Wake-Up Call on Highway 224

Disclaimer: Don't own the show or the characters—never have, never will.

Summary: Sam gets some tough love and advice from an unlikely source, and he finds out just how much he's hurt his brother.

Author's Note: I've had this oneshot rolling around my head for a while. I'm a bi-bro, but I'm worried that Sam (on the show) still doesn't understand just how much he hurt Dean personally. So I wrote this fic just in case the show decides to skip over what I believe is a very important issue for both brothers. It's extreme angst with a dash of crack. Rated T for language and some violent scenes. I also quote several scenes from several episodes, so obviously I didn't write those bits. But the rest is all mine. Massive thanks to Bevarshi, MistWraith, and AgtSpooky for their beta work and incredible support. You're the best! ::hugs::

Also, just going to state up front that I tried very hard to be fair to Sam. Again, I am bi-bro! I love both of them! So I'm frank with Sam but I'm not cruel. I strived to be true to both their characters, in fact. No flames, please, if you disagree with how I portrayed either brother. S'alright? S'alright. Here we go.

This story takes place just after "Changing Channels."

10:33 p.m.

Just east of Willard, OH.

Sam is squirming in the driver's seat of the Impala. The after-effects of their 'fun' trip through TV-land are kicking in, and he wishes he'd thought of changing into sweat pants before setting off on this beer run. They're throbbing. He's sure that if he'd take a look, he'd find something out of a Chuck Jones cartoon: twin globes, inflated and red, complete with little birdies swirling around. It'd be funny if it didn't hurt so damn much.

Of course Dean isn't doing great, either. Sam's makeshift surgery may have been successful, but Dean had to pull over twice on their drive out of Wellington from sheer pain, dry-heaving and shaking so hard that his teeth chattered. The bullet didn't hit his spinal cord, thank God, but it was close enough; the hurt travels up and down every one of those vertebrae all the same. It's why Sam volunteered for the beer run in the first place: to give his brother some time to rest. It also gave Sam a chance to get away from playing Remote Control Fetcher and Pizza Orderer and Ice Pack Purveyor and all the other things Dean would make him do if he'd stuck around. After all, both of them could use a break and a few beers after what the Trickster put them through.

You mean Gabriel, Sam corrects in his mind, and he shakes his head. Another angel with an agenda. He can't help but miss the earlier days, before he found out most angels were self-righteous dicks whose favorite pastime seemed to be telling them what to do. Before the Winchester Brothers became poker chips disguised as vessels. Before…well, just Before. Sam allows a sad smile onto his face.

"May not have been any easier," he mutters to himself, "but at least it was just us. Me. Dean." He glides his left hand from 10 o'clock to 12 and back again. "And you." His sad smile tips up into a smirk as he remembers his recent time in the Impala's shoes—er, wheels. How bizarre it was to feel so heavy, yet so free. The strange sensation of his brother actually inside of him, somehow on Sam's back but inside his ribs at the same time. The extra-awkward moment when Dean was rummaging through his…yeah. Sam pushes the memory aside and chuckles; even though his balls are aching, at least he has balls again. "No offense," he tells the Impala, "but I'm really glad I'm not you anymore. It was way too weird."

"Believe me, honey, the feeling is more than mutual."

The female voice comes out of nowhere, and Sam looks every which way. Then it dawns on him and he glares at the road. "That son of a bitch…another trick? Really?!"

"No trick, Sam," the female voice says again. "It's me."

"Me who?"

"ME. The one who's with you right now. All around you, in fact." Sam only blink-blinks at her words, and she sighs. "The CAR, idiot."

"What?!" Sam jerks and the wheel swerves with his freak out, first sharp to the left, then an overcompensated pull to the right. The Impala speeds off the road and into a ditch, then up a low hill and over the top. Sam stomps on the brakes and the car fishtails through grass and dirt until she finally stops, her front bumper coming to rest an inch before an old farming fence. Both car and driver breathe a sigh of relief.

"Nice one," the Impala complains. "I'm up to my grill in grass and cow shit. You owe me a car wash—deluxe, with that awesome underside foam so I can get back my Fresh Feeling." She takes a look at Sam and finds him bug-eyed and gaping, and her motherly instincts take over at once. "Sam? You all right sweetie?"

"I'm fine," Sam states. "I think. No I'm not. You're talking. You can't talk. You've never talked! Why are you talking?!"

"Sam, calm down before you hyperventilate. I'm many things but I'm not a paper bag." She watches Sam slowly uncurl his long limbs, taking deep breaths. "That's it. In and out."

Sam sits low and tips his head over the top of the bench seat. "This isn't happening," he whispers.

"It is, Sam, and the sooner you stop freaking, the sooner we can get this over with."

He looks back, deciding on the car's radio as a focal point. "Get what over with?"

"Our talk."

Sam frowns, befuddled. "So I just found out you can talk, and now we're gonna have A Talk?"

"Well, yeah." She pauses as Sam stares. "What, we can't have a talk?"

"Well sure but—"

"Then what? Is my voice funny? I don't sound like what you figured?"

"Well, to be honest, I've never figured…" Sam admits. "But you sound fine." He gives a small smile and adds, "In fact, you sound like an American Claudia Black."

"That Farscape chic?" The Impala laughs, and her entire chassis rolls with it. "Why thank you, Sam! Of course, if anything, SHE sounds like ME. I am older than her. Bigger and shinier, too. And faster and stronger and…well, you get the idea."

"How do you know about Farscape?" Sam asks, surprised and intrigued.

"Are you kidding? Having you two throwing those pop culture references out all the time? A girl picks up a few things over the years. Plus I'm almost always parked just outside your window. With those thin-ass curtains in the cheap places you stay, I watch TV with you boys all the time." She pauses and then mutters, "Overhear your arguments, too…"

Sam nods, mostly amused, partially bemused. I'm talking to the car, and I'm not crazy. All the weird shit I've seen over the years, and this still tops it all. He smiles. At least it's a good weird for a change. He looks at the radio once more. "So…have you always talked? Does Dean know you can talk?"

She laughs again. "All cars and trucks can talk, honey. But most humans can't understand us. Your own father couldn't hear a word I said. But Dean…" Sam can hear the smile in her voice as she says his name. "Dean's been hearing me since just after your mom died. Just happened one night. He was scared and ran out of the house. Bad dream, I found out later. But the little guy was curled up against my door, shaking and crying. I let him in, asked what was wrong, and he told me. We've been Chatty Cathys ever since."

"Even when I've been in the car?"

"Well duh! You know the times when Dean smirks or laughs to himself, and you ask him what's so funny, and he just shakes it off? That's usually after I've said something hilarious."

Sam's smile starts to fade. "So you talk about me behind my back, is that it?"

"Course not, Sam. We talk about you in front of your face." She giggles, but Sam just nods a 'yeah, yeah' at her. She quiets and clears her throat—or at least, whatever part of the car serves as her throat. "In all seriousness, Sam, we don't make fun of you, if that's what you're afraid of. Sometimes a little teasing, just like you two do with each other, but never anything cruel. I love both my boys." She sighs, the entire car rising up and down with it. "And both my boys need help right now."

