We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey.-Kenji Miyazawa

September 2001

There was something about sitting among the small patch of trees, back pushed against the rough bark and nostrils filling with the smell of freshly cut grass that put his soul in a state of peace. There was something about the weight of a hardcover volume heavy in his hands, and something about absorbing the sunshine that flickered down through the spaces in the leaves as he read philosophy. Even more soul-satisfying was the feeling of a future, a purpose, and of being a part of a dream he'd held for so long.

Sam tucked down the corner of one of his pages and looked up from the book he'd been consuming for the past hour. He watched the students walking in front of him on the paved bike path and smiled to himself thoughtfully. They were going to classes, talking about their projects and professors. They all looked like the cover of the brochure and at that moment, Sam was like one of those pictures of some goofy looking kid under a tree looking studious. His smile broadened at that thought.

Sam sat back after stretching out his long limbs and felt the tightness of his right shoulder. He rubbed the muscle and tissue, feeling the scar there, and it put him in a more somber and contemplative mood. As his finger probed the scarred flesh to release the tension, the glamour of Stanford's campus started to ebb away.

The breeze picked up slightly and Sam stared up into the branches, watching some of the leaves quiver and then fall. These were some of the few trees that weren't palms, and Sam preferred this kind of shade. He studied one particular leaf as it fell among the few others. He watched it tumble and then stop. As if time had paused for just that leaf, it hung suspended in the air for a few seconds as Sam focused on it.

He'd reached for it in his mind. Practicing like this with other things, Sam had found that he was able to manipulate small objects with his mind. It made him uncomfortable and liberated him at the same time. A part of him didn't want to able to control different items, but there was another part of him that didn't see the point in wasting what he was. Not after everything that had been sacrificed for him…

He would never forget the night he'd lain in his father's truck bed, his blood mixing with Dean's, pouring out through their wounds. He remembered all the sensations of fear and desperation that had accompanied that night. The victory over the demon was overshadowed and insignificant compared to Sam's distraught attempts to keep his brother with him. That night they were free from their eighteen-year-old curse, but the price of freedom…

Is Dean alright? Is my brother alright!?

Sam could still smell the coppery aroma of blood. He could still see the translucent complexion of Dean's blood-starved flesh…see the thick pools of blood beneath his motionless body as the hospital staff lifted him from the truck bed…

He'd forgotten what pain felt like in those moments. Numb. Until some paramedic reached him and started to lift him. The flash of pain through his shoulder lit up his mind. It made him fight back fatigue and those trying to help him from bleeding out.

M' fine... J…just tell me he's okay…Is he even alive? Dean… Dean!

He'd been too absorbed with the memories playing back through his mind, that he'd stopped looking at the leaf. He was back there-the night he'd watched them roll his brother away-not under a tree with his hazel irises pinned to a piece of greenery which remained in rebellion against the laws of physics. Concentrating like this sometimes brought back that night. His personal hell always seemed to come through with his "gift."

Buried in a daydream state, he hadn't noticed someone approaching until she dropped her face in front of his. His concentration was broken by the cascade of golden hair and the flash of soulful blue eyes. The leaf continued to fall, broken from its suspended animation, and Sam's eyes were now locked on a new target. All memories of cold, blood, and fear washed away for a moment by the warmth of curious eyes and a broad smile.

"Hegel?" she asked, pointing the book in Sam's hands and wrinkling her nose. "Vermilia right?"

Sam blinked a few times to clear the thick haze within his mind while not fully understanding what she was talking about. When it finally came home he laughed and shook his head. "Vermilia's a professor here isn't he? I've heard some of the students complain about him."

The girl took a seat in front of him and Sam sat up more so he could talk with her.

"Sorry," she said, "I just saw the book and thought maybe you were in one of his classes. I have the morning session with him. The guy gave us a book list that still has my head spinning. I was…kind of hoping you'd know something about surviving a course in Philosophy with him, since it looked like you were getting the jump on Hegel."

