A/N: I want to say a special thank you to everyone for sticking with this fic even though I took a long hiatus midstream. One of my guiding philosophies is that you should always finish what you start. So, as promised, here is the final chapter of this story. Happy reading.

A/N: Beta services provided by the amazing Ericka Jane. She's priceless.


TEN

Never Too Far

The first fork of lightening was like a trigger that set off rapid flashes punctuated with deafening. Skidding on the slippery asphalt the Impala careened off the roadway, slamming into a nearby ditch. The grip of the seatbelts was the only thing that kept Dean and Sam from being hurled around by the car's violent movement.

When the vehicle crashed to a halt on the side of the road, a disoriented Dean glanced up at the windscreen and saw the lightening blazing down from the sky. Instinctively he grabbed for his little brother. In Dean's mind, the necessary course of action was clear; shove Sam down on the front seat so he could shield him with his own body. But when he reached to grab his sibling Dean found himself being pushed down as the weight of his brother came over him.

Immediately Dean tried to shove Sam off but his younger sibling refused to budge and a struggle ensued. The tussle ended abruptly when deafening thunder shook the car, and the brothers resorted to an awkward huddle. Protest raged through every fiber of Dean's being as he was forced to accept that Sam had gotten the jump on him and had assumed the role of protector.

Hunkering down while his little brother shielded him sent a tidal wave of emotional discomfort crashing over Dean. For most of his life, Dean's automatic response in the midst of any crisis has always been to protect Sam and then look after himself. Standing between his little brother and danger was now second nature to Dean.

But as he found himself practically squashed fetal, Dean realized that somewhere along the line the instinctive need to protect his sibling had become second nature to Sam too. They weren't kids anymore with the older being responsible for the younger. They were grown men who were both strong and capable, and now it would go both ways.

Dean had fought hard to keep the old order but in doing that he had only managed to push Sam away. Every time he'd refused Sam's help or refused to be open or vulnerable he'd rejected his brother.

When the lightening abated and the roaring thunder quieted down to a gentle roll, the Winchesters were left facing each other in the front seat of the Impala.

"You OK?" Sam asked, visually triaging his sibling.

"Yeah," Dean nodded. "You?"

"I'm good."

Sighing deeply, Sam turned to look out of the passenger window.

"Look, Dean," he began softly. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have tried to force you to talk to me about what happened on your birthday."

Dean immediately realized that Sam was throwing in the towel. His little brother had gone out of his way to let Dean know that Dean could confide in him without fear of judgment or rejection, and Dean had stonewalled him at every turn. In holding his brother at arm's length Dean had actually given Alistair a foothold. If he hadn't kept all these secrets from Sam, the demon would never have been able to launch such a brutal assault against him.

So in the midst of a raging rainstorm, in a soggy ditch on the side of a practically dessert road, Dean realized that he owed his brother. He owed Sam the truth even if it made him feel weak and vulnerable. Sam had been man enough to face up to it when his secrets had been revealed and Dean knew it was his turn now.

Quite frankly, Dean would have given what was left of his battered soul to avoid having this conversation with Sam. But it was running away from admitting the truth to his brother that had gotten them into this hell in the first place. And now that he'd run as far as his will could take him it was time to face the truth and worse, to face Sam.

"You're right," he admitted killing the Impala's engine. "You shouldn't have to force me to tell you about that time, I should have volunteered."

Surprised, Sam turned back towards his brother. Dean held his gaze momentarily before shifting his glance straight ahead. Sometimes admissions were easier when you didn't have to look someone in the eye.

"A few weeks before my before my birthday Dad and I had a hunt that was an epic disaster on every level."

"What was it?" Sam asked trying to think of the toughest creatures to go up against. "A werewolf? A vampire?"

"It was a demon," Dean revealed. "And a family. A mother, a father and two boys."

Uneasily, Sam sat back in his seat. A unit that mirrored the Winchesters before demons and vengeance had intervened.

"The Carters were a regular All American family until a demon possessed the mother. We had to do an exorcism and although Dad tried to persuade the father to leave and take the boys out of the house, he refused to go. The demon was of the more resistant variety and by the time we managed to drive it out of the mother, not only was she dead, but that nasty bastard had gotten into the younger son."

"The little boy attacked his big brother and the father - who was freaking out over the mother's dead body - totally lost it and grabbed my knife and stabbed his son. When he realized what he'd done, he took off like a mad man and eventually turned himself in to the police. The older brother who'd had to watch his mother and little brother's murders ended up being institutionalized, and the father got charged for two counts of murder. As hunts go Sam, we'd never made a bigger mess."

"It's always the families that get you isn't it?" Sam sighed knowingly. In all his years of hunting Sam had seen more than his fair share of carnage but a thousand gruesome mutilations couldn't devastate him the way a grieving family could.

"Always," Dean agreed. "In our own ways Dad and I both took this one hard, but it was particularly bad for me. I sank into some kinda depression, I barely got out of bed, I couldn't sleep, I didn't eat and I felt like the life had gotten knocked out of me.

