Thank you for all the nice reviews! Here is the second and final chapter. Happy holidays!

Chapter 2

Now they're sitting in a Starbucks.

Sam is disoriented and ill. He feels hollow.

He leans against the table, his head in his hands. "Now what?" he grits out.

He can't imagine who is left.

What further proof is there that he is a mistake?

Not Jessica points to something over Sam's shoulder.

He turns.

A blond girl is sitting in an overstuffed chair by the window, sketching. Her hair is cut short. She's engrossed in her project. The chair next to her is filled with discarded art supplies and a few half finished sketches. Her work is good.

Sam knows the girl.

Her name is Meg Masters.

Sam laughs but the sound is wrong.

"So Meg gets to live too?" His voice hitches. "Who's next? Max?"

Not Jessica puts a cold hand over his. "Do you realize how many people your life affected, Sam?"

Sam bows his head. He doesn't want to listen anymore.

"Do you see how many people died because of you?" She asks softly.

Sam's head jerks up. Then down.

"You can't give these people back their lives, Sam." Not Jessica's voice is tinged with reproach.

Sam thoughts are all tangled up.

"But you can help Dean with the burden he carries."

Sam stares down at his hands.

"Do you really want to wait until you kill him?"

Sam's chest heaves. A sob tears from his throat.

"What kind of life can he really have, Sam? All he does is watch out for you."

Sam's hands shake. His body feels like someone else's.

Not Jessica leans close to him, her mouth near his ear. "Sam, the truth is you're already killing him. The only question is, do you want to do it fast? Or slow?"

Sam can barely get the words out. His lips are numb. "How...how can I fix it?"

-----------------

Sam lays on the riverbank trembling.

He's so cold.

He's so tired.

He wants this to be over.

His head rests on his outstretched arm. He can smell the smoke again. The scent of despair.

"You can wash the past away," Not Jessica tells him. "You can slip into the water and be free. Free of the pain." She smoothes the hair off Sam's face. Her voice is a whisper. A promise. "You can be with your Jessica again."

Part of Sam's brain says this is how it happens. This is how they drown.

Another part says I'm coming Jess.

He thinks about the family that never was. He wishes he could die more than once for all the pain he's caused.

He looks down into the water.

He can drift away like the soap in the shower.

He can be clean again.

He can have peace.

i'm sorry dean for everything, i'm sorry mom and dad and jess and dean.

sorry.

He's having trouble getting his limbs to do what he wants. The water is right there. All he has to do is roll in. The water will pull him down and cover him. Like a lover. Like Jessica.

He stares up the stars. The glowing eyes of a thousand dead look down.

Come home.

It's getting hard to keep his eyes open.

"They're waiting for you," Not Jessica says.

He listens to the water. It asks him to come closer but he can't. It's too hard. His body is too heavy.

Not Jessica's eyes are kind. "There's another way, Sam."

He tries to figure out she means, and then remembers. He slides a trembling hand under his back and pulls out the gun. The gun is solid in his hand. The gun will take him home.

Mom and Dad are waiting. With Jess.

They can all be together.

And he'll wait for Dean.

He puts the gun to his head.

He sighs. It's the sound of goodbye.

The shot echoes through the park.

--------------------------------

Dean is tired of pacing around the room.

Sam has been gone for six hours. Six hours.

He made up excuses at first.

The Laundromat was busy. He fell asleep next to a dryer. The line at Burger King was really fucking long.

Some little old lady took one look at Sammy's puppy dog eyes and dragged him back to her house for Christmas tea and cookies.

Or maybe he got mugged.

Dean tried calling Sam's cell a hundred times. Okay, maybe not a hundred, but a lot. After the first three hours he settled on every half hour. He'd called a total of nine times. Nothing but voice mail every time.

Or—shit, why didn't he think of it sooner—maybe Sam had a vision.

Dean spent some time calling area hospitals, trying to see if anyone matching Sam's description had been admitted. No one had.

He flipped through TV channels for a while. He counted the number of lame ass holiday specials that were on.

Then he started thinking about The Demon and the whole I have plans for you, Sammy.

What if it was plan time?

Or what if Sam went to check out the site of the river suicides?

Dean considered the possibility. Sam had been acting pretty hinky lately. Secretive. Broody. Trouble sleeping. Okay, that pretty much described Sam all the time, but Dean knew his brother. Something was wrong.

