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06 May 2014 @ 10:41 pm
Fic: Swimming Underwater (Supernatural)  
Title: Swimming Underwater
Characters/pairing: Dean, Sam, Cas.
Rating: PG-13
Warnings/contains: None
Summary: Dean is badly injured and unconscious, the Mark of Cain the only thing keeping him alive, and Sam has a tough decision to make.
Notes: A rather belated response to spn_bunker’s bi-bro challenge. Many thanks to caranfindel for the beta. Any remaining mistakes are, of course, my own.





Dean is swimming underwater.

There’s light somewhere above his head, casting shadows that shift and break apart and put themselves back together and then break again. He doesn’t kick up towards it. It isn’t safe up there.

Don’t ask him how he knows. Just those same old survival instincts that have stubbornly kept on keeping him alive longer than is good for anyone, maybe. Only, the knowing has the feel of a memory about it, and there’s an itch at the back of his brain telling him he should know more than he does, care more than he does, be more afraid than he is.

Out past the surface, the land is on fire. The air’s on fire; the sky. If Dean put his head out of the water, he’d be consumed in minutes. Down here, though—down here it’s a different world. Distance leeches the orange out of the firelight, so by the time it reaches him it has this dead, greenish tinge to it. Weeds brush at his feet, caress like clutching fingers. He pitches forward and his shirt billows out behind him, turns him into a slo-mo Superman. Spreads his arms, rights himself and treads water, cranes his neck to peer up at the surface.

It looks like it’s miles away.

Dean doesn’t remember how he got here. He doesn’t know long he’s been down here, how long he’s been holding his breath. He should be struggling by now, probably. Feeling his lungs burn, his muscles seize, his head fill up with panic and with the urge to say ‘screw it’ to the danger and swim desperately for the surface.

He doesn’t. He doesn’t feel any of that—and anyway, there’s something else he has to do. He knows it in the same way he knows it’s not safe up there on the surface. It’s just that he can’t remember what the
something else is.

He’s trying, grasping at that tickle of almost-memory in the recesses of his mind, when he sees it.

A flicker of movement in the murky green distance. Something quicksilver and pale as a fish’s belly. He sees it and he
knows again, that same incomprehensible, deep-in-the-gut kind of knowing.

That way.



Sam watches the doctor’s back as she retreats down the corridor. When she vanishes around the corner, he closes the door. Carefully, so it’s barely audible as it clicks shut. He’s on autopilot. There aren’t any monsters to hide from here—nothing that simple. And Dean sure as hell isn’t gonna wake up anytime soon.

It’s weird—he listened to every word the doctor said, he nodded and he asked all the right questions, but her answers are already mostly gone from his head, draining away like water through his fingers.

Maybe that’s because he already knew what she wasn’t saying: We have no clue how your brother is still alive.

Which he isn’t about to explain. Not that he understands the details himself—just that it’s the Mark, somehow, sustaining Dean’s body when by rights he should’ve been dead before they reached the ER. For all he knows, it might keep Dean alive indefinitely. Alive, but not conscious. Or worse.

Sam turns back into the room, back to Dean. He’s lying in the midst of a tangle of machinery, which the doctors seem to think is the only reason he’s breathing right now. (Sam suspects that even if Dean wasn’t breathing, he wouldn’t die. He’d stay suspended in some nightmare half-animated state, not exactly a zombie but not exactly a man anymore, either.) The harsh lighting washes all the colour out of Dean’s face, so his freckles stand out in sharp relief and the insomniac shadows under his eyes look dark as bruises.

Cas sits at his bedside, his hand covering the Mark that burns on Dean’s arm. Sam thinks he managed to keep the doctor from getting too close a look at that whole little scene while she was talking to him. Probably, Cas just looks like a distressed boyfriend or a kinda-weird relative, unwilling to leave Dean’s hospital room until they know more about what’s going on. Hopefully nobody’s noticed the too-rigid concentration in his eyes, like he’s in a trance, or the tiny tendrils of darkness that creep out from beneath his palm, twist like threads of ink in a glass of water, and then get sucked back in.

Sam watches, frowning, until he can’t stand the silence any longer.

“I thought you couldn’t heal him,” he says, at last. It’s not a challenge, not really. It’s something to say because he can’t just keep saying nothing.

“I can’t,” Cas replies, without looking up. “Dean is—the Mark is feeding off him. Any grace I expended on healing him would just be absorbed by it. The power it gave him was never his own. He’s become a conduit for other things.”

“He’s Dean,” Sam protests. He only realizes he’s asking a question when Cas doesn’t reply, just gives him a troubled look and then turns back to Dean. His expression is distant. It occurs to Sam that maybe he’s remembering being taken over by other things himself; wielding a power that wasn’t his own and turning into something dark and alien.

Sam remembers Cas wading out into the middle of a lake, dissolving into a slick of darkness. He swallows. “So. What are you doing?” He jerks his chin in the direction of Cas’s hand.

It’s a moment before Cas answers him. “The Mark is keeping Dean alive,” he replies, eventually. “But it’s not a painless process. Its power comes from Hell. The touch of it, to a human soul—it’s agony. Being consumed by it must feel like burning up.” Cas’s jaw tightens. “I can’t heal him, but I can absorb a little of the discomfort.”

“He’s in pain.”

“Not right now,” Cas says. “I’m doing what I can.” And then, softer: “I wish it were more.”

“If he can suffer, then that means he’s still in there,” Sam says, and tries to ignore how sick it makes him feel, that that’s something to cling to.

He hasn’t voiced the thought until now—afraid, he guesses, of suggesting the opposite possibility by opening his mouth. Afraid of having it confirmed. He can still see the look Dean turned on him, right before he crumpled to the floor and the blade dropped from his hand. The feeling of something not-Dean watching him through his brother’s eyes. Something old and alien and hungry; something that looked at Sam like he was nothing more than the next item on the list.

