Rating: NC-17 for explicit sexual content, character death, body horror, blood drinking, and suicidal ideation/attempts.
Word Count: 19,221
Author’s Note: Written for the 2014 round of samdean_otp's fantastic minibang. I want to thank the lovely mod, riyku, not only for running this most sacred of bangs, but also for talking me through this fic at Comic Con and pretty regularly since then. AND for an excellent beta job at the very last of last minutes. She's a trooper. An equally giant thank you goes to my artist, quickreaver, who offered to pinch hit for me without knowing what my story was even about and who probably has some regrets right about now. LOOK AT THE ART SHE DID. LOOK AT IT..
Summary: When Sam fails to complete the third trial, a tear in the barrier between Earth and Hell is created and hellspawn called shadon are unleashed. The only way to bind these creatures and close the gates of Hell is for a sacrifice to be made by the man who chose his own life over completing the trials, and this time, the price is even greater. In order to correct the apocalypse he's released, Sam must kill his soulmate and live with the consequences.
After years without Dean, Sam dies on a hunt and thinks he will finally be reunited with his brother in Heaven. But when his reaper appears, it's Dean himself, and he's not as willing to reap Sam as Sam is to be reaped.
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It's been seven hours since either of them has said a word. Not since Kevin came out, smiling but confused, proud of himself for finally breaking the code on that tablet after weeks of being unsure whether it was even possible to fix the damage they'd caused.
It seems a little bit wasteful, them not talking when they only have so many hours left to not talk to each other before—
Sam shakes his head, hard enough that his whole body shudders, and he sees Dean look over, raise an eyebrow. Smirk. He hates Dean for knowing how to smile at times like this. He's been good at it since before Hell, and they've both had plenty of chances to practice, but Sam still resents it.
"You having a fit or something?" Dean asks, probably referring to the shaking, but who knows. Maybe Sam's been talking to himself this whole time, maybe he imagined the silence. Maybe he's blind and deaf to everything that isn't Dean at this point, even himself.
"I won't do it," he says after a while. "I'm sorry, Dean. I can't."
"You can," Dean says, easy as if he was talking about Sam brushing his teeth or saying an exorcism. "And you will. Because you gotta."
Sam nearly laughs. Since when has that counted when it comes to them? Sam would be dead—all of this would be moot—if Dean had done what he's so calmly expecting Sam to do.
Kevin had taken weeks to fully translate the last tablet, but once he had it, he had it. No mistakes, no room for second-guessing. It was obvious, really, that this would be the solution. As soon as Kevin told them, Sam knew it couldn't have been anything else. It's his life, after all.
"It does talk about the trial failing, and about the shadow creatures. Calls them shadon. Apparently they're born in the barrier between Earth and Hell. They were released because the dimensions got too close to touching when Sam tried to shut Hell down."
The prophet had coughed, and Sam knew, despite what he said when they asked, a part of Kevin resented them both for the fact that Sam is still alive. He's got every right—they're fucking hypocrites is what they are, so willing to let everyone go for the greater good. He'd thought of Ellen and Jo, how brave they'd been, how willing to do their part to stop things like this from happening. Sam could have been brave, too. But Dean needed him. Dean had begged him.
He hadn't known about the shadon, but that's no excuse. More people are dying than they'd been betting on, but it's not like he hadn't made the call that his life was more valuable than everyone who would suffer at a demon's hand thanks to Hell not being locked down. It had been his turn to die, and he'd sat it out.
Kevin's mom is out there somewhere, suffering god knows what torture at Crowley's hands, if she's even still alive. Kevin gave everything to help them shut down Hell. He'd done his part, and he and his mom would be at home reapplying for colleges if Sam had finished that trial. Of course the kid is a little bitter.
"Tell me what to do to fix it. I'll do whatever it takes," Sam had said, and he'd thought he meant it, too.
Kevin had smiled at him, grateful. Despite everything, the kid still believed in him. "Good, because you're the only one who can. The fix for this has to be carried out by. Um. Well, I'm quoting here. 'The champion who chose his own life over others must make the ultimate sacrifice to rid the world of the shadon.'"
"Okay, so I have to die," Sam had said. He looked up at Dean. "Seems like I could have saved a few months of suffering if I'd just finished it when we had Crowley chained."
Kevin bit his lip, looking down at his notes and at the tablet, and sighed. It was obvious he had more to say.
Dean's arms crossed over his chest, an angry expression on his face. "There's another way," he insisted, with absolutely no reason to think so, but damned if he didn't have conviction.
"You didn't let me finish," Kevin replied, lifting his head. He had given Sam a sympathetic look, then tried to smile. "Look, if you get this done, I mean. It'll wrap the trials up for you. Not just send the shadon back. When it binds them, it'll lock down Hell, take all the demon scum on Earth back down with them. No way to reopen it. No more demons, forever. That's better than we were hoping for."
Something about Kevin trying to sell this to him—it didn't sit right with Sam. "I'm ready," Sam had said for what felt like the thousandth time. "I'll do whatever it takes. Just tell me how, I'm ready to die for this."
"Sam!" Dean growled, but Sam had just waved him off.
Then Kevin finally got the hell on with it. "Thing is, you're not the one who dies. I mean, this is the part I'm kinda of tripped up about. It says you have to sacrifice 'the one who holds your soul.' Which is," Kevin laughed, "really bad writing, but basically a Metatron way to say your soulmate."
Dean had sucked in a breath across the room, and Sam felt his legs about to give out under him. He gripped the table, hardly held himself up even then, but Kevin went right on, oblivious.
