Written before 8x05.

x

Sam didn't believe in monsters, and hadn't since he was maybe nine or ten. When they were regularly trying to tear your face off you were probably long past the stage at which faith in them was necessary.

It was funny, then, or maybe it was only fair that monsters didn't seem to believe in him now either. This was a fairly new phenomenon but quite a disconcerting one. He'd killed monsters a lot more than they'd killed him, so Sam would have thought he'd have left a persuasive impression. But apparently he and Dean had become somewhat mythical figures as of late, the hunters under the bed. Dean would probably think that was hilarious if he were around, but Sam found that being told by the vampire you were currently killing that you didn't exist was honestly kind of surreal. After all, it had said, everyone knew Sam Winchester wasn't real, really.

So, this is how it went. Sam didn't know where to go. Everyone was dead, or just – gone. Anyone he wanted to talk to would probably die too. He knew this because he had a track record and it was pretty telling. Sam drove a lot, that first week with nowhere to go and no one to go there with.

The second week, somewhere in Idaho, he found evidence of a nest of vampires that appeared to be recruiting. He went to take them out solo. He wasn't sure what he was thinking when he did that, except the voice in the back of his head that sounded like Dean thought it was a really fucking stupid idea. He did it anyway because Dean wasn't around right then, so Dean didn't have a say.

So Sam was stabbing a vampire with a knife covered in dead man's blood, and he heard this:

"They said we were safe – all the hunters, aren't they - they're meant to be dead-"

Sam had the wild urge to laugh, but if he did that he might not stop, so he didn't.

"Well," he said, "apparently I'm not. Your lucky day."

"Who –" The vampire wrenched himself off the knife and stumbled back, skidding on the drenched floor. "Who are you?"

"Doesn't matter." Sam stalked forward and the vampire scrambled away, slipped and fell on his back.

"They said, they said you were all dead," he whimpered. "Who are you?"

"Sam Winchester," he said, figuring it wouldn't live a hell of a lot longer to spread the news.

The vampire's face twisted with fear. "But Sam Winchester's not real!"

And it was funny because Sam almost didn't feel real himself. He'd been little lost and exhausted lately anyway, like he might drift away if he didn't concentrate hard enough. He hadn't shaved since Thursday and couldn't bring himself to check any of his phones. But he was pretty sure he was real. So he asked the vamp what it had meant.

The monster told him about Sam Winchester, deadly hunter – tall as a tree and cold as ice with a gun that could kill anything and a brother who wouldn't die. Sam Winchester was the man who carried the Devil with him in his head. Sam Winchester, the man who killed vampires.

One of these things became true very shortly.

So Sam took out the nest solo and watched the flames eat their bodies up and didn't feel a hell of a lot. His soul was quite firmly in place, it was just that he was so tired of it all. He remembered that when he didn't have a soul, he never got tired. He felt like that might almost be a relief now. Dean wasn't around for him to hurt. Maybe if he didn't have it he could just stop and get his head together and think.

A few days later, Sam ran over a dog.

X

He didn't come across anything else supernatural for maybe a month after that. When he did, he was walking the dog, not thinking about much. He was pretty tired and wanted to go back to bed, but when Riot got antsy he tended to take it out on Amelia's doors.

So when he started barking at a total stranger Sam didn't actually stop and think. He just reacted, fell straight into hunting mode. To Sam the hunter, dogs barking at total strangers didn't mean anything like having a cat at home.

He pulled Riot away from the guy, watching carefully, and said "Jesus Christ I'm sorry –" and there. A miniscule flinch but it was there. Shitshitshit.

He really didn't think, then. He was crowding over the demon before he knew it, even though he had nothing, no options, no defenses. He didn't bother asking what Dean would say, because he knew, and he also knew Dean would probably be doing the same thing in his position with less pets and more alcohol.

"Hey - what are you doing, man?" the demon said nervously.

Sam ignored the Dean-voice – Sammy you fucking idiot get out get out - and didn't back down. "I know what you are," he said, and just like that the demon shrugged and stopped playing human. It grinned, a slow curl of its stolen mouth.

