Characters: Dean, Sam, Chuck, Castiel
Rating: PG 13 (language)
Warnings: Spoilers up to 4X22, AU Season 5
Disclaimer: Not mine
Word Count: 4415
Author’s Note: An enormous thank you to my beta, callistosh65.
Summary: “This isn’t some Sixth Sense deal, is it, Sammy? Cause if you’re gonna tell me that I’m actually dead, and you’re trying to spare my feelings, I’m gonna kick your ass from here to—”
Excerpt: Dean was even desperate enough to try summoning Zachariah, but he ended up with some angel in middle management. The idiot kept calling him Mr. Winchester and genuflecting, and wanted him to fill out paperwork before he’d tell him anything. It’s what Dean likes the least about having to save the world – wading through the bureaucracy.
Sam sees dead people, but Dean’s not going to freak out. It was only a matter of time before something like this happened. Oceans are turning to blood, locusts are falling like rain, and the sun occasionally forgets to rise in the east. Lucifer’s having himself a party, and everyone’s invited. Sam seeing dead people should be the least of their worries.
But Dean’s not going to let this go. Something or someone is screwing with his brother, which shoves the whole End Of Times thing right off Dean’s priority list.
Nobody can tell him what’s going on. Bobby’s off in Nebraska somewhere, trying to mobilize the few rogue hunters who aren’t actively trying to kill Sam. The stubborn bastard won’t carry a cell phone because he’s still worried about brain cancer, so there’s no way Dean can get a hold of him.
He’s put in a call to Missouri, but she’s not picking up. Dean doesn’t even know if she’s alive any more. It’s been over a year since anyone talked to her. Bobby had tried calling after Dean got out of hell, but Missouri had never called him back.
Normally, Dean would go to Castiel, but Cas doesn’t hang out with the cool kids in the garrison anymore. He’s trying to find out what he can, but nobody wants to hand over information to an angel who can think for himself.
Dean was even desperate enough to try summoning Zachariah, but he ended up with some angel in middle management. The idiot kept calling him Mr. Winchester and genuflecting, and wanted him to fill out paperwork before he’d tell him anything. It’s what Dean likes the least about having to save the world – wading through the bureaucracy. There’s something about eternal beings that makes them batshit crazy for having a system.
Dean doesn’t have time for any of it, not when dead people are stalking Sam in the middle of freakin’ Armageddon.
They’re in the car, and Sam keeps glancing over his shoulder. Dean checks the rear view, knowing he’s not going to find anybody in the back seat. There’s just the blur of trees out the window, the rain-slick highway up ahead, and his silent, brooding brother beside him.
“Who is it this time?”
“Dean, it’s okay. Just let it go.”
Let it go… like that’s going to happen. Sam may see dead things, but Dean kills dead things. He’s good at it. There’s not a lot he can control anymore, but he damn well can take care of this.
“And can you tell me why I can’t just waste your friend in the back seat?”
“It’s not that simple.”
“We’re talking about ghosts, Sam. Come on… the freakin’ Ghostfacers could handle this one.”
“You’re not listening to me. They’re not ghosts. They’re more like souls. We can’t pump them full of rock salt and burn their bones. They’re not tied to their physical bodies.”
“Then what the hell are they tied to?”
Sam braces his hands on the dash and says miserably, “I think they might be tied to me.”
“This isn’t some Sixth Sense deal, is it, Sammy? Cause if you’re gonna tell me that I’m actually dead, and you’re trying to spare my feelings, I’m gonna kick your ass from here to—”
“You’re not dead.” Sam rolls his eyes. “And The Sixth Sense was an awesome movie.”
“That movie sucked, dude. They didn’t even bother to get the basics right.”
Sam shrugs and turns back to the window. Dean has no idea what his brother sees. All Dean can see is the gray-laden sky, the rain falling down.
Dean glances in the rear view again at the empty back seat, and he has to ask, “So how many are back there?”
Dean swears under his breath. “How do they all fit?”
“You do not want to know.”
From the passenger seat, Sam’s been watching the seasons change. It’s already a bitter fall, which doesn’t bode well for winter. Sam’s always cold now, which is so different than when he hunted with Ruby, his body in a state of high-pitched fever.
The dead can’t get warm, and that’s got to be rubbing off on him. Sam thinks he remembers dying at Cold Oak, the moment when the stars blinked out with glints of hope and silver. Dean sacrificed everything to give Sam this second chance at life, and look at what he’s done with it...
