Title: Oh Darkness, I Feel Like Letting Go
Disclaimer: I do not own the characters of Supernatural. They are owned by Eric Kripke, the WB, etc. and are used for non-profit, entertainment purposes only. Please don't sue. I have no money for you anyway.
AN: Many, many, many thank yous go out to Brandi for helping me stop this fic from kicking my ass. Warnings for character death and much angst ahead. Also, switching POV sections, prose/dialogue switch offs, etc. So, all in all, an angsty fic of epically confusing proportions. Enjoy!
Oh Darkness, I Feel Like Letting Go
The first time Sam ran away from home he was nine years old. He was fed up with yet another move, another town, another set of lies to tell and (hopefully) friends to deceive, and he packed his bag one afternoon while his father was at work, at a janitorial job he picked up three weeks before and planned on leaving in two.
He packed while Dean was too busy making out with the local cheerleader he'd somehow conned into coming home with him to notice.
Sam didn't pack much, just what he could fit into his backpack, some clean underwear and socks, a couple ham sandwiches, his U2 tape and Walkman. He had twenty-two dollars in his pocket, a bus schedule in his hands, and a burning desire never to see his father again, and he set out the next day after second period, stopping by the local high school long enough to leave a good-bye note for his brother in his locker.
He thought, for a moment, of asking Dean to come with him.
He decided against it.
He knew that Dean wanted Dad more than Sam needed Dean, so he stuffed the note into Dean's locker and walked away.
Five hours and both ham sandwiches later, Sam arrived at the closest depot and bought his ticket, conning the cashier into selling him one with a sob story about the recent death of his parents and his cruel fate to live forevermore with an old spinster aunt who hated children almost as much as she loved cats.
He bought the ticket but he never made it to the bus.
Dean tracked him down twenty minutes later and dragged him out of the depot, yelling at him for ten minutes straight about his utter stupidity in taking off on his own when he knew what was out there, when he knew he wasn't safe without Dean or his father there with him. Then he ripped up Sam's ticket right in Sam's face, and Sam didn't speak to him again for three weeks.
He relented after Dean stepped in and saved him from a bigger, taller, stronger-than-Sam seventh grader, one determined to beat up the freak new kid for his nonexistent lunch money. Sam cleaned and dressed the cuts on Dean's hands, cuts from the neon green braces in the punk kid's mouth, and then he told Dean that he hated him for making Sam stay, for finding him and bringing him back when he'd finally found a way out.
Dean just looked at him for a minute, didn't say anything, and Sam swore he was going to punch him, too. But he didn't. Dean looked at Sam and then he said that he loved him, that he loved him but Sam could go fuck himself, and he didn't talk to Sam again for three months.
"Sam's gone, Dad. I don't- I don't know where he is. I can't find him."
"When did he leave?"
"A couple hours ago, I think. I'm not-"
"Do you know where he's going?"
"I don't know. I don't-"
"Think, Dean. Think. Where would your brother go?"
The second time Sam ran away from home he was eighteen, fed up with a life of Judo lessons and weapons training, a life of never ending lectures on the evil that existed in the world and how it was Sam's duty to help his family fight it. He packed his bags while his father and Dean were out destroying a poltergeist three counties away, probably counting down the hours until his freak, normal, college bound ass was out of their house and out of their lives for good.
He packed everything he owned except his guns and his knives, even the Japanese knife set given to him by Dean on his seventeenth birthday. He added the set to Dean's weapons stash, wishing he could take it with him because he loved his brother, but the taint of their father was too inlaid in the blades for Sam to bring them along. He stole a photograph of himself and Dean from their father instead, one from before, from when they were happy, because Sam knew that they had been happy.
He had six hundred forty-two dollars in his pocket, an acceptance letter from Stanford in his hands, and a burning desire never to see his father again, and he set out the next morning, hitching a ride with a carload of girls headed to Vegas for a bachelorette party, charming them with some heartfelt sincerity and a promise to chip in for gas.
He left a ripped up bus ticket on Dean's bed in lieu of a goodbye note. Dean would understand, even if his father didn't.
Sam made it to Stanford; he made it away; he made it for two months before Dean tracked him down. He opened the door to his economy-sized apartment one afternoon and found his brother standing on the other side, looking tired and angry and about two seconds from punching Sam right in the mouth. Sam invited Dean in, listened to him yell for three hours straight, listened to him yell about how ungrateful Sam was and how he'd disappointed their father, how he'd turned his back on them and normal wasn't everything Sam cracked it up to be, he'd figure that out sooner or later.
