A woodpecker’s persistent attack on the trunk of a nearby tree thrummed through Sam as he stood on the porch, hands wrapped around a cup of coffee that was just about at the right temperature to drink. Instead of drinking, he savored the bitter aroma as he gazed out across the brush, thick blue woolen blanket around his shoulders, over the gray henley and sweats he’d slept in. Under his feet, the floorboards he’d installed two summers back creaked, but they were solid. He looked down the slight incline that the cabin stood atop, eyes darting between the White Bark pines, seeing if he could spot the woodpecker.
The cabin had been a rundown mess when Sam had found it, foreclosed on many years ago. What funds he’d managed to pull together had allowed him to purchase the cabin just outside of Cody, Wyoming, and the small plot of land that came with it. The money had not all come from entirely legitimate means. Sam figured Charlie (Chuck rest her soul) would have forgiven him using a few of her tricks as he began a new chapter in his life.
Turning his nose from the cup of coffee, Sam sniffed the air and could almost taste Fall. The days were steadily growing shorter, and were certainly getting cooler. He’d finished chopping wood for the winter a few weeks ago, but Sam figured that cutting some more wouldn’t hurt.
A brief silence drifted over the plot and Sam’s senses instinctively strained for any sign that something was amiss. Then the woodpecker started again and a crow cawed nearby, the sound of life coming back as if nothing had stopped. Claws scratched on the wood behind him and Sam turned to find Wade walking up to him. The brown Labrador gave a yawn and looked up at Sam with hopeful eyes.
Wade’s tail thumped against the floorboards and he nudged at Sam’s right leg. Sam chugged half his coffee and wandered back into the cabin. The space was clean and kinda cozy, but also open plan. Kitchen and living room bled into each other, pine table meeting the back of the large old tan leather couch Sam had picked up from a house clearance. A woolen blanket covered the back of the couch, every blue and green stitch known to Sam’s hands from the hours he’d spent working on it himself.
Hamil and Lexi (a Border Collie and a Norfolk Terrier respectively) pottered in from Sam’s bedroom, joining Wade by their bowls in the kitchen. They lapped at the water already available and then whined for food. Sam opened a cupboard door, pulling out the bag of kibble the three shared. Taking out a cup, he measured the right amounts into the bowls. Wade and Hamil got more than Lexi, if she let the boys eat their own food in peace, which was rare. It really was a good thing all three dogs would happily follow Sam on his near daily runs and walks.
Even better was that their neighbor would let them walk her land. Mrs Rhodes was a widow and a rancher. She appreciated that Sam was able to give her insight on which parts of her fences needed fixing, or finding animals that needed help. The sixty five year old would dote on Sam and his dogs, inviting them around a few times a month for dinner or lunch. She was Sam’s nearest neighbor.
Having filled the dog’s bowls, Sam washed his hands and began fixing himself up some breakfast. Carefully pulling out what he needed from his refrigerator and cupboards, Sam set about cooking scrambled eggs with bacon, potato, onion, green pepper, milk and cheddar. While Sam cooked the bacon, Wade snuffled over hopefully, his own breakfast finished, but Sam didn’t give in, not wishing to experience Wade’s farts post bacon.
“Bad” was an inadequate word to describe Wade’s post-bacon farts, but Dean would have never believed Sam that his dog did worse farts than him. He’d still swear blind mine were a millions times worse, Sam thought with a flare of hurt curling through his chest. Sam chased thoughts of Dean away as he thought about the chores he needed to get done that day. His brother would never know how bad Wade’s farts were and that was Sam’s choice, his continued choice.
Sam used a slotted spoon to remove the bacon from the skillet, keeping the dripping, so he could begin cooking the potatoes he’d cubed. Aside from chopping more wood for winter, Sam needed to check the shutters around the cabin windows. The roof was winter ready, but November was only a few weeks away and he wanted to be ready for the first snows. Things could get bad if the winds picked up too much around Cody. His larder was almost ready for the days his dark blue Subaru SUV wouldn’t be enough to get into town.
Adding in the pepper and onion, Sam cooked them until tender, the potatoes pretty much there, then drained off the excess water and fat before adding the bacon back in. Sam beat the eggs and milk together in a jug and added that to the skillet, combining it with everything and then waiting for it to cook and set. Just as the egg started to resemble something of a pudding like consistency, he added some grated cheddar on top and waited for it to melt into the egg. Sam’s stomach was rumbling by the time everything had finished cooking.
