Characters: Sam and Dean (Gen, Angst)
Summary: (pre- 4x01) Dean is gone, and it's no easier than the first time that happened.
Author's Notes: Happy Birthday to brynwulf, who gave me this prompt. It wanted to be a story instead of a drabble, but I'm sure you won't mind. However, I hope angst was what you wanted as your present because this timeframe can't really be anything else!
Also for my switch_25 table, this is "Crushed."
Sam has buried Dean twice, and the second time isn't any easier than the first.
In the briefest clearing in a forgotten grove of trees—someplace pretty, because it matters to him if not to Dean—he lays the last of his family to rest.
He salts the earth with shaking hands but can do no more, even with a lifetime of lectures behind him. He knows what's expected, but this is Dean and he just can't do it, can't defile Dean's body that way. He almost abandoned the whole idea earlier, half-tempted to leave Dean the option of haunting him, because he knows how hard and lonely the coming days—weeks, months—are going to be.
It is hours afterward before he can bring himself to fill in the dirt.
Sam stays in the car the first few nights, surrounded by Dean's scent as he drifts in and out of troubled sleep. Sometimes he wakes and grows restless, too aware of the accusing silence. He starts the engine then and drives as if that will leave that mood behind, stopping hours later when the weight of fatigue returns.
He doesn't talk to Bobby much more this time than the last. It isn't that he's hoping for a Trickster miracle, not by a long shot, just that he can't… he can't be anything for anybody else right now. Not polite, maybe not even present.
Some days he just wants to curl up and die, and the only thing that keeps him from doing it is knowing what Dean sacrificed for him to still be alive.
Weeks go by, and Sam saves his energy for the motel-room cons and one-minute conversations with fast-food and convenience-store clerks. He'll take up his rifle again soon enough but it won't help much, not for months. He knows this despair all too well, having lived through it once before.
In the too-long nights, he finds himself wandering from bed to window in the dark, searching for something that will never be there to find. He watches the stars while his soul bleeds down inside him, waking when his head thumps against the smooth coolness of the glass.
He takes Dean's jacket to bed with him the second time it happens, tired of resisting the urge to hold it close like the extension of Dean that it is. He sleeps better then, with the comfort of that familiar scent. The mornings when he wakes and forgets that Dean is gone are all the harder, but he'll trade them willingly for those rare nights when he dreams of Dean. Those dreams are all Sam has left of his brother, and it takes every ounce of his strength to get out of bed instead of spending long hours drifting in and out and chasing the hope of finding the next dream instead.
Every tomorrow is yet another broken promise.
Sam drifts south finally, as far away from the site of Dean's death as he can get. The warmth helps, seeping slowly into the grayness of Sam's world. He walks along bayous and sits in the shade of cypress trees, where the beauty and undemanding calm are lonely and soothing in turns.
Sam moves like a ghost among the living and does not care, because Dean is still gone.
There are nights when Sam leaves the television on to help him sleep. The hum of voices distracts him from the dark grief-filled places his mind wanders into when he's too tired to fight, and the noise covers up the absence of all the everyday sounds Dean used to make. The nighttime quiet is the worst.
One morning, Sam wakes from nightmares of hellhounds and blood and still hears barking. He hones in on the source, TV news coverage of an animal shelter, even as he's fumbling for the remote to turn it off. Dean's screams echo in his head as he lies down shakily and stares at the ceiling.
Heart hammering in his chest, Sam struggles to push away the horror of Dean's death. He reaches for anything that might help him—other memories of Dean, other people and places he's known before. Only then does he think about Ruby telling him he could have stopped it if he'd tried. She could have been lying (Dean always said so), but Sam can't be sure. He remembers Lilith's inability to destroy him, and he wonders what secrets still lie within him.
He wonders if he could bring Dean back even now.
He gave Dean his word—the memory of it weighs on him over the next few hours of going back-and-forth on that single sliver of newfound hope. But desperation is stronger than principle, and it's not like Dean could ever claim anything different.
Sam opens Dad's journal, looking for the summoning spell he's already used once before. It'll be for nothing if Ruby's truly gone, but he won't know until he tries it. His hands shake as he draws the pentagram and the necessary sigils.
This is the darkest, most dangerous step he's ever taken, but he shoves the thought away as he begins the words to draw Ruby forth.
He's lived without Dean before, survived and endured as Winchesters do. But having done it—raw fingernails clinging from one day to the next—he'll be damned if he's doing it again.
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