Season 7 Rejoinder

Highway To Hell

"Dean."

"Yeah?"

"We, uh. We gotta talk."

Sam veered the vehicle towards the rest area ramp. Dean's eyes took notice, a stamp of irritated confusion painted on his face. He'd just woken up in the passenger seat.

Sam saw Dean's expression and his heart rate ratcheted up even more. He had been in the car driving, building his own anxiety attack up over the past hour just thinking about this conversation. About what he would say.

This conversation, though? It actually all rested on Dean. And what Dean would say.

"Are you okay?" Dean asked suddenly, urgently, now taking notice of Sam's expression. Sam pursed his lips, worried about how this would all go down by the end.

"Sam?" Dean asked, sounding angry. That's what bothered Sam the most. Dean was angry.

"Yeah. Yeah, Dean, I'm fine," Sam replied softly as he parked the car off to the side of the mostly abandoned parking lot. There were two other cars parked down on the other side of the lot.

"Well okay then what'd you want to talk about?"

Sam shifted the car to park and hunched his shoulders for a second. Now or never, he thought. Like ripping off a band-aid.

"You," Sam replied simply, looking into Dean's eyes with his own bright, wide ones. Dean blinked slowly at Sam in exhausted disbelief. Really, Sam? Really?

Dean broke the look unceremoniously, rolling his eyes as he grabbed at the door of the piece of shit they were driving around in.

"Dean-" Sam called after him from behind the wheel, pleading. He was met with the sound of the passenger door slamming shut. Sam sighed, staring at the wheel of the car. Shouldn't have stopped the car for this, he thought with a bitter sense of humor.

Sam knew it would be hard. He knew this conversation was going to be difficult. His stomach was churning and his heart felt heavy. Sam didn't have the energy to get mad anymore; honestly, he was surprised Dean still did. Sam huffed a couple times, blinked away his own conflicts, and opened the door to the car to follow Dean.

He stood up next to the car and saw Dean in the food mart walking around the aisles. Sam broke into a wide stretch, trying to relieve his muscles and perhaps his own stress, as he continued scanning the area and spotted a few picnic benches. He started walking over to them as he pulled out his phone.

"What?" Dean answered, sounding disgruntled.

"Can you grab me a sandwich?" Sam asked. It occurred to him that he sounded way too serious, given his request.

"Ayuh," Dean replied, then hung up. Sam sat down at the picnic table. He'd created something like a diagram in his head: Ask this question. If Dean says, 'yes,' follow-up with this question. If he says, 'no,' follow-up with this question. And so on and so forth.

Sam knew he couldn't let Dean give an angry monologue and then make him drop it. Sam had heard too many of them by now.

"Sam I am so very very very very very very tired…"

"Dean like it or not, the stuff you don't talk about doesn't just go away. It builds up. Like whatever's eating at you right now-"

"-There'salwayssomething eating at me. That's who I am. Something happens –Ifeel responsible."

Sam was sick of it… Worst of all, he knew those speeches reflected the tip of the iceberg for Dean.

Sam thought about when the last time Dean had actually been honest about what was going on with him.

"Ever since Cas, I've had a hard time trusting anybody. And as far as how I've been acting, I don't know, maybe it's 'cause I don't like lying to you. Y'know, it doesn't feel right. So yeah you got me there, I've been, uh, climbing walls."

Sam had responded, "I know how that is," to Dean. But they were the wrong words. Dean didn't want anyone to identify with him; it probably didn't make him feel any better. And Bobby's words of wisdom… Sam huffed in skepticism as to whether those were the right ones: "Stop trying to wrestle with the big picture, son, ya gonna hurt your head."

What had Sam told Dean? Sam couldn't really recall. He just sort of agreed with Dean a lot of the time. It was tough, because Sam himself had been touch-and-go consistently since the Leviathans had made their appearance.

But now he was fine. Mostly. Not really.

Sam used his nail to absentmindedly carve a pentagram on the old, rickety picnic table. He was nervous.

"Hey-" Dean called in his trademark gruff voice. He had two subs in his hands, plus water, as he made his way to the picnic table. Sam remembered when Dean would pick up massive bags of M&Ms and coca-cola instead of water. Sam's heart constricted a little bit more.

Stick to the script, Sam told himself, thinking of the diagram of questions he'd made up in his head. Dean sat down across from him, handing Sam his sub. Sam took it and started unwrapping it, thinking about 'the launch.' Sam had come up with this term, in his head, awhile back to refer to the moments that began a conversation that he knew Dean wouldn't want to have. Again, he took a long breath, calming his nerves.

