Dean opened his eyes. Still dark, still in the motel. Lucifer still out. Sam still silent. It took only a moment for him to feel it. Too quiet. Something was wrong. Something else was wrong. He snapped his head around to look at Sam's bed. Not empty, but not Sam. Sam's duffle? Dean sat up and snapped the light on. Sam's duffle, his computer, his and dad's journals, all laid out nice and neat. Corners perpendicular to the edge of the mattress in Sam's typical OCD fashion. And an envelope. Dean written in Sam's scrawl across the front.
Fuck. Dean was up and pulling on his jeans in one motion. No, no, no, no… He pulled on his boots and grabbed the keys off the dresser. He yanked open the door and stopped. He glanced at the envelope. Would Sam have told him where to find him?
Sam sat cross-legged on a picnic table at the scenic overlook. Sidelong Mountain, 1,725 feet above sea level, somewhere in Maryland. He'd only walked about a mile from the motel. He'd seen the little highwayside park earlier in the day. It was peaceful without being hard to find. He didn't want Dean to have to hike and get out a compass just to find him. He looked over the gentle Appalachian hills stretched out all around him. He sighed, squeezed the gun in his fingers. It's strong silver lines had always been so reassuring. Dad had put it in his hand when he was 11. 'Respect it, Sammy, and it will protect you.' Fifteen years later, it was going to end him and protect Dean. It was time. Sam just couldn't trust himself any more. He'd done everything wrong at just about every turn. He'd nearly choked Dean out. He'd drained that nurse, would've done worse if he'd thought it'd get him Lilith. The edges of the gun shone in the moonlight. Probably should have done this at the beginning, when yellow-eyes told me about the demon blood.
But, somehow, he'd thought he could rise above the obvious, do something good with the powers the demon blood gave him. He'd thought the blood shouldn't, wouldn't, define him. But, just like everything in his life, it had all gone to shit. He'd tried, he'd thought that with the angels on their side, well…none of that mattered anymore. He was here, now, on a soft night in Maryland, hoping that this wasn't going to be too hard on Dean. To be honest, he thought it would be a relief for Dean. To finally be out from under rock of 'take care of crazy, demon-infected Sammy.' He laughed harshly. He'd accused Dean of being weak, of being afraid to fight Lilith. That's some damn nerve, right there, Sam. The brother who had loved him, protected him, died for him. It was kind of shocking, to think of it now. How far away from Dean he'd taken himself. If Dean had been weak, it was because Sam pushed him away, lied to him and snuck around, taking away the one thing that had always given him strength – fighting for his family. Maybe if he'd told Dean what he'd been up to, it would have helped his brother shake off the horrors of hell. Maybe they could have done what had always worked – banded together to fix the whole messed up situation sooner.
Well, live and learn, eh Sammy? Enough. He'd done what he'd done, and there was no going back. At least he could spare Dean having to be the one to pull the trigger. Because, the day had definitely come when Sam was doing more harm than good, no matter his intentions. Lucifer was out, and that was on him.
He looked out over the dark hills. Trees rustled in the wind. This was okay with him, really. He was tired. Heartsick at what he'd unleashed on the world. Glad that his parents were not here to see what he'd done, what he'd become. With his screwy reasoning and needy ego, he'd condemned the world to torment and suffering. All he'd ever really wanted was to help. So, yeah. He was okay with this. Sorry about this, Dean. He closed his eyes, raised the gun under his chin.
And then he heard the unmistakable sound of the Impala, roaring down the road behind him. No. Too soon. He wanted to pull the trigger before Dean could get to him, but then, headlights fell on his shoulders, and his shadow cast out in front of him and he thought, I can't make him watch. I'm not that selfish. Not yet. And he lowered the gun.
Dean saw Sam sitting on the picnic table at the scenic overlook. He took a moment to just breathe. Okay…okay. He shut off the car and got out. Now that he was here, he wasn't sure if his relief or his fury was stronger. He came and stood next Sam, stared at that shaggy head of hair, the slumped shoulders. Heard Sam give an aggrieved sigh. Sam was annoyed. Dean had interrupted his little Hari Kari session, and Sam was annoyed. Dean grit his teeth. "Give it to me."
Sam shook his head. "No."
Dean tried to keep his voice even. "Sam, give me that fucking gun."
Sam rolled his eyes. "Dean, just…"
Dean moved before Sam could counter him. He grabbed his right arm, twisted the arm one way while he pushed the shoulder the other. Sam didn't let out a sound, but he did drop the gun. Dean didn't bother picking it up. "You are not doing this. You do not get to do this."