Sam listened for three hours and then he asked Dean to stay, to not go back, to free himself from their father's obsession like Sam had done and build a life of his own on his own terms, but Dean just punched him in the mouth for his insubordination and took off in Dad's Chevy, disappearing from Sam's life for a year and a half.
Sam convinced himself it was for the best. His brother didn't need him. He had Dad, and Dad always did love Dean the best.
Three days after Sam's fourth date with Jessica, eighteen months, two weeks, and six days after Dean punched him in the mouth and vanished from his life, Sam came home to find his Japanese knife set on his bed along with a scribbled down number he didn't recognize. He stared at the set for five full minutes, at the reminders of the training and the lectures and the fighting, of the evil and the duty and the mission he didn't miss and never liked to begin with, and then he called the number and left a message.
He told his brother that while Sam loved him and always had, Dean could go fuck himself.
He didn't call again for six months.
Sam figured it was for the best. He knew Dean hated him for leaving and Sam didn't think he could bear to hear his brother yell at him again for wanting a life of his own that was his.
By the time Sam tried again, the number had been disconnected and no forwarding one was left for him to follow. He got the hint, he was a college boy after all, smart enough to pick up on the subtext even if it was more text than sub, more eight-foot tall neon letters screaming at him with flashing lights and wailing sirens.
He got the hint and stopped calling; he told himself it was for the best.
The next time he saw Dean it was two years later and their father was missing. He left with Dean because Dean needed his help, and one week later Jessica was dead. Jessica was dead and Sam was back, a new burning desire in his gut, one he knew his father would understand.
"He's not here."
"Did you check the hospitals? The morgues, too?"
"Yes, Dad, I fucking checked the hospitals and the morgues. Jesus Christ, I'm not-"
"I know, Dean. I know. But I had to ask. I know how you get when it's about your brother."
The third time Sam ran away from home he was twenty-three and fed up with constant dreams of Dean dying, just like Jessica, just like their mom. He packed his bag early one morning as Dean slept in, raiding Dean's weapons stash for two guns, a pack of bullets, and a five pound bag of rock salt. He had some fraudulent credit cards in his wallet, his Japanese knife set in his hands, and a burning desire to kill the fucker that killed his mom and killed his girlfriend and threatened to kill his brother, too.
He left the picture of himself and Dean that he stole from their father on the edge of Dean's bed. He left it next to a letter telling Dean that he loved him, that he always loved him, but he had to go away now to keep Dean safe. And if Dean followed him, followed and found him like he always did, Sam would shoot enough rock salt into Dean's chest to put him into the hospital for a month. Sam didn't want to do that but he would.
To keep Dean safe.
Sam left the letter and the picture and then set off, hotwiring an already picked out Ford Taurus. He followed the road map in his mind, laid out in his dreams, carved into his heart, knowing that the next time he saw his brother, if he ever did, Sam would probably be dead.
"Are you sure, Dean?"
"I don't know about this. I think you should-"
"I don't care what you think. I'm going."
"I was going to say I think you should talk to Missouri before you go."
"Oh. I, uh, I was."
"Be careful, Dean."
"I will. And thanks. For everything."
The first time Sam ran away from home Dean had just turned thirteen. He opened his locker before lunch to grab his smokes and his Tic Tacs for some pre-lunch loving with Sasha, the cute little cheerleader he'd charmed away from her linebacker boyfriend, and he found a crumpled up note from his brother stuffed next to his backpack. He read the note with his heart in his throat and then he slammed his locker shut, racing out of the school without a backwards glance to stop his brother from doing something stupid.
He thought, for a moment, of asking their father for help.
He decided against it.
Dean knew that if he did, if he asked their father for help, Sam would be in serious trouble when they found him, and then Dean would be in serious trouble when they got home, and Dean didn't want to be in trouble, not then, not ever.
He just wanted to find his brother.
He spent an hour searching their room for any clue that could point him to where Sam might have gone, wasting ten minutes staring down at a picture Sam had drawn of himself, Dean, and their mother in front of a crooked farmhouse Dean supposed was their childhood home. He spent another hour at the two local libraries, prowling up and down the isles, poking his nose into every nook and cranny Sam could have crawled into, coming up empty on all counts save for a deeper hatred of libraries and their creepy level of quiet.
