Well, this is it. It's been a long journey (although, luckily, it was shorter than Lawrence Revisited, God, that took AGES) and I want to thank you all for sticking with me until the end. I hope it was as enjoyable for you as it was for me. Let's see if I can sleep tighter now that I've gotten this story out of my system…
Nah, unfortunately I've got a couple more plots on mind already, hehe. But don't worry, you'll have a break: you know I'm a slow writer!
Thanks again! Em, you've been an angel.
Enjoy the epilogue (aka chapter 10, I don't even know why I call it epilogue yet, maybe because it's the last?)
I barely slept that night. At first, because I was too wired to let go of wakefulness. So many things had happened over the last days, over the last hours, that I guess I was still trying to wrap my mind around them. Besides, I was scared to let my guard down. Every time I had done so in the last week, something had happened that had pulled Sam away from me. I couldn't let that happen again. I wouldn't relinquish the hold I had finally got on him. Not for the world. Just the mere idea made me want to wrap my arms around him even tighter, and the only reason why I didn't was because I didn't want to wake him up.
Bottom line, no. I wasn't giving my little brother away ever again.
As hours went by, though, I started to relax a bit, despite myself. Sam's breathing was even, his body warm and solid, nestled easily against my chest. It felt right. It really seemed we would be alright. I closed my eyes, but I still remained awake for a while longer, listening to Sam sleep. I think that some part of me was waiting for the ever present nightmares to strike again, and that's the reason why I was reluctant to give in to the growing pull of sleep.
However, nightmares didn't come and, honestly, I was too grateful and tired to try and find a reason why. I think I dozed off at some point near dawn, but I didn't fall deep. The first rays of light had me back into the conscious world. Sam had barely stirred in all that time, but somehow we had gotten ourselves comfortable; I woke up with my arm around his waist, his back to my chest. As soon as my mind registered his breathing pattern I realized he wasn't really asleep anymore. Then it occurred to me that he must know that I had woken up too.
The awareness set a light feeling of self-consciousness over my stomach, but it wasn't enough to get me moving. I didn't feel ready yet. I didn't feel he was ready either. And so, I allowed us both to lie still and enjoy the moment of peace. Just a little bit longer. Because, hell, it might not be the kind of coping our dad had instilled into us, but we had earned it.
I breathed in deeply, and smiled when he did the same. There was no use in pretending we weren't awake anymore, so I began stroking his arm lightly. Since I wasn't expecting him to show any reaction in particular, I was startled when he flinched.
"Sorry," I mumbled awkwardly, starting to pull back.
"No," Sam said ruefully, catching my wrist. "It's just…my arm."
I had forgotten about the cuts on his arms, and immediately I felt bad. Sam shifted uncomfortably. Probably he was reliving the previous day's events just as I was, and we were both taking the blame for them.
"How are you feeling?" I asked him.
He gulped. After a beat, his answer came out hoarsely.
"Better," he said with a little shrug.
I released the breath I had been holding and felt a bit warmer inside. My little brother was better, maybe not fine ―thanks God, he hadn't said fine— but better, and I was ready to take anything I could get.
"You think you want to head back to the motel?"
Sam tensed and took a second before replying.
"Do you mind if we stay here for a while?" he asked. "Just like this. I know it's…"
Weird. Awkward. Uncalled for. Weak…
"Okay." I cut him off, knowing what he was going to say ―what he thought that I thought― and instead of that I supplied the truth. "It's okay."
He sighed, and I smiled inwardly when I felt the tension melting away from his body all over again. Mindful of my brother's wounds, I gave his shoulder a soft squeeze and ran my fingers over the upper part of his arm.
"I can't believe I'll never see her again, you know?"
"Yeah," I said and nodded.
"I just…I need to find what killed her, Dean," he continued, an edge of despair tainting his voice.
A shade of apology held in his tone.
"I know that, Sam," I replied calmly. "I told you, we will. But together, alright? You're not alone in this."
Sam fell silent for a while, obviously mulling over my words. I hadn't wanted them to come out reproachfully, even though less than 24 hours after my brother's solo stunt, it was inevitable that I sounded a little freaked out. If I had to be honest, I was still a little freaked out.
However, what was done was done. Sam had already apologized for it ―profusely, by the way. I had told him we were okay, and I had meant it.
"I'm sorry about Jess, Sammy." It suddenly occurred to me that I hadn't told him that yet. That he might not know it. "I really am."
Sam shifted and I loosened my hold on him. I propped myself on my elbow for a few seconds, until he made himself comfortable. Then I laid back down next to him.
"You didn't know her," Sam said softly.