It still bothers him, that he didn’t notice the alien element until that moment, after all the fights that took a little too long to end, after all the bodies who wouldn’t have been monster enough to justify their deaths six months ago.

What does that say about him? What does it say about Dean? About the amount of crap that’s gonna be waiting for them on the other side, even if they do get through this?

Sam pushes the thought down. He fixes Cas with a look, daring him to disagree, begging him to say, yes, of course, whatever it takes. “That means we can get him back.”


Dean follows the pale flicker of movement through the murk. It’s dark, and the water-weeds close behind him, dense as forest. He couldn’t find his way back if he tried. The—whatever it is he’s following—is always ahead of him, just close enough to be seen, always too far away for him to figure out what it is. He keeps following.

He ends up in front of a door, wedged open and half-submerged in silt. There’s green stuff growing in the hinges, the join where it meets the doorframe. It looks like it’s been stuck this way for a long time.

It’s only when he gets inside that he realizes what door it is. That he’s home—kind of. An underwater, dreamworld version of home that doesn’t feel like it belongs to him.

The bunker’s quiet. Not the kind of quiet it usually is lately, with Sam studiously ignoring him and Dean thumping books around on the table or jamming on his headphones and cranking up the Zeppelin just for a bit of goddamn noise. It’s an enveloping, dead silence. The greenish darkness blurs the edges of the furniture, the doors, the stairs; turns the place unfamiliar.

Dean swims over the railing by the entrance, makes his way down into the library, hanging onto the stair rail so he won’t float away and find himself bobbing like a cork against the ceiling.

Here it all is. Dean tracks his gaze around the room, finds his chair, the spot where Sam likes to sit and pore over his dusty old books. (Okay, so technically the contents of the bunker belong either to both of them or neither, but Dean always thinks of the library as Sam’s, because however much Man of Letters is in their DNA, it’s obvious Sammy got the lion’s share. Librarian’s share? Whatever.)

There’s a stack of books disintegrating on the table, now. One lies open, like whoever was reading it just left the room to get a coffee and never came back. Dean squints down at the pages, but the murky halflight filtering in through the open door is too dim for reading.

Dean pokes around, using the heavy old furniture to anchor himself. It feels slippery to the touch, ready to rot.

The liquor bottles in the cabinet stand empty. Dean picks one up and peers through the glass, as if he’s expecting to find a message rolled up in there, some Treasure Island shit. A memory pops up as he looks. Sam actually rolling out the old you-won’t-find-the-answer-at-the-bottom-of-that-bottle cliché, and Dean had known he must be nearing the end of his rope if he was resorting to that crap after months of the silent treatment. Had snorted back at him, “Good thing all I’m looking for is a couple hours’ sleep, then, huh?”

He’d meant for it to be flippant, but it had come out sounding hollow, a little desperate. Because that was all he’d wanted for months, by that point. Just a little rest. Just a little peace from the inferno roaring in his head. He’d turned on his heel and stomped out the room then, whiskey in hand, so he wouldn’t have to see Sammy look at him like he was some kind of psych case.

Dean shakes his head to dislodge the memory. Lets go of the table and kicks towards the corridor that leads to their bedrooms. The doors hang open. He peers in through each of them one after the other, though he has no clue what he’s expecting to find. Pretty dark down here, but Dean can pick out the shapes of the furniture, can see that there’s nobody here.

Sammy’s room is resolutely personal touch-free, monkish, like it always has been. He’s expecting that. But when he sticks his head around the door of his own bedroom, Dean finds that near enough empty, too. He runs his palm along the shelf above the bed but there’s nothing there. No weapons, no records, no crucifix, no phone, no books or bottles or containers of salt. Nothing to suggest somebody lives here.

Absence rings hollow off the walls.

But it doesn’t hurt like he thinks it should. Just feels like something’s missing from him.



Cas looks at Sam for a moment, his face hard to read. He opens his mouth, and Sam thinks he’s about to say, We can try, or, I hope so, something qualified that’s gonna give away his lack of hope.

He doesn’t. He just presses his lips together, glances at Dean’s pale face, and nods.

“Okay.” Sam takes a deep breath. “I guess—” He breaks off. Looks at the array of machines Dean is hooked up to, the bandages around his middle, his closed eyes and slack mouth. Steels himself and turns back to Cas. “I guess the first thing we need to think about is removing the Mark. Everything else is pretty much academic until we know how to do that, right?”

“Yes.” Cas looks unhappy, but doesn’t elaborate. They both know everything else is gonna be hell to deal with, to even think about. Right now there’s no point dwelling on it. They need to keep their heads clear.

Sam shuts his eyes, opens them again. “So, my best guess is—this is kind of a unique case. But there must have been other things that are similar, right? Supernatural gifts, or curses that leave a mark on people. So somebody, sometime, must have tried to get rid of them.”

Cas nods. “If we could find the rituals they used…”

“We could try to adapt one of them. Between you, me and Kevin, I figure we might have a shot.” The idea of calling up the Trans and asking them for a favor, of all things, makes Sam wince internally. It feels a hundred kinds of wrong.

But Dean is still and silent, floating somewhere in the borderland between life and death, human and not-human. He doesn’t exactly look peaceful, the old sadnesses worn too deep into his face for that. (Dean doesn’t smile without trying anymore.) Still, it’d be easy enough to imagine leaving him be is the safe option. He’d be alive, if nothing more.

Sam knows, though. He knows there are no safe options. And he wants his brother back. God help him, but he wants his lying, stubborn, drunk, defensive Grade-A asshole of a brother back.

He reaches for his phone. “I’ll get on it.”

