Lotus symbology: It continues to resurrect itself, coming back just as beautiful as it was last seen. With such refusal to accept defeat, it's almost impossible not to associate this flower with unwavering faith. Although cultures have largely dubbed the lotus as a spiritual figurehead, it is most emblematic of the faith within ourselves.
Sam had spent the last few years reclaiming the Men of Letters’ garden that he’d found out on the back forty. That’s what they’d called the wild tract of land that the bunker backed up to. Dean remembered the day that Sam had burst into the kitchen, through their back door, boots covered in muck and mud, hair gone as wild as his eyes. The adrenaline had kicked up immediately in Dean’s body, he’d been sure that there was an emergency, something bad was coming or had found them (again).
“So get this,” Sam had said, quickly shucking off his muddy boots.
“Get what?” Dean had asked, setting down the hot cup of coffee he’d been holding.
“There’s a garden out there,” Sam had said with all the wonder of that eight year old in the Cleveland Botanic Garden on that long ago field trip. The one that had ended up being their Garden in their Heaven. The one that they never mentioned to each other but still knew was waiting for them when all this was over, hopefully—maybe. “It was underneath the wild berries, you know that thicket we never went into because of all the thorns?”
Dean had sipped his coffee then, suppressing a sigh at his brother’s enthusiasm for exploring what should likely just as well be left alone. He hadn’t said anything, knowing that Sam wasn’t anywhere close to done yet.
“I think it’s the garden I’d found that logbook for last month, remember the one that didn’t make any sense because we thought we knew there wasn’t a garden or anything left of one?” Sam had asked, finally taking a breath.
Dean had nodded and still not said anything, he might have let out a pained sigh as he realized this garden thing would be meaning a lot of manual work outside, digging it out, clearing away the overgrowth. He wasn’t up for it or interested, there had been too many years of too much running around, trying to stay alive. Back then he’d just been too tired to even think of offering up his participation.
“Don’t you even care?” Sam had asked, obviously gearing up to use whatever version of the puppy dog eyes he thought might work in this case.
Dean had rolled his eyes, like he was supposed to. “Sure I do, Sam, I’m glad you found the garden or whatever. I’m just not up for—“
“You don’t have to do anything about it,” Sam had interrupted, “I swear I’ll do it all, Dean. I just want you to come see it.”
“Right now?” Dean had asked, knowing that he sounded whiny, and it was such a little thing that his brother was asking for, even if it undoubtedly meant weeks of back-breaking hard labor on the immediate horizon.
Sam had his boots back on already, and that had been Dean’s answer. And so he’d followed his brother, out their backdoor and through some of the scrubby wilderness that they’d been keeping hacked away from the path. He’d followed Sam’s wide back, flannel stretched across, plaid pattern distorted by the muscle and bulk he kept hidden from the world. Sam would be up for this, he needed something active to do outside, instead of wasting away inside at one of their research tables buried in dusty old scrolls and Men of Letters’ file boxes.
The flash of Sam’s machete carving them a safer path through the tangled berry bramble had brought Dean back to the here and now. It was harder to do that lately, something about the aftereffects of housing an archangel for too long. Scrambled the brain. He had tried to keep that from Sam, but of course Sam having experienced that very thing several times himself, he’d already known. It had been hard to put up with all the mollycoddling, but he’d let Sam baby him back to what had come to be Dean’s new normal. At least he was still walking and talking, right?
“See?” Sam had said with this unusual brightness in his voice. Almost edible in the still Kansas spring morning air.
“What am I supposed to be seeing, the water?” Dean had asked, truly confused at what he was meant to be observing besides a whole mess of overgrown weeds.
“It’s a lotus pond, the whole garden is centered and designed around it, at least as far as I can tell without having cleared the whole thing out. And that’s what reminded me of that logbook, there was a whole section about lotuses. There’s some stonework too, and benches that were marked on a site map. I think their spell ingredients garden was over there.” Sam had pointed across the pond toward a flat spot on a small hill. “I hope there’s still something left of it, might be useful.”
