hello finally! thanks to everyone thats stuck with me so far! its taken forever to get this entire story up, and my brain may just burst through my skull, which would ruin my day significantly. despite this, however, i have made haste to put this final chapter together (before i start gracefully barfing all over the carpet, of course. gotta keep our priorities straight).

--oh, and thanks for everyone's ideas! i hope i incorporated them well!

anyway, enjoy!!

p.s.- the turn i put in this story is pretty intense, so i expect some controversy. hopefully its not too unwanted, but i kind of like the spin. god, how malevolent and satanic am i?

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Sam had fallen asleep in Dean's arms, his head resting lightly on Dean's shoulder and legs curled up artfully to the side. The night had been uneventful after Sammy confessed his soul, and Dean his, his little brother just resting in his arms on the floor until he succumbed into darkness. Gently, Dean had carried him to the bed and tucked him in, Sam murmuring lightly in his sleep.

Presently, Dean's eyes were still stinging with tears, but he was holding them in much better than before. Now, he could at least see, a major improvement on his part. John had taken to sitting at the small table in front of Sam's bed, Dean joining him soon after, his unconventional silence a hint at the pain lurking deep in the recesses of his mind.

Dean wished there was something to distract him, something to make him forget this entire day even happened so he could just live blissfully in a world where there were no monsters in the form of humans and, worse yet, no humans trying to be like monsters.

But he had to remember it, all of this, didn't he? Someone had hurt his baby brother, hurt his brother in a way that was no way in fucking hell acceptable. And it was a human. How could he allow that, how could he not notice them or Sam's obvious suffering? He put his head in his hands, his elbows pressed hard into the rickety table, an almost welcoming pain. This was all Dean's fault, whether physically stated to him or not. He was supposed to protect his baby brother from everything, humans included. He was the elder of the two, it was his responsibility and he failed.

A hand pressed lightly against his shoulder. Dean looked up to see John now standing behind him, possibly trying to work up a small smile for reassurance. It wasn't working.

"Dean, this isn't your fault. You couldn't have known."

Dean turned away noticeably. Of course his father would try to comfort him, him and not Sam. Sam, the one that needed all the help he could get so he could get passed what Dean let happen, and John was trying to comfort Dean instead. Dean shook his head.

"Dad, you're not fooling anyone." Dean sighed loudly, turning back to meet his father's gaze foully. "As a matter of fact, you're not helping anyone either, so maybe you should just stop altogether."

He had been expecting fury on John's part, hoped for it, just to have someone be mad at other than himself, but the sad demeanor John put on was of neither fury nor rage. Dean turned back to the table, suddenly livid. John was their father, Sam's father, wasn't he supposed to play the role of guardian and protector, too? Dean pursed his lips as his eyebrows curled into a "V", deep in thought. John shouldn't be trying so hard to alleviate Dean's own self-hatred, John should have more than enough of his own. Did he even care? What if Sam never fully recovers? Would John keep trying, working to heal Sammy mentally, or stop when he realizes there is no cure?

Dean felt tears stinging his eyes, suddenly unsure of his father. The worst part was, he didn't even know the answer to his question. Would his father do everything he could, or just go through the motions to make it look like he was trying?

He spun around in his chair, fully expecting an extravagant explanation, when he saw his father with tears in his eyes, looking over his shoulder longingly at the other bed. Dean turned around to see John watching Sam, sleeping peacefully under the sheets despite his obvious pain. Dean's own tears began to fall in earnest, both relieved and hurt at the same time. Dean was so happy that John cared, cared that Sam was hurting, he actually felt bad about questioning his father, but was utterly pained as to why his father was sad. Sammy, his Sammy, suffering, and he didn't know what to do about it. Now that he finally understood what was happening, Dean noticed that, all these years, Sam's health had been slowly deteriorating. He was too skinny, his bones protruding lightly from under his flesh. One time when they were training Dean remembered how Sam's ribs were jutting out, his ribs, but, yet, what did Dean do about it? Nothing.