Sam sighed. He sounded so tired, so spent. And Dean realized that this wasn't some lame ass pity party or hot-headed decision on Sam's part. This was Sam, totally at the end of his endurance. At the end of his hope. And Sam had once been the most hopeful person Dean had known.
Finally, Sam shook his head. "Dean, you know this is for the best." Dean couldn't speak around the tightening of his throat. He just shook his head. He could see from the corner of his eye, Sam turn to look at him. "You need to let me do this. I won't ask you to do it, but it has to be done." Dean just closed his eyes, dropped his head and tried to breathe. Sam's hand landed on his shoulder, gave a gentle squeeze. "Just, come back in a couple of hours. I've got a tarp under the table. Um, if you could just, you know, make sure you salt and burn, okay? I really don't want to come back and cause any more trouble…"
"Sam, shut up." And Sam's hand dropped from his shoulder. Dean opened his eyes. Still couldn't look at his brother. "Just shut the hell up. This is not going to happen. Not tonight, not ever."
Sam, again with the sighing. "Dean, that's not your choice to make."
"Yeah. Actually, it is my choice." He finally looked at Sam. "And I'll tell you why. I'll skip all the usual. You know, you're my brother, my only family, the only person on this earth that I really care about, and the only one who cares about me. Whatever. Boring family shit, right? How about, you owe me."
Sam looked out at the night. "I know. I know I owe you. That's why I don't want you here when I do it. I'm not trying to hurt you, Dean…"
"Bullshit." Sam's eyes snapped to his for the first time since he'd pulled up. Dean felt the fury return. "Bullshit. You are trying to hurt me. You're humiliated and pissed and ashamed. You don't know how I can ever forgive you, or whatever emotional shit you've got going in that freaky head of yours, so you're just gonna check out. Super-smart Sammy fucked it all up and now there's nothing for it but to blow your brains out. Well, I call bullshit on that, Sam. You don't do this, you don't end it all, because your pride is hurt."
Sam looks pretty incredulous at Dean's outburst, but then his eyes heat. "My pride? You think this is about my fucking pride?! I haven't had any pride for years. What in the world have I had to be proud of? I've had demon blood in me my whole life! I got my girlfriend killed, my brother ripped to shreds by hellhounds. I willingly gave myself more demon blood to become inhuman enough to kill with my mind. What the fuck are you talking about, my pride?! Jesus, Dean."
Dean nodded. "Yeah, yeah. The litany of poor Sammy Winchester. Only you're not telling the whole story, are you? Because it suits you to see yourself as less than human. Then, you don't have to struggle anymore, do you? You don't have to keep fighting when you can fall back on the whole, 'family curse/demon blood' sob story."
Sam looked at him with his mouth actually agape.
Dean went on. "Well, I'm asking you to let that go, Sam. I'm asking you to remember who you are. You are Sam Winchester, soft-hearted, geek boy and my little brother. You're still you, even with all that other bullshit that's gone down. We are in a war, Sam. War ain't pretty. We fuck it up, but we keep fighting. That's all I'm asking you to do. Keep fighting." Sam looked away, shook his head again. "Yeah, I know, things didn't turn out the way you wanted with the whole Lilith thing."
Sam just floundered. "The whole Lilith thing?"
"But that was the angels and the demons working against us, and we let them. That was the real mistake we made, Sam. We let them yank us around, not telling each other the whole story. I didn't trust you, and you didn't trust me. If you want to regret something, regret that. I do." He looked over at Sam. "We stopped relying on each other…and look what happened."
"Dean, you were right to stop relying on me. I was a sneaky, lying bastard. I had a whole agenda worked out, before you came back. And, when you did come back, I just, God. My mind was already gone, you know? I liked the power. I liked having demons afraid of me. I liked killing them. That's, I think, what dad was trying to warn you about. That's what you finally recognized that night, when you left me that message, right? Maybe, it's hard to admit now that I'm right in front of you, but, really, nothing's changed."
"Sam, I don't blame you for wanting those things. I really don't. With the life we've lived, who wouldn't want some nifty superpowers over demons? But, man, you knew it was wrong. You knew it. Don't try to tell me you didn't. That's why you didn't tell me. You knew what I'd say because you were already saying it to yourself, weren't you?"
