The Sam Winchester School of Hunting

Building Bridges from Ashes

Sam’s kids didn't seem keen on leaving the bunker. Dean found them underfoot everywhere he went, especially in the library, the common room, and the kitchen. And when Sam wasn't around, none of them cared to play nice.

“You’re lucky to have him, you know.”

Dean looked up from his whiskey to glare at Claire. It was ten in the morning, and he knew she hadn't been in the bunker overnight. Guess that meant it was time for another round bitchfits over Sam.

Claire looked unfazed and continued, “After everything you’ve done to him, I’m amazed he stays.”

Dean snorted and turned back to his drink.

“I mean, tricking him into being possessed by an angel?”

Dean grunted. “He told you about that, hunh?”

“He was comforting me.”

Dean looked up sharply and Claire placed her hands on the table calmly, leaning forward. “Former angelic vessel, too, remember? And after Castiel… I would rather die than let anything in me again. And Sam? Having been possessed by Lucifer? Let’s just say we can relate.”

“Yeah, well maybe you don’t know him as well as you think.”

“On the other hand, maybe I do. See, he never talks about you in anything but glowing terms. Always ‘Dean’s a great hunter’ or ‘Dean cleaned up my mess’ or ‘Dean’s been there for me through thick and thin’-“

“I have,” Dean pointed out.

Shut up.” Claire’s glare was vicious, and a lesser man would have cringed. “God, you’ve really bought into your own press, haven’t you? But I just watched you beat the shit out of him for doing what you never could, right after he saved your life. More than your life, he saved your goddamn soul. I had to watch, week after week, him getting more and more worn down after listening to you shut him down and tell him his opinions have no worth.

“But he would still do anything for you. He would relive all the tortures of Hell to find a way to save you. And you? You tricked him into letting an angel possess him, and then let a demon possess him at the same time. You turned yourself into a demon and tortured him. And you can’t even forgive him for needing space?”

Claire shook her head in disgust. “If I had a brother who loved me even half as much as Sam loves you, I still wouldn’t even dream of treating him the way you do. Because I know I’d lose him in a heartbeat. And if you stay on this course, you’re going to lose Sam, too.”


Claire disappeared before noon, but Dean found the kitchen stocked a lot fuller than it was in the morning.

There was homemade lasagna in the fridge, salad, juice bottles, vegetables, chicken and fish fillets in the freezer, and actual flour and spices in the cupboards…

“Sure, make yourself right at home,” Dean muttered. But, he’d admit, it was a nice change from their standard stock of beer, coffee, frozen food, and salad.

“The lasagna’s pretty good,” Sam said, entering the kitchen, “Claire brought it over, and she and Jesse dragged us out to the farmer’s market to get the rest.”

Dean looked at the lasagna dubiously. “Guess the munchkins are good for something.”

Sam smiled slightly, reaching for a plate. “You want some?”

“Ah - no, no I’m good,” Dean replied, “I’m just gonna grab a beer…”

“We’re probably out, actually.”

“… What.”

Sam shrugged slightly. “It’s been pretty busy since you… left. And with Jesse, Ben, Jake, and Claire running around, I never really bothered to restock any alcohol.”

Dean’s eyebrows rose disbelievingly. “So there’s - damn, Sammy, you turn the place into a daycare while I was gone?”

Sam’s lips thinned and he set his plate down. “Dean… it’s not like that.”

“Seems like that,” Dean muttered, opening the fridge and looking inside again. “They’ve been underfoot all the time ever since I got back.”

Sam sighed, feeling the fatigue from the past several days overtake him again. “They’re just worried, Dean. It’s been a long couple months, and they’ve been through a lot, too.”

Dean snorted. “Yeah, well, I guess it makes sense, right?”

Sam looked at his brother carefully. There was an unexpected bite in Dean’s tone, and the last time he’d looked at Sam like that… well, it hadn't really been a good time for either of them. “What do you mean?” he asked warily.

Dean shrugged with a dry chuckle. “I mean, if it ain’t a vet and a dog, it’s a daycare.”

There was a roaring in his ears, and the shoulder Dean dislocated earlier throbs with pain. “That isn’t fair, Dean! This is nothing like that!”

“Right,” Dean drawled, “Because you actually brought me back this time. Funny how that goes, right?”

Sam shot to his feet, sending his stool clattering behind him. The room was getting warmer around him, but he couldn't stop himself from blurting out, “What is your problem, Dean?!”

Dean scowled. “My problem? Oh, I’m not the one with a problem here - after all that crap you gave me about bringing you back -“

“You turned into a demon, Dean! What was I supposed to do?!”

Sam felt fire race along his arms and missed Dean’s response.

Shit. Shit shit shit why had he thought it was a good idea to aggravate Dean again -

“I don’t think we should do this right now, Dean,” Sam cut in, trying to keep his voice level. His self-control was still down the toilet and he needed time - to get his guard back up, to pack away the memories of the Cage -

“No, I think we should do this now,” Dean replied, striding towards Sam, “Without your pack of guard dogs barking at me for breathing.”

Sam tenses. “That’s not -“

He thought he said something else, but the walls of the kitchen disappear into the kaleidoscope of the Cage, and he’s not sure.

Shit. Not now, not now…

“I’m not having this conversation with you, Dean.”

Sam dug his thumb into the scar on his palm, but it’s not working, the Cage isn’t going away, can’t Dean see -

“Fine, run away, you’re good at that,” Michael snarls.

No no no no no nononono -

“Dean, please -“

There are flames rising up around them, and Michael’s grace wraps around him, binding him, shackling him, burning him -

“Dammit, Sam -“

Dean - Michael, it’s always Michael, never Dean, not here - speaks and Sam crashes to his knees where he belongs, looking into Dean’s wrathful face, knowing he deserves it, but he is so weak - <<I’m sorry, I’m sorry, please ->>

Dean is snarling at him - Michael, he has to remember that, has to remember that he isn’t worthy of Dean, never has been, but he is weak and selfish and wretched and can’t bear this when the One Who Is Like God wears Dean’s face - “Not Dean, Michael, not Dean, not him - I deserve his wrath, your wrath, I know I know I <<know please have mercy please please please ->>

And he’s begging and sobbing and Michael is roaring around him, demanding his submission, his repentance for a sin that can never, should never be forgiven, for Michael is Just, and he is lower than the worst sinner and he is burning, burning, burning, flames searing through his flesh and into his soul, powerless against the wrath of the archangel -

Until darkness rises around him, and Michael grants him the gift of oblivion.


Thunder rumbles in the distance as Sam slowly drifts to awareness. He feels safe, cradled in the eye of the storm.

Rest, Sam. You are safe.

The voice wraps around him, gently, as if he’s worthy, as if he’s a creature deserving of such kindness. No - he isn’t - he has to warn the voice, so it can leave before Michael and Lucifer return to punish him, so that it doesn’t get caught in the crossfire.

No, Sam…

Can’t it see? He’s filthy, tainted - the Abomination destined to break the world. He deserves the Cage, deserves the archangels’ wrath, has to be punished for his sins, for Michael is Just -

The voice is silent, and Sam thinks maybe it’s gone, maybe it’s somewhere far away where the infection in his blood can’t spread to it.

Maybe he’s finally done something right, meagre as it is.

And then the voice is back, wrapping around him infinitely gently, and he’s drowning in compassion and mercy he is so unworthy of.

Rest, fragile soul, beloved of God. Rest, and find peace.

Between one breath and the next, Sam rests.


When Sam woke up again, he was on a soft couch, with a warm blanket draped over him. He didn't recognise the room, but there was a sense of peace inside him, the fading traces of far-away-sheet-lightning he associated with Flagstaff.

What…

He’d been at the bunker, talking to Dean. It had been hard, trying to focus on Dean, past the memories of Michael and Lucifer -

Sam dropped his head back and groaned. He'd gone full-tilt into a flashback, right in front of Dean. He had blacked out, and now he was somewhere… not in the bunker.

Great.

“Sam? You’re up!”

Sam sat up and turned towards the female voice. “… Jody?”

Jody Mills smiled warmly, approaching the couch as Sam struggled to get up. “Hey - no, take it easy, you’re still pretty banged up.”

Sam sank back into the couch at Jody’s firm but gentle touch. “Uh… How… How did I get here, exactly?”

“Your angel friend dropped you off,” Jody replied, adjusting the pillows at Sam’s back and pulling up the blanket.

“… Cas dropped me off?”

Jody blinked. “I think she said her name was Flagstaff?”

Right. The sheet-lightning-that-wasn’t.

“Did she say why?”

“She said it wasn’t safe for you where you were, and that she brought you here because, well, you trusted me.” Jody’s cheeked pink slightly, and she continued, “And then told me to look after you. Judging by the state of you, I can see why.”

Sam shook his head, wincing slightly at the spike of pain. He knew what he must look like - dislocated shoulder, newly healed cuts and fading bruises, and now a concussion on top of that. “It’s not like that, Jody. I’m fine.”

Jody’s eyebrow rose and she clearly wasn’t buying it. “I think you need a new definition of ‘fine,’ Mister. You relax, Alex is warming up some soup and she’ll bring it right out.”

Sam opened his mouth to protest, but Jody shots him another look and he settled back. Discretion was the better part of valour here.


There were days when Dean wasn’t exactly sure how this is his life.

Today was one of them.

First his brother had a total freakout screaming about Michael and forgiveness, and then cracked his head against the table so hard he blacked out, and a bitchy angel teleported him away before Dean could even get to him.

And now the same bitchy angel was standing in front of him, ripping him a new one.

“ - Your brother! Even the children could see what a fragile state he was in, but you managed to send him back into the Cage when left alone with him for five minutes - do not move, I’m not done with you yet!”

Flagstaff was in front of him before he could say another word, slamming him back against the wall.

“What the Hell - get the fuck off me!”

Fuck, where was his angel blade - he scrabbled for a weapon, anything he could reach - his fingers gripped a bowl and he slammed it against her head.

The bowl shattered, and Flagstaff remained unmoved.

“Are you done?”

She pinned him against the wall without breaking a sweat, holding him in place without any visible effort. The last time he’d felt like this in the presence of an angel had been when he first met Castiel.

