Okay, this is the end--of this story. However, I do already have an idea for a sequal. Let me know if ya'll are interested. :) Anyway, I hope you like this; please do let me know what you think! :) Thanks so much for all the reviews and support ya'll!
And yes, I'm getting back to work on Don't Let Go right now. I just wanted to finish this, and I needed to do some research for the next chapter of DLG anyway--which I can't do until I get ahold of the person I need to talk to! *sigh* But either way, I'll have a chapter up soon. I'll be gone all weekend, so I promise I'll at least post some kind of chapter before I leave. :)
When the blinding haze of grief settled to a dull ache, Dean's sobs subsided. He dropped back on his heels, holding onto Sam's arm with one hand while he scrubbed the tears from his face with the other. His chest shuddered with aftershocks and made his breath uneven, and he heard the same sounds coming from his brother.
"God, that was embarrassing," he muttered.
He heard Sam laugh weakly, and bite off another sob.
"Back from the dead for the second time, but you're still you," he said. "I guess that should be encouraging."
Dean smirked a little at that. "I guess." He had to fight for the words he said next; his mind didn't want them. He didn't want to process the fact that this was goodbye. "So…you just…have to go through the door?" he asked, nodding back toward it but not looking.
He saw Sam's mouth press into a thin line as he dried his own face, and saw him look, over Dean's shoulder. "Yeah," he answered shortly.
"Then what?" Dean asked quietly.
"I guess you go back to the real world."
"Like…where I'd be now if you hadn't come back?"
Sam shrugged. "Yeah—where you're supposed to be now, in the new timeline."
Dean snorted. "If I hear the word timeline one more time I swear I will throw up." Sam laughed again, and it was a sad laugh but this time it lasted a little longer…and it was the sweetest thing he'd heard since he'd woken up.
"You don't hate me, do you?" he asked suddenly.
Dean frowned. "What?"
Sam looked away. "The whole…thing with Ruby, what I didn't tell you…about the demon blood…" He grimaced. "Do you hate me for that?"
He stared. "I…no. God, Sam, no. I mean, I'm pissed, but…you only did what you thought you had to do. Granted, you could have shared a little more—at which time I would have promptly kicked your ass and made sure you stopped for good, but…" He shook his head. "I don't hate you."
His brother nodded slowly in understanding, eyes damp again. Sam slid off his knees and leaned back into the wall heavily. "I just…I hate to think where it could have gone." He looked up, a haunted look on his face. "It scared me, Dean. It scared the hell out of me."
Sam let out a breath and held his arms away from his body, looking down at them as if they were foreign to him. "I can't feel it anymore. Maybe it's because I'm dead, and I don't have blood, or that the timeline changed and the extra demon blood was never there..." He took a deep breath. "I just know that it feels good, not being able to feel it. I've never felt more relieved."
Dean took slow breaths, struggling not to lose it. He understood why all of this had to be. He accepted it. He didn't have a choice…but that didn't mean he liked it.
And Sam…god, he'd been worried about Sam, about the way he'd been acting, but if he'd had any idea just how much he'd been going through…
Sam looked up. "What?"
"I'm sorry I didn't figure it out; I'm sorry I couldn't help, or stop it, or…something."
"It's not your fault. I'm not even sure it's so much Ruby's fault. Maybe she really does only have good intentions, or maybe not, but…it was my fault for letting it happen." He knocked his head back into the wall once, eyes closed. "I let myself get addicted.
Dean grimaced at the word. "You didn't know. You were just trying to save people, right?"
"And take revenge on Lilith," Sam scowled.
He sighed. "It doesn't matter. It's over."
Dean let the silence linger long enough to gather the strength to ask the next question. "What about you? What happens to you when you go through?"
Sam shrugged. "I find out just how real heaven is?"
His jaw tightened. "It better be good. If either of us deserves that, it's you."
"Selling yourself short," Sam scolded. "It's going to be up to you now to take Lilith out, and you can't keep doing that."
"Not even with good reason?" Dean grumbled.
"There is no good reason," Sam answered immediately. "And there certainly won't be once this whole thing resets." Dean was grateful he'd avoided the word timeline. He really might have hurled if he'd heard that word again.
Dean sighed. "What do you mean?"
"I mean that when I walk through that door and you end up wherever you end up…you'll have no memory of hell. I know it'll be hard at first, with me gone, but you can still start fresh." Sam stood up and offered a hand, and Dean reluctantly took it. "You'll be fine," Sam finished as he pulled his brother to his feet.
"You will be." He shook his head, and looked off. "I wanted to believe, sometimes, that I was as strong as you. I thought I was. The truth is…after Jessica, after you died, and especially recently…I let my want for revenge get in the way, and it only got worse over the years. I lost perspective. You've always had more of that than I have, and it's what makes you stronger."
Sam looked him in the eyes. "So I know you'll be fine."
Dean swallowed hard. How can you say I'm that strong when I feel like I'll fall apart again if you walk through that door?
