They found the lead they needed first thing this morning. The werewolf's hiding out in a cabin on Indian Ridge, about an hour north of Sioux Falls. Jody's already talked to the local authorities, who confirmed that the cabin has been abandoned for some time. It's a perfect hide-out for a lone werewolf.
Cas squints into the early-morning light of an overcast day. "You remember?" he asks.
Sam shakes his head. "I had a dream." He tells Cas about his conversation with Chuck, about Chuck's promise, about what happened after everyone except Sam and Cas disappeared.
Cas frowns. "God must have rescued you, just before the blast could kill you," he says. "We were in the cemetery after the others disappeared, and you started shouting for God to make good on his promise. Then you disappeared and the sun came out, bright and whole again. You reappeared just a moment or two later, unconscious."
Sam nods. "How long was I out?"
"Not long," Cas says. "I healed you and you regained consciousness before we got back to the bunker."
"Chuck let me watch my brother die," Sam shakes his head. "But he wouldn't let me try to stop it. How fucked up is that? So he was just gonna let me live with the guilt?"
"Technically, he gave you what you asked for," Cas reminds him. "He let you be there when Dean sacrificed himself."
"Dean didn't even know I was there," Sam huffs out a breath. "I couldn't even give him that. He never knew he wasn't dying alone. I was there, but he never knew."
Cas tilts his head, quizzical. "You never told me that. I can see why your guilt and despair consumed you so completely."
Sam falls silent, letting the dream replay in his head as he struggles to recall the feelings Cas describes. He can remember experiencing grief and despair in the dream, and he understands intellectually that he should feel immense guilt over Dean's death. But he just doesn't. It's like his brother's death happened to someone else. It's like it happened to that other Sam, the one in his dream. The real Sam just doesn't remember Dean well enough to grieve his death.
If Cas died, Sam would be intensely sad. He can imagine that feeling, almost gets choked up just thinking about it.
He should feel at least that intensely about losing his brother.
Not for the first time, it occurs to Sam that he should be angry with Cas. Castiel did this thing to him. Changed him fundamentally. And even if it was the right thing to do, even if it saved Sam's life, it's permanently altered Sam's perception of himself and his relation to the person he most trusts.
Plus, he's got a nagging idea that his old self, the one who had a brother he loved more than his own life, wouldn't have wanted this. Not that Sam particularly cares what his old self wanted. He was obviously at least as fucked up as Sam. Probably worse. Drinking demon blood, lying about it to his brother...Who was that guy?
For now, they've got a job to do. Even his old self would agree. He would know how to stuff all the emotional baggage down deep while he got the work done.
The job is almost too easy, and Sam finds himself functioning on autopilot. The werewolf isn't even ready for them, barely puts up a fight before Sam's silver bullet lodges itself in his heart. It's like it was waiting for them. Like it wanted to die. After they'd killed its only companion the day before, it must have given up the fight, decided life wasn't worth living.
When they're done salting and burning the body, Cas, Sam, Jody and Claire head back to Jody's house to shower and eat.
Alex spent the day working her job as a tutor for troubled teens trying to finish high school. It's a program Jody started at the sheriff's department, and it's turned out to be a perfect job for Alex.
"I get to help kids like me and Claire, and it keeps my mind off my own crap," Alex tells Sam over steaming bowls of clam chowder and crusty home-baked bread.
Alex has only recently finished high school herself, so the kids trust her. She can't tell them everything about what happened to her –– growing up in a family of vampires might just be a little unrelatable to these kids –– but they seem to understand that Alex's history parallels their own experiences of addiction and abuse, so they respect her.
"I don't think I'm cut out for hunting," she explains. "That's Claire's thing."
"Alex wants to be a teacher," Jody brags. "Or a counselor. You should see her with these kids, Sam. She's a natural."
Alex flushes under the praise, picks at her bread as she glances up at Sam. "I understand them," she says simply. "I get a lot of what they've been through."
"Too bad you have to go back to school if you want to do that stuff," Claire smirks. "At least with hunting, it's all about learning on the job."
"Sam went to college," Alex protests. "I'll bet it helped make him a better hunter."
Claire snorts. "Yeah, well, Dean didn't even finish high school, and he was the best damn hunter in the country. Right, Sam?"
Sam starts to agree, but flashes back to his dream last night. Grief stabs him like a knife in his gut. He can't consciously remember Dean, but there are moments when he's sure his subconscious remembers everything.
Jody's hand on his arm jerks him back into the present moment. The girls are staring at him from across the table, and Cas is sitting next to him, barely nibbling his food but just being there, as he always is, for Sam.
Because Dean is gone.
"Everything okay, Sam?" Jody asks, rubbing his arm gently.
"Yeah." Sam takes a deep breath, lets it out in a huff. "Yeah, I'm fine. It's just been a long day, that's all." He glances at Cas. "We should go."
