118. Walking Out

Two and a half months had passed since Kelly's demise. A routine had been reimplemented: research, hunt, successful annihilation of the monster of the week, and repeat. The Winchesters had been glad to bid the Wright house adieu, but Sam felt himself missing the anchor of a set place to call home. As much as he had hated the rut they had been in there, he missed it more than he thought he would now that they were back to hopping from motel to motel, school district to school district. Still, the ache for home wasn't as overwhelming as it had been before. Now he had his brother to take refuge in.

John was hunting relentlessly, even more immersed in jobs than usual. He couldn't know for sure if he had missed an opportunity with Kelly and he never would. It made his skin crawl considering how close he had come to dealing with a monster like her. But what bothered him more was the slim chance that if he had, he would know where Mary's killer was now. Throwing himself into hunt after hunt felt as good a way as any to atone.

Sam slipped inside the nondescript motel room and looked around to see it was unoccupied. He flopped down on the sagging bed, lying there for a moment before sitting up and pulling out homework from his first day at a new school. He flipped through the history book the teacher had given him and began to pore over the material. Dean came in a little while later, sitting down in a raggedy armchair in the corner and watching his little brother with a tiny shake of his head. Sam glanced at him out of the corner of his eye.

"What?" Sam asked.

"I don't know why you bother. We're gonna be somewhere else in a week or two. You don't really have to do the work. It's not like there are gonna be any real consequences if you don't," Dean said, shrugging.

"I just... I wanna apply myself," Sam muttered, slipping a piece of lined paper between the pages he had been reading and shutting the book.

Dean bit back a small laugh. "I know, I know. I'm just givin' you a hard time. Sorry," Dean said with a wave of his hand. "Truth be told, I kinda respect your work ethic, man. Me, I got my GED, so I'm done with school shit."

"Wait... you got it?" Sam asked, pushing his book aside and looking at his brother. He knew Dean had taken the test last month but since then, he hadn't heard anything about it.

Dean nodded. "Yeah, just got a call about them not knowing where to send the certificate. I passed. Ninety-eighth percentile, apparently."

"Dean, that's awesome!" Sam said, scrambling off the bed and grabbing Dean's arm to pull him up to standing. Dean only managed half of a nonchalant shrug before Sam wrapped him in a hug. He allowed himself a smile that faded as he heard the key clicking in the lock. The two of them sprang apart at the sound. The hug had been innocent enough, but both of their instincts made them err on the side of caution when it came to their father. And beyond arousing any suspicion, it was too uncomfortable to exhibit any intimacy, even the kind that would seem normal for other siblings.

John grunted as way of greeting before taking a seat at a rickety little table by the door and pulling a stack of files out of his bag. He began rifling through the pages, laying certain ones out in an array in front of him.

"D'you need any help, Dad?" Dean asked.

"I got it," John said with a dismissive half-wave.

"Then I think I'll go out for a walk, if that's alright, sir," Dean said.

"Fine," John said with a nod, not bothering to look up from his collage of information.

"I'll come with," Sam said. The brothers made their way out of the motel and onto a busy city sidewalk.

John's laser-focus on cases since Kelly's death had led him to be more cold and dismissive of his boys than usual, an impressive feat. Sam didn't mind. It bothered Dean, gnawed at him a little, but not enough to address the issue. Not that family talks were an effective way to solve problems for the Winchesters anyway. He tried to suppress that little piece of him that so desperately wanted his father's recognition and approval. Instead, Dean focused on the extra time John's neglect afforded him to be alone with Sam.

"You know, Tara dropped out and got her GED when she was a teen," Dean said as the two walked along together. It was the first time in months he had mentioned his friend's name.

"I didn't know that," Sam said, noticing a little quiver at the corner of Dean's mouth. He pulled his gaze away from Dean's face, so as not to make his older brother feel self-conscious.

"Yeah," Dean said, sticking his hands in his pockets.