Sam shook his head, "Sorry to disappoint…I'm actually…just visiting."

"Oh!" the girl looked surprised and slightly embarrassed. "Geez, I'm two for two here." She shook her head, blond curls going in all directions about her face as she tried to hide the fresh red inlaid to her cheeks. "You just looked so at home. I'm Jessica Moore by the way…sorry, kind of skipped the whole introduction and went right for Hegel."

Sam laughed. "I see how it is." He held up the book. "I know Hegel's a stud and everything…"

"No no no…" Jessica laughed. She then tilted her head and smiled softly. "I'll admit that I've been waiting to slip in and meet you. You were just so absorbed I didn't want to bother you."

"Oh?" Sam asked. "So it wasn't Hegel."

"Not really," she pointed across the path to where a bike was propped against another tree with a backpack. "I was waiting to see if you and Hegel had a thing going on or if you were available."

Sam nodded at that, his smile felt so big that he hoped he wasn't about to scare her with it. He extended his hand. "Sam Winchester."

She took his hand and shook it before wrapping her arms around her knees. "So…just visiting? Really?"

Sam got a distant look in his eyes as he nodded, "Yeah…I was going to attend here this Fall."

"What happened?"

Sam exhaled forcefully and pulled in his lower lip, his eyes disappearing behind his long bangs as he bowed his head. "Um…I lost someone recently. I just need time…"

Jessica nodded in understanding, her blue eyes wide with empathy. She bit her lip and suddenly found interest in the grass at her feet, twirling it with her fingers. "I'm sorry, Sam."

"Yeah…" So am I…

"Do you think you will ever come here?" She asked.

"Someday," Sam smiled weakly. "I actually spoke with Admissions and the Dean. Told them my situation. They can't promise me the same scholarships, but they'll consider them and told me to send in my apps again for the next school year if I change my mind."

"You were accepted though?" Jessica asked.

"Full ride," Sam said shyly.

He'd never seen someone's face light up so fast. It was definitely a response he hadn't experienced.

"No kidding? Wow, that's wonderful," she said, impressed.

"Yeah," Sam smiled weakly. His dreams were at the edge of his fingertips. It was right there in front of him, tangible and still a possibility…but there was something he knew in his heart that he needed to do.

"I'm sure you can land that again," Jessica tried to reassure him. She'd watched his face fall and was now trying hard to help him be proud of such an accomplishment, even if he wasn't going to be able to experience the reward of it currently. She pushed off the ground and dusted off her khaki shorts, extending a hand to him. "Come with me."

Sam looked up at her extended hand and knitted his brow. "Come where?"

"Well, since you will be a student here someday you'll need to know the lay of the land," she said matter-of-factly. "You're looking at a fourth generation Stanford student," she said with mock seriousness. Sam loved the way she half pouted her lips when she went straight to business. She pretended to get frustrated when he didn't take her hand. "Sam, come on," she laughed. "My offer expires in three…two…"

Sam took her hand and was pulled to his feet. He shoved the massive book in his messenger bag and walked with her to get her bike.

"Ready for your tour, Mr. Winchester?" she asked, swinging her bag over her shoulder.

Sam motioned with his hand for her to lead the way, "After you."

A couple hours and two black twenty-ounce coffees later, they were sitting on the steps outside of one of the dorms. Jessica was still pointing out things as they rested and talking about more background of the campus. Sam was enjoying every second of it. She was brilliant, and not just with how she could recount all of this information for the tour, but with who she was. Sam not only listened to her stories about campus, but about home and life and her major in Anthropological Studies and Linguistics.

"Stanford is the second largest campus in the world, first being the University of Moscow. The campus is its own city," Jessica beamed and sat forward on the steps. Then she started counting off the attributes on her fingers, bobbing her head for emphasis. Sam found her enthusiasm contagious.

"It has its own zip code, fire department, US post office, medical center, gas station, shopping mall…Am I going too fast for you, Sam?" She laughed as she noticed the glazed look that had come over his eyes.

