Title: Hell Shall Not Wash Us Away
Disclaimer: I don’t own the boys. But I sure like messing them up…
Characters: Sam, Dean, Castiel
Rating: PG-13 (for language)
Word count: ~2750
Beta Thanks:Yay ! Hugs her. She valiantly slaughtered hordes of grammar fail. What remains is still my fault.
Summary: The problem with permanent damage to the soul is that death does nothing to fix it. The first thing Sam sees when he gets to Heaven is Dean. The second is the wall...
Author Note #1: Now with TIMESTAMPS: The Call. and Such People Perish.
Author Note #2: This is only my second comment!meme fic, and way too fun. ’s lovely, complete prompt (containing fic spoilers) is here at:
Sam has been mildly afraid of death since they both visited Heaven. It’s one thing to hope for a nice afterlife. It’s quite another know that there are two guaranteed destinations and both of them have ripped you apart.
Dean goes almost instantly—heart attack, probably—on his (their) back porch the day he comes back from Ben’s oldest daughter’s high school graduation. Sam closes his eyes, burns, salts, and buries his ashes in the backyard, and waits a week to call anyone. They don’t need to know, it’s not like it will matter to Dean, and Sam needs time to fight down the urge to make a deal, to get his brother back any way he can. They’ve had time, good time, but old habits die hard and slow, if they died at all. Kind of like Winchesters. Except not.
Sam goes six months later, helping out two younger hunters—seems like everyone’s younger than him, now—take down a chimera. Didn’t even know there were chimera in northern New York, but one second he’s shoving a lead-topped broom handle down the bastard’s throat, and the next he’s elsewhere.
The first thing he sees is Dean.
He looks young, healthy and un-tired as he hasn’t in years. He also looks suspicious, staring down at Sam crouching in the calf-high grass, and for one stomach-dropping moment Sam thinks that this is a nightmare flashback to the last time Dean was gone and Sam did everything wrong. Slept with, drank down, and trusted the wrong people so hard because, with his brother gone, that was all he had.
“You didn’t off yourself, did you?” Dean says.
Sam shakes he head. “Chimera.”
Dean’s face breaks into the biggest grin Sam’s seen since he lit the obnoxious Viagra salesman’s truck on fire, and he pulls Sam to his feet. “Then what the hell took you so long! I’ve been waiting for damn near,” Dean checks a watch that doesn’t exist, “five minutes.” He can’t stop grinning.
And then Sam is locked in his brother’s arms, face buried in his neck, and it’s like every fucking time they came back to each other after being dead. But this time they’re dead, no next step, no options. This reunion is forever, and that feels damn good.
The second thing he sees is the wall. It’s twice his height and black stone, like unevenly-laid matte obsidian. The mortar—if that’s what it is—seeps around the rough, jagged edges like every stone covers up a wound.
“What the fuck is that,” Sam breathes when, together, they pull out of the hug.
Dean glances back, and his expression darkens. “A wall, I’m guessing. Wasn’t here before you showed up.” His mouth quirks. “Don’t scratch it.”
“Why would I ever want to touch that?”
Their house is a hybrid of every home they ever valued, and it’s bigger on the inside. There’s a kitchen from Dean’s memories of Lawrence, and Sam’s library from Palo Alto, and one truly skeevy bathroom that feels like an in-joke neither brother will admit to. There’s a garage where Dean fixes cars—Sam wonders sometimes where the cars come from, because he would certainly have remembered that awful grape-purple Porsche—and a gravel driveway for the Impala, which sits in isolated splendor, never gets rained on and never needs to be waxed. There’s a porch, and when Castiel stops by they drink beer there and watch sunsets that seem to last for hours, talking porn, monsters, civil wars, reality TV, and anything that comes into their heads.
They can drive for miles and meet nothing and no one. Just the two of them, the highway, and the car. Or they can drive five minutes and get to the Roadhouse or Bobby’s or the Grand Canyon. Sometimes they end up in the Wyoming Devil’s Trap, or Detroit, but the streets are always empty, demons, monsters, and indifferent strangers no part of their heaven.
The first inkling they get that something might be wrong is when Dean walks out the door one day and spots something seeping out from under the wall. It looks a bit like old blood and bit like molten rock, and it crawls from beneath the black stones and around the edge of their porch before sliding back under the wall, like a semi-sentient river, or that goo from the second Ghostbusters movie.
Dean walks back inside, closes and locks the door, and then punches Sam in the shoulder. “Don’t scratch the fucking wall,” he says, smiling, but Sam can hear the worry under the words.
The second clue is when Sam wakes up and he’s not in their house, in bed next to his brother. He’s in a gray tenement with black mold on the walls, and he can taste blood in his mouth and hear Ruby showering beneath the rust-rot spray of old lead piping.
“Dean?” he says, trying to hold down the first edge of panic. This can’t be real. This can’t be happening again.
The edges of the tenement begin to dissolve the second he can clearly see them, but beyond those broken edges, he can hear screams and see the ruddy flicker of fire and he’s cold, so fucking cold and so utterly alone.
