Â(c) 2007 b stearns 

13,208 words, R for language and violence. 
Before it can get better, it has to get worse. Sam, Dean and John deal after the death of the demon. 
For every life and every act consequence of good and evil can be shown and as in time results of many deeds are blended so good and evil in the end become confounded. 
â€" T. S. Eliot 


On reflection, it was probably all justified. 

Sam figured he'd know that for certain if he could remember what the hell had really happened the night they killed a higher echelon demon, the demon. He tried to remind himself to just call it by name, give it character and shape in his head with a designation and without his brother's or father's faces. Azaz'el. How the mighty had fallen, but he didn't remember it and he no longer thought it was purely a matter of shock, of psychosomatic amnesia. He wasn't prone to stuff like that. Things had either been so bad that his own mind had decided to try and protect him, finally, after everything else he'd seen in his life - or someone had decided to ‘help' him misplace choice elements of the whole thing. 

The last thing he remembered with any clarity was Dean screaming from the floor of that ramshackle cabin, choking on his own blood but screaming all the same. 

Don't you do it, Sam

Leave him alone and take me instead, he'll never shoot me. Sam will never shoot me.


Sam remembered wanting to back out at that last second, torn in half and hating the idea of killing his father but ruined by the combination of demand and plea in John's voice. Twenty three years of chasing, so weary of the whole thing, just wanting it all to be over. 

God help them all. 

The price that came with not pulling that trigger only started with Dean on his feet again, amber eyed and leering and bleeding to death, dying hands on Sam's face and in his hair. 

They'd been willing to wager so much on the demon's sense of self preservation. It had sent so many minions in its place in those days leading up to the end. Sam knew it must have happened much like they had planned, the demon able to shrug off the implied authority of holy water but unable to withstand being caught between brothers. One willing to shred himself away into the void and the other able to gather only the pieces that were wanted before shaking the intruder out like so much dust. 

But it had spent so much time making Dean almost physically uninhabitable beforehand, and they hadn't prepared for or counted on that, on its hatred for Dean. 

Sam wished he couldn't remember that either. 

Dean didn't remember the actual destruction of the demon any better than Sam did, but he remembered days of Sam's catatonia. While they didn't speak of it - couldn't - Sam understood that whatever caused that much damage was worth not remembering. 

His own memories of the days he'd spent not speaking had faded over time. He had a sense of how useless words had been and that opening his mouth to utter the smallest thing would have meant making the scream in his head audible to everyone. He'd never have been able to stop. There'd been no other way to do what they'd done. And God, Sam had tried to think of other ways, of anything that didn't mean leaving the door open to lose everything he had left. They'd ended up winging it like usual, he knew they had, too much and not enough, but...left standing, somehow. 

Then he'd drawn the symbol in the yard. 

How many times had he tried to see the details of that day, and found his mind wandering, deflected? Dean had recognized their visitor, and they'd all wanted to believe her confirmation that the demon was gone. Not everything she'd said had stuck - the words faded in and out. Sam had a sense of Dean pulling him down inside the circle to shield him, and little else. A couple of times he'd dreamed of an open line on the endless space between, a rapid gathering toward them to fill a vacuum he'd created. A world-artery, severed - 

He didn't know what exactly had happened to them. 

People - other hunters - asked them over and over how they'd done it. He and Dean had resorted to sly smiles and shit like ancient Chinese secret or maybe family recipe or just plain old we tricked that bastard good

Even a slice of the truth would have had half of them hunting Winchesters. 

Sam knew Dean had said something to their father, but not what; he didn't ask. It was pointless to talk about what couldn't be properly described. And the marks on their backs, the smartmouthed grigori in the yard, no, no one's business but their own now that the focal point of their waking lives had been destroyed. Revenge felt like exhaustion, in the end. 

The price still lingered and exacted pieces of them that Sam had never imagined. 

He'd never wagered on the effect Dean's invitation to the demon would have on them both, that willing violation of the promise etched in something that predated light across their backs. Their father had struggled with the effects of possession and the taint he thought he could feel beneath his skin, the desperation of having been a passenger of the thing he'd spent so much of his life hunting while it tore the life out of his firstborn. There were ways to scrub it away, to heal, to take the taste of blood out of the back of his throat -  

he's gonna taste the iron in your blood -

- and for awhile he hadn't wanted to. Penance, for things he hadn't used his own hands to do. Yet he still had the choice to be free of it; while he was part of his sons, he was not made of the same stuff they were. He was more firmly anchored to his time and place, fully of that world and its restraints. What was left that was not of him would leave him eventually, leaving only the memory. 

Dean had invited the potentially compatible. 

It had left dark handprints across his soul on the way out, the owner gone but leaving a foul aftertaste of lust and rage and desperation after having slapped at everything it could reach in hopes of saving itself. 

Sam wanted to blame so many things on Dean's reluctance to purge himself emotionally of the things that had happened, where rage and worry could quit gripping his throat. But he knew Dean too well - better than he had a right to - and there was only so much a man could take, even without an acidic residue smeared across what was already scorched. Dean had been the calm one in the weeks immediately after what Sam wanted badly to think of as the end. He'd spoken to Sam without expecting verbal answers, warded others away including their own father if he thought it necessary, then herded their father around to keep him from floundering. Having one's obsession rendered null and void after twenty three years was a shock to the system; even Sam understood that, and he hadn't felt the commonality of it until he'd lost Jessica. He'd tried to imagine holding on to that kind of rage and pain for longer than the year and a half he'd suffered it, worse than having his hands held to the heating elements of a stove, and it humbled him. He couldn't begrudge his father of his fear that the demon was only hiding, that his sons had been warped into something he couldn't understand. That last was likely true to some extent and Sam tried to shove the idea away, needing time to think about it. Dean, though, Dean was bringing it to his attention all the time. 

Dean's capacity for violence was nothing new to Sam but it had always been reactionary, life and death. Lately Dean had been the one to strike first, without warning, and occasionally without provocation. There were fewer smartass comments and more dark silences, far from his initial calm. The more Sam tried to draw him out, the harder he was rebuffed. True to form, Dean was only coming to grips with his own reaction to the whole thing after everyone else had found their feet again. 

What do you want me to do, Sam, cry? Lay my head on your shoulder and gaze at you with sad eyes and open my heart? Get some closure?

The sarcasm was welcome but it seemed to be all there was, suddenly. 

Dean had been excited to go back to hunting at first. Sam had been happy for something approaching normalcy, and for them hunting was normal. The poltergeist just outside Omaha, then a rumor of a Mothman near Dearborn a couple of weeks later. Then...vampires. 

Sam wished they'd never run into Gordon Walker so soon after, never gotten into it with the vampires again. Dean couldn't wait to start working his way through a nest that hadn't even been targeting humans; that was when he'd started to slip. Sam had almost wished their father had been along on that one, because it had taken more than Sam had wanted it to, to get Dean to realize there was no point in hunting things that didn't hurt anyone. The vamps were poor substitutes for what Dean really wanted: the demons that remained. Dean had gone so far as to give their father an order, you tell me what you hear when you hear it. I want them all. Even John had backed off a little but Dean breathed it in, progressively more frantic to stomp the rest of the fire out whether anything was burning or not. With their leader and central source of power gone, the lesser demons - Azaz'el's family - had scattered but been reluctant to relinquish all hold on their place among the mortals, twisting, aimlessly threading lives through their claws just under the radar. 

You're done here, Sam. Go back to school.