Hours three and four at the park and the movies and the super sized Wal-Mart, where he saw a bus that made his stomach go cold with possibilities. He spent precious minutes tracking down the nearest depot then more minutes figuring out how to get there, and he arrived nearly an hour later with his heart in his throat and visions of his dead brother in his head.
Dean walked into the depot, walked in and spotted his brother, walked in and walked right back out. He kept Sam in sight and tried not to cry at the small brown head bent over a wrinkled magazine as he smoked three cigarettes in a row and tried to calm the fuck down. Going off on his brother for this stupid, half-baked stunt would do nothing except make Sam cry, and Dean didn't want Sam to cry.
He just wanted him to come home.
But the minute Dean walked over there, the minute Sam looked up, his round face pale, his brown eyes wide, all scared and determined and there and alive, Dean lost it.
Sam could have died and didn't care.
He didn't care.
Dean grabbed his brother and ripped up the ticket and threw Sam onto his bike, letting him ride the whole way back, knowing that Sam probably hated him for bringing him back but not really caring. He loved Sam too much to let him go, and he figured his bother could go fuck himself if he didn't like it.
"Welcome home, Sammy."
"The name is Sam."
"Do you know who I am?"
"Do you know why you're here?"
"I'm here to kill you."
The second time Sam ran away from home Dean was twenty-one. He walked into their apartment, having begged off clean-up detail from their father, too tired and cranky to care about polishing their equipment to John Winchester's exacting standards. He wanted instead to sleep for a hundred years after that fucking poltergeist, wanted to complain to Sammy about anything and everything and see his brother smile and say that it could be worse, that Dean could be tired and cranky and about as pretty as a monkey's ass instead of the cockatoo he usually resembled.
He walked into their bedroom and froze at the sight of the half-empty room, at the sign that Sam had left, had left him again like Dean knew he would, like he hoped he wouldn't, and then he walked right back out, out of the room and out of their house, falling into the first open bar he could find. He drowned himself in a whiskey-soaked oblivion for two days straight before his father found him and brought him back home, handing Dean a cup of coffee and an 'I told you so' with a packet of aspirin on the side.
Dean didn't speak to his father again for three weeks.
He found Sam in two, at some postage stamp apartment thirty minutes from Stanford. He'd followed the trail on his own, just like before, just like always, since Sam didn't love him enough to leave an address or a phone number or a fucking clue as to where he was going, only that stupid fucking ticket like all of this was Dean's fault, like Sam wouldn't have had to go again if Dean had just let him go the first fucking time, and Sam was going to make sure Dean damn well knew it if it was the last thing he ever did.
Another month passed before Dean got the opportunity to go. His father had an appointment to keep in Alabama and he needed Dean to deal with a simple haunting in Nevada. Or so he had said. Dean figured he was just giving Dean the chance to talk to Sam without having to say that he wanted to talk to Sam, without having to admit to the man who threw his brother out that he wanted to go against his wishes and talk to his brother on his own, alone.
His father left, and Dean bypassed the ghost, heading straight for Stanford and his brother. He found Sam there in his tiny ass apartment, hanging posters in his bedroom, humming along to the radio that blasted the latest U2 song, looking safe and healthy and there and alive, and Dean felt like crying at how happy his brother could be without him. He snuck back outside, smoked a cigarette he hadn't smoked in eight years, and tried to calm the fuck down before he went off on Sam and drove him away some more. Dean didn't want to do that.
He just wanted Sam to come home.
He knocked on Sam's door like a civilized person, vowing to keep cool, vowing not to lose it like he lost it before, losing it, of course, as soon as the door opened and his brother peered out, his thin face pale, his brown eyes wide, all wary and determined and there and alive, and he fought with Sam for three hours straight, listened to Sam badmouth their father and badmouth their mission and badmouth their childhood before he turned right around and asked Dean to stay, to abandon their father just like Sam abandoned him, too.
Dean fought and listened and then he punched Sam in the mouth. He punched his brother because he wanted to stay, because Sam made him want to stay, and then he took off in his Chevy, determined never to see his brother again.
He figured it was for the best. He knew Sam hated him for loving their father and loving the mission and loving their childhood because no matter how bad it got, Dean always had Sam, and he was enough.
He was always enough.