Jody nods. "I wish I could talk you into staying the night, starting out fresh in the morning," she offers kindly.
"Thanks, but we need to get back," Sam says. "I've got research to do."
As they say their goodbyes, Jody convinces Sam to let Cas drive so he can rest, then Sam hugs all three women a little awkwardly and promises to answer his phones if they ever need him.
"Take it easy, Sam," Jody admonishes, holding his hand a moment too long.
Sam nods, barely able to meet her eyes. "I will," he lies.
In the car, Sam lets Cas in on his thinking.
"Do you think it's possible that my subconscious still has all my memories?" he asks.
"Perhaps," Cas muses thoughtfully.
"Because it sure felt like I could remember everything, in that dream," Sam says. "Like I was my old self, the one who remembers growing up with a brother. Maybe if I can recover my memories in a dream, there's a way to get them back in my waking life, too."
"Sam..." Cas stares at the road as he drives, but his face is strained with concern. "I don't know if it's possible to recover your memories. What I did isn't reversible.. It's similar to the process we used to wipe your memories of Heaven when you were resurrected."
Sam chews his bottom lip, attempting to recall the feelings in the dream. He remembers his fear of losing Dean, how that seemed more important than stopping Amara, more important than saving the world. Dean's death was unthinkable, unimaginable, although Sam knows from the Supernatural books that he's lost (and found) Dean countless times in their long, weird lives. Yet this knowledge only made dream-Sam more terrified. Nothing else mattered, not really.
No wonder Sam lost his mind after Dean died. No wonder Cas did what he did to fix him.
"Do you think Chuck is still in the wind?" Sam asks. He realizes it's been a while since he last spoke by the way Cas glances sharply at him. He can read Cas like a book, and that knowledge only makes him wonder again how his other self could have ever loved anyone more. "Like Lucifer? Do you think after Amara was destroyed, Chuck got his power back?"
"Perhaps," Cas frowns. "I believe that we would know if God had died."
"So, what? You think he's just gone into hiding again?"
"It is possible that losing his sister was extremely traumatic for him," Cas suggests. "He may be in mourning for some time."
Sam falls silent again, brooding on the idea of God being capable of grief for his sibling, when Sam can't even remember his, except in dreams.
When they reach the bunker Sam gets to work, researching memory loss and recovery until Cas makes him stop, demands he eat something and sleep before getting back at it.
Sam obeys out of habit. Somebody has been taking care of him all his life, but even now that he knows it hasn't been Cas, he still responds habitually. Habits and sense memories are all he has now, all he can really trust and rely on.
He doesn't sleep much, and he doesn't dream when he does, but when he wakes suddenly from dozing off over his work he hears that deep, snarky voice in his head. He feels the ghost of strong hands on his shoulders, as if someone were standing behind him, kneading the tension out of his tired muscles.
He wonders how many times over the past year he's felt those hands on him and assumed they were Cas's.
After a couple of days of research it becomes clear that Cas is right. If there is a cure for this thing, it's above Cas's pay grade.
"What about Gabriel?" Sam asks. "Archangels can restore memories and alter reality. Maybe he could change me back."
As soon as he says it, Sam can tell Castiel has already given this very idea some thought. It probably occurred to him when Sam asked about Chuck.
"I have attempted to summon Gabriel," Castiel admits. "So far, he has not answered. I am afraid he finds our predicament somewhat comical."
"Because I can't remember a time before I had you in my life," Sam suggests. "He thinks that's funny."
"Because I have replaced your brother in your affections," Castiel counters. "To Gabriel, that idea is hilarious."
Sam shakes his head, closing his laptop as he accepts the cup of tea Castiel hands him.
"Doesn't it bother you, knowing my feelings for you aren't real?" Sam asks. "I mean, some of them are, obviously. But having you with me all my life, that utter familiarity I feel with you, that sense I have all the time that I know you better than I know myself...Those are feelings that I had about my brother. I've just transferred them to you because he's gone."
Castiel smiles sadly, and Sam almost gets up to hug him because he knows that look. It's the look of someone who's learned to accept being second-best, who always expected to be picked last in gym class and has long ago learned to live with it. It's the look of an actor who's resigned to his place as understudy to the leading man.
"I am grateful for your love and devotion, Sam, even if it is misplaced," Castiel says quietly. "I could never replace your brother, but having even a fraction of the trust you used to put in him has made my existence more meaningful than you can imagine. I used to think I was useless to you and Dean, but now I feel as if I have a purpose, even if it means playing second-fiddle to a ghost."
Sam smiles fondly. "You do realize how pathetic that sounds," he says. "And Dean is not a ghost. I would know it if that were the case, trust me."
"I do," Cas says. "Implicitly. Now please, Sam. Get some rest."