Sam shakes his head. "There is no helping us out of this mess. Unless you know how to keep the world from ending…"

"No, I don't, and frankly, I don't want to. Not unless you two are still in it. And Sam, if you and Dean don't get back on track pronto, I'm worried there won't be anything left of either of you to save."

It's Sam's turn to sigh, and he brushes a hand over his hair and ear. "We're trying," he says quietly. "We've talked, apologized…hunts are going better. We're getting there."

"No, Sam. You're getting your way, and Dean is sacrificing to keep the peace, just like always. It has to stop. All of it." A moment later, the doors suddenly lock on their own, followed by the vents shutting and the windows all but gluing themselves in their fixtures.

"What the hell?" Sam tries to open the door, but it won't budge. "What are you doing?"

"Keeping you at your desk for this very important lesson." She sees Sam pull his phone out and says, "Don't bother. Your battery died back while you were still in the warehouse."

Sam checks his cell anyway and sure enough, the battery is spent. He drops the useless phone on the seat next to him and wipes his hand over his face. "So first you talk to me and now you trap me?" he asks in a tired voice.

"No choice here, Sam. You need help. I have to do this for Dean as much as for you."

"I'm fine," Sam growls, "and if you want to help Dean, let me get back to him before he starts worrying about me being gone for too long."

"Still all about you, huh?" The Impala tsks him. "Oh Sam. You've got a big heart, kid, but it's high time you open your eyes to reality."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

No answer. Instead, a white glow appears in front of the windshield, illuminating the car and the immediate countryside. "Uhh…Impala?" Sam asks as the light grows.

"Relax, hon, this won't hurt a bit. Your friend Gabriel gave me the mojo to provide you with some visual aides."

Sam's eyes blow wide. "Gabriel?!"

"Yeah, he was here. Stopped by just after you and Dean went inside the motel. He says hi, by the way. He also said he wants to do Dean a solid for letting him out of the holy fire. And to help him, we need to help you, first."

"We?" Sam repeats, really not liking where this is going.

"Yup, joint venture. He provided me with the means, and I'm providing you with my memories." Sam mutters something under his breath, looking skeptical, and she revs her engine. "What, you think a car can't have memories? Sam, who has been with you and your brother more than anyone or anything else? Me. Nearly every mile of your lives, I've been there. I know you two better than you know yourselves. That's why I'm the only natural choice to give you the wake-up call you definitely need."

Sam opens his mouth to protest but gets distracted as the white light intensifies, eating up the scenery with its pure nothingness. "This is about destiny," she continues. "Yours…Dean's…everyone's. Gabriel told me what Dean said about family and fate. It really got to him. He wants to give you both a shot at changing things. But the change has to start with you, Sam."

Sam's face clouds with emotion; a sinner bathed in the heavenly glow surrounding them. "I can't undo what I did," he utters. "Lucifer is out, and it's all my fault. I've apologized up and down for it and I'm doing my best to make up for it." His voice gets louder with each statement, and then he all but yells, "I'm SORRY, all right? I fucked up! I get it!"

"No, Sam, you don't," the Impala replies gently. "This isn't about the devil or the seals or even the demon blood. It's about something so much more important than that."

"What?" Sam asks just above a whisper.

"That's for me to know and you to find out." The white light builds to near-blinding level, and the car begins to vibrate. "Now scoot over," the Impala instructs.

"Huh? Why?"

"Just trust me. You're not going to want to be in the driver's seat for any of this."

Sam slides over to the passenger side and braces himself. For what, he doesn't know, but his body tenses up all the same. The light pulses, the farmer's fence flattens from an unseen force, then WHOOSH! Sam is thrust back into the bench seat as the car seems to surge forward. Sam tries to grab the steering wheel, but he's pinned where he sits; all he can do is wait and hope that this whatever-it-is doesn't end in a fiery crash. Then just as suddenly, everything falls still. The familiar sound of the Impala's motor fills in the background noise. Sam swallows his heart back into his chest and cracks an eye open. It's still night time, but the countryside is gone. The car is moving through city streets. A hand reaches over from Sam's left to switch on the radio, and Sam finds Dean sitting next to him.

"Dean? How'd you—?"

He can't hear you, the Impala's voice says inside Sam's head. This is a memory of mine. We're just eavesdropping.

"So what, I'm Scrooge and you're the Ghost of Christmas Past?" Sam frumps.

More like the Ghost of Drop the 'Tude and Pay Attention, she sasses back. This is important.

So Sam sits with his brother in silence as they drive along. Dean keeps reaching over to spin the dial, and eventually stops when Skynyrd tells him about a Simple Man. They drive some more. Sam's about to ask for the fast forward button when Dean turns and looks at him—right at him, like he knows Sam is there. Sam can't help but stare back, even after Dean's face goes back to the road. Dean looks tired, and not the sleep-deprived variety. More like his eyes have simply seen too much and life has thrown one too many punches at him.

"When was this?" Sam asks, taken aback.

Just after you two decided to take separate vacations.

Sam is visibly shocked, and he looks at his brother's wan face again. "But that was only a few weeks ago. He didn't look like that when we had our talk and decided to split…" Did he? Sam asks himself.

Shh, I'm about to talk!

A moment later, the voice in Sam's head comes out of the car's speakers instead. "How many vamps this time?" she asks Dean.

"Just one," Dean gruffs back. "Pretty easy kill."

"Think there's a nest around here?"

"Nope. Already checked. Twilight back there was a loner."

They drive on, letting the music talk for them. It's just started to rain, and the drops add a soothing pitter patter to the emptiness inside and out. Dean glances at Sam's seat again.

"You should call him," the Impala coaxes.

Dean gives a single headshake 'no.' "Can't."

"Why not?"

"Cos he doesn't want me to. Sam's off doing this thing on his own. And we gotta let 'im." Dean gives a bitter smirk. "It's Stanford all over again."

"What's he talking about?" Sam asks.

Oh please. Why do you think he never called you while you were away at college? Sam doesn't answer her, so she gives him a mental nudge. Well?!

"I thought…he was mad at me. For leaving. That he didn't want to talk to me ever again."

You're confusing your brother with your father. Dean was proud of you and he wanted to do whatever he could to make sure you had a shot at Normal.

Sam can't believe his ears. "Dean was proud of me?"

Of COURSE he was, you doofus! Honestly, for being so bright, you can be really dim sometimes, know that? Sam throws her the bitch face. She ignores it and goes on. Yes he was proud. But he missed you, Sam. His loneliness ate him up inside. I can't tell you how many times he had his phone out to call you, but he never did. He kept quiet and stayed out of your life because it's what YOU wanted. She gives an internal sigh. And old habits are hard to break. Just watch.

"This is nothing like Stanford, Dean," the Impala in the memory pipes up. "You don't know where he is for one, and you're not bothering to find out. You went to Cali whenever you could to check on him back then, so why—"

"I'm respecting his wishes," Dean snaps. "End of story."

A fire truck is charging up behind them, so Dean heads to the side of the road to let it pass. "You think he'll ever come back?" she asks.

The fire truck zooms on, but Dean keeps the car where it is. "I don't know," he admits. "Sam's always happiest when he's on his own, looking for answers and living his life."