"Sam spit it out," Dean said wearily, angrily. He hadn't even looked at his brother yet, but he did manage to take a huge first bite out of his sandwich. Sam flinched at Dean's words. Castiel, if you're around. It'd be great if you could be here right now. Sam prayed. Nothing happened.

"Okay, um. What's… Up… With you?" Sam asked hesitantly. He wished he had tact right about now. And, by the way, he'd already blown the script.

"I'm eating a sandwich. What's up with you?" Dean retorted, looking at Sam in defiance. Seriously, don't start this conversation, Sam.

Sam didn't respond with irritation. He could've. Swear to god, he really could've. Instead, he just looked perplexed, thinking about the situation, his brother's message. He opened his mouth, then closed it again and took a bite out of his sandwich.

"How far away are we from Missouri?"

"Two hours, tops," Sam replied casually, still chewing. Sam started over. "Dean-"

"Sam. I really don't-"

"No, I know," but Sam stopped there. Dean didn't follow-up, either.

"Dean, do you want to die?" Sam blurted out.

Wow, Sam thought, that wasnoton my list of questions. Dean looked up at Sam, completely bewildered and pissed off.

"What? No!" Dean replied with shocked outrage.

Too much… It was too much outrage. Dean was playing it. Sam tilted his head, drilling his eyes into his brother.

"You're lying," Sam said softly. Sam was shocked that with this one question, he'd gotten to the heart of it all.

"Sam. No. I don't want to die," Dean tried again, this time with a furious calm. Sam saw through it, though, and his heart raced faster, his stomach dropping at what Dean's lies actually meant.

"Yeah. You do," Sam gulped. Dean's eyes were livid as he stared at his brother, his lips a perfect line of repressed rage.

Sam looked down at the table, trying to figure out what to say next. His eyes darted from side to side, fumbling with a follow-up question.

"Have you thought about it? Planned anything?" Sam asked desperately, looking back up at his brother. Dean snorted with disdain and looked up.

"Now why would I need to do that?" Dean replied snidely. Sam grimaced in disgust. He was genuinely repulsed by now at this conversation. His stomach kept flipping, his heart skipping, at every answer Dean gave. But he had been the one to push it… And he wasn't going to let go.

"Why?"

"Sam-"

"Just answer the question."

"You want brutal honesty?"

"Yeah," Sam answered even though he was scared… Really scared of what Dean was going to say next.

"Okay. Here goes. I've been to hell and back. I've been to heaven and back. I've had my brother and my best friend betray me," Dean paused at this, looking at Sam to see his reaction. All Sam had to offer was a guilt-ridden expression, so Dean continued: "Our brother, Adam, is still in hell… All our friends are dead… Because of us," Dean emphasized those last three words. They felt like daggers to Sam. Dean raised an index finger, acting like he had just thought of something: "Oh, except Bobby, 'cause he's ghost that might or might not go vengeful – so we might have to destroy him at some point," Dean threw in bitterly. Sam breathed. Dean continued. "The equivalent of my wife and child don't know who I am anymore. Should… Should I go on, Sam?" Dean asked, fuming.

Sam noticed he had slouched and pulled in on himself as Dean was talking. Dean's list was making him feel just as overwhelmed. He contemplated it all, trying to remain objective, and not as if Dean was pulling him under the current.

Dean took out Bobby's flask from his jacket, prayed to god Bobby hadn't been around to hear this, and slugged it down. Sam noticed and didn't care if Bobby could hear this.

"So, um. You haven't gone kamikaze, though," Sam finally managed to say. "What's been stopping you?"

Dean looked up from his pull from the flask. Sam saw his anger drain away somewhat, and instead he just looked exhausted. Exhausted and empty.

"You," Dean replied softly, not looking at Sam as he put the flask back into his pocket. Sam didn't say anything; just waited for Dean to look back up at him. "I won't leave you," Dean clarified gruffly. It wasn't an emotional statement; it was just fact. Sam's brow furrowed in frustration.

"Me. Me because you care about me or me because it's your job to have my back?" This question got one hell of an immediate reaction from Dean.

"Jesus Sam, really?" Dean moved to get up from the picnic table, completely disgusted and offended by the question. Sam was faster than Dean gave him credit for, though, as Sam got up at the same time, reached out and grabbed his brother's arm roughly, pulling him back down.