They’ll understand. He thinks they’ll understand.

Sam calls Garth, too, and Jody, who has access to what’s left of Bobby’s library. Jody sounds strained when she picks up—must be one of Alex’s bad days—but the second he explains the situation, the irritable edge bleeds out of her tone. “Anything we can do,” she tells him, her voice warm and steady, and it feels like a hug from an old friend.

(It doesn’t make Sam feel any better.)

He grabs his laptop, sets himself up in the corner of the room, and gets to work. He’s scanned in only a fraction of the bunker’s resources, but it’s enough to keep his mind off the frantic catechism of what if you can’t fix it what then what if that’s on repeat just below the level of full consciousness. Helps him feel like he’s at least making progress along the tunnel, even if he doesn’t know whether the light at the other end is the sun or an oncoming freight train.

The files are tough going. Fragments, anecdotes, infuriatingly cryptic references. When his eyes start to burn, and he can’t stand the silence or Dean’s unmoving form in his peripheral vision anymore, Sam gets up and paces the corridor, peers out the window at the lights in the parking lot, drinks acrid coffee from the vending machine in the waiting room. He fetches a cup for Cas, too. Not because Cas needs it—though, honestly, he’s starting to look a little more tired and hollow-eyed than he probably should—but because doing so reminds him that there’s somebody else in the room with him. That he’s not quite as alone as he could be.

Cas takes it from him without a word, keeps hold of the cup in his free hand. It’s hot, but he doesn’t wince. Sam sits back down at his computer.

By the time his cell rings and Kevin’s voice greets him through a crackle of static, Sam’s given up on counting the hours. It occurs to him that, any other time, he’d wonder how the hell a ghost makes a phone call. But not now. No time for that now.

“Any luck?” he says, by way of greeting.

“Uh, maybe?” Kevin replies, and it’s obvious from his tone that there’s a ‘but’ coming.

Sam can’t even manage disappointment. He knew this wasn’t gonna be easy.

“Okay, let’s hear it,” he says.

And Kevin explains.


Dean follows the pale flicker out of the bunker. He leaves the door open when he goes. Leaves it to the fish and the weeds and whatever else might decide to make a home out of it.

There’s nothing left in there that belongs to him. So he moves on.

He swims until the forest of weeds gives way to other things. Scrap metal, windowless cars. Monoliths made out of rusted junkers stacked on top of each other, the ones at the bottom half-sunk so that they look like they’re growing out of the seabed. The whole scene looks post-apocalyptic, a rupture between worlds, the old one bleeding into the new.

Bobby’s place is as empty as the bunker was. Dean lets himself in through the unlocked door, drifts around the front room. He picks up one of the phones and holds it to his ear. Dumb. He knows there isn’t gonna be any dial tone, because it’s not like these things work underwater.

Not because Bobby’s dead, his place blown to kingdom come.

Not because this is a memory, and you can’t talk to a memory.

There’s a notebook lying open on Bobby’s table, and that’s what Dean’s eyes find to focus on amid all the other detritus, the clutter that must’ve had some kind of order to it somewhere, because Bobby would’ve kicked his ass for disturbing it, even if Dean never could figure it out. He looks through the notebook like there might be an answer written in there for him somewhere, lifting the sodden pages gingerly between thumb and forefinger.

All of them are blank.

He shuts his eyes and tries to summon up a memory. To picture them here: Bobby, Cas, Dad, Sammy. To hear their voices. So many things happened here. There oughta be moments that stand out, that catch at his mind like fishhooks, work themselves into that fabric of it. There were moments like that. Dean knows there were.

He should be feeling something.

But his memories are warped and salt-stained, and their meaning blurs like wet ink.



“Thanks, Kevin.” Sam finishes writing, drops his pen, and hangs up the phone.

From the way Cas is looking at him, he heard most of what was being said.

“So, there’s good news and bad news,” Sam says, anyway. He needs to say it anyway.

Cas tilts his head minutely, waits for him to finish.

“Kevin remembered something,” he goes on. “From the demon tablet. It wasn’t exactly clear—something about removing a stain from the soul. It was pretty fragmented stuff—he doesn’t know if anyone’s actually tried to do the ritual before. Anyway, this is it.” Sam lifts his notepad, slaps it down again on the table. “We change some of the wording, he figures it’s our best shot.”

Cas looks at him steadily. “But?”

“But.” Sam quirks a mirthless smile, tries to keep the bitterness from creeping into his voice. Because of course there’s a ‘but’. There always is. “There are a couple catches. Big ones.”

He breaks off for a moment, tries to marshal his thoughts. He can hear that freight train in his ears now, thundering relentlessly closer, rattling the earth like old bones. He can’t escape it, and part of him just wants to lay down on the track in despair so he won’t have to deal with this. He doesn’t know how the hell he’s supposed to.

This isn’t the biggest thing he’s ever had to do. It shouldn’t be the hardest. But it is, God, it is.

He takes a breath. “First thing is, the Mark. It has to be given up willingly. We can’t remove it without Dean’s permission.”

“I can help with that,” Cas tells him.

“The whole—the dream-walking thing?”

“Yes.”

“Right.” Sam nods. “Then I just have to get him to say yes.”

A puzzled line appears between Cas’s eyebrows. “Dean would give up anything you asked of him.”

That’s true, probably. But remembering the whole neverending cycle of saving and sacrificing and dying, the number of times it’s come back to bite them in the ass, is a road Sam can’t afford to go down right now. He can’t start wondering if he can really do it the right way this time around, because the evidence of their whole damn lives points to no. He starts down that track, he really is gonna give up hope.

Ignore the evidence or curl up and die. Hell of a choice. (No choice at all.)

Sam shakes his head. “I’m not so sure. This time—” He breaks off.

A moment passes.

