Sam stands frozen in that warehouse for what seems like ages. Seconds tick by as though time is molasses, like amber, and Sam is a hapless insect. The urge to run should be shooting through him but it's not. Where is there to go? Dean was right here.
There is nowhere he can go that this will be okay.
Dean isn't just outside this room, Dean isn't tied up somewhere by a monster. For all Sam knows Dean has been dragged down to Purgatory, or is downright dead. Dean and Castiel have just vanished into thin air and are nowhere to be found.
He's supposed to pick up his bucket of borax or something, go out with his machete and industrial cleaner. He's supposed to make it out of the building and go after all the people he's just managed to lose all at once. He has to go save them now, the only one who can.
But he's alone. And he flashes back to the time in the hospital, to sleepless nights of being kept awake by his hallucinations and Lucifer, remembers telling Dean how tired he is and how, despite the nights he's been able to sleep since then, the bone-deep exhaustion has never truly left. Bobby's time came and came again, but Sam's been killed and resurrected more than he would want, if it were only him, if not for Dean. And now Dean's gone, and he was right, all of their friends are dead. Sam is bone-tired.
He shakes himself. He bites his tongue, puts a hand to his forehead, pushes his hair back, digs his fingernails into his forearm, and squeezes the handle of his machete. He's got to get a grip.
He looks around at the lab. I've got work to do.
Sam remembers how to make the bombs. With a little prep, there's enough highly flammable material in the lab that, after locking himself to work for a few minutes, he can Molotov it after he's made it far enough down the hallway. Destroy the Leviathans' work now, find a way to destroy the records eventually.
He wants to stay there and make sure the place burns down but he's got to get out. He'll be back in the days to come, steal a hazmat suit from a truck, then the fed suit once it's cleaned up. He'll bring a dowsing rod and the EMF detector and the blood of a Purgatory native and whatever the hell he has to. He's going to get his brother back.
Sam can only spare a glance for the Impala as he runs from the building. He wants so badly to go to it, to have some solid comfort in this world, but he can't yet - it's currently half in the air, stuck through huge Sucracorp's glass sign.
Sam drives his junker across town as fast as he can, ditches it in a grocery store parking lot, walks across the street and picks up another old, beat-up car. Then he drives back to the cabin they'd been staying in. He's half expecting to see it burnt down since Crowley seems to have little use for him anymore. Except cleaning up the Leviathan mess.
Sam is having a hard time finding it in him to care about wiping out the Leviathans. Now that Dean's gone, it's the least useful thing he can think of. He really wants to fall down and cry about it, is what he wants to do. The cabin is very, very empty, and no one but the cat mewling outside will hear him. He's lost his brother, goddamn it. They walked in with the few allies they could scrounge up and Sam walked out alone. He's been so tired for so long, he doesn't feel much like a hero anymore. He doesn't feel heroic about any of this, not with all the collateral. He wants to do something selfish now. He wants to rest for years. He wants his brother back.
He can't stop the tears, so he lets himself cry, but he doesn't lie down and fall asleep. He sits at the table and writes it out, makes a map, tries to figure out a plan that means he doesn't have to be the one to save the world and find Dean again too. It's hard.
As much as he and Dean have spent their entire lives waging their own private war on the secret world of evil around them, as many "the truth is out there" speeches as they've never given… It's not that Sam realizes he doesn't have to do this alone, because he wants to be alone. He would so much rather do it alone than try to find some other partner, replace Dean with anyone. It would take too much effort to adjust. Sam feels old. He is set in his ways. And after a year of hallucinations on top of an eternity of hellish torment, he's in no position to take on anyone as a responsibility.
It feels selfish. Sam's not puzzling this out because he has run out of hope for the world's survival; he's doing it so he doesn't have to think about anything but finding Dean. If he hands off his batons, then he'll do what he does best: work obsessively.
He leaves a voicemail on Garth's cell phone, a short and simple explanation that there are monsters, the Leviathan, that melt when splashed with Borax and can die when you chop off the head and take it far away.
The tone of his voice is flat. He doesn't tell Garth what happened today, doesn't say that Dean's gone; he figures Garth will call him if he needs more information, though Sam's not sure he'd even pick up. He doesn't know when he'll be able to. He can't really talk to anyone right now, not even himself. The sound of his voice would only throw the empty cabin into sharp relief. Afraid to make a sound, to hear his own voice, Sam doesn't want to be any more painfully aware that it will echo, because there are no bodies, warm or cold, in the cabin to soak it up or listen. There's no one to say anything in response. Sam can barely comprehend what's just happened. He can't bear to listen to himself in an empty room.
In the summer that Dean was in Hell, he didn't answer the phone for months, not even for Bobby. This time it makes him ache to know that not even Bobby will be there for him in a pinch, or just to turn to, as family.
Jody. There's Jody, who stayed with him the last time Dean disappeared without a trace. Jody, who kept her head and made sure he slept and basically kept him from driving himself crazy on his own. He didn't have a Jody when Dean was in Hell. Ruby was a dangerous ally with useful secrets. But Jody… Jody's a friend.
She doesn't deserve to get dragged into this.
Sam puts her number on speed dial, just in case. She knows how to kill a Leviathan. She's got his number. She'll keep herself safe.
Sam drives his junker to the edge of the blocked-off Sucrocorp parking lot, finds the "Violators will be towed" sign, and makes a phone call.
An hour later, Federal Agent Sam Smith drives his evidence off the lot, a scratched-up but still shining black 1967 Chevy Impala that the lot security guy looks longingly after.
Sam got lucky without a Bobby or Dean or Frank to answer the phone in case they wanted to verify his badge, but it's pretty obvious that a corporate lab explosion of that magnitude would be Federal business, so they let it fly. If his luck keeps going, he figures, the Leviathans won't be organized enough to be chasing him down anymore. If he's really lucky they'll think he's dead. What Crowley said – cut off the head, and the body will flounder.
Sam says "Huh," to the rumble of the Impala's engine. That'd be great luck, if all the Leviathans would just flounder into oblivion
He keeps the stolen car on hand. He can't leave the state yet. He can't drive the Impala until he's far away, and he can't leave until he's searched every inch of space in the center of the room Dean and Cas disappeared in for a crack in the fabric of space. Till he's peered at every inch, looked at thin air from every angle. Sam wants so desperately to think it'll be that easy, peeling back the air and reaching out a hand to pull Dean and Cas out of whatever realm they ended up in. He doesn't want to search out a billion reasoned solutions, he doesn't want to make a list only to cross off every item as a device to search for his brother. He wants to waste no time.
Sam's always been the researcher, the methodical one. Dean was always the shoot-first guy, and not for the first time Sam finds himself yearning for such a simple, effective mindset. He used to wish he could use his anger like a blunt object to hammer at a problem, but now, three years after he jumped into the pit with Lucifer, he's given up on anger as a way of living. It was unsustainable. And now he's too tired.
He goes back with a dowsing rod, a pendulum, a strange enchanted compass they never really figured out, and a vial of Leviathan blood he collected from the pool of ooze after one long evening interrogating one of Dick Roman's arrogant underlings. He wants like to call to like. He wants the power of his own blood to be able to pierce the wall between Purgatory and this world, to seek Dean's out. He wants them to find each other. He wishes being goddamn soulmates helped him find Dean at all right now.
Sam is alone a very long time.
Sam always expected, hoped, to go with Dean when it was time to go. One long stint down below was enough for the both of them, they got out, they beat it. But suddenly he's left with a machete and a load of lives counting on him, not an ally in the world that can actually help him, and there's a sea of black gooey body-snatching monsters out there he has to get through and then eradicate. All by himself.
Sam's been building his reality on quickly-disappearing known quantities this last year, and even after Castiel took Lucifer out of his head, Sam has his dissociative moments. Doubting what is real - that was the malicious seed Lucifer planted in his mind. No matter what Sam was seeing, no matter how vivid or surreal - he always knew it was his life before, monsters and demons and near-death experiences, but it could also be Hell, or a memory of Hell. He didn't want to confess to Dean just how unsure he felt. His unease is nothing so concrete as seeing Lucifer anymore; where before he felt mostly fine outside of the Satan-vision, now he is left with moments of dissociation and paranoia.
He spends an age in Chicago squatting in a boarded-up home on the west side. He feels homeless, more than he's ever felt before, squatting there at night and traveling to the Newberry Library to pore over their manuscript collection during the day.
When the library closes he goes up north out of his way to sit in the grimy pizza place where Dean sat years ago, sharing a pizza with Death as the apocalypse fell around them. Sam tells the waitstaff he's waiting for someone until they get impatient and then he orders for two, leaves the rest of the food. An offering or a symptom, he's not sure. He starts getting pitying looks instead of annoyed ones, but he keeps going, until he's nearly broke except for enough cash to gas up and move out of the city, towards some pool table in a bar he hasn't cased yet.
Sam can't spare the time or energy to miss Dean. Missing is so close to mourning, and if he mourns he's given up. He can't even begin to acknowledge that possibility. He's too tired.
He spends so much time trying not to hurt, focusing on books and hunting down libraries, he doesn't think he'll have the opportunity to slip into missing or mourning his brother. But of course, he manages it eventually anyway. Dean's absence is there with him all the time, like a transparency, like a negative walking with him and every moment is something to superimpose him on. Sam clings to his perfect recall of Dean's voice and the things he would say, how he looked, even in sleep. It's as if his mind has no option but to fill in the hole left in his life with what memory and longing supply. So Sam begins to dream again.
They pulled up to the old bar and Dean was ready with a pocket full of quarters for the slot machines, with a wallet full of bills, saying "Sam, Sam I'm gonna win us our dinners, you won't have to sing for your supper."
Sam sat there on the car hood while Dean fought off the crowds of men and demons who wanted to come between them. He sat there and sipped a soda and counted the pennies he held in his hand. They smelled like copper, which reminded him of blood.
"What do you say, Sam," said Dean.
Sam shrugged. The men turned into monsters and the demons turned into uglier monsters, , their eyes changing from black to red.
"If you say so, Sam," panted Dean.
Sam stuck one of the pennies in his mouth.
"That's filthy. It'll make you sick."
Sam sucked on it. It tasted good and hard like blood, like he remembered. "I'll get us out of this, Dean."
Dean didn't say anything. The black hordes swallowed him like a midnight tide, until all Sam could see of his brother were his white teeth and a pair of eyes shining red through blood.
"I'll get you out of this."
The tide was lapping at Sam's feet, over the hood of the Impala. It lapped with the tongues of a hundred wolves, scraped at the metal like a thousand vampire teeth. The tide left ooze like an oil spill, like a leviathan's gushing carotid.
Sam skipped pennies over the surface but the waves sucked at his feet, up his calves and onto his knees. He was trying to send them to Dean. But the tide was creeping towards his waist, and he was running out of pennies. It was no good.
Sam gasps awake.
It is night and he's sleeping in the front seat of the Impala way down a dirt side-road. Red taillights recede before him into the flat distance.
Sam lets his head roll back and thud against the leather of the bench seat, letting the smell of the car, the glint of light on its interior and hood, comfort him with their familiarity. Nothing but the car can hold his fear.
Sam drinks himself into a blackout state. He's not hopeless but sees no hope in dreaming or in waking. He's never really stopped praying since he was a kid, but the person he prays to, hangs his hopes on, changes. He's prayed to God, to angels, to the saints, to Castiel; he's summoned angels and demons; now he prays to Death.
Sam doesn't want to get high or see angels. He only wants to experience the divine if the divine can do something for him, can help him. Surely Sam can manage to grasp his mortality and have a little chat with Death.
William James is the kind of practical mystic Sam finds useful. Substances are real, altered states are real; if he believes in creatures of a different, and he does, because he's met angels and destroyed ghosts, then maybe he can transcend a plane or two, get in touch with someone who knows something about other realms. But Sam's really not eager to hallucinate anything these days.
So he goes for the old standby brushes with death: blackout drinking, reckless driving. He finds some people cliff-diving and asks them to spot him. He manages to convince himself that he could die; he is very persuasive. The problem is that the part of him that's supposed to want to go on living is crippled without Dean.
Anyone else really would be jumping off his cliff, he figures, after he hits the water and his vision whites out. They'd go at it half-assed and succumb to the current. They'd have bitten the bullet weeks ago.
But Sam has painful dreams, the kind of black-out, headpounding dreams that he used to have years ago, but this time no sulphur, no powers, and nothing he recognizes as earthly. He dreams of Dean wandering through Purgatory, his guts torn out by a rugaru, his neck covered in the lamprey-like bruises of changelings, his ribcage cracked open by a werewolf. And Dean walks, limps, crawls on, through swamp and forest and rocky desert, never dead but always dying.
