Hollow Victory

Chapter 4:

When they all woke up in the morning, the day was gloriously sunny and Sarah suggested a day in the park to picnic and play. Bobby wasn't too thrilled with the idea, but played along for the kids. Sam, too, was distracted and wasn't in the mood to pretend he was happy, but knew he had to try to work through the blues he was feeling. Once he started playing with the kids, his gloom began to lift slowly and he was beginning to feel a little bit better as he always did for a little while.

Little Dean and his siblings were throwing a ball around when it was thrown over Dean's head. He watched it fly and land then he ran to get it. He saw it then roll up to a pair of leather boots. The person bent down, the holes in his jeans showing his knees and took the ball. Little Dean looked up into the face of a young man with short-cropped hair, warm and friendly green eyes and a soft, welcoming smile.

"This yours, little buddy?" The voice asked.

"My daddy told me not to talk to strangers," little Dean said, acting wary and careful.

"Your daddy's a smart man. You should always watch out for yourself and your family."

Little Dean smiled and nodded.

"Here's your ball then."

The young man handed the ball back into little Dean's hands and the small boy smiled again, feeling like he knew the young man and wasn't afraid of him.

Sam looked up and caught little Dean talking to a man by a bench. When he recognized whom he saw, his hunter's instincts kicked and he ran over to his son.

"Hey, Dean, you know better than to wander off," Sam said lightly so as to not scare him, but his eyes never wavered from the impersonator watching him. "Why don't you head back to your mom and Uncle Bobby, okay?"

"Okay, Daddy," little Dean said as he turned to the stranger. "Thank you."

The stranger nodded and smiled as little Dean toddled off back to the others.

"Great kid you have there, Sam. I always knew you'd make an awesome dad," Dean said wistfully.

"Look, I don't know who or what you are, but you stay away from my family," Sam spouted angrily and protectively.

Dean smiled with pride at his little brother.

"My own brother doesn't trust me. I'm proud of you, Sam," Dean teased.

Sam looked quizzically at what looked like his brother.

"Dean?"

"In the flesh, well, sort of," Dean smiled.

"How can I trust you?"

"Well, I'd say trust your feelings, but that might sound too Obi Wan," Dean joked. "It is me though, Sam. Can't prove it to you other than to say that I'm telling you the truth."

Sam looked around him to see if anything else was coming up or behind him or if anyone else could see Dean.

"There's no one else around. It's just you and me and just so you know, people can see you're talking to me. They won't be carting you off to a rubber room."

Sam was in shock and in turmoil. He wanted to believe so much, but there was just too much training embedded in his instincts to truly believe.

"Wow. I've left my little brother speechless. I never thought I'd live to see the day…well, I guess I really didn't live, but –"

Sam's eyes began to well. He couldn't stop them. He had been so full of emotion the last couple of days and he had yearned for this moment with Dean so much over the years. To hear his voice, to see his face, it was all too much to take in.

"Dean, is that really you?"

"Yeh, Sam, it's me. I'm not a doppelganger or anything evil. I'm here because you and me, we have to talk."

Dean indicated the bench and Sam sat down in it with wobbly legs, never taking his eyes off of Dean.

"Sam, will you please stop staring at me. People will wonder if we're gay again," Dean joked.

Sam shook himself, but was still unable to form any words to say to his brother's ghost.

"You have a great family, Sammy. I knew Sarah was the girl for you," Dean grinned, trying to break Sam's silence.

"I killed you," Sam finally said and let his defenses go down.

Dean looked into his little brother's eyes and saw the raw pain and suffering there. Despite all that Sam had achieved with Sarah and his children, the night Dean had died had haunted Sam for ten years and was continuing to haunt him.

"No, Sam, you didn't."

"I let you decide to die. I should have fought harder."

"Sammy –"

"Doesn't matter if you or Bobby tell me it was the only thing to do, the right thing to do, I should never have let it happen. I should have saved you."

Dean sat down on the bench next to Sam, weighing his next words, knowing they would be important.

"I know you think you could have or should have saved me, but truth of the matter is, I couldn't be saved, Sammy. At least not and stay alive anyway. I now understand why. I'm here now so I can explain it to you so you can let your guilt and me go."

Sam calmed a little and was ready to listen, but he had a look of skepticism on his face.

"My contract, the demon who wouldn't free me from it? Turns out the crossroads demon lied to you, just like all demons do, just like she lied to me. She made it sound like it was just like any other deal she's made, but it wasn't. Not for me. You see, someone else bought my contract after it was made. It was ironclad because I was needed here."

"Here? Where's here?"

"There isn't a name for it, really, but think of the movie Ghost. Dead Patrick Swayze keeping Demi Moore safe from his swindling best friend. I'm there."

Sam's face revealed doubt, confusion, fear, and all kinds of other emotions. Dean should have known better than to use a movie metaphor on Sam.