“What happened, Sam?” Cas prods, at length.

Sam feels a twitch of sorrow at the memory, does his best to school his expression into something neutral.

“Couple weeks ago,” he says. “We were still researching the Mark. Or anyhow, I was researching, Dean was—drinking with a book in front of him. Not even pretending to look at it. I think maybe he’d already given up by that point. There had to be a way to get rid of it, once Abaddon was outta the picture. Least, that’s what I tried to tell him. And he said—he said, ‘Why bother? ‘S what I’m good for, right?’” Sam shakes his head. “I was pissed. Guess I figured it for another guilt trip, you know? ‘Look how shitty you’ve made me feel,’ that kinda thing.” He sighs. “But looking back, I think—I think he meant it.”

Cas doesn’t say anything in response, just dips his head and maybe tightens his grip on Dean’s arm. Sam figures that for agreement. Then Cas looks up at him again, eyes dark and steady, and says, “Ask him anyway,” and Sam can’t tell whether it’s meant as a command, a reassurance, or a plea.

It’s disconcerting, though, being on the receiving end of that intensity. The weight of it—it’s a reminder that he isn’t the only one who needs to save Dean. For all that their world sometimes feels like some little island with a population of two, in sight of the mainland but permanently cut off from it, it isn’t. Dean’s life has meaning outside of that, and Sam feels a twinge of irrational anger at him for not being able to see it.

Cas is still looking at him. And Sam wants to just say, yeah, of course, but when are things ever that simple?

“Yeah. That’s the other thing.” He takes a breath. “The Mark. From what Kevin said, it’s kind of—tied to the bearer’s life-force. That’s how Dean’s still alive right now. Severing that connection could… well, drain it, I guess. It could kill him.” He returns Cas’s stare, then, steady as he can. “I know you’re running out of power, Cas. Could you even bring him back from that?”

A moment, and then Cas drops his gaze, shoulders sagging. “I don’t know, Sam,” he admits. Then he seems to draw himself together, looks up again. “But all the power I have is yours. Dean’s. If there’s the smallest chance.”

It’s not like Sam didn’t know that’s the way it would go, if it came down to it. Still, it’s a huge thing, that Cas would give up the last of his power—give up Heaven—on the barest chance they might be able to bring Dean back to himself. It’s a huge relief, too, and maybe Sam should say, no, it’s okay, you don’t have to, but he doesn’t. He tells himself that it’s Cas’s choice to make, after all. Tries not to think about how relieved he is to hear Cas make that choice of his own volition, so he doesn’t have to ask for it.

At least that’s one decision out of his hands. They’re harder, when you have to make them for other people. But this gives them a chance.

A chance. No guarantees, though—not of survival, much less of success.

Sam casts another glance at Dean’s still shape on the bed, then turns back to Cas. “How long does he have?”

Cas tilts his head, considering. “Hours. A day or two, maybe.”

“Okay.” Sam closes his laptop, grabs the keys to the Impala. “I’m going out for a little while.”

If they’re going to do this, they’ll need supplies. And if they aren’t—

Well, either way, he doesn’t want to make this decision without thinking about it. Though—that’s not quite right. He’s been thinking about it, in one form another, since he saw the Mark branded onto Dean’s arm. And he knows what he’d want, if it was him unconscious in that hospital bed. But.

He doesn’t want to make this decision without feeling it, he guesses. Maybe it’s selfish, but it seems necessary.

Cas doesn’t answer him, just nods once and turns back to Dean, still as a graven image, still as Dean is. The room goes quiet, almost like there’s nobody there at all. There’s just stillness and the rhythmic beeping of the machines, and Dean’s unconscious breathing, slow in the dark.


The Impala stands out back, up on bricks. Her bodywork’s rusting, flakes drifting slow to the bottom as Dean watches. Her windows are grimy and one snapped wiper blade hangs down at a broken-limb angle.

It oughta hurt, seeing her like this. Oughta make him angry, make him wonder what the fuck happened. It doesn’t. It aches, kind of—but somewhere buried deep down, like the memory of a years-old loss. Dean reaches for his anger but can’t find it. He’s all out.

He tries the driver’s side door. It sticks at first, but a couple sharp tugs and he manages to get it open. Slides in behind the steering wheel, grasps it in his hands. The muscle memory is still there, but the feel of it is both familiar and not. Like this is just somewhere he used to belong.

Dean shuts his eyes. Tries to conjure it up in his mind’s eye: a clear stretch of blacktop ahead of him instead of watery dimness. Maiden or Metallica on the stereo. Sammy to his right, rolling his eyes but tapping fingers on his knee when he thinks Dean isn’t looking.

He can picture it just fine—the thrum of the engine, rain drumming the windscreen, headlights glancing past in the other direction—but he can’t feel it. It’s like he’s looking at his life in two dimensions, trying to understand a movie still out of context.

He can’t touch it anymore. It’s the ghost of an existence.

It’s a ghost, or he is.

Through the windscreen, that distant, beckoning flicker.

Dean gets out of the car. Places his palm flat on the hood. Flecks of rust cling to his hand.

He woulda given her a pat, once—to say goodbye, to reassure her he’d be back soon.

He doesn’t. He wipes his hand off on the leg of his jeans, turns away, and follows.



Cas looks up when Sam closes the door carefully behind him. It’s hard to tell whether he’s moved since Sam left. Maybe not. His palm still covers the Mark on Dean’s arm. He’s looking tired, though; eyes shadowed, lines of concentration etched into his face.

Sam sets his bag of supplies down on the table beside his laptop. Then he straightens, slow and deliberate.

“Cas,” he says, then stops. Looks at Dean, still and pale under the hospital lights. Gestures at Cas’s hand, the dark threads creeping out from under it. “Look, I hate to ask you stop that, but—I think you oughta save your juice.”