"Love of your life? Do you have one of those? 'Cause we're not really working with a lot of time here before those things eat…basically everyone. Didn't your girlfriend die a while ago?" Kevin frowned. "Sorry, I mean. Not to sound insensitive. I certainly know the feeling, after Crowley—well, you were there. I'm just saying do you have a—?"
By this point, Sam had collapsed into one of the chairs at the bunker's long desk, and he hardly heard what Kevin was saying. "It's not her," he damn near whimpered. "It's not Jess, it was never Jess."
"Then you know who it is?" Kevin had asked.
Sam looked up, not at Kevin but at his brother, tears already threatening to overflow. "Dean, I won't."
"You will," Dean replied. He'd cut his gaze away from Sam, away from Kevin. "I'll pack our stuff. We're leaving now." He clapped Kevin on the shoulder as he walked out of the room. "Your mom will be free by tomorrow night, kid. Just give Sam the instructions."
Kevin's eyebrows had drawn close together, questioning, and Sam saw the moment it clicked. "Oh," he said. Then, "Oh. Oh. Wow. Well. Fuck."
"I won't," Sam whispered. "Not Dean. Not Dean, I won't kill Dean."
"You better," Kevin replied, his voice surprisingly cold. Sam looked up, imploring, and Kevin's expression had softened. "I'm so sorry, Sam. But you better."
"You didn't," Sam fires back. "If you'd just let me finish the trial when I had the chance, none of those souls would have been lost and I—I wouldn't have to—"
"It's not like I knew," Dean answers, still infuriatingly blasé about this. He's gripping the steering wheel too tight, but aside from that, he's downright chipper.
"You fucking bastard," Sam says, and that, finally, gets Dean's attention. His brother looks over at him, and Sam wants to grab the wheel, drive them both off the road just so he can stop thinking. "You're glad this happened. You still think—even with the shadon coming. You think this is the better way."
He expects Dean to deny it, yell back, keep insisting he didn't know like he has been since the first shadow grew too long, swallowed up a shopping mall full of souls—innocent souls, just minding their own business, didn't do anything wrong except be too close to ground zero when Sam let the ball drop—and dragged them down to Hell. That's the bitch of it. These things don't just kill. They're like hellhounds on steroids. Not as messy, maybe, but swallowing up everyone they come across, and dragging them down to eternal torment.
When Sam had chosen not to complete the trial, he'd thought it would just mean returning things to how they were. Demons still loose, deals still being made, but all that has existed nearly as long as people have—it wasn't on him to fix it. His big brother had asked. Had begged him. He hadn't known it would cost him Dean. God, if he'd only known.
"Yeah, maybe," Dean finally says after a long pause. "Maybe I do, Sammy. What do you want me to say?"
"That all those lives weren't worth mine," Sam replies. "That you even care that I'm going to have to—to. Dean, I can't do that to you. You couldn't even let me die, how do you expect me to be able to kill you?"
"You will." Dean swallows hard, keeps his eyes trained on the road. "You will because you're stronger than I am, and you always have been, and you're gonna do just fine."
Sam covers his ears, tries to curl in on himself as if that will protect him from what Dean is saying. "You don't know me at all if you believe that."
"You were fine last time," Dean answers, same old worn out pain in his voice, and Sam hates him, he really hates him right about now.
He lets his head drop back against the headrest, laughing because he hurts too much to even cry. "You really think that. Even now. You actually think that."
"I'm not trying to start a fight about it, okay?" Dean sounds tired. He wipes a hand over his mouth and shrugs. "All I'm saying is, I know it sucks, Sam, and I wish you didn't have to do it. But you will be able to, and I wouldn't. You're gonna let me go, move on. Hell closed, no demons. You can actually start something this time, have a real life. So yeah, a few extra people had to go to Hell, and that's horrible, but you're here, breathing, and you're gonna get old and gray and maybe have some kids."
"You're an idiot," Sam tells him. "I tried to kill myself last time. I didn't look for you because I hit a dog trying to run your fucking car off a bridge. You think I was fine without you? Every day, it took all Amelia and I had to stop each other from putting a knife through our own chests. How long do you really think I'm gonna last this time?"
"You found a way to keep going then, you'll find a way to keep going now."
"Fuck you," Sam replies, and it feels good to say it, cathartic, so Sam does it again. "Fuck you. This isn't fair. It's not right, Dean."
Dean shrugs and keeps going as if Sam hadn't said anything at all, "If you want to hear that we made the wrong choice, that I should have let you die instead of me, you're gonna be waiting a long goddamn time. I mean, fuck, Sam. It was supposed to be me in the first place. If you hadn't insisted on doing the trials—I told you from the jump one of us was gonna end up dead and I told you it wasn't gonna be you."
"Why? You wanna take a swing at me?" Dean asks with a huff of a laugh. "If that'll make you feel better, sure. I'll—"
"No," Sam says, reaching out to grip the dashboard. He feels faint suddenly, like if he doesn't get some air, he'll pass out. He's been cooped in this car, holding his breath, stuck in his own head since they left the bunker, and everything outside the window is too bright, swimming in lines in front of his eyes. He might be crying. He can't honestly tell. "Please. Motel. Please, just get me off this road. We won't be there before tomorrow anyway, Dean. Please."
Dean turns his way, and maybe he finally sees exactly what this is doing to Sam. His expression goes soft, his voice even softer. "Yeah, you're right. We can grab a few hours. Whatever you want."
