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Title: Take a Breath
Fandom: Supernatural
Characters: Sam and Dean Winchester
Word Count: 1600ish (17 drabbles and a tag)
Rating: T for language and spoilers
Warnings/Spoilers: Spoilers for all aired episodes of S12, including the finale and everything it encompassed (ie. Main character death, etc.).

Summary: Sam tries to be the strong one in the immediate aftermath of All Along the Watchtower.
A/N: Written for my [community profile] genprompt_bingo card spaces of Corpses/Skeletons/Remains and Ghosts/Hauntings.

This is nothing new, to them. Ingrained in them since childhood, procedure tried and true for the better part of three decades, habit more than thought.

Pull it together. Take a breath. Keep it impersonal. Confiscate anything incriminating or valuable. Take a breath. Clean up external evidence.

Dig a grave. Bury the body.

Torch the house.

Then get the hell out, as fast as you can.

Learn to live with what you've done.

Don't give up hope.

In a way, it's kind of comforting, the list; the familiarity of habit is likely the only thing enabling him to keep moving.


Take a breath.

An angry red sunrise slowly tinges the eastern sky, casting looming shadows throughout the yard and turning the lake into a sea of blood. Overwhelmed for a moment at the sheer aloneness that swamps him as he glances out the window, he exhales shakily, and checks his cell again – for what, he doesn't know. He can count on one hand, the number of contacts in his phone who are still alive.

Jody had specifically said to update her when it was all over, but still...

It is all over, but he can't talk about it, not yet.


Confiscate anything incriminating or valuable. There's a USB drive in the laptop, sitting to one side in the sad little bedroom. He pockets it, retrieves the laptop and the only cell phone he can see, tosses them in the empty duffel, and moves downstairs. Methodically, carefully, impersonally, he moves through the rooms, scanning each for items to save from obliteration – but there appears to be nothing substantial in the entire house, except tons of unneeded baby paraphernalia. From the looks of the storage closets, he'd think Kelly had been expecting quintuplets.

Cas never did quite grasp the concept of overkill.


Take a breath. His steps crackle in dew-spotted grass as he scuffs through, tosses the duffel into the trunk of the Impala and closes it. It slams like a gunshot in the stillness, startling a water bird into frightened flight from the lake shore. Dean still hasn't moved from where Sam shoved him twenty minutes ago; he sits a silent, frozen specter in the passenger seat, huddled in the blanket Sam wrapped around him. Shock, Sam knows, but he can't stop now to check in or he will never start again.

A small part of them too, has died tonight.


Clean up external evidence. Cleanup is minimal; the rift in the fabric of space/time, gone without a trace. He pries the license plates from Castiel's pickup, shoves them roughly into another bag alongside Dean's Taurus, fallen with its owner tonight. Wipes down the truck's door handles, steering wheel, mixtape-filled tape deck. Resists the urge to raise a proverbial fist in the face of a God who once again has left them all alone, grieving and heartbroken in a world careening madly out of control.

He can do nothing about the charred wing-prints on the ground, twenty feet from the house.


Dig a grave. Bury the body. This, he can't do – not here, not now, not like this. Not with Dean still sitting in the Impala, staring at the place where half their world just vanished like smoke in a high wind.

He's done this before, more than once – Dean never really has. Never had to travel halfway across the states with his brother's body, never had to clean him up and wrap him up and physically bury him, just another casualty in the body-count that hangs about them like Marley's ghostly chains.

But Cas deserves to be buried with family.


Sam knows, they can't stay here – and they can't leave Cas here. And so he performs that terrible duty one more time, on another fallen brother. He wonders if he's a horrible person for being grateful this isn't Dean he's wrapping up gently in the oldest, softest blanket they have, and finally just focuses on trying not to feel, to think, to anything.

Dean barely blinks when the Impala's back door opens. But as Sam settles his burden carefully in the back seat for the last time, Dean reaches up and tilts the rearview mirror away with a shaking hand.


Torch the house. He's rained down enough destruction today that one more tiny farmhouse doesn't even make him twitch. The fire will be blamed on the recent crazy electrical storms, nothing more, and these country firefighters will hopefully not notice the conspicuous absence of child-sized bones in the wreckage when they do find poor Kelly's among the ashes. Sweet and scared and delusional to the end, she deserved better than this, and he hopes her death was relatively swift.

He doesn't think she's in danger of returning as a vengeful spirit, but he salts the body first just in case.


