A/N: This is a sort of follow up to my other season six fic, A Kind Of Silence. My take on what happens during the hiatus - because I refuse to get my hopes up that I will get any kind of satisfying reunion between the boys or some sort of closure between Sam and Bobby.
Waking up feels like drowning.
Sam gasps in a shuddering breath, not at all cleanly or efficiently, which would probably bother him had he the presence of mind to be bothered. Cool air rushes down his mouth, his throat, his lungs, and maybe it's too much but he doesn't falter and doesn't stop, just keeps going like he'd been... submerged, and this is his first intake of oxygen, his first breath of life.
Which is. Which is -
Really weird, some voice decides, and just the imagined intrusion of someone in his head startles him, forces him to finally exhale.
But the thought repeats itself. Weird. Didn't I breathe yesterday?
He feels his forehead wrinkle, that little line between his eyebrows and over his nose. He's seen it in the mirror before, a million times, while practicing for a play or a speech or growling at whoever flushed the toilet while he was in the shower this time. So Sam knows he's frowning.
Shortly after his head starts hurting, a simple dull throbbing under his skull. He wonders at it. Then wonders why he's wondering at all - pain, after all, is just part of the routine now, just a fact of life.
Or - or not life, exactly, but, well. Details.
Is he alive?
The thought barely makes itself heard when something hard batters at his face - a fact he only finds worthy of note because it seems as though he has a face now. "Oh no, no no no shit, Sam! Sam!"
Interesting. Sam can hear. Which, by any path of logic, would mean he has ears. And judging by the stinging, he definitely has a face.
It's uncertain whether or not he should be intrigued. Curiosity kills the cat, or so they said - or someone said. At some point. Anyway, curiosity killed the cat, is how it goes. Curiosity killed... a lot of people.
Curiosity just kills, Sam concludes thoughtfully.
...More pain, distant but present. "C'mon, breathe! You gotta breathe! ...Sam, breathe!"
"Ungh," he mutters with his next exhale. He breathes a bit more, finds it interesting how each breath becomes less and less significant than the one preceding it.
So easy, to take something precious for granted.
"The things I put up with," someone sighs, and for the first time Sam realizes that it's not him, or even someone inside him, but rather someone else, someone other, someone a bit over him and to the left, someone with a gruff voice and tough hands that despite everything manage to set him back down on the ground (bed?) very gently.
His eyes open.
Because he has eyes.
There are - shapes. Different from what he's used to. More colors - or different colors. Both, it's strange. His head starts throbbing again like two kids are trying to pull it apart in a game of tug of war (he always hated that game), but he's just learned how to counteract that ache, so Sam wipes his mind and breathes.
And he tells himself it helps.
Someone else breathes along with him, a sharp intake of air he can hear even over the raucous silence of his mind. "Sam?"
His vision comes into focus, and he peers up in puzzlement (puzzling, everything is puzzling) at an old man with a trucker hat, fuzzy beard and six different lines of inscrutable etched upon his face.
"I..." he says, and it's his voice - his real one - so he pauses, listening to it echo inside him before he continues, bewildered, "...I talked to you yesterday."
Snort. "More like a week ago. And you did a bit more than talking."
"But -" he can feel wrinkles deepening, "but I wasn't... I - I wasn't here."
The old man's hard lines soften suddenly, eyes glittering with things not said. "Well, I'll be damned," he says gruffly. "It really worked. You slept, but... I wondered."
He doesn't listen, too busy trying to figure everything out. It feels like he was pulled inside out and sideways and then placed somewhere where nothing makes sense. Finally he latches on to a thought - "More... more than talking?"
There's still suspicion in the tired eyes, but it fades as the man peers at him closely. "You don't - " hesitation, "you don't remember, do you?"
"Remember?" he says, letting himself be intrigued, but all he gets when he tries is another stupid headache. "I... I can't..."
Something stings at him then, a blurry memory.
...Not yesterday, perhaps... but no, still, it must have been...
Sam's eyes widen, widen as he remembers darkness and blood and traps and chairs and death, death, he'd almost, he'd almost really - really tried to - "Did I -" The man talks again, says something, but Sam stares into nothing even as he grabs unto the old man's sleeve, trying to grasp the slippery memory that tries to evade him. "The - the chair, the knife, I didn't - I didn't - BOBBY -"
"Don't," the word is snapped - pay attention, it means - and suddenly his world spins and there are arms, all around him, a cold hand on the back of his neck pressing him close, close. "Goddamn it," the old man whispers fiercely. "Goddamn it all. Don't, Sam. Don't."