He takes the next exit and they're checking into the first motel they see, a little nicer than their usual fare, but Dean smiles and offers Sam the room key like sixty bucks a night instead of forty is some kind of apology. Sam really does consider taking a swing at him.
As soon as the door closes—hell, maybe before that—Sam is on him. He's got his hands bunched in Dean's jacket, his brother pressed against the thick metal door. His breath is heavy and so is Dean's, and they're close enough to share.
It's inevitable, that's what this is. Dean doesn't look surprised; Sam doesn't feel it. They linger, frozen in that moment as if they don't know what's next, but unspoken and unacknowledged, it was always going to come to this. They've both always known, even if they never admitted it to themselves, and Sam doesn't have the time or mind right now to mourn how much time they wasted getting here.
He'll have so long to obsess over it starting tomorrow night. Who knows how many years with no brother, no nothing, to sit and count out every second they didn't let themselves have this. He won't waste now.
"Are we really gonna do this?" Dean finally asks, looking up at Sam like he could crack the world open with a single thought.
"Oh, hell yes," Sam answers, and before he's even done, Dean's mouth is his. Claiming Sam and letting Sam do the same right back.
They kiss like it's a fight, but it's not angry. As much as Sam resents Dean for being okay with this, as much as he wants to really feel that rage, this is all the passion and heat they ever put into fighting, but it's nothing except pure love and desperation, violent in force but not intent.
Dean's tongue curls in his mouth. He tastes like stale whiskey and gas station coffee and Sam's first broken bone, every birthday he ever celebrated, badly told bedtime stories from the same four stolen library books. He tastes like Sam's big brother.
Sam sobs against his lips, and Dean cups his cheek with a strong, calloused hand, pulls away only to shake his head. No crying, not now. Not because it's forbidden. Because it isn't sad. No matter what happens, they're going to have this. This is no occasion for tears.
He kisses Sam again, shrugging out of Dad's leather jacket as he makes space between their bodies and the wall. Closer to the bed as he sheds it, and Sam's glad to see it go. Dean wears the damn thing like a shell, keeps himself at bay by wrapping himself up in John's orders and expectations. He gets why Dean needs it, but this—this is raw, painful if it's going to happen at all, and Sam doesn't want any ghosts in this room except for their own.
Sam reaches for his brother's belt, starts to unbuckle it while Dean's still pulling his last layer off his chest. The jeans fall in a pile with the rest of Dean's clothes, and Sam's legs hit the edge of the bed. He lets himself fall until he's sitting, staring up at Dean in nothing but his short black boxer shorts. He's seen this millions of times, never even let himself linger on the sight. But it's different now; Dean is watching him with a hungry look, and Sam doesn't have to pretend he wants anything less than he does.
"Sammy," Dean says, reaching out to tug on Sam's flannel overshirt.
For a few brief moments, Sam lets himself dream, imagines a world where they have enough time to get comfortable with this, where Dean teases him about being the only one naked, and how Sam should return the favor.
They won't ever get that, but at least they get this.
He lifts his arms over his head and Dean pulls off both layers of clothing for him, just like when he was a kid and Dean dressed him every day for school, helped him into his pajamas at night. There's a dull voice in the back of his head that says that sort of memory should really be turning him off. Sam kinda laughs at it, and Dean just raises an eyebrow in question.
No point in explaining the joke, Sam decides. He stands just long enough to push his pants off his hips, and then he falls onto the mattress, taking his brother with him.
Their kiss is sloppy as they squirm their way to the head of the bed, each of them groping blindly at war-torn skin, fingers tracing the scars they weren't able to spare each other. It's not guilt, there's no time for guilt, just like there's no time for questions or taboos or thinking about why this is happening now, why it had to be now. Sam just wants to learn his brother in the few ways he hasn't yet, and it feels so good. So intimate and open, no hiding. For once, Dean isn't hiding from him.
"Sam," Dean says.
Sam nods, grabs Dean's face in his hands and kisses him, over and over. "I know," he says. "I know."
He stops what he's doing only to look around. There has to be something here, something that can ease the way for them, without Sam having to get up and find lube. He sees three small bottles on the nightstand: shampoo, conditioner, and lotion, and smirks as he grabs for the last, thankful at last that they're in a slightly less crappy motel.
"How do you want it?" Dean asks him, his eyes on Sam, and it's obvious what he's saying. Anything. Anything Sam can dream up, he can have.
"Everything," Sam answers. He pushes the lotion into his brother's hand and doesn't break eye contact. "I want everything."
So everything is what Dean gives him. Sam fucks his brother until his dick aches, sucks Dean and lets Dean do the same. They lick their come out of each other only to make the mess all over again.
He's spent. Every last drop of energy he had lost somewhere between orgasms he's lost count of, and now he can only lie here, lie here with Dean's weight crushing down on him, his brother's hips circling as he drives his way into Sam. Over and over for what has felt like hours, and Sam is tired, but he's not tired of this. Dean can keep going forever. It seems a little like he has.
His cock is still rock hard and buried as deep in Sam as it'll go, still thrusting rough like Dean cannot get enough. Stamina is one thing, but Dean is super human. Sam's been heavy limbed and pliant for a while, not rocking up to meet Dean's dick, too overstimulated to feel much more than a spark of pleasure as Dean ruts up, cock on his sweet spot with every sharp push.
Dean is panting on top of him, keeping his thrusts measured, dragging this last time out as much as he can. He's been here so long, Sam nearly doesn't remember what it was like to be empty. It's a home, Dean has carved out a home for himself inside of Sam, not for the first time tonight. He wants to keep Dean there, wants his brother to live in him so much longer than Dean will live anywhere.