So Sam can't end it, because in his dreams it won't end for Dean. He's somehow certain that this is a truth, that there's some hope of knowledge. That if he can see Dean he can get him back. If it isn't, it's some fucked-up form of wishful thinking. It's a necessary belief. The last thing.
Death's not showing up, of course. Sam's heeding the warning Death gave them about binding him again - he's thought a billion times, if death were the only thing standing between him and Dean, Sam would take it in a second, but Dean's possibly being torn apart by monsters for all eternity. So Sam can't die. Not yet.
Sam dreams of a dark forest with no sun, only a dim phosphorescence of fog and patches of what could be moonlight in a slate-grey sky, and Dean, who manages to trade one of his rings for help from a dragon. Flickering somewhere between a scaly lizard creature and a stocky swarthy man, scales shifting in patterns on his skin in a sickening chameleon way, the wide-mouthed creature grabs the bird Dean's shot and plucked and sears it with a hiss and sizzle, cooking the meat in a few bare seconds.
Castiel does not need to eat but this place has visibly drained him. He leans against a tree and watches Dean eat, as though somehow he can draw sustenance by proxy.
Dean tears at the bird and the dragon moves off. No virgins here, Sam guesses, and Dean's brought the only treasure they must have. What do monsters do here, without humans to hunt? What kind of strange beasts do they become?
As he wonders he sees Dean's back shiver, and shimmer, and what in any other swamp might be a trick of the light or will o' the wisp is, Sam is certain, undoubtedly something monstrous and menacing here. A ghostly wing unfolds itself from Dean's back and Dean shivers, groans, and the wing draws back in. The shape of a claw falls across Dean's face as he raises his hand to wipe his mouth.
Garth calls Sam and leaves him a message. Sam doesn't respond. He waits for the voicemail to pop up, and hears the guy's tinny voice come over the line, all concerned but still downright goofy, telling him "Thanks for the tip on the Leviathans, Sam. Those slimeballs are nasty. I've told all the other hunters in my address book, so with any luck we should be able to wipe 'em all out in a few months, right? Tell Dean hi for me, he's not answering his phone, and give me a call if you guys need my help on this one. You know you can always talk to your buddy Garth."
He did grow on Sam. But the message barely makes an impression in these days. He's gone from haunting Chicago's pizzerias to hitting strange food stands, diners, and delis nation-wide, occasionally trying the stuff because it makes him think of Dean and the stupid stuff he used to - he would eat. He thinks maybe he can key in to that strange love of strange foods Dean and Death seem to bond over. But all he gets is some strange, unsatisfying lunches, a case of food poisoning, and an ill feeling of discontent. The food poisoning puts him off mayonnaise for life. He doesn't stop his food tour, though. It's like communion.
It's a stop in Richland, WA, where Sam is on his way to Snoqualmie, looking at Coast Salish stories of Moon the Transformer and spirit worlds and still praying to Death, that Sam finally sees him. There's a sharp-boned old man in a formal suit sitting behind Sam in the Spudnut Shop, with an air of concentration, a potato donut the object of his focus, and a cup of coffee at his elbow.
"Sir," Sam says, approaching Death head-on. Death placidly finishes his spudnut before making eye contact.
"I know what you want from me, Sam. Don't think I haven't noticed your pilgrimages."
"I'm not going to bind you," Sam rushes to say, because he wants to get off on a better foot this time.
"Good. You've learned one thing. You're subtler than Dean."
"Well then. I'll tell you what I told him: it's about souls."
"Yes," Death says, biting into another donut. He looks perhaps even more longsuffering than he normally does, as if he's having to teach Sam how to count to three and be polite at the same time. "Purgatory isn't for human souls. It isn't there to twist or tear them, or generate landscapes from their energy, like Hell or Heaven."
"It's for monsters."
"Exactly. I see you've got it figured out, then."
"But the eclipse – I need -"
"That was a very large door for a great many souls. Don't be foolish, Sam. And don't waste my time. You already know what you need to do."
And then Death is gone, and Sam's raisin bran potato-muffins are gone with him.
A month after Sam speaks to Death, Sam is retreading every musty book collection he can get his hands on, traveling across the US to universities and once-private collections. His library searches are supplemented by visits to local psychics. There are more of them concentrated here in the cities than in the outskirts, though his luck of finding a good one is certainly diluted. They put out ads here, whether they're any good or not, but at the end of the day whoever Sam manages to see sends him away full of half-truths and impossibilities, the kind of dark and strange stuff he was trying five years ago.
He's gone done this road before, but this time his phone is off, because there's no Bobby to leave messages that stir such great anger in him, Bobby who couldn't help, who can't, who he can't share this with. What he wouldn't give to have that needling guilt back, to take care of himself, that even if Bobby couldn't understand it doesn't mean he wouldn't help. Bobby's gone now and he has no one to bring this to.
Bobby never did and wouldn't understand the measures to which he's been driven. He'd expected better of the guy than to become a ghost, but Sam understands, and yet now he'd be still more ashamed for Bobby to see him: the dead-on-his-feet version of what he used to be, beside himself with desperate grief, the listless thing he's become. He used to be cold and ruthless, and now he's just a fucking sad old man going through pages he's read before but forgotten since he doesn't know when - did he read these yesterday? Was it back in 2007, when Dean was in Hell? Was it the months before that, hunting the Trickster, trying to bring Dean back from the dead?
He feels like he's walking in circles. Altered perceptions and tools to open portals. Equivalent exchange and transformative rite. Non-satanic witchcraft, medicine men, shamans, spirit journeys, astral projection, ecstatic states. He's treading water, reading books, afraid to dive in deep because he's been so close to losing his mind in the last year. What if he lost it again? He's got nothing to tether him here but the fear.
Castiel hands Dean a finger, and a second finger, and a third. To the vampire stalking them, he hands the rest of his hand. He takes off his shoe, and with it his foot, and throws it for a were-bear to chase, and then they run. A bird digs its claws into Castiel's shoulder and Castiel carves out a hunk of flesh for the bird to carry away.
Castiel spends most of his effort throwing himself bodily between Dean and the monsters, and when necessary, letting the beasts carry off pieces of him. He barely bleeds, but with every piece that disappears, he grows brighter, faintly glowing as his grace condenses to fit a diminished vessel.
Dean grows stronger as Castiel grows weaker. Dean growls, and Castiel is quiet. Dean stalks prey while Castiel watches out. They drift further and further, as Castiel becomes slighter and brighter, a skeleton in an overcoat.
One day Sam sees on the news that Sam Winchester has been found dead. His brother Dean is still on the lam. They don't even show a real picture, just Sam's mug shot from five years ago, and the fact that some poor sap out there looked enough like him to get himself killed should bring more sadness and guilt down on his head, but no, Sam feels relieved. It's like dawn fucking breaking, and it's a cold nearly-colorless dawn, and he's hung over from squinting at books and missing out on sleep and doing what drinking he can afford. But this exoneration from the public eye is like a weight lifting off his shoulders, one he'd been carrying so long he'd given up hope of it ever lifting.
He picks up his phone, which has been turned off for god knows how long. He doesn't remember. He ignores the missed calls, doesn't even look at them, but types in Jody Mills's name.
She picks up on the third ring.
"Sam?" she says.
"Jody." His voice is cracked with sleep and disuse.
"Sam, where are you? Are you okay?"
"Yeah. I'm okay." He clears his throat. He doesn't know what he called to say.
"Thank god. When you and Dean didn't... I almost thought. Well. You need my help?"
"Yeah, about that. About Dean. I'm - he's missing." It sounds like a lie, because what'd be more truthful is "he's probably dead." Sam's not gonna say that.
"Where are you?"
Sam hiccups a chuckle through his tight throat. "Mom voice, huh? I'm in Austin. You still have some boxes of Bobby's, right?"
Maybe someone had done him a favor, Sam thinks as he shaves his face for the first time in a couple months. Maybe it was Death, though pity or mercy didn't become him. Sam can recognize his face again. He looks younger without the beard, but there's nothing can be done about the lines around his eyes. A permanent tired from the week he spent as an insomniac in the mental ward.
When he sees Jody she hugs him, and he stiffly accepts it, as though his body wasn't expecting it and doesn't know how to respond.
"Oh Sam," she says. "Not again."
Sam is revisiting another 'last time' now. Now, he's with Jody, going through Bobby's books, and Bobby has died again, and Dean has been carried away again. To think that a God of Time was more accessible than Purgatory.
"This one's out of my league, Jody."
"That's what you said last time, and we got Dean back then."
"Time travel is one thing, but..."
Jody raises her eyebrows. "I'll let you explain whatever 'something else' is over takeout."
Dean walking through dark woods, reaching the edge of it and looking across a swamp clothed in impenetrable fog, the despair on his face tearing into Sam's heart.
Dean lying there with a beast's teeth in his heart, having lifted it clear of his body without tearing it away from the lungs and vessels, and he is still alive. For Sam it's like watching his brother be torn apart by Hellhounds all over again, but then the film goes in reverse, the creatures put him back together, placing his heart viciously back in his chest, its beating setting Dean gasping again. His blows, in reverse, look like he's pulling the monsters toward him.
Dean playing cards with an old friend - Gordon, who died a bloodsucker. Their smiles are equally toothsome but Dean's teeth are still bluntly human. Sam won't hold on to hope. Gordon could be winning the match.
Dean chasing some version of Sam that Sam can see isn't Sam, "I'm right here!" he shouts, but Dean doesn't turn to look at him, can't hear him. Looks over his shoulder once or twice and Sam tries to do something, pleads to let Dean notice him, but Dean just turns back, and Sam sees he's looking everywhere, always watching.
The not-Sam - in fact Sam can see it's clear now that it's not Sam, he's shifting between young twelve-year-old Sam and tall Sam around the time he left for Stanford, slowing down, letting Dean catch up to him. Now he's twenty-two-year-old Sam and tired, now he's hurt-looking thirty-year-old Sam with his long hair and his sleepless eyes. And then it runs Sam's years down again.
"We'll get someplace safe," Dean says, and ten-year old Sammy takes his hand, and turns back to smirk at invisible Sam. Its eyes flash red. Sam can't make a sound. "Don't be afraid, Sammy. It's gonna be okay."
"Dean, I feel tired. I'm tired of walking. Can I ride on your back?"
Dean is exhausted but five-year-old Sammy isn't too heavy to heft up and walk a while with, and just before Sam wakes up, he sees the child-monster cling to Dean's neck with his arms, and fasten its mouth to the back of Dean's neck.
Sam is driven back to their own journals. They're the only ones who've talked to Death about this soul business, as far as he knows; he also knows he wasn't around for the half Dean and Bobby and Death conducted in secret to re-soul him. So it's not enough to read through his own journal, or Dad's, or even most of Dean's and Bobby's. They were all so focused on demonic possession, obsessed with the revenge that drove them into hunting life, and the last few years every minute was spent researching the apocalypse, Heaven and Hell – their work on Purgatory was barely begun.
All Death had to tell him was that it had to do with souls. Sam had tried hard not to snap at him about how that was nothing new or helpful at all; usually a healthy fear of death prevented that sort of thing but Sam without Dean was far less afraid of being dead. Death is a penetrable barrier. Death is peace, and if Sam is to believe his suspicions, his dreams, and what Death has heavily implied, Dean is in Purgatory and has no peace at all. Sam must turn his attentions away from Heaven and Hell. He and Dean have spent too long learning to think like demons and undermine angels, he thinks, and shudders. If Sam is going to get into Purgatory, he's going to have to go through older things – through monsters.
Samuel Campbell's inheritance of old hunters' journals has provided a lot of educational reading on monsters, but is utterly ignorant of Purgatory. Sam feels like he is trying to rebuild a strange new engine, and has most of the parts, but no plan to tell him how they fit and worked together, or any idea of what he is still missing.
In the end Sam spends a night with a bottle of whiskey throwing papers and books around in a tantrum. When he sobers up, despite the headache he can still think: there's no way around his suspicion, that if Purgatory is for the souls of monsters, then to get there he must become monstrous.
Sam doesn't have any illusions about trying to sneak into the Alpha's mansion. They don't exactly have a detente, but Sam hasn't happened to kill any vampires since they last came here, and he figures it has to help his case. Hopefully they can all be mutually grateful enough after they helped each other fight the Leviathans, enough at least. He walks up to the front door and knocks.
They take him to the Alpha, and at this point Dean would be turning around to smirk smugly at Sam while Sam urged him to keep quiet, but Dean's not here, so Sam allows himself a tiny smirk. It doesn't feel right.