"No," he smirked. "You're doing fine, Jess…Just between the full history of the library, the statues, the buildings, the one cafeteria we went into…" he said while mocking her finger counting method.

"Okay, I get it," she said shaking her head and rolling her eyes. "I'll tone it down a little…"She looked around where they were and sighed. "What else…what else…Oh, Hoover Tower. In 1944, a female student, the daughter of an administrator, jumped off of Hoover Tower because she didn't get a bid for a sorority. The sororities were banned for a while. So if you like ghost stories, some people say she's still walking around here…"

She watched his face go taut and his eyes dark. "Have you seen her? Does anyone get hurt who comes across her?"

Jess raised a brow and shook her head. "What? Sam? It's a story. No, I haven't seen a ghost…" She then took away his coffee. "No more of this for you."

Sam huffed and shook his head. "Yeah, just a story…sorry…"

And there was one of his biggest revelations that day. One he'd already had, several times over, but each time it came up, it stunned him with how painfully obvious it should be. He wasn't normal, and normal was something he could always pretend to be, but could never fully attain. It's a story…Never with me or my family…

Jess gave a sweet smile, slightly laced with concern, and got up to stretch. She caught a glimpse of the time in her watch and sighed. "I'm meeting some people for dinner. You're welcome to come. I'll show you some of the dorms real quick and then I'll introduce you to some of my friends."

Sam smiled, hoping to God it didn't look as sad as he felt right then. He'd love to meet her friends, and get dinner…He'd love to stay. Sam knew if he spent any more time with her and in this place he might change his mind. He knew his heart felt like it was stapled to the stair he was sitting on. Dreams and desires, real and tangible, as real as the cool stone beneath his fingertips.

Sam noted the time and sighed, "I'd love to but…"

"You have to get going?" Jess asked, disappointment clear and present in her eyes.

Sam's smile weakened. "Yeah."

"Need me to take you anywhere? I kind of took us all over," Jess asked, shoving her hands into her pockets.

"Could we head toward Cedro?" Sam asked.

Jess nodded to the right. "Sure thing. It's on the way to mine."

When they reached the dorm, Sam stopped and turned to thank his tour guide. She'd been an amazing help and even if she didn't know it, she'd been what he needed to take his mind away from dark memories. Memories that threatened to swallow him at times these past few months.

"Thank you for the tour and, uh, I'll definitely have to check out 'the Dish.' I mean it's not everyday you can go jog around the four mile circumference of a radio telescope."

Jess laughed, "No, no it's not." She reached into her bag and took out a small notebook and pen. She tore out a page with the pen clamped between her teeth and steadied herself against one of the nearby garden ledges. She then wrote down her number and handed it to him, smiling at the surprise on his face. "You'd think you'd never gotten a girl's number before, Sam."

He laughed lightly, taking the number and rubbing the back of his head. That's usually Dean's thing…

"Call me anytime you have questions," she offered.

"Or anytime I need another tour?"

"Just…anytime," she said before pressing her lips together. "See you soon, Sam." She gave her goodbye and then turned to leave.

"See you…" Sam said, watching her leave.

She turned back a few times still smiling and looking like she wanted to stay. "I better see you around here next year!"

Sam just smiled his response, inwardly knowing he couldn't make such a promise. He gave her a short wave and indulged in the last few seconds of her smile before she turned for the last time and disappeared around the side of the dorm.

Sam turned and started for the parking lot where the he'd left the Impala. He'd made it only a few steps when he noticed his talk with Jess hadn't gone unnoticed.

Dean was leaning against the side of the dorm, watching Sam approach. He had one of his trademark prepare-to-be-harassed grins. Sam shot him a warning look, but he knew he couldn't dodge this bullet. He simply shook his head and braced himself to take it, knowing he deserved it…because he still hadn't told Dean something that he needed to…

Sam would take his brother's snark and enjoy the fact that at least Dean cared enough to piss him off.