Sam chanced a glance back and saw the quiver give way to a little smile. He wanted to tell Dean how proud Tara would be of him, but he knew Dean didn't want to hear it. Too cheesy or too painful, or both. So they just walked along quietly as the sun sank below the earth. The light faded quickly, leaving them in semi-darkness. They took a turn down a less crowded street, welcoming the feeling of relative privacy they found there. Dean slipped one hand out of his pocket and found Sam's. Their fingers wove together and they continued to walk.

~ EPILOGUE: 3 Years Later ~

For years Sam told himself that Dean was enough, that he was all Sam really needed. But it didn't work like that. There were moments, brief shimmering moments when Sam was completed by his big brother. But the older he got, the shorter those moments lasted, and the more he found he needed something else, something more. He felt a twinge of guilt for this selfish need. Especially when years before, Sam had been the one who had pushed so desperately for Dean to let him in. Dean finally had, and for a while it was the best either of them had ever felt. But now Sam wanted out. Not from Dean, but from his entire life. Sam realized how much it would hurt his brother. Even with the soft spot Dean had for his baby brother, it had been so hard to open himself up for Sam. And now Sam was getting ready to leave. He could almost preemptively feel his brother's aching sense of betrayal. Dean didn't know Sam's plan yet, but he would soon enough and it was almost enough to make Sam crumple up Stanford's acceptance letter and throw it away. Almost.

But Sam needed a chance at some semblance of a normal life. A life without John breathing down his neck. A life where monsters didn't hide in every shadow. A life where he could grow up and get a job and a family. A life where he could begin to take those next steps - steps away from the freak-show of his old life and the normal life he could picture himself having. And that meant a life without an all-encompassing, unrelenting love for his big brother. Sam wasn't sure if he could ever have a life like that, but he knew that the only way to find out was to gain some distance from his family, to pursue something outside of what he had grown up with.

So as much as it pained him to do so, Sam was ready to leave. He was just a few steps away from the door, arm outstretched for the handle, when he heard it unlock from the other side. His father entered. John eyed the backpack slung over Sam's shoulder and the duffel bag in his hand. "Where do you think you're goin'?" John asked, his voice a growl and his eyes narrowed suspiciously.

Dean stepped in behind his father. Sam couldn't look at his big brother, couldn't meet his eye, though he could feel Dean trying to catch his. "College, sir," Sam said as firmly as he could while staring at the doorknob.

"What? And when exactly were you planning to fill me in on this?" John asked, taking a step towards Sam.

"I applied to a bunch of schools. I got into my first choice with a full ride," Sam said, not exactly answering his father's question. He hadn't planned to fill John in at all. His plan was to sneak out and not look back. He knew it was cowardly, knew it would hurt his family, but a confrontation had been exactly what he had wanted to avoid. He was determined to leave. His father's rage wouldn't change that. But seeing Dean crestfallen and shocked, just as he looked now, was enough to make Sam waver.

"What school is that, exactly?" John pressed.

"Stanford," Sam answered.

Before the fury set in, Sam could have sworn he saw pride flash in his father's eyes. But then the yelling began and he knew he must have imagined it.

John began to shout, but Dean didn't hear what he was saying. His mind had been plunged into a sudden fog by the shock of Sam's news. He thought they shared everything together: love, blood, laughter, pain, anger, a bed when John was away... And yes, Sam may have idly mentioned how he'd like to go to college, but he never once told Dean that he was actually planning on it. Dean knew the application process was infuriatingly difficult. He realized that Sam had navigated it on his own, with what must have been a frayed patchwork quilt of a transcript and no steady home address. Sam had managed all that in secret. If Dean wasn't so hurt, he'd be impressed, proud of his little brother's drive. But all he felt now was the panicked rush of blood pounding in his ears and the painful constriction of his throat.

Words from years ago suddenly came to the surface of Dean's mind. Kelly's voice was as pure and clear as if she were speaking in his ear, whispering her cruel little prophecy to him all over again. "He's already smarter than you. Can you imagine what he'll think of you in a couple of years when he realizes that he let his emotions cloud his common sense?"

John's voice erupted through Dean's thoughts, having reached a new level in volume and rage. "You were just planning to walk out that door, leave me and your brother here without a clue as to what happened to you?!" John shouted. Sam's jaw was set as he looked his father squarely in the face, allowing the onslaught of words to wash over him, reverberating around the room and through the three of them standing there.

