John wasn't in the room when Dean died. Sam doesn't think he'll ever forgive him for that.

Not that there was anything to be there for. Dean never woke up, never even moved. He was breathing and then he wasn't, and Sam was staring at the flatline through the crowd of medical personnel, willing it to move.

It didn't.

And the dad that Dean idolized his whole life wasn't there. And neither is Dean, and Sam keeps expecting to wake up, wake up, wake up. (He doesn't.)

One of the nurses is standing too close, hovering like she wants to put a hand on his shoulder. To his relief, she doesn't touch him. "I'm so sorry," she says. "Where's your father?"

"I don't know," Sam says, because John isn't there, John has never been there, not when it counted, not when Dean was dying before and not when he's dead now. Some things, he supposes, never change. Some things, like fathers who never really were what their oldest son thought they were.

John bursts in then, and stares, and his mouth moves, and Sam thinks where were you and he thinks what mattered more than this and he thinks-

Their father is crying, not loudly, but still, and Sam doesn't think he's ever seen anything so pointless, because it doesn't change anything, and he still wasn't here. They don't embrace. They don't even step near each other.

The Winchester distance, and Dean in between them, who always used to be able to close it.

The room is so quiet, Sam thinks. Death should be louder. Dean was always louder.

Was. It doesn't sound as final as it should.

~.~

The Impala is a lost cause. That's John's exact words, lost cause. We'll retrieve whatever's salvageable and get another car. Dean would have wanted it fixed, Sam thought, but he nodded along, something turning in his stomach like a mutiny he didn't have the energy to foment.

John gets the car. It's still black, it's still sleek, and it feels like a jangle along raw nerves, a knife edge scrape and god, he's turning into Dean. Dean wasn't the car, it was just a car that Dean loved. The past tense seems all too natural, and it makes Sam feel sourly guilty.

Sam signs the papers the hospital shoves at him with shuttered eyes. Their sympathy is sincere by all appearances, but it's still rote.

They're taking Dean's body for a hunter's funeral. Sam is deliberately not thinking about that drive; him and John and Dean's dead body and god it's just starting to hurt. He should have driven faster, should have –

Something.

~.~

They burn Dean's body ten miles out in a big empty field on the side of the highway. Both of them are silent through the whole thing. Sam looks at the amulet resting on Dean's chest and wonders if it would be stupid to reclaim it, like it might keep some kind of connection, but it doesn't matter enough.

They keep the fire burning until there's nothing left. Something in Sam's gut gnaws quietly, wondering if he wouldn't rather have Dean hanging around as a ghost or not at all, but that's selfish and stupid and he's not going that way.

His dad's eyes are red, and Sam wants to know if he's crying but doesn't ask. He doesn't really want to talk to John right now. Isn't sure he wants to talk to him ever again.

Sam doesn't know how he's so calm. Doesn't really want to think about it, because if he does he's pretty sure he'll fall apart and doesn't want to do that, not here, not now. Maybe later.

It's over so fast. And then they're done, and John is asking if there's anything…

Sam shakes his head, still mute. Nothing makes sense right now, and he's still trying to get it straight in his head, because even with Dean's body there it's not really real, it's not really…

And Sam thinks of Nebraska and Roy LeGrange and I didn't even save him for a year.

This time, it's John who lingers and Sam who walks away, and the bitter voice in Sam wants to know why John finds it so easy to be a father at just the wrong times. Kind of wants to punch him in the face and yell at him that the least he could do was be there for his good son when he was dying, because that was Dean, that was always Dean.

The good son. The dead son.

Sam wants everything to stop, or at least to slow down.

~.~

"Where were you?" Sam finally asks, sitting in the passenger seat of a strange car. It's comfortable with enough room for his legs. He keeps shifting, confused. John doesn't look at him.

"When."

"When Dean died." Sam stares straight ahead. "I just want to know what was more important."

Out of the corner of his eye, Sam can see John's jaw spasm, tighten. He's pissed and trying not to show it. Sam wants to know what the hell John thinks he has to be pissed about. "Sam," he says, in the tone that always used to be followed by sit down and shut the hell up. Sam's not ten anymore. He's not eighteen either.