"Everything," Sam says again, his voice a fucked out echo of his words from before. "Please, Dean, give me everything."
Dean hides his face in Sam's neck and shoves his way in faster, and Sam knows he's close. He clenches, making himself that much tighter on his brother's cock, and Dean lets out a broken moan, half his name, half nonsense, as he floods that house he built in Sam.
Sam takes and takes and takes, and when Dean tries to pull out, Sam holds him tight. "Stay."
For once, Dean obeys his order, doesn't bother arguing. Tomorrow, Sam will be unbelievably sore from this. Maybe he won't even be able to walk, maybe he'll still feel his brother stuffed up inside him, filling him out. One can only hope.
They lie there in silence for a long time. Neither of them sleeps—Sam knows Dean's body when it's asleep even when they're apart, so he'd be able to tell if Dean were out on top of him. But they've been quiet long enough that Sam can pretend he thinks Dean won't hear him.
"I love you," he whispers into the hair just behind Dean's ear, where his face is resting against his brother. "No one has ever loved anything like I love you."
"Don't," Dean says quietly, and suddenly Sam gets it. All these years, Dean's rules about what can and can't be said, Sam thought it was supposed to project some illusion of strength. That Dean thought not admitting what he felt out loud would fool Sam into not knowing he felt it. But now he understands, suddenly he's buckling under what Dean has been trying to protect them both from all along. It hurts, more than any torture Sam has ever suffered through, to say something and mean it that much.
Soulmate, what an ugly word. What a trick to make it sound beautiful when you die without someone and still have to go on breathing.
The next day goes down in history as relatively uneventful. No wars begin, and none end. The president isn't assassinated, volcanoes don't erupt except where expected, and somewhere in the far north, a polar bear floats along on not enough ice, catches a seal to share with her cubs.
Oh, and in an abandoned church in South Dakota, Sam Winchester holds a blade against his brother's throat, can't bring himself to move it until Dean surges forward, cuts through just enough skin to be in pain but not enough to take the honors from Sam.
He finishes what Dean started as a mercy to his brother, nearly indifferent to the rest of what will happen. Dean doesn't take his eyes off Sam's the whole time, the last thing he says before his vocal chords are minced is that he couldn't think of a better way to die than by Sam's hand. "It's my favorite death so far," he says, laughing, patent Dean Winchester bravado right up to the very end.
Sam hates him so much for saying that and meaning it that it makes it just hardly possible to force his own hand. Dean bleeds out into the bowl they set up to catch it, and once his lifeblood is all good and gathered, Sam returns to the monster he was bred to be. Drinks every last drop and isn't ashamed to admit he loves it.
It's not like his blood, but it is. Clean, purified, deandeandean, Winchester blood like Sam had for only 6 months before Yellow Eyes turned him into this. This is what the trial demanded, and maybe Sam should have been disgusted by it, but he licks every drop off his fingers, rolls on the floor next to his brother's corpse, laughing and crying in equal measure.
He feels the effects of the trials bubbling back up inside him, that burning pain and the glow in his veins that nearly killed him once before. Maybe it'll kill him now, too. Maybe he won't actually have to live without Dean, he'll have to sacrifice himself to lock up Hell and they can meet in their shared Heaven just a few minutes apart.
The light doesn't stay inside him now, not like it did when he shoved it back down and smothered it inside himself. Because Dean asked. Dean asked him to. It bursts out of him and he grips the ground, but his touch only splits it in half. A hole opens, wider and wider, so dark it makes black look like blinding white, a powerful vacuum erupting under his hands.
He watches in horror and hope as the door to Hell gapes in front of him, as thick clouds of black smoke and howling shadow creatures are pulled down and down. It's the opposite of the devil's gate in Wyoming. He remembers how that had blown outward, pushed so much evil into the world, how hard it had been for them to force the door shut. Now all that force is reflected, and Sam thinks he'll be pulled down, too. It would be fair enough, him going to Hell. Easier, even, than staying on Earth after what he did to Dean.
Dean. Sam crawls forward, grabs onto his brother's body with his sin-stained red hands, kisses Dean's slack mouth with his own. Dean is like an anchor, and Sam clutches onto him as everything around him turns to chaos, the sound of the wind rushing past him so loud Sam expects to go deaf.
Then, stillness. Silence so loud Sam really thinks he has lost his hearing, but everything else is quiet, too. The hole is gone, the church looks no less dilapidated than it had before. There's nothing but a charred black mark on the ground to show what just happened.
He closes his eyes, pulls his brother in closer. Waits to die. He's done enough now, hasn't he? Sam thinks he's done enough.
It's a woman's voice Sam hears when he wakes again. Familiar, he thinks. He's not sure. She's got her cold little hand on his neck where his pulse is. He feels sick and ragged and—
"Dean," Sam says, sitting up. "Dean."
His eyes are crusty with sleep and his body feels just the same. Blood, he realizes as he opens his eyes. He's covered in dried blood, and he's hugged around his brother and Dean is smiling up at him. Bright and beautiful and peaceful and.
Dead. So dead. Dead because of Sam.
"No," Sam says, pushing the body away. "No, no, no, no. It wasn't real. It wasn't real. I didn't do it."
"You did," says another voice. Male this time. Definitely familiar. It sounds almost happy; definitely exhilarated. Kevin kneels down in front of Sam, reaches out to try and sooth him. "You did it, Sam. Charlie's been monitoring demon activity while we drove out here and you really—"
"No," Sam says again. He clutches Dean's body back into his arms, shaking his head. He must look like a child hugging a stuffed toy, but he can't let go. "No."
