A/N: Have you ever started out a fic with a concept, only to realize in the middle that you're basically writing a tag/coda/etc to what feels like every episode you've yet to write about but you can't stop because otherwise there's no point? No?
(That said, I did enjoy writing this.)
"Tell me again," Mary sighs into his arms.
He grins. "We're going to get a house in Lawrence," he murmurs over her head. "Have a gazillion kids. Two boys, three girls. The boys, of course, will all want to be like their old man, be baseball champs, and the girls -"
"The girls are mine."
"Naturally. And we'll drive them to school in the van I found in Charlie's garage, after I fix it up a little of course - and we'll move into a bigger house in Lawrence, because the girls will all want their own bedrooms, probably -"
"That's one big van we got there," she hums contentedly. "How much did you say it was?"
"Cheap enough to afford," he glosses over the detail. "Don't worry about it."
She turns, look at him. "You're getting it though, aren't you? No take-backs," she says seriously. "Not even if it's... not exactly what you paid for."
He has a funny feeling that she's talking about something else, but he kisses her and says, "No take-backs, I promise."
"327 four barrel, 275 horses. A little TLC and this thing is cherry," the stranger tells him, fond smile as he caresses the sleek black hood.
John eyes the Impala, smile on his own face. "You know man, you're right." He feels the stirring of longing in his belly, bites his lip as he curbs it - he's supposed to get a family car, not the car of his midlife crisis dreams, the car he'll drive Mary to the hospital with, the car they'll both drive to school and baseball games and, and -
Looks like he's an easy read, though, because the stranger quirks an eyebrow at him and says with the utmost puzzlement, "Then what are you buying that thing for?"
He sighs, remembering Mary. "I kinda promised someone I would," he says reluctantly.
"Over a '67 Chevy? I mean, come on, this is the car of a lifetime. Trust me," he says, and it has to be something about the car or the air because suddenly John has the desire to do just that, "this thing's still gonna be badass when it's 40."
He sends a little mental apology to Mary, extends his hand and says, "John Winchester. Thanks."
She eyes Dean-whatever-his-real-name-actually-is warily, not understanding his sudden difficulty speaking, why his eyes suddenly shine and his voice is croaky, like something's caught in his throat.
Was it something she said?
"...Even if this sounds really weird," he adds urgently. "Will you promise me that you will remember?"
She frowns cluelessly. "Uh... Okay."
"On November second 1983, don't get out of bed. No matter what you hear, or what you see. Promise me you won't get out of bed."
Guy's crazy, she thinks. "Okay."
Something wakes her up.
"John...?" she murmurs, and throws her arm out. Except it doesn't hit anything but empty space.
It takes her a second to realize, oh, John's not here.
Must be watching TV again, damn that man, Mary grumbles to herself. She lays there, listening to the night's silence, the faint sounds of a movie playing in the living room from under the floor.
And there it is again. That strange, off-kilter sound.
She frowns, sits up, places her bare feet on the carpet.
Time to investigate.
The dark figure turns. The duffle bag makes a gentle swish as it rustles against the door, and moonlight hits his face - Dad always leaves at night. "Yeah, kiddo?"
He bites his lip. Goes for it.
"There's a soccer game," he blurts. "Tuesday."
A brow lifts. "And?"
Goddamn it, if it wasn't for his stupid brother... "It's - it's the championship, the division championship, Sam's the star player and he worked really hard, and, and all the parents will be there and Sam thinks you won't," he explains breathlessly.
The words hang in the air, frozen, still.
Dean flushes. He stares at the ground, embarrassed yet determined to keep going. "So - so can you? Come, I mean, can you come?"
"It's the last game, Dad."
His dad's hand chucks his chin, raises Dean's eyes to meet the familiar dark, piercing gaze. For once, though, it looks softer. Almost... sorrowful. "What I do is important, Dean. You of all people should know that. Saving lives matters more than going to a soccer game."
He doesn't back off. Refuses to, in fact. "This matters," he replies fiercely. "Sammy matters."
Dad looks away first, runs a hand through his hair. "What time?" he sighs.
You gotta be kidding. His heart pounds in his ears, and it takes him a second to find his voice - "F-five thirty." Please don't be kidding.
"...Okay," Dad says finally, smiling a little. He straightens, heaves the duffel over his shoulder. Ruffles Dean's spiky hair. "Okay. I'll come."
"Promise?" he makes sure, not even caring how old he sounds, which is not very much.
"Yeah, Dean. I promise."