Dean pushed away from the wall and joined Sam on the walk to the car. "She is so out of your league, Dude."

Dean had spent the afternoon giving Sam some space. They were there to move him into Stanford, and even though they were a week late for move in and registration for classes, they weren't alone. They'd met several students who were doing the same thing. None of them had been delayed by demons that had torn them apart, but they were all getting into classes later then expected, and Dean didn't feel so bad after learning that Sam had some peers in the same situation.

After meeting Sam's roommate, Frank, a pot-head who'd given Sam the how-to's of masking the smell of weed from the Resident Assistants, Dean had harassed Sam about the finer points of running steam in the showers and sticking towels under the doors. Dean had scoffed at the roommate's pathetic taste in music and had assured Sam that he could have his tape collection if that would make things less painful. Sam had replied that he was pretty sure that was unnecessary and he wouldn't dream of separating Dean from his life-blood.

It wasn't until Dean saw a girl in the hallway in only a towel and turned to make a comment, that he saw a definite look of distance on his brother's face. Dean didn't know if it was directed at him or not. Sam had been stand-offish all day and Dean was wondering if maybe it was him. Maybe he wasn't helping with moving Sam in, and maybe Sam just preferred to be alone while he acclimated. Whatever the case, Dean decided to back off and when Sam told him he needed to go register for classes, Dean had told him to take his time and not to worry about him. They could just meet at the dorm for dinner.

They hadn't moved in—Sam's single duffel would surely be a challenge to unpack. So Dean thought nothing about Sam not making any movement toward getting to know his roommate or unpacking. He just figured the kid was so tightly wound by the size of the place and his analytical working through how he was going to catch up on a week of study, that Dean didn't give much thought to Sam's behavior—or the fact that he headed in the opposite direction of the Records building.

Dean wasn't all there anyway. He'd known this day would come. He'd known that day in Colorado, when he'd sat with Sam on the Impala while they had a beer, that this was it. Sam was going onto bigger and better things and Dean had to be at peace with that or he'd lose it. The Demon was gone and Sam could take care of himself. Dean didn't have to worry—too much—that Sam would be safe. And Dean wouldn't be alone; he already had a hunt in West Texas with Joshua and Bobby…

He resolved within himself that he was at peace…as long as Sam was living his dreams.

Dean had taken to the campus for a few hours, talking with students and trying to do a little recon work for Sam. He'd already learned what cafeterias to avoid and which ones to use. He'd learned what professors Sam should take and which ones would fail him to fulfill their god-complexes. He learned which dorms threw the best parties and he had an entire list of bars and clubs that came highly recommended from cheerleaders, Tammy and Brooke. And just because Sam was the biggest geek he knew, he'd grabbed up the library hours and found out about a few Poly-Sci clubs Sam could join.

As he did all this, he could hear his father's voice… could hear one of his father's final requests: Tell him for me…I wanted to drive him to school. I wanted to help him move in…and carry those damn boxes. I wanted to see him get his diploma…not in the mail like his high school one…on a platform in the whole robe get-up…

This was the best way Dean knew how to tell Sam. This was the best way Dean knew how to honor his father's request. He'd already told Sam that their father was proud. He'd already told Sam what their father had said before he'd died…but Dean knew it was through doing this for Sam now, that he'd know his family supported him in this decision. It was the opportunity of a lifetime, and Dean was determined to reverse any thinking that had been ingrained in Sam the night of the argument.

He'd seen it in Sam's eyes the night they'd burned their father's body with Joshua and Bobby's help. Dean had seen the guilt present behind his brother's glassed-over irises. His tears weren't even scratching the surface of the pain Dean knew Sam was in.

