OfTheDamned (bythedamned) wrote,

SPN_Gen Big Bang: Riding Shotgun 5/5 - Epilogue

Title:​ Riding Shotgun
Author: bythedamned
Artist: kalliel
Warning: character death
Word Count: 32K

Summary: "Sam doesn’t know how he can say his brother is dead when there’s still someone on this earth who looks at him like that." 
For the Winchesters, death is never the end.    Written for the 2011 

Part 1 ~/~ Part 2 ~/~ Part 3 ~/~ Part 4 ~/~ Epilogue

Sam wakes up surrounded by trees, which is like an itch under his collar, but he can’t quite say why. He doesn’t know how long he’s been out here either, which is… weirder. The clearing he’s in is just nondescript enough that he can’t tell what part of the country they’re in; the weather too mild, the trees too young, the crickets too loud. He can’t exactly remember getting here, but a quick pass of his hand through his hair tells him his head’s not lumpy or bruised, so maybe Dean got them here. If he fell asleep at the wheel or something. Because last he remembers they were driving toward… the mountains? Colorado? But, no, they…
He gives it up, not necessarily in the mood to panic, and he thinks if he can find the car he can just ask Dean. At least this Dean won’t mock him endlessly for it. Sam starts off towards where he can just see bits of asphalt through the trees, wondering if he’ll ever stop calling him this Dean. Especially after everything they’ve made it through.
They must be somewhere very rural, a whole map page’s worth of unnamed back roads with not even a stoplight to their credit, because the air is crisp and clean and Sam feels unexpectedly healthy just breathing it in. Sleeping against that tree hadn’t done him any harm either, and Sam thinks it must have done him a world of good to catch up on his Zs, even if it did leave Dean at the wheel.
The road is worn, pock-marked and pot-holed, and if there had ever been a yellow dividing line there’s nothing left to speak of it now. It’s empty, too. Not just no Impala, but no cars whatsoever. No truck horns or tires coming round the bend or patchy radios Doppler-effecting past.  Still, though, Dean wouldn’t leave him. The car’s probably just out of range, so Sam will have to look. He’ll look. There’s not much to the left, and the road to the right inspires the same notion of calm that the clearing did so he turns that way.
Road slips by like time forgotten under his feet, and if he weren’t in such a backwater town he’d be a little wary of the plague-esque emptiness around him. He’s just starting to consider turning around when he hears the snap crackle pop of a cooling engine somewhere nearby. At first he thought it was twigs but, no. He knows that sound.
It’s not a relief because it’s not a surprise, when the Impala’s pulled against a rockface on the opposite side of the road just around the next bend, but he’s still glad to have found it again. Dean’s leaning against the side of the trunk, ankles and arms both crossed, and he barely moves to acknowledge Sam’s arrival. It’s bright out, but Sam can still see him standing out against the dark car.
“Dude, what the hell?” Sam calls as soon as he’s within sight because, yeah, he was outside of Dean’s range from the Impala, but not that far. And that should have helped Dean get even farther, besides.
Dean just smiles and says, “Hey.”
“I’ve been looking for you.”
“I’m right here,” he says, and Sam rolls his eyes.
“Sam. You found me. So let’s get a move on.”
Sam huffs and starts the last few strides to the car before he starts to realize this picture isn’t looking exactly right. He stops mid-step, unwilling to get any closer because Dean – is not. He’s not this Dean, but Sam doesn’t know which other Dean he could be. It’s not just that Sam can see him despite the sunlight, Sam can see him in it, spotlighted instead of a sheer tarp used to mute the brightness of everything around him. He’s vivid, looks practically solid, and he – didn’t he – just called Sam…
“Who are you?”
The wrong Dean rolls his eyes and turns for the car.
“Hey,” Sam calls, refusing to be sidelined in his own hallucination or nightmare or whatever this is. He doesn’t answer though, and Sam yells again. “Hey!”
“What? You know who I am, Sam. Get in the car and I’ll give you three guesses anyway.”
He’s using Dean’s eyes to look at Sam, green beyond belief, and Dean’s body with all its mass and presence to fool him into thinking he’s somewhere better, somewhere safe, but Sam’s not having it. He stands his ground.
“I don’t know what demonic rock you’ve been slithering under, but my brother is dead.” It’s not hard to say, not anymore, but he never thought he’d have to say it to Dean’s real face, whether Dean was wearing it or not. It only strengthens Sam’s resolve to grind this dumbshit demon under his boot heel. “So who the fuck are you?”
That gets the thing’s attention, makes him stop and turn all slow, like a gunslinger in an old-fashioned movie. He tilts his head and says, in a perfect imitation of Dean’s cautious but concerned voice, “Sammy. Where do you think you are?”
My head, Sam thinks, but the longer his brother’s face stares at him the more he thinks that answer’ll get him laughed at. There’s really only one other option, though, one other place where Dean would be puppetted before him but still completely out of reach.