"Dean! Yes! Really!" Sam pressed fiercely, his eyes lit up in his own world of anger, pissed off and hurt that Dean was feigning all of this 'I'm offended' bull shit. Dean was avoiding. And deflecting. Using every trick in the book.

And Sam could see straight through it.

"Answer the question," Sam demanded firmly. Dean shook his head in silent rage.

"Dean!" Sam raised his voice louder.

"Why does it matter, Sam?" Dean suddenly yelled. Sam was surprised; there was a whiny tone to Dean's voice.

He was begging Sam to drop this.

"Because it matters to me, Dean!" Sam insisted, yelling back. Dean didn't respond and just continued shaking his head, his expression coming closer and closer to the hopelessness that Sam suspected was the root of Dean's behavior; to Dean's anger. "Dean, Dean listen to me," Sam lowered his voice, "After this. After all this. With the Leviathans. Do you want to stop? Do you want to stop hunting?"

"Sam, don't you get it? That doesn't happen," Dean replied, exasperated.

"Damn it, Dean," Sam slammed his fist on the picnic table, actually making his brother flinch. "Answer the question. Do you want to stop hunting?" Sam pushed.

"Even if I did-"

"-Dean!" Sam yelled, interrupting, his voice laced with contempt.

"God damn it, Sam, NO," Dean gasped out, looking desperate, directly into Sam's eyes. Sam caught the emptiness in Dean's expression, but he latched onto his words.

"No, you don't want to quit hunting?" He asked quickly, forcefully.

"No, Sam, I can't answer your question because I can't see it," Dean yelled. Tears had started to fall against Dean's cheeks despite himself. Sam threw Dean a brief look of confusion.

"You can't see what, Dean?" Sam shot back, his heart beating a mile a minute. God, this is it, isn't it? Sam braced himself against whatever Dean was about to say next. Needless to say, it wouldn't work. Dean's words tore him to shreds.

"I can't see the future. I can't plan for it. We can't hope for anything because nothing is under control. Don't you see that?" Dean yelled back with attitude, but his face was screwed up in distress, almost panic. Sam's eyes had become watery as he felt Dean's despair overtake him. And he knew, he knew Dean was yelling at Sam. "Sam, I want to hope. I wish I could see something good. But there's no light at the end of the tunnel for us anymore, man. Not in this world. Not for me," Dean said, nearly reaching a sobbing point. With one last heavy grunt of emotion, Dean got up from the picnic table.

Sam was still, sitting and looking down, absolutely distraught. Sam's tears fell onto the table as Dean's words sunk in and slashed him to the core. Dean looked at Sam and noticed the tears. His expression turned apologetic: he didn't want to make Sam feel like this. But Sam had pushed him into it. So here it is. It is what it is.

"Sam," he continued seriously, "the only happy ending I can see… That I know exists… Is up there," Dean pointed skyward to the heavens. Dean put his hand down, looking at his devastated brother.

With that, Dean turned around and started walking back towards the car. He let his tears fall without much abandon until he reached the door of their car. He took a shaky breath and wiped his eyes, hoping the moment was over. Sam simply remained still at the table. He tried to get himself under control.

Sam heard the car door wrench open. Before Sam could fully collect himself, he realized Dean was trying to end the conversation there. That he was planning on getting into the car and sit there, calm down, wait for Sam to get into the passenger seat... And they would do what? Sam thought. Drive in silence until a surface conversation started? Ignore this had happened?

"Pop on down to Wally World?"

Dean's voice screamed back at Sam in his head: YesShut. Up. Sam. It was vicious, almost feral with the intensity with which Sam knew his brother wanted him to back off.

"Dean- Wait! Stop!" Sam jumped up to get to Dean. Dean turned away from the open door and looked at his brother wearily.

"Wha-"

"Please don't hit me," Sam spoke softly, looking slightly fearful of it anyway, as he walked determinedly at Dean. Dean's expression lit into blunt confusion, his guard completely down as he watched in disbelief as his hulking brother opened his arms at Dean.

"Sa-Oof!" Dean exclaimed in irritation as Sam pushed Dean against the car with the force of his embrace, having wrapped both arms around Dean's back from under Dean's arms. Dean hadn't been hugged by Sam like that in a very, very long time; as if he was the taller one.

Having not been able to calm down completely after their chat, Dean was still emotionally spent; he was tired… He laid his hands lightly on his brother's back awkwardly, his eyes still brimming. He wasn't really returning the hug; not really. He felt detached, heavy.

