Spoilers: Up to 6x07
Summary: When Sam gets his soul back, all of his "Sam-ness" doesn't automatically come back. First general empathy, sleep, assorted feelings, but he still can't figure out what he's supposed to be feeling for Dean.
A/N: Written for this prompt at the How the Winchesters Got Their Groove Back commentfic meme.
The thing is Sam’s soul. It hovers in the palm of Dean’s hand like the head of a dandelion, bobbing on the air currents. It is tiny and silvery and delicate.
“Are you sure that’s my soul?” Sam says.
Crowley raises a placating hand at the stare Dean rounds on him. “Completely certain. That, my lad, is pure Sam Winchester.”
Sam was expecting something else. He isn’t sure what, exactly, but this strange little puff of lace isn’t it. He was expecting to look at his soul and see himself, somehow, in the same way he remembered his face the first time out of the Cage that he looked into a mirror.
But Dean is grinning down at the thing, cupping his hands around it as it – as Sam’s soul, apparently – drifts between his fingers.
“I dunno, Sammy,” he says. “It feels like you.”
Sam reaches out and brushes a finger through it. Tiny, silver strands cling to his skin, but there’s nothing else. No spark of recognition. Dean and Bobby and even Crowley are watching him, though, so Sam scoops the soul up out of Dean’s hand.
“Now what - ?” he begins, but his soul is already moving, sinking into Sam’s skin. The lines of his palm are laced with silver, brightly shining, and there’s a tingling sensation that grows into a sudden, fierce burn.
“Jesus,” Sam gasps, clutching his hand to his chest. It fades as quickly as it came, and when he looks up again Dean is staring at him. Really staring at him, eyes wide and hopeful. “I don’t – I don’t know if it worked.”
Dean’s face falls. Crowley, with a sigh, steps forward and smacks Dean round the head.
“Ow!” Dean exclaims, at the same time as Sam snaps out, “Hey.”
They blink at each other.
“Congratulations, Sammy boy, you just objected to someone giving your brother a good, hard whack.” Crowley spreads his arms, grinning. “You’re 100% re-souled.”
And with that he disappears, leaving only awkward silence behind. Dean is staring at Sam, and Sam is staring at his hand, and after a long pause Bobby excuses himself from the room, muttering something about idiot brothers and their idiot problems.
Sam shrugs, eventually. “I don’t really feel any different.”
“Well, I’m not going to bring in a vampire to test your give-a-damn,” Dean says, looking away. His face is pinched, mouth tight and – Sam recognises it.
“You’re... disappointed,” he says slowly.
“Yeah, well done, Sam. Your prize is-” Dean pauses. He looks back up at Sam. “You noticed that?”
“And now you’re kinda hopeful.” Sam smiles awkwardly. It feels more like an introduction than a grand, brotherly reunion, but it feels like something. “I guess it just needs... time.”
Dean snorts. Disdainful, Sam thinks, but also amused. “We spent six months hunting it back down, we can wait for it to get comfortable again.”
“Yeah.” Sam rubs his hand over his heart, over where he imagines the soul must be, if it’s anywhere at all. Is he just imagining it, or does he feel warmer now? Warmer and – fuzzier and everything seems to be growing distant and heavy, and Sam is –
He wakes up on the couch, springs digging into his spine, rough woollen blanket tangled around his legs. It takes an eternity for his eyes to drag open, and when they do Sam half-considers closing them again and going back to sleep.
“Morning, Sleeping Beauty,” Dean says.
Sam frowns, craning his neck and rubbing the blur out of his vision until he can make out Dean, sat at the table. The room is dim.
“How long-” Sam smothers a yawn. “How long was I out for?”
Dean glances at his watch, lets out a low whistle. “Fifteen hours. Impressive.”
“Man, I missed sleeping,” Sam says. He stretches with a contented groan, rolling his shoulders, and when he looks back up Dean has looked away. It doesn’t hide Dean’s frown.
