Category: angst, hurt/comfort
Word Count: 5,300
Summary: Dean and Cas are back to reunite with Sam, but they've still been gone for far longer than Sam would have liked.
A/N: This is a sequel to another post 7x23 story I wrote called El Jesús de la Montaña and reading that story first would be essential to understanding this one. I usually don't write sequels, but this one is more like it's just the next chapter I should have wrote with the first one.
*****I also want to give a big shout out and thank-you to ephemerall for beta'ing this and for being so encouraging and a great friend -- thanks, Hon!!!!!
Return to Sender
Dean's vision was engulfed in light and he felt his heart drop into his stomach like he was experiencing the pull of g-forces on his internal organs during a roller-coaster ride at Disney World. Disorientation followed and coursed through his gut with a nauseating twist.
All of this lasted but a heartbeat, but it was enough to make him double-over and begin retching as soon as the light faded from his eyes and he was on solid ground once again. The world continued to pitch and roll like it was trying to spin him off of some cosmic merry-go-round and even as he fell to his knees and grasped at the Earth for purchase, he couldn't get his twirling mind to catch up to his now motionless body.
A hand touched his shoulder, "We're here."
"Urghhhh …" Dean muttered, panting and spitting bile onto the ground. Wherever 'here' was, he was still having a difficult time seeing it through his spinning sight and unbalanced equilibrium, "That was not … fun"
"The disorientation should pass soon."
"How soon?" He asked, managing to sit back on his heels without losing any more of his stomach contents.
Dean looked over at his traveling companion. Cas too looked pretty peaked – for an angel anyway and he had a slim trickle of blood leaking from his right nostril which he didn't bother to wipe away.
"You okay, Cas?"
"I am …" Cas swallowed, sitting down heavily beside Dean, pale as a ghost, "a little out of sorts … even with the extra grace Sam provided, the journey was not easy and I am … quite drained."
"Yeah … ya think?" Dean agreed readily. The nausea was beginning to abate, but he dared not make any sudden movements or he might start barfing again, "Where are we? Better yet – when are we?"
"I believe we are close. I am still … disoriented, so the exact date escapes me."
"What about Sam? Are we near him?"
"Take a look for yourself." Cas insisted, turning around. Dean turned his head, following Cas' line of sight.
Behind his back was a low-rent, run-down motel. It was the kind of hovel Sam and Dean had spent the majority of their lives sleeping in and most importantly of all, in a parking space in front of the last and probably only occupied room, sat the Impala, its shiny, black exterior gleaming in the sun.
Dean's nausea was quickly forgotten as he rose to his feet before reaching out his hand to help Cas stand as well. The angel swayed a little on his feet and Dean had to keep a hand on his elbow to keep him from falling forward, but he was determined to get to that motel room as fast as possible, "C'mon … let's go."
Cas stumbled along with Dean practically dragging him towards to door. It felt like it was a million miles away even though it couldn't have been more than a couple hundred feet. Dean wanted to make a dash for it, but Castiel's pace continued to slow the more Dean impatiently urged him along.
They were only half-way across the parking lot when Cas' knees buckled completely. He pitched forward and Dean had to move fast to catch the falling angel with both hands before his face mashed into the asphalt.
"I'm sorry, Dean … I'm more exhausted than I thought." And just like that, Cas passed out in Dean's arms.
"Crap! Couldn't have waited until we made it inside?" Dean grumbled as he reached down hauled Cas up by the lapels of his trench coat. He maneuvered himself to Cas's front and bent his knees so he could tip him over his shoulder in a fireman's carry.
Angel on my shoulder … he mused. Damned heavy angel …
Dean continued on towards the last room at the end of the motel. The headache from their journey pounded more violently with each step thanks to the extra weight he now carried and he was breathing heavily and sweating by the time he made it to the door and knocked.
Sam threw the papers, the books, and his laptop off of the table with one sweep of his long arm. Frustration wouldn't even be close to describing how hopeless his situation was becoming.
That fucking demon … he was going to rip him to shreds.