“We’re doing this,” Cas says.

“Yeah.” Sam breathes out, a little shakily. “Yeah, we’re doing this.”

He feels no sense of relief, with the decision made. Sam only realizes he’s been expecting it when it doesn’t come, when the burden doesn’t shift, when his brain carries right on replaying all the ways this could go wrong.

Slowly, Cas withdraws his hand from Dean’s arm. For a moment, Sam sees the coiling darkness there, the way it writhes like living shadow, like black smoke. Then it’s gone, vanishing as though sucked back in through the Mark—into Dean.

Both of them are silent for a moment. Sam watches Dean’s face; doesn’t need to look to know that Cas is doing the same thing.

Nothing changes. Dean doesn’t move, doesn’t make a sound. There’s nothing new in his blank, unconscious expression, no sign that he’s in pain. Sam can’t decide if that makes this better or worse.

“Being in the hospital complicates things,” Cas tells him, changing the subject.

“Yeah.”

This would be easier if they were back at the bunker, for sure. If Cas had his wings and had reached them sooner. If Sam had gotten there before Dean was completely gone, had just been able to get through to him. If Dean hadn’t gone chasing after Abaddon by himself. If he’d never said yes to Cain. If he hadn’t picked Crowley, of all the scumbags, to listen to after they had that fight. If Dean hadn’t trusted Gadreel, hadn’t tricked Sam into letting the psycho into his head—

If, if, if.

“The nurse will come around again in a half hour,” Cas is saying. “I’ve been keeping track. We should wait until she’s done. Then we’ll have some time to carry out the ritual without being disturbed.”

Sam nods. Glances over again at Dean’s blank face.

Cas follows his gaze. “Time may feel—different, where Dean is right now,” he says, quietly. “It could just be moments, for him.”

“Yeah,” Sam says, “or it could be forever.”

A tiny flinch crosses Cas’s face, at that, and Sam realizes it wasn’t just him Cas was trying to reassure.

They lapse into silence, after that.

They sit quietly while hospital staff bustle up and down the corridor outside, while the nurse scribbles on Dean’s chart and changes his IV and casts sympathetic looks in their direction.

It feels like a lifetime before she’s gone and they can get started. Sam begins to feel like just sitting here is suffocating him. Just sitting here with this responsibility pressing down on him, the weight and shape of it too huge to comprehend, like the whole of the earth.

Finally, the nurse leaves them in peace. It doesn’t take long for them to get set up. Cas steps towards him, raising his hand, ready to press two fingers to Sam’s forehead. They don’t have much time, they should do this now, but—

“Wait,” Sam says. Cas stops, looks at him, and he swallows. “I’m not saying Dean was right,” he goes on, after a moment. “What he did to me. I’m not saying I’d do the same thing, I wouldn’t.”

He pauses. He doesn’t really know why, but he needs to say this now, while Dean is still in with a chance. Needs it not to be a eulogy.

“But I get why he did it. I do.”

Cas nods, his frown of concentration softening. “I know, Sam,” he says, quietly. “I know.”

“Okay,” Sam says, trying to keep the sorrow out of it, failing. “Okay. Good.”

It sounds so totally inadequate, all of it. He wishes he had something else to say. He doesn’t.

Then Cas moves towards him again, presses his fingers to Sam’s forehead, and the world dissolves into water.


Dean figures out where he’s going, and his heart stutters in his chest.

He’s surprised by his surprise, in a vague kind of way—by still being able to feel something. He’s had this weird sense that everything in him is fading, dissolving, is damp embers burning out slow. But this.

The house.
Their house. The one thing that still pops into his head at the word home, for all the years it hasn’t been.

He floats on in through the door like he’s hypnotised. All of it is still there, though it isn’t any better-preserved than his other memories. The upper floor is black with fire damage. Tendrils of peeling wallpaper curl towards him. He touches the wall and his fingertips come away smudged with black. He looks at them like they’re not part of him. Wipes them on his shirt and the marks come off easy.

They shouldn’t come off easy. The thought pops up unexpectedly, the unease an alien element in the slow watery calm. But they shouldn’t. They never did, they never came off at all—

And Dean’s head spins with wrongness, and then—

Then, it’s like whatever’s been holding him together this long suddenly snaps, and the embers roar back into life and he can feel it, all of it, the way he has every day of his waking life. He’s underwater, he’s fucking
drowning, he can’t breathe, there’s fire in his lungs and in his veins and in his head and it hurts, it hurts like Hell, it hurts like it’s supposed to hurt. It hurts and that’s the only thing in this fucked-up situation that feels like any kind of homecoming.

Only for a moment, though. Because then the flood tide of hurt is receding. The burning concentrates itself, converging on a centre. The Mark on his arm. It’s still there. Somehow Dean had managed to forget about it until now, like it wasn’t really part of him anymore—or at least not a part he had to think about. And now he can’t remember how he managed to forget it, can’t imagine how that was even possible, because it’s burning with a whiteout intensity, leaving holes in Dean’s vision when he looks at it, stealing his breath.

