Summary: Tag to 6:11 – Sam had his soul back, but he was...different. Less Sammy, more Rain Man. But being electrocuted – even if it was only minor – had the potential to be life-changing. Such was the case.
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Warnings: Spoilers for 6.11, language
I hear in my mind, all of these voices. I hear in my mind, all of these words. I hear in my mind, all this music. And it breaks my heart. ~ Regina Spektor
People don't understand electricity.
They know if they flip a switch or press a power button or plug something into an outlet, there should be some kind of reaction – light, sound, something.
Most people know electricity involves volts and watts; some may even know about amps. But the concept of ohms probably never crossed their mind, and the relationship between all these things – volts, watts, amps, and ohms – seems, at best, difficult to grasp.
But the concept of electrocution...now that's easy.
Everybody knows what that is.
It varies in degrees – from a slight shock to a deadly jolt – but the concept is still the same.
Electrocution is kind of electricity's version of "Girls Gone Wild". One minute you're living your life, and the next minute all hell has broke loose. There's flashing and shaking – bright and loud and disorienting – and the next thing you know, you're on the floor, tingling and buzzing; and wondering if you're still alive...and if so, was it all just a dream.
Being electrocuted – even if it was only minor – had the potential to be life-changing.
Such was the case.
All life is context.
You think you've experienced the worst life has to offer, until you realize that experience – whatever it was – pales in comparison to what you're experiencing now.
Life always seemed to be trying to one-up itself.
Which made the rumors true – life was a bitch.
He would know.
But after everything he had lived through, Dean didn't think anything could possibly be worse than having to continue to live with a soulless little brother.
And, like so many times before, he was wrong.
Just how wrong was yet to be determined.
But as he watched Death grasp Sam's soul – a blindingly bright ball of essence – Dean knew that no matter what happened next, it wasn't going to end well.
For starters, could someone be touched by Death and not die?
Dean should know – having been Death for a few hours himself – but he didn't...not for sure. It was one of those philosophical questions – one of those "yes and no" questions that would drive you crazy with the maze of semantics it took to answer it.
But in the next instant, as Death disappeared and Sam stopped screaming, Dean had his answer.
A person could be touched by Death and not die – because Sam was still alive. Eerily quiet and startling still, especially after all the screaming and writhing seconds before, but he was alive.
Dean could feel his erratic heartbeat as it thrummed under his fingers when he checked Sam's pulse, could see the rapid rise and fall of his brother's chest.
He glanced over his shoulder at Bobby and nodded.
So far, so good.
Sam was alive.
And he had his soul back.
Those were the two most important items on the little brother checklist.
Dean could handle anything else.
Only it turned out that maybe he couldn't; maybe he had overestimated himself; maybe he had finally found his limit.
Because, as it turned out, Sam wasn't quite himself. Sam wasn't the Sam that Dean remembered. He wasn't the Sam from a little over a year ago.
Dean had expected as much. No one went to Hell, spent time in The Cage with Lucifer himself, and came back the same.
But this version of Sam was less Sammy – and more Rain Man.
It had been a good day.
Or at least as good as days got lately.
At this point, having a good day meant an absence of chaos; an absence of phone calls with disturbing news; an absence of a hunt that upended the day and demanded attention right then and there.
A good day meant Sam woke up fairly coherent, or if not, that he would at least have moments of lucidity throughout the day, would smile at Dean and talk to him and sometimes even laugh.
A good day meant sitting on the couch with your little brother watching a Christmas movie while waiting for Bobby to get back from a food run.
It seemed ordinary and boring and dull, but Dean had come to guard such moments fiercely, knowing that on the other side of an imaginary wall waited the possibility that all of it would soon be gone, and that something terrible would replace it.
After all, they were two weeks post Operation Save Sammy's Soul, and things were still...different.
Which was fine.
It was certainly better than the other alternatives.
Dean had no desire to see his little brother in a nonverbal, vegetative state.
And there was no way Dean could've handled more of the other Sam. The other Sam – the soulless, robotic, I-never-sleep-but-that's-okay-'cause-I'm-using-the-extra-time-to-plot-your-demise version of his brother – had freaked him out more than anything else Dean had ever come up against...and that was saying something.
But this Sam was...
Dean sighed, glancing at his brother as Sam sat beside him on Bobby's couch, watching It's A Wonderful Life in all its black-and-white glory.
He was different.
At first, Dean blamed the failure of The Wall. He suspected that Sam remembered everything that happened to him in The Cage – even though he never talked about it – and was so traumatized by it that it made him act...like this.
But as a few days passed, Dean began to realize that wasn't it.
The Wall seemed to work well...a little too well. In fact, it worked so well that Sam not only didn't remember his time in The Cage, but he apparently didn't remember anything else, either – including how to act like the adult he was.
This resouled version of Sam was childlike in his demeanor; in the way he thought; in the way he talked; in the things he talked about; in the things that made him laugh and smile.
Sam had always been a sweet kid with a good heart and a sensitive, kind spirit. He had always been a little too innocent, a little too naïve, a little too trusting. But now he was even more so.
