A/N: Okay, so this is it! The final chapter! We would like to reiterate that this is a fic that has character death. That warning again applies to this chapter. We would like to thank everyone who has taken the time to read and review this! We've had fun writing this (though it was at times depressing). We would never actually want this to happen, but there aren't many happy endings we can forsee for this unfortunate family.
Dean came awake with a start. His head pounded, and it took all the strength he had just to open his eyes.
"What - " His throat was tight, dry.
He brought a hand up to his temple, feeling the blood there, a mix of dried and new. Dad. Dad - hit me?
Reality flooded back to him and he pulled himself to his feet. He staggered down the hall, gun in hand, ready for the fight, his movements as frantic as his physical state would allow. There was a burning in his chest as fear - a fear he had never known before - gripped his heart.
"Sam! Sammy!" Dear God, answer me.
Too long - the hall was too long and it was taking him too long to get to his brother. "Sam! Sa - "
The word died on his tongue as he entered the room and saw . . . and saw -
"What have you done?" Dean's voice was low, dangerous. He raised the gun, his arms taut. His aim wavered as he tried to discern what evil he was facing.
His mind could not grasp the horror of the scene spread out before him. His brother's blood . . . so much blood. How could a person have that much blood? Sam's body, unnaturally still, unnaturally white, his eyes fixed, unblinking, on the ceiling above. And his father, knife in hand, covered in blood--Sam's blood--looking at him with a mix of guilt and acceptance.
"I did what I had to do."
Dean shook his head vehemently. "What have you done." He already knew the answer, but he couldn't admit it, wouldn't accept it, not yet. Not yet.
John forced the words out, knowing the truth had to be told. Dean had to understand. "It was Sam. Don't you see? It was Sam, it was always Sam. More people would die if Sam were allowed to live, Dean. I couldn't let him kill you."
"Sam never hurt anyone." His beautiful, sweet, stubborn, too-smart brother--desecrated. Broken. Dead -
Not dead. He can't be dead. He can't be dead! Dean could barely hear his father through the screaming in his mind.
"He killed Mary, his girlfriend."
Dean trembled. "Evil did that."
"It was always after Sam. That's why they died above him. There's a darkness in Sam. I know you know it--you've seen it, you saw it before I did."
"Sam didn't kill anyone--"
"But the blood is on his head!" John's voice broke.
Dean clenched his teeth tightly, trying to keep the tears at bay, hoping that something would stop this, something would change all that had happened. He cocked the gun, holding it steady.
"Sam is the catalyst--he's the reason."
Dean had heard enough. Nothing killed his baby brother and lived.
"It would have destroyed us all to get to him. It would have destroyed us all."
His father's entreating face blurred as the tears could not be contained. Dean's aim shook. He pulled the trigger.
Nothing killed his baby brother and lived. Nothing--not even his father.
John's eyes widened with shock. He looked down, fondling the hole in his shirt. Blood spread from the chest wound. He looked up at his son before his knees gave out and he crashed to the floor. He took a gasping breath. "It would have destroyed us." The words drained him and he crumpled to the ground.
Dean walked over to his father, looking down at the disbelieving face.
His son's face wavered above him. Dean's eyes glistened, betrayed by his emotions. "Don't you see?" His voice was like cut glass, sharp and broken. "It already has."
John tried to breathe, unable to draw in the necessary air. Panic swelled in him, his fear pouring out with his blood. He shook his head, his mouth trying to speak, to deny, to say something.
Because he saw the look in Dean's eyes, the anguish that knew no bounds. The same anguish he had felt when he saw Mary, pinned and bleeding and burning. And he saw the truth, the sudden reality he should have seen but hadn't predicted.
By saving Dean, he had killed him. He had underestimated Dean's love for his brother. He had destroyed them all.
The revelation came to John with grotesque clarity. He had played perfectly into the darkness, fulfilling every trap it set for him.
He shook his head, begging Dean not to, but fate was sealed and he had no way to stop it. As the blood drained from him, he finally embraced the emptiness he had spent a lifetime avoiding, he finally felt he wrenching loss of his wife he had never seen coming, the loss of his youngest he had carefully executed, and the loss of his oldest he could not prevent.
John Winchester died knowing that he had failed, that he had killed the only two things left that mattered in his life, and that the evil that had caused it had come from him and him alone.
Dean watched as his father died, unable to feel the pain of that loss, deafened by the weight of what he'd done, what he hadn't prevented. He wondered how he had followed the delusions for so long, how he had been so lost to follow someone so blind.
If he had opened his eyes sooner, could he have prevented this tragedy?
He had loved his father, he had trusted him and needed him. In that love, trust, and need, Dean had surrendered himself. He had let himself be blinded to how lost John was, how consumed by his guilt and grief. Part of him wept for this man who had loved so deeply that it had led him to demolish his entire family.
Dean had carried out his father's legacy, destroying the evil, and now he would bring peace once and for all.
He finally looked over to Sam, and anger twisted in his heart. His father's grief was real, but it didn't make this right.
He knelt carefully by his brother's side. The blood had stopped flowing and Sam's life pooled around him in a dark puddle. His brother's face was devoid of color, his eyes open and unfocused.
