Ryan's Hope
K Hanna Korossy

Bobby's heavy footsteps announced his arrival before his gruff voice did. "Outside looks good. Grass's still wet from the rain, no wind, and nearest neighbor's a good hundred feet away—the fire shouldn't jump ship."

"Good," Sam said because Dean didn't seem inclined to, bent over his task by the wall. Sam knew better than to think his brother wasn't listening, though. He pulled his gaze away to Bobby, skipping over the small body in his peripheral vision. "You wanna…?"

Bobby's gaze was shifting calculatingly between the two of them. "Think I'm gonna go move the car around the corner. No telling what Nervous Nellies might be watching from behind their curtains."

"Thanks," Sam said with relief, and turned back to Dean. He listened to the back door click shut before addressing his brother. "You need—?"

"I got it," Dean said tersely. There was a sudden spark between his hands, and he blew gently on it, coaxing it into a fire. As soon as flame appeared, he dropped the newly frayed lamp wire and watched the fire catch on the rug and begin to lap against the wall. Dean stood and stepped back, still eyeing his handiwork.

Sam's gaze moved on to what else they'd wrought that night. Ahead of him lay a body on a blood-matted rug, its neck torn out. Behind Sam lay the culprits, two dead boys, boys they'd brought here with the best of intentions, having no idea they were unleashing a monster.

"That should do it," Dean said. The wall was merrily burning now, the flames climbing toward the curtains. "Bad wiring, accidental fire—happens all the time."

Sam did know that, but it was a tiny bit of comfort hearing it. With the bodies burned, no one would be able to tell that the youngest casualty had actually killed the older two. A good M.E. would find the victims hadn't been breathing when the fire started, but without obvious signs of injury on the bones, it would hopefully just be chalked up to an unknown cause of death. Little Ryan would be hailed as the victim he really had been, and the Silver family would be given the proper burial they deserved. No one would find the salt Sam had sprinkled over them to make sure they would rest in peace.

The curtains had caught and were spreading the fire quickly. The recliner near the wall was already smoldering. They should probably get out of there.

The Winchesters stood motionless, staring at the bodies now wreathed in smoke.

"At least it stopped with the uncle," Sam ventured, then half-shrugged. "Well, and Joe."

"Don't," Dean growled.

Smoke was starting to fill the room, making it harder now to see the carnage. Sam would never forget what it looked like, though. He snorted, shook his head. "You know, when they reminded me of us in the car, I had no idea how right that was."

It took a beat, crackle and pops filling in the silence. But Dean turned to him then, frowning. "What?"

Sam's mouth twisted. "C'mon, don't tell me you weren't thinking it too. Little brother turns into a monster, kills his older brother and wipes out his family?"

Dean stared at him a second more, eyes shocked wide.

Then suddenly Sam was being hauled out of the burning room toward the back of the house, dragged in his older brother's steel grip. Even as he stumbled and tried to shake himself free, Dean pulled open the back door, yanked him through it by the collar, and slammed the door shut behind them.

He shoved Sam against the railing of the back deck. "Wanna run that by me again?" Dean asked, voice low and dangerous.

Sam swallowed. "I'm not saying it was Ryan's fault or anything. But you think Eve didn't do that on purpose?" He pointed back toward the house. "Two brothers, older one all protective and worried, younger one messed up? Tell me that wasn't supposed to be us." He was surprised to find himself pleading.

Dean flinched. "Ryan was already gone before we even got there, but you think Joe would've wanted to leave without him? You think Joe would've wanted us to save him without his little brother?"

Sam's jaw went slack. He…hadn't thought of that.

Dean looked like he was going to say something else, stopped himself to wipe a hand over his mouth and pace agitatedly. He swore under his breath. "I thought we were past all this crap. I thought…"

Sam wasn't sure if he was talking to himself or to Sam.

Dean suddenly changed course mid-step, up in Sam's face again. "You listen to me, brother. You listen and you believe me. You didn't ask for any of this, either, not the powers, not the coming back to life part—twice—or hitchhiking out without your soul. And you did not kill Mom, or Dad, or me. You lay that one on Yellow Eyes, or Lilith, or, hey, blame that bitch Ruby. But I did not make a deal with Death to pull you out just so you could feel responsible for all the crap everyone else has shoveled on you, you hear me?" He was jabbing Sam's chest hard enough to bruise.

Sam blinked, words lost in emotion.

Dean's eyes were bright, too, as he grabbed Sam's shirt and gave it a shake. "Tell me we're clear on this, Sam, because if you still feel that way…"

I didn't do my job.

…that wall in your head's not gonna cut it.

…I can't do this without you.

It was all there, every single word of it in Dean's pinched face.

Sam gulped, dizzy. There were sirens in the distance. Smoke was starting to seep out under the back door. They needed to get out of there, but nothing else seemed to matter just then. He finally jerked a single nod.

Dean's face smoothed out just a little. His hand slid around to the back of Sam's neck, giving it a hard squeeze. "Bobby's waiting," was all he said as his hand dropped to his side. "You comin'?"

Sam didn't hesitate this time. "Yes."

Dean nodded and led the way, jumping over the low fence into the next yard so no one would see them near the conflagration.

Bobby was in the back seat, the Impala's lights off but her engine idling in a soft purr. Dean and Sam slid in unison into their respective sides, then paused to watch a fire truck rush past, siren screaming.

"At least they got a hunter's funeral," Bobby said quietly from the back.

"They shouldn't've needed any funeral," Dean shot back, just as quietly.

None of them could argue that.

Dean shook himself. "Home?" he asked, looking at Bobby in the rear view mirror, then at Sam.

"Sounds good," Sam answered for them both, meaning it.

Eve was dead but Castiel was hiding something, the war in Heaven raged on, and there was one thin wall separating Sam from madness. They were still pretty screwed.

But he could be a brother. That was all Sam could offer right now, but that was all Dean was asking of him. Whatever lay in the days ahead, that was the one thing he could do.

From the look Dean gave him before they peeled out into the street, maybe that would even be enough.

The End