When the alpha lets him speak, he says, "I want to get in to Purgatory. Do you know anything about that?"
"Why on earth would I tell you? The last time you and your friends opened Purgatory, you made this world even more unsafe for me and my children."
"I don't want to open it, I want to go there."
The Alpha glares. "That's not how doors work. Things get in, things get out. You cannot ask me to help you and I hope that you never get in."
"My brother's there, I'm not going to stand by and -"
"Of course." The Alpha sneers at him, if a sneer could be so elegant and composed. "Your selfish love. I have no time for this. Haven't I and my children been tortured and murdered enough? For this inaccessible and unruly piece of territory?"
"But you're curious too. What it's like, with the Leviathans gone. And your monster souls. I just want information. I want a look at your library, that is all."
The Alpha is silent for a while, and Sam waits, tense, restrained by the vampires at his side. Finally the Alpha rolls his shoulders in a regal shrug, and with a small gesture from his hand, the vampires are pulling Sam away.
"Stop! My brother is dying down there!" Sam shouts. It echoes, and the alpha vampire smiles in a way that is not laughing or sympathetic, just cold, regal, old.
"Stop," he says quietly, and Sam is pushed forward toward the long table again. "'Dying' is a strange word for it, Sam. Can you die in the afterlife? He is on the other side of death, after all. No, I do not think he's dying. Suffering, however." Sam feels hot with frustration and rage but he can't lose it again, not here, not now. "I am not your ally, Sam Winchester. But your enemy is my enemy."
"Yes. If you kill no more of my children – and I will know – if you provide us a way of slaughtering our more menacing cousins, I will grant you access."
"To my library. My," the Alpha chuckles, as if he's just made a joke. "You are quite distracted, aren't you? Please, make good use of your time."
Sam thinks of the imminent danger he is in, of being killed, fed on, or turned. He suddenly remembers Gordon and how he went on killing both vampires and humans when he was turned. These vampires are dangerous to Sam, and Sam has been dangerous to them his whole life, and here he is in their den. He shouldn't be trusting them. They could kill him any second; why give him knowledge, resources, power, and make it a harder fight?
"A week, and then let me leave." He tries to cover his nerves with determination in his voice.
The corners of the Alpha's mouth curl up. "Yes, then we let you leave, with your vow. In the meantime you may only leave if accompanied by one of my children."
Sam is fine with that. He has his phone. If something happens, he can... call Jody and tell her he won't make it, or gurgle into the phone as he dies.
The Alpha blinks slow, nods barely. He looks thoughtful.
Sam finds the wildest things in there, about the delicacy of man, the vitality of his blood, and a fascinating taxonomy of monsters done by the vampires. There are many he's not heard of, but nothing explicit about Purgatory. He takes notes as pure research, despairing of concocting a real-world solution, and when his time is up he hasn't come up with any new plans; he has only mentally developed what seemed to be the most obvious solution.
He leaves in the afternoon, stomach rumbling but mind clear, a singular insane purpose in his mind. The vampire who escorts him to the door has gelled hair and a popped collar on his leather jacket like - Dean's. He snarls under his breath, and Sam gives him Dean's biggest "Bite me" smirk.
Sam's confident in the Alpha's protection here, but as soon as the week is up, he knows he's fair game as he was before.
Sam makes himself very easy to follow as he drives down to find a roadside restaurant, gets himself a big juicy steak dinner, and then heads down country roads into the surrounding ranch country, into the night. When he stops, it's at what seems to be an abandoned-fallen in barn. He looks around himself, already has his machete concealed beneath his coat.
He needs another hunter on this one. He needs someone he can trust, someone like Dean, someone like who he was for Dean when Dean got turned (without keeping the cure a secret, of course, manipulative soulless thing that he was). But he doesn't have one, and that's why he's resorting to measures like these.
Sam ducks behind a corner and stills his breath. When he sees the moonlight gleam blue off a dark head of hair, he recognizes the cocky swagger of the vamp he baited earlier that day. The vamp They both know there isn't another coven around here, that neither of them has backup, and they're close but not too close to the Alpha mansion - just far enough for this to look like a regular hunter-versus-vampire incident. Sam knew he was treading a fine line here and he was fucking exploiting it. He'd scoped out the area. He knew what he was working with.
Sam has the guy knocked out and tied to a chair without too much of a struggle.
"Came alone, huh?" Sam asks. "I know you're not far from your father, but you shouldn't be so cocky."
"What are you gonna do? Shoulda killed me already."
"Not yet. First, show me those fangs." Sam cuts his arm and lets the blood drip till the teeth come out. He grabs the vamp's jaw, and with a pair of needle-nose pliers, wrenches one out. The vamp screams.
"No, I'm not torturing you for fun. I have a plan." Sam takes his knife, draws it across the vamp's forearm. He can't put the blood on his mouth, he just can't, so he moves to cut his own forearm.
"What the hell?" the vampire says, but before Sam can go through with it, someone knocks him down and kicks the knife out of his hands.
'What the hell do you think you're doing?" Jody yells.
"What are you doing here? You weren't supposed to-"
"Know? That you were going to go through with this crazy turn-yourself-into-a-monster plan?" Jody is incredulous, yelling and distraught. "You didn't call me when you said you would in a week, and I got paranoid – smart, really – and turned on your GPS. You think your brother and Bobby are the only assholes who can do that, well, I'm a sheriff and I know how to find people I care about. Or fucking idiots. Comes with the job."
The vamp is snarling and lurching against his restraints. Jody flinches and jumps back when she sees the teeth. "You're gonna turn yourself into that, Sam?"
"That was the plan, yeah. I have a cure, Jody."
"The hell you do, what makes you think anything was going to go according to plan? Far as you know you were gonna get killed by this guy before you vamped out at all, or you were going to run away and eat some poor bastard."
Sam flinches. Jody's eyes widen. "If I'd been even a second later – oh, you…"
"Yeah," Sam grunts, getting up and reaching for his knife. That plan's out. He'd hoped for a few seconds that she'd see his reasoning, that she'd leave and let him do what he had to do. But she's got too much hope. The wind's out of his sails.
"You're not going monster, Sam. What would Dean say? Did you think about that? Did you really think you could be with him again, like this? I know you boys love each other but you can't turn yourself into something you hunt. You gotta find something else."
"Don't you think I've tried?!" Jody flinches and moves back, and Sam realizes he's towering over her, yelling and in her face. He winces and swallows and tries to breathe evenly. "I'm sorry," he says, and runs a shaking his hand through his hair.
He turns to the vamp still tied to the chair, its fangs out. "I'm going to leave you here," Sam says to him very clearly. "I'm not going to kill you, so your alpha doesn't have any reason to send his people after me. You let him know, I'm still working on the plan, huh?"
"C'mon," he says to Jody, who's staring at the young-looking denim-clad rockabilly guy like he's going to pop Leviathan teeth or something equally disturbing next.
They get to their cars. Jody's Jeep is parked by the Impala.
Sam sighs. "Jody, you don't even know how many times he and I have been over this kind of thing. I know what he would or wouldn't want, and I've always decided that if Dean's dead or dying or…" In Hell, he wants to say, but he doesn't really know if that's his to share with her, or how much he wants her to know about the places he's been with Dean. "The point is, I know how to reverse it."
"Yeah, well you sure as hell didn't look like you had a handle on it back there. I want to trust you, Sam. Bobby had faith in you boys, and you're grown damn men, but without each other…" She shrugs, looking sad. "You're lost."
Sam shakes his head but doesn't contradict her. He's felt plenty lost, and wouldn't mind her going on thinking that. It's better than scary. He still remembers killing the Trickster in Bobby's form, probably desperate and blinkered enough to have made a mistake; he sometimes figures that for all the bad luck he and Dean have had there are plenty of things he's done where it could've gone a whole lot worse. He's still got some kind of luck, at least.
Sam looks up. "You look pretty freaked out," he says, soft-voiced. "Were those in your supernatural-creatures primer? I assume Bobby filled you in on the things we hunt."
"Not particularly," Jody says wryly. "Here and there. Never seen one of those before, is all."
"Yep." Sam goes to put his machete away in the Impala's trunk. "You chop their heads off to kill them."
"I didn't ask, but you knew I was going to."
"Useful information," Sam mumbles. He's tired and there's no purpose in him. Jody sees it.
"Can I read your notes?"
Sam shakes his head. "There's a lot of shorthand." And tragic unmanful letters to his brother, telling Dean all the anger and grief and love he can't manage to communicate across the walls of the worlds.
"I won't ask, then." She reaches for the radio and he lets her, and they listen to the kind of music Dean would never listen to, and this is what Sam needs right now.
Like the rugaru metamorphosis but never fully changed, shifters are bloody, fatty, mucusoidal creatures wandering the barren landscape like nausea personified. When Dean finds them, or when they find him, they breathe sighs of relief, happy to hold the form of something so unchanging, so vivid and firm-fleshed, something less impossible, chaotic and monstrous than them and the world around them. From above in his dream Sam watches them change - into Dean, of course, and then Dean has to machete them dead, hacking at them till they don't move, just twitch there on the ground, still wearing his face.
These dreams, these visions of Purgatory are filled with improbable horror but nothing truly far from life as a hunter. They feel, dare he say, more real.
As Dean goes over the next hill and Sam tries to follow, strange invisible eyeball that he is, one of the mowed-down shifters twitches, shifts, rights its broken neck. They start putting themselves back together after a while. Dean's all out of silver bullets.
Dean finds Castiel once, a Castiel with eyes that glint yellow in the fire, a Castiel wrapped in his overcoat and covered in mud, walking a little too comfortably for an angel in Purgatory.
Dean grabs Cas's shoulders and slams him back against a tree, holding a knife to his throat before he can say a thing. "Where is he?" Dean growls and shakes the thing by its lapels. Somewhere, Cas has got to be out there without his coat.
"I'm right here, Dean," the shifter says all-too innocently. Its flesh is sagging off its face, not a quarter inch off, exposing the red at the edge of his eyelids, his nostrils, the corners of his mouth.
"You sick fuck, he's still alive, isn't he? You have to preserve the mental link, right? Where is he?" And then the thing cracks a grin and laughs, a full belly laugh that trails into a whining chuckle.
Dean guts the thing right there.
Sam wakes up with a headache on Jody's couch in the mid-afternoon. She's at the table with a stack of toast, coffee, police scanner and newspaper. He groans involuntarily at the bright light coming through the windows.
"So tell me about your plan."
"I don't have –"
"The one to turn yourself into a monster. What were you thinking?"
Sam touches his forehead and closes his eyes. "Can I get some aspirin first?"
He fishes it out of his bag, swallows a couple dry, and Jody goes into the kitchen.
He hears her come back and say "Sorry I jumped on you," and she presses a mug of coffee into his hands. "I just... Sam, you went AWOL, and then you went AWOL again, and I just... If you're not gonna take care of yourself you don't have any hope of getting Dean back."
"'S okay." Sam drinks from it. When he opens his eyes, Jody's still looking at him expectantly, so he talks. "You got a lot of faith in me."
"After that stunt you pulled, I've got faith in us. We got Dean back before, together, remember?"
"Right." Sam sighs. He's still pessimistic. "Jody, only monsters can get into Purgatory. Without all the crap we've done before, which involves all kinds of arcane blood ritual and dangerous stuff that we just don't have the resources for now - it's just me, me and you I guess, you know?" He looks down at his coffee and she sighs.
"So let me get this straight. You want to get into the monster afterlife, so you turn yourself into a monster, and... die?"
"I –" Sam was quiet. "I was trying to get turned into the kind of monster that could be reversed."
"Not going to get reversed if you're dead."
Sam can't actually say now that being dead isn't a big deal, because she isn't a Winchester. Death is just another obstacle to him and Dean, surmountable by destiny, love, and fate. Meanwhile, none of those things have brought Jody's husband and son back to, these years later. It doesn't even make sense for Sam to think it's possible to get Dean back from whatever impossible realm he's in, Purgatory or Hell or some other, further unknown. It was never easy or simple in the past. It always came at a cost. What's dead should stay dead. What's a monster will always be a monster.
Just guessing that it'll be all right once you get to Purgatory and find Dean, that's not a plan, you idiot, he thinks to himself. That's faith that Dean can get you out of anything when you have no reason to believe that. That's a disregard for what happens after you're together, alone in a world surrounded by monsters. That's stupid.
Sam clears his throat. "It was going to be like, like a medically-induced coma. Dean got a guy to do it to him when he was, uh. Getting my soul back. And I had a plan to reverse the vampire thing, I've done it before." He's eyeing the toast.
