Title: From Yesterday
Characters: Dean, Sam, and OCs
Disclaimer/Summary: See Prologue
Author's Note: It's Friday! I made it on time this week. *grins* Thanks to all who are reading, following, and especially those who take time to leave me a review. Reviews are a fanfic writer's primary reward (aside from getting to spend time with these great characters), and I truly appreciate yours. I will reply to each as soon as life slows down a smidge.
This is a bit of an emotional chapter, but transitions us from the hospital recovery portion of the story to the 'now what' portion of the story. I hope you enjoy!
Part 1: Prologue; Part 1: Chapter 1; Part 1: Chapter 2; Part 1: Chapter 3; Part 1: Chapter 4
"You know, there's stubborn…and then there's your brother."
Rufus Turner's mellow baritone rumbled through the clearing as he dropped the end of a small, felled tree on top of a growing stack, then took a sip of what Sam assumed was whiskey from the smell of his breath, from a pocket flask.
"Yeah, I know," Sam conceded softly. His eyes rested on Dean standing to the side of the funeral pyre they were building for Bobby, listing a bit as fatigue seized up his still-healing back and hip and wondered where he found the drive.
Dean had been dealt a few blows over the last week and a half in the hospital; Sam was personally ready to call a truce with Karma. But Dean just kept going. Saying little, he took the hits and moved forward. Just like he always had.
Well, almost like he always had.
Where before he'd always been in motion, restless eyes checking exits or watching for weapons, now he seemed quiet, contemplative, and oddly…still. He watched everything, his head tilted slightly to the left to compensate for his shadowed vision, and he listened carefully, as if he were waiting to hear something – or maybe someone – specific.
Sam, for his part, hadn't been able to slow down. It was almost as if whatever super-charged his blood into increasing his rate of healing had kick-started his muscles, heart, adrenal glands. When he wasn't sleeping, he could feel his pulse racing. He only felt really calm when he was moving. He hadn't talked to Dean about this observation – he hadn't really talked to Dean about much except healing up and what their next steps needed to be.
"How longs he been out of the hospital again?" Rufus asked.
"A day," Sam replied.
Sam had been officially released from the hospital two days after Jackson's visit with the caveat that he return daily for physical therapy on his shoulder and hand. Dean had been moved out of CCU the same day Sam was released, but luckily – or by design – he'd been assigned a private room with a couch where Sam had been able to sleep.
First order of business had been the Impala.
They had been beyond lucky that the search of the car hadn't revealed the hidden compartment full of weapons in the Chevy's trunk. Sam was pretty sure had that been found, the leniency they'd been shown thus far because of their battered states would have been jerked away so fast it would've left them spinning.
Leaving Dean to bandage changes and the frequent naps he seemed unable to function without, Sam recovered the Impala and with it their stash of fake IDs. He was able to use his "uncle" Eric Bloom's credit card to start payments of their hospital bill, though he knew that scam wasn't going to last forever if they stuck around Lawrence. He was just glad Dean seemed to be the only Blue Oyster Cult mega-fan in town.
After reassuring Dean that all their weapons and supplies were still intact, Sam turned his attention to finding them a temporary home. He couldn't sleep on a hospital couch forever; Dean needed a place to go to recover until they figured out where they would go next.
As Sam made his way around Lawrence, he walked or took the local T-bus. The front windshield of the Impala was shattered from what Sam could only assume had been Dean's body. He knew Dean would want to fix it when he got out, so he parked it at the hospital until he found a small house to rent.
He returned to the hospital to stay with Dean at night. It hadn't escaped Sam's notice that while he might be sleeping better than he ever had, his constant nightmares and visions having temporarily departed, Dean's sleep was restless and when he did drop into REM sleep, his dreams were troubled, often waking him with a violent, desperate gasp for air or inarticulate cry.
Sam sympathized, remembering, knowing what it was like. But he didn't know how to take those from Dean, and he couldn't offer the comfort of touch that had seemed to always soothe Dean. A hand on his arm, against his neck, something that grounded Dean in the present, something that said you're here.
He'd had to settle with a word or two, his voice reminding Dean he wasn't alone, he wasn't trapped wherever his subconscious worked to convince him he was. He'd call out – often half-asleep when he did so – and Dean would shift to look at him, working to bring his breathing under control, the tension in his body slowly siphoning out until he could once more lay back and make another attempt at sleep.
The day Sam had found a small, two-bedroom house for rent in North Lawrence, right along the river and behind the railroad tracks – both helping to lower the rent considerably – he returned to the hospital to find Dr. Randall examining Dean's hand. The wound had been larger and deeper than his, and the healing tissue was growing back thick and knotted. Sam's bandages had been reduced to wrap just around his hand and wrist; he looked like a boxer who'd been interrupted as he prepared for a fight.
The doctor tested Dean's fingers and Sam saw them flinch, but his brother wasn't able to flex them inward or fully straighten them. They lay in the doctor's hand like Dean had been frozen in the act of waving, fingers slightly curved.
"I'm sorry, Dean," Dr. Randall had said. "The damage was extensive. With time and a lot of therapy, you may be able to close your hand again, but I doubt you are ever going to regain full use of it."
Dean hadn't taken his eyes off his hand, staring at the red, angry, slowly-healing wound.
"Never know, Doc," he'd said, looking up to see Sam standing in the doorway. "I've come back from worse."
Yeah, but you had angels on your side then, Sam had mentally countered.
The doctor had wrapped Dean's hand similar to Sam's, checked his healing jaw and wounded back, then left with a promise to return the next day. The entire time the brothers remained silent, the tension in the room like a living thing.
"Dean…," Sam had started when Dr. Randall left.
"I'll use it again, Sam," Dean had told him, his eyes echoing the determination his jaw line would have had it not already been wired in place. "And until then…I'll shoot left-handed."
"How?" Sam had countered. "You've never shot left-handed before!"
Dean's reply had left no room for further discussion, but Sam resolved to create a reality where they wouldn't have to shoot. They'd saved the world, stopped Armageddon. Shouldn't they be allowed to stop? To finally stop? Live real lives? Why should his brother have to figure out how to defend and protect with his left hand because he'd given his right to save his brother?
