It was never Dean's job to be afraid. It was never something asked of him—definitely never expected of him. He was always supposed to be Sammy's strong big brother and the perfect son of one of the world's best hunters. It was his job, and he was damn good at it. Not showing Sam when he was afraid, not letting his dad hear when Dean had his own opinion; especially when he was scared.

He could never let Sammy see how scared he really was.

And now, it didn't matter. His dad, Sammy . . . they were both gone now. Gone—and never coming back.

Never was a long time. Long enough that Dean was considering cutting it short, ending it all so much sooner. Putting a stop to the pain and the weariness, and the constant, nagging regret of being let down every time he turned around. Dean was considering pulling the trigger. Literally.

It wouldn't be so hard, Dean reasoned. He'd been close to it before. Right after Sammy had left for Stanford. He'd almost done it back then, almost given in to the strong, seductive temptation and turned the gun. Pulled the trigger.

But he hadn't. Not because he'd thought better of it, not because he didn't want to disappoint John, not even because he didn't want to disappoint Sammy—but because he had to take care of his pain-in-the-ass little brother.

He hadn't had a choice. And that made him want it all the more now.

Dean hadn't had the choice before, knowing that Sam was out there somewhere—alive. Maybe not happy; possibly happier than ever, but he was alive and Dean knew that counted for much more than Dean's own stupid temptations. If Sammy was still alive, that meant there was someone for Dean to look after. Someone left to fight for.

How quickly things can change . . .

Sammy was gone now. Not happy. Not breathing. Not alive.

This time, Dean had no one to turn to. No one to look after. No pain-in-the-ass little brother that he had to protect. Dean had no one left to fight for—and that scared him more than Yellow-Eyes and a hundred other demons combined.

Why else was Dean alive? He'd grown up as a hunter; it was his job, his role, his responsibility, his fate. If Dean had no one to fight for, he was useless. He was a waste of space in an already crowded world of hopeless, shit-faced morons who refused to give up their place for someone more deserving. Someone more worthy.

Someone like Sam.

Dean had proved that many times over; he knew he was worthless, useless; a nobody. Sure, he saved a couple lives now and then—with Sam's help. Sam was the only one who made Dean feel like he wasn't a waste of space in the world. Dean felt like he was wanted, like he was useful when Sam looked to him for help. When Dean was needed to be Sam's older brother. So he'd stayed; for Sam. He'd let other people—good people—die in his place so that he could feel for a little while longer like not such a waste of body and responsibility.

Layla . . . the girl who Dean had prevented from being healed. She would be dead now, because of Dean.

Madison . . . because he couldn't be the all-knowing big brother with all the answers. He couldn't find a cure.

Jess . . . because Dean had taken Sam away from her. Because Dean had been more worried about Sam—because Dean hadn't wanted to be alone.

Sam. Because Dean was worthless. Because Dean had turned his back for five seconds.

Because Dean wasn't good enough.

They were all dead; all of them. All because of Dean, and the fact that he refused to give up his place; because he was under some strange delusion that he had a job to do. To protect Sam.

When all Dean seemed to do was get him killed.

Sitting here, staring at Sam's lifeless, inert, dead form, Dean could think of a thousand ways to release the pain and give up the responsibility. To find out what really was at the end of the rainbow. Even if he turned into a ghost, at least he could give away the punch line.

Salvation. Freedom. Redemption. The possibility of Sam forgiving him for getting his brother killed.

It was all escalading into an inescapable finality that was just too tempting. And just too final. Did Dean really think he could take his own life? End it just with a simple pull of the trigger? It seemed so easy to think about.

What about fighting till the end? What about fighting for your life?

Maybe it would be harder to actually go through the motions. Dean doubted it. Would he write a suicide note? Whoever found him would probably think it an admission of guilt after killing Sam—would they be wrong? Would he write any goodbye letters—to Bobby? To Jo? God knows they deserved it, but Dean couldn't say goodbye. Not when he wasn't even sure he was leaving, or where he would go.

What if he left the plains of life and it turned out Sam wasn't waiting for him on the other side?

Just sitting there wasn't enough. Waiting for something to happen while his brother, his little Sammy, was dead. Dean was going crazy with sorrow, with guilt. Dean was talking to Sam. Booby thought Dean was crazy, he knew. But Dean didn't have the energy to care; he couldn't find it in himself to give a damn. "I always tried to protect you." He told Sam's body, because it couldn't be Sam. Sam smiled. Sam laughed. "Keep you safe—dad didn't even have to tell me. It was just always my responsibility, you know? It's like I had one job. I had one job. And I screwed it up. I blew it. And for that I'm sorry."

Dean could no longer hold back the tears.

Suicide . . . Hunting. Family . . . Obsession. It's one or the other, Dean rationalized harshly.

"What am I supposed to do?" Dean spoke in breathless, choked whispers. Sammy's dead. "Sammy . . . god, what am I supposed to do?" Sammy's dead. "What am I supposed to do!"

Sammy's dead . . . and now you're all alone.

Dean knew there was only one thing he could do, because he remembered. As much as he didn't want to, he couldn't deny what he'd promised his little brother.

Dean knew what he had to do.

"I'm gonna protect you, little brother. Just hang in there." Dean weaved his hand through Sammy's hair, lulling the kid back into a falsely safe sleep.

"Dean . . ." Sammy muttered, turning his wide, puppy-dog eyes on Dean.

Dean sighed. "Sam, it's okay. You don't have to talk. Sleep now. I'll be here to protect you."

"Forever?" Four year old Sammy questioned hopefully.

"Forever, little brother." Sammy's eight year old brother announced reassuringly.

Sammy's wide green eyes scrunched in concentration, trying to clear through the haze of sleepy fog. "Dean . . . what if I'm not there for you to protect me?"

Dean didn't like that question. It made him feel sick to his stomach. "Well, I'll just have to come find you."

"No, what if . . . what if I'm gone? Who would you protect?" The hushed words from little Sammy caused Dean's insides to shrivel and churn.

"Well . . . I'd save all the kids like you; the kids that don't have a big brother to protect them from the monsters." Dean replied, knowing that was what Sammy wanted to hear. Dean himself knew better.


Even though Dean wasn't sure, with Sammy staring up at him with those eyes, there was no denying him anything. "I promise, Sammy."

"Good." The pause that followed didn't last long enough for Dean to hope Sammy had fallen asleep. "Dean?"

"Yeah, Sam?" Dean sighed.

Sammy's words were reverently sincere as he sleepily whispered them. "You're the best big brother ever."

The rev of the Impala's engine started something burning in Dean; an inner fire of determination and power. Was Sam happier wherever he was? Was bringing him back to the fight the best thing for Dean to do? Taking care of Sam may have been in Dean's job description, but so was selfishness.

"What am I supposed to do?"

Dean knew the answer.

Fiercely, Dean pushed harder on the gas and stared into the engulfing darkness.

"I'm going to save you, Sammy."

Dean had promised to look after him—forever.

Sam was gone, and he was never coming back. Never—without Dean's help.

Never. It's so much longer than forever.