"Dad got all concerned that I wasn't bouncing back like I usually did but he didn't know what to do about it. The truth is Sammy, it all hit too close to home. I mean, demons, a dead mother and a pretty much ruined family, there were too many parallels with our history.

"The day before my birthday Dad asked me what I wanted to do to celebrate. We were staying at this dingy little motel, which really wasn't doing much to lift my mood. Dad thought he could use my birthday to cheer me up so he said we could anything I wanted. So I told him, the one thing I wanted was for us to go to California to visit you. I wanted the three of us to work out some kind of compromise. If you wanted to be at college, then fine but I couldn't stand us being estranged, I couldn't take anymore of the separation. I'd just seen a family devastated in the worse way possible and I wanted my family; more than that, I wanted my little brother. I didn't care if you didn't want to hunt; I just wanted to be part of your life again.

"So that's what I asked for; and Dad said no. He said as far as he was concerned, you'd abandoned us and if anyone should reach out, it should be you. We had a hell of a fight and I asked him if he wanted us to end up like the Carters. They would never be together again but we still had a shot; the only thing it required was compromise. But you know Dad, he didn't do compromise.

"To him you hadn't just rejected hunting you'd rejected us. He said if I couldn't tell from the way you left that you didn't want to have anything to do with him or me then I was dumber than he thought. He went on and on about how he had no intention of chasing after you when you were the one who'd walked out. And if all of that wasn't enough he said that you'd moved on with your life and I might as well move on with mine."

Gripping the passenger door armrest, Sam swallowed silently. Although he had a million questions, whenever Dean started talking freely like this, he didn't dare interrupt. There was always the risk that his big brother would realize he was actually spilling guts and then he would clam up.

"I'd gotten in Dad's face about it and said there was no way you would abandon your family altogether. You may have been mad when you took off but I didn't think that meant you didn't care about us anymore. But Dad wasn't buying that and he pointed out that it had been six months and you hadn't called to see if we were dead or alive, so I was a fool to think that my birthday would get you to break your silence.

"We almost got physical after that, and Dad left. But the last thing I said to him before he stormed out was that he was wrong. I told him that you did care and you would call. And I was so sure you would because ever since you could talk, you had always been the first person to tell me Happy Birthday. But then the day went on and the phone didn't ring. And Dad didn't call either. I'm not sure where he went when he walked out the night before, but he stayed gone for a little while afterwards. I didn't know whether to feel hurt that I hadn't heard from him or relieved that he wasn't around to rub my face in it when I didn't hear from you.

"At some point in the day I found myself asking what was the point of my life? My family was a mess and I couldn't stop other people from going through the same hell we did, or worse. I'd been raised to think the most important thing I could do with my life was to fight evil but what was the point when you ended up watching a father murder his own son? Why was I spending all my waking hours fighting a battle that I was never going to win?

"It was my twenty second birthday and I didn't have a damn thing to show for my whole miserable life. The only thing I'd ever really had that was worth squat was my family and now, I'd lost that."

The statement was like a kick to Sam's gut. It had been more than ten years but it was clear to him that Dean had never really gotten over the sense of abandonment he'd felt that day.

"I'd tried, Sam," Dean said regretfully. "I'd tried to be a good son to Dad and a good big brother to you but that day I felt like it was all for nothing. And that's how I ended up in a motel room with a gun at my head."

"Dean," Sam cut in, desperate to correct his brother's misguided notions. "You were and you always have been a great son and an amazing big brother."

"Don't," still refusing to make eye contact, Dean held up an apprehending hand to signal his unwillingness to continue the dialogue. "Forget it, Sam. It was a long time ago and we've all moved on."

"No," Sam shook his head; he wasn't going to let Dean get away with pushing him off. "Time might have passed but you never really dealt with the fact that you felt like me and Dad abandoned you, and you can't just keep brushing it off."

"What else would you like me to do?" Dean said tiredly.

His brother's defeated tone had Sam squeezing his eyes shut to force back tears. He couldn't break down now; it wouldn't be fair to Dean.

"I want you to stop pretending like it was nothing," Sam pleaded.

"Well," Dean wasn't even trying to disguise the emotional quiver in his voice. "Since you took that little trip around my head you know it wasn't nothing."

"And I'm sorry, Dean. I'm sorry about the way I left for Stanford and I'm even more sorry about not keeping in touch. It's one of the things I regret most in my life. But I can't undo it now I can only apologize."

"Fine," Dean said softly, still finding it easier to look anywhere but at his brother. "Apology accepted. Please, can we move on now?"

"No," Sam insisted. "Dean, I need you to look at me."

Reluctantly, Dean turned to face his sibling. His stomach fluttered nervously when he met Sam's eyes. He could tell Sam was trying valiantly to keep it together, but Dean's revelations had Sam on the edge of an emotional tailspin. For his part, Dean wasn't doing much better.

"I didn't realize until I saw you sitting there, in that motel with that gun at your head how much I had hurt you and what I had driven you to, and I need you to know that I'm sorry."

