Well here it goes- you've made it to the end. I want to give a huge thank you to everyone who has taken the time to read this story. And to those of you have reviewed, a huge thank you, your comments are always welcome and I appreciate the time you take to write them.

With that being said, I hope you enjoyed this story. I know I took a short cut out at the end- but to be completely honest- school starts next week and the vast majority of my focus has to shift to curriculum planning- pretty much now. I knew if I didn't wrap this story up I wouldn't be finishing it any time soon- and I thought I owed you all more than just another unfinished story. So please enjoy. And if you will, leave me a final review! Thanks, ~L


SAM

"I'm not going to leave you Dean." He'd said.

Dean shook his head, unconvinced, "You always do."

And maybe, Sam thought despondently, he had. Even if he had always felt justified in his actions, felt that he had had a reason for everything—he'd never spent much time dwelling on the way it impacted anyone else. Though in retrospect, he really should have. Because as much as he had wanted to get away from a world he didn't understand or accept, he had always seemed to hurt Dean in the long run.

SAM WAS TWO MONTHS SHY OF NINE the first time it crossed his mind that he could get away from the world of crazy his father drug them through every time he uprooted the family and drug them to a new town, a new school, and a crappy new motel room. He was supposed to be packing up what little he had scattered around a dingy, poorly lit excuse for a house, when the idea snuck up on him and made him smile. His family was getting ready to take off again, a new hunt— a different town.

Earlier in the week Sam had been invited to a birthday party for a kid whose name he no longer remembered— but he had wanted to go something awful. He was angry and upset and why couldn't he just be a normal kid and do things all the other normal kids did?

So when his father had told him "no" for the "final time" and left to fill the car up with gas, Sam did something he'd never dreamt he could have done before.

Sam ran.

Three hours later his father and brother found him stuffing his face with ice cream and cake, and clearly winning a game which involved the use of a sling shot to knock bottle caps off fence posts, in the birthday kid's backyard. His father looked tired, as he stood on the opposite side of the white picket fence, his face regretful. It was as if his dad could finally see how much Sam had longed to be just another kid. "Sammy," he'd said producing a sloppily wrapped box from under his arm, "You forgot this."

Sam had taken the present with shaking hands, unsure what he was supposed to say or do. It had been like his dad was trying in advance to apologize for the inevitable move that was coming next, and it made Sam feel miserable. He didn't want to leave this town, he liked it—he liked the people. But he loved his father and his brother. And he was sorry that he had left them so eagerly hours before. He'd looked up at his father's heavyhearted smile and nodded. "I'm sorry dad."

His father cleared his throat, shoved his hands in his pockets, "You should say that to Dean, Sam." His father offered quietly, motioning across the street to where Dean sat in the Impala, "He's been worried sick about you."

Sam had left the party minutes later, after handing over the gift and explaining that his grandmother had fallen ill and his dad was waiting to take them out of state to visit. When he'd climbed into the backseat of the Impala, out of the view of anyone who might object to it, Sam had fully expected to be yelled at, maybe even slugged. But to his surprise it never came, and Sam wasn't upset when nothing was ever said about it again.

THEN AT AGE FOURTEEN Sam took his disappearing act a step further and pulled off what he had considered to be a clever and daring escape. For two weeks he had camped out in a run-down shack, eating Funyuns, pizza and drinking Pibb to his heart's desire. It was carefree and simple, and while not quite the normal he longed for—it was a temporary way out. It was a chance to test his resolve, to see what he could do if left to his own devices.

Of course neither his father nor Dean had seen it that way when he'd been found. His dad had come unglued this time around, read him the riot act and threatened a number of consequences should anything like this ever happen again. And while Sam had felt guilty about his disappearance and regretted the way he had hurt his father, nothing came close to what he'd done to Dean.

For an entire week Dean refused to talk to him, and on more than one occasion he'd caught Dean folded in on himself, crying. When Dean had finally decided to stop punishing him, start talking to him again, he'd only briefly mentioned how the two weeks he'd spent looking for Sam had transpired from his point of view, brushing off any of the residual feelings he'd had with his classic 'no chick flick moments' rule.

And again, as time had passed, and wounds healed, Sam had left the memories of those two weeks in Flagstaff behind him.