Mouth watering, Sam served his more than scrambled egg on a plate, poured himself a glass of orange juice and took his food to the small pine table behind his couch. He sat down once he was sure the stove was off. Book open in front of him as he ate, Sam picked up where he’d left off in his copy of Game of Thrones, having given in to curiosity a week ago and ordering himself in a copy from the only bookstore in town. He kept looking for differences between it and the TV series, but so far there were few, though he’d heard that later it became many.
Breakfast finished, Sam cleaned up the kitchen and headed off for a shower. Wade, Hamil and Lexi gently played in the middle of the cabin, content as they could be.
Sam got the shower going, the gas heated water making steam rise steadily in the small space of the bathroom. Getting into the tub, Sam pulled the shower curtain around him and ducked his head under the invigoratingly warm water. His locks soaked down against his scalp and then it hit Sam.
Panicked movements had Sam awkwardly shutting the shower off. He hardly dried himself off as he pulled his sleepwear back on. The dogs stopped their play and whimpered as Sam stormed out of the bathroom and walked the short hallway to the shared kitchen and living room. He didn’t have time for them as he grabbed his shotgun from beside the porch door and shoved his damp feet in some boots. Grabbing some spare shells, Sam yanked the porch door open and stomped outside.
He let out a long breath and ignored the flutter of his heart. He closed his eyes and the world around him slowed as his awareness spread out beyond his own skin. Something didn’t feel right, didn’t belong in amongst the silvered bark of the pines around the cabin. But he couldn’t get a fix on where the “thing” was, or even what it could be.
Fear licked at Sam’s skin and he opened his eyes. Ignoring the chill of the early morning, he stalked off across the brush, ears open for any sound that wasn’t the birds and other critters that lived around his property. Hunter’s instincts taking over, Sam held the shotgun out in front of him, ready to shoot, and swept around the cabin and his workshop. He checked every single ward he’d placed into the ground or carved into the pines, or where he’d stuffed hex bags under rocks. Nothing supernatural should have been able to make it in past the boundaries of his property. No one should have been able to find him without him letting them.
And not one thing caught his eye until he was on his second sweep. He was approaching the right hand side of the porch when a gust of wind made an eddy of pine needles and dirt rise up and spin.
Like a wing had given a tiny flap.
Sam swallowed and stepped closer to the side of the porch and finally made out a familiar head of unruly dark hair at ground level.
“Cas?” Sam whispered. The wards were distorting Castiel, he was laying on the ground partially within the property and- “Shit! Cas!” Sam hurried forward and dropped the shotgun.
Caught between the ward boundaries and the space between, Castiel had been unable to land when he flew there. Sam had no idea what his old friend was doing at his cabin, but familiarity, hope and trust made Sam bite down on the meaty part below his left thumb, hard enough to draw blood. Without hesitation, Sam smeared his bloodied hand across Castiel’s forehead and finally the angel fully materialized beside the cabin. For the briefest moment, the shadows of Castiel’s massive wings spanned the dirt and then they were gone to wherever they went. His trademark trench coat was nowhere to be seen.
Gentle with each movement, Sam knelt beside Cas and stroked his face, trying to rouse the angel. But he didn’t wake. Sam tried calling his name, voice climbing with each utterance, until Wade, Hamil and Lexi finally wandered outside with curiosity. Still Cas did not stir.
Wade trotted down the porch steps and stood on the other side of Cas. He leaned down and snuffed at Cas then licked him, but nothing happened.
“Maybe getting through the wards took a lot out of him?” Sam suggested to Wade. Hamil barked and Lexi tilted her head as she regarded the, to them, stranger.
“Look, I know we don’t normally get visitors, but… this is Cas. He’s family. If he’s here then I gotta help.” Sam ignored his throbbing left palm and hefted Castiel over his shoulder, getting him in a fireman’s hold. Slowly, Sam carried Cas inside and took him to the cabin’s only bedroom. He laid Cas out on his unmade teak frame bed and then jogged back outside to get his shotgun.
Gun secured, Sam returned to Castiel, but the angel was still unconscious. Unsure what to do and finally aware of the fact that his hair was damp and his sleepwear was sticking to his skin, Sam headed back to the bathroom, leaving his dogs to keep an eye on Cas.
The shower was rushed. Sam made a point of grabbing fresh clothes from his room while he had a towel wrapped around his waist and getting dressed in the bathroom. Awkwardly avoiding getting blood on his clothes. Once he was dressed (well worn orange plaid shirt and blue jeans on) and his hair mostly dry, Sam crept back into his room.
