Summary: In the end, he did it for love.
A/N: This is so not my fault. It's all geminigrl11's fault. She has it in her head that the boys can't have a happy ending--and has the undying belief that there is a certain amount of beautiful sacrifice in their pursuit of the hunt. I was angry and upset with the idea and wrote this. So inspired by, dedicated to, and beta'ed by Gem. Oh, and I guess I should warn for character death, because, well...you'll see. They die but it's not totally untimely.
Disclaimer: Last I checked, they are sadly not mine. If they were, there would be a lot more hugging. And limpness. Not necessarily in that order.
The Day The Music Died
"Oh, and there we were, all in one place
A generation lost in space
With no time left to start again"
-American Pie, by Don McLean
The day Mary Winchester died, her family became an army. John, bereaved and terrified, fell back to the only thing he could think of: fighting. He knew war wasn't about glory, wasn't some idealized heroic escapade, but just about getting the job done. And as long as the cause was just, then the war was righteous. He wasn't sure he believed that until now, and now he didn't as much believe it as know it. Now that he knew it, knew he had his own cause to crusade for, he would sacrifice everything in its pursuit.
He would give up his home and his job, all the stability he had worked so hard to give her. He would give up his peace of mind and blissful ignorance, and instead delve deeply into the darkness that had snatched the love of his life right out from under him. Or above him, as his memory would never let him forget.
And he would never forget. She had been the center of his universe and that was something he didn't know how to grieve, didn't know how to let go of. He couldn't think about what she would have wanted, because she never would have wanted to die, never would have wanted to stare down at her son as she burst into flames, never would have wanted to be the epicenter of the tragedy that rocked her family for the rest of their lives.
Darkness didn't deserve her, and she didn't deserve it. Though John could never undo the exchange for her soul that night, he could make the darkness suffer as he had suffered.
He would even give up his sons. They, too, would learn that the only thing that keeps life together is structure and a chain of command. Even when they rebelled, that was a truth they would never forget, not even when the prodigal returned home. Especially then.
The day Mary Winchester died, John made his choice, and his boys had no recourse but to fall in line. Dean became an adult, following orders and doing his duty without a qualm. And Sam was caught somewhere between innocence and darkness, forever marked by the scent of smoke and the sight of his mother's blood.
The day Jessica Moore died, Dean got his brother back. She had been the best thing in Sam's life, Sam's real shot at normal, at making his dreams come true. When she died, that part of him died with her, and normalcy became no more tangible for him than the smoke that curled upward in the California night.
Dean never thought much about it—never really let himself. It was too hard. Too hard to joke around with a truth like that lurking in the back of his mind.
But whether he thought about it or not, it was still true, and he knew it without acknowledging it. He knew it in the way Sam's eyes would grow distant as they crisscrossed the country yet again. He knew it the way Sam wrenched himself from sleep with her name under his breath. And he knew it as he saw more and more that Sam was willing to give up everything he had left to avenge her.
He knew it when he saw that Sam had become just like their father, when Sam saw vengeance as the end. It didn't matter what he had to do as long as the end was in sight and as long as the end was good.
Dean didn't look at the end. Not really. He could talk about it that way, but for him, it was the pursuit that mattered. That's where life was lived, and that's what hunting was for him. It was just the means he used to keep his family together.
He thought togetherness could only come in hunting, but Dean also knew that the hunt was killing Sam, taking him further and further away from her, all the goodness that came with her, and all the dreams and hopes that had identified the Sam he had always known.
Neither of them talked about it, neither of them mourned it, but it was true nonetheless. But Dean had spent so many years hoping for completeness. He had worked so hard to get them all back together. It didn't matter how, it only mattered that they were together again, and Dean didn't know if he could live without that now--no matter what the cost might be.
The day Jessica Moore died, the Winchesters were a family again--if not complete, then together--and that alone was enough to make Dean's dreams come true. As long as he was breathing, he would keep them safe, alive, and together. Always together.
The day John Winchester died, he left his sons the only thing he had, which was nothing but a legacy he had never bothered to ask if they wanted in the first place. The boys didn't have to talk about it, because the end was still unwritten, and after everything their father had given up for this, the one thing he deserved was for it to be seen through.
John became a martyr to his own cause, died to bring them together, died to ensure that his goals would be realized.
But John was no god, and his sons were no heroes. They were just men, hoping to make something--anything--right in the end.
The day John Winchester died, Mary was nothing but a memory. Jessica was nothing but a lost dream. But Sam and Dean were the soldiers in the cause, bonded and moving, because all the ghosts that followed them made it impossible to stand still.
The day the demon died, Sam stayed. After all his talk of moving on, of finishing school, of getting his life back, Sam didn't follow through on one of them. He didn't talk about it. He just stayed and hunted, forever riding shotgun.
Dean watched his brother stay without a word. He didn't know what to say. His greatest fear had been watching Sam leave so when he watched him stay, subdued and resigned as it seemed, he could not bring himself to question it. Sometimes he felt a twinge of regret, but it was all ends and means again, and this was as much happiness as he had ever known. They had conquered. And now they were together.
Dean hunted for the greater good. He did it to save people.
