This fic started as the title and progressed from there. It took me a while to write it in a way that felt right as my subconscious was being cagey; it knew what it wanted but wouldn't tell me, instead choosing to reject multiple drafts until I got it right. The result was I didn't feel like I was creating this fic as much as finding it, which was a different but not entirely disagreeable writing process.
I hope you like it. Any comments or constructive criticism is appreciated.
(P.S, this fanfic is also available on tumblr, post/65223854539/voicemail-to-break-your-heart.)
Voicemail to break your heart.
It was the Apocolypse, the End was fricken' Nigh, and so far tonight all Dean had done was have a fight with the microwave and get the tv stuck on the Discovery channel. Making an angry, garbled noise Dean switched off the migrating wildebeest and tossed the superfluous remote onto the closest bed, which happened to be the one with the ugliest patchwork quilt. The remote bounced off and tumbled to the floor on the bed's far side with a noise that sounded exactly like a tv remote breaking. Because Sam wasn't there Dean didn't have to go and ascertain the damage whilst faking repentance of his disregard for motel property. Instead he just glared at the bed hiding the remote from view and took another swig of beer. At least the fridge was cold.
Sam was currently doing research at the local library, which meant that Dean was currently waiting for Sam to return from doing research at the local library. After they'd interviewed the vic earlier Dean had sent Sam off to read up whilst he did a recon of the place the vic had said the demon they were hunting had been interested in; an old courtroom. Sam had acquiesced suspiciously easy either because he was in a mood, which wouldn't exactly out of character for him, though there remained the possibility that he was doing something nefarious related to demon-blood again.
Even though Dean had let Sam back in and had decided, through some determination and force of will, to trust him again he still couldn't help but remember the sight of Sam, wild eyed, blood running from his mouth that wasn't his.
Whilst Sam was off amusing himself with hours of study checking out the old courtroom had only taken Dean a half hour or so. The whole place had been dry and dusty and quiet, with the light coming in from the high windows weak and flavorless. Dean had amused himself with the irony of breaking into a courtroom and looked around unsuccessfully for the hammer-thing judges used before leaving. There'd been no EMF, no sulphur, no smell of rotting bodies and no suspicious smell of cleaning chemicals. All in all, Dean didn't think they'd be finding a demon there any time soon. Not unless there was a demon interested in boring architecture, in which Dean was sure Sam would be happy to exchange notes (Sam had not ever talked about architecture before but it did seem like the nerdy sort of thing he'd have an interest for stowed away in his head somewhere.)
After that fascinating reconnaissance Dean had returned to the motel room and occupied himself with getting bored out of his mind. He contemplated going to the library to help Sam. This contemplation was incredibly brief and entirely unsuccessful; Dean decided he'd rather take the agonizing boredom and distasteful stale-cigarette smell of the motel then to voluntarily submit himself to the dictatorship of a librarian.
The motel did have its perks; after all he could drink in it.
Okay, so it had one perk.
After a while the beer took the edge off of Dean's restlessness and he lay down on his bed, skewed slightly so one leg dangled off and with an arm flung over his eyes as he couldn't be bothered getting back up again to turn off the lights. The room was unevenly lit, with the cluttered furniture and ill positioned lights making musty shadows. All Dean could here was the clock ticking to itself and the sound of the occasional car outside. Sometimes the cars just hummed passed and other times Dean could hear them splashing quietly through the puddles a storm a few hours gone had left behind.
Dean had almost begun to doze, he was in the soft, quiet area in between asleep and awake, when suddenly a phone rang with a noise like an air raid siren. The arm covering his eyes swung up in a wild semi-conscious punch of instinctive self-defense. Realizing a second later that there was nobody to punch Dean looked around in search of the offending noise. It was coming from Sam's bag on the small wooden table by the window.