Sam just looked down at his hands. "Yeah. But, I thought if I could just get Lilith, prove that I could do something right…"
Dean laughed shortly. "Sam, everyday you do something right. Every day, you get up, you help me clean the guns and do the research and figure out our next move. You bitch and moan and make me laugh. You patch me up when things go wrong, and you bring me coffee without making me talk first thing in the morning. You are my brother, Sam. My brother. In this whole fucked up world, that's what we've got. And with all the evil and shit that we have to deal with, mostly that's enough to keep me going. You and me, against the monsters and the spirits and the demons. If you take that away, Sam…"
Sam felt his chest tighten and a prickling begin behind his eyes. "Dean, that's all broken now. God, don't you see? I broke it. I shit all over your trust, I didn't listen to you when you told me I was on the wrong path, I didn't respect that you were looking out for me, or that you had my best interests at heart. Instead, I just felt like you were in my way. Like, I was charging toward a 'destiny' that you just couldn't understand, and would you just let me get on with it already. And, through all of that, when I was shoving you out of my way, I still hoped, somewhere in my fucked up mind, that you were going to see what I had done and be proud of me. Jesus. There was no connection between my head and reality. Do you get that? Dad was right. You were right. It's not what I'm doing, it's who I am."
Dean rubbed his eyes. He tried to sort through his fear and anger and confusion to find the words that would get through to Sam. "Sam, I'm going to lay it out for you, okay? As clearly as I can. And then, if you still want to do this fucked up thing, well, we'll do it together and be done with it."
"What? No, Dean, you're not—"
"The night of the fire, when dad gave you to me and told me to take you outside, I took hold of you and ran. I could leave mom and dad in that burning house, and just run outside without looking back, because I had you. You looked up at me with these scared eyes, right on the verge of losing your shit, and I told you not to worry. 'I've got you, Sammy. You and me, we'll be okay.' And from that day on, I had something to fight for. I had lost mom, but I had been given you. You and me were going to get through whatever nightmares life threw at us, because, well, because we were. And we did." He turned to look at Sam, rested a hand on his knee. "And, we'll get through this."
Sam felt his icy despair start to crack. He looked over at his brother, tried to let go of all the walls he'd built in the last year. Don't tell Dean, he won't understand. He'll try to stop you because he's afraid to fight. He's weak. Just listen to Ruby, she knows you… And, instead, he looked at Dean. Really looked at him. Sam let himself remember what he'd been working so hard to forget. All those years with dad on the road. So many nights of joking and fighting through the terror of being left alone while dad hunted. So many days of doing laundry and homework and making dinner and talking about anything and everything, while seasons passed and they grew up. Dean had always been there for him. And he had always been there for Dean. It didn't matter if they had fought or were sick to death of each other's habits – when trouble came, Dean was at his back without question. Sam was at Dean's, too. He'd forgotten that in the last few months. He'd forgotten how effortless and seamless they were together.
When Sam had lost Dean to that damn deal, when Dean had gone to hell because of him, something inside had blown apart. He'd been broken and scrambling and Ruby had been there to play him. He should have been able to stay strong, keep away from Ruby and the powers she offered. But, he hadn't. He'd needed something so badly. And, then, when Dean had come back, it had been too late. He was too far down the road of 'Big, Bad Demon-Killing Sammy' to stop. And, yeah, he'd hidden all of that from Dean.
He didn't really understand, here, sitting on a picnic table at 2:00 in the morning, why? Why hadn't he just told Dean he'd fucked up and asked for help in getting things straight again? It's what they did. Dean was right, it had been his pride. He'd denied Dean and himself both that chance to make things right again because he didn't want Dean to be disappointed at what he'd done.
He pulled in some deep breaths. "Dean, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry that I fucked it all up. I just, once it got going, I lost sight of…so many things. And now, I don't know how to fix it. I don't know how to fix anything, or even if I have the right to try. I let Lucifer free, Dean. Don't you think that's a punishable offense?"
"Sam, if you had sat in a cabin all uni-bomber style and come up with this plan to set Lucifer free? Yeah, I'd say, pretty much we'd have to call that bat-shit crazy and send you on your way. But, you had demons working you, angels working you, and a brother who didn't really have a full deck for awhile there. So, no, I don't think you deserve punishing any more than the rest of us who played a part."
"But, you said you were done. That Dad was right. I was a monster and next time you saw me, you were gonna---"
Dean held up a hand. "I never said that. What are you talking about?"
Sam sighed and shook his head. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't bring it up. You had every right to say it, I just thought---"
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"The phone message you left me, right before, um, right before Ruby and I got to the monastery."