"Sam … my favorite moose. Calling again, eh?" Crowley stood smugly within the devil's trap Sam had set for him, looking more annoyed than scared to be trapped.
"Tell me where Dean is."
"Haven't figured it out yet? You really should have read the disclaimer on that little weapon you two fashioned for Dick, but as they say 'caveat emptor'.
"Oh … you're gonna order me around now?" Crowley scowled, adding in an aside, "And everyone thinks he's the smart one." Crowley eyed Sam with angry contempt, "Dean is far, far away … you won't be able to get him out."
"Where is he?"
"Trust me … you don't want to know."
"Just fucking tell me!"
Crowley took a step forward, his eyes darkening with malicious amusement, "Fine … you want to know so badly, I'll tell you. He's in purgatory. Now are you satisfied?"
"What? Am I not speaking English? Yes … it’s the place where all of the creatures and things you hunt go when they’re ‘ganked’ by stupid-assed morons like you. Think about it, Bullwinkle – how many vampires, werewolves, wendigos, and supernatural beasts have you and Dean dispatched over the years? You think they're going to be welcoming a hunter and an angel into their realm with open arms?" Crowley grinned wickedly, "He's being torn to pieces as we speak."
Sam found it hard to breathe. While he could trust Crowley about as far as he could throw him, he knew the demon was speaking the truth – especially when that truth was so horrifying.
"You gotta get him out."
"I'll make a deal … whatever you want." Sam pleaded.
"You're not getting it, are you? What part of 'can't' don't you understand? Even if I wanted to, which I certainly don't, purgatory is locked up tighter than a steel drum and opening it up again means letting things like those fucking leviathans out again and there is no way I'm going to risk that."
Sam straightened his back defiantly, "You will help me, or you can rot in this fucking trap forever."
Crowley laughed, "Sure … you can let me stand around in here forever if you want, but what good is that going to do you, Sam? You may have blocked all of the windows and doors with salt and iron, but just outside that door, there's an army of demons licking their chops for a chance to rip you to shreds. You'll never survive long enough to get your brother out. So this is your choice, you giant piece of shite - you can either let me go or sit in here and rot right along with me."
Sam wanted to shove all of the holy water and salt he had with him down Crowley's throat, but he had had no illusions in believing that the king of Hell would actually help him when he set up this trap– he got what he needed from the demon already – he got Dean's location and that was more than he had before.
Sam bent down slowly, keeping his eyes firmly fixed on Crowly as he scraped away at the devil's trap.
"Finally … a wise decision on your part." Crowly stated venomously as he stepped out of the trap. Sam was still straightening up when the demon raised his hand and used his full power to lift Sam off of his feet and send him flying backward into the wall hard enough to crack the plaster. Sam felt the air in his lungs explode out from his chest as his senses gave in to all-encompassing pain.
Crowley kept Sam suspended against the wall as he advanced coolly, "I should kill you right here and now and finally be done with you Winchesters, but I won't – I may have need of you in future and besides … " the demon grinned, "watching you flounder around alone and helpless is kind of amusing. But, don't try to trap me again or it will be the last thing you ever do."
With that, Crowley disappeared and Sam slid down the wall, alone again and just as lost.
Sam really wasn't surprised to find that Crowley's henchmen were still waiting for him as soon as he left the abandoned house, but his movements had been considerably slowed thanks to the king of Hell's attempt to turn him into a human cannon-ball. Though he had the demon-killing knife on him, they had gotten the jump on him and the hits had come fast and furious in a whirl of fists, knees, feet and weapons.
By the end, there was blood everywhere – how much was his and how much was the demons, he didn't know, but he was the only one that walked away alive and that's all that really mattered to him at the time because if Sam died, then Dean would be trapped in purgatory forever – he couldn't let that happen.
He was covered in blood, bruises and various bleeding wounds, including a deep slash to his arm from elbow to wrist that left a bloody trail as he walked away, but none of them registered and he couldn't bring himself to really care as he somehow stumbled away from the dead bodies and drove himself back to the motel, operating purely on adrenaline and autopilot.