Jody slides it over to him. "And now that I've ruined your vampire plan, what else?"
Sam tells her about monsters that start as people, the things you can turn into. How werewolves can't be cured, he knows that from experience, how there are other things, like cannibal wendigos and their ages-long transformation, how succubi and incubi are more cyphers and types but a strange thing between monsters and demons.
"What about magic? Is that a thing?"
Sam smiles. "Yeah, magic is a thing. It might work somehow? I have no idea, Jody, I have a week's worth of notes but nothing stood out - there's still so much lore, and half of it is fake, and the other half is garbled..." he puts his head in his hands. "I could read my whole life and never find anything." Tears sting his eyes and he keeps his head down, stares at his mug of coffee.
"Sam," Jody says, in her soft Midwestern drawl. "You look at your notes and I'll make us some more coffee. And then you can take a shower and do your laundry, because you reek."
Sam spends the next days driving halfway across the continental US with boxes and boxes of books in the Impala's back seat. He's headed for Lily Dale, New York, the one where he and Dean ganked a killer ghost and Sam had to shoot the guy working the black magic. Jody, who leads in her Jeep, insists on coming with for a day, as she's going on to see an old friend a few hours further East. Sheriff Sharpe just happened to show up in Bobby's hunter address book, and Jody says she plans to find her, catch up, and see what they can do about the Leviathan thing.
"Like a working vacation," Sam says.
"Damn straight. I put in my time and splashed my deputy with cleaning solution before I left." Her mouth quirks, and it makes Sam's forehead unfurrow a little.
They drive together to Melanie Golden's door in the mid-afternoon.
"A-agent," she says, looking surprised to see Jody at Sam's side.
"Not an Agent today." Sam gives a small smile. "It's Sam. This is my friend Jody."
"Work friend?" Melanie says, and Jody smiles, shakes her hand. "You look off-duty. Please tell me you and Dean aren't after another killer ghost in town."
"No. And Dean's not here."
"Oh." She looks disappointed and Sam feels a small spark of petty anger – of all the people in the world you think you miss him because you liked him for a very short time, because he saved you and you think he's a hero, that you had some sort of connection.
"I'm trying to find him, actually. But I need a few things, so, if you could do me a favor, could you tell me what happened to our psychic killer's magical hock shop?"
"Jimmy Tomorrow? The emporium went to the town museum, then auction, I think."
"Thanks." They stare at each other. "Um, I hope you're doing, I hope you're doing okay," Sam stammers, trying to be polite.
"Yeah. The circuit's good. I'm, uh, dating. I mean. Do you two to come in and sit?"
"Thanks," Jody says, and Sam interrupts her quick. "We've got to get going. You have any hotel recommendations, though?"
"There's a motel across the bridge to the west, you may have passed it." Sam nods. "Good place, decent rates. Tell them you're a family friend."
"Thanks, Melanie," Jody says.
"Sorry, in a rush," Sam says.
"I'll say. Well, I'll get us a room, you go check out the museum." Jody isn't mad. Sam's very grateful for her patience with his deteriorated people skills. He says so, and Jody just smiles. "I'm getting us a swanky room and it's going on your card, Sam. They don't pay me enough as a sheriff."
Sam doesn't want to tell her his card's not very legal. She's earned the vacation.
The museum guide recognizes him there too. "You sure have a memory for faces," Sam says. "Considering you see hundreds of new ones every month."
"Yes, well, it's a bit of a gift."
Sam raises his eyebrows. "Like a gift-gift?" The guide smiles. "No, don't indulge me," Sam says. "I know how this town is."
"A modest one. But you're here about the artifacts." As Sam had said when he first arrived to the museum. "Well, I can stay after hours and let you look them over - supervision's a legal necessity, you understand. But you should also know that his collection of books, some of them very interesting, personal things – those went to our senior-most bookstore and informal town archivist, Henrietta Winthrop. Excuse me, Hattie."
"What's her store's name?" Sam puts it in his phone.
"It's a stunning collection," the curator says, flipping through the catalog of items he'd brought out for Sam. "Jimmy Tomorrow was a great businessman, if an unpleasant person."
"That great businessman's secret was grave-robbery."
That provokes a shocked look from the curator, but he shakes his head and twists his mouth. "Disgusting. I suppose a desperate man takes desperate measures."
"Yes," Sam says, frowning at a pendant through the display glass. "They do."
Sam is pessimistic about what he'll find. But this is the only trove of magical objects he could think of, a place where he has an in on the good side of town, and he's got a lot of reading under his belt but very little substantiated. There's nothing in the same class as the Alpha vampire's collection, which Sam covets - he could spend a lifetime in there - but of course going back isn't worth the danger.
When he gets back to the motel, Jody's ordered motel room service and is watching a movie on TV.
"Talked to Rachel. She's back home in Horseheads tomorrow so I'll get going in the morning. We're tracking some possible Leviathan situations. I'll call it a working vacation."
"I don't know how you can do it, Jody." Sam pages through the room service menu. He wants soup and salad and maybe a sandwich.
"Yeah, well, you're one to talk."
It's a romantic comedy playing, and Jody's frowning at the kissing couple, like this is the best thing she could find and it's still pretty awful. They've both lost their whole families at this point, yet Sam sees Jody go on, wonders if she's falling apart as bad as he is. If she ever felt like quitting her job like he's let hunting fall by the wayside.
After Sam eats and they watch another movie, Bond as played by Pierce Brosnan, one of those, they turn in. When Sam turns the light out, Jodie says "Hey, Sam, if anyone can get him out, you can."
"Thanks. Night." Sam doesn't have the heart to say he finds that discouraging. He's mentally and emotionally unsound. Part of him thinks that he would desperately want to give up and do what Dean would want for him: settle down, take a rest, you've earned a normal life.
Every time this happens, the older Sam gets, the more aware he is that he is only one man. His illnesses of the flesh and of the mind have worn him down to this: ragged tender fingernails, loose and quaking knees, a bum shoulder. And a psychological dependence on a brother who's vanished into thin air.
Not all monsters are contagious. Many can't turn you into one of them, are just born the way they are, were never human or never wholly human. Most monsters just kill you. But if Hell is a refinery for the scummiest of mankind, Purgatory isn't about that burning malice.
It's about hunger.
Dean walks through the dense thicket of trees that are the immense teeth in the immense maw of monsterdom. Everything around him is hungering for a bite.
Having spent a biblical forty years in Hell, he felt dead inside; but this place has awakened his appetite. It makes him animal. This is eat or be eaten, so what does it mean to be good? What is it to be bad?
He remembers, improbably, way back when in Colorado hunting the wendigo with Sam. The desperation to live and the thirst for superhuman power, they're not the same urge, and yet they turned those people into cannibals, monsters. Maybe one of these sons of bitches in the forests and the swamps was just waiting for him to snap and take a bite, not the other way around. Like being fed vampire blood, feeding that urge within.
He realizes,suddenly, that he's slogging through mud that has crept up to his knees, and from there is seeping up his thighs. The mud is warm and it moves like an animal. It's something living.
The monster swallows Dean and makes it part of him. The flesh creeps over his flesh, melding around his limbs. It's like being swallowed by a membrane, an amoeba like a slime pit. Dean doesn't scream - he shouts, as if shouting to someone for help, and where's Cas now? How long has it been?
As the membrane creeps up towards Dean's head he closes his mouth like a trap, biting his lips tight shut until they start to bleed on the inside.
The skin envelops him slower and slower like molasses as it seeps over his head. He's got to get his knife, or lighter, or something, before it swallows him whole -
Sam wakes up, drenched in sweat. It's a long moment before he really comes to, remembers that he's Sam Winchester and not his brother, not being swallowed by tar. He fumbles for the light and takes in the warm-toned motel wallpaper, Jody's undisturbed breathing. It's morning. He washes his face, scrubbing away the memory of the black goo around his mouth till his skin's nearly raw.
On Jody's way out of town, Sam buys her coffee at a cafe across the street from Hattie Winthrop's bookstore.
"Thanks," Jody says. "I left a water bottle of borax in your car. Study safe."
Sam smiles and accepts the hug she offers. "Drive safe."
He leaves her to finish her coffee there and walks across the street. It's well disguised as an archive, covered in schmaltzy new age occult-lite gear like every store front, but with more self-help, how-to, and astrological guide books.
He sighs, and goes in to talk to the woman at the counter.
Sam's nearly comfortable in public now. He hasn't been stalked or recognized for a long time now, and until Jody had mentioned Leviathans he'd nearly forgotten them, since he wasn't exactly looking for them. They didn't seem to be looking for him anymore either. He's spent months underground anyway, in enough backways and under the radar, out of the real hunting life for so long. So it's a surprise when, before he can reach the counter, a sharp-eyed young woman, one of these tourist types wearing a ton of pentagram necklaces, steps in front of him and says, "Hey, do I know you?"
"No, I'm sure not," Sam begins, because being recognized is not on his agenda, especially in a town where he had to kill a man the last time he was here.
"No, wait, let me think." She shifts her books on her hip - "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Astrology" - and Sam's backing away towards the exit. If she remembers the police reports from not even a year ago, the America's Most Wanted posters, Sam'll be in a lot of trouble, and he needs this town.
But then she smiles big, and says, "Of course! Mr. Smith." Then her head rears back and opens into a snarling maw of needle-like teeth.
Sam shouts. He's not walking around with a machete, but he's got Jody's bottle of borax in his pocket, and he opens it and sloshes it at the advancing monster.
It hits the Leviathan's face and smokes, and she hisses and howls and stumbles back. The woman at the register screams, and the Leviathan rights its balance and stalks closer. "Ooh, getting stiff, Winchester."
Sam's backing towards the door as fast as he can and shouting for Jody, who, shit, is probably gone.
It's only backed up all the way to the door that it opens and Sam ducks to the side. Jody comes through, two machetes in hand, splashes more borax on the creature and Sam machetes its legs out from under it.
"Left my coat in your car. Lucky break," Jody says.
"I'll say. Thanks. For saving me again," Sam pants.
Meanwhile, the Leviathan on the floor is trying to upright itself without legs below the knee. "Not gonna kill me?" the Leviathan on the floor asks. Her knees are slowly crawling across the floor to reattach themselves.
"I've got questions," Sam says. "About Purgatory."
"I'd rather be eaten than help you or go back," the Leviathan spits, and then proceeds to eat herself. Sam hears Jody gasp behind him, and the lady behind the register screams again.
Sam goes to her.
"Ma'am, I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to ask you not to call the police."
"Just - explain this." She's breathing hard but holding it together pretty well for a middle aged new age bookstore owner.
"It's a monster, and I'm going to need some borax-based cleaner, if you have any."
Sam had walked into the bookstore intending to bribe Hattie with devil's traps and salt lines for some quality time with her personal library, but after the Leviathan attack, well. He barely had to ask after they scrubbed down the store - "It's the least I can do for you after fighting off that monster," she says.
He sets down protection anyway, not as a bribe now but a goodwill gift and a measure of self-preservation. When he tells her he's looking for his brother, and gives her Melanie's number as a character reference, she insists he make himself at home while she puts on tea and calls Melanie.
While she makes herself tea (instant coffee for Sam), Sam scopes the place, planning devils traps, tapes lines of salt down by the windows, thinks of what magical burglar alarms he's encountered. Hattie finds him with his nose in a very old-looking book, and says, "You can borrow that one, if you want. Heck, you can pick a few out. I owe you."
"Are you sure? I just... I came about your archives, actually. The, uh, really occult stuff."
"Yeah, I trust you." She smiles wryly. "I don't know if anything here will be useful to you, but at least you can use the desk in back, it's quiet there. Go ahead, make yourself comfortable."
"You think you could help me find something?"
"Yeah, what is you're looking for?"
Sam describes for her his quest to find his brother through a place where the veil between worlds is thin.
As she roams around and plucks books off the shelves, Hattie tells him, "You're casting a pretty wide net. Are we talking days on a holy calendar? In a cemetery in the Midwest or in Ireland or South America? There are a billion different times of day that crossing over happens depending on whose rules you're reading."
Sam's impressed, she's not just talking serious business, she's talking scholarly stuff. "I know it sounds sloppy, but can you combine rules?"
"Across cultures? I wouldn't normally say yes." She pauses. "But I bet you're going to try anyway."
Sam goes back to the motel after collecting tons of books, paging through the relevant sections, seeing which he could take seriously. The room is empty since Jody's really gone now, and it feels lonely once more, but at least he's got hope again.
