Chapter 1

Sam slipped inside the Impala, sliding the two brown paper bags to the passenger side of the bench seat. One was full of foodstuffs – crackers, Twinkies, meat sticks, useless stuff really, but things that would fill his stomach and shut it up for a while. The other, the heavier one, was the one his hopes hinged on. Several bottles of black label whiskey sat nestled inside it, the highest proof he could get his hands on.

There were things he planned to do tonight and he was going to need all the help he could to get them done. He needed something to take the edge of any survival instincts. Because surviving was not what he had in mind for that day. Not at all.

Sammy, this isn't what I wanted…

"I already told you to shut up!" Sam slammed his open palms hard against the steering wheel his voice echoing in the confined space. The pain in his hands brought tears to his eyes, but that was alright. He was losing it and he knew it. Had been on a downward spiral since the moment he realized Dean was dead. And just like with everything else in the last year, there seemed to be little he could do about it.

He reached up and touched his chest, feeling Dean's talisman hidden underneath then eyed the bag with the booze, but knew it was too early. He needed to hole up somewhere for a while, take his time. Make sure he had everything he needed… Then he could start the slow path to ultimate courage.

The Devil's Gate had been a total bust. Though he'd found the Colt at Bobby's and put it back together, the key hadn't worked. His arms and shoulders twinged at the recollection, the muscles still sore from all his efforts to open the door anyway. Nothing had worked. He'd eventually been forced to admit he wouldn't be setting Dean free that way.

But all wasn't lost quite yet. There was one more thing he could try. And this one would not fail.

No, Sammy, don't…

He took a deep breath, ignoring the illusionary voice, and opened the glove box to pull his father's journal out. The battered book hadn't gotten much use of late. Most of their problems recently had been beyond its scope. Could a journal feel lonely? Useless? Impotent? He carefully flipped through the worn pages, words and pictures jumping out at him. Somewhere in there he remembered running across a special list when they'd been searching for other information. Though the yellowing pages had contained little on demonic deals or how to extract someone from the pit, they did contain a roster of powerful crossroad/Ley line locations.

Though he already knew of one that worked, he'd killed the demon that belonged there. He didn't know if the territory had been reassigned, or even if their rules called for such things. He wasn't proud of having killed the red eyed demon, especially since it'd meant taking the life of an innocent with it. But he'd enjoyed destroying one of them, despite what he told himself at the time. Though it ended up being useless, at least he'd done, tried something. He'd taken a step to try to free Dean from his deal rather than just let them take him without ever lifting a finger. There'd been a chance that by destroying the very demon who'd given him his contract, regardless of the fact she said she didn't 'hold' it, that it would have been voided, that it would have set Dean free.

It hadn't.

Unbeknownst to him at the time, Dean's contract truly was being held by another demon, by Lilith. But at least no more souls would be taken by that crossroads' bitch ever again.

Sam let his gaze scan the handwritten list. There, in Montana, just outside Great Falls. It looked to be the closest location from the Devil's Gate. He ignored the fact his hands were shaking as he pulled out his laptop from the backpack and did a Google Map search to figure out how to get there from here. A nine hour drive. That was good. It would eat up a lot of his spare time. Better to be driving than sitting somewhere, though it would still give him too much time to think.

His cell phone rang and he froze.

He knew who was calling. Knew who'd been calling every few hours without fail. Guilt stabbed at him as he made no move to answer it. It was Bobby. The last person he'd ever meant to hurt, and the last one he could talk to right now. Bobby wouldn't understand. Bobby would try to talk him out of this. It was a debate he could ill afford and it would only be a waste of time. He waited stiffly until the ringing went away and took the caller to voicemail where Bobby's words would remain unheard.

Again his gaze drifted toward the paper bags and again he forced himself to look away. He could do this. He had to do this. But the last thing he needed was to get pulled over as a possible DWI and get thrown in jail. He'd just have to suck it up, as his Dad would have said.

He felt a pang at the thought of his father. Sam was sure if John Winchester were here, that he wouldn't be too happy with his youngest son, a disapproving scowl plainly stating so to the world even if he never said a word.