But…Sam would be safe. Besides the benefits for the world, maybe…that was really the only good he could see in this. Sam would be safe. He would be safe, with mom and dad…right?
Keeping Sam safe was all he had ever wanted. He'd wanted to keep him close, too, but…if he could only have one thing or the other he supposed that, because he did love his brother, he had to choose this. He had to accept this. He had to keep Sam safe.
There was nowhere safer than where Sam was going.
Dean only managed a grunt in response, and Sam's head ducked again.
"You know…for a long I was worried about doing this. I didn't want to leave you alone. I guess I just have to remember that you won't be alone."
Dean forced a smirk. "You're not going into some sappy I'll-always-be-with-you speech, are you?
"No," Sam chuckled. "I just…I meant Bobby, and Cas to some extent, and…who knows? Maybe you'll make new friends this time around."
"Don't count on it," he muttered, with a sneaking suspicion he knew where his brother was going with that.
"Hey, it's on you to carry on the family line now."
"Oh, that's where you're going with that?"
"Don't pretend you didn't know."
Dean huffed. "Who the hell would want this family to continue? We suck."
"Aww come on; we don't suck that bad."
"You know this conversation won't do any good, right? I won't remember it until I'm dead anyway."
Sam sighed. "Yeah, I know. I just felt like I should tell you, anyway. You really should try to be happy once I'm gone, Dean. You do deserve it."
He snorted. "What if I'd be happy as a hermit?"
"You and I both know that's not true. I saw Lisa in your head, remember? Dean, you're thirty—"
"Had to remind me," he grimaced.
"You have plenty of life ahead of you. You should make the most of it."
Now it was Dean who sighed. "Look, Sam, even if I was going to remember this, I don't know if I could promise you anything."
Sam let out a breath. "I know. I just…I want you to be happy, Dean. I know right now it seems like that won't ever be possible, but that's not true. As soon as Lilith's out of the picture…"
"Okay…okay. I hear you. I promise I hear you…but that's my sappy quota for today," he snarked. The sarcasm helped. It helped him pretend Sam wouldn't be gone in a few minutes.
"Whatever," Sam smirked. It faded as his eyes strayed to the door. "I should probably…"
Dean's throat tightened again. "Right."
Sam moved around him and crossed slowly to the door. He looked back as his hand closed over the knob, and let go again.
Dean's vision blurred with tears, and he knew what he had to say next. "It's okay, Sammy," he choked. He cleared his throat and tried again, more strongly this time. "It's okay."
Then Sam was heading back to him, and Dean found himself meeting his brother in the middle as they snatched each other into a crushing embrace.
"Take care of yourself, okay?" Sam all but cried.
"Of course I will—cliché bastard."
He heard Sam laugh, felt it against him, and squeezed tighter to memorize it. Maybe this memory would be lost for a time, but he was sure that would stay with him. It wasn't the Sam he'd been worried about since coming back from hell; it was the Sam he missed from the beginning.
Sam let go, and Dean was forced to o the same. His brother went back to the door, and this time he pulled it open.
Dean saw nothing but darkness on the other side.
"What the—it's all dark."
Then he realized that Sam didn't seem confused, and when his brother looked back at him it was with a question in his eyes as Dean moved to his shoulder.
"You don't see it?"
Sam looked out into the nothingness and smiled. "It's not dark, it's light, and…" He trailed off and gaped.
"I can see them already…"
Dean had a good idea who he meant, but he had to be sure. "See who?"
"Dad…and Mom, and Ash, and Pastor Jim, and others..." He stopped again, and his eyes lit up in a way Dean hadn't seen in a long time. "Oh…"
Dean looked at him in wonder, wishing he could see what his brother was seeing. He supposed he would, someday. "What is it?"
"Jessica," he breathed. "Somehow, I almost forgot."
Dean grinned suddenly, hoping for a last moment of humor. "Nice. You won't be without your action up there."
Sam slapped a hand back into his chest—hard. "Shut up."
"Besides…somehow I don't think Heaven's like that."
"Where's the heaven in that?"
Sam looked back to glare at him for a moment, and then just rolled his eyes. His expression grew wistful, and he sighed a bit.
"Goodbye, Dean," he said quietly.
Dean nodded once, smiled, and somehow the words he'd never wanted to say came more easily than he'd ever thought they would have. "Bye, Sam."
Sam smiled back, rested a hand on his shoulder for a moment, and Dean gripped his arm until he let go. Then his little brother stepped through the door and disappeared. He couldn't see it, but he knew Sam had walked right into their parents' arms.
Dean stumbled back a few steps as the door closed on its own, and lowered himself to his knees, wondering when the crippling tears would take him again.
He wondered why, until he remembered that Sam was safe, and he was happy…and slowly he realized that was enough for now.
As Dean stared at the floor the carpet under his knees turned to grass, and the still air began to whisper around him, blowing a cool breeze over his skin as the dim motel room light brightened to sun. He looked up quickly, wondering what in hell was happening now…
Dean knelt in the grass out behind Bobby's place, wondering where the momentary confusion had come from. He shook it off as nothing and focused again on the simple wooden cross in front of him that marked his brother's grave.
