There and Back AgainRecipient: excoyoteWordcount:
thank you to the mods and to the giftee for your patience. I went with your dragon!Sam prompt, but there are tiny traces of addiction themes. Vaguely season 11 compliant, but doesn’t take into account events of 11.23.
As Sams go, Sam is pretty big. Especially if you count Gamgee, which Dean does. As dragons go Sam is, well, moderate. Don’t get Dean wrong. Dragon-Sam is fucking huge — like, three times the size of the car — but by dragon standards that’s not huge
huge. Dean speaks with authority, because he saw the Hobbit movies, even though they sucked. Also, he’s done research. The Men of Letters have quite a bit on dragons, though they were inclined to rate them imaginary, at least, the real, scaly kind, not the cut-rate version they’d run into right after getting Sam’s soul reinstalled. Some of the books have scaled figures with strictly imaginary dragons alongside ocean liners and city blocks for comparison, and from these Dean has concluded that if Sam as a dragon were to dragons what Sam as a Sam is to Sams, they’d be in trouble.
Dean is quite proud of that thought. It sounds very unpanicked. But when he tells it to Sam Sam shakes his not-huge
-huge head and makes a kind of coughing noise that comes with a spout of fire. Maybe that means Sam understood him. Maybe he just finds Dean’s voice grating.
Dragon-Sam fits in the Bunker. That’s a good thing. It gives them time. They don’t have to cure this right this second or anything. It creeps Dean out a bit to see Sam slither his scaly neck around corners and squeeze his scaly limbs through doors and drag his long-ass scaly tail down hallways — he moves like a kind of catsnake — but he does fit places you wouldn’t think he’d fit. It’s funny. Dean realized, watching the slumping shrug move that got dragon-Sam’s shoulders round the bend in the stairs, how familiar it was. He’s been watching Sam make himself smaller for a very long time. It’s just harder to see when Sam’s shaped like a human.
There’s an empty swimming pool down on the lower levels, done up with fancy, fireproof turquoise tiles. It’s just as well they never figured out a way to fill it. Sam sleeps there, snoring smoke, on his pile of stuff. Dean and Cas dragged an old couch down and some nights Dean sleeps there, too. Sam hasn’t set the couch on fire yet, or eaten Dean. Sometimes Dean wakes up when Sam comes and goes in the small hours, collecting metal things from the vaults, but for something so big dragon-Sam isn’t noisy. The chinks as he shifts and settles on his pile are comforting. When Sam isn’t sleeping Dean can see his huge, slitted eye, glowing like a portal in the dark.
The nights Sam hunts are the worst. Dean checks the newspapers. It’s just cows, not virgins. But the cougar rumor isn’t going to hold. Sam’s not huge
huge, but he’s big. Even at night, even on isolated farms, someone’s going to see him.
“Now’s a bad time to lose your taste for rabbit food,” he tells Sam, way too close to dawn, when Sam’s finally back. Sam goes on licking blood from his claws with his long purple tongue. Dean looks away.
Dean likes to pretend that Sam can understand him. He likes to pretend Sam’s still in there, right behind that glowy portal eye. Sam hasn’t eaten him yet, after all. But Dean’s probably kidding himself. The truth is, he has no clue what’s in Sam’s head.
At least that’s a familiar problem. An almost comfortable status quo.
Trying Cas’s idea is a risk. What if Sam won’t come? Worse, what if Sam comes along and then takes off? Cas has set his heart on this quest thing, but Dean doesn’t want the fucking quest to turn into tracking his brother the dragon all over the world.
The mortal brother, Dean, is asleep. It’s hours past dawn. Usually this is when Dean moves around his lair, or talks to the angel. But he’d been awake when Sam returned from the hunt, and now he’s sleeping. The departure from custom makes Sam restless.