Dean's mind was drawn back to Kelly's words. "- Will he still love you? Or will he have realized what a colossal waste of time he spent on you? Do you think he'll really stick around?

Sam cut into John's tirade. "Look, I'm doing well for myself. I got a full scholarship to a great school! You'd think a halfway decent father could be proud of that. Fine. You're not that kind of dad. I know that. But you have to get that I don't wanna be on the road forever. I don't wanna hunt monsters forever. I don't wanna be dragged along with youand your goddamn crusade for the rest of my fucking life! I deserve a chance at something better. That's Stanford. That's not crappy motel rooms and booze and broken bones."

Dean's memory of Kelly whispered to him as Sam continued ranting. "You think he won't realize his potential and how it goes far beyond what you could even dream about?"Dean shook his head, stepping in between his father and brother, pressing one hand to each of their chests to keep them from coming to blows.

"If you walk out that door, don't you evercome back!" John yelled across Dean to Sam.

Sam bit down on his lip to hold back a grimace and shook his head. He clutched Dean's hand on his chest for a second before pushing him away. "Fine with me," he said softly, turning on his heel and walking from the room. Dean stared after his brother, frozen in place.

"One of these days he'll be walking out the door."

Dean's mouth went dry. He turned to his father. "You're letting him go?" The question was as much to himself as it was to John.

"He made his choice. He chose himself over his family," John muttered through a clenched jaw as he reached out and slammed the door shut. He clicked the lock in place, the sound of it as final as a gunshot, separating the brothers.

Sam walked in the direction of the bus station, not looking back until the motel was the size of a monopoly playing piece. He was torn between being thankful that Dean hadn't made his decision to leave harder by chasing after him, and a little heartbroken that Dean hadn't fought him on this. But it was better this way. It had to be.

His own footsteps on pavement accompanied him to the bus stop. The bus arrived not long after. He faltered, one foot on the ground, the other on the bus. He took a deep breath and stepped up, the doors creakily sliding shut behind him. He wondered if Dean had found the note he had left by now.

Dean sank down onto the bed, bracing his weight with his arm beside him. He felt a piece of paper poke at his finger from under the pillow. He pulled it out and unfolded it, quickly scanning the note.

Dean -
I know it seems like I'm running away again. And I guess I am. But I'm not running from you. I got into Stanford. Please, don't follow me. I just want to know if I can have a normal life. Mom would've wanted that for us, don't you think? I'm sorry I'm leaving this way. Know that I love you. More than anything. I just need to do this for myself. I'm sorry.
- Sam

Dean crumpled the note in his fist. He wanted to tear it up, to run after Sam and tell him that sorry wasn't good enough. He wanted to slug him in the jaw or maybe just hug him tightly. But he didn't do any of that. Instead, he remained seated on that creaky old bed and jammed the note in his pocket. He cradled his head in his hands. Goodbye, Sammy,he thought to himself.

Sam leaned his head against the grimy bus window, watching the dotted yellow lines in the center of the street rush by. For once, he and Dean weren't on the road together. Their paths had diverged and Sam was on this journey alone.

Distance swallowed them up until they were just separate points on a weathered map.

The End.

A/N: Eurgh. How do... end? Well, don't despair. We all know they'll be reunited in a few years' time.
I know I said there'd be one more chapter and then the epilogue, but I didn't feel like there was enough material for another chapter so this is it. The end. Years later. Thanks for sticking around. I'm sorry it took so long to get this last chapter out. I think I was so afraid of having an imperfect ending that I held off. Chuck was right when he said endings are hard. Ugh.
Anyway, it's been great. Thanks for being a part of this story.

I've been asked a number of times over the years if there would be a sequel. As of right now, there are no solid plans for one.
I've loved writing this story but I need to take a break now that it's done to pursue some other works that have been put on the back burner for a very long time.
Please keep your eye out for me because this ain't the last you'll be seeing of my writing for the SPN fandom. Thanks again. Happy holidays!