It looked like Cas hadn’t moved an inch in the ten minutes Sam had spent sorting himself out. He stepped beside Castiel and reached his right hand out to the angel’s left cheek. Sam felt the glimmer of grace within the vessel—Cas was still alive—and Sam again suspected his theory was right.
What wards he’d set up around his house were strong and had had time to make themselves at home, gathering strength from the surrounding environment and Sam. He’d come there, not wanting his old life to follow after him, desperate for no one to know he was there, so how Cas had managed to find him was still a mystery. Sam supposed that a strong enough tracking spell might have had the potential to finally get a bead on him. Or Jack might have finally cracked and told Cas vaguely where I was.
After all, as far as he knew he still had blood out there. Dean’s hunting career was still going strong, if the stacks of newspapers Sam picked up from his PO Box in Cody were anything to go by. You had to know what you were looking for, but when it came to the local press for towns and cities across the country, Sam knew the signs. The familiar aliases of his brother that marked him out as the man who’d swept in and stopped a series of mysterious deaths here or there.
Please don’t let it be Dean, Sam hoped as he stepped back from Cas’s prone form, but a gut feeling told him it probably was something to do with his brother. With no sign of Cas waking up, Sam headed out of his bedroom, the fluffy trio trailing after him. Sam didn’t have a cell phone, or an internet connection—he would use PCs at the library in town to keep a track of online things. He had electricity and mains water, but only because Mrs Rhodes had paid many decades earlier to have it all brought out that far.
Of course the power could always go out whenever the snowstorms got bad during the winter months. And without fail, every winter it would go out for a few days here and there. During those days and nights, Sam and the dogs would curl up in the cabin, only heading out when the dogs really needed to go. Though sometimes Sam would have to dig out the porch first.
He could run into town and see if any of the cell numbers he’d memorized a lifetime ago still worked. But Sam didn’t want to leave Cas alone, not in that weakened state. Another part of Sam was worried about seeing Dean again and what loathing might be aimed his way. He’d left a few years earlier with a short note, convinced that it was what he’d needed to do, to keep everyone safe.
Nervous energy fizzled and crackled through Sam, with each moment he thought on how he had left Dean, Cas, Jack, Bobby, Jody, Donna, hell, even Crowley and Rowena, or Max Banes. Left hunting behind and hid himself in the wilds of Wyoming.
Sam took in a shuddery breath and felt his control snap and whip out, scattering his to-read pile on a side drawer unit, making a dozen books crash to the floor. Wade, Hamil and Lexi started barking in alarm and Sam tried to shush them as he went over to the books and picked them up, the crackle of power still buzzing inside him. With great patience, Sam slowly willed it back, taking deep breaths through his nose and letting them out languidly through his mouth.
Calm settled over Sam. He hoped that if he saw anyone else from his old life, they’d understand. Cas would certainly be the first test, if he managed to wake up. He better wake up. There was no way for Sam to go safely to live out in that world again. Each time he saw Mrs Rhodes or took a trip into town, he was taking a risk. But there were fewer chances for something to surprise him and send the energy within him spiraling out in ways he couldn’t control. And teaching yoga classes helped.
The irony of locking himself away to keep others safe wasn’t lost on Sam, considering how much he’d coached Jack to understand and control his own nephilim powers. He couldn’t tell Jack that that was why he’d run, because Jack would have just taken it to heart, blaming himself. When really Sam should have been more aware of what had been happening inside of himself while he trained Jack.
Aware of how what had once been long locked away and the key forgotten was able to finally creep out and break free.
Picking up the last of the books that had crashed to the floor, Sam stacked them again and then sat on the floor, leaning his back against the drawers, their handles dug into his back. Wade came over and licked Sam’s face, letting out a low concerned whine.
“It’s okay boy. Everything’s fine. We’re gonna make this right. Whatever this is.” Sam petted Wade and then Hamil and Lexi were pressing up against him, eager to be petted too. Chuckling Sam reached a second hand out and petted the dogs.
“Such a long time since I heard that wonderful sound,” a husky baritone voice called from the hallway.
Sam looked up, heart stopping. Cas was awake and standing, arms crossed as he not so casually leaned against a wall, blood still smeared across his forehead.
His old friend gave Sam a warm smile, but stayed where he was. Sam noticed the tiredness in Castiel’s eyes and wasn’t shocked to see it there. It would take him awhile to recover through what he’d been through.
“You’re hurt.” Castiel started to walk towards Sam.
A twinge of pain throbbed through Sam’s hand and he looked down to where he’d bit just below his left thumb. “Oh yeah… probably should clean this up.”