“You fucking wish,” he snarled, continuing to struggle, his mind racing.

“I suggest you don’t assume that just because I’m a healer I don’t know a hundred ways to kill you before you blink.”

“What the Hell do you care, anyway?!” Dean demanded furiously, “Your kind doesn’t even like him - what is it you guys always call him, the Abomination, the Boy With Demon Blood…”

“I really don’t think you’re in a position to throw stones, Winchester.”

Dean rolled his eyes. “Oh great, here we go. Sam send another guard dog to bitch at me for what a terrible brother I am?”

Flagstaff pushed away from Dean disgustedly, but her power still held him in place. “No, you insect, Sam is my charge and I notice when someone undoes my hard work to help him heal.”

Dean frowned. “The Hell?”

“How exactly did you miss the fact that Sam hasn’t been sleeping, that he’s been going out of his way not to aggravate you, which shouldn’t surprise anyone since you tortured him within an inch of his life the last time you two were in close quarters - was that the point? To break him down so you could step in and save him?”

You have no idea what you’re talking about!” Dean roared, renewing his struggles to get free. “Sammy’s my brother - I’ve looked after him my whole life - which is a damn sight more than I can say for you feathered dickbags.”

“You attacked him and dislocated his arm for working with Ben Braeden,” Flagstaff replied bluntly. “If that’s your definition of ‘love,’ then it’s a good thing I intervened.”

“What the Hell did you do to him?” Dean hissed.

“I took him away.”

Where, dammit!”

Flagstaff looked at Dean coolly, finally releasing him. “Somewhere safe. Where you can’t hurt him anymore.”

Dean swore when she disappeared before he could punch her.


Sam sat up with a sharp gasp, scrambling to throw the blankets off him. It’s dark, it’s too dark, he doesn’t know where he is, if he is -

He crashed to the floor, pain screaming through his arm and his hip.

Okay. He was real. And there was a floor.

His heart hammered in his chest as he scrambled to his feet, searching, searching wildly for light, please God let there be light -

He flinched instinctively following the thought, but he’s not in the Cage, he’s out, he’s in - he’s in -

He stumbled into the kitchen, sinking down against the doorway, revelling in the warm white-yellow glow of the fluorescent lights in the ceiling.

He was going to buy Jody a cake for having such a brightly lit kitchen.

When, y’know, he could stand again.

“… Sam?”

Sam inhaled sharply and looked up to see Alex sitting cross-legged on the floor beside the fridge, a pint of ice cream and a spoon in her hand.

Sam’s heart was still beating too fast, but he settled into a more comfortable position, wincing as he registered the pain in his arm. “Hey, Alex. Rough night?”

“Probably not as rough as yours,” the girl replied, pointing at him with her spoon. “Nightmare?”

Sam hesitated before inclining his head. “Something like that.”

Sam leaned his head against the wall and breathed slowly, willing his heart rate down, waiting for the blood pounding in his ears to fade. He was safe. He was at Jody’s.

“Was it dark?”

Sam looked at Alex sharply.

She flushed slightly, but asked again, “Your nightmare? Was it dark? You seemed kind of… glad, when you saw the light.”

“I think the word you’re looking for is ‘euphoric’,” Sam replied dryly, his voice raspier than he’d like. “And yeah, it was dark.”

“… Do you want to talk about it?”

Sam shook his head. “Trust me, Alex, you don’t want to know.”

Alex shrugged, turning back to her ice cream, and almost immediately made a noise of displeasure. Sam looked at her scrunched up face and cracked a smile. “Brain freeze?”

“Ugh. Yes. You, uh, want some?”

Sam considered her for a moment, and then pushed himself back up with a groan. “Sure, why not.”

He grabbed a spoon out of the drying rack and settled down next to Alex, keeping his good hand at her side. “… Is that green?

“Mint chocolate-chip,” Alex replied with a smile. “What, you’ve never had it before?”

Sam shook his head. “I don’t think so, no.”

They ate in silence for a while, before Alex commented softly, “It’s Conner’s birthday today.”

“Your brother?”

Alex nodded, staring down at her knees. “Yeah. He, uh, he had a thing for ice cream. Made us try out all flavours when we got the chance. He… he really liked this one flavour - mango and coconut and rum, you could only get it down in Florida -“ Alex’s voice broke and she curled in on herself. “I miss him. It’s sick and I hate him, hate what they made me do, but he made me laugh and I miss him.

Sam’s expression softened, and he placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. “It’s not sick, Alex.”

“He was a vampire.

“He was your family.”

Alex muffled a sob and Sam rubbed her shoulders. “I, uh, I ran away from home a lot when I was younger, too. Dad raised me and my brother as hunters, and I hated it. I hated the moving, the danger - I just wanted to be safe. To be stable. But I always came home. Because Dad and Dean - they’re my family. And I still hate the way Dad raised us, but I still love him. When he died, I missed him like Hell. And Dean… No matter what he does, he’s still my brother. So I get it. It’s okay to still love them.”

“I didn’t want to help them kill.”

“I know.”

“Why couldn’t they have just let me be?”

Sam continued rubbing her shoulders and Alex shifted so that she was leaning against him, tucked under his arm. Sam wasn't entirely sure why she was so open around him - maybe she just needed someone to talk to, and he was the only one available in the middle of the night. Maybe she saw a kindred spirit. Whatever the reason, he hoped he could be of some comfort to her.

Even if he had no idea how to answer her last, and probably most important, question.


“I’m going to fucking kill Dean!

Sam looked up from his novel with a faint smile. Jody’d found him and Alex talking in the kitchen about Egyptian history, the carton of ice cream long since empty, and shooed them both back to bed - though Sam had yet to actually fall asleep.

“Hi, Claire.”

Claire sounded like an angry teakettle and Sam smiled in fond exasperation. “I’m okay, Claire.”

“You are not!” Claire replied shrilly, and Sam winced as the sound went straight to the back of his head. “Sam - crap, sorry, I didn’t mean to -“

“I’m -”

Claire huffed, one hand on her hip and the other pointing at him in warning. “Do not say you are ‘fine’ or ‘okay’ or any variation thereof.”

Sam held up his hand in surrender, dimples flashing as he grinned. “Whatever you say, Miss Novak.”

Claire opened her mouth to reply, then stopped, dazed. “That’s unfair. You are unfair. Jody! Tell him he’s unfair!”

Jody looked into the room and just grinned in response.

“Where’s Jake?”

“SAT subject tests,” Claire replied, looking over Sam with an eagle eye. “Did Dean beat you up again? It’s been half a day!”

“No!”

Jody frowned. “Wait, Dean did this to you?”

Sam blinked, looking at the Sheriff. “Hunh? Oh, yeah, don’t worry about it. It’s nothing.”

Claire made a frustrated noise, her fingers twitching at her sides, before she crossed her arms with a scowl.

Jody looked between Sam and Claire, suddenly seeing Sam’s injuries in a new light. “It doesn’t look like nothing, Sam,” she said slowly, “You’re hurt pretty bad.”

Sam yawned and mumbled absently, “It’s fine. Dean was just pissed, it’s been rough for him lately.”

Oh. Jody didn't like where this is going at all.

“Just pissed,” Jody said flatly. “And that makes it alright?”

Sam blinked. “I-“

“How long has this been going on, Sam?”

“It’s not what you think, Jody,” Sam protested.

“It’s exactly what you think,” Claire replied promptly, “And for several years.”

“Claire!”

He tortured you while I watched, Sam, I don’t have to cut him any slack!”

Sam’s face creased in distress and he pushed himself up straighter. “Claire, enough -“

Jody put a hand on Claire’s shoulder, warning her to calm down, and said gently, “It’s fine, Sam. You don’t have to say anything you don’t want to. But maybe you should stay here for a while? Until you’re rested up?”

A conflicted expression crossed Sam’s face, before he sagged back against the pillows. “Yeah. That’d… That’d be nice.”

Jody left Claire chattering at Sam about a school project she was working on, while Sam listened fondly, relaxing. Jody could still see the exhaustion in the lines of his body, but his eyes were bright and alert.

And maybe a little bit desperate, too.

The sheriff sighed and made her way up the stairs to pick up her uniform. She wasn't quite sure what to think - no, she knew what to think, had seen enough domestic violence cases pass through her office over the years to know what to think - but this was Sam and Dean. Two brothers who have gone through Hell and high water for each other.

And then Dean turned into a demon, sending four teenagers running scared to her house.

And now Sam was in her guest bedroom, bruised and battered with a concussion and his arm in a sling.

Because Dean was angry.

How’ve you been? Touch and go.

Furrowed brow, pale skin and stubble, tense shoulders.

Ah, Hell.

“He’s a lot like me, y’know.”

Jody turned sharply to see Alex at the door. “Alex! I thought you were sleeping.”

Alex shrugged. “I heard Claire come in. Sam, though. We talked last night, and… he gets it. Family like that.”

Jody sighed. “I’m starting to see that. I just wish I’d seen it sooner.”

“You’re seeing it now, that counts, right?”

Jody nodded with half a smile. She’d missed it before, despite her experience and training.

She wasn't going to miss anymore.


“I’m going fucking to kill Dean!”

Alex burst into giggles at Jesse and Jacob’s outraged cries. “That’s the first thing Claire said, too.”

Jody was at work, and she, Sam, and Claire had just finished lunch, relaxing in the living room when Jesse and Jacob turned up.

“They’ve been threatening that as long as I’ve known them,” Sam said with a yawn. “You get used to it.”

All three teens in question grumbled. “Because we’re right,” Jake stressed, “Seriously, we’re gone for a day, and you get beat to Hell all over again.”

“Only the concussion is new -“

“That is not helping!”

The rest of Sam’s protests got cut off by a large yawn.

“Sam’s been up most of the night,” Claire explained with a significant look to the boys, “He wanted to wait until you guys got back.”

“How was the subject test?”

Jacob groaned, dropping himself dramatically onto the armchair by the sofa. “It suuucked. Seriously, I hate Spanish, who thought it was a good idea for me to take the SAT Subject test?”

“Five out of eight of the colleges you want to apply to,” Claire replied dryly.

