"The whole world's wrong, that's what's the matter."
-Thornton Wilder, Our Town
Chapter Sixteen – Goodbye
John and Sam had one last monstrous fight. Angry, cruel, thoughtless words escaped both their mouths as their antagonism escalated. Dean again stayed in the shadows, listening and hurting for his family, once more waiting for the brutal storm to be over, for the bitter silence to again settle over their lives. He had surrendered all reason to their will; he knew no words could temper their hatred and fury. Perhaps one day time would somehow reconcile their differences; but for now, the only thing left was to silently wait for the last angry word.
John managed to have the final say; his last outburst so devastating no response could diffuse it. Sam was at last speechless, words deserted him as John yelled the last hurtful words he would hear from his dad for several years, words that shook the Winchesters to their foundation causing both Sam and Dean to gasp at their intensity and finality. John himself seemingly shocked at what he had shouted in anger, yet stubbornly refusing to back down from the intent.
"If you're so hell bent on leaving then you better just stay gone. This ain't no life where you can come back for Christmas vacation. Once you walk out that door, don't plan on coming back. You walk out that door and you're gone."
Sam packed his bags and was at last ready to leave; when push came to shove, he had done what he said he would do. John stood sullenly in the deepening shadow, watching his world walk out his front door. Dean picked up Sam's bags and carried them out to the Impala as his brother grabbed the last of his things, silently glancing one last time at his dad who never wavered or relented, letting his youngest walk out of his life without a final farewell.
Dean started the Impala's engine and waited; Sam appeared moments later slamming the front door and purposely walking out to the car. He roughly threw his backpack in the back seat and plopped into the passenger seat, slamming the car door as a grunt escaped his lips. Dean started to yell to watch the door, to protect his girl, before the words stuck in his throat. Doesn't matter.
They silently drove to the bus terminal, neither willing to utter the words that would shatter their stony demeanor and expose their fragile hearts. Dean feared if he let his guard down for one second, he would dissolve into a blathering idiot and say something stupid like 'Don't go'. He had made up his mind to give his brother what he needed and he had to remain steadfast, he had to stay strong.
Dean parked the car in the first space in the row next to where the buses load. It was a small terminal, really just a way station. Small towns like theirs didn't warrant a big, fancy terminal. Not many people rode the bus anymore, particularly cross-country. Sam started to open the door to get out when his brother's hand on his shoulder stopped him.
Sam paused, his stomach churning, anxious for the words Dean would say, his heart waiting for his brother to ask him one last time to reconsider, his response ready on his lips. Just ask me Dean, just ask.
"Here Sammy." Dean discreetly handed his brother a wad of cash folded over in half with a rubber band around it.
"What? What the heck Dean?"
He didn't ask. Why didn't he ask? I know he wants to, I can see it in his eyes. Oh God, he's letting me go…, he's letting me go! He's giving me permission, his blessing. Oh God…, thank you Dean.
Sam just sat there with the money gripped in his hand, staring at his brother, seeing him for the first time and possibly the last.
"Sammy, hello? You wanna put that away before you get mugged?" Dean waved his hand in front of his brother's dazed eyes, again gaining his rapt attention.
"What? Geez Dean, how much is here?"
"Just put it away. Can I trust you not to be a total bumpkin and go flashing that kind of money around? You know California ain't no place for country boys. You're not gonna be in Kansas anymore Toto."
"Dean, we haven't been in Kansas in awhile."
"Yeah, I know.… Uh, that was a reference to that classic movie, you know…, the one with the wicked witch and those red shoes, what was it again…? Oh yeah…, the Wizard of Id." Dean tried his best to give his lopsided wicked grin. Wry humor was easier to handle than raw grief.
"Oz, The Wizard of Oz."
"Yeah… And here I thought you were gonna add a new band to your playlist…. Dean, seriously, how much is here?"
"What? I can't take this."
"Why not? It's only money. You're gonna need some spending cash."
"And how long did you have to hustle pool to get this?"
"I'm good, remember? Besides, I like my job. I can always get more. Not a problem, besides you'll need it more than me. Living ain't cheap, especially in LaLaLand. I hear avocados are two bucks a piece…. And I know how you love your guacamole." Dean grinned again, a forced smile but it was better than the alternative.
