The Road Ahead.

Author's note: The final chapter, guys. Thank you very much for sticking with me for so long.

This is the unbeta's version, as my beta PookbearD is very busy. As soon as she is done correcting all my mistakes I'll post the polished version. Please forgive all the mistakes, I simply didn' t want to wait any longer. I have learned from this that I will never start posting until a story is completely done and so the new story I'll be posting is actually all done. Again I thank you for your patience.

For those who were kind enough to review this story and to whom didn't respond: I am very, very sorry and I will respond!


Chapter 7.

Sam had once again taken his seat on the years-old bed, the one furthest from the door, he'd sat on before. Before Dean had left the room and Sam had followed him out into the night, and onto the hood of the Impala.

Before, he'd sat there, unsure of his actions, of how to tell the story that had taken him here and, most of all, unsure of his place.

Now, he sat there watching his brother. He sat and watched Dean rummage through his duffel, moving across the room. He sat and tried to think of an answer to the question he'd been asking himself ever since first setting eyes on his brother, tied to a tree. The question of how the hell he had lived without Dean for so long. Of how the fuck it happened that he hadn't spoken to him in two whole years.

He saw his older brother curse and fuss and finally fishing the first aid kit from under the bed.

"Let's patch you up a bit, huh? You look like roadkill."

Dean grabbed one of the two chairs by the table and dragged it over to face the bed Sam was sitting on. He ordered his brother to take off his shirt and grabbed his arm. Soft and rough at the same time. The way he always did. The way he was.

"How the hell did that thing get you so carved up, Sammy? I'm ashamed for you."

Sam couldn't help but smile as he stuck out his arm and turned slightly to give Dean better access. The familiar tactic of bad jokes and lame insults, used solely to take his mind of the pain of cleaning and stitching, was something he'd often felt grateful for. Today was no exception. He needed the banter, the verbal sparring. He needed it to keep him grounded. To keep himself from falling to his knees and begging for absolution. For forgiveness. Not because he'd left, but because he'd stayed gone. Not for having a life of his own, but because that life hadn't included his brother.

Both were silent as Dean worked and the older man was thankful for it. He didn't think he could say anything at all. Was pretty sure he'd lost the art of speaking the moment he'd grabbed his brother's arm and started cleaning the small cuts. This was familiar territory. This, he knew. If he were honest, which he'd never be out loud, he'd have to admit that he was working slower and more careful than needed with small cuts and grazes like these. He was aware of Sam's gaze on him as he took some gaze out of the kit and wrapped it around the taller man's arm. If he were honest, which he'd never be to Sam, he'd have to admit he was overcleaning the small wounds because he just, simply, really did not want to stop touching his brother. He'd barely seen his brother in four years. Had not touched him for just as long. The only physical contact in those years had been Sam's hand on his arm in the hospital two years ago. He didn't want to pull away. He just wanted to revel in the fact that Sam was sitting across from him, waiting patiently till Dean finished.

He had his brother with him and the realisation overwhelmed him, made him almost grab onto the hands he was now cleaning. Made him almost, almost, bring up his own hands to ruffle the lengthy brown hair. How had he survived without him for so long?

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It were Sam's hands that pulled away first, shook the older brother out of his reverie, made him look up to see his hands gripping those of his little brother so tight it was starting to bruise.

"Sorry."

He didn't think his voice had ever been this rough. Dean shook his head to clear his head, regain some balance and quickly finished up his ministrations.

He needed to get himself together.

He got up but, once more, had barely taken a step towards his own bed when Sam's arm grabbed hold of his again.

"What about you?"

He didn't have time for this. He needed a minute to get his bearings. To catch his breath, before he fell apart right here and now. He chose the tactic he'd used so often. He played dumb.

"What about me, what?"

He saw Sam frown, knew his brother remembered this trick.

"What about your bruises? You need..."

This was too much, too soon.

"I'm fine."

He pulled his arm away, careful not to be too rough. He heard Sam sigh, and try to come up with something that wouldn't scare him away. He knew this kid too well.

"You look pretty battered, Dean. I can..."

The kid knew him too.

"I said I'm fine, Sam. I just need a shower."

"But..."

Yeah, the kid knew him, but he didn't get it. Frustration took over and when he spoke, it was with a tone too harsh.

"Jesus, Sam. I said I only need a shower. I need patching up, I'll do it myself."

