Disclaimer/Spoilers: See Chapter 1
A/N: Author notes at the end because I can do that.
In the End
I've put my trust in you
Pushed as far as I can go
For all this
There's only one thing you should know
Sam handed the paper of to his brother, an air of finality in the action. He swallowed thickly then asked, "what do we do?" Hoping there was something, anything he could offer his brother.
"Stand back and pray?" Dean attempted a smile, then either shrugged or simply rolled his shoulder, trying to find any relief from the pain Sam knew was burning him up from the inside. At this point, it could go either way.
Sam turned wide, pleading eyes to Bobby, begging the man for a better answer, but all he got in return was a small, sorrowful frown. The older hunter gave Dean's shoulder a reassuring squeeze, then shoved up to his feet and stepped swiftly outside the circle.
Sam lingered, the little brother in him wanting to tell Dean just how terrified he was about what was about to happen. About what could happen. But his brother was right; there was nothing more Sam could do. He watched Dean squint, as though trying to look upwind through a raging storm, and listened as his breathing stuttered, slipping pass his lips in a low whistle, turning his pain into something tangible. His big brother was losing the battle against the fiery pain raging inside him. They were out of time. Either this would work or it wouldn't, but it would all be resolved in the next few moments.
Dean dragged his gaze upward, fever bright eyes locked on his, and Sam knew he had to rustle up the bravery to step out of the circle. He'd done all he could, and the rest was up to Dean.
Sam gave a tight nod and backed slowly out of the circle, moving to stand at Bobby's side.
Dean's eyes sluggishly dropped down to the scrap of paper clutched in his white fist. His throat worked convulsively as he began to recite the Enochian incantation, the words spilling out brittle and wheezy as though it was taking all he had left to push the words pass his distressingly pale lips.
Sam could hardly hear him and what little he could hear, he didn't understand. His only cue that the spell had been completed was his brother's eyes drifting up to find his own. They stared at each other for a long, tense moment, waiting for something to happen. Nothing did. Sam shook his head, a silent I don't know, man.
He opened his mouth to speak, though he didn't have a clue what he had to offer. Before he had the chance to decide, the option was ripped from him as what little color was left in his brother's face drained away and he pitched forward, curling in on himself as he hit the hardwood.
"Dean!" Sam lunged forward, meaning to rush to his brother's side, but was stopped by a bruising grip on his arm. His eyes snapped over to the older hunter, confusion and betrayal clouding his vision. "Bobby?"
The man said nothing, only jerked his head toward Dean.
Sam followed his gaze, suddenly understanding why Bobby had stopped him from going to his brother's aid. The sigil they had so meticulously drawn – the giant, intricate symbol Dean was currently in the middle of – was igniting in a purplish flame. The fire traveled the perimeter before licking along the lines of the outermost star, dashing beneath Dean's splayed hand and swiftly trailing closer to the center, leaving nothing but an ashy outline in its wake.
As the light hit the innermost star, the same purplish light sparked from Dean's chest, emanating from the corresponding symbol they had painted there, flaring until the combined light bloomed too bright to look at directly.
A strangled growl built from the center, culminating in a raw, pained scream that echoed off the walls and shook Sam to the core. It was the same sound his brother made during the spell he and Bobby had attempted. The same sound he had hoped to never hear again. This was the spell – this was the spell working – and Sam fought the urge to go to his brother, to help him even though he knew there was nothing he could do. He nearly lost the internal struggle, and in truth the only thing that kept him from entering the circle was the firm grip Bobby had on his arm. Sam was thankful for it, because it was possibly also the only thing keeping him grounded in the face of what may very well be his brother dying.
After what felt like a lifetime, the light dissipated, leaving nothing behind but a burnt-out sigil and a too pale, shuddering Dean sprawled in its center, and no telling whether the incantation had worked.
"Dean!" This time there was no hand on his arm holding him back, and Sam shot forward like a bullet from a gun. His knees hit the floor, smudging the remnants of the sigil as he slid next to his brother. He pulled Dean's convulsing form onto his lap as Bobby crashed to the hardwood next to him. "Dean, hey! Come on, man." The heat radiating from his brother was terrifyingly, and what little air Dean was managing to pull in sounded like it was coming through a kinked hose or ancient rusty plumbing, a groan and rattle that didn't give Sam much confidence.
Sam adjusted his grip, pressed a hand against his brother's chest until he could feel the frantic, rapid beat of Dean's heart. Which was way too damn fast. Dangerously fast.
"Hey," he managed, his voice thick and choked with emotion. He thumped lightly on Dean's chest, not wanting to hurt him further, but desperate to gain his attention. "You can do this, Dean. You just gotta calm down, man. You can do this."
Bobby's eyes bore into the side of Sam's head, but he didn't dare tear his own gaze away from his brother's ashen face, his blue-tinged lips. He wasn't sure if Dean's was listening to him, if he was even hearing him.