"Just take the money. I want you to have it, and here.…" Dean handed over a brand new credit card, a card with the name Sam Winchester.
"Dean, no. I told you, I'm done with that lifestyle. I'm not going to risk my scholarship with a credit card scam."
"No scam, Sam!" Dean gave a puzzled look at his inadvertent rhyme before continuing, "Look, it's legit, got your name and everything. Take it, just for emergencies. If you need it use it. I'll pay the bill, I promise….Scout's Honor."
Dean held up two fingers in a mock Boy Scout pledge, his face looking young and vulnerable like a child's once more, no longer the hardened hunter, more like a little boy watching his only friend move away. Sam felt a grin on his face at the absurdity of this moment, before the hitch tried to rise up in his throat. He buried his thoughts and went with the light mood Dean was trying so hard to maintain. OK Dean, I'll try to play this out your way. I know…, no Chick Flick Moments.
"You are definitely not a boy scout, Dean. Never were. I think they would have bounced you at the first meeting…. So.…you actually legitimately got a credit card?"
"Define legit…, look maybe I had to stretch the truth a tad on the application. I mean line of work had to be a trick question and years of experience, well.… experience at what? And prior credit history? Rather not go there; well anyway, you get the point. But yeah, that card is legit as any I've seen. Just take it; you always need a backup plan."
"Yeah, Dad taught us that, right?"
Sam started to tear up, his gaze steady on his brother, making Dean increasingly nervous. Dean had seen those puppy dog eyes before and they didn't bode well. He could see the writing on the wall.
"Sammy stop. No chick flick moments, remember?" Dean choked out, trying to calm the panic that was threatening to overtake his tough façade. I just gotta make it a few more minutes; I can't break down now. Not in front of Sammy, not yet.
Sam steadied his quivering lip and blinked the tears away, and with one last sigh he exited the Impala as Dean quietly watched him. Dean drew in a calming breath and threw the door open, stepping out.
They crossed the parking lot to the terminal and Sam went to the counter to purchase his ticket before returning to sit in the worn chair next to where his brother had deposited his bags.
They sat at the terminal, neither speaking, silently watching the people pass by. Sam noticed Dean wasn't even looking at the two cute girls who kept walking by and smiling at the handsome young man. Dean was mostly looking at his shoes, with the dried mud covering the worn toes, and studying the tiles on the floor, badly in need of another coat of wax; anything to keep his mind from thinking of his brother there beside him for possibly the last time.
The bus pulled into the station and they announced they were boarding. Sam reluctantly stood up, wondering how he could ever leave Dean who had given so much for him. He started to waver, momentarily thinking this was all a mistake; he couldn't possibly leave his brother, not like this, and then suddenly Dean spoke.
"OK then. You take care little brother." Dean offered his best effort at a smile as he reached out his hand for a final handshake.
Sam grasped his hand in a firm grip before pulling his brother in for an impulsive hug. The brothers stood there, arms wrapped around each other in a tight embrace with neither willing to let go. All the years of love distilled down to this one great moment with both desperate to hold onto their other half as long as possible.
The voice on the PA announced last call for California and it was Dean who pushed his brother away with a last slap on his back before placing both hands in firm grips on his brother's arms and sizing him up for a final goodbye.
"You better go man. Don't wanna miss your bus. I ain't driving you all the way to California." Dean cracked.
"Dean, stay safe. Take care of Dad." Sam softly whispered.
"Yeah, got it."
Sam took one last look at his brother, trying to memorize every feature of his face, every movement that was Dean, every smartass remark and cocky grin. He knew he needed to make a clean break. He knew Dean was deadly serious about always putting his brother's life above his own. He could still hear the words echoing in his head, 'If it comes to a choice, it's always gonna be you bro. I want you to live.'
Damn it Dean, I want you to live.
Dean had admitted he was willing to sacrifice his own life for his younger brother and even more disturbing, he would do it again, in a heartbeat. Sam shuddered at the thought. So Dean, you think I could live with that? Knowing you died to protect me?
He was so conflicted. He really needed to live a normal life, to escape this vengeance Dad had forced upon them, yet he couldn't bear the thought of leaving his brother. Especially leaving his brother alone with Dad, but if he stayed Dean would keep putting his own life in danger to protect his baby brother.