Kevin gives him a sad look, tries to reach out to loosen Sam's hold on Dean, and Sam growls.
"I'm sorry," Kevin says. "Sam, I know. I mean. He was a really great—"
"Don't," Sam replies.
Kevin nods, looks just above Sam's head, where Charlie must be. "Sam, you closed the gates of Hell forever. Just think of how many people are going to be okay because of him, because of you. He died for a good—"
Sam ignores him. He looks down at his hands. "I did it. I did it."
Charlie puts a hand in Sam's hair, and it feels good, relaxing. Dean used to do that. Dean used to do that to calm him down, back before he sliced through the mark he'd sucked into Dean's throat.
"C'mon," she says. "Let's get you home and we can." Her voice breaks, exposing her cheerful tone for the lie it is. "Find a good way to put him to rest."
"Hunter's funeral," Sam says, still cradling his brother. "We need wood. We need salt. And. And…"
Sam stops. Stops. He stops. Everything stops and suddenly he's crying so hard he can't think, can't remember anything except this. This has happened before. This wasn't supposed to happen again. He bathes his brother's face in his tears, in kisses, doesn't even care that Kevin and Charlie are both there, and they both know. He doesn't deserve to be touching Dean. To be loving Dean.
He did this.
Sam doesn't know when they leave. Wouldn't notice them coming back, either, except that Charlie puts her hand on his shoulder, tells him they built a pyre and it's ready. Sam had never made it this far last time. He'd kept Dean's body in that crate, waiting for a miracle to pluck him up and bring him back. And it had. It had.
He rocks as he brings his brother up so that they're sitting, Dean draped over him, head lolling on his shoulder. "Where's Cas?" Sam asks, desperation and hope putting a little metal in his voice. "Cas can save him. Cas will bring him back. He brought him back last time. He'll just bring him back, we can't burn him before Cas—"
"Sam, you know we haven't heard from Cas since the angels fell. He might not even be—"
"No!" Sam yells. "He has to, he can bring Dean back. He can."
"You can't undo the trial," Kevin says. He doesn't even back down when Sam glares murder at him, just shrugs. "I'm sorry you lost him. I'm sorry we all did. But I won't let you risk those things coming back."
Kevin walks out then. Sam watches him go, and after a few minutes Charlie promises to let him have some more time alone.
Eventually, Sam picks his brother up and carries him out into a bright, sunny day. He's much lighter now than he should be, and Sam knows it's the blood churning in his own gut that's made him so easy to hold. He never got to do this for Dean.
Dean did it for him, more times than anyone could count, when Sam fell asleep in the Impala before they reached the motel of the week, or pretended to be asleep so he wouldn't have to walk his own bags up to their room. He still remembers what it felt like to fit inside Dean's embrace, the way he would bob up and down with every step his brother took. But Dean was never this small, not the whole time he was alive.
He places his brother on the pyre and the three of them watch until the flames have worn themselves out and Dean is a pile of ashes, just like their mother and father, Jess and Bobby and every other goddamn person who has ever meant anything to Sam.
He sweeps Dean into the only thing he can find to hold him, an empty takeout container sitting in the back of the Impala with Dean's order scribbled on the side in black permanent marker.
They go back to the bunker, or rather, Charlie and Kevin somehow get Sam back. He doesn't register much of anything except roads he's driven a thousand times with Dean. Dean, who was too big to fit inside Sam's life sometimes, who was so explosive with sound and movement and who now fits inside four thin white paper walls, clutched between Sam's hands.
Home is what they call it when they walk in. They say he's home in their too quiet, apologetic voices and Sam wishes they would leave. He knows they mean well, feels terrible for thinking it. But he wishes they would leave.
This is not home. Home was what Dean called it, with his memory foam mattress and lovingly cooked hamburgers and the weird vintage porn he'd look at no matter who was around. That was home. Sam's home went up in flames, and Sam set the fire.
Oh, but for a good cause, they keep reminding him, as if that means anything. It was for a good cause. Sam wants them gone.
It's not long before they are. A few days and Kevin starts getting antsy, starts calling around to find out where his mom is and how he can get to her. He leaves once they finally get in touch, promising they'll both be back as soon as he can make it.
He's not surprised that Kevin doesn't keep his word. He lets Charlie take the messages, hardly remembers the excuses she passes on.
Charlie goes about two weeks later, once she's fully convinced Sam can manage to keep himself fed and that he's not just being polite when he says he'll be fine without supervision. He feels her eyes on him when he spends too long staring at the arsenal, but she's satisfied when he never actually reaches for anything.
He thinks about it more often than she knows, thinks about how he and Dean will see each other again in Heaven, on that never ending road they're supposed to share eventually. Sam will admit he wants it, that nothing this life has to offer could bring him the same satisfaction as a bullet in his brain.
Dean would be furious. Dean died for him so many times, and as much as Sam genuinely despises his brother for some of those sacrifices, they were made, and he can’t bring himself to throw them away.
Castiel shows up nearly a month after Dean's death. Alive, which is nice, but very much human. Sam tries not to show his disappointment at that. His last good hope.
He'd been hunted after the angels fell, tracked by his own brothers and sisters, and Sam both pities him because he knows what that feels like and envies him because he still has brothers and sisters to run from. Cas says he stayed out of touch so long because he didn't want to lead the angels back to their safe house, but Sam can tell from the condition he's in that his life has been flight-or-fight for months and he wouldn't have had time to check in even if he'd felt safe doing so.