Sam closed his eyes against the vivid image, too many unresolved issues still flying inside him about their father. He'd known or deduced things about Sam before he died. He'd known enough to warn Dean to watch out for him, and if need be, to kill him. But how long had he suspected? Was that why their relationship had always been so strained or did he just want to use the possibility as an excuse because it would make the past so much easier to swallow?

He pushed the hair away from his face, a slow sigh escaping his lips. There was no point in going over any of this now. His father was gone, Dean was in Hell, and he was currently pissing away his last few hours in this world going over things that didn't matter. There was no one around to answer any of his questions anymore so nothing would ever be resolved. As always, it was too little, too late -- the Sam Winchester Way.

He shoved and twisted the key into the ignition a little harder than necessary. The Impala's engine rumbled to life. With a squeal of tires he left the gas station's parking lot.

The drive was a long one.

Sam kept the music loud, pounding like thunder in his ears, trying to make it as hard to think as possible. He grabbed snacks out of the first sack, not caring what they were and barely tasting any of them as he peeled them and shoved them into his mouth, chewed and swallowed. He only stopped when his bladder yelled loudly enough and then only long enough to do his business before he was moving again.

He drove into Great Falls as the sun dipped low in the horizon.

Passing several hotels on Tenth Avenue, mostly major chains, he ignored them. He drove around until he found the seedier part of the city of fifty-five thousand then located a cheap, nondescript motel.

The name of the place slid in and then right out of his consciousness. He grabbed a faded maroon matchbook at the front desk with the name and address in case things worked out and Dean needed to find where some of their stuff was. He had no idea how or where Dean would be brought back, and in the end didn't really care just as long as it got done, but it didn't hurt to do what he could to make things easier. There was no telling what physical or emotional condition his brother would be in. He had no clue what they had been doing to him in the pit and deep down he didn't really want to know, sure it was nothing good. Getting Dean out was the only thing that was important, everything else could wait, and he had to get him out now.

Sam passed over most of his cash to the bored clerk, enough to cover the room for a week. The fading wallpaper and dark paint in the lobby oddly reflected how he felt – used, worn, empty. He stared at the pages of the register as the stooped man pushed the book toward him and Sam drew a total blank. None of the usual aliases, none of the emergency names, nothing. He forced his hand to move, not thinking just writing something, anything, then stared at what he'd written in surprise – Dean Winchester.

Snagging the room key, he went back out to the car. He dug in the glove box for the container of fake ID's and grabbed the first one he found with his picture on it, totally avoiding looking closely at those with his brother's face. Dumping out what was left of the snacks into the back seat, he used the empty sack to stuff in a few things from the trunk, then bundled the bag up so he wouldn't have to look at the contents. Lastly, he removed one bottle of Jack from the second bag then stuffed the other two under the driver's seat.

Sammy, please…

"I'm not listening to you." He locked up the car and went back into the motel.

His room was in the back, the hallway dark and shaded. He opened the door and glanced uncaring at the space within. It was a one room deal, with a miniscule bathroom off the side. There was a kitchenette and a small fridge, the almost glowing green counter the only real color to the place. The back wall was made of large blocks, the sole window high up and grated like those of a mental ward. As good a place for him as any. He guessed the only thing that did bother him about it was not being able to afford giving his brother a better place to rest when he came back. Sam was too close to the edge to try to do better, though, to interact for long with others. Any delays would only work against him and his resolve. His brother would just have to cope.

As if he had the right to tell that to anyone. How good had he coped with things on his own?

Stop it, Sam.

"Make me." He set the bag and the bottle on the room's lone ratty table with a loud thump.

Why shouldn't he think about his failings anyway? Why not bring out into the light all the things he'd done wrong, or not pushed hard enough for, or lied about, or failed to do? It would just be fuel to the fire, more reasons to hate himself, to convince himself into doing what he had to. He was the one who was tainted. He was the one who was cursed. It was his fault all the people around him had been taken. His mother had died trying to protect him, Jess because she'd been in the way of his 'development'. His father sold his soul to spare Dean because Sam had failed to kill Yellow Eyes when the demon was inside him and that way his brother could save Sam when the need arose or stop him if need be. Dean had traded his life for him because it was what he'd always done. But why bother? Truly, why? With him gone the curse would end. So why fight so hard to keep him alive? What was the point? Even when they won his family lost. And in the end he was the one having to live with all the fallout.