Dean lasted five months before he found himself back in Palo Alto, blessing Sam's apartment with a protection prayer and all the holy water he could find. Seven more and he came back to kill a ghoul terrorizing southern California before it made its way to Stanford and to Sam. Another five and he brought Sam's knife set with him, leaving it on his bed with his new number, unable to handle the thought of his baby brother out there alone and defenseless when they both knew what lurked in the night.
One 'go fuck yourself' later and Dean fell into the second open bar he could find, determined to drown out the fact that Sam hated him and probably always had with all the bourbon he could buy. He walked out two days later, determined to let Sam go, let him go to his shiny, new, demon-free life until their father disappeared and Dean needed Sam because no matter what Sam thought, nobody could do this job alone.
One week later Sam's girlfriend was dead and his brother came back home.
"I left your brother for last, you know. You want to know why?"
"Because he'd fry your ass if you went after him?"
"Because he loves you the most. He loves you enough to let go."
The third time Sam ran away from home Dean was twenty-six. He woke up late, always late, never on time because he hated mornings like he hated normal. He found a letter and a picture and the fact that his brother had left him again waiting for him harsh and bright like the morning sun, and he cursed himself for thinking this time could be different, this time Sam might stay.
Dean read the letter with shaking hands, called his father with shaking hands, and he spent the next hour searching their room for any sign, any clue that could point him to where Sam might have gone. He wasted ten minutes staring down at the picture Sam had left, the one of them happy and whole and safe and alive, and he wondered why Sam loved something he couldn't remember when Dean ran as fast as he could from anything resembling his life from before.
His father called, and they made a plan, and Dean flew out to Stanford. He checked the hospitals and the morgues; he broke into Sam's place and found the drawing of him and his brother and their mother in front of a crooked farmhouse Dean knew was their childhood home, and he called his father again. Dean made a new plan and he flew out to Kansas, his heart in his throat and visions of his dead brother in his head, always in his head.
Missouri was there when he got off the plane and they raced to the farmhouse where Dean found Sam pinned to the ceiling with the fucker that killed their mom and killed Sam's girl and threatened to kill Sam, too, standing below him with a .45 in his hands and a smile on his face.
The thing turned to Dean and smiled and said, "Welcome home," and Dean shot six rounds of rock salt right into its face.
"See? See, Dean fried your ass like I said he would."
"Is that what you think?"
"Yeah. That's exactly what I think."
"All right then. Open your eyes and find out."
The first time Sam ran away from home, Mary had been dead eight years. John hadn't even known he'd run away until two weeks later when he asked Dean one night why Sammy wasn't speaking to him anymore. John knew why Sam refused to talk to him, knew it from the minute he handed his son his old .45 with a fifteen minute lecture on what lurked in the dark, knew it from the moment Sam looked up at him with hate in his eyes and his hands clenched by his sides, the .45 on the floor by his feet, already forgotten.
John knew why Sam hated him but he didn't know why Sam hated Dean, so he asked one night after Sam had gone to bed, not really expecting an answer but hoping for one anyway. Sam and Dean were always Sam and Dean, not Sam and Dean and John, and matters between them stayed between them, always, forever, the end. But John understood the bonds that form in times of war, ones fast and deep, beyond life and death, beyond love and hate, so he didn't try to pry. He just watched and worried and tried to understand.
And sometimes, sometimes his boys relented and he caught a glimpse of what drew them together and tore them apart. When Dean told him the truth, told him that Sam had run away, that Dean had found him and stopped him and brought him back home, and that was why Sam hated Dean, John understood.
He understood that Dean needed Sam and Sam wanted normal, so he stayed in St. Louis longer than his additional two weeks. He stayed a year and let Sam try out for the soccer team. Another move, another wedge, another reason for Sam to hate him, but it couldn't be helped. They stayed in Arizona two years. John let Dean go on his first hunt, and then they moved again. Years three and four in Colorado where Sam went on his first date and Dean on his first hunt alone. More moves, more years, always with John trying to balance between the demands of his boys and his need to find the thing that killed Mary and kill it, too.
He stayed on the road more and more, left the boys to themselves more and more, but John knew it was all right. He had Dean and Dean had Sam, and as long as they had each other, he knew they would be all right.
"Dean, you have to let go."
"I don't- I don't have to-"
"Dean. Please. Let me go."