But he missed Dean. Dean's closest friend wasn't there to say goodbye. Castiel looks almost as broken as Sam feels when he tells him what happened while he was running, and why his brother isn't here to greet him.
They are the last two left to mourn Dean. It's new to Cas, so he feels it sharply, long after it began to dull for Charlie and Kevin. He and Sam share their grief as well as their bunker, going through the motions of daily life. It's comforting to have someone there who doesn't try to pretend he'll recover eventually. Cas has other things to lament, of course. He's lost Heaven, the love and trust of his family, he feels guilty and foolish for letting Metatron get the best of him. He's just as bad off as Sam is, but it's about more than Dean.
Sam thinks he should care, maybe, about the thousands of angels prowling the Earth, scared and angry and out for blood. But unlike Castiel, nothing much touches him.
Another couple of months pass before he decides to go on. Not move on, he's got no delusions this time. But here's what Dean would have done, here's what Dean will hate him for not doing: he saves people, he hunts things.
It's not quite the same any more. Sam doesn't feel the drive that made his father's and his brother's and for a while even his own devotion to this cause so powerful. He does it because it's what he's supposed to do, and because lying in Dean's bed, crying into the pillow and coming into the sheets from morning to night has become unbearable.
Castiel stays at the bunker, says he spent so long trying to get to safety, he's not really itching to dive back into danger just yet. He argues that with the angels still out there, he'll just cause Sam trouble, and Sam knows he's right. Every now and then, Cas even muses aloud about starting something, eventually, once things have quieted down. A life of his own, if he has to be human.
Sam should get it, he really should, he's wanted that so many times. But the concept of wanting anything except a swift and painless death has become foreign to him.
It's not a hunt gone wrong that does it, the day Sam finally gets his wish. Well, not a hunt he knew he was on, at least. He's reckless now, just on this side of looking for trouble, but he's too good, too well trained, too sharp. He comes out of it alive every time, no matter how hard he hopes.
It's a bottle of whiskey, dangling from his fingers and nearly empty by the time he's stumbling into his motel room, that really does it. He'd just finished a job, went straight to the liquor store with chupacabra guts on his shoes to get started early on the post-hunt numbing, and he's damn near out of it by the time he gets inside.
He doesn't see the man waiting for him, or the taser, and he's not in any condition to fight back. He blacks out, and when he comes to again, he's tied to a chair, his head splitting from the alcohol, the whole world still spinning. Maybe from the drinking, maybe from the hitting, or some combination of both.
Who cares? At this point, who really cares?
"Sam Winchester," the guy says, in this showy way that tells Sam he's watched way too many action movies and now thinks this is how this conversation has to go. "As I live and breathe."
"Whoever you are," Sam replies. "Such an honor to meet you."
The man huffs out a laugh. "You're in an awful sorry spot to be sounding like a smartass, kid."
"Yeah, whatever." Sam tries to shrug, but his arms are tied too tightly. Oh well.
If the stranger is disgruntled that Sam's not playing along, he only lets it show for a second before continuing, "Guess you'll want to know who I am and why I've come for you before I kill you."
"Not really," Sam answers. "You could just skip to the good part."
This time, he does take a pause, scrunches his face up all annoyed. He hits Sam with the back of a gun and watches Sam blink his way through the pain. "Do you care now, boy? You're not gonna talk your way out of this one."
"Is that what you're trying to do? Talk me to death?" Sam sighs and looks up at the ceiling. "Why do I always get the chatty ones?"
"My name's Jackson," his attacker says. "Jackson Coulter."
"Look, let me teach you how to use that gun. We can have this all taken care of in just a few minutes—"
"You shut your mouth!" Jackson yells, rifle to Sam's gut this time.
Sam gets very close to throwing up on him. Laughs at the mental image alone.
"Is something funny, you little bastard?" Jackson aims the gun this time. "You know how many people are dead because of you?"
"Yes," Sam answers. There's one. One that matters. One is more than enough to justify this asshole shooting him in cold blood. "So pull the trigger already."
"I knew your daddy. Good hunter. Blind spot a mile wide when it came to you, it turns out." He shakes his head. "But I don't doubt John would have been man enough to put a bullet through your brain if he'd known what you were going to turn into."
Sam's lips thin. John knew. John knew and instead of sparing Sam early, he died so that Dean would have to be the one to put him down.
Dean was supposed to be the one to—
"Do it," Sam yells. "Just do it."
"Talking to my network, I've got hunters who can place you at, what, four apocalypses now? They all argue you were trying to stop most of 'em, but I don't believe in no coincidences."
"That means you do believe in coincidences," says Sam. "Double negative."
There's the back of the gun again. Sam's lip splits, and he can taste the warm blood as it drips down his chin.
"I know you been trying to kill us all. Whatever that demon did screwed you up good, huh? You just don't give up, do you? Not even after him and Lucifer got out of the picture, you still—"
"Not that I care a whole lot," Sam interrupts. "But you might want to ask your network who got them out of the picture."
"Your brother, from what I can tell." Jackson gives him a challenging look, and, actually, Sam won't argue with that one. "Well, you made your last mistake, son. This last time. Those shadon took my wife with them, and thanks to you locking up the box, I can't ever get down to Hell to get her out. You're gonna pay for that."
"I'm sorry," Sam whispers. "I am sorry."
"You couldn't do us all a favor and just die when it was your time. You had to set those things loose. Now I lost my baby and you—" The son of a bitch laughs and gives Sam a nasty smile. "Hear you finally turned on that brother who spent so many years cleaning up after you."
