Disclaimer: I own nothing. No copyright infringement intended.
Thanks go to SnarkyMuch2 for beta'ing this and to Gredelina1 for her support and feedback.
Here it is, the final chapter. Thank you to everyone that has read this far. I appreciate you taking time to follow me into this latest excursion into writing.
~ Chapter Four ~
With a sinking sensation in his gut, Sam reached out a hand and shook Dean's. "Thanks, man. I appreciate it." He was confused to see tears spring to Dean's eyes, and a look of tortured regret spread across his features.
"I'm so sorry, Sammy," Dean said. He brought his other hand up and clasped Sam's between his own. "So sorry."
Pain exploded behind Sam's eyes and he screamed out Jess's name and darkness overtook him.
Bobby watched the awareness blink out of Dean's eyes, and his heart sank. They were both gone now. Both of his boys.
"It is done," Castiel said regretfully. "Now we must wait."
"Do you think he can do it?" Bobby asked. "Bring him back, I mean."
Castiel sighed heavily. "If anyone can do it, Dean can. I fear he may not choose to, however. He is dedicated to his brother, and if he believes that is the better place for Sam, he may stay."
Bobby took his cap off and run a hand through his hair. "Dammit, Cas. You're not exactly reassuring me here."
"Oh, I did not know that was what I was supposed to do. In that case, I am sure Dean will reach Sam and they will both come out of this intact."
Bobby sighed. "Thanks for trying."
Castiel looked confused, but he didn't question Bobby further. He knew that this was another of those times in which he had failed in human behavior.
"Do you think it will take long?" Bobby asked.
"There is no way of knowing. I believe time moves differently within Sam's mind. He may have been there with his Jess for weeks within his mind, while only a matter of hours passed there."
Bobby sank down onto the armchair and buried his face in his hands. "Don't leave me waiting too long, boys. My old heart can only take so much."
Castiel was the first to notice the tears that streamed down Dean's face. He looked at them curiously. "This is unusual."
Bobby quirked a brow. "Dean may be a man's man, but he is capable of emotion," he said a little harshly.
Castiel looked at him with an expression of utmost confusion. "I do not know what that means, but I am sure I am misunderstood. The unusual thing is that Dean is able to access his body's emotional capabilities while walking in Sam's mind."
"Oh. Hey, look. Sam is crying, too."
It was true. Tears were now streaming down Sam's face.
"This is good," Castiel said with satisfaction.
"How is it good?" Bobby asked. "They're crying."
"Exactly. They are expressing emotion. They are returning."
Bobby felt his heart lift. They were going to be okay.
A few minutes passed in relative silence. Castiel paced the length of the room, showing uncharacteristic nerves. Bobby merely sat, his eyes trained on Sam and Dean, waiting for something to happen.
When it did happen, it happened fast.
"Jess!" Sam's scream was borne of pain so deep it made the men in the room flinch.
Dean's eyes snapped wide open, and his breath came in a heaving gasp. "Sammy!" He turned in time to see his brother jerk upright and stare wildly around the room.
"Jess! Where is she? What did you do to her?" Sam demanded.
"She's…" Dean's voice broke. "She's gone, Sammy."
"No! She can't. I just got her back. Jess! Jess!" He swung himself over the back of the couch and landed heavily on his feet. "What did you do to her?"
Bobby and Castiel watched with concern as Dean approached his wild brother.
"Sammy, she's gone. I'm so sorry, but she's gone."
Sam turned to look at him and tears streamed down his face. "What did you do?"
Dean's heartbroken expression mimicked his brothers. "What I had to do to save you."
Sam crumpled to the floor, his forehead pressed against the carpet. When he spoke, it came out as a whimper.
Dean watched as his brother fell apart on the floor, and he wanted more than anything to help him, but he knew Sam needed to let this out alone. Dean was the one who had torn him out of the world in which he was happy, and his punishment was to watch the fallout.
Sam sobbed brokenly into the rug. His heart was breaking. He didn't know exactly how it had happened, but he knew he had been with Jess and Dean had torn him away. Fury at his brother surged within him, battling his grief for dominance.
Castiel watched Sam and Dean with a sad expression. He wondered if he had made a mistake helping Dean to reach Sam. Perhaps it would have been better for Sam to have been left alone. He felt uncomfortable watching Sam give voice to his pain and Dean watching on with an expression that told all too well that he was sharing his brother's pain. He wanted to leave, but at the same time, he knew it was important for him to stay. He may know little of human emotion, but he knew well enough to know that Dean needed him here.
Bobby wiped the treacherous tears from his eyes and wondered how things had become this bad, how was it that Dean and Sam suffered so much when they did so much good for the world? It was true that they had made mistakes, but they had always had the best of intentions. That had to count for something.
Dean reached out a shaking hand and touched his brother's shoulder. "Sammy, I'm sorry."
"Why?" Sam asked in a moan. "Why did you do this?"
"Because I don't know how to do this without you."
Sam pushed himself to his feet and strode from the room. They could hear him climbing the stairs and then the click and snap of a lock as he went to the bedroom Bobby set aside for the boys.
Dean watched him go with a sinking sensation in his gut. He was afraid that he had brought his brother out of his own mind, only to lose him to his grief.
Dean didn't know what to do.