Jacob made a face at his girlfriend, and Sam chuckled. “What about the other two?”

“Math was a total breeze, I could have aced it when I was, like, ten. US History was kind of eh, but I think I did okay.”

Claire and Jesse rolled their eyes as Jake continues, “No, but there was this one dude during the break…”

Claire perched on the arm of Jacob’s chair, idly playing with his hair as he talked. Despite his apparent exhaustion from a morning of test-taking, Jacob chattered animatedly about his morning, keeping everyone’s attention on him -

- And off Sam, who slowly fell asleep.


“So how bad is it?” Jake asked with a frown as they all gather around the kitchen table.

Claire pursed her lips and Jesse glanced back out to where Sam’s napping.

“Oh. Great.”

“He, uh, he had a nightmare last night,” Alex offered, “We stayed up all night talking. Did you know Hatshepsut was a Hell of a lot better ruler of Egypt than Cleopatra, because nothing bad happened during her reign?”

Jacob blinked, and Jesse nodded thoughtfully. “There’s a new book coming out all about her, I was going to pick it up. You want it when I’m done?”

Alex’s expression lit up. “That’d be great!”

Okay,” Jacob declared, cutting in, “Not that watching you geek out over old dead people isn’t fascinating, but can we get back on track?”

Claire elbowed her boyfriend and Jesse rolled his eyes. “Did he happen to say what the nightmare was about, Alex?”

The brunette shrugged. “Not really. But I think maybe it had something to do with darkness? He was about to kiss the floor when he saw how bright the kitchen was.”

The other three exchanged glances. Probably the Cage. Jacob swore, clenching his fists. “Friggin’ - how long does he have to keep suffering?!”

Alex glanced away, and Claire and Jesse pressed their lips in a thin line.

“We need to do something,” Claire decided.

Jacob pouted. “Sam won’t let us kill Dean, remember?”

Alex snorted, and Claire rolled her eyes. “Not about Dean, for Sam. Forget Dean. We’ve got Sam to ourselves for a while, we should do something nice for him.”

Jacob looked at his girlfriend, before nodding firmly. “Alright, I’m going to see what Jody has around here.”

Jacob stood, and the others watched as he puttered around the kitchen, pulling ingredients out of the cupboards. Alex leaned over to Claire. “What is he doing?”

“I’m making tiramisu!” Jacob declared, pulling eggs out of the fridge. “We’re going to need kaluha. Possibly rum.”

Alex looked at him dubiously. “I didn’t know tiramisu was alcoholic…”

Jacob slammed a pan down on the counter. “Now it is.

Claire pat her friend on the shoulder. “He stress-bakes. It’s better than trying to constantly restrain him from killing Dean.”

“Jesse, make a list,” Jacob ordered in the background, “You’re going shopping!”


Back at the bunker, Dean roved listlessly through the common area, grumbling to himself. It was quiet, which wasn’t any different from normal, but there was just something… off. Trust Sammy to distract him, even when he wasn't not around.

There was a stash of notebooks in one corner, and Dean pulled them out, flipping through them. There were four sets of handwriting in them, none of them Sam’s. There were notes about Cain, Abel, demonic physiology, warding sigils, anything and everything that could remotely be tied to curing demons.

Dean’s gut churned unpleasantly as he recognised Ben’s scrawl. After everything he’d done to keep Ben safe…

Did u + Krissy break up again?

How the fuck is that any of your business, Fox Boy?

So u did!

We’re taking a break, alright? She’s got this thing with a girl she met a while ago. Daughter of the owner of a bar hunters use.

Why are you two passing notes like teenage girls in middle school?

Claire! Private conversation!

B/c Sam’s asleep for the first time in, like, 3 days, and a whisper would probably wake him up.

There were more notes scribbled in margins and taking over pages.

I don’t get it, y’know. Why Sam’s so determined to save Dean, and not just put him down. Bastard’s body count’s rising by the day, and Sam’s still convinced there’s good in him.

Sam loves him. I think it’s just as simple as that. Sam got shot for Jake because he cares about him. Think how much more he would - and has - gone through for Dean.

You didn’t see the condition he was in when we found him - cuts and burns and bruises and I’m pretty sure his ribs were cracked.

You’re only making my point for me, Fox Boy. I don’t think I can ever forgive him for what he did to me and my Mom.

My Mom’s dead, so forgiveness isn’t just off the table, it’s not even on the planet. I just wish Sam would let us kill him now.

Is killing Dean worth losing Sam?

That ain’t fair, Jes.

Jesse’s right. I don’t know why Sam loves Dean so much that he would XXXXXXXX that he would go through everything he has for him. I wake up at night with Sam’s screams in my ears, seeing Dean carve him up… I don’t even want to imagine what Sam wakes up with.

Dean calling him a monster, mostly.

???

The fuck?!

How the Hell do you know that, Jes?

Antichrist, most powerful psychic on the planet? Sam’s good at hiding it, but sometimes I get flashes - Dean calling him a monster, yelling at him, all that crap Dean was spewing when we first tried to cure him - it’s all on repeat in his head.

I’m going to fucking kill Dean.

Seconded.

Thirded.

Motion passed.

Dean slammed the notebook shut. What the Hell did they know.

I don’t even want to imagine what Sam wakes up with. Dean calling him a monster, mostly.

That was - that was years ago. He and Sam had already hashed that out, he’d fucking told Sam that he wouldn’t put anything in front of him. It ain't on him if the kid didn't believe him.

I don’t think I can ever forgive him for what he did to me and my Mom.

Ben and Lisa, though… There hadn’t been a day gone by he didn't think of them. He’d brought so much danger and misery into their lives, the best thing he could have done for them was to leave, cut himself out completely. And if Ben couldn't see that…

Dean pushed down the hurt. Ben was just a kid. One day, he’d grow up and realise what Dean did for him.


“I haaaaaaate Spanish conjugation…”

Claire looked up from her World History homework amusedly. “We know, Jake.”

“Why am I taking Spanish?”

“Because it’s the only foreign language our high school offers.”

“Why aren’t you taking Spanish?”

“Because I studied Italian since I was a kid, and passed AP Italian with a five freshman year.”

Jacob groaned melodramatically and dropped his head onto his textbook. “Saaaaaaaaam…”

“Aprender español le ayudará a entrar en la universidad, Jake.”

Jake stared at him blankly, before Claire tilted his head back towards his essay.

“I hate you all.”

Jesse responded with a much longer tirade in Spanish, and Jake shot him the evil eye.

Alex raised an eyebrow. “This happen often?”

Sam chuckled. “Well, Ben isn’t around, so we don’t have to worry about any furniture breaking.”

“See if I ever make you tiramisu again!”

“That’s not how you conjugate present progressive.”

“What?!” Jacob squawked, looking back down at his essay and returning to it with a continuing chain of grumbling.

Sam grinned affectionately and turnned to help Alex. “Anyway, like I was saying, matrices can be really confusing at first, but once you get the hang of them, they’re one of the most powerful mathematical tools you’ll know.”

Sam drew out brackets filled with numbers on a sheet of scratch paper. “You were having trouble with the multiplication, right?”

“Yeah,” Alex sighed.

Sam nodded. “Hey, don’t worry, I had trouble with matrices, too,” he assured her with a smile, “Why do you think I went into the liberal arts?”

“Doesn’t count, you went to Stanford,” Jake cut in archly.

“¿No tienes un ensayo sobre la historia de la tauromaquia a escribir?”

Jacob whined in the back of his throat and returned to writing. Sam chuckled fondly and Jesse pointedly propped up his Spanish edition of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in Jake’s eyeline. Jesse grinned and bit a forkful of tiramisu before turning a page.

“I never really got to spend much time in school,” Alex commented wistfully, “Never wound up in any study groups, either.”

Sam snorted. “Trust me, with these guys? You’ll never get out of a study group.”

The sound of keys jangling in the door makes it through the room, and all heads turn to see Jody enter the house.

“Jody!”

“Hi, Jody!”

The sheriff’s eyebrows rose. “There are more of you than I remember this morning.”

Jacob grinned unrepentantly. “I made tiramisu!”

“And angel food cake, and waffles,” Jesse added dryly, “That’s why the house smells like a bakery.”

Jody laughed. “I’m glad you guys are having fun. Is there anything left in the kitchen for me to make dinner?”

“Claire wants to make chicken parmesan,” Alex replied cheerfully.

“We have parmesan cheese?”

“I went shopping,” Jesse explained with a wave, “Your pantry, uh, might be completely full right now.”

Jody looked at Sam with wide eyes, and the hunter shrugged. “I was asleep the whole time, I’m not responsible!”

“Sure you aren’t, Winchester,” Jody said with a roll of her eyes, “I’m gonna go get changed. I’m glad you’re feeling better, Sam.”

Sam gave her a sunny grin in response.


“Whiskey,” Dean said to the bartender without preamble, tossing down a few bills, “And keep it coming.”

The bartender glanced at him warily, but turned and grabs a bottle. He was at a bar a few towns over from the bunker. He’d have gone to his usual, but the bartender there knew him and could get kind of chatty. He wasn't in the mood for anyone he knew, too angry, too bitter, Flagstaff and Ben and Sam swirling around in his head. All he wanted was nameless faces in a crowd, the smooth burn of liquor at the back of his throat, and hopefully a warm body to keep him occupied for the night.

He saw a redhead on the other side of the bar, curly hair, hell of a rack, and deep enough into her cups that she wouldn't mind a little friendly attention. “And a California Sunshine for the sweetheart down at the end.”

The bartender rolled her eyes, but followed through on the order.

Dean grabbed his drink and sauntered over. “Now what’s a pretty girl like you doing in a place like this all on your own?”

The redhead looked up at him and snorted. “That the best you got?”

Dean grinned. “Oh, sweetheart, I’m just warming up. Name’s Dean.”

The redhead smirked. “You’re gonna need to work a lot harder than that.”

“I can rise to the challenge.”

The woman snorted, but her smile widened a little.

He was making good progress, Layla giggling, her hand on his arm, when a few large figures appeared in his field of vision.

“We got a problem here?” Dean growled, annoyed.