Dean couldn't bear it. His own vulnerability laid bare coupled with his brother's obvious anguish was just too much.

"Don't worry about it," he whispered hurriedly, desperate to shut the conversation down. "Everything worked out OK in the end. Bobby called and got me back on track. I got through it; so let's just forget it."

"I can't," Sam squeezed his eyes shut and ran his hands through his hair. "I can't get that image out of my mind."

"Well you need to," Dean insisted. "It's over and done with so just let it go."

"It's not that simple, Dean," Sam looked upward and ruefully shook his head. "They're a lot of things in my life that I'd like to do differently and somewhere near the top of the list is the way I handled leaving for Stanford but honestly, I didn't know what else to do. No one really teaches you how to deal with life choices when it's lose, lose. And I didn't know how to choose between my loyalty to my family and the future I wanted, so I did the only thing I thought I could do at the time, I just took off.

"That first year, I thought about you constantly and I picked up the phone at least a thousand times, but I didn't know what the hell to say to you if I called. By the time your birthday came around I didn't even know if you'd want to hear from me. And now all I can think is what would have happened if Bobby hadn't called you when he did? What would I have done if you had actually taken your own life? How would I have felt knowing that I hadn't said goodbye when I left and I hadn't been in touch with you for almost a year, and that I didn't even call you on your birthday?"

"O.K, now you listen me," Dean ordered, fighting desperately to keep his emotions under control. "If I had been stupid enough to blow my own brains out none of that would have been your fault, Sammy. Don't ever think you have to apologize for any of the crap that I almost did."

When Dean saw that Sam meant to protest his line of reasoning, he cut him off before he could speak.

"Don't apologize for knowing what you want and for going after it Sam, that's just who you are."

"Yeah," Sam agreed somewhat bitterly. "And every time I go after something I hurt the people I care about in the process."

"Well as far as Stanford is concerned I think you've apologized for that a million times. I really think we need to just put it behind us now, once and for all."

"I agree," Sam said softly. "But I need to ask you something."

Never able to resist when Sam used his little brother voice, Dean braced himself.

"What?"

"Why don't you trust me?"

"Sam, you're just about the only human being, living or dead, that I do trust."

"Then why is it that you'd rather have died a slow and painful death than have me find out the things you did because of Alistair's game?"

"You don't understand."

"Then explain it me. Please Dean, help me understand why there's this whole side of you that you never wanted me to see. Why is there this wall between us?"

Helpless, Dean slumped back in his seat and gazed out of his window at the dark rainy night. If Sam kept this up Dean felt knew he would shatter into a million little pieces that could never be put together again.

"Dean, look at me," Sam appealed, oblivious that his every word was tearing at his brother. "I need to know one thing," Sam continued when eye contact was reestablished. "Is it really so terrible that I know your worst secrets? Is it really so bad that I know who you really are?"

Dean abandoned all efforts to maintain what was left of his composure.

"I have no idea how to explain it, Sam," he whispered. "But growing up with no home, nothing to our names and no place to belong, the only thing I ever had was a little brother who used to look at me with awe in his eyes. I came to treasure that more than I could ever explain to anyone, even to you. But as we both grew older and that awe began to fade, I started to cover up anything that would make me seem like anything less than the super hero you thought I was when you were five. I didn't want you to know that I'd hit more all time lows than you could ever imagine."

"If it's hero worship you're talking about, then you're right; I outgrew that long ago. But I will never live long enough to outgrow my admiration for you, and the gratitude I will always feel for everything you've done for me."

"Sammy..."

"Dean, nothing I found out during this whole ordeal, nothing you've said to me now, and nothing that will happen in the future will ever change how I feel about you. You're not a superhero, you're my big brother. What you are and who you are will always be enough for me."

Dean covered his eyes in a vain attempt to hold back the tears that had welled up at his brother's admission. It had taken Alistair years of unspeakable torture to finally break him and now his little brother had done it in minutes. But with his gut-wrenching confession Sam had given Dean the one thing every human being needed more than anything else: acceptance.

Emotionally exhausted and now blissfully unconcerned about his hero status, Dean leaned his head against the car window and shuddered. Sam could hear the fatigue and the relief but he could also sense the need.

Emboldened and unafraid of rejection, he moved close enough to his brother to slide his arm around Dean's back. When he met with no resistance, Sam gently pulled Dean back against him and then sighed with relief as he felt his big brother lean in to his chest. Moving gently, Sam brought his other hand to rest on Dean's shoulder being sure to hold and not smother.

Sam didn't care if in a few minutes Dean pulled away from him and tried to save face by making a wisecrack about Sam being a girl. He didn't care if this became one of those emotional exchanges that was conveniently forgotten afterwards in deference to masculine dignity.

All Sam cared about was savoring the moment. At long last his big brother was leaning on him.

The walls had finally come down.

THE END


A/N: If you haven't already read it, feel free to check out "Deep Dark Secrets" and see what Sam's been hiding from Dean.