Sam comes back coughing and sputtering, which hurts so bad his entire body goes rigid, and he thinks somebody must be doing it to him, somebody has to be inflicting this pain; there's no way it could possibly be incidental. It is too artful to be a natural pain. But if he holds his breath, the pain abates, and Sam is welcomed into new fits of sensation, the chill of the water, the sting of it in his eyes, at his side. A small wave sweeps over him, and he dyes the froth pink.
If he opens his eyes, he's pretty sure all they're going to do is cry, so he doesn't bother. But he reaches out for something to ground him--he's not picky--and he finds Dean's arm. The blood smells like him and the moan Sam's touch inspires sounds like him, and Sam pulls him closer. His choice is between unappealing and less appealing grotesques.
Everything he touches screams at him, like his hands have the power to wean more from what's around him than his mind can handle. He's tapped out and overloaded. But the tactile feeling of being that close to Dean is electrifying, and Sam cannot let go. They beach at the strandline, their bodies intermingled with steaming pile of what was once whale, and was once shark. There's blood and tissue and fat and fish everywhere. A tremendous smell. His eyes slide open a crack and the world spirals toward him in shades of white and black, like Hell.
And they are not alone.
This isn't some secluded beach; they're at the marina. The water's red and the smell is redder, there are boats like dominoes all down the pier. They're lying in the loading zone and there are people. There are people walking past. The people, they don't stop. They don't even seem to register the carnage. Like he and Dean and all their blood are too commonplace, too expected, to merit pause.
It's herring season, after all. It'd be silly to get caught up in someone else's destruction.
This, more than anything, makes Sam feel like they've lost. Because this is--they are--the kind of thing that deserves to be left to the dark. But it's morning, and the city is awake, and Crowley's Canada doesn't give a damn. That's it's problem. There's no attack, or aggression; they just don't give a good goddamn. They don't know how, or they're hoping they won't have to, or maybe they're just afraid what might happen, or what they might have to admit, if they do. The people on the pier look straight ahead and Sam and Dean do not exist to them.
He's not sure whether he should laugh or cry.
"Dean," Sam manages instead. He still has a hand fastened to Dean's elbow. He feels rigid and creaking and he's not sure what the point of bones is; they're too solid and too breakable. If he tries to shout he just swallows blood and water, and his ribs grind sharply. "Dean, we gotta go--"
"They carried salmon on their heads," gurgles Dean. He drinks in water and he doesn't seem to care. All the whales were just carrying salmon on their heads, he says. So he carried a salmon on his head, too. There was a song, and they followed it, and it led to something bright and round, like a mirror.
"Yes," says Sam. Because that's the door--that's the door Gadreel remembers, too. That's the picture in Sam's head, that's what they've been looking for all this time. If he could just hold onto this. If he could get Dean to hold onto this. But it’s hard to keep up his litanies and mantras when inside his own head all he can hear is the rush of blood, and blood, and more blood. The scent of everything around them. His own hunger.
Sam's body can't decide whether he's lightheaded, bloodless, or wired; he knows he's hurting, probably dying, and still the only thing that really seems to matter is the residual taste of demon blood at the back of his throat. He spits red.
He opens his eyes. The twilight is almost too bright, compared to what was under the waves. His prune fingers are blue and luminous, blurry in front of him. Dean is a still, silent mass at the other end of his touch.
"Dean," he croaks.
But no, Sam realizes. No, that's not how this ends, is it.
Sam tries to pitch himself like a tent, on all fours. His arms shake under his own weight but he manages a sitting position. He curls over himself and tries to apply pressure to his side. He's bleeding, he thinks. Oh well.
With this free arm, he reaches out for Dean again.
Their bits and pieces coalesce around him, hunks of raw material drawn in by some deep, inescapable pull. Dean's skin feels blubbery, and he's dark, losing his color and his angles, delimited appendages, to the transformation. He can't keep his own shape anymore (his real shape, Dean's real shape, Sam's brother's shape). He's taking from the sea and he's becoming the sea, and when he's whole he will be that whale again.
If Sam stays, Dean will take him, too. Like all their viscera and organic clutter, and all the cells free-floating in the sea, all those paleolithic stamps and reminders, Dean will take him if Sam lets him. Dean will swallow him whole. Sam has to leave.
"Dean," he says again, because he wants last words. He wants to feel his brother's arms around him. He wants their chance to make things right.
He's not going to get it.
Instead, Sam loses his brother. And like he's been waiting to do all weekend, Sam feels failure--he feels it like it's the only thing he's ever done in his life. When he tries to stand his knees buckle under him, and they hit the concrete driveway under the sand, unforgiving, with a jolt that Sam feels almost exclusively in his ribs. He's lost more blood than he thought, then.