"But I -" he, he croaks, there's something in his throat and his eyes and he can't stop it, can't stop himself, "I really - why are you here w-when I... I almost, I-I a-a-almost -"
Bobby releases him before he's ready, and Sam almost topples before two tough hands grab at both sides of his face and hold his head up, forcing him to see.
His friend - his father in all-but-name (patricide, symbolic, does not have to be blood) - glowers at him with eyes that are almost damp. "It wasn't you, boy," Bobby tells him roughly, clapping a hand to his cheek. "I never, even for one second, thought it was you." Sam shakes his head helplessly, staring down and anywhere but Bobby with disgust and fear and shame, most of all shame, but Bobby forces him still. "You weren't here, remember? You weren't here. So tell me, son, how on earth could it have been you?"
Bobby looks pained but resolute. "You can't, because it wasn't. All right? It wasn't. None of it was you, Sam, so... so don't. Don't try to remember. None of it. You weren't here."
"I wasn't..." Sam repeats slowly, then suddenly realizes -
He hadn't been here. Which means that now, now he is here.
Here, and not in hell, not in the Cage.
...With all that it implies.
His head snaps up. "Where...?" he manages only, urgently, mind whirling with he promised he promised and but if he did if he did then why why isn't he right here with me -
"Sleeping," Bobby says, and there's a familiar twist to his mouth that stabs Sam with its familiarity even as the tension flows out of him (of course, he wouldn't leave him, not now not ever). "Had to get Cas to magic him upstairs - only way he'd listen to sense was with a bed under his ass and a lock on the door." He pauses, watching Sam. "You should get some rest too, y'know. You got a year of sleep to make up for."
His mind dances past the details, unsure of what he remembers, whether he's surprised or not that it's been an entire year - more than that - since he jumped with Lucifer and Adam and Michael into the Cage, because while a part of him can't believe it's been a year (only a year?), another remembers days up in the sun, remembers...
But Bobby told him not to.
"Yes," Sam says slowly, and lets his head flop down on the pillow. He has a pillow. "I... okay."
Bobby makes a motion, as if to get up from his chair, as if to leave Sam alone, as if to... as if to leave.
"Wait-" Sam blurts, before he can stop himself. He feels his face flush and looks away, wishes that in all his years of hunting he'd found some supernatural way of putting words back into his mouth.
...Would have saved a lot of problems, that.
Bobby stares at him for a moment. "On second thought," he says carefully, almost carelessly stretching his arms, "it'd be a hassle, taking all my books off my bed." He crosses his legs, yawns, pretends for both their sake he never meant to go. "Always liked this chair, anyway."
Sam doesn't meet his eyes, doesn't even turn over. But if he mutters an inaudible thanks, or scoots over a little to give Bobby some space to put his feet up on the bed, well. Not like anyone would know.
"So you're saying he's - that it's back. You're sure."
"Look, I know he played us both for fools before. But I'm telling you - this is it. It's Sam. No ifs or buts about it, that boy sleeping in there is your brother."
"But it could be -"
"Are you seriously questioning me? Death tells you he's back, I tell you he's back, Cas even gives the okay, and you have the nerve to act fucking skeptical?"
"I - it's not like that." Pause. "It's just... he's been back before, Bobby."
"I-I mean, I've been at it so long. And the things he's... after a while, you just gotta wonder, don't you, if the thing you're looking for is really even there. If it really makes a difference. If... if it's really... really all you thought it was."
"After all you've done for him, now's when you're having second thoughts? It's Sam, Dean. For Pete's sake. Maybe he's never been what you thought he was, but so what? He's your brother. Nothing's changing that."
"What, so I'm just supposed to ignore the fact that -"
"You're not supposed to do anything, boy. But I'll tell you what you will do - you're gonna go to Sam, wait until he wakes up, then look him in the eye and say welcome home. That's what you're gonna do, or so help me God I will get Cas to force you to it."
Pause. "You know, you've been using Cas to get at me a lot, lately."
"Yeah, well, I'm getting too old to give you the smacking you deserve. Plus, he offered."
"Did he now."
Sam wakes up gently, his breath light, a feather in a dark sky... or technically, a dark room. He looks outside, sees a sliver of glowing white peering down at him.
Another day gone.
The thought irritates him. He props himself up on his elbows, slumps tiredly against the wall - tiredly, as if he hadn't just slept for... however long it was.
Movement at the corner of his eye. Sam turns, already knowing what he'll find.