Dean, I haven't been a baby in years and I don't need you protecting me. You're not responsible for me regardless of whatever twisted guilt trip Dad has put on you. Why can't you see that? Why can't you treat me like an equal? Why can't you value your own life?
When forced to make a choice, Dean had chosen Dad and that broke Sam's heart. He just couldn't understand the workings of his brother's brain. He wasn't angry with him, more disappointed, shattered actually. His family was falling apart, he was losing his brother and he didn't see a way out. If he didn't sever his ties with Dean, his brother would continue putting himself in harm's way. If he was determined to stay with Dad and be a hunter he needed to focus on that if he was to stay alive.
The main lesson he had learned from Dad's obsession was to be focused, to concentrate on the job at hand. If Dean was going to do this, he needed his mind on the hunt. He couldn't be worrying and fretting about kid brother. If he was going to be a hunter he couldn't be half-assed about it. The job demanded his full attention, and that was the rub. If Sam stuck around, Dean would always have one eye on him, would always be distracted. For a hunter, that could be a fatal mistake.
He was a liability to his brother; that was the plain, unadulterated truth. Dean's recent close encounter with the reaper had made that painfully clear.
Sam suddenly realized he was trying to play the big brother here. He was trying to fulfill Dean's function that his older, more experienced brother had perfected over all these years. For the first time in his life, he was trying to protect big brother, trying to keep him safe. He was the one preparing to sacrifice their relationship to save his brother's life. Damn, this is hard.
How do you do it Dean? How did you manage it all those years? Have I ever shown you how much I appreciate all you've done for me? I do, ya know? I guess the only way to show you is to let you go. Let you be the hunter you are so bound and determined to be, and pray Dad doesn't succeed in getting you killed.
With a heart beaten down as if all the cows in Texas were trampling on it, Sam bid his brother goodbye. He got on the bus and watched the Impala and its bold knight in armor of leather and faded denim disappear into miniscule specks in the distance.
Dean stood by the Impala watching as the bus pulled out of the station and drove off down the road. He was still standing there ten minutes later, tears building in his eyes until there was no place else for them to go but escape down his cheeks and onto the collar of his faded denim shirt.
He brushed the tears from his face with a quick swipe of his hand. He rubbed his red eyes with the palms of his hands and tried to focus his mind on the job before him. He had lost his brother, but he still had a cause, he still had a purpose. The only thing left was to concentrate on that, focus on this war with evil.
He was finally forced to make a choice and so he had. In the final analysis he had not chosen his brother or his dad, he had chosen the life he would live, and he chose the life he loved. He chose to remain a hunter, and he chose to fight evil with every breath he possessed. It was a noble profession and it was his calling.
The life he would lead was dirty and dangerous and unheralded. He received no reward or payment or recognition, save the few words of thanks from the people they saved, yet he found satisfaction in it. It fulfilled a need that had grown unfettered since he was a young child of four: the need to protect, the need to stand for something, the need to fight back against evil.
His work made him feel he mattered, made his life however broken or twisted seem important. It gave him a purpose and gave his life value. It transformed him into a man of worth.
He had witnessed firsthand evil's wrath on the unfortunate and weak and he was determined to stand up and fight it with every ounce of courage he could muster. This is my fight.
He could not take refuge in a normal life until all evil was vanquished from this world. If he had left with his brother for the comfort of a normal life, it would have been a farce, a giant lie to himself. He knew he could never escape the realities of this evil world, he had seen too much to ever retreat from the truth. He could not pretend to be normal or innocent; Dean Winchester had left all innocence behind when he witnessed his mother's fiery death and his father's descent into raging vengeance.
After years of study under the tutelage of his dad, he had learned to stifle his feelings and bury his pain, but he could not ignore the truth or hide from evil. His rose colored glasses were permanently broken; he saw the world as it truly existed and he stood firm in his resolve to fight the evil that preyed there.
He was one of the few who stood between evil and the innocents, who stood ready to do battle. He was ready to wage war until evil ran screaming for protection from him and others like him. This is my war.
