So this is it...the final part. It's taken me about six months to get here, but I've enjoyed every minute and I hope you've all enjoyed reading!
Thanks again to everyone who has reviewed and added this story to their favourites, and to all those who have kept on reading!
I really wasn't kidding when I said this was a chick-flicky epilogue, so you have been warned! ;)
Hope you enjoy! :)
Disclaimer: I do not own Supernatural, nor any canon characters therein, and I am making no profit from this piece of fiction.
Dean Winchester settled back in the driver's seat, the rumble of the Impala's engine purring contentedly beneath him, around him, within him. His girl was clearly as glad to see him as he was her. He could feel the thrill at being behind the wheel start to build from his core, radiating outwards like some magical healing force; sealing his wounds and charging him with an energy that felt electric.
He couldn't wait to get out onto the open road, to see the empty stretch of dark asphalt laid out endlessly before him, to feel the freedom of unknown possibilities. Dean was a drifter, a nomad with no fixed roots except those of the people and objects he held close to him, anchoring him.
Home was something he took with him everywhere.
But before he gave in to the euphoric abandonment of flying full throttle down an open road, AC/DC blasting out at ear-drum bursting levels, there was just one thing he wanted to do first. It was an idea that had sat patiently waiting at the back of his mind since they'd crossed the California border all those days ago. He'd dismissed it then, deciding that there hadn't been enough evidence for a full hearing.
When they'd arrived in Palo Alto there had been so much distance between them, an invisible, unacknowledged wall that nevertheless both had been acutely aware of. They'd attempted to scale it, hack it to pieces, demolish it with a wrecking ball...but only after Dean's near-death experience had both of them simply thought to just open the door that had sat unnoticed before their eyes.
It hadn't seemed right to give his idea a platform back then. Not when they'd been rushing to Jenna's aid, when they'd had murders to solve. Not when Sam had been so damn fragile.
Dean could remember the way his brother's quiet grief had rolled from him like a gathering fog as they'd cruised along the streets of Sam's old home. The elder hunter had sensed the recrimination, the agony building within Sam as the younger man had stared out at the passing streets – eyes closing in pain as sights Dean couldn't share flashed before his eyes.
Jessica's murder was one of the few ways they hadn't connected, an emotional gulf that still divided them. Dean knew his capability of understanding the horror of what Sam had endured – and continued to endure – was lacking in a way that was both supremely frustrating and gut wrenchingly upsetting. Watching Sam bear the pain with brave stoicism had made Dean swell with pride at his little brother's seemingly unceasing strength, but it had also left him devastated that he hadn't been allowed behind the mask.
But the elder Winchester desperately wanted to understand, and wanted Sam to have the chance to face up to the grief he had been avoiding ever since he'd returned to the hunt. The kid hadn't spoken much about Jessica, and when he had, each word had seemed to burn within him like the fire that had taken her. Dean hoped - though he knew a loss as horrific and as complex as Sam's would not disappear over night – that if his brother had the chance to draw a line underneath Palo Alto with the support of his family, that maybe it would help him to start moving on.
The last time Sam had been here, to this place, he hadn't wanted his big brother with him. He'd stood at her graveside surrounded by people, but unbearably alone; separated from the crowd by a secret torment that none of the others could possibly have understood. Dean had known what Sam had needed then, but he hadn't been sure enough of his welcome in those days. This time, he intended to step up and provide the foundation that his brother had been crying out for.
Dean glanced across at his brother, gauging mood and wellbeing from one sweep of his eyes. Sam had been silent since they'd left the Warren's apartment. Not an uncomfortable silence, but serene. Peaceful. His little brother was one of the few people Dean knew who could say so much by saying so little – every inch his father's son.
The elder hunter bit his lip as anxiety started to cross-examine the patient little idea that had just taken the stand. The trial was now in full swing: jury in situ, witnesses called, judge sternly observing proceedings.