His brother dealt in silent pain after their father's death, he wasn't even up for talking about it. Dean dealt in aggressive pain when no one was looking. After Dean had made a decent recovery, he had taken a crowbar to some of Bobby's junkyard scrap metal. At times Dean wished Sam had joined him. The kid needed an outlet…

Their father's "funeral"…Dean had barely been able stand, but he'd forced himself to do so out of respect. Sam had no strength in his right shoulder, and they'd needed Bobby and Joshua to prepare the pyre, but they'd wanted to be present and neither of them were ones for hospitals. As dangerous as leaving against medical advice had been for both of them, less then a week after their battle at the church, they had wanted out. After the funeral they'd spent time at Bobby's recovering from their wounds…

The physical ones at least…

Dean had finished up around campus and had returned to Cedro to wait for Sam. It was then that he'd received the call from Bobby about the West Texas hunt.

"How's he liking it?" Bobby asked.

Dean leaned against the building with his cell phone and shrugged. "Sammy's…I think he's in shock," Dean said.

"How are you holding up?"

That was the question, now wasn't it? Dean didn't think the real answer would be something he wanted to admit just yet. He knew Bobby would settle for the answer Dean had been giving for months now.

"I'm fine," Dean answered.

"Bullshit," Bobby came back quickly.

Dean figured his typical response was getting pretty worn and weathered by this point. "I feel like shit. That better?"

He could hear Bobby sigh. "Honest and understandable. You know he'll be fine, Dean, right?"

"Yeah..." Dean responded absently.

Bobby sensed it was crucial to switch subjects and Dean was grateful for the new direction.

"I was calling about the hunt, just making sure you were still up for it."

"Hell yes," Dean sighed. "Damn I'm so bored. I can't get out there fast enough. Months of lying down and just breathing…looking after that ugly dog of yours…"

"Rumsfeld is one of a kind, boy."

"You name every fugly dog you own, Rumsfeld."

"It's a good name…Why am I defending myself? Damn, you're a pain in the ass, you know that?"

"I try," Dean smiled.

"Lord help me, I've got you and Joshua to look after on this hunt. I don't want to have to get both of your smart asses out of a sling, so I need to know you're one hundred percent up for this shit, Dean."

"Bring it on," Dean said. He shifted the phone to one shoulder so he could undo one of the leather straps around his wrist. He rubbed at the nail scar that had started to hurt, massaging out the flare up that had occurred. "I can meet you in a couple of days in Lamesa."

"We'll keep in touch," Bobby assured him. "Take care of yourself, Dean."

Dean closed the phone and dropped it into a pants pocket before messing around with the leather piece to conceal his scar again. It was approaching the time that they'd agreed to meet outside of Cedro, and Dean wasn't one for boredom. Lately, being left alone with his thoughts only took him back to places he didn't want to venture.

He cursed as the leather was giving him fits and decided to just screw it. He tucked the band into his pocket and then had a seat on one of the benches nearby. He moved slowly, feeling the tight pull of his sore and scarred abdominal tissues.

Dean was looking forward to Lamesa. They had the Colt and five bullets to use if they ever came across something that big, but the Lamesa hunt was of the typical salt and burn variety. Not nearly the adrenaline rush and distraction Dean had been wanting for months now, but it was something to do, and Dean needed something to do.

He looked down at his wrist, the red scar there taunting him. He wore the leather straps not to hide the scars from others, but from himself. They were reminders of too much.

The night he'd faced off against the yellow-eyed Demon, he'd died. Several times. The first time was in the back of truck. He'd somehow known, just known, that he was done, and he'd listened to the slowing of his own heart until it had given out. He could remember silent darkness and the strong urge to let go. He'd been ready to…until he'd woken up in the memory from his youth that he'd shown Sam. Until he felt himself being pulled back into that memory, Dean could have sworn he'd let go.

And he wished that he had let go the second he could feel again.

Pain, biting, searing, and tearing through every synapse, let him know he wasn't dead. The cold of his own blood and the rain he was soaked in was more than his body could compensate for and he'd been unable to even shiver for warmth. He could remember paramedics, and doctors yelling, lifting, poking and tearing at him to get to wounds and return blood to him. It was too bad that for everything they poured in he was losing much more on the table.

