Alright, here it goes. The last chapter. Hope you like.

Whiplash

Chapter 14

Bobby had left.

Left to get back home, mumbling something along the line of having a car to fix, a business to tend to, a living to make, but he'd get the room ready for the boys to take over.

Goodbyes had been brief, neither of them lingering long on something that wouldn't last for very long - on something that sounded more permanent than it would be. Bobby had briefly man-hugged Sam, clapped his shoulder, then cuffed Dean on the back of the head softly, had given him a glare that was easily covered up by the smile tugging the corners of his mouth upwards.

Maybe, Dean mused, there'd been the hint of a malicious glee in that smile, making him fear for the worse.

He knew he wasn't off the hook – so to speak – not off this hook, at least.

He was sure Sam still had something in store for him.

Dean waited for hours after Bobby had left, waited and waited, starting every time Sam spoke, or simply cleared his throat, preparing himself for the inevitable showdown, the moment of truth – whatever he wanted to call it. And maybe, just maybe, Sam was enjoying the tenseness he no doubt felt his brother was under, just a little too much.

Sam hadn't told Dean what he'd been up to over the past couple of days when he'd been gone, on and off, had insisted on just being out to get some dinner, do some research, stretch his legs… But he'd been gone too freaking long and too often for that and Dean was suspecting the worst. The worst being, that Sam had gone out, alone, to check if Joe really was dead and gone this time around. Even though, apparently it had worked, since the news were empty of any other report of a disappearance the past couple of days. It was a strange feeling, all of a sudden, to be rid of the responsibility of worrying.

Even though, officially, Dean wasn't supposed to be free of doubt by far. There'd been some others involved, back then, that he still had to worry about, that he had to make sure would keep in line. Dean had thought long and hard about how to tackle that problem, had tried to figure out how to pass on the responsibility of watching over them once he was gone. But, for the moment, he'd come up empty. And somehow that should worry him more than what his brother still had in store for him.

Only, it didn't.

Sam was currently bustling about the room, packing their stuff, shooting Dean dirty glances whenever he offered to help.

The Impala was packed by noon, and Sam made Dean suffer through another change of his bandages, declaring the wounds to heal rather nicely, albeit slowly. Then, he needed to suffer through another meal of something light and healthy, as Sam liked to call it, serving him chicken breast and salad, his little brother smiling maliciously while eating, making sick noises of enjoyment all throughout lunch.

Dean would have said something, if he hadn't felt sure that he would only make things much worse for himself in the end.

When they finally left the cabin, the room cleaned and stripped of any sign that they'd ever been there, Dean was a nervous wreck. And for the first time in a long while, it wasn't due to some mind-numbing nightmare tearing him apart from the inside out.

OoOoOoO

They drove in silence for minutes.

Dean was fidgeting in his seat, and it was only in parts due to the fact that sitting was still highly uncomfortable if not outright painful. Sam didn't pay him any attention. Only when Dean hissed in pain as he bumped his shoulder against the passenger side door did he shoot a clearly worried glance towards his older brother, but not breaking the silent-treatment he'd been subjecting Dean to over the past minutes.

Finally, Dean had enough, his pride be damned.

"Sam?"

"Right here." His brother replied, carefully manoeuvering the car around a tricky bend in the road, driving them into town. Dean recognized the parking lot of their old school, had a flash of memory of the Impala being parked there, of him being jumped from behind and dragged into the bowel of a van when trying to walk towards his car.

A scratchy bag over his head, hands wrenched behind his back and tied far too tightly…

He shuddered, quickly averting his gaze.

"Uhm…you mind telling me where exactly we are going?"

Sam smiled, his fingers relaxing a little on the wheel as he steered the car down another street, leaving the main street behind.

"Thought you'd never ask." He said, but remained silent after that.

"Alright…so, I'm asking. Please, little brother, would you be so kind as to tell me where you are taking me? Because if you've got a lady booked for me, I should be prepared…"

Sam grunted and shot a sideways look at Dean, but chose to not grace his brother with an answer still, once again staring intently at the street signs passing by.

"Just another couple of minutes." He mumbled, to no one in particular, and somehow that answer didn't serve to calm Dean down any.

The drove on in oppressing silence for another couple of minutes. Dean had long ago given up to try and keep track of where Sam was going. He just hoped that his little brother hadn't planned anything stupid – or embarrassing – or emotional.

Dean didn't think he'd be able to deal with that.

OoOoOoO

By the time they pulled up on the outskirts of a large park in a better part of the city, Dean was practically bouncing. Internally. He'd be damned if he showed his brother how much this actually got to him.

He had a pretty good idea as to where exactly they were – or why.

And he didn't like it one bit.

"Sam…" he growled, trying to cover up, not too successfully, how fucking nervous he actually felt.

Sam cleared his throat, rotating his upper body while keeping his hands on the wheel in a vice-like grip.