Maybe he wasn't doing the right thing. What did he know, anyway? Maybe he shouldn't start something he knew would wipe the contented expression from his brother's face, a demeanour that was heart-breakingly rare these days. And maybe Sam would resent the interference, would take exception to what he might – rightly or wrongly – perceive as some sort of intervention. In many ways, the elder hunter still felt as if his little brother was riddled with emotional land mines; and though Dean had been carefully treading, he couldn't shake the fear that he'd make a wrong move.
But there was a very large part of Dean that knew Sam would regret not coming here, would regret not paying his respects.
And now that the elder Winchester had tasted the life his brother had left, the world Sam had loved so much...now that he'd been allowed to share some small part of it, he wanted to share this too. His brother's burden.
He just hoped the gesture didn't backfire, because he knew who would be hurt most if it did. And he'd already ruined Sam's life more than enough.
The kid hadn't been paying much attention to where they were going, his eyes flickering from Dean to whatever solitary blankness he was seeing in front of his eyes. The older man pretended not to notice his brother's surreptitious inspection, knowing that Sam was looking for any excuse to stop him from driving. It was as gratifyingly warming as it was intensely irritating. There was no way Sam was prising his hands from the wheel of his beloved car, but the fact that the kid looked ready to try made Dean smile with a fondness he couldn't hide.
When the elder Winchester made the turn off, Sam suddenly jolted awake at his side as if waking from an inadvertent coma. Dean's keen eyes didn't miss the way his brother's body stiffened, hand curling to claw tensely at the door handle. Nor did the sudden quickness of Sam's breathing elude the older man's attention, or the way his eyelids fluttered faintly.
What if Sam wasn't ready for this? What if he'd just made the situation infinitely worse?
Dean fretted soundlessly in the driver's seat, what was now a loud and raucous debate raging aggressively in his head. He petitioned the judge: should he turn around? Just pretend they hadn't come here?
They could still leave Palo Alto without doing this. They didn't even have to make any kind of verbal acknowledgement that...this had even happened – which would normally have been Dean's preferred option. But panic had just started its cross-examination, and Dean's idea seemed to have run out of steam under the onslaught.
There was one other option though: Dean could just ask Sam how he felt...
He cleared his throat, nervousness leading the action to rip off the new layer of cells he'd managed to replenish since the fire. "Sam?"
A movement of eyes so quick it couldn't have even been called a glance.
"We, uh, we don't have to do this if you...we can just...leave. I just thought-," He began, stammering slightly through a silence that was suddenly crackling, little blue bolts of electricity seeming to spark in the air between them.
"It's okay," Sam swivelled to face him, pallor turning grey in the yellow sunlight that smiled cheerfully in through the windscreen. Emotion had tautened his skin and thinned his lips until they were almost white, but there was a calmness growing there too, an acceptance that shone from his eyes.
"Okay, then," Dean nodded, emboldened by his brother's consent, though doubt still lingered – tensely biting its nails. "You sure? Cos we can just-."
"Yeah," Sam's lips drew upwards into a bittersweet smile, but he turned back to continue staring into the space beyond the Impala's fender. "Truth is, I've been thinking about this for a while."
Dean drew the Chevy to a halt in a small parking lot that was almost deserted due to the early hour. One other light coloured sedan sat forlornly on the dappled asphalt, lonely underneath the overhanging bough of a sturdy looking sycamore that was crowned by a glittering mosaic of differently hued leaves.
The path that led to the cemetery was well-worn, flagged stone pavings that bore the marks left by decades of grieving footsteps. Dean tried to imagine his brother walking down its lazily undulating curves; enveloped by people and yet so achingly alone. He ought to have been there, even though Sammy hadn't wanted it.
Still, he was there now.
Dean carefully manoeuvred himself out of the car - his torso still uncooperative and tender. Trying discreetly to hide the resulting wince from his over-observant brother, he turned to face the passenger side, halting immediately upon discovering that Sam was already watching him. He'd half expected to see wariness in the younger man's eyes, or even guarded distance.