For starters, he was less observant. Dean could stare at him openly for hours, and Sam would either not notice – which was disturbing...the safety issue alone kept Dean up at night – or he would notice, but he'd simply smile – dimples and all – and sometimes wave...and then look away, resuming whatever he was doing. No classic bitchface or smartass remark or "What the fuck are you looking at, Dean?"
Which shouldn't have been surprising because Sam was quieter these days, too.
Not in the creepy, secretly plotting way and not necessarily withdrawn. He was just quieter.
Dean initially suspected that Sam had turned in on himself, was silent because he was focused on tearing down The Wall. But that didn't seem to be the case.
Sam didn't seem to care that he couldn't remember.
This version of Sam was completely clueless about anything beyond what had immediately happened. He had known Dean when he awoke two weeks ago after receiving his soul – and always knew Dean any other time – but he had to be constantly reminded about everyone and everything else.
Everyday it was as though he was meeting Bobby for the first time. Everyday he had to be reminded where they were, that mom and dad were "not here right now", and that yes, he had to wear a coat and shoes outside even if he didn't want to because it was snowing.
"You may feel something in your mind," Dean had told Sam when his brother had finally regained consciousness two days after receiving his soul. "Something you might want to make go away, but I need you to leave it alone. Please, Sammy. Just leave it alone. Okay?"
Sam had stared at him, looking confused but then had smiled. "Okay."
And that had been the extent of the conversation.
Which brought about another difference.
Sam was more obedient these days. Childlike in his desire to please, especially when it came to his big brother. If Dean said it, Sam believed it. If Dean asked, Sam complied. Dean led, and Sam followed – and Dean would be lying if he said having that part of his little brother back didn't feel good, didn't feel right.
But after a few days, even that felt wrong.
Because that wasn't Sam.
The Sam he had known over a year ago had been intelligent and independent and strong-willed. He had stepped out of his big brother's shadow and had become his own man, had made his own decisions, and had saved the world.
But now he seemed to have the mentality of a five-year old, and it made Dean physically sick.
Dean swallowed hard and sighed, glancing at the clock – almost time for dinner – and then at his brother again. "You hungry, Sammy?"
Sam would usually answer basic questions – Maslow's hierarchy of needs, Level One – but anything beyond that required patience and prompting. And even then Sam would seem confused and stare at Dean as though he didn't quite get it, couldn't quite make the connection.
Or he would completely ignore him.
But then again, sometimes Sam wasn't ignoring him as much as he just didn't realize he was being addressed. This version of Sam didn't seem to always understand that "Sam" and "Sammy" referred to the same person – him.
Dean sighed again, willing himself to be patient. He nudged his brother's shoulder. Sometimes physical contact would break Sam's trance and get him to interact. "Hey. You hear me?"
Sam didn't look at him, but he blinked.
Dean smiled. Yep. He heard him. That was progress. Maybe he would rephrase the question. "Do you want something to eat, Sam?"
Sam didn't verbally respond but suddenly grabbed Dean's hand, squeezing it hard.
After two weeks, Dean should've been used to such gestures – because this version of Sam was extremely clingy – but he still startled. "Dude, what the – "
"Don't leave me," Sam whispered and then turned tear-rimmed eyes to his brother.
"I'm just going to the kitchen," Dean soothed, vaguely gesturing over his shoulder.
"No," Sam instantly responded, shaking his head. "It's faster when you fall."
Dean felt his stomach clench, the way it always did when Sam said things like that. It had happened more often over the past week, as though Sam's mind remembered – or at least was trying to remember – without Sam's permission, without even his knowledge.
Dean shook his head, answered out of instinct. "I won't let you fall, Sammy."
"I know. You said you wouldn't leave me. Don't leave me." Sam squeezed his hand again and nudged closer to him. "Please. I want you to stay."
You said you wouldn't leave me.
It's faster when you fall.
Dean swallowed. Was Sam remembering Stull Cemetery?
"Okay, Sammy," Dean agreed, wishing Bobby would hurry up and return from town. It didn't take this damn long to get Chinese takeout. He needed someone to talk to about this.
Sam smiled, and just as quickly as the tears had appeared, they were gone.
Silence settled as Sam slouched down on the couch, still holding Dean's hand and leaning his head on his brother's shoulder as he continued to watch the movie.
Dean closed his eyes, resisting the urge to cry himself. This was not what he wanted. He had wanted Sam back – but not like this. Sam wouldn't want to be like this.
You don't know what will happen to me...
Soulless Sam had tried to warn him. And like most other times, Soulless Sam, with his emotionless logic, had been right.
"I don't blame George," Sam announced. "Wonder what would've happened if I had never been born..."
Dean opened his eyes, feeling his brother's weight against his arm and shoulder.
He had often wondered the same thing – about himself as well as about Sam – but he had no answer.
Not that he thought Sam was actually talking to him. Sam seemed to have a lot of one-sided conversations these days that even Sam was unaware of.
Sam sighed, sounding sleepy. And that wasn't unusual these days, either.
Sam slept. A lot.
He slept while Dean kept watch; while Dean monitored every breath, registered every twitch, hoping that when Sam awoke, he would be himself.
But he never was.
"Would you have missed me if I had never been born, Dean?"
Dean felt emotion clog his throat.
There was silence.
"Dean?" Sam wallowed his head on his brother's shoulder, his tone turning to a whine. "Deeeean...would you have missed me?"