"Ok, listen, here's the deal. You listen – I talk. You hear me out before you get to say anything. You owe me that much. As you mentioned before – you're so far from being off the hook, you can't even see the end of the line, man. I'm still pissed, and you know that I have every right to be. But the only thing I'm asking for is for you to shut up and listen – hear me out. After that, if you're still up to it, you can tell me your side of the story. Alright?"

Dean felt like getting the hell out of the car and simply walking away from his brother right then and there, but he knew that it would be useless. First off, Sam would be able to catch up with him so easily, it would be embarrassing to say the least, and secondly, Sam was right. Dean owed him that. Among other things. And he really hadn't thought he'd get away that easily. Unfortunately.

So Dean just nodded.

Sam seemed to be relieved, relaxing his grip on the wheel and killing the Impala's engine. For some reason, the stillness of his car only served to turn Dean's anxiety up another notch, though. Which was the reason he almost jumped out of his skin when Sam suddenly opened the driver's door, the telltale creak both comforting and ominous at the same time, as he climbed out and walked towards a bench that sat a couple of feet away from the car, shadowed by some large tree.

Dean groaned in protest at the more than cheesy setup, the obviousness of it all – and his inner turmoil at the suspicion of what was going to happen. Only that, of course, he didn't really know what his brother was up to, not really.

Sam was a lost cause when it came to keeping secret. He was jumpy and grinning madly whenever he tried to hold something back from his big brother – always had been, which had been a clear enough indicator that something was on his mind. Birthdays had been the worst, when they'd still been young enough to celebrate them, Sam running around in a excited daze for days, hiding ominous packages in places Dean had to do work hard on being able to overlook.

He'd gotten fractionally more stealthy with time, but not really that much better. Only thing he'd learned was to keep whatever he was cooking up to himself. So, now Dean knew that something was up, only he had no way of knowing what exactly was going to go down.

Damn.

With a sigh and a groan Dean folded himself out of the passenger seat, taking his sweet time to make his way over to the bench – and it was only in parts due to the fact that walking any faster than an old man without his walker was close to impossible still. Sam was patient enough though, sitting there, shoulders hunched forward, facing away from Dean. He waited until Dean had settled himself down on the hard as hell bench and made himself more or less comfortable before finally looking at him again, checking him over.

Before Sam could even ask, Dean shot him a quick smile.

"I'm fine, Sammy. Quit worrying." But he was careful to keep his tone levelled and soft, not wanting to make his situation any worse than it already was. And a pissed off Sam could make it about a hundred times worse still…

"So, what are we looking at?" Dean asked, letting his gaze sweep over the expanse of the big play-area where about a dozen kids ran wild, their mothers sitting around on benches, talking to each other, a couple of them having a toddler or baby in their arms as well.

From this distance, Dean couldn't really make out any faces…

"Bobby told me what he knew…what you told him back then and what he found out through dad." Sam finally broke the silence, and Dean resolved to just sit there, hear the kid out. He sounded worried still, as if he wasn't sure Dean would blame Bobby for telling Sam. Which, clearly, was long forgotten by now, after everything…

Dean shrugged, still mindful of his aching shoulder, the pull of healing stitches across his back. He'd have one hell of a hard time lying on his back for still a while to come.

"Yeah, I know…you guys pretty much rubbed it in my face, remember...?"

"He shouldn't have been the one to tell me, though." Sam said, the hint of an accusation in his voice unmistakable, if somewhat subdued.

Dean sighed, ran a hand over his face in a gesture of tired defeat.

"We've been over that, Sammy. I told you I'm sorry… But back then, I didn't have a choice. It was the only right thing. You were still a kid, Sam…"

"Right, because you were all grown up, being 16 and all…" Sam said quietly, yet his voice was dripping with sarcasm.

Dean again could do nothing but shrug.

"You know how it is…was. You were my responsibility, I took that seriously. I didn't want you to know…as I said. You were just starting to have nightmares, would wake up, ready to take down the monster inside your closet or under the bed…I didn't want you to be afraid of the monsters that were roaming in broad daylight on top of everything else. I wanted to keep you away from that for a while longer."

"It wasn't your place to worry about that, Dean."

"Sure it was. You know it was and before you say anything, we really don't need to go through this yet again. It's alright. I didn't do it just because dad asked me to."

Sam eyes flicked over to him, then back out over the playground.

"Yeah, I know. Still…"

"Sam, why are we here?" Dean inquired, quietly, eyes on the ground between his feet, not willing to go into the whole discussion of dad and stupid responsibilities and the unfairness of it all. He was fucking fine with it, why couldn't Sam accept it, too?

"I want you to tell me – about back then. Everything."

Dean shook his head, eyes closed.