Sam comes to him at a run, face flushed and wet hair stubbornly sticking to his forehead. "Dean, Dean! I did it!" he yells excitedly, tackling Dean in a great big sweaty hug. His head barely comes up to Dean's chest, the little midget, and for a second Dean reflects that this is how things should be. "We won! We won we won we won!"
His arms close around his brother even as he teases, "What, really? So you mean you remembered which goal to aim at?"
Sam pushes him away, sputtering indignantly, "What - Dean, you - you jerk -"
He laughs lightly. "Relax, Sammy, I watched the whole thing. You were awesome out there, bro. Seriously kicked butt."
The wide grin returns. "And you saw, right? You saw me score?"
"'Course I saw, twerp," Dean replies, smiling, and tousles Sam's hair. "Everyone did."
He looks over at the stands, the field, the parking lot, a tiny part of him still hoping... hoping.
"What's wrong?" Sam asks, sharp as always. He frowns, shadow falling over his face. "...Is Dad okay?"
"Dad's always okay," he says. "Hey, want to get some ice cream?"
They're quiet. The windshield glitters with raindrops, smearing shadows on their faces.
"Here. It's here," Sam says abruptly.
Dean turns the Impala, pulls over next to a curb and a sign.
His foot is heavy on the brake. The engine keeps running.
"So..." Sam's voice suddenly sounds small, unsure. "So I guess I'll - guess I'll just... go, then..."
He exhales. "Wait," the word hurls itself out of him. He retrieves his wallet from his back pocket, empties it. "Here."
The green eyes widen. "What - Dean, I - I can't, I can't take this from you-"
"Yes you can," he snaps. The words echo harshly before they fade into the night, and he stops, breathes, reins himself in. "Yes you can," he repeats, more quietly. "How much money you got, huh? The - the scholarship, it won't cover everything, right? So. Take it."
"I," Sam begins, ready to argue again. And just maybe, Sam sees something, or realizes that this is - it, because suddenly he swallows, stops protesting. "Thanks... thanks, Dean."
He doesn't acknowledge the surrender - it's common sense, nothing more and nothing less - just roughly thrusts the money at Sam's hand. "Just, promise me something?" he says, staring forward resolutely, because he'd give Sam everything, the entire world, and there's no need to burden the kid with that, to let Sam to see it all in his eyes. Not when there's nothing left for Sam to take, or for Sam to want.
And after all, Sam probably already knows.
"You can - you can go. It's okay, I - I know you can't stay. Just - if you need anything. Money, food... I don't know, strippers. Call me. Okay? Call me."
Sam stares at him and he stares back at Sam, both of them drinking in one last view.
One last memory.
"Yeah," Sam promises quietly. "Yeah, Dean. Of course I will."
"-ood, his vitals seem to have - ah, Mr. Winchester? ...Sam? Sam, can you hear me?"
Everything feels like it should hurt.
He moans in confusion. Why doesn't it hurt?
"Sam? Come on, wake up for me. You can do it, Sam, come on."
His eyes flutter open. The world's a murky white blur.
Purple. A glove. "That's it," the kind voice says. The glove turns his face up. The latex feels strange against his skin. "That's it, there we go."
He has hundreds of questions, but somehow they're so hard to ask. "Where," he whispers, rasps, settling on one.
The glove seems to understand. "Stanford Medical Center," it answers, briskly arranging his blanket around him. "You were in a car accident."
He frowns. "I - I don't -"
"Don't worry, it's not uncommon to forget that kind of thing. It'll probably come back to you later. Now - Sam? Sam?"
"Stay with me, kid. Now, your student insurance will cover most of the costs, all right? So no need to concern yourself about that. However, I don't see an emergency contact listed here, which is a bit of a problem. It's standard procedure to call in cases like these -"
Sigh. "There anyone we can call, Sam? Anyone you want us to call?" Pause. "I hate to tell you this, but you need to understand that you might be staying here for a while, Sam. The last thing you need is to be alone."
His eyes close. Faces - well one face, really - flash through his head. He shakes his head mutely.
Gentle. "There has to be someone. A parent, a girlfriend, maybe a sibling..."
"No," Sam says desperately. He struggles to stay awake, which is surprisingly hard considering the loud beeping rattling his ears. "You can't call, you can't - I don't want you to, I left -" It's only been a couple of months into the semester, what would - what would Dean say, he'd get angry - no, he'd be worried, really worried - "It's, it's not fair, I left - I left - "
"Whoa - okay, okay Sam, calm down! Just stay still - I won't call anyone, all right? Promise, if that's what you want, I - no, Sam, lie back down, I promise. I promise."