----------------------

He's pissed off because Sam has his car.

He's even more pissed off when the car he borrows has crap tires. He spends the next ten minutes sliding from one street to the next.

He's passed pissed and well on his way to furious when he sees the Impala wearing a blanket of snow in front of the park.

What the hell is Sam doing coming out here in the middle of the night by himself?

Dean grabs the shot gun from the passenger seat and slams the car door.

He's mumbling a litany of descriptive nicknames for Sam when he sees movement near the river.

He opens his mouth, primed to yell What the fuck, Sam?

But the combination of moon and snow provide enough light for Dean to see exactly what Sam is doing.

The words die on Dean's lips.

Anger flees, replaced by fear. A fear so strong it almost pushes Dean to his knees.

Sam is lying on the ground. The barrel of a gun glints in the moonlight.

Sam has a gun.

Pressed to his temple.

Sweet Jesus, no.

Then he sees the thing next to Sam. A pale apparition hunched next to him like a fucking vulture. Dean can sense how eager it is.

Dean raises the shot gun and aims. "Get the hell away from my brother," he hisses and pulls the trigger.

The shot echoes through the park.

-------------------------------

Sam's finger is on the trigger when the shot sounds. For a moment he thinks he pulled the trigger and he's dead.

I didn't even feel anything, he thinks, amazed.

But then Not Jessica hisses and her face twists into something Not Even Remotely Jessica and she's gone in a cloud of vapor and salt.

Sam stares dumbly at the figure with the shotgun.

Dean?

Dean takes a tentative step closer. "Sammy. Put the gun down."

Sam closes his eyes. Dean's voice sounds funny. "I can't," he croaks. "I've got to save you."

"Save me," Dean repeats, struggling to understand. "From what?"

"From me."

Dean licks his lips. He doesn't know what to do. Out of all the things he imagined Sam doing, putting a gun to his head was not one of them.

"Sam, I hate to tell you, you're not that scary." Dean's voice cracks, letting the fear show. "I don't think I need to be saved from you."

"I can't keep doing this," Sam cries. "I don't want to kill you. It's too much. I'm too much!"

Dean hears the sound of the safety click off and his stomach plummets. He fights the nausea and screams "Don't do it, Sam. Do NOT pull the trigger. Whatever you're feeling, whatever you're thinking—is wrong. The spirit did some kind of whammy on you. It pulled an Ellicot."

"It showed me the truth," Sam says softly.

Dean takes another careful step toward Sam. When he's close enough to see Sam's face he wants to run screaming. oh shit sammy don't you fucking look like that. Sam looks broken. Like a doll (a huge giant doll) some snot nosed kidthrew out a car window. Sam's face says he expected to be thrown out all along.

"What truth?" Dean asks, stalling.

"I saw you and Mom and Dad. You were all alive!"

"Sam," Dean says cautiously, "I am alive."

"Mom and Dad were happy." Sam's voice breaks and he's having trouble talking through the tears. "You should have seen them. And you," Sam's laughter veers toward hysteria. "You were married! You had a kid."

"Dude, that should have been your first clue you were hallucinating." Dean tries to smile but he can't. Sam still has the gun and that's just wrong. That is unacceptable.

"And I saw Jess. The real Jess. She's still alive." Sam's body shakes with the strength of his sobs. "And I saw Meg. She was gonna be an artist, Dean."

Dean has no idea what Sam's talking about. He's just babbling and that's okay because if Sam's babbling that means he hasn't shot his head off yet.

"Hey Sam, can you do me a favor? Can you put the gun down?"

Sam mumbles something incoherent.

"Can you do that for me, little brother?" Dean's crying too. Because if Sam pulls that trigger he doesn't want to think about what will happen next. As far as he's concerned, without Sam there is no next.

"I can't!" Sam's voice is a wail. "I'm trying to save you, Dean! You've got to let me go."

"I don't really want to do that right now, Sam. Now drop the gun before I kick your ass."

"I'm sorry for everything, Dean. I'm sorry you didn't get to have the good life." The gun is pressed against Sam's temple.

Dean has never been this scared in his life. Never. The Demon could come with an army of hell hounds and it would be a cake walk compared to this.

He can't think what to do.

He's not just scared shitless, he's scared brainless.

fuck. fuckety-fuck fuck

"Wait!" Dean's voice is as thin and tight as wire. "I have to tell you something. Please Sam, just wait a goddamn second."

