Four-year-old Sam looked up at his big brother, chubby hands clutching the torn fabric around his recently scraped knee. Crocodile tears streamed down his face and his lower lip trembled, his face scrunched in pain. For a moment, he said nothing, still registering the shock of having fallen off the monkey bars; and then, reaching out to the boy, wailing: "Dean!"
But Dean already had his little brother in his arms, carefully lifting up the pant leg to examine the wound. "It's ok, Sammy," he soothed, gently helping the child to his feet. "You'll be alright. Your big brother's here. Remember? I can fix anything." Sam sniffled, but nodded his head in agreement. It was true. Dean really could fix anything. He was the greatest big brother in the whole world.
"You ok to walk, kiddo?" Sam nodded again, but never released his grip on Dean's hand. Together they made their way back to their motel, Dean telling silly stories about the monkeys who lived under the dreaded gym equipment ("why else do you think they're called monkey bars?" "You're silly, Dean!") until Sam almost forgot the stinging on his knee. And when they finally arrived to the motel, Dean carefully cleaned the scrape as tenderly as any mother, topping it off with a Spider-Man bandage. "All set, Sammy," he grinned, ruffling his thick curls. "You wanna watch cartoons?" And so, with his older brother at his side, little Sam curled up on the sofa, curled up with his favorite teddy bear, the incident in the playground forgotten. Sometimes, it was with a story, a funny face, or just a simple hug. But even at four, little Sam knew that Dean could fix anything.
"I'm going, Dean. There's nothing you can do to stop me."
Dean looked up at the man standing before him, duffle slung over his shoulder and a look of grim determination in his hazel eyes. Sam was adamant that he was going to leave, and there was not a goddamned thing he could do about it. What kind of protector was he? How could he possibly keep an eye on Sammy if he was across the damn country? Dean wanted nothing more than to pull his brother into a hug, beg him to stay (please don't leave, you and Dad are all I have left) but instead he shot his brother a fierce look, one that didn't say "I love you and need you" but "fuck you, I don't need you." He saw the hurt in Sam's eyes, how they suddenly were downcast, and once again Dean told himself that he had the opportunity to fix things, right then and there. There's still time. He hasn't left yet. Say something before he walks out that door. And Dean did open his mouth, yet instead of the words of love or even encouragement, they stung, like quick slaps across the face.
"Then you do that. There's the door, if that's what you want so damn much."
"Just go, ok?"
Dean dared to look up at his brother, and immediately regretted his choice of words. As usual, Winchester pride had overridden emotion, and he had said something he didn't truly mean, words which had shattered his younger brother to the very core. Sam's eyes were bright with tears which he was trying desperately to blink away. "You don't mean that," he whispered, swallowing the lump forming from beneath his throat.
"Wanna bet, Sam? You're so eager to ditch us, right? That's what you want."
"I want you to be happy for me. To be proud of me."
Dean said nothing, biting his lower lip to keep from crying. He wasn't about to break down in front of his brother. "Please don't make this any harder, Sammy," he murmured, turning away. Nodding, Sam slung his duffle over his shoulder, drawing a deep breath. This could very well be the last time he saw his brother, and it broke his heart that they were parting on such terms. There was so much he wanted to say: I'm sorry, I'll miss you, I love you. But instead, he gave his brother a pat on the shoulder, hoping to at least part on some positive note. "See you around, Dean," he said, and was gone.
Sam knew not a half hour later that his brother still loved and cared for him. Because, tucked in the bottom of his duffle, was an envelope stuffed with cash and a few extra snacks for the long bus ride. But Dean felt no such security. As he stood, watching his brother disappear into the night, he felt, for the first time in his life, that he, Dean Winchester, couldn't fix everything.
Dean looked down at the still form lying on the moth eaten mattress, eyes bright with tears. Sam lay cold, face surprisingly peaceful, one hand resting on the chest where no heartbeat could be felt. Just a few days earlier, he had been so full of life, promise, despite the horror and bloodshed and filth he faced on a daily basis. Not a week ago, after Sam had rescued him from the grasp of the Djinn, the younger hunter had reassured him that it was worth it, and he had believed him. It was worth it to be the good little soldier their father had trained him to be, because it was his job. To faithfully keep up the "family business", no matter what the cost. He could fix anything, after all. But Dean knew the truth, what truly was his motivation for saving complete strangers and hunting the supernatural. It had been the tall, rather lanky man with the too long hair and those expressive hazel eyes, the man who had looked up to him as a preschooler, who had wanted to emulate his big brother in every possible way.
The man who now lay dead before him.