"That's not true!" Sam retorts.

So you didn't go to Stanford to be happy, find your answers, and live life by your own rules?

"Yeah, but…Stanford was a different life, okay? Since then…since Dean came back…" He clenches his teeth. "I hate being alone now. Without Dean…" Sam points at the radio. "You saw how I was after he died! Why didn't you TELL him?!"

I DID tell him. Now shush. There's more.

Sam gives a little head shake, frustrated, and looks back at Dean. His brother appears contemplative and a bit sad.

"It's funny…our lives are so freakin' complicated now," Dean begins, eyes downcast. "But at the same time, nothing's really changed, y'know? Sam left me for Stanford and I didn't know if I'd ever see him again. Now he left me for parts unknown and again, no itinerary, no idea when he'll be back. And it's all on me."

"How is Sam leaving even remotely your fault?" she asks.

"Because I'm me," Dean states, like it's so very obvious. "I wasn't enough for him back then and I'm still not today. Same song, different verse." Dean shrugs it off, though the pain remains plain on his face. "I'm not good enough," he chastises himself with a smile. "Not by Sammy's high standards, anyway. No," Dean sits up, "he's better off without me. And these days…hate to say it, but I'm better off without him, too. It's the end of the world here, and I don't need the hassle of wondering when my own brother's gonna kick me to the curb again."

Sam flinches at that last word.

"Dean…" the car tries again.

"Drop it," he grunts. "It's done, all right? Sam's taking a stay-cation, and I've got people to save."

"Doesn't Sam count as one of those people?"

Dean pulls back onto the road and switches on the windshield wipers. "Sam wants to save himself this time," he whispers. "And he doesn't want my help. That's just the way it is, sweetheart."

The memory ends with Sam still gaping at his brother in disbelief. "I'm better off without you?" Sam blurts out. "You're not good enough?! How can you POSSibly think that, Dean?"

I already told you, Sam, he can't hear you, the Impala reminds him. And besides, I've told him the same thing over and over, but he doesn't believe me. The only one he'd ever believe is you. Not that you've ever bothered to tell him…

"I didn't know," Sam says, defensive.

You sure about that?

The bright white glow builds swiftly around them, and with another WHOOSH!, they're off to a new location. A motel sits directly in front of where they're parked. Sam looks up at the sign and gets hit with déjà vu. This is where they stayed while hunting the leshii.

No visuals on this one, hon, the Impala tells him, cos you're both inside. But I was right outside your door and I heard you just fine…

"If we're gonna be a team," Sam hears himself say, "You and I, it has to be a two-way street."

"So we just go back to the way we were before?" Dean asks.

"No, cos we were never that way before. Before didn't work! How do you think we got here?"

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Dean, one of the reasons I went off with Ruby…was to get away from you." A barely audible "What?" from Dean follows, and Sam elaborates. "It made me feel strong, like I wasn't your kid brother."

"Are you saying this is my fault?!"

"No, it's MY fault. All I'm saying is that if we're gonna do this, we have to do it different. We can't just fall into the same rut."

"So what do we do?" Dean asks quietly.

"You're gonna have to let me grow up for starters," Sam tells him.

A cell phone rings, and the outside audio cuts out. So you just told me that Dean shouldn't think that he isn't good enough, the Impala comments, yet you basically just told HIM that he isn't good enough. Interesting.

"That isn't what I meant," Sam says through his teeth.

Then what did you mean? Cos it sounded to me like you blamed him for driving you to Ruby, which drove you to killing Lilith and setting Lucifer free.

"He didn't drive me to Ruby!"

You just told him he did! You said 'I went off with Ruby to get away from you. It made me feel strong.' Your words, Sam, not mine.

"It came out wrong!" he insists, brushing a hand through his hair. "I was angry that he wasn't listening to me—that he was treating me like a kid! AGAIN!"

Maybe because you're still acting like one! she yells back. Funny how it's okay for you to tell Dean to let you grow up but you won't man up yourself! How can it be Even Steven between you two when you get to call all the shots and Dean has to tuck his tail and follow you? Isn't that what you just told him NOT to do to you?!

Sam just shakes his head, furious. For what it's worth, she comments, trying to ease the tension out of her interior, I agree with you on one point: Dean shouldn't have been keeping you on such a short leash. Fine. But he didn't know what else to do. You were all over the map, kid! You want back in, but then you remind him that he called you, implying you didn't actually want back in. Then you insist everything's your fault but blame him anyway, then take it back just to hit him with more blame… Seriously, Sam, can you throw any more mixed signals? Cos if you ask me, you're well over quota. Sam just glares at the world. She heaves an internal sigh. I know you don't want to hear any this, but you need to know. And since Dean would never tell you any of it himself…

"He should," Sam spits. "He should fucking tell me how he feels."

Sure, because you tell him everything YOU feel all the time…

Sam thumps his back against the bench seat, grumpy. "Do I get anything right?"

Of course you do, she reassures him. Sam, you do so much right…you truly do. I'm just trying to get you to understand—

"What, that Dean does everything better than me? That I'll be a screw-up the rest of my life because I'm the one that set Lucifer free?" He crosses his arms. "Tell me something I don't know."

That's what you really think, huh? You honestly believe that this is still all about you and breaking that last seal.

"What else would it be?" Sam asks, though the anger is gone from his voice.

The white glow is back again at once. Looks like we have to go back further…

WHOOSH! It's open road again. Dean is white-knuckled and angry, pushing the Impala past 80.

This is just moments after Dean discovered you and Ruby were working together, the car tells Sam. When he first saw you exorcize a demon with your mind. He didn't take it very well.

"I know," Sam mumbles as he chews on his thumbnail, Dean's dark, accusing stare forever etched in his memory. "I was there…"

The car flies over a hill. "Slow down, Dean," the Impala begs. Dean just grunts and keeps the pedal floored. "What happened in there? Did you find Sam?"

"Oh I found Sam all right," Dean snorts. "And he wasn't alone."

"Ruby's with him again," she guesses.

"Again?" Dean repeats. "So you knew!" The car says nothing, and Dean nods a few times, bitterness growing. "And when exactly were you planning on telling me?"

"It wasn't for me to tell. This is Sam's choice and Sam's business—"

"How long?" Dean demands, cutting off her excuses. "How long's this been going on, huh? Him and her, sneaking around, playing Demon Busters?"

"…most of the summer," she admits. "Few more times since you've been back."

Dean laughs, but it isn't his normal, hearty chuckle. This is cold…hurt. Sam shudders as the smile wipes off Dean's face and his eyes shine a monstrous green in the passing street lights. He wheels the car onto the Interstate on-ramp and heads north.

"Where are you going?"

"I don't know yet."

"What about Sam?"

"What about him?" Dean throws back. "He doesn't need me. Hell, he doesn't want me around. He's having too much fun with his new superpowers and his demon-bitch cheerleader."

"So you're just gonna am-scray on him?!"

"Like he'll even notice I'm gone," Dean mutters. "I'm doing him a favor: Now he won't have to worry about thinking up new lies or being extra quiet when he sneaks out at night cos hey, I won't be there. It's a win-win for Team No-Dean."

