They’re sitting in the infirmary, whiskies in hand, facing each other over Dean’s brother’s dead body. It’s been over two months since Dean fell through the rift with his brother in his arms.
Chuck should have destroyed all the worlds by now. Dean can’t figure out why he’s leaving this one, except that it must be part of his fucked-up plan for Dean. Chuck’s latest plot-twist.
Thinking about that makes Dean feel ill.
“Purgatory, huh?” Sam leans forward on his chair, twirling his glass between his hands, dangling it periodically between his spread knees. “What’s that like?”
“Not pretty, I can tell you that,” Dean says. “It’s where monsters go after they die. Place is crawling with vamps, shifters, werewolves, you name it. And every single one of them wanted a piece of me. If I hadn’t found an ally, I don’t think I would’ve made it.”
“An ally, huh?”
“Fellow named Benny.” Dean nods, lifts his glass in a quick salute, takes a sip of the whiskey before going on. “Vampire.”
Sam’s eyes widen. “You made friends with a vampire?”
“Sure did. I needed back-up, he needed a ride out.”
“Where was Sam?”
Dean glances at the still face of his brother and winces.
“He survived the explosion that sent me to Purgatory,” he explains. “Hit a dog, found a girl.”
Sam straightens up in his chair, frowning. “So he thought you were dead.”
Dean nods, then shakes his head. “When I got back, I was too hard on him. Blamed him for not looking for me, for not figuring out what had happened to me. I accused him of dropping the ball on his responsibilities.”
Sam sucks in a breath. “He thought you were safe in Heaven. He was trying to keep going without you.”
Dean raises his eyes to Sam and nods. “Yeah. He was. I get that now. And the sick thing is, he felt bad, you know? He felt like he let me down because he stopped looking for me. Years later, he still felt guilty about it.”
Sam nods, takes a sip of his whiskey. He frowns as he looks down at the body, and Dean can see the wheels turning in his big brain.
“You know, I could help with that. If you want.”
Dean raises his eyebrows. Wild hope surges through his veins.
“What are you talking about? Did you figure out a spell to bring him back?”
Sam shakes his head. “Not that. I meant, I could do a séance, ask him to tell us if he’s okay.”
Dean frowns. “I thought séances were just about talking to ghosts,” he says uncertainly. “Sam’s not a ghost.”
“No, he’s not,” Sam agrees, gazing down at the body. “But that’s not the only thing that séances are for. Often, they’re about closure. Living relatives want reassurance that their loved ones are safe, that they’re okay with being dead.” He raises his eyes to Dean. “There’s a way to summon a spirit from the afterlife, just long enough to answer a couple of questions. I’ve done it at least a dozen times. It can help.”
Dean sucks in a breath. His hands are trembling. He sets the glass on the bedside table so it doesn’t slip out of his hands.
“I thought you said he was gone,” he says. His voice is shaking. “I thought you said he’s not here.”
“Right,” Sam agrees. “He’s not. But I can ask him to come for a short visit, just long enough to let you know how he’s doing, wherever he is. I’m not saying he’ll answer, and honestly, since your world is so different from ours, I don’t know if the summons will work across worlds in the first place. But I’m willing to try. If you want.”
Dean frowns. He feels betrayed. He narrows his eyes and glares his accusation at Sam.
“Why didn’t you tell me you could do that?”
Sam looks away, obviously embarrassed. “Honestly? I was afraid it would make things worse for you. You’re having a hard time letting him go as it is.”
Dean’s eyes widen as realization dawns.
“Wait, did you already do this with your brother? Did you already summon your brother’s spirit?”
Dean’s offended, although he can’t figure out why he should be. None of this had occurred to him before, but of course Dean’s only experience with séances was the kind Pamela Barnes did, which were all about summoning spirits that were already here on Earth. It had never occurred to Dean that there might be a way to summon a spirit from somewhere not on Earth. He’s pretty sure that’s not possible in his world or he would have heard about it.
Of course, maybe Sam’s just special that way.
Sam’s jaw clenches and he nods briefly. “I did. About a week after you arrived. I needed to know. I couldn’t live without knowing. And since you seemed so sure Dean was dead...”
Dean glares, fury rising in his chest. “You’ve been living with that knowledge all this time? And never thought to tell me?” He rises to his feet, paces back in forth next to the bed because he can’t sit still.
“I wasn’t sure you would want to know,” Sam admits. “It’s so final. I don’t want to force that on you if you’re not ready, and you’ve shown me again and again that you don’t want to let him go yet.” Sam takes a deep breath. “I get that, Dean. I really do. If I didn’t have you... If you weren’t here, I’m not sure I could’ve done the séance for my brother. I’m not sure I ever would’ve done it.”