He couldn't really remember parking or entering the room, but seeing the stack of papers, books and research that was still spread out on the little café table in the room, he suddenly saw red and couldn't restrain his rage any longer. He'd already searched through so much – poured over any speck of information he could get his hands on, but now … what good would any of it do? He knew where Dean was now, but he was back at the beginning again and he didn't even know where to start.
Wiping the papers and research in one felled swoop in an explosion of anger to the floor and upending the table on top of it all for good measure felt cathartic for all of two seconds, but he wanted to do more. He wanted to rip the curtains from the windows, smash the lamps, toss the beds – get it all out, but he was suddenly so damned tired and exhausted as pain radiated across his nerves, drove spikes into his brain so deep to where there was no escape and the action of his temper tantrum had left his arm numb and hanging useless as it bled all over the floor.
He had no strength left in him to rage anymore – all that was left was an aching hopelessness and a growing hole in his chest that hurt worse than any physical injury ever could.
Dean's gone … gone … gone …
He sat down heavily on the bed instead, spent and useless. His head sagged between his knees as pain turned into a despair so deep he didn't think he could ever crawl out of it.
But down deep … Sam knew he couldn't give in – not completely – not while Dean was still out there. He'd find a way to bring his brother back – he would – no matter what – even if it took months, years, decades … there had to be a way – there just had to be.
But for now, as the room spun lazily around him and he watched disconnectedly as a small trail of blood slipped down his fingers to the floor, all he could think about was sleep and how good it felt to close his eyes, even if for just a little while.
He just needed some rest – a little nap so that he could think clearly again and start over, pick up the trail of research and get Dean home to him.
His back fell against the mattress and darkness soon washed over him.
Dean waited with his breath caught in his throat.
What if Cas had been wrong? What if the door opened and Sam was still that old man who had spent his life utterly alone – Dean didn't think he could ever put the picture of Sam – old and brittle and lying dead out of his mind.
But no … that wasn't possible … couldn't be – he didn't even think they were in Colorado anymore, so they had to be close to the time when they got sucked into purgatory – they just had to be, Dean wouldn't accept anything else.
A minute ticked by slowly and Cas was getting heavier each second. Dean knocked on the door again and called Sam's name, but still there was no answer and no noise coming from inside the room.
Maybe Sam wasn't in? Maybe he'd gone for food or a walk? Whatever the case was, he wasn't gonna stand there all day, so he reached for the doorknob and tried turning it. Of course, it was locked, he really wasn't at all surprised by that –he just wished he had his lock picks with him.
Dean turned around and his eyes landed on the car – the car that more than likely still had an extra set of lock picks in the glove compartment. He would have slapped himself then for being so stupid not to think of looking in there right off the bat, but his hands were kinda full of 180 pounds of unconscious angel.
Grunting, Dean bent his knees and carefully lowered Cas down, letting him slip off his shoulder until his back was settled against the wall next to the door. With the extra weight off his shoulder, he quickly hurried to the car and reached into his pocket, thankful that he still had his keys on him. He unlocked the passenger side door and flipped open the glove compartment, finding his set of lock picks just where he had left them. He nearly whooped in victory as he grabbed the tools and trotted back to the door and started to work on the lock – Sammy could forgive him later for breaking into his room – he just needed to get in there first.
Sam's feeble attempt to open his eyelids nearly met with failure. God … he was so tired, but just outside his door, he thought he had heard knocking and for a brief moment, his fuzzy, cotton –filled brain actually thought he heard his name being called. But, more than likely it was just housekeeping coming by and God knows he didn't want some maid to come waltzing in to clean the room and see all of the demonic crap he had tacked to the walls - or the blood - or the guns.
As much as he wished he could just lie there and wallow in his pain, he had to get up – had to tell her to go away.
He pushed himself up onto his elbows and then nearly cried out at the lancing, poker of agony racing up and down his arm.
Shit … he had forgotten to take care of it and now the open gash on his arm was a swollen, pulsating mass of sticky, white-hot misery and he wasn't looking forward to stitching the damn thing up with only one hand.