“Lotuses, huh? Aren’t they symbolic for rebirth?” Dean had asked, not really considering how many times they’d both been through that very thing.
“Yeah, and they’re a reminder to have faith in yourself too. They come back just as beautiful each time, never accepting defeat,” Sam had said with a determined little smile that had given Dean something that felt like the beginnings of hope.
Dean had thought to himself that it sounded a whole lot like someone he knew, the very someone standing there exuding such unwavering faith in the both of them to continue on. That’s what had brought him back after the whole Michael thing. He had wished then that he could say that somehow, express it in a way that acknowledged what it had meant to him that Sam had never given up on him, or them. But the words hadn’t come, and so they weren’t said out loud where they’d have really mattered.
Over the next few weeks, just as Dean had guessed, Sam had worked himself to the bone digging the garden out. Dean had helped with burning the piles of dead plant materials, continuing with his never pass-up-a-chance-to-burn-stuff policy. The bones of the garden had still been there underneath the mess, just like Sam had said. Some of the plants had self-sown and taken over the place, Dean remembered Sam swearing he was going to be fighting the mints and tansy for freakin’-ever.
The only interest Dean really had taken was the lotus pond. He had even gone as far as finding them a potential haunting in Alabama, just so they could go to one of the country’s largest lotus growers on their way back home. He’d wanted to pick out some new plants in person instead of buying them online. They had packed the plants into the Impala’s trunk in several layers of plastic garbage bags. The stench of the pond muck had been nearly overwhelming.
But all of that had been before.
Before Sam had gotten sick. At first they’d thought it was just a nasty cold, but it had quickly turned into bronchitis and then—bam, pneumonia and when the doctor’s had x-rayed him they’d found the fucking cancer. Hidden away deep inside, where the angels and demons had been buried. Why hadn’t they fixed him up while they’d been in there? Surely they could’ve seen what was happening, how Sam’s body had been silently betraying him, cell by cancer-riddled cell.
It had all gone so fast after they’d received the diagnosis. There hadn’t even been time to try chemo. Sam had wasted away to almost nothing in the space of a few short months. It reminded Dean of how Sam had been towards the end of the Trials. But now there were no angels around to even ask to fix him.
Dean didn’t even bother praying once during the whole ordeal, he’d talked to Chuck face to face that one time, he knew they were well and truly on their own. There wouldn’t have been any point in it anyway, his focus was the little time in the here and now that remained to be with Sam. Like today, after helping Sam bathe, studiously ignoring how skeletal he was now, he’d taken the time to blow-dry Sam’s hair since their big expedition outdoors was planned for that afternoon after lunch.
“Hey at least you’re going out with a full head of hair, right?” Dean said over the noise of the blow drier. He scrunched his fingers through Sam’s hair, giving him a little scalp massage.
Sam smiled at him in the mirror, and went back to purring at having Dean’s fingers combing through his hair, just like always.
“It’s gotten so long, I really should give you a trim,” Dean said, switching off the blow drier.
Sam shook his head, and Dean dropped the idea then and there. There were so few things Sam seemed to have a choice in these days. “Once a long-hair, always a long-hair,” Dean chuckled at Sam’s small yet thankful smile.
Soon Dean had Sam bundled into three coats, a sweater and boots, so they could make their way out the backdoor, moving slowly along the path to the garden. Sam had to stop several times, every step and movement an obvious torment. Dean finally gave in and scooped him up into his arms to carry him the rest of the way. He set Sam down on the herbal lawn that was on the edge of the lotus pond and remained their favorite place to enjoy the garden they’d brought back from the dead. Dean settled down next to Sam on the fragrant chamomile, thyme and pennyroyal and breathed in the pleasantly fresh scents.