The second time Sam ran away from home, Mary had been dead seventeen years. John knew Sam ran away before he even ran, having told his boy to get out and never came back. He knew why Sam wanted to go, knew why he hated John and hated this life. Hell, John hated this life and wished there could have been something more for his boys as they were growing up, but there wasn't. There was hate and evil and death and destruction, there were things in the world that people didn't know about, things he hadn't known about and had paid the ultimate price for, and John couldn't let what happened to him, to him and his boys, happen to anyone else ever again.
He wasn't stupid though. He understood the irony of his situation. He knew the life he preserved for others was one he could never give to his sons, and that was why Sam wanted to go. John knew it, so he let go. He tried to make it easier for his boy, his leaving, because as much as Sam hated John, he loved Dean, and John didn't know if Sam could leave Dean because it had always been about Sam and Dean. It had always been about Sam and Dean, not Sam and Dean and John, so John made it more about him and less about Dean. He told his son to leave and never come back, John made Sam hate him more than he loved Dean, and Sam left like John hoped and feared he would.
John tried to explain to Dean, explain why Sam left, why John let him go, but Dean wouldn't listen. He never did when it was about Sam. Instead he drank and he hurt and John did the only thing he knew for his boy. He focused on the mission. He focused on saving people and hunting things, and he hoped Dean would understand someday and forgive him for letting go.
Dean didn't understand. He wouldn't, John knew, until he heard it from Sam himself, so John let Dean go, too. He let him go, knowing he might not come back, knowing he might stay with Sam, but John understood that he owed it to his boy to give him a choice, give him the option for a life denied to him by the hate and the evil and the death and the destruction in the world, by John's desire to find the thing that killed Mary and kill it, too.
He let Dean go, and Dean came back like John hoped and feared he would. Dean came back, and John knew it was because he understood. He understood that he wanted Sam but Sam needed normal, so Dean let go.
He understood, but he never forgave John.
John never forgave himself either.
"He needs you, Dean. He always has."
"He never needed me. He left. He didn't even say anything. He just- just took off. That-"
"He left because he knew he could. Because he knew you would always be there for him. For me. For all of us."
"Shut up. Shut up. You don't have to do this. We can find another way. We can-"
"I love you, Dean. I always have."
The third time Sam ran away from home, Mary had been dead twenty-two years. John knew thirty minutes after he ran, knew it from the message his son had left, the message telling him that Sam loved him, that he always loved him, but he had to go now, had to do what he needed to do to protect his family like they protected him his entire life.
John packed his bags as Sam told him Dean needed John more than he needed Sam, as he said that John needed to go to Dean, needed to go to him and not find Sam, because if John did, if he found Sam before this was done, Sam would shoot enough rock salt into John's chest to put him in the hospital for a month. Sam didn't want to do that, but he would to keep John safe.
John got in his car as the message ended, and he called Missouri to work out a plan.
Dean called like John knew he would, frantic and panicked and never able to keep his cool when it was about Sam. John helped him with a plan, helped lead him to Stanford and then to Missouri, and then he let go.
He let go and drove home to Lawrence to save his sons.
He walked into his house, found Sam on the ceiling and Dean on the floor, found the thing that killed Mary, the thing that killed Jessica, the thing that tried to kill his boys, too, standing and waiting, bruised and bloodied, a .45 in one hand and a shotgun in the other.
It turned to John as John walked in and smiled.
John lifted his shotgun and fired.
He knew what he had to do, what he waited twenty-two years to do. He found the thing that killed Mary and he would kill it, too. He would kill it and his family would be safe, even if they would be safe without him.
John wasn't worried about that, about leaving his boys alone in the world without him. Dean needed Sam and Sam needed Dean, and John couldn't let either of them go. He couldn't let them go, but he could go in their place, could go knowing that as long as Sam had Dean and Dean had Sam, they would be all right.
They would be all right after all.
"This isn't- It wasn't supposed to be this way."
"You and Dad. You were supposed to stay away. Stay safe."
"And what? Let you kill yourself? I don't think so, Sam"
"You would have been-"
"No, Sam. We wouldn't have."
"Dad- He knew. He knew what he was doing. He. He waited a long time for this, and he wouldn't- he wouldn't have had it any other way."
"Dean, I'm sorry. I just, I couldn't let it take you. Not you, too."
"I know. I know, Sam, I just- Come on. Let's go."
"Home. Let's go home."