"I'm a hunter here, Sam. I've been fighting the war with you, just on this side of the divide, call it sealing the deal or keeping anything here from getting to you, but I've never left your side or Bobby's. I've done my best to keep you all safe, to keep what's here from getting to you there."

Sam took in a breath to absorb everything Dean was telling him.

"So you see, you didn't kill me. It was my time. You let me die on my own terms and you saved me from Hell. Once I was here, it was like I never left you. I've watched you fall in love again, have your kids, have a life. But you were holding yourself back by holding on to me and you were hurting. So I'm here to tell you to let me go. To stop hunting and live the life you want to live, the life I want you to live."

"Dean, I don't know if I can –"

"You can, you just don't want to and I won't let you stop living because of me," Dean insisted gently. "I'm okay, Sam. My soul was saved by you. I'm not suffering."

Sam looked into his big brother's face, untarnished by the passing years, still looking his 29 years the day he had left him and took in a long breath.

"Listen to Bobby and give up the hunting. It was never what you wanted. I want you to leave it behind. Go back to school, become a lawyer or whatever you want. Give your children the love and attention that you never got from Dad or from me."

"No, Dean you –"

"Sam, face it. Dad did his best, so did I, but in the end, you didn't get what you needed from us. You deserved better. You deserve this chance at a better life."

"You did a lot, Dean."

"Only to keep you going, but it wasn't enough to keep you happy. Be honest, Sam. You were miserable. You put up a good front for me, but it was only for me. I don't want that for you now and you don't need to put up a front for me anymore."

Sam looked away for a second, swallowed and looked back.

"I'm afraid of losing you all over again if I let go," Sam admitted.

"You never did lose me. I'm there with you, maybe not like I used to be, but I am there."

"The headstone?" Sam asked.

Dean nodded.

"It's not like we're holding hands or anything, but just so you know."

Sam snorted with laughter then nodded, comforted by the thought that he hadn't been imagining things.

"Are you still hunting where you are?"

"Yeh, it's kinda cool, Sam. All that Latin, it's all in my head now. I'm the brains and the brawn, man. I'm awesome here."

Sam couldn't help laughing and it came easily and freely.

"Now that's the Sam I like to hear. Dude, you really need to loosen up. You have a smoking hot wife, three great kids, why be such a downer?"

Sam smiled again.

"What about you?"

"Uh, in case you didn't notice, can't have those things here. Though, I gotta say, there are some hot demon chicks here –"

"Spare me, okay?" Sam protested with a laugh, but then got serious again. "No, I mean, don't you want to rest? I mean you deserve to have peace. You've earned it."

"Sam, I'm not tormented here and I'll rest when I'm…oh, I guess I'm already dead, huh?"

"Stop kidding around."

"God, you are just such a buzzkill," Dean joked, but saw the concern on Sam's face. "I will rest, but only when I don't have to protect you anymore and you're here which won't be for a LONG, LONG, LONG time so lighten up."

Sam looked at Dean and his lip trembled.

"Will you be there when I…"

Dean took in a breath and the idea of Sam's death still gave him pain, even knowing that the next time Sam died, he would be there waiting for him. All he could was nod his head. To express it would be too much for him.

"But Sam, no cheating. You hear me? You have everything to live for and I'm not worth dying for. Not anymore."

Sam understood.

"Okay, then, get back to your family," Dean said, quickly changing the subject. "They're probably wondering where you've wandered off to, of course, anyone can spot you within a 2 mile radius."

"Shut up," Sam smiled.

A moment of silence passed as Sam struggled to walk away from Dean.

"Gotta say, that little Dean, he's got my looks."

Sam turned to look at his son.

"No, he doesn't!"

When he looked back, Dean was gone. He couldn't help the pull he felt on his heart.

"Kinda cool, huh, Sammy?" A voice said into his ear. "I'm always here for you, bro. Always will be."

Sam let his eyes fill again as he searched around to find Dean, knowing he wouldn't see him. As clichéd as it was Sam felt a weight lift from him. Seeing Dean again, hearing that he was okay, made him feel better, more at peace with himself and with how Dean had died now. Dean was happy and that was finally good enough for him, finally good enough to live on like Dean had wanted.

Sam strode back to his family and allowed the true feelings of release overtake him. He played airplane with his children, kissed his loving and hot wife, and gave Bobby a smile that made the old man wonder what had suddenly come over Sam. Sam would tell Bobby what had happened later so that he could give him peace as well, knowing that Dean was okay.

When everyone had settled down for lunch, as they started eating their sandwiches, Sam looked at everyone he loved and smiled.

"Okay, who's ready for a story?"

"YAY!" His children screamed with delight.

"Once upon a time there were two brothers…"

Dean materialized for a moment and smiled.

"Make me a superhero, Sammy."

FIN

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