Sheol: a place of darkness to which all the dead go, both the righteous and the unrighteous, regardless of the moral choices made in life, a place of stillness and darkness cut off from God. -- Wikipedia
Dean landed in a crouch, one hand splayed out on the tile floor, fingers twitching, the other clenched around the shaft of what looked like an improvised polearm consisting of a battered, rusting machete lashed to the top of a long stick. His exposed skin was covered in mud, a thick layer caked in whorls and spider-webbed in cracks that gave him a scaled effect. His hair was thick with it, too, clumped into blunt spikes; his full, muddy beard wasn't so much trimmed as hacked short with some sort of dull blade. His jeans were all but shredded below the knees, the tattered ends wrapped around his calves and tied down with the same shaggy rope that held the machete on the stick and wrapped his boots above his ankles. His leather jacket was pulled closed over his chest, grime-dark and scratched in long slashes, and his arms were wrapped from elbow to wrist with what looked like the remains of his over shirt. Though he held perfectly still, his eyes flicked around the room at high speed, taking in everything, but seeming to recognize nothing.
Sam lowered himself down carefully at the edge of the summoning circle, eying Dean's weapon before carefully extending his hand. Dean hardly seemed to move, shifting the polearm with little more than a twitch or two, but suddenly Sam was staring down the machete, the point aimed between his eyes.
"Woah." He fell back, lifting both hands defensively. "Dean, man, it's me, it's Sam. You're home. Shit, are you growling?"
Dean's lip curled, showing just a glimpse of startlingly white teeth, the low rumble still seeping from his throat. He kept his eyes locked on Sam, now, even as his hand crawled out across the floor, feeling it out and scratching lightly with torn, mud-coated fingernails.
"Tile," he said, his voice curling faintly at the end.
Sam swallowed. "Yeah, Dean. We're in Rufus' kitchen. You're back. I got you back." Then, because Dean still held that blade inches from his face, but hadn't actually attacked yet, he rambled right on. "It was easy, actually, once I found out where you went -- which took a long time and I'm so sorry about that. Purgatory doesn't have -- it's not organized like Heaven and Hell. I just needed your name, and -- and some of your stuff and the right spell, and uh. Here you are. Home. You're home." Dean still hadn't lowered the weapon, didn't seem to have registered a word Sam said. "I'm Sam."
Dean's expression was hard to read, the beard and the mud playing merry hell on the shape of his mouth, the curve of his brow, but he'd stopped growling, and if anything, he looked incredulous. Sam wasn't sure if it was what he was saying, or the fact that he'd just babbled it out at high speed.
"I tried to get Cas," he said. "But I didn't have any of his stuff. I'm not actually sure he has any."
Dean planted the butt-end of the polearm again, and Sam let himself breathe a sigh of relief. Dean pushed himself up and back, and if he hadn't been watching for it, Sam's pretty sure he would have missed the way his brother used the weapon for support as he did, or the way he was favoring his right leg. He hadn't expected Dean to come out unscathed, of course. They didn't have magical angel resurrection on their side this time. But he hadn't really thought Dean would come back so . . . altered.
Dean looked around the room again, tapping the end of the polearm against the tile floor and tilting his head at the cold crack of it. He limped a few steps to the counter and ran his fingertips over the top of it, then reached up to open each cabinet in turn. He made a slow circuit of the room that way, his eyes wide and alert, touching everything as though he expected at any moment it would dissolve out from beneath his fingers. He didn't let go of his weapon for even a second. When he reached the sink, he opened the faucet and watched the water pour out.
"Do --" Sam took a careful step forward, but stopped when Dean's head turned and he started staring at him again. "Do you need something to drink?"
Dean watched him for a moment, then turned back to the sink and shut the water off. "No." He turned and started his slow circuit of the room again. Sam followed as quietly as he could.
Dean made it out into the living room, investigating the table and the chairs before pausing again, this time at the couch.