Well that was going to stop. Dean wanted the chain broken? Well Sam would break it -- permanently.

His hand snaked out for the bottle. He tore the seal and twisted the lid from the top then brought the whole thing to his mouth. He gulped down three large swallows before pulling the bottle back. The golden liquid burned down his throat almost as if he were on fire from the inside. It splashed into his stomach, into the mostly digested mess he'd shoved blindly down there and swished around.

Sam closed his eyes trying to feel the alcohol as it penetrated his blood stream, willing for it to hurry up and dull his nerves, to shut up the stinking voice of survival trying to talk him out of his chosen course.

After a couple of minutes he took another gulp then set the bottle to the side. As badly as he wanted, needed, the whiskey's numbing effects, he also had to be careful. Alcohol poisoning would get him nowhere. And neither would getting sloshing drunk. He just required enough to give him liquid courage, to dull the edges, but not truly impair him. Dying was easy. Dying for getting what you wanted something else entirely. To do that, he would have to be careful, and for that, he'd have no choice but to keep some of his wits about him regardless of what he'd prefer.

He glanced at his lone window and saw it was still much too bright outside. He'd need to pace himself. There was a lot of time to go before he could do what needed doing. He glanced at the paper sack on the table, knowing other things would need to be prepared, but he wasn't ready to go there yet.

He vaguely recalled seeing a convenience store less than a block from the motel. It was his last night. Perhaps he deserved a last meal. It would help slow down the alcohol's effects, spread them out. Maybe he should pick up something milder to ramp up with, like beer. He had to be smart -- for himself, for Dean.

Sam left and came back with a Nighthawk steak dinner plus a couple of personal pizzas for the microwave and a six pack of some of Dean's favorite brand of beer in tow. As the microwave counted down the seconds while cooking his final repast, he found his gaze roaming back to the table and the bag still waiting for him there.

Instead of going to it, he pulled two of the beers out of the package he'd just bought, and crammed the rest into the small fridge. Popping the top off one of them, he chugged the whole thing down without tasting it. The belch that followed echoed in the room, but sounded hollow and lifeless. He almost jumped when the ringer on the microwave went off.

Grabbing his dinner out, he slid it onto the counter. The plastic covering went into the trash, followed by the cap of the second beer. The smell of meat and macaroni and cheese wafted around him, but in no way did anything for his appetite. He cut the steak into even pieces and ate them slowly one by one, followed by the occasional sip of beer.

It doesn't have to be the last one, Sam.

The edges were starting to dull slightly, but obviously not enough. He glanced back toward the window, the day over, darkness falling all around. He ditched the rest of his Nighthawk into the trash and finished off the beer, but left the bottle by the first empty on the counter. Dean never could stand it if things were too clean and neat. He'd leave the mess for him to remember him by.

Besides, there were other things he had to take care of at the moment.

Sam approached the back table with its paper bag. He squatted down onto the too small chair, feeling awkward and his dinner sitting like acid rocks in his stomach. He looked at the open whiskey bottle on the table, then away, tempted by the heavier stuff despite his previous thoughts on the matter.

He reached for the rolled up paper sack instead. Opening it, he took out the contents one by one – a bottle of graveyard dirt, used dead cat bones, his fake ID, other odds and ends, and finally the black beat up tin box. The last he could barely stand to look at. This would make the fourth time a Winchester would be using something like it. Such an innocuous seeming container – just a simple rust covered, battered box. Yet it held the power to call up evil – to change people's lives and not for the better. Tonight it would help him save his brother, just like one had helped doom him. It would also be the vehicle of Sam's demise.

He placed all the needed items inside the box then reached for the whiskey bottle for a swig before he could think better of it. Staring at his picture staring back at him from within, Sam closed the box's lid. The time would be upon him soon.

He listened intently for a rebuttal from inside his head and heard nothing. He felt a little warm and somewhat tingly inside. The voice remained quiet – as it should be, as he needed it to be. The whiskey and beer were doing their jobs admirably. The fact his hands were still shaking didn't mean a thing.