The kid couldn't fucking give him a break…

"Sam, no…I told you…"

"No, see, that's the whole point – you didn't tell me. You lied to me. But I wanna know the truth now."

"It's pretty pointless, though, isn't it? I mean, it's all over and done with."

"It's never over, aren't you the one always saying that? Besides, no matter if it's over or not, I wanna know. We're in this together, all of it. Your business is mine, too. I want to help you carry this, Dean, but I can't do it if I don't know the details. So, please, humor me and just tell me. I promise I won't give you hell for it anymore, I do. But I need to know, Dean, I need to know…"

Sam's voice broke off, suspiciously rough, and Dean, though his eyes remained closed, had a pretty decent mental picture of the beaten-puppy look that would be plastered on his face.

And suddenly Dean wasn't so sure they were still talking about his little adventure in the woods here some 13 years ago.

He opened his eyes again, looked over the playground and the playing children, their laughter and giggles, tears and complaints. There was a woman, on the farthest corner of the yard, next to the swing-set, pushing a squealing blonde girl on the swings while balancing a chubby-cheeked toddler on her left hip.

She seemed to be at peace with the world, content in what she was doing…

Sam shifted next to Dean, long fingers twisting and knotting into fists, before he smoothed them out again on his thighs.

Sam needed this.

Great, because, how was Dean going to deny the kid anything, especially now, when he was looking teary and distraught pretty much 24/7? It was in Dean's blood to make Sam happy – or at least to make him as happy as he was going to be, nowadays. It really wasn't all that much to ask…

Dean took a deep breath, steeling himself. He didn't know how this could be so damn hard.

The first sentence was the hardest, the words unwilling to move past his lips, unwilling to break free.

But once he'd breached that first barrier, once he'd pushed past the initial urge to clam up and swallow it all down, it did get easier - surprisingly so. After a minute or two Dean found himself talking, not really thinking about what he was saying anymore, but simply telling Sam whatever he remembered, recounting the hours he'd spent in the dark, in pain, walking through the forest blindfolded, not knowing if the next step might be his last.

He didn't really look at Sam throughout his confession – that would have too much to attempt - but he could see Sam frown out of the corner of his eyes, could see the kids features scrunch up in pain, then set into a mask of hardened determination. For a moment, Dean was worried of what he might have just triggered with his confession, but couldn't make himself stop, now that he'd opened the floodgates, the words just kept pouring out of him, unstoppable.

He did hold some things back – consciously or not - left out some of the more private thoughts and feelings. Some things Sam wouldn't, couldn't understand, ever.

For some things there were just no words…

Didn't look like Sam was having too much fun as it was.

But to his immense surprise Dean discovered that, he himself, wasn't feeling half as bad unloading as he'd thought.

Not that he felt good and comfortable – but it wasn't really all that bad…

Not that Sam would ever find out…

OoOoOoO

Sam was a little shell-shocked by Dean's revelation.

Not that he hadn't counted on making Dean talk, in the end, he'd only thought he'd have to put a lot more force behind it. When Dean first started talking, it was haltingly, like he wasn't quite sure what would come out of his mouth, as if he wasn't entirely sure how much was still stored inside, ready to spill.

Once he'd started going though, there was no stopping him anymore.

The words practically tumbled over each other, took on strength and force, even though Sam could see how painful it still was for his brother to admit to some of the things he was spilling out for Sam to hear. Sam was sure that his brother still held things back, the way his eyes were flicking shut every once in a while, the way he gasped for breath, taking that split second to bite off a word, cut short a sentence that was just starting to form on his tongue. Sam knew and still he didn't call Dean on it, knew better than to press his luck. The way things were going at the moment, Sam couldn't believe they'd ever gotten this far to begin with.

Dean talked, and talked, hands in his lap as he leaned forward and to his right a little, taking some of the pressure off his still tender back. He was staring down during most of his monologue, sparing Sam the sight of those intense green eyes that usually revealed more than Dean was ever willing to share. Sam could do nothing but lean back a little, giving Dean the space he needed, alternating between staring at his brothers back, the strong set of his shoulders and staring at his own hands, rubbing at the rough calluses of his fingers.

Dean's revelations were heart-shattering, giving Sam so much more insight than he'd ever thought possible, than he'd ever hoped for. And it was almost more than Sam thought he could take. As Dean started recounting his trek through the woods, Sam closed his eyes, almost finding himself mesmerized by the tale his brother was telling, found himself sucked into the memories so deeply, it almost made him feel like he himself was living through them firsthand.

Dean had always been good at telling stories. When Sam had still been a kid, the only way to get him to sleep would be Dean telling him a goodnight story, old or new, made up or well-researched. John would give up putting the youngest Winchester to sleep long before Sam ever was able to talk, demanding for his big brother to spin him a tale instead of his father.

It was this talent exactly that now made Sam almost beg Dean to stop now.