They’ve brought him to a hoard. That’s reasonable. His mortal brother has one metal thing he loves, an iron vehicle that eats minerals and traces of old lives, that has fire in its heart. Sam can understand that — brother
, he thinks — but it isn’t a hoard. Here, in this place Dean brought him to, there were collectors. He can trace their intentions, shining and singing among the objects they’ve gathered. He selects wrought metal and precious stones for his bed, setting his own patterns, but he feels the surrounding order enclosing his, even in parchment and wood pulp, in the new substances the makers of this place must have invented and in the old magic that underlies its foundations. He can be content here, though feeding is a problem. There are cattle not too far away, but even in remote places there’s too much light. It dazzles Sam’s night vision.
But this is a hoard, and Sam is a dragon. Sam has no wish to leave.
His brother wants him to leave. His brother is in league with an angel.
Sam isn’t hostile towards angels. They have their hierarchies. They collect in their own way. They’re interested in the patterning of particles and waves, a little abstract for Sam’s taste, but not incomprehensible. They have little use for the taste hot blood or the intricacies of made things, but they like the makers, the hot-blooded minds, their God’s experiment. They clothe themselves in them. They don’t eat them, though. Sam wonders why.
Perhaps they think of them as mortal brothers, like Dean. Dean is edible, but he has a complex mind. It fascinates Sam. It is a collection, a hoard in itself. It would be wasteful to eat it. All the edible things have minds of a sort, of course, but most of them aren’t so intricate that Sam prefers to hoard them rather than eat them. Dean he wants to keep.
But if Sam wants to keep Dean, he has to follow him. Dean wants to take him out of his hoard. The angel told him to.
Sam remembers, dimly, from some other life, that things are usually the other way around. It’s Dean who wants things to stay the same, Sam who flies away. Sam wonders what’s changed.
It’s not even a good quest. Walking into the mountains in winter because that’s what Cas thinks you do with a dragon that’s been accidentally created by a bunch of idiot gamers, that’s just going to feel stupid. It’s not like the holy grail. It’s not even like Monty Python.
“You think we need what?” Dean had said.
“A quest,” said Cas.
“Who died and made you the accidental dragoning expert?” Dean asked. Though there was an argument to be made that Cas was giving his opinion because Dean had asked him.
“Dedragoning, surely,” said Cas. “And Metatron did, in a manner of speaking, though well before he died. The cultural awareness he infused in me included a great deal of fantasy, much of it entirely without merit. It seems a suitable knowledge base for this particular incident.”
“You trust that bastard?” Just because Metatron’s dead doesn’t mean Dean’s forgiven him.
“Of course not. But however you think of of him, we may as well use his legacy. I think you need to follow the rules. I think you need a quest.”
“You’re not even talking knowledge. You’re talking speculation and bad genre fiction.”
“So were the people who did this. You’re dealing with human Metatrons.”
“Just our fucking luck.”
“Yes,” Cas agreed.
Charlie was who they needed. But Charlie wasn’t there. And at least Cas had an idea. He’d leaned forward, apparently taken with his theory. It reminded Dean a little of Sam, when Sam got enthused about a case. When Sam had hands and could sit at a table and lean.
“It can be a simple one, even pointless. You want to get Sam back. Try taking him somewhere where Sam was Sam.”
Where the hell would that be, Dean had wondered. Palo Alto? Lawrence? Texas?
“Somewhere unpopulated,” Cas added, which at least showed his stupid idea wasn’t completely stupid.
Dean had thought about it, because, no, he wasn’t panicked, and no, the situation wasn’t exactly an emergency, but it wasn’t tenable forever, either. Where was Sam Sam? What do Sams want? Dean’s never been able to answer that one. Mostly he’s been afraid to try. School, probably, but that wasn’t practical for a dragon. He used to like theater stuff. Also not a good dragon venue. Demon blood, bad idea. Girl and a dog. No. Fireworks. A bit too dragony.
Sam’s stuck to him, too, though it still weirds Dean out to realize that, for reasons Dean doesn’t feel like going into.