"Yes," Dean responded, not meaning to snap, not meaning to sound so harsh, but fuck...he couldn't take this.
Sam stared up at him, the tears having reappeared, his grip tightening on Dean's hand.
Dean sighed. Yes, he would've missed Sam if he hadn't been born. Hell, Sam was here now, and he still missed him.
"I'm sorry, Sammy," Dean soothed, brushing Sam's bangs from his eyes and wondering how this version of his brother would react to a haircut. "I didn't mean to upset you, okay? It's okay."
He hated talking to Sam like he was child, using that placating tone people tended to use when dealing with children. He fucking hated it.
Sam flashed a smile, all forgotten. "I know. It's okay. I still love you."
Dean smiled sadly, wondering if this version of Sam knew he was slowly breaking his heart, was slowly bringing Dean Winchester to his knees. "I know you do, Sammy. Same here, buddy."
And it was true. Even after everything, Dean still loved his little brother.
"That's why I missed you when I went away," Sam continued.
Dean arched an eyebrow. "When you went away?"
Sam nodded. "When I fell and fell and fell...and then I was alone. Well..." He seemed to reconsider. "Not alone, but you weren't there, so I might as well have been alone."
Dean stared at his brother, dread rising in his stomach. "Where were you, Sam?"
Sam shrugged. "I don't know. But it was hot, and I was scared, and I missed you, Dean. I really, really missed you. Did you miss me like I missed you?" He paused and then smiled. "That's silly. I know you did. But I don't want to go back there. Do I have to go back there, Dean?"
Dean felt his heart slam in his chest. What the fuck was this?
Sam's tone and demeanor were that of a child chattering away about something that was once scary but could now be discussed with indifference because it was over, and he was safe.
What Sam didn't realize was that nothing could be further from the truth. His safety net – The Wall, or whatever the hell it was – was apparently thinning at an alarmingly rapid rate.
Dean knew it wouldn't last forever – Death had said as much, had warned against scratching at it – but as far as he could tell, Sam didn't even know it was there. So, why were there signs that it was suddenly crumbling?
Dean shifted and nudged his brother as Sam continued to lean against his arm, head on his shoulder. "Sammy?"
"Look at me."
"I'm watchin' the movie, Dean."
"I know. Just for a minute. Look at me."
Sam sighed – as put-upon children were wont to do – but did as he was asked, turning his head to the side to stare up at Dean.
Dean paused. "What are you talking about?"
Sam's forehead furrowed. "When?"
Dean swallowed a hysterical laugh. Jesus...
"Just now, Sammy," he said calmly. "What were you talking about just now?"
Sam shrugged. "I don't know."
And he wasn't evading or stalling or outright lying. Dean could see it in his brother's eyes – Sam honestly had no idea what he was talking about just a few seconds ago. He most likely didn't remember at all, and even if he did, he didn't know what it all was supposed to mean.
Dean sighed and then cleared his throat. "Sam, remember when I told you that you would probably feel something in your mind that might bother you, but I needed you to leave it alone?"
Sam shrugged. "Yeah. Kinda."
"Are you leaving it alone?"
Sam didn't respond.
Dean held his breath.
It's A Wonderful Life played on.
Dean cleared his throat. "Sammy?"
"I just look at it, Dean. You didn't say I couldn't look at it," Sam replied, vaguely petulant.
Look at it? Sam could not only feel The Wall – but he could also see it?
And he had been staring at it?
That couldn't be good.
In fact, all evidence indicated that it was not good.
"You're right," Dean agreed patiently. "But try not to look at it anymore, okay?"
Sam sighed. "Okay."
Silence settled, and Dean decided he would try his original question again. Sam hadn't eaten since breakfast – had fallen asleep midmorning and had slept right through lunch – and he had to be hungry. But Dean knew this version of Sam wasn't going to eat Chinese. They didn't even order anything for him this time.
"You want something to eat, Sam?"
Dean smiled. Finally, they were getting somewhere. "What?" he asked, as though he didn't already know. "Do you want another grilled cheese?"
Dean would have to figure out what else this version of Sam would eat. So far, he had only discovered two things, but his brother wasn't going to live off cereal and grilled cheese sandwiches the rest of his life.
"Do we have apple juice?"
Dean nodded, reminded of a toddler Sammy, and wanted to cry. "Yep."
Sam sighed. "Who's Lilith?"
Dean almost choked on his own spit. "What?"
"Is she the devil's wife?" Sam paused, and then shook his head, answering his own question. "No, the devil doesn't have a wife. That's why it's so silly when it's raining while the sun still shines and people say it means the devil is beating his wife. He doesn't have a wife. And if he did, he'd probably punish her in worse ways than just beating her, don't you think?"
Dean stared at George Bailey running through the streets of Bedford Falls and wasn't able to think anything...except how royally fucked they were.
How long had Sam been staring at The Wall?
"I think so," Sam continued matter-of-factly. He paused. "Oh, I almost forgot."
Dean was afraid to ask, and yet he heard himself speaking. "What?"
"Michael said to tell you hey. So...hey. Not from me, from Michael. He says hey." Sam gave a small wave with his free hand and then let it drop to his lap, suddenly confused. "Who is Michael? Do we know him?"