The sight of his older brother doesn't surprise him anymore, seeing as how it's been several times already that Sam has woken up to see him sitting in Bobby's armchair, fast asleep. Other times he'd be gone (out, Bobby says - resolving his issues, Cas tells him) and Sam would just lay there watching the ceiling, idly contemplate going after him - but before contemplation can come anywhere close to fruition, Sam passes out and finds himself awake on a different wave, a different day. They keep just missing each other, and it would be almost funny, except Sam suspects that it's anything but coincidence.
He looks away, rests his head on the wall behind him.
And he feels alone.
...It isn't that Dean doesn't care. Dean cares - everyone and their invisible poltergeist knows it. But it kinda seems that Dean doesn't... doesn't want to care, anymore. Which... well. Sam wouldn't blame him, if that was the case.
Probably no one would blame him, if that was the case.
Sam smiles tightly against the darkness. Maybe I saved the world - put it back the way it was - but when I jumped, it was only because I didn't want to hurt you anymore.
Except that didn't help. Sam had kept hurting him - even when for all intents and purposes he was dead.
Seems as though there's just no way to win for Sam Winchester. Die, and your brother sells his soul. Live, and you release the devil. Die again, and your soulless body returns to torment your brother while your soul suffers in eternal agony. Everyone loses.
Somewhere, somebody's laughing.
Sam doesn't remember much about that, the agony. The memories aren't completely absent, but instead blurry and vague, like knowing you went to the American History Museum when you were eight but not how it looked or how much you liked it or which exhibits were open or whether the reason you don't remember anything is because someone kept poking you in the side while you were trying to listen to the tour guide.
But don't scratch, they said, and even though it itches he stops. Because he listened, because he knows what's at stake. Because anything - anything - would be better than remembering...
"Jesus, tone down the thinking. I can practically hear you."
He jumps, cautiously cranes his head.
Dean hasn't moved from where he's curled up on the armchair, his body contorted strangely with head pillowed against his arms, his feet over the armrest, and yet for all that Dean appears utterly comfortable, like he's used to the position, like he belongs on that chair.
The words die in Sam's throat. He swallows, exhales, because his head stops hurting when he breathes. Proven fact.
He watches, but Dean still doesn't move. Maybe he just imagined it, Dean speaking. All in his head, like it usually is. Maybe.
...Probably. He'd probably just imagined -
"Seriously." His brother moves his arm down his face, his uncovered eyes glinting strangely in the dim room. "I swear, I don't know anyone else who thinks so damn loud."
Sam stares and doesn't say a word. Words have vanished, gone - and Dean's gotten his wish, because Sam must have stopped thinking at one point or another. His mind is just a giant, useless blank.
Dean uncurls, expression uneasy as his gaze flutters from bed to wall to floor to Sam's foot. His arm bends, reaches behind his head and scratches the nape of his neck.
It is with absent bewilderment that Sam realizes that Dean is nervous.
"You thirsty?" Dean asks. It's a simple question - not friendly, no, but neither is it cold.
Sam shakes his head quietly.
Dean doesn't meet his gaze. "What, you mute now? Cas and Bobby said you talked."
He watches, says nothing. The first time he saw Dean, he couldn't stop staring, take him in with his eyes, but that's nothing compared to hearing a voice, someone hearing him and being heard, and even that's nothing compared to hearing his own name (not anyone or anything else's).
Probably nothing. Seeing as how Dean hasn't said his name yet, Sam wouldn't know.
His fingers curl into fists before he forces them to relax limply against the covers. This isn't how he'd imagined their meeting would go, the first time he had realized that he was here, really really here, or even the sixth time he'd woken up to see Dean either asleep or not there.
From Dean's fidgeting, it's clear that this isn't quite what he had expected, either. Sam's brother clears his throat, rises from the armchair with only a wince to betray how long he must have slept there.
"Shit it's late. Right, I should... should probably get to a real bed, shouldn't I. Let you have some alone time, sleep without someone watching." He rubs the back of his head, eyes cloudy with remnants of dreams. "Not that I was watching. Or trying to be creepy. God, that sounds creepy."
Dean stands there for a moment, waiting for something Sam doesn't know to give. Then, with a shrug, he mumbles a terse good night and heads for the door, heads for elsewhere.
To leave. So Sam could have some alone time. So Sam could be alone.
...Sam is so fucking sick of being alone.
His brother freezes. Turns.
"I..." and there are words now, so many of them it's just a matter of choosing which one to let out. "You... you don't have to forgive me."
Dean's gaze shutters even as he shoots Sam a brilliant, flimsy grin. "What's there to forgive?"
