Disclaimer: Not mine.

Author's Note: OK, I obviously wasn't very clear in the last AN, because a lot of people seem to have thought the previous chapter was the last one. Looking back at that AN, I can see why.

I promise you, I'm not that evil. Yet. ;-)

Also – I have to tell you guys, especially those of you who read the last line of Chapter 13, thought it was the end, and refrained from sending me hate-mail, I really admire your self-restraint. I don't know if I could've been that nice about being left hanging there.

So – to settle all nerves, here's the real last chapter. With an ending I think everyone will be able to live with until I get around to writing the sequel.

A big thank you to Cheryl, for vetting and listening.

Thank you to everyone who's reviewed or added the fic to Favorites or Alerts. The encouragement is what keeps a girl writing! (And, honestly, the response was way better than I expected – you guys are the best!)

For reviewing Chapter 13, thanks to Likaella, The Lilac Elf of Lothlorien, SkeksisGirl, Shakari, Our Eleventh Hour, L Moonshade, Taeriel, SPN Mum, cold kagome, Lykaia, jolynn3277, T.L. Arens, marziebarz, godsdaughter77, Eavis, Katy M VT, Aoi-Moku, Thunderstorm101, primadonna cat, Kathryn Marie Black, BranchSuper, APRIL26, TinTin11, SandyDee84, thatsuperflychick, Lilithakaducky, casammy, OutTonightAndForever, Sparkiebunny, IritIlan, Jester's Tear82 and Starfan1245.

I hope nobody got double responses – the site went crazy and made me reload the response page half the time.

So, finally…


Chapter XIV: A Time of War, and a Time of Peace

Smell came back first. (I'm told that's normal.) Gunpowder and cologne and big brother. Big brother meant safety. Good. I could rest.

Then sound. Dean. Choked sobs interspersed with Sammy and Please.

Umm… Not good, I was guessing, but my mind was too fuzzy to work around it. Dean was upset. I tried to pat his back, but my arm wouldn't move.

I moved my lips. No sound came. After a few seconds and more heart-wrenching sobs from Dean, I tried again. "D… Dean?"

The sobbing stopped abruptly. Mission accomplished.

"Sammy," Dean said hoarsely. "Sammy, thank God. You OK?"

"Dean," I mumbled, because it still hurt but I couldn't remember the words to express that. I figured my big brother would understand.

He did. "Still hurting, kiddo? I'll bet you are. You just got stabbed with an angel-killing sword." Dean's grip shifted, and I realized I was on my knees. There was something wrong with that… wasn't there? "I think it's over, Sammy. I think we're back." Hand on my head. "How about you open your eyes for me, Sam?"

I tried, but as soon as I managed to crack one eyelid open the light streaming in through the window made me shut it again.

"Damn it," Dean muttered. "You want me to draw the blinds, Sammy?" Drawing the blinds would mean Dean would have to go. I clutched him tighter. He chuckled. "OK, kiddo, but we can't stay here forever, you know. I'm thirty-three. My knees hurt. You think you can maybe get to the bed? Just like four steps, and I'll help you." He didn't wait for a response. "Going to get you to your feet now, OK? We'll take it nice and easy."

He hauled me up. I swayed dizzily, but Dean was there, helping me stumble forward.

My knees hit something. I fell onto the bed.

"Whoa! Easy there, Megatron. You're not exactly a lightweight." There was movement, sound, and then Dean said, "OK, lights are out, Sammy. Open your eyes."

I tried again. The room was dark, but not so dark that I couldn't see Dean's face hovering over me.

"Dean?"

"God, I wish I could get a recording of this," Dean said, with a smirk that was clearly forced. "Mr I-Memorized-the-Bloody-Dictionary reduced to one freaking word. Try again, Sam."

"Dean," I complained, more than a little puzzled when Dean laughed for real.

"It's good to have you around, kiddo." He ruffled my hair, smoothed it down, and then, seemingly just for the hell of it, ruffled it again. "Just rest. We'll talk when you're forming coherent sentences again. Sleep, OK? You said you couldn't sleep there."

"Not so fast," another voice said.

I groaned. Not again.

"Gabriel," Dean growled, one hand on my shoulder to hold me down. "You've got some nerve, showing up here."

"Oh, spare me the story, Dean. I'm not here for you. I'm here for your brother."

"You come near him and I'll –"

"Do absolutely nothing, because I am an Archangel and you are a man. An arrogant and hubristic one, but still a man. Sammy has a choice to make." Gabriel looked at me. "Although it looks like I might have to come back later. He doesn't seem entirely himself at the moment… Pulling the two of you back into this reality can't entirely undo the effect of being stabbed with that sword. He'll recover fully in a day or two. And I'll be back this evening. In the meantime, since you're not good for much else, you can do some thinking, Sam. I wasn't lying in the beginning. If you want, I'll arrange a little detour in the space-time continuum to snap your thread instead of your mother's. Instead of this miserable place, you can go straight up to Heaven at six months."