The tall one - wait, that was Mike Hartford. Dean frowned. “Mike?”

Mike tilted his head towards Layla. “Sorry, Ma’am, but Dean here and us need to have a little chat. Outside.”

Dean leaned back in his seat. “Yeah? Rain check, Mike, I’m a little busy here.”

“I’d listen to him if I were you,” one of Mike’s friends replied, his name was Kenny or Kevin or something.

Layla looked between the men uneasily. “You know what, I think I’m just gonna call a cab. Nice meeting you, Dean.”

“Hey, wait,” Dean protested, reaching out to grab her arm. “Just give me a sec, I’ll get rid of these guys.”

Layla shook her head. “Look, Dean, it’s been fun, but I really should get going.”

“The lady said no, Winchester,” Kenny - no, Kyle, that was his name - snapped, stepping in front of Layla and yanking Dean’s hand away.

Dean shot to his feet angrily. “What the Hell is your problem?!”

“My problem is you,” Kyle snarled disgustedly.

The third man in Mike’s crew decided to join in. “Your kind isn’t welcome here, Winchester.”

“My kind?”

“Demons.”

Dean scoffed. “Maybe you need your eyes checked, man. I’m 100% human.”

Mike sneered. “Your brother may have covered your ass by telling hunters to steer clear and pulled another miracle out of his ass to turn you human again, but that doesn’t mean any of us are about to forget what you became.”

“Hey, it’s not like the kid’s squeaky clean, either,” Dean snapped defensively, inwardly furious. After everything they’d been through, Sam was just going to throw him under the bus like this?!

Mike and his friends rolled their eyes. “He’s also the reason any of us are still here and not dead thanks to an angelic grudge match. You? You left a trail of bodies a mile and a half high. Three guesses as to which one of you hunters trust right now.”

Dean clenched his fists, glaring back at the other hunters. “It’s a free country. You got somethin’ to say, you can shove it up your -“

Dean blocked the - predictable - incoming hit and responded with his own haymaker, knocking Mike’s friend hard onto to table behind him. Mike leapt at him, snarling, and Dean couldn't stop the flare of satisfaction inside him.

Might as well work off some of that pent-up energy.


He’s hanging from chains, his blood dripping to the floor as Lucifer walks around him.

His eyes are already burned out from witnessing Lucifer’s true form, vast and beautiful and terrible, never meant to be seen by his unworthy eyes. The image is burned into his mind, his thoughts a maelstrom of gibbering fear at an entity never meant to be understood by human minds, so far beyond his comprehension that he can feel his sanity

splintering

And he’s screaming, screaming at the knives twisting through his hands

at Jess scraping the molten sludge of what used to be his eyeballs away disgustedly

at Dean peeling away his flesh to get to his spine

as the soles of his feet burn

please please please have mercy please GOD forgive me save me -

<<BE SILENT, FILTH!>>

Michael roars in fury, at his gall, his audacity to call upon the Father, on the King of Glory, as if He would even listen to an abomination like him. Sam’s ears bleed as his eardrums burst from the strain of hearing Michael’s true voice, his psychic senses flayed

shredded

the truth burrowing into his soul so he will not, cannot, forget -

<<SINNER.>>

<<DAMNED.>>

<<Oh come now, Michael,>> Lucifer coos, stroking Sam’s neck and wrapping around him lovingly, <<Sam is a GIFT.>>

Sam bucks and screams as Lucifer’s grace floods through him, tearing through his soul, flooding every crack and crevice of his body, pouring out through every orifice and open wound, freezing burning biting searing all-encompassing and eternal.

<<Look how beautifully he begs. How perfect an offering he is for me.>>

<<You debase yourself, brother,>> Michael snarls and Sam can feel

another fragment

of his sanity

splinter away

<<HE IS MINE!>>

Sam is a thought, he is a thing, he is barely an entity at all.

<<You belong to me, Sam,>> Lucifer hisses, <<My victory, my trophy, my toy, mine to rend asunder, SAY IT!>>

Sam is Lucifer’s. Now and forever.

The glory of the Morningstar flares, laughter ripping and clawing through Sam’s mind, his every cell alight in agony.

Sam screams.

Sam burns.


Jesse jerked away, chest heaving. “Sam?!”

He'd come down to get a drink of water, and peeked into the guest bedroom to see Sam’s face creased in pain. But this… He grabbed Sam’s shoulder and shook him, trying to rouse him. “Sam! Wake up!”

Sam remained trapped in his sleep.

“Sam please,” the teen begged, eyes stinging, “Please wake up!”

Another flash of Sam’s nightmare hit him and he scrambled back, colliding against the bedside table and knocking things off it, bile rising in his throat. His world washed black as his instinct kicked in, and he hit the ground hard in the upstairs bathroom. He barely made it to the toilet before vomiting.

His mouth tasted like shit and his eyes were wet with tears and his mind was screaming, panicking -

The bathroom light flicks on.

“Jesse?” Claire asked drowsily.

Jesse could only sob, jerking back in terror when the cold porcelain brought back the memory of Lucifer’s touch.

Claire snapped to attention, her sleep flickering away. “Jesse?!”

Jesse curled up tightly, keening and gripping his hair, tears streaking down his cheeks.

“Jesse!” Claire darted over to the younger teen, kneeling down beside him. “Hey, hey, what happened?”

Jesse shook his head, shuddering. “I don’t - I don’t know - Claire -

“Okay, okay, come here, sweetheart,” Claire murmured, tugging Jesse towards her. He nearly bowled her over, tackling her in a tight hug and crying into her shirt.

Claire shifted so she was sitting with her back against the bathtub, murmuring soft comforts into Jesse’s hair and rubbing his shoulders and back. “It’s okay, Jes, it’s gonna be okay.”

Jesse only clung tighter. Claire slowed her breathing and thought back to quiet nights under warm blankets. “Fai la nanna principino, fai la nanna cuoricino. Dormi bene nel lettino…

Claire kept stroking Jesse’s dark hair as she sang softly, the old Italian lullaby her grandmother used to sing to her during her childhood.

Comfort.

Quiet.

Peace.

She couldn't give Jesse the same things Sam did, but she could help in her own way. “Rosso, verde, azzurro, e oro, son piu’ belli, mio tesoro…

Jesse slowly shifted in Claire’s hold, letting go of her shirt and lowering his arms. He could feel the faint shower of comfort and peace from Claire’s psychic trace and his breathing calmed, until his heartbeat matched hers.

“Sam had - still having - a nightmare,” Jesse forced out, “I - I saw it - and I-“

Claire rubbed Jesse’s shoulder, her thumbs making small circles on the back of his neck.

“It was bad. It was. Hell.”

Claire’s eyes burned and she stared above Jesse’s head, biting her lip. No more tears. She'd promised no more tears.

“I don’t understand,” Jesse whispered, curling into Claire even more, “How can he hold up against five thousand years of that?”

Claire could only hold him close and tuck him under her chin.


Jody wasn't sure what to think when she pushed open the bathroom door to see Claire and Jesse curled up asleep on the floor. One was supposed to be asleep on floor of Alex’s room, and the other on an air mattress in the living room.

And there was vomit in the toilet.

Okay.

She rapped on the door and they jolted awake, turning their tear-stained faces towards her. “Jody!”

Jody’s eyes widened. “What happened to you guys?!”

Jesse rubbed at his eyes, trying to scramble up. “It - just a nightmare - shit, I forgot to flush the toilet -“

“Jesse -“

“Jesse,” Claire said softly, and the teen stilled, thin frame trembling. “C’mere.” She stood, tugging him back into a hug. “Sorry, Jody, it was kind of a rough night.”

Jody’s expression softened. “Alright. Why don’t you guys clean up here, and I’ll get breakfast started downstairs.”

“Yeah.”

“Thanks, Jody.”

Jody shook her head and leaves, chuckling at the sound of Claire complaining about Jesse’s morning breath.


Sam was still fast asleep when Jesse prodded Jacob in the face as he sprawled across the couch, the teen squawking awake with outrage and flailing limbs. “Son of a -“

“Shh! Sam’s still asleep,” Claire warned, “We don’t - Jake, I am not kissing you, morning breath!”

Jacob pouted and ran his hand through his hair, shaking himself fully awake. “Wait, Sam’s still asleep? Dang, that’s impressive.”

“That’s what happens when you fall asleep somewhere you feel safe,” Claire responded tartly.

Jacob’s gaze honed in on Jesse. “Hey, you okay?”

Jesse avoided Jacob’s gaze, absently rubbing his arms. “Sam had a nightmare. It - it was pretty bad. Really bad.”

Jacob hissed and swore bitterly. “Cage or Dean?”

“Cage.”

“The gift that keeps on giving.”

Claire nodded unhappily. “He seems peaceful enough now, so we shouldn’t disturb him. Jody’s making breakfast, go wash up.”

Ten minutes later, Jody looked warily at the three subdued faces in front of her, and at Alex, who looked just as confused. “Alright, guys. What’s with the long faces?”

Jesse seemed to curl in on himself and Jacob’s expression hardened. “Just a rough night, Jody.”

Jody’s eyebrows rose, and Alex tilts her head. “Did Sam have another nightmare?”

Jesse, Jake, and Claire, flinched - honest-to-God flinched.

“Alex!” Jody scolded.

Alex frowned in confusion. “What? It’s kind of obvious -”

“That’s not the point, Alex. Sam’s nightmares are Sam’s business.”

“I thought talking about it was supposed to help?”

Jacob’s handed slam down on the table. “How the fuck do you talk about being tortured and r-“

Jacob!” Claire shrieked, slapping her hand over her boyfriend’s mouth, eyes flashing, “Shut up!”

“Hey!” Jody snapped, “Both of you, knock it off! We are not going to fight at the breakfast, table, understand?”

Claire dropped her hand, looking down at the table, and Jacob glares mulishly.

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“Sorry, Jody.”

Jody sighed again, shaking her head. “Let’s just try to have a calm breakfast and leave Sam to his sleep, alright?”


Jesse slipped out the back door while everyone else was cleaning up from breakfast and made his way into the acres behind her house. He stared at his hands for a moment, before calling out, “Flagstaff!”