School, dog, unpopulated, and Sam stuck to him had come together in Dean’s mind. The winter Sam was ten. Dad had taken them to see that old lady who lived alone in the mountains. Martha, her name was. She knew her stuff, Dad said. That had been unpopulated, all right. Way the heck in the middle of nowhere. Martha collected bestiaries, and knew which bits might be true. But she let Sam look at them, as well as Dad. She’d told Sam how monks prepared parchment, and helped him puzzle out a few words of Latin in the dense, upright script. And she’d had a dog, an actual big old St Bernard. She’d also had a sled. When Dad wanted Martha to go over the lore on whatever-the-fuck-it-had-been, Sam and Dean had taken the sled up behind her cabin. Dean was too old for it, of course, but he went down with Sam. That had been in Sam’s quiet phase, in between when he’d learned the truth and when he’d hit puberty and gotten mad, but he’d shrieked rolling into the snow, shrieked with laughter like a little kid, and got the dog barking. And he’d really liked those books.
“That sounds ideal,” Cas said.
“But we don’t exactly have tulpa threshold here, Cas. This is you with a crazy idea and me and Sam going off in the woods. It took dozens of people a decade to create this stupid accident in the first place. And, anyway, Martha was getting on in years two decades ago. I doubt she’s still there in the mountains, holed up with her books and some magic immortal dog.”
“That isn’t the point. You don’t need a deus ex machina
, you need a shape for your intention. Your conception of Sam has power for Sam. It should suffice.”
“Shows how much you know,” said Dean. “You do know you’re just making shit up here?” He seemed to need to keep reminding Cas of that.
“I do,” said Cas. “I am. That’s the point, Dean. Anyway, if it doesn’t work, there’s little loss.”
Which was where Cas had been wrong.
Leaving is complex. Dean jabbers at Sam a great deal in his incomprehensible speech, but his mind is clear enough. That doesn’t make it simple. There’s a picture in it of a ramshackle wooden structure, an old hermit, a small hoard, and a dog. Sam’s glad that wherever Dean wants them to go does have a hoard. Maybe Dean thinks of Sam as his brother, too. But getting there in this world of lights, in the winter, is troublesome.
Dean could climb on Sam’s back and fly. Sam has no way to suggest it, but the idea does appear in Dean’s mind. Dean rejects it. He doesn’t trust flight, or Sam. Despite his predilection for sleeping near Sam’s bed, he knows Sam is dangerous.
So they follow the dubious method they’d used to get here in the first place, though for some reason Sam’s mind is tangled, confused, when it comes to that earlier journey. He can’t remember where they’d set out from. Dean rides in his iron firehorse and Sam flies at hawk height above him along the ribbons of light. They travel in darkness. In the day Dean finds small roads and Sam slinks into patches of scrubby wood. It’s winter and cold, but there’s sun. Sam can rest without real danger as long as there’s sun. He looks up, acknowledging the great fire.
He wonders where they’re going, what Dean wants with the old hermit and her little hoard.
The really galling thing, Dean thinks, is that Cas didn’t even come along to see how wrong he was, or, you know, to save Dean from dying of hypothermia. Because, as far as Dean has it straight, Cas has delusions of wizard-guidehood, and the rules are the wizard guide never sees the quest through. When Dean gets back, or when he meets Cas in heaven or the Empty or whatever, depending, Dean is going to have words with him about not burying yourself in the part.
To be fair, the blizzard hadn’t been part of the plan. And Dean should maybe have stopped to consider whether fourteen-year-old-him’s memories of how to get to the place were as vivid as his memories of
the place. Maybe he had been panicked, after all, because it’s starting to seem like he didn’t think this through. And it was a stupid idea from the start, without even getting to through
. He hasn’t taken Sam to some memory that should have been in his heaven, showed him that he can be Sam and Dean’s little brother and happy all at once. He’s just got him lost in the woods.
At least dragons probably don’t die of hypothermia. All that fire.
They’ve been walking since mid-afternoon. Or, in Sam’s case, trudge-slithering. Dean has no idea why Sam hasn’t just taken off. Maybe he thinks Dean knows what he’s doing. Dragons are lizards, after all. Sam may not have room in his current braincase for Stanford brain. Though Dean can recall a few other times when Sam’s gone on in shotgun and it’s been a terrible idea.