“Instead of a pyre, I want you to bury me in there,” Sam said, pointing a shaky finger at the still water of their lotus pond, its surface nearly covered with leaves and colorful flowers. He laid his head down on Dean’s shoulder with a sigh filled with pain he didn’t have the energy to hide.
Dean took a deep breath before he could say or do anything stupid. This was a big ask Sam was making, pretty much the biggest. “Bury you where? You mean in the pond?”
“Yeah, the lotuses will take care of recycling my body,” Sam said, voice gone weak with the effort of so many words in a row.
Dean stared out at the pond, traced the reflections of the clouds on its surface, and wished with all he was and ever had been that he could just say no. No, you’re not dying. Hell no, I’m not letting you. But he couldn’t say it, not this time. “Let’s say I do this, you’re not gonna haunt my ass, right?”
Sam shook his head slowly, every movement a pain he could barely tolerate. “I won’t, no. I mean…not unless you want me to.”
“I don’t want you to go, Sammy. But I don’t want you to stay, not like that. We both know how wrong that can go,” Dean said, thinking of how Bobby had struggled to keep it together for just a few months after he’d passed.
“I know, Dean, I don’t want to do either thing. But we both know where we’re going to end up, right? I mean, we’ve already seen it, we’ve been there together, not many humans have had that chance,” Sam said, voice cracking on the last word which then led to a few minutes of coughing.
The pain his brother was in, just from fucking coughing was almost more than he could bear. He wished he could take it all away somehow, that he could be the one who was sick. Once Sam had stopped coughing and drunk a little water, Dean finally answered. “Don’t care about all that now, doesn’t matter to me,” Dean said, not wanting to think about the inevitable which was coming at him like a speeding train.
Sam struggled to sit up on his own, and turned to look Dean in the eyes. “Yes, yes it does too matter. It’s what’s kept me going knowing that’s where we’ll end up.”
“Really?” was the only word Dean could think of to say. Sam was always surprising him, the depths in him hid so much intense feeling.
Sam mouthed the word back at him silently and then nodded off, head gone heavy back in its place on Dean’s shoulder. Dean looked out at the pond again, tried to picture how he’d even manage to bury Sam in there. He’d have to weight him down with rocks, something like that would probably work. A brilliant orange butterfly flew past, interrupting his morbid thoughts, he watched it flitting around the lotus flowers, landing and taking off. Eventually it flew back towards them, landing on Sam’s cheek. Its orange wings folded up and Dean watched as Sam’s tears were gently sucked up by the butterfly. One salty drop at a time. Why was Sam crying in his sleep though? The tears eventually stopped flowing and the butterfly flew off.
Sam’s eyes opened, unshed tears pooled diamond bright on his lashes. Dean had never seen anything more beautiful in his life. He leaned down and kissed his brother’s eyelids and stole his own taste of Sam’s tears. The butterfly was definitely onto something here.
Once he pulled back from his impulsive gesture, he looked into Sam’s eyes and saw the moment Sam figured it out. That he was saying yes to his earlier question and all the other ones he’d never asked out loud. Sam mouthed thank you, closed his eyes for what was the last time and then took his last deep shuddering breath. Dean waited for him to take another, for his chest to expand and his lungs to fill. But Sam was as still as the stone benches across the pond, and that was that.
Saying yes to burying Sam in the pond and actually doing it were two very different things as it turned out. This shouldn’t have been a surprise to Dean, but it was. Of course, because it was Sam, and naturally he had to make things challenging. Why stop even in death, right? At least his brother had done him the favor of dying right there on the herbal lawn that bordered the pond. He took his coat off and covered Sam with it. He struggled up to his feet and looked down at the body for a long moment, the images that flashed through his mind stunned him, all the memories flowing backwards until he could picture Sam as that tiny baby in their mother’s arms. All these years, all this time they’d had together. The weight of sadness and the joy of it all hit him like a staggering body blow. He could feel his cheeks were wet, a few of his tears fell down towards his brother’s face, splashing onto his cooling lips.
