Author's Note: Mirror fic two of...like, five I have planned. This one for "Everything Dies Given Time" where Sam finds out he can't die and deals with it in spectacularly Winchester fashion. This one's actually been in the works for ages. Or at least for longer than you'd think. I don't know what's going on with my writing lately. Something odd?
It was like déjà vu of five years ago, Dad apparently vanished off the face of the earth, except this time the world was ending and it was Sam. With angels and demons and who knew what else gunning for him, Sam chose now to drop off the face of the earth, and Dean kept thinking-
In that other future, he hadn't talked to Sam in years. He hadn't thought to wonder during that nightmare why Sam would have said yes. Now he was. Why assume that Lucifer was above hurting Sam to get him to say yes? Why assume that he couldn't push and coerce and torture…
Dean tried calling again. The phone rang and rang without going to voice mail. Bobby hadn't heard from Sam since they'd split up. "I'll keep an ear open," he'd said, when Dean had called, "But you probably don't want me putting the word out. The things I've been hearing about you boys, lately…you haven't got a fan club, let's just say that."
Sam could be anywhere. Worse, Sam could be nowhere.
Dean didn't even know where to start.
Apparently hunters were looking for Sam.
They'd tracked him down in Garber, Oklahoma, Bobby said, was the word. Tending bar. A moment's pause, and then Bobby added that word also said they hadn't killed him. So that was, you know, something. Right.
Though by the sound of it, wasn't so much for lack of trying, and like Dean hadn't been panicking enough already. Because it was possible, of course it was possible, that Sam had just dropped off the grid and wasn't taking Dean's calls because he didn't want to talk. Or maybe he'd ditched the phone and taken off somewhere. Of course it was possible.
(Another hemisphere. Jesus. He didn't exactly feel…well, maybe a little bad about that. Mostly…worried. He should have remembered how well they ever did alone. There was a reason, after all, that he'd gone to find Sam at Stanford, and it wasn't just for the company. Sure, he was a needy bastard. Dean was…almost kind of okay with that.)
There was nothing after Garber, though. Just the entire United States, and one Sam.
Even worse, after he'd snapped at Castiel for being unhelpful, the angel had fucked off and hadn't turned up again. Which, maybe he was unhelpful. But at least he was company.
The first word he got of Sam was in Wisconsin, where he caught wind of a rash of mysterious drownings only after they'd stopped. It sounded like a kelpie. He went anyway, and found himself "just a day or two behind that nice young man" who'd asked questions about the murders and matched Sam's description. "Is he in trouble?" One of the witnesses asked, worriedly, and Dean almost wanted to roll his eyes. But affectionately. That was Sam for you.
Sam, who'd apparently solved the case and breezed right out of town without even staying out the night. No stolen cars, no buses that fit the timing, and he hadn't even checked out of the motel he'd paid for in advance.
Just in case, Dean checked the room. It was musty and dark and shitty, and told him nothing whatsoever.
All right, so Sam was moving quickly, and he was hunting. Sam was only the second best hunter in the world. Dean could catch up. Easy. Just follow the hunts. He knew what kinds of things Sam would look for.
Only apparently, he didn't.
Sam liked the hunts that were heavy on research. He liked puzzles, liked working things out. He didn't tend to enjoy the hunts that were open-and-shut clear cut cases of dangerous-creature-hunt-and-kill.
So Dean wasn't entirely sure what Sam was doing almost exclusively taking backwoods, dangerous, straightforward hunts. It wasn't until he got word of someone sounding a little like Sam tackling a garuda (seriously, when was the last time they'd run into one of those?) in Florida that he started to get worried that maybe this wasn't just Sam trying to trick him out of catching up (which would be a seriously dick move, and Dean didn't even think Sam knew he was following, because he wasn't really trying that hard to hide) but something quite a bit worse.
A couple of weeks after the garuda (which Sam appeared to take down without incident), Dean was in South Carolina moving north when Bobby called.
"Just heard from Carl, out of Raleigh," Bobby said. "North of you. Says he heard a hunter went down dealing with some vampires a couple miles north. Some big nest been feeding off a town for years, killed the last solo hunter to go after them too."
"Sam's not that stupid," Dean said, automatically. There was silence on the end of the line. "No," Dean said, in answer to the unspoken. "No. Don't even…no."
"Dean," Bobby said, sounding tired. "I just…I can't be the only one who's been thinking it."
"I'll check it out," Dean said, "But he's not dead. It's not Sam."
"It's not Sam," Dean said, and hung up.
Which was probably not really the right thing to do, but Dean thought he could be forgiven that, considering he didn't know where his brother was and Bobby was already giving him up for dead.