Thinking about that makes Dean almost hear the sound of the engine, feel the sun on his arm.
He’s stopped. He makes himself start walking again.
Dean does have one of those emergency foil blanket things. Somehow he doesn’t think that will cut it. He’d planned to bring a thermos of coffee, but he forgot. He slips, catches himself on a branch, and peers ahead. It’s getting dark. Soon it will be too dark to see trail markers. No way he can turn around and make it back to the car.
He tries to make himself think, but his brain feels as slow and heavy as his feet. It keeps wanting to slip back into the Impala, with sun on his arm and Sam in shotgun.
It’s time to ask for help. Dean hates asking for help, even from Sam. Especially from Sam. But he’d better hope Sam’s understood him all along. He walks up to Sam’s glowy portal eye, boots dragging and stumbling in the snow. He doesn’t even know where Sam’s ears are. There’s no way he’s going to get through. He flaps his arms vaguely. He feels absurd.
“Shoo,” he says, like he’s talking to a dog, “get help.” Though it’s hard to imagine the nearest ranch reacting well to dragon-Lassie showing up to tell them that Timmy is in the woods dying of hypothermia. Sam’s going to have trouble conveying the message, too, even assuming he’s got it. And some of the guys out here are those crazy-ass survivalists. What if they have grenade launchers, or something?
Sam doesn’t shoo. He kind of half rears, like a horse, and turns his head back and forth, like he’s shaking it at Dean’s stupid ideas, or like he’s thinking. Then he settles back. God damn it. Can’t you listen for once, Sam?
Instead, Sam nudges Dean with his head. Dean topples — he’s not at his best right now, OK? — onto Sam.
Sam is warm.
OK, Dean is really not at his best right now, because it hadn’t even occurred to him that they could huddle for warmth. Maybe because Sam is a dragon. Dragons aren’t cuddly, or huddly, But they’re warm. All that fire.
“Guess that works,” says Dean.
It’s really not a bad idea. Sam is hard and metal and lumpy and sharp in places, but then, Sam has never been comfortable to live with. He’s still warm. Not furnace hot, like he was in the Bunker, but warm. It feels a bit like sleeping in the car.
They’ll go on tomorrow. They’ll go on tomorrow, and maybe Cas’s crazy, dumb quest thing will work, but for now it’s just as well that Sam’s a dragon.
Sam should go. He should fly. It’s ridiculous, crawling along the earth like this. Before they had left the hoard the angel had told him to stay with Dean, but angels are waves and particles. They don’t need heat for their blood. They don’t need wrought metal for their minds. They don’t need fire. The sun has been behind clouds all day, and now it’s setting. Sam needs to fly, to keep the fire moving in his veins.
Dean is getting slow and stupid. The complexity of his mind is dimming. It’s because his fire is running low. He stops, starts again, stumbles, stands still. Then he begins jabbering at Sam again, waving his arms.
In Dean’s mind Sam flies like a hawk and finds other humans and brings them back here, as a hawk brings a hare to its master. Only Dean doesn’t want to eat them. The picture makes no sense. It’s because Dean’s mind is slowing. He has his own kind of fire, and it’s going out.
If Sam goes and comes back, Dean’s mind, that intricate mind, the treasure of Sam’s hoard, will be gone by the time he returns. Sam needs to fly, though. That has nothing to do with the pictures in Dean’s mind.
He could find the woman’s hoard. He could find his way back to his own. He could hunt. There must be cattle somewhere, hot with blood.
But Dean will be missing. If Sam goes back to his hoard now, Dean will be missing. His mind will have cooled altogether.
Sam wants to save Dean. Dean is part of his hoard. Dean is at the center.
So. Sam will stay. He has heat in him to keep Dean until morning. Dean can go on tomorrow, and find the old hermit and her hoard. He’ll have what he was looking for. Sam’s bones can stay here and be iron in the mountain. He’ll have what he’s looking for, too.
This is what he wants. It’s the way of dragons, to die defending the hoard.
