Death After Sorrow

I Get It

The car accident was a blurred memory, reflecting Dean's physical state at the time. But Sam could clearly feel the pride for him when he had told his Dad that, no, not everything was more important than their revenge.

The memories of the hospital were even more hazy, and neither could see a clear image. Words drifted in and out, some clear, others a bare breath in the background, a tangle of sound that was difficult to locate any distinctive order to it.

"Come on, Dad. You've gotta help me. I've gotta get better, I've gotta get back in there. I mean, you haven't called a soul for help. You haven't even tried. Aren't you going to do anything? Aren't you even going to say anything? I've done everything you've ever asked me. Everything. I have given everything I've ever had. And you're just going to sit there and you're going to watch me die? I mean, what the hell kind of father are you?"

"I said SHUT UP!" The sound of glass shattering ringing through.

"The fight's over," a woman's voice came from the mess of sounds.

"No, it isn't."

"It is for you, Dean. You're not the first soldier I've plucked from the field. They all feel the same. They can't leave. Victory hangs in the balance. But they're wrong. The battle goes on without them."

"My brother. He could die without me."

"Maybe he will, maybe he won't. Nothing you can do about it. It's an honorable death. A warrior's death."

Sam closed his eyes. Dean's fear hadn't been of death. Never something so simple as merely death. Dean had known that Sam wasn't ready for this life yet. He wasn't ready to be on his own yet. It was why Dean had allowed himself to be pulled back from death so many times before now. As he had promised that tiny baby so many years ago, he would stay until he wasn't needed any more.

Dean had never figured out that Sam would always need him. His entire sense of stability, home, love and security were wrapped up in the man who had raised him, had been Sam's only constant in his life. For a moment, Sam wished the link went both ways, so his brother could feel how lost he had been without him, how utterly terrified that the only good thing in his life would simply slip away from him. It was a cold terror that still haunted his dreams at night.

And then there was the basic truth that lingered beneath the complicated surface of all that had happened. Dean had been raised a warrior, a soldier, and he hadn't been relieved of the duty that had been handed to him twenty years before in the form of a helpless baby wrapped tightly in a blanket. Once again, Sam had to fight the flare up of anger at their father, careful to keep his expression neutral. Dean had never needed a psychic link to know how he was feeling, or what he was thinking, and now was not the time to get into their age old argument.

Sammy turned to get the coffee his father had requested, feeling his life find its balance once again now that his brother was awake and out of danger. Sam felt tears in his eyes as he watched, regretting that he'd never had a chance to say good bye. His father may not have won any awards, but love him or hate him, he was his father. Pushing it down, he turned to the last conversation between his brother and father.

"What is it?" Dean asked, perceptive as ever, his gut screaming at him that something was wrong, something wasn't right.

John smiled. "You know, when you were a kid, I'd come home from a hunt, and after what I'd seen, I'd be, I'd be wrecked. And you, you'd come up to me and you, you'd put your hand on my shoulder and you'd look me in the eye and you'd... You'd say "It's okay, Dad" John blinked away tears. "Dean, I'm sorry."

"What?" No, this wasn't right. His father never apologized. It was what he said it was, and that was that.

"You shouldn't have had to say that to me, I should have been saying that to you. You know, I put, I put too much on your shoulders, I made you grow up too fast. You took care of Sammy, you took care of me. You did that, and you didn't complain, not once. I just want you to know that I am so proud of you."

"This really you talking?" Dean asked, slightly suspicious after recent events, ever the vigilant hunter his father had taught him to be. It seemed to sadden his father more, but he nodded.

"Yeah. Yeah, it's really me."

"Why are you saying this stuff?"

John moved closer, putting a hand on Dean's shoulder.

"I want you to watch out for Sammy, okay?"

"Yeah, Dad, you know I will. You're scaring me." Understatement. The tears on John's face were absolutely terrifying him. His instincts were telling him this was good-bye, but he didn't understand why, or what was happening. His training was bone deep, however, and he didn't dare question his father.