“And I missed you,” Sam adds, clumsily. I hope, I hope, I hope, he thinks. And he can hope again, and he can sleep again, and he can worry about Dean’s wellbeing again. There must be something more to it. There must be something more for Dean to have fought so long and hard to get it back.
“It’s okay. You just got your soul back. Takes time to settle, right?” Dean says.
He stands, and for a moment that’s all he does, just stands and looks down at Sam. Then he says, “I’ll go tell Bobby you’ve returned to the land of the living,” and he walks out of the room.
Sam means to get up and follow him, to ask him what else am I missing. He does. But he drifts back into sleep.
They stay at Bobby’s for the rest of the week, mostly under the guise of checking to see that Crowley hasn’t tricked them, but Sam’s pretty sure Bobby’s just glad to have them around without some kind of apocalypse or personal crisis going on in the background. Sam is glad too. He really is.
“I’m happy to be here,” Sam says, him and Dean peeling potatoes – earning their keep – while Bobby sharpens an array of knives, hunting and cooking all jumbled up together.
“Good to hear,” Bobby says, lowering his knife to give Sam a thumbs up. Sam can tell he’s sincere from the slight softening of Bobby’s otherwise gruff expression. He can’t quite remember now how he managed, or what he even saw, when he couldn’t decipher a person’s face.
That Sam, that soulless Sam, feels so far away now. He isn’t entirely certain that the real Sam feels any closer.
“Be sure to tell us when you’ve got the whole spectrum of emotion,” Dean says. He’s only half joking.
“I will,” Sam says, not joking at all.
Fear comes on their first hunt after Bobby’s. It comes slowly, uncomfortably, itching up and down Sam’s skin as they drive closer to the cemetery and the restless spirit waiting for them. It’s just a simple salt and burn to ease back into the swing of things. They’ve done it hundreds of times. Sam remembers.
Dean gets out of the car. Sam – doesn’t.
“Hey,” Dean says, ducking back down to peer at him through the open door. He raps on the roof of the car with his knuckles. “We haven’t got all day. Night. Whatever.”
“I know.” Sam licks his lips, chances a glance at Dean’s irritated face. “Do you – ever get frightened?”
Dean stares at him. Sam can’t read the expression on his face, and for a second he panics, clutching at his arms as if he can somehow catch hold of his soul before it slips away. This is fear, he tells himself sternly, and sometimes Dean’s a mystery.
“’Course I do,” Dean says. “That’s what back-up’s for. So c’mon.” With a jerk of his thumb.
Sam takes a steadying breath, then climbs out of the car. Dean is already striding away, but he glances over his shoulder to check if Sam is following and Sam is following. Sam is following.
Things start coming quicker after that, as if after unlocking something as deep and primal as fear it’s only natural for the rest to follow. Sam finds himself feeling surprised when, after investigating a series of mysterious deaths, it turns out the butler really did do it. Irritation makes a comeback once Dean finds a clicky pen on their diner table and spends the whole meal playing with it. The heady, thrilling rush of excitement when – after hours spent tracking a black dog through a forest – it pads out right in front of him and Sam lines up the perfect shot.
They go out for a couple beers to celebrate after that, but it’s laced with the same awkwardness that has threaded between them ever since Sam got his soul back.
“You remember that black dog in Nashville?” Dean says, smiling around the mouth of his bottle, his eyes alight with nostalgia.
“Yeah, I remember,” Sam says. He smiles back, then glances away. Studies the edge of his napkin. He does remember the hunt, remember Dean’s laughing face and their dad’s pride, but he doesn’t remember how to respond to it. Where the emotion memory should be bubbling up inside of him, there is nothing.
The next day, Sam wakes up with a hangover and the heavy, churning sensation in his stomach that he recognises right away: guilt.
“What have you got that I don’t?”
Dean glances up at Sam’s question. “Wit, charm and dashing good looks,” he answers automatically before turning back to his breakfast: a blueberry muffin that he’s picking apart over Sam’s laptop as he checks his email.