All he saw was need.
"Want me to stay here?" Dean asked uncertainly, still edging his way gingerly around his brother's volatile emotions. He was sure of his place in Sam's life now in every other way but this.
"No." Dean was surprised at the conviction in Sam's reply, warmth pooling comfortingly in his stomach at the inherent confirmation that his brother wanted him at his side. Needed him there.
They walked in silence, Sam covertly taking some of Dean's weight when he'd stumbled slightly from the stiffness of having been in the car for all of half an hour. The elder man snorted internally, as if he hadn't noticed! But he didn't call his brother on the gesture, acutely aware that he needed it just as much as Sam appeared to.
He allowed his brother to lead the way. This was Sam's show now, and Dean was more than happy to play the supporting role.
Dean had been to many cemeteries in his life. The number so large that they had begun to blur indistinguishably together in memory. What existed in his mind now was an almost formless composite, existing merely as a sinister army of rank and file tombstones – the odd figurehead mausoleum breaking through the monotony. He'd rarely stopped to pick out details. Graveyards were his workplace: holding pens for death and loss, keepers of vengeful spirits.
He'd never thought of them as possessing the capacity for solace before, but just as he'd felt Sam tense up in the car when they'd arrived, he could feel his brother begin to settle as they moved past the monuments. There was an almost tranquil pulchritude to the place, a reverent hush that seemed to dissuade even the resident birds from calling out to disturb the quietude. The tombstones here were festooned with flowers and tokens, neat and well tended; signs of a love that surpassed even death
It took several minutes to find her resting place, Sam seeming to drift there in a trance. Dean laid a hand on his brother's shoulder, conveying without words that he was there, that his presence wouldn't waver.
The older man stilled as Sam patted the offered hand in wordless gratitude, allowing it to fall from his shoulder as he stepped forward to kneel before the headstone, fingers tracing the delicate inscription before lightly trailing up to caress Jessica's image.
When the tears started to fall without shudder, sound or warning, Dean went to him. Ignoring the tug at his stitches, he bent to kneel beside Sam, laying a hand across his brother's heaving shoulders, drawing him into a loose embrace.
Dean hated to see his brother upset, Sam's cries triggering his frantic inner parent as easily as they had when the kid had been baby, toddler, child and teenager. But he also knew that crying could be cathartic, that letting it build up could lead to the expression of emotion in other ways...sometimes dangerous ways. Not that he often followed his own advice.
Do as I say, not as I do...
Unbidden, the image of his drunken father lurching blindly through their motel room door after a seventy-two hour bender hovered before his eyes. The fifteen year old he'd been then had been experienced far beyond his years in cleaning up John Winchester's messes. But though angry at the darkness that his father had been exposing Sam to, he had nevertheless ached at the man's unmasked pain; knowing intuitively that there had been nothing he could do about it.
But Sam was one of the most well adjusted people he knew – he had raised the kid after all - and Dean was going to make sure his brother stayed that way.
When Sam's tears had finally abated, they hadn't come stuttering to a halt. Instead, they had gradually lessened in force until they had become little more than tiny hiccups. Dean had realised by this point that he was incapable of moving, that his body had seized up like a piece of jerky. When the younger Winchester rose, he tried to mimic the action, but ended up embarrassingly slumped to the side as his knees locked.
Sam huffed slightly, a curious blend of sadness, affection, disapproval and amusement. "Sorry, man," he murmured, voice still sounding hoarse from tears as he reached down to help his brother up. "You all right?"
Dean cleared his throat gruffly as he regained his balance, patting Sam on the shoulder to let his brother know that the continued grip around his waist was unnecessary. "Yeah," he paused significantly. "You?"
Sam's eyes were red rimmed as he met Dean's penetrating gaze, his cheeks flushed and clammy. But somehow he looked good. There was a relief that glowed around him, almost blindingly. "Yeah," he nodded, removing his arm from around Dean's waist and laying across his brother's shoulder instead, all the while ignoring the half-hearted attempt to dislodge it. "C'mon."