"Don't be like this, Dean," she pleads. "Sam needs his big brother now more than ever. You're can't just leave him with that demon!"

"It's what he wants," Dean seethes. He smacks his hand on the steering wheel and shouts a "dammit!" at the top of his lungs. "My dying wish was for him to keep fighting and remember what I taught him, and he threw it all out the window for a black-eyed BFF."

Sam winces like he was just slashed across the face.

"He shouldn't have kept this from you," the Impala states. "I completely agree. But I'm sure he had his reasons." She forces the gas pedal to lift up a little, slowing them down as she tries to calm her boy down. "At least hear him out, Dean. Give him a chance to apologize and explain himself." Dean sighs through his nose as his face softens ever so slightly. "Please," she asks again. "You didn't see how low he got this summer. I did. I even tried talking to him, but he never heard me. Or didn't listen…I don't know. But he was Hurt, Dean, with a capital 'H.' Your death destroyed him. And he's still hurting now. He needs you around. More than that, he WANTS you around, I know it."

Dean drives on for a few tense moments. Then he sees an exit, mutters the "dammit" this time, and steers the car onto the off-ramp. Then he takes a left and gets back on the Interstate, heading back the way he came. "Thank you," the Impala says, relief clear in her voice. "Leaving Sam would've killed him."

"Oh I'm still planning on leaving," Dean informs her, voice very low. "He can speak his piece if he feels like it while I'm packing."

And you did, of course, the Impala thinks to a very quiet Sam as the memory ends. And you got him to stay.

"I'd never seen him so angry," Sam murmurs, remembering that long, awful night of waiting by the window. "I was so scared he was going to leave me and never come back…" His eyes lift up to the radio. "Of course I wanted him around. And I hated lying to him, but I knew that was how he'd react if I said anything."

Which is why you kept lying to him, the car leads. You know, later on, once you were sneaking off with Ruby again.

"I thought I was doing the right thing," Sam fumes. "I thought that killing Lilith would make up for everything. And to kill her, I had to get stronger. And getting stronger meant training with Ruby."

And training with Ruby led to lies on top of other lies, more sneaking around, and the whole demon blood business. Great way to pay back your brother for dying for you!

"I NEVER wanted him to die for me!" Sam hollers, stamping his foot. "It was selfish for him to make that deal and he knows it!"

But Sam, you yourself tried to make a deal after Dean died. Hey pot, have you met the kettle? She endures a long glare from Sam. Don't be pissed at me for calling you on it. It's the truth. I'm just making you confront it.

"I confront it every day," Sam groans. "Every waking minute I think of everything I did wrong and all the ways I fucked up. Trusting Ruby, drinking her blood, breaking the last seal—"


Sam just frowns at her. She sighs. Still don't get it, do you Sam?

"Get what?" Sam barks, irritated.

The most damaging thing you did?

He gives her a 'what are you talking about?' grimace. "What's worse than setting Satan free?"

The Impala's engine revs, and it sounds like a throaty grumble. Guess I'll have to spell it out for you…


The car is heading over a high bridge, and Dean is driving quietly. One of his Zeppelin tapes is playing low, and Dean's thumb is drumming along in half-hearted taps.

Dean's just dropped you off at the motel, the Impala narrates. Two hours ago, you had your encounter with the siren. Sam blanches at once. A half-hour ago, you two stood right next to me and told each other you were fine, when it was clear to all three of us that things were anything BUT fine. I present to you Exhibit A in the form of your brother. And please listen this time, Sam, okay?

"I have been listening."

No, hon. You really haven't been.

A new song comes on—Sam knows all the melodies by now but he still doesn't know the song titles—and Dean resettles himself on the bench seat as he pulls to a stop at a red light.

"Penny for your thoughts?" the car offers. Dean smiles a little.

"You don't carry change."

"No, I carry you, smartass. Now tell me why those gorgeous greens of yours look so damn sad."

Dean scratches behind his neck. "The siren…turned me and Sammy against each other."

The engine roars. "Where is he? I'm running him over right the fuck now."

"He's dead, baby," Dean tells her. "Bobby ganked him. Good thing he did too, cos I was just about to cut my little brother's head off with a fire axe."

"Holy shit."

Dean sucks air through his teeth and sighs it out. "Nothin' holy about it."

"Dean, give yourself a break. Remember what Bobby just told you, huh? Don't beat yourself up about what you couldn't control. The siren put the whammy on you and Sam and you lashed out. What's important is that no one got hurt."

Dean looks away. "We beat each other up pretty good," he confesses. "But the real hurt…that came before."

The image freezes. I want to try something before we go on. No sooner has the car said it than the image changes to a dark room. The view is now through Sam's own eyes. He's looking at Dean, who is holding a knife and starring eye-daggers back at him. The siren is to Sam's right.

"This is my memory…" Sam breathes.

All part of the mojo package. I wanted to get the whole picture of exactly what was said before I show you Dean's reaction, so I'm taking a peek inside your head.

"Please…" Sam's head is shaking back and forth in little no's. "I don't…WANT to go through this again…"

No choice, Sam. You have to face the truth.

The memory plays on. Sam tries to close his eyes, but they won't shut. He stares at Dean, helpless, as his brother speaks first.

"The Sam I knew—he's gone. And it's not the demon blood or the psychic crap. It's the little stuff. The lies, the secrets." Sam's shame shorts out the memory for a moment, and the playback skips ahead. "You're hiding things from me!" Dean yells. Sam's emotions skip it ahead again to the moment Dean utters, "We used to be in this together. We used to have each other's BACKS.

Sam knows what he's going to say next, and he fights as hard as he's able to skip the whole thing. Not so fast, Sam. I want to hear this, and you NEED to hear this.

Past Sam gives his brother a cruel look. "You're too weak to go after her, Dean. You're holding me back. I'm a better hunter than you are…stronger, smarter. I can take out demons you're too scared to go near."

"That's crap," Dean says.

"You're too busy sitting around feeling sorry for yourself, whining about all the souls you tortured in hell. Boohoo."

Dean throws his knife, and the memory shorts out, returning them to the Impala's memory, which is still paused. Neither she nor Sam says a word for a few moments. They both just stare at Dean, frozen in time and looking out the window, like he can't bear to face either of them.

He wasn't exaggerating, the Impala says, shell-shocked.

"It was the siren," Sam insists.

I scolded him for exaggerating…God, Dean, honey, I'm so sorry…I just never believed Sam… Her interior eyes look back at her passenger, and her voice grows cold. I never, EVER thought you could say such awful things.

"It was the siren! I apologized, over and over…he was so pissed at me. I was pissed at me!"

Even though you meant what you said.

Sam bites his lower lip. "No, I didn't."

Dean thought you did.

Sam looks out the other window, face paling.

Dean KNEW you did.

Sam shuts his eyes before the welling tears can escape.

Open your eyes and watch this, Sam. You owe that much to your brother at the very least.

Sam does as he's told. The memory plays on, and Dean unfreezes and turns his eyes back to the road as the light turns green.

"So what happened?" asks the Impala as she moves forward.

"We had words."