"I'll make the interview, Jess," he says as he shoves things in the old duffel bag. It's not like he hasn't used it in college - last time was probably for one of the impromptu camping trips he'd gone on with Brady, actually - but for some reason all that comes to mind now is the last time his family moved.
Or the last time he'd been there for it, anyway.
He had tossed the bag on the bed next to Dean and started cramming stuff in, pissed about having to add one more school to his high school transcript, having to be once again just the new kid with the ratty backpack and way-too-big clothes, when Dean touched his shoulder for a second and said don't forget this and handed him his Stanford admissions packet as casually as if it was just another waylaid piece of homework.
He remembers staring at his brother in horror. Dean, he'd said helplessly, feeling like there was so much to say, to explain, but coming up only with a lame, don't tell Dad.
I won't, Dean said, and that was it, all they ever spoke of Stanford. But Sam would always remember Dean's face as he said it.
...His big brother had always been an open book.
He snaps back to the present. "This is only for a couple days," he tells her, trying to be reassuring as he can as he moves around room. Goddamn it, did he forget to bring socks?
She laughs incredulously. "Sam, please -" she starts, trying to slow him down, "just stop for a second."
He sighs, looks at her.
"You sure you're okay?" she asks, her smile wry and worried. He can't blame her - leaving in the dead of night aside, he's probably been more volatile in the past couple of hours than in three years of college. No wonder she's concerned.
But then, Dean just has that effect on people. On him. There's no use trying to fight it.
He laughs a little then, because sometimes he thinks that's all his childhood was, fighting Dean, fighting Dean's charm.
"I'm fine," he says. Which, no, but whatever. Close enough.
Predictably, she's not all that reassured. Her cute little face is timid with anxiety even as she tries to play it off as lightheartedly as he has. "It's just... you won't even talk about your family. And now you're taking off in the middle of the night to spend a weekend with them? And with Monday coming up, which is kind of a huge deal..."
He smiles a little inside, caught between hating making her worry and loving that she is. It's a strange contradiction, but one he could wallow in forever, and his mind wanders to that jewelry shop on Penn Street, to the white gold band and the elegant diamond setting, the clerk's assurance that it'll be put on hold until he comes back for it.
Forever, he thinks again. Strange how the word feels more like a blessing than a trap, when once he would have done anything to escape it.
...When once, he did.
The thought sobers him. "Hey," he says softly. "Everything's going to be okay."
Just this one more hunt, and then he's out.
"I will be back in time. I promise."
Everything's still, dark. It would be almost eerie, except this is home. And he's so glad to be home.
"Jess?" he calls. He hopes she's awake. After the past couple of days Sam could really use a hug, a sweet smile, a reminder why he's doing this, why he's here and not... there, on the road.
The realization hits him as hard as when he left for Stanford - possibly harder, he'd been so angry then. I don't know when I'll see him again.
...If I'll see him again.
"You home?" Sam tries one more time, hoping, something inside him feeling like a kid again, coming home from school, Dad off on a hunt and big brother messing around the house somewhere doing big brother things.
He passes by the counter, notices the platter of cookies - chocolate chip, his favorite - and the sensation sharpens as he remembers the crispy, half-charcoal confections his brother had made from a neighbor's recipe, once upon a time. They'd all agreed, laughingly, that maybe Dean should stick to store-bought mixes, but they had eaten the entire batch anyway.
Missed you! Love you! he reads, and smiles. He takes one, raises it to his mouth.
It's delicious, as usual. Perfect.
This, he thinks. This is why I'm here.
He hears the shower running. Ah, so that's where she is, he realizes. Of course she's here, of course she hasn't left. Of course he's not alone.
I'm home, he sighs contentedly.
He heads up the stairs. It's late, and he has an interview in the morning.
Dean narrows his eyes in a frown, then shows him a spoon. "Bend this."
He throws his arms up exasperatedly. Of course it's impossible for Dean to take anything seriously. "I can't turn it on and off, Dean."
"Well, how'd you do it?"
He bites his lip. "I don't know, I can't control it. I saw you die," he tries to focus past the words, not think about what it really means, bang and blood spraying and the thud of a body on the floor, Dean on the floor, "and it just came out of me, like a punch. You know, like a freak adrenaline thing."
Dean pauses. "Well, I'm sure it won't happen again."
Stupid Dean and his stupid optimism. "Yeah, maybe," he snaps, glaring. "Aren't you worried, man - aren't you worried that I could turn into Max or something?" he asks, because he'd thought about it, God knows he has.