It’s a trap, it must be. It explains the false sense of calm and the easy time on the road, for sure.
“Is this Hell?”
The thing wearing Dean sneers. “Nice, Sam. Nice. Just get in the car, alright?”
“Look,” Sam starts, feeling his pockets for any kind of weapon and wishing he’d checked the woods more carefully. “I don’t know who you are, but my brother’s gonna spring this trap wide open. Dead or not, he’ll come get me.”
“Hey, hey, take it easy, kiddo.” Dean’s hands are up, harmless but obviously deceiving. “Look, it’s not all that complicated. You bit the bullet, okay? But unless you did some roadside soul-bartering I don’t know about, you still haven’t earned yourself a trip downstairs.” He grins, wide and cocksure and goddamn him for knowing Dean so well. “We made it to the sky mall, Sammy.”
Sam’s aching just to put his fist through something, needing desperately to slink off and lick his wounds at the suggestion that the Winchester saga might not end in hellfire.
“Elysian fields,” Dean offers, like Sam’s too slow to get it the first time. “Where dogs go when they die? The big pineapple in the sky?” When Sam blinks, face numb and fists hard, he says, “Just get in the car, okay?
“Do I even have a choice?”
“Of course you do.  You had one, you made it, and it led you here. So let’s go, time’s a wastin’.” He veers around the car to the driver’s side like that’s settled everything, and as much as Sam wants to destroy this bastard, he can’t just let him walk away either.
“Fine,” he says reluctantly. “I can drive.”
“That’s what you think, grandma.”
“Look. Dean.” The name is sour in the back of his throat like it’s never been before. “I’ve been driving just fine without you.”
“No, Sam, you’ve been driving just fine with me. It’s my baby, I’m driving her.”
Then he yanks the door open and drops himself inside, leaving no room for argument. Sam grits his teeth and sighs because, Dean or not, these are definitely his bullshit macho antics. A week ago, Sam would have said he missed them.
“So,” he says, once he’s crowbarred himself into the other side of the bench seat. He needs a new strategy but, for that, he’ll need to figure out the rules first. “This is Heaven, huh?”
Dean’s fingers drum on the steering wheel, drawing Sam’s attention and shocking him just a little when they make a steady pattering noise, like soft rain.
“So how come we’re the only two here?”
Sam’s expecting an easy answer, some placating bullshit that he’ll have to parse out for the truth, but that’s not what he gets. He gets more exaggerated finger-drumming, and Dean’s eyes averted out the window. Sam doesn’t let his stare ease up.
“Apparently,” Dean says with an over-easy shrug, “everyone gets their own. Unless…” More drumming. “Unless you share.”
Sam snorts. “And we have to share?”
“Dude, I told you.” He sounds annoyed, pointing an oversensitive and pissed off finger at Sam. Even his nails are the same, short and haggard, bitten down and permanently jagged and dirty. “You had a choice. Unless you eenie meenie miney moed your way here, you wanted this.”
“And you? You chose this too?”
Dean rolls his neck and looks away again. “’M here, aren’t I?”
Sam scoffs. He’s gone soft, what with all of the current Dean’s straight answers and honest motives. He’s forgotten how avoidant Dean could be, how he’d admit his deepest secrets only so long as you could never quote him on them. Not that – not that this is Dean. He shakes that thought out of his head. Just a good character study. 
“How do you even know this stuff?”
“Cas. He dropped in, all woe is I, mutiny, mutiny. Kept telling me not to worry ‘cause some asshat named Zachariah bit the dust. But, uh, yeah. I got in a few questions edgewise.”
“Sounds like you had some time to kill.”
He cranes his neck even farther away this time, like there’s something just outside the window that Sam can’t see and Dean can’t not see.
“What do you want me to say, Sam? That I’ve been sitting on my ass for three weeks? That it was only ten of your earth minutes?” He adopts one of those baritone voices from the old Twilight Zones they used to watch in marathons, but it’s the self-deprecating smile, like he thinks it’s funny but doesn’t expect Sam to, that really stings. It’s so, Jesus, bone-deep familiar. He can’t believe he’d almost forgotten it.
“Ten minutes?” he manages. “Really?”
“How the fuck do I know? It was however long it took you to kick off after it was obvious you were going to.”
“Well, fine. If this is our joint Heaven, how come nothing changed when I decided to bunk down with you?”
Dean snorts and leans against the door so he can fish the keys out of his pocket. “It totally did. You upped the level of suck on our tape collection in two seconds flat.”
He gives Sam a dirty look, just emphasizing exactly how shitty his taste is, but Sam says, “That’s it?”
“That’s what? That’s enough, Sam.”
“That’s all I want? You laid the floor plan for our entire existence and all I wanted was better music?”
He can see how offended Dean is – this creature on Dean’s behalf or, or, whatever. He can see it in how he rears his head back like Sam’s just physically swiped at him before he purposely moves himself back to center. “I dunno, Sam,” though the words are anything but unsure. “What else were you expecting?”