It had to mean something. Everything they'd fought for and against, all of the broken seals and the subterfuge, demon blood and Horsemen…it had to mean something.
Had Sam been able to save them all by falling with Lucifer into the Cage, he thought now, it would have been a large enough sacrifice to repair all the damage he'd caused, all of the bad choices he'd made over the last few years.
But he hadn't. Dean had saved him from that Hell.
And if they kept on hunting, doing the job like nothing had happened, like they literally hadn't given everything…then it meant nothing. And Sam couldn't live with that.
Following Dean's instructions, Sam had safe-guarded their newly rented house with sigils – both anti-demon and anti-angel, just in case – for when they both left the hospital. But he really only did it to appease his brother. Since Stull, he'd not seen one set of demon-enhanced onyx eyes or encountered one android-like angel.
The angels had left, he was sure of it; with Michael and the other Archangels gone, they had no leaders and, he argued, the demons had no direction without Lucifer or Azazel.
"Crowley's still out there," Dean had pointed out to him one afternoon as they'd slowly counted laps around the hospital floor.
The doctor had encouraged this, even though the first few times triggered a string of curses from Dean's mouth that had Sam raising his eyebrows, impressed. Dean couldn't stand fully on his own yet; he'd been given a walker to help take the brunt of his weight, but not only was that a huge blow to his ego, he hadn't been able to grip it with his wounded right hand. He'd settled for a crutch on one side and Sam on the other.
"He's out there making deals, wrecking lives…and with Lucifer out of the picture, who knows what he'll try. You know damn well we can't turn our backs on those bastards."
"Maybe they've given up," Sam had tried.
"Yeah, and maybe I'll start singing opera," Dean had retorted.
"I haven't seen anything, Dean," Sam had whispered imperatively. "No unusual lightning storms, no cattle mutilation, not even a whiff of sulfur."
"Just because they aren't here doesn't mean they're gone."
"It could," Sam had pressed. "Dean, we went most of our lives without knowing that angels could inhabit vessels and interact with humans," he'd reminded his brother, "and until Dad found the Colt, we'd only encountered one demon."
"They were still out there, Sam."
"So, what are you gonna do – summon a demon just to prove they're still around?" Dean's silence had sent Sam's heart rate sky-high. "Dude. You are not going to summon a demon."
"No," Dean had acquiesced, albeit reluctantly.
"Good." Sam had exhaled, trying to still his suddenly shaking hands. He'd just started to open his mouth to extend the ban on summoning powerful beings to include angels, when Dean spoke up.
"And what about the other stuff that we know is out there, Sam? Witches, spirits, vamps?" Dean had stopped walking, turning to face his brother, one hand gripping the crutch. His bruises and stitches stood out in stark contrast to the white of his face, the heat in his eyes. "We stopped one thing, Sam. We didn't stop everything."
"There's always gonna be evil in the world," Dean had all-but growled, offering a small smile to the nurse who'd glanced their way at his words. Waiting until she moved on, he'd turned his attention back to Sam. "And it's our job to stop it."
"Yeah, well, I want to change careers," Sam had spat at him, leaving the argument unfinished in the hallway of the hospital as he continued to build the framework of a life for them in Lawrence until Dean recovered.
Sam broke from his memories and grabbed up a log to add to the pyre.
Rufus stayed where he was, his bright, dark eyes watching the brothers' every move. Dean slowly wandered in the opposite direction, his memories of Bobby wrapping around him so thick Sam could almost see them. It was crazy, this much activity one day after spending three weeks the hospital, but the morgue had held Bobby all this time, waiting for them to claim the body. They weren't going to wait longer.
"You gonna tell me what went down at that cemetery?" Rufus asked him, pocketing the flask and grabbing the other end of a heavy log Sam was dragging.
Sam had skipped out on physical therapy the last two days so that he could chop the wood necessary for the base of the pyre. The ache in his shoulder seemed to increase as the hours wore on, reminding him that while he healed more quickly than he might normally have, he'd been damaged pretty significantly.
He wasn't meant to swing an axe with a still-healing hole in his shoulder. He'd ended up downing four ibuprofen every six hours, but the activity and motion had felt good. Motion felt good. Being active felt good. Doing something productive that wasn't supporting Dean as he worked to rebuild his strength, or wasn't trying to avoid the topic of hunting – even if the underlying purpose was morbid – felt good.
"I told you when I called you about Bobby," Sam replied. "Big show-down, Lucifer versus Michael. They lost, we won. Bobby was killed."
"And someone beat the living shit out of your brother," Rufus added, tossing the log up on top of the pyre and turning to study Sam with a calculated gaze. Uncomfortable under the scrutiny, Sam reached for his shoulder, rubbing out the ache. "What happened to your shoulder, Sam?"
Sam frowned. "How'd you know I hurt my shoulder?"
"Don't bullshit a bullshitter." Rufus' eyebrow bounced up. "You think I haven't been watching you?"
Sam sighed. "Bobby shot me."
Rufus pulled his head back, clearly not expecting that. "Why the hell would Bobby shoot you?"
"Because," Sam sighed, looking out across the clearing at Dean as he limped along the edge of the tree line, his eyes on the ground. "I was beating the living shit out of my brother."
Sam ran his scarred left hand through his hair. "Well…Lucifer. Using me."
Rufus squared off his stance, facing Sam. "Kid, you called me a two days ago, said my oldest friend in the world was dead and you wanted my help to bury him."
"You might've mentioned you two had something to do with his getting killed."
Sam rubbed his face. It was almost easier when they were alone. Remembering Rufus and calling him for help had seemed like a godsend at the time – until he realized that once he started telling the truth, he wasn't going to be able to stop with just the local police.
He started quietly, telling Rufus as quickly as he could about Zachariah and Adam, about Lucifer, about their destiny and resisting what had seemed like the inevitable, about the Horsemen's rings. And then he got to Detroit.
"Let me guess," Rufus muttered, watching as Dean started making his way back to the pyre, a few pieces of wood cradled in his arms. "Dean couldn't stick to the plan."