After he showers he collapses on his bed and sleeps the whole night, before he can even crack a book.
They're having the conversation by the lake again. Sam knows this conversation so well. Sam's lived with this conversation held closer to his chest like the enemies you hold closer than friends, like the worse things Sam holds closer than the monster at the end of his knife, close like your brother telling you he might have to kill you.
Sam's come a long way from being saved, an even longer way from thinking he could be saved, that it was a possibility. Being saved isn't going to happen. Besides, he's not the one who has to be saved, not anymore.
Dean's telling him, urgently, sadly, desperately, as if they are running out of time, as if one of them is turning into the monster at this very second: "They said if you couldn't save me –"
"What?" says Sam, who suddenly realizes that the lake is dark and the tree they are under has shed its leaves long ago.
"- to save me, Sammy, I'd have to kill you."
Sam shakes his head. It sounds garbled. It doesn't go like this. "That doesn't make any sense."
"I know that! Don't you think I know that? I never said I'd kill you, but I don't know, Sam, I don't know what they meant would happen."
"They? Who's they?"
Dean waves his hand around, and Sam looks, and as Dean's hand sweeps the lake, many pairs of glowing red eyes pop out, then fade back into the mist.
"You're listening to monsters now?" Sam's got his arms out, defensive, but he doesn't want to fight. He doesn't.
"They're the only ones here to listen to."
Dean doesn't sound reproachful. Sam expects him to disapprove, to look angry, accusing, betrayed, everything he should look for Sam to have brought him here, to this place where Dean's at the mercy of monsters.
"Should have killed me," Sam says. "Then you wouldn't be here. Then you'd be safe."
"Don't be stupid," Dean says. His voice sounds choked. "C'mere, Sammy."
Sam can't say no. Dean doesn't look judgmental. He looks sad. The kind of sad that's shattering, that make Sam want to hold him close till Dean stops struggling against it, makes Sam want to wrap his arms around Dean and pretend they're kids again, maybe some other kids who weren't so afraid all the time. He can hug Dean now, because this is a deadly situation, so it's allowed in their narrow Winchester rules of physical affection.
"It hurts, Dean," Sam says. "And I'm confused. My melon's pretty sloshed, especially without you around." It sounds stupid but it's frank and true because that's how dreams can work.
"I'm sorry, Sammy." Dean steps closer, hands at his sides.
"You gonna hold my face now? Ask me if I'm hurt, if I'm okay?"
Dean sets his foot down like lead halfway through a step, nearly stumbles into Sam. Sam sees him drop the knife.
"Knew you'd have to." Sam reaches down to pick it up. Dean makes an incoherent noise, kicks out, knocks Sam's hand away and the knife goes skittering.
"Knew I couldn't." Dean breathes hard and grabs Sam's arms, hauls him up like climbing up Sam's body with his hands, righting him. "It was either this or," he reaches to grasp Sam's face.
"I'm not hurt," Sam says automatically. He can feel Dean's clammy hands warming against his cheeks, Dean's fingers going up into his hair, Dean's thumbs calloused under his eyes and on his cheekbones.
"It's gonna be okay," Dean grunts. Sam's waiting. Dean's talking to himself. "Sam, I swear to you, I won't kill you if there's another way - I'm sorry, Sam, but this place - I "
Dean puts his mouth on Sam's and it's like an electric shock.
Dean's mouth is open already, his teeth rough and pulling at Sam's lip. It's not violent but it's hungry, like Dean hasn't eaten in years, like he's confused kissing with biting, speaking with taking, loving with devouring. Dean quakes as though he's barely restraining himself, firm in the only way he knows how to be gentle. His hands burn hot on Sam's face and push up into Sam's hair, setting Sam's scalp on end, buzzing and crawling. One of Dean's hands slips behind to cup Sam's head, the other lets go to grip Sam's bicep, his shoulder, holding on to grab at the muscles trapezoiding to his neck. Holding him hard, holding him there, grasping and squeezing.
Sam isn't surprised, because this is a dream and nothing surprises, everything flows. But he didn't see this coming, and he feels himself waiting to react. To choose one path or another. Dean doesn't wait, though. He pulls away and reaches down to grab Sam's shirt, pulls it over his head, touches Sam's skin hot and direct and Sam feels a jolt of that heat go straight down through his belly right to his dick.
Dean's hands are like a brand on his flesh, thoroughly new, galvanizing. Sam stares at him, and Dean looks up to stare back. He looks spooked. He looks like he's not done.
But he pauses, and he can't, that's not what Sam wants, so Sam's the one to grab Dean's face this time and kiss him. He kisses Dean back, presses up against him full-body, feeling finally a warmth, real and human between them, spreading through his chest and stomach and pulsing into his cock, trapped there. In one smooth move, nearly thoughtless but so aware, he pushes it against Dean's stomach.
"The fuck," Dean says. His pupils are blown huge, wide, black.
"C'mon," Sam says, nose under his brother's ear. "I miss you, Dean." Sam looks Dean in the eye again, and Dean looks just as fucked-up and scared as before but he licks his lips. He's determined too, and determined is the important thing, the thing that can't be stopped.
Dean stops saying anything, just Sam's name, low grunts of affirmation. Gravelly at first, coaxing when he's got his hand down Sam's open jeans and is pulling him off, looking at Sam, who opens and closes his eyes, barely able to focus on Dean here, on the good, good feeling, too much to process at the same time. It goes lightning fast to Sam, who's gone from zero to hard in two kisses flat, and now his big brother is softly earnestly begging him, "Come on, Sammy, that's it, let it go," and fuck, he can't let Dean down, can't let him go, not after all this time. He bites his lip and stares down at Dean's hand around his cock, firm, moving slower than he's used to but harder too, and he comes like a wave breaking over him.
Then Sam's got a hand on Dean's shoulder and he pushes them both down to the ground, which isn't hard and doesn't hurt, and Sam puts his hands all over Dean's chest and looks at his face till Dean can't look back, and thrusts his leaking, wet cock against Dean's hard-as-rock one. He reaches down between them. Dean's groaning louder and gritting his teeth and making this face, like he can't stand to look at Sam, which Sam hates but he understands, so he says "Dean" over and over with each pull of his hand. Dean comes all over his stomach and Sam is hovering so close above that he gets it on his stomach too, and he collapses down to squish it wet between them, but their come is already cold, and as soon as Dean opens his eyes he starts vanishing under Sam.
"'s not enough," Dean says as he goes transparent.
"Not enough? Dean!" Sam can't pin him down anymore no matter how hard he tries, and adrenaline panic floods his veins, misery fills his throat. It's not enough.
Sam wakes up wrapped in clammy slimy sheets having bitten his bottom lip sore. He's half-hard and still feeling it, clearly having come once and well on his way to a second time. While dreaming of Dean. Having sex with Dean.
A full-body shudder goes through him, and he reaches for his phone, for the light switch, anything to jolt him back to reality. It's not that he – it would be different if – if he had dreamt that Dean pursued him, touched him hard and pushed him down, or even if he had dreamt that Dean had lain down and pulled Sam down with him, it would be different. If Sam had felt violated and horrified in the dream, he would feel worse now; if he had been even confused and uncertain he could chalk it up to a bizarre obsessed nightmare. Instead hot confusion curled in his gut and he longed, longed to fall asleep and go back, to see and be with Dean. Fuck. It was hot and life-affirming and as comforting a dream as he could hope for- but not real. Not enough.
He takes a cool shower, but it's not worth it. He turns it up to hot and touches himself, his thighs, thinking of Dean's hand on his belly, grasping for a memory or imagined feeling of Dean's lips on his. He relishes the dream, even the nauseous twist in his gut, for the heat of desire that curls in him still.
Sam finds it in the thirty-third book that he goes through in the bookstore. It's something as simple as human transformation in North American tribal religions. He's on the part about skinwalkers, not the dog-men he's met but the Navajo shamans. The ones who were masters, not victims, of this sort of magic.
The skinwalker dons the trappings of the animal in an act of acquisitive contagion; he rebukes his human family not just by murder but a taboo murder, fratricide. Transgression is necessary for this lone, magical act to transform him.
Sam shudders but the words grip him.
Can Durkheim reconcile the differences for us? Both the wendigo of the Minnesota lake region and shamanic skinwalkers of the southwest operate on a principle of transgression. While Durkheim insists the distinction between magical and religious prohibition is necessary, in the same breath he admits "magic prohibitions can be understood … only in relation to religious ones." Are we to distinguish prohibitions, or (as I suspect) must we examine the nature of breaking the taboo to understand whether its enforcement is magical or religious?
The skinwalker's violation of the family member and transformation sets it apart from the church of believers, indicating a foray into the extra-moral domain of magic. 'In magic, there is no such thing as sin,' Durkheim writes; 'as we know, magic thrives on profanation.' Yet the dreadful consequences of the cannibalistic wendigo result in a transformation. To the man who eats his kin, desperate to survive, this transformation seems to be a magical and miraculous effect of immortality and superadded power. Yet the wendigo is an evil creature, a moral condemnation of the hunger that drove him and still drives him to violate this taboo. But what is the case of the skinwalker? Seperateness and transformation are neutral, abstractions - either can be sacred or profane. How can we say what is moral punishment, and what is the bestowing of power? Does not magic escape sin? Does not every profanation result in a dreadful consecration?
Sam's understanding unfolds slowly before him. He's drunk blood before to increase his strength, literally lain with demons for power over them. He hated what it made him - closer to them. Years later and after doing more than a lifetime's penance in Hell, all it takes is the moral relativism of a little-published anthropologist to draw him back in?
The meat of it is this: that in many places he's read, skinwalkers must murder a member of their family to induce the final level of their powers. Yet in a book in the Alpha vampire's library had instead incest. Sam thought nothing of it only to write it down, but merely for his taxonomy of monsters - he didn't think there could be - he hadn't known. He hadn't put two and two, two and two and two together.
He only dreamed it last night.
"I found something," Sam tells Jody. She's still in Horseheads. He feels more secure having her close, but not too close. There are things she doesn't have to know.
"Something that doesn't involve you turning yourself into a monster?"
"Something that would keep me human. It's magic. Like, old Native American magic."
"Give it to me straight, Sam."
Sam scratches his nose. "A little skinwalker magic, dreamwalking, mixed with a little wendigo-theory, a tracking spell, and a summoning spell to bring me back out."
"I didn't understand half of that, Sam."
"Um. Principles of contagion based on cannibal monsters and fratricide-magic." Not to mention
the incest triangulation.
She hisses her breath out between her teeth. "You sure about that one, Sam?"
"Like I said, it's theory."
Jody's response is more worried than skeptical, but Sam knows how spurious his reasoning is, and how it sounds even worse. It could work, if the different pieces don't interfere with each other, if he does them right, if they even pertain to Purgatory - he doesn't really know about the rules of the place, despite all the reading he did in the alpha vampire's library. Very, very little is known about Purgatory. More was written about the nature of monsters.
Sam does think he has something to go on there. That, and a little practical knowledge of dreamwalking.
"So, you think you can go monster, but not past the point of no return."
"Well... it's like, it's not a very scary kind of monster." Sam shivers.
"Don't talk down to me. All right, if you're not going to say then I can't bully you into it. But I'm trusting you not to go man-eater on me, Sam."
Sam coughs. "Yeah. No, you were right, thank you, really, Jody."
"So once you get to Purgatory, how're you going to find Dean?"
"Blood. Since we're brothers, we can do, like, half of a blood tracking spell - that's the strongest kind."
He can practically hear her raise an eyebrow over the phone. "Well, you're the one reading up on this stuff. It's worth a shot."
Jody sounds doubtful; Sam knows it doesn't all fit together for her. But he's not letting the word pass his lips - incest. Equally afraid that she'll disapprove and he'll lose an ally, as he's afraid he'll somehow jinx his plan by speaking it aloud. Jody doesn't have to understand. If Sam has to substitute incest for fratricide, incest for cannibalism, well, he's avoided killing his brother by loving him before. That's old hat for the Winchesters. He laughs dryly as he digs for books and notes on dreamwalking and the skinwalker rituals.
He falls asleep in a chair that evening and wakes up in the predawn hours, roused by creaking floorboards.
"I thought you'd left," Hattie says. She's clutching a bathrobe around her. "Well, if you want coffee, I'll make it a pot."
He wanders over to be thankful, to not inconvenience her, to talk to someone after burying his head in books all night.
"So, I see you've got a stack of shape-shifting lore. And cannibalism. I'm not one to pry, but..."