Sighing angrily and trying not to be mad at Sam for this unwittingly committed crime Dean heaved himself to his feet and stomped over to the table. By the time he had found the right phone, a black cased, square shaped thing, it had stopped ringing. Now its screen declared he, or rather, Sam, had one missed voice message from a number Dean didn't recognize. Sitting in one of the white plastic chairs Dean opened Sam's message bank with the vague idea of listening to the message (he and Sam had different ideas on what constituted a 'social boundary.')
To his mild surprise there were two messages in Sam's message bank, the one that had just come through and another much older one. Sam and Dean had a bit of an unspoken rule: don't have messages saved to your phone. Neither of them wanted their phones storing information about themselves found by someone who could use that information for less than upstanding ends. Though he expressed his usual defiance of anything pertaining to rules just on a basis of principle Dean always made sure to clear out his inbox every now and then. Sam, on the other hand, cleared out his inbox every week, which was what made Dean eye the old message with such curiosity.
In small, pixelated letters Sam's phone declared the message was from Dean.
Dean glanced around self-consciously; looking around the empty room and peering out passed the lacy white curtains to where the car park sat in smudgy darkness. Crouched just outside his window the Impala peered back in. The clouds hanging low over the town were tinted orange by distant streetlamps and looked vaguely apocalyptic. Ha ha, Dean thought sarcastically at them before looking back down at Sam's phone.
What message had Dean left that Sam had broken their unspoken rule for?
The date set it to a few months ago but what with the Apocalypse and everything it may as well have been years. Dean didn't think in days and months, he thought in events, like 'getting sent to the year 2014 by Zachariah' and 'Sam accidentally starting the Apocolypse' and 'demon blood.'
Because of this when Dean pressed 'play message' and lifted Sam's phone to his ear he didn't know what to expect, but still he managed to be surprised.
This was because when the message played Dean heard his voice saying things Dean had never said.
"Listen to me you bloodsucking freak…"
His head jerked back in surprise.
It could've been a message left for a vampire that he'd forgotten and had gone astray, but Dean knew that this explanation was wrong in the same way that somebody about to take a blow to the stomach would know it's going to hurt.
Again the memory of seeing Sam drinking demon's blood flashed through Dean's mind.
This was a message for Sam and the next sentence confirmed it.
"…Dad always said I'd have to save you or kill you. Well I'm giving you fair warning I'm done trying to save you. You're a monster Sam, a vampire, you're not you anymore and there's no going back."
Lowering the phone Dean stared at it in bewilderment, eyebrows creased together. He rubbed his mouth slowly with his left hand, trying to focus on logic and reason and not the shaky feeling in his stomach.
He hadn't said this, he would never say something like this. Dean did remember calling Sam a monster, his stomach clenched at the memory, but he'd been trying to stop Sam from making an awful mistake and he hadn't been thinking.
But this message, it was quiet with malice, heavy with the hate of it. It was cold and delibate and calculated to destroy.
Dean hadn't left this message, so who did?
His first guess would be a demon, though a shifter could also take his voice. His voice had also been stolen before, long ago and far away, wrapped up nice and pretty by a ghost and left on Sam's phone in that asylum. There was a legion of logical explanations about the origins of this voicemail.
But still…even as part of Dean's mind told him it would be almost laughably simple for a demon to create a false message another part of his mind said that would be too easy.
If it had been a demon, or a shifter or a ghost or whatever, why would Sam have kept a voicemail from Dean that he knew had been faked?
Dean dropped the phone onto the table, it clattered, insulted, against the wood, and stood and paced away from the kitchenette. When he was level with the foot of the furthest bed he whirled around and stopped, looking back at the phone like he was ready for a fight.
Done trying to save you
You're a monster
You're not you anymore
There's no going back.
He knew what these words would do to Sam because he'd seen it happen before. Dean remembered that night, before everything had gone to Hell, when he'd called Sam a monster. He remembered seeing the ruination in Sam's eyes. At the time he'd been too blind to see it, too distracted by loss and grief to realize it wasn't too late. He'd been so distracted by the loss he'd constructed that he'd lost it all for real.
Dean realized he'd been thinking about this wrong.