It was on the operating table he'd died again. With eyes open, staring up into the overpowering white light of the operating table lamps, he'd felt himself go for a second time. He'd turned his head and saw the monitor displaying his flat line and he'd stared at it detached and once again free from pain. A part of him had always known he'd die fighting, and he had peace with that.

Among the mass of scrub adorned personnel, all working frantically on getting him revived, he saw someone else. And he knew in that moment that he'd felt that presence before. Once while he was sleeping, and twice by his bedside. The third person in his hospital room the night he went to save Sam. His father.

John had come beside the table, and had placed a hand on Dean's shoulder. His face was mostly hidden by the white lights above, but Dean could still make out his smile. The pride and peace that it held was telling Dean that everything would be alright now. That he'd "done good."

Dean had started to reach for his father's hand, but couldn't move. He felt something spark within his chest, all limbs leaden, and the pain returned with such intensity that he had to retreat into unconsciousness to escape it.

He'd been unaware that the monitor had started to count off the beats of his heart again. He'd been unaware that his body had started to fight again to live. He'd been unaware that what he was living to protect wasn't ready for him to leave.

When Dean had finally come back from it all, he knew. He knew the reason he was still alive was Sam, and that his role in Sam's life was far from over. Whatever piece of his brother lied within him, it had refused to let him go.

Dean sat back on the bench and looked up at the sky. How was one supposed to get their head around being what Dean was? Around what Sam was? At times he wondered if he'd been spared from death by Sam's presence because there was still something he had to accomplish or protect his brother from. The list of his own personal existential dilemmas was long, but he'd always accepted the idea that he was his brother's keeper. His guardian. It was a role he'd filled his entire life, and so what if destiny, or whatever was out there had decided it was his life's purpose? Dean had decided that was his purpose long before the Demon had revealed it to him.

Sam was taking longer than Dean had anticipated checking out the campus. Restless, Dean got up and returned to the wall of Cedro to wait for Sam, flipping open his cell to get a hold of his brother. It was then that he saw Sam talking with a girl and getting a phone number. Dean watched as Sam gave her a smile before turning back to the building.

Dean couldn't help himself and he saw that Sam knew it by the look his younger brother was giving him. It was one of Sam's trademark "Dean-say-one-word-and-I'll kill-you" glares, but Dean figured he'd already died a couple of times and it was too good to pass up…

"She is so out of your league, Dude," Dean smiled.

"Shut up," Sam sighed, but he refused to stop smiling.

"So, I did some recon work for you, Sammy." Dean dug into his pockets and pulled out a fistful of papers and what appeared to be napkins. He put them all together and started to read through them. "Alright so I've got like ten girl's phone number's here…"

"You what?" Sam asked.

"Well, now you have eleven, eh?" Dean said slapping Sam's arm. He then handed Sam ten slips of paper, all contained phone numbers, and some bore lipstick. "According to Tammy…"

"Tammy?" Sam laughed. "I'm surprised you actually got her name."

"Hey!" Dean mocked offense. "I did this for you, little brother. A little gratitude. Please. As I was saying, Tammy knows where all the good bars are, or so she claims."

Sam rolled his eyes and leafed through the small stack of papers. "I see…and uh, Christa?" Sam held up one napkin with dark red lipstick. "She another girl you think I should get to know?"

Dean studied the name and then tore the napkin away from Sam. "Actually, that one is mine," Dean grinned. "But I'm not done, Sam. Apparently one of the fraternities likes to throw flaming couches out the windows. I'm still working on finding out which one, but that's pretty flippin' sweet. Oh and this place, Sam, you have to check out- 'Full Moon on the Quad' or whatever it's called. On the first full moon of the year freshman line up and seniors kiss them. It's a little like a massive orgy. You didn't tell me this place was so…"

"You can stop right there, Dean," Sam feigned being annoyed. "No seriously. Stop or I'll make you stop."