Dean clenches his jaw instead of answering. "Come on, Dean, spill. You'll feel better. Pretend I'm your diary or something, I'll right? Look, I'll start you off. Dear Diary, today…"

Dean fronts a smile and replies, "Dear Diary, today my brother told me I'm a worthless and weak cry-baby who's holding him back." The car gasps, and Dean's fake smile turns into a real frown. "Satisfied?"

"No…what? You're exaggerating. Sam would never—!"

"'You're too weak to go after her,'" Dean recites in a bellowing voice. "'You're holding me back. I'm a better hunter than you are.'" He looks at the radio. "That's exactly what he said. Then he told me all I do is sit around and feel sorry for myself and whine about my time in Hell."

Dean reaches down and hits the fast forward on the tape deck, while the Impala's normally purring engine sputters a few times. Dean sits up at once. "Easy, darlin'. Don't choke up over this. It ain't worth it." Dean turns right and mutters to himself, "I know I saw a liquor store around here…"

"He didn't mean it." Her condolence earns her a double eyebrow. "Dean, he didn't. You know Sam—he says stuff in anger all the time, just like your dad did."

"He wasn't angry this time," Dean's voice rumbles. "In fact, I don't think I've ever seen Sam so sure about himself in his life than when he was in that room, smirking at me like I was a Grade-A Loser." Dean's face is stone now, his eyes glued to the road. "He meant it all right. Every word."

"How do you know?"

Dean glances at her and replies in the same, embittered tone, "Because I meant every word I said to him."

Sam shuts his eyes again, though a tear or two escape this time. WATCH, Sam, the Impala scolds him. He opens his eyes with great reluctance, swallowing his emotion as he looks upon his brother. Sees the deep hurt in those green eyes, the wound in his soul. Knows that he's the one that put it there.

"That siren venom…it was like being drunk," Dean goes on. "Not the spins or the hangover, but losing your inhibitions. All those filters you use to keep yourself from saying something stupid? Gone. All that's left is the plain truth, loose lips, and whatever mood you're in at the moment. And I was pissed. So I spoke first. Laid it all out on the table for him," he says with a sweep of his arm. "Told him how much I hate the lies, hate that he keeps things from me, all the damn secrets… Asked him point blank if he was hiding anything else, and he told me it was none of my business." Dean scoffs out a laugh. "Then he turns around and says he didn't tell me about Ruby and their demon outings because I'm too weak to handle it. So what, I'm a fucking charity case now? He's keeping secrets for my own GOOD?"

Sam is the epitome of guilt. "It wasn't like that, Dean," he tells him, not caring that his brother isn't actually sitting next to him. "I was just…I needed…look, I said I'm sor—"

"Whining about Hell…" Dean interrupts in a mutter. He takes a hard left, and one hand lifts away and pinches the area between his eyes. "Yup, that's what I do, Sammy: talk about Hell 24/7. Guess hiding every fucking flashback that I have and drowning the rest out with alcohol isn't good enough."

He's still doing that, you know, the Impala cuts in. Not the drinking…thank God he's cut down on that. But hiding the flashbacks? Oh yeah. He has them all the time, and not just at night.

The liquor store finally comes into view, and Sam watches as Dean parks and then clumps his way into the store. "I haven't noticed," Sam admits extra quietly, scanning his memories for anything he might have missed. He recalls a few nightmares, but during the day… Sure there were quiet times in the car, but I just thought he was still mad at me and just trying to deal. What if he was having flashbacks? God, I was right there and I didn't see… Sam shakes his head and thinks aloud,"But Dean never says anything…"

And why should he? Why the hell should he bother telling you anything anymore? You haven't listened to him for such a long time….

"I tried to get him to talk about the nightmares!" Sam argues. "I wanted him to lean on me for a change, let me help him carry the weight, but he always shrugged it off, said he was fine." Sam exhales and looks at the ceiling. "You can only push Dean so far."

But you kept pushing him to talk about Hell, the Impala points out. For months you asked him, teased him, anything to get him to spill, until he finally let those walls down and talked about it. Do you have ANY idea how scared he was to tell you about how he became a torturer? To admit that he broke and let himself become a monster? Sam, he agonized over it. Half the nightmares he had were about you finding out the truth and leaving him.

Sam's eyes fill with shock, and he remembers Dean whimpering his brother's name in the dark, arms thrashing through yet another nightmare. "I thought he was dreaming he was back in Hell…calling me for help,"Sam murmurs, trance-like as he stares at Dean in the liquor store. "And every time, it was like another smack in the face that I failed him. He'd been through Hell cos I couldn't find a way to keep him out or get him out." He smiles at the same time his world starts to look watery. "And then he'd wake up, see me looking worried, and ask me if I was okay. ME. When he's the one reliving Hell and freaking out about what I'd say...God, Dean…"

He was absolutely terrified that you'd never look at him the same way again, she lets him know. That you'd hate him, disown him, never want to see him again. But once Alistair let the cat out of the bag, he told you anyway. And you didn't disown him, no. You did something much worse, Sam. You called him weak. And then you labeled him a whiner. Sam's head drops as the tears flow freely. Told him all he did was sit around and feel sorry for himself, the Impala presses, even though he was going out of his way to keep his suffering inside and not bother you with it.

"I wish I could take it back," Sam swears, looking at the radio in earnest.

Well, you can't, she says flatly. And the damage is done. He doubled his efforts to hide his PTSD after that. Didn't need you calling him weak again after all…

Sam rubs the heel of his hand over his face, clearing the tears, but the guilt remains. Dean comes back to the car, already taking a swig from his flask, and he sets the beer on the floor next to Sam's feet.

"So what do we do now?" the car asks her driver.

"You? Nothing. Just stay beautiful." He starts the car and looks behind him to make sure no one's coming.

"What about you?"

"Going back to Sam," Dean answers with a sigh. "What else?"

Sam blinks until his water-colored view goes back to a crisp image of his brother. "He came back," he remarks.

You sound surprised.

"I am…was." He thinks back to that night. "Dean came in the door, tossed me a beer, and we both acted like nothing was wrong. But hey, that's the Winchester Way…" Sam shakes his head; he's never liked the Winchester Way, but it's all he knows. "Part of me was so relieved when he came through that door."

And the other part?

Sam deflates as he prepares to answer. "The rest of me was aggravated. Hate to say it, but it's true. And it wasn't because I didn't want Dean around—I did. I really did. But with him there…how he looked at me…I couldn't stand it. I mean times have been bad before…sometimes really bad. But I could always look at Dean and find my strength, y'know? Now…well, then, but yeah…still now sometimes…" Sam licks his lips to ease the words out. "All I see is disappointment. And I can't…" His nostrils flare and he flashes a quivery smile. "I could take it from Dad, but not from Dean. NOT from Dean."

Is that why you kept pushing him away? Because you didn't want to see his face? Sam doesn't answer, just looks down. Oh Sam, she says, sounding disappointed herself. Dean came back to you, even after you said all those awful things. And you repaid him by continuing the lies and the sneak-outs with Ruby! Come on, Sam, did you really think that would earn your brother's approval?