Jesse looked up at the sky, his fists clenching. “Flagstaff, I know you can hear me! Look, I know the Heavenly Host hates my guts because of what I am - but please - this isn’t about me, it’s about Sam. Please, he needs help, and I don’t know who else to call.”

No response.

Of course not.

Jesse breathed deeply, stretching out his psychic senses. “Flagstaff!”

“Jesse Turner.”

Jesse very much did not yelp, rocking back on his heels at the angel’s sudden appearance. “You came.”

Flagstaff’s expression was wry. “Sam is my charge. You were also very loud.” The angel looked him over and then looked beyond him to Jody’s house in the distance. “Sam is healing well.”

Jesse scoffed. “Your definition of ‘healing well’ needs work. He’s -“ Jesse sighed, eyes stinging, clenching and unclenching his fists listlessly, “He’s not okay, Flagstaff. He - the Cage - you have to do something!”

Flagstaff’s expression softened. Of course, Sam’s memories of the Cage were still haunting him. She hadn’t felt a spike in Sam’s distress as she had when his brother sent him spiralling into a flashback, but given Sam’s fortitude, that didn't mean he wasn't bothered by them. She inclined her head. “I’ll do what I can.”

When they arrived in Sam’s room, a newly awoken Sam lurched back in surprise. “Gah - What - Flagstaff?!”

Flagstaff smiled faintly. “Good morning, Sam.”

Sam blinked, and absently ran his hand through his hair. “Uh, good morning… Why…”

“I called her,” Jesse blurted out, “Because last night - it was terrifying and I don’t know how to help - how can you stand it - it isn’t fair -

“Whoa - Jesse, Jesse!”

Jesse stopped short at Sam’s call, chest heaving. Sam’s expression creased in sorrow, guilt filling his eyes. “You caught the backlash from my nightmare?”

Jesse nodded jerkily.

“I’m so sorry, Jesse, I never meant for you to get caught up in that.”

“That’s not the point, Sam!” Jesse insisted, gesturing at Flagstaff, “Flagstaff can help.”

Sam’s expression softened and he shakes his head. “She can’t, Jesse.”

Flagstaff’s eyebrows rose slightly. “I am an angel and a healer, Sam. There aren’t a lot of things I can’t do when it comes to healing.”

Sam turned to her, something ancient and familiar in his gaze. “My memories are gracebound, Flagstaff.”

Flagstaff stilled, and on another plane, her grace sang, the same strains she'd sung when Heylel turned away from the Host.

Humans might have called it grief.

Sam smiled sadly at her understanding.

Jesse looked between the two adults. “What? What does that mean?”

“It means his memories are embedded in a place I cannot touch - his soul.”

“Lucifer did!”

Sam startled, but Jesse ploughed on, “I can see the scars Lucifer left on his soul - if he can do that, why can’t you heal him?!”

A year in the hospitals, working tirelessly to comfort humans and assuage their grief, and this never got any easier. “It is because Lucifer did so that I cannot touch them. Only an archangel can undo another archangel’s work.”

Then what good are you?!”

“Jesse -“

Jesse stormed out of the room, the door slamming shut behind him. Sam winced. “Sorry, he’s -“

“Right.”

Sam stopped short and blinked at Flagstaff. The angel’s lips twitched and she asked, “May I sit?”

“Yeah, sure.”

Flagstaff sat down, her fingers skimming over the sheets on the bed. She could feel the fibres under her touch, see how many bolls were used to make each length of thread, how deep the dye stained some threads and not others. “Our Father created us out of Himself to watch over humanity. Yet there is still so much we have failed to do.”

Sam cleared his throat. “I really don’t think God expects you to keep us safe from all harm ever - that would kind of conflict with the whole free will thing. And besides, you’ve helped plenty, working in the hospitals. That’s what you do - you heal, right?”

“That is why I was created, yes.” Sam’s brow furrowed slightly, and Flagstaff continued, “Not all angels are cut from the same stock - some are made from the Father’s mercy, from His forgiveness, from His justice…”

<<The angelic lines,>> Sam murmured, <<From God’s celestial intent. Lucifer and Michael mentioned them. Raphael, the Healer, made from His mercy. Gabriel, the Messenger, made from His wisdom. Michael, the Warrior, made from His justice and wrath. Phanuel, made from His forgiveness…>>

<<And Lucifer, made from His love.>>

Sam snorted bitterly. “Yeah, that worked out well for everyone.”

Flagstaff decided against mentioning that Sam loved him, too, a twisted reflection of what should have been.

Sam shook his head. “Anyway, what I meant was - you’re doing what you were meant to - healing the hurt, giving them mercy and peace. My… less than stellar soul shouldn’t even be on your radar.”

Flagstaff laughed disbelievingly. “Your soul is beautiful, Sam.”

Sam stared at her.

The angel shook her head. “It’s like… the sun breaking out over the mountains, bright snow-capped peaks unseen and untouched by man. It’s the vastness of a clear blue sky, the cry of an eagle as it soars. It’s - there aren’t the words in English -“

Flagstaff broke off back into Enochian and Sam’s eyes widened. She couldn't be - not his soul, not that mangled, ruined thing. These words of power and endurance and something so magnificent that humans can barely grasp it as wonder-joy-freedom… They couldn't be describing his soul!

“You don’t believe me, do you?”

“I - yeah, no, it’s - it’s just a bit much to take in,” Sam stammered, “Castiel doesn’t really talk about… anything like this.”

“Castiel is a soldier. His views and skill sets are very different from mine.”

Sam flashed her a small smile, his dimples making an appearance. “Makes sense. How, how are things in Heaven?”

Flagstaff smiled back at him. “They are well. We are rebuilding and returning to our original purposes.”

Sam was about to respond when Jesse gave an outraged yell from elsewhere in the house. “Jacob you jerk!”

“Payback’s a bitch, brat!”

Sam groaned and rubbed his forehead. “I can’t take them anywhere. I should go deal with that now…”

Flagstaff stood and watched as Sam turned and left, calling out for Jacob and Jesse. She could see his soul shining bright, across multiple planes. She could see where Michael and Lucifer had left their marks, shards of grace continually trying to burrow into a soul so vibrantly resistant. Rhamiel had once theorised that the simpler souls could be described in human tongues, but the greater souls, the chosen ones, the keys to humanity’s growth - they could only be described by the divine.

She couldn't describe Sam Winchester’s soul in human tongues alone.

Before she left, she looked around at the other souls, of Sam’s children - Jesse Turner’s, dark as ink from his demonic heritage, but where there should be hatred and ugliness, there was only the vast silence of space, more implacable than the seas pressing down on the creatures in their depths. Instead of growing into a vulgar and craven thing, it had been nurtured into a fearsome beauty, untameable power slumbering quietly.

She heard Claire Novak laugh from above her, the gentle light of her soul made from strands of springtime sunlight curled around laugher. Flagstaff remembered watching gazelles racing across plains, flooded with the same freedom and passion and drive inside Claire.

She could imagine Jacob Pond’s quicksilver grin as he tried to charm Sam, his soul wild and relentless like a falcon swooping onto its prey and crying out to the heavens, like a jaguar, sleek and on the prowl, and as alive as dolphins laughing and playing in the ocean. She could see his love for Claire, as bright as the light of excitement in an artist’s eyes.

She thought back to Ben Braeden, the last of the quartet, his soul vibrant and dynamic with the noise and chaos in the depths of the jungle. His soul was rich and nurturing like the forest floor, the rumble of bisons stampeding across dusty plateaus, strong and steady as the earth itself.

Souls like these were the reason her Father told His Host to love humanity.

On another plane, her grace sang with something humans might have called joy and purpose, melodies stronger than they have been since the Son appeared on Earth.


Dean groaned, trying to think past the drumbeat in his head. What the Hell happened last night?!

Oh. Right. The bar.

He had a bruise on his jaw, and raw knuckles - that had been one Hell of a fight. Three against one, he hadn’t had those odds in a while. At least he'd given as good as he got - better, even.

“Son of a bitch…” Dean muttered, pushing himself up off the bed, and rising unsteadily. The room swam in front of his eyes and his head throbbed in time with his heartbeat.

Fucking Hell.

He collapsed back on the bed, throwing an arm over his eyes. He’d just lay here. For a while. Or forever. That’d work too.

God, he hated hangovers.

And fights.

Ones that he lost, anyway.

Which he totally didn’t last night.

“Your kind isn’t welcome here.”

“Demons.”

“Doesn’t mean any of us are about to forget what you became.”

Yeah, as if he needed more reminders of that clusterfuck of a situation. He almost wished he could remember. Maybe then -

- Maybe then what? Maybe he’d find out he wasn’t that bad as a demon? He’d known - how long had he feared it? That he’d become one of the black-eyed freaks they hunt? He remembered Hell, remembered coming close.

Remembered liking it.

He needed another drink.

Sam hadn’t offered him much beyond “It was rough” about what had happened since their fight with Metatron, and Dean hadn’t pressed. But now… Hunters may be loner assholes, but they were still hunters, and still people he counted on. He’ll need them at some point down the line - because God only knows where he and Sam stood right now - and he could do without them gunning after him for something he couldn't even remember doing.

He reached for his phone and thought about calling Sam, seeing if he’d give him any details. Except that Sam was God only knew where because his angel-friend whisked him away. ‘Somewhere safe’ - where the Hell would that be?! The bunker was the safest place on Earth - even if Sammy still didn't consider it home - which was a total lie by now, anyway - he had to know that the warding and spellwork on the bunker was more powerful than anything else on Earth.

Seriously, where was he going to run off to, Bobby’s? One of the kids’ houses?

The idea of Sam crashing at Lisa’s place made his stomach churn unpleasantly, and Dean frowned, hefting himself out of bed again. Time to head home.


“I’m going to fucking kill Dean!”

Alex burst out laughing as Claire, Jacob, and Jesse nodded in agreement. Sam just looked to the ceiling for patience.

“Ben.”

“Friggin’ - we didn’t even leave you alone for a week, Sam!”

Sam’s eyebrow arches and his expression shifted. “It’s not your job to take care of me, Ben.”