Dean continued to stare at the screen, caught in his own nightmare.
"Maybe you know him, but I don't think I know him," Sam answered himself. "I know Death, though. He's a person. Did you know Death was a person, Dean? Kinda cool, huh? Who would've thought Death would be a person just walking around? But when you see him, it kinda makes sense. I mean...he looks like Death. It's really cool. You should see him."
Dean squeezed Sam's hand in silent plea to stop.
Please, please stop.
But this Sam – much like soulless Sam – didn't register silent pleas.
"Is it raining?" Sam turned his head, looking out the window. "Guess not." He turned back toward the television. "I remember the rain, though. And then the streetlight went POW!"
Dean startled at the suddenly loud yell.
Sam practically squealed with laughter and nudged Dean's shoulder with his own. "Scared you, Dean!" He giggled and then sighed. "I was scared, too. And I wanted to tell you I was scared when I saw you through the window, but you didn't see me. So I left and – "
"Wait," Dean shook his head. "What window?"
Sam frowned up at him. "What?"
Dean resisted the urge to scream. He needed answers, but every time he interrupted Sam to ask a question, his brother lost his train of thought – a train he didn't even know he was on – and the moment was over, the answers and details beyond reach.
"What window, Sam? What window did you see me through?"
Sam shrugged. "I don't know. But do angels wear trench coats?" He laughed. "Never mind. That's just silly."
There was silence, and Dean wondered if Sam stopped talking because he could hear Dean's heart as it slammed his chest.
"I remember the bright light, Dean. Bright light! Bright light!" Sam yelled, and then laughed again. "Like Gizmo, you know?" He grinned. "Good thing I didn't turn into a Gremlin, huh, Dean?"
Dean didn't respond, didn't know how to respond to a Sam with a five-year old mentality that spoke nonsensical gibberish...and yet made perfect sense when you knew the context, knew how to link all the jumbled memories, how to arrange them in the timeline of their lives.
You said you wouldn't leave me.
It's faster when you fall.
Michael said to tell you hey.
Did you know Death was a person, Dean?
I saw you through the window.
Do angels wear trench coats?
I remember the bright light, Dean.
Dean closed his eyes, having never felt so helpless in his life.
"Hey, what's that song?"
Dean cut his eyes at his brother. There was no music playing except for the nondescript instrumental crap in the background of the movie. "What song?"
"That song that sounds weird when it first starts. Like there's no words, just silly sounds...which is stupid 'cause the next thing they say is that they got something to say. So, if they got something to say, they should just say it and not waste time saying silly stuff that nobody understands. Don't you think?"
Dean was past thinking.
Where the fuck was Bobby?
"Dean," Sam persisted. "Don't you think? Do you know the words they say?"
"Gunter glieben glauchen globen," Dean responded automatically, even though he hadn't listened to "Rock of Ages" in over a year and didn't intend to listen to it ever again.
"That's it!" Sam laughed and squirmed next to his brother, geunuinely delighted. "Oh, Dean...you're so silly!"
Dean swallowed hard. He was going to throw up.
"I knew you would know," Sam said proudly. "You always know, Dean."
Yeah, Dean always knew. Like now. He knew they were really and truly fucked because an adult Sam with a five-year old mentality was remembering things he shouldn't remember, wasn't equipped to remember, didn't even realize he was remembering.
"I'm hungry," Sam suddenly announced, sitting up, releasing Dean's hand, and stretching. "Can we eat now?"
Dean blinked. Seriously?
Sam stared at him. "Dean? I'm hungry."
"Yeah," Dean responded, feeling detached. "Sure, what do you..." He cleared his throat, shook himself. "What do you want, Sammy?"
Sam shrugged. "I don't care. You always make good stuff, Dean." He smiled. "Do we have apple juice?"
Dean nodded and stood.
Sam's smile widened as he stared up at Dean. "I love apple juice!" His smiled faltered. "They didn't have apple juice down there, though. It looked like apple juice, but it was..." He wrinkled his nose. "It was pee," he whispered. "That's gross."
Dean stood speechless.
"But it was better than the blood...not as thick, you know?" Sam continued conversationally, tucking his long legs beneath him. "Blood is really nasty. I don't like the blood, Dean."
Dean swallowed, still speechless.
"Red, red, red..." Sam chanted, lifting his arms over his head and slowly beginning to wave them, bringing them down as though painting on an imaginary canvas, smearing blood with his fingers. "I was bled, bled, bed from my head, head, head until I was dead, dead, dead..." He smiled and then laughed. "That rhymes!" He paused. "But not for long. After they kill you, then you wake up somehow...I don't know...and then it starts all over again. Red, red, red – "
"Shut up, Sam!" Dean yelled, unable to continue to hear his brother chatter and chant like a child about something he shouldn't even be able to remember. "Just shut the fuck up!"
Sam stared at him, startled and scared and instantly upset.
There was silence.
Except for that damn movie.
Dean closed his eyes, trying to pull himself together.
Sam unfolded himself from the couch and stood, cautiously approaching his brother. "I'm..." His voice hitched. "I'm sorry, Dean. I didn't mean to make you mad. Dean? I'm sorry."