“Not this.”
“Well, fine.” He jabs the keys in the ignition and cranks the engine, hard. It whines, a far cry from the purr it used to give when Dean was possessing it, and it nearly drowns him out. “This ain’t your slice of paradise? What is? What do you want in your Heaven, Sam? Stanford?”
Sam grits his teeth. “Shut up.”
Dean just gets louder. “Is that it? You want your coffee shops and your domestic bliss and your fucking GPSes!”
“Fuck you,” Sam yells back, filling the muggy-hot cabin with more noise than it can hold. “I want what I’ve always wanted! My brother back.” 
Dean yanks his eyes up to Sam, still and wounded in a way Sam can’t begin to handle as it dawns on him. It sluices across his back like ice water, then down his throat and in his ears, cutting off any chance of saying something else. There’s only one thing that stopped the life he lived from being the life he wanted, one thing to make this place all he needs, and he’s been calling it a demon for twenty minutes.
Dean. The real Dean, who dodges questions and orders him around. Who’s being a complete jerk because all he wants to do is share Heaven with Sam.
The realization must show on Sam’s face because Dean drops his ire and slides right back into the old stand-by.
“Hey, hey. Come on. None of that. We made it to the Big Top, Sammy. Long as they don’t check IDs.”
Sam nods, but he still needs to scrape a hand past his eyes to look at all convincing. And even that must be sub-par, because Dean still says, “Seriously. We’re here. Let’s just take it and go, alright?”
He nods again. He can do this. He’s got what he wanted and he’s not going to piss Dean off for the second time already by doing something stupid like emoting at him. He doesn’t need to – he’s happy – it’s just—
Dean looks so solid. Sam remembers it, knows exactly how warm and unyielding his brother should feel under his hand, and he needs to – he just has to check. Once. To be sure.
Dean’s a thousand arm lengths away because Sam has to keep reaching forever. Each inch that he feels nothing is more and more convincing that he won’t ever, that Dean’s just an illusion and Sam had better stop now if he doesn’t want to shatter it. Dean’s cocked an eyebrow though, is eying his stretched fingers like Sam’s completely off his rocker, and eventually just huffs a sigh and says, “Oh, for Christ’s sake.”
He grabs Sam’s hand with his, yanking it toward him and dropping it directly onto his own shoulder.
“Ya happy now?”
Sam doesn’t answer. Dean’s shirt is dry, the cotton rough and stiff, but Dean’s body heat seeps through it so quickly Sam almost feels burned. Dean’s a furnace, an oven warmer set on low, a perfect, living, 98.6. It doesn’t take any conscious thought to curl his fingers right into the muscled meat of his shoulder because now that Sam’s got it, he’s never going to let this go again.
They both end up in the middle of the long seat, legs awkwardly stuck in their own footwells, and it’s probably all Sam’s doing but that hasn’t stopped him yet. His arms reach all the way around Dean, sagging into the crooks of his elbows and overlapping across his back, and Sam can’t help but marvel at how detailed he is. It’s all there, each knob of his spine and the whole chunk of skin that’s missing from a banshee back in – before. His shirt there is almost damp with sweat in the muggy car, which Sam’s definitely not helping any, and it triggers one sense memory after another of hot summers with Dad telling them not to kick the back of the seat and awkward patch-ups while they were followed too closely by the Feds to stop for a clean room.
Dean, too, is just like he always was, squirming and making sure Sam knows it. His hands come up to Sam’s shoulder blades, half patting, half bracing, and to his credit he puts up with several seconds of Sam’s leech routine before really trying to push away.
“Come on, Sam. You’re getting feelings all over my Heaven.”
Sam pushes his forehead against Dean’s collarbone and tries to soak up as much of him as he can before he has to stop. It really is too hot for this, both their t-shirts now sticking to them uncomfortably, but he’ll care about that later.
“Seriously. We’re in the car, dude. That’s ten extra awkward points right there.”
But Dean will just have to let this slide as another annoying thing his little brother does. Sam lifts his head, and is only halfway ashamed at how completely wrecked his voice sounds.
“Nineteen,” he whispers clumsily against Dean’s ear.
“Okay, Sam,” Another awkward pat. “You do that.”
He grips harder, probably bruising Dean’s skin but that in and of itself is a phenomenon so new and old he can’t manage to be sorry.
“Years,” he explains. “I’ve been driving without you for nineteen years.”
There’s a beat before Dean says, “Jesus, Sammy.” Then his hands pull back, but only to curl entirely around Sam’s back, finally giving as good as he’s getting. “I didn’t know it was that long.”
Sam soaks it all up, getting in the span of a minute what Dean’s ghost had been aiming to give him for nearly twenty years, and then he straightens up.
“How, how long did you think it was?”