Dean’s flabbergasted. “Don’t tell me you gave up trying to find a way to bring him back,” he accuses darkly, gesturing at his brother’s body. “Don’t tell me this was your plan all along.”
Sam’s eyebrows go up. “No, Dean, I wouldn’t lie to you about that. I’ve been looking into everything I can find. It’s just — What you’re asking may not be possible. I mean, maybe if Sam was willing to return to his body...”
“You were holding out on me, Sam,” Dean accuses, furious. “You knew you could do this summoning thing all along and you just didn’t want me to know.”
“That’s not true, Dean.” Sam shakes his head. “I know you. I could see you were suffering...”
“You don’t know me,” Dean growls. He wants to hit something. If a dead body wasn’t lying between them, he’d be up in Sam’s face like a shot. “I’m not your brother, you asshole!”
Sam’s jaw clenches. He closes and reopens his eyes, shakes his head, struggling to hold onto his emotions. He rises slowly to his feet, hands out, palms down, a gesture that Dean knows well. He wants Dean to calm down.
“You don’t have to tell me that,” Sam says, his voice carefully controlled. “I know who you are. But I also know who he is, because he’s me.” Sam gestures at the body. “He knows you’re not good at living without him. He knows that all you want to do is join him as soon as you possibly can. Living without him isn’t an option for you.”
“It sure as hell isn’t!”
“But you’re doing it, Dean,” Sam reminds him. “You’ve been doing it for over two months now. Living without him is something you can do. It is.”
“You call this living?” Dean glares, fists clenched. “We spend our days researching ways to get him back and our nights drinking and fucking and crying over his dead body. You call that living, Sam?”
Sam shakes his head. “I call it a start,” he says. “Maybe not really living yet, but you’re still here.”
“Only because Chuck told me he’d bring me back if I died,” Dean snarls. Tears are leaking out of his eyes and he wipes them away angrily. “Even if he hasn’t destroyed this world yet, I’m pretty sure he’s still in charge. He’s watching!”
Sam’s eyes widen. “You think God let you come here? You think he allowed this to happen?”
“What do you think, Sam? I told you, Chuck’s in charge. He’s the Lord God Almighty. None of this would be happening if it wasn’t the way he wanted it to be.”
“But what if he wasn’t?” Sam says. “Isn’t it possible that he’s not in charge anymore? At least, not in this world.”
Dean blinks, confused. “What are you talking about? I told you, Chuck made a bunch of alternate worlds, and just before I got here he destroyed them all.”
“Exactly. But this world is still here. So I’m thinking, what if this world is unique? What if it’s not one of the worlds that Chuck created?”
Sam looks so hopeful, so eager, that Dean can’t stay angry with him. It’s just not in him.
“You said Chuck disappeared right before you came through the rift into my world, right?” Sam goes on, pushing his point. “So what if he just lost track of you completely at that point? What if you slipped out of his jurisdiction, so to speak, and into a hidden world that he doesn’t even know about?”
Dean frowns. “He’s the Lord God Almighty, Sam. Pretty sure he knows about all the worlds, since he created them.”
“Maybe,” Sam concedes. “But maybe not. Or maybe this world falls below the radar somehow. Maybe it’s too insignificant for Chuck to care about, or even remember creating.”
Given how long Chuck had left Dean’s world alone before intruding in person, Sam’s suggestion doesn’t sound completely impossible. Implausible, maybe, but not impossible.
“So you’re suggesting I could die and join my brother in Heaven, if that’s where he is,” Dean says slowly.
Sam flinches like he’s been hit and Dean almost takes it back. Almost.
“I was just suggesting that maybe you’re free here,” Sam says. “You can choose.”
Dean considers pulling his gun out, firing in into his own head, just to test Sam’s theory.
Then he thinks about the shock he’d be giving Sam, the life of grief he’d be condemning the kid to, and the idea goes right out of his head again.
One thing’s for sure. Dean’s anger has dissipated, replaced by the terror of knowing something he didn’t know two months ago.
He might be able to find out where his brother is. He might learn that Sam’s truly happy there, and all this struggle to bring him back is just Dean being incredibly selfish.
Dean takes a deep breath and reaches for his whiskey glass, knocks back the amber liquid and reaches for the bottle. He takes a seat as he pours himself another glass, offers the bottle to Sam.
“You know, he almost died trying to close the Gates of Hell one time,” Dean says. His voice is rough with emotion and whiskey.