Dean's gone – he can't stitch it for you. He's gone – never coming back …
Sam choked on the thoughts still racing in his head after Crowley's admission and tried to push them away – tried to deny the stampeding fear that he may never see his brother again from completely taking over. He would get him back – no matter what.
Sam lifted the injured limb carefully as he sat up the rest of the way and cradled it to his chest as he closed his eyes and waited for the black spots invading his vision to fade away before getting to his feet.
With a freezing jolt, he realized that the noise coming from the other side of his door wasn't that of any maid … what he was hearing was the distinct sound of picks being maneuvered into a lock.
Sam didn't have time to wait for his dizziness to pass. His gun was over by the upturned table and he was immediately on his feet in order to make a dash for it. His body however, was not as cooperative and the sudden change in position made his vision black out completely and he was falling to the floor faster than he could catch himself.
Dean slid the picks into the lock and felt around for the tumblers inside. It was an easy lock, but halfway through the process, he heard the very loud and unmistakable thud of a human body hitting the floor just on the other side of the door.
"Shit … Sam?" Dean called through the door, hoping for an answer to quell his anxiety, but when none came, he worked his frustratingly uncoordinated fingers to open the lock faster as a feeling of cold dread washed over him.
Too many possibilities were running through his head to keep up with and at last, Dean had the door unlocked and nearly knocked it off of its hinges as he burst inside.
The first thing he saw was Sam lying face down on the floor amidst a pile of papers and next to an overturned table. It looked like a freak tornado had blown through the room and Sam had been caught up in it.
Dean ran in and dropped to his knees next to his brother. Even though Sam's hair was just as dark and shaggy and he was beardless save for a few days of stubbly growth and those stupid-looking sideburns he kept threatening Sam that he'd shave off in his sleep, Dean had flashes of the old, white haired Gandalf-like Sam lying dead in the back of that weird-assed van in the future, so it was with a shaky hand that he reached for Sam's neck and felt for a pulse and forgot how to breathe.
As soon as Dean touched Sam, he stirred and moaned causing Dean to blow out a relieved gust of air from his lungs, "Sam? … hey … c'mon, time to wake up, dude."
Sam mumbled something unintelligible, but kept his eyes stubbornly shut. Dean grasped Sam's shoulders and turned his brother over carefully and had his breath taken away again by the amount of blood saturated into Sam's clothing, "Shit … what did you do, Sammy?"
Sam muttered again while rolling his head from side to side, "Get you … out … prom'se."
"You did get us out, Sam." Dean tried to assure him while checking to see where all of that blood was coming from. Sam's face looked much like he had gone ten rounds with the Incredible Hulk – one eye swollen shut with dried blood crusted under his nose and a cut just above his eyebrow while the rest of his skin that wasn't bruised was a chalky shade of alabaster. Dean's eyes were drawn to the ripped sleeve of Sam's shirt that was soaked and still wet with fresh blood. He tore the rip the rest of the way up the sleeve to expose the skin underneath then swore at the depth and length of the gash - he was gonna be spending all night stitching this thing up.
A shadow filled the entrance to the room and Dean looked up to see Cas standing in the doorway, bracing himself against the jam with a white-knuckled grip.
"What can I do to help?" Cas asked.
Dean took in the wavering angel's features, "Can you fix him?" He asked, knowing full well that if Cas was still too weak to barely stand, then his chanced of laying any of his angelic mojo on his brother were pretty slim.
Cas shook his head.
"Then just sit down on the bed before you get the vapors again and pass out."
"I can do that." Cas mumbled as he stumbled into the room then collapsed face down onto the nearest bed.
"Perfect …" Dean grumbled, letting his sarcasm get the better of him when right about then Cas' healing powers could have really come in handy.
Dean couldn't just let Sam lay on the floor forever, so he cupped his brother's face with both hands and tried to rouse him again by lightly giving his cheeks a couple of taps. Sam's eyelids fluttered then opened half-mast.
Dilated, hazel eyes lazily glanced about without really focusing on anything, "Hey … Sammy? You with me?"
Sam's eyes stared back at Dean with the glassiness of incomprehension, most likely concussion induced. "S'dream." He stated rather than questioned.