Dean raises a level palm and wobbles it. “Time was, you know. Iffy.”
Sam’s kind of aghast. “So, you don’t remember it?” Not that it was the golden years, but—
“’Course I remember it.” Dean shrugs haphazardly. “Remember you getting your ass beat a lot.”
“Hey—” Sam interrupts, and Dean’s self-assured grin does nothing to appease him.
“Lots o’ running like a girl. And, yeah, some off-key singing too.”
“Hey,” Sam says again, smacking Dean in the chest, and Dean laughs when it thunks the wind straight out of him. He still manages to hit back, though, catching Sam right in the breastbone, and Sam groans through a short laugh of his own.
Dean gets his hand back on the gearstick, easing the Impala through a shallow trench and back on the road, saying, “You ready to head out now?”
Sam cranks the window to handle some of the heat, rearranges his feet more comfortably in the footwell because he still doesn’t quite fit, and then finally scans the land before them.
“Where are we going?”
Dean’s got the smug grin and eyebrow-waggle out immediately. He nods along like there’s some song on the radio and slaps a hand on the dashboard. When he pulls it back he’s holding a tiny newspaper clipping Sam hadn’t even seen before, and he takes it between pinched fingers.
The headline reads, in bold letters, ELVIS SPOTTED! and below that, Reports confirm, he is in the building.
Sam blinks, rubbings his fingertips together through the newsprint like it’s a mirage that’ll disintegrate in his hands, and says, “Where did you even get this?”
“Cas brought it,” Dean says, like that answers anything. Sam’s doesn’t know if he’s reeling over the thought that they’re hunting The King or that Heaven has tabloids. With a sense of humor as ancient as it is, apparently.
“Dean. Elvis is dead.”
“And so are we, Sam. So are we.”
Dean guns it then, shifting through first and second gear like they’re afterthoughts, and stale air whips in through the windows, rustling Sam’s bangs into his face. Dean’s got that dog-out-a-window look, eyes squinted and grin loose, and when Sam catches sight of himself in the sideview mirror he’s not even surprised to see a different version of himself staring back. The pink, keloid scar dividing his face is gone, just like the white temples and the frown lines and the creases in his forehead. The only shock is how very young he looked, how baby-faced and gangly compared to the body he spent most of his time roaming the country in. Come to think of it, Dean might even be younger than when he last saw him too – sharper, fresher, and Sam would bet that if he rolled up his brother’s shirt sleeve, there’d be nothing but that pale, spotted skin across his shoulder.
“Pick some tunes, would ya?”
Sam nods and tries to think of a good album for the drive before he remembers that Dean means actually looking through the tapes in the glove box. They all rattle around in the ripped John Deere box Sam had stopped using decades ago, and sure enough there’s two tapes of Sam’s tucked at the end of one row: Janis Joplin and Foo Fighters.
Dean eyes them with disgust, and preemptively flicks the radio on even though there’s nothing but Jesus radio. “I hope you didn’t get too used to picking out your own whiny rock, ‘cause it’s never touchin’ my baby again.”
His cock and swagger is back with a vengeance, and as much as Sam can’t believe he forgot what it was like, he also can’t believe it was ever this blatant. He knows it was. It’s like pulling out a favorite movie from childhood. Some parts are dated and repetitive, but knowing all the lines is the best part, and it’ll always be a favorite.
This isn’t like any paradise Sam had ever pictured. The hot vinyl of the seat still sticks to the back of his neck, as usual, and the front seat reeks like there’s a taco truck selling chimichungas that Dean likes to frequent. But Sam’s riding shotgun again, and as his brother decides that Graceland must have the hottest chicks ever, Sam thinks… yeah.
“You know. I’ve actually had enough of those albums for one lifetime.” He decides to go classic and pops in Zeppelin IV. 

More author's notes: If you haven't already checked out kalliel's master Art Post and left her some love, you should. She's also got links to several art drafts that didn't make it in time for the final post, and those are sincerely awesome too. Definitely worth checking out. 

Also, I feel compelled to comment a little on where this idea of casper!Dean came from. Not, uh, Casper, as the name would suggest. It's a theme the show has actually touched on several times - first in Home, where Mary was both conscious and protective of her boys, so much so that once her job was done, she was no longer tied to the house. It was more prevalent in The Real Ghostbusters (5x09) where the first ghost they burned was actually protecting the old hotel from another, more violent spirit. The theme came up a few other times, but those were the main two that really gave me this idea. 

And lastly, elveys_stuff, is beyond awesome in every way, and helped me make this so much better than it was. 
Back to Masterpost

Tags: big bang, fic, gen, h/c duh, rating: pg-13, riding shotgun, spn
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