“I could…?” Cas suggested as Sam got to his feet.
“No. I’ll use the first aid kit.” Sam went to where he kept it in a kitchen cupboard and pulled it out while the dogs wandered back over to Cas and sniffed at the angel.
“You have dogs,” Cas stated.
Sam used cotton balls to dab at the bite with hydrogen peroxide, wincing at the all too familiar sting from the substance. “The brown lab is Wade. The black and white fur ball is Hamil, and her short sweetness is Lexi.”
“Are you sure you don’t want me to heal that?” Cas took a few steps closer.
No way was Sam going to say to Cas that he needed the pain. That it would help him to not think about the things that made the room shake. Or the one thing that did. Pain kept Sam’s mind free and stopped him from doing any more damage. It was why he’d walk until every bone and muscle in his lower body ached. Or why he’d focus on chopping wood—anything to bring an ache, to bring the flare of hot stabbing hurt through his being. Even yoga was a good ache.
“No, Cas, I’m fine.” Sam put some gauze over the wound and then wrapped a bandage around it to hold it in place, taping it once finished. “What I do want is to know why you’re here. Has something happened to Dean?”
Sam turned from the kitchen counter he been at and found Cas right behind him. Concern was added to the edges of Castiel’s weary eyes, but Sam ignored that in favor of taking in their close proximity. He could not remember the last time another person was this close to him. Breath catching in his chest, Sam tried hard not to close the distance between the two of them, his body suddenly deciding to have its own badly timed needs.
“Dean’s missing,” Cas said in a low monotone. “Jack and Rowena can’t find him. Neither can Crowley.”
Sam swallowed, adam’s apple bobbing, and Cas watched the movement in full view of Sam. Eyes meeting, Sam stayed still, breathing hushed. There were a lot of words still left unsaid between them. A conversation that had been put on hold two years previously hung between them, ready to start again.
An unsure smile, more grimace than cheer, curled Sam’s mouth, and he stepped sideways and around Cas. “Missing huh? Was he on a case?”
“Coming back from one.”
Heading through the cabin to his room, Sam went to his wardrobe and opened it. He dug out an old duffel and put it on his bed. It was almost muscle memory, packing up what he needed, clothes finding their way into the bag with ease. From under his bed, Sam pulled out his hunting bag, filled with the things he still kept so he wouldn’t feel completely hopeless.
Back in the kitchen, he wrote a short note to Mrs Rhodes and put it in the back pocket of his jeans. Grabbing what he could from the kitchen, some bowls for the dogs, bottles of water, kibble—Sam started to load up his SUV. A trip to the workshop out back brought some more esoteric supplies to Sam’s haul, a small wooden chest filled with spell items Sam might need. It all too got loaded into the vehicle.
“It would be quicker to fly,” Cas pointed out. And he was right, anywhere from Cody would be quicker by angel or plane.
Sam looked over his shoulder as he shoved things into the back of the SUV. “No offense, Cas, but you look like a good breeze would blow you over. Plus I am not going anywhere without these three, so it’s my ride or nothing.”
Weapons and gear stowed, Sam grabbed a few other pieces of paper, details, for Mrs Rhodes. His instructions were clear—switch everything off if he wasn’t back in two weeks, take what food she could from the refrigerator. He had told her about Dean within a few months of them knowing each other, she’d understand his need to find his brother.
Not that he’d told her everything when they first met, just that he’d needed a change of pace. He’d leave the note in her postbox, she already had a key to the cabin. Locking up, Sam led Cas and the dogs to the SUV.
“Up,” Sam commanded and the three jumped up onto the back seat and let Sam fix their canine restraints so they wouldn’t go flying if he had to brake suddenly, or stop them if they tried jump out an open window. “You’re up front with me,” Sam said to Cas, unable to help the smile that he gave Cas.
The two of them got into the front of the car and Sam put on his seatbelt. Sam glanced over at Cas and rolled his eyes. “Dude, put your seatbelt on.”
“If somehow we have an accident, I don’t want you smashing through my windshield, okay? Put it on.” Sam started the engine.
Cas did as he was told, grumbling as he wrestled with the contraption. Sam ignored him and pulled away, giving the cabin a look in his rear view mirror as they left This is dangerous Sam. So what, Dean’s missing—you could get someone hurt, said the voice in his head that was a reality check whenever he went near stressers. I need to help him. No one’s found him, there’s things I can try… Sam sighed. I gotta try.
Sam hoped he would be able to return.