It’s bursting through his veins, sending lightning-tendrils into his skull, and he’s remembering—remembering—

Deserted industrial land, weeds-grown concrete wasteland strewn with body parts everywhere he looked. The Blade in his hand, blood up to his elbows, soaking through his clothes, running down his face and into his mouth. He tasted copper and didn’t bother to spit it out. A charred burst on the ground where Abaddon used to be. And so many other bodies, hacked to pieces, unrecognisable. Just one figure left standing upright on the battlefield, making its way towards him. Sam. Sam, looking at Dean like he didn’t know who he was anymore—

Crowley’s laughter echoing in his head, echoing and then shut off abruptly with a sick, wet, twisting sound, a damp cough and a stunned expression—

Gadreel coming apart in a blaze of white, angel blade in Dean’s hand, Cas watching him from the floor. On the floor where Dean threw him. The relief in his eyes gradually giving way to fear—

Cas grasping his arm in a motel car park, saying, “Damn it,” in that pained, tired voice. How fucking sad his eyes were, how Dean had had to pull away from him not to look at them anymore. Had driven through the night, eyes fixed on the tunnel the Impala’s headlamps carved out of the darkness. Because if he didn’t move, didn’t lose focus, didn’t think, then he might not have to feel how hopeless the whole thing was—

Gadreel again, bloodied beneath his hands, his own face dead-eyed in a grimy mirror—

The Blade in his hand again, how right it felt, like a missing limb suddenly restored. Everything clear and simple, just the rushing sound of blood, the call of it. Like having infrared vision, teeth and claws and a purpose. He was a fucking apex predator, all instinct, and he’d never have to be anything else ever again if he didn’t want to be. St. Clair’s head came off with a single blow, easy, bone cut through like butter and the roar of it in his ears, almost drowning out Sam’s voice—

That psycho busboy—what was his name? Robert? Roger?—crumpling into a bloodied heap under his hands. Sam looking at him with what Dean had thought was pissy distaste but now—now he can see it clear as day and it’s desperation and fear and loss—

His hand on Kevin’s forehead, white light burning out his eyes, and he wants to stop it, wants to stop it and can’t—

But no—no—that’s not right—that wasn’t him, wasn’t his hands, anyway—that was—that was—

That was Sam.

The rush of memory stumbles to a dead halt. Dean stares at the charred wallpaper, unseeing, feeling sick. Wants to gasp for air and can’t. Maybe he should just take a lungful of water instead. Yeah, maybe that would be for the best, for all of them—

And then he hears a voice call his name.

Or—he feels it, anyway, a vibration inside his head, in his blood and bones. Slowly forming itself into words.

He blinks, sees something through the doorway of the next room, the one he hasn’t looked into yet—the nursery. It’s the silvery flicker he’s been following all this time. But it’s not just a wisp of pale light anymore. It’s changing, mutating, fighting with itself, taking form. Solidifying into something with arms and legs and a face he knows.

Sam.

Sam, looking at him. Looking at him like he recognises him. More than that—like he’s actually goddamn happy about it. Dean stares.

Dean, Sam’s voice says, without his lips moving. He reaches out an arm, swims closer.

Dean shakes his head, tries to take it in. What the fuck is Sammy doing here? He shouldn’t be inside—wherever this is, whatever this fucking mess is. He should be safe.

Only, Sam looks –okay. No panic or pain in his eyes, and his voice sounds steady. Dean gets this weird feeling, like, wherever they are, it can’t hurt Sam.

Jesus. Maybe—hell, maybe this is his last-minute reprieve. He said yes to the Mark without a thought for the consequences, and it’s gonna burn him out, just like he deserves. But he knows, now. What it’s like to not have all of yourself. And he gets to apologise. Tell Sam he understands.

More than he had any right to expect, if he’s honest.

He meets Sam’s eyes, pushes off the wall to meet him. Tries to force his thoughts into words.

Sam. Sam, I gotta—

But Sam grasps his shoulder, holds him at arms’ length, fixes him with a look. Shakes his head.

Dean, he hears. You gotta listen to me. We don’t have much time.

He blinks.

I might—we might be able to bring you back. Get rid of the Mark. But. Sam jerks his chin up at the ceiling, at what lies beyond. We have to go up there. And it’s dangerous. You might—you might not make it. Sam’s gaze flicks downward, but then he forces his head up, looking Dean in the eyes, expectant.

Dean looks back at him in confusion, because what the fuck? He’s already failed to make it, and hey, here’s the proof. But Sam is looking at him with a plea in his eyes, glancing from Dean’s face to the open bedroom window, the watery depths outside, the way to the surface.

Dean, his voice says, then, and it sounds desperate. I need you to trust me.

His face is open, pleading. He’s asking Dean to do something crazy dangerous—Dean gets that much, even if he doesn’t exactly understand what’s going on here—and he’s asking it straight out, no tricks, no screwing around. Dean blinks at him, not sure what it is he’s feeling, somewhere between wonder and sorrow.

But he’s already made his decision. Hell, he made it the second Sam showed up here.

He grasps Sam’s arm, starts for the open window with him. Sam’s face softens with relief.

Thank you, Dean hears.

They stop just outside the window, floating there like they’re weightless. Sam looks up, and Dean follows his gaze.

He can’t tell if the light up on the surface looks different now. He thinks maybe it looks different, more white than red. He doesn’t know. It’s still burning, though, and Sam meant it when he said Dean might not make it, he thinks, and maybe this is his last chance to get out what he needs to say.

Sam spills out of his mind in a silent rush, Sam, Sammy, listen, I gotta tell you—

Sam stops him with a hand on his arm, pressed over the Mark. It’s still burning, but Sam doesn’t flinch.

Later, he says. Dean. Later. Right now you have to trust me.

Dean frowns at him, but he shuts up, and the way Sam looks at him, it feels like he just passed some kind of test.

Sam presses his palm flat over the Mark and Dean feels the heat of it shoot through him, sharp and savage, has to fight to keep himself from doubling over with it. Sam’s lips form silent words. Enochian, maybe, but Dean can’t tell because it’s burning fiercer now, all of it, it’s in his veins, it’s gonna kill him, the water’s gonna boil away and it’s gonna burn him up, he can hear the flames roar in his ears and he can’t feel anything else—

And then it’s gone. He looks down at his arm in time to see Sam remove his hand, and the Mark just—dissolves. Sparks swirl away into the water and wink out.

The fire’s gone out of him.

