Chapter six - Conclusion.
AN: Again, I can not thank everyone enough for such welcome of such a far-out dream. Millions of stars, thank you!
Warning: Epilogue could be considered a tissue warning - not horrible, however, but I find it fair to label it: Read At Your Own Risk.
Something cold and wet surged up my nose and I bolted awake. "Finally," I choked and sputtered, watching the slow roll of blue and white surf lap against sand. "Pay dirt." I spit tiny grains out of my mouth. "I mean sand."
I let my gaze roam along the shoreline.
Sun and sand.
Sand and sun.
Sam sprawled lifeless on his back a few feet away from me, waves rolling over his feet.
"Crap," I yelped, half-crawling, half-running across the sand. "Sam." Tripping, I slammed to my knees next to him. Sam's eyes were closed, and he looked dead. "Damn it." Sick of checking the kid for a pulse, I went for the immediate reaction, grabbing him by the shirt collar and shaking. Sam's head uselessly flopped against the sand, but nothing more. "Sam!" I shook him twice as hard. "Sammy." Another rough shake.
"What?" Sam snapped to attention, coughing gritty sand and saltwater right in my face.
I hung my head, releasing a long breath. "You're killing me, here, bro," I complained, wiping Sammy drool off my face, and composing myself. "Come on." I yanked us upright, keeping hold of Sam's shirt as we both wobbled to gain balance. "You're okay." Was as much of a question as it was an order.
"Yeah, you?" Sam responded.
I scanned the area. As far as the eye could see, the place was deserted. The only sound was the roll of the Caribbean-blue surf hitting sugar white sand. The sun was setting bright orange and warm, fringed palm trees rustling in the sweet clean breeze.
"Paradise on a postcard. Only thing missing is Bikini Barbie, or, not-in bikini Barbie," I griped, releasing my hold of Sam now that we both seemed to have our beach legs.
"Dude," Sam huffed, "My attic." He tapped a finger against his temple. "Not yours."
"Oh, yeah, forgot, nerd city," I snickered, looking all around again. "So where's all the checker playing grandpa's? Or are we here to guard Sea Turtle eggs, while standing on our heads chanting the mystic word, om," I mumbled in disappointment.
Sam didn't answer, he was staring up the beach with a far-off look in his eyes.
"So, obviously this is the place Cas was talking about. Time to go home, Skippy." I reached for Sam.'
"Toto." Sam took a step out of my reach, still staring past me.
"Now what?" I frowned. "Someone release the Kracken? God knows it wasn't you. Ha." I turned to follow Sam's gaze, my laughter fading at what I saw.
The sillhouetted form of a well-muscled, rugged looking man slowly walked along the edge of the water. His jeans were cuffed just below the knees and he carried both his shoes in one hand. His shadow stretched before him - bigger than life - leading two small boys, trailing not far behind him.
A father and his sons.
Both boys followed along, trying hard to match their father's footprints in the sand, before a wave would come and erase the print. The older boy sometimes nudged the younger aside, causing him to falter and miss a step. He was a tough little dude, catching up fast and shoving the older jerk back - tit-for-tat - a sort of game of tag. Every now and again, the father whipped around, bent down and cupped the water - a surprise attack - shooting ocean spray at the boys, who tried to duck out of the way.
This went on for a while. The squeal of laughter - buckets of happy - the older kid always moving in front of the younger, taking the brunt of their father's playful training.
After awhile, the father sat down in the sand, legs scissored. The oldest joined him first, sitting between the man's legs and leaning against his chest for support, then the younger followed suite - a sort of choo-choo train - chain of command. All three were quiet now, staring out at sea as a sailboat bounced upon the waves, white sails flapping in the wind.
The scene looked so natural, so normal, so - my mouth hung open in shock.
"Dad," Sam whispered next to me, not willing to take his eyes off the scene.
"Sam?" I scowled, noting his eyes burning with tears.
"I remember this day, Dean."
I looked back to the tiny family. "Yeah, me, too. Think you were six."