Sam's efforts were finally rewarded when Dean's eyes cracked open and ticked upwards, and in a brief window of clarity they found Sam's. His lips moved soundlessly, and Sam ducked his head, struggling to hear anything, desperate not to miss what might be his brother's last words.
It's okay, Sam wanted to say, wanted to offer any reassurance he could, but he was terrified Dean would take it as permission to let go. To stop fighting. That wasn't something Sam was prepared to give him.
In the end, Sam wasn't sure Dean had much of a choice in the matter. His breathing didn't ease, and the thump of his heart was slowing rapidly under the flat of Sam's palm. He fisted his finger's in the folds of Dean's shirt, an anxious grip, a lifeline. He watched as his brother's eyes slip close, as his chest rose once more, just a fraction, then fell on a weak, shaky exhale.
Sam waited for the next rise of his chest, but Dean remained still. A chilly feeling of dread shot through him as he realized he could no longer feel the thumping of his brother's heart.
He tightened his grip in Dean's shirt, gave him a light shake. No. "Dean." His brother's head lolled against his leg, and Sam tapped his chilly cheek. "Hey. Dean."
Sam's eyes shot over to the older hunter. "Bobby," he croaked, hot tears welling in his eyes as he begged the man to do something, anything.
But there was nothing either of them could do.
Sam paused at the threshold of Bobby's front door, taking a moment to study the man sitting just a few feet away on the front porch's rickety steps. He listed to the side, leaning heavily against a support beam, dressed in layers; undershirt, thick Henley, a grey hoodie. Despite the layers Sam could tell his big brother was still feeling chilled, still reeling from the spell. He didn't know what the specifically altered within his brother, only that Dean was no longer radiating impossible, terrifying levels or heat, and while his chest still seemed to be aching, it wasn't anywhere near the incapacitating pain it had been just a few days prior.
Sam dropped his eyes and adjusted the items in his hands. Two and a half days ago his brother had technically been dead. He heartbeat was absent; his chest still. He wasn't sure how much time passed, how many times he and Bobby shouted Dean's name, how many pleas, prays, and bribes passed between them, how many times they thumped at his chest or force air into his brother's lungs. What Sam did know was that time was the longest moments of his life.
He wasn't sure if they had brought Dean back or if there was some higher power at work, he was having a hard time wrapping his mind around all that had happened. For the moment he was satisfied just knowing his brother was back, alive, sitting in front of him, as healthy and whole as someone in Dean's position could expect to be.
"If you're working up the courage to ask me out," Dean drawled, a shiver running through him as he threw a glance over his shoulder, "you're still not my type."
Sam rolled his eyes and stepped out onto the porch. He dropped a worn wool blanket over Dean's shoulders, then offered his brother one of the two beers he'd carried out.
Dean made no comment as he pulled the blanket tighter around himself as subtly as he could, like he was pretending he wasn't actually cold, that he didn't really need it.
Sam resisted the urge to roll his eyes a second time, thinking with some degree of amusement how this very different version of Den was still, at his core, very much the same brother he'd always known. He settled onto the steps next to his brother as Dean wrapped a hand around the neck of the offered beer and took a long drink. They sat in companionable silence, watching the sun dip low, it's fading rays casting a reddish-purple tint across the cloud-scattered horizon.
"So," Sam started, keeping his tone casual. "What now?"
"Hmm?" Dean slid his eyes over to his brother, the corner of his mouth lifting upward. "Head to the nearest bar? Drink our weight in booze and fine some fiery redhead with loose morals and a tight—"
"I meant . . ." Sam quickly interrupted.
Dean grinned, the expression somehow equal parts cocky and innocent, and took a slow drink from his beer.
Sam swallowed the deep sigh, and deeper grin, that threatened to spill over. "I meant, now that we've fixed your . . . soul problem, and you're no longer at risk of blowing a hole through the planet, what do we do now? The future that you . . . how do we make sure it doesn't happen?"
Dean dropped his eyes, his thumbnail idly digging beneath the label of his beer bottle as he muttered a soft response.
Sam cocked his head to the side, there was no way he heard his brother correctly. Not after everything that had happened over the past few weeks—hell over the past few days. He turned toward his older brother, fixed him with a hard stare. "What?"
Dean drew a slow breath and squared his shoulders. He didn't look at Sam, his gaze fixed on the horizon. "Don't save me."
Sam gaped incredulously and dipped his head, searched his brother's averted face. "Dean—"
"Sam," Dean cut him off, finally turning toward him, his expression one of steel-tipped determination. "I'm serious."
"Yeah, I got that." Sam dragged a hand through his hair. "I'm not sure I understand what you . . . we just got done saving you."
His brother shook his head. "No, that was . . . that was different. It wasn't just my life at risk." He shifted turning more fully toward his brother, an expression overtaking his face that Sam was having a hard time putting a name to. "Sam, if something happens, if I die or—"
"Dean." Sam tightened his grip on his beer, the moisture-loosened label slipping against the glass. "No. You can't ask me that."