Sam reaches across the bed, takes the bottle, pours himself another glass, and sits down on his own chair, waiting.
“I couldn’t let him die, so I made another deal to save him, this time with an angel.” Dean rolls his eyes. “That was a disaster, obviously.”
“Because Sam had been possessed by an angel before,” Sam breathes sympathetically. “Lucifer.”
“Yeah.” Dean sips the whiskey. “When he finally kicked the angel out, he hated me for a while.”
Sam nods. “You stole his autonomy,” he says quietly. “You didn’t let him choose for himself whether he wanted to stay with you or not. You didn’t let him decide whether it was worth it.”
Dean shakes his head. “You know the worst thing, though? The worst thing was that I actually believed he would rather leave me. He would rather never see me again than let me save him. I thought he blamed me for letting him jump into the Cage, for letting him suffer like that.”
Dean sighs, brushes the tears off his cheeks, the ones he didn’t realize he’d shed. He must be drunker than he thought.
Sam shakes his head. “He did that to make you proud, Dean,” he says. “He did that to save the world.”
“I know that now!” Dean protests. “I understand now that he wouldn’t leave me, not willingly. But back then, I still thought he’d rather have a normal life, you know? He’d rather be done with hunting. Done with me. I thought he never stopped wanting out.”
He gazes down at the body on the bed before he goes on.
“And I wanted him to get out, that’s the thing. I wanted a better life for him than danger and violence and always moving around, always being on the fringes. I wanted him to have a home, with a wife who adored him. I wanted him to have kids and grandkids and never to fear for his life again.”
Dean takes a deep breath, lets it out slow. “And instead of all that, I got him dead.” He closes his eyes, squeezing back the tears. He won’t let himself cry. He won’t.
“You didn’t get him dead, Dean,” Sam assures him. “He knew the risks of the job. He knew what could happen to him. What would happen to him, eventually, if he stayed in the life long enough. We all take that risk when we become hunters. Every hunt we go on could be our last. It’s a risk we all take willingly.”
Dean listens, nods. Sam’s right. It just hurts so much, seeing his brother on that bed, his life cut short.
“It should be me lying here, dead,” Dean says. “I’m his big brother. I should’ve protected him.”
“You did the best you could, Dean,” Sam says softly. “I know you did.”
Dean looks up sharply. “How the hell do you know that?”
Sam smiles sadly. “Because I know you. I’ve gotten to know you over the past two months, Dean. I know you did the best you could do. I know it.”
Dean stares at him for a moment, then slams his glass down. “Damn it, Sam. You don’t know a damn thing.”
He feels Sam’s eyes on him as he leaves the room, knows Sam won’t follow. Not right away. Dean almost hates how much he’s learned to understand this Sam and his sympathetic, psychic ways. It should make him angrier than he does. It should make him hate this Sam for trying so hard to replace his brother.
But it doesn’t. Sam’s just doing his best. He’s just trying to find a way to go on without the love of his life. Dean gets that. Dean should try to do the same thing.
But he can’t. He’s not strong enough. He’ll die of alcoholism or a broken heart or both first.
Dean’s grief and sense of failure know no bounds.
“Okay, let’s do this thing.”
Sam looks up as Dean stalks back into the infirmary a few minutes later, jaw clenched with determination.
Sam nods, understanding immediately. He’s already moved the chairs into place, at the foot of the bed, facing each other. He gestures for Dean to take the other seat, then reaches for his hands.
“Take my hands. Relax and close your eyes. Think of your happiest memory with Sam.”
Dean feels like an idiot as he obeys. He’s like a kid at a slumber party, He feels hopeful and sad, all at the same time. He’s not ready for this.
“Okay,” Sam says. “I’m summoning the spirit of Sam Winchester, the brother of this man, Dean Winchester. Dean wishes to speak to the spirit of Sam Winchester. Will you come to speak with him?”
Dean cracks one eye open, glances around, half-expecting Sam’s ghost to materialize, even though he knows that’s not possible.
Then his chest clenches painfully, and he gasps.
Dean’s eyes fly open as Sam drops his hands, sits back in his chair. His eyes are wide with a surprised expression as he stares first at Dean, at his own hands, then around the room. He squints, reaches up to take the glasses off his face, blinks as he looks around the room again. When his gaze falls on the body on the bed he gives a small gasp. He rises to his feet, gesturing at the body as he turns a hard look on Dean.
“What are you doing, Dean?”
“Sam?” Dean doesn’t know whether to be thrilled or horrified. He gets up slowly. “Is that you?”