Sam sighs wearily and rises to his feet. "You're right," he says as he takes his tea and starts down the hall to his room. "I should probably give it a rest. The work's not going anywhere." It'll still be here in the morning, Sammy.
That night, lying alone in his room, Sam dreams. He runs through a forest, following a path that's only barely visible in the underbrush. He knows he's following somebody. He catches a glimpse of a broad back, close-cropped brown hair with gold hints that catch the sunlight, bow-legged stride strong and sure. The guy carries a gun, so Sam guesses he's another hunter, and Sam's gaining on him, getting closer.
Then the guy stops and turns back, staring straight at Sam, and Sam stops too, not even a little out of breath.
It's the guy from the pictures. Dean.
"Sammy?" Dream-Dean frowns. "What happened to you?"
Sam's suddenly filled with shame that feels so deep it's almost primordial. He wakes with a shock, shaking and sweating in the dark, overwhelmed by a feeling of failure. He's done something wrong. He's done a terrible thing and let his brother down.
"Sam?" Castiel's low rumble yanks him further awake, further away from the dream. Sam looks up helplessly as Castiel moves into the dim light from the doorway. Sam hears the vague sound of wings fluttering, and he knows Cas has just arrived; he hasn't been standing watch over him as he does sometimes while Sam sleeps.
"I'm okay," Sam gasps, sitting up in the bed, panting softly, sheets tangled around his legs. He runs a hand through his hair. "Just a dream. It was just a dream."
"You saw him, didn't you?" Castiel asks, and Sam looks up, startled.
Then he nods. This is Cas, after all. He doesn't need to lie to Cas.
"Yeah," Sam admits, almost relieved. "Yeah, I saw him. He was – I think he's mad at me."
"Did he say anything?"
Sam frowns, shakes his head. "Not really," he says. "He asked what happened to me."
Castiel blinks and looks away for a moment and Sam swings his legs over the side of the bed, leaning forward.
"Wait – do you – it was just a dream, Cas," Sam hesitates. "You don't think it was a vision, do you? You think maybe he's still alive somewhere?"
Sam hears the hopeful tone in his own voice and knows he's right. Castiel can't help hoping Dean's alive either.
"You have been prone to visions in the past, Sam," Castiel reminds him. "It's always a possibility."
"But Dean died, didn't he?" Sam protests. "He stopped the Darkness. She's gone. He must have succeeded."
"That was our assumption," Castiel agrees. "But no one knows for sure. You are the only living person to witness the explosion. And he is – He is not in the Empty. According to Billie."
"Wait, you talked to Billie?" Sam stares. "When was this?"
"No, Sam," Castiel sighs, and Sam can almost see the tired look in his face in the dim hall light. He can almost feel him sagging. "You talked to her. Before I fixed you. You tried to – you attempted to talk to Billie by taking yourself to the edge of death..."
"I tried to kill myself," Sam repeats. "Just to talk to Billie."
"I believe your intention was to make a deal with her," Castiel growls, sounding almost angry now. "You were trying to trade yourself for Dean. When I brought you back, the first thing you said to me was, 'He's not there.'"
Sam takes that in for a moment, his mind racing. "But if Dean isn't in the Empty –– and you say he's not in Heaven or Hell or Purgatory –– where is he?"
Castiel shifts his feet, tilts his head with a half-shrug that's almost human. "There is another possibility," he concedes, and Sam gasps.
"Oh my God, I can't believe I didn't think of it before," Sam gets to his feet, running his hands through his hair as he paces in front of the angel. "He's with her, isn't he? She took him. He gave her what she wanted. She saved the world for him, in exchange for his life, his soul, whatever. She's got him."
"It would explain why we can't find him," Castiel agrees.
"But why didn't you say so? Why haven't we been trying to find her, all this time?" Sam flips on the light by the bed, pushes past Castiel to the table, slides into a seat and fires up his laptop.
"She is God's sister," Castiel reminds Sam. "If Amara does not wish to be found, it may take more than even your considerable hunting and research skills to find her. She is not simply capable of inter-dimensional time-travel, after all. She exists outside time and space. She is timeless and extra-spatial, capable of existing in multiple dimensions or only one at any given time."
Sam sits back, considering this as he chews on the inside of his cheek. "Just humor me, Cas," he says finally. "Give me a chance to try. Help me."
So Cas agrees to help Sam search for Amara, although he clearly believes they won't find her.
In fact, the longer they look, the more Sam is convinced they already did this, after Dean first disappeared. Cas knows it's already a dead-end but he helps Sam anyway because he feels obligated to do so as atonement for his deceit. He already knows they won't find Amara. And after following empty leads that go nowhere, Sam's forced to agree. If Amara was still alive and wandering the universe, and if Dean was with her, they might never know. They might as well believe Dean destroyed her, and in the process was consumed by her, body and soul, so that he no longer exists in their dimension. He might as well be dead after all.