Dean sighed heavily, anger rising in him. He turned to his father, not even knowing what he wanted to say, when he noticed John snoring lightly from the other side of the table. He laughed despite himself, John's bent position anything but comfortable. Mercilessly, Dean left him there, deciding maybe it'd be best to try and get some sleep and crawled into the bed opposite Sam's.

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Sleep eluded him and, for the first time in a long time, Dean was glad for it. Moving his face an inch to the side, he discreetly watched as Sam slid silently from the small bed, his forehead glinting with sweat and fingers trembling. Dean gave the slightest glance in the direction of the clock, 5:46, before watching as Sam slid carefully out the door, a small breeze wafting through his hair as he went.

Dean cursed silently, further blaming himself for his baby brother's pain, the pain Dean had caused and would gladly carry on his own shoulders if it were possible.

He lifted the sheets from his body and got out of bed, not even bothering to put on more clothes as he edged through the darkness toward the door and, more importantly, Sammy. He opened it quietly, hearing more than seeing John's consistent snoring intervals from the direction of the table and, satisfied, left, closing the door quietly behind him.

He saw Sam a little ways from the motel room, sitting carefully against a large willow tree, his knees bent and hands resting lightly on them. The sun was just coming up and, for once, Sam seemed almost at peace with the world. It made Dean's heart ache in a way he didn't know was possible, a painful jerk in his chest that knocked the breath out of him. He ignored it the best he could as he made his way to his baby brother, purposely stepping on particularly crunchy leaves to make Sam more aware of his presence. Sam didn't react outwardly, though, just staring blissfully at the rising sun.

Wordlessly, Dean sat beside Sam and leaned back against the colossal tree, it's leaves withered and depressed, just like Dean. And Sam, too, his mind mentally reminded him. From the corner of his eye, Dean saw Sam glance at him, his eyes widened slightly with surprise and what looked like momentary, sheer terror.

Dean's heart pumped heavily against his chest, almost wondering if he'd go into cardiac arrest. That'd be just his luck, too. Here he was trying to help Sammy, and then goes and dies on him before he can utter a damn word.

Dean's death aside, hadn't Sam heard him coming? He panicked, wondering if he'd maybe misread Sam's expression. Then Dean absently looked down at his bare chest and boxers, wide-eyed, and it dawned on him.

"Shit, Sammy, I'm sorry," Dean said hastily, working to get himself on his feet with suddenly awkward limbs. Of course Sam would be scared of you, you're half-naked! He'd think Dean was trying something on his baby brother.

Sam shook his head, his cheeks red with shame, and pulled Dean back to the ground with a weak arm. "No, it's okay. I shouldn't...I shouldn't have reacted like that. I'm sorry." He looked away, and Dean could see tears shimmering in his eyes. He was embarrassed of his reaction to seeing Dean and now felt worse than ever.

Dean wanted to cry, so badly, but he had to be strong, for the both of them. He'd more-than-willingly carry the burden for them both if he only knew how, and God he wished he did. He carefully put his arm around Sam's slim shoulders, exaggerating his motions so Sam would see them coming and, even then, he watched Sam's frail body tremor slightly, then surrender under his touch. It hurt a little, but Dean didn't let that show in his voice.

"It's fine, Sammy. Not your fault."

Emotions crossed Sam's face then: anger, shame, humiliation. He shook his head hastily, still glassy-eyed, turning to Dean coldly. "No." Suddenly, he pushed Dean's arm from around his shoulders, then got to his feet on wobbly legs. Dean made a move to his feet then, after consideration, stayed where he was, his expression pained.

Sam walked a few feet away, as if needing space, and moved to a different, smaller tree. He leaned against it heavily, his hand pressing hard into the bark; the tree didn't even creak against his weight.

Dean licked his lips. "Sammy-", he tried.

"No. This is all my fault. Everything." He put his hand to his face, still avoiding Dean's gaze completely, as if about the break down.

Dean knew he would, too, his own eyes were already beginning to glisten.

"Listen, Sammy, please. What they did to you was not your fault. You didn't ask for any of this to happen."