"Oh. Yeah. Um," Sam runs a hand through his hair. He explains essentially what he explained to Jody, couching it only in theoretical terms. As far as she knows he's hunting the thing, not trying to become it.
"Well." She's quiet, pouring coffee, offering Sam sugar, cream. "Do you want a book on transubstantiation?"
"Thanks." Sam smiles awkwardly. "That might help. The transformative communion part." He thinks a bit, then goes on. "In fact that might be really helpful. I'm sort of looking at incest too, if you had any suggestions along that route? I think it might be a key to what I'm looking for."
"To connect cannibalism and fratricide? Hm." She stirs her coffee and doesn't look too perturbed. Sam's feeling pretty good about this. "You might have something there. You know, it's like they say about poetry - it's all about sex and death. Often at the same time. Yes, hmm, and different forms of communion - transgressive communion, really..."
"That's brilliant," Sam says, and feels relief that he's got someone here to confirm the connections he's felt out.
"But that's all very taboo, Sam."
"Yes, I -"
Her eye catches his. It's very bright. "You're the one looking at monster books, hunting creatures. Most of those books talk anthropology on one hand and myth on the other - but you're not dealing with myth. How do heroes do against the monsters they fight, in the real world?"
"I... not very well." Sam's looking down in his coffee now. "Look, I lost my brother."
"Oh." Hattie looks down. "I'm sorry."
"He's not dead. I'm trying to find him, to bring him back."
"I see." Now, now the silence is uncomfortable. Sam can't say not like that, because he means exactly like that, and it's not worth pretending to misunderstand because as any ritualist or magician or hunter will tell you, matter matters, and he lives in a world with real monsters, not theoretical ones.
Sam hunches his shoulders and clears his throat. "Thank you for the coffee and the books - I can leave if -"
"Please, stay. But I hope your hard search is worth it, Sam."
"It is. It always is." He's all I have, he means to say.
She looks at him sadly, not understanding but sympathetic to his apparent distress. "Taboo is serious stuff, Sam. It's not just a rule you break once. There's a price. No matter what this quest is you're going on, when you get back you're going to be carrying the bad stuff with you."
Sam meets her eyes, turns the corners of his mouth up barely. "I've paid a lot of prices in my life."
He goes back to his notes.
The dream is with him still, flashing in the dark behind his eyelids if he summons it. This is exactly what it will take for him to get Dean back. He knew there would be costs. No one returns from the underworld unchanged.
Long ago he gave up trying to accept that Dean was dead and gone. He can't do it. Not yet. He has to go through with his plan.
Becoming a monster means hurting someone. A werewolf was once an innocent woman, crept up on in the night, bitten by a werewolf and never aware she eats hearts in her sleep. It doesn't just happen to her - it's something she becomes. It's why Madison begged to be shot, because she couldn't live with that self-knowledge, that realization that you've been tainted by evil, by sin - the killing she did making her the monster, not the shape she took.
Jack Montgomery was born a monster, an unsuspecting normal man who liked his steaks well-done until the key turned in his genes and began his metamorphosis. No choice in the matter for him, no matter how much Sam wanted there to be, no matter how much he might not deserve to be condemned. But even he realized that what had been done could not be undone.
Lenore chose to feed on livestock for the rest of her life, instead of people. But she still knew the taste of human blood. What she did was penance.
Dean got lucky when the vampire turned him, he got extremely lucky; he spent his whole life fighting monsters so he could fight long enough not to become one, not to give in to the thirst for blood, lucky enough to have the Campbell's spell to undo it.
Sam has spent so much of his life refusing the black and white of it, though. Destroying himself because he's a monster, using his monstrousness to live and hope to save people. Whether it worked out for the better or worse in the end he'll never know - who is he to decide?
There's no way for Sam to enter Purgatory without becoming absolutely the sort of thing that can pass in. He's got no shockwave to ride like Dean, on the coattails of a Leviathan nearly powerful enough to break the world's walls. He's not going to do this through anger or some other righteous self-sacrifice. He can't pretend this time that he's the only one who's going to get hurt.
Sam drives two hours the next night to a cemetery where twin children are buried in the same plot. He digs them up, feeling guilty and awful but with the same thrill that normally strikes him when he's out in the cool wet night, digging a grave, finishing up a case with Dean. But Dean's not here, and this case is only begun.
They aren't restless spirits. They're just children, and he's disturbing their remains.
Carefully he removes the skull bones, breaks off the tips of their fingers, winces as he hears them snap like dry twigs. They make a powder that, if ingested, is deadly poison. Sam isn't going to do that. He's going to make a door.
Before he fills the graves in, he salts and burns the bodies. He's cleaning up his mess. That way he won't have to come back and do it later, if they become restless because of what he's done. Now they just have the fingerbones in a baggie in Sam's pocket to cling to.
He calls Jody and gets her to give him as-he-drives directions to where she's hidden the Leviathan remains. Down an unmarked dirt road, a mile or two and a left turn through tracks run through a fallow field, to a dirty, boarded-up farmhouse surrounded by hip-high weeds.
"You sure you don't need help with this, Sam?"
"Just this." He unwraps the chain from the exterior cellar door on ground level. It's not locked.
"And if it goes south?"
Sam should have come during the day. The stairs here are dangerous and the only light he has to see by is his flashlight. "Then there isn't anything you can do. I told you, this is dark stuff. There might be no coming back. It's a smarter plan than the vampire one but I don't want you to have to -"
"All right. Yeah, all right, Sam." She sounds tired. Sam wants to say yes, then, just for her company. He wants support, he really does. But whether this goes right or wrong, he's not sure if he'll want to face anyone after what he'll have done.
The heads, Jody told him, are drowning in a cooler full of borax, chained up and locked in the huge gun safe in the corner. The bodies are here too, hacked to bits, doused in borax, and thrown in a pile for now. They're going to get a cement truck to dump them all into - sometime. This is all a plan that mostly Jody came up with; she's teamed up with an ex-hunter upstate, also in law enforcement, who'd been storing the heads in borax, like she heard from a friend of a friend. The borax isn't a permanent solution but the heads are the ones that reanimate quickly. It's a gruesome thing.
Sam crouches down and picks up a hand that's been severed. He cuts the palm and fresh black oozes out; the fingers twitch as he collects the blood in a jar. It's not enough, so he lifts the tarp to reveal the rest of the remains. The stench of industrial cleaner mixed with rotting flesh and bile rises from the heap, making him retch. A leg lies on top of the pile; he grabs it and makes a long gash where the femoral artery would be, and slowly fills his jar.
He's done enough dealing with the evil and dead tonight to earn himself some major witchcraft points, and he almost laughs to think how disgusted Dean would be by this. But it's Sam, Sam dabbling in dark magic, and he feels miserable fear creep in - the worst of all is yet to come, and what would Dean say about that?
The night is moonless, and on his way out of the maze-like sequence of paths leading to the Leviathan slaughterhouse he stops at a four-way crossing, and gathers crossroads dirt into its own jar. Crossroad dirt, for travel, transport, transition. He moves on fast. He has no desire to meet any demons tonight.
Hattie meets him at the door, though it's five in the morning.
"Hattie, I'm sorry, I -"
"I thought I'd be seeing you."
Sam frowns. "I just meant to get my notes and -"
"I know what you meant to do. Come in, Sam Winchester."
Sam follows her into the kitchen where she begins to make coffee, because it's early enough, she says, and makes a cup for Sam too.
"You really don't have to - I can't stay," he protests.
"Of course you can stay. Did you know I have a bit of a gift, Sam? Nothing that would tell me about the monsters and demons you hunt, but a bit of vision, not too uncommon around Lily Dale. That's how I met you at the door this morning. Knew you were coming. Figured you were planning something, you've got action on your mind and some dark stuff in your pockets."
Sam's very quiet. He finds himself steeling his shoulders. He doesn't like using physical intimidation but if she's going to try to stop him -
"No, no, no, I'm not going to try to stop you. I already told you what I think. But you need a safer place than a motel room, or out of doors. Please, take the coffee."
Sam takes it but he doesn't drink.
"I don't have to see or know what you're doing, but we're going to lay a couple circles of protection. You've proofed this house, I'm sure you had some sort of protective measure in mind already. Well, I'll make sure nobody bothers you here."
Sam feels a rush of gratitude. "Are you sure? You don't have to offer - it could get messy."
"I've got a lot of industrial cleaner on my hands suddenly." She smiles wryly. Sam has to try not to let out a hysterical giggle. "I can manage," Hattie says. "I like you, Sam, no matter the monster you think you are."
Sam stammers. He might be blushing. He's not sure how much Hattie knows, and he's nervous about hoodwinking an innocent party to his monstrous activities, about as nervous as he'd be for her to find them out firsthand. "Uh, thank you? I'm going to start now, if I can. Can I boil some water?"
Hattie puts the kettle on and then shows him to the back room, where he's been holed up reading all week.
Sam mixes the bone dust, corn flour to balance the evil with good, and crossroads dirt in a bowl. He adds the Leviathan blood and expects it to smoke or something, but it doesn't. He has a spool of thread he sets in the bowl to soak, rolls it around until it's coated. He puts it into his pocket.
Using the mixture, he paints a circle mapped into four quadrants by the cardinal directions. On the North wall he paints a door.
Finally, he's got a bit of dream root stashed away. Almost sold it but figured they'd needed it once, they might need it again, and it'd be better if it didn't fall into the wrong hands.
Now he makes the dream root tea. Sam suspects he's been doing some kind of dreamwalking, to get those glimpses of Dean in his dreams, to feel that they're so real. He's going to take that and exploit it.
Sam nicks the tip of his finger with a clean knife, and squeezes a drop of his own blood into the tea. Blood's strong, he and Dean share blood, and it's all he's got to find him by.
Hattie's watching him, not saying anything.
Sam hadn't counted on help. Wasn't it enough to lie down in a magic bone-dust circle, knock himself out with magic drugs, and astral-project into another realm to have sex with his brother? Every little thing that would help him come back safe with Dean would help, though. Hattie must know the punchline, but he wonders, what does it look like to her? Somehow this has become the more responsible choice, compared to turning himself into a vampire.
"It could be an hour, or all day," he tells her. "Dream time is pretty fast, but I don't think this has been done before."
"I'll keep an ear out and close up shop."
"Thank you so much," Sam says at last, and she winks at him.
He drinks the tea.
Sam wakes up. His body is on the floor. He puts his hand in front of his face. He sees it flicker, shift, change. He sees claws, feathers, fur. And then it looks human again.
Sam ties the end of the spool of thread to the leg of the desk. He walks clockwise around the circle, then to the North wall of the room, then through the door he drew.
It's like slipping sideways through a very narrow corridor. He squeezes past a corner, feels it scrape at him, feels squeezed, feels himself nearly flicker into semi-awakeness but pushes through.
He stumbles out, feels his feet sliding on unsteady ground, and sees that it's layers of leaves on top of leaves, slick with mud, nearly colorless.
He walks and he walks, and he sees himself circled by things with red eyes.
He is thirsty. His palm aches.
Sam is in the thick of it.
Where before in dreams he floated above Purgatory, he's now struggling through knee-high brambles, slipping and falling. It's hard for him to get a grip, as if Purgatory is trying to upend its landscape and slide him out. Astral projection is different, passing through things, able to move freely but hard to grasp things. Here it takes Sam focus to move. He may be dream-walking, but it's one of those dreams where running is like swimming through syrup.
Sam struggles through the brambles, through a thicket of bare trees erupting in clusters from the ground. He's got to find Dean. Blood drips from the cut on his hand, and Sam holds very still to watch it fall. Like dowsing, it drips to his left, so Sam turns left and lets blood call to blood. The cut aches and pulls like invisible threads are stitching it up and pulling outward.
Sam can't tell if he's getting closer, but he just can't stop going. He aches from struggling, blinks sweat out of his eyes to clear his vision. Fog swims before him.
A figure emerges from the fog and Sam's gut leaps. He knows he should be careful, that this place can be full of tricks and traps, but the part of him that's been longing to see Dean leaps.
Sam wants to shout, but he doesn't want those red eyes to move any closer. Instead he keeps walking, watches hopefully-Dean approach through a thicket of bare trees. Come on, come on, come on, Dean, he thinks. Slow down, turn this way, see me. Find me. Dean is searching for something now, Sam can see his eyes darting here and there, wary of red eyes stalking him, looking for something.
The space between them seems to stretch forever. Sam keeps tight hold on his spool of thread, but doesn't think about it too hard, doesn't look at it, has to trust the magic lest it unravel. He stumbles and sees that Dean is knees-deep in a foul swamp. Sam suddenly has a vision of Dean being pulled into the water by horses with huge liquid eyes, Dean being torn to pieces by huge teeth. Maybe he's seen it and only remembered the dream now. Maybe it's still going to happen.