"And… Apocalypse?"

Gabriel shrugged. "Who knows what would have happened without your ghostly intervention? It won't be your responsibility, though. Maybe Brother David will pull off a miracle. Maybe not. You'll be safe and happy and comfortable in eternal bliss. Think about it."

Dean turned to me when Gabriel was gone. "Sammy –"

"Don't," I said wearily.

"Dude, I was just going to say –"

"Don't." I glared at him, and, as usual, the burst of anger gave me enough strength to talk. "I've had enough of listening to you go on about how I don't know crap –"

"I never said that!"

"You tricked me into a circle of salt!" I said furiously, feeling my pulse rise.

"I was trying to protect you, Sam. You have to trust me –"

"The hell I do! You tricked me, just like you tricked me into the panic room –"

"I was trying to help you!"

"You left me there alone, Dean! I thought I was going to die!"

A long pause followed the words. My anger had dissolved into weariness. I couldn't deal with this. I slumped back on the thin motel pillow, breathing heavily.

"So what are you saying, Sam?" Dean asked at last. "You… you don't trust me, is that it?"

He sounded like the whole world depended on my answer. I didn't mean to be cruel. I really didn't, and if I'd been more lucid or hurting less or if the memory of that salt line had had a little time to fade, I wouldn't have said what I did.

"I… want to… but…"

"OK," Dean said. He shifted back, like he was trying to give me some space – or maybe he needed some. "OK, fine, you can be mad at me if you want. I probably deserve it. But can I just say something?"

"No."

"Sammy, please."

"No." I shifted. "Just… go."

"OK," Dean choked. "OK… If you really want me to…"

He got up, and like Dean's presence had been the thing anchoring me to wakefulness, I started to fall under again. The last thing I heard before I knocked off was the sound of the door closing.

(Fine, Dean. I was getting to that. God.)

At this point, let the record state that Dean did not abandon me. He went out and sat on the motel room steps with the door open a crack so he'd still be able to hear if I needed him. Also, he was totally not dewy-eyed all the time he was sitting outside and if anyone suggests that he was crying he will hunt them down and make them cry. (Happy, Dean? Can we move on? Thank you.)

I'm not sure how long I slept, but it must've been a few hours because when I woke up, I could hear birds coming home to roost in the woods nearby. (Yup, Nowhere, a mile from the Back of Beyond, that's where we were.) I could also hear someone moving inside the room.

"Dean?" I mumbled.

"Don't worry, Sammy," Dean's voice answered from somewhere off to my left, too light and too tight. "I'm not here to bother you. Brought you some juice. You've not eaten anything for a while. Drink it and then I'll be out of your hair."

Out of my hair?

Dean was leaving? What the hell? (So… Yeah, I'd totally forgotten about our last conversation. Just proves that I didn't mean a word of it.)

"Going?" I muttered, idiot that I was. Because of course Dean took it to mean not what I meant ("Why is my big brother leaving me when I'm hurting?") but what he thought I meant ("Going, you jerk? Why the hell aren't you gone yet?").

"I'm going, Sam," Dean promised. "Just drink your juice and I'll be gone."

"No." I tried to push myself up. I managed to get a couple of inches of the pillow before the world started to fade out.

Dean was there in a second, easing me back down. "Don't be an idiot!" he snapped. "Just relax, Sam. I'm going."

"Don't go."

Dean stared at me in the darkness for what had to be a full minute. Finally he said, "Sammy –"

"Please," I interrupted, not quite certain why Dean wanted to go but knowing he could never resist that. Especially not when I was sick.

To my shock, Dean turned away, eyes glistening. "Don't do this to me, Sammy. I get it, I get that you're upset and I shouldn't have tricked you into the salt circle and nothing I say can make it not have happened. I'm sorry, and I'm not expecting you to forgive me in a hurry, but don't yank me around. Please." He looked at me. "I'll do whatever you want, Sam, stay or go. Just tell me what and I'll do it."

Then I remembered, I remembered snapping at Dean and telling him I didn't trust him and not letting him get a freaking word out. And, yeah, he'd been a jerk, but that didn't excuse me ripping out his heart.

"Sorry," I said. "Stay… please."

"You mean that?"

"Yes. Sorry –"

"Quit apologizing, Sammy." I felt the weight of the bed shift as he sat on the edge. "I don't blame you for being mad. You want to try the juice?"

I didn't want to try the juice. The thought of juice made me sick. I tried the puppy-dog eyes, but Dean ignored them. Jerk.

"Come on," he urged, sliding over and lifting me. "I've got you. Don't even try the eyes, Sam. You have to get something down. You're not going to feel better until you do. And I got you some fortified health junk. It has all those vitamins and minerals you like so much." When I was sitting up, settled securely against Dean, he pressed a glass to my lips, ignoring all my attempts to take it from him. "Don't be an idiot. You're just going to spill it over yourself, and that's your last clean shirt."