Dean felt his brother's closeness and opened his eyes, not surprised to find Sam within inches of him.
"I'm sorry," Sam repeated, tears gliding down his cheeks. "I won't repeat what the voices say, okay? I won't talk about it anymore. I'll just keep it to myself, okay? My secret. I'm sorry."
"No," Dean choked out. Sam keeping secrets to protect him was the last thing he wanted. They had been there – that's why they were here. "No, Sam. It's okay. You can tell me anything, remember?"
Sam nodded, but looked suspicious, tears continuing to rim his eyes.
"Just..." Dean sighed, grabbing his brother in a hug, feeling Sam cling back. "Just don't talk about it anymore tonight, okay? Let's just enjoy Christmas."
Because It's A Wonderful Life was on television, and Bobby was bringing Chinese, and they fucking deserved to enjoy something.
Sam sniffled, pushing back, looking surprised but instantly happy. "Is Christmas today?"
Dean smiled sadly and patted his brother's shoulder. "Yeah, Sammy."
Sam looked at the television and then glanced back at Dean and touched the center of his chest. "Do you remember?"
Dean felt tears sting his eyes.
Yes, he remembered. He remembered receiving the amulet and wearing the amulet and cherishing the amulet every day of his life...until he threw it away.
"Do you, Dean?" Sam persisted, lightly running his fingers back and forth across his brother's chest, where the amulet should've been. "I remember."
Dean sighed. Of course the one thing this version of Sam remembered was the one thing he no longer had. "Me too, Sammy."
Sam smiled. "I know where it is."
Dean snorted, disgusted with himself even after all this time. "Yeah, so do I."
Sam shook his head, his hand pausing in the center of Dean's chest, long fingers splayed wide. "I know where it is," he repeated, staring straight at his brother.
Dean felt as though the breath had been knocked out of him. He could barely even whisper. "Where?" He cleared his throat. "Where is it, Sammy?"
Sam shrugged and then sighed, letting his hand fall to his side. "It's getting dark. I'm hungry."
Dean laughed – it was better than crying – and sighed as well, considering his little brother.
Maslow's hierarchy of needs, Level One.
"I know, buddy. How 'bout I go make something to eat, and you plug in the Christmas tree, okay?"
Sam immediately brightened. "I forgot about the tree!"
Dean nodded. He knew Sam had forgotten about the tree. Sam always forgot about the tree, not that Dean could fault him that. The tree was pretty forgettable.
It was thin and bare and scrawny and ugly, but at least it was green and had colored lights. No ornaments, but the lights seemed to make Sam happy, even if they were old enough to have arrived on the Mayflower with the pilgrims. It was amazing they still worked, especially since the wires were frayed, and Dean usually didn't let Sam plug them in himself because sometimes they sparked.
But it was Christmas. What the hell...
Sam beamed at him. "Really? I can plug it in all by myself?"
"Yep, go ahead," Dean urged, wondering if this was how Sam was going to be for the rest of their lives – discussing blood and piss and tortuous death one minute and excited about apple juice and Christmas trees the next. He turned toward the kitchen. "Just be careful."
Which, when said to Sam, is like saying "good luck" to someone backstage; it's just not done, unless you want to invite trouble.
And with the Winchesters, trouble never needed such an open invitation.
Dean had just crossed into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator when he heard it – the unmistakable pop of electrical current – and saw it – the light in the fridge flicker along with every other light in the house.
His first thought was demons, the burning smell of sulfur all but confirming it.
Dean closed his eyes briefly. Demons? On Christmas? Seriously?
"Sam..." he called, grabbing the salt container from the cabinet. He couldn't count on his brother to help fight – not anymore – but he could protect Sam inside a circle while he took care of business. "Sam..."
But Sam didn't answer.
Which wasn't that unusual these days.
Dean really didn't have time for Sam to be zoned out.
He grabbed the shotgun Bobby kept behind the kitchen door.
"Sam!" Dean called again, glancing out the window – seeing nothing – as he crept back toward the living room. "Sammy, answer me..."
But as Dean rounded the corner, he realized that Sam wasn't zoned out; he was knocked out – boneless and motionless and sprawled facedown on the floor in the dark living room.
No bright tree, no black-and-white movie.
Just silence and darkness...and fading smoke from the outlet on the wall.
"Sam!" Dean yelled, instantly realizing what had happened and dropping the salt and the shotgun as he snatched a flashlight from the wall where Bobby always kept at least two of them charging.
Sam didn't move.
Dean approached cautiously.
Sam's hand was curled as if he was grasping something, and if his brother still gripped the cord to the Christmas tree lights, Dean would have to be careful. He couldn't help Sam if he got jolted, too.
Dean pointed the beam of light directly at his brother's hand and realized it was empty. He shifted the light a few inches to the left and saw the plug, now darker than he remembered. The light followed the path of the cord and slowly climbed the wall until it rested on the outlet, completely covered in black soot.
"Ah, shit..." Dean hissed.
He wasn't an electrician, but it seemed like the old house and its old wiring had chosen the exact moment Sam had plugged in the frayed lights to short circuit, causing a perfect combo for an electrical shock.
Technically, it would be considered electrocution, and while it would've been painful, it shouldn't have been enough to knock Sam off his feet and certainly not enough to knock him unconscious.