It takes some prodding to persuade Dean to settle at his side, where the fire will burn longest. Dean’s slight weight is imperceptible through Sam’s scales, but he can see the picture in Dean’s mind, warm and steady now, the iron horse and a human brother.
Sam lies awake. The snow has stopped, but it’s getting colder. The stars are coming out. His fire is dying. It doesn’t hurt. It doesn’t feel warm, either. It’s neutral. He thinks he’s been neutral before. He remembers wanting to be neutral. But he remembers wanting to be otherwise, as well. And he is a dragon. Dragons are skilled at wanting. He tells over his hoard, the patterns, the paths of Dean’s mind, till he sleeps.
When Dean wakes up, Sam is cold.
Wait. Fuck. Sam
Sam is Sam-shaped again. And Dean would be pretty goddamn relieved about that — maybe even inclined to say something nice to Cas, after he rips him a new one for the quest in the woods in winter thing — if Sam weren’t being Sam-shaped naked in a snowbank. There’s frost on his hair. There’s frost on his eyebrows and eyelashes. There’s frost on his goddamn pubic hair, and that’s a sight Dean didn’t need to see, like, ever, for a whole variety of reasons. Sam looks blue. He looks …
Dean grabs Sam’s human shoulders and shakes. This isn’t recommended treatment for hypothermia. Dean will try that next, as soon as he conjures up blankets and shelter and a rescue helicopter and some goddamned first-rate medical technology, for all the good that ever does them. For now he’s going with shaking. Sam’s back in Sam. Time for him to wake up.
Thank fuck, Sam opens his eyes.
“I’m fine,” he says.
“Dude, you’re not fine. You’re naked in a snowbank in the woods.”
Sam sits up and shakes his head like a dog coming out of water. His hair goes brown again. So maybe the recommended treatment for recently-a-dragon isn’t quite the same as for hypothermia. Because Sam really does look fine. Cold, but fine.
“Huh,” he says.
And his full-ride-to-Stanford eloquence is back on line.
“Do you remember what happened?” Dean asks.
“Dragon,” says Sam. “I was a dragon. For some fucking reason. Was I?” He’s starting to shiver now.
“Wait,” says Dean. He’d almost forgotten, what with the inadequacy of his foil blanket prep, that he did bring Sam’s clothes. Just in case Cas’s stupid idea worked, which it seemingly did. Jeans, shirts (plural and with those awful pearly snaps Sam likes), wool socks, hoodie, shoes. At first Sam looks at them blankly, but then he puts them on. He gets gradually more Samlike in the process. His eyes are normal, no glowy portal thing. He doesn’t look like a frozen statue. Dean hands him the foil blanket. Sam can put it on like a cape. It might as well do its job.
“It was those idiot kids,” Dean tells Sam, while he’s dressing. “Stupid Dungeons and Dragons shit. Cas said, he thought, it was like some kind of a tulpa. They wanted a real dragon. And you walked right into it. And of course they hadn’t conjured up anything for turning things back. And none of them could agree on the dragon stuff. So we took you back to the Bunker, because huge dragon, awkward. And Cas said we should make stuff up, like, go questing in the woods in a blizzard. The blizzard part was unplanned. Guess it worked, though. I mean, here you are, back with the bad hair.”
Sam blinks a lot.
“Why do I get the feeling you’re leaving stuff out?” he says. “Like where the fuck we are, for instance.”
Dean feels injured. It’s not like there’s some demon deal or angel thing that he’s not telling Sam. It’s just that the whole line of reasoning with Martha and the cabin and the books and the dog is embarrassing in retrospect. Sam probably doesn’t even remember. And given that Martha’s most likely been dead for a decade or so, not to mention the dog, Dean doesn’t really know what the fuck he’d thought he was doing. It’s not like it worked, given that they never got there. Sam just reSammed in the ass end of nowhere in the woods.
Come to think of it, it’s Dean should be giving the third degree.
“So how’d you turn back?” he asks.
Sam looks blank, then shifty.