Sam shook his head. "The minute Lucifer took me out of that room, Dean's choice was made. And Bobby knew Dean was going to get killed trying to save me." Sam toed the ground at the base of the wood pile. "Dean was always Bobby's favorite," he said with a grudging smile. "Bobby couldn't just let him go off to get killed anymore than Dean could let me."
He said it without malice, without pain. He knew Bobby had loved him…but the truth was Bobby had loved Dean more. And he was strangely okay with that.
"How bad?" Rufus asked, his voice pitched low, his eyes on Dean.
Sam looked up at his brother. The swelling of his face was almost gone, the stitches were out, the bruising having faded from dark purple to a greenish-yellow, but Dean would always bear scars from that day. A thin pink line paralleled his left eyebrow and one formed a crescent below his left eye. Another ran in a slim, L-shaped curve along his left jaw, near his ear, and several small ones peppered his lips, though Sam had to be close Dean to see those.
Sam knew his brother hadn't regained his partially impaired sight; Dean never said anything, but Sam could tell by the way he tilted his head or shifted his body that he was ensuring he could see as much around him as possible. Sam had started to make sure he was always standing to Dean's right; watching his brother shift so that he could see him clearly just reminded Sam of why he had to do so.
While outwardly Dean was visibly healing, Sam knew there was a lot broken inside as well. The concussion still forced him to sleep longer during the day, the nightmares never really allowing him true rest. His hip was repaired enough that he hadn't been forced to take a crutch with him when leaving the hospital and the limp would go away in time, but Sam expected the pained grimaces as Dean straightened his back to continue as the screwed-together bones adjusted to his activity.
He'd get the wiring off his jaw in a couple of weeks, which would be good because he'd lost weight living off of protein shakes. Dean's cheek bones were prominent, his eyes – already large to being with – were beginning to take over his face, and Sam had noticed the clothes he'd brought to the hospital hung on him.
"Y'know," Sam said by way of answering. "I think he could deal with all of it…but his hand is going to be tough to get past."
"I see you have a matching one," Rufus nodded toward Sam's still-bandaged hand.
Sam nodded, holding his left hand up and flexing his fingers, curling them into a loose fist. "It's still tender, but I'll heal." He kicked at a clump of leaves. "Dean's never gonna be able to use his hand again. Can't even move his fingers."
"How the hell did Lucifer manage to hurt you both like that?"
"He didn't." Dean's voice startled Sam. He hadn't realized his brother had gotten so close. "I did it."
Rufus drew his head back again. Sam felt slightly sorry for the older hunter. He was getting hit by a few punches this afternoon.
"You? You destroyed your own hand?"
Dean lifted a shoulder, letting the wood in his arms roll off and to the ground at Sam's feet. "Had to."
"You want to elaborate?"
Sam watched Dean, wondering what he'd say. Since the day in the hospital when he'd told him about the amulet finding the power of God in the righteous man, they hadn't brought it up again, though Sam thought about it every day. About how the universe set them against each other from the start, readying them for the ultimate sibling showdown.
"Later, maybe," Dean conceded. "After a helluva lot of alcohol."
"You gonna drink it through a straw?" Rufus challenged sarcastically, eyeing Dean.
Dean slid his eyes over, the expression in them challenging Rufus to push him further, see what happens. "If I have to."
"Guys, it's getting dark," Sam pointed out, legitimately worried the two hunters would come to blows over whether Dean could drink alcohol with his jaw wired shut. "I think Bobby's waited long enough."
"Yeah, okay," Rufus grumbled.
While Dean saturated the pyre with fuel, Rufus and Sam returned to Rufus' truck and pulled Bobby's body from the bed. He'd been wrapped tightly in sheets; for that, Sam was glad. He'd gone with Rufus to claim the body, but had asked the older hunter to take care of the wrapping. He couldn't bear to see his friend in a bag.
They carried Bobby between them through the trees to the clearing, the rising moonlight playing tricks on Sam's eyes. He was suddenly, viciously reminded of another wooded area, another body. He looked down at his burden and saw Dean's torn, pale face instead of Bobby's shroud-wrapped head. With a strangled cry he stumbled to a stop, barely able to keep himself from dropping the body.
"Sam?" Rufus' confused voice filtered through the grim, pale light filtering through the murky darkness surrounding them. "You okay, there, kid?"
He wasn't okay. He was shaking.
He searched the clearing for Dean, but all he saw was the pile of wood. They hadn't burned Dean, he reminded himself; they'd buried him. Buried him against Bobby's wishes and because Sam had insisted. Buried him because Sam knew he'd find a way to bring his brother back.
And then an angel had hauled Dean out of Hell.
"Sam." Rufus repeated, irritated now.
Sam ignored him. He needed to see Dean. He continued to search the darkened clearing until another light sent a soft glow over everything in Sam's eyesight: a torch.
Dean stepped into the path where the tree line broke, legs parted, shoulders squared, torch held aloft, the firelight hitting his eyes and shadowing the scars on his face – the scars left by Sam's fists. Sam took a breath, meeting his brother's bright eyes and nodded once.
"Yeah, I'm okay," he finally answered, finding the will to push himself forward into the clearing.
Lifting Bobby's body on top of the pyre, Rufus and Sam stepped back, nodding at Dean. Solemnly, as if feeling the weight of their collective loss with each step, Dean approached the pyre. Sam heard him take a shaky breath before he touched the torch to the wood in several places, making sure the flames caught before stepping back.
They'd chosen a place in the woods along the Kansas River where they'd be unlikely to be found and where there was a wide enough clearing sparks from the fire wouldn't catch the trees around them. The air had grown cold, autumn surrendering slowly to winter, though snow had yet to fall.
The month they lost in the hospital had changed the world around them: damage from earthquakes, fires, and floods had been cleaned up and repaired. People had moved on to the next Internet headline, forgetting that Armageddon had almost been upon them merely weeks ago.
As the flames caught the body, Sam took a breath, drawn from the memory of burying Dean to the memory of his father's funeral pyre and the ache that had lodged at the base of his throat, spilling down his face in hot tears of loss, making each breath an effort in will. Dean had stood silently beside him that night, his entire body tense, much like he was now.