Because it wasn't about what these words would do to Sam.
It was about what they had already done.
This message was months old and Dean knew it was not an accident that it was still nestled in the phone's synapses.
Sam wasn't sloppy, if the message was on his phone it was because he wanted it to be.
Which lead Dean to wonder…
What exactly did Sam think this message was, and why had he hidden it?
Sam returned a few hours later. He had his computer case in his right hand and two bags of take out in his left. This meant that the difficult task of opening and closing the motel took all of his attention. Dean, sitting on the ugly-patchwork-quilt bed, watched him do it feeling tired and confused. He was unsure if he should be readying himself for a fight or something else entirely. It had started raining again and the shoulders of Sam's brown jacket were dark with damp. In the time it took Sam to elbow the door closed a chill wind slid into the room, bringing with it the smell of storms and wet tarmac.
Sam was talking but Dean wasn't listening. He was flipping Sam's phone over and over again in his hands, leant forwards with his elbows on his knees, braced ready for impact. He was waiting for Sam to realize that something was wrong. Or, more accurately, he was waiting for Sam to realize that Dean had realized that something was wrong.
Finally Sam turned away from the kitchen bench that now held the laptop and the food and his talk had been reduced to repeating Dean's name, a question mark growing in his voice.
Dean looked up at him.
"What's with you?" Sam asked. He was slightly out of breath; he must've had to run to avoid the worst of the rain at some point.
"You got a call, when you were out," Dean said, looking down to the phone again. Behind his hands and the phone was a carpet the colour of old blood browning with age.
The phone looked so unobtrusive; it was just a piece of technology. Dean could pry its back off, pull it's battery out. He could smash it with a brick or stick it with a knife and the screen would crack and the keys would pop off and nobody would care because it was just a phone. There were millions of phones.
But that wouldn't solve anything. The message would still be there, if not in the broken connections in Sam and Dean's heads. The message had a life of its own, and it was hungry. It wasn't the phone's fault; it was just the vessel, it was just the place where the problem lived.
"Yeah, who from?" Sam asked, taking off his jacket and shaking the water from his hair. He was using his I-know-somethings-up-but-will-keep-talking-until-y ou-tell-me-what-it-is voice.
Dean was quite familiar with that voice.
"Dunno," Dean said, tipping one shoulder slightly
Sam waited, but that was it.
"Great," he said in that same, careful voice, "can I check who it was?"
He flicked his hand at the phone but didn't move to take it; he already knew the answer was no.
"I saw the other message, Sam," Dean said, looking up steadily at Sam.
Sam shifted where he stood, eyes flicking to the phone and back to Dean. His expression was wary and guarded but Dean could see comprehension in the lines of his face.
"Other message?" Sam said in a voice that was checking the ground carefully for landmines.
"Yeah, the one from me," Dean said, thumb brushing the button that would play the message again. He didn't like the look in Sam's eyes though he didn't know what it meant.
"I saw it and was wondering, 'Why does Sam have a voicemail from me saved from months ago?' I mean you're the one always banging on about not letting intel," he waved the phone, "fall into enemy hands. So I played it, and guess what I found."
Dean stabbed his thumb against the button and his voice filled the room, warped by the phones tinny speakers but the malevolence unbearably audible. As Dean watched he saw something disappear in Sam's eyes.
Throughout the message playback Dean didn't once look away from Sam and Sam did not once flinch; he'd evidently heard the message to many times for it to hold any surprises.
This just made it worse. Sam wasn't leaping into a reasonable, logical, innocent explanation. He was bracing himself; he was taking a punch that Dean couldn't see.
Dean felt the tiny, persistent hope that he'd missed something blatantly obvious curl up and die in the back of his head.
The message ended; Sam was not looking at Dean in a way that made it obvious he was not looking at Dean.
"What the hell is this, Sam?" Dean said, standing up.
Despite the coolness of the room he suddenly felt too hot in his jacket.
Sam shifted his weight again and didn't reply.