After a couple of months, they're back where they started.
On the day Sam faces the fact that he may never recover his memories or find his brother again, he discovers Dean's old room. He's wandering the halls of the bunker one night, unable to sleep, and it occurs to him that he can't remember ever opening any door in this particular hallway. He's standing in front of Room 11 when that thought hits him, so he opens the door and turns on the light.
The room is meticulously neat and tidy, although Sam can see a fine layer of dust on the desk and bedside tables. There are weapons mounted on the walls and a faded photograph of a woman with a sandy-haired little boy leaning against the bedside lamp.
It's Dean's room. Sam knows that without understanding where the knowledge came from, but that's happening more often now. He's always had pretty good instincts, he thinks, and he's learning to trust them when wild ideas suddenly pop into his head. Not that this being Dean's room is such a wild idea, but Sam's sudden urge to lie down on the bed and sleep is kind of out there.
Nevertheless, Sam shuts the door and kicks off his boots before crossing the room to sit down on the bed. The mattress gives under his weight like it knows him, and Sam hears the voice in his head crow delightedly, It's memory foam, Sammy! It remembers me!
The irony is not lost on Sam as he lies down on his back, crossing his hands on his chest, and closes his eyes as he lets the bed enfold him. Even the bed remembers his brother better than Sam does.
He's fast asleep and dreaming almost immediately. He's in the library, researching, and Dean's there. Dean's there! He's pacing in front of the table where Sam is seated, gesturing forcefully because he's pissed off about something, as usual. He's always pissed off lately, dream-Sam thinks. He gets this way when he feels out of control, and what's happening right now makes Dean positively livid with frustration.
"You're not listening to me, Sammy!" Dean's voice hits him like a sledgehammer to the gut, clear and deep and resonant like it never is in Sam's head. Like he's really here.
"I don't – " Sam gasps, struggling with an overwhelming sense of relief because Dean's here! He's really here! "I don't understand."
"That's because you're not listening, dumb-ass," Dean stops pacing, stamps his foot and punches the air with two clenched fists.
"What?" Sam asks, shaking his head as if to clear it. "What is it I'm not understanding here, Dean? Tell me!"
Dean freezes then, his eyes widening as he stares at Sam. His mouth drops open in an almost perfect "o" but no sound comes out.
Until it does.
"Sammy?" Dean's voice has changed; it's thinner, wispier, with a kind of choked sound at the edges to match the sudden film over his eyes. "Sammy? Is that really you?"
"Yeah, Dean, it's really me," Sam frowns. "Why shouldn't it be? You're in my dream, man. I'm making you up, not the other way around."
Dean shakes his head a little. "No," he says. "No, Sam. I've been trying to get through to you – God, you have no idea how long I've been trying to get through to you, but all you ever do is sit there staring at that book like – like you can't even hear me."
Sam stares. "I hear you all the time, man," Sam says. "You're in my head when I'm awake. I just never see you like this. I mean, I never see you at all. When I'm awake I can't even remember what you look like."
"What's happening here?" Dean asks. "I've been trying to get through to you for months, Sam. You have to believe me, man. I was starting to think you'd never hear me."
"Where are you, Dean?" Sam asks. "If you're not in my head, where are you?"
Dean starts to answer, then frowns and looks away, obviously confused by the question. "I'm right here," he insists, gazing around the room. "We're in the bunker. It's a few months after I..."
"After you what? Killed the Darkness? Then what happened, Dean? What's the last thing you remember?" Sam can't help asking. He thinks he knows the answer, but he's hoping Dean can remember, even if this is all just Sam's dream. Even if Sam's just making up an excuse to keep Dean here with him, just a little longer.
"Yeah, that's right," Dean nods. "We were in the garden, and I started to detonate the bomb...Then I saw you. You were there." Dean glares at Sam and slams his hands down flat on the table, making Sam jump. "What the hell were you doing, huh? Trying to get yourself killed?"
"You saw me?" Dream-Sam doesn't remember it that way, so this piece of news surprises him. "I don't remember that. I saw you...you and Amara...Then there was a flash, but Chuck must've beamed me out somehow. I figured you got the job done. I figured you were dead."
It hurts, just saying the words. In this dream, Sam remembers exactly how much he loves Dean, how much it hurts to lose him, and it hurts like hell, makes him want to wake up.
Except he can't leave Dean. Even this dream-version of his brother is better than nothing, better than Sam's waking life where he can't remember his brother at all.
"So I did it? The world's okay? You're okay?" Dean scrubs a hand over his face, and Sam can see he's fighting back tears.
"Yeah, I'm fine," Sam smiles. "We're all fine. You did it, Dean. You saved us."