"You don't think I have a right to know? Was it about the demon?"

"Don't take that tone with me, Sam."

"I'll take whatever fucking tone I want! Did you even think-"

John's hands tighten around the wheel and his voice rises sharply. "None of this would have happened if you'd just shot me when you had the chance!"

The silence between them rises sharp and impenetrable. Sam doesn't answer.

"We're not going to talk about this," John says, and Sam sneers.

"Yes, sir," he says. John's knuckles are white but he doesn't rise to the bait. Sam turns and looks out the window, and thinks about Dean, and how Dean would be stepping in now, mediating, fixing. And now he's not here.

He's not here, and fuck, he's never going to be here again.

~.~

Sam goes for a run when they get to the motel. Dumps his stuff on the bed and changes shoes and takes off before John can stop him. "I'll be back," he says, over his shoulder (Dean would say sure, Arnold but Dad doesn't say anything).

He runs for a ways, watching the cars go by, before he finds a quiet place. Sam sits down on a bench in an empty park as it's starting to get dark. He runs his fingers through his hair and swipes sweat off his forehead.

Then he bends forward and starts bawling. That's the only word he has for it, the full body heaves that could almost be a retch, the tight feeling in his chest and the tears rolling down his face. It's the kind of crying that hurts, and for a few seconds he can't breathe.

And then it's over. Well, not over, but he pushes it down and buries it deep. He can't do this again.

He thinks about the yellow-eyed demon, still out there. And can't care. Not as much as he probably should. Then again, what else is there to do now? Go back to Stanford?

Now that he's here, he can't even imagine it. There's so much space between here and there, and going back now…

Sam gets up and scrubs at his face with his sleeves before starting back to the motel, hands shoved deep into his pockets. When he opens the door, John is cleaning the guns and his gaze is sharp. "Where were you?"

"I told you," Sam says. "I went for a run." His tone sounds too neutral even to him. John nods, after a moment, like he's making some kind of concession.

"There's a hunt in Wisconsin I want to check out. We should be on the road early to get there as soon as possible."

"Right." Sam sits down on the other bed and starts unlacing his shoes. He's looking at them when he says, "And if I don't want to go with you?"

The pause is momentary. "You got somewhere else you're wanting to go?"

Sam shrugs. "Maybe I do."

John shifts, but only a little. It's how Sam knows he's in trouble, but he doesn't really care. "Where's that? Back to school? I shouldn't have to remind you that yellow-eyed demon is still out there."

"And you don't need to," Sam says, looking up. "Maybe I'm thinking of hunting on my own. Or finding some other partner. One I can trust, maybe. Who won't drop everything and bolt when something comes up more important than, I don't know, his son's life-"

John's voice snaps like a whip. "Seems to me you're the one who does most of the bolting in this family."

"You make me sick," Sam hisses, not even sure where the words are bubbling up from. "All your talk about family and keeping your partner's back, that's just crap, isn't it? 'Unless your personal vendetta gets in the way', that right? Then, screw that-"

"You don't know a damn thing about what you're talking about."

"You could tell me!"

For a moment, John's silent, and they stare at each other with the air crackling between them like it always does when they argue, and no one there to diffuse it. Sam expects it to explode any minute and throw them both out of the room, light the entire goddamn motel on fire. Then his dad grunts and says, "I was trying to make a trade."

Sam's jaw twitches. "What kind of trade? With who?"

Another hesitation, and then, "With the demon. My life for Dean's."

Sam snorts. "God," he says, "I wish you had," and it's cruel and thoughtless and true, and Sam lies down on the bed and rolls away so he doesn't have to look at the other occupant of the room, so he doesn't have to picture his dad, John, begging for Dean's life.

Because he needs to be angry at someone, dammit, and the demon's too far away and Dean is dead and that's not really his fault, and Sam wonders where they'd be if he'd just fired back in the cabin and ignored his brother one more time.