Shaking, he closed his brother's eyelids, unable to bear the vacancy where he had once known so much life.
"I'm sorry, Sammy," he said, running his hand through his brother's hair. "I should have stopped this sooner. I should have saved you. I promised you that I would always protect you."
Dean's resolve broke and he gathered his brother in his arms, lifting him from the cold, soiled ground. Pulling Sam close, he rocked him, crying over him. "I'm so sorry, Sammy. I'm so sorry that I failed."
His sobs overtook him, and he let himself give into the grief and the pain that he had never let himself experience. His denial had cost him so much, it had blinded him, stunted him. What he wouldn't give for one more chance to make that right.
There was no telling how long Dean sat there, Sam's body cool and lifeless against his chest, no heartbeat to echo back and match his own. His father's crumpled form lay still and silent, only inches away from them. Where there had been a family, once whole, and then fractured, there was now only one. In his cruelest nightmares, Dean had never thought things would end this way.
For all his years of pursuing and eradicating evil, he had never understood it as well as he did that night. Sometimes the greatest evil, the thing really worth killing, was inside themselves.
But his realization was too little, too late. He had known this hollow feeling before, the emptiness of loss that would only be filled with pain and more pain. He had known the kind of grief that festered, streaking the world around him in shades of darkness, pulling him down and down until he was all but lost. He had known this shaking, helpless feeling of impotent fury at God or devil or fate or whatever it was that had stolen something so valuable that it could never be replaced.
That knowledge paled in comparison to what he knew now. There was nothing left. In one fell swoop, he had lost everything: brother, father, purpose. He felt the cold dampness of the room seep into his bones and knew he would never be warm again. He saw the shadows growing, spilling out from the corners, and he knew there would never be light again. There was just . . . nothing.
It wasn't a conscious thought. The motion was too well-practiced, the sensations too ingrained. He barely even felt the cool metal of the gun that filled his hand. His eyes were as unseeing as his brother's as his finger slid over the trigger. The safety was still off and he knew without checking that all but one round was still burrowed in the clip.
All but one.
He pulled Sam close one last time, bringing his brother's forehead against his own. Tears slipped down, staining his cheeks and dampening the soft fringe of bangs that hung so delicately over Sam's eyebrows. "I'm so sorry, Sammy."
He let his eyes fall closed as he pressed his lips to Sam's. The tears threatened to choke him but he couldn't let go. Not yet. There was still one thing left to say, words that had gone unspoken for so long, but had been given voice in a thousand different ways, great and small.
"I love you, little brother."
He shifted, gently maneuvering Sam until he was cradled in Dean's lap. Reverently, he placed Sam's hands over his chest, positioning his brother in an angle of repose.
With Sam secure, guarded now, in death, as Dean had not been able to protect him in life, Dean lifted the gun to his chin. He dug the barrel into the soft flesh behind his lower jaw and sighed. Maybe, at last, the Winchester family would be at peace.
The gunshot echoed through the empty room. Dean's body collapsed against the bloodstained floor, his head just barely touching his father's outstretched hand, his brother still cradled in his embrace. The Winchester men were united once more.
The room was silent, empty, devoid of life. Darkness slowly consumed it as the candles flickered out, one by one, melting into nothing more than mounds of molten wax. When their light had faded, the room cooled, solidified into a darkened macabre still life.
He hovered above them, looking down. The pools of blood around them had collected, coalesced into one puddle. It was no longer clear where one began and the other ended.
He had never expected it to be like this. He felt an unexpected jolt of pleasure in how well the game had played out.
They had become their own worst nightmares, each becoming the epitome of what they had never wanted to be. The father was the evil, the oldest was the rebel, the youngest was the good little soldier.
A father who would never grieve, never move on, never let go. A father who would rob his sons of their childhoods, their innocence, their futures. He betrayed both of his sons from the day their mother died, and had fulfilled his betrayal by killing them both with one slash of a knife, becoming the very evil he had sacrificed everything hunting.
An older brother who would never disobey. An older brother who would forever walk a tightrope between his father and his younger brother, cursed with the self-inflicted burden of holding them together. He betrayed his brother when he didn't see through his father soon enough, by letting the family he strove to link together fall apart.
A younger brother who would never understand. A younger brother who would pull away, resist, fight the fate that had been placed upon him. He betrayed his brother by being the obedient one in the end, submitting the only time he really needed to rebel, and forfeiting the very things he was hoping to save.
They killed themselves by their own betrayals, betrayals they would never understands, betrayals that had started 23 years ago when the mother died on that ceiling above the boy's cradle. And she, the first to fall, had betrayed them all by dying.
Yes, he had started this, but they had finished it. He had set the pieces in motions, but they had chosen to topple down on top of one another, one by one, until none were left standing.
He had never manipulated love so perfectly, turned a family against itself, and watched them self-destruct in the name of one another.
He absorbed their tragedy, basking in their brokenness. He lingered, watching the blood soak into the floors, watching their bodies stiffen and decompose, and knowing their spirits lurked in limbo just beyond the curtain of this world.
He smiled, nodding in sweet victory. This was his crowning achievement. There would never be another that ended with quite so much gruesome poeticism. He hovered still, reveling in the destruction he had wrought, the only witness to the end of the Winchester family.