"Don't be scared, Dean," John replied, leaning over and whispering something in sons ear. Dean pulled back, shocked, horrified. The rush of denial was swift, quickly burned out and replaced with an overwhelming weight of responsibility, desperation and fear.

The confusion, pain, guilt and knowledge that Dean had carried silently after their father died was crushing Sam, even feeling them second hand. He had known something was off, but he had never suspected the depth of it, the endless abyss of knowing that Dean had lost one of the two people who made up his entire world.

But even worse was Dean's knowledge of why John had made the deal. It hadn't been to save his life, as Sam had desperately hoped. It was because John knew the soldier he had trained. Dean would succeed where he, himself, had failed, and would fail again if he couldn't save his youngest. But Dean, he would do what was right, every time, and ignore the cost to himself. Sam had proven that his desire for revenge could only burn so brightly for so long when he had refused to kill their possessed father. He had his limits.

Laden with guilt and burdened with his father's mission, Dean would be relentless in seeing it through. In order to protect Sam, Dean would have to kill the Yellow Eyed Demon, and nothing would stand in his way, not for long.

Slowly, Sam began to piece together the truth Dean had always known, and somehow had found a way to live with. The man he so worshiped valued him as a soldier, as a weapon that had been carefully, even lovingly, molded and crafted, but could be disposed of once its use was finished. It, too, had been accepted as his due.

Dean's words in Rivergrove made sense now. Sam had railed against them, but he hadn't known, then, the driving force behind them. Hadn't understood the task that had been heaped on his brother's shoulders by their dying father. What he would have given for that knowledge during their conversation in the clinic. Everything would have been so much clearer, and he could have found a way to help.

"No, you can keep going," Sam argued desperately.

"Who says I want to?" Dean shot back. He wouldn't leave Sam alone to die, no matter how his brother begged or pleaded. It wasn't in him. He would be there until the end for Sam, no matter when that was. That was his job, his responsibility.

"What?" Sam questioned, shocked.

Dean crossed to the other wall and pulled a handgun out of his waistband before sitting on the file cabinet.

"I'm tired, Sam. I'm tired of this job, this life... this weight on my shoulders, man. I'm tired of it," Dean sighed. Soul deep bone weary tired. And there had been no end in sight, until now. He wouldn't leave Sam to die alone, wished with everything he was that he could save him, but he wouldn't lie to his brother and pretend it wasn't a small relief either.

Dean closed his eyes against the defeat he could hear in his own voice. However Sam was connected to his emotions, he didn't need to be connected to his younger brother to see the pain that admission had caused. His guilt at his willingness to once again give up ate at him. Too many times he had been presented with the option of death, and too many times Sam had somehow managed to drag him away. But the thought of losing his brother left him cold, and empty. He couldn't go on alone. It wasn't in him. And it was a truth he had come to accept about himself.

He felt his knees shaking, weakening under the onslaught of constant memories. Each one renewed every thought, every feeling he'd experienced the first time, and allowed room for regret, guilt or shame that came from knowing what happened next. Having to relive each physical trauma as though it was the first time wearing down his body. It was a triple dose, and it was eating away at his soul.

"Dean?" Sam called, his voice sounding far away. "Dean, come on, wake up."

Sam breathed a sigh of relief when those green eyes slowly opened. "Thank god. Are you okay?"

"What happened?" Dean asked, confused.

"You passed out."

"How is that even possible? I mean, we're not real."

Sam worried at his bottom lip with his teeth. "It means your physical body is dying. We're running out of time. Can you stand?"

Dean tried, but his legs wouldn't respond. It was if all of his muscles had turned to jelly, and raced liquid fire down his veins any time he moved. "I hate to admit this, but I don't think so."

He tried again, crying out through gritted teeth as he moved, but Sam put a hand on his shoulder to stop him. His concern turned to a glare when he realized that Dean had somehow managed to keep his physical pain from coming through their link as the floodgates were suddenly fully opened. "Damn you for being so stubborn," Sam hissed. "Why didn't you tell me sooner?"