The first few sips made my stomach churn, but Dean held me closer and told me I was fine and after a few minutes my stomach quietened down and I could drink the rest of the juice. He didn't push for more or push me away when it was gone, for both of which I was unutterably grateful. He sat back against the headboard, letting me curl up against him.

"Sammy?" he asked after a minute.

"Hmmm?"

"You remember what Gabriel said?"

I stiffened: I'd forgotten what had caused the argument in the first place, but now I did remember. That explained why Dean was letting me 'cuddle', then: he either thought he was going to lose me in a few hours or he was making a desperate attempt to change my mind.

"Yeah," I said slowly.

"Can I say something?"

I hesitated, about to protest – but, no. Dean was my big brother. He deserved the benefit of the doubt. "OK," I said, settling myself more comfortably in the crook of his arm.

Dean squeezed me lightly. "Thanks, Sammy."

There was a long and awkward silence. He cleared his throat, I waited, he cleared his throat some more. I finally prompted, "Dean?" He started, like he'd forgotten he was going to speak.

"Gabriel's choice," Dean said, practically spitting the word. "I wish… Well, truth is, I wish I could make it for you. Not because I don't think you can – let me finish – but because I don't want to lose you. But… Not my choice, is it? And… Maybe it's selfish of me to want you here when you could be so much happier than here – no, wait, Sam. I'm not done. So… What I want to tell you is, make your choice, kiddo. Do… Do whatever you think is going to make you happy. I'll… If you don't want to be here, it'll suck, but I'll deal. Somehow."

"Dean –"

"Can I say something else?"

"Yeah," I said, turning so that I could see the spot on his chest where the Amulet had been. "Yeah, OK."

Dean saw where I was looking and swallowed. "Sam, if I could – if I could take that back –"

"I know," I interrupted.

Dean sighed. "I'm sorry, kiddo. Anyway, the second thing I want to say is that you should decide what you want, but since you probably have some stupid idea of trying to make me happy, this is what makes me happy, Sam." He squeezed harder. "You and me on the road, kicking ass, doing what Winchesters do best. There's no guarantee that the world's going to be better without you. If anything it'll probably be worse. And I'm not better off without you. Sam… In that world, I killed Lenore. We keep each other human, Sammy. You keep me human, you've always been my conscience. It isn't just that you keep bitching at me. I want to be a better person so I don't disappoint you. I need you around."

I managed to raise a hand enough to pat Dean on the chest. "Best big brother ever… Something for you… In my jacket."

"I'll get it later," Dean said.

"Dean, I –"

"Don't." He ducked his head. "If you're going to tell me what you're going to choose, please don't, Sammy. If you're planning to say Yes to him… Well, I'd rather have this time without you without knowing that. And if you say you're planning to say No and then change your mind…"

"Dean –"

"Please."

"OK." I settled down with a sigh. "What now?"

"Now we wait. Just shut up and rest, Sam."

I could tell how much it was killing Dean just to wait. I could feel his arm trembling where it was wrapped around my shoulders, I could hear his breath catching and hitching, I could see the way he looked – just like he had the night before I'd said Yes to Lucifer.

Dean was awesome.

I told him so and he made a strangled sound that was halfway between a laugh and a sob.

I'm not quite sure when I dozed off again, but at some point I did. I was tired, I still hurt more than I cared to admit, and Dean's shoulder made a comfortable pillow.

When I woke up, I was too warm and content to want to move. (Also… I still hurt, and what was it with those bloody angel swords? I was pretty sure I'd faceplant if I tried to get up.)

Dean was talking.

"… let him sleep? He's worn out."

"He just has to tell me what he wants," Gabriel's voice responded. "Yes or no. It'll only take him a second."

"But…" Dean's arm tightened around me. "But… you can't…"

"Why not? Scared to lose your brother, Dean?"

"Dude," Dean said, and his voice sounded so wrong, so broken, that I almost couldn't stand it. To tell the truth, I'd been wavering up until that point – but that one word from Dean decided me.

"Dean?" I whispered.

The next few minutes were a blur of Dean hugging me, promising me he had my back no matter what, and then propping me up against the headboard before backing off a few feet.

"Well, Sammy?" Gabriel asked. "What's it going to be? Do you want me to take you out of the picture?"

"No," I said quietly. I heard Dean let out a long, relieved breath. "No, I don't. Yeah, my life has sucked in more ways than even Archimedes could've counted, and having Lucifer riding me wasn't exactly fun, but I hardly think getting myself out of it by pushing someone else into it is a good idea. Besides…" I glanced at Dean. "Someone needs to be a pain in your ass."

Dean, as promised, had my back. He came up behind me, glared at Gabriel through his eye-rolls and comments that humans didn't know a good thing when they saw it, and muttered, "Good riddance," when the Archangel finally left.

There was a hand on my head, a touch to my shoulder, and Dean said, "You need anything, kiddo?"

"Yeah," I told him. "I want my jacket. Have something for you."


What did you think? Good? Bad? Please review!