"You spent three weeks on that thing," Sam said. "After Bobby's burned down, when the leviathan broke your leg." Dean turned to look at him again, nothing in his eyes or face showing any recognition. "I'm Sam," Sam said again, this time unable to keep the note of desperation out of his voice. "Dean, please."
Dean looked back down at the couch, his fingers clenching into the deflated cushions on the back. He nodded, just a little, then looked back at Sam, his head still bent. His lips curled, sending flakes of mud showering down on his jacket. "What?" he asked. "You want a cookie?"
Sam gaped. Dean's lips curled further, until there was no mistaking his smirk. "You --" Sam lifted a shaking hand. "You jerk!"
Dean's smirk held, and he lifted one shoulder at Sam before going back to his circuit of the room.
Dean knew he was home. He got that. Purgatory had a lot of things, wood and stone and those monsters human enough to craft them into cabins, but it didn't have linoleum. It didn't have formica. It didn't have running water or couches. Still, old habits were hard to break, and while Purgatory had its monsters, beasts made almost entirely of teeth, ones that seemed to outright ooze darkness, so did home. His life here had been built around monsters almost as much as it had there. He remembered that much.
The man claiming to be Sam said something about washing up, and Dean nodded. There was soap here, too, and he knew he'd blend in better clean. Human. He lifted his hand and worked at the tip of his beard, breaking off lumps of dirt and crumbling them between his fingertips. He followed the wall until he found the bathroom and leaned his head in, closing his eyes just long enough to breathe in deep. It smelled good in there. Sharp. Clean.
"Do you need help?" the man claiming to be Sam asked. Dean couldn't hold back the growl that crawled up his throat. Not that he tried too hard. It'd taken years to perfect the sound. There were a lot of monsters in Purgatory that wouldn't take anything but hisses, growls, and roars as answers. It worked on the man, too, his eyes going wide as he backed down. "Okay. It’s okay. I'll just get you some clothes." He started to move off, then stopped. Dean watched him. "You're home," the man said again. "I'm Sam." He waited for Dean to reply, so Dean dipped his chin in a short nod.
The man was right about being home. Dean thought maybe he was telling the truth about the Sam thing, too.
Dean remembered how to use the shower. When he reached for the knobs, he could remember turning them countless times before, that the hot water tended to stick and took a little while to get going, and that when it hadn't been used in a while, it smelled like eggs. He recognized the stains on the shower curtain and the angle he liked best on the shower head. He stepped into the spray fully clothed and hissed at the heat of it, letting it soak into him and weigh him down before he started unwinding the cloth from around his arms, peeling the jacket from his skin. He remembered, once upon a time, worrying about getting the thing wet, knew that water wasn't good for the leather. Now, he just let it fall into a wet lump on the bathroom floor.
He was home. If he had to, he could get a new one.
The boots came next, along with the jeans, the water soaking into the rope that held them in place, forcing him to pry at them with rough fingers. He wished for his knife, even considered going at them with his glaive, before he finally managed to get them untied. By the time he cast the last bit of cloth to the floor, the water had long since gone cold, but it was almost running clear, so he stayed beneath it, rubbing dirt from his hair and out of his ears until his skin felt puffy and water logged and he was shivering so hard that his right knee threatened to give out. He turned off the water and climbed out of the tub, lowering himself immediately down to sit on the closed toilet lid. He lifted his leg and pressed the heels of both palms into the sides of his knee, over top the puckered teeth marks that spanned the whole cap. He kneaded gently until the muscles started to ease, then grabbed his glaive to lever himself back up to his feet.
Someone knocked on the door, and he let out an abbreviated roar.
"Uh." The man who claimed to be Sam said. "It's me. I have clothes."
Dean swallowed. He shuffled carefully around the lumps of muddy fabric strewn across the floor and eased the door open a few inches.
"They're yours," the man said. "I kept all your stuff."
Dean grunted, then reached through the cracked door to take the folded stack of clothes.
"Jesus," the man hissed, and for a second, Dean thought he was going to grab his hand. He growled, yanking the clothes in, and slammed the door.