Under the emotional duress of this parting he had assured his little brother they would stay in touch. The wonders of cell phones and email making it seem as if they were just minutes away instead of miles and worlds apart. Still he knew promises made in times of stress rarely hold true.
Sammy wanted a normal life and once he got it, his old life would seem all the more distant. Dean felt himself disappearing in his brother's eyes; he felt the gulf between them widening into the Pacific Ocean. He sensed once Sam got what he wanted, he would forget what he most didn't want.
Sammy, remember me. When you get where you want to be and find I no longer belong in your new life, at least remember me, cause you'll always be the center of my life, wherever you are.
Dean offered his final sacrifice to Sammy, the gift of freedom. With a heavy heart he relinquished the baby he had held so tenderly during his first hours of life, he released the boy he had protected and comforted and loved above all others during a time when it seemed it was just the two of them facing the world alone, and he watched the man he had helped shape and mentor step from the shadows into his own light, becoming his own person, an independent man venturing out on his own down his own path.
The pain in his gut was worse than all the shots he had endured in his treatment for the werewolf bite. He knew he had to let Sammy go to follow his dream, but his gut still longed for his brother by his side. He watched the bus slowly fade out of sight, as Sam embarked on his new life, a life without his protector, a life without his brother.
John sat on the front porch considering the events of the last few weeks. He had been forced to confront his worst fears head on about losing one of his sons and had barely managed to avoid disaster. He had charged to the precipice of that black abyss and yanked his oldest back from the brink of death only to lose sight and grasp of his youngest. He had managed to save one son, only to lose the other.
He had seen the anguish in Sam's eyes at the prospect of leaving, though he knew there was no regret over leaving him; he knew Sam couldn't wait to be beyond his dad's reach. No, he had watched the hesitation only in connection with leaving his brother. If he had done one thing right in raising his boys it would have to be the close bond they shared.
Truth was, he wasn't sure he could take credit for that, but he knew it was real. His boys would die for each other, Dean had just proven that. Somehow he knew regardless of how much Sam wanted to leave this life; he would have stayed for his brother, if only Dean had asked. Silently he wondered why he hadn't. After all, he could also see the anguish in Dean's eyes at losing his brother, at seeing his family ripped apart. Damn, how did we get so fucked up?
He shuddered to think of his youngest out there alone, unprotected, susceptible to all the evil that existed in this world and was just laying in wait to consume him. His gut tightened as he contemplated all the dangers that could imperil his son.
He knew he had trained Sam to be an able soldier. His son possessed all the skills to successfully fight evil, still he didn't believe in the inevitability of the battle; he still foolishly thought he could escape his destiny. His denial and belief he could outrun evil were disturbing and dangerous.
Then there was always the nagging realization that evil was seeking out Sam for some unknown purpose. The Demon had been at Sam's crib that night and John knew deep in his gut there was a reason for that, that Sammy was special, desired by this demon. I've never been able to figure out why. I've just always known Sammy was the trigger that sent us down this road.
John wrestled with his tremendous guilt over Dean's werewolf encounter. Sam was dead wrong about him sacrificing Dean's life in his thirst for revenge, but he had almost traded one son's life for the other. He had almost witnessed the ultimate sacrifice of his older because he was so conditioned to protect the younger.
John knew he was responsible for Dean's actions since he'd drilled him his entire life to protect his younger brother, to protect Sammy. Back when this all started Sammy was just a baby, innocent and defenseless, and needed protecting. It had only felt natural to reinforce Dean's own protective instincts and it gave Dean an outlet for his fear and anger. He could focus all his emotions and thoughts into one simple purpose: protect Sammy. How could I know how this would all turn out?
Damn, which son do I protect now? What kind of a choice is this? How do I protect them both?
John worried if Sam did stay, it would only get him killed. If his heart wasn't in it, if his dreams lay elsewhere, then he wasn't ready for the fight. In their line of work, you had to be fully committed. If Sam wasn't cut out for this life, if he was going to cut and run the first chance he got, then John needed to know now. He knew he couldn't force Sam to want to be here with his family fighting this war with evil, so he did the only thing he could do and let him go.
Hell, I didn't just let him go, I pushed him away…, for his own good. Perhaps he can get lost out there in California, hide in plain sight from the evil that is stalking him. Maybe Dean and I can be enough of a pain in the ass that evil won't have time to seek out Sammy. Maybe.