The fire’s gone out, and he can’t breathe, and he’s still gonna die here if he doesn’t get out of the water.

He might die here anyway.

But Sammy’s here with him, holding onto him, grasping his arm like a promise.

Dean looks at him.
I trust you, he thinks, and lets himself believe it. He’ll say his sorries later. There’ll be a later, because Sam wants there to be a later.

I know, he hears, inside his head.

And together, they swim toward the light.
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( 28 comments — Leave a comment )
borgmama1of5borgmama1of5 on May 6th, 2014 10:18 pm (UTC)
OH! OH! OH!

I am breathless, this was FANTASTIC!!! Dean's removal from everything he once would have cared about, and realizing that, and then Sam facing the decision of what Dean would want, and:

I’m not saying I’d do the same thing, I wouldn’t...But I get why he did it. I do.”

That is the line I DESPARATELY want to hear in the show!!!

Thank you so much for writing this!!!
tiamaria: tornanactoria on May 6th, 2014 10:42 pm (UTC)
Thank you for reading! ♥ ♥ I'm glad you liked it.

Ah, I'd be so happy if we just got some hint of understanding between them. And maybe Dean also going 'I wouldn't change you being alive, but I get why you're pissed off.' *hopes forlornly*
mdlaw: caugraphicsmdlaw on May 7th, 2014 12:56 am (UTC)
OH! OH OH!!!! OH OH OH !!!!!!!!!!! CLUTCHES HEART!!!!!!!! m :0
tiamaria: tornanactoria on May 7th, 2014 10:50 am (UTC)
Uh... *waves smelling salts*

Thanks for reading!
stripytights: Dean and Samstripytights on May 7th, 2014 08:02 am (UTC)
I really enjoyed this, you resolved so many of the issues so well, and Sam asking and Dean finally understanding what that means. Beautiful.
tiamaria: tornanactoria on May 7th, 2014 10:53 am (UTC)
Thank you! I'm so glad you liked it. And yeah... I really don't want Sam to end up deciding he would do the same thing Dean did, so I wanted to put him in a desperate situation but have choice still be important to him, I guess.
frozen_delight: rift to bridgefrozen_delight on May 7th, 2014 11:00 am (UTC)
This was absolutely stunning. I really liked the quiet beauty of your prose, moving on at a very leisurely pace, but moving steadily in one direction, like you'd loosened the reins, but still held them confidently in your hands, if that makes sense. The way you wrote both brothers was wonderful. If I remember correctly, you said somewhere else that this was the first time you were writing Sam's POV - let me tell you that this really doesn't show. Your Sam's marvellous and I can't help but hope that you'll write him again some time.

My favourite brotherly moment (apart from the whole fic being a wonderful brotherly moment, of course):
Dean shuts his eyes. Tries to conjure it up in his mind’s eye: a clear stretch of blacktop ahead of him instead of watery dimness. Maiden or Metallica on the stereo. Sammy to his right, rolling his eyes but tapping fingers on his knee when he thinks Dean isn’t looking.
This little memory of Sam and Dean on the road feels so perfectly like them that it almost hurts.

My favourite observation:
We were still researching the Mark. Or anyhow, I was researching, Dean was — drinking with a book in front of him.
Most accurate description of on-screen action ever.

Can I confess that I was grinning like mad when you mentioned Jody and Alex? The thought of those two awesome ladies living together and having adventures together makes me all kinds of happy.

Also, you really managed to make sense of the convoluted, frankly weird plot twists of Season 9 in a very poetic sort of way:
This would be easier if they were back at the bunker, for sure. If Cas had his wings and had reached them sooner. If Sam had gotten there before Dean was completely gone, had just been able to get through to him. If Dean hadn’t gone chasing after Abaddon by himself. If he’d never said yes to Cain. If he hadn’t picked Crowley, of all the scumbags, to listen to after they had that fight. If Dean hadn’t trusted Gadreel, hadn’t tricked Sam into letting the psycho into his head—
If, if, if.

The whole of Season 9 feels like a big If to which they writers have yet to find the approriate answer - but you've already found it! Well done. And thanks for sharing it with the rest of us.
tiamaria: tornanactoria on May 7th, 2014 05:06 pm (UTC)
♥ ♥ ♥ Thank you for reading! I'm so glad you liked it. Especially the Sam parts, because I'm never sure if I really have a handle on him. It's encouraging to hear you thought they worked.

Can I confess that I was grinning like mad when you mentioned Jody and Alex? The thought of those two awesome ladies living together and having adventures together makes me all kinds of happy.

ME TOO, ME TOO. Honestly, I didn't hate 'Bloodlines' (I just felt resoundingly 'meh' about it), but my major objection is that it is not the Jody Mills Show. They'd be such an awesome team and their dynamic has such potential, gah.

Here's hoping that the writers resolve... well, some of the things before the season's up. *crosses fingers*

Thanks again!
brightly_lit: brightly litbrightly_lit on May 7th, 2014 07:07 pm (UTC)
This is basically the classic bi-bro fic. And so current with canon! I wish the show would take it this direction, sigh. SOO glad you wrote a bi-bro fic! And this:

and he’s asking it straight out, no tricks, no screwing around.

PERFECT. He really didn't do the same thing, same circumstances; he did it the way he wanted it done himself, and it worked. Lovely fic, dear.
tiamaria: tornanactoria on May 7th, 2014 10:27 pm (UTC)
Ahh, I'm so glad you like it. ♥

He really didn't do the same thing, same circumstances; he did it the way he wanted it done himself, and it worked

IDK, I still have this awful fear that canon is going to go the 'Sam realises he would do the same thing after all' route, and that is the opposite of what I want. *clings hopefully to other possibilities*

Thanks for reading!
caranfindel: pic#122754665caranfindel on May 7th, 2014 10:40 pm (UTC)
So, I still love this. :-)
tiamaria: tornanactoria on May 7th, 2014 10:59 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you do. :)
septembers_coda: boys runningseptembers_coda on May 8th, 2014 04:09 pm (UTC)
BI-BRO FOREVER!!!