"You know what it is," Sam spoke like the words were being extracted from him under duress, like they shamed him. His voice was low and full of shadows.
"I really don't," Dean insisted, stepping forward, "so I say again, what the hell-"
"Why are you doing this?" Sam asked, furious and anguished, finally looking back at Dean.
His eyes were sharp in a way that told Dean he was trying very hard not to let his expression slip. Seeing this, Dean's foot faltered on the gas. Something was wrong here, and not just the thing Dean had thought was wrong, something else, something big. Something big enough to scare Sam was in the room with them.
"Are you rubbing it in? What are you doing? What do you want from me?" Sam demanded, eyes wild, voice escalating.
"Whoa, whoa," Dean said, hands coming up, saying steady, "Sam…"
Sam's chest shuddered and he gave Dean this look like he was drowning; Dean couldn't even begin to tell if he was the ocean or the rescue boat.
"Sam…" Dean said again, trying to center him.
Now that Dean had backed off the fury was falling away from Sam, peeling away to reveal the rawness beneath.
Dean realized what he'd dreaded, unarticulated and bone-deep, from the moment he'd heard the imposter voice speaking from Sam's message bank. It was the inevitable worst explanation possible; Sam thought that he had said this. He thought Dean knew exactly what this message was, which meant that he and Sam were having two entirely different conversations.
"I honestly do not know what this is," Dean leveled his voice; serious, no jokes, here's the truth.
Sam's chest was still collapsing in on itself with each breath. His head tilted slightly and his face was despairing, like he was suddenly and complete out of fight, like he was just done for.
"I never said this," Dean declared, pointing at the phone.
Finally, Sam seemed to hear him. He frowned at Dean, confused and waiting for explanation.
"I never left this message," Dean said, then said in an even more earnest tone, "This wasn't me, Sam."
"What do you mean?" Sam asked slowly, voice hesitant. The question didn't make a lot of sense given the obviousness of what Dean had just said but Dean knew what he meant.
Dean asked, "When did you get this?" and gestured at the phone.
Face crumpling slightly as he tried so hard to look like the memory didn't cut him, Sam said,
"The night I… released Lucifer."
The hand holding the phone dropped slightly.
"I got it when I was…," Sam cleared his throat, eyes flicking from side to side with the reluctance he had to finish the sentence, "…with Ruby."
Dean felt his mind bristle and his hackles rise and couldn't stop the antagonistic stiffening of his shoulders and spine, very much like Ruby herself had just walked into the room with the utterance of her name.
"You said…it wasn't you?"
Dean heard the vulnerability in the hesitancy of Sam's voice and saw in his face how much Sam needed for Dean to be telling the truth.
"It wasn't from me," Dean confirmed. "I was in the angel waiting room and...I did try to leave you a message."
Sam turned his head slightly, suddenly anxious.
"But it wasn't this, Sam! It was a different message, a good message. I said, I don't know, good stuff. I said I was sorry I called you a, you know," Dean suddenly felt very uncomfortable, "…a monster."
Sam hadn't flinched at the message but hearing Dean say the word, even just in recollection, made him look away. It was like he was worried of what Dean would see if he looked in his eyes.
Or maybe he feared what he would see in Dean's.
"I tried to call you again later, Zachariah was saying crap, you know, and all I got was static. I'd thought the first call hadn't got through, but maybe it did, only-"
"You think Zachariah changed it?" Sam finished his thought.
"I dunno. I didn't say this but it got on your phone somehow, do you have any other explanations?"
"No," Sam looked at the phone and breathed out a single, relieved laugh, "no."
The sun had come out from behind the clouds and Sam looked like he could breathe again.
"But Sam," Dean said and Sam looked up, laugh faltering slightly at Dean's tone.
"Why is it still on your phone?"
Sam swallowed and didn't answer.
Somewhere out there Lucifer walked the earth; the world was ending.
To their right a moth tapped futilely against the window.
"I mean, I get that you thought it was me, though now we both know it wasn't so it's all good," Dean said slowly, "But you thought I said this Sammy, and you kept it."