He almost felt the shortness of breath, the beginnings of a panic-attack tearing at the walls of his sanity as he found his mouth unable to open, his eyes taped shut, his arms tied and his body ready to break. Yet, Dean had walked on, had fought and succeeded in defeating his own fears and had made it back. Without ever having to ask for it, Sam knew that at least part of what had driven Dean to preserve, had been the simple need to get back to his family – his father and brother, in the end.

It was both the best and the worst feeling, ever.

Sam leant forward, finally giving in to the urge to cover his eyes, to hide his face from the demons he himself had summoned.

Sam didn't know how long he'd sat like this, when he finally realized that Dean had stopped talking. He dragged his palms over his face, dropping them into his lap and blinked up at his big brother reluctantly, not sure what he would see.

Dean still sat very straight, upper body levelled slightly forward and to the right, bracing his elbow on the armrest of the bench. His left arm lay against his side as if shielding the wound Sam knew to be hidden underneath his shirt and Henley, still swathed in layers of gauze. He was looking out over the playground again, that slightly detached look in his eyes that Sam knew was there mostly to shield himself a little from his own revelation, to keep the pain he had to be feeling at bay.

It was only due to the fact that Sam was hunched forward and positioned lower than his brother at the moment that he saw Dean's eyes, saw the thin shimmer of something laying over them. And for once Sam had trouble reading his brother's expression, something he usually had gotten pretty damn good at.

Sam swallowed, hard, unsure of what to say, unsure if he should say anything at all.

He'd known snippets of what Dean had just told him, had known that it had to have been bad from what he remembered his brother looking like back then in the hospital, from the flickers of nightmares that he'd been forced to witness. He'd known that that it had to have been bad for the sheer fact that Dean never before and hardly ever after ever carried his nightmares out in the open like he'd done back then and on occasion after.

Sam had known all that and still he hadn't really expected…this.

For once in his life Sam was at a loss for words.

But, as usual, Dean didn't seem to expect him to say anything.

"Dean…I…"

Dean shook his head, cut Sam off.

"Don't, Sam. Just don't. It's OK. It's over…"

In truth, is was so far from over, Sam couldn't even see the end on the horizon, but he didn't find it in him to call Dean on it. Not after the soul-bearing he'd just offered. Sam kept looking at Dean, rolling his lips against his teeth and nibbling at them, trying to find words that he knew would never be right in the end.

"I wish I'd known…" was all he could come up with in the end, and he could have kicked himself the second the words left his mouth.

Strangely enough, Dean just nodded, solemnly, once.

"Yeah…"

Sam hadn't counted on Dean opening up so easily, so now he was a little overwhelmed, totally steered off course as to how to go on. He'd had it all planned out, had gone through every argument, every fight in his head. Now he had trouble finding his course again. And once again Dean caught him off guard as he spoke first, ripping Sam out of his reverie.

"So…that woman at the swing set…is that Janie?"

Sam's head snapped up in surprise at his brother's unusual tender voice, finding Dean still looking out over the playground, still avoiding direct eye-contact. When Sam failed to answer back to him, he cast his eyes towards his brother finally, raising an eyebrow in what no doubt was meant to be a teasing gesture while letting his lashes still cover up most of the moss green lingering there.

"Sam? What? I got something disgusting coming out of my nose?"

Sam shook his head as if physically ridding himself of the cat that had eaten his tongue.

"Uhm…no. I mean…yeah. That's her. Jane Metcalf – over at the swings."

Sam still didn't manage to tear his eyes away from Dean's face, waited until his brother made the decision for him and averted his gaze again.

The swing set was occupied only by the mother and her child, a chubby, year old baby now sitting in a patch of grass to the woman's feet, happily scooping up hands full of dirt to subsequently throw them over his own head.

The woman, Janie, alternated between pushing the about 6 year old on the swing and trying unsuccessfully to stop her baby from covering himself in grime completely. She was laughing while mock-chiding the child and even though from their vantage point on the bench neither brother could understand what she was saying.

"Thought her name was Somers." Dean said, voice low.

"She got married about a year ago – to the father of both children. The older one's a girl, Maria, the little one a boy – Jeff. They have a house, two cars, a dog and a cat – the whole nine yards."

Sam broke off, chewing on his bottom lip but kept his eyes on the woman and her children that was a stranger to him but he'd learned so much about over the course of the past days. He'd tracked her every move, as far as it had been possible, since the Winchesters had left Clancy all those years ago, had made sure there was not even one teeny tiny black spot in her history that would give him any reason to do what he so badly wanted to.

Namely, punish her.

He'd wanted to do it so badly, he'd hardly been able to restrain himself when he'd learned of her identity, had found out her address.