Take a breath. The lighter fluid is spread around the nursery, the Zippo in his hands, and only when he can't get it to light does he realize how badly he's shaking. The glint of silver mocks him dizzily; his slide to the floor is less than graceful, but no one is around to care. The brightly-colored room spins in a lazy circle, cheerful hues a sickening merry-go-round. Every shadow spreading across the floor is a horrific reminder, the one sign of finality he can't ignore, burned forever into the ground outside as well as into his retinas.

Cosmic consequences.


Stupid, foolish, naïve, loyal Castiel.

He should've let them die back then, should have let them duke it out with each other to go with Billie. Should have let them deal with the Nephilim in a similar fashion, since precious "Jack" had taken one long, solemn look at Sam and then just vanished into thin air, demon-style.

Damn you, Cas. Why, of all nights, did he choose this one to not stick to the plan? Was he really so desperate for redemption that he would be so hasty, so stupid, so – so very much like a Winchester that it hurts.


Take a breath. The haze at his vision-edge blurs into shadows and back again, and he wonders about the last thing Cas saw. Wonders if he even knew what happened, if he had time to be afraid. If an angel blade feels anything like this, sharp and agonizing and heart-rending.

God, haven't they lost enough?

He needs to finish this, get back to the car – Dean is in no condition to drive, likely needs a hospital after fighting Lucifer, and that is just the physical damage – to figure out where they go from here.

Where do they go from here?


Get out, fast as you can. A door slams, downstairs.


He's taking too long.

Finally, as footsteps approach, a spark. He tosses the lighter into a pile of newspaper. Orangey-yellow tongues lick at the childish wallpaper, creep toward the unused crib.

"Took you long enough." Dean's voice is shredded sandpaper. "You can't – don't leave me in there, alone. With him."

"Sorry." One word, all he can manage, intent on making the front door before his face betrays him.


He stumbles out, hits the ground hard, gasping air temporarily untainted by fire and guilt. It doesn't seem to help.


The war against the British Men of Letters, won - but at what cost? Hell's King, dead, and Hell descending into anarchy. The Nephilim in the wind, a loose cannon of unknown power.


Sweet, sassy Eileen, disability exploited with a ruthlessness that turns his stomach. Mom, a continuous cycle of lost and found and now lost again. Trapped with Lucifer in a barbaric dystopia, likely forever. (Sam knows that world, and he would rather see her dead.) Castiel, their guardian angel – killed on Lucifer's sadistic whim.

Sam doesn't think his prayer of nononopleaseNO counts as getting to say goodbye.


"Sam. Freaking me out here, dude."

Dean, miraculously surviving. Any closer to that grenade, any slower with Ketch, any less lucky with Lucifer…Sam could so easily have been left alone, facing the end of everything they've ever known and loved.

"Sam. Sam! Take a breath, man. That's it."

He inhales sharply, finally realizing he hasn't been until just now. Dean's worried look swims from the haze, eyes red-rimmed with grief and exhaustion, fingers ice against Sam's face. Behind him, hell-glow begins to consume the house.

"You with me?"

Sam nods, hands clenched in the grass.

He is that, at least.


Time goes on, as it tends to do.

They bury Cas in Kansas, under a spreading maple tree near the Bunker, and divide their time between the warring factions of civil-war-torn Hell, a rebellious but so-far harmless adolescent Nephilim, and researching parallel universes.

Then, one day – it all just. Stops.

Obviously, the calm before the storm, but until that storm hits? Hell's forces are hiding, Heaven is radio-silent, and the supernatural suspiciously silent – obviously, something is coming, and anything with half a brain is getting the hell out of Dodge.

Take a breath.

Learn to live with what you've done.


Weeks go by.

Every monster in the States appears to have taken the British Men of Letters more seriously than the Winchesters ever did, and has apparently gone into hiding, because it's never been so quiet.

Months pass.

And still, there is no hunt to be had. Anywhere.

Bored, Sam plants flowers around Cas's headstone, and for the first time in weeks hears Dean actually laugh, bright and loud in the summer sun.

"They signify remembrance, Dean."

"Dude, you planted a bunch of freaking pansies on his grave. Don't blame me if he comes back to haunt your girly ass."


When Cas does, it's Sam's 'girly ass' that stops them from wrapping around a tree on a back road in Lebanon.

Don't give up hope.

But that is another story.

September 2017

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