He threw the kit into his duffel and hurried into the bathroom, closing the door with just a little too much power. He didn't even threw a glance at himself in the mirror, instead turned on the shower full blast. He just needed a minute.

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Sam watched his brother breeze past him into the bathroom, slamming the door behind him. He mentally hit himself over the head. He should have known better than to try and push his brother. Him forcing Dean into anything at all was risky, and mostly fruitless, on any given day. Trying to do so when he was so obviously struggling to maintain his game-face was downright stupid and he'd been away for so long he didn't really believe he had the right. He didn't have the right to just expect to fall back into what had always been the natural order of things. But the ritual of Dean patching up his wounds, striking at him with silly remarks, created only to soothe his nerves, had apparently done just that.

He needed to be a bit more careful, needed to remind himself that although Dean had tried to take up the role of the big brother the best he could, had done what he could to put Sam at ease, he was in no way assured of a place in his big brother's life. He had to keep in mind that he'd been away for four years, had been off living the life he'd so desperately wanted while Dean had been on the road, doing exactly what he himself had escaped from: saving people, hunting things. The family business.

He needed to remember that although they were, and would always be, brothers, he wasn't Sammy anymore, and they were nowhere near where they used to be.

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Dean sat on the closed toiletlid and watched the water run. He ran a hand through his short hair and closed his eyes. It had been more than a minute and he knew Sam had to be worried, not to mention anxious but he wasn't ready to go back out there yet. He needed a bit of time to get his act together, to clear his mind, come up with a plan of approach. He knew his brother needed guidance right now, needed to be around somebody that knew him. As a child, Sam had questioned their life but he'd always come looking for his big brother whenever something had upset him, whenever he'd felt wronged. As a teenager, he'd raged against their nomad existence and the authorative way of John Winchester and had closed himself of more and more but still he needed Dean to set him straight when his beliefs shook and when he'd finally announced he was leaving for Stanford he'd asked Dean for support before he'd told his father in no uncertain terms that he could take care of himself. And then he'd left and he had taken care of himself. He had found his applepie life and he hadn't called on Dean, but now, as always when his world shifted and he lost faith in whatever good he believed in, his independent stance crumbled and he once again looked to his brother for guidance. And Dean wasn't sure he could give it.

Even thinking those words made him want to smash his reflection in the already cracked bathroommirror . Wasn't this what he'd wished for these past four years? Hadn't he wanted his brother back? He had no purpose if he wasn't Sammy's big brother and not ever had he felt as lost as he had done those four years. The truth of the matter made him want to run and hide. It made him want to gauge his own eyes out.

He was scared.

He was scared shitless.

When he'd sat there just now, patching up his brother, falling back into the familiar swing of things, he'd realised something he hadn't ever thought about in all the times he'd wished for his brother to come back. He knew the power Sam had over him, even if Sam didn't. He knew exactly just how far he'd go, how much he needed him. He needed his brother more than even he'd known. Those last four years were one big blur of faces, monsters and motelrooms. No day different from the other. No memories. Nothing. Completely empty hours of absolutely nothing. He loved his father. He wanted, really desperately wanted the man around but Sam...Without Sam life was so empty it was scary. But that wasn't the case for Sam. Sam had lived. He had made memories that would last him forever. Better memories than those 18 years with his family had ever given him and that knowledge shook Dean more than he would ever care to admit. Because he knew, with every fibre of his being, that if Jessica hadn't died, Sam wouldn't be here right now. Wouldn't be sitting on that bed asking him if he was alright. He wouldn't be here at all. He would be sitting at home, in Palo Alto, curled up with his girlfriend, studying. He wouldn't be here telling Dean he needed patching up. Dean would be here alone, patching himself up. The way he'd done for the past four years. The truth was that, as painful as it had been, Dean had gotten used to being alone. He'd hated every minute, had wished for his brother every day, but he'd done it. If he took Sam with him now, how long would it take to make Sam rebel against their life again. How much time would pass until he left again?

He wanted his brother to be happy even more than he wanted him around and Big Brother Dean, who wanted his little brother's happiness more than anything else, always won out. Always would, but this time he couldn't help but stop at himself for a fraction of a second. He had to stop and face the real question: would he survive again?

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He stepped out of the bathroom and Sam knew immediately that the soft, almost gentle touches, the vulnerability that had been there only moments before were gone and that Dean's mask was back in place.

"How did you know where to find me?"