Ben opened his mouth to protest, but Jacob jerked his hand across his throat quickly, and Ben huffed.

“How was the meet?”

“We won, but we don’t know if it’ll be enough to get into state yet, still waiting on the rest of the division scores.” Ben threw himself down on the couch, half-sprawling across Jacob. “Move, Fox Boy.”

“The fu - you move, Braeden - Jesus, did you even shower before coming here -“

Claire rolled her eyes, and returns to the game of Scrabble she, Alex, and Jesse were playing. “Remind me why I’m dating him?”

Jesse shrugged, hands raised. “Hey, don’t look at me.”

Alex paused in her response to stare at the board. “Jesse, that isn’t even a word!”

“Yes it is! Sam!”

Sam looked up from the laptop Jody lent him, and tilted his head slightly. “Quotidian - yeah, it means something ordinary, something that happens every day.”

The girls turned as one to stare at Jesse incredulously. “How the Hell did you get the tiles for that?!”

Jesse just grinned toothily.

Son of a-

Alex snorted and Claire stared fixedly in front of her, a tight smile on her face. “I’m not turning around, I’m not turning around -“

“Well, Jake’s got his foot against Ben’s face, and I’m not entirely sure where Ben’s hand is, so…”

I’m not turning around.”

Sam laughed, taking in the cheerful chaos around him. “Guys, knock it off. Jody’s couch isn’t yours to break.”

Ben and Jacob grumbled and attempted to disentangle themselves with slightly less roughhousing than usual - but no one was prepared for their shouts of surprise when they both careened off the couch and hit the floor, again a tangle of limbs and bickering.

Jesse grinned smugly, sprawling across the couch and claiming it for himself.

Ben and Jacob looked up in outrage. “You little brat -“

“Ahem,” a woman’s voice cut in.

All three of them scrambled to their feet, looking faintly terrified. Sam had to hide a smile at seeing them all practically standing at attention.

“Jody!”

“Boys.”

“I swear I need to learn the Mom Look,” Claire muttered, watching Jody stare down the boys with raised eyebrows.

Ben broke first. “We were just, um, we didn’t mean - that is -“

Jody’s lips twitched and her expression shifted to amusement. “Afternoon, Ben.”

Ben swallowed and relaxes, and they can almost see the ‘Oh thank God’ floating above his head.

“You planning on staying the night?” Jody asked, shaking her head.

“If it’s not too much trouble,” Ben replied with a charming smile, “I promise I won’t make a mess, and I can clean up the dishes -“

“No you won’t,” Jacob muttered incredulously.

Ben stomped on Jacob’s foot, his smile growing more fixed. “- So I’d appreciate it if you could put me up for a night, Ma’am.”

“Is he for real?” Alex murmured.

“The Ben Braeden Charm,” Claire groaned, “You have no idea.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” Jody replied, “I think there’s another air mattress in a closet somewhere.”

None of you should be intruding onto Jody’s house,” Sam pointed out, “Housing and feeding five more people than usual isn’t easy. You guys don’t need to be here, and I can head back to the bunker -“

“Do not finish that sentence, Sam Winchester,” Jody warned. She smiled at the teens. “It’s no trouble. My place hasn’t been this lively in… a long time. It’s nice. Just try not to eat me out of house and home, alright?”

Sam smiled gratefully and the teens grinned. “Yes, Ma’am!”


There was not enough alcohol in the bunker right now.

Actually, there was no alcohol in the bunker, not even a beer. Sam really did turn the place into a daycare.

Dean debated making a grocery run into town, but the reason he went to a bar out of town still stands - the people in Lebanon are chatty. Okay, it was a small town, but everyone cares, and they were always in each other’s business. It wan't something he wanted to deal with right now.

Which means grabbing one of the fifty bottles of juice in their fridge.

Mango, lychee - what the Hell was a lychee, and who the Hell drank it - pear, guava, coconut, kiwi… And, at the very back, orange and apple. What, had Sam infected the kids with his health kick? He couldn't imagine Ben ever drinking half of these on a normal day.

He grabbed the orange juice and took a swig.

He really missed his whiskey right now. Because orange juice wasn't going to help him forget everything he’d just learned. Orange juice wasn’t going to wipe his mind clean of the blood and gore and Jesse Turner’s meticulous handwriting chronicling his months as a demon. Orange juice wan’t going to let him believe that he and the demon were two separate things.

His hand shook and Dean hurled the orange juice at the wall before he realised what he was doing.

How was he supposed to deal with this?!

How did he - how did he just come back from being a demon?

Not just a demon, a Knight of Hell, one of the most vicious and cruel of all of Hell’s spawn, who slaughtered his way across the country, leaving a river of blood in his wake. Mike was right. There was no forgetting what he’d become.

He's said it before, didn’t he? He was poison. The people around him got hurt. His hands were stained red with Kevin’s blood, and now a hundred more people.

The notebooks spread out all over the bunker were gathered on the tables in the common room, completely covering them. Most of it was in Sam and Jesse’s handwriting, a thousand and one theoretical cures, half of them crossed out because they ended in Dean’s death.

Dean laughed bitterly. Now Sam cared. Now he fought tooth and nail to bring Dean back alive, when it would have been easier, better, just to burn him into oblivion like some of the rituals said. Frankly, he was surprised Sam’s pet angel - Flagstaff - didn’t smite him the moment she got the chance.

Flagstaff. It’s funny, that was where Sam ran away to when they were kids. And Sam was gone again now, where Dean couldn't reach him.

He’d never felt so alone.


“Yeah, I’ll tell him,” Claire said, re-entering the living room with a phone to her ear. “Uh-hunh. Yep. Bye.”

Sam was resting on the couch and Ben and Jake were working at the coffee table in front of him. Or rather, Jacob worked, while Ben listened to music and doodled on a half-filled quiz sheet. Jesse moved around in the background, helping Jody and Alex sort through some of the clutter piled up around the house.

“Tracy says the book was really helpful,” Claire reported, snapping her fingers at Ben to move, “And that she wants a video of you losing a fight with your sling.”

“I did not loose a fight with my sling!” Sam protested.

“You kind of did, Sam,” Jody said with a grin as she passed by them.

“I don’t think I’ve seen anyone flail around that much while changing since Jacob accidentally grabbed one of my shirts instead of his and didn’t realise,” Claire added innocently.

“Claire!”

“Oh, my God,” Sam groaned in response, rubbing a hand over his face.

“I’ll send it to her,” Ben said with a wicked grin, tugging his headphones loose for a moment, “Also! Mike called and says you’re an idiot for not looking after yourself like he told you to.”

Sam looked at Ben, sputtering. “How do you even have Mike’s number?!”

Jacob held up his phone, halfway through a text message. “Dude. Phones. Hunter network. Get with the times.”

Sam’s eyes narrowed. “Have you been calling and texting other hunters to gossip about me?”

Ben, Jake, Claire, and Jesse all serenely replied, “Yes.”

Sam looked at Jody pleadingly. “Jody!”

Jody laughed. “Oh, you’re on your own with this one, Winchester.”

“… You’re in on this, aren’t you?!”

“Hey, Sam, sign this,” Jacob cut in, distracting Sam.

Sam looked down as Jacob shoved a sheet of paper at him. “… Uh, Jake, I’m neither your parent nor your guardian.”

“It’s for parent conferences, you don’t even have to show up.”

Sam narrowed his eyes slightly. “Is there any reason I wouldn’t want to?”

Jacob paled. “Uh.”

“His grades are fine, Sam,” Claire intervened quickly, “And he’s not skipping any classes. But Annalise is…” Claire waved abstractly, “And everyone needs to have a signed form turned in for a grade by Monday.”

“Did you get your Mom to sign yours?” Jacob asked his girlfriend curiously.

Claire blinked. “… Crap, I still need to do that.”

“Dude, just forge his signature,” Ben said lazily, “That’s what I do.”

“Ooh, I like that plan!”

“Excuse me?”

Ben’s head snapped up, headphones falling out as he met Sam’s unimpressed stare. “Uh…”

Sam held Jacob’s paper out of his reach as he waited expectantly for Ben to explain.

“I… might have… kindasortaforgedyoursignatureonsomeforms,” Ben blurted out, slouching back down to try and escape Sam’s gaze.

It didn't work.

Sam huffed, sighing through his nose. He scrawled his signature on the line, and then gestured at Claire for her form. She slipped it out of her binder and handed it to him slowly, confused. Sam signed her form, too, asking, “When are your conferences?”

“Friday…”

“Wait,” Jacob yelped, “You’re not coming!”

Sam’s eyebrows rose and Jacob swallows. “If you’re going to use my signature, you’d better believe I’m coming. Try not to schedule anything at the same time as Claire.”

Ben burst out laughing as Jacob’s expression became mortified and Claire’s eyes widened.

“You’re not getting out of it, either, Ben.”

Ben’s jaw dropped in horror. “What - Jesus - Jody make him stop!”

Jody just grinned.


It’s late in the evening when Dean made it through the last of the notebooks and papers he'd collected. He was distantly impressed at how much the five of them had managed to get accomplished and written down, but he knew Sam had been around Jacob and Claire for going on a year now, so he must have rubbed off on them.

And Ben as well, apparently. Ben’s notes were almost as neat as Sam’s, focused and organised. He knew Ben, remembered what his schoolwork looked like. Remembered doodles and distraction and disorganised chaos that only made sense to him. If it wasn’t for Ben’s handwriting, he’d have figured these notes were Sam’s.

There was just - there was so much. There was the notes and research itself, and then there was the teens making side comments and full-out conversations in margins and the backs of pages. There was Jacob, Claire, and Ben splitting their time between school and hunting - did Lisa know? Did Lisa care? He still didn't know how Ben got into the life after everything he did, and he couldn't imagine Lisa letting him get involved, anyway.

He’d ask Ben, but Ben wouldn't even give him the time of day.

There was every action they could find of Dean in these pages, every scrap of conversation they gathered from him, analysed and used to decide what ritual, what spell, what lore they could try to stop him.

To save him, Sam’s frequent comments reminded him.

There were runes and diagrams practiced over and over and over until they were perfect enough to be in a textbook.