“You hungry?” Dean asks.
“Maybe later.” Sam’s never really hungry. “But I’ll get something if you want to.”
“Can you tell them to stop staring at me? It’s freaking me out.”
“How do you know they’re staring at you? It’s not always about you, Dean.”
“It’s always about me,” Dean says with a smile, smug bastard that he is, and Sam would shove him, if Dean weren’t driving.
Sam feels them behind him and tries not to turn around. They are watching Dean, but Dean doesn’t have to know that. Sam has no idea why these dead souls are using up their eternity to ride around in the Impala and watch the two of them put out the apocalyptic fires that Lucifer keeps setting. If they’re looking for a safe harbor, they’ve come to the wrong place.
Sam couldn’t save his brother, couldn’t save the world, and sure as hell can’t save himself.
Dean’s mouth is full of eggs and bacon, which would taste a whole lot better if Sam was eating too.
“Okay, dude. Spill.”
Sam curls his lip. “What?”
“Who are they?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Don’t lie to me. I know they’re here. I don’t think you’re really checking out that guy at the counter.”
“Will you please just eat your breakfast and stop worrying about what I’m looking at?”
“Tell me who you see.”
“Trust me. You don’t want to know.”
Dean leans forward across the table until he’s almost in Sam’s face. “Tell me.”
Sam glares, the twitch in his jaw giving away the fact that he’s getting pissed. He crosses his arms against his chest. “You really want to know? Okay, I’ll tell you. Next to the guy reading the paper at the counter…it’s Ruby. I see Ruby.”
It’s all Dean can do to keep himself from upending the entire table. He gropes for the .45 in his waistband and wishes like hell it was loaded with salt. His hand is shaking when he pulls it out.
“And when were you planning to let me in on this? Wasn’t that our deal? No more fucking secrets?”
“Put that away, and keep your voice down. She’ll hear you. I swear this is why I didn’t tell you in the first place.”
“She’ll hear me? What the hell do I care if she hears me, Sam?”
“Dean, I still can’t tell if it’s Ruby or the girl she was before…before Ruby took her body. She might be innocent in all this, and I don’t want to scare her.”
“Is she dangerous? Is she threatening you?”
“No, she’s not threatening me. None of them are. They’re not vengeful. They’re just – there. They’re sort of waiting.”
“Waiting for what?”
“Dean-” Sam lets his voice trail off.
Dean wants to kill something. He wants to baptize the room with salt. Dean wants to tattoo sigils over his brother’s stupid, emo heart. “Waiting for what?”
“I don’t know. I really don’t.”
“How long has she been haunting you, Sam?”
“But this isn’t the first time you’ve seen her.”
“No. Not the first time.”
“Does she talk to you? What does she want?”
Sam shakes his head and looks away, but Dean sees what he’s trying to hide. “She’s sad. I don’t know what she wants. She’s just sad and lost, and I don’t know how to make it better.”
A routine salt and burn would make it better. Dean would be more than happy to help with that.
“Sam, I can’t do anything to protect you, if I don’t know what we’re up against.”
Let Sam dare to say he doesn’t need protecting...
“Okay, look. I’ll tell you some, but not all of it. Not now. You’ve got to trust me.”
It’s not really okay, but Dean finds himself nodding. He’ll take what he can get.
“At first, all I could see was how they died. But then after they’d been around for a while, I found out more. Sometimes they talk to me in my dreams, and sometimes, I just know things…they’re stuck. It’s like they’re stuck waiting.”
Dean forces himself to stay calm, trying to keep his eyes off the counter where Ruby is sitting. “So what happened to them? How did they die?”
Sam was always trying to take in strays as a kid, even though Dad always made him put them back. He hasn’t changed a bit. Sam’s got a sad story to tell about each and every one of the stray souls he’s taken in. There’s too many for Dean to keep track of, but a few stand out.
There’s the car accident guy who is covered in blood. Sam says that half of his face looks like hamburger, but the poor bastard’s still worried about making his morning meeting. Whenever Sam’s running late, the guy starts stressing out all over again.
Coma girl might still be alive. Sam can’t tell because she’s so pale, but the catheter from the IV is still attached to her arm. She’s not happy. Even though she signed a living will, her parents overrode it because they can’t let her go. But she doesn’t want to stay hooked up to machines forever, so it’s like having the worst of two worlds.