“I’m not really sure,” he says. “Anyway, not important right now. Where are we? Where’s the car?”
So at least Sam’s back to asking the important questions. And it looks like they’ve both successfully negotiated around giving answers.
“This way,” says Dean. He starts to walk back downhill, Sam trudging on two legs beside him. He looks weirdly small.
That ought to be the end, right? There and back again. But it never is.
Sam feels wrong. That’s nothing new. He’s the wrong size. He keeps expecting the drag of his tail and the scrape of his scaled hide. And he wants things. He has dreams, and his dreams are patterns of wishes and desires. That’s nothing new, either, but it’s been a while.
He remembers wanting to save Dean. It doesn’t look like he fucked up the world with that this time, so that’s good. But he also remembers the hoard. Dean was the center and, yeah, that’s been a problem, but Sam thought at least he was over the other things. And he’s maybe not. Some kind of dragon greed came back with him, or it’s been there all along. The Bunker looks different. It’s supposed to be home, of course. That’s good. But Sam wants more. He looks around and he wants more.
Wanting stuff is a disaster. He just ends up wanting blood, or wanting normal. He’s the addict type. He goes in for extremes. He generally tries to tamp it down. It mostly works.
Though he’s never wanted a Rolex. He stares at it blankly. It twinkles opulently back.
“Dude,” says Dean, “you stole the guy’s Rolex?”
They’re on their first post-dragon hunt. Wall Street guy had been obnoxious and unhelpful, sure, kind of Leviathan-Dick’s type, but Sam wouldn’t get revenge by stealing his watch, would he?
“No, I didn’t,” says Sam.
“It was on his wrist and now it’s in your hand. That seems an awful lot like stealing a Rolex to me.”
“I don’t remember doing it,” says Sam. There’s that little black lurch in his mind, like missing a stair in the dark. It’s never involved shiny objects before.
“Huh,” says Dean.
“This is a dragon thing. It has to be a dragon thing.”
“Huh,” says Dean again.
“So now I’m a kleptomaniac.”
Dean’s eyebrows are raised, but he looks more curious than worried.
“Like having a pet crow. Still, better than a dragon. At least now you fit in the car.”
Sam could actually imagine this being worse, all too easily. As wanting things goes, this is stupid, but not a disaster. But it’s still not good. Dean should take it seriously.
“Take this seriously, Dean. This could get us into trouble. Bad enough that we desecrate graves and put silver bullets in people’s hearts. If I start stealing their stuff, they’re going to get mad.”
“Look, just keep your hands in your pockets for now. We’ll figure it out.”
Dean always says that. Sometimes they actually do.
“Fine,” says Sam.
Dean fishes around in his jacket, inventorying his losses.
“You can have the damn paperclips. Just give me back my wallet. And if you’re keeping the quarters they’re going towards laundry and only laundry.”
“Fuck,” says Sam. There’s a thing in him that wants things, and it’s using his hands.
Dean punches his shoulder.
“Look, this isn’t the end of the world. If the dragon bit likes shiny paperclips, I’ll carry shiny paperclips for it to steal. It will probably wear off. It’s not a big deal.”
“What if it wants more?” says Sam.
“Like Oliver Twist,” Dean says helpfully. “Guess you’ve got to pick a pocket or two.”
And that’s that. It’s not like Dean doesn’t have misgivings. Dean’s misgivings about Sam go even deeper than Sam’s. They always have. But Dean’s good at putting things off. He’ll wait till there’s a disaster, like Sam stealing a Silmaril or something, and then they’ll have to deal with the disaster. This is how they work. They don’t have to deal with things if they’re always too busy dealing with the things the things have caused.
But Dean doesn’t really get it, the way things leave traces, stuff in your blood, sticky remnants of grace. It’s like plastic in the oceans. It doesn’t go away. This one was just a stupid accident, but still got into Sam, left stuff in him. Or maybe it found stuff in him.
Could be Sam goes to Cas hoping Cas can dig around again with a needle again and get the wanting thing out, but it’s probably simpler. Sam talks to Cas because he doesn’t want to talk to Dean.