"S'not a dream," Dean tried to sound reassuring without letting worry seep into his voice, "C'mon … let's get you off the floor, huh?"
Sam let his eyes slip closed again as Dean reached under broad shoulders and hauled him up. Sam offered little help, but managed to stay on his feet until Dean could wrangle him onto the only unoccupied bed left in the room.
"M'sorry …" Sam mumbled, his words slurring as he began to drift off again. "Don' know how … gotta find a way." Dean dug around in Sam's duffel for the first aid kit, barely making out what Sam was trying to say, but there was no mistaking the sorrow and desperation in his voice and goddamnit if that didn't tear a hole right into Dean's gut to hear his little brother sound so broken and lost.
"It's okay, Sam … I'm here." Sitting down on the bed next to his brother once he had the kit in hand, Dean resisted then gave into the urge to push Sam's bangs away from his eyes. He didn't know how long he'd been gone yet, but it had been long enough to be too long.
Maybe this wasn't the reunion Dean had been hoping for, especially since Sam was mostly out of it, but as he cleaned, stitched and dressed Sam's wounds, including the fifteen sutures he had to sew into his brother's arm, he was never more thankful to be back where he belonged and when he fell asleep soon after that, it was by his brother's side.
It was warm where he was. It was warmer than any blanket – warm like when he and Dean were kids and had to share a bed – a kind of warmth you could only get from being near another person's body heat. Dean always accused him of being a little furnace that made the bed too hot, but it was always Dean that stole the blankets and forced Sam to get close in order to stay warm, so it was really all his fault he was hot.
But then again, if Sam was honest, it was more than warmth he sought out on those cold nights when it was dark and he was scared – it was safety – the kind of security that only his big brother could provide.
Sam was enjoying this – this feeling of being totally secure and unafraid and he didn't ever want to leave.
Dreams came and went, unfurling themselves like pages in a book one after the other. In one blissful dream, Dean was there, telling him that everything was going to be okay … that he was pissed at Sam for getting himself hurt while he was away, but he was going to take care of his sorry ass now that he was back. It was a good dream – even though dream-Dean said it wasn't a dream, he knew it was and he since he didn't get pleasant dreams like that very often, he didn't want to let it go or end.
But then the warmth left him and he was cold again – the dream was over.
He was alone.
Sam shivered, wanting to find that warmth and safety again, but it was gone and it wasn't coming back.
Dean's not coming back
He rolled onto his side and was met with pain racing up and down his arm like a million volts of electricity and the next thing he knew, he was staring at the nicotine-stained and water damaged wall of his motel room.
He sighed wearily as his pleasant dreams bled away into reality and bits and pieces of the previous night trickled back into his memory; Crowley's smug face telling him about purgatory, demons, fighting, throwing things, pain, helplessness …
He wasn't sure how he ended up in bed and looking at his arm to see that it had been stitched and bandaged, he was even more confused. He couldn't remember suturing himself and given the way his brain was pounding mercilessly against the inside of his skull, he wondered how he had even pulled it off.
Even with his head failing to fire on all cylinders, Sam suddenly he got the feeling that he wasn't entirely alone and it was the sound of a water tap being turned on in the bathroom that truly got his heart racing.
He was out of bed and reaching for his gun almost instantly – someone was in his room.
Taking a shower?
Singing an off-key version of ABBA's Fernando?
Maybe he was still dreaming?
He felt dizzy with confusion, but that could have also been from the concussion he was certain he had.
Sam quietly crept up to the bathroom door, undoing the safety of his loaded .45, acutely aware of how much just holding the heavy gun was killing his arm. He reached for the doorknob with his free hand and found it unlocked then turned it slowly, letting the door open silently.
Plumes of steam floated out of the small bathroom and hit Sam full in the face as he approached the curtain and whoever happened to be behind it. The singing had finally stopped at least and while Sam's ears were grateful, his heart was still beating a mile a minute as he raised his gun and leveled it.
He reached out and grabbed the shower curtain in one swift, burst of action, sliding it open to reveal …
One of the whitest asses he thought he had ever seen.
