the young man's head, offering him comfort.
"S'not life or death, Son. Y'all are gonna be just fine, so quit your worrying."
He gave Sam's hair a good ruffle and the turned for the door.
"Still gonna cut that hair, though," he tossed over his shoulder.
His shoulders shaking in a silent laugh, Sam smiled, watching the older hunter round the corner and climb his way up the stairs.
"You hear me?" Bobby prodded gently, "He's up and asking for you."
"Is he okay? How's he look?" was Dean's hesitant reply.
"Tired," he answered, honestly.
Bobby registered the worry set firmly in Dean's expression and he gave Dean's shoulder another reassuring squeeze.
"I didn't know I had a couple of girls on my hands, pussy-footin' around like you are. He looks like Sam. Sounds like Sam. Hell, he even smiles, frowns and pouts like Sam. So, what are you waiting for?"
"What does he remember?"
"Hell, Dean. I don't know. I didn't ask him. If I had to guess, I'd say not much, but I don't know and I wasn't about to go pushin' boundaries to find out. Go. See. Your Brother."
Bobby grabbed Dean by the collar of his shirt and pulled, leaving Dean with no option but to follow the lead. Once standing, Dean straightened his shirt and took a deep breath; releasing it slowly. He gave Bobby a parting scowl and took the first step toward the hallway leading to the basement.
Slowly, one step at a time, Dean made his way down the steep staircase, stopping at the last step to calm his nerves.
Soft light filtered through the basement from the room in which Sam had resided for the previous four days. It was the same room in which Dean had also spent the same four days, but this time there was a completely different feel; a new, warmer feel to it.
He approached the door cautiously and felt a wave of relief flood his entire body at the sight of Sam sitting cross-legged on the cot, waiting for him.
"Hey," Sam greeted, sheepishly.
"Hey," Dean echoed. "Don't get up," he quickly added when he saw Sam try to rise off the cot on shaky legs.
Everything else was forgotten. Dean crossed the room quickly, taking Sam by the elbow and guiding him back down to his seat on the cot. He sat down next to Sam and together, they sat in silence, a matching pair, shoulder to shoulder, knee to knee, with nothing between them but the quiet communication that went on internally.
Dean was the first to speak, having to clear his throat around the lump that had formed there. Ever so slightly, he turned his head; just far enough to catch sight of Sam's profile.
Sam smirked, crookedly. The first, true dimple Dean had seen in months emerged and Dean couldn't help but smirk too.
"Yea. You?" Sam asked.
"Better now. You hungry?"
"Famished. What about you?"
"Eh, I could eat."
The brothers smiled again, this time actually looking at each other. Bobby was right, Sam did look tired. But at the same time, there was a spark in his eyes that Dean hadn't seen in years.
"Holy crap, I've missed you."
Dean surprised himself with the outburst and then felt his heart sink when Sam recoiled slightly at the strong show of emotion.
"Too soon?" Dean was quick to cover, grimacing with embarrassment.
"Maybe a little." Sam agreed.
"Do this later?"
"Absolutely. Come on, let's get you upstairs and fed," Dean announced, smacking Sam sharply on knee.
He stood and reached down, offering Sam his right hand. His brother accepted it gratefully and together they pulled him to his feet.
Face to face it was hard to ignore the emotions running high between them as they waited for Sam to become steady on his feet.
"What next?" Sam asked clearing his throat of the lump that had risen there.
"Next? We put one foot in front of the other. Simple as that, Sammy."
Bracing Sam at the elbow, they made their way out of the panic room and toward the stairs. There Dean helped Sam onto the first step and then with a hand squarely on his back, they carefully climbed stairs, leaving behind the salt covered, iron walls and Dean's stack of research books. The black leather journal lay open on the chair next to the cot, right where Sam had laid it. On the bottom of the page beneath Dean's panicked confession was a quote in Sam's precise script.
When you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss will gaze into you. – Friedrich Nietzsche
And that, as they say, is all folks.
And before anyone cries that it can't be all. I'm sorry. You're right. I didn't do the heart wrenching makeout, I mean, makeup scene. I also purposefully left it all ambiguous and open for interpretation. I've found that as this story has progressed that I've attempted to stay truer to the show, to blend my chapters into their episodes and well...it's their story. I'm not ready to lay out any definitive answers on this latest turn of events. We all have theories, but this time...I'm waiting for the actual writers to tell me what really happened.
I want to thank everyone that has taken the time to read. And doubly thank everyone that has found it in their hearts to review. I love the reviews. I'm such a review whore. It's so much fun to first, hear what y'all think and then to spam you back with PMs.
I also wanted to thank...SINCERELY thank, ZaraZee, my wonderful beta, who took so much of her own personal time to comb through this with me. Her guidance and encouragement and friendship mean the world to me. And she even managed to do this SOOOO close to the holiday. Happy Christmas Eve, by the way. :D
Time for a Holiday Break..but I have ideas already brewing...So, if you haven't already read, What's Wrong With Sam & Baby, you might do so. Cuz, I'm diving back into that verse for at least a one-shot.