Famine guy starved to death in some hellhole province and is pissed at the world for not doing more to stop it. He mostly shows up when Sam’s eating, which might be the reason why Sam’s appetite isn’t what it used to be. Sam doesn’t describe him; he doesn’t need to. They both know what hunger looks like.
“Why you?” Dean can’t get his head around this. “They’ve got to want something.”
“I don’t know, Dean.”
Dean shovels the rest of his food in his mouth, chewing it viciously and glaring at threats he can’t see. He’s sick of this crap. Let the ghosts come after him for a change.
Sam stares moodily at the empty tables around the diner. He doesn’t eat.
Sam thinks of this as a reckoning. He’s trying to shoulder it on his own, but it’s hard not having anyone to talk to. Other than Dean, Sam’s pretty much on his own.
Except for Chuck. For whatever reason, Chuck doesn’t mind hanging out, even if Sam is responsible for the world’s imminent destruction. Chuck knows pretty much everything about him – the bad, the worse, and the unforgivable - but he never makes Sam feel like he’s damned for it. Like Sam, he never asked for the life handed to him, but there’s not much you can do once you’re destined for greater things.
They make for a sorry pair - Lucifer’s tool and the prophet of the Lord getting drunk together on a Saturday night. They’re crashed out on Chuck’s couch, the only piece of furniture in the house that survived the archangel’s wrath.
Sam’s already had too much, and Chuck was wasted before Sam even got there. He’s been sliding back into bad habits, drinking when he doesn’t want to think. Sam has to hang on to something to keep himself from falling off the world.
“Shouldn’t you tell Dean who’s haunting you?” Chuck asks mildly, gesturing around at the empty room. Chuck only sees the dead in his waking visions, which he says is more than enough. The bleeding ones give him the creeps.
Sam shakes his head. “I can’t…I just can’t do that to him.”
Chuck pours more scotch into Sam’s dixie cup. “Sooner or later he’s going to find out the truth.”
The warmth of the alcohol doesn’t chase away Sam’s sudden spike of panic. “Have you seen something? Is Dean going to find out?”
Chuck looks thoughtful and nods. “Castiel told him this afternoon, while you were gone. Dean’s not taking it very well.”
“Shit!” Sam reaches for the bottle.
“Dean’s going to want to talk,” Chuck says.
Yeah. Sam has no doubt that Dean’s going to want to…talk.
“I didn’t want him to find out this way. Did…did Castiel say why? Does he know why this is happening to me?”
“Castiel thinks it’s the demon blood, Sam.”
It’s what he’d been thinking. The dead have to be tied to something corporeal – that’s the way it works. There’s always something left behind. Sam’s very much aware that there’s something left in him that doesn’t belong on this earth at all.
“They need you, Sam.”
“Need me for what?”
There’s nothing Sam can do for them. He’s lost himself. He would have to burn from the inside out to atone for what he’s done. It occurs to him that maybe that would be a start.
“No, self-immolation is a terrible idea,” Chuck says firmly. “The demon blood might be why you can see them, but it’s not what’s keeping them here.”
“Then what is?”
“It’s your guilt. Yours and Dean’s. You’re going to have to forgive yourself someday.”
“That doesn’t make sense. Zachariah said –”
Chuck lets out a disgusted groan. “Zachariah isn’t exactly known for his insight. He’s trying to maneuver us in some cosmic chess game, but I think he needs both of us to win. He doesn’t know everything, Sam. That’s why he keeps hounding me, asking what I see.”
Chuck is starting to crash, and Sam can feel his own weariness pressing in. Dean knows…it’s what he’s been afraid of all this time. Yet in some way, it’s a relief to have it out of his hands. It was only a matter of time before Dean found out who had followed him out of hell.
It turns out that Cas has got an eternity’s worth of favors owed him, and finally somebody comes through. Of course he wants to meet in the middle of nowhere. Somehow Castiel has found one of the only state parks not overrun by flesh-eating termites, which is Dean’s least favorite plague by far.
Castiel can’t get enough of nature. He’s like a kid in a candy shop – he just can’t stop pointing everything out. He insists on naming everything, from trees to flowers to chipmunk mating rituals. It bores the hell out of Dean, but Cas has saved them a couple times over, which is reason enough to put up with the angelic rendition of National Geographic.
But Cas is waxing rhapsodic about another blue-tipped-whatever, and Dean’s patience is wearing thin.
So Dean says, “Look, Cas, I get it. It’s an awesome bird, and we’re very blessed to see it. But damnit, I need to know what’s going on with Sam.”