Damn, how were they going to continue on from here? They were family, they needed to stay together. Evil was out there, laying in wait for them and now Sammy was going to be vulnerable, susceptible to all the evil lurking out in that big, bad world looking for ways to endanger the Winchesters.
Dean understood. Dean had always understood. Why couldn't Sammy? How had he failed to convey that simple lesson? How had he failed to protect his youngest, the one evil wanted most? Dean was a warrior and a protector and he no longer had his charge to protect.
He worried his sons would never again reforge their bond that was severed today. Time and distance weaken even the strongest bonds and the longer his boys were separated the further apart they would grow. Would they ever be able to regain their strong relationship? Would they ever be as close again? Will we ever be a family again?
Dean returned from the bus terminal and didn't utter a word except to confirm Sam had made it on the bus and was on his way to his new life.
He glanced at his oldest. Dean looked lost. A man lost without direction, a soldier without a mission. He once more looked like that scared four year old boy who shivered in the cold and dark yearning for his mom, asking with pleading eyes for his mom's warm embrace to shield him from the coming storm. Dean had grown and matured into a brave, valiant warrior and now he was again lost without the purpose to fuel his passion. I can't stand seeing him like this again, looking into those deep, soulful eyes filled with such pain.
John tried to be matter of fact, emotionless as he addressed his son.
"You give Sammy the thousand bucks and the credit card?"
Dean had added all he had, a measly five hundred dollars. It would have been more if I'd been well enough to hit the pool halls…. It should have been more, if I'd just had more time...
"Dean, we have to let him go. He's of age….if I tried to force him to stay….truth is, he does the opposite of what I say just to spite me….Dean, if he truly doesn't want to be here then…. maybe, this is for the best."
The silence between them hung in the air, a deathly still of what was to come, the promise of the emptiness their lives would now be consumed with.
"He would have stayed….if you'd asked him." John stated.
A large part of him wished Dean had begged his brother to stay, at least then they would still be a family, united in this war. Still, if Sam was bound and determined to not to be a part of this fight, perhaps it was best to let him go. If he wasn't willing to commit to this battle, if he couldn't see the necessity of this fight, then maybe he was a liability. A hindrance that in the next fight might prove to get him killed or succeed in getting his brother killed trying to protect him. John had always thought he knew the right course of action, had always felt confident in the fight, and now he just didn't know anymore.
I want both my sons close to me so I can protect them, so I can know they're safe each night, but maybe Sam is safer elsewhere, far from this battle he so desperately wants to avoid, far from this war he refuses to acknowledge.
"Why didn't you ask him?" John's voice was low, barely audible.
Dean looked at his dad, mulling over his response, reconsidering himself all the reasons and explanations. It all boiled down to one simple truth.
"Like you said Dad, if he doesn't want to be here….if he hates this life so much. He deserves a chance. He deserves his dreams."
Dean was once more doing what he does best, providing everything his younger brother needed or desired. Taking care of his wants and again neglecting his own. Maybe it was time to consider what Dean needed, what Dean wanted. John hesitated, unsure whether he could face the answer, yet knowing he had to ask the question. This was a time for harsh reflection on their lives and he needed to know for sure just where they stood. For the first time in his life he prepared to ask Dean what he desired.
"What about you Dean? Do you have dreams? Do you want to be here?" John couldn't believe he had actually voiced his concerns. He had actually cracked open that door, given Dean the opportunity to back away, given him an out.
Dean looked into his dad's eyes, surprised by the question. Comforted by the intent, strangely no longer feeling pressure to answer the expected response, feeling for once his dad truly wanted to know. John looked uneasy, almost like he wished he could take back his inquiry, anxious for his son's response. No need to worry Dad.
"Dad, I'm here for the long haul. I know the job that needs done. I've got no where else to be."
Relief at having his son with him was tempered by the bitter knowledge of everything Dean would give up in pursuit of this fight. All the pleasures of a normal life would pass him by as he embraced the dark life of a hunter. John again cursed the fates that robbed his son of his childhood and now stood ready to rob him of his future.