No one touched him. Not without trying to kill him.
Not since the teeth and the darkness had eaten Cas.
Moments after Dean slammed the door in Sam's face, Jody walked in the front with a bag of fried chicken. "Wasn't sure what kinds of sides you boys might like," she said, setting the bag down on the table and pulling out little styrofoam containers. "I got a little of everything." She looked over her haul, then looked up at Sam, her eyes going wide. "Don't tell me it didn't work. You were so sure --"
"It worked," Sam said. He came fully into the room, leaning back against the sofa and staring down at his own forearms. "It worked, he's just --"
"Just?" Jody prompted, and Sam realized he'd gone quiet, picturing the wounds he'd seen on Dean's arms slashed across his own flesh.
Three lines, long and jagged, curling from the jut of his wrist bone around to the inside of his elbow. Recent enough that they were still red, that he could still see how deep they must have been.
He shook it off, pushing himself back to his feet. He didn't have time to fall apart over this. He wasn't the one who'd spent who knew how long in Purgatory. "Did you pick up any whiskey?" he asked. Jody held up a liter of single malt, and Sam nodded. "Good. He's going to want that."
"I know, okay? It's not healthy. But -- I don't think there is a healthy way to deal with this stuff. If Dean needs to drink, I'm not going to stop him."
"That's noble," Dean said, and Sam's head whipped around so fast he heard his neck crack.
Dean stood just outside the bathroom door, dressed in clean, worn denim and flannel, and looking like he was doing his best to pretend it was comfortable. He had his hand tucked deep in his pocket, the other stretched back into the bathroom, where Sam was sure it was probably locked around the shaft of his weapon. His eyes flicked past Sam to where Jody stood with the food, taking her in with a quick once-over, and then flicking away. "Jody," he greeted, and Sam felt like his insides had just been flushed from his body.
"Dean." Jody smiled at him. "It's good to see you again."
Dean inclined his head and flashed a quick smile, then looked back towards Sam. "I, uh. Need some stuff."
"Right." Sam straightened, careful not to move too quickly. "Yeah, of course. Uh, comb, right?" He ran a hand over his own hair, eying the overlong, wet clumps of hair that now hung limply across Dean's forehead and down around his ears. "You kinda look like you're trying to start a bad Bob Marley cover band, dude."
Dean stared at him for a moment, then offered him another microflash of a smile. "Yeah."
"Scissors," Jody said. "You're not going to get through those things with a comb. You're going to have to cut them off."
Dean pulled his hand from his pocket and tugged at the tip of one tiny dredlock. "Scissors. Yeah." His fingers trailed down to his beard. "And a razor."
"We got it," Sam said, nodding a quick thanks to Jody. "You want to do that now?" he asked Dean, "or do you want some food, first?"
Dean's nostrils flared and he leaned forward, like a pointer on the hunt. "Food."
"You've got it," Sam said. He grinned hard at Dean, like he could patch him up with just the power of positive thinking. "Hey, we even picked you up some pie."
He waited for the blood, the screams of pain. He could see it when he blinked, blackened teeth sinking into bloody flesh, tearing through skin and muscle right down to the bone. Most of the monsters as willing to eat one of their own as anyone else, but all of them would band together to get just a taste of a human. He reached under the table to rub the top of his knee, remembering what it looked like to watch his own blood and pus pour down a monster's chin. How it looked when Cas, who vanished at the idea of conflict, threw himself onto the mottled creature with Dean's knee between its teeth.
He jerked upright and pushed away from the table, all too aware that the others, Jody and the man who claimed to be Sam, were watching his every move. Evaluating it. Judging him unfit. Wrong.
This wasn't how humans behaved. Humans ate fried chicken.
And he was human. Whatever else he'd lost in those woods, he'd managed to hang on to that.
He was pretty sure, anyway.
"Dean?" the man who claimed he was Sam asked. He could hear him setting his plate aside, the rasp of the napkin against his chin. "You, uh. You all done, man?"