Dean shrugged. "It didn't matter. We were a little caught up, in case you hadn't noticed."

Hanging his head, Sam realized that this was a common pattern for Dean. His brother truly didn't think he deserved any attention for himself. If Sam had pulled this stunt, Dean would have skinned him alive. Now was not the time to address Dean's stubborn refusal to admit he was human, however.

Turning back to the memories that were still playing out, Sam watched as his brother shed a tear for the loss of Sam's final innocence in having to kill someone he cared for because of what they had become. He'd never seen Dean flinch from the sound of a bullet before, and Sam felt the war being waged in Dean between doing it for him, desperately willing to do anything to spare his Sammy from having to make that kill, and knowing allowing Sam to complete Madison's request was the right thing to do. As much as Sam wished he could have folded to that offer, knowing even then Dean's offer was sincere, his time away at school had changed him, had taught him responsibility for his own actions. This was his own battle, not Dean's.

Dean's seemingly effortless ability to mix with any crowd had been a small matter of concern to Sam. His brother was a hero, so how was it he fit in so well with the dirt that had accumulated in this pit of human waste? Dean seemed to have found like souls in the men in the prison. For a few moments, he had even seemed, content, as though he had finally found a place he belonged.

"Dean, does it bother you at all how easily you seem to fit in here?" Sam asked.

"No, not really," Dean grinned. And it didn't. He knew these people. Knew their type. His type. He knew Sammy would never get it, would never approve of it, but he felt more comfortable here than he had in a lot of other places. Here, they played by rules he understood.

Sam shook his head. Dean had been right, he wouldn't have understood then, but he did now. Dean had recognized a like kind in them, all hunters, even if their prey was different. He also knew his brother had seen them all as innocents, in their own way. Life had molded them as surely as their father had carefully shaped him. In Dean's eyes, there was good and evil, it was that simple. Those men weren't hellspawn, so in some odd way, that made them good, worth protecting.

After the prison, Sam felt the air around them grow thicker and the images flickered, as though something was trying to extinguish them. Looking back to his brother, he was surprised to see Dean rocking, holding his hands tightly to his temples. Realizing what was happening, Sam gasped.

"No, Dean! We have to finish this! Don't fight it," Sam insisted. He knew what was coming next. It was Dean's experience with the Djinn. He'd already been told about it, and wondered why this memory seemed to push his brother closer to edge than any of the others had.

He could feel Dean shaking under his hand, the effort of holding the memory at bay draining what little strength he had left. He felt the few defenses Dean had managed to maintain fall away, opening himself completely to Sam, and mentally bowed under the onslaught. "Please, Dean," Sam begged gently. "Just hang on. Let it happen."

Dean shook his head, panting through the pain engulfing him. "Not this. I can't."

"Yes you can. I'm here, and we'll get through this together. Christ, after everything we've seen, it can't be that bad. But we have to do this!" Sam was near frantic. If Dean died here, then his physical body would die as well. "Dean, if you die here, there's no going back for either of us. I'm trapped here until you see it through."

Dean looked up, his green eyes glazed with a pain so profound Sam flinched back. But it worked, and Dean released his hold on the memory, once again willing to give anything for Sam's safety.

Sam turned to watch the memory, curious to see how much his brother had left out in his description of events. It hurt to know that even in this fantasy world, Dean still couldn't say those three magic words, not even to his mother. 'I Love You' just wasn't in Dean's vocabulary, almost as though he was afraid of the power they held. For Dean, his experiences had taught him that if he loved, he lost. Nor was it his own feelings he was trying to spare. Death followed him wherever they went. It simply wasn't in him to put someone else at risk like that.

Dean's pleasure at such an inane task as mowing the lawn brought on another flood of tears. It was so simple, such a small thing to wish for. But there it was. For twenty minutes while he forced the lush grass to bend to his will, all was right in Dean's world.