Dean had finally said it and seemed to mean it. John had suggested it in kinder tones with a different motive. Dean was busy self destructing and it was another way of saying what he'd said before while slipping away: let go of me, Sam

Sam had shot back countless times with Ever occur to you I want the rest of them, too? I'm done when you are

Dean was going to break sooner or later if he lived, and Sam had to catch him. 

The head's up came from Bobby, ultimately, of someone in San Diego claiming they had no memory of slaughtering a houseful of people or drawing on the walls in their blood. Sam and Dean had heard stories like it before that pointed to drugs or insanity, but not every methhead painted the sigil of Azaz'el on the walls and ceilings. The dumbass was practicing the demonic equivalent of tagging, favored pastime of bored middle class white kids everywhere. 

They'd taken off without alerting anyone else. Dean was nearly frantic with the urge to get his hands on the rest of that yellow-eyed bastard's kids to the point where Sam realized he was an afterthought. There may have been times where Dean didn't realize Sam was in the car. 

Dean reeked of death, sometimes. 

The most frightening part may have been the way Dean centered right in on the demon they found. No holy water, no use of the names of God, just Dean searching and watching and zeroing in. A guy close to Sam's age and Dean's height was walking along the sidewalk on the other side of a busy street, sandy-haired and looking tired. One of many, and nothing out of the ordinary. 

Dean had gone right into the street without looking, had ended up rolling over the hood of one car and ignoring the shriek of brakes. Ignoring Sam shouting behind him.

The guy had looked up at the commotion. Sam had seen him meet Dean's eyes . . . and take off like the hounds of hell were after him. The irony wasn't lost on Sam but it frightened him all the same. All he could do was chase after them while Dean ran the guy down in an alley without managing to bring a bystander dialing 911 down on them. When Sam caught up, Dean had the guy on the ground and was hitting him hard enough that he was sobbing for breath, blood on his hands, a discarded knife feet away. 

The guy was laughing. 

Sam had a bastard of a time pulling Dean away long enough to slap a pre-drawn Devil's Trap right on the guy's forehead. 

He'd quit laughing right about then. 

Sam had held Dean at arm's length and tried not to shout at him, tried to remind him it was a person, a possessed person. They didn't kill - 

He let it in, Sam, Dean had shouted. He fucking LET IT IN.

Sam never bothered to ask how Dean knew. 

He'd thought they'd drag the guy off, pull an exorcism, and be done with it. But it was no longer good enough. 

An empty, run down storage unit and a carefully drawn circle, Devil's Trap on the ceiling, guy laying on the floor at their feet in rigid paralysis from the symbol on his forehead. Nothing new to Sam until Dean bodily threw the guy into the circle and tied him to a chair and peeled the symbol away. 

When Dean backed out of the circle, the figure raised its head and showed them uniformly black, opaque eyes. One was beginning to swell shut but it didn't detract from the malice. It started to laugh again, a low snicker to accompany a blood-smeared sneer. 

"All the same," it said. "All the same." 

Sam had retrieved holy water and a copy of the Nova Vulgate from the car, leaving both open on the floor. He kept his distance, watching Dean as much as watching out for him. 

"You got anything ridiculous to say before I show you the door?" Dean said, the tips of his boots an inch from the saltline, arms folded across his chest, unaware that his voice was barely recognizable to Sam. "Good old Azaz'el had plenty to say before we took him apart." 

The grin widened. "He was always a talker," the demon said, flexing the hands of its host against the arms of the old wooden chair it was tied to. "War is hell, Dean Winchester. Did she try and tell you your pretty bullseye ‘protects' you? So sad, not even properly Fallen, but so close." 

"Like you'd know," Dean said. "You're so damn low on the ladder that you're just sniffing around for scraps. Kind of hard to wage war when you get snuffed so easily by the humans." 

It laughed again. "Humans. Decades spent, on just one of us, while so much went on behind your backs. Keep struggling for the entirety of your small lives to chip away at nothing but edges. You'll be gone soon." 

"You guys'll probably wait until we're gone to make another good move," Dean said. "So far you're pretty boring. You idiots wanna trot out another true Fallen, go ahead. Just make sure you keep sitting around your little hellfires making s'mores and reminiscing about what we did to Az." 

"Same can be done to you," it said. "Little tissue-paper souls...like snowflakes on the tongue. John was so ready to kill your soul right along with the lord of all your kind, wasn't he, firstborn?" 

"What do you mean, ‘our kind'?" Sam said. 

It leaned over in the chair to see Sam better. "We're still going to make use of you, Sam," it said, then used its human vocal cords to scream in agony when Dean spun and grabbed the holy water off the floor and splashed it across that leering face. Welts rose from each point of contact, sizzling, steam boiling off while it writhed against the restraints. It arched and hissed when Sam said Jesus Christ under his breath. 

Dean tossed the empty plastic bottle away and stepped over the saltline into the circle to grab the guy by the hair and yank his head back. The demon was panting through gritted teeth, snarling, eyes shut. 

"See, first of all," Dean said, voice low as he leaned close to the head in his grip, "You're not good enough to look at him. Which means you sure as hell aren't good enough to say his name. We clear, Sparky?" 

The voice that emerged from the tied man was unearthly, the guttural multi-toned buzzing of the hellborn. "Poor little sacrifice on your chosen altar, put there by your body-father. It wasn't enough, nothus. When we rise, your altar will break apart the rest of the way in our hands after it summons the end." The eyes opened and the lack of iris or retina didn't keep Dean from feeling its attention focus on him. "You, we'll keep, stuffed with altar-ashes, hung for your soul-father to see." 

Sam watched Dean's expression turn to an unspoken hey, what can you do before he planted a hand in the demon's face and used the leverage to swing a leg over and straddle the chair. He lowered himself to sit facing the demon. 

"Dean," Sam said, grabbing the other bottle of holy water, reaching for the Nova Vulgate. He wanted to say not so close even if there wasn't much the demon could do. He and Dean were not capable of being possessed unless they invited and Sam felt a balance tipping. He wasn't afraid that Dean would initiate something that would cause them to go through what they'd survived with Azaz'el. He was afraid that Dean didn't know where to stop. 

"You guys talk and talk about taking over for thousands of years but never quite get around to it," Dean said, voice so low that Sam came within a foot of the saltline to hear. "You just wear us around and hide because you're a bunch of limp dick little cowards that can't have what you really want. All you puppets just want to be real boys, don't you." 

"He'd skin you and wear you right now if he could," the demon hissed. "Offer him your back." It leaned closer, lips inches from Dean's, and Dean didn't flinch even if Sam did. "Arayot. Offer him your back the next time you let him fuck you." 

Dean struck like a snake, twisting enough to bring his right elbow up and then across the head, the motion compact and brutal. 

Sam heard the neck snap. 

Head lolling, the demon laughed, the sound low and malicious and delighted in sharp contrast to the functional death of its host. "Good boy," it said. "More like us all the time." It lifted the head, shattered vertebrae grinding against each other, tendons snapping. "So many kinds of sacrifice, and you love them all." 

"Yours'll be the best fun I've had in a while," Dean said. "I'll bet you feared your father. He was so much more powerful, pushing all you little pawns into place. I'll bet you wanted a taste of that, right? Closest you'll ever be is post-possession sloppy seconds." He leaned forward a little again and lowered his voice further. "He's been all over me. Not for long, sure, and it was the last thing his sorry ass ever did, but I'll just bet you can taste his death on me. You guys live for that shit. Why don't you give it a try?" 

"Dean," Sam said, a warning. 