The five of them, for months, steadily working towards an impossible goal. Yeah, Sam had definitely rubbed off on them.

He was pretty sure the kids had claimed their own rooms, too, if the mussed sheets and occasional stationery were any indication. Because for all his froufrou tendencies, Sam did not use bright orange glitter pens.

What did he do now? Because he couldn't run away from how desperately Sam - and Ben, and Hell, Jacob - searched for a way to save him, to remove the Mark of Cain from his arm and change him back to a human. It was another nail in his coffin, another roadblock preventing him from running away from the fact that he became a demon.

The only glimmer of light was that he’s seen Jody’s name crop up, a lot. If what he had pieced together was right, Sam and the kids went to Jody’s after the first time Dean -

Well. Maybe it was someplace Sam considered “safe.”

Dean stared at his phone, disheartened. If Jody knew what had been happening… Dean grabbed his phone, tapping Jody’s name before he could change his mind. He was a lot of things, but he wasn't a coward.

“H-Hello?”

Dean blinked. Well, there was that question answered. “… Sam?”

“Dean? Dean!” There was something in Sam’s voice - terrified and hysterical. What the Hell was going on over there?

Dean cleared his throat. “Hey, Sam. We, uh, we need to talk.”

Sam huffed softly. “I know, Dean.”

Of course he did.

Sam continued, “You don’t have to say it - I know you hate me.”

What the HELL?!

“What the Hell, Sammy?!”

“No, I get it, Dean. It’s fine if you hate me, you don’t have to keep pretending. I won’t - I won’t burden you anymore, I promise.”

Dean couldn't even process this, it was so out of left field. “What the Hell - Jesus, Sammy, I don’t hate you! Why would you -“

“It’s okay, Dean,” Sam replied earnestly, and Dean could see his face, open and intent with those wide puppy-eyes. “You don’t have to lie anymore. Half the time, I hate me, too - I mean, who wouldn’t, after all the things I’ve done?”

“Dammit, Sam - I don’t - Why would you think I hate you?!”

“Well, that’s the only explanation - why you trusted an angel you barely knew over me, tricked me into letting him into my body after Lucifer, let Crowley in me after Meg. I killed Kevin, I didn’t finish the Trials, I mean, you said it yourself - I didn’t look for you when you were in Purgatory, I lost my soul, I started the Apocalypse, I drank demon blood and trusted Ruby - I have demon blood in me, Dean. It only makes sense that you hate me, you should, I should still be punished -“

Sammy!

There was silence across the line, and all Dean could hear is his own horrified breathing. What the Hell? Just - What the Hell?!

“Is - is there something else?” Sam asked timidly, and Dean thought he might vomit. “Did I forget a mistake? I won’t do it again, I’ll try to fix it, I promise -“

“Jesus, Sammy, I don’t - Why would you -“

There was a scuffle of the phone changing hands, and Jody’s voice came over the line. “I think this conversation is over, Dean.”

“Jody, I - What the Hell just happened?!”

“Why are you calling, Dean?”

“Jody, Sam,” Dean insisted.

There was another moment of silence, and then Jody sighed. “Your call woke Sam up from a nightmare. He’s still a little disoriented.”

“Disoriented? That was a little more than disoriented, Jody! He was completely off the rails!”

“Dean, that’s enough,” Jody snapped, and Dean couldn't imagine her face, brow furrowed and lips pressed in a hard line.

“Look - I’m coming to get Sam, okay? He needs -“

“If you come here with any intention besides apologising to your brother, I will pump you full of buckshot, understand?”

“Jody -“

Goodbye, Dean.”

There was a click, and then a long, flat dial tone.

Jody knew.

Jody knew.

She knew that he was a demon, knew that’s why Sam came to her for refuge, knew what a monster he became -

And Sam - What the Hell was that about punishment?!

Not Dean, Michael, not Dean, not him - I deserve his wrath, your wrath, I know -

The breath rushed out of Dean’s lungs. Sam had been digging into his palm.

You managed to send him back into the Cage!

No.

It only makes sense that you hate me -

Oh, God, no.

I should still be punished -

Dean didn't even make it out of his chair before he vomited.

For a while the only sounds in the bunker were his retching, because Sam thought he was Michael, Sam thought he was one of his torturers from the Cage - And why shouldn’t he, when Dean actively tortured his own brother -

Fuck.

All his life, he’d looked after Sammy, protected him -

You didn’t protect him from Lucifer, a nasty voice in his head reminded him, You didn’t protect him from YOURSELF.

One of Jesse’s notebooks was full of reports of the havoc Dean had wrought, and a damning list of Sam’s injuries and how far they’d healed. Because this was Sam, who pushed and pushed and never stopped working until the candle wasn't just burned out at both ends, there was a charred spot where it had burned the ground underneath.

Because Dean wasn’t there to look out for him, because Dean had looked at him as another victim, as - as prey.

Dean retched again, and all that came up was bile.


“I’m sorry,” Sam said quietly, looking down.

Jody sighed as she took in Sam’s hangdog expression and clasped his shoulder gently. “You don’t have anything to be sorry for, Sam. Why don’t you head on to bed, it’s late.”

Sam snorted. He woke up from a nightmare where Michael castigated him for his sins, and he believed him, and hadn't even managed to clear his head before carrying that glorious mindfuck on to Dean. Yeah, that was really going to convince Dean of his competence. “So when’s Dean coming?”

“Whenever he decides to apologise,” Jody replied curtly.

Sam blinked. “… What?”

Jody stifled a sigh and sat down on the couch beside Sam. “Sam, after everything that’s happened, I think the one thing you really need from your brother right now is an apology.”

Sam startled, shaking his head. “No - Jody, it’s fine. It’s been pretty rough for us all; Dean just needs time.”

“Time for what, Sam?” Jody asked gently.

“I -“ Sam trailed off, conflicted.

Jody kept her expression gentle and her body language calm and open. “I think you and I both know that this - the way things are between you are Dean right now - it can’t continue.”

“I tried,” Sam replied miserably, “I tried, but there was so much else going on. All it did was push him away until he turned into a demon.”

“That wasn’t your fault, Sam,” Jody pointed out patiently, “From what I hear, Dean made his own choices, and you saved him. And I know you - you would have done everything in your power to save him.”

“I tried,” Sam admitted quietly. “I tried to be there for him, tried to help him stay calm so that the Mark wouldn’t get a hold of him, tried to watch his back - but it wasn’t enough.”

“Sounds to me like you did more than enough.”

“I…”

“Dean has to own up to his choices and actions, Sam. You can’t keep carrying all the weight.”

Sam laughed weakly, his voice thick. “I don’t even know if we know how to do that anymore, Jody.”

“Then maybe it’s time you learned,” Jody suggested, “Look, I’m not going to force you to do anything, but I really think it’d be better if you stayed somewhere… neutral, for a while. Let Dean come to his senses. Maybe this is what you boys need to start rebuilding.”

Sam looked pensive, and Jody smiled softly. “Just think on it, okay?”

Sam nodded. “Yeah. I, uh, I better get off the couch so the boys can actually get to sleep.”

“They’ll probably end up pulling an all-nighter in the basement.”

Sam frowned reflexively. “They have school tomorrow.”

“Oh God, did I just say that?!”

Jody burst out laughing. “Welcome to being a parent, Sam.”


“Sam?”

Sam looked up from his book to see Jesse poking his head into the room. “Jesse? It’s three in the morning, what are you still doing up?”

Jesse shrugged. “What are you?”

“I took a nap, remember,” Sam replied wryly.

“Didn’t seem like a very good nap.”

Sam’s brow furrowed. “Did you get any backlash from that?”

Jesse shook his head. “No, I guess… I don’t want to go to sleep tonight. I’m kinda scared.”

Sam swallowed. “Because of the Cage.”

Jesse’s gaze dropped. “How do you stand it, Sam? How can you?”

Sam shifted on the bed, ushering Jesse into the room. “I’ve been doing it a long time. You have to focus on what’s in front of you, the good - helping people, seeing you guys… Find what makes you happy, what grounds you, and hold on to that.”

Jesse nodded slowly. “Does it ever - is it easier for you now?”

Sam smiled fondly. “Yeah. Yeah, it is. Come on, hop up. Let’s see if we can’t do something about your insomnia.”

Jesse stared at him dubiously. “Sam, I’m thirteen. I’m a little old for bedtime stories, don’t you think?”

Sam laughed, reaching for his laptop. “You wish, bud. Jess and I used to watch Lord of the Rings when we couldn’t get to sleep, or were working late. Sometimes, it just helps to have some mindless television. So, take your pick - Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Transformers, or Die Hard.”

Jesse mused. “I’ve never seen Lord of the Rings…”

“Jess would consider that criminal negligence, so I guess that’s what we’re watching.”


Dean woke up with a start, blood on his hands, blood everywhere, bodies strewn everywhere around him - Sammy no please SAMMY -

No.

No, it wasn't not real.

His hands were shaking, but they’re not covered in blood. He was in Sammy’s room, he'd fallen asleep sitting on the floor against his bed. The entire room was uncomfortable as fuck, still resembling a storage closet more than an actual bedroom.

One half of Sam’s meticulously neat desk was a mess of papers - grade reports and scored homework and scratch paper and pictures from the kids. They were pretty much the only signs of life apart from Sam’s mostly packed duffel, and a handful of mementos. There was a framed picture of Mary and John on his bedside desk - Dad had given that to him when Sam eight? Well, less given and more allowed Sam to keep it after he swiped it from Dad’s bag. Beside it were Sam’s tablet, wallet, and Taurus.

That was it.

That was how much Sam unpacks in motel rooms.

His bed was neat, as if he hadn’t slept in it, and given that the last time he'd been in Sam’s room, Sam had nearly shot him, he wouldn’t be surprised if Sam hadn’t slept in his room. Some of the rooms around Sam’s looked like they’d been occupied; maybe it wasn’t just the kids who'd used them.

Fuck.

His mind was running around in circles, still trying to process having been a demon, still trying to process Sam -

Never mind, Sam was a problem all on his own.

His head fell back against the bed with a soft thud. What was he supposed to do? Sam was gone, away from Dean, taking his words to heart at all the wrong times. Maybe it really would be best if they weren’t brothers.