"Was mom's birthday." Sam said wistfully. "Dad brought us here and we spent the whole day. Picnic lunch. Tossing a Nerf football around. Building castles in the sand." He swiped a tear away. "One of the few times we just got to be a family." Sam smiled at me. "Except for mom not being there, it was perfect. I wanted to stay forever."
I nodded. "Had to drag your ass to the car, and you cried like a sissy the whole way back to the motel room."
Sam shrugged. "Was a good day."
"Yeah, Sammy," I agreed quietly. "Was a good day."
"Great day to be alive, hey boys?" Came a happy-go-lucky male voice from behind.
Sam and I jolted, spinning around and shocked to see a half-bald, sun-baked man, probably in his mid-sixties, lounging in a beach chair. He wore a brightly colored Hawaiian shirt, baggy shorts, and his feet were bare.
He saluted us with his drink, sucking on a long straw. "Stuff just tastes better when you drink it out of a coconut shell," he said, going back to sucking.
"Sammy, you know this guy?"
Sam shook his head, no, unable to take his eyes off the beach comber.
"And who are you supposed to be?" I snipped, instincts telling me anyone who could pull off that look was not someone I needed to put a bullet in. Not that I had any bullets, but Sammy might.
"Oh, sorry, how rude of me." The man set his coconut in the sand. "Shouldn't drink in front of guests."
"Guests?" I raised my brows.
"I'd offer you something," he smiled, his eyes sparkling, "But I think you boys need to stay sharp." He buried his nose back in a book he'd been reading.
I glanced around. There was no one else here. No Tiki bar, no motel, no volley ball net, no Beach Barbie. My gaze landed back on our mystery man, licking his thumb and turning a page.
"Hey." I snapped my fingers. "Jimmy Buffet, I'll ask you again… who are you?" Maybe Sam just didn't remember this guy. Maybe he was a friend of dads.
Buffet book marked his place, and set his paperback aside. "Beautiful beach, don't you think?" He stared out to sea. "You know you can swim with the dolphins anytime you want here." He looked at Sam, all nurturing like. "That would be nice. Wouldn't it, Sam?"
I drew back in surprise. "Sam?" I peered over at my brother, who continued to stare at the dude in what appeared to me to be a state of dumbfounded awe.
Confused, I turned my attention back to Buffet and checking him up and down. Was he a demon, a ghost, monster, trickster, memory, nightmare, geeky dream. He was none of those things, as I came to realize he was in full-blown-living color taking up residence on a beach, inside my brother's head.
For a moment, I felt the awe Sammy felt, but I also felt terror strike through me. What did this dude want with Sammy? I took a threatening step forward. "Who are you and what are you doing inside my brother's head?"
Buffet didn't take his eyes off Sam and said, "Who I've always been. What I've always done."
That pissed me off. "You're not answering any of my questions," I hissed.
"Not going to either," Buffet said calmly.
"Oh, that's it." I made a move to flip him out of his cozy lounge chair and put his ass in the sand.
"Dean! No." Sam took me by the arm.
I broke my gaze from Buffet, Sam's full-on puppy look and a trembling hand on my arm stopping me.
"Please. Just please," Sam begged, cocking his head at me.
"You should listen to your brother, Dean." Buffet watched us as he causally reached inside a bag of Macadamia Nuts and popped a few in his mouth. "Wouldn't want to take a ride on a roller coaster during a hurricane would you now?" He chomped, smiling the smile of a stand up comedian, his tone pleasant and composed.
"That a threat?" I scoffed, letting my eyes bore into him.
"Now, now," Buffet said in that same calm tone, that was already grating on my nerves. "I like you, Dean," he said. "You look a man in the eye and you speak from your gut, but this isn't about you. This is about Sam."
That pissed me off some more. Sam was my brother, anything about Sam was about me too. "What do you want?" I stiffened, but stayed put.
Buffet's smile faded and directed his words to Sam, "You paid the price, son, and now you must choose," he said in a soft kind voice.
"What?" My stomach flipped and I tugged away from Sam's hold.
"I don't understand," Sam said, meekly.
"I do," I lunged for Buffet again, but this time it was Buffet who stopped me with the simple flick of an index finger, tossing my ass to the sand. "Sam's not staying here with you!" I spat, trying to stand, but unable to move.