Dean didn't acknowledge him. 

The demon was leering out of that burned face. 

"Try it," Dean whispered. "I'm right here." 

Sam was already shouting Latin when the demon tried to leap across, regna terrae, cantate Deo, psallite Domino. Grainy coalsmoke and destruction emerged from eyes, nose, mouth and ears, swirling, reaching - 

It bounced. 

Dean left his eyes open, waiting, never giving any indication that he felt anything. 

...lá queo deceptióne et nequítia - 

The blackness spiraled along Dean's form for a moment, obscuring him from Sam before slamming outward in a shockwave of desperation, deflecting from the edges of the circle. Sam kept shouting and the body in the chair convulsed, releasing the remainder of the demon before slumping in glassy-eyed repose. The blackness rose, pulled toward the symbol above, separating as it struggled. It made no audible sound, not on the physical plane, but to the men in the room it was the shrieking of cut glass, of what any imagination could believe light sounded like while trying to escape a black hole. 

Without bothering to glance up, Dean picked up the words alongside Sam, matching his cadence but not his volume or the anxiety in his tone. 

The demon condensed into a writhing knot and stretched to the ceiling, beginning to shred at the top, thinning and dispersing at the edges. 

The building shifted on its foundation, making Sam take a step to his right to keep his balance. 

There was a subsonic bass note they felt in their bones when the demon lost its hold on their plane. 

Sam's ears rang in the resulting silence, the bridge of his nose humming with the energy left behind, a headache beginning in his temples and between his eyes. 

"Poor impulse control," Dean said wearily. "Every single one of ‘em." 

Sam let the book slide from his fingers and raise dust from the floor. Salt scraped under his boots as he broke the circle. Dean's shoulders felt too warm when he bunched three layers of shirts in his hands and lifted his brother straight into the air and out of the lap of a corpse. 

There was only the briefest look of surprise on Dean's face when Sam hooked a leg behind his knees and put him flat on the floor with a grunt. He knelt astride Dean's chest, clothing caught close to the throat in white-knuckled hands. 

Dean didn't even struggle. 

"What was that?" Sam said, breathing hard around a too-calm tone. 

"I'm pretty sure you saw the whole thing," Dean said. "What's this, Sam?" 

"This is fucked up, even for you," Sam said, shaking him by lifting him a couple of inches and slamming him back to the pitted cement. 

"What are you now, a fuckin' expert on me?" Dean said with a grin, the chill palpable. "That's pretty arrogant, even for you." 

"Yeah, Dean," Sam said. "That's a goddamn stupid question, considering. What the hell'd you kill him for?" 

"He let it in on purpose," Dean said, from grin to snarl in a whiplash moment, hands gripping Sam's wrists bruisingly hard, leaving marks on the one not protected by a cast. "He invited. That makes him no better than the things we hunt." 

"Bullshit," Sam shouted, slamming him to the floor again, the impact jarring his shoulders as well as Dean's. "You don't know that, you don't just - " 

"He wasn't good for anything anymore," Dean said. 

Sam let go of him. He stared for a moment, then rose from his knees and stepped away. He looked at the body in the chair and thought a
bout his father's voice saying he's in here with me, trapped in his own meat suit, something else's words. 

Little tissue paper souls.

Dean wasn't just acting out from cumulative stress, and they hadn't forgotten everything that had happened on their own. 

He untied the body in the chair while Dean continued to lay on the floor behind him. It occurred to him to burn the body, but it was only the hunter in him. Someone would be looking for that face. Better to make sure they left no evidence on him and dumped him somewhere he could be found. He stripped away the trap on the ceiling and tried to pretend that it didn't cause pins and needles in his hands. They couldn't leave anything behind. 

If he could remember what had happened to them, he could say for certain whether he'd wrapped Dean's soul back together the rest of the way, that he hadn't caught any stray pieces of anything darker when Dean had come apart in his hands. 

He didn't dare try and look. 

Even if invited. 


In the end they left the body in the storage unit while Dean burned it down. 

Our kind.


They made it halfway back to the motel when Sam decided he couldn't take anymore silence or avoidance. They were on back roads and a watery sun made the previous night's rain glare up at them from the pavement, made Dean keep the visor down and squint around it. He'd had nothing to say and was acting like not much had happened, one more salt and burn, another simple job gone by. To have been through what they had and to have done what he'd just done and look so untroubled...Sam felt the anxiety like a living thing under his ribs. 

"I had a dream," he said, and he didn't mean to sound so distant when he said it but the feeling of the dream still hovered at his edges. 

After a moment, Dean said, "Good for you, MLK." 

"I had it while you were in the hospital," Sam said, ignoring the remark but not ignoring Dean. "It wasn't a vision. But...it was too real. It was about us, about what might have happened had anything been different. There was...everything was the same but the demon got away. Something else happened, I never saw what, but you weren't gonna make it. Dad knew how to summon Azaz'el all along, he traded himself and the Colt for you. We lost him." 

"Doesn't make any sense," Dean said, but emotion colored the statement, a tremble at the end. "He'd never do something like that, throw everything away like that. It was just a dream." 

Sam wanted to say the point is we won, Dean, we're all here and we made it but he couldn't. They weren't making it. It was still trying to kill them. So he settled for "What the hell did it mean by ‘our kind'?" 

"Doesn't matter," Dean said without letting a beat pass. 

"Yeah, it does," Sam said. "It said it while it was pissed off, so it didn't sound to me like something it wanted to start with us." 

"They lie," Dean said in a monotone. "Nothing they say means anything. You know that, and I'm sick of explaining it to you." 

"What does matter then, Dean?" Sam said, flinging his left arm out along the back of the seat. 

"What's that supposed to mean?" Dean said. "Whatever it is, shove it, Sam. I'm not in the mood." 

"Not a hell of a lot seems to matter to you lately," Sam said, pitching his voice low and keeping his eyes on Dean's face. "Except demon-killing, and it sure as hell doesn't seem to make you feel any better." 

"As long as that bastard's ‘kids' are out there, we gotta get ‘em," Dean said, hands tightening on the wheel. "You still think having the big guy gone means anything." 

"It does," Sam said. "A balance was tipped by what we did and how we did it. I know you heard what the grigori said in Bobby's yard." 

"The fucking grigori lie like everything else," Dean said with a growl, annoyance visibly increasing. "They've got they own goddamn agenda, Sam, fuckin' grow up already." 

"Pull over," Sam said evenly. 

"What? No," Dean said. 

"There's not enough room in here for me to swing at you," Sam said in the same conversational tone. "Gonna knock some sense into you." 

Dean seemed to react mainly to goading lately, so Sam goaded. 

"Okay, smartass," Dean said, "I can go this alone, since you don't get what's really going on, or you don't want to. I don't need you chastising me or making stupid comments." 

"You go this alone, you'll be dead in a week," Sam said, finally leaning toward being more angered than unsettled. "And it seems like you're okay with that. You're acting like a goddamn lunatic." 

"That's big, comin' from a guy who didn't talk for weeks," Dean snapped. 

Sam shook his head. "I get that you've been trying to figure out how to deal with everything - " 

Dean jerked the car off the road and hit the brakes hard enough to cause the tires to skid on the roadside gravel and make Sam grab for the dash. 

Dean put the car in park and sprawled back against the seat without looking at Sam. "Have I?" he said softly. Then he got out of the car and left the door open. 

