A/N #1: Okay. So this is completely divergent from canon in that Sam, Dean and Cas continue to fight as Team Free Will, and it diverges from 2014 end!verse in that Sam never says yes to Lucifer.
A/N #2: The title and certain key details of the story are, shall we say, heavily "inspired" by the song "Walking Far from Home" by Iron & Wine. Please, please, please don't sue me. This is just for fun.
A/N #3: Please follow, I'll write faster if I know you're interested. :-)
Dean was standing apart from the crowd of mourners, absently watching the kids scratch new names into the soft wood of the wall when he saw it. It made his breath catch, and spots of dizzying rage flickered over his vision. He swooped in and clutched one of the kids by the back of his shirt and hauled him to his feet, pointing at the name and thrusting him bodily toward it, making the kid stumble over his own feet in a cloud of dust.
"Who did this?" Dean yelled.
The group had gone silent, the kid white as a sheet and Dean could feel himself shaking. "Who?" he demanded. He looked around at the other kids, all inching away from him, and he let go of the ragged collar of the kid's shirt in disgust.
Dean spun around, recognizing the voice, and if it had been anyone but Jo in that moment he would have brought a fist along with the motion. Somebody had better have a damn good explanation or he was going to start throwing punches.
"Dean, come on."
She put her hand on his arm gently, her voice low, motherly, and fuck, Jo was too goddamned young to sound motherly, and that just pissed him off more. He yanked his arm away from her and pointed again at the name. "Did you see this? Do you know who's responsible for this?"
Jo drew in a deep breath like she wasn't sure how to respond, as if she was searching for the right answer.
Dean brought up a hand, one finger raised. "No. He is not dead. You take his name off this fucking wall. Or I swear to whatever you consider holy, I will rip the entire thing down myself." She opened her mouth to respond but he turned away, exhaling loudly, and strode off down the dirt and gravel road leading away from the settlement.
"It's okay," Jo said, looking around her at the shaken kids. "It'll be okay." Her gaze fell on the weathered letters of the name Sam Winchester, high above many of the other names of their fallen friends.
It had been nearly two months since Dean put Sam's name on that wall, carved there with the blade of the demon-killing knife, tears streaming freely down his face and muttering broken apologies to the brother he'd tried so hard to protect.
It had all been pretty much downhill with him since.
Cas hadn't been back to the settlement since it happened, and Dean made sure the men stationed at the far end of the blockade knew to keep it that way.
"Any sign?" he called out to the men on duty. He was glad to see his buddy Carl was among them. "Carl!"
The man looked up, his gritty face curling into a grin. "Dean!"
"Any sign of my brother?"
The smile faded from Carl's eyes but his expression never fell. "No," he said.
Dean nodded stoically at the news and dropped his gaze. The man standing watch with Carl caught his eye, and Carl shook his head almost imperceptibly.
"I'm gonna need a gun," Dean announced, looking up.
"Can't do it, Dean."
"Fucking-!" Dean's fist exploded into the side of the pick-up with enough impact to leave a faint impression of his knuckles in the metal body of the vehicle. When he spoke again, his voice was deadly calm. "Give me your gun. I'm gonna find that bastard and put a bullet in him for what he did to Sam."
"Dean, let me give you a ride back. What do you say?" He reached a hand down from the bed of the truck, shifting aside to make room so that Dean could climb up.
Dean held the gaze of the man he'd fought side-by-side with for three years, and for a moment Carl thought Dean might actually do it. This thing with Sam had destroyed him, Carl knew that. Dean hadn't been the same since Sam had walked out of camp that night with the angel.
The loophole. Sam had called it the loophole. The only middle ground between fast-tracking the apocalypse and attempting to hold their own against all of Heaven and Hell.
Sam had given them a chance. Carl knew that. Everyone knew it. But Dean could only see the aftermath, and he could only blame Cas. And himself.
Dean looked at the hand Carl offered, and he smirked. Then he gave a short, bitter laugh.
"No," he said. "Thanks. I'm good. But I need your gun."
And before Carl could even process what was happening, Dean took hold of his wrist and pulled him forward, flipping him down off the bed of the truck and onto the ground so that he was pinned and disarmed in a move that Carl would have seen coming if this had been anyone but Dean, goddamn it. The man who'd saved his ass more times than he could count. It hurt his pride and, if he was honest, his feelings, more than anything. But it also knocked the wind out of him, and when he looked up he saw Dean training Carl's semi on his partner. The other man raised his hands in surrender as Dean took a few deliberate steps back.
"I'm sorry," he said sincerely to Carl. Carl gave him a single nod, and Dean nodded back, satisfied that his apology was accepted. Then he took off at a run.
It started to rain, a heavy, threatening, unnatural burst that broke from a clear sky and rolled in to follow Dean's retreating form, and the two men quickly ducked into the cab of the truck to avoid fat raindrops coming down hard and exploding with surprising force like wet artillery against the packed dust of their dying earth and their truck's cracked windshield.
Carl found himself wondering which one of the archangels was behind it. He wondered if it meant they'd found a way past Sam's loophole.
He hoped not.
To be continued