Coping

There were very few moments when Sam Winchester had even been afraid. He had been only an infant when his mother had died that fateful November in Lawrence, and had been sheltered from his family's history of hunting from his over protective older brother. Hell, Dean had always kept little Sammy in the dark about his dad's mysterious disappearances. With Dean Winchester around, Sam had never really felt anything close to fear; the only time it seemed to rear its ugly head was when Jess had died, or when Dean himself had nearly died from the car crash.

Those moments as Lilith unleashed her fury, just a few moments earlier, had scared Sam; had terrified him. Was it because of his brother's unresponsive body just a few feet away from him, the brother who could not stand by him and protect his Sammy? Was it the uncertainty of facing the demon which not only had held his brother's ticket to Hell, but was bent on raging a demonic war on Earth? Sam wasn't certain, but he did know, as he stared into Lilith's eyes, black as coal, that there was likely no way that he was walking out of this demonic light show alive.

That had been a few moments ago. Lilith had fled, as equally surprised as the young Winchester that her fool proof light trick had not killed the snot nosed kid in front of him. And now, alone with his brother, Sam had never felt more alone, and terrified, in his life. He knelt by his brother's side, gently cradling his lifeless body in his arms, sobbing uncontrollably. He had failed to save Dean, and now was alone in the world. No big brother to keep him out of trouble, to keep him safe. God, if only he could hear Dean's reassuring voice, even hear one last playful "bitch." "I'm sorry Dean," he murmured through his tears, holding his brother tight in his arms.

Lost in his grief, Sam had not notice Bobby silently enter the dark room. Bobby had had an idea that Dean would likely lose his gamble with the Hellhounds. Unless one was fortunate enough to be born on Christmas Day, it was next to impossible to come up with a last minute stay of execution. The man leaned against the door, eyes moist with tears, watching Sam for several minutes before finally approaching him. He didn't really want to, it was as if he were interrupting a sacred ritual, but Bobby knew that Dean would have to be salted and burned. Gently Bobby laid a frail hand on his surrogate son's shoulder. "Sam?"

Without looking up, Sam grunted a mumbled reply. Undeterred, Bobby continued: ``Sam, I'm sorry. He was like a son to me.``

``Yeah, I know.`` Sam paused, finally looking up. ``I`m sure you want a moment.`` Without waiting for a reply, he gently laid Dean on the floor and left the room, without so much as hug. Bobby watched him leave, heart heavy for the loss not only of Dean, but Sam as well. Who knew what foolishness the youngest Winchester would get into following his brother's death?

Bobby had insisted on the typical hunter's funeral; the salting and burning, the usual means of saying goodbye for those who hunt monsters for a living. Sam, however, would not have it. While Bobby had been alone with Dean, Sam had been racking his brains, trying desperately to come up with some way to save his brother, and even though he had not come up with a solution yet, he wanted to make damn sure that his brother would be ready to jump back into his meat suit and any given moment. Reluctantly, Bobby had agreed. He followed Sam to what seemed to be a predetermined spot in Pontiac, Illinois, a small, secluded grove a few miles north of the city limits. The ceremony was brief; a grave dug, a simple wooden cross erected, and last goodbyes uttered. Sam gently rubbed his thumb against Dean's amulet, memories of that motel room Christmas of 1991 flashing before his eyes. In what seemed like the blink of an eye, it was over. Bobby returned to his truck and made his way back home, and Sam gunned the Impala's engine and headed for the nearest motel; not to sleep, but to pour over John's journal. Maybe there would be something in there, some clue as to how he could rescue Dean from Hell. As he sped away, his hands gripping the wheel his brother had held only 24 hours earlier, thoughts raced through his mind. Could he? Was it possible that any demon would make a deal with him? After all, he was the one with the special powers, obviously a potential threat to Hell's minions.

``Shit!``Sam pounded his fists into the Impala`s steering wheel, vision blinded by his tears. His phone rang, and for one irrational moment, Sam thought Dean was calling with details on a case, or to share the story of the latest chick he had picked up at the bar. Sam pulled over and pulled out the phone; the caller ID warned that it was Bobby. For a moment, Sam considered answering, but after a while, hit the power button. He couldn't talk to him, at least not now. Alone, angry, and terrified of the years ahead he would face without his brother, Sam cried, with a passion he had not felt when Jess, or even his father, had gone. He sat there for what seemed like forever before finally edging the Impala back from the shoulder, feeling a sense of calm for the first time since it had happened.. Maybe there was no way to save Dean, but he sure as fuck was going to try. After all, he was a Winchester.

Days turned to months, and then weeks, usually spent alone in cheap motel rooms with bottles of whiskey, or anything Sam could get his hands on. Nothing he had tried could save his brother, not even a bargain with the crossroads demon. Bobby had called on a daily basis, and occasionally Sam would answer his phone or return a call, but for the most part, the elder hunter's attempts at communication were ignored, and eventually Bobby gave up calling altogether. Unsure whether to be relieved or upset, Sam spent his days in a drunken stupor, and his nights reliving nightmares of his brother in Hell, tortured, calling for help. Always Sam would be nearby, so close he could touch his brother, and each night, something would prevent him from saving him. All he could do was hear his tortured screams, his cries of agony, and constant begging for mercy. Just as Sam would come close to saving Dean, he would awaken, shaking and covered in sweat. And so would begin another day of drinking and wallowing in anger.

One afternoon, about two weeks following Dean`s death, Sam made the pilgrimage to his brother's grave. It was a warm afternoon, spring gradually transitioning into summer, but the warmth did nothing to melt the chill in Sam`s heart. He stood before the simple, unmarked cross. No one would know that Dean Winchester rested here, not that anyone would give a fuck but he and Bobby. The earth was still fresh, and Sam knelt by the grave, sifting the dirt with his hand.

``Hey Dean,`` he said softly. Subconsciously he pulled out the amulet from beneath his shirt, feeling the cool of the metal in his palm. ``I – I just wanted to say how sorry I am. I couldn't save you. I couldn't do a goddamned thing. You`re rotting in Hell, and here I am with no way to bring you back.`` Sam could feel the tightening in his throat. Swallowing hard, he continued. ``I mean, you saved my ass more times than I can count; you never let me down. I have one chance, and I couldn't even get it right. The tears were flowing freely now, but Sam couldn't stop now. This was his confessional, this raw moment that he had last experienced at Jess` funeral four years earlier. ``I need you, man. I`m a total mess right now. I know we haven't always seen eye to eye, but you're my big brother, and...`` Sam hesitated, knowing he was about to express what Dean would have called a ``chick flick moment``, but continued regardless. ``...I love you.``

Sam slowly rose, wiping his eyes with the back of his hand. With a heavy heart he returned to the Impala, as the sun set, casting an eerie shadow of a cross behind him.