Thanks for reading and for all the really great comments everyone has shared with me. hugs, ember

Chapter Thirty-seven

Dressed in the only suit he owned, Sam stood poised to knock on the front door of Drake's house, but as he struggled to think of what he should say to his brother, he yanked his hand away and stuffed it into his pocket. It had been two days since the younger man's father had died in the fire at the winery, and in that time Sam hadn't seen or heard from Drake once. If it hadn't been for Bear and Gary giving him the information on when the funeral would take place, he would have more than likely held off longer before confronting his brother.

Glancing back at the Impala, he saw his father nudge his head toward the door, and once again raised a hand to knock, but never got the chance as the door swung open and a middle aged blond-haired woman jumped startled to find him standing on her doorstep.

"Can I help you?" she asked politely, rubbing at her red-rimmed grayish-blue eyes.

Sam cleared his throat and with a faint smile he said, "My name's Sam Winchester – I'm a friend of Drake's. Is he here?"

"You're Sam Winchester?" Her brows pulled together slightly, and when he nodded she held up a finger for him to wait as she went back inside. Within a matter of moments she returned and handed him an envelope. "Drake's only said two things since his father died – he wanted me to give you this when you came looking for him – he said it was important that you had it, and then he told me to tell you to go away and never come back." Drawing in a shaky breath, she went on to say, "Since then he just sits in his room all day – I don't think he's sleeping, he won't eat . . . I can't even get him to get dressed for the funeral."

The moment he touched the envelope and felt the contents inside, he knew it was Dean's amulet, and his heart sank to the pit of his stomach. "Mrs. Marlowe, can I please come in and talk to him?"

"I don't know if that's such a good idea." With a quick glance over her shoulder toward the staircase, she looked back to Sam and shook her head. "I don't want to upset him more than he already is – maybe if you came back in a few days. . . ." her voice trailed as she drew in a staggered breath.

"Look, I promise I won't stay long, but I really need to talk to him." Sam held his breath as he waited for her answer, praying she would give in, but doubting she would. He needed to see his little brother, needed to know if he was okay, yet from the sounds of things, he knew that wasn't the case. If he was alone and hurting, it would only be a matter of time before he searched out a way to hide from his pain and Sam couldn't let that happen. "Please, Mrs. Marlowe, it's really important."

Uncertainty filled her glistening eyes, and biting at her lower lip, she finally conceded with a slight nod. "His bedroom's upstairs – the last room on the right. We're supposed to be at the church in an hour, so if there was some way you could get him to get ready to go, I'd really appreciate it."

"I'll try," Sam managed to say, giving her an awkward half-smile as he slipped past her and headed up the stairs.

As he rounded the corner, Drake's cousins came darting out of one of the bedrooms and raced past him, bounding down the stairs and out of sight. Although he should have expected they would come for the funeral, the thought of more of Drake's family in potential danger set Sam on edge, and he had no doubt his little brother would be feeling the same way.

When he reached Drake's bedroom, he glanced down and noticed a trail of salt in front of the door, and as he looked back down the hallway he saw salt lining each of the other doorways as well. A grim smile slipped across Sam's features, relieved that his brother had thought to safeguard his home.

He knocked on the door, waited several long moments, but when Drake failed to responded, he pushed the door open and stepped inside. His breath caught in his throat at the sight of his little brother – it was exactly like looking at Dean in the months following his return from Hell. Dark circles smudged the rims of his dull green eyes. He hadn't shaved in days, and if Sam wasn't mistaken, his little brother was still wearing the same clothes he'd been wearing before the fire at the winery. He sat on his mattress, sharpening a knife that looked very similar to the one Dean had owned, and beside the bed there were several guns that appeared to have been checked and cleaned recently.

"Hey, lil' brother," he said, taking a seat on a chair beside the bed. He didn't expect Drake to respond, and wasn't surprised when his brother continued to sharpen his knife as if he hadn't even noticed Sam enter the bedroom. "I came to go with you to your father's funeral," he added, and saw his brother pause momentarily from his task, his hand tightening around the handle of the blade.

Red-rimmed eyes briefly met and held his gaze before Drake lowered his head and continued onward with his work, leaving Sam to carry on with the awkward one-sided conversation. "It wasn't your fault, Drake. You did everything you could do to save your dad, so you can't blame yourself for his death."

Sam leaned over and placed the envelope Drake's mother had given to him on the bed beside his brother. "This belongs to you – it's always been yours, so I won't take it back." Drake peered down at the envelope, and then through veiled lashes looked up at Sam. "Drake, you need to get up, get showered and dressed so you can go to your father's funeral."

"Why?" Drake finally responded with a shaky breath and subtle shrug. "He's not there . . . it's just a goddamned empty casket – or hell, maybe they scooped up some of the ashes from the rubble and threw them in there so it would feel like we were actually burying him properly."

Gary had told Sam how they'd found Drake's father on the ceiling in one of the offices, and further explained how the ceiling had burst into flames shortly after they'd found the Fire Chief. Drake had witnessed the whole thing which in all likelihood was Lucifer's intention. He'd wanted to drive an insurmountable wedge between Sam and Drake, and used the younger man's father to achieve his goal, but in doing so he only served to make Sam more determined than ever to bring his family together as Dean had wanted.