"Bobby asked me something," Dean said suddenly, startling Sam out of his suffocating memories.
"When?" Sam said, looking over at his brother.
Dean stood leaning to his right, taking the weight off his left hip. His hands were loose at his side, his jaw unnaturally tight from the efforts to mend it. His eyes were on the fire, but Sam could see they were bright even in profile. They seemed to shine from the inside out; if he didn't know better, Sam would have thought it was the amulet light echoing through Dean once more.
"Back in Detroit," Dean said. "After…," he lifted a shoulder, "we talked about the plan." He took a slow, shallow breath. "He asked me what I was afraid of. Losing? Or losing you?"
Sam swallowed hard, needing to know the answer. Dean didn't look at him; he kept his eyes on the fire and didn't seem to care that Rufus was standing on the other side of Sam, hearing every word.
"See, he knew you'd beat the Devil or die trying. He knew you wouldn't give up, Sam. He told me how you pulled those people out of that warehouse, going back again and again."
Sam couldn't tear his eyes away from Dean's profile.
"All I could think about when he asked me that," Dean continued, "was Cold Oak. Seeing you die."
"I know what you mean," Sam managed around the lump in his throat.
His world had ended that night in Indiana the moment Lilith's power had vanished, freeing him from the wall, and he'd crawled over to gather Dean's broken body into his arms.
"I told you that watching out for you was my job. It's who I am." Dean shook his head, his eyes reflecting the spiking firelight. "But Bobby, man, he knew your job was different. And he believed in you, Sam. He knew without a doubt that you would give everything you had to keep us all safe."
"I learned it from you," Sam whispered. He hadn't expected to say that, but the moment it was out, he knew it was true.
"I didn't go to Stull because I didn't think you'd do your job," Dean said, finally looking over at Sam. "I went there because…," he pressed his lips together, the tiny pink scars puckering slightly, "I knew you would. And I…I couldn't live with you dead. I couldn't do it. So…I wasn't going to let you die alone."
Sam felt a tear slip past the barricades of his lashes and he looked toward the pyre, Bobby's body nothing more than white-hot flames.
"You were always his favorite, y'know," Sam said, his voice choked. "That's why he was there. He loved you too much to not at least try to fight for you." When Dean didn't reply, Sam looked askance. "You need to know that, Dean. Someone fought for you as hard as you fought for me."
"I know." Dean's reply was raspy with emotion.
They stood quietly for a moment, the silence broken only by the snap of the flames as they ate through the wood. Sam swallowed the well of emotion that was doing its best to strangle him. He could feel Dean wearing thin next to him, the effort of staying on his feet for this long starting toward too much.
"Bobby," Rufus said finally, his voice pitched low. "You were a goddamned cantankerous son of a bitch. But," he pulled out his pocket flask, "you were a damned fine hunter – even if I did teach you everything you knew – and a good friend." Sam heard Rufus clear his throat. "World lost a light."
Sam glanced over and saw the older hunter take a drink from the silver flask, then cap it and toss it into the high flames, sparks rising from the impact and slipping into the inky black of the surrounding night.
"B'gan Ayden t'hay m'nuchato." Rufus began to recite softly in Hebrew.
Sam watched him with surprise. He honestly couldn't remember if he'd known Rufus was Jewish. The emotion tightening the older hunter's eyes and the rough edge to his voice as he continued to speak exposed how much this loss truly impacted him.
"La-chayn Ba-al Harachamim yas-tiray-hu b'sayter k'nafav l'olamim,v'yitz-ror bitz-ror hacha-yim et nishmato."
When Rufus seemed unable to continue his prayer, Dean pulled out a stained John Deer hat from the pocket of his coat. Sam had no idea where he got it; most likely from the trunk of the Impala. Dean kept almost everything he valued in there. With a flick of his wrist, he tossed it onto the fire.
"Bye, Bobby," Dean whispered as it caught fire. "See ya later."
Sam took a breath. He had no memento, nothing to throw on the fire. But he needed to say goodbye, too.
"You were our last family," Sam said to the flames. "I can't remember not knowing you. It felt…," he searched for the right word, "safe. With as much as this world tried to screw us over…it felt safe, knowing you were out there. You watched our backs."
Sam looked down, listening to the pop of the wood succumbing to the heat of the flames, knowing how it felt to be consumed by such heat, such power. He couldn't look at the light anymore.
They stood three abreast, in silence, the light from the flames washing over them, listening as the fire emptied the world of their friend and mentor. Sam hadn't realized he'd started to shiver until he felt Dean's hand on his arm, turning him away from the fire. Dimly, he heard his brother say something to Rufus about waiting until the fire was out and coming back, but he couldn't fully focus.
Too many memories, too many deaths, too many funeral pyres and graves, too much loss.
By the time he felt himself pushed gently down onto the bed of Rufus' pickup truck, he was outright shaking. He'd never had a panic attack before, but this was starting to feel pretty damn close to one. He tried to wrap his arms around his body, but his shoulder protested its over-use and he caught his breath at the base of his throat. He didn't register that Dean had managed to leverage himself up on the tailgate next to him until he heard his brother's pained hiss.
"We goin' somewhere?" Sam asked, momentarily confused.
"No." Dean leaned against him, his shoulder pressed against Sam's, the weight and warmth familiar.
"How come you climbed up here?" Sam was starting to calm down, his shivering slowly lessening, his breath steadying.
"Just…'cause," Dean replied, staying close, seeming to instinctively know just how to balance Sam.
They sat in the dark, saying nothing, for a long time.
"I'm gonna miss him," Sam said finally into the quiet of the night.
"And Cas," Sam offered.
"What're we gonna do now, Dean?" Sam asked.
Dean looked over at him and Sam thought he saw that light in his brother's eyes once more. He saw the scars, the unnatural tightness to his jaw, but the light seemed to cancel those out. He was about to say something about it when he heard Rufus approach.
"We're down to coals," Rufus announced.
Sam saw Dean nod. He slipped off the tailgate and reached up for Dean's elbow, easing him down. The listing he'd seen before had turned into a full-on lean and Sam stayed next to him, helping Dean back to the clearing as they buried the ashes of their friend, saying one final goodbye.