Dean swallowed around an invisible lump in his throat, shifting carefully on the bench. Sam could feel him inching closer – if on purpose or not he couldn't tell - and didn't move as if fearing that any movement would scare his brother off again. Sam could feel the warmth of Dean's body slowly seep into him, feel without seeing that look in his eyes that always scared Sam more than anything. Because Dean hard set and determined, walled off, was a sight Sam was used to. Dean looking like this, worried and unsure…not so much.

At this moment Sam almost regretted bringing him here.

They were silent for so long, Sam thought it would end like this – that Janie would pack her kids and leave and they'd still be sitting here like some peeping-toms spending their days lurking around on playgrounds and in schools.

"So…she pan out OK?"

Dean's voice was just a tad hoarse, but he expertly covered it up with a little sniffle and a low cough.

"Yeah…I couldn't find anything on her. Ever. Like, almost too good to be true. She became a kindergarten teacher, married her first boyfriend, but they split up after two years. She met Ben, her current husband, they had the girl…got married later, then had the boy. She's singing in the church choir, takes care of her grandmother since her mom died about 5 years ago. He's some sort of doctor – a dentist or something. They're doing well, seems like, have a nice house and everything…"

"Picture perfect…" Dean offered and Sam did a half-nod, half-shrug.

"Hard to believe, I know. But I checked and double checked…"

"You talk to her?" Dean asked, and Sam could feel himself tensing up.

How the hell did his brother do that?

"Uhm…I don't…"

Finally, Dean tore his eyes away from the woman and her kids, dropped his gaze to meet Sam's. Sitting like this, Sam once again had trouble seeing his brother's eyes, his lashes dipped low. But there was an unmistakable jump of muscle in his jaw, a pinch of his lips that Sam recognized as Dean knowing he'd caught his little brother red-handed.

"Sam, please. I'm tired. Can't you just tell me what you've been up to the last couple of days and get it over with?"

And he did sound tired, beat. Maybe a little bit defeated. Sam winced but found himself nodding despite his best efforts.

"So…yeah. I talked to her. Went to see her and…I don't know what I wanted to do. I didn't really have a plan or anything. But the next thing I knew I was standing on her doorsteps and she was opening up and there I was…"

"You didn't hit her, did you?" Dean inquired, the smile that quirked his lips upwards at least partly honest, Sam thought.

"Uhm, no, I didn't. Doesn't mean I didn't plan on it – but no. Turned out she's really nice, too, offered me lemonade and cookies…"

"Ahh, always could get you with cookies!" Dean mused.

"Says the guy who basically inhales anything remotely eatable wherever we go."

Dean shrugged.

"You gotta take it where you can get it."

"Right. Anyways…turns out she hasn't quite forgotten about you, either. The minute I mentioned your name she kinda turned so white, I thought she was gonna pass out on me, man."

Dean eyed him from underneath his lashes, Sam could feel it, saw the movement but not the brilliant green he knew to be hidden behind his veil.

"She was terrified, Dean, thought I'd come to…you know… She practically begged me to leave her kids alone, to not hurt them…"

Dean winced, sucking his bottom lip between his teeth. Sam could see his fingers clenching at his side, the lines on his forehead deepening.

"She thought…she said someone had been there – to warn her – again, after you'd done it when we left town with Bobby. Said he was tall and dark and intimidating…looking a little like me. Guess it had been dad… Anyways, I don't know…but I thought she was genuine, Dean. She swore up and down that she never, ever laid another finger on anyone, made sure that that other friend that was involved back then – Peter - stayed on track, too. I don't know but…I wanted to, you know, make her pay, somehow, but I couldn't. Her kids are amazing, Dean, the baby's like a chubby, giggling monster. He was drooling all over my leg the whole time I was there, smiling and saying samsamsamsam. She showed me pictures, Dean, of her and her husband and the kids - of Peter, too. Said he's some kind of vet or something, has his own surgery, doing real well."

"Let me guess – he saves little kittens and helps old, blind people cross the street?" Dean snorted bitterly.

Sam tipped his head thoughtfully.

"Almost… He takes in stray dogs, treats them for free - that kind of thing. Has a godchild in Kenia…big brother program…"

"Now isn't that just perfect."

"Yeah, I know."

"You already slipped on your knuckle rings?"

Sam's eyebrows shot up in surprise. Dean's tone of voice didn't quite suggest if he was serious or not.

For a second, Sam was almost scared. Scared of what Dean would think of him and his willingness to go and punch the woman – and the guy, real hard. Repeatedly. They still weren't past the danger of Sam going dark side, were they? Never past… So maybe he wouldn't mention the fact that he actually had hit Peter…just a punch to the guts, not even very hard…but he had hit him. And maybe he'd gotten in another punch, too – might have broken the guy's nose…

But he'd at least had the decency to regret it afterwards. A little.

Or maybe not.

It was nothing compared to what they'd done to Dean.