"That is up to Sam." Buffet leaned forward in his chair. "Right, Sam?"
Beside me Sam was quiet and hadn't moved a muscle. "Sammy, and I, we come as a package deal. He stays. I stay," I roared.
"You love the hell out of your brother." Buffet tapped danced smoothly around my anger.
"Damn right I do," I fired back, giving Buffet a cold, hard stare; while still trying to move my arms, my legs, my pinky toe - I got nothing.
"Damn right you do." Buffet repeated my words back to me, his blue eyes sparkling. "As you should, Dean. He's a good man, and you had a lot to do with that fact, but this is no Time Share program, son. Not right now, anyway." Buffet crumpled up his peanut bag and stuffed it in his short's pocket. "I can promise you one thing, though. When it is your turn to choose…you have the option of joining your brother here." He waved a hand around the Beach happily. "You can even add your own…shall we say… amenities." He winked. "It's your paradise."
I scanned the beach. Sure it was peaceful. Add a few conveniences, with my humor and charm, and it'd be heaven on a stick. I gave Sam a sidelong look before settling my sights back on Buffet. "Nah," I said, "You're not keeping Sam prisoner here or anywhere. I won't leave him," I yelled.
Buffet shrugged. "It doesn't work that way, Dean," he said in a straight-forward tone.
I was sick of knocking heads with this guy. "Let me tell you what way this works you lousy-"
"Hush, now, Dean." With another flick of his finger, a gust of wind blew, carrying with it a piece of duct tape that miraculously found its way to my lips, slapping my mouth shut.
Ignoring my protested rant behind the duct tape, Buffet got up from his chair and stepped in front of Sam. "Sam. I know you don't really want to be in hell. But…"Buffet flashed a sympathetic look. "I also know you did not accidentally come here. Your guilt and shame brought the wall down, then you built it back up around yourself."
As I listened, the lump that usually formed in my throat formed in my chest and I could barely feel my heartbeat. My feeble attempts to talk behind the tape went unnoticed.
"Even though you suffer, you feel safer behind the wall, don't you, Sam?"
Buffet was obviously hitting the nail on the head, judging by how quiet and attentive Sammy was.
"Even though you suffer, you feel you are keeping others safe," Buffet side glanced at me, "By allowing yourself to remain a prisoner of hell. I'm right. Right?"
"Yes," Sam whispered.
'Nuuu.' I managing to stomp a foot in the sand.
Buffet shot me a brief look. "You won't let your brother get you out. Yet, you're afraid to stay. You've peered inside yourself. Seen the dark cloud. All men have souls, Sammy. All men have a part of themselves deep inside that the soul's light cannot touch. A darkness. Those parts are connected. You were right when you said it was you inside your soulless body."
This guy was drunk. What was he saying to my already freaked out brother?
"What is it you truly seek, Sam?"
"Redemption," Sam whispered again, looking scared out of his mind.
"You don't need to search for what is already yours." Buffet placed his hand over Sam's heart.
Sam didn't budge, I don't think the kid was even breathing, staring down at Buffet's hand. "If your brother loves you enough, your friends," he shrugged, "Me, Sam… then you need to love yourself enough to forgive and forget. No good comes in destroying yourself, son. The only thing you are going to destroy is the ones you love." Buffet looked at me again with a sort of empathy I'd never experience before. "You spilled the milk all over the floor," he said to us both. "You didn't do it on purpose. But it's still sticky and you can't take it back. All you can do is your best to clean it up."
Who was this guy?
"You have the power," He turned back to Sam. "You don't need that wall. You have a other choices. You can take another crack at the real world. Or you can stay here with me," Buffet frowned. "Or you could jump back into hell. The freedom is yours." Buffet pressed harder against Sam's heart. "I promise this much, if you want it, your mind is fixed. You will remember everything, but you will not be destroyed as your body is now."
"I don't deserve anything," Sam muttered, hanging his head.
"Ggggaaaam." Don't you say that. Of course you deserve it." I tried to push the duct tape away with my tongue so I could tell him that - not a good idea.