Dean nods, not taking his eyes off Sam's face as he rubs the back of his neck, shifts his weight and puts his other hand on his hip. He's wearing that old grey henley Sam always loved so much on him because when he wears it he's at his most relaxed, his most at home. It hugs his chest and shoulders and exposes his powerful forearms, makes him seem solid and real and deeply familiar. Dean's the only person who can make Sam feel small and safe at the same time, and Sam can't believe he's forgotten that, in his waking life. How could he ever forget how it feels to be a beloved little brother? Who is he if he's forgotten that?
"Well, I think that calls for a beer, don't you?" Dean smirks, and before Sam can stop him he's off, turning away and heading toward the kitchen.
"Wait! No! Wait a minute, Dean!"
Panic floods Sam's chest and he rises to his feet as Dean disappears around the corner. Just like that, Sam's awake.
He's on his belly on Dean's bed, clutching the pillow, his fingers entwined in some kind of string. As he turns on his side and draws his hand up to inspect the object he took hold of in his sleep, Sam grasps at the dream, desperate to recall the feeling of being in same room with his brother. It's incredible, that feeling. Euphoric and devastatingly familiar at the same time, and Sam needs it like a drug.
The object in his hand is a brass talisman on a leather string, and Sam knows immediately that it's the amulet he gave Dean almost thirty years ago. Dean wore it until he went to Hell. Sam held onto it for him until he got back, then Dean wore it again until he gave it to Castiel. But Dean threw it away because it didn't work.
Sam knows these things because he read about them online; it's all there in the Supernatural novels. He imagines it was painful for him when Dean threw the amulet away. He imagines it felt like Dean was throwing out a piece of his heart. He doesn't remember any of it, but he gets why so much fan fiction has featured this little thing. What he doesn't understand is, what's it doing here? How did it get from that wastebasket in Bumfuck, U.S.A. to Dean's pillow?
Sam flashes to his dream of Chuck from several months back. In the dream Sam had his hand in his pocket, groping around for the little amulet with his fingers. He was used to having it there. He carried it with him always, put his hand in his pocket to rub the little brass head for reassurance and to give him confidence when he needed it. It was an old habit, one that he'd established long ago to help him cope with the weirdness of his life. But in the dream it wasn't there, and dream-Sam's memory flashed to Dean finding it, drawing it out of Sam's pocket with a shocked look on his face because it was glowing. It worked after all.
After that, Dean had pocketed the thing. Dream-Sam remembered that because it meant so much that Dean took it back, even if he didn't wear it. It went into Dean's pocket and stayed there; dream-Sam thought it was probably still there.
So how did it get here? Did Dean leave it here? Did he give it back to Sam at some point after the dream?
Sam decides that's the most likely scenario. At some point after the events in his Chuck dream but before Dean disappeared in a blaze o' glory, Dean must have given it to Sam. Keep it safe for me, Sammy. Just like you've always done.
Sam imagines coming back to the bunker after that, imagines lying down on Dean's bed and pressing Dean's pillow to his face, imagines breathing in his brother's scent as he rubs the little talisman with his thumb, then falls asleep on the tear-soaked pillow with his hand tangled in its string. He probably slept in Dean's room every night until he started to go mad, until he decided to find Billie, to make a deal with her to take him instead. Or beg her to take him too.
Maybe this was where Cas found him, dying from an overdose of sleeping pills. Cas fixed him, cleaned up the room, put Sam back in his own bed, leaving the amulet under Dean's pillow.
Now Sam clutches the little symbol, pulls it up to his lips and kisses it.
"I'm coming, Dean," he murmurs as he snuggles down into the bed, pressing his face into the pillow again. "I promise."
Sam has a plan. He knows he's obsessed, probably suicidal, but the dream he's just had gave him back his brother, however fleetingly, and now he knows how that feels. Now Sam knows who he is and what he has to do.
As he falls asleep again he can almost feel a calloused hand sliding across his waist, up over his chest to his heart. Strong fingers clutch his shirt as a warm body presses against him from behind, spooning him firm and close. Warm breath tickles the back of his neck, and a deep voice murmurs into his ear. That's it, Sammy. That's it, little brother. Just let it all go.
He sleeps dreamlessly this time, tucked in safe and content where he belongs.
In the morning he tells Cas about his dream.
"He's with her, Cas, I'm sure of that now," he says as he paces the library floor, too restless to sit and eat his breakfast, as Cas keeps trying to get him to do. "And he's trying to get back."
"What can you remember, Sam?" Cas asks, and Sam shakes his head.
"It's not like that," he insists. "I still don't have my memories. It's just – in the dream, it's like I did, you know? Like I was myself again. In my dream, I knew him. I remembered him. And now that I know he's trying to get through -– he's trying to get home – I have to find a way to help him."