His brother shakes his head. "Nope, no way," he replies, sounding so sure of himself that Sam has to stare, taken aback by this out-of-place confidence. "You know why?
He frowns curiously. "No," he says shortly. "Why?"
"'Cause you've got one advantage that Max didn't have."
He raises his eyebrows, rolls his eyes exasperatedly. "...Dad? Because Dad's not here, Dean."
"No," Dean says, and adds simply, "Me."
And really, there's nothing he can say to that.
Dean grins at him, words as sincere as they come, "As long as I'm around, nothing bad is going to happen to you."
"You don't have to be," his brother says desperately. "We could find a way, all right? I can. I'm gonna save you."
"You tried, I know you tried. This is all there is left." She breathes harshly, eyes glittering, forcing herself. "Help me, Sam," she whispers, and he sees his brother stare down at the gun, fidget, looking too young, too little, too - too Sammy. "I want you to do it. I want it to be you -"
He feels wrong watching this, like some sort of perverted asshole that gets off on other people's heartbreak. He wishes they'd never found this case, that Sam never found this girl, that they'd left it at that stupid ex and never tracked the werewolf back to... here. He wishes, for maybe the first time, that Sam had stayed at Stanford for good, that he'd never gone back to hunting.
"I don't want to die," she smiles through her tears. "I don't. But I can't live like this - this is the only way you can save me."
God. Sam's expression...
"Please," she whispers, and maybe she's a monster but even Dean can see how much it drains out of her, how much strength it must take, to ask someone to put an end to a life you don't want to give up. "I'm asking you to save me."
Sam stares at her, frozen in place.
And that's when Dean can't take it anymore. Gently, he takes the handgun out of the slender fingers, takes on the weight, takes on the responsibility. Sam glances up at him helplessly, surprised, and there's something breaking in his eyes, like he's finally realized that there's no choice, there's only one way and it's in Dean's hands.
When he turns away, it's not with acceptance. Not yet.
Dean swallows and follows him into the kitchen. "Sam," he says quietly to his brother's back. "I'm sorry."
Sam turns, eyes glittering. He looks like he's trying so hard not to cry, but his eyes are leaking and Dean's this close to joining him. "No, you're right," he says, mouth twisted into a sad parody of a smile. "She's right."
"Sammy, I got this one. I'll do it -" I'll save you, just like I always do -
"She asked me to."
"You don't have to," he answers back, lump in his throat as he sees the decision in Sam's face, because even with everything he'd never really thought, never really considered that his little brother would - that Sam would -
"Yes, I do," Sam whispers.
He stares at his brother's open palm. He doesn't have to give Sam anything, does he, he can just keep it, do it himself - save his brother the pain -
Just let me save you -
I promised you, Dean thinks helplessly as he passes on the pistol, watches his brother steel himself, become less Sammy with every breath he takes. I promised I'd save you.
"Just wait here."
...I wish I could save you from this.
It's been a week or so, but it still rattles him to whenever he walks into this room. Whenever he sees his dad slumped back on the bed, gaunt like the covers around his waist, eyes shut in weary pain, looking like he's lost, like he couldn't give a damn . It seems so... wrong, surreal.
Our dad's a superhero, he remembers Dean telling him, eyes bright, believing every word with all his twelve year old heart. But this isn't what his dad - his strong, invincible Dad - is supposed to look like. This isn't what superheros are supposed to look like.
...But then, Sam never really thought John was a superhero.
Superheroes, after all, stay around. They protect you, tell you everything's okay. Grumble about doing the laundry but do it anyway, drive you everywhere the second they get their driving license. They give you the last box of cereal, stand guard when you say you're afraid of the monster in the closet. They stay. It's what they do, it's who they are. They're there.
Though it's looking more and more like, like maybe that won't be -
Sam swallows the thought, squishes it, and instead tries to fan the little flame of hope that singes its way through his chest.
"Hey," he says - croaks, really. "How're you doing?"
John blinks his eyes open, scowling a little as if realizing he's been caught off guard in a weak moment.
The scowl melts away the moment he sees Sam's face, and he quickly props himself up on an elbow - the one that's not in a sling, of course. "What happened?" he asks lowly, urgently, eyes intent on Sam's. "How's your brother?"
How, Sam wonders helplessly. In his mind he can hear Dean's voice echoing, the man's a master.
...Damn him, not even dead and still -
He moves a little ways into the room, still hanging by the door. "There... there was another close call." He doesn't elaborate. There's no need.
"He made it." Not a question.