"Is this really the best idea?"
Sam sighed, watching as Dean pressed the open bottle to his scarred lips and tipped it back. The only source of calories and nutrition he'd been able to intake since waking in the hospital was in the form of protein shakes or pureed meals. He knew Dean was sick of liquefied food, of straws, of nothing substantial…nothing normal.
Drinking was normal.
The very act of holding the opened bottle of beer, letting the hops and barley smell waft over them was almost therapeutic. Dean continuously refused to take the prescribed amount of pain meds; Sam wasn't so much worried about mixing medication with alcohol as he was just having Dean drink alcohol at all. It had been weeks - a forced detox from the liquid crutch he'd watched his brother need more often than not since he'd returned from Hell.
Smuggling a couple of beers into the hospital wasn't the kind of thing Sam wanted to get jailed for. They'd been fortunate that Sergeant Jackson hadn't yet reached back out to them to follow up on his initial report. Sam hadn't been looking to give someone else a reason to be suspicious of them.
Watching as Dean attempted to settle back, his face tightening with a grimace, Sam crossed from the small living room to the even smaller kitchen, grabbed a cloth-covered rice bag from one of the sparsely outfitted cabinets and tossed it into the microwave. The house had come partially furnished: all kitchen appliances, a small table, two chairs, a couch, a coffee table, and a bed and small dresser in each of the two bedrooms.
Neither of them needed much and this house fit that bill. A roof over their heads, beds to sleep in, and a sturdy lock. Their only decorations right now were the subtle, unobtrusive sigils Sam had obligingly painted on the doors, windows, floor, and ceiling. All he'd needed to do was find a TV at a second-hand store, and they were set.
There was no way Dean was living anywhere for long without a TV.
When the microwave beeped, Sam brought the rice bag into the living room, balancing it on his bandaged hand to protect the other from the heat. Tipping his chin up at Dean, he helped his brother lean forward, then eased the rice bag along his Dean's wounded ribs. Dean settled back against the heat, the line of pain between his brows smoothing.
Sam decided to let the beer go; it wasn't every night they buried a friend.
"So you two going to tell me how it is you each looks like half a boxer?" Rufus said.
Sam knew the older hunter had been watching them; it was only natural that he'd wonder what mess they'd gotten Bobby into. Sam ignored him for the time being, though, helping Dean lift his leg and settle his foot on the coffee table, getting some of the weight off his hip.
They hadn't quite gotten their routine down; they weren't used to having this much space, for one. And up until yesterday afternoon, Dean had been in the hospital. The first night in the house had been too quiet; Sam hadn't slept much and he knew for a fact Dean had laid awake until the sunlight cut through the dusty windows of his room. But Sam knew his brother – knew he wouldn't admit to pain, knew he wouldn't ask for help, and was thankful he knew exactly how to fix both at the moment.
"It's complicated," Dean grumbled, sipping a bit more of his beer.
"I got all night," Rufus returned, putting his back to the wall across from Dean and sliding down to sit on the floor. The pull-cord to the stained Levolor blinds hung over his shoulder and Sam watched him absently twist it around his fingers.
"You're not going to believe a lot of it," Sam warned him, sitting on the other end of the couch from Dean.
Rufus lifted a wiry eyebrow. "You let me judge that, why don't you?"
Sam shared a glance with Dean, who tipped the throat of his bottle in concession, and began.
"Okay, so I told you about us being Lucifer and Michael's vessels," Sam said, watching Rufus nod. "I don't remember much after Detroit. I remember drinking gallons of demon blood, heading up to that room, watching the bastard draw symbols on a frosted-over window…," he shrugged.
"I never figured we had a chance on beating the Devil," Dean broke in, his voice like a vice of pain catching everyone in the room inside it. Sam frowned, staring at the green braided rug that covered the worn wooden floor. He didn't know if he wanted to hear this part. Living it was hard enough. "But I wasn't going to just…go off and live my life after turning Sam over to him."
"Even though you promised to do just that," Sam mumbled.
Dean shot a look at him, his eyes speaking volumes, his lips pressed flat against any retort. It hadn't been a fair promise, Sam knew. It hadn't been one he'd been able to keep, either, when Dean went to Hell. But he'd genuinely wanted Dean to have something he'd never had: a regular life.
"So it was suicide by fallen angel, that it?" Rufus grumbled.
Sam looked over sharply at Dean. I couldn't live with you dead….
Dean had had no soul to trade, not this time. He'd had no way to win; he had gone there to die alongside Sam. Dean wasn't looking at either of them. His eyes were somewhere on the middle distance, cast back to that night and his decision.
"Maybe," he conceded. "I didn't really have a plan until…," he paused and Sam watched him turn his wounded hand over in his lap, palm up. "Cas gave me an ace in the hole."
Rufus frowned, not following.
Sam spoke up. "When we were kids, I gave Dean this amulet for Christmas. I got it from Bobby, actually. I wanted something for Dad, but…well, Dad didn't show up that Christmas."
Rufus tilted his head. "You got it from Bobby?"
"Yeah," Sam nodded. "I just told him I wanted something special to give as a gift. He never said anything when he saw it on Dean."
"Was it…brass? Head a horned bull?" Rufus asked.
Dean brought his head up. "Yeah. How the hell'd you know that?"
"I'll be damned."
"What?" Sam demanded.
Rufus looked up at Dean. "Hero with a Thousand Faces," he muttered.
Dean glanced at Sam, confusion clear in his expression.
"You boys ever hear of Joseph Campbell?" Rufus asked them.
"He a hunter?" Dean asked.
Sam shook his head. "He's a writer," he informed his brother.
"The hero's journey," Rufus continued. "Bobby and I found that amulet…hell, a long-assed time ago. If I remember right, it was supposed to be for protection…symbolized the lessons the human hero would learn on his path through life." Rufus shook his head, a half-grin reshaping his mouth. "Never knew what the old coot had done with it. Shoulda realized it would find its way to you."
"Castiel thought it would help him find God," Dean said quietly.