"Well, I'm sorry about that too," I said honestly, hoping that he'd understand that it had been too damn long since we'd last seen one another.
Sam nodded against the pillow and tugged at my wrist in a silent plea for me to wrap my arms tighter around him.
"I missed you," he whispered, "I missed this."
"Dude," I chuckled softly, "we've never been like this."
Sam huffed, but I could picture his lips tugging up slightly. And then:
"You've always had my back, Dean."
Strangely enough, no awkwardness followed his words. After all, they were nothing but the plain truth.
"Always will, little brother. Always will."
We decided to lay low the next couple of days. The second night, Simon and the others told us they wanted to do something special in Jessica's memory. Most of them hadn't bee able to make it to her funeral and anyway, as I was surprised to find out, they seemed to think such a mourning celebration wasn't worthy of her. She deserved something better.
They organized a nice night on the beach, by a nice bonfire. With a nice amount of booze. I would have laughed at the irony: all those normal, college students with their normal lives and bright futures ahead wanting to honor their friend by getting wasted on the sand. It certainly sounded like something I would do.
Anyway, I wasn't sure whether Sam would be up to it. He hadn't talked much since his breakdown, but he seemed calmer, more balanced, and I was afraid to risk that.
However, when he heard about the plan, he smiled softly and said he was in. I searched his gaze intently, looking for some sign of reluctance. If he was just being polite but didn't really want to go, I would have no problem being the bad guy and declining on behalf of us both.
As if he could read my thoughts, Sam met my eyes steadily, telling me he was okay with it. I tilted my head an inch, needing him to be really sure, and he gave me a reassuring nod.
As a result, we headed out to the beach and planted our camp at sunset. I knew that Sam was good at starting fires, but it turned out that his friends knew what they were doing too. At some point during the night, I learned that it wasn't the first time they organized a party like that. On the contrary, it was something they used to do to unwind after exams or when they weren't in the mood for clubs. Sitting among those people, enjoying the cordial warmth of the fire, I came to understand what my brother had seen in every one of them.
Simon was kindhearted and loyal; no wonder Sam had chosen him as his best-friend. And if Simon was his best male friend, Rebecca was undoubtedly his best female friend. Attentive and nonjudgmental, she watched over him with an easiness that could only come from a close pal and confident. Her brother Zach was a laid-back guy, very friendly and tolerant, always ready to crack a joke.
Christine was a sweet, caring girl, with a calm demeanor that was in alluring contradiction with her sparkling eyes. Even Martha, who had been Jessica's best friend and —as I finally found out— was currently Simon's girlfriend, turned out to be quite a funny, witty girl. She had simply been behaving protectively around Sam, and if there was anyone that could understand and forgive her coldness on account of that, it was me.
I learned a lot about Jessica too. How she had been a charming, bubbling girl, devoted to her friends. How she had been not only beautiful, but intelligent as well. The more I heard, the more I regretted that I never had the chance to know her and be a part of the life Sam and she had shared.
As hours slipped and shots were tossed back, stories came and went. My brother sat by the fire through the night, listening quietly as he drank himself into oblivion, slowly, deliberately, with the same focus and meticulousness he did with everything else. He had a serene expression on his face and a faraway look in his eyes. Every now and then though, a particular anecdote brought a smile to his face, which proved that, despite everything he was actually paying attention to every word that was said.
I let him get trashed. Honestly, he deserved a good buzz and I was happy enough to remain by his side and sip the same beer for hours, so that when the time came I could drive him home safely. I discovered myself tossing glances at him every couple of minutes. The glow of the flames gave his eyes a golden, dreamy gleam under the honey bangs, and his too long hair along with the slight flush that colored his cheeks made him look achingly young.
The need to protect him was overwhelming. Primal. Almost physical.
A couple of hours from sunrise, Sam sighed, got on his knees to stand up and announced that he was going for a walk. I wasn't sure that it was a good idea to let him go alone. As a matter of fact, I didn't want to let him out of my sight at all. However, in tune with my wariness, he turned to meet my gaze and, for a split second, I glimpsed a soft, reassuring I'll be fine smile in his eyes.
I was going to stand up, but he stopped me with a hand on my shoulder, and then used it to support himself as he got to his feet. Sam swayed for a second, and I remained absolutely immobile, allowing him to use my balance to regain his. My brother acknowledged it with a gentle squeeze, and then he let go.
Sam's friends rose, one by one, and hugged him warmly goodbye. My brother hugged them back and then staggered off down the beach, along the shore. Lulled by the heat of the bonfire and the muttered words and giggling of Sam's friends, I lied back on the sand and followed my brother's pace through half-closed eyes, until he disappeared.