As a matter of fact, Sam had found Peter before he'd scouted out Janie, had sneaked up on him in the parking lot of his surgery at night, backed him up against his car. He'd fully intended to go berserk on him, fully willing to ignore his conscience and unleash all that pent up anger and fury on a man he'd never even met before. But after just two punches Sam had folded.

The look of absolute terror on the man's face…

Sam had bailed and ran, hadn't even said a word to the man that had inflicted more pain on his brother than Sam could ever imagine. Peter would probably never know who'd hit him, would never link that totally out of the blue attack to one of the darkest moments of his own life. It still troubled Sam that he hadn't even left a message – a threat…anything. He could always come back for that, could always make sure Peter found out that he was not safe – never would be. Sam could still make sure that Peter could try to be a good person all his life – but that nothing would ever make up for what he'd done…

Sam had only spoken to Janie the day after the incident with Peter, and after that visit he'd been too confused to be ready to admit to what he'd done. And right now – with Dean's reaction the way it was, Sam opted to keep it a secret just a little longer – possibly forever.

"Sam…knuckle rings…you slip them on already?" Dean pressed, again, a little of the humour turned into barely hidden concern now.

Sam wondered when this happened, the shift in their MO…Dean the one willing to hold back while he was the one ready to hit anything that cared to look at him funny. But this wasn't just anybody they were talking about. This guy had almost killed Dean, for crying out loud…

"Uhm…yeah, maybe. Kinda. Figuratively speaking…" Sam hedged carefully, hating himself for lying – or bending the truth a little – after everything he'd thrown at his brother for doing just that…

Instead of blowing up in his face, though, Dean suddenly laughed, a mirthless snort, more like it, looking away from Sam and robbing him of the only thing that would have made Sam know for sure of his brother was serious or not – the look in his eyes.

"Great, here I am, wishing you'd finally toughen up so you survive this fucking war without me, trying to think of ways to make you go all Rambo, and all it would have taken is you having to save your weak brother in distress…"

Sam perked up at the sound of both pride and defeat in his brother's voice.

"Dean, that's not…"

"Yeah, whatever, dude."

And with that, Dean pushed himself up and off the bench, a slight groan escaping his pinched lips before he could bite back on it, taking a tentative step away from the bench. He stopped, staring off into the distance for a few seconds before suddenly, abruptly turning around and rounding the bench, making his way back towards the car. Sam was up and after him within a heartbeat. He caught up with his brother next to the passenger side door, blocking Dean's path.

"Dean…"

"Don't, Sam. Just let it rest."

"Yeah, Ok…just…don't you at least wanna go talk to her?"

Sam was confused, he really was. He'd thought Dean would jump on the opportunity to face Janie again, tell her his mind, at least, if nothing else. And it would only be fair to not let her get off as easily – even though, strictly speaking, she hadn't done anything, hadn't really touched Dean the way the others had. But she'd stood by and watched, and in Sam's opinion that was as big a crime as actively participating in the torture.

Dean made a move to open the door, when Sam finally grabbed his brother's biceps, forcefully holding him back.

"Dean, come on. I searched her out, faced her…I brought you here. You can at least…don't you wanna…you want to let her get away with this?" Sam stuttered, confused.

The muscles in Dean's arms twitched and pulled, then rippled as he turned around to face Sam. The younger Winchester immediately let go of his brother's arm when he saw Dean look at his hand on his arm, took a step back as if he'd been burned. Even though the look in Dean's eyes suggested not the disapproval of the rough handling that Sam had anticipated but instead radiated exhaustion more than anything else. Maybe it was this exactly that had Sam take a breath as if he'd stepped straight into a commercial freezer.

"I'm…I don't know…I guess I'm past it. Worked it out, let it go – whatever you want to call it. It's over Sam…what can I say? There are more important things to worry about than some small town punks who happened to have a thing for me over a decade ago… Besides, what am I gonna say to her?"

"I don't know…talk to her, punch her, threaten her… I don't care, Dean. Anything. You need to do something. But you can't just let her get away like this. I told her to come here, told her you were going to meet her. And she came. Maybe you need this, maybe you need to get it all out."

"I already got it all out, Sam. I told you, remember?"

"You should face her, you should…"

"There's nothing I have to say to her, Sam. She knows what she did… And if what you told me is true, she learned from her mistakes. What could I possibly say to her that would make a difference now, huh?"

Sam threw his hands up helplessly, wanting to punch Dean, wanted to shake him, wanted to drag him over to Janie, make him talk. But trying to force Dean to do anything never had went well before, certainly wouldn't sit well with his brother now. And Sam didn't want to fight. He didn't want Dean to close up again, not after the tenuous trust they'd managed to re-establish now…

Didn't mean that Sam wouldn't at least try one last time…

"Maybe you could…I don't know…I thought maybe you could…make peace maybe…" he hedged carefully.

The look in Dean's made him wish he hadn't said anything at all.