“Don’t go anywhere, I’ll be right back with some stuff,” Dean said, instantly feeling ridiculous for talking to someone who was dead. He trudged back to the bunker, and pulled one of the fancy embroidered linen tablecloths out of the closet. There were all sorts of symbols and scrollwork along the edges, some of which he recognized. Sam would have known the rest of course. The important thing was that the tablecloth was probably long enough to fit his Sasquatch. He gathered up the sewing kit, a candle and matches, his tallest rubber boots and a bottle of whisky
Before he knew it, he was in the middle of the pond, setting the last of the rocks on Sam’s enshrouded body. He stood up and looked around the garden, taking in the beauty that Sam had wrought out of chaos. “I know you’re still here, and I know there’s probably a reaper with you. You have to go with them, you promised me, Sammy. Remember what we just talked about? I know where I’m gonna see you. I don’t know when exactly, probably sooner rather than later. But I’ll be there with you. You can count on it.”
He clambered out of the water and sat on the edge of the pond, staring at the lotus flowers floating around to re-cover the surface, hiding the spot where his brother was now buried. His heart felt more than just empty, it felt deflated, like it would never work right again. He lit the candle, drank some whisky and sat out there until it was full dark, his eyes were dry now, there were just too many tears to start that again.
It’s been a week now, that his brother has been lying at the bottom of the lotus pond. A whole week that Dean’s spent his days lying on the herbal lawn, steadily drinking whisky and staring at the flowers floating on the surface of the water that holds what’s left of his heart. He hasn’t cried since the day he’d sewn up the last stitch on Sam’s shroud, weighted it down with river rocks that had edged the pond. Lying there in the dappled sun, he thinks about what he’s lost in finally letting his brother go. Sam had extracted that promise about not bringing him back, and he’d kept it.
Out of all the promises to keep, why’d he kept this one? The tears finally start when he thinks about standing in Sam’s mind when he had been dying from the Trials, along for the ride as he and Gadreel convinced Sam to stay and live. Death himself had come to collect his brother, and Sam was going to go with him, until Dean had said those words. Well, Gadreel had said them, but they were what had always been in his core, unexpressed and hidden from the one person who had always needed to hear them. “There ain’t no me, if there ain’t no you.” The tears finally came remembering that instant of joy on Sam’s face. Had Sam remembered this too? He cried harder at the thought that he didn’t know and maybe never would.
He lost himself in thoughts and memories and only came back to the present when he felt the weight of a familiar arm around his shoulders and then a tickle at the trail of tears on his cheek. He reached up to wipe them away and an orange butterfly flew away from him for a moment, circling back and landing on his hand where the small smear of tears remained. It gently suckled them up and Dean wondered if this was the same butterfly from a week ago, the one that had done the same to Sam.
“You’ve got a thing for Winchester tears, huh?” Dean asked the butterfly, instantly feeling foolish and maybe a little on the edge of crazy. He was glad to feel the arm over his shoulders, just for the strange comfort of the familiar and impossible.
The butterfly paused at his words and seemed to look at him, examining him, tracking the movements of his eyes the most carefully. The thing seemed to begin to weigh more than it should, as much as the weight of the arm slung around his shoulder, and then so much more until Dean could barely hold his hand up. He lowered it down to rest on the lawn beside him and the butterfly stayed. It walked around in a small circle on the back of his hand, nimbly stepping over the hair. It tickled and Dean had to hold his hand steady and not flick it away. The butterfly folded up its legs and wings and settled down, its insect eyes still not leaving Dean’s face. It felt so damn familiar, almost like he was in a staring contest with Sam.
“So what, I’m supposed to believe you’re Sam or something?” Dean asked, the wind from his words fluttering the edges of the butterfly’s wings.
It didn’t answer, thank Chuck for small favors. He was losing it, but not completely. He’d stopped crying at least, so there was that to be thankful for.