The party died down by itself after a while. Little by little, everyone started leaving. Zach and Rebecca were the first to part after saying their goodnights. Christine, who had snuggled by my side at some point during the night, was the next one to rise, but only after leaning over me and kissing me softly on the lips. I stood to see her go and then turned towards Simon and Martha, who looked at me with sensitive smiles that were lit by the embers of the dying fire. Martha advanced first and gave me a hug, which as unexpected as it was, compelled me to return the embrace.
"Thanks," I whispered.
She pulled away, her face softened, and then she stepped back. I raised my eyes and met Simon's. He pulled something out of his jacket and gave it too me. It was a picture of Sam and Jessica. I narrowed my eyes.
"This…this was at…"
"Sam's apartment, yeah. It was taken with my camera," he said. "I thought that you might keep it. Maybe Sam will want to have it, after a while, I don't know, when it doesn't hurt that bad? When he'd like to have something to remember her by."
At a loss for words, I stared at the picture and then back at him. His lips tugged up as he patted my arm and nodded.
"Take care," he said, and smiled.
"Yeah," I croaked, "you too."
They went away with their arms wrapped around each other's waists. Their natural and relaxed affection was something so strange, I couldn't help feeling jealous and bewildered by it. I saw them off and sighed. Somehow, I was sorry they were gone. But I was also glad that it would finally be only the two of us. Only Sam and me. In a way, it was the normal I craved.
I extinguished what was left of the fire and went down the beach to look for Sam.
I found my brother sitting on a bench by the sand, a couple of miles from where we had set camp. He was bent forward, elbows on his knees, and gazing into the distance. Unwilling to disturb him, I approached slowly, but then his eyes flickered over mine. He gave me a rueful smile and returned his attention back to the sea.
I took that as permission and sat on the back of the bench with my left knee brushing his right shoulder. His eyes remained set on the sea, and mine wandered for a few seconds, darting from my entwined hands to the back of my brother's head. It bothered me that I couldn't see his face, but judging by the line of his shoulders, he didn't seem tense or especially upset. Of course, with all the alcohol he had in him, it was a miracle he was conscious at all.
"They left?" he asked.
His voice was soft, with only a slight slur on the edge. Any other person would have missed his words, since they were so low they could easily be swallowed by the crashing of the waves.
Sam nodded, a simple gesture that held so much sadness I had to shut my eyes and swallow to get a grip on myself. Since the night of my brother's breakdown, I had been feeling strangely connected to him. It was as if his emotions seeped into me through an invisible channel. I had always been able to read my little brother, but now, after four years and seven days of suffocating silence, I could actually feel the pull of our bond.
It felt weird, but in a good way. It made me feel vulnerable and exposed when I was around him, but on the other hand it was intoxicating to feel that the familiar sensation of loneliness no amount of drunken nights had been able to erase was finally gone.
"I can leave too," I started tentatively. "If you want to be alone…"
"No, it's alright," he answered quickly, his voice trembling slightly. "Don't go."
Relieved, I accepted his answer and stared back at my hands. A couple of minutes passed in silence until my brother spoke again in a faraway tone.
"It was here, on this bench," he said. I tossed him a curious glance. "The first time we kissed," he elaborated. "We were at this bonfire party with the others and decided to take a walk. We ended up here."
I nodded in understanding. Now the knowing glances among Sam's friends when he said he was going for a walk made more sense. I already knew that Simon and the others had thrown the party not only for Jess, but for Sam too. Now, after hearing his first words about Jessica that weren't laced with pain, I was incredibly grateful for it.
Sam needed to talk, and he needed me to listen. And that was exactly what I intended to do.
"I was nervous as hell and babbled like an idiot for like…ages," he continued. "I was racking my brain to find something interesting to say, so that she wouldn't get bored and leave. And she didn't leave, she just sat there, listening with this…tiny smile on her face."
Even without seeing him, I sensed that Sam was smiling at the memory.
"At dawn, she looked at me so intently that all I could do was shut my mouth. I thought I had blown it…But then she leaned over and kissed me."
I chuckled softly.
"Don't tell me, you fainted!" I teased, bumping my knee playfully against his shoulder.
Sam nudged me back, but other than that, ignored my remark completely.
"She told me later that she had decided to give me until the first ray of light to make up my mind and ask her out. And since I didn't, she had to do it herself."
"You are such a dork," I said and laughed.
"Yeah," he huffed. "Luckily for me she was more…" he paused and then blurted, "well, like you. I mean, not sluttish…"
"Hey!" I protested with feigned indignation.
"…But straight-forward, you know?" he continued. "Or we would never have gotten over the beating around the bush part…"
Sam trailed off and gave a dejected sigh. I knew what he was thinking.
