Stop Motion.

(Or Reasons Sam Never Looked).

Disclaimer: Not mine, never were. And yet I can't seem to let them go. This has been lurking on my hard drive. I offer it up to the light of day.

s S s

Gone. Dean is gone. Nothing but an empty air where he once stood. Sam circles the spot, staring at the space his brother had occupied seconds before. He doesn't want to move away. It's not real, Sam has learned the hard way so many things in his life are just not the way they seem. It's a mistake, a glitch in the fabric of something or other. He blinks, squeezing his eyes shut and popping them open. Because this has to be a hallucination, he knows about those. Horrible things in his head, that hurt and scare him and this is what this is. He doesn't care about Dick Roman or the Leviathans and Cas comes and goes as he pleases, but Dean does not just vanish. Not on Sam's watch.

It's a trick and Sam is not going to fall for it. Crowley is wrong, he's not on his own and if he is, it is most certainly a temporary state. He reaches out, tentatively fingers curling around emptiness. He spins on his heels, around and around, expecting Dean to appear in a corner or jump up from behind a desk. He doesn't. Sam closes his eyes again and something like a prayer falls treacherously from his lips.

When I open my eyes, he is going to be here. When I open my eyes, he is going to be here.

Sam repeats the mantra under his breath, tensing every muscle to will his brother back from wherever. The room stays silent and a noise echoes down an adjacent corridor. Sam opens his eyes to an empty room.

There is someone coming and he has to leave, he slides out of the building and lurks in the shadows across the road, watching and waiting. Dean is somewhere around, has to be. He'll come skeddadaling along the sidewalk, sauntering along the road any minute, smug about putting one over on his little brother. They won, they vanquished the enemy and Dean will be unbearable about it for a few days.

Sam waits and watches, people scurrying to and fro, the building cordoned off from the general public. It's dark and then it's not, and still no Dean. Sam tries to call him. The connection crackles and dies.

Sam's muscles start to cramp and he's getting cold so he creeps off to find the car.

Sam drives around, stopping and starting. Keeping watch, Dean will reappear he knows this and believes it with every frayed fiber of his being. A week later and Sam thinks that maybe he should look elsewhere, right? He checks his phone constantly, his fingers itching for it if he puts it down for more than five minutes. No calls, no texts, no nothing.

He refuses to panic, to let his thoughts run away from him and get him tangled up in lies and possibilities that he won't be able to escape. He needs to be calm and quiet, take each step with measured consideration. Stupid impulsive decisions and gut reactions have never led him anywhere other than to Hell and back. He won't do that this time. No demons or their blood or their deals or anything really that smacks of the supernatural. It always, always backfires, usually right in his face and Dean would be pissed if he did it again. And anyway it has only been a few days, each minutes seems to stretch out for hours at a time. He has to take his time, he has no choice, he can't rush this.

He thinks vaguely about eating something, but his stomach cramps at the thought, and getting out of the comfort of the car takes too much effort. So he drives, cars on the highways race past him, shapeless blurs of color and light, people glide along the sidewalks at a pace that reminds him of speeded-up film, their movements jerky and comical. Not that he finds it funny, but he finds himself gazing with curiosity as the world speeds up around him and he floats gently along through an ever-increasing maelstrom of life.

He begins to find that the effort of negotiating the improbably fast landscape he now seems to inhabit requires all his concentration. He decides he needs a safe and secluded spot to make those plans that will reveal Dean's whereabouts to him. The thought makes him start. Dean might be there. He scowls at himself in the rearview mirror; of course, Dean would head for somewhere they both know.

He could be waiting there impatiently for him. Sam thinks briefly about checking his phone again, but it's dark and the oncoming headlights flare at the edges of his vision, it can wait just a bit. He presses him foot to the gas and the pedal groans in complaint, stiff and unyielding beneath his foot. The engine replies with a whirring whine and the car carries on at its own steady pace. Sam relaxes his grip on the steering wheel and nods to himself, he'll get there when he gets there.

When he gets to the cabin, it is dark and empty and cold. His first instinct is to turn around and keep going but there's a stack of seasoned firewood, he wonders who took the time to chop it, and a haphazardly stacked pile of books leaning against the window. Who knows what secrets they might reveal? He can find no sense of urgency within himself, and a sting of sadness flares across his chest and he stops in the doorway and takes a deep breath. He will not grieve or cry. He will not be trapped by his own fears and grief, this time. He will not become a broken beacon of despair, attracting every soul-sucking piece of dirt that exists only to torment the foolish and unprepared. He will find his brother on his own terms, if Dean doesn't find him first.

Sam builds the fire carefully and sits crossed legged by the hearth staring at the flames for far longer that he intends to. The warmth on his face is a surprising comfort and flickering of yellow and orange do not disturb any slumbering memories, they dance slowly, their twisting dance quite predictable and the crackles of the sun-baked pine are muted as if respecting Sam's wish for peace and solitude. The silence in the cabin is restful and Sam nods off in front of the fire, despite himself. He does not dream.

He's curled up in front of a cold pile of ashes when he awakes, the cold light of early morning sunshine peeking through the window. The cabin and its contents are still and an air of expectancy settles over him. There's instant coffee in a cupboard and it tastes bitter and sharp. Sam drinks it slowly and wonders how long it will be before Dean comes back to him, because that is what his brother always does and it really doesn't matter what he and or anyone else tries to do. Sam will not consider any other possibility.