"Then you are one crazy bastard to come after me," it said.

Maybe he was, but he didn't feel like screwing around with it. "I have a question for you," he said.

"There's a surcharge for question time before I gut you."

"My brother," Sam said. "Where's my brother?"

"Your brother?" it repeats. "What? How the hell should I know?"

"So this, it isn't anything to do with you guys?" Sam said levelly, to confirm.

"I don't know anything about your brother, you idiot. Do you have a death wish?"

Sam stared at it. "…Seriously?" He tilted his head. "You new or something?"

"…Yeah, actually," it said, then snapped its jaw shut and glared at him. "Just - who do you think you are?"

"Sam Winchester," Sam said, still staring. "You seriously don't…?"

The demon had gone white.

"You're joking," it said. "You're joking, right?"

"Uh, no," Sam said. "Are you? Do you know where my brother is?"

"Sam Winchester," the demon said, backing away. "You're – you're not real –"

Sam just shook his head incredulously. This again?

"You're taller than I thought you'd be from the stories," the demon said weakly.

"Stories?" Sam said blankly. "They tell stories about me in hell?" When he thought about it, that honestly amused him to no end. There was a ketchup stain on his shirt from last week and he was holding a leash in one hand and a plastic bag with dog shit in it in the other. (He figured that could double as a weapon if need be.) Fearless hunter, Satan's face, dog walker…

"Yeah," the demon said, "'cause you're not real."

No knife, no Colt, no powers, no brother. Sam decided to take all the advantages he could get. He stepped forward and loomed, bag of dog shit swinging menacingly. "Oh, yeah," he said. "I'm real." He reached back into sense memory, the eternities spent in hell, sometimes with Lucifer in his skin torturing him from the inside out. He took out the Devil's smile and put it on. "And everything you heard? Probably true. Now. Where's my brother."

"I don't know!" the demon wailed - and then it smoked out, leaving the meatsuit gaping and empty.

Sam frowned at it. It hadn't answered his question. He was very tired of all this but he had to try again, even if only once.

I can't do this anymore, he thought. I can't do this without him.

X

Amelia wasn't too happy when Sam commandeered the living room for an afternoon, but he promised to clean up and make her dinner so that was alright.

It took a while to convince this demon he was the genuine article. It seemed nowadays he and Dean were legends downstairs, a terrifying tale passed down through hundreds of years of torture, hissed into the shredded ears of generations of flayed souls on the rack. Apparently at some point the newer demons had decided that was all they were – stories.

"But I don't believe in Sam and Dean!" the demon wailed yet again. Sam Winchester who invited the Devil in then spat him back out, Dean Winchester who charged out of hell on the wings of an angel.

"You don't need to," Sam said. "I'm right here."

The demon of course, didn't know where Dean was.

"Can I ask you something?" it said eventually.

"What?"

"Can I have your autograph?"

After a while Amelia knocked on the door and yelled that she was coming in. That was when Sam was brought back to reality with a shattering jolt. There was a demon in the living room of the woman who'd taken him in, crippling issues and all, because he had put it there. It leered at her and flashed beetle-black eyes and Sam felt sick to his stomach. He hadn't been thinking. He couldn't bring the supernatural into this life. He barricaded the door with a chair, then he exorcised the demon and cleaned up the mess with a low throbbing in his head. Amelia wasn't too happy with him for that, even when he made her favourite clam chowder that night.

X

It was a while after that before he had his next encounter. Sam was getting out of the car, having driven to work, when something yanked on his sleeve. He whirled around, sinking into icy adrenalin-calm. He didn't relax when he saw it was just a child, a little blond kid. Still could be anything.

"What do you want?" he said to the boy in a low growling voice. The kid looked a little intimidated and out of breath, probably ran across the street to get to Sam once he saw the car, but stood his ground.

"It's you, right?" he said. "You're Sam."

