Epilogue: Human, After All

The first warm flavor of spring was melting the ice of March when Sam and Dean trained beneath the cloudless sky.

Past hurts hadn't healed completely; there was stiffness in Dean's gait, a hitch in Sam's stride. Bruised ribs, damaged kidneys, a punctured lung, a badly torn rotator cuff; old wounds that put them just slightly off-balance.

But sometimes the only way toward that last step of recovery was to push the body beyond its limits.

So they sparred, on Kansas flatland soaked with the last snowmelt and brilliant with first touches of warmer weather. This winter had been harder than the last, in more ways that one; mostly by consequence of isolation and cabin fever. Neither of them would admit it to the other, but they missed Bobby's constant companionship; they missed the visits from Pastor Jim, and on some level they missed the glory of a fight. Of having the eyes of every person in the room riveted on them.

There was no going back.

So they poured these things into their blows, into relearning each other; Dean, learning how Sam had gotten stronger, had picked up some moves, somewhere, that weren't illegal but than Dean wasn't expecting and more often than not, they tripped him up. And Sam learned that Dean was a more cautious fighter, now; planning out his moves steps in advance, less likely to overcompensate or be forced off balance.

It turned into competition, a game to bust through each other's guards, and they relished it; landing kicks, punches, spinning in and out of each other's reaches. They sparred as fiercely as they'd argued, as they'd hoped, as they'd fallen and just as passionately at they'd chosen to believe through every unpredictable happenstance during the whirlwind year.

Damn near electric, exhilarating, it pounded through their veins as rich as blood until the moment Dean slapped Sam's left hook away, grabbed the front of his shirt and hooked his legs out from under him, slamming Sam flat on the ground.

Breathing staggered, they regarded one another with an air of anticipation; knowing the fight wasn't over yet, both waiting for the other to make the first move.

Sam pulled his knee between their bodies and heaved Dean off, surging up and over and switching their places. He dug his heel into Dean's femoral artery and laid the bar of his arm against Dean's throat.

Dean stretched his head up to relieve the pressure, and grinned. "Not bad, Sam."

Sam pulled his arm back, sitting up on his haunches. "Just like that, huh?"

Dean levered himself up with his weight braced back on one hand, rubbing his throat with the other. "I don't follow."

"We just…go back to the way things were? To the way we were? Like nothing ever happened?"

The reality—that they'd come to the end of their trail in the fights—had long since sunk in. Two and a half months of stagnant seclusion had forced them to face as much: there was no more fighting to keep them on their game. But there were other things that lingered beneath the surface.

Seattle. Nashville.

"Yeah, Sam, just like that." Dean draped his arm on one knee. "You know why?" When Sam shrugged, eyes distending slightly, Dean pointed to him, "Because Winchesters don't do the moping thing. We don't lose our cool like that. So you're gonna do what the rest of us are doing: you take that crap and bury it so deep, it can't crawl out of its grave. And just in case it does, you gotta be ready to blow its freakin' head off. You keep going after it like that, and you don't let it control you."

Sam didn't believe in ghosts, or zombies; but he did firmly believe that sooner or later, sins had a habit of catching up to you, no matter what your policy was on keeping the past in the past, where it belonged.

But Sam had something, on the other hand, that he knew he didn't deserve: the love of his family in spite of his flaws, the understanding of the one person he'd betrayed above everyone else. So for now, he was content to leave the boat calm, on clear waters. Rocking it would come later, if it came at all.

The screen porch banged and Sam twisted around at a whistle from John that wafted across the yard. "You boys finished up yet? Dinner's on the table!"

Dean gave Sam a shove, backing him off. "On our way!"

Dean shadow-boxed Sam back to the house, moving with his shoulders to the gate, so it was Sam who stopped at the white-picket fence, eyes traveling up the length of the house, all shadowed peaks and divots in the sunlight. It struck him like an anvil, a force of motion straight over his still-sore chest, that he was staring at home.