John blows out a sigh. His frame shrinks on itself, almost folding, and for the first time in his life, Sam can find nothing hidden on his father's face, no veiled darkness - just pure, unadulterated relief. "That's our Dean," he whispers into his hand, almost thoughtlessly, before leaning back on the bed. "So what's got you looking like the world's ending?" he says more normally, gesturing at Sam with his free hand.
Only his Dad would confuse hope with desperation, he thinks, somewhat bitterly, before wincing when he remembers exactly what happened to spark that hope. "It's not - it's not bad," he says first, makes that clear. "More - more like weird. But good, I, I think it's good, a good thing -"
"Spit it out, Sammy."
It's Sam. He bides his tongue. "When Dean - during the close call. I was right there, and I... I felt something."
Frown. "What do you mean, you felt something?"
He bites his lip. "I mean it felt like, like Dean. Like he was there, just out of eyeshot or something. I don't know if it's my psychic thing or what, but do you think it's even possible? I mean, do you think his spirit could be around?"
His dad's smile never seemed quite so sad before. So... aching. "Anything's possible."
He stares. 'Anything's possible'? God. What's happened to you, Dad?
He sets his face in stone. Acceptance is not on the table. "Yeah well," he snaps, "there's one way to find out."
He turns, doesn't intend to say goodbye.
No one's saying goodbye. Not anymore.
"Where you going?" Has Dad's voice ever been this soft before? This... lost?
He pauses, heartstrings tugging despite himself. "I gotta pick something up," he says, tries to reassure the old man. For the first time ever, he finds himself in the stronger position and doesn't take a shot. "I'll be back."
"Wait, Sam," and Sam does, stops and waits. "I promise I won't hunt this demon," Dad says quietly. "Not until we know Dean's okay."
Sam doesn't say a word, just stares, not really knowing how to respond. After all, he didn't ask for this promise. Dean didn't ask for this promise.
...They should never have had to.
But John's trying, even if it's too late, and so he nods awkwardly, and leaves.
He levels the Colt at Eddie Shore. Eddie Shore, born Paul Edmund Shore, is the husband of Laura Budd, father of Dinah Budd and Alexis Chandler. He has one grandchild, Rhyanne, a toddler with big brown eyes and a knack of poking her chubby fingers in places she shouldn't. Eddie Shore is decent at his job, well liked by his coworkers. He enjoys biking to work, the occasional rock climbing on weekends, and every so often Panera's mac 'n cheese. A total history buff, Eddie has been to every major historical site in the country, and his favorite hobby is bringing souvenirs from each one to set on the oak shelf above his mantle.
Eddie has also been missing for three months. His family is, understandably, frantic. They'd probably be even more frantic had they known Eddie was on the other end of John's kill-all pistol.
...But then, John isn't really aiming the Colt at Eddie Shore. Neither is he talking to Eddie Shore.
Actually, it's a pretty safe bet that Eddie Shore is dead.
"I could always shoot you," he smiles dangerously.
Azazel grins at him with Eddie Shore's mouth. "You could always miss," he teases back, laughs carelessly. His teeth flash, bared. "And you've only got one try... don't'cha?"
John's smirk doesn't waver. They both know he does.
...Not that he'd miss. He's very sure of at least that much.
The demon seems to sober at that, shakes his head wryly. He seems genuinely curious as he asks, "Did you really think you could trap me?"
It's always good to fake a sense of humor, lightheartedness, to not let the bastards get to you, but John loathes it to his core. He's so close, Mary's killer, but he won't - he can't -
"Oh, I don't want to trap you," he replies, trying to sound like he has it all figured out, like this is all part of his grand plan.
Which it is, of course.
Sammy would probably have something to say about that, how John can stay perfectly calm and composed while his son is hurtling closer and closer to the light at the end of the tunnel, how John can even now plan ahead so his hand doesn't show, doesn't ever show (not even they will know for sure how much he discovered, years and years from now), while his son is so close to gone.
While Dean is dying.
He lowers his arm, thumbs the safety back on.
"I want to make a deal," he says, momentarily rendering the demon speechless.
...Then again, he thinks, Sammy would probably have something to say about John selling his soul, too.
He's like the god of alcohol.
Well. Not like, really the god of alcohol. Sam is almost 50% sure they ganked that guy back when he was in high school. No, this is more like a temporary superpowered state. Maybe even demigodish. Ooh, maybe he is a demigod, and that's why... no wait, you think he'd be able to stop things like - and Jess would... Hm, is this blasphemy? He's pretty sure this is blasphemy.