Sam feels the warm thud of irritation, but he brushes it aside. “Seriously, Dean. I’m missing something. You know I am. It’s been weeks now and I’m still not me yet. What am I missing?”
Dean shrugs, thumbing a crumb from the corner of his mouth.
“Shoulda known once you got your soul back you’d wanna talk about your feelings.”
The rush of anger is new but so very familiar. A part of Sam is surprised, now it’s back, that he went so long without it, but the rest of him is caught up in clenching his jaw and throwing his arms wide and snapping out, “Would you please stop avoiding the damn question?”
“Rememer when you woke up after getting your soul back and said you’d missed me?” Dean snaps the laptop shut and turns to look up at Sam, a sharp twist to his lips. “That true yet?”
Sam pauses. His mouth opens, then shuts.
“Yeah. Didn’t think so.” Dean breathes out slowly, drumming his fingers on the edge of the desk. “And honestly, Sam? After the last few years we’ve had, I don’t know if this is just you or not.”
He stands, grabs his jacket, tugs it on and then – simply looks at Sam, eyebrow raised.
“I’m still missing something,” Sam insists. “I’m still missing - you, I guess. I’m sure of it.”
But he isn’t.
Dean shakes his head. “I’m heading out for a couple hours,” he says.
Sam doesn’t move to stop him leaving, just watches as he heads out the door and listens as Dean’s footsteps fade away. Then he drops down into the vacated desk chair and rests his head in his hands. This is sadness. Sam must have the whole spectrum of emotions now.
It doesn’t feel anywhere near as good as he’d thought it would.
Dean comes back after an hour and fifty three minutes, by which point Sam has found a possible chupacabra hunt. It’s the best part of a day’s drive away, and though the silence in the car is excruciating, they can stare straight ahead without meeting each other’s eyes and, after an hour or two, Sam can stretch out as far as the leg room allows and sleep.
The motel they wind up in feels almost exactly like the one they were in this morning, except the silence is heavier. Sam crawls out of his clothes and into bed as soon as the door is shut behind them. He’s still catching up on a year and half of lost sleep, so Dean doesn’t bat an eye at it, just turns off the main light and flicks on the desk lamp instead as he settles down to check the local newspapers for info.
Sam tugs the blankets up over his head and remembers when he loved his brother. He knows he did. He has a lifetime spent watching Dean laugh and shout and live to show for it. There has to be a gap inside of him for it all to fill, a part of his soul that hasn’t aligned yet. It will come. Sam knows it will come.
It’s meant to be a simple hunt; just find the chupacabra, gank it with a silver bullet and spend the rest of the day making bad goat puns. For a few seconds, with the gunshot still ringing in the air, it’s exactly that simple. Right up until there’s a growl from behind them and Sam spins around in time to discover there’s a second chupacabra.
It was meant to be so simple, but Dean shouts out in pain even as Sam squeezes the trigger. The chupacabra drops into the dust. Dean staggers, holding onto his side, and then he too is falling. Sam can see the blood between his fingers. He darts forwards, catching hold of Dean’s arms, steadying as he lowers them both to the ground.
“It’s okay,” Dean says.
“Let me see.” Sam tugs Dean’s hands away. “Let me see.”
“It’s okay,” Dean says again. “Not deep. Fucker just knocked me off balance more’n anything.”
Sam pulls Dean’s shirt up and away from the wound. It’s bleeding sluggishly, but it’s shallow. The sight of it tightens something in Sam’s chest anyway. He presses his hand over the scratches, hiding them from view.
“I told you it was okay,” Dean says, a shade smugly.
Sam can’t speak. He can barely breathe around the thing unfolding inside of him. Instead, he lowers his head onto Dean’s shoulder. Dean’s shirt is scratchy and warm and smells of the same cheap laundry detergent he’s been using for twenty years. Here it is. Here it is.
“I missed you,” Sam says. “A lot.”
Dean huffs out a breath which rattles through his body, and then through Sam’s body. His hand curls around Sam’s arm.
“It’s okay,” he says again.
Here it is.