"Dean!" Sam shouts, the invisible hand on his throat finally opening, "Come on, Dean, find me, Dean –"
Dean freezes. He squints through the fog, then slogs his way through the swamp.
"Look behind you, Dean!" Sam cries, and Dean freezes again.
"Dean!" For all Sam knows Dean can't even hear him, and he's hearing some other monster on his trail.
Sam's desperate, in that dreaming way. He'll get to Dean, that's why he keeps scrambling. The closer he gets to Dean, the calmer he is. It just has to be this way.
Sam chases Dean through piles of fallen trees, fields of stone. Dean stops and pants and Sam's nearly got it, he's nearly upon him. He reaches the top of the rocky hill and finally - "Dean!" he shouts, and Dean's head jerks up.
"Sammy!" he yells.
Sam tries running to him, won't stop calling out for him and Dean's stumbling faster now, turning back to Sam. He's got his eyes locked on Sam, and Sam's returned now to what he's felt for many nights, the strange knowledge that he is here with Dean, just as they touched in their last dream. Sam's feet are on the ground.
"I thought I saw an animal. I thought there was a creature..." he says, and then his wide happy gaze turns dark.
He grabs Sam's arm just as Sam protests, "It's me, Dean, I swear it's me!" With a silver knife, he cuts Sam's arm, and the searing pain makes Sam fall to the ground.
"Dean, it's me," Sam shouts as Dean leaps upon him. "It's me, I swear." They struggle, Sam slipping out from under Dean's hands, and the combined heat and terror rush to Sam's head. "Dean, I had to do this to get to you. To come find you."
"Shut up, you freak." Dean's got his knife to Sam's throat and Sam holds still as stone, breathing hard. He swallows and his throat bobs against the dull blade.
"I swear, Dean. I did a skinwalker ritual. I took dreamroot to find you again. Remember what happened, Dean? I thought it was a dream, but it was real, wasn't it?"
"I have no idea what you're talking about." But Dean's still holding him there.
"Take the knife away and I'll show you."
Dean shakes his head.
"You want this to be real, that's why you don't believe me. It's real, Dean. I found you. I have a way out. Come with me."
Dean's grip softens and Sam uses the opportunity to hook a leg around Dean, push his hips against his brother's.
"Fuck," Dean says, and scrambles up. Sam follows him just as fast, desperate not to let Dean run away again. "This wasn't supposed to -"
"Yeah, I know, this isn't what you wanted. But it was the only way."
Dean gapes. Sam notices he's got blood crusted on the side of his face, a few months' beard on him. Can't tell how old the blood is, or whose blood is on Dean's hands.
"You can tell me off when we get back," Sam starts, but Dean interrupts him, gnashing his teeth.
"This wasn't supposed to happen, Sam! I was supposed to -"
"Get out?" Sam's gaping, incredulous. "You were counting on me sitting this one out? You were counting on me failing? What the hell, Dean?"
"You weren't supposed to take that fall," Dean says. He's pacing, anxious, restless. "You were supposed to find a way of getting me out that didn't involve turning into a monster, because -"
"Because you can't, Sam! You're better than that! We've already been down this road."
Sam scoffs. "Better, huh? Explain that dream to me, then."
"Damn it, Sam," Dean gnashes his teeth.
"You're out of control," Sam says, interrupting. "You're weak. Don't -" he says, and grabs the front of Dean's shirt as Dean's head rears up, anger plain on his face. "You're vulnerable to this place, okay?" Sam shouts, then hushes his voice, quiet and tense to make Dean listen. "You've been here a long time, Dean - it's been months topside, do you even know how long it's been down here?"
"Sam, you're not supposed to - you don't have to do this."
"I've got spells on my side, and a link to my body. I broke in so I can break out."
"That's not - fuck, Sam, you're not..." Dean's still shaking his head. Sam wants to shake him. "I'm the one who-"
"You can't tell me what to do," Sam growls, and mashes his mouth against Dean's.
Dean makes a loud noise and Sam insistently muffles it, won't let up, won't stop. Dean grabs his shoulders, but like everything else in Purgatory, it's hard for him to get a grip on Sam. Sam can't tell if he's pushing him away or pulling him in. Sam licks insistently at Dean's mouth and Dean won't budge, until Sam reaches down to press the heel of his palm on Dean's crotch and Dean's mouth opens in a gasp.
Sam licks in, hard and determined and persistent, and Dean finally responds, rubbing his tongue slick and solid against Sam's until they're both gasping.
Sam takes the opportunity to slide a leg between Dean's, pressing his thigh and crotch against Dean's,feels Dean grown hot and hard, and then Dean fucking slides up close and rides the joint between Sam's thigh and hip in a way that makes them moan.
Sam uses both hands to cup Dean's face, and he kisses Dean again, then draws back, holding Dean's head there. Dean's pupils are blown, they're glinting, they're bright and reflective and a shiver runs down Sam's spine.
"Fuck, Sam," Dean says, hoarse.
"Yeah. Okay. Shh." Sam's staring Dean down. "Keep looking at my eyes."
Dean's silent. He doesn't look away.
"I'm going to possess you and walk you out of Purgatory."
Dean's throat works but he doesn't make a sound.
"Just... hang on. Don't look away."
Sam thinks of the strange shifting he saw in dreams, when the meaty creatures spun their gore into human forms. He thinks of demons, of the glint in an animal's eyes and he thinks of what his hand looked like when he woke up in this dream. Claws, feathers, fur - he focuses on that, on Dean's face, and vertigo hits him like falling -
Sam sits up from the muddy ground. He looks down at his hand - Dean's hand. He's still holding the magic-soaked thread.
He feels like an animal in a cage. Sam can't tell if it's the act of possession that makes him feel this way, or if this is how Dean feels inside his own body, beaten and torn by a monstrous realm that attacks and rejects it, seeks to always undermine its wholeness.
Taking a shaky, pained, breath - he's sore, sore everywhere, sore and over-aware - he stands and starts to follow the thread back, spooling it as he goes.
Sam regains consciousness what feels like a day later. He's filthy, the clothes he was wearing covered in goo, but he and Dean are two people in two bodies again. Sam's delirious and his vision is swimming, like he's on particularly strong pain meds or just coming out of anaesthesia.
"Dean," he says, and his blindly-reaching hand lands on his brother's chest. It lifts as Dean sucks in a huge gasp and suddenly he sees Jody's face hovering over his. Her mouth is moving – "Sam, Sam, are you all right?" - but his ears are roaring and he can't hear her. He turns his head to look at Dean and sees that Hattie's putting a blanket over him.
Then Sam passes out.
The next thing he hears is Dean say his name. He opens his eyes. It's dark, the only light a dim one coming through the curtains, orange like a street lamp.
"Sammy," Dean says, his hand jostling Sam's shoulder, not too rough, enough just to wake him. Sam's awake.
"Dean," he says, struggling up on his elbows. He's got a pillow under his head and half his body on a couch cushion, but his legs are feeling the hard floor. He's sore and weary, and suddenly Dean's hands are there under his arm, behind his shoulder, helping him sit up. Sam is flooded with relief, some pure chemical knee-weakening thing saved only for family narrowly saved from death.
Dean's hands are on him, examining his body, so that might have something to do with it.
Checking to see how much of a monster you've become.
Dean's looking at his face now, though, into his eyes. He's frowning. "It's you? It's really you?"
"Yeah," says Sam. "Of course it's me."
"Safe..." Dean says, his mouth twisting wryly, head shaking. "I don't remember…" He looks down, and Sam's heart skips a beat. "I mean, the last thing I… was it…"
He looks up at Sam then with wide eyes. He is stricken. Sam hasn't touched him, the whole time Dean's been feeling him up. His hands remain clenched in the blanket.
"I'm sorry, Sammy." Dean says. Sam opens his mouth to say something but nothing comes out. "You did... you did good. But we can't." Dean struggles with the words, with the fear and strangeness.
Sam says, "I know." It hurts his throat.
Dean gets up, still in his filthy clothes, and says "I gotta wash up."
Sam finds him in the kitchen a few minutes later, washing his face and hands in the sink. There are cans of chili and a can-opener sitting on the counter, and a note:
"Hattie says to eat these. I figured someone could use my help anyway so I came. Dean, welcome back. When you come to, look me up at Rachel Sharpe's place: 512 Banner Road, Horseheads, NY. Good to see you boys alive. Jody."
Dean listens to Sam read the note out loud, his back turned as he opens and heats up the chili. The microwave clock says 4am. They sit and eat their chili in famished silence.
"Now what," Dean mumbles, mouth full.
"Got a motel room just out of town. Hot shower, decent water pressure."
"Read my mind." Dean stretches. "Mm, a real bed." He snags the note off the counter and puts it in his pocket.
Sam's too tired yet to demand why they aren't talking about this, why Dean's acting like everything's normal. It's a stupid question. He wants to ask, what happened to Castiel? Did he feed himself to you until there was none left? Were all my dreams true? Were you torn apart by monsters and put together again over and over? It's like Hell in that it's something he doubts Dean ever wants to revisit again, or will ever be completely honest about, but Sam's seen glimpses of it, he was there if only briefly, and he wants to know more.
Sam drives them back to the motel, because he needs something to do that isn't obsessing about getting his hands on his brother again. It's a basic pull, not yet sick, just a lifetime of instinct to make sure Dean is really here and whole, that it's not just a dream.
He attempts to brush shoulders with Dean as they walk to the motel room door but Dean ducks out of the way. Sam opens the door and Dean keeps a decent distance. They're not normally the touchy types, but they haven't even technically had their "thank god you're alive" hug, through all the attacking and incestuous sex and possession. Sam can see, theoretically, how that might turn a guy off, but this is old hat for him and Dean, isn't it? Just keep telling yourself that. All Sam wants to do is put his hands on Dean's still-filthy skin.
Dean downright bolts for the shower, and Sam doesn't try to fight him for it. He's exhausted enough to not care. He still has a room with two queen beds, from when Jody spent the first couple nights in town, and it was a hope he held out on that Dean would eventually be back to fill one of them.
Sam shucks his coat and lies down on top of his bed, facing the shower. By the time Dean comes out Sam's eyes are closed.
Sam wakes up feeling miserable.
Dean is brushing his teeth at the sink. Sam goes in to fill a tiny plastic cup, because he's thirsty, and bumps Dean's arm and hip with his own. He's sleepy and stumbly - excuses, excuses. He's just looking for a hit, like a junkie, and there it is, the relief of touching Dean hitting him like a contact high, makes his knees weak, and it's like drinking a glass of water all in itself..
Dean doesn't dodge Sam's awkward stumbling at all but takes it stiff as a board, like it nearly knocks him over. He grips the edge of the sink for support. "What the hell, Sam?" he says.
"Huh?" Sam says.
"Just - get off of me and shower, you're covered in monster mash."
Sam will concede Dean's point but glares at him in the mirror till Dean leaves and shuts the bathroom door behind him.
Sam's pissed when he comes out of the shower. "You wanna talk about why you're so jumpy all of a sudden?"
Dean stares at him. "I'd think that was pretty obvious."
Sam wrestles a t-shirt on and suddenly Dean can look away. "Yeah, well, you won't fucking talk about it, I was beginning to think I imagined what happened -"
"Maybe you should just keep thinking that, Sam."
"Maybe I don't want to."
"What's that supposed to mean." Dean's voice is dark.
"I wanna stop ignoring the fact that we fucked, Dean!" Dean cringes. "And I'm pretty sure we were both into it!"
"Look, what happens in Purgatory dream theater stays in -"
"No! No it doesn't! Let me tell you, Dean, I did the magic, I went in and I took you back out, and you know what it took."
"Yeah, so what do you want to do now, Sam? Hold hands and get gay married? Excuse me if this isn't exactly what I pictured for us. I thought you were all about normal life, Sam, well this ain't normal by a long shot."
"So you're complaining that I saved your ass."
"I was good down there, Sam." Dean's tense, all his muscles tight. He's shaking, Sam sees it. Something's changed. "I was good at it. Killing monsters, my whole life. And now I'm up here and you've turned into one of them."
"Fuck that, Dean. I never hurt anyone like this." Anyone except you. As if Sam had said it out loud, Dean flinches. "You want to yell at me for going dark side but you still won't talk about what we did. What we did. You think if we just do nothing, ignore the problem, that's gonna save us? You gonna pray it away?"