"Sam-" He started, but then suddenly Sam slammed him back against the car as he clutched his brother, then tightened his grip. Dean choked back a sob that he'd been trying to hold back, surprised.

"Sam!" Dean pleaded, too tired to get angry. Again Sam just nailed him against the car and Dean's heart beat sped up, the embrace doing nothing to stave off the images he was, just a second ago, trying to repress: his mother kissing him goodnight, his father smiling in approval, Jo turning him down the night before she died, Ellen hugging him in River Pass, Colorado, Bobby asking him how he's doing, Rufus downing Johnny Walker Blue in his kitchen, and Adam's eyes looking to him in panic, blood dripping from his lips… Images of everyone Dean had lost… Snapping through his mind in waves of grief.

Dean whispered, out of breath, for Sam to stop.

Dean felt Sam tighten his grip, and Dean cringed as Sam slammed him again. "Ah. Sam-" Dean huffed out in tears, his pained expression a result of fighting tooth-and-nail not to break as he saw, in his mind's eye, Lisa getting stabbed, Ben calling Dean for help, both of them looking at him without recognition in the hospital room. Another flash and Castiel was apologizing to Dean, then getting blasted with brilliant white light. Dean gasped a sob as Sam moved his hand further up to Dean's neck, his other hand pressing the center of Dean's back, pressing Dean right against him.

Dean gagged sobs down as Sam shoved him again, this time so hard that Dean's head slammed back against the car hood and Dean's head flashed and his heart tore open as he saw images of his own brother's face steaming from the holy water he'd thrown on Meg, then lifting up from the neck of a demon with blood covering his mouth, then sneering in the alleyway as he watched him get turned by a vampire, then convulsing in the panic room…

Dean had to grab Sam's back to stabilize him at that last hit, and he finally fell to pieces. His palms opened wide against his brother's back and he grasped Sam so tightly – tighter than Sam's grip. Now, hugging his little brother, he flashed back to the 4th of July 1996, back to Sam's tearful confession that they were just starting to become brothers again after they'd been hit by that 18-wheeler, back to their prank war during Hell House, back to running with Sam in his arms from the fire, back to when Sam had died – and Dean had had no other recourse but to sell his soul. Then one memory flashed through him and he zeroed in on it. No. Me. As long as I'm around, nothing bad is gonna happen to you.

God, he wanted to go back. To rewind. To feel like he could still make that promise.

"Sammy-" His voice broke, "I just want to die," he cried, sounding absolutely lost. His chest heaved and Dean was actually sobbing, now, completely shaking, wracked with guilt and grief against Sam's frame. Dean's grip was tight around his brother, but Sam was essentially holding them up. Dean had lost strength in everything except his grip on Sam.

Sam lowered Dean down to the ground with him and held tight as Dean's shattered memories tore through him.

Intertwined in the most intense bear hug either of them had ever had, Sam felt his brother's sobs and only held him tighter.

"Dean. Dean I'm gonna need you," Sam spoke softly, honestly, his chin resting against his big brother's shoulder, angled towards Dean's head. Dean kept his hold on Sam. "Dean, don't let go of this. Don't let go of this – I'm still your little brother. I still need you, okay?" Sam's voice cracked in the midst of his statement, shaky at his last word.

Dean loosened his grip a little bit more, as did Sam. The moment was still happening, but the two of them started to relax into the embrace.

"Okay?" Sam pressed, his voice teetering. "Dean?" Sam's voice trembled, quivered with emotion. Dean's response would determine whether Sam would stay or jump off the edge. Tears fell from Sam's eyes onto the back of Dean's shirt and Dean felt them. Again, Dean was jack hammered back in time - Sam was 3 and Dean had carried him all the way home from the grocery store because Sam had been crying over… Dean coughed a laugh in remembrance… He'd been crying because Dean had burnt his hand on the melted cheese dispenser and burst out with a stream of furious expletives that would have made sailors blush (even at the age of 7). Dean's hand had stung unbearably as he carried Sam in one hand, the groceries in the other, but he held Sam…

Dean gave a brief sob and repositioned his arms around Sam, pulling him in and twisting him so Dean's knees could press against Sam's back as he hunched over him, clutching him tightly. It could've been an awkward maneuver, but Sam just followed suit and naturally knew that Dean wanted to hold him like that… Like he was smaller.

Dean's affection shot through him in memories of words spoken and actions taken over the course of his life from and with his brother… Slowly, Dean felt strength coming back to him, flowing into him, with every word Sam had said to him, with every memory he had of that time back when… Back when Dean held absolute conviction that he would never let anything happen to his little brother.