Sam was shaking his head silently the entire time, as if proving wrong every word Dean said. "No, I allowed this to happen, I-". He stopped, his voice cracking. A tear glistened down his cheek, rolling silently down onto his chin. "It was all my fault. I was naive, stupid, and they knew it." He wiped the hand over his mouth and kept his gaze down, never allowing a glance in Dean's direction. "I should have known better."

Sam sat down where he was, a good two yards away from Dean, and kept his head in his hands, as if suddenly too heavy to continue fighting against inevitable gravity. Through the hands, Dean could see an unfamiliar smirk cross his features. "I fought, though. Damn, did I fight." He removed his hands and, finally, looked in Dean's direction, his eyes burning with something he'd never seen in Sam before, and it actually scared him. "Do you know how many sex toys they used so they'd get the reaction they wanted?"

Dean's eyes widened, tears now falling freely from his eyes. His baby brother had to deal with that, too? Oh gosh, and I allowed this? His dam burst, tears flowing in excess and eyes turning red from the pressure. It felt like someone had quite energetically pulled and tore his heart out, then stomped on it a few times for good measure. The world felt suddenly dark and unfamiliar, and he wept.

Sam's lip twitched into another malicious smile. "No? Well, me neither." He stood and closed the distance between himself and Dean. He crouched in front of him, his dark eyes never leaving Dean's. "Yes, I killed them for what they did, but still it haunts me. Every day. Every day I wake up to them touching me and taking shots of me, doing what they wanted me to do when I wanted no part of it. Do you think that's fair? Because I don't." He stops, leaving Dean's gaze to look at the sky, as if in thought. He turned back to Dean. "And then you guys find out. I had been dealing just fine before you found out. Yeah, it hurt, but I was living, wasn't I? I was good enough that y'all never found out, but now..." He breathed deeply, his mouth a grim line. "I don't know what to do anymore, how I'm expected to act. How am I supposed to keep going when my only family knows how disgusting and repulsive I am?"

By now Dean is trembling in pain and fury, every word sending electric volts into his torn heart. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry," was all he could say before he fell back into the depression, sitting against that broken tree with nothing but broken, detached thoughts. How was he supposed to make this better? Sam didn't seem affected by his words or image, crouching before him indifferent and apathetic.

"Sorry?" His eyebrow twitched upward a moment before returning to it's place. "Yeah, so am I. But hey, it's over now, right?"

Dean shook his head spasmodically. "Sammy, please stop. Please, come back. I know, I know you're hurt, but don't act like this." He didn't know why he said it, or what he expected it to accomplish, because Sam seemed long gone. The pain Sam felt with Dean knowing his secret was out in the open and was affecting him in a way Dean would have never foreseen. There was no going back, no way to fix this.

Something akin to rage glimmered in Sam's eyes. "Come back? I'm still here, Dean, it's not like I've gone anywhere, got anywhere to go or anyone to see. I'm stuck here-- with you."

Sam got out of his crouch and sat in front of Dean, his legs crossed at the calves and arms folded lightly across his knees. He scrutinized Dean's expression, every minute tremble in his body and every tear that passed his eyes. His eyes grew lighter, sadder, as if he saw Dean's pain for the first time. "You're hurting, aren't you?" He turned his gaze away to watch a small squirrel perched on a thin branch, searching for food. Searching, but never finding. Didn't the squirrel deserve food? Did it do something so horrid that forgiveness and a small nut was no longer on the menu? What if it never finds any nourishment? Will it die alone, forgotten, or be aided by another, more loving and selfless squirrel? Would the squirrel then be redeemed?

Sam sighed quietly, and Dean watched him as best he could with the tears clouding his vision. Sam looked back to Dean, now with the gaze of sorrow and bereavement. "I'm sorry." Dean watched him, eyes wide, as Sam continued painfully, "I...you don't deserve this. And, more importantly, I don't deserve you, you or redemption." Sam crawled toward Dean and, to Dean's utter confusion, gave him a long, fierce hug. Dean's senses were on alert and tingling with joy but, before Dean realized he should hug back, Sam released him and stood. "I'm sorry for burdening you. You deserve better." He paused, his eyes despairing, before continuing. "I hope life brings you much happiness while I'm gone."