"Sam, man . . . if you want to stop the world from ending, this is the best way." Dean spread his arms out wide, the blanket slipping off his shoulders to land soundlessly against the splintered steps. "You've seen the kind of people the future produces, and to answer the question you won't ask—yes. In the future, you can be just as cold and just as rough around the edges. The world that I've seen, that I lived through . . ." he sucked in a harsh breath, face pinching like it hurt him just to think about it, maybe it did. "That's what it does to people. To everyone."
Sam sat, frozen in silence, listening.
Dean let his arms drop back to his lap; a faint shiver rocked his frame as a breeze blew past. "Sam, I'm not going to look for trouble." He pulled his eyes away from his brother, sliding them down to his hands. "But if something happens to me, if I die . . . you need to let me go. Salt and burn my body, move on."
"Move on?" Sam finally spoke up, the thought so ludicrous he couldn't stay silent any longer. "Just like that?" he let out a humorless chuckle. "Sure, yeah, no problem. You make it sound so simple."
Dean rolled his lips against his teeth. "Sammy . . ." His voice was soft, it's typical rough edges tinted with an air of understanding. "I know it won't be easy, but . . . if something happens, if I tell you to let me go . . . Sammy, man, you have to let me go." He dragged his eyes up to his little brother's, and the desperation that filled them caused Sam's breath to stutter in his chest.
"Dean . . ."
"Salt and burn my body—a hunter's funeral—then stick close to Bobby, at least for a bit. He might not admit it, and if you ever tell him I said this, I will deny every word, but he's a softy deep down, and he can help you . . ." Dean trailed off, rolling his hand, gesturing vaguely but clearly unable to find the exact words he was looking for. "He can help you. Don't try to bring me back. Sammy, I have seen the result of those choices—the damage they do, they pain it causes. Please, Sam, promise me that when the time comes, you'll let me go."
Sam dragged a hand down his face, his mind tripping as it attempted to keep up with the dramatic turn of conversation. What his brother was asking of him . . . it was too much. "Dean, I can't . . ."
A small smile pulled at Dean's lips, something sad but confident. Proud. "You can. I know you can. Sam, please, promise me."
Since he was a child, Sam had always known, somewhere in the back of his mind, that no matter what it was he needed, Dean would do everything within his power to see that he got it, even if it meant giving his little brother the shirt off his own back. His big brother had always given everything and never asked for a damn thing in return. He wanted now to ask Dean—to beg him—not to demand this of him, to forget this conversation ever happened, to shut up and drink his beer. And because Dean always made sure Sam got what he wanted—what he needed—he knew Dean would, eventually, even if only for his sake. But he couldn't ignore the unrestrained plea, the absolute desperation and aching regret that were bleeding out his of his brother.
Sam knew this moment had nothing to do with what he wanted or needed, and he returned the favor he owed a hundred times over.
"I promise," he said softly. "If something happens . . ." He paused, nearly choking on the words, like they were fighting not to be spoken. "I'll let you go."
Dean help his gaze for a long moment, then nodded, resigned and satisfied. He turned back toward the darkening sky and took a long pull from his beer.
Sam narrowed his eyes at the skyline as an errant thought crossed his mind. "What about your friend?"
"Hmm?" Dean turned back to his brother.
"Your friend, the one that sent you back?"
"Yeah." Sam shifted his weight, draping his arms lazily over his knees. "I assume he's around in this time, right? Maybe he can help?"
Dean pressed his lips into a thin line, his eyes drifting heavenward. "That's my plan, but . . . it ain't gonna be easy."
Sam frowned. "Why not? I mean, he sent you back, right? From the future? He must be packing some serious mojo."
"Well, yeah, but . . ." Dean rubbed the back of his neck. "It's complicated."
"We just saved you from exploding due to messed up souls, Dean. What's more complicated than that?"
"Yeah, okay." Dean sighed. "Cas is an angel, and angels are all pretty much douches. He's a good guy . . . eventually, but right now he's sort of still buying into the company line."
Sam narrowed his eyes, certain that he'd misheard his brother. "Did you say . . . angel? Like angel angel?"
Dean nodded. "Yeah. You know, an Angel, with a capital 'A.' Wings, harp, the whole nine."
"Oh." Sam blinked owlishly, not sure how to even start processing that bit of news.
Dean gave him a sidelong look. "You know, I was serious about that fiery redhead. I bet she has a friend."
And just like that, Dean shattered the thick, suffocating tension that had been built up around them in the wake of all they'd faced and overcame, offering a comfortable, however temporary, exit from the heavy conversation, and Sam took it eagerly. "Dude, I don't need your help in getting some."
"Uh-huh. You know, Sammy, that lost puppy look will only take you so far with women." Dean grinned, his bottle hovering inches from his mouth. "Especially once you start losing all your hair."
A/N: Last time we were here I said "here we are, at the end of all things" Well, I lied, I do that. This isn't the last chapter of this story. There is one more, and then there will be a whole other story. So if any of y'all are out there, still interested in reading, I'm not done yet.
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