"Sam, sometimes a dream is just a dream..." Castiel starts to say, but Sam shakes his head sharply.
"That's not what this is," he says firmly. "And it's not really a vision, either. It's something else. It's like a psychic connection or something. And he's doing it. I'm sure of it. He's making it happen. Maybe that's why it didn't happen before. He's trying to communicate with me, telepathically or whatever, and I haven't been receptive before, but last night, sleeping in his bed, with that amulet, after all I've learned...Cas, I have to help him."
They spend the week studying psychic connections. It's not like Sam and Dean haven't used their connection before; Sam's read about the way he could sense Dean's spirit when Dean lay dying in the hospital after the car crash, and when they were trying to find each other in Heaven, when they learned they were soul-mates.
But this is different. They're not even in the same dimension anymore, and wherever Dean is, he's frustrated. He's been trying to get back to Sam for a while now, but he can't do it alone. Sam could feel Dean's faith in Sam's ability to figure it out and come up with a plan like it's something physical. Sam feels responsible, like it's really up to him and Dean's depending on him. Sam still can't remember a thing about his brother when he's awake, but the feeling of remembering everything stays with him from his dreams, and that's enough.
He takes to sleeping in Dean's room, taking african dream root and clutching the amulet as he sleeps, doing whatever he can to trigger another psychic dream. After a week goes by he begins to panic. So far his dreams have been normal or nonexistent; he rarely remembers much about them when he wakes up, which is how he knows they're not significant. If he dreams about Dean again, he'll remember it, he's sure of that.
He needs to get back to Dean. Dean needs him.
Cas watches over him like a mother hen. Sam knows he's being obsessive about the dreaming thing, knows Cas is afraid he'll take it too far and overdose on sleeping potions or otherwise push himself into some kind of permanent dream state, but he doesn't care. If he manages to induce a coma Cas can pull him out. This is too important and he can't stop until he succeeds at getting through to Dean again.
On the seventh night he dreams he's waking up in his own bed, even though he's sure he went to sleep in Dean's. He sits up in bed and realizes instantly that he can remember everything, just like before when he dreamed about Chuck, then about Dean. He has real memories, not just a head full of information he's read. His mind swims in them, memories from his childhood, memories of his hunting life with Dean and his dad and Bobby. He clings to them, gathering them around himself with all the little tricks he's learned to help him hold onto a memory, determined to take them with him into his waking life.
Then he hears it.
"Sammy! Sam? Where are you, man? Sammy!"
He's up and out the door like a shot, barreling down the hallway toward the voice – Dean's voice. He rounds the corner and slams full-bodied into his brother.
"Dean! Jesus, Dean, where've you been, huh? Where've you been?"
Sam's babbling, wrapped around Dean with his cheek pressed against the side of Dean's head, breathing him in as Dean holds onto him just as hard, pushing up on tip-toe so he can pull Sam's face down into his shoulder, his hand tangled in Sam's hair.
"I'm here, Sammy," he rumbles as his hands clutch and release handfuls of Sam's shirts, roaming over his back like he's searching for injuries. "Right here, buddy. Right here. You can't get rid of me that easy, little brother."
"Where've you been, Dean?" Sam fights back the tears smarting at the edges of his vision. "Huh? I've been trying to get back here. I've been doing everything I can think of to get here – "
"I know," Dean murmurs as he strokes Sam's hair. "Me too, Sammy. It's been months."
"Months? Wait, what?" Sam pulls back so he can look down into his brother's familiar face, and he's just so relieved that he recognizes Dean, that he remembers him – he's so relieved that he remembers everything in this dream-place, it's hard to think about anything else. "How can it be months?" He wracks his foggy brain, trying to think clearly in the midst of the onslaught of emotion and memory. "I'm pretty sure it's only been a week since we were here."
"Nah, Sammy, it's been months, man," Dean shakes his head. "I've been looking for you. Trying to figure out how to get you back."
He pulls away but stays close, closer than Sam ever stands to anyone, even Cas. It's weird that he forgot how physical he and Dean are with each other. How has he not missed this? It's like having another limb, this proximity, having Dean in his personal space. How has be not felt the loss?
"Okay, well, that's weird," Sam says. "So time moves differently in your dimension. Okay, we can deal with that. How long was it last time? How long since you'd seen me before that?"
Dean shakes his head. "You were there before, you just acted like you couldn't see me or hear me. Then when I got back with the beer, you were just gone. I searched this place from top to bottom, man. Where were you?"
"I was asleep," Sam says, and nothing ever felt more true. It's like he's been sleeping for years and is only now awake. It's like that other world is the dream, the one he shares with Castiel. "I've been trying to get back to you. No, that's not quite right. I've been trying to get through to you."
It's confusing because it's hard to remember how his awake-self feels, how he thinks. Sam's aware that he's dreaming, and that when he's awake he can't remember his brother. Other than that things are a little fuzzy.