Sam doesn't lower the gun, but he doesn't pull the trigger either. "What?"

Dean thinks this is the best chance he's going to get. He takes a deep breath and says, "I love you, Sam."

Sam gets as far as "I lo—" before Dean pulls the trigger and blasts Sam with a load of rock salt.

The good news is Sam drops the gun.

The bad news is the blast pushes him right into the river.

-------------------------

Sam lies shivering under a pile of blankets. The cheap ass motel room heater is cranked to high. After the blankets have been stripped off Dean's bed he throws on the bathroom towels and a couple of sweatshirts. Finally Dean lies down behind Sam and puts his arms around him. He tells himself it's because he wants to keep Sam warm.

Not because he needs to feel the rise and fall of Sam's chest.

Sam hasn't said a word since Dean fished him out of the river. He spent some time picking rock salt out of Sam's face and neck. He cleaned up the abrasions as best he could until Sam turned his head away.

Dean wants to make a joke about getting an eye for an eye, a blast of rock salt for a blast of rock salt. He wants to joke away the pain in his brother's face and the memory of the gun. But Dean knows it won't help. So he puts his head on the pillow next to Sam and waits.

Sometime during the night Sam tries to climb out of the cocoon Dean built around him. Dean is awake instantly. "Sam?"

"Too hot," Sam mumbles.

Dean pulls the top layer of blankets off his brother. "Better?"

Sam lies back down. His reply is "Mmm."

Dean swallows. "Sam," he whispers, "don't you ever do anything like that again."

But Sam is already asleep.

Dean wakes up around six. Between Sam's elbow in his side and the cramped space, he's finished with sleep. He gets out of bed and gets dressed. The clothes from the night before are still a sodden lump in the tub. He hangs them over the shower curtain rod and flicks on the bathroom fan.

He wants to go out for coffee but he's afraid to leave Sam alone.

He wavers between letting Sam sleep and getting to the bottom of what happened.

Worry makes him antsy so he putters around the room, making more noise than he needs to. It has the desired the effect and Sam shifts beneath the covers. "Dean?"

Dean sits across from Sam, elbows on his knees. "Hey."

Sam sits up and Dean can see the purple-red abrasions that pepper the side of his face. The dried blood that mats Sam's long hair.

Dean cringes inwardly. Sam looks horrible. Nice job shooting your brother, asshole. Sam had been under Ellicot's control at the asylum. What's his excuse? How about wanting Sam to live?

Sam brings a tentative hand to head and winces. "You shot me." Sleep has left his voice. He sounds dry and desolate.

Dean rises, goes into the bathroom, comes back. He holds a glass of water in one hand, aspirin in the other. "I know. And I'm sorry. But I'd do it again in a heartbeat if it keeps you from shooting yourself."

Sam swallows the pills. Sets the glass on the night stand. He pulls the blankets tighter, drawing into himself.

"So, ah, do you want to tell me how much of last night was because of the ghost and how much was because you've gone completely freakin' mental?"

Sam doesn't know how to answer. He hangs his head. His hair falls in his face and he slips back into the old comfort of hiding behind it. Wouldn't it be better for Dean if he were dead? Wasn't last night a perfect example of Sam being the burden (albatross, dead weight) he doesn't want to be?

"Come on Sam," Dean prompts. "Talk to me." He tries a grin. "If you talk to me I won't even give you shit about hunting on your own like a dumbass."

Sam recognizes Dean is hiding too. Sam chooses hair and silence, Dean chooses jokes. Sam tries to play along. He conjures up a weak smile. "And that's not giving me shit?"

Dean wears a look that says don't tempt me, dude. He shrugs.

Sam sighs and his shoulders slump. He is so tired. More in spirit than body. He could easily sleep another hundred years. Just because it's easier than talking. Easier than feeling the things he felt last night. Still feels.

"I–I don't know, Dean. I saw–I saw the future. I mean, a possible future," he amends. His hands twist in his lap. Sam opens his mouth to continue, stops, bites his lip.

Silence descends on the room.

"And?"

"And I saw Mom and Dad. And you. You all had this good life." Sam looks up and his eyes are too bright, his face tight. "It's the life you could have had if...if...I hadn't been born."

Dean stares at his brother. Works hard to keep his face neutral.