“Thanks for interrupting my cry-fest,” Dean said, closing his eyes and letting himself drift. It was comfortable there on the soft herbal lawn, it smelled so damn good up close like this. He knew he was laying on it too much, but he hoped it would survive his period of mourning, however long that was going to last.
The butterfly seemed to shrug its little insect shoulders and then resettled itself on his hand, still staring unblinking at Dean. How did it seem even heavier now?
“If you’re not him, then maybe you can give him a message for me, huh? Tell him—tell him that I changed my mind. I wish I’d never kept my stupid promise to let him go.”
Dean would swear on all the priceless artifacts in the bunker that the butterfly rolled its compound eyes at him, all twelve thousand of them. “I mean it, I miss him, and need him back here with me.”
The butterfly took off then, the push it made on the back of his hand denting the skin with the force. It made a beeline for the center of the pond and hovered over the lotus pads that had gathered over where Sam’s body still lay. It began to fly in a tight circle, and then other butterflies flew in to join it, until there was a large group of them. Dean remembered the time that he and Sam had argued about the collective noun for butterflies, whether it was a kaleidoscope or a flutter, or just a swarm. Whatever it was, a group of the brightly winged things were flying faster and faster making a small maelstrom appear in the water of the pond below.
The lotus pads were pushed away as the surface of the water frothed and heaved. Dean sat up when he heard the muffled sound of rocks moving underwater. The white of Sam’s shroud began to show just under the water’s surface and then he could see it, the whole thing floating there, practically taunting him with how bad a job he’d done of burying his brother.
“Shit, now what?” Dean grumbled to himself, stepping out into the pond.
As he neared the floating shape of his brother’s body, he saw that it was moving in the area where Sam’s chest would likely be. It had to be the water moving it, or a fish caught up in the fabric. He took a few hesitant steps closer and reached out a tentative hand to grab ahold of the tablecloth. The fabric tore away as if it was so much wet Kleenex and he didn’t want to look, didn’t want to see what Sam would look like after a week in the water. But he heard a sound, a tiny gasp of surprise, and it was the butterflies that made him look. They swarmed in front of his eyes and led his head until he was pointed in the right direction. The group of them parted like a curtain and he was looking into Sam’s open eyes.
“Am I dreaming or what?” Dean asked, voice trembling with equal amounts of wonder and terror.
“I think I might be,” Sam said. “Can you at least help me out of this?” He struggled a little in his funeral wrappings.
“Thought you weren’t gonna haunt me, dude,” Dean said, pulling the remains of the tablecloth shroud away from Sam’s body, and helping him stand steady in the muck of the pond bottom. Sam was all big again, strong and healthy like he was back when he’d first found the garden. It was like the endless nightmare months of cancer hadn’t even happened.
“Don’t think it counts as haunting if I’m alive,” Sam said, grabbing onto Dean’s waist when he slipped on the rocks at the edge of the pond. Dean hauled him out the rest of the way and flopped back onto the herbal lawn.
“This is one hell of a dream,” Dean said, wanting to close his eyes and just keep the dream going as long as he could, but not wanting to miss a moment of seeing his brother alive and breathing right there next to him.
Sam pinched Dean’s bicep, twisting the flesh hard between his strong fingers. “This feel like a dream, Dean?”
Dean pinched Sam back in the same place, just as hard and he reveled at the feeling of Sam’s pond-cold skin warming up between his fingers. “Yeah, it does actually.”
Sam pulled him into a wet embrace then, wrapping his arms and legs around Dean, squishing Dean’s face down into his soggy flannel-covered chest. Dean held his breath, not sure what was happening, or why he was dreaming something like this. Maybe he should have cut out all the whisky. It wasn’t until he felt Sam’s lips moving against the skin of his ear, and heard what he was whispering that he knew it couldn’t be a dream.
“Chuck said to tell you that you’re wrong, you’re not on your own. You never are.”