Dean stopped, with one hand back against the fence. He snapped his fingers. "Earth to Sam!"

"I'm with you," Sam murmured, casing the house, through the window that looked into the second-story hallway. His room was there, inside his house. Somehow, orphaned from infancy, abandoned by the demons who'd done their best to break him while they raised him, Sam had found his second chance. And his third, his fourth, his fifth; but then, he figured, that was what family was. Forgiveness inside the skins of the people you pulled close and protected with your own lives.

"Doesn't sound like it." Dean's hand slid off the fence. "Dish it, Sam, what's eatin' you?"

Sam's intended nothing was the hedging he knew would rile Dean's temper; he cut himself short. "D'you think...after Nashville…that it's really over? That Lilith will stop coming for us?"

"I don't think she takes getting kicked in the teeth real well." Dean shrugged. "But that's okay, Sam. Just means we'll have to take off, sometimes, go disappear. Go see the Grand Canyon. Or, hey, we can work on that bucket list of yours—all fifty states, right?" He elbowed Sam, and Sam dimpled a smile.

"Right."

"It's a big world out there, Sammy." Dean turned, leaned his outstretched arms on the fencing and les his clasped hands hang loose. "Lilith's got her army, but, hey. They can't be everywhere at once. We'll get by, my mom and I made it in New York. It's not easy, but, uh—"

"It's worth it," Sam concluded, huskily.

Dean slid a glance toward him sideways. "Yeah. Worth it."

Sam crossed his arms on the rain-swollen white wood; it rattled slightly, reminding him of a fence around a Qualifier ring in Lancaster, and Dean leaping to his defense. Dean, always, leaping to his defense. "What now?"

"I'll tell you what. We go inside, we eat a friggin' delicious dinner, and then we take baby out for a spin. After that, who the hell knows?" Dean flipped a megawatt grin Sam's way. "And that's the best part, dude. We could find someplace easy and get jobs, move up to Sioux Falls and rebuild the place…world's our oyster, Sam, we could go anywhere."

"But Lilith's still playing her game…the world's still in the toilet, Dean."

Dean snorted. "Let someone else play hero. It's not our job to save the world, Sam. Besides, it's not like we actually could…Lilith's got the Colt, she probably melted it down already. It's our job to stay one step ahead of her…keep our family alive, keep our friends alive. We can't pull every single person out of the fire."

It rankled at Sam; but he accepted it, anyway. Because the world staggered on, crippled, but it only staggered on at all because Lilith kept everything spinning. In a strange, unbalanced way, Sam could see that they needed her. The dark, counterbalancing the light. At least for now, until something revealed itself, some way to gank her without plunging life into utter chaos.

"Boys!" John hollered from around the house. "Food's gettin' cold, get your asses in gear!"

"We'll be there in a second, dad!" Sam called back; catching himself, breath hitched, waiting for reprimand on the slip of the tongue.

"No, you come right now, or you go hungry."

Sam let out a whoosh of breath, and smiled half at the prospect that, maybe, heritage and legacy and sins accounted for, he'd finally found stable footing with John.

Dean rolled his eyes and legged easily over the fence. "Some things never change. He'll always be a pain in the ass."

Sam scaled the fence in one easy hop, his muscles stretching warmly into the motion, and Sam wandered on Dean's heels toward the front door; realizing, as he went, that Dean hadn't touched on one crucial part of the equation.

Sam's entire life stretched ahead of him, free of fights; the first twenty-some years, just a misty nightmare melting off under the sunrise. For the first time since he'd been a child, Sam had a mother, a father. For the first time in his life, he had a brother; someone too proud to say he loved Sam, and Sam was too proud to say it back.

So they played it into their bloody knuckles and blood in their mouths, into the game of sacrifice, always moving closer to each other. Their actions radiating, they were fighting for something. They all were.