The question, gruffly spoken, didn't surprise the younger brother. He'd expected Dean to ask this sooner or later. He'd known he'd have to have this talk. He'd just hoped he'd have some more time. Trying to buy himself some, he purposefully misunderstood the question.

"I told you, Dad sent me the coordinates and..."

Dean clearly wasn't in the mood for his brother's evasive tactic, unwilling to give him the time he was asking for, he growled.

"I mean the orchard. You showed up out of nowhere. How did you know I was there?"

Sam sighed deeply and straightened his shoulders. He might as well get it over with.

"When I got to town, I talked to the Jorgesons and I went over to the college to research. When I came out, I saw the Impala standing in the parkinglot. I figured maybe you'd still be inside but you didn't show and I didn't...I didn't want to take any risks. I knew the deal about the pagan God and if you were in trouble..."

He sighed again and looked his brother in the eye.

"I decided I'd take the Impala and go look for you, so I called the mechanic and had them tow my car. I figured if they thought I was having cartrouble, they'd also wouldn't expect me to go anywhere. So they took my car and I broke into the Impala and drove back to town to look for you."

"And you went out there, hunting for a scarecrow on a killing spree, alone?"

Sam was getting impatient. He knew he owed his brother some answers, but he wasn't exactly new to this. He knew how to handle himself.

"You did."

He heard Dean take a breath and saw him clench his fists. Apparently, his big brother wasn't getting the answers he wanted.

"It's my job, Sam."

This conversation was all too quickly turning into a discussion he seriously could do without.

"I can take care of myself, Dean. It was my job too, once."

"Yeah, exactly. Once. You've been out of the game for four years, Sam. You could have gotten yourself killed, taking on that thing. What were you thinking?!"

How could Dean ask him that question, seriously?

"I was thinking about you, actually. I didn't really stop to think about the possible danger. I just knew my brother might be in trouble."

He noticed Dean turning directly towards Sam, a questioning look in his eyes.

"Are you sure that's really it, Sam? Are you sure you didn't just rush ahead because of everything that had happened? I mean, not that I don't appreciate the help, but you weren't exactly forthcoming the past couple of years."

Nice. He should have seen this coming. After all, this is what his brother did, whenever he felt trapped, lost control of the situation, didn't see a way out.

"Why the hell didn't you call me, Sam?"

They were going in circles. This was no use. Sam told himself to remain calm. That he owed his brother an answer.

"I told you..."

"Yeah, yeah. I know. It didn't occur to you till you hit Jim's. So why didn't you just call after that?"

Stay calm. This is how he deals with things. You know him. Stay calm.

"I told you, I had to do it alone."

"Right. You had to go to Lawrence and exorcise a freaking poltergeist from our old house and you didn't think that maybe I would have liked to know? Do you know what could have happened to you?"

He might have been away for four years, but he knew his brother well enough to know that there was no right answer to this.

"Dean, I know. But I..."

"And what if I hadn't been here? Or you wouldn't have found me, or I'd already taken care of that scarecrow? What then? You would have just kept on driving until you happened to run into me?"

There was no right answer to this one either. The truth would have to do and he would just have to take whatever Dean wanted to lash out.

"No. I don't... I don't know, Dean. Okay? I don't know. But that didn't happen."

Apparently, this wasn't enough for Dean. Sam knew his brother was only seeing what could have happened, instead of what had.

"Yeah, but what if you hadn't? You wouldn't even be here if it wasn't for Jess, Sam. how am I supposed to react to this? How am I supposed to know what you want?"

Didn't Dean get it? He didn't have to know the answers. He just had to be there.

"I just told you; I want to come with you."

He watched as his brother turned angrily away from him, frustration rolling off of him in waves.

"You want to come with me. Yeah, so you said. But why, Sam? Why would you want to do that. You need to not be alone, you need to find dad, to be around family, whatever, I get that. Why the hunting? Why did you go back to Lawrence, why did you come here?"

He really wanted this conversation to end in the worst, worst way. He wasn't ready for this. He wasn't ready to think about anything beyond today. Not now that he had finally found steady ground.

"Same reason you are. Because dad sent me those coordinates."

Dean clearly wasn't feeling the same way.

"Right. And since when do you do what dad says? It's not the same, Sammy. Why would you want to go back into hunting all of a sudden? You want to know what killed Jessica? You want to find dad and join in on his obsession now, is that it? Because I don't know where dad is, Sam. I can't help you there."

His brother didn't get it. He really didn't.