Sam watched him come around the front of the car with purpose in his face and a wealth of body language and realized it was on, Dean was going to drag him out and whale on him, so he kicked his door open and swung out with a hand gripping the edge of the roof. He sidestepped Dean's first swing and swept a hand out to shove him with his longer reach as Dean followed through. Dean stumbled a step to the side but spun as he tried to recover, bringing both hands up and beginning to get his feet apart, but he'd taught Sam everything he knew. 

Plus, for once, he was emotional and Sam was not. 

Sam wrapped a huge hand around the side of Dean's head, making contact without slapping before Dean was even out of his stumble. He used the leverage to slam Dean face-first against the side of the car, putting an elbow between his shoulderblades and pinning him with his weight. 

Dean never saw the hesitation Sam felt before making direct contact. 

"If I thought it would do you any good, I'd just let you knock me around," Sam said. "But it won't, and hey, the least you could do is wash the other guy's blood off your hands before you get mine on them." 

Dean didn't lose any of his tension, but he rested his forehead against the car. Bullseye. 

"This isn't how we do things," Sam said. 

"We're still at war, Sam," Dean said through clenched teeth, but he didn't struggle. 

"You're still at war," Sam said. "Like it's all you've ever had. We still have things to do, but not like this. We're not like this." 

"They still want you for something!" Dean shouted. "Maybe it'll take ‘em years to do something about it, but whatever old Az started, they'll keep at it." 

"I thought you told me nothing they say means anything," Sam said, letting him up. "I already know what side I'm on, Dean. They can't do anything with me. Not with you breathing down my neck. But I need you to keep breathing down my neck, just to be safe. So how about if you don't go darkside on me?" 

Dean straightened from the car but didn't turn. He ran his hands through his hair, getting it back out of his face. He'd quit cutting it and the result made him look younger right up until anyone saw his eyes. 

"Somebody like you goes evil, Sam, then evil's the way to go." 

Sam heard the note of honesty in Dean's voice and didn't need to see his face to know he was serious. 

"I'm sorry I let it have you for so long," Sam said just above a whisper. It didn't matter what he meant - the revenant, the demon, both. 

"Shut up," Dean said without turning. 

"He didn't really take the time to do everything to you he wanted to," Sam said. "To us. He had everything for a moment, there, I think, between us. I don't remember putting you back together, so I don't know if I did a good enough job. I don't know if I got all of you, or if I let him leave marks - " 

"Shut up, Sam," Dean said again, and turned. There was as much warning in his face as there had been in his voice, under the exhaustion. 

"You're not yourself," Sam said. "You have every right not to be. But quit fuckin' tilting at windmills, man. We're all still here. You can't do this the rest of your life, and you don't want to. Not even Dad is - " 

"Don't compare me to Dad," Dean snapped, shoving Sam a step away. "Dad's lost, he doesn't even know what to do with himself. This was all he knew, killing that fucker, and he didn't even get to do it. Look what we had to do, to convince him it was done. Look what we got in the fuckin' yard without even trying." 

"Yeah, yeah," Sam said. "And I'm an altar, and we both got brands on us that could mean anything. There's nothing we can do about that, or Dad, or what we are. I'm happy to help you get every goddamn demon left, and find out why anyone would let one in. But whatever was building, we cut it off." 

"Azaz'el was way up there," Dean said. "Big enough that the other big guys are gonna have a bad time ignoring what we did. You don't think the rest of them are gonna be all over us, now?" 

"They don't realize what we did, or whether we'll do it again," Sam said. "They probably don't know or care that it fucked us up so bad that someone else probably stepped in and wiped our goddamn memories. But after we're done with the demons, what's next? The other kids like me who aren't on the straight and narrow? That means it'll take a long time to start that cycle again, a generation, and why take the chance with any of them going evil?" 

Dean shook his head and looked away. "Now you're just being an asshole." 

"Now I'm just being realistic," Sam said. "Should I keep from having kids? Will someone or something come for them? Should we just give up on doing anything we wanted to do because of what might happen? I want something more than wandering around in the dark until something finally gets me, and so do you. We've paid our goddamn dues, and then some." 

They stared at each other for a moment. Then Dean looked away, like he had the summer before when Sam was too bright to look at. 

"You wanna keep doing this, we'll do it," Sam said. "We'll do it. You, me and Dad will sit down and put together a game plan. We gotta tell him the rest of it, about the grigori, what he needs to know." 

Dean shook his head, but Sam didn't get the idea that it was in negation. Dean was shutting down and didn't want to talk anymore. 

"Hey," Sam said, "Most of it belongs just to you and me, though." 

Dean waved a dismissive hand at him and rolled up off the car. 

They were through for the moment, but not through with the argument as a whole. 

Dean finally had his family together again, just like he'd wanted, and he was reeling so hard from the blows he'd taken that he could barely feel anything else. 


They were in trouble once they got back to the apartment they shared with their father the next afternoon. 

John was waiting for them in the living room, seated on the couch, hands clasped between his knees. "Neither of you could check your goddamn messages," he said. 

They recognized that tone. Neither Sam or Dean felt it prudent to mention that he hadn't answered theirs for a good long time. They'd been over that already and it just didn't matter anymore. 

"Wasn't anybody'd be trying to reach us," Dean said, throwing the duffle of weapons that needed tending inside the door, away from the eyes of neighbors. "We were just checking something out, anyway." 

"Bullshit," John said, rising and coming within a foot of Dean, challenging him first. "I finally got it out of Bobby, that he opened his damn mouth about a possession without telling me first." 

"No big deal, Dad," Sam said, covering for Dean as a knee-jerk reaction, concerned about where all the vehemence was coming from. It had been a big damn deal, actually, but they'd hunted so long and hard as a pair that their own father had become a third wheel. "We've handled a lot of ‘em." 

Sam was the one John was used to tangling with, but he ignored him this time. Of the two boys, Sam had been the more respectful over the last several weeks, the one easier to deal with. John had ways and means to deal with his younger son's many bouts of temper and rebellion, but not Dean's. He had no practice with Dean. 

"It wasn't just a possession," John said, eyes locked with Dean's. 

Dean smirked at him, something that made Sam of all people want to duck. The shift in dynamic was not something he was handling well. Dean being sullen and randomly violent was enough to handle, but Dean purposely starting shit with their father for the fun of it or because he just couldn't help it was nerve wracking. 

"It wasn't gonna tell you anything it didn't tell us," Dean said. "Trust me on that one. The only ones left are too damn dumb to just go home. They didn't get the bulletin." 

"Don't be smart with me, Dean," John said through gritted teeth. "His kids are still out there, his family. You know I want the rest of them." 

"You're kind of running out of chances to get yourself killed honorably," Dean said with barely restrained condescension. "Soget another hobby, Dad." 

John shoved him back a step, one hand planted in the center of Dean's chest. 

Sam stayed back, still uncertain about how to deal with a father and brother who were no longer in step with one another. He hadn't had to break them up, yet, but Dean pushed harder every time John tried to regain control. 

Dean shrugged like he'd expected the move, smirk still in place. "That was the plan, right? Go out like a big hero and take the demon with you? Instead you're stuck with us, a couple of freaks that're closer to the stuff you kill." 

"I'm tired of this, Dean" John said. "Your damn attitude is getting old. When I tell you that we all go out for the demons that are left, you goddamn do what I say." 

"Or what?" Dean said, raising his voice. "You're the one who cut us off so Sam wouldn't run the risk of getting turned, you're the one who made things worse by keeping all that from us. We don't answer to you anymore." 