If he can't have Dean, at the very least he wants to watch him go. He needs to see for sure that yes, Dean can be that whale again, he can swim towards that bright song, or mirror, or door, or whatever it is to him. Because Sam wants a body, at the very least he wants to be able to burn Dean's body, but Dean's not dying, is he. He's just gone, because there are more ways than death to lose someone.
Sam crawls up and away from Dean and the strandline and he doesn't look back.
It's where Crowley finds him still, when he trots down from the walkway--he's the only thing who comes down to investigate; it's herring season, it's herring season--and drops a black, monogrammed towel over his head.
"God invented shame milennia ago. Don't tell me it hasn't caught on in your circles," he says.
Sam pulls the towel down around his waist. He uses it mostly to soak up blood.
Crowley drops Sam's jacket in front of him and says, "I've brought around your car."
He jangles the keys.
Sam can't even bring himself to register his nakedness, or openness. Crowley's infection into his privacy and personal effects.
"We need to go," Sam scrapes out. "Van Nuys. Now."
Crowley can't conceal his surprise; and if he can't do that, how much control can he have, really, Sam thinks bitterly. How much a king can he be. Even his Canada knows better than that.
"You're leaving Dean? Seriously?"
"We've got work to do."
Between and within his lapses in consciousness, Sam loses his brother over and over again. Sometimes the world is colorful, but mostly it's not. And try as he might, it's never Dean's voice Sam conjures right, or even his face. It's not the way his knee jogs when he's driving and thinking too much, or the contents of his pockets, or the things he's said, or even what he's done--anything he's ever done--that falls through his head. He can think about all of these things, but his imagination, or his attention span, can't hold them, and they're only reiterated fragments of stock footage and still frames, punctuated by ungoverned fear and fury and gut-wrenching, embarrassing, confusion. What Sam feels most is the pulse of Dean through the water; Dean expanded to twelve tons and twenty feet, oil black and nothing but screaming, wordless, illegible sound. Dean's scars spread wide and the spray of the ocean as he leaps away. The gluey, underwater sound of his descent and his smell shrinking and attenuating away from him.
It's like he's not even allowed to remember Dean as he'd like. When Sam closes his eyes, the image of Dean's whale cannot be shaken.
The next time Sam comes to, the mile markers mark miles again, and gas advertises by the gallon.
Crowley is topping them off and fiddling with the radio (had it been on before?). Dean's wallet is eviscerated in the front seat.
He's not even here anymore and he's still paying for fucking gas.
"Do you boys have a Queen cassette?"
No, Sam doesn't. He's still staring at the blurry contents of Dean's wallet. They're always paying for something. But Sam realizes he still doesn't want Crowley fucking touching anything.
He still doesn't want to give in to all this. He doesn't want Crowley at the wheel and he doesn't want to check out, slip under. He doesn't want to let this get away from him. He doesn't want to be alone, but he does, very badly, want to be. He didn't let Dean go to just get swallowed anyway.
Crowley must recognize Sam's smoldering in the back seat, because he turns around. Sam doesn't twitch. He's not sure what Crowley's gained from all this--the death of Abaddon notwithstanding, and the return of the Blade, or Dean's jaw, or Dean, or whatever this weapon was supposed to be, to the depths of the ocean--but Crowley should know that this doesn't mean he's won. He has not sat back and let his plans unfold, violent and flawless, and won.
"Van Nuys," Sam rasps.
Sam feels under the seat for one of their first aid kits. The effort leaves him lightheaded, and he stumbles into a puddle of Gadreel somewhere below consciousness. He loves the sea, and it's calling him home.
And Sam has every reason and no reason to believe that the key is Gadreel's bright mirror, under the waves. But if it's home, then it's Heaven--after all, they all came from the sea. And if he and Dean are looking for a fight to end all fights, that's where it's going to be. If that's what Dean's headed for, Sam just needs to find a way to meet him there--and he knows exactly who he needs to ask.
Sam has no proof that Gadreel is in Van Nuys. He has no proof that Cas is.
He has no proof that Dean--
He has no real proof of Dean, period.
But if there's something Cain gave Abel, it was the door to Heaven. If there's anything Gadreel can know how to love on earth, it's the door to Heaven. And if Dean can hear its song, then the Dean Sam knows will find it. And it will be his humanity that grants him passage.
There are no whales in Heaven; no monsters, and no demons.
He and Dean will see this through. Of that, Sam's absolutely certain. Even if they tear each other's throats out in the process, or can't stand to speak another single word to one another. Backs turned against the other, or hearts closed, they will see this through. If they have to tear across universes alone, driving hard and fast and wildly away from one another, they will see this through.
And when they come out on the other side, Sam thinks, they'll finally see each other face to face. Whatever that face is, and whatever words it holds, they'll see each other.