“Of course it’s me,” Sam snaps. “What the hell are you doing?”
“I — I — You died, Sammy. Chuck killed you! I’ve been trying to find a way to bring you back, man.” Dean’s never felt so helpless. He never needed anything as bad as he needs Sam, and he’s not afraid to beg. “I need you back, man. You know I can’t live with you dead.”
“Yes, you can,” Sam snaps. “You can, Dean. You made a promise.”
Dean stares, flabbergasted. “That was years ago! And I couldn’t do it! I tried, and I failed. I failed big time, man! Almost got Lisa and Ben killed...”
“Dean, listen to me.” Sam glances at the body on the bed, closes his eyes and shakes his head before opening his eyes again. He notices the glasses still dangling from his fingers and he puts them down carefully on the bedside table. “I’m fine. I’m in Heaven, waiting for you. We always knew this would happen sooner or later. I hoped we’d grow old together, I really did, but that’s not happening. I’m not coming back, not this time.”
Ice water floods Dean’s veins at Sam’s words. He’d known. He’d always known, and he’s ashamed for thinking he should make Sam return when he’s safe where he is. He’s okay.
This is what Sam wants.
“What about Chuck?”
“Chuck’s been neutralized,” Sam says. “Jack fixed everything.”
“J — Jack?” Dean stammers. “I thought Jack was dead?”
Sam shakes his head impatiently. “Billie brought him back so he could fix things, and he did. He did, Dean! Everything’s the way it should be now.” Sam’s proud of the kid. Dean can see it.
Sam’s death wasn’t for nothing.
Dean fights back tears. “I can’t let you go, Sam.”
“Yes, you can,” Sam assures him. “I’m at peace now, Dean. No more demon blood, no more Lucifer, no more making mistakes and letting you down.”
“You never let me down, Sam,” Dean insists. “Never.”
Sam smiles, sad and fond. He crosses around the bed and leans close, cupping Dean’s cheek with his big, warm hand.
“You’ll be okay,” he assures Dean. “You’ve got this other me to keep you company. He seems like a good guy.”
“He’s not you,” Dean complains. “I can’t do this. I’ve tried, believe me, I’ve tried. With Cassie. With Lisa. But I can’t make a life with anyone else. It just isn’t in me.”
“Yes, you can,” Sam assures him again. “You’re my big brother, and there is nothing you can’t do. I looked up to you my whole life, Dean. You never valued your own life as much as I wish you did, but I value you. I see the good in you and the love in you. It saved me more times than I can count. So I know you can do this. I know it because I know you, Dean, better than anyone.”
Dean can’t argue with that.
“Sam — I can’t — I don’t know how — “ Tears flow freely. His voice sounds choked. “I’m not as strong as you are. I can’t.”
“Yes, you can,” Sam murmurs again, leaning close so their foreheads are touching. “You can. You’re stronger than you think you are. You keep on fighting the good fight, saving people here in this world, keeping this Sam safe. You do all that, and when you’re done, we’ll see each other again, Dean. I promise.”
Dean slips his arms around his brother, pulling him close, holding him tight.
“Don’t leave. Please don’t go.”
Sam’s lips press against Dean’s cheek. “I’m not leaving you. I’ll always be right here with you. I’m the part of you that always keeps fighting, remember?”
When he feels Sam start to pull back, it’s too soon. Every instinct in Dean’s body tells him to hold on, never to let go.
“It’s okay, Dean,” Sam murmurs. “You’re gonna be okay.”
“I believe in you, Dean,” Sam breathes.
Dean makes a choked sound that’s half-sob, half-laugh.
“You’ve always had faith enough for both of us.”
Dean feels Sam smile against his cheek. “You’re gonna be okay,” he repeats, as if he’s imbedding his faith and strength deep into Dean’s soul. He needs Dean to survive, believes that he can. He needs that to be enough.
Dean nods, swallows thickly. As Sam pulls gently away, Dean clings to both of Sam’s arms, keeping him close, just for one more moment, before letting him go.
He watches as Sam crosses to the bedside table and picks up the glasses. He spares a brief glance at the body on the bed before returning to his chair, taking position with another glance around the room, nodding at Dean to do the same, and Dean obeys because it’s the last thing Sam wants him to do, it’s Sam’s last wish.
Sam smiles as he catches Dean’s eye, holds his gaze. Their knees touch. Dean leans forward in his chair, puts his hands over Sam’s where they lie in his lap, holding the glasses.
“See you later, Dean.” He won’t say goodbye.
Sam closes his eyes, and when he opens them again he’s not Dean’s brother anymore.