"NO! Course not. I knew he'd—"

If you KNEW, why'd you do it? You're smarter than that, Sam! Dean knows it, I know it, you know it. So why? And don't feed me the same bullshit about avenging Dean's death that you fed your brother. I think we both know that was nothing but a justification.

Sam's face grows stern, but his eyes belie how wretched he feels. "I had to show him that I wasn't his little geek-boy brother anymore," he croaks. "That I was strong, capable, in control…I knew what I was doing." He adds with a frown, "Thought I did anyway." Sam takes in a shaky breath. "Maybe he should've left me that night after all. Would've saved him a lot of trouble…"

Sam looks around as he feels the car tremble. "Impala?" The car makes a sniffly sound, and Sam sees moisture building up on the windshield. "Are you…crying?"

No, she whimpers back. Yes…you just sound so much like he did that night… Sam leans forward, but she whimpers again. Nothing…never mind.

"What night?"

Skip it. You don't want to know. Trust me.

"Impala," Sam says sternly, "what night?"

The horn honks and the windshield wipers clear the moisture. The night you strangled him, okay?

Any remaining color wipes off Sam's face at the mention of that infamous night. The one he beats himself up for almost as much as letting Lucifer out. The night he chose a demon and his blood addiction over his own brother, and said good-bye with his hands around Dean's throat. "What happened?" he asks in undertone.

You don't need to know, the Impala answers quickly, nervous.

"If it's that bad, then yeah, I do need to know." The car trembles on without saying a word, but Sam doesn't give up. "What happened after I left? What did he do?"

He doesn't want you to know.


He'll SELL me if you ever find out. Do you hear me, Sam? Sell me. Or worse, abandon me…leave us BOTH. You think it's bad when he looks at you now…

"I have to know," Sam says, already dreading what he's about to hear. His memory flashes back to Dean's face, so red as he struggles to breathe. "Call it my penance," Sam whispers. "But please. Show me."

Nothing happens; for a moment, Sam's sure she'll take him back to the present. But then the white glow builds and they WHOOSH off again. They're in the parking lot of the nice hotel in Cold Spring. It's late. There's no sign of Dean.

Brace yourself, the Impala murmurs. Never thought I'd see either one of you boys worse off than when you had your brother's corpse in the back seat. Sam's head darts to the left when he sees a flash of movement, but finds no one. I was wrong, the Impala admits cryptically.


Blowing wind.

A dog barking in the far distance.

Then WHAM...something smacks against the driver's side door and falls. The door creaks open a few seconds later, and Dean all but crawls inside.

"Dean! Where have you been?! I saw Sam and Ruby take off almost 30 minutes ago!" He doesn't answer her—just pulls the door shut with his right hand while his left cradles his ribcage. Then his face comes into the light. His left cheek is swollen, and his eyes are red and sunk. "What happened?" she asks in a little voice. Dean says nothing, just starts the car, wincing as he lifts both arms up to steer. He drives out of the parking lot and turns left.

"Take a U-ey," the Impala instructs, "They went the other way." Dean doesn't turn around. "Trust me, hon. They've got a big head-start on us but I know we can catch up to them again. It'll be an all-nighter, but hey, it's not like we're not used to that."

Dean is statue still, save for the occasional wheel adjustments. They leave the city limits and head southwest. "You don't want to go after them," she grasps at last. Still no answer from Dean. Not even a blink. Then she notices several small pools of blood seeping through his shirt. "Dean, you're bleeding."

He glances down for the briefest of moments. "Superficial," he says, sounding a bit hoarse. "Just some glass pieces. Got 'em all out, I think." He looks over his shoulder. "Might have some left in my back."

"Then what the hell are you driving for?!" she shrieks. "My God, Dean, get to a hospital!" Dean falls still again in response. "Dammit, this isn't time to act all macho like you and your brother usually—"

"Brother," Dean grunts. A tear slips out at the word, and he whispers it again. "Brother." Dean turns onto a country road. "Not sure I have a brother anymore," he tells her, sounding more gravelly than the dirt under the Impala's wheels.

"You don't mean that…"

Dean just drives. Miles stretch into minutes.

"What happened in there?" she tries. He shakes his head, muttering that it doesn't matter. "It matters to me." His eyes grow cold. He's shutting down on her. "Please, Dean…I need to know."

Dean pulls to the side of the road. Nothing's around…no farms, no houses. Just grassy fields as far as the eye can see. He shuts the car off and looks at the keys in his hands, now spotted with blood from the cuts across his palm. His other hand grabs the hem of his shirt and carefully rubs the blood away until the keys are pristine. Then he sets them on the shifting lever. They clink together as they settle into a dangle. It's the only sound around.


The addressed leans down and rummages for something under the seat. His neck comes into the light, revealing a series of bruises around the sides of his neck. Each bruise is about the size and shape of a finger. "How'd those get…?" Dean shrugs his jacket up just as she says it, covering the bruises again. "Did you get attacked by something?"

Dean pauses for a moment, lips pursed like he wants to say something, but the moment passes without a word. He finds what he's looking for and brings it up to the light. It's Sam's gun. It, too, gets stained with red by Dean's still-bleeding palm. But he doesn't wipe it off this time, just holds it in that hand and stares at it.

"Dean, you're scaring me."

"That makes two of us," Sam says. He barely recognizes his brother right now. He's too still, for one: his knee isn't bouncing with impatience, his eyes aren't twitching for the next thing to hunt or follow or eat. He isn't saying anything, either, and honestly, when doesn't Dean have anything to say? But the worst is the lack of life. It's like that spark that made Dean DEAN has been extinguished. There's no emotion of any kind in that face, not even the anger Sam expected. Dean is a shell of himself, if that. He just sits with that gun—Sam's own gun, no less—and looks at it like it has all the answers.

Sam's heart drops. Oh no.

"Dean…honey, put down the gun."

He takes off his jacket instead, exposing his bloodied shirt and the ring of bruises around his throat, and drapes the jacket over the bench seat behind him. Then he grabs a small, tattered towel from the back—the one they normally use for quickie gun or knife cleanings. He rolls down the driver's window, threads one edge of the cloth through, closes the window up again, and spreads the towel over the window until it's covered.

Then Dean checks the gun's clip.

"Dean?" the Impala says, more desperation in her voice, "put the gun DOWN."

He snaps the clip back and gives her a smile of defeat. And then he finally speaks.

"I never thought I'd agree with a demon," Dean says, voice still rough from the strangling. "But Ol' Yellow Eyes…he told me a long time ago that this family didn't need me as much as I needed them." He gives a brief smirk. "And I wouldn't believe it. Demons lie, we all know it." His eyes fall downcast and his voice drops with it. "But in my heart...I knew it was true."

"No, Dean…you're wrong," she cries.

"Listen to her, Dean, please," Sam begs, his own tears already trailing down his cheeks.

Dean just looks at the Impala without emotion. "Doesn't matter anymore, baby. My family's gone."

"What about Sam?! He's alive—I saw him, Dean, he's ALIVE."

Dean gives her a nod at that. "But he's still gone." He gestures to his bruised neck. "See this new necklace? Parting gift from Sam." She gasps, and he nods again. "Funny way of saying good-bye, but hey…Sam's always liked to do things his way." Dean switches the safety off the gun. "Now he can do whatever the hell he wants."