"You don't have to forgive me," Sam repeats, since Dean is pretty stupid when it comes right down to it, "Because I'm not asking for forgiveness. I'm not sorry for - lying to you, or hurting you, or, or taking you away from Lisa and Ben, who're your - your family. Not for, for giving up on you, or trying to - to kill - or, or or letting you - letting you almost get killed because I - was curious -"
"I'm not sorry, Dean, I'm not - I wasn't even here, I'm not even that - thing, I, I have a soul, I'm a human being so, so it's not my fault, I'm not apologizing, I'm not sorry, I'm not, I'm not I'm not I'm not -"
"Sam," someone says frantically, and there are hands, someone else's hands, but Sam doesn't see, doesn't care, there's only a dumpster and a monster and his brother and nothing else that matters, not any name no matter whose it is - "Stop it, Sam, stop it!" and the hands shake him, even as they shake, themselves.
"Sammy, snap out of it!"
And just like that, Sam jerks back to reality. It takes him a moment to really see where he is, realize that the dumpster and all its associated memories are months behind him. Cheeks hot in embarrassment - you'd think he's the one who was traumatized - Sam lets his gaze settle somewhere not Dean, and allows himself to repeat one more time, quietly, "It wasn't me."
Dean unbends from where he was leaning over Sam. He sits right there on the bed, in the little space left next to Sam's knees, gaze focused somewhere Sam can't follow.
And he sighs, so deeply and wearily that Sam can feel it go through him, like electricity.
Sam swallows. What else is there to say?
"Sam." The sharp word cleaves the silence, making him flinch. "You must really think I'm dumb, huh?"
He starts, eyes wide.
"What - I, no -" Dean can't - can't be still suspecting that... except he must, he must, there's never been any question who Dean is but Sam, Sam's always been, there's always something wrong with him -
"No? Then why do you keep telling me things I already know?"
His heart must be caught in his throat, because nothing comes out. He stares at Dean's profile, motionless in the moonlight. "Dean..." he says, and swallows again, mind boggled.
...He can't possibly be this lucky.
"Just..." and Dean's voice is rough, haggard. "Just, I gotta find out one thing, okay."
"Anything," Sam whispers.
"I'm... I'm tired, Sam," Dean tells him, and the overly familiar line somehow manages to break Sam's heart all over again. "I know, I know it's not all you, but something always happens, and I always wind up having to... fetch you. From wherever. And... and it's not that I don't want to, I'll keep doing it if there's no other choice, just..." his throat works, and even if Sam hadn't known Dean so well, anyone would be able to see what it costs his brother to say all this. "Are you staying, this time? Can you just... stay?"
Past the two seconds it takes him to comprehend the words, Sam doesn't even have to think about it. For the first time in a very, very long time, Sam wants to smile, and does.
"Ye-yeah," he answers, half laugh and half sniffle, eyes blinking rapidly. "Yeah, Dean."
It isn't exactly a question, but Sam answers anyway. "For good," Sam confirms, and grips the blanket tightly to stop himself from trembling or breaking down or anything else Dean might make fun of him for.
Dean smiles then - just a little, but it's enough. "Good," he sighs. "Good."
It takes a moment, but eventually Sam relaxes, lets his head rest back on the wall. The moon's almost disappeared from the window, but he grins at it anyway.
Thank you, he thinks to whoever might be listening. Thank you.
That done, he looks back at Dean - who for a change, is actually looking back.
...Albeit somewhat suspiciously.
His brother's eyes narrow. "No, I am not hugging you," Dean declares fiercely. "I have my goddamn limits."
Sam laughs freely, deeply. "Oh, fuck you," he grins, so widely his cheeks hurt, and he tackles Dean because he can, arms encircling Dean from the side so that his brother couldn't escape if he wanted to.
Dean struggles against him in vain. "Goddamn it Sammy," he mutters into the mattress, along with "I'm never letting you work out again," and, "bet Bobby didn't have to put up with this shit" and Sam only grins and keeps his mouth shut, holds Dean tighter and presses his nose hard against his brother's shoulder.
And yeah, okay, maybe Sam can't really breathe like that, and, judging from the protests - get off me you giant girl I thought you didn't want to kill me - neither can Dean, probably.
But as it turns out, Sam feels better anyway.
A/N: I didn't actually mean for there to be a hug. In fact, I strictly told myself "self, there will be no hugs. This will be the one Sam-has-his-soul-back fic with no freaking hugs. You will not be a sheep, and there will not be any hugs."
...And then there were hugs. Sigh.
You can guess what I'm like with my New Year's resolutions...