Sam's heart might have stopped beating at that moment, not just because of the naked body before him, but because of the face that body belonged to.
"Sam!" a beatific smile greeted him, along with a raspy monotone, "Good-morning. I apologize if I woke you, but Dean said that I should take a shower. He seems to think that I smell like a monkey's butt, even though I was not aware that I was producing such an odor or how he would know how that creature's anus might smell. However, I must admit that the experience of standing under this waterfall is quite invigorating."
Sam just stared, unaware of his mouth hanging open and he was certain that he had to be still dreaming because all of that was just too surreal and impossible to be actually happening.
Things kinda all went hazy after that.
He must have blacked out because the next thing he knew, he was lying on his bed once again and waking up to the unmistakable aroma of coffee wafting through the air - coffee he is sure he didn't make or buy, but which smelled heavenly none the less.
Sam made to sit up, but his arm reminded him that movement like that was a bad idea and he groaned at the stinging pain.
"Dean … I believe Sam is waking up." All at once, Sam's sight was filled with two concerned faces and once again his heart failed to make its next beat.
That was it … that was the one question Sam had been hoping to hear once again for weeks now and maybe it was still too good to be true.
"Dean?" Still a dream?
Dean's face broke out into a grin. I'm here, I'm real.
"Oh my God …" Sam reached out with his good hand as he sat up, ignoring the pain in his injured arm as he grabbed Dean's sleeve and felt the solid muscle of his big brother's arm underneath. He was real and for the moment, Sam really didn't care how any of that was possible, about how Dean and Cas got out, or how they ended up in his motel room – he just couldn't bring himself to ask and he had more important things to do such as wrapping his arms around his brother and holding him tight, breathing in his smell, and thanking whatever higher power had sent Dean back to him.
Dean squeezed him back with equal vigor and Sam savored the embrace and the feel of his brother's heart beating into his chest, never wanting to ever let go. Eventually Dean pulled back, keeping his hands on Sam's shoulders as he held him out at arm's length.
Sam's brain was still trying to catch up as Dean's smile grew, "Miss me?"
He shook his head in wonder as he scrutinized every detail of Dean's face, still lost in amazement that he was even present and reminding far too much of the time his brother walked in on him after coming back from Hell – but this time was different – the haunted look on Dean's face wasn't there – he just seemed – relieved.
"You okay? I mean … Crowley said you were … in purgatory?"
"Yeah," Dean confirmed with a nod, "Can't say that was pleasant vacation, but we're back now … that's all that matters." Sam knew there was more to the story and that there were things that went on in purgatory that Dean wasn't ready to share yet, but he was just so damned relieved to see him that he could wait a little while longer before asking him about it.
But there was one question that Sam had to ask, "But how? … How did you escape? "
"You got us out." Dean answered simply.
Sam was pretty much floored by that statement, "What? … No … I – I mean I couldn't have, I've spent the last month just trying to find out where you went and I haven't even had a chance to find a way –"
"Whoa … it's okay," Dean assured him, raising his hands, "I know it's confusing, trust me … I'm still trying to wrap my brain around it all and it's a really, really long story …"
Dean started talking and Sam listened with one part awe and one part confusion. Most of it made sense actually, even the whole going back in time thing, but what really got to him – the one part he had trouble believing, was Dean encountering an older version of Sam – that part he couldn't comprehend. He had barely made it a few weeks without Dean around to ground him and keep him sane, how the hell could this other Sam have made it 50 years? He didn't think he could ever do that.
"And so … here we are, thanks to you and your obsessive planning." Dean said once he finished his tale, "You can quit trying to catch flies with your mouth now, Sam. It's all true."
Sam did as he was told and snapped his gaping mouth shut while looking over at Cas, who nodded in agreement with Dean's version of events.
"So …" Sam started, shaking his head, "What do we do now?"
Dean smirked, "The same thing we do every day, Pinky … try to take over the world." He added with a mischievous wink.
Sam rolled his eyes, but felt his insides warm. Yeah … Dean was back … he really, truly was.