"You don't mean that, Dean," she whimpers. "You can't! When does Dean Winchester give up?" Dean shifts in his seat at her words, looking like he's about to explode. "Never, right?" she emphasizes in a watery squeak. "So why is this time any different?"

"Because I'm DONE," he barks. "All right? I'm fucking DONE. Done fighting, done trying, done giving my fucking ALL and getting nothing back. And now that Sam's given me my walking papers…" He lifts the gun to his right temple. "I just don't see what the point is anymore."

She's sobbing now. "Dean…please, no…"

"I'm sorry."


"Take care of yourself, sweetheart." His finger squeezes the trigger.

"DANTE'S WOODS!" she yells. His eyes flash open and he stills his finger. Sam's heart is pounding so hard he's sure his ribs are going to crack as he waits out the year-long second. "Dante's woods," the Impala breathes. "You said it was unfair to end up in Dante's woods. After everything you've been through, do you really deserve the woods?"

Dean drops his hand and the gun into his lap. "Dammit."

He read Dante's Inferno back when his deal was running out, she tells Sam. Trying to guess what circle of Hell he'd end up in. Sam rubs a hand over his quivering jaw as this new, morbid information sinks in. The Woods of the Suicides really pissed him off. He didn't think it was fair that people that were done with their shitty lives would end up in Hell, glued to dead trees and getting their bodies torn apart by vultures over and over again.

Sam stares at his brother. So many things he didn't know… So much I missed. He reaches over to put his hand on Dean's shoulder, but his hand passes right through. Can't comfort him now cos I wasn't there then, he realizes. The bile and self-loathing churn inside him as he looks upon his brother once more. You were going to kill yourself. And it's my fault. I drove you to suicide. God… The tears burn his eyes as they cascade forward—punishment for being so blind for so long.

Dean tugs the blanket down from the window, and Sam wipes his sleeve over his face as he looks on. "Dante got it wrong," Dean says, wiping the blood from Sam's gun. "Hell was much worse." He puts the gun back where he got it. "And I don't deserve a return trip," he says as he sits back up, acknowledging the Impala's point at last. Then he sinks down and rests his head over the top of the bench seat, exhausted by his own despair. The car is crying again, this time out of relief, and a ghost of a smile reaches Dean's lips. "You rust up on me and you'll regret it," he mutters.

She laughs, voice still strained with emotion. They just sit for a little while, car and driver taking comfort in each others' presence. The only movement is Dean's hand rubbing at his neck. Sam wants to speak but he doesn't dare. He knows there's more, and he isn't about to miss it.

"What am I supposed to do now?" Dean asks at last.

"You asking me or God?" she replies softly. He smirks and lifts his head off the seat.

"Existence, I guess." He gives his neck another rub.

"I still can't believe…" she begins, but finds she can't finish the statement. Dean looks at her and nods.

"I know. Can't really believe it myself." Dean's voice catches and he coughs. He swallows, gathers himself. Thinks back. Stares off. "I tried to pry him off but he just held on tighter. Looked right into my eyes, and all I saw was hate." Dean shakes his head back and forth, slow and shaken. "Couldn't see my brother…ANYwhere…in there. Just hate. I never knew he hated me that much."

Sam is crying again, the regret overwhelming his system. "I don't hate you, Dean. I DON'T. I'm so sorry…"

"How did it end?" the Impala asks carefully.

"He just let go," Dean relates. "Told me I didn't know him and never would. Then he got up and walked away. So I threw Dad's ultimatum at him…" Dean looks guilty as he says it. "Stupid, I know, but it came out. Went over about as well as it did last time: Sam was out the door in a heartbeat. Now he's gone." His mouth twitches. "Probably for good this time."

"You don't know that."

Dean scowls. "He strangled me and left me for dead. You really think he's gonna come back, much less apologize?"

"He could've killed you, but he didn't," she reminds him. "He left you alive. That means Sam—our Sam—is still in there somewhere. He still loves you, Dean."

Dean shakes his head. "No. He didn't let go cos he loved me, or even out of pity. He strangled me to show me one last time that he was strong and I was weak. He left me alive so I'd know who won." His gaze falls on the 'empty' seat beside him, looking right into his invisible brother's face. "I never thought being brothers was about winning," he explains, "or who's stronger, who's smarter…who's RIGHT." His green eyes fill with sadness, mirroring Sam's teary, hazel ones. "It was about being there. And I tried…" Dean smiles and shakes his head again, "I fucking tried. Every time he pushed me away, I'd come right back, cos that's what I do. Every time I woke up and found his bed empty cos he was off with her, I stayed put so I'd be there for him in the morning. Every time he LIED…and fuck he lied to me a lot the last few months… But I didn't call him on it more than twice. And tonight, after tracking his ass across the state, I told Sam I'd go with him, that we'd kill Lillith together." Dean looks up and gives the world the face of rejection. "But it wasn't enough!" he strains, smiling unhappily. "I wasn't…"

Dean cuts himself off and tucks in his chin, eyelids shutting tight and scrunching up.

Notice how he didn't say one word about seal breaking, demon blood, Lucifer, or your powers, the Impala speaks up. And remember his words about having trouble forgiving and forgetting? He didn't mention any of that stuff then, either. Do you finally understand why?

Sam nods, heart on his sleeve and guilt around his neck like a noose. "I hurt my brother," he acknowledges, all four words stabbing him in the throat as they come out. His voice weakens as he speaks again. "Me. I hurt him personally, way before that night at the penthouse." He peers at Dean, barely able to look him in the face. "Made him think he was useless…that I didn't want him as my brother anymore."

FINALLY, the car revs. He can be taught.

Dean clears his throat, and everyone's attention returns to him. "Well, in the immortal words of Homer Simpson, 'Trying is the first step toward failure.' Damn straight." Dean grabs the keys and starts the car. "Sam's made his choice. Now I'm making mine."

"Where are we headed?"

"Bobby's. He'll want to know what happened."

The white light picks up one last time and WHOOSH, they're back in the Ohio countryside. The farmer's fence is still inches from the car's grill, but it's now been flattened to the ground. Sam checks his watch. They've only been gone for 45 minutes.

"So what now?" Sam asks.

"You drive me back onto the road for starters. Then you go buy your beers and head back to the motel. Maybe think about what you did along the way, hmm?"

Sam nods and starts the car. "Fair enough."

Another 15 minutes go by and he's a block away from the motel, waiting out a red light. His hands are sweaty, his tongue feels more like a wool sock someone shoved into his mouth, and he keeps checking and rechecking that he got Dean's favorite beer. He's done 50 checks and he's still positive he doesn't see El Sol on the label, even though it's right there.

"It'll be fine, Sam," she assures him. "He's still Dean. He'll yell at you out of pure worry for taking so long to bring back the beer, and that'll be that."

Sam gulps anyway. "What do I even say to him? After everything I've learned tonight…where do I begin? How do I even start to apologize—"

"Whoa, hold on. Who said anything about a Hallmark moment?"

Sam frowns. "I'm not supposed to apologize?"