John looked at Sam, and Sam could tell by the look on his face that he knew it wasn't fair but that he didn't know what else to do. "He speak for you, Sam? You ready to blow a chance to finish this properly?" 

It was too much like that moment in the cabin when Sam had walked in to find Dean leveling the Colt on John. He had instinctively sided with Dean. He had done it out of trust then; he would do it again a thousand times for love and loyalty, whether Dean was right or wrong or crazy. He'd stand at his shoulder and defend him. 

It was an all around unfair question, and didn't deserve a response. Sam let his eyes drift to Dean's rigid stance and then back. 

John's expression was so bitter and satisfied at the same time that Sam let it confuse him. "This has to be done a certain way," John said to Dean. "You boys have to trust me." 

"We've done pretty goddamn well without your cloak and dagger bullshit," Dean said angrily. "All the stuff you hold back is more to string us along than to protect us, and you know it." 

John's jaw set in a way Sam recognized, an old pattern of reaching the end of his patience. Sam had seen it so many times, caused it, hoped for it. For maybe the first time in his life, it made him nervous. "I don't even know you anymore," John said. "You're out of control, Dean, and you're gonna get yourself and Sammy killed for nothing." 

Dean sighed in what sounded like annoyance, tilting his head and looking bemused. The beat of silence was loud and made Sam keep still to watch them. He later realized John was waiting for something. 

Dean shifted his weight in one fluid motion, ducking to slam a shoulder into John's chest. They crashed to the living room floor in a tangle. John failed to avoid the first blow to his jaw but not the second, and Dean snarled in pain when his fist met carpet-covered concrete at full force. John took the opportunity to kick him off, and that was how they lost the coffee table. 

"Jesus," Sam yelled, unsure of who to grab for first, startled into freezing. "C'mon, you guys, knock it off!" 

"Stay out of it, Sammy," John said, watching Dean untangle himself from the remnants of the table. "It'll be fine. C'mon, Dean, let's go." 

Dean made it back to his feet, favoring his right hand, expression murderous. 

It would have seemed so mild to anyone else, but even John had known better than to insinuate that Dean would get Sam killed. 

Sam briefly wondered if Dean had felt the same watching him fight with John for years and years. He was caught between running for the hills and a need to separate them, because sooner or later they would hurt one another and neither of them was as healed up as they thought they were. 


Dean rushed again, meaning to knock John down again in the process. They grappled for a moment, and then John got a hand under long enough to deal Dean an uppercut to the solar plexus. Dean took it better than most would have and kept it together enough to block another blow with a forearm and use the same elbow to nail John in the chest and hook a leg behind one knee. 

John landed hard and took two more blows to the face before he got Dean in the nose solidly enough to spray blood across them both. John put a palm to Dean's forehead and got a knee between them and rolled him off, then stood, knowing Dean would be slow to bounce from a shot to the nose - he always had been - but when he did, he'd be pissed. 

Dean wiped some of the blood off his face, eyes streaming from the pain. Or so he seemed to believe. "You son of a bitch," he said without any trace of surprise. 

"That all you got, boy?" John said, more out of breath than he'd meant to be. "Thought I taught you better." 

Dean circled him this time, hands up, the right one lower than the left. His knuckles were already swelling, and John wondered how many were broken. 

It was John who lashed out first and Dean who leaned away enough to take the blow on a shoulder before striking low and catching John in the ribs with his left hand. John grunted in pain even as he caught Dean'sstriking arm by the shirt and yanked him forward, into the momentum of the blow, off balance, spinning him into the wall and slamming him into it with both hands. 

He expected Dean to kick him, to knee him in the groin, to headbutt him. He was ready for any of that. 

He didn't expect Dean to look at him with terror or start hyperventilating. 

It took him too long to figure out what was happening, or why. By then Dean was trying to shove him away and Sam was moving for them both. John pulled Dean away from the wall but kept a grip on him, knowing he'd try to run and that it wouldn't be smart to let him. Not when Dean couldn't shake the memory of the last time something using his father's face had pinned him to a wall. He warded Sam off with one hand and said, "Dean, sit down." 

"Go to hell," Dean gasped, but his knees were already buckling anyway and there was no strength in the grip he had on John's wrist. 

"We'll see," John said. "Sit down. Now." He moved Dean to the beaten couch under the windows that faced the parking lot and eased him onto it before grabbing him by the back of the neck and making him lean forward. "In through the nose, out through the mouth," he said. "There's plenty of air in the room." 

Dean did as he was told and John watched a cold sweat pour off his oldest and felt a pang of sympathy. Panic attacks were as painful as they were frightening, and he'd seen plenty of men sob like children in the grip of one. He let Dean keep a grip on his other wrist, let him struggle for purchase and reach for comfort while trying to make it look like a threat. 

God, he loved his kids. 

"This is gonna sound like bullshit, coming from me," John said, sitting on the couch next to Dean and glancing at Sam to make him understand he was included. "But you were right, Dean. It's gonna be okay." 

Sam was back against the wall by the door again, looking cowed, eyes on the floor. His discomfort and worry were nearly tangible. John wondered if it was a matter of watching his larger-than-life brother finally come apart, or if Dean had been coming apart all along. It had been a long, long time since Sam had been reminded that the understanding between his father and brother went beyond the giving and taking of orders. 

Of course, John had to admit he didn't know much about what had really happened to them over the previous year. He'd heard things - some of it had been unavoidable, when they'd accidentally made the papers or news - but never the real details. And he was not going to tell them what he knew about Sam. It didn't matter anymore. None of it would come to pass. Sam had demonstrated that in Bobby's yard.

One day he'd stop reminding himself over and over that he had reached a point where he had vowed to kill Sam himself if his baby boy had succumbed to what had seemed inevitable. 

One day he would try to forget pointing the Colt at Dean, aiming for the spot between the vicious yellow eyes staring out at him. 

"I was your age when I started all this, Dean," he said softly. "Right in the middle of home, job, family. You've got a sense of the third and no concept of the other two, because of me. Even Sam got a taste of what regular life looks like, four years of it. So if I'm walking around wondering what the hell to do with myself after almost a quarter century of chasing things in the dark and ignoring the rest of the world...can't imagine what it looks like to you. What else are you good for, now, but stealing and killing?" 

"Hey," Sam said sharply, eyes finally focused. 

John held a hand up to him again with a tilt of the head, asking him silently to wait. Dean's breathing was calming a little and he shifted his hand on Dean's neck, soothing. 

"You both know a hell of a lot more about the world and how to move around in it than most people do," John said. "You guys can do anything. You have to figure out what you want to do, and just do it. I want you to get used to not looking over your shoulders all the time. Dean. I'm trying to tell you to move on. You're good for much more than this. You're too smart to make a career of this and you always have been. I need you to do something for yourself. I need you to find another way to save people." 

Dean chuffed a laugh. "I'll start in St. Louis," he said, voice low and hoarse. "They really need me, there." 

"What about you?" Sam said before that conversation could start. 

"It's too late for me to stop," John said. "I'm still one hell of a mechanic, and I can do that anywhere. But I don't want to try and have the life I had. I've still got you boys. There are still things out there that I'll need help with, but you guys have the option of telling me no for the first time in your lives. All I want is for you guys to humor me and go do something that isn't gonna add to your scars." 

Dean sat up and John let him but left a hand on the back of his neck. Dean looked weary and gray except for the splash of red across mouth and chin. 

Sam headed for the kitchen, for wet towels and ice. 

"Won't be easy," John said. "But easy's never been our thing." 

Dean looked like he'd been given a death sentence. 