But he prayed today, so maybe God wouldn't mind. It's not like he wrote his own bible or something. He just drank two... six... eight? Eight bottles of Smirnoff. In an hour. There might have been some whiskey thrown in there somewhere. Or maybe it was vodka. Possibly both. But anyway, even after all that, Sam is fantastically not drunk. Or dead. That's like a superpower.
There should be a word for this. The not being drunk thing. Like, like - jimmergaluted. Yes, jimmergaluted: the state of not-drunkenness. Use it in a sentence: Sam Winchester is totally... totally jimmergaluted.
...Wait no, that doesn't even make sense. Words need to make sense. Stupid.
Hm... not drunk. Imdrunk? Undrunk? Drunk-not? Ooh, that one sounds kinda cool. Drunk-not. Kinda reminds him of that Borat joke - 'It's a black!...Not.' Hehe.
He starts a little, bottle shaking in his hand, when he notices a shadow fall over him - except he hadn't turned the light on, so that's weird. There can't be a shadow without light. It's a balance thing, like good and evil and vodka and orange juice. Just how it is.
...Ah, that's it, the door's open. When did Dean get here? And why is he... is he looming? Is that allowed? Dean can't loom, he's short. Like, like... a short person. Or a monkey, 'cept less intelligible. Or likely to throw poop.
Huh. Maybe Sam is drunk.
...No, okay, he's totally drunk.
"Are you drunk?" Dean says incredulously.
He rolls his eyes over at his brother. Geeze, he's just covered this. "Yeah." Duh. "So? Stupid."
"Dude, what are you thinking?" Dean asks bossily, being a bossy boss like only Dean can be. "We're working a case."
They're working a case? 'Course they're working a case. Why else would Sam be sitting in this chair, drinking himself stupid, if they weren't on a case, if not for - for -
That guy. The one who hung himself.
...Yeah right, he hung himself. He got dead, stupid. Because you couldn't save him.
You can't save anyone, can you? Not Jess, not Ava. Not even this guy.
"Yeah well, you can't save everyone, Sam. Even you said that."
Excuses. How are you a hunter if you don't save people? How are you a good person if no one's alive to tell the difference?
Oh yeah, you're not evil, how?
Dean sighs at him that sigh that's only barely not a growl. Nothing shows on his face, but he's irritated all right, Sam can tell. "All right, time for bed. Come on, Sasquatch." His brother hauls him up, struggling under his weight when he doesn't do anything to help. "Come on."
Dean is so good. Dean is so good. He doesn't deserve Sam, he really doesn't. He's too good - too good for hunting, too good for Sam. Turns out Dad knew what he was talking about.
...Turns out, Dad always knew what he was talking about.
"I need you to watch out for me," he forces out grimly.
His brother snorts as he steadies him. "Yeah. I always do," he says lightly, thoughtlessly, as if duh, Sam, you're my responsibility, as if of course, Sam, what else were you expecting.
Sometimes Dean's persistence in thinking like this makes him feel grounded, safe, like it's the one unshakable fact in his life that will never change. But sometimes, Sam has to wonder whether Dean could ever see him as a burden, whether he'll ever get off this pedestal his brother put him on. Whether it's even possible for Dean to not believe in him, to not want to look out for him.
...But that's when he's sober. (Oh right, that's the word)
"No! No, no, no," he shakes his head, because Dean doesn't get it and even if he's drunk and somewhat less articulate Sam still has this giant need to get Dean to understand, "you have to watch out for me, all right? And if I ever - turn into something that I'm not -" he almost chokes on it then, because suddenly his mind is clear enough for him to understand he's really asking, "-Y-you have to kill me."
He barely allows himself to look at Dean, he feels so guilty. Asking his brother to become a murderer for him... God, Sam, why don't you just take him down with you?
Dean rolls his eyes, which almost does its job of distracting from his unamused frown. "Sam -"
"Dean," he returns desperately, looking Dean in his eyes, because Dean has to promise, he can't take anything less, "Dad told you to do it - you have to!"
"Yeah, well, Dad's an ass!" his brother says testily.
And wait, what?
"He never should have said anything," Dean elaborates fiercely once seeing Sam's incredulous-if-murky stare. "I mean, you don't do that, you don't - you don't lay that kind of crap on your kids."
A small voice whispers in his head, You don't lay that kind of crap on your brother, either.
And that gets him to thinking. Maybe Dean was right, maybe he is like their Dad. Their ruthlessness, their temper, the way they deal with loss, the way they can't let things go... except that doesn't matter, not right now, not when they get it but Dean doesn't and everything is pointing to only one inevitable solution. "No, he was right to say it! Who knows what I might become? Even now, everyone around me dies!"