He had failed. At the one job he had been bequeathed as a four-year old, carrying his infant brother from their burning home. The one who was supposed to fix everything had failed to do so, in an irreparable, final way. How could he possibly live without Sammy? With himself? He was nothing without his younger brother, his reason for living, for getting up and breathing every godforsaken day of his miserable life. It was all a front: the women, the cocky attitude, the crude attempts at humour, all were a mask he had worn those years his brother had been at Stanford. It had been one of the happiest days of his life, reuniting with his estranged brother. And while it broke his heart for Sam to lose Jess, reuniting with his brother had chipped away at the mask, easing the burden he had been carrying for years. Though he had grieved his father's death, Sam's presence had helped to finally bring him at least some form of peace. His geek brother had made him smile again, a feat Dean had thought to be impossible. And now he was gone, and everything holding him together collapsed like a house of cards. There was nothing now. Nothing to live for.
"What am I supposed to do, Sammy?" Dean whispered through his tears. But he already knew. It had been an idea he had been toying with, to be honest, for months, from the moment he had faced the Crossroads demon that night in Mississippi. A life for a life, soul for a soul. He had come so damn close to making that deal, to bring back his father, to reset the scale so to speak. Instead, he had chosen to save Evan Hudson from the pit. Not because he was following the family code; not because Sam thought it was right; not even because the circumstances of Hudson's deal were eerily similar to his father's. He didn't make that deal because of Sam. Because he couldn't bear to put his younger brother in that much pain, not even to bring back their father.
But now, the stakes were high. His life for Sam's. Dean knew that if things went his way, he would be putting his younger brother through his own hell, one he would likely never recover from. The pair were horribly co-dependent, to the point of the loss of one would be more than just devastating. This whole fucked up situation was case in point. But Dean knew that he had no choice. It had been his one fucking job to protect his brother, and he had failed. This was his chance to make it right. To reset the scale.
Because Dean Winchester could fix anything.
Dean had been there for him from the moment he first drew breath. He had carried him to safety the night their mother had died; he had cared for him, fed him, read him stories at nighttime when his father was away, in a drunken stupor, or too absorbed in research to really pay any attention. He had sent him several care packages while he was at Stanford, even during those years when they hadn't been talking. He had made that damn deal with the Crossroads demon to save his life.
Dean Winchester could fix anything.
And Sam could not. As each minute passed, that ever incessant mental clock reminding him of his brother's deadline, Sam tried everything to save Dean, to find that miracle reprieve which would reverse the deal. Though sometimes at the last minute, his brother always figured something out, came up with some sort of plan which would set things right. A well timed shot at the Wendigo, a strategically aimed remote control, even a bottle of Tylenol and a cold glass or water or some much needed flu meds.
And Sam couldn't return the favor, no matter how he tried. And now, it was too late. He had witnessed his brother's death, the most horrific, agonizing death imaginable, and had been unable to stop it. No cries for mercy, tears of sorrow, could convince Lilith to withdraw her contract. He was a failure. And so he had cradled his brother's bloodied and broken body in his arms, shaking with grief, the intense pain overwhelming him. And he had finally understood Dean's need to make that pact with the devil; Sam could finally understand the hurt, the overwhelming grief and loss which threatened to consume him. He couldn't live without him, couldn't breathe without him.
And so he had followed in his brother's footsteps. He stood before the crossroads, already reeking of alcohol, blinded by drunkenness, grief, and rage. The demon standing before him seemed amused, eyes twinkling as he slowly made his way to the broken man before him…
…And round and round the Winchesters go…
…until he stood before Sam, sneering at the sight of him. He delighted in Sam's face when he had shared the news that no deal would be made, that Dean was right where he was supposed to be, even as he grimaced in pain as the demon blade was thrust into his hand, pinning him. "I've made peace with my lord," he had hissed.
Sam had put on a brave face, not about to let that demonic sonofabitch see him break. But the minute the creature had left, its vessel slumped unconscious on the ground, Sam had broken down, sobbing. He had failed. His brother was rotting in Hell, and there was not a damned thing he could do about it. Except for one thing. With shaking hands, Sam pulled a flask from his jacket pocket and downed half in one setting. And when he had emptied it, chucking the container with vehemence into a nearby ditch, Sam buried his face in trembling hands, body shaking with intense sobs.
He could fix nothing.
"It's ok, Sammy. I'm here. I'm here. I'm not gonna leave you."
Sam felt a weight lifted as Lucifer's grip on him relaxed, if only for a moment. The gleam of the chrome on the Impala had reflected in his eyes, snapping him from the fallen angel's trance. As he felt himself slowly regain control of his body, a flood of memories flashed before him, warm, comforting, familiar.
Riding shotgun in the Impala, belting Bon Jovi just hours before his brother would meet his fate.
"Driver picks the music, shotgun shuts his cakehole."
"I know. I look fantastic."
Strong arms holding him close, never letting go."
"It's ok, Dean. Everything's gonna be ok. I've got him."
And as his brother looked on, Sam felt himself falling, weightless, heart filled with both fear and a strange sense of peace. Because finally, Sam had fixed everything.