But then, this was Sam.
Apparently this version of Sam still had shitty luck.
Satisfied that he could safely help Sam, Dean crouched beside his brother, beam of light shining on Sam's outstretched hand. He sighed as he noticed the contact burn – as expected – running horizontal across his brother's palm, red in the center, charred black at the edges, and looking extremely painful.
Dean sighed again, hating that his brother was injured – which was his fault, since he should've never left this version of Sam alone – and wondering how Sam was going to react. This would be the first injury of newly resouled, adult-on-the-outside, child-on-the-inside Sam.
Should be good times.
"Sam..." he called, gently rubbing his brother's back. "Sammy..."
Sam instantly shifted under Dean's touch, face scrunching as his legs moved restlessly, as his hands twitched – and then a wince and grimace chased each other across his face as his eyes opened.
"Ow..." he murmured, rolling to his side and pulling his injured hand towards his chest. His breaths became shallow, his expression panicked. "D..."
"Right here," Dean soothed, before Sam could even say his name, still crouching and waiting patiently for Sam to gain his bearings. "It's okay, Sam. Just a little accident with the tree lights, but you're okay."
Sam continued to stare at him, his expression no longer panicked, but confused...then realization ignited, and he sat straight up, horrified.
Dean felt his heart begin to beat faster. "Sam? What's wrong?"
"Is it true?"
Dean narrowed his eyes. He knew that voice. It was Sam's voice, of course, but it was somehow different than it had been just moments before.
Sam shook his head, still protecting his burned hand against his chest. "It's not true."
Dean titled his head. This was definitely a different Sam than the one he had been talking to on the couch.
Sam shook his head harder and faster. "It's not true. It's not!"
Dean stared at his brother as though it had been a long time since he had seen him, because in a way, it had been.
This was Sam. This was Sam.
The real Sam. His Sam.
The one he had hoped for and wished for and begged for and worked for demons for. The one he thought he would never see again, and yet there he sat, inches away from him – shocked by a stupid short circuit and now fully competent and cognizant.
Dean didn't normally believe in miracles – because experience had taught him it was a waste of time – but this...
Dean was speechless.
This was a miracle.
But was The Wall still there?
Dean scanned his brother, as though he could tell just by looking.
"It's not true!" Sam yelled, squeezing his eyes shut as he continued to shake his head so hard and so fast that Dean was concerned he would lose consciousness again.
"Easy," Dean soothed, dropping the flashlight as he gently grabbed his brother's head, one hand on each side of Sam's face. "Calm down."
A sob caught in Sam's throat as tears slipped from his closed eyes, but he didn't resist Dean's grasp. "Tell me it's not true," he whispered.
Dean felt his heart clench, desperately wanting to tell Sam anything he needed to hear. "What, Sammy?" He thumbed away the moisture from his brother's face. "What's not true?"
Sam didn't respond.
Dean felt frantic, hating to ask, but needing to know. "Are you talking about Hell? Do you remember that, Sam?"
Sam shook his head. "I know I was there, but..." He shook his head again, his tone apologetic. "I don't remember."
"That's okay, Sam," Dean instantly soothed, thankful beyond words. "That's good. Just leave it that way for now, okay?"
Sam nodded once and then asked again, "It's not true, is it?"
Dean wished his brother would look at him. "Is what not true, Sam?"
Sam sighed shakily and opened his eyes, sending a fresh cascade of tears down his cheeks. "I didn't do that to you, did I?"
Dean's gaze didn't waver even as his stomach flopped when he instinctively realized what Sam was asking him.
"It wasn't you, Sam. It wasn't you," he assured, still holding Sam's face, staring straight at his brother, trying to make him understand that it was over now; that Dean didn't blame Sam, so Sam shouldn't blame himself.
But Sam being Sam – the real Sam, his Sam – he did.
"I'm sorry," he said, with all the genuine earnestness that only Sam could convey with an expression and a tone. "Dean, I'm sorry."
"I know." Dean shook his head. "But it wasn't you, Sammy."
Sam was silent.
Dean frowned. "Sammy..."
"He's alive," Dean assured and nodded for emphasis.
Sam briefly closed his eyes – silently thankful – and then looked at Dean, afraid to ask, but unable to stop himself. "And the other stuff? Is the other stuff true?"
Dean paused, uncertain what "other stuff" Sam was referring to – after all, he hadn't been with Sam for most of the past year – but thought it was a safe bet that whatever his brother remembered, it was true...and then some.
Sam nodded, taking Dean's silence for the affirmative answer it was, and blinked, feeling more moisture break free from his lashes. "That's what I thought, because it..." He sniffled and shook his head. "It just hurts too much to not be true."
"I know," Dean murmured, watching as his little brother mourned his loss of self – truly and deeply hurt and disappointed by decisions and actions he had no control over but still felt guilty about.
Dean felt tears rim his eyes, sharing in Sam's pain and yet feeling immensely grateful.
There were no words to describe how much he had missed his brother.
His brother. His real brother. His Sam.
Without a word, Dean pulled Sam into a hug – absolution and love and comfort combined in a single gesture – and felt his brother's injured hand press against his chest, felt Sam's other hand grab the back of his shirt, fingers bunching the fabric.