"Yeah, well," Dean says harshly, "I'm not dying, okay? And neither are you." He pulls Sam along, arms firm and gentle despite his voice. "Come on. Sam," he says, shoving, and Sam finally falls to a seat on the bed, stubbornly holding himself up by Dean's jacket, because he needs, he needs.
"No, please!" he says breathlessly. "Dean, you're the only one who can do it - promise," promise that you get it, that you understand, that you'll be all right.
His brother doesn't even look angry anymore as he looks back at him, just sad. "Don't ask that of me," he says quietly, and Sam knows that this is it, he only has to push a little more, Dean's never been able to refuse Sam after all, even when he should have, and maybe Sam shouldn't do this, shouldn't take advantage, because maybe Dean will break, maybe this is too much.
...But Sam's never been one to shy away from that.
"Dean, please," he whispers. "You have to promise me."
It doesn't come quickly and easily like he thought, and it takes so long he's almost sure that it won't. But then, then -
"I promise," Dean says, and Sam smiles, knowing that everything will be okay.
It's dark out.
Dean glances at him. "Hey, feel free to get some shuteye, I won't mind."
"You sure? You've been driving a while."
"Sam," his brother sighs exaggeratedly. "If you haven't figured it out yet, but the only times I will ever let you drive are when I'm A. incapacitated, B. dead or C., in a car that is not my car. Do I look dead to you?"
He rolls his eyes, knowing Dean won't catch it but doing it just the same, all while remembering the unspoken fourth condition - when Sam's nightmares are really bad or he's... not well, Dean's first reaction is to offer the keys to the Impala. It's absurd, really, but Dean's always acted like driving the Impala is such a privilege, like it can make absolutely everything better, so much so that sometimes... sometimes, Sam forgets that it can't.
"If anything, you're the one who looks like a zombie. Seriously man, what do I have to do so you'll get some sleep, freakin' sing you a lullaby?" He pauses.
"Dean, no -"
"Oh yes," his brother's teeth flash in the night, "think I know just the song." He pulls out a tape from the player, tosses it into the box, fishes another one out and deftly inserts it in its place. "You used to love this one when you were little," he says as a guitar starts playing. "Or normal-sized, anyway. You'd be out like a light five seconds into the intro."
"On a dark desert highway," Dean sings softly with the tape, only a little off-key, the grin audible in his voice. He waves airily with his free hand. "Cool wind in my - hairrrr... warm smell of colitas, rising up through the aiiiiiirrrr..."
He sighs, knowing protest is useless. And even despite everything, Sam smiles to himself. He rests his head against the window, and closes his eyes, soaking in the familiar comfort.
After all, he's safe.
"Up ahead in the distance, I saw a shimmering light... my head grew heavy and my sight grew diiiim - had to stop for the night -"
His lips move against his will, words like a layer of oil coating his tongue. There's laughter in his head even as he talks (is he talking?), and he tries to fight but just floats there helplessly instead. There's nothing to fight against.
"I don't want to hurt anyone else," he says, and the oil makes him want to vomit even as it's true, it's true, the words are his even though someone else uses them - "I don't want to hurt you."
Simple. "You won't. Whatever it is, you can fight it."
And the voice in his head says, why so angry, Sammy? Isn't this what you wanted? Isn't this how it's supposed to end?
He stops struggling, because - because she's right. This is how.
"Not forever," they both say. He feels the cool metal on his palm, his fingertips. "Here, you gotta do it."
At least in that, they're both agreed.
"You know I've tried so hard to keep you safe," Dean says softly, looking down at his hands, and he nods back, chest aching, saying, "I know," thinking, there was nothing you could do, from the beginning. This is how it's meant to end.
Rather than being scared or angry, he only feels relief. The demon smiles, and maybe he's smiling too, just a little inside, because his brother can beat this, his brother's going to beat this, his brother's going to save him. He just knows it.
Dean looks up at him, expression an amalgam of expressions - conflicted, disgusted. Sad.
"...I can't," he declares clearly. "I'd rather die."
No. No, he can't, he thinks, even as the demon swears in outrage. He promised - he promised. He can't be so stupid.
He hears the demon laughing, and there's a gunshot, bam, replay, again and again, and again and again -
"- Last thing I remember, I was running for the door -"
He jumps into waking, startled.
"Had to find the passage back to the place I was befoooore," the tape croons, unaccompanied. A silent Dean is driving, one hand on the wheel, the other on his shoulder. His face flashes white and pale with the passing streetlights, expression tight, unaware of being watched.