Dean nodded, but didn't turn around. His hand itched for his weapon, left leaning against the wall in an effort to at least look like he was handling things. He lifted it to his face instead, trying to pretend that it wasn't shaking when he ran it over his beard.
"Hey. You want to shave, now?" The man who claimed to be Sam circled him, his enormous forehead wrinkling as he held out his hand. "You're shaking."
Dean flinched away. "Don't."
The man's face fell right along with his hand. "Okay. It's okay, Dean. It's me, okay? I just want to help."
"I'll clean up in here," Jody said from somewhere behind them. From the way the man looked up, Dean thought maybe he'd forgotten she was there.
That was dangerous. That kind of forgetting would get you killed.
"Thanks," the man said, a wobble in his voice. He looked back down at Dean. "We don't have to do this now. You're still freaked. I get it."
Dean scowled. "I'm not afraid of you."
"I know, I know," the man said hurriedly. "I mean, why would you be? I'm Sam. I'm your brother."
Dean searched his face, taking in the broad sweep of his nose, the mole under his eye, the way his cheeks dimpled when he gave Dean that strained, hopeful smile. The prissy tilt of his lips when he got concerned. He flinched again, something deep inside him recoiling. The man's face fell again, and Dean felt a surge in his chest. He didn't like seeing the man's face do that. It hurt. "Yeah," he said, and tried to sound like he meant it. "You want to -- to shave me."
"Safety razor," the man said. "And a pair of scissors. Totally safe, man, I promise."
The man was staring at him, his eyes all hopeful. Dean had to look away. "It's not. It's not you." He focused on the man's chin, the slight cleft. "I can't remember Bobby, either." The man's lips pursed, and he twitched his head in the barest of shakes. Dean realized he knew the man was going to do that. "I couldn't tell you what Mom or Dad looked like, or Lisa or Ben."
"Dean." The man ducked his head, and Dean was suddenly looking him in the eye again. "What happened to you, over there?"
"Monsters." Dean lifted his chin, the defiant spirit that had kept him moving with no back-up on a half-chewed knee demanding that he face this one head on, too. "All of them, all the vampires, werewolves, skinwalkers, you name it. Some of them got into your head. Like the djinn. Or the shapeshifters."
The man's eyes widened. "They used me against you."
"Had to learn that the hard way."
"You forgot us."
"I remember some of it." Dean looked away again, shrugging. "Your hair's right. Your build."
The man who really probably was Sam turned away, pushing his hands up into his hair. "Jesus."
"Cas did it," Dean said, suddenly desperate to get the man to understand. "I couldn't do it by myself and they just kept coming wearing your face, so Cas took it out. He was going to put it back, just as soon as we got out."
"We'll pull him out." Sam turned back around, pacing now. "I've got the spell, now. Maybe -- maybe Meg has something. Or the hospital. We can --"
"He's dead," Dean said. Sam froze.
"He's not," he said. "He never is, not really. He's come back more times than either of us."
Dean looked away.
"Well, you can -- you can learn, right? He cut me out of your brain, but you'll know me now. You'll recognize me. I'm right here."
Dean tugged at his beard. "I don't know."
"You don't know?" Sam's voice rose, and Dean leaned away. He heard him breathing hard, trying to resettle himself. "Okay. It's okay. We'll just -- we'll figure this out. You just got back, you need to rest."
"Yeah," Dean said. "Sure. We'll figure something out."
But if Sam left the cabin for any longer than it took to help Jody bring in the groceries, he had to identify himself all over again.
He knew he shouldn't be offended. Dean remembered Jody, remembered all the celebrities, because they didn't mean anything to him. A monster wearing Jody's face would at most be a little sad. A monster wearing Romney's would get a terrible joke about politicians. A monster wearing Sam's, and Dean would hesitate. He'd get angry. He'd have all sorts of emotional reactions that could get him killed. Dean had forgotten Sam because he loved him.
But that didn't mean it didn't hurt like hell.