John could not see the end of this road, he couldn't predict the outcome or how long their trek would last. He knew Sam was in danger pretending life could be normal and he could escape his destiny, yet Dean was also in danger, embracing the life and battles of a hunter.
All he knew with certainty was he had prepared his sons the best he could. They were warriors and he just had to hold firm that they would prevail on whatever course their lives took. Danger laid in wait regardless of which path the Winchesters took. The only thing he knew with certainty was this battle was inevitable.
"Sammy will be all right. He's got the training. He knows how to stay safe."
"You believe that Dad?" Dean turned and gazed intently into his dad's eyes, searching out whatever comfort he could find there.
John hesitated, unsure of what to say. Lies or the truth? He had a hard time telling the difference sometimes. I don't know if I believe it, but Dean needs to hear it. Hell, I need to hear it.
"Yeah, I do."
"You know…, I miss him already."
Dean looked at his dad, studying the hopeless emptiness in the vast depths of his brown eyes, seeing the deepening lines of worry already marring his stalwart face, wondering how Sammy could fail to see the love there. He was the first to admit, Dad could be difficult, demanding, and so God Damn obstinate, but damn it Sammy, you're just like him, just a mirror image. Maybe that was the problem, you were both too damn stubborn, too determined to be right, even when you were so wrong.
He had thought the pain of their constant battles was bad, but that was nothing compared to the silence that now filled their empty house. The vacuous stillness of their house, of their lives, cast an eerie shadow that was stifling, bearing down upon him like a tidal wave poised to wash him back out to sea. His own pain at losing his brother matched only by the pain he saw his dad trying to shield him from.
This was just like Mom dying all over again, only Mom didn't choose to leave, Mom was taken away. He had tried his best to understand and give his brother what he wanted, what he needed, but it didn't lessen his pain. His pain hung on for dear life, a great weight bearing down and crushing him, leaving an ever deepening hole in his life. Damn, get a hold here Dean; just take it one day at a time…. Hell, you better settle for one minute at a time.
"The lease is up on the house at the end of the month, you want me to renew it?" John asked his distracted son.
"Dean, you want to keep the house?"
"Why? What's the point? Let's hit the road Dad. Time to focus on hunting. Motels will do. Everything we need is in the Impala." Dean replied. Everything except Sammy.
"Dad? What is it?"
John looked away from his son, not wanting the tears forming in his eyes to betray the anguish he was feeling. He knew his older son was facing his own pain and loss and he saw no reason to reveal his. Besides, he knew Dean would only try to take on his pain too.
Dean was just like Mary, always more concerned for everyone else's welfare than his own. John knew if they were going to get through this they just needed to bury all their pain and move forward. As long as they focused on fighting evil, maybe they could both ignore the hole in their lives.
I hope we can go on from here. I pray Sammy will be safe. He can't be half in and half out of this war, that would only get him killed. If he has to leave then I need to keep him as far away from this fight as possible to keep him safe. God, I owe you one for Dean, but I'm gonna stretch my luck here and ask you to keep Sammy safe. Last request, I promise.
One endless empty night in that house was all either remaining Winchester could stand. The silence was deafening, with neither in the mood to discuss their pain or grief. The forlorn hollow house had ceased being a home and now merely sheltered two stoic Winchesters doing what they do best, burying their despair and ignoring their pain. Hell, if we don't talk about it then maybe it will all just go away.
"So Dad, where we headed?" Dean asked, knowing the sooner they got their minds off of Sammy leaving, the sooner he could pretend he was all right. He always felt better when he was engaged in a fight. Maybe I can take my frustrations out on some evil sons of bitches!
Momentarily distracted from his own pain, John smiled; he knew without question what Dean was thinking. Yeah, let's kill us some evil bastards.
He had a new job for them all lined up, some unfinished business. There was at least one wounded werewolf three hours upstate that needed vanquished, one particular werewolf that simply had to die.
All standard disclaimers apply. bjxmas October, 2006
Ok, that's it. Now's the time to let me know what you think. Did I make sense of all the Winchester's angst and turmoil? Did I give them all sufficient reasons for how they behaved? Or should I forget this foolishness and stick to my day job? All comments welcome. Thanks to all the many previous reviewers; each and every review was greatly appreciated. This has been a great experience. Thank you, B. J.