"I take it we're speaking literally," Rufus muttered, tenting his legs and resting his arms on his bent knees.
Dean nodded. "It didn't. Was supposed to burn bright in God's presence, but…nada."
"So Dean threw the amulet away," Sam continued. "But…Cas fished it out of the trash."
Rufus sat quietly, listening.
"He gave it back to me just before I left for Stull," Dean said. "Told me he was wrong. It wouldn't find God…it would find the power of God. In the righteous man."
"Which…is…you?" Rufus' eyebrows puckered.
Dean took a swig of his beer. Sam waited. He needed to know this part, too. He needed to know why he had been destined to drown in blood while his brother glowed with Heavenly light. What had he done so wrong that he got the dark side of their story?
"I sold my soul," Dean continued, still not looking at either of them, his voice growing rougher as he peeled back more layers of the truth. "And I went to Hell. And I…broke down there."
Rufus said nothing. Sam couldn't remember if the older hunter had known this about them or not, but the quiet way he let Dean's ragged voice roll over him said a lot about how much he accepted as truth.
"When that happened, the first seal was opened," Dean said, taking another sip from his bottle before continuing, "and this shit storm started."
Everyone sat quietly for a moment as Dean gathered his strength to continue. Sam saw he was fading, his energy slipping from his pores, but he couldn't stop him now.
"I was the…righteous man," Dean practically spat out the words, "who started all of this. Cas said I was the only one who could stop it." He glanced briefly at Sam before dropping his eyes once more. "I thought…he meant stop Lucifer from rising."
"He didn't?" Sam asked, trying to get ahead of the story, discover the punch line before Dean revealed it.
"He meant…stop it all. Put Lucifer in that Cage and stop Heaven from going to war."
"And…the amulet was your way to do that," Rufus said, weaving the pieces together.
"The amulet," Dean said, shifting uncomfortably, "and Sam."
"Me?" Sam shot his brother a look, surprised.
Dean closed his eyes, pain lining his face. "Had a long time to think about this," he said, his voice low and gravely. Sam found himself leaning forward, needing to catch every word. "The only way the amulet was going to work was if I believed it would." He opened his eyes, the side of his mouth pulled back in a twisted, painful smile. "I don't believe in a fuckin' thing in this world…except Sam."
Sam swallowed, feeling a lead weight in his belly.
"Only way I was coulda done what Cas said I could…was if Sam had done what he did."
"You mean…if Sam went to Stull," Rufus concluded.
"Dude…I gave in," Sam said, pulling in a ragged breath. "I said yes."
Dean shook his head slowly, not looking at his brother. "You were strong enough to take control of the Devil, Sam." He glanced Sam's way and the emotion tucked into his eyes took Sam's breath away. "Don't you ever forget that."
Sam blinked, feeling off-balance. He'd almost forgotten Rufus was there, listening.
"If it had been anyone else in that cemetery," Dean continued, "I'd have let the battle play on, dealt with the fall-out."
"That's not true," Sam protested.
"Yeah," Dean nodded, looking away once more. "It is."
Sam ran a shaking hand through his hair.
"But you were there, and I…I couldn't let you go through that alone, so I showed up and I…," Dean took a trembling breath, "I believed."
Sam saw his brother's face fold, emotion so raw it turned his words bloody.
"I believed in God and the angels and Heaven and Hell and every year of pain and all the shit I did and all the shit I wanted to do and every moment with Dad and you and…I just…I grabbed you and hung on."
Sam saw a tear slip from Dean's lashes and trace a path down his cheek to find a home at the corner of his mouth. Dean sniffed, dragging his left hand carefully down his bruised face, banishing the tear.
"It was hot," he said, looking at his bandaged hand. "Cas was right about that. Damn thing sure as hell did heat up. Felt like it was going to burn up the whole world and take us both with it."
"What happened to it?" Sam asked, surprised to find his own voice choked with emotion.
Dean huffed. "Dunno. Burned out."
"Or it fused," Rufus said quietly.
Sam glanced at the older hunter. "Fused?"
"Metal gets hot enough, it melts and fuses with whatever it's touching."
Sam looked at his hand; he'd seen his wound. There hadn't been any metal particles in his skin. He glanced at Dean's hand, bandaged and resting uselessly in his brother's lap. The light and heat had been so intense it could have incinerated the amulet. But what if Rufus had a point?
The absence of the angel markings on their ribs, the light in Dean's eyes…what if the amulet was a part of them? A part of…Dean?
"It's gone," Dean was saying, his rough voice slipping under the silence. "Used up."
"And all you had to do was…believe?" Rufus asked. "Like it was some kind of…ruby slipper?"
"There was this phrase," Dean revealed quietly. "I had to say it in Enochian. Lonsa el balt cnila."
Sam couldn't remember Dean speaking those words–or any words for that matter. He could only remember the screaming: inside of him, from him, all around him.
"Any idea what that means?" Rufus asked.
Dean exhaled a shaky breath. "The power of righteousness is safe in the blood." He said it as though the words were tattooed on the inside of his eyelids, as though he said them in his sleep. "I had the Cracker Jack prize on me the whole time. Just didn't have the magic words."
The room breathed around them, waiting.
"There's more to it than that, Dean," Sam said quietly. When Dean didn't reply, Sam looked up at his brother. "You said if it had been anyone else in that cemetery, you'd have let the world burn…but, man, if it had been anyone other than you…the amulet wouldn't have worked."
And then there was the connection – the fact that he could see inside his brother whenever he touched Dean's skin. Something had happened to them in that graveyard, something more profound than banishing Archangels to the Pit.
Sam just didn't know what…and he didn't know who to ask.
"You gave it to me, Sam," Dean muttered, his lips barely moving.
Sam lifted a shoulder, his eyes on his brother. "Yeah, well…I got it from Bobby."
"Holy hell," Rufus murmured suddenly, surprising both brothers. "It's like The Da Vinci Code. Except it makes sense."
Sam found his mouth pulling up in the expected grin, but it faded quickly.
Rufus was staring at a crack in the wood floor. "Bobby wanted to save you," he said quietly. Slowly raising his eyes, Sam watched as the older hunter looked first at him, then rested his gaze on Dean. "I guess, when you think about it…he did just that."
