Author's Note: Well, this is it. I'm not sure how I feel about it, if it's really good enough to cap things off. But it is what it is. I think I covered all of the challenges, or at least the ones posted at the time of this story's conception. But could you find them all? Anyway, here it is. Let me know what you think!
There's a word for it: survivor's guilt. Well, I guess that's really a phrase, not a word, but it's what I feel all the same. It's what keeps me going, always on my toes, always looking for that next hunt. It's the one thing I can always count on to get me out of bed in the morning, or to keep me awake while I'm driving out to the next dangerous destination. Because I just can't handle the guilt, the what-if. What if I tried a little harder? Or moved a little faster? Or did…something different? What if?
But the guilt comes when I stop with the what-ifs and move on to the real important question. Why not? Why didn't I try a little harder, move a little faster? Why didn't I give it my all? Why didn't I put myself on the line, wholeheartedly? Why didn't I do whatever it takes to save that person's life?
And I know the answer. Because if I had, I might have been the one to die.
Soldier's training. Never leave a man behind. You are one with your comrades, each indispensable, each also, on his own, unnecessary. It's the cause that counts, not the individual life. You're just part of the whole.
So if no one's life is more important than my own, why should mine be spared? Why should I try so hard to make sure it is? Why should I live – let myself live – at the cost of others?
Sammy always had a different way of looking at hunting. He never could play by Dad's military rules, always questioning everything. He said…what did he call it? Cost benefit analysis. He said that you had to weigh the potential risk against the potential gain to figure out if it was worth doing or not.
For Dad the answer was always simple. Do it. People need our help. They aren't able to save themselves, only we can do that. And I know where it comes from, that idea that these people, whoever they are, really need us. We were them once. We were regular, normal people who absolutely could not have survived without help from…well, someone like us. And we didn't get that help. And, in a way, we didn't survive.
Dad never really cared if he died going after something. Why should he? He was dead already.
But as much as Sam and I were never really alive after Mom died, we weren't really dead either. So maybe that's why we cared a little bit more about saving our own hides. And I do care. I know Sammy thinks I totally buy into Dad's 'shoot first, ask questions later, whatever it takes' method, but I don't. Not always.
I don't know what I'm saying really. I know that…I know that saving people is a good thing to do. It's what I was taught to do. It's what I was told was always my purpose in life to do. But sometimes, no matter how right it feels to save someone, it also kind of feels wrong for me to be the one to do it. Because no matter what I was raised to believe, I just can't stop thinking that maybe my life is actually worth something. Maybe I do deserve more than just a purpose.
Like Sam. This…gift or whatever, this psychic thing he has? He must have it for some sort of reason. I know he knows that. And I know it scares the crap out of him, that he has a purpose in this life and it's not one he chose himself. But that's the thing about Sammy, he won't let anybody push him around, not even the universe. So he gets this shinning thing and he knows he's gonna have to do something with it at some point, but until he gets to that point, damn if he's gonna let that run his life.
That's the thing with my little brother. He may have a purpose, but he also has a life. And as much as I hate to admit it, because it does feel like I'm turning my back on everything – those people, my training, my Dad, even my Mom – I want that too.
At least I think I do.
But here I am, sitting at the airport, waiting for them to call out Sam's flight for boarding, waiting for my brother to leave me again, this time for good. And all I can really think about is how much I want to keep on hunting. With him.
"You know," I say, but then stop, shake my head. I'm not sure how long we've been here, sitting side by side in these pale plastic chairs, but I do know that neither one of us have said anything since we sat. And as soon as I hear my voice, I know why. Because it sounds dry and weak. And wrong. Anything that's said right now would just be wrong.
He gives me a weird look, tilts his head and scrunches up his eyebrows like a confused puppy, and says, "Yeah?"
So I clear my throat, figure, 'what the hell?' If nothing I say is gonna be right anyway, I might as well just spit it out. And what I want to say is, 'We really did make a good team.' And, 'I had fun, even when we were doing things that probably shouldn't have been fun.'
And, 'I love you and I'm really gonna miss you, man.'
But what comes out is, "I just wanted to know…Sam," and I clear my throat again, look away for just a sec, then back. "Did you ever know that you're my hero?"
It takes him a minute, but finally I get a, "What?"
"Yeah, man." I straighten up and look him right in the eye. "You're everything I wish I could be."
Putting my hand on his shoulder I say, so sincerely even I almost buy it, "I can fly higher than an eagle, cause you are the wind beneath my wings."
And…scene. Silence. Oh, he gets it all right. He just doesn't know how to respond.
So I do the only thing I can do, the only thing it occurs to me to do. I stand up and belt it out. "Fly…fly…fly away, you let me fly so high!" And the look on his face!
"Dean!" He grabs a hold of my arm and yanks me back into the seat, hard.
"Dude," I say, rubbing the spot where I'm sure I'll have finger shaped bruises later.
"You're such an idiot," he mumbles. His eyes dance around like he's trying to see if anyone's looking at us, which, yeah, a few people are. But to put that shade of red on Sammy's cheeks….totally worth it.
It only takes a chuckle from me to get him to nearly break down in laughter, and before I know it even more people are staring. But so what?
Then the laughter stops. Because we hear his boarding call.
"So," he says looking down, still smiling, then, suddenly, not. "I guess that's me."
"Yep," I say and we both stand.
"Hey, you be careful with that shop. Make sure you pay all the bills on time and everything."
"Dude, I'm not a complete moron."
"Yeah, well, just remember it's in my name and I don't need you sullying my credit." Ass. But I let it go cause I know he's only joking. Mostly.
The voice on the loudspeaker announces his flight again. He has to go. I clap him on the shoulder and say, "Call me when you get in. I want to be sure no crazy ass demon takes down your plane."
"Yeah, that would suck." He nods and I start to pull my hand away. But then…I can't. And instead of letting go and letting him walk away and on that plane and out of my life, I clench my fingers tight around his shoulder, move them up to the back of his neck, and pull him in.
I hold him tight. Because I can't let go. I don't want to let go.
But then I hear, "Final boarding, Flight 817 to Palo Alto," and my grip goes slack.
I have to let go.
He doesn't say anything at first, just hoists his bag up and nods his head. Then, "I'll call you," quiet and strangled, just before he turns and walks away. He doesn't look back. And I'm glad.
So I stand there for a minute, just a minute, before everything comes back, the noise of the people passing by and the loudspeaker and little kids crying. And I know there's no point in staying, so I head for the car.
He'll be okay. That's what I keep telling myself. Sammy's always okay.
It's not 'til I get to the car and fall into the seat, shut myself in, that I realize what I'm saying, or thinking. Or, more importantly, not saying or thinking. I'm gonna be okay.
I know it. I don't know how, but I just know it. No matter what happens, if I hate running the garage and decide to sell inside of a month. If I get all shifty and restless and feel the pull of the road, and the hunt. If I never feel the pull of the road and the hunt, ever again. If I talk to Sammy everyday, or once a week, or even once a year. Even I don't see him, or my dad, until their faces have changed so much that I can barely recognize them. No matter what, I'm gonna be okay.
My purpose has always been to take care of others. Sammy. Dad. Strangers who don't have a clue about anything. But my life? I don't know yet what that's gonna be. I just know that for once, I'm gonna take care of me.
At least for now.