"Well, whatever you did, it worked," Dean says. "Now we just have to find a way out."
"You can't leave the bunker?" Sam asks, and Dean shakes his head.
"Whenever I try, I end up back inside. Every door opens to another room right here."
"And you don't know how you got here?" Sam asks. "You don't remember where you were before you were here?"
Dean shakes his head again, rubbing the back of his neck and frowning as he concentrates, and Sam gets another rush of euphoria because he knows those gestures. He can read Dean like a book. How was he even able to function in that other world without this?
"You're thinking I'm dead," Dean suggests. "I'm dead and in the Empty, and you're trying to join me." His eyes widen as the thought occurs to him and he grabs onto Sam's shirts, shakes him. "Don't tell me you're trying to kill yourself, Sam! God damn it, I told Cas not to let you do anything stupid!"
"No, no, that's not it," Sam closes his hands around Dean's wrists, the warmth of his skin grounding Sam, making this more real. "Cas has been taking care of me. I'm – damaged. I think maybe it happened in the blast, I don't remember."
Dean frowns. "So you're in a coma? Is that what this is? Your using your psychic mojo?"
"No," Sam shakes his head. "Yes. I mean, I don't know. I can't remember exactly, but I think I'm just brain-damaged. I can't remember you, when I'm awake. It sucks. It's like being empty. I can't explain it, exactly, but I know I have to try to get you out. You're being held by Amara, we think. You're with her, not in the Empty."
At least he remembers that much. His memories of that other life are unclear, but he knows that he and Cas have figured out that Dean had somehow been absorbed by the Darkness. He was part of her now. Freeing him was the plan.
Dean lets go of his shirts and takes a step back, clearly skeptical.
"You think Amara's got me," he repeats. "So how come I can't see her? How come she's not here?"
"I don't know, Dean. Maybe you're dreaming, just like me. Maybe you've carved out a place in your mind that feels familiar and safe. Believe me, I know what that's like." Sam shudders as memories of his time in the Cage crowd forward in his mind; he takes a deep breath and shoves them down again. "Maybe this is all my dream, and you're not even here at all."
But Sam knows that's not right. He worked it out in his mind somehow, when he was awake, and he's pretty sure Dean's here, in some way. It's not all Sam's imagination. Sam's so certain he's really talking to Dean right now, he'd bet any possibility of getting his brother back for good on it. He'd bet any memory he's ever had.
"So what's the plan?" Dean asks.
"We look for a way to bust you out of here," Sam says. "From in here. I think Cas and I have already tried out there, in the real world. Now we have to look for something in here."
"Okay," Dean nods. "So what are we looking for? A spell? A weapon? Please tell me it's a weapon, 'cause I am so jonesin' to kill something right now."
Sam takes a deep breath, fighting down the urge to roll his eyes. Is his brother really this annoying? How has that never factored into Sam's desire to get him back? Why has being with Dean always seemed like such a head-rush, when it's also clearly so irritating sometimes?
"I think we need to start in the library," Sam says as calmly as possible. "I think we need to find out everything the Men of Letters archives have on Amara and breaking free from a dream."
Dean takes a step back, shaking his head once as if to clear it. "Are you saying we've got research to do?"
"I'm saying there might be something in here that isn't there in the real world," Sam says. "There has to be. And if we can find it, well. That's our best chance, Dean. Things are different here. Maybe if we try the same spells from in here, something will work."
"Or maybe we just get in the car and drive," Dean suggests. "Get the hell out of here, right now."
"You said you already tried that," Sam shakes his head. "Every door opens up back here."
"Yeah, but things are different now," Dean reminds him. "You said it yourself. You're here. So maybe if we just get in the car and head out to the local bar – "
Sam stares incredulously. "Dean, there's no way that would work. You're just trying to get out of doing research." Like you always do. Sam's so grateful he can remember that, not just that he's read it in those damn books.
"It's worth a shot," Dean shrugs. "I mean, you said it's been a while since we were together. Seems like we're long overdue for a little bonding time."
"You want to ditch research for a chick-flick moment," Sam smirks. "That's low, even for you."
"Shut up, bitch," Dean growls, and Sam's so relieved that he remembers having these snarky exchanges with Dean in the past he almost can't keep his smirk.
"Humor me, Sammy," Dean tries again, and Sam realizes he's been staring. "If it doesn't work, we can get right back in here and start hitting the books. I promise."
"You go." Sam waves a hand. "I'll start work in the library, and when your little joy ride doesn't work out so well and you end up right back here..."
He stops himself because he remembers what happened the last time he let Dean out of his sight in this dream world, how it didn't work out and then took considerable effort to get back here.
Not a good plan.