Dean didn't move. He was almost eerily still.
Sam, though, felt an almost suffocating need to escape. There had been so much pushing at them for so long…so many things pulling them toward decisions that everyone else had wanted them to make. When they'd made their choice…there at the end, facing one another, both beaten, barely on their feet, but still standing…they'd chosen each other.
They'd chosen family – not saving the world. It hadn't been about demon blood or righteousness, but about believing in each other. The realization made him dizzy.
He pushed to his feet, needing to move, to pace. He felt that tremble of energy shift through him again as it seemed to every time he got a little uncertain or anxious. He could not sit still and think through things anymore. If he didn't move he felt like he'd explode.
"I'm gonna go grab some air," he muttered, stepping over Dean's outstretched leg to get to the door. He didn't wait to hear if anyone protested his departure.
Letting the door bang shut behind him, Sam started walking, directionless. He barely heard the train whistle sound over the roaring in his ears. The night was cold, crisp, stars peppering the moonless sky. The constant wind was gentle, almost warm in the chill of the night. He could smell winter coming; a kind of decaying scent, hitting a pause button on life and drawing breath from the world around him.
He thought he'd found the balance he needed; thought he was doing okay with the change in their reality. The Devil was gone, the angels were quiet, he and Dean had made it out of the ultimate showdown by the skin of their teeth. They were alive.
But at what cost?
His boots clumped heavily along the pavement as he followed the deserted road toward where he knew it cut off toward the Kansas River. His heart slammed painfully in his chest. He could almost feel it clamoring to get free. During the weeks Dean had been in the hospital, Sam found himself able to almost believe in this idea of a possible normal life.
A life where they…got jobs. Made friends. Had a future without guns, lore, pain, angels…and demons.
He didn't thirst for demon blood as he had when he'd gone a few weeks without it before; then again, he'd been using it at the time. Burning through it as he sent demons to Hell. He hadn't so much as smelled sulfur since Stull.
Maybe he was right. Maybe it was over. Maybe he didn't need to worry about the blood lust because there would be no need for him to even see if the same ability he'd possessed before was still present.
But what if it wasn't? What if Dean was right? What if the Apocalypse had been just one more battle? What if the amulet had super-charged them in some way? What if the fact that they were no longer protected from detection brought the angels down on them? What if that power Dean had harnessed dogged him just as the demon blood lust had pursued Sam?
Sam stopped at the river, grabbing up a stick and throwing it into the brownish, flowing water with a hard enough thrust his shoulder throbbed in protest. He gripped it, cradling his arm against his chest. Starlight tripped across the ripples on the water, dazzling his eyes. The clack of a train barreling down the tracks drew his attention from his screaming thoughts.
"I won't let it," he said out loud.
He wouldn't let it be just a battle. It had been the battle. The one to end them all. They didn't have to fight anymore. And as for the amulet, Dean losing use of his hand was enough of an impact as far as Sam was concerned. He would not let it affect his brother further. That was over.
Taking a breath, Sam carded his hair, hanging his hand on the back of his neck. Now he just needed to convince Dean. Somehow make his stubborn brother believe that there was more to the world than hunting. More than doing the freakin' job.
There was more than darkness and death and killing. There was light. Life. Possibilities.
Most of his nervous energy spent by his trek to the river, Sam turned around and headed back to the small house, the cold night growing darker as he drew closer to the soft light emanating from beneath the curtains covering the living room windows. He hadn't realized how cold he'd gotten until he saw their house.
He noticed that the Impala sat alone on the street as he opened the door.
"Where's Rufus?" he said, skin prickling a bit by the warmth of the interior.
Dean was exactly as he left him: leg propped up on table, body tucked into the corner of the couch. He looked as if he couldn't have moved if the house had been on fire.
"Left," Dean mumbled, exhaustion bleeding through the sound. "One too many hits."
Sam nodded, locking the door behind him. "He coming back?"
"Maybe." Dean shook his head, pressing his lips together. "Don't know. Said something about looking into a few things. Wrote down the angel spell before he left." He closed his eyes and let out a long, slow sigh.
"Need some help?"
Dean nodded again.
Sam stepped close to the couch and took the empty beer bottle from Dean's loose fingers, then set it on the floor. Helping Dean shift his foot to the ground, Sam ignored the low hiss as the motion rotated Dean's hip. Without thinking, he reached out to grab Dean's good hand and pull him from the couch. The moment his hand grasped his brother's, his vision went white.
He could suddenly hear Dean calling him, screaming his name with a desperate pain that pierced the white shroud like a blade. It wasn't his Dean. It wasn't now Dean. But the anguish in Dean's voice…the utter loss he felt at the sound of his own name…. It drove him to his knees. He felt himself hit the floor, thirsty for breath, and tore his hand from Dean's reflexive grasp.
"Shit," he gasped, blinking sweat from his eyes and staring at his white-faced brother.
"What?" Dean asked, eyes wide and worried. "What did you see?"
"Y-you…," Sam swallowed, falling from his knees to his hip, then shifting back to his butt. "You don't see it, do you?"
"I don't see anything," Dean shook his head helplessly.
"Goddamn," Sam breathed, pressing the back of his hand against his upper lip. "I must look pretty freakin' weird, then."
"No, I mean…," Dean swallowed, reaching up to rub at the scar that framed the edge of his jaw. "I don't see anything. Nothing. Black."
Sam blinked at him. "Nothing?"
Dean lifted a shoulder helplessly.
"What happens when I let go?"
"Jesus," Sam rubbed his eyes with the heel of his right hand.
"I feel it, though."
Dean frowned, as if wary of exposing something. "Like…an electrical shock. On steroids."
Sam stared at him. "Well, that's super disturbing."
Sam looked away. He reached up to drag a hand down his face, thinking. "We're gonna have to figure this out."
Dean was quiet a moment. "Yeah." He shifted against the back of the couch with a low groan. "Later."
Sam pushed to his feet, wavering a bit with the head rush. "Let me help you."
"Careful," Dean warned as Sam reached for him again.