Why didn't you do it? Sam thinks at him. I shot you and you let me. Why did you let me?
"'Relax, said the night man, we are programmed to receive -"
Don't you get it, Dean? This won't end until I do. I'll just keep hurting and hurting you.
"You can check out anytime you like -"
You won't ever stop me, will you?
"But you can never leave!"
...I wish you would.
It's night. Drops of rain on the windows, but no one leaving, no one missing, just him and Sam and a sleeping Castiel in the backseat.
Familiar scene. Kinda. Dean feels like if he closes his eyes - not that he would, he's driving after all - he just might be able to capture this, imprint it on his mind, the normalcy, the world, the leather seat under his legs, the rumble of the car, the familiar warmth beside him. How things are supposed to be.
...If only his brother would shut up.
"Hey, um... on the subject," Sam says, and Dean gets that feeling in his gut, the one that says Dean's not gonna like this, not one bit. "There's something I gotta talk to you about."
Please, God, anything but that, Dean thinks. American Idol. Porn. The Knicks. Something else. "What."
"This thing goes our way and I..." he bites his lip and Dean again flashes back to that night, that first real farewell, Sam's duffle bag in the backseat and Sam's hair so much shorter, "Triple lindy into that box... Y-you know I'm not coming back."
He stares into the road. "Yeah, I'm aware."
"So you got to promise me something."
His heart clenches. "Okay," he forces out. "Yeah, anything."
"You got to promise not to try to bring me back."
For a second, he stops breathing. "...What?"
Sam stares back at him.
He scowls. "No, I didn't sign up for that!"
"Your hell is gonna make my tour look like Graceland," he exclaims, trying not to hyperventilate. "Y-you want me just to sit by, and do nothing?"
"Once the cage is shut, you can't go poking at it, Dean," Sam replies firmly, ever the voice of reason. "It's too risky -"
"No," he protests, "no, no, no, no. As if I'm just gonna let you rot in there -"
"Yeah, you are. You don't have a choice -"
"You can't ask me to do this," he says numbly, barely watching the road.
"I'm sorry, Dean. You have to."
He swallows, blinks. "So then," he says roughly, bitterly, "what am I supposed to do?"
Sam doesn't hesitate. "You go find Lisa." Dean snorts, but Sam keeps going. "You pray to god she's dumb enough to take you in, and you - you have barbecues and go to football games. You go live some normal... apple-pie life, Dean."
Dean looks away, smirks because - because this isn't happening, it's not, it's not -
"Promise me!" Sam snaps, and just like that, just like that, the facade crumbles, and he -
He - he can't, he can't.
...But he has to.
He nods wordlessly. Sam exhales. Smiles.
"Good," he says. "Good."
The last words of the ritual leave his mouth. "Tachzor elai, miba'ad lamavet, miba'ad lagehenom!"
The world flashes - white, blue - then red, red, he hears the screams, the hammers, smells the sulfur, and oh God, it's all coming back to him, he's there, he's there -
Focus, he orders himself, and he peers beyond the portal, wind blowing back his hair, eyes catching on a familiar color, a familiar face, and he reaches his hand - grabs - "Ekach ve'esgor!" he yells, that's it, that's it -
The portal closes.
He hits the wall hard, wincing as something falls on top of him. He lays there for a moment, eyes closed, just breathing. He can't open his eyes - he won't open his eyes.
Not until -
Rustle. He feels some of the weight shift against him, the sensation of being stared at.
He opens one eye. "Hey there, Sammy," he breathes.
Sam looks down at him, face pale, sweaty, untold horrors in his eyes. And even so, relief - sweet, unabashed relief.
"But..." Sam sits back shakily, legs still tangled in Dean's. He looks small, almost. Young... confused. "No, is this... is this a trick?"
He props himself up against the wall. "'Fraid not," he says, and he can't help but grin, can't help but ruffle Sam's hair - it's been so long. "Welcome back."
The big doe eyes widen.
"Miss me?" he says cheekily, because he can, now, Sam's here Sam's here - I missed you, Sammy, missed you so much -
And. Just like that. Sam crumples, cheek against his neck. He huffs out a groan, because a skinny Sam is still a heavy Sam. "Geeze, Sammy -"
"You promised," Sam whispers brokenly into Dean's jacket. Silent tears run down his face, down Dean's shirt, but he doesn't seem aware of it. "I - you promised, Dean."
Dean smiles, wraps his arms around his brother. He doesn't let go.
A/N: And there's the end. Hope you liked.