"Come on, Sammy, that's the real reason you wanted to come here, isn't it, you sly dog?" Dean beamed, knowing he was being a pain.

"Are you trying to fill a quota or something before you leave?" Sam asked. He was pretending to be mad, but it was hard when his smile kept creeping up on his face.

"You're going to miss me. Admit it."

"No," Sam laughed. "Go. Now."

Dean lowered his head, pretending to be hurt. "Look. I did do some serious work. I promise." Dean handed Sam more papers and pointed to the names as he spoke. "I hear this guy teaches the best course in Philosophy. This guy the best course in History, if there is such a thing. These people you want to talk to about getting involved with shadowing some of the legal practices around the campus," Dean shrugged. "I even got some of the library hours for you, Geek boy."

"That was very thoughtful of you," Sam half joked, half meant. Dean was making it harder for Sam to tell him what he'd decided.


"Oh, talked a little with your roommate, Frank. The guy is way too possessive of his television…"


"So I thought after dinner, we could get you unpacked and go to Target or something…"


"What?" Dean asked annoyed. "Shit, Sam, I'm right here."

"I'm not going," Sam revealed.

"To what? Dinner? Target? I had no idea you had something against it. I'm sure there's a Wal-mart…"

"Dean, I'm not going to attend Stanford this year. Maybe not even next year…"

Dean's mouth hung open in mid-thought as he processed that. "Sam, this is it. This is what you've always wanted. You're standing here at Wussy State and you're telling me that you don't want this?"

"What about you?" Sam asked.

"What about me?" Dean asked, his eyes pleading with Sam not to do this. "No. Sam. Don't even…"

"I'm coming with you, Dean."

"The Demon is dead. I'll be fine. You've got this once in a lifetime opportunity at your damn fingertips. I'm not gonna let you throw that away."

"There are too many things we don't know. There are others out there like me…you heard the yellow-eyed Demon, they don't just belong to him. And yeah, you may be fine, Dean…at least that's what you keep saying, but maybe I want this. Maybe I want to come with you."

"No, Sam."

"I already withdrew…" Sam said, standing his ground. "You're stuck with me."

Dean swore. Never could he have imagined that he'd be standing here fighting so hard to make Sam stay at Stanford.

"Dad's gone." Sam continued. "I've been thinking, 'bout what's really important…" He cleared his throat. "I just need time, Dean. You and me, we're all that's left. So if we're going to get through this…I mean…you shouldn't have to go it alone…"

Dean looked at the ground, "I didn't ask you to do this…"

"I know. Dean, I want this. I want to hunt…right now."

Dean shook his head, a smirk forming. "You'd think someone had just squeezed your balls with how much effort that took you to say."

Sam huffed and nodded. "Yeah, well…I mean it. I'll always have your back."

Dean heard his own words to Sam being returned. He'd needed to hear that. He'd needed to know that, even if a part of him always had.

"You already withdrew?" Dean asked, still slightly disappointed in his brother. He hoped that the relief he also felt wasn't leaking through at all. The truth was that Dean knew he could do this alone…he just didn't want to.

"Yep. I'm officially out of here…" Sam said, eyes searching Dean for some sort of a reaction.

"I could kick your ass," Dean said angrily.

"I know…" Sam said shifting his weight nervously. "So am I homeless? Or will you let me into the car?"

"You have to walk the first fifty miles," Dean replied.

Sam laughed. "I figured as much."

They'd stopped at a rest stop along I-40, somewhere between Flagstaff and Gallop, Sam had lost track. He was waiting for Dean to come back with food and needed to stretch his legs. Sam got out of the car and started to walk along the woods at the edge of the rest stop.

There was a bridge over a small river and Sam stopped in the middle of the structure and leaned over the railing. He yawned and checked his watch, noting that it was approaching five in the morning. He would offer to drive as soon as Dean got back, so his brother could get some sleep.