"You want me to do what?"

Sam braced himself.

Now that he'd started it…

"I, uhm, thought that maybe…if you didn't…" then he took a breath and let it all out.

"I thought that, if you didn't want – need – revenge, maybe you'd feel better if you forgave her. If you talked to her and told her that…you know…you didn't…"

Yeah, definitely the wrong approach. Sam knew it now – now that it was too late.

"You want me to forgive her?"

Sam shrugged, wanting to disappear. He didn't want that, he just thought that maybe...

"I can't do that, Sam. And you know what? I don't care if that would earn my brownie points in heaven or hell or wherever the fuck else. I don't care of that would make her feel better, either. I'm willing to walk away from it – that's as good as it will get – it's all I can do. But I can't give her absolution. I can't do that."

Sam nodded. He'd figured as much.

"Ok, yeah. I just thought…"

And maybe it was only fair. Maybe it was only fair that Janie would have to live the rest of her life not being granted forgiveness. Yeah, it really sounded only fair.

But Sam had wanted to give his brother something – anything. He'd hoped that, maybe, it would bring Dean closure.

"Listen, Sam – I wanna thank you, you know, for all you did – for saving my ass and helping me waste Joe – for burning the whole dam house to the ground… I know I messed up, not telling you, keeping this a secret, but we're both not innocent when it comes to keeping secrets, so I guess I just keep the score even."

Sam felt his head snap back at the accusation, felt the pinch between his eyes intensify and deepen.

"Are we still taking about this anymore?" Sam asked, voice a bit shaky as he waved his hand behind him, in the general direction of the playground, indicating Clancy, Joe and Janie…back then.

Dean's eyes swept past him, settled on some point in the distance.

"I don't know, Sam. Why don't you tell me?" he sighed, but refused to take his eyes off whatever it was he was looking at.

"What…Dean…I don't know… I'm keeping secrets? What… Alright, so I'm trying to find a way to save you, to keep you from going to Hell – Hell, Dean, ring any bell? And yeah, I'm doing it in secret because not only won't you move as much as one single finger to save yourself, but you're dead set on keeping me from doing it for you, as well. So please don't tell me you going to reproach me now, of all times, for trying to save your life Dean, not after everything you did for me."

Dean's eyes snapped over to Sam for a second, then swayed back off again. Sam could see the muscle in his jaw jumping once, then again as his brother swallowed, closing his eyes briefly as if summoning the strength he was needed for a simple conversation.

"Listen Sam…I don't exactly know how we managed to switch subjects like that, but if it makes you happy, here it goes: I didn't plan this, alright? None of it. I never wanted to see you unhappy, looking at me day in day out, imagining me rotting in Hell. I didn't plan on a lot of things in my life, but I certainly didn't plan on you dying, Sam. The only plan, ever, was for you to stay alive, on making it – no matter what. So, I might have made so many mistakes, I can't even begin to count them anymore, but I'll never, ever regret making the deal for your life. No matter how fucking scared I am. I'll never regret it Sam. I saved you, gave you back your life – and it gave me one more year with you."

Dean turned challenging eyes on Sam.

"So don't tell me that it wasn't worth it…"

Sam found himself breathless, and he was sure he'd paled about two shades beyond white, but found himself unable to even utter one single word of objection when Dean's eyes suddenly fixed on him with a fierce ferocity that made him blink, hard.

"Sure, I might have counted on ten years, five maybe, if things went bad, but hell…one year is more than I could have ever asked for. It's more than what dad got, right? I won't have you contradict that, Sam, I just won't. I'm fine with it…which doesn't mean that I'm not…it doesn't mean…"

Dean broke off, choking on his own words for a second and again Sam felt like the ground was pulled out from underneath it. He knew the words that were unwilling to pass his brother's lips better than Dean could ever come to know.

It doesn't mean that I'm not scared.

He'd admitted to it already, unknowingly, but Sam also knew that it went way beyond anything that he himself could imagine. Sam had never known the details of the deal, hadn't known that Dean had had to practically bargain for the year left – he hadn't known. Because, once again, Dean had not deemed it important enough to tell, had been vague on the details. Like he probably wouldn't have told Sam that he was living on borrowed time in the first place - if he hadn't been forced to.

"I don't regret a thing – to me it was all worth it. And if you can't accept that, I'm sorry, but that's the way it is. Always gonna be. I wish there was a way out of this, Sam, but I won't risk for everything to turn around and bite us in the ass just because you can't freaking listen to me and let it all rest. I can't let you do that. All I want for us is to turn around and get the hell away from here, leave it all behind. It's over now…it is. I finally wanna move on."

Dean took a deep breath, ran a hand over his face in that distinctive manner that always reminded Sam so much of their dad. Dean had copied it for as long as Sam could remember, had made it a constant part of his own repertoire. The motion also managed to break their eye-contact again, and Sam found himself almost relieved when he was given a way out of looking at Dean anymore – just for a little while.