“Dean!” he gasps, and then there’s a hand on his shoulder, his big brother pulling him up, and the world snaps into place again: the little house, the sunshine, the Impala in the yard.
But the birds aren’t singing, and there’s a certain red glow to the morning that there hasn’t been in all the time—years, decades, minutes, not-fucking-long-enough-with-you—that’s he’s been in heaven.
He grips Dean’s arm like he can keep his brother if he just holds on hard enough, even though that has never really worked.
“Were you there?” he asks. “Fuck, Dean, did you—“
Dean’s eyes are hard, but not angry at Sam. “Weird shit went down. You were here but not, and the house started…it was fucking weird, Sammy.”
“You weren’t there.” It’s the worst thing. The most horrible thing. And it’s happening all over again.
“I’m here now, Sam, and I’m not gonna let you go anywhere.”
Sam has three more attacks before Cas shows up. For the first, he remembers being soulless, walking around with the essence of himself absent, simply gone. The second is like the headaches he used to have before visions—but worse, he can see the world warping from the force of his pain, knows that he’s not hallucinating the walls burning in their little house, the Impala dug sideways into the earth as through crushed by a giant hand, and Dean fighting his way to Sam’s side, the only thing not thrown twenty feet by the force of the pain, memory, screaming seeping through.
The third is the worst because it’s black. Nothing but black. The world, the heaven that they have built is just gone, and Sam feels like that spider dangled over the pit, but this thread will snap, and when he hits he will break into pieces and there will be nothing but pain. Only Dean’s hand gripping his so tightly it hurts in a basic, physical way keeps him from breaking those threads.
Afterward, Sam stares at the ceiling and gasps like he can only get enough air if he feels the pain of his lungs expanding, and Dean swears under his breath.
“We’re dead and in Heaven and the universe is still fucking with us,” Dean says. “That’s just our luck. Winchesters: Making bad situations worse since 1973”
“Yeah,” Sam agrees. “Gotta stick with what you know, I guess.”
Dean relaxes, marginally, and grins. “Not the first time we’ve ended up in a handbasket.” He glances at the wall. “Though I do wish we had a better idea of where we’re going this time.”
When Castiel arrives, they are slowly picking their way through the possessions it took them a lifetime to accumulate in memory and the safety of Heaven to keep. Dean’s records, Sam’s books their stupid FBI-impersonation suits tangled together like tragic lovers, ripped apart by whatever the fuck was happening in Sam’s head, which is half their shared world.
“I’m sorry” are the first words out of Cas’s mouth, and Sam feels his stomach drop.
Dean holds up a broken AC/DC record. “I’m sorry, too. You know how long it’s going to take me to make up this stuff again?” He tries to smile, but they both know Cas isn’t talking about the superficial damage to their little heaven.
“It’s the wall,” Castiel says. “It’s breaking.”
Like they couldn’t tell that. Like they hadn’t both been sneaking looks at the crumpling black stones that seem to be sinking into the ground, shifting position every day until their already uncertain balance is as tenuous as a pile of dominoes. Once the stones looked like obsidian blocks, but they’re more like sheets of slate now, and the bile-green mortar oozing between the edges flickers with fire.
“No shit, Sherlock,” Dean says. “What can we do?”
Castiel spreads his arms. “We can’t."
Dean glares. "What the fuck do you mean, we can't? Cas, we've saved the world a couple times, I think we can handle a little shakin'."
Cas won’t look Sam in the eye, “It’s not just affecting you. Sam's instability is spreading.”
Sam feels cold. “Spreading how?”
“Fuck that,” Dean says, stepping between Sam and the angel. “Maybe it’s me, you ever thought of that? I’ve got enough damned memories that I’m sure I could raise a little Hell up here, shake things up. Do you hear me, Cas?”
“I hear you, Dean.” But Cas ignores him, forcing himself to look up at Sam. “Places that are important to the two of you are worst affected. The Roadhouse is cracking, there’s a river of cockroaches outside of Bobby Singer’s. But the instability of the Cage is reaching beyond that. There have been heaven-quakes as far away as the Middle Ages and…I’m sorry. Hell-memories are one thing—and bad enough, Dean, there are souls that won’t come anywhere near your home—but the structure of Heaven cannot survive exposure to the Cage.”
Sam licks his lips. “Do I have to go back? What are…what are my options?” He tries to keep his voice even, but the snapshot memories he’s been experiencing lately have done more to terrify him than death ever did.
“Fuck that,” Dean snaps, but Cas is already shaking his head.
“Not the true Cage. But your memories of it are starting to shape this world and if that continues…Heaven would not survive. Other souls would not survive. Heaven would become worse than Hell, and I cannot allow that.”
Sam tries to laugh, but it doesn’t work. “So, what? Reincarnation? Hell proper?” The Cage terrifies him, but the thought of leaving this place, leaving the precarious mirage of peace they’ve built here—leaving Dean—puts him close to panicking. Another lifetime alone. Another eternity alone. He was lucky not to end the world in the six months between their death, and did the first time Dean died.