"I know," he said. "I am real, by the way," he added as an afterthought. He didn't know if he believed in himself enough to be real lately though. He felt sometimes like a ghost, about to float away with nothing to hold him here except a girl and a car and a dog and a quiet burning hope.

"I know you're real," the boy said. "Do you know my mom's dead? Do you know about what killed her?"

Something twinged in his memory but he didn't know, no.

"Your brother the hunter," the boy said, "he's the thing that killed Mom."

Sam couldn't help but let out a laugh. It was kind of cracked and dead but definitely a kind of laugh. Amy's kid, he realised. Lovely blonde Amy, murdered in front of her child. This was the kid's story now; the myth of the thing that killed Mom on a slow burn in his gut, and an endless search for anything that could make it right.

"Well, don't worry," he said. "There's no revenge for you to take. Dean's gone. He's gone and I don't know where to find him."

Dean wasn't there, Dean wasn't round the corner, Dean wasn't waiting in the car. He was somewhere else; somewhere Sam couldn't see, and maybe couldn't follow, and maybe would never find. Dean might be gone.

X

There was a lake some distance from the place where he lived right now, which he mostly forgot to call home. Sam drove out there after work and went onto the pier and took off his shoes. It was quite deep under where he was sitting, and he thought that under the water it would be cold and black and numb. It would be so easy to just slip in and disappear. He felt like he might dissolve away into nothing if he did that, because he wouldn't be able to feel himself; and he didn't feel real in his mind, and everyone he knew was dead or gone, so there wasn't anything holding him down to earth. He had a house, a job and a woman and a dog - though he was still waiting on the apple pie - and when was that ever real? Normal was a lie he had told himself as a child. This was all going to go down in flames at some point. That was something that had always been a constant for him.

He wanted Dean so badly it hurt, but he couldn't move, because he'd made him promise a lifetime ago and Sam felt he should return the favour, and - he was just. So tired.

After a while, someone came up next to him and sat down. That felt odd to him, as he didn't really know anyone around here. A friendly stranger, perhaps.

Right. Because there were so many of those around.

"You look lonely," they said. It was a deep, lovely voice and whether it was a man or woman he couldn't tell.

Sam looked sideways at their legs. At first they shimmered slender and white like fish-flesh – but then they lengthened, thickened, sprouted hair. Something about this pinged his radar but he was very content to look at the legs' reflection in the water for a moment, and not think.

"You are lonely," said the voice again, and this time he knew the voice like he knew his own. This was the voice he heard when he woke up every morning and when he went to sleep at night. It was the voice of long hours in the car and banter over meals and terse conversations on hunts. The inflections and the words were all wrong, but this was his brother's voice, plucked straight from Sam's head.

He looked up into that face. It was more of an impression gathered of jumbled thoughts about Dean's face than reality, and that made it more accurate than anything. Sam sucked in a breath. Lake nymph, he thought. It'll be telling me to jump in any minute.

It was best to make a strong first impression, so he rolled back his shoulders and sneered down at the thing. "Do you know," he said, "who you are trying to fuck with?"

"It's okay," the thing said gently, reaching out a hand to cup his cheek. "I'm here."

It felt very cold and wet and wrong. If it were Dean he'd be smacking that hand away and taking the booze off him.

"You stole that face from my memory," Sam said slowly. He was just about screwed, he thought. This was going to be a talk-himself-out-of-it one. Already the impression of Dean was solidifying, and he was having to fight off the haziness of the spell being cast on him. "What else? You figured out my name yet?"

It smiled gently. "Of course I know your name, I know you're…" That moment there - its eyes widened. Not by a lot, but enough, and Sam grinned. "Sam. Sam Winchester," it stuttered.

Yahtzee. "That's right," Sam said, "I'm no story. Time to start believing."

"I'm here! Come with me." It took his hand, started to edge towards the water. "Time for a little faith in me, don't you think? I'm back, Sammy, I'm here - I'm not going to leave you -"

"Don't even try," he said, harsh graveyard light reflecting in his mind's eye. "You aren't him."

"And why not?" it pressed.