It was Sam who took Dean in to get his hand taken care of, Sam who said it'd been a bar fight. Two broken knuckles earned Dean a splint. Sam told him that splints were for girls and having a short arm cast like his own was the way to go. Dean asked him what part of him Sam wanted to suck first. 


Dean slept for the rest of the day and well into the next, and John let him. He banned Sam from the room and diffused Sam's immediate anger by reminding him that his presence sent Dean into automatic caretaking mode. Sam relented far enough to do something he hadn't since the age of fourteen: nudge his father with a shoulder in affection, in camaraderie. A small thing, but large in the scope of what they'd been through. 

That more than anything else made John believe his own words. Things would be okay.

He left late that afternoon to double check on something he'd handled a year earlier and an hour south of there, a neighborhood built on what had been desecrated ground. If Sam thought it was an excuse to leave he and Dean alone to work on things, he didn't say. 


When Dean awoke he was frowns and grunts and monosyllabic answers to questions barely asked. Food? No. TV? No. Painkiller? No. 

"Asskicking? I can bring you a couple of those." 

"Shut up," Dean said, without infusing it with any kind of emotion. 

Sam sat across from him at the little table in the dinette off the kitchen and looked at him in the uneven fluorescent light from the overhead. He wanted to ask him what the hell he'd been doing, mixing it up with their father, when even Sam had never done more than posture. But he knew. It wasn't even really about John, that much. Dean was pissed at John, yeah, to some extent, but John was just a means to an end. And Dean wasn't going to talk. 

Not if asked to outright. 

Sam didn't even argue when Dean eschewed painkillers in pill form for one from a bottle. He had a beer while Dean started doing shots in moody silence. 

"You're gonna be sick," Sam said. 

"Good," Dean said. "Where the hell did Dad go?" 

Sam considered several smartass responses, then settled for the truth. 

"So there was...more trouble, or...?" Dean said. 

"Nope," Sam said. "He's just checking." 

"He that bored, or he trying to keep from pounding my head in?" Dean said. 

"I think he's bored," Sam said. "You'd have to ask him yourself, though." 

Dean made a noncommittal sound and scratched at something on the table. He left his injured hand in his lap. 

Back to moody silence. Drinking like he was on an empty stomach was causing Dean's head to dip a little already. 

"It's really great, this whole role reversal," Sam said. "You have no idea what I would have given to see you mouth off to him, just once, while we were growing up. And now all I can think about is that if you do it again, I'll lose it." 

Dean looked at him with confusion. Sam wanted to add hey I'm not sure I'm dealing all that well with everything that landed on us at the end, I might lose it anyway, but he shifted gears instead. "It called us nothus," he said, opening that subject while Dean was off guard. "‘Mongrel'." 

"So what," Dean said. 

"I wonder what they actually know about us and what they guess," Sam said. 

"You mean are we the long lost hybrid descendants of this or that or the other thing?" Dean said with open derision. "C'mon, Sam." 

"That's not what I said," Sam said. He shook his head. "Just...never mind. I don't wanna start shit." He sighed and sat back from the table and watched Dean from beneath his eyelashes. 

"Gotta admit it's pretty goddamn funny, a fuckin' demon busting on us for being sinners," Dean said, but nothing approaching amusement touched his face. "Az probably did a real number on Dad, because it had him for what, a couple of days? Must have had a field day. ‘Hey, John, know what I'm gonna do to your boys? Know what your boys have been up to?'" 

"Dean," Sam said, but it wasn't to get him to stop. Getting Dean to talk - even just to make sarcastic comments - was rare enough. 

"Dad's not gonna listen to anything that fucker said, and we've been up to worse," Dean said, tilting his head back against the back of the chair until he could look at the ceiling. "You know what's priceless? We didn't even do any of it for fun. And even if Dad decided to take it up with us, which he never would, it wouldn't stop me from wanting you right goddamn now." 

Oh, shit

Sam braced his elbows on the table and ran his hands through his hair. He blew out a breath and let it pass. Dean wasn't talking about the physical part of it anyway. 

"Speakin' of busting," Dean said as if what had come before was commonplace, "...you promised me. You promised me and you fuckin' broke it and you'll break it this time, too."

"What the hell are you talking about?" Sam said. 

"Asked you to make sure I didn't get loose and play for the other team," Dean said. "And you let me, for...what, a week? Sammy." 

It took Sam a moment to catch on, to realize Dean was talking about the revenant. "I knew you were still in there," he said. "Don't start this with me. It's way in the past. You're drunk, and - " 

"No you didn't," Dean said, but there was nothing obstinate in it. "You kept taking the gun out. It told me you did, because it was trying to get me to come out, and I know it wasn't lyin' because I know you. " 

"I'm not gonna get into this with you," Sam said. "C'mon, go back to bed." He was not going to think about words scrawled in blood on the back of a door, words meant to look like Dean's. 

"Dunno what I was out there doin', all that time," Dean said. "Maybe killin' people, maybe makin' up for lost time for that goddamn thing, doing all the stuff it hasn't had a chance to for a thousand years or whatever. Shoulda shot me, Sam." 

Sam sighed and didn't respond, knowing it wouldn't do any good, wouldn't allow him to get through. 

"I don't think you got it all," Dean said. "The demon. I think it's gonna eat away the real me and then you'll just keep trying to save me all the time in all the wrong ways. It was worth it though, right? Thing killed mom, killed Jess, killed us a long time ago, just walking dead all this time." 

"Dean," Sam said, rising. Jesus, it was what he was already afraid of, and Dean was actually voicing it. 

"Not meant to be thirty, Sam," Dean said. "No plans for that, don't want it. Dad'll do it, if he thinks I'm tainted. All that time he thought maybe you were the one he had to worry about, when you wouldn't talk, like maybe you were ruined.. He was gonna do it, at the cabin. I shoulda just let him. Still one bullet in the Colt left, for the ruined one. " 

Sam was there in one long stride, the front of Dean's shirt caught in his fists, and Dean didn't flinch even when Sam leaned in close like he meant to make a point. When he pressed his mouth to Dean's forehead, gentle counterpoint to the angered hold on his clothes, Dean startled but didn't otherwise move. It was brief and adoring, and Sam moved only far enough to whisper right against Dean's temple. 

"Guy like you goes evil, then evil's the way to go," he said. He untangled his hands from Dean's shirt and used them to cup his face, not afraid to make contact this time, ignoring another startled twitch and Dean's attempt to lean away. "I won't let you, though. You gotta forgive me, forgive Dad, and go on. Not right away, ‘cause you've got time for once to just...heal from something. We can survive all this, and we will." Then he slapped Dean hard on the forehead as he straightened. 

"Ow, sonofabitch," Dean said, rubbing his head. 

"Having to recover from all this doesn't mean you're harboring part of the goddamn demon," Sam said softly. "Sorry to break it to you, but you're human like me. Now shut the fuck up and go back to bed, or I'll carry you." 

"Can't," Dean said. "Pussy, no way you can." He paused. "‘m sorry, Sammy." 

"For what?" Sam said. 

"Talked you into all this," Dean said. "Didn't remember what it was like, the first time we did it, so I didn't think about what it might do to you. I did this to us." 

Sam shook his head. "It worked with the revenant. We did what we had to do, and we didn't have many other options. You can't play armchair quarterback on this one." 

Dean winced and rubbed his eyes as if it pained him to try and make sense out of Sam's analogy. "Doesn't feel like winning," he said. "S'pposed to feel like winning, like it's a big relief." 