“I can…break you off from the rest of Heaven. It wouldn’t be Hell, but shaped by your memories…” Cas stops, looks down. “It’s not a very good choice, but it’s the best I have.”
Sam can tell that it hurts Cas to say that, hurts him to give up what the Winchesters have given him as well. And that knowledge—this is not gods and angels shafting them again, this is a friend doing what he has to do, doing what Sam would want him to do to keep the world safe—helps him force a smile onto his face.
“Yeah. I understand.” Sam takes a breath. “So, when does it have to go down?”
“Sooner is better. Now, if…I came to do it now, but I could wait.” Cas glances at the blood from the wall lapping at the porch and their jury-rigged sandbags. “But not long.”
“No, do it.” Sam doesn’t think there are any more options. He doesn’t think waiting will present any more possibilities, just give time for the panic and terror to eat their way through his will. Give him time to think about leaving his brother again, for the last time. Existence could never get better than this, but Winchesters are used to life getting worse.
Nobody sane would walk into the hell that waits beyond the wall. And Sam won’t ask Dean to.
But Dean doesn’t give him the opportunity to ask, just steps up and throws an arm over his shoulder. “Sam’s right. Better do it fast, Cas. Give our regards to Bobby and the gang, yeah?”
“Dean, you don’t—“
“Yes I do, Sam.” Dean’s voice is quiet, and he’s still looking at Castiel, but Sam shuts up. “Where you go, I go. And, besides, what kind of heaven would I have without you?”
Cas takes a deep breath, even though he has never needed to breathe. “I will miss you. Both of you.”
“Yeah, us too,” Sam says. “Thanks for...everything. Really, everything.”
Dean fistpumps. “Team Free Will.”
Castiel nods. “Team Free Will.”
And then the world dissolves.
It’s the same little house, with the wreckage of Sam’s brainstorm around them, the blood river lapping at the edges, but Castiel is gone, the wall glows a ruddy red, and there is the certain feeling that nothing exists beyond the edge of their yard, where the world fades into fog and smoke and flashes of something that could be lightning and could just be fire.
Sam shivers and pulls Dean into a hug. He can feel the wall again, the jagged, angry, hot presence in his head, and he can feel it creaking, breaking, cracking around the edges, as though being cut off from Heaven was the one thing it needed to shake loose completely, to break the good luck that has kept Sam sane and out of the Cage for his life and death so far.
Dean pulls his head down until Sam’s face is buried in his big brother’s jacket, one hand on his shoulder rubbing soothing circles like he used to when they were kids and Sam had the latest cold, flu, or supernatural injury. “Hey Sam,” he said. “Remember, you’ve had a lot of life. You’ve got everything before, and everything after, and we’ve had this, right? We’ve had heaven. And that’s got to be something.”
“Yeah, it’s something, Dean.” Sam holds on. Holds on like his brother is the only thing holding him to sanity, because he is.
“You’ve got me, too. All my memories. I’ve got a lot of bad spots, but I’m here, Sammy, a whole other lifetime to build a world out of. We’re the Winchesters, and there is not one fucking thing that we can’t beat if we do it together, right Sam?”
Sam laughs. It sounds like Dean’s been rehearsing this. Sam isn’t sure if he should be horrified by the depth of his brother’s love and madness, or if he should just be pathetically grateful that nothing has ever broken them of this oneness with each other. “Not our first Apocalypse,” he agrees.
“Damn straight,” Dean says. “And here we are, still alive.” He pauses. “Well, you know what I mean. The Apocalypse didn’t kill us. And nothing can. Kill us.”
“Yeah, Dean,” Sam says, and he believes it. He really truly wholly believes this for probably the first time in his existence, without a shred of doubt, because his brother has gone to Hell and Heaven and lived and died, come back, and now has walked into the Cage with him without a second’s hesitation or regret. Sam regrets that Dean is trapped, that Dean is trapped with him, but he is happy too that there is nothing after this, nothing that can break them apart.
And then the wall falls, with a crash-SNAP that Sam can feel in his bones, and the day goes dark and the wind is made of screaming and not wind at all and the ocean of blood—that was just a river a heartbeat ago—rushes forward and sweeps away the records, the guns, the books, the clothes; sweeps them away like a flash flood can sweep away a life and hits the Winchesters with all the power of Hell while they stand united, still, and unprotected.
Every single fucking thing that made up their lives and memories—from Impalas to popcorn—is dragged away, washed away, broken, burned, gone before their eyes, but the red rush parts around their planted feet, their bowed heads, their embrace, and Sam and Dean stand whole, untouched, and together before the rage of deepest Hell.
*spider dangled over the pit—There was always a “Sinner in the Hands of an Angry God” reference in this paragraph, but I had it all wrong the first time. This is an ACTUAL reference, though I’m by no means doing much with it, besides shamelessly using Edwards’ imagery. NO SHAME.
ETA: Thanks to jackien1968 for catching editing and continuity errors! They have been fixed! (or at least, hopefully, improved?) :)