At first it was all just sounds and light. It was a blur of fire and sun, of ice and rain, of agony and heartbeat thud. Thud. Thud.
When he could see again he found a phone and dialed two numbers, still somewhere in his brain that couldn’t quite make the other connections. Both were disconnected. He stared at the phone, head thudding in counterpoint to his heart. The phone itself looked strange, unreal, but he wasn’t sure if it was his memory or real change.
How long has it been? A month? A year?
He staggered to the road and leaned against a tree. He needed to get somewhere, anywhere. His throat was full of dust and his mouth tasted like blood. The road stretched out straight and flat, the pavement cracked.
This isn’t real.
Go through the motions anyway.
He waited. And waited. It might have been forever, before he realized no one was coming. (Sam. No one is ever coming.)
He started walking. It might be a long way, but what was forever anymore? What was time?
He started walking.
A mile down the road, he realized he was barefoot. His feet were beginning to leave bloody tracks on the uneven pavement. It didn’t seem to hurt, though. Not as much as it should have. He wondered if that was bad or good. Or neither, just one more thing he didn’t understand.
The flashing lights filled his vision. He stopped, stared at the thing coming down the road. The lights were too bright, but not so bright as Him.
My mind is all in pieces. Fragments. Shards.
He didn’t try to get away. There was no getting away.
Their voices washed over and around him as they spilled out of the belly of their beast (car). Words he understood and didn’t. Are you all right? Sir, are you-? They looked strange and not right, but again he wasn’t sure whether they or his mind was at fault.
It doesn’t hurt, he assured them, words like slime on his tongue. Let me go home. There’s a car…
What the hell language is that? -come on, kid, you need…god, look at his feet.
It’s fine, he said. I just need to go home.
He let them take him, though. After all, he didn’t even know where he was going.
A cold touch on his leg, and then Lucifer was peeling the slab of muscle away, talking low and quietly – he could hear screaming. There was always screaming, didn’t matter whose.
Jesus, calm down, kid, calm – give me some --- fuck, now!
He woke in a limp and boneless haze, unable to move. The room was small and unremarkable. His wrists were bound, but lightly.
Pain still prickled along his nerves, dull and distant. His feet were wrapped.
His face felt wet. He had been crying.
A man walked in and stared at him. He was all in white, and Sam’s mind supplied doctor after a moment, but again it didn’t seem quite right. He stared back at the man. What’s your name, the doctor said finally. He almost snorted.
Sam Winchester, he said. What year is it?
The doctor frowned. Do you speak English?
I don’t know, he said. Maybe not.
The frown deepened. What language is that? Can you tell me?
He did laugh. And laugh and laugh. The language of angels, he said. The language of pain. The doctor stared some more, and he said, Find Dean. He’ll know what to do.
When the man who might be a doctor (what did that word mean, he wasn’t certain) was gone, he prayed to the other name he could still remember. Quietly, and in the language he knew best now, through years of (pain) (death) suffering. The best teacher, Sam, you never forget lessons carved in open skin.
He wondered how he’d never heard the voice under the other. The blazing, piercing, powerful voice of an angel, just barely masked. His ears rang and his brain buzzed and he wanted to run.
Stop, he said, Stop stop stop, I can’t, I can’t-
I’m sorry, said Castiel, and the secondary voice was gone. I didn’t realize.
I hear it, he said, trying to curl up, but his muscles would not respond. I hear it. He could feel his flesh melting. The hand was sudden and cool on his brow. It washed through him and he went limp.
You’ve come back, Castiel said.
I need to get to him, he said.
Please, he said. Please please please. That word he knew best of all.
The angel lifted his hand and Sam tried very hard not to flinch.
He nearly fell facedown in the snow, but Castiel caught him. It was cold but not the deep, burning cold of His hands upon his soul. It could be endured.
Dean, Castiel called in a rough voice, projecting. It’s me.
He fought to straighten but his muscles still wouldn’t listen. They had done something, the men with the lights, he realized. He hoped it would leave soon. The door swung open with the sound of a gun cocking. I told you not to come back until you fix it, you winged d- holy shit. Did you-
No, said Castiel’s low voice, thankfully no longer thrumming. He found me. I don’t know…
He forced his head up and blinked. On the porch was a man he didn’t know, his face lined and rough, gray stubble on his cheeks, grizzled and tired. But if he didn’t know the face, he knew the feeling. His boundaries were looser now, his self half unraveled. He didn’t understand, but it was Dean’s eyes staring at him, half fearful and half awed. Dean, he said. You look older. A lot older. Years and years and years.
Dean was staring, leaning heavily on the railing, the gun lowered by his side. He glanced at Castiel, who nodded. Sam, he said, his voice strange and half broken, and then he was coming down, limping awkwardly, the gun forgotten on the porch. Holy fuck, he said. Sam, are you – Cas, is he-
I’m okay, he said as he folded into Dean’s frantic embrace. Dean, he said. Dean Dean Dean.
The only name left in the world.
Dean’s head lifted. He looked confused. Sam? He said.
He could hear the heavy sorrow in Castiel’s voice. It’s Enochian. He doesn’t seem to realize he’s speaking it. It’s possible …he can’t remember anything else. You know-
He heard Dean swallow. Yeah, he said, I know how long it’s…how long it’s been.
I’m still here, he tried to reassure his brother. I’m still me. Castiel looked over and his eyes were full of pity, like he thought he was lying to himself. He shied away from those too bright eyes, remembering. He began to shudder in Dean’s arms.
They tightened. His grip was changed and he could see the stiff angle at which he held his leg, but he still smelled like Dean in the near lost sense-instinct-memory. Shhh, Dean said, his voice rough and cracking. It’s okay. You’re okay.
Things came back in bits and pieces. Language. Memory. Knowledge. Bobby? He asked, and Dean looked away.
Years and years and years.
It’s all changed, Sammy, Dean said. I tried. I tried to make it, but I…
Doesn’t matter, he said, shaking his head. Doesn’t matter. Doesn’t.
He didn’t understand why Dean’s eyes filled up then. He did learn, though. Dean was sick. Dean was sick way down deep in the way that couldn’t be fixed because he was old and worn out. It had been too long and too much.
When he could speak again, a little, Dean asked him. What will you do? He asked. Sam, I need you to – tell me what you’re going to do. I don’t have forever, I don’t even have – that long. And I need to know you’re going to be okay.
I’ll follow you, he said. I always have.
Dean tried to argue. Insisted that he was young and needed to live. Sam didn’t bother to argue. Arguing did no good; it never had. He didn’t have choices left. I suppose you’re not so young at that, Dean said finally, and sounded again like he was going to cry.
I’m sorry, he said, and Dean grabbed him and hugged him roughly, though it made him wobble unevenly on his bad leg.
Dammit. Don’t be sorry. You don’t have to be sorry. God. It’s not fair. You finally…get out and I don’t even get the time with you.
It’s enough, he said. Every moment was one he didn’t expect and didn’t deserve, but Dean wouldn’t understand that part. Dean was quiet, and he said, Can I ask you for something?
Dean pulled back and studied his face, all seriousness and fierce earnestness. What’s that?
Smile, he said, can I see your smile? That’s what I always remembered about you. You smiling.
Christ, Sam, Dean said in his cracking, ragged voice, and sat down heavily, and put his face in his hands. I’m sorry. I’m so goddamn sorry.
But he looked up and smiled, and Sam added it to his collection of things to hold onto, ways to work his way back.
And maybe someday he’d be worthy again.