"You don't need to...that's not..." He took a breath and started over: "That's not why I'm here, Dean. I mean, yeah, I want to know what happened to Jess and to mom and I want to find dad. I've got to. But that's not why I'm here. I don't know why I followed those coordinates. I guess I thought I'd find you here. I'm not sure why, who knows, Dean. But I'm here now."

Where were these words going? With every sentence, he felt Dean stepping away from him.

"Yeah, but for how long? You wanted that normal life. You wanted safe. This is your chance, Sam. This is it. You don't have to get back into all this. You don't have to be a hunter to find dad. You can still have that normal life. Take a break. Go find dad. We can do it together. You don't have to get back into all of this."

It was his own fault, he thought, as he looked down at the floor, tears once again burning in his eyes. He hadn't told his brother anything. Not really. He'd just shown up and let himself be comforted by Dean's presence. Expected to be welcomed.

"What do you really want, Sam? Because I know it's not this. I know this isn't what you want to do. You have a reason right now. You're in pain, you're grieving, I get that. Rushing back into this life is not the solution."

He needed to end this. Now. Before he was gonna fall to his knees and beg.

"Dean..."

But the older man wasn't listening anymore. Was having this conversation all by himself now.

"You're gonna get yourself killed, Sam."

This wasn't...he couldn't do this. He couldn't hear these words.

"Dean..."

He figured his voice must have given away his internal turmoil because Dean whipped his face around to Sam and stilled. Without stopping to pause and register the pain and regret etched into Dean's features, he stumbled forward, desperate to get the words out, to clear the air.

"Dean, I'm sorry."

He heard rather dan saw Dean swallow.

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry that I left and that I didn't call. And that I never called from Stanford and that I'm here now. I'm sorry. Just...don't do this, Dean. Don't tell me to leave. I know I was an ass and that I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for Jess but...I need to be here, Dean. I...I need to be around you right now. "

It took all of Dean's willpower not to absolutely break into nothing at the sound of his brother's broken voice. At the desperate, fearful look in his eyes. How had he gotten things so incredibly screwed up? Here he was, projecting his own fear, his own stupid issues, on his little brother. Here he was making his brother feel quilty for things he had no business feeling guilty for. He was making him apologize for things that were nowhere near his fault and he was making him fear things he never should fear for even a second.

"Sam." He shook his head. He didn't know how to make himself clear to his brother. How was he gonna tell him that he was scared, actually scared, of letting him down, of not being the brother Sam deserved, of being left alone. How was he gonna say such things to someone who had just lost his girlfriend, who had come to find him, who had just said he wanted to come with him?

"Look, Dean..."

"Sammy. You have nothing to apologize for." He saw Sam open his mouth, probably in protest and held up his hand to silence him.

"No. You have nothing to apologize for. Nothing. You hear me? I'm being an ass, okay? And I'm sorry. There's no question of me sending you away Sam, of me walking away. You know better." Right there, he knew he wasn't gonna share the reasons for his behaviour, wasn't gonna further burden his brother with issues not his own.

"I...I just want to be sure that you know what you're doing, that this is what you really want."

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Sam looked into his brother's eyes. Not upto them, searching for safety, love, acknowledgement, support or any other thing his brother always provided. No, this time, he really looked. He looked without expectations, without judgement and what he saw stole his breath away, made him ache in places he didn't think could ache anymore than they already did, broke his heart into even tinier pieces. Dean was scared. He didn't think he'd ever really seen Dean scared. He was sure there must have been times he was but he never showed it. Or he just hadn't looked hard enough. Not that Dean was purposely showing it right now. He would never do that in front of his little brother. He was still Dean, after all. But looking into Dean's eyes, opened his own and it got through to Sam suddenly what his showing up must have done to his big brother. He never thought about what it would mean for Dean, if he showed up, telling his story (and not even the whole story), looking for help, for guidance. He had just assumed that Dean would handle it, without shock or fear or doubt, because that's what Dean did, always had done. He realised now that his sudden return had probably stirred some emotions for Dean as well. Being the person that he was, the big brother that he was, he would never tell Sam that, would never want to bother him with trivialities like his feelings, but that didn't mean they weren't there. Now was living proof. Sam stared up into the familiar green depths and saw everything he was feeling reflected back at him. The fear, the worry, the anger and the confusion. The need, the doubt, the love and the uncertainty. The uncertainty of them. Of him. of their brotherhood. He had been afraid Dean wouldn't want him here, wouldn't want him hunting, would send him away in a few days, maybe weeks. He understood suddenly that those fears were not his alone. Dean might be feeling them too. What if Dean was afraid that he didn't want to come, that he was only doing this out of desperation, that he was acting on a whim, an impulse. What if Dean was scared that he didn't want to come hunting, that he'd condemn him for doing his job, that he wouldn't want to deal with it and what if Dean was fearing his leaving as much as he was fearing Dean's? What if Dean was just as scared of seeing his brother walk away as he was? What if Dean really needed him as much as he needed Dean? He needed to say something. He needed to make him understand that although he was unsure about a lot of things, whether or not he needed to be with his brother wasn't one of them. Today's events made that sharp cut clear.