"It's gonna be okay, Sam," he promised. "I swear to you...it's gonna be okay."
Sam tightened his grip on Dean's shirt and pressed his face into the space created by his big brother's neck and shoulder and cried.
Dean closed his eyes, feeling silent tears glide down his own cheeks as he held his little brother; Sam's tears dampening his shirt as his body absorbed Sam's tremors.
Dean sighed shakily, soothing hand rhythmically rubbing Sam's back as his brother sobbed out his unrelenting heartache.
And that's how Bobby found them ten minutes later, huddled in the middle of the living room floor, clinging to each other in the fading beam of the flashlight.
Dean felt Sam rub his face against his shoulder as the door creaked open; felt him inhale as bags rustled; felt him exhale as the bags were settled on a table; felt him tense as footsteps approached; felt him lift his head as Bobby's shadow fell across them.
But Bobby said nothing, seeming to sense the enormity and fragility of the moment, seeming to know things were different now than how he had left them.
For starters, he saw recognition in Sam's eyes; that hadn't happened in two weeks.
As if to prove it, Sam spoke his name, and in the next instant, was up and clinging to Bobby in the same way he had been clinging to Dean seconds before.
"I'm sorry," Sam murmured...over and over and over again.
Bobby stood frozen, arms stiffly held out to his sides as he watched Dean stand and face them.
Dean smiled softly and nodded, answering Bobby's unasked question.
Yes. This was real. And the guy holding him tight and begging for forgiveness was really Sam.
Bobby slowly returned the smile as his arms encircled Sam, eyes closing briefly as he hugged the youngest Winchester and felt Sam squeeze him even tighter.
"I'm sorry," Sam repeated, his voice barely a whisper. "Bobby, I'm – "
Sam's breath hitched at the gruff order, feeling Bobby grasp his shoulders and push him back.
"It wasn't you, Sam," Bobby soothed, feeling Sam relax in his grip. "'Cause if it was, I would've already kicked your ass, boy."
Dean chuckled, hoping Sam realized that was Bobby's version of absolution.
Sam gave a hint of a smile and ducked his head. "I'm still sorry," he whispered.
Bobby smiled and nodded. "I know you are, Sam. And that's how I know it's really you this time."
Dean nodded in agreement, feeling his heart rejoice.
Bobby's smile widened as he roughly patted Sam's shoulder and then released him.
Sam felt himself sway as Bobby did so and immediately felt Dean's hand on his back, steadying him. He glanced over his shoulder and smiled shyly. Thanks.
Dean smiled back – you're welcome – and was ridiculously excited about the return of their silent communication.
It felt natural. It felt right. It felt like Sam.
The real Sam. His Sam.
Silence settled between them, both just enjoying the presence of the other, before Dean cleared his throat and nodded toward Sam's hand.
Bobby noticed the gesture and followed Dean's gaze. "Electrical burn?"
Dean glared. "The wiring in this house sucks, Bobby."
Bobby arched an eyebrow and looked around the room, taking in the cord and the burnt outlet. "Balls!"
Sam startled them both by laughing – an honest-to-goodness Sam laugh, with dimples showing and head tilted back.
It was the most beautiful sound either had ever heard.
Bobby winked at Dean and continued. "And here I was thinking you two were just having the mother of all Lifetime moments..."
Dean's smiled faltered a bit, wondering what had really crossed Bobby's mind when the hunter had walked in a few minutes ago. After the past two weeks – hell, the past few years – Bobby had to have assumed the worst.
"Nope," Dean commented. "Sam just got the shit shocked out of him."
"And then...this?" Bobby asked, tilting his head toward Sam.
"Huh," Bobby responded. He vaguely remembered reading something about shock therapy years ago but never really put much stock in it. "Should've shocked your ass two weeks ago, boy."
Sam gave a hint of a smile and ducked his head again, lifting his hand to brush his bangs from his eyes and then winced as he remembered his injury.
Dean immediately reached out, cradling his brother's hand as Bobby retrieved the flashlight from the floor, shining the fading beam onto Sam's palm.
"Doesn't look too bad," Bobby commented. "Could've been a lot worse."
Dean nodded but narrowed his eyes, fingers skimming the burned skin. "Does that hurt?"
Sam didn't respond.
Dean looked up...and felt himself grin like an idiot at the bitchface Sam was giving him.
What the fuck do you think, Dean?
Dean glanced at Bobby – making sure the other hunter had seen what he saw – and felt his smile widened at the expression on Bobby's face.
He was just as happy as Dean.
Dean snorted, tempted to tease but deciding to hold off for now. Because Sam was finally Sam again, which meant he was putting on a brave front, was trying to act normal, but Dean knew his little brother was still fragile and would be so for a while.
The Wall seemed to be intact – only personality and basic memories of recent deeds on earth having returned at this point – but Dean was sure it was just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
It always was with Sam.
But they would deal with that later.
Tonight, he was going to enjoy having his little brother back.
Without a word, Dean took the flashlight from Bobby and left the living room, walking down the hall toward the bathroom, hearing Sam match his footsteps as his brother followed close behind him.