Sam had nothing to say to that. Dean was trying to talk about the toll it had taken like he'd expected to get away without permanent marks, and maybe deep down Dean had still held out hope that good would prevail and leave them whole. He wanted to believe that Dean had that kind of innocence left, anywhere. "What'd you call me?" Sam said. 

Dean frowned over it for a moment. "Damn pussy, you can't carry me." 

Had John been in the apartment, the manhandling that Sam did would have easily woken him. As it was, the next door neighbor finally started pounding on the wall and there were muffled threats of some sort, but whatever they were, Sam knew they paled in comparison to what Dean was threatening him with. 

They ended up in the same bed, still fully clothed, and Sam wrapped arms and legs around Dean and stayed that way even after his brother quit grouching and fell asleep. 

If he could convince Dean that they were both okay and that the demon hadn't succeeded in ruining them, then he could believe it too. 


John came in two hours later and found them that way. He knew something had gone on - stuff was knocked over through the whole apartment - but it didn't really matter except for the fact that Sam was out-stubborning Dean. They handled each other much better than he handled either of them now that they were adults. 

Adults. His boys had lived to adulthood and he was around to see it, and be confounded by it. 

He went to sleep trying to wrap his head around that idea yet again. 

He awoke what felt like five minutes later to daylight and the sound of Sam berating Dean in a tone he didn't remember ever hearing from his younger boy. But, they had been apart for damn near five years. 

Now, Dean.


We're going running, and then you're gonna shower, and eat, and we're gonna get some things done. Get your goddamn ass out of bed.

Fuck you.

Silence. John found himself holding his breath. He heard Sam say something in a low voice he couldn't catch, but the tone of it raised the fine hairs along his neck and arms. Sam had changed. They all had, but Sam was bigger now in ways that had nothing to do with his height. 

He nearly startled when Sam suddenly loomed into his doorway. 

"There's gonna be some shit," he said, face and voice neutral. "Thought I'd warn you. Figured you wanted more sleep than this, so...sorry." 

John sat up and put his feet on the floor, rubbing his face and nodding. What Sam wasn't saying - but making very clear - was stay out of it. "Don't break anything you don't have to," he said. "Y'know, the furniture. Or your brother." 

Sam smirked and left the doorway. 

John got up and threw on jeans and a couple of shirts and went out to make coffee. Then he stepped outside to wait for it to brew, because it was a nice morning and he wasn't entirely sure he wanted to witness what was about to happen. He wasn't quite sure how far Sam meant to go, but he wasn't going to hurt Dean and Dean heard his little brother much better than his father. That had happened during the time he'd left them to themselves. He wasn't sorry for it. For the circumstances, yes, but not how it had changed the way they dealt with one another. 

John just didn't necessarily want to see everything. 

The violence turned out to be emotional, rather than physical. They both appeared in sweats and tees, Sam pushing Dean in front of him out the door. Dean's arms were folded across his chest and the creases between his brows were set deep with a resentful frown. Nostrils flared and jaw set, he didn't so much as glance at John as he stood hunched at the edge of the narrow strip of cement leading to the parking lot. John was careful not to say anything. They were still so much the boys he'd raised, but with hard and dangerous edges, remaining in step even when hurt, when angered with each other. Halves of a whole. 

Dean no longer had his defenses in place. No automatic sarcasm, no jeering, no smug attempt to annoy. No bravado. He'd developed those shields at five and had kept them polished to a high shine since. They had cracked when Dean had begged him to keep the demon from killing him, and they had never quite recovered. 

John didn't think he really knew the boy beneath. The man. With that came pride for his boy and shame for himself, but beneath both came fear. Sam had shut down to protect himself. Sam had always done that. Dean would go the other way, supernova, blue-white and galaxy wide, visible to all and then never the same. 

He had no idea that it had already happened, more than once, in a literal sense. 

They had all reached the limits of their endurance. They had to recharge. 

He watched Sam treat Dean with a rough respect. There was no teasing or coddling. He didn't attempt to push Dean physically or verbally. They were talking, in their own way, and John remembered and recognized the signs of it. Long conversations without a word spoken, small gestures and expressions, eye contact. He'd raised deadly - but not cruel - men who loved each other beyond reason. He had to believe that if they were together, they would be fine. 

Dean stalked away suddenly, head down, shoulders hunched. Sam watched him go, let him get a head start, then followed. 

John went back inside and had coffee and let half an hour pass before he started breakfast. 


Dean did not argue when John told him he was done hunting for a while. He didn't seem to care. For almost a week he ran with Sam, he worked on the Impala, he read. He was pissed at them both and showed it. 

That was good. 

And then it wasn't. 


Sam wasn't sure what the hell he was hearing at first, a rhythmic and metallic beat somewhere outside. Somebody pounding on something. 

He rolled over and looked at his bedside clock, squinted at it. Two a.m. The neighbors acted up on the weekends, sometimes, but it didn't sound like that. People breaking into cars didn't sound like that. 

He heard his father get up, heard blinds crinkle as they were folded apart for a look outside. He didn't hear Dean get up and figured Dean had been first up to make sure some idiot wasn't touching his car. When he heard his father curse in surprise, Sam rolled upright in one smooth motion and was in the hallway almost before his father was. 

"What is it?" he said, and John was already heading for the door. Sam followed, grabbing the top of the door when John flung it wide open and took a breath. Sam's next move, once he saw what was happening, was to grab his father by placing a hand in the center of his chest. "Wait," he said. "Wait." 

Dean had a crowbar. Probably the one from the Impala's trunk, probably the same one the ‘shifter in St. Louis had used to knock Sam down while wearing Dean's face. There was just enough light from the safety spot on the top corner of their apartment building to watch Dean whale on the Impala's trunk with every bit of strength he had, and just enough darkness to watch the impacts raise an occasional spark. 

No one in the building facing theirs came to any windows. No lights came on. They knew carnage when they heard it and chose not to investigate. 

John started to shove Sam aside. To do what, exactly, Sam wasn't sure and didn't want to consider. Sam caught him again and said, "Let him have it, Dad. It doesn't matter." 

John didn't say anything, just stared at Dean with a helpless worry that Sam didn't remember seeing before. He figured either his father had been better in the past at holding stuff back, or neither of them had been any good at paying the right attention to each other when they weren't locked in verbal combat. 

It was quiet enough between each denting thud to hear Dean wheezing, every intake of breath beginning to sound like the precursor to a sob that never materialized. The back window went with a bright cascade of sound and a scattering of safety glass across the trunk and the asphalt below when Dean nailed it dead center. He choked up on the crowbar and raised it over his head before he brought one end of it down vertically on the trunk several times, damn near punching through, exhaling with a growl. If he was aware of John or Sam in any way, he didn't show sign of it. 

Dean had taken his frustrations out on the demons he could catch, on strangers who so much as looked at him oddly, on his father, on every part of his life but Sam. The Impala was, in the end, the one glaring symbol of the life they'd led, the one constant. Dean's favorite material possession, his closest thing to home. The cornerstone of the legacy his father had left him. 

Sam watched the car take his share of Dean's anger and felt guilt and relief. 

I didn't mean to let it have you so long.


Dean went running with Sam in the morning like nothing had happened. Neither John or Sam said a word about it. 


John found a local garage that would let them work on the Impala after closing time. The owner's brother was a retired hunter and gave them free run of the place in exchange for sitting around trading tales over beer. Had Dean been in the mood, he would and could have one-upped the guy - Ramsey - several times over with just the reaper and ‘shifter alone, but left Sam to do it, smirking over Sam's penchant for downplaying a few things. 