Buffet let his hand fall away from Sam's chest. "You have so much good inside of you, Sam." He took a step back. "There is nothing I don't know, and nothing that has not already been forgiven." Sam looked oddly over at me, his forehead wrinkled with indecision.
My eyes welled. Sam, please, no. I need you.
"Sorry, Sam. Dean can not make the choice for you," Buffet explained, going back to sit on the edge of his lounge chair. "Dean, you're being selfish and you're distracting your brother. This has to be his choice. You've both fought the good fight. Now let go, and let be."
I thought about that a moment, in the distance I could hear Sam's heart, the beat grinding like a rusted out machine, then another heart, one I knew but couldn't place, beating strong and fierce. I looked at Sam's hurting face, and there was a sort of farewell shining in his eyes. Didn't my brother understand how much I loved him? Needed him.
"Nuuu, Gggggaaaam." I fought to break free of the tape and invisible hold Buffet had on me.
I wasn't friggin' letting go of anything. Wasn't going anywhere. Sam wasn't staying here. Not without me. I concentrated hard on moving my arms so I could peel the tape off, but nothing happened. Unable to do a damn thing, I growled once again at Buffet.
"You're a good kid, Dean." Buffet picked his coconut shell up out of the sand, and scooted back in his chair to relax. "Stubborn as hell, but good. It's hard, I know, but for Sam to have peace the choice must be his." He took a sip of his drink. "And you, son, you need to learn how to wait your turn," he said with that annoying laid-back, no worries sort of tone. "Say the right word, Dean." The same gust of wind that brought the tape slapping to my mouth, returned, ripping it away.
"Ugh," I screeched in pain. I wasn't saying crap. "I'm not saying crap you fr - Shazam!"
I jerked awake. Where was I now. Inside a friggin' orange? I glanced dizzily around. Orange curtains flapped about in an open window. An orange carpet was littered with equally orange towels, and I was sitting on an orange bedspread.
"I've been praying." Came a solemn voice. "I didn't know if you could hear me."
"Son of a bitch, I said the word." A clock on the wall tick-tocked and I heard someone's labored, shallow breathing.
I swallowed hard, suddenly knowing exactly who the voice belonged to and where I was. Hesitantly, I turned to the bed next to me, afraid of what I might find, and for good reason. Sam had deteriorated a lot since I'd last seen him. He still lay stretched out on his back, unrelaxed, sheets lumpy and wrinkled, moppy hair brushed off to one side, arms stiff, fingertips hooked and contorted.
Cas sat in a bedside chair, gently washing Sam's face with a cloth. "He may not be here with us much longer."
"What happened?" I asked, unable to move.
Cas wouldn't look at me. "Sam is still comatose," Cas summed up what I already could see. "His seizures have finally stopped about an hour ago." Cas dipped the cloth back into a bowl of ice water sitting on a nightstand, and wrung the fabric out "Unfortunately, so did his heart on more than one occasion."
"Sam's heart?" My gaze slowly drifted over Sam, remembering the times I couldn't hear the beat while I was in Wonka's crazy factory.
Cas dripped water everywhere as he went back to wiping Sam's face.
"What did you do? How-did you - did you call 911?"
Cas dabbed at Sam's sunburn-red cheeks, then laid the washcloth to his forehead, holding it in place. "I did as you instructed." Cas nodded at the orange washcloth in his hand.
My eyes popped wide. "Sam's heart stopped beating, and you thought a cold compress would help!" That got my body moving. I scrambled off my bed, feet barely touching the floor as I flew the few inches to Sam's side and dropped to one knee on the bed beside him. "You're fired!" I blew up, shoving Cas's hand out of the away and taking over on the washcloth.
Cas finally looked up at me. "I told you, Dean, I am not a human doctor. Sam is still undecided, fighting, but his fever is extremely high."
I lay the back of my hand gently to the side of Sam's neck. Cas was right. Kid was burning with fever, the fast thump of Sam's heart against my knuckles, unnerving. "Shit, Sammy," I whispered, laying my other hand to his chest, his breathing shallow.
"Tell me what happened in there, Dean?"