He was surprised to learn just how glad Dean had been to see Jessica by Sam's side, alive and well. Discovering that Dean had loved Jess almost as much as he did purely because she made Sam happy was a shock. He had never seen Dean smile like he had when he realized his baby brother finally had everything he had ever wanted. He was in law school, had Jessica by his side and had been raised by loving parents. It hurt when Sam saw himself come down on Dean for the beer in his hand, when Dean's wonderfully bright smile had faded as Sammy had landed sharp barbs for forgetting their mothers birthday, but stubbornly remained in place.

The announcement of his and Jessica's engagement sent torrents of happiness through the brother's connection. Dean hadn't been just glad his brother was happy, he'd been fulfilled, as if in that moment, nothing else mattered. The fact that they didn't get along was just something to be worked on, and if not, then Sammy had his life, his happiness. His family thought he was a drunk and a loser, but that, too, was okay, because he could carry that load. It seemed so much lighter than what he had been forced to endure in his previous life.

Sam closed his eyes as he realized that once again, Dean neither wanted nor expected anything for himself in that world. His family was alive, healthy and together. He wasn't happy, but Dean could be content with what had been offered.

But Dean was who- what- he was. When the strange girl appeared again, Dean had to find out what was going on. When he discovered all those people had died, Dean had once again been faced with the choice of his brothers happiness, or doing the right thing. And the choice nearly tore him apart as he stood in front of their father's grave.

"All of them. Everyone that you saved, everyone Sammy and I saved. They're all dead. And there's this woman that's haunting me. I don't know why. I don't know what the connection is, not yet anyway. It's like my old life is coming after me or something. Like it- like it doesn't want me to be happy. Course I know what you'd say. Well, not the you that played softball but.. 'So go hunt the Djinn. He put you here, it can put you back. Your happiness for all those people's lives? No contest.' Right? But why? Why is it my job to save these people? Why do I have to be some kind of hero?" Dean choked, fighting back tears. "What about us, huh? Mom's not supposed to live her life? Sammy's not supposed to get married? Why do we have to sacrifice everything, Dad? It's.."

The sky rumbled as Dean nodded to himself. His tears broke loose, and he allowed it. In the end, there was never a choice to make. Even for Sammy's happiness, he couldn't ignore his responsibilities, couldn't ignore that it was his job to do the right thing.

"Yeah." Dean walked away from the grave, his shoulders once again dragging under the weight of his burden. In the end, there had never been a choice.

Sam shook his head. It wasn't fair that Dean had learned to never want for himself, that his entire life had been wrapped up in Sam's wellbeing. He was beginning to realize that he had never truly sacrificed anything. What he'd had, had been taken from him. He would never have willingly let it go. It was Dean who'd been forced to sacrifice everything, even who he was, for the life they had led, for everything that Sam had taken for granted, for a cause Sam had been too selfish to see the right of.

He frowned as Dean lied to the fantasy brother, telling him what that Sam would have expected to hear. Hated that even though it hadn't really been him, that Sam accepted the surface plausible explanation Dean had provided.

"I can't believe we're even related."

Sam near cried out at the stab of pain that went through their connection, those few words causing his brother more pain than even their father's had. He hated that Dean felt the need to apologize to him. Hated that the brother that appeared in the Impala only went to prevent his brother from doing something so stupid it would get him killed, would upset the family.

He nearly laughed when he watched his fake self be such a wimp about a little lamb's blood, and a creepy building. Seeing the Djinn, watching Dean put it all together with his brother fighting him every step of the way when he should have been trying to help, reminded Sam that Dean had been Hunting for a very long time, and had instincts Sam just couldn't develop as he rebelled against their way of life.

He couldn't stop himself from crying out when Dean made it clear he intended to stab himself in order to wake himself up. He felt Dean grab his hand in a silent reminder that it was just a memory, that he had survived, they had defeated the Djinn.

Mary took Dean's chin her hand, and he looked down at her. "No more pain." She stroked his cheek. "Or fear. Just love and comfort. And safety. Dean, stay with us." She palmed his other cheek, and Dean couldn't stop himself from leaning into it, closing his eyes and picturing, just for a moment, that he could accept. "Get some rest."