He walked up close to Dean's unstable and vulnerable physique and, before Dean could process that his mind was screaming at him to move, lifted his hand into a tight fist, veins pulsing from under his skin, and brought it down to Dean's face. Dean felt a mere moment of pain before falling into unconsciousness.

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Dean woke to the sound of indistinct yelling, the noise and owner of the voice sounding distant and unclear. He felt a drop of liquid fall onto his cheek, and he opened his eyes drunkenly, as if disconnected from his body. He closed them tightly a second later, the risen sun blinding him.

The voice grew louder, more frantic, and Dean, cautiously, worked up the effort to open his eyes again, squinting painfully against the brightness. The body crouching over him deliberately moved to cover the large orb despite sounding tettering on insanity, and Dean made out the muscular physique and face as John Winchester. His mouth was moving much too fast for Dean to even faintly comprehend, but the tears in his eyes confused Dean, waking him up instantly. What could possibly make the great John Winchester cry?

Dean held up a hand above his face impatiently, "Whoa, whoa, I can't understand you, back up a little." And talk English while you're at it.

"Sammy's gone!" John roared, a fat tear rolling down his cheek, holding up a piece of paper Dean hadn't noticed before. Then Dean's mind did a flashback. Of course, Sam left. Tears welled up in his eyes as it dawned on him. How could he have allowed it. His left eye twitched in sync, but he ignored it as he snatched the folded paper out of John's hand. He tore it open and, within a second, was reading it's heartbreaking words.

Dear John and Dean Winchester,
I'm sorry for all the trouble I have caused you both over the years, especially the pains of recently. You deserved none of it and, yet, there I was throwing it upon you anyway. What happened to me four years ago is my burden and my burden alone, and I don't want either of you to cry or grieve over it. By the time you get this message I will be long gone so, please, forget about me. Stop considering what you could have done differently or what you did to make this happen, because I know that's what you're thinking. None of this is you're fault, I just wish it didn't have to end like this. Somehow I feel like I'm doing the right thing here, but maybe it's just my imagination. I love you both so much, and even now I feel like you don't deserve what I'm doing to you right now. I know you both will be okay, though. You're Winchesters, and Winchesters don't give up; you fight, fight with all you've got even when there's nothing left to fight with. You two mean more to me than I can ever put in words, but I don't believe I was meant to stay sheltered in the comfort of your amity. The tainted squirrel is never meant to have the luxury of a nut.

-Sam W.

Right then, Dean broke. All the world had shattered in harmony, and there was no way to put the pieces together. Dean looked to John, the only other person that could be as broken as he was. How could this be meant to be? How could Sam believe that what he was doing was for the better? Dean lost the strength to hold himself upright, and he lay on the grassy fields, suddenly desolate and alone. This was the place Sam had said goodbye, hugged him for all he was worth then disappeared, out of his life forever. He cried, cried for a long time but how long was anyone's guess. Though he didn't see him, he had a feeling John was in the same boat as him, weeping as if the world had ended. And maybe it did. There was no inclination that made Dean think it hadn't.

After hours, hours that felt like true years, he turned to look at John. John, the man he loved so much but, right now, was just another disgusting reminder of what he had just lost. He turned to look at the grass, the tree Sam had previously leaned on, anything.

"What now?" John's voice was just another reminder, but he knew he had to answer. And he knew what he was going to say, too. His strength slowly returned to him, seeping through his bones as he lay defenseless on the ground. He looked up at the sky. It promised hope he didn't feel.

"We find him." He turned to John. "We find him and get him back." And, right then, he knew he meant those words. They would find his baby brother, no matter what it took, no matter what hell they crossed through to get there. He didn't fully understand what Sam wrote about in his note, but everyone, person and squirrel alike, is allowed a chance at redemption.