"We ended up on that beach. Same beach our dad took us too when we were kids. Somehow some retired beach comber weaseled his way into Sam's mind. Told Sam things. Things -" I shuddered, Sam was still in there with him. "I think he might have been-" I bit down on my tongue, afraid to admit what I already knew.
Cas rested a hand on my shoulder. "Yes, the man on the beach. That is good, Dean."
"So you knew about him?"
I heatedly shook Cas's hand from my shoulder. "And you didn't bother to tell me because -" I waited for an answer.
"Because I was not exactly sure, Dean, and it was not exactly my place. Sam needed you to lead him to the beach. But now it is up to Sam to decide. What is the phrase you humans like to use?" Cas paused. "You may lead a horse to water, but you can not force him to drink."
"Put Tabasco Sauce in his oats," I muttered sarcastically. "He'll drink." I picked up Sam's hand and gave a squeeze. "So that beach is Sam's heaven?"
Cas didn't answer.
"And Jimmy Buffet? He's the big G?" I pressed.
Cas looked confused.
"The big man upstairs, The Big Kahuna, Commander and Chief," I explained, shaking my head.
"You mean God?" Cas said the word with utmost reverence.
"What you believe is only for you to decide, Dean."
More questions, that went unanswered. One thing I did know, and it killed me to admit, Cas was right. I realized the choice had to be Sam's. Tabasco Sauce in his oats, or not, if the kid didn't choose for himself, my baby brother would never find any balance or peace. In heaven, hell, or any other universe.
I stared at Sam a long time, following the weak rise and fall of his chest, wondering if he'd made his decision already. I didn't want Sam suffering anymore. I didn't want to bring him back to this world if that meant his condition was only going to be more of the same. Maybe it was time for me to let go.
"Hey buddy," I barely got the words past my lips. "It's been rough on you, I know, and I get it, Sammy. I do. I'm not saying I like it, but I get it." I squeezed Sam's hand harder, hoping for a response, but got none. "You need to do what you need to do, man, but if I were you, and you didn't want to come back here to me, I'd take that beach over hell. You deserve that much, Sam."
I lay his hand down to the bed, and sat back. There was nothing else I could do. Sam didn't move a muscle. I hung my head, hovering lower over him. I was going to lose my brother. But then I noticed something I hadn't before, and my despair turned to hope. The entire time I'd been back one small, simple thing had changed - Sam's eyes were closed.
Surprised, I pointed at Sam, looking to Cas. "His eyes are closed."
"Yes," Cas said solemnly.
I grabbed Cas by his fugly tie. "How long have his eyes been closed?" I yelled in his face, giving the fugly tie a hard jerk.
Cas just stared at me.
I cinched my hand up higher, ready to choke Cas with it if he didn't answer at least that question. "How long, Cas?" I demanded.
Castiel's eyes flicked to his bunched up tie, then back to me in a demanding, yet, hurt sort of way.
Sighing, I let loose my hold.
"About ten minutes before you woke up," Cas answered, smoothing the wrinkles out and adjusting the knot
"Ten minutes. Ten minutes," I said excitedly, feeling Sam's forehead. It was still warm, but I could tell his temperature had gone down several degrees. "His fever," I smiled at Cas, "It's starting to drop."
I picked up Sam's hand again and right away his hooked fingers relaxed and twitched. Sam had chosen to come back. I was sure of it. "Sam," I bent back over him expectantly. "Sammy." He responded to my voice, by turning his head away from me. "Hey, bro," I ran my fingers through his hair. "Over here."
"Mmmm," Sam moaned, turning toward me this time, lower lip quivering.
"That's it. You got it, Sammy." I lay a hand to his forehead and held it there feeling the fever drop with each passing second. "This is your wake up call, Sam." I lay a hand to his cheek. "No hitting snooze, lazy bitch."
Sam groaned again, shifting his legs. For a second I glanced over at Cas, who now stood across the room, looking out the window. He was whispering something that sounded like a prayer, the setting sun streaking through the window illuminating him. I've witnessed a lot of things in my life, but a miracle never was one of them - until now.
Sam moaned and I brought my attention back to him. "On three, Sam, open your eyes." I took a deep breath and counted very slowly. "One."