"You don't have to worry about Sam anymore," Jessica offered. Dean looked over at her, wishing with everything he was that it was true, that he could hand those reigns of responsibility to her. "You get to watch him live a full life."

Mary stepped away, making room for Carmen to move in, taking his face in her hands, kissing him. "We can have a future together. Have our own family. I love you, Dean. Please." And oh how he had wanted that, once upon a time. But he couldn't. He was a Hunter, down to his very soul. A normal life had never been an option for him.

Sam walked up to him. "Why is it our job to save everyone? Haven't we done enough? I'm begging you," he took a deep breath. "Give me the knife."

Dean looked at Carmen, Sam and Mary with tears in his eyes. Then he backed away from them, keeping his eyes on the floor. He raised his head, looking at Sam.

"I'm sorry," he whispered, meaning so much more than his actions here. He wanted this life for his brother, but he couldn't allow those people to die. Not even to give his brother the happiness he deserved. He thrust the knife into himself, feeling the blood as it welled up his throat.

"Oh god, Dean," Sam sobbed.

"It's okay, Sammy. It was just to wake me up," Dean whispered, the need to comfort his brother bringing him out of the darkness he had fallen into. This memory was perhaps one of the most painful he had. He'd wanted so very badly to let Sam have the life in that dream, the life he had taken away by coming back into his brother's life. "I'm sorry," he confessed again.

"For what, Dean? I'm glad you were able to bring yourself out of it. Most people wouldn't have had the strength," Sam said, unintentionally echoing himself in the memory.

"I wanted to stay. I wanted that life for you. But it couldn't come at the cost of those people's lives, and for that I'm sorry."

Sam nodded, not liking how weak Dean's voice was, or his hitched breathing, like he was struggling to draw in air as shallowly as possible. He wanted to put it all down to the trauma his brother had been forced to experience again, but because of their connection, he knew better. Sand was slipping through on their hourglass. "It wasn't real, Dean. This, us, now, this is real. We'll both have our someday, but for now, this is what we're supposed to be doing."

"Sam, I can't go through the next one. I can't watch you die again," Dean admitted, hating himself for his weakness but understanding on a deep level that it would destroy him. He knew Sam couldn't deal with the truth that lay in that memory, but so long as they were connected, this was the only way to protect Sam from it.

"Bobby told me about what you said to him, when I died. How you were before you made the deal, and after."

Dean smiled and nodded. Sam's eyes filled with renewed tears as he felt something that had been missing from Dean since this all began. Peace flowed through the connection, a sense of rightness that settled with more certainty than Dean had ever felt.

"Dean," Sam started, silently begging his brother to fight, to want to live, but now starting to see that Dean wouldn't. A sacrifice had been asked and willingly given, once again, in order to preserve everything Dean held dear.

"I promised you I would be there as long as you needed me," Dean whispered gently, the final piece of the puzzle sliding into place. He knew now, what was happening. Could feel it resting on the edge of his soul. He had almost died to do it, but he finally got it.

"I still do. I always will."

Dean shook his head, smiling softly. "No, you don't, Sammy. You're ready to be on your own, to make your life whatever it's gonna be." Dean winced as a wave of pain washed over him. "I wish I could be there to see it, but I get it. As long as I'm around, you're never going to have it."

"We both will, Dean," Sam insisted desperately, certain that he was losing his brother. "We still have a year to find the answer. Don't give up on me now."

Dean sighed, once again unable to deny his brothers request. He nodded. "We're done here. I know its true name. I understand now."

Sam frowned, but didn't waste any time in asking. He stood up, pulling his brother with him. Together they turned away from the memories. Sam's eyes widened as he saw the formless shadow behind them. He shivered from the evil that permeated it, but there was something there, something familiar about it too. He couldn't quite place it, and before he could try, Dean's soft voice carried over the void, drifting into the creature like coming home.


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