Dean looked at him with utter bewilderment. "Sam, I seriously don't have any idea what you're talking about. I did call you, but told you I was sorry, and that we were still family…"
Sam laughed shortly. "Right. Well, whatever. I just---"
Dean sighs. "You got a different message?" Sam didn't answer. "You saved it, right?" Sam looked away, huffed out a breath. Dean held out his hand for Sam's phone. "C'mon. I know your 7th grade girly tendencies. You saved it so you can play it over and over again. Let me hear it."
Sam pulled out his phone, called up the message, and held it out to Dean, who put it to his ear. Sam could hear the tinny sounds of 'you're a monster' from where he sat, looking out at the dark hills. Dean nodded when it was done, let out a short laugh. "Great. Icing on the goddamned cake, Zachariah." Same felt Dean grab his jacket. "Look at me, Sam."
Sam let out a long breath, then turned to Dean. "This is total and utter bullshit. I never said any of that. I should have known when Zachariah let me make a call…who even knew where I was? I should have realized the likelihood of cell service was…anyway. That wasn't me. Believe me or not, but I swear I never said that…"
Sam nodded. "Well, at least we've got that cleared up." And for some reason, that struck him as pretty funny. Here, trying to accept the consequences of releasing Lucifer from hell, they had the phone message thing cleared up. And he started to laugh.
Dean looked at him like he had three heads. "Something funny, Sam?"
Sam turned to look at him. "Good to know at least you don't think I'm a vampire…" And he laughed harder at the absurdity of the whole thing.
The corner of Dean's mouth kicked up. "Yeah, what a relief." And then, he chuckled. He watched Sam a moment more and then started to laugh harder.
And the two of them sat on the picnic table laughing hysterically. Each time one would sober, the other would lose it, and it went back and forth for at least five minutes. Finally, Sam caught his breath. Smiled softly at Dean, clapped him on the shoulder. "You really were an awesome brother, Dean."
Dean nodded. "Yeah, well, there were a few hiccups along the way. But, it's not 'were,' Sam. It's 'are.' You really are an awesome brother, Dean."
"Yeah. Are." And Sam squeezed his shoulder and let go. "So, you're not going to let me do this tonight, huh?"
"Shut up. Sam, listen to me. I need you to put this idea to bed tonight, okay? Because I can't go through this every night or once a week or monthly or whatever. I mean, we drive around in a car full of weapons, and offing yourself is not going to exactly be a challenge. So, I need for you to understand right now that this is not going to happen. Because, I can't---" He swallowed and tried again. "I can't even think ---"
And Sam turned to him. "I get it. You don't have to say anything else." He sighed again and slumped further into himself. "But, Dean…I don't know how to live with everything that I've done…"
Dean turned to him, put and arm across his shoulders. "Shit, Sammy. That's what we do. We live with everything we've done, and we find a way to keep fighting. Because anything else is a victory for the wrong side. If we get taken out, well, shit, that's the life. But, we do not quit. We hold tight and gather our strength and live to fight another day. And that's it. When I need strength, I'll borrow it from you, and if you need it, you take it from me. But, no more of this self-sacrificing bullshit."
Sam leaned a bit into Dean, taking warmth and strength where he had denied himself for so long. "And if I go too far?"
Dean nodded. "I'll tell you. And we'll decide…together. But, you won't, Sam. You've had this thing in you your whole life that's not ever going to change. But, you can beat it. You just got lost there for a while. As long as you listen to your awesome big brother and do everything he says…"
Sam rested his head against Dean's shoulder, just for a moment. "Just, I need you to promise me you'll tell me if…you know."
Dean rested his head against Sam's. "Yeah. I know. I promise."
Sam let the moment draw out and then sat up. "Okay." He stood up, leaned down to pick up his gun where it had fallen. "Okay."
Dean felt his heart expand and breathe after being clenched for what felt like forever. "Okay. You and me, right?"
Sam smiled and nodded. Looked Dean in the eye for a long moment. "Yeah, Dean. You and me. Sorry I forgot."
"Yeah, me, too." Sam turned toward the car. Dean fingered the envelope in his jacket pocket. "Hey, Sam."
Sam turned, raised an eyebrow. Dean took the envelope out, held it up. "I never want to see anything like this again. Ever."
Sam nodded. Lifted a corner of his mouth. "Good letter, though, right?"
Dean looks at him with stunned silence. He's actually speechless at that. Sam raises an eyebrow. "Did you get a little misty at least?"
A laugh startles out of Dean. Only Winchesters can share a laugh over a damn suicide note. "No, bitch. I didn't get misty." He watches Sam tuck his gun away in his pocket. "I thought I'd at least get a poem or something."
Sam chuckles softly and walks toward the Impala. Dean watches him, filling his lungs with the cool night air.