"Yes, exactly! What the hell else, Sam? I can't waste you, you won't waste me, you really think we should just give in to this mess?"
"Well I won't." Dean's jaw is set and clenched. He takes the keys from the table.
"Where you going?"
"Out," Dean says. He's been looking at the exits this whole time, Sam realizes. Looking trapped. "Breakfast to eat. Free air to breathe." Dean grabs his duffel from the floor.
Sam feels a shot of panic. Last time Dean drove away from him – last time his brother disappeared – The memory of standing in the empty lab in shock flashes in his brain. His mouth is dry with fear. And now Dean's trying to get away from him, break this thread of physical tension between them, trying to pull away. Away from monsterhood, away from Sam.
"I'll be back," Dean says, seeing Sam's face. "Gonna get food, wash my stuff. Just… don't wait up."
Sam can't think of anything to say to stop Dean that doesn't sound absolutely crazy, so he watches Dean walk out and drive away. He can't just sit around. He walks down the road to a diner and thinks about ordering a stiff drink, but figures this is probably one of those towns where you can't get alcohol before noon.
He can't eat his eggs and toast so he goes back to the motel, spends a few hours online googling stupid things like "incest monster affects." Most of it leads him to real testimony of people who've suffered abuse at the hands of their family, and Sam can't even fucking look at it, it makes him sick to his stomach, what is wrong with him. What the hell has he done.
He calls Dean, Dean doesn't answer. Of course he doesn't. He needs space. Sam hangs up before Dean's voicemail message ends.
Half an hour into a Discovery channel show on what the fuck ever, Sam's wearing holes in the rug pacing. This isn't good. This can't be good. Fuck, he's letting Dean walk out on him. He's ruined everything.
Sam calls Dean again, and Dean doesn't answer again, and then he calls again and Dean's phone is off.
Sam calls Jody.
"Sam?" she says.
"Jody? You okay?"
"I'm fine. You sound... What's wrong?"
"I, Dean walked out hours ago, I think I may have fucked something up pretty bad - I don't want to - but maybe he's missing and I don't even know if he's okay -"
"Sam, Sam, calm down."
"Sam, Dean's here with me."
Sam stops, passes a hand over his eyes, through his hair. Breathes deep. "Oh."
"Yeah. I'm good. We're all good." Like she's calming a wild animal. "I'm catching him up on life in a post-Dick Roman world."
"Great. That's great. Um. Thanks. Tell him... to pick up dinner?"
So Sam walks across the bridge into town, to Hattie's bookstore. It takes him a good hour, and it's worth it because by the end of it he's feeling a little less lost-at-sea.
Dean will come back, at least because he has nowhere else to go.
He helps Hattie clean, and apologizes even though she brushes him off and says it's no trouble for a friend. He's silent mostly. She doesn't pry.
He's nursing a stomachache by the end, anxiety or after-effects of dreamwalking, world-hopping, whatever it is he did yesterday. The walk back to the motel doesn't help this time.
When he gets back, it's after dark, and Dean's sitting on the bed closest to the door watching TV. It's the animal channel. There are lion cubs. The door clicks shut and Dean notices him, sits up in bed to get a good look in the dim room.
"Hey," Dean says, and Sam's surprised at how... peaceable it sounds.
"Hey," Sam says.
"Burger's yours," Dean says, nodding at the table, before turning his attention back to the TV. Still, Sam sees him tossing little glances as he eats.
"Yeah. Where you go?"
"To clean up at the. Where we were last night. The bookstore."
"Bookstore," Dean chuffs, like it's funny. "Where you want to head after this?"
Sam shrugs. "Dunno."
"Well, you got any cases?"
Sam shifts, uncomfortable. "No."
"The hell? You know, Jody said some things..."
"Oh? She said things? What kind of things, Dean?"
"Don't get so defensive! You're the - what do you mean, are you seriously not hunting anymore?"
"I was a little distracted. Trying to find you."
"Don't you - "
"I guess I can see it though. You, not hunting. You, forgetting what it is we hunt, going monster - you don't even want to try to change this?"
"I don't care!" Sam shouts. He's shouting now. This escalated quickly. "I don't care about hunting monsters, I don't care what I am, I just..."
"You didn't think. Hell, Sam. What happened to the family business?" Dean stands up, starts pacing.
"What's that even mean, Dean?" Sam's got his arms out, defensive."You going to fight me? Dean, listen, you can't unmake a monster. We know that." He stands, unconsciously making himself bigger, so Dean has fewer places to look away.
Dean stares at Sam, his jaw clenched. Sam stares right back, and Dean shudders. Sam drops his gaze.
"I am what I am now. But I didn't get this way by myself. You act like you didn't do anything, but you gave me the idea. You can't tell me that didn't happen, Dean - when we - it wasn't just a dream."
"I wish it was," Dean says. "Fuck, Sam. Yeah, it was my fault." He runs a hand over his face, suddenly looking exhausted and strained. "And now I'm trying to fix - us." He gestures between them without looking Sam in the eye. "I never said I thought it'd be easy."
"I could say it's your fault," Sam says, getting up in Dean's face, using his height. "I could say it's all because of you and I shouldn't have to deal with this. I could be the angry one. I could say it's up to you. I could be leaving. Is that what you want me to do? So you can fix this 'problem'?"
The anger on Dean's face can barely cover the terror.
"But I. Want. This." Sam punctuates each word with another step towards Dean till Dean's backed against the wall. "I'm sticking around."
They breathe hot air at each other for a moment, taught as a wire, their flushed faces inches apart. Dean's eyes are heavy-lidded and dark in the dim room, but Sam can see the gleam of the lamplight in them, every eyelash standing out of the shadows. Dean glances down at his brother's mouth, quick, but Sam sees it just before Dean pushes him away by the shoulder. As Dean strides past him towards the bathroom, Sam pivots away easily. A feather could have knocked him over.
"This is out of control," Dean mutters under his breath, but Sam hears him loud and clear as if he'd had his lips against Sam's ear.
Sam shivers. "Fuck."
He goes to sleep miserable.
In the middle of the night, Sam wakes up to find Dean crawling into his bed.
He groans and sighs as the tension that was building in him drains at Dean's touch, mere contact enough to alleviate his need.
Dean lets out a huge, gusty breath he must've been holding for a while. He braces himself over Sam's body, hands and knees planted around Sam in a way that they barely touch, but one of Dean's legs is between Sam's and something about that sends arousal curling through Sam's stomach. Their bare legs touching give Sam goosebumps, the rough brush of hair on hair bizarrely, fundamentally satisfying.
"Dean," Sam says, awake enough now to be surprised, but Dean whispers "hush." Sam can feel him shaking, Dean's hands on his chest, on his arms, his face, strong and firm, quick and desperate. It takes the breath out of Sam like a punch, and he reaches out to feel Dean where he can see his outline, landing his open palm on Dean's cheekbone. Dean pushes against it, turns his face in, mouth open and hot breath gusting against Sam's palm. Sam can feel Dean getting hard against his leg now and he holds his body still, so still. As much as this strange new need pushes him to rut up against his brother till they both get off in new and fucked-up ways, he feels the urgent need for patience. Make it slow where it counts; make sure Dean is here, that they're close, safe and whole. Go slow, so Dean stays. They touch intimately, to slake their thirst, take the edge off the hunger that's been clawing inside all day.
Then Dean slides his hand under Sam's shirt and up Sam's bare chest, and Sam loses his grip on control after that.
He lifts his thigh to push slow but firm against Dean's half-hard cock and Dean groans, drops his head down towards Sam's neck. Sam's hands move down to the hem of Dean's t-shirt to lift it up, uncovering Dean's broad, scarred back. He touches and pushes and presses himself closer to Dean, till Dean can't brace himself with the extra weight and collapses full-length along Sam's body, both of them breathing hard in each other's ears. He pulls Dean's shirt as far up as he can, then Dean gets the hint and rocks back on his haunches, takes the thing off himself, then moves on to pulling off Sam's so fast Sam's back stings with friction.
Dean's crouched down, knees bracketing Sam's hips, but Sam wants him over his cock. Sam's eyes, adjusted quickly and fully to the dark room, can see the dark flush on Dean's face and chest. Dean is staring.
"What?" Sam rasps. He rolls his hips, begging a bit.
"You look - it's strange. Nothing." Dean swallows, then hooks his fingers down the front of Sam's briefs, cool on Sam's belly, and watches Sam spasm and arch his back. Sam feels big in his skin, wound tight, like the arch of his cock straining against his underwear wetting the thin white cotton, cooling the tip.
"Mmf, yeah, yeah, c'mon," he mumbles, and when Dean apparently decides he's going to be a fucking tease, Sam hooks his thumbs in the elastic and pulls his briefs down himself, letting his cock spring free.
He slides a hand up Dean's thigh, getting up on his elbows to reach further, obsessed with the rough sound of Dean's quickened breath. Warm, muscled thigh under his hand, sliding under the edge of Dean's boxer briefs, hot skin giving way to even hotter under his touch.
In a flash Dean's surging forward to push Sam down, and Sam slides Dean's underwear down under his ass, and Dean's kissing him wildly, all tongue and teeth, grinding down on Sam's dick. Sam doesn't have the higher brain function anymore to notice exactly how Dean is breathing into his mouth, he's too busy thrusting up and sliding between Dean's cheeks, getting it slippery with his precome.
Dean sits up, and seeing his opportunity Sam gets a hand on his brother's cock and pumps it. Dean hisses, so Sam loosens his grip as Dean leans back and grinds his hips down harder. Sam's dick is leaking wet between the cheeks of Dean's ass and against his hole as Dean rides him, and he strokes Dean firm and fast, rubbing his thumb over the tip as Dean makes little choking noises like he's going to fucking lose it.
Sam's the first to come, sudden and dizzying like falling off a cliff, balls tightening and sending good, sweet white heat pulsing from the base of his spine till all he feels is warm. Dean cants forward at Sam's whine, with only a few more strokes shoots onto Sam's chest, and before Sam can even really focus his vision again leans forward to lick it up.
It's blindingly hot, unexpected and unnecessary, and far more than the simple release Sam thought Dean crawled into his bed for. It was one thing to meet each others' needs, a palliative for the real ache, treat the symptoms, manage. This was more.
Sam grabs at Dean's head, puts a hand in his hair and pulls taut on the strands. Dean makes a sound, something between a grunt and a whine, and grazes Sam's nipple with his teeth, scrapes against Sam's collarbone, sucks under the corner of Sam's jaw till Sam feels it burn and sting, till Sam pulls Dean away by the short strands of his hair and catches Dean's mouth with his own.
Sam half-wakes up as Dean crawls out of bed and pulls his boxers back on. They somehow fell asleep crammed into the same queen bed and slept till it got light. Sam's only half conscious but he holds still, trying to stay in the dream where Dean came to him in the dark and licked come off his chest. He hopes to whatever God might still hear a thing like him that Dean's not going to run away after this.
Dean pisses with the door open, then brushes his teeth with Sam's toothbrush, leaning in the doorway looking down at Sam lying half-under the sheets. He doesn't say anything, and Sam's looking at him look but can't tell from this far whether Dean can see he's awake.
When Dean turns around to spit in the sink, Sam sees in a flash: red stripes like claw marks down Dean's back. They're fresh and new, they weren't there last night, and Sam knows claw marks. He feels his own fingernails. They're cut short to the quick, just like they were yesterday.
Dean walks back into the room and lifts a hand to rub at his lower back. Sam's speechless, staring, till Dean says "You look freaked, man. Something wrong?" Then he coughs, and drops his gaze to the floor, at the comforter there, kicked off Sam's bed. Looking guilty as hell. "Sorry I fucked up your mouth."
Sam's confused, then he realizes how sore his lips are. He gets up, naked and shameless, goes to the mirror. There's blood going from the corner of his mouth to his chin. His lip is cut from Dean's teeth, swollen and warm. It looks like he got punched.
He touches it with a finger. It feels good.
"It's okay, it's fine" Sam says. "'S nothing."
Dean is starting to pace already, staring out the window at the overcast sky. Still unclothed, Sam walks over to touch the claw marks on Dean's back. He stands close, sees Dean's eyes catching the glare of the sky, shining strangely bright.
Dean turns his head to look at Sam, stares at his swollen lip instead of his nakedness. "I wanna get on the road, get going. Where to?" His hands are at his sides but his fingers are tapping together incessantly.
Dean's waiting for an answer, but Sam doesn't have one. Sam can't think of anywhere at all. His whole world has narrowed down to this restless man, his brother, who stalks and rumbles like an animal in a cage. Places don't matter anymore. But Dean's still looking at him.