Dean turned on the water – Sam's signal to rinse his hand – as he retrieved the first aid kit from beneath the sink. Sam was reaching for the hand towel when he was intercepted by Dean and smiled as his big brother gently dried his palm, eyes narrowed as he inspected the burn. Seconds later, Dean nodded at Sam, and Sam sat on the closed toilet, hand towel in his lap, watching as Dean crouched in front of him. Sam took the flashlight from Dean's grasp, shining the light on the kit as Dean found the gauze and then shifted the beam to his hand, wincing as his brother began to wrap the injury.
Sam sighed, exhausted.
Dean glanced up, knowing that sound. "Almost done, Sammy."
"Mm-hmm," Sam agreed, studying the fabric stretched across his thigh. "I'm guessing it's Christmas?"
Dean paused, holding his breath at the question because they had already discussed this. He had already answered this question once. Sam – this Sam – should remember.
Then Dean realized, and he slowly exhaled.
This Sam wasn't in the game 20 minutes ago. He had just arrived on the scene and was putting two and two together just by looking at a hand towel with a faded Santa – which had to be a remnant of Bobby's married life – and that was more than the other version of Sam could ever hope to do.
"Dean?" Sam prompted, sounding more tired than annoyed. "Is it Christmas?"
Dean finished wrapping Sam's hand and glanced up. "Yep."
Sam was quiet for a few seconds and then, "Well, you know what that means, right?"
Dean lightly pressed his palm to Sam's, checking the security of the bandage. "What?"
"Presents," Sam responded, a hint of excitement in his voice.
Dean smiled affectionately – damn, he had missed this kid.
"I already have mine," he replied, his voice quiet, the meaning clear.
Dean held Sam's gaze, watching as his brother's eyes misted with tears, as Sam's face flushed even as he smiled and ducked his head shyly.
Sammy reactions didn't get more classic than that.
Dean felt the warmth of happiness and contentment blossom in his chest and spread throughout his body. He knew there were rough patches ahead – couldn't even begin to imagine what awaited them as Sam remembered details of what had happened during the past year, as he eventually remembered The Cage – but right now, he had his brother back – his real brother, his Sam – and that was all that ever mattered to Dean.
There was no better gift, no present he would cherish or fiercely protect more than his Sam.
Dean nodded as if agreeing with himself and turned away to put the first aid kit back where he found it.
Sam watched as his brother turned his back and quickly dug in the front pocket of his jeans, grasping what he somehow knew would be there.
In the next instant, it was dangling from his fingers as he patiently waited for Dean to face him again.
"Are you hungry?" Dean asked, rummaging around under the sink. "Bobby brought Chinese. We didn't order you anything, but you can have mine if you want it."
Sam smiled, wondering if Dean knew how much he loved him. "Nah, I'm okay. Just tired."
Dean nodded closing the cabinet doors. "Are you ready for bed?"
"I am, if you are," Sam responded, angling the light to shine on what he held.
"Sounds good," Dean commented, turning and then freezing as his eyes fell upon it.
Black leather cord, worn and faded from years of wear.
Dull, slightly tarnished, gold charm.
The other version of Sam's words drifted to him.
I know where it is.
Dean swallowed, feeling the sting of tears.
Sam had had it this entire time, and although it had different meaning now, it was still as much of a symbol as it had been the first time Dean had received it.
Once lost...now found.
Just like Sam.
The real Sam. His Sam.
Sam smiled – dimples lingering – and then held it out to Dean, feeling the warmth of his brother's fingers as he took it from his grasp.
Dean returned the smile, almost awestruck, as he slipped it over his head, feeling the familiar weight settle on his chest. He looked down and chuckled.
He had missed the ugly little sonuvabitch
"Do you still like it?" Sam asked, 100% little brother.
Dean nodded. "I love it..." – and I love you – "...thanks, Sam."
Sam beamed at him, standing as Dean did, handing the flashlight back to his brother and then following Dean down the hall to their room.
"Night, Bobby," they called in unison and then smiled at each other.
"Yeah," Bobby's response drifted up to them as they closed the door of their room.
"What do you wanna do tomorrow?" Sam asked conversationally as they changed into their sleep clothes.
Dean slipped his t-shirt over his head and pulled back his sheet and comforter, immediately recognizing this angle. Sam already knew what he wanted to do and was testing the waters with Dean.
"I don't know," he responded, climbing into bed. "What do you wanna do?"
"Talk." Sam burrowed beneath his covers and closed his eyes. "About everything."
"Oh, boy," Dean said dryly, and although the idea made him nervous, it also reassured him about the night's turn of events.
Only the real Sam – his Sam – would want to talk...and talk and talk and talk.
But for now, there was silence, and Dean assumed Sam had already gone to sleep, exhausted.
Then he heard it – Sam's softly sighed murmur.
Dean propped up on one elbow, listening intently. "Sammy...you okay?"
"Mm-hmm," came the sleepy response. "Merry Christmas, Dean."
Dean smiled, staring at his brother's shape in the dark; feeling the weight of the amulet against his chest; and inexplicably remembering the movie they had been watching downstairs an hour ago, back when he thought Sam was lost to him forever and everything was hopeless.
It's A Wonderful Life.
He was happier than he had been in years.
"Merry Christmas, Sammy."