Sam had tried that, and it hadn't been enough. He had tried to hunt for the family legacy, for the memory of his mother, of Jessica. He had tried to hunt to cope with the visions that assaulted him. He tried to do it for himself.
But none of that worked either. Because the legacy would die with him, and the memories would too. And the visions didn't get easier whether he had a gun in his hand or a pencil.
So Sam hunted for the only reason he could. He hunted for Dean.
When he was younger, Sam had told himself he would have more. Sam had spent years working for more. But, in the end, it was a fate he could not escape. No matter what he did, it always came back for him. It always kept his desires at an arm's length away. It let him taste the things he always wanted, but never let him keep them.
That loss killed him. It resonated inside of him, hollowing him out until only emptiness remained.
Except for Dean.
Dean made the emptiness less vast. Dean made the emptiness less lonely. Dean made the emptiness less real.
Dean had always been the one. Dean had balanced Sam, anchored Sam, saved Sam. And when Sam realized how much Dean had given, Sam knew that his older brother was the only person left in his life that mattered.
And Dean needed him. Wanted him. Sam didn't need the demon to make that clear.
So Sam hunted for Dean. It was his only peace. And at the end of the day, he couldn't say there were no regrets, but he could say there was peace. Sam would save every oblivious soul from Florida to California if that meant making Dean happy.
Dean loved Sam. He always had, but his gratitude in the aftermath was palpable. The tape deck was replaced with a CD player. Pit stops were longer and more frequent. They spent quiet evenings in the motel, reading or playing cards, instead of galavanting in local run-down bars.
It wasn't perfect, but it was good.
It wasn't happiness, but it was okay.
And after a lifetime of pain and inadequacy, that was more than Sam Winchester had ever had before.
As long as Dean was there.
The day the demon died, Sam realized what his life was meant to be. He let the status quo persist, because it was warm and safe like that. He had protection, which wasn't a wife and 2.2 kids in the suburbs, but was close enough. There was only one thing he had the power to make right, and that was Dean, and after so much failure and loss, that one success meant everything.
The day Dean Winchester died, the world stopped. For Sam anyway. Sam had stayed for Dean, hunted for Dean, gave everything up—including his dreams and passions—for Dean. Without Dean, nothing else mattered.
But the one day he wasn't there, never would be again, and everything inside Sam stopped functioning. Nothingness pervaded his reality, seeped into his soul, reopening the voids that Dean had filled.
There were still the memories—the moments scorched into his mind.
Dean running next to his bike as it wobbled, his hand steadying it, his voice promising, "Just keep peddling, Sammy," before he let go and let Sam fly.
Dean sitting in the car, windows down, tape blaring, waiting with the parents outside of Sam's high school, a smile on his face as he said, "Dude, did you bring your whole locker home?"
Dean in his apartment at Stanford, his humor covering the fear, as he asked him to come back.
Dean at their father's grave, his face stoic, his eyes wet, saying, "This is how it ends, Sammy. But we're still standing."
Dean on the ground, his gun, unfired, still in his lax grip, his face pallid, his eyes filmy, "Not this time, Sammy."
The memories weren't enough. They didn't tell the whole story. They didn't give testament to the continual feeling of love and acceptance and safety Sam had always depended on but would now forever be without.
With nothing to fall back on, Sam went through the motions. He hunted, but it was empty. He breathed, but he didn't live.
There were too many ghosts haunting him, too much loss lingering in his soul. It hadn't seemed so lonely when there were two, but now that he was the only one, the absence drained him of all he was.
He could almost feel Dean sometimes, could hear him. Sometimes he talked to him. Anything to keep it real, to keep Dean real. Because Sam wasn't real without Dean.
He wondered if it was worth it—giving it all up. Because no one remembered Dean. No one knew Dean. Dean just disappeared. Evil still existed and the war was no nearer to its end, continuing on as if Dean had not even been a blip on the radar.
He couldn't let that be Dean. He couldn't let that be all he was. But Sam had nothing else to give but himself, and no homage left to pay but to serve the cause that Dean had given himself for.
The day Sam Winchester died, nothing happened. His body was burned beyond recognition and when it was finally identified, no one would claim the remains. There was no burial, no headstone, no memory. Life just went on.
If someone asked if it had been worth it, Sam might have told them no, that maybe it really was all a waste, a vain fight, an effort to avoid feelings and reality.
But if someone asked if he would change it, Sam would say that was never his choice. He had given everything he had, and this was the best he could come up with. He would tell them that he had died a long time a long time ago, and it just took his body a few decades to catch up with his soul.
If they asked him when he died, Sam would never know for sure. Part of him died when he was six months old, and he'd been dying ever since.
And if they asked him why he did it, why he let it go on like that, why he let it end that way, Sam would tell them he did it for love. And they would smile, some sad, bittersweet smile, thinking about how beautifully tragic it all seemed, how that kind of death always seemed so romantic, so heroic, so epic. They would picture Jessica with her blond curls and warm smile, maybe even Mary making her last stand above her infant son, looking down with no regrets. They might even think about a hopeful Stanford student, torn from his dreams back to the family he ran from, stoic in his quest, quixotic in his end.
"Yes, for love," they would agree, nodding sagely from their safe distance, never truly touched by tragedy. And Sam would nod back, knowing they would never truly understand.