Of this, Sam has no proof but furious belief. He has no room for emptiness and no time for calm apathy.
He's ready to fight.
When Crowley leaves to pay their gas tab, Sam reclaims the Impala. Sam can't deal with Crowley right now; not without Dean, or the Blade, or some other better plan. But he can drive to Van Nuys. He can show Crowley what it feels like to be betrayed and left behind.
Sam would never have made it to Van Nuys; at least, not breathing. This is one of the first things Cas says to him, after he heals Sam's wounds and misreads his simmering frustration.
"I'm sorry," Gadreel adds, "If you feel like this has cheapened your efforts."
Because Sam was right; Cas and Gadreel are indeed riding together now, though Sam hasn't yet been able to parse the circumstances of the arrangement. He skates a hand over his torso. There's a smooth scar on his side (and Sam's not sure if it's something Cas let him keep, or something Cas could not heal--Dean had the Mark of Cain, after all). His ribs are no longer tender.
Sam doesn't feel cheapened, just annoyed. Because he nods at Cas, and Cas nods back, distracted--his body language is questing, as though he has many things to say but only half as many people as he expected to say them to.
"Sam, you remember Gadreel," Cas says, which is less an introduction than a placeholder. It's some line Cas learned from TV, a meaningless nicety he doesn't quite believe in. He's still looking around for Dean.
"What are you doing in Oregon, Cas?" Sam answers.
"Your ribs," says Cas. "We followed you. It seemed... like a cry for help."
Sam would like to ask him what the hundreds of texts before had been, what the fuck he thought the disaster in his inbox had been. A part of him still can't believe that this is what it's all come down to, this is what he's left to do, and those were so many times he failed, and Dean failed, and Cas failed to turn this around so damn long ago. Would it have killed you to have picked up the phone? Sam thinks. Or listened? Or fucking said anything?
(But how many times has Sam's throat closed around a feeling or admission he couldn't speak? There are words that can kill on exit.)
If Sam lets himself be angry at Cas, then he's angry at himself, and--still, and unavoidably--fucking angry at Dean, too. Right now, he is only interested in furious belief.
"Where's Dean?" Cas asks finally, brow furrowed. "I called. You both went to voice mail."
Sam ignores him. "I need to get into Heaven. If you're working together, I assume that was the point."
Gadreel cocks his head, and Sam feels an incredible sense of deja vu. Simultaneously, he feels the motion in his own body, and remembers it in Cas. It's an angelic comportment Cas had long since abandoned.
"So you'd finish what you started?" Gadreel asks. He thinks Sam means to die. He remembers who Sam was and thinks that's who he is, which is a common mistake.
Castiel's attention flicks to Gadreel, and it's clear that's not what he's pulled from this meeting at all. Like the idea is so inconceivable he's not sure why Gadreel even suggested that might be the case. Castiel's faith makes Sam feel guilty--about keeping him at distance, about refusing to explain--but the pure faith Cas has in him, that's wrong too.
Sam is not that good, and not that strong; and overestimation can be just as dangerous as mistrust. Even now, in the seat of searing, incredible focus, he's only a turn away from total collapse. He's not as whole as he thinks he is--if he's learning anything this month, it's that. But he is not for someone or something else to mould. And this will not be his nightmare.
"Sam," Cas says softly. He's still confused, though that's treading toward something more desperately sad than curious. And Sam feels worse, because he knows that he's doing to Cas right now what he and Dean have been doing to each other for years. He's come this far, and he still can't kick the habit of silence and omission. And Sam knows, so clearly and so absolutely, that he's going to use Cas, and keep him in the dark, and then, eventually, abandon him. Go it alone, and keep him from getting involved. For Cas's own safety. For Sam's.
"Sam, what makes you think--"
"I'm going to kill God," Sam says. He's going to use Cas--and Gadreel; did that make this vengeance?--and then he's going to leave him. He can't shake the pattern.
But killing God, or Metatron, or whatever name the Devil's taken this time--that's not his endgame, is it, Sam thinks. Metatron is just an intermediary. He's not what Sam's really up against, and it's not what Sam is fighting, but what he's fighting for.
This is now it ends: He and Dean are going to win.
They're going to shout and and rage and fight and sometimes, even, listen; they'll joke and laugh and lie and then apologize; and they will listen, and they will listen. They'll scream things they don't mean and whisper things they do, except when they mix them up and get it the other way around. They'll fill confused, hurt spaces. They will open up hidden passages. And probably, they'll fill themselves with more than they can handle. They will spill over. They will empty accidentally. And then they'll fill again, and explode, and start the whole game over again. 60/40 it's going to feel like shit the whole way down, maybe always; but in the end, they win.
They will love as long and as loudly as possible.
"Cas," he says, "Come with us."
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