"Don't do that, Sammy," I said, speaking evenly and shaking my head. "Don't regret it. She deserves better than that."
"She deserves to be alive, Dean," Sam retorted with a bitter edge to his voice. "It wasn't worth it. It was just a dream. A fucking lie. It would never have worked. You're the one who told me that."
"She loved you, Sam, and that wasn't a lie."
"She didn't even know me."
"Of course she did. She may not have known everything about you, but she knew the most important parts. She knew the best part of you."
"You're wrong." His voice sounded thin, and I ducked my head to try to see his face from under his unruly bangs. "The best part of me wasn't here."
The lump in my throat became painful, and all I could manage was a nervous huff.
"You're drunk," I muttered.
And as if to prove my point, I reached out and ruffled his hair, intending to play down the emotions of the moment. When his head bobbled slightly, I couldn't bring myself to disentangle my fingers from the silky hair on the back on his head. Before being completely aware of what was happening, he was timidly leaning against me, and I was guiding his head to rest on my knee.
"Yeah," he sighed wearily, "I guess I am."
I stroked his hair slowly, almost hesitantly, mesmerized by the warm pressure of his face on my leg and the tickly sensation of his soft bangs running along my fingers. I found myself wondering when the hell Sam's hair had grown so much, and how come I hadn't noticed it before.
"Are you ready to call it a night?" I questioned him.
My own voice sounded foreign to my ears, strangely tender, suspiciously hoarse.
"I want to wait until sunrise," Sam said softly. "Then we can go."
I frowned, registering what was implied in the intonation of his voice.
"Go?" I asked tentatively.
"Are you sure, Sam," I pressed, wanting nothing but absolute certainty.
"There's nothing else we can do here," he said, half shrugging. His voice fell into a whisper. "Besides, we have to find Dad."
Suddenly wary, I stilled my hand and shook my head.
"It doesn't have to be today," I offered.
"Yes, it has to," Sam countered, his tone firm. "Or I won't be able to leave at all," he added.
I couldn't deny that, somehow, I had already known it would be our last night in Stanford. And I realize now that his friends must have known it too. The bonfire, the sad smiles and heartfelt hugs had been their good-byes. The end of normal. My brother's defeat.
It wasn't fair, I told myself as I held my breath and remained silent. I struggled to make sense of the fucking world and our fucked up lives for the umpteenth time in the last 22 years, since it had all gone to hell. And just like all the times before, my brain entered into a loop of endless Why, why, why that lead nowhere and was becoming increasingly hard to escape sane.
I blinked myself back to the real world and pushed my lungs to cooperate and breathe out. Unfair as this world was, my brother was still there, resting against me with such open trust that it made my stomach churn.
"Okay," I reassured him, "sunrise it is, then."
Sam, who had been holding his breath too, gave a soft, relieved sigh. Then he shifted to lean into my hand as he burrowed himself deeper against me.
"Hey, don't fall asleep, kiddo," I chided. "It's starting to get cold."
Sam shook his head almost imperceptibly and muttered a drowsy "I won't" that made me smile. Really, there was no point in calling him out on it, when I was working against my own advice by resuming the lazy petting. But the truth was that I liked to sense how Sam relaxed against me, not only because he needed it but also because it was thanks to me. There was something intimate and soothing about the ritual that reminded me of before. Before Stanford, before the continuous fights, before the adult self-consciousness, before…Just before.
I closed my eyes, and focused on Sam's breathing, which was slowly evening out. He had curled a hand around my jean-clad ankle, and I felt the tug of the fabric as he absently fingered it. I smiled to myself. Having him there with me calmed me down. But knowing that he wanted me there with him was enough for my world to make a little more sense.
"It was a beautiful dream, you know?" he said in a hushed, almost reverent tone.
There were tears in his voice. I could feel them seeping through my clothes. But he sounded serene, and all I could do was admire the man he had become.
"Yeah, I know."
That was my brother now. Full-grown and extremely young at the same time. Forever my Sammy, but from now on my Sam. Sitting there, we waited for the sunrise, knowing that once dawn came, we would be back on the road, and everything would change. I could hear it in his voice, the hunter was being reforged. I could also sense it in my blood, which roared mutedly through my veins inflamed by my hatred for the thing that had killed our mother and Jessica.
After sunrise, we would answer the call and become hunters, avengers, un-grieving Winchesters again.
That would be after sunrise, though. For the time being, we could just be brothers sitting together on a bench and enjoy the feeling that the missing years between us didn't matter anymore.
Any final thoughts? See you soon, guys. You're the best!