Dean shook the phone slightly. He had this twisted feeling like a heart attack. He could see in his mind's eye Sam listening to this message and thinking it was Dean. He knew Sam, knew how crap weighed on his mind. It made Dean crazy sometimes, how Sam seemed to carefully gather every thorn that had ever pricked him and stow them away inside him where they could keep scratching away at who he was. How Sam seemed to go that extra mile to remember everything that had ever hurt him because he thought he deserved it or because he had it coming.
He'd made his mistakes, sure, like demon-blood, but he was trying to make up for that, Dean knew. Sam felt things too deeply and kept hurting for far too long and Dean worried that someday some new wound would come along and Sam would let it in and Dean wouldn't be able to save him.
"Why did you keep it, man?"
There was a pause in which the both of them quietly breathed.
"I kept it so I wouldn't forget," Sam said softly.
"So you don't forget what? Letting Lucifer out? It might just be me but that seems like a bit of a difficult thing to just forget," Dean said, watching Sam.
"So I don't forget how wrong I can be."
"What does that mean?"
"I need to remember how wrong I can be when I think I'm doing the right thing so that I don't make the same mistakes all over again," Sam gave a miserable and desperate imitation of a smile. "I need to remember that I should've listened to you."
Dean remembered the first time he'd seen Sam exorcise, then the moment he'd seen Sam drinking demons blood. He remembered flinching when Sam had raised his hand.
But he also remembered Sam with his face pressed into Ruby's hair as he held her still for Dean and he remembered Sam telling Bobby of what he'd done, even though Dean wouldn't have told anyone and nobody would've ever known.
He remembered scraping a small hole in the dirt of that crossroads and he remembered standing beneath a thunderstorm with Lucifer possessing Sam, watching for Sam and seeing no sign of him but still thinking he wasn't done fighting for his brother yet.
"Sam, you've made your mistakes and you're trying to learn from them, I get that," Dean tossed the phone onto the bed without taking his eyes off his brother. "But this isn't how you do it."
Sam's eyes had followed the phone, his face looked hollowed out beneath the cheap motel light bulbs.
"This is just- just beating the crap out of yourself, man," Dean said, tapping Sam's shoulder with the back of his right hand to get his attention. He was trying to hide how much the message had shaken him, how much Sam's preservation of it had made him fear for him.
"The stakes are too high, Dean," Sam said, looking back at Dean.
"Exactly," Dean said, half-punching Sam again. He knew that Sam was talking about the world, humanity, heaven and hell, and that he was talking about something different; he was talking about Sam.
Sam frowned, confused but now with a touch of impatience.
"This isn't healthy," Dean declared.
"It's a hell of a lot healthier then drinking demons blood," Sam said through bared teeth, jabbing one finger at the ground as if to emphasize the point.
"There's a difference between learning from your mistakes and always feeling guilty about making them," Dean replied angrily.
"Doesn't sound that different to me," Sam snapped.
"No? If you learn from your mistakes you can do better in the future, but if you're too busy wallowing in past mistakes how are you supposed to make a decision ever again? Do you think being paranoid about screwing up again is going to make you a better hunter?"
"No, Sam. Sam, I know you, you'd beat yourself up until there was nothing left of you to swing at. I'm not saying you haven't done some crap you shouldn't have, but you need to learn to learn from it and move on."
"Are you telling me," Sam said slowly, "to get over setting Lucifer free?"
"Yeah, I suppose I am," Dean said, glad they were both on the same page.
Sam went to speak but seemed unable to get any words out. He half turned away then turned back, half shouting in an exasperated tone,
"You were the one who said I couldn't be trusted!"
"Yeah well I changed my mind, remember?" Dean matched the volume of his voice to Sam's. "But you're no good to me if you're too busy doubting yourself to back me up."
