Disclaimer: I do not own Supernatural. All characters belong to their respective owners, and I am making no profit off of this.
Author's Note: This was going to be a big bang story, but life happened, and I never got to finish it. Posted it as is on A03.
"And you lost your way livin' in the shadows that you made."
Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.
They go to the beach.
Dean stands in the surf everyday, or walks in the sand leaving behind a set of footprints to be washed away by the tide, always looking out over the horizon. Sam thinks maybe he's waiting for Castiel, that maybe he doesn't remember; doesn't know that Cas isn't coming back this time. Sam remembers; he remembers watching from the distance, running towards the warehouse as Cas went supernova to save them and took Raphael with him. There'd been nothing left but empty vessels and the burned imprints of massive wings.
And his brother, collapsed over the body of their angel.
Dean had been surrounded by black feathers, one of them stuck in his hair and his hands had been clenched in the torn, bloody fabric of Cas's trench coat.
He hasn't been right since then, not really. Sam squints into the sunlight, lifting one hand to shade his eyes as he watches his brother wander slowly down the shore, hands stuffed in his pockets until he stops occasionally to pick up the odd seashell. Dean's barefoot with his jeans rolled up, and an old, worn t-shirt on.
Sam's just glad the beach is mostly deserted this time of year. He doesn't want to have to explain away Dean's…Eccentricities right now.
On the best days he seems almost like himself again; he laughs and bitches, and is every bit Sam's brother again, but he still comes out to the beach to wander and wait, and there's a look in his eyes that Sam can't interpret. He doesn't even want to try; he's too worried it might completely shatter Dean beyond repair, if he pushes too hard.
Of course, then there are the other days; the ones where Dean just isn't there, and Sam curses Cas, and God, and Dean because he wants his brother back.
Dean clings to the sea like it holds all of his secrets. Sometimes he stands there in the waves, lets them wash over him and whispers in languages Sam doesn't understand; ancient words an angel taught him, once.
Sometimes Sam lays awake at night, lets the tears run down his face as he weeps for his brother, and the angel, and maybe even himself, a little. He isn't ashamed to mourn for everything they've lost, but he doesn't let Dean find out even though he can't explain to himself why he should care.
"When there's no water in the desert, Sammy," Dean says one day, staring down at the sand on their skin, "the faithful wash themselves with sand." He looks up then, green eyes lost and hollow, and a little wild.
"What do you think? Would it wash away our sins?" he asks like he already knows the answer.
Sam never knows what to say to that, to this version of his brother, shattered and strange, so he says nothing. Inside, though, a part of him wails that no, not even sand could wash away their sins; the stain is too deeply embedded in their souls, and they'll never be forgiven.
Doomed to live this life over and over until they finally get it right, maybe. He's pretty sure Fate is a bitch, and she probably hates them. It wouldn't be that far from the status quo.
Dean laughs; a bitter, sad sound, like he knows what Sam is thinking, and skips sea shells across the waves.
He says, "you can't fix what isn't broken, Sam."
When Sam looks up, both eyebrows raised, he adds, "gotta ask to be forgiven."
Sam doesn't really know what happened in that warehouse between Dean, Cas, and Raphael. He knows what he assumes -Dean was in danger, and Cas saved him- but sometimes Dean talks in his sleep, restless and begging, and Sam wonders.
He never asks, though, because he swore to himself that he wouldn't.
"Where are you, you son of a bitch? You fucking promised!" Dean screams at the sky, full of rage and wild, uncontrollable emotion. He stands in the surf, barefoot, arms spread wide, and makes demands of God, and the dead that no one ever answers.
Some nights he cries, but Sam leaves him his dignity and pretends not to notice him curled in on himself, sobbing like his world ended despite it all.
Maybe it did.
He thinks Dean is pushing humanity further and further away; he wonders if they belong in this world they saved. If Dean belongs in any of them.
He worries that one day Dean's going to walk into the ocean and never come out again.
"Don't be stupid, Sammy," Dean says, a curious half-smile on his face, "you can't fly down there."
The beach again; it's cold out, and the sky is over-cast. Dean stands in the waves singing softly to himself, and Sam can't help but stare.
"Cas sung it to me when he put me back together after Hell," he says when he catches Sam watching. "He said it was a song of creation, and renewal; re-birth." He sounds wistful.
"Why are we here, Dean?" Sam finally asks.
Dean smiles at him, full of things Sam can't understand. "Everything began with the sea," he says, and peers down at the waves that sweep in to wash over his bare feet. "This isn't the right shade of blue," he adds after a moment of inspection, and straightens with a sigh. "Almost, though."
He watches the waves roll back out, and studies the horizon like it holds all the answers to his un-voiced questions.
Sam sighs, stuffs his hands in his pockets and goes to stand beside his brother in the surf. He can almost feel him there, pressed close enough to touch.
"I wish I knew what we're waiting for," he says, and Dean laughs.
"Cas is dead!" He doesn't know where the outburst comes from, just that it's there, suddenly, on the tip of his tongue and he can't stop it.
Everything is silent except for the steady sound of the waves breaking on the shore.
And then Dean huffs a short, choked-off laugh, and shakes his head. There's a strange smile on his face that Sam's never seen. It looks a little unstable.
"Silly Sammy," Dean says, that terrible smile still on his face as he turns towards the ocean again, like he's pulled towards it inexplicably. "God can't die."