Sam caught himself smiling and shook his head. Ever since they'd left his thoughts had drifted back to Jessica and the campus. He wasn't regretting his decision, just curious about what could have been. He reached into his pocket to get her number. He pulled out the research stack Dean had given him and shook his head as he leafed through it all to get to Jessica's number.

He found it, entered it into his phone, and then wadded up everything to shove back into his pockets. Maybe he'd call her…maybe he'd just leave it alone. Despite the attraction he had to her, he couldn't shake the feeling that she was safer without him around.

As he shoved both hands down into his jacket pockets, his right hand came down against the sharp edges of something folded. Sam pulled out a crumpled piece of paper and felt his heart clench before he opened it up. He already knew what it was.

Sam opened up the acceptance letter and looked at the smudged lettering and torn edges. It was the letter that had started it all. He could still hear the angry words he'd spewed forth with venom. At the time, he'd defended this piece of paper with everything that was in him.

God! Can't you just be happy for me? Just this once?

Dean had told him later that their father was proud, that he'd just had trouble expressing it. He'd been scared…

Sam exhaled forcefully, trying to breathe out that night and trying to clear his mind. He was starting over. He knew what was important to him now. It didn't lie within the walls of Stanford. Not now. No, what Sam had come to realize was that he only had one family, and in a life full of darkness, that had been the only true light. As messed up and as screwed up as they were, they were still family. And right now, the remnant of his family needed him…and while he wouldn't come right out and admit it, Sam needed his brother.

No matter what you choose, Sam, I'll always have your back.

Sam had echoed Dean's words today, and he'd meant them.

"I choose this," Sam said, holding out the letter over the water. He set it on fire with an effortless look and watched it burn right down to his fingertips before he released it. His eyes followed the glow of the curling letter until it hit the glass-like surface of the river and smoldered out.

Sam made his way back to the car just as Dean was exiting the building. They met in front of the Impala and Dean tossed Sam a small brown bag.

"Yesterday's cinnamon rolls and microwave breakfast burritos," Dean said. "It was that or beef jerky and Mountain Dew."

Sam looked down at the bag and made a face. "God, I love our diet. Coffee?"

Dean held up the drink carrier. "Does the Pope ride in a glass box?"

"I can drive," Sam offered.

"Actually, I'm doing alright," Dean said as he got in behind the wheel.

Sam got in and took one look inside the bag of breakfast selections before closing it back up. He'd stick with coffee for now.

"You sure you've got this next stretch?" Sam asked.

"I've got coffee, and…" Dean reached under his seat and pulled out a box of tapes. He found one he was looking for and shoved it into the tape deck. "…and Hetfield to keep me going."

Sam picked up his brother's sacred tape collection and started to go through it.

"Dude, you gotta update your cassette tape collection," Sam poked.

"Why?" Dean asked.

"Well for one they are cassette tapes. And two, Black Sabbath, Motorhead, Metallica...it's the greatest hits of mullet rock."

"House rules, Sammy, driver picks the music, shotgun shuts his cake hole," Dean said before tossing the tape case back into the box. He then turned up the music and shot Sam a grin before pulling out onto the road.

Sam slouched down in his seat and leaned against the door to rest. With the windows down, Dean's voice accompanying Metallica lyrics, and the sound of the road beneath their tires, he knew without a doubt that this was where he was supposed to be.


A/N: I'm kind of in shock that this is over. I want to thank all of you who have read and reviewed this story and have stuck it out with me. I am so grateful for you guys and you've made writing this an awesome experience. Special thanks to gaelicspirit for challenging me and supporting me along the way. Also, thanks for giving this chapter a read through! Thanks and so many cookies to Mady Bay for editing all along with me, and thanks to November's Guest and Eyelyo for the early edits and encouragement. Again, thanks to all my readers! I love you guys and I wish you all the best.

-Sojourner/ Claire Kennedy

5/25/07 -I'll be out of town for a few days, so it will take me a while to respond to anyone who reviews. Thank you in advance and please know I'm not ignoring you. Take care.