SO WHEN SAM TURNED EIGHTEEN, and had already been accepted to and made the decision to leave for Stanford, it wasn't that hard to see himself running as fast as he could toward the promise of freedom. In Sam's mind Stanford was more than an opportunity that thousands of kids had hoped for—it was his only chance at making a normal life. And if by some chance he was successful, maybe his family—most importantly his older brother— would see there was a way out of the Winchester Madness after all.

While Dean had known for months that Sam was planning his escape, it still seemed to come as a complete shock to him. Sam could remember the way Dean had looked at him as he'd left that night. Dean looking rattled, eyes betrayed and silently begging him to stay. But this, he had realized as he stood there, duffel bag over his shoulder, was it. He was either going to let his family dictate his life or he was going to take a leap of faith and follow his dreams.

What Dean had no way of knowing about that night, was the way Sam's hands had shook so much on the bus ride that he had taken to sitting on them in order to calm his nerves. He'd even begun crying, alone in the back of the bus, knowing that this time—this escape—was very different. His father wouldn't be coming to pull him back; and he could only hope that this time Dean would be wise enough to follow him forward.

But when days had turned to weeks, and weeks to months, Sam was faced with the reality that he was truly on his own. Dean wouldn't leave their father, and Sam couldn't go back. And while Sam was grateful to have the opportunity at Stanford, he couldn't help but feel with every day that passed, the roads that could lead him back to Dean were crumbling just a little bit more.

Then out of nowhere, four years later, he was ripped away from his so-called 'normal' life. And seamlessly Sam found himself back in the world of crazy he'd been running from for years; sitting shotgun in the Impala, a familiar but terrifying place to be all at the same time. And again, days passed by and turned to weeks, and weeks to months, and it almost seemed as if Sam had never left, and years of missing his brother—and even his father—melted away, fading into the background.

NOW, AT AGE TWENTY-EIGHT, Sam sat beside his brother again, his voice shaking as he recounted the events over the past few years that had led him to make the decision to walk away nearly a year ago. As he talked, Sam couldn't help but think that as Dean listened, he too was thinking of all the disappearing acts Sam had pulled off through the years prior. And Sam knew if Dean was thinking about those disappearing acts, he was blaming himself. And if Dean was going to blame himself, then Sam had to set the record straight.

Because this time, he swore, was different. This wasn't him acting out or being selfish, this was a decision to walk away and let Dean have his chance at the normal life, a chance Dean had long deserved and undoubtedly always wanted.

DEAN

UNDER MOST CIRCUMSTANCES, well, pretty much every circumstance honestly, Dean had always been able to find a way to forgive Sam. Even at his lowest points Dean would always push past and find the strength to keep going on. No matter how black the sky seemed, no matter how hard the battle had been—he'd always found and forgave Sam in the end. Dean knew without a doubt his willingness to forgive and forget wasn't because he was a saint who had the power to grant absolution for Sam at every corner.

It was simpler than that.

Because not forgiving Sam was the same thing as walking away from him.

And leaving Sam behind had always been like cutting his heart from his chest.

DEAN SHIFTED UNCOMFORTABLY in the hospital bed and studied Sam's tired and shaking features before him. As Sam spoke, he listened, trying to the best of his ability to understand what was being said between the frantic tones of Sam's strained voice. For a while it felt as if he were detached from himself, watching the one sided conversation from a place far away, wondering if everything he'd heard Sam was say was a mistake. Because it had to be a mistake. How had Sam been back for a year? A whole fucking year and— hell he couldn't pick up the god-damn phone? Write a fucking letter? And worse, how could Sam ever possibly think that what he had needed was a life without Sam in it? Good Sam, Dean thought innocuously, just cut the heart right out of my chest.

It was hard to listen to, impossible to comprehend. If Dean hadn't been tethered down to a damn hospital mattress he was sure he would have flown at Sam, hit him right in the jaw. Not only because he was pissed, but because he wanted Sam to stop talking—to stop saying shit that wasn't making anything any better.

He wanted to scream at Sam. Wanted to…

But the kid was falling to pieces right there in front of him, hunched over, forearms trembling on shaking legs, eyes red and watering. God was Sam shaking…

"What have you been doing?"

Sam stared back at him, his face twisted. Dean knew the look—guilt and anguish and anger all rolled into one.