Sam had found love on the flipside of his own personal hell, and he was ready to hold on hard, until his knuckles turned white, until running dark burned off into white daylight. Until the sun stopped shining. Until he couldn't pick himself up off the floor anymore.

And even then, he had a feeling he'd keep going; he had someone watching his back, someone to bolster him up when he buckled, when the walls crumbled around him.

"Better move your ass, Sammy, or your apple pie's mine." Dean taunted, taking the porch steps two at a time.

"Aw, Dean, c'mon—don't even think about it!"

"Ha!" The burst of sound was a dare as Dean flung the screen door wide.

Sam took a step, hesitated, looked over his shoulder toward the road. Plumes of dust rose from places where wild animals had raced across the hardtop, and disappeared into the waxing shadows of the late afternoon.

Sam thought he could live with this, with his own tiny corner of paradise, as long as he got to keep the people that were important to him. He'd done enough, given enough—almost given his life. Baptized, turned over, washed clean, Sam was ready to pick up the pieces and build something that finally made sense. Build a life around the Winchester brand on his arm, around dogtags and beers and the hands that pinned him down, over his heart, telling him that as long as it was beating, they could handle the rest.

"Sam!" Mary's voice wafted through the open front door. "Did you get lost?"

Sam grinned. "Coming, mom!"

And Sam Winchester scrambled up the porch steps to join his family, stepping out of the shadows and up into the sunlight.

-The End-

-X-

Final Author's Note:

And just like that, it's over.

Well, not just like that.

I began writing Faceless late last October, but the inspiration came earlier, when a months-long dream of mine came true: I went to see the movie Real Steel. My friend, who is a Supernatural fan just as much as I am, posed to me about halfway through the movie how different the story would be if Hugh Jackman's character was John Winchester and his son was Dean, making the robot Sam. From that crazy passing comment spawned forty chapters of monster fights and family values that became Faceless, a story that took me four months to write and oftentimes involved me spending whole days off from my job doing absolutely NOTHING but writing and occasionally eating. The story was that consuming for me.

So in this section, where I feel the need to thank people, she's the first. To Becky, thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for giving me the first spark of inspiration for this story. You helped me regain my confidence in my writing. And thank you, too, for talking it out with me when I didn't know what would come next, or how to express something. For crying about this story and cussing me out for the angst. You were always the kick in the pants I needed when I started to doubt myself. I owe this entire story to you.

To Maggie, who was not only my proofreader for the first half of the story, but also my biggest cheering section and the one who provided me with a limitless supply of inspiring screencaps from the show; all of which, somehow, seemed to fit into scenes of Faceless. She also put up with my countless hours of complaining about writing and my insatiable need to share snippets where she had no possible clue what was going on; I owe you, girl.

To marzbarz, MysteryMadchen, SPNMum, BranchSuper, LeighAnnWallace, Souless666, KKBelvis, Doyleshuny, and to anyone else, anon or not, who ever reviewed this story; who ever gave me feedback, positive or negative; who helped me craft a better sense of family values through this story, and encouraged me to explore the far reaches of desperation, courage, and what it really means to be human—thank you. You all kept me going when I was a barren desert in my inspiration.

And last, but never least: to every single person who ever read Faceless. Even to the ones who never reviewed. To everyone who ever gave my story a chance, I thank you. I've never to this day put so much of my heart and soul into a writing project as I did into Faceless; this story was my baby, my escape, my outlet and my lifeline for a long time. It's stayed with me for a very, very long while, even since I finished it. And if you went on that journey with me, even for a short time, then I'm grateful from the bottom of my heart. Posting Faceless for all of you has kept this story alive for me for nine months now, and I'm glad I got to share this experience with all of you.

Sometime down the road, there may be a sequel; I attempted one for about four months after finishing Faceless, but somehow I was getting the vibe from these characters that they'd earned their rest. So, for now, that's what they get - peace when they are done.

Beyond that, well. There's always the chance. Lilith's still out there!

Stay in the sunlight.

-Fire