Have I ever mentioned how much I love an extended metaphor? WELL I DO. The world inside Dean's head, the decaying memories and the hopelessness and the post-apocalyptic feel, for the apocalypse that happened inside Dean and is still happening... LOVE LOVE LOVE. This was perfect, and it need not be said how wonderfully it resolved the conflict between the brothers. I wish it would happen this way, but I'm afraid it won't really happen at all... that canon will just pretend Sam didn't have so much to be upset about, or that Dean didn't need his brother that much, or that it could all go back to "normal" (if that word even means anything with Winchesters) without real consequences... they'll just have a "Sam goes to great lengths to save his brother and prove he cares" moment we don't really need. We KNOW he cares. DEAN doesn't. And Sam doesn't get that, because they don't talk to each other. Blah, blah, blah... I shouldn't keep talking; Show is gonna do what it's gonna do. :-)

Anyway, YOU did it right. Thanks for this wonderful story, and I'm so glad you participated in the challenge. <3

Edited at 2014-05-08 04:09 pm (UTC)
tiamaria: tornanactoria on May 8th, 2014 07:56 pm (UTC)
Ahh, thank you so much. I'm really glad you liked it! ♥

I wish it would happen this way, but I'm afraid it won't really happen at all... that canon will just pretend Sam didn't have so much to be upset about, or that Dean didn't need his brother that much, or that it could all go back to "normal" (if that word even means anything with Winchesters) without real consequences... they'll just have a "Sam goes to great lengths to save his brother and prove he cares" moment we don't really need.

Oh, these are my thoughts exactly. The last thing I want is Sam figuring out that oh, actually, he would do the same thing Dean did, but I do fear that might be what happens. :-/ And yeah, Dean needs to realise that Sam cares about him -- and also that Sam caring about him and Sam calling him on his shit are not mutually exclusive; in fact, one of them is really a facet of the other. But, you know. I'm not that much of an optimist. ;)

I'm so glad this challenge is a thing, even if I did miss the boat a little. ♥
tyrsibs: pic#121849039tyrsibs on May 9th, 2014 03:43 am (UTC)
Oh, wow. That was beautiful. You almost made me cry.

Thank you for this.
tiamaria: tornanactoria on May 9th, 2014 09:11 am (UTC)
Thank you for reading! I'm glad you liked it. ♥
i_speak_tonguei_speak_tongue on May 10th, 2014 03:28 am (UTC)
That was so quietly beautiful. Poetic.
tiamariaanactoria on May 10th, 2014 10:56 am (UTC)
Thanks so much! ♥
borgmama1of5borgmama1of5 on May 14th, 2014 04:09 am (UTC)
I just recced this at rocksalt_recs because everyone needs to read this!
tiamaria: tornanactoria on May 14th, 2014 07:29 am (UTC)
Aw, thank you! ♥
tabaqui: s&dsplithugbychatabaqui on May 14th, 2014 08:56 pm (UTC)
OH, that made me well up.
*sniffle*
That was so gorgeous and so quiet and so...sad. But the end....
Perfect, and hopeful, and just...yeah.
I hope Dean gets that chance.
*sniffle*
tiamaria: tornanactoria on May 14th, 2014 09:33 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much! ♥

I hope Dean gets that chance.

Oh, me too, me too. (I pretty much have no thoughts that aren't DEAN NO at the moment.)
redheadforeverredheadforever on May 27th, 2014 01:44 am (UTC)
YESSSSS!!! This is what needs to be done, their journey back to each other. Show is becoming more and more just the launching pad for the fanfic that explains and fleshes in the skeleton.

Beautiful job done here!
tiamariaanactoria on May 27th, 2014 08:56 am (UTC)
Thanks so much! ♥
Kallielkalliel on June 1st, 2014 02:03 am (UTC)
Latest comment ever, but I wanted to re-read, aha. Anyway, like I mentioned in some unrelated comment thread of ours, I love this. <3 And I adore the way it ties back to other little moments in canon, concretizes the world outside of this moment even as that moment is--rightfully--all-consuming to its narrators; soft callbacks to Jody's life with Alex, Kevin's incorporeality.

The phrasing/mechanics of this bit is just wonderful, too: “He’s Dean,” Sam protests. He only realizes he’s asking a question when Cas doesn’t reply, just gives him a troubled look and then turns back to Dean. So, so good. And I loved the way Sam and Castiel go about problem-solving here, both emotionally and literally--rather than searching for an (unlikely) miracle spell, adapting and crafting a new one out of information that is available.

And then SAM. Angry, worried, determined, conflicted, but also unwavering Sam. <333333333333333333

This whole fic is just beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing it!
tiamariaanactoria on June 1st, 2014 07:36 pm (UTC)
Ahh, thank you so much! ♥ I have zero confidence when it comes to writing Sam, so I'm glad you like that aspect of it especially. :)
The indefatigable Mrs. Griffin: gone fishin'quickreaver on July 14th, 2014 04:13 am (UTC)
I missed this the first time around! Perfectly lovely! There simply hasn't been many true-feeling later-season fics where the author has been fair to both boys, plain and simple. This was one of them. And your prose is simply gorgeous! Thanks so much for sharing!
tiamaria: tornanactoria on July 14th, 2014 07:53 am (UTC)
Thank you for reading! ♥ It's true; fandom does seem to be split down the middle -- so happy the Bunker decided to have this challenge! I'm glad you liked it.
( 28 comments — Leave a comment )