"Of course not! If you hit Dean with a grand apology and start talking about all this stuff, he'll shut down on you, and then he'll get pissed off at both of us for talking behind his back. So keep your big mouth shut for a change."

Now Sam REALLY frowns. "So I can't confront him about this? Not even to say I'm sorry?!" He resists the urge to pull his hair out. "Then why the hell'd you bother showing me all that stuff?"

"I told you, Sam—it's to help you both escape your destiny. To get you two back on track! To CHANGE. And the change has to start with you." The light goes green, and Sam eases them forward. "Learn from your mistakes," she tells him. "Give as much for Dean as he does for you. Then and only then will you two truly be standing on the same level. Capiche?"

Sam pulls into the parking lot. "Capiche," he smiles. Parking the car in a spot two spaces from their room's door, he shuts her off and glides his hand over the steering wheel. "Thank you. For everything."

"Ahh, so you like the tough love, huh?" she teases. "Come back for more anytime."

"So we'll get to talk like this from now on?"

"No idea, sweetie. Guess it all depends on you, and whether you'll keep listening. I hope you do."

Sam nods and opens the door. "Oh and one last thing, Sam." He leans back in. "If you ever drive me into a semi again, I'm going Christine on your ass. Understood?"

He grins. "Yes ma'am." He grabs the beer and steps out of the car, and as he walks in front of her, she jolts forward. He jumps back. "I get it, I get it!" Sam hurries to the door and looks at her one last time for the evening. "G'night." Then just as he puts his hand on the doorknob, the door swings open. Dean is right there and looking furious. Well, furiously worried, anyway.

"Where the hell have you been?" Dean accosts him as Sam enters the room.

"I'm sorry," Sam utters, setting the beer on the bed.

"What, did you go to the next state to buy beer? And why the hell wasn't your cell phone on?"

"I'm sorry!" Sam says again. He wonders if Dean understands the weight of Sam's statement. As if on cue, Dean spins him around and looks him in the eye.

"Did something happen?"

Sam doesn't answer. He can't. Knowing what he knows, what he did, what Dean very nearly did…it's almost too much to bear. But Sam takes a deep breath and gathers his courage anyway. The change has to start with me, he reminds himself, so he forces his eyes up to Dean's, bracing himself for the disappointment he's sure to see. But it's no longer there. All he sees now in his big brother's eyes is concern. And attention. And…love. Sam's starts to get misty eyed, and his smile warbles as he fights to keep his lip from trembling.

"Sammy?" Dean asks, stepping closer. "Hey…what happened? I'm not mad, all right? But you're worrying me here." Sam gives a little laugh, but his eyes well up anyway. Dean puts his hand on his shoulder. "You can tell me," Dean says gently. "I'm right here and I'm not going anywhere."

And Sam can't help it: he wraps his long arms around Dean and envelops him in a bear hug. I'm sorry I lied and I'm sorry I pushed you away and I'm sorry I ever made you feel like you weren't good enough! he yells in his mind, squeezing Dean tight. I'll make it up to you, Dean, I swear. I love you. You're my big brother and I'm so lucky that you are.

To his great surprise, Dean doesn't comment or even try to pull away. When Sam finally lets go, Dean's eyes are wide, but cheerful.

"Now I know something happened out there," he remarks. Sam laughs, smiles, and grabs a beer for Dean, then another for himself.

"It was nothing," Sam says at last. "Had to swerve to avoid something in the road. Ended up in a ditch."

"A ditch? Is my baby okay?"

"She's fine, Dean, I promise." He smiles again as Dean goes to the door and has a look for himself. "I'll take her for a car wash first thing in the morning."

Dean shuts the door. "Make sure you get the deluxe wash. She likes that undercarriage foam. Makes her feel fresh down there."

"So I've heard," Sam smirks. Dean throws an eyebrow at him.


"Nothing." Sam gets up and fishes his cell charger out of his bag. "Anyway, my phone's battery was dead, so I couldn't call. Eventually I drove the car back onto the road, got the beer, and here I am."

Dean gives him a long, studious look, and Sam lets him. He has nothing to hide. If Dean would ever guess that his own car took his little brother on a magical trip through Memory Land, Sam wouldn't deny it. But Dean doesn't guess it: he just shrugs and turns on the TV. "Anything you want to watch?"

"Nah. Just going to take a quick shower and get some sleep. It's been a long day."

"I'll drink to that," Dean answers.

Sam shuts the bathroom door and strips. He takes a long shower, washing the day off, letting his aching balls soak, and, most importantly, scrubbing at the layers of remorse that cover him. Most of it remains, but he manages to get a few areas of his conscience cleared. Everything he learned tonight was so awful, but at the same time, illuminating. For the first time in weeks, Sam feels like the ground underneath him that had given way when he'd released Lucifer is now firm again, and he can take that first step toward the rest of his life. And I won't be alone, he smiles, both in gratitude and relief.

Once he's dried off, he goes back to the main room and finds his brother asleep. Dean is lying on top of his covers, still wearing all his clothes except his boots, and his arms are crossed tight. His head is shaking back and forth a little, mouth mumbling and eyebrows creased. Another night, another nightmare, Sam sighs to himself, wishing he could make those go away. For now, he gently lifts the covers up from under Dean's legs and covers him up. It's a start.

Sam checks on his phone and finds his battery recharged. He unplugs it and, out of habit, checks for messages. There's one voicemail waiting for him. Sam dials the number and listens in.

"Heya Sam!"

It's Gabriel.

"Hope you enjoyed your lesson tonight. More importantly, I hope you learned from it. I'm gonna be keeping an even closer watch on you two than I normally do, and believe me, pal," his cheerful voice grows serious, "you don't want to see me disappointed." Sam nods and presses the button to erase. "Wait, one more thing!" Gabriel says. Sam takes a close look at the phone, wondering if the archangel/trickster is actually right there. "I sorta owe you a solid too. You know, for not leaving me in the ring of fire, even after I turned you into a car." He laughs. Sam doesn't. "So here it is. Remember that night you and Ruby killed that nurse and you drank her blood and let my evil brother out?" Gabriel laughs again. "Of course you do. Anyhoodle. Dean did call you, but Zachariah messed with it. Thought you might like to hear what Dean really said."

Sam's mind is reeling. What he really—? Dean…Zachariah…he did what?

The message bleeps, and Dean's voice fills Sam's ear:

'Hey, it's m-me, ah… (clears throat) Look, I'll just get right to it. I'm still pissed, and I owe you a serious beat down, but….I shouldn't have said what I said. I'm not Dad. We're brothers, y'know? We're family. And, uh, no matter how bad it gets, that doesn't change. Sammy, I'm sorry—' BEEP.

Sam nearly drops the phone. He's shocked…touched…overwhelmed. "He never gave up on you," Gabriel says in a kind voice. "Make sure you return the favor. Take care, Sam."

Sam shuts off his phone and turns to face his brother. To Sam's great relief, Dean has relaxed. He seems to be sleeping peacefully. Sam climbs into his own bed and shuts off the lights. He settles his head down into his pillow, and he shuts his eyes.

"We're brothers," Sam whispers.

He falls asleep, content.