Even the vaguest hint of a thought about walking away, about driving away from the man that was, had always been, his home, his centre and his core cut through him with the clear cut of a machete. He'd done without him for four years. He'd never do without him again. Whether his brother wanted him around or not, he was going to stay. He'd do whatever it was that Dean deemed necessary. Whatever it was that would make Dean forgive him, whatever it was that would make him stay. Walking away from him now would be the death of him. He knew now that those past days of driving, the events in Lawrence, had merely been pointing him here. Had been leading him here, emotions running without being noticed so that, upon arrival, he'd be able to say he knew at least one thing for certain. He'd never stopped being Sammy. He'd never stopped needing his brother. And he'd never walk away again.

Sam didn't know how his body kept still, because his mind was cartwheeling out of control. One realisation after the other hit and he found himself floundered by what his brother's eyes had told him. Everything in the past weeks, months, years, flew by him and he was astounded at what the insights that had never in those years occured to him, suddenly meant. Because this was it. This was the moment in which he had to decide. To make the ultimate choice. One that would determine who he was and who he would be for the rest of his life. He understood now that this choice had always been his and his alone. Dean had never walked away from him, had never turned his back on him and left him to fend for himself. Even in school, he had never been without Dean, for he'd known Dean would come running as soon as Sam called. But Dean had been without Sam. He had been alone. He hadn't had the assurance that, would he be needed, Sam would come to his aid. And today, he had the choice to make. Stanford had merely been a break. A phase. Now came the final decision. If he was really done with his family, if he really wanted away from them and have the normal life, then he had to walk away right now. He'd walk away and Dean would never darken his doorstep again, unless asked to. He'd never hear a pleading word and he'd never get a phonecall requesting his appearance. He'd be by himself, away from the Winchester way of life. Just like he'd always wanted.

Or he'd stay. He'd be back in it. He'd have his brother's back and he would do his job. It was one or the other and it was now or never. Now came the real choice. One that would set the track for the rest of his life from here on out. Was he in, or was he out?

It was this moment of staring into his brother's eyes that he knew there had never been a choice. Never been a question. Dean had never called upon him, allowing him the illusion of a choice. Now, however, his brother gave him the choice, unable to put it off any longer. And because of that, he realised there was no choice. This was his brother, his protector, his childhood and his home.

He took a breath and sealed the deal.

"I'm with you. I'm with you, now."

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He felt like he'd somehow stepped away from himself, away from them and was now witnessing the situation from afar. He heard his brother say the words but he couldn't react because his mind wasn't done processing the information.

I'm with you, now.

They were guilt-laced words, coated with a layer of fear. Fear of rejection. Fear of not being forgiven. Of not being accepted back into his brothers life. Yet, they were clearer than any of the words Sam had spoken up until now.

I'm with you, now.

They were a question and a promise in one.

Oh, Sammy, you don't get it. You were always there.

He didn't have an answer. There had never been a question. It always had been, and forever would be, Sam's choice.

I'm with you, now.

Grabbing the handles of both their duffels, he walked out of the door and towards his car. He saw Sam appear in the doorway, assessing the situation curiously as he opened the trunk. He threw the bags and saw them land where they belonged; next to each other. One incomplete without the other. He felt a grin tuck at the corners of his mouth and looked up, staring straight into his brother's eyes. He saw Sam smile back hesitantly and closed the trunk.

"Well, then. We've got work to do."


That's it, folks. I sincerely thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed it.

I hope everybody has an amazing Christmas and an even better New Year!

(I myself am leaving for New York right after Christmas and I'll be spending New Year's Eve there. Any tips, hints, do's or don'ts?)

Holly