"If I hadn't been born, Jessica would still be alive." Now Sam's voice is a broken whisper. "Meg too. She never becomes a demon." The horror in his eyes is almost more than Dean can take. "The demon possessed her because of me, Dean." His hands have moved on from clasping and unclasping to flat out wringing.

Dean rubs his forehead and shakes his head. "Sam. That was a ghost talking. A spirit. Whatever it told you, whatever it showed you is crap. Worthless. A lie. Demons lie. People lie. You think ghosts have the market on truth? Let me tell you Sammy, they don't."

"I know," Sam breathes.

Dean gets to his feet, begins pacing. "If you know, then why were you going to blow your head off?"

Sam's hands finally fall still. He whispers something.

Dean pounces. "What?"

Sam takes a deep breath, and a lone tear tracks across the fresh scabs on his face.

"To save you!"

He won't admit to Dean but also: because I couldn't save that kid.

He can't save anyone.

Dean's been trying to play the cool brother, but this is too much. "Save me? From what?"

Sam's hands come back life, flailing. "From me! From everything I do wrong. Killing Mom, Jessica, Dad, the kid–"

Dean jumps in with: ""Don't even start about that kid. And you know Mom is not your fault. Neither is Jessica. And dad? What the fuck?" Dean's eyes narrow. "I don't remember him trading his soul for your life."

"But I'm the one The Demon wants, Dean. If it weren't for me, Dad would have been safe. You wouldn't have been hurt and Dad never would have made that deal. I can't stand it, Dean. It's too much. There's all this pressure."

Sam scrubs at the tears on his face and a few of the cuts start bleeding. "And if this is how you feel? How I make you feel? Then–then that's even worse. I don't want to be that person. I can't do that to you anymore." Sam scrambles off the bed, moving between the door and window like a trapped animal.

"I want you to be–to be free." He wraps his arm around himself, trying to hold himself together. "I tried to get away, to save you, before, at Stanford, but it didn't matter. I just got Jess killed, and in the end I came back and you still spend all your time taking care of me."

Sam continues talking but none of registers past I tried to get away, to save you, before, at Stanford. All this time Dean had thought Sam was a selfish little bastard and Sam was trying to protect him? Dean takes a moment to comprehend this. Then he says, "I don't spend all my time taking care of you. Sometimes," he wiggles his eyebrows, "I liked to flirt with the ladies."

Sam flinches, as if Dean just slapped him. He advances on Dean, glowering. "You think this is funny?"

Dean raises his hands, placating. "No. But do you listen to yourself? How can you stand with the weight of the universe on your back? Is world hunger your fault too? And reality tv? Because if you did cause reality tv, I'm going to be at least a little pissed."

Sam's face is blotchy with anger, his fists clench at his side. "Stop it," he says hoarsely.

"No. Because you keep bitching about how you're evil incarnate and the oh the humanity, but dude, all those things on your List of Guilt? You didn't kill anybody. How many times do I have to tell you? Mom and Jess weren't your fault. And neither was what happened last week. And you know what else? If I kick the bucket at some point, that won't be your fault either."

Sam's eyes squeeze shut and he takes several shuddering breaths. "But how do you know?"

"I don't know, Sam. Do I think you're going to brain me with a crowbar while I'm sleeping? No. Do I think you're going to fuck up a hunt? No. Could you be with me when something bad goes down? It's possible. But only in your warped college brain could you equate being in the vicinity with fault."

Sam looks up at the ceiling, blinking back tears. "No Dean. You're wrong. The Demon said—"

Dean's eyes go cold and his voice is hard. "Forget The Demon."

Sam turns to Dean, stunned. Shocked. What?

Dean rubs his jaw. "You know what? The Demon, the thing that killed Mom, that was Dad's fight. Yeah, it was my fight—our fight--too, but it was mostly Dad. And after Jess died it became more of your fight. And that's fine. But if going after The Demon has you that freaked out, or you're freaked out that The Demon is after you, then fuck it." Dean shrugs, makes a smooth sailing gesture. "Let it go. I'll spend the rest of my life tracking wendigos and raw heads and won't look back."

Dean moves closer to his brother and looks him in the eyes. Sam's eyes are red and watering but he doesn't look away.

He's not going to be able to say this more than once, so he has to do it right.

He lets his mask of tough big brother slip a few inches. "But I want to track wendigos and raw heads with you, Sam. I'll help you find The Demon if that's what you want. I'll walk away from it too.