They found a bench not far from the parking lot, neither man feeling bound by a sense of urgency in this peaceful, almost timeless place. Sam seemed to have remembered his self-imposed task of scrutinising his big brother's every move, dodging Dean's defensive hands as he gently deposited the older man down onto a wooden surface that radiated warmth from the sun's beneficence.
"Damn it, Sam, I'm fine!" Dean groused, though he didn't move away when Sam's shoulder came to rest against his as they sat side by side in companionable silence. In truth, he welcomed the contact; a tangible sign that they were comfortable in their brotherhood once more. But if anyone was ever to ask, he was doing it out of the goodness of his heart because Sam needed the support.
After a while the younger Winchester inhaled the kind of deep breath that had always elicited something premonitory in his big brother. "Dean?"
"Yeah?" He replied, trying to force nonchalance into his voice as he settled his gaze upon the bark of a tired looking pine tree directly in his line of sight.
"I know how you feel about your chick-flick moments, dude, but-," Sam began, and Dean swore he could actually hear his brother's tentative smile – a deduction he was able to confirm when he turned in sputtering disbelief to interrupt.
"My chick-flick moments? Dude, that is so much more your thing. I mean, you are the girl of the family, after all!" At Sam's scowl he relented, loosening his hunched shoulders. His brother had been through so much. Surely Dean could manage a few minutes of...talking. He groaned theatrically. "All right, I guess I can let you have a free pass...just this once!"
The pointed finger he raised for emphasis could leave Sam in no doubt of the temporary nature of his submission.
Sam gave a small snort in response and ducked his head, hesitating for a brief moment as if he didn't quite believe that his big brother was really letting him broach an emotional subject. "Listen...thanks, Dean."
"For what?" Dean swung his head around reflexively, quirking a brow in confusion.
"For what?" Sam echoed incredulously. "Well for today, to start off with...for being there after everything with Jess-."
"Sam..." Dean began with another slight groan. The elder Winchester couldn't help but remember Jenna's words from the previous night, all that Sam thought his big brother had apparently done for him. But it wasn't true, and Dean didn't think he could handle listening to his brother thanking him on the basis of some kind of misconception that he actually knew what he was doing half the time.
"Uh-uh, free pass remember?" Sam smiled softly, clearly foregoing the usual nudge to the ribs out of consideration for his brother's injuries. He coughed delicately. "I haven't been fair to you...I've been a jerk a lot of the time...especially about school."
"What do you mean?" Dean frowned. Where was this coming from? That fight they'd had days ago? The one where he hadn't exactly held his tongue either?
Sam sighed, mouth opening and closing slowly as he seemed to struggle for words. He swiped a hand across his jaw agitatedly. "I'm sorry about cutting you off."
Dean felt himself go rigid in reflex response to the thought of all those years of estrangement, of the solitary nights spent shovelling dirt in random graveyards, of stitching up his own wounds and staggering to local clinics for the ones he couldn't. He swallowed against the lump that had risen like the swell of tide in his throat, aware that Sam was waiting for a response but knowing he was incapable of providing one.
In the absence of a verbal reaction from his big brother, Sam continued. "It was wrong. I shouldn't have told you to stop calling. It was never what I wanted, but I was so angry at...well, at pretty much everything...just, I'm sorry."
Dean exhaled slowly through his nose, jaw clenched too tight to allow the breath an alternative outlet. In many ways this had been the acknowledgement he'd always wanted from his brother. On those lonely, empty hunts he'd have given anything for Sam to call him and apologise. He'd felt so aggrieved; scorned by his brother's rejection.
But now, he found Sam's regret wasn't what he wanted. When he'd analysed his own actions, he'd realised that the blame had never lain entirely with Sam.
Dean had been the one who'd had problems letting go, with being able to handle his family's distressing fragmentation. If he'd just accepted from the start that Sammy hadn't wanted to hunt, they might have been able to work something out without nearly destroying their relationship. But there had been anger and hurt on both sides, ignited into chaos by an overdose of stubbornness.