Castiel turns from the bird and stares at Dean with a slight frown. “It’s complicated. Your brother has powers that we don’t understand.”
Dean feels his impatience turn into something more dangerous. “You guys are the ones who flipped Sam’s switch, and now you’re saying you don’t know what it does?”
“That’s correct. The demon blood connects Sam to the waking dead in ways that were not anticipated.”
“Great. That’s just terrific. So what now? These ghosts haunt Sam for the rest of his life? Or only until they drive him out of his mind? Is this another one of your freakin’ logical consequences you keep talking about? And why the hell is he still seeing Ruby?”
“Her soul is bound up with Sam’s.”
“She has no soul! I wasted her. She’s gone.”
“Souls are eternal, Dean. They have to go somewhere.”
“Does Sam know?”
“He has been meeting with the prophet. I believe he may know some of it.”
“Well, why won’t he tell me? It’s not like I don’t know everything about Ruby already…”
“That’s not what Sam is hiding, Dean.”
“Damnit Cas. I’m sick of all this indirect crap. Just tell me what’s going on with my brother.”
Dean waits. Somehow he knows that Castiel really isn’t all that mesmerized by a couple squirrels racing through the trees. Cas really doesn’t want to tell him what’s going on, and Dean really isn’t sure he wants to know.
Castiel says quietly, “There are others tied to Sam. Multitudes.”
“How the hell can multitudes be tied to Sam? How many people did he screw-over?”
“They’re not just bound to Sam. Many of them are bound to you, Dean.”
“I - I don’t understand.”
Castiel looks him in the eye and says, “Sam is haunted by the souls of those you tortured. They were bound up with you when I pulled you from the pit.”
The sky is falling. Dean might be crushed, but he doesn’t even care. He can’t breathe…
For so long, he’s been trying to forget, trying not to think about them because there are no words, no excuse for what he’s done to all those tormented souls who were once people. All his life, he’s tried to do the right thing. He’s tried to fight evil, and even though he’s not perfect, at least he never gave up.
But Hell taught Dean this - pushed hard enough, he’s the worst of men. Pushed hard enough, he’s a monster.
“Why are they following Sam?” Dean wipes furiously at his eyes.
“I don’t know,” Castiel says quietly. “There’s no precedent. You’re the first of your kind and so is Sam. We only know that Sam can see things that aren’t meant to be seen by humans.”
“My brother is not a demon!”
“No. He’s not. But it’s a part of him. No good can come from denying who Sam is. I would think you should have learned that by now, Dean.”
“Damnit, I’m so sick and tired of this crap. What would happen if Sam and I just opted out of your little apocalypse. Let the world go to hell? What would you do then?”
“You’re not angry at me. Tell me what’s bothering you.”
“What’s bothering me? Damnit, Cas, you’ve got a lot to learn. All right, I’ll tell you this. Zachariah says Sam’s an abomination. I’ve screwed up as much as Sam…if Zachariah is right, why does he still want to use me? How can there be any hope for either of us? I can’t take any of it back.”
There’s a slightly bemused look on Castiel’s face. “Zachariah never did understand grace. Neither did Lucifer. It’s something they always had in common, even though they refused to admit it.”
“I don’t understand it either.”
“It’s what the dead are waiting for. They need you to understand.”
“No. For forgiveness.”
That makes no sense. Castiel must have gotten his information wrong. “Why do they need me to forgive them? I’m the one who picked up that knife.”
“You don’t understand. They’re waiting for you to forgive yourself. It’s what keeps them here – their transgressions are living vicariously through you.”
It’s absurd. Dean doesn’t want to listen. “Why should I deserve forgiveness? Do you know what I did?”
“Yes, I do. And I know what Sam has done. But you’ve both been given a second chance for a reason. All this guilt the two of you are hanging onto has to go somewhere. You’re going to have to let it go. Only then, can these souls move on.”
Dean closes his eyes, feels the breeze on his face. It carries a hint of sulfur. Dean’s supposed to save this world from a brutal end, but he’s not even sure he can save Sam. He’s even less sure he can save himself.
He remembers a question that Cas asked him once, and he echoes it now with real desperation. “What would you have me do?”
Castiel tells him quietly, “Death is easy…it’s life that’s hard. You said it yourself that you would take the pain and the guilt… that you’d take Sam as is. You’re no coward. Dean. I have no doubt that you will justify my complete faith in you.”