A week had passed, and Sam was no better. He would speak in monosyllabic sentences when he was spoken to directly, but he never instigated a conversation on his own. When Dean or Bobby prepared food for him, he would push it around his plate but eat little. He moved through the house like a zombie, unaware of all that surrounded him. It was if he was searching for something. Searching for Jess.
One afternoon, Dean found Sam sitting on the front porch steps, staring into space. Sam made no sign that he noticed Dean as he sank down onto the step beside him.
"Sam, we need to talk," Dean began. He had rehearsed this speech a hundred times in his head, and despite his trepidation, he was going to try to finally reach his brother.
Slowly, Sam turned to face Dean; it was as if his head was weighted. "What about?"
Sam looked away again. "I don't want to talk about it."
"Well, I do."
Sam didn't particularly care what Dean wanted or needed. He was living in Hell because of what Dean had done. The pain he lived with daily was almost as bad as the pain of losing Jess the first time. Then it had been worse as he was battling his own guilt for allowing it to happen; now he knew there was nothing he could have done.
"I'm sorry," Dean said.
Sam shrugged. "You keep saying that, but I still don't know exactly what you are sorry for. What did you do?"
"I saved you."
Sam snorted. "From what, a normal, happy life?"
Dean raked a hand over his face. He was relieved his brother was speaking, but the words he spoke were painful for Dean to hear. "I saved you from yourself."
For the first time since he had been brought back, Sam felt something other than anger and grief. He felt curiosity.
"What happened to me?" he asked.
"How much do you remember?"
"I remember being in the cabin. My head was hurting, and then..." He didn't want to think of the flash of Hell he had glimpsed before he had woken to his heaven. He also didn't want to see Dean's face if he knew Sam had remembered any part of the cage. "Then I woke up in bed with Jess."
Dean didn't miss the hesitation, and he knew Sam was hiding something. Rather than pressing Sam for the truth as he wanted, he let it slide. Sam had the right to keep his secrets.
"How long were you there?" Dean asked. "Cas thought time would work differently for you."
"A few weeks, give or take." However long it had been, it wouldn't have been long enough for Sam. He wished with all his might that he could slip back into that world.
Dean whistled. "That long."
Sam shook his head somberly. "Not long enough." He took a deep breath and exhaled in a rush. "How long was it for you?"
"Not that long. A few hours maybe."
"A few hours." Sam sighed. "You couldn't do without me for a few hours. Damn, Dean, you've got some serious issues."
Dean smiled, happy to see the teasing facet of his brother's nature returning. "What can I say? I missed you."
Sam shrugged that off. He didn't want to think of how it had felt to Dean. It was hard enough to cope with his own feelings, without worrying about Dean's.
"You were gone, Sam," Dean said in a mournful tone. "You were awake, and your eyes were open, but that was it. Cas called it a shell. Your spirit was gone."
"Spirit?" Sam questioned.
"Yeah, I guess it's like a soul. It's part of what makes you a person."
For a moment, Sam felt panic. Had his soul gone again? But he realized it couldn't be. He couldn't feel this crushing grief without his soul.
"I was scared, Sammy," Dean admitted. "You were gone, and I didn't know what to do."
"Did you know where I was?" Sam asked. "Did you know she was there with me?"
Dean hung his head. He had been afraid of this question. "I knew," he said quietly. "Cas was able to tell us."
A tear tracked down Sam's cheek. "And you came to get me anyway."
"I did. I know you can't understand this, but I needed you. I was going to bring you back if I could, and if I couldn't, I was going to stay there with you."
"Why didn't you stay?" Sam asked mournfully. "We could have both been happy there."
Dean hid his face in his hands. Not wanting to see Sam's face when he dropped his next bombshell. "It was November 1st, 2005, Sammy."
Dean heard Sam's quick indrawn breath. "I didn't realize. I didn't think. Oh, God. Jess."
"I'm sorry," Dean said. "I would have stayed, I swear I would, but I couldn't watch you go through that again."
Sam got to his feet and began to pace. "But she could have lived. I could have saved her. I changed the course. I said no when you came for me."
"You really think so? Because I tried to save mom, I tried twice, but it never worked. It was her destiny to die in that fire, and it was Jess's—"
"Don't you say it!" Sam growled.
"It was her destiny to die that night!" Dean said remorselessly. "Nothing neither you nor I could have done would have changed that."
Dean had expected Sam to be angry. He had hoped he would. He wanted to see some other expression on his face than the grief that had plagued him since his return. What he didn't expect was for his brother to sink to his knees and let out a keening howl. It was as if he was breaking before Dean's eyes.
Unable to watch uselessly, Dean knelt beside his brother and threw an arm around his shoulders. "I'm sorry, Sammy. I'm so sorry."
"I know," Sam said in a moan, choking himself to calm again. He brushed off Dean's arm and got to his feet.
Dean remained kneeling on the ground, looking up at his brother.
Something shifted in Sam's expression as he looked at Dean. He didn't smile, but it was the closest Dean had seen him come for a long time.
"Thank you for not leaving me there," Sam said solemnly. "I know it couldn't have been easy for you."
Sam held out a hand to Dean and helped him to his feet, and together they walked back into the house.
It was not forgiveness. Dean didn't think Sam would ever forgive him for what he had done. But it was the next best