"I don't have faith in a hell of a lot anymore," Sam said. "Sorry about that."

"Why not?" the nymph cajoled. "What is it you want?" Its face flickered, went fishbelly pale with unblinking round eyes. Its mouth twisted, still Dean's but all wrong. "The truth? You want reality? Well this is it."

"I don't believe in monsters," Sam said into the dead white face. "I don't believe in you."

"Well, you should," it hissed, "because I am right here. And you'll come with me. You will."

Sam could feel the compulsion tugging at him. He was exhausted and it would be very easy, he knew, to just go under and fade away.

"Dean's not the one who leaves," he said. "He's coming back. He always comes back."

"Do you really think that?" the thing growled.

"Yeah," said Sam, grinning at it, and it wasn't the Devil's smile, this time it was his own. The spell was making him lightheaded and dizzy, and he was starting to sweat all over. The icy numbness of the water would be the most delicious sensation. "You bet I do." See that, you son of a bitch? That's why we win. That's how we beat you every time.

"You'll come with me." It bared teeth like needles. "I don't care if you're Sam Winchester himself or not. You're mine. Your faith is empty." It slipped off the edge of the pier and tugged at his ankle so that one foot was pulled under. Sam gripped wood to steady himself - then the illusion flickered and something peeled away like an empty white husk and Dean was there, clinging to his leg, looking up. It was not just Dean's face but his eyes, hell and bone-deep weariness seeping through every part of him, and Sam thought I know, Dean, I know.

"Sammy," he said hoarsely. "You. You never came. I was always there to bring you back. Sammy, where were you -"

Sam reached down and slid his fingers across the back of Dean's neck and held on for dear life.

Dean rubbed a hand over his eyes with a dry laugh. "Always with the sap. C'mon, man. Let's get going." And Sam slid down into the water where Dean was, and that was okay. He gasped as the icy water closed over his shoulders with a thrill, cold soaking through to his bones. He clutched at Dean and didn't care about the flaming cold. Sam burned hot.

Dean clung back. "Come with me," he said. "There's somewhere better for us – just us, forever. It'll be awesome. Let's go there, Sammy, you just have to hold on to me. I'm here."

Sam laughed wetly and burrowed his head in Dean's shoulder, and held him for a moment before gently untangling his fingers, and letting go.

"Sorry," he said.

Dean's eyes widened in betrayal and he started thrashing, flailing, spluttering. He went under for a moment and came up gasping. Sam tread water calmly.

"Sammy, it's me, help me!" He choked on water and the words were swallowed in gargling before he resurfaced again. "It's me, believe me, man, you've gotta – you've – it's me, believe in me –"

"Oh, absolutely," Sam said, backing up to cling at the edge of the pier. "Yeah. But, see, the thing is? I don't just believe in Dean."

"What else is there," his brother gasped, limbs smacking uselessly at the water. Sam could barely feel his own. "What, then?"

"I know," Sam said.

Dean went still, water dribbling from his nostrils, and then he flickered and faded and melted away, and Sam was left gasping and alone.

The nymph was still watching him with flat dead eyes before sinking away without him. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad, he thought, to go with it – if that hadn't meant leaving his brother to come back to a world without Sam in it.

"Ha! How's that for real," Sam said, because there was no one else around to deliver the vaguely crappy one liner. Then he watched the water for a while before he started to go numb. He should come back for it later, he thought. But ganking lake nymphs, that was a two person job. He decided to wait for Dean a little longer, first. He just had to climb back up here and watch.

So he sat there on the pier for a long time, and knew that was okay. Even if he was only a fable to all these monsters, now, even if the realness of them had been built up or maybe just stripped down to nothing but a myth, just stories in the end– that was fine. That was okay. It was only fair, after all, because Sam didn't believe in monsters either. Maybe one day Sam would be nothing but the Devil's face, because in the end it would always be stories that got remembered, but it didn't really matter what monsters thought. Sam was there, and soon Dean would be and if he waited a little longer he knew that it was okay. Everything was all going to be okay.