They figured out Dean's other limitations pretty quickly. He favored his right leg, walking with a pretty substantial limp without his polearm or another crutch at hand to support his weight, but he could walk, run, and even fight in short bursts just as well as he always could. His hands shook when he got tired or nervous, but again, it seemed he could force himself to work through it when he had to. Sam supposed it made sense -- if Dean hadn't been able to push past the limp and the tremor, he'd've been dead long before Sam had managed to pull him out.
His appetite hadn't been much affected, though Sam insisted that they take it slow on the processed foods. They'd managed to compile a list of companies who'd used Sucrocorp for their additives and avoid them, though Sam was pretty sure he and Kevin had managed to eliminate all of Sucrocorp's tainted stock after Dick was taken down. The most important thing was, while Dean still ate cheeseburgers happily, they had to avoid any meat with a bone, anything that might still resemble a body part. Ground beef was good, or filets of chicken or fish, but ribs and drumsticks were right out, as were most sausages.
Apparently, there were things in Purgatory with a specific taste for intestines.
For the most part, Sam stayed home with Dean while Jody went out for food and supplies. She still had a job, though, and when she called on day seven to say she wasn't going to make it back to the cabin that night, it was Sam who had to head out and pick up the demanded fresh slice of pie.
It was good to know that some things would apparently never change.
When Sam got back, Dean was sitting at the table by the kitchen, Rufus' old shaving kit spread out in front of him. He had the small silver mirror propped in his hand, but when Sam came in, he looked up and flashed him a smile.
"Sammy," he said. Sam nearly dropped the groceries.
"You recognized me."
Dean shrugged, looking back at the mirror and running his hand over his still-matted hair. "Don't get excited. It's just the way you walk and your stupid hair."
Sam understood. He'd been reading up on facial blindness, and knew that those who had it found other ways of recognizing people. "Hey," he said. "If it means I don't have to reintroduce myself to my own brother every day, I'll take it."
He expected some sort of snappy comeback, or at least a protest that Dean 'wasn't that bad'. Instead, Dean only shrugged. "Yeah."
Sam decided to change the subject. He nodded to the shaving kit. "What's all this?"
Dean sighed. "I can't use it."
"You decided you liked the white-guy-Rastafarian look?"
Dean shot him a withering look and held up his hand. It was trembling hard, evidence that, while he put up a good front, Dean still found even sitting in front of the tv all day exhausting. "I can't use it."
Sam pulled out a chair and set it down across from him. He picked up the old straight razor and ran his thumb along the edge. It could use a little sharpening before going after the thicket on Dean's face, but that wouldn't take long. "That's too bad, man." He looked back up at Dean. Dean growled faintly, and Sam started to set the razor down.
"You're going to make me ask," Dean said.
Another growl -- of frustration, Sam realized -- and Dean pushed himself back from the table, tilting his head up to show Sam his throat. "Will you please help me get this thing off my face?"
Sam smiled. "Yeah, Dean. Of course I will." He picked up the brush and the bowl of shaving soap. "I need to wet your face, first."
Dean swallowed, head still tilted back, then nodded. "Yeah. I know."
Dean had already laid out a second bowl of warm water, so Sam set right to work, wetting a towel and gently pressing it around Dean's beard. Dean closed his eyes, his body tense in the chair, right up until the moment Sam let his thumb brush down past the towel along Dean's jaw line. His skin was warm and surprisingly smooth beneath the thick beard growth, and Sam felt Dean relax into the touch, breathing out a soft sigh through his nose.
Sam realized that, the whole week Dean had been back, he hadn't let Sam or Jody touch him even once.
"That's it, man," he whispered, setting the towel aside and picking up the brush, his free hand moving to cup the back of Dean's neck and allow him to relax further. "It's me. It's Sam." He smoothed the lather across Dean's face and watched a few of the lines around his eyes begin to ease. "You're home."
He'd said the words over and over since he'd pulled Dean out of Purgatory. For the first time, Sam realized, he really believed it.