When he finally found Sam it was with a knife at the back of his neck, hovering, and he didn't think before saying "Sam, get down!" as he would on a hunt. Didn't think of surprise, that Sam didn't know he was there (that that was the whole point, to catch up to him without him knowing because Sam had been able to outrun Dean for a while now).
And so Sam just turned, eyes wide, and the knife moved, so goddamn fast.
Slid into his neck until it caught on bone, and Sam's throat was a red and gaping ruin spraying blood, and he hit the floor before Dean could even move. Then Dean's hands were trying to stop the bleeding, he was babbling and Sam's eyes stared right through him.
And like that, it was over.
In a haze, he closed Sam's eyes. "Sam," he said, and choked on it.
Too little, the thought flitted through his mind, too late. And there was nothing he could do. No favors he could ask. This was it.
He took Sam to a motel, stared dumbly at his brother's corpse. This couldn't happen. This wasn't…there was so much blood. Dean got a washcloth and cleaned Sam's face, changed his shirt, but it didn't disguise the ugly gash that had opened his throat.
Time seemed suspended. "God, Sam," Dean said, and stopped.
Fled the room and called Bobby.
"Did you find him?" Bobby asked, the question tired, and routine.
"Yes," said Dean, and before Bobby could say anything, added, "I was too late-"
"What?" Bobby's voice had a note of panic. "Did he-" Dean wanted to laugh. Bitterly.
"He's dead," Dean said, and his voice broke. Silence.
"What?" said Bobby, finally. Dean told him dully. Hunting alone. Poltergeist. This isn't real, his brain kept saying. This isn't happening. When he was done, Bobby cleared his throat. "You need to come back here," he said, and Dean wanted to ask why.
"I know, Bobby," he said. "Just…" Sam was dead. Sam was dead.
Dean hung up and stumbled back into the room. Where Sam, his throat intact, was staring at him with an expression of resignation.
Dean could have (just then, just for a moment) kissed Lucifer. Sam was alive. The relief made his muscles go slack. No deals, no nothing. Lucifer wouldn't let Sam die (not all bad, then, part of Dean's brain noted, and that was probably skewed). And then it all fell apart.
"I heard you were dead in North Carolina," Dean said, wanting Sam to understand what he'd been through, what it had been like, how long he'd been looking. "But I didn't believe it." One of Sam's shoulders lifted.
"I was dead in North Carolina," Sam said. Flatly. Calmly, even, voice almost free of inflection. It took Dean a moment to even understand. And then he started to feel sick. Sam hadn't looked surprised to be alive again. Sam had been on his feet and ready to move.
Sam had done this before.
Okay. Okay, so it was – okay. So he'd died and come back. At least he'd come back, at least he wasn't lying dead somewhere where Dean would never find him – but Dean's mouth was going without him, asking, "How many times?"
Sam shifted, sighed. For a moment he looked unhappy, almost frustrated. Then that was gone and his face was blank again. "I don't know," he said, quiet, nonchalant. "I've lost count."
Lost count. Dean thought of Hell, suddenly, of dying and repairing over and over, and how long it'd taken him to lose count. How long before death wasn't even a way of marking time, was just as meaningless as all the rest-
"It's okay," Sam said. "You get used to it after a while."
Bile burned up the back of his throat and he just made it to the toilet before it all came boiling out. Hanging over the toilet, heaving, he felt Sam's hand on his back, warm and comforting. Like this was just Dean with the stomach flu. Like he could make it all better like that.
Sam, Dean wanted to say, Sam, but he didn't have more words than that.
The real problem, the real thing that made Dean feel like clawing out his own guts, was that Sam didn't seem to understand the problem. Just sat there, calm and reasonable, hands dangling between his knees on the bed messy with his lifeblood, and watched Dean with an expression that managed to be simultaneously placid and worried. It was like looking at Sam through a funhouse mirror. Still Sam, but somehow…wrong, twisted.
The thought that occurred to Dean, sitting on the other bed and trying to look at Sam as little as possible (trying not to think about the glassy way Sam's eyes had looked that Dean was too familiar with by now, trying not to think of Sam coming back to life alone and just standing and moving on) almost made him puke all over again. I did this. And right on its heels, I don't know that I can fix it. Sam kept watching him. Not even expectant. Because he didn't expect anything.
Dean pictured taking off. Pictured leaving. Sam would leave too, soon after, pick up his gear and go looking for another dangerous hunt that no one wanted, because he got it now, that was just so fucking Sam, if I can't die, why shouldn't I stand in for the people who can?
"Did you even try? To stay alive?" Dean asked, and couldn't keep his voice from sounding pissed.
Sam just kind of shrugged. Yeah, sure, didn't work so well. Had Sam always been this quiet, this still? He didn't remember him like this. He remembered a Sam of questions and conversations and talking things out. This Sam was a stranger. A stranger Dean didn't really want to know.