“I had an Egyptian seal shaped like a mouse,” Cas tells him, when Sam’s finished explaining. “It’s quite valuable to me.”
Sam hands it back.
“That’s not what I’m worried about,” he says.
“I was the one who was worried about it,” says Cas. “What do you want that’s so terrible?”
“Nothing,” says Sam. “Lots of things. It’s, being a dragon was weird. I don’t really remember a lot, but it’s, like, a sense. They, I, it’s not that they want stuff, exactly. Not like just liking shiny things. They’re collectors. They want more. They want a place with a purpose. They want things arranged. It’s hard to explain.”
“You have purpose, you and Dean. My Father set his seal on it.”
Sam puts his hands in his pockets. There’s nothing there but a horse chestnut he picked up last September in Boston, worn smooth and shiny. It’s hard to imagine Chuck setting a seal on anything. Maybe he’s got an Egyptian one, too, shaped like a mouse.
“It’s not enough,” says Sam. “I love it, don’t get me wrong, but I want something different, too. I always have. I guess I want to have my cake and eat it.”
“Ah,” says Cas.
“I don’t want to tell Dean. He doesn’t take that stuff well. I don’t do that stuff well. I don’t want to tell him.”
“A startling departure in your relationship,” says Cas.
“Are you being sarcastic?”
“Of course not, Sam. I take your and Dean’s personal problems extremely seriously.”
“You are being sarcastic. You’re mocking my pain.”
“I enjoyed that movie,” says Cas placidly.
If Cas thinks he’s got such a handle on the human psyche — or the dragon psyche, depending — that he can cheer Sam up with The Princess Bride
, Cas is fooling himself. Still, it is a classic.
“It’s a classic,” Sam says. It’s only polite to acknowledge that Cas is trying.
Now Cas is looking at him head on and serious.
“You find it difficult to inhabit yourself,” he says. “I can understand that. I’ve worn vessels. I’ve served as a vessel. It’s uncomfortable.”
Cas hasn’t mentioned Lucifer, not since it happened. Sam isn’t really ready to talk about that. If that makes him selfish, that’s nothing new. But he nudges Cas’s shoulder with his, like he would if it were Dean. Cas looks away and clears his throat. It’s par for the course for them. The awkwardness is a weird kind of comfortable. Sam wonders if Cas feels that way, too.
“I did want to come back,” he tells Cas. He doesn’t want to talk about Lucifer now, but he can tell Cas this one thing he’s not going to tell Dean. “I wanted to keep Dean alive. I think I also wanted to be human, right at the end. I guess dragon me didn’t get that those aren’t always compatible goals. But it worked. I changed back in the night, like Eustace Clarence Scrubb. No Aslan. I don’t think those D&D freaks had much gift for worldbuilding.”
“But they did want their story to have meaning.”
“Or a heavy-handed moral.”
“That, too. A flawed moral. Wanting things isn’t evil. Dragons are creatures of desire, but so are humans. You should talk to Dean. And whatever your nature is, you should put it to work.”
“I think you’re getting a bit too into the role of wise wizard guide.”
“If I’ve been set where I am to aid your purposes, I might as well enjoy it.”
Sam wonders what Cas means by that. Maybe exactly what he says. That could explain a lot about Cas. He seems to think it’s a good exit line, anyway, because he walks off, leaving Sam to the Bunker and Dean.
If Gandalf the Grey — or maybe Cas is Gandalf the White now, what with the resurrections, but it’s still the same coat, so whatever, Gandalf the Beige — if Gandalf tells you to do something, you probably should.
Sam does a lot of thinking. He dicks around online. He flicks idly through the catalogue drawers, looking for cards he’s added. Then he goes to talk to Dean.
Dean reacts about as well as you’d expect. He looks mad. That means scared. Sam gets that, really. He still hates it.
“You want to leave?” Dean asks.
“No!” says Sam violently.