"There is no sense in looking back, Sam…there's no sense in that…"

Sam chewed his bottom lip so hard, he already tasted blood on his tongue. His eyes were burning but he refused to let go and come undone now, here…not when he was supposed to comfort his brother, not after everything Dean had gone through during the past couple of days.

"No looking back…" he mumbled, his voice hoarse, as he watched Dean watch Janie and her kid some more..

"Right."

"But you can't expect me to just sit back and watch you die, Dean." Sam tried again, stubborn set of his jaw almost painful.

"Didn't say I expect you to watch me die, Sam. But I expect you to let me live, as long as I still can."

Sam looked away, fighting back the urge to reply to that.

It made sense. Frighteningly so. And Dean's words hurt even more because of the truth woven into them.

They stood there for minutes it seemed, either unwilling to give in and break the silence hanging heavily between them.

Janie had gotten the kids off the swing and to a bench, handing over little bottles of drinks and some crackers. She left to throw the trash in a dumpster nearby and disappeared behind a tree. Suddenly devoid of their mutual distraction, Dean shifted uneasily, moving to lean a little against the Impala's side.

"So…are we good? Can we go now, because I think I really need to sit down…" Dean said, the lopsided smile that accompanied the request an attempt at make-up, Sam knew, and he felt himself being pulled into his brother's smile far too easily. Even though he didn't want to. Not like that.

"Alright…yeah. Only…one more thing."

Dean barely was able to suppress the roll of his eyes, and Sam was more than thankful that he managed to cut back on the motion at the last minute.

"I can't promise you I won't do anything to help…to try and help you, Dean. You gotta accept that, too. I can't just lean back and do nothing. I promise I'll be careful, not risk…too much. I won't. But you gotta promise me that you won't work against me, won't refuse a way out when I got one figured out. You have to accept that, Dean, you have to. You just gotta trust me that I'll handle it, Dean, alright?"

It was grasping for straws, and Sam knew it. He knew that, no matter what Dean would say now, he'd still come up with a reason to manipulate Sam to his liking later on. Once he was feeling better, was more himself again. Right now he was still in pain, was still too shaken by the events to be taken absolutely seriously. But Sam would try and hold him to it, would at least try and make Dean see… Because he had to be scared and he had to want a way out – even though Sam knew he'd never do it if anything suggested harm to his little brother.

"Yeah, alright…I trust you."

The answer threw Sam more than anything else Dean could have said or done. All he could do was nod, then.

"So, we done here, ready to ride into the sunset?" Dean's eyes flickered up to him, slight grin giving his face more colour than it had held in days, if not weeks.

"Yeah, sure. I'll get the horses ready." Sam grinned back, then quickly turned around to rub icy fingers viciously over his eyes, getting rid of any telltale wetness that might have been lurking there. He rounded the car to get to the driver's side, opening the door with the familiar creak and groan, vowing to oil it, Dean be damned, once they got to Bobby's.

He caught Dean's eyes, his brother still standing, leaning a little on the Impala's hood, nodding to him almost imperceptibly. As Sam slipped into his seat, turning over the engine, Dean took a moment longer to get into the car. Sam could see him looking out over the playground once more, watching Janie pack up and turn to leave before, with a quick squeeze of his eyes Dean let himself sink into the Impala's welcoming seat with a soft groan.

No looking back…easier said that done.

The same with letting go.

But Sam would make sure that, one day, they'd be able to look back.

Both of them.

He'd personally make sure of it…

The end

AN:

OK, so this is it (famous last words, right?)

I guess it wasn't what most of you expected. Probably too emo, too out of character…

I just hope it wasn't too disappointing. I know I lost a lot of readers throughout this story…I'm sorry I couldn't do better for you...

This was hard for me, and it makes me kinda sad that posting has become so much harder for me instead of better with time. I actually have two stories which are almost completely done already, but for the first time since I started posting here, I'm reluctant to get them out. Maybe this will change once this story is finished and I withdrawal sets in…we'll see. Problem is, I enjoy writing so much… Knowing myself, I give it a week, two at the most, and I'm back, insecurities and self-doubts be damned. If anybody remembers this author's note if I start posting the next story…I'm screwed.

So, thanks to all those who stuck with me and to those who reviewed and alerted and offered moral support through my continuous breakdowns.

Just as a reminder - the grammatical errors and mistakes in spelling are due to me not being a native speaker…so I hope they can be forgiven. (I don't even know if I could have done better in my native language…).

If we don't hear from each other before December 24th (to those in Germany and Austria…) or December 25th- have a wonderful Christmas, if you do celebrate. If not just have a great day nonetheless!

As always, I'd like to know what you think, so, consider my fragile mind and let me know, if you find the time!

Thanks and take care!!!