Sam finally struggles against the restraints, and Jackson drops the gun on one of the beds, picks up a long machete instead. "There's what I've been waiting for. A little spark of life to take away."
"You want to kill me, kill me," Sam tells him. "But you better do it right. Do it right, because if I ever see you again, you're gonna regret even mentioning my brother."
There's a flash of silver glinting in the glare of parking lot lights as the blade comes down on him.
Sam opens his eyes. He has the worst headache of his life, the visions he used to get couldn't even touch this, and he doesn't think it's just the alcohol to blame this time. He's in the same shitty motel room he remembers from before. The same room, but no shadowed hunter on some misguided revenge trip. It's just him, still sitting in the chair. The restraints are gone, but there's blood.
There's blood, and something tugging at his neck, and cold hands, and oh. There's.
"Heaven already?" Sam asks, feeling his busted lip split open when he smiles.
Dean looks up at him and meets his eyes. His hands are covered in blood as he works at—something. He's doing something, but Sam's not really concerned with it. His brother is here. He is, he can feel Dean, cold but solid.
"Hey, Sammy," Dean says, the corners of his mouth turning up. "You doing okay?"
"Not really," Sam says, but it's a lie. He's good. He's finally good. He's never been better.
He tries to stand, so he can wrap his brother up, throw him on the bed, cling to him for eternity because that's what they have here. If this is Heaven. They have forever. Finally.
As soon as he moves forward, his head falls back, and he's looking at the door, the window, everything upside down, and it makes no sense. He's facing the opposite direction.
His whole world tumbles like he's stuck in a drying machine as Dean's hands set him right on his neck and he laughs softly. "Careful there, little brother," he says. "I've only just started sewing."
"Sewing?" Sam asks, his hands flying up to grasp at his neck. His neck. It's a dead end. There's nothing attached except by three stitches on the right side where Dean's working.
"My head is," he says intelligently, and Dean nods.
"Decapitated," Dean tells him bluntly. "You got decapitated. I'm gonna take the motherfucker who did this to you apart slowly. I'm gonna—"
"Dean," Sam interrupts. "Why do I need my head sewn back on in Heaven? Last time, we, I mean, we didn't have bullet wounds or anything. I—I'm still in pain. This sucks."
"You're not in Heaven, Sam," Dean says, his voice gentle. It might even be happy. "You're not dead. Just a flesh wound."
"How am I not dead?" Sam asks, laughing because…maybe he's hallucinating? Maybe he's in the veil and he's tripping out. Maybe he forgot there's an in-between period between dying and Heaven.
"It's okay," Dean promises. "I'm patching you up, and when I finish, you're gonna be good as new."
"My head got cut off," Sam says, nice and slow so Dean can grasp the gravity of the situation. "I had my head cut off. Most people die from that."
"Since when are you most people?" Dean grins and starts working a little faster, and Sam can really feel the string dragging through his flesh now. It's not a great feeling, really, being decapitated.
"I don't understand." Sam reaches out to wrap his wrist around Dean's, is struck again by how cold it is to touch. "What are you doing here if I'm not in Heaven? How am I not dead?"
"Remember that case we worked, a little after I got back from Hell? That town where no one was dying?"
"Yeah, right," Sam says, only a little weirded out by how casually he's having a conversation with his dead brother while his detached head flops loosely on his neck. "When I met Tessa and we fought with ghost mojo and Pamela…"
Dean clears his throat and nods, waiting a few seconds before saying, "Anyway. It's like that. Can't die if there's no reaper to take you, so all we have to do is fix the problem and give your body a little time to heal."
"Heal from having my—wait. Why isn't there a reaper to take me? Where's my reaper?"
Dean pulls back enough for Sam to see his smile. "Right here, Sam. Whenever you need putting back together. I'm right here for you."
"No," Sam spits back. "No. That. Doesn't make any sense. What are you talking about? You're not a reaper. You're not. You went to Heaven. You're waiting for me in Heaven and you're not a reaper, so. I'm dreaming, is that it? This is a weird dream, but I'll take it."
"Not dreaming," Dean says, and Sam knows it's true, because there's pinching to test if you're awake, and then there's your brother holding your skin tight and in line so he can shove a needle through it and keep your head on straight.
"Answer my questions, then!" Sam yells.
"Shh," Dean soothes. "God, you made my hand slip. You know I was never as good at this as you are, Sammy. Gotta be still. You'll be living with these threads your whole life."
"My whole life," Sam repeats. "My whole life is over. Multiple times but most recently when my head got fucking cut off, Dean!"
"I know," he responds, his voice hardly more than a whisper. "I know. I couldn't stop him. Couldn't do anything until you crossed over. I wanted to do something sooner. I couldn't."
"What did you do?"
"I made a deal," Dean admits. He looks a little sorry at Sam's disappointed sigh, but not very. "With Death. I'm your reaper now. You'll always be safe now."
"Dean, that's demented," Sam tells him.
Dean shrugs, keeps on sewing. "So tell me, how's life been?"
Sam gets on. Hunts don't dry up just because demons are gone: there are still lost, angry angels to send home with a blade through their brand new hearts, still monsters that go bump in the night. It's all he knows to do, and he loses track of months, maybe years. One case after another after another.
Who knows how long it's been before he meets Jackson again. He's not entirely surprised that he does. There aren't as many hunts to go around as before, and with hunters dying much less frequently now that the creative bad guys are all locked up in Hell, it's becoming more common to bump into people on the job.
They're both working a case with a ghoul who's moved onto fresh kills when they realize they aren't the only person on the job.