“Well, what do you want? Spit it out, Sam. What do you think I’m going to do, faint?”Hit me, worry about me, lay down your life for me
. Something bad, that’s for sure. What does Dean think
Sam thinks he’s going to do? Dean is an idiot. But he’s looking at Sam like this is a practical problem. Dean’s always been good with practical problems. It’s just not usually how he sees Sam. Maybe because he doesn’t think he’s good at Sam.
Sam takes a deep breath.
“We’re not really doing much with all this,” he says, waving his hand at the shelves and the racks and the telescope to nowhere. “It’s, it’s a great collection. I kind of got a new appreciation for it. Dragons are surprisingly into cataloguing. It’s, I thought it was my hoard. And it is a hoard. Not mine, not really, but we’re here. We’re in charge. So I want to take some courses. Online, I’m not going anywhere. I want to finish the cataloguing, figure out preservation. And I want to get more stuff, not just random, like we’ve been doing, systematically. And I want to make it usable. Not only for us, eventually. Garth. Aaron. Other people.”
“That’s what you’ve got your panties in a bunch about telling me? You want to go to online library school? Jesus, Sam. Don’t give me a heart attack. That actually sounds useful.”
“It’s going to mean less hunting. It’s going to take time, not just downtime. Real time.”
Dean looks … speculative? pleased? relieved?
“I think it’s a good idea,” he says. “You’ll be good at it. Just don’t go all shhhh
Sam laughs. It’s a little shaky, but Dean can pretend not to notice. That’s another thing they’re good at.
“That’s a stereotype,” he says. “Don’t stereotype me.”
“Hey, and if you’re kleptomania thing’s still a thing, there’s lots of magic books could stand to be stolen. We could work on that.”
Dean’s already in planning mode. Sam wonders if it would have been this easy, any of those other times, to work out something they both want. Almost certainly not.
“I think they kick you out of library school for stealing rare books.”
“You haven’t even started and you’re already less fun. You’ll end up wearing your hair in a greying manbun, with a pencil stuck in it.”
Sam picks up a few books that are lying on the table. He might as well shelve them.
“Sorry about the whole dragon thing,” he says, over his shoulder. It’s a blanket apology. Those are useful. They give Sam a vaguely legal sense of security.
“Dude, if it hadn’t been for your dragon thing, I’d have died of hypothermia. I don’t want to be like one of those bodies on Everest. We’re cool. We just need to not do stuff that’s Cas’s idea, like, ever.”
Talking to Dean had been Cas’s idea. But Sam would probably have gotten around to it on his own. Some time. Eventually.
“Deal,” says Sam.
So it’s weird how Sam fits. How something happened and he came back changed and it’s OK.
Though this really goes way back, pre-dragon, this library thing. It was one of the things Dean thought when they first found this place, that Sam might like it here, that he might want to stay. Man of Letters, that’s almost like college. Dean’s over it, really, he really (mostly) is, the thinking that Sam is about to take off on him. That’s not fair to Sam. And it’s not like it’s fun for Dean. He owes them both better. But it still takes some getting used to, deep in Dean’s head where it’s no one’s business but Dean’s, watching Sam change and not panicking.
Not that Dean panics. He took the whole dragon thing pretty damn well, didn’t he?
He even does some stuff himself. All those classic cars in the garage, it’s high time they got worked on. Opening their hoods, Dean feels a bit the way Sam must have felt about shiny things, before he hit on his library school fix. Dean doesn’t exactly want to sell them, and it might be hard to figure out how. But they should go. Dean’s a one-car dude. These cars should be someone’s baby. And fixing them up is good. He finds himself whistling tunes Dad used to whistle, way back. He drives out to Singer Salvage once, says hi to Jody, and picks up what’s left of Bobby’s tools. Bobby wasn’t just a hunter. His tools should get used as well.
Sam doesn’t come along. He’s got some paper due.
It’s past 1 AM when Dean gets back to the Bunker. Sam’s still up. Dean stands in the door of the library and watches him frown at his laptop. The pile of books beside him is about to fall over. Sam’s looking a lot like Sam. Too fucking big, and then there’s the hair. But he fits.