"But I do not look at you as a burden. You are my brother, and taking care of you has been the one good thing in my life. And I will not have you take that away from me without my permission. You do not make my decisions, Sam. You do not get to choose how I feel."

Dean is breathing hard, he can't stop the words coming out of his mouth. Sam has to realize that last night is something that can never happen again. Never.

Sam wipes his face. He sinks onto the edge of his bed. "Dean, I didn't mean to—make your decisions."

"I don't care what a ghost tells you, Sam. I don't care what The Demon tells you. I care about how I feel and how you feel." He smiles faintly. "But mostly about how I feel. I feel like you annoy the crap out of me. You're moody and bitchy and have shit taste in music.

"But you're good hunter and you always have my back and there's nobody else I want to hang out with." He purses his lips, thinking. "Except maybe Angelina Jolie. I'd be cool with that too."

Sam manages a watery laugh.

Dean regards his brother. It's time to stop the water works and put the mask back. It's just how he functions. He doesn't show emotion. Unless Sam's about to shoot his head off. He'd rather spend his time hunting. Killing the things that need to be killed. And hanging with Sam.

"Do you get what I'm trying to tell you?"

Sam gives Dean a real smile and Dean feels about ten pounds lighter. "That you love me." And he loves Dean. More than anything. He's Sam's family.

Dean rolls his eyes.

"And that I…might not be ruining your life."

Dean tilts his head. "Good. And?"

"And that I don't need to, you know, die," he says in a rushed mumble, avoiding Dean's gaze. He's ashamed he ever considered leaving Dean.

"You know what we're going to do now?" Dean asks.

Sam sniffs. "What?"

"Kick some ghost ass."

But before ass kicking comes breakfast.

Dean scans the menu while Sam orders them coffee. Apparently, endless hours of emoting make a guy hungry.

For the first time in days Sam feels like he could eat something. The cloud of dread that's been following him is finally starting to dissipate. Because of Dean.

"Stop that, Sam. You're creeping me out."

"What?" Sam asks, all innocence.

"You keep grinning at me like I'm the prettiest girl you've ever seen."

Sam considers. "I wouldn't say you're the prettiest girl I've ever seen."

Dean doesn't have a chance to respond because the waitress comes over. She's wearing a headband with springy reindeer heads.

"Happy Holidays, boys," she says with a tilt of her head. The reindeer nod in agreement. "What'll it be?"

Sam eats like he's only seen food in pictures, and this is his first crack at the real thing.

Dean chuckles. "Slow down there, Sparky or you're gonna eat the plate."

Sam looks up, still chewing. "'s good." He sips his coffee. He stops chewing for a moment, a strange look on his face.

Dean feels a nervous twitch in his stomach. "What?"

"Do you smell that?" Sam asks.

Dean's brows knit. He sniffs delicately. "I took a shower, man," he says, slightly defensive.

Sam laughs. "Not you, man. It's just—the food smells good." His bangs fall across his eyes and he pushes them away, no longer hiding. Dimples appear in his wounded face and he looks excited. "Everything smells…good."

Dean frowns, not getting what Sammy is going on about. "Isn't food supposed to smell good?"

Sam's grin is contagious. "Yeah. It sure is."

After a brief stint at the library, they discover the first so-called victim of Crystal River wasn't exactly a victim. Her name was Karen Shaw and various newspaper accounts list her as a self-proclaimed psychic and interested in the occult and despondent over a breakup. "Apparently, she drowned herself in the Fox River and has been recruiting friends ever since."

"Thanks for keeping me off the list," Sam says softly. I'll make it up to you. I won't leave you. I'll trust you to know what's best for you. And for me.

Dean flashes a crooked smile. "You're welcome." They could offer me a solid gold life or Dad on a plate and I wouldn't trade it for the life I have with you, Sammy.

They walk out in the cold sunshine together. They stand on the library steps blowing on their hands.

"Merry Christmas, Dean," Sam smiles.

Dean snorts. "Merry Christ Moose to you too." They move toward the Impala, shoulder to shoulder. "I know how we can celebrate."

"How?"

"We could salt and burn some bones…roast a few chestnuts over an open fire."

"Sounds good to me." Sam watches his breath mist away.

They slam their car doors in unison and the Impala purrs down the road toward freedom.

end