"Sam, I'm not going to leave you," Dean replied solemnly. "Have I ever?"

Sam broke into a few sobbing gasps of laughter.

"No-"

"No," Dean repeated, cutting Sam off before he could say anything else. "I won't leave you, Sam. You're all I've got, now. I could never leave you, okay?" Dean assured Sam, feeling all the world like they were back in Kansas, or back when all they did was hunt Wendigos and ghosts. Feeling all the world like he was a big brother, telling Sam he or, everything, was going to be okay and… Actually believing it.

"Okay?" It was Dean's turn to search for Sam's confirmation.

"Okay," Sam whispered against Dean's neck.

"Okay," Dean repeated, mimicking his brother's tone, but coming off more reassuring. Sam hadn't heard that tone in a really, really long time.

Neither of them really wanted to unlock; neither of them wanted to actually look into the others' eyes.

This moment was one of the most mortifyingly embarrassing moments of their lives, but it also knocked right up there as one of the most meaningful. The longer they stayed there on the ground of the parking lot crammed against the side of that car, the more damage was repaired; the more good memories flashed by before their eyes; and the more stable they felt as brothers.

That's what they were: brothers. Not partners, not friends. They had grown up together, living and sleeping alongside each other in, essentially, the same one-bedroom motel room every single day for the entirety of their childhood; most of their adulthood.

Dean hadn't even realized the gaping distance that had slowly been cracking at him over the course of the past two years. Even when he had tried to ground Sam to reality in the warehouse, he had used pain and suffering to prove what reality was.

Had that really been him talking? His Beautiful Mind, bat-bonkers crazy baby brother was looking to him to bridge the gap into reality, and all Dean could offer was the mutual experience of having been tortured?

"Sam… Sam?" Dean asked, his voice cracking again with worry as he pushed Sam away from him to look down into his eyes. Sam let go reluctantly, but immediately responded to Dean's alarmed voice, looking straight into his brother's eyes, slightly alarmed himself.

"Sam you know this is real, right?" Dean asked, searching Sam's face. Sam breathed and gave a half-hearted smile of relief.

"Yeah, Dean, I know this is real," he replied calmly, gulping air down, trying to relax.

"Okay, okay good," Dean replied, letting his breathe out, relieved.

Ah, god.They both thought. The moment's over.

A leftover tear streamed down along the tear tracks across Sam's temple and dripped off his face as he raised himself up from Dean's arms (with Dean's help) to lean against the car next to Dean. Sam sniffed a few times in the motion of it, gathering himself and looking down.

Dean sniffed and wiped his face with his sleeve, blinking as well. They both sat stock still, not looking at each other, but rather straight ahead. They didn't touch shoulders. It was dusk, the rest stop's high-beam lights blinked on. The highway's speeding cars zoomed past every once in awhile.

"Sam," Dean started, and Sam turned his head vaguely in Dean's direction, looking at Dean's profile. "Sam, we don't ever talk about this," Dean said stoically, but the corners of Sam's mouth twitched.

"Okay," Sam said simply, obediently.

Dean leaned forward with a deep sigh.

"Ah what-the-hell-what-the-hell-what-the-hell…" Dean murmured to himself, wiping his face in disbelief that that had just happened.

"Dean, I-"

"C'mon Sammy," he said gently, interrupting. There was no need to go into things further. Without hesitation, Sam grasped Dean's forearm and got up. Sam made his way over to the passenger seat. Dean was already tuning the radio.

Sam bit his lip and wiped his eyes again.

"You okay?" Dean asked, noticing.

"Yeah, you?"

"Yeah," Dean murmured as the engine picked up and he reversed the car out of the spot. Dean spun the wheel deftly with his palm as he took a sharp right out of the parking lot.

They were back on the highway.

Writer's Note: Thank you so much for reading! Please please take a few seconds out to review this for me. Else I'll have felt like I should've broken it into chapters (::gasp:: A one-shot? And how!).

Honestly, I've been hoping for Dean to break all season so he could get back to being a big brother instead of an… Alcoholic. I'd love your thoughts, input, criticism, etc. I doubt we're going to see anything remotely like this tomorrow, so, you know, if you're anything like me: Write it, read it, enjoy it on , I suppose, right? Cheers, guys! ~ Alex Kerr

Writer's Note: Thank you to ackeberlynn for her amazing review. She literally convinced me to edit this ages after I'd first posted it in order to stay true-to-form with this story. Thank you thank you thank you for your insightful review!