"Cas says this is the day it all happened—or tonight was, or whatever—the night you came back from. He won't tell me how bad everything was the first time around; he won't tell me any more than you did…but he says you saved the world."
Dean smiled sadly. "Maybe after almost two years I still don't like this whole thing, but I gotta admit that sounds like you—saving the world. I never told you I was proud of you…I was too angry then."
His head ducked as the familiar ache gnawed at his chest, stealing his breath.
"I still miss you, Sammy," he whispered after a moment. "I guess I'm doing a lot better than I thought I would…guess you were right about that…but I miss you."
He swallowed hard. "I know we grew up together—god, who could forget all of that, the way we grew up—but we never really…you know…not until we went looking for Dad, and…two years wasn't enough with you," he choked out.
Dean paused again to catch his breath and swallow back the lump in his throat, wondering how after all this time it could still be so hard, and yet so much easier, too. Sometimes he still wanted to cry to just to think of Sam, but the time helped him look back and really see that his brother had been right…What would he have really gained by selling his soul? That made it easier. That and the time itself.
Sam had been right about Bobby, too. Bobby had been there for him through it all—letting go, burying his little brother…and after the ordeal with the devil's gate, killing the demon, seeing dad and realizing he was safe now…Bobby had been there to help him through the agonizing weeks after that, through coming to terms with the fact that Sam was gone.
Then the war had begun, and he hadn't had much time at all to feel sorry for himself.
Sam wouldn't have wanted that, anyway.
Dean let out a breath. "But…hey, on the bright side, we've got Lilith on the run. Thanks to you I guess we're gonna finish saving the world after all—Bobby and I, and Cas…and Ruby, maybe. She's still around, but that's just because I haven't figured out how to get rid of her yet," he smirked.
"Thanks a lot."
He grimaced, and glanced back briefly to see the thin blond leaning against a tree. "What the hell are you doing here?"
Ruby shrugged. "Paying my respects." She angled her head as she looked at the grave marker. "Sorry I never met him." There seemed to be some genuine sympathy there, but Dean glared anyway.
"Somehow I don't feel the same."
Her eyes rolled. "Whatever. I came because I've got some new dirt, if you must know."
"I'm a little busy," Dean growled.
Ruby threw up her hands and stepped away from the tree. "All right, all right. I'll go wait elsewhere." She headed back in the direction of the house, and Dean turned back to the wooden cross.
"Yeah; she's still a pain the ass."
"I heard that!" came the call from behind him.
Dean rolled his own eyes and waited until she was well out of earshot.
"Sometimes I wonder how I manage," he muttered.
He sighed and stood, brushing the dust from his knees. He hadn't brought anything with him; flowers were lame
"Anyway…we're heading out for now. I'm not sure what happens next, but from here on out it's all new anyway, isn't it?" Dean's fists clenched at his sides, and he heard his voice harden as he continued. "But we'll take Lilith down. I know you don't want that to be the last thing I do, but I don't care if it comes to that. I won't let what you did be for nothing."
Dean almost turned and stalked off then, but in mid-stride something brought him back to the graveside. He stood there for a full minute before he could say what was on the tip of his tongue.
"Thanks for everything, Sammy," he whispered. "I love you."
The voice he heard next was more welcome.
"That is what will help us win this war." Dean glanced over his shoulder and found Castiel there, but he didn't have a chance to say anything before the angel continued. "Your love for your brother and for the rest of your family is what makes you strong—not the sorrow or the anger."
Dean swallowed. He'd heard it before, but somehow he could believe it now.
He cleared his throat. "So what's up?"
"We have a lead on Lilith."
Dean nodded. "Yeah, Ruby said she had something new, too."
Cas raised an eyebrow at the mention of the demon, but he didn't comment. Dean turned back toward the house again. "Anyway, you can give me what you've got on the road. We're pulling out."
Castiel nodded once, and walked with him back to the house—really walked, which was something he didn't do often. Ruby was already there, leaning against the Impala, and Bobby was sitting on the front steps. He had no reason to be surprised to see the angel at Dean's side.
"Ready?" he asked quietly.
Bobby nodded and stood, going for his own car.
"Leaving so soon?" Ruby asked.
"If you have anything to tell us on Lilith, get in," he confirmed gruffly. She shrugged and pulled open the door behind her—the passenger side door.
"Back seat, bitch. Nobody sits there; you know that," Dean called as he climbed in on his own side. He heard Ruby huff in annoyance, but she slammed the door she'd opened and slid in the back instead.
Castiel merely vanished from where he stood and reappeared beside her.
Ruby wrinkled her nose and settled as tightly against the door on her side as she could, but Cas sat calmly and launched into the new information he had as Dean started the Impala and followed Bobby out.
Demon and an angel in the back seat…again, he thought with mild amusement.
Somehow Dean was sure that, somewhere, Sam was laughing.