"It was actually a Wendigo?" John said. 

"You drew one in your journal," Sam said, narrowing his eyes in confusion. "You sent us up there...Dad, you had to know." 

"Way too far west for a Wendigo," John said, frowning. "Never actually seen one. Thought it was a nahual come north or a huldra or something. Jesus, are you guys sure?" 

"You sent your kids after a Wendigo?" Ramsey asked in amazement, slamming his beer down on the table. "Y'outta your mind?" 

"No big deal," Dean said around a yawn. "Killed it with a flare." 

"What'd you do to your hand?" Ramsey said, pointing at Dean's splint. 

"It gnawed on me just a little first," Dean said, deadpan. 

The three of them worked on the car together. They never said much aloud but a hell of a lot was conveyed all the same, one way or the other. It should have taken a day at most to repair what Dean had done to the car, but no one was in a hurry. 

John took every available chance to pat his boys on their shoulders and backs, to smooth the hair down on the napes of their necks. It convinced him they were real. Sam grinned under the affection. Dean took it like it was something else he had to put up with, but he was there every time John turned around, standing conveniently close enough to accept whatever came. 

When they were done and giving the Impala a final wash, John turned the hose on Dean. When Dean tripped on it trying to duck away, John took the opportunity to soak him from head to toe. Sam laughed so hard he ended up laying across the car's hood, facedown. 

"Are we done?" John said over the noise of the water and Sam's laughter, and he didn't mean with the car. 

Dean knew it. "Yes sir," he gasped, spitting out a mouthful of water. 

"Good," John said, and turned the hose on Sam. 

Things were not okay, yet. Things were simply different. That was good enough for the short run. 


Sam watched Dean fuss with the splint. He had worked one edge into a fringe by fidgeting with it. 

They were parked on the side of a mountain road looking over one hell of a drop, hills and trees and silence. They were leaning against th front bumper, unaware that their stances matched. 

Just gonna scout around for a few days, like we used to, Sam had said to John. For old time's sake. Make sure we've got our ears to the ground in the right places. We'll be back. Don't pack up until we get back, okay?

Dean hadn't needed much more than a suggestion to get on the road, even if just for a long weekend. He'd been housebound long enough and just wanted out. Sam would never admit it, but he'd been just as restless. The constant moving had been hard but had grown on him all the same. They had no plan except to drive, and if they heard anything or ran into anything along the way, fine. If not...it didn't matter. 

"Hey," Sam said. 

Dean turned his head and braced both hands on the edge of the Impala's hood. He didn't quite meet Sam's eyes and hadn't since they'd started out. 

"You told me...when we were getting Dad, from that apartment building. You told me you'd always wanted to be a fireman." 

Dean shrugged. "Yeah, maybe. So? Kids always say they want to be cops and doctors and firemen." 

"I think you still mean it, though," Sam said. "You'd be so great at it. I mean, if you can avoid starting any more fires of your own. I think you like starting them more than putting them out." 

"Yeah, well," Dean said, "I go anywhere near even so much as a volunteer fire department, they'll do a background check and I'll be screwed." 

"You like saving people," Sam said. "You want to save people. Something like that would never be a job, to you. You'd do it for free, like you do this. And...everything else can be...adjusted. You know. Your record." 

Dean finally looked at him. "What're you trying to do, Sam?" 

"You have to look beyond hunting for the rest of your life," Sam said. "Yeah, there'll always be something to kill. And it's always been more to you than just getting revenge for what happened to us. But there's gotta be more for you. You love it out here, being the hero, seeing everywhere and everything and not getting tied down. But it's still always for somebody else." 

"Some nine-to-five life isn't my dream, Sam," Dean said. "We've been over this already. You can make all the goddamn speeches you want. I'm not like you." 

"Then dream bigger," Sam said. 

"You, me and Dad, just...hunting, forever," Dean said. "That's what I thought about. Didn't even matter if I knew it probably couldn't happen. I never really imagined this, Sam. I never imagined living past the demon that killed mom." 

Sam watched him without responding. 

"I don't have something I've been waiting to do," Dean said. "I don't know anything else but this. I don't exist past this." 

Sam sighed inaudibly, looked at the sky. 

"You still wanna be a lawyer?" Dean said. 

"Yeah," Sam said immediately. "I wanna finish the other thing I started. Dean...we killed the demon. We killed an original. Anything else after this is so damn easy." 

"No," Dean said. "It isn't." 

Sam ran a hand through his hair. "I'm not going back unless you come with me," he said. 

Dean looked at him in derisive confusion. "What?

"As long as you hunt, I'm hunting," Sam said. "I leave the road when you do." 

"Is that supposed to guilt me into doing something?" Dean said, visibly annoyed. "Because you can't pin this on me, Sam, I'm not gonna let you blame me for holding you back." 

"I mean I can't leave you," Sam said. "I don't really care how you take it, except that you have to understand you're stuck with me. I can't leave you behind again." 

"I don't need to be taken care of," Dean growled, beginning to straighten from the car. 

"Neither do I," Sam said. "But that kind of comes with the territory, right? Needing you and needing you to take care of me aren't the same thing. I don't wanna do anything without you again. So maybe accuse me of being a selfish bastard like you usually do and we can get on with life, huh?" 

"I don't know if they were bluffing about still having plans for you," Dean said. The demons. He meant the demons that were left. 

"Can you think of a single thing we can't face down?" Sam said. "It doesn't matter if anybody had plans or still has plans. I'm not gonna live my life worrying about it. I'm trying to tell you that whatever it is, I'll do it with you." 

"You can't be happy out here," Dean said. "You never were and you won't be now." 

Sam watched him struggle. Robbed of an excuse to turn it into an argument, Dean was trying to figure out how to deal with what Sam was telling him. "There won't always be an ‘out here'," Sam said softly. "It's already gotten quieter, and not like something else is building, either. We slammed a door, Dean. There'll always be stuff out here to hunt, but not enough to keep us busy forever. The little things...you'll get bored. When you're ready to do something else, I'll still be here. You can come with me back to Stanford." 

"And do what?" Dean said. "Share an apartment, work some creepy retail job while you go to school? If I'm gonna be a kept man, it's gonna be for some hot older chick who's loaded." 

Sam threw his head back and laughed. He couldn't help it. Dean wasn't totally passing it off. He probably didn't completely believe Sam, and Sam didn't blame him. But he wasn't refusing to discuss it. "I don't know," Sam said. "Go to school with me. Intern somewhere and find a field you like. Save people some other way. And, you know. On weekends we kill stuff." 

Dean shook his head and faced forward again, went back to leaning against the car. 

"I want you to do what you want," Sam said. "I want you to be happy. I know that sounds dumb out loud, and I don't care. I can do this without you, but I don't want to." 

Dean glanced at him, just a quick look and then away, but it was everything to Sam. It was Dean considering the option. 

"Let's just see what happens," Sam said. "We still have work to do, for now. We could show Dad a few things, right?" 

Dean smirked. 

Sam held his left hand out for Dean to shake, matching his smirk. Dean looked at it for a moment, then straightened from the car again and slapped it away. He leaned into Sam for just an instant, a one-armed hug, there and gone almost too fast for Sam to realize what was happening. Then Dean was getting into the car and starting it, leaning out the window. "Would you get into the fuckin' car? We're late for something somewhere." 

Sam turned his face back to the sky to grin. Then he got in the car. 


February 7th, 2007