"I should've saved him, Sam, but instead I was too busy trying to replace him . . . how do I live with the knowledge that while he was dying I was asking John to be a father to me?" Tossing his knife onto the bedside table, Drake drew in a ragged breath. "I can't . . . an' there's no way for me to ask him to forgive me for what I've done."

"Drake, your father didn't die because of anything you said or did, and I won't let you blame yourself. You loved your father and he knew it."

"Whether he knew it or not, it doesn't change a thing. He's still dead, and we both know it's because of me."

Unable to meet Drake's eyes, Sam peered around his brother's room, gaze stopping short when he spied a razor blade on his brother's desk. On one side of the thin piece of steel he noticed faint white trails, and on the other side he saw two lines of cocaine intersecting to form a cross. He looked back to his brother. His red-rimmed eyes were dilated – something he should have noticed the moment he walked in the door, but conveniently overlooked.

"Are you high?" he asked, although he didn't really need any further confirmation.

"What do you think?"

"I think you're chasing a high to escape from reality – Dean drank to block out his pain . . . I ran away, but you – you're trying to kill yourself. I can't let that happen. So if I have to, I'll drag your ass out of here, lock you up somewhere and keep you there until you're off drugs for good – an' believe me when I say I don't care how long it'll take because I'm not going to let you leave me behind again!" Sam pushed to his feet, strode the distance to the desk.

"Sam, don't!" Drake shouted, leapt to his feet just as Sam swiped a hand across the surface, scattering the remaining powder. "I needed that!"

"I need you – I can't do this alone!" Sam shouted back, recalling how Dean said nearly the same thing to him once.

"Yes, you can."

"Well, I don't want to," Sam mimicked the words his older brother had spoken to him, finally realizing how hard Dean struggled to keep what little family they had together. "I'm not giving up on you – I'm not letting any more demons tear our family apart."

"Our family?" Gesturing between the two of them, Drake's brows pulled together incredulously as he narrowed his eyes on Sam. "You talk about our family, but what about mine? What about my dad?" Drake repeatedly jabbed a finger into his chest. "I watched my father burn on that ceiling an' there wasn't a damn thing I could do to save him . . . he needed me, an' I let him die."

"An' you wanted to stay right there with him . . . ." Swallowing hard against the thick lump forming his throat, Sam closed the gap between them, and looked his brother square in the eye. "I know how that feels, Drake. I watched my girlfriend Jessica die the same way, and just like Gary pulled you out of that burning building, Dean pulled me out. I would've stayed and died with her . . . God, you don't have any idea how much I wanted to – I loved her so damn much. Then finding her killer was the only thing I could think about for the longest time, and it fueled so much hatred in my heart that at times it terrified the hell out of me . . . I was so afraid of what I was capable of doing – of what I might become . . . ."

Confusion furrowed at Drake's brow as he stared long and hard at Sam. "You never told that to Dean."

"I've never told that to anyone before, but now I'm telling you both."

With a faint smile, Drake held up a single finger. "That's one . . . you still owe me nine more." His smile faded, and turning his back on Sam he trudged to his bed and slumped down onto the mattress. Head lowered, he raked a hand through his shaggy bangs, and then glanced up at Sam. "We can't beat the devil, Sammy. He'll keep finding ways to tear us apart until you give in an' say yes so how do we stand a chance?"

"I don't believe that." Sam took a seat beside his brother, leaned forward to rest his arms on his thighs, and clasped his hands together. "We're family, Drake. More than family . . . Dean – he's still lives through you an' me, an' that's gotta mean something."

"It's not enough, Sam. You're not strong enough . . . I'm not strong enough."

"Maybe we're not strong enough when we're alone, but we aren't alone." Sam drew in a slow measured breath as he thought of all the times he'd left Dean to fend for himself, and vowed it would never happen again. "They believe it's our destiny to fight each other in the end – but I think our true destiny is being brothers through it all, come Hell or high water, an' that's something angels and demons can never understand."

"You said they want us to fight each other," Drake met and held Sam's gaze, "why?"

For what seemed the longest time, Sam remained silent, fearing if he told Drake he was Michael's vessel he would agree to do as the archangel wanted him to do. But then he realized it was his brother's decision to make, and could only pray he would make the right choice. "You're Michael's vessel – I'm Lucifer's vessel . . . you're Michael's, an' we're supposed to fight it out to the death to determine if everyone lives or dies."

"I'm what?" Drake's green eyes grew wide as understanding dawned on him. Pursing his lips, he shook his head. "I won't do it, Sam, I won't be the one to determine everyone else's fate – I'm just a stupid firefighter from Nowhere America – God would never ask that of me."

"I think God wants us to make a choice," Sam said with a slight smile, "I think He's tired of brothers always turning on each other, fighting bitterly, killing each other – Cain an' Abel . . . Michael an' Lucifer – He wants us to choose to be brothers first and foremost, and He's waiting for us to realize that."

With a curt nod, Drake asked, "How am I supposed to keep my mother safe?"

"No matter what it takes, we'll keep her safe," Sam vowed. "We just can't give up on each other."

"No matter what you might've thought, I never gave up on you, Sam," Drake uttered, and in that moment, Sam knew it was Dean talking to him. "I know it might've seemed that way, an' deep down a part of me might've wanted to, but in the end you're always going to be my brother an' I love you more than anything."

"I know." Sam smiled through the tears clouding his vision. "An' that's why we're going to win."