Sam's tongue lazily poked out to lick his lips.
His eyes wildly shifted back and forth, under closed lids.
"Three," I said loud and clear.
Sam let out a long sigh, his hot breath breezing across my face, but his eye remained closed. "Three, Sam, I said three." I placed a hand to his chest and jiggled him gently. "Three, dude."
Sam suddenly came out of it. His eyes opened and he stared straight at me. But not with that empty, blank, dead stare from before, his eyes were clear and following my every move.
I excitedly bounced up and down on the bed. "Oh, man. Oh, God. That's my boy. That's my boy." I clasped Sam's face between both hands. "You're with me, Sam. You're back with me now."
"He will be okay. You both will. Be at peace." The sound of fluttering wings told me Sam and I were alone now, and we probably wouldn't see Cas again - in this life anyway.
"You remember what happen?" I anxiously asked.
Sam turned his head, slowly taking in the room. His mouth twisted, and he took a couple minutes too long to answer me.
"Sam?" I frowned at the dark rings of purple that rimmed his eyes.
"Ummm." Sam gathered his breath, then rasped, "Either I tied one on negotiating my life over a coconut shell," he said in a small voice, "Or-or the wall came down."
"The wall came down," I said, seeing he was still a bit fuzzy, "And…"
"And I was lost inside myself -" Sam gathered another breath. "Inside hell. We found the beach. He, you…"
I could read Sam like a book and he did, he remembered every detail. Though, I couldn't help but wonder what details I'd missed out on, after I Shazamed myself out of his over-sized, mushy head.
"D'n," Sam's breath hitched.
"Sam, easy, you need to just rest now. We'll talk later."
"You- you came for me."
"No matter what," I guaranteed. "I'll always come for you." I slipped a hand under his head and raised him off the pillow and hugged him against me.
"You'll never have to- have to come looking for me again. Prom-promise," Sam breathed out.
"Why did you choose to come back to me, Sammy?" I had to know. Was Sam truly back or was I getting out the handcuffs and Tabasco Sauce.
"Because you've always given me everything Dean, and the only way- the only way I can ever thank you… repay you," Sam brought a shaky hand up between us and pressed it to my chest, right over my heart. "Is to forgive myself."
I could tell how much it was taking out of Sam to talk, and he was already fading. I tightened my hug, even though I knew it was sleep taking Sam from me this time, and not hell. Still, I wasn't taking any chances.
"You're my-my brother, Dean," Sam said just before he fell sound asleep, his chin lightly coming to rest on my shoulder.
I could feel Sam's heart thumping against my chest. A sound I'd latched onto before the kid was even born. A sound that belonged to me, comforted me, made me whole. Beat after beat, I listened, until both our hearts were synchronized, and I fell asleep, holding Sam all through the night.
He sat barefoot in the sand, his younger brother next to him. They'd done their job. What they were born to do. Had saved countless people. Killed countless evil things. They'd fought the good fight, side- by-side all the way, until it was time to choose.
The setting sun was a shock of pink and bright orange reaching across the sky. Rhythmic waves washed in and out over his bare toes, crabs floundering in the surf and bouncing about on the waves like some sort of beach rodeo.
The wind was warm as a spa, salty and welcoming as sea spray dotted his face. Though there was no beach blond Barbie anywhere in sight, the moment was unspoiled and perfect.
Looking out to sea, several sleek dolphins broke free of the water, splashing back down, their tails slapping the sea and propelling themselves back under the surf. Moments later, they blasted acrobatically back skyward, twisting and dancing playfully.
A dark silhouette trotted out of the water towards them - the shadow he walked in - huge.
"Great day to be alive, hey, boys." He wiggled in-between the two of them, reaching his arms around both and clapping his hand to their shoulders. "If this is just a dream - he pulled the boys tighter to his side. "We get to live it together."
Northerly winds ruffled the canvas of a sailing ship that bobbed out on the horizon.
The ocean and wind sounded like the roar of a gun, but didn't drown the sound of a heartbeat. How often he'd heard it. How well he knew the sound. Looking to his family he breathed in.
He would easily stay here forever, and forever he would.
The 'blah' end