Too late for that now.
Sam looked down at the floor for a couple seconds. Dean shoved himself to his feet and paced away. "This is all so goddamn fucked," he said, mostly to himself. Sam made a soft huffing sound, like that was funny. He glanced up, barely lifting his head.
"What are you doing here, Dean?"
Dean wanted to flinch, or else wanted to suspect Sam of pushing him into a chick-flick moment, but now that he thought about it, that wasn't really Sam anymore, hadn't been Sam for a while, since Lucifer, unless you counted that picnic table as a chick-flick moment, which Dean didn't. Also the tone was all wrong. This was just…Sam. Sounding tired and resigned, maybe faintly sardonic.
"I wish I thought you were joking," Dean said, flatly. Sam looked at him, for a couple seconds, and Dean looked away. "It's only been five months," he said to the window, trying to sound wounded (wasn't as hard as it should have been). "You already gave up on me?"
I didn't give up on you, Dean wanted to say, but he had, hadn't he? Turns out we're the fire and oil of the apocalypse. Goodbye, Sam.
"We're not stronger together," Sam said, quietly, tone perfectly even, so it was hardly even an accusation, just a quotation. "We're weaker." And Dean wondered, abruptly, if Sam had that whole conversation memorized, committed to memory and carved into his brain, and wasn't that just like him. Sam: I know what you did last summer, and I'm never going to forget about it. Dean wished-
If wishes were fishes beggars would ride, or whatever.
Dean let out an explosive breath and said what he'd been waiting five months to say. "I'm sorry," he said. "I was wrong about that. You know I was wrong about that."
Sam's eyes dropped again. His hands twisted together. "Yeah," he said. "Okay." He sounded anything but convinced. He sounded – empty, and something about it hurt to hear.
"Okay," said Dean, back. "Okay." He looked at the blood on the bed. At Sam's bloody clothes discarded on the floor, the washcloth he'd used to clean the blood away when Sam was still and cooling and dead. "Get your stuff," he said, abruptly. "Let's get out of here."
Sam stood up. "Dean," he said, and then stopped. Said, "Yeah. Okay," again. It didn't sound like he believed it. It didn't sound like he really understood.
Somewhere, Dean realized, he'd expected Sam to be the one to make this easy, to put them back together. He'd thought that once he caught up with Sam and let him know that he'd changed his mind, that would be it, it'd be fine.
He was suddenly scared that somewhere in those five months, he'd lost Sam for good, even if he was still alive.
Dean felt heavy and sick and didn't know what to say, so he didn't say anything at all.
Sam was so perfectly quiet.
Dean kept one eye on him where Sam was sitting in the passenger seat, eyes staring blankly out the window. It wasn't pretty country. Dean hardly knew what Sam was finding to look at.
"Sam," Dean said, and then realized he wasn't sure what to say. He thought about hunting. About taking Sam, like this (empty eyed, too quiet, too calm) and putting a gun in his hands, turning him loose. Maybe that was what they needed. Get back on track. Get back to normal.
"Maybe we should take a break," he said instead. Sam made another one of those curious supposed-to-be-a-laugh noises.
"What," he said, "Worried I'm going to die on you? Oh wait." Something about the way he said it made Dean clench his jaw so he didn't yell. Goddammit Sam he wanted to say, but he was the one who'd screwed this up, this much was on him.
"I don't care," Dean said, "If it doesn't stick. I'm not…" I can't. He thought of kneeling on the floor with Sam's blood all over his hands and Sam's eyes staring emptily through him. Thought of sitting next to Sam's corpse and waiting for him to come back to life. His stomach was lurching all over again. "I'm not going to let you die," he said ferociously, and hoped Sam understood.
The silence from beside him was worrying. Dean glanced sideways and wondered, abruptly, if maybe it would have been better to leave. Maybe this wasn't what Sam wanted anymore. Maybe he'd already lost his chance to fix the future Zachariah had shown him and there was no changing that now, maybe the best thing to do was to just give in now.
"I'm sorry," Sam said, finally. Not grudgingly. He actually sounded sorry, and that almost hurt worse.
Dean wanted to stay angry. He wanted to stay righteous and sure and keep Sam safe from the world and the world safe from Sam. But with this Sam sitting next to him who already seemed half gone-
It seemed like all his anger was bleeding out and leaving him with nothing.
Sam's eyes drifted back out the window. Dean wished he would sleep. He looked exhausted. He wished they could both sleep. "Hey Sam," he said, "I'll drive for a while, if you want to…"
"I'm fine," Sam said, before Dean even got the rest out.
Yeah, fine. They were both fine. Everything was fine.
Dean gritted his teeth and kept driving.