Sam grasped his brother's bicep, making sure to keep a layer of clothing between their skin, and heaved Dean up from the couch. Dean gripped Sam's shirt with his left hand, holding them both in place a moment as he slowly straightened, his breath adjusting in miniscule increments. Sam felt the tension running through his brother's body as he fought against the pain in his back.
"Easy," Sam murmured, waiting as Dean's hand tightened convulsively on his forearm.
His brother's hand was hot enough Sam could feel it through his clothes and the breath that cut a path through the quiet of the house had ragged edges that caught on Sam's conscience.
"You want a pain pill tonight?" Sam asked.
"How 'bout you take one anyway?"
Dean sagged, leaning against Sam's shoulder. Sam's heart broke a bit at that. He needed to get Dean better, fast. Otherwise, each day was just another reminder of what he'd almost allowed happen.
"Fine," Dean conceded.
Sam guided his brother to the closer of the two bedrooms, easing him down on the narrow bed. He knelt and unlaced Dean's boots, then helped his brother pull his shirts free from over his bandaged hand. After Sam gave him the pill to swallow – accompanied by a pull of water from a bottle with a straw – Dean waved away his help with the jeans, slowly shifting himself back to his pillow, air puffing through stiff lips as he lay back down.
"You gonna be able to sleep?"
"Who the hell knows," Dean whispered, eyes closed.
"I'll be in the next room," Sam told him, staring down at his brother's form, bothered by how much smaller Dean appeared.
"I got it, Sam."
"I'm just saying."
"Dude. Helicopter Mom's got nothin' on you."
Sam waved a dismissive hand at his brother, turning to walk from the room, but spared a look back. The house was too quiet, he knew. That had been the problem last night, too.
"Go, Sam," Dean grumbled quietly, somehow sensing that he was still lingering.
Sam stepped into the hallway, his back against the wall. Their routine was to their detriment. Years of abandoned buildings and musty hotel rooms forcing close proximity had created a co-dependency where being separated was foreign.
He knew they'd get used to it, eventually. For Sam, it was actually nice to have his own space. His own room. His own…anything. But it was also strange to be apart from the sound of his brother's rhythmic breathing, the routine of sleeping and waking, nightmares and peace woven together like scaffolding that supported the night.
And now, it seemed, more than ever, the quiet was not Dean's friend. He remembered his brother being on the other side of steady after he'd returned from Hell – waking shaking and sweating from a nightmare the likes of which Sam didn't want to imagine, and reaching immediately for a bottle or flask. Sam had been distracted then; focused on his next hit of demon blood, his next tryst with Ruby.
He wasn't distracted now.
He slid down the wall to sit with his knees up, left arm draped across, right arm cradled close to his body as the ache in his shoulder thrummed an unhappy cadence. He dropped his head back against the wall behind him and waited, evening his breaths, closing his eyes, listening.
An hour passed; Sam's legs started to go numb, his back adding to the ache in his arm from the hard surface. Part of him just wanted to get up, head to bed, and let Dean ride it out as he knew his brother would have to eventually. Dean was sleeping at least; that was an improvement over the previous night.
His thoughts slipped to what Rufus had revealed about the amulet and what he could remember about Joseph Campbell and his works. He knew he'd read Hero with a Thousand Faces in one of his Stanford classes; he tried to recall the correlations and connections Campbell had made, wondering at how it applied to Dean's role with the amulet. He'd managed to mentally catalog and list the next steps in what he could research on the subject when he heard the first murmur of terror coming from Dean's room.
It was just a low moan, not really something that would have caught his attention were they sharing a motel room as they typically did. Definitely not something he would have heard had he been sleeping comfortably in his own bed down the hall. But it was enough that Sam was on alert, listening for what came next.
A plea. A whisper of no. A sudden hammering of breath.
A curse. A shift against the bed. A gasp of pain.
A growl. A burst of unintelligible mutterings. A cease of all breath.
"I'm right here, man."
"The house, remember?"
A shaky sigh. A low groan. A shift in the bed.
"Son of a bitch."
Silence. Heartbeats thudded in his ears as he waited, listening.
He didn't move from the hallway, didn't step into the room. That would only acknowledge the fact that Dean needed him nearby, and he knew his brother didn't want to admit to that weakness, no matter how true it was.
"Go back to sleep, Dean."
"I'm not going anywhere."
A train whistle in the distance. The sound of a dog barking. Springs on the bed creaking with movement.
"'m sorry, man."
"Go back to sleep, Dean."
"I'll be okay."
He would, too. Dean would eventually return to his restless sleep, and Sam would eventually make his way to his room, stretch out on his bed, roll to his stomach, and bury his face in his pillow as the world retreated. He knew that the moment he allowed himself to sleep, everything would slip away, darkness a peaceful respite from the noise of the day. Since Stull, since that heat had burned through them both, Sam welcome sleep, embraced it as he hadn't in years.
But Dean's sleep was troubled, the burden of required rest not something he was going to easily accept. And if being reminded that he wasn't alone was what he needed to get the few hours each night his mind would allow, Sam was going to give that to him.
Even if it meant starting a few nights on the floor of the hallway.
Sam smiled, rubbing his shoulder, his head tipped back against the wall. It wasn't going to be easy, this transition. But nothing in their lives had been so far; why should this be any different?
"Go to sleep, Dean. I'll watch your back."
Continued in Part 1: Chapter 6
a/n: Hope you're still entertained. Next four chapters of Part 1 will take the boys on a bit of a transitional journey, setting them up mentally for what comes at them in Part 2. Also, just to reassure you - we will get a reason for the boys' "connection" due to the amulet. But with everything else they're dealing with, it's not top of their priority list...until it has to be. *waggles eyebrows*
Many thanks to yasminke for her help with Rufus' prayer.
B'gan Ayden t'hay m'nuchato; la-chayn Ba-al Harachamim yas-tiray-hu b'sayter k'nafav l'olamim, v'yitz-ror bitz-ror hacha-yim et nishmato….
May his resting place be in the Garden of Eden - therefore may the Master of Mercy shelter him in the shelter of His wings for Eternity, and may He bind his soul in the Bond of Life….