He needed a drink.

Because this - he knew he and Sam have had some problems. He’d said some shit, Sam had done some shit - a lot of shit - but at the end of the day, they were brothers. Family. They were all each other had. They could get through this, right?

“Sammy…”

He sounded like he was about to cry, felt like he was about to cry, felt the weight of his failure to protect Sam crushing him. What was he supposed to do?

He'd call Sam to try and figure this out, but he knew Jody’d be on the other end of the line, guarding Sam.

Why had this - how had this - happened? When had it all go so wrong?

And what was he supposed to do to fix it?

There was a sketch of Jess in Sam’s wallet, meticulously drawn with love in every line. All these years, and she’d never left him. He’d never left her. Sometimes Sammy and Dad really were alike.

I should still be punished

No. Fuck that line, Sam wasn't the one who should be punished.

No matter how much Dean reminded him of - of Michael, Sam had to know that was behind him. That Dean wasn't going to hurt him.

All he wanted, all he’d ever tried to do, was protect his brother.

And yet you carved him up like a Thanksgiving turkey, the voice in his head reminded him. Fantastic protection.

Fuck.

Dean closed his eyes, feeling a tear escape, his breathing strained by his failure, miserable and damning -

“I’m sorry, Sammy.”

He didn't even recognise his own voice.

“I’m sorry.”


Jody’s rare day off was interrupted with the boisterous arrival of five teens, chatter and thuds of backpacks falling and feet stomping exploding in her house the moment they get in. Sam looked up with a grin, and Jody’s eyebrows rose. “Wow.”

“Yeah, imagine what that sounds like with the bunker’s acoustics.”

“Spanish is a bitch, oh my God Sam -“

“Jesse finished the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy -“

“I managed not to punch Louis in the throat -“

“I aced the quiz in Math -“

Jody and Sam whistled sharply in unison and the teens fell silent, blinking in confusion and innocence.

“Hi, guys,” Sam said wryly, “It’s nice to see you, too.”

There’s a moment of silence before the overlapping chatter started up again, and Jody just looked at Sam helplessly.

“No but dude -“

“And he totally -“

“All three books in eight hours -“

“Just let them run out of steam,” Sam advised Jody, “It’ll be easier.”

“Hey, do we have any food?”

Claire automatically smacked Jacob upside the head. “Jacob! That’s the first thing you ask?!”

“I’m hungry!”

“We’re growing boys, Claire,” Ben wheedled, “We need fooooood.”

“I promise I did try to teach them manners,” Sam said to Jody while Claire scolded them. “It didn’t necessarily take.”

Jody laughed. “Guys, go see if there’s anything in the kitchen.”

“Yes!” Ben and Jacob punched their fists in the air.

“I think we have some Doritos, unless Ben ate them all,” Alex added.

“I resent that!”

“You resemble it more like -“

“There’s a ton of fruit, too,” Jesse pointed out.

“Seriously, Jes? No one eats fruit!”

“Oh yeah? Let me know how that scurvy works out for you -“

“I feel exhausted just listening to them,” Jody said with a laugh as they disappear into the kitchen. “Guess our peace and quiet’s done for the day.”

Fifteen minutes later, teenagers were once again sprawled all over her living room, and Claire was already pushing the others to get their homework out.

“Claire, come on,” Alex complained, kicking her backpack away, “We literally just got out of school. Do you ever stop?”

Claire rolled her eyes. “How do you think I keep a 3.9 GPA?”

“Black magic?” Ben offered.

“Ravenclaw’s Diadem?” Jesse piped up.

Claire threw her eraser at them.

Sam just smiles widely, eyes crinkling and dimples deepening.

Jody shook her head. “Alright, I have to ask - Do your parents actually know you’re here?”

“I don’t have any parents besides Sam,” Jesse replied bluntly, not looking up from his copy of the Silmarillion.

“My mother wouldn’t notice the house burning down.”

“Eh, Annalise is mostly in it for the check. As long as I don’t wind up in the hospital or get brought home by the cops, she doesn’t care what I get up to.”

“Linda gave up trying to keep track of me, like, a year ago.”

They were so blithe about it, Jody couldn't stop the sadness from crossing her face. It wasn't really a surprise, she’s seen plenty of cases like this, too. It made even more sense that they’d latch on to Sam so tightly, Sam with his warm heart and open smile.

“Besides,” Ben added cheerfully, “Someone’s got to keep an eye on Sam.”

“You guys know I'm not an invalid, right?” Sam protested.

“Yeah, but when we leave you to your own devices you do stupid things.”

Sam sputtered. “I do not!”

Ben opens his mouth to respond, and Sam cut in, “Don’t you have homework you’re supposed to be doing?”

Ben groaned. “Fine, fine, I’ll review the friggin’ Constitution again - oh my God I live in hick country, it’s not like anyone even knows the Constitution exists, let alone what it says, but state makes us study it like fifteen times from sixth grade on -“

“Probably because no one knows it,” Jacob pointed out.

“ - No one asked you, Fox Boy -“

Sam let Ben’s stream of grumbling wash over him, and gestured for him to show him his worksheet. Ben complained like it was his job, but he'd chosen American Government as his elective all on his own.

Jody watched Sam and the teens fondly. Alex was smiling and grinning, teasing Claire, who gave back as good as she got. Ben and Jacob bickered good-naturedly, while Jesse diverted part of Sam’s attention back to himself and his book. She thought that maybe this was what Owen would have been like growing up, her house alive with the sound of him and his friends having fun.

And thinking of him now hurt a little bit less.


Dean exhaled slowly, staring at the door to Jody’s house. The sky was growing dark; it was late in the evening. Jody told him not to come, but -

- He needed Sam. Needed to know they can work this out.

He raised his fist and knocked.

Ben opened the door, and promptly slammed it shut in his face.

What the Hell?! What was Ben even doing here?!

“Ben! Jody, open up!”

He knocked on the door a lot longer, before the door was yanked open, this time by Jacob. “Piss off, douchebag, you’ve hurt Sam enough for one lifetime.”

Dean jammed his foot between the door and the doorframe, inwardly wincing at the force Jacob put into trying to slam the door shut. “Look,” he snapped, “This ain’t about you. I just need to talk to Sam.”

“Sam’s unavailable right now,” Jacob replied acidly, and Dean could see Ben and Jesse coming up behind him, rearing for a fight.

Damn it.

“Guys.”

Sam’s voice was soft and even, but all attention shifted to him. “I’m just going to step outside for a minute.”

“What?!”

“Come on, Sam, you don’t owe him anything!”

Sam smiled faintly. “He’s my brother. Now relax, I’m only going to be about ten feet away.”

Relaxing was pretty much the opposite of what the boys did, but they stepped aside anyway.

Sam stepped out into the dying light, his expression guarded. “Hey, Dean.”

“Sammy.”

Sam looked like shit. His expression was pale and drawn, and his posture wary and tense. Sam was protecting himself - from Dean.

Jesus.

Dean got the impulse to hug him, but there was an angry kitsune and Antichrist a few feet away, and today wasn't high on his list of days to die. Instead, he and Sam walked out a ways, and he cleared his throat. “We should, uh, we should talk.”

Sam wanted to laugh. Talk, right. About his meltdowns? About Dean’s displeasure over how he brought Dean back to his normal self? About being a demon, about the Mark, about Kevin and Gadreel, about ‘we’re family’ being a panacea for all the damage between them, except that it wasn't?

Sam didn't think he could hear that right now. He nodded carefully, waiting for Dean to continue.

“I know it’s been rough for us lately,” Dean said, “I mean, Hell, it’s - it’s pretty embarrassing, the whole thing with Crowley, and being a demon -“

“Embarrassing, right.” Sam felt like he was sinking, like everything he's done has been for nothing. “Okay. Great talk, Dean.”

He was so tired. He turned back to see Jody holding Jesse and Ben back by their shirts, and it was taking both Claire and Alex to keep a hold of Jacob. Jody’s face was creased in worry, and for once, just once, he wanted to be selfish, he wanted to stay here, in this bubble of peace where he was loved and respected and looked up to, where he never felt like he has to hold himself in check. He’s been happier over the past three days than he has in… he couldn't even remember anymore.

And now? With Dean still missing the point? He couldn't do this.

He turned on his heel and started to walk away.

“Sammy - Sam, wait!”

Sam stilled, and Dean caught up to him, grabbing his elbow. “Come on, man, you know I’m not good at this.”

Sam’s shoulders were tight, his mouth drawn in a flat line as he turns to look at Dean.

“I mean, I kind of suck at the whole - Dr. Phil stuff,” Dean tried to joke, but Sam’s expression remained blank. “I guess, what I’m trying to say is, with all the crap that’s gone down between us, how rough the last couple months have been -“ he could see he was starting to lose Sam again, so he blurted out, “I’m sorry!”

Sam looked stunned. “… What?”

Aw, come on, was Sam really going to make him say it again? “I’m sorry. For - what I did. What you had to go through.”

Sam’s jaw dropped, and it was as if he was seeing Dean for the first time - like he was seeing a Dean he lost a long time ago.

“I - I wanna make this right, Sammy.”

Sam felt a chill spread through him. He wanted this, wanted to be brothers on an equal footing again. He wanted it more than anything… but he wasn't ready. It was selfish and stupid and not fair to Dean, but the thought of going back to the bunker, of all the tension still in the air and scars from the past several months - more than a year, if he was honest with himself - he couldn't do it.

He stumbled back without realising it. “I - I need some time, Dean. Please.”

Time, air, space, to put the pieces of himself back together.

Dean swallowed. “Okay.”

Sam’s eyes widened, and he was even more stunned. “… Okay?”

Dean gave him a crooked smile. “I told you, I want to make things right between us. Go back to the way things were. And if this is what you need… I can work with that.”

Sam felt a knot in his chest ease, and he could breathe again. This could work. They could make this work.

He smiled, a truer smile than Dean had seen in a long time, dimples flashing and eyes crinkling at the corners. He didn't look remotely as worn down as he had when Dean first turned up; straightening and unfurling like a flower under the sun.

“Okay.”


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