"Sam?" Dean's voice was more insistent this time, verging on barking out an order, "Talk. Now."

Just don't say hunting, Dean thought angrily as he watched Sam squirm beneath the weight of his glare. You say hunting and I will kick your ass.

Sam shifted again; eyes locked onto Dean, and this time he cleared his throat. "Indiana University," he said, "Law School."

Dean felt his body jerk. Felt the pain that radiated back from his leg, letting him know that the residual anesthesia was wearing off. Letting him know that everything was about to go south. He shook his head, ignoring the feeling of his heartbeat pounding in his leg as a bitterly relieved feeling built up inside his chest.

"Law School? Shit."Dean wanted to laugh, but it wasn't laughter that came out, instead a strangled angry noise that escaped his throat as he sank deeper into the hospital bed, rubbed a hand across his face. "Wow…" Dean shook his head incredulously,"Sammy, you ditched me for school, again?"

He wasn't sure what he had expected to hear, but... really?

Still, Dean was relieved, because Sam going to Law School wasn't horrible news—it wasn't even bad news. And yet he felt bitterness creeping up because he knew this tune already—Joe fucking College— and suddenly this was starting to sound—to feel— altogether too familiar.

Huh. Okay. He had to get his head together.

He just didn't have a clue what the hell he was supposed to say, to do, with this information.

"Dean." Sam was shaking again, his voice rattled.

"Shut up Sam." Dean snapped, feeling his whole mouth go dry, "Is it possible that you don't remember Stanford?"

"It's not the same Dean."

"Oh, you got to be kidding me," Dean began, "Because taken from the perspective of someone whose been left the hell behind a few times, it sure feels like it Sam."

"It's not the same." Sam offered, knowing full well that Dean wasn't buying it before he stood carefully, turning to face Dean, as he rubbed a hand along his jaw line, "Not the same at all." He insisted, "Because when I left for Stanford—I left hoping you would follow. I left thinking that if I could just get away then so could you… and everything would be solved. But when you didn't show up… well, I guess the truth is I stayed because I wanted to."

"Well, I feel better now that that's cleared up." Dean muttered gripping the sheets in a tight fist, "Thanks Sam."

Sam stared at him for drawn-out, quiet moment, jaws set, chewing the inside of his cheeks, as he decided on his next move. He exhaled, looked around the small room and shook his head.

"It's different this time," Sam asserted, "because this was about you. And I knew if I came back I would screw up your life and everything you were working toward. And I know you're drawing some ridiculous parallel between what I'm doing now and what I did at Stanford—convincing yourself that I did this to get away from you or something equally untrue—but I mean it Dean—I stood there and I knew I couldn't be responsible for messing up your life any more than I already had. So I made the decision and I walked away, not because I wanted to, but because it felt like it was the only option I had left. And out of everybody in the universe Dean, I imagine that you completely understand what that feels like."

For a long moment they both sat silently staring at each other. Dean knowing full well that Sam was right. He understood, because he himself had felt the same way every time he had stood outside of Sam's dorm, wondering if knocking on Sam's door was worth ruining everything Sam had worked so hard for. Dean sighed, it still amazed him, he thought, the toll they had each paid, how willing they were to destroy themselves in exchange for saving the other.

Carefully Dean ran a hand over his face, pinched the bridge of his nose and swallowed. It was there, Dean knew it, just like he always had— that forgiving Sam was going to happen.

"Listen Sam," Dean shrugged, tried his best to offer up a subtle smile, "For what it's worth, we've both done some pretty screwed up stuff man." Maybe if he was lucky, Sam might even forgive him.

CASS

IT WOULD BE COMPLETELY REMISE TO BELIEVE that years' worth of mistrust and anger could be resolved in one night, but Castiel found comfort in the scene playing out in the small hospital room none the less. There would be more questions than answers. There would be hard decisions and even harder consequences to face. But it was a starting point, and more importantly it gave him hope. Because if the Winchester brothers could muddle through, than anyone could.

NO, FORMALLY THEY WEREN'T HIS CHARGES ANYMORE. But yes, Castiel told himself as he watched the two men before him, they still were. And if he had anything to say about it, that's how it would remain. After all, he reminded himself, he'd spent too many hours with Sam and Dean Winchester over the last few years to know that leaving them completely on their own was seriously misguided at best.