Dean pushed himself out of Sam’s hold and looked at him, he really was here and alive. “So you were right about the lotus recycling you, huh?”
Sam’s hand landed on Dean’s cheek and it felt too cool for a moment, until he moved it, the skin practically igniting at his brother’s touch. “I thought you hated recycling.”
“Not this kind, obviously,” Dean said.
“So you missed me, huh?” Sam asked, a fleeting smile gracing his lips.
Dean shrugged, and knew he didn’t need to answer. “That why you came back? Just because I asked?”
“Maybe…I’m not really sure. I think I was always going to come back somehow, just didn’t know how or when it would happen.”
“Dude, were you really just an orange butterfly, or was I dreaming that part of this whole crazy thing?” Dean asked, searching Sam’s face, hungry for any expression, he’d missed all of them so much.
Sam rewarded him with a half-level bitchface that turned into a sly smile. “Let’s just say that we’re even on tasting each other’s tears, and leave it at that, huh?”
“Uh…you remember me doin’ that?” Dean asked, embarrassed down to his core.
“It’s the last thing I remember from—before,” Sam said in a slow dreamy voice, “That was a hell of a thing to go out with. Maybe that’s why I’m back.”
“‘m sorry,” Dean said, dipping his head with the weight of his embarrassment. That one impulsive gesture he’d made just a week ago couldn’t have been all that revealing, right?
“Not a thing to apologize for, and like I said, we’re even on that score now.”
Dean couldn’t take it any more, he gathered Sam back up into his arms and held him tighter than tight. “I’m sorry I couldn’t keep my promise about just letting you go, Sammy. I tried, but I just couldn’t do it.”
“But you did though, Dean. I think that’s part of why I got to come back.”
“What are you talking about?” Dean leaned back a little so he could try and read his brother’s face, he wasn’t making sense.
Sam smiled one of his infuriatingly enigmatic Sam-smiles. “You let me go just like you promised, you even buried me where I asked you to. And you didn’t make any deals or sell your soul or bust open the gates of Heaven. You didn’t do any of that, you just let it happen like it was supposed to.”
“Oh, so what, you dying just got—poof—undone, just because?” Dean asked.
“Yeah, and the pond is maybe…uh, a little more special than I had let on,” Sam said, sounding a little tentative.
“Meaning what exactly?” Dean asked, wondering what the hell Sam had left out when he’d explained the garden and pond in the first place.
“The Men of Letters, when they built this place, well they didn’t just pick the spot randomly, right? There was something to the choice, and from some things I noticed in the garden logbook, I started to get the idea to look up their reasons. Turns out there’s a confluence of ley lines and a few other esoteric things that converge right out there.” Sam pointed to the middle of the pond, the spot where he’d just recently been buried. “It corresponds to one like it in several other places in the world, there was one in Florida, that was sometimes known as the ‘Fountain of Youth’.”
“You’re telling me the Fountain of Youth has always just been hanging out in our backyard here?” Dean asked.
“Pretty much, but it doesn’t always work the way it just did for me. That was a special case.”
“Story of our lives, right?” Dean asked, even though it wasn’t really a question for them. They’d never trusted the special cases exception, hadn’t counted on it, but here it had come through.
“I think it was a combination of a lot of stuff. Part of it was Chuck, part of it was what you did after I died, and the rest was how much I wanted to come back to uh…be with you.”
Dean tightened his arms around Sam and looked out at the pond, the sun reflecting almost as brightly as the flare of an angel’s grace. He didn’t know who he owed his thanks to, but he knew this one last chance with Sam wasn’t one he’d be wasting. He leaned down to press his lips against Sam’s, just before his words escaped him. He knew it was all changed and new, that it was their turn now. Dean kissed Sam desperate and wild with this knowledge, and his brother opened up to him with the calming beauty of the lotus flowers. Recycled, renewed, reborn together into a world where this was not only possible but inevitable.