"Okay, you know what? We'll do it your way," Sam tries not to notice the smug smile Dean flashes because it's a beautiful, sun-breaking-through-the-clouds expression, and Sam has never seen anything that makes him happier. "Come on. Let's get this over with."
Sam had every expectation of driving out of the garage right back into the garage, which is why he gasps when they're suddenly on the road, heading north.
"Oh my God, it worked!" Sam lets out the breath he didn't know he was holding as Dean flashes him another million-megawatt smile.
It's late and the stars are on full display because they're miles from any real town here. They head north to Nebraska because nothing in Lebanon is open this late. It feels incredible to be out on the open road together again. It's like nothing Sam remembers from his other life. It's freedom, hope, passion for life, the promise of adventure and doing good in the world, all shared with this man, this brave, gorgeous, maddening man who loves Sam more than he deserves. It's an intensity of experience that was lacking in that other, grayer world. Here, even in the dark, everything seems clearer, sharper, more defined.
Sam rolls down the window a little and takes a deep breath of the fresh Kansas night air. It smells like early spring, like the hint of melting snow and frost over slowly warming soil and old cornstalks. He rolls the window back up and stares at Dean's profile, watching his brother's capable hands clutch the steering wheel, admiring his powerful denim-clad legs, splayed with that easy confidence that makes Sam feel safe. Dean has issues, Sam knows, but he's one-hundred-percent sure of his place behind the wheel of his Baby, driving down the road of their crazy lives with his brother by his side.
Dean glances over, like he can feel Sam staring, and winks.
"See? I told you so," he says smugly. "All it took was you coming with me. We're free."
Sam winces and sucks in a breath, wishing it were that easy. "Yeah, except there's the little problem of this – all of this – being a dream. We're still in my dream, Dean. None of this is real."
"Real enough," Dean counters, and Sam falls silent, stares ahead at the asphalt illuminated by the headlights, relaxing into the vinyl bench-seat, letting the familiar rumble of the car's engine and the warmth of the heater soothe him. It's hypnotic, the highway falling away beneath the twin beams of light, the only visual cues that they're actually moving. The Kansas landscape is flat and featureless, not giving away any sign of time passing, and it's as if Sam and Dean are encased in a world apart, a dream-within-a-dream, where nothing can touch them and nothing ever changes.
Maybe we're dead and we just don't realize it, Sam thinks idly. Somehow this thought doesn't even faze him. In fact, it fills him with peace. No more striving and struggling, no more fixing things, no more fighting.
No more saving people.
"We have to go back," Sam says softly. "We've still got work to do."
"Huh," Dean says, keeping his eyes on the road. "Somehow I never figured you'd be the one to say that. Always figured you'd wanna keep running, if we had the chance."
Sam smiles, rueful. "Yeah, well, if this is just a dream and it's all in my head, then technically you're just the part of me that's trying to distract me from what I'm really supposed to be doing here."
"Which is – ?"
"Getting the job done," Sam shrugs. "Duh."
"I thought the job was getting me free from Amara," Dean says. "Seems to me, mission accomplished."
Sam shakes his head. "If that were true, I'd be awake. I'd be awake, and you'd be there. I can't stay here with you, in this dream. I have to try to get you back in the real world."
"In the real world, you don't even remember who I am," Dean reminds him, and Sam clenches his jaw.
"I know," he nods. "But it's what I'm supposed to do. The world needs you, Dean. The real world."
"What about you, Sam? Huh? Do you need me? I mean, you've got Cas, right? You've got your wingman, literally. What do you need an old broken down brother for? Especially one you can't even remember."
Sam snorts. "Are you jealous? Of Cas? Really? Dean, you do realize he was following your orders, right? He watched over me after you left. He took care of me when I got too sick to take care of myself, and he kept me alive when I would have died trying to make a deal with Billie to get you back. And through all of it, he was just doing what you asked him to do. You should be thanking him. You're the one who told him he was like a brother to us. So how can you blame him when he acts like one?"
"Okay, okay," Dean lifts a hand, shooting a a glare at Sam. "I get it. And I am grateful to him. I just hope I get the chance to tell him to his face."
"So turn the car around, Dean," Sam nods. "Let's go home."
Dean grumbles under his breath, something about "bitchy little brothers who think they're so hot," which Sam ignores because Dean's slowing the car, pulling off to the side of the road so he can make a U-turn.
Dean's easing the car onto the highway in the opposite direction, heading back the way they just came, when they see it. A light like an on-coming Mack truck that's somehow right there, soundless and without warning, growing brighter and larger until it fills the night around them. It rushes toward them too fast for Dean to swerve, too big to be a truck. Dean slams on the breaks and flings one arm across the seat in front of Sam as if he can somehow protect him from going through the windshield. Sam has a split second to consider that this might really be the end.
Then he wakes up.
PART THREE | BACK TO MASTERPOST