“We need to talk.”
That’s always been Sam’s line, but when Dean sits down next to him on the bed, he’s so damn serious that Sam can’t bring himself to make a joke about it.
The light is jaundiced in the crappy motel room, and Sam’s as hung over as hell, but he doesn’t want Dean to know that he got wasted with Chuck. Dean worries enough as it is.
Word must have somehow gotten out that something big was going to happen because the gang’s all here. Some of them are even crowded into the bathroom, and there’s hardly enough room for all of them. It should be weirder than it is, seeing them all together in one room, but Sam’s getting used to having a built-in audience.
“Yeah, I need to talk to you too... “
“Are they here? Your dead fan club – are they listening?”
“They’re always listening. Dean, there’s something I need you to know.”
“I know it. Cas told me who they are.”
Even though Chuck prophesied this was going to happen, Sam was still hoping he’d be able to tell Dean first. He didn’t want his brother to hear it from someone else. He’s about to say he’s sorry, but Dean cuts in.
“I know why you didn’t tell me. I get it, okay? And I’m trying, I really am. But I’m not ready yet. I just can’t.... I’m sorry, Sammy. I just can’t do it. Not yet.”
Sam bites his lip and looks down at his lap. “I’m not ready either.”
Together, they sit for a while. It reminds Sam of the way it used to. They’ve never needed to fill the empty space with words. After Dean came back from hell, everything changed. They kept their secrets with silence like an open wound between them. For the first time since Dean returned, Sam doesn’t find it painful to leave unnecessary words unspoken.
“Hey.” Dean punches his arm, hard enough to hurt, but when Sam looks up, Dean’s smiling. “We’re gonna get over this. Nobody ever said life was going to be easy.”
“Damn straight,” Sam says, trying out a smile, and it’s all kind of anticlimactic, what he’s been worrying about coming to pass.
“It’s just gonna take time.”
Unlike the dead, he and Dean don’t have all the time in the world. But they’ve got to get this right. They’ve been screwing up the things that matter for too long. Feeling like a kid, Sam scoots a little closer to his brother.
Dean elbows him in the ribs but not hard enough to drive him away. “So I guess we live with your ghosts a little longer…until we’re ready. You sure they’re not going to kill us in our sleep? We could try something – salt, an exorcism, hell I don’t know.”
Sam scans the faces that blur into the paisley walls of the motel room. Ruby’s one of them. He’s pretty sure it’s not his Ruby. He’s never met the girl whose body Ruby commandeered but Sam wishes he knew her name. For the first time, Sam sees the nurse, Cindy McKellon, the one he killed for her blood. He’s a murderer, and he would give his life to take it back, but that’s not enough. It’s never going to be enough, but maybe that’s the point. She watches him, and he watches her. After a while, her face fades, and Sam’s able to look back at his brother.
“They’re not going to kill us. They’re just waiting.”
Dean clears his throat. “So, are any of them here for me?”
“Some,” Sam says.
Actually, a lot of them are here for Dean. But there’s one in the back who stands out from the rest. Sam’s not sure how he knows, but he’s pretty sure this is the first one Dean put on the rack. Yet, the spirit of this man doesn’t seem angry. If anything, he seems kind of grateful, which is something that only lately has been making any sense.
It’s not like a lot of innocent people end up in the pit in the first place, and even fewer find their way out. Maybe Dean was their get-out-hell-free card. Maybe the point is that they’re all in this mess together, humanity in all its fucked-up glory. Maybe, there’ll come a time when he’s ready to forgive himself for what he’s done.
But right now, Lucifer’s roaming the earth, the apocalypse is nigh, and Sam’s stomach is starting to growl.
Dean grins, cuffing Sam not so gently upside the head.
“You know dumbass, there’s a diner down the block. You can bring your friends with us. I know they can’t eat, but what the hell, they can live victoriously through us. And a cheeseburger’s gotta be good for the soul no matter how you look at it.”
Dean’s up and out the door before Sam has a chance to say anything. But a cheeseburger actually sounds pretty awesome, even if he’d never give Dean the satisfaction of saying it out loud. Sam turns off the light and heads for the door. For once, he doesn’t look back to see if anyone’s following.
Sam’s pretty sure that Dean meant that the dead can live vicariously, but he’s not in the mood to get legalistic.
Vicariously, victoriously… it’s all the same in the end. Sam’s thinking the dead won’t hold it against them.