"I'm sorry, too." The elder hunter admitted, rubbing at his temples in the hope that he might somehow be able to clear the emotional detritus from his mind. "I wanted us all to stay together, but I should've realised that you bein' at school didn't stop us from bein' family."
"Well, good." Sam began slowly. "Because, I am still going back." He stopped, studying Dean as the older man tried to assimilate this announcement.
Dean wasn't quite sure what to do with it. He'd felt so much dread at the thought of losing Sam to the rose coloured world of Stanford life, and yet he'd hoped that the simple fact of their brotherhood would be enough to persuade the kid to stay. But then, he didn't want his selfishness to stand in the way of his brother's happiness. That had happened too many times.
Sam was his brother, but he was also in many ways like a son he'd nurtured and watched grow before his eyes. He didn't care what happened to himself; his life was already set on a course that he had no hope of changing, nor an ability to conceive of an alternative route. But Sam...he could choose. And Dean knew he'd have to let him.
He still hated the thought of Sam returning to college, the fear of being alone still bricked in with his foundations. But having seen the life his brother could have...Sam had been right back in Chicago. Dean would have to let him go.
With a prescience that had Dean wondering whether Sam did actually possess some latent mind-reading abilities, his brother began speaking once more. "But it won't be until we've killed the demon, until this is all over. I don't want to live this life forever...But I shouldn't have said what I did back in Chicago...about you letting me go, about wanting to be a real person again. Truth is Dean, I want you to come with me. I wouldn't be a real person if..."
That last one had Dean reaching his affective tipping point, and the gate came crashing down. "Sam, you know I can't give up huntin'-,"
"I know you think you can't! But we'll work something out, even if I have to drag you with me." Sam chuckled in a manner that made Dean suspect his brother was only half-joking.
"Just try it, Sam. See how far you get!" Dean threw back cockily with a snort intended to convey just how likely he thought it was that his brother would win.
"Dean, I mean it. Things are not going back to the way they were. You're my family." You're too important. Sam clearly knew that there were limits to his big brother's toleration of caring and sharing, but the unsaid words hung like moisture in the air nonetheless.
Dean felt their meaning drip softly onto his skin, seeping down through the surface until his mind finally grasped them too. "Yeah. Right back at ya." He offered quietly, before noisily clearing his throat. Moment over. "So...we good?"
"Yeah. We're good." Sam practically beamed in response. He seemed to understand that his brother's indulgence of their epic chick-flick discussion had come to a definite end, but after the mileage he'd gotten out of it, he didn't appear too upset.
Dean, for his part, was hoping that he'd be off the hook for girly chats for a good long while. Maybe they could even get back to doing more manly things; like having a contest to see who could pick up the most numbers in the next bar – which Dean knew he'd win hands down. Or, like the prank wars they'd mercilessly tormented each other with in their youth – for which Dean also knew he'd claim victory.
Now there was a thought. And there was still the payback he owed Sammy after the way the kid had set him up during Fitch's interview...
Art friggin' History!
"Okay, then. Let's get goin'," Dean pushed himself up from the bench before Sam had the chance to assist him. "There's a great little diner 'bout an hour down the road from here..."
"Dean, we just had breakfast, like, an hour and a half ago. You ate two helpings!" Sam was shaking his head in faint disbelief as he hurried to catch up.
"Yeah, but wait'll you see the menu Sammy..." Dean turned back to flash his widest grin. "And the food's not bad either!"
"All right, what was her name?"
"How the hell should I know? But you shoulda seen her-"
"What? I was gonna say buns!"
"You know what? You're hopeless."
"I was talkin' about burgers Sam. I can't help it if you've got a dirty mind!"
"Just get in the car, Dean!"
"I'll do it in my own time. Bitch!"
I really hope you enjoyed this little epilogue, and the story as a whole. Thanks so much for reading!