For Jackson, the focus of the hunt reroutes pretty quickly. Sam should be dead, he says, which is fair, the guy did cut his head off. There's a lot of confusion, a lot of yelling 'what are you?' and finally, a lot of pointing weapons at Sam.
Sam doesn't have a whole lot of impetus to fight back against the guy. His reasons for hating Sam are pretty solid, he seems like a capable enough hunter, and besides, last time they met, Jackson gave Sam the sweetest gift he's ever had. He got to see Dean.
If he's nervous about why Sam doesn't try to defend himself, he doesn't show it. He gets Sam down pretty quickly, and then he starts to hack away. Arm in one pile. Leg in another. Sam is alive long enough to see his body parts littered all over the room.
He watches the guy work because there's nothing much else to do without limbs, listens to Jackson promise that this time you'll be in so many pieces nothing in this world will be able to pull you back together, I'll scatter you everywhere, and bides his time.
Until finally, finally, what he's waiting for happens. The hunter removes something vital. And Sam's body starts to fail.
Jackson stops at that point, gives Sam a weird look as Sam stares up at him, his face so torn by the smile on it, so unused to the muscles curving up at this point that it genuinely hurts, but he can't stop smiling, not now.
"What the hell are you so happy about?" Jackson asks.
Sam uses his last breath to say, "My big brother's behind you."
He looks over his shoulder and then back to Sam with a confused expression on his face. He can't see Dean yet. But Sam can tell from the rage in his brother's eyes, Sam knows he will.
Dean reaches out, and Sam tries to stop him. "Dean, don't make it hurt. Do it if you have to. Just don't hurt him."
"This is the second time," Dean replies. "I've watched him kill you twice."
"His wife," Sam tries to explain, but before he can, his brother's hand is on his forehead, and the other is touching Jackson, and suddenly the hunter standing above Sam is screaming for help, realizing what he's done. Sam tunes out the cries. He only has eyes, ears, a heart in his chest for his reaper.
Dean is wearing a black suit, black tie, the standard company uniform. Sam hadn't paid attention to his clothes the first time this happened, it had been too surreal then, and with his head detached, he was somewhat limited in his range of vision. But seeing it now brings things into sharp perspective. Dean would never choose to wear something like that, not unless he was playing someone else's game, scared to break the rules.
But he looks like Sam's brother, beautiful and strong and fiercely protective. Sam wonders if that's what Jackson's seeing, too, or if this is the face Dean wears for him and him alone. Reapers aren't supposed to look like this. Dean told him what they're supposed to look like. Terrifying with gray, ashy, warped skin. Is that what has Jackson so terrified? Or is he looking at Sam's perfect big brother and is that all the more damning? People used to know better than to hurt Sam Winchester. People used to know Dean would come for them, one way or another.
It's like the first reaper they met then, the one Dean was so angry at Sam for turning to. He trades their lives, and Sam feels himself recovering even as Jackson crumbles, screaming as if his limbs are being torn apart, even though he's still whole.
It does look like it hurts. Sam wonders if it hurt when it happened to him. He can't remember with Dean standing in front of him.
Dean props Sam in a chair after making a corpse out of his killer, and Sam watches as he gathers body parts from around the room and prepares to reattach them.
"His wife is in Hell because of us," Sam explains, wishing Dean had given him a chance to talk sooner. "The shadon took her."
"That sucks," Dean says, not sounding particularly interested. He's comparing two arms to see which is Sam's left, and once he figures it out, he grins at Sam. "Hey, watch this."
Sam does watch as Dean makes his severed hands high five each other and can't help a soft huff of a laugh before he forces himself back on track. "Dean, I'm serious."
Dean makes a sour face and busies himself with reattaching Sam's arm. "Yeah, so his wife went to Hell. Now the son of a bitch can see her again."
"He's not damned just because he killed me—"
"Twice," Dean mutters with a long thread held between his teeth. "And, yeah. He is."
Sam ignores him for the most part. "Those people. They're never getting out now, are they? Not like we did. They didn't even do anything wrong."
Dean pulls back, looks Sam in the eye. "Just say it, Sammy."
"Reapers can still get into Hell, can't they?" he asks. "To lead people who belong there when they die."
"So you could save them. All the human souls down there. Make it so the demons have no one else to pick apart but each other. You could even—I mean, Death got my soul out. Couldn't you get Adam?"
Dean finishes sewing up one arm and pulls back to survey his work, tugging Sam's skin in a few places and then smiling to himself. "Would that make you happy?"
Sam shrugs the one shoulder he has anything to shrug on, and Dean kind of laughs. "It would make me hate you less."
"You don't hate me," Dean reminds him as he grabs Sam's left leg by the knee and starts to line it up. "Not for this. You know I had no choice."
"You had every choice," Sam replies, closing his eyes and sighing and relaxing back into the chair as the needle starts to work into his skin again. This isn't a fight worth having. Neither of them is going to get through to the other, and Sam knows he's the one with no power here. "I'll stop trying to hate you?"
Dean is quiet for a long time, either because he's focusing or because he's thinking things over. When he finishes on Sam's left leg and confirms that he's satisfied with his work, he leans in close, smiling up at Sam before pressing the softest of kisses to his knee, just under the new row of stiches.
"Whatever you want, Humpty Dumpty. Consider them saved."
It takes Dean hours to finish putting Sam back together. He gets almost a whole half a day being dead and adored under his brother's frozen hands, and then Dean fades away and Sam stands up, walks across the room to test out his fully functional corpse.
Out the door after that. There is still a ghoul on the loose.