It's funny the way you miss some things all the more sharply when you don't have them.
For Sam, it was Dean. The sure presence that had been a constant in his life for as long as he could remember, the one person who he could depend on and that was as certain and reliable as his own shadow.
For Dean, right now, it was air. The moment he'd awoken and figured out that he was trapped inside a box so small that he couldn't even bend his arms at the elbow and where the soles of his boots where jammed against the bottom, Dean knew that he'd somehow returned to his coffin.
That was the part he knew for certain. That it wasn't just any other box. It was a coffin. The one inside which he'd returned to life.
If he dared to open his eyes, Dean was sure that the only thing he would be able to see were the splinters in the wooden board inches from his face.
And above those wooden boards, there was earth. Dirt. Worms. Rotten flesh.
Dean could smell the wet earth and decay, something that he had learned to associate with cemeteries. He knew exactly where he was.
No matter how hard Dean had tried to convince himself that panicking would only make what little air he had left run out faster, there was no stopping the fear growing inside his chest. Thoughts like 'little air left running out' of course, served only to make him panic faster. Pant too. Which was so not helping his situation.
Sam was sure that Dean was somewhere in that particular cemetery. He could only be at that cemetery. After all, it was where all of the ghost's victims had been found.
Buried alive. Found dead.
The problem was, the ghost never buried two people in the same spot. Always different graves, always different directions in the cemetery. And now that the ghost was roast, there really was no way to get a location out of him.
It didn't help that the place was huge and someone had decided that it was cute to throw a Halloween party right in the middle of the frigging graves.
Everywhere Sam looked, there were demons, and ghosts, and vampires and frigging fairies. It made the hair at the back of his neck stand to attention even though he kept telling himself that none of that was real.
The place was bigger than imagination could picture, and still Dean couldn't breathe. Which made sense, because they had cut his lungs away ten years ago and still hadn't allowed him to have them back.
Dean knew what was going on now. Finally it made sense what was happening to him. His life... his death... everything was going backwards. He was going back to the beginning.
Dean remembered being inside a coffin. His coffin.
He had tried to bust his way through, like he knew had happened before, but instead of day light, he'd been treated to Hell fire.
He couldn't breathe. Alastair had him strapped to the rack, hungry tongues made of fire wrapped around his wrists, ankles and chest and everything was too tight, too constricting.
Dean guessed that was the whole point.
Sam had resorted to calling Cas on the phone for help. Time was running out and there was no way he could get to Dean in time. He looked at the watch again, trying to convince himself that the clock was wrong. It couldn't have possibly been twenty minutes already.
"Cas... we need to hurry," he said, not even bothering to hide the despair in his voice. The angel knew, either way.
Still, it was worrying –more worrying, that is- that the only thing Castiel had been doing since answering Sam's phone call was to stand still in the middle of the grass-covered cemetery with his eyes closed and his hands extended on each side. Made him look more like a strange scarecrow than an angel.
When the angel finally opened them, his eyes were a vibrant, luminous blue that made Sam take a step back. It was as close as he had ever gotten to see the angel's true form. And it scared him beyond words.
"I found him."
Dean was wrong. His life wasn't moving backwards. It wasn't moving at all. Frozen in the one memory that he wished he could leave behind. In that place, there was nowhere to go but deeper into agony; there was nothing left of him but despair and guilt.
He couldn't breathe. It was more than the need to fill his lungs –which they still hadn't given back- with air –which didn't exist in Hell either way- but was suffocating nonetheless.
The feeling of constriction, of hopelessness, of being powerless... it was stealing the breath away from him.
"Enjoy eternity, Dean," Alastair's voice whispered in his ear. "You'll be spending it under my blade."
Dean's breath, the one he didn't have to start with, hitched inside his chest. This couldn't be happening; he had gotten out, he had seen his brother again; tasted the fresh air of the living; he had become a person again. He couldn't stand to become Alastair's pet project again.
Above him, looking benignly down, Alastair gave him a knowing smile. With both his hands inside Dean's chest, he had certainly felt the effect of his words. "Yes, Dean... let it all go. There are no secrets here."
"No..." Dean fought back, head snapping from side to side, banging against the hard slab over which he was laying naked of all barriers and exposed in the most revealing of ways. "You're not real!"
Alastair smirked, hands red with Dean's blood scratching the pointed horns in his chin, like some sort of demonic beard. "What is real, Dean?" he pondered to himself. "Life, death..." he continued, face descending into inches of Dean's nose, "... or this?"
Dean could feel his own blood on Alastair's lips as the demon leaned down to cover his mouth with his. It felt like licking fire, like pouring acid down his throat and chase it with a shot of whiskey and salt. He felt himself melting from the inside out.
And he couldn't breath.
What little amount of air was still left inside his body, Dean could feel it slipping away, like a punctured balloon. He was slipping away. And Alastair, like an unrelenting vacuum cleaner, was eating every piece of dust of his being.
"We are too late," Castiel announced as the last shovel of dirty was dug out and the coffin where the spirit had trapped Dean in, came into view.
"No..." Sam whispered, not sure if he was denying the angle's words or the whole situation. "No!"
If there was one thing that his brother had taught him lately was that angels weren't infallible. That they could and were, often wrong. "No. You're wrong," Sam informed himself and Castiel.
To be fair, as soon as he pried the casket opened and was met by Dean's pale face, tear tracks sliding down the sides of his eyes, clearing the only clean paths in his dirt-covered features and realized that Dean's chest was as still as death... Sam was certain that this was the one time that the angel was right.
It didn't stop Sam from pulling his brother's dead weight out of that hole in the ground, tilting Dean's head back in a jerky movement and covering Dean's mouth with his own.
Sam had absolutely no idea of how long his brother had stopped breathing. He had no idea how long Dean had been an actual corpse inside that damn coffin. His body was cold, but something told Sam that it was more a result of being underground on wet earth than the coldness of death. He was sure it wasn't the voice of reason, but reason was not something Sam was willing to listen just then.
Either way, it didn't mattered. All that was important was that for each breath of air that Sam forced inside Dean's chest, Dean was one chance closer to being back. And Sam was willing to give his brother as many chances as he needed.
Sam didn't see anything else around him; not the confused look in Castiel's face as a human tried to reverse a condition that was only in God's hands to give or take; nor lights of the other people roaming around the cemetery in various costumes, cheering and drinking beer like it was the end of days; nor the distant beats of loud music from the party going on, celebrating a night that, Sam was sure, half of them didn't really understood.
The only sound that eventually registered with Sam was that of his brother, coughing like he was trying to expel two tons of dirt out of his lungs, as Dean started to breath on his own. It was the sweetest thing Sam had ever heard.
Dean blinked up, fresh tears gluing his lashes together. Glancing around, Dean caught the surprised look in Castiel's face, the happy smile in Sam's, the pump!pump!pump!pump! music at a distance. "I' –cough- I'm out?" he rasped.
Only Cas knew the meaning of Dean's question, even if he chose to be quite about it.
Either way, there was no need for words from the guarding angel. It was Sam's arms and his whispered 'I gotcha' in Dean's ear that made him relax and begin to breathe.
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