Sam didn't reply, he just breathed hard through his nose. He would fight for the right to doubt himself until hell froze over, Dean knew that, but when Dean played the brothers-in-arms card Sam had no argument. The Winchester's had always been like this; they'd always do more for the other then they'd do for themselves. Sure, the demon-blood had been a rough patch but Dean knew he himself wasn't entirely blameless. And even if he had been it didn't matter, not anymore.
Dean moved away from Sam, stepping to the side of the bed to pick up the phone. From this angle the dark window framed him brother.
"I'm deleting this," Dean said, raising his eyebrows at Sam as he selected the options menu for the message. Tapping the down button, he selected 'delete.' "Okay?"
He was going to delete it ever if Sam didn't say 'Okay,' but Dean knew this would mean more if Sam did.
Watching his little brother, Dean waited.
Sam looked at the phone, then at Dean. They held each other's eyes for a moment.
"Okay," Sam said. He said it in a bit of an exasperated tone, like he was still trying hard to sound brave, but still, he said it.
Dean clicked 'delete.'
"It wasn't me anyway," Dean said, "so there was no point in keeping it."
"Right," Sam said, turning back to the bench and starting to rummage through the cupboards for plates.
"But even if it had been from me," Dean continued, "there'd still be no point in keeping it."
Sam looked over his shoulder.
"If I'd said that I would've been wrong. You're not a monster Sam, and you're not a freak. I don't care what dad said, I ain't ever gonnu kill you," Dean threw the phone onto the bed again and made his way to the table. Throwing everything haphazardly into Sam's bag he lifted it all off the table, dumping it on the bed as well.
Sam hadn't said anything so Dean looked around and found himself being watched.
"Thanks, Dean," Sam said quietly. He didn't appear to be trying to sound brave anymore but Dean still heard Sam's voice full of courage.
"One last thing, then I'm done for like a year," Dean said as Sam turned away from the bench, bag of take-out balanced on two plates. Sam had a somewhat justified quizzical expression; emotions weren't exactly Dean's forte and if it were a choice between talking about his feelings and going three rounds with a vampire anybody who knew Dean would start getting out the dead man's blood.
Dean was in it now, though. He couldn't forget the drowning look that had been in Sam's eyes, so he wanted to throw out a life ring Sam could cling to in times when Dean wasn't there.
More than that, he wanted to teach Sam how to pull himself out of the ocean even when the water was cold and the night was dark and going under seemed like the easiest thing to do.
Dean and Sam were highly trained hunters but guilty and despair could still catch them.
"Setting Satan free is, admittedly, probably one of the bigger mistakes you could have made, but you weren't trying to set him free and now you're trying to fix it. Those don't count for nothing, Sam."
Dean stepped forwards.
"There's no mistake you can make that's so bad you can never go back."
He kept his eyes on Sam, making sure he was listening. He was.
"Thanks, Dean," Sam said again.
"Okay, now I'm done," Dean stated, stepping back and feeling thoroughly self-conscious. Sam was giving him a wry, sideward smile as he set down the plates and started unpacking the food.
"You know, you're getting all emotional in your old age," Sam teased.
Dean frowned as he took the plastic handled cutlery from the draw and made his way to the table, which now smelt strongly of burnt grills and Indian curry.
"I'd like to think of it more as a well-reasoned argument sourced by logic and self-preservation," Dean admitted as he sat down, swatting a receipt off of the table.
"Sure, Dean," Sam said, sitting down opposite his older brother.
They both reached into different take-out bags simultaneously and began arranging the flimsy packets between them. Dean noticed that the moth beating itself futilely against the window had flown away.
The message was gone and Sam was okay but Dean knew it could all come back to bite them. Even if it didn't, something else undoubtedly would.
But Dean had also seen Sam, and indeed himself, stand up after some horrific falls. Sam had learnt he was infected with demon blood and Dean had gone to hell, but here they stood, knees bloody but heads unbowed.
Invincible wasn't never getting hurt, it was never giving up.
With every foe that couldn't stop them and every despair that couldn't take them Dean knew that he and Sam were teaching themselves and teaching each other to become invincible.
Bring it on.