~.~

The drive north is quiet. They don't have any tapes, and John doesn't even bother to flip through the radio. Sam doesn't really want to either. The car is comfortable; Sam can put the seat back far enough to stretch his legs and his head doesn't brush against the ceiling.

Every minute of comfort feels like a betrayal, and that's stupid.

Sam flips through the files tiredly, scanning the information. Murders inside the house, only children left alive, no sign of a break-in. He slept badly last night, restless and troubled by dreams that smelled of smoke and sulfur and Dean with yellow eyes.

He kind of wants to apologize for what he said last night, but then he doesn't exactly, and he doesn't think it would help anyway, so he just keeps his silence, and John keeps his, and it's like being alone in the car.

Sam's never liked travelling in the car. This just makes it worse. They're crossing into Ohio when John says, "Are you going to take off?"

"No," says Sam, after a moment and a sigh, and thinks, Dean would kick my ass if I did and also I don't even know where I'd take off to.

John just nods.

~.~

Hunting with John is nothing at all like hunting with Dean. With John everything is fast, efficient, do the job and move on. There's no pausing at bars, roadside attractions, nights spent with pretty girls. Sam'd forgotten what it was like.

He doesn't mind, not really. Doing it this way keeps both their minds off of why they can't stop moving. Sam also likes that John never fusses over his eating or sleeping patterns, and Sam doesn't bother John about…anything, really.

It's like living with a stranger, but at least they don't really argue. Often.

Except sometimes.

Two months out and neither of them mentions Dean, though he's there, of course he's there, so close Sam can almost feel him, and it's one of those nights Sam goes out and gets hammered and ends up in a stupid fight he might have started.

John drags him back and stitches him together and they say nothing once again, even if it's there in the tight line of John's lips, Dean wouldn't be this stupid and in the taut angle of Sam's shoulders, it's not you I want.

~.~

It's been ages since he had a vision, so this one takes him by surprise in the middle of the night and he doesn't even understand what it is at first. A guy walks into a gun store and shoots himself, and when he really wakes up his head feels like it's going to split wide open and break apart. Sam fumbles for the pills and then realizes that he never refilled them.

Dean would have reminded him to do that. Dean's dead.

Then he opens his eyes the rest of the way and Sam realizes his dad is gone. The car is gone, the gear, his weapons, everything: gone. His cell phone goes straight to voicemail and there's a vague note by the TV about the motel being paid out, he has something to take care of.

Bullshit, Sam thinks, through the headsplitting pain currently dominating his attention, and then, you selfish ass.

He hasn't been this pissed since Dean died. Hasn't felt quite this intense sense of betrayal. Because Dean wouldn't do this, wouldn't take off like this, and for all the running his family always claims he's done, hasn't their dad always run further?

Who knows if he'll come back? Who knows what he's doing, what's so important he has to ditch in the middle of the night without a word, what kind of secrets he's keeping – because that's it, isn't it? John has always been big into this need-to-know bullshit, and if Sam thought they were partners in any way he should have known better.

John isn't Dean and he keeps forgetting that.

In the end, Sam's head makes his decision for him when he moves too fast and ends up throwing up on his hands and knees, stomach contracting painfully as lights explode behind his eyes and an ax is opening his head like a wedge, so Sam is pretty sure that going anywhere is not going to happen, not now.

He downs four Advil instead and gets back in bed, and lies there with his eyes open and his stomach rolling, thinking about how some guy is going to die even though Sam could help, because John had to go do something important.

Maybe he should just leave.

Sam knows he won't.

~.~

John gets back a day and a half later and walks in like nothing happened. Sam's head is still hurting but there hasn't been another vision, just the one. His dad looks tired and troubled, but Sam really doesn't care.

"Where the fuck did you go," he says, the moment the door opens.

John seems honestly surprised. "Thought you'd be glad for the break," he says.

"Break?" Sam laughs, sharply. "When I didn't know where you were, if you were alive or possessed or some shit, and you didn't answer my question, where the hell did you go you didn't find it necessary to tell me about?"

"Something needed taking care of," John says.

"That's your answer?" Sam can hear the sharp edges in his voice, and John's eyes narrow.

"It's done, Sam. You still going to pitch a fit about it?"

"If it's done, what does it matter if I know what 'it' was?" There's a nasty feeling in Sam's stomach, not quite uneasiness or suspicion but something like it. "How often is this going to happen, huh? You just taking off without warning? Maybe next time I end up in a hospital-"

"It's not a secret, Sam," John says, cutting him off with a twitch of his jaw. "I got a tip on something, that's all. Something that might lead us to that yellow-eyed bastard."

"And why didn't you tell me?" Sam jerks to his feet and paces over to his dad. He's taller now, has been for a while, and doesn't really care about using his height. "You know I want that thing dead as much as you. So you got a lead, great. What was it?"

"It didn't pan out." John isn't cowed, of course not. He just stares back at Sam, as impassive and immovable as ever.

Sam looks away, and grits his teeth. "I had a vision," he says, finally. "Too late now, though. The guy's probably dead. Guthrie, Oklahoma."

He wouldn't notice it if he didn't spend so much time with him, but John tenses. Maybe it's just the vision, the reminder that Sam's some kind of freak but something pings warily in Sam's head, so he asks, "And where was this lead?"

"Drop it, Sam," John says. "It's over. We need to get moving again." Sit down, Sam hears, shut up, don't ask questions.

Sam's never known when to stop asking, and that's why he looks up the Guthrie newspapers. It takes a while, but eventually he finds what he was looking for; a missing persons report for an Andy, but it doesn't mean anything.

At least not until he does a little more looking and learns that Andy's mom died in a fire when he was six months old.

The shivers that run down Sam's spine don't mean anything either. Not really.

~.~

Sam's never been possessed before.

It reminds him of that one night he let himself cry, and afterwards shoved it all down so deep he hasn't found it since, except it's all of him shoved down, and a demon shoving his tongue down some girls' throat as she shoves him off, yelling obscenities even as she backs away fast.

It's Meg, or whatever her name is, and she whispers to him with a sweet and deadly voice, tells him about Dean, about how Dean's in Hell (he isn't, he isn't) and all the terrible things she's going to do with his body.

"You're ours," she says, and Sam doesn't understand what she means, and is too busy trying to claw his way to the surface to care.

John finds him, of course. He could never get away from John. When he faces his father, Sam's eyes are black and his dad is holding a gun and Meg is letting him see. "Like what you see?" she says in his voice. "You know how it goes, John. Go ahead. Go ahead and shoot. It might even be for the best."

Meg spreads Sam's hands and sets his feet. "You know you've thought it. You know why Mary's dead, don't you? Why Dean's dead? The reason's standing in front of you."

The gun doesn't even shake, and Sam is thinking of the cabin, and the mirror of this situation, and something fades, because he hears that condemnation and understands, because hasn't he thought it before? Mary and Jess and Dean and he leaves a trail of dead bodies behind.

"You killed some of the other ones, right? You and Walker." Meg curls his mouth in a smile. "My daddy was a little upset about that. But he always did like this one. You culling the competition for your boy?"

The gun doesn't move. John starts an exorcism, and Sam can feel Meg dig her claws in.

"Now or latter, Johnny," she sings. "Now or later, you're going to have to choose if you're hunter or father-"

John doesn't even waver, and Sam can feel himself start to tear in two, and thank god, it's over now, it's over now, except it's never over, never never never and now maybe he knows why.

~.~

He comes back shaking like an addict and his father's arm is around his back, one broad palm on his face, forcing their eyes to meet. There's fear in John's eyes. "Sam," he says, "Sammy."

Sam stares at him, because everything he heard doesn't go away, but John is manhandling him into something like a hug, and Sam is tired and his whole body hurts, so he lets his head fall down on his shoulder.

"I thought you were gone," John says, and his voice has a minute tremble in it. "I thought you were dead. Sam. You're okay."

"Am I?" Sam hears himself ask, because now or later and the reason's standing